The air is harsh as it rushes in and out of Kore’s lungs, her chest heaving with the force of it. Her legs burn straight through the soles of her feet, and the sun, beating down on Kore’s face and neck, seems to mock her. You can’t do it, little one, the sunbeams whisper in her ear.
Yes, I can, and I will, she hisses back. Kore glances over her shoulder. The others are completely unaware of the silent exchange, but she’s grown distracted, and they’re catching up. Kore turns back to the path ahead. A hundred feet away, the finish line is stretched out invitingly.
Kore has never run faster in her life, but she knows Artemis is gaining on her, and in a split second her decision is made. Pretending to stumble, she brushes her fingertips along the soil, sending a root out along the path, before straightening and pushing herself onward. Behind her, Artemis trips and cries out in frustration.
Kore grimaces. She didn’t want to hurt her friend, but she must win this race.
Kore breaks through the tape stretched across the path, and the ends billow behind her in the wind.
The sun beats down hard on the meadow, and the light shimmers in an odd way, solidifying until Apollo himself steps out of the sunbeam. “I’m impressed, baby.” He sneers. Kore feels herself shrink back a little bit.
The sun is harsh in the meadow, the wildflowers and tall grasses bending and wilting in the heat. Kore feels herself wilt, too. “You win this one, Kore. I’ll see you again tomorrow.” Apollo turns, smiling at Kore as if she is his prey. The heat is sweltering, and the light intensifies as he climbs through a ray of sunshine into the sky, disappearing into the light.
Artemis walks up to her then. “Was that my brother? What did he want?”
“To congratulate me.” Kore whispers.
“I wish he’d stayed a little longer.” Artemis barreled on, oblivious to Kore’s discomfort. “I could use some help with this.” Kore looked down at her knee, dripping golden ichor, and felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t wanted to harm her, but if Artemis knew why, maybe she’d understand.
“Mama?” Kore prodded at her mother’s shoulder. “How come we aren’t the same color?”
“Well dear, not all daughters look like their mothers. Some look like their fathers.” Demeter answered, smiling down at Kore.
“Who is my father?” Kore asked. Demeter sighed.
“Kore.” She warned.
“Yes, mama.” Kore relented.
“Sweet girl. You are pink like sweet summer roses and the sky at sunset. But you must remember, roses have thorns and sunsets lead to darkness. Be careful not to be either.” Demeter pushed Kore’s long hair behind her ear. “The day isn’t over yet, dear. Why don’t you go see if any of the dryads need help.”
Kore shuddered at the memory. She’d take a lifetime of darkness if it meant that Apollo wasn’t watching her all the time. She shook off the haze pushing into her mind.
“Come on, Artemis. Let’s get inside. The heat is making me dizzy.” Kore let Artemis lean on her as the walked to the little cottage at the edge of the meadow.
Inside, she cleaned the wound on her friend’s knee and applied a salve. “How do you know so much about healing, Goddess of Spring?” Artemis asked.
“I don’t, really. I just know the uses of all the plants.” Kore explained.
“Is it a prerequisite to be a Goddess of Spring? Did you have to memorize all of them?” Artemis joked.
“I never had to learn it, just as you never had to be taught to use a bow. I’ve just always known.” Kore said.
“Cerberus!” He calls, cutting off the long winded speech that the man before him is giving. Hades is done listening to him attempt to justify his life. The three headed hell hound prowls out from the shadows behind Hades, melting into being. He sits next to the king.
Hades rises and descends the steps. “What is the mortal’s name?” He calls, lazy almost.
“Ander.” Hecate answers.
“Ander.” Hades repeats, stepping closer. The mortal is trembling now. Hades knows how much fear he inspires. He uses it well with men like this.
“You stand accused of many crimes.” He begins to pace a circle around the man kneeling in the sand.
“You raped a young girl.” His long obsidian robes swish through the sand, the fabric weird and swirling.
“You forced her into matrimony, one of the holiest stations.” He rests his hand casually on the scythe at his hip.
“You violated her and the gods.” Hades snaps his fingers, and Cerberus slinks down the steps, passing through the shadows to stand at his master’s side.
“You abused her children!” Hades thundered, Cerberus’ growl matching his own.
“THEY WERE MINE!” Ander roars back.
“Rhea. Where is he.” Kronos is calm, measured in his anger. It always starts that way.
“My love, I know not of what you speak.” Rhea crept closer to her husband, ignoring the fear pulsing like ice in her veins.
Kronos laughed. “Do not lie to me.” He was still laughing, he wasn’t angry yet. Hades shrunk further into the cave.
Rhea slipped her hand up her husband’s arm, sidling closer. “Kronos, it’s been so long.” She whispered.
“Not today, Rhea. You will not distract me today. Where is my son?” Kronos was losing his composure now, but Rhea persisted.
“We have no sons. Perhaps we should try?” She tried to kiss her husband, but Kronos pushed her down. Rhea tumbled onto the ground, gasping in pain.
“Where is he?” Any hint of the happy husband was gone. Danger glinted in the Titan’s eyes.
“You can’t have him!” Rhea cried, cowering on the ground. Hades saw the strength that ran through her, pillars of iron that held strong in defense of her child.
“Where is he? Is he near?” Kronos taunted. “I’m sure I could pull him out of hiding.”
“You won’t.” Rhea was sure.
“I disagree.” Kronos hissed, then delivered a swift kick to his wife’s stomach. Rhea curled in on herself, wheezing.
“You can’t have him.” She sobbed.
“MY SON,” Kronos roared, “IS MINE!”
Hades whirled on the man before him, hauling him up by the collar of his shirt. “They were never yours, you disgusting mortal.” He dropped the man, pacing back to the steps at the foot of the throne. “I’m done with this trial. Cerberus, eat.” He commanded.
The mortal scrambled to the opposite end of the court, cowering in a pathetic attempt to escape the hellhound. Cerberus stalked along the shadows, drinking in the whimpers and sobs of the soul before him. Hades whistled once, low and sharp, and Cerberus pounced.