Home > A Touch of Darkness

A Touch of Darkness
Author: Scarlett St. Clair

CHAPTER I – THE NARCISSUS

 

Persephone sat in the sunlight.

She’d chosen her usual spot at The Coffee House, an outdoor table in view of the crowded pedestrian street. The walkway was lined with shade trees and box gardens teeming with purple aster and pink and white sweet alyssum. A light breeze carried the scent of spring and the honeyed air was mild.

It was a perfect day, and though Persephone had come here to study, she was finding it hard to concentrate because her eyes were drawn to a bunch of narcissus flowers that sat in a slender vase on her table. The bouquet was sparse—only two or three slender stems—and their petals were crisp, brown, and curling like the fingers of a corpse.

The narcissus were the flower and symbol of Hades, the God of the Dead. They did not often decorate tables, but coffins. Their presence at The Coffee House probably meant that the owner was in mourning which was really the only time mortals worshipped the God of the Underworld.

Persephone always wondered how Hades felt about that, or if he cared. He was more than just the King of the Underworld, after all. Being the wealthiest of all the gods, he’d earned the title of Rich One, and had invested his money into some of the most popular clubs in New Greece—and these weren't just any clubs. These were elite gambling dens. It was said Hades liked a good bet, and rarely accepted a wager other than the human soul.

Persephone had heard a lot about the clubs from other people while at University, and her mother, who often expressed her dislike for Hades, had also spoken out against his businesses.

“He has taken on the role of puppet master,” Demeter had chided. “Deciding fates as if he were one of the Moirai himself. He should be ashamed.”

Persephone had never been to one of Hades' clubs, but she had to admit, she was curious—about the people who attended and the god who owned it. What possessed people to bargain their soul? Was it a desire for money or love or wealth?

And what did it say about Hades? That he had all the wealth in the world and only sought to add to his domain rather than help people?

But those were questions for another time.

Persephone had work to do.

She dropped her gaze from the narcissus, and focused on her laptop. It was Thursday, and she had left school an hour ago. She ordered her usual vanilla latte, and needed to finish her research paper so she could concentrate on her internship at New Athens News, the leading news source in New Athens. She started tomorrow, and if things went well, she’d have a job after she graduated in six months.

She was eager to prove herself.

Her internship was located on the sixtieth floor of the Acropolis, a landmark in New Athens as it was the tallest building in the city at one-hundred-and-one floors. One of the first things Persephone had done when she moved here was take an elevator to the top floor observatory where she could see the city in its entirety and it had been everything she’d imagined—beautiful and vast and thrilling. Four years later, it was hard to believe she would be going there on an almost daily basis for work.

Persephone’s phone buzzed on the table, drawing her attention. She found a message from her best friend, Lexa Sideris. Lexa was her first friend when she’d moved to New Athens. She’d turned around to face Persephone in class and asked her if she wanted to pair up for their lab. They’d been inseparable ever since. Persephone had been drawn to Lexa’s edginess—she had tattoos, hair as black as night, and a love of the Goddess of Witchcraft, Hecate.

Where are you?

Persephone responded, The Coffee House.

Why? We need to celebrate!

Persephone smiled. Ever since she’d told Lexa about landing her internship two weeks ago, she’d been hounding her to go out for drinks. Persephone had managed to postpone the outing, but she was quickly running out of excuses and Lexa knew it.

I am celebrating. Persephone texted. With a vanilla latte.

Not with coffee. Alcohol. Shots. You + Me. Tonight.

Before Persephone could respond, a waitress approached holding a tray and her steaming latte. Persephone came here often enough to know the girl was as new as the narcissus. Her hair was in two braids, and her eyes were dark and laced with heavy lashes.

The girl smiled and asked, “Vanilla latte?”

“Yes,” Persephone said.

The waitress sat Persephone’s mug down, and then tucked her tray under her arm.

“Need anything else?”

Persephone met the girl’s gaze. “Do you think Lord Hades has a sense of humor?”

It wasn’t a serious question—and Persephone thought it more funny than anything, but the girl’s eyes widened, and she responded, “I don’t know what you mean.”

The waitress was clearly uncomfortable, probably at hearing Hades’ name. Most tried to avoid saying it, or they called him Aidoneus to avoid drawing his attention, but Persephone wasn’t afraid. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was a goddess.

“I think he must have a sense of humor,” she explained. “The narcissus are a symbol of spring and rebirth,” her fingers hovered over the wilted petals. If anything, the flower should be her symbol. “Why else would he claim it as his?”

Persephone stared back at the girl, and her cheeks flushed. She stammered, “L-let me know if you need anything.”

She bowed her head and went back to work.

Persephone snapped a picture of her latte and sent it to Lexa before taking a sip.

She put her earbuds in and consulted her planner. Persephone liked being organized, but more than that, she liked being busy. Her weeks were packed—school on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and up to three hours each day at her internship. The more she did, the more excuses she had for not returning home to see her mother in Olympia.

Next week, she had a history test and a paper due for the same class. She wasn’t worried, though. History was one of her favorite subjects. They were discussing The Great Descent, the name given to the day the gods came to Earth and The Great War, the terrible and bloody battles that followed.

It wasn’t long before Persephone was lost in her research and writing. She was reading a scholar who claimed Hades’ decision to resurrect Zeus and Athena’s heroes had been the deciding factor in the final battle when a pair of well-manicured hands slammed Persephone’s laptop shut. She jumped and looked into a set of striking blue eyes. They were set in an oval face framed with thick, black hair.

“Guess. What.”

Persephone took out her headphones. “Lexa, what are you doing here?”

“I was walking home from class and thought I’d stop by and tell you the good news!”

She bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet, her blue-black hair bobbed with her.

“What news?” Persephone asked.

“I got us into Nevernight!” Lexa could barely keep a handle on her voice, and at the mention of the famous club, several people turned to stare.

“Shh!” Persephone commanded. “Do you want to get us killed?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lexa rolled her eyes, but she lowered her voice, knowing Persephone wasn’t overreacting. Nevernight was impossible to get into. There was a three-month waiting list, and Persephone knew why.

Nevernight was owned by Hades.

Most businesses owned by the gods were insanely popular. Dionysus’ line of wines sold out in seconds and were rumored to contain ambrosia. It was also exceedingly common for mortals to find themselves in the Underworld after drinking too much of the nectar.

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