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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Prometheus’ Lantern Chapter 7

Need to catch up? Find previous chapters here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Chapter 7

     Night had long taken hold of the sky when Maya returned home. After leaving the animals in the forest, she had stopped to bring Ipolit news of Alexander. She never told him how she received the news she relayed to him and he never asked. He knew of course, that she met with him on occasion, along with many other strange and wonderful beings. Along with this knowledge came the understanding that, though he may be a friend, Ipolit would never be allowed in their presence. The fewer who knew exactly what took place beyond the city walls, the safer for all involved.
The result of her dalliance at the stables was a full moon shining near the horizon, preparing to go to bed itself. She walked in the moonlight, enjoying the glow it gave everything it touched. The Lantern of Night.
“Beautiful Selene, your work should be appreciated by more. You brighten the night sky and soften the shadows, bringing radiance where there is none.” Maya whispered the prayer, sending it with her gratitude up to the Moon Goddess. If she learned anything, it was not to take the work of any god or goddess for granted. They could be powerful allies, but just as destructive enemies.
The area around her glowed a bit brighter, illuminating the path before her. A root she nearly stumbled over was now clearly defined, allowing her to avoid it and a twisted ankle. Selene heard her prayer and responded with gratitude of her own.
Candles burned down to puddles of wax lining the windows and walkways of her home. On tiptoe, Maya moved through the main chamber towards her bedroom. She kept her eyes averted from the hateful statue dominating the far end of the hall. A benevolent depiction of Hera, misconstruing her as a loving and nurturing figure. Maya’s stomach knotted.
Slipping down a side corridor, Maya let out a sigh of relief. She was in her own section of the house now, safely past her mother. As she entered her room, she muffled a scream. On her bed sat the tall, proud figure of Thisbe.
“What are you doing in my chambers?”
“What were you doing out of them? If I’m not mistaken, the moon has nearly run its course and the sun waits for its entrance in the wings. An obedient daughter would be in bed asleep, her dreams coming to an end so she could wake soon. A good daughter would not be preparing to retire for the night already past.”
“My apologies, Mother. The time slipped past me.”
“What could have captivated you so that you stayed up through Selene’s watch?”
“Devotion and prayer.”
“To whom? You did not attend temple as I instructed. Nor were you begging forgiveness at the feet of our own household statue.”
“Do I need to be in the iconic presence of a god or goddess to pay them homage? Is there not a bit of them everywhere that will hear our prayers and carry them back to the gods?”
“It is not the proper method. Your continued absence at the temple causes rumors to spread. Soon, we will lose our favor in the eyes of the people.”
“Who cares what the people think? Should we not worry ourselves more about pleasing the gods? Are they not the ones who shape our fates?”
Thisbe rose, anger from her daughter’s words coursing through her body, making her stand straighter, fists clenched at her sides. “The elders of our community decide our fate as much as the gods. If they suspect we are no longer favored by Hera, we lose our status in the community. Would you like to become a maid or cook? A servant to another’s needs?”
“Aren’t we already? We do nothing for our own pleasure, but for the pleasure of those who control us, be it gods or men. A name in place of a title is all that separates us from Cook.”
“You are closer to his rank than you realize,” Thisbe hissed, crossing to Maya and grabbing her arm. “One more time you disobey me and I will sell you at market myself.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Maya hissed back, her face almost touching her mother’s. “You put me on the market block and it will be proof to the town that we have fallen from Hera’s grace. They all think I’m Hera’s Chosen. Sell me at the market and your whole world will crash around you.” Thisbe let her grip on Maya go. A final glare at her daughter and she left the room.
Collapsing onto her bed, Maya gave herself over to Hypnos but not Morpheus. She needed sleep, not dreams to keep her tossing and turning for the little time she would be allowed. Even good dreams would only bring her despair and loss, for the dreams she wished she could stay in left her waking to an empty bed that would otherwise be occupied.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Prometheus Lantern Chapter 6

Need to catch up? Find previous chapters here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Chapter 6

       Hera paced, going over every point of her plan. Hades would join her, one way or another. She would leave him no choice.
The quietness of her household should have unnerved her, but it didn’t. So engrossed in plotting her revenge, she didn’t even notice. The odd whispers caught her ear, but she ignored them. She had more important things to worry about. Whatever her servants were up to could wait.
An army was what mattered now. An army of untapped potential with unknown numbers. Soldiers who couldn’t be killed or overcome by normal methods. Even she didn’t know if anything short of a command by Hades could send them back to the Underworld. If they proved to be as successful as she hoped, she may even expand her borders past Elpis and into the world beyond. A whole world awaited and it could all be hers. Patience was the key and she had plenty of that.
What she needed now was a way into the Realm of the Undead. Every year, Hades invited all of Olympus to join him in welcoming Persephone into his home. None ever ventured down there who didn’t already belong to the dead. It wasn’t a very happy, cheery place and most of the gods and demi-gods preferred real celebration in the sunshine to a pretend homecoming in the gloom. Wasn’t it bad enough they suffered through fall and winter because of Hades’ selfishness without having him inflict further gloom on them?
Snow tended to fall earlier on Mount Olympus, heralding Demeter’s upcoming time of mourning. Judging from the change of leaves in the surrounding countryside, the homecoming celebration had come and gone several weeks ago. But, did the exact date really matter? Wouldn’t Hades be glad of any company he could get? A chance to show off his bride? Certainly he would welcome a visit from his sister without question.
An excuse would be better. Even if he was surprised by her sudden appearance, he would want to know why she was there. Eventually she would tell him the truth. But first, she needed to know where he stood. Was he loyal to Zeus or another family member? Would he be willing to give his loyalty to her?
Perhaps it would be best to pretend she was on a mission to check on Persephone. Either Zeus or Demeter asked to make sure she was being taken care of while in his domain. Zeus would be the better story. Then she could complain about how overbearing their brother was and how he hated to share his glory. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once they got a little more recognition?
Hades always craved more power. The short end of the stick had been his lot while Zeus and Poseidon got everything. This should be the easiest manipulation Hera ever pulled. At the other end of the string would be a whole army for her to control. Zeus, Elpis and the rest of the pathetic world wouldn’t know what crawled out of its grave until it was too late. For that matter, neither would Hades.

     There hadn’t been time to seek out the Sister Fates before Hera appeared on Death’s doorstep.      Unannounced and uninvited, she strode into Hades’ throne room, her nose wrinkling at the abysmalness of it all. On his throne, Hades coughed, drawing her attention. She quickly put her hand in front of her face, trying to hide her disgust. If she mocked her brother and his realm now, he would never hear her out. Once his army was hers to command, she could taunt him at her leisure.
“Brother! How nice it is to see you. It has been far too long since we’ve talked.”
“Hera. What an unexpected surprise. What brings you down here?”
“Zeus asked that I check on his precious princess. He worries about her when she’s down here.” Hades sat straighter in his throne. From where she stood in the middle of the room, Hera could feel the animosity radiating off the King of the Dead.
“Does he? First of all, when she is down here she is no princess. Persephone is Queen of the Underworld and all its inhabitants. Perhaps it would do well for those of you who dwell on the surface and in the clouds to remember that. Second, if my brother were so concerned, why did he not visit me himself?” This was the opening Hera was waiting for.
“You know how Zeus is as well as I. He’s always too busy to take care of things for himself, so he sends the rest of us off to do his bidding.”
“What was so much more important than taking a few minutes to visit with me and his daughter?”
“Who knows?” Hera shrugged, a smirk threatening the edges of her lips. “Most likely chasing off after some young nymph. Maybe there’s a human girl he’s taken a fancy to. In the thousands of years he’s ruled, he never has managed to keep his hands to himself.”
“I would think his infidelities would upset you, but they appear to amuse you instead.”
“Why shouldn’t they? I spent many years bitter towards his conquests, exacting my revenge on the females he chased. Nothing I did made much of a difference to him. If I turned his current one into a tree, he would chase after another. It got to be tiresome. I learned long ago to let him have his fun and I could have mine. He doesn’t know what I’m doing if his attention is diverted elsewhere.” Hera winked, a show of bringing Hades into her confidences.
“And what have you been doing while he’s been distracted?” Hera turned away, keeping her face hidden from her brother. She didn’t want him to see any lies that might be written on it.
“Not much of anything. Sadly, I’m still an errand girl for him, as you can see by my presence here.” She gestured around at the darkness.
“Not long ago I received some very interesting souls. Minotaurs and centaurs among others. It’s been a long time since any of their kind passed through my gates. I thought they died out long ago, when the world changed and our family ceased to rule among the mortals.”
“That is very interesting news, my brother. I shall have to ask about it when I return to Mount Olympus. Perhaps someone there will have answers to your mystery.”
“Perhaps, though I heard whispers that the hand that brought them into being was your own, Sister.” Hades spit out the last words, making the esses hiss.
“Where would such a rumor have come?” Blast Thanatos.
“Does it matter? It is true. I can tell by the way your shoulders pulled back. I’ve become very good at detecting liars. Also murders, thieves and various other moral blemishes. After nearly five thousand years presiding over souls, you learn things. It makes sorting them out easier.”
“Five thousand years? But we have only returned to human consciousness in the last two thousand. Before that, our rule only lasted a thousand. How is it that you claim so many more?” Hera spun around, facing Hades and no longer worried about concealing her face. True shock and surprise overtook her act of coyness. Now it was Hades’ turn to smile.
“Perhaps for you, my sweet sister, and those who rule above. Down here, things have continued on as they always have and always will. Just because mortals push you from their minds doesn’t mean their souls can forget where they must go when the body no longer wishes to continue.” Hera shivered involuntarily. Thanatos said similar words to her when they last met.
“Your realm carried on while the rest of us sat doing nothing? Until a time when the mortals would remember us and our greatness?”
“So it would seem.”
“Did nothing change for you during those years? The souls of the dead found no reprieve elsewhere?”
“The mortals changed my name, calling me by many other titles, but they all amounted to the same. My realm cannot be forgotten, no matter how the mortals may wish it to be. They may call me Satan or devil, though I am neither. Thanatos may be reimagined by them as the Grim Reaper, but he carries no scythe. Mortals cannot see us until it is their time and then there is no way for them to communicate with the living. The living believe what they want, but the dead know the truth.”
Hera felt her face heating. How could her brother keep such a thing from them? While they sat idle on top of their mountain, their power diminished and slipping further away with each passing year, Hades went on as if nothing was wrong. All this time she pretended to pity him when he was the one who held more power than any of their family. Ruling over the dead held much more power than she ever dreamed. Even if Elpis changed once more and forgot them again in favor of some other deities, death would always be a constant.
The Underworld would belong to her. Too much was at stake for her to lose it now. An army was only the teaser to the power that lay beneath the feet of mortals and gods. To never be forgotten ever again. To rule forever. These were the real treasures.
“Do you still harbor jealousy for our brothers? That they get to walk in sunlight and chose any women they want while you stay down here, a single bride by your side for only six months at a time?”
“I did for many years, but I have learned contentment. I am only forgotten by my family, but not by those who serve us. I may have only one bride, but what more could I ask for? Certainly it would please me if she were allowed to stay with me at all times, but the sun does wonders for her, bringing back a healthy glow to her cheeks that she loses during her time with me.”
“Ah, so Persephone is unhappy when she is here? I suppose I should report that to Zeus when I return.”
“You’ll do no such thing.” Persephone stepped from the shadows where she had been listening.
“Lovely Persephone. Your time down here has taught you some very unbecoming habits.”
“No more than what I learn when I walk above.”
“You have taken to your queenship well, I see. I beg you to remember when your time down here is done, so is your rule.”
“It would serve you well to remember while you visit down here, you are a guest of my husband’s, not his queen,” Persephone shot back. Hera played with a golden ring on her finger, twisting it around while Persephone took her seat next to Hades. It would end her plans if she lost her temper now. There would be time enough later to put the brat in her place.
When Persephone was seated, Hera curtseyed, inclining her head towards the girl.
“My apologies, my queen. You are quite right in your assertion. It would be the sign of a weak ruler to allow themselves to be pushed about.”
“Please rise, Sister. We have had enough of the family squabbling to last another five thousand years. It was one of the nice things about being down here. While it can be lonely, at least there was no competition.”
“A slight perk in your otherwise dull kingdom?” Hera asked, the smirk taking full control of her lips this time.
“You might say that. But this has been home for so long that it no longer seems dull.”
“And there’s nothing that would make you want what our brothers have?”
“No. Our brothers may have all the things you mentioned before, but they lack something to make them truly happy. Without having to work for what they desire, they don’t appreciate what they have. When there is nothing to compare the beauty all around them to, they take that beauty for granted.”
“But you wouldn’t. Why don’t you want a piece of that? Beauty instead of this gloom?”
“Because then I would no longer appreciate it. I have all the beauty I need here beside me. She is what makes me happy and I treasure every moment I’m allowed with her. Without the contrast and constant fear of loss, I would turn into our brothers.”
“Why would that be bad? Don’t you idolize them?”
“Once. Then my adoration found someone much worthier.”
“Then you wouldn’t consider joining with me?” Hera asked, throwing all her carefully crafted arguments out. Hades smiled and shook his head.
“No, Sister. I no longer desire what lies above me when it will eventually all come down here to me. I wish you well in your endeavors, but I will not walk beside you.”
“Very well. I shall take my leave.”
“Please don’t leave filled with anger. Stay a bit and join us for dinner. You have traveled down here, the least we can do is offer our table to you.” Hera’s eyes darted back and forth between the rulers of the dead. Was this a trick? Were they trying to keep her down here forever?
“Don’t look so alarmed, Hera. Eat only what I eat and no ill will befall you. Zeus provides us with food grown on the surface for the months I reside here. Dinner will be perfectly safe if you wish to join us.”
“Yes. I think that might be nice.”
“Wonderful. Until then, why don’t I have someone show you around. There are many things to see that you may never have the chance to see again.”
“I would like that.” Hera grinned. A chance to see what she was about to inherit from her dear brother.
“Good. Macaria, would you please escort Hera? Show her the sights of our kingdom.” A young woman materialized from the shadows. The clothing she wore was so dark she blended into the gloom, making it difficult to see her properly. When she reached Hera, the young woman pushed back the hood covering her features and Hera drew in a sharp breath. Pale and lovely, she was a younger Persephone.
“Have you had the pleasure of meeting our daughter before? Hera, this is Macaria. She assists Thanatos, bringing a peaceful end to suffering.” The girl bowed her head during her mother’s introduction.
“Pleased to meet you. I had no idea the two of you had a daughter.” This would complicate things for her. Even if she waited for Persephone to return to Demeter and got rid of Hades, there was still another claimant to the Throne of the Dead.
“Amazing the things you learn when you take the time to visit.” Persephone smiled, but Hera sensed the sarcasm behind it. Smile while you can. Soon you won’t have anything left to smile about.
“Hera will be joining us for dinner, dear one. When you have shown her everything, bring her back here and we will all eat together.”
“Yes, Father.” The girl bowed her head before walking off across the room. She stopped at the far end, turning to address Hera. “Come. Walk with me and I will show you our kingdom.”
“I look forward to the sights you have to show me. Almost as much as I anticipate our dinner together afterwards.” Hera tilted her head to each ruler and headed off after Macaria. When they were far off, Persephone voiced her concerns.
“I don’t trust her. She gave up far too easily when you turned down her offer.”
“That makes two of us who are wary. I’ve known my sister for far too long to know she’d never back down. Why she thinks I would make a good ally is a mystery. We have no army at our command.”
“She thinks she can use the dead.”
“We’ve discussed this, my love. The dead will not fight. Why should they? They are content enough.”
“Don’t let your guard down. We may not think they would make good soldiers, but I’m certain Hera thinks they would be perfect. That’s not the only thing she’s after, either. Did you notice her eyes when you informed her of your unbroken rule? Unbreakable power. She would do anything to possess such a thing.”
“Do not worry. There is nothing she can do. I made my decision regarding her offer of joining her in exchange for my brothers’ kingdoms. I meant what I said. I know you can’t be happy down here all of the time, but the time you are down here makes me very happy.”
“While I need the sun on my face to survive, I also treasure my time with you. You were right. Appreciation comes from not having. When I’m with Mother, the fresh air and sun are the most wonderful things because I don’t have them when I’m with you. Down here, you are all I need because I lack the kind of love you give me when we’re apart.”
“May we never know any different.” Hades leaned over the arm of his throne and kissed his bride.
“We have lasted for five thousand years. Our love mastered the test of time,” Persephone replied when they parted. Hades stroked her cheek and pulled her back to him, his lips pressing hard against hers. Five thousand years of this. Kissing the same woman over and over again and stroking the same soft cheek. Yet, no matter how many times he performed the same acts, they never grew old. How could they when you never knew if she would return the next time the seasons changed or if Zeus would have a sudden change of heart and allow her to stay on the surface forever?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Prometheus’ Lantern Chapter 5

Need to catch up? Find previous chapters here: 12, 3, 4

Chapter 5

     It was nearly dark when Spiro joined Maya and Admeta. With the approaching winter, the sky grew darker early, limiting the time the inhabitants of the area had to do things. Like hold war councils.
     “The birds come from the area surrounding Mount Olympus. They say Hera has been leaving the gods’ home more often and staying away longer. None are certain of where she goes, but they have heard rumors,” Spiro said.
     “Do they think she’s getting another army together?” Maya wasn’t ready for another attack by the goddess. The last one drained her emotionally more than physically, and she still mourned the losses she suffered.
     “The rumors tend to flow in that direction. They speak of alliances being formed, but not with whom. It is difficult to imagine any god or goddess taking up with Hera after her recent attempts to overthrow them all.”
     “Have we learned anything else from these rumors?”
     “Only that Hera’s favored cow and peacocks are wary of her recent activities. They are the ones who spoke to our new allies, telling them of their fears. Hera continues to change and the animals grow skittish around her, lest she decide to lash out at them.”
     This bit of news was interesting. If she was turning on even her closest acquaintances and pets, was there anything that could make her feel an emotion other than hatred? She prized her twin peacocks longer than humans walked the earth, always well cared for and wanting nothing. Her white cow served her without hesitation, carrying her wherever she wished. Never had any of them feared her.
     “Not even her cow, who she rides everywhere, knows where she’s been going?”
     “It would appear she’s been spurning them all. She walks when she can and transports herself other ways when necessary. Our last confrontation left her untrusting of even her most loyal creatures.”
     “They will be of no use to us, either. We must find out what she’s been up to if we’re to defeat her,” Alexander said.
     “We should not dismiss them so quickly. Hera may slip and reveal something to them that we can use. In time, they may prove useful allies. We can use all the allies we can get,” Maya said. She was not ready to quickly ignore potential friends just because they weren’t helpful now. Even the smallest creature could become a powerful contact.
     “How can we be certain the information won’t flow the wrong way?” Alexander didn’t want to trust the animals too much. None of the others could blame him. Until now, they had been the closest thing Hera had to friends.
     “We limit the information that goes back. Things that won’t make a difference if Hera learns about them. It will keep her pets from thinking we don’t trust them and her from getting too suspicious should they turn out to be spies.”
     “But, Maya, do you really think that will work?”
     “We’ll never know if we don’t give it a try. All in favor of allowing Hera’s peacocks and cow to join with us in the capacity of spies?” All except Alexander raised his hand.
     “All opposed?” Alexander’s hand went up. He was outnumbered, but wanted to let them know where he stood on the matter. If it turned out they really were on their side, fine. But if they were only trying to get into their camp so they could report back to Hera, well he wasn’t about to take the blame.
     “The ‘ayes’ have it. Spiro, if you could communicate our wishes to our visitors it would be appreciated.”
     “As you wish, Mistress.” Spiro bent his small gray head.
     “I still think it’s a bad idea,” Alexander muttered. Hera was tricky. It stood to reason she would put her companions up to this. So far, they hadn’t been able to deliver them any reliable information, but Maya and her camp were expected to trust them. It reeked of Hera’s deception.
     “Your hesitation of the matter has been duly noted. Should this prove to be disastrous, you have forewarned us.”
     “Then why go forward with it?’
     “Sometimes you have to take a chance. It’s the only way to find out if you’re right or not.”
     “Heck of a way to prove a point. I can only hope my own instincts are wrong or I fear I may end up standing nearby, watching our world destroyed.”
     “For the sake of Elpis and all its people, I hope your instincts are wrong, too.”
     “I think now we must turn our attention to finding out who Hera has been meeting with. That is the most important information we could uncover right now. Shall we start drawing up possible lists?” Spiro stood to his full height, trying to obtain everyone’s attention. All around the clearing, heads nodded in agreement. Knowing who else they were up against would be valuable in planning their strategy. It would also give them a good idea of whether they had a chance or were doomed.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Prometheus’ Lantern Chapter 4

Need to catch-up? Find previous chapters here: 123
Chapter 4

The Temple of Hera happened to be the last place Maya wanted to visit. She met the goddess face-to-face, did her bidding and was never impressed. The last time they parted ways, Hera’s back was to her and she was running towards Mount Olympus. Maya wasn’t na├»ve enough to think she’d be so lucky again. Not without Thanatos and her children ready to back her in a fight.
She missed her children, but knew their separation was for the best. If she brought back harpies or griffins, the townspeople would have killed them without asking questions. A few moved closer to her, staying in the shadows of the surrounding forest. When she had a free moment, she would sneak down to visit. Other times, the gray squirrel Spiro or his daughter Admeta would bring news of her children’s activities.
Near to the woods where they stayed were the King’s Stables. This is where Maya ran off to whenever her mother ordered her to the Temple. Her brother, Marcus, who worked as a stable boy, had yet to tell their parents about her frequent trips to the stables. Whether this was due to his admiration and loyalty to his sister or because he hadn’t thought to tell them, Maya couldn’t be sure. In case it was the latter, she decided not to ask.
“Maya, my beautiful young friend. So nice to see you.” Ipolit hugged Maya as she entered, filling her nostrils with the scent of fresh hay and sweet apples going sour. She breathed it all in, the smells bringing back memories of Antioco, the black stallion who became her only friend on Hera’s island. “It is always nice to be greeted in such a manner. Mother is never happy to see me anymore. I think she would have preferred it if I had drowned.”
“Tsk, tsk, Maya. If she knew what you went through, she would think differently.”
“If she knew what I’ve done, she would disown me and toss me into the sea herself.” The old stable master smiled and followed as Maya made her way down to the vacant stalls at the end. Only a few months ago, they housed two of the finest horses ever seen in Elpis. One turned out to be Thanatos, God of the Dead and the other Maya’s friend and companion, Antioco. That he had also been the father of the centaur abomination, Ercole, was something the stable master was still coming to terms with.
“Have you found a replacement for young Alexander yet?”
“No,” Ipolit shook his head. “It isn’t easy to find a family willing to let their son work in a stable where strange occurrences have been rumored to take place.” Alexander had been younger than Marcus by a few years. When the centaur Ercole came through, spreading Hera’s message and recruiting for her army, Alexander saw it as a chance to be heroic. He ran off to join, only to be sadly disillusioned when the real face of Hera was revealed.
Disgusted with himself and his rashness, Alexander was afraid to return home. When Hera returned to her own castle, Alexander decided to stay with the griffin Theo. Together they trained the rest of Maya’s children, preparing for Hera’s return.
Ipolit hadn’t fared as well getting a recruit. Alexander’s disappearance along with horses who could open their own gate sparked rumors. Rumors were bad if you wanted to quiet superstitions.
“I’m sorry. I will keep an ear out for you. I’m sure there must be some young man looking for a trade.”
“Thank you, my dear. For now, I just work your brother twice as hard. Keeps him honest and out of trouble.” He winked, wrinkling up the scruff of his beard in the effort.
“I’m heading out to the forest. If anyone comes looking for me, I’ve gone off to pick mushrooms.”
“You may want to bring a basket and pick a few if you want your story to hold up.” Ipolit handed her a basket from a shelf near the stable staff’s eating area.
“I thank you again. If there is any word, I will let you know.” With basket in hand, Maya made her way across the fields to the gate Antioco and Thanatos used many times to escape. They liked to take long walks in the woods and plan. Now it was left up to Maya to continue where they left off.
The woods darkened the farther she went, making it difficult to see much of anything. A branch to her left cracked, accompanied by a flurry of wings.
“Ach, look sister. It is Mother, come for a visit.”
“Yes, yes. Mother must miss me.”
“No, sister. It is me Mother missed.”
“Hello my beautiful daughters. I apologize for not seeing you sooner, but my eyes had not adjusted to the darkness.”
“Ach, do you see us now?” A hideous face pressed into Maya’s, hitting her full on with the putrid breath of a scavenger. It was female in essence, and might be pretty if it weren’t for the sharpened teeth and splattering of blood and gore. Next to it sat its mirror image.
“I see you very well, Helena. You too, Helen.” The two harpies cackled with glee. They may not have much respect for humans, but they adored their mother. To her credit, Maya loved them back.
“Has Mother been looking for another funny horsey? We know how sad you were to lose him.” Helena hopped on the branch, nearly dislodging her sister.
“No, stupid. Mother would not replace the great Antioco. How can one love the same way?” Helen spat, regaining her perch.
“Men would be stupid not to love Mother.”
“Yes, in this we agree. But Mother would not wish to love another. The great Antioco was the only one of his kind.”
“Of this you speak the truth. Even among our brothers, the equal of Mother’s love and companion cannot be found.” The harpies hung their heads.
“I’m sorry, daughters, but as you have said, I am not ready to love again. My heart was broken once and I’m not ready to have it broken again. Such a love is a burden and weakness. One Hera will exploit and use against me again if given the chance. I must wait until our quarrel is at an end before I find another to fill Antioco’s place in my heart.”
“When Mother is ready, we will help. We are very good at finding nice men.”
“Yes, but we eat them,” Helen said.
“We will not eat Mother’s companion. This we promise.” Both harpies bobbed their heads in unison.
“Thank you. You are both a blessing.” Maya continued on, leaving the harpies behind to guard the secrets the rest of the forest held.
A little farther on, the trees above Maya rustled and a small brown face peeked through.
“Great Mother Maya, is that you?”
“It is. Good morning, Admeta. Is your father off somewhere today?”
“No. He be in the trees nearby. Meeting with messengers.”
“What messengers?”
“Birds from far away. They bring news. Much news.”
“What sort of news?” Most times, birds traveling for the changing season would stop and bring information from the outside world. Usually nothing more than new buildings taking the place of wooded homes or new and wondrous plants appearing near a favorite resting place. Something in the way Admeta said it made Maya think the news was something more.
“I don’t know. Father said to go, find something useful to do. So, I find you. Very useful, yes?”
“Yes, that was very useful. Can you bring me to Spiro? I would like to know what is going on.”
“Yes, Mistress Maya. This way.” The squirrel popped her head back into the trees and took off running, leaping from branch to branch. On the ground, Maya followed her progress by the shaking of the leaves.
Eventually the trees thinned and a small clearing came into view. The forest animals and her children used the space as a council room since not every creature was equipped for perching on branches. It was also large enough to contain most of them and far enough in the woods to keep outsiders from accidentally stumbling upon a meeting in session. At the far end, twittering and squeaking could be heard, along with the cracking of tree branches and fluttering of wings.
“Sounds like a lively debate going on,” Maya murmured. Admeta vaulted from the trees and landed in front of her.
“Strange birds no are happy. They bring back rumors. Bad things are happening.”
“Let’s go find out what kind of bad things we’re talking about.” Together they crossed the clearing, the noise from the meeting getting louder.
“Father Spiro,” Admeta shouted, scrambling up the nearest tree.
“I told you to go and find something to do. Leave us and do not interrupt again.”
“But, Father, I bring Mistress Maya.” The chatter above stopped as every creature listened.
“Mistress Maya is here? You should have said so first, before crashing through the trees and disturbing our meeting.” Admeta came down the tree again, joined by an older gray squirrel.
“Mistress Maya, so good to see you again. We have much to talk about. Let me finish meeting with our bird friends and then we shall discuss.”
“Discuss what?”
“Many things, Mistress Maya. Many strange and worrisome things.”
“I’ll wait for your consul in the grove.”
“Good. Admeta, please go with Mistress Maya and see that she is taken care of until I can attend her myself.”
“Yes, Father. Come, Mistress. We go this way.” The young squirrel scampered across the clearing and into a stand of traveler’s pines with Maya close behind. As Maya pushed her way through the branches, they closed back together, obscuring her passage. Under their limbs, thick with needles, was an open canopy. Here Admeta and Spiro lived, their quarters spacious to entertain visiting creatures. The boughs provided natural protection from the elements, keeping its inhabitants warm, dry and comfortable.
“Sit, Mistress. I get you food. Drink. What do you want? Nut? Berry?”
“Thank you, Admeta, but I’m not hungry.”
“You sure? It no trouble. We keep piles of food for guests.” Admeta gestured towards where other traveler’s pines surrounded them.
“How many guests do you get?”
“Depend on season. Lots when weather gets warmer or colder. Birdies mostly. Some others. A few of your children come and go. They like to keep in contact.”
“How many are here now?”
“Many. More than we ever had at once.” She stood on her hind legs and spun around, pointing to other pines and their inhabitants currently hidden from view. “Normal birdies staying there. Birdies meeting with Father there. Tree-folks visiting stay there. Mistress’ children staying there.”
“My children are here? Who?”
“The lion-bird one. He come with man-child Alexander.” Maya stood and went to the tree indicated by Admeta. Pushing through the branches, she entered another living space. This one was occupied by a large griffin who took up most of the space and her brother’s former friend and fellow stable boy.
“Alexander. Theo. I’m so happy to see you.” Maya threw her arms around the boy and griffin in turn. As she hugged Theo, she buried her face into the soft fur of his shoulder.
“Maya. How is old Ipolit? Has he gotten another stable boy yet?”
“Not yet. Are you interested in returning? I’m sure he’d be glad to have you back. I know Marcus would be.”
“You know the answer to that, Maya. There is too much to be done out here. More recruits show up all the time. Children of yours who didn’t answer the call the first time and children who had been on the wrong side. Every once in a while, we get an animal. Some were on the island with you. Some hear about what Hera did and fear what she could do if she returns.”
“And all of them join?”
“So far.” Maya reached out and tousled Alexander’s hair. He wasn’t a little boy anymore, but the gesture was instinctive. This was no longer the scrawny child she once knew, who couldn’t lift a bow or shoot an arrow when he first met Theo. His time in training built his muscles and hardened his body. In such a short time, he had grown up. He may only be twelve years old by the marks on a calendar, but mentally and maturity-wise, he was older than many of the men sitting on councils. He witnessed much since he left the safety of the stables and such events aged a person. Maya knew this as well. Responsibility is a heavy burden.
“What other news do you have?”
“There is talk of Hera. None know what she is planning, but she has been coming and going from her home on Mount Olympus. We hoped to learn more here. That is why we returned.”
“Spiro is talking with some birds now. I will let you know when he returns and we can all discuss what is happening together. Perhaps we can all piece together what Hera is planning and stop it before it starts.”
“We can only hope such a thing is possible,” Theo rumbled. “Let us see what comes of Spiro’s talks.” The griffin stretched and laid his head on his giant paws. Soon snoring sounded from the great beast.
“Apologies, Maya. We have been traveling quite a bit and only recently arrived. It seems to have taken a toll on Theo.”
“Do not apologize. Get some rest yourself. It could be some time before Spiro is done with the foreigners.” Without another word, Maya pushed back into the squirrels’ quarters, leaving the two warriors to sleep.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Prometheus’ Lantern Chapter 3

Need to catch-up? Find previous chapters here: 12

Chapter 3

Maya swirled a spoon through her porridge. Grown cold a long time ago, it was little more than a lumpy gray mess. She watched as the lumps fell off her spoon and into the bowl, plopping and leaving behind miniature craters. A soggy moon in a bowl.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Her mother, Thisbe, sat across from her, attentive and cautious. Not long ago by human standards, Maya had been offered up as a sacrifice to Hera. Somehow, things went terribly wrong and now Thisbe faced a daughter only a few years younger than she. A daughter who had seen and done things she never even dreamed of.
“I’d feel more comfortable with that statue out of the house.” Maya didn’t need to say which one. It was well known in their household that the girl didn’t approve of their patron goddess.
“Our Beloved Mother, Hera has always watched over this house. I’m not about to change now because you are no longer favored by her.”
“You don’t understand,” Maya said, dropping her spoon into her bowl and meeting her mother’s stare. “Hera is not anyone’s beloved mother and absolutely no one is in her favor.”
Thisbe drew in a sharp breath. “You best be prepared to atone for your insolence, young lady. How can you say such things when Hera has blessed this family in so many ways? She gives us shelter and food. Your life alone should have been forfeited to her by our society’s rules, yet she saw fit to spare it. And this is how you repay her kindness? With blasphemy and disrespect?”
“She gives to no one. Hera is a taker, not a benefactor. My life was taken from me in other ways. I may still have breath in my body, but my soul has long since departed.” The slap came suddenly, stinging Maya’s cheek.
“I will not have such talk at my table. Since you don’t seem to be hungry anyway, I will have Cook clear your dish. You are dismissed. I suggest, very strongly, that you make your way to the temple and stay there for a while.” Maya rubbed her cheek and held her mother’s gaze, even as her porridge was taken away.
“Thank you, Cook. That will be all.”
“Yes, thank you, Zephir,” Maya added without looking at the old man. A smirk tugged up the corner of her mouth when her mother flinched. Thisbe didn’t approve of the servants being addressed by their real names any more than Maya approved of Hera.
“I wish you would stop doing that. They’ll start getting ideas and dreams above their station,” Thisbe hissed when Cook had returned to his kitchen.
“We all have wishes, Mother. For some, dreams are all they have.” Without a further word, Maya stood and left.
“What are we going to do about that child?” Thisbe asked her husband as he entered the dining area.
“There’s not much we can do any more. In case you hadn’t noticed, the gods didn’t return a child to us. Maya’s a full-grown woman.”
“She’s a child who puts on grown-up airs. She thinks because she was chosen by Hera she is better than the rest of us. She wasn’t chosen, she was rejected. Hera didn’t want the unworthy wretch. Why else would she come home to us and speak so ill of our Beloved goddess?”
“I don’t know what happened to Maya while she was gone, but we can’t deny the fact she’s changed.”
“I deny nothing of the sort. In the two weeks she was adrift on the sea, she changed. She’s become arrogant and disobedient. She thinks she runs our household. Then she runs off, disappearing for months with no explanation. Everyone in town thought Poseidon decided to claim her for his own after all. He should have. Save us all a lot of trouble and grief.”
“You don’t mean that. You were beside yourself with worry both times she was gone,” Filemon said, sitting across from his wife in the seat recently vacated by Maya.
“I’m her mother. It’s my job to worry about her. It doesn’t mean I can’t wish I didn’t. Why should someone so ungrateful take so much of my energy and tears? What right does she have, causing me to have trouble sleeping and eating?”
“She is our daughter. We share the same sorrows and worries for her, but you insist on taking more of the burden than you should. We both need to let her go and find her own way.” Filemon put his hand over Thisbe’s, gently stroking the back of it with his thumb.
“How can we? She brings disgrace on our house. Every word she utters and action she takes is against Hera. For now, a blind eye has been turned in our direction. How long will She allow it to go on before punishment is brought down upon us?”
“Worry less. If Hera is the loving mother you believe her to be, she will forgive the girl. Have faith.” He brought his wife’s hands up to his lips, kissing them.
“I hope you’re right, my love. Otherwise, she will doom us all.”

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Prometheus’ Lantern Chapter 2

Need to catch-up? Find previous chapters here: 1

Chapter 2

        Despite the gloom permeating his domicile, Hades was in a good mood. Not that the casual observer could tell the difference between his good mood and bad mood, but those residing with him knew it as soon as they saw him.
        The chill invading the human world during the winter months could barely be felt down here. Few things could be felt in the land across the River Styx. Beauty and comfort were foreign concepts, developed for corporal beings. A soul had no need for such things. All they needed were space to float, endlessly milling about. Occasionally one would remember for a brief moment the warmth of a fire or the softness of a down mattress, and they would weep at the loss. These memories never lasted long and they would soon be back to wandering aimlessly and wondering why they were here.
        Now was the time of joy in the Underworld. Or as joyful as such a place can be. Hades’ queen, Persephone, was visiting for her required six months. It was the only time Hades had someone else with whom he could talk to and he treasured the short spurts of time. Extra effort was given to lighting the halls where he resided and food approved by Zeus was brought in for feasts. Hades promised not to hold his queen longer than the six months allotted and so needed fresh fruits and vegetables not grown in his own kingdom to feed her with. The feasts usually only consisted of Hades and Persephone, but every so often they would be joined by Thanatos when he had a break in his soul-gathering duties.
        During her first thousand years being Hades’ queen, Persephone dreaded her returns to the realm of the dead. Every year when the time approached, she begged Zeus to take pity on her and let her stay above ground. Her mother would appeal to both Zeus and Hades for a change of heart. Every year, the brothers held firm to the deal and Persephone was taken away while her mother went into mourning.
        As the years went by, Persephone grew accustomed to her role as Queen of the Dead. The arrangement may have been forced upon her, but she sensed genuine love from her husband. All he really wanted was companionship and she provided that for him. He was never cruel or abusive toward her. If anything, there was a sadness around him which became stronger when spring came.
        When she returned to the surface, Persephone could always tell how much her mother missed her by the spring thaw. More snow still piled up in mounds meant a hard winter. An early spring was the result of her mother dealing with her daughter’s loss better. As the years went on, there were more early springs, proving both of them had come to terms with the arrangement. Neither one was ready to admit it to the other, so they continued with the pretenses, Persephone crying when she was collected for her time in the underworld and Demeter letting the trees and plants die, covering them with a light snow.
        “My dear. You look beautiful beyond words,” Hades said, greeting her as she entered his throne room. It had been built by his brothers as a joke since he rarely had use for it. The dead had few complaints to bring before him and most living petitioners chose to sneak in and try to steal their loved ones back rather than ask him outright for their return.
        “Thank you, my lord.” She never returned his compliments. They both knew they were shallow and untrue when applied to the Lord of the Dead. His time underground did little for his complexion, leaving him perpetually whiter than those he watched over. Doom and despair, which he carried around with him like pets, took their toll on his features, sinking his eyes deep into his face and darkened the shadows where his skin hung loose.
       “We prepared your Welcoming Feast as usual. I hope you find everything to your satisfaction.” Hades waved towards the other end of the throne room where dinner was laid out on a long table. Despite it being only the two of them, there was enough food for the whole population of Mount Olympus, should they ever decide to visit. They never did, but Hades liked to be prepared.
       “Zeus sent it down?” It was a conversation they repeated every year. Persephone hadn’t trusted Hades for many years after his trick with the pomegranate. Since then, she always made sure the food she ate wasn’t from Hades’ realm. Some time ago, she realized he didn’t mean her any harm and wouldn’t intentionally trick her again, but like the farce with her mother each fall, she wasn’t ready to let her guard down.
       “But of course. Thanatos will vouch for it if you wish.” Thanatos may be under the employ of Hades, but he was trustworthy and fair. If anything needed to be verified, he was the one to do it.
       “No need. I will take you at your word.”
       “I thank you for your trust in me. Shall we?” Hades pulled out a chair for her to sit, then took up his own chair at the opposite end. Conversation was difficult over such a large distance, but not impossible. Still, they chose to eat in silence. Hades spent the time studying his bride, Persephone thinking about her eventual return to the surface.
       Near the end of their meal, a puff of smoke interrupted them. Glowing green and orange, swirling until it formed the shape of a man. Six feet tall, clad in dark clothing laced with fine silver thread, it was an imposing figure that struck fear into the hearts of the living.
       “Thanatos! My old friend. Welcome. I didn’t think you would be joining us this year.”
       “My lord,” the figure inclined his head in Hades direction. “My lady.”
       “Dear Thanatos, it is good to see you. Please sit and join us.”
       “My lady is most gracious, but I must decline. I came only to warn you of changes taking place on the surface.”
       “Bah!” Hades waved off Thanatos with a free hand. “What happens in my brothers’ realms doesn’t concern me. The more fire and warfare up there, the more souls end up down here. For me it is all the same. The only thing that changes is the speed at which they arrive.”
       “That may be so in the usual flow of things, but things are no longer the same. Hera is looking to increase her influence among men and breaking many of the rules to reach her goal.”
       “I didn’t know my brothers and sisters had any sort of rules. It always seemed like a free for all to me.”
       “Hera is going beyond. Did you not recently receive the souls of monsters? Half-breeds, the likes we haven’t seen in nearly four thousand years?”
       “Yes, I thought it delightful. Minotaurs, centaurs, some Gorgons. I thought such creatures no longer existed, but then their souls showed up on my doorstep.”
       “They didn’t exist. Not until Hera caused them to be born. I spent months on the surface trying to piece together what she was doing. In the shape of a horse, I was able to befriend one of the poor beasts she bewitched. Together, we were able to face Hera and hamper her plans. She’ll be back and more ruthless the next time.”
       “I still fail to see what this means to me. The beings have souls. The souls then come here when it is their time. I have more than enough room to accommodate them all.” Hades bit into the hunk of cheese he cut while listening to Thanatos’ tale.
       “Hera means to stop at nothing. If one method doesn’t work, she will adopt another. What if she doesn’t stop her power-grabbing at the surface? What if the living no longer hold an interest for her?”
       “Are you suggesting she might come down here and take over the dead?” Persephone stopped eating to listen, only now speaking up.
       “My fears exactly,” Thanatos said, turning to address her.
       “Absurd. No one wanted to watch over the land of the dead. Why do you think I ended up with it?”
       “Certainly you wouldn’t let her come in and take over?” Persephone asked.
       “Never! This might not be much compared to ruling over the air and water, but it’s mine. I’ve done my duty down here for millennia and I’m not about to turn my back on it now.”
       “I’m glad to hear it. Despite thinking surface matters don’t concern you, I suggest you prepare for the event when they do.”
       “Thank you, friend. I can’t imagine it will ever come to that, but I will be prepared.”
       “Good. With that, I shall bid you both a pleasant evening.” He tilted his head to Hades, then bowed deeply to Persephone. “Welcome home, My Lady. May your stay be a pleasant one.” Without another word or breath, he vanished in a puff of smoke, curling towards the surface where his talents were needed.
       “Do you really think she’d come down here?” Persephone still hadn’t resumed eating. She rolled a partially nibbled olive around in front of her.
       “What could someone like Hera possibly want with a place like this? Yes, I have grown accustomed to it and learned to appreciate what charms it offers. But for someone searching for power, this is the last place they would find it.”
       “But she could control the dead.”
       “What then? The dead don’t concern themselves with the land of the living any more than I do. They have random bouts of relapses, when they remember who they are, but they can’t do anything about it. For the most part, they are docile, caring for little beyond drifting about.”
       Persephone popped the olive into her mouth and chewed, thinking through everything they discussed during dinner. Thanatos seemed certain Hera was up to no good. While that was most likely true, warning Hades seemed a bit excessive. As her husband said, few people would want what the underworld could offer.
        “Have you ever attempted to control your subjects before?”
       “Why bother? They’re happy and have so few worries. Few things I can’t do myself and those few things I can’t have a wisp of a being do for me.”
       “So you don’t know the full extent of what you can command them to do?”
       “I suppose not.” Hades examined a cluster of grapes, searching for one unblemished.
       “Then there might be some merit to the concerns Thanatos voiced. What if Hera was able to control them?”
       “What would she do with them? Millions of souls, all bumping into each other for eternity. What use are they?” Hades laughed, finally finding a suitable grape and plucking it from the bunch.
       “It would be millions of souls loose among the living.”
       “She wouldn’t. It would be complete chaos should the dead be allowed among the living.”
       “Chaos brings with it fear. Fear is what Hera wants, because fear will bring her power.”
       “The others won’t stand for it.”
       “You heard Thanatos. Hera isn’t playing by anyone’s rules anymore. I think it would be wise to heed our dear friend’s words, lest our kingdom be torn from us.”
       “You may be right. When we have finished, I will visit with the Sister Fates to see if they can be of any help.” Despite his grim countenance, Hades was glowing on the inside. His beloved was willing to fight beside him, should the need arise. She referred to the Realm of the Dead not as ‘Your Kingdom’ but as ‘Our Kingdom’. What reason more did he need to make sure Hera never set foot in it?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

It’s Been Awhile

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised it’s still here, given my extended absenteeism. But, here we are!

There’s been a lot happening lately. New jobs, quitting jobs to go back to school, kids growing up and  taking up a lot more time. You know, normal life.

But! I’m back. Hopefully for good. To get things rolling, I’m going to post novel chapters of a completed book. As always, I welcome all comments and feedback. New chapters will be posted once a week for your enjoyment.

Without further ado, please enjoy the first chapter of Prometheus’ Lantern.

Chapter 1

A time existed in human history when men walked on the moon, leaving behind footprints for others to follow. Those days have been long forgotten, the pages torn from history books and burned from human memory. But some still remember, their memories transcending humanity.

High on Mount Olympus, Hera stood in her tower, looking out across the land. Below the home of the gods, the country of Elpis had sprung up, a phoenix from the ashes of Greece. For the past two thousand years the people returned to the old ways, worshiping their gods and goddesses and forsaking the rest of the world.

The boundaries were clear, marked with barbed wire and large signs written in every language known. They were there to keep the citizens of Elpis inside the markers as much as to keep outsiders out.

Hera knew these boundaries well. Inside them she had power. People revered and served her.

Across those lines, she was considered little more than a fairy tale. She wanted to change that. She needed to change that. More than power and reverence, Hera craved fear. Fear was the creator of power and reverence; of people pledging their lives and the lives of their families in servitude. If she had the fear of the people, the rest would follow. The more fear, the greater the rewards.

She tried, not long ago, to bring the people of Elpis to their knees. A plan to make every citizen fear and worship her above all other gods and goddesses. It had been perfect, except for one little flaw who ruined the whole thing.

Hera ground her teeth and slammed the side of her fist into the wall as she thought of her perfect plan reduced to dust. Maya had been the flaw’s name. She should have been dutiful and done everything she was told, yet she questioned everything instead. The monsters she birthed were taught honor and loyalty to family while they nursed and grew strong enough to be useful to Hera. The girl tricked her and had paid dearly. The lives of many of her children and her lover had been forfeit, but the goddess still wasn’t appeased.

Across the borders were lands untouched by the gods of Greece. Not for long. Soon, Hera would be ready to put a new plan into action. Who knew what waited in other lands? They may not know her name or fear her yet, but they could learn. Once they learned, a new army could be formed. New monsters would be created. This time, Hera wouldn’t allow herself to be tricked. As soon as they were born, the beasts would be carried off, to be cared for by servants completely loyal to Hera. And there would be multiple mothers, so none would ever be quite sure of which monsters belonged to who.

She learned a lot from Maya.

Sneaking across the border would be easy. Not arousing suspicion among her brothers and sisters on Mount Olympus would not be as simple. Getting an entire army back into Elpis would be the most difficult part. Not impossible. For a goddess, nothing was ever entirely impossible. Some things just took longer.

She wished there was someone she could turn to for help, but such a thing was impossible. No deity wanted to share the glory of a victory with another. Fewer wanted to risk losing their own followers in such a dicey situation. Should any of the others catch wind of what she was up to, her own position on Mount Olympus would be in jeopardy.

Others suspected her of something when she kidnapped Maya. None knew what she had done.

They still would be wallowing in blissful ignorance, guessing but never scratching the surface of her deceit if Thanatos hadn’t stumbled onto her plans by accident. Damn lackey to Hades had interfered with the fates of men, something he was sworn never to do. Take the souls, that’s all he had to do, but he hadn’t been satisfied with such a menial job. He had to help Maya in her attack. Why couldn’t he leave things alone?

Whether or not Thanatos told any of the other gods of her plans to take over Elpis, Hera didn’t know. Since his domain was among the dying, she doubted he had much chance to speak to Zeus or Poseidon. As the hierarchy of the gods went, they were the two she had to be most careful of. They wielded the most power and would be the most displeased if her plan worked. Rulers of air and water,
the living and the gods, the two brothers loved their power and the adoration of the people. If that was suddenly taken from them, angry wouldn’t begin to describe them.

No, Thanatos had no direct connection to any of the higher gods. The only Ruling Brother he ever saw was Hades, lowest brother on the scale. Even demi-gods had more say than he did. Should Thanatos choose to tell him, Hades would most likely shrug and continue on with whatever he was doing. Counting souls or stopping heroes from reclaiming their dead loved ones. Nothing happening in the land of the living affected him and he wouldn’t interfere.

He could be a useful ally. Legions of the dead were all under his care and control. A whole untapped source of soldiers for her army, undefeatable by normal human methods. It would take some persuasion, but that was one thing Hera excelled at. Whispered words and hints placed correctly worked wonders.

If she could enlist Hades’ help, she wouldn’t need to look past the borders of Elpis. She just needed to transcend the boundaries of the living. And now was a good time, since his mind tended to wander a bit during these long, cold months.

The snow drifted slowly outside Hera’s window and she smiled. Yes, now was the perfect time. Love did strange things to a man, even if that man was a god.