Standing by the altar was a young woman, the robes of a priestess lay crumpled on the floor about her feet. Light wove its way through a hole in the rafters seemingly concentrated on this intruder. Curled ginger hair sat upon her head and framed a face made up in the white and black of old dramatic actors. The garnet red from her set lips smeared slightly from one corner onto cheeks that were thin but not quite sunken. The illusion accentuated by dark shadow around wide eyes focused on the moon above… she reached upwards, as though drawing the energy down, and I could nearly see the wall through her illuminated form.
Before I could think the words fell from my mouth, “Hey! Isn’t it customary to at least say hello to the people in the room before you drop-trou and moon bathe?”
Without altering her gaze, the woman calmly asserted, “Hardly necessary in my own home, my dear. Does the sight of my sky clad body injure you gravely?”
“Well…uh…no…” Galena stammered momentarily before regaining composure. “It’s just not something most people would do.”
“I am not most people, though, nor do I care to be.”
“That’s all well and good, but who are you and what are you doing there made up like a sad Bozo the clown?”
“Are all mortals so brazen in this age?”
Galena stared back coolly.
“Very well. My name is Arche. I am one of the five muses of Mount Helicon of the region known as Boeotia.”
Darien managed to wipe the drool from his chin and the blood returned to his head. “A Muse? My beautiful goddess, what brings your divine loveliness to Mount Olympus?”
Arche smirked. “Darien, the bard. Hmm…handsome as I imagined and equally dumb. Did you not hear me say this is my home? It is you who are far from where you began.”
Darien frowned at the uncharacteristic resistance to his charms. I felt a little bad for Darien, but that didn’t stop me from the need to stifle a chuckle before I continued.
“So, you are saying that my companions and I are on Mount Helicon?”
“Yes, Galena. I have guided your journey here to aid the pantheon of deities. More specifically, the Lord Hades requires your services.”
A shock rippled through our small group. Alastair grunted and tapped his pickaxe on the floor firmly. “Hades? You mean the ugly guy who plays with corpses all day?”
With that, the smallest spark of amusement glinted in the muse’s large, blackened pupils. “Yes, my stubby friend. Hades…Lord of the Underworld…Eternal Guardian of the Dead. And I would rethink my words before I speak again. The lord has more charm, wit and physical appeal than all of you…the pretty bard over there included.”
“So, what does the Dark Lord need of us?” Aileen spit with distaste as though she had just taken a bite from a worm-infested fruit.
Slowly, Arche drifted toward us across the rubble strewn floor. Although the toned muscles flexed and rippled in her legs, it seemed as though she glided on an invisible energy. Never had I seen such grace in a living creature. Infused with power, her skin seemed to radiate like the moon and the stars. I could now understand why the boys were so entranced by her.
Arche now stood before Aileen. Cocking her head to the side, she stared without emotion into her eyes. “Lightbringer…you of all know the power of Darkness is strong and its reach is vast. That there is no doubt, but even the darkness requires the balance of light to give it shape and form.”
Rolling carefully over to his side, Belen reached for his bow. Lifting it above his head, he said, “Do you see this? It’s a bow. It is a pretty simple weapon. Like me, I’m a pretty simple man. I like bows, booze, and…”
“Belen! For goodness sakes, she’s a goddess. Don’t speak to her like that.”
“It’s not like she isn’t flaunting them in front of us. I’m pretty sure she knows what they are, Galena.”
“Still. Don’t be an ass for once.”
“Fine. Look, what I mean to say is I know you goddesses like to speak in riddles. But, your man, Hades, obviously has better things to do than wait for us simple mortals to decipher your riddle and admire your clever turn of phrase. So, why don’t you just break it down Barney-style, and we can get on with whatever it is you are expecting us to do.”
“Very well. I need you to help Lord Hades retrieve the Gem of Tartarus, or all of creation is in jeopardy of destruction.”
“Ok…uhm… that’s better. Sort of. Uhhh…can you give us some more details?”
Alastair cast a glance Belen’s way and snorted. “Don’t you ever stop making a fool of yourself?”
“Enough,” Arche said firmly. “This isn’t the local drinking establishment. This isn’t…what do you call it? The internet. No one cares about your witty wisecracks or your need to compare sword lengths. Action is required to save this world. That’s the only thing that has ever mattered.”
The adventurers nodded sheepishly and focused their attention on her steely eyes. For a long moment, she stared at us like we were disobedient children. In her eyes, I guess we must appear that way—small, fragile, and not as wise. Shame filled my insides—a feeling I was not used to.
Thankfully, the boys felt the same and no one spoke again.
Satisfied, Arche continued, “There are five elements that make up the creation of all things. These are Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether. You may know them as other things now, but these were the progenitors of all things you can see or not see. They are the building blocks of matter and dark matter and I am their architect. As none of these things can be destroyed, they can only be changed. I am sensitive to any change in balance in the universe.”
I looked to either side of me. While the science lesson seemed to fly right over the heads of Darien, Belen, and Alistair, the goddess’ words kept them entranced. Only Aileen appeared to understand what was being said and she nodded with each pronouncement.
“The portals I used to bring you here from Mount Olympus were created by another. Her power is ancient and powerful. Although the lack of devotion throughout these centuries has weakened my influence over the elements, I can still draw from great sources of energy to redirect it into other things. The heat of fire from the flowing rivers of magma…the moon light so strong it penetrates the darkness of night…but, I will not reveal all my secrets tonight. Tonight, you must know that the gem entrusted into Hades’ care was stolen by this sorceress.”
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