Distorted voices…lights that flicker at the most inopportune times…why won’t they just leave me alone…nausea and vertigo swirl through my head and body… a thick fog envelops me…I’m cold, damp, exhausted…
I feel myself retching, yet when I open my eyes, I’m staring into wide open entropy. This is my reality. A realm that cannot be marked by the passing of time, yet it somehow is. The fog is still present, but I can see farther now…there are snippets of conversation and recognizable images…not just flashes and faceless garble…
Aunt Athena is standing with Panacea and Chloris beside my bed. They are deep in discussion and unaware of my flicker of consciousness.
“I’ve got it, Chloris, thank you,” comes someone’s distorted voice. “Use the drawing salve on the chest wounds and the tea for when…” The voice is cut off by another woman who I couldn’t see.
“Goddess! His eyes, they flickered,” came an exclamation. The voice is distorted as well. I can’t place it. As my kin turn and lean over me, I succumb to the void again. I am utterly exhausted by the mere action of blinking one eye.
Everything swirls, somehow the constellations and I are one. It’s a place so far out of the bounds of time and space that not even Morpheus could find me. I hear the colors and see the sounds all around me…my consciousness feels as if it may explode, like when a star expires and gives out its dying breath…a man’s voice sounds, this time a voice I recognize at once.
“I really don’t know, Hera,” Hades says, “we’ve never considered where a god goes after death. It’s never happened before.”
“That’s it,” I hear an exasperated voice interrupt. “That’s all you got?”
“I beg your pardon, Eros?” Uncle Hades replies.
“Both of you, be quiet,” Nana replies. Then I feel her voice closer to me.
“He’s a little shit,” she says, “but he’s always been my little shit.”
Unable to open my eyes, I am sucked back into the abyss.
I am among the constellations again. Gravity and time pull at me with equal force, but opposite directions. I’m far beyond what the clay mortals know or understand. It is indescribable. I pass through the constellation Orion all at once, even though its stars are located light-years apart. At the same time, part of my spirit peers into the purgatory of Tartarus, the wailing and lamentations a cacophony to my fragile existence. My essence wheels from there in terror and once again reforms in my broken corporeal being. I hear many people talking this time.
“Hestia and Hecate are both investigating it,” Aunt Demeter says. “Apparently this is an isolated sect, certainly not mainstream Wicca, who are peaceful.”
“Keep me informed, Demeter. I want to know the instant you know something,” Grandpa Zeus replies. He then adds, “Has anyone talked to Nemesis? What does Nemesis know about all this?”
I struggle to lift my eyelid. I can feel someone else close to me.
“Athena says he is still in danger,” comes Ares’ voice.
“Yes, he’s better than before, but not out of danger,” Aunt Demeter answers.
Another woman’s voice chimes in. “But will he recover?”
“I don’t know, Aphrodite. He is drained of godly essence. His physical wounds are, in a word, appalling. But I believe there is something else happening here. Something emotional or psychological that we can’t reach to treat right now.”
Mother persists. “But will he recover?” I feel her delicate hand stroke my hair and the side of my face.
”We can only wait and see,” is Aunt Demeter’s grim response. With that, I am gone once again from the excruciating pain of my physical body.
I traveled far again. This time, through time, not distance. Twisting, pulling, tearing, and ripping, I hurled along pathways and avenues seldom traveled by any living creature.
I was on the Plain of Lamark. Nothing moved, no other living creature in sight. In front of me, the wind blew and dust swirled high into the sky. A vortex formed, mighty and dark. In the vortex, all manner of images began to appear. They formed along the perimeter of the tornado as it swirled and raged in front of me. Cerberus lunged out of the cloud with his three heads and was just as quickly absorbed. Paris was kissing Helen, who then became Medusa in her cave. I watched the tornado as my one-time lover Circe flogged me and taught me to serve thousands of years ago. That image disappeared and suddenly King Minos’ horned monstrosity reared its head from the cloud.
The images were coming faster and faster now. Calligenia and Aode approached me, their arms outstretched and beckoning. Uncle Poseidon’s trident became the mast of a giant trireme, which in turn split apart into the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra…it was too fast now…the images blended into one as the cloud began to shrink and condense. It was pressing down on itself, yet it continued to rage.
I stared at the vortex. It was growing darker as it shrunk. It felt menacing, if it made sense that a mere dust cloud could exude such a feeling. Down the cloud shrunk until it was no taller than I. It moved across the plain toward me. The swirling storm stopped when it was no more than twenty feet from me.
An image, one last image, pulled away from the vortex and lunged out toward me. A woman, so familiar. She was tethered to the maelstrom with luminescent tendrils, nonetheless she surged toward until we were only inches apart. She reached out her hand and I felt a cold chill as she caressed my face.
“Eros,” she said, “Eros please, find us and save us.”
With that, she was pulled violently back into the cloud, a look of sheer terror on her face.
“Psyche,” it suddenly hit me. That was my brother’s wife. She was plainly missing from his life and he refused to speak of her.
“But how, and why?” I thought.
I stared at the spot on the cloud where she was sucked back into it. There was no sign of her now and the malevolent vortex pulsed and shrank. In its presence, I felt cold, vulnerable and threatened. I reached for my pistols and was startled to realize I had none.
I was garbed in armor. Bronze and iron graced my body, and an ornate helm protected my head. A purple cloak, fastened at the neck, blew behind me. I sported a buckler on my left arm and a sword, my sword from ages ago, in my right hand. I looked at the sword in wonder. I had not seen this weapon since it was lost at sea. Lost overboard when I fought in The Battle of Salamis. I had begged Uncle Poseidon to return the sword to me, but he only told me, “What’s done is done and now it is mine for keeping.”
The vortex stopped whirling in front of me. The dust was gone. A cloud of black malevolence hung in its place. I gripped my sword and brought the shield to bear. Over a thousand years passed since I fought this way. No matter. Everything Ares taught me, everything he drilled into me against my will, everything he forced me to learn about combat came rushing back. I never wanted to be a warrior, only a healer. I wanted to inflict no wounds, but rather protect and heal those who suffered. I had no heart or desire to fight even this creature.
The black cloud began to take form. It was no longer shapeless and amorphous, it now looked humanoid and familiar. At its feet I noticed, for the first time, a flower. It was the only speck of color in this entire forsaken landscape. There, twisted and tucked into a mass of tangles and enormous thorns, was a single rose. Red with a blush of even deeper magenta on the tips of the petals. A rose, the flower of Aphrodite. Its sudden appearance hardened my resolve. They were both here, somehow, with me now. He gave me skills, she gave me heart. That’s how it had always been. I just never saw it before.
My epiphany widened; my parents were both deeply flawed, but still they loved me as best they were able. Deeply flawed they were, and I no better.
The creature was now fully formed. It towered over me, at least ten feet tall. It was hideous. A dry papery skin stretched tautly over a skeletal frame. It was Ankou, the creature from the pentagram. The spawn that Estrella tried to bring to life through my death. And Death it was, armed with a sickle and a visage that would have made mortals fall and plead for mercy. It snarled and roared.
I may die again, but I will not be cowed.
I banged my sword on my shield.
I charged the creature…
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