10. Loophole

Act I. Dark Ascension

PERSEPHONE

“What do you plan to do, Sephie? Erebus doesn’t want Asteria at the ball. It might be best to listen to his wishes. He never makes a request without sound reason,” Hades asked after Erebus returned to the In-Between.

“I don’t recall him saying he didn’t want Asteria at the ball. He simply requested we not invite her ourselves,” I replied as I started decorating the ballroom. With a wave of my hand, the walls were painted a vibrant goldenrod and dressed with silver streams and bluebells and white calla lilies. Being a goddess certainly had its perks.

“Why am I not surprised you’ve found yet another loophole? I am beginning to think you are too smart for your own good, my wife.”

“I shall take it as a compliment.” I placed a gentle kiss on his cheek before taking a step back to look at the room. It certainly looked a lot brighter than originally.

“What are you planning, Sephie?”

“Nothing a woman’s touch cannot handle. I will step out for a couple of hours to deliver the invitations. Can you please have Eurydice and Orpheus tidy up the room in the meantime?” I looked around before calling out, “Millie! Millie, could you please come here for a moment?”

As if on cue, our adopted daughter appeared. She’d been spending time with the Eurydice and the nymphs for the past day, so she looked as overjoyed as the first day we decided to take her in as our own flesh and blood. “Mother!” she cried out exuberantly as she threw herself into my arms.

I let out a laugh as I reciprocated her hug. “Did you have fun with Eurydice?”

“Yes! She taught me how to braid flowers into my hair! Now I can wear my hair as beautifully as you, mom!” she replied.

“You are already beautiful enough. Even Aphrodite might become jealous of your growth in beauty.” I ruffled the front of her hair affectionately. Despite being a spectral being, we could touch each other like she was really here. “Would you like to go to Olympus and the Astral Planes with me?”

“The Astral Planes? Can we see all the constellations?”

“I don’t think we will see all of them, but if you ask Asteria nicely, we might see a few of them in person.”
Millie began to talk about all the things she wanted to see and do once she was back in the surface world. I couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm.

(Sephie.) Hades began in my mind. We rarely used our thoughts to communicate telepathically. It was an outdated method of communication among deities. I knew what he was going to say. It was the same argument he always made. (You cannot take Mildred to the surface world. Doing so requires a tremendous amount of energy.)

(You’ve done it once with Eurydice.)

(And it is not something I like to repeat. If we get into the habit of allowing others to leave the Underworld, it won’t stop the rest from desiring the same.)

(Can’t you just give her your helm?)

(My helm is not something that can be shared with anyone. You’re the only person, other than me, that I will allow to wear it.)

(I will make certain she won’t remove it while we are away. And we will return it to you undamaged. Please?) I did my best to smile as sweetly as possible, knowing it would be his undoing. Hades’ helm was one of his most valued items. I could understand why he didn’t want to part with it. But I needed Millie to invite Asteria or else we might as well tell Erebus what we were planning.

(Alright, alright. But you must return before the sun rises. It will do more harm than good if Mildred is out too late. Darkness must be her cloak.) Hades walked over to us and patted Millie’s head lovingly before holding out his blackened helm. It shifted into a simple scarf and he wrapped it around her neck as he said, “It is nighttime in the surface world. You mustn’t take this off. It will keep you warm, okay?”

“Thank you, daddy!” she exclaimed as she launched herself into Hades’ arms. His reddish cheeks and feigned indifference didn’t go past me. He always pretended like he didn’t really care around others when he really had a sweet heart of honey. “I’ll never take it off!”

“Good. You better be off now before sunrise. When you return, dinner will be waiting for you.” He smiled softly at Millie before lowering her. Looking over at me, he kissed me deeply before letting me go. “You know how to get in contact with me if you find yourself in a difficult situation?”

“Of course. Stop being such a worry wort. Everything will go just fine.” The invitations were sitting in a small bag, we had prepared them with a small burst of my magic. “We will see you soon.”

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“Hello and welcome to the Astral Palace, Lady Persephone. Miss Asteria just retired to her room. Shall I fetch her for you?” Columba greeted me at the entrance of Asteria’s palace.

“We will only be here for a moment, but my daughter, Millie, would like to ask something of Asteria. Could you please summon her?”

“Of course. Please come in.” She stepped aside to allow us to pass through. Once we were inside, she closed the door and led the way to the dining room. Columba was a constellation, representing a pure dove, which meant she had a celestial connection to Asteria. Judging by her silence, she had to be communicating with Asteria about our presence.

The walls were bare as they reflected the night sky. Out of all the places I’d been, Asteria’s was my favorite. How I used to gaze at the starry sky every night before I married Hades. It was a truly breathtaking site.
There was a fire burning in the resting room, with two comfortable velvety blue cushion chairs seated around the hearth. The ground was covered in black carpeting, and a white throw blanket was lying across the top of each chair.

Above the fireplace was a portrait of her daughter, Hecate. The artist managed to perfectly capture her violet eyes and long, black looks. Despite neither of her parents having violet eyes, her deep connection to witchcraft and sorcery caused the color of her eyes to shift from blue to violet as she grew.

It wasn’t unknown that Asteria treasured her daughter greatly. But what surprised me most was even though Hecate looked more like her father, Asteria was insistent on keeping her in her life. ‘How much pain she must bring you,’ I thought.

“Miss Asteria will be here shortly. May I interest you in a glass of ambrosia?” Columba asked, cutting into my thoughts.

“Ambrosia? Can I have some, mom?” Millie questioned, her enthusiasm practically oozing from her words.

“You’re too young to have ambrosia, dear. Perhaps you would like something else? How about some anise tea? It’s your favorite,” I tried to persuade her.

“Can I have a swirly straw?”

“Yes, you can have a swirly straw.” I let out a small laugh as I turned to Columba, who already left to fulfill our request. She returned just as Asteria appeared in the doorway, a darkened look haunted the Titaness’ face. “Columba, could you please watch over Millie for a moment?”

“Of course, Miss Persephone.” She took out a small ball and other pieces and started playing with Millie. “Look, Miss Millie. It’s a new game the mortals having been playing.”

Once I was sure Millie’s attention was fixated on something else, I turned to Asteria to usher her towards the oak table. “What happened?”

“Perses happened,” she said in a low whisper. If I didn’t have immortal hearing, I would have missed it.

I handed her a goblet of ambrosia, urging her to drink it down. Her hands were icy to the touch, making me worry even more about her well-being. “Drink, you will feel more at ease.” She did so without hesitation and there were a few more moments of silence before I raised another question. “Have you consulted Hestia? She could prevent him from entering the Astral Palace.”

“He’s my husband and, he’s Hecate’s father. If I lock him out, it will prevent Hecate from entering the Astral Palace as well. Blood magic is a rather technical art.”

“You haven’t told Hecate yet?”

“What am I supposed to tell her? Her father gave up on our family and whore around with other women? If she knew he didn’t care about her, it would break her heart. I’ve only recently persuaded her to stay away from curses. An event as traumatic as this might make the darkness seduce her once more.”

“You could stay with us. Consider it a little vacation. Hecate would think nothing of it and we could spend a little more time together.”

“I would hate to be a burden.”

“You could never be a burden. We have plenty of spare rooms. There is enough for all of your belongings in the Elysian Fields. You will be safe. Perses wouldn’t dare venture into the Underworld. And even if he did, he would need Hades’ authorization.”

“Will Lord Erebus be in the Elysian Fields?” she asked, avoiding my gaze. It was difficult to understand what she was thinking.

“He will be in the In-Between most of the time. He only comes to the Elysian Fields when he’s summoned. Does he make you feel uncomfortable?”

“No, I just hope I wasn’t too rude to him when we last met.”

“I’m sure it didn’t bother him in the slightest.” I tried to fight the smile that was quickly forming. “Did you tell anyone that you saw him in the Mortal Realm?”

“No, the Olympians are already watching me carefully. The last thing I need is to be part of an investigation. And besides, you would be implicated. I can’t allow my dear friend to be punished along with me.” She swirled her cup around, staring at the ripples in the ambrosia.

“Is that why you won’t report Perses to the Olympians? You know, your life is worth more than his. It would not be shameful nor weak to report his recent behavior. You deserve better.” I placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, hoping she would at least accept my words.

“Could we not discuss this? Talking about Perses sours my mood and I would like to have a clear mind before retiring to my chambers.”

“Very well, but you know you can always speak with me. We must be off now, but Millie wanted to ask you something. Millie!”

Millie came barreling around the table with a bright grin. “Miss Asteria, I would like to invite you to a masquerade ball in the Elysian Fields. I hope you can attend because my mom and daddy is spending a lot of time preparing it.” She extended a white envelope towards the Titaness in waiting.

“A ball? Oh, I don’t know,” Asteria replied.

“Please?” Millie begged. No one could resist a child’s charm.

“Oh alright. If you will be there, I’m certain it will be a wonderful party,” Asteria said as she took the envelope.

A yawn escaped her, and I grasped Millie’s hand. “Come along, Millie. We have much to prepare. We should allow Asteria to rest before night falls once more.” Turning to Asteria, I added, “We will have a room prepared for you at once and should be ready by the time you awaken. You may come whenever you finish your usual duties.”

“Thank you, Persie.”

“Anytime, my dear friend.”

The plan was in motion. Asteria would live in the Elysian Fields and she would attend the ball. The only thing left to do was to resolve the pending issue with Perses. That could only be solved by casting a net of invitations far and wide, allowing anyone to attend. ‘Please forgive me for tricking you, Asteria. I only wish for your happiness,’ I thought.

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“Welcome to Olympus, Lady Persephone,” Herakles greeted me at the gate. “And who is this?”

“This is Millie, my daughter,” I responded.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Herakles,” Millie said with a curtsy.

“Herakles will do just fine!” he exclaimed with a roar of laughter. “You are a such a sweet child. You are lucky to have such doting parents.” He looked at me and added, “What brings the two of you to Olympus?”

“We were looking for Hermes. Has he returned from the Mortal Realm yet?”

“He is currently meeting with Father. I can pass along a message to him.”

I glanced at the clouds. A pinkish tint lurked beneath, hinting at the slowly rising sun. “Please ask him to deliver these invitations to all gods and demigods. Hades and I plan to host a masquerade ball in the Elysian Fields in two days’ time. It is extremely important the Olympians and the Titan, Perses, receive these invitations.” I handed him a large bag of letters and he took it from me graciously.

“I will not let you down. Helios will awaken soon. Both of you should return to the Underworld as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, Herakles. I hope to see you at the ball!”

The easiest part of the plan was complete. Hermes would surely pass the invitations to all the deities and demigods in the world. The hardest was to come. I would need to find a way to implicate Perses. Otherwise, Erebus and Asteria would have no chance to explore their budding love.

‘Wait a while longer, Asteria. Your happiness will be here soon,’ I thought with optimism.