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Hera brooded. A dark mood had descended on her after returning to Olympus from the wine-dark waters of Poseidon’s domain. She wondered who was next in line for that particular throne, now that her brother was dead. It still didn’t seem possible. How did that pair of enhanced, but still feeble mortals and a solitary nymph get the better of the God of the Sea? There was that other creature, though. The unidentified skeletal being that had tossed her overboard. Could that be their key advantage? And if so, how? From the bloodied scraps that remained of Poseidon it appeared that he had transformed into an enormous squid, powerful enough to have dragged the entire ship and crew to their deaths.
She toyed with the gold rings on her fingers as she tried to understand it all. She had warned Poseidon not to change into an animal and confront the mortals in his true form. Perhaps he’d mis-heard. Or perhaps he’d considered her advice to be foolish and irrelevant to someone as powerful as himself. If so, he was an idiot. She had reviewed the evidence that the gods were vulnerable when in the form of a bird and… ah… of course. That had been her error. She had warned her brother not to transform into a bird and Poseidon, a god who rarely messed about with animal transformations, had changed into a squid. Perhaps her talk of transformation had put the idea into his head. She winced at the thought that she was indirectly responsible for her brother’s death. At least she now had clear evidence that it wasn’t just avian forms that were vulnerable; somehow, this annoying gaggle of misfits were capable of murdering gods if they transmogrified out of their normal form into that of an animal.
This needed more investigation and, clearly, revenge. But revenge could wait; her move for the overall throne of Olympus probably could not.
Zeus, Ares and Poseidon were all dead. Three of the most powerful deities within the pantheon removed from play. Hera considered whether she was secure enough to reveal their fates and unite all of the gods behind her. There was, however, still one of her brothers in the game. Hades might skulk in the underworld but given the chance would seize Olympus from her. He was the older brother after all and would naturally claim anything he felt should be his by right. I should be grateful he rarely leaves the underworld, she thought. In fact there’s only one thing that does tempt him out. A smile slowly moved across her face, like blood seeping from a wound. She had just discovered the perfect way to either find out more about the undead crew-member, or to dispatch her subterranean sibling into eternity.
Water trickled out of a tiny crack in the rock and dribbled down into a small puddle atop a flat boulder, smoothed by thousands of years of patient erosion. The water in that puddle gathered together, crept closer to the edge and threw itself carelessly and without grace into the next pool down which sat on another rocky outcrop. The process repeated almost a dozen times in a series of cascades before a final fall turned the escaping water into a dispersed mist that swirled around the lower ledges of Mount Olympus, the wind moulding the body of droplets into strange ever-changing half-glimpsed shapes.
A young goddess sat next to the top of the cascade watching the water dribble and drop, flow and fall. She held a delicate pink flower in her hand and carefully plucked one of the petals.
“This is how it begins,” said Eris. She reached over to the first puddle of water and dropped the petal in. “The noble prince, far from home, looking for hospitality and good will.” She smiled, the elements of her plot coming together at last.
“But what is this?” Another petal was pulled from the flower and placed into the water. “A beautiful young queen? Surely the prince would not be so foolish as to sniff around his host’s consort?”
The two petals danced around the tiny pool and finally came together on the lip of the rock. “Oh, but she is so very beautiful. And her husband is so cold and is almost twice her age. The prince wants to take her away and her heart cries out to be stolen.”
Eris picked a large stone from beside her and held it above the gently quivering puddle of water. “Be careful, Prince. Don’t let the king find out your true intent!” She dropped the stone into the water. “Too late!”
The splash produced by the stone washed into the two petals and carried them over the edge and into the pool below. They circled their new enclosure, clasped together, before falling again to the next pool. Eris watched them in the shimmering water from her vantage point. “Hurry, fair prince. You don’t have much time. They’re coming for you.”
She turned and picked up some dry twigs, snapping them into small slivers of wood and then dropping them into the top pool. One by one the brown vessels gave chase, setting off over the edge.
“Eris!” said a voice behind her. “I’ve been looking all over for you. What are you doing down here?”
The goddess of Discord turned to look at Hera. “Just thinking, mother. That’s all.”
Hera folded her arms and frowned. Eris was definitely up to something. But then again, she was always up to something; it was her natural state. “What are you plotting now?”
“Who says I’m plotting anything?”
Hera raised an eyebrow.
Eris looked away from her mother’s eyes and dipped her fingers into the cold water. “It’s just a little game. A little love triangle.”
Her mother gave a quiet snort. “And I bet they’re not some peasants from the back of beyond, are they? They wouldn’t happen to be royalty, by any chance?”
The young goddess shrugged. “Don’t you find that monarchy is such a restrictive and ultimately flawed structure?”
“No”, said the Queen of Olympus. “I really can’t imagine anything else.”
“Oh, I can,” said Eris, eyes settling on Hera with the intensity of hot coals, “I think anarchy would work so much better.”
“Yes,” sighed Hera, “I thought you might. But it very rarely ever happens, no matter how much you wish for it. To achieve true anarchy you would need a complete breakdown in society.”
“ I know.”
“And the usual precursors are devastating events such as earthquakes, drought, plague… or war.”
“Indeed they are, mother.”
“As you have very limited powers over the natural forces of the earth, I assume that you’re stirring up some conflict?”
“War, mother, not conflict. The best war. If this doesn’t get Ares running back then nothing will. And I think it will impress Father too.”
Oh grief, thought Hera. I really ought to have told her. It’s a bit late now though. “So who’s the aggrieved party in this little skirmish, then?”
“The King of Sparta.”
“Is that the red-haired chap? He’s rather well connected, isn’t he?”
“His brother is the most powerful king in Greece,” said Eris with glee.
“Is this going to be a fraternal dispute, then? Or is someone else going to feel the wrath of Sparta?”
Eris smiled. “Old King Priam is going to have quite a surprise when his son gets home with a new wife, the woman formerly know as the Queen of Sparta.”
“Ah. Prince Paris, I assume. Hunted by warships from half of Greece.” Hera had to admit, she was impressed by Eris. The city states involved would be fighting not only for honour and the restoration of a marriage but also for high stakes status. And that pretentious pup Paris had really ruffled feathers with comments about which of the goddesses he thought were the most beautiful. Ungrateful little poser. Yes, all in all, a full scale war between the Greeks and the city of Troy would be a useful and enjoyable distraction to the current power vacuum on Olympus. “Fine. Whatever keeps you occupied and out of trouble.”
“Thank you, mother.”
“Although I do have one little job for you.”
Eris rolled her eyes.
“Don’t do that dear, or I may have to arrange for your eyes to be permanently positioned on swaying stalks.”
“Now if you’ve finished your scheming I’d like you to take a message down to your uncle Hades.”
Eris pouted and wrinkled her nose. “Hades? Why me? Why don’t you ask Hermes? He’s supposed to be our messenger.”
“Only if he stays still long enough. As soon as he hears me coming he makes himself scarce. Besides, he’s a sly one and I need someone I can trust.”
Eris relented and shrugged. “Fine. Whatever. So, what do you want me to do?”
As Hera gave her instructions, the goddess of Discord watched two pink petals slip over the edge of the last pool and tumble out into the mist.
Elsewhere… was a good name for this location. The gathering wraithes could have called it ‘Secret, dark, misty place at the corner of Aether and Void’ but it was a bit of a mouthful, even when they were in possession of mouths, which at the moment they were not. The four shadowy forms faced inwards from the corners of a square, gliding into position with a quiet choreography that suggested they had done this before, which indeed they had although when that had been was difficult to say. Especially without mouths. Time and geography had only a fleeting relevance here, a bit like nipples on a man’s chest; they made a lot more sense when relocated somewhere more useful.
One of the wraithes didn’t say something and another didn’t reply, because of the mouth issue mentioned above. But they did communicate.
“Hera becomes aware of the Change,” untoned one.
“But not its full spectrum, nor the implications,” dis-spoke another.
“We approach the End Phase,” anti-said a third.
“Good,” uncommented the fourth, “because I’m fed up with all this nonsense, creeping about down here. I was just about to have a nice bit of cake when the call came in and now I don’t have a bloody mouth. When I get back I’m going to have to spend the evening learning how to control all of my bits again. And the cake will probably have gone stale.”
The three other wraithes had shifted slightly to stare, eyelessly, at the fourth of their number.
“What? Don’t tell me you’re all enjoying this, because I know for a fact that at least two of you have been grumbling about all of the clandestine meetings in disembodied form. I don’t know why we couldn’t have just gone to the beach and talked about this while having a paddle.”
“We have to ensure the Olympians do not discover the truth too soon,” a-voiced the first wraithe.
“Or the consequences would be disasterous,” unsaid the second.
“You can shove your consequences up yer bum,” non-huffed the fourth wraithe, “once you get back to your body, obviously. Look: Zeus, Ares and now Poseidon are dead, gone, deleted. We thought that removing the most belligerent Olympians would allow a calm and peaceful realignment. But what do we have instead? Hera is scheming to fill the hole left by Zeus and now seems to be moving against her remaining brother. Meanwhile, her precious little daughter has just initiated a major war that will bring death and poverty to tens of thousands. Let’s face it – the sooner we wrap this up the better.”
The new silence that overlaid the continuing old silence was palpable. One of the wraithes fidgeted whilst another shuffled awkwardly, gazing down at where their feet weren’t.
“We had a plan,” the first wraithe dis-said with as much composure as it could gather, “that we all agreed to. Now is not the time to deviate from that plan.”
“Why is it that we always have to stick to the bloody plan? Why can’t we be a bit more adaptive, go with the flow and stuff?” The fourth wraithe managed to do a reasonably impressive job of appearing to place its hands on its hips, neither of which it actually possessed.
“It is foretold…” unbegan the first wraithe.
“Oh, piss off,” the fourth wraithe didn’t snap, “I’m out. Do what you want. I was never cut out for all this planning and prophecising anyway. I think I’m due a little bit of ‘me’ time.”
And then there were just three wraithes.
They stared eyelessly at each other.
The third wraithe gave an awkward shrug, lacking the shoulders to carry it off convincingly. “I sort of think she has a point.”
The first wraithe swivelled to face the third. “What, you think we ought to accelerate things?”
There was a pause in the silence as the third wraithe considered what not to not say. “Well, to be honest I was thinking about the cake bit, but yes, perhaps it might be an idea to hurry things along.”
The first wraithe glared facelessly at her companion. “Fine,” she un-snapped, “I’ll look into what we can do to progress the plan while still achieving the end game.”
The second wraithe tried to diffuse the tension. “So, when shall we four… sorry, three, meet again?”
The first wraithe turned to the second. “Why do you always do that at the end?”
“Standing agenda item, isn’t it?”
The first wraithe sighed and sagged forlornly. “Considering who we are, it isn’t a question you should ever need to ask. We already know.”
“Well… yes, obviously, but it always pays to make sure everyone is foreseeing the same date. Next full moon coming through clearly for you two?”
A couple of testy affirmations swam through the aether. Just before the remaining three wraithes shimmered away from Elsewhere, a quiet voice unmuttered “And can we do it at the beach?”