-Part Two-

Chryseis, one of Ocean's daughters, laughed as she wove a bright yellow daisy into her crown of flowers, and glanced up to look at one of her sisters, Europe, with a playful smile. "Alright then, here's the question I have for you . . . and remember, you must answer truthfully!"

Polydora looked over towards Kore and the two friends shared a 'oh, this is going to be good' look before glancing back to the challenger.

"I'll answer any question you put to me and swear it by the River Styx," Europe replied with a haughty toss of her golden locks of hair back over her shoulder.

"Alright then, here's your question," and Chryseis leaned forward with a wicked glint in her sapphire blue eyes. "Do you now or have you ever had a crush on . . . Hermes?"

Europe's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped with shock at the question, and even if she hadn't sworn to answer truthfully, the truth was apparent on her face. The other three girls burst out laughing at the expression she gave, and Kore could not help but wrinkle up her nose teasingly. "You have a crush on Hermes?! Ugh!"

This made the girls laugh even harder as Europe looked down to the flowers in her hand bashfully, flushing at the accusation.

"But he's so cute!" she called out above their merriment, trying to convince them of the fact. "I mean, the way his hair is just so perfect and his eyes so large and his hands so powerful . . . " she could not help but give a dreamy sigh as she mock swooned at the very thought of him. Then she looked over at Polydora, who still chuckled at her sister's antics, and stuck out her tongue. "Besides, you have no room to laugh . . . you have a crush on Ares!"

Kore and Chryseis looked at Polydora in shock. This was something new!

"I do not!" she cried out indignantly before giving a moment's hesitation. "Well, that is . . . I mean . . . He is so terribly handsome!" she finally burst and could not help but start laughing again at her own confession.

"You think Ares is handsome?" Chryseis shook her head with an exaggerated look of disgust. "But he's so . . . built!"

Kore laughed at her best friend's choice of word. "And this is a bad thing . . . why?"

"Well, you know, he's got all that muscle and all . . . so when you lay in his arms it would be like curling up against a rock!"

Kore only smirked and shook her head at that. She stretched out languidly on her stomach, continuing to weave flowers into her crown one by one as the wind blew ever so softly back through her hair.

It had been quite a few years since the event at Olympus. After her first meeting with Hades, young Kore had continued to look for him in the meetings that followed, but he never showed up. When she questioned her mother about the disappearance of Lord Hades, she would snap that he had 'gone away forever and would hopefully never be returning' and that 'she should forget ever having met him'. These statements made Kore very upset for awhile because she simply could not understand why her mother hated the dark god so much. He had seemed like a very nice person.

But as time went by, Kore had finally forgotten about Hades almost entirely, forcing herself to turn away from her flights of fantasy and pursue what had to be done for growing up.

And so, the young goddess had grown to be a very beautiful and mature young woman. Over the time she had learned to read and write from Athena, play a few sweet songs upon the lyre from Apollo, and Hermes was always around to get into trouble with. At one time Artemis had even offered to take her hunting but, although it would have thrilled Kore greatly, her mother would never allow it.

Some things will never change . . .

"What about you, Kore?" Europe questioned all of a sudden, twirling a lovely lily between her fingertips. "Who is that special man in your life?"

"Yes, Kore," Polydora broke in excitedly, always ready for some juicy gossip. "You've never told us before!"

Kore sat up on her elbows and laughed, but before she could answer, Chryseis broke in with a playful smirk. "I bet Kore has never even met another man except for the gods of Olympus. You know her mother wouldn't let her go wandering off without any constant supervision."

"That's not true," Kore scoffed, throwing a small pebble playfully at her friend. "I've met lots of men on my journeys!"

"Okay, I have a test for you then to see how much of a 'Momma's baby' you are. How much time in the past few days have you spent doing any of the following: Holding Mommy's hand when you crossed the street, listening to a bedtime story, or climbing into Mommy's bed when you had a nightmare?"

Even Kore had to laugh right along with the other three girls as she drew herself up to a sitting position once again. "Hey, I will have you know that I was very rebellious last night," she remarked with a teasing glint in her emerald eyes. "I took a bath . . . and did not wash behind my ears."

Ocean's daughters mockingly 'ooooohhhhh'ed over their friends "rebellious side".

"Why, Kore, I never knew you had it in you! Whatever will you do next?" Chryseis laughed, before getting smacked lightly in the face with a daisy.

All of a sudden a loud trumpet called out from across the ocean, and the four young ladies turned their eyes out towards the sea below the cliff of field they sat upon.

"That's Triton," Europe stated as she rose to her feet, brushing off her skirt as she did so. "We should probably be getting back home."

Polydora nodded her head in agreement as she entwined the final flower into her crown. "It's starting to get dark out anyways."

"Will you be able to come out again tomorrow?" Chryseis asked Kore as her sisters began to make their way to the ledge that dropped off down into the ocean.

The goddess sighed and shook her head. "Tomorrow Mother and I are going to Corinth to check on their grain and wheat. She said there have been complaints lately as to a drought or some such bit of nonsense."

"Right. Well, I guess we'll see you around then." Then she too dove gracefully over the side of the small ledge and fell until there was a soft splash heard below.

Kore gave a light sigh of longing as she gazed out over the ocean that shimmered with the brilliance of the setting sun. Even though she laughed and teased about her mother's strictness right along with her friends, it really did hurt a little bit deep down within.

I mean, I'm almost twenty-one in mortal years, yet she still treats me like a child! How am I ever to put to use everything I have learned and studied if she never allows me to go beyond her calling range by myself?

Rising to her bare feet as she rolled her eyes, Kore gave a languid stretch, feeling a few pops in her back before relaxing and turning her gaze out over the ocean a final time. Polydora had been right when she said it would be getting dark soon, for already Helios' ball of fire had becoming a brilliant pinkish-orange color as the sky began to shift to a rich purple color. The entire scene was very picturesque, and Kore found herself wishing she could freeze this time and place and be able to return to it whenever she wished.

If a wish were a Pegasus, then beggars would fly.

Turning about on her heel and beginning to make her way slowly back to Mount Olympus, Kore reached down and plucked a flower from here, there, and yonder and weaved it into the magnificent crown that was being constructed. She had made many flower-crowns before, but this one was her favorite and most extravagant of all of them by far for she had been working on this one for about five months now. It was filled with flowers of all sorts and colors. There were three sea shells that Polydora, Europe, and Chryseis had given to her from their home as a friendship charm, and even a satin green ribbon the color of her eyes that Hermes had stolen from a mortal young lady when it reminded him of her.

Still, despite the wondrous look of the crown, it had something missing and she couldn't tell exactly what . . . but the moment she saw it, she knew it would just hit her.

Suddenly a soft, frantic chirping caught her attention from on in the bushes. Kore turned to look to where the noise had come from and saw something flitting and jumping every now and then across the ground. Due to the impending darkness she was unable to make out exactly what it was, though she knew it had to be a bird of some sort, and an injured one at that.

Drawing steadily closer to the tiny creature, she made sure that she didn't startle the poor thing by sneaking up on it without any warning. Her footsteps were purposefully loud in the thick grass, and she bent down lower so as not to appear a complete giant over the small thing - a sparrow, she could now make out.

"Don't worry, little one," she spoke soothingly as she very slowly dropped down to her knees beside the bird where it still attempted to move about on the grass. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Two dark eyes turned up towards her and it gave a pitiful little chirp as it sat still, its chest heaving with exertion of its struggle to get somewhere. Kore leaned down a bit closer and saw that its wing was stretched all the way out beside it, and obviously broken, causing it to flop and squirm every time it tried to move again. She gently pet its head with one finger and it began to settle down some, allowing her to get as close as she needed to without attempting to move away.

"Ouch. Looks like that must really hurt, huh?" Kore spoke softly, almost as though she was speaking to a mortal child that had scraped its knee. She looked up into the tree that the bird lay under and could make out the dim outline of a bird's nest a few branches up. "Hmm . . . must have fallen all the way from there."

After a moment of thoughtfulness she turned her attention once again to the bird as it gave a low noise that sounded much like a sob of pain to Kore. She pursed her lips together, not knowing exactly what to do about the situation. She could not simply leave the poor thing here to die, but then she could not take it up into Olympus either. Nothing from the mortal world was allowed there without specific permission from Zeus himself.

Oh, I wish Artemis was here . . .

Suddenly she had a wonderful idea. Artemis! She would hide the sparrow and take it directly to Artemis so that she might be able to help it. Surely she would not report her to Zeus. No, Kore knew she would not. Not with the soft spot that Artemis had for animals, whether they were big or small.

Reaching down, the compassionate goddess tenderly scooped up the wee fledgling, careful to avoid touching its broken wing and held it in the palm of one hand, with her other hand cupped protectively around it. "Alright then, my little friend. Let's just hurry on before Mother sends out Hermes to look

for-."

"Persephone . . . "

Kore turned about, startled at what sounded like a human voice, though it was so soft that she could not have been sure. She frowned for there was nothing there except the ever present darkness that was growing steadily deeper by the moment.

Perhaps it was the wind . . . Or the surf crashing against the rocks down below . . . Or maybe it was her own overactive imagination at being out this time of the evening, when shadows began to melt slowly into the oncoming night, and the moon rose so as to give a very dim gleam of light.

She studied the surrounding area, not exactly sure from which direction she had heard the sound. It had been more like the wind as it rushes by, coming from all places and sides at once. Yet though she searched the place carefully with her eyes, she saw nothing more than the trees that blanketed and covered the sky from the earth, allowing only small sparks of starlight to leak through.

It was nothing, Kore. You're letting your imagination get the best of you again! What did your mother tell you about that? Really, you can be so childish sometimes!

With these mental reprimands, Kore turned about to take her leave, holding the sparrow closer to her chest as it squirmed a bit in her hand.

"Persephone . . . "

She gasped, turning sharply to her right for this time she was certain she had heard something! A distinct word and a distinct direction. It was not merely a whisper upon the wind, but an actual voice.

"Who's there?" she called, hoping her voice wasn't shaking as bad as her hands were.

There was no answer, save another ghostly murmur of, "Persephone . . . "

This time it had come from her left, and she jumped at how close it sounded. Facing the direction in which the call had come, she began to back away very slowly, prepared to make a break for it the moment that she was out of the covering of trees and into the clearing of the field once more. Her eyes darted from side to side, the slightest movement of a branch causing her heart to jump into her throat and her blood to start pounding even sharper. The darkness was very unkind, and gave her no comfort whatsoever as to allowing any light to be shed upon the gloomy and eerie place that at any other time of the day would be wonderful for resting under a tree.

Just as she felt that she was home free, and prepared to turn about and run, she heard the voice once more - directly behind her.

"Persephone."

She whirled about with a soft cry of fear, jumping back and away with the same reflex. Standing there before her was a tall man, a cloak concealing his appearance from shoulders to feet, and a dark shine to his cold eyes.

"Wh-Who are you?" she asked softly, backing away from the figure, unable to make him out clearly in the darkness that he seemed to only blend into.

He bowed his head, walking in a very slow stroll towards her even as she retreated and a soft chuckle that sent a frigid chill down her spine issued from the very depths of his entire being. "Ah, my dearest Persephone, could you have forgotten me already? Is it true that you have not so much as thought of me in the past few years, even as you have plagued my own thoughts every day?"

Kore shook her head fearfully, almost stumbling over a root that seemed to have risen up for the express purpose of catching her foot. "I do not know who you are . . . nor why you call me 'Persephone'. My name is Kore, daughter of the goddess of earth, Demeter."

There. If he were some lowly mortal come to frighten lost girls, at least he now knew that she was the daughter of a goddess, and that to harm her in any way would be to bring about his own untimely death and destruction.

But deep down inside she felt completely sure that this was no 'lowly mortal'.

The man stopped his approach as he saw her drawing steadily closer to the ledge that plummeted down into the dark sea below. However, he made a motion of his hand towards her from the folds of his cloak and spoke in that deep and alluring voice of his, trying to set her at ease. "Persephone . . . 'one of dazzling brilliance'. That is what you are, my fairest lady. Why, even in this darkness you are a beacon of light." When he saw that the fear and suspicion had not left her eyes, he lowered his voice to a tone as gentle and reassuring as was possible for him, using the same words that she had used to comfort the trembling bird. "Don't worry, little one. I'm not going to hurt you."

Kore had ceased to move backwards when he too had stopped moving, feeling a tree against her back, trapping her there and stopping any further steps she might wish to take backwards, unless she wanted to go over the edge to meet Poseidon himself. However, when she heard his words, spoken with such calmness and sincerity, she could not help but meet his eyes with a hint of wonder deep within her gaze. His eyes were deep and filled with such a mixture of turbulent emotion, that she could not pick one out of all of them, but he held a cross between a smirk and an actual smile upon his lips that seemed so terribly familiar.

Just then it hit her all of a sudden and her voice was no more than the softest of whispers as her eyes widened with recognition. "Lord Hades . . . ?"

The dark lord breathed out a very soft breath, savoring the sound of his name upon her precious lips before sweeping her the same grand bow that he had so many years ago. "Your most humble of servants, Mi'lady." He could actually feel his heart soar with something of elation that she had indeed remembered him.

Kore placed a hand over her throbbing heart and breathed a deep sigh of relief as she offered him an elegant curtsy in return. "And yours, Mi'lord." She could feel the fear being drained from her very slowly, leaving her almost exhausted and aching with the aftermath of it. Still, something did not feel right about the entire situation and something inside her head told her to run home, and run like the wind itself were at her heels.

But Kore had never been one to listen to her head.

"You must forgive me, but I did not recognize you. It has been a very long time."

Hades took a very slow step forward, almost as though he were testing the boundaries to see how close he could get to the fair maiden. "Yes. Far too long."

Though she could not see him very well except for the dimmest of traces of his features in the night, his eyes were far more accustomed to the darkness and could make out every tiny and intricate detail of her lovely form. The very sight of her nearly took his breath away. He had come still expecting to see something of a child, but this creature of magnificence was indeed a grand young woman.

Her burgundy hair was in a mass of perfect ringlets, framing her face and bringing out the natural crimson color of her lips. Her eyes, still the most striking thing about her, still maintained their brilliance and innocence, and seemed even more beautiful to him with the stars' light reflecting on their glassy surface. Her skin was smooth and as flawless as silk itself and he could almost sense the warmth of her flesh as he recalled that precious moment when she reached out and took his hand.

Kore could feel his eyes as they slowly scanned over her completely, taking in everything that he saw like a painter committing a scene to memory so he might later call it back and place it upon a palate. The sensation, she had to admit, was both strangely pleasurable and unsettling at the same time.

"Forgive me, Mi'lord," she spoke softly, her voice seeming breathy with a sudden lack of air. "But I really must be getting home. Mother will be terribly worried if I am missing for too long. Plus," now she held up the tiny sparrow that was still cupped in her hands lightly and a tender smile crossed her lips as she looked down upon it. "I must get to Artemis so that she might be able to see about this poor thing."

Hades moved closer as though to get a better look, and was almost surprised when Kore did not pull away, but instead stepped forward and extended her hands for him to see.

"The bird is injured?" he questioned with feigned concern. Of course he knew that the creature was hurt for he had been the one to put it there where she might find it. He knew that the clement Kore would not be able to pass by without offering some kind of help.

"I believe its wing is broken." She stepped a bit closer to him now, not thinking a thing of it as she opened her top hand so that he could have a good look. "See how it holds its wing?"

"Ah, yes, I can see that. Hmm. I don't suppose you would mind if I held it, would you?"

"Oh, no, not at all, Mi'lord!" and very carefully she place the tiny life into his large, cold hands.

Hades went slightly rigid at the intoxicating sensation of her warm fingertips as they brushed along his palm and he sucked in a slow breath. In the air that he took in he caught a faint hint of her perfume, and he closed his eyes as he savored the lingering scent of her upon the air. She was so close . . . So trusting . . . He could reach out and take her now and no one would be any the wiser.

No! No, you must wait. Just hold out for a few more minutes . . . Wait . . .

The little sparrow looked up at Hades with a sharp turn of its head and gave a small chirp as though it were recognizing its master. Kore ran her finger ever so lightly against its head, looking up towards Hades with a concerned crease above her brow as she continued to lightly stroke the soft-feathered body.

"I'm not supposed to take it into Olympus. Strictly speaking, we're not allowed to bring anything from the mortal world into the realm of the gods."

Hades turned his dark eyes away from the sparrow and met Kore's deep, emerald orbs with an ever so light arch of his eyebrow.

The girl felt his gaze as it penetrated deep down to within her very soul, and she quickly glanced back down with a soft flush to her face that he should study her so intently. "However, I could not simply leave the poor thing to die out here. That would be a most cruel thing to do indeed."

"What do you plan to do then?" he questioned softly, leaning forward just a little bit so that his warm breath brushed ever so lightly against her temples.

"As I said, I had hoped to take it to Artemis. She would know what to do with it better than I."

"But if you are unable to take it into Olympus . . . ?"

"Then I shall have to sneak it in," and her eyes turned to look up at him with a firm and confident gaze, that slowly melted in a thoughtful wonder. "Unless . . . unless you had the power to help it?"

A smirk raced over his lips and he almost gave a deep chuckle. He had known she would pose the question to him. Everything was going exactly as he had planned.

"I mean," Kore continued, her voice with a hopeful plea lacing it. "I know that you are the god of . . . death . . . but surely you could help me spare the life of one small creature?"

A feigned look of thoughtful concern could be seen within his eyes as he looked down towards the sparrow he still held lightly cupped in his palm. "Well, now, you see, I am often confused with the god of death. No, Mi'lady, I am merely the god of the underworld . . . the place in which all the dead must reside."

Kore shook her head quickly, those burgundy strands of hair falling before her tantalizing eyes. "Well, whatever you are the god of, surely you have enough power to be able to heal her."

"Her?" Hades asked with a genuine smirk of amusement.

"Well, it didn't sound right calling her an 'it' all the time."

The mysterious god shook his head, looking back down towards the bird. She would indeed never cease to amaze him.

Kore pursed her lips tightly together as he shook his head, concern flashing through her eyes as her brow wrinkled with an inner sense of worry. "Will you not help me then?"

Hades raised his head, tilting it every so slightly off to the right side as he regarded her calmly. "Do you too not maintain the power to be able to heal such an insignificant creature as this?"

"She's not insignificant," Kore proclaimed, stopping herself from stomping her foot in a most childish way. "And no. At least, if I do, I do not know how to use them."

"Would you like for me to show you, then?"
The goddess blinked in surprise at the god, having not expected this response out of the many that she could have received. It had never really occurred to her that she too could hold some kind of special magic. It had always seemed something reserved for the older, more experienced goddesses only. Something that you just happened to inherit along the way . . . Or perhaps learn.

Hades shifted his weight to his other leg, tossing a dark flood of raven hair behind his shoulders. "Well? Are you interested, then?"

Kore looked upon him for another long while before looking down at the bird uncertainly as it turned its head this way and that between them in an all-too-cute manner. She had ceased to flit and flop around, and now sat very still in Hades palm, seeming to Kore to be almost exasperated with waiting.

Surely by now I could have fixed my wing myself! she almost heard it saying.

"Well?" Hades prompted her when she did not respond, already feeling a small bit of disappointment at the thought that she would not accept his offer.

Kore slowly dragged her eyes away from the seemingly impatient sparrow, and nodded her head, still a bit uncertain. What if she should mess up somehow and kill her? What then? She would be absolutely traumatized with grief.

Almost as though he were reading her thoughts, Hades set the bird once more into her outstretched hands and murmured, "Do not worry. I will not let anything happen to it . . . her."

The nervous goddess took a deep breath of the cool air and nodded her head, feeling a little bit more at ease with that promise. She glanced up at Hades with an 'all right . . . what do I do now?' question in her eyes.

Hades rested one hand on her shoulder in silent response, the warmth of her body spilling into his veins like the sweetest intoxication, and turned her very slowly about so that she faced away from him. Boldly he stepped up close behind her so that her back pressed tightly against his chest. She reacted the way he had expected, stiffening with surprise . . . and he could actually feel her blood pulsing a bit faster with a mixture of fear and bewilderment. The softest bit of an innocent blush colored her fair cheeks.

"You must trust me," he whispered soothingly almost directly against her ear, as he wrapped his strong arms very slowly about her lithe body so that he cupped her two smaller hands that held the bird in between his own. She did not relax completely, nor had he expected her too, but he could feel the smallest bit of tension leave her body at his words. "Now, I want you to close your eyes and clear your mind of everything . . . all right?"

Kore held her breath, trying to ignore the cold presence of this near-complete stranger as he guided her hands to hold the small sparrow closer to her body. She could feel his firm chest as it pressed against her back, seeming to fit in a strangely perfect manner, and she was almost completely distracted by the awkward sense of security from everything else in the world when his arms wrapped about her.

But who would protect her from him?

Seeing the strained marks of thought slowly fade from her face as she fought to relax her mind and put all things from it, Hades continued to speak in his soft voice. "Now, I want you to concentrate hard upon this bird. Don't think of anything else, merely focus in on her. Feel her heartbeats . . . count them . . . see through her eyes." As he spoke he studied her flawless face for a time as he watched her lips slowly part with deep intakes of breath as she focused as he had told her to do.

Pygmalion himself could not have constructed a more beautiful woman than this.

He spoke even softer now, so as not to break her concentration. "Now . . . I want you to reach out to her . . . and heal her. No questions asked . . . it will come naturally."

Kore found herself holding her breath again as she focused every last fiber of her being onto the small creature. She reached deep down within as only a true goddess could be capable of, and called upon the healing of the sparrow.

There was no explaining how it was done in any words that a mere mortal might understand, but all of a sudden Kore felt her give a twitch, and then she chirped, and then she gave what felt like a surprised wiggle inside her hands.

Hades smirked, turning his head towards the lovely goddess just a bit, his lips brushing ever so lightly against her ear as he spoke. "Now . . . open your hands."

Kore opened her hands and eyes very slowly and was surprised to find that, when she looked down at the precious creature, the wing that had been twisted about in a most excruciating way was now perfect!

The goddess could not help but laugh excitedly as she turned her head just a bit to speak to Hades with a childlike wonder. "I did it!"

The bird gave a happy little squeak, as though sharing the girl's feelings, and stretched its wings out as wide as they would go. Then, with an encouraging nudge from Hades' forefinger, she fluttered her wings and took flight, much to the delight and amazement of Kore as she watched the bird sail gracefully away into the dark night.

"That was amazing!" she all but squealed with delight after a moment of standing there in awe, watching after the animal that she had managed to heal. She whirled about on her bare feet in order to face Hades' with the most brilliant smile he had ever seen. "I mean . . . I didn't know that I could do that! It was . . . the feeling of it . . . "

"For once you had power," Hades offered with an amused smirk. "For once you were able to alter the course of what the Fates had set into motion."

"Exactly!"

A very low chuckle reverberated from his throat as he took a very casual step towards her. He had known she would be enthralled with this power, just as a mortal child is amazed with simple magic. But then, it was all just as he had planned; after all, he had had more than enough time to think this through and had prepared for anything and everything.

"Kore?! Kore, where are you?"

Okay, everything but that . . .

The girl's eyes widened, breaking her from her trance-like reverie. "Oh no," she moaned softly, turning her head towards where the voice had come. "It's Hermes! My mother must have sent him to come looking for me. By the Fates, I'm really going to get it now!"

"Wait!" he reached out his hand imploringly to her as she began to brush past him.

"Kore? Kore, stop playing around!"

She turned about anxiously, looking between him and the direction in which the voice had come. "I'm truly sorry, Mi'lord, but I must go. Perhaps I shall see you tomorrow, but Mother will be terribly angry if I do not come."

Taking hold of her arm lightly, he forced himself to take in a calming breath and smile in his own reassuring way. It was now or never. He gave a flourishing movement of his fingers and out of thin air one of the most beautiful flowers that Kore had ever laid her eyes upon appeared. "A gift for the loveliest of all goddesses."

The sight of the flower caused her to freeze in mid-motion, her eyes widening at the intricate beauty and detail. It looked as though it were made of pure gold, and it actually gave off a soft light that broke through the bitter darkness in a truly amazing way.

It was exactly what she had been looking for! The final addition to her crown!

"Smell it," he offered softly, holding the flower out to her. "Its scent matches its beauty."

Kore reached out slowly, her eyes never leaving the flower that caused her to feel almost hypnotized with its splendor. Gingerly she plucked it from between his cold fingertips and raised it to her nose to breathe in the sweet nectar.

Hades watched her with a dim glimmer in his dark eyes. "It is called a narcissus."

Oh, it smells just like a spring day, she thought as she breathed in deeply, shutting her eyes lightly as the strong fragrance wafted about her.

Hermes' voice broke through the stillness in a most intrusive way. "All right, Kore, I give up. I can't find you. You win! Now come on out and rub it in my face so we can go home."

Kore was forced to tear herself away from the enchanted flower and she looked back over towards Hades with an apologetic expression. "Please forgive me, Lord Hades, but I really must go."

"But of course," he replied with a peculiarly light smile as he nodded his head towards her. "Sleep well, my beloved lady."

The goddess could not help but smile at his irresistible charm and, bending down to pick up her crown of flowers, she gathered her skirt into her grip so as to make a quick dash back out into the field. "Thank you, Mi'lord . . . and I pray we meet again soon."

Oh, that we will, my dearest Persephone . . . that we will.

"Kore, I'm missing Dionysus' and Ares' drinking contest because of you! Now will you please come on? I want to be there before one of them passes out!"

"Farewell, Mi'lord," and she turned about quickly, and began to run back towards the field.

Hades watched her retreating form with a self-satisfied smirk as he counted down under his breath. "Three . . . two . . . one . . . "

Kore stopped short in her run and placed a hand to her head as she stumbled just a bit. A groping hand quickly reached out and found the support of a nearby tree, dropping her crown to the ground as the world about her seemed to blur and shift. She felt strangely lightheaded, and shut her eyes tightly against the sudden collision of dark colors and shadows.

What's happening . . . ?

She fought to regain her balance once again, but her legs quaked violently underneath her, forcing her to once more grab hold of the tree and hang on with the last bit of failing strength that she had. In what seemed like a terribly far distance she heard Hermes' voice echoing and calling out her name. She cringed at the way it sounded so shrill and sharp suddenly in her head.

She staggered one last time with the soft whimper of, "Help me! Hades . . . "

And then she collapsed . . . and all went dark.