A/N: To all my readers, thank you so much for the kind words and the wonderful encouragement. I've let this story stall for a while, but I've been re-energized by you! Hope it was worth the wait—the updates will be coming a little quicker now, author's promise!
When I returned to my rooms and looked in a mirror, I was taken aback by the overall change in my complexion. My rosy cheeks had faded, as a rose wilts, reflecting none of the new life I felt within me.
A mix doesn't even begin to describe my briar patch of emotions. I told myself I hated Hades, but I dwelt on the memory of his touch. I told myself I wanted the freedom of escape, but I also wanted the freedom to explore the new terrain that had been revealed to me.
I had never been kissed before.
I wanted to be kissed again.
The one thing I focused on, in that mess, was the revenge I would exact upon my captor. I had a tool of torture that had never been in my arsenal. Hades wanted me. He could feel no other way. I did not know why he held back. I had no illusions about my strength versus his, but some sense of… propriety, was it?... held him away. Oh how I would make him suffer the self-imposed constraint.
I spent days in my room, working. Usually my nymph companions would decorate me, but I had no such companionship now. I bathed in a golden tub, and carefully combed out my long honeysuckle hair. I wore thin strains of perfumes that spoke of far-away desserts, of heat. I scrubbed my graying skin, reviving what color I could, and found the finest dress I could from the stashes. I had always wore white before, without thought, but now I chose the lightest shade of violet. I wove strings of gold into my hair, threading pearls and opals upon the precious web. I knew I was not Aphrodite, but I was as fair a maiden as had ever been. The dress complemented my small frame, and flared at the top to reveal my pale bodice.
I went for walks then, after my efforts. I would have taken such walks anyway, but these were different from normal explorations of my curiosity. I swayed my hips, I pursed my lips. If Hades feared the power I held over him, by Olympus, I would flaunt that power as a soldier caresses his sword. At the same time, I would coax him from his omniscience. I would force him to take solid form, at least, as he watched me. For I felt his eyes upon me, always. Nothing frightened me more than that constant sense of him, but I did not let it show.
Sometimes I glimpsed him now, from the corner of my eyes. I never turned to view him though. I had learned he would bolt like a rabbit at a hint of contact. No, I thought, remembering that violent kiss. He was a flame, a blue flame, that could wisp away as easily as it could flare into an inferno.
I tired of my spiteful teasing when it failed to bring fruit. Once again I was alone, angry, and cold. Was I just a doll to him? Some plaything he could watch constantly, but wasn't worth the value of one word? These sentiments were fuel to my rage. I tried to run past Cerberus, but could not cross the Acheron. I tried to follow the Styx to its mouth, and was plunged into complete darkness before I had walked a full hour.
I sat down in that darkness, and for the first time, I cried. It was not a ladylike weeping. I sobbed, all the harder when I realized why the action felt so strange. Above ground, I always breathed so that I could smell flowers, and sunlight. At some point I had stopped, and not even noticed it. I couldn't see, but I knew my arms were as grey as charcoal and as cold as ice.
"Death comes to all mortals, my dear," cackled the void around me.
"Some more violently then others," added another. I rose and looked in all directions, but could not see my own hand in the unyielding black.
"But she is no mortal," added a third, which sounded no older than I.
"Kore, daughter of the earth"
"Her string is short."
The rattling voices wove in and out of my consciousness. Wisely, I said nothing, and only listened. Distantly, I heard familiar sounds. The spinning of a wheel, the soft sound of fiber, and the constant clip of metal. It was the sort of rhythm that put order into absolute chaos, like a relentless battle hymn.
"Have you cut it, sister?" asked the maiden's voice.
"No, not I," came the harsh reply of Atropos, the bringer of death. "It was sheared by the wheels of a chariot that cut too close. Her string is cut and Kore is annulled, if I release it."
My remaining life fled in a moan that gave a thousand mortals nightmares.
"That was not my measurement, sister" chastened Lachesis. "It was not meant to be."
"I will spin a new thread," volunteered Clotho, "but I have no life to spin."
"And I will measure it anew," Lachesis agreed, "but I have no life to measure."
The voices fell silent.
"She must bring us life," pronounced the deep and grating voice of Atropos. "Or her thread will fall. She must be born anew, live anew, and annulled when we measure, or she'll exist not at all."
The last statement reverberated, and drove me to my knees in pain. These were not words for things made of earth, or light. The Moirae were as old as time, and more powerful than any of us Gods cared to think on. They spoke in pure knowledge, unadulterated by language. I grasped the dust beneath me, felt it run through my fingers.
No one, mortal or immortal, should know their own oblivion.
I may have cried for the fates once their voices left me, I know not. There is no bargaining with the Moirae, and I was foolish if I tried. The spectre of my own annihilation was enough to drive me half-mad. There is no mortal death for Gods, just as there is no mortal birth. When our strings are cut, we cease. We are banished from the minds of man, a sentence that may take an agonizing century in the execution. We watch, bound and silenced, as our names, images, and even memories are slowly and carefully cleaved away, until our essence is bled dry.
When I stumbled back out of the dark, I screamed from the depths of my being. At the corner of my eyes, I saw mortal spirits flee my radius, spectral limbs lacerated by the power. I threw my mind out and grasped those feathery fingers that were always on the edge of my consciousness, and pulled. Oh, how they resisted, but I would not be opposed. Then they stopped withdrawing, and began to push back. It was excruciating, like fingernails carving into my temples, and I felt like another push would rend my mind to pieces. But I had no fear. I threw all of my godliness into a final pull, and with a snap, everything changed.
When my eyes readjusted, as light-blinded as if I'd looked into the sun, I saw that Hades knelt before me. Sweat beaded on his unclad skin. Periodically his body spasmed, as though it would fly apart. At first I felt pure satisfaction, but when time passed and he did not move, or even look at me, I became concerned. Leaning down, I gently touched his shoulder. To my amazement, frost radiated from my fingers. I quickly withdrew, but his hand flew up and grasped mine. I was too shocked to move.
"Persephone," he said in a voice like purgatory. "You are queen."
"That's not my name," I hissed, unable and unwilling to comprehend.
He looked up at me, his expression unreadable.
"You forced my hand" he said. I tried to hear the blame in his voice, but could only hear regret.
As if moving through water, I moved my other hand and slowly began unwrap his fingers, one by one. It should have been an unbelievable effort, but instead, it was like pulling away hairs. His eyes never wavered.
"This isn't possible," I whispered. "Hades is Death."
"I am nothing now," he said, his fingers gently slipping away from my icy skin. "I am only what you would have me."
"You could have destroyed me!" I wailed, irrationally angry.
He pulled himself to his feet. He still shook violently, though less often now, and it seemed he might fall over once again. But he moved carefully, and when he stood before me, his tremors were nearly invisible.
"Persephone," he said again. This time my new name sounded like dark honey on his lips, which were tantalizingly close.
"What will you do? Where will you go?" I asked in a panic.
With agonizing patience, he waited for me to finish my questions before he leaned down and pressed his lips to mine. Unheeding of the frost that coated his chin, he savored my skin. This was not like the last kiss, which had been desperate and violent. This was a deliberate melding, smoldering and instinctive. We pressed together, our skin sticky with frozen sweat. And yet I felt an unbearable heat as his arms wrapped around me, caressing my spine. I knew with a breathless suddenness that I stood on the brink of an abyss.
When our lips parted with the cracking of ice, I saw those black eyes and felt a familiar terror. Only now, I could do something about it. I closed my eyes and wished myself away. I grasped at memories in a frenzy, to hysteric to form a clear picture in my mind of the earth above. I'm Kore, I'm Kore! I screamed, and fled that land of death and the fallen king, escaping to the only home I could think of.