Chapter 304 - Tartarus (4)

“Persephone herself?” Yeon-woo’s eyes widened in surprise. He expected Persephone to look for him, but he thought that she would just leave a message for him or descend through someone’s body. But it turned out that she had come herself. Since this was her holy territory, just like Urd had hers on the sixteenth floor, Persephone could manifest temporarily, as well.

Bodi silently nodded. Yeon-woo followed him. Creutz attempted to follow Yeon-woo, adjusting Zulfikar on his waist, but Bodi stretched out his hand. “She would only like to meet Mr. Cain. Please wait outside. Also, this is the goddess Persephone’s territory. How about putting that violent weapon down as a sign of respect?”

“Sorry. That didn’t occur to me.” Creutz apologized and put Zulfikar down on the floor after kissing the stone in the hilt. 

Bodi accepted his apology with a short nod and turned back to Yeon-woo. “Please follow me.”

Yeon-woo followed Bodi into the cottage. The interior didn’t look too different from the outside. There was a table where a piece of animal hide was being cleaned and hunting tools hung on the walls. It was hard to believe that it was a temple. The only items that seemed related to the gods were bronze braziers and Persephone’s symbol on a plaque.

I miss it. Yeon-woo heard Rebecca, who was flying in circles around him, mutter to herself. Was she reminiscing about her life as an Apostle and hunter? Longing dripped from her voice. 

“It’s probably different from most temples you know. Even if it looks plain, please understand. I received the calling of the goddess Persephone not long ago, so I didn’t have time to tidy up.” Bodi smiled faintly, watching Yeon-woo glance around. He had a different expression on his face than when he was talking to Creutz. 

“I’m just surprised to see game being cleaned inside of a temple.”

“Yes, it’s rare to see killing inside a temple unless it’s for a sacrifice. However, Goddess Persephone is the daughter of the goddess of earth and harvest, and the wife of the god of death and the Underworld. The seasons of the earth repeatedly see life and death. Even if a kill occurs in a place where she is worshipped, wouldn’t that death give life to those living? Then, the living will give birth to new life, and when enough time passes, they will become part of the dead.” Bodi rubbed the hide on the table. To him, life and death were simply part of the same cycle.

Yeon-woo thought the impromptu philosophical message might be the main teaching of Persephone’s religion and a message she wanted him to hear. Life and death were part of a cycle. What did this mean to Yeon-woo, who had begun to have the power of death?

“Over here.” Bodi guided Yeon-woo through a door that led to the back. There was a building that looked like a small shrine in the middle of a garden of beautiful flowers. “Please enter after taking your shoes off and placing your weapons down. I’ll leave you to it.” Bodi bowed and disappeared into the cottage.

Now alone, Yeon-woo took off his shoes as Bodi instructed and quietly moved through the garden. The soft and squishy dirt felt nice, his sensitive Demonic Dragon Body allowing him to sense beyond it. The smell and feel of the dirt, the dampness, the squirming worms and bugs, the seeds about to sprout, the soft grass and flowers, and the nice scent of flowers. Everything in the garden was relayed to Yeon-woo through his senses, and he could feel all the life contained in it.

Although he only took a short time to walk through the garden, Yeon-woo understood what Persephone was trying to tell him. When he opened the door to the shrine, a fresh spring breeze greeted him. Whoosh! It carried the smell of dirt and flowers and even fruits, making him feel refreshed.

There was another world beyond the shrine where large hills stretched out before his eyes, and flowers and grass fluttered in the wind. The sky was blue and the air was warm and fresh. It was completely set apart from the outside world. It was the true holy territory that gods used when they descended to the lower floors. 

It was hard to imagine that this was the territory of the lady of the Beyond. When most people thought of Hades and Persephone, they likely thought of them sitting loftily above hellfire in the darkness, looking down and judging people’s sins. 

“What are you staring at? Please come inside.” A lady stood on a hillock, looking up at the sky. She fixed the bonnet on her head and turned to him with a beautiful smile. Persephone’s face wasn’t as pretty as in the legends that described Hades falling in love with her at first sight, but the word “beautiful” did, indeed, describe it best.

Her easygoing smile was comforting. Gods exuded an intense, threatening aura to gain the respect and obedience of mortals, but he couldn’t feel any of that from Persephone. If he didn’t know she was a goddess, he would’ve thought she was just a normal player. 

‘There’s something familiar about her.’ Persephone didn’t feel like a stranger for some reason. He even felt glad to meet her, like she was an old friend he hadn’t seen in a while. Was it because the powers of the Black King dealt with death?

“Nice to meet you.” Yeon-woo entered the shrine and bowed with a polite but impassive attitude.

Persephone’s eyes widened as though she weren’t expecting this, and she smiled brightly again. “Yes. Nice to meet you. You’re exactly as Athena and Hermes described. Actually, I wanted to meet you too, although I didn’t know we would see each other like this.”

Although Persephone wasn’t a part of the twelve Olympians who ruled over Olympus, as Demeter’s daughter and Hades’ wife, she was also one of the higher beings. She frequently associated Athena and Hermes, who were part of the same generation. “Would you like to sit here?” Persephone waved her hand lightly in the air. Then, in the middle of the hillock, a small table, two chairs, and a tea set appeared as though they were about to have a picnic.

When Yeon-woo approached the table, the chair moved automatically. He hesitated, unable to sit down right away. The situation was too awkward. It was too different from all the other times he’d met gods. Urd and Poseidon were at the other extreme, and although Hermes and Athena always showed him goodwill, they never lowered themselves to his level, and they were still conscious of the distance between them.

However, he didn’t feel any of that from Persephone, and it felt more awkward and strange that she was acting as though they were there to talk about the weather.

Persephone laughed delicately as if she read his mind. It was a charming smile that made one’s heart beat faster. She placed a teacup in front of Yeon-woo. “You don’t have to feel awkward. Even if we’re all gods, we all have different personalities. This is just what I’m like. Immortals, mortals. Gods, humans. We’re all beings with souls. The only difference is how quickly one vanishes, and in truth, it’s not as if gods don’t die either.”

It was a strange message. Gods and humans were the same and were equal beings. If the gods and demons who saw themselves as being so superior heard this, how would they react?

‘She’s different from other gods.’ Yeon-woo began to look at Persephone in a positive light. He didn’t think she was pretending since there was no reason to. Gods and demons couldn’t lie about their actions. They always had to be true to themselves to protect the mindset and domain they ruled over. 

After understanding her a little more, he began to understand her actions, too. Her polite manner of speaking showed that she respected him. 

Yeon-woo wordlessly sat across Persephone and looked her in the eye. Persephone beamed and poured black tea into Yeon-woo’s cup. Then, she pushed a few plates of cookies in front of him. “These are flower cookies made from the flowers here. They’ll go well with the black tea. Please try some.”

Yeon-woo took off his mask and took a bite of a flower cookie. His eyes widened. The cookie was sweet and fresh, and it made his feel refreshed and his head energized. The taste danced on his tongue.

He took a sip of the black tea, and the sweetness in his mouth settled down as energy spread throughout his body. His soul felt like it was floating. The Philosopher’s Stone cried out happily. Yeon-woo realized what the black tea and flower cookies were made of. ‘Ambrosia.’

It was the drink the gods of Olympus enjoyed, and an elixir that gave one strength. Of course, Yeon-woo was only eating and drinking a diluted version of ambrosia, but Yeon-woo was still grateful. The Divine Factors were already reacting, and more holy power grew within him. “Can I take some of these flower cookies?”

Persephone smiled. “Is it for the Dragon Human named Ananta?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Persephone seemed to be able to read some of his thoughts since they were in her territory. Yeon-woo didn’t plan on hiding the truth anyway. He believed that the elixir the gods of Olympus drank might help Ananta. 

“If that’s the case, take as much as you want. I’ll tell Bodi to wrap some up for you.”

“Thank you.”

Persephone waved her hand as if it was nothing and said, “I heard you are searching for the three Cyclops brothers.”

As she filled his cup again, Yeon-woo nodded. “Yes, that is correct.”

“May I ask why? I’ve been watching player ### here through the system, but I wanted to hear it from you.”

“I’m searching for Kynee.”

“Kynee…are you talking about my husband’s helm?”

“Yes.” Kynee was the helm that Hades had used to trick Kronos in the Titanomachia. It was known for boosting the morale of its user and rendering them invisible. “Do you have it?”

Persephone shook her head. Her bright smile grew bitter. The breeze turned cold, influenced by the changes in her emotions. “He loves me, and I love him. However, we still have secrets about our private lives. He hates it more than anything if someone else touches his items. And with him gone, it’s even harder to find where it is.” He didn’t have many Apostles either, Persephone added on at the end. 

Yeon-woo’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know where your husband is?”

“He left saying he would be gone for a short while because something happened in Tartarus, but he still hasn’t returned.”

‘Tartarus?’ Tartarus was the abyss in the lowest floor of the Beyond that Hades ruled over. It was better described as a prison than as the Beyond. It was where the Titans and Giants were locked up, a mysterious place that gods and demons were afraid of because there was no escape form it. What happened there, and why had Hades gone missing after going there?

‘The three Cyclops brothers disappeared after passing through the gates when Hades summoned them. The bronze door that leads to Tartarus is behind those ten gates.’

Yeon-woo felt as though she were creating a picture in his mind. Something had happened in Tartarus, Hades had called the three Cyclops brothers to stop it, and they all disappeared. In the end, it meant one thing. ‘I have to go to Tartarus.’ He needed to find Hades because he desperately needed the power of the Black King. 

“Olympus has tried everything to find him, but no one has uncovered anything.” There were limits to what the gods of Olympus could do since Tartarus was Hades’ holy territory. Gods and demons were restricted from entering each other’s holy territory. 

“That means…”

“Since you say your goal is finding Kynee, I’ll make it clear: I want your help to find him.”

“I’m only an ordinary human.”

“You’re also an agent of death.”

Yeon-woo’s eyes flashed. “Do you know about the Black King?”

“Of course. All gods and demons who rule over death know him. All their power is from him. It’s the same for me and Hades. We cannot escape him.”

“Then can you tell me who…”

Persephone shook her head with a mirthless smile. “I’m sorry. I’m bound by pledge at the Styx, so I cannot say anything related to him. I cannot even speak his name.” Persephone took a bite from a flower cookie. “However, I can tell you one thing. My mother’s generation is extremely fearful of him. But the members of the next generation, such as Hermes and Athena, want to break away from the pledge of the Styx, just as I do. I’ll help you and even support you, if you wish. In return, please help me find my husband.” Tears brimmed in her beautiful eyes. “I…don’t have the qualifications. I can’t even cross into Tartarus. However, it’s possible for you. Your fate is helping you.”

Yeon-woo shut his mouth tightly.

“At the very least, I want to know if he’s dead. I just want to see him. So please, help me.”

Yeon-woo nodded. “I will.” He was planning on searching for Hades anyway. It wouldn’t make much of a difference to carry out Persephone’s request. However, he had no idea if he could cross into Tartarus, a place that even the gods of Olympus hesitated to enter. 

‘First, the gates.’ At that moment… 

[The sudden quest (Persephone’s Long-Held Wish) has been created.]

[Persephone has provided her Factors for the quest.]

[Persephone has provided her prayer for the quest.]

[Persephone has provided her grace for the quest.]

Yeon-woo slowly stood as he saw the messages popping up. This seemed to be the reason why Persephone had wanted to meet him. He had also discovered some information. Zeus’ generation didn’t look upon him kindly, while Hermes and Athena didn’t care. However, all of them had been bound by something called the pledge of the Styx.

“Thank you.”

Yeon-woo was about to leave the holy territory after Persephone’s thanks, but, remembering something, he paused. “I have a question.”

“Yes. Please go ahead.”

“Do you know where my brother’s soul is? I heard it’s not tied to the Beyond.”

Persephone’s expression was regretful. “I’m sorry. I’m taking care of the list of the dead in place of my husband, but I don’t know everything. Still, since it’s your request, I’ll try to look into it. Cha Jeong-woo’s soul is also a topic of interest for us.”

“Thank you.” Yeon-woo finished his goodbyes and left the holy territory. 

* * *

Bodi was waiting outside of the shrine. “Did you greet the goddess well?”

Yeon-woo nodded. A faint smile appeared on Bodi’s face. “After Hades disappeared, Goddess Persephone grew lonelier and lonelier. She also recently heard that Goddess Demeter isn’t well. It’s a relief that she seems more at peace now.” Bodi sighed, and he led Yeon-woo to where Creutz was waiting. 

Yeon-woo’s eyes were somber. When he brought up his brother, Persephone’s eyes had wavered for a moment. Her trembling eyes had filled with guilt and sadness. It was only for a short moment, but he didn’t miss it. ‘She knows something.’

The hands of the pocket watch in his chest began to move rapidly. Hyung. He heard a familiar voice coming from somewhere.

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