Now that I had arrived on my magical plot of land, I could proceed without distraction. Idly, I strolled away from the driveway and the parked Stingray, the only visible signs of mortal civilization. Forgetting about everything around me, I wrestled with the dilemma that had arisen from within.
Cars and airplanes, televisions and wars that killed legions. Music of infinite new variety, sent out through the air like Hermes bringing tidings to billions. At long last, mortal science and knowledge have grown to transform the world—as I helped them to do. Barely more than a century ago, none of this existed. So how could it all seem so familiar?
Without thinking, I let my legs carry me at a strolling pace deeper amongst the trees. I had thoughts only for my quarry, the source of my certainty that I had lived before in these remarkable times.
Think, a voice within me urged. What brought you here today, after all this time?
Instantly, my mind darted back to a daydream that had reared its head when I dozed off at my desk, overcome with fatigue. Ridiculous of me, to get caught up in a technological issue that the mortals won’t even face for decades. Artificial gravity can wait—
Concentrate! my inner dialogue snapped. The daydream—what happened in it?
I thought back to the moment that the musing had jarred me back into wakefulness. Then I tried to push my awareness farther back, into the daydream itself, but nothing came to light. Well, if that approach wouldn’t work, I would try coming at it from the other direction. What had happened immediately before?
My mind’s eye jumped back to the minutes preceding my doze. Sitting at my desk, I listened to Becca Foreman, my assistant for years, mention some dilemma that another space startup had solved. Sluggish from my own voluntary overwork, my thoughts wandered for a few seconds. Becca really is an impressive assistant and an attractive woman. It’s a pity that the mortals get so worked up about that marriage thing…I nodded a reply, Becca left the room, and I let my eyelids drop.
Then I saw the images—two of them.
The first hit me with such force that I did not know how I could ever have forgotten.
Aphrodite. My wife.
But long, long ago.
Seeing the face of my wife told me some critical things. For one, I had absolutely lived through history not once, but twice. From ancient times, through the rise and fall of empires, medieval and modern times, I had held onto Aphrodite. I had clung to her like a thing turned to gold and forgotten by Midas, and felt little joy in the possession. What gladness I associated with her, now that I remembered her, arose from her absence. Never would I make that mistake again.
Yet I owed Aphrodite gratitude for one thing: my memory of her had restored my past to me. It would take me a long time to explore what I had lost; after all, even a god couldn’t recall millennia of life overnight! But that past would wait for me, and I would explore it.
As I now realized, though, this still did not explain everything. How did I return to ancient times, and why? Given that I had, a flash of understanding came to me on one subject. Once I had gone back to the days of my youth, there would be two of me: a younger Hephaestus, and an older one. Clearly, I had chosen to keep my distance from the other gods for all that time—although there might have been an exception or two down the ages. Tyche, in particular, struck me as someone I had dealt with at least once, although I did not remember how. Well, all in good time; perhaps I would look her up. At any rate, I had lived among mortals, not gods, and put my past behind me. Eventually, I forgot about my first journey through history; recalling only the second had left me happier.
That much, I sensed clearly. I had let go of a number of shackles that had weighed me down over the ages, and not just Aphrodite. The Forge…once I had let that matter to me more than life itself. I had performed my best work with that tool, that means of shaping metal by my will…but that had vanished, somehow. That memory, too, would come back to me in the fullness of time, but it would wait. I had learned from brilliant, amazing mortals that the true Forge is the mind and the heart, not a creation in itself, but the capacity to create. And what will the other gods think of that?
Yes, I sensed that the time had come to rejoin the gods.
Abruptly, I reached water. The trees had ended at a narrow, sandy beach. I didn’t remember the plot containing even a small stretch of Gulf coast, but it is a magical parcel after all. At that moment, the sun dipped toward the horizon, bathing the water in a glorious sunset that left me transfixed. An end, a transition…but into what? Who knows?
Then the nagging thought resurfaced: how did I return to ancient times? The second image from my daydream flashed before me: a circle of intertwined flames of blue, green, and purple, hovering just above a floor. An apartment I lived in, on the island of Crete. I was unhappy, and wanted to change that. I knew the circle of fire to be some sort of time portal, but nothing else about it remained clear to me. Did I create it, or did someone else? What was it; how did it work?
It seemed that some mysteries would have to wait for another day. I had no problem with that; I had solved quite enough for the time being. I began the hike back to my car, a process that might take more or less time than expected on a magical plot of land.
Well, I’ll just have to see what the Fates have in store for me. I have a feeling that I’ll be discovering a lot about that very soon.