- Part Ten -
Demeter, clad in a maroon velvet night robe turned about at the sound of approaching feet. Her hair was pulled up into a somewhat messy bun, strands of curls hanging about her face that strangely seemed to have aged quite a few mortal years in the past few months. Her lips were tight and almost without color, and her eyes were sharp as a flint and no longer held that once-gentle gaze. However, all these changes were to be quite understandable. After all, in the last two months she had lost her daughter, gained an independent young woman and been forced to remain forever cautious and paranoid of any further attacks.
"Ah, there you are, Lord Ares," she spoke quietly as the god approached her. "I have been waiting for you."
"I had to finish skinning my latest kill," the god of blood and war responded nonchalantly with a shrug of his massive shoulders. "How might I be of service to you tonight?"
"There are fears spreading about," Demeter responded, fidgeting a small amount with the materials of her robe. "Whispered rumors and conversation that cease whenever I approach. Everyone seems more. . .alert than usual. I myself have had a strange sense of -."
Ares rolled his eyes and groaned rudely, leaning against the wall in a bored stance. "Begging your pardon, Mi'lady, but kindly spare me your deep words and get on to the point. What do you want from me?"
Demeter flustered at his words, having never grown accustomed to the man's lack of respect for those that ranked higher over him. Of course, in Ares' mind, there was no god or goddess grander than he. Not even Lord Zeus himself. This was, of course, a most dangerous way of thinking, but for now Demeter held her tongue and merely continued on with the situation at hand.
"I wish for you to guard Kore's bedchamber. I have visited the Fates and sought out their council and they have warned me that I should keep a close watch upon her for 'a shadow comes by night to steal her away from me'."
Ares frowned at these words. "You believe Lord Hades shall return from his death land merely to steal your daughter away . . . again?"
The disbelieving tone in the insolent god's voice angered Demeter and she balled up her fists in the folds of her robe. "Yes! I believe that he has done it before and will no doubt come and try to do it once again."
"Ah, I see." This time Ares could not hold back a wicked chuckle as he shook his head. "Mi'lady, forgive me, but I do believe that Lord Hades has already had what he wanted from Kore."
The goddess of harvest gasped at his crude words and raised her hand to strike the god firmly across the jaw. . .but his strong, firm grasp caught her own in mid-flight. She turned her eyes to his and saw a warning fire there, though they also tempted her and taunted her, just daring her to try anything else. She found herself unable to suppress the tremble that ran down her spine.
Pulling her hand from his grasp, Demeter straightened the folds of her robe, fighting to maintain the upper hand in this conversation. "Guard her door, Mi'lord. If anything at all gets past there I swear to you that I shall see you rightfully punished by Lord Zeus himself."
Again Ares gave that infuriating, low chuckle and a smile of amusement spread over his lips. "As you wish, Mi'lady," he murmured with a mocking bow as she turned about and walked off at a rapid pace, head held high and stance ever-rigid. He waited until her footsteps had died away completely before actually taking up his place outside the young goddess' door.
Ah, well, who knows,he thought to himself, pulling out his newly -sharpened knife and running a finger over its sharp blade. Perhaps I'll get a good fight out of this in the end . . . one way or another.
Kore sat bolt upright in her bed, a silent scream catching in her throat. Her eyes were wild and terrified as she looked about her dark room almost as though she were seeking out the demons that had so plagued her thoughts and dreams. The room that greeted her however did not offer her sight of any such creatures, and the intimidating darkness she had envisioned in her mind was now only a comforting blanket of night, soothing and caressing as it played all about that still chamber.
It was a dream . . . just a dream.
Very slowly the goddess turned back her thick blankets that covered her and set her bare feet to the cool floor, cringing a small bit at the icy chill that raced through her at the touch. Her hair was disheveled and a fine layer of sweat glistened upon her forehead. Her cheeks, paled a bit from the terrible nightmare that had awakened her, were now beginning to regain some of their color as she wiped a hand miserably across her heavy eyes and face.
For the past week Kore had been unable to sleep at all, often finding herself awakening in complete terror or utter misery. Of course when she tried to think back on what could have caused such panic and fear to race through her heart, the nightmare was always just out of reach of her being able to grasp it once more. The creatures and monsters that haunted her mind laughed at her futile attempts to glimpse them in a wakeful state, and they constantly lay in wait for her head to hit her pillow once again.
These dreams had never come to her when she was living down below. In fact, she had found herself often taking comfort in the darkness that surrounded her during sleep. Instead of it hiding dark angels and unfathomable beasts, it had only given her serenity and complete peace. Though this was probably all coming from the promise Hades had made to her. He would not let anything harm her so long as she remained under his care . . . and she believed him!
With a miserable sigh, Kore rose from her bed, her long silky white gown flowing about her ankles and being blown about her a soft amount by the cool wind that slipped through the curtains that blocked off the balcony. She took the cloak that Hades' had given to her from the place she had hung it and carefully draped it about her in an attempt to keep out the cold air. Unsteady fingers carefully struck a match and lit one of the candle wicks that sat nearby, bringing a dim amount of light into the gloom all about her. The candle's gentle light teased throughout her hair, illuminating the auburn tresses in a way that caused her to appear as though a halo enveloped her.
Turning away from the tiny flame that danced with the currents of the wind, Kore adjusted her cloak once more, drawing it tighter about her lithe frame, and then slipped out onto the balcony. It was quite a bit cooler than she had expected and a small chill ran through her, though it was not at all unpleasant. The coolness of the air only served to awaken her senses even further, and she leaned down against the railing, closing her eyes against the wind's gentle kiss. It teased the contours of her face with its icy breath, ran finger-like tendrils back through her hair, and caused her cloak and nightgown to billow out from her in a mixture of black velvet and white silk.
The young goddess jumped at the sound of the familiar whisper in the still quietness and whirled around to be met face to face with Hermes.
"Must you always sneak up on me like that?" she demanded fiercely, drawing the cloak tighter about her body for modesty's sake.
"Shh," Hermes hushed her quickly, placing a finger to her lips before she could say anything else. He looked up for a moment and glanced around, almost as though he were afraid of being watched by some unknown force, then he looked back to her, his voice the softest whisper. "Listen to me carefully, and do exactly as I say without any questions asked. Your room is being guarded by Lord Ares under the command of your Mother. That is why I had to wait until you were out on your balcony to come to you. I think she suspects something." The angry expression had left Kore's face and was now replaced by one of confusion. She opened her mouth to speak, but he quickly waved a hand to silence her again. "Do not talk, just listen to me. Be as quiet as you possibly can and go back into your room. I want you to change out of those clothes into something warmer as quickly and quietly as you can. Then gather only the things that you absolutely need and place them in the smallest bag you can find. The lighter the better. We must fly quickly before anyone else hears of your escape. And whatever you do, do not make a sound! Do you understand?"
Kore nodded her head quickly, but could not help but risk a quick question as she whispered as softly as she possibly could, "But wait! Where are you taking me?"
Hermes intense gaze softened a small bit and from in the confines on his clothing he withdrew the oddest looking fruit Kore had ever seen and held it out to her. "I made you a promise, Kore. I'm taking you home."
The young goddess' eyes widen as she deftly reached out and took the fruit from his outstretched hand, her voice almost inaudible as she whispered, almost spellbound, "Home. . .? You're taking me home?"
Hermes nodded quickly, glancing off to the side once again to make sure no one was about, then he looked back to her and motioned to the fruit. "This is a pomegranate. . .a gift from your Lord Hades. By the law of Zeus, if you are to eat any of the food of the dead, then you are to be forever trapped in the underworld. It is the only guaranteed solution that we could think of. Not even Zeus himself would dare to break his own laws."
Kore gazed at the odd fruit with wonder, as she turned it slowly in her hands, almost as though she were having to think it over quite carefully.
"But I must warn you, Kore," Hermes continued firmly, forcing her to look back up at him once more. "Once you eat of this fruit, you can never return to this world. We've reached the point of no return and there's no going back after this. What you decide now is for all eternity."
The beautiful young goddess looked back down at the fruit for a long moment and the slight crease in her forehead showed the signs of her deep thought. But finally she turned her eyes back up to her friend and in answer to his silent question she tore the fruit open with her fingernails and plucked one of the seeds carefully from it. . .and ate it!
Artemis moved quietly through the field at the base of Mt. Olympus, enjoying the cool night's air and the radiant beams of the full moon up above. A quiver of arrows was slung over her shoulder and in one hand she held her bow, ready for any signs of movement that might be made in the tall grass that surrounded her. Long brown hair fell wildly over her shoulders and her eyes looked all about with the sharpness and careful watch of a hawk. Sandaled feet made no sound whatsoever as she tread lightly along the grass in search of her prey.
The snap of a twig, barely audible to the untrained ear, caught the goddess' attention and she turned her head sharply to face the direction in which it had come. The thick grouping of trees blocked her view and the vision of a lone deer sneaking about in the night came to her mind.
Very slowly, so as not to make a sound or any sudden movements that would startle the animal, Artemis lowered herself into a crouch on the ground and crept her way over towards the trees. Her bow was held tightly in one hand as her other steadied and balanced herself against the ground as she slid up alongside one of the thick trees. Not a blade of grass seemed to stir under her feet, and the wind itself made more noise than she did at this moment.
Placing her back firmly up against the tree, Artemis paused momentarily to steady her breathing and listen for anymore sounds. Her dark green eyes pressed closed as she strained to hear even the smallest hint of her lovely prey still being just on the other side of this tree.
And there it was! A rustle. . .the sound of leaves being stirred.
And it's coming closer!
There was the soft pounding of a hoof striking the grass and Artemis frowned. That was no deer. A deer's footfalls were far lighter than this dull thud that she now heard steadily approaching her on the other side.
A horse, perhaps?But what could a horse possibly be doing out here?
Pulling her bow a bit closer to her body, Artemis very carefully leaned forward just enough so that she could peer around the tree into the darkness that lay beyond. . .and the sight that greeted her caused her eyes to widen with fright!
There, sitting astride a massive black horse, was a black figure, almost indiscernible in the darkness. His head was turned away from her as he gently urged his mount onward with an inward press of his knees. She could make out the contours and outline of his facial features and there was no doubt in her mind whatsoever of who this man was.
Lord Hades! By the Fates. . .he's returned!
Suddenly, almost as though he had heard her thoughts, the dark creature whipped his head around and the moonlight struck his eyes in a most terrifying manner, causing them to glow like some predatory cat's. His pale face became illuminated and the sight of it caused Artemis' heart to skip a beat and her stomach to twist into a knot all at once.
The goddess lunged to her feet, no longer caring of her stealth and silence. She could not be certain if he had seen her crouching down low behind that tree, but she had seen his eyes and felt his dark presence reach into her soul and she knew she had to warn the others of his return before it was too late. There was no doubt in her mind what he had returned for and the thought of him stealing away the innocent Kore yet again sickened her for she knew this time he would not let her go.
Racing across the field with the speed of an eagle in flight, Artemis disappeared quite suddenly and again reappeared atop Mt. Olympus. She ran through the massive garden quickly, leaping over flowers and bushes like a graceful deer. The ram horn that rested at her side was brought to her lips and she let out a loud blast that echoed all throughout Olympus.
"Awaken!" she cried out as loudly as she could before blowing once again upon her horn. "Hurry, you must awaken!"
Athena, having been up late as usual studying her books by candlelight, was the first to hear the cry and she rushed out onto the large balcony that overlooked the garden down below. Her gray eyes flashed with a bit of frustration at having been so rudely pulled from her studies as she looked down upon the form of Artemis as she bounded into her sight, still blowing upon her horn.
"Artemis! Whatever is wrong, child?"
"It's Lord Hades," Artemis spoke breathlessly. "He has returned to Olympus!"
The goddess of wisdom felt a chill run through her at the mention of the dark lord's name. "Are you quite sure? How do you know?"
"Yes, I'm very sure! I just saw him a moment ago while I was-."
"Sister?" Apollo, the god of light, spoke as he ran out onto the balcony to join Athena. "What is it? I heard your horn and-."
"Hades has returned," Athena whispered sharply, her words laced with fear as she turned to the handsome god.
"What?" Apollo demanded in alarm, brushing past the goddess so he could look down to his sister below. "Artemis, is this true? Where did you see him?"
"I was down below hunting and I thought I heard a deer but when I went to look I saw Lord Hades astride his horse! He's returning to Kore, Apollo, I know it."
Apollo hadn't even thought of the possibility of this dark creature returning for Kore. His main concern had been that he had come to seek some form of revenge on Lord Zeus. But he trusted his sister's intuition and wisdom more than he trusted anyone else's and he nodded to her sharply.
"I shall go awaken Lady Demeter."
"What is it, Lord Apollo?" Demeter spoke as she came hurrying out onto the balcony with Aphrodite following close behind. "We heard the horn. Is something wrong?"
"Lord Hades has returned from the underworld," he replied quickly, never one for softening things from what they really were. Demeter paled considerably and her hands went to her mouth in a silent scream as he continued, "Artemis saw him while hunting down below and we have reason to believe that he will soon be upon Olympus."
"Lady Demeter," Artemis cried from below, her voice a bit more panicked than Apollo had ever heard it. "You must go and see that Kore is well and safe away in her room. Please! I have a terribly bad feeling about this and . . . I believe he's returned for her!"
But before the goddess had even finished her warning, Demeter had pivoted on her heel and fled as fast as she could down the hallway, her maroon robe billowing out around her with this movement. Athena turned and quickly followed after her in order to assist in any way that she possibly could and after a moment's hesitation Aphrodite followed as well so as not to miss anything.
"Brother!" Artemis called once more from below, and Apollo turned to look down to her. "Bring your bow and meet me in front of the main hall. With any luck we can intercept Lord Hades before he manages to get inside."
The sound of Artemis' horn reached Hermes' ear as he stood out on the balcony keeping a careful watch on the garden down below. His head jerked towards the sound but he could not see from whence it came, though he strained to see as far across the garden as possible. The massive trees that towered so high blocked his vision and he silently cursed the Fates as once again the loud blow of the horn rang out in the stillness.
"Hurry, Kore," he hissed under his breath through the curtains. "I think we may have just run in to a bit of trouble."
Kore had heard the horn also and knew that Artemis only used it in case of an absolute emergency. But surely there was no way that their plans could be spoiled so quickly! Fates willing, all they needed was just a bit more time! A diversion or something!
Struggling into the velvet, hunter green dress that she had hurriedly selected from her wardrobe, Kore replied as loudly as she dared, "I'm hurrying! I'm hurrying!"
Rushing over to her mirror she quickly ran a comb through her hair before twisting it into a long braid down her right shoulder and securing it in place. An emerald amulet that Hades had given to her was secured about her neck, falling beautifully against her pale skin where it gave off an incredible burst of colors in the candlelight. Then, turning about and facing her room, the goddess began to rush around as quietly as possible and gather the small assortment of things that she needed.
Hermes waited out on the balcony, now growing uneasy and far more nervous than he had been before. In his mind he began to wonder where on earth they had gone wrong in their planning and what could have possibly caused such an obvious uproar about Olympus. The sound of the horn's deep blasts still rang loudly in his ear like some kind of call from Death himself.
"Hermes," a voice called in a hushed whisper from down below.
The god turned and looked down to see Hades, sitting tall atop his horse, down below him.
"She saw me," Hades explained quickly before Hermes could pose the question that caught in his throat. "Artemis saw me out in the woods and sounded out an alarm."
Again Hermes cursed under his breath and slammed his fist down upon the railing hard. "By the Fates! Knowing Demeter she'll be here any minute!"
Hades' horse began to pace in a somewhat nervous fashion, but the dark lord kept his eyes locked carefully on Hermes' almost as though he were asking for further instructions.
The messenger god looked over his shoulder towards the curtains that covered Kore's bedroom, and then back down to the dark form that loomed in the ominous shadows below.
"There is a cliff side that juts out over Poseidon's ocean down below," he whispered as quietly as possible. "Do you know of the one I speak?"
"Yes, yes, I know it."
"Good. In that cliff there is a tunnel just above where the waves meet the rocks. Go there and hide. You are no longer safe here on Mt. Olympus."
The figure went rigid at these words and Hermes could see his eyes narrow with indignation. "Hide? Do not mistake me for a coward, young lord. I have never hidden from anything in my life."
"Oh, by the Fates," Hermes growled angrily, slapping his hand against the railing again with fury. "Will you not think of yourself for once? Think of Kore! If they find you they will surely exile you from her forever. I have seen what the absence of your presence has done to her once and I will not sit idly by and watch it happen again!"
The dark lord's eyes widened, almost as though he were genuinely surprised by the god's passionate reply. Again his horse began to shy away a few steps and it pawed at the ground the way it only did when it was truly nervous.
Someone draws near.
"Very well, Hermes," Hades replied, reigning in his horse just enough to turn it about. "I will meet you in the tunnels below. But if anyone else should attempt to gain entrance I swear to you I will cut them down no matter who they are!"
Hermes nodded impatiently, beginning to feel more on edge with every passing second. "Yes, yes, I understand! Now, please, go!"
Hades offered a slight nod of good luck and then he kneed his horse into a full gallop and disappeared into the night.
Turning about to face the curtains once more, Hermes called out with growing anxiety, "Kore? Are you ready yet?"
The goddess was busy crawling about the floor on her knees at that moment, attempting to find her other sandal in the dark. Her hands swiped back and forth underneath the bed though it came in contact with nothing but air. "One moment, I'm trying to find my sandal!"
"Your sandal?" Hermes cried in disbelief, running towards the curtains but not entering inside. "Kore, listen to me, we have got to get out of here right now. We don't have time to keep looking for your-"
All of a sudden there was a sharp banging on the door and Demeter's panicked voice crying out, "Kore?! Kore, are you in there?!"
The young goddess jumped to her feet, terror filling her as she looked all about her hopelessly for her missing sandal.
"Kore, let's go!" Hermes hissed through the curtain.
"Kore? Kore, answer me!" her mother continued to cry, banging on the door even harder. The doorknob was nearly jerked off by her mother's insistent pulling, but Kore had made quite sure to lock that up tight first thing. "Kore, if you don't answer me this moment I swear I shall have Ares break down this door!"
The curtain was thrown back and Hermes stepped one foot inside and motioned to her commandingly. "No more time, Kore! It's now or never!"
Ripping the only sandal she had on from her foot, the goddess grabbed her small bag and quickly ran out onto the balcony that Hermes motioned her on to. The sound of the door beginning to splinter rang out through there chambers.
"Hurry, Ares," her mother shouted in a frenzy. "Break down that door!"
"They're coming through!" Kore cried fearfully as Hermes raced to her side.
He wrapped one arm about her waist and lifted her legs up into his other arm, cradling her close and safe against his chest. "Are you ready?"
The sound of the splintering wood giving way.
Kore nodded her head quickly.
"Hold on tight!"
Ares broke wildly through the door, heaving all of his weight and strength into the final push. Demeter rushed into the room and looked all around her wildly, her eyes wide and panicked as they adjusted to the dim candlelight. Kore was not in her bed where she should have been, nor anywhere in the room itself.
"Look on the balcony!" she commanded Ares and he quickly pulled the curtains back.
Demeter threw back her head and sobbed loudly, falling to her knees with uncontrollable agony. "No! No, no, no! She's gone! Oh, by the Fates, she's gone!" Tears spilled down her face and her entire body heaved with her cries as she buried her face in her hands.
Ares frowned darkly as he looked about the room. How could he have possibly stolen her away? The door had been locked shut and there were no other entrances except for the balcony. But even then, how could he get up there without someone taking notice?
Suddenly his eyes landed on a strange object that rested atop the table and he walked over to retrieve it. A very peculiar looking fruit. Picking it up in his gloved hand he looked over it carefully and then realizing exactly what it was he almost growled low within his throat.
"Mi'lady, I believe you ought to have a look at this."
The sound of loud banging against the door and then the sudden spill of light as that door was opened awakened Zeus from his deep slumber. He growled at the disturbance as his wife stirred in his arms beside him, and he turned to see who had dared to intrude so rudely upon his sleep.
"Demeter!" he cried with a mixture of anger and surprise as the form of the panicked goddess rushed into his chambers. "What in the name of-?!"
"She's gone, Mi'lord!" Demeter all but screamed in hysterics, tears racing down her cheeks in uncontrollable sobs of sadness and rage. "Kore is gone!"
A rumble of thunder could be heard overhead as Zeus sat up from his bed, Hera turning about to face Demeter as well at this sudden news.
"Gone?" Zeus demanded fiercely, his eyes blazing in the darkness. "What do you mean she's gone?!"
"I mean she has been taken away yet again!" Demeter cried as she held something to him in her outstretched hand. "I went to her room to find her but she is not there - only this!"
He took the object from her and held it up to his now wide-open eyes.
A fruit. . . The fruit of the dead!
A loud crash of thunder resounded throughout all of Olympus. "Hades!"
"Apollo," the sound of Artemis' voice echoed across the field below Olympus. "Search about that way. He must have gone to ground. We can cover more land if we split up."
The dark lord moved silently down into the tunnel that Hermes had had spoken of. The waves crashed loudly down below and for a brief moment Hades wondered if Poseidon might send his water up to simply drown him in this dark hole. What an end to the muses' tales that would make! The "cowardly lord Hades" drowned by his brother's wrath after attempting to steal away the young goddess, Kore, once again. Ah, yes, the mortals would greet it as poetic justice and applaud the bard that brought such a tale to them.
Hades frowned angrily at the thought.
The wind whistled down the tunnel, causing a humming sound like can be heard when one places a large seashell to their ear. If it weren't for the moon that shined across the entrance, it would have been completely dark. Not that this bothered the god of the underworld. He had long since grown accustomed to this dismal eternity of night and he found a certain amount of comfort in it. After all, there were not many people that could perceive tears in the rain.
All of a sudden there was the sound of a foot scraping against the ground and Hades turned his head. It came from behind the wall he stood pressed up against, mingling in with the shadows all about him. He strained his ears to listen over the waves and the wind and again heard the sound of footsteps drawing steadily closer. The light of a torch could be seen now, growing brighter and brighter with every step that whoever it was that approached took.
Artemis, Hades thought with absolute certainty, his hand reaching down to grip the hilt of his sword. He stood poised and rigid against the wall, wondering if this foolish trespasser would continue to advance and meet an untimely death or if they would grow weary of the chase and turn back.
The footsteps and torchlight drew closer.
Very slowly Hades slid his sword from its sheath, the blade singing softly at this move. He drew it upward and held it carefully in both hands, prepared to attack this being before they even knew what had come. He silently gave them a count of ten to change their mind and turn back before he stepped forth and made his presence known.
Yet still the flame drew closer, now shining against the wall radiantly.
. . .three. . .two. . .one!
The god lunged from his position and rounded the corner of the wall, drawing his sword upward to deliver a single, fatal blow.
"Hades, no!" a voice screamed.
A voice that he knew very well indeed.
Forcing his hands to still, the dark lord allowed his eyes to adjust to the light and looked down into the wide-eyed gaze of. . .
Hermes stood just behind her, torch held high above them. "What are you trying to do?" he snapped sharply. "Kill us?"
But Hades did not seem to even hear him as he slowly lowered his sword, his lips forming the goddesses name once again. The blade clattered noisily to the ground at his side as he stood spellbound, almost as though he were afraid that one wrong move and he would awaken from a most glorious dream.
Hermes glanced between the two and then gave a respectful bow of his head and took a step backwards. "I'll go watch the entrance," he murmured softly, setting the torch into the ground. "Perhaps they will move on soon and we can make an escape without getting caught." Placing a hand to his sword to be sure it was still there he turned and walked back towards the entrance.
"Yes, Hades, it's me," Kore whispered softly, tears filling her eyes as she gazed adoringly up at him. Oh, how intense his dark gaze was as he peered back into her eyes and down deep into her very soul. She pursed her lips tightly together to hold back a joyous sob at seeing him once again.
Hades shook his head slowly, his heart throbbing within him.
Surely this is a dream! It cannot be. . .
Almost as though she were reading her thoughts, Kore reached out and very tenderly took his hand into her own. His eyes widen a small amount at this physical contact and he turned his head to gaze down at her hand as it held his tightly within its grasp.
Tears of happiness now rolling down her cheeks, Kore drew his hand to her lips and pressed a heated kiss to the cool flesh. She felt his fingers curl tightly about her own at this gesture and she looked up once again into his face and was surprised to see that there was actually a single tear falling down his cheek.
"I've made my choice, Mi'lord," she whispered softly, not trusting her voice enough to speak out loud. Her other tiny hand reached upwards and pressed along his strong jaw, gently wiping away his tear with the pad of her thumb just as he had done for her so long ago. "I've come home."
A deep, quivering breath raced through Hades' chest at these words and he closed his eyes tightly, savoring the sensation of her warm skin caressing his own. Then, unable to contain his overpowering emotions anymore, the dark lord actually threw back his head and gave a deep, heartfelt laugh of joy as he lunged forward and seized Kore about her tiny waist, twirling her around in the air like they were two small children playing at a silly game.
The goddess wrapped her arms tightly about Hades' neck and her laughter joined with his own in one of the most beautiful sounds that could ever be heard as once again their two hearts beat as one. Tears of happiness rolled freely down her cheeks as she held tightly to her dark lover, her heart and soul being carried away in the sheer bliss of the moment.
Breathlessly, Hades set her back to her feet, but refused to relinquish his hold on her. He pulled her tightly into the circle of his arms and she leaned her head forward to rest against his forehead, both of them gasping for breath as they clung firmly to each other as though they might never let go.
"I was so afraid," Kore whispered, shaking her head a small amount as tears continued to fall down her cheeks. "I was so afraid I would never see you again! I . . . I cannot live without you. My entire world just seemed so lonely and dead without you there. There was . . . no longer a point to anything!"
"Shh . . . It's all right, Persephone," Hades breathed quietly, raising his head just enough to place a kiss firmly to her forehead. "It's all right. You're with me now . . . and I'm never going to let you be taken from me again."
Kore nodded her head understandingly to his words. She tilted her head upward to look into his eyes and was struck almost breathless by the intense gaze in which he regarded her. His eyes were smoldering and soothing all at once, giving her a promise that no matter where she went or what might happen that he would always be right there beside her in every way possible.
Hades breathed shallowly as he looked down into the face of his angel, now wrapped safe and secure in his arms once again. How perfectly she fit against him . . . almost as though it were truly a will of the Fates for them to be together. His gaze ran across her face, memorizing every aspect of her and committing it to memory, swearing that if he were to be caught and exiled that at least he would have her face forever locked away carefully in his mind. The way her auburn hair formed small, perfect ringlets about her face. The emerald glimmering of her deep eyes as they looked back into his own. The smooth, silky skin of her cheeks as a stray teardrop raced over it.
The perfect color of her small lips . . .
Breath catching in his throat, Hades could hold himself back no longer. Ever so slowly he lowered his head downward, his eyes sliding shut as their lips met for the first time ever in a kiss that united both of their souls as one.
Kore closed her eyes and tilted her head further back as his lips pressed firmly against her own. Her heart fluttered within her chest as she wrapped her arm tighter about his neck, the fingers of one hand trailing along his jaw in a tender caress. Several times she had heard Poseidon's daughters bragging about their first kiss and how wonderful it had been, but silently she had to smile to herself, knowing that there was no possible way to top this.
After a moment, Hades slowly drew back and looked down into Kore's eyes that opened like a content kitten's. Smiling to her gently, he took her hand in his own and brought it to his lips, placing a soft kiss to her knuckles just as she had done to his own.
"I love you as well, my beautiful Persephone," he breathed ever so softly, kissing her hand once more on the soft place in the center of her palm. "For always . . . and forever."
All of a sudden the spell was broken as Hermes came running back down the tunnel, his face slightly panicked as he rushed to their side. "We've got some trouble! Artemis and Apollo have found the tunnel . . . and I fear they're not alone." He leaned over and ripped the torch from its place in the ground.
Kore's eyes widened at this news and she looked fearfully to Hades who seemed just as shocked as she. "What are we going to do? They're coming for us!"
"We've got to get out of here while we still can."
"That's what I'm telling you," Hermes snapped quickly. "They're coming! Now! They're probably already to the tunnel's entrance. There's no way we can get out without going through them!"
"Oh, Fates help us," Kore moaned fearfully.
"Surely there has to be another way out," Hades resolved firmly, holding tightly to Kore's hand. "Come. We'll follow these tunnels until we find a way of escape."
Kore and Hermes ran along after Hades, beginning to work their way in and out of different tunnels. Hermes held their single torch up high so as to light the path ahead of them, and occasionally risked a glance behind them. He could see what appeared to be a faint glow on the walls of the cave and realized that the group of gods and goddesses were following at a close range.
"Kore?" Demeter's voice echoed frantically in the tunnel. "Kore? Are you down here?"
"I saw them go into the cave myself," the voice that belonged to Apollo replied. "Hades has her down here somewh-."
"Kore, where are you?! Answer me! By the Fates, answer me!"
A deep, prominent voice that could only belong to Zeus himself then rang out. "Hades, if you are down here then show yourself like a man!"
Hades paused in his run through the darkness and turned back, his body stiffening as Zeus accused him of hiding like a mere coward. His hand went to his sword but Kore caught hold of him, shaking her head quickly. "No, Hades. We don't have time. We have to get out of here!" He lowered his eyes down to her own and conceded silently as she urgently pulled him along.
The trio made their way in and out of every small passage they could find, praying to throw them off their trail. Yet still they advanced, drawing steadily closer to them.
"Kore? Kore, where are you, Kore?"
"Over this way, I think I see them!"
The small group came to a halt, forcing themselves to pause a moment and catch their breath.
"How on earth are they following us?" Hermes demanded.
Kore turned large eyes all about them, almost as though looking for some secret passage or chance of escape, when her gaze fell on the flame that Hermes held in his hand.
"The torch!" she cried.
Hades turned his head and looked to her in confusion. "What?"
"The torch is what's giving us away!" the goddess replied, snatching the torch from Hermes' hand. "They're following the light of the fire as it bounces off the cave's walls."
"But without the torch we won't be able to see," the messenger god argued, attempting to pull the torch back from the goddess' hands.
"We don't need to see," Kore persisted, holding it just out of his reach. Then she turned and looked knowingly to Hades though she still spoke directly to Hermes. "All you have to do is have a bit of faith."
The dark lord's lips curled into a loving smile.
Suddenly there was a voice that cried out loudly, "Hurry! Over this way!" Each of them turned and could see the advancing light of the other torches.
"We have no other choice," the young goddess spoke firmly and, before anyone could argue her actions, she flung the torch as far away from them as possible, sending it somersaulting through the air. Then, turning back, she took hold of Hermes' hand in one hand and Hades' hand in the other. "Lead on, Mi'lord."
Hades gave Kore another quick smile which she immediately returned, then he turned and very carefully began to make his way through the darkness, leading the other two on. Shadows of anything and everything that obstructed his path were clearly visible to him and he moved through the welcoming shades of the dark like a specter fleeing from an unknown fate.
Behind them voices continued to cry out and echo through the tunnels. Voices they recognized as belonging to Ares and Artemis . . . Demeter and Apollo . . . Zeus and Athena. Gods and goddesses that Kore had known as friends and companions at one time. But now they hunted her and her lover down like some kind of wild animal and she knew that they would stop at absolutely nothing until they got what they came after.
They ran on blindly, not knowing where they were going or how they were going about getting there. The darkness taunted them and mocked their hurried pace and Kore began to wonder if perhaps the demons that had so haunted her nightmares might now become real and join in the chase as they raced through this eternal abyss. The sound of Poseidon's waves had grown steadily quieter until now all Kore could hear was her own ragged breathing and the pounding of her heart in her ears.
"Hurry," a voice echoed through the tunnel behind them. "I think they went this way!"
"Quickly, bring a torch so we can see where we're going."
"Ah, yes, this darkness is perfect for a creature like Hades to hide."
They ran on as quickly as they could, weaving in and about and around rocks and walls that jutted out sharply to block their path. The tunnels twisted and turned and split and then came back together again. Some of them went round in circles while others merely led off to an unknown infinity. There was no way to know which way was up and which way was down and what could possibly lay just ahead in this dark pit.
All of a sudden Hades stopped short with a whispered curse.
"Hades?" Kore questioned, squeezing his hand tightly. "What's wrong?"
"This is what's wrong." He took her hand and drew it out in front of them and Kore felt it come into contact with a massive wall face. "It's a dead end. There's no way out of this tunnel."
"A dead end?" Hermes murmured with surprise.
Kore held tightly to Hades. "We're trapped! There's no way out!"
The dark lord wrapped his arm protectively around her and held her close to him, his voice little more than a growl as he watched the flame of the torches carried by the advancing mob growing brighter. "Do not worry. They'll not take you from me again."
Hermes stood poised and rigid before the couple that clung to one another as though their very lives depended on it-and who was to say they did not? He would not back down now without a fight and silently he swore that if it meant his own death to keep this enraged mob from reaching Kore then so be it.
They watched and listened as the light of the torches grew brighter and brighter and the sound of the voices drew to a deafening sound.
"Hurry, they've gone this way!"
"They've stopped just up ahead!"
"Cut them off before they can escape!"
All of a sudden the great mob rounded the corner and their torches illuminated the dead end in which they had found themselves. Hermes flinched as the light of the torches forced his eyes to adjust. Momentarily he raised his hand to shield his face, but then he quickly lowered it again as he saw one of the figures that stood silhouette take a step forwards. His hand clutched warningly at the hilt of his sword and he took a single step back, prepared to fight if the need came.
"Hermes," the figure spoke, and Hermes instantly recognized the voice as being that of the great Lord Zeus. "Stand down, Hermes. You have done well in finding my brother."
"It was I who led them here, Mi'lord," the messenger god replied bravely, holding his chin high to give the outward appearance of confidence when deep inside he was shaking with fear from this powerful god. "It was I who helped Kore escape . . . and it was I who brought her to Lord Hades."
There were a few gasps of surprise and startled whispers from the gods and goddesses that stood about watching this scene unfold. Kore buried her head against Hades' chest, fearing now not only for his life but for the life of her half brother as well.
"You?" Zeus demanded incredulously, his voice shaking a small amount with anger. "You have betrayed me, Hermes?"
"Never, Mi'lord," Hermes answered with a shake of his head. "I would never purposefully betray you. However, I could not betray my heart . . . nor the heart of the one I hold most dear." He took a deep breath, glancing back towards Hades and Kore and noted the grudging respect that he now saw reflected in the dark lord's eyes as he held Kore. When Hermes turned back, he addressed Zeus directly, now able to see him more clearly since his eyes had adjusted. "Lady Artemis came to me and requested that I speak with Kore in hopes of finding out what it was that made her so downcast. At first I did not wish to know and wanted to refuse the job, but I could never refuse someone like Lady Artemis. I went to Kore's bedchamber and was able to speak with her. At length I was able to speak to her and she told me exactly what ailed her. Quite simply, Mi'lord, Kore was dying of a broken heart."
"A broken heart?" Zeus demanded, genuine confusion showing on his face as he looked between Hermes and the couple that stood in the shadows behind him. Suddenly so many things were beginning to fall into place.
"Yes, Mi'lord. She cried out for her lost lover . . . Lord Hades."
"That is a lie!"
There were several gasps and all eyes turned to the one who had yelled out, Lady Demeter. She stood with her hands balled into two tight fists and her face as red as her robes.
"He lies, Mi'lord!" she yelled furiously. "He has stolen my daughter away and given her to this . . . this . . . creature for some gain of his own! How much did you promise him for my daughter, Lord Hades? Perhaps the whole of your diamond mines and your emeralds and your rubies!"
Hades eyes flickered darkly at this direct attack and Kore stared at her mother in shock.
"No, Mother, I was not stolen away!" she cried passionately. "I love Lord Hades! It is you that stole me away from my home!"
Hermes looked to Lord Zeus, knowing that he had managed to spark a certain amount of interest in him. "Mi'lord, Kore made a choice and no one forced it upon her. She was given the fruit of the dead and she ate of it without-."
"She was not warned!" Demeter cried out, advancing a few steps with rage. "She was not warned that the consequences of eating the food is-."
"She was warned!" Hermes snapped in reply, his eyes flaring up with a righteous anger now. "She was warned that to eat of the fruit was to mean an eternal life in the underworld yet she still ate of it! Your daughter is in love with Lord Hades, Demeter!"
"She is not-!"
"I am, Mother!" the goddess cried out in return, holding tighter to Hades than she had ever held before. She pursed her lips tightly together and then turned her eyes to look up into the face of her dark lover as she spoke softly, "And I would much rather die a thousand deaths than to be separated from him for all of eternity."
Silence reigned over the gathered assembly as all eyes darted between the combatants. Zeus stood poised and rigid, one hand stroking his beard as he only did when in deep thought. His dark eyes glanced to Hermes who returned his gaze with a very serious expression. Then his eyes darted towards Hades & Kore and he saw the way his daughter held so tightly to her lover, her head buried against his chest as he ran his fingers soothingly through her hair.
"Brother," Hades spoke for the first time, his voice strangely quiet and almost a plea for understanding. "It is true that we have never been on the best of terms and there has been many a time when I have cursed you for drawing the lot that would give you Olympus. But, please . . . I beg of you . . . don't take her away from me. She is all I have and without her I am truly nothing. Please, just . . . do not take her from me again."
Zeus felt his heart soften a small amount at this. Never before had he seen his brother like this and it was almost as though he were looking at someone else all together. He was not the same man that had come into the council chambers so long ago. Bitter, cold, resentful. He now had a strange gentleness to him that was shown merely in the way he held the girl. The way he comforted her with his presence. The way he loved her.
And what of Kore? She had obviously changed a great deal as well though he had been quite blind to it up until now. She was no longer a child with an innocent and somewhat naïve gaze and way of viewing the world around her. She was a woman now. Her eyes showed him a maturity and wisdom that he could have never thought her capable of. Yes, and there was love too. A deep and powerful love that could never be broken by any supernatural forces.
They had found themselves in each other. They had found the reason that they were meant to live. No longer would they be forced to wander through the world aimless and alone for now they could share in one of the most beautiful and cherished relationships that could ever bless two people.
And this thought made Zeus smile.
"My brother," he spoke in an equally gentle tone. "I can see that what you tell me is indeed true. I do believe that you love Kore . . . and that she loves you in return." There was some more surprised whispering from behind him, but he ignored it and continued on. "However, I am also faced with a terrible dilemma. If Kore returns below with you then I know that Demeter shall once again send a great frost upon our land."
"That is right, I shall!" Demeter voiced.
Kore moaned inwardly and buried her face tightly against Hades' chest, believing all hope to be lost. They would tear her from his arms just as quickly as they possibly could and she would never be able to see him again.
"But Mi'lord," Hermes cried out defensively. "Kore has eaten of the food of the dead. By your own law she is to be forever banished into the underworld."
"By 'the food of the dead' Lord Zeus surely meant a feast," Demeter responded with a sneer. "Or perhaps even a full banquet, not simply a-."
"No, Demeter," Zeus growled softly, his brow furrowing with thought. "No. I said 'the food of the dead'. That means anything that is grown and harvested down below."
Demeter flustered, looking about to the gods and goddesses that stood about, wondering why they did not rise up in order to help her fight this injustice. "Yes, but, well, surely you cannot expect her to be banished forever merely for-."
"Kore," the great god spoke, motioning a large hand towards her. "How many seeds was it that you ate of the pomegranate?"
The goddess turned her dark green eyes up towards Hades momentarily, gently pulling away just enough so she could face her father when she looked back to him. "Only six, Mi'lord. I must admit that I was unable to finish it because I knew that Mother would soon be-."
"There now, you see," Demeter cried out victoriously. "She only ate six seeds! That's hardly enough to be-."
"Silence!" Zeus roared angrily, and even the soft whispers ended abruptly at his tone. He glared hard at Demeter who only shook her head in a pleading manner, her eyes begging him not to take her daughter away from her again. He breathed in deeply, controlling his anger and putting it in check before letting out that breath slowly. When he spoke again his voice was calm, but filled with a firm and final judgment. "Very well. I have reached my decision. I have realized that there truly is a deep and unquestionable love between these two beings and that this love is as pure and as true as ever I have seen it."
Kore and Hades looked to each other and could not hold back a shared loving smile at his words.
"However," Zeus continued before Demeter could raise her voice once more in protest. "I also know that the love for a daughter is something that every mother cherishes above all else and that the Fates have deemed this love to remain strong even through such trials as these." He glanced towards Demeter now who nodded her head in agreement, and then looked back to Hades & Kore. "That is why I have come to my final decision. There were six seeds eaten of the fruit that was given to young Kore. Therefore each seed shall be made to represent a month. For six months, Kore shall be condemned to remain in the underworld with her husband . . . and for the remaining six months she shall return to Mt. Olympus to be with her mother."
There was a murmur of approval at this wise decision from several of those gathered, but Demeter could only shake her head. "What? Six months? But, Mi'lord, six months in that dreary place will surely-!"
"I have made my decision, Demeter!" Zeus shouted angrily, his fiery gaze holding her tongue still even more than his words. "Let no one question it. From this day forth, that is the way it shall be." Then, without any more said, Zeus pivoted on his heel and began to walk away, followed close behind by Aphrodite and Hera.
Artemis glanced to Apollo and made a motion of her hand as though to say "one moment", then she turned and walked towards where Hades and Kore stood, both looking a bit overwhelmed by the happenings. She smiled softly to Kore and embraced the girl with a firm hug.
"We shall miss you around here, child," she murmured softly when she drew away. "I had grown rather fond of someone that would actually sit around and listen to my stories of the hunt."
"I shall look forward to hearing all of them when I return," Kore replied quietly with a smile before giving her friend and mentor a final hug. "May the Fates guide you, Lady Artemis."
"And you as well . . . Lady Persephone."
Kore could not help but smile at the use of the name she had insisted upon being called now. She watched as Artemis looked to Hades and nodded respectfully to him before returning to her twin brother's side and beginning to follow the rest of the entourage out of the cave.
"You shall regret this, Lord Hades," Demeter cursed him over her shoulder as she followed behind the others, knowing that if she did not follow now there would be no torchlight for her to see by. "When the muses sing of this story they shall sing of you with scorn and bitterness and all mortal's will know of your vile and black heart! You just wait and see. Mark my words, Mi'lord, the Fates shall curse you for this day."
Kore turned her head away with shame at her Mother's hateful words, unable to watch as she left to catch up with the others.
"Well," Hades murmured in a strangely light-hearted tone. "She'll make a fantastic mother-in-law, won't she?"
Against her will, Kore could not help but laugh right out loud at his words, shaking her head at the mental images that she got.
Hermes, who had stayed behind with a single torch given to him by Apollo, looked to them with a soft sigh. "Well . . . I do believe that is that, eh?"
Hades nodded his head respectfully, his tone sincere when he spoke. "You have proved to be a truly amazing man, Hermes . . . and I can't thank you enough for all that you have done. I shall be forever in your debt should you ever require anything of me."
The messenger god returned the nod with one of his own, then he looked to Kore with a gentle smile. "Just look after her for me, Mi'lord. I've no idea what I would do without her in this world."
Stepping forward, Kore stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms tightly around Hermes' neck, sighing ever so softly as her heart broke within her at having to leave her beloved friend.
"Don't worry about me now," Hermes chuckled softly, for once sounding genuinely happy. "I'll see you in six months, alright? And who knows . . . maybe I can get Lord Zeus to assign me to escorting the dead souls down below, eh? Then I'd be able to see you probably more than you would care for!"
Kore drew back and smiled up at him with a shake of her head. "Never. Please, stop in as often as you can."
"Yes," Hades spoke quietly from behind. "Please do, Hermes."
Hermes glanced to Kore and then to Hades before extending a hand to the dark lord. "Mi'lord, it would be an honor."
Hades regarded the outstretched hand with only a moments hesitation before he took it firmly in his grasp. "May the Fates guide you . . . my friend."
The messenger god nodded. "The same to you." Then, with a final smile to Kore and a nod of his head, Hermes took flight on his sandaled wings and swooped off down the cave in order to meet up with the others.
Kore watched after him until she could not see him any longer and the brightness of his torchlight had completely died away so that she was once again thrust into the darkness. But this time, instead of thinking of the demons and creatures that could possibly be lurking in wait, she turned to the place where she knew her dark lover stood and reached a hand for him.
"Well then, Mi'lord, you must now put up with me for six months . . . whatever shall we do now?"
There was a soft, rich chuckle that filled the air before her hand was met with his own and she felt him guide it to his chest right above where she could feel his heart beating within him.
"Come. Let us go home, my beloved Persephone. Let us go home."