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Springtime in Hades

K. Lynn Bay

Springtime in Hades cover

Perry has the courtship from Hell—literally. Too bad that isn’t her only problem.

When Perry’s powers as an earth sorceress finally come just before her nineteenth birthday, she’s thrilled. Then comes the bad news. Her powers are a little extreme. Wherever she goes, everything grows like crazy. That’s awkward enough, but it gets worse when people try to ravish each other when she walks by.

But when Perry meets Hadis, the Lord of Death, things go downhill. Way downhill. She finds Hadis plenty attractive, but when a spiteful spell drives him to kidnap her, she decides that being dragged to his bleak, barren realm isn’t exactly a recipe for romance.

Now the captive of a powerful sorcerer blinded by a love spell, Perry’s only hope of escape is to discover what exiles Hadis to his terrible domain—and if she wants the spell to be broken after all.

Springtime in Hades is a sweet romantic retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth set in modern Central California.

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 I

I guess most girls dream of riding off into the sunset with their handsome prince. Well, maybe not most. Some are proper Amazons who consider men a necessary evil at best and a flat-out nuisance at worst. And probably a few fantasize about carrying the guy off.

Me, I’ll admit it. I’m old-fashioned. I always secretly liked the idea of being swept off my feet. The problem is, being whisked away by a tall, dark stranger is a lot more attractive in theory than in fact. My mom, Demetra, says it was my uncle Zeusse who caused the whole mess. But after all the stuff she did, of course someone else has to be the villain. I’m more philosophical. If I had to put the blame anywhere, it’d be on my magic.

My name is Persephonie—Perry, for short. I’m an earth sorceress, although for a while we thought I might not be. A sorceress, that is. And that’s where the trouble started.

You see, most sorcerers’ powers come to them around the age of fourteen or fifteen. With me, sixteen passed and I still didn’t show any sorcerous tendencies. Seventeen. By eighteen, I’d pretty much given up hope. (So had my mom, though she’d never admit it.) When my powers finally put in their appearance about a week before my nineteenth birthday, we were ready to throw a party and invite the whole neighborhood, even if regular people—non-sorcerers, I mean—do tend to get a mite exercised when confronted with real, live magic.

Then came the bad news. My powers were a little, shall we say, extreme. Wherever I went—yowsa!—things grew. Actually, “grew” is an understatement. More like exploded, doing what life does but with lustful abandon. The kind of magic Mom does, only without the control and subtlety.

About three months after my big questionable pre-birthday gift, I came home to find Uncle Zeusse sitting at the kitchen table drinking a beer. Oh, yay, I thought. As far as I’m concerned, the longer between Uncle Zeusse’s visits, the better I like it. Mom was standing at the sink doing something with herbs—I could smell them, a scent somewhere between lemon and mint.

Zeusse looks like a biker who works out: wavy hair to his shoulders, a big curly reddish beard and muscles that strain just about any shirt he puts on. He does not have a biker paunch. His fingers are stained yellow from smoking, but Mom wouldn’t (and won’t) let him smoke in her house, even if it was only a little three-room stucco thing with ancient linoleum floors and small, wavy-glassed windows like it was then.

Zeusse eyed me that way he has that says he’s about to say something really obnoxious. I was wearing jeans and a tank top. Maybe the jeans are too tight, I think. Or maybe the tank top is a little, um, small for my figure. Let’s put it this way: it didn’t quite reach the waistband of my jeans, and my bra didn’t quite show. Sure enough, here came the obnoxious comment, but it wasn’t what I expected. He said, “Perry, you need a husband.”

I blinked. “What?”

He drummed his fingers on his beer can: pap-pap-pap-pap. “I’m talking about your powers.”

Oh. Great. For three months, Mom and I talked about nothing but. Like how I’d cross a field of thumb-high corn and you could tell exactly where I’d walked, because there’d be this perfect path of rich green taller than me bursting with plump ears. Or the way trees would suddenly burst into leaf and fruit would puff up like popcorn. All that was awkward enough, but it got worse when people I’d pass on the street would fall into clinches behind me as if some were wearing steel clothes and others were covered with super-powerful magnets.

Now Zeusse wanted to weigh in.

Mom had her back to me, but I could tell she was pissed—it was like this green gas rising from her head. She turned and gave Zeusse a look that can blight crops. “She does not need a husband. She simply needs time to explore her abilities.”

I looked over my shoulder. Through the screen door, I saw two dogs humping in the gravel drive of our little cul-de-sac off the main road. The smell of jasmine had followed me into the house, so I knew the star jasmine bushes by the front door had again overgrown the walk in my wake. No doubt our little patch of lawn was knee-high, too.

“Mom isn’t married, and she doesn’t have any trouble with her powers.” I said it very innocently. People generally think I’m as green as they come. I can get away with all kinds of impertinence.

“No,” he said. “She isn’t a virgin, either.”

I’d walked right into that one, but that was ruder than usual. So rude, in fact, my brain was still cranking away at a sufficiently outraged response when Mom slapped the herbs into the sink. With a tang of mint, green dust puffed into the air.

“Zeusse,” she said sharply. “My daughter will make her own choices and tame her power in her own way. I will not have you inflicting your Neanderthal views on her.”

“You will if you don’t want the duds following a path of rampant greenery straight to the doorstep of two sorceresses,” he shot back.

“Duds” is what some sorcerers call regular people. I used the term once and Mom took my power of speech for a whole day. At the moment, however, I was occupied with going hot from the neckline of my tank top to my hairline.

“Just because you have to do it with somebody to make your magic work doesn’t mean everybody else does.” I tried to sound like my usual sweet self, but it came out sounding like honey laced with strychnine. “And since I don’t tell you how to handle your magic, I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell me how to handle mine.”

I stomped through the kitchen and slammed back out through the screen door. The star jasmine vines curled away from my feet. The tall grass swept back as if I were a wind. How dare he! A husband! Gods! Like I needed a man to control me. Like I couldn’t be a competent sorceress on my own.

“Pig!” I snarled. I clenched my fists and sent magic spurting through my fingers. I wanted to see something shrivel to a blackened crisp so I could pretend it was Zeusse.

A bombshell of yellow and white butterflies exploded out of the bindweed growing in the roadside ditch. Not at all satisfying.

Okay, yes, fine. I was nineteen and still a virgin. Some people might be ashamed of that, but the way I looked at it, I was picky.

Let’s face it: I look good. That’s not conceit, it’s just fact, and Mom’s always said that false modesty is just vanity dressed up in socially acceptable garb. The point is, I had my share of admirers. More than my share, some might say. Some I liked all right, but none enough to get hot and heavy with. In fact, none I felt confident who weren’t just after the obvious. And I wasn’t about to do something I didn’t feel like doing just to erase the dreaded “V” word off my résumé.

But to have Zeusse going all paternalistic on me because of it, not to mention him thinking he knew what I did (or didn’t do) with my spare time—ugh. I suddenly wished I’d been wearing a pair of baggy sweats. And that still didn’t entirely explain why I was so angry.

I threw myself into my car and slammed the door. That wasn’t very satisfying, either, because I drove a twenty-year-old Toyota and the door sounded like banging an empty tomato can on the kitchen counter. The engine wasn’t powerful enough to spin the tires, so the angriest-sounding thing I could do was wind it up real good before shifting to the next gear.

I hit the road in front of our house, a two-lane farm road as straight as the people around there. A field of bell peppers stretched away on one side, eggplant on the other, the rows of dark green leaves flickering by. Monocrops as monotonous as the Valley itself, about as soothing as a song sung on one note.

After ten years living in the hills of northern California’s Coast Range, in the little, golden coastal valleys with their oaks and rows of grapevines, we’d moved to the Central Valley. All that agriculture, you know, and a long growing season. Mom could be blissfully busy encouraging the crops to produce their best for nine months out of the year and break up the routine by doing fertility magic and midwifery for the farm laborers’ wives and touring dairies to boost the milk output.

Me, I hated the Valley. It was flat. It was boring. It was foggy for weeks on end in the wintertime and hotter than…well, Hell in the summer, and it had this weird sort of pungent smell, something compounded of fertilizer and manure and rotting cornstalks and stuff left over in the fields after harvesting. And talk about un-magical. Mom could go around doing the most blatant magic and nobody caught on but the field workers.

At times like these, it felt like every problem I had came from the Valley, and if I didn’t get away, I’d explode.

Damn, Zeusse, anyway. Why did he have to act like some kind of patriarch just because my dad, whoever he was, was nowhere in the picture…

Oh, crap. And if Zeusse acted like that with Mom, what did he think he could do with me?

What argument had I interrupted, anyway? And why was Mom so mad? I shuddered. Zeusse might be more determined to get me married than I knew.

I headed for the hills, my childhood home, my place of comfort. To the west, the land swelled like ripples of honey. Winding into the hills, the road narrowed, a grey ribbon tracing the creases between. Round, steep slopes pied dark green with oaks rose all around. I was sheltered there. Alone, for the most part. I pulled off the road, cut the engine and climbed out of the car.

A little thread of green down to the right hinted at a spring-fed rivulet. More oaks, grand, twisted and ageless, leaned across it like giants whispering secrets. A meadowlark sang somewhere. A breeze gossiped in the grass. I should have felt better, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which churned more, my guts or my brain.

I walked toward the trees a few yards off the road, and the grass went from gossiping to thrashing. I dropped to the ground under the oaks, flung myself on my back and looked up. The black, gnarled branches clattered, raining leaves and green acorns down on me, but what was I supposed to do? I suppose it would’ve been kinder to take my bad attitude to a parking lot somewhere, but then I’d’ve had to watch people frantically piling into backseats.

So I just lay there, staring up at the wispy streaks of mare’s tails against the blue and listening to the poor oaks crack and groan in more growth than they’d put on in the last fifty years. I imagined rolling up my power like a garden hose, trying to make it something tidy and fully in my control, but it kept rearing up and squirting my mind’s eye. And then something changed.

I didn’t know what it was, at first. It was like falling asleep in the shade only to suddenly wake sweating in full sun. I shot up, hands braced behind me.

A woman was walking toward me. She was round and brown with hair the color of a waterfall’s plume cascading down her back. Her dress looked like it was woven of grass, and she wore a basketry cap and ropes of necklaces made of seeds. Yokuts Indian popped into my mind, from a picture I’d seen in some book, then the sorceress in me woke up and said, Um, no, I don’t think so.

Sometimes with really powerful sorcerers, the magic grows so strong they almost become emanations, embodiments, if you will, of the magic. This woman was so powerful I wasn’t sure if she was even corporeal. Yes, she had a shape I could see and feet (clad in shoes made of woven rushes) that brushed though the grass. But looking into her eyes was like looking up into a moonless night sky way up in the mountains: black and deep as infinity.

Somewhere between the moment I saw her and the time it took her to cross the few yards to my tree, I’d scrambled to my feet. She was shorter than me, but that didn’t diminish her in the least.

She looked up into the moaning, distressed oaks. “You’re troubled, Kore, and troubling things.” Her voice was like a whisper of flame, soft and rich.

Kore? Why did she call me that? “I—I’m sorry,” I said. It was pitiful, but I couldn’t think of anything else. And whoever this lady was, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to piss her off.

She considered me. A breeze wound around her like an affectionate cat, lifting her white hair over one shoulder, tickling her face with its ends. “Come,” she said at last. “Let us take your trouble elsewhere and let these, my other children, grow in peace.”

I swallowed once. Or tried to, anyway, brushing leaves and an acorn cap out of my hair. “Okay.”

I wasn’t about to argue. Earth sorcerers don’t like people messing with their charges—I knew that from Mom. And this one made my mom look like a birthday party magician.

The world turned…sort of translucent, I guess, then foggy, or blurry, and then it gradually faded into somewhere else. Actually, somewhere isn’t quite accurate, since I suspect it was another dimension, some plane where magic is a purer force than it is in the so-called real world.

The sorceress beside me no longer looked like an Indian woman. She looked like a goddess, with earth-colored skin, starlight hair, a dress of rain, blouse of clouds and cloak of wind. She glowed like a sleepy volcano with the fires of her power. Her eyes, though, remained as I’d seen them, night-dark and deep.

She glanced aside at me. I think she was watching to see how I took the translocation. I’m not sure what she saw, but I felt small and tacky.

“You’re Demetra’s daughter.”

This was not a question, but I nodded unnecessarily.

“Young,” she said. “Very young.” She said it like a mother speaking of her homely child.

I gave a rueful shrug.

“Hmm.” She began walking.

This place—plane, whatever—was similar to what I’d just left, except that the grass we walked through was the essence of grass, the hills the souls of hills, not quite so solid-looking and more glowy. The oaks gazed down on us with slow, ancient awareness. I hunched my shoulders and thought Sorry! at them.

As we went, the trees began to look more like columns, the grass more like a floor, the hills like walls. Even growing up in a sorcerous family, this was strange, let me tell you.  It was stranger still because the house seemed to have a consciousness, and it was aware of me.

“Um,” I said, “where are we going, Ma’am?” I really wanted to ask, What are you going to do with me? but this seemed neither particularly diplomatic nor something I really wanted to know.

She smiled as if she knew exactly what I hadn’t asked. “To my workshop. It’s accustomed to containing great power.”

Oh. Or was it uh-oh?

“What does your mother call you?” she asked.

“Perry—Persephonie, when I’m in trouble.”

“Persephonie,” she said, smiling again. “I am Gaia.”

Gaia? Oh, gods. The Earth Mother. Even I knew her by reputation, no matter that Mom and I almost never hung around other sorcerers. And she’d called me Persephonie. But I didn’t need that to tell me I was in big trouble. I’d been spouting off power for three months or so. So what had I finally done that was so awful she’d decided to put in an appearance?

“So, why do you leave your mother’s dominion to come troubling mine?”

“I—oh—well…” I started to point at the columns that had been tormented oak trees a few minutes ago, but since they were now pillars of black marble with green veining, threw up my hands instead. “You saw. No, it’s more than that. My uncle seems to think—” I glanced at her. I really hated spilling the tawdry particulars of our little family spat.

“Your uncle Zeusse? A great practitioner of sex magic.” She gazed at me politely—and shrewdly. “And one who tends to think in such terms.”

There was no particular reason my face should go hot at this comment, nevertheless it did. “Exactly.” I looked down at the green and brown and gold tiles passing under my feet. They looked strangely like an aerial view of the Valley and hills, but without roads or buildings. “I don’t think my magic is dependent on that.”

She cocked her head to the side. “Are you so sure what your magic is and is not?”

It was patently obvious I didn’t. So what was she saying? That Zeusse was right? I shrugged. “I guess I don’t want someone telling me. I need to find out for myself.”

“Yes,” she said with a single, firm nod.

Although that should have been encouraging, I was alarmed. Well, more alarmed, I should say. It wasn’t as if I could excuse myself, return to my car and drive home if I felt like it. And what, exactly, was supposed to take place in this workshop that could contain great powers?

So I’d pretty much worked myself up to the point where I was sick to my stomach by the time Gaia stopped in front of a door. It was carved, and the copper nails and bindings were so old they’d turned green and bled darkish, greenish streaks down the wood.

“Here we are,” she said.

I eyed the door. Would I find behind it a great cauldron in which she stirred the climate? Or maybe a computer where she ran simulations of entire ecosystems? Maybe the room would be empty except for a comfortable chair where she sat when she linked psychically with the world organism, brain to its body.

The door swung open on a sigh of hinges.

The place looked like a cross between a zoo and a huge potting shed. The walls alternated wicker cages with slatted benches. A microscope and small chemistry lab complete with beakers, test tubes and flasks stood atop glossy wood cabinets in a little alcove. If this was her workshop, she was a real workaholic. But this was the quintessential earth sorceress, too. According to Mom, maybe the oldest and most powerful in the world.

The cages were all empty, as were most of the potting benches, except for a few plants clustered together off to one side: azaleas, oleander, gardenia, lily, a rose and an iris, all white. They made a couple of exotic-looking house plants with dark, almost black leaves look somber and standoffish by comparison. Since my emotional state was anything but tranquil, the plants all kind of rustled, like elegant ladies at a tea party where someone just fumbled a cup.

Gaia extended a plump, brown hand. “I would like you to work with these.”

I looked across the hangar-like expanse of workshop at the huddle of plants. They seemed to stare warily back. “Work?” What was I supposed to do? More to the point, why?

“I wish to create a hybrid,” she explained and gestured as if sketching a vision. “I see black foliage nicely setting off white flowers.”

I looked at the plants—different species. Hell, even a few different genera—then back at her. “Um…”

Gathering some little camel hair brushes from a drawer, she smiled. “You are an earth sorceress, are you not?”

I sighed silently. “I’m a make-everything-insanely-fruitful sorceress, as far as I can tell.” Beloved at the nursery where I worked for starts and transplants, but the gods knew what would happen if I tried to get fancy.

She handed me the brushes, smiling implacably. “Indulge me.”

I took them and said, “Yes, Ma’am.” Hey, would you argue with a sorceress so steeped in magic she was halfway to becoming a goddess?

The plants, of course, proved to be happy to do as I asked, unfurling perfect flowers. Even the black-leaved houseplants did, although their flowers were tiny and pale and waxy-looking, like grubs or baby moles. I dabbed pollen from stamens and brushed it onto pistils, while Gaia wrote on little tags and covered the fertilized flowers with clear plastic bags.

I won’t go into the minutiae of propagation. Leave it to say that we soon had several flats of black-green sprouts. I potted them as fast as I could, and when I finished the last ones, the first were in bloom, all black-leaved with clear white flowers, naturally, since that was what I’d wanted.

Gaia studied them, examining leaves and sniffing flowers. I stood behind her, nibbling on a thumbnail and shifting my weight.

What was the point of all this? Maybe she was testing me somehow, trying to find if I was worth the trouble after all the havoc I’d caused. If not—what? Would she take me home and impose upon Mom to take some serious steps to rein me in? Or worse, did she herself have something in mind?

She stepped back and turned to me. “Choose the best.”

Best? Best for what? Hardiness? Vigor? Beauty? Or maybe the question had nothing to do with any of that. Maybe it was another test.

I looked them over with both ordinary and magical perception. It was hard to choose since I’d made them myself, albeit under worrisome circumstances. I settled on a lush, tropical-looking rosette of long, tongue-shaped leaves with irisy flowers.

She gave me an indecipherable, sidelong look. “Yes? Why?”

“Well…” I shifted my weight again and brushed invisible specks of potting mix off my hands. “I think it’s the prettiest, and…”

“And?”

“It just wants to be. It’s full of life and…” I gestured, searching for words to explain.

“Love?” she offered.

Love, hmm. Was that it? The plant felt to me like a lamp in the darkness, like no matter what happened, it would continue to shine. But love? I wasn’t sure about that. I shrugged.

She turned, caressing a white, ruffled petal with a strong finger. “What does your mother say of your magic?”

“Not much.” I pulled a rose petal off the bush beside me, rubbed it between my fingers. It felt like moist silk. “I think she’s worried, though.” I breathed in the rose fragrance, a smell like spice and citrus and rain. “I’m worried.”

I’d been worried about so many things lately the admission just popped out. I held the pale petal to my nose and breathed. Gaia didn’t say anything, and her silence began to feel like someone who is reluctant to speak an unpleasant truth.

“It’s not like we haven’t been trying to—to control it, you know—Mom and I.” I threw up my hands. “It’s like owning this huge, exuberant Great Dane puppy, and every time I try to take it out somewhere, it goes lunging off, dragging me along on the other end of the leash.”

To my utter humiliation, tears started in my eyes. Boo-hoo. Poor little Perry, bursting with uncontrollable impulses like some angst-ridden adolescent. I sniffed and cleared my throat.

Gaia cupped the flower in one hand as if it were a tear-streaked face. Letting her hand fall, she turned. “You make things grow and bloom, do you not?”

I nodded, swallowing. My throat still felt achy and threatening.

“Perhaps,” she said, “your difficulty lies in that you haven’t yet found the proper subject. Perhaps, rather than struggling against what you contain, you should search for its purpose.”

I wasn’t sure whether to fall to my knees in gratitude or supplication: the former because it sounded like she wasn’t planning anything dreadful for me after all, the latter because she might know what I had to do but wasn’t planning to tell me.

 

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