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AMAZOS - a WW origin story UPDATED 01/10/2019

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Abductorenmadrid
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Post 1 year ago

Void wrote:
1 year ago
...Sorry I keep droning on, but we are definitely, incontrovertibly at the last section now. Hopefully the pay off will be worth all the words to get here. In hindsight, I think I have to put my hands up and admit I bloated the story by trying to cram in too much.... Still, it's been a fun ride - I think I'm going to be sad to part ways with Diana.....
I think when there is quality of content it's not so important that a chapter takes longer to resolve. There is almost always a juicy chunk of development within each part, that you have done. It's not like we have been given a big bowl of flavourless soup to consume for the last however many months you've been running the story kitchen, we get steak each n every time! And you never know, there may opportunities do some spin-off "Amazos" based WW stories of your own - I know I am thinking about doing it once Amazos is completed.


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This is all the stuff I've done here.

Shhhh, don't tell anyone about this!

" ..[AEM] .. you're a very strange man." - DrDominator9

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tallyho
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Post 1 year ago

There' s absolutely nothing to apologise for (unlike me and my disgraceful behaviour at our last corporate team cascade conference)
The tale is always as long as the writer needs it to be.

And to echo AEMs sentiments anyone is more than entitled to write spin off pieces for this character in this environment should you choose to do so, all I ask is that anyone who does so waits until this tale is done.

I'm sure I and many others would look forward to reading more ancient based adventures. And if this collaborative effort has inspired anyone to create a new story then all well and good.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

I am here to help one and all enjoy this site, so if you have any questions or feel you are being trolled please contact me (Hit the 'CONTACT' little speech bubble below my Avatar).

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tallyho
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Post 1 year ago

Thanks for all the comments. Void's masterclass continues, read on to see Diana's fate...

PART 23

Patron

Deep beneath the ocean, Poseidon slumped forwards upon his emerald throne, giving a weary sigh of disappointment as he rested his forehead into his hand. He closed his tired eyes with resignation, blocking out the sight of the disaster playing out in the mortal realm.

She had made the wrong choice. At the crux moment, when unyielding purpose was needed of her, she had made the servant’s choice – the pawn’s choice.

She would die in the place of others. Rather than pay with the blood of her allies to gain certain victory, she would pay with her life to see them run free.

Heroic cowardice.

Now she would pay for her weak will. Her own toothless resolve, her own dedication to meek service, would be the cloth that finally smothered her.

Damn it.

Secluded in the silent dark of his lair, the sea lord sat as a frail, exhausted old man. The hand holding his head tremored as he slowly opened his eyes and raised his gaze to look through his fingers at the plight of the ailing champion.

She had been so nearly perfect. So nearly the glorious paragon he hoped she was. Her defeat of Proteus had been peerlessly masterful, performing even better than Poseidon’s high expectations of her. Even here, deep within the clutches of the Sirens, bound in their charms and deceptions, she still had the wit and the strength to see the trap coiling around her. She had done everything right, had overcome every obstacle, and had earned her opportunity to undo the schemes of the Sirens – to vanquish them in their own trap.

So very close to a brilliant victory. So very nearly the perfect, flawless champion.

But nearly wasn’t enough. She had uncovered the trap only to willingly hurl herself into its noose. Now, she looked little more than a hapless puppet dancing into its own execution.

A small part of him wanted to turn away, but he made himself watch on, hoping against hope that he had yet misjudged the Oathtaker’s character. Perhaps she would be strong enough to bear the burden of her selflessness; perhaps she was so mighty that the harpies would not be able to tame her fury. Or perhaps her heroism would yet kindle something significant from the allies that currently fled from her last stand.

Poseidon lidded his eyes as he watched the spectacle spiral ever-closer to its conclusion, taking perverse pleasure from the luminous sight of the sparring beauties. He licked his dry lips as he eased himself back into his throne, allowing himself a slight smile as he watched it all unfold.

If nothing else, it would at least be very entertaining to watch.

*****

“Treachery!”

Upon high Olympus, Artemis bristled as she stormed to her feet and leaned heavily upon the edge of the gilded balcony she observed from. The mirth of the Huntress had vanished now, swallowed by feral outrage as she finally understood the nature of Poseidon’s trial.

“The harpies have been calling to her all this time? They want her to be there?” The air rippled around the dark beauty as her murderous mood intensified, and her pale skin throbbed bright as the hunter’s moon. She whirled around to face her sister god, looking at Athena now like a hungry predator, “Poseidon set her up to fail, didn’t he? He has made an offering of my Diana to appease the Sirens, hasn’t he?” She growled as she approached Athena, the air around the goddess shivering at her passing. “They have been enchanting her and binding her will from the start! Is this Poseidon’s scheme, or is it theirs?”

Athena did not take her gaze from the mortal realm as she remained kneeling upon the balcony. Her breathing was slow and regular as she was entranced by the confrontation taking place. “Peace, sister. It is both,” she answered evenly, unable to hide the apprehension in her voice. “The harpies bid Poseidon to send them great treasure - the greatest mortal woman of them all - and he seized his chance to set Diana the cruellest challenge he could muster.”

“At our Father's behest no doubt!” cried Artemis angrily, her temper building.

“No.” Athena said more calmly. “This was our Uncle's bidding. Our Father did not know of it.”

Artemis bared her teeth as she prowled around her sister, “It isn’t a challenge; it’s a betrayal. The hunter turning the spear on his own hound. What lesson is to be learned from such deception? What possible strength gained?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Athena whispered sadly, “She will fail now. The trap is sprung, the sacrifice has begun. Diana hasn’t the strength, nor even the will to endure this.” The tanned goddess took a long, shuddery breath, her amber eyes downcast and pained as she watched, “Please be silent now; let me watch this wretched ending in stillness and sorrow.”

“Ending?” Artemis scoffed, turning her dark gaze back to the mortal realm. The Huntress licked her teeth as she watched the Oathtaker toiling against the ancient temptresses, struggling to wield her resolve against the soporific charms the Sirens weaved around her.

Wounded, tired, beguiled and enchanted, the raven-haired warrior was faltering in both body and spirit, falling under the thrall of her would-be executioners. She was slowing; her resistance ebbing.

Yet a familiar fire still burned behind Diana’s dark eyes. They still shone with steely purpose and implacable defiance. Even as it was dimmed down to mere embers by the insidious ploys of the harpies, still it persisted.

And still it burned elsewhere. Bright and hungry. Growing. Spreading.

A lop-sided smile touched the Huntress’s lips as she watched, and her anger bled away.

“No,” she purred with nervous excitement as she settled back down onto her haunches, “You underestimate her. The wolf is never so formidable as when she is cornered and wounded.” The tortured air calmed about the Huntress as she folded her arms around her slender body and curled her fingers into the dark furs she wore.

“It may be wretched, but it will be no ending,” Artemis boasted with a fierce grin, “You’re about to witness the true ferocity of my wild Diana, finally let loose.” The pale huntress shivered with anticipation, “It will be as beautiful as it will be terrible.”

Athena sighed gently, not shifting her mournful gaze from Diana’s heroic fight. The armour-clad goddess looked down on the mortal realm like a sorrowful mother, dutifully watching her children drowning beyond her reach.

“You don’t see it yet, but you will,” Athena said softly, “And it will grieve you as it does me.”

The Warden of civilisation raised a hand to unashamedly wipe away a single tear as it streaked down her cheek.

“There is no beauty here. Only anguish.”

*****

Sacrifice

Focus. Focus. Focus.

“ARGH!!!” Diana roared, vocalising her exertion as she leapt from one dazzling opponent to the next, ducking and weaving around their blurry talons as she whirled her blades about her, always shifting from one attack into another.

The Sirens swooped around and over her as they burst in and out of combat with her, covering each other flawlessly with each fresh onslaught. Just as one sister lost initiative in the fight with Diana, another would flit back into the fight to unleash a flurry of new strikes to counter or evade. The ring of blade against talon peeled out around the chamber as a cacophony of tortured whines and screeches, often so frequent that individual clashes became lost in the din.

Diana was violence in motion as she constantly closed with her adversaries, running and diving across the shifting piles of gold as she tried time and again to keep them from surrounding her. Though she never escaped the circle they held around her, she denied the harpies an easy target to synchronise against, never showing her back to any sister for longer than a second.

She moved on pure instinct, relying on her ingrained training and muscle memory to guide her movement rather than waste precious heartbeats on conscious thought. All there was in the world was the fight, only the next moment she needed to survive, only the next opportunity to strike back at the luminous creatures that danced around her.

There could be no hesitation or respite. The Sirens were much too swift for anything but constant and decisive action.

But Diana was far from overwhelmed.

Though the harpies were devastatingly agile and outnumbered her three-to-one, Diana matched their aggression in kind. Though the ancient creatures had mastered a litany of exotic techniques with their shimmering talons, Diana still read their movements better with each passing second.

Moment by moment, Diana grew to understand the limits of their reach, the arcs of attack they would be unable to make, the rhythm they would lose their momentum in as they beat their exquisite wings. Moment by moment, it became easier to predict the movements of the sisters.

There was a different style and character to the way each sister fought. Lidia was by far the more aggressive of the three, seeming to relish the fight as she launched in with one explosive flurry after another. Auris was more calculating and graceful, flowing like water around Diana as she patiently looked for openings. Thelxephone was the most dangerous of all, matching Diana for skill and guile as she saved her sisters from being overwhelmed time and again, countering the Amazon’s every move with stunning attacks of her own.

In a fair fight, on another day, Diana would win this battle. She would create an opening, perhaps trap one of the weaker sisters in a series of combinations that they would be too overextended to avoid, and she would pick them off, one after the other.

But this wasn’t a fair fight. It was never intended to be a fair fight. God and beast alike had conspired, long before Diana had even heard of Scarabus, for this encounter to be anything but favourable.

Diana still carried the wound of her fight with Proteus; a cut to her thigh that burned now with each new movement. She had torn the stiches of the wound, and it bled freely, gradually turning her white bandage to a sodden crimson. It was enough to keep Diana a step slower than she wanted to be, even despite her pushing through the pain, and it was a step that was costing her dearly against the flying temptresses.

Worse than the injury, however, was the binding charms of the Sirens. They had been calling out to her, singing sweet refrains and warm lullabies to the Amazon as she toiled to reach them. Their enchanted voices had been carried to her on the wind and the waves, soaking into her just on the edge of comprehension. They had pressed into her troubled dreams, dousing her will with their honeyed song as they teased at the threads of her character. Her doubts, her fears, her sorrows, her desires; everything that could unravel her resolve was wielded as a tool against her. Every little weakness and flaw was woven into the Sirens’ song.

And day after day, night after night, the Sirens had coiled the song around her like a silken binding. Slowly, carefully, the temptresses had drawn Diana under their spell, dulling her senses and tiring her spirit.

Only moments before the Sirens appeared had Diana finally seen the strings that pulled her, and then it had been far too late to retreat, even if she could muster the will to do such a thing. Only then did she realise the haze she had been lost in; only then did she grasp how much of her judgement had been stripped from her.

She hadn’t waited to recover her wounds. She hadn’t planned for how to slay the Sirens when they appeared before her. She had brought damaged weapons in place of fresh ones. Worst of all, she had led Saph into certain danger without good cause, or even a plan to keep her safe.

It was like she had been sleepwalking – concerned only with reaching the Sirens, and nothing beyond that point.

And now the Sirens sang their enchanted song to her directly.

Even as they fought, each beautiful sister still chanted the words out loud, their voices growing in power while they weren’t directly engaged. The song enveloped Diana from all sides, bathing her in its suffocating splendour, only muted slightly by the clash of blade upon claw.

Diana knew the words. She knew each verse of the song. It had been pressed and repeated into her subconscious so many times that, hearing it now, it was like a beloved melody from her childhood. Each line of the refrain struck her like body-blows, withering her will to resist and threatening to steal away her train of thought. It pulled at her attention like a festering wound, bidding her to stop struggling.

Bidding her to lay her burden down.

Focus… Focus… Focus…

“Argh!” Diana cried out again, vainly trying to stave off the beguiling song with her own voice as she exchanged a dazzling array of parries with Lidia. She pushed the Siren on to the defensive and then immediately swung to her right to counter an acrobatic sequence of kicks from Auris, knocking the elegant creature off balance with a well-placed kick of her own, but being intercepted by Thelxephone before she could press her advantage. The red-haired Siren sparred with her in a flash of lightning-fast strikes, sweeping high and low, before Diana had to dash away for fear of Lidia attacking her from behind.

The air around Diana felt heavier and more fragrant, resisting her passing as though moving through warm soup. The world in Diana’s periphery was warping and distorting as though she were in a dream, flitting from gold-filled chamber to blood-soaked battlefield in the flickering torchlight. Figures would appear and disappear out the corner of her eye: fallen sisters, fallen enemies, her mother, Saph, Proteus, Hera, herself.

Between moments they were staring at her accusingly and then pleading her for mercy.

...Focus…

Diana skidded down a slope of gold to escape the press of her attackers, spinning back around to clash with Lidia as the most aggressive Siren swooped down after her. The two women sparred in a graceful dance of fluid counters, circling each other several times before Auris joined their performance, forcing Diana to whirl from one flowing defence into another. The Amazon flowed backwards, leaping out of the way of Thelxephone as she landed into the fight with a flourish of pirouetting strikes, and her two dance partners glided after her, still chanting their bewitching song.

Their voices were so wondrous, their melody so sublime, their words so enthralling – Diana had never imagined such magnificence was possible. The sorrow in their song was heart-rending, striking a chord in Diana that reached to her very core.

An icy chill filled the chamber, colder than the grave. It was a plummeting, punishing cold that ravaged without end, filling Diana’s veins and seeping into her bones. The surrounding chamber began to throb in and out of a barren wasteland of ashen dunes; an endless void of twilight frost. The gods of Olympus watched on from above like circling carrion, laughing and joking as they looked down with apathetic disinterest.

Then the chamber was a bloody battlefield once more, the rolling dunes now the endless heaps of ruined bodies. Diana’s sisters, her victims, and her failures made up the grotesque landscape, and overhead the gods pointed down and demanded more bodies be added to the piles. More blood had to be spilt, more pain inflicted, more misery suffered – lest they grow bored of the view.

“Monsters!” Diana cried out as she lashed back at the harpies with greater urgency, “Deceivers!” Her voice cracked with emotion as she bellowed, her usual clinical composure cracking under the strain. It was a terrible struggle to keep herself lucid and coherent. The song clawed at her like gravity, beckoning her into its familiar lines. She knew each word of the song, and had to resist the gnawing, infuriating temptation to sing along.

Her battered, chipped swords continued to fray in the melee. With each new clash against the talons of the Sirens, another small piece of her blades would come away, flying off into the piles of treasure. The very tip of the Athenian xiphos snapped from the blade in an especially violent parry against a lunge from Lidia. The very integrity of the swords were coming undone; the demands placed upon them had been too great.

Diana was slowing. The pain at her thigh was agonising. It was a struggle to control her breathing. Her beleaguered body could not keep up with her demands of it.

She was so tired. The song of the Sirens was too distracting, their beauty too disarming. The threads that they pulled from her were woven too deep. The weakness they courted was too exposed.

The bloody, torturous path Diana had carved to this moment weighed heavily on her. The many people she had failed to protect, the many lives she had taken, the seemingly endless line of battles and toils all choked her with pain. The ceaseless demands of the gods wearied her, even straining her faith that she was anything more than a tool to them. At her core, Diana questioned if she was anything more than an executioner that would carve and cut and kill until the gods tired of her.

The tasks placed upon her were so great. The path ahead seemed so harsh and endless. She missed her home. She missed her sisters. She missed her mother. She missed her pride. She missed warmth and tranquillity.

She wanted peace. She wanted respite from this exhausting pain. She wanted an end to her hardship.

She wanted to lay her burden down.

“Ngh… NO!!!” Diana shouted, her voice slurred and confused as her form became more ragged. Her eyes became glazed as she began to lose a grip on the line between reality and illusion, but they still burned with angry defiance, “I… will… not… yield!”

The Athenian blade shattered altogether as it clashed with Thelxephone’s talons, exploding into dozens of fragments with a tortured shriek. Diana hurled the hilt away and gripped her Spartan kopis with both hands as she fought a desperate retreat against the sensuous creatures that circled around her.

As her battle-focus wavered, Diana’s form continued to unravel, allowing the Sirens more space and freedom to work with as they continued the deadly dance. Moment by moment, her movement became clumsy and inefficient.

I’m… so… tired…

With each second passing, the advantage in the fight inexorably eased into the favour of the harpies.

And they began to toy with her.

After a frenetic exchange with Auris, Diana swayed around to catch the attack of Lidia, but arrived a step too late. The short-haired Siren was already within Diana’s guard, and she caressed Diana’s cheek with the tips of her clawed hand as she sang softly into her ear. The Amazon shuddered with revulsion as she sluggishly swiped at Lidia, but the nimble creature flowed away from the move with a laugh.

Diana groaned with frustration, feeling a knot of unwelcome excitement unfurling in her stomach as she struggled to keep pace with the swooping temptresses. Moments later she was caught off guard by Thelxephone stroking her hair from behind and singing over her shoulder, and again when Lidia dashed back within her guard to lick up the side of her jawline to her earlobe. Even as she chased Lidia off, Auris slipped behind her and placed a sensual kiss into her neck as she raked her fingertips across Diana’s exposed lower throat, grazing the tops of the Amazon’s bosom with her claws. Every other second a fresh, warm, sultry voice would sing into her ear; every other second a new hand would tease her tingling body.

The touch of the Sirens was exquisite, threatening to stupefy Diana with each unexpected caress.

Caught in the increasingly erotic dance, Diana was led, step by hopelessly delightful step, up towards the great fountain.

Diana’s cheeks were flushed and her knees were trembling as she fell into rhythm with the Sirens’ dance, feeling as though she had practised this sordid routine many times before. The distinction between combat and courtship began to blur until it truly did feel like a dance. The lascivious advances of the Sirens became harder and harder to resist, making Diana question if she was being outmanoeuvred or if she was allowing the creatures back in to touch her again.

All around her there was the hypnotic beat of divine wings, and the mesmerizing colours of the pristine temptresses. The sweet, suffocating song dripped into her ears like honey, intoxicating and beguiling her with every hushed word. The terrible cold that filled the chamber was checked by the radiant warmth of the Sirens’ writhing bodies, and with each new touch Diana felt that same warmth building up in her own body, enveloping her in a soporific haze. The distressing sights of Diana’s brutal life were blocked out by her immaculate dance partners, sheltering her from a world she no longer wished to see.

It’s too much… I can’t… Hera… I can’t…

Diana moaned aloud with surprise as Thelxephone’s soft hand massaged her inner thigh, teasing a thumb down the length of her crotch. Diana glared at the red-haired creature with equal amounts of fury and yearning as she swiped the hand away and lashed at her with the blade. Thelxephone's thumb was smeared with blood from Diana's wounded thigh and she took great delight in tracing it around the rim of her lips before shrieking in glee as she locked her gaze on Diana for a reaction.

“Rrgh!” Diana growled, sounding like a wounded animal as she raged against the inevitable. “You will not take me under your spell! I will not yield!”

She raised her arm to swing again, to split Thelxephone’s leering face asunder, but a delicate hand grasped her wrist. Diana snarled as she turned to see Lidia holding her, the short-haired beauty stroking her other hand down the length of Diana’s arm, making her shiver despite herself. Diana clenched her free arm in readiness to strike the creature that held her, only for another set of hands to grasp that arm.

Diana whipped her head around just as Auris pressed her voluptuous body in against her and kissed into the side of her neck, gently pinning Diana’s arm down at her side.

“Ngh…,” Diana groaned, lidding her eyes as she was almost overwhelmed by the new sensation.

Lidia seized on the moment of weakness, sliding her lithe body in against Diana’s other side and kissing into the other side of her neck as she forced down the Amazon’s relenting sword arm.

Diana moaned softly between the two creatures, her vision blurring with the ecstasy of their touch. “Ugh… No…,” she protested weakly, her voice breathy and frail.

Thelxephone smiled enticingly as she stepped in front of Diana, her luminous wings fluttering with excitement as she came close enough for Diana to feel the warmth of her breath.

You are already under our spell, sweet puppet,” Thelxephone chided, “You came here to lay your burden down. You came for a perfect death – and now you will have it.”

Diana braced herself against the arms that held her, “No… I am no puppet…”

The Amazon tensed her body in readiness to make a final bid for victory, but the strength fled from her arms as Lidia and Auris nibbled up her neck to whisper their enchanted song into her ears.

Lay your burden down. Lay your burden down. Lay your burden down.

Diana sighed as her spirit began to break under the power of the spell. She looked up at Thelxephone with lost, imploring eyes.

“…No… I won’t…”

Her protest was silenced by the Siren’s lips as Thelxephone pressed in tight against her, gripping the Amazon’s hips possessively as her luscious body lined Diana’s. Her lips were irresistible as they softly and seductively enveloped Diana’s mouth, destroying the Amazon’s will to fight with their heat. Diana tensed for a moment, before gradually relaxing as she succumbed to the temptation of the kiss and submitted to it.

Drunk with desire and need, her body accepted the kiss before she truly knew what she was doing, and the smouldering intensity of it soon numbed her mind into following along as the other Sirens cooed into her ears, bidding her to surrender completely. As their lips melded together and Diana hesitantly began to return the kiss, Thelxephone pressed her dark tongue into the Amazon’s mouth, teasing the Amazon’s trembling lips before sliding in further to find Diana’s own tongue to spar with. The Amazon’s whole body quivered as they tasted each other, liquid heat throbbing throughout her body, making her lose sense of where her figure ended and the Sirens’ pressing into her began.

“Mmm…,” Diana moaned into the kiss as she closed her eyes in resignation. Her arms became limp and forgotten at her sides, totally controlled by the harpies that held them, as she timidly played her tongue back against that of the temptress. The divine pleasure of the kiss washed away her every lucid thought, leaving only pure, naked desire in its wake.

Lidia giggled with cruel satisfaction as she watched Diana give in to her bewitched lust. The short-haired Siren stroked her hands down Diana’s arm and began to ease open the Amazon’s grip of her sword, “That’s a good puppet,” she muttered darkly.

Good… puppet…, Diana thought numbly as the Spartan blade was pulled from her grasp and dropped to the floor with a loud clatter that briefly broke the song's spell…No… I’m not… I must not…

With great, agonising effort, Diana pulled back from the kiss with Thelxephone, trailing their mutual saliva between their glistening lips. She bit her lip as she struggled to hold on to her resolve, looking back with conflicted need at the temptress as she leaned closer to try and recapture her mouth.

“No,” she sighed, turning her face away from the kiss, “I will fight… I have to…”

Shhh,” Thelxephone soothed intimately as she trailed her hands up the Amazon’s body to cup her jaw and firmly guide her face back around. “Let it go. Let it all go.”

Diana opened her mouth to protest, to mumble a last word of defiance, but she was swallowed back up by the Siren’s kiss. She tried weakly to pull away, but Thelxephone held her firm, and, after a superficial resistance, Diana began to work her jaw as she yielded to the kiss once more.

Hera… forgive me…

This time the Siren was much more domineering, stoking the Amazon’s lust with her wicked tongue as she gripped her neck and held her in the greedy, passionate kiss.

Let go,” the Sirens sang softly into her ears as Diana drowned in the sordid ecstasy of the kiss. They each eased Diana’s arms together behind her back, making a gentle chime as her two bracers were pressed together. “Let go.”

The two enchanted bracelets resonated against one another endlessly, echoing Diana’s own strength against itself and robbing her arms of life. The Amazon moaned into the temptress’s delicious lips as she felt her strength weaken down to nothing as the two bracelets cancelled one another out, and she sagged completely into the arms of her captors, needing their support now to even stand.

But Diana did not concern herself with her body’s subjugation. All there was in the world was the all-consuming pleasure of the Siren’s kiss, and her primal need to experience more of it. She quested her tongue out into the mouth of her mistress and was rewarded with Thelxephone tightening her lips around her and sucking gently, feeling like the most sensuous moment of Diana’s life. She never knew submission could feel this incredible.

Let… go…

Diana moaned from lower in her throat as she willingly fell under the thrall of her captors, answering to Thelxephone’s every urging with her submissive tongue as they sparred together.

She didn’t even feel Auris unhook the golden lasso from the girdle at her hip. Nor did she pay any attention as the blonde Sirens looped the rope around her arms again and again. Diana only mewled in pleasure as the lasso was bound into a series of knots that held her lifeless arms tightly behind her back. She only moaned louder as the blonde Sirens began to explore her toned body with their free hands, massaging and caressing her like a new plaything.

None of it matter anymore. She had finally laid her burden down.

Thelxephone released Diana’s lips and directed her head to the side, where Auris licked up Diana’s neck and claimed her lips for her own. The Amazon groaned gratefully, utterly lost in the moment as she accepted the blonde temptress’s tongue into her mouth and sucked upon it.

You’re finally ready.” Thelxephone muttered as she watched Diana melt into Auris’s languid kiss. “You finally know your part in all of this.”

The humbled Amazon only groaned as Auris held her in a slower, more sensual kiss, taking her time as she dominated the heroine. Impatient to wait her turn, Lidia snatched Diana’s head to the side, breaking the kiss with her sister before capturing the Amazon’s lips with sadistic urgency.

Mmm, you’re nicer now, aren’t you hero?” Lidia taunted between kisses, teasing Diana’s tongue out of her mouth as she tempted her with short, intense lashings with her own tongue, “I expected more.” She slid her hand around to grip the lasso that bound Diana’s arms, “What are you?” she whispered seductively, rapidly circling Diana’s tongue with her own, “Say it.”

The answer bubbled out of Diana’s compliant mouth without any conscious thought at all.

“I am.... a puppet,” Diana whispered hoarsely, as if admitting a shameful secret.

The Sirens chortled with amusement around Diana as Auris and Lidia led her to the edge of the fountain. Thelxephone’s eyes were alight with passion and dark promise as she watched her two sisters hoist the limp Amazon over the edge and lower her carefully into the steamy water.

With theatrical slowness, the three hideously beautiful creatures disrobed and stepped into the fountain to join her, circling Diana as they pulled her into the centre of the churning pool, tearing at her sanity with the display of their divine naked bodies.

Mighty champion, you have reached your glorious reward.”

*****

He was fleeing.

Again.

Another proud moment for the fish boy…

“They’re singing! Can’t you hear them? She needs us! We have to go back!”

Of course he could hear it. He was doing all that he could to keep himself moving in spite of it. The song was different this time: it was much quieter, barely reaching them as they made their descent back down the jagged path cut into the cliffs. The words were barely comprehensible, but what little he could make out were clearly meant for another.

Where before the Sirens had sung a magical melody that reached far and wide around the island, entrancing all who heard it, now they sang just for their immediate surroundings in the temple, devoting all their effort into bewitching just a single person.

Diana.

Aenid shuddered as he remembered his last sight of the Amazon. Where usually she was the very image of impassive strength, with eyes of unwavering resolve; she had been emotional and uncertain when he parted ways with her. Far from steely and measured, the look her eyes had been distressed and vulnerable.

It hadn’t been the same Diana that faced down Daxos or Proteus, nor the same warrior woman that rallied the crew against the Siren’s call. Instead it had been the exhausted, distraught woman that stood over Proteus at his end, teary eyed as she struggled with her guilt.

The captain’s gut twisted as he considered it, knowing in his heart that Diana had been undone before she even set foot on Scarabus – and that Diana had realised the same thing when she sent him away.

So damned brave. How do you face your end so readily? Whilst here I am, running.
Again.


Sappho thundered her fists against his back, adding his hundredth bruise of their descent, “Aenid! Do you hear me? We have to turn back! We can still stop this!”

Aenid struggled around another sharp corner on the track, barely holding on to the young Lesbian over his shoulder as he desperately navigated the path in the dark. In the pitch-dark distance ahead, he could see the lanterns lighting up the deck of their ship down below, seeing that Necklen had succeeded in turning the vessel and that it now pointed away from the island, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Nearly there, he thought wearily, stumbling to keep his footing in the dark while he adjusted his grip on the furious brown-haired girl. His task was made more difficult by the torch he carried awkwardly in one hand.

“Answer me, damn you! Let go of me!” Sappho spat, punching the back of his head as hard as she could muster.

Aenid scrambled as the knock nearly took him off balance and sent them both falling down the path. “Gah, please girl, don’t make this any harder,” he pleaded, “I swore a bloody oath.”

“She’ll die! You saw the look on her face – she was bewitched! She can’t fight the song without us!”

“She’ll be fine,” he lied, “The woman is a force of nature. Now, I’m getting you back to the ship, and we’re running away like Diana told us to.”

Sappho thrashed around harder, “They’re still singing – Diana said she would stop them from singing, and she hasn’t. You know she’s in trouble! Stop running!”

Aenid growled as he fought to keep his balance, needing to use both hands to keep a grip of the young woman. “Bloody Cerberus,” he cursed, “I swore a gods damned oath, girl. I said I’d keep you safe and I’m going to keep my word. It’s all I bloody have. It’s all I can bloody do. It’s what Diana wanted…”

“What about what I want?” Sappho shouted back, throwing her weight violently from one side to the other and catching the side of Aenid’s head with her elbow.

The strike was hard enough to make the captain see stars as he stumbled to a knee and released the girl to clutch at his head.

“Ach! Damn it, girl!” he groaned, slowly climbing back to his feet, “I’m trying to bloody save… ooff!”

Aenid was interrupted by another, much harder impact, as Sappho swung her lyre around like a bat to hit his head, breaking the fine instrument across him and sending him reeling to the ground.

Sappho looked down at him with a familiar steel in her dark eyes, “I’m sorry, captain. I’m truly sorry – but I’m not running away. I’m not leaving her to die alone.” She grabbed his fallen torch and hurried past him back up the path towards the temple, dodging his vain efforts to grasp for her. “If you want to keep your oath, you can follow me,” she called back apologetically, “But I won’t judge you for running – you should go if you want to.”

“Sappho!” Aenid shouted after her, “Please, you’ll die! What can you do – what can either of us do - up there, besides die a horrible death?” He reached up his hands towards her imploringly, “Come with me! We don’t need to bloody die here!”

The young woman stopped to look back at him, sorrow written across her beautiful features, “We all die eventually,” she said softly, “And I’d rather die fighting this, and standing by Diana, than live having run from it, and having abandoned Diana when she needed help.” She smiled weakly, “How about you?”

Aenid opened his mouth to answer, but found he didn’t know what to say, instead just staring up at her in wide-eyed desperation.

Sappho gave a slight nod, sweeping her fringe away from her eyes as she turned and sprinted up the path. “You’re a good man,” she called back to him warmly, “You never deserved to die here.”

"Damn it girl! You will die! You will die for nothing! She's probably dead already!"

Sappho looked back at him, her teeth shining as she smiledl in the torchlight. "The sirens sing for the living...not for the dead. Listen. They sing to her still. She lives.
I am no fool, gentle captain. I know the way ahead is darker than the one below. But it is a dark path that I must follow. And so if I die, I will be dying for someone, not for nothing." She turned away from him, the torch before her, and her little silouhette looked impossibly frail as she headed up the path.

Moments later the girl rounded a sharp turn in the path and disappeared, leaving only the faint orange light from her torch as she climbed above him.

Aenid sighed heavily watching her disappear. He heaved himself to his feet, wanting to run after her but finding himself rooted to the spot. Ahead of him, Sappho’s light climbed back up to the looming lighthouse, up towards the source of the otherworldly singing, to where awaited nightmarish wonders he could scarcely look upon without falling to his knees and weeping. He turned to look behind him, back out to where their ship awaited them on the water, waiting to cast off and leave this accursed place behind at full sail. He could just pick out the raiders on deck, lit by the warm lanterns of the ship as they awaited the shore party.

It could sail anywhere from here, to any port, and he could start over again.

Aenid grinned without humour as he considered it by far the worse of the two fates before him. He looked to the black night sky, licking his dry lips as he let out another slow shuddering sigh. He took his flask, popped off the stopper, raised it in salute to the gods and drank his last draught of wine.

“Zeus’s balls,” he muttered, kicking the nearest rock into a skittering fall down the cliffs, then hurling the empty flask after it with a hollow sense of satisfaction.

“Women are nothing but bloody trouble...”

*****

Heat and throbbing pleasure filled Diana’s world. She was floating weightlessly in a pool of steaming, churning water, tingling upon her skin with the power of the Sirens’ magic that infused it.

She stared with hungry fascination upon the nubile, curvaceous bodies of the Sirens as they approached her from all sides, swaying their hips as they sloshed through the belly-deep water of the fountain. The lurid colours of their sodden wings had darkened into richer hues, seeming to shimmer between different exotic shades as the creatures moved. The glowing, living tattoos that crawled across their bodies became brighter and more agitated as they met the bewitched water, mesmerising the Amazon and drawing her attention to the dripping curves of the temptresses.

Nothing felt real anymore. It was like a debauched dream that Diana knew she would never awake from.

Distantly, she was aware that this was wrong, but the very notion was so abstract that she struggled to even hold it in her mind in her decadent haze. It was so warm and pleasant here, so free from difficulty or pain or responsibility – why should it end? How could it be wrong?

Why… How…

Diana blinked her eyes as she tried to form the thoughts in her head. This was supposed to be a fight – hadn’t it begun as a fight? Why were they fighting? What had they done?

Then she remembered the rotten corpses that littered the island; remembered the endless horizon of shipwrecks that she imprinted on her mind as she swore that she would avenge the atrocities of the Sirens.

Diana squirmed, rotating in the water to touch her feet to the ground so that she could stand, but the groping hands of the Sirens held her in place as they reached her. Sensing the Amazon’s mounting unease, Auris pulled the raven-haired woman into deep, intimate kiss that immediately pacified their prisoner.

The Amazon relaxed her body once more, allowing the Sirens to freely manipulate her in the water while she was lost in her indulgence. Lidia slid in against her, raking her hands around the Amazon’s body before settling her nimble fingertips upon the straps and buckles of her crimson armour. Buckle by buckle, the armour came loose around the Amazon’s body, stirring her unease once again and kindling her sense of self.

No… I’m a warrior… Warriors need armour…

Diana pulled herself from Auris’s intoxicating lips with a heady sigh as the last of her straps were removed. “Wait,” she mumbled as she felt Lidia stripping the armour from her body, “This isn’t right… I shouldn’t be doing this…”

The Amazon shuddered as the leather armour was pulled away and her naked breasts were exposed, “Ngh… Stop…”

Lidia laughed derisively as she allowed the armour to sink to the bottom of the pool, snaking her hands around to caress the Amazon’s stomach. “Still fighting? That’s cute.” Her hands moved up to boldly massage the Amazon’s supple breasts, possessively kneading the pale spheres and working the steamy water into them. “Moan for us, champion,” Lidia whispered, working her hands inwards to flick across Diana’s nipples with her fingertips before pinching them.

Diana moaned softly in surprise, feeling her cheeks turn crimson with embarrassment at the speed of her response as her nipples began to stand erect under Lidia’s domineering treatment.

That’s good, but you can do better,” Lidia chided, rolling the hard buds between her fingertips, “Moan louder,” she demanded, “Moan so that the gods can hear you. Tell Hera how much you enjoy my touch.”

Diana ground her teeth as she fought to stifle another moan, taking unbelievable pleasure from her body’s abuse and feeling her nipples harden more in excitement. She glowered back at the leering temptress, holding on to the spark of outrage that she felt at the humiliation.

Lidia grinned back at her, slapping her breasts painfully before rapidly circling the tips of her thumbs around the firm nubs and squeezing them hard, her claws pinching the sensitive skin between her talons.

This time Diana couldn't keep in her moan, letting out a heady cry that filled the chamber.

"That's better," Lidia said smugly, "Just like that."

I have to stop this… I have to fight this…

Thelxephone saw the defiance budding in Diana’s eyes, and intervened before the Amazon could do anything with the sentiment. She pressed in against the Amazon, sliding her naked breasts against Diana’s own while she planted small, enticing kisses upon her lips. Diana struggled for a moment, but was held fast between Auris and Lidia, and soon moaned sweetly with the distracting pleasure, savouring the erotic feel of the red-haired Siren’s erect nipples teasing around her own.

It’s alright, Diana,” Thelxephone hushed as she pulled Diana’s head back by her hair and licked along her neck, “You don’t have to fight anymore. It’s all over now.”

The blonde Sirens held Diana steady by her bound arms and used their free hands to snake inwards and each massage her breasts, playing her nipples against those of their sister while they nibbled into her neck.

Diana moaned louder, her voice echoing around the chamber with a higher pitch than she was used to. The cry was wanton and submissive, shaming her with the excitement she heard in her own voice.

That’s it,” Thelxephone purred, sliding a hand down the length of their bodies to intimately stroke Diana’s right thigh, teasing around the bloody bandage that now barely dressed her old wound, loosened by the water, “Just enjoy it. Your death should be worthy of your life.”

Diana mewled as the blonde sisters reached in to pinch her enflamed nipples, quaking with anticipation as Thelxephone slid her claw into the bandage and cut it open.

“Ugh… What… What are you doing?” Diana sighed as she felt the Siren’s delicate touch stroke along the length of her open cut.

I’m sacrificing you,” Thelxephone answered warmly, suddenly pressing her claw into the wound and scratching the full length of it to open it further.

Diana hissed with pain, jolting with the unpleasant surprise, but was soothed immediately by the seductive, sensual touches of her captors. They played her body like master musicians; knowing exactly how to touch her to arouse and please her most.

Uh-uh,” Thelxephone muttered like an owner to a pet, “Taste me Diana.”

Even in her pain, Diana still obeyed the command, parting her lips to receive the Siren’s kiss and playing her tongue back against her captor’s. The Amazon mewled with both pain and pleasure into the kiss as the claw scratched along the length of her wound a second time, digging deeper into her flesh than before.

Blood blossomed freely and quickly from the wound, diffusing into the churning water around them and steadily turning its colour. The tattoos upon the Sirens’ bodies glowed red where the bloody water washed over them, their swirling movement seeming to throb in rhythm with Diana’s own heartbeat.

Diana groaned and squirmed as her primal sense of survival began to strengthen her will to resist, but her undulating captors still held her tightly.

Shush shush shush,” Thelxephone cooed as she lowered herself down Diana’s body, “One more, just to be sure.”

The Amazon winced with discomfort as she felt the claw return to her streaming wound, “Ngh… What is this? Why… ughh…” She interrupted herself with another moan as Thelxephone cupped her left breast and teased her dark tongue around the nub. Lidia followed her sister’s lead, leaning in on the Amazon and sucking in the nipple of her right breast, rapidly batting her tongue over the nub while she held it in her mouth. Auris eased herself around the writhing Amazon, caressing Diana’s face and leaning over to lick her lips.

We’re taking everything from you, brave one,” Auris explained, “The great treasure you carry upon your body, the enchanted gifts of the Olympians, and the essence of what you are. Your youth, your beauty, your strength – we’re going to bathe in it all and take it for ourselves.”

Diana sighed as exquisite tongues lapped around her stiff nipples and divine mouths sucked upon them, conquering her body in ways she couldn’t have imagined as she felt the claw begin to bite into her wound again.

“Ughh… Hera… I won’t let you…”

Auris smiled knowingly, pushing a fingertip to Diana’s lips to silence her before guiding her head around to face her luscious wet breasts. The Siren cupped her generous bosom and proffered it to Diana’s quivering lips, “Hera is not here, but I am. Suckle me, brave one. Savour my body as we savour yours.”

Diana resisted as Auris firmly pulled her in, but the pain of the claw carving its final, deepest line into her thigh was enough to stun her into compliance. Abandoning the last remaining morsel of her pride, Diana gratefully lapped at the nipple before greedily sucking on it, being soothed like a child to forget her plight.

Mmm, good girl,” Auris encouraged sweetly, running her fingers through Diana’s long locks of hair and tenderly massaging her scalp. “This is how it should be. This is how it should end.”

All the while when a sister spoke or kissed her, another would seamlessly take up the infernal melody of the siren song, either in low words huskily whispered or singing the deadly tune. It was perfectly orrchestrated so the song never stopped.

Diana sighed contentedly as Auris allowed her to move from one breast to the other, lavishing the next one with even more service than the first as they held her entranced. Further down her body, Thelxephone and Lidia suckled her own pale breasts with the perfect technique to complement each other, while Thelxephone squeezed and massaged the wounded thigh to keep the blood flowing from the wound.

All around them the fountain turned a dark shade of red, and the scrawling tattoos upon the Sirens’ bodies pulsed continuously as they took sinister nourishment from the sacrificial ritual.

The world was turning dark around the periphery of Diana’s vision, and she moaned into Auris’s bosom with pure bliss as the last of her pain washed away in the depraved pleasure of the moment.

She never wanted this moment to end. It was perfect euphoria, and Diana delighted in it. In so many ways, it was the refuge she had been seeking all this time. Freed of all her burdens, she lost herself in a delirium of submission and mind-numbing erotic pleasure.

With a purr of satisfaction, Thelxephone popped her mouth off Diana’s breast, letting Lidia’s talented fingers immediately replace her lips in pinching the Amazon’s stiff nipple. The red-haired temptress licked up Diana’s body to watch the Amazon as she continued to dutifully suckle Auris.

It’s done. It’s time to sleep, Diana,” Thelxephone whispered affectionately, “Sleep, and never wake again. When you are ready, just breathe.”

The voluptuous Siren pressed gently on Diana’s shoulders and lowered her head beneath the surface of the water. Finally she could hear the song no more. Diana released Auris’s teat to gaze up lazily at the Sirens drowning her, barely seeing their faces through the red-tinted water around her. The rippling surface of the water reflected a warped image of her face back at her, looking serene and restful, before showing nothing at all.

Diana sighed into the water, releasing a stream of bubbles as Lidia continued to domineeringly pleasure her body, milking every ounce of satisfaction from the Amazon before her end.

It’s… over…, Diana thought numbly, It’s… finished…

At that, Diana closed her eyes and took a deep, long, final breath.

As the world slipped away into dark nothingness, a dull sound carried through the water, sounding distant and small.

It sounded again, this time with more urgency. It was a voice – the voice of a young woman shouting. It was at once fragile and unbreakable.

…Saph?

Suddenly, Diana didn’t want to sleep. The soul-destroying dream she had been languishing in shattered around her as she remembered the young Lesbian, and she knew the dreadful danger the girl was in.

But it was too late. The darkness took her world, and she could not climb from the deep slumber that pulled her in.

No… no… forgive… me…
Last edited by tallyho 1 year ago, edited 5 times in total.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 1 year ago

And now we have come nearly full circle from that hot summers day last year when I read about that phenomenal promenade and the horrific work of art that Poseidon had placed there for Hera to see. Only, Poseidon said he could not foretell how the painting would look once finished. Perhaps there was room at the edge of the scene for the figure of Sappho to appear, ready to save the day?
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Post 1 year ago

Hope you guys like the really avant-garde end of the story...

Alright, alright, so I'm still not finished - but at least now I will be able to squeeze in some kind of epilogue to all of this nonsense in the next update, where the story would have probably just crashed to an abrupt halt if I could have resolved things with the Sirens here. I know at times this story has veered *completely* off the rails of being any kind of a SHIP story, but all the same it was always building up to, and winding around, this encounter with the Sirens - and I've had a total blast writing it.

Yeah, AEM, it's certainly been a long while since all this was hinted at with a painting - much longer than I anticipated at the time! Sappho certainly has her work cut out for her, but what's the saying? 'The Lesbian is mightier than the sword...?' Yeah, something like that.
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Post 1 year ago

More brilliant stuff Mr Void. Really REALLY looking forward to the climax!


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Post 1 year ago

Ok this is a bit of a shambles of a posting at my end as i have had 4 versions of this in the last 24 hrs and i have started to edit 3 of them only to be continuously replaced by the next one and my laptop has decided to throw me out randomly sooo i am trying to post this up via my phone and at 33 pages its been horrendous just to highlight and copy it. I will be editing this over next few days assuming I can get into my machine for longer than 4 minutes at a time. Anyway enough of my problems - here is the ALMOST final part of Voids story. I enjoyed it and I hope you do too, please leave a comment

Part 24

Hero

Sappho knew what awaited her back in the lighthouse would be distressing. She had already witnessed the horrors of the Sirens and been paralysed by their suffocating splendour. Yet she still hoped to find Diana overcoming the divine creatures, beating the overwhelming odds as she always seemed to.

Somehow.

She had abandoned that hope as she entered the lighthouse once more and could hear no sign of a conflict. All she heard was the final, muted verse of the Sirens’ song, echoing mournfully around the great chamber.

Though she had steeled her heart for what she would find, the sight that greeted her was more horrifying than she could bear, stealing the air from her lungs and draining all the colour from her face.

Diana floated between the three Sirens, supine and stripped at the centre of the fountain as the three naked creatures toyed with her body. The water had turned red with Diana’s vitae, and the three harpies were literally bathing in it, their dancing, luminous tattoos pulsing bright red as they soaked in the blood of their victim. They were holding Diana’s head beneath the churning water, and the bound Amazon was utterly still within their grasp.

No… Please, no…

“NO! GET AWAY FROM HER!” Sappho screamed, casting off the numbing shackles of her fear and awe as she sprinted towards the fountain. The urgent need to save her friend banished every other consideration from her mind.

The three harpies turned their heads in unison to glare at the intruder, surprise and amusement written across their beatific features in equal measure. Thelxephone tilted her head to the side as she regarded Sappho like a curious stain on her dress, breaking into a sultry smile as she continued to hold Diana’s limp body under the water.

You’re interrupting a beautiful moment, little lamb.” Her tongue flicked from between her dark lips as her gaze crawled down the Lesbian’s lithe figure, “But we will take your tribute all the same.”

The seductive promise in the harpy’s voice sent a shiver up Sappho’s spine, but she didn’t break stride towards the fountain. She snatched a handful of gold coins with her free hand as she swept past a great dune of treasure and hurled the metal discs at the leering temptresses.

“Here’s your damned tribute!” she spat venomously as the Siren’s closed their colourful wings around themselves to shield from the missiles. She lowered herself to collect more coins as she ran, and threw them at the Sirens with as much force as she could muster. “Get away from Diana!”

The Sirens groaned with annoyance as their wings were pelted with more coins and it became clear that they would need to halt their ritual. The smile fell from Thelxephone’s face, replaced now with a murderous scowl.

Wretched mortal. You have forgotten your own script.”

The three creatures quivered with frustration for moment before each unfurling their wings and rising from the steamy water, making Sappho’s mind throb at the sight of their pristine glistening bodies. With a sudden beat of their wings, all three creatures took to the air at once, leaving Diana’s half-naked body to sink down to the bottom of the fountain.

They were so fast. Each beat of their shimmering wings momentarily rendered them a graceful blur as they arced up and around the fountain. Though Sappho’s eyes could not keep up with the creature’s movements, she still cast handfuls of coins after them, vainly trying to chase them away as she reached the rim of the fountain.

She felt the air ripple behind her and spun around to desperately lash out with her torch. Lidia giggled playfully as she effortlessly dodged back from the swipe and then flew over Sappho’s head, close enough to stroke the Lesbian’s cheeks as she passed. A heartbeat later she felt another hand curling through the locks of hair on the back of her head, and she whirled around to ward Auris away with her torch, causing the Siren to languidly flow around the blow before flying back away from her.

Overhead Thelxephone laughed with cruel amusement. “What did you hope to accomplish, little lamb? You are nothing here. Just a helpless, useless morsel. You have forgotten your place – but we will remind you of it.”

Sappho did her best to ignore the intoxicating voice of the Siren as she vaulted the side of the fountain and clumsily splashed through the crimson water. The churning fluid tingled across her skin, making her body feel hot and heavy as it drenched her chiton dress.

It’s not too late. It’s not too late. Please. Please. Please…

The Sirens screeched with excitement as they continued to circle the fountain, flowing gracefully through the air above Sappho as they toyed with her. The rhythmic beat of their wings filled her ears as they dove down to swoop past her, each teasing her dress or her hair with their clawed fingertips. Their melodic laughter resounded around her, sounding darker and more menacing with each pass.

Sappho stifled her own terror. None of it mattered. Only Diana was important.

She stumbled through the water on shaking legs towards where the Amazon lay like a sunken casket. Sappho fought the urge to sob as she bent down to grasp for Diana with her free hand, seeing how drained and lifeless her friend appeared beneath the water. Stripped, bound, and unconscious, the raven-haired woman looked nothing like herself, instead appearing like a broken mockery of the woman Sappho adored.

It won’t end like this. It can’t end like this. I won't let it.

Just as Sappho got a grip of Diana from under her shoulder and began to heave her back up to the surface, one of the Sirens swooping overhead slashed its talon up the length of the Lesbian’s back. Sappho shrieked incoherently and collapsed into the water as the searing pain consumed her world. The torch sizzled plaintively as it extinguished in the water next to her, turning the chamber around her a shade darker as Sappho rested atop Diana’s fallen body. She choked in the water as she tried to move, the shallow cut up the length of her back pulling painfully with every movement and causing her to try and cry out in shock.

Time seemed to slow. Through the hollow ambiance of the water, she could hear the Sirens cackling gleefully. She saw their flickering shadows in the basin of the fountain as they glided overhead, dancing in and out of her periphery. Beneath her, Sappho looked down on the defeated Amazon, her pale face serene as it was framed by the floating locks of her raven hair. She had been so strong. Much, much stronger than Sappho – and yet now she was dying and defenceless. The preening vultures that laughed overhead had been her undoing, and now Sappho faced them alone, without weapons or armour.

There was a time the Lesbian would have curled into a ball and sobbed helplessly in circumstances half as terrible as these. The hollow, bubbling sense of despair would drown her like a bottomless abyss. She felt it now, surging through and around her whole body like a winding noose, pressing down upon her every thought with blind panic.

But she wasn’t the same person she once was. She had seen a different way to be, a shining beacon of courage and virtue that burned far brighter than the light that lured them to the island, and she had followed it. It had illuminated strength and agency in her that she never knew existed. It was the single most beautiful, inspiring thing that she had ever known – and the Sirens were trying to turn it out.

Sappho clenched her fists and gritted her teeth as she regained her composure through the pall of her pain.

Press on… Press on…

She thrust her arms under those of Diana as she regained her footing on the basin of the fountain, and in one fluid motion lifted the Amazon back to the surface with her.

As they broke the surface of the water, time came crashing back to normal speed and the laughter of the Sirens became deafening. Sappho gasped and spluttered as she held Diana’s head out of the water and hurriedly dragged her towards the edge of the fountain.

“I’m here, Diana,” she called to her friend, barely recognising her own voice, “I’m with you. I’m with you.”

How pathetic you are,” Thelxephone chided from above, “How do you think this will end? What hope do you have? She is already lost to you.”

The Lesbian barely heard the mockery as she powered through her own discomfort. Blurry monsters flitted in and out of the air around her, knocking her from side to side as they passed, but Sappho doggedly persisted in pulling Diana out of the fountain. “Stay with me Diana. Please hold on.”

Sappho hoisted Diana’s body around and propped her back up against the side of the fountain, before leaping out herself and turning to jerk Diana out of the pool. It took three tries to pull the Amazon free, and Sappho collapsed backwards as she tried to keep the Amazon’s weight from falling to the stone chamber floor.

She grunted with each ragged breath as she scrambled back to her feet, sounding like a feral animal with each exertion of her exhausted body. Her mind raced as she franticly recalled everything the wise men of Athens had ever written about drown victims and how to save them.

Air. She needs air.

Sappho knelt down beside Diana, snatching the warrior woman’s head as she hoisted her limp body on to her side, allowing the fluid to pour out her parted lips. In a handful of seconds that passed like a lifetime, the flow of water changed from a gush to a trickle, until just droplets of reddish liquid streamed from the Amazon’s pink lips.

Soft thuds hit the ground around Sappho, followed by the strangely tuneful scrape of talon upon stone. Something giggled enticingly behind her.

They were coming.

Sappho ignored it all as she rested Diana onto her back and lowered herself down to seal her lips over those of the warrior woman. She blew with all her might, offering her breath to Diana in a continuous, high pressured gust. More water bubbled up from Diana’s throat as it was pushed aside by Sappho’s breath, streaming from between their lips and soaking the inside of the Lesbian’s mouth in warmth.

A clawed fingertip began to tease up the length of the wound on her back, causing Sappho to shiver in revulsion, but she didn’t break her lips from Diana’s. She drew a sharp breath in through her nose and puffed it forcefully into the Amazon’s mouth, making Diana’s chest rise a fraction as fresh air filled her lungs.

Breathe. Come on. Breathe.

As soon as she ran out of breath, Sappho took another deep lungful of air through her nose and…

I knew you’d come back.”

Sappho was painfully lifted away from Diana by the back of her hair. She tried to fight the slender hands that manipulated her, but the creature that gripped her easily overpowered her frantic attempts to return to the fallen Amazon.

She was dragged to her feet and pulled around to face the leering face of Lidia, the blonde, short-haired Siren matching her horrified shivers with excited ones of her own. The lithe temptress pressed her naked body in against Sappho’s soaked on, arching around her victim with her luminous wings as she effortlessly restrained the Lesbian’s hands. The creature’s breath was warm on Sappho’s neck, and the aroma of her spicy body odour suddenly filled Sappho’s nostrils like an intoxicating perfume. The perfect curves of the Siren’s body lined Sappho’s own, hot and firm, making the air catch in Sappho’s throat as she briefly forgot how to breathe.

I knew you wouldn’t stay away, sweet songstress,” Lidia hushed as she nestled in tighter against Sappho, sliding a creamy thigh between the Lesbian’s legs and rubbing it forcefully against her crotch. “I knew I’d make you mine.”

Sappho looked into the dazzling eyes of the temptress and almost lost herself in the swirling pools of colour she saw there. The pain at her back was suddenly forgotten to her, now nothing more than a strangely pleasing ache that throbbing on her flushed skin.

“No…” Sappho mumbled, weakly trying to pull away from the flower of temptation that was enveloping her. “Diana…”

Another set of delicate hands gripped Sappho by her wrists, easing them behind her back as another, more voluptuous body pressed into her from behind.

Hush, child,” Auris soothed her as her wings circled around to meet with her sister’s, fully blocking out the world in their cocoon of lurid feathers. “She does not wish to wake. She wants only peace, and we gave it to her.” Soft lips grazed the back of her neck, planting a warm trail of kisses across to her left ear. “Now we will give you what you want,” she whispered darkly.

Sappho squirmed between the harpies, uselessly pulling against the immaculate creatures as they toyed with her. “I don’t want this,” she said breathlessly, “I… ngh….,” Sappho trailed off with a sigh as Auris began to sing sweet, gentle notes into her ear.

Lidia grinned as she watched the Lesbian struggle to keep a hold of her sanity against the soothing song. “You came to sing with us, didn’t you, songstress?,” she mocked while her hands roamed across Sappho’s body, easily defining her curves through the sodden chiton dress. “You outperformed us out on the waves, and now you’ve come to show us that lovely voice again.”

Sappho’s cheeks flushed as the creature caressed her body, feeling a conflicted sense of excitement building within her. Throbbing heat pooled between her legs and emanated out to the rest of her trembling body, helplessly answering the Siren’s call in spite of her defiant thoughts.

No… Diana… I have to…

Sappho gasped with surprise as Lidia pulled her dress down to expose her breasts and play with them directly. Her eyes began to glaze as she watched the harpy massage and tease her pert bosom, taking unspeakable pleasure in the mix of sordid sensations. She could not stop her body from responding to Lidia’s touch; the Siren played her supple flesh like an instrument she had owned since the dawn of time, and Sappho could do little but marvel at her mastery.

Budding desires for companionship with a woman were being realised in the most debauched and terrible fashion, and the confusing vortex of feelings further stupefied Sappho into compliance with the wicked creatures.

She yelped in both pain and pleasure as Lidia pinched her hardening pink nipples, before sighing sweetly as the Siren leaned down and took one of the enflamed nubs into her mouth. She could not look away from the divine creature suckling her bosom, and could not keep herself from releasing a guttural moan as Lidia lapped her dark tongue across each nipple in turn.

At her back, Auris continued to sing soothing nothings into her ear, occasionally nibbling and sucking on the Lesbian’s sensitive earlobe. Moment by moment, her resistance ebbed until her arms were limp and forgotten in the grip of the harpy, and she slowly sank into the creature’s embrace.

Hovering above the depravity, Thelxephone purred with satisfaction as she watched the Lesbian succumbing to her sisters. “Ahh, that’s it, you remember your place now. Sing for us while your friend dies on the ground beside you. Scream with bliss as you fail miserably.”

Sappho moaned louder as Lidia trailed a hand down her body and slid it under her dress to stroke up her bare legs towards where she was wet and excited. The short-haired Siren licked up from her breasts until they were face to face, teasing her bosom against Sappho’s own just as her hand found the warm mound between her legs.

The Lesbian looked back at the temptress with lidded eyes, unconsciously undulating her body against the Siren, savouring the feel of rubbing her breasts against her captor’s as she slowly parted her legs in defeat. She bit her lip as she lowered her gaze to the Siren’s luscious lips, giving a soft moan of pleasure as the creature’s talented fingers made contact with her most sensitive spot.

Lidia beamed a savage smile as she saw the fight die in the eyes of her victim. “Yes,” she muttered as she leaned in to claim the Lesbian’s mouth, “I knew you would sing for me. I’ll make you sing until the sun rises.”

Their lips met, and the Siren’s tongue slid deep into Sappho’s mouth.

And the Lesbian bit down on it as hard as she could.

Lidia howled in pain as she fell away from Sappho clutching her mouth, and Sappho used the distraction to pull herself free from the shocked grip of Auris, spinning and punching the gawking temptress in her face. As Auris stumbled away from her, Sappho turned and launched herself back down to Diana, but her desperate gambit was interrupted by Thelxephone. The lead Siren dove down from above, knocking the Lesbian on to her back and pinning her shoulders beneath her talons.

Little minx!” Thelxephone roared, “You think that you can play us? How dare you!”

Lidia squealed in pain and frustration as she came back to her feet. The enraged temptress spat blood as she stalked towards Sappho. “You stupid whore! You deceived me!

Sappho fought uselessly against the talons that pinned her while the furious harpies closed around her, desperately trying to think of the next move she could make but finding nothing. She shot a venomous look back at Lidia, “You’re as blinded by your desires as any greedy tyrant. You deceive yourselves!”

Lidia snarled, her pristine visage giving way to reveal her more bestial nature as she knelt over the Lesbian. “Impudent wretch. Your death could have been glorious – the finest moment of your pathetic life – but now…” A smile returned to the creature’s face as she traced her clawed fingertips up Sappho’s body until they rested on her cheek below her right eye. “Now, I will make you sing a different song…

Sappho drew a breath to scream as she realised what was about to happen, feeling the claws circling around her eye socket and dipping inwards. She could not shift the talons that pinned her. There was nothing more she could do; no more time use.

I tried Diana… I really tried…

Suddenly there was an explosion of movement behind the gathered Sirens. Auris called out a warning, and the other sisters spun around just in time to meet captain Aenid’s charge. The harpies had been so distracted by their games with Sappho that they had not noticed the captain’s gradual approach from between the dunes of treasure, and he had been barely meters away when he sprung from cover.

With surprise on his side, Aenid was already swinging for Lidia with his blade before she even knew she was in trouble. Yet the harpy was nimble enough to narrowly weave away from his blade, dodging his second thrust with greater confidence as she was pushed away from Sappho by the captain’s onslaught. Thelxephone was initially knocked over by Aenid’s shield as he barged in, but she recovered in an eye-blink and danced away from his follow up strikes before leaping into the air and taking flight. Auris flowed around the melee looking for an opening, but joined her sisters in retreat when the captain turned his shield towards her.

Thelxephone groaned with displeasure as she circled back around in the air, “Will the interruptions never cease?

Sappho bolted upright, correcting her dress around herself as she looked up at the captain, “Aenid! I... Thank you.”

The captain’s eyes were wide as he tried vainly to track the harpies flying around them, holding his sword and shield tightly at the ready. “Don’t thank me yet, girl. I rather hoped to achieve more with that ambush. A lot bloody more. Gods, but they are fast.” His bottom lip trembled as he struggled to maintain his composure, and his resolve, as he watched the naked wonders flit through the air.

He rolled his wide shoulders as he prepared for the fight to come, “Forgive me, girl, but I might not last long. You don’t have much time.” He nodded his head towards where Diana lay, his expression pained as he looked upon the fallen Amazon, “Do what you can for her. I’ll give you as long as I'm able to.”

Sappho hesitated, knowing what the captain was offering and what it would mean for him. “Captain…”

Aenid shook his head fiercely as the Sirens swooped back down towards them, “There’s no time for that! Go to her!”

The urgency of his call was enough to snap Sappho out of her daze. He was right; they had both come too far to waste time now. She jumped back up to her feet and ran back to Diana’s side, not even turning her head as she heard the erratic clatter of iron against talon behind her.

Thank you, captain.

******

He had always considered himself a realist. He weighed the world up as he saw it to be, not as he feared or hoped it was, and he prided himself on being able to pragmatically assess a situation.

It had been the quality that ultimately earned him his modest achievements in life, such as they were.. It earned him rank as a solider and command as a captain. It even once earned him his life when he ran from a woman he knew he could not defeat.

He knew within two seconds that he was going to lose this fight. His adversaries were too agile to catch, too skilled to trap, and too cunning to fool. They weaved around his strikes as though he were a clumsy child taking his first lesson, taunting him with their laughter as they danced around him.

If not for their sport, he was sure they would have killed him by now. But in their sport, they gave him the chance to hold their attention awhile longer.

He slashed wildly about himself with his sword, and frantically swiped around with his shield to catch the talons of the harpies, only just managing to catch their playful ripostes. Each block was punctuated with a deafening screech as they carved clean lines into his iron shield, each deeper than the last, followed by his grunt of effort to keep from tumbling over. The beautiful creatures never even bothered to parry his blade, instead always dancing around his attacks and leaving him to cut nothing but empty air.

They were so damned beautiful. Their naked bodies called for his attention like the weight of the world bearing down on him, always pulling at his mind, but he resolutely forced himself to look only at their hands and feet – only at where their weapons were. If he allowed himself to look, even for a moment, at their nubile bodies, he wasn’t totally sure he would be able to keep fighting.

Every now and then he caught a glimpse of the girl tending to the Amazon. She was blowing great lungfuls of air into Diana's mouth while she tried to unbind the golden rope from around the Amazon’s arms.

Damn it Diana. You better not be dead.

He roared with pain as Auris weaved past his blade and spun around to slash her talon across his chest, carving a red line from his right shoulder to his lowest left rib. He swung for the creature with his shield, but she flowed away from his effort and flew over him with a demure laugh.

Foolish mortal,” Thelxephone chided, arriving behind him to lacerate his lower back and stagger him down to his knees, before flying away from his ragged attempt to catch her. “I expected you, at least, to play your part. You know better than to throw your life away like this.”

He groaned in pain as he forced himself to stand again, catching a blow from Lidia on his shield but still being knocked hard enough to collapse back down to the ground.

It doesn’t need to be this way.” Thelxephone offered in a hushed tone. “If you yield, we could let you leave this place. You could even take as much gold as you can carry. You would like that, wouldn’t you, coward?

He growled as he dragged himself back to his feet, “I’d like a lot of stupid things,” he quipped as he lunged after Auris and turned his momentum into a spinning block against Lidia, catching the harpy’s talons against his shield as she raced up behind him. "But it is not the will of the Gods."

His comment brought a snort of derision from the harpy before another talon bit into his flesh from behind while he was pinned beneath his own block, slicing up from his waist to his shoulder and crumpling his strength. With his guard faltering, Lidia swept his shield to the side and followed up with a precise slash across his right cheek.

The pain of the wounds were like fire across his skin, and he swore colourfully as he fell back to his knees.

The Siren’s giggled mischievously as they landed around him, stalking a slow circle about him while he recovered.

You don’t have to die this way. You want to live, don’t you, Aenid?” Thelxephone spoke softly down to him, sounding almost sympathetic. “You could just lay your arms down and survive this day.” The creature knelt down in front of him and lowered her voice, “Maybe you could even take your pleasure from those women you seem so eager to die for, hmm? Would you like that? Wouldn’t that be better than this? Better than dying? They could be yours. We could make them yours – for a night.” Her clawed fingers clutched his chin, forcing him to look toward Sappho’s desperate efforts to breathe life back into Diana. “I know you want them. Don’t deny it – don’t deny your own nature.”

His vision swam as he looked at Sappho, and he saw the bleeding cut upon her own back. Diana appeared stone-dead. The Lesbian was wounded, and moments earlier had been on the verge of completely surrendering her virtue to the alluring Sirens. He was handily losing and had no chance at all of overcoming the creatures taunting him. Pain lanced throughout his body from his multiple flesh wounds, making every movement a torturous exertion. He felt his own blood trickling down his body from each cut, soaking into his tunic and running down to his legs to drip onto the floor. He felt old and he felt tired. Immeasurably tired.

It seemed hopeless.

There was only abject defeat.

For a terrible, treacherous moment, he considered the poisoned words of the Siren. It would be so much easier to give in. The prospect of surviving, and of accepting the depraved offerings of the harpies was shamefully appealing to him. All he had to do was play the part of spineless coward one more time. When younger, he would have taken such a bargain.

Look to what gives you strength, and you will be strong.

Diana’s words from the approach to the island returned to his mind unbidden as he stared at the two women. He looked from one face to the other, each a brave, compassionate champion in their own right. Each represented the hope for a better world made real through action and self-sacrifice. The blood that pooled on the stone floor beneath them gave mute, growing, testament to that sacrifice – yet even bloodied and beaten, there was a beauty to them that could not be diminished.

So pure and noble. So stalwart and uncompromising. His brother had been like that, before the ocean took him. Gods, but he wished he could speak to his brother now.

Hmph… We’re not done yet. Not yet…

“I want a lot of bloody stupid things,” he snarled once more, storming to his feet and whirling around himself with his weapons, nearly catching Lidia off guard with his sudden rally. “I’m a fool and a coward – I know exactly who I am!” He felt extra strength surging into his veins as he took the fight after the stunned harpies, forcing them into uncomfortable evasions with his prolonged assault. “I cheat and I lie and I steal, and I’m a lazy bugger too! Aye, I’m a rotten scoundrel, down to the core, and I’d sell my mother’s bones for another day of life!”

Anger helped move his limbs and bolster his resolve to fight. Anger at the pristine monsters that had hurt his friends. Anger at the gods for standing vigil over a world of cruelty and despair. Anger at the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. Anger at his awful, misspent life.

Most of all, anger at himself for being the man the Sirens expected him to be. Nothing ever walked the mortal realm that he despised so much as the man he had become. The weight of his shame was suffocating; -he would sooner bare Atlas' burden than this, and he had no one to blame but himself.

And he did blame himself.

They were parrying his sword now, having to actively catch his wild swings as he sped from one reckless attack into another, getting faster all the time as he committed everything to the effort. He fought with every scrap of swordsmanship and guile he had learned over the years, throwing caution completely to the wind in order to fight without hesitation – mimicking the warrior woman he now fought to protect. He just needed to hold their attention a little while longer. It didn’t matter what it would cost – and he knew what it would cost - it mattered only that it happened.

“You don’t have to tell me who I am! I know I’m an irredeemable sack of shit!” he bellowed at the Sirens, shrugging off the fresh lacerations they inflicted on his arms and shoulders as they struck back at him. “I am Salides of Dorlia! Do you hear me? I am bloody Salides of bloody Dorlia! I know who I am!”

It felt refreshing to say it aloud; to finally admit it at last, after years of hiding. A terrible burden eased upon him, energising him to fight all the harder. He caught a clean blow onto Lidia with his shield, staggering the harpy and forcing Auris to leap to her sister’s defence to deflect the following strike from his blade. He turned his fury upon her like a man possessed, slashing at her with a berserker’s frenzy that forced her graceful form to unravel as she staved off his relentless aggression.

“I may be a spineless craven, but I will die for those women all the same! I…”

So be it!”

Thelxephone interrupted his onslaught with a spinning dive from above him, hurtling the talon of her left foot against his iron blade with a deafening clang that peeled out around the chamber. Sparks flew as his blade was cleaved asunder by the talon, followed by blood as the talon sailed onwards to carve through his right eye.

Even in his shock, he still tried to wield his broken blade against the Siren, but she slammed her fists into his chest as she landed, turning all of her residual momentum into a crushing blow that literally knocked him off his feet to land in a bloodied, winded heap on the floor.

If you will not accept our grace, then you will accept our judgement. If death is what you wish, then we will grant you an agonising death that befits you, mortal.”

Animalistic screams resounded around the lighthouse, gargled and fraught with pain. It took him several seconds to realise the screams were his own as he struggled with his body’s distress.

He couldn’t see out of his right eye. Only lancing pain and gushing heat met his efforts to blink, and the sudden blindness was as disorientating as it was horrifying for him to process.

The Sirens snickered at his incoherent mewling on the floor as they stalked after him, fluttering their wings behind them with excitement.

How does it feel? Does it hurt? Is it worth it, hmm?” Thelxephone sneered as she approached. “You’ve taken quite enough of our attention with your prattle. Now die in your futility, Salides of Dorlia. Your beloved women will join you shortly.”

He tried to stand, but slipped in his own blood and collapsed onto his front with another roar of anguish. From where he lay, he turned his working eye across to look at Sappho and Diana, barely seeing them in his wavering vision. The Lesbian had unbound the Amazon’s arms to lie her flat and was continuing to blow into Diana’s mouth. Even as she tried to breathe life into her friend, the Lesbian was hurriedly tying a bandage, fashioned from the torn fabric of her own dress, over the deep wound at Diana’s thigh, using the Amazon’s golden rope to secure the dressing in a series of tight coils.

Despite her valiant efforts, the wound still wept freely around the binding.

The Lesbian was on the verge of sobbing as she worked. She cast a despondent glance at his plight, meeting his gaze with terrible sorrow in her watery eyes before forcing herself back to her efforts to save Diana.

“Come on, Diana. Breathe. Please breathe,” Sappho pleaded desperately as she lowered herself down to the Amazon’s lips once again. The golden rope pulsed within her grip all the way down to where it circled the Amazon’s thigh, and Diana’s chest heaved as she took a deep, ragged breath, before spluttering and coughing up a trickle of water.

The sight, and the sound, instantly rejuvenated him.

He gave a fierce grin, feeling more pleasure from watching Diana taking that breath than at any other moment in his life. The relief was euphoric, suddenly bringing him to the brink of crying tears of joy, even in spite of his horrendous condition.

You’re not done yet. You stubborn, reckless, short-tempered pain in my ass. Now bloody wake up. You’ve got monsters to slay.

The harpies had stopped their approach. They looked down on the ruined man with dumbfounded surprise written across their arrogant faces.

"The fool has gone made with his pain" Lidia said but her elder sister shook her head catching the look in his one good eye.

Why… why are you smiling? What’s so funny?”

He gathered up his broken sword and shield from where they lay next to him and slowly pulled himself back to his unsteady feet.

Salides gave a dirty chuckle as he began to approach the Sirens, fighting to bring them into focus with his remaining eye.

“I came to this ugly island to die at the hands of a beautiful maiden,” he said with a wide smile before gesturing towards the Sirens with his shield, “But now that I’m here… I think I’ll settle for you peacocks instead!” He broke into raucous laughter at his own joke, having to rest his hands against his knees to keep himself from toppling back over.

The Sirens bristled under the insult, each incensed to be laughed at by a mortal man they deemed so very far beneath them. The indignant creatures raced towards him in a dazzling blur of motion, screeching with bloodcurdling rage as they allowed their bestial natures to show.

Salides charged headlong into the nightmares with a smile on his face.

“Come on, then! Grant my bloody desire, you washed up hags!”

*****

To see life return to the Amazon was almost enough to make Sappho collapse into tears of joy atop the spluttering woman, but she knew they weren’t free of the storm yet. She found a steely determination and focus that she would never have believed she could possess mere hours earlier, and she moved immediately to tightening the dressing at Diana’s thigh to stem the bleeding.

Though Diana now breathed shallow breaths for herself, the warrior woman was deathly pale and unconscious, giving no sign at all of waking from her torpor. The Lesbian’s mind darkened as she recalled that Diana had collapsed for nearly two full days after fighting Proteus, and her condition then had been as nothing compared to the twilight she now hung in.

Yet the Amazon had to wake; Sappho knew it was the only hope for victory. She could not drag Diana to freedom in time and, judging by the increasingly dramatic sounds of captain Aenid’s battle with the Sirens, he was not long for this world.

Her hands were shaking as she wound the golden rope tighter around the dressing, coiling it as much as her modest strength would allow to maximise the pressure. Around the dressing the flow of blood had reduced to a slight trickle, but still it came, endlessly pooling down to the spreading stain on the floor that surrounded them.

“Diana, you need to wake,” Sappho murmured, wincing as she heard an agonised roar from the captain, “I know you’re tired… I know it hurts… But we… I need you to wake up… Please, wake up…”

The golden rope pulsed under the Lesbian's fingertips, and Diana’s eyes fluttered in her sockets as she slowly began to stir, releasing a soft groan of discomfort before lying still once more. A moment later she stirred again, but once more she did not pull from the slumber that claimed her.

“IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?” the captain roared at the harpies dancing around him, raining bloody strikes down upon his body with near impunity as he swatted around himself in useless efforts to catch them. He spat blood as he kept swinging for the increasingly frustrated Sirens with his broken sword, “I THOUGHT YOU WERE GODS! AREN’T YOU TRYING?”

Auris flowed around one of his lunges before pinwheeling on the spot and arcing her leg around her to catch the wrist of his sword-arm, cleanly severing it with her talon. The captain roared in pain, but he did not flinch, instead thundering his shield against the Siren and knocking her into a pile of gold. “ARGH!” he bellowed incoherently as he tried to follow up by slamming his shield down on the prone creature, but Lidia was already behind him, laughing at him as she sliced the tendons behind his knees and collapsing the captain like a lifeless puppet.

Sappho looked away from the harrowing display back to Diana, squeezing her hands across the coiled rope, finding it hard to see clearly through the blur of her own tears. “Diana, please! Please wake up! I don’t know what else to do!”

Aenid sounded more animal than man as he snarled defiantly back at the Sirens, climbing to his knees and swiping drunkenly with his shield back at Lidia as she toyed with him. Thelxephone dove upon him from above like a bird of prey, piercing both his shoulders with her talons and pinning him back to the ground.

There isn’t enough pain under Olympus to punish you for your impudence, insect,” Thelxephone spat, easily overpowering the captain’s weak attempts to dislodge her. “I see through your act – you’re terrified. The pain is more than you can bear.”

Aenid was beyond words now. He gave only a guttural howl as the Siren twisted her talons within his wounds, but still he fought them. With a garbled cry, he hefted his shield across and tried to knock it into the creature’s knee, but Auris slammed her foot down atop the shield and pinned it at his side.

Thelxephone gave a cruel smile as she watched him struggle, “I will see you weep with despair before you die.” She turned her gaze back to Sappho and Diana, arching her brow a fraction as she noticed that Diana was breathing again. “Hmph, it seems none of you cretins know when you are beaten. How boring.” She inclined her head towards Lidia, “This ends now – kill the poet.”

Lidia beamed a savage smile as her hungry eyes turned upon Sappho. “With pleasure, sister.”

Sappho's heart sank as she watched the short-haired Siren blur into motion towards her, leaping into flight and gliding across the room with dizzying speed. The captain’s remaining eye widened as he watched the Siren take off, and he thrashed wildly beneath the other sisters in a futile, agonising bid to free himself.

“NO! ARRGH! NO!”

Silence,” Thelxephone spat down at him, pressing her talons deeper through his shoulders, “You will watch the life leave the girl’s eyes, and then, when you truly understand how pointless your sacrifice has been, when I see your mask of courage break, I will end you. AURIS! "she commanded her sister ”Fetch salt for his wounds..." she smiled as her sister flew to her task. "You will know pain like no other mortal has ever endured..."

The captain mewled helplessly, still trying to resist but being robbed of strength by sheer blood loss. His broken body twitched and gradually fell limp as he watched despairingly. He met Sappho’s sorrowful gaze with his last eye, and she saw the naked terror that filled him.

“SAPPHO! Ngh… RUN! RUN AWAY!”

Sappho forced a weak smile back at the captain, doing her best to hide how distressing it was to look upon him, before turning away to focus back down on Diana. At her back she heard the sound of Lidia’s beating wings growing alarmingly loud, but she ignored the approaching monster. She leaned over the fallen Amazon and stroked her fingers down the other woman’s cheeks, feeling them cold to the touch against her warm hands.

Her lips trembled as she held in her tears and lowered herself down to rest her forehead against Diana’s, “We can do no more…,” she whispered hoarsely, “I’m so sorry…”

Lidia’s glittering talons landed either side of the prone women, making Sappho gasp with fright as she braced herself for what was coming. The Siren lovingly curled a hand through the back of Sappho’s hair before tightening painfully and lifting her head upwards.

Somewhere unseen, Sappho could still hear the captain’s tortured screams. He was begging now. Crying aloud as he pleaded for mercy, descending into incoherent sobs as Lidia brought her other claw around to stroke Sappho’s exposed throat.

Tears silently fell down her cheeks as Sappho gulped her last breath, keeping her gaze down on Diana’s face. “I’m not afraid this time,” she whispered under her breath, closing her eyes as the claws began to press into her flesh.

“…I’m… not… afraid…”

Lidia cooed into the Lesbian’s ear tunefully, humming a gentle lullaby that Sappho’s mother once used to sing her to sleep as a child. “I knew I’d take you – one way or another.”

The captain’s cries filled the lighthouse as the Siren slowly, delicately, began to peel open the Lesbian’s throat…

The claw was stopped just as it began to draw blood.

Sappho opened her eyes in surprise, and immediately locked gazes with Diana. The Amazon’s eyes were wide open, filled with sorrow and remorse as she looked up at Sappho. The Amazon’s hands had snapped up to seize Lidia by her wrist, preventing the Siren from moving her claw any further and forcing it away from Sappho’s skin.

In spite of it all, Sappho couldn’t help but beam a wide smile back at her friend.

You’re back.

Above the Lesbian, Lidia growled with frustration as she tried to free her hand. “You…! Haven’t we humiliated you enough?”

The Amazon’s concerned gaze swept away from Sappho and locked on the Siren, and suddenly Sappho saw only cold rage.

Implacable, inescapable, unstoppable rage.

Diana burst into action, rolling to her right and yanking the Siren’s arm so hard that the creature had no choice but to tumble with her, falling on to the ground beside the Amazon. Lidia screeched as she met Diana’s challenge without hesitation, clawing at the warrior woman in a frenzy as they wrestled with each other on the floor. Diana swatted the claws away with her bracers as she fluidly came to her feet and struck her own blows down on the supine creature, making Lidia cry out as her body was bruised with the thunderous punches.

In a flash the creature leapt back to its feet, sweeping her legs around in blurry arcs as she slashed at the Amazon with her talons, but in such close proximity Diana easily evaded the awkward efforts and caught Lidia’s right leg mid-kick. With a grunt the Amazon hurled the Siren around and into the side of the fountain with enough force to crack the masonry. Diana pressed her advantage immediately, batting aside a claw before slamming her fist down into the recovering creature’s face.

Lidia whined as she weathered the blows, but she matched Diana’s aggression in kind, flashing her legs around once more in vicious, continuous slashes that sparked off the Amazon’s bracers. Between each successful block Diana struck the creature once more, bloodying its once-beautiful face as the frenetic exchange went on.

With another growl of frustration, the flustered harpy beat her wings in an effort to take to the air, but Diana had been waiting for the move to come and was ready for it. The Amazon jumped up and dug her hands into Lidia’s right wing, squeezing with enough force to puncture it beneath her fingertips and yanking it downwards to follow her weight as she landed back on the stone floor. Lidia cried out in pain as her flight was interrupted, and Diana hurled her once more against the fountain with a sickening thud.

Lidia was back on her feet immediately, but was wobbling slightly as she lunged after the Amazon with her claws. The two women were in a fluid dance of jabs and counters as they wound around each other, exchanging blows in a blur of violent motion.

Gah! How are you doing this?” Lidia cried, lacerating the Amazon’s right bicep with her talons but suffering a withering torrent of punches in return. “We ended you – we broke you… Nghh… How can you still fight? You lost!”

The Siren narrowly missed Diana’s throat with her claws, instead scratching a red line across the Amazon’s jaw as she sought to finish the fight. Diana weaved away from the strike and seized the Siren’s wrist, turning and using the momentum of the overextended attack to hurl her, a final time, against the fountain.

“No more! Not one more!” Diana roared as she leapt forwards to slam against the Siren, knocking her down against the rim of the fountain and crunching the bracer of her right arm across Lidia’s throat.

Caught between the fountain and the enchanted metal, the Siren’s throat was crushed beneath the blow, cracking audibly as blood misted the air around the wound.

A shrieking wind suddenly struck the island, giving a tortured whine as it battered against the lighthouse and whistled through the entrance. A peel of cackling thunder followed the abrupt gust, sounding like a crack breaking across the heavens as Aphrodite mourned the loss of a beloved avatar.

Lidia’s eyes glazed as she looked up at Diana in shock. She moved her lips, but could make not a sound as her elegant body fell limp upon the rim of the fountain. The Amazon spat in the dying creature’s face before unceremoniously sliding her broken body from the fountain and letting it flop to the floor.

The other Sirens screamed in dismay as they looked on in horror at their fallen sister. They each clawed at themselves as their bloodcurdling grief consumed them, giving a protracted wail that echoed deafeningly around the lighthouse.

What did you do! What have you done!” Thelxephone screeched from where she stood over the captain.

While the monsters mourned, Diana was still moving. With a very pronounced limp, the Amazon clambered back into the fountain and waded over to where her armour lay in the pool. Her impassive, murderous gaze moved up to the remaining Sirens as she swiftly buckled her crimson armour back around her body, just having time to secure the central buckle and so concealing her modesty once more as she resumed the aspect of the warrior. There was no time to fit it properly. It would have to be enough.

“I laid her burden down,” Diana answered coldly, limping back towards the side of the fountain.

The Amazon froze in her tracks when she caught sight of the captain, and the dark purpose in her expression cleared in an instant.

The captain was barely conscious as he met eyes with the Amazon, but there was still a familiar twinkle in his remaining eye. Sorrow flickered across Diana’s face, clouding her steely gaze with an altogether more complicated emotion as she watched the captain’s final moments.

“Aenid…” she called to him, her voice heavy with concern as she struggled to find the right words.

The ruined man’s lips twitched upwards as they shared their last moment.

“That’s… not my name…” he stammered, grinning wider at the Amazon.

The distraught Sirens were moving again, set upon avenging their sister as they turned their baleful eyes onto Diana. Above the captain, Thelxephone pulled a talon free and raised it up above the man’s chest to finish him.

Helpless to save him in time, Diana instead held his gaze, “Look at me, Salides!” she shouted to him, “I see you! I am with you!”

His face twitched in apprehension as the blow began to fall, but he did not take his gaze from the Amazon. With great effort he raised the stump of his right wrist into the air in salute back to the warrior woman.

““FOR DIANA! FOR JUSTICE!”

The talon sank into his chest and pierced his heart in one motion, and Thelxephone stepped away from him to charge towards Diana without even watching the man die as Auris gouged huge chunks of his flesh in bloody sprays with a frenzied sweep of her talons as she took out her anger on the luckless captain.. Sappho held her mouth and sobbed as she watched his arm slowly fall lifelessly back to the floor. Up on the fountain, Diana lowered her head for just a moment to process her grief, before raising it once more to look back hatefully at the charging creatures.

She rolled her shoulders and took a deep breath, and then vaulted the fountain to meet the Sirens’ charge with one of her own, matching them for hate and murderous intent. The combatants met atop the tallest dune of treasure, fighting literally tooth and nail in a dazzling display of martial prowess.

Sappho gawked at the frenetic fight for a moment, marvelling at the speed and grace of Diana’s movement within the melee as she skidded and leapt around the dune. Without her weapons, the Amazon used only her bracers to turn back the claws and talons of the Sirens, spilling sparks all around them with each shrill impact.

I have to help. I can’t just watch.

Sappho tore her gaze from the fight to cast about herself looking for something, anything, that might assist the Amazon.

Then she saw it, peaking out in a room full of treasure – just as she had done before.

Lying between coins and goblets not far from the fountain, the battered Spartan kopis caught her eye in the torchlight.

The Lesbian wiped away her tears and pulled herself to her feet, determined that she would not be a bystander again.

Let’s finish this, Diana. For Salides. For the captain.

*****

Blade

Despite all her failures. Despite her humiliating submission. Despite embracing her own defeat like a pathetic puppet, wilfully enjoying her own defilement.

Diana had been given another chance.

The cost had been high. A single look at Sappho’s face had been enough to confirm that much, and the final moments of captain Salides had been among the most painful that Diana had ever endured. Auris had literally ripped him to pieces.

Almost equally as painful as watching her sister Amazons die to treachery. She had failed that day just as she had this one, and it brought her just as much fury.

Yet, just like that day, she still had the chance to fight, to avenge, and the pursuit of that vengeance consumed her whole world. Gone was the doubt and the tiredness. She was forged anew, sharper and hungrier for the fight to come than ever before.

It didn’t matter that she had to literally drag her right leg to make every step. It didn’t matter that she was so faint from blood loss that darkness constantly pressed in around her vision. Her pure, singular conviction to fight propelled her, driving her beleaguered body into action by sheer force of her indomitable will.

She would not fail again. Salides would not die in vain. The harpies would not hurt Sappho.

Not again.

She remembered the movements and styles of the Sirens from their earlier fight, and she wielded that knowledge against them now like an assassin’s knife, weaving around their talons as she fought within their effective range. Robbed of their third sister, the Sirens’ dance now had holes in it where before they perfectly covered each other, and their emotional turmoil unhinged them into fighting with less finesse than before.

Where Diana harnessed her outrage, the Sirens had no experience of fighting while dealing with such powerful emotions, and it ensured that Diana always stayed one step ahead of them, even in her hobbled state.

With wide, un-blinking eyes, Diana scrutinised their every movement perfectly, matching it with the most effective countermove as though she had time to pre-plan the entire fight. Her rapid breaths became a constant methodical rhythm, allowing her to upkeep the intensity of the combat as the throb of her own heartbeat filled her ears like the drums of war.

Thelxephone and Auris circled round and around her as the fight swept across the chamber, always taking every opportunity to lash out at the Amazon. The Sirens kept juddering to abrupt halts as their talons were caught upon Diana’s enchanted bracers and their momentum was stolen from them, and the Amazon used this edge to control the pace of the exchange, creating one opening after another to strike back with her fists or elbows. The Sirens tried to fall away from her as she pressed them, but Diana was always charging, always leaping, and the fluid conflict never broke.

After another series of counters and evasions, the fight spilled from the piles of treasure onto the wooden steps that spiralled up the walls of the lighthouse. The Sirens swooped and dove around Diana as the melee ascended the stairs, finding it harder to surround her with a wall at her side but gaining at advantage from limiting the floor space she had to manoeuvre in.

Diana gritted her teeth as Auris caught her from the side with a spinning series of kicks that managed to lacerate her forearm after she missed one of her blocks. Thelxephone followed up with her own spiralling flash of talons, nearly pushing Diana off the side of the steps before the Amazon climbed higher to escape the assault.

We’ll kill you, we’ll flay the skin from your bones !!!,” Thelxephone screeched as she chased after Diana, meeting her again in a kinetic exchange of counters, “You should have stayed asleep. There was mercy in that. But now you will never know peace. Never!”

Diana ignored the words, instead focusing on the creature’s unravelling form. She snatched Thelxephone by her shins as the Siren attempted too ambitious an attack, and threw the Siren over her shoulder against the wall. Auris closed in on the Amazon before she could offer any more hostility to Thelxephone, forcing Diana to climb further as she weaved around the creature’s rapid talons.

We should have just ended you quickly,” Auris lamented, “You do not know the perfection you have denied to the world.”

Diana kicked the creature in her stomach, sending her falling down into the chamber, but Auris corrected herself in the air and flew back up towards the fight in a flourish of bright wings. Thelxephone arrived with her sister, chasing Diana higher up the staircase with their relentless aggression.

After a successful jab split the bottom lip of the red-haired Siren, she changed tactic as she raced to re-join the fight. From low in her throat, the Siren began to sing once again; a husky, hateful melody that pulled at Diana’s battle-focus. Moments later Auris took up the song as well, adding her own voice to the oppressive tune.

Diana slowed a fraction as the magical assault mingled with the physical one, feeling as though the air around her had been made heavier. She ground her teeth as she tried to shut the song out, but suddenly it was a great effort to keep pace with the Sirens. Despite her valiant efforts, she could not silence them, and moment by moment they began to out manoeuvre her.

A shallow cut to her left shin was followed by a rough scrape to her chest. The side of a wing beat her across the face, staggering Diana as she stumbled away from the onslaught, barely ducking her head below Thelxephone’s glimmering talons and then franticly warding off Auris’s claws with her bracers.

You’re faltering,” Thelxephone cawed gleefully, “Accept defeat, mortal. You cannot change your fate.”

Diana’s mind raced as she tried to find openings against the Sirens closing in around her, but she could find no way out. She was trapped in a sequence of blocks that she could not turn around on her opponents and the Sirens were moments away from overwhelming her. There was no way to prevent it, no path to victory…

“Diana! Catch!”

The Amazon spared a single flicked glance downwards to the source of the call,never moving her head from the Sirens, seeing Sappho at the bottom of the stairs hurling the Spartan kopis up into the air.

It was a good throw, carrying the blade up and up between the steps of the lighthouse until its flight arrested in the air next to Diana, hovering for a moment as its upward momentum was overcome by gravity.

There was a predatory glint in Diana’s eyes as she flicked her arm out to catch the blade by its hilt, and the dimensions of the fight changed immediately.

The Sirens’ eyes widened in surprise as suddenly Diana wielded a sword against them, granting Diana greater reach and, more importantly, a true means of harming them. The blade flashed in Diana’s hands as she spun from one slash into another, using her bracers to perfectly cover her assault.

In an eye-blink the Sirens became the ones on the defensive. The kopis drew blood from Auris, catching the voluptuous creature on the backswing as she hovered in the air between beats of her wings and cutting across her bare stomach. With a cry of pain the Siren fell down to the steps clutching her wound, and Diana turned her wrath towards Thelxephone, forcing the aghast creature to defend herself without support.

The Siren song came to an abrupt halt, replaced now with the wail of anguish and the rapid, explosive ring of metal against talon. Freed from the song once again, Diana surged with fresh impetus, fighting with extra alacrity against the harpy.

For the first time, fear began to register on Thelxephone’s beautiful face – her patrician features twitching with effort as she fought to keep up with Diana’s offense.

Ngghh… No…,” the harpy puffed, trying to take flight but being forced back to the ground under the weight of her own blocks, “You were supposed to lose… He promised us victory… He promised us…

“He lied,” Diana spat, knocking the red-haired Siren on to her back with a violent jab of her knee, “He used you.”

Diana raised her blade into the air with her right hand, batting aside Thelxephone’s plaintive kicks with the bracer of her left arm, ready to thrust a deathblow down upon the supine temptress.

At her back Diana heard the scrape of Auris’s talons as the Siren leapt up the stairs to save her sister, and she turned on the spot to face the creature flying towards her.

Auris’s eyes widened as she realised the trap she had flung herself into with her haste, and belatedly she tried to flap her wings to change her forward momentum, but it was too late. Moving forwards in the air without a foot on the ground, the harpy could not move as she needed to, and was left with no choice by to try and desperately snatch at Diana’s blade.

The Amazon stepped into the lunge, expertly feinting one direction with her kopis before altering course and thrusting it past the Siren’s flapping arms.

Running the blade through the creature’s chest.

SISTER!!!!!” Thelxephone shrieked, giving a garbled squeal of anguish as she watched the life fade from Auris’s gasping face. “NO!”

Diana was clinical as she let the harpy’s momentum die against her shoulder, before turning and starting to pull the blade free.

But Auris wasn’t quite finished yet.

In her final act of life, the blonde Siren did the last thing she could to protect her sister. She circled her trembling claws around Diana’s sword hand and gave one last beat of her great wings, launching herself backwards and away from the stairs as she clawed into the Amazon’s hand. With no choice but to lose her hand or lose her sword, Diana released the kopis and beat Auris’s hands away with her other hand, giving a begrudging nod of respect for the creature’s sacrificial effort as it flopped lifelessly down to the heaps of treasure below with the blade still buried in its chest.

Once again, the heavens cried. The lighthouse thrummed with the force of the gale that suddenly howled against it with even more intensity than before.

YOU WILL PAY!” Thelxephone screeched as she hurled herself against Diana with renewed fury, forcing the disarmed Amazon to weave erratically around her talons.

“YOU WOULD DEPRIVE THE WORLD OF OUR BEAUTY? OF OUR MAJESTY? UNFORGIVEABLE!!!! DEMON!!”

The Siren’s frenzy pushed Diana further up the stairs, forcing her to survive on pure instinct, to just barely keep the talons from eviscerating her. Before long the fight carried them out the top of the lighthouse, into the open air atop the tower, where the biting wind clawed at them both. The great pyre of the lighthouse stood beside them, dying down now, leaving little room on the rooftop to move around and forcing Diana to block more strikes than she dodged. The heat from the lighthouse pyre was still intense and the dying embers flared periodically in the wind, the sudden, dazzling bright flame blinding Diana after the less well lit interior. The fight was suddenly shrouded in half-light, as she was forced to close her eyes to slits to protect from the infrequent glare, making each successive block as much guess work as it was skill until her vision grew used to it.

The Siren opened a fresh cut beneath Diana’s left eye, and then another above her left knee, and then another along the back of her right hand. As each second passed Diana winced as yet more lacerations were inflicted upon her. She began to wobble on her feet as she weathered the assault, twice scrambling to keep from falling from the tower.

“I’LL MAKE YOU PAY FOR IT ALL, HARLOT! I’LL TORTURE THAT LITTLE POET UNTIL SHE BEGS FOR DEATH! I’LL FIND YOUR ISLAND AND SLAUGHTER ALL YOUR SISTERS! I’LL MAKE YOUR MOTHER MY PERSONAL SLAVE! I’LL MAKE HER SACRIFICE HER OWN PEOPLE FOR MY PLEASURE! I WILL NEVER FORGIVE! THE GODS THEMSELVES WILL NEVER FORGIVE…”

“No.”

Diana parried the latest kick upwards and then seized the harpy’s talon where it connected to her foot with both hands, halting Thelxephone’s rampant movement in her tracks. She gripped tighter on the digit, cutting both her hands as she held the talon in place, easing it backwards until it pulled the Siren’s foot taut against her ankle.

“It is I who will never forgive,” she said coldly, spinning around and forcing the Siren to tumble over her shoulder, making Thelxephone scream in pain as the ligaments in her digit began to tear. The beating of her wings caused a shower of sparks to rise from the pyre and some caught in her scales where they burned and smoldered, making the siren scream. Diana kept hold of the talon as she stepped around the restrained leg, keeping the fallen creature pinned on the floor beneath her as she tightened her grip.

“Not you, not mortal men, not myself, not even the gods themselves.” The Siren thrashed and whined as Diana twisted the talon in her grip and tore it free from her foot with a wet snick.

Diana’s eyes smouldered with cold, uncompromising purpose as she stepped around the fallen creature and lifted her head backwards by her red locks of hair.

“For all those who commit wanton atrocity upon innocent lives. For all those that hurt the innocent for pleasure and vanity. I will never forgive – I will carry that burden endlessly. I carry it gladly.”

Thelxephone still mewled in pain as she struggled to recover herself, plaintively swatting back at the Amazon that stood over her with her wings and elbows. “NONE OF YOU ARE INNOCENT! NONE OF YOU…”

Diana spun the talon in her grip and brought it down to the Siren’s neck, dispassionately slicing it open in one clean jerk.

“I. Will. Never. Forgive.”

With a final gurgle of defiance, the red-haired temptress flailed and fell completely limp beneath the Amazon, spilling great gushes of its blood like a small waterfall over the platform edge and down the side of the lighthouse. Diana braced herself against the sudden burst of wind that answered the creature’s demise, leaning her head backwards to look at the heavens as another crash of thunder peeled from the sky above her.

Diana narrowed her eyes back at the sky, looking accusingly towards the heavens as the furious wind slowly died around her. She heaved her shoulders as she slowly regained control of her breathing, growling with each shuddering exhale.

With a grunt of effort, Diana stepped backwards and kicked the Siren’s body over the edge of the tower, sending its naked, flailing body down to skitter across the black cliffs like a ragdoll, its wings glowing here and there where the sparks from the pyre had lodged.

“It’s finished,” she sighed, falling to her knees as the red mist that had driven her finally began to lift. The pains and aches of her body made themselves felt in earnest now, making her shiver and release a soft groan. The pain at her right leg was worst of all, nauseating the Amazon as she attempted to shift her weight on to it.

Exhaustion threatened to overcome her. Even the effort to hold herself up made her muscles tremble with fatigue. She sagged for a moment as she considered the hardship of getting back to the ship without collapsing.

She took a long, deep breath, releasing it slowly through her nose as she looked down from the lighthouse on the raider ship waiting for them out on the waves, a faint light in the near darkness

On the distant horizon the sun was starting to rise, turning the dark sky to warm hues of orange as the dawn approached.

Press on…

With a quiet mewl, Diana pushed herself back to her feet and limped back into the tower, dragging her right foot as she tentatively descended the wooden staircase. Looking down into the great chamber, she grimaced as she caught sight of Sappho.

The young Lesbian was huddled beside Salides’ body, cradling his head on her lap as she wept quietly. The painful cut along the length of her back faced Diana, further shaming the Amazon with the level of her companions’ hardship in the wake of her failure. She felt her eyes clouding with tears as she blamed herself for it all, and had to look away to regain her composure as she slowly limped down the staircase.

She slowed further when she reached the chamber floor, shame weighing heavily on her shoulders as she struggled to face the price that had been paid to grant her a second chance. She didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to look upon Salides’ ravaged body, didn’t want to see the pain on Sappho’s face.

Yet she had to see. She needed to bear all the consequences of her failure. She needed to remember it, and to carry it with her.

Sappho looked up as she approached, sobbing louder when she met Diana’s watery gaze and clambering to her feet to sprint over to the Amazon. “Diana!” she said in relief as she fought down the sobs, before looking back down at the man she cradled. "They ripped him to pieces...."

The Amazon winced at the call of her own name, at the pure warmth she heard in the Lesbian’s voice. “Saph…,” she began quietly, her voice tight, “I…”

The Lesbian threw her arms around Diana, clutching her into a tight embrace as though she might blow away. “We made it,” Sappho sobbed into Diana’s shoulder, “We did it… We did it… We really did it…”

Diana’s lower lip quivered as she slowly brought her arms around the lithe woman to return her hug, hesitantly nestling her head against the Lesbian’s short brown hair as she looked down on Salides. “I’m… sorry,” she whispered, fearful that her voice would break if she spoke any louder, “Truly… I’m so sorry…”

The Lesbian tightened her embrace, shaking her head as she reined in her tears, “Shush, you owe no apologies. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad you came back.” She pulled back a fraction, looking over the myriad of wounds that covered the Amazon with concern, “Gods, you’re hurt. We need to get back to the ship – I need to dress your wounds.” She shook her head, biting her lip fearfully, “You need to lie down, and you need to drink… are you dizzy? Can you walk? Can you make it back to the ship? I don’t think I can carry you…”

Diana managed a smile down at the Lesbian, giving her shoulders a comforting squeeze, “Aye… I’ll make it back, don’t worry.” She softly gripped Sappho’s chin to direct her worried gaze back to her eyes, “I’m more worried about you… You… You’re amazing, Saph. Your bravery humbles me. Thank you for saving me.”

The Lesbian smiled weakly back at her, gingerly sweeping her matted fringe away from her eyes. “I just tried to be like you.” She inclined her head towards Salides, smiling even as tears silently streaked down her cheeks, “And I wasn’t as brave as the captain… Gods, he fought so hard.”

Diana shuddered as she returned her gaze to Salides, easing herself away from the Lesbian so that she could limp over to the man’s side and kneel next to him. Sappho gripped her shoulder from behind and Diana put a hand over the Lesbian’s as she stared down at the fallen captain. His torso was mass of red. His off white tunic invisible beneath a sea of crimson.

I was wrong about you. Hera, I was so wrong. Whatever man you used to be, you died a good man.

Diana took the captain’s left hand in her free one, squeezing the lifeless digits as she raised it up to hold against her chest. She bowed her head as her sorrow threatened to overwhelm her, blinking her eyes rapidly to clear the tears that gathered there and causing them to fall unseen down her cheeks.

You kept your oath. Thank you.

She hunched forwards with a groan of discomfort to rest her forehead against his bloody chest, closing her eyes as she fought to contain her sobs. Sappho knelt beside her, easing down to hug Diana’s back.

“All is well,” Sappho soothed. “It’s alright, Diana.”

It’s not alright It will never be alright.

Diana shook her head, releasing a gentle sob that soon broke into near-hysterical weeping, racking her body as the regret poured out of her.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

She repeated the mantra over and over again, gasping for air as she allowed herself this one fleeting moment to wallow in her misery.

Sappho shared in her tears, shushing and whispering affectionately as she tightened her warm embrace around the quaking Amazon.

“All is well, Diana. It’s going to be alright…”
Last edited by tallyho 1 year ago, edited 5 times in total.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Abductorenmadrid
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Post 1 year ago

I kept meaning to comment here but was always getting sidetracked but here I am. The way the seductively lethal trio of sirens was cleverly picked apart was just awesome, just as was the struggle against Proteus. These two battles alone set the quality bar very high and I pity the fool that follows you ;) Anyway, this has been an epic adventure so far and now I hope we get to see what it is that great Poseidon offers as a reward for Diana's perilous labours. At any rate I think Diana could do with a bit of a rest but who knows where the fates may take her. Good job Mr Void :D
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This is all the stuff I've done here.

Shhhh, don't tell anyone about this!

" ..[AEM] .. you're a very strange man." - DrDominator9

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Post 1 year ago

Thanks very much AEM! I'm sorry I dragged on and on for a million years, but it's hopefully been an entertaining adventure. I had great fun with it - and maybe got a little carried away with the scope of what I was trying to achieve. I'm not sure if I was trying too hard with some elements in that finale, but all in all I'm happy with it. I went as dramatic and flashy as I possibly could.

It's been a hoot and I'm going to miss writing this Diana, but I eagerly await the Amazon's future adventures from here. I know that the intrigue of the Olympians is very far from over! Poor Diana needs a holiday, but I don't think she is going to get one.

Hopefully the epilogue will be a satisfying round off to all these shenanigans.


Lost in the night, and there is no morning.

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Post 1 year ago

Great stuff as ever Void

And whilst that was the climax it was not quite the end of Void's story...

Read on!


Part 25

Paragon

The return journey back to the ship had been among the hardest tasks that Diana had ever attempted. She had needed Sappho to support her weight for each step, and the two beleaguered women had made the descent back down the cliffs at an agonisingly slow pace. They spoke barely a word to each other as they grimly persevered, only breaking the silence occasionally to grunt with effort or groan with discomfort.

The raiders spied their return as they reached the shore, seeing the dim glow of the torch Sappho carried and immediately dispatched a shore party to assist them. Too exhausted to maintain any façade of strength, Diana literally collapsed into the arms of Necklen as the veteran pirate reached her, and for the second time had to be carried back aboard the ship. Totally spent from the effort of supporting Diana, Sappho had also needed assistance to climb back aboard the ship, which the raiders tentatively provided her.

Necklen threw a glance back up the path for Aenid. He paused a second staring at the empty darkness, then shrugged indifferently .

Unlike before, there was no cheer or jubilation from the raiders. Instead they were muted and sullen, starkly aware of the captain’s absence and of the sorry state of the returning women. The young raider, Perion, kept shaking his head in disbelief, muttering nonsensically to himself about the impossibility of the Sirens’ defeat. None of the men could look the women in the eye, and none dared question what had happened until the women finally spoke.

It was the Lesbian that broke the loaded silence once they reached the sanctuary of the ship. She breathlessly thanked the raiders for their help before gratefully accepting a proffered flask of water, gulping it down in one long swig. She looked first to Diana to speak, to issue orders, but the Amazon only sat on the deck staring into space, vacant and exhausted.

The raiders sensed the wounded Amazon’s withdrawal, and expectantly looked to Sappho for instruction. After a moment’s hesitation, Sappho turned to Necklen and explained bluntly that the Sirens had been vanquished but it had cost the captain his life, confirming what the raiders had already taken their return to mean.

After waiting a beat to let the news sink in, she then requested volunteers to return to the lighthouse tower and retrieve the captain’s body for burial.

Every single man on deck stepped forward to accept the task, and Necklen ended up leading a party of five ashore to carry down Salides’ body while the rest of the crew tended to the women’s injuries, cleaning and dressing each wound.

Diana faded in and out of consciousness as the pirates busied around her, diligently following Sappho’s instructions to bind each of the litany of cuts across her body. The Lesbian herself cradled Diana’s head as the wound at her back was cleaned, offering a flask of water to the Amazon’s lips whenever she was conscious enough to accept it. She drew in a sharp breath as the wound was sterilised with a trickle of wine into the deep cut.

Before long the shore party returned from the tower, reverently hoisting Salides’ body on to the deck alongside where Diana lay before clambering back on board themselves. With unfocused eyes Diana looked between each man of the shore party, seeing the downcast sorrow written across their unkempt features. With only vague interest, she scanned the men for any sign of having taken some gold back with them from the lighthouse, but found nothing.

From a tower of untold treasure and riches, they had returned only with the body of their captain.

Necklen caught her eye as she studied him, and Diana gave him a single nod of respect, which he slowly returned to her after catching the meaning of it.

I’m proud of you.

“Another time” he said, barely audible.

Diana’s gaze was drawn back to Salides’ body alongside her as the crew began readying the ship for departure. The voices of the crew became distant and lost to her as her mind drifted, fading to an ambient echo that did not reach her.

“We should leave this place,” Necklen muttered, looking between Diana and Sappho as he heaved up one of the docking anchors. “We need a heading… Aenid ensured Perion would be fit to guide us, but… Where shall we go?”

The Amazon did not hear the question. She studied the fallen man next to her with glazed, subdued eyes, lost in thought about the man he was. She recalled her moments with him, morbidly reliving her experience of the man with fresh insight and deeply regretting that they had not spoken more. How bitterly she had hated him when she had first set eyes upon him. Yet this corpse, this bleeding piece of earth was not the man she despised. He had died long before she saw him.

There was so much she should have said; so much she needed to hear. Her fierce sense of justice had been shaken, and she no longer understood her own feelings about the man she had sworn an oath to execute.

Sappho stood up above Diana to face the raiders, looking tall and powerful against the backdrop of the bruised sky behind her. Her brown eyes were sharp and confident as they scanned across the gathered men, commanding their attention with a single look. Her quiet voice was firm when she spoke, sounding elemental and undeniable as she gave her first order to the crew.

“We sail for Lesbos. We sail for home.”

Diana’s consciousness faded out as she listened to the crew affirm their orders, allowing herself the barest hint of a smile as she considered the strength that the young Lesbian had uncovered within herself.

“Aye-aye, my lady.” called Necklen with a faint smile. “You heard our Captain! Move it you cursed runts!”

*****

Diana did not speak for another three days.

Sappho and the crew gave the Amazon her space in the days that followed their departure from the shadow of Scarabus. Diana rested up in the empty crew quarters at the aft of the ship, recovering her strength in the dark solitude it provided her. Several times each day the young Lesbian would visit her with supplies and redress Diana’s wounds in silence – wounds that Sappho had carefully stitched after the Amazon first lost consciousness.

There was an understanding between them, forged from the moment of naked sorrow they had shared in the wake of surviving the Sirens. Diana needed time and space to heal, in every sense of the word, In her own way, and Sappho accepted that need without question. In the meantime, the Lesbian had become the de facto captain of the ship and had embraced the role as if commanding a crew of former pirates came naturally to her.

For their part, the raiders had complied faultlessly with the Lesbian. They actively looked after their new captain, supplying her with anything she needed and affording her the same respectful distance as they did to Diana. Sappho had given them a full account of what had taken place in the tower, and the tale cemented the men’s respect for the two women.

The irresistible Sirens had been resisted. The godlike creatures had been laid low, and mortal-kind had been saved from an unthinkable scourge. The men understood enough to know that what had been stopped on Scarabus was important – that they had been saved, and that many, many others had been saved along with them.

They now understood the unwavering resolve that burned within the chest of the Lesbian, of the strength that it entailed, and they respected it.

It wasn’t until Salides’ burial, in the middle of the Aegean, before Diana finally ended her silent convalescence.

She emerged on deck as Sappho finished speaking a few words of kindness for the departed captain, limping towards the gathering with her head held high. Only Sappho dared meet her cool gaze as she surveyed the deck, smiling warmly at the Amazon’s return. Though crimson lines streaked her pale skin, marking the multitude of blows she had weathered, Diana appeared stronger than ever. Her aspect of power was enhanced by the wounds she wore rather than diminished, with even her limp providing her a more domineering gait as she marched towards the body. The crew bowed their heads and parted for her without a sound, allowing Diana to help lower the body into the water.

The wrapped body of the captain was loaded with coins donated by each of the raiders, enough to pay for his journey across the dark river many, many times over and giving mute testament to the respect he had earned from them in his final days. Everyone on deck watched with hooded eyes as the body was lowered into the becalmed ocean, each lost to their own troubled recollections of the man who once joked with them. The wind around the vessel stilled as soon as the body met the water, creating a stark moment of silence that weighed heavily around the ship as the weighted body wrapped in sailcloth sank into the inky depths beneath them.

The ocean calmed further as it accepted the body, reflecting back the subdued faces of the crew on it’s still surface. Beneath the reflective sheen, Salides’ wrapped body slowly descended out of view.

“Steer him true, Poseidon” someone muttered, head bowed.

Diana took a long breath in through her nose as the dark shape slipped out of sight.

“We swear an oath this day,” she began, her strong voice resounding around the deck and drawing the attention of the crew. She did not take her gaze from the water as she continued, “We swear it to all that will hear it. We swear it to the gods, we swear it to each other, but most of all we swear it to ourselves.”

She took another long breath, clenching her fists into tight balls before gradually relaxing them and turning her steely gaze across the enraptured crew. On each face she saw a changed person from the day she met them, and she saw a powerful respect that no king could purchase, nor any god simply demand.

This was respect that had to be earned.

“We have not always been right or good. You and I both. We have not always been strong or brave. We have bowed to pride, to fear, to selfish desire.” She shook her head, allowing herself a bitter look back at the water, “We have faltered… We have failed ourselves, and others have suffered for our mistakes.”

She turned her impassive gaze toward Sappho, seeing the same look of determination shining back at her from the Lesbian’s brown eyes. Sappho was grinning widely, taking great pleasure in her friend’s return to herself after the days spent lost and brooding.

Diana allowed a small smile back at the girl before turning back to the ocean.

“But from this moment onwards, we swear never to be weak again. No matter what comes, no matter the hardships that await us – we will not fail ourselves again. We will uphold our duties until the day we die, and we will carry that burden, no matter how heavy, without faltering a single step ever again.”

She nodded down at the still ocean, holding her right fist up into the air in salute to the fallen captain. “I will never be weak again.”

Sappho waited only a second before raising her own fist into the air and repeating the last line of the oath, “I will never be weak again.”

The raiders all answered the call immediately after the Lesbian, saluting the air and proudly bellowing their oath to the fallen captain.

“I WILL NEVER BE WEAK AGAIN.”

The ocean shivered around the vessel, and a single wave radiated out from the ship into the surrounding water, carrying out as far as the eye could see in all directions. Beneath them the rippling water stopped reflecting the world above as the wave passed. The ship, the crew, the sun, the sky – all vanished from view in the churning water.

Only Diana was reflected upon the silvery surface.

Diana gazed down on her reflection, being scrutinised in turn by the powerful woman she saw in the water’s edge. She saw a noble warrior, battered by conflict but undiminished and hungry for the battles yet to come. There was no doubt or weariness in her expression; only measured certainty and unyielding resolve.

She saw the woman that inspired the raiders to turn from a life of reaving toward honourable service. The woman that inspired Sappho to find her inner strength and become a dazzling beacon of virtue in her own right. The woman that inspired Salides to fight against impossible odds and sacrifice his life with a smile on his face.

For a fleeting moment, she saw a true hero.

I would present you with a weapon so powerful that even the gods fear it being wielded against them…

Diana curled her lip disdainfully as she recalled Poseidon’s words when he set her the task of stopping the Sirens. She deftly retrieved Thelxephone’s severed talon from a pouch upon her girdle, letting the glittering blade catch the sunlight as she examined her reflection on the golden surface.

With a flick of her wrist Diana hurled the talon into the water, splitting her reflection asunder and destroying it in the chaotic ripples that followed.

“I am not a weapon,” Diana spat down at the sea, “And I will not be wielded.” She straightened her back, twitching slightly as her stitches ached, before looking first to Sappho and then up to the heavens as the ocean slowly returned to normal around their ship.

“I am Diana of Themiscyra, and my deeds are my own. I am no puppet, nor blade, and before anything, or anyone, I pledge service to justice.”

With a deep rumble, the ocean began to churn around the ship, quaking in rhythm with the thunderous chuckling that bubbled up from the waves themselves. All around the deck the crew ran to man their stations in a panic, fearing that the ocean would turn on them.

“YOU CLAIM YOURSELF,” The ocean roared, its deafening voice shaking the deck of the ship and sending vibrations through Diana’s chest, “YOU CLAIM THE GREATEST BLADE OF ALL, TEMPERED AGAINST WEAKNESS. WIELD IT WELL, OATHTAKER. WIELD IT WITHOUT SHAME OR DOUBT, AND IT WILL ALWAYS CUT TRUE.”

Diana narrowed her eyes as she stepped up to the side of the ship and glared down at the churning water below.

“Your machinations are over Poseidon,” she shouted at the turbulent sea, “Whatever the purpose of your treacherous task, the bloody tyranny of the Sirens has been ended and their victims avenged. Now you will honour your word to me and shelter Themiscyra from outsiders. Return my steed to me and be grateful that I did not uncover what foul promises you made to Thelxephone.”

She tensed herself, reflexively tightening her right hand around the coils of her golden lasso as she sneered down at the raging ocean. “I have nothing more to say to you, schemer.”

The ocean pulsed with the thrum of more laughter, warm and proud, before gradually ebbing back to normal.

“AS YOU COMMAND, OATHTAKER. FORTUNE FAVOUR YOU ON THE ROAD AHEAD. YOU ARE READY.”

As the last of the turbulent waves crashed back down into the ocean, the daymare burst forth from beneath the water, leaping from the froth of the crashing wave and striding across the surface of the water as though it were sturdy ground.

The noble beast reached the side of the vessel in a few bounds before explosively leaping from the water to land with a wet thud upon the deck of the ship. The raiders instinctively cowered from the impossible creature as it trotted across the deck to stand before Diana, lowering its head to bow before its master, eagerly beating its front hooves against the wooden floor in anticipation for her command.

Diana smiled at the steed, bringing a hand up to stroke its face before roughly rubbing up and down the length of its brilliant mane. “I’ve missed you too, old friend,” she muttered, nuzzling her forehead against the brow of the steed, “But I’m not finished here yet. Await my call, and we will ride again.”

With a snort the daymare acknowledged her soft words, turning and galloping off the side of the ship, jumping the freeboard with ease before running free across the ocean. The pristine horse accelerated so fast out in the open water that it was impossible to track even before it reached the horizon, leaving a wake of sonic booms behind it as it revelled in its restored freedom.

Diana grinned as she watched it vanish, knowing that she too would enjoy that rush of speed soon enough.

“You rode… Hah, I get it,” Sappho spoke up from behind the Amazon, “Of course you have a horse that can run across water faster than a shooting star. I mean, why wouldn’t you?”

Diana turned to smirk back at the Lesbian, “You just heard the voice of Poseidon himself, and watched a daymare run free across the waves… I might have expected more awe from you.”

Sappho wrinkled her nose, “Oh, I’m experiencing plenty of awe – I’ve just learned to deal with it better. I’ve had a lot of practice recently.” She swiped her fringe away from her eyes, “Jokes help, I think.”

Diana rolled her eyes, “He’s rubbed off on you.”

The Lesbian grinned mischievously, “Not just me,” she inclined her head behind Diana, prompting the Amazon to turn and face the gathered raiders.

Unlike Sappho, the former pirates were ashen pale and wide-eyed, reasonably cowed out of their minds by the absurd chain of events that had just taken place. Necklen looked to Diana with a slack jaw.

“Did you just speak to Poseidon?” he asked slowly. “Did we just hear a god speak?” he shook his head incredulously, “Is this real?”

Diana stepped forwards to clasp Necklen by his shoulder, “Aye – try not to think too hard about it. It’s over now.” She squeezed his shoulder tighter, “I asked a lot of you, but you did well. You have my thanks, Necklen, you and all your men.”

The veteran raider stirred from his daze, looking over his shoulder at his gathered men before cautiously looking back at Diana, steeling his courage to meet her piercing gaze. He cleared his throat before asking the question that burned in the mind of each of the raiders.

“If your work is done here… What is to become of us?”

Diana released his shoulder, resting back on her haunches as she looked over the crew, seeing the same anxious trepidation upon each of their faces.

“You all swore the oath with me, did you not?” she asked after a tense moment of reflection.

Each of the men nodded. Some more eagerly than others.

Diana’s expression hardened, “Then I expect you to keep your oaths. Your lives, and any chance you have left of a noble legacy depend on it. Your past crimes are terrible, and they can never be undone… But you still have the chance to live for atonement. Maybe, at the end, you can have done more good than bad.” She took a long breath as she let her words sink in. “I release you from my charge: you will be free men again.”

Several of the raiders slumped with relief as she spoke the words, while others released loud sighs. Diana watched each of them carefully, studying them with the same intensity as she would a prospective opponent.

“But know this: Any crime you commit after this moment would be a stain on my honour as much as your own. If you break your oaths, then…”

“We will not allow it, my lady,” Necklen interrupted. “If one of us fails, then they will answer to me – you have my word.” At his back, each of the raiders nodded their solemn agreement. “We will not dishonour you; we will not break our oaths to you. Not after all we’ve seen. Not after the captain’s sacrifice.”

There was steel to the former raider’s words. True conviction.

Diana held his gaze for a moment before nodding her understanding, “Good enough. You’ve earned your second chance… Tell me, what will you do with it?”

Necklen looked over his shoulder once more, getting nods of encouragement from his men before looking back at Diana.

“Well… If you permit it, we would follow you…”

Diana shook her head slightly, “I go where you cannot follow. Your service to me is at an end.”

Necklen grinned, “Aye, we expected as much.” He shrugged his shoulders and then turned to face Sappho, “And we agreed if the Lady would not have us… The, uh, other Lady might.” He walked forwards to kneel before the Lesbian, “We would serve you, brave one, if you would have us.”

Sappho blushed, looking up and around at the other raiders to find each of them kneeling in supplication to her. “Wait, really?”

Diana chuckled as she watched the confusion on the Lesbian’s face, “What do you think, Saph – can you trust them?”

The Lesbian blanched, hurriedly pulling Necklen back to his feet, “Gods, of course I trust you all. Get up, get up - I’m sure I can find uses for you all on Lesbos.”

Necklen arched his brow, “Truly? You will have us? In spite of…” the raider shuffled his feet uncomfortably, “In spite of everything?”

Sappho flapped her hands, pacing the deck to heave each of the men back to their feet, “I said we were going home, didn’t I? I didn’t say we were going to my home. After all we’ve been through of course I want us to stick together. Just no more talk of treasure, okay?”

Necklen nodded eagerly, “Of course, my lady. We will serve you well, I swear it.” The other raiders were quick to match his claim, cheerfully declaring their new loyalty to the girl they once would have taken as a slave.

Diana couldn’t help but smile as she watched, impressed and heartened by the sincere transformation in their relationship. The Lesbian had been intent on sheltering the raiders from the moment they sailed from Scarabus – and they had been equally intent on serving her.

“Then it’s settled,” Diana said with satisfaction. “Look after one another, remember your oaths, and I trust you will do just fine.” She offered her right hand to Necklen, “You’ve been as good as your word and you’ve served me well. I will remember you, Necklen.”

The grizzled former raider hesitated before clasping her hand with his own, gripping her tightly, “It has been an honour, my Lady, and a privilege.” He leaned forwards, “I didn’t believe… There was a lot that I didn’t believe in before, but now…”

“I know,” Diana said warmly as she released the former raider, “Make it count.”

Necklen bowed his head, “I will. We all will.”

Diana moved between the rest of the crew, clasping their hands and speaking stern words of encouragement. The former pirates looked to her as they would a walking god, muttering prayers and offering tokens of worship to her as they parted. To see her returned to vitality after her ordeal at Scarabus, and to witness a final display of her relationship with the Olympians had been enough to fully seal her status as god-hero, and they would retell her legend proudly for the rest of their earthly lives.

The Amazon was uncomfortable with the reverential treatment but understood enough to know that it was important to these men, and that their nascent return to an honourable existence depended on it. By her example they had reconnected with their own virtue and that, at least, was a role she was happy to play.

One by one the crew returned to their stations after saying their farewells to Diana, until only Perion remained. The young lad could not meet Diana’s gaze as she stood over him, but he awkwardly produced a small parchment from his belt to offer towards her.

“I need no offerings, boy,” Diana said softly, “I just want to commend you for your skills in navigating us from Scarabus. The captain taught you well.”

Perion smiled nervously, “Thank you, my lady. But this is not my offering… It is the captain’s.” He raised the parchment higher towards her, “He bid me to hand it to you after Scarabus. He wrote a message for you.”

Diana’s mouth went dry as she looked back down on the parchment. She carefully lifted it from the boy’s hands, “Thank you, Perion. I wish you well on your new life.”

The boy smiled up at her, finally meeting her eyes, “Actually, my lady, I have decided to change my name. The name Perion brings me nothing but shame now – and I’d like to be a new man.”

Diana arched her brow back at him, unable to keep a smile from curling across her lips, “Oh? And what is your name now?” she asked, already knowing the answer that was coming, “Who do I bid good fortune to on the path ahead?”

The boy’s smile widened, “Aenid, my lady. I wish to be called Aenid.”

Diana nodded her head appreciatively, “Aye, that’s a fine name. I wish you well on your new life, young Aenid.”

Aenid grinned wolfishly back at her, “Thank you, my lady. I will watch for your future glories – I’m sure there will be a great many.”

The boy left Diana with a wave, running back down the deck to his post at the steering oar with his whole life ahead of him. The Amazon watched him thoughtfully before slowly unravelling the parchment and reading the simple message within, written in awful, ill-practised scroll.

Her eyes glazed as she read the words, and her lips tightened into a grimace.

Then she chuckled, surprising herself with her own outburst.

“What’s that?” Sappho asked from behind her, prompting Diana to turn towards the lithe Lesbian.

Diana scrunched up the scroll in her hand and casually tossed it over the side of the ship, “Nothing – just a farewell.” The Amazon sighed as she held the Lesbian’s gaze, seeing the mix of competing emotion in the young woman’s brown eyes.

“How’s your back?” she asked softly.

Sappho shrugged, “It’s fine, so long as I don’t try to itch it.” She gestured back at Diana, “How’s your… Ahem, how’s your everything?”

Diana grinned, “About the same.”

The Lesbian matched her smile for a moment, before the mirth slowly faded from her face and she looked out at the open ocean. “You’re going to leave on that horse, huh? Ride away into the horizon.”

Diana heard the note of pain in the girl’s voice and nodded her head apologetically, “Yes. I’ll return to my people while I complete my recovery and then…” Diana followed Sappho’s gaze out to the distant horizon, “Then I’ll continue to uphold my oaths – wherever they may lead me.”

Sappho nodded, releasing a gentle sigh, “That sounds about right.”

The wind began to pick up around them as they shared a comfortable, thoughtful silence, gently tugging at Diana’s raven locks of hair.

“I’m going to miss you,” Sappho said quietly. “I would have liked more time with you. A lot more time.”

I’m going to miss you too.

“Aye,” Diana agreed, “I would have liked to share more of your company.” She took a heavy breath as she tried to find the right words to say goodbye, “I want you to know how proud I am of you for all that you’ve done, Saph – for all that you are.” She turned to face the Lesbian, “You’re a wonderful…”

Sappho was already facing her. The Lesbian had approached until they were only inches apart, startling Diana with the suddenly intimate proximity. There was a sparkling intensity in the young woman’s brown eyes that made Diana’s heart beat heavier in her chest.

Without a word, Sappho boldly stepped up on her toes and leaned in to Diana, circling her hands around the Amazon’s neck as she pulled her into a kiss. Taken aback by the sudden forwardness, Diana only gasped as their lips came together, and she instinctively accepted the soft warm mouth that locked with hers.

Time slowed for a moment, reminding Diana of her battle-focus in the midst of an adrenaline fuelled melee; except it was altogether more pleasant. She eased into the kiss with a moan, slowly raising her hands to grip the Lesbian’s slender hips as the liquid pleasure of the moment consumed her mind. Sappho answered her moan with a higher pitched one of her own, pulling her lithe body in against Diana’s as the kiss became more passionate.

It wasn’t until their tongues first found each other that Diana’s discipline kicked in, and she reluctantly broke from the hungry kiss. Her cheeks were flushed, and she was breathing hard as she tightened her grip on the Lesbian’s waist.

“This is a mistake. I don’t want to hurt you any more than I already will,” she whispered breathlessly, “I can’t give you tomorrow, and you deserve…”

The Lesbian stroked a hand along Diana’s jaw to press her thumb over the Amazon’s parted lips, silencing her protest. “I know all that,” she said huskily, biting her lip as she gazed into Diana’s eyes. “But I’m not asking for tomorrow… I’m offering you right now. That’s all I want.” She licked her lips excitedly, “What do you want?”

Diana gazed back at her in shock for moment as she considered the question, letting her lidded eyes fall to the Lesbian’s glistening lips.

“I want you,” she answered simply.

Sappho beamed a smile that Diana couldn’t help but reciprocate. “Then have me,” she muttered seductively, “We have this moment, don’t we?”

Diana was shaking. She wasn’t used to his feeling - she felt giddy. “Are you sure? I don’t want you to regret…”

She didn’t get to finish the question. The Lesbian pulled her into another kiss, even more urgent and voracious than the first, and Diana accepted it immediately. Sappho pushed her backwards as they kissed, curling her fingers through the Amazon’s raven hair as she directed her toward the top of the stairs leading below deck.

Around the deck the former raiders grinned and averted their eyes from the tryst, muttering their approval amongst themselves as the two beautiful women disappeared from sight. Necklen smiled widest of all, shaking his head ruefully at the ocean as he flicked five gold coins overboard – paying a bet he had now lost to the departed captain.

“Come with me,” Sappho whispered eagerly between kisses, leading Diana down the stairs towards the crew quarters. “Your oaths can wait.” Her nimble hands slid down to pull at the straps of Diana’s armour, loosening them one after the other. “The gods can wait.” She licked up the length of the Amazon’s graceful jawline, drawing a delighted gasp from Diana as she surrendered to their mutual need. “Tomorrow can wait.”

Their drunken footfalls carried them through the doorway to the quarters they had shared, and Diana seized control of their kiss as she pushed the Lesbian deeper into the room towards her bed. Her hands greedily caressed Sappho’s supple body, tugging and pulling at the fabric of her chiton dress as she kissed deeply into the Lesbian’s neck.

“Today belongs to us,” Sappho sighed as she fell backwards into the bed and pulled Diana down with her, “We mustn’t waste a second of it.”

And they didn’t.

For hours they sighed and moaned together under the furs of Sappho’s bed, passionately indulging every desire and whim in the tender comfort of each other’s company. Each woman lavished the other with as much pleasure as they could offer, matching each other for raw lust as they willingly surrendered power to one another multiple times. Shuddery climax followed gasping release in wave after wave of pure, white-hot bliss.

Diana savoured every moment of it. Every sound and sensation; every taste and aroma. Revelling in the heat of Sappho's body pressed tight against her own, feeling her heartbeat, sensing her own racing away as fast as the daymare.

When their desires were sated, they lay exhausted and entangled with one another, bathing in the afterglow of their lovemaking. They talked for a time, muttering sweet affections as they shared their private thoughts and feelings with each other. They spoke of Salides, and of the Olympians, and of their hopes and fears, and a dozen other concerns. They laughed and shared stories, delighting in hearing of one another’s lives.

When their strength returned, they went right back to making love.

It was one of the rare occasions that Diana took entirely for herself, and she revelled in it. It was beautiful and perfect, and it was hers. She would cherish it always, and it would sustain her in the darker times yet to come – a pocket of warmth that no amount of winters could ever strip from her.

For Sappho, it did nothing less than define her life’s work; laying the foundation for her ideals of beauty and companionship. Ideals which would go on to light the way for countless millions of others.

It was love and acceptance. It was timeless.

For a glorious, luminous moment in time for Diana, it was peace.

******

Architect

It was done.

With a weary sigh, lord Poseidon of Olympus finished the last brushstroke of his masterpiece. Above him, the shifting ethereal paint of the canvas danced from one immaculate tableau to another, conveying multiple scenes of the saga at once in a display that would fray a mortal mind.

Even as the artist that brought life to the painting, he couldn’t help but be awed by the story it told. His depthless blue eyes flicked across the swirling images, between moments of heroism, sacrifice, joy, horror, victory and misery, often all at once.

The god rolled his tired joints as he surveyed the masterwork, unable to shake a nagging sense of disquiet as the full account of the saga washed over him.

It was a feeling that hadn’t flickered within him for millennia, and it took him a moment to even recognise what it was.

Guilt.

“Why?”

The lord of the sea was startled by the quiet voice from behind him, shifting his aspect in an instant from frail old man to powerful, bare-chested youth as he turned to face the speaker. Stood several paces away was the slender form of Athena, her amber eyes subdued as she gazed upon his work.

Poseidon grinned at his niece, “That is a very broad question,”

Athena nodded, not taking her eyes from the canvas she studied. “Yes,” she said softly, “It is. Yet nevertheless it awaits an answer.”

The smile faltered on Poseidon’s face as he regarded the armour-clad beauty. He took a breath to speak again, but was interrupted by the violent arrival of Hera, bursting into their presence like the birth of a star.

As she marched towards Poseidon Nemesis emerged from behind a pillar and gripped her mother's arm.

“She was MINE! “ She hissed. “She was to be MY TOOL, MY SWORD OF VENGEANCE!” she glared angrily at the queen of the Gods. “NOT HIS!” she swept a hand behind her towards her uncle.

“She was something to all of us, my daughter.” Hera said tersely. Shrugging her off as she marched on to confront Poseidon. As she neared him, her rage grew.


Poseidon had to shield his eyes from the radiant light that beamed furiously from the goddess. The fiery glow crackled as Hera set her angry gaze upon her brother.

“You laid out all the pieces to twist and break Diana, but she has overcome your cruel tests, brother.” The goddess marched forwards, fully illuminating the painting in the brilliance of her presence as her smouldering gaze swept across the saga, “Proteus and the Sirens have been vanquished, even in spite of your duplicitous collusion with the harpies, and Diana has emerged stronger than ever.”

The lord of the sea nodded his agreement, “She has been hardened against her weaknesses, aye. You have a mightier champion now than you did before…”

Hera shot a venomous scowl at her brother, “Oh, so it was your plan all along? Funny how similar it appears to a deliberate effort to set Diana a challenge that would destroy her.”

Poseidon shrugged his wide shoulders, “If it were easy it would be worthless. The furnace had to be hot enough that only the purest steel could emerge. Either she would break, or she would harden.” He gestured up at the painting with a lopsided smile. “Of course, I didn’t expect she would do both.”

The Matriarch of Olympus shook her head. “Do you think I’m blind? You think I don’t know what you did? You deliberately undermined her faith in Olympus - in the will of the gods! You claimed to add to her greatness, to build upon her power, but you were intent on turning her against us from the start!”

Poseidon shrugged again, “As I said, she has been hardened against her weaknesses.”

Hera bristled, “You consider her devotion to the gods a weakness?”

Poseidon gave a heavy sigh as he considered his answer, letting his shoulders slump a fraction, “Sister, look at the painting and tell me what you see. Do you see a servant, or do you see a leader? Do you see your champion, or do you see the champion of all mortal kind? Do you see obligation, or do you see choice? Piety or virtue? Acolyte or hero? Destroyer or saviour?”

The lord of the sea seemed to swell as he spoke, his voice deepening and growing louder as he stepped towards his sister.

“Do you see a pawn, or do you see a queen? Do you see a reflection of your greatness, or do you see something greater still? Tell me, do you see slavery or freedom? What about despair or hope?” He clenched his fists into tight balls as he stood over his sister, “I need to know, Hera… Do you see what I see?”

The Matriarch’s bright glow had ebbed as she listened, until the lissom goddess flickered like the embers of a fading hearth. She turned her amber eyes to look thoughtfully at the painting, studying each chapter of the saga in turn.

“What…,” she spoke carefully, “What is it that you see?”

Poseidon sagged his shoulders, his powerful stature shrinking as he looked up at his own painting.

“I see the future,” he answered wistfully, “I see our legacy, and it is better than we are… We all think the age of heroes has come and gone, but I look at this painting and I see that it is only just beginning.” Poseidon bowed his head as he watched Salides perish, “I see redemption, and the chance to leave something worthy behind us. That’s what I see.”

Silence settled across the promenade as Hera considered Poseidon’s speech. She looked at her brother now with fresh insight, unsure how to respond to him.

Unsure if she saw what he saw.

“I wonder what you would have seen had Diana failed,” she said at last, “An arrogant, jaded old man torturing the few things left that stir any feeling in him, perhaps.” The goddess backed away from the painting as her normal glow returned, “Our business is concluded, brother – I expect you to honour your bargains with Diana. No doubt you will feel the wrath of Aphrodite soon enough… I suppose that will be punishment enough for your callous manipulations.”

Hera took one last look at the painting, her lower lip quivering as she focused on the raven-haired champion standing triumphant at the centre of the flickering image. “It is a fine painting, at least,” she muttered before disappearing from the promenade in a shower of twinkling lights.

Poseidon looked with hooded eyes upon the empty space that Hera had occupied, giving a slow sigh of disappointment.

“So that’s it,” Athena said softly, turning her amber eyes upon Poseidon. “Diana inspired you just as she did Salides… You really did want to strengthen her with this hardship… To entrust the future to her.” The blonde-haired goddess inclined her head, “You look up to her.”

Poseidon shook his head but said nothing as he looked back up at the painting. “I’m old,” he said at last, “And I’m tired – let’s just leave it at that.”

He stared at the saga as it cycled towards its conclusion; towards the raven-haired hero riding off alone into the sunset atop a noble mare.

“Your cruelty and your treachery are unforgiveable, no matter their purpose,” Athena said after a moment, “But you should know… I see what you see. Whether we admit it or not, we all do.”

Poseidon spun to face Athena, but the Warden was already gone, leaving the old man of the sea alone with his weary thoughts.

As Athena left the Hall, Nemesis confronted her, clearly anguished.

“SHE WAS MINE! HE HAD NO RIGHT! SHE WAS TO BE MY SWORD!”

“She was a weapon for all of us. But weapons change with use. Some become blunt. Some break. Some become sharper.”

“Her nature has changed! Do you not sense it?” Nemesis wailed, distraught.

“I do.” Athena forced a grave smile at her sister. “Yet it remains to be seen what it has turned into. Our elders know of things we do not. But for now we must still guide her, help her to complete the oath. She needs us still. She needs YOU still.”

“She wept for a warrior she had sworn to kill!” Nemesis declared still unhappy

“She swore to see them dead at her feet. She saw him so.“ Athena answered simply. “She is still your blade...” she said as she patted her on the upper arm and walked off.

Yet....was she? Were her words the truth? Athena doubted them herself. But for now she was needed. All the female gods were still needed. For now, if not for evermore.

She made her way towards the viewing hall, where the watching pool lay. The ripples of Its seeing waters seemed to tug at her, drawing her steps towards it as the faint sound seemed to grow. She found a quickness to her step, an urgency.

And the saga began again.

******

Diana,
I never saw grace or courage until I saw you – and I am far from the only one.
Be patient with us. We aren’t strong like you, but we want to be.
Show us how to be strong. Show us how to be brave. Show us what justice is.
And we will follow you. We will all follow you.
.
Also, by all the gods, you must lighten up.
You make for dreadfully boring company.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Abductorenmadrid
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Post 1 year ago

Well, that has certainly upset the power balance just a bit! This has been a fantastic journey, Void, with vibrant scenes, epic set pieces and all the while touching on deep and meaningful moments between foes or allies alike. Yes it was a large story but only because each moment was richly described, so, great job, you've certainly added a touch of class to the series!
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Post 1 year ago

Terrific job Void, well done sir.

And now the next awesome installment in our epic saga from Abductorenmadrid.

Brace yourselves for the spectacular


Part 26


TWIST OF FATE

Nightfall – The 20th July - 356 BC – The City of Pella, The Kingdom of Macedon

Artemis, goddess of the hunt moved silently and unseen amongst the small gathering of mortals. Although the huntress was bathed in her own ethereal glow she chose to keep her presence hidden from those she watched. Three priestesses tended to a woman in labour, one cradling the expectant mother's head whispering words of encouragement as the others soothed the passage for the child to come.

“Push, my queen! One final time! The head is free! Push! The child yearns for life!” one priestess uttered, her eyes glinting in the torch light of the stone walled chamber as she glanced between the emerging infant’s head and the face of the Queen.

Olympias, the mother to be, grimaced once more as she sought to deliver her child into the world. The sweat that had formed on the queen’s brow was mopped away by the priestess at her side as she readied herself to push the child forth. The queen closed her eyes, an inhaled lungful of air marking the start of her renewed labouring. Then it began, the growling and rapid breathing as the queen sought to set her child free from her womb.

“Good, good, yes ….. yes .. yes ….keep going …keep going … yes! Your child is born!” the robed women said elatedly.

The stone walled room began to echo with the shrieks of the new-born child causing Artemis to smile and glance to the chamber’s corners as she heard her Nymph’s earthly spirit at work. A new voice was born to the world and already it had been learned and mimicked by the earth bound spirit of her faithful Nymph servant.

A priestess cut the baby’s umbilical cord and began to attend to the child while another started to restore some dignity to Olympias by removing the sodden blanket beneath her and covering her in warm bedding.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” Olympias asked anxiously, her outstretched arm yearning to hold her child. She had been promised a boy by the priestesses that spoke for the gods and certainly her husband the King desired a worthy male heir.

“A boy, my queen, and a strong one too!” the priestess holding the shrieking child announced.

“He would surely pass the test of Spartan eyes, for sure,” the second priestess added as, with a cloth she wiped the child clean before wrapping him up.

The Spartan tradition of keeping only the children that bore the traits of a warrior was legendary. To be compared with a child worthy of surviving such scrutiny was an encouraging sign for the new arrival.

Artemis stepped elegantly and unseen between the proud new mother and the priestess holding the new born infant and, undetected, pecked a kiss upon the boy’s head. “I have seen your thread of life little one, it is thick and strong. You are going to leave a mark on the tapestry of the world that will be seen forever! Be proud that so strong will be your legacy that Atropos must see to cut your thread so short,” she whispered.

The priestess who had held Olympias' head during the birth wiped away the sweat upon the new mother's brow, “Your husband the King, a name he has intended for our new prince?”

“Oh, Philip, our King, we must send word of his new son. Send him a message that his son, Alexander is now with us!” Olympias said, her words soft and quiet after her great efforts. Now the infant was in his mother’s arms and she looked down at him as if mesmerised.
“Of course, our Queen, we shall see it done. May Alexander's safe arrival bring good fortune to the King's siege and the defeat of our enemies,” a priestess replied.

Artemis smiled for she had been one of the many gods who had been invoked to give their blessing to the birth by the father, King Philip the second of Macedon. Zeus had ordered Artemis to stand for them all and The Fates promised the goddess of the hunt that new greatness would come to her name in the form of a new temple. Now she would continue her vigil for one whole day until the new mother and child had recovered from their ordeal.

“Thank you, gods, for aiding me,” whispered Olympias as she pecked a kiss on her son's head while letting his mouth seek her breast.

“Hmmmm, no, thank YOU, dear mortal,” said Artemis unheard. The dependence of mortals upon gods and gods upon mortals was well understood in her mind. Her presence guaranteed a healthy birth on the one hand and if The Fates were to be believed, her enduring greatness on the other.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Elsewhere, beneath the same night sky Diana dismounted from the Daymare, one leg sweeping up over the neck of the noble animal before sliding off one flank, all in one graceful movement. The hour was past the tipping point, dawn was now closer than the previous dusk. The warrior’s armour and weapons made themselves known with a subtle clank as she landed on the firm ground, causing the Daymare to toss its head. Diana looked formidable as ever, adorned in Callistae’s favoured red and a hue of dark blue from the very sea itself, its penance for having tried to hold her captive in its perilous depths

The Amazon took in her surroundings and saw was in a familiar place. Some things had changed but the significance of where she was had not. She was outside the temple to Artemis at the settlement of Ephesus, a place where she had once faced a test… or was it a trap? Or perhaps a trick? Either way it had ended well for her, eventually, though with some complications. Diana glanced at her bracers, the memory of the wise words of Athena causing the Amazon to nod in acknowledgement of them. However, knowing where Diana now stood was one thing but being certain of 'when', she was hardly sure.

Diana had been tracking a man, a soldier called Grexos who she had learned had been dispatched to put her homeland to the torch while she and her warrior kin had been betrayed in the field of battle. The man seemed to have been hidden in time by godly forces but she was intent on killing him, so much so that in her frustration to find him had taken the Daymare to do so. Its ability to cross time and space was the perfect tool for the task and Diana felt certain she was going to get her revenge.

Diana drew her sword causing the metal to sing its own unique song, the blade reflecting the stars and moonlight that shone from above her.

“Where is HE!?” Diana wondered.

Spinning around Diana looked with resignation up the steps towards the entrance to the temple.

“Forgive me great Artemis, while I must enter your temple I have no time to stop and seek your sanctuary this night,” Diana said calmly to herself. Walking purposefully up the stairs Diana recalled her previous visit to this place. Here she had fought with Athena’s owl, then Athena herself.

“Oh sweet Echo, how brave you were,” whispered Diana as she ascended to the top step, remembering of the nymph she had been asked to escort here.

Diana made her way towards the temple entrance, passing by the flanking statues celebrating Artemis and her mother Leto on one side and Zeus her father and her twin brother, Apollo on the other. Diana stepped through the entrance way and on the floor she encountered two bodies. Their arms entwined, a pair of beautiful acolytes in robes of white lay dead on the floor, their blood turning the robes a sodden crimson. Diana crouched by their sides and cupped their cheeks with her hand, their skin still warm, so fresh was the kill.

“May you feel the sun on the Plains of Asphodel,” whispered Diana to the fallen temple servants. Barely twenty summers each, to Diana it seemed such a wasteful killing.

Diana gently closed the eyelids of the acolytes which had stared lifelessly towards each other and then rose to her sandaled feet. The man she sought was near, she knew it!

“Callous beast!” growled Diana deeply under her breath, her teeth gritting together.

Using columns as cover, shield up, sword ready, Diana carefully began to search the temple. Navigating the structure with a cautious zig-zag path the Amazon hoped to catch her prey unawares. The walls were adorned with braziers that lit the temple with their fiery glow but it was a moving source of light Diana had just seen that she was more interested in.

“There you are,” Diana whispered, her eyes zeroing in on her quarry.

The man was gathering anything and everything that would burn and placing it all in a heap against a wall, his eyes from time to time glancing upwards at the epic wooden ceiling. While stone construction for walls and columns was well understood, roofing was best done with timber. Diana watched on with concern at the young man's plans, realising the worst was about to happen.

“Stop right there!” Diana ordered, emerging from behind a column.

The young man spun around, torch at head height and took in the sight of the warrior. The pair locked eyes, the guilt written over his face while the hunger of revenge was written over hers.

“You, you, you are too late!” the young man stammered producing a short sword from his belt.

“No, my arrival is timely!” Diana corrected him. His fire had not yet been started, there was still time to stop him and his wicked intent.

“This has been promised to me, my fame everlasting! You will all remember my name, the man who defied a god!” the young man shouted, his torch pointing at a statue of Artemis.

“You are going to die a nameless coward,” Diana shouted, the tip of her blade aimed in his direction.

“It is my birth right to have an immortal name!” the young man protested looking back at his small pile of burnable material.

“You will be forgotten before your body even hits the floor,” Diana said angrily taking a step forward.

“We shall see!” the young man said with a sly grin. Twisting at the hips he went to cast out his torch onto the pile of ….

SHUNK!

Diana had lunged forward with one leg, thrusting her body weight through her outstretched sword-arm. Her open hand with her splayed fingers attested that she was no longer holding her weapon.

CLANG-TANG-CLATTER...... the young man's sword fell harmlessly to the marble floor as did his lit torch. Having unleashed her own sword with a mighty throw Diana had speared the man clean through.

The young man gulped for air while blood flowed over Diana's sword that was impaled through his stomach. Diana approached him as he coughed blood, his out stretched hand barely able to touch the torch which burned so close by.

“Your life is run, may your time in the afterlife reflect your time alive, Grexos!” Diana said looking down without pity over the man.

“But.... my..... new name … Herostratus…” panted the young man before his life ended.


Diana drew her sword from his body and used his tunic to wipe her blade clean before sheathing it, “Herostratus,” she scoffed. Those that hid from her would need a better shield than just changing their name.

The warrior of Themiscyra plucked up the torch and turned away from the body, walking back the way she came in through the statue lined entranceway. As she made her way out the temple a flock of ten acolytes scurried from their hiding places behind the many temple columns and dashed to their fallen sisters.

Diana skipped down the steps of the temple and with a hop re-mounted her steed and looked about her. Grexos was dead and now she …

Then her instincts spoke to her. Her ability to track, helped by the Daymare which could open the way to ‘any-where’ or ‘any-when’ sensed something amiss. Something very amiss …

Diana anxiously turned the Daymare and faced the Temple open mouthed, then looked off to the West, the horse skittish in anticipation of where its rider would desire them to go.

“No, it cannot be … I killed him … but … Grexos … I sense him!” Diana murmured to herself.

The Daymare and Diana faced off towards the direction of the sea and the great continent beyond and with a squeeze of the heels the Daymare of seemed to explode with light and then was gone.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Echo the nymph, former watcher of the mountains sat kneeling in a garden, legs curled around to one side of herself in her pristine tunic dress. Busy bees danced among the many flowers and small birds chirped in the trees. Sat in a semi-circle in front of Echo a dozen of her fellow nymphs were listening to her tale beneath the warm Olympian sun. Meanwhile, sat at a discreet distance Hera was undertaking some embroidery. She pretended not to listen to Echo's beautiful story but the nymph was sure to tell it loud enough for her to hear. This was their unspoken truce. Hera would deny she was listening to Echo's tale if asked directly but Echo knew she was, and that was enough for both of them, for now at least. At any rate, Hera’s abject hate had turned to tolerance, time as ever being the healer that it was.

The assembled nymphs gasped and giggled as the tale twisted and turned and then, as it approached some climax Echo paused …

“.... but … I continue my tale tomorrow,” Echo said with a smile.

“Awwww, but ! The beast, does he slay it?” the nymphs began to ask, referring to the tale.

“Ah-ah …. you must wait,” Echo answered coyly as her eyes flashed mischievously.

Hera's eyebrows rose but she did not say a word in protest. However she too was addicted to hearing Echo's tale, just as the nymphs evidently were and was sorry it had stopped.

“But, you never left a tale untold before ...” a youthful nymph complained.

“Go tend to your duties, young one, I promise I shall finish tomorrow,” Echo insisted with a giggle.

“Come, night is upon our mortals and we have work to do,” one of the wiser nymphs said, tugging their young friend away.

The nymphs scurried away, giggling and talking among themselves about what might happen next in the tale and slowly Echo too rose to her feet intending to leave the garden.

“Yes, why do you stop?” Hera asked coldly , her eyes not leaving her embroidery as her needle plunged through the cloth in her hands

“My queen?” Echo asked nervously, worried if she had once again offended Hera.

“Of all the times I found myself trapped listening to your addictive ramblings whilst my husband ...” Hera paused with a sigh, “Well …. it was I who had to pull myself from you. Rarely did you let your listeners ever leave of their own accord. And now …?” Hera gestured to the empty spot in the garden where the listening nymphs had now left.

“Hera, great queen. I have been punished and justly so. I have been given a great gift and I used it as if I was common thief to steal your time from you. While I only sought to protect my sisters my crime was not a victimless one. Now I have a second chance. Although it pains my heart to stop my tales short I will not prove useful to those who desire to move freely while I tell them,” Echo said humbly.

“Hmmm, it seems Athena's touch has served you well. Now leave me, your presence here, quaint as it is, slows my work,” Hera said, her eyes not leaving the piece of embroidery that she was working on.

“As you wish,” Echo said and bowed before retreating. Within her heart Echo felt a warm glow, to be considered quaint a leap and a bound of improvement in her standing with her queen.

After a brief pause following Echo's departure Hera let out a weak smile, Echo had indeed learned from her punishment and what joy to hear a good tale well told, albeit temporarily stopped midway. With the moment ended Hera resumed her work, her needle diving once again through the fabric she was adorning with her colourful embroidery.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh WHAT CALAMITY! WHAT CALAMITY!” screamed a voice, breaking the tranquillity of the moment.

Hera sat bolt upright, her head turning to the unseen source of the disdain with a scowl. In her hands the needle and thread and the piece of embroidery dropped to her lap, a tut and a sigh coming from her mouth as she did so.

“Disaster!! What disaster!!” another voice wailed.

“This will NOT do!” Hera said, rising from her seat. Placing her work to one side Hera adjusted her beautiful long flowing dress and strode elegantly from the garden.

As Hera went some other gods were seen calmly walking to the source of the voices too. There were murmurings as it quickly became apparent the source of the distress was the Hall Of The Fates. As the group made it to the pillar flanked entranceway Hera stepped forward, turned and looked at the small gathering that had formed behind her.

“Athena, I desire you to enter the hall with me. We shall seek to ascertain what this so called calamity really is. You others may go. Hermes, dear messenger, advise your father the king of what transpires,” Hera announced.

The assembled observers politely bowed, trusting in Hera's oversight of the mysterious situation then began to turn away. Hera smiled in reply and began to turn when someone caught her eye.

“Dear Ossa Phema,” Hera called out, seeing the goddess of rumour preparing to leave the scene. Ossa Phema would no doubt be eager to spread her baseless assessment of what was the cause for them all to be drawn there.

“Yes, my Queen,” Ossa Phema began, her expression revealing her plans had been thwarted before they had begun.

“Perhaps it would be wise you work your craft in the mortal world while we have our own distractions here on the mount. You know how those far below us like to chatter when our guiding hands have more important things to do,” Hera said, the weight of her tone giving the sense of an order from the words of mere suggestion.

Ossa's expression could be read as disappointment but she would allow Hermes this minor victory, his factual news arriving in the King’s ears before her own erroneous rumours. “As you wish, my queen,”

Athena and Hera observed Ossa Phema bow and leave and then they were alone at the entrance to the Hall Of The Fates.

“WE ARE LOST!” cried a voice from within the hall.

Hera looked to the entranceway of the hall then back to Athena, “The fates, always so dramatic!” Hera said, rolling her eyes.

“Perhaps, but not ever like this. Let us see what troubles our three ladies that craft the threads of life,” Athena replied, her hand gesturing to her queen to lead.

“Indeed,” Hera said as she strode forward, Athena tucking in behind her near her side.


= = = = = = = = = = =

The pair of goddesses strode up the long hall towards the centre with its huge domed chamber. Along the walls of the hall was the epic tapestry, the story of the world as told by the individual threads of life that formed it. The three Moirai, the fates, were responsible for shaping the story of the mortal world beneath their feet. Between them they created, chose and cut the threads of life, influencing the lives of every mortal before their thread was weaved into the tapestry.

Athena glanced at the tapestry as she passed by. Some threads were long and thin but many in the time this section was crafted were short. Silky colourful threads represented the vibrant lives of the affluent, intelligent, or just the playful and happy, while mere frayed wisps told of the brief tragic lives of children, lost before they had a chance to make an impact in the world. Sporadically however there were strong thick strands that helped hold the entire collection together, brave warriors, kind leaders and cruel kings.

Inside the great hall the three Moirai stood around a large square work table squabbling about who was to blame for their troubles.

“YOU spun these treacherous threads, sister. How is it so they will not fall to my will!” Atropos protested to her sister, Clotho. Her accusing pointed finger made it quite clear who she thought was to blame.

“They are like all the rest that have ever been, nothing more nor less,” Clotho retorted with a scowl.

“And what say you, Lachesis? You drew these threads! Their beginnings, their middles, all different! How did you know these chosen threads would fail to yield when it came to their ends?” Atropos demanded of the third sister, Lachesis.

“It is my WILL. I chose them. They are to DIE! That is how it has always been, now CUT them!” Lachesis insisted.

“LADIES!” Hera growled. She was approaching fast with Athena who was close at hand.

There was a collective gasp as the three fates realised their grievances were now known by the queen herself. The trio turned their backs to the table, facing the new arrivals and forming a wall which hid what lay behind them.

“Hera, our queen, it is an honour to have you in our halls,” Atropos said humbly. Usually the three fates were stern and strict so for Atropos to appear so meek was in itself quite alarming.

“What is the meaning of all this consternation? Calamity? Disaster? Here on Olympus? What passes to make you declare as much?” Hera demanded with an icy glare.

“Perhaps we overstated the situ....” Clotho began to say nervously.

Hera read the body language of the women in front of her and realised what they had sought to do. “WHAT are you hiding?” Hera said, her eyes narrowing on the trio.

The three sisters glanced anxiously at each other, Atropos nudging her elbow into Lachesis whose reaction caused Hera to lock eyes onto her.

“WELL?” Hera hissed.

“It is but a minor inconvenience, my queen,” Lachesis responded, desperate to keep hidden their troubling secret.

“SHOW ME, BEFORE I HAVE ATHENA RUN YOU THROUGH!” Hera demanded, glancing to Athena with a hidden wink. Athena’s hand dropped onto the hilt of her blade in response, knowing nothing more would be required.

There were guilty glances between the trio but they quickly parted revealing the large table. On it lined up in a row lay ten threads. Of varying thickness and quality, their colours slightly different they had been drawn from stock and laid out to be cut down. Hera glanced at wise Athena, her eyes desiring the goddess of wisdom tell her of the ten threads. Athena stepped forward and placed her hands on the table's edge and studied the ten lives that fate had conspired to select.

“Mortals, Hera, each one. The youngest currently has nineteen summers, the oldest twenty four. None have known the touch of man. Some were born poor, some born to those with just a little. None were born to those with wealth. Loyal, loving, dedicated and kind, their paths all merge into one. These mortals are acolytes of Artemis, my queen,” Athena said as she slowly read the story written into each thread.

“These lives which you drew to be cut somehow survive?” Hera asked, looking to Atropos.


“There was a dozen from this one event, all to be cut at mortal nightfall. The first two have already been cut, their fate has been sealed,” Atropos confessed.

“And yet these others live? This is the calamity?” Hera asked with eyebrows raised as she glanced once more at the ten threads that refused to be cut short.

“Yes, my queen. The remaining ten cannot be cut down and now they are overdue. I have tried and tried and tried yet they refuse to yield to my blade,” Atropos said nodding.

“Tell us more of the dozen that fate had chosen,” Hera said with a frown. Surely the tale of these twelve mortals should reveal why some died while others could not.

“Of the dozen to die, five were to die by the sword. The remaining seven were to be taken by the flame. A terrible end but I intended to make my cut clean and fast in respect of their vocation,” Atropos explained.

“A comfort to Artemis, I am sure,” Hera said with a hint of sarcasm. Her words drew a subtle look of annoyance from the three Fates in reply. “Please, go on,” Hera added swiftly.

Clotho gestured at a separate pair of threads, their offcuts lying alongside. “The first pair to die by the sword were cut without problem but the remaining three and the seven victims of fire refuse to yield to my sister’s blades,” Clotho continued, her hand patting on the ten rogue threads.

“Very well, we know what it is that cannot be done but what are the consequences?” Hera asked, leaning over the table, her eyes taking in the rogue threads. To her they seemed unremarkable and yet they were somehow resistant to Clotho’s shears.

“The threads are only so long my queen, about one hundred and ten of their years, give or take. We never have to measure exactly but a full unhindered life will always come to end around that age,” Clotho said.

“Then perhaps this is just an aberration that we can ignore,” Hera said, glancing to Athena for her opinion.

Athena could be seen to be thinking on the matter before she spoke, “Since this has happened have you had need to cut other lives?” Athena asked, evidently seeking more information before resolving Hera’s own question.

“Yes. A vessel sank in a storm taking five lives with it. All were drowned. The shears took them easily, their coins for Charon have already been claimed.” Lachesis explained as her arm gestured at a counting table at the edge of the room.

Athena’s analysis seemed to be written on her face before she gave Hera her opinion, “Then it seems that this is all contained within one event. The lives of the acolytes are finite. They are not immortal and so Geras will claim them all. Let them live out their remaining years, isolated within their temple. Hidden in there, their unusually long existences will not affect too much the tapestry of life. However, we must remember that the more that these threads appear, the more they may influence other mortals that are yet to come,”

“We will bear that in mind, wise Athena,” the three fates responded in unison.

“Very well. Put these ten threads aside and advise me of any changes. And listen well, dear Moirai, do NOT try hide these uncomfortable truths from me again,” Hera said sternly.

“As you wish,” bowed the three fates in unison.

Rising from their bow while chattering amongst themselves the three fates turned to the large work table and began to re-examine the threads that challenged their will. Hera and Athena glanced at each other and with unspoken words agreed it was now time to leave.

“Athena, we must talk,” Hera said as she offered out her arm. Her face revealed that she was much troubled by something. No doubt it had been something she had learned during her meeting with the Fates.

“What is it you desire of me, my queen?” Athena asked as she interlocked her arm with Hera’s, the pair walking side by side.

“It alarms me that once again there are troubles and with them the name of Artemis. I note that she is NOT here on the mount. Find her,” Hera said calmly but coldly.

And so what bothered Hera was instantly revealed. It was Artemis, the one who had tricked Hera in to claiming Echo’s life. Albeit a happy outcome now it had been a painful burden to bear at first.

“Oh, but I know where Artemis is, had you forgotten? A great warrior is born this mortal night, his name is Alexander. Artemis stands for all of us and gives protection at his birth as requested by Zeus himself,” Athena explained.

Hera's mind whirred as she processed this new information. Her instinct was to see how the impudent hunter could gain from the mysterious ten threads but nothing made sense.

“Ah yes, Alexander! And so … Artemis is away, distracted by her duties while her acolytes should be dying by sword and fire? Some die while ten others defy their fate?” Hera paused mid-thought.

“I know you tend to think ill of our cunning huntress but it makes no sense for her to try and gain from this. And as for saving her temple from fire, she is not so vain to value it THAT highly and risk tearing the tapestry of life to shreds,” added Athena.

“Indeed! Unruly, unkempt and mischievous and not in the slightest bit vain. Very well, I trust Artemis played no role in this but this needs to be watched carefully by a critical eye. If these uncuttable threads get out of hand the fates may be left in turmoil,” Hera said, her voice anxious.

“I will make my investigations my queen. I will find who or what is responsible for this aberration,” Athena said confidently.

“See that you do, for I fear if this can happen once then it can happen again!” Hera replied, patting Athena's hand.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The passage of time for mortals and gods is different, and for Athena what felt like a mere month was a lifetime for the ten special acolytes of Artemis. One by one though as they each passed one hundred summers their long lives began to come to an end. Their final years were particularly difficult, their old age taking its toll on their bodies. Pain, discomfort and all manner of ills troubled the long lived acolytes.

The mortals that knew of the acolytes tried to discover what was the cause of their long life but failed to find it. Finally, thanks to the work of Ossa Phema, the mortal realm trusted the rumour that it had been Artemis herself who was the cause though she herself never promoted this line of thought, remaining focused on her more traditional spheres of influence like hunting.

One day Athena and Artemis were sat at the watching pool and observed as the final acolyte of the ten walked into a meadow to gather the daily offerings for her goddess. The fates had seen the others reach the ends of their threads, their life stories now woven carefully and sympathetically into the great tapestry. Although unduly long, the threads had left unmolested their neighbours, their secluded lives in the temple barely affecting the fates of others.

This was now the time that the three stern sisters foresaw the last special one reaching the end of her own thread. The meadow was rife with tall wild flowers and with a basket the old woman in her long dress waded in to gather her crop. To her the air smelled sweet like honey, the warm sun kissing her wrinkled skin, the sound of the air playing on the trees like the sound of gentle waves which …

Artemis closed her eyes and bowed her head as she saw the last of the special ten take her final step, her passing peaceful as she slowly crumpled to the ground. She had been in a place she loved, doing the job she had dedicated herself to for nearly all her exceptionally long life. It was the young huntress herself who had ensured the old acolyte ended her journey there and not doing some dull task within the temple.

“I am sorry dear sister,” Athena said, placing her hand on that of the young huntress.

“Thank you,” Artemis said, opening her eyes in time to see the younger acolytes run to the one that had just fallen.

Athena waved her hand over the water, ending the images that pained Artemis so deeply, “I know you must think ill of me, watching for their demise so closely,” Athena said.

“No, I understand. It was what it was, but I swear to you no part I had in their unnatural existence,” Artemis said with a gentle shake of the head.

“I am too wise to know that I am not immune to your deceptions but in those words I have no doubt. And so I am still no wiser how those ten came to defy their fate. While their lives were long nothing significant has passed. Their threads seemed to have no additional purpose other than to give you long service,” Athena confessed.

“Well I hope it is not THIS that was supposed to be inspiration for my new temple. I do not desire to be famed for something I have no interest in,” Artemis said sadly.

“New temple?” Athena asked with a frown.

“My reward, for bringing Alexander The Great safely into the world. The fates said I will see a wondrous new temple constructed in my honour …... Why …... what are you thinking?” Artemis explained before seeing the look of deep thought on Athena's face.

“Time has passed in the mortal world. Alexander has lived, found greatness and not so long ago died, and yet no such temple has been dedicated to you, has it?” Athena asked.

“As of yet, no, but such things are often done after someone's passing. I do not doubt the words of the fates. Besides, do not let my sadness deepen further with such thoughts, I am going to bless the last fallen acolyte's funeral with my presence and see her safely on her journey. I will see that she has more than enough coins to make the crossing in comfort,” Artemis said, rising from the edge of the watching pool.

“Yes, pay no heed to me, my mind is forever seeking truth and wisdom, dear sister,” Athena reassured Artemis. Inside though Athena wondered if the fire that never happened would have been motive for needing a new temple? No fire, no fiery deaths and with it, an old temple without need of replacing.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

With a flash of light the Daymare burst from nothingness and from a canter the horse slowed to a trot then a walk before coming to a halt. There was darkness once again but punctuated by the low glow of strange looking lights hanging from some buildings around her.

“Gods, where am I?” Diana murmured to herself as she moved to dismount from her steed. Swinging her leg over the side of the Daymare Diana slid down onto her feet then patted the faithful animal on the neck in thanks.

The air was full of different odours. The smell of raw meat, spices, fires, baking, cooking and … “eurgh!” – the inevitable odours that came with large colonies of people living in poor sanitary conditions. The lanterns suspended from the corners of the timber framed dwellings caught Diana's eyes next before a glinting reflection of herself caused her to gasp, distracting her from the strange sources of light. Placing her hands to the cold clear material Diana was amazed to be able to see through to the other side, the interior of the dwelling revealed.

“What manner of place IS this?” Diana said, studying her own reflection in the glass.

Diana spun around and realised all the dwellings seemed to have this clear material as part of their walls though they all seemed unoccupied. No lights were inside, no activity evident. Diana took a step and realised the ground beneath her was stone. But this was not irregular stone, these were crafted blocks, all small and regular, forming the road.

“What patience, what craft!” Diana uttered. She had heard how the people of Rome, far to the west of her homeland were gifted at building roads, but what she saw here seemed to surpass even that. Perhaps even the famed roads of Corinth and Thebes were inferior to what was now beneath her feet.

It seemed obvious to Diana that she was in a very distant “when” and if the strange symbols upon the walls were words, a very distant “where” too. What mattered now was finding the man she had tracked through time.

Since she learned of the man who had laughed during his fiery destruction of the Amazon homelands Diana had sought to end him. She had thought Ephesus would be the end of him but he kept coming back. No sooner did she remount her steed she sensed his presence once again.

After his life as Herostratus he was then resurrected to lay waste to Rome, only to die by Diana's sword again. Later in Constantinople he let the fires ravage a city and its people before Diana ended him. Over and over again they had played cat and mouse but only once in Ephesus had Diana managed to kill him before he had completed his murderous deed.

Now they were somewhere new and Diana was desperate to succeed in stopping her enemy where in so many other places she had not. Drawing her sword Diana prowled the empty quiet street looking, looking, look ….

“THERE! There you are,” gasped Diana.

Through one window from the back of the dwelling a glow emanated, sometimes obscured by the movement of a man. Diana stood back and noted a seam that ran around a wall, outlining a doorway to one side of the glass fronted building.

The lock was simple and easy to force and Diana entered the building. The smell of bread inside was unmistakeable to Diana as she entered but it was the gentle humming of a man from the back that attracted her attention more. The room she was in had no furnishings, no fire, not even a hearth. The serving counter was an alien concept to her that she did not recognise it for what it was, thinking perhaps it was a high table, perhaps even an altar. Empty shelves also puzzled the warrior, unaccustomed to being in a bakery like this.

Creeping onwards to the back of the shop Diana found herself nearing what would be the bakery. And there “he” was, humming a tune as he drew in kindling from the stockpile held in an outbuilding at the back. Humming cheerfully the man suddenly realised he was in the presence of someone else.

“Who be you, then!?” the man asked in a tongue Diana could not understand.

Diana cocked her head, the man speaking in an alien tongue causing her confusion.

“I know who you are! Do not seek to deceive me!” Diana replied angrily.

“I'm sorry, we're shut, new batch tomorrow,” the man replied, again in his foreign tongue.

“Do not try to deceive me with your new found words. At least acknowledge me now because I am only going to run you through, Grexos” Diana snarled, maddened by his act of ignorance.

“Who? You are mistaken …my name is Farriner, Thomas Farriner,” responded the young man, this time in words Diana understood.

Diana’s face revealed how the man had slipped up, responding to the question she had asked in her foreign tongue. The man's innocent face melted as a sly smile formed knowing he had been found out.

“You found me then. Go on then, kill me, but I shall only live again, and by my reckoning the chances are slim you will stop me. I win so many more times than you. Besides, the best act has been and past, putting your homeland to the torch!” the young man said wickedly.

Diana glared back at the arsonist as he prepared his murderous fire in the back of the bakery. In a place such as this, with the streets so narrow and the buildings packed together he could murder thousands with one spark.

“Gladly then I end you!” Diana exclaimed and thrust her blade into the man once again, preventing his fiery brutality.

Dropping to his knees before slumping flat out on the floor Farriner’s blood began to flow along the channels in the rough floor of the bakery. Diana stood over his body and hoped it would be the last time she would sense the murderous Grexos. There was a pause and Diana’s nostrils flared for a moment, almost like she could smell her prey.

“No .. not again..” Diana sighed, her head dropping.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

On Olympus it was a cool night. The many gods were sleeping but in the mortal realm day and night proceeded at a greater pace. When news came from below however those who dwelt high above had to act. It was in this moment that the great and wise Athena had been awoken by her owl and had risen from her bed.

“Tell me dear friend, why do you wake me from my slumber,” asked Athena, somewhat tired.

The owl hooted then took to the air, leading the goddess from her chambers. Athena walked into the dark night, of Olympus, aided by the flames of torchlight while following her owl which led her back to the halls of the fates. Walking purposefully Athena had dread in her heart as she heard Atropos shrieking her disdain.

“Oh no, again?” Athena muttered as she approached. The shrieking within the hall already filled Athena with dread, it was happening again.

“How can this BE?!” Atropos said angrily.

“It is as before yet I know not WHY!” Clothos replied.

“I choose yet they do not fall! Does the blame lie with me?” Lachesis wailed in disbelief.

“Dear Moirai what has happened?” Athena asked, her owl landing upon her right arm as she approached.

“Beloved Athena, forgive us, but again this occurrence befalls us,” Atropos said, her anger restrained as she bowed to the approaching Athena.

“Show me, dear ladies of the fates” Athena said as she approached the giant work table.

The Moirai looked anxiously to one another then parted once again, revealing the threads of life that awaited to be cut. The silence was palpable as Athena took in the sight before her.

“Oh, goodness,” gasped Athena, her owl hooting with concern at her reaction. It was worse than she had imagined.

“Forgive us, Athena! We beg you bring Themis, let her judge if the fault lies with us for even WE do not know,” wailed Atropos.

“This will be hard to bear!” Athena whispered in disbelief as she counted the enormous number of threads.

“Six thousand threads! The first ten lives we could contain within their humble temple, but six thousand?” Lachesis said with horror.

“Athena, wise goddess, help us! How are we to manage the lives of six thousand mortals, free to roam in a city like THAT? The repercussions are too enormous to know!” Atropos begged.

Athena looked at the work table imagining how the tapestry of the world could become a disjointed mess. With the threads uncut they could not yet be weaved into the story of the world where they belonged. Athena thought on what she must do to manage the crisis before she spoke.

“I am sure we are not in need of great Themis. Your duties are always well done. Tell me more of those that were to fall yet do not yield to your shears dear Atropos,” Athena asked.

“Of the six-thousand a mere six were to die in glory, their loss acknowledged. But for each of them another nine hundred and ninety nine poor and forgotten would die without name and without number. All were to die to the flame!” Atropos exclaimed her arm gesturing over the threads.

“A fire, like seven of those special ten,” Athena murmured, her mind churning over the facts.

“Yes, yes, fire was the fate of seven, but three were for the sword,” Lachesis added.

“Many are the victims of the tool of Prometheus and often they get cut, untroubled by my blade,” Atropos explained. Death by fire was not the sole reason that made these lives special.

“Indeed, Rome fell in the flames and not once were you troubled,” Athena said with a frown.

“Constantinople too, twice to be correct,” Atropos followed on with a nod.

“We are in a dark time now. Our mortals look to other gods. Perhaps ...” Athena began to reason, albeit reluctantly.

“NO! Our power is left unharmed, wise goddess. Man still believes in Fate, although in their minds eye they see us three -” Lachesis said, pausing as she gestured to her two sisters,

“As one!” the three Fates finished in unison.

Athena looked at the threads, the cutting table, the tapestry of life and then back at the three fates. Their words were true. Temples in honour of the old gods had risen then fallen, never to be replaced, but in the hearts and minds of mankind the concept of fate burned brightly. The inability to cut the threads of life was not due to any lack of power on the part of fate, this was something else.

“Perhaps Charon...” Athena began, thinking on the passage to the afterlife. If he was for some reason not prepared to take the souls on their journey to rest then …

“NO, NOT HE!” the three Fates said together, stamping out Athena's thoughts.

Athena cast a glance at the ladies who recoiled realising their impoliteness.

“Great Athena, the path is well set. We create the threads of life and cut them when they are due, ready to be weaved into the great tapestry of the world. The loose ends are what Charon is paid to take away. Certainly the souls of the dead may sit on the bank of the Styx and wait on good Charon to take them but wait they must! To refuse to be cut on Charon's wish ? This certainly is not the case,” Atropos said in her harsh voice, her two sisters nodding in agreement as she spoke.

Athena took in the words of Atropos. Indeed it made no sense for Charon to refuse to carry these souls across the Styx on their journey to the afterlife.

“But, I do wonder if Hades too senses his realm's appetite for souls is left wanting this night. Is there nothing to indicate an imbalance between the souls that live and those that should have crossed the river, aside from these threads?” Athena asked.

The three Fates glanced at one another as if they knew something.

“Tell her! Tell her of the lost one!”

“No, you!”

“Let it be you!”

“LADIES! What is it?” Athena said sharply, her owl sat upon her arm fluttering in surprise at the momentary anger of the wise goddess.

Clotho, the one who spun the threads of life stepped forward and away from the large square table to a smaller work table nearby. Upon it was a counting board and tokens for use in calculating each mortal day’s final reckoning.

“Here great goddess we and those below balance our books for each day's final reckoning. One fateful day when we tallied those lives cut with the souls carried by Charon what had ALWAYS been in balance was disturbed by a mere one,” Clotho said as she slid a counting token towards Athena.

“An imbalance, but what does that mean?” Athena wondered.

“A thread was cut, but a soul never arrived on the bank of the Styx” Clotho replied.

“A coin sits with no soul to give it to the ferryman,” Atropos confirmed.

“Then show me the thread of life that has been cut yet lives,” Athena asked, trying to resolve this puzzle.

“And that we cannot. We count well the threads we cut, but no thread remains unresolved,” Lachesis confessed.

Athena walked slowly around the large work table in deep thought before speaking once more, “Then, if you count well but it is not here, then it must be lost or stolen,” Athena realised.

The three fates nodded in agreement, Athena's logic undeniable. There was silence as the quartet considered what this all meant. Athena then began to formulate a plan into discovering who or what was the source of all their troubles.

“Tell me, when did this imbalance occur? On which day?” Athena asked knowing full well the record keeping of the three ladies was impeccable.

“Hmmm, let me fetch the ledger and we shall see,” Atropos said as she turned to walk to the great shelves that held all the ledgers of life.

“Finding the missing one may be all well and good, but what of the six thousand?” Lachesis asked, waving her hand over the work table while her sister searched for the ledger.

“Dear Lachesis, I must ask you to make a sacrifice of your principles. Fire you chose as their means of death and yet it was not to be! Perhaps it you were to choose a new fate for them it would permit you to cut the threads once more?” Athena said, thoughtfully.

“No matter what I do it will have consequences for all the rest that live in their fair city. To slay the six-thousand in a new manner may be possible but the mortals who live side by side with them will have forever changed fates of their own. Six-thousand fates changed become twelve-thousand, become twenty-four-thousand and so on,” Lachesis warned.

“But events put promptly into action may reduce the burden,” Clotho suggested diplomatically. She knew the sooner the six-thousand could be despatched the less likely they could change the lives of the ones around them.

“Very well you both. We can but try but at the very least this period will stain the great tapestry we so carefully weave. What should have been a great cleansing fire shall now become a bitter plague in its stead!” Lachesis said with venom.

“And which fair city is it that we condemn to such a fate?” Athena asked apprehensively. Fire while brutal was quick. Plagues were often slow and horrific affairs with the stench of the dead filling the streets of cities for weeks.

“A former colony of the great empire of Rome, dear Athena, the city now known as London,” Lachesis answered.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 1 year ago

Great stuff. What a pleasure to read - the presentation of all the scenes is spot on and all the characters are very well realised. I like what's going on with this hunt through time for the slippery Grexos - who makes for a great villain with his apparent ability to keep returning.

This is very intriguing, and bravely takes on the time-traveling shenanigans possible with the daymare, even conflicting it with the idea that there is supposed to be a set fate for everyone. It seems only fitting that Diana would be an x-factor that appears to be breaking the Olympian ideal of set destiny... or perhaps is the true subversion coming from something else? Grexos doesn't appear to be an agent of fate, so maybe Diana is going off script but the script itself may have already been tampered with.

The Olympian relationship with time and continuity in general makes my head hurt!

I eagerly await the next instalment to this mystery chase through time.
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Post 1 year ago

Here is the next installment in AEMs intriguing Twist of Fate piece
I hope you enjoy it and if you do please post a comment


PART 27


In his Great Hall on Olympus , Zeus sat listening to the wails of the Moirai. He flicked his fingers dismissively and the male Gods gathered before him dispersed to seek out the cause of the commotion in the other hall. All save one. He stood, leaning with his back against the far wall, arms folded casually, his palms embracing his elbows, impassive, eyes closed in the darkened shadows at the corner of the hall.

They were now alone, and Zeus didn't need to look at him as he spoke.

“You do not go? You know, perhaps, the cause already? More of my troubled brother's machinations?”

The God in the Dark opened his eyes but did not look at his father. “It is not Poseidon's work, my King. I know this much.”

“POSEIDON!” Zeus bellowed angrily. “He has made the Amazon stronger than ever! He was to destroy her!!!”

“Surely you do not fear the woman, Lord?” his son asked, looking at the Father of the Gods for the first time. “ The King of the Gods fears nothing?”

“I AM a king, and like any mortal king I fear the day when I am king no more.” Zeus hissed before he calmed himself. “She is stronger....SHE is stronger...” he said more to himself than his companion. “Curse Poseidon and his schemes.” he sighed slouching in his throne, resting on an elbow as he drew his thumb to his bearded chin, his index finger resting across his lips as he sat deep in thought.

“You fear the end of the gods.” his son said simply, nodding in realisation.


“She brings it ever nearer.”


His son shrugged.”All things come to pass. Even us.”


“Not by her doing, I WILL NOT SUFFER IT.” Zeus stated with loud finality. In the realm of man there was a boom of thunder over the Aegean. “Do you know why the Fates weep, my son?”

“No my Lord, truly I do not.”

“Neither do I....neither do I....it should concern me and yet...yet all I can think of is that dark haired witch who spurned me, ME, her God!” he shook his head. He snapped up in his seat, fully alert. “Enough brooding. You have acted, as I bid you to?”

“I have my Lord. But I am slow and I am subtle. My path takes time.”

“Lord Hypnos, God of Sleep. We have Eternity.”

“Indeed my King, my Father. ....But for how much longer?”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Athena, now armed with the date of the appearance of the imbalance in the ledgers of life, made her way in the darkness, torch in hand and accompanied by her owl, to Apollo's Library. Apollo was the recorder of knowledge and in the library was a definitive history of the world below.

Lighting the many torches inside the library Athena now had light to work in. Standing back from the many volumes of works the fair haired goddess saw the book she desired and drew it from the shelf. Weighty and covered in a thin layer of dust . Unlike the scroll books of mortal man, this was flat and bound in ancient leather, its leaves of parchment mimicking the pages of books to come centuries from now in the world below. But that was the only similarity this tome bore with its earthbound relatives not yet born. It was a book heavy with godly power, imbued on each page. Athena blew the book clean and carried it to a reading table ready to study its contents.

Opening the volume Athena's wise eyes began to read the detailed history of the fateful day, looking for a clue. It made for a difficult read, all the mundane acts of each and every mortal revealed and so she skipped on and on, looking for....

"Fire...." Athena whispered to herself causing her owl to hoot in agreement.

“Show me only the events that relate to fire,” Athena said to the book.

Words on the pages swirled while others faded away until all the occurrences of fire were grouped together. Athena whispered the words as she read, looking for the entry that might reveal whose life had been taken yet had not crossed the Styx to the afterlife.

“…made a fire ready to cook the deer … no …. With the torchlight the shepherd saw the wolf and … no … no …… the blacksmith’s assistant stoked the flames ready for the day’s forging and … no … NO!” sighed Athena in frustration.

Surely if the rogue threads of life were destined to die by fire for the best part, then surely fire must signify something?

"Show me events where fire has been a weapon. Show me the arsonists, show me the warriors who torch their enemies lands, reveal to me the thread of life that has been stolen!" Athena demanded of the book.

Once again the words whirled while others faded away until only a few filled pages remained.

Flicking through the remaining entries with her wise eyes that glinted with the torch light of the library, Athena finally stumbled upon.....

"....the engagement was swift, the raiders encircled by the Amazon warriors on horseback. The raiders who had already begun to set fire to the village they were plundering were trapped by their own flames. Of all the afore named party that burned to death only their leader, Grexos, spoke out, saying he would rise once more from the flames for revenge...."

"Rise? For revenge?" Athena began, interrupted by the owl who hooted angrily.

"Indeed dear friend, this implies reincarnation! But it is the fear of our afterlife that keeps our mortals in check! If mortals were to think reincarnation was possible there would be..... chaos," Athena said, her voice trailing off. Did someone seek such a thing? And why?

Athena realised it would be unlikely Nemesis would grant such a form of revenge though she would speak with her. Her sister was angry at Poseidon influencing her instrument of revenge as she viewed Diana, but even Nemesis would not dabble with the Fates like this, even in a rage? Certainly if there had been a surviving raider they might enact revenge for his comrades but never Grexos himself for he should be dead. The wise goddess would have the three Fates look for Grexos’ thread which now should be well and truly weaved into the great tapestry. If it was indeed missing as she suspected, they would at least have something to work on. But if it really was this man Grexos who was responsible why were his deeds causing such problems for the three Fates?

========================

Athena was not the only one that had been roused from her bed that night. The wailing of the Fates had disturbed Echo, the formerly disgraced mountain nymph, from her slumber too. Sleeping on a bed of mountain flowers the sweet creature had risen, secretly following the wise Athena to where she and the three Fates had spoken. The atmosphere of dread and doom seemed to hang within the Hall of the Fates and guiltily Echo retreated, realising the truth.

Echo tip-toed away from where she had spied on the gathering and went through the garden. It was there as she passed by she felt the fallen leaves beneath her feet. A moment of curiosity struck her and she spun around looking at the garden before resuming her mission, heading through the palace of Zeus and Hera, where the royal court was deeply asleep. Patrolling the halls would be the servants of Hestia, the goddess that held the rank as keeper of the keys, housekeeper of the palace. Echo wanted to remain undetected as she sought the quarters of another. Echo far from desired to be found in the bedchamber of this other deity in the dead of night but this was a confrontation she had to endure.

Lying in his bed, the muscular middle aged god snored. He wore a black beard that went with his slightly sunken eyes and long black hair. Placing her hand lightly over the mouth of the man who slept she whispered his name in a bid to awaken him.

"Moros, awaken!" hissed Echo quietly at the god of dread and doom. Her words, true to her name bounced softly off the walls of his bed chamber.

Moros, startled, awakened to find his mouth quickly clamped shut by Echo’s usually gentle hand.

"It is I, Echo, and I desire to speak with you...." Echo whispered.

Moros nodded and slowly rose up in his bed, revealing his bare muscular torso to the nymph as he did so. Stepping backwards Echo removed her hand from her host’s mouth, her eyes looking to the floor meekly.

"What brings the disgraced nymph to my chambers in the dead of night? In need of company that actually has eyes for you?" grinned Moros wickedly.

Echo looked up sharply, wounded by Moros’ words. "Do not mock my poor lost Narcissus so. And no, I do not desire your company, foul beast. I come to tell you that now I understand what deed I aided you in. You had best put right what you have done or else I shall...." Echo began quite angrily only to be cut off.

"Or you shall WHAT? You forget how fragile your existence is, little Nymph. All your chances are spent. When Hera learns of yet another of your deceptions...." Moros began, threateningly.

"But... this was before....from when..." Echo protested weakly.

"Yes when you were helping Zeus while he cavorted with your little nymph friends. How easy it was to bend you to my will knowing how much you feared Hera’s wrath and rightly so! Look what she did to you, pathetic wretch… wretch … wretch …wretch..." Moros mocked, mimicking Echo’s once cursed voice.

Echo swung her arm, her open palm ready to strike the god of impending doom across his face only to have her slender wrist gripped mid flight.

“Careful child! Your future becomes more tenuous by the moment!” growled Moros as he wagged a disapproving index finger at her with his free hand.

"You monster! You promised me that my aid to you was so you could secretly place a gift amongst your sisters, not to steal from them! Now put right what you have done or it will be your existence that will be tenuous!" Echo pleaded while trying to tug herself free.

"Pah! My power grows by the day, just WATCH! Now get out pitiful creature before we let good Rumour spread word of your presence in my chambers! And good luck convincing those who suffered most from your deceptions that you are innocent once again, I dare you!" Moros laughed as he finally released the fragile nymph.

"You vile monster, may you suffer from your own poison," Echo said in tears as she spun away and fled.

Echo ran down the halls of the palace, afraid and humiliated, the sound of her pitter-pattering feet drowned by the hurtful laughter of Moros.

========================

Through time and space the Daymare galloped, Diana with gritted teeth urging on her steed, the reincarnated man she knew as Grexos lay ahead. Perhaps this time when she struck him down it would be the last.

"Yah!" Diana urged the Daymare, her shield across her back reflecting the light of the ethereal corridor they were passing through.
The Daymare’s stride lengthened, the animal’s desire to please its mistress encouraging it to do just that little bit more to catch their mark before he could do more damage.

"Almost there, and perhaps again I will prevent his mischief...." Diana thought.

=======================


Time had passed again in Olympus; the dead of night passing towards a morning. In the Hall of the Fates the three stern Moirai continued with their tasks, never wavering. The tapestry of life had continued unsullied since the last crisis, which had left its mark. The six thousand threads, all longer than had been planned had buckled and twisted the complex cloth, distorting what should have been a beautiful image. In all, three times as many threads than the six-thousand had been left displaced and it had taken many rows and columns of weaving before the distortion of the past could be smoothed out by the careful shepherding of the Fates.

Now, armed with more knowledge of the missing thread the three women were more prepared than ever for another crisis if it were to come. Draped across the large work table were the threads of life coming due to be cut and their quality told of what was transpiring below. Threads these days were cut long, their colour, their quality and strength better than ever. Fewer were the wispy short lives of deprived children which had given older parts of the great tapestry a fluffy texture at times.

In reality the tapestry revealed that on earth the mortals were flourishing, their number multiplied several fold by new skills in medicine, farming and the use of tools and machines which could amplify their labour. Mortals lived longer, had better quality lives, and the welfare of their children in these more civil times had a higher priority than their ancient counterparts. Above all, wars, Ares domain, were fewer. Just as terrible as ever when they did break out, but many of the petty rivalries of city states had been overshadowed by bigger and more lasting alliances.

Atropos cast her eyes hungrily over the souls to be taken to the afterlife, proud of her role in the world... and then she saw it.

"No, no, no... it is coming! The lost one! Look!" Atropos shrieked.

Lachesis and Clotho paused in their work and approached the table as Atropos began to count the damage. The first crisis had touched a mere ten, the next, six thousand. What might pass if this presence of Grexos, the lost one, again resulted in threads that would not be cut?

"How many do you think, dear Atropos?" Clotho asked nervously.

"None, the fire itself takes no one! But … afterwards … something is wrong! Very wrong!" Atropos said fearfully.

"But if no one is to die from the fire then what could possibly be the matter?" Lachesis asked.

"It is the lives who are to see a building burn whose fates are at risk. The building has to fall to the flame or all will be lost! The threads that will survive that should be cut … too many … too many!" Atropos warned.

"How many, dear sister, how many?" Clotho demanded.

"Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?" Lachesis asked frantically.

Atropos read the threads in an instant, mapping the burning of a building to the disquiet that was meant to follow. Disquiet was going to lead to drastic change, and that change was going to lead to war! War was meant to be coming but if it was somehow prevented, just like the fire in Ephesus, just like the fire in London, then it would lead to uncut threads that numbered in the....

"Mil ... Millions ... I see tens of millions!" Atropos whimpered.

"Athena! Fetch her, for there is still time! That building must burn or we are lost to anarchy!" Clotho urged her sisters.

====================


Echo gasped as she saw Atropos brandishing a torch, preparing to head out for Athena. Turning from her hiding place Echo hurried away in search of her own council. Again Echo made her way to the royal court which was still in slumber but close to the time of awakening. The person Echo sought this time resided in the courthouse and finally, entering her quarters Echo found Themis sleeping.

Reverently Echo knelt at the side of the bed and placed her hand on the hand of Themis, squeezing it respectfully. Themis sighed in her sleep and gently awoke, the Titan opening her eyes. Pulling herself upright Themis frowned and realised who had awakened her.

"Echo, dear nymph. Why do you wake me in the early hours?" Themis asked a little groggily.

"I urgently seek the service of your scales great Titan," Echo replied apologetically, her eyes down as she remained kneeling.

"And what makes you think I rise so early for a mere nymph?" scoffed Themis, her tired eyes slowly widening. Ordinarily her scales were summoned by those more lofty than a nymph and at a more appropriate hour.

"This is not for me to judge another, I seek to know what Hera will think of me," Echo replied, her voice almost mournful.

"Oh really?" Themis said with a frown, her mood softening as she sensed something amiss with the humble creature before her.

"I intend to tell her all that I tell you, I only desire to learn my fate in advance. Perhaps then I will be strong enough when official judgement comes," Echo explained sincerely.

Now Themis was interested to know what drove the innocent looking nymph to seek self judgement.

"Let me hear your words. No need I have for the scales just yet," Themis said with a hint of a smile.

"So be it great Themis. Once upon a time, a nymph, enchanting with her tales was instructed by her King to distract his wife. The nymph was told if she did not a calamity would fall upon her siblings. So, the nymph did as the King asked. Break her heart did her deception, but she deceived and deceived and....." with a gasp Echo stopped fearing even then her enchantment might be working upon Themis, her hand clasping to her mouth.

"And why do you stop, sweet Echo?" Themis asked with a puzzled expression.

"I thought you were lost like all the rest have ever been," Echo said.

"Oh poor child. Do not fear for I am immune to the craft of hearsay. Beautiful as your tales can be never will they enchant me. Now, go on young nymph," Themis said warmly.

"Oh what joy to find one to who I can talk to without fear of being thought of as deceiving," Echo said almost happily.

"Echo, what is it you fear from the crime you speak of? You have already been punished once for this and even Hera is not so cruel as to punish you twice," Themis pressed.

"Well you see, there was someone else, one who somehow knew of my deception. He told me If I did not help him then he would tell all to Hera," Echo explained.

"Ah! Coercion through guilt and manipulation, a low crime. If trapped you were working for Zeus and deceiving Hera then exposed you were to such schemes. But I suspect that being coerced is not the true crime that has transpired here," Themis said calmly.

"I was asked to distract the three Fates so that their brother Moros could place a gift, a surprise, among them. But alas he went to steal one thread of life instead. I swear I did not know his true intention. Please, great one, will you not fetch the scales and tell me what they will decide?" Echo pleaded.

"Oh sweet creature," Themis said as she rose to her feet in her gown, "go return to that nest of flowers you call a bed and sleep, little nymph. I must seek other weights first but confident I am it is not your fate that is in the balance now," Themis said with her wise reassuring voice.

"Oh thank you great Themis, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Echo said happily.

"Hush! Now go, and sleep!" Themis insisted.

Echo rose to her feet and left with tiny quick steps, happily relieved of her guilty burden. Themis let out a weak smile, glad to see one who had seen out her unjust punishment finally happy once again.

"I should never have stayed silent at Hera's cruel wrath. At least Artemis fixed in her own way what I did not," Themis thought.

====================

Athena stood over the work table in the Hall of the Fates aghast as Atropos continued to map forward the affected fates leading from the next fire to be instigated by the lost thread, Grexos.

"It is as before? If this fire is somehow prevented then these threads you will not be able to cut?" Athena asked.

"At the very least and I have counted fifty million threads so far!" Atropos said, her beady studious eyes looking over the threads of life to come.

"Fifty million! How much time remains before Grexos is meant to strike?" Athena asked anxiously. With fifty million lives, loose, free to interact and change the paths of other mortals when they should be dead? This was a catastrophe!

"A mere hour in the mortal realm," Atropos replied, consulting a thread closest to the source of the events to come.

"We need someone to ensure Grexos succeeds in his work! Someone who can track him down and is good at arms to keep him safe. Oh help me we need that wayward youth, Artemis," Athena said with a shake of her head.

"Then dispatch her and without delay! Grexos must succeed! The building must burn!" the three Fates said in unison.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The Daymare burst from nothingness into the moment with a bright flash of light, it's gallop coming to an abrupt halt. The mare reared up and spun in a circle with a neigh, protesting at the tight confines it now found itself in.

Diana steadied her steed with a pat on the neck and it settled in reply. Again it was night but as Diana's eyes grew accustomed to the low light she realised they had arrived within some sort of temple. Surrounding the chamber stood statues cast only as silhouettes and columns befitting the most revered of gods, such was their quality. The Daymare had arrived at the focal point of a semi circle, rows and rows of tables and benches all one side with a long table to the other. Above her beyond the glass ceiling appeared to be the sky.

"What manner of temple is this, good steed?" Diana wondered as she slid cleanly from the back of the Daymare.

Diana patted her mount and whispered to her to stand her ground then pulled her shield from her back and set it to her forearm. Placing her right hand to the hilt of her sword, reassuring herself it was there the warrior went in search of her quarry. Her instincts began to lead her to the great wooden doors at one end of the chamber, her ears pricking to the sound of something amiss beyond.

Tugging at the door quietly in the darkness it swung silently open to reveal the room beyond. The shadowy figure of a man was stood in the centre of what appeared to be a library and was tossing books into a heap. So intent was he on his deed that Diana went unnoticed behind him.

Diana slowly drew her sword, its song unsung, such was Diana's stealth. This time this man who seemed to perpetually live would have no time to brag, no time to gloat and perhaps unknowing of his impending death, no time to perform whatever witchery that allowed him to live again.

Diana began her stealthy advance, her sword arm coiling up like a spring preparing to make her killer thrust. Closer, closer, she approached his unprotected back an inviting target for her killer instincts.

With gritted teeth Diana's spring loaded bicep let loose, her sword thrusting towards ....


CLICK!

Suddenly Artemis had appeared and with a click of the fingers had frozen the passage of time. Diana stumbled through her thrust, the man still there but no longer solid. Artemis, her bow with a nocked arrow held in her left hand let her weapon hang by her side, no longer in need to draw the string taught with her right.

"YOU?! I should have known!" Artemis said with surprise. Diana had been the last person she had expected to see.

"Artemis? Why do you stop me in my task! Have you no idea how hard it has been for me to find him?!" Diana said, her sword and shield splaying apart at her sides as she shrugged in dismay.

"But if you only knew of what chaos you leave in your wake, mortal!" Artemis said sternly.

"My wake? It is this man who seeds the chaos! I lose count the number of times I have slain him and yet he lives!" Diana protested thrusting her sword harmlessly into the ghostly form of her prey.

"HOW DARE YOU THINK ME WRONG!" snarled Artemis, her eyes flashing with a white light.

Diana didn't see it happen but she found herself naked upon the floor, her arm twisted upwards in Artemis' grip. The hunter's sandaled foot rest on the back of Diana’s neck, pinning her to the floor.

"Nghhhhhh my revenge is my right! Every last one of those men I shall see slain!" Diana growled, writhing beneath Artemis' foot.


"Listen to me, PUNY MORTAL. There are bigger things at stake than your petty squabble with this man!" Artemis said angrily. “Even more so that your Oath to us!"

Diana was aghast.

"Bigger than the destruction of your temple at Ephesus?" Diana said with a grimace, struggling futilely with the goddess.

"So THAT was you too? That temple was MEANT to burn you fool! That was how my reward was stolen from me? A mortal’s indiscretion?!” Artemis exclaimed, pressing her foot harder into her prey.

Diana frowned, her struggles relenting a moment as she tried to make sense of it all.

"When I saw him about to desecrate your temple I felt more compelled than ever to stop him! How can the destruction of a temple serve to reward you? Even now, here in what surely must be another temple he seeks to diminish the gods!"

"Diana you are long in years yet short in knowledge and wisdom. Come, I will teach you, but be warned! Ignorance will no longer be your defence if I ever find you at fault again!" Artemis said sternly.

"Teach me? Teach me what!?" Diana asked, her head twisting so her eyes could fall once again on the goddess.

CLICK!

Diana blinked and found herself on her feet in nothing but a plain tunic and sandals and confronted by a new sight. Lit in bright daylight men worked beneath the sun, carving stone ready to be positioned on to what appeared to be slowly rising temple walls.

“I … I don’t understand … this … we are at Ephesus … but the temple … it looks … different,” Diana said with confusion.

"The fire you prevented was to destroy the old temple. This is what was to rise in its place! A new temple dedicated to my name. The craftsmanship invested in this place was to make it count amongst the many wonders of its time. The old temple was going to fade into forgotteness anyway but it was fated that one day an angry young man, desperate to have his name remembered...." Artemis explained until Diana cut across her.

"Herostratus … he said that his name would be remembered!" Diana exclaimed.

"Yes, Herostratus! And so you see, that which you thought you protected you have destroyed! The new temple promised to me never had to be built and thus the chaos began! You challenged fate! The reincarnated one? His fate albeit corrupted is still fate. His work must be allowed to be continue!" Artemis explained. “It is not for you to stop him.”

"But the mighty cities to which he laid waste? The death, the destruction that I failed to prevent!" Diana exclaimed.

"Rome? Constantinople? Cleansing those fires were. Mankind burns but learns, becomes wiser, smarter, stronger and all the better for the gods that watch them. The fire that was meant to start in Farriner's bakery? It was meant to kill the plague that festered in that city. True, the number destined to die by fire was great but by denying the city the fire the number that died to plague instead grew threefold!" Artemis said sternly.


"I made things three times worse?! Gods, what have I done? What is meant to happen in this place that I should not stop?" Diana asked as the scene slowly faded, returning her to the dark library frozen in time.

"The threads say Grexos, reincarnated as this man, Marinus, destroys this place by fire. And what irony that the consequences will be no different than from the fire itself. The people will notice the smoke first, the foolish not daring to challenge what it means, a brave few daring to call out their warning. And then once the flames take hold it will be too late, the smoldering books becoming a small fire until, like a raging inferno destroys everything! The number of lives consumed by the events spawned here will rival all those alive in the world of your time, to the very last child,” Artemis explained.

"Gods ,no! And if I had succeeded in stopping this fire? How can it possibly be worse than letting this temple burn?!" Diana said in shock at the death toll that was to pass if she were to do nothing.

"The mighty power that is to be spawned here CANNOT be stopped. They will still rise, just later than fate had ordained. And worse, at the height of their delayed influence hideous weapons of war that were not fated for their hands will instead become theirs to use. The number to die from their unstoppable and indiscriminate murder will count TEN FOLD worse, their tyranny continuing without end," Artemis said coldly.

"Then this fire is to help ease this evil's passing?" Diana asked, looking at the pile of books waiting to be set ablaze.

"Yes, now you understand. Let it burn, Diana. Let all the fires of Grexos burn, for his fate, twisted as it shall be is still fate. Now your meddling is understood to me, the God of time, great Chronus can undo your damage! Had you succeeded here this night the chaos would have been too great for even him to repair," Artemis said.

"Then, there is only woe to come? Is this the time when the gods are diminished so? Wise Athena once told me it would come to pass..." asked Diana despondently, her hand falling to her lasso as she remembered the moment. Artemis seemed to bring nothing but bad news no matter the result of Diana's efforts, and worse, to the detriment of even the goddess herself.

"Touched I am to think you are worried about our fate, my namesake, but even Athena can misjudge. Let me show you something …" Artemis said with a grin.

CLICK

Diana found herself in a cave, Artemis at her side holding a fiery torch which bathed the space in its orange light.

"Very well, mortal, let us see what you know of gods and their survival! Tell me, how was I born?" Artemis said as she led Diana deeper into the dark space. The flickering torch cast shadows of the two forms as they made their way.

"Your mother, dear Leto, brought you to the world," Diana said matter of factly. Even children of the most humble of households knew that.

"And how did man know of my arrival?" Artemis asked with a sly grin.

"Of that, I do not know," replied Diana, her voice echoing from the walls. Even here in this forgotten place the invisible earthly bound spirit of Echo performed her duty.

Entering into a wider space Artemis held her torch aloft, illuminating the uneven cave wall. Upon it were the palm prints of men who had left their marks long, long ago. Diana turned her head as she took in this most ancient of places. Slowly Artemis passed by the palm prints and began to reveal another set of images.

"Leto brought me into to the world with my dear brother Apollo and it was her proud whisperings that caught the ear of man," Artemis said as the painted images of deer appeared along with men armed with spears.

"A hunting scene? But, how old is this to be drawn by men in caves?" Diana asked in wonderment.

"The years can be counted in the tens of thousands. But do you not see, here, in the mortal mind I am born," smiled Artemis.

Artemis illuminated the scene of the hunt. Men with spears pursued the deer and, in the distance a lone figure watched on. Merely a smudge, barely perceptible as a human form this was the first image of the goddess of the hunt.

"This? This is you?" said Diana, astonished.

"Dear Leto whispered the idea that I, her daughter, one with the hunters and animals, guided the men in their work, and so, with this simple mark, a mortal drew me. He sensed that it was my presence that guided the men to their prey, and aided their spears to hit their marks. My name then was a sound barely intelligible, that was how primitive they were. But know this, THIS simple cave was my temple in those times. It was enough to sustain me, nourish me, here my mortals helped me flourish," Artemis said, almost humbly.

CLICK!

Diana and Artemis reappeared in darkness, stood upon what Diana thought a harbour. The warrior recoiled from the water’s edge as she caught sight of a dark mass in the water. Like the whale that had once sought to spear her and the then hooded slave in her safe keeping it loomed large in the water.

"Do not be afraid dear Diana, nothing can see or hear you now and this vessel will do no harm. But look what is marked upon the prow. The gift of reading the local tongue I grant you. Now read!" Artemis commanded.

Diana looked over the metal vessel, not knowing of submarines, and saw the nameplate.

"Ar....Ar...tem.... ARTEMIS!" Diana said in surprise.

"Yes, a fine vessel and one of many to carry my name in this time! She is built by those who seek to stop the evil that comes. See, in the darkest times the people remember Greek gods, even here in the far distant land of Caledonia,” Artemis said proudly.

“Then the mortals of this time still keep you in their hearts?” Diana said excitedly. Suddenly what seemed like the end of her world in this distant time seemed less bleak. For surely the power of the Gods still held sway to make such a huge thing of iron float?

“Hearts, a little less, but minds? Yes, Diana, we go on remembered, even in this moment, over two thousand years from the year of your birth. In your time we feared one day we would be forgotten. But recall how I thrived as a mere mark on a cave wall. Vessels like these are just one means of how we are now remembered, just as we are in books and in the sciences and medicine. Some of us are even recorded by name in the stars like my sweet dear Orion! In this time more people know our names than at the time of your birth. While we all miss our temples and the offerings made to us we are content from mankind's ongoing memory of us. Olympus may be resting deep in Winter but Spring is sure to follow,” Artemis said.

"Then, convinced I am. I shall pursue this reincarnated man Grexos no further," Diana said meekly as the scene slowly faded, returning them to the hall where the Daymare awaited. Diana found herself restored in her armour, her shield and sword strapped to her back.”Even though...”she dipped her head bitterly “Even though my oath will lie broken in the dust....”

"Oh do not give up so soon oath taker! Even now in our normal time we seek to undo that man's existence. When we learn the secret of his reincarnation your revenge you can have. Wise Athena at this very moment hunts the sponsor of this reprehensible deed. Now take your Daymare and return to your time. Many are the ones marked by Nemesis for your sword, Grexos can wait a little longer," Artemis said warmly.

“But only if I can find him again, he is hidden deep in time, just as many others are,” Diana responded in resignation.

“Let me think on that, Diana, for I am sure there will be some way to help guide you in that task. But for now your pursuit of Grexos is ended,” Artemis cautioned Diana.

"Then I go, great Artemis and pray that sanctuary still waits for me when I seek it," Diana said, head down almost ashamed.

"Sanctuary is yours, as always, dear mortal," smiled Artemis as she placed a hand on Diana’s shoulder.

With a nod Diana mounted her steed and with a squeeze of her heels she urged the Daymare into a canter, the horse exploding into a flash of light before disappearing.

Artemis spun on the spot looking at the vaulted glass ceiling, the many statues, the columns , the tables and their chairs. Here men had talked and talked and talked and now the time for hollow words and worthless actions was over, their venue of failure was about to meet its fiery demise. A hitherto unseen manner of cruelty was coming, and it was going to flourish at an industrial scale.

"Who knew that from ignorance and fear such terrible evil could grow? May Elpis, the carrier of flowers, embodiment of Hope, find her way free of Pandora’s box and lift the hearts and minds of good men everywhere," Artemis said to herself, a tear forming in the corner of one eye. From the adjacent room smoke passed under the great doors, Grexos in the guise of Marinus the arsonist had started his work.

Would Diana ever be tormented by what she allowed to pass here, even knowing that the alternatives would be much, much, worse? Artemis sighed in sadness knowing of the cruel fate of so many mortals that was to come…

CLICK!

Inside the Hall of Fates Artemis appeared before the three Moirai and Athena who paced anxiously waiting for news.

"Artemis, you return! What did you find that defied the fates?" Athena asked hopefully.

"This Grexos you speak of is marked by Diana for vengeance! It was her that slew him in Ephesus and London before he could complete his fated task. This is how, you, good ladies, have been defied, this is how the tapestry has been changed," Artemis explained.

“Ah, the Amazon! Her thread is a blend most strange. When made it was no longer than any other thread but little did I know how long it became when stretched. ” Clotho explained. "A lifetime touched by the hand of many Gods, each adding to the thread in gold and silver..."

“Curious was the serpent’s bite!” Lachesis scoffed.

“Perhaps our troubles would end if I were to just cut her thr….” Atropos said thoughtfully, snipping the air with her shears while her eyes scanned the shelves of stock and the many threads of living mortals. Diana’s was just there…waiting.

“NO! No, Atropos,” yelped Athena, eyes rolling. How easy it was for fate to cut mortals down without a thought, she realised. “Now is not her time. Not for a LONG time!” Athena cautioned.

"But Grexos’ path is clear, his fate, unnatural as it is, is fated to be so. It is his death by Diana’s vengeance that sullies the tapestry of life," said Atropos.

"Yes, but Diana now understands that for now Grexos must be allowed to complete that which he is fated. She will stay her hand, I swear it," Artemis said.

"It gladdens me that Diana remembers my lesson, her actions have consequences! We merely have to find the stolen thread and put this man Grexos' future right," Athena replied.

"Now we understand the origin of this chaos we can let Chronus set us straight. Ephesus can now finally burn as can all the rest Grexos has touched," Atropos explained.

"But did Grexos set his latest fire? If not our future still lies in ruins. In the past Chronus has power to make things right, but in this time the damage would be too great, irreparable by his hand," Athena asked of Artemis, not knowing for sure if the young huntress had aided Grexos to succeed.

Artemis nodded, "I stopped Diana. As terrible as it may seem, all is as it should be. In time Grexos, resurrected in the body of Marinus Van Der Lubbe, will do his work and the Reichstag of Berlin shall burn!"

“And from the ashes an evil like no other the world has faced will come to rise!” Athena said in bitterness, looking at all the threads to come.

"Will mortal man be strong enough to stop such evil?" Clotho said aloud, though as a Fate she well knew the answer. She smiled and turned her head slightly to her sisters indicating they should watch the reaction from Artemis and Athena.

Artemis and Athena exchanged an anxious look before wise Athena calmed her fears and answered with steely resolve, her head held high in defiance and pride.
"Perhaps. Or perhaps not. You Fates would know better than I. But I know of a mortal woman who is...."
Last edited by tallyho 1 year ago, edited 1 time in total.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 1 year ago

More fantastic stuff, AEM! There's a lot of moving pieces here and I enjoy the way they are all weaving around one another towards the story's conclusion. The exploration here of the relationship between mortals and gods feels important to however the overall story will play out, and it makes me wonder if the gods' identity is as tied into the mortal perception of them as is their power. Either way it's very useful to examine that bond here and to further foreshadow an age without the Olympians. Intrigue abounds with all these differing gods at work, and I find it really fitting that the goddess of justice has made an appearance - arguably the truest patron of Diana and at a time where 'justice' has become very blurred.

I also enjoyed the quick glimpse of Zeus giving us a feel for the larger story moving towards a larger conclusion. I'm liking the sound of Hypnos so far. Zeus's brief description of Diana's rise was perfect.

My mild gripe is on Diana's behalf... It's ultra harsh of Artemis to speak to Diana as if she *ought* to know Grexos should be spared and, worse, allowed to commit mass murder. Should Diana stop saving anyone from murder for fear that 'fate' requires it to happen? If Diana takes that lesson to heart, perhaps she'll go around burning down all of Artemis's temples to allow bigger ones to be built in their place! That all said, I really enjoyed the scene with Artemis's interruption - she's a character that totally commands every scene she is in. I also really appreciated the nod at the end there that, when the terrible rise of the Nazis occurs, the gods trust there will be a mortal woman there to face them down. That's good foreshadowing in its own right, that the 'finished' product of Diana will be waiting for the Nazis, and I just like that we know Diana will get her chance to really fight that injustice where she couldn't do so with Grexos.

I look forward to the conclusion. Grexos is going to get it! I love his reincarnation shtick - it makes him a great villain for Diana as a phantom from her past that keeps coming back. That rivalry would be cool even beyond this story.


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Post 1 year ago

Void wrote:
1 year ago
More fantastic stuff, AEM! There's a lot of moving pieces here and I enjoy the way they are all weaving around one another towards the story's conclusion. The exploration here of the relationship between mortals and gods feels important to however the overall story will play out, and it makes me wonder if the gods' identity is as tied into the mortal perception of them as is their power. Either way it's very useful to examine that bond here and to further foreshadow an age without the Olympians. Intrigue abounds with all these differing gods at work, and I find it really fitting that the goddess of justice has made an appearance - arguably the truest patron of Diana and at a time where 'justice' has become very blurred.

I also enjoyed the quick glimpse of Zeus giving us a feel for the larger story moving towards a larger conclusion. I'm liking the sound of Hypnos so far. Zeus's brief description of Diana's rise was perfect.

My mild gripe is on Diana's behalf... It's ultra harsh of Artemis to speak to Diana as if she *ought* to know Grexos should be spared and, worse, allowed to commit mass murder. Should Diana stop saving anyone from murder for fear that 'fate' requires it to happen? If Diana takes that lesson to heart, perhaps she'll go around burning down all of Artemis's temples to allow bigger ones to be built in their place! That all said, I really enjoyed the scene with Artemis's interruption - she's a character that totally commands every scene she is in. I also really appreciated the nod at the end there that, when the terrible rise of the Nazis occurs, the gods trust there will be a mortal woman there to face them down. That's good foreshadowing in its own right, that the 'finished' product of Diana will be waiting for the Nazis, and I just like that we know Diana will get her chance to really fight that injustice where she couldn't do so with Grexos.

I look forward to the conclusion. Grexos is going to get it! I love his reincarnation shtick - it makes him a great villain for Diana as a phantom from her past that keeps coming back. That rivalry would be cool even beyond this story.
Hi Void, thanks for your comments, welcome as always.

Yes, I have tried to walk the tightrope between my own hopes for the Gods in this story while trying to respect what other writers have contributed. The appearance of Hypnos is to advance the bigger picture and is Tally's work, not mine, and like you I am also intrigued to find out where this plot element goes.

Artemis is harsh on Diana, you are right. In defence of Artemis she may not appreciate she has a unique viewpoint a mere mortal cannot have. At any rate, it's Diana's assumption that it is Grexos, and not her, that is to blame for the chaos that Artemis seeks to prevent which triggers the ire of the huntress. What may not help Diana's case is she admits she knows that Grexos is always reborn, something that she should realise is not right. She is after all in the Greek world with its afterlife, reincarnation should not be possible. In the end though Diana can rest assured that Grexos is unique in his ability to become reborn. She will understand that he and the consequences of what he does must be left unmolested. Everyone else continues to be fair game for Diana's blade as always.

With the Nazis and the Reichstag I found the idea very interesting that Diana might have to live with the choices she had to make, knowing she had "been there". And yes, of course this sets up Diana's rivalry with the Nazis at some other time, perhaps in a spinoff, and when the time comes she really will be ready for them.

I hope the conclusion of the tale is as equally interesting for you when it comes in August.

AEM
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Post 1 year ago

Very good point about Artemis having more of a god's view of events, and I suppose it speaks to her high opinion of Diana that she expects her to share that view. In my rush to defend diana's judgement I may have missed some cool character insight there. This whole tale is a great examination of the Olympians - and your Artemis is particularly intriguing.
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Post 1 year ago

Nice work as ever AEM, a great balance of action and intrigue with interesting story aspects, well explored and very well told.
Well done!


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Post 1 year ago

AEMs excellent epic now concludes with

PART 28


Moros, God of Dread and Doom, bathed in the hot spring water, a gentle mist rising from his muscled torso into the cool air above. He sighed contentedly, his eyes closed. His power had been rising and he was confident that soon would be his time. He had always sowed fear among the mortal realm; the dry mouths and fast-beating hearts before a battle had always been succour to him. But this time...this time it was different. This time it was fear and uncertainty among the Gods themselves, and HE, Moros had put it there, like a wolf in a sheep pen. And now he simply had to watch the lambs scatter and choose his meal. He smiled a wider smile. He had never felt such power as this, as if every atom of his being was charged and ready to explode. He let out a slow, excited breath, calming himself. Soon all would be his. However, unknown to him events were now conspiring against him.

Floating on his back, arms outstretched, eyes closed, Moros contemplated his rule. What should he do with the beautiful goddesses and those worthless nymphs? Enough was their number not to bed the same one more than twice in a mortal year, he wagered. Suddenly Moros felt a presence at the water’s edge, one eye opening in response.

"Hello, Moros," Themis said calmly seeing she had been detected.

"Themis? What brings you to the waters? " Moros asked, his steadying arms helping him keep station in the water as his eye snapped back closed.

"Why, you do, dear Moros," Themis said calmly.

"And what need of Justice do I have?" Moros asked innocently.

"Oh but I thought injustice was more your thing, dear Moros. A fragile creature has come to me, dear Moros and confessed all, rather than be bullied and coerced against her will. I can tell you now, my scales have measured her words well,” Themis said calmly.

"Hah, if you say so, dear Themis. May spiteful Hera have faith in your good judgment!" Moros mocked her before relaxing again in the water.

There was a fraction of a pause, just long enough for Moros to think the confrontation was over when …

"Spiteful Hera does!" Hera said sternly.

Moros opened his eyes in a flash, his body floundering in the water in surprise. Splashing and thrashing in the spring Moros realised that Themis was in the company of Hera and Athena too.

"Your plan for power has failed, Moros," Hera said, her finger making a lazy circle in the troubled water as she sat by the edge.

"You have become greedy,” began Athena. “Was the fear within mortals not enough, Moros? I can only wonder how and when you became accustomed to taste the fear in gods. But that was why you sought to bring Olympus down by destroying the tapestry of life with your reincarnated abomination! To feast on our fears as the mount itself shook!" Athena said accusingly.

"Lies and conjecture! What has that wretched Echo told you!" Moros protested.

"Echo, you say? And what makes you speak of her?" smiled Themis.

"But you said that...." Moros began, realising he had fallen for their cheap deception.

"No, Themis nor Hera mentioned her name. Confident I am she enchanted your sisters for you and then you stole from them a thread of life," Athena said calmly, her eyes tracking Moros as he waded to the waters edge.

"You may have cheap tricks but no evidence of theft you have!" Moros said as he slowly began to emerge from the water.

The trio of goddesses united together as Moros, engorged on his diet of dread and doom that his scheme instilled inside the very gods themselves, rose from the water!

"That may be so, but as we speak Artemis searches your quarters for your abomination of a thread!" Athena said as Moros seemed to rise and rise, revealing his true power, his body transforming into a giant.

Athena drew her sword as Moros loomed large over the trio.

"You are TOO LATE! Oh delicious was the feast of your fears as your precious champion slew my reincarnated pyromaniac, destroying the precious fates of mere mortals. But who needs THEM when I can feast on the fear of GODS!" Moros growled.

With a swipe of his arm Moros scattered the trio of goddesses, Athena's parry with her sword enough to prevent them coming to harm.

"MOROS! Enough!" yelled Hera as she went to pick herself up.

"Ha! Do you not see? I have surpassed you! Now I go to stop that impudent wretch Artemis. No proof of my misdeeds shall you find and by mortals daylight I shall reign in Olympus!" Moros bellowed as he stomped away with giant steps.

The trio looked open mouthed to one another.

"We underestimated the power he drew from us all during the crisis he spawned!" Hera said.

"At least Diana will not add to his power! The first passing is all he has, our fear of what might have been was ended with the Reichstag!" Athena said as she rose to her feet.

"Yes but even now we fear what might be! Fear begets fear and...." Hera said, before quickly clamping her hand to her mouth.

"Hera, my queen, you must warn your husband and rally those who can aid us! I must try and give aid to Artemis" Athena urged her queen.

"Find the thread he has stolen. Let it weigh upon my scales and my power shall crush him!" Themis said confidently.

"So be it," Hera responded.

===========

The giant form of Moros, many times his normal size stormed the royal court. Angrily wading through the halls he made his way back to his chambers to secure the one thing that could prove his guilt. Inside, the youthful Artemis and her innocent deer searched for the abomination of a thread.

Scattering all who he encountered, Moros burst into his own rooms to find the huntress at work.

"You!" exclaimed Artemis in surprise, confronted by the giant.

"Yes, annoying wretch! No right you have to be here!" bellowed Moros as his giant hand thrust at Artemis, pinning her by the throat to a wall.

"Bghy rgoyghal ordurgh I dghooo!" Artemis choked.

"I am the only Royal now and no such orders do you have!" Laughed Moros as he slowly began to squeeze the immortal life out of the huntress.

Flailing for life Artemis reached for her dagger and plunged it into the forearm of her attacker, Moros merely gritting his teeth in response as he brushed it away. At his feet the deer spun and bucked, its tiny hooves kicking ineffectively at its mistress' attacker.

"Oh how delicious is your fear! Let me prolong your death dear Artemis. I wonder if your brother Apollo's tears will taste so sweet!" Moros goaded.

The eyes of Artemis bulged as she kicked and thrashed in the vice like grip of Moros, her world drifting into darkness as he slowly strangled her....

"Oh, dear Moros... here you are! Did you not want to hear the tale of the forging of Damocles' sword...." Artemis heard being said.

"What!?" Moros boomed.

"A tale untold as of yet. Many know the fate of Damocles, but what of the sword that taunts him!"

"No, not now... do you not see.... I......" Moros began to protest albeit with hesitation in his voice.

"Oh but you must hear it. The discovery of the metal alone was a great adventure. The mighty forges hungered for the exotic metals from afar and the gods of the depths commanded a brave mortal to find it! A fine vessel was to be constructed and games held to choose the men to crew her...."

"Games.... games you say? Tell me .... tell me more...." Moros said weakly.

"Oh I shall great Moros. Come, come with me to the garden and I shall tell you of the games and the men who win them. Sometimes with guile, sometimes with wisdom..." continued Echo, her words enchanting the giant.

Artemis felt the grip about her throat loosen as she slid down the wall to the floor to see Echo bravely look up at the monstrous form of Moros.

"Take my hand, dear Moros and I promise to tell you all, from beginning to end," Echo said, casting Artemis a knowing look.
Athena entered the chamber and took in the sight of a becalmed Moros with surprise. Artemis who looked shaken gestured to Athena to indicate she was okay. “Go, go with them, I am well, but keep your distance of her tale, it is for Moros to hear alone,” Artemis said.

Athena looked between the others, mouth open but stood back as she took in the curious sight. The giant hand of the godly fuelled Moros enveloped the small hand of the waif like nymph and gently she tugged him away, telling her charming tale as she went, Athena cautiously following behind. In the meantime the nimble deer nuzzled at the huntress who recomposed herself, still astonished at Echo's bravery.

"Thank you little one, your efforts did not go unseen," Artemis said, pecking a kiss upon her deer's head.

Artemis spun around in the room and wondered where the stolen thread might be hidden.

"A brute like him is too dull to think of something clever, simple is the manner he would use to hide it," Artemis thought.

============

Surrounded at a distance by the roused gods Echo spun her enchanting tale for Moros to listen. The pair were sat opposite each other having cleared away the fallen leaves of the winter struck garden which glistened with a hint of Olympian frost.

Astounded by the turn of events the observers discussed the future of the embodiment of fear and doom, the giant trapped by the addiction of Echo's splendid tale. At a safe distance those that watched on were unaffected by Echo's work.

"Well he seems at peace for now," Athena said.

"Until of course Echo ends her tale, and then what!" Hera warned her sternly.

"If Artemis finds the stolen thread in his chambers then a punishment I have in mind," Themis added.

Apollo, bow at hand watched on, ready to protect his queen, as did Ares who stood guard. Hermes had already sent word to Zeus who good rumour reported was on his way.

"Wise it is to wait until we see proof of his misdeeds but certainly if Echo has confessed to assisting him then I believe he has it. Moros will certainly face justice, but what of Echo this time?" Athena asked, bemused by the spectacle of the angry giant being tamed by the nymph.

"I will leave it to the hands of Themis, she has weighed all words and deeds. Once the thread is found she will deal with them both,” Hera said.

Athena cast Themis a surprised glance, Hera's willingness to defer to Themis most unexpected. Suddenly, breaking into the group Artemis appeared, her deer at her side.

"What news, Artemis?" asked Athena.

"The thread! I have it!" grinned Artemis, producing the stolen thread of life. “He had hidden it among the bristles of a horse hair-brush, made from the loose hairs of Pegasus' tail!”

“Surprisingly clever for such a brute” Athena conceded.

“It would have been - had he left it in plain sight. But he had hidden the brush beneath his pillow - it was an easy find!” declared Artemis

Presenting the thread to her queen in her open hands the assembled group looked upon it in surprise. Somehow the thread and what had originally been cut from it had been merged into one continual loop, hence its unusual properties.


"Wise Athena, it would please me that you read this thread. Explain to us the source of our woe," Hera asked.

Artemis placed the stolen thread into Athena's hands and the wise goddess began to study the loop.

"Many times this loop has been run. Always an angry man, bewitched by the allure of the flame he seeks to watch things burn. And then having sown his destruction dies by his own flames or the justice that comes after it. Then the loop begins again thereafter," Athena explained as she followed the loop back to its beginning.

"Hmmm, and so when Diana killed him before he set his flames, his fate was disrupted, along with all the rest. Moros must have known she had marked him for death in order to enjoy the chaos it gave rise to," Hera realised.

"Then, what must be done with this forever reborn man? Mortals were destined to be sent to the afterlife after one lifetime. It is the fear of where they shall be sent in the afterlife that ensures their good behaviour while they live," Themis said.

"He is fated to lay waste to all he touches, the last act being The Reichstag. After that day we shall cut his life, his last cycle falling where it will," Athena said, looking at the cunningly formed loop.

"And then?" Hera asked.

"When he appears for the final time we already have a weapon to end him. Our oath taker! This man has history with her homeland, putting it to the torch. Diana will wait patiently as fair cities burn but when the time comes let Nemesis be her guide," Athena explained.

"Then if it pleases you good queen, I have my judgement for Moros and his accomplice," Themis said sternly as she reminded everyone of the present crisis.

"It most certainly does, good Themis." Hera commanded.

Themis nodded her head and approached Moros and the talkative Nymph. Themis, immune to Echo's tale was safe from her words, but as she closed in Echo faltered nervously awaiting the news.

Moros blinked as the tale paused and realised that Themis loomed large.

"What fate awaits me, Themis?" asked Echo meekly.

"Echo, former watcher of the domains of Artemis and ward of good Hera, you are of course, free. You were only ever a victim in all this and it was all us gods that mistreated you. Trapped between commands and threats, fear and duty, there was nothing you could do. For that I sentence all the gods to forgive you for helping Moros,” Themis said, her scornful eyes falling upon the god of Doom as he began to slowly recover from Echo’s enchantment.

“Oh thank you, great Themis! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Echo replied excitedly.

“Now run along, little one, for you are forgiven,” Themis urged Echo, hoping to relieve her own guilt at never having spoken in the Nymph’s defence before becoming cursed.


"WHAT!" Moros protested as Echo rose from her cross legged pose on the grass. Such was his bellow Echo stumbled to her knees before finding her feet again, running to the safety of the others.

Themis watched as Echo threw herself at Hera’s feet whose palm cupped Echo’s cheek and urged the Nymph to rise. The laughter and gentle applauding of those surrounding Echo confirmed to Themis that her godly judgement had truly taken effect. Not Hera, not Athena, not anyone would think ill of the nymph this time. Themis looked back at Moros with contempt, her smile evaporating as she did so.

"Moros, embodiment of mortal fear and doom I find you guilty," Themis said, remaining calm.

"Who are YOU to judge ME!” Moros yelled as he began to rise to his feet.

"SILENCE! You are guilty of blackmail. Guilty of deceit. You are guilty of stealing from the Fates and guilty of feasting on the fear of gods! YOU are guilty of dark treachery" Themis announced her eyes tracking skyward as Moros rose, her pointed finger extended in accusation.

"FEAR ME, YOU SO-CALLED GODS, FOR YOUR TIME IS OVER!" Moros boomed, the assembled gods posturing to fight or flee.

"Your sentence is godly ridicule! No longer can you feast on godly sustenance. A mortal diet of fear is all that you can ever taste again!" decreed Themis.

There was a pause as the godly decree took a moment to take hold and then....

"STOP YOUR LAUGHTER!" bellowed Moros as suddenly the gods began to laugh in the face of their would-be oppressor.



The laughter began as mere giggles, then quickly became out and out raucous belly laughter.

“He...he-hid- the- brush- under....under his PILLOW!” Hermes laughed, breathlessly, clutching himself, as he doubled up laughing.

The more they laughed the more Moros shrank, sapped of his stolen power until he was left a puny shadow of his former self.

"Go, go feed on mortal dread as you were meant to do but do not expect respect from your godly neighbours until it gives Zeus and Hera both such pleasure to do so. If you keep with good behaviour your striking of our queen will be forgotten," Themis said.

Hiding his face in shame Moros turned and fled from the Royal garden and the assembled gods applauded their goddess of justice as she returned to them.

===========================================

2144AD

Diana's eyes fluttered open as she regained consciousness. Above her, close to her face was what appeared more of the marvel known as glass. It was curved, thin and smooth but as Diana went to touch it she realised she was in the confines of a tube. The glass...was also not what it seemed. It had none of the cold touch of glass, it felt somehow less solid to her finger tips, giving slightly as she pressed gently against it.

There was a moment of panic as Diana realised she was inside a prison not much bigger than herself. Then she noticed the wires attached to her forehead and wrists though she did not know what they were or what purpose they served.

"The Daymare, what has become of it? Where am I?" Diana thought to herself as she wiggled futilely. Her armour and crimson corset were gone, replaced by strange robes which were very light, almost as if she wore nothing

Suddenly, looming over her, another woman appeared. With short cut hair and large beautiful eyes all dressed in white she seemed like some godly messenger with her kind smile, akin to a Naiad or some other beautiful nymph like Echo

"It is okay, it is just the effect of your cryo-sleep, you remember soon, da!" said the Russian accented woman speaking in English. Her voice was deadened by the strange non- glass but Diana somehow seemed to understand the strange language. Then Diana recalled how Artemis had given her the gift “to read the local tongue” in the distant land of Caledonia. Was Natalia from that place?

With a hiss the pod opened, the perspex lid swinging open. The Russian woman with the name Natalia on her name patch placed a reassuring hand on Diana's shoulder as she carefully disconnected the little sensor pads from her temples and arms.

"Welcome to D.S.E.L.P Artemis" Natalia said quietly.

"Artemis, oh, I....?" Diana began with confusion.

"Do not tell me you were signed on for Apollo!" Natalia said, eyes widening as she paused in her work.

Diana's face revealed her realisation "Oh I am sure I'm in the right place, err what year is it again?" she smiled.

Natalia looked down at Diana unsure if she was joking or not. "Ah, comedian, great, we get on fine!" she grinned. "What year is it!? Three weeks in sleep and these tourists forget everything,"

Then, Diana felt it, the releasing of some straps inside the pod revealing an uncomfortable reality; she was weightless. Rising from her pod what she thought was up was down and down was up. She had powers like Apollo! She could FLY! Around her were more pods, all open like hers, their occupants gone already.

"Hey Natalia, that corrupt data packet has come in clear finally, the manifest was off by one. You should have our mystery passenger's information now," said a man in similar close fitting white suit to Natalia. Diana barely heard him, staring around her instead at this wondrous new environment. Even her own suit had wonders – there were strange slits at her hips, angled and roughly the size of her hand. She tentatively slid her left hand in and then out again. It seemed to be like a moneypouch that was part of her clothing. Whilst no cut-purse would be able to snip it from her belt, she doubted anything in it would be very secure, open as it was to the world.

"Thank you, Adam," Natalia said as she drew a data pad from her pocket which was tethered to her by a line.

“Hey, while I am here, have you seen Doctor Richards? Ops has been looking for him,” Adam asked as an afterthought.

“Hmmm, no but try hub, he was talking about his probes again at breakfast,” Natalia responded as she tapped at her datapad.

In the meantime Diana was struggling with her new environment. It was like being lost in the water and yet there she was, able to breathe. Natalia looked between the datapad and the ungainly Diana as she emerged from her pod into the reception area. Diana's wonderment at her new found Godly powers had dissipated when she saw that Adam and Natalia could float too. What was this strange realm?

"Ah, Prince, Diana. Pretty name! Traveling alone? A shame!" Natalia said as she read more data off the pad. With a friendly thumbs up, Natalia waved off Adam who nodded and spun away, off to do other tasks.

"Not always..." Diana said wistfully as she studied the smooth white walls of this strange vessel, The Artemis. She noticed she could feel no motion of the waves from Poseidon – perhaps they were in port?

Natalia reached into her pocket and produced a velcro patch that she patted onto Diana's upper arm. Diana frowned as she looked at her upper arm with curiosity to see what Natalia had placed there. With a deep blue background and titled with red thread, ARTEMIS, there was a gold embroidered female figure that held a bow, preparing to let loose her arrow into the heavens. And beneath that, WW …

“What does this signify?” Diana asked without thinking.

“You are lucky! Normally tourist get 'TG' mission patch, da! Temporary Guest! But as you hear we do not know Diana is coming so you get spare patch from locker, 'MM' – Mission Management – do not let power get to head but you now outrank me, 'MS' – Mission Specialist,” grinned Natalia, tapping her own badge.

Diana looked back at her patch and realised the pair of W's were actually M's, and immediately stopped with her wondrous thoughts as to what it meant. Evidently though these badges were something simple yet valued like a prize by the travellers who passed through this place and WHAT a place. There was no wood in sight and what Diana had taken to be a glass tube was something else – clear like glass but warmer to the touch, seemingly lighter as she pushed gently against it. The walls were not wood, nor marble, nor plaster, but smooth and white none the less, as was the floor. Diana then felt disorientated and a little nauseous as she floated gently from where she lay.

Diana floundered a little as she sought to swim in the air and quickly realised she needed to get purchase on something in order to move.

"I am like a newborn in this place!" Diana complained.

"Yes, like the womb! I help you at first but you will get used to it!" Natalia said as she tossed out a tether to Diana and mimed with her hands for Diana to buckle on.

Diana looked down at her clothes and saw she wore a close fitting suit, already reinforced with a stitched in harness, a point on the front of her torso ready to clip onto. With a deft movement and firm positive click she and Natalia were connected together.

"Good, now we go. When we get to the rim there will be more gravity. You might even have appetite back!" Natalia said with a grin.

Natalia found some purchase on the walls of the capsule they were in and thrust away with her legs, towing Diana behind her. As they drifted into a longer, narrower tube a disembodied voice seemed to fade in, causing Diana to look around herself for the person talking as she didn't realise the voice was over a speaker. She thought at first it was a voice of the gods, but its message was almost banal. Natalia seemed to pay no heed but at first Diana was left confused by a voice with no body.

#Welcome to the Artemis, the current date in London is July – Twenty-First- Twenty-One-Forty-Four and the time is Oh-one-fifteen-hours BST. The Artemis is one of four platforms to be constructed at the outer rim of our solar system. Her twin, Apollo, lies at the opposite edge of the Solar system while two other similar vessels are under construction. Their names will be announced by the Earth Deep Space Exploration Council during their commissioning ceremonies planned to be held in late two-thousand and forty five,#

"The Daymare leads me true, - this is where Grexos is to strike!" Diana thought to herself.

Unbeknown to Diana, the Daymare had transformed to befit the times, the pod that had appeared inside the transit capsule to get to the Artemis was the Daymare itself.

Diana continued to be towed in Natalia's wake moving further and further from the hub towards what was a larger outer rim, all the while the voice without a body spoke on.

#The names Artemis and Apollo, the Greek gods, were chosen because of their proficiency with the bow. Like a bow these two Deep Space Exploration Launch Platforms launch into the Milky Way our exploration probes at a great velocity. Unmolested by potential electromagnetic interference from our sun the magneto-railgun technology can send probes accurately and at speeds approaching that of light...# the voice continued.

"So many years, dear Leto and your children are still remembered," Diana said to herself as Natalia ahead of her gracefully propelled them both onwards.

#...the first returning probes are expected to arrive in twenty years using free return trajectories before slowing into a parking orbit near earth for data retrieval...# the voice went on.

Then Diana began to feel it, a sense of gravity, as did Natalia.

"Here is the limit, denoted by the orange zone. We use the ladder from now. Note the markings! You don't want to descend ladder head first!" Natalia scoffed as she spun around to face Diana.

Soon the pair had cleared the orange zone and passed into a red area, the sense of weightlessness leaving them both. Even in her brief time of weightlessness the change hit Diana hard, causing her to grunt as her muscles awakened.Oddly, she felt it most noticeably in the settling down of her breasts back upon her torso, a strange sensation indeed as she felt their considerable weight rest back upon her body.

"Ha, now your body remembers!" Natalia laughed, glancing upwards.

Within a few minutes the pair stepped down the last rungs and appeared in a large module of the station. Similarly dressed men and women were gathering food in trays from a wall while others sat at tables eating.

"You must be hungry, da? Eat!" Natalia urged Diana who seemed suddenly distracted.

One wall made of some clear material had an enchanting view. In the distance a bright point of light shone in a dark sea while a myriad of smaller lights accompanied it. It was then Diana was reminded of the campfires at Platea and so entranced walked towards the scene as if hypnotised. Platea? That was a strange recollection for her to have – as she had never been to Boeotia. Yet...there was some almost residual memory there...of two great armies in the night. But the more she tried to think of the memory, the more it fled from her mind. Perhaps Mnemosyne was playing tricks upon her. The other people barely looked up at Diana as they ate at strange metal framed clusters of seats with hard, shiny white tables at their centre, chatting amongst themselves or occasionally glancing at the view as she passed by. Again nothing here seemed to be constructed of wood.

As Diana approached, her presence activated a heads up display that began to overlay points in the night sky. Aligning with her point of view a reticule marked the sun, and a mere dot that was the Earth. Its sudden appearance startled her for a moment until she realised these tiny words written in flames in the air were no danger. Though they looked like tiny torches there was no heat.

Diana drew in a quiet, sharp breath as she realised she was among the heavens.

"I am but upon the night sky, and Gaia is far below!" Diana whispered in awe.

"Ah, first time yes!" Natalia said, barely overhearing Diana’s words as she stood back at a respectful distance.

Natalia’s joy was seeing Diana's amazement. The view of home from their unique vantage point had become somewhat routine for the Russian cosmonaut after her long duration in space. Now, seeing Diana’s reaction, Natalia felt a renewed sense of what it was to be at the edge of the solar system.

Diana touched the glass and flinched as it highlighted a point of light she had inadvertently touched.

"Yes, it is interactive. A lot of points of interest are in database, da. If you can see it, it can tell you what it is," Natalia boasted, although she was more fascinated with Diana's seeming innocence.

"What.... what lay beyond?" asked Diana as she marvelled at the view, the palms of her hands flat to the glass.

"What, outside? That is what the probes we launch from here will find out. There is the void of course… but beyond the void... “Natalia began, incredulous to Diana's ignorance. "That is what we launch probes to find out."

Diana looked to Natalia in horror. The void! That was what existed before the Gods came to be, even the Titans before them. The void was chaos and it was nothing all at once, a deadly emptiness that needed to be fulfilled.

Natalia read Diana's expression and mistook it. Perhaps it was a language thing, a translation error, the pair reaching to their shared grasp of the foreign tongue of English. Diana Prince was listed as Greek on her datapad after all.

"Oh, you mean in composition? The vacuum here is nearly perfect but at times we see molecules of noble gas," Natalia corrected herself.

Diana looked at Natalia once more, her answer not quite what she had been looking for and turned to look outside again with more respect for the deadly environment than she had had but a moment before. Safe inside the station they were adrift on a sea of death. So this was a ship, of a kind, after all.

#BING – “WILL THE DUTY MISSION SUPERVISOR AND DUTY MISSION SPECIALIST PLEASE REPORT TO OPS – CODE BLUE” BING#

“I am sorry, Miss Prince but I must go,” Natalia said calmly, gesturing to the source of the computer voice that had called across the station. Evidently whatever called Natalia away was no cause for concern.

“That’s okay. I think I am ready to eat now,” Diana said with a weak smile.



============

At the watching pool Artemis and Nemesis observed the events that passed in the far reaches of space, and in a time long beyond the now in ancient Greece. The chamber was illuminated by torch light, the rim of the pool covered with frost, the very edges of the water showing hints of ice. Curled up on the floor, patiently waiting for Artemis was her deer, eyes closed. Artemis and Nemesis had ensured they would wake during the winter night to witness Diana’s arrival. This after all was the hunt that she had begun at the time of Great Alexander’s birth some two and half thousand years earlier, neither were going to miss the grand finale now.

"A new understanding of the void she has," Nemesis said, her eyes narrowing on the scene playing out in the water.

"Equal as all humanity has too. Common among the many cultures on earth is the concept of creation from the black nothingness. Little did their primitive fore-bearers know how right their concepts truly were, both spiritually and scientifically too," Artemis said calmly with a nod.

"True, even the words 'Then there was light' unite us, despite it not seeming so," Nemesis said, speaking of the new religion that had risen from the west.

"Curious that Diana does not have her latest gift to aid her in this chase, it will be difficult to locate her prey in such a clean and sterile place.” Artemis said noting Diana’s appearance in the watching waters.

"Ah but she set forth on this task long before we gave it to her, such are the meandering lines of time. And to think, once this is over and she returns to her own time she has to face …” Nemesis, paused, eyes widening with mischief knowing of the perils to come.

“Ah yes, the trials of the underworld are coming!” Artemis began to recall. These were adventures that had long been and gone but Diana as she was now had yet to face them.

“Ah-ah, before that can happen you must guide her to Grexos. And you are right, that artificial environment hides the tracks of her prey. So, let what would hinder your guidance become your ally instead. But hurry, Atropos and her shears beckon. Is it Grexos alone who she will end, or will it be all the lives on board the vessel of your name that she shall cut down?" Nemesis warned her huntress friend.

Artemis looked at Nemesis then back to the water thoughtfully, thinking on what Nemesis had said.
“Hmmm, a touch of Athena you have today; your wisdom I understand. Do not worry, Atropos will have need to measure and cut just once. Besides, the tapestry is colourful enough right now, the threads of the lives Diana saves will be better used another day. And to think we once took mortals for granted...their loyalty...their obeisance. We barely gave them thought before this great quest to fulfill her vow began. They were our toys, our playthings. We dabbled with individuals, made heroes and monsters of them, but we did not truly care for their fate, by and large. Yet now, knowing what we are without them....” Artemis looked about her at the wintery Olympus “now we are concerned with each death. Each one lost seems precious.”

“So be it, but first our oathtaker must regain her strength,” Nemesis said, nodding towards the water.

=============

Diana had eaten heartily, her hunger from her journey now satisfied, though she found the whole process unexpectedly difficult. The table was set, her meal presented in something they called a ‘Ready To Eat Meal Tray #4’. Wells within the tray held each aspect of her meal from left to right in three coloured sections they called ‘courses’.

To Diana’s surprise the food itself was bland and tasteless though her hunger contained any sign of complaint. It was now she missed the smell of a roast bird or rabbit and didn’t know what to make of the tiny trident beside her knife until she saw others using it to spear the food in place and then ferry it to their mouths. An interesting concept, but she couldn't help prefer using her fingers; that was until her companions seemed to frown on her faux pas. Wishing to fit in Diana began to mimic the others, right down to eating, mouth closed, and certainly never speaking until her mouth was empty.

Manners learnt, there was now the matter of managing to eat the food itself. There was a strange white pulp present that she learned was something called 'reconstituted mashed potatoes'. She found them tasteless but not unpleasant. The beef she thought she was eating was called a 'meat substitute', whatever that meant. Listening to the small talk at the table she deduced that her fellow travellers were rich merchants, possibly kings. They had ships of the water and of the earthly sky to command and vast enterprises of trade and production within their control. To be where she was now could only mean this persona she had taken on, Diana Prince, commanded wealth beyond her imagination, even for her own royal beginnings.

Now though instinct led her from this bizarre concept of 'space tourism' and back on her path of vengeance. Having snuck away from her follow tourists Diana felt drawn somehow to parts of the vessel not meant for her. Her quarry lay within the areas marked ‘Crew Only’.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Diana’s senses led her upwards, or was it inwards? The radial design of the station made for interesting geography and depending on where she was she discovered she was ever lighter or heavier. The center of the giant wheel she was on was where she seemed to weigh the least and this was where she was drawn.

Diana had moved up one spoke of the wheel and reached a junction, only to hear voices, conversation in full flow. Peeking around the corner Diana gasped and ducked back having seen Natalia and a man discussing something, slightly heatedly.

“I do not understand. This inspection tag says this was tested ‘Satis’ two days ago only,” Natalia said as she slammed a red button to the side of the hatch, as if to demonstrate her point.

The door began to trundle on its rack and pinion drive only to jam and then return to the full open position, a jarring klaxon firing off for a few seconds to declare the malfunction.

“Jeezus! Whose signature is on that?” asked the man with Natalia. Diana reasoned that if Natalia was a mission specialist then perhaps the man was the supervisor that had also been summoned by the strange voice before she ate.

“This is Sven’s, isn’t it … S. Petersson right?” Natalia asked with a frown, studying the inspection tag in the door frame.

“Yes, hmmmm, OK, you do a loop on this ring and do a quick test on the other hatch mechanisms while I try and find Sven,” the supervisor said, gesturing towards Diana’s location.

Diana’s eyes widened as she processed what she heard. Perhaps this Sven person was who she sought.

“Ok, I will keep in touch,” Natalia said as she prepared to move on.

“Hey, stay safe,” the supervisor said as he turned to seek Sven.

The supervisor began to move in bounds, his weight in this location partially gone. Bounding down the padded corridor the supervisor paused when he reached the corner. Glancing left and right he finally made his choice then continued and went out of sight.

Diana, wide eyed, dropped from her hiding place, the fall unnaturally slow. She glanced around and realised that Natalia had also moved on. If Diana had understood the supervisor’s instructions she knew where Natalia was headed next. For Diana though, her path lay in a different direction, the scent of her prey lay deeper towards the center of the giant spinning wheel of a space station. Diana cautiously advanced, passing through the doorway that Natalia had been discussing, a faint smell touching the Oathtaker’s nostrils. Fire.

“Grexos!” Diana whispered.

Diana was confident in her course of action and continued, hauling herself forwards, several steps with each effort. From here onwards she was only going to get lighter and lighter. After advancing for another minute or so Diana found herself at another hatchway. It was open, though above it was a sign that read.

“CAUTION – EMERGENCY ACCESS ONLY – HATCHWAY TO BE KEPT CLOSED AT ALL OTHER TIMES”

Diana looked anxiously in different directions then at the door. Whatever purpose it served it seemed it was not meant to be open as she had found it. The burning smell touched Diana’s senses again and she studied the area she was in. A digital panel declared ‘Door Closed. Lock Out Enabled’ , a diagram alongside showing the door in its closed position.

“Why does this … lie?” Diana wondered as she studied the situation.

Then she noticed the red button, the same sort that Natalia had pressed to try and close the other door. Diana stood back, read the sign, looked at the door, then the panel. If open was bad then closed must be good. The door was telling lies.

With a firm press Diana struck the button and set the door in motion…

# BING – “WARNING – EMERGENCY ACCESS HATCHWAY OPENING” BING#

“No… you’re… you’re closing it, not opening it!” Diana exclaimed to the artificial voice as the door began to clank closed on its rack and pinion drive until…

A klaxon briefly sounded as the hatch stopped moving and began to return to its open position, the same as the previous hatch Diana had witnessed malfunctioning. Was this the work of Grexos? His tools were usually of fire and while she smelled his work the usual flame and smoke seemed to be absent in this place. What purpose could it serve to have these doors lie about their true state? Puzzled, but confident Grexos was in the process of starting his next fire Diana pushed on.

Diana was now almost without weight; pushing herself away from the hatchway frame sent her on a long gentle and straight path. She tried to stay rigid, arms out ahead but her uncertainty of her situation caused her to flounder just a little, leaving her paddling in the air.

#BING “THE DUTY MISSION SPECIALIST AND DUTY SYSTEMS ENGINEER ARE TO REPORT TO RING ONE – SPOKE FOUR – REPEAT – RING ONE – SPOKE FOUR. THE MISSION SUPERVISOR IS TO REPORT TO OPS – REPEAT – THE MISSION SUPERVISOR IS TO REPORT TO OPS CODE YELLOW – REPEAT CODE YELLOW” BING#

Diana heard the message and looked where she was. She was indeed past ring one and on a corridor marked “Spoke Four”.. Had it been what she had done with the door that had triggered the message? Now nervous about the consequences of her actions Diana knew she had to try and reach Grexos, wherever he may be before she was prevented from doing her work.

The next area came into view, and Diana realised that now she was near the central hub. The docking area where she had first arrived was signposted in one direction while the probe launching area was marked in another. It was that way which attracted Diana first and she instinctively felt that it was there she would find Grexos himself.

Diana pushed herself away but the tight curvature of the inner ring of the station meant she still had to do her journey in bursts. She had done one such burst, then another as she rounded the bend and then she saw him…

In a oversized yellow suit and donning a strange helmet which was mostly more of the incredibly strong yet clear material. The man had some black box tethered to his chest while on his wrist something shone with an intense light close to the locking mechanism of a hatchway.

Diana cocked her head. Could this be him. Could this be Grexos? Studying him she drifted into his line of sight and his torch went out as he flinched to face her. The man locked eyes on her as she did him and he let out what sounded like a yelp of surprise. Diana recognised it more as guilt though and with gritted teeth she prepa…

“Yah!”

Suddenly from the edge of Diana’s field of view Natalia in her jumpsuit lunged at Grexos from a passageway and enveloped him.

“Stop what you are doing, Sven!” Natalia growled as she wrestled with Grexos who flailed at his attacker in his unwieldy suit.

As the suited Grexos spun around Diana saw the wrist torch burst back into life. Now Diana realised this beautiful yet painfully bright light was not for illumination, it could cut, even through metal. Sparks flew as Natalia forced the weapon away from herself in a brutal bid for survival. It was then Natalia saw something clipped to Sven’s equipment harness.

“Doctor Richards’ key! What have you done!” exclaimed Natalia as she angrily slammed her palm into Sven’s helmet.

Grexos realised he had been found out and seeing a second assailant approaching reached to his tool belt as he fended off Natalia. Kicking off from the hatchway frame Grexos drove Natalia into a bulkhead wall and raising one arm his weapon, a screwdriver appeared. The Russian cosmonaut’s eyes widening in horror as…

“Take THAT!” Grexos snarled as he drove his screwdriver into Natalia’s shoulder.

“Grexos! No!” Diana yelled before pushing herself off the wall and towards the fight.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh! screamed Natalia as blood bubbled up and floated from the wound.

Grexos sneered as his hand rose again ready to strike the Russian woman, her white quilted jumpsuit quickly revealing a deep red circle at her shoulder. Just as he coiled up his arm, ready to strike once more he was stopped as Diana swept by him. An outstretched arm had caught Grexos and stopped his murderous thrust and then Diana tumbled on, slowed but not able to stop until she reached the wall.

Grexos was now floating between the two women. He glanced at the hatchway he had been meddling with and the two women and then drew in the black box tethered to his chest. The black item was a high speed fan propulsion pack. Battery powered and designed to use atmospheric air for propulsion it made for a safer way to get around than using combustible fuel as thrust. Grexos grasped the unit in two hands and aimed ahead before he pulled the trigger, firing the unit’s fans into life.

VWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER

Gracefully Grexos powered away, being towed at great pace by the propulsion unit. Diana cursed herself, Grexos had slipped her grasp as she had floated by him. Diana hated that it was impossible to change direction mid-flight in this place. Diana hauled herself closer to Natalia who’s eyes were clamped closed in agony, one hand pressed into her wound to stem the blood loss.

“Natalia, you are injured!” Diana said as she embraced the wounded Russian. Placing a hand on Natalia’s back Diana realised the strange needle-like dagger had not gone through her Russian friend’s body. Diana’s time on the battlefields also told her the location of the wound, while painful was not always life threatening.

The Russian uttered words that Diana did not fully understand, but no doubt could guess what they meant given the circumstances.

“Diana, you should not be here, this is job for crew, not visitor,” Natalia said, pain slowing her words.

“Stopping him IS my work, brave Natalia. What can I do?” Diana said as she clamped one hand over Natalia’s, trying to keep pressure on the wound.

Natalia studied the raven haired beauty and now began to wonder if her presence truly was to stop Sven from killing them all. Her strange and undeclared arrival, her odd behaviour too, perhaps it was all a ruse to disguise her true nature? Was she police or an agent of some kind?

“He has been sabotaging the outer ring hatchways and rigged the inner ring doors to stay open,” Natalia began.

“I saw a door; it said it was closed when it was not … I …” Diana began to explain.

“Yes, me too. That was you, on spoke four? When I heard an alert I was going to cut across the hub to get there and …. Well … Sven was here, sabotaging this door into the hub. He must be about to open the station to space,” Natalia continued, panting as she spoke.

“He is going to let the void in here with us?!” Diana exclaimed. The void was not for humanity to touch. It had been the gods themselves that had been born from it and they who had banished it from their lands so that mankind could live.

“Yes, but, this is the choke point. This is the hub access door. He did not have much time to break the mechanism,” Natalia gestured to the door with her head.

“What if I slow him down. Can you close it in time?” Diana asked looking at Natalia’s wound and the hatchway trying to calculate which injury would win out.

“Da! I think so, but If you can get the launch key from him you might stop him. Open that locker up there and pass down the cases inside. There is first aid kit, and tool sets. Get those for me and go. Hurry, go stop him!” Natalia nodded.

Without hesitation Diana released Natalia and kicked herself away from the wall to the lockers. She prised open the clips holding them closed and tugged free some cases that were inside. Diana had no idea what a First Aid Kit actually was until she saw a box with the words written upon it and the icons which caused her to blink in surprise. The box was blood red, a white cross upon it, but within the cross was the rod of Asclepius, a serpent coiled around it. The sign was used by the healers and the curers of her time! Still now Asclepius was revered!

The “First Aid Kit” and another box marked “EMRG REP TOOL KIT” drifted on their tethers which Natalia gratefully gathered in with her good arm. Noting their usefulness Diana ‘s eyes lit up seeing a spare yellow tether and took it. Disconnecting the end clipped to the locker interior she coiled it up and clipped it to the anchor point woven into her jumpsuit.

“Go, I have got this! If you see me come inside you will know the door is ready. Let him do what he wants, but with this one door we can save the station!” Natalia said, her words painful to come.

Diana nodded then pulled her way through the hub access way and into the core of the hub which was almost like a different place all together. Ahead of her, pointing out from the center hub was a chamber shaped like a long tube. This was the axis of rotation for the space station and on it was a set of metal rails. Closed around the rails not far ahead were heavy metal doors marked “CAUTION – RAILGUN BREACH BEYOND THIS POINT”.

Observation windows in the doorway showed that the rails continued on. A short way after that another set of doors were present. “DANGER – RAILGUN BARREL BEYOND THIS POINT! NO UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS” was the message upon them. Then, way up ahead at the end of the long barrel were one more set of doors. “DANGER! RAILGUN MUZZLE - VACUUM BEYOND THIS POINT!”.

Diana blinked as nausea set in. It was quite unsettling being able to literally see the rotation transpiring before her eyes. At the outer ring where she had eaten her meal she and everything around her seemed still but now …

Gods I am going to be sick…

Diana tried to put the unsettling feeling in her stomach out of her mind. Grexos was here somewhere and she had to put an end to him. Surrounding what was the probe loading area were consoles, or, to Diana’s eyes, strange tables with twinkling lights on them. Each console user would be able to see the other as they looked down onto the probe set on its rails.

“I know you are here, Grexos. You cannot succeed now. Come to me and I will kill you clean and quick. What do you have to lose? You always seem to have a way to come back…” Diana said into the open.

“But I am so close to victory once again, Amazon. I think I should at least … TRY!” responded Grexos from out of sight.

Klaxons began to blare out their warning, orange lights flashing as the mechanism responsible for feeding the probes onto the tracks sparked into life. Diana flinched at the alarming noise and thrust herself to where she felt she was out of harm’s way.

# WARNING – RAILGUN LOADING IN PROGRESS – WARNING – RAILGUN LOADING IN PROGRESS #

VWRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Down came a hydraulic driven platform with a probe latched to it, the whole mechanism easing to a halt as it neared the rails.

KERCLUNK-KERCLUNK

#DANGER – LAUNCH CYCLE IN PROGRESS – DANGER - LAUNCH CYCLE IN PROGRESS #
The probe latched onto the pair of rails and then the platform disconnected, the hydraulics drawing it up and away and then moving on to the next awaiting probe in the stack. Klaxons continued to sound, strobing orange hazard lights flashing their ominous warning.

Then the first doors began to open, the ones leading to the rail gun breach, the metallic clank echoing as a shuttle mechanism slid the probe along. Diana looked around in confusion as the alarms played out, the orange lights reflected in her eyes while the set of doors opened. It was then that Grexos lunged from his hiding place by one of the consoles. Thrusting himself forward with the propulsion pack he swept past Diana who reached out futilely in a bid to snag him.

Grexos drifted into the next section and then saw the next control console he needed. He was so close now to achieving the destruction of the station he so desired. Pressing some keys on a console he sought to close the breach door behind himself, for now at least. Diana however had other plans and lunging forward she headed into the chamber with Grexos.

Diana could only glide in a straight path with no way to change course and she slammed into the door that lead to the barrel of the rail gun. Her arms that had been outstretched in a bid to stop herself buckled as she tried to slow her approach. In this weird world the rules were totally alien to her, nothing behaved as she expected.

Colliding with the barrel doors ahead she tumbled like the wreckage of a chariot that had lost a wheel. Grexos sensed now was his time to strike, he and his quarry inside the breach chamber together with the probe that had advanced forward on the tracks to the next phase of its journey. Diana tried to control her tumbling only to find herself snagged by the ankles and driven hard into a wall by Grexos who had his knee buried into her stomach.

“Whuuuuuhhhhh…” gasped Diana as she was winded from the blow. Grexos saw a conduit running by him, pointed his arm and activated his plasma torch. This was his new tool of flame she realised. No longer was it a wild indiscriminate weapon. With this mini white hot torch his murder could be precise!

“Danger – Cutting Torch Activated!” announced the voice on his suit.

Diana slowly began to recover from the blow only to suddenly see Grexos back away, the shredded conduit in his hand which billowed a white fog towards her.

“Freeze!” Grexos chuckled as he aimed the mouth of the conduit at Diana.

Diana began to feel a terrific chill in her body as Grexos showered her with ice cold gas. The hose, marked LN2 in yellow letters along its length poured out a white fog in Diana’s direction. Diana floundered backwards until she was pinned by the flow of super-cold gas.

Diana’s jumpsuit began to glisten with frost, her exposed skin too and her eyes slammed shut in self-defence. Diana battled to push herself clear of the strange weapon but she felt light headed from the gas and the pressure that pushed her into the wall held her fast. The intense cold was utterly debilitating, her limbs rapidly becoming sluggish and numb. Her jumpsuit, whatever it was made of, seemed to have protected her somewhat but it itself had become stiff and in places even brittle.

Grexos tossed the hose aside, the last sputtering quantities of liquid nitrogen filling the space with its white fog. He thrust himself up to the launch control console and drifted himself gently into the seat and began to work on his wicked scheme. Meanwhile Diana drifted, unmoving, unresponsive and seemingly without life.

Grexos got to work on the control panel in front of him, his blood stained screwdriver ready for action. One by one the screws from the panel were removed and soon the console was broken into, revealing the circuitry beneath.

Grexos studied the circuitry with his educated eyes and began to corrupt the logic and protections built into the launch system. He, like all his other alternate identities had been born in their own time, grown from babies, were schooled, made friends, got jobs and then at some moment they discovered their true nature. Within them the reborn Grexos remembered who he was and what it was that drove him. Fire!

Within Diana’s still heart was the warm blood her body had sought to protect. Drawn into her core the important organs were safe and warm. Bit by bit she willed herself to let go, to let her heart pump out her hot angry rage and thaw her body from its frost.

BOOOM … BOOOM… thudded her heart on its opening beat.

Diana flinched, her life force returning.

The doors marked as the barrel of the railgun parted with a fanfare of klaxons and revealed the long set of track leading to the muzzle doors of the giant probe firing weapon.

BOOMBOOM – BOOMBOOM

Groggily Diana began to turn her stiff neck to see what was going on around her. With a whirr and a groan the firing mechanism drew the probe forward to the start of the barrel, the hiss of cryogenic gasses marking the activation of the superconducting magneto-railgun system.

BOOMBOOM – BOOMBOOM—BOOMBOOM--BOOMBOOM—BOOMBOOM

Diana breathed deeper, and deeper, her heart now no longer just rebooting her body, it was almost ready to drive it into battle.


Natalia had been working on the hub access door, the inside of her jumpsuit packed with taped over gauze. Natalia had undone most of the damage to the Hub access hatch, the rack and pinion mechanism now free to move but with manual drive only. A special crank handle from the emergency kit was in place ready to be turned yet she could not manage it alone in her condition. Natalia knew that if she could get Diana to help her then Grexos would fail. The rest of the station was open wide, but this one sole door could save them, if only it would close!


BOOMBOOM – BOOMBOOM—BOOMBOOM--BOOMBOOM—BOOMBOOM
Diana flexed her fingers then her arms, testing her mobility. They ached, they stung, but they worked!

Grexos used his battery powered thrust pack and towed himself to a different console inside the breach section of the railgun. Marked with a placard “Launch Controller – Dr Richards” the console had a key slot which he hungrily eyed before producing his key. He fumbled with it awkwardly in the fingers of his bulky glove before finally aligning it. With wickedness in his heart Grexos plunged the stolen key into the panel twisted it and the removed it.


#PROBE LAUNCH SEQUENCE CONFIRMED – LAUNCHING IN T-MINUS SIXTY SECONDS #
Diana gasped as she finally thawed and thrashed as she looked around her. The railgun was filled with the sounds of warning klaxons and orange lights and there he was, Grexos! Grexos laughed seeing that she was going to be too late to stop him. He gripped the key in one hand and held his thrust pack in another, zipping away further up the barrel. He was going to witness the most spectacular accident ever!

Diana thrust herself with her feet and raced after Grexos though she had no way to manoeuvre. Once in motion she would continue on straight until she caught onto something. Grexos laughed as she closed, able to easily zip away to one side and to safety.

CLANG!

Diana struck the muzzle doors, a glance out the portal confirming that beyond lay the void. A silent, invisible killer, it was ready to rush in and finish her, Natalia and then each and everyone else on board as it rushed through the sequence of open, sabotaged doors. Unseen by Diana’s eyes Natalia suddenly appeared all the way back near the breach of the railgun nursing her wounded arm.

#Launching in T Minus Fifty Seconds!#

“Dir’mo!” Natalia exclaimed.

Ahead of her she could see the breach and barrel doors were now open and the probe was ready on its tracks to fire into space. The configuration of the railgun was all wrong and worse, the muzzle doors were closed during the countdown phase! Grexos had rigged the lockouts to work around the wrong way. He could not make all the doors of the railgun open at once but this way he could use the probe itself to solve his problem for him and blow a hole out the station and kill everyone inside.

“Diana – come back! The door – we can close it together!!” screamed Natalia though her words were drowned out by the klaxons.

Diana thrust herself towards Grexos once more only to see him zip aside again, his taunting laughter drowned out by the klaxons that screamed their warning. Diana clattered into the wall of the barrel and spun around. Then she remembered the spare yellow tether that she gathered from the locker.

#Launching in T Minus Forty Seconds!#


“Let’s see you dodge this,” Lunging once more Diana swooped across the barrel, Grexos again using his thrust pack to keep himself clear and …

“What!” Grexos felt his foot get snagged with the tether, Diana having knotted it like a lasso.

Grexos attempted to power out of the trap, gripping the trigger on the thrust pack ever tighter. The motors whined as they sought to tow Grexos along but Diana hauled him in all the same, her gritted teeth confessing her effort.

“DIANA – COME BACK!!” Natalia called frantically, her one good arm flailing to get Diana’s attention.

#Launching in T Minus Thirty Seconds!#

“No… no…!” Grexos snarled as Diana drew him closer and closer. With one final yank Diana reeled him in and enveloped him with her limbs. Arms and hands wrapped around each other, Diana struggling to break his hold on the key. They twisted and turned, Diana slamming the oddly suited Grexos against the bulkheads.

Grexos ignited his cutting torch and threatened Diana with it causing her to cease trying to get the key. This was taking too long! Diana grabbed carefully at the cutting torch, the heat unbearable, and tried to turn it back on Grexos. He was strong but she was stronger, her nimble hands able to do more than he ever could in an EVA suit.

#Launching in T Minus Twenty Seconds!#

The torch passed by Grexos’ helmet, scorching the clear material as Diana twisted his hand. That was when Diana saw Natalia in the reflection in the helmet and knew; the hub access door, it was ready! Grexos let go of the trigger on the torch in fear of damaging his suit further and Diana made one last lunge for the key.

Grexos curled up as he sought to prevent Diana taking the key which he knew could be used to shut the launch down except… he suddenly felt he was free. Turning his head Grexos saw the truth.

Diana hovered in front of the space suited Grexos, his thrust pack in her hands. She had tricked him into protecting the key and now she had a means of escape instead. Grexos saw Natalia, then looked at Diana and snarled in anger.

#Launching in T Minus Ten Seconds!#


With a lunge Grexos sought to catch Diana but it was too late. Diana sped away using the propulsion pack she had stolen from him and aimed right for the hub access way. Natalia gasped and spun herself then pushed away too, heading away from the Railgun area and out into the corridor.

#9#

Grexos laughed maniacally within his helmet, surely they could not stop him now! And here in this place in the heavens which bore the same name as his first reincarnation’s fiery prize at Ephesus!

#8#

Diana whooshed past the opened breach doors and the chamber with the probe loading mechanism and steered herself to the open hub access doorway.

#7#

Natalia held out her good arm and snagged Diana as she sped out the door and slowed her down a little before the pair ended up slamming into the wall behind them.

#6#

“Diana, place feet there! The handle, turn it, turn it!” Natalia pleaded. Blood began to emerge from the edges of her bandaged wounds once more.

#5#

Diana pushed herself back to the door and put herself to work. Locking her feet into the bracing point she began rotating the crank handle and drawing the door closed. The designers of this place knew well that in the weightlessness you had to be able to grip to something to crank the handle in an emergency.

#4#

“No… too late… you’re too late!” Grexos growled as he could see the door closing at the far end of the rail gun. How could it be, he had sabotaged it. Could it be that the Russian bitch had fixed it?

#3#

The door moved pitifully slowly but it moved nonetheless. Natalia looked anxiously at the opening that needed to be closed and realised they weren’t going to make it. With one last act she clipped herself onto a hard point by the door and waited for her fate.

#2#

CLANKCLANKCLANKCLANKCLANK Rattled the door mechanism as it continued to slowly close. Diana’s eyes widened as, in an instant, she calculated how much more time was needed to close the last few feet in the hatchway.

#1#

“Too laaa…” Natalia began to say when …

#LAUNCH#

There was a dull thud as the muzzle doorway was instantly breached by the probe as it fired on the railgun, punching a hole straight through. Suddenly the rush of air and loose debris filled the corridor as the station started to decompress. Red lights and klaxons made the space more noisy than ever but barely muffled Diana’s growl as she cranked the handle on and on. The wind began to whistle through the ever narrowing gap while the temperature started to fall precipitously. Natalia was yanked about by her tether, her body drawn to the doorway by the gale, but Diana seemed like a rock as she braced herself.

CLANKCLANKCLANKCLANKCLANK

Diana could feel the air thinning, her arms getting heavy with fatigue but she kept going and going and then.

CLUNK!

The one piece of metal between them all and the vacuum of space was closed! Debris swirled then slowed, a sea of floating junk filling the area. Diana unhooked her feet from the bracing point and wearily let herself float with exhaustion.

“Di … Diana … you … you did it!” Natalia managed to say.

“Is … is Artemis safe?” Diana asked, out of breath.

Natalia drifted towards Diana and wrapped her good arm behind her, Natalia’s palm settling on the back of Diana’s head, making her look at her. Diana looked back at Natalia whose expression changed just for a moment. Gone was the pain, gone was the exhaustion. Now there was something else, something familiar.

“Yes … mortal, me, you and everyone else within this temple that bears my name are safe,” Natalia said before pecking a kiss on Diana’s forehead in gratitude.

“Artemis!” Diana said, recoiling from Natalia who winked back with mischief.


Then, as suddenly as the transformation had happened Natalia blinked and the cosmonaut was back to herself though her pain was masked with embarrassed surprise across her face. “Forgive, it was just … the moment… I …I did not mean to…”

Diana grinned, “It’s okay, but we must find a healer to see to your wound,”

“What … what about Sven? Please tell me he is gone! And for good!” Natalia managed as she peeked through an observation portal in the door.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

#Warning, suit decompression, seek an airlock immediately# said the voice inside Grexos’ space helmet as he drifted further and further from the station.

Where were the suffocating passengers? The catastrophic implosion? Why was there so little debris?

“Fuck you, Amazon, fuck you!” Grexos cursed as he placed a hand over the hissing leak in his suit. He had picked up a tiny puncture as he was vented into space and now it was slowly killing him.

What could he do? He considered his equipment and realised he had a chance to return and still wreak havoc one last time. Finding his cutting tool he aimed away from the station and pulled the trigger. The ignition gave him thrust, just a little, and, gradually he began to slow down. If he could just reverse course he might just make it back to the station.

TINK-CLINK-CHINK

Suddenly a crack formed in the clear polymer shell of the helmet where it had been scorched by his own torch at Diana’s hand. The temperature difference between the cold void of space and the cutting torch had provoked the shell to begin its imminent failure


“Damn you… I won’t fail next time…” Grexos raged.

#Warning – Oxygen Low – Seek An Airlock Immediately!#

Grexos sipped his air as he contemplated failure. Most of his deaths had been unpleasant, either at the hands of an executioner, or the Amazon. There had been a few angry mobs in his past too though he had a fair share of opportunities to go out in a blaze of glory instead. Who would he be next time, and where? What would fate conspire to let him destroy next?

#Warning – Oxygen level critical – Seek An Airlock Immediately!#

“Ha… we shall … we shall play our game again … Amazon…” Grexos whispered as he closed his eyes. He was now patiently waiting for the end of this life as Sven, the space systems engineer.

“NO, ....YOU WILL ....NOT!” a rasping voice said menacingly from nowhere. It was a voice that would not and could not be defied.

The eyes of Grexos widened, a shot of adrenaline bringing him back from his blissful resignation of being reincarnated once more. Now he flailed, his bare fingers somehow dragging through dirt as he felt a bony hand around his ankles. Grabbing onto a tree root, Grexos resisted, the bony hand losing it’s grip on him.




Grexos gasped as with a blink he caught sight of The Artemis in the distance again, its lights on, its hull more or less intact.

“No … I … I am to be forever reborn!” gasped Grexos, his arm reaching to The Artemis. He desperately took in a gulp of air yet there was practically none left. His panic sent his heart beating faster, burning through his meagre intake of air.

CRUNCH! The clear shell continued to fail, the cracks deepening.


Grexos was growing faint as the last lungful of gasses contained barely enough oxygen to sustain him, sending his eyes rolling back into his skull for but a moment. In a flash Grexos saw himself in the dirt wearing rags, the bony hand swinging down and grabbing his ankle again.

“No … NO! You can’t have me! I am to be reborn!” screamed Grexos as he writhed, causing himself to flip over onto his back. He looked up to see the back of the cloaked figure that walked on dragging him in his wake.

“You have escaped from the banks for the last time!” boomed the cloaked figure, his head turning to the side.

Grexos heard the figure’s footfalls change note, the dull steps onto soil being exchanged for wooden planking. The reincarnated Greek twisted and grabbed a wooden post, kicking with his legs and breaking the bony hand’s grip once more.

#Warning! Oxygen critical! Pressurization critical! Seek an airlock immediately!#

Grexos awoke to the alarms within his suit, warning messages, warning alarms, and red lights flashed. Gas hissed from his space suit and the shell of his helmet creaked ominously. The eyes in Grexo’s head rolled back, his mouth opening wider, his arms desperately reaching out for rescue. He tried to take a breath and found nothing there, his lungs almost imploding as his blood began to boil. The Artemis was there, tantalisingly close but …

Grexos gasped awake and felt the wooden planking beneath him once more. The cloaked figure spun around and loomed down at the panicked man who now finally saw the face of the hooded man.

“Gods, YOU!” Grexos exclaimed.

The man’s face was boney and gaunt and made more terrifying by the low light at the water’s edge.

“Please, it cannot be you! I am not yours to take” Grexos snivelled as the figure brought his face close to his. The dead impassive eyes bored through the doomed Grexos who was now paralyzed with fear.

“THE LADIES HAVE CUT YOUR THREAD, THE FINAL RECKONING IS RIGHT ONCE MORE,” growled the figure, the stench of his breath causing Grexos to turn away.

Grexos sobbed as the figure grabbed him by his rags and pulled him to his feet. With an iron grip the figure forced Grexos to march along the wooden planking and then the truth was confirmed. They were on a wooden jetty and Grexos looked aghast as the figure stopped beside a small flat bottomed boat drawn up alongside. The wooden craft was ancient, green in places with moss and stinking of wet decay and rotting timber. The smell of it alone chilled him to the marrow for it was the same smell that the cloaked figure also reeked of. Damp, dead wood. An odour of finality, of ending.

The boat terrified him, for it was no sea-going vessel destined to fight the whims of Poseidon. It was a modest barge that would never bear any cargo of substance...a small, flat-keeled punt that was only ever fit to cross rivers. Or one river in particular. The sight of the boat chilled him because it made the figure undeniable. Grexos could no longer pretend and cling to any hope that it was someone else, some THING else....for the boat was clearly a ferry. Which made its master, the figure, the Ferryman...

“No please, great Charon, there has been a mistake!” Grexos protested as he was shoved aboard the vessel, causing him to fall to his knees

The Ferryman unhooked the lines from the jetty with slow, deliberate care – he was in no hurry, for he had Eternity and then he dropped onto the deck, looking down at the terrified Grexos.

“Let us see! What coin do you bring me? For the many lives you have had surely you bring me riches? For you have much to pay for....Show me what you bear in your hand!” The ferryman asked of his reluctant passenger. His voice was dry and rasping, like the rustle of dead leaves. It was a voice that no one could defy.

Confused, Grexos felt compelled to raise his arm and turning his closed fist palm upwards let his fingers part. His hand was shaking uncontrollably. What had not been there before was present now, a small copper coin, worn wafer thin with age. His eyes widened when he saw the near-worthless coin in his palm. His mouth became impossibly dry and his heart was filled with a terrible dread.

The ferryman turned and looked at the prow, a few huddled people looking eagerly to the far bank. To their eyes they saw the rich wheat fields and sunshine that awaited them at Elysium. The ferryman’s dead eyes then glanced between the pitiful offering and to those poor souls astern. In the water, clinging to a rope tied to the tiller were the most wretched and despicable of people. Their crossing was to be one of misery and woe.

“I know how YOU will make the voyage,” Charon said ominously.

“No! Please! With one more life, I can bring you more! I swear! Please! Noooooooooooooo!!” echoed the screams of Grexos between the banks of the wide, fogged over river.

===============

In the cold Hall of Fates Atropos held the unruly thread. The loop had been cut once when his time in Berlin was over and now, his normal life that fate had taken back control of from Moros had been cut down once and for all.

"FINALLY!" Clotho and Lachesis said proudly as the ledgers of life finally balanced.

"And good riddance!" Atropos said with glee, tossing the shortened thread into the pile to be weaved into the great tapestry. The loose end now belonged to Charon and they had ensured a pitifully small coin would make his journey an uncomfortable one.

= = = = = = = = == = = = =

Artemis opened her eyes having for a mere second possessed the body of the Russian cosmonaut. A smile broke out over her face having seen Diana in the flesh again, the first time in a long time.

"And so ends one of the most difficult journeys of revenge I have ever seen!" Nemesis exclaimed with a clap of excitement with her hands.

"And the longest of hunts!" Artemis added.

“Hmmm, and now I am tired, I should retire to bed" Nemesis said with a sigh, waving her hand over the watching pool and sending it clear once again.

"But first let us go tell Moros of our good news, I am sure that will be of some amusement to see his face, learning of the death of his little puppet!" Artemis teased.

"Very well, this will be one act of revenge I will personally delight in before we retire,” Nemesis said, managing a tired smile.” Let us tell Themis also, and bring her before him, as she deserves to share this triumph also”

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Echo walked mournfully to the garden which was bathed in moonlight. The sky was clear, a halo about the moon revealing the air above was freezing cold. The nymph, immune to such discomforts left her bare footprints in the thin layer of snow.

Her sister nymphs had been sleeping for what had seemed an age, their chores undone. The gods that kept court at the palace were also sleeping. Even Hestia’s servants who normally tended to the palace slept, the seat of Olympian power now starting to look tired and at the point of falling into disrepair. It was happening here too, that which had long since happened to the temples to the gods below?

Echo let out a sob and collapsed to the snow covered ground, legs folded beneath her. The garden had long been dormant, all the leaves had already fallen, the heads of all the flowers were dead, their colourful petals gone. Was it really here that she used to tell her tales to all her sisters beneath a summer sun? Was it really here that young lovers had first met and courted? Was it really here that gods once talked of their grand plans for the mortal world? Echo’s head dropped, a tear sliding down her cheek and dropping to the snow. It was over? The midst of the mortal realms twenty-second modern century was going to mark the end for them all on the mount?

“No, I will not let it be. My earthly spirit I will take back from them. Let those ungrateful mortals scream and cry for the return of my gift. Let them wail for what they have lost in the deadened silence of their world! May their ships run onto the rocks, their vessels of the air run blind! May their senses fail when what they send out into the world I refuse to give back to them! I will MAKE them remember us,” Echo raged bitterly, her face screwing up as her eyes bled vengeful tears.

With an angry hand the dainty nymph swept into the snow, sending a spray of white powder showering into the bushes. The branches bobbed with the impact causing a chain reaction of snow to fall from the bush to the ground below.


“Oh, sweet nymph, why so bitter? Would you spring forth onto mankind as all the woe of the world once did from within my humble home? ” asked a female voice.

Echo gasped, hearing the voice, and turned to look who was there. The form behind her was blurry and Echo had to wipe her eyes in order to see who had witnessed her outburst.

“Sorry, what? Forgive me, I … I did not see you there, and I thought all Olympus slept but me,” Echo said, not recognising the woman in front of her.

“It is seldom that I am seen, but, your spark has drawn me near to you. So tell me, do you intend to do as you say?” replied the figure as she approached the nymph who remained on the ground.

“Y … yes … no … I don’t know! Our world is dying, our mortals are strangling us to death!” Echo sobbed.

“You are young, a few seasons are all you know… but look carefully little nymph… all is not as it seems,” the newcomer said warmly as she gestured with her arm.

Echo wiped her eyes again and looked in the direction the woman had pointed. There was the bush where the snow had been disturbed, the dark dormant branches the only part of the garden not blanketed in white. Echo wiped her eyes even more, cocking her head as she sought to confirm what she thought she could see. Was that …? Crawling on hands and knees hurriedly to the bush Echo stopped short, her eyes widening, her jaw slowly opening. Echo’s hands rose to cup the branch like it was the most precious thing in the world. A green shoot was appearing from the tip of a branch.

“My lady, you mean there is…” Echo began to say, twisting her head only to see the woman was now gone, only some freshly cut flowers lying where she had stood.

“… Hope?”


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 1 year ago

Quality product again AEM.
I particularly liked Heras appearance surprising Moros, throwing his own words back at him, and a fantastically intricate tale was told expertly. Very well done. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
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How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

I am here to help one and all enjoy this site, so if you have any questions or feel you are being trolled please contact me (Hit the 'CONTACT' little speech bubble below my Avatar).

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Post 1 year ago

AEM, weaver of tales of Olympian plans and follies and futures, you amaze me with your skills. Justice is served here and hope renewed. Your story is marvelous and rich; the intricacies woven as tight as the tapestry that dominates your tale. And Diana's mission to succeed continues on, well conceived and well delivered. You leave the Oath Taker better than you found her: wiser, stronger of spirit and ready to assume whatever dangers and triumphs await her. Excellent work, sir.

I also wanted to extol Void on the amazing quality of his chapters. It took me far too long to get to their conclusion but once I did, I was absolutely floored. The writing was gripping, the detail astounding, the emotions powerful. A masterful job from start to finish.

Thanks to both writers for handling Diana's story with such care and such vibrant skill. You've helped make this series a masterpiece of superheroine fiction.
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Post 1 year ago

Hello all, here is a modest little chapter by my own hand until better work from better men is ready. If you enjoy it please post a comment

PART 29

The God in the Dark stood alone in the Great Hall of the King of the Gods, listening to the silence, deep in thought. His father Zeus had bid him to act against the Amazon, and he already had set the wheels turning. It was not a course of action that he favoured, but when Zeus told you to act, you did as you were told.

He was Hypnos, God of Sleep. He was not the God of Dreams. That was his brother God, Morpheus. So he could only influence mortal man but briefly, when their consciousness was in that ethereal gap between sleep and waking, or more accurately, wakefulness and sleep. For it was always at the end of the day that he could come to them, influence them with a whispered word just before they truly slept. Once asleep they were his brother's.

There were no temples to him on earth, though all would pray for his favour if they had a restless few nights. No sacrifices were made, nor festivals ever held in his honour. He was taken for granted on Earth, just as he was so often overlooked here on Olympus. The fact that his Father had given him the task of stopping the Amazon was a source of great pride for him. Rarely were such favours asked.

He understood Zeus' position. The Amazon had invoked a blood oath. She could not merely be killed by Zeus, though he had that power. It was forbidden on pain of the end of the Gods. A divine edict, that Zeus himself had inherited when he overthrew his Father, Cronos. But not even Zeus was bold enough to defy it to see what would happen. It was divine law, and that was that. She could however be hindered and delayed and stopped. And all of those things Zeus was trying to do. His wife and daughters had outwitted him by granting her long life, so the Amazon could live as long as needed to complete her blood vow. So Zeus had then hidden some of the men she hunted throughout time, but the female Gods had sent her a stallion that could travel to the ends of time and so she could pursue them still. So now Zeus had called on his forgotten son, Hypnos God of Sleep to aid him.

He had already made little steps along that path – a sleepless night here, making someone irritable and careless; a seed of mistrust planted in a whisper, when the person was on the brink of sleep. But Hypnos knew that to make things happen as Zeus wished, then he needed to convey ideas and concepts; longer messages of action and desire and revenge. He needed, in short, to speak with men in their dreams. And that meant that he needed his brother.


“Mooooorrrrrpheuuuuuusssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss” he whispered aloud, his words soft and sibilant, carried upon unseen wings to Morpheus' ear.

In a moment, his brother appeared in amongst the shadows at the far end of the hall. He was tall and bearded, as was Hypnos. But there the similarities ended. Hypnos, by his nature, was slow and deliberate. Inevitable, given enough time, that he would do what was required of him, just as it was inevitable that on Earth, given enough time, a man would fall asleep. But Morpheus was ever active, constantly flitting from place to place, sometimes intangible, sometimes just at the periphery of vision. Like a dream.

He smiled as he spoke. “My brother. We are needed it seems?”

“Zeus would have us do his bidding.”

“Yet our Father spoke with YOU, not US...?”

“It would seem so...”

“It would also seem that you have been tasked and seek my help, not at Father's behest at all...”

Hypnos cursed him inwardly. He was ever the clever one; a mind without limits. There was nothing for it but to admit the truth.

“Just so, my brother. Will you give it?”

“'Give it'...let me see...there may be things I wish in return....?”

Hypnos smiled inwardly. Morpheus always desired something. The God of Dreams always had dreams of his own.

“I do not doubt your needs are great. But Father seeks to avert the end of his reign...”

The words openly shocked Morpheus, whose head snapped around sharply, his smile gone.

"And of course with the right word, our father may wonder why you did not see the dreams of ambition Moros held and warn him?"

Morpheus ignored the veiled threat. “The end of the Gods?! You are serious?”

“Great Zeus believes it.”

Morpheus stared off distractedly. Then looked seriously at his brother God. “The end of dreams...?”

“The end of all of us.”

Morpheus drew in a deep breath. “Then you will have my whispers in the night”

“We may need more than that....”





In the realm of Man, Diana wandered through the market place, a rough brown peasants cloak and shawl about her shoulders. She bought some bread, but merely browsed at the other stalls. She was listening for a name.


“You. Woman.” a stern voice suddenly broke her thoughts and a short sword point pressed against her arm, slowly turning her around. She kept her head low, her shawl covering most of her face. She tried to look small and timid. The young man who faced her was a captain of the town guard. Beneath her cloak, her hand rested upon her sword hilt.

“You have not bought much. Yet you have gone around this stall thrice already...his goods have not changed since the last time...”


Damn. She cursed him silently - just her luck to have run in to the only observant guard captain in Corinth.

“I-I have little money, great lord. I seek spoiled fruit and must choose carefully.”

“You are behaving suspiciously...I have not seen you here before.”

“I am a traveller, great lord. I seek ship for Coris but I must save the money to buy passage...”


“You will not save it by theivery...not here...be on your way.” he sheathed his sword and half turned away but he stopped as she half turned also.

“Woman!” he called again to her and she froze. Slowly, she turned to face him, but again kept her head bowed.

There was a ringing sound of silver as he flipped a small coin to her.The sound made her glance up, seeing the spinning silver disk heading towards her. She didn't think and let go of the shawl briefly to catch it on reflex. The fabric opened, giving the Captain a glimpse of her face. He was clever, this one.

He smiled at the brief view of her face and a flash of her cleavage beneath the cloak.

“Buy some cheese to go with your bread...” he nodded at the loaf she carried.

She had snatched up her loose shawl and pulled it tighter about herself and again kept her head low.

“Thank you, great lord!” she said hurriedly and made to turn away but he had strode up to stand before her.

“HOLD!” he barked and she did as she was bidden.

“Look at me, woman.”

Reluctantly, Diana slowly raised her head to make eye contact. Beneath her cloak, her other hand had moved to rest upon her sword hilt once more.

The captain had sharp, keen , intelligent eyes and was not unhandsome, even though he had a faint scar across one cheek. She hoped she wouldn't have to kill him.


“A daughter of Aphrodite herself....” he said appreciatively but his stance and tone were not threatening. He looked into her dark brown eyes for a long moment. “You do not seek cheese and bread...” he said finally, having taken the measure of her.

“Who ever you are after, DO NOT find them here, clear? Move on this day. If I find you here tomorrow there will be trouble, understand?” she nodded. To her surprise his harsh tone softened “Probably for me I suspect, but trouble none the less.” he smiled. “What is your name?”

“Drissala” Diana lied.

“Take care then, beautiful Drissala.” he smiled, gave a brief nod and turned away.

Diana smiled after him. He had said it as if he meant it. Spontaneously, she called after him “CAPTAIN!”

He stopped and turned, squinting at her in the sunshine.

“What is your name?” she asked.

“Aponolus” he said, hands upon his hips. “Why?”

“Take care yourself, handsome Aponolus...” she smiled shyly at him and turned away. She felt almost lightheaded , as a young maiden courting. Behind her, she heard him laugh.


But she heard something else that wiped the smile from her lips. The name she was seeking news of – Kebral. She stopped, head angled off in the direction of the voice that had uttered it, and then moved off to browse a stall nearby.


A stall keeper was haggling with a much larger man, though at the moment the tone was friendly.


“Come on! You know he pays his debts!”

“I cant buy food with empty promises, Dimitros. I need his coin, before he sails, or no provisions for the voyage.” the stall keeper said with finality. His tables bore a range of fish and dried meats, fruit and hard bread.

The big man sighed. “Look, I'll tell you what we will do -”

“No, I will tell YOU! You pay what is owed and Kebral gets his stores.”

“You can deal with me...or you can deal with Kebral...” the big man's voice trailed off.

“And I can get the Captain of the town watch! Kebral can deal with him!”

“Ha! Aponolus? He's a -”

“Right behind you, Dimitros” Aponolus said, interrupting him.

Diana was impressed. She too had not heard him approach.

“Pay him and be on your way. Or just be on your way.” Aponolus locked his gaze on the larger man until he looked away, then turned to leave. Diana saw the flash of the knife snake up from the larger man's side and acted instinctively, whipping her shawl into his face and wrapping it around the man's wrist in one fluid follow up action. The stall owner raised a shout and Aponolus turned to see Diana gripping Dimitros' wrist and bending it back until he dropped the knife, causing a gasp of pain from him. Her head was now fully exposed and Aponolus did a double take as he saw her striking beauty for the first time. He looked at the man she held, who was bending backwards slightly to alleviate the pain in his wrist as she bent it back almost past his shoulder.

The guard captain rabbit punched him in the throat without taking his eyes from Diana and dropped him like a sack of grain.

Diana released him as he fell to his knees, coughing and clutching at his neck.

Aponolus drew his sword once more, but Diana interjected.


“SPARE HIM!” she said hastily, raising a hand palm up to the guard, drawing a look from below his brow from the captain.

"We have a history, he and I. But I did not think he would go so far. Bold of you, Dimitros, to go for the back...."He flicked the large man's knife with his sword tip as it lay in the dirt.

“You dropped your knife...”

“It isn't mine, I swear it!” the man gasped still trying to recover from the blow to his throat. He held up a hand in supplication.

“I saw you hold it, but it is not yours?” the man shook his head in answer to the question.

“No!”

“Then you must have stolen it.” the captain's blade snaked out like a lightning strike and a second later four of the man's fingers fell to the floor, landing in the dust with a smattering of blood and a series of dull little thumps.

The man stared at his hand for a moment before the blood started to pump and he screamed , clamping his hand under his arm pit.

The Captain looked to Diana. He nodded acknowledgement of her actions. “Thank you. Poor traveller.”

“A fight's a fight. But he was going to kill you.” she said with an indifferent shrug.

“Perhaps.” he looked at the man again then back to her. “Perhaps not. The Gods favour me it seems”

“Their favour is fickle”

“Always.” he agreed. “Why plead for him?”

“I need his wisdom. I seek someone.”

Aponolus smiled. “You are in dire circumstances then traveller, to need a man like that.” he nodded his head towards his would be murderer. "Take care, brave Drissala.” he called as he turned away from her. “If you have to end him, do so where no one sees.” he said lightly over his shoulder, smiling as he walked away.
He turned back and flipped a large gold piece to her. This time she let it land in the dirt. He smiled.


“For your journey, bold Drissala.” he slowly turned and walked away.


Diana couldn't see his face, but somehow knew he was grinning. She too smiled. She scooped up the coin, hauled the wounded man to his feet and they both watched a stray dog run off with two of his digits in its mouth.

“Now...unless you wish me to feed the rest of you to him, where can I find Kebral?”




Dimitros stumbled into the small taverna near the southern city gate, prompting Kebral to rise to his feet.


“Where are the provisions? You idiot, y- “ he stopped mid sentence when he saw the bloodied rag wrapped around Dimitros' hand and the woman who walked in behind him. “Well...I see you have brought something for our journey after all...” he said appreciatively as he looked Diana up and down. Her head was bare and whilst she still wore her cloak, she did not keep it about her for long.


She shrugged her shoulders and dropped her cloak, revealing herself in her full armour. Kebral paled, visibly.

“The Amazon...” he said breathlessly.

Diana just stared at him, head slightly down, a gaze of iron from beneath her brow.

“They say ...you hunt down the entire army....”

Diana kept silent, but drew her sword effortlessly, with well practiced precision, with the shrill ring of metal upon metal.

Those seated near Kebral scattered, and he threw aside the table before him. “I'll tell the future in your entrails woman!” he growled as he drew his own sword , a huge two handed scimitar.

“I have heard that so many times before...” she finally spoke. “Yet here I stand.”

“No one lives for ever, bitch!” Kebral said menacingly.

“That's very true ...of you.” she said with a smile. A cold, deadly smile.

Kebral was an experienced fighter; strong, fast and capable. Yet he had heard stories of her that chilled him. She had butchered Talgartha and 300 men, they said, killing him last. He hadn't believed the stories...until he now saw her in the flesh. There was a steel to her eye, an edge to her voice. Now ...now he doubted the stories no longer. She was death.

“Arm yourselves!” he called to the half dozen or so men with him. But they just exchanged nervous looks and made no move to obey him.

“I am for him. Not for you.” Diana said, her gaze not leaving the man standing before her.

One by one the men near Kebral still seated ,stood. Reassured, he grinned. But the smile froze on his lips as one by one they moved away from him.

“YOU SCUM! WHEN I AM DONE WITH HER, YOU DOGS WILL BE NEXT!”

“I dont think you will be done with her Kebral...” one said as he backed up for the door. “You and I have no quarrel, woman.”

Diana didnt move her gaze from her quarry, and taking her silence as approval the man left, backing out the door.

“YOU RATS! YOU DOGS!” Kebral called as a mass exodus ensued, Dimitros among them, leaving just Diana and the innkeeper with him.

“They say...”Kebral licked his dry lips “they say you were fashioned from clay...?”

Diana stayed silent.

“I too, have no quarrel with you woman...” he said tentatively.

“But I do with you.” she said finally.

Kebral just nodded. “Who are you?”

“Nemesis”

He paled further still and wondered whether truly he battled a Goddess incarnate. A long silence followed. Finally his nerve broke. He bellowed in his rage and swung wildly with his blade, smashing into clay beakers and pots upon the tables of the inn whilst she just skipped back lightly on her toes.


Diana ducked and moved whilst all the while he swung and missed, - three, four five times. A dozen. Two dozen. In the press of battle he would have been a formidable opponent. But with room to move and dodge his blows he was no match for a faster more agile adversary. He knew with a terrible sense of dread she was much better than he. More angry swings, more easy misses to avoid.


She skipped lightly about the tavern on her toes, never casting a blow herself, just constantly avoiding his. She jumped upon benches and tables nimbly, skipping off them a moment later when his blow turned them to matchwood.


His huge blade grew heavier. His strokes slower, more easily read. He tired. Finally she didn't move when he tried to strike her down but simply deflected the blade by angling her own and flicking her wrist, driving it down into the sawdust on the earthen floor, bringing her own blade back up to his throat in an instant. He froze, his own weapon now useless. He let it fall and slowly straightened, her blade pressing into the soft flesh of his neck, his hands raising in surrender.


“I was not at the battle, I did nothing to your people...”

Diana lowered her sword. “I have heard this also. Which is why I simply seek what you know of Rennios, the bow Captain.”

Kebral gave an audible breath of relief as her sword point moved away from his neck.


“Rennios? I don't know...the last I heard he was with a thief in Locris.”

“His name?” her blade raised to his throat once more.

“I DON'T KNOW! I SWEAR IT! I DO NOT REMEMBER!”


“Ah. I forget things too. But I also remember. I remember things I have heard. Things like ....it was Kebral who led the attack on our villages and towns. It was Kebral who killed the old and the maimed and the young. It was Kebral who torched the towns, burning those left there alive. It was Kebral who laughed as he ransacked the royal palace. My home.”

“N-no! NO! YOU ARE MISTAKEN! There was a-a young firebrand who lived for the flames, he did those things!”

"Grexos?"

"YES! You see you are mistaken, it was not I!"

“He is dealt with. But he acted upon your orders. You are right. A mistake has been made. But you made it. You did not run far enough from my wrath.”


“No please!” He held up a hand in supplication and she duly lopped it off at the wrist.

“AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!” he screamed but a second later she pierced his other shoulder and twisted the blade, causing him to scream again. She slashed open his right side, a deep wound but not fatal.

“P-PLEASE!” he begged. “PLEASE!”

“You destroyed twenty towns. Thats 3 accounted for.”

“Oh Gods no! NO!”

“They will not help you now. Seventeen more to pay for...”


For the next five minutes she hacked and slashed the luckless enemy, stabbing each thigh before hamstringing each leg, piercing a foot, slashing his ribs, taking an ear and even stabbing him through the cheek and severing his tongue.

Nineteen blows in all, all considered, all precise. All designed to cause him pain yet keep him alive. He passed out once, but she threw a pail of water over him to rouse him. She finally lifted him to his knees with her sword point.

“I am not Nemesis, nor do I claim to be divine justice. And I am not made of clay. But I am Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And I decide your fate...”

She spun away from him, turning full circle and her blade left a clean crisp red line across his throat that slowly widened and spread in to a dark scarlet waterfall that poured down his neck as he gurgled on his own blood filling his throat. His eyes rolled up in their sockets as his body fell forward, whilst his head rolled off to one side. It rolled several yards until it came to rest at the shoes of Aponolus, who stopped it with a sandaled foot planted upon the cheek. He rolled the face with his foot so he could see who it was, angling his head for a better view. He flashed his eyebrows up and the corners of his mouth down, conveying he was impressed. He looked at her, her bosom heaving with the exertion and the adrenaline, her sun-- bronzed breasts rising to press at bursting point against the rim of her metal bustier, designed like an eagle, its wings arching protectively over the arousing curve of her ample chest. He was impressed by those , too.

He looked down at the face before him, then flicked a gaze toward the Amazon.

“Found him then.” he said simply with a smile.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 1 year ago

Wow,truly will Nemesis be invigorated by what she sees at the watching pool. Nice jobTally!
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Post 1 year ago

I like the story, but it’s a bit... long. I’d perfer if the heroine got captured in the first act, or the first page.


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Post 1 year ago

MetaDude2 wrote:
1 year ago
I like the story, but it’s a bit... long. I’d perfer if the heroine got captured in the first act, or the first page.
Yeah, sorry, it's not that kind of story, I'm afraid. It slowly unwinds and while there's incredibly great writing in it throughout and you feel for Diana and all she's put through, it's not like any conventional SHIP story in that regard. I didn't mean to mislead you about that. It's really closer to a main-stream novel than most of the stories you'll find on this site. Very worthwhile reading and exciting action but not something that's going to get your motor running in the usual SHIP way.


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Post 1 year ago

DrDominator9 wrote:
1 year ago
MetaDude2 wrote:
1 year ago
I like the story, but it’s a bit... long. I’d perfer if the heroine got captured in the first act, or the first page.
Yeah, sorry, it's not that kind of story, I'm afraid. It slowly unwinds and while there's incredibly great writing in it throughout and you feel for Diana and all she's put through, it's not like any conventional SHIP story in that regard. I didn't mean to mislead you about that. It's really closer to a main-stream novel than most of the stories you'll find on this site. Very worthwhile reading and exciting action but not something that's going to get your motor running in the usual SHIP way.
It’s fine. The writing really is excellent.
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Post 1 year ago

Thanks for taking time to read it anyway and above all thanks for taking time to comment. This project was always going to be a long haul just by its nature - showing how and why Diana acquired her items -belt, tiara, bracelets, lasso, longevity etc and also trying to show how these adventures shaped her character. There are plenty of one post Wonder Woman stories out there that will give you what you are after. With 8 or more different writers involved in this project it was always going to be an in depth story. Sorry its not really for you but I hope you got something out of the experience and with DrDominators piece up next I would recommend at least one more visit as you have invested the time to read up until now.
I think the standard of writing from all the other contributors is second to none and you wont find a better example of story telling out there, but equally I accept its not going to be up everyone's street.
To all who do read it, even if you do not like it, I would urge you to please post a comment. Its no more than these marvellous writers deserve for their efforts and hard work.
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Post 1 year ago

If I may just add one other dimension to this little discussion, it should be remembered that the main thrust of the story is to show this version of Wonder Woman's origins as well as those of her various gifts. Once she is a developed character and the story is over...well, you might see spinoffs, tales that are more in keeping with the SHiP format. How that will be managed I'm not sure, perhaps via Tally, but it's an idea at least, and how often do you get a heroine in a peril story with such an deep back story as we have created here?
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Post 1 year ago

Hello all and thanks again for stopping by

Here is Dr Dominator9's contribution to the story so far - there will be more from him later- but for now witness a seduction...





Part 30


Galloping hooves thundered against the hard marble floor, the sound of the chase deafening in the enclosed room despite its cavernous size. Many heads turned in annoyance and frowns multiplied by the second. It wasn’t until the hooves pounded past the tall marble columns and reached the edge of the Great Hall that the clamor softened considerably as marble gave way to the soft earth of the lush and colorful gardens stretching far into the distance.

The sheen of the chocolate flank of the young beast caught the sun just as the centaur disappeared past the tall green hedge, the male following his Palomino prey with a bellow of phony fury. The filly had mercilessly teased him as they’d sipped wine and discussed planetary alignments. She’d told him his orbit calculations were as poorly considered as his brusque attempts at flattery. She’d then laughed, set down her glass and ran off. The stallion was eager to catch the haughty young mare and try a less subtle approach to this romantic entanglement. He suspected she might not mind that.

“Ah, young love,” sighed Artemis, watching the gorgeous dashing forms of the paired centaurs cross the great green swale past brightly colored trees, some hanging heavy with red apples, others drooping golden pears. “It fills the heart,” she concluded and took a sip of her golden nectar, mixed with wine, enjoying its chilled tang, sweet like the kisses of a lover. She was artfully draped in a gauzy teal wrap that flattered her long lean figure and revealed an enchanting leg through a showy slit in the fabric.

Her companions at this Olympian festival did not reflect the gaiety surrounding them. Tittering wood nymphs nearby drew dark stares from both Hera and Athena. Sensing the ominous cloud stemming from the two severe goddesses, the nymphs moved away toward the heavily laden buffet table across the room. There were many meats and fruits and stuffed candies to savor, all laced with delicious ambrosia.

“I beg your pardon, dear sister; treasured mother, but you two seem as bitter as old cider.” Although technically Athena wasn’t Artemis’ true sister, nor Hera her genuine mother, for brevity’s sake she often referred to them as such. Especially when put in a favorable mood, such as this highly potent drink was doing. “Is the festival not to your favor?”

“The festival is glorious,” Hera, her body wrapped in silky white, waved her hand around at the bounty surrounding them in the Great Hall. “My husband can order up a party with the best of them. Ambrosia in all the colors of the rainbow, platters of food from every corner of the earthly domain, Olympus’ wine cellar has been opened like a waterfall. It is all a Dionysian deluge of excess.”

“Yes, my brother should be proud,” offered Athena, arranging the sleeve on her simple green sarong and sipping her own wine. “This concoction is beyond delightful.”

“And yet the two of you display all the joy of a funeral games,” Artemis cajoled her relations. “What troubles you both so?”

“Liobe,” whispered Athena. “The price of her sacrifice was so great. It wears on us.”

“Oh,...... that....” murmured Artemis, being drawn into the gloom.

“The Oathtaker and all her kind are glorious and the fact of them being saved and secreted away is a lasting pleasure to all the goddesses,” Hera affirmed. “Their fealty, especially hers, brings honor and strength like the tide. But that sacrifice…” She let the thought hang there, unspoken, dismayed to be troubled by the fate of a mortal.

“There’s nothing that can be done though,” Artemis said, shuddering at the thought of the sightless, tragically mute Liobe wandering through the Underworld lost from all her sisters’ memories, cast out and despised and forever in anguish. It was too much to consider as all three goddesses pondered over their wine, silently sipping, forlornly thinking.

“We must do something,” Hera declared.

“It is forbidden. The sacrifice was made for the head of Mennus. Liobe knew the price,” Athena stated mournfully.

“It was in the heat of battle, her blood roaring in her ears,” Hera argued. “No time for decision. Only time for sacrifice. It was unfair. She knew she would give up her life. But NOT her afterlife.”

“Since when have we cared about fairness to mortals?” Athena bristled.

“As much pleasure as it may give us to devise agonizing tests,” said Hera. “To watch their every blind choice snowball through the years and hear their cries of delight when fortune’s pendulum swings their way, I am worried that the days of toying with them won’t last forever. The time may come when our tests strain their faith -- when we need them and they have forgotten us. Indeed that time may be upon us already.”

“You paint the picture of a very cold hearth, mother,” Athena sighed.

“What would you have us do?” asked Artemis. “It is not our place to nullify this act, this desperate choice, this oath to Nike.”

“Speaking of oaths, I am thinking of the Oathtaker,” Hera stated. “Your champion is fresh off a recent triumph and indeed she has won so many challenges already. I think she is the precise tool we require to save her sister.”

“A sister she does not remember, will not recognize and who wanders the Underworld we know not where,” Athena reminded her mother.

“Wisdom has its place, Athena, but so does strategy, cleverness and skill. You have all that in abundance. And Artemis, you too have the cunning and guile that will be needed in this hunt, as I see things. We have but to figure a clever plan between us three.”

“But what of our sister Themis? The price was a divine one, a promise made to Nike, not to be broken...and if Zeus discovers our meddling…” warned Artemis nervously.

“I’ve been thinking on that,” Hera smiled. “I believe it will be his idea to send Diana to the Underworld.”

“That would be quite the feat to arrange,” Athena mused. “Why on all Olympus would he do that?”

“Because I will make it worth his while when I take him to bed,” Hera’s eyes glimmered.

“Mother, you ARE desperate,” Athena gasped.

“Eeeeww!” Artemis scrunched up her face. “I do NOT want to hear of this!”

“Honestly, my children, it is a natural act. What unnerves you so to think of me engaging in it?”

“I try not to think of that,” Athena shook her head.

“What she just said,” Artemis nodded heartily. “Indeed… we all do! I mean...we all do not...I...er...”

Hera smiled at her children's discomfort.

“Let us fill our plates and find a bench in the garden,” Hera suggested. “This will require some privacy, hard consideration and a few hours, I suspect.”


* * *


The wooden table pressed into the back of Diana’s thighs causing mild discomfort as the tall, nicely-smelling Aponolus pressed his chest against her, bowing her backwards a little. His hands cupped her butt and suddenly the table was no longer an issue as she was set down upon it with a soft thump.

“You realize if I did not wish this, your hands would be severed by now,” the Amazon said as her wide hands pressed upon the cool chest plate of the Captain of the Guards. She needed to take this silly thing of his off. She reached under his arms and found the leather straps holding it on…and worked on releasing them with the deft skill of hands used to doing up her own armor.

“Your intimate banter is very quaint. Does it capture many men’s hearts?”

Her silly armor needed to be removed…quickly. The taverna was empty for now but the inn keeper wouldn’t stay in his back room forever. 'Perhaps he’ll stay put until he hears all is quiet.' Aponolus thought. The captain’s left foot lashed out and he kicked a chair over noisily. That should buy him a couple of minutes.

“It freezes many men’s hearts,” she said, finally finding the last buckle and releasing it with nimble fingers.

“Good thing I’m not many men,” Aponolus declared. His fingers located the surprisingly tiny clasps on the back of her red leather and metal plating and his skill allowed him to pull the whole contraption off her and onto the dirt floor with a heavy thud. The soft doeskin cloth shirt covering her torso showed stretch lines in all the perfect places. Her chest was a wondrous sight to behold. Ample beyond measure and beckoning, like silent sirens. He was so entranced he barely realized she’s peeled off his own chest armor. It fell beside hers on the tavern floor.

Her warm palms caressed his broad naked pectorals with urgent appreciation. He was indeed quite well built! He pulled the doeskin shirt over her head almost by reflex and returned the favor.

“A very good thing,” she sighed, enjoying the sensations coursing through her blood as his hands worked their magic and her strong slender fingers splayed wide, savoring the expanse of his flesh.

Both of them angled their heads in and shared a deep, passionate kiss. Both were bare-chested, both were caressing all that the other had to offer and both were enjoying the heady pleasure of that.

Diana found herself bent backward onto the surface of the table, the man’s chest pressing against hers now. One palm smoothed her cheek and brushed her silky dark tresses away. His deep brown eyes, flecked with gold from a glint of reflected sunlight, showered her with awe and need. A desperate, raw, primal need. Her face probably reflected the same back to him. They were mirrors of passion to each other. It had been far too long for both of them and they clasped hard to each other, savoring the gravity that pulled them together in this spotlight of time.

Her arms wrapped around his strong waist while his other hand smoothed along the coarse blue suede skirt. That had to go. Her hands grabbed his butt and squeezed hard. She buried her face in his neck and tongued a swift line there. His hackles rose with a groan.

“Skirt,” he said.

“Pants,” she replied.

As the lower garments met the armor in the dirt, Aponolus kicked over another chair.

“Why are you doing that?” Diana asked, lying back on the table and offering herself up to this large beautiful male.

“Insurance. Keeping the owner in his hidey hole.”

She laughed deeply, brightly, seizing the Captain’s heart in an instant. He located himself at her threshold and stopped her laugh with a throaty gasp. He was almost sorry for that. Her laugh was joyous. Then, ‘almost sorry’ melted away in her heat and they shared their glowing desire, the giving, the taking, the combination of all that life is and has to give. And for now, that was more than enough for both of them. Wound up and searching, they pawed and grabbed, arched and held, fighting with a harsh playfulness that egged each other on to steadily ascending heights of pleasure.

Suddenly Diana gripped the back of his legs with hers and lifted herself up so that her whole weight was upon his member as she clung tightly with her arms about his neck, gyrating her hips delightfully, as all the while she kissed him deeply, her face to his, their breath mingling. She delighted as his eyes widened in surprise, before she finally let him up for air with a gasp and then shifted her body weight to her right - his left, so that he half turned and then she pushed in with her heels at the back of his knees forcing his legs to bend back. Before he knew it, he had fallen back upon the table and she was straddled above him, her body weight pinning him down as she rode him like a stallion.

Writhing and gyrating her hips, she wriggled delightfully with him inside her, even as she slid up and down upon his shaft. Aponolus had never been dominated by a lover like this before and he gasped his surprise before she suddenly gripped him once more, lifting and rolling with him so that he finally finished back on top of her. In his more familiar role he eagerly resumed his duties, driving deep into her, breaching her fortress with hot resolve, taking the day with a triumphant grunt. Wound up and searching, they pawed and grabbed and strove together, straining toward that glorious light that they both yearned to share. Finally, finding it, they fell into it together in a rush. Plummeting through blindness, falling through heaven, drifting through time. Ultimately, they clung tightly paired until they slowly unwound, eyes slowly focusing, both of them simply appreciating the speckles of dust in the light streaming through the crack in the doorway.

One final chair was kicked hard to give them time to dress afterwards.

He knew she had places to go. She knew it more than anyone. Faces were caressed. Goodbyes were said outside the tavern in the sunlight, after one long final, passionate kiss.

'Farewell, beautiful Drissala.” he turned away and started to walk from her.

“Farewell, brave Aponolus. Oh, and Aponolus....” he turned back but kept backing away on his heels, squinting at her in the afternoon sunshine. “My name...it is Diana...” she called with a shy smile.

“Oh, I know.” he said as he backed away smiling, arms spread wide as he gave an almost indifferent shrug.

“You know?” She said slightly surprised, with a slight frown of annoyance.

He laughed. “I am the Guard Captain of Corinth...” He spread his arms wide once more “I know EVERYTHING...”

She laughed as he turned away.

“To me you will always be Drissala...” He called and raised an arm in a wave but didn't turn around.

Diana watched him go with a broad smile before she herself turned and walked up the street away from him, towards the quayside.

Neither looked back again but both were smiling as they went their separate ways.


* * *


The empty plates and drained glasses of wine were carried back from the garden as the trio of goddesses made their way into the Great Hall at dusk. Large bluish clouds with their undersides painted peach and dusty rose adorned the clear sky behind them.

Here and there tired bodies were sprawled upon couches and nodding heads at the low tables drooped over forgotten drinks as the party ground slowly to a stop. The festival was over.

“Do you think Zeus is still awake?” Athena’s eyebrow arched.

“I do not hear the rumble of his snore as of yet so I am optimistic,” Hera replied. “I will meet you tomorrow at the watching pool. Fear not, we have planned well. I will play my part.”

Athena and Artemis nodded grimly as their mother walked to the great stairway to the upper chambers. They each walked off to their own domiciles to rest. That planning session had been exhausting.

As Hera reached the top of the great stairway she turned left where normally she would turn right. Striding down the long hallway, she passed the tapestry entitled Titanomachy. It showed her husband Zeus, herself and all her brothers and sisters battling the Titans for control of the Universe.
Huge black and red clouds dominate the background while searing yellow lightning bolts endowed parts of the tapestry with an ethereal glow. Flexed arms, determined scowls, fiery eyes, it was all there, all sewn, romance and ruin captured in richly-colored thread across a stretch of wall that took her 50 paces to pass. Zeus liked his backstory! Well, it was all their backstory but if it weren’t for Zeus, they’d be in Tartarus now instead of the Titans.

The thought of her dashing husband in the throes of that battle lightened Hera’s step and she gracefully glided toward the bedroom she hadn’t visited for eons. It was actually dangerous to be feeling this way. Not truly to the plan, but Hera felt she could make it work for her.

When she came to the double bedroom doors with their side-by-side golden knockers shaped like facing thunderbolts, she lifted the right one and let it drop with a thunderous clang that echoed down the hallway. The goddess of marriage belatedly hoped that the old goat was not entertaining some chirpy demi-goddess inside at the moment. Zeus was well-known to have trouble keeping his member in his chiton. Turning oneself into a big white bull just to fuck Europa. Her beloved husband was a horny dog of the first order.

Finally, the door swung open and her husband faced her, shocked to his core. The silvery white mane of hair was tousled and his beard was knotted in several places. His eyes were a bit bloodshot and his posture was listless. He straightened himself up and tried to look imposing. Hera smiled and said, “Are you entertaining?”

“Only you, my goddess,” he replied, a good start for him. He stepped to the side and swept his arm inward in a gracious, welcoming invitation. 'He’s a bit tipsy' she can tell and that’s fine. She can work with that. She walked past him and sashayed through the antechamber, showing off the body of a goddess who knows how to walk through a room for an audience. It’s only an audience of one but it doesn’t lessen the quality of her work. Zeus paid acute attention to the view.

When Hera opened the door to the inner bed chamber and walked inside, the King of the Gods was taken aback.' Is she looking for another woman so brazenly?' That wasn’t like his wife at all. While they matched each other rage for rage on a bad day, more often than not it was subterfuge that was her strong suit.

“Are you feeling yourself, my evening star,” the not-so-dutiful husband asked with concern, following her into the room.

“As bright as our son’s golden chariot. Would you have any wine tucked away in this holy sanctum of yours?” She sat down on the end of a god-sized four-poster bed not quite as large as a colosseum.
“You have but to ask.”

“I have asked. Just now.”

“Oh, right,” Zeus said, catching up with the programme of events. He’d been drinking a lot this festival day and with this surprise attack by the wife, he was well off his game. He strolled quickly to a beautiful blue lacquered cabinet with matching white swans on its face, opened the left side door and retrieved a silver pitcher. Opening the right-side door, he slid out a built-in tray with two silver goblets waiting. He filled them, set the pitcher back and brought the goblets over to his wife. He handed one to her.

“Olympus forever,” she hoisted her cup.

He responded in kind and they both took big gulps. While this was not entirely uncharted territory for them, neither could recall the last time it happened; a drawback for gods who measure their time by the grinding of tectonic plates.

“What brings you here at such a late hour, my treasure?”

“Festival frivolity. I miss you, Boomer.”

“You have not called me that since Atlantis sank.”

“That one was on you. I told you they would hold a grudge and they did. It is your own fault you had to sink them.”

“Mea culpa.”

“Oh? Already favouring the new language of the Latins?”she sighed. "I suppose we should all start getting used to it...." she smiled as she sipped, looking over the rim of her goblet at him with wide alluring eyes. “Times change. I think we should make it a rule to try to connect at least once a millennium,” Hera suggested.

“Starting now?”

“You read my mind,” Hera smiled. Zeus was enchanted - but then with him, it did not take much. Especially when he had been imbibing since the festival began.

He sat down beside his wife, put his arm around her shoulders and fell back onto the bed, pulling her with him. They looked at each other and there was a hint of the old spark. And when Zeus got to sparking, entire forests could become cinders.

It did not take long for the King of the Gods to get his wife under the covers; they both remembered the routine from back when the Alps were forming. Hera was breathing rapidly and urging him on with a stridency he did not recall. She must have really needed this. As did he. But it seemed like Thunder Boy was feeling shy and refused to perform. Perhaps it was the tone of her whining voice, all that requirement coming through matched up with too much to drink. This was not good.

“Is there a problem?”

“This does not happen often.”

“What? Us?”

“No. This.” he flicked a glance downward

“I see. That is not what a wife likes to hear from her husband. A wife should know exactly how often it happens in as much as it should just be the wife with whom this does or does not happen. Yes?”

“Yes. Of course, my rising star.”

“Speaking of rising. May I offer you a hand?”

“Only if you want to.”

“I feel it is necessary.”

“I am sorry.”

“Do not apologize. We are out of practice. Or perhaps you do not find me desirable anymore?”

Lady Zeus made a considerable effort but Thunder Boy just wasn’t having it.

“Well, this was fun. See you when Alpha Centauri blinks out,” Hera said, throwing the corner off the bedcovers.

“Wait! Please do not leave,” Zeus implored her. “Give me time. I want this. We want this.”

“Alright. I will stay. Shall we cuddle?”

“What is that?” Zeus asked.

“Bastard!” Hera starts to rise and Zeus pulls her back.

“I am just joking. Stay, we will cuddle.”

They did but after another interlude it was clear that there would be no thunder and lightning tonight.

Lying side by side, Hera stared up at the constellations of diamonds sewn into the cover of the four-poster bed, waiting for the proper timing.

“They say there is something that can help situations such as this,” she finally told a despondent Zeus.

“What would that be?”

“It is a special elixir or salve, I am not sure. Demeter told me about it. It is called Elysium Botanical Oil. It is not easy to get but she says it worked very well for her and that kid from Crete who was too nervous to do it with a goddess. Talk about a thrice-plowed field!”

“Well... fine. Maybe we should get some of that,” grinned Zeus.

“As I mentioned it is not easy to get. It is made by Hypnos and is only available in the Underworld.”

“I will get him to make me a new batch”

“You cannot. He uses plants only grown in the gardens of Hades...”

“Well, that rules that out, you know how protective Hades is of his domain. Anybody who goes in is not likely to come back out. But wait, cannot Hypnos himself bring it to us?”

“How often does he come out of there? He has to pay a tribute to Hades every time I hear,” Hera added. “You have summoned him a lot lately, Sweet Rumour tells me. Hades is on the brink of stopping him leaving as he thinks you and he are conspiring against him, Ossa Phema tells me also. If you summon Hypnos to ask this of him, it may be a very long while before he can return with the elixir. And are you so willing to wait so long before we couple?”

“No, my blushing dove, of course not. I ache as we speak. And all that you say is true. I do not see any answers.”

“Perhaps I do, my Lord. This task requires someone who is clever and powerful and persuasive but also a person whom you would not care much about losing if they do not succeed.”

“Hmm. Obviously, it would need to be a mortal,” Zeus pointed out.

“A mortal? No that is not possible. What mortal could possibly be clever and powerful and persuasive and yet someone you did not mind if they did not succeed? And if you use one of your favourites, like Hercules, well, then Hades will be even more suspicious that you conspire against him. There is no such person.”

“There is, actually,” Zeus said with a smile, his arms crossed behind his head.

“Who?”

“Your Oathtaker.”

“What? No, that is impossible.”

“Why, do you not want to help me in this problem?”

“Yes, of course I do, Boomer.”

“ Her doing this task will help heal the rift between us over these damned Amazons of yours. She will go.” he nodded in affirmation to himself. “It’s settled. Command her to go.”

“And tell her what? She is to risk her very life so Zeus can get hard? You do not see a problem with giving her that information, much less getting her to put her heart and soul into the task?”

“We will have to come up with some sort of cover story,” Zeus suggested. “A task for which only she is worthy. Something that will bring her honor and glory and help Olympus.”

“It must be you who commands her. She can hardly turn down a request from Zeus.”

“This is true. Hmmm. Hypnos lives in a cave in the Underworld. Let us keep close to the truth. I will explain to your Oathtaker that this Elysium Botanical Oil from Hypnos is an elixir to settle my mind and allow me to sleep. I will say that I have been having freshly recurring nightmares from our long-ago close battle with the Titans. I will explain I have been flying into spontaneous rages from lack of sleep and only she has the skills to bring me what I need from Hypnos. A vital secret mission on behalf of the health of the King of the Gods. How can she refuse? Though she does despise me...You will corroborate my rages to her, my weariness. You will have to fake concern but yes, I think this will work.”

“Indeed, dear husband, your plan seemed to fly full blown into your head. Your skills at such artifice rival my own.” Hera meant that. His mind was still keen, albeit malleable.

“That’s why we make such a timeless pair, my fountain of joy.”

“That is laying it on a bit thick, Boomer. So many of my children are NOT my children...”

“Sorry.”

“She will refuse you at first, ...before I will convince her that such rages were what caused her peoples destruction. Would she not wish to stop such a Fate befall another race? Yes, that could work. You will tell her tomorrow? You don’t have to turn into a bull or swan or something? ”

“Harpy.”

“Cad. Goodnight, I am off to my own chambers. This bed is lumpy and you could stand to lose some weight.”

“I will summon her here. Lovely seeing you too, my sunshine.”

As Hera closed the door behind her she smiled to herself. Actually...she was feeling a little ....flushed herself. She beckoned to her handmaiden.

"Hebe...fetch me the unicorn....I will be in my bedchamber"

Hebe blushed but nodded a bow and then did as she was told.

* * *

The next day Diana, fresh from her retribution sojourn to find and eliminate Kebral was on her way to locate the thief in Locris who might lead her to Rennios. His was yet another name on her list of vengeance. Suddenly, she found herself coming across a random doe where there should be none on this vast dry plain. There had been no ships bound for Locris in Corinth and so she had set out for the smaller port of Elekka, where she would be certain to find one as they traded extensively with Locris.

As she crossed the featureless plain she had heard its soft bleat first, before it seemed to appear from nowhere. On its haunches was the symbol of Olympus: a sign from Artemis. The deer did not flee for her to follow but stayed put as she approached. It could only mean that she was needed at Olympus.

“Dear deer! It will be a two or three-week journey. Less if I’m lucky enough to hail a caravan and not have to walk,” Diana sighed. “Why in Hera’s name can they not just appear to me with whatever their message is?” She turned and headed back towards Corinth.

The Gods must have heard her, for a wind devil whipped up the sand around her, slowly at first, before increasing in intensity. When it dissipated she was standing in Zeus’ hall...all alone. The Amazon was not cowed in his presence. She had dealt with gods before, had borne their anger, weathered their scorn, survived their games. Still, she stood there respectfully before the King of them all and listened to Zeus explain his need of her, the task she must complete. He alone she knew to be responsible for her people's fate and she despised him for it. Even so, she heard him. Then she refused him. She had expected thunder and rage, maybe even a bolt of lightning to end her days right then but all she got was a quiet nod instead. This surprised her more than anything. After a long silence and wary of some treacherous blow, Diana backed slowly from his presence.

Upon leaving the Great Hall, Hera met her on the white marble steps. Playing on the Oathtaker’s devotion to her and showing a hint of sadness and sincerity, Zeus’ wife made her own case to Diana, engaging her with a combination of reasoned arguments and dire warnings as to what could occur should she not agree to travel to Hades’ realm. Reluctantly, the sighing Amazon was convinced. She threw a contemptuous look of hatred back at Zeus' hall...then slowly nodded her assent.

So now, Diana, deep in thought, started down the path out of Olympus, having been tasked by Zeus himself to go to the Underworld and retrieve the only elixir that could give him peace. These gods seemed to think well of her but the tests she’d been put through on their behalf continuously pulled her away from the retribution she longed to complete. In fact, Diana had believed Zeus' task was just another such delaying tactic before Hera had convinced her.

As Diana made her way along the sloping path, Hera herself called out from behind her, beseeching her to wait but another moment. She strode forward from where she and Diana had stood on the steps of the Great Hall discussing her task. The beautiful goddess smiled and reached out, taking both of the Amazon’s warm palms in her own.

“I was thinking that I may have sounded back there as if I were commanding rather than imploring you. I really do appreciate you doing this for Zeus, my dear. He has been more than cantankerous of late, even for him. A wife knows.”

“It is my honour to have been chosen for such an important task, my goddess. I will not fail you. Or him.” She cast another contemptuous glance back in the direction of the hall.

“Our trust in you is complete. You are starting out right now I assume?”

“I have just to pack my rations for the trip and I will be on my way, goddess.”

“Time is of the essence on this. I know the journey is long, Diana, but pack only a day's battle rations. Also, while in the realm of Acheron, you must remain in the boat fully armoured, armed, and ever alert. Failure to do so would most likely result in a lack of success and your death as well. This is a vital task we commend to you, Oathtaker. More than Olympus is in your hands.”

Hera's look silenced Diana's questions before they were asked and she slowly closed her mouth. “As you wish, mistress. I will go directly to the nearest market square and be on my way.”

“I can at least place you where you need to be. At the foot of Olympus is a stream. Step into it and out upon the far bank - when you do, you will be at the nearest town to the mouth of Tartarean Acheron. May good Lady Fortune, strength and resolve bear you swiftly there and back, young lady,” Hera said, caressing the lovely Oathtaker’s silky dark hair with a gentle palm.

Bowing into the caress, the Amazon replied, “Thank you, goddess. I am pleased to be your humble servant.”

Diana then shouldered her shield, set her scabbard more comfortably at her hip and headed down the path off Olympus. The humble servant didn’t realize it yet, but she would need all the good fortune, strength and resolve she could possibly muster on the way to complete this task.
Last edited by tallyho 10 months ago, edited 3 times in total.
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Post 1 year ago

Okay, Dr D, this was absolutely phenomenal. You've captured the tone of the old Greek Myths with such confidence and humour that it almost feels like the real thing. Zeus a middle-aged cad. Hera a conniving, but cheated wife. The mortals only the slimmest of concerns to the gods. It feels exactly as human, and as inhuman, as it should do. The quality of the dialogue was exceptional, the repartee absolutely on point. Likewise, everything is described with a heady, elysian delectability. Even the goblets sound divine!

Also, the sex scene between Apolonus and Diana was tremendously well done. I'm happy to read a consensual one! It was sexy, passionate, and exciting without devolving into purple prose: a sweetmeat, rather than a greasy indulgence. Really, really, nicely written and entertaining.
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tallyho


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Post 1 year ago

Just got up through chapter 11. I purposely have not read it until this point for two reasons.
1. I did not want it to color my writing
2. More importantly, I didn't want to HAVE to read it twice to get my part nicely to fit with what has come before.

That explanation made -- AWESOME. I will probably read it again in its entirety once the final chapters are posted. It is that good. Well crafted characterization and good solid storytelling. Who cares about typos: My hero writer, Louis L'Amour had it written into his contract that they had to leave it alone -- they were only allowed to correct obvious typos -- like teh where it should be the -- so as not to break up the flow of the story or change characterization.

Special note to Tallyho: You should really consider a Mosi instead of a Spit, it's faster and more agile like our absolutely amazing editor in chief. Top marks. Perhaps you can put on a cape and complete your ongoing tales and I can do the same. Some of them have been unfinished for too long -- I refer to mine which are five plus years. Still, been working on this beastie for the last two, so there you have it.

Anyway, very nicely done and I look forward to more as I continue to work through the subtle changes I need to make for Diana's harrowing journey to Hades. I only hope that I am up to the task.

H
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Post 1 year ago

Well -- I finally finished this epic tale, so far as it goes, now it will be incumbent on me to continue it. I hope that I am up to the task, but be assured I will give it my very best. Everyone has contributed some REALLY great stuff. Incredible plot twists, hidden sub-plots that took time to come to fruition, detailed description of the lasso's power, the various subtle machinations of the gods, goddesses, and minor deities of Greek myth are WONDERFULLY played. My congratulations to all those involved and especially to the wizard Merlin, aka Tallyho!
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Post 11 months ago

Thanks for the comments guys and my apologies to Doc for not getting around to posting one last week so I will just say -nice job!

Here is the start of Dravatar's excellent contribution, I hope if you enjoy you will find time to post a comment to tell him so.




PART 31

Zeus stared into his watching pool, speaking softly to an unseen figure in the room, as Diana stepped into the stream, "So, have you done as I asked?"


A soft, pleasant voice replied,slow and measured, "I have begun as you commanded, Great King, but, to weave such a tapestry and to make it truly believable is not a task for but a single day. To complete the work will involve deceiving Rumour herself. Still, you may rest assured that the troublesome Amazon will receive quite the surprise welcome. Watch, my Lord."


On the bank of the Acheron voices silenced. Indeed, the whole forest hushed as an unnatural mist began to form in the middle of the river. The air chilled and the morning sun's warmth faded as the early morning dew instantly became frost along the grassy banks. The mist sat unmoving, as if waiting, still, for several long moments before slowly, over the next few minutes, spreading its unnatural silence towards the bank.

“Make ready!"

The voice that broke the stillness was clearly a command and the men quickly concealed themselves, arrows knocked, bows drawn. His words were accompanied by a billow of steam as his breath met the sudden chill in the air. Those nearest him who had been holding their breath in anticipation now gave a little gasp of their own as they felt the frost. Their breath, too, was cloudy in the cold air. Nervous glances were exchanged. No one had signed on for this... this... the words to describe it would not come and that made them more nervous.

They were not cowardly men, but this was outside their realm of experience. They had been told that they were doing a task for the gods, yet even with that knowledge these brave men had not expected...

The grass, green, damp with the morning, appeared in that moment to become as glass. Flash frozen as it moved closer to the men and the air grew colder still.


The owner of the voice studied the mist. It was thick and cloying, sticking to all it touched like a shroud. It was...almost alive...an entity in itself. He fought down a sudden attack of nerves. He was not some first timer; no, he was Galen of Gortyn, in service to Pallas Athena herself. He steeled his resolve. He was here to serve the gods: the bargain had been struck, now he must attend his duty. He knelt, knocked an arrow of his own and drew back his bow.


The mist continued inland, touching the men closest to the water, some of whom shivered at its caress. They exchanged more nervous glances, feeling the chill, gazing in wonder at the light frost that instantly formed about them among the scrub and grass, then with greater wonder still as their already-whitened knuckles grew even whiter with frost as they gripped their bows tightly. Experienced campaigners, they waited, throats as dry as the desert, for the command to fire.


After a moment a figure became visible within, moving purposefully towards the bank in an eerie silence. Only those touched by the mist heard anything and for them the sound was so slight they might almost have imagined it to be that of her movement through the water. The ripples themselves were completely silent as they washed upon the bank the only sound the light tinkling of droplets hitting the river as the water returned to its source, somehow untouched by the freezing temperatures.


***



Diana, her shield still slung across her back, her sword in its sheath, and not expecting any trouble, waded through the ankle deep water, its coolness refreshing to her feet. The late afternoon sun shone brightly as she moved, the way clear, though the far bank was shrouded in a heavy mist. The stream babbled joyously to her, relaxing her troubled mind and she sighed with pleasure before inhaling deeply, setting aside, for the moment, Hera’s cryptic message as the sweet aroma of wildflowers filled her lungs.


To the senses, the stream was shallow and but a few steps wide when she had entered it. Now she had been walking for some hours and the far bank was no nearer than when her foot first touched the water. Only the mist was any closer and it seemed to be moving towards her rather than the other way around. It wrapped her in a blanket of warmth, lifting and carrying her so that her feet no longer touched bottom. Time around her seemed to fly, darkness descending on her, yet her body felt as though it were lazily basking in the sun for untold hours, though the moon slid across the sky in mere minutes. Still she walked on, through water or through dream she knew not.


As she slowly neared the water’s edge her feet came to rest on the rocky bottom, the sun beginning to peek over the horizon to the east. The mist surrounding her thinned, dissipating or, perhaps, returning whence it came taking with it the cold biting frost and returning the morning sun, that warmed the earth and those in hiding as mystically as the mist had chilled it. In that instant, Diana, Oathtaker, Princess of Themiscyra, and Amazon, fully refreshed, as though from a night’s sleep, stepped up onto the bank into the morning stillness, water dripping from her greaves to puddle on the ground.


"LOOSE ARROWS!"


The barked command broke the silence and arrows flew at her from the arc of carefully placed bowmen in front of her. Somewhere between twenty and thirty arrows were headed for her and she had no time for sword or shield. Almost by instinct she half crouched and her arms began to react to the shafts as they neared her, becoming a blur of motion too fast to follow. Within a few seconds the last arrow was deflected and she merely stood there for a moment stunned.


He had arrayed his men carefully, ensuring that there were, at the least, two bowmen targeting each shoulder, arm, and thigh. The rest he had instructed to target the main part of her body. And they were good, more than half being mercenaries from Crete, some from Gortyn, even as he was. Yet she stood, unharmed -- facing them -- and now, aware of their presence. Gone was the element of surprise and -- “She still stands!” the voices around him echoed his thoughts. Not a single shaft had found its mark, worse, not one had struck her. Anywhere. His men were awestruck, turning to him while he struggled with his disbelief. Moments later that awe quickly became fear when she recovered first and strode towards them. It was too much coming as it did on the heels of the strange mist and they broke cover and ran.


Diana slowly straightened. Surely she had been struck somewhere, but no, she felt not so much as a scratch. Her jaw tightened - now it was her turn. She walked boldly towards them, silent determination on her face as her eyes sought and then found what she wanted, the leader. His few core retainers moved to intercept her, but she simply bludgeoned them aside with well placed blows leaving their unconscious bodies in her wake with a minimum of effort. Her hand reached for her sword, 'Time for some answers,' she thought. Then an impulse stayed her hand and she reached for the lasso instead. It snaked across the distance with ease, forming a noose around her target as his men continued to run. "Who are you?"


There was white hot fury in her voice as she remembered a similar ambush by archers and a quite different result. The lasso glowed brightly as the man sought to give her a false name in the brief instant before he replied, "I am Galen of Gortyn."


He was astonished, he could literally think of nothing else to say. It was as if his name had been written before him in fire. feeling almost as if it were ripped from his throat.


Diana smiled coldly, "Do you make a habit of murdering unwary travelers?"


Galen shook his head, "I was hired by a man, Erasmus, to slay the emissary of Zeus when she stepped from the mist that he assured me would appear here."


Diana pondered. Erasmus wouldn't be the real name of whoever hired these assassins, and to know she would be traveling through the mist meant that the agent behind the deed was likely a god. But who? Who had the motivation to slay her? Surely not Hera, for she had given her warning. And why specifically refer to her as the emissary of Zeus? The noise of the fleeing assassins dissipated into the normal sounds of nature as she stood, deep in thought. Which of the gods would be bold enough to challenge Zeus? On the heels of that another question: what mortal? “Why would you risk angering Zeus by slaying his emissary?”


Again the lasso glowed, though not as brightly. “Erasmus represents one of the gods, one I was told would overthrow Zeus just as surely as he overthrew Kronos.”


Diana’s mind flashed to Hera’s warning, - could this be what she meant by more than Olympus was in her hands? She drew her sword, the puzzlement she was feeling hidden behind the mask of battle. Implacable eyes watched him as he blanched. “You should choose whom you serve more carefully.”


She raised the sword and he felt the fear wash over him as the lasso denied him the lie of bravely facing certain death. “Exercise more wisdom in your future dealings.”


The sword descended.


‘Wait, did she say fut---’ and his world went black.


Diana stood over her foe, her eyes closed as she fought the anger within her. Anger that wanted to strike out, to slay the man at her feet. Slowly she mastered herself, “You will have quite the headache when you awake and, likely, for several days. Perhaps you will ponder your good fortune, slaying for yourself the man who would plan and execute murder. I have seen it happen before. Cross my path in this manner again and you may not fare as well.”


She sheathed her sword, then snapped the lasso, catching it as it coiled in her hand before returning it to her side, a single tear running down her face as she thought briefly of Aenid, the true slayer of Salides, before turning towards the town still yet some distance away. It seemed that, while its inhabitants were brave enough to live within sight of a river leading to the very gates of Tartarus, they were not so foolish as to live too close.



In the ocean depths, a slow smile was hidden in a deep beard. “When you learn, Diana, you learn well.”



On Olympus, Artemis and Athena exchange glances, “Know you, sister, who would dare order the slaying of my Diana?”


Athena sighed, “No, sister, and how many times must I tell you, that she is not your Diana? That she is apportioned to us all?”


Hera burst into the room, the light of fury upon her. “Did you see that? He referred to her as the emissary of Zeus. My Oathtaker is now his emissary!? How did that happen?.” She addressed Athena, “You will determine who this Erasmus is and who hides behind him. You know what is at stake.”


Turning on her heel, she left, flaming white robes swirling in her wake. The two sisters exchanged glances again before Athena spoke, “I told you she wasn’t your Diana.”
Last edited by tallyho 5 months ago, edited 1 time in total.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 10 months ago

Well we certainly ran into the intrigue right off the bat, and Athena is in the hot-seat once more to try and figure out what is going on. And it's a tough task too with shadowy figures and faceless names, but if anyone is up to the task it is her. I like the style here, it fits nicely with a lot of what has come before it and of course I am grateful to see Artemis still holding on to her investment in Diana. I know I helped push the relationship from my various stints at the helm of AMAZOS but others have also supported it too and here it is again, so kudos for continuity. I go away on a trip soon but return December 1st and what a nice welcome home gift it will be when I arrive to the next part of the story!

Oh, and Galen of Gortyn ... I have my eye on you!
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Post 10 months ago

Nice start Drav, lots of simmering undercurrents going and I look forward to seeing the different threads play out


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Post 10 months ago

Thank you all who have read the story so far, please post a comment if you are enjoying it, or even if you arent.

Now Dravatar's intriguing tale contunues....whose Diana is she...?


Part 32

Zeus stirred the water with his finger, breaking up the image. “Well done. Having her named my emissary should allay any suspicions my dear wife might have that I am behind this Erasmus you have invented.”

Dolos nodded, “It is a pity that Galen did not invoke Athena’s name as well. It was in hope that he would do so that I chose him in the first place, assuring him that she would be pleased were he to slay your emissary. This would surely have caused derision amongst the females.”

It was Zeus’ turn to nod. “It may even have broken their unity when in opposition to me. Now, if I know the queen and her moods as well as I think, you had best leave discreetly. I suspect she will arrive momentarily.”

Dolos bowed deeply in feigned reverence to hide a smile that, as usual, failed to touch his eyes. A moment later, his expression once more a schooled mask, he rose and turned to depart. Not for nothing was he the god of deceit. “By your command, my lord.”

***


The marketplace was open and in full swing by the time Diana entered the town square. Gone was the dew and the sun was warm upon her back. She was surprised to find that it was yesterday. Her first thought had been that it was a mistake or a local uniqueness in the reckoning of days. Paying attention to conversations as she sought what she needed revealed otherwise. Hera had somehow transported her here, six days journey by foot, in a manner that had her here before she had seen Artemis messenger.

She strode briskly through the marketplace in full armour without provoking any comment. For a moment, she had considered putting on her robe to conceal herself, but that would have meant finding someplace safe for her shield and retrieving it later. That would have meant more time and Hera had indicated that time was a factor.

Finding a ration of barley groats and salted fish was easy enough and she soon had that strapped into place. She could have fully outfitted herself nearly as quickly since the same vendor had apples, oranges, and other provisions for travel, yet she did not. For some reason she had been asked to carry no more than a warrior's ration for the battlefield. She did not yet know the reason, yet she thought back to Poseidon's withholding of the Daymare and what she had learned. Perhaps this, too, was intended to teach a lesson.

She sighed, continuing on through the marketplace. The real trouble was going to be finding a boat.


***

Hera burst in and Zeus gazed upon her appreciatively: she was breathtaking in the splendor of her fiery passion. If only she were always this radiant there would be no need for others. Sadly, her passion, when it appeared, was seldom for him and such was the case now. She strode purposefully towards the throne, then turned to the left and began to pace back and forth, her garments crackling with tiny filaments of lightning. He smiled, she was truly a match for him and at this moment he wanted nothing more than to bed her. That desire evaporated the moment she began to speak.

“How dare you! Diana would not have even taken on this mission were it not for my intervention yet you name her your emissary!?!”

She whirled towards him, coming to a halt, her eyes ablaze with her inner fire as she waited for an answer. He let her wait, his face a mask now, counting down the moments of silence while their eyes remained locked in the heat of battle. Finally his lips turned once more to a smile and he beckoned her forwards. “I gave your Oathtaker no title, but come see what I have done to prepare the way for her.”

So saying, he held out his hand, his own eyes ablaze now and waited. Banking her fire, she nodded, taking his proffered hand. He drew her into his lap where they could both view his watching pool.


***

Diana considered her situation. Every boat here would be needed by its owner, being built or repaired as needed, with none to spare. She stopped by the well to refill her water skin, still pondering the problem. Just as she was about to turn from the well and resume her search, a strong hand rested on her shoulder. She turned, her hand already reaching for her sword as her eyes fell on the well muscled man. She relaxed, clearly he was no warrior. His attire made it equally clear that he was no farmer or merchant, being both too rich and too poor.

The man had jumped back, startled by her sudden movement. "Your pardon, my lady, but are you the emissary of Zeus?"

Emissary of Zeus again. Why were they all referring to her thus. She had taken this task for Hera, not Zeus. Still, the mission would be of benefit to them both. Finally, she spoke, "I am Diana."

The man nodded, "Then I have your boat. Come, it is this way."

He raised his hand, indicating the direction they should go and stepped off at a good pace for one of his bulk. "I am Rastus. Zeus himself appeared to me in a dream and revealed to me an image of one called Diana - I presume that to be you. He said that you had an important task and asked that I give you one of my boats. My apologies if I was mistaken in inferring from this that you were Zeus' emissary or that the task was for him.”

Diana smiled warmly at him. “Think nothing of it, Rastus. It is merely that the last person to refer to me by that title tried to kill me.”

With that, she stopped in her tracks. Galen and his crew had been sent to kill her at a point in time before she had even agreed to take this mission. Whoever was behind Erasmus either had foreknowledge of her actions or could move through time. She returned her focus to Rastus. “I’m sorry, my mind drifted for a moment. Forgive me?”

“Think nothing of it, my lady Diana. I can see where such an occurrence might give you pause when you hear that honorarium. It is forgotten. As to your transportation, I plan on giving you the smaller unless you need the larger. Both are exquisite, if the craftsman who built them may be allowed a small boast. When you see them you will understand – there is not another boat of their like. One of the problems here is the need to negotiate shallows and rapids as we head down river. Historically this has been done through the use of portages. But what if one could travel through both shallows and rapids without the need to leave the water? The journey would be much faster! I have not yet solved the problem of the rapids with any load in the boat, but shallows? It is the shape of the hull. My new hull floats in but a kochliarion of water. Surely you can see the advantages that this provides when it comes to ...”

Rastus had run on in this manner the entire time it took them to reach the boats and even after, showing her the hull improvements the larger craft had over even the smaller one. She had thanked him for the vessel and, when he had insisted on helping her launch it, had graciously accepted though she could have easily handled the entire matter on her own. Even now, several hours down river, the memory brought a smile to her face. There were truly good people out here and she counted herself fortunate to have met this one.

Diana’s smile broadened as she considered how much of an understatement Rastus small boast had been. The little boat was solidly built and it slipped through the shallows with ease. From the waterline up, it looked typical of such craft, the prow going down and under the center of the vessel to form its keel with the sideboards running parallel to it. The difference had been in the hull shape. Most water craft, regardless of size, had deep rounded bottoms. Somehow Rastus had managed to flatten out the bottom of the hull, giving it greater stability across the beam and greatly reducing the amount of water it needed to float in. Not only that, but his refinements caused it to track so well that she only needed to make corrections to its course when the river would bend this way or that.

The banks slid by swiftly, the water moving faster than even she could paddle. She stretched, relieving aching muscles and moved her steerage oar from one side of the stern to the other, heading back towards the center of the gradually widening river as it turned yet again.

Removing her armour would make her much more comfortable, but Hera had bid her to remain armoured, armed, and alert. Quiet as the journey was, Diana could still feel the tension. A portent of something to come? Maybe. She looked around again, taking note of even the birds in the trees along the banks. So far the trip had been uneventful, but she knew strategy well. Considering the encounter when she stepped from the mist, it was likely that her adversaries were trying to lull her into a false sense of security or allow the tension of waiting to exhaust her. Closing her eyes, she listened to her surroundings. Hearing nothing untoward, she shifted position and scanned the banks again. Either way it didn’t matter. She was more than a warrior – she was an Amazon. Born for this. Trained for this. Her skills and knowledge earned with years of practice and study. Beyond this, she had been refined by the gods themselves. Let them come. Soon or late, she would be ready.

It was almost too late when she heard the arrow and it lodged into the side of the boat where her sword arm had been but a moment ago. She had rolled behind her shield, lifting it to cover the direction from which the shot had come and now carefully surveyed the area. She inwardly cursed that she had let her mind drift, then cast the regret aside and focused on finding the archer instead. She heard nothing, saw nothing, sensed – nothing! Whoever had fired the arrow had to be extremely skilled at woodcraft not to betray their position. Feeling a slight stinging sensation she checked her arm, then shrugged. Merely a scratch, it hadn’t even broken the skin. Barely an annoyance.

Diana looked at the arrow that had so nearly missed her, the head almost fully buried in the sidewall of the boat. Keeping her shield between her and the unknown archer, she took it out and examined it. The design betrayed nothing about who the designer was but it did provide insight into his intentions. It was not anything she had seen before – the shaft was of some metal that gleamed softly of silver, but without the weight of silver. The fletching was hard and would further damage any flesh through which it passed. The arrowhead was even more remarkable. Thin, strong, and sharper even than her sword. It was made to go in one way and not come out the same way without doing extensive damage. She pictured what it would have done to her arm had she failed to move in time. Whoever had used this weapon was not intending to kill with the first shot.

Her mind flew back to what she had learned of Liobe. Liobe of the Spear, she corrected herself. Those she had interrogated had told her how, already wounded several times, she had slain twelve of her foes in a rearguard action before they finally overpowered her. Was that the intent of her hunter? To wear her down? To capture her? The thought filled her with unreasoning fear. Could she take her own life to prevent capture with so much weighing on her success of this quest? Could she risk the precious gifts she had received from the gods themselves falling into the hands of so vile a foe? But what if she dishonoured herself by allowing...

She firmly clamped down on this train of thought lest it distract her and again scanned the bank, seeing nothing. She was an Amazon Warrior, she would fight until there was no breath left in her, the way Liobe should have! She spat on the arrow, thanked the gods that Rastus had built so solid a craft as to withstand a weapon such as this and put it aside. It was, after all, still usable, even though she had no bow to launch it.

Stretching to ease her muscles once more, she felt a little dizzy. It was as if the world wasn’t quite right. Maybe traveling through that strange mist had taken a toll on her body after all. She shook her head and scanned the banks yet again. Again nothing, just as it should…

They burst out of the water on both sides of her. Quickly she leapt to her feet, her sword clearing its sheath as she jumped, landing with one foot on either saxboard of the boat. Her sword became a flurry of action as it sliced through spear, parried sword, struck shield, and passed through flesh. Uncounted numbers of her foes dropped dead in the water and still they came. So many she could not count them. She fought on, feeling the afternoon sun on her back, feeling her stiff muscles loosening as she used them, feeling the sheen of sweat that began to build from her exertion. More died, more came. Miraculously, none boarded the boat or yanked her from it, yet the fear of them sacrificing themselves to restrain her so they could… she tried to shove the fear aside, but it was becoming difficult to do so. These men wanted to rape her, to break her, to take from her the gift of choice that made her Amazon! She fought harder, her breathing becoming increasingly laboured as the constant battle against such overwhelming numbers took its toll.

***

On the shore, a small group of men watched from their carefully hidden position as she valiantly fought her imaginary foes. One of them, concealed in robes too heavy for the weather turned and spoke to the man nearest him. “Did I not tell you when your archer missed that it would matter little? That it was the poison on the tip that was the true weapon. See? She has come into contact with it and even now that poison causes her to fight that which is not even there.”

He paused, waiting while the other nodded his understanding, “This way will take longer than if you had impaled her sword arm, yet the result will be the same – the poison has already clouded her mind and she will not notice you until it is too late. Watch her, allow her to tire herself, and then, when the moment is right, take your men and strike. Remember, she is not to be killed lest it arouse suspicions in the minds of her patrons. Rather she is to be broken, humbled, and taught a woman’s place. Do you understand?”

The man nodded, “Yes, my lord Erasmus, it shall be as you command.”

The men followed the craft downstream, leaving Erasmus alone. Shortly after they left he headed upstream and inland for a short distance, then looked around carefully. Having determined that all was clear, his face became a mask of concentration. Smoke arose from the ground engulfing him in its folds and he disappeared. He had failed to note the owl sitting quietly in the tree.


Moments later, his appearance entirely different, he arrived in his quarters on Olympus. Putting on clean new robes, he went to apprise Zeus of his progress. He smiled; well, perhaps not all of his progress.

***


It didn’t occur to Diana that the water was too shallow here to conceal one brigand, let alone this uncounted number upon number. She merely fought on and on. Eventually she began to tire, yet still she fought on. Her athletic prowess was a thing of beauty to watch as she dodged, weaved, blocked, and struck back with her sword.

The onlookers shadowing her movement downstream noted when her sword moved just that little bit more slowly, when her landings on the boats top rails were not as sure. Deciding the time to act was now, they entered the river in a shallows a little downstream, spreading out on either side of the approaching boat. Known for their skill with lassos, the Sagartians timed their throws as the boat approached, ensnaring her arms with multiple ropes from either side of the vessel and pulling down with their combined weight. They had not counted on the strength of the Amazon. Even tired she began to pull back, dragging the wielders of the ropes towards her. Others quickly grabbed hold and, soon, two or three were on each rope, the boat had gone further downstream so they were no longer anchoring her opposite side, and the titanic tug of war began to pull their way. Those who remained tossed light lines back and forth across the boat so as to pull a pair of heavy ropes around each of her legs, then more men drew those ropes tight, ensnaring them. Weak and tired as she was, her legs had an incredible leverage advantage and remained firmly planted, unmovable no matter how hard they pulled at the rope. Leverage wasn’t all to her advantage, however. Now there were ropes pulling at her at her legs from four different directions, holding her and her vessel nearly still. This allowed them to manipulate the angle of pull on her arms.

***

Dolos bowed his head to Zeus, “As you can see, my lord, the aluminum shafted arrow proved to distract the Amazon from the true danger of the toxin we obtained from the being who will be known as the 'Scarer of Crows.’ Her own fear is doing most of our work for us, allowing the Sagartians to best her. With any fortune at all, my lord, you will see her broken this very day.”

Appearing to focus on the watching pool, Dolos observed the god king through lidded eyes.

Zeus nodded absently, transfixed by the titanic struggle between Diana… He smiled, now she would finally pay for refusing him...they would soon have her at their mercy and humiliate her like she had him!

Having successfully stoked Zeus' desire for revenge, the God of Deception suppressed a smile. Things were going well, but it was not yet time.



***

The ropes had appeared from nowhere. How had she failed to see them? Diana pulled hard, but there were too many and she was too tired. Ropes were tossed back and forth behind her and the pressure on her arms began to change. Rather than being pulled away from her, they were being drawn towards the middle of her back. She struggled with all her might, but it wasn’t enough, they had planned too well, were too expert at this sort of thing to give her any chance at all. Slowly, inexorably, her arms inched towards each other.

“No!!”

The word seemed to erupt from her very soul as her helplessness sank in. They were going to take her alive! Fear washed over her yet again. This was not like when she had been pinned by weight of numbers. There would be no moment to wait for, no tactic that would turn the tables – she was to be bound! A second wave of fear washed over her – if they bound her wrists. She violently shoved that thought away and her struggles took on a new adrenalin filled fury. She would not be bound! Would not be helpless! Yet the very adrenalin that added to her strength also fueled the power of the toxin coursing through her veins and the fear came crashing down on her again. Again she shoved the fear to the side, but it was more difficult to do so. Each time the fear came crashing down on her, her assailants gained ground, her wrists moving slowly, inexorably, towards each other until, at the last, they touched with a soft chime and the force applied to them echoed between the muscles of one arm and the other as her remaining strength began to leave her body.

Another rope was lashed around her bracers, binding them together preventing her from recovering as the curse of echo turned the strength of her own struggles against her. It was not much longer before some of the men had boarded the small boat and had her pinned down.


***

He arrived to see them forcing Diana down into the boat and attacked them from the rear. Waging honourable war on men who had none was not something a smart warrior did, so he gave them no chance and no quarter. They would be food for ravens.

The water was so shallow here and they made such a racket that he had slain fully nine of their number in as many seconds before the alarm was even sounded. The remainder were so spread out that he was able to bring the fight to them in threes and fours. For their part, after their battle with Diana, they were no longer fresh.

He moved towards the stern first, crossing blades with the nearest of the five there even as his other arm skewered a second with his spear. The remaining three bunched even as he went in underneath his opponent's sword and thrust home, into his exposed thigh, crippling him. A slashing blow to the throat finished him off as the trio bunched to make a better target.

“I have fought you Sagartians before. You are indeed skilled with your lassos but you are no match for one trained in pankration since he could stand. I advise you to flee while there is time to do so.”

Without waiting for them to either flee or respond, he slid his shield grip from wrist to hand. A smashing blow from his shield knocked two of the three from their feet, his xiphos going in over the blade of the third to thrust through the unprotected throat. The brigand fell to his knees, clutching the gaping hole as air gurgled through the torrent of blood. His foot crushed the throat of the two downed on his left, while his sword, now free, found the other and freed him of the need to do anything in this life ever again.

Leaping over the stern, he landed athwart the vessel and with solid footing, rapidly dispatched the four men there before they could gain any advantage from being on the boat. Then he leapt into the water on the other side as the nine there began to scatter before the blood spattered madman in their midst. In less than a minute, they too were executed and he returned to the small craft, bringing it to a stop as their corpses, bound for Hades domain, drifted by. Using his spear to create a temporary anchor, he removed the three corpses which had fallen into the vessel, rather than out of it and checked on its lone remaining occupant.


***

Diana futilely lashed out with her feet as the men used the ropes on her ankles and calves to draw them together, binding them, further restricting her movements. Her bracers were already bound, stealing her strength and leaving her helpless before the unending torrent of men. A whimper, unbidden, escaped her lips. What could she do? There must be something! But no, they knew their craft too well and, on purpose or not, they had found the way to weaken her. Her struggles were as nothing – they were nothing – she could barely move.

That was when the giant had stormed the boat, spilling the gore of those surrounding her. She screamed and closed her eyes to the unspeakable horror around her. But closed eyes were worse –


***

The air was filled with the stench of death, all around were the sounds of battle. The chanting of opposing forces punctuated by adrenalin fueled roars and the screams of the dying set atop the cacophony of steel on steel and the dull thud of weapons striking shields. She saw her sisters around her as they were denied death in battle, but taken and bound. Helpless – all of them as, one by one, they were used against their will again and again until they were slain. Bound and helpless herself all she could do was stand there and watch as the last of them were raped and slaughtered. Slaughtered? That implied a clean, quick stroke. This too was denied the Amazons as they were slowly vivisected. Tendons sliced, rendering arms and legs useless, ears cut off, eyes gouged out, sometimes even the tongue would be removed. The methods were varied and manifold, yet there were two constants: Always they were pierced in the left thigh and high on the left shoulder. A loud scream sounded and she turned to see blood running like a river from her mother’s mouth. She screamed long and loud, trying to close her eyes, to look away, to close her ears to the droning voice telling her – no asking her. It – he was asking her something.

Diana slowly opened her eyes, the sunlight shining in her face and, at first, could see only shadow. Then the shadow gently lifted her.

“Welcome back, Drissala. You have been in fevered slumber throughout the night and I feared you would not be long in the land of the living.”

The shadows lifted from his face now that the sun was no longer behind it and she saw –

“Aponolus?”

Yet if it was he, why then was she still bound?

“It is I. Thank Athena, who bade me here, that I arrived in time.” he smiled.

Gently he caressed her cheek, then kissed her. Her eyes widened in surprise, then closed as she melted into his embrace, her body beginning to tingle with anticipation. He broke the kiss and drew her closer into his arms, whispering in her ear.

“Know that I could have taken you any time, even now, with or without your consent.”

The power of her lasso engulfed her as he drew it tight. Somehow he had slipped it around her during their kiss! He continued.

“Also, know that it is not my task to free you from your bonds. I must leave that to another at her behest.”

He kissed her once more and soundly this time, before lowering her gently to the bottom of the boat and stepping over the side and into the water, now over his knees. Diana was awash in a torrent of conflicting emotions as she continued to drift downstream, the sound of Aponolus making his way to the bank quickly receding behind her. A wave of dizziness washed over her, the whole world seeming to spin for a moment.

A knife blade stabbed Diana in her left thigh as she suddenly found herself returned to her nightmare. She screamed, then spat in the face of the man in front of her. The press of men around them jeered and he left the knife buried in her leg. She shoved the pain of it to the back of her mind as he licked his lips and ran his hands over her breasts. He shoved her to the ground, drawing a second knife and burying it high in her left shoulder. His face broadened in an evil smile as he stared down at her.

“So, Amazon, what happened to death before dishonor?”

Her pteruges and linothorax were ripped away, leaving her naked. She had screamed, but not at her nakedness, rather from the pain of her wounds as both knives were twisted.

“What happened to ‘no real Amazon would allow herself to be taken alive?’ You betray your people with your cries! They will revile your name forever!”

Then she was raped again and again, each in the group taking their turn as, one by one, they had their way with her. It seemed to go on without end, until her vision blurred once more.

When her vision cleared, she was kneeling, still bound. Athena was standing at the foot of her throne, holding the other end of her lasso.

“You have been taken this day against your will. Were Aponolus not in the area on a journey of his own, it might have ended very differently for you, as you saw. Could you have prevented this?”

Diana struggled to find some way that she could have forestalled her capture or ended her own life. The lasso glowed as she tried to justify the situation to herself, that it was the dishonourable tactics of the Sagartians that had put her at their mercy, not her own actions or failure. Finally she shook her head, “No my goddess, I could not.”

Athena gently removed the lasso and coiled it, returning it to its rightful place, then a wave of her hand caused Diana’s bonds to simply fall away.

“Open your eyes and continue your journey.”

She opened her eyes, to see the sun above her peeking through the trees and chastised herself for falling asleep. Memories of strange dreams tugged at her consciousness, but she could not remember. She had fallen asleep! Hera had bid her to stay awake and she had fallen asleep! Then she noticed the strange arrow and ropes in the bottom of the boat and became thoughtful. “It seems it was not merely a dream after all.”
Last edited by tallyho 10 months ago, edited 1 time in total.


How strange are the ways of the gods ...........and how cruel.

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Post 10 months ago

(This is going to be a long one - sorry!)

You guys are knocking this out of the park! Apologies for not commenting in so long but I've had a torrid series of months for finding the right time - but I've loved the chance to consume so much of this story in one sitting. My only issue is I want MORE. These last four instalments have been great, and have really upped the ambition levels to have three separate writers to produce different segments of the same arc - and what an arc it is shaping up to be! This play by Zeus has been foreshadowed for a while, but now all the gears are turning and all these disparate story pieces seem to be converging, and it makes for hypnotising reading. The writing from everyone has been really top drawer.

Before I get to that I want to commend AEM for the final chapter of his epic plot twister through time. The finale was awesome and nicely tied up the various lines of intrigue that had been set up. Seeing Artemis in trouble was quite affecting, and I thought the fate of Moros was rather poetic. But, more importantly, I thought you used the setting for the final confrontation of Grexos masterfully. Space is my favourite setting to read, but also the one I personally find hardest to write, and you nailed it. The end of Grexos was also super satisfying. Well done!

Tally, there was lots of lovely catharsis watching Diana take some more of her revenge, and it was refreshing to see Diana play the role of regular woman in her first meeting with Aponolus - I imagine she felt similarly on both counts. The exchange between the brother gods of sleep and dreams was brilliant, and I found myself very intrigued by both characters. They were both presented perfectly. You set the ball rolling with this grand scheme here, and my mind races with theories about what is all going on. I love that you, and Dr D and Dravatar after you, are keeping the overall scheme largely hidden for us all to see as it plays out, rather than tipping you hand and revealing the grand plot to the reader in advance. But the small slivers that you do show are all tantalising, and I've enjoyed reading back through these last few instalments again to form my own theories.

This all goes the same or more for Dr D's setup for Diana's expedition. I just loved this. The opening sequence at the Olympian festival, starting with a centaur chasing down his playful conquest set the tone beautifully. Later I also really enjoyed the brief glimpse of the painting portraying Zeus and his siblings in their finest, most heroic moment, all set against where they now are, and the mild affect it had on Hera. You have an effortless visual style that I truly envy, and it was wonderfully on display here with the representations of all the gods, and later with Diana's tryst with Aponolus - which was engrossing. The exchange between Zeus and Hera was perfect - at once a humorous, disarmingly human romp of ancient supreme beings behaving like any marriage; but then also, behind that, there is this confrontation between two mortal enemies trying to deceive and manipulate the other as they struggle for dominance. it's awesome. That Hera thinks she is easily manipulating him, making him think the ideas are his own when she has given them to him - all while he has very likely succeeded in doing exactly that to her - is so well presented. That it was all juxtaposed with Diana indulging with her own lover was fascinating. I would have loved to have seen more of Diana's first face-to-face interaction with Zeus, but other than that I think this set up her epic voyage brilliantly. I really, really look forward to your future contributions Dr D - I didn't want your chapter to end.

Which brings me up to date now with Dravatar's masterful continuation of Diana's voyage. Your writing is super slick and pleasurable to read, Drav, and I was transfixed from the first line to the last. The mesmerising portrayal of the gods, the flashy, fluid descriptions of Diana's movement, the rich dialogue - it's really polished stuff. The continuity here is very strong, and perfectly weaves the past strands of the broader story into this tale, giving a strong sense that we are approaching the apex of Diana's personal journey - as well as generally showing us how much she has grown. Little touches like her reaching for her lasso rather than her sword, or the continuing insight into Artemis and Athena quibbling about how to refer to Diana, all add up and are very appreciated. Her showdown with the archers was badass, and gave us our first taste of Diana's iconic defence against ballistics, and I enjoyed the archers' fleeing after witnessing it - as any reasonable foe should! I like how you develop her evolving world view, and how she has come to appreciate a different form of 'slaying' her foe - it meshes wonderfully with the story up to this point, and your brief sidebar of Poseidon taking pleasure from it was tonally perfect.

I really liked that we got a cameo of scare crow's toxin, and your use of it here made for a brilliant scene, from Diana's unique, insightful, experience of the toxin itself - which I loved - to the winding noose of the ambush closing around her as she tired. The hint of the darker peril that awaited her, and of what the men sought to accomplish with it, was fiendish and delightful, and I don't mind admitting that it quickened my pulse. The trap sprung on her was well executed and I liked that her bracelets, and echo's curse within them, became a focal point of the peril. It was strong continuity, but more than that it was awesome peril - reminding us that Diana's gifts don't all come without costs, and there are ways this powerful warrior woman can fall prey to weaker men. Her subsequent fever dream and questioning by Athena felt important to the overall story, introducing the idea that a warrior woman can be terribly broken and beaten, even after doing everything right at every step. It's great stuff, and I just want more.

it looks like Athena is on the case and starting to unravel the schemes in play, of which it feels like there are many. I'm excited to see how it all plays out, and to uncover the full extent of the plots at work. Call me crazy, but I'm starting to suspect that something is up with Aponolus. I'm not quite sure what yet, but my 'this-guy-doesn't-seem-like-a-regular-mortal' sense is itching. Great stuff all around, folks.
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Post 10 months ago

Thanks so much.

So far as I know, Aponolus was raised and trained in Sparta and is now the Captain of the Guard at Corinth.

Pankration, was the first martial art, is closer to MMA than to any of the oriental styles, originated in Sparta, and is one of the reasons that Aponolus is such an incredible warrior. The use of Pankration by the armies of Alexander the Great when they conquered Asia is the root of oriental martial arts. Then modern martial arts all developed from the orient. Fascinating loop, isn't it?

I also envision that Pankration would be learned by Diana at some point, then taught to Bruce at a later point. Wouldn't that be cool?
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Post 9 months ago

Sorry I meant to add a comment myself Drav but forgot in the hectic Xmas period

Nice job as ever some intriguing plot lines coming out of the mist like those arrows!

Here is the next installment. Please post comments, these writers have earned them


Part 33

Dolos was intoxicated with sheer euphoria yet, even here in the privacy of his own quarters, he kept his face an unreadable mask. It had gone even better than he had hoped. Somehow, someone had rescued Diana from the Sagartians in the proverbial nick of time. Zeus had been so certain of his revenge that his anger against her, against the Sagartians for failing, against this Aponolus, whoever he was, and against Athena for interfering was immense. Dolos savored that last most of all – Athena was his favorite – had even been allowed the use of Zeus' Aegis in battle. He had succeeded, thus far, beyond his wildest dreams – and he was not finished. Now to stir Hera’s anger against Zeus! He allowed himself the briefest, smallest smile, then turned to his own watching pool. It should be happening even now!

* * *

Another volley of arrows flew through the afternoon sky. The whistling noise of their flight betrayed their approach and she was ready for them. Interposing her shield, Diana studied the surrounding terrain. They had been following the same pattern since shortly after she awoke from her ‘dream.' That’s the thing about patterns, you have to watch carefully or they might change when you aren’t looking.

A single arrow flew from the bank behind her. Keeping her shield where it was, she simply deflected this one with her bracer. The moment passed and the waiting game began all over again.

She returned to pondering the not-quite-a-dream in order to stave off tension. Diana wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was it the hand of Morpheus? Why should the god of dreams fill hers with such disturbing images? She remembered disjunct snatches: Extensive sword play. A general sense of helplessness. Surely that was a dream, I would never allow myself to be made helpless. She remembered being bound with her lasso and kneeling before Athena but not why. That is likely a dream based on a memory just like… She touched her lips as, not for the first time today, the image of her rescue at Aponolus hands and how he had kissed her flashed through her mind. The big Spartan could be so gentle and … energetic ... She blinked, coming back to reality. That, at least was certainly a dream. Aponolus, with his duties – I must remember to ask him about that – how did he, a Spartan, end up a Lokhagos in Corinth? Anyway, it is certain that he is nowhere near here. Mostly it all seemed pretty elusive.

Shaking her head she studied the trees behind her without appearing to do so, then made an obvious study of the front. If I can make them think there is a weak direction, maybe they won’t get too creative and there's only about an hour of daylight left. So, accounting for the movement of the archers and the fact they should be tired after so many forced marches and river crossings …

She paused as it finally dawned on her, the troops would be too tired with that many crossings to stage an ambush so many times this day. I should have seen this sooner. There have been no river crossings -- there are two different groups of men taking it in turns! The next attack will come from both sides of the river! A volley at twilight where I will stand out against the backdrop of the sun reflecting off the water and where the sun will make it harder for me to view the incoming projectiles!

Having determined their plan, she went about preparing for it. Looking downriver she gauged the distance to the next bend. If they didn’t hit her before then, she should be fine. Turning her shield sideways she slid her sword through the grips, which were now up and down. Using the sharp tip of her blade, she secured the shield to the deck so that it stayed upright in the back of the boat. Retrieving her cloak, she opened it and wrapped it around the shield. Finally, picking up the silver-looking arrow, she stuck it into the upper edge of the shield and draped her hood over it. Now, if I can only reach the next bend...


* * *

Hera looked up from her watching pool as Athena entered and inclined her head. “I’m afraid I have very little to report, my queen. I was able to track Erasmus on several occasions, but have not been able to find out very much about him. He is a very powerful sorcerer and, somehow, is able to mask his presence when he wants to. I think he lets me track him, to see what he is doing, then hides himself from me to demonstrate his power. As to the identity of his patron, I have learned nothing. Not even Rumour has heard anything.”

Hera pondered this. “If you have learned nothing, he must be very cunning, indeed.”

She rose, stepping down from the dais and began to pace. “Based on what you have revealed to me, it would seem this Erasmus goal is to destroy her rather than, or at least before, he has her killed.”

Athena nodded, “So it would seem. All his attacks to date have been sloppy, however. The ambush at the portal of crossing could very easily have killed her outright. The second ambush, though, was clearly an attempt to break her very spirit.”

It was Hera’s turn to nod, “It very nearly succeeded. Such good fortune that you had Aponolus in the area. Is that something I should know about?”

A shake of the head, “No, my queen. He was simply hunting. Galen, however, is now on a quest for me and in need of a mentor. I have chosen Aponolus to be that mentor.”

The queen of the gods did not pursue the subject, though she did indeed look thoughtful. “In any event, it is good that you were able to turn that around. How much does she remember?”

Athena shrugged, “Mnemosyne informed me that she would remember little until the time was right.”

Hera paused, turning to Athena, “And that will be?”

“When she needs to know.”

The finality of the statement, spoken as one with ultimate authority startled Hera. She covered her surprise and turned to Mnemosyne. “I did not summon you.”

The newcomer bowed her head, reverently “You did not, my queen, but I sensed that you would have questions for me. Is that not so?”

Hera smiled, “Sensed? I suspect not. Rather, I believe your keen memory of all the times I wanted your aid enables you to anticipate my need.”

“As you wish. Regardless, I have examined the Oathtaker’s memories at length and have determined that, despite the lasso forcing her to accept the truth, her Amazon training is so strong that she will bury that memory and deny its truth. She may do this so well that she will not recall the truth when it is needed. I, then, will retain control of this memory that I may bring it to the forefront of her mind when the time comes.”

Their eyes remained locked for sometime. Finally, Hera blushed as a memory from her youth popped into her mind unbidden. "I had forgotten. I take your point. Memory is -- and should remain -- your domain."

Mnemosyne bowed her head again, more deeply and reverently even than before. "As then, I am pleased to be of service, my queen."

The pool glowed more brightly and Hera returned to it, beckoning her companions to join her.

* * *


They watched as the craft came into view upriver. This would be the culmination of their efforts this day. March and shoot, march and shoot. Food and drink on the march. They were used to this sort of thing, had trained for it. Even so, it was tiring and one did like to see results when putting in hard work. The woman came into view, silhouetted nicely against the sun. The archers knocked their arrows and let fly on command. The airborne missiles filled the sky with stark black lines that arced towards the target – and hit.

They must have hit. Surely they must have. No way all those arrows could have missed her. Yet she sat upright still, her cloaked figure a dark shadow against the last rays of the setting sun. Like a rock.

Unflinching!

Immovable!

They began to mutter to each other.

“She’s not human!”

“… should be dead!”

“How do you fight that?” And many variations of the same until the lochias spoke clearly.

“Enough. It’s plain to see that you lot couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn! We’re gonna have to take 'er in the boats. Pack yer gear and get down to the bank.”

Across the river a similar situation played out with the end result that the warriors were ready to board the pair of boats that arrived a few minutes later. They had been keeping their distance – remaining out of sight all day, but now the pair of boats reached the bend and pulled hard for each bank where they picked up the waiting warriors. Fully crewed and carrying an entire lochos of 16 men, they rowed in earnest. They had an advantage: their boats were longer than hers. Mathematicians were doing experiments to determine why and by how much but the soldiers didn’t need any mathematics. They knew from experience that longer boats just traveled faster than shorter ones and why – river gods liked longer boats.

* * *

The sun slid behind the horizon as the boat passed by the archer’s position. The water clearly carried the sound of the ambushers' dismay. By the time the lochias was chewing out his men she was further downriver and unable to make out the words. Diana smiled as she heard the tone, her imagination filling in the words.

“I’ve never seen such poor shooting in me entire life! Me entire life, mind you! A slowly drifting target clearly etched against the sky and within easy range, too. Me dear departed grandmother could’a made that shot, but you lot? Not the one of ye so much as nicked her!”

Smiling more broadly, she kicked a little to the left steering the boat a little closer to the center of the river. Whether a lochias now or their descendant, the sergeant, they were all the same. Tough men who held together the smallest unit of an army.

The Amazon released the stern of the boat, swam alongside and quietly slipped out of the water. What little sound she made was more than drowned out by the sound of that pair of voices. A smile of satisfaction lit her face as she pulled the arrows from her contrivance and dropped them into the water. That should give them something to think about. She went about disassembling her stand -in and paused as she pulled the arrow from her shield. It had come in handy as her head beneath the cloak, but she did not know where it had come from or who made such a magical shaft. She restored it to its place in the boat.

Chilled from her swim, evaporation, and the cool night air, she slipped the cloak about her for warmth, confident that, for now at least, she had shaken off her pursuers. Tomorrow would be another day. She should be at the end of her journey by then and ready to start the task for which the gods had dispatched her. Lost for a moment in thoughts of the dream, with Aponolus kiss and the promise it had held, her fingers absently went to her lips. A moment later she chastised herself. He is fun, but nothing to be fantasizing about. Why did it seem so real and why does it disturb me so? She dipped the hand into the cool water and scooped up a drink, subconsciously trying to wash away that feeling, that taste almost, that he had left upon her.

She started to focus on the route ahead. She should be hitting the Acheroussia Lake sometime during the middle of the night, which meant that she should be in Hades by morning. Very few had what it took to enter by this route, but she was certain she would prevail just as she had time and again when the gods had set her a challenge. True, this was somewhat different in that the task itself was not a test, but that should make it easier. So focused was she on what lay ahead that she nearly missed what was coming up behind her.

* * *

Dolos ground his teeth. She should be dead. The damnable Amazon bitch should be dead! Dead! DEAD!! He composed himself. All was not yet lost. In spite of her craftiness, the boats would overtake her. If she died surely Hera would blame Zeus in spite of the mysterious Erasmus.

* * *

Nearly twice as long and with rowers enough to move the craft along at their maximum speed, the two boats soon pulled into sight of the drifting Amazon. Sound carries easily across the water, so they began to stroke more quietly, closing the gap a little more with each passing minute.

* * *

Diana turned as she heard the water being churned up behind her. Boats! I should have expected boats. Whoever this Erasmus is, he’s making great effort to stop my mission. It must be important indeed.

The river had carried the Oathtaker towards the fulfillment of her mission without her help since she had boarded this vessel. Now, for the first time she began to paddle, her boat flying through the water. Still, her speed was limited by the length of her craft, so she only slowed their approach.

* * *

Their intent to take the Amazon by surprise met with failure and the attack turned into a long stern chase.

“That tears it, she’s seen us. Put your backs into it, lads!”

Their lochias was an encouraging sort, but he also worked as hard as any of them, so they put their backs into it. Still, it didn’t do much good, all three craft were moving through the water as fast as they could go and, had they known it, physics, not brute strength, had already decided both the duration and the winner of this race.

* * *

Diana watched the overtaking craft carefully. She had achieved her goal of slowing their relative approach and now she was looking for the moment to take advantage of it. She altered course to starboard so that she would approach the land more closely at the river’s next bend.

“I am perfectly willing to slay you, if necessary, to complete my task. Are you as keen to die? Let me go in peace and I will spare you.”

She spoke confidently even though the numbers were well against her. They had already witnessed her survival of a hailstorm of arrows, her assuredness should give them pause, whether they would admit to it or no.

It was one of the lochias who spoke, “Why don’t you do us all a favor and surrender, then.”

The lasso snaked across the distance and wrapped around him, “Are you not afraid to die?”

He fought against its power for the barest of seconds, then shrugged and signaled his men to wait. He would talk and let the boats close. This rope would make a great prize. “Of course, any soldier who isn’t is a fool and I stay as far from them as I can.”

So much for that. She had not counted on him being a man of such candor or so at peace with himself.

“You know this Erasmus is no god.”

“True, but he is a powerful sorcerer and he claims to represent the god who will depose Zeus as surely as Zeus deposed Cronos and Cronos deposed Ouranos. Surely you can see the advantage to being on the side of change?” He paused a moment before shrugging again, “Then there is the money.”

He was clearly stalling as the boats closed. The bow was near her stern, her moment, not his. She recoiled her lasso, drew her sword in the same movement, and struck. This was where her strategy of slowing the overtake of the pursuing vessels paid off. Instead of passing between the boats quickly and being faced with their full strength all at once, she was able to dispatch them singly or in pairs as they came into range.

Her first blow took out two strong men in the bow of the vessel to her left, her sword slashing the narrow strip of unprotected thigh between pteruges and greaves. No longer able to stand they fell to the bottom of the boat, tripping up two more of their fellows. Two, maybe four, that she wouldn’t have to kill and add to the faces that visited her in the dark hours of the night. Even as they were falling, her sword struck out at those in the boat on the right, striking the sword of one into another, then stabbing a third just above his cuirass. Her left bracer deflected a sword strike from behind and an elbow strike to the crotch dropped its wielder to his knees. From that point forward she was knee deep in it, fending off attacks from both boats while thinning the opposition one warrior at a time.

She had fought her way very nearly through the first half of each boat and got into it with the greatest press of her foes when the boat to her left came to an abrupt halt spilling men all over each other. Moments later the boat to her right also ran aground, but her boat continued on, skimming through the shallows along the shore with ease. Taking up her paddle again, she smiled.

'Thank you Rastus.'

That very moment the blackness of night became the gray of never ending twilight – she had arrived!
Last edited by tallyho 9 months ago, edited 1 time in total.


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Post 9 months ago

Diana's prowess on the water matches her skill on land, nicely done!


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Post 8 months ago

This continues to build nicely. I really enjoyed the fight sequence as the ships lined up - it was paced and described so well that I felt like I was watching it more than reading it. As cool and flashy as any movie action scene. Again, the little touches here and there are wonderfully weighted and much appreciated. Diana taking relief in watching her opponents falling into the water conveys so much with so little, and I like where it sets her character at.

I totally got a kick out of Hera having a private, intimate memory of her own flashed back at her to demonstrate Mnemosyne's (I definitely had to scroll up to check the spelling of that terror) power. All around great stuff again, and I'm very excited to see what comes next! There's so many tantalising possibilities from here.
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Post 8 months ago

It's been far too long since I've read and commented on your chapters, Dr. Avatar. They are simply wonderful. Your talents at describing action scenes, as Void said, are remarkable, virtually filmic in quality and pace. And yes, the little moments where the character's inner selves are revealed are especially wonderful: Diana happy that she's wounding and not killing her foes so they don't visit her dreams at night.

It's all fantastic stuff to read, to savor and to try to unwind in terms of all the blended motivations of the gods at play. I look forward to more of her journey.
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Post 8 months ago

Yes I echo those sentiments - it is a great contribution to this saga


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Post 8 months ago

My thanks to all for your appreciation of my efforts. Also thanks for the several PMs encouraging me to make use of Galen. He was originally intended as a throwaway, but I have added him to the mix and he will be a peripheral character here with a spinoff story at some point in the future in which he will play a more prominent role.

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Post 8 months ago

Thanks to all those who took time to comment, glad you are enjoying this epic tale

Here is the next part from Dravatar



Part 34

The grey of never ending twilight: no mind can truly conceive it. Words cannot really describe it. True, you can say “like sundown, but without the sun… “ but the words don’t convey the reality. The dullness of winter grey without the clouds – even the blue sky was a shade of grey. The surface of the water too had the same lack-lustre sheen of grey. The shore had vanished on all sides the moment she crossed the line between the reality of the river and this one. She was no longer sure when precisely that was, she only knew that now there was an endless grey nothingness in all directions that somehow seamlessly merged the horizon with the water.

Diana had heard stories of this, the Acheroussia Lake, and had thought them exaggerated tales. Now she wasn’t so sure. Here nothing lived, not even colour. Everything she looked at was a shade of grey. The boat and everything inside it were a shade of grey. Her skin was a shade of grey. Even her armour’s red and blue were shades of grey, the leather looking jaded and faint. It seemed as if colour had fled this dismal place.

It wasn’t just the greyness, though, it was also the stillness. Here nothing lived: There was no cloud of insects being blown about by the breeze, no birds on the wing. Here nothing lived: The water was still as glass with no fish to break the surface. Here nothing lived: Only the preternaturally loud sound of her own breath broke the deathly silence.

She realized that she was still paddling, yet even that was silent. More, though the boat seemed to be moving forward, it left no wake. Even her paddling did not break up the flat stillness of the water. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that breed in dead water. And this water was dead. Lifeless. A void of unnatural stillness.

She shivered, but not because she was cold. The temperature of the air around her, like everything else, was grey. Neither hot nor cold, the air was heavy and cloying. And the smell? It took awhile to register what it was: the stench of death. Here nothing lived: except death.

Seeing no apparent destination, she laid down her paddle. What to do next? She could call out to Hades for passage, but the very silence around her made her think that was not a wise idea, so she sat and waited.

* * *

Galen nursed his aching head and took another swig from his mug. She had spared his life – it had been hers to take and she had spared it. That was the first mystery. He thought back to when he had awoken. The sheer joy of it. So certain had he been that he was to die that the air he breathed tasted sweeter than in any recent memory.

That is when he noticed he was not alone. He lunged for his bow, an arrow already in his other hand. He was knocking the arrow when the bow glowed with supernatural fire and shattered. The fire was intensely painful, dancing – burning – tearing – twisting until all that remained of his hand was a useless misshapen caricature of its former self.

“Your honour is as broken as your bow and has become as twisted as your hand.”

The voice, it had a ring to it. Of pronouncement, of finality.

“You have given to me your oath of service, have you not?”

Oath? Service? He dropped to his knees, “My lady Athena!”

He looked at his twisted, gnarled hand as the memory continued to play in his mind and took another large swig.

“Clearly I am not your lady, else you would not be attempting to slay my servant, Diana!”

He prostrated himself, “My lady, please, I did not know.”

Then he had told her all, how Erasmus had assured him that she would be pleased, had hinted that he acted on her behalf. She had remained silent for a long time when he was done and still he remained on his knees while awaiting her judgment.

“Diana has already spared your life and that is something I would not undo. Still, there is a consequence to your actions this day. Your hand will remain as it is, unable to draw a bow until such time as I call upon you to regain your honour and serve me again. Do what honest labour you can until that time and ponder the good fortune by which you still live.”

And so it had been that he ended here, cleaning the stables – in Corinth of all places! He lifted his mug, then set it down as he noticed the shadows on the surface in front of him. There were at least four of them.

“Are you Galen of Gortyn?”

* * *

Diana saw no danger, yet she felt it all around her. It reminded her of a time she had spent on guard duty on trips to some remote foreign land. Then she had taken her turn with others to protect all their sisters while they slept. Now she was on her own: waiting. It was much the same: If she were taken by surprise, her life would not be the only one forfeit. Yet it was not the same: she had to shoulder the burden alone. She set about her task with a will to succeed: flexing muscles every few minutes to keep her limbs supple. Rolling a shoulder or stretching out a leg or pivoting at her waist, all to forestall the buildup of tension or stiffness. Well-practiced moves that were designed to betray no movement, to make no sound, to reveal nothing to any who might be watching.


Staying physically alert was but one part of her task. She needed to stay mentally sharp as well. Listening to her surroundings at random intervals even though there was nothing to listen to. Doing a short puzzle in her head to exercise her brain, then listening again. Looking about carefully, scanning each point of the compass all the way to the horizon, most determined that no vessel should catch her unawares.



Thus she passed the hours fruitlessly, until she could no longer say how long she had been silently drifting through this soul quenching greyness as it slowly reeled her into the depths of despair. It weighed on her, exhausted her, crushed her very spirit until she wanted to scream. Still she drifted on in the unending silence.

At first she shored up her spirits by remembering the warmth of the sun, the bright days she had experienced in the not too distant past. The sunny fields outside Corinth, or the meadow at the foot of Olympus, the delicate babbling of the spirits inhabiting the stream there. The time passed until she could no longer even summon the image of Helios-Apollo, the sun. It was as if this grey was all she had ever known.

Still the boat drifted on in the midst of the nothing-grey that surrounded her until, when she was certain she could bear it no longer, it got worse: they came. The faces. The ones that visited her in the dark of night. No longer were they the ethereal stuff of memory in the vivid colours of flesh rent and bleeding. Now they were a colourless horde floating up from the depths of the colourless waters. Their heads broke the surface first, becoming a sea of faces drifting atop an inland sea. Faces that were soon joined by their rotting lifeless forms slowly becoming discernible as they began to rise from the water some fifteen feet or so ahead of her. Each erratic step towards her lifted them from the water a little more, until they were marching atop it with the macabre disjointedness of the dead. They split ranks as they approached her vessel, the only sound the strange rhythm of their footfalls. They passed down each side of her in total silence, surrounding her.

Diana’s mouth was impossibly dry and her eyes grew wide at the sight. Her first thought was to draw her sword, but her arms would not move. Her next thought was to speak to them, but again, her voice would not respond. It was as if she were a watcher and unable to interfere as her fate was decided. Then she recognized some of them, at least, but two stood out from the others. The two from that terrible day. The day she first drew the blood of another in combat.

* * *

Hera, along with Mnemosyne and the occasional company of Athena, or Artemis, and, on one occasion, Nike, had taken it in turns to watch the pool as they and Diana waited. Finally, her dead arrived to greet her and the first pair stepped towards the tiny spec of a boat in an endless sea.

Athena spoke first, “It begins.”

Hera turned to Mnemosyne who shook her head, “She must face down her memories or the scars of battle will forever haunt her. It will be difficult, but if she succeeds here...”

Mnemosyne’s voice trailed off and the three continued to watch in silence until Artemis entered and sat. She opened her mouth to speak and was shushed by the other three. Looking directly at Hera, she dared her mother to stop her as she spoke anyway. “Your owl has returned, sister, and he seems most agitated.”

Athena quickly rose and padded softly from the room.

Having delivered her message, Artemis turned her attention to the watching pool. She was about to ask what was happening when she was shushed again. Her mouth, hung open mid unasked question, then slowly closed.

* * *

Diana was excited. When your mother is Queen of the Amazons, you tend to lead a sheltered life. So hers had been, but now? Now she was on her first trip anywhere! True, she had begged her mother to be allowed to go with the trade delegation for weeks-and-weeks-and-weeks. Okay, she admitted to herself, months. Still, here she was, on the road.

Under the watchful eye of Philippus, of course. She frowned. Princess Diana couldn’t be allowed anywhere on her own. What if I broke a fingernail? How would the Amazons survive?

Be fair. You’ve broken fingernails and much worse in combat. That brought a smile to her face. She was now a full-fledged Amazon Warrior as well as heir to the throne. She had trained since she could hold a dagger up from the ground and now, at the ripe old age of 14, she had successfully gone through the ritual testing to become a warrior. The joy of combat, of testing yourself against others, had been hers as long as she could remember and she was their best. Except for Philippus. Philippus whose eye was ever watchful and whose skill was such that she had never been defeated. At least, not that Diana knew about.

The days were long and as pleasant as a summer’s day can be. The evenings, filled with stars were pleasant to lie back and stare at. To wonder… what was it like up there where the gods traveled? Eventually Hypnos would have his way with her and she would drift gently into the arms of his brother, Morpheus, to awaken the next morning and travel again while Helios-Apollo drove his chariot across the sky.

Finally, they arrived in Odessa and the next several boring days she had to preside over trade negotiations. Who knew? It was obviously a trick by her mother. As for the nights? Philippus tucked her in at night, placed a guard, and woke her in the morning.

It had taken her several days to find a way to slip away from Philippus watchful eye and actually see something of the city on her own. She had removed every badge of office, including, reluctantly, her weapons, had borrowed an old cloak from one of the women who worked at the inn, and had slipped out quietly for a night of exploring.

Things had gone well enough, at first. She had seen a small drama played out in the square, had listened to the traveling bard who had timed his visit with the regional period of trade. She had met a shy young man of not many more than her years and, together, they had shared a tremulous kiss. Mostly, though, she had just wandered around, enjoying the sights, the sounds, and the smells of someplace new, unknown, and exciting.

Then it had all gone wrong. It had seemed simple, two men in their early twenties harassing a young woman who was begging to be left alone.

She had stepped out of the shadows, “Leave her alone!”

Her immature voice didn’t sound convincing, not even to her. She was unarmed. They were bigger than she was. It didn’t matter to her or to them as they turned towards her.

“Why?” The taller of the two smiled at her, a smile that, in other circumstances, might have curled her toes.

“Jealous?” This was the more muscular of the two.

They shoved the young woman up against the wall and started towards her. “Plenty to go around!”

They were drunk. Drunk and feeling their oats.

She was Amazon. It was her turn to smile. “I believe she would like to go home – alone!”

Their smiles broadened to grins, “And what about you? Do you want to go home? Or did you come out to play?”

* * *

In the boat, Diana, shivered, her eyes wide yet only seeing the tableau that was playing out before her. It was as if she were both participant and spectator. Tears streamed down her face as her mouth finally worked, “Please! Go! Don’t make me kill you this time!”

* * *

In Hera’s audience chamber, they looked on in silence, willing their champion to be strong and courageous.

* * *

They were young, only two or three years older than she was. They were also quite drunk. That was no excuse for trying to take that young woman against her will, nor was it any excuse for turning their attentions on her. Drunk or not, she could not allow this: she was Amazon! She steadied her voice.

“Please leave before you do something you’ll regret.”

Instead they tried to back her into a corner where their superior size and numbers would give them the advantage. She slipped around the outside well outside their reach, then spoke to the girl.

“Go home. They will not follow.”

She did not see whether the woman complied. She was too busy watching the movements of her opponents. Their feet, their shoulders, all told her something. It was like the choreography of a dance she knew well. She felt the joy of combat, of testing herself against a new opponent, and smiled.

“If you will not leave, it will be combat. Athena, grant me prowess and courage in battle. Nike, show me your favour and grant me victory.”

The shorter more muscular of the two growled, “You are but an unarmed woman. Submit now and save us both a lot of trouble.”

Diana smiled, reciting from the early days of her training – before weapons. “Arms and armour do not a warrior make, nor does a lack of them leave one helpless.”

The two of them moved towards her, their spacing making it clear what would come next. The short muscular one, that she subconsciously dubbed as 'Muscles', was more sure of himself; he would be the more aggressive. The other would take a supportive role. He was the weak point. Having determined this, she did the last thing they expected – she attacked!

Two quick steps put her in range of the tall gangly one. He did just as she expected, swinging at her. She took his wrist, side stepped, and used his momentum to throw him into his partner, tumbling both of them to the ground. She giggled as she watched them separate themselves and regain their feet.

“You won’t be laughing long, bitch!”

The muscular one drew his sword. The gangly one took his arm.

“Come on, let’s go. We can get women at the tavern. Besides, we don't want trouble from the Watch”

'Muscles' was too angry and too drunk for clear thinking. He grabbed 'Gangly' by the throat.

“No bitch laughs at me without paying! Now you draw your sword and back me up, you miserable filth, or I’ll tell everyone how a woman tossed you around and made you run like you was a baby!”

Reluctantly, the taller one drew his sword and they spread out, starting towards her once more. Diana eyed them confidently, relaxed, feet about shoulder width apart and leaning slightly forwards so that she was on the balls of her feet and ready to move.

“If you leave now, I will say nothing. If you persist, I’ll give you more of the same.”

'Muscles' took an aggressive stance and pointed his sword at her chest.

“Here’s my proposition: you do what I tell ya’ and I don’t run ya’ through!”

Diana didn’t so much as twitch a muscle, the smile on her face as calm as it was bewitching.

“Your performance thus far would say otherwise.”

'Muscles' bellowed in anger and charged, intent on skewering her, but Diana stepped around the sword, grabbing his wrist, turning it, and pulling. She felt the sword come free of his grip, then her smile evaporated as she felt something else. The gangly one, the reluctant one, he had run to his companion’s aid only to impale himself on the blade as she pulled it free.

“No-no-no-no-no!!!!!”

She released the weapon, lowering the young man gently to the ground and began to assess his wound. It was bad, lots of blood. She ripped her cloak from her body and tried to staunch the bleeding with some success.

“Look at me. Charon doesn't want you yet. Listen to my words. Stay with me, do not go with him.”

His eyes locked on hers, pleading.

“Find a healer for your friend! Now!!”

She commanded urgently without turning from her charge. She knew that 'Muscles' had ignored her when she felt cold steel press against the back of her neck

“It’s too late for him – and for you!”

She kept pressure on the wound, kept her eyes on his. He tried to speak, but his voice came out raspy and incoherent.

“I have seen people healed from worse than this! Get a healer! I will stay with him until you return! But hurry! We don’t have much time!”

“Wrong. I have plenty of time, but you? You are all out of time. Goodbye, bitch.”

She felt the blade leave her neck and knew what was to come next. Having no other choice, she pulled the blade from the young man before her, turning and thrusting in the same motion. Her sudden movement confused him, and the wine in his belly did not help his accuracy. His blade missed, hers did not. He went down and she turned back to the gangly one, putting pressure on the wound once more, silently begging Asclepius god of medicine to aid her. But the wound was bleeding worse now that the sword had been removed and try as she might to prevent it, the light slowly left his eyes. She was still sitting there, keeping pressure on the wound, and crying, when Philipus gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

“This is the final lesson. Combat is not only for testing one’s self, it is also life – and death.”

The hand gave her shoulder a slight squeeze.

“Come, Diana. There is nothing more you can do for him. We must go.”

Diana nodded, and stood. She turned to leave with her mentor, then stopped.

“Wait!". Then more softly, "There is one more thing I can do.”

She knelt by him once more, gently closed his eyes, then slipped a gold coin into his palm.

“For the journey.”

* * *

“All these years...”

The voice had an unearthly quality to it. A lifeless hand reached out to Diana’s shoulder but did not, could not, touch it.

“All these years and still you shed tears for me. Know that I have forgiven you long ago. We were the aggressors and we were wrong. Please, forgive me.”

She looked at him, then looked at his companion, and nodded.

“Though he has not asked for it, I forgive you both.”

The gangly one nodded.

“I was called Macedon.”

Then they vanished, a wispy mist carried away on a nonexistent breeze.

* * *

The goddesses exhaled a sigh of relief. All except Mnemosyne.

“This is but the first. She must stand against them all and most will not be so easy.”

The female gods exchanged glances.

“And there are so, so many. Some taken unavoidably, some taken in anger, some taken of necessity, and some….. ”
Last edited by tallyho 8 months ago, edited 1 time in total.


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Post 8 months ago

Very nice set up. I'm really looking forward to wherever this goes from here, seeing Diana face down whichever spectres from her past or conscience rise out of the water. It was cool to get a glimpse of Diana in her early youth, and to see how much of a stoic badass she was even before the years of bloody, brutal experience that would follow. It seems right that even when she was naïve and foolhardy, even taking pleasure in getting the chance to finally unsheathe her martial prowess, she was still so compassionate and heroic. It's a nice showcase of her core strength of character even at her most raw and inexperienced.

Also enjoyed the poetic descriptions of the setting, which really helped create the sense of the otherworldly experience of being there. There's great arc development here - and a lot of payoffs if you've been reading from the start, which I encourage everyone to do. The next chapter is set up to be very juicy indeed, and I can't wait.
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DrDominator9Abductorenmadridtallyho


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Post 8 months ago

Thanks for the compliments, all.

I feel I should state what is obvious to those of us who have been working on this project. It is what it is because of the tireless efforts of tallyho, who has taken on the role of editor in chief for this project. Titles aside, he makes no dictatorial changes, rather making suggestions which draw out the strength of the writer and spur us on to greater effort.

Thanks, tally, for your work.

H
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tallyhoAbductorenmadrid


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Post 8 months ago

^^^^You're right. You guys are all shit and I'm phenomenal
:giggle:

:D :yes: :thumbup: :cool2: :whistle:


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Post 8 months ago

dravatar wrote:
8 months ago
Thanks for the compliments, all.

I feel I should state what is obvious to those of us who have been working on this project. It is what it is because of the tireless efforts of tallyho, who has taken on the role of editor in chief for this project. Titles aside, he makes no dictatorial changes, rather making suggestions which draw out the strength of the writer and spur us on to greater effort.

Thanks, tally, for your work.

H
Now you've done it - Tally's ego will grow too big for the forum database to handle! Anyway, this latest chapter is solid and I can't add much to what Void has said, I am just looking forward to more of this voyage and perhaps seeing more of D's past.

AEM
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tallyho


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Post 8 months ago

tallyho wrote:
8 months ago
^^^^You're right. You guys are all shit and I'm phenomenal
:giggle:

:D :yes: :thumbup: :cool2: :whistle:
Oh, jeez, this is what you get when you feed him after midnight. Thanks, Dr. A, Now we'll all have to deal with Tallyho correcting every writer's grammar and punctuation on every comment on every thread. Where did I put that tranq rifle?
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tallyho


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