KM’s story was an honorable mention for the Persephone is a Badass short story contest. I loved the sensuality and sweetness that her Persephone shows—she’s sexy with Hades, and sweet when she’s running her flower shop. (A flower shop, how perfect!) This is a whole, complete story in and of itself, but there’s a strong sense of the world the story takes place in. The backstory is nicely woven into the tale without taking things over. It’s like a chapter taken out of a novel (a novel I’d like to read!).
This is the second story she’s submitted to Mythraeum that’s been an honorable mention, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first (for the Artemis and Orion contest)! KM even designed a cover for this one. 🙂
Persephone glared at the sliver of pale morning light cast across the dark wood floor. Dawn had come again to claim her from his embrace too soon. Morning was always bittersweet. She hated leaving the hushed darkness of this room where their scent stained the air. She hated leaving him. But she was made for the sunlight, and he for the darkness.
“Perhaps we could pluck the sun from the sky, create a world of perpetual night.” Hades said, as if reading her thoughts. The sound of his voice sent a delicious chill down her spine.
The ebony silk whispered as she turned to meet his dark gaze. “You forget. No sun, no flowers.” Persephone smiled playfully and coiled a tendril of his long, jet black hair around her finger. His hand reached up to press hers against his chest. There was no heartbeat beneath her palm. His chest did not rise and fall with breaths.
He’d long forgotten the mannerisms of the living.
“Of course,” he agreed sullenly.
Persephone smiled. She felt his eyes follow her from the bed and around the room as she collected her things and dressed. “Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Busy, busy,” she reminded him.
Her floral shop was a compromise long in the making. While Hades cared little about the world beyond the high, ivy-covered walls of his sprawling mansion, Persephone longed for the freedom of the living, the freedom of moving beneath the sun. Here in the macabre haven he’d created for his coven, she’d begun to feel imprisoned, stifled by the darkness, a stranger to things she couldn’t understand.
And so he’d funded the creation of her own flower shop where she put her passion and love to work, giving her a break from the Underworld where he was king, and she his queen. Each morning he handed her off to the day, and each evening she returned to let him taste the sunlight on her skin.
“I’m sending Cerberus with you today.” Hades held a hand up against Persephone’s immediate protest. “Until this business with the Hunters is under control, it’s best to be safe. Your being human won’t deter them from using you against me.”
Persephone cast him a fiery glare over her shoulder as she shimmied into her blue jeans. “I can handle myself against other humans.” She said tightly.
With a deftness that her human eyes could hardly perceive, Hades was standing before her, their bodies mere inches apart. His onyx gaze captured her pale blue eyes. “It is not your strength that I doubt. Or your determination. These monsters are ruthless. They wouldn’t spare you for your humanity because it has been tainted by me.”
Persephone shivered as Hades traced his knuckles down the bare flesh of her arm. “Persephone.” He whispered her name like an incantation, as if he were summoning his queen. Her body responded in an overwhelming wave of ecstasy. She was just as helpless against his touch now as she had been more than twelve years ago when his sudden presence had swallowed her life whole.
Hades’s lips descended on hers, ice against fire, death against life. His arms encircled her waist in a possessive embrace. She was crushed against him, lungs burning for air while her body burned for more. His fist knotted in her hair and drew her head back to expose the soft flesh of her neck.
“Hades, I have to go,” she gasped as his kisses trailed down across her collar bones. “Tonight, I promise.”
“Tonight is not soon enough,” he murmured against her skin.
She laughed and pushed him back with little enthusiasm before slinking away with a purposeful sway in her hips. She wanted nothing more than to crawl back into their nest of ebony silk and while away the day in his arms. But they had an eternity together. Though he’d vowed never to change her, she was kept alive and young by his blood. In small doses, his life force was a fountain of youth, a remedy to nearly every human ailment.
“You tease,” Hades said, eyes alight with hunger.
“Of course.” She slung her messenger bag across her chest and adjusted her blouse. “And please tell Cerberus to keep his distance. I don’t want him chasing away customers again.”
“As you wish.”
Persephone admired Hades from the doorway, her hand resting on the antique glass knob. He stood at the center of the room like an alabaster statue, wearing nothing but his skin and a longing expression. Loose coils of hair fell down around his shoulders to brush his chest. With her eyes she traced the line of his tapered brow, the softness of his cheekbones, and the sharp line of his jaw. He was beautiful and deadly. She never forgot the latter of the two. She’d been so frightened of him once. Frightened and equally enraptured.
“Back at dusk,” she promised.
“I’ll be waiting.”
“It’s going to be quite difficult keeping you safe from a broom closet,” Cerberus scolded. The passenger seat could hardly contain the huge bulge of muscle that was Hades’s right-hand man. The seatbelt strained across his barrel chest. His knees brushed the glove compartment even with the seat pushed back as far as possible, and his bulbous thighs pressed against the center console. He kept his pale brown hair cropped close to his scalp. His cobalt eyes scanned the traffic around them as if he expected a threat to spring up at any moment. Tension caused his mouth to form a tight line.
Cerberus was human like Persephone, but barely so. Like her, he used vampiric blood to prolong his life and youth, and for the added benefit of superhuman strength. Though he looked to be in his mid-thirties, it was impossible to say his exact age.
Persephone rolled her eyes. “It’s an office, not a broom closet. Plus, you’ll be able to watch all the security monitors from there. So you get to do your job, I get to do mine, and we’ll be out of each other’s way. Agreed?”
A low growl was Cerberus’s only response. Persephone couldn’t blame him. If anything happened to her, it would be his own ass to pay. Plus, for his size, her office was a broom closet.
A thick blanket of fog cast Los Angeles in a glow of mystery. Traffic was at a crawl as usual, and car horns blared their impatience. The sidewalks bustled with pedestrians. It would be a good day for business, Persephone thought with a satisfied smile as she pulled the car into her designated spot behind the shop.
Cerberus was out and waiting by the back door before Persephone had the keys out of the ignition. “Anxious to get into your broom closet?” she teased. She unlocked the back door and held it open for him to enter.
She savored the heavy perfume of flowers as she flipped on the lights and began to boot up her register. The system dinged with a fresh round of orders that were put in overnight; all requests for a bouquet of red roses. Persephone frowned. There were so many more ways to signify love than with red roses.
Two hours later, the fog had finally lifted. The sun beamed golden in the street outside. Sunset Boulevard brimmed with life. A steady stream of patrons came and went, and slowly the racks of Valentine’s gifts dwindled. Persephone was lost in the tendrils of wisteria and fuchsia, plucking wilted flowers and tossing them into a trash bin at her side when the bell above the front door chimed.
“Be with you in just a moment!” She called.
“No need,” a man’s voice said close at her side.
Persephone jumped. The trash bin clattered to the floor, spilling its contents across the tile. She spun toward the voice. The man towered above her, his hand resting on the metal frame holding the hanging flowers. His brown eyes were amused. A wicked grin twisted the corner of his thin lips.
“I already know what I’m looking for,” he said.
Persephone internally steadied herself and put on her best business smile. “Awesome. What can I get for you then?”
The man seemed to think about it for a moment. “Kora. I’m looking for Kora.”
Her heart seized in her chest. A cold sweat broke along her spine. She swallowed down the lump growing in her throat and forced her face to betray nothing of the panic slowly growing inside. “I’m sorry? I don’t believe we have that here.”
“Oh, I think you do. It’s such a beautiful flower. I can’t blame anyone who would want to pluck it from the ground at first sight, to hoard it for their own greed. It’s taken me a very long time to find this flower, and it’s just as I imagined.” He leaned in close. She could smell his breakfast on his lips. Bacon and eggs.
Her smile fell. Whoever this man was, he knew who she was, who she used to be. There was little point in putting on airs. She glared up at the man. “Who are you?”
His own grin widened with arrogance. “My name is Pirithous. I’ve come to take you home. I know that beast has kept you prisoner for more than a decade, but I don’t want you to be afraid. My partner and I are going to make sure he can never hurt you again.” If he was trying to sound soft and comforting, he failed.
She folded her arms across her stomach and cocked her hip. “What makes you think I’m afraid? I’m allowed to run pretty free for being a prisoner, wouldn’t you say?” She gave a pointed look at their surroundings.
Pirithous chuckled and folded his arms over his broad chest. He was built like a soldier, she realized. And beneath the brown leather jacket that was out of place in Los Angeles’ warm climate, Persephone noticed the long, slender outline of a stake. Deadly to human and vampire alike.
“So you’ve fallen under his spell, then. Tasted the forbidden fruit. Tell me, why hasn’t he changed you yet? He never wasted time with any of the others. He stole their mortality and their innocence without a second thought.”
“You seem to be quite the expert on him,” Persephone said.
He shrugged. “I prefer to know the monsters I’m dealing with. Their… weaknesses.” He reached a hand out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
His touch repulsed her. Her heart thundered in her ears. Rage and adrenaline coursed through her veins, causing her limbs to shake. She clenched her fists tight against the urge to strike him. It was hard to say what angered her more, the fact that this man knew her former identity, or that he’d called her a weakness.
“So what’s your plan, then?” She cleared the small space between them in two quick strides. She glared up at him, daring him to make a move, daring him to prove her wrong. Daring him to try her strength. Her hand wrapped around his groin and tightened.
Pirithous stiffened as the silver blade she kept hidden found his side, just below the eighth rib on his right. The blade wasn’t long enough to reach his heart, but he wouldn’t go very far with a punctured lung.
Persephone grinned and craned her neck to brush her lips against his ear. “Don’t underestimate me, Pirithous. Kora is gone, dead. And someone much, much more dangerous has taken her place. Never let your dick lead your ambition. I don’t need saving. Now get out.”
Pirithous watched her through narrowed eyes while she watched the mental battle wage in his mind. How far was he willing to push her? Would he try and call her bluff? He was brave, maybe stupidly so, but she didn’t take him for an outright fool. Hunters were calculated, analytical. It was the only way they survived against the vampires. Too bad for him he’d grossly miscalculated her.
“We’ll come for you. He may have you trapped now, but once you’re free of him the spell will be broken and you will thank us.”
“Don’t hold your breath. Now, please don’t make me get blood all over my freshly polished floors.” Persephone withdrew the blade. The very tip was stained crimson.
Pirithous turned and stalked out of the store, the same cocky grin plastered across his face. He nodded and offered her a two-fingered salute as he passed by the storefront and disappeared into the crowd.
Relief and anger washed over her in a sudden wave, but she refused to cry. She refused to let the emotions spill as the adrenaline ebbed. She felt raw, vulnerable. Exposed. How had she been found? She’d been a fool to leave the safety of the mansion.
“Cerberus!” She barked, hoping he didn’t hear her attempt to choke back a sob.
Seconds later, Cerberus came thundering through the store like a bull. “What is it?” He scanned the store, his face uplifted to the air as if he could sniff danger like a dog.
“We have a problem. I’m closing shop early.”
“I told you I can handle myself,” Persephone grit between her teeth.
Hades cast her an exasperated look, his brows drawn together. “That’s not the point. You never should have been put in the situation to have to defend yourself in the first place. Where were you?” He thundered, turning on Cerberus.
If Cerberus had a tail, it would have been tucked between his legs. He stood like a sodden puppy before the empty fireplace with his shoulders hunched and his eyes cast to the floor.
Hades waved a dismissive hand like he was swatting a fly. “No matter. Nothing to be done about it now. You’ll answer to me once all of this is handled.” His footsteps made no sound over the ground as he paced a line back and forth before Cerberus. He pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “I weary of these Hunters. They’re a nuisance to my kind and yours alike.” He gestured toward Persephone.
She stood beside Hades’s desk not daring to speak again. Rage rolled off of him and permeated the air until Persephone feared she’d smother. She hated seeing him this way, but there were no secrets kept between them. She knew the truth behind Pirithous’s scheme. It wasn’t about chivalry or heroism. She was just a pawn used to strike at a bigger foe. Hades. He was the real target, and she was simply a bonus. Bragging rights.
The thought made her face flush with anger.
Little did Pirithous realize, no one had ever stood up against Hades and survived. And she would be no one’s trophy.
“So what’s the plan, boss man?” Hecate asked from the plush settee. Her brilliant blue eyes glowed like torches. Hair the color of blood washed over her bare shoulders. She was a terrifying sight to behold, the way she watched them each with an uncanny knowing, as if with a mere thought she could strip them of their flesh and bones to feast on the marrow of their souls.
“We’ll let him come for her,” Hades said.
Persephone opened her mouth to protest then abruptly clamped it shut. Why let them come here? Why not go out and hunt them down like the dogs they were? The thought of Pirithous stepping foot in her blessed sanctuary made her nauseous. He’d already tainted her shop with his presence. Like an insect, she wanted to crush him underfoot and walk away without another word.
“And if he doesn’t come alone?” Cerberus asked.
“The cowards never work alone, Cerberus darling. You know that.” Hecate hissed. “Even so, no matter how many they bring, it’s nothing we can’t handle.” She cast a disinterested glance at her perfectly manicured nails.
“Yes,” Persephone agreed. “He did say ‘we’ll come for you’.”
“I want to make an example of them,” Hades snarled. “I want to end this war with the Hunters once and for all. And they will never cross my queen, my coven, or myself again.” The room seemed to darken with his threat. The air around them chilled until goosebumps prickled along Persephone’s skin and her breath formed crystalline puffs of white in the air when she exhaled.
“Hecate, Cerberus. I want you to prepare the dungeon. Tell the others I want them to stay out of the way. No matter what they hear, they are to stay away.”
“Yes, Master,” The pair said in unison.
“Persephone,” Hades turned to her as the door closed with a soft thud.
“I put us at risk,” was all she could manage to say. It was both an admission and an apology.
Hades shook his head and regarded her with sympathy. “No. I knew that they would come for eventually. Truly, I would have been surprised otherwise.”
Persephone frowned. “But it’s you they’re really after.”
Hades smiled, a flash of ivory and sharp fangs. “You’re humble to think so. Come,” he beckoned with his hand. Gently, he pulled her in to an embrace, his lips resting against the crown of her head. “The greatest crime you could commit against me, Persephone, is to underestimate your own power. This was what drew me to you in the first place. You’re intoxicating to anyone who lays eyes on you. Never forget this. Now. Let us tend to this business with the Hunters.”
Persephone melted in his arms, into his words. She closed her eyes and listened to her own pulse thrum against his silent chest. “What will you have me do?”
Pirithous came the next day with only one other. The fact surprised Persephone as she watched the two men stalk up the hallway, their eyes darting in every direction, waiting for the monsters to appear.
“They’re all asleep for the day,” she told them from the end of the hallway.
Pirithous and his partner froze in mid-step and turned to her. “That explains why it was so easy getting in this place.” Pirithous smiled at his own prowess, and Persephone fought the urge to claw the smile from his face. If only they truly knew…
“I told you we’d come for you,” Pirithous said. The silver stake in his hand glinted in the dim lighting.
“After all this time, why now? I’ve been in this prison for twelve years.” She injected anger and sorrow into her words.
“All of a sudden you’re willing to go?” Pirithous narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“There was a guard in my office when you came. We never would have been able to walk out of there together. Not without a fight in broad daylight.”
“You sure we can trust her, man? I got a bad feeling.” Sweat dabbled the man’s forehead. He did his best to appear calm and collected, but Persephone saw the vein thundering with his heartbeat at his throat. He was terrified beneath so much muscle.
She smiled internally. Sheep in a wolf’s den, she thought.
“Theseus,” Pirithous hissed. He turned back to Persephone. “We have to get out of here. The sooner the better.” He held his hand out to her.
Choking back the revulsion clawing in her gut, Persephone reached out and took his hand. “I know a faster way out. We’ll miss the day guards this way.” She turned toward the opposite end of the hall from where the pair had come, both men in tow.
She led them to Hades’s office, and to the bureau that hid the secret passageway behind it. “It’s too heavy for me,” she told the two.
Theseus scowled, but moved to help Pirithous inch the bureau over enough for them to squeeze into the tall, narrow passageway. The stone walls echoed the sound of their footsteps as they filed inside. Track lighting built into either side of the floor was their only light, like the runner lights in a movie theater.
Pirithous led the trio, Persephone took the middle, and a nervous Theseus took up the rear. Her heart pounded in her ears. It was almost over now. How stupid these men were to think it would be so easy. To think that they could just steal something away from Hades. Just one more corner to turn and this would all be over.
“Take a left up ahead,” Persephone instructed.
The passageway exploded in a torrent of commotion. Pirithous’s scream still ricocheted from the walls when she spun on Theseus. He had only a split second of recognition before her heel connected with his stomach. He toppled forward and her knee rose to meet his nose. She cringed as blood sprayed warm against her knee and rolled in heavy drops down her shin.
Theseus collapsed to the ground, both hands to his nose. Darkness poured between his fingers and down his arm until it dripped from his elbows.
Hades was there at her side. His nostrils flared at the pungent scent of blood. A dark hunger filled his pure black eyes. He turned his gaze to her. “Well done, darling.” He reached down with clawed hands and grasped Theseus off the floor like here were a sack of oranges.
Persephone turned to follow him toward the dungeon. Pirithous was already gone. His screams echoed up ahead. The sound gave her a delighted thrill.
“Set him there,” Hades ordered to Hecate and Cerberus as he entered through the archway. He dropped Theseus to the ground haphazardly. Theseus grunted and gasped.
The dungeon was a round room. Stone floors sloped gently toward the center of the room where a large grate led to the Los Angeles sewers. The walls were bare. The only furniture in the room were two slabs of stone that sat side by side like altars.
Pirithous was laid across one. His shirt had been ripped away, revealing tanned flesh and defined muscle. His skin gleamed with wetness. Sweat and blood. The smell stung Persephone’s senses.
Cerberus and Hecate dragged Theseus by the collar of his T-shirt to the other slab. He struggled in their grasp; arms flailed, legs kicked, all to no avail. In one swift motion, Cerberus lifted Theseus onto the slab and held him prone with a single hand to his chest.
Hecate moved beside the man. Crimson hair flowed over bare shoulders, poured over the mounds of her cleavage. She was wild in the eyes, feral and bloodthirsty. With elongated nails, she ripped the buttons from Theseus’s shirt and pushed back the fabric. Then, she extended her hands above his abdomen, lifted her face to the sky, and began to chant.
Persephone watched with fascination from just inside the chamber. Hades prowled around the two men, his bare chest almost luminescent in the dimness. A corner of his mouth twisted up into a sinister grin.
He came to Pirithous’s side and stared down at the man, his eyes emotionless and cold. Tell me,” Hades whispered close to Pirithous’s face. “What do you see when you look at her?” Hades shifted his head just enough that Pirithous could see Persephone standing across the room, a mask of impassivity on her face.
“I see beauty, innocence. I see a family in mourning after she was stolen.” Every word was a struggle. Whatever spell Hecate had woven around the man made every breath he took a pure effort.
“Ah, yes.” Hades turned and flashed Persephone an admiring look before turning back to Pirithous. “You see, the thing about innocence is that it is often mistaken for naivety. I must admit, even I have found myself impressed with her strength, her wisdom. We have something deeply in common, she and I. We’re both willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the ones we love from the enemy.”
“She doesn’t belong here with you,” Pirithous spat.
Hades grinned mirthlessly. “And so you planned to come riding in to steal the helpless maiden from her captor. Hero of the day. Hailed amongst your preciousHunters as a savior.”
“Something like that.” Pirithous wheezed as Hecate flicked her hand and an invisible restraint closed tighter around his throat.
“You’re going to kill him!” Theseus shouted. “You kill him; you’ll bring every Hunter on the East Coast banging down your door.”
Hades stood to his full height and flashed to Theseus’s side with barely a thought. He stroked a finger down Theseus’s cheek. “Theseus, silly boy. The Hunters have had far better reasons to come banging down my door than two arrogant little pricks who will get exactly what they asked for. I will, however, make sure that you are the example as to why they should never come cross my path, or that of my queen or my coven, ever again.”
Pirithous grunted, gurgled. His face grew purple with the effort to speak, but Hecate twisted her fist until no breath would enter or exit his lungs.
“Hecate,” Hades admonished softly. Turning back to Pirithous, he said, “Do you know what it’s like to be tasted by my kind? They say it is unlike any drug, unlike any high. Your mind is lost to the world. You become nothing while your life is slowly drained away. Like falling asleep.”
“What’s your point?” Pirithous grit between his teeth.
“My point is that you will never again see the light of day. You will not get to be the hero in this story. You will not take what is mine. Your blood will feed my coven until your body withers to nothing. Slow, agonizing.” Hades pressed his lips to Pirithous’s ear until Persephone strained to hear his words. “I will have every drop of your soul, and you’ll never beg to differ.”
Hades’s threat shivered across Persephone’s skin, stoked the fire of revenge that burned inside her. She remembered why she once feared Hades. It was as if she were seeing him for the first time all over again. He six feet of walking death wrapped in so much leather and silk. He was cold to the touch, yet he had the power to light her like a pyre. She watched him stalk away from the men in pure awe. Tears stung her eyes—a mixture of fear and reverence.
She smiled at Hades as he passed. I am not afraid, she told him with her eyes. She squared her shoulders and held her head a little higher. This was her king. This was his kingdom of death. And she was his queen.
Hades reached for her hand, which she willingly gave. His delicate kiss lingered on her knuckles. “They call us deadly and deranged, and yet they forgot why they call us this. Now we have reminded them. Come.”
Without a glance back, and trailed by Pirithous and Theseus’s screams, Persephone followed Hades back to their room. Back to their sanctuary of ebony silk and darkness.
© Copyright 2016 by KM Herbeck. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of KM Herbeck.SUBSCRIBE