“Alastor,” I mumble and peel my left eye open a few millimeters. It’s like I’ve turned on a tap of pain, so I close it and take some deep breaths.
He’s here. I can smell him; he has a distinctive smell, like a sweet perfume mixed with sweat. I remember it from the cafe and the anonymous letters. It’s him, all right.
I’m lying on my back, and my arms are open wide. I gently try to move them, but they are tightly bound, and my legs are the same. I’ve been splayed out like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and I can’t move. I curse silently.
I know where I am, I can feel it in my bones: Mount Caucasus. Same rock and same feeling of helplessness as when Zeus punished me all those years ago.
I let out a desperate laugh, but the effort hurts my lungs. It feels like there’s a heavy weight on top of me, like I’m being pressed. I open my left eye, fully this time, my right is welded shut and refuses to budge. I see him standing on top of me, looking down at me with a wide grin on his face.
“Welcome back, Pro,” he says jovially and jumps off me. I let out a gasp as my body breathes freely again. “You’ve been out for quite a while. I was worried we might have lost you, and that would have ruined my fun.”
I can see his polished black shoes and suit trousers striding purposefully up and down next to me. He’s excited, like a kid at Christmas.
“What do you want with me?” I mumble. My throat is parched, and I can barely raise my voice above a whisper.
He laughs. It’s a high-pitched shriek of a laugh that startles the birds. “God of Forethought? What a joke. You’re no better than your brother. Epimetheus, that is. I have some respect for the other ones. They at least have some fight in them.”
“What do you want, Alastor?” I snarl his name. As soon as these ropes are loose…
He brings his face close to mine, close enough for me to smell his breath. Stale coffee. The heat is intense, yet he’s wearing an expensive, dark blue suit that hugs his slim figure. He has a white, satin shirt with the top button undone, and he’s not wearing a tie; it’s probably about as casual as he gets. He’s wearing aviator sunglasses, and he brings them down so I can see into his red eyes. They are haunting, and I recognize the frightened boy quivering behind them. They are the only blemish on an otherwise handsome face. With chiseled cheekbones, straight nose, and thick black hair slicked back behind his ears, he looks like a model or a film star, not a cold and calculated killer.
The moment Heracles struck him and his family down with his club, he was consumed by such hatred and thirst for vengeance that he became the very spirit of it. It oozes out every pore and blinds him to all the other emotions. He spends his life hiding in the shadows, looking for any opportunity to fire his arrows of sorrow into poor, unsuspecting folk. And right now, I’m the target.
He moves away and turns his back on me. “Know where we are?” he asks me.
I don’t respond. Partly because it would hurt to do so, and partly because I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.
“You spent quite a while here, I believe. I called in on you from time to time, see how you were getting on. You know what…”
He certainly likes the sound of his own voice.
“…I thought it was quite an ingenious punishment Zeus gave you. I would have been mightily proud if it was me…”
I strain on the ropes, but they are impossibly tight. Why am I so weak?
“…and I was disappointed when…when that, that…” he pauses to compose himself, “when you were freed from your torment.”
He almost lost it. He can’t say his name. H.E.R.A.C.L.E.S.
“When Heracles killed Koraki?” I ask and watch him shudder in my periphery. “Few could have taken out an eagle as colossal and fierce as Koraki,” I continue, “but Heracles was no ordinary man. He was a true hero…”
“He was no hero,” Alastor spits. He’s on me like a ton of bricks, grabbing my hair and yelling into my face. “He was a murderer, and I’m glad he died a violent death. I’m just sad it wasn’t by my hand.”
Alastor releases his grip, straightens his jacket, and takes a step back. “But the manner of his death did give me some good ideas. How are you feeling, by the way?”
I feel weak. Powerless.
“A few cuts and scratches won’t keep a Titan down for long,” I say, trying to sound like I mean it.
Alastor chuckles to himself and squats down so I can see him. “You’re a terrible liar,” he says, before casually lying down next to me. “It’s quite a nice view from here,” he says, looking into the sky. “I bet at night the stars are beautiful.”
“What do you want?” I ask again, and this time I can’t hide the anger in my voice. I’m fed up with small talk.
He chuckles again. He’s enjoying himself, and I’m seething. I need to stay calm, but I feel like I’m trying to tether a wild horse. I try to fuel my anger into my limbs. Using it to push against the ropes, but they are going nowhere. Instead, the emotions come out of my mouth in a loud cry of anguish.
“You know,” he says, ignoring my shouts, “I’m not even taking a fee for your job. I said I’d do it for free.” He laughs hysterically and then stops abruptly. “I have something of a personal interest, you see. And I’ve never tested my special weapon on an immortal before, so I was intrigued. And it was easy. Far easier than I thought it would be. You are predictable, Pro, and so pathetically desperate for the love of man, that it’s made you weak.”
I try the ropes again with everything I have left, but I still can’t move them. “What have you done to me?” I croak. My body feels like it’s been drained. And then I realize. “Hind’s blood!” I whisper to myself.
“BINGO!” Alastor shouts and jumps up. “Perhaps you’re not such a fool.”
“Where on earth did you get…”
“Bababababa,” Alastor cuts me off. “You do not get to ask the questions here. You are tied to a rock. You are here simply to listen.”
I take a deep breath and try to think, but my mind is empty. My exploration of Heracles’ memories has worn me out and taken what was left of my powers.
“You, as you rightly guessed, have Hind’s blood flowing through your veins. I wasn’t sure exactly what the reaction you would have, but it seems to have had the desired effect. You are weak. Your powers are but a small flame starved of oxygen. Put simply, you are mine.” He leans in close and whispers the last sentence into my ear. “I can do what I want with you. I can bring you here whenever I please. I can turn mortals against you. I can make you wish you were dead.”
“I’m not scared of you,” I growl. “I’ve suffered worse and come through it.”
“You can suffer it again,” Alastor snaps and produces the beak of Koraki. He sits back down next to me and runs the beak gently over my face before running it down to the scar on my stomach. “Is this where it entered?” he asks softly and then digs the beak in. I let out a cry as my old wound opens up. And then he stops the torture, and I want to thank him. I hate that I want to thank him.
Alastor disappears behind my head. “Did Koraki ever do this?” he asks, and a sudden flow of warm liquid splashes my hair. I am helpless to move away. When will this humiliation end?
Alastor runs out of ammunition and comes back next to me. He grabs my hair and jerks my head so that I am looking at him. “You are mine. And whenever I want you, I will come for you. Think your powers will return? I have more Hind’s blood. Do not test me. Do I make myself clear?”
When I don’t respond, he smashes my head down on the rock and then lifts it back up. “I said, Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?”
“You realize you pick a fight with me, you’re picking a fight with the God Complex,” I say, the words trickling out of my mouth.
Alastor finds my comment amusing. “Please, you have no friends there. I’ve seen how they interact with you. They don’t like you, Pro. They don’t trust you, and they don’t know why you are there. You think they’ve even noticed you’ve gone?”
He’s probably right.
“So, what is it you want?” I ask, defeated.
“I’m pleased we’re on the same page.” He beams at me. I’ve never felt such hatred towards another. “You know that the gods are shortly going on a cruise.”
I nod my head.
“You need to be on that cruise. I need you to get something for me. A wooden jar. My sources have informed me that it’s being held by smugglers on a place called Tiverna Isle. They do not know its worth, but there is something inside which is of particular importance to me.”
“How will I know what wooden jar and where to find it?”
“You will know, or you will find out,” Alastor tells me. “When the cruise returns, I expect you to hand it over. Or we will be back here. And I might not be so kind next time. Maybe I’ll see what else I can cut…”
“Is that it?” I ask.
Alastor cuts the ropes around my arms and legs and stands over me, victorious. “Smile,” he says, “you’re going on holiday!”
And then he’s gone.