The stables were oddly empty of the usual staff, but it afforded me some much-desired privacy with the twins. I had time to introduce them to each of the horses, name by name, giving tidbits about their history and heroic deeds.
The water droplets fell free from my nose and chin, and I opened my eyes slowly to stare down at my reflection. I looked paler than usual. A black tear dripped from the corner of my eye. I blinked. Perhaps my eyes were blurry? I rubbed them, then continued to stare. But my reflection only worsened.
Take me to Arion. I willed the portal to open, and the bark began to peel away, revealing a small, glowing gateway. Taking one last hasty glance around me to make sure I wasn’t being watched, I stepped through. I re-entered the Grieving Gardens. Only now, they were deathly quiet. The children were gone. A soft nicker interrupted the stillness, and I turned to see Arion approach me. He set his muzzle against my hand, and I was glad for the kind greeting.
Giving of my time and efforts came so naturally to me. I’d seen no harm in it. At least, that’s how I used to be. I had eventually learned how my generosity could be used against me. And there was never enough that I could do to satisfy the needs of the mortals. Nor the immortals.
I can’t remember the last time he’s wanted to run like this, I thought, slightly worried. But I saw no point in trying to slow the stallion down. His legs pounded away at the ground, and I could do little more than hope he would stay on the road until we cleared the Dead City. His desire for speed was absolutely ferocious. Luckily, I’d always liked to ride fast, and we had a lot of ground to cover.
I wanted her to give herself to me willingly, to love me. Did I feel guilty then? Yes, and no. I was a very different god in the old days. I was arrogant and angry a lot of the time. I was no longer that god. As time drifted by, I became more open-minded about life. As I watched from the shadows of the Underworld, I began to enjoy the changing world above me.
Fortunately, the two natural paths that formed a cross in the forest were already pulling us, the energy palpable, pushing my heartbeat into my throat. I loved Earth, but there was something about the icy grip of the Underworld that called to me, serenading me with its cacophony of wailing souls and the promise of quiet corridors I could get lost in.
So here I am. I will do the rehab like I am supposed to. Shit, I will do anything just as long as they don’t send me back. The room flickers in the next second, her office changing in a blink to the darkened cell of Tartarus and then back.
Gods, give me strength. I looked down into her eyes and saw a fire there I hadn’t noticed before. A stray strand of hair had come loose and was hanging in her face. I reached up and tucked it behind her ear, letting my hand gently cup her face for a moment before pulling away. “I don’t want to see you get hurt,” I said quietly.
Quietly, I walked through the graveyard and looked at the old and crumbling headstones. Leave it to the pirates to have the most interesting names. Honestly, I was surprised that there weren’t any Seymore-Butts…oh, wait, nevermind. There it is.
They still saw the illusion, and I had a feeling no matter how many times they walked across the bridge, they’d end up at the beginning. “You have to trust me. I think this is part of a test. We have to trust each other and have enough faith to get through each challenge.”
I silently curse Eros because he knows what he is doing. He is playing with me, like a cat plays with a mouse. He says something to pull more information from another, and back and forth they go. Only I am not a house cat, much less a mouse.
Is Hera alive? Safe? Did my bargaining work? Did Zeus set me free? Am I imagining all of this? Another nightmare? Did I really escape or just trade one prison for another? I have so many questions and no answers.
“Oh, but I am. I am you. The real you. What would your precious family say if they saw the real you? Do you think they would still love you? Would they love the Athena we both know you really are? Take a good look! This is who you really are. Who WE are.”
Kara displayed a certain grace when she was using those weapons. A sense of…” he thought for a moment, “…fluidity, for lack of a better word. It was like she and the weapons were one. To be honest, it was like watching you when you practice. She’s very good.”