Daemons stopped on the side of the main road as Hades’ chariot thundered past on its route from his palace to the main gates on the far reaches of the Cocytus. They waved and wished Mineekas well. Zwenp, Hades’ current advisor, wouldn’t approve, yet Mineekas didn’t care as she smiled and blew kisses to as many of her subjects as she could, which helped distract from her jumbled nerves. Her father’s attention stayed on controlling the four black, more-mist-than-flesh horses that pulled the chariot.
On a typical day, Mineekas hated the horses. Their hellish-red eyes spoke of more intelligence than the average beast, and they had a nasty habit of spitting acid when they weren’t the center of attention. Frankly, the mad creatures terrified Mineekas, but today she welcomed the fear their wake invoked. Maybe they’d convince those on Mount Olympus to behave.
As they passed one of the several light posts along the road that, the lead horse shot a wad of acid at the glass bulb on the top of the post. The glass broke and the glow-stone inside shattered. A young blood daemon, no older than its second cycle, clapped his hands and laughed. The adult fire daemon beside the youngling smacked him in the head before hauling the blood daemon away from the crowd.
Mineekas’ heart sank for the youngling. He would likely survive his encounter with the adult daemon, though in the days that followed he’d wished he hadn’t. Many times, as a child, Mineekas had pleaded with her father to change the way daemons raised their young (he never had, though he’d agreed with his daughter. He’d explained, while their King, he was still a guest in the daemons’ home. He refused to offend them). While capable of great love and compassion, most adult daemons offered none of their better sides to the younglings. More than once, they ate their children for no other reason than boredom.
Mineekas had asked Admasan why adult daemons were so cruel. She’d chuckled and pointed out the nearest window. “Look where we are, child,” she’d said. “If they don’t learn young the harshness of this world, they won’t reach my age.”
“But doesn’t it make you sad?” Mineekas had demanded, moments away from crying (she’d been such an emotional godling).
Admasan had gathered Mineekas in her arms then. “That’s why you’re my only child.”
Mineekas cleared her head of the depressing memory, said a prayer for the unfortunate blood daemon and focused on the ride through the city surrounding Hades’ palace. While cruel, the daemons kept the city beautiful. The buildings, made from precious metals and the purest gemstones, gleamed in the light the glow-stones provided. All visible fountains gurgled with water harvested from the five great rivers. The off-branching streets bustled with more life than usual for Hades had given all but the most crucial daemons three days off to celebrate their princess entering godhood.
She loved her home, but once again, as happened more and more lately, Mineekas longed for a change of scenery. Visiting Mount Olympus would be a good start, yet she’d had enough of gods’ realms. More than anything, Mineekas wanted to walk amongst the humans.
All of the Underworld knew of Mineekas’ fascination with humans. Since she could walk, she’d escape Admasan, so she could go see the spirits that awaited judgment. Talking with the recently departed had delighted her; their stories and lives so much different than those of under-dwellers. Her parents hadn’t minded her excursions, but they’d upset Zwenp, and he’d put a stop to them.
Dejected but not defeated, Mineekas had traveled to the Fields of Asphodel. The place had scared her at first, all those spirits wandering and gray. But she’d soon discovered if she approached the ones emitting a soft, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it green light (they shined because the Lethe’s effects weren’t always a hundred percent), she could talk with them much like she had the newly arrived spirits. The first one Mineekas had ever spoken to was Kallolee.
Zwenp hadn’t liked her in the Fields any better, but he’d had a harder time finding her. The Fields were the largest part of the Underworld and stretched for so far multiple times Mineekas had feared getting lost. Admasan had told her tales of young daemons who’d wandered into the Fields for fun and starved to death or been mutilated by harpies. Yet Mineekas had always managed to find her way home (a trait many daemons thought spoke of a deeper connection to Persephone’s first form).
The chariot reached the bridge across the Styx. On the other side, thousands of spirits milled around as they waited for the next leg of their journey. They’d yet to be judged, so hadn’t drunk from the Lethe. Some spoke, others bemoaned their fate, and more than a few argued with each other. All screamed and dived out of the way as the horses neared. The horses whinnied, as if to laugh, and snapped at the closest spirits. The horses couldn’t bite the spirits, but, as Mineekas had learned long ago, it took the dead years to accept they didn’t inhabit a physical shell.
Sooner than she was ready, Hades drove the chariot past the main gates and over the Cocytus. A wide tunnel stretched before them, the last stretch before they left the Underworld. Mineekas clutched the edge of the chariot as the mouth of the tunnel approached. This was it. Once out, she couldn’t go back. Could she brave the coming hours?
Hades glanced at Mineekas and smiled. “Shield your eyes. The sun is brighter than the flames of Acheron.”
Mineekas placed one hand on her forehead as they burst into the Upperworld. Even with the shade her palm provided, her first sight of the Upperworld blinded. For almost a minute, only a white light consumed her vision. She blinked until it slowly faded and took in the new surroundings.
The chariot raced on an invisible path through the sky, aimed toward a massive mountain in the distance. Below, the cities and towns of Greece zoomed by, almost too fast for Mineekas to make out. What she did see, though, stole her breath and filled her with a warmth like what she’d felt after sneaking some of Admasan’s ale two years ago.
Every fall Persephone returned to the Underworld, she came with hundreds of pictures she’d taken from the various parts of the world she’d visited. Her mother always managed to capture the most amazing moments with a detailed eye Mineekas envied. Yet Persephone couldn’t immortalize in film what Mineekas saw as she passed over Greece.
Colors she’d only read about or seen on television jumped out at her. Instead of damp, dark smells, Mineekas’ nose tickled with the heady, fresh scent of growth she associated with Persephone. For the first time, a light, warm breeze brushed over her skin.
All at once, Mineekas knew she’d give almost anything to stay in the Upperworld.
“Can’t we stop for a moment?” Mineekas asked as she spotted several human children eating what she hoped was ice cream.
Hades flicked the reins, and the horses ran faster. “We don’t have much longer ‘til The Deciding. The Fates may like me more than most, but they won’t forgive tardiness.”
Mineekas sighed but abandoned her disappointment as she gawked at her surroundings. She loved seeing the humans in their complete state and pitied what awaited them in death. More than once she giggled at the silly antics of the animals (so different than the Underworld beasts). Mineekas wished she could pluck every flower that crossed her path.
How did her mother leave this for six months every year?
Soon the chariot reached the base of Mount Olympus. Without missing a beat, the horses took the narrow road that wound around the entire mountain. Mineekas lost sight of the humans, animals, and vegetation, but didn’t mind. The mountain provided its own thrills. While made from similar materials found in her home, they’d manifested a bit different in the Upperworld, and Mineekas didn’t think she’d ever see rocks and dirt in more dazzling colors.
With nickering loud enough to shake the heavens, Hades’ horses left the road, and the chariot came upon a large area set up much like the parking lots Mineekas had spotted on the journey to Mount Olympus. Instead of cars, though, hundreds of various sized and colored chariots sat in neat little rows before an intimidating marble wall that stretched out in both directions for farther than Mineekas’ eye could judge. Nymphs tended to the creatures attached to the chariots or directed gods to the golden gates that cast a shadow over much of the lot.
Hades pulled on the reins, and the horses’ ground-eating gallop slowed to a reasonable trot. He whistled and caught the attention of two tree nymphs. They bowed before leading the way to a single lot near the gates but in a section all its own. As they drove by, many of the gods pointed, first at Hades, then at Mineekas. Some giggled or attempted to hide smiles behind too slow hands. Others outright gagged.
Mineekas heart sank to her toes. She stepped toward Hades, to hide in her father’s comforting shadow, but stopped and forced herself to remain in place and expressionless. She refused to let them smell blood. She was the only daughter of one of the most powerful gods to exist. The nobodies surrounding her would not make her feel inadequate.
Once the chariot was parked, Hades handed the reins to the shorter of the two nymphs. “They eat brimstone.”
The nymph gulped as she took in the horses. The nearest one looked her over, then stomped toward her. The nymph yelped, thrust the reins into her friend’s hand, and ran off.
The second nymph gazed at Hades. Her leaf-green skin had paled a few shades, but she didn’t appear as frightened as the other nymph. “They spit acid, right?”
Hades nodded. “I wouldn’t leave them alone for long.”
The nymph squared her bony shoulders. “Yes, my Lord.” She bowed again before facing the horses.
Hades chuckled and helped Mineekas from the chariot. No other nymph ran to aid them to the golden gates, and Hades didn’t wait for one. He took his daughter’s hand and led her from the chariot.
“Do you think she’ll be fine with the horses?” Mineekas asked.
“If she’s wise, she’ll make it through the day with minimal burns.”
Mineekas wasn’t as sure as her father, but she dropped the topic. With nothing else to distract her, her mind grew obsessed with what the marble wall and golden gates contained. The back of her neck dripped with sweat, made her peplos stick. Mineekas fought with her feet, which wanted to run from Mount Olympus. Again, her stomach churned.
At the gates, Hades paused. From a concealed pocket in the folds of his monochiton, he produced a yellow wafer no bigger than Mineekas thumbnail. He held it out to her. “I think you could use this. Hekate made it for you.”
Mineekas took the wafer and examined it. “What’s it for?”
“It’ll settle you, so you’re chances of vomiting on the Fates decreases.”
She needed no further information. Mineekas popped it into her mouth. The moment the wafer touched her tongue, it dissolved and left behind a mild taste akin to raw green peas. The flavor only lasted a moment, then a firm but calm sense of relaxedness flooded Mineekas, and her urge to flee vanished. She still worried about what lay ahead, but she could think clearly for the first time since waking that morning.
Hades squeezed Mineekas’ fingers. “Better?”
She smiled at him. “Much. Thank you.”
Her father offered a grin of his own, then gestured to the armored centaurs standing in front of the golden gates. As one, they opened the gates wide enough for father and daughter to pass. Mineekas swallowed one huge breath and stepped into the Heavenly City.