Daphne stands on Olympus for the last time. Hephaestus claps her shoulder and motions behind him. A new xiphos, greaves, gauntlets, and aspis lean against a wall. "The best I've ever made. Might as well match right?" He says.
Daphne grabs his wrist as a gesture of gratitude. Hephaestus pulls her into a bear hug.
"Hephaestus, don't suffocate the poor girl." A voice says behind him.
"It's all right goddess, I've had worse." Daphne smiles. "And Eros? Where is he? I'd like to say goodbye."
Aphrodite stands in the doorway. "He doesn't want to say goodbye to you."
Daphne frowns. Aphrodite pulls her into a hug.
"He's certain he will see you again." The goddess says as she releases Daphne. "Be safe". Aphrodite says just as she and her husband walk away.
Soon after their departure Athena walks through the doorway, loyal owl on her shoulder. She gives Daphne a parcel.
"Ambrosia. The Fates felt it would be best I gave it to you."
"Thank you goddess." Daphne replies.
Athena stands before Daphne as she eats small pieces of candied red fruit. "Artemis sends her regards. She refuses to say goodbye to you."
"I will be sure to visit her in her woods." Daphne smiles at the thought.
"What were you thinking when you went to go get her." Athena's voice is neither angry nor sad.
"Goddess, I wasn't thinking."
"Forgive me. For Adelpha. I didn't mean kill her."
"People like you never mean to kill anyone, do they?"
"I suppose not."
"And Hades? Did you mean to kill him?"
Daphne couldn't hold back a small laugh. "I couldn't kill him."
"You carry my seed, Daphne. If you wished, you could kill any of us." Athena's words echo in her head.
"Goddess, I would never wish for such a thing. You've all become my family."
"It never crossed my mind that you would. And about Adelpha, she is easily replaced."
Daphne nods and continues to eat the small bits of fruit. The guard will continue without her.
"Daphne, may I still call upon you when I am in need of assistance? You are not so easy to replace." Athena holds out a dory.
"With all due respect, goddess, I am no longer one of your guards." She is hesitant to take the dory, but Athena insists.
The goddess nods in understanding.
"May I ask you a question?"
"When we were with the Fates, you told them I carried your seed,"
"I was wondering when you'd finally ask. Yes, it's true. All my guards are daughters of my maidens, but you are a special case. Your mother was a passionate woman, too much passion for me. Perhaps she would have been better suited to serve my sister, but she much too logical. A deadly combination. But one I thought might work for me. I planted my seed in your mother, hoping her child would be just as passionate when it came to learn and writing scrolls and such."
"And my father? Who was he?"
"Daphne, you have no father. You mother was untouched when she died delivering you."
Daphne couldn't understand what the goddess just told her. Daphne always knew her mother died delivering her. She never knew the gods of capable of creating a child in the way Daphne was created. Daphne truly is Athena's daughter.
"You were to be the one to spread knowledge throughout our land. I soon found that you were far too much like your mother for such a thing."
Daphne nods. "I guess it didn't work."
"It worked out exactly as it should have." Athena holds out her hand. "I may not understand why you did what you did, but I trust my sister. It has been my honor to work with you."
Daphne takes hold of the goddess' wrist and gives a firm squeeze.
Athena turns to walk away, but her owl flies to Daphne's shoulder. She stops and waits for it to return.
"I guess I'll miss you too." Daphne ruffles the owl's feathers.
It flies back to goddess as she leaves the room.
Daphne walks to the far wall and begin to fasten her new blood red linthorax. Five red points make a crown around the the center of her white aspis. The plume on her helmet is the same color as her linthorax. The xiphos' black blade reflects moonlight into her eyes. Her greaves and gauntlet shine with the same piercing red.
She makes her way out of Olympus. The moon seems larger tonight than any other night, although tonight is the first night she ever had the time to actually look at it. Artemis' arrows shoot through the starry night leaving trails of light behind them. Daphne begins to walk. She doesn't know where she is going. She has no where to go. A rush of air rustles the plume on her helmet.
"You never seem to have trouble finding me." Daphne says and she continues to walk.
"You're never that hard to find." Hermes glides beside her. "I don't get a goodbye?"
"Why say goodbye to someone I know I'll see again?" Daphne smiles.
"Clever one you are."
"Unless, you've come to say goodbye?" Daphne stops and turns to him. She has come to see Hermes as a good friend, almost a brother. It never occurred to her that she might never see him again.
"Oh no, my friend, never. Who would I bother if not you? I have to deliver a package." Hermes holds out his caduceus. "Hold this would you?"
Daphne takes the scepter and fastens her aspis to her back. A cool rush of air envelops her entire body. Daphne finds herself in a field of flowers. A large twisted tree is the only only thing in her sight. Hermes' caduceus is no longer in her hand. She has fallen for his trick again.
"Hermes! Where am I?"
"You never fail to fall for that one do you?" Hermes' voice echoes.
Daphne shakes her head. She turns around and begins to walk away from the twisted tree.
"Daphne!" She hears a familiar voice.
She turns to find Persephone running toward her.
"I didn't think you'd come." She says as she reaches Daphne.
"I didn't know I was supposed to."
"I had to beg the Fates to let me see you before I go back to Hades. You did say you'd meet me that night didn't you?"
Daphne remembers the day Persephone asked. It was also the day she was taken. She nods her head yes.
"I told you I had to deliver a package. Now go with your goddess!"
"Hermes, she belongs to no one, she is her own."
"No, she is not." Hermes' voice fades in the wind.
Persephone grabs Daphne's hand.
Persephone leads her to the twisted tree in the center of the field. The moon forms a halo around its canopy. Artemis' arrows begin shooting across the sky again. Persephone reaches out with her free hand and pulls an invisible string. Curtains of vines fall from the tree's branches. White flowers with red crowns begin to blossom.
Daphne touches one. "What do you call these?"
"I don't know. What do you call that?" Persephone points to her aspis. "You won't be needing these."
Persephone takes the aspis and lays it on the ground. She unlatches the baldric from Daphne's waist. Daphne drops her dory. She only moves when Persephone moves her. Persephone removes her linthorax and sets Daphne's helmet on top of it. Persephone begins to unbuckle Daphne's greaves and sandals, but Daphne stops her.
"My lady, please. I would never have you on your knees for me."
"All the more reason I'm willing to be." Persephone removes her sandals.
Cool air chills Daphne's exposed torso. She wishes the cloth around her chest were long enough to keep her stomach and back warm.
Daphne follows her into the curtain of vines. The ground is covered in soft grass. The canopy has opened to a view of the moonlit sky.
"Can we just sit a while?" Persephone asks.
She nods yes.
For a moment they sit quietly, staring up at arrows shooting through the night sky. Daphne removes her gauntlets and tosses them aside.
"Daphne." Persephone jokingly scolds.
"Persephone. If I may ask, what happened when you were down there? Before I came."
"I can't remember much to be honest. It felt... Wrong. And bad."
"Did he hurt you?"
"I think so. You have to understand, I've never felt pain before in my life. Then again, I never felt much before I met you anyway."
"I want to apologize, but I'm not sure what I'd be apologizing for."
Persephone laughs. "Don't. It's a good thing. I've always been so envious of mortals because of that."
"Because we feel pain and suffering? Because we die?"
"Yes. But you feel things more than we do I think. Happiness and love seem to be more intense because you know you won't live forever. That's the price you pay I guess."
Daphne nods in agreement. "But I'm immortal now, do you think things will change?"
"Of course they will. But you won't." Persephone flashes a smile.
"And that thing you did with Ares and the tree? Why did I not know you could do that?"
"Well, I've never really had a reason to do it before. It did feel good, I hope I can do it again." She laughs.
They are quiet for a moment. The rustling of the tree converses with the whistling of the wind.
"Why me?" Daphne suddenly asks.
Persephone positions herself directly in Daphne's line of vision. "Because sometimes you forget I'm a goddess."
Daphne tries to hide an embarrassed grin.
"And what about you? Why me?" Persephone jokes.
"Because sometimes you forget I'm nothing."
"Easy to forget something when it's not true." The goddess gives Daphne a playful hit on the arm.
"I wish I knew what to say to you, but everything I can think to say sounds so stupid." Daphne says.
Persephone smiles. "Daphne, you have said everything you needed to say without uttering a word."
"I wish I'd known that earlier."
Persephone leans into Daphne's shoulder. Her hair is adorned with the white flowers she created and hangs casually over her shoulders. She smells of fruit and flowers. Persephone brushes away the hem of Daphne's battle skirt.
"Did this happen down there?" She asks tracing the scars on Daphne's thigh.
Heat flushes Daphne's face. She nods yes. "Athena feels scars build our character, she doesn't heal what isn't fatal." She jokes.
She closes her eyes, focusing on Persephone's breathing again. She can feel Persephone tracing the scars on her thigh with her finger. She doesn't know if they are being healed. She doesn't care if they're not. Daphne opens her eyes to find Persephone looking at her.
"Why do you turn that color when I touch you." She asks resting her hands where Daphne's scars once were.
"I don't know. I can't help it."
Persephone smiles. Daphne just stares. For the rest of her eternal life, her Persephone will always be taken from her.
"I need to tell you," Persephone beings to say.
Before Persephone can finish three intertwined voices interrupt. "Lady Persephone. It is time to go."
Both let out an exasperated sigh.
"The Fates have a cruel sense of humor, I think." Persephone mutters.
Daphne just smiles as she reaches for her gauntlets.
"Will you come with me?" Persephone asks, carrying various pieces of armor.
Daphne laughs and nods yes.
"I mean just to the entrance. I didn't mean all the way inside. Or to stay with-"
Persephone is silence by a finger to her lips.
"We'd better leave now before they send someone after you."
"Why worry about that? You'd probably kill them." Persephone laughs.
The boat ride down the river Styx was quiet. Charon said nothing and simply nodded at the pair. No music greeted Daphne this time. It feels as though she is back too soon. The goddess envelops her into a tight hug. Persephone steps away and presses her lips against Daphne's. For a moment they are a locked in this kiss. Each one taking the time to savor the taste of the other. Once broken, both are breathless.
Daphne sees a large looming figure walk through the darkness of Hades to the banks of the river. Kerberos stands patiently waiting. All three heads focused on the pair. Daphne releases the goddess and readies herself for an attack, but soon remembers she has left her weapons on the barge. The beast does not move.
"Do not be afraid Daphne of Delos, we mean you no harm." The deep disembodied voice of a woman says.
Persephone and Daphne stand motionless.
"It can talk?" Daphne whispers, keeping her eyes on the beast.
"I never knew."
"We can communicate with you. We hardly have need to speak with anyone but our master. We will allow you to say what you must. Come to us when you are ready, Lady Persephone." The beast turns and walks back into the darkness.
"How will I know when you're free?" Daphne asks releasing Persephone's hand.
The goddess walks to the entrance of Hades, waiting. Kerberos appears and allows the goddess to pass. Daphne does not realize she's been holding her breath. She doesn't know what she's waiting for or anticipating. The goddess looks back one last time before being completely engulfed in darkness. Daphne exhales.
"We will watch over her, Daphne of Delos." Kerberos' monotonous voice reassures her.
Daphne is frozen in confusion. "Why? We weren't exactly friends the last time we met."
"The circumstances of our meeting is irrelevant. You stood up against one of your own to prevent further harm to us. We are in your debt."
"I didn't save your life. There is no debt."
"The one you call Herakles has harmed us before. He came to harm us again, for his own glory. Degrading us would have been worse than killing us. For that we thank you and are in your debt."
Guilt rises in Daphne as she recalls how she felt about Kerberos the first time she came to Hades. She was completely unaware of the beast's intelligence.
"I'm sorry about-"
"No need to apologize, Daphne of Delos. You did not know. You did not know and still you defended us. We are in your debt."
Daphne thinks for a moment. Watching Kerberos loom over her. It begins to turn around to leave.
"Wait," Daphne steps forward. "I do not wish for you to be indebted to me. You've got enough to worry about." She points past the beast into Hades.
One of the heads turns and looks back while two focus on Daphne. It is the first time Daphne has looked into it's dark eyes.
"Can we be friends?"
"I do not understand."
"Friends. You help me. I help you. Because we want to, not because we want favors."
Two head contemplate Daphne's offer, the last still looking into the shadows.
"Just friends. I don't want to be your new master. I don't want to defeat you for glory. I don't want you to be indebted to me. Just friends, because with friends there are no thank yous and no sorries."
The beast is still, staring down at Daphne. She looks up with defeated eyes. A forced smile and nod is all she can muster while she wonders why she thought it would say yes. She turns to leave without saying another word.
She stops mid-step and turns to face the beast, unsure of what to say. "Yes?"
The middle head nods. "Yes."
Daphne grins. "Be safe."
"Be safe, my friend."