Bows steady at their sides, the twins set out to explore the aboveground. Muninn and Horus alike seemed to be equally excited, often flitting away from their owners' shoulders to perch onto trees, swoop low to the ground, and engage in perilous dances through the greenery. For the most part, Lethe and Pelathon ignored them, too busy staring at the foreign territory before them.
Such—life. Elysium was as beautiful as the world above, but nowhere near as lively. Animals of every sort watched the new deities as curiously as the twins regarded them, and the trees seemed to be aglow as the sun struck them. Apollo's chariot moved across the sky; laughingly, Pelathon aimed an arrow at it. "What happens when the sun strikes the sun?" he said.
"Apollo gets angry and bashes your face in," Lethe replied seriously.
"So prosaic, sister dear," Pelathon said, rolling his eyes, but he lowered his bow. "So give me another target. I wonder how meat tastes?"
Lethe winced. "Must you slaughter an animal just to satisfy your curiosity?" she murmured, fingering her own bow, strung and ready in her hand. "Ambrosia and nectar serve us just fine."
Pelathon scowled. "Again, prosaic. Plenty of deities hunt. Artemis, Apollo—"
"Well, that's them." At the mention of Artemis, Lethe looked down at the bow in her hand and shrugged.
"I'm as good a god as they are," Pelathon said, sounding sulky.
Lethe looked at him, startled. "I never said you weren't, brother."
"Then why don't you want me to hunt?" Pelathon said, anger tinging his voice. "Do you consider me to be inferior to the likes of Artemis and Apollo? That I am not wise enough, not authoritative—"
Lethe gaped at him. "What are you talking about, Pelathon?" she demanded.
"You wish to forbid me from hunting," Pelathon said stubbornly.
"I wish—I wish that you'd stop being such a stubborn idiot and seeing my every word as an insult!" Lethe said hotly. "My taboo against hunting is advice, nothing more, but if you want to see it that way, then that's your own problem!" she snapped. "Gods forbid I should advise the mighty Pelathon to do anything—"
"Sister, you overstep," Pelathon said ominously.
Lethe inhaled sharply, her eyes narrowing. When she spoke again, her voice was flat. "Remember that I am as immortal as you. Brother."
"How often I do," Pelathon said, his voice just as flat and emotionless.
Lethe stared at him, then shook her head. She turned her back onto him and stalked away into the woods, disbelief raging in her heart. He had taken offense so easily—in a way, he was like a whole new god on the surface.
Well, Father was there, said a small voice in her head.
True. Hades had been there to watch over them. He'd kept the peace—closely related as the deities of Olympus were, blood did nothing to prevent them from backstabbing and maiming each other. But Hades had managed to keep the four of them stable—and under control…
Lethe blinked, shaking her head. Where had that thought come from?
Pelathon watched as Lethe stalked away from him, muttering mutinously under his breath. He was as good as Artemis, Apollo, or even the great Father Zeus. He was certainly better than Father, Hades—stuck in his moldering old underground all day. And better than Mother, Persephone—he wouldn't have eaten the stupid pomegranate. He'd have found a way to break the oath, even if he did...
He kicked a rock sulkily and glared at the trees around him. On his shoulder, Horus uttered a harsh screech—to the young god's ears, it sounded almost like a taunt. He inhaled deeply, the breath a resolve—he was as good as any god, even if he didn't rule over any aspect of mortality yet. And he'd prove it.
He picked up the arrow that he had jokingly aimed at Apollo's chariot earlier and set it to his bow. Carefully, his footsteps light and nimble, he set out into the woods, searching for prey—prey as befit a hunter, a god.
Just a few steps away, a king stag stood, his back facing Pelathon. In early spring, the stag had no antlers, but was intimidating regardless. Pelathon inhaled softly, raising his bow and aiming clumsily—he'd had little practice in the Underworld.
But the stag's head whipped around, and he leaped away, jumping away into the greenery. Pelathon swore as he fired anyway and missed, the arrow plunging into a tree. He cursed under his breath, then leapt back with a shout as the arrow's brilliance began to grow painfully bright—there was a soft crackle, and the tree burst into flames.
Pelathon took a step back, wide-eyed as he stared at the burning tree. He glanced wildly at the bow in his hand—the sun? Was that the fire of the sun, made into a weapon? Persephone's words echoed in his mind—You may not know what you have accepted until it is too late…
Well, he liked it. He liked this gift. Pelathon grinned almost daringly as he stepped closer to the fire, daring it to burn him. The birthmark on his arm seemed to glow as it approached the flames; experimentally, Pelathon swiped a hand through the fire. It didn't hurt—it was a pleasant, almost ticklish sensation. On his shoulder, Horus squawked and took flight, but Pelathon paid him no mind as he examined the flames.
He laughed. Fire wouldn't dare to burn a god, ever—how foolish of him to be afraid. He gathered his arms about the flames as if he could carry them away—they swarmed over him, licking his skin with a gentle touch, embracing him as the heart of the fire.
A low moan filled the clearing; startled, Pelathon looked up, shaken out of his preoccupation. The sound seemed to be coming from the tree—a flickering, dying face of a young woman showed through the flames, her branches stirring in agony. You have killed me, a faint whisper said. You have destroyed a dryad…
Pelathon regarded her with a vague disinterest as the tree writhed in anguish, the life burning into smoke. "I am not afraid of you," he said proudly, embracing the flames like a lover. "And not of the flames, though you burn from them."
The gods will avenge me, the dryad whispered. You, foolish mortal—
"I am no mortal!" Pelathon shrieked, his wounded pride from Lethe's comments flaring into painful life. "I am a god. And I hold your life, and your death, in my palm." He raised a clenched fist; fire danced around it. "And you—dryad—you dare to call me a mortal!"
There was a dying cry from the dryad, reverbrating through Pelathon's mind. The young god watched pitilessly, mercilessly as the fire swarmed over the face, consuming it in a streak of red.
A few minutes in the cool spring morning and Lethe had forgotten her irritation and unsettling thoughts, instead turning her mind to enjoying the spring breeze. Muninn ran her beak through Lethe's hair; it was soothing, if a little ticklish.
"What do you think is it with Pelathon?" Lethe asked the raven musingly. "All of a sudden, he's so irritable. And I can't say I'm all that well-tempered, either." She was quiet for a moment. "Do you think Father controlled us, Muninn?"
The raven cawed harshly, flapping her wings. Lethe winced away from the beat of wings near her ear as the raven took flight, disappearing into the woodlands. Sighing, Lethe continued to muse out loud even though her audience had left, running her fingers over the bow. "Do you think, Muninn, that we should go back? We've no restriction to stay here, surely. And you must admit it was much more peaceful in the Underworld—the souls there are much less ornery. A little sunlight, well, Elysium's a fair match. Though I will miss all this life. It's so beautiful out here, so…dynamic. I'd never thought I'd say that word, but there you go. Dynamic. And—"
"—well, Pelathon and I never fought like that in the Underworld. We would've—what?" Lethe looked up, jerked abruptly out of her reverie. "Who—Muninn!"
The last word was a command, and the raven heeded it, swooping into sight and landing on Lethe's shoulder. Lethe stroked the raven's feathers as she listened carefully for that faint cry again—she had heard it, somewhere. Somewhere...
There was a soft rustle of leaves; carefully, Lethe padded towards the source, taking an arrow out of her quiver as she did so. Her nose twitched as she caught an acidic tang in the air—it smelled odd, like nothing she'd ever encountered before. "Be ready, Muninn," she whispered softly, and the raven rustled her wings in acknowledgement.
Lethe peered out from behind a branch of ivy, careful and cautious. There was a soft squelch from under her feet; she looked down to see red pooling around her foot, soaking into the hem of her dress. She crouched down, staring at it thoughtfully.
There was another low moan—looking more carefully, she identified the source. It was a man, lying on his side in the dirt, his expression one of agony as he clutched at a wound between his ribs. Lethe stared at him from her hiding place in avid interest, taking in every detail—the dark brown hair, the callused palms, his hazel eyes, half-closed in pain as he bled.
A mortal. Her very first mortal.
Muninn gave a caw, and Lethe jerked back in astonishment as the raven took flight, hovering delicately over the mortal's trembling form. The raven settled on a perch near the mortal's head, preening the sweat-soaked hair. The man's eyes opened, and he lifted one trembling hand to touch the bird's feathers, staining them with his blood.
Lethe sighed as Muninn fixed a beady eye on her. Slinging her bow onto her shoulder, she stepped out into the clearing so that the man could see her—or her feet, anyway, from his position on the ground. His eyes widened as she came into view; he shifted his head slightly, looking at her through glazed eyes. Goddess and mortal regarded each other for a long, unsettled moment.
"You are dying," Lethe said, her voice matter-of-fact.
The man's eyes closed, his mouth gasping harshly for breath. "I know," he whispered softly. "Have you come to taunt me—goddess?"
"How do you know I'm a goddess?" Lethe asked, interested. She knelt down by the mortal's side, still marveling at the fragilities of the mortal body—the scars that lined his naked torso, the jagged slash across his ribs. "You are the very first mortal I've ever met, see," Lethe added when the mortal didn't answer. She paused, then said, "Well, the first live one. The others were all dead."
The man gave a pained, short laugh. "For those who have eyes to see," he murmured faintly, and then cried out sharply as Lethe touched gentle fingers to the wound, probing and searching. Lethe winced and then pulled away, wiping her hands on her dress, disregarding the bloodstains.
"You know, it's not so bad to die," Lethe said after a moment. "You will enter my Father's realm. Some call him harsh, but I think that is unfair—he is only strict. Dying is not too bad, mortal. I will plead your case, if you like. I will see that Father sends you to Elysium."
Muninn cawed softly, pecking at the hem of Lethe's dress. She put out a hand for the bird to perch on and lifted her to eye level, examining the blood on Muninn's wing. "I have never seen mortal blood before," Lethe added. "I had not known it was so bright."
"I don't wish to die, goddess," the man said, his voice faint and barely audible. "I'm not—not ready—"
He choked, then coughed, spitting blood. Lethe regarded him with interest, cocking her head to one side as he fought to breathe. When the fit was over, Lethe asked politely, "What do you have waiting for you, mortal? A lover? A wife? A—" she smiled faintly, then said, "A kingdom? Are you a noble prince, perhaps? Or a pauper?"
The man's eyes half-opened, looking up at her. "I—please, goddess, I'm not ready—please—"
Lethe paused, watching as he groaned, his hand tightening on the gristly wound. She hesitated, considering. "You haven't answered the question," she said to the mortal, but he seemed to be unable to answer, his eyes closed tightly in agony.
On an impulse, Lethe lay her hands against his ribs. It was surprisingly easy to heal him—she simply had to wish it, and the flesh mended before her eyes. His breathing grew steadier, and his eyelids fluttered as the wound faded, leaving only a faint scar. The blood still pooled around him, but he was no longer bleeding.
"For you, my first mortal," she said out loud.
When his eyelids fluttered open, Lethe closed them gently shut again with a finger, keeping them shut as she thought it over. It would be nice to have a companion, even a mortal one, now that she and Pelathon were quarrelling. But she wanted to keep him. It would do her no good if he fled.
Lethe pondered this problem for a moment, idling running her fingertips over the mortal's face as she thought. How would she bind him to her, make him hers? After all, he would only want to rejoin the mortal world, and that would be irritating…
Coming to a decision, she tapped his temples lightly, working out what she wanted to say. "I want you to forget," she whispered softly into his ear. "Forget about mortality, your past life, your past lovers and friends. You will stay with me, entertain me in this strange aboveground. Do you understand?" Her lips brushed his temple in a fleeting kiss, gentle yet final. "Say yes if you do."
His eyes tightly shut, the mortal nodded. "Yes," he said in a faint, breathy voice.
"Good." Lethe sat back, pleased. Then it occurred to her that she should've asked his name before she wiped his memory. Or to test if it worked… "What's your name, mortal? Wake up, now."
Hazel eyes opened slowly, and the mortal stared at her, his expression lost and confused. Muninn flew off Lethe's shoulder as she helped the mortal sit up—her memory wipe seemed to have done the trick; he genuinely didn't seem to recognize her. "I—"
Lethe pursed her lips, watching her work critically. It was the first time she'd done anything like this—maybe she'd overdone it. Maybe she'd wiped everything, including basic skills like walking and talking? That would be a disaster; he would be no good after that—
"Who are you?" he asked suddenly, and her fears evaporated.
She smiled at him, delighted. "Lethe. What is your name?"
He hesitated, bewilderment crossing his face. "I can't—I don't remember," he said finally. He seemed to take in his surroundings for the first time—the blood surrounding him, the sight of the young goddess before him. "Who are you? What's going on? What happened—what's all this blood?"
"Hush," Lethe soothed, putting a hand on his arm. "You're fine now. I'll take care of you." She hesitated, then added in a burst of inspiration, "Your name. You are known as Attis."
The mortal—Attis, she corrected herself—turned towards her, regarding her carefully. Lethe returned his gaze, inwardly thrilling with delight—she had chosen correctly, it seemed. Once over the initial shock, his eyes were clear and intelligent, and his body was one of someone who spent time in the fields, or at some athletic pursuit. A worthy companion.
"Have we met before?" he asked suddenly, sitting up slowly.
Lethe smiled at him, pleased. "Not until recently." Muninn fluttered in from above, landing on Attis's head. "She likes you," Lethe added, pointing to the raven.
"I am flattered," Attis said, a small, confused smile breaking out onto his face. "May I ask where I am, though? And—what happened? Why am I lying in blood?"
Lethe's smile widened, and her grip tightened on his arm. "You may not. At any rate, it does not matter. I saved you—you belong to me, now. Come." She pulled the confused mortal to his feet, patting the worst of the blood-caked mud off. "Let me lead you to shelter, where you may talk to me."
So. Hem. Which twin is crueler, do you think? Pelathon with his psychotic pyromania or Lethe with her amnesiac tendencies? The point I wanted to make with this chapter is that deities are, historically, not kind. They may enjoy mortal company, they may like a few mortals and decided to gift them, they may lust after mortal passion. But they don't love. They don't actually care that much about mortals (or dryads either I guess), except as means of entertainment or tools for change. After all, we humans die so easily, and like Lethe said, death is not so bad—to the gods, it's nothing permanent.
For a rather good example of an uncaring deity, check out Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce—the god, Kyprioth, is my sort-of model for Lethe and Pelathon. And of course, the Greek myths themselves are models, too.
Oh, and Attis is the name of a Phrygian god whose death and resurrection symbolized the end of winter and the arrival of spring. The goddess Cybele loved him; when he rejected her, she had him castrated, which killed him. So yeah. XD Historically, gods do not respond well to rejection. Dunno if that's what'll happen to Lethe. Did I mention I have no plot? –shiftyeyes-
Okay, that's that. I got bitten by the writing bug and just had to churn out this chapter…whaddaya think? Review, please!