Carnival—or Apokries, as it was still known in a few New Greek cities—was tonight, and Persephone did not know what to wear. She had been thinking about the weeks-long celebration over the past few days as it was impossible to walk down any street in New Athens without seeing colorful banners and ribbons that drew attention to parades, dances, and concerts, all of which encouraged attending the upcoming festivities in costumes that maintained anonymity because Carnival was about freedom.
As much as Carnival encouraged inhibition, it also celebrated Dionysus, God of Wine and Fertility, who inspired fun and frenzy. It would be a night of chaos, and Persephone was not yet sure how Hades would feel about her joining the insanity—especially the Grand Parade, one of the most popular events of Carnival.
“What about…a sexy lion?” Hermes suggested, peeking out from inside her closet wearing a set of furry ears. He’d wandered in there five minutes ago shouting out costume ideas. She had shut down each one. They were in the queen’s suite, which Persephone used only to prepare for special events. Hecate sat on the edge of the pristinely made bed. The white bedding stood out brightly against her dark robes.
Persephone raised a brow at Hermes’s ears. “Where did you get those?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Listen—bodysuit, fishnets, heels….”
He stepped out of the closet dressed exactly as he had described.
“Rawr,” he said, batting his hand at her.
Persephone laughed. “I think you have found the perfect costume for you.”
Hermes turned to look in the mirror. “I do look good, don’t I?”
“You could go as a witch,” Hecate suggested, arms crossed. “Though, I abhor those pointed hats.”
“Why?” Persephone asked, curious.
Hecate explained that witches once wore bonnets as a symbol of their status in the community, but over time, mortals corrupted witchcraft and the bonnets became a symbol of persecution. The hat itself evolved and was now pointed and wide-brimmed.
“It only takes a single lie to decimate an entire culture,” she added, and those words made Persephone shiver.
“Perhaps I’ll go as a cat,” she said.
“Oh, yes,” Hecate said, clapping her hands. “My favorite!”
Hecate set about conjuring a mask and a set of ears that would help her remain anonymous. She would need the extra magic in public considering people would likely easily identify her—and it would aid in convincing Hades to let her accompany Hermes for tonight’s festivities.
As if the Goddess of Witchcraft heard her thoughts, she asked, “You have told Hades you are going out tonight, haven’t you?”
“I have already allotted time,” Persephone said.
“Allotted…time?” Hecate paused in her work and looked up, arching a brow.
“To convince him,” she explained.
Hermes snorted. “She means sex. She will convince him with sex.”
Hecate pursed her lips. Persephone knew that look.
She shrugged. “I just worry your plan may have the opposite effect.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hades and Dionysus…they don’t exactly see eye to eye.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not like I’ll actually see Dionysus, and even if I do, isn’t that what your magic is for?”
“Magic will not quell suspicion, Persephone,” Hecate said. “The gods are curious about you. Especially those who are not fond of Hades.”
Persephone frowned as disappointment settled low in her stomach. She had been looking forward to spending the night with Hermes, Leuce, Sybil, and Harmonia. Though, she should have expected something like this. Hades had history with all the gods and of the numerous ones in existence, they were most often not allies. What was his history with the God of Wine?
Once Persephone was dressed, she teleported to Hades’s office in Nevernight, finding him sitting behind his pristine desk. It looked almost liquid beneath the lights, like the black water of the Styx. She approached, and Hades looked up, his hand stalling over the papers he was signing as his eyes dipped, taking in her attire.
She wore a black silk dress and a matching robe. Both were short and the strapped heels she’d chosen made her legs look long and toned.
“My darling,” Hades greeted, his eyes burning with a dark light.
“What are you working on?” she asked.
Hades set the pen down and pushed the stack to the side.
“Nothing is as important as you,” he said.
She smiled and came around the desk.
“Are you well?” he asked, and his hands landed on her hips, his legs widened to accommodate her body between his.
“I am,” she said, twining her arms around his neck.
Hades’s hands slipped up the silken fabric to settle on her waist, and there was a fire in his eyes as he spoke.
“Why are you dressed as if you belong in my bed?”
“I’m a cat.”
Hades’s lips quirked. “Really?”
“Yes,” Persephone said indignantly and took a step away, placing her ears upon her head. “Let’s not act like I wear clothes to bed.”
Hades offered a wolfish grin and pulled her back to him. This time he drew her close, knees straddling his body, his arousal settled against her center and her breath caught in her chest.
“You could wear this,” he said, his fingers trailed along her shoulder, beneath the collar of her robe until it hung off her shoulder. “I would delight in disrobing you.”
“Perhaps I’ll let you,” she said, her eyes falling to his lips.
Hades’s brows rose. “Perhaps?”
“Yes,” she said. “If you earn it.”
“Hmm.” Hades’s voice vibrated against her chest and she shivered. “And how do you wish for me to work for this privilege?”
His fingers trailed up her thigh and her body heated, making it almost impossible to concentrate on her request.
“It requires no work at all,” she said, breathless.
“To attend the Grand Parade.”
Hades’s hand froze on her thigh. “The Grand Parade,” he echoed, and swallowed. In the silence that followed, Persephone wondered just how much his mind had spiraled. He was probably considering every possible risk. After a moment, he spoke.
“The square will be crowded. What if someone recognizes you?”
“Hecate charmed my mask,” she explained. “I will be safe.”
Hades continued to frown.
“And I won’t be alone,” she added quickly. “Hermes is going. So is Leuce and Sybil and Harmonia.”
Hades’s mouth hardened, and she knew she’d done nothing to make him more comfortable with the situation.
“If you don’t trust them with my safety, trust me,” she said.
“I trust you, but you underestimate just how obsessive people can be.” He drew a strand of hair behind her ear. “Is it not enough to celebrate in the Underworld?”
“Of course, I love celebrating with the souls,” she said—she’d planned on attending their festivities after the parade. “But Leuce, Sybil, and Harmonia cannot join.”
Hades looked just as defeated as Persephone felt.
“You cannot exist in public as you once did, Persephone, even with magic.”
She knew that was true, but she had hoped that Hecate’s magic would provide an element of normalcy for her, even if it was only for a few hours.
“I know,” she said. “It’s all right. I’ll let Hermes know.”
She started to slip off Hades’s lap when his grip tightened, and he sighed gruffly.
“Go,” he said. “But stay close to Sybil and Harmonia.”
“You do not trust Hermes?”
“Not during Carnival,” he said.
She raised a brow and studied him, feeling conflicted. She did not wish to cause him stress, but she knew she was.“Are you well?”
He watched her and then asked, “Have I earned the right to undress you tonight?”
“You can undress me now.” Her voice went low, a whisper as she drew near to his lips.
He smirked and sat straighter, his cock grinding into her heat, and she gripped him harder.
“Oh no, darling. I prefer to let the anticipation build.” As he spoke, his lips trailed her jaw and neck.
“What restraint,” Persephone managed.
“It is not restraint,” he said, his hands tightening around her, pressing into her skin, grinding them together. “It is calculated.”
His hand slipped between her thighs, the end of his finger teasing her heat. A stream of air hissed between his teeth.
“Tonight, when I fuck you, I want you dripping.”
“So,” Hermes said, nudging Persephone’s arm with his elbow. “Did you stuff the taco? Slime the banana? Bury the bone?”
“Hermes,” Persephone warned, rolling her eyes. He loved mortal euphemisms because he thought they were hilarious, and sometimes they were, except right now.
“What? I’m just curious if you mounted the—”
“No, Hermes, I didn’t.”
The god folded his arms over his chest. “Obviously. Someone’s testy.” Then he frowned. “He’s not mad, is he?”
“Not mad,” she said.
Definitely not happy.
It took her a moment, but her gaze finally landed on Sybil who was shoving her way through the crowd toward her. When she reached her, they embraced, and as they parted, Persephone took in Sybil’s costume. She wore a white shirt, black corset, and a red skirt.
“Are you…a fortune teller?”
Sybil grinned. “It’s funny, isn’t it?”
She took her skirt in her hands and twirled it. It was ironic considering Sybil was an oracle. Persephone’s gaze shifted to Leuce who was dressed as a mummy in a short bandage-style dress, and Harmonia who was dressed as a fawn—her face dusted with freckles and her head crowned with horns. She flinched inwardly, wondering how the Goddess of Harmony felt seeing herself this way, considering she had lost her horns during an assault by members of Triad.
Persephone hugged each of them, happy to see them outside of work and formal events. Tonight was about existing without worry and easing burdens. Tonight was about fun.
Suddenly, there was a loud pop and the streets were flooded with confetti which gleamed beneath the streetlamps, and cheers erupted.
“The parade has started!” Sybil said.
She grabbed Persephone’s hand and pulled her through the crowd as colored smoke billowed and fire flashed. The others followed until they stood on the street where colorful floats rolled along, and streams of people twirled and danced in extravagant costumes, embellished with jewels, feathers, and flowers. A cacophony of music rose and mixed—drums and flutes and trumpets. It vibrated the ground and rumbled through Persephone’s body.
It was chaos.
Persephone glanced at Leuce who stood behind her. “Is this how you remember Carnival?”
Leuce had lived in ancient times. She’d only recently returned to the modern world after reverting to her nymph form, having spent the last few hundred years as a tree.
She smirked. “Surprisingly, it was just as frenzied.”
That was the word used to describe any event associated with Dionysus. Even his wines were rumored to inspire the same madness if a mortal consumed too much. The parade was perhaps the best example of his influence—a celebration of uninhibited people who shed clothing as they danced and sang.
At first, Persephone assumed it was the wine that allowed for such furor, but she had no wine and it wasn’t long before her head began to feel light and heady and a flush warmed her cheeks.
She stretched, twisting her body.
“You all right there, Sephy?” Hermes asked.
“Yes,” she replied breathlessly. “I want to dance.”
Hermes arched a brow. She was not the only one feeling the effects of whatever was inducing her to move her body—beside her Leuce, Sybil, and Harmonia giggled and began to dance, twirling in circles before dragging each other into the thick of the crowd, following along with the parade.
“Come dance with me, Hermes!” she said and took his hand, dragging him with her.
“Oh, no, Sephy. You’re not—”
She released his hand and the mob of people swallowed her.
“Sephy!” Hermes said her name in a half whisper, half yell, and though part of her brain knew she needed to stay within sight of the god and her friends, she was too caught up in the madness.
She danced, her body not moving with anything but the sway of the crowd, and as she continued, perspiration formed on her brow and her silk clothes became damp. Her feet hurt and her lungs began to burn, and still she did not stop—no one stopped.
They continued dancing until they came to the streets of the pleasure district, familiar to Persephone only because she had traveled along these cobble roads in search of Apollo. Despite recognizing that she had gone too far, that she was now separated from her friends, she could not keep her feet from moving, her body from undulating, her head from spinning—until they came to a large square. At the center was a golden pillar carved with erotic scenes, and at the base was a matching throne and there, sitting bare-chested, legs spread wide, was Dionysus.
He looked menacing and striking, his dark skin shining with oil and gold glitter. His hair was braided and long, clasped with gold. He wore gold jewelry too—a ring in his nose and caps on his ears, rings on his fingers, cuffs on his arms and wrists. As the square filled with people, he grinned, and offered a single command.
A carnal hunger took root in every mortal present. It was unsettling to watch—a strange madness that had bodies and mouths colliding and grinding, possessed by a desire that took root through magic, and Persephone did not like it.
Frantically, she searched for an exit as people began to unmask and undress—to expose their skin to the night sky and take bodies into their own, but before she could make her escape, a hand grasped her hair and yanked her head back. A mouth closed over hers, and Persephone dragged her nails down the stranger’s face just as a deafening crack halted the revelry, breaking Dionysus’s spell. Hades’s magic blanketed the courtyard.
Persephone pushed the man who had accosted her, and he stumbled back before he vanished. Just a few steps from where he had stood was Hades. He rose like a mountain, unyielding, casting a shadow over everything before him—and she ran to him. He folded her into his arms before tilting her face toward his.
“Are you well?”
There was an unsettling energy emanating from his skin and darkening his eyes. She nodded, hoping to quell the violence she knew he wished to unleash.
“What an entrance,” Dionysus commented. His voice was deep and resonant, and it told Persephone that the God of Wine disliked Hades just as much. He had not moved from his throne, but he looked far more menacing. “Did you have to be so dramatic?”
Hades scowled and held Persephone closer.
“I do not share, Dionysus,” Hades hissed.
Dionysus looked on in disgust.
“Toxic,” he said. “The way you possess her.”
“It is not possession,” Persephone said. “And who are you to speak of toxicity? Your magic forces people to fuck.”
“Force implies unwillingness,” he said. “Every mortal here came for this. It is no fault of mine that you did not.”
“Magic takes away choice, Dionysus,” Hades said.
“Does it? Your lover remained unaffected by my magic because she did not consent.”
“And yet it did not protect her.”
“Is that not what you are for?” he countered. “And if you wish to speak on choice, was it choice that trapped your lover in a contract?”
The question caught Persephone off guard, and she felt heat rise to her cheeks. Beside her, Hades stiffened.
“Sephy!” Hermes exploded into the square, followed closely by Sybil, Harmonia, and Leuce. They were covered in glitter and streamers and looked just as frazzled as she had felt during the parade. “There you are—oh.” He faltered when he saw the standoff between the gods and the onlookers who stood frozen in various states of undress.
Hades glared, but before he had a chance to speak, Persephone did.
“I would like to go home,” she said and curled her fingers into Hades’s jacket.
He stared down at her, brushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “As you wish.”
Then they vanished.
“The man who kissed me, where did you send him?” Persephone asked as they appeared in their chamber in the Underworld.
Hades’s jaw tightened and Persephone sighed. She didn’t even need an answer.
“Release him, Hades.”
He opened his mouth but she did not let him protest.
“He was consumed by magic.”
“He was consumed by lust,” he said.
“Hades.” She spoke his name like a short, impatient command, and for a moment, he did not back down, almost seeming to grow larger, more determined to remain rooted in his anger. But after a few moments, he looked away, jaw ticking.
She placed her hand upon his face, and when he finally looked at her, she smiled.
“Thank you,” she said and rose onto the tips of her toes to press a kiss to his lips, but as she pulled away, he still stared down at her, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I worry for you,” he said, the tip of his finger brushing along her cheek. “That is all.”
“I’m all right,” she said, adamant. She realized that tonight could have been much worse, but for whatever reason, this particular event had not triggered her, and for that, she was thankful.
“Are you well?” she asked, though she knew he wasn’t—and he did not pretend to be.
“I will be,” he said.
She swallowed hard. “Perhaps some time in Asphodel will help?”
They were expected, and Persephone would not disappoint.
“We do not have to stay long,” she said.
“Do not let my mood prevent you from having fun,” he said. “This is your first Carnival in the Underworld.”
She had to admit, she was looking forward to the distraction—and safety—of celebrating with the souls. She loved the liveliness of Asphodel, and when they appeared at the center of the sanctuary of the dead, they were greeted by a round of cheers as they immersed themselves in a wave of costumed souls. The older ones kept their distance, smiling and bowing, but the children ran to crowd them, dressed in an array of costumes from a spider to a jack-o-lantern and even a mini Cerberus.
From there, the evening spiraled into a round of games with the children, a feast and drinks, and ended with dancing around a bonfire at the center of Asphodel. Persephone danced with the souls while Hades and Hecate watched from afar, and when she grew too warm and tired, she came to a stop and watched the fire burn.
She felt Hades approach and press a kiss to her bare shoulder before slipping the sleeve of her robe in place.
Persephone bent her head back and found Hades staring down.
“Tired?” he asked.
He bent and pressed his lips to her forehead.
“Shall we retire?”
Again, she nodded.
They found themselves in the baths where they watched each other disrobe, and somehow, to Persephone, it felt far more intimate than if they had undressed one another.
When they were naked, Persephone turned and led the way into the pool, but she stopped on the lowest step and turned to face Hades. He paused, too, and her gaze dropped, roving over the strong and contoured muscles of his shoulders and abs, landing on his erection.
She took one step up to close the distance between them before she reached for his cock, fisting the base as she took him into her mouth.
Hades exhaled and Persephone met his gaze as she worked the crown with her lips and tongue. He groaned and gathered her long hair into one hand.
“Take me deep, darling.”
She drew him to the back of her throat—and he filled her there. The pressure built and her eyes watered, and she felt warm with pleasure but also heady from offering him the same feeling. When he pulled out, she was breathless.
Hades drew her to her feet, his hand was still tangled in her hair, and he pulled her head back to kiss and their tongues clashed. Once again she was left gasping for breath when he released her.
Without a word, he sat and guided her down onto his length. Persephone moaned at the sweet invasion, her hands pressed flat against his chest as she fully seated herself. Before he moved, Hades pressed her close, one hand coming to rest on her back and the other gripping her neck. He kissed her forehead before leaning back so he could thrust into her, sending threads of pleasure straight to her head.
Her hands slipped up around his neck and she held on as his momentum captured her breath and warmed her body until perspiration formed on her skin. She began to move with him, increasing the pressure and pleasure until her legs shook with release, and Hades followed soon after.
They rested a moment before Hades rose and walked them into the water. He did not leave her body, remaining rigid inside her.
“Better?” she whispered.
“You make everything brighter,” he replied.
She watched him for a moment and then touched his mouth.
“And yet you frown,” she said.
He stared at her and then spoke. The words were slow, as if each one hurt him in some way. “Do you feel that way? As if I trapped you?”
He was talking about what Dionysus had said—the suggestion that Hades had taken away her choice when he had snared her into a contract.
He must have spent the whole evening agonizing over those words, she thought.
“You do not like Dionysus?” she asked.
His brows furrowed. “No.”
“Then you should not let what he says bother you.”
Hades’s lips pressed thin. “You did not answer my question.”
“I did feel trapped in the contract,” she admitted. “But I would not change what I learned—including how to love you.”
He shook his head, slow, the corners of his mouth lifting.
“What?” she whispered.
“Nothing,” he said and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Nothing. I just love you too.”
I wanted to write a Halloween short story for Hades and Persephone but had a bit of a problem—Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Greece, so, instead, I decided to write about Apokries or Carnival (this is almost like Mardi Gras for Americans). Apokries is a three-week celebration that takes place before Lent at the end of February into March.
Apokries is celebrated differently depending on which region in Greece you are from, but most dress up for the events and there are parades and dances and drinking. Using Apokries also gave me the chance to introduce Dionysus, since the festival once celebrated the God of Wine—now it seems to have transitioned into a Christian celebration.
I’m not sure at what point this story would take place in the timeline of the Hades x Persephone Saga, but I’d say in the year after ATOD, ATOR, ATOM, and eventually ATOC but do not take that to heart. I just know someone will ask and that’s my answer, for now. I hope you enjoy seeing a few of your favorites and a new god you will likely see in Retribution.
Speaking of Retribution, I’m off to work on that book. Special thanks to one of my Greek readers, Christine, for the information on the various celebrations and customs.