Morpheus, do you dream?
The question washed over my mind like the wave that washed my body. A thousand-year-old memory of her voice, of another dream not mine. And a question I never got to answer. It was the sound of gulls crying that dragged me up from the depths. The Isle of Oneiros is silent and still, soft and dark, like a dreamer deep in the Dream.
Here was the opposite. Keening birds and rough sand, harsh sun and brine. Abrasive. Everything I and my kingdom were not.
I reached up to rub my eyes and winced as my fingertips ground dried salt crystals against my eyelids. Another wave slipped up my body in a cold, wet whisper. I blinked, and the sky came into view, a deep sapphire blue unblemished by clouds.
Morpheus, do you dream?
No, I was not dreaming. With a groan, I hauled myself upright and looked around. The next wave to bubble over my feet washed up articles of clothing and memories. The attack that led to panic, the panic that became mayhem as the wave crested over the ship, rolling it into the depths like an offering to Poseidon.
I pivoted, scanning the beach, looking for some other sign of life. The shore of the island curved away out of sight, its pale length broken up by jagged black rocks thrusting up from sand and sea. My nose twitched at the fleeting scent of sulphur as my eyes scaled the peakless mountain to the south. Rising above the jungle, it exhaled an ashy plume of smoke that the wind sucked out to sea.
My vision was limited. I would have to stand for a better view and pray. Though who gods pray to is a question few think to ask or answer. Staggering to my feet, I made a quick assessment of my current state. I tensed as my hand flew to my hip, then relaxed as my fingers closed about the hilt of my rapier. I had buckled it on when things had begun to go sideways. At least, it was not lost.
I could not say the same for my shoes. My trousers were remarkably intact, as was my damask vest. I could not say the same for my shirt. The silk hung in tatters from my left shoulder, its former whiteness stained black with ichor I knew to be my own. I examined my arm, but whatever damage had been done had already healed.
I stepped into the waves long enough to splash water on my face, arms, hair to remove what sand I could. Movement would have to do for the rest. I set off up the beach toward the sun, adjusting to the sharp pricks of broken shells beneath my feet. The physical discomfort was nothing compared to the growing unease in my heart. It is hard to kill a god, but it is not impossible. If she was…
“Control yourself, Morpheus,” I muttered. “This is wasted thought.”
Emotions battened down, my mind cleared. It occurred to me I could be going the wrong way. I paused and looked out to sea, following the steady roll of white-capped waves with my eyes to see their direction. Anything at the mercy of those waves would have no choice but to ride them to shore. Sure enough, I had gone the wrong way.
I reversed my path and put the sun at my back, which was far easier on my eyes and allowed me to see much farther. I rounded an algae-covered outcropping of black stone, and that’s when I saw her. Even wave-tangled and strewn with seaweed, the pale glow of the goddess’s hair was unmistakable.
It was not Persephone, but it was someone, and that gave me hope.
“Morpheus!?” she called as she ran towards me from across the beach. “Have you seen anyone else? How are you?” She looked me up and down, holding me at arm’s length. “I have yet to run into anyone until now.”
I reached up and plucked a strand of seaweed from her hair, flinging it aside. “I am unhurt. At this point, I could care less about how I am. I have seen no one aside from you.”
Nodding, she crossed her arms and looked around in the direction I had been traveling. “Were you headed in a particular direction? I have not seen many clues other than strewn debris with no real rhyme or reason to them.”
“The waves,” I said, nodding toward the ocean. “The tide flows that direction.” I look back at her, concerned. “Are you sure you are well? A moon goddess who cannot read the tides? Perhaps you should sit down.”
Her face reddened as she looked back at me. “Yes, I am fine.”
“I meant no offense,” I said, meaning every word.
She ran her hand through her hair nervously, “I am just worried about Artemis and…Yes. I need to pull myself together. I am no good to anyone this way.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and when they opened the color was noticeably different, her countenance cold and stern. “Now, let’s go find our family.” She said with an edge to her voice.
I nodded and extended my arm, allowing her to lead. I had seen her with Artemis, watching the arc of their relationship from the party to the cruise. She was masking her worry well, but who other than the moon could change her face to reflect what she wanted others to see?
“I fear the mortals have met with untimely ends.” I cupped Selene’s elbow in my hand, gently guiding her down to the wet shoreline where the footing was firm. “I do not look forward to the red tide that will wash these shores later.”
Her face paled a little. I can only assume she was thinking of the lives lost. She continued, otherwise unphased by my statement, leading me down the beach. With a renewed focus, she seemed to know where to go instinctively. As if she saw an arrow in the sand, pointing the direction we should go.
“You have some idea where we are?” I asked.
“Maybe where isn’t the right word, but I can feel something…like a pull within me. Hmm, Like a bird knows where to go to migrate. Does that make sense?”
She continued with little preamble, as if she needed no reply. Rounding the bend, she froze and squatted down, darting farther inland to pick up something glinting in the sand. Turning in place, she held her hand out to me, a wild look on her face.
“Persephone’s necklace! She never takes it off!” She pulled it back to herself and opened the locket to check the pictures within. “It’s hers, Morpheus, look.”
I did not need to look at the pictures inside to know it as hers. Selene was right. She would never have taken it off willingly. I folded my hand around it, closing the locket. My gaze drifted to the spot where Selene was standing. She was ankle deep in soft sand that had never felt the kiss of a tide.
“Selene! She was here!” I could hardly believe it. I pointed back toward the ocean where the sand was packed. “The tide is going out. The high water line is there. If it had come off her in the water, you would have found it with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam from the shipwreck. Not dropped here in virgin sand.”
“Did someone say virgin? Because you know I’m not doing that anymore.”
My head snapped around at the sound of Athena’s voice, coming clear as a bell from the jungle behind us. A pale arm pushed aside a palm frond as big as the goddess was tall. She gave us both a rakish smile that held more than a little relief around the tight edges of her mouth.
“As the lady wishes, of course,” I said, smiling despite myself. My gaze flicked down to her hands and the makeshift spear she had already made from a length of bamboo. “Have you seen Persephone? We found her necklace and have reason to believe she may have gone inland.”
Athena hefted the spear in her hand, bouncing it on her palm, feeling the balance of it. “I’ve seen no one. No one besides the two of you.”
A shot rang out far down the beach at that moment, as if the Fates had decreed it. A pistol by the report. Athena gave me a frown and ducked back against the treeline. I nodded with my head, encouraging Selene to follow and take cover as well. Just as we passed into the shade of the trees, the jungle spit out a trio of loudly laughing men.
The short, balding man barked, “Shut your hole, Grisly!”
The tall, dark-skinned man – Grisly, I could only suppose – laughed and tilted a drunken bow to the first man, raising his pistol in the air and firing it a second time. The third man moved his hands in a series of precise gestures, not frantic but obviously not pleased.
“Soon, Speechless. Cap’n says they weighed anchor earlier this morning. They’ll be in the lagoon at the turn of the tide.” The silent man gestured again and the balding man laughed. “Yes, he’s bringing entertainment.”
Grisly threw his head back and howled as he stood knee-deep in the water, dunking his head in the waves. Speechless kicked off his shoes and drew his shirt over his head before jogging into the surf and wading away from shore. The short man pulled something from his pocket. A moment later, I saw the flicker of a lighter and the sudden blast of smoke from the man’s nostrils.
I turned to Selene and Athena. “Do you remember seeing them on the ship?”
“I can’t be sure.” Athena kept her keen eyes trained on them. “Could they have been crew? Washed up like us?”
“No,” Selene replied in a whispered tone. “I was on deck with the crew, trying to get the mortals on lifeboats before the wave hit. They aren’t even dressed the same.”
I frowned. Selene had a point. At the same time, they were the only signs of life we had found other than each other. There had also been mention of the boat arriving later, another thing we could not ignore given our circumstances. But most importantly, they had come from the jungle, from the heart of the island where, at this point, my instincts told me Persephone had gone.
“Stay here,” I said to the two goddesses at my side.
Tucking my sword out of sight, I stepped from the trees. It was a long shot to ask these men for information, perhaps even dangerous, but it was a risk I was willing to take. If it meant finding Persephone, I would willingly leave both emotion and wisdom behind.