The world really can be entertaining at times, especially if the Immortals are involved. Mortals are a decent source of amusement, of course, and I watch them regularly, if only to scoff or chuckle at their sappy or lustful attempts at romance. Silly little things. I mean, really, most of them don't have a damned clue – but I digress. This particular time, I was observing the world because something quite momentous was happening. The primary person involved was completely unaware of this, and being as young as he was, I doubt he was aware of much of anything to begin with.
Truth be told, this story started several thousand years ago, shortly after the Olympians defeated the Titans and began their rule on Mount Olympus. Telling the story from the beginning would be the properly sequential thing to do, but it would take a dreadfully long time to recount. I would rather begin with the "particular time" I so vaguely referred to earlier. If you beg me to do otherwise, I will ignore you. If you complain about or rudely insult my storytelling skills, then I will take my bow and arrow and shoot you. You wouldn't die, but instead fall madly in love with a repulsive, snarling beast. Does that sound nice? No? Then keep your mouth shut and let me tell the story.
Phaidros was incredibly old, and he had been through quite a lot, but he was still jittery with nervous energy. The Fates had decreed it was time for that very special thing to happen, that thing he and his eleven brothers, one sister, and twelve thousand-ish sons, daughters, nieces and nephews had been waiting for: the return of their matriarch. I could speak of her in more detail, but I'll save that for later.
This return would not happen easily, however. The gods never like to make things easy for people. Where's the fun in that? There'd be no adventures if things were achieved easily. Anyway, steps were to be taken in order for this event to occur, and the first step began with Phaidros.
I've just realized I have no choice but to start from the very beginning. Any sniggering will be most unappreciated and will result in an immediate infatuation with a rabid weasel.
Ἔν ἀρχᾖ, ( pronounced en arkhē, means "in the beginning" in Ancient Greek.) when the earth was still relatively new and the Titans were recently defeated, there was a girl. She was – and still is – as beautiful on the inside as my beloved wife Psyche is on the outside. This mattered very little to anybody, save her parents. And she, as the saying goes, had a face only a mother could love. Perhaps that is too harsh, though: the girl was homely and unremarkable. There, that's not so bad. But wait, now I'm being dishonest. Umm... She was very ugly. Her features were irregular, her hair was coarse and dull, her eyes were mud puddles, her nose was comically large, and her skin was splotchy and blemished. Not very nice, I know, but that's the truth.
Part of the reason her parents loved her so dearly, aside from her wonderful personality, was the fact that she was a miracle. Her ten siblings before her had all died before their first birthday, and her mother prayed unceasingly that their eleventh would not die. When she was born, they even named her Zosima, meaning "viable" or "likely to survive". Names really do shape who you are. Their prayers to Eileithyia, and just about every other god, were answered.
But like I said, Zosima was regrettably unattractive. She was teased and excluded and looked down upon. Fortunately, this helped her learn empathy, compassion, humility, and depth. Not that anyone really cared. All the villagers laughed at her, saying she would be a lonely old crone with no one to love her. They were proved embarrassingly wrong when a gorgeous young man named Phrixus took her for his wife. He was not shallow like the other blathering buffoons in the village; her unfailing kindness won his heart. Honestly, I didn't even have to shoot him with an arrow.
They cared for each other so greatly and sweetly that my mother, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, chose to bestow a gift on the couple. She made Zosima as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside, which turned out to be pretty damned beautiful.
It was quite a shocking thing to wake up to. Phrixus thought a woman had sneaked into his house and crawled into bed with him, and Zosima screamed profusely while examining her bangin' new body. After everything was squared away and it was realized that Zosima had been blessed by the gods, they made lots and lots of sweet, sweet love.
A short time after Zosima became pregnant, Zeus noticed her. Even when he's not horny he has a tendency to screw things up, so obviously she was in trouble. He just wanted a little time with her (long term relationships aren't really his thing), so he came to her as a dazzlingly handsome young man while her husband was away. He visited her this way many times, but she had no desire to be with him. She was still very polite, though. Then Zeus realized that if Phrixus was out of the way, Zosima might be his.
The selfish bastard decided not to take a direct approach. He appeared to the king of Knossos in a dream, and encouraged him to travel to the insignificant little Cretan village. When he arrived, he saw poor Zosima, and demanded to have her. She was very pregnant when this happened, so the king did not "have" her immediately. The plan was to let her have her child, kill it, then make her part of his harem. There was only a month left until all that happened.
Phrixus could not obey his king and lose his wife to him. He traveled to Knossos to get her back.
He got all the way to her bedchamber. It was quite impressive how many guards he managed to kill. They were able to share one last loving embrace before the king stormed in with his guards. Zosima begged for her beloved's life, but that egotistical prick who ruled Knossos was a very antagonistic and possessive man. Phrixus was stabbed in the heart. Zosima was held back as they dragged his body out of her room.
All the gods had been watching all this, me included, and we very much wanted to do something about it. Interfering is expressly frowned upon, so we hesitated. Now this darling young woman was suffering... and going into labor. Soon she would lose her child as well.
We had a meeting. Zeus said she was worthy of something great, something glorious. Aphrodite already blessed her with beauty, we said, and look what that got her. No, he said, something grander. Make her a goddess, he said. She deserves it. We got very quiet. Everyone was afraid to agree. Making someone a god is a very big deal, and usually only demigods get the honor. We all reluctantly, carefully voted yes. But goddess of what, we wondered? My mother voted to make her a minor goddess of love – the Goddess of Kindness. No, Zeus said, that doesn't sound quite right. I meekly volunteered to make her my daimon, but then Nemesis appeared. Not an Olympian, but much older than us and even the Titans. So she has our respect. She said she was disgusted with the injustice done to this poor mortal girl. She gave Zeus a look, but he, being shameless, didn't flinch. The Goddess of Justice had a very unique proposition. Zosima could become an earthly goddess and administer justice where she is commanded. Zosima would be an executioner.
We all liked this very much, mainly because it would mean getting to watch her kill the awful king. So we agreed. But we all liked Zosima, so we all wanted to give her something. And we became somewhat competitive about it.
I feel I must say a few things about my mother, Aphrodite. She is seen as a fickle, whorish, shameless flirt, yes? It's not entirely her fault; The Fates spun her destiny, and decided that her main purpose would be to make love. Not a bad niche, but it gets you a certain reputation. She is told she's just as much an Olympian as the other members of the Parthenon, but it's obvious they don't think too highly of her. Especially the Virgin Goddesses, like Athena and Artemis. My mother is more than how everyone sees her, though. Love is a very powerful force. She does not deal exclusively with romantic, coitus-related love (because that is my job). The love between a mother and her child, the love for one's country, the love between friends... Her dominion is larger than most think. And her personality is more complicated, also. She is smart, my mother, and she can be very patient and kind. Vain, yes, and oftentimes dangerously passionate, but we all have our flaws.
My mother wanted someone like her, someone that may be able to understand her. So she wanted to give Zosima similar powers to her own. Heavenly beauty, so potent that all men would be intoxicated by the very sight of her. The "instinct" to know how to "deal" with men. That was my mother's way of saying let her know how to wrap men around her gorgeous little finger. And the desire to have many children, because wouldn't she make a wonderful mother?
Apollo had heard Zosima's sweet singing voice, and decided it could be vastly improved. She would have a voice that could soothe the most riotous crowd. It would be the most exquisite lullaby sound the world could ever hear. And, of course, a sharp talent for music.
Athena saw all that as frilly, superfluous frivolity. She gave Zosima a very powerful mind: an infallible, unlimited memory, and a judicious sense. No good in her being all bosoms and no brain, I suppose.
Artemis gave her agility, sharp senses, colossal strength, amazing speed, beautiful upper and lower fangs that hide when needed, and magnificent retractable claws: all the better to hunt with.
Poseidon made her an excellent swimmer, and gave her the ability to hold her breath indefinitely. It doesn't sound very gracious of him, but they really are practical gifts.
Ferocity! We all turned when Ares screamed that. She should have ferocity in battle, he said. And as a killer, she should be a brilliant fighter.
Hephaistos tried very hard to put his two cents in, but everyone drowned him out. Poor thing.
For a long while, Hermes had been staring at his staff, the one with the snakes intertwined around it. He grew so excited that he yelled his idea louder than he intended. Her blood, he said, should be able to cure anything. All you would need is a single drop. And, and this got Ares' passionate approval, she should be able to turn into a gigantic snake. Applause from Ares rang out, and he added that it should be a fire-breathing snake, with scales of golden adamantine. We all liked that very much, and the gold idea prompted Hermes to say she should have gold blood.
Hera, bless her heart, was very fond of Zosima. She was the only girl who did not give in the Zeus, and she honored Hera for giving her a beautiful marriage. So, she said, give her the desire for eternal love. This seemed like a barb directed at Aphrodite, knowing how unfaithful she can be. But Hera did mean well. Hera saw Zosima's abounding faithfulness and cherished it. It should be encouraged, she said. Don't ever let her be truly comfortable with only love affairs.
A pretty sentiment indeed. Not enough foresight, though. We all knew Zosima would be made immortal, so wouldn't that mean she would have very limited choices? Only a god, then, right? Things would work out, she said. I trusted her. She has a strange way of knowing things like that sometimes.
An odd thing happened then: Thanatos, Death himself, showed up. He vowed he would never take her. Her body would be crushed, maimed, or otherwise mutilated, but she would always become whole again. It was awfully nice of him, but we were curious to know why he would do such a thing. Why extinguish such a light as her? We all agreed that was a very good reason.
They were all tying things up, and I realized I hadn't offered anything. I piped up, saying I think she be made absolutely phenomenal in bed. They laughed, but they also approved. My mother was pleased with my idea. She said that perhaps any man blessed enough to be chosen as a mate (even if only a playmate) should radiate it. Infernals (evil monsters) would hesitate to attack, lest they wish to evoke the wrath of the great being we were creating.
Eileithyia stepped forth and mentioned the matter of Zosima's children. What would become of them? Mere mortals destined to die, dropping like flies around the aeonian jewel we were so busy making? How sad that would be. A unique creature such as this would need company; but they must acquire a sense of humanity first. It would be terrible for them to become like the Infernals.
So her children would grow as mortals, then at any time during puberty, they would Turn, blossom into something new and good and ferocious and powerful, but still have the ability to appear human. It would begin with her firstborn.
And so we returned our attention to this injured dove, writhing in pain and grief. How terrible it was. She was put in a deep sleep, and Morpheus was sent to tell her what she needed to know about what she would become, with a new detail: her blood would be the only thing that could kill her children, once they've become powerful. I feel I must also let you know that certain other minor details became part of what she is and part of what her children are, but they will come to light when necessary.
Back to Zosima. She woke, and had her darling son. She held him close; so protective, so afraid. She named him Chrusanthos, meaning "golden flower". A lovely name, really.
Guards came for her baby, along with that terrible king. It was when they came that she fully realized there was something different about her: she felt strong, radiant. She almost seemed to glow. And when the king entered, she flinched. Her pupils became large slits, like a cat's. Nice touch, I thought. She very delicately put her son down, and instinct took over. Not the "instinct" my mother gave her; it was a very primal, animalistic one. She became a great, golden, 500-foot-long fire-breathing snake. Most definitely overkill, but it was her first time as whatever she was, and shouldn't that be special?
They didn't stand a chance. Zosima destroyed the entire army in less than two minutes. Afterward, she fled with her son to a cave deep in the mountains. Zeus came to her, taking credit for the incredible power bestowed upon her, and tried to woo her again. It still didn't work. Zosima refused to disrespect Hera by having an affair with her husband. Outraged, Zeus cursed her. He could not revoke her god-given abilities, but he could darken them. Not only would she kill evil-doers, but she would devour them, as would her descendants. He had, in his own way, made her into a monster.
When Chrusanthos became a young man, he Turned, and the first Nymph came into being.
As the years went on, Zosima fell for many strapping young men, mostly heroes. She had a son with just about every hero in Greek "myth": Adonis,Theseus, Perseus, Jason... you get the picture. Her only daughter was sired by Herakles. All these children became powerful, and they mated with mortals and had children whom became the kinds of monsters their parents are, and those children had mortal children who passed on the gene that in a few dozen generations would emerge again. Take your time figuring that last sentence out.
The thirteen Alphas of the Twelve Races of Immortals are these (in no particular order): Chrusanthos the Nymph, Deimos the Gorgon, Philippos the Pegasus, Anaxagoras the Vampire, Kalais the Shapeshifter, Lukos the Werewolf, Ra-Kheperu-Ari-Mat the Phoenix, Ammon the Shroud, Adrastos the Minotaur, Theron the Gryphon, Phaidros the Sphinx, Dardanos the Manticore, and Helle, whom I suppose can just be called a mind-reader. Helle can read the entire contents of a person's mind, which freaked the hell out of the gods, so they made her barren. She is the only Alpha without a race.
As it was realized that stories were being told about the Immortals, it was thought prudent to alter the stories a bit. It was quite easy, like playing a game of telephone. They saw it best to maintain anonymity, because if people knew all their secrets, they would surely be exploited. This explains why you have never heard of Zosima or the Immortals. You have heard of sirens, though, and "Siren" somehow became the thing they called Zosima. The word means "to bind", which I think works quite nicely for her.
Oh and by the way, Zosima and Helen of Troy are one in the same.
So anyway, I need to get off all these rabbit trails. Zosima fell in love with a wonderful young man and gave birth to his son, whom she named Dardanos. Then one day, the man revealed who he truly was: Erebos, the Primordial God of Darkness. She was devastated, because Erebos is evil. How could he have hidden his black heart from her?
There was a trade. I don't know with whom, because they still treat me like a child on Olympus and never tell me anything. But Erebos handed over his godliness, and he was given the ability to hide his awful soul. Helle couldn't even read his mind and find anything damning. When he chose to be a god again, he would lose his disguise. Why go to such lengths? Well, Zosima is really hot, but he also saw it as a power play. You see, while she is the mother of the Immortals, he is the father of the Infernals. Very angel/demon stuff. Their children attack one another all the time – Immortals think Infernals are delicious – and the Immortals usually always win. So Erebos thought that perhaps if he had a child with her, it would be immensely powerful. Since he was mortal when Dardanos was conceived, he hadn't been able to test his theory. But if he were a god... well, thankfully he never got to find out.
Zosima was super pissed when he told her the truth. All her love for him was gone in an instant. Enraged, Erebos ripped her heart out and took it with him. No one can have your heart but me, he said. Zosima's children found her still body, dormant but not dead. They screamed at us, begging us to make her whole again. We almost did – we got as far as getting the heart back from Erebos – but Hera stopped us.
She'll continue to grow weary, she said, and she would not last very long, not after something like this. We asked what that meant. Watching all her mortal lovers die, knowing there is no god both single and faithful, and being deceived so cruelly – it will crush her spirit. Erebos would be able to seduce her if she was so defeated. Very logical conclusion, yes, but does that mean we don't fix her? Of course we fix her, she said, but not yet. She looked to her husband. Zeus huffed and said the eternal love thing was her fault, and he didn't see why he had to do anything about it. Hera scowled. Then she argued that Zosima deserves a partner. We agreed about this quite loudly, and I think Apollo was hoping to be allowed to have her. He had wanted her for a very long time now, but he didn't want to cross Zeus.
Apollo wasn't allowed, though. Hera asked him for a favor. We need a prophecy, she said. When Apollo gets a prophecy, he's mainly just asking the Fates for the future in riddle form. That's what he did, too, because while he couldn't have Zosima, he still wanted her to be happy.
An eon will pass before the birth of a fair
hero, born not on land nor in the sea.
He will deliver life to the Siren
and possess her heart.
Take heed, for
Darkness threatens to
corrupt the righteous serpent.
These deities must not unite, or war
will rage among the Agents of Nemesis,
and the mortals will be trampled underfoot.
Vague, yet straight to the point. Unsettling to know that Erebos has a chance to win her back if she's emotionally crippled enough. The "deliver life" and "possess her heart" bits seem to have a double meaning. The "fair hero" being "born not on land nor in the sea" was what baffled us most. So will he be born in the air on the back of a bird? It was possible the hero was a minor god, and Aphrodite suggested it may be a demigod. Zeus didn't like the idea of a demigod getting what he himself wanted so badly, and that's why the Immortals were later told they must stay separate from them, and were never again asked to protect our half-mortal offspring. I didn't see how that accomplished anything, but it's not really my place to argue with him.
The Alphas were told the prophecy. They had a particularly sour reaction to the "eon" bit, and we patiently reminded them that they were immortal, and did they want a civil war? No, we didn't think so. Chrusanthos, her oldest, made her a marble coffin with intricate carvings, and they dug her a tomb in a hillside deep in a holly oak woodland in Crete. Before being buried, they adorned her with gold necklaces, bracelets, rings, armlets, earrings... pretty much anywhere they could put jewelry, they did. Each of the gods gave her a small gift – a charm to tie in her hair. They were each a symbol of ours, like a little golden hammer for Hephaistos and a peacock feather for Hera. She ended up with a lot of feathers in her hair. Even Hades gave her a small piece of Stygian metal. We hated to see her go, especially since none of us was exactly sure how long the eon would be.
It was 2006, about three thousand years later, when Apollo picked up the golden jar.
We all chastised him at first, because none of us touched the golden jar. It had the Siren's heart in it! It was safe enough on Olympus, but still, it was the principle of the thing.
He shook his head, saying it was time. We grew quiet. Apollo has a closeness to the Fates that the rest of us don't, and they occasionally told him things, sometimes not even in riddle form. If he said it was time, then he must've meant it.
The Fates were more straightforward for once. They told him we must give the Siren's heart to Phaidros, the Alpha Sphinx. We thought it odd, except for Athena, who had taken a shine to him. Sphinxes have the curious habit of asking their prey a riddle before suffocating and eating them, and saying they will be freed if they answer correctly (they're never freed because Sphinxes are just too clever, but that's beside the point).
I'd like to take a moment and explain to you what a real Sphinx looks like. It's not a winged lion with the head of a person. Wouldn't that be creepy? They actually look like lions with ram's horns, serpent's tails, and eagle wings. They're faces are what's really scary, though. Feline-ish, yes, but the short fur is ashen-gray, and the skin looks like it's stretched over the bone and muscle. The cheeks are gaunt, and the mouth tends to gape, showing the long fangs inside. Their voices are low and gravelly. And their eyes... quite disturbing. Just black empty spaces. You can't possibly stare into them for more than a few seconds.
Anyway, Phaidros is not the oldest or the most special, so why entrust him with it? Just because, Apollo said. We gave him a collective shrug, because sure, why not?
And, at last, we have come full circle. Bravo to you for sticking with me this long.
The Alpha Sphinx was told he would give the golden jar to the Chosen One. That's the only time I'll refer to the jar-receiver this way, because I think it's a bit silly-sounding and cliché. But anyway, this man whom is destined to be with Zosima forever was to get the jar. Or is the man who gets the jar destined to be with Zosima forever? The point is, Phaidros would know whom to give it to. Would Phaidros know because the man could answer his riddle? Of course not, we're not cruel enough to subject him to your impossible riddles, we said. The man would be in accordance with the prophecy, of course. He'd be "a fair hero, born not on the land nor in the sea", whatever that meant. And Apollo said that the Fates would guide the One to him that very day. No need for him to get worked up; he'd know where he should be and he'd know the guy when he saw him. And one last thing, he said, don't tell the Alphas until after the One has been found.
Phaidros was not entirely sure why he was in Lakkoi. It was a little village nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains in western Crete. A lovely place, sure, but he felt idle and lost. He had been given little direction, and he didn't like just sitting around and waiting.
While the place itself had little importance, at least he could be grateful for its location. It was not too far from the National Park of Samariá, which is where Mother was buried. Sounds almost too convenient, but the Alphas had clandestinely gained power and influence over the millenia, and when they saw the wildlands shrinking around their mother's tomb, they had the area protected by making it a national park and biosphere reserve. They couldn't risk people building a strip mall or something on top of the Tomb, even though it was well guarded.
Anyway, he felt compelled to be in this village, so there had to be a reason. Perhaps the young man he was looking for lived here. He couldn't very well go knocking on doors, so he sat in the marketplace, holding the little jar in his lap. I'll admit it must've have looked rather strange to the villagers: a handsome, young (-looking) man sitting with his back against the wall of a small white building, holding a jar protectively. He'd stare hard at young men, wondering how he'd know who the right one is. Occasionally children would ask him why he was holding that old clay jar. The first time, he looked down at it: the jar was gold and covered in beautiful designs. When he looked back at the child, he said this, and the child just gave him a strange expression and ran away. Soon people in the marketplace started whispering about the poor crazy man who thought his small clay jar was made of gold.
If you don't mind, I'm going to start using dialogue. I think it'll work better for this part of the story.
Phaidros had been in Lakkoi for four hours, and all he had gained were a few strange looks from the locals and dirt on his jeans. Being several thousand years old, he knew how to be patient, but discouragement still began to set in. He battled that with the thought that sure, nothing had happened yet, but it was only almost ten.
He continued to people-watch in the busying marketplace. The vendors sold their wares and eyed him curiously. The children played and were occasionally scolded by their mothers. An American couple and their son walked around, observing the food and trinkets for sale.
These Americans stood out a bit. Casually dressed, yes, but not swarthy like the Mediterraneans surrounding them. It was also strange to see them because it was October 16th, which was very late in the tourist season, and not a lot of tourists would come to Lakkoi to begin with.
They were getting closer now, and the son was wandering farther and farther away from his parents. That didn't seem to be dangerous, though; the boy looked to be about eleven- or twelve- or thirteen-years-old. He was really adorable, actually: Green-blue eyes, a couple of freckles, short honey-blonde hair peaking out from under his blue bucket hat, and, my word, what a cute smile. When Phaidros had looked away from the boy and then back again, he noticed he was staring at the jar. What, do American boys never see clay jars?
Eventually, the boy made his way to Phaidros, his eyes rarely leaving the jar. When he finally approached, he said, "Is that made of real gold?"
Phaidros' eyebrows went way up. "I'm sorry?"
"That jar you're holding. Is it real gold?"
He looked down at the jar, then at the kid. "Yes."
The boy smiled. "It's beautiful! Where'd you get it?"
"Good friends of mine." Phaidros just couldn't get that stunned look off his face.
Intrigued, the boy sat down next to him, not caring about the dirt he was getting on his khaki cargo pants. "So what's it for?"
"Nothing special," which was a complete lie.
The boy made a half-frown. "It's just for decoration, then?"
"What do you use it for when you're not using it for decoration?"
"For carrying hearts in," He made sure to sound facetious when he said it. "How about I ask you a few questions?" Don't worry, no riddles were involved.
"Ok," the kid nodded.
"What brings you to Lakkoi?"
"My parents and I are going to camp in the Samaria Gorge until Thursday. I don't think people are usually allowed to camp there, especially now since it's closed to tourists, but my parents know people who run the National Park."
"How do your parents know those people?" he immediately thought about his fellow Alphas, but knew the boy must be referring to mortal employees.
"My parents are anthropologists. They know scientists and historians and archeologists and people like that, and I think they met the National Park people through one of them. We're mostly going there because there's a dig in Kaino they'll be participating in."
"Anthropologists? That sounds interesting."
"Yeah, we get to travel around a lot because of it."
"Well, everywhere, really. Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, a bunch of different islands..."
Phaidros stared at the smiling boy. Could he be...? Nah. But it wouldn't hurt to ask. Might as well waste time until the one from the prophecy comes along.
"So, where were you born, then?"
He scratched a spot on his forehead covered by the band of his bucket hat. "Well, I'm not exactly sure."
The Alpha Sphinx looked at him curiously. "What does that mean?"
"I was born on a plane that was flying over the Bermuda Triangle."
Born not on land nor in the sea... holy crap. I couldn't read Phaidros' mind, but I could tell he was definitely thinking that by the look on his face.
"Yeah?" he tries to keep calm.
"Yeah. It was during a hurricane, too."
His parents finally saw their son sitting next to Phaidros, and came over to say hello.
"Hi," the mother said nicely, but it was clear that she and her husband heard the vendors talk about the crazy man with the jar. "He's not bothering you, is he?"
"No." Phaidros replied. Nope, not bothering him at all. Just fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
"Oh, good," the father said with a smile, "I'm sorry, but we're in a big hurry. We'll be late meeting our friends if we don't leave now."
Just before the kid rose to leave with them, he asked the Alpha Sphinx his name.
"Phaidros. What's yours?"
"Henry Griffin," he replied as he extended his hand. "It was nice to meet you."
Phaidros shook his hand, trying not to laugh at the delightful coincidence of his last name being "Griffin". He was so dazed that the family had managed to walk a few yards before he realized something.
"I want you to have this." he held the jar out to Henry, who gawked in disbelief.
"Really? But why – "
Phaidros shook his head. "Just trust me, kid. It's got your name written all over it."
Mr. and Mrs. Griffin looked nervous. "Henry," his mom said, "Thank the nice man for the clay jar."
"And hurry," the father added. His wife gave him a disapproving look.
"Clay...?" Henry muttered under his breath, but then he shook his head. "Well, thanks, Phaidros! Maybe I'll see you soon."
They hurried on their way. Once they were out of sight, Phaidros whipped out his cell phone.
"Hey, Chrusi... No, I don't care if you don't like that nickname... Fido? Sure, call me whatever. Although I still think that would suit Lukos better... Listen, it's time. I need you to gather the Alphas... It's time, as in get your pansy-ass to Crete and make sure our siblings are with you... Can I take your stunned silence as a yes? Hello?... I know because Apollo told me. He also told me to find the guy from the prophecy... What are you getting angry at me for? I was told not to tell you until after I delivered the heart... Well, to the guy of course. He's younger than I expected... Calm down, Chrusi! Mom's heart is safe in the jar... No, it will be safe with the kid... Yes, I just called him a kid. He's about twelve years old... Jeez, Chrusi, again with the yelling! I just did what I was supposed to!... It's ok, I don't blame you for freaking out, but trust that this kid really is who we've been waiting for, although now we'll also have to wait for him to grow up a bit... Ok, thanks, Bro. Bye."
I wasn't able to actually listen to the Alpha meeting, because the Alpha Shroud hid them. Not even the gods can hear or see when a Shroud hides himself and/or others. So later on I asked them really nicely to tell me what happened. They complied, because they consider me a kind of uncle, since I view Zosima as an adoptive sister.
All thirteen Alphas were in the National Park of Samariá by sunset. Sounds strange, I know, but since they can all run (or fly) fast enough to break the sound barrier, it wasn't that difficult.
They sat in a circle beneath a cluster of centuries-old trees, miles from the walking trail. The rushing waters of the river Tarraios could be heard just to the East of them.
"You're absolutely sure?"
Phaidros sighed. "Yes, Deimos."
"Really? Because you just told us you literally gave our mother's heart to a child we don't even know." said Ammon.
"An American child, no less." Added Philippos, "Why on earth would the One be American? They're not entirely hopeless, but... well, we know how they are."
"Right," agreed Adrastos, "And Mother has really only ever liked Greek men, anyway." he looked when the Alpha Phoenix cleared his throat. "Your father being an exception, of course. Sorry, Ra."
Ra-Kheperu-Ari-Mat smiled at his brother, then looked to the rest of his siblings. "I don't see a problem with him being an American. Didn't Phaidros say he's traveled all over the world? I doubt the boy has even been in the States enough for it to affect him."
"Agreed," said Helle. When she said it, she was speaking for the rest of them, too. In meetings, she usually does all the talking, because she can read her brothers' minds. This time she only spoke when she thought it necessary. "Now that we approve of the boy – as if that matters – what are we to do?"
After a short silence, Chrusanthos spoke. "Make arrangements, I suppose. We know this all means Mother will be awakened, but not right now."
"Are we to assume that since Phaidros allowed the boy to 'possess her heart', he can be trusted to 'deliver life to the Siren'?" Asked Theron.
"I would think so," said Lukos, "This must be a time when we need to take a hands-off approach to the prophecy. Let the kid find his way. We'll know what to do when it's our time to act."
"Yes, absolutely." Helle took the reins again. "Mother will rise. No need to worry about that right now. The child is a bigger problem."
Anaxagoras raised an eyebrow. "How so? He's been found. Now all we do is wait a few years. We'll need that time to assimilate Mother, anyway. She's three thousand years behind the times. It'll take her some getting used to."
"Too true, dear brother, but need I remind you that we weren't given a guarantee. Zeus warned us this 'fair hero' will be our only chance, and failure is a possibility. This little sprout could die before Mother can give him her blood and make him Immortal. Though I fear Zeus may not make this very easy; a mere mortal is to win the Siren's heart. It's an insult he won't take graciously." answered Helle.
They all nodded.
"So then the child will have a guardian?" asked Dardanos.
Kalais chuckled. "He doesn't need one of those! We can protect him. All in favor of kidnapping, raise your hand."
"KEEP YOUR HANDS DOWN." Helle shook her head in disappointment. "As much as I like that approach myself, it would be too great a risk. It's far to drastic. We must let the Fates spin his destiny. To take him in, or guide him too much, would be a threat to the prophecy. We must not control his life."
Lukos frowned. "So no guardian, then?"
Helle's brow furrowed in concentration. "The boy will need one. Or perhaps several. We can choose Immortals worthy of such responsibility to watch over him in secret. They may only interfere when his life is threatened. Because he travels so regularly, he can get a new... Watcher, I suppose... every time he moves. We can plan it out more thoroughly once we know him better. But if he really is a 'hero', then he may be a handful."
"If he's anything like Theseus, he'll need at least two Watchers per location." said Deimos with an unexpected amount of seriousness. His siblings laughed anyway. As if the boy could possibly be as bad as Theseus.
"And so it's decided that we will aim to keep Henry Griffin alive, and Mother will not know of his destiny until the time is right?"
Helle allowed her brothers to voice their agreement out loud instead of just thinking it.
The Samariá Gorge was a beautiful, wild place left uncorrupted by the modern world. Kri-kris pranced about, birds sang, bugs crawled, the trees grew tall – it was the kind of place Henry felt at home in. Or it would be, if Henry would pay any attention to his surroundings. He was too busy studying that damn little jar.
His parents weren't sure why he was so enthralled – it was just an unremarkable, poorly made clay jar. Rusty-red and as tall as a jelly jar but twice as wide, a potter probably took two minutes to make it, and another ten seconds to tie a piece of twine with a clay bead just below the lid. But they couldn't complain. Their son's fascination had kept him from attempting to crawl over the wooden railing and wander off of the path, which would've gotten them in very deep trouble.
"Sweetie," said his mother, Rosemary, "Isn't this great?"
"Mm." Henry answered distractedly. He carefully turned the jar this way and that, occasionally trying to gently remove the lid. The jar refused to open.
"Zafer, honestly," she whispered to her husband, "He's been looking at that thing for the past three hours. What did that crazy young man tell him?"
Zafer sighed. "I don't know, but right now I'm happy for it. If it wasn't for that jar, he would have hopped the railing and gotten lost in the forest by now."
Mrs. Griffin nodded in admittance and looked back at her son. He was no longer holding the jar. "Oh, did you get tired of looking at it?"
Henry blinked. "Of course not. The terrain is getting more uneven up here, and I was afraid I would drop it and break it."
Another two hours later, the Griffins arrived at the abandoned village of Samariá. Usually there were a few park employees living in some of the abandoned houses, but now the whole village was empty. Their guide, whom I deem too insignificant to mention by name, offered them the ruined buildings to sleep in, and they camped out in the dilapidated house across from the Samariá surgery building. Once Henry helped his parents with their stuff, he took out that blasted jar and sat with it under an olive tree. It confused his parents, but they were grateful he was staying out of trouble.
Henry could tell he was holding something very special. It was dazzling: the gold was smooth and strong, and detailed carvings of monsters covered every inch of it. A gold chain with a pendant was wrapped around the neck of the jar: the chain was made of little infinity signs linked together, and the pendant was a golden snake spiraled tightly around a grape-sized, dark blue sapphire.
What most intrigued him was the fact that the jar was sealed tightly shut, and it made him wonder if Phaidros really had been joking about carrying hearts in it. I couldn't read Henry's mind either, if that's what you're wondering; he thought this out loud. The boy has a strange habit of talking to himself.
After the sun disappeared behind the mountains, a fire was built, and the Griffins and their guide gathered around it. Henry's parents looked relieved to see that their son had put the jar away for the time being.
"Do you folks know why people are not allowed to stray from the path in this park?" The guide asked with a mild Greek accent.
"So people don't disturb the wildlife too much?" offered Henry.
The guide smiled. "That is one reason, and it's what we tell the tourists, but there is another. The path is not only for the safety of the habitat, but for the safety of the visitors as well."
"I'm sure people could easily get lost or injured in here." said Zafer.
"Oh, that's not all Mr. Griffin," he leaned forward a bit, the glow from the fire illuminating his face. "There are monsters in the forest."
The guide now definitely had Henry's full attention. "Where?" he asked.
"All over, probably. Some people say they've seen Nymphs. Peeking out from behind a tree, swimming in the river Tarraios... one person swore they saw Pegasus grazing in a meadow. But they're not dangerous, not like the beast of Dásos tōn Terátōn."
Rosemary was smiling, taking interest in the story she thought was only a legend. "The beast of what?"
"Forest of Monsters," the guide replied. "Not very original, I know, but it has a certain ring to it. It's a holly oak forest a few miles West of this village. The people of Samariá, when they still lived here, were very respectful of it and stayed out. Those who dared enter risked being attacked by the beast, but no one had ever been in it long enough to see it. They all suffered panic before they could encounter it."
"As in Pan got to them?" Zafer asked.
The guide nodded. "People would come screaming out of the forest. It would take days for them to recover."
"But no one ever found the beast?" inquired Henry.
"Nope. But sometimes you can hear roars and howls coming from the woods."
Henry probably wanted to ask more questions, but his parents told him it was time for bed. Mr. and Mrs. Griffin stayed up, of course, talking to the guide and thanking him for the story.
His sleeping bag swished as he crawled into it. Once it was zipped up, he leaned over to his backpack and pulled the jar out. He studied it for a few minutes in the very dim light of the sliver moon, then wrapped his arms around it. Kind of odd, I mean it's a gold jar (or clay jar, depending), not a teddy bear. I suppose he was feeling rather protective of it. He lay there wide awake, listening to the muffled voices of his parents or the rustling of the tree by the window.
Then he heard the beast.
It was quiet, very distant, but most definitely a roar. He could almost feel it, like a rumble of thunder. His parents and the guide were loud – laughing about something – and they didn't seem to have heard it. But Henry did. He had heard all kinds of roars in his short life, but none quite like this. It was so ferocious it made an African lion sound like a house cat. No way was that a regular animal. He just had to know what it was.
And so, that idiotic little boy sneaked out of the crumbling house, past his parents, over the railing and into the woods. Seriously, how has he lived this long? Those Watchers really will be necessary.
The boy obviously didn't have a clue what he was doing. He had taken off into the woods at night in search of a legendary monster. After walking almost four miles, he found the forest, although I doubt he really knew he did. The beam from his flashlight showed the massive trunks of the holly oaks around him. Judging by their width, Henry thought those trees must've been around since the beginning of the world. That's what he said out loud to himself, anyway.
He continued on his way through the Forest of Monsters, which so far wasn't being very monstrous, and –
Henry spun around and aimed his flashlight at the speaker. It appeared to be a short, rotund man in a brown tweed suit.
"What are you doing here?" asked the tweed-suited man.
"I could ask you the same question." The boy's face was scrunched with absolute bewilderment. This was a very strange thing to find in a forest. The man was wearing a bowler hat, for goodness' sake.
Mr. Tweed-Suit gave him a wide smile. "You know," he began to stroke his goatee, "This is a very dangerous area. No place for a boy. In fact, I'm quite certain it's forbidden to step outside the path."
"I won't hurt anything."
"Oh, I'm sure, but there's no guarantee that anything won't hurt you."
Henry took a small, careful step back. The man in tweed pretended not to notice.
"Now, please tell me, dear boy, what exactly do you think you're doing out here?"
At that moment, a loud roar shook the forest. Henry grew excited.
"I'm looking for that!"
"Yes, the monster in the woods!" he tried to rush off in the direction of the noise, but Mr. Tweed-Suit caught his arm.
"Let me get this straight," the tweed-suit man said as he adjusted his bowler hat, "You, a child, have come into these wild, treacherous, ancient woods by yourself late at night with only a flashlight and a backpack in hopes of finding a monster that sounds like it eats bears for breakfast?"
After a second, Henry nodded. "Sounds about right. Can I go now? I promise to be careful."
"Careful?" Tweed-Suit said with a bleat-like giggle, "Oh, I don't doubt that in the least. You clearly have a firm understanding of the word." His giggles gave way to a fit of laughter. "Go! Find your monster!"
Henry quickly left the apparently insane man and soon the sound of laughter was distant and just barely audible.
He continued to trek through the woods. Over fallen trees, around giant trunks, and then down a sharp incline. Well, he didn't really trek down the incline; it was more of a fall.
He went from being airborne to smashed into the leaf-covered ground and back again. It was quite funny to watch, what with all the oof!-ing and graceless somersaulting.
As he approached the bottom, he smacked into a tree; possibly the oldest, largest tree in the entire park. That part wasn't particularly comfortable either, but at least he had stopped rolling. Boy, was he a mess: smudged with dirt, leafy bits stuck in his hair (who knows where his hat was), little rips in his clothing, and small, shallow cuts on his arms and face. And he would surely have some nasty bruises in the morning
The first thing he did was check for injuries. When he found that it was very painful to put pressure on his right ankle, he sighed. Perhaps he realized he was a reckless idiot, but from what I know of his life after this little adventure, I sincerely doubt it.
He then checked his backpack. The golden jar was undamaged, and that seemed to cheer him up a bit. There was nothing in his backpack he could use to help him get up the steep hill, and it would be dangerous for him to try to get to the bottom. He was more or less stuck next to the trunk of the tree.
The roar rang out again, louder than ever before. It sounded so close that Henry may have been able to see the monster if he looked around enough. But he isn't completely devoid of common sense: he knew he was unable to run, he had no weapon, and, according to the tweed guy, this beast probably ate bears. So instead of exposing himself by looking around, he hugged his backpack and stayed very still.
There was another roar. My word, the thing must've been right at the foot of the hill. By some miracle, the boy was actually a little frightened now. He hid his head, probably wondering if the beast would eat him quickly.
Leaves rustled somewhere below him. The sound came closer and closer, then whatever it was was a few feet away, then right next to the tree, then –
Henry screamed and reflexively swung his fist. It was caught by a man with a very serious look on his face.
"Iremíso ! Den tha sas vlápsei."
The boy looked at the serious man questioningly. "What?"
"Ah. An American. I said, 'Are you injured?' then, 'Calm down! I won't hurt you.'" he then shone his flashlight on Henry's arms. "That was quite a fall you took."
"Do you need help getting down?"
He nodded. "I think I sprained my ankle."
"That's not good. The medical staff isn't in Samariá right now." he ran his fingers through his dark hair. "Well, I suppose I'll just carry you back to where you came from. You are a child of one of the archeologists?"
"Zafer and Rosemary Griffin. We're staying at the Samariá village tonight."
"Then that is where I will take you. I'm sure there are still medical supplies in the building." his brows furrowed. "What are you doing out here?"
"Looking for a monster."
"Ha! You believe that silly legend?"
Henry frowned indignantly. "I heard it roar! It was terrifying and loud and really close – "
"Your imagination was playing tricks on you. You probably just heard a kri-kri burp or something."
"It was not – "
"That's enough. I'm sick of standing on this hill and I don't feel like listening to your stories. Now climb on my back so I can take you to your parents and watch as they scold you."
This all makes Peter seem very unpleasant, but you have to understand that this was his way of hiding the fact that he was inwardly freaking the hell out. During the whole long, awkward walk back to Samariá with this spunky pipsqueak on his back, all he could think about was the fact that he probably just witnessed the fulfilling of the ancient prophecy. No one had ever made it more than a few yards into the Forest of Monsters. Pan had seen to that quite faithfully. And for this boy to have made it so far and then stumbled upon the entrance to the Tomb of the Most Ancient One... Well it had to mean something.
They made it back to the village, where the very worried Griffins waited. Peter introduced himself as a park employee, and no one questioned it; they were all too focused on telling Henry how unbelievably careless he was. This continued to work in Peter's favor as he stole (or just took, however you wish to view it) the golden jar from Henry's backpack. During their walk back, Henry had told him about the golden jar he received from a guy in Lakkoi. Perhaps not a bright move on Henry's part, but he probably thought there was no harm in it, considering Peter said he thought he was a ridiculous child an overactive imagination. Peter, however, believed every word.
And so Peter disappeared into the night before the guide and the Griffins could question him. Taking the jar was a somewhat rash thing to do, but he thought it was better than letting it sit around in a twelve-year-old's backpack. And he didn't completely rob him: he left the pendant and chain behind.
After running a few miles deep into the middle of nowhere, Peter took out his satellite phone.
"Sir, it's happened. I found a boy right next to the Immortal Tree, and he had the Siren's Heart."
Luckily, Peter had done the right thing by taking it. The Alphas gathered at the Tomb, and the call went out to all the Immortals. Well, not call; most of them found out through a text.
Now remember, there's about twelve thousand of them, and they don't all live nearby, either. The Immortals came from all over the world, even from Antarctica, and within two days everyone had shown up at the given coordinates.
The Forest of Monsters really lived up to its name that day. The area near the Tomb entrance was packed, and many sat in trees to give room for people on the ground. The gods would've liked to make an appearance, but we decided it was best to only watch. Zosima would have enough people to meet as it was.
Then the time came for Chrusanthos to wave his hand, and the tree parted, morphing into a doorway. He went in by himself, because the Tomb can't fit very many people, and took the heart and a white dress with him. The entire park grew silent, as if even the plants and animals knew something important was happening. I distinctly remember seeing Henry, confined to his bed and seriously grounded, wondering why the birds had suddenly stopped singing.
Chrusanthos came through the tree-door, leading Zosima behind him. When he finally stepped aside to present her …
I think a few people cried. Hell, I think I even cried. She was still wearing all the jewelry and hair ornaments she had been buried in, and her new white dress was simple yet tastefully showed off her voluptuous figure. Her hip-length hair, an indecisive shade of strawberry-blonde, caught the sunlight and gently billowed in the breeze. Everyone stared in wonder at her ivory skin that seemed to glow like a flawless pearl. Her full, raspberry lips parted in amazement when she realized just how many Immortals there were in the world now. And her eyes … by the gods, her dazzling sapphire eyes were such a staggering shade of midnight-blue and so deep that it seemed there was room in them for the whole universe.
Then the Immortals, all twelve thousand of them, unleashed a victorious, lion-ish roar. Their matriarch was home, and they felt whole again.
The incredibly deafening sound of twelve thousand Immortals cheering had been attributed to a rock slide in the area, though no further evidence could be found to support that explanation.
Henry remained grounded for the remainder of his time in Crete – and he also remained astoundingly, adorably ignorant of the true nature of his Cretan adventure, and even more so of his destiny.
By the way, do you know what song came out just four months before Zosima's awakening? Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack". I see it as proof that the Fates have a sense of humor.