59 comments

Jan 04, 2021

Fiction Speculative Fantasy

***Not exactly a trigger warning but there’s some talk of religion if you don’t like that.***

“Stars will blossom in the darkness, violets bloom beneath the snow.”

It was dark and lonely behind the gates of hell. A youngish man with a maniacal grin stood behind an old wooden table stretched along a dreary path, smoke coming to and fro from behind the table until it floated back into the air, more gaseous soot returning from below. 

This man was Charon, the ferryman of the underworld. The closest thing the Greeks had to a grim reaper, though they were still very different. Charon was no figure of darkness and gloom, just another gate to pass before one’s imminent death. Few noticed he was standing in a small puddle of murky water, something that only grew deeper and deeper as they walked ahead without their golden coins, a sort of ticket to move on to the next stage of their not-quite-life. 

Charon grinned, welcoming the next group of voyagers. More and more people were coming in groups this year, from those who died in natural disasters to refugees to even murder-suicides, though those were especially rare. This next group was a family who had died in a car crash together. They might not have seemed it from their shaking expressions and worried eyes, but they were lucky. Not many people get to be with their families right before they die. These might even be able to stick together in the underworld, depending on where they ended up going. 

“Welcome to the underworld,” Charon said, tired. It had been a long day. His previous client was especially difficult. Those murder-suicides would be the death of him. “You are here because you have no particular religion keeping you in your own designated underworld.” Most were like this. No one had been a true believer in the ancient Greek ways in a solid millenia, except for a few professors. “Tickets are required to cross over. No ticket, no entry to the underworld.”

Not everyone had tickets. It was a real problem, but Hades wasn’t about to do anything to help the living. In this family’s case, they did, fortunately for them. 

The youngest child held out his golden coin before putting it in his mouth. Charon sighed. Poor family, without their kid. He was just a baby, too. Too young to die. “No ticket, no entry,” he repeated, looking down at the child. 

“Oh, come on!” the mother shouted. “You have the power to let him across - I know you do!”

Charon sighed again. “Ma’am, I don’t. I follow orders from Hades. I wish I could let him cross, but it’s against my direct order.”

The woman laughed. “Like I believe that.” She turned to her son and grabbed his stomach, squeezing it until he eventually coughed out the coin. “Thank goodness,” she said, handing the slimy coin to Charon. “Come on. Let’s make this ferry ride quick.”

Charon nodded as he collected each ticket, wiping the spit off. He opened the gate, letting the family go onto the ferry. Sometimes he would ride with the spirits, depending on how interesting they seemed, but this woman and her children seemed to have no interest in sharing the ride with him. “The ferry will drive itself. Enjoy the scenery. Get off on the right, you’ll meet Hades there.”

The woman nodded, grabbing her children’s hands in her fists as she muttered something under her breath about how impolite everyone in the underworld was. 

Ha. At least she was partially right. 

Charon sighed, exasperated. It really had been a long day, and he was about ready to close up. Checking his paperwork which had previously been blank, another name showed up right under the family’s. 

Violet Adina. Age 10. Cause of death: Unknown. 

Well, that was strange, Charon thought. The lists usually ended at sundown in the mortal world, giving him a break for the night while the mortals slept. Anyone who died at night would be brought there in the morning, waiting at the end of the long line of lost souls. But this girl, she must have died right at midnight, just between dusk and dawn. 

“Excuse me, sir,” a quiet voice said softly, like the pitter patter of children stomping in the snow. 

Charon looked up. The girl was right there in front of him, her thin brown hair cascading down her shoulders. She had a few freckles dotted across her nose, and almond brown eyes. She was short, but for her age a few inches taller than Charon would have expected her to be. Few children came to the underworld who weren’t either babies that died in childbirth or suicidal teenagers. She was right in between, what some people would call a pre-teen. Calmly, she twiddled with her long hair, wrapping it around her fingers. 

Charon felt for her. There was no way a girl like this could have a ticket. She was just a child, and not one who had died with their family like the boy from earlier. Still, he had a job to do, and a count of lost souls to keep track of. 

“Ticket?” he grumbled out, keeping the gate closed. The girl shrugged. “All I have is this,” she said, pulling out a fading gold chain from around her neck. Attached to the center was a little flower with cleanly shaven wire and five amethyst leaves. In the middle of the flower was a single opal stone, reflecting Charon’s own fiery eyes as he stared into it. A violet, he realized. A gemstone violet, just like her name.

“May I see?” Charon said, pitying the girl. This was no ticket, but it was pretty, and it reminded him of an old friend. Violet shrugged again, handing over the stone. Charon frowned, glancing at it in her hand. “Aren’t violets supposed to be blue?” he asked, remembering an old saying from a card someone had died holding. Roses are red, violets are blue. 

Violet laughed. “Nah, they’re purple. That’s just a stupid poem.”

“Oh. Huh.” Charon felt the coldness of the flower in his hand, the wire rusting as he touched it. Slowly, he flipped it over, noticing a little door with two triangles crossing to form a star on the back. He carefully opened the tiny handle, revealing a small compartment behind the gemstone flower. Shocked, Charon gasped, as he pulled a small golden coin out of the compartment, dropping the flower back into the girl’s hand. “Where did you get this?” he asked, feeling the ticket in his palm. 

Violet folded her shoulders upwards once again, taking the now much lighter flower and putting it back around her neck. “I was given it when I was a baby,” she said, her already serene voice growing softer and choppier. “It was from my mom.”

“Your mom?”

“Yeah.” Violet paused. “She’s dead now. I guess just like me.”

Charon nodded. Everything made sense now - the girl’s calm demeanor, her peaceful gaze. All she wanted was to see her mother again. She didn’t care that she was dead, it was just another way for her to reunite with her. 

Poor girl. 

“Violet,” Charon started, wondering how he was going to express this. “You’re not in the same afterlife as your mother.”

She stared up at him, more tears developing in her eyes. “What do you mean?” she asked, her old tranquil expression morphing into one much more soft and sad. 

Charon sighed, pocketing the token from the flower and opening the gates. He gestured for her to continue onto the ferry, but she shook her head. “Explain first.” 

Charon nodded. “You see, Violet. People go to the afterlife that best suits their own religious beliefs. If they don’t have a solid belief formed, they don’t go to an afterlife. That’s you - children usually don’t have a strong belief in any particular religion yet, so they come here.” He paused here, reaching forward for the necklace again. “But your necklace has a star of david on the back. Your mother was probably Jewish, right?”

Violet nodded, closing her eyes slowly. Charon continued. “Jews are unique. They don’t go to any afterlife, because they don’t believe in one. It’s the same with atheists and agnostics, if they have a strong enough belief in their own philosophies. Your mother isn’t in any afterlife, because she didn’t believe in them, but still had a strong enough belief in her religion to not end up here.”

Violet nodded again. “Why do people like me end up here, then?” she asked, looking down at her feet. Charon sighed. How was he supposed to explain this all to such a delicate young girl?

“You’re here because you don’t believe in anything yet. Either that, or you have a strong devotion to Greek culture, but at your age, I doubt it. Most kids end up here, but most kids don’t die as young and mysteriously as you, either.” Her paused here, wondering how much he gave away. 

Violet’s eyes grew wide. “What do you mean, I died mysteriously?” she asked, looking back up from her toes and straight into Charon’s eyes. 

“I mean, well,” Charon quickly stopped himself from what he was thinking. You died directly at midnight with a ticket which you received when you were born, not when you died. You seem happy about dying, but you don’t appear to be a suicide victim, and even they aren’t happy when they die. Hades doesn’t know how you died. You’re just...a normal kid who was put through a strange scenario.

Violet sighed again. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “You don’t know how I died, do you?”

Charon nodded, feeling a little embarrassed that a ten year old girl could figure out exactly what he was thinking. Again, he began to pity Violet. This girl would probably end up in the asphodel meadows or the mourning fields, depending on what her relationship with her mother was like. Neither were great options. 

“Well, I don’t either. I just woke up dead. I was thinking, maybe I can be with my mom again, and then when I woke up, I was here.” She stopped here, staring into Charon’s eyes again. “Are you sure she isn’t here?”

Charon nodded. “She definitely isn’t.”

“Then-” Violet cut herself off, her eyes growing wider and wider. “Then-then I don’t wanna die!” Tears started streaming down her cheeks, down to touch her little flower pendant. 

Charon stared back into her almond eyes. He never tried to comfort people - there was no hope. They went into this world knowing they would die, and they’d come out of it the same way. But Violet was different. She came into this world especially knowing she would die, as she was given the amethyst flower right when she was born. 

“Why,” Violet started, as she looked into Charon’s eyes again. “W-Why do you have fire in your eyes?”

Charon laughed. “Long ago, a poet wrote me with them, so I decided I liked them.”

A faint smile came across Violet’s face. Charon smiled along with her. “Come on, Violet,” he said, holding out his hand. “Let’s see what awaits us in the underworld, okay?”

Violet nodded, tentatively taking his hands after she wiped away a final tear. 

As they walked onto the ferry together, Charon wondered about what Violet had said before. 

Violets aren’t blue. 

Violets aren’t blue. They’re purple, just like Amethyst’s purple tears, just like the waves of purple you see when you look at the fire in someone’s eyes. Just like a little purple pendant, holding a ticket that will save you from years of wandering as a lost soul. 

Violet didn’t come here blue, either. She came here content. Happy. Ready to die. But she was too young for that. 

Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done. But still, Charon could let Violet enter the underworld purple, not blue. 

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59 comments

Helen Jett
21:42 Jan 04, 2021

Wow Maya! This was really amazing!! I grew up reading about Greek myths, and so it was really cool to see it in the form of a more modern story. I loved it, from beginning to end! The ticket hidden in the back of the necklace was just the perfect touch! Only a few little sentences edits that you may want to make to improve flow, but it's really is up to you, I'm no professional editor :) Instead of "In this family’s case, they did, fortunately for them," maybe try something like " This family all carried tickets, fortunately for them." I...

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Maya W.
21:43 Jan 04, 2021

Aww, thanks Helen! I'll definitely make those changes!

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Aww... so sad! The girl didn't believe the same thing as her mother so they went to different places *I WANNA KNOW HOW SHE DIED* But I'll just let it be part of the mystery for now!

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Maya W.
21:36 Jan 04, 2021

Haha, okay. I tend to write sad stories.

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I want to write sad stories, but I'm no good. :(

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Bill Cipher
11:38 Jan 11, 2021

I really liked this story, and I especially loved the ending it was really well written and very descriptive. I love how most people are going for a fantasy for this prompt, it always seems to add some extra magic to the story.

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Maya W.
13:56 Jan 11, 2021

Thank you!

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Hey Maya, I think that this is such a unique story I've ever read for this prompt. I loved the way you made that necklace and the ticket such an important part of the story! Wow...just wow. Amazing job Maya, and I cannot wait to read more of your stories. =)

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Maya W.
02:57 Jan 06, 2021

Thanks, Haripriya (it's okay if I still call you that, right?)! I'm working on a high fantasy one right now!

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Of course it is! Also, I'll be ready to read it! :)

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Maya W.
15:16 Jan 06, 2021

I just posted it!

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I will read it! :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:28 Jan 05, 2021

I love how the trigger warning is for religion, not mentions of suicide Greek myths are awesome so it's such a pleasure to see Charon. His personality was what struck me the most--it was surprisingly soft and understanding. His interactions with Violet are tender and wholesome. I'm just curious about how she died. I thought the reveal would be the payoff. but maybe you want to keep it ambiguous. Also, I get what you mean by the "purple not blue" thing but the analogy feels a little stiff if you ask me. Overall, quite a heartfelt read! K...

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Maya W.
17:33 Jan 05, 2021

Lol, should I change it for the mentions of suicide? I thought it was pretty tame. Also, yeah, I kinda like it ambiguous. Thanks for reading!

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:36 Jan 05, 2021

To be honest, I'm not so sure. I think the Reedsy team will put a content warning if they think it's too triggering, so it should be fine for now

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Maya W.
17:38 Jan 05, 2021

Okay, thanks!

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K. Antonio
00:44 Jan 05, 2021

I LOVED THIS! Funny enough I was actually thinking about writing a story more or less in this direction, but your character really surprised me. It caught me off guard how you manipulated this prompt, exciting to see something so different.

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Maya W.
01:11 Jan 05, 2021

Thanks so much! I've written a lot of myth retellings and stuff like that on Reedsy, and I wanted to do a story from the perspective of a grim reaper, but I'd done that before, so I went to Charon. I think it turned out really well!

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K. Antonio
01:37 Jan 05, 2021

I thought about going the same route, but I felt quite lazy this week xD. Instead of Charon I thought about using psychopomps, but the story got really wild and I ended up reluctantly abandoning it. But I was thrilled to see someone take this prompt into that direction. I found it really clever!

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Maya W.
01:58 Jan 05, 2021

Oh, that's a cool idea!

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Yolanda Wu
23:46 Jan 04, 2021

Damn, Maya, it seems like you put up a new story every two days, not that I'm complaining, just wondering how on earth you write so fast. Of course, I love any story to do with Greek mythology, your choice of Charon was definitely appropriate for the prompt, the way you wrote his character was really interesting. I like the little detail you included of the fire in his eyes, how a poet wrote him with them and he decided that he liked it. The interaction between Charon and Violet was also so tender, I love it that a character like Charon was...

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Maya W.
23:54 Jan 04, 2021

Thanks, Yolanda! I really wanted to expand on the ideas presented in books like Rick Riordan's where they say if you die, you go to whatever underworld you believe in. But then what if you don't believe in an underworld? It goes on. I'm glad it worked! Also, the poet who wrote about the fiery eyes was actually Dante Alighieri, in The Divine Comedy. Had to sneak some literature references in there. Fun fact: I almost named Violet Yolanda, because it's the Greek form of the word, but I decided on Violet. Also, I'm thinking about writing a st...

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Yolanda Wu
01:13 Jan 05, 2021

Ooh, we love literature references, and Rick Riordan! Also Violet was probably the better choice, it would've been weird reading my own name in a story. I've also always wanted to write a story set in Shanghai, it was where I was born after all. Honestly, I don't know about Chinese names, it's depending on your story I guess, but Chinese names often revolve around the parent's hopes for the child, it's also fun 'cause you can mix and match. For example, my Chinese name, Siyue, is composed of 'si' which is to think and 'yue' which is to go be...

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Maya W.
01:16 Jan 05, 2021

Oh, Siyue is pretty! Haha, maybe I'll go with that. I liked Meilin, but it felt a little stereotypical.

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Maya W.
02:06 Jan 05, 2021

Do you think Dalia would work as a Chinese name? I know it's very English, but I saw Dali on a name website and I've liked the name Dalia for a while.

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Yolanda Wu
02:11 Jan 05, 2021

It doesn't have to be a Chinese name, most of the Chinese people I know do have English names, and Dalia is so pretty, so if you like it, you should go with it!

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Maya W.
02:12 Jan 05, 2021

Okay, thanks!

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Maya W.
02:26 Jan 05, 2021

I actually have an idea now - her name will be Suyin in Chinese and Sunny in English.

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Thiago Mendes
18:59 Jan 12, 2021

Whoa, that was pretty good! Although the story itself is not my cup of tea, the way you write is pretty good, especially for someone like me who's not as sharp in english as you are =}

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Maya W.
19:03 Jan 12, 2021

Thank you! I really appreciate that my writing is still good, even if you don't like the story so much. :)

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Jay Dmer
21:32 Jan 11, 2021

I actually enjoyed your story. It reminded me of Percy Jackson and Greek gods and goddesses, in a way. It was sweet because of Violet's personality and sad because Violet thought one way and it sorta let her down (not being able to be with her mother). Nice job:) Hope you can read and comment on my story...

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Maya W.
21:35 Jan 11, 2021

Hello! I would be happy to give you feedback, thank you!

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Azrael Page
21:11 Jan 08, 2021

I love that you included Greek mythology. As a sucker for mythology of all kinds, I definitely loved this story. Just one thing: the ending is a little strange for me. Maybe that's just me lol. Nonetheless, very good job Maya! :)

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Maya W.
21:14 Jan 08, 2021

I'm getting a lot of mixed responses about the ending. I think I'm gonna keep it, because I don't really have the time to change it entirely, but I'm glad you like mythology! I have a ton of myth stories here. In fact, the one I'm currently writing is based on a northern Spanish version of a celtic myth.

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Azrael Page
21:17 Jan 08, 2021

Will definitely have to check that out once it gets posted.

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Maya W.
21:19 Jan 08, 2021

Thanks! It's a little different from my usual style, but I still like it so far.

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Scar Katelyn
03:32 Jan 08, 2021

This was so sad. I read greek myths sometimes and this concept always kinda made me feel conflicted since people have a hard time finding the people they love. I actually like sad stories and you made this so fantastic. I know u mentioned you want to keep it ambiguous, but I wish I knew what happened to her lol :) Amazing piece Maya!!

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Maya W.
03:35 Jan 08, 2021

Aww, thanks! I write a lot of sad stories for some reason, so I'm glad that you liked it!

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Andrew Krey
02:50 Jan 07, 2021

Hey Maya, I liked your story, and Charon was definitely a good fit for the prompt. I liked the scene of the child swallowing the coin - although I didn't realise he had actually swallowed it at first, and had to go back to confirm - I thought it really set the scene well; i.e. normal people facing an end to their lives based on greek mythology. I really found Violet an engaging character, and was straight away invested in what would happen to her, but then felt a little short-changed that a lot of those hints weren't revealed by the end o...

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Maya W.
02:55 Jan 07, 2021

Thanks, Andrew! This was meant to just be a short story, I don't really ever write sequels here, but I'll keep that in mind if an idea ever comes to me that fits the prompt! You and A.g. both said the same thing, basically (that it was slightly incomplete), so I might go back in and edit it when I have free time. Thank you for the comment! I wrote my first high fantasy story earlier, would you mind checking that one out, as well? I'm very new to that genre but I hope to improve!

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Andrew Krey
03:08 Jan 07, 2021

You're welcome, and I'll add the other to my reading list. In terms of edit, I don't think a conclusion is required, it could still end with the same action, but maybe something like Charon commenting that she looked like her father, or something along those lines. That would tell the reader there's more to her than meets the eye - i.e. a demi-god - but without actually providing any details (Charon could know her parantage without knowing how she died). That's just an example, but that's the sort of thing that I mean to give some closure t...

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Maya W.
03:11 Jan 07, 2021

Hmm, maybe. I'll definitely think about that more.

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A.g. Scott
17:17 Jan 06, 2021

What I like: Charon's character could have easily been cartoonish, but you made him complex and unique. The language is overall smooth. What I wish were different: it seems to me that the major setup is who she is and what happened to her, considering all the strange circumstances. You seem to be building to that reveal, but then it never comes. You go for an ending where Violet decides to go willingly (and with a smile) on the ferry despite the shock of the news that her mother won't be there. I don't think this feels right given how fresh...

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Maya W.
17:20 Jan 06, 2021

Thanks for the suggestions - I like keeping her death ambiguous for now, but I may change it later.

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A.g. Scott
17:23 Jan 06, 2021

Okay, up to you. But for the record, I don't think that adds much to the story. This piece could work really well as a chapter in something longer, but it feels incomplete on its own.

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Maya W.
20:15 Jan 06, 2021

Hmm, maybe. Thanks again.

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04:04 Jan 05, 2021

Never thought I'd say this about an underworld story, but this was really sweet. Who knew Charon had a soft spot? I was also pretty sure that Jews do believe in an afterlife of some sort (e.g. the "gates of Sheol," though I'll defer to you) but the mother-daughter separation definitely adds to the sadness. I read in another comment that you were unsure about incorporating your own culture, but thought the inclusion made for a unique mix

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Maya W.
13:59 Jan 05, 2021

Thanks! Yeah, I was always told that Jews don't believe in an afterlife. I looked that up, and it sounds like it was from the new testament, not the old one, so idk.

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18:52 Jan 05, 2021

Gotcha--I found "gates of Sheol" in Isaiah (chapter 38) but maybe Sheol's more of an underground place than an actual afterlife. I find Jewish culture fascinating, so I thought I'd ask

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Maya W.
18:55 Jan 05, 2021

Yeah, that sounds about right. I'm no Jewish scholar, lol.

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Maya W.
21:10 Jan 04, 2021

So, this is a bit of a big stepping stone for me, because even though it's about Greek myths, I not only put my own spin on the myths and made my own rules with them, but I included a Jewish character. I'm Jewish, and have never written a Jew before, because writing about my own culture just feels weird and was never something I ever really wanted to do. But, inspired by so many of you, I took a step in that direction. Even though this story is really similar to one of my older stories, River of Time, I actually really like it. So, enjoy! An...

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