It’s a sleep I don’t want to wake up from, but I know that I must; I can’t stay in this state forever. I don’t know how long I’ve been out for; it feels like days. I was tired before, so tired, and I’d grown numb, my powers and strength fading as my energy levels dwindled to the point of non-existence. Now I feel recharged, and I want answers.
First, though, I need to wake up. The problem is, I’m not sure I know how.
The men in the gym were mortals, of that I am sure, I could sense the thoughts and feelings buzzing through their veins, but something about them was different. When I was pinned to the bench press, they showed no emotion. No fear. No excitement. No nerves. Nothing. Which means either the men were devoid of emotion, or they were being manipulated. My money’s on the latter.
I don’t know how they managed to pin me using the bar; I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I could easily lift any weight and anyone in that gym without breaking a sweat. Whatever weight they used must have had some sort of force on it. A force which no mortal could create…well, perhaps one mortal, but he died a long time ago.
The liquid they dropped in my eyes was some type of poison that knocked me out; I don’t want to even think about the sort of creature from which it was taken. They must have known that no syringe would be capable of piercing my skin, and they must have been expecting me. The more I learn about ‘A,’ the more formidable he seems.
Who are you ‘A’? Think, you fool of a Titan!
I’m too tense, my anger and frustration blocking my thought-process. I need to relax. I focus on my breathing and drift, letting my subconscious off the leash.
I’m standing on Mount Caucasus, watching my younger self on that godforsaken rock. My memories of Mount Caucasus are painful, and I usually block them out; who wants to be reminded of being tortured every day? But this is a happy memory. The eagle, Koraki, my tormentor-in-chief, lies dead on the floor, and a young Heracles stands opposite me, chatting about his tasks.
He is a formidable man, with hands as big as saucepans and muscles growing on muscles growing on muscles. He is shirtless with a long scruffy beard, his skin tanned from many months on the road. He is quick to laugh, and I like him. Not just because he is my saviour, but also because I can see a vulnerable soul hiding underneath his hard, battered shell. I want to help him like he helped me.
On that day, I made a promise that I would repay my debt to Heracles. I failed on that promise, and that thought stings me.
Why have I brought myself here?
I walk up to Heracles and watch as my younger self has a conversation with him. I am almost gushing with thanks, and feel embarrassed watching it. What must he have thought of me? How weak I appear. How pathetic. I look at Heracles and feel a flicker. What was that? I look at him again and feel a much stronger pulse; it’s like he’s magnetised.
I enter his mind to see his thoughts and feelings, and it feels like I’ve fallen into quicksand. Entering the minds of mortals is easy, but Heracles is no mere mortal, and he’s pushing me away, although he does not know it. The quicksand is sucking me in, and I let it. I have a feeling that this is where I need to be.
I fall into a dark and empty corridor. A light flickers in the distance, and a stale smell lingers in the air. A door on my right leads to a room with the number ten hanging on it. The light in the room is on, I can see it shining under the door, but when I try it, it is locked. I walk on and find another door. This one is number nine. Same story.
I keep going, but each door I get to is locked, and then I’m back at number ten. I’ve walked around in a circle. I must have missed something; I’ve brought myself here for a reason. I walk the corridor again, but this time I create a ball of fire in the palm of my hand so that I can see more clearly.
I look around and wish I hadn’t.
It used to be a grand corridor, but now it is dilapidated with blood smeared on the walls, which are empty save for patches of discoloured paint showing where paintings used to hang. It chills my blood. I walk slowly, looking at each nook and cranny; there must be something here.
And then I find it: a secret door. It’s hidden between rooms five and six, and it’s almost impossible to see. I only found it because I was running my hand along the wall and felt a small gap, invisible to the eye because it’s covered by paint. There is no handle, so I push the door, and it springs back at me, revealing a staircase leading down into darkness.
I follow it.
I’m deep in the mind of a dead man, following a passage that has been closed off for millennia. This is unchartered territory, even for me.
The fire in the palm of my hand is extinguished, and I might as well be blindfolded. My abilities won’t work down here. The air becomes thick and sticks in my throat, it stings my eyes and bites my nostrils. My breathing becomes laboured and my limbs heavy, but still, I walk on. Voices in the air whisper doubts in my ears, telling me to turn back, that I will never return from this place, but I know I have to keep going. I need to find the answers.
It feels like I have been walking down the staircase for years when suddenly it levels out; I’ve reached the bottom. The voices disappear, and the air becomes clearer. I can breathe freely again, but I still can’t see a thing. I walk forwards, scrabbling around with my hands to try and find something to hold on to, and stumble into something. I run my fingers along it and find a handle; it’s a door. I turn the handle and let out a sigh of relief as the door opens and natural light washes over me. I walk forwards into a courtyard…
“Papa, papa!” a young boy shouts excitedly. I’m not good with kids, but I reckon he’s maybe ten or eleven. He looks up with his brown eyes and jet black hair and runs towards me.
I freeze. He must have seen me, but the boy passes straight through me, and I realise he can’t see me.
“Papa, it’s Heracles, he’s here,” the boy whoops, and I see fear pass over his father’s face.
“Go inside, son,” he says.
“Go inside and tell your mother. Quickly now.”
The boy disappears, dragging his feet behind him while his father paces the courtyard. The sun is shining, and the birds sing sweetly in the trees. Beautiful pink blossoms rain down from the branches in the gentle breeze, but the atmosphere remains heavy, and I watch on with a sense of foreboding.
Moments later, the boy’s mother appears looking flustered. “Neleus,” she gasps, her voice quivering.
Neleus…the name sounds familiar.
“Get them out of here, Chloris,” Neleus yells, but he’s too late because as he speaks, there’s a large thud and the towering frame of Heracles storms through a gate casting a shadow over the courtyard. He has a wild look in his eyes, and he’s wielding a club the size of a small tree.
“Neleus!” booms Heracles. His voice startles the birds, which take flight leaving behind an uncomfortable silence.
“Heracles! We weren’t expecting you,” Neleus responds. “How can I be of service?”
“You know how you can be of service,” Heracles yells. “You know, yet you refuse me, and the blood-debt burns my soul. It burns my soul Neleus.”
Neleus looks around hesitantly as his children run into the courtyard, excited at the prospect of seeing their hero. Their faces turn from joy to panic when they see his mood. Chloris follows a few seconds behind. “Children, you cannot…” she stops and recoils. “Heracles,” she stammers, “we…”
“Weren’t expecting me, no. Your husband has just explained. Is this all of you?”
Chloris looks around hesitantly, unsure of what to say.
“There are more? Bring them here.”
“Just Nestor,” Neleus explains. “And he is away, studying.”
The boy with the jet black hair is not among them, and then I spot him hiding behind some potted plants, his eyes wide, although I cannot work out whether it’s fear or curiosity.
“Very well,” Heracles says. “Let it be known that this is the penalty for refusing the mighty Heracles.”
He raises his club.
“Heracles, please,” Neleus stutters, raising his arms. “You know I could never cleanse you of your blood-debt. We can work something…”
It’s too late, Heracles has gone berserk. He’s blind to reason and deaf to their pleas. He can no longer feel what’s right nor sense what’s wrong. His club ends Neleus in one swing, his face a mush of bone, blood, and brain. Chloris shrieks, and her children cry. They try to run, but Heracles is on them. He is too strong, too quick, too enraged.
Blood soaks the stones in the courtyard, and silence returns, save for a gentle whimpering. The boy with the jet black hair remained hidden during the massacre, but now his terrified sobs betray him.
“What is your name, boy?” Heracles asks as he approaches him.
The boy has his hands covering his eyes and is too frightened to move.
“I asked you a question, boy. It would be wise to answer.”
The boy looks up slowly and opens his eyes. He has scratched them so much they are bleeding and are bright red. His face is contorted into a look of hatred.
“Your name,” Heracles demands. The wildness has gone from his eyes, and he looks almost serene.
“Alastor,” the boy spits.
“Forgive me, Alastor,” Heracles whispers, barely able to say the words. His eyes are wet, and the muscles in his face are taut with angst. Alastor looks up at him, and the mighty club falls once more.
Heracles drops his club, falls to his knees, and lets out a cry which shakes the ground. All around him, the buildings tumble, covering the scene in a cloud of dust.
And then I’m falling, weightless, flying through an empty void until I feel an explosion in my chest and let out a gasp. I’m back in my body, and I know who ‘A’ is.
It’s time to open my eyes…