Home > A Touch of Ruin (Hades & Persephone #2)

A Touch of Ruin (Hades & Persephone #2)
Author: Scarlett St. Clair



“Fate's arrow, when expected, travels slow.”

― Dante Alighieri, Paradiso





Persephone walked along the bank of the river Styx. Jagged waves broke the dark surface and her skin tightened as she recalled her first visit to the Underworld. She’d attempted to traverse the wide body of water, unaware of the dead inhabiting the depths below. They’d taken her under, their fleshless fingers cutting into her skin, their wish to destroy life provoking their attack.

She thought she would drown—and then Hermes had come to her rescue.

Hades had not been pleased about any of it, but he’d taken her to his palace and healed her wounds. Later, she would learn the dead in the river were ancient corpses who had come to the Underworld without coin to pay Charon’s toll. Sentenced to an eternity in the river, they were just one of many ways Hades protected the borders of his realm from the living who wished to enter and the dead who wished to escape.

Despite Persephone’s unease near the waterway, the landscape was beautiful. The Styx stretched for miles, soldering to a horizon shadowed by sable mountains. White narcissus grew in clusters along its banks, ignited like white fire against the dark surface. Opposite the mountains, Hades’ palace haunted the horizon, rising like the jagged edges of his obsidian crown.

Yuri, a young soul with a thick mane of cascading curls and olive skin, walked beside her. She wore pink robes and leather sandals—an ensemble that stood out against the shadowy mountains and black water. The soul and Persephone had become fast friends, and often went on walks together in the Asphodel Valley but today, Persephone had convinced Yuri to stray from their usual path.

She glanced at her companion now, whose arm was looped through hers, and asked, “How long have you been here, Yuri?”

Persephone guessed that the soul had been in the Underworld for a while based on the traditional peplos she wore.

Yuri’s delicate brows drew together over her grey eyes. “I do not know. A long time.”

“Do you remember what the Underworld was like when you arrived?”

Persephone had a lot of questions about the Underworld from antiquity—it was that version that still had its claws in Hades, that version which made him feel ashamed, that version which made him feel unworthy of his peoples’ worship and praise.

“Yes. I don’t know that I’ll ever forget.” She offered an awkward laugh. “It was not as it is now.”

“Tell me more,” Persephone encouraged. Despite being curious about Hades’ past and the history of the Underworld, she couldn’t deny that part of her feared uncovering the truth.

What if she didn’t like what she found?

“The Underworld was…bleak. There was nothing. We were all colorless and crowded. There were no days and no nights, just a monotone of grey and we existed in it.”

So, they really had been shades—shadows of themselves.

Persephone recalled when she’d first visited the Underworld. Hades had taken her into his garden. She’d been so angry with him. He had challenged her to create life, but his realm was beautiful and lush, full of colorful flowers and lively willows. Then he had revealed it was all an illusion. Beneath the glamour he maintained was a land of ash and fire.

“That sounds like punishment,” Persephone said, thinking it terrifying to exist without purpose.

Yuri offered a faint smile and she shrugged. “It was our sentence for living mundane lives.”

Persephone frowned. She knew that in ancient times heroes were usually the only ones who could expect a euphoric existence in the Underworld.

“What changed?”

“I do not know for sure. There were rumors, of course—some said that a mortal Lord Hades loved died and came to exist here.”

Persephone knit her brows. She wondered if there was some truth to that considering Hades had a similar change in perspective after she’d written about his ineffective bargains with mortals. He’d been so motivated by her critique, he’d started The Halcyon Project, a plan that included the construction of a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center that specialized in free care to mortals.

An ugly feeling crept up her spine and through her body, spreading like a plague. Maybe she hadn’t been the only lover who inspired Hades.

Yuri continued, “Of course, I tend to think he just…decided to change. Lord Hades watches the world. As it became less chaotic, so did the Underworld.”

Persephone didn’t think it was that simple. She had tried to make Hades talk about this, but he avoided the subject. Now she wondered if his silence was less about shame and more about keeping the details of his past lovers a secret. She spiraled quickly, her thoughts became turbulent, a whirlwind picking up uncertainty and doubt. How many women had Hades loved? Did he still have feelings for any of them? Had he brought them to the bed he now shared with her?

The thought made her stomach feel sour. Luckily, she was pulled from her thoughts when she spotted a group of souls standing on a pier near the river.

Persephone halted and nodded toward the crowd. “Who are they, Yuri?”

“New souls.”

“Why do they cower on the banks of the Styx?”

Of all the souls Persephone had encountered, these looked the most...dead. Their faces were drawn, and their skin ashy and pale. They clustered together, backs bent, arms cross over their chests, shivering.

“Because they are afraid,” Yuri said, her tone implied that their fear should be obvious.

“I don’t understand.”

“Most have been told the Underworld and its King are dreadful, so when they die, they do so in fear.”

Persephone hated that for a lot of reasons—mainly because the Underworld wasn’t a place to be feared, but she also found that she was frustrated with Hades, who did nothing to change the perception of his realm or himself.

“No one comforts them once they reach the gates?”

Yuri gave her a strange look, as if she didn’t understand why someone would attempt to ease or welcome newly arrived souls.

“Charon takes them across the Styx and now they must walk the road to judgement.” Yuri said. “After that, they are deposited in a place of rest or eternal torture. It is how it has always been.”

Persephone pressed her lips together, her jaw tightening with irritation. It amazed her that in one breath, they could talk about how much the Underworld had evolved, and yet still implement archaic practices. There was no reason to leave these souls without welcome or comfort. She broke free of Yuri’s hold and strolled toward the waiting group, hesitating when they continued to tremble and shrink away from her.

She smiled, hoping it might ease their anxiety.

“Hello. My name is Persephone.”

Still, the souls quaked. She should have known her name would bring no comfort. Her mother, Demeter, the Olympian Goddess of Harvest, had ensured that. Out of fear, she had kept Persephone locked in a glass prison most of her life, barring her from worship, and inevitably, from her powers.

A jumble of emotions tangled in her stomach—frustration that she could not help, sadness that she was weak, and anger that her mother had tried defying fate.

“You should show them your Divinity,” Yuri suggested. She had followed Persephone as she approached the souls.

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