Chapter Thirty-Four

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Hades led me from the throne room along a narrow passageway. "I cannot offer you accommodations such as you may be used to, but until Persephone makes her journey to me, you may use her rooms as your own."

"Thank you." I hesitated, not wanting to ask a foolish question. "What will I do while I am here?"

He glanced at me, almost smiling. "I seem to recall that you are highly desirable to certain gods, including that old crone Hecate." I nodded nervously. "Rest assured that none can harm you here. Persephone sent you to me to seek sanctuary, and I gladly offer it. While you are here, you will practice your magic."

"Thank you. If I had time to practice—" I broke off, not wanting to think about Rochelle and Hecate hunting me and waiting for me back in the world. Things wouldn't be pretty once I went home, but I was determined to do better the next time I had to face Rochelle. Hades nodded, hearing my thoughts.

"When you leave my realm, you will again have adversaries to face. But for now, little Witch, you have time to rest, to strengthen, and to learn." We had reached a carved wooden door fitted snugly into the cave wall. "I'll leave you here to get your bearings. Feel free to use anything in these rooms."

I hesitated for a moment. "What will I do for food?" I didn't want to offend him, but I needed to ask; what if he decided he wanted to keep me there in the Underworld? I wouldn't fall for the same trick that had bound Persephone.

Hades chuckled. "Don't worry, I have no desire to trap a second wife. I will have some brought from aboveground." I must have looked skeptical, because he sighed in exasperation. "Witch, I am not one for breaking faith. I have offered you sanctuary because of my wife, and I will not renege on that promise. As long as you are in my realm, you will be safe from all harm."

"Thank you. I didn't mean to offend you." I tried to smile.

Hades looked sad. "Mortals rarely trust me. I should not have expected otherwise."

Without another word he turned and stalked back toward the throne room. I felt bad for him, and I resolved that I would try to trust him. He'd been kind to me so far, and just because I had started to be suspicious of everyone didn't mean that they were all out to get me. Hades had no reason to be my enemy, and from the way he had talked about Hecate, I wondered if he might even be my ally. It must be hard to be a god who no one trusts. I doubted that any Witches ever took Hades as a patron. Was it lonely? He seemed lonely, but maybe that was just because Persephone wasn't here. Either way, I liked him. When he was out of sight, I opened the door to Persephone's rooms.

The smell of dust rushed to greet me, and I coughed. Cautiously, I entered the room. Dried flowers were everywhere, arranged in vases, hanging from the ceiling, strewn across the floor. It looked like a postponed funeral, and I felt a twinge of sympathy for Persephone. Obviously, she missed her life aboveground: she'd tried to recreate springtime here in her cave, but the flowers were brown and battered. Petals and leaves crunched under my feet as I explored the vast chambers.

The ceiling of the first room was so high I almost couldn't see it. It must have reached all the way to the top surface of the earth, because a jagged skylight cut into the ceiling allowed a patch of natural light into the room. There were candle stubs on the furniture, and an unlit torch waited by the door that led into the next room.

That room was darker; evidently, Hades' architect had only felt like installing one skylight. Squinting, I waited while my eyes adjusted to the dim light, but the room didn't look very interesting. There wasn't much in it, just a full-length mirror in an ornate wooden frame, and a simple square table. The surface of the table was empty, but something on the floor caught my eye. It was blurry, but I could just make out the smudged outline of a white circle in the center of the floor. I didn't walk near the circle; I recognized a magical workspace when I saw one, and I didn't know what kind of protections Persephone might have left in place. Crossing the room carefully, I passed through another doorway.

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