I stared at Chronos, trying to comprehend what he meant.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Three-thousand years,” he repeated. “I have been waiting here for you three-thousand years.”
“Why are you waiting for me? What are you talking about?”
“You were sent back. You were sent back by another me to create a new timeline. A timeline where you are afforded all the luxuries and opportunities that your brother received in your other existence.”
“What? Why? What are you talking about?”
“Why? Well because I need you, that’s why.”
“You are making no sense,” I replied as I shook my head.
The human head sighed as the other two heads stared at me blankly.
“I need you to recover my Time Staff. Only love can do that. After all, love conquers all.”
I repeated after him and cocked my head to the side. “Only love can do that?”
“It is locked in Mount Smolikas. It is protected by the Lion’s Head.”
“Yeah, okay,” I replied.
“The Lion’s Head will destroy any heart that is not pure with love.”
“I know you’ve been down here awhile, Chronos, but I’m Dinlas. My heart is anything but pure.”
Chronos shook all three heads, exasperated.
“You still don’t see. You are the God of Love because you were made so, despite anything you may now remember from before. The other me took you back and created this alternate timeline. If it weren’t for my alternate self, you’d still be existing miserably as you were, The God of Hate.”
I couldn’t do anything but stare. It was like a row of doors, in a long hallway, suddenly all swung open at once in my brain. Things that seemed peculiar, events that were off-putting, people places and conversations that I thought once existed, but now didn’t. Suddenly, it all made sense. Memories, dreams, emotions, and experiences all from another time.
Chronos laughed. He could see the bewilderment on my face.
I looked closer at him, squinted my eyes, and said, “You ripped me out of my life to be here? To live for thousands of years in some dream world, just to get your staff?”
“Oh, this is no dream. This is very much reality, just not the reality that you’re used to.”
I shook my head, trying to take it all in before I replied, “If I’m here, then where is Dinlas in my old existence? I mean, I’ve been here all this time, so he must be missing there.”
Chronos shook all three heads again and sighed. “Time is not linear and time is not constant. It fluctuates. Only love is constant. Time bends, time even breaks, but love does not.”
I stared at him quizzically and he added after a moment, “You have spent three thousand years here, but not one minute has passed in your old dimension. Things are just as they were. You are tossing and turning in bed while Nyx slumbers next to you.”
I put my hands up to my head. It all came flooding back to me. Like a dam that bursts and the flood of memories wash over and drown me.
Nyx and I were together.
“Yes,” said Chronos. “This is why I chose you. If you succeed, I can send you back to her. It will be as if none of this happened. If you fail, then be prepared to spend eternity watching the woman you love with your hateful brother. The choice is yours. I hope you choose better than Eros did.”
“What does that mean?”
Chronos shrugged and replied, “I gave him the same offer. I took away the one he loved most, but he failed me in getting the staff in a different timeline. Weak, he is. Pathetic and weak. He chose to ignore the one he loved.”
Psyche. Eros would never tell us what happened to Psyche. Could it possibly be that he was too afraid to help her? That certainly didn’t seem like him.
Chronos spoke up again and interrupted my thoughts.
“I learned from my mistakes, though. Taking the one he loved wasn’t incentive enough, so I took everyone you loved. I wonder how Hera, Zeus, precious Aunts Hestia and Nike are doing?” Here his voice lowered and he grated, “How do you think Artemis and Nyx are? Or those two mangy, unwashed wolf curs that follow you around?”
I leaned against the iron-bound door. I had to catch my breath, because I felt like Hephaestus punched me in the stomach. I thought about all my family, even the ones I didn’t like, and I wanted them back. I thought about Nyx. The way she looked and felt. How her hair smelled like the radiance of a star. Or at least what I think that would smell like. How her skin glowed with constellations when she laughed or even smiled at me.
And my brother. We are the brothers that love to hate. Yet I would do anything for him. For Eros, my Eros, not this alternate weird brother. No, I wanted the brother who I suddenly didn’t seem to mind when he stole my wallet or insulted me incessantly. I wanted him back, because in a weird and fucked up way we were connected. All his ego, all his swagger, and bravado. Because that went along with his loyalty, his dedication and his love.
Now that I knew I didn’t belong here, I no longer wanted to be here. I wanted to be with my family and my friends.
I raised my head and looked in at the three-headed serpent.
“Alright, Chronos, what is it? What do I have to do?”
“Excellent,” replied Chronos. “As I said, the staff is in a cavern in Mount Smolikas. Are you familiar with the Valley of Alexandra?”
When I nodded, he continued. “Go there and follow the path northwest into the mountains. You will find the entrance to the cavern. Once in the cavern, seek out the Lion’s Head to retrieve the staff. Bring it to me and I will release back from whence you came. Oh and one last thing, tell no one of this, or the deal is off and you stay here forever.”
“What if I don’t? What if I don’t comply with your demands?”
“Then you suffer the same fate as your pathetic brother who lost his Psyche, eternity without the one you love.”
I slammed the grated opening closed that I spoke to Chronos through. I felt sick. My head spun and everything seemed to swim in front of me. I don’t remember how I made it out of The Pit or even out of the Underworld. I remember slapping Charon to ferry me back, since I was out of money. Once across the Styx, I teleported to my apartment.
How did this happen? Was this real? I thought about Eros and Nyx when we had lunch. Another wave of nausea washed over me as my feelings, my true feelings, revealed themselves.
Somehow I have to fix this. I have to make this right.
Sleep was an elusive bedmate that night. Hypnos was nowhere to be found as I tossed and turned. I dozed fitfully, but restful slumber was out of my grasp. I rose from bed finally and splashed some cold water on my face, dragged my fingers through my dirty hair and headed out.
I left my floor of the Olympus Building, but didn’t really know where to go. I took the elevator to the lobby and headed straight to Dark Sparks for a coffee. There, sitting and sipping an espresso, was Uncle Hades himself.
“Uncle Hades. How are you?”
Hades looked up at me and pushed a smile across his face. He was always closer to Eros, since my brother had grown up in the Underworld with him. Their years together had no doubt jaded his view toward me. I still liked Uncle Hades, but I found him unsettling to talk to.
No, wait, that’s not right, Dinlas. You grew up with Hades. Remember? Hades always favored you.
Another voice in my head answered back just as quickly, Not in this world. In this world, Eros is Hades’ favorite nephew and you are a distant second.
“How are you, Dinlas?” he asked politely.
I slid into the chair across from him and replied, “I’m, uh, I’m fine. Well no, I’m not fine.”
Hades leaned forward and looked at me closely.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Dinlas? You look awful.”
“Ahh, aha, well, I may not be quite fine. Listen, have you ever felt like you don’t belong somewhere?”
Hades furrowed his brow for a moment, then replied, “Well, Mount Olympus comes to mind.”
“Not exactly what I meant. Uncle, what if I told you I don’t think I belong here? I mean, what if I said I lived somewhere else, in a different life?” As soon as I said it, I regretted it. The look on Uncle Hades face told me everything.
“Dinlas, have you been hanging out with Dionysius? I mean, what are you saying?”
I shook my head and mumbled, “Never mind, it’s nothing.”
Hades leaned closer. “Have you changed your clothes recently? Dinlas, you look dirty and exhausted. Seriously, are you okay?”
I pushed myself up from the table.
“No, I mean, yeah. I mean, I’m fine. Thank you, Uncle Hades, I’ll talk to you later.”
I retreated hurriedly from Dark Sparks, then cursed myself for not getting a coffee. Uncle Hades looked at me like he thought I was crazy.
Maybe I am crazy…
In any event, he clearly wasn’t the person to ask. No, as painful as it was going to be I needed to go see the person who was my friend both then and now. The person who triggered all this yesterday.
I teleported just outside my brother’s apartment door, hesitated, then knocked loudly. It took a minute before the door opened.
“Holy Rhea, Dinlas. What are you doing here?”
“I need to see Nyx. Is she here?”
Nyx appeared from the bedroom, wrapping a short satin robe around herself. My hands trembled and I took a deep swallow.
“What is it, Dinlas? Are you still feeling bad?”
I shook my head, then paused and nodded in contradiction.
“Well, I am. But probably not how you think.” I looked back and forth from Eros to Nyx, then asked, “Do I seem odd to you?”
Eros snorted and replied, “No more than usual.”
“Eros, please stop. There’s something really bothering Dinlas. Please, sit down, mellilla. What are you getting at?”
I sat down in a chair and motioned for them to sit down as well. I looked down at my trembling hands, took a deep breath, and told them the whole story. My memories from the night Chronos attacked me, my memories of events that never happened in this life, and my relationships that were different now than before with family members. I told them about visiting Chronos in The Pit and what he told me as well as what he demanded of me. I left out the part of Eros and Psyche. Weirdly, if we switched places, then technically I should’ve been in love with her. But in this timeline, she seemed to have never made an appearance. When I finished, Nyx studied me intently, but Eros scoffed and rolled his eyes.
“This is just like you, brother. You’re the God of Love, can have anyone you want, but yet you try to move in on Nyx. Are you really that petty?”
Nyx cut her eyes at Eros and said, “Dinlas, did Chronos say why he wanted this artifact?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know why he wants it. I do remember though that he had a staff when he sent me here. Or at least the Chronos in my timeline had one. Of course that Chronos was free also, not imprisoned in Tartarus.”
“You’re not saying you believe him, are you?” Eros asked incredulously as he looked at Nyx.
“I’ve heard more bizarre stories when it comes to time than this. What if Chronos devised a way to travel across timelines and dimensions? What if he needs the staff in each alternate reality to do that? To say, open a wormhole of some sort. That would mean that he’s trying to arm himself with multiple staves in multiple universes to accomplish some goal.”
Eros sighed, then furrowed his brow and said, “If that’s the case, then you can’t let him have the staff. You have to remain here. As long as he doesn’t have the staff, then he doesn’t have the means to complete his goal.”
“I agree,” replied Nyx, “giving him this staff could be catastrophic. It’s too risky. Dinlas, I’m sorry but it’s probably best if you stay here.”
I looked back and forth between the two. I couldn’t stay here, not like this anyway. I stood and circled the table between myself and Nyx. She sat idly twirling the moon charm on her necklace. With no warning, I leaned over her, put both hands to the sides of her face, and kissed her deeply on the lips. I could hear Eros’ stuttering protest, but I ignored it and instead bit softly at her lower lip. Afterward I pulled back slightly and looked her in the eyes.
“Amorcito,” I murmured.
Nyx gave a shiver and goosebumps raised on her arms and neck.
Eros hovered into view with his fist raised and snarled, “What the actual fuck, Dinlas? I’m gonna beat your brains in.”
“Wait,” said Nyx as she put her hand up and looked at me. We stared at each other for several seconds, then she said, “You’re telling the truth.”
I nodded, then replied, “I am, and I need your help to get back to you.”