Dead End Florals

'Theirs is said to be a marriage of tragedy. They call him deformed, warped, a presence that insulted the heavens; while she was the epitome of beauty, of love.

The poets misspoke.''

- L.H.Z // Maybe Aphrodite loved her husband

greek mythos + romcom + romance

setting: flower shop run by persephone/hades

*Cover art is my own. Do not reproduce without permission

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3. The Mystery of the Marsh Marauder Pt 1

“Faster . . . faster . . . “ The white figure glowed in contrast to the murky  water he was trying to row through.  

The boat struck the shore and the figure tossed his ore in frustration before seeing a dark shadow above.  The soul opened its mouth to scream, but a wet tongue shot out and wrapped around his head.

“Hey . . . hey--don’t make this look like I’m eating you.  Do you know that Elysium fields are that way?”  The figure was a fury.  A huge prehistoric bird with a slime covered police uniform.  The beak had small sharp teeth jutting out.  The copper hat on its head shone slightly in the limited lighting of the swaying lamp that was on the edge of the boat.  One of it’s shaggy black wings pointed in the way that the soul had come.  The tongue loosened from around the soul’s neck.

“Yes, I do know that I’m--”

The huge fury cackles and flapped its huge wings.  It lifted itself slightly off the boat’s edge.  It’s tongue shot back into its beak.    “Aha, as long as you know, I am under no obligation to stop you.  Stay safe.  Explore as you will, lil glug.”

The fury took off, flapping it’s giant mantle of feathers.  The water was clear, dark and still.  There was a great hum as the roar of a machine came closer and closer to where the soul had wrecked his boat.  The fury felt a change in the wind currents and arced backwards to check on the stranded soul.  The soul itself should not be in any kind of danger, he thought to himself.  He tucked his wings into himself to roost on a decaying willow that had not been swallowed up by the river.

He was aghast to see a lithe figure covered in a dark diving suit and a gas mask riding a jet ski thru the river.  Now first and foremost, he was not aglow in that faint radiance of one of the Elysium residents.  The fury cocked its head and whiffed the strange apparition.  Flesh

His beak was washed with drool.  The fury hadn’t tasted real meat in years.  He smiled to himself, this prey would be easier to catch than a bird with a worm.  He was hungry and such a prize to be eaten on a day like this.  The bird dove with its vicious claws stretched out.

The specter turned his vehicle around quickly in the water so the fury was splashed with the water and his wings got wet.  The voice was cold and strangely sounded inhuman,  “No one can beat me bird man.”

The fury flapped it’s waterlogged wings before tumbling fully into the water.

This was no ordinary stream.  As the water flowed from the Stygian Marsh here the water ran with an enchantment of that anyone who would fall in would be wrought with an absence of memory.  Hell’s welcome to those who decided to flee or run.

The fury’s head bobbed above the waves.  It’s shrill voice whispered, “Flesh, flessssh, I almost tasted you.  Flessssh has commee.

 

 

Dead End Florals had for once had a successful day of business.  Persephone checked the register and found it full of hell’s gold.  She hadn’t originally planned on charging the underworld’s residents for buying her flowers, but they had insisted.  The gold wasn’t worth much to her, as she was the consort of Hades, but still it felt like an accomplishment.

    Max slinked through the door and flipped the sign so no more people would come by.  He streaked between Persephone’s legs before floating to sit on her shoulders.  “You’re making much more than Hades thought you would.”

    “I mean I’m not trying to please anyone here other than me.  I’m glad though that he gave me the opportunity to have my own independence.”

    “My queen, you’re a goddess.  No one is under any obligation to give you anything.  You take what you need.  This revenue is yours.  You can do whatever you want with it.  If you hate the underworld, you could use it to--”

    “No, don’t ever say anything like that ever again.  The absurdity of me ever leaving.  I love it here.  I get to meet so many amazing people from different time periods and hear their stories.  I would never want anything more.”  Persephone held out her finger and a white dove landed on her outstretched finger.  “Isn’t that right Roxas dear.”  

    The dove cooed softly.

    Max sighed.  “Are you making any progress with it?”

    Persephone’s eyes hardened.  “No, I still don’t know the extent of my powers here.  I didn’t know I could change souls into animals.  I can’t get him to talk or make any indication that the rock man we knew is still in there.  The dove is very similar to those I use to keep at the old Divine Right, but it eats only dried leaves and berries.  Maybe undead, but also not at all.”

    “A new--”

    “It’s different.  I was going to discuss it with Hades, but he’s been busy with that border skirmish at the Dawn Gate and reinforcing Tartarus.  I haven’t seen him in a while”

    The bells on the doors jingled loudly as a very tired dark haired man burst through.  Hades looked beyond tired.  In the limited lighting Persephone could see the faint outline of musculature fading.  This was one of the things that she liked about him, while Zeus and the other gods glamoured themselves with perfect bodies, Hades did not shy away from showing others his natural body shape which for the most part as Persephone could tell was unremarkable.  “Good afternoon, Maximillian.  Hello, Persephone, did you enjoy your day today?”

    “Speak of the devil, sir.  We were just speaking about you.”

    Persephone closed the register and smiled softly.  “We were speaking of how tired you must be after your duties.”

    “It’s a good kind of tired.  I enjoy my realm.  But I did not come here to socialize, as pleasant as it is to see your beautiful smile.  It brightens up my afternoon.  I got a letter.”  A stream of smoke erupted from one of his grey palm and he withdrew a piece of gnarled burned parchment.  He leaned forward and gestured that he wanted her to take it.

    Persephone unfurled it and quickly read it through.  Dark lines of worry appeared on her forehead.  She placed the parchment slowly on the counter.  “It’s from my mother.”

    Hades pursed his lips.  “She’s been trying to contact you for a while, this isn’t the first message.  I didn’t want to alarm you.”

    “Hades, I need to be in contact with my mom, even though I might not agree with her parenting.”

    “She’s a goddess.  We aren’t mortals, Persephone.  She will not die.  You have no debt to owe her.  You were also incapacitated so . . . as per the orders of Max, we both decided that it would be better for you if you decided on it when you were stronger.”

    Persephone felt hot.  The merchandise in the shop around her started vibrating.  Max curled himself around her neck and she relaxed.  Hades looked alarmed, but once seeing she was calming he hid his emotion behind a thin smile.  

“I’m sorry if this was upsetting to you.  I wanted you to adapt before burdening yourself with issues of the outside world.”

“I probably would’ve done the same thing in your situation.  I’m not happy you made the decision for me, but there is a lot of things I’m discovering about myself here.  I’m not completely unhappy here, but I’m also confused.  I need to see her.”

Hades nodded.  His eyes flashed yellow for a second.  “I brought you this in preparation for us to head back for an afternoon with all of them.”

“Oh, you mean--”

“Yes, the whole family.”

The duo headed back to the house and Persephone changed into a white sundress with dried alstroemeria buds.  Hades couldn’t stop sneaking looks at her when she was brushing her hair.  Hades in contrast wore a pair of conspicuous dress slacks that were cut off at the knee and a polo that had a small logo.

When Persephone saw the logo she burst out laughing, “Dead End Florals?  That’s so neat.  I wish I--”  As she was saying this Persephone felt a slight burning feeling on her collarbone and saw her dress also was embroidered with the same logo.  

“Thank you, my liege.”  Persephone said simply.

Hades nodded as if it was nothing.  He angled his head and in the reflection, Persephone could see him attempting to comb his crispy burnt hair.  “I always burn it all off whenever I get too angry.”  Persephone ran her hands through it with her wooden comb and the thick hair that sprouted grew to cover his eyes.  

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make it worse.”

Hades parted his hair in the middle and turned to Persephone.  “Better than burned.”

Persephone held a pair of sheers ready.  Hades burst out laughing and then Persephone relaxed and joined in.   Hades smiled fully and Persephone briefly saw the boy he’d been before he’d been giving the underworld.  She wished she could take a picture--who’d believe the god of death could laugh about a bad haircut.

They did end up cutting the hair a bit.  Hades preferred to keep his hair in some semblance of military order.  It was combed over though to Persephone’s delight it kept reverting back to an unruly wave.  Hera, on the other hand, as soon as she opened the door was completely taken in by disgust.  She was made up with a strange beehive hairstyle and Persephone couldn’t help but wonder what kind of animal could nest inside it.  She appreciated how Hades kept his away from Hera’s revealing outfit.  He kept getting distracted by it, but

“My loves come on in.  You’re so well-dressed for a newly hitched.”

“Hera,”  Hades cleared his throat.  “Where is--”

A drunken shout of “Hera, who the hell is at the front door?” was followed by an incredibly inebriated  Demeter.   Once, her bloodshot eyes settled on Persephone, she started sobering up.  “Oh, you let them in before they get cold.”

Persephone was briefly shocked by the emancipated appearance of her mother.  She was so much smaller than Persephone last remembered.  Her clothes hung off of her body like she hadn’t been taking care of her body as she normally would.  Her eyes were sunken into her face in a way that the excessive cosmetics, which Persephone was sure was the work of Hera.

Demeter shuffled both of the new arrivals to the living room couch and started producing all of Persephone’s favorite meals.  They grew into existence on golden platters.  Hades shifted uncomfortably when both Demeter and Hera tried to squeeze between him and Persephone.

Hades was shoved sharply then he eyes burned with black fire and he let out a burst of energy.  Other than Persephone everything in the room was levitated.  Zeus walked into the room holding a freshly made martini and Hades relaxed.  He rose and mumbled something about needing some air before dumping the irritant goddesses on either side of his partner.  

Zeus and Hades both exited to the deck outside.  The door closed on it’s own accord behind them.  

Hera and Demeter pounced on Persephone.  Each one grabbing an arm.

“Have you been able to eat anything growing?”

“Has he violated you?”

“Why are you lost so much weight?”

“I’m trying Persephone.  I swear on my honor as the goddess of harvest to try to get you back from there, but it was you’re own fault that he . . . .”

Persephone withdrew her arms.  Shaking off both of the women.  Persephone reached for a plate of pad thai and started eating it.  Demeter produced a spring roll and broke off a bit before Persephone opened her mouth and let her feed her.  

The more she ate, the more health returned to Demeter.  Once she’d finished eating, Demeter looked as she normally would which gave Persephone a more peace of mind.  Hera tried to make Persephone drink a glass of wine, but Demeter slapped her hand away.

“She only drinks almond milk to maintain her beautiful youthful looks so she doesn’t have to glamour herself as much as you do.”

“Mother, please.  I don’t like to glamour myself at all.”

Hera rolled her eyes as she poured herself a drink from the crystal  lion decanter sitting on the side table.  “How is the god of death when it comes to seduction?”

“Hera”  Demeter was aghast.  

“I don’t care that you’re her mother.  She was going to get a lover and leave you anyways.  I’m glad she got a kingdom in the process you can’t say--”

“She’s not going to stay with that corpse.  Now that she’s away from hell, she can get someone else.”

“Oh, my what about Adonis.  He’s a minor zoologist god, you’ve probably never even heard of him before.  He’s such a dreamy dreamy dreamboat.  He’s ambrosia in bed.  Not that I think you’d be interested too much in that.  You’re much younger than me.  But the animal part should be so perfect for your bohemian sensibilities.”

Hera reached into her cleavage and pulled out a ivory figurine.  It was of a perfectly formed man with three ladies fondling him.  His lower half was barely covered with a thin sheath of fabric that was slowly being unwound by the women.

“Auntie, I am beyond grateful for you trying to help.  But, I don’t want a lover right now.  I’m really happy”

Happy in the underworld.  Darling, what do you do there?  Tend flowers with the one who can’t touch them.  He just breathes life doesn’t he.”  Hera, shoved the idol into Persephone’s bag and smiled.  “Just keep it with you.  I’m sure you’ll know when you’ll need him.”

 

    Hades wondered what had upset Persephone when she caught his eye in the reflection of the deck’s glass door.  

 

Zeus cleared his throat. “Brother, you’ve chosen a much more even tempered woman than I have.  I congratulate you, she is quite--”

“She’s strong.  Not as strong as the queen of the gods, but enough so that she’s adapting well to living in a new climate.”

“I thought you would kill her spirits, make her a shadow of her former self.”

“To Demeter, she was a calling bird in a cage.  I set her free.  If she doesn’t want to assume duties as queen, she doesn’t have to.  She can put on the mantle whenever she wants to.  There’s no rush.  She’s a child when compared to us.”

“It’s done her good.”

“She’s not worth angering Hera for.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“I’m not going to challenge another god.  She’s not your queen, but yet she is.  She’s not your lover, but yet she’s fond of you.  Not much room for me to interfere.  She also sees me more as a strange uncle.”  Zeus handed Hades a coffee mug.

“Zeus, I don’t drink, when I’m--”

Zeus took a sip of a similar cup and waved off Hades concern.  “I know you don’t drink because Persephone’s given you that beautiful head of hair.  You’ll burn it to a crisp--”

“I didn’t come here to laugh with you over ambrosia.  Nor did I come to show off my queen.  I was hoping you would know a bit about--”

Zeus started seriously straight ahead.  Then turned to Hades.  “You came here to ask me whether I have a handle on my horde of unruly children.  The halfling terrorizing the Underworld isn’t one of mine, dear brother.”

“Which one of us would send a demigod to collect souls.  I have no idea what that person wants.  I don’t want Persephone to get hurt.  Her flower shop that she tends is near the Dawngate.  There was a disturbance there earlier today with some missing Furies.”

“Sounds taxing.  Speaking of missing things, did you try the lovely bean dip that Hera made this morning?  It was simply divine.”  Zeus materialized it into his palm.

“Zeus, you need to take something like this seriously.”

“Brother mine, you lord of matters concerning the dead.  I do the living.  And our other brother the matter of the seas and waterways.  I am not going to help if I get nothing out of this.”

Hades eyes flamed and his hair burst into blue and white flames.  There was smoke issuing from Hades head.  Hera rushed out to see what the commotion was.  Persephone and Demeter’s heads both bopped in after hers.  Hades straightened his shirt and tried to give Persephone some reassurance.  It must have worked, as she retreated giving some excuse on how she really wanted to see Hera’s fridge contents.

After they were both alone together.  Zeus laughed.  “I wonder why you choose the dead over the living.  But I do often wonder why I didn’t take all the sea, earth and hell for myself.”

“Perhaps, I’ve overstayed my welcome.”  Hades bid farewell to his brother and pulled Persephone from the kitchen where she’d been entertaining the older gods.  She didn’t protest and was glad when Hades had come for her.  It was like as if he knew she was fed up with them before she did.

“I apologize if I--”

“No, your timing was perfect.  What were you talking about with Zeus?  Your hair is--”

“I can’t grow it,” as he was saying this, Persephone softly touched both sides of his forehead and the fibers returned to their regular state.  The excess crumbled away in the wind.  Hades leaned his forehead against Persephone’s and sighed.  She smelled of heather and lavender here.  He tried to calm his tangled emotions.

Persephone stiffened and took a step back.  Her arms curled around herself and she shivered involuntarily.  “Hera was trying to talk me into taking a lover.  I declined, but I--”

“I understand, my emotions got away from me.  To make it up to you, would you like a meal on me?”

Persephone laughed to relieve the awkwardness and then gave him her slow breathtaking smile.  Her tone was teasing.  “Can we go to a restaurant in the Underworld?”

Hades grabbed her hand and she felt her stomach flip several times as the god teleported them to a spot in Elysium, the place where good souls reside.  It was a mirror of the town they had left, with sidewalks and baby strollers.  Except all the inhabitants were glowing slightly with a faint pure radiance.  Here, real grass grew with healthy trees and plants.

“Why didn’t you let me come here before?”  Persephone’s brow furrowed as she stared in open mouth wonder.  She was openly enraptured.

Hades tugged her forwards and pulled her into a ramen restaurant.  Several of the apparitions cleared a table by the window and the god sauntered towards the open booth.  He sat automatically and opened a red menu.  

Persephone couldn’t believe how soft the cushions were.  “I never imagined that something like this could exist here.”

Hades reply was gruff.  “I needed you to acclimate first so I waited a bit.  You’ve been here for over a month, you can eat beef if you’d like too.  Oh, well if you don’t--”

Persephone brushed off the assumption.  “No, I do eat meat, I just like to make sure that it’s slaughtered humanely.  Everything is already dead, so it shouldn’t be a big deal anyways.”

Both spent some time studying the menu.  Hades peered at his ward overtop the menu.  She was biting her lip.  He glanced around to catch eyes with a waiter when he noticed the shop was now only staffed with reanimated animalia.  The graceful white souls were nowhere to be seen.  He had only caught eyes with a ferret with a Japan bandana when a scuffle of feathers started him.

A fury burst headfirst through the revolving doors.  There was a rope attached around the bird’s neck.  The air sac around it’s neck bulged unnaturally as it choked out the words, “Sir, I . . . I’ve brought the boy to you.”

As it spoke, all the reanimated animals scattered.  There was squeaks, squawks, screams and yells as the feathers, feet, and appendages found places to hide.  A gaggle of snakes was in each chandelier.  A flock of flamingoes under the sink.  Birds in mugs, wine glasses, and paper soda containers.  An alligator slid full into the disposal bin.  An ostrich laid its egg and the egg’s legs hatched and ran straight into the space between Persephone’s knees.  

She startled.  Then dropped the menu to give the animal a place to hide in her lap.  The egg trembled.  It looked quite funny with two legs sticking out.  To calm the scared little one, Persephone closed her eyes and started to hum.  She wasn’t very sophisticated as her mother had always restricted her to learning simple tunes.

“Persephone, now isn’t the time.”  Hades scooped Persephone up in his arms as the shadowy marauder skateboarded in.  He was pulled by two more exhausted furies.  They were flapping furiously trying to get away.  Hades glared at the figure.

The marauder was clad in a black eel wetsuit that glistened.  His face was covered with a black gas mask that had it’s eye holes darkened. His feet in contrast were strapped to the skateboard.  He loosened the furies and snapped his fingers.  Every piece of glass in the store shattered, raining the occupants inside with sharp shards.

Hades moved, but as he did, the marauder brandished an enormous brown sack and threw it.  Whatever animal it touched was sucked into a vortex.  The nucleus being the end of the back clutched in the unknown figure's outstretched hand.  Hades as the vortex reached to touch him, pushed both himself and Persephone out the shattered window.

Persephone grunted as the both landed hard on the asphalt outside.  Hades landed first, but cushioned her and the ostrich egg.  It wiggled out of her grasp and took off running.

“No,”  she reached for it.

Hades stopped her.  “It can fend for itself.  The reanimated animalia are quite unlike their living counterparts.  Nothing will cause it any harm.”

There was a grating sound of wheel against concrete.  Hades turned and reflexively scooped up Persephone.  Her head snapped back and she caught a glimpse of the gas mask’s eye slits angled in her direction.  Persephone felt a chill of fear roll down her spine.  Hades leaned down and incredulously Persephone watched as a pair of black raven’s wings unfolded from the billows of his cloak.  He started to flap them as the marauder egged on the tired furies.  The villain pulled a snakeskin switch out from his diving suit loops and cracked it on the back of the furies to quicken their flight.  

Th raven wings flapped vigorously and as Hades took off into the air he tucked Persephone underneath him.  She could see the phantom chasing after them, the furies flying unsteadily as he angled the skateboard in their flight path.  

“Is this what you were asking Hades about?”

“Yes, according to the policing force here, that is an out of control demigod.  Zeus has reaffirmed my suspicion that the child isn’t his.  It also isn’t one of mine.”

There was a moment of silence as Hades waited for Persephone to digest this new information.  He was curious to see how she would react, but also he knew she would be even tempered.  As this was her nature to be so.

“I always knew there were others, my liege.  I am your queen.  I have always been prepared should the issue arise.”

Hades took a swirling dive to avoid clashing with a dead horse drawn carriage.  They flew like this for a bit, the cackles of the demented demigod not far behind them.  Hades soared above the streets until they reached an area of Elysium where not many residents remained, here he dove into a tunnel beneath a bridge.  As the tunnel ended, Hades folded his wings and hid atop of the bridge.  He motioned to Persephone to be quiet.  

Persephone in his moment chose to cling closer to him.  Hades closed his eyes and briefly basked in the sensation.  She gently shook him to indicate the demigod has emerged and both of them watched as the skater rode off into the night.

Hades as the marauder rose out of view, he took off for the house.  Persephone sighed with relief as the small cottage came into view, silhouetted in the rising sun.   They found Maximilian sitting alone in the living room.  His stomach was hidden by a thick woolen scarf he was knitting, on the blurred television was from what Persephone could make out was a Spanish telenovela.  The couple had found out that their accusations of cheating were cooked up by jealous people.

Upon seeing that his masters had returned, Max sat up.  His glasses were slightly askew.  He started knitting very quickly in anticipations.  “My liege, my queen, whatever is it?  How can I be of service to you in this early hour.”

Hades sniffed and scratched one eyebrow.  “I have one request,  there’s an out of control demigod here.  I don’t know who the father or mother is.  No one has claimed it as theirs.  We don’t even know the gender.  But we do know that the person is here looked for a departed soul.  Find out who is is, the departed one.”  There was a crackling sound like someone had set off a firework and the space that Max had occupied was filled only with a small waistcoat and the discarded knitting supplied.  Persephone replaced these things in a basket on the side table and Persephone made some excuse about being tired.

Hades waved her off, his mind occupied by all that he’d seen today.

 

 

Maximilian had returned to the tunnel that Hades had used to confuse the demigod.  He stretched onto his haunches and sniffed the air around.  He bounded down onto the train tracks that the demigod has skid off.  He licked the salty residue.

The tracks themselves had been used by the rockmen before to transport their goods out of their caverns to sell in Elysium.  He found odd puddles of strangely colored liquids that smell acrid--he sat and pondered.  His forked tail caught in a discarded can.  The tin cylinder rattled around before Max finally found what it was he was searching for--a pair of discarded flippers.

 

 

Hades sliced open a letter he’d received before replacing the dagger into his mouth.  He unfurled it as Persephone did laundry on the front porch.  His brow grew more and more creased as the letter confounded him.

    “Persephone--”

    Persephone halted in the midst of wringing out a pair of jeans.  “What do I owe the pleasure, my lord?”

“Who is this Adonis fellow?”

“Hera, told me to use him.”  Persephone left the bucket and ran over to where Hades was reclining on the armchair.  He handed her the letter and started twirling the letter opener on his free hand.  His eyes rested on her face to see her change in expression.  Persephone finally laughed.  “Are you jealous?  Hera said he’s some sort of minor zoology god.”

“I do have a recollection of the gods of olympus.  He is well-known as a lover and percur of favors from the women who use his services.  Jealousy is beyond the range of a king.  If you feel that my company is ill-suited for your needs, a lover you may have.  The god of the underworld is not known for being good company.”

“If Demeter had one look at this, she would ground me for all eternity.  I’m interested in exploring this avenue.”

“I promised you your freedom.”

“Of that I am eternally grateful, but all you require of me is still to manage a flower shop and settle petty disputes.  I wonder what he will require in exchange for his gifts.  I shall not behave in a manner unfitting of queen of this realm.”

“That is all I ask.  Subtlety.”

Persephone made a show of burning Adonis’s raunchy letter.  She’d hoped it would relieve Hades glum mood.  But it had a more sobering effect.  He wasn’t giddy, he was more just hoping this was a phase and it would quickly pass.

“Hades, you know it’s about time for me and Max to be setting up the shop now.”

He checked his watch and nodded slowly.  “Are you sure?  I don’t think anyone is going to blame you if you wanted to take a break for a day or two from the events of the night before.”

Persephone argued for a while about how she knew she was fine, she hadn’t really done anything majorly other than be manhandled.  She left the house feeling more and more like she’d never left Demeter.  But, she knew he was more worried about her safety than stifling her freedom.  Max still hasn’t returned from his prescribed outing so Persephone spent most of the morning by herself in the shop manning the register.  

Here too, the clients were devoid of soils.  Persephone sent Hades a raven and he arrived swiftly colliding with the arrival of Zeus.

“Persephone, my dear and what a coincidence that my handsome brother decides it best to police a visit with my dear.  I’m just in here for some apricots.  You know if I was king of the underworld, I would make it so that all the souls would be safe and no demigod would be able to walk rampant around messing with the creatures I’d allocated as policemen.”

The edges of Hades bangs were singe a bit and Persephone combed back his hair to hide the change in his temper.  Hades cleared his throat.  “I’m sure I’ll manage.  I have a patient and loving woman to rule along with me.  Even tempered and compassionate, something you're passionate wife  Hera should look to as an example.”

“No woman is perfect”  Zeus took a bite out of the apricots as he rung the doorbell loudly before leaving.

“Oh Max, you’ve returned.  Can you give me a report?”  Hades stroked the cat fondly as it looped its forked tail around its master.  The tail poked at Persephone’s spine in a playful soothing gesture.

“Was that just Zeus?”

Max’s eyes narrowed.  “He stands to gain the most if this strange marauder continues to undermine both your’s and Persephone’s rule.”

“Then we shall capture the demigod before our demise.”  Hades’s eyes flashed to where Zeus had left and Persephone wondered how often this rivalry between siblings flared up.  With Demeter, she’d been incredibly unaware that Zeus would ever even leave Hera’s side for a second.

Max rolled his eyes.  “No god would be stupid enough to challenge the king of the underworld on his own realm.  Zeus isn’t naive.   But enough speculating who’s going to overthrow us and let us return to more pressing matters.”

“You haven’t told me what you found yet.”  Hades remarked irritated.

“I’ve taken the precautions of making sure that we can’t be overheard sir.  I thought it would be polite to include Persephone in these proceedings as she is a valued member of the household.”  Max reached into the bowels of his stomach and pulled out two flippers.  Persephone took one from him and marveled at the strange texture.  It was like sealskin had been pickled and then resewed back together.  

“And who would be the owners of such a contraption?”  Persephone mused.  

“I did some identification spells on the flippers.”  To demonstrate, Max placed one of the flippers on the space next to the cash register and performed the spell.  A small blue tinged magic ring appeared with various arcane symbols along with Hades own crest.  Two scrambled phrases appeared.   The letters rearranged themselves several times before forming two names.

“Na-Die-Sop and Zeus?”  Hades read slowly.  “Well in any case even though I’m sure my brother isn’t an idiot, we now know that whoever’s been kidnapping souls and the person who left this flipper behind has to be the same person.”

Persephone nudged Hades and pointed toward a figure getting into a rowboat in the distance.  

“Is that Zeus?”  Max was holding a pair of binoculars.  “Apricots and all, god of gods is heading out from here.”

Persephone was perplexed and turned to Hades.  “Are we going to tail him?”

=//=

She couldn’t believe the nerve of Adonis that he would ask her to come to an establishment and then decide that forty-five minutes was an appropriate amount of time for a lady to wait.  Gods, she wanted to leave.  She’d told Hades she just wanted to go as a test, but Hades had been pretty mum on the idea of her spending time with other gods.

The restaurant piqued her interest in that the shop housed a whole zoo inside that they could feed while they were having dinner.  The menagerie itself was glorious--flamingos, otters, and seals--oh my.  There was an ostrich in a server’s uniform manning the register.  But by this point she’d already fed all the animals she had wanted to feed and was impatient on starting to head home.

Adonis was still nowhere to be seen.  The diner was mostly empty aside from the animal entertainment, there really wasn’t another soul in sight.  The waiter had filled her water nearly half a dozen times and asked her if she wanted to order something other than the complimentary breadsticks that were to be thrown at the roving critters.

She thought back on the glorious adventure she’d had with Hades, before she’d made the ill-advised decision to clean up and come here.

=//=

    Both Persephone and Hades rushed out of the door.  Max behind them flipped the sign closed and around his tail were the keys.  He extended the tail and then gingerly placed the keys into the pocket of her overalls.

    “How do we track him he’s already in the water?”  The god was now merely a flickering shadow rowing away, silhouetted in the swinging lantern on the boat.  “We’re going to lose him.”

    Max clutched the small bell around his throat and turned to Hades.  “My liege.”

    “No, I have another idea.  Persephone would you mind?”  

    Persephone would have preferred to know he meant to travel by raven’s wing before he’d grabbed her and flown off into the night.  The humid vapor of the fog was constantly being whipped into her face and her nose burned such that she had to constantly keep wiping snot off her face.  They tracked the boat until all of a sudden the lantern was put out.

    Hades circled above where they lost sight of the lamp before diving into the fog.  As they approached closer and closer to the spot, they saw an island with the marauder’s skateboard and mask hung on a lifeless yew tree.  The island was large enough so that it would support both of them so Hades alighted and set Persephone down lightly on the ground.

    Persephone touched the tree and snagged the gasmask off the slime covered branches.  She passed it over to Hades.   “What is it?  What’s it doing here?”

    A small white light burst as Hades own magic circle appeared.  Persephone could see that the symbols in his were runes and strangely asphodel blossoms.  Before she could ponder on why the symbols appeared, Hades replaced the mask back onto the tree.  

    “It’s glamoured.”  He said finally

    “What does that mean?”

    “It means that its enchanted to look older than it really is.  These are freshly made.”  He angled Persephone’s head down and she could see the accompanying flippers tucked into some reeds.  As she watched the equipment was sucked into the fog by an unnatural force and two lighted eyes of the gasmask appeared slowly approaching them.

    “Hades?”

    “Stay close to me.”  He ripped her from the island as the ghastly phantom lunged.  His wings swooped upward and gathering fog hid them.  Hades flew higher until he looked down and the eye lights flickered off in the mist.  Hades flew lower but the figure melted out of the mist on a jetski roaring towards them.   Hades arched around and flew in the opposite direction.  One arm of the marauder reached around to unfurl a sack on his back and he tried to force Hades to fly into the sack.  But the duo flew into the Stygian Marsh.

    Hades folded his wings and darted into a huge rotting log on the side of the marsh.  He motioned to Persephone to be quiet.  She was too startled to really speak.

    The phantom’s jetski grew louder and louder.  Hades covered Persephone’s eyes.  She shook him off to see the shadow drive past them through the muck

=//=

Adonis.  Known to be lover of the gods.  Finally decided to show up to the restaurant, he had booked for his new companion.  Even though he was 2 hours late, Persephone couldn’t help sighing.

    He was incredibly easy on the eyes.  His Hawaiian shirt was half open to reveal a perfect marble musculature.  His hair was GQ tousled sunkissed perfection.  His arms were huggable and rugged.  His blue eyes an ocean of every moment she should’ve been missing him.  His shorts were worn low on his hips just to show a peak of his lower half.

    He sat opposite Persephone in the booth.  He twirled the order menu on the table before flipping his hair and dazzling her with his Crest commercial smile.  As he leaned forward Persephone could see a testosterone tattoo placed over his heart.  

“I know you’ve never meet someone like me.  Are you ready for me?” He said huskily.

    Persephone sighed dreamily.  She put down her fork and Adonis reached across the table.  He unfolded his own silverware and bit into her half eaten Fettuccine Alfredo.  

“I’m sure you’re going to taste as good as this does, love.”  He leaned close.  “I spent all this time making sure I looked this good for you.  I went to the tanning salon, gym, therapist, and plastic surgeon to get me looking god.”

Persephone wrinkled her nose as the effect of his thick glamour wore off.  She was so taken aback she shifted uncomfortable in her seat.  She gave him a once over again and was reminded of a stock photo image of an Olympic swimmer.  “Hera recommended you.”

“Yeah, she’s feisty in the sack.  She’s not as good as your mom though.  You know I’m good with every fantasy you could ever want.  Are you ready for me?”

“You’ve said that twice now.”

“Well I’m here.  You can help me check off my underworld fantasy list.  I’m sure backdoor adventures runs in the family.”

Persephone stood up abruptly as she forced the image from her mind.  “No.  I think you were misinformed of--”

    Adonis put his finger on her lips.  He’d stood up too and his face was suddenly surprisingly close.  Wow, his pores were incredibly fine.  His skin was incredibly smooth, unblemished and--

    Persephone slapped him.  Hard.  The side of his face burned and Persephone saw she’d burned away part of the flesh.  She recoiled instantly, but he flashed her a smile.  He glamoured the wound instantaneously.

    “If that’s how you like it . . . babe.  I’m so ready for you.”  

Persephone lost it.  A surge of energy sprung from her and forced Adonis back until he was at least ten feet away from her.  His arms reached out in her direction.

The door opened as Max strode in on all fours.  His tail swung back to close the door behind him.  The cat stopped, then he slowly made eye contact with Persephone.

“Shall we go, my liege?”

Persephone straightened her day dress and cleared her throat.  “Yes, I do think I’ve had enough here.”

“I didn’t even get to order.”  Adonis bit his lip and pouted.

Max made a soothing gesture and said he would compensate the god for his time before escorting him out of the dawngate.  Adonis huffed extravagantly before leaving midway through Max’s proposal.  His hair looked strangely like a mop.

“I thought Hera was a drama queen.  He’s like a soap opera in real life.”

“Are you harmed in any way my queen?  I’m sure the master will be--”

“I don’t want him to be concerned with trivial matters like this.  I feel very stupid.”

“We’re all allowed to make our own errors and grow.  You are a new monarch, and the rumors will die in due course.”  Max pounced onto the booth’s table and unfurled Adonis napkin.  Out tumbled a glowing blue white crystal ball.

Persephone and Max exchanged glances.  

=//=

They both decided instead of pursuing Adonis to ask whether the item was his, they wouldn’t.  It was more trouble than it would be worth.  Instead they returned to the backroom of Dead End Florals.

Max jumped onto his worktable and set to his task.  He turned on his lamplight and from above his tail picked a microscope arm in the tools set into the ceiling.  The contraption itself was of Hades design.  There were various metal levers and hooks that contained bits of machinery and books that Max could access using the extension variable of his tail.  The forked bit was meant to click a lever before the hand would lower.

This instance he picked a microscope and a chopping block.  The items appeared on wheeled platforms and Max utilized both to remove a bit of the ball to examine it.

“What is it exactly?”  Persephone tried to figure out a way to see without disturbing him.

“There’s an inscription here.  Do you want me to read it to you?”

“Go on ahead.”

“If you want to find the souls, remembers that souls will fetch a titan mighty well. See you soon.”

“Whoever left this meant for me to find it.  I don’t think Adonis had anything to do with it.”

“His glamour strongly affected you.  He has Hera around his wrist.  He’s used by so many gods.  He could be here to find someone he lost.”

“I don’t know much of other gods, Max.  I was always kept out of godly things.”

“Well as the ruler of a kingdom, you need to educate yourself.”  Max unhitched the speck from the microscope and shoved all of the equipment back.  He took a hammer from underneath the table and smash the crystal ball completely.

“What are you doing?”

The ball dissolved into mist before Max’s mouth curled into a smile.  His tail uncurled and he showed Persephone an opening in his forked tail where a pulsating black crystal ball was located.

“When gods get too powerful sometimes they put some power inside a crystal.  Then whoever they gift with the crystal will be able to utilize their abilities.  Hades gave me this one when I prove my loyalty to only him.”

“Then this would be--”

“Not Zeus.  Poseidon, the sea brother.”

    Persephone upon hearing this, wondered to Max is they could possible find more evidence elsewhere.  “Why don’t we go back to the first place where the marsh marauder followed Hades and I.”

    The marsh marauder--is that what they’re calling it now?”  Max chuckled softly before his tail nudged Persephone out of the backroom.  To travel to where the first incident had occurred instead of teleportation which Persephone had expressed she detested, Max procured a dark brown Rolls Royce.  The car was driven by a skeletal driver and Persephone for the most part was too tired to really wonder why Hades had never shown it was an option for travel.

    They were dropped off at the mouth of the tunnel.  Max’s tail held a lantern which he held higher up as they approached where Hades had hidden to stall the marauder.

    “Why didn’t Hades simply stop the attacker when he was being pursued.”

    “The master prefers to find answers before acting.  His powers are in the extreme.  He has a distaste for snuffing out life if he can help it.”  

The lantern hit a glittering stream of shards.  Persephone watched as Max’s tail extended to follow the path of blue flecks.  They found that the trail veered off at a strange angle.

“I think there must be some kind of passage under the floor?”

“How can you be certain?”

“Instinct, a villain needs a lair like a lady likes a hairbrush and to be neat.  It’s a part of their craft.  Let’s split and search for something that could be suspicious.”

Persephone and Max searched on opposite sides of the tunnel.  Persephone produced a small ball light to light her way and Max took the lantern.  The tunnel was wet and echoed erratically.  Several times Persephone thought she could hear birds, but she found it was her imagination.  There was a lot of disposed trash that Persephone was sure the souls had dumped.  She tried moving it with her foot, but found the objects dissolved as soon as she touched them.

Max upon seeing this requested Persephone to sit for a bit on the side so she wouldn’t obstruct the evidence.  Max gingerly jumped from one side of the tunnel to another and squealed aloud.

Persephone turned her head.  Max had landed hard on a patch of ground covered in shards of broken plates.  He was unhurt but his feet stung from contact with the sharp objects. He looked down and Persephone saw that his tail was hooked around a heavy brass ring set into the ground.  

Persephone hurried over to where he was instantaneously dissolving all of the ceramic fragments.  She pulled the loop up and found a beautiful jewelry box set into the earth.  Both her and Max exchanged glances that something so fine would be wrenched in such a dirty place.  Persephone delicately unlatched the box and a spry ballerina figurine sprung up to start pirouetting gracefully.  Persephone frowned as there was no accompanying music and found a knob on the side of the box that she twisted forward.

As she did this there was a great hiss of air releasing as the panel underneath the jewelry box started to fall apart.  The jewelry box sank into ashes as a quartet of wooden panels appeared.  Max gingerly felt along the edge of one of the boards.  He stopped and pushes it up.  The space where the boards had formed a floor collapsed to reveal an elaborate archway of a staircase leading down into the ground.

Persephone turned to Max.  “Do you think it’s a good idea to go down there?”

Max grinned.  “You’re one of the most powerful beings here other than Hades.  I don’t think you should find trouble any place that is your domain.”

Persephone considered this.  “I’m a harvest goddess.  Not a death god.”

Max sighed hugely before bounding down the stairs.  Persephone waited for a couple of moments.  She heard Max’s footfalls grow more and more distant.  

“My liege, it’s perfectly safe, the stairs at least.  There’s more of that dust down here.”

She mounted them and descended down into the winding cavern.  She saw max’s beady eyes gazing out just as the tunnel was lit by a small torch light.  The light made the blue crystal fragments on the floor glitter.  Max wandered on ahead as Persephone followed the trail.  She took the torch from the wall mount and walked forwards.  The path turned and wound around in a meandering way.

Ahead Max stood stock still as the tunnel opened into an amphitheater-like space.  Persephone’s hand leaned forward to see a couple thousand souls tied up wiggling around.  Persephone was aghast.  She couldn’t believe that one god could wreak this much havoc unchecked.

“Why is he doing this?”  Persephone said softly.  She quickly went to a clutch of tied souls and untied the ropes.  The soul looked terrified into Persephone’s face.

“Are you the marsh marauder?  Are you trying to get your way out of this hell by using--” The soul was shaken, the words stuttered, his eyes wide with fear.

Persephone shook her head.  “No, I have no quarrel with the god of death.  I need you to help me get everyone out.”

The soul stood straight and evened it’s breathing.  

Persephone continued her instruction.  “Take all the souls here and go to refuge at the Dead End flower shop.  There’s a reinforcement charm that prevents outsiders from entering.  Be quick.  The shop is open now, just tell them Persephone sent us.  They’ll believe your word.”  Persephone put two fingers on the soul’s lips and a pink butterfly appeared and flew off in the direction of the exit.  The soul scrambled up and ran to untie it’s fellows.

She turned to Max who this whole exchange had been sniffing around the space.   He handed her a seaweed bound waterlogged journal.  Persephone was perplexed she opened it carefully and flipped through it.  She found a part that had been marked and read through it.

“Poseidon?”  Persephone said softly.  “He took a mortal for a wife?”

“Yes, that is not uncommon.  Many gods ask for a revival of their fallen lovers.  To date, Hades has always refused.  The mortals themselves do not wish to live as we do.”  

“That’s romantic.”

“A fantasy dream of many to find their lost relatives.”

The souls who were freed came rushing back in droves.  Persephone tucked the journal into her waistband and hid behind a pillar.  After the stampede came the cawing of furies.  Persephone tried to numb her fear, but when she saw the gas mask she couldn’t contain a squeak of sound.

The head snapped back and he made eye contact with her.  He unfurled a length of rope and tried to catch them.  Max quickly sheathed Persephone in her cloak and pushed her away.  His black fur seemed to have caused the marauder to count him as part of the surrounding.  

Persephone crouched down to be level with Max as the marauder turned instead to rounding up the souls.  Persephone closed her eyes and willed all of the rope to turn into vine.  She concentrated and as she opened her eyes she could see the thousand souls standing up in the swampy cellar.  The vines receded back into the swampy ground.  

Max curled around Persephone to protect her.  She pushed him back and grabbed the scruff of his neck, not harshly.  Max stiffened.

“Max, I don’t want you here protecting me, I need you to make sure these souls get to Dead End Florals safely.”  She reached into her pockets and removed the key to the shop that Hades had given her.  She entrusted it into the forked tail of Maximilian.  “Make some protective barriers and keep the marauder off their trail.”

Max bounded off without protesting.   Persephone was alone.  She knew that the marauder couldn’t see her.  She considered some ideas of how to catch him properly.  She pounced up, but as she did so a pair of strong arms circled around her and forced her back.  She struggled as the person put his mouth next to her ear.

A chill ran through her body, as soon as she heard the voice, Persephone recognized him: Hades.

    “I know how to capture him alive.”  

    Persephone reached out to figure out how he was invisible.  She felt the outline of a cloak and smiled.  “So, my liege, what do you plan to do?”

    Hades quickly explained his plan.  Persephone nodded slowly.  She bade some souls over and she explained the concept of what they were to do to them.  They looked to each other in fear for a moment before Hades lowered his hood.

    “The lord of the underworld himself,” one of the souls said softly.  The three exchanged glances before they all gestured that they were interested.  The souls took off running towards the marauder in a formation.  The marauder turned his head.  The eyeless sockets of the gas mask glowed and the whip in his hand changed directions.  The furies angled towards the souls and the chase began.  

    Persephone looked around her and sighed as she realized that Hades had teleported to his position.  She decided to wait and see how the marauder would react.  The marauder followed the bait quickly.  He roped the first one and threw it behind him.  As he raced past where Hades has said he was hiding a net floated down and pinned the furies to the ground.  As the furies fell to the ground they fell unconscious.  From her vantage point, Persephone could see that the furies’ policing uniforms were in tatters.

    The marsh marauder was tangled in the net and was struggling on the ground next to the sleeping furies.  Persephone and Hades both lowered the hoods.  As they lowered their hoods, their cloaks no longer render them invisible.

    Hades sauntered over to where the marauder was but before he could do anything, Zeus materialized.  “What’s all this ruckus about?”  He was wearing sunglasses that were shaped like hearts.

    Hades didn’t seem to be surprised that his brother had suddenly appeared.  Persephone stepped around Zeus and pulled the gas mask off the offender.  She gasped.  “The guy stealing souls is . . . Adonis?”

    Hades burst out laughing.  He kneeled and removed a red glamour charm from around the villain’s neck.  The glamour shimmered for a second before fading to reveal a small teenage boy with gills on his neck.  He looked like any normal suburban boy with curly brown hair.

Persephone sighed.  “It all makes sense.  This boy came disguised as Adonis to sneak into the underworld with me.  But if this isn’t Adonis, what happened to the real Adonis?”

Hades snapped his fingers and a small orb appeared.  Inside the orb as he spoke the events played out.  “The read Adonis was found by me stuffed into a fridge in the Ramen restaurant.  I looked there after we were attacked by the marauder.  The boy stunned him with a mirror that he stole from Medusa.  To augment his abilities here the boy stole these crystal balls that contain reserves of Poseidon’s power.  The face name that Maximilian found was Poseidon backwards.”  As Hades finished his explaination the boy woke up.  He was struggling in the net.

Persephone freed the furies from the net and healed their exhaustion with some herbs.  She told them to report back to Hades if they had trouble flying.

“My father never did anything from me anyway.”  The boy said finally before spitting at the gods gathered.

    Zeus shook his head sadly.  “I feel so bad when I have to discipline kids like this.”

    Persephone touched the boy and teleported the gathering to the side of the Stygian Marsh.  Hades was incredulous that Persephone had managed to bring all of them at once.  She reached down to the struggling boy and before her eyes he transformed into a skeletal dolphin.  The animal started to struggle, but as he did so, Persephone dumped him into the river surrounding the marsh.  They all watched as he swam off.

    Hades touched Persephone’s shoulder.  “Thank you,” he said simply.

 

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