She had known warmth all her life – in all the years she had lived in this Earth.
It came from the hellfire and the river Styx – a fire that was rough and calloused, dangerous and destructive. It wasn’t something that one should grow accustomed to, but starved by the warmth of someone else’s touch - she had no choice but to endure it.
Jeongyeon was bathed in the warmth devoid of life and living.
It was this kind of fire that taunted her, cloaked her, embraced her. And yet, in a spur of an instant, all of her burning feeling of loneliness was extinguished by the way a hand stroked her face – removing the lone tear in her cheek. Jeongyeon leaned into the touch, the warmth spreading like a balm to her very soul.
“Thank you for bringing me here.” The goddess of life whispered; eyes sincere as they lay upon the vast garden of colors. “Protector of the Underworld, she who guards souls,” her voice was as soft as her gaze in a way that it was strangely calm and reassuring to Jeongyeon, “yet also gave life to a place filled with death.”
“Why do you do this?” Jeongyeon asked, voice hoarse as her throat chucked up words. She wanted to ask why the said goddess was here, or why she even bothered with someone like Jeongyeon when others just chose to ignore her very existence.
They were in a garden Jeongyeon had nurtured with her hands - calloused and battered with the dirt and soil that took residence in her nails. For a world so eerily dark and gloomy, the garden shined with the variety of flowers she had planted – and the only source of life similar to that above Earth.
Was it out of pity? Was the goddess feeling sad for her? She didn’t need to be - no one needed to be, for Jeongyeon role on this universe had always been that of a curse.
“Because your eyes showed me what your heart tried to deny,” the goddess said, eyes gentle as she smiled at Jeongyeon.
Mina, the goddess, smiled at her. She was the goddess of Spring, one who brought light after the cold days of a dreary winter. She brought life after the days of snow – flowers grew with her touch and birds chirped whenever she passed. She was the sound of life whenever the world needed it, the one who brought the colors back when all people could see was darkness.
Once again, Jeongyeon’s heart was stabbed with a kind of light that she never thought she would see, being the goddess of the underworld. Her mouth hung open, unable to utter a word, the brevity of Mina's warmth filling up her devoid soul.
One would think a goddess was someone who held only power and freedom in her hands, but never could mortals decipher how much suffering a goddess has, or how much loneliness she would feel, living in a life she never wanted.
Detested. Frowned upon. Looked down. Feared. Such was the life of a goddess of the underworld - she who guarded the gates of Tartarus, she who guided the souls of the departed.
How long had Jeongyeon wanted for someone to reach out to her - as she lay asunder to the darkness? How long had she held out her hand but no one would take it, so instead she just looked at the other gods in a distance - longing and craving the affection of a touch that could heal her battered soul.
So when she closed her eyes, a thin line of what looked like a smile erupted on her lips as she put her hand over Mina's - drunk in a sensation she has never dared to have.
“Thank you, Mina.”
Mina gathered the flowers in the field Jeongyeon raised, her beauty drawn to theirs – like how the sun was to the moon. She was one who illuminated the dim and dreary life of the underworld, the light in this hell.
Jeongyeon would offer Mina her life if Mina would even ask.
For it was Mina who brought the life to her Kingdom of the Dead, it was her who showed Jeongyeon that she wasn’t alone. Willingly, Mina went down to her abode and treated her as an equal. A goddess who, after seeing Jeongyeon being an outcast to her own kin, chose to smile at her and offer her warmth and company.
“No goddess should be alone in a feast made for her,” Mina said during a banquet Jihyo had prepared, offering her a glass of their finest wine.
“Thank you kindly,” Jeongyeon accepted, smiling at her. Her eyes wandered at her chocolate orbs, which were bright with curiosity. She sipped it graciously, wondering why such a beautiful woman would ever want to speak to a dreaded outcast – a goddess who was feared because she was thought to only bring destruction and suffering.
“I figured you can use some company." There was a slight pause and Jeongyeon could see Mina's gaze as her eyes traveled afar while they sat together. "For a goddess feared by many, you looked like a lost kid,” she joked, sitting next to Jeongyeon.
“I rarely leave my kingdom,” Jeongyeon responded sheepishly, scratching the back of her head. She felt like a child meeting someone for the first time, cheeks flushed, looking everywhere but the beautiful woman next to her. “As bad as this might sound, I am not used to pretty banquets and the lively guests.”
With a mischievous glint in her otherwise soulful eyes, Mina stood up and offered her hand. “You’ll need to get used to it then,” she chirped.
At that moment, Jeongyeon thought that the banquet wasn’t so bad, for she didn’t stand alone in a rowdy crowd of thousands anymore. She hesitantly took Mina’s hand as she led Jeongyeon over the crowd, her gummy smile as bright as her eyes. The company was nice and for once Jeongyeon didn’t have to keep observing the goddess' and the life in Olympus, she was simply content where she was.
She thought that even if this was only today, it was a fun time and she didn’t regret going.
And then one day, Mina found herself wandering through Jeongyeon’s kingdom.
Mina stood with her in the garden of her creation and smiled. Mina, who recognized the fruit of her labor and the beauty of her world. The goddess of spring and life – she who stood out even with the flowers that only bloomed in this world Jeongyeon created.
“Goddess of the Underworld,” Mina whispered as a small but sad smile crept on her lips, looking at the hydrangea that she picked up from her field. “You who guard the secrets of death, but also created this life.”
Unsure as ever, Jeongyeon remained rooted on the spot, waiting for Mina to continue. Jeongyeon was deathly afraid to scare her, the first one who willingly traveled to meet Jeongyeon just to see her world. “How could you create such beauty, and yet be allowed to be rewarded with nothing?”
A small smile crept on Jeongyeon’s lips. Her eyes looked as dead as her heart, Mina thought, and yet she stood there with such grace and hope. “I hold the secrets to the Netherworld, the one who guards the gates of Tartarus,” she declared. “I am the one who had been born to guard Death, and the living feared it the most.”
Jeongyeon made a motion with her palm and whistled. Mina thought that even with the power she held and the authority she had, Jeongyeon looked as gentle as her actions. The ground shook as a three-headed hound arrived beside her, bowing to her presence. Jeongyeon patted its head lovingly as one if the heads nudged her. “But even if one may think that my kingdom is for the dead, I am also responsible for some life of those under my care.”
Jeongyeon turned her attention back to Mina and asked, “One might think a goddess of life would not willingly come here for naught. Is there something you want?”
Mina gave Jeongyeon a smile of her own, holding the flowers she carefully picked from her garden. “I came here to see for myself, what can be found in the Netherworld. They tell me it would be dark and boring,” she chuckled, walking towards Jeongyeon.
Slowly, tentatively, Mina lifted one hand and carefully put it in one of the creature’s snout. The canine obliged, sensing she meant no harm. As they did to the master, they gave her hand a soft nudge in recognition. “But all I see is an awkward Queen who loves her subjects.”
“That’s not something people would say.” Jeongyeon didn’t know what to feel about this, didn’t know how to act around her. Mina was as curious as her gaze, which always wandered around her – finding interest in unexpected things. How often did she see her smile upon seeing the flowers Jeongyeon planted? How often had Jeongyeon seen how her eyes would grow gentle when she thought Jeongyeon wasn’t looking? That alone made Jeongyeon's heart skip a beat.
“I am not those people,” Mina cast her gaze upon her with a grin, the distinct recognition in her eyes tantalizing. “I do wonder, did you plant these flowers to try and replicate the world above?”
Jeongyeon knelt down on a rose, remembering the day she decided to plant the garden, and the days spent nurturing these flowers. “The beauty of this world is vast, for just as you bring life after the world was coated in white and cold, these flowers also offer solace to the souls who couldn’t find peace.”
Jeongyeon picked a beautiful white rose coolly, removing its thorns. It had bloomed graciously and with elegance even under the pits of hell, she thought. Surrounded only by the fire of Jeongyeon’s creation and the soil that caked her hands, they thrived - just like how they did under the light of the sun.
Sometimes she wondered how something so pure can grow under her touch, but then again that’s the beauty of life – it dwelled even in the presence of death. “People die every day, some would die alone and in anguish, and we could only offer these beautiful flowers we have grown to make them feel that someone remembered and cared that they existed.”
Jeongyeon turned to face the goddess, marveling how she stood out – the rose amongst the garden of thorns. Mina's dress was as white as snow, expensive silk and linen draped her figure and made her look mesmerizing, while gold emblems and pins were present for people to see that she was of royalty.
Jeongyeon tucked Mina's hair on one ear and gave her the rose with a smile. “And then, there were those who die in the arms of loved ones and those who died wearing a smile in their faces. Those souls welcome us with open arms and we in return, offer our own welcome.”
“Those words are something I never thought I’d hear from the likes of you,” Mina answered honestly. This kingdom which made even the most powerful gods/goddess' cower in fear, whose existence they detested was, she realized, more honest and pure than the world above.
“One could always wish to see the beauty in everything, even in hell,” Jeongyeon joked, even as the memories of her loneliness resurfaced with the sound of her voice. “For even in darkness, light thrives.”
She was curious about Mina, that was certain. Jeongyeon had not known love, didn’t even know the feel of it as her mind reeled with the thought that someone even braved their way to visit her. She wondered if Mina would stay, as her eyes didn’t give away anything but a look of awe. “But I ask again, dear goddess, to what do I owe this honor?”
Surely it wasn’t just because she wanted to, no? Jeongyeon had to confirm, needed to hear if there was something amiss.
Mina looked at her, eyes deep in thought for an answer that was stuck in her own chords. “I came to see if the rumors were true,” she answered softly, “And I was proven wrong. For what I saw was beyond expected, and you have given me more warmth than I could ever find.”
And that was the beginning of their story - a meeting of chance with a whisper of courage. Mina was the yin to Jeongyeon’s yang, the light to her darkness. And when she smiled, Jeongyeon thought her heart would beat wildly against her chest - relentless as Momo’s tides.
Mina was the spring who graced the abyss, like a single flower that bloomed in the dead Earth. And just like that, Jeongyeon didn’t feel alone anymore.