To My Maternal Granddad, Kenneth Moxey:
I hardly knew you, but you are never forgotten.
Blood of Atreus- The Lost Hope of Gods and Mortals
The Goddess stood alone in the train station, hidden by a cloak of shadows. Crowds of mortals moved around her like fish swimming in tidal currents- some searching for a way out, some searching for their next current, and hundreds waiting to join their chosen shoal.
To Athena, all were lost. They had forsaken her and their oaths. She hated them for this. She wanted to love them as she once had, but they were so quick to worship words over actions, theory over practice, and myth over history. How could they have forgotten they needed her as much as she needed them?
Her growing hatred reflected itself in the bursting charcoal clouds above. An orchestral, tip-tap, tip-tap, began to dance on the glass ceiling of the station. It looked like there could be thunder and lightning, Athena ignored the elemental reminder of her long dead father. All she cared about now was the mortals and her connected fate; their faith was weak and fragile, therefore her life-force and power was too.
She longed for the golden age of devotion and the benefits. To once more radiate divine beauty, pirouette between stars, and be worshipped by legions would be exquisite. Such an existence was ecstasy, but she was rejected, restricted and repulsive. So much so, the hood of her gritty grey cloak, which blended with the shadows, was necessary to hide her purple warts, crooked brown teeth and lopsided features. Her face made the mortals recoil and it broke her heart.
They preach of inner beauty’s importance, she mused. Yet, almost all are too selfish and vain for it to live in their souls. Fiction is their limit, as it is with believing in me.
Mortals had long forgotten the power the old gods could give was real, preferring gods who were passive and idle. Thanks to the torment and loss over the millennia, Athena had realised the rejected gods only had themselves to blame. They had played with mortals like toys. And thus humanity had abandoned most of them, and become blind to their own weakening passion for life. If nothing changed, the consequence would be the complete destruction of immortals and mortals alike.
With the intensity of a thousand suns, Athena vowed her second reign would be different. She would find a hero or heroine to save them. She would not take the mortals for granted again. Yet, it appeared she would never get a chance. And here she was, feeling the rage, bitterness and despair of a fallen goddess. All thanks to failing another desperate attempt to restore her divinity. Her power was almost dried up now. When it was gone, hope would die, and so would she.
An atomic shockwave of unique feelings exploded inside her and burned away the hate. It was the pull. The pull had come already. A pull stronger than any she had felt in a long time. Someone close had true heroic potential and could be the one to restore her.
So soon and so strong, she thought. I wasn’t even trying to find one yet.
She shook her head to dispel the confusion and tried to keep naïve hope at bay. Her gaze darted frantically.
Where are you? Where are you? Where in this cursed cosmos are you?
Suddenly, the station clock rang out, ‘Clang.’ A piercing whistle followed, and a cloud of white steam rolled across a nearby platform as a train hissed and squeaked out of the station. The clock’s repeating, ‘Clang’ was a sword cutting through Athena’s attempt to focus and search.
Time, she thought harshly, as she stepped forward to swim amongst the currents of people. You’re a joke to the thousands of years I’ve lived.
She moved five paces and stopped. Someone tutted as they quickly diverted around her.
Time? she repeated philosophically, nearly laughing out loud. You’re such a joke that I don’t even know what year it is? She strained her memory. 1948? Yes. That was the last I remember. What year is it now? Two more? Or twenty?
She couldn’t guess, but remembered what had occurred in 1948 and the decades before. The Great Wars were a frantic time for her and her remaining kin. So many potentials had come to light, so many courageous and selfless fighters, healers, workers, and objectors all over the world. But even then, not one had gone the distance. They were too busy fighting for their freedom. Athena didn’t begrudge them this, she understood more than most, but it would have been nice for one to see the bigger picture. After the second Great War, she endeavoured to try something different, and found it in 1948.
What a waste that was, she thought. He could have brought me belief, worship and power with his writing, but there was something disturbing and destructive about that path. They always get caught up in their own propaganda; so few remember Delphi’s wisdom.
Not long after, the other two remaining of the Greek pantheon had blinked out of existence. The loss had overcome Athena’s wisdom and fighting spirit, and she had wandered aimlessly. The only direction she took was east, hoping to stumble across another potential. She hadn’t. Eventually, the wide ocean raged before her, and for the first time in nearly four hundred years she would travel across it. The new world had held nothing of worth.
Great Britannia. She had laughed when she saw the ships destination. I guess I should thank them. I’m the root of that ancient personification. A lot of my diminishing power I’ve maintained thanks t...
The reflection and memories vanished in a snap. The pull in the present was fading slightly. She growled and clenched her jaw- dwelling on the past had become a bad habit. Whatever year it was, she’d have to ask, or find a newspaper.
Moving forward, she squeezed herself through a couple of people. The pull strengthened and she moved surprisingly fast for a crone.
Where are you? Where are you?
She passed several platforms, one empty, and two with trains waiting to start their journey. The pull drew her to the one furthest away. It was leaving in five minutes.
By the time she got to the front, four minutes remained. She walked briskly alongside the carriages, scanning the people getting on. About half way down she stopped.
Where in Hades realm are you?
Anger boiled inside her for the slip. She shouldn’t have even thought his name. He had betrayed them. He had refused to help. If she died, it would be his gloating face she saw first.
Three minutes until departure.
A few stragglers boarded. Athena twisted her head to look back down the platform.
Should I let this one go? No. I have to try.
With a bony hand she pulled the grey cloak around her and stepped up into the train. She made sure the hood wasn’t going to fall and looked up the gangway at the people taking their seats. The pull tethered her towards them and she shuffled forward. Her focus made the whistle and jerking motion of movement a distant echo. Halfway down the carriage she realised she didn’t even know where the train was going.
It doesn’t matter, she thought. I’ll just get a ticket to the last stop.
After a couple more steps, the pull told her she was close. However, each of the last four seats, two on her left and two on her right, were occupied. She nearly cursed again, but bit her lip, and closed her eyes to focus.
The one furthest on the right by the window.
Opening her eyes, she saw a woman in her late twenty’s. She was gazing out the window, her face close to it, and a faint smile softened stern and reserved features. She wore horn rimmed glasses, a brown suit over a white shirt, and had long thick dark brown hair in a ponytail.
Athena looked from left to right. There were two empty seats by her and she slipped into the one next to the window. All the seats faced the same way, so she took a quick backward glance down the gap. The woman was still looking out the window. It was time to wait. She shut her eyes, sensed the pull, and if it faded, she knew the woman would be on the move.
There’s no point talking to her on the train, she mused. This conversation needs privacy.
It wasn’t long before Athena had to conjure up some coins for her ticket to the last stop, Canterbury, and was left in peace. Every stop she checked if the woman was getting off, but she didn’t. The train finally pulled into the last stop. Tugging the hood fully forward, Athena waited for people to leave. Once it was clear, she let the pull guide her. Alighting, she saw a sign, ‘Welcome to Canterbury,’ and paid no attention to the overcast grey clouds above. She spotted the potential heroine and saw that she was carrying a black briefcase. Knowing what was to come, she gave a nervous half smile and a long inhale of breath through her nose.
This is it, she thought. This could be the end, or the beginning.
She let the breath out sharply and began to walk with her back hunched.
After half an hour they came to a quiet park, the woman picked up an acorn, pocketed it and took a seat on a bench. Athena stopped, keeping her distance, and moved to a point diagonally behind her, standing in the shadow of an oak tree. She watched as the woman took a piece of paper out of her briefcase. A few minutes went by as she read.
Now is as good a time as any, Athena thought.
Emerging from the shadows, she walked in a straight line to the pavement that weaved through the park. Reaching it, she turned left to walk the twenty or so metres to the bench. The woman glanced up, squinting to see Athena’s face, but only her chin showed. The woman shook her head slightly and looked back at the piece of paper.
It’s a map, Athena realised as she got close. I guess that will be a conversation starter before the truth, and then her desire for proof. They always want extravagant proof, she added with an internal snarl. Such a waste of power.
She sat on the bench next to the woman, bracing herself for the shock and repulsion. With both hands she slowly lowered the hood. The woman naturally glanced to see who was sitting beside her. She winced momentarily, but hid it well with a smile. It was one of the more kind and accepting reactions. Athena was grateful.
“Hello,” she said, before the woman could avert her gaze back to the map.
Athena’s voice croaked and wavered to give aged authenticity. Once the woman had some understanding of the truth, Athena would drop it. The power of her musical and commanding voice hadn’t vanished quite yet, but the tones and vibrations were a shock to those unprepared.
“Are you lost?” Athena added.
“Lost?” the woman asked in an eloquent English accent.
She then laughed and tapped the map.
“Oh, no. I’m not lost. I like to know the distances I’ve travelled. I was on the train from London and wanted to review how long it took and the distances between each stop. It’s a silly hobby.”
There was a pause as both expected the other to speak.
“Well?” Athena said finally.
The woman gave a confused look over her glasses.
“How far? I was on that train too?”
Athena saw a twitch at the corner of the woman’s mouth. The statement had made her feel uneasy, but thankfully politeness made it impossible to refuse a fragile old woman. The woman leaned towards Athena and used a pen from her suit jacket pocket to point on the map.
“From Southwark it’s two miles to St Thomas, five miles to Deptford, six miles to Greenwich, thirty miles to Rochester, forty miles to Sittingbourne, fifty-five miles to Boughton under Blean, fifty-eight miles to Harbledown and sixty miles to Canterbury.”
“The detail you give is interesting,” Athena said, as the woman folded the map.
“It’s not to most people,” the woman replied, as she put the map in her brief case. “It’s partly a consequence of my other hobby, cycling. Knowing the distances lets me plan my routes and how long it would take. I hope to cycle a similar route one day. Anyway... I’m sorry...” she said, shaking her head a little, “…going on about my silly interests. I better be off. I hope you have a nice day.”
The woman stood and waited for Athena to reply with a polite farewell.
Athena thought frantically and chose her strategy.
“I don’t mean to be a burden,” she said in a pitiful voice, “but could you spare some time for a lonely old lady? I do enjoy a good natter, and you seem like a nice young lady. It would help pass some of my day. It can be so lonely.”
The woman looked at her watch, the reserved face giving nothing away.
“Okay,” she said. “I don’t have to go yet. My appointment isn’t for a while.”
She sat back on the bench.
“That’s very kind of you,” Athena replied, a crooked, but meaningful smile fluttering on her face. “Are you here to see that route before you cycle it then? Or for something else? Will you be staying long?”
“Only for one night. It’s partly to see the route, partly to do some family history research, but also, and I know it sounds strange, but I’ve always felt a desire to see Canterbury. I don’t really know why. Sounds silly doesn’t it?”
“Not as silly as you might think,” Athena said, leaning towards her a little, but trying to hide the curiosity.
Have the fates guided her here? Should I reveal the truth now? Yes. Now is as good a time as any.
“I’m sorry,” Athena said. “Here’s me asking about you and I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is, Harriet,” the woman said with a polite nod.
“It’s nice to meet you, Harriet. My name is, Athena.”
Harriet smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth this time.
“Your name is, Athena? Like the Greek goddess of...err...Justice...Wisdom...the Arts...and Warfare? Is that right?”
“The very same,” Athena said.
A sudden unrestrained laugh escaped her dry crusty lips; the sound was as sweat as honey apples.
Harriet’s reserve dropped. Her mouth gapped, bewildered by the magical tones.
“The very same, indeed,” Athena said as she sniggered, unable to hide her naturally powerful and beautiful voice anymore.
Finally, she composed herself and with emphasis said,
“I am the very same Goddess of Justice, Wisdom, the Arts, and Warfare- to name but a few. You know your Greek history well to recall even those.”
There was a long pause as Athena waited for the mocking looks and laughter.
“You are, Athena,” Harriet finally stammered as she pushed her glasses up her nose.
It was Athena’s turn to be bewildered. There was no scepticism or disbelief at all. If anything it was awe and reverence. No longer needing the fake voice, she replied musically,
“Yes, I am Athena. And you believe without doubt. Why is that?”
“Your song of laughter. Your voice. It’s unearthly. But I feel like I’ve heard it before. It’s like my memories are telling me that you were a Goddess of Olympus. It’s like something inside me knows who you are.”
This is curious, Athena thought. No potential has recognised me from just my voice. What makes her think she remembers me? I could use some power to find out? No. I need ever last bit.
A radiant sunbeam of hope burned inside Athena- Harriet was different.
Gaining some confidence after the initial reverence Harriet spoke again.
“Why have you spoken to me... Your Highness? Your Grace? Holy Goddess?
Athena smiled compassionately. A long time ago she would have insisted on any of those titles, but the losses and failures had humbled her.
“Athena is fine. I will explain all, Harriet. If you are willing to listen to my story?’
“Of course. I will listen, Athena.”
“Thank you,” Athena replied. “I’ve spent many generations wandering the earth, watching, continually watching and searching.”
The inner exhaustion was clear as her shoulders dropped.
“One goal and task has been my obsession. Nothing else has mattered, Harriet; for nothing else has been needed so much. I have to restore myself and you mortals to glory.
“I am Athena. I was an immortal Goddess. Now look at me. I am a shell that will die through loss of faith, or using up my remaining power. I only live because of you mortals. Many of you remember us gods and goddesses because of the great things we and our champions did. But the worship you gave us has long since faded. Only a handful of you still believe, but thankfully most still remember. You teach about us in your schools; myth and legend you call us, but we are real.”
She paused for a moment. With narrowing eyes she tried to read Harriet. Harriet looked back and smiled with no hint of questions or doubts. No other had listened so intently. Athena plunged back into her explanations.
“And now I’m the last. We got arrogant and complacent. We have paid for our mistakes and now all my kin are trapped in the underworld.
“Hades you treacherous harpy,” she cursed under her breath, unable to stop herself.
She took a moment to compose herself before continuing.
“Hades and I are the only ones with any power left from our pantheon. And he only keeps his power by feeding off the souls of those who died in our time. They believe and worship because they have no choice.
“It all went wrong when enough mortals began to worship the Roman gods. Those perverse reflections then came to Olympus and overthrew us, but we managed to flee. We still had a deep well of power, but when it was used, it would not replenish. At the beginning, we wasted it trying to force belief, hoping our power would be restored when people worshipped us again. We failed, and worship stayed with the Roman gods.
“They fell too, eventually, and were replaced by other gods. In their fallen state, the Roman gods tried what we did, but having little restraint they burned out. In a strange mirror of our plight they are trapped in their own underworld with all those souls who worshiped them; Pluto ruling over them all.
“We survived because we were only slightly wiser. Forcing belief wasn’t working so we stopped. Seven of us had already died and were trapped by Hades. We asked for his help to restore the mortal’s faith and worship, but he refused. One day all faith and fictitious belief in us will disappear, and then he, and those trapped in his domain, will vanish. But he doesn’t care.
“I am left to find help. If I can restore worship, I can restore my kin. It was Hestia, Demeter, Hermes and I, who finally realised hope lay not in big miracles, but heroism from you mortals to inspire one another. We saw that if we could shape heroes and heroines, and guide them to fame and glory, they would tell people and restore worship. Our power would return and we would be the strongest gods. We vowed to never fail you again.”
Athena paused once more to see if Harriet would interject or question, but she still sat composed and content. With a shrug, Athena continued.
“It was harder than we thought. The world had change. Heroism was seen as a solely mortal act, and it was forgotten that even greater acts could be achieved with the aid of a god. Such things were only respected in stories. Such disbelief meant we had to be careful. Our power was now exhaustible, blowing away like grains of sand held to the wind with each use. And as you can see, the depletion made us repulsive, which has made talking to mortals difficult.
“The only consolation was the pull- subtle and unique senses had been awakened in us. We could feel a connection to potential heroes and heroines. And thus we put our power into helping those we were drawn to. However, after a few failures, the four of us rethought the plan. We decided to only heed the strongest pulls and thought up tests to prove the strengths of those we found. Such tests meant we could limit the use of our power. This we have done ever since, but no matter how close we came, the potentials always failed.”
Athena sighed heavily, a flash of those failures passing through her mind.
“In the last half a millennia we discovered what made people potentials. We tested their blood with our power. It showed each potential was a descendent of the true heroes and heroines from Greece.
“When we lost Hestia, we, the three remaining immortals decided to split up and search for the strongest decedent of three of the greatest: One from Atalanta, one from Achilles, and one from Odysseus. None bore fruit, and my remaining godly kin lost their power in the attempt.
“I had gone after Odysseus’ line, but that was a corrupt seed. And now I’ve found you by chance, or perhaps by the fates?”
Athena turned to hold Harriet’s gaze.
“I know it’s a lot to take in. Do have any questions or doubts?”
“I don’t think so,” she said plainly.
Athena’s aged face tightened. Everyone always had questions, usually a hundred.
Harriet noticed her confusion and decided to ask an obvious question.
“What happens now?”
“You’re an interesting one,” Athena muttered. “Can I test your ancestral line? I have to hold your hand for a moment.”
Harriet held out her hand and Athena wrapped her gnarled fingers around it.
Athena’s brow creased and her lips drooped into a frown. She let go.
“So...?” Harriet asked.
“Nothing,” Athena replied. “I got nothing back. This is a first,” she said and looked at the ground. “I don’t understand. There’s great potential, but no indication of who it’s from. I guess it doesn’t matter.” She shrugged, looking back at Harriet. “What matters is I need your help. Will you help save me and my kin?”
“I will,” she said solemnly, without hesitation.
“Thank you, Harriet,” Athena replied. “Do you promise to help me get my powers back, so I can help all mortals? I need you Harriet. You’re the last hope of the lost gods. Do you promise to help?”
The power, music and elegance in her voice was saturated with desperation and pleading.
“I will do my best,” Harriet replied, nodding her head firmly.
Athena relaxed her tense body a little, and despite chapped lips and rotting teeth, her smile was soft.
“Well, the next step is to find how you will gain fame and glory. Can you think of anything that sets you apart from others?”
She looked into Harriet’s eyes, hoping to see some burning passion for a great destiny. It didn’t come. Harriet looked away and down to the cement pavement.
“I’m just a normal woman. There’s nothing special about me.”
“There is Harriet,” Athena encouraged. “I can sense it. We have to find what we can harness and show the world. We will have to test you.”
“Test me?” Harriet said, lifting her head.
“To limit how much power I use, remember?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I remember. It’s a lot to take in.”
“It is. But you’ve accepted this better than anyone. This is a good sign. These tests will find something we can work with. Then I can use the little remaining power to help you rise to glory.”
“Am I going to be in danger?”
“There are risks in some tests, but I’ll do everything I can to stop you from being hurt.”
Harriet adjusted her horn rimmed glasses and brushed her thick brown hair back with the same hand.
“Thank you, Athena,” she said. “What if I fail and you use up all your power?”
“You won’t fail. But if I do lose my power and die, remember us. Maybe in time you will still bring us glory and worship. Then we can break free of the underworld.”
“I won’t forget you,” Harriet said, nodding with a familiar resolve.
“I already see your conviction and it warms my heart. Thank you. Now I have to decide what test might be right for you.
Harriet stayed quiet.
“What test to give you?” Athena thought out loud. “There’s the many challenges from the golden age, like Peruses and the Gorgon, Medusa, or Odysseus and the Cyclops, or The hunt and run of Atalanta, or Jason’s quest for the golden fleece, or facing the fierce strength and courage of the Amazonians, or Theseus and the Minotaur; to name but a few.”
Harriet’s reserve faltered, her dark eyebrows rose and mouth gapped.
Athena laughed sweetly.
“It’s okay. Many surprise themselves when forced into such a situation. I’ll try to avoid the more deadly ones though. I cannot risk your life, but I’ve a few temperate tests that will show your strength and heroic attributes. Do you trust me?”
“I trust you,” she replied as her face relaxed a little.
“Thank you,” Athena said. “I have to use some of the last tethers of my power to get us to where we need to go, but it should be okay. It’s less than it cost to try and help a potential over years without knowing their strengths. Are you ready?”
Athena gently wrapped her gnarled and liver spotted fingers around Harriet’s arm. In a flash of light they were transported away from the bench and quaint English park.
Athena couldn’t understand it. Three tests and very little discovered. Atlas’ had been a disaster; Harriet hadn’t held the sky for even a fraction of a second. She clearly had no prowess in physical strength. The second test had been slightly more productive. It took great determination to carry and push Sisyphus’ boulder up the hill over and over, even though it always slipped and tumbled away when near the top. Harriet hadn’t given up at all. She rested when needed and simply kept trying until told to stop. Such persistence was remarkable, but it needed to be linked to another trait. Athena had hoped it could be joined with leadership. She had called upon Aerion for this. His wild Mustangs, Mares and Colts were as chaotic as Poseidon’s vast domain, but they were tameable with specific boldness, guidance and charisma. Yet, it wasn’t to be. Harriet had shown compassion and determination again, but there was no flare or command to gain their respect. She wouldn’t do well in the politics or business of this age.
Maybe she needs something extreme, Athena thought. Higher stakes will hopefully reveal something I can work with. Let’s see if we can force out some deep insight and wisdom. Such attributes, combined with persistence could bring great renown in the world, much like the philosophers of the classical age. I hope this isn’t too dangerous. I just don’t know what to do. I’m running out of ideas and power.
“We’ll find your heroic qualities, Harriet,” Athena said. “One more test should be enough. Take my hand.”
The flash of light faded and Harriet felt Athena’s hand go limp for a second, but then tighten. It was clear she was getting weaker. Harriet gripped for a second to show she cared, but was too overwhelmed with the new surroundings to voice her concern.
Harriet took a step back. Fierce, almost black waves crashed around the flat ebony coloured foundation of smoothed rock they stood on. The rock was like a jetty on the dark water and Harriet turned to look beyond Athena. The rock stretched out behind them for many miles before it reached the shore and a forest beyond.
Harriet’s scan came full circle. As it did, she took another step back, her eyes going wide. Loaming out of the turbulent sea, not far from the edge of where they stood, towered two gigantic rocks.
“Who’s that?” she asked as she beheld the gigantic figure chained between the rocks.
Harriet looked at the titan, who was even bigger than Atlas. He had long fiery red hair but no beard. The chains that held him suspended between the two rocks were thick and the ends were drilled deep into the rock. There were six chains: one coming from each of his four strong limbs, and two from a collar around his neck. It was not the chains that caught Harriet’s attention though; it was the menacing look in Prometheus’ eyes and the rage in his sneer.
“Are we safe?”
“We should be,” Athena replied.
“Prometheus stole fire from you gods, didn’t he?” Harriet inquired after a moment’s reflection.
“It was to help us. Should I try talking to him? What is this testing?” Harriet asked.
“That’s up to you to figure out,” Athena replied apologetically.
“It’s okay, this is my test. I guess I’ll try talking to him.”
“Before you do, I have to give you this, and then you’re on your own.”
She held out her hand and a large key materialised.
“Am I supposed to free him?”
“That’s up to you,” Harriet quickly said at the same time as Athena.
They both smiled a little and Harriet took the key from Athena’s fragile hand.
With the key clasped tight, Harriet gave Athena a last look and turned to Prometheus.
“Prometheus!” Harriet shouted, while bowing her head slightly. “My name is Harriet. I’m here to restore the gods of Olympus to their throne.”
Harriet noticed Prometheus’ arms and jaw tense at the mention of the gods.
“I’m doing it because I sense in my heart it is right and because Athena has shown me the goodness she possesses. She wants to save us. You wanted to save us once. You gave us fire to save us from ignorance, but you’ve suffered for it. I see great hatred in you now. Do you hate us Prometheus?”
There was no reply, only the same heavy glare that bore down on them.
“We mortals need rescuing,” Harriet continued. “We have barely survived the last one hundred years. A fresh restoration of the old gods, with new humility and learning is what we need to bring about peace. But we need help. Would you help us Prometheus? I have the power to free you.” She held up the key. “You could be a friend to humanity once more.”
Prometheus’ eyes were locked on the key and some of the fire in them faded.
“What’s the point?” he said in a deep growling voice. “If I help restore the twelve gods, Zeus will put me back in chains. I would free the others, but not him. I would see him erased from the memory of all beings and fade out of existence forever!”
As he said the last words, his anger couldn’t be contained. In a fit, he tried to break his chains. They rattled and clanked violently. “I just want to be free!” he shouted.
Suddenly, the rage stopped and Prometheus hung limply, his head bowed.
“I don’t want to suffer anymore,” he said pitifully, his head still bowed as the waves below crashed against the rocks.
“You don’t have to!” Harriet said. “This can all go away if you promise to help me. I trust Athena and she trusts me. She will have the most power when they are restored. When I gain fame and glory I’ll make sure she is queen of Olympus. I cannot guarantee Zeus will fade forever, but he’ll not have sway over her. She’ll make sure you’re free.”
Harriet turned to Athena, hoping her presumption was okay. She was stone faced, but then nodded slowly.
“Will you help us like you once did?”
“I will,” Prometheus said firmly. “I will do this for you and your kin. You are fascinating beings who never seem to give up. For this reason I shall help you.”
“Thank you,” Harriet said with a sigh of relief. “I’ll free you now,” Harriet continued, taking a glance back at Athena.
Athena continued to look at Harriet stone faced, but she nodded and waved a hand towards the closest rock.
“How do I get there?” Harriet asked, knowing the answer, but wishing it wouldn’t hurt Athena.
“Close your eyes,” Athena replied.
Harriet did, and suddenly the wind of a higher altitude danced around her and she opened her eyes. She stood on a platform of rock and looked up, suddenly startled by how close she was to Prometheus and a massive chain that bound Prometheus’ left arm.
Harriet reached for a lock she could see and put the key in. She turned it and looked over to Prometheus. With horror, she saw a lustful glee begin to burn brighter and brighter in Prometheus’ eyes, and a snarl of rage bellowed forth. In a split second Harriet tried to lock the chain, but Prometheus wrenched the chain with all his might. It came free. He laughed with maddened excitement and quickly grabbed the chain around his neck. With ferocious strength he broke it.
Harriet suddenly heard an echoing screech. She turned towards the sound and saw a giant eagle swoop down from the heavens and clutch her in its talons. The eagle dove rapidly towards Athena while Harriet helplessly watched Prometheus break all his chains. Now free, Prometheus stood fully erect, basking in the new mobility, the chains drooping off him like thick willow branches. He came out of his reverie and fixed his eyes on the eagle. The fury was cataclysmic and he swung the broken remnants of the two chains around his wrists once, testing the feel of them as weapons.
As he did, the eagle dropped Harriet close to Athena. Harriet rolled a couple of times and stood up shaking. She turned to the frail looking Athena and followed her petrified gaze. The eagle had turned and charged at Prometheus. It dodged the swinging chains and flapped hard, gaining altitude; suddenly it tucked its wings, and like lightning, bolted towards the eyes of Prometheus.
“Not today!” Prometheus shouted and growled.
The rage filled titan threw up his arms, but the eagle was too fast. Talons gouged into flesh and his left eye. Prometheus howled and took half a step back.
Harriet knew they had to get away, but how? She ignored the fight and looked to Athena.
“What do we do?”
Before she could answer, there was a blood chilling screech. Mortal and immortal looked up. Prometheus had the eagle in his hands and was twisting and bending with all his strength. Suddenly, there was a cracking and the screeching was cut deathly short. The sight of the eagle splitting in two made Harriet’s stomach lurch. All Prometheus did was laugh maniacally and discard the two parts like a broken toy.
“What do we do?” Harriet shouted in panic.
The shouting brought Prometheus’ cruel gaze on them.
“Do you believe in me,” Athena called to Harriet.
The moment the words left Harriet’s lips, Athena took a step toward the titian and there was a deafening crack like thunder. Harriet watched open mouthed as the two massive rocks either side of Prometheus came together like attracted magnets. Prometheus didn’t even have time to roar out in rage as he was obliterated. Smashed rock, bone, flesh, and blood went everywhere and rained down into the sea.
Harriet cast her eyes away and realised Athena had fallen hard to the ground and lay limp. Harriet ran to her. Athena was unconscious, but alive. Not knowing what to do Harriet put her suit jacket around Athena, picked her up and carried her towards the forest.
Pain. Athena’s head scorched with pain and her body ached. It was agony. She opened her eyes slowly. In contrast to the loud internal pain, she saw a peaceful forest glade. She looked about and beheld the disheartened Harriet. If only she had shown insight that Prometheus was tricking her. It would have been something to work with. But there was nothing. Harriet looked up at her with pained eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and sighed with relief.
“I didn’t know if you would wake,” she said. “I’ve failed you. What happens now?”
“I don’t understand why we can’t find your true heroic talent, but I’ve had an idea,” Athena said, and cleared her dry throat with a rasping cough. “There’s still hope. There has to be.”
She shuffled towards Harriet, took hold of her arm, and with a flash of light they vanished.
As her eyes focused, Harriet beheld a great churning river. The slightly congealed liquid’s deep red and purple hue made her mind whirl. She took a quick startled breath. The metallic taste and smell made her stomach churn and revealed the truth. Blood. Before she could take in anymore of the scene, she felt Athena’s grip loosen and slide down her arm. Glancing down, she reacted instinctively to cradle Athena as she went limp. Athena’s eyes were glazed and half closed, and she breathed with great effort.
“Where are we? Why did you use so much power?”
Athena’s eyes opened and focused.
“I’m taking a true and honest risk for the first time in a long time.”
All the power and beauty had vanished from her voice; it was now a genuine pitiful rasp.
“We have to know the truth. A Prophet might be able to see your bloodline and potential. Usually an animal sacrifice is needed, but a drop of my blood will suffice.”
She staggered to her feet, and Harriet helped her. With determined eyes, Athena looked at her hand and a tiny cut appeared on her finger. She let a drop bead and it fell into the river. The immortal crimson blood hissed and bubbled on contact. Harriet blinked and suddenly saw the spirits of the long dead ancient Greek all around her; thousands upon thousands all staring at them. As she watched amazed, Athena called out as best she could.
A spirit with his spectral eyes sown shut came forward from the legions and bowed.
“What would you have of me, Noble Goddess?”
“Who is this woman?” Athena asked and pointed at Harriet. “Whose bloodline does she descend from? What does her future hold?”
Despite his stitched eyes, Tiresias seemed to stare hard into Harriet’s face.
“Curious,” he said, smiling widely.
Athena waited with desperate expectance, her frame shaking slightly. Harriet held her arm to steady her.
“This, Athena, is the line of Atreus. She carries great power, but it’s blended with the curse of that house. She’s a walking paradox, as were Agamemnon and Menelaus, and all Atreus’ seed. The curse has kept them hidden until now, but the fates and furies must have decided to upturn their ruling. They have given you one last chance in your darkest hour, Athena.”
“What of her future?” Athena asked. “We don’t have much time,” she added, peering around with tight fearful eyes.
“I understand,” Tiresias replied.
Harriet didn’t, but listened, trying to grasp what was being discussed.
“Her future…” Tiresias said, pursing his lips as he was about to speak, but shut them and shook his head.
“Curious,” he uttered softly, before speaking loud and firm. “You must take her to Pandora’s jar.”
“Are you sure?” Athena said, suddenly looking terrified. “What did you see?
“There’s no time. You must hurry. Hades knows you’re here.”
Athena shook violently.
“Where’s the Jar?”
“His throne room. The third eye of the skull. Above his throne of bones.”
The floor began to crack, rumble and threatened to swallow them. Without another word, she took Harriet’s hand and there was a flash of light.
With no warning, an empty chill stabbed and clawed at Harriet’s chest, making it hard to breath. The new room was a cavernous maw of death. Everything but the sharp obsidian walls and ceiling was made of bones. Chairs, tables, twisted mosaic pictures, candles, and even cutlery; all bone. A few spirits floated around, their spectral flesh littered with rips and tears as if something had clawed it away. They turned agape, before floating away in fear. Harriet would have taken in more, but Athena collapsed facedown. Harriet tried to hold her, but failed. With speed and gentleness she bent down and turned Athena over. The grey hood covered her face. Harriet pulled it back slowly, terrified. Athena’s eyes looked huge in the frame of tight skin and gaunt features, but there was still a speck of life in them.
“It hurts. I’m so empty,” Athena whispered.
Her hand rose slowly and a skeletal finger pointed over Harriet’s shoulder.
“The jar…Open it and take…take what’s inside.”
Harriet turned her head, still holding Athena in her arms. A giant throne of twisted bones loomed against the far wall. Above it was a demonically elongated skull with horns and strange jars as teeth. Harriet wanted to run from the monstrous visage, but found courage to survey it. The empty hole of its nose had a glowing golden apple resting on a plinth and there were three eyes. Two were like a normal skull’s, one with a bone facsimile of a lightning bolt and one with a trident. The third eye was a vertical cut in the middle of the forehead, a pottery Jar in it, which rested on another plinth.
She turned back to face Athena.
“How do I get it?”
“Must I...do everything?” Athena winced with flicker of a smile. “Hold out...your arms.”
Harriet lay her down gently and did as commanded.
The Jar vanished from the skull and appeared in her hands.
“Unstop it...and...look inside,” Athena said fearfully, her voice so faint and fragile Harriet could barely hear it.
Harriet hugged the jar with one arm and with her free hand pulled the stop. With echoes of Pandora’s story ringing in her thoughts, she locked her eyes tight.
Nothing happened. Sheepishly, she opened her eyes a crack and saw something that looked like sand. As she took a deep calming breath, a wave of Cinnamon hit her. She opened her eyes fully and looked to Athena for answers. She lay still, her face limp to the side. Harriet panicked, but noticed the slow, up and down of Athena’s chest. She put the jar down and took Athena’s hand. Her face looked so wasted and pitiful. She opened her eyes at Harriet’s touch.
“The jar...?” Athena whispered.
“There’s a strange mixture at the bottom. Like herbs or spice. Nothing else.”
Harriet did. She put her arm in the jar, scooped a handful, and unceremoniously shoved it into her mouth. Cinnamon clouded her senses. Her eyes, nose and throat started to burn. She tried to block out the feeling, but it became stronger and stronger. Chewing quickly, she started to feel strange. As she swallowed hard, her world exploded and she was lost. Her mind fell into time, seeing it as it is, was, and will be. She saw the now. A nexus with trillions of knotted threads spiralled and nebulared her vision, some strong, some weak, and one golden thread shone above all. Along that thread she saw all her ancestors, herself and her decedents. One knot of her own life stood out and she muttered,
“Son of the Muse. Dunes of Florence, Oregon. Send me. Now.”
Athena heard, but didn’t fully understand. However, she stretched out a shaking hand and put it on Harriet’s.
“Save us Harriet…Go to the Dunes of Florence…Oregon.”
Athena’s hand dropped and eyes closed, a tear running slowly down her face. With her last breath she whispered,
“Pandora... Always hope...”
Harriet vanished in a flash of light.
A moment later, Athena was motionless. Her body cracked and crumbled to dust and the grey gritty cloak was left in a heap. Dark shadows curled around it and another jar tooth appeared in the skull above the throne of bones. A rumbling laugh of pure spiteful glee echoed through the cavern and continued for some time.
Harriet fell to the ground like a dropped marionette. The transcendent experience had taken her consciousness and she lay still, her breath so shallow she appeared dead. Her eyes would have widened at the waves of dunes all around her, but her mind registered none of it. The wind and sand prickled at her skin, and glistening sweat began to burst forth as the heat of the sun bore down, but still it did not register. Vast visions were all Harriet absorbed as the nexus of the now undulated inside her and a phrase formed the multidimensional foundation,
‘Genetic memory is the golden path, for it will save the lost gods.’
Yet, all were lost if she wasn’t found soon.