They stood, immobile and stared at the seemingly innocuous card with Hephaestus’ name on it. Of the four of them, only Moxie truly understood the fear and pain behind it. She grabbed onto his forearm and squeezed.
“Please don’t touch it, Heph. We’ll find another way. Nike can fly us over everything and we’ll save our mamá that way.” She looked up into his eyes and pleaded with him. “Please, please don’t touch it.”
Ares looked a little concerned. “Moxie might be right here, man. You’re not like her. What if it takes you the same way and you just die?” He walked over to the pillar with an inflated bravado, turned to face the others, and spread his arms wide. “Obviously, this system is broken. As the most important member of the group, I should have been first.”
Moxie just wrapped her arms around herself and turned away from Ares’ insensitivity.
“What? I’m just saying. I’m the most powerful one here. I have the most kills. I should have been first. Actually, I should have been the only one,” Ares pouted as he walked back to the opening of the chamber.
Hephaestus just stood and stared at his name on the card. The weight of his decision flashed across his eyes. He knew the night had gotten longer and time was running out to save his mother, but honestly, he was a little scared. He saw how Moxie was when she came back. How she still was. It was not something he looked forward to. He turned to look at his brother and sisters and knew that there was only one decision to make. If he didn’t do it, their mother would die and it would tear them apart.
Hephaestus took a deep breath and walked as quickly as he could to the pillar. He looked over his shoulder at Ares. “Watch over the girls, yeah?” Before anyone could say another word, Hephaestus grabbed the card in one hand. The moment his hand closed around the card, his essence left him.
Ares rushed over to Hephaestus and cursed. “Damnit, he’s not there. Just like Moxie.”
Nike poked Hephaestus in the chest and pulled his eyelids up looking for a response. “Well, he’s not Moxie, so I hope he isn’t dead.”
Moxie gasped. The three of them found a spot around Hephaestus to watch over him and wait.
Hephaestus found himself spinning around in a dark void, flashes of colors streaking across his eyes and random noises blaring in his ears. He was disoriented and couldn’t find a way to stop. Eventually, the void spit him out into a brightly lit hallway. His senses took some time to adjust and when they did, he looked around.
He felt weightless and formless. He moved what should have been his head, down to look at his body and found he was just a formless ball of energy.
What the Hades is going on? Wait, I can’t talk either? Ugh!
Hephaestus floated through the doorway in front of him, only to stop in shock. He was on Olympus, in his parents’ bedroom. He could tell that this was something from the past, though. His father looked more arrogant and his mother looked more bitter.
An attendant stepped away from the bed and Hephaestus saw his mother laying there, holding a newborn swaddled tightly in a blanket. His father was standing next to the bed, beaming down at the infant, pride oozing from every pore.
“You did good, Hera. You gave me another son!”
“Well, you did have something to do with it, dear.” She smiled tiredly at his father, her hand gently caressing the side of the infant’s face.
“See how quiet he is! He’s not a screamer like his brother, Ares. It’s as if he’s waiting for something momentous to happen.” His father leaned down and placed a kiss on both his mother’s forehead and the baby’s. “I must spread the word across Olympus. I have another perfect son!”
His father puffed up his chest and left the room. His mother leaned back on her pillows and hummed softly to the baby. “Oh, my sweet boy. You are going to do wondrous things. You need a strong name to help you through your life.” She kissed the baby on the forehead. “I will name you Hephaestus and you will be loved by all the Gods.”
The attendant came back to the bed and held her hands out for the baby. “My lady, you need to rest. Let me care for him.”
“Yes, thank you.” His mother watched her take the baby away, but Hephaestus couldn’t stop looking at his mother. Yes, she was exhausted, but the love she had for the baby…for him, was blinding.
Whatever, Mother. I know that feeling didn’t last long.
The room spun and Hephaestus found himself in the throne room surrounded by his family. The attendant carried the baby to his father and gently passed him off before scurrying away. His father smiled big.
“Look, my brothers and sisters. Look at my son!” His father removed the blanket and held the baby under its arms and away from his body. Everyone gasped. His father grabbed the baby by one arm and yanked him up to get a better look.
“What is this!?” His father roared across the throne room. “Who switched my son with this…this mistake of nature? HERA!” The baby hung limply by his arm as his father stormed back to his mother.
His mother was just about asleep when his father pushed his way into her rooms. “What trickery is this, wife? Do you think to make a fool of me?” He held the baby out in front of him by the arm.
His mother grabbed the baby quickly and held him tightly to her chest. “What is wrong with you, Zeus? You were here. You know this is your son!” His mother rocked the baby, whispering little “shushing” noises even though he never made a sound. The baby lay in his mother’s arms, eyes wide, watching his father.
“This…thing is not my son. It is deformed. Look at its foot!”
His mother gently brought the baby’s foot up so she could see the deformity. “So what, Zeus? It makes him more precious amongst us. There will never be another as unique as he is.”
Lightning flashed across his father’s eyes and he yanked the baby away from his mother. “I will not tolerate this abomination in my kingdom!” His father flew across Olympus to the very edge and flung the baby with all his might, turning away without caring to know where it landed or if it survived.
Hephaestus felt a pain where his heart should have been. He knew the story of his father disavowing him, but it was something else to see it happen. His chest constricted in pain and he had a brief thought that is was a good thing he didn’t require breath in this form because he never would have been able to catch it.