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Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

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BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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“Will you come with me?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said. “We all will, Sephy.”

When Hermes left, Persephone made her way to the queen's suite, anxious for an update on Harmonia. She found Sybil sitting on the bed beside the goddess.

“How is she?” Persephone asked as she moved to the bedside.

“Hecate says she has a fever,” said Sybil.

“Is that normal for a goddess?”

“She didn't say it was bad,” she said and then looked at Persephone. “Perhaps her body will heal itself.”

Persephone watched Harmonia's face, both pale and flushed at the same time. While she'd have liked to believe it was possible for Harmonia to heal without magic, she was not hopeful. It depended on how much Hydra venom had entered her veins.

What if Harmonia could not handle this?

Persephone tightened her jaw and pushed those thoughts away.

Losing Harmonia wasn't an option.

“Any update on Hades?” Sybil asked.

Persephone swallowed around something thick and sour in her throat.

“Nothing yet,” she said.

“He will be all right, Persephone,” Sybil said, her voice a quiet whisper.

“Do you know that or are you just hopeful?”

“I know what I saw before,” Sybil said. “When I was Apollo's oracle.”

When Persephone had first met Sybil, she had been in her final semester of college at New Athens University. At the time, she'd already caught Apollo's interest and was poised to have a promising career as the god's oracle, but he'd fired her after she'd refused his advances. It was a move Persephone had openly admonished only to face backlash from the public. Apollo, for all his faults, had endeared himself to the public, though now, needless to say, the God of Music had also endeared himself to Persephone.

“And now what do you see?” Persephone asked.

“I do not have a divine channel.”

“Does that mean you do not have visions?”

“I cannot ensure accuracy without a divine channel,” said Sybil.

“Would you like one?”

There was silence. Persephone looked back at Sybil, who was stunned.

“I don't know if I will ever have temples built in my
name or worshippers who seek my wisdom, but I must go to war with Helen and Theseus in the media, and I need someone I trust on my side.”

Persephone had yet to seek any news, yet to see what the world was saying about her—the goddess who had masqueraded as a mortal—but she knew Hermes was right. All she could do was tell the truth, and that would start with Sybil.

“Persephone,” Sybil whispered.

The goddess could not place the sound of the oracle's voice or the expression on her face. Would she say no? She had seemed to lose interest in the position entirely after her experience with Apollo.

Sybil took Persephone's hands in hers, squeezing.

“It would be an honor to be your oracle.”

Persephone arrived at the gates of Terme with Hecate on her left, Hermes on her right, and Ilias at her back. They were all draped in white robes, the color of mourning—
a brightness that would lead souls into the dark
. At least that was the prevailing belief of the living, though Zofie needed no assistance finding the Underworld. Still, Persephone dreaded the funeral rites. In some ways, it felt like facing Zofie's death all over again.

As soon as they appeared, two guards who stood on either side of the gate knelt, bringing their spears to their breasts. Their bronze armor gleamed, ignited like the great flaming basins flanking them. Persephone could feel the heat of the fire, yet she shivered as if cold fingers were grazing her skin.

Movement within the shadowed entrance caught
her attention, and from that darkness emerged Hippolyta. She was dressed in dark robes and draped in gold—a belt that cinched her waist, cuffs on her wrists and upper arms, long earrings that cascaded over her shoulders, a crown that rested against her forehead. Her hair was pulled away from her face, though ringlets slipped free from her binds, wreathing her stern but beautiful face.

Hecate, Hermes, and Ilias knelt while Persephone remained standing. It felt strange, but it was what Hecate had instructed her to do.

Queens do not kneel before queens
,” she said.

Then what do I do
?” Persephone asked.

Whatever Hippolyta does
,” Hecate replied.

Persephone held the queen's heavy-lidded gaze, her eyes the color of prehnite stones.

“Persephone, Goddess of Spring, daughter of Demeter, wife of Hades,” Hippolyta said, and her voice commanded attention though it was not harsh. “Welcome to Terme.”

Then she bowed her head, and Persephone did the same.

“We are grateful for your invitation, Queen Hippolyta,” Persephone said.

The warrior queen offered a small smile and then stepped to the side. “Walk beside me, Queen of the Dead.”

As Persephone joined her, Hippolyta turned, and the gates groaned as they opened, revealing her city, cast in amber light from the torches burning in the night. Despite the dark, the lush terrain of the Amazonian fortress was evident. Thick trees dotted the landscape,
sprouting between homes covered in flowering vines and gardens teeming with fragrant flora.

“I did not expect your kingdom to feel so much like home,” Persephone said.

It even smelled like spring—sweet with an edge of bitterness.

Hippolyta smiled. “Even warriors can appreciate beautiful things, Lady Persephone.”

Can you?
she wanted to ask.
When you hold honor so high?

But that would be an insult, and she was here for Zofie, who, despite how her own people had hurt her, believed wholly in the need for redemption. Persephone would not ruin that with her anger. Besides, it was Zofie's exile that had brought her to Persephone.

It had also brought her to death's door.

Persephone could not help the pain that blossomed in her chest as she was once more reminded that she bore witness to Zofie's murder. It had created a darkness within her, something different than what had grown in the aftermath of Lexa's death.

She feared how it made her feel, how it had changed her.

She wondered if Hades would recognize that wounded and withered part of her. If it would feel familiar because he had witnessed similar horrors.

That thought gave way to a different kind of pain, an ache she felt deep in her soul. She held her breath, hoping to suffocate every emotion that had risen inside her, and let her gaze fall to her feet. They walked along a dirt path lined with foliage, and as the leaves brushed against the hem of her robes, they seemed to grow taller and thicker.

“You are truly a Goddess of Spring,” said Hippolyta. There was a note to her voice, a sense of surprise.

Reluctantly, Persephone met her gaze, hoping she had managed enough control over her emotions.

“Were you in doubt?” she asked.

“New gods are a rare thing these days,” said Hippolyta.

It should have occurred to Persephone that some might be skeptical of her divinity. The world did not always take kindly to new, full-blooded gods. Such was the case when Dionysus was born. He had to fight to be counted among the Divine, and his battles had been bloody. But Persephone was not interested in proving herself—not to the world, to the Olympians, or to Hippolyta.

“It is curious that death would choose life as a bride,” Hippolyta said. “It is like the sun falling in love with the moon.”

“One cannot exist without the other,” Persephone said. “Just as honor cannot exist without shame.”

The queen gave a wry smile, and there was a tension at Persephone's back that she knew came from Hecate at her slight.

“True, Queen Persephone,” Hippolyta said. “Though I suppose it is not about one or the other but what comes in between.”

They continued down the path in silence when Hermes gave out a sudden, high-pitched scream. Swiftly, they were surrounded by Amazons, their weapons drawn. Persephone and Hippolyta whirled toward the god only to find his hands balled up beneath his chin and one leg off the ground.

Hecate and Ilias stared too.

It seemed to take Hermes a moment to realize what he had done, and he offered a sheepish, shy grin.

“There was a bug,” he explained. “A big one.”

A few of the Amazons snickered.

Hermes glowered and looked at Hecate and Ilias. “Tell me you saw it.”

Both of them shook their heads in quiet amusement.

Hippolyta rolled her eyes.

“Men,” she scoffed as she turned her back on the God of Trickery.

Persephone raised a brow at Hermes, who mouthed
it was huge
before swatting at another invisible bug.

They continued down the path until the city center was visible. At the site of the sunken courtyard, Persephone halted. A wooden pyre waited, and at each corner of what would become Zofie's infernal bed, there was a burning torch, the flames dancing in the muted dark.

Seeing it filled Persephone with dread. How many would burn like Zofie and Tyche?

“This is the nature of battle, Lady Persephone,” said Hippolyta.

It was strange to hear the Amazon queen speak so impassively about the death of one of her subjects, even if it was one who had been exiled, though Persephone realized the greatest honor to this tribe was to die in battle, to die for a cause.

“I did not know anyone had declared war,” Persephone said.

Looking back now, she realized that it had begun the moment Adonis had died.

“That is the fault of your husband,” Hippolyta said. “He has been fighting since the start.”

Persephone met her gaze, brows furrowed, but the queen did not explain.

Instead, she took a step forward. “Come.”

Persephone followed the queen along a winding path to a home caged in ivy. Shoots of pink crocus, purple iris, and yellow narcissus blanketed the lawn, leading to an open door through which Persephone could see Zofie's lifeless form.

Hippolyta entered with no hesitation, but Persephone found that her steps slowed as she crossed the threshold into the house of death, which was hot and smelled like wax, likely due to the oil anointing Zofie's body.

The Amazon lay on a high table dressed in white, her hands resting on her stomach, fingers closed over the hilt of her long sword. Her dark hair was smoothed into a braid, and she was crowned with a wreath of golden leaves.

She was beautiful, her limbs glistening beneath the firelight.

“You mourn so deeply, Lady Persephone,” Queen Hippolyta said. “Have you not welcomed Zofie into the Underworld?”

“I have,” Persephone said with a small smile, recalling her first sighting of the aegis. “But does the promise of seeing anyone again ever ease grief?”

The queen was quiet, though Persephone did not expect her to understand, just as Hades had not understood her fear of losing Lexa. Mourning was not just about the person. It was about the world one created around them, and when they ceased to exist, so did that world.

Hecate, Hermes, and Ilias approached, each saying
goodbye in their own way—Hecate with a prayer and Hermes with a kiss on Zofie's cheek. Persephone was most surprised by Ilias, who took his time, his face inches away as he whispered words she could not hear before pressing his lips to Zofie's.

When he straightened, he met Persephone's gaze with red-rimmed eyes before stepping away, making room for her.

As Persephone neared, she looked down at Zofie's serene face, and though she was beautiful, all Persephone could see was how she'd looked in death—stunned by the pain of Theseus's blade. She touched her hair and bent over her.

“You served so honorably, Zofie,” she whispered and kissed her forehead.

When she straightened, Hippolyta stood opposite her holding a wide leather belt.

“Lord Hades promised to return Zofie once she brought honor to us,” said Hippolyta. “In exchange, I agreed to lend him my belt.”

Persephone's brows rose in surprise. Hades had never told her how he'd met Zofie, and now she wondered why he'd asked for the belt, though it was not unusual for him to collect weapons or relics.

The Amazon queen extended her hands, the belt held flat between her palms.

“This is the Girdle of Hippolyta, a gift from my father, Ares, a symbol of my rule over the Amazons. Any mortal who wears it will be granted immortal strength.”

Persephone gazed at the belt and then at Hippolyta and shook her head.

“I cannot take it,” she said.

She did not understand the deal Hades had made with the queen, but it seemed wrong to accept such an item without him.

“You must,” Hippolyta said. “It is not a gift. It is a symbol of the promise I made, and I do not break promises.”

Persephone could not argue with that and did not wish to. She accepted the girdle, surprised by how light and soft it was. As soon as she had made the trade, Hippolyta spoke.

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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