Crimson Seeds

01 | κατάρα

O N E

κατάρα | curse





IT HADN'T RAINED FOR DAYS.

The parched ground had turned from a moss green color to a shade of dry yellow. The sun burned in the sky, not a single cloud in view. Along with the drought, the heat pounded in sharp waves.

Persephone lifted a hand above her forehead to shield the bright sun from her vision. She started sweating the moment she stepped outside, and she scrambled to find shade. Persephone wore a loose dress on purpose, the clothing sticking awkwardly in some areas.

Her mouth dried, and she ran through the narrow, empty streets. No one wanted to venture outside, knowing the heat would be enough to bring one down. Persephone glared at the sky and cringed when she stared at the sun.

She panted heavily by the time she reached her destination. Persephone raised her hand and tapped the door three times, standing back and waiting for someone to open up. She fanned herself with her hand, trying to create a slight breeze.

Persephone almost groaned in happiness when the door opened. A strict-looking lady stared at Persephone, and her frown softened. Her dark eyes crinkled in the corners as she smiled briefly. "Persephone, dear, what are you doing here in such heat?"

She hastily dragged Persephone into her house. Persephone sighed in relief when she escaped the horrendous heat. "I came here for Agatha. We were supposed to meet up today."

Agatha's mother, Irene, nodded absentmindedly and gestured to Persephone to follow her. "She should be in her room. I told her not to go outside today." Irene frowned sadly. "The days keep getting worse."

Persephone stayed silent, understanding Irene's pain perfectly. She felt angrier as the days passed, and the skies remained clear. About three months ago, they had so much rain the town faced severe flooding for weeks.

Agatha's house was small, the narrow hallways only wide enough for one person to walk through at a time. Persephone trailed after Irene and stared at the mismatched furniture.

Agatha had a large family compared to Persephone. Agatha had an older sister still waiting to meet a suitor outside of their town, her elderly parents, and two younger brothers. Agatha shared a room with her sister, Sophia, and her brothers shared with their parents.

They lived tightly in their restricted space, but they didn't complain. Persephone loved their spirit and strong will.

"Is Sophia here?" Persephone asked as they stopped in front of Agatha's room.

Irene shook her head as her salt-pepper bun sagged against her neck. She looked even more tired than before, her shoulders pinched without her noticing. Persephone felt a wave of pity and wished she could do something to help the woman.

"She's at the library. Said she needed a break, so Agatha is just by herself." Irene gave Persephone a brief smile before leaving.

Persephone knocked on the door, hearing a faint rustle on the other side. "Seph, is it you?" Agatha called out before opening the door. Persephone met a pair of dark brown eyes and a bright smile. "I thought I heard your voice."

Agatha, a walking paradox with bright smiles but sad eyes, represented most of the town that way. From elders to adults to children, everyone had darkness reflected in their eyes from the pain they had to face. The curse had destroyed the strongest-willed people.

She moved out of the way, and Persephone walked in. There were two twin-sized beds pushed to each corner of the small room. Persephone plopped down on the messy one. The other bed was kept perfectly neat, showing a sharp contrast between Agatha and Sophia.

"Sorry I had to cancel our meeting," Agatha apologized when she closed the door. "Mother forced me to stay inside."

Persephone moved to one side as Agatha threw herself on her blankets. "No problem," Persephone answered, pulling her knees up to her chest. "I could barely leave my house, too."

Agatha gave her a pitying look. Everyone in the town knew how strict Demeter, Persephone's mother, was. Persephone loved her mother with all her heart and soul. But she couldn't help but feel frustrated with her mother's overbearing attitude.

Persephone understood her mother's overprotectiveness. After being kicked out of Mount Olympus by Zeus himself, her only sanctuary was Alkiviadis, the cursed town she had decided to help. As the Goddess of agriculture, her heart softened for the helpless people. She helped them grow wheat and harvest the little food they managed to raise.

But by extending a hand of help, Persephone's mother angered the King of all Gods, Zeus. He was furious Demeter helped a town that had once created a plan to overthrow him. As a punishment, Zeus exiled Demeter from her home.

Persephone loathed Zeus from the beginning for such an extreme and unfair punishment, but her dislike only grew as the years went by. She saw her mother face homesickness and cry every night over the home she lost.

Demeter didn't want Persephone to face the anger of the Olympians, so she kept her daughter with her at all times. Persephone was all Demeter had, and if she lost her daughter, Demeter would break down forever.

So Persephone did understand her mother. She kept herself in her mother's shoes to understand what her mother had faced. But unlike her mother, who silently took the punishment, Persephone wanted to fight back. She wanted Zeus to release Demeter from her exile and her town from their suffering.

Persephone only kept quiet because of her mother.

"I can't remember when it last rained," Agatha mumbled, staring wistfully at her closed window. Curtains covered the glaring sun rays in an attempt to keep the room cool.

"More than two weeks ago," Persephone answered with pursed lips.

Agatha raised her dark brows and looked away from the window. Her mouth tipped downwards. "I hate living here. I wish we could just... leave and never come back."

But that was their curse. Punished for a mistake the ancestors made, townspeople like Agatha were forced to live under the mockery of the Gods. They couldn't leave if they wanted to, so everyone tried their best to make the best out of what they had. However, the challenges brought even the strongest down.

Demeter was worshiped in Alkiviadis. She had helped the town when they needed it, and the townspeople were forever in her debt. Although Demeter didn't want to be held in such a high position, their loyalty and admiration only heightened. Because of her mother, people treated Persephone with the same amount of love and respect.

Alkiviadis only had food because of Demeter. More than half of the town would have died from starvation. Seeing the town's frustration and helplessness against the Gods was the most significant reason why Demeter stepped out to help in the first place.

The cursed town became her second home, and after a while, her only home.

Agatha shook her head, lightening her mood. "Anyway, I have heard from some girls that Sophia had been with a man a couple of days ago."

Persephone raised her eyebrows. "A man?"

Agatha nodded, leaning in, keeping a watchful eye on the door. "He is the son of a poor farmer who lives here. Sophia hasn't said anything to me yet. I think it is because of Mother," Persephone's best friend pouted. "She ruins the fun out of everything."

In their conservative town, it felt as if time had come to a standstill. Since no one could leave and no outsider entered Alkiviadis, the beliefs and traditions of one family were immediately passed down to generations. Persephone often wondered how the world had changed around them.

"Is Sophia... is she with him today?" Persephone asked hesitantly. Frankly, she wasn't interested. But they had nothing else to talk about.

Agatha gasped, her dark eyes widening. "By the Gods above, she could be!"

Persephone watched as Agatha stood up and paced in her room. Her pasty dress fluttered with her movements, her heavy curls bouncing against her back. "That little minx! That's why she wanted to go to the library. She wants to meet up with that man!"

"You know, this may not be true," Persephone reasoned. "She could be at the library."

But Agatha had caught herself in her conclusions. "That is why she has been so distant. It all makes sense! She keeps leaving the house, and she comes late too. Whenever she comes back, she stays quiet and doesn't say anything. Sophia is hiding something."

She turned to Persephone with a devilish look. "We should go look for her!"

"Are you serious?" Persephone deadpanned. "Don't you see what kind of scorch land it is outside? We will sweat out all of the water inside of us by the time we reach the library."

"Seph, come on!" Agatha pleaded, stopping in front of Persephone. "We aren't going to do anything productive here anyway. Don't be so pessimistic."

Persephone felt a sinking feeling of dread. "Agatha, my mother," she murmured.

Persephone told her of being at Agatha's house only. If Demeter found out Persephone wandered somewhere else, she would freak out. The last thing Persephone wanted was her mother locking her inside forever.

Agatha's resolve started to fade as she saw Persephone's mental struggle. Persephone saw the light of excitement seep away from her best friend's face, sending a wave of guilt inside her. Agatha's lips tipped down on the corners.

"It is fine then," she muttered, looking away from Persephone. "I can look for her myself. You can go home."

"Why don't you just ask Sophia instead?" Persephone suggested with a frown. "I am sure she will give you an answer."

Agatha tipped her head towards the ceiling and muttered words under her breath. Persephone continued to watch her with her brows creased together.

"Seph, my innocent and naive friend," Agatha began, facing Persephone. "You know how everyone will react if she is caught with a stranger. She can lose all the freedom she has. Why would she tell me anything?"

Persephone nodded absentmindedly. "I see what you are saying," she mused.

Turning her eyes to her best friend, Persephone felt a strong tug in her chest. Agatha's face showed the hope for Persephone's agreement. She could see the ache of adventure brightening Agatha's eyes, and Persephone would feel villainess if she said anything but yes.

Wanting to keep the glimmer in her friend's eyes, Persephone slowly nodded her head. "Fine," she breathed out, giving in to her reckless side. "Let's go find Sophia."

Agatha beamed, her eyes crinkling near the sides and her thin lips splitting to show pearly teeth.

Persephone knew she didn't make the best decision. But Persephone kept quiet when Agatha told her mother they were going to the library to fetch Sophia. She stayed silent until they had left the house and faced the brutal heat.

"Why am I doing this?" she muttered under her breath.

Agatha, with ever-so-sharp ears, caught every word. She hooked her arm around Persephone's elbow, ignoring the trickle of sweat dripping from her forehead. "Because we are best friends, and you would have no excitement in your life if not for me."

Persephone didn't argue back because she was an outcast. Most were too intimidated to speak to her. They feared if they said anything wrong to her, Demeter would leave the cursed town. With her overprotective mother, it had been no less than a marvel Demeter allowed Persephone to be friends with Agatha.

Sweating to bits, both girls made their way to the town library. They ran through the streets, savoring the shade as best as they could. The compact roofs on the houses and buildings were narrow and pointed down, providing no protection under the intense sun.

Once Persephone and Agatha caught a glimpse of the library, both of them sped up. They let out a pant of relief in front of the door.

Agatha placed a finger on her lips, telling Persephone to stay quiet, causing the latter to roll her eyes. Agatha quietly opened the door, revealing a square room with stacks of bookshelves from one corner to the other. The monotone library gave a calm yet ominous aura with the bland color scheme and lack of space with the information stored within. Most students used books from the library since the school couldn't afford several copies of textbooks. Entering the area sent the feeling of nostalgia to Persephone.

The librarian, a hunched man with barely any hair on his forehead, looked up as they entered. Agatha glanced around the empty library with keen eyes while Persephone gave the librarian a nod. He hesitantly bowed, glancing at them in weary confusion. Persephone looked away, focusing on finding Sophia instead. The sooner they found Sophia leaning against a bookshelf, reading quietly, the lesser her chances of getting in trouble.

Agatha whipped towards Persephone abruptly with largened eyes, and Persephone reared back in surprise.

"See!" Agatha whispered frantically, trying to keep her voice down. "I told you she wouldn't be here!"

"What if she left?" Persephone deadpanned. "We should at least ask if she even came here or not."

Agatha let out a frustrated exhale but followed Persephone when she walked towards the librarian. His startled eyes flickered between the girls, and Persephone hesitated before asking as kindly as she could, "Have you seen Sophia around here today?"

In their limited population, names weren't much of a problem. Everyone knew each other.

The librarian looked around the library before meeting Persephone's eyes. "She," he spoke softly before clearing his throat. "She stopped by here today."

Persephone gave Agatha a smug look. Agatha's face dropped.

The librarian continued. "Sophia just left, a few minutes before your arrival."

Agatha surged forward, slamming her hands on the librarian's desk. He jumped as Persephone rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand.

"Did you see her with a man?" Agatha demanded. "Did a man contact her in any way, shape, or form?"

"I-I do not know," the librarian stuttered. "She came, took some books, and left."

Persephone pushed Agatha away, giving the librarian a regretful look. "I apologize for her behavior. Thank you for your help."

She pulled her friend away and giving the poor librarian air to breathe. Agatha didn't protest but kept quiet with furrowed eyebrows. Once they reached the door, Persephone let go of Agatha's arm.

"Are you satisfied now? Sophia wasn't with a man."

"Whatever," Agatha grumbled, opening the door and sending a breeze of heat towards them. Both of them flinched.

They scrambled outside as Agatha sulked. They were ready to run back to Agatha's house when they saw a glimpse of a girl simultaneously. Persephone exchanged looks with Agatha with the same question written on their faces.

Sophia?

Persephone could sense the wheels turning in her best friend's head, so she quickly placed her hand on Agatha's arm and tugged.

"Let's go," Persephone empathized, tugging for Agatha's attention.

Agatha ignored Persephone's pleas, pulling her arm away. "Hush," she spoke before she started walking in her sister's direction.

"Agatha!" Persephone hissed, hopelessly looking around at the barren surroundings before sprinting to catch up.

She reached her restless friend and paced her stride with Agatha's rushes and frantic one. "Where are we going?" Persephone whispered rapidly. "We need to go back."

Agatha didn't say anything, but her silence filled itself with barely noticeable flashes of Sophia. Both girls had traveled along the side of the library, venturing down a thin strip of dirt road. Dried and dying trees started to fill up the area, and Persephone couldn't recognize where they were.

Alkiviadis was small, and Persephone thought she knew every inch of the town.

Persephone fell quiet, and like Agatha, followed Sophia's trail. She felt the heat burning on her skin, but she ignored it.

Sophia vanished around a cluster of dry bushes, and Agatha halted suddenly; Persephone stumbled to a stop beside her. Agatha crouched down and tugged Persephone down behind a cover. The dark-eyed girl smirked as she turned to Persephone. "Caught her," she whispered.

Once she heard Sophia's soft-spoken voice amongst the crowd of low mutters, she caught on. Persephone wrinkled her nose, not wanting to be any part of the drama that loomed looming ahead. She certainly didn't want to be the one catching Sophia with a stranger, committing... misdemeanors.

She opened her mouth to tell Agatha, but she had been too late. The moment Agatha heard the voice of an unfamiliar man, she escaped their cover of a few wrangling bushes and into broad daylight.

"Sophia!" Agatha exclaimed loudly, her voice rustling the peace.

Persephone facepalmed but quickly stepped out to reveal herself.

"I knew you were with...!" Agatha trailed off, suddenly pausing her dramatic entrance.

Persephone glanced around and understood why.

She saw Sophia immediately, her face strikingly similar to her younger sister's, with thin lips and soft, dark eyes. But her hair, the warm color of caramel, ran down her back smoothly compared to Agatha's wavy locks. Persephone, who had always seen Sophia calm and collected, didn't expect her face to drain out of color so quickly.

Sophia was doing nothing wrong. At least, not what Persephone and Agatha were expecting. She stood in a circle with a group of equally surprised boys and girls, roughly her age. But what filled the area around them that surprised the two girls the most.

Persephone realized why Sophia spent time at the library, seeing how many were stacked outside the circle. Some were open, sitting inside, while others were kept shut and out of the way. Small pots and vials that looked like they belonged to the school were scattered around. An assortment of herbs and other greenery sat in the middle of the group.

Persephone gaped at the sight behind them. Broken pillars piled upon each other, barely supporting the roof up top. The design and shape told Persephone what it was despite the dry vines wrapping the sides and aged rocks.

Persephone could recognize an altar even with its old age.

Persephone had no idea a structure made to honor the Olympian gods and goddesses existed in a town that despised them.

"What are you doing?" Agatha asked in slight horror and utter confusion as she came out of her shock.

Sophia shot up as the vial in her hand almost slipped her from her grip. "I-I can explain," she rushed out.

The group exchanged looks with each other while Persephone mentally calculated every factor. While Agatha stepped towards her sister, Persephone crawled closer to the books, staring at the open page.

Persephone whirled her head to Sophia in shock when she caught the words on the page. Sophia looked down, her lashes brushing the top of her cheeks. Not one person spoke.

When she glanced up, her eyes shone with determination and solidarity. When she spoke, it was with an unfamiliar amount of conviction. "We are trying to summon Zeus."