Bundle of optical fibers with lights in the ends. Blue background.

Arrival

“You don’t know what I had to do. You don’t know the hell I’ve gone through,” I yelled at the invisible entity that was the heart of Rota. “You don’t get to judge me.”

My sister stood on the banks of Rota wearing a white dress. Her long, dark hair hung in a braid down her back. Her white shift covered her from head to toes, shoulders to wrists, and was so out of character for Plouto, I suspected she might be an apparition instead.

“Thank you, Tristran,” I told the boatman as I disembarked. “It was good to see you again, even if it was under these circumstances.” 

“Same to you, Lady Luck.” Tristran turned to his wheel as I stepped onto the dock and walked across the pier toward the beach. 

“You came,” Plouto said, her husky voice seemingly at one with the night.

“Rota called. What could I do?” I shrugged and hated the tremor of fear racing through me. Rota never called without exacting a price.

“The Council is ready. You’re the last to arrive.” Her somber tone reinforced how serious the situation was and how long I’d tarried.

I nodded.

“Come this way. You must begin the trials immediately.” She led me over the sandy beach, through a small wooden gate leading to a jungle-like garden. Tall palm trees blocked out the moon. A bat crossed the distance between them, pausing to snatch an insect from mid-air. The scent of salt faded to be replaced by the heady aroma of night blooming flowers. She opened a wooden door set into the stone face of the main complex. The hallway led downstairs, into a rarely used chamber.

I entered and stared at the thin mattress covered in a blanket the color of the deepest ocean and a matching pillow. Without saying anything, I lay down. “Will you be my guard?” I asked.

Plouto nodded. “I will.”

“Thank you.” I closed my eyes. A moment later, pungent smoke filled the room, a mixture of mugwort, myrica gale, damania, and celastrus paniculatus. The herbs had been chosen for their ability to work on the mind and to raise hidden memories. That was the part that worried me. I’d done too much over the centuries, interfered too little, and when the time came to be judged, I may not be worthy.

The door closed and I knew Plouto stood outside. She’d be awake for as long as it took for me to complete the trial. I would have liked to sit down, have tea, maybe even discuss the situation with the other ladies. That they didn’t allow me to, worried me further.

I’d been among humans too long, and I’d let myself get pulled into Olympus’ games and dalliances as if I were one of them. I wasn’t. Not anymore. Not really ever.

And what were they doing to make things different for mortals, to help the world become the Elysian fields that we’d always imagined? I had no answers and as anger wouldn’t help me with the trials, I let it fade from my awareness.

Four images flashed in my mind. A Trojan Horse, my pirate ship, the potato famine, and a radio tower. Each one imprinted on me my failures, my complete lack of follow through when it came to my obligations, and the ways in which I’d failed the Council. Things had been so much easier when I’d been made patron goddess of certain cities and they worshipped me. 

Except, that had happened for centuries, millennia even, and I struggled to navigate in this new world. The last time Rota called, I’d spent a couple hundred years sailing the high seas and trying to be an ethical pirate. This time, I didn’t know what I’d do when it was all over.

Strands passed in my vision, like the unraveling of a great knitting, where each one of them represented a life I’d touched. Some snipped off too soon, while others went on far longer than expected, additional lengths knotted into them so that they remained intact. I reached out and let them run through my fingers. The fine, gossamer threads, turned into thick cords with the tensile strength of steel before morphing back into slender fiber-optic like cables. I wished Hephestus could see this, no doubt it’d give him ideas for new creations.

The rope stopped as if jerked from above. I gasped for air, hands automatically reaching for my throat, tugging at a noose that didn’t exist, my chest squeezing as my body fought for air. 

“No!” I yelled, ripping the invisible rope from my neck.

In my mind I stood, hands on my hips, demanding some respect. “You don’t know what I had to do. You don’t know the hell I’ve gone through,” I yelled at the invisible entity that was the heart of Rota. “You don’t get to judge me.”

Laughter, deep and mocking, rolled through my entire being. Yeah, I knew better than to challenge something deeper, far more elemental than even the oldest of the gods. 

“You called. I’m here. You think these trials will prove that I’m worthy, that I deserve my seat on the Council. But the truth is, we formed the Council around the fall of the Roman Empire because we realized that we’d been forgotten. We’d been shut out by the whims of man. The whims of MEN!” I yelled the last word, my frustration building. “So bring it on. I’ve got things to do.”

The laughter rose until it vibrated every cell in my being. Then it stopped suddenly. The quiet hit me like a wall. 

I was alone.

Shut in this tomb-like room, and completely, truly alone. The herbs in the smoke forced me to relive my memories. My sister stood guard to make sure I wasn’t disturbed. I’d emerge from this state as soon as Rota wanted. This strange sensation of being aware, and yet not aware, pulled me in two directions. I existed, allowing my consciousness to do what it needed to in order to survive here. Some had been known never to leave this chamber of their own free will.

The creaking of wooden wheels became louder. The first test had begun.

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