I notice a hunched figure in a tattered cloak winding their way through the thick crowd thronging the Underworld’s reception area. Bits of fulgurite dance in my pocket, confirming it’s Zeus, his leonine presence hidden by one of his countless disguises for a night of slumming in the Underworld.
Curious, I douse my torch, draw my hood up and over my crown, and join the shadows hugging the vast room’s carved wall. A horn bellows, pulling everyone’s attention to the dais and the imminent appearance of the three judges. Zeus doesn’t acknowledge the sound; instead, he veers toward the same wall I’m using as camouflage and disappears. Rising higher on my toes, I see he’s taking the sloping tunnel leading down to Tartarus. I track Zeus’ progress and as soon as I’m sure I won’t be seen, I follow.
The crowds moving upward through the tunnel thin to a trickle. Grateful my boots’ cushiony soles muffle my footsteps, I wrap myself in shadows for the long walk to the lower levels of the Underworld. Why Zeus has chosen to visit a place populated by prisoners he himself sentenced is a mystery worth solving—as long as I remain undetected. The last thing I need is the King of the Sky picking a fight in a place I long ago claimed as my domain.
My self-confidence will not handle a confrontation very well; he would home in on any weakness he found and exploit it fully. But if I can stay close behind, discover who he’s here to see, perhaps listen in on any conversation… who knows what ammunition I can pick up.
Snorting softly, I correct myself: information, not ammunition. Zeus and I are not at war.
Around me, noises—voices, metal-on-metal, stone-on-stone—increase in volume. Smells of heated stone and sweaty bodies intensify. The cashmere top I chose for its warmth clings to my clammy skin. I don’t descend all the way to Tartarus very often, and when I do, it’s usually with enough notice I can wear lighter layers under my official robes, as well as a less weighty crown.
Zeus is now the only figure ahead of me. He leans heavily on the gnarled staff propped under his arm and favors his right leg. His performance is remarkably believable. Then again, he’s a master of disguise. Any number of gods, goddesses, and mortals will testify to that—if given immunity.
Heavy chains, ancient edicts, curses, and spells keep the prisoners confined to Tartarus’ three levels from escaping. Gray shapes pass in front of Zeus and though I can’t make out who they are from this distance, I assume some are Titans, and some are guards. Reaching upward, I push back the wide hood covering my head, carefully remove my crown, and tuck it beneath my robe.
“Kronos!” Zeus yells.
Stifling a snort, I cover my mouth and nose at the shouted exchange between Zeus and his godsfather, whom I can’t see through the gloom. Shuffling feet—giant ones, if the echoes bouncing off the carved stone walls are any indication—approach from some distance beyond Zeus. Every few steps, the ground beneath my boots reverberates from whatever Kronos drags along with him.
“You’re looking well.”
“I said, Fuck. Off.” I see where Zeus gets his surliness from.
“I will, once you answer my question.” Something heavy and stone-like lands near Zeus. The thick mist in front of him separates, revealing Kronos’ hunched, human form and a wood-handled mace.
“What’s in it for me?” he growls.
“The company of a fine nymph? Better food? More wine?”
Kronos chuffs out a response. Moments later, his breath’s fetid fumes fill the space around me. I pull the side of my hood across my face and force myself to stay put.
“A good teeth-cleaning?” Zeus adds.
“What is wrong with you? Or is that another one of your fancy disguises and you’ve come here to mock my circumstances?”
“I lost my foot.”
“Well, I haven’t seen it.” Kronos bats at the air and starts to turn. “You too lazy to grow it back?”
“I can’t grow it back, which is why I’m here.”
Outrageous laughter fills the space. Kronos’ entire body shakes. Stretching his arms wide, he repeats Zeus’ confession to whomever passes behind him within the embrace of the opaque mists.
“So, the pup wants my help.”
“Come see me in seven days. And bring your foot.”
“And if I cannot find it?”
“Bring a block of wood and your carving tools.”
(excerpt from Persephone Lost & Found, Goddessverse Fantasy Series book 2. Releasing to Kickstarter backers and early pre-orders by June 30, 2023.)