The battle begins
“Apate you are the most tolerable” Geras huffed. Long pieces of white linen hung from the ceiling, holding him in a seating position at the table. Apate giggled lightly as she embraced her brother.
“You’re too sweet.”
Dolos snorted derisively. His sister was always eager for approval from their siblings. The twins had always been polar opposites, except for their gifts in deceit. Apate smiled icily, her teeth glinting in the torchlight like pearls.
“You see, Dolos? That’s what a greeting looks like. Spending too much time with those craftsmen has warped your sense of courtesy.”
He ignored the barb, paying closer attention to the parchment on the table. Dolos wished he could have excluded her from the meeting but he needed her. She was crucial to making the daimones co-operate, many of their siblings were indebted to her for saving them from Cronus. Unlike Apate, he had never seen the point of getting to know their other siblings. It didn’t make him popular among their kind but, at a time when he thought he was powerful enough alone, Dolos didn’t care. He begrudged her the power those bridges gave her. Without her influence, their siblings would most likely to follow their own agendas instead of his master plans. If they were going to be free he needed them to work together, under his instruction.
“Coming from the woman who played favourites?”
Moros said, leaning against the far wall. Dolos hid a slight grin. For all her efforts, his twin hadn’t managed to endear all of their siblings to her.
“I tried to save as many of us as I could…”
“Spare me the platitudes. And you, stop your smirking. I was told you had some kind of plan so what is it?”
Moros walked to the table and leaned over Dolos’ shoulder. Dolos quickly shuffled the pages together and rolled them up. He faced Moros, he didn’t like his silver tounged brother lurking behind him.
“You will have to wait until everyone is present. How much longer will the Furies be?”
“They didn’t say. I don’t like you conspiring behind my back. You know, I could entice the secrets from you, brother.”
“Not before the Pseudologoi cut you to ribbons.”
The two of them were interrupted by a high-pitched call that echoed from the forge tunnels. Apate winced.
“Three guesses as to who has just arrived…”
She barely finished her remark before Momus burst into the room, brandishing a slab of bark on the end of a stick.
“My darling companions in crime! You need not fear failure as your brightest and…”
Momus paused dramatically. When she lifted the bark to her face, Dolos saw it was a crude form of mask.
“…most stunning comrade is here to lend a hand with her trademark style and flair!”
Dolos could see the running make-up that peeked out from behind the edges of the mask. He rolled his eyes. Why Momus insisted on such behaviour, Dolos would never understand.
“I would settle for dry.”
Oizys walked past Momus. Her chiton, heavy with rain, dragged on the stone floor.
“It’s so good to see you. How have you been?”
Apate said, pulling Oizys into a tight hug.
“Can’t complain. Although my dear sister has been practicing her entrance the entire way here.”
“Excuse me for setting the standard.”
Momus pouted. Apate laughed.
“And it’s a high one.”
Momus put an arm around the two of them, still holding the mask to her face.
“You shouldn’t complain when you encourage his behaviour.”
Dolos said as he put the scrolls under his arm. He refused to cowtow to Momus’ flights of fancy. Oizys broke from the hug, her fists clenched.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Our position is precarious at best. The last thing we need is one of his whims jeopardising my plans.”
“My sister doesn’t have to prove herself to you.”
Oizys said through gritted teeth.
“Come on Dolos. Leave them be.”
Apate said. Momus had taken her arm off her, her shoulders tense.
“No. I’m putting an end to this now. We can’t be doing the work while Momus powders his nose and plays dress-up. I don’t know who you are trying to fool, I can see the beard.”
“How dare you…”
Oizys stepped forward and raised her arm, her fist clenched. Dolos flinched back but before Oizys could get close Momus grabbed her arm.
“It’s not worth it. Besides, ignorance pairs well with his bland personality.”
Momus said, ensuring the mask covered her face. Oizys’ mouth was curled into a hateful snarl.
“But it would be so satisfying.”
“And I thought Oizys was the reasonable twin.”
Dolos tried to sound confident but his gaze was trained on Oizys’ fists. Apate stood between Dolos and the twins.
“Stop this. Fighting gets us nowhere.”
“I will not tolerate him disrespecting Momus.”
Oizys protested. Moros yawned loudly as he slumped into chair beside Geras.
“This is starting to bore me. Can we get to the point now?”
Apate took advantage of the distraction and took Oizys by the arm. She guided the twins to chairs on the opposite side of the table. Oizys didn’t break her deadly glare on Dolos as she took her seat and put her feet up on the table. Momus’ eyes widened behind her mask when she spotted the fabric holding Geras in place.
“Who else is coming?”
Oizys asked, her gaze still trained on Dolos.
“I would tell you but that’s another secret my twin has decided to keep.”
Apate replied as she took the chair beside Oizys.
“This had better not be one of his tricks.”
Oizys nodded curtly at Dolos. He occupied himself by setting down the scrolls into a neat pile at the head of the table.
“If it was, you wouldn’t see it coming.”
Dolos muttered, opening one of the scrolls. Oizys leaned forward in her chair putting down her feet and resting her fist on the table.
“Come over here and say that.”
“Oizys, darling, don’t give him the time of day.”
Momus said, rubbing the white linen between her fingers. Geras didn’t look impressed with her attention, but remained silent. Before Oizys could come out with another quip, a tall figure materialised out of the shadows.
Apate exclaimed. She eagerly got out of her chair and hugged her before the woman had fully materialised.
“I was hoping he asked you”
“And I you. Where have you been all this time, sister?”
Nemesis asked. She ignored Dolos as Apate took her hand and led her to a chair.
“That’s not important. Themis hasn’t been too harsh on you?”
“That hateful shrew would be hard to live with in any circumstances. It was more accommodating than Tartarus, I am grateful to you Apate.”
Apate and Nemesis smiled at eachother. Dolos cleared his throat.
“Don’t forget who gave you this opportunity.”
He said. Nemesis scowled back.
“I remember you being preoccupied with saving your own skin while the rest of us were hunted down.”
“Survival was never a team sport.”
Nemesis stood back up at his comment, towering over him.
“You know my specialties, brother. If you deigned to help me then on what balance should I lend a hand?”
“Because all of you are out of options. I’m the one who has the plan and, as leader of this resistance, I will have respect…”
“Momus! Leave the fabric alone!”
Apate exclaimed. Momus jumped and let go of the linen she was pulling under her chin. Geras huffed in annoyance as the hammock holding him place shook violently. Moros put out his arm to avoid the hammock swinging into him.
“Watch it. Would it kill you to have some focus?”
“It’s not my fault. I was having the most wonderful fantasy. Some mother of pearl, a few silver accessories, and the jingle of a well-coordinated bangle.”
Moros raised an eyebrow.
“I do wonder what your purpose is, if that’s all the insight you can contribute.”
“Excuse me for appreciating some finery.”
Momus pouted from behind her mask. Moros tapped the table in irritation.
“It would be better if you appreciated reality.”
“Atleast I’m not responsible for the greatest hair travesty the world has ever seen.”
Momus muttered defensively. Moros’ right eyebrow twitched. Then his mouth widened into a sinister grin.
“No need to be so defensive. What exactly is it you’re trying to hide with your fantasies?”
Moros’ voice became thick in the air as he tapped into his power. Momus recoiled back into her chair, holding the mask close to her face. Dolos skirted around Nemesis.
“There is no room for your influences here, Moros.”
“Really? When they did you so much good? If I hadn’t paid a visit you would sat here making silverware for the rest of your life.”
Dolos’ gaze flicked to the ground.
“That’s not the point-“
Moros stood with such force his chair rocked on its back legs.
“That, is precisely the point. I don’t take orders from dogs nor insults from any misfit you want to drag into this insignificant rebellion of yours.”
“Moros, we have to work together.”
“And I am tired of waiting. I have other places to be.”
Moros’ form started to blend into the darkness around him. Dolos desperately spread out the rolls of parchment he had prepared.
“Alright! Alright. The furies will have to catch-up. I have a plan for us to be free in the overworld. Like it used to be.”
Apate’s eyes scanned the scrolls. Drawn on them were crude maps of the underworld and the provinces, as well as lists of the daimones who were sealed in tartarus.
“Is this what you were hiding? Did you find a way to get the others out of Tartarus and keep it to yourself?”
Apate accused, staring daggers at Dolos.
“You knew for all this time and kept it hidden? We had to remain at their beck and call for centuries and you kept this to yourself!”
Nemesis shouted in a rage. Before Dolos could dodge she grabbed his throat and lifted him against the cave wall.
Dolos scrabbled at Nemesis’ fist balled around his throat. He looked to his siblings at the table, lights dancing across his vision. Momus sat back, her face covered by the mask, while Oizys took insidious delight in his predicament. Apate was the only one to come to his aid.
“Nemesis, stop. We’ve all had to suffer but killing eachother doesn’t get us anywhere.”
Moros laughed, retaking his seat.
“You are really overestimating his abilities. I’m here courtesy of the Fates, a one-time ticket. I was the one who saved him.”
“See? If he has been keeping something from us then there might be a reason”
Apate put a hand on Nemesis’ arm. She loosened her grip and leaned forward. A cold chill spread over Dolos as he felt her breath on his neck.
“Retribution comes on swift wings to betrayers”
Nemesis whispered in his ear. She let him down and stood back. Dolos fell to the ground, coughing and spluttering as he tried to regain his breath. He regretted not having a few Pseudologoi stationed to observe the meeting, it wasn’t a mistake he would make again.
“Do not burn the last of your bridges Nemesis. With the declaration of war against us, I know none of you here have any other options.”
Dolos’ voice faltered as he lifted himself onto his feet, using the back of the nearest chair to keep himself upright. He massaged the soreness in his throat.
“We need power and I know how we can get it. So, unless the rest of you have a brilliant alternative, keep the attacks to a minimum.”
Before anyone could reply, a dark veil spread across the chamber entrance. Three women, clothed in sleek black robes, entered the room. Once you saw the Furies you never forgot them. Their black hair writhed, licking at their necks and shoulders. Tattoos of snakes peeked out from the edges of their robes covering their necks and the tops of their hands. Their most fearsome feature was their scarlet eyes, blood shot with deep purple lines.
“Do you have her?”
Dolos asked. From inside her black robe the rightmost of the three revealed a small amphora. The bottle was white alabaster and carved with the image of three dog heads, each foaming at the jaws. Almost cradling it, she passed it delicately to the middle sister. She held it in front of them in her outstretched hand.
“We have kept her safe all these years. She will not come to any harm?”
“I assure you Megaera, she will be safe.”
The middle womans hair bristled as Dolos took the bottle.
Dolos waved a hand dismissively. When Moros saw the image on the bottle his expression soured.
“You really don’t want to let her out of there.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Does someone want to explain who is in there?”
Apate asked. Dolos held the bottle carfully between his forefinger and thumb.
“Someone who is going to help us get the power we need. In our current state of starvation, we wouldn’t be able to influence a single titan, let alone a dynasty.”
“We need someone who can. A daimone whose power has not faded, so that we have the chance to recover.”
“And how do you know about this?”
Nemesis asked, a distrustful gaze on Dolos.
“As well as the Furies, the fertility of Ouranos’ flesh gave rise to many children after his death. I have made it my business to know any potential allies in the provinces. Moros was very helpful in making a comprehensive list.”
“I only told you about her because I didn’t think you would actually use her. I definitely didn’t bet on the Furies letting you use her either.”
Moros ran a hand over his slicked hair.
“We will do whatever it takes for freedom. We all have our roles in this grand design and we deserve to have our part.”
Tisiphone spoke in a low hiss.
“Everyone. I present to you, Lyssa. A hidden daughter of Ouranos and the Daimone of frenzy”
Dolos tipped the bottle upside down. A gelatinous black sludge with a sheen of red pooled on the floor between Dolos and Furies. All eyes were transfixed as the mixture bubbled and took the form of a kneeling woman. She had her head bent forward in prayer, a scarlet red shawl covering her head and arms. Lyssa raised her head and looked lovingly at each of the Furies.
“Tisiphone, Alecto, Megaera”
She said, her speech quiet and reserved. Lyssa stood sheepishly and lowered the shawl to her shoulders, revealing a head of straw-coloured hair streaked with black. Suddenly she scrunched her face in a rage.
“You left me in there too long this time!”
Her instant change in mood made the daimones flinch, except Moros who continued to look bored.
“Lyssa can be very erratic, not enough discipline if you ask me”
Moros explained, inspecting the grit under his fingernail. The tempestuous woman turned on him like a wolverine.
“I don’t need any excuses made for me!”
She screamed. After her outburst, the womans expression flipped like a coin. Her eyes softening and her shoulders relaxing.
“But thank you for the introduction…”
She turned with a slow, flowing motion that echoed her sludge form. Her sleek black chiton and red shawl sticking to her thick frame.
She inclined her head politely to the daimones gathered at the table, who stared back in disbelief. Lyssa quickly zoned in on Dolos.
“They told me about you organising this meeting”
“I hope they wer………”
Before he could finish, Lyssa raised a hand and slapped Dolos hard across the face. Moros failed to supress a pleased grin, it was the best entertainment he had had in days.
“I expect an invitation! I don’t tolerate disrespect!”
Lyssa shouted. Oizys smirked at the outburst but Momus sat upright in her seat, eyeing the woman through her mask. Dolos rubbed his cheek sourly, yet another disdainful sibling to add to the list, but he didn’t call them here for their camaraderie. Whatever became of them after they had their freedom, he couldn’t care less. He put aside his distaste and cleared his throat.
“Now that everyone is here I will move onto my plans.”
“This should be good”
Oizys said dismissively. Dolos’ left eyebrow twitched in annoyance. He would not tolerate another interruption.
“If you want to go crawling back to your various scintillating lives be my guest. If you want freedom you will keep your mouths shut”
He could feel their eagerness rise. Like him their true natures had been supressed under years of titan rule and every of them was desperate to return to their former glory, except Lyssa who kept a short-lived measured stare.
“Spit it out!”
She exclaimed, slamming a fist into the table. Dolos’ eyes flicked to Lyssa but he decided to leave the outburst unaddressed.
“Rumours spread. Even to somewhere as remote as the forge. Titans coming and going with their orders and such. Many of them I discounted as fantasy but now that Moros has told me of his travels both here and in the underworld, I started to suspect one of them could be true.”
Moros raised an eyebrow.
“I’m so flattered I could be so inspiring”
He remarked. Dolos ignored the sarcastic interruption.
“Pseudologoi I have sent to infiltrate the southern province and Krios’ residence have confirmed those rumours. The titans have hidden away a power we can use against them. One that amplifies our own.”
Moros leaned forward in his seat, looking to each of their siblings and took a sharp intake of breath when he realised what Dolos meant.
“You think she could be the key?”
“There is a chink in their armor that wasn’t there before. While the queen has disappeared, Cronus is distracted. We can use Lyssa, the Keres, and the Pseudologoi to give the southern titans the war they want. While we search…”
The daimones were silent while they listened to Dolos’ plan. For the first time in centuries, they all agreed to follow. Pride was a small price to pay for their freedom.
“Careful, you don’t want to waste any”
Philotes said as Arke drank hungrily from the bowl. She smiled at Arkes newfound will to survive. In the weeks since learning Iris was safe, Arke had become more talkative. Philotes had listened to every word. It wasn’t the stories themselves she enjoyed, it was the way Arke’s eyes lit up when she spoke of those she cared about. Philotes had met Arke as a despondant prisoner but now she took in the new life to her presence.
Arke winced as she sat back on her knees, her chains rattling. Philotes knew they were painful, Arkes back was encrusted in dried blood. Philotes had inspected her wings to try and find a way of loosening her bonds, but Cronus had been thorough in his cruelty.
Arke said as Philotes used her thumb to wipe away the water trickling down her chin. Their eyes met and she quickly drew her hand away.
“I’m just glad to see you willing to live.”
Philotes stood and carried the bowl back to the spring. She preoccupied herself with rinsing the bowl in the water.
“If it wasn’t for you I would have given in by now.”
Her admission made Philotes’ heart flutter.
“Someone needs to take care of you.”
“I don’t think I ever actually thanked you for that. No-one has ever looked after me before.”
“I know that. You weren’t very good at accepting my help at first.”
“Thank you, Philotes. Even when I didn’t act like I appreciated it.”
Philotes turned and smiled.
In the beginning, Arke had resisted her aid. Philotes didn’t hold it against her. The titans hadn’t painted a flattering picture of the Daimones to their descendents. Arke couldn’t help what she felt, it was all she had been told. But as time passed Philotes wished that Arke’s attitude might change. She knew to Arke she would always be a child of Nyx, born to sow chaos and destruction. But ti didn’t stop philotes holding onto that small hope that Arke would talk about her the way she did about Iris or the Queen. To be someone who was so precious you couldn’t let them go.
“It’s just… I’ve always been the one to plan. The one that has to know what to do next and be strong. Relying on someone else isn’t easy. I hope Iris is okay without me.”
Philotes hands tensed around the bowl. One day Arke would leave this prison and Philotes found herself wondering if Arke would cherish these memories as much as she would.
“Do you have a plan for when you get out?”
Philotes asked the question she had been dreading. She knew the answer would never include her and that fact made her heart ache.
“I would find Iris.”
“A-and what else? You wouldn’t be able to go back to your old life.”
“The Queen told us she would go to lands outside the provinces with her children. I always figured Iris and I would follow her. That was the plan before I was captured.”
Philotes worked at a bit of grit on the inside of the bowl. She couldn’t expect Arke to involve her in such plans after knowing her such a short time. Philotes knew it would be selfish not to let Arke go, and she knew that time would be soon. Philotes dropped the bowl when she heard Arke gasp in pain. She went to Arkes side as she shifted her position.
“Do you need me to massage your back again?”
Philotes asked. Arke took her hand for support.
“No. It will hurt either way. Just talk to me about something. Anything. It helps distract me from the pain.”
“You said you would leave with Iris. But what about your parents? I’m sure they would miss you”
Arkes hand tensed around Philotes fingers, but not from the pain.
“I doubt they would. There’s no one else who would miss me.”
Philotes wanted to tell her that she would but she brushed the thought aside.
“I sense love”
“Only for themselves. No offence Philotes but you wouldn’t understand.”
“It’s my specialty Arke. T-there is much love you don’t see.”
“My mother was the reason I was captured.”
Arke said bitterly.
“You only know the deed. She does love you.”
Arke let go of her hand.
“You know as an observer. From what I’ve heard the daimones weren’t exactly close.”
In that moment, Philotes felt the immeasurable distance between them. She had foolishly held onto the delusion that Arke would respect her. Philotes quickly stood with her back to Arke, wiping away the tears so she wouldn’t see.
“I-I’m sorry that wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t make assumptions. The relationship between my mother and I is…. complicated.”
“You’re right. My family isn’t a loving one. My power isn’t just to see the relationships, I feel them too. Not only do I feel her love but her guilt and self hatred too. Your mother is barely holding on because of whats happened. I have never felt any of that from my own family.”
“That doesn’t excuse her actions.”
Arke said defensively.
“No. It just means the relationship isn’t lost. If you knew what it was like to have no-one care for you in any way then you would atleast ask her why.”
Philotes tried to keep her voice steady. She still couldn’t face Arke. She would reveal all the selfish emotions that wanted Arke to stay.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t. I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Philotes wrapped her arms around herself, attempting to steady her resolve and stop the tears. She never had to hide her emotions before and she didn’t have a natural aptitude for it.
“Then lie here with me.”
Philotes let out a slow breath and wiped away the dampness from her cheeks. She hoped her eyes weren’t red. Arke patted her knees and Philotes lay down with her head in her lap. She turned onto her side and savoured the comfort of Arke being so close. She resisted the urge hold the folds of Arke’s chiton close. Philotes always forgave the world it’s cruelty. She had been gifted with the ability to see the love and kindness people shared in the darkest times. But in that moment, she hated how the only woman she loved would never be hers. That in this one lifetime she would only have these fleeting weeks to have someone she loved close to her.
“There’s a lot that you don’t see too.”
“What do you mean?”
Philotes turned onto her back and looked into Arkes eyes. The blue in them always made her feel as if she were looking into the sky.
“When you said that no-one cared about you. I do.”
A wane smile played on Philotes lips.
“This is only a brief moment in your life Arke and not a good one either. Once this is over you will go back and you will forget.”
“I would always remember you and I-I couldn’t bare the thought of you forgetting me.”
“But what I am…”
“Is the gentlest soul I have ever known.”
Arke took her hand and looked deep into Philotes’ eyes.
“When I get out of here you are coming with me. I refuse to leave you behind at Cronus’ mercy”
“You can’t live with that kind of target. He would always hunt me down.”
“We will be out of the provinces and out of his reach.”
“I can’t hold you back like that. I won’t be a burden to you.”
“A life without you is a burden I couldn’t bare.”
Philotes felt the tears come once again. She had denied her only hope but, as she looked into Arke’s eyes, she saw the life she desperately wanted. Arke took a deep breath.
“I-I didn’t want to pressure you or place any expectations on you. I have never felt this way about anyone before, I guess I never thought I was looking for someone like you. But you have to know that I can’t imagine a future where you’re not by my side. You can do what you like when we escape but when we do, would you come with me?”
“Since I met you, hearing you say those words is all I have ever wanted.”
Arke moved her arm under Philotes, bringing her close. Philotes opened her mouth to speak when Arke’s lips met hers. Philotes returned the kiss with the same eagerness, cupping Arke’s cheek with her hand. She felt free in Arke’s embrace, the chains were only a distant memory. She leaned up, bringing herself closer to the softness of Arke’s lips and warmth of her hands.
Like lightning in a clear sky, a bright light flashed under Philotes eyelids. She broke the kiss and distanced herself from Arke as quick as she could. She recognised that gold light and dreaded what the king would do if he knew about them. Philotes didn’t want him to use Arke to get to her. Philotes kept to a shadowed corner of the cell, hoping he didn’t have the time to see anything. From his familiar superior expression, she knew he hadn’t seen them together.
Arke said with distaste. Philotes bit her lip, Arke had to be careful not to make the king suspicious. Arke met the kings gaze without faltering, although her cheeks were still flushed. Cronus brow furrowed in confusion, but the look was gone in an instant.
“I see it didn’t take long for you to put the loss of your sister behind you.”
“I see the man responsible.”
Arke said, gathering her composure.
“And your betrayal is forgotten? I would have thought you might want to earn a trip to the place of your sister’s death. But no matter. I can make sure her rites are taken care of without her family.”
Arke’s feathers bristled. Philotes’ gaze trained on Arke, willing her not to push the king too far.
“We were protecting the queen from you.”
“So, you don’t want to do your duty as her sister? I thought you would have liked to be where she spent her last moments.”
“The same as your duty as king?”
Cronus’ eyebrow twitched in irritation. Arke’s resistance hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“You presume to know how to rule a realm?”
“I know you wouldn’t come here without a reason. Get your intimidation over with and leave us.”
In two steps Cronus moved behind Arke and yanked her chains upward. Arke yelled in pain as she was lifted off her knees.
Philotes ran to Arke’s side and held her up to relieve the cutting edge of the chains. Cronus threw the chains back down, a look of disgust on his face. Arke sagged into Philotes’ arms.
“I should have thought you had something to do with this”
Cronus sneered. Philotes carefully lowered Arke back down onto the floor. Arke tried to hide her relief but she couldn’t help herself from leaning into Philotes embrace. Philotes saw the realisation dawn on the king’s face.
“Even here you manage to spread your poison. What have you told her?”
“My sister is alive and you can’t get to the island. I won’t tell you a thing.”
Arke interrupted. Philotes’ heart sank with dread. Cronus’ fists were shaking.
“Stupid girl! Do you realise what this is costing me? I need my wife and child or the realm is forfeit!”
“The best thing for the realm is the end of your reign”
Philotes tensed at Arke’s confident words.
“Don’t let that creature fool you. Her kind would infect this land like a disease. You are no use to me afflicted with her influence.”
Cronus gripped the golden torque wound around his bicep. Golden light snaked its way up his arm and gathered at his neck. Philotes looked on in horror as his head was thrown back and large bulge worked its way up his throat. A dark sphere, bathed in golden light, erupted from his mouth and hovered to his open palm. Philotes clutched Arke close, she recognised that darkness. Cronus closed his hand and broke the sphere. It splintered into tendrils of shadow that wound around Arke.
“Please. I’ll leave her alone. She’s no threat to you. Please.”
Philotes begged. She clutched Arke close but she could feel her love’s form starting to slip away.
“You need to learn your toxic influences have consequences. My realm is no place for the work of daimones. It leaves a mark that can’t be erased”
“No. Please don’t send her there. I’ll do anything you want…”
Philotes was interrupted when Arkes hand cupped her cheek.
“It’s alright. I’ll see you again.”
Arke reassured her. She leaned forward to kiss Philotes but before their lips met, Arke’s chains clattered to the floor. Cronus breathed in deeply, the darkness flowing into his nose and mouth. Philotes sobbed as she wound the chains around her fingers.
“I’ve tried many ways to get you to realise what a scourge you are. Now you know what it’s like to have your own vile powers turned against you.”
“I have done nothing to you!”
Philotes shouted, crouched over Arkes’ empty chains. Cronus leaned over her.
“Listen, Daimone of desire. Just by existing, you afflict all of us with a plague. My wife has left me and her selfishness heralds the end of my realm, but your toxic influences drive me to her still.”
“You always had choice.”
“Your kind leaves us no choice. That Apate told me as much. I had to tolerate Geras in this realm for time’s sake. So, I keep you here that the mortals can be free of your afflictions. Without the weakness of caring for one another, they will be the perfection I have worked hard to create.”
“Please, I can get her to tell you what you want to know. Don’t leave her there.”
“Rot here. I have a sea to search”
Cronus disappeared in a flash of light. Philotes' sobs echoed from the cave the entire night.
Astraea crept along the gallery, shafts of moonlight between the pillars illuminating the way. Every rustle of the grass and leaves in the central gardens outside made her freeze. If someone found her in this corridor she would have no explanation. Her grand-parent’s rooms were kept exclusively private. Except for the mortals in their service, no-one was allowed near them without an invitation.
She thought of the abandoned tray of oatcakes waiting in her room. She had been too preoccupied in her thoughts and conspiracies when her mother had insisted they be brought up. Many had been left uneaten, her mother thought eating too much in one sitting was not something a lady should do. After a few hours of idel chat, Astraea had been able to convince her mother she was tired. When her mother left Astraea had taken the opportunity to uncover what her grandmother was hiding. She could return now, have an oatcake, and no one would be the wiser. But as her resolve ebbed, the sound of muted voices drove her on. It was her duty to expose anything that might threaten the realm. The voices became louder as she rounded the corner, leaving the gardens behind her. The corridor was dark except for the flickering torchlight from a single doorway.
“…she must be moved tonight. They could attack anytime.”
Astraea recognised the tone of her grandfather as she approached.
“Surely diplomacy must be tried before we take up arms? If there is an opportunity to spare our children witnessing their home being turned into a battlefield we should take it.”
Pallas said. Her uncle always had a caring disposition.
“Son, you have not seen the daimones in their time of freedom. Their hunger overrides their senses, they cannot be reasoned with.”
“Please Father. Perhaps servitude has shown them their errors? They may rally for war because that is the only option we leave them.”
Astraea crept closer to the edge of the door way, the men’s shadows dancing on the wall opposite. She didn’t have the resolve to peek into the room, in case they were facing the corridor.
“The Queen would likely disagree with you. If anything, we must take the fight to them, show them who they serve.”
Perses said. His shadow paced across the doorway in his usual eager stride.
“What say you, Astraois? Your sons are our first lines of defence. Would you not want us to try for peace first?”
Pallas appealed to his other brother. The creak of a chair echoed as Astraois’ shadow emerged in the doorway. Astraea recoiled, she didn’t want her father to see her.
“Eophoros and Boreas have made their own decisions. Faith taken without the proper measures is naive. I agree with Father. We can’t show them any leniency.”
“But your children can defend themselves. Kratos, Zelus, Bia, and Nike are only babes. They will be vulnerable in a war”
The pleading in Pallas’ tone became more desperate.
“You don’t trust that we will defend our own home?”
“No, Perses. I trust that war comes with casualties. Father, if the daimones are as dangerous as you say then why not evacuate? If we can defend the palace then we can protect our families passage out of the province.”
Perses snorted in derision.
“Seems your nymph wife has made you soft. I would die before letting any harm come to my family. You would rather run than do the same?”
The shadows of her uncles came closer, as Perses stood face to face with Pallas.
Krios said. He pulled her uncles apart.
“We must respect our duty to the king. She needs to be kept away from the daimones.”
Astraea wondered who this ‘she’ might be, leaning as close as she dared to hear better.
“Come. This is enough debating. You all need to know the enemy we face.”
The shadows faded from the doorway. Astraea let out a slow breath before peeking around the door frame. Krios and his three sons had their backs to her, focussed on the table in front of them. She hesitated when she spotted Boreas and Eosphoros on the opposite side facing the doorway. But both of them were too focussed on what Krios was showing them they didn’t notice her.
“The daimones come in two kinds. The corporeal and ethereal. These….”
Krios shuffled a paper to the centre of the table.
“… Are the daimones we know of. The main difference between the types is the corporeal have a physical body and the ethereal do not. The ethereal Daimones such as Moros are the greatest threat.”
Perses asked, inspecting the parchment closely.
“Because they lack physical bodies. It allows them become one with the shadows and travel great distances with little effort. Our greatest defense is keeping her hidden, it wouldn’t take long for an ethereal daimone to find her.”
“How do we defend against such a power?”
Astraois looked to his father, deep purple lines pulsing up his neck and face.
“Your sons are our best barriers against them. If the Daimones can’t get into the palace they won’t be able to get to her.”
“I will bring her to the palace. She can’t be left exposed in the southern province.”
Perses volunteered. Krios put a hand on his shoulder.
“I appreciate your dedication. But it must be Boreas and Eosphoros.”
“But I am absent who will lead the Anemoi?”
Boreas protested. Eosphoros nodded in agreement.
“The Astra Planeta too. I-”
Just as he looked up at their grandfather, Eosphoros’ eyes met Astraea’s. She froze, digging her fingers into the doorframe. She knew she should have moved and hoped he thought it was a trick of the light but she just stared back. Astraea had to know what her grandparents were hiding and she was too close to finding out.
“The two of you are more inconspicuous. You were born after their imprisonment so they are less likely to notice either of you.”
Eosphoros’ gaze flicked back to Krios.
“But grandfather, I…”
“Son, that is an order. You said you were familiar with the area. It will be faster for you to find her and bring her here”
Astraios interrupted. Astraea recognised the authoritative tone from her childhood, there was no room for negotiation.
“I can always go alone. I’m not surprised my younger brother wants to shirk his responsibilities.”
Boreas crossed his arms, looking to Eosphoros in disdain.
“No. the two of you will go together. Pallas can lead the Anemoi and Perses will head the Astra Planeta in your absences. If the two of you complete the task correctly, you should be back before the Daimones come.”
“That is final Eosphoros. Boreas will not be able to bring her back alone. Without you, I doubt she will be moved.”
Astraea let out a small gasp and put a hand over her mouth. She turned from the doorway and backed down the corridor.
“What was that?”
Astraea turned and bolted silently down the hallway, glad of her choice to leave her sandals behind. She burst into the gardens and ran past her grand-parent’s thrones. She pressed herself against the trunk of the large willow, her heart pounding in her chest. Astraea waited to see if any of the men had followed her.
Astraea tried to catch her breath. A woman who only Eosphoros could move, it had to be Callidora.
Her announcement at the meeting must have intimidated Eosphoros into telling the truth. Now she understood why her grandmother wanted her silenced. Astraea had known from the beginning that Callidora was different, now it was confirmed. She didn’t know how the Daimones could use Callidora’s peculiarities against them, but she had her evidence. It was her duty to inform the king of everything. She would make the trip to the High king in the morning. He was renowned for his devotion to the mortals and she knew he would be happy that she was devoted to her role. Such service was sure to strengthen her position and renown in the provinces.
When she was confident no-one had followed her from the corridor, Astraea emerged form behind the tree and flew in the direction of the tower. She had to get her rest and prepare for her trip. It was important to look the part when she addressed the king.
I put down the branches and stretched. As the last rays of sunset faded between the trees I knew I would have to get back to meadow soon. Since the attack, the thought of being alone in the dark forest made the knot in my gut tighten. I was forced to face my fear alone, Xyanthe had refused to talk to me since the funeral. I missed her company. She avoided me most days, spending her time tending to Macar. I distracted myself by helping the mortals prepare for the storms. There were always fires or injuries to deal with. The storms came every day and the people still didn’t have the instinct to help themselves. They could take orders but had no initiative to do anything for themselves. I didn’t know what was missing. They couldn’t connect with eachother, not the way Xyanthe and I used to be.
The usual doubts bubbled to the surface. Was I wrong? Were the mortals better off with their apathy? I could see somewhere inside them they knew what was going on and that knowledge wasn’t changing them for the better. I had thought that I could show them how to care for eachother and how to see the good in the world. But I had no control over what the world decided to teach them instead. They were learning fear and hardship, I didn’t know what I could do to help them. I jumped at the crash of falling branches behind me.
“Warn me before you do that”
I muttered. Turning to a poplar tree that had a small pile of branches scattered around it. The shedding had begun at the same time we started building shelters. I didn’t question what was causing it, you just had to make sure you weren’t under the tree when the branches fell.
“But thank you.”
I said, bending down to gather the branches together. I looked up and a figure, with his familiar slicked back hair, grinned at me. I screamed and dropped the branches. By the time I had backed up against another tree, the vision had evaporated. It didn’t stop the cold chill of fear from prickling my skin. I couldn’t stop shaking, my stare fixed on the empty space where the illusion of my attacker had been. I sank to the ground and buried my head into my arms to block out the world. I froze when I felt a pair of arms around me.
Eosphoros murmured. I was used to his sudden appearances. The sound of his heartbeat and the feel of his warmth so close was soothing, even if I didn’t believe his words. I only allowed myself to relax for a moment, the night was coming and I needed to out of the forest before dark.
“I have to get back”
I broke our embrace and crawled on the floor, reaching for the dropped branches. He took both of my hands in his and looked into my eyes.
“Calm down. There’s no rush.”
“We need them for the trenches. If I don’t get the branches back there could be rain and the mud will fall in.”
“To shelter us from the storms. They’re getting worse and I don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”
“Is the forest not protecting you?”
I stood and avoided looking into his eyes. I didn’t want to tell him that the thought of staying the forest in the dark made my blood run cold.
“I just thought it would help. That isn’t wrong is it?”
“No. I just thought you might want to steal a few moments together.”
He whispered, standing up close and taking my hands again.
“I do. I just... the mortals. They need me.”
“It’s not your job to be responsible for them.”
“No-one else wants to help them. Am I supposed to ignore how they’re treated?”
“There are people whose job it is to watch over the mortals. You don’t need to make yourself so anxious.”
“You mean Astraea? I haven’t seen her in weeks. There’s a storm every other day and she hasn’t visited once.”
“No. I’m the one who watches them get treated like they don’t matter. I live with them. I know them. I am trying my best to guide them a-and I…I…”
My speech degenerated into sobs. Eosphoros hugged me close, stroking my hair.
“It’s not. I’ve already failed. Xyanthe doesn’t want anything to do with me. That man died and I’m watching the others go the same way. They’re suffering and I’m thinking of myself All I can think of is how afraid I am. Afraid that I’ll end up the same way. Forgotten and alone.”
Eosphoros held my shoulders and looked into my eyes.
“I will never let that happen. What if I took you away from here? From everything?”
“We could go anywhere we wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry and we can just be together.”
I crossed my arms.
“I-I don’t even know where I would go. I can’t leave them Eosphoros.”
“But why? It’s not like they appreciate what you’re doing for them.”
“They can’t help that.”
“How do you know if they ever will?”
“You think I’m going to fail.”
I backed away, breaking his hold on me.
“No. I’m just worried about you. Look at what the pressure is doing to you. Especially considering…”
Eosphoros paused as he searched for a way to finish his sentence.
Eosphoros rubbed the back of his neck.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Considering you should be doing what makes you happy.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“And what was it you really wanted to say?”
Eosphoros just grinned back at me and held out his hand.
“I want you to be happy. I think its time for a dance. When was the last time you did something fun?”
“I don’t think I have the energy right now.”
To make my point I started picking up the branches. Eosphoros swept his arm between us and a rose-coloured light lit up the forest around us.
“Are you sure?”
“I really need to get back.”
He twirled towards me and small spheres of light appeared around him, banishing the shadows from the trees. He stood sloce to me again and I looked up at him. The light surrounded his head like a halo, giving the waves of his dark hair a red tinge.
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
“One of my many talents.”
I barely heard the clatter of the branches falling to the floor. He held my waist with one hand and took my right hand with the other. We stepped in slow circles, the light dappling around us to our rhythm.
“Do all of your ‘talents’ need a few special steps?”
I asked. Eosphoros chuckled.
“Ouch. I thought you liked my dancing?”
“Not when you’re using it to show off.”
“Ah so I’m a show-off now?”
He grinned and the air started to vibrate around us.
I tensed as he levitated us into the air. I clutched him close when I couldn’t feel the grass under my feet, it was like we were walking on glass. He didn’t miss a step, sweeping me along in the slow rhythm of the dance.
“It’s alright I’ve got you.”
His hand tightening around my waist. I looked into his eyes and I felt safe, I couldn’t think of the last time I had been so at ease. I smiled and leaned my head onto his chest. I could have danced with him forever.
“You always make me feel better.”
“That’s what I’m here for. No-one could keep me away.”
I bit my bottom lip. Astraea might. Now that she knew of our relationship, how long would it be before she would do something to drive him away?
“About that. I need to tell you something.”
“You can tell me anything.”
“Astraea knows. I-I forgot myself at the funeral and I told her.”
“Well that explains it.”
“She almost blabbed it to the entire family today.”
“You’re not mad?”
“Not with you. Astraea can be entitled to her opinion. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“But you want to keep us hidden like she does. S-she said that I would hurt you.”
He stopped dancing and my stomach sank.
“You think I’m ashamed of you?”
I kept my head on his chest, I didn’t want to look in his eyes and see any confirmation.
“I-I just wonder how bad it would be if we could be open. I love you but I’m not going to be dependent on you. I can’t be with you if who I am is a problem for you.”
I closed my eyes when Eosphoros let go of my hand and lifted my chin gently.
I opened my eyes.
“I love you. All of you. I wouldn’t change who you are. Our time might be more limited but I won’t cherish it any less. knowing you has changed me in ways an entire lifetime couldn’t. I want you to depend on me because you trust me to depend on you.”
“I only want to protect you, Callidora. You don’t know my family like I do. There would be others who share Astraea’s opinion. We have to be careful. It’s not forever but I won’t risk any consequences that would hurt you.”
“If there are consequences then we should face them together. Anything you can handle I can too…”
The beating of wings caught my eye. An Aletheia was standing among the trees, her wings beating in a slow rhythm. Eosphoros frowned when he saw her.
“You shouldn’t be out of the palace walls. Go, now and do not say anything about what you have seen.”
Eosphoros commanded. The woman stayed where she was, her eyes fixed on me.
“I was told no titans would be in the forest. I can’t have anyone finding out about the search.”
I gasped. All the sentries looked the same but I would recognise the disgust in her tone and the sinister aura that surrounded her. The deadly look in her eyes was the same when she had raised her sword against me.
The Alethiea said with distaste.
“I told you to go.”
Eosphoros commanded, stepping in front of me.
“I do not take orders from you.”
“Eosphoros don’t trust her. She was the one who tried to attack me.”
“And how is the mortal faring?”
She said with a sneer.
“You killed him, didn’t you? Tell me!”
“It was the branch that ended his life.”
I started to shake, there was only one reason why she would know that. She drew her sword and pointed it at me.
“But tonight, you will be the one coming with me.”
She looked to the dark trees behind her.
“Take care of the titan.”
Dark shapes sped from the darkness and forced their way past Eosphoros. The light of Eosphoros’ star went out as soon as the dance was broken. The sudden dark hid our attackers, in panic I tried to reach out. But a hard, taloned hand held my neck and propelled me backwards against a tree, knocking the air from my lungs. A guttural hiss pierced my ears as the creature pressed on my throat.
The smell of rotten flesh filled my nose as the creature pressed close to me. Struggling for breath, I clawed at the talon to prise its grip off my neck. More talons gripped my arms and held them back. I tried to scream against my worst nightmare, but there was little I could do as I suffocated in the dark.
I was barely conscious when a stark white light flared behind my attackers. I fell to the ground landing hard on my back. I coughed and breathed heavily as I tried to get air back into my lungs. Above me I saw three creatures contorted in pain, as if the light was burning them. Thin webbed wings protruded from their backs and their arms ended, not with hands but, with three sharp talons. The black chitons they wore were torn to rags and stained with blood.
I could see their large pointed teeth as they screeched in pain. They disintegrated as small globes of light pierced their bodies like bullets. Still recovering from the attack, I turned my head slowly. Eosphoros danced across the air, bathed in light. Unlike before, his movements were sharp and quick as he manipulated the starlight around him. More creatures flew from the trees the orbs pierced their bodies and reduced to ash before they could reach him. I had never seen this side of Eosphoros, the ferocity in his eyes showed no mercy.
The Alethiea hadn’t moved. Her lips pursed as she watched the battle above. My mouth went dry when she spotted me lying on the ground. Her mouth widened into a sinister grin as she spread her wings. I tried to crawl away but she cleared the distance between us in moments. She grabbed my wrist and, in my panic, I grasped at the nearest branch and drove it into her shoulder. The Aletheia screamed and released my arm, I fell back hard onto my back.
I shouted. The Alethiea snarled at me and wrested the branch free. Dark gold ichor stained the shoulder of her white chiton.
“I will not fail. You are coming with me.”
I grabbed another branch and tried stabbing at her again. She drew her sword and hit me with the hilt, making lights dance across my vision. While I was dazed she grabbed my arm again and leapt into the air.
“Let go of me!”
I said, my speech slurred as I tried to clear my head. I flailed helplessly against the woman’s grip as she dragged me through the canopy of the forest. Branches lashed at my body, as if they were long fingers trying to hold me back. In a desperate attempt to save myself I latched my legs onto a nearby branch. Pain shot down my arm as she tried to pull me away. The air around me hummed as Eosphoros propelled himself into my abductor. She screamed and released my arm. I grabbed the branch with my arms and looked up. Eosphoros had his arm buried in the Aletheia’s chest. Where his hand had torn through her chiton, the pins came loose and the side opened. In the dim moonlight I could see her legs ended in flat stumps instead of feet. He violently wrenched his hand from her back and her body fell through the canopy. Eosphoros lowered himself down to face me.
“It’s alright. Take my hand.”
Eosphoros was covered in ichor. It matted his hair and streaked across his skin. I froze and remained latched onto the branch. No matter how much I willed it I couldn’t bring myself to take his hand.
“Quickly, we need to get you away from here.”
I started to shake.
“W-why was she after me? What were those creatures? Y-your arm. It was… it was…”
Tears streamed down my face as the impact of what happened started to sink in. Eosphoros sat behind me on the branch, placing his hands over mine. He interlocked his fingers with my own and slowly prised my hands from the bark. I shook my head.
“I-I can’t. Leave me.”
Eosphoros held me close. The dampness of the ichor was cold on my back.
“I’m not going until you let go.”
He whispered. I screamed when more of my attackers came out of the trees. Their eyes were a solid black but I knew their focus was on me.
“Please just go. You can get away.”
Eosphoros refused to leave and buried his face into my neck. When the creatures were close enough for me to hear the gnashing of their teeth, the Aletheia came. They intercepted the creatures, fighting them back with their swords. The grip in my legs loosened. Eosphoros scooped me up into his arms and darted from the tree.
“I’ll take you back to the palace. You’ll be safe there.”
“No. the meadow”
“It’s too open. I need to take you somewhere I can keep you safe.”
“It’s the only place I feel safe. If there are more of those things then the mortals are defenceless too.”
“The daimones don’t target mortals.”
“Mortals like me? They were after me. I could feel it.”
“Just a visit then? I can’t leave without knowing they are safe. At the very least I have to warn Xyanthe.”
“Look at the way you froze up. I don’t to see you that scared again.”
I cupped his cheek with my hand. His eyes flicked down from the sky and back again.
“I need to do this. I can’t neglect them.”
Eosphoros let out a slow breath.
“Why can I never say no?”
He said as he changed direction towards home.