Circe looks around the hotel room as if there is anything to see that I had not noticed in my time here. I choose not to comment.

“What was happening when you were in here at first?”

I hesitate. It is none of her business, but she is here to help me. “My leg. It was painful.”

She seems interested. “How painful?”

“I am unsure how to describe it. Very painful.”

“Like something stabbing you? Like a spike?”

How could she know that? More tricks? “Yes.”

She nods and looks around the room. “I assume you searched the place thoroughly while you were here, so there isn’t much point checking. What’s next door?”

“I don’t know. More rooms?”

She makes a noise I believe is intended to indicate scepticism and sweeps out of the room without comment. I follow her and stand behind her as she tries the handle of the door to the adjacent room. It is locked.

I am unsure this is wise. “Circe, there may be people in the room.”

The door suddenly opens, and a man in a suit stands in the doorway, looking annoyed.

Circe does not speak. Instead, she presses a stone into his hand. He stares at it, and she gently pushes him out of the way.

As he stands there staring at the stone, she looks around the room, stopping to closely examine the plant by the television. The room looks almost identical to mine.

I look at the man. “How long will he─”

She waves a hand at me. “A long time. He is only interested in the stone.”

I point at him. “You couldn’t do that to me, could you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried it with a god. Are you interested in stones?”

“Clearly not as much as him.”

“They are such simple creatures.”

I think she is referring to mortals, but it is not clear.

She walks to the centre of the room and gestures with both her hands, drawing a large box in the air. “There was something here.”

I examine the floor. “How can you know that? Are there marks on the carpet?”

“No. The plant told me.”

Of course, it did. “The plant?”

“Yes. It remembers a large machine being here.”

This is another reason I do not have time for witchcraft and magic. “Plants can’t talk, surely?”

Circe smiles. “Maybe they just don’t want to talk to you.”

I feel strangely insulted and shoot the plant a brief glare.

Circe leads me back out of the room, lifting the stone out of the man’s hand on the way. “There will have been another in the room at the other side, maybe one above and below you.”


“They would have been focused on you. Beaming something into the room to cause you pain.”


“Yes. Sort of. Barely worthy of the word but, yes.”

Of course. It makes sense. “That’s why the pills didn’t work?”

Her eyebrows raise. “Pills?”

I have said too much. “It doesn’t matter. They were just unimportant medication.”

“Unimportant medication? In my experience, there is no such thing as unimportant when it comes to such things.”

I do not answer, and she does not pursue the matter, for which I am grateful. When we are back in the room, she looks at me, examining me. “Can you think of anything else that happened in here? Anything strange?”

“It was all strange.” I look around the room again and shake my head. “I just read, looked at pictures on my phone, and watched television.”

“You watched television? How?”

Why would she think I watched television? We have been over this. “No, the television wasn’t working.”

Her eyes narrow, and she starts to slowly walk around me as if I am some kind of exhibit. “You just said you watched television.”

I have no idea how she has that impression. I attempt to explain again, “No, I read, looked at my phone, and watched television.”

She smiles. “You said it again.”

This is ridiculous. “I did not. I did not watch television. I read, looked at my phone, and watched television.”

She laughs out loud. I fail to see the humour. “What?”

“I shouldn’t laugh. Your memory and your perception have been adjusted. And it’s ongoing,” She looks into my eyes as if the answer is there. “How is that being done?”

She turns and looks at the plant beside the television, stroking it and whispering something I cannot hear.

Without turning around she says, “This room should be set up the way it was while you were here. There is something missing. Something that sat beside this plant.”

How could she know that? This is one of the reasons I dislike witchcraft and magic, the tricks, and the lack of clarity as to how things are actually being done.

I sit down, open my briefcase, and lift out the device, setting it beside the plant. She picks it up and looks at it sceptically. “What is this?”

“It is a medical device. It helps with my pain.”

She turns it around in her hand. “Technology? Medication? You could always have come to me.”

I am unsure how to respond. “I didn’t know you then.”

“Would you come to me now that you know me?”

I consider this. “No.”

She nods and holds the device in front of me. “Can you open this?”

I fail to see what she will be able to divine by examining its internal workings. “Yes. Of course. There is nothing of significance inside.”

I quickly open it up and present it to her.

She looks at it, and I see an expression of surprise cross her face. “How long have you been using this?”

“I acquired it just before the events occurred. There is nothing in the box that could have caused it. It is a relatively simple device.”

She makes a noise which I understand to mean that she is not impressed with my answer. “You see this Hephaestus?”

As she points at the inner casing, I can see nothing of interest. “It is just cosmetic. It is some kind of mineral. A kind of glass.”

Circe shakes her head. “How is it that such an intelligent man can be so foolish?”

I have no idea what she is referring to. “It has no function.”

She taps it. “This is Iceland Spar. It is a clear form of calcite.”

She appears to be relishing my ignorance. “I do not know the significance.”

As she tries to remove a piece of the material from the device, I lift my hand to stop her, but she raises one finger to indicate that I should wait. She lifts it out and sets it on top of a menu sitting on the table. She motions to me to look at it, and I see the image is doubled.

I shrug. “I think I have seen this before. It is a polarisation effect. Birefringence. It splits the light into two different rays, each polarised in a different direction.”

It is not unusual or even particularly interesting. It is the kind of thing that might amuse a child.

Circe taps the block. “You know so much about technology, but nothing about witchcraft. Whoever built this knew about both. This is used to increase the power of a spell, to double it. This device is an amplifier.”

“What does it amplify?”

“That is an excellent question. The crystal itself also provides focus of thought. As for what the spell is…I’m not sure. It could have been transmitted by the device, but I have never seen such a thing. It is a mystery.”

She returns to the plant and speaks to me while stroking it. “Tell me about the television. What did you watch?”

Still, she does not understand. Why is it so hard for her to grasp that the television was not working? Why does she keep returning to this idea? I explain it yet again. “There was a woman on the television. That’s all I remember.”

“A woman? There was a woman on the television? What did she look like?”

What woman? There was no woman and nothing on the television. I try again. “She was in a room. Alone. As if she was being watched.”

“I see. I need to see her. Sit down on the bed.”

See who? She removes her scarf. I do not know how to respond. I have heard stories of Circe, although they were none of my business. “I am a married man.”

She rolls her eyes and pushes me gently on the chest until I sit down on the bed. “You are perfectly safe. We need to look into your mind.” She takes a chair and pulls it over, so she is sitting in front of me. “We need to see what’s going on. I should warn you, though, this isn’t really my thing.”

“So you can’t do it?

As she sighs, I realise she can do it. She was just building it up to make it look more impressive. This is something people sometimes do.

“I can do it. If you agree.”

I shrug, then nod. She places both her hands on my face, her own face close to mine. She is beautiful. Not as beautiful as Aphrodite, but then nobody is. She presses lightly. “This can be difficult, even unpleasant. But it needs to be done, and there’s no point stopping halfway through. We’ll only have to start all over again. It takes a lot out of me. I will likely have a lot of pain afterwards. I don’t want you to be worried. I’ll recover in time. Now, do you have any questions before we start?”

I have two. “Why couldn’t the plant tell you what you want to know?”

“They can’t really see as you or I understand it. They can read minds, get a general idea of what is going on, but they can’t watch television. Do you have any other questions?”

Plants are psychic? I drop the matter. “One more.” I look into her eyes. She pauses, waiting for the question. “Why are you helping me?”

She tilts her head and smiles as if she is bemused by the question. “Because Hera asked me to. And because we should help each other. You would do it for me, wouldn’t you?”

I nod. “Yes.”

And so we begin.

Hephaestus (Iain Houston)
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