Once Upon A Market, Part III

“That’s probably a good thing,” I muttered as I reflected. “You get married, have kids, and then you get attached to the smallest things.” I rolled my eyes. “Family trips, presents…then the kids grow up and leave, and all that you have left of them are the things they leave behind or gifted to you. Then one day, you may find yourself roaming the streets with a bossy muse looking for said gifts.”

It had been more than a few decades since my first meeting with Clio, but it felt like it was only yesterday. 

After I left Clio, I decided to head back to the market to see if the mortal I searched for was still hanging about. I knew it wasn’t likely, but worth a try. The market was bustling with people gathering what they needed for their meals that night. 

Fresh food was something the present-day population didn’t appreciate anymore. Almost everything had been replaced with convenience, fast food, frozen meals that were ready in five minutes or even worse, processed food that was made to look like food but tasted anything but. Even the fresh food wasn’t fresh, not unless you owned your own garden.

I walked around a few minutes before deciding the mortal I searched for was no longer there. I swore to myself, damning my inability to let go of a competition when I saw one. My gross display for rivalry had likely chased him away. I rolled my shoulders, releasing my shadows. They spread out over every inch of the market and sped away, east of the city. I followed them at a quick pace. What I wasn’t counting on was mixing it up with a group of mortals. By the time I arrived at the muse’s for dinner, I was late, dirty, and hungry, not to mention no further along in my search. 

I left my shadows searching for the mortal and the item which I held dear to my heart. No matter how hungry I was, I wasn’t in the mood for dinner. All I could think about was how close I was to ending the hunt. I would have blown off the little muse and her dinner invite, but for some inexplicable reason, I couldn’t bring myself to cancel. Maybe it was the concept of having a conversation with another immortal. I hadn’t seen one in years, the drawback to staying out of Olympus. Or maybe it was so I could tease the little muse one more time about her little piglet. 

Looking back now, that was the more plausible answer. I hadn’t seen my baby sister Gaia since before the fall. Was that what it would have been like? Clio nagged me just like a sister. 

I wasn’t in her place for five minutes before she somehow had pulled the entire story from me, and we were walking through the smelly mortal village. She insisted she come along on my search, promising not to get in the way. So far, I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision. The clouds moved over the moon, creating an appearance of black oil covering the streets and buildings. It was so dark that you couldn’t even spy my shadows. It didn’t matter though, I could see through the darkness. The muse, however, was tripping on everything.

I turned to look behind me. “Could you be any louder?”

She pouted, an expression I would come to know very well over the years. “I’m not that loud.”

“We are supposed to be stealthy here,” I hissed. We cornered a blacksmith’s shop and turned down an alley. My shadows had been pulling me in this direction earlier, before the group of mortals got in my way. They sensed something nearby. A row of lower caste housing stretched ahead. One house in particular pulled at me more than the others. A dim light shone in a small cellar window. My shadows soared through the air, throwing up an impenetrable shield around the little hovel. If anyone were inside, they would not be going anywhere. They were trapped. 

I looked back at Clio, and her eyes bulged. “Are you sure you can handle this?”

She nodded. “I’m sure.” Her voice shakes, betraying her.

We moved swiftly to the door, and not bothering to check if it was locked, I kicked it in. Inside, we found two shivering mortals cowering next to an open fire. A pot of something putrid-smelling boiled over the flame. It looked as though they were warming themselves before I had busted down their door. I looked back at Clio as she moved in slowly behind me, unsure of her part in this. My shadows moved, grabbing the two mortals and binding them in place. Their screams echoed in the dank, desolate space.

Clio stepped forward, her hand resting firmly on my wrist. “Wait.”

I ripped my wrist away from her, snarling, “What?”

Her look was serious. “They could be innocent.”

I cursed under my breath and looked back at the mortals. Ignoring Clio’s plea, I squeeze them tighter. “Well, we won’t know that until they talk.” My shadows mixed with theirs and went to work. The terrified looks on their faces meant it was working. Their deepest, darkest fears were unraveling in their minds.

Clio stepped in front of me, interrupting my focus. “Stop. Let me look.”

“No,” I snarled again, trying to ignore her. The fire flickered, threatening to go out. 

The muse stomped her foot like an errant child would during a tantrum. She practically yelled, “Let me look, Erebus! I can pinpoint whatever you are looking for in their pasts.”

I looked at her and begrudgingly tore my shadows away. “Fine.”

Clio knelt, meeting the mortals at their level. Her brown eyes turned bright blue, glowing with power. “It’s okay,” she tried reassuring them, “relax.” A bit of the tension eased from them. I’m not sure what exactly it was that the little muse was doing, but her methods were definitely different from mine. Her brow furrowed, and her eyes pulsed with power. “I see a dock…and a boat…there is a man there.”

I leaned back on my heel, crossing my arms. I wouldn’t admit it to her, but I was impressed. “Go on.”

Clio’s head tilted as if she were walking through the memories of the mortals in front of her. “There are high walls…a narrow river? No…perhaps a canal?”

I stood up straight, uncrossing my arms, excitement coursing through me. “The Corinth Canal! I searched all over there a month ago.” I leaned in closer to Clio, staring at her intently, wanting to see what she could see. “Do you see a tiny orb? It would be filled with light.”

Gold blood started to drip from her nose. “N-no…I don’t.”

Startled by the blood, I grabbed her by the arm, trying to shake her from her power. “Whoa, you’re bleeding.” 

Her eyes returned to their natural color as she blinked. She reached up and rubbed her nose with her sleeve. “It happens.”

I wasn’t used to seeing another immortal be affected by their power, and I didn’t like it. It was the first time in forever I felt anxious. Not wanting the mortals to see her vulnerability, I pulled Clio to the side, but not before waving my shadows back to resume their hold on the mortals.

“That’s enough.” I had only known this little muse for half a day, and yet I already felt protective over her. “You might want to step out.” I nodded to the open space where the door used to be. I wasn’t going to let her harm herself so that I wouldn’t hurt the mortals. She may value life, but I had cleaned the world of their kind before, and tonight certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Clio’s brows furrow as she wiped at her nose again. “Why? You aren’t going to hurt them, are you?”

My jaw clenched. “I told you, you wouldn’t like my methods.”

“But they did nothing!” she cried.

I was bewildered by her emotion. I placed my hand on the small of her back, shuffling her towards the exit. I spoke to her in such a way that only immortals would be able to hear, “I see that I have upset you.” The look of concern written all over her face did little to pull at my heartstrings. “I cannot let these mortals think they can interfere with immortal business. They must be punished.”

She frowned at me. “And what did they do to you?”

I could see my fondness for the little muse was confusing to her. She had forgotten her place and needed reminding. I squeezed my hand around her fragile wrist. “Listen, muse. I warned you, if you were to help me, we were doing it my way. Don’t forget I am Primordial.” I stepped back, letting go of her and giving her a moment to ponder what I said.

She was feisty alright. She crossed her arms, shaking her head. “Well, perhaps you need to learn a new way of doing things.”

I chuckled with amusement. “You have some nerve, kid.”

“I stand up for what I believe in.” She shrugged.

Leaning forward, I locked my eyes with hers. “And what if I hurt them?” 

Her resolve seemed to break a little as she frowned. “I’d try to stop you.”

“And how do you suppose that will go down?” I barked with laughter. Perhaps I misjudged her. 

Her brow furrowed some more. “Oh, I’d win.” 

I sat back on my heel, contemplating her. She batted her eyelashes, probably something she did to unsuspecting mortals to get her way. I patted her on the head. “It’s a good thing you’re cute. You amuse me.” I snapped my fingers, and instantly my shadows released and moved away from the mortals. 

“Alright, you win, but let’s not make this a habit.” I glanced over to the mortals with a deathly stare. “You best run before I change my mind.”

Clio’s smile spread across her face as she watched the mortals run off. “We should probably hurry.”

“Don’t think you can just start bossing me around,” I said with a smirk.

“Uh-huh. I am the leader now,” she said, trying to lead the way.

“Yeah, that’s working out real well for you.” I laughed as I walked in the opposite direction.

She stopped walking. I turned to look at her. 

“What is that supposed to mean?” she questioned with a tilted head.

“The canal is this way, genius.” I pointed in front of me.

Clio gave me one of her classic pouts and crossed her arms. “I knew that,” she said as she walked by, her nose in the air.

“Mhmm.” I rolled my eyes.

“It’s true!” She slowed her pace, allowing me to lead the way.

We walked in silence for a minute before I asked, “Why do you care so much about mortals?”

She looked up at me, squinting as if I should know the answer. “They are like us. Just not as powerful. They have emotions and needs.”

I waved my hand at her, dismissing her comment. “All I heard was blah blah blah blah.” 

She rolled her eyes at me. “Maybe if you got out from the Underworld more often, you’d see the world in a new way.”

I muttered to myself and less to her, “I haven’t spent much time there lately.”

“Why not?”

I gave her a shrug. “Do you have someone special in your life?”

I saw a familiar look of pain wash over her face as she rubbed at her chest and frowned. “No…I don’t.”

“That’s probably a good thing,” I muttered as I reflected. “You get married, have kids, and then you get attached to the smallest things.” I rolled my eyes. “Family trips, presents…then the kids grow up and leave, and all that you have left of them are the things they leave behind or gifted to you. Then one day, you may find yourself roaming the streets with a bossy muse looking for said gifts.”

Clio stopped walking and put her hand on my arm. “We will find it, Erebus.” She really did have a calming effect.

“I know it may not seem like much…” I let my voice trail off.

“You don’t have to explain it. If it is something important to you, then it is worth finding.”

“It was the first gift I ever received. Hemera thought it was ironic. A little ball of eternal light for her dad.” I smiled at the memory.

She smiled softly. “Well, I can’t wait to see it.”

I laughed, not wanting to get my hopes up. “It won’t be there. I’ve been searching for it for decades.”

“Don’t give up. I am sure it will show up.”

“If I ever find the person who stole it…” I grumbled.

“You’ll kill them?” Clio winced.

“You don’t cross a Primordial or steal from them. Remember,” I narrowed my stare at Clio, “you don’t like my methods…” I gave a twist of the black ring I wore on my finger, a quiet threat.

Clio sighed. “I’d turn a blind eye for this.”

“You promised to help me find the person or persons responsible. What I do from then on doesn’t concern you.” My stomach grumbled at that moment.

“Whether you like it or not, I’m involved now, so what you do concerns me.” She looked at me. “Hungry?”

I gave her a shrug. “You’ll just have to live with it. What I have planned is more painful than death.” I patted my stomach. “And yes, if you recall, we left before we could eat.” As hungry as I was, I couldn’t help but poke at the tiny muse. “Maybe some smoked pig?”

Clio grabbed some bread as if from nowhere and handed it to me. “Haha, very funny.” She reached into her satchel and pulled out some more bread, popping it into her mouth.

“Clio, I see a long friendship in our future.”

Erebus (Melissa Stoddart)
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