The battle of the thousand stars
Hecate resisted her mother’s tight grip pulling at her wrist. Their sandals on stone floor as they ran down the corridor. Asteria ignored her daughters protest, holding the sling across her shoulders steady. She rubbed the baby’s back, who had started to fuss at the sharp rocking motion. Hecate couldn’t tell apart Styx’s four children, all babies looked the same to her, but the adults had a knack for it.
Hecate stopped at the entrance too the courtyard, her wrist slipped from Asteria’s grip. Her mother rearranged the baby to her hip as she crouched to face Hecate.
“Come now. We need to get out.”
“Well, I say we’re going.”
“Sweetheart, I’m not seeing you in pain like that and staying put. Something is going on and I won’t wait for whatever it is to come to us.”
Hecate winced, her back still ached from the sudden pain that had struck her before. Eos and Styx soon caught up behind them.
“Is something wrong?”
Styx asked, cradling one of her children in a sling. Eos shifted the two slings she held to a more comfortable position. A dull rose glow started to extend from her fingertips, it was almost dawn outside. Asteria stood and took Hecate’s hand again.
“No. We’re ready. I’ll take down the barrier.”
“Let’s get going then.”
Styx walked past them into the large rectangular courtyard. Eos followed behind rolling her eyes.
“Styx, I do so love your impulsive attitude.”
She said, her head raised imperiously. Asteria hurried behind them, pulling Hecate behind her once again. Hecate looked up at the buildings that had been home, embedded into the dome walls, looming over them as they rushed past. The dark windows of the abandoned rooms which had been warm and comforting were now sombre, watching them flee. Even the diamond encrusted lines of the dome ceiling, depicting the constellations and axes of the night sky, had dulled their gleam.
“Mother, I don’t want to go.”
Hecate insisted as they approached the dome’s only exit, a short tunnel through the dome wall leading out of the courtyard. A lavender curtain wavered across the archway, keeping out any intruders. Asteria let go of her daughter’s hand and picked at the curtain, as if unravelling invisible threads.
“I don’t want to hear it anymore Hecate.”
Asteria said, a stern tone to her voice. Her mothers gaze didn’t waver from the barrier, pulsing with light at her touch.
“Your mother’s right, dear. We just need to be brave.”
“But I saw. I saw the old man in white. He’s out there and he’s going to do something bad”
Hecate looked up at her Aunt. Asteria sighed and crouched down to face Hecate again.
“Foresight can be a great burden. You must learn that the future is unpredictable. There are many visions I have been given that do not come true. Especially my first ones.”
“But mother, I know it’s going to come true. I saw the pain coming. I saw…”
Hecate stamped her foot, her lips tensed into a pout.
“…I really, really saw.”
“This is no time to be stubborn. It’s not safe here anymore. We are going, and you will do as I say.”
Asteria’s tone was final. She stood and pulled out a pin from the leather satchel at her waist. Asteria pricked her finger and held the beading drop of blood in the curtain. The droplet fell from her finger and was absorbed into the folds, which faded away at the contact.
As if taking the cork out of a bottle, the sound of war rushed in from the outside. Asteria held Hecate close as she led the group through the tunnel, the stench of ichor and blood thick in the air. Hecate clutched the material of mother’s chiton in her fists as they emerged into the dark smog. She couldn’t see the fighting, but the sound of clashing swords and talons filled her ears. Hecate looked back to her aunts who followed close behind, keeping the children they held protectively. Asteria followed the perimeter of the dome, the only marker to give them any direction in the darkness. Hecate screamed when a bleeding mortal fell against the stone in front of them, his chest drenched in blood.
“Your graces, you must get away before-”
The man choked as talons pierced his chest. His limp body was tossed aside, revealing the pair of Keres standing behind him. Hecate screamed in horror, blood spattering onto her face. Asteria stepped between her daughter and the daimones, pulling two amphorae from her satchel. She threw them to the ground where they shattered in a bright flash of light. The Keres screeched and covered their eyes.
“This way, we can hide in the forest.”
Asteria instruected. The women followed her into the smog. Hecate looked back, the Keres were gaining on her aunts behind them.
Hecate screamed as Eos stumbled to the ground. She curled herself around the babies she held, landing hard on her side. When she tried to stand she was knocked to the ground again when a talon tore through her hairnet, causing her dark hair to tumble to her shoulders. Her aunt knelt to the ground, looking up at her hungry attackers helplessly. Hecate felt her mothers hand tense around her wrist and Styx started to run back for her, but she was too far away to reach Eos in time. The Keres closed in, extending their talons, Eos knelt her head down and held the children close. Before they could reach her, Eos’ wings flared to life with rust coloured light and tore the Keres apart in a shower of ichor. Styx approached Eos slowly and extended her hand.
“S-such beastly things. Making me use my powers like a common worker.”
Eos tried to keep her composure as she stood, ignoring Styx’s aid.
“How will you survive.”
Styx muttered. Eos pursed her lips as she wiped the ichor from her face.
“Such ingratitude. I risked my life saving your children, and now my hairnet is ruined.”
Eos picked the ruined copper mesh from her hair and discarded it.
“For Master Dolos!”
An Alethiea shouted from behind them, flying out of the smog with her sword raised. Eos froze, her eyes wide. Styx crouched into a fighting stance, her open fists raised in front of her forehead. She pushed Eos behind her and dodged the swipe of the Aletheia’s sword. Styx kicked the sword from her attacker’s hand. She shifted her baby onto her back and grabbed the Alethiea in a waist lock. The other woman kicked out against Styx’s grip as she was lifted off her feet and thrown onto the ground. Styx crouched on top of the Alethiea and punched her, knocking her unconscious.
Eos shouted as three Keres rushed Styx from behind. She spun away from the talons aiming for her back. Styx pulled the nearest Keres in front of her, causing her sisters to rip through her with their talons. She kicked the first back and dodged the second. Styx held the nearest Keres around the waist and lifted her up as she had done before. As Styx crouched down to pin her opponent, the other Daimone charged towards her. Styx rolled back too late as a long gash opened down the side of her face. Styx twisted and landed hard on her side to avoid landing on the baby held at her back. The daimone she had pinned stood and the pair lunged for her again. Styx tried to stand but winced and held her left hip.
“Try your best!”
Styx shouted. She raised her fists and stood slowly, leaning on her right leg. Styx kicked again as the Keres beared down. But her leg was too slow. They dodged her strike and one of them drove her talon into Styx’s shoulder. Hecate screamed as the daimone proceeded to pull Styx close and bite into her neck. Asteria’s hand shook around her wrist, Hecate knew they too far away to get to Styx in time. Styx continued to struggle against the daimone, trying to push the Keres off her. Eos was frozen to the spot, watching her sister-in-law in horror. Her gaze flicked to the second Keres, who stared hungrily at the bundle on Styx’s back.
Eos screamed when the Keres lunged for the child. Her wings flared to life and both the Keres crumpled to the floor, their skin blistered and burned. Styx fell to the ground with them. Asteria ran to them pulling Hecate behind her. She knelt down and pushed the burned bodies off Styx.
“Styx? Styx? Can you hear me?”
Styx looked up at Asteria and nodded, blood pouring from her neck.
“N-nike? I don’t feel her moving.”
“It’s alright. Hecate, check the baby. Take her out of the sling and hold her.”
Hecate couldn’t take her gaze off the pool growing on the grass around Styx.
“I know but I need you to be brave so that I can help her.”
Asteria took her hand. Hecate nodded to her mother and stepped over Styx and the dead daimones. Nike fussed as she gingerly pulled her out of the folds of ichor-soaked fabric.
“Styx I’m going to lift you ok?”
Styx nodded and cried out in pain as Asteria lifted her shoulder to get the linen out from under her. Asteria but her arms under Styx’ armpits and pulled her free from the tangle of bodies.
“Eos. Press this against her neck. We need to stop the bleeding.”
Asteria instructed as she folded the sling and pressed it to Styx’s neck. Eos, who had paled at the sight of Styx’s injuries, nodded slightly.
“Y-yes. Of course.”
Eos crouched down and held the fabric at Styx’s neck, the white staining to red in moments. Asteria searched her satchel for something to help. Hecate tried to hold Nike the way she had seen her mother do it. But the baby started to wail, as if she knew her mother was in pain.
“I didn’t think you would be the one to come to my aid. I should be thanking you for getting rid of those daimones for me.”
Styx choked, looking to Eos.
“I assure you I am not the fighting type.”
Eos kept her eyes on the linen, making sure to stem the flow of blood. Styx laughed weakly, her breathing becoming more laboured.
“It seems I’m not either.”
“Well, I assure you I will certainly not be making a habit of it. That was my favourite hairnet.”
Hecate tried to rock the baby to settle her, but the baby only wailed louder. Hecate started to worry, the cries would draw more attackers to them.
“Nike’s not calming down.”
“It’s alright. Lay her down by me. I-I want my children close to me. I-If this is my last-”
“I will be having none of that.”
Eos interrupted as Hecate lay the baby down next to Styx. Nike calmed down at her mother’s touch. The tears beaded in the corners of Styx’s eyes as she held Nike close. Asteria paused her rummaging through the satchel and shared a look with Eos.
“Hecate, be a dear and undo these slings for me. I can’t hold the children and stop the bleeding.”
Eos asked. Hecate nodded and stood behind her aunt, working at the knotted fabric at her shoulders. Asteria undid her own sling and set the baby down next to Nike. Hecate undid the slings on Eos’ shoulders one by one and lay the babies with their other siblings. Styx put her arms around her children.
“Zelus, Bia, Kratos, Nike. You are so precious to me.”
She whispered, her eyes drooping. Despite the war around them, the children were calmer in their mothers embrace. Asteria pulled large leaves from her satchel and crushed them between her palms.
“Styx, come now. This is no time to sleep.”
Eos said, are arms starting to shake to maintain the pressure on Styx’s neck. Tear’s rolled down Styx’s cheek.
“Tell them. I want them to grow up knowing I loved them.”
Styx’s voice was weak and the deep azure of her skin had faded. Eos shook her head.
“You listen here, it will not do to have my nieces and nephews growing up without their mother…”
Eos took one of Styx’s hands with her free one.
“My impression of you was a severe underestimation. You have the strength to hold on, to be their mother long after they’re not children anymore. Do you hear me?”
“I thought my kind weren’t up to your standards.”
“Well, perhaps there are exceptions.”
“Besides I cannot have the woman who saved me succumb to such minor wounds. Even in such circumstances, I doubt my reputation would ever survive.”
“Y-you never change.”
“Dear, why would I need to?”
Styx laughed weakly at the comment. Hecate watched her mother take out an amphora and pour a dark powder onto the crushed leaves in her hand. The green paste changed to a lavender colour as Asteria murmured under her breath. When her mother had been giving her lessons into the plants in the complex and the properties they had, Hecate had taken the knowledge forgranted. She had only known peace and hadn’t comprehended a time when they would be needed. Hecate couldn’t help but wish that she had paid more attention. Asteria raised her hands, covered in purple paste, over the damp linen.
“When I say so, I want you to lift the pressure. This should heal the wound and stop the bleeding.”
“Will it work?”
“It’s a simple poultice, but it’s effective. I just hope it isn’t too late.”
Hecate tried to think of what herbs her mother may have used. She thought of all the times they had walked the forests of the southern palace together but none came to mind.
As soon as Eos lifted her hands, Asteria spread the salve over Styx’s injuries. Styx gasped in pain as Asteria’s fingers traced the torn flesh, covering her open wounds. Hecate held her breath when her mother sat back. They watched seeping blood under the salve with dread. Styx took in a large breath and the dark tinge to her skin returned. Hecate let out a sigh of relief when the flow of blood slowed and stopped.
“You see, I told you.”
Eos said, still holding Styx’s hand.
“And I thought I would be saved from having to be talked down to by you…”
Styx screamed in pain as black ooze bubbled up from beneath the salve.
“What is that?”
Eos said. Asteria brushed Styx’s hair out of her face and rubbed her forehead.
“It’s alright. It’s just the rosemary. It brings out any impurities. Daimone ichor can be toxic if it gets into her blood.”
Asteria explained. Styx gritted her teeth, her grip on Eos’ hand tightening.
“You couldn’t have put something in it for the pain?”
Eos gasped as Styx’s knuckles went white around her hand.
“I had to work with what I could take from my stores.”
Hecate looked up and froze.
“Mother, they’re back.”
She pointed at the Keres, who were emerging from the shadows.
“Styx is in no position to be moved. We’re going to have to do our best.”
Asteria stood and took more amphorae out of the satchel. She handed the bottles to Eos and Hecate.
“Aim and throw.”
Asteria instructed as the closest Keres charged towards them. They threw the bottles, which exploded with different effects. Some daimones were blinded, others were disintegrated. Hecate now understood why her mother had spent so many days preparing the small bottles. Another reason for her to wish that she had spent more interest in her mother’s craft, a craft she would inherit. No matter how many amphorae they threw, the daimones kept coming. Hecate knew her mothers supply wasn’t limitless. Hecate threw her last bottle, which exploded in a flash of green light and sent one of the Keres into the air.
“Mother I don’t have anymore.”
Asteria held Hecate close.
“There’s not enough.”
Her mother said, looking around them for an escape through the legions of Daimones.
“T-take my children. Run while you can.”
Styx said, holding her four babies close.
“I did not ruin my outfit, sacrifice one of my best accessories, and compromise my ladyship by fighting like a commoner to leave you behind.”
Eos said through gritted teeth, throwing an amphora that melted two keres into a black sludge. The women huddled backwards as the tide of Keres came closer. Suddenly, a spear erupted from a Keres’ chest. Mortals ran from the shadows, forming a circle of defence around the titanesses.
“We will not let them get any further!”
A woman with dark hair shouted. Asteria looked to the mortals in disbelief.
“Since when did they…?”
Her question was cut short when Hecate screamed, wrapping her arms around her mother’s waist.
“I-Its him, the man in white. Make him go away. I want to get away.”
Hecate said, her eyes wide with fear. Asteria turned and froze when she saw the old man held in a white sling by two Pseudologoi. Eos gasped and put a hand over her mouth. Styx was the only one to speak, clutching her children close.
She said, the disgust clear in her voice.
“You should have more reverence, Nymph. Your betters are not to be addressed by name.”
Geras looked down on them with a hateful sneer. Hecate started to shake at the sound of Geras’ voice. The grating rasp of his speech was a familiar haunt from her nightmares. Hecate sobbed, holding onto her mother’s arm.
“Stop your whimpering child!”
Geras commanded. Asteria guided Hecate behind her.
“Leave us. Are you really going to target defenceless children?”
“None of you appreciate how abhorrent the stench of youth can be. Your sires were children once, I don’t remember sparing them doing me any good.”
Geras’ speech was laboured but filled with loathing.
“What do we do? We can’t run.”
“What is it you want?”
Asteria kept her gaze on Geras, her hand discreetly going to the satchel. Hecate peeked out from behind her mother and nearly screamed again at Geras’ insidious grin.
“I thought it would be obvious…”
Before he finished his answer, Asteria threw an amphora. The pseudologoi on his left drew her sword and sliced the bottle in two, where it exploded in a flash of light. Geras twisted his mouth into a hateful snarl.
“You think such petty tricks will stop me?”
Asteria held Hecate close. The dark-haired mortal stepped forward in their defence.
“You will not speak to their graces with disrespect. We will not allow-”
The air rippled around her and the mortal evaporated to dust.
“Such base creatures. Cronus would be disappointed that his subjects hide behind them. No matter, this will be quick.”
The air rippled around Geras, the grass below him becoming gnarled and brown. Just as the ripple came for them four men flew from the darkness. They intensified the gravity around Geras, preventing the daimones energy from reaching them.
“Ha. You’re no match for my boys.”
Eos gloated with smile of pride. Hecate’s stomach sank when she saw her father land in front of them. She had tried to warn everyone, but now all the pieces were in place. Geras shouted in frustration, his hammock shaking.
“Quickly, Uncle. We don’t know how long we can keep this up.”
One of the men said, his arms shaking with the effort to keep Geras contained.
“Just keep steady Phaethon.”
Perses commanded. Asteria pulled him into a close hug.
“Perses, dearest. When I saw the stars out I thought the worst. What happened?”
“I don’t know. But we need to evacuate, we can’t fight in this darkness.”
“Where is Pallas?”
Styx interrupted, her voice still weak.
“He’s right behind us. The Anemoi too.”
Eos sighed with relief that her sons were safe.
“You need to get Styx out first. Take Eos and Hecate too. I have enough to defend myself until Pallas gets here.”
Asteria said, her arms around Perses’ waist.
“I will not be leaving you behind here. Besides I don’t see Eosphoros. Is my husband with you too? Or Astraea? She was supposed to be on her way to us when the daimones invaded.”
Eos asked eagerly.
“No mother. You must leave while you can. We can fly, you can’t.”
Phaethon shouted, his three brothers nodded their agreement. Eos faced them and spread her small wings in defiance.
“Such doting sons. But my conscience will not allow me to leave this palace until I know all of my children are safe.”
“That’s settled then. Alright boys, come a little closer. One of you can take a child each. I will carry Styx…”
“Take Hecate with you too. I don’t want her in the middle of this battle for a moment longer.”
Asteria interrupted. Perses nodded his agreement. The four men backed away slowly from Geras. They stood with their backs to them, their arms outstretched. Despite being immobile, Geras’ rage was palpable. The intense ripple around him made it look like his fists were shaking. Perses pulled Asteria close and kissed her.
“When the barrier comes down you’ll have to run. Boreas and the others will be able to find the two of you in the forest.”
Asteria pressed her forehead to Perses own.
“We will be together again soon.”
“But I want to go with you and aunt Eos.”
“I promise you’ll be safe…”
Perses reached for her but Hecate backed away. She averted her eyes from the pained look of confusion on his face. Hecate knew that distancing herself from her father would hurt him. But she had felt his flesh crumble under her fingertips in her dreams.
“I-I hate you. You let them get to us and aunt Styx almost died. Go away.”
Hecate couldn’t meet his gaze. If saying these words got him to leave her then she would do it. Perses stepped forward and knelt on one knee in front of her.
“I’m sorry this has been hard on you. But I will take you to where it is safe. I promise.”
Perses held her hand but she quickly backed away again.
“No. Don’t touch me.”
“Listen to your father. I don’t know what has gotten into you, but I am not letting you stay here.”
Asteria crossed her arms. Perses reached out to her again.
“No! I hate you! I don’t want to see you again! Just go away!”
Hecate hating having to say the words. She could see the tears in her father’s eyes. He stayed silent but Asteria stared Hecate down.
“I will not have you talking to your father like that…”
An anguished shout from behind her interrupted Asteria. One of the Astra Planeta was knelt on the ground, a wayward spear embedded into his side.
“Pyroies are you...?”
Phaethon didn’t finish his question. Geras laughed as the barrier holding him back melted away. Eos screamed as she watched her son’s crumble to dust, the life force sucked out of them. The wave of destruction was unforgiving as both mortals and Keres aged and turned to dust.
Hecate screamed as Perses turned and ran towards the wave. He leapt over Styx and her children huddled on the ground. Eos ran to where her sons had been but Perses shouldered her backwards and held his palms out in front of him. The wave broke either side of him, leaving a triangular patch of green vegetation, shielding them all. Hecate cried as the familiar scene she had dreaded played out in front of her.
Iris’ hand slipped as she hurried to climb down the rocks. She had to get to flat ground, she couldn’t take off on the wet rock outside the cave. Despite the rain she felt the tears running down her face. She knew angering Cronus would put Arke at risk. The responsibility and desperation weighed her down as she clawed for the next hold. Arke was the one who always knew what to do, now the queen’s plans had gone wrong and Iris was alone. She didn’t question how Cronus found them during the birth, Iris could only run for her life. She leapt the last few feet to the empty beach with the Aletheia on her heels. She kept the baby steady against her chest as he wriggled and fought against her grip, crying loudly. He must have felt the separation from his mother. Rhea only had time to name her son and give him a kiss before Iris had to take him away. She didn’t know if the king had noticed the bundle under the folds of her chiton. Just as she started to run over the sand a sword glanced off the rock shelf beside her. Despite the wind and thunder, the sound of metal scraping across the rock made her blood run cold.
Iris beat her wings as she ran depseratly trying to take to the air. But the wind pushed her back onto her knees in the surf. She screamed, clutching the baby, as the Aletheia closed in. The surf underneath them erupted around here sending the Aletheia flying backwards into the rocks.
A male voice called.
Thaumas put his fingers to his lips, interrupting Iris as she stood. His upper body melded seamlessly into the seas, his skin covered in a crystalline sheath of water.
“Your mother sent me. Come now, we must be quick.”
“The wind. As soon as I take off it pushes me back…”
Before she could finish her explanation, Iris was pushed to ground from behind by Eurybia. Iris turned and saw the titaness held the arm of an Aletheia, a sword in her grip.
“That monster will not have my sister’s child!”
She shouted, punching the other woman in the stomach and pushing her backwards. As Eurybia fought the Aletheia back, Thaumas drifted from the shore. His body cut through the tumultuous waters with ease, as if it wouldn’t dare move against him. Extending his arms, the surf shrank back from the island and a wall of water rose up, shielding Iris from the weather.
He reassured her. Iris quickly extended her wings and took off. She didn’t know which direction to go in, she just had to get the child to safety. The rain was in her eyes and wind clawed at her as she tried to stay above the water below her. Iris couldn’t hear Zeus’ cries but she could feel his tiny hands beating on her skin and the vibration of his cries against her.
Iris dared to look behind her and the Aletheia were in close pursuit, like wolves chasing prey. As she pushed on against the elements, Iris wondered if Arke would have failed like she had. She closed her eyes and wished to disappear. She was tired. Tired of aching for her sister, tired of facing these demons, tired of the fighting. She hovered in the air and waited for the Aletheia to close the distance between them. But under her eyelids a technicolour light blazed to life. She opened her eyes and resisted the urge to scream as the Aletheia charged past her on either side.
She held her breath as they searched for her. They moved with deadly grace, even in the chaos of the storm. Iris didn’t understand how they couldn’t see her but she wasn’t about to question it. Eventually they gave up the search and continued their pursuit into the storm. Iris let out a breath of relief as she drifted downwards to the water as an immeasurable exhaustion settled over her. The multicoloured light faded and a pair of arms embraced her as she gave in to her tiredness.
Hecate tried to go to her father but her arms and legs spasmed and ached. Hecate fell but Asteria caught her just before she reached the ground.
“Mother, somethings wrong”
Hecate said, as the grass dried up and curled around them.
“It’s alright baby shhhh”
Asteria whispered, rocking Hecate. She had never seen her mother so full of hoplessness, her despairing gaze fixed on her husband. Hecate couldn’t speak for the aches that raked her body. Her arms and legs felt like they were being pulled in opposite directions. The back of her mouth bled where new teeth grew in the back of her jaw. Hecate turned to her side and curled up as sharp pains, like a thousand stabbing knives, lanced her stomach. The pain was so overwhelming she didn’t notice that her screams had become deeper, her chiton now only came down to her knees, and her hair had grown to half way down her back.
“I didn’t want to watch you grow up like this.”
Asteria said. Hecate lifted her eyes from the ground and watched the extent of Geras’ destruction. She wasn’t the only one who had her childhood ripped away. Styx cried as she held her children, their babe’s cries turning to the anguished shouts of adults. In moments two winged men and women lay beside their mother, writhing in pain. She watched the scene with tears in her eyes.
“Mother, Please. Dad needs help. I can’t let him sacrifice himself.”
Asteria was frozen and continued to whisper empty platitudes, her eyes fixed on the imposing wall of Daimonic power. As another wave of pain wracked her body, Hecate looked to her family and gritted her teeth. She looked to Eos, who had the future with her sons torn away. Then to her cousins who were robbed of their past. Their first memories now filled with confusion and pain. She had tried to change it, to avoid it. In the wake of war, Hecate had been ruled by despair and fear but as she looked out on her families suffering, anger began to rise. Hecate rolled herself forward onto her knees and out of her mother’s arms. She took a deep breath as another ache pulsed through her body.
Asteria fretted. Hecate put out a hand to stop her mother taking her back into her embrace.
“I will not have anymore taken away. Father needs me.”
She said through gritted teeth. If this scene was going to play, she would take her place in it. Hecate stood and put her pain to the back of her mind. She walked towards her father, passing her aunts and cousins. As Hecate approached her father, she could see the skin starting to sag as his muscles wasted and grey peppered his dark hair. Pallas glanced over his shoulder, his arms shaking with the effort.
“Stay back Hecate!”
He shouted. Hecate shook her head as she made the last few steps. She put her arms around her father’s shoulders and buried her face into his neck. Hecate knew what had to happen next, what she had to sacrifice. She thought of all the times her father had hugged her, she was only the height of his chest then. Now she was taller than him.
“I’m sorry father. I tried. I really tried.”
“So, this is why you were sending me away?”
He said. Hecate nodded, the tears streaming down her cheeks.
“No apologies. I would always make the choice to protect you and your mother. There is nothing in the world that would stop me, even when its you.”
Pallas fell to his knees and Hecate knelt with him, maintaining her embrace. His hair was white and he could barely keep his arms up. She knew the moment was close, all she wanted with her entire being was to have the years that were being stolen from between her arms. To have those decades she watched pass in moments.
“I’ll miss you.”
Pallas leaned his head against hers.
“I will never be far.”
Pallas croacked. Hecate turned her head and kissed his cheek. It was time.
“I love you father.”
“I love you too.”
As she pulled away, Hecate saw the moss speckled amongst the grass. Her mother had had it speckled on the dome for protection. Hecate let her father go and gathered handfuls of moss. She crushed it to powder as she stood, like she had seen her mother do. Geras sneered at her.
“I thought you would want to savour your tender moment before you both meet your ends?”
He mocked as Pallas’ fingertips faded to ash. The green powder in Hecate’s hands turned violet.
“You’re not taking anymore from me.”
She said, throwing the powder into the air. As her father disintegrated, the purple mist turned silver, like stars, and formed a protective wall againt Geras’ power.
“Another delay? You’re going to need to do more than that, girl.”
Hecate ignored his words and stood fast. Short purple spears flew past her and through the curtain towards Geras. The pseudologoi drew their swords and cut them down. Her mother stepped beside her, her face stoic. She lifted her hand and brushed Hecate’s cheek.
“I always imagined who you would be when you grew up. Let’s make your father proud.”
Asteria said and pushed a handful of pine needles into Hecates hand.
“But I don’t know…”
“Feel their hidden qualities, see it’s potential…”
Asteria turned to Geras with a hatefilled gaze.
“… and then show these creatures what happens when the deal with a user of the craft.”
Her mother held the needles between her knuckles and closed her eyes. They glowed purple and extended to three times their length.
“Aim for the women holding him.”
She commanded, throwing her darts at the Pseudologoi on the left. It took a few tries but before long Hecate was throwing her own darts at their attackers, her curtain still holding fast. No matter how many they threw, the pseudologoi protected their charge. Geras gave a coughing laugh.
“Your meagre tricks are more entertaining than I thought.”
Asteria pursed her lips.
“What do we do?”
“I’m going to teach you another lesson. Our blood is a powerful thing. It’s what allows us to feel the potential of the life around us. but like anything else it is an ingredient, with great power.”
Asteria took a pin from her satchel and pricked the end of each finger and her thumb of one hand. She nodded to Hecate and she held out her own hand. Asteria pricked each finger like she had done on her own.
“Now hold your fingertips against mine.”
Hecate did what she was told and, as soon as her blood mingled with her mother’s, she could feel the hum in the air. Asteria pulled her hand back and a lattice of violet lines connected their bleeding fingers. Hecate watched in fascination as Asteria rotated her hand, crossing the threads over eachother.
“What is this supposed to do?”
“You’ll see. Turn your hand the other way.”
Hecate followed her mother’s instructions. The threads glowed brighter against the strain that twisted them together.
“You can find properties not just in the ground, but in the Aether that surrounds us. keep turning and when I say so pull your hand back.”
Hecate nodded, the glow from the threads becoming more intense. The vibrations shook her forearm as she tried to keep steady.
Hecate pulled her hand back. A shockwave burst through the air as the threads unravelled violently, pushing Hecate and Asteria to the ground. Cords of violet light tore through the curtain. The Psudologoi screeched as the cords lashed at their skin, feathers scattered through the air as they were plucked from their wings. Geras’ wave of power dissipated as his hammock was cut to ribbons and he fell towards the ground. The one surviving Pseudologoi grabbed her master from the air. One of her wings hung limp as she tried to stay airborne.
“Get me out of here.”
Geras commanded. Hecate hastily tried to get to her feet but the ringing in her ears stopped her regaining her balance. As she stumbled to her feet a pair of long slender hands, with a cool touch, kept her upright.
“Don’t worry little cousin we can take it from here.”
Boreas said, towering over her. His expression was hard as ice but the burning hatred in his eyes betrayed his true emotions.
“We need to get everyone out of here.”
Eurus said as he and Notus helped their mother to her feet, who was crying inconsolably.
“My beautiful boys… you can’t go. Don’t leave me.”
Eos choked, leaning heavily on her sons.
“For once I agree with Boreas. We can’t let that lethal creature escape.”
Zephyrus said as he watched the injured Pseudologoi arrange Geras in her arms.
“Uncle Pallas, make them see sense.”
Eurus said. Eos was on her feet but held her son’s hands. Pallas was stood over Styx and their now fully-grown children.
Styx whispered, still weak from her injuries. He didn’t respond as he looked down at his family in disbelief, with all the decades of memories robbed from them. His adult children lay in a stunned silence, confusion and pain on their faces.
“I’m not sitting back, not when he murdered our brothers.”
Zephyrus darted into the air, with Boreas following close behind. Notus quickly leapt after his brothers, the breeze rustling the dead grass.
“Wait. He’s still dangerous!”
Eurus called after them, Eos still had a firm grip on his hand.
“No. Don’t leave me, no more.”
Eos begged. Eurus gently pulled his hand from hers.
“It’s alright mother I’ll make sure they’re safe.”
He promised, the wind flowing around him and carrying him up. The Pseudologoi turned with Geras in her arms. The hateful sneer still on his face.
“You think I am so easily disposed of? I will teach you a lesson.”
He said as he watched the Anemoi close in. before they could react, the ripple of his power came towards them. At the last moment Eurus flew between them and used the wind to push them back towards the ground. Eos screamed in despair when he exploded into ash. His three brothers writhed on the ground in pain, where Geras’ power had twisted their bodies with age. The Pseudologoi darted from above them and into the darkness, carrying her master to safety.
Eos ran to where her sons lay writhing on the grass, clutching at their peeling flesh. Hecate watched as her aunt knelt on the ground, the red on her arms darkening to scarlet as the ashes of her fallen children drifted around her.
Hecate stood next to her mother who was staring at the spot where her father had been. Hecate recognised the pensive aura around her mother. She was seeing something beyond them both.
Tears rolled down Asteria’s cheeks as the deep look in her eyes dissolved. She tenderly brushed Hecate’s cheek with her hand.
“What did you see?”
Hecate asked, swallowing back the tears.
“A future that could have been.”
Hecate took her mothers hand.
“There is still plenty of time left.”
Hecate reassured her, Asteria smiled.
“It’s not going to be long before the Keres come back. We’re too far from the entrance…
Asteria looked over to Eos, who was sobbing over her disfigured children, and Pallas, his fists shaking as he looked down at his family.
“… and we’ve given all we can.”
“But there must be something. Uncle, isn’t there a way to get over the wall?”
Pallas tore his gaze away from his wife and children. The look in his eyes made Hecate shiver. The gentle uncle she had known was hidden behind a veil of rage.
“I will not run. Those daimones will pay for what they have done.”
“Pallas, please. We need you here.”
Styx said weakly. She reached up to him, but Pallas’ fists stayed clenched.
“I’m not letting them get away with this.”
“We don’t need vengeance Pallas. Please, stay.”
Styx only called her husband’s name twice after he levitated away, a hard look in her eyes. She had never been the kind of person to beg. Asteria knelt next to Eos.
“Is… is there something that could be done?”
Eos asked wiping away the tears. Asteria examined Zephyrus’ arm, which now ended at the elbow in a mass of crumbling skin.
“If it were a disease there may have been hope but this… we just have to hope his influence doesn’t spread.”
Eos’ eyes teared up again.
“No… I refuse to accept it. Eurus, my beautiful calm boy, gave his life so they could have theirs.”
Eos held the hand of Zephyrus and Notus. Her sons had fallen silent, unconscious from their wounds.
“There’s nothing we can do. We have to go.”
“I will not leave them. They are going to get up. They are going to have the lives their brother gave them. I refuse to accept this. I refuse.”
Eos protested, her small wings glittering in the small rays of morning sun that peeked through the smog. The shades of orange and rose brightened and light extended from the edge of each feather, doubling their length. Hecate watched in wonder as dew beaded on the gnarled grass, making it lush and green. The cool touch of water brushed against Hecates feet as the dew gathered in streams across the ground. The streams laced their way around her son’s wounds, regenerating the flesh they had lost. In moments their skin knitted together and they opened their eyes.
Boreas was the first to sit up with shame in his gaze.
“I let my anger get the best of me and Eurus had to pay the price…”
Eos leaned forward and pulled him into a close hug. Such an open expression of emotion caught them all off guard.
“Just get away. You can take everyone else out.”
“You’re not coming with us?”
Notus said. Eos stood.
“Astraea and Astraios are still out there.”
“But you can’t fly. I can accompany you.”
Zephyrus hastily got to his feet but Eos batted his arm away. She beat her wings, which were now twice their length. The ends of them mingled with the morning light, as if they were one with the morning air. Eos beat her wings faster and slowly took off from the ground.
“I’m ordering you to get everyone away to safety. I will not be taking no for an answer.”
Before the Anemoi could protest, she had flown away into the dark clouds.
“Even after all this mum is still mum.”
Zephyrus remarked. The brothers shared a smile but, with their recent loss pressing on them, the joyful moment didn’t last. Asteria led them back to where Styx lay with her children. Hecate watched her mother crouch and stroke Styx’s forehead.
“Ready to go?”
“Pallas made his choice.”
“Be gentle. You don’t want her wounds opening up.”
Asteria instructed, looking to Boreas. Nike, Bia, Kratos, and Zelos grunted in protest as he tried to extricate their mother from them.
Styx said, to comfort her children as Boreas lifted her into his arms. Notus and Zephyrus helped the four siblings to their feet. They were unable to stand on their own and could only talk in grunts, their adult bodies were foreign to them.
“We have a problem.”
Boreas said. Hecate had worked out that the brothers could only take two each. One would have to be left behind.
“Go with them Hecate.”
“Mother, no. It has to be you”
“I will not have you here alone.”
“But I’m not done here mother. I’m able to defend myself now.”
Asteria held Hecates arms.
“Only moments ago, you were my little girl. You will do as I say.”
“You didn’t listen before and look what happened…”
“Yes. I lost your father. I will not lose you too.”
“But the woman in black…”
“May not even come.”
“Mother. There were two figures in my vison. The man in white came. She’s bad she has to be stopped.”
Asteria started to cry again.
“Not you. Not my little girl.”
Hecate walked Asteria beckwards to the waiting brothers.
“I have to go. But it will be easier with your blessing.”
Hecate nodded to Boreas, who put his free arm around Asterias waist.
“No, no. Wait. You remember the lessons I gave you?”
Asteria fumbled with the strap of her satchel and handed it to Hecate. She took the bag and nodded.
“Promise me you will come back to me.”
Asteria held her daughter’s cheek. Hecate opened her mouth to reply as the Keres began to appear out of the darkness. Zephyrus and Notus quickly took flight.
“Time to go.”
“Wait! Wait please! Promise me Hecate! Promise me!”
Asteria screamed as the winds whipped around them and carried her away. Hecate couldn’t bring herself to say the promise she didn’t know she could keep. Taking a handful of pine needles from the satchel she faced the Keres. She threw the darts and ran past them to the forest. Her vision of the woman in black walking through the gardens of her grandfather’s residence flicked into the back of her mind. Hecate knew her work wasn’t done and she had to get back to the main palace. No matter how hard she had tried, fate had carried her in its tide. As she ran between the tree’s, Hecate vowed not to run from it anymore.
Eros watched the war raging in the meadow. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the mortals, fully bloomed in the face of battle. To see them in their full glory, fighting for what was precious, was a sight he wouldn’t forget. Even at this distance it made his heart beat faster, as if he were fighting with them. His hands were behind each spear thrust and his voice shouted every battlecry. That was until the star above the meadow faded and darkness consumed the battlefield.
In the dark, the mortals ran for their lives from the talons and teeth closing in on them. The mortals desire to live called to him, commanding him to aid them. But he resisted, he couldn’t risk doing them any more harm. Eros would observe what fate had decided for them. Before coming to the meadow, he had vowed to keep to his rules. If fate decided these mortals were to fall tonight then he would have to respect it. The Aletheia were being overwhelmed as the Keres clamoured for their prey.
Eros bit down on his bottom lip, resisting the urge to go to the mortal’s defence. For the first time in centuries the daimones would have their feast of flesh and souls. He felt every talon that found vulnerable flesh and every scream of desperation. If they were not able to defend themselves then he would only be delaying the inevitable, no matter how much he ached to intervene.
Their fear and pain continued to tear at his heart, it was something he had never experienced before. Years of experience and strict conduct were being washed away. Their desire the protect, and their will to survive, sang to him the loudest. Eros’ fingertips bled as he dug his nails into the tree bark. He had to let fate decide. He had to resist. Tears steaked down his cheeks as the ranks of Aletheia fell apart and Keres closed in.
“I ask for your forgiveness, sister. I couldn’t keep my promise not to interfere.”
Eros whispered. He didn’t know at what point he had given in. When he erupted from the forest, or when he flew into the sea of daimones. The mortal emotions sang in his veins, drowning out his doubt and hesitation. Eros spread his wings wide, each feather bathed in golden fire.
Eros commanded. The light radiating from him vaporised the Daimones around him, the rest crumpled to the ground and covered their faces with their talons. He blazed like the sun, illuminating the fear in the eyes of the remaining attackers. The Keres scrabbled to get away, melding back into the darkness from where they came. The light from his wings lit up the meadow. There were no mortals standing, only bodies lying on the ground.
“No, please. I’m here now.”
Eros went to the nearest mortal, a man with long auburn hair, and took him into his arms. He cradled the man, and brushed the hair from his face. Eros had always been free, no-one had possessed enough power or respect to command him. But as he looked out onto the meadow, he knew he was forever changed. They had called to him and, no matter how hard he tried, Eros was their willing servant. He didn’t know when his curiousity had developed into this utter devotion. But he knew these fragile beings Gaea had gifted to the world were his purpose. He thought of the hours he had watched them grow and wanted desperately to have that time again. Eros cried with joy when the man began to stir in his arms.
“That’s it, you’re safe now.”
He whispered. Eros looked out and saw other mortals starting to wake. Eros gently lowered the man to the ground and retreated to the trees. He would watch the mortals as their unseen guardian. Eros would protect this beautiful gift to the world, a world that wanted to be rid of them, for the rest of his days.
Astraea desperately pulled her father across her bedroom floor. The orange shafts of morning light reflecting off his pale skin. The deep violet lines that traced his features at night had long since faded. Astraea knew how dangerous it was for her father to use his power in the day. She had begged him to stop but he had ignored her before collapsing on the top floor, the strain on his body had been too much.
“Dad? Stay with me.”
Astraea said as she hauled him up onto the devan. His head lolled to the side as he barely held onto consciousness. Astraea knelt beside her father and held his face in her hands.
“Dad! I need you awake, please.”
Astraea begged. He only managed to grunt and flicker his eyelids. The amber light of dawn exaggerated the dark shadows under his eyes. Her heart sank as the shadows of the Keres extended across the floor. They walked slowly between the pillars, their claws scraping on the marble floor. Astraea saw the blood dripping from their talons, she could still hear the mortal’s screams. Despite the allure of the mortals, some of the daimones had pursued the two of them as they escaped to the top of her tower. They surrounded her and her father, circling them. Astraea looked around desperately for a weapon as they closed in, her sword long since lost in the battle.
For a fleeting moment, she wondered how her clothes had come to be scattered across the floor. Her gaze fixed on the head of light blonde hair among her discarded clothes. She crawled to the mortal and grabbed for the spear, stained with his blood and ichor. The preparations she had made before the battle felt pointless now. She had told the mortal, whose name she had already forgotten, they were safe. As she clutched the weapon desperately in both hands, her only lifeline to survival, she realised how insignificant her worries had been.
Astraea stood by the divan and turned to face the Keres circled around her. She spread her wings as wide as she could. The rush of her family’s power was gone. Astraea was tired, injured, and in despair.
Her father murmured from the divan as he tried to rouse himself. Astraea knew she wouldn’t last against the daimones alone, but she wasn’t going to give in. Astraea lifted the spear and the Keres came. When they were close enough for her to see the hunger in their black eyes, a bright streak of rose-coloured light came between them. It tore through the ranks of Keres and tumbled into the bed with a crash. Eos quickly got up, looked down with a disgusted look at the daimones she had felled. The other Keres, dazzled by the light, scattered.
“Eugh. I never want to touch one of those things again.”
Eos said with a shudder.
Astraea looked at her mother in awe. The light enveloped her, her wings melding into the morning light. Her dark hair, which was always kept in a hairnet, flowed free to her shoulder’s. There was an unencumbered freedom to the power that flowed from her mother that Astraea had never seen before.
“Quickly now darling. Those things won’t be gone for long.”
Eos took Astraea’s hands and ran to Astraios.
“But mother, how have you done this? What happened to your wings? I didn’t know you could fly.”
Astraea asked as Eos tenderly stroked her husbands face.
“As much as I deign to do such base work, there are occasions when we must adjust to current circumstances.”
There was something in her mother’s tone that unsettled Astraea. Something had happened, the superior confidence in Eos’ eyes was gone.
“Now, Now Dear what did I tell you about overworking yourself? Come now, Astraea help me get your father up.”
Eos scolded Astraoias as she lifted one of his arms across her shoulders. Astraea paused and looked to the dead mortal. She knew she wasn’t the only one in this position. Her kind could defend themselves but the mortals were at the daimones mercy.
“Astraea, I did not take the time to find you and your father for you to waste it.”
“I am not taking no for an answer! We are getting away from this wretched place immediately.”
Astraea was stunned. Eos never raised her voice; appropriate conduct had always been of the most importance to her. Astraea obediently lifted her father’s arm across her shoulders. As they flew from the tower with her mother, Astraea knew she could claim her mother’s word was absolute and she had no choice. But she obeyed because she was afraid. Astraea gave the mortal left amongst her clothes one last glance. She knew this was a decision that would haunt her.