“C’mon, guys. We’re running out of time. Let’s go this way, the other way’s a dead end.” Ares started walking, reluctant to leave the safety of the torchlight. It wasn’t much longer until they came to the end of the path and an opening to their right.
They walked through the opening and into an open chamber, surrounded by hedges and lit by torches positioned on poles in each of the corners.
“Damn it all to Hades! It’s a dead end.” Hephaestus spit disgustedly off to the side. “We’ll need to go the other way.”
Moxie wandered further into the chamber, noticing a small stone dais in the middle with a step leading up to it. There was a narrow pillar about waist high in the middle with a card sitting on top of it. Moxie followed her feet up the step to the pillar to look at the card. When she saw what was on it she gasped loudly and stumbled backward into Ares, who had followed her.
“What’s wrong, Moxie? Something scare you?” Ares steadied her and turned her to face him, but she kept looking over her shoulder. “Moxie, answer me.”
“What? It’s just that card. It-it has my name on it.” Moxie turned to look at Ares with confusion in her eyes.
“Oh, yeah? Well, let’s see what it says then.” Ares marched up the steps to the pillar and plucked the card off of it. He frowned as he turned it over and over. “It’s just a stupid card with your name on it, Moxie.”
“Put it back, Ares.” Nike walked over and joined Hephaestus next to Moxie for moral support.
Ares threw his hands up in surrender. “Fine! Man, you three are the biggest scaredy Gods I’ve ever met.” He roughly tossed the card back towards the pillar. They all startled when the card stopped in mid-air and gently floated back down to the pillar, settling so that everyone could see Moxie’s name.
“Well, that’s not freaky at all.” Ares joined his siblings and stared at the pillar, waiting for something else to happen. Minutes later when nothing happened, they all started to relax. Hephaestus and Ares walked a few steps away from the girls and Nike started to wander around the chamber, looking for another way out.
“We can’t go back the way we came, Ares. Those vines almost took you.”
“I know, Hephaestus, I know, but there’s no other way out of here. Look around. This chamber has one entrance and we just walked right through it.” Ares stretched his sore arms above his head. “We’re prepared for it now, so we’ll be careful. Besides, Nike can fly us over it and we can go the other way.”
Hephaestus frowned and nodded while he turned to watch Nike walk around the edges of the chamber. She ran her hands over the leaves and randomly pressed against them with her weight. She even flew up to the top to see if there was a way to get out of the chamber that way.
Meanwhile, Moxie stood and stared at the card. Suddenly, she felt a pull on her heart. It was as if the card was enticing her, teasing her. She found that she couldn’t resist it and her feet drew her forward. As she got closer, the card started to sparkle and shine as if covered in Nike’s victory glitter. There was a soft humming as Moxie walked up the dais. She was so entranced by the card, she didn’t notice anything else.
Hephaestus saw Moxie walking toward the pillar and didn’t really think anything about it, but wanted her opinion on what to do next. “Moxie, what do you think? Should we just get Nike to fly us over those vine things and look for another way around?”
Moxie said nothing and kept moving forward.
“Moxie? What are you doing?” Hephaestus took a hesitant step towards her and grabbed Ares to get his attention. Moxie had almost reached the pillar and something felt off. He saw her hand rise to grab the card and suddenly knew he had to stop her, somehow. So he lunged after her, knowing he’d never reach her in time.
“Nike! Grab her!”
Nike spun around in confusion and saw the boys racing towards Moxie as she reached for the card. No one was fast enough, though. Just before they reached her, her hand lifted the card from the pillar, the torches flared, and the light in her eyes died.
“MOXIE!” They all rushed to her, scared that she had somehow died. Ares waved a hand in front of her face and Nike shook Moxie’s shoulder. Hephaestus positioned himself so he could see the front of her. Moxie just stood there with dead eyes, arm outstretched, hand gripping the card.
“Oh, this is bad. This is so very, very bad, you guys!” Nike started pacing back and forth.
Ares gripped his hair and pulled. “What do we do, Heph? We have to bring her back to life! Who can do that?”
Hephaestus was quiet for a long moment, ignoring Ares’ begging prayers to the Gods that Moxie not be dead.
“Guys, look.” Hephaestus nodded his head toward Moxie.
“We’ve already seen her! She’s gone!” Ares started to feel like he was on the edge of losing control. He loved his sister and couldn’t imagine a world in which she didn’t exist. Who else would he tease?
“No, Ares. LOOK at her!” Hephaestus demanded.
Nike stopped pacing and looked at Moxie, but all she saw was an empty shell. “She’s not there.”
“Exactly, Nike. Moxie isn’t there.”
“What the Hades does that mean, Hephaestus and why are you getting all cryptic on us?” Ares stood in front of Hephaestus, angry and scared and wanting to lash out at anyone.
“You’re an idiot, Ares. You know that this isn’t really Moxie, right?”
Ares opened his mouth to yell some more but his jaw slammed shut as soon as Hephaestus’ words registered. “Huh?”
Nike was still confused. “What do you mean?”
Hephaestus turned to look at Nike and gave her a small smile. “Moxie isn’t this body, she inhabits this body. Well, she did. She’s not in there anymore. This is just a shell.”
Nike peered into Moxie’s empty eyes. “Well, where did she go?”
“I don’t know, little one. But I bet it has to do with that card she’s holding onto.”
The three just stared, unsure of how to save their sister or even what to do next.
She was sucked into a whirlwind of lights and sounds, unable to determine which way was up or if she was moving forward. If she’d had eyes in this form, she would have been blinded. If she’d had ears, she would have been deafened. As it was, as soon as she realized she no longer inhabited her previous body, she was able to make sense of what was going on around her and simply observe. Soon, she grounded herself by focusing on just one sound – the soft hum of a bee.
Unable to determine the exact passage of time in her bodiless form, Moxie floated in this liminal space for what could have been hours or simply minutes. Eventually, she felt her form tumble forward and finally stop, inches above the grass on a hill that overlooked a small village. She gathered herself and followed the road to try and determine where she was and what happened to her previous body.
As she got closer to the village, she heard the faint crying of a young girl. Moxie followed the sound to a barn on the edge of the village and slipped her essence between the boards and around a large stack of hay, where she saw a young girl, perhaps nine, being assaulted by a grown man. He held the girl against the wall with his thick, farmer’s hands and pressed sloppy, unwanted kisses all over her face while she tried to move out of his way.
The man pressed his pelvis roughly against the girl and rubbed one of his thighs against her, trying to lift the hem of her shift. The girl cried out softly, begging him to leave her alone.
Moxie gave it no more than a breath of thought before she found herself inhabiting the young girl. Her new body froze in place as she merged her essence with it. The man thought the girl had finally given up and missed the look in her eyes go from helpless to fierce. Moxie gave him a moment longer as she feigned interest, feeling the girl’s presence squirm at his touch. Moxie gave her a quick, comforting thought and reached for the knife on the man’s belt.
He was so enraptured with what he was doing that he didn’t feel the knife slide into his gut or hear his blood drip heavily on the barn floor. It wasn’t until he started to feel weak that he pulled back and looked at her face. Moxie met his eyes and let a wicked smile form slowly across her new face. He looked down and saw the blood. He was still so confused as he backed away, tripping over a bucket and landing on his back.
Moxie straddled his waist and wiped the blood from her knife onto his cheek. She bared her teeth at him and growled.
“No means no.”
She took her knife and deftly sliced it across his neck, leaving a gaping hole. Tilting her head, she watched the life seep from his body before wiping the bloody knife clean with some hay and walking out of the barn.
As she headed towards the girl’s home, Moxie looked inward to check on her but she was met with complete silence. It wasn’t an empty silence, though. There was a weight to it, a patient hunter hiding in the darkness. It felt like a predator watching from the shadows as a new animal ventured into its domain. It was waiting to see what Moxie did.
Moxie hummed quietly as she walked. “I wonder what your name is.”
Moxie froze. She’d never had a consciousness talk back to her. She turned inward to check on the girl, Lydia, and found her silent, waiting to see what Moxie would do next.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner, Lydia.”
It’s okay. I’ve dealt with him before. His wife would have come in soon and chased me off with the broom.
Moxie felt a mental shrug from Lydia. She says I encourage him.
“That is completely ridiculous, Lydia. None of that was your fault. He should have never touched you.”
Well, now I won’t have to worry about him anymore.
“Yes. I’m sorry you had to see what I did. I didn’t expect you to be aware. None of my other hosts have been.”
You’ve done this before?
“Yes. It’s how I take form.” Moxie started walking again, slowly approaching Lydia’s home.
What are you?
“Well, I suppose you would know me best as a Goddess.”
…are you going to sacrifice me?
Moxie stumbled on a rock. “What? No! Absolutely not. That’s not what I do.”
Oh. What are you going to do with me?
Moxie finally reached Lydia’s home and opened the door. As she stepped through the threshold, she was hit with a variety of earthy smells. There were bunches of several different types of herbs hanging from exposed rafters, and a stew slowly cooking in a small pot on the fire. Different pieces of clothing in varying stages of wear were laid about, some looking as if they’d recently been mended. Lydia’s home was small and poor, but clean and homey. Moxie took an instant liking to its simplicity.
“Well, Lydia, I’m lost and I was hoping to borrow your body for a while so I can find a way back home.” Her voice trembled with her next words. “My mamá is missing and I have to find her.”
I’m sorry about your mamá. My mam died last winter. I wish I could bring her back.
Moxie pressed her hand to her chest as she was overcome with Lydia’s sadness and loneliness. “Oh, dear, I’m so sorry she died. Do you have anyone to take care of you?” Moxie felt Lydia’s consciousness bristle.
I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I’m old enough to take care of myself.
“How old are you?”
I’ve lived through almost fourteen winters.
Moxie thought back to the small frame of the girl she saw in the barn and was surprised that Lydia was that old. She wisely kept that thought to herself.
“Hmm? Oh, right. I suppose you are. All types of excitement today. Let’s get you some of this stew.”
Lydia directed Moxie to a bowl and spoon and just before Moxie was about to sit down and enjoy the food, Lydia made a request.
“Oh dear, please call me Moxie.”
Goddess Moxie? There’s a special herb my mam would put in my stew to help me stay strong. Would you put some in the bowl for me, please?
Lydia showed Moxie to the hanging bunch and told her how much to add to the stew, then they sat in the chair by the fire in companionable silence as Moxie ate. Soon, though, Moxie grew tired and Lydia had her lay down on the bed.
Lydia lay quiet while Moxie drifted off into a deep sleep. She waited until the moon was high in the sky and when Lydia saw that Moxie was completely unconscious, she got up out of the bed and walked into the kitchen.
“Mam always said the Gods listened to our prayers but I never thought one’d actually visit me.” Lydia laughed and pulled several different herbs from the rafters, as well as two small vials of animal blood from a cabinet.
Lydia’s chest vibrated with an evil hum as she mixed the ingredients together. Just as she was pouring everything into a wooden cup, she felt Moxie stir.
“Now, now, sweet Goddess. You belong to me.” Lydia swallowed her drink quickly and then let out a laugh so wicked, the night quieted in fear.
- The Trials of Herakles, Part VII - September 1, 2022
- The Trials of Herakles, Part VI - November 5, 2021
- Herakles, Part V - October 18, 2021