Written by Charlotte Lee / Artwork by Lee Kuruganti
Finding Persephone

























Demeter exhaled in a rush and sank into the heavily cushioned chair. This was another dead end. Before her pilot’s
couch, the vast sweep of space taunted her. Persephone could be anywhere. She cursed her brothers loudly,
hoping they were each listening. She wasn’t even sure who she was angriest with—they all played in this equally.

Her two sisters hadn’t helped much either, damn them anyway. No word, no aid, nothing. Although in Hera’s case,
it was a relief to not have to put up any snide remarks. Despite Hera’s beliefs, Demeter hadn’t chosen to bear a
child, let alone Zeus’s; selfish, arrogant pig that he was. Still, it wasn’t the child’s fault, and for the most part Zeus
had left her alone to raise the delicate baby girl as she saw fit. She could expect the same from Poseidon this time
around.

Her eyes squeezed shut to block out the endless possible places Hades could have hidden Persephone, Demeter
stilled her mind and let it drift with the solar winds. It was hard, so very hard to concentrate on finding Persephone
with her newest child’s growing awareness twining with her own. Frustration with Poseidon brought her crashing
back into her body. Of all the misguided idiocies! He may find it easy to cast off a child when given a replacement,
but she couldn’t. Demeter cursed him again, a long string of rather foul fates heaped upon his doltish reverence for
their brothers.

Well, as satisfying as it may be to imagine his eyes being eaten from the inside out by Tintavalian shearworms, this
wasn’t going to get her any closer to locating Persephone. She leaned forward to slap the entry shutters closed
over the viewport. Closing the shutters at least kept her from seeing the stars laughing at her. Leaning back into
the chair, she took up the rhythmic breathing she’d learned from Mnemosyne that would still her mind enough to
separate her soul from the one developing in her womb. Persephone was out there, waiting to be rescued from the
low-browed Hades. Really, did the toad genuinely believe a girl as beautiful in spirit as Persephone could love a god
as twisted with envy and jealousy as he was?

The most she’d gotten from Zeus when she first appealed for his help was a ridiculous lecture on charity, and an
expression of hope that perhaps Persephone could influence Hades into being a more charitable soul. He actually
seemed to believe his own sun dream that Persephone’s kindness and loving spirit would soften their brother’s
unquenchable rage and endless quest for power. Moron. Imbecile. She ground her teeth, and forced her mind away
from the spiral of anger and bitterness that always ended in profound grief and bottomless despair.

There, just below the first layer of space there was a familiar scent: thyme and narcissus. Persephone! Smoothing
away a flash of excitement, Demeter flowed along the plane until she came upon a warmth. It enveloped her,
drawing her in, soothing her bitter tears. Helios. Kind, warm, loving, and gentle he’d been to her. She had ever
followed his lead, always steps behind him to give herself to life where it struggled, moving on when it flourished
and joining the endless cycle she rejoiced in. Around and around the universe she had followed him, letting him
show her where spring was needed.

This time she was not content to follow. This time she would push to catch up to him. Draw him into her ship, have
him dine with her. The life of the gods could be a lonely one for those who took their gifts seriously, and the life of
a titan lonelier still. He would share time with her, she knew it. Reluctantly she turned away from the enticing scent
and touched Helios. He would wait for her, he said, his co-ordinates streaming to her ship. Hope flared in her breast
and she opened her eyes. She rested a hand on her swelling belly, promising her full attention soon. A gentle touch
on the panel before her and the shutters swept open again, this time the stars singing encouragement. Demeter’s
lips parted in anticipation and she leaned to her panel to plot her course.

~*~

“Demeter,” Helios said, raising his hand to clasp her outstretched one, and pulling her into a gentle embrace. “I
have missed you.” It was enough to set off the tears that always hovered at the back of her eyes, and she let
herself sob on his shoulder. Her weeping left a damp patch on his silken ship suit, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Finally, he pulled away from her, hands resting lightly on her shoulders. “You promised me a meal fit for a god, and
I hope you understand how high you’ve set my expectations.” His kind smile, set in a deeply lined bronze face,
crinkled in folds around eyes of such piercing blue that it was easy to understand why mortals throughout the
universe thought him to be all-seeing. He wasn’t really, but it was impossible to hide anything from him if he
decided to look. His dark hair, brushed back in soft waves to his shoulders, the grey streaks the only sign marking
him as titan rather than god.

“I did and I do,” Demeter said, drawing in a deep, and only slightly shaking, breath. It was good to spend time with
him. She’d forgotten just how good it was. Centuries it had been. “The vegetables are from my own garden and
the wine hand-picked for me by Dionysus himself.” That was the truth. Dionysus, dandy as he may be, always gave
her a case of the best wines he nurtured. She had cases from over forty planets currently in her stores, often
giving bottles away to mortals who especially pleased her rather than let the fine vintages go to waste. She hadn’t
touched a glass since Persephone’s disappearance, which meant there was some that had soured during her
decades-long search for the precious girl.

“Sounds promising, my dear.” Helios tucked her hand into his arm and let her lead the way to the dining cabin.
Sounds of dishes clinking drifted out the open hatch door, the smell of roasted lamb and apricots wafting up and
down the corridor. Some gods replenished their staff from whatever planet they were nearest to when the mortals
died, but Demeter preferred to keep whole families. It wasn’t often the human children chose to leave her ship, but
when they did she gifted them with all they would need for a life of success. There was no higher calling than to
serve aboard a god’s yacht, and by keeping families aboard she was assured the very best training for each
successive generation. This particular recipe had been handed down from head chef to head chef for over nine
hundred generations. Even Zeus couldn’t boast that kind of devotion among his followers.

Those children that left would often raise the most beautiful temples and supply the best of everything to her
stores when she visited again. Their careful husbandry of the land they taught to all the other tribes, and that
planet’s agriculture would flourish. She had come to regard all those human children as her own children,
Persephone first among them. It pained her when Ares stuck his big nose into her children’s business. After she
got Persephone back it may be time to school the reckless boy. She’d been hearing about salted fields too often,
and that would need to end or the incessant pleading of the humans would drive them all mad. Why Zeus let the
fool boy sabotage their own operations mystified her almost as much as why the pompous ass had given Hades his
permission to steal away her sweet girl.

Demeter smiled at Helios and allowed him to hand her into her favourite chaise. She noticed it needed recovering,
and allowed a vindictive thought of covering it in white horsehair cross her mind before she banished the side
thought. Helios was here, and it was past time to get herself out of her own head.

“I trust you’ve heard what Hades has done,” she said, broaching the subject with her characteristic bluntness. She
accepted a glass of white wine from the tray proffered by a page barely into puberty. It was well watered in
consideration of the child she now carried, and she sipped warily. Even watered the wine was aromatic, though it
did smell far stronger than it tasted. It was just one more reason in a long list to curse Poseidon’s mammalian
stupidity. She eyed Helios, trying to read anything behind those forever affable eyes. No luck, though; the light he
sheds only goes one direction—outward.

“I have,” he said, leaning back after taking a glass of red from the young boy. His eyes stayed on hers, not
speaking until the boy had withdrawn. Not that it would keep the rest of the onboard staff knowing every word
they spoke within minutes. Adorable creatures, humans, but the rate they chattered at astonished her still, even
after nearly four hundred thousand years of having them around. “And I know the longer you spend in this search
the more concerned Zeus is becoming.”

“Let him be concerned. It’s his fault it happened at all,” she snapped. She closed her eyes tightly, and reopened
them to give him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Helios. He refuses to tell me where to find her, or to instruct
Hades to return her. Whatever repercussions result from his decision is his own responsibility.” Demeter waved a
hand. “He did not consult with me, nor ask Persephone her wishes in the matter.” She sipped her wine, cocking her
head, and narrowing her eyes at her cousin. “What do you know?”

Helios leaned back on his chaise, sipping his wine, his eyes distant. “How much attention have you paid to the
competition between Zeus and Jupiter?” He brought his eyes back to Demeter’s, eyebrows raised while he waited
for her to sort through rumours and gossip.

“Only that the Romans are getting stronger, bolder, and gobbling up more and more of the market share,”
Demeter admitted. According to Zeus they were like a parasite, but personally she thought he considered any rival
god house to be beneath his notice. It would be the end of the Greek house in the end, she thought.

“Yes, they are. And it’s due in part to this search of yours. While you search, Ceres plants more Romans. You
know humans, they breed like rabbits.” His gaze lingered on his glass, admiring the deep claret wine. “The other
families are keeping pace with them. Odin’s get are everywhere now. The Celts are spreading too. It’s getting
harder and harder for me to find a planet to seed. And in recent years when I do find one, you are not where you
need to be and one of the other houses dogging my heels seeds it instead. Soon there won’t be any new planets
left, and Zeus is starting to feel the pinch. The Romans are learning to trade, the Vikings to plunder, and the Celts
to farm. The only good thing out of all of this is that the Egyptians are losing their toehold as the premier house.”
He snorted. “Though they aren’t losing their market share to us, it’s being split amongst the smaller houses
hungry for more. There is even rumour of a new god, so jealous he allows no siblings to sit with him, only minions.
He’s taken tens of planets, building market share at the expense of all the big houses.”

Demeter stared back at him, her spine stiff and chin high. “You want me to give up, too.” She would not let him see
how his betrayal hurt. She had always counted him as an ally. One of the few of her peers she could trust
throughout the universe. Only her children could she be sure of, it seemed.

“No, Demeter, I do not,” he said, shaking his head. His eyes were sad, and she felt a stab of guilt for doubting him.
“I will help you get your daughter back, even if I have to go behind Zeus’s back to do it. I am not willing to risk the
demise of this house just for sake of Hades’ pride.” If anyone could understand what it was to lose a child well-
loved, Helios did. “I will give you the coordinates for where Hades is hiding Persephone.” Demeter leapt from the
chaise, dropping her wine glass to shatter on the floor, and threw her arms around his neck, this time her sobs of
joy rather than pain.

~ * ~

Demeter’s ship hovered at the edge of the Underworld, its five super-massive black holes doing their endless dance
around each other, spinning through the infinities of time at the edge of space. Only the gods had ever solved the
puzzle of the course through the maze of gravitational pulls and eddies.
This hell is where Hades had decided to
make his home. This was a place only he and Death could love; a place that drew in life and energy and gave back
nothing. Oblivion.

Anti-social, surly, and jealous as he was, Demeter had not tried to see him once the offspring of Cronus had
dispersed. Even as children the two had not gotten on well. His dark, brooding silences had only been broken by
cruel taunts and pranks. The majority of those taunts and pranks aimed at Demeter in particular, jealous of her
ability to make everyone around her smile and laugh. He was a petty god, determined to ruin all things good for
her, and his latest act was cruelest of all. Stealing her child, the sole light of her life! The light that kept her heart
full enough to share with all of space and time. Except here. Nothing got past those gateposts, in or out. Even the
titans could not come and go with impunity. And Hades hadn’t asked her to come.

She narrowed her eyes, tapping a well-oiled fingernail against her teeth. To keep her crew safe from the lethal
radiation, even now leaching through the bulkheads at the edge of the unimaginable gravitational forces, she’d
ordered them all into sleep tanks. The cryogenic state would prevent the radiation from doing them any harm, and
so she must look to her own needs for the next few days while navigating this nightmare. Not that much an
inconvenience since they’d laid meals in for her. Her hair she would just keep simple, though she would miss her
morning massage and that special cup of anise tea before bed.

A deep sigh escaped her. There was nothing more to be done but go through. All she could do was solve each
problem as it arrived, but she knew without doubt Hades had been preparing for her invasion since long before he
stole Persephone away. There would be traps laid, hidden and cruel, to stop her at worst, slow her down at best.
Well, she would not stop, so the most that foul creature could do was slow her down.

Demeter leaned to her panel and closed her eyes, fingertips a hairsbreadth away from the course entry keys.
Carefully, moving slowly, she cast her thoughts out, finding the balance between each of the prisons, riding each of
their rivers of gravitational waves. Twice she had to begin again when she ran into dead ends. Styx was the one
most massive, but Phlegethon was almost as strong. The twinned ones, Acheron and Cocytus, spinning around in
a dance of their own within the larger dance made the timing of slipping between them and Phlegethon as
dangerous as Lethe’s random, sleepy movements on its own below them.

There! She’d found the star bound in the center of them all, balanced perfectly—with Hades’ help no doubt—
between all five of the behemoth singularities. Once through the maze, she could tackle the question of getting
herself to the correct coordinates. Thirteen rocky planets, all able to support life though Hades had never asked her
to give it, circled that star. Countless moons orbited those planets as well. Thanks to Helios she wouldn’t have to
hunt each astral body. She knew precisely where he had imprisoned her. She knew not to make any landings on
moon or planet. She would not waste time searching dead worlds.

Her fingers blurred as she keyed in her course, her breath deep and even, a tingle of sweat beading her brow
before she was done. Time passed, though she could not have said how long. At last, she opened her eyes and
sank back into her chair, exhausted but pleased with the effort. A final check that no crew statuses had changed
and she fired the engines to full speed before engaging the course.

~ * ~

Before her, the matte black of Hades’ shielded space station spun lazily on its axis. Somewhere in that monstrosity
her daughter was hidden. Demeter bit her lip. These were definitely the coordinates Helios had given her, but
finding Persephone in that labyrinth would still rival one of Heracles’ tasks. She hadn’t thought to ask Helios to see
exactly where she was, either, because she’d never dreamed the station would be so massive. The ring must be
hundreds of kilometers in diameter, with forty decks or more in the ring. Despair pierced through the armour of
hope she’d built around her heart, and tears pricked her eyes. A sob caught at her throat and she bowed her head.
If it weren’t for the child within her she’d just give up. Leave through the docking hatch and let her body be pulled
into the star holding the station in balance.

How long she wept she couldn’t know. A soft sound at her elbow brought her into the present and she saw
Isadora kneeling beside her, sadness and concern in her deep brown eyes. The woman had only ever known life
aboard this ship, serving faithfully from childhood through adulthood until she now had her tasks reduced to those
suitable for the aged. Soon Isadora would pass on into death, giving her soul to strengthen Demeter’s and help
bring life to fledgling planets. Such was the cycle of life, though Demeter had not granted new life to a planet in
nearly an Olympian half-century. Life aboard the ship had carried on, each death being replaced by the birth of a
new child. Each departing young adult also replaced by a new young adult to keep the gene pool viable.

Suddenly Demeter wondered when the last time a new child had been born and she couldn’t remember. A dozen
years? That was a long time to go without the laughter of young children. Her son would need playmates, and once
Persephone had been found she would address the lack. She reached out to stroke Isadora’s cheek, the old
woman’s skin rough against her palm. “What is it, darling child?” she asked.

“Please, my lady. What can we do? How may we serve your search?” Isadora, spokesperson for all the crew as the
oldest aboard, raised her hand to cover Demeter’s. “We hate to see you grieve so, and we wish nothing more than
to have Persephone back with us. We miss her, terribly. Nothing can be greater than your grief, but we also grieve
her absence. We ache to have her among us again.”

Touched by the love shining from the woman’s eyes, Demeter felt hope rise in her breast again. She was not alone
in this. Sixty-five human souls were also aboard this ship, all anxious to have Persephone’s light returned to them.
Hades stood alone against her and hers. He would not be able to keep her out, despite the best shielding
Hephaestus could devise.

“Oh dearest, you have given me such hope. And with this hope has come a thought. I will need all the crew’s
strength to join with me to get past Hades’ barriers, but it can be done. If the first effort fails, we can rest and try
again. We will try as many times as needs be until we find my daughter.” Demeter straightened in her chair, wiping
away her tears with the back of her hand, and swung to the left of her plotting panel. “Return to the medbay,
please Isadora. Ask everyone to take to their beds so I may join you to me. Hades is in for a surprise if he thinks
me finished!”

The creaking of old joints was followed by the swish of robes as Isadora did as she was bid. Yes, her crew was
worth more to her than an entire planet of humans. They were loyal, generous, and without fear in her care. That
was exactly what she needed to locate Persephone. Their love for the girl joined with hers would break through any
shroud Hades could have prepared. Best he learn that right now! She drew her lips back in a snarl, anger replacing
grief and determination replacing despair. How dare he try to separate a child from her mother!

She executed the final instruction with a forceful bang on the enter key and hurled herself into the chair’s cushions.
Around her, the air began to vibrate, a hum filling the whole ship as the combined energy of her crew sought to
fuse with her own. Drawing them into herself, she felt every pore in her skin expanding, stretching. Every crevice in
her mind filled with the rich golden light of their love until it burst from her, and channeled through the ship’s
sensors. The matte black of the space station’s skin peeled away before her eyes and she could see all of it at once.
A speck of light shone in the murky grey of the exposed corridors and shafts. She focussed on that speck, racing
to it, zipping through corridors faster than she had ever travelled before. The light grew in her vision, and joy filled
her to bursting. Persephone! She’d found her daughter! Safe she was, sleeping peacefully in a lavish cabin.

The location of Persephone’s cabin seared into her mind, and every mind of her crew’s, she withdrew, anxious to
land her ship and retrieve the girl. She let her crew go, feeling smaller, frailer, and lonelier than before as they pulled
away from her. So much love they had! And they’d given it to her without doubt or restraint. Awe filled the spaces
their strength had left open, and she wept again, this time in gratitude. No other god had ever received a gift like
this, and she vowed she would not waste the gift they’d given her.

Demeter levered herself out of her chair and strode to the medbay. A few of the older mortals were still lying down,
their chests heaving from the exertion, but most were sitting up. Weary, loving eyes watched her as she went from
bed to bed, thanking each and every one of them. There was no way to repay this gift, so all she could give was
her thanks and this she did unstintingly. Whether she succeeded in getting Persephone back or not, this crew had
earned their places in the stars. Forever would their souls light the darkest reaches of space, she promised them.
Forever she would cherish them.

Four of the engineers trailed her out of the medbay when at last she set to the task ahead of her. She hadn’t
asked for volunteers, but she hadn’t needed to. She wouldn’t let them come with her, of course, but they could
help her suit up. She could also use their guidance getting to the station’s hatch. She couldn’t afford to let
Persephone’s location waver from her mind. The concentration to find the hatch in its matte black finish against the
blackness of space would be impossible without her full concentration – even for a god.

She held the image of her daughter, thinner but still alive and healthy, tightly in her mind. She blocked out all
doubt, holding fiercely to the memory of her crew’s love. Armed with it she was invincible against fear’s sneaky
attacks. It was her greatest weapon against whatever Hades would lay in her path. With her chin high, she
accepted the helmet and inhaled the rosemary scent of the air tanks. A smile tilted the corners of her mouth and
she gave her engineers a thumbs-up. They backed out of the airlock, and swung the hatch closed with a bang. The
wheel swung around and a face appeared in the port. He turned and spoke to one of the others then turned back
to watch her. She could feel the tug of the atmosphere being let out around her, her suit puffing out as the
pressure dropped. She kept her eyes on the engineer as the minutes passed then gave a responding thumbs-up
to his. She turned to the exterior hatch, the flashing red light warning her that she was in zero atmosphere.

The speaker in her helmet clicked on and Larissa spoke, “Demeter, please give us a voice check.” She clicked her
speaker on with her chin and responded, pleased that they were following protocol, even with her. She’d created
the protocol for their safety, never imagining she’d ever need to leave the ship while in space. She swung the wheel
on the hatch, and took a steadying breath when the rods slid free. Bracing herself by gripping the bar beside the
door, she gave the hatch a tug and felt her eyes widen against her will to be face to face with the vacuum of space
for the first time since her birth. She’d forgotten how clear it was. Each star’s light passing through her on its
endless voyage through time, reminding her that not even the gods were eternal.

“You are clear to exit the hull, Demeter. All engines cold.” The light, clear voice dragged her attention back to the
task at hand, and she dredged up the appropriate acknowledging response. “Airlock hatch confirmed closed, my
lady. Safe journey.”

Larissa’s clear voice was replaced by a richer, deeper timbered voice. “Demeter, please aim for nine eight by eight
three for three point one eight six kilometers.” She acknowledged the course Cleon gave her once she had herself
lined up on her HUD in the right direction, and thumbed a burst on her suit thrusters. She didn’t let herself hold
the burst to long – it was better to give a secondary burst once Cleon confirmed her trajectory than it was to try
to correct her course while at great speed. Nor did she fancy smashing her body against the unforgiving surface of
the station. She kept her speed fast enough to be uncomfortable if the reverse thrust failed and she struck the
station, but not so fast that she’d take serious harm in a collision. The clock ticked up while Cleon counted down
her distance. He’d pointed her true, no course correction was required and she was relieved to see the deeper black
outline of an airlock hatch grow as she drew closer.

Ten meters away she tapped a quick burst on the exact reciprocal and grunted when the strength of that force was
stronger than she expected. All told, it was a respectable showing for her first time EVA. At three meters she gave
another tap, slowing her progress still further, and puffed a light breath of relief when she was able to grasp a
safety bar and use her arms alone to bring her to a gentle stop next to the airlock hatch. “I have made contact with
the station, safety line attached,” she said, suiting action to words. Cleon’s acknowledgement gave no hint of relief,
and she was gratified that he had such faith in her. Space was not her element, and she would be glad to be out of
this suit. Her scalp itched terribly from the stretchy cap she had to wear under the helmet.

With a gloved hand she swung open the hatch’s control panel and studied it. Hades had stuck with Hephaestus’
usual protocols, thankfully, so she would have no trouble with the command codes. There wasn’t any pressure in
the airlock which meant the inner door was closed. Good. During the flight over she’d had to shake away the
thought that the inner door may have been open when she got here and she’d have to find another hatch. She
pressed the toggle to unlock the hatch, and swung the wheel to open it. She gave tug on her tether line to check
that she was anchored securely then gripped the safety bar with her right hand and swung the hatch open with her
left. It moved smoothly, and she forced herself to let her breath out slowly. Her left hand clutching the inside wheel
on the hatch, she unclipped her tether and swung herself into the airlock, reaching for the safety bar next to the
inner hatch door. She clipped her tether to the bar and reached for the outer door. Deftly, she swung the door
closed and spun the wheel to lock it against the silence of the stars.

The flashing red light steadied and she pulled herself back along her tether to the inner hatch, her breathing
amazingly slow and even. Faith, she told herself. Faith lent to her by her crew had removed all her doubts. She
bared her teeth in an expression that could narrowly be described as a smile, though there was nothing friendly or
warm in the implacable grey eyes reflected back to her in the hatch’s viewport. The steady red light changed to a
flashing amber light, and she could feel the air begin to press in around her. The hiss of that rising atmosphere
grew in volume from barely perceptible to uncomfortably loud in under two minutes, then tapered off when the light
switch to a green flashing light. Another few seconds and the hissing stopped completely, and the green light
burned steady.

Reluctant to take any chances, Demeter swung open the inner hatch and stepped through without cracking open
her helmet. There was no point in giving Hades even the slightest opportunity. She looked both ways down the
empty, echoing corridor then turned to close the hatch behind her before releasing the clasps on her helmet. The
air in the station was cold, antiseptic, missing any touch of anything living. Or dead, for that matter. It was
completely sterile. Just as empty and sterile as his heart and soul.

The gravity was slightly below Olympian normal, so getting out of the suit was easier than getting into it had been.
She unhooked the wireless transmitter from the suit’s belt, and clipped it onto her shipsuit’s belt loop. She wished
she could remove the cap, but the ear bud and microphone were sewn into them so she had to settle for just
rubbing at the itching through it. It didn’t do much, the itches just travelled elsewhere. “I’m in the corridor, and out
of the suit. The corridor appears to be empty. I’m making my way to the shaft doors approximately two hundred
meters on the starboard side of the hatch.” She didn’t even look for any lift shafts to the port, Persephone lay, still
sleeping, three kilometers to starboard and six decks up.

Just below the lift’s call button was the number twenty-one centred in black block letters. The call button lit up in
red when she pressed it. Part of her hoped to encounter Hades before she made it to Persephone, but it was an
idle thought. All that mattered was getting her daughter back. Once they were safely home aboard her ship,
Demeter could plan her retribution against all three of her brothers. A ping announced the arrival of the lift car, and
she stepped to the side before the doors opened. She peered inside the car, alert for any movement - either in the
car or in the corridor. Nothing. She stepped into the car and pressed for deck twenty-seven. The computer’s loud
voice startled her, echoing off the walls and drowning out the soft hiss of the closing doors.

Impatient, Demeter rocked on her heels, watching the floor indicator creep up from twenty-one to twenty-seven. A
flutter under her feet the only warning of arrival before the door opened into a corridor of mirrors. Yes, traps he’d
lain. But whether they were for her or Persephone was a question she’d have to discover. Squaring her shoulders,
she stepped into the corridor. All around her, reflections of herself sprang into place. She raised a hand to avoid
walking into a mirror face first, and set off in what she thought was a straight line. Perhaps a dozen paces down
the hall, her palm connected with a mirror.

On her first full circle, only her reflection taunted her. She flared her nostrils wide and sucked in a deep breath, only
to expel it with a whirl. She faced back the direction she’d come in a half-crouch, arm out and fingers spread wide
to grab. Behind her was Hades, dressed in simple brown robes. Whether it was really him she couldn’t say, but it
didn’t matter. She wasn’t armed with anything beyond her own wit and powers; powers that Hades also had, so
useless in a confrontation with him.

“Give me back my daughter, Hades.” Demeter straightened from her crouch. “You had no right to take her against
her will, no right to force her to stay where she does not wish to stay.”

“Sister, it is not as you assume things to be,” Hades said. His customary sneer was missing. In fact, he stood
simply, hands clasped before him in his simple human clothing, his head bare of adornment. Jet curls swung along
his sharp cheekbones as he gave her a half bow, never taking his eyes from hers. Those eyes, almost as black as
his hair, were clear of guilt, anger, or pride. Guilt she had hoped for but not expected. It was the missing anger and
pride that gave her unease. This was a game he had never played with her and she shifted on the balls of her feet,
uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity.

“Did you take her without asking, Hades? Did you hide her away from all of Olympus?” Demeter hurled the
questions at him, but spoke again before he had time to answer. “Yes, you did, so things are exactly as I assume
them to be.” She could feel her lip curling into a sneer, and didn’t bother trying to stop it.

“Demeter, I love her. I have loved her for a long time, and the longer she’s with me the deeper that love grows.
She is my perfect mate, my true equal.” He raised a hand to her, palm up. “Please, hear me in this. Persephone has
grown to love me, too. To take her from me would cause both of us great pain, and I know you would never willing
do anything to cause her pain.”

Rage towered up within her and throttled any words that may have come. Her mind was a seething, writhing mass
and coherent thought was impossible for several moments. She wanted nothing more than to close her grip around
Hades’ throat and choke the hypocrisy from his lying mouth. Of their own accord, her hands rose up before her
chest, and a swirling ball of lightening formed between them, crackling and pungent in the sterile air. With a great
heave, she shoved the ball at his image and turned away, shielding her face with her hands from the splintering
glass the battered the surrounding mirrors, shattering them as well. The bare corridor walls did not stay exposed
for long, however, as new mirrors shimmered into being, blocking them from sight again.

“I speak the truth, Demeter. Persephone has taught me how to love.” She whirled again, as Hades appeared behind
her, his image in the mirror inches from her back. Demeter smashed that mirror with her bare fists, the violence of
her rage sending shards skittering down the unbarred corridor for hundreds of meters. She strode after those
shards only to be forced to a stop again as another mirror shimmered into existing, barring her way again.

“Smoke and mirrors, Hades! That’s all you have to stop me? I will break each of these barriers as easily as a
thirsting panderi breaks through late spring ice. You had better keep your distance from me, too, or I will gut you
just as fast. Give me back my daughter!” Demeter lifted her fists in time with her rising voice to suit actions to
words, but the mirror dissolved back into smoke. Simple, bare gray corridors surrounded her once again, and she
swept forward, her boot heels striking sparks from the flooring in her anger.

Mirrors shimmered into focus along the corridor wall to her right, and Hades kept pace with her, at first silent, but
then pleading with her to see for herself. Several meters ahead a mirror floated, images of Persephone laughing,
delight and joy shining from her eyes, surrounded by rich tapestries and sumptuous feasts. Images of her
displaying fine clothing, rich with embroidery in gold, silver, and copper wire, cut to flatter her well rounded figure
appeared. The final insult was images of Hades dancing with her to unheard music, their gazes locked on each other
in adoration. That Hades could love Persephone was entirely believable, but Persephone loving him in return?
Impossible!

Demeter took her bearings without breaking her long, swinging strides and satisfaction burned within her.
Persephone’s cabin prison was only meters away, and Hades had done little to actually stop her. Zeus and the
others must have intervened. Hades had not tried to hurt her, so he must be aware of the price he would pay. It
would mean the end of their house if she didn’t bring life to the planets Helios found for them. Without that
expansion, their house would be swallowed by the others, all desperately seeking to hang on to their glory. Hades
must have realized that even he would fade away into oblivion, forgotten, if he succeeded in killing her. These
attempts at persuading her with his own fantasies could do nothing to change her mind, his pathetic desperation
obvious when he realized his powerlessness.

Triumph suffused her when she reached the cabin hatch. She pressed the intercom buzzer, bouncing on the balls
of her feet in her impatience for this last barrier to be removed. A click, and her heart thumped painfully in her
chest when her daughter’s sweet voice carried through. She couldn’t even speak, her throat closed tight against
any sound she may have tried to utter. A pause and the door swung open revealing Persephone, rosy cheeked and
auburn hair rumpled from sleep, in an ivory silk robe belted at her waist. Demeter’s raised her arms wide so that
her darling girl could hurl herself into them.

Demeter stood there, waiting. Shock froze her limbs into place. Persephone was just staring at her, a complex play
of emotions chasing across her face. Confusion, disappointment, delight, worry, rebellion all took their turns,
though none were content with just a single turn. Slowly, Demeter’s arms dropped to her sides, her belly a pit of
ice and her mind just as frozen. How could this be? She had come to rescue the girl. Persephone should be rushing
to her. She should be ecstatic and weeping, knowing that her mother – who cherished her beyond belief – had
searched the universe for her, refusing to give up. Pain of a kind she had never known spread slowly. She couldn’t
even say where that pain had sprung from, only that it was spreading throughout her body, dwarfing anything she
had ever felt before. The struggles she had endured, all for nothing. Her daughter didn’t want her mother anymore,
Demeter realized.

Persephone licked her lips. “Mother,” she said. Moments ticked past while they stared at one another. Finally,
Persephone stepped back. “Please, come in.” Dumbly, Demeter stepped into the cabin, her heels sinking into lush
blue carpeting that stretched across the expanse of the cabin. Vivid paintings of landscapes from a dozen planets
adorned the sitting room walls, rich black ebony wood furniture piled with red velvet and white silk cushions set in a
conversational grouping dominated the center. The full length and height of the wall to her right was stocked with
beautifully bound books, a reading chair, ottoman, and lamp set in the corner. Beside them was a small table on
which rested the open pages of a volume. A tapestried curtain of fauns and nymphs at play separated the sitting
room from the rest of the suite to the left.

Demeter swallowed hard, her mouth as dry as the deepest desert at midday. She stumbled to the couch and
dropped into it before her knees could give out. How could she have been so wrong? Hades was right. Her
daughter was no longer her companion for life. Bereft, she couldn’t stop the tears that flowed down her cheeks and
she hid her face. How could she go on? Persephone had been the center of her life, her reason for being for
hundreds of thousands of years. Now, she had nothing. Loneliness pressed in on her, engulfing her in a despair so
profound she’d only thought she understood it before. Everything she had done had been for the joy of her
daughter, now the purpose of her life was gone.

“Mother, please. Please.” Persephone’s voice broke through the roaring in her ears, and she lifted her chin to meet
her daughter’s gaze. Those grey eyes, so like hers – warm, kind, but stronger than any alloy Hephaestus had ever
created – were watching her, deeply concerned. Persephone perched on the couch beside her, slipped her arm
around Demeter and pulled her close. “Mother, I love you and nothing can ever, ever change that.” A sob caught in
Demeter’s throat, threatening to burst the dam. So many times she had sat with Persephone like that when she
was a girl. So many tears she had wiped from her cheeks as Persephone was now wiping away tears from her own.

“You want to stay,” Demeter said, amazed at how normal her voice sounded. It should be as broken as she felt.
“Here, with Hades.” Persephone wanted to stay with that foul excrescence. Already he was twisting her into
something dark. There was a shadow in the girl Demeter had never seen before. Living here so close to Death had
changed something in Persephone over the decades. Demeter had taken too long to find her. She should have
gone to Helios much sooner. This was all Demeter’s own fault. She had derided Hades for his pride, but it was her
own that had robbed her of the light that had shone in Persephone’s eyes. That light was gone now, sucked away
by the immense gravitational pull of the singularities hiding this dead solar system.

“I want you to stay too, Mother. Here, with us. Hades is not the god you remember. He’s changed, Mother. He
grew up during his exile.” Demeter stared at Persephone in horror.

“Stay here, at the end of the universe? What has Hades done to you? You have lost all touch with reality, girl.”
Demeter sprang to her feet and turned to back away from the stranger on the couch. “How could I possibly
surround myself with lifelessness when my purpose is to create life?” She paused, drawing in a deep breath to
deliver the final sting. “How could you?” Persephone dropped hurt eyes to her hands, clenched together in her lap.
Never had they ever spoken harsh words to each other. Once the words had left Demeter’s lips, the pain in
Persephone’s eyes had chipped a hole in the ice at Demeter’s core. That hole would be her undoing, she knew.

“There are worlds here that need life. They need you, as much as I do.” Persephone raised her eyes again, and the
brimming tears threatened to loose themselves. “We began with one world, but Zeus wasn’t satisfied with that. He
had to have more. He always wants more! Why? Why can’t he be content with just what he has?” Persephone
sniffed and dragged a fist across her sharp cheekbone glittering with tear tracks. “Hades wants no more than what
he has here. He’s tired of Zeus demanding more and more, never letting us rest. More and more mortals fill the
universe and all it has accomplished is more noise! Aren’t you tired of it, Mother? Don’t you want an end to Zeus’
mania?” Persephone drew herself up to stand tall, her shoulders back and chin high in defiance. “Hades is building
this place as a new Underworld, and when it is full there will be nowhere else to go. I will help him. I wanted you to
help us, too. I wanted you to help us build a new Blessed Isles, and create an Elysium that would give good people
the tools they need to return to life and do better than they did before. I would see all of humanity enter the
Blessed Isles.”

Demeter backed away still further, hands raised up to ward off the words she didn’t want to hear, shaking her head
in disbelief. She jumped when a chime sounded, and spun to face the opening door. There stood Hades, dressed in
a simple cream spun linen shirt tucked into tightly woven trousers dyed the colour of ripe olives. His black, curly
hair was pulled back into a clasp at the base of his neck, emphasizing the hard, square line of his jaw. His grave,
black eyes held her grey ones while he waited at the threshold. Persephone invited him into the room and his eyes
released hers as he crossed the cabin to greet the girl. The tenderness with which he took her hand to kiss it did
speak of a side of him she had never seen. This was not the god who had tormented her as a child.

He held Persephone’s hand against his arm when he turned back to face Demeter. For all that he was her brother
and a god almost as powerful as Zeus himself, he stood by Persephone’s side as if he was an errant child
determined to get through a scolding unscathed. Demeter closed her eyes, her shoulders slumping. The child within
her kicked, and she rested her hand on her belly. She sent the child gentle thoughts, calming him, and thereby
calming herself. She opened her eyes again to see the couple, leaning together, their eyes glowing with their shared
love. There was nothing to be done in the face of it. The kidnapper had won his prize.

Demeter turned to leave, but stopped when Hades called to her, “Demeter, wait. Please. You have every right to
bear me ill will. I was not kind to you, and deserve your anger. I understand and accept that I have no reason to
think you would grant me your aid. All I can do is ask it. Persephone loves you, and misses you dearly. Please stay.
Please stay and help build a paradise for all of us. Help us build a place where the Olympians can come to live out
eternity away from the incessant battling of the great houses.” He took a step forward, the entreaty in his eyes as
strange to her as if he had sprouted another head. “There are planets and moons enough here at the end of space
for all of us to live in peace, and the black holes deterrent enough to keep the other houses away.”

“Please, Mother,” Persephone said, crossing to take Demeter’s unresisting hand in her own and lifting it to press
her cheek against it. “It would break my heart for us to be separated again, and we do need you so much. We have
a noble purpose, you must see that.” The plea in Persephone’s grey eyes cracked the ice in Demeter’s core. There
were worlds enough here that she would be busy. Busy but not so busy that she could only return once or twice in
a millennium. If she were to stay, she could visit each world and keep each one from falling prey to the mess Ares
and Hephaestus made in her absences. She could keep the mortals from turning away from nature and destroying
the planets she’d so lovingly planted with life. She’d lost so many planets; places she no longer went to because
rival houses had taken what she had done and perverted it.

Demeter nodded slowly, her voice and eyes solemn. “I will try.”
THE LORELEI SIGNAL
Charlotte Lee lives in British Columbia, Canada and has been writing
for fun since her teen years.  She is a retired accountant with two
grown children who have inherited her love of storytelling.  Her first
published story, ‘Malleta’s Song’ appeared in the December 2015
issue of The Fable Online.