My phone rings with the silken tones of Connie Francis singing “Stupid Cupid”. Eros is calling me again, and Atë or Clio would be next. I’ve been a bit of a bad friend, probably an understatement, but ever since we woke up in that warehouse and I had that first strange memory, I’d been avoiding them. I need to know what’s going on before I dump this all on them.
Whoever did this to me did it to them, too. If it’s true, that is, which I’m still not entirely sure it is. Suppose I am the Primordial Eris, if there was only one Eris all along. It won’t just affect me, and it means that all this time, Atë has been…my child. Eros and Clio don’t even really know the real me, either. No one does. This could destroy every bond I’ve fought tooth and nail to establish.
It is time to find the answer to that question.
The Ras el-Tin quarter of Alexandria, which in ancient times had been the site of the Island of Pharos, had long since slipped beneath the waves. This lost island had been the home of a particular god who had, as of yet, ignored Zeus’s summons. Now that it had been forgotten and replaced, he instead hid in caverns nearby. He was fond of hiding, always had been.
They say Proteus was born an old man. I suppose I should ask Uncle PoPo…ask Poseidon sometime, he’d know. The elusive god kept to himself, slinking in the shadows because Proteus was born with the particular gift of truth. He not only knew a person’s destiny but also their entire life and could tell you anything you wanted to know. The problem is, he had to tell you. He was incapable of lying or not answering. His whole life, he’s avoided others in order to have some peace. All that did was lead to a neverending parade of demigods and worse, all too mortal heroes beating the truth out of him. Now it is my turn.
I’m in my NB form, wearing just a small tight black top somewhere between a sports bra and a crop top, black leather fingerless gloves, black bike shorts, and chunky black wedge sneakers.
It’s not that I’m preparing for a fight. Very famously, Proteus is a bit of a pushover. Just ask notorious wimp Menelaus. That’s not what this is. This is just going to be, sorry Audrey, the best therapy I need right now. Because sometimes you just need to beat the living shit out of something.
The smell that hits me as I enter the cave is that of a fish market after hours, which only serves to remind me that he’ll smell all the worse as we inevitably grapple. It won’t stop me, though.
“Leave me alone.” I hear the gargled moan before I see him, but soon enough, his putrid bloated form flops into view. He looks like something between an old walrus and a vivisected creature of the black lagoon by way of old baby Benjamin Button.
“Sorry, not sorry, Pro-tip.” I shrug.
He looks at me with a resigned defeat in his eyes.
“I know why you’re here.” He sighs.
“Good for you, Starkist.” I smirk, my eyes burning gold. “I know why I’m here, too.”
Maybe it was the look in my eyes as I said this, but for some reason, he switched from tired frustration to flight or fight. He almost immediately tries to make a run for it, changing into the form of a fly in one swift motion.
He forgets who he’s dealing with, a war god, specifically one who favoured speed over strength more often than not. I lunge forward like a gale force, and I grab that transfigured troglodyte in my fist. I feel a squishy wet sensation before it suddenly expands outward, growing harder as it does so, before a fully grown Rhino bursts from my grip. Had I been human, no doubt my hand would be squishy and wet itself.
This is classic Proteus, ever-changing, ever-elusive. To his credit, perhaps his only credit, he is possibly the greatest shape-changer in our pantheon. But I should say, I’m no slouch myself. I stretch my arm out like a rubber band and wrap it around the beast’s neck, hurling it with all my strength into the cave wall.
With a painful groan, he briefly melts, for lack of a better word, into his normal repugnant form before getting a second wind. Even as he becomes a Tasmanian Wolf, a Jackalope, and Markoffian sea lizard, I keep up in turn, step for step. My shifts are more understated, more limited, but in many ways more resourceful, a joint going the wrong way, a limb extending farther than it should, etc.
I grab him as he shifts into a pterodactyl, and we both crash into the ceiling of the cave before falling to the ground as one. His leathery wings fall down around us as I throttle his neck, the pungent aroma of aquatic refuse assaulting my senses.
He screams, both in pain and as an attempt at aggression, trying to transform once more. His body becomes soft and malleable as he tries to take the shape of what appears to be a hydra. I manage to tie two of his new heads into a bow, and he chokes out a scream.
“Listen,” he cries as he resumes a more humanoid halfway form, “you don’t want me to speak of your life, your past, your destiny, whatever any more than I do!”
“Oh, don’t I?” I wail as I hit him with one mighty blow, followed by another in rapid succession.
“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase don’t shoot the messenger? It exists for a reason!” he shouts between blows in pure desperation. “Or what about ignorance is bliss?”
That’s it. I roar in anguish as he squirms out of my grip in the form of a facehugger before becoming a winged lemur and once more attempting to flee. I briefly become immaterial as I rush forward with all my strength before solidifying just as I collide with him, pushing him up against the cave wall.
“I’m so tired of this shit!” This comes out in a guttural, almost primal wail. “So tired of not knowing myself.” I bring my fists down again. “Not knowing who I am!” I slam down again. “How many times must I wake up before the dream is over!!!” With one final thud, he slumps to the floor in his true form, defeated.
“Just tell me who I am!” I scream as I stand to my feet.
“Fine,” he cries, “have it your way, but you won’t like it. You are indeed dread daughter/son/child…whatever…of the Primordial Night! You who gave birth to the horrors of the earth! Prime of Discord.”
There it is, the truth at last.
“Why did I and so many others believe I was the child of Zeus and Hera?” I ask through gritted teeth.
“A fog of confusion was created long ago to obscure your origins. Even then, you were only ever considered their child conversationally. Think about it. Have you ever had a genuine interaction with either Zeus or Hera that would lead you to believe that they are your parents?”
Even as he spoke, I knew it was true. Since my return from the streets, I’d seen Zeus once, maybe twice, each time business appropriate and never in any familial way. As for Hera, I can’t remember the last time I saw her, certainly not in the modern era.
“If any had probed their memories a little further, it would have unraveled.” Proteus continues, “Of course, no one in this pantheon questions anyone’s paternity or the insane branches of this absurd family tree.”
“And the other Primordials?” I say tepidly. Only afterward do I realize the self implications of my use of the word other.
“They were unaffected. They’ve always known you to be who you are.”
I think back once more. Since I’d returned, my only real contact with the Primordials had been primarily Thanatos, with a few passing back and forths with Erebus. My moments with Erebus had been mostly tense due to our mutual close relationships with Atë. I could now see the strained and heated interactions might have come from my former stepfather forming a relationship with my…daughter.
As for Thanatos, he’d been friendly even as others shied away from me. Tartarus, even as early as Zeus’s audit when I had first returned, and the others treated me like a malefactor he took me under his wing. We went eating together at Taco Bell. I smile despite myself, remembering how the enigmatic God of Death, who others fear cared for me…as a brother might.
“Okay, Proteus, one final question. Who did this to me? Who put me under this spell and has now destroyed what little relationships I’ve managed to build since their foundations were all based on this miserable lie?”
“Don’t you know, Discord?” He has the audacity to laugh, ichor spilling down his chin as he does so, “It was you.”