Goddess (Starcrossed)

By: Josephine Angelini
ONE


Helen could see what she guessed was the River Styx just off to her left. It was a roaring torrent, riddled with icebergs. No sane person would dare swim across it. Feeling stranded, she limped around in a tight circle. A quick scan of the horizon showed that there was no one else on the barren plain.

“Damn it,” she swore to herself, her voice breaking. Her vocal cords were not completely healed. Less than an hour ago, Ares had slit her throat, and although it still hurt when she spoke, cussing made her feel better. “So typical.”

She’d just made a promise to her friend Zach. He was dying in her arms, and she swore that she would make sure that he drank from the River of Joy in the afterlife. Zach had sacrificed himself to help her, and in his final moments, he’d given her the clue that allowed her to kill Automedon and save Lucas and Orion.

Helen intended to keep her promise to Zach even if she had to carry him to the Elysian Fields and right up to the banks of the River of Joy herself—broken ribs, wonky leg, and all. But for some reason, her usual way of navigating in the Underworld wasn’t working. Normally, all she had to do was say out loud what she wanted and it just happened.

She was the Descender, which meant that she was one of the exceedingly few Scions who could go down to the Underworld in her living body and not just as a spirit. She could even control the landscape to a certain extent, but of course just when she needed that talent the most, it found a way to go on the fritz. It was just so Greek. One of the things Helen resented the most about being a Scion was that it meant that there was an appalling amount of irony in her life.

Helen pinched her bruised lips together in frustration and raised her hoarse voice to the empty sky. “I said—I want to appear by Zach’s spirit!”

“I have that one’s soul, niece.”

Helen spun around and saw Hades, lord of the Underworld, standing several paces behind her. Tall and poised, he was wreathed in shadows that dissipated like fingers of fog relaxing their grip. The Helm of Darkness and the extra yards of fabric from the black toga he wore obscured most of his face, but she could just make out his lush mouth and square chin. The rest of his toga was draped over his body like a decorative afterthought. Half of his smooth chest and his powerful arms and legs were bare. Helen swallowed and concentrated on focusing her swollen eyes.

“Sit, please. Before you fall,” he said softly. Two simple, padded folding chairs appeared, and Helen eased her abused body into one while Hades took the other. “You are still wounded. Why did you come here when you should be healing?”

“I have to guide my friend to paradise. Where he belongs.” Helen’s voice trembled with fear, although Hades had never hurt her. Unlike Ares, the god who had just tortured her, Hades had always been relatively kind. But he was still the lord of the dead, and the shadows around him were filled with the whispers of ghosts.

“What makes you think that you know where Zach’s soul belongs?” he asked.

“He was a hero. . . . Maybe not at the beginning when he was still being a jackass, but at the end, and that’s the bit that counts, right? And heroes go to the Elysian Fields.”

“I wasn’t questioning Zach’s valor,” Hades reminded her gently. “What I asked was: What makes you fit to judge his soul?”

“I . . . huh?” Helen blurted out, confused. She’d taken one too many knocks to the head that night, and she wasn’t up to a lesson in semantics. “Look, I didn’t come here to judge anyone. I made a promise, and I just want to keep it.”

“And yet I’m the one who makes the decisions here. Not you.”

Helen had no argument for that. This was his world. All she could do was stare at him pleadingly.

Hades’ soft mouth curved into a distant smile, and he seemed to consider what Helen had said. “The way you handled the freeing of the Furies proved that you are compassionate. A good start—but I’m afraid compassion is not enough, Helen. You lack understanding.”

“Was that a test then? The Furies?” An accusing note crept into her voice as Helen recalled what she and Orion had gone through on her last mission in the Underworld. She got even angrier when she considered what the Furies themselves went through. If those three girls were tormented for thousands of years just to prove that Helen was a compassionate person, then there was something terribly wrong with the universe.

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