“Head to the main pavilion, my Lord,” the centaur on the left said to Hades as he passed, though he didn’t need to. Thousands of bodies converged ahead, all seeming drawn to the clearest, most soulful music Mineekas had ever heard.
“Thank you,” Hades replied, and swept Mineekas past the gate. He paused, gave her enough time to gape in awe at her surroundings.
They walked on a gold walkway wide enough for three of Hades’ chariots to move side-by-side. Along the edge of the sidewalk, clusters of silver-colored flowers nestled in the thickest, healthiest grass to exist. With the flowers, strawberries grew, fat and too-red to be real.
When Mineekas tore her attention from the ground, she saw that most the city was level. The main path branched off into smaller ones that wound around perfectly landscaped parks, fountains as big as Mineekas’ bedroom, theaters, bandstands, museums, pools, food stalls promising every item known to man and then some, and a dozen other buildings Mineekas couldn’t identify.
At different sections of the city, though, existed a hill. On each sat a palace, all different colored and shaped. All impressed, but none as much as the one directly in front of Mineekas. It could house three of Hades’ palaces and the Underworld city and still have room. The gilded doomed roof gleamed in the sunlight, but not enough to hurt the eyes. The walls had been constructed in marble of the purest white and seemed to pulse much like Hades’ crown did.
The mighty palace (no doubt Zeus’) wanted to project warmth and majesty, but, unlike the other palaces, lacked a soul. Somehow, it seemed darker and colder than the deepest depths of Tartarus.
Against her will, Mineekas pressed herself closer to her father. Hades had watched her as she took in the sight before her, and now he looked between her and Zeus’ palace. His lips pursed but he didn’t comment.
They stayed like that for a minute, then Hades pulled her toward the throng of bodies before them. They didn’t talk as they walked. While excellent at hiding it, Mineekas knew her father was on edge, maybe more so than her, and not because he worried for her safety. Hades hadn’t been on Mount Olympus in three thousand years, and the last time he had, he’d leveled most of the city. In the sneers of the older gods they passed, Mineekas knew The Rich One’s assault hadn’t been forgotten.
Mineekas often wondered how her father didn’t crumble from his family’s rejection. Sure, the daemons treated him better than most of his siblings ever had, but the creatures’ company couldn’t be the same. For twenty years, Hades had acted as a father to his younger siblings, all but Zeus. He’d saved countless of his nieces and nephews during the Titanomachy. Without him, there would be no Mount Olympus, no long reign of the gods.
How did that no longer matter those around her?
A better question occurred to Mineekas, one she’d never considered before: Had her father’s contributions ever mattered?
She wanted to ask but didn’t know the right words, and if she didn’t choose her words carefully, she’d never pull a satisfying answer from Hades. He’d never forbidden her from asking about his past, yet he’d made it clear he’d prefer her to leave it be. Hades had once told her, nothing he’d suffered had any importance now that he had her and Persephone.
A goddess not much taller than Mineekas approached them; elbowed and pushed any god in her way. Her milkweed-colored peplos complimented her green-tinted skin and honey-blonde curls. The scent of fresh-cut barely, her favorite fragrance, followed her like a cloud.
Mineekas rolled her eyes. Of course, she could wear something flattering.
Demeter stopped before her brother and granddaughter, left too much room for the distance to be accidental. Her pumpkin-orange gaze barely acknowledged Hades before it settled on Mineekas. A smile tugged on her paper-thin lips as she looked over the appalling peplos but vanished when she took in Mineekas’ hair and face.
“I thought I said traditional!”
A second figure appeared then, almost the spitting image of Demeter. Except her skin had a rosy tint and shades of black streaked her white-blonde locks. Around her multi-colored eyes (Hades called them his springtime bouquet), tendrils of gray marbled the thin flesh there; the most significant giveaway to Persephone’s first form.
In Persephone’s hair, she wore a headband made of seven-petaled white flowers with silver and black lines, reminiscent of vines, on the edges of the petals. The flower was as old as Mineekas, had come into existence the moment Persephone first set eyes on Mineekas. Mineekas knew the world would adore the new species, but her mother refused to share it.
Persephone took the other side of her daughter, her attention on Demeter. “She’s fine.”
A flash of fury crossed Demeter’s broad, pinched features. “It’s not acceptable. Do you want to give the gossips another reason to talk about her?”
Persephone pointed at Mineekas’ peplos. “You’ve fueled their eager tongues for centuries to come.”
Red splotches broke out on Demeter’s neck and arms. “She looks wonderful.” Demeter finally met Mineekas’ gaze. “You like it, don’t you?”
All three older gods watched Mineekas as they awaited her response. Her parents had taught her to always be truthful, no matter the cost. Yet staring at her grandmother, so fragile and clinging to the hope of doing something right, Mineekas couldn’t break her spirit.
She stepped away from her parents and kissed her grandmother on both cheeks. “It’s lovely. Thank you.”
Demeter beamed and hugged Mineekas. “How did a place like the Underworld produce a child as sweet as you?”
Mineekas didn’t know how to reply, so laughed, then returned to stand between her parents.
Demeter straightened her peplos. “Will you ride with me sometime this summer?” she asked as she examined her sandals.
Persephone shook her head. “My answer hasn’t changed.”
Though most her face was hidden, Mineekas still glimpsed the hurt there and the tears her grandmother tried not to shed. “I have to ask,” she muttered. “One day you’ll say different. One day it’ll be like it was.”
Persephone snorted and grabbed Mineekas hand. She marched past her mother, Mineekas, and Hades in tow. Mineekas couldn’t resist sparing Demeter one last glance. The Olympian had hunched over, and her shoulders shook with the force of her tears.
No one had outright told Mineekas what Demeter had done to make Persephone hate her so, but the story had been too exciting for no one to talk about it, and Mineekas had always been good at eavesdropping. Through the years, she’d pieced together the event that had severed the millennia-long relationship.
When Persephone had discovered she was the reincarnated Daemon Queen and the first ruler of the Underworld, Kore, she’d decided to marry Hades and live half her life in the Underworld. The news had devastated Demeter, and she’d sought help from Apollo. What she’d offered him in turn, no one knew, but every summer Apollo had given her a concoction that would render an individual infertile for an entire year, and every year Demeter had fed it to her daughter.
For three thousand years, Persephone and Hades had tried for a family but thought it wasn’t meant to be. Then, for reasons only guessed at, a little over twenty years ago Apollo had revealed Demeter’s secret, and the fight that ensued had left an entire continent’s crops devasted. From that moment, Persephone had refused to be around her mother for more than five minutes. She still came to the Upperworld every six months, out of duty, but was always on the opposite side of the world of Demeter.
Mineekas didn’t like that her grandmother had tried to control Persephone’s choices, but she could tell how much Demeter regretted her actions. Once, after watching Persephone be so cruel to Demeter the Olympian had bawled like a godling, she’d begged her mother to forgive Demeter. Persephone had spit at Demeter’s feet and said, “Some things can’t be forgiven,” before leaving the room.
This outcome had been three thousand years in the making. Maybe it’d take another three thousand to heal.