I awake to find the room fading away, to be replaced by darkness. Is this what this place truly looks like? Is it only darkness? Where am I, and why are my parents punishing me?
The darkness gives way to something else, and I see a figure in the distance. At last, I will have answers. The man in white wanders, searching and calling my name. Why can’t he see me? Is he really there? I know him. How do I know him and why do I not reply to him? I do not understand. Eventually, he stands in front of me, but still he seems to look through me.
“Hephaestus? Can you hear me?”
The sound of the man’s voice jars my memory and suddenly, I know who he is. It is Trismegistus, but how is he here with me? Trismegistus is the powerful sorcerer who was able to send me back in time so long ago. It was he who gave me a second chance at life. I was able to live for two thousand years away from my family in an attempt to find who I truly am. Now we find ourselves together again.
“Trismegistus! I am here. Where are we?”
Trismegistus looks from side to side as if he cannot hear or see me. He is partly transparent, looking like a ghost to me.
“Hephaestus? I have been searching for you. Something is wrong. I can sense you are not here with us. Where are you? I do not understand what has happened. I have been trying to build a link to you, but it is difficult. I will try again.”
The figure kneels, and soon another shimmering portal appears. The pain is something extraordinary, but I stride into it, ready for whatever comes next. I understand that Trismegistus is trying to help me. At last, I have hope that I will be able to leave this place. Then I can deal with the person who brought me here, whoever that is.
Mud. This time I look down and see I am standing in mud. My feet are covered up to my ankles. It should be dark, but explosions, flares, and tracer fire light up the sky. The noise around me is deafening, all I can hear is the chatter of machine-gun fire and the sound of artillery. Iron is everywhere, flying through the air, encasing the mortals, tearing them to pieces, and stopping the blood flowing around their bodies. There is so much iron.
The growl of an engine driving something huge and lumbering makes itself heard over the gunfire. I turn toward the mechanical, primitive, and brutal noise. It is accompanied by what sounds like a chain being drawn across a foundry floor mixed with the urgent squeaking of wheels. The tank crests a small hill to my right, its belly briefly exposed before it crashes back to Earth. The huge machine flattens some small trees and incongruously bounces. I cannot move my feet, and I am stuck as it heads towards me.
I can sense the men inside. They are tired, terrified, and…something else.
Oh, of course.
The tank halts, briefly lurching forward before settling back again, and the hatch opens. My beloved brother, dressed in a uniform he has not earned, sticks his head out of the tank before clambering down the turret towards me.
“Hephaestus? What are you doing here, Brother? Why are you dressed in those strange clothes?”
Ares! Of course. I am destined to be taunted by his wretched presence for all eternity.
He removes a battered helmet. His brown hair is still in place and he seems untroubled by sweat or terror. I am sure that is not the case for any of the mortals on the battlefield.
I have had enough of him. Always enjoying himself, always playing, no regard for anyone but himself. I feel my rage building again, and I see no reason to resist it. I am imprisoned while my brother is indifferent, while he plans my confinement!
I reach towards the tank and feel the iron in its hull, in its guns, in the shells inside, in the uniforms of the mortals. I am dimly aware of the horrified look on Ares’ perfect visage as I raise the temperature of all of it, vibrating the iron until it quickly begins to glow a deep red, then a bright yellow.
“Hephaestus! What are you doing!? Stop!”
Ares is stunned. He has not yet had time to be angry as the barrel of the tank’s main gun begins to droop, and he is serenaded by the screaming of the men inside. He may have spoken again, but I would not have heard him over the sound of the shells in the tank detonating, sending huge yellow lumps of molten steel flying in all directions. The turret flies high into the air, losing its shape as I continue to heat it. It crashes to the ground as boiling liquid.
I turn to Ares, my fury coursing through me. He stares in horror at the bright orange piece of half-melted tank track that has landed by his feet. Now he is angered, my poor brother.
“Hephaestus! Have you lost your reason?”
His anger matches mine as he launches himself towards me. I brace myself and prepare to rip his head from his shoulders and test his mortality.
As he slams into me, there is a flash of white light, and I am back, standing in front of Trismegistus.
He looks through me again. “You are here, aren’t you, Hephaestus? I can’t seem to connect to you. It’s as if someone or something is pulling you away.
Of course. Ares. Like Charybdis, he sits, a black sucking void in the tapestry of all creation, warping and distorting everything around him. Perhaps if I killed him during our next encounter, that would solve the problem. It is a nice idea but impossible, of course, for a number of reasons.
“I am not really here with you, Hephaestus. What you see is more like a projection of what I am, what you expect me to be. Whoever is behind what is happening is powerful, very powerful. I will keep trying, but the time may have come for you to consider some things. Perhaps it is time for us to restore some of your memories. I know that is something we have been reluctant to consider, but the time may be at hand.”
Memories? He had always said it was better for the memories I lost during time spent in the past to return naturally. I am not sure I want to hurry the process. What might I find out about my past, my family?
“I will try again, Hephaestus. I will try to bring you back to our world, but it is not easy.”
Of course, it is not. Ares is exerting his influence, and he likely wants to keep me imprisoned forever. I can guess why. Well, perhaps his plan will now fail.
Another portal appears, and I step through.
As the pain fades, I see a familiar scene. I am in my parents’ penthouse, looking at a frozen tableau. My mother stands there in her blue blouse and one of those loose suits she always wears, jabbing her finger at my father. He sits, arms wide, protesting. It must be business hours as he is wearing a suit rather than the toga he secretly favours.
Behind my mother stands my dear brother Ares. Again he is at the centre of events! His face betrays nothing, watching impassively as my parents do combat. Ever the voyeur when it comes to violence and discord.
My father is protesting. He seems determined but…confused. What have you done, Father? Is this the same conversation as always? Nothing ever changes. Nobody ever changes. These are the people who see fit to judge me. They argue like children.
Is Ares the informer? Is he the accused? Whatever his crime, whatever his betrayal, I trust he will be indulged and rewarded. It was ever so.
The scene suddenly unfreezes, and I hear my mother’s voice. “What is going on? Something is wrong! What have you done?”
My father protests. “I have done nothing! Why would you assume…?”
She pushes her finger onto the table, tapping it in time with her words. “Who have you upset now? What husband? What rejected female?”
“Hera, I don’t know what you are referring to.”
I believe him. Perhaps I am naïve. I believe my father. Whatever next?
She stands up and faces away from him, staring out the window, her arms folded in agitation. “Something is wrong. A mother knows. I know when something is wrong.”
I feel I am not there, that I am watching the scene as if from afar. I look down and see my feet are not quite touching the ground. It is as if that realisation triggers something and I drop the last few inches, landing with a thump. The scene instantly becomes clearer. I am there with them. I can sense the iron around me, both in the room and far across the sea, at the edge of the world. I can feel its muffled presence within billions of mortals, rushing around their bodies endlessly.
My mother spins around, confused. “Hephaestus? How did you…”
My father stands up, looking at me in surprise, “You teleported here? That’s impossible.”
I cannot speak, or at least I do not speak. For now, I am unsure whether my abilities extend to speech.
They are irritated at my presence, of course. When was it ever otherwise?
Ares narrows his eyes and regards me with curiosity. He appears to be thinking. One should never be afraid to try new things.
My mother walks towards me, evidently expecting me to say something. She tilts her head, puzzled. She seems to sense something is wrong and tentatively reaches out. I hear my father’s voice, unsure, somehow cautioning her. “Hera…”
As she touches me, the humming and buzzing fill my ears once more, and the world transforms into white light again. The pain piercing every inch of my body clears my head, and I find myself back in empty darkness.
Is this my father’s doing? Is someone trying to punish him? Am I a hostage? Why was I taken to see my family? Was it to provide proof that I was under the control of another? It is enough that I suffer my own minor mistakes. Must I suffer for my father’s also?
No. I believe him. It is Ares. It must be Ares.
I hear a familiar voice. “Hephaestus? I can see you!”
My body blazes with rage. How dare Ares! How could he have done this to me, both then and now? I must act. The situation demands action. I must leave this place.
“Trismegistus! What is this place? Is this your sorcery?”
“No Hephaestus. This is far beyond my powers. I am unsure where you are. I am not truly here. You seem to exist outside the worlds we know. Someone built this place for a purpose I cannot divine. They have anchored you here. I am trying to disconnect you, to untether you from his place, but you keep being drawn back. Whoever did this has immense power.”
Ares. Ares has done this to me. I will have my vengeance. I will exact retribution for this upon my return. Each portal takes me to Ares. I will sever his head from his body. I will test his immortality. I will use all my power to rip him to pieces. I will find a way!
“I will try again, Hephaestus.”
He drops to his knees. As he concentrates, I see his lips moving, chanting something as a shimmering portal appears to my left. I can hear conversation from within it, but I cannot divine the words.
I call to Trismegistus, “Join me!”
He appears unsure. “I do not know, Hephaestus. I am not here. You know that.”
He seems real enough to me, although I can sense nothing from him as if he is not here. His powers may be useful to me if I am to kill Ares, which is my intention. I offer my hand. “Come with me!”
How can he refuse? We step into the portal together.