“In other news, stocks have hit record highs in the areas of agriculture…” Max could hear a scratchy news broadcast talking about finance stuff faintly in the background. He was warm, and he was sitting, leaning up against something. He also could smell breakfast food and hear the soft clanking that accompanies a good meal eaten with real metalware. His eyes fluttered open and he realized he was in a diner booth, and warm gentle sunlight was heating him up in the window.
“Well, look who’s awake” a young woman's voice rang across the table, with a slightly teasing tone “I thought you were a goner for sure.” Her voice was soft and cheerful, but he couldn't help but think she sounded like she was in on a joke, that he wasn't privy to. She was a little younger than him, by all appearances, smooth clear skin and a happy youthful face framed by lovely soft dark brown hair.
“Where am I?” Max tried to speak, but his voice came out like more of a hazy whisper.
“You're safe” she replied matter of factly “Let’s order, I’m absolutely famished.” Almost instantly a server who looked to be in her late fifties came out of his field of vision and flipped open a small notebook to record their orders. “I'll have the strawberry belgian waffles, with a side of wheat toast and jam. Oh, and a black coffee.”
“Alright, and you dearie,” the server turned to ask Max.
“Um, that sounds great, I’ll have the same” Max said with unease as he folded the unused menu in front of him and handed it to the server. After she had left again, Max turned his attention back to the young woman. “Who are you?”
“My name isn't important to this discussion, but you can call me Seph” she replied gently, but with conviction. “I know all about you, so I’d rather skip the formalities.”
“Skip the … What is it you want from me? Why am I here?”
“Well, as for what I want from you, it's quite simple really, I want to hire you, so to speak. You will do all manner of odd jobs for me, and I promise you will be well-rewarded. As for why you are here specifically, and not any person off the street, I’ve seen your gentle heart, and your kind nature, and you would be exactly the kind of person I need. I also have something that you want, that you can’t find anywhere else, and I’d like to give it to you.”
“Okay, now you're just speaking in riddles,” Max said with growing frustration at her calm and even tone. “You want me to be your errand boy, and you want me to trust that you'll pay me well for it, which is likely impossible. All because I'm a nice guy, and you have something I want? Please- just speak plainly”
“I’d hoped to ease you into this discussion because it can be a little frightening the first time, but okay- I’ll be candid. I want you to be the Arch-Priestess of my religion, which I am rekindling. In exchange for doing my bidding and enforcing my will, I’ll promise that you will never want for money nor luxury. I’m choosing you for this honor, because you are -as you say- a nice person. To really seal the deal, I will also give you the one thing you’ve craved your entire life, just as a perk.”
“I… what?… you want me to … that doesn't make any sense at all.”
Seph craned and popped her neck, seeming uncomfortable, then replied “alright, which part is confusing you?”
“The whole thing is confusing me” Max said, seemingly finding his voice again “you want me to be a priestess in your cult?”
“It's not a cult, it's a religion” she said with more than a little frustration, “and I am a goddess.”
At that point, Max decided he’d had enough of this. He hopped out of the booth and took off for the door without so much as a word. He briefly glanced back to see Seph, smiling into her coffee, still seated where she was.
Reaching the sturdy outer door he pushed hard and rushed into… the diner again. Except he was on the other side of the building. This didn't make any sense, it was as if the door led straight into the exit on the opposite side of the restaurant. From this new position he could see the back of Seph’s head, as she slowly turned around to face him. She waved playfully with a small grin on her face.
Utterly confused, he looked out the window and saw the New York streets he’d known his whole life, but as soon as he opened the door, it only showed back into the diner on the opposite side of the building.
Panicking slightly he made his way back through the door to try and see if there were any secrets he was missing. Surely this is some sort of joke. Unable to find anything out of the ordinary except the seemingly mundane portal across the dinner, he emerged back into the restaurant through the original entrance.
Seph playfully waved him down, and he slowly made his way back to the table, choosing to remain standing. “What the fuck is this place, where am I?”
“Listen, you're safe, don't panic. You're inside my domain, which I made up to look like a normal diner so you wouldn't freak out… exactly like you just did. Hmmm…” she paused, clearly deep in thought “I’m really gonna have to work on that, this backfired, spectacularly. How about this? Let me explain in detail what I need. You can ask as many questions as you like, and we will share a meal. If you aren't convinced, by the end of the meal, I’ll let you go. No harm no foul.”
Max didn't appreciate feeling like a hostage, but the weird lady in front of him didn't seem to be giving him a choice. He looked briefly around at the other patrons and they didn't even register his outburst. “Alright, I can agree to those terms”
“Great! Take a seat, the food will be out any second.” True to her word, the server brought the food to their table, and it smelled delectable.
Before eating Max decided to test whether or not she was truly going to honor their ‘any question’ agreement. “What's your name. Your real, full name?”
Seph sighed “My true name is παρσεφωνία. In English, you’d pronounce it like Para-seph-oh-nay-ah, but since it's difficult as hell to pronounce it, most people throughout history called me Persephone, or something similar. For a while there people just called me ‘Kore’ which means ‘maiden,’ or ‘Despoina’ which literally just means ‘the Mistress.’ Modern historians have really carried the torch on butchering it, and honestly can't decide on the correct pronunciation.”
“Persephone?!” Max said incredulously, but as he noticed the woman cringe a little, he softened and said “Sorry. Parasephonea. Sorry, that looks like it’s a sore subject.”
She brightened a little “that was actually pretty close, I appreciate that you tried. Seriously though, just call me Seph.”
“Alright Seph” Max said tentatively, trying the words out on his tongue “My next question I guess would be... what sort of errands I’d be running.”
“They aren't errands, you little scamp” she said digging into her belgian waffles “It's my will. As a goddess I need to enforce my will in order to source my strength.”
The way she spoke seemed odd to Max. He found it strange that someone who appeared younger than him would speak to him as if she were older. It would make sense if she truly is a goddess he reasoned, so he kept it to himself. “Source your strength? What does that mean?” Max inquired, also trying the waffles which were heavenly.
“Yeah, so- in layman's terms, my power comes from the practice or existence of the things I’m in charge of. Personally, I'm the goddess of Vegetation, Spring, transitions, and nature in general. The weaker those things become, the weaker I become by proxy.” She took a swig of coffee before adding “All the ocean pollution has been doing a number on Poseidon, and climate change has particularly been a bitch for us in the seasonal pantheon. It’s becoming clear that we can't just coast on the goodwill of humans any more, we need to step up and do our jobs or this shit will go to hell in a handbasket.”
“That's the second time you said ‘hell,’ isn't your husband in charge of hell, or am I misremembering my mythology.”
“First off, you rascal- it's called a figure of speech. Second, we rule the afterlife together as King and Queen, and it's not just a bad place, it's where souls go when they separate from their bodies. Three, it's not mythology, it's real theology, and four… are you really going to skip past the fact that climate change is destroying your planet?!”
“Well, I mean- we all already know that, but we can’t exactly fix the problem, it's out of our hands. ‘The powers that be’ have all the money and resources, and they account for more than 71% of the emissions since we started recording it. What am I supposed to do about that other than be angry, or protest?”
Seph just smiled widely at that statement, slowly drinking her coffee and gently wiping her face with a napkin before replying “I think you mean to say ‘what was I supposed to do about that, before you gave me the opportunity to fix that and a whole slew of other issues.’”
“Wait, you're saying that I, as your priest could-”
“Arch-Priestess, but continue”
“As your … whatever, that I could fix climate change?” Max seemed incredulous.
“That is exactly what I’m saying” Seph’s grin was wide, but it didn't seem threatening. It almost seemed like she was finally letting Max in on the inside joke.
Max couldn't help but grin “I’ll admit, that does sound sweet; even if I didn't get paid for it. Speaking of which, what is the pay, if I decide to accept this offer to be your…”
“Arch-Priestess, and you can name your price.” Max winced again with the feminine job title, but decided not to interrupt, so Seph continued. “Alternatively, I can just make you the promise that you’ll never want for food, clothes, shelter or amenities, and that magically I can provide everything you need to effectively execute my will and live comfortably while doing it.”
“What about this perk you mentioned earlier? The one thing I can't get anywhere else, that you'll give me as a bonus? What's that about?” Max said, trying to decide if any of this is real.
Seph’s face lit up in a big genuine smile before saying “Well, you're not quite ready for that yet, but take my word for it- you're gonna love it.”
Max thought back to the days in boarding school when he cried himself to sleep at night, wishing for his puberty to end. Wishing that his body would just stop hurting him so much. She had no idea what his deepest desire was, she could never undo that pain, take back those painful memories of feeling alone and scared.
Regardless, this offer would be a dream come true, without whatever riches she was likely to give him. He could live comfortably and help make the world a better place at the same time. “What would this require? Enforcing your will. You still haven't said what I would actually have to do?”
“First, I’ll never ask you to do something you don't want to do, which is why it's so important that your heart lines up so well with my will, these are things you'll already likely want to do anyway. That being said, it will likely be a wide variety of tasks that you could never hope to capture in a position description. You’ll lobby governments, sway corporate bigwigs, maybe throw in a healthy dose of nonviolent sabotage, for spice. All the while living like a spy, with the practical use of magic and my power to grease the cogs. Trust me, you'll never be bored in this line of work.”
This all sounded pretty incredible. Both in the sense that Max literally couldn't believe it was true, but also in the sense that if it was it'd be the opportunity of a lifetime. “Why do you need an Arch-Priestess or whatever? If you are so powerful, why don't you just do all of this yourself?”
“The simple answer is that I have a lot to do outside of this, and I’m not best suited in this role. I’m at my most powerful when I work from my domain, or the realm of the gods. Entering the realm of the mortals requires me to inhabit a mortal form, and I become significantly weaker. You however, as my Arch-Priestess, can harness my energy through the plane and have significant power without any of the drawbacks. Having you in the mortal realm also allows me to focus on the bigger picture work from behind the scenes.”
“Bigger picture?” Max said, trying and loving his wheat toast.
“Well, I’m not the only goddess rekindling my following. There are others, specifically Ares, god of war, who is trying to bring about a world war to cut down the humans. Billions of lives would be lost if he succeeds, and as queen of the underworld and those who will join it, I have a duty to keep it from happening.”
“Fuck, that's awful. I’m glad you want to stop that, but you’d think that logically, you would want more death. If it's in your domain, wouldn't that make you become stronger?”
“Well, yes- but it's not that simple. The earth is a complex ecosystem, and the human masses aren't the problem. It's the wealthy and powerful elite. If Ares goes too far, then he could cause whole swaths of life to be extinguished forever, cutting off our supply of living things which give us our power. What the earth needs is balance, and Ares has no concept of how to hold back or let other forces balance it out. His only desire is the destruction and war that mortals can wield on one another, and once they die, he just craves more. It's much more complicated than that, and there is a fair amount of politics and prophecy at play, but you get the idea.”
“That makes sense I suppose. I guess I never really thought about the existence of gods and such, it all seemed so far fetched. I am an atheist, or at least I was this morning, so I’m struggling to process all of this.”
Seph nodded along and thought carefully before responding “It's important to understand that my definition of ‘goddess’ differs from the more modern definition as a result of Christianity. We aren't all-powerful or all-knowing, we are beings just like you. Sure, we have longer lives, and access to infinitely more power, but we make mistakes and have desires like any other sentient being. We also aren't ‘gods’ in the sense of having created the universe. Your modern scientific explanations for those are as valid and accurate as any I’ve heard, and certainly aren't invalidated by our existence.”
She paused to drink her coffee again before continuing “I guess what I’m saying is that you don't have to throw out everything you know from this revelation. Imagine it more as you recently discovered aliens, who are stronger and more powerful, except they've lived here as long as humanity.”
Max thought about this and it made a fair amount of sense. He still couldn't get past the mental block that this was just too unrealistic, and that he must be dreaming.
Sensing his hesitancy, Seph added “Look if you think you're dreaming, then you've got nothing to lose by agreeing to help me. You'll wake up and get on with your life as if nothing happened.” Her smile widened like a kid on Boxing Day “but if this is real, you'd never forgive yourself for passing this up.”
Max knew in his heart that she was right. Essentially, either way the smart move was to agree. “Alright, I’ll do it. What do I have to do?”
Give me your arms, and just think about what I've said, and that you agree to the terms we’ve laid out. I’ll do the rest.”
Max extended his hands over the finished meal, and Seph took them so that they were grabbing each other's forearms.
As Seph began to speak, her eyes glowed softly and the room began to get windy. “Με αυτήν τη συμφωνία, αφιερώνουμε αυτήν την ένωση. Θεά και υψηλή ιέρεια, διαποτισμένη με τη δύναμη να διορθώσει αυτό που έχει καταστραφεί. Στο όνομα της παρσεφωνία.”
As the words ended, the room began to go back to normal, but Max felt as if his head was spinning. His vision began to wane, and he heard Seph speak once more before he lost consciousness. “Now, awake my arch-priestess. I will let you know when it is time to act.”