I stared into the gaping mouth of the cave, then glanced over at Nyx and Eros.
“Thank you both for coming with me. Wait, and I will go from here.”
Nyx and Eros glanced at each other before Eros said, “We’re going with you.”
I shook my head. “No, Chronos made it clear that only I could get the staff. That means you two need to stay here. I will be back.”
Nyx touched my arm and I felt butterflies swirl in my stomach.
“Dinlas, mellilla, we are going with you.”
…mellilla…I thought with a bitter taste in my mouth.
“Alright, but when I say you stop, you stop. Are we clear? Chronos made it clear, only I can get it without being hurt. Only love can overcome the enchantment.”
They glanced at each other and nodded their heads. I could tell from the look they exchanged that they wouldn’t listen to me if need be.
We moved into the cavern. The entrance was mammoth and the wind whistling across it gave an eerie sound. A high and low warbling that was deeply disturbing, as if Pan himself were playing a funeral dirge on his pipes. We moved deeper into the cavern.The high-pitched whistling diminished as we moved into the cave. Only the low moaning remained to accompany us. Moss and lichen coated the walls and glowed enough for us to see. Regardless, as we pressed farther, it got darker. After several incidents with scurried footsteps, just out of sight, I lit a torch. I trusted Nyx, I knew she could see in the dark, but I just needed to see things for myself.
The cavern itself narrowed down to a rough-hewn passage. It was clearly not natural, but rather been carved from the cavern. We followed it for several hundred meters until it opened into a much larger cavern, similar to the one we entered. I extinguished my torch since this chamber was lit from natural light. The far side of the cavern had caved in and sunlight streamed in to where we were standing. There appeared to be no other exits, so we moved to the opening to see what was outside.
The sun was shining bright and we stood in an opening of a sheer cliff. Snow blew and swirled around us from the crevices on the cliff and below, we could see the jumbles of rocks and small clusters of trees. The air’s chill stung our faces as we squinted into the bright light. The scent of fir and pine rose from the trees below us.
“What now, brother?” asked Eros as we peered out at the vista.
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
Nyx turned and looked back the way we came and suddenly chuckled.
“Look,” she said as she pointed at the passageway from which we just arrived.
Eros and I both turned and followed her pointed finger. There, above the passage we entered from, was an enormous rock formation that looked strikingly similar to a lion’s head. Eyes and nose were large holes in the upper wall, tall enough to stand in. Rough and broken rock gave the illusion of an unkempt and tousled mane, and the passage we came through was the mouth. Several stalactites even mocked fangs.
Eros nodded and said, “We never saw it because we didn’t look up.”
I walked back toward the formation, scrutinizing it as I approached. Then I turned back to the other two.
“This is where I tell you two that I go forward alone.”
Nyx glanced at Eros as both shifted uncomfortably and looked at each other. She absentmindedly touched the moon charm on her necklace.
“I’m serious about this, you two. He said you would die.”
“Alright,” Nyx finally said, “but yell if you need anything.”
“I promise I will,” I replied as I unslung my pack. With my sword strapped on my back, my kopis in my belt and a torch in my hand, I looked at them both. They weren’t my Nyx and Eros, but they still were Nyx and Eros.
“Thank you both. Whatever happens here, I appreciate your help.”
Both nodded and Eros replied, “Of course, brother.” Nyx stood silent and chewed her thumbnail.
I examined the edifice one more time, then with a pop, I crouched and teleported ten meters up into the eye of the creature. It was dark, but I could feel there was a room behind the Lion’s Head.
I lit the torch and moved deeper into the space, out of sight of both Nyx and Eros. The room extended behind the nose and eyes. It must have been directly above the passageway we came in through the mouth, since it extended back in the same direction. After about twenty meters, I came to what was obviously the Time Staff.
Floating inside a force field, faintly purple, was the staff. I looked at it for quite awhile before gently laying my hand on the outside of the barrier. It was soft, pliable and gave under my touch. I felt like if I simply pushed my hand hard enough, I could reach through and grab the staff. I looked around; everything was quiet. Eerie and quiet. I knew Nyx and Eros were anxiously waiting, so I finally summoned up the courage and pushed my hand into the sphere.
Let’s see what happens, I thought.
My hand, at first, encountered heavy resistance, then popped through the force field. I was up to my elbow in what felt like goo before I could close my hand around the staff. The moment I touched it, I knew something was wrong. The inanimate force field suddenly came to life and began moving up my arm and across my body. It was a gelatinous thing that moved like a giant amoeba, slow and methodical. I kept my grip on the staff as I clawed the gooey mess off me with my free hand and threw it down. It made a disgusting splat as each handful hit the ground. At that moment, I felt a rumbling and growling in the floor, as if the mountain itself were coming to life. I heard Eros shout above the noise.
“Dinlas, get out here! Get your ass out here. The roof is caving in…”
I held onto the staff and began running back the way I came. The gelatinous goo was all over me now and really starting to burn my skin. My eyes started to water and I was forced to try and wipe them. I had to be careful not to get the stuff in my eyes.
“Dinlas, now,” came Eros’ voice again. I could hear the panic in his voice.
I struggled to see as I made my way the last bit to the opening where the lion’s eyes were. I peered out; Nyx and Eros were standing at the edge of the cliff and her wings were fully extended. Chunks of debris were raining down and hitting them, big enough to kill any mortal many times over. I waved to them to go.
“Go!” I yelled as I unfurled my wings as well.
Nyx saw my wings, grabbed Eros, and soared off the edge of the opening. I looked out into the open sky and as I unfurled my wings fully, I teleported out of the cave. I reappeared in the sky and instantly caught myself. Nyx and Eros were below me, and I followed her down to the ground. As we landed, thick clouds of dust erupted from the cavern above us, signifying the total collapse of the roof and walls.
“Did you get it? Is that it?” asked Eros as soon as I landed.
I nodded and handed it to him as I kneeled down near a small stream and began washing the burning gunk off me.
“What is that?” Nyx asked as she wrinkled her nose.
“I don’t know, it was around the staff and came to life when I touched it. Damn Chronos, why did he tell me I’d be safe?”
Eros thought for a second, then replied, “Did he tell you that you’d be safe? Or just that you could get the staff?”
“I don’t know,” I growled back. “All I know is that I need to get this thing back so I can go home…” The words caught in my throat as I looked at Eros and Nyx. They exchanged an awkward glance with each other, then looked back at me.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” I continued as I stood from washing in the creek.
Eros reached out and grabbed me in a hug. I normally hate when he does the hug, but this time, I didn’t mind.
“It’s okay,” he said, “we understand.” I watched over his shoulder as Nyx smiled at us both.
“Well, we should get going,” I said after a few more seconds.
“I can teleport us straight into Tartarus,” Nyx commented as Eros continued to hug me.
“You can?” I asked as I gently disentangled myself from my brother’s grip.
“Yes,” she said as she nodded and then added, “from there, I can take you straight to Chronos in The Pit. There’s no need to bother Hades with this matter.”
I looked closely at her. She was purposely bypassing Uncle Hades because she knew he would never agree to giving Chronos the staff.
“Yeah, alright,” I replied, “let’s do that.”
Nyx reached out both hands to Eros and I, and we each took one. In an instant, we were standing in the fetid Pit again, just outside of Chronos’ door. I let go of Nyx and pulled open the grate in the door, the cacophony of ticking clocks instantly louder as the opening widened.
Chronos opened his eyes and smiled when he saw me.
“So, you have the staff?” he asked in his grinding voice.
“I do,” I replied. I reached down and opened the door fully and watched as Chronos’ face blanched at the sight of Nyx, another primordial, standing next to me.
“Wha-what is she doing here?” he bellowed over the tick-tocking of all the clocks.
Nyx smiled and pushed past me into the cell.
“Darling, I am here to find out exactly what it is you want with this chunk of wood.”