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Kore Tale

I am the dark core within the brightness, the single seed of winter hidden in summer's warmth, that one tiny shard, icy and sharp, kept close against the heart.

I think I have always been this way, though my mother does not see it—even as a girl I hid it from her, and played in the sunshine with the other maidens. On one such morning of new grass and clear skies—on a perfect day, when the sky was a vivid cyan, the sunlight bright as a blade, the laughter of my playmates too shrill—on this too perfect day, I closed my heart to the brilliance, and I dawdled away from them to the shade of a tall cypress, its shadow falling long and cold against the moist earth.

And as I stepped within the shadow there it was: a hideous flower, gruesome and gleaming, a monstrosity of the kind nature makes in her careless way, for she is like a child who sets a toy ship in a stream, then wanders off and does not see it wrecked on the stones of the bank. Fascinating, this thing, like a snake born with two heads—a narcissus that from its thickened stem bore a hundred crowded blooms, its petals a livid white, veined and translucent, bearing in the center of each a blood red cup. The fragrance from it was powerful and far too sweet, and as I stared I recognized that about it hung just the barest after-image of illusion, as of a poison disguised. I could also see that it was not meant that I should resist it, and so I did not—I grasped its fat stem and tugged, and as I did the earth opened beneath me.

From the dark ground burst the dark King, who snatched me up and stole me away to his grave Realm, deep within the earth. Was I surprised? Only a little. Did I scream, cry, rage over the injustice of it? Hardly. I know Fate when I see Her.

I also knew that my mother would weep for me. Let her.

And in the deep cold of my bones, I knew it was inevitable that she find me.

I knew this, and I knew she would never hear me, were I to tell her my desires. It has always been this way. We are simply too unalike, my mother, her hair shining like summer, her mind all flowers and seeds and warmth, and I, who find my peace among the black poplars that are mirrored in the silent pool.

And there I was in the land of the dead, alive, and free to wander through the vast and silent halls heaped with wealth, among the flickering shades and deep shadows, the oblivious night wrapped close about me like a heavy robe, all the while waiting to be stolen back to the blinding sunlight whether I will or no. For I was no prisoner there, though it has been said of me.

The dark King accorded me every kindness, in his cold way, despite our ill-omened beginnings. Though I asked for none he presented me with great riches—golden stephanae set with polished jet, silver ornaments for throat, ears, arms, fingers, black diamonds to weave in my hair, brocaded garments stiff with gold, ancient gems gleaming by lamplight, garnet, amethyst, onyx, opal, bloodstone, sapphires the shade of fathomless pools—a vast dowry, the common stuff of the earth.

And then the next piece of it: the torn fruit set before me, the rind stuffed with a thousand seeds like drops of blood that well from a small, slow wound. So then.

Six seeds of the blood-red pomegranate, and I am Queen.

Let my mother rail against that! She knows the Law full well, as do I.

My mother called me Kore, Maiden, Girl, but my name is first Persephone, Destroyer of Light. For I am both my mother's daughter and my mother's mother, after all; and the shadows are my true home.


Ch'ang O