My mind went completely blank as I tried to process the words coming out of Phoenix’s mouth. “What?” I gaped, my brain completely detached and distant from my body. I felt heavy, like my blood had turned to stone in my veins.
Phoenix carried on talking at me, her violet eyes soft and scared, her mouth was moving but no sound escaped from her lips. I stared at her, a perplexed frown embedded deeply on my forehead. I rattled my head from side to side, it was like I had gone deaf, like the world around me had just stopped speaking. Droplets rolled across her smooth caramel skin and I watched intently as her long dark eyelashes blinked at me; glazed with salty, diamond drips.
I took a deep breath and let my head fall into my hands in one natural movement, letting my hair fall over my face, hiding me behind a curtain of despair. I had no words, no reaction. I just wanted to sleep, sleep always used to make everything better. I used to go to bed at home and feel upset then wake up in the morning feeling fresh, prepared for the new day. There were no new days now, every day was the same. Running, all I did was run, to save not only my own skin, but my best friends’ skin as well.
I couldn’t cope, I dug my fingertips through my hair and swallowed back an ear-piercing scream. I couldn’t let myself give up, I couldn’t let Alexander and Phoenix know how I really felt. I had to be strong for them, they’re all I had left of home.
I got to my feet, stuck my chin into the air and collected my posture together. I pushed my chest out to straighten my back. I would not let this ruin everything, I have gone through too much to fall at this hurdle.
“Right then,” I said, my voice rang out clear and firm, “Let’s find some information about Hades.” I glided over to the dusty bookshelf and scanned over the withered spines, running my hand over them gently.
“Ivy?” Someone said, “Are you okay?”
I turned to answer the question. Alexander’s face was closer to mine than expected, I could clearly see the bronze outline of his irises and the pale blonde fragments in is hair. When he exhaled I was washed over with a wave of his breath, I inhaled deeply.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I gritted my jaw together to prevent myself from falling apart and flying into his arms so he could stroke my hair and tell me everything would be all right, “I just have to be prepared that’s all. I have no idea what to expect.”
“It’s only a loose translation,” Phoenix purred, “I could be completely wrong.”
I stared at both of them in turn, they were both afraid. Afraid of what, I didn’t know but it pained me to see them like this. My heart tore itself in two and lurched into my throat as my severe expression faltered.
Alexander noticed, reached out a tucked a strand of hair behind my ears. I turned my face away, knew I was a moment of eye-contact away from breaking down.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Alexander grazed my arm with his knuckles, “I would die, before I let anyone hurt you.” We stood there, looking at each other, saying nothing. But it was the kind of nothing that meant everything.
I bit my lip, blinking back tears, “Thank you,” I croaked through the growing lump in my throat, wrapping my arms tightly around him as he encased me in a cocoon of affection. He knew me so well, I’m glad he was here with me. I’d be lost without him. I couldn’t imagine my life without his strong arms, without his smile, without his caring nature and loving heart. I buried my face in his chest, nuzzling myself closer to him in search of comfort.
He held me close against his body, heat radiating from him like rays of sun. I couldn’t stop shaking, my muscles shivered with terror. I was going to die. Maybe not right now, but the result was inevitable. I wanted to break down and sob until there were no tears left, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let everyone see me in this vulnerable state. I needed to act okay so the others wouldn’t worry about me.
“Ivy, we need to talk about Hades,” Eztil’s expression was dark, “It is important.”
I unraveled myself from around Alexander and stood stiffly, chin tilted in the air and a blank look sitting on my face. “Well then, let’s talk.”
He walked over to the round table and pulled out a chair for me to perch on. “What exactly does it say?” I asked, my breath quivering and I pushed the words through the clump in my pharynx.
“ότι θα πεθάνει στα χέρια του διαβόλου και να κάψει στην κόλαση.” Phoenix whispered hoarsely, “It means, ‘She will die at the hands of the devil and burn in Hell’.” She sank into her seat, obviously devastated. She had wide eyes and light purple bags under them. She let out an exhausted sigh and planted her head into her hands.
I gulped down hard. This was real, there was nothing else more real. The prophecy had stated that my life would end, I would be killed by Hades and there was no avoiding it. I was going to die. Could I even stop it? If I trained or learnt how to fight the lord of all demons, would I come out alive?
“I’ll make some tea,” Alexander mumbled glumly, his eyes were shady and his shoulders slumped forwards, “Anyone else want one?”
I twitched the corner of my mouth up and said, “Me please,” I didn’t know what was in Eztil’s special tea but it calmed me to my very core. “So, what’s the deal with this demon?”
Phoenix placed her hand on mine, “He’s not a demon Ivy,” I watched her intently as she swallowed, I knew she was trying not to cry, “He’s a –” Her voice shattered before she could complete the sentence.
I gave her an sympathetic look, sensing my eyes go soft, I compressed our hands closer together, “It’s okay Phoenix, take your time.” I wanted to know what was so great about this Hades, why was everyone so scared?
That’s when Eztil’s voice rang out, loud and clear, “Hades is not a demon Ivy. He is the Lord of the Underworld. He is the ruler of the dead, he’s an Olympian. He’s a God.”
“A God?” I asked skeptically, raising my right eyebrow.
Alexander put a tray of tea in front of me and sat beside me, “You must be joking.”
Phoenix just shook her head, pressing her lips together as tears squeezed themselves out of the corners of her eyes.
“So,” I leaned forwards, my palms flat on the wooden surface in front of me, “Hades is a God and he’s going to kill me.”
Eztil’s face was solemn and his jaw was set, “This is no laughing matter, Hades is strong and powerful. Always watching, always waiting. He is feared by the other Gods, they hate him and have left him alone in his palace to live a life of misery. An oath taken in his name is binding.”
That word, oath. It rang through my ears like a cymbal crashing together, an oath. He will come to collect his debt, Barry Taylor’s debt. Hades would come to collect my soul. My entire body began to convulse as I shook with horror. I felt the blood drain from my face and I felt incredibly faint again; because after all this running, all this hiding, it was a waste of time, a waste of lives. I should have just given myself up at the beginning.
“Well, we should make a deal with him then,” Alexander chimed, “If we could make a deal to override the deal already set in place, there could be a way around it.”
I stared at him, my eyes nearly popping out of their sockets. I had forgotten in all the midst of the problems we’d come across how clever Alexander actually was. “That’s brilliant,” I gasped.
Phoenix raised her head from her hands that cupped it, I faced her, looking deep into her chromatic eyes, searching for any sign that she couldn’t do this. I didn’t even have to ask the question she just clenched her teeth together and said, “Yes, it’s entirely possible to do that.”
Alexander almost leaped out of the chair with ecstatic joy, he threw his arms around me and hugged me close to him, pressing me closely against him he whispered, “It’s going to be alright. We’re going to do this, together we are going to save your life.” He held me at arm’s length, “You’re not going to die!” He cried happily.
“What if he does not accept your offer?” Eztil murmured gently, “What if he wants you to prove your worth before he accepts an oath from you. What do you have to give him in return?”
“I don’t understand,” I said, letting go of the grin that was once on my face.
“Hades is greedy, he will not spare your life if you don’t have a life to give him.” Eztil muttered, almost scared to raise his voice against us, “He is selfish, he thinks of nobody but himself. If he can’t benefit from your oath then he won’t accept it, he will kill you on the spot.”
“So... if we can’t come up with a good enough deal, Ivy will still die?”
Eztil spoke quietly and refused to meet our eyes. “If she is not prepared for the worst, or at least to fight for her life, she will die.”
Phoenix and Alexander had been gone for hours. I didn’t know where they had gone, they didn’t say, but they had taken the van and been away all afternoon. The sun was scorching in the clear-blue sky and as I lay on my back, shading my eyes with my hand, I chewed on my lip in angst.
“They will be back soon,” Eztil encouraged a smile onto my face, “They said it was important, these things cannot be rushed.”
“I don’t see why I couldn’t go with them...” I moaned.
Eztil chuckled throatily, “Because you passed out Ivy Taylor, you were out cold for hours. It is not easy, and it takes a long time, to get your strength back up to the normal levels after an episode like that.”
“’Nix had septicemia... She had her leg cut off and a new one applied... I don’t see how I’m any different.” Eztil didn’t answer. I got up and started pacing, “Where are they?”
Eztil lent back against the side of his hut, tilting his head back to greedily accept the rays of the sun, “I have no idea, but just wait patiently until they return.”
I threw my hands up in exasperation, and grunted angrily, “I can’t,” I needed to occupy myself with a task, with anything. Research, training, conversation. As I plunked my backside next to Eztil a small dust cloud exploded from underneath me, “Talk to me,” I commanded, agitated and restless.
“About what?” Eztil smiled.
“Anything,” I shrugged my shoulders. “Tell me what’s in your box?”
I felt Eztil tense next to me. “What box?” He answered, “I do not know what you are talking about.” His expression was guarded, un-trusting.
“Oh, come on!” I pushed, my agitated mood taking over, “The pretty black one, with all the scenes carved into it? You must know the one I mean.”
Eztil’s face was set like a stone. “No.”
I sighed angrily. “Fine,” I growled, “Tell me about Hades. Tell me all about him. His passions and his fears. Tell me his weakness. Tell me his origin.” I rushed over the words like they were a flowing river pouring from my mouth.
Eztil squinted up at the sun, “I am going to tell you a story.”
I shut my eyes and lent back, ready to listen.
“This is a story of love and abduction. The underworld. An equivalent to Hell, a place where misery is felt for an eternity, until a soul finally fades away.” He began, “The underworld is hidden from Earth, and this is where Hades lives. Hades is the brother of the almighty Zeus, the God of all Gods. Zeus was married to Demeter, the Goddess of nature, and together they had a beautiful daughter named Persephone.” Eztil was silent for a moment, holding the suspense of the story, I wondered where he was taking this.
“Hades was obsessed with Persephone,” Eztil continued, his soft accent rippled through my entire being, I soaked up every word, listening intently, “She was beautiful. He was madly in love with her, it drove him insane. It has been said that he used to leave the Underworld to watch her picking flowers in the fields, travel above ground to pursue her. Hades begged for his brother’s help, which Zeus refused to give. Hades was outraged and sank back into the Underworld where he planned to abduct Persephone.
“One day, in the middle of a hot and thriving summer, Persephone was gathering flowers in a field. Taking everyone by surprise, Hades thundered up from the Underworld in his four-horse chariot, he swooped down upon Persephone and took her. That day Hades literally and figuratively deflowered the poor girl, leaving the field scattered with flowers of every colour. Persephone slipped beneath the Earth with Hades and into the Underworld where he forced her to be his wife.”
Eztil was silent for a few moments, he took a deep breath and it sounded like a rush of waves over pebbles on a beach, churning away at the shore, “Demeter, Persephone’s mother, was so distraught she forgot about her duties and the world around the Gods slowly started to die, these were dark times for all. There was no life, the trees fell and the animals perished.”
I sat and waited for him to continue, the sun was warm on my closed eyelids as it burnt softly against my skin.
“The Gods were in uproar, they knew that this couldn’t go unpunished. They were all scared of Hades, all but one. Zeus. Zeus did not fear him. He traveled to the underworld in rage and demanded for Persephone back. Hades refused. Zeus threatened war. Hades was scared of war, as he knew that the power of every God would overthrow him, and then who would keep his precious underworld in check? He made a deal with Zeus, and Zeus agreed to it as, deep down, he did not want a war either.”
“What was the deal?” I whispered hoarsely, intrigued about the Greek folklore. I wanted to know what happened next, I wanted to know what made Hades tick and every slight detail I could get about him would help me construct his downfall.
“Hades would keep Persephone for half the year and Zeus and Demeter would have her for the other. Every time Hades takes Persephone back to the underworld for his half of the year, Demeter gets upset and lets nature die. This is why we have seasons. In summer Persephone is with her mother and Demeter is happy. In winter Persephone has been taken to the underworld, Demeter grieves.”
I opened my eyes, momentarily blinded by the light of the day, and said, “So, the season’s change because Hades is a thief?”
“Yes,” Eztil frowned, “Hades is a liar, a cheater and all things evil. He is shunned by the other Gods and they want nothing more to do with him.”
“You mean to tell me,” I coughed, “That I have sat in the snow countless times with numb hands and a runny nose, because Hades is married to Persephone?”
“I cannot say that I am all too pleased with this so-called “God”,” I glowered.
“The Underworld. A place that is hidden from the land of Earth. It is not a pleasant place, it holds souls of despair and contains no sunlight, or hope. It resembles a miserable dream, or minor nightmare, filled with Shadows and the screams of lost or punished mortals.
“Hades rules over this kingdom of gloom. He refuses to let any of his subjects leave. The dead are forced to dwell in a place that knows no joy, until they fade into nothingness.” Alexander read from the fading parchment before him.
“Does it mention anything about how to get there?” Phoenix sighed, tiresome of getting nowhere. We had been at this for hours, reading information about Hades and the Underworld, but nothing important. Nothing helpful.
“Why are we going again?” I asked.
Phoenix rummaged in her backpack and drew out a jar. It was ordinary pottery, it looked old. Apart from that it was perfect, no chips or scratches, only that the colour had begun to fade over time. It was glazed with the darkest black I had ever seen, with complex shapes and patterns engraved deep into paintwork.
My blood ran cold, “What is that?” I stared at it, open-mouthed, shivering off the goose bumps that appeared onto my skin. The jar screamed evil, it felt like all the light and happiness in my life had been sucked away, merely looking at it made me feel empty inside. My lower lip trembled and all of a sudden I wanted to cry.
“Put that thing away!” Eztil roared, “I do not want to see it in my house.”
Phoenix threw a sheet of purple silk over it and placed it carefully back in her bag.
“You can keep it here,” Eztil said, a little calmer this time, “But I never want to lay eyes on it ever again, do you hear?”
I leaned over towards Phoenix and laid my hand upon hers, “What is it?” I hissed, barely audible.
“The Urn Of Hades.” Alexander explained.
I looked at him blankly, “That means nothing to me Alex.”
“This Urn, is the closest thing Hades has to a soul,” She looked at me, her eyes shining, “We’re going to use it to bargain for your life.”
“If that fails?” Alexander was leaning again the window sill with his arms folded, “What then?”
“Oh I already have a plan B.” She glanced at Eztil with a wry smile, “I think it’s time we opened that box of yours.”