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Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

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BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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Persephone wore a pale pink dress with a pleated skirt. The neckline was square and modest—
, Sybil had said as she handed her a set of pearl drop earrings to pair with the outfit. Leuce agreed.

“Clothing is a language,” she said. “It is just as important as the words you speak.”

“And what exactly is this outfit communicating?” Persephone asked.

Sybil brushed a stray piece of her hair behind her ear so that it blended with the elegant sweep of her curls. “It communicates warmth, intelligence…
,” she said. “So that when you apologize, they believe you.”

“Even if I am not sorry?”

Sybil shared a glance with Leuce and sighed. “I know it doesn't seem fair, Persephone, but Helen's article has brought your integrity into question, and you must rectify that.”

It seemed like such a foolish thing to be concerned
with given that Harmonia was not healing and Hades was missing, but this was not just about her reputation. It was about the reputation of all gods.

Since Helen had met Theseus, she had launched a media campaign against the Olympians, calling their rule into question, and while Persephone had plenty of issues with the way some of the gods reigned, Triad was far more problematic. They were quick to demand justice when the gods did not act according to their own ideals and claimed to be able to grant what the people wanted—wellness, wealth, and immortality. They were the same desires that had mortals seeking a bargain with Hades at Nevernight, ready to sacrifice their souls in the hope of something better.

But even if Triad's demigods managed to answer prayers, all they would do was prolong their inevitable fate.

Persephone had learned that the hard way, and so would the mortals who had benefited from Triad's divine power. The question was how much influence the demigods would hold by the time the truth was discovered.

“You can do this, Persephone,” said Leuce. “Just…be yourself.”

The problem was that being herself meant being angry and unapologetic.

“Leuce and I are going to go check on Harmonia before we leave,” Sybil said.

“Of course,” said Persephone.

When she was alone, she turned from the mirror and crossed to the bar. She poured a glass of whiskey and drank it, swallowing hard against the burn in her throat
before pouring another. As she downed the second, tears were already blurring her vision.

She let them overwhelm her for a moment, her shoulders shaking before she managed to compose herself. She wiped the tears from her eyes and then poured another glass, taking a deep breath before she brought it to her lips.

“Drowning your sorrows?”

Persephone turned swiftly.

“Aphrodite,” she breathed. Her eyes flitted toward Hephaestus, whom she was also surprised to see. “I'm so glad you're all right.”

The last time she had seen her was on the battlefield outside Thebes when Ares had launched his gold spear in her direction. Aphrodite had stepped into its path. Persephone would never forget how her back had arched at such an odd angle once pierced or how Hephaestus had bellowed his anger and pain.

The Goddess of Love offered a small smile. “Yes. I am all right.”

Persephone could not help it. She drew the goddess in for a hug. Aphrodite stiffened but soon relaxed and returned the embrace. After a moment, Persephone pulled back.

“What are you doing here?”

“I have come to see my sister.”

Persephone felt the color drain from her face.

“I'm so sorry, Aphrodite,” she said. “I—”

“Do not apologize, Persephone,” Aphrodite said. “If I had known…”

Her voice trailed away, and Persephone knew why she faltered. There was no sense in agonizing over what could
have been or what they should have known. Things just were, and now they had to deal with the consequences.

Aphrodite took a breath. “You look beautiful,” she said.

Persephone smoothed a hand down her stomach and glanced at her dress.

“I do not feel like myself.”

“Perhaps it is because Hades is not here with you,” Aphrodite said.

Persephone swallowed hard, and fear moved up her spine. What would the other gods do when they discovered Hades had been captured by Theseus?

“How did you know?”

“Hermes told me,” Aphrodite said and then hesitated. “Zeus held Council today and stripped us of our powers for helping you in battle.”

“What?” Persephone asked. A sudden cold numbed her entire body.

“I managed to ensure Hephaestus retained his power,” Aphrodite continued, glancing back at her husband, whose fiery gaze was locked on her. Persephone could not tell if he felt gratitude or frustration, but now she understood why he had come. He'd had to use his magic to bring Aphrodite to the Underworld. “We will have weapons for the coming war at least.”

When they had stood opposite Zeus outside Thebes, Persephone had not thought twice about what would happen in the aftermath of battle. She had just been grateful to have allies.

Now all she felt was guilt.

“Do not mourn for us,” Aphrodite said. “It was our decision to fight for you.”

Persephone shook her head. “How could he?”

“There are few instances where Zeus will illustrate his full power,” said Aphrodite. “One is when he feels his throne is threatened.”

“Aphrodite,” Persephone whispered.

She did not know what to say. The thought of Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hermes being powerless made Persephone sick with fear. It did not matter that Hephaestus could forge powerful weapons for their defense. Theseus and his men were already targeting gods with full power. What happened when he discovered these three were powerless?

If Aphrodite was worried, she did not let it show. She continued. “The real danger is that Zeus has declared a competition—whoever can bring you to him in chains will win his aegis, his shield. It is likely that Artemis will take the bait. I cannot speak for Poseidon, though I imagine he will defer to Theseus. Ares I can…persuade.”

Persephone wondered exactly what that meant, though it was evident the gods had some kind of bond. Ares, known for his lust for battle and blood, was only shaken from his reverie when he'd wounded Aphrodite.

“Does Apollo hold no sway over his sister?” Persephone asked.

“Right now, they do not seem to be on the same side,” said Aphrodite. “Perhaps that will change. Until then, you must be careful.”

Persephone had known there would be consequences for standing against Zeus, but his actions toward her showed just how much he feared her and the prophecy that had predicted his downfall.

“If she keeps me from Hades, I will show no mercy.”

“I will not fault you,” said Aphrodite. “Though you should know that Apollo does love his sister.”

“Then I will give him fair warning,” Persephone said. She paused, swallowing hard, and when she looked at Aphrodite again, her eyes were misty with tears. “I have to find him, Aphrodite.”

The goddess offered a small smile and then placed her hand on Persephone's shoulder.

“There are few things that survive war, Persephone,” she said. “Let your love be one of them.”

Persephone looked out the windows of Alexandria Tower. On the street below, amid piles of melting snow, journalists, television crews, and mortals gathered beneath the hot sun. She should have been prepared for this given the crowds that had gathered outside the Acropolis after her relationship with Hades went public, but this was different, and it wasn't even about the number of people. It was about the energy in the air—a chaotic mix of worship and scorn. It was heady and strangely addicting, if not a little unsettling, especially given Aphrodite's news.

Even now, as she scanned the crowd and the skies, she wondered if Artemis would attack in such a public way, though it did not seem like her style. She was the Goddess of the Hunt and would likely prefer stalking her prey.

Persephone shuddered at the thought, but it also filled her with anger, and her magic ignited, an aura blazing around her. She would let it rage while she spoke, a barrier between her and the masses.

“They have been out there for hours,” said Ivy. Persephone glanced at the dryad who stood beside her, nibbling anxiously at her lip. “They started lining up before it was even dawn.”

She did not take their eagerness as an illustration of support. Most were curious and only wanted the chance to say they had seen her in person. Then there were the Impious, who only came to express their disdain. They were easy to pick out from the crowd, holding signs that read “Freedom and Free Will” and “Go Back to Olympus.”

The latter was ironic given she had never resided there, but it illustrated how the faithless viewed all gods—as one and the same.

But this wasn't about turning the Impious to her side. It was about gaining the admiration and worship of those who were already on the side of the gods.

She needed that power right now. It would fuel her in her search for Hades.

Persephone turned from the window.

“Is it time?” she asked, looking at Sybil and Leuce.

“You have two minutes,” the oracle said, checking her watch.

Persephone's stomach clenched, and she took a breath.
Just get through this
, she thought.
And then get to Hades

“Mekonnen and Ezio will walk out before you,” Sybil said.

Persephone smiled at the two ogres who had positioned themselves in front of the doors. They usually spent their evenings handling security for Nevernight, but today, they would serve as her bodyguards in place of Zofie.

A familiar ache blossomed in her chest.

“I don't think I've ever seen you up this early, Mekonnen,” she said.

The ogre smirked. “Only for you, Lady Persephone.”

“Time,” said Sybil, meeting Persephone's gaze. “Ready?”

She wasn't sure she'd ever been ready. Not just for this but for anything that had come her way, yet she'd survived.

She would survive this too.

Mekonnen and Ezio led the procession, taking their places at the edge of the steps just outside the doors to Alexandria Tower. Persephone followed, hit with the roar of cheers and taunting jeers as she approached the podium to speak. The sound burrowed into her ears, an ebb and flow of excitement and anger, mixing with the rapid whir and flash of cameras.

She took a moment to absorb it, to accept that this had become her reality.

“Good afternoon,” she said, speaking too close to the mic, amplifying the pop and crackle of her voice, but the resulting feedback silenced the crowd with a deafening hiss. She was quiet for a moment, adjusting her stance before she continued. “By now, most of you have probably seen the article printed about me in
New Athens News
by a former colleague.”

She did not wish to speak Helen's name, though Persephone knew her statement would only draw more attention to her ex-friend. She could only hope what she had to say would cast doubt on her credibility.

“First, I would like to say that it is true that I hid who I was from you.” Persephone's voice quivered as she
spoke, and she paused to take a breath, saying her next line with far more composure and confidence. “I am the Goddess of Spring.”

There were cheers and some applause but there were also boos and angry chants—
Deceiver! Liar!

She ignored them and continued.

“I am sure many of you were surprised to discover that Demeter had a daughter, but my mother was reluctant to share me with the world. She kept me locked in a glass house, depriving me of friends and worshippers. At eighteen, I convinced her to let me go to college. I'm still not sure why she agreed, except that I think she was comforted by the fact that I was powerless—and powerless I was. I could not even coax a flower to bloom. How could I be a goddess when I had none of the attributes that were supposed to make me divine? So when I entered the mortal world for the first time, I felt like one of you. And I loved it. I did not wish to leave it, but sometimes you are called to your purpose, and I was called to mine.”

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
4.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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