Penny looked inquisitively at the man standing in front of her. Did he really just say he was … Hermes? She seriously started to doubt his sanity, if she hadn't done so already. First he allegedly saved her from Persephone, and now he himself was Hermes?
Ok, so he wasn't lucid, but did that make him harmless or rather more dangerous? She felt that she had to be really careful now in how she responded. Maybe it was safest to humour him and just play along. For now.
'Ok, Hermes, what did you mean when you said that Nathan is long gone? Where is he? What happened to him?'
'Persephone has taken him, of course.'
Right, Persephone again. Go along with it, Penny reminded herself. Just keep interrogating him. Who knows, maybe he tells you something useful in between his delusions.
'Where has she taken him? And why?'
'Who knows why Persephone does anything, really. I guess she was just bored and wanted some company.'
'She has only recently returned to the underworld, to Hades. But she and her husband don't spend much time together anymore, what with all his work. There's people dying every day, you know, and someone has to take care of all of them and conduct everything. So she and Hades, they sometimes go days or even weeks without seeing each other. Wouldn't you get bored if you were by yourself all the time?'
'I guess so… So where has she taken Nathan exactly?' she tried again. If he just gave her a clue, something useful, anything at all, she could go looking for him once she'd escaped from this lunatic.
'You're not the smartest one around, now are you? To her kingdom of course! To the underworld. You know she can't leave there for months, not until springtime.'
'Well, if she can't leave, how could she come here to capture him in the first place then?' she said boldly. She started to lose her patience, she'd had more than enough of all this nonsense.
'She didn't. She sent one of her minions for him instead.'
Of course he immediately had an answer at the ready! What else did she expect.
'Look, I know you don't believe a single word I'm saying.' Penny's jaw dropped with surprise at this sudden remark, but he went on serenely, as if he hadn't noticed. 'I'm sure this must all sound really crazy to you, but I can prove that I'm speaking the truth. All you have to do is look at me, and you'll know it's all real.' He moved closer towards her as he said this.
Penny didn't get how just looking at him would make her suddenly believe every word he said. This was just another of his ludicrous ideas. Should she still indulge him or should she try and convince him of his own insanity?
'I'm looking, but I honestly don't see how this changes anything.'
'No, you should really look at me!' He put so much emphasis on this, that she started to wonder what he meant. She looked more closely, but still she saw nothing that she hadn't seen already. His golden-brown eyes, his dark, all-concealing cloak, his… feet floating a few inches above the floor?
'Oh my… You're… You're flying? What…? How…?' Penny stammered, at a loss for words. She was completely dumbfounded.
The man removed his cloak and revealed a pair of sandals with beating wings attached to them.
'Those shoes… you… oh my god!'
'Yes,' the man smiled, 'me. Like I told you, I really am Hermes.'
'Oh my god,' Penny breathed heavily. This was all so overwhelming.
'Yes, I am. Or at least, I'm one of them,' Hermes said jokingly. Penny stared at him in disbelief. It seemed as if her whole world had just collapsed. Everything she knew, everything she believed, all that was a lie?
'So, Persephone…' She had to ask.
'Is just as real as I am. Yes.'
'Is trapped inside her lair. He's an inhabitant of the underworld now. Forever.'
'Wait, hold on. What do you mean, forever? There has to be some way to save him!' All of a sudden, she was filled with a new-found energy. The effects of the drug were long forgotten.
'I'm afraid there's not much you can do. By now he'll probably be completely under her spell. And you know people don't return from the world of the dead.'
'There has to be a way,' she maintained stubbornly. She wouldn't give up on Nathan. Not just yet. She tried to remember all she'd read about ancient mythology. Wasn't there something…
'You're wrong!' she exclaimed, her voice filled with joy. 'People have returned! There's Heracles, and Orpheus, and…' Suddenly she grew silent and looked Hermes straight in the eyes. 'And you.'
'I… er… Well, yes, I did, and more than once. But I'm not human, I'm a god.'
'Orpheus wasn't a god,' Penny insisted.
'Yes, but he had some incredible strengths. Well, not so much strengths, talent is the better word. But it was worthy of the gods. And in case you don't remember, he didn't quite succeed in his quest either. He returned without his loved one, without Eurydice.'
'But he did return, didn't he. And the big difference between Eurydice and Nathan is that Nathan is alive… He is still alive, right?' Penny added hesitantly.
'Yes, don't worry about that. Unless Persephone has changed her mind, Nathan is still very much alive. Otherwise he would fall under the reign of Hades and he wouldn't be able to stay at the palace unless Hades permits it. And she wouldn't want that. No, Persephone prefers to be in control and her … guests to be alive.'
'Well, let's go save him then!' Penny jumped up from her bed.
'Whoa, hold your horses! Didn't I just tell you that people can't return from the underworld?'
'And didn't I just tell you that people have returned?' Penny retorted. 'They may be the exceptions to the rule, but I love those exceptions. They make life more interesting.'
'Yes, but still. They were there only for a very limited amount of time. And they didn't eat or drink anything while they were there.'
'So? Nathan knows he shouldn't eat anything down there.' Why did Hermes have to be so difficult all the time, Penny thought. Why wouldn't he just help her! 'I'm sure he is well aware that he will be stuck there forever if he does. He knows just as much about mythology as I do.'
'That may be true, but eventually he will have to eat something if he wants to stay alive.'
Penny looked Hermes straight in the eyes, determination sounding through in her voice: 'Well, then I guess there's no time to waste!'