Sophie and Carter stood hand in hand, Toddy at their side, facing two magnificent beings of heavenly stature, both of whom gave off a bright radiance. Sophie stared fixatedly at the handsome and physically perfect young man on the right of the imposing elder.
“Gus?” she asked quizzically.
The young God smiled and replied, “Dearest little cousin. Very perceptive of you! Your powers are beginning to return. Yes, I was Gus for a while as your protector, but now with the Universe once more in mortal peril, I return as your cousin, Ares, God Protector.” He bowed then turned to Chronus. “Father, the time!”
“My children, I must be brief.” Chronus walked forward and bowed his head to each of them in turn. “Artemis, Hyperion, Hermes, at long last we are together again. It has been too long waiting for this moment to come. I wish I were here to bring you home to live as Gods should live, yet, as Ares has said, all life force is in peril; the very existence of the Universe is in question. Demons of The Darkness have breached the Mindways and are probing the defences of all free Dimensions and the life within.” Chronus raised his right hand, anticipating questions, and said, “I know you will have desperate need of answers to your questions, but time is not yet on our side to satisfy that want and I ask you to be patient. We need to find your cousin, Athena(17), who I sense is in urgent need of our help and we must make haste to protect her.”
Carter, Sophie and Toddy glanced at each other, bemused.
Chronus continued, “With The Darkness stirring, I had no choice but to first draw you, Artemis, into the Mindways – not pleasant, I know, but essential. Hermes, your encounter was not expected but has proved helpful for we know The Darkness has reached boundaries we had never imagined possible. Hyperion, your cousin Hermes found you using the Mindways, as you did Artemis.” He opened his arms towards the three of them. “You and the Gods are all linked by a bond that cannot be broken, as we are also linked to the Mindways. You have now, albeit briefly, experience of using the Mindways and it is your thoughts that take you where you want to go. At the moment, we believe some of the Mindways are moderately secure but you must keep your thoughts free of The Darkness and only think of where you need to be; that way we all remain safe. Once we’ve rescued Athena and she is safe with us, we will head home to meet the Higher Gods to decide how we deal with the threat. Now, let us go. You all have your talisman, I trust? For the moment, you will need these to traverse the divide. Once your powers fully return, you will no longer require them, however, whatever you do, do not discard them for they will fall into the wrong hands.”
Chronus stood tall and magnificent in front of them and, although smiling, he had a worried expression on his handsome features.
Chronus closed his lecture with, “Now, get dressed quickly, you two. Not a moment to lose!”
Sophie and Carter stood in shock, hardly able to believe what had just happened.
“Gods?” questioned Carter.
“Look, Carter,” said Toddy, “I know it’s difficult to comprehend – I still think it’s ridiculous – but you’d both better make a move and get changed; we don’t want to upset them now, do we?”
He pushed them back towards the bedroom.
Sophie and Carter returned a few minutes later, fully dressed and with puzzled expressions still on their faces. They looked at Toddy, then at Chronus.
“Here we are,” said Carter. “Better make a move, then.”
“We are ready and must go,” replied Chronus as he moved towards the urns mirror and casually stepped into the Mindways, followed closely by Ares.
“Well,” began Toddy, looking at his new-found kin with a wry smile, “an adventure beyond the realms of human possibility begins. Are you coming?”
Clutching his glass bead, he followed in the footsteps of Ares. Sophie looked anxiously at Carter. He squeezed her hand and gave her a knowing smile.
“Come on, darling, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
With Sophie clutching her locket and Carter his leather pouch, he pulled her gently into the urns mirror.
The others were there waiting, Chronus looking thoughtfully off into the depths of the Mindways, Ares scanning around looking for signs of trouble and Toddy, staring in awe at both of the Gods like a simpleton.
“Chronus, where will we be going?” asked Sophie directly.
Chronus turned and looked at her and answered, “My dear child, we, all of us together, need to think of Athena, your cousin and we will find her. I know you feel a bond with me. Well, you will have this bond with Athena – weakly at first, as you have yet to realise your powers, but it will grow. I do believe you may already know her as Angie?”
“Angie, Harry’s wife?” interrupted Carter.
“Yes, my son,” replied Chronus, “you have all been close but unaware of each other. Now, all of you, think of your cousin. We need to go this way.”
He strode ahead without looking back.
Toddy muttered under his breath, “This way? No way, you mean! There isn’t any direction in here!”
He followed close behind the others as they made off. He glanced over his shoulder, believing he’d sensed something close by, but he couldn’t see anything in the purple mist. Defensively, he put it down to his wild imagination.
They walked on in silence for what seemed ages, the silhouetted shapes always on the horizon, never coming closer, never being passed, Ares always alert, scanning the depths of the mist, Chronus leading at a brisk pace, his gaze ever ahead.
Toddy, who was bringing up the rear just behind Ares, suddenly quick-stepped up to his side and whispered, “I feel someone or something is following us. Don’t you?”
Ares looked down at Toddy and replied in his head, “Hermes, I am pleased your powers are growing. Yes, we are being followed. I know not what is following us, but it is not a friend and it is slowly catching us up. I cannot probe its mind, so I will need to fall back and identify the threat. Do you wish to join me?”
“Why not!” whispered Toddy enthusiastically, though he was a little unsettled by the telepathic communication.
Ares focussed his mind and ‘spoke’ his thoughts. “Father, Hermes and I need to discourage an unwelcome follower. Please be alert while we are gone.”
Sophie and Carter looked at each other, realising Ares hadn’t spoken aloud but they’d heard him in their heads.
Chronus joined in, “Children, this ability will come to you again soon. Stay close to me and continue to think of Athena. Ares, be careful with Hermes, he is yet to evolve his full potential.”
“Yes, Father,” replied Ares as he grabbed Toddy’s arm and pulled him to the right of the others.
The rest continued onwards, soon fading into the distant mists of the Mindways.
“Hermes, stay close to me and be alert. Come this way,” encouraged Ares as he took off.
Toddy followed immediately behind.
They walked silently, the swirling purple-hued mist meandering about their bodies as they circled to get around whatever was following them. They could sense its presence and gauge its proximity through the strength of their feelings. It was close, but far enough to remain undetected.
“How the hell we know where we are is beyond me!” thought Toddy as he tried to establish his bearings. “It’s impossible”.
“You are a God, Hermes,” responded Ares stiffly. “Stop thinking like a human and you will become aware. Use your senses and feel the very air around you. The Mindways are at one with the Gods. They are part of you, you are part of them. We are kin, we are one. We are also very close to this being; I feel it is evil and dangerous. Be on your guard and stand to, Hermes.”
Ares removed the golden cord from around his waist and wrapped one end over his left hand. He coiled the remains, raised his left arm and, swinging it in an arc, silently let loose the coils. They snaked off into the swirling purple mists. The howl from the being as the coils hit their mark was hideous – enough to freeze the blood in your veins. Ares took the strain on the now-glowing cord and pulled it closer. The cord tensed as the creature struggled. They both saw a dark mass slowly gaining definition as it was drawn closer.
The creature had a massive, solid frame covered in black scaly skin and stood upright like a human. It was a good head taller than Ares, who was well over six feet tall. Its huge arms were pinned to its body by the golden cord. They hung to the floor; the vicious talons at the end of each three-fingered hand dug into the ground as it tried to release the grip of the cord. Unfortunately for the creature, the more it writhed, the tighter the cord became. Its head was out of proportion with its body – it was massive to accommodate a large gaping mouth full of sharp teeth. Smoke appeared from the flat snout beneath the fire-red eyes, high on its brow. It bellowed again and fire raged from within.
“A Garganter from the depths of Nyx’s underworld. It breathes fire and poisonous gas. Do not get too close, Hermes,” warned Ares.
The beast suddenly doubled its struggle as it noticed the two Gods. The fire in its eyes raged brighter and it strained against the cord, clearly attempting to break free. It shuffled towards them, bellowing and spewing fire, as it rocked its massive head from side to side in clear frustration.
“Enough!” roared Ares, raising his right hand.
A blue-white beam of light streamed from his hand and hit the Garganter full in the chest, burning a hole clean through it. The glow from the Garganter’s eyes dimmed and went black as the fires within were extinguished. It fell headlong to the ground, dead, releasing a final booming death rattle.
Ares tugged the golden cord and called, “Nostos,” at which it unravelled from the Garganter and recoiled around his waist. It appeared to have a life of its own.
Toddy looked on in awe, first at Ares, then at the monster, then at the cord around Ares’ waist. He tried to speak but was lost for words.
Ares moved closer to the beast that was lying prone on the floor. The acrid stench of the underworld burnt his nostrils.
He turned his head to look at Toddy with a pained expression on his face and said, “Keep well away, young Hermes, but take a good look at what your aunt, Nyx has brought upon the Universe; an evil creation from The Darkness to destroy that which she hates – everything not of her making. It is one of many and finding it here within the Mindways shows The Darkness has found a way in and is aware of our presence. We must catch up with the others and bear grave news to Chronus. Come, Hermes.”
And, with that, he turned and began running towards the others. Toddy took one last look at the beast and, on giving it a stout kick in the ribs, followed very briskly, not wishing to be left behind.
As Chronus, Sophie and Carter had walked on, they had looked back as Ares and Toddy had vanished into the swirling mists.
“Will Toddy be OK?” thought Carter.
Chronus replied vocally, “Of course. Ares is a formidable warrior God and will protect him. Now, shall we continue?”
Carter smarted, still unused to the fact that Chronus could respond to his mere thoughts. “How can we have privacy?”
Chronus continued, “Total privacy is for those who have something to hide. If you so wish, you can withhold private thoughts. Just think about it, my son.” Without drawing breath, Chronus continued, “Athena’s presence is weak, so I think it is being supressed. I do believe she is close. I am sensing that we will not have far to go, but I fear we will be challenged and prevented from releasing her. I will take my mind ahead to the location and see what lies in store for us.”
They resumed their journey at first in silence, all filling their minds of Athena and heading in the direction of her faint life force.
“It’s strange,” thought Sophie, “that I feel I’ve known this Chronus all my life as my father. I remember as a child playing with him and my brothers and sisters. Hyperion too. I do miss Gus, but in a strange way he’s still with me. I sense Athena, my cousin and the bond between us; it’s as if I’ve known her forever. I see her face clearly, as if she were standing right in front of me. I smell her and I want to cosset her.”
“That you do, child; that you most certainly do,” chuckled Chronus.
Whilst they continued walking, Sophie and Carter interrogated Chronus about their past, learning of the carefree times within Dimensions of harmonious existence, about their mother, Rhea and their siblings, how they had played with their cousins and gained an admiration for the love their parents had for the worlds and the myriad of life forms they had created and nurtured for aeons. They couldn’t understand why, with so much love around them, their aunt and uncle, Nyx and Thanatus, had strayed from the path of righteousness and chosen to dance with The Darkness and, even more, why Thanatus and Nyx had warred upon their kin so ferociously with a lust for wanton destruction of all that was good, and how the evil pair had been banished and imprisoned within their own hells. They enquired about how the Mindways linked the Dimensions, where they were in relation to the Universe, and how they worked and remained in place. Sophie and Carter’s desire to understand appeared insatiable and Chronus felt he had to call a halt.
He raised his hand and said, “I understand your desire to learn, but we have very little time as we are close now. I will answer all your questions when we have freed Athena and we are all safe in Arcturus, then we can spend unfettered time together. I also sense Ares and Hermes are returning.”
Ares and Toddy appeared at a pace out of the swirling purple-hued mists and slowed to a walk as they caught up with their three kinfolk.
“Father, we have grave news,” began Ares, showing no signs of effort. “One of Nyx’s demons, a Garganter, has found its way into the Mindways. It was following us but it lives no more.”
“Ares, my son, it is news I suspected would arrive. It tells us Thanatus and Nyx have somehow breached their exile and are sending out scouts. We must make haste. Come, we are here.”
Almost without warning, a view appeared in front of them. It was strangely supressed, devoid of substance, yet showed a mirrored room containing nothing but a chair and an instrument-laden trolley. The five looked for signs of Athena. Carter was inextricably drawn towards a sparkling object he had noticed out of the corner of his eye and went over to where it lay. He scooped it up in the palm of his hand and memories of his cousin, Athena flooded his mind – the wonderful carefree days of childhood, the warmth of her smile, the freedom of her laughter, the recent pain of losing someone very close, the fear of pain yet to come, the loneliness and despair…
“We feel it too, Hyperion,” thought Chronus in his head.
Carter looked up to find them all looking at him reassuringly.
“She is somewhere within this building and has not given up her talisman lightly,” added Chronus, looking at the glass bead in Carter’s palm.
“There’s something else beyond,” cut in Sophie with a worried expression etched into her pretty face. “Evil isn’t enough to describe the strength of malevolent power from one source that awaits us. It’s a trap. I think Athena is the bait.”
“I sense it too, Artemis,” replied Chronus. “Whatever it is, it has a power equal to that of the Gods. We must conceive a plan of rescue from the advantage we have within the protection of the Mindways. This clearly is where Athena lost her freedom. The very fact her talisman is not with her tells us she believed it was in danger of falling into the wrong hands and she was not in a position to retain it. Athena has been true to her calling as Goddess of Wisdom by seeing the greater Universe under threat. She has sacrificed her liberty to keep the Mindways free from this threat. Now, how do we release our beloved Athena?”
“I think I can help,” responded Sophie. “We were drawn here by Athena’s talisman; it’s a warning to let us know the enemy is aware. If they know about the portal, they’ll be waiting. I know this place. It’s a fortress in the normal sense, guarded on the way in and out, but we are not normal – we have the Mindways and can enter and leave at will.”
“Forgive me, Sophie” interrupted Toddy, looking at her seriously. “Yes, we can enter and leave at will, but if they know how, it’ll be difficult when they’re watching. I also know this place. I know of a way in without using portals. It’s an old bunker I stumbled across when I was using the old city catacombs. It’s right beneath the CIB HQ and it was abandoned at the end of the viral wars. It was supposedly mothballed for future use, but it’s been long since forgotten. It has, by way of a secure stairwell, access to all areas, if you don’t mind roughing it, that is,” he finished smugly.
“Since when have you been to the CIB Headquarters without supervision, Toddy?” questioned Carter jovially.
“Frequently,” responded Toddy. “There are rich pickings to be had. It’s relatively easy. Everyone inside thinks it’s impossible to get in or out, so they relax. There were blueprints and plans of the bunker and the building above, detailing all plant and systems, and, over time, I was able to master the controls and hack into the CIB security systems, setting up a bypass for the internal sensors and rerouting CCTV channels to show older recordings for when I needed to wander undetected. Apart from the agents guarding the main entrance and the external perimeter, they rely totally on electronic systems to protect the internal areas. The locks on the doors from the bunker stairwell are operated by proximity passes and I’ve programmed the self-contained bunker system for only a handful of passes. The doors from the CIB building to the bunker stairwell are hidden behind panels and are hermetically sealed, making them pretty impregnable. My frequent forays have proved quite lucrative for me, before Stoneman came along, that is!”
“Sounds all very plausible, but we’d need to know where Athena is being held first,” replied Carter.
“That is not difficult now that we have Athena’s talisman,” instructed Chronus. “The talisman will show us the way. The closer we get to her, the brighter it will become. I sense she is high up above, so we will start there. Well, Hermes, which way to your bunker?”
“Right,” began Toddy, “let’s see if we can get this Mindways thought thingy working,” and he promptly put the notion of the bunker’s main restroom into his mind. “This way, guys,” he added and headed off into the melancholy mists of the Mindways, the others following close behind.
It wasn’t long before Toddy announced their arrival, as he walked towards a scene viewed from a dirty mirror mounted on a wall. He approached cautiously and observed the dimly lit scene – a drab restroom long abandoned and left in disarray following the end of the viral wars.
“Toddy, how come – if it isn’t in use – the lights are on?” questioned Carter, cautiously holding his arm.
“Oh, they were on when I first stumbled across this place. Left on in the rush to get back out to fresh air, I guess. I never switched them off as it’s pretty dark without them,” replied Toddy. He added, “Come on in!” as if he was inviting old friends into his own pad.
They all entered – Toddy, Sophie and Carter still hesitantly as a mirror is normally a solid object.
Once they were all in, Toddy gestured to the dusty chairs and announced, “I’m just going to sort out the security systems and passes. You guys take a seat. I won’t be long.”
Carter looked around cautiously and listened for signs of life.
Ares, who was watching Carter’s every move, said, “Cousin, you are yet to recover your powers fully, but I advise you to open your mind as there are no barriers unless you place them there. Feel what is around you; you will sense life, you will be aware of your peers, you will detect immediate danger. You are no longer tied to the failed existence you think of as home. Yes, I do sense your yearning to have been left alone to carry on with your simple life, for that is all you knew. Now you are at one with greater matters. That path you were on was not your destiny; the defence of that which is just, is.”
As Ares finished speaking, he probed deep into his younger cousin’s eyes with a look of empathy, knowing the dilemma Hyperion was facing.
Carter’s thoughts raced unchecked as he questioned himself, “Are we human, or are we Gods? Why us? What is a God? What powers do I… we possess? Do we have a choice? How do we reach that realisation? Oh, Sophie, help me!” He cried from the depths of his confused mind.
Sophie had been aware of Carter’s struggle to come to terms with this new-found reality ever since they had been lured into this surreal world, and she was hoping he would eventually realise his true destiny from the memories that would flood into his mind, as they had to her mind. Surely that would help him make this difficult transitional journey; but it clearly wasn’t going to happen without her help.
“I hope he can be helped,” she cautiously added.
Chronus turned and gave her a supportive look, letting her know she was right.
“Carter, darling,” thought Sophie, focussing all her mental power towards him, “we’ve reached the path to our true purpose and we’ll soon regain our celestial powers. It’s difficult to comprehend, I know, but you must free your mind of the rigid cold world we knew and open your soul to let your kin in and to follow the righteous path. Clear your mind of the three-Dimensional boundaries we used to live with, and believe in yourself.”
Carter turned and looked deeply into his loved one’s eyes and, for the first time, responded by thought alone, “You’re right, Soph, as always. I’ll give it a real shot,” and he smiled as he took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Toddy returned from the bunker control room with a handful of passes.
With an air of authority, he said, “OK, guys, Chronus says we need to go up as we can’t rely on portals to get to Athena. Here are your door passes. When you’re in the CIB HQ, the doors will automatically shut behind you. The doors we’ll use are located behind the wooden panel on the right of each landing in a fire escape stairwell at the rear of the building. The reader for the pass is also hidden and is halfway up the panel on the right. Should any of you find yourself separated, head back to the bunker and wait for the others. Right, shall we make a move?”
The others nodded and followed Toddy as he turned left out of the restroom and entered a long dimly lit corridor strewn with rubbish. The musty, acrid smell scoured their nostrils. He halted at the dead end of the corridor and presented his pass to a reader on the right. There was a muffled hiss and the wall at the end of the corridor stepped backwards away from Toddy and slid open to the left. There was a small lobby from which rose a stairway, snaking its way high up into the uninviting gloom of the CIB HQ, dimly lit by a series of wall-mounted bulkhead lamps.
Chronus took Carter’s talisman. He opened his fist and checked the glass bead; it was faintly glowing in the dim light of the corridor.
He announced, “We go up. Ares, take Athena’s talisman and lead us. I will bring up the rear.”
They all entered and followed Ares silently up the stairwell for ten endless minutes. Ares paused on each landing to check the talisman for signs of Athena. Nothing yet, though it clearly appeared to be getting a little brighter the higher they climbed. Equally, they all sensed the presence of evil growing stronger.
The silence was oppressive as they pushed carefully onwards, slowly making their way up into the heart of the building. Chronus, bringing up the rear, had been regularly checking behind for signs of being followed; he was acutely aware that evil was stirring. Something wasn’t quite right and he commanded, using thought only, everyone to be on their guard. He looked down again, searching the shadows as far as he could see, his mind probing the dank stairwell for signs of movement. Nothing obvious, yet he knew something was there far below.
Angie stirred. She felt as if her mind was about to explode. Her every muscle ached, her groin particularly, but God knows why, and she was cold, very cold. Angie opened her eyes. Little light was available to help her see her surroundings. Grey shadows melted into a deeper blacker darkness, giving nothing away.
“Where am I?” she asked herself.
“You are my guest, cousin Athena,” responded a voice from within one of the deepest shadows. “Please let me help you up. You’ve slept a long while and must be thirsty. Shall I pour you a glass of water?”
That voice. Angie recognised the voice, despite the empathetic tone. The voice sent violent shivers down her spine.
“Stoneman!” she gasped. “You murdered my Harry, you bastard! You may as well kill me now; I’m worth nothing to you. I want to die.”
There was a brief silence as Angie, more accustomed to the darkness, watched as Stoneman emerged from the darkest of the shadows, which, by a trick of light possibly, appeared to caress him as he emerged.
“Oh, you won’t die, cousin. Not yet, at least. I have need of you, believe me. You’re to play a key role in a universal gambit yet to be enacted. Yes, you’ve delayed my plans somewhat, but that’s of little consequence at this moment.”
As Stoneman came closer, she noticed he had changed. He was a good foot taller than she remembered and had the physique of a God to match his height. Little did she realise how true her observation was. He radiated malevolence yet his rugged handsome features, framed in jet black hair to his shoulders, masked the evil that lay beneath the surface. He was dressed in his favourite black suit, which accentuated the infamous red leather belt around his waist.
“The one that housed that evil push knife that took the life of my beloved Harry,” thought Angie.
She shivered uncontrollably, remembering Harry. Tears welled then poured from her reddening eyes. She shrugged the painful memory from her mind and thought back to when Stoneman had first spoken.
“You called me Athena. Why?”
“Yes, Athena” replied Stoneman, not vocally but within her head.
She gulped; her mouth had become very dry. “In my head!” she cried silently.
“You are Athena,” continued Stoneman, “one of the many children of Gods who created the Universe, my cousin. I, too, am of the making of Gods; my real name is Erebus(18), Lord of Darkness and Shadow. I come from the joining of Nyx and Thanatus and will free my mother and father so they can resume their rightful places in the heavens.”
A brief silence followed Stoneman’s uninvited intrusion into Angie’s mind. She looked at Stoneman with disbelief, yet deep within her consciousness she knew he was telling the truth. Angie did experience a clear affinity with him, no matter how hard it was to stomach. Yes, there were faint, patchy memories of friendship and affection from ancient years long gone, yet his current aura gave off the stench of pure evil and was abhorrent to her.
Stoneman re-entered her mind and continued, “We are cousins. We have played together often in times long past. You, and other children of the Gods, were secreted here on Earth to protect you during an unfortunate troubled time and my innocent parents – creators of true imagination and foresight – were persecuted and imprisoned by reckless, misguided fools.”
“How have you come to be here, and for what purpose?” interrupted Angie deep within Stoneman’s mind.
A brief yet discernible look of uneasiness flashed across Stoneman’s face as he realised Angie was able to reach within his mind, as he could with others.
He responded in a cool tone, “Ah, the voice of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. Try as you might to work your magic in my head, you will not reap the rewards from opening the secrets of my mind. What is to be will happen as I command.”
Angie withdrew, knowing she couldn’t manipulate or reason with his thoughts. He was too strong. She was physically weakened from the recent trauma of losing Harry. She would wait, though. Time and guile would be her allies.
Stoneman turned and retreated into the deepest darkest shadow, which seemed to part and welcome him with open arms then shroud him, swathing him in a dark impenetrable blackness. He was gone. Only the shadow remained.
Angie shivered. She felt a presence of pure evil in the room – everywhere yet nowhere in particular. She knew Stoneman was waiting for something to happen and reflected on his comment about her having a part to play and realised this was the reason she was here – bait.
“But why me? And what for? And what fool thinks I’m a Goddess?”
She chuckled inwardly.
“The fools who are, at this very moment, looking for you,” answered a new voice in her head.
Angie swung around and checked the room. Nothing but shadows.
“In my head!” she told herself in a whispering thought.
“Don’t react to my voice, young Athena, but listen very carefully and do as I, your uncle, commands. I am Chronus, Father of Time. We are close and have come to set you free, to take you home. I need you to think of your kin. Draw us in and we will find you. We also sense evil and peril close to you; can you tell me who it is?”
Angie paused and thought to herself, “I feel a bond; feelings of dear kinship. Is this a trick of Stoneman’s?”
“Stoneman!” exclaimed a second voice in her head, which continued, “He has you, Angie?”
“Toddy, is that you?” Angie almost squealed in delight on hearing his voice.
“Yes it’s me. Are you OK? Is Stoneman with you? Where are you?”
He was cut short by Chronus, who commanded, “Athena, is this ‘Stoneman’ with you? We need to know.”
Angie, clearly shaken from the further intrusion in her mind, and the slow realisation that she wasn’t who she thought she was, responded, “Er, Chronus? Stoneman is here. I remember he said he was called Erebus, Lord of Darkness and Shadow, but I’m not sure where he is or where I am,” she added. “The lights are out and there are deep, deep shadows everywhere, I think it might be a tr…”
There was silence.
Chronus turned to Ares and said, “It is worse than I feared. Thanatus and Nyx have found a way to break free. Erebus is, I believe, their offspring, begat from their incestuous meddling, and will be instrumental in releasing them upon the Universe once more. Athena is directly above us and we must rescue her now. We do not have the element of surprise anymore; however, this Erebus does not know our true power. It is a trap, yes, but one we are aware of. We will prevail for we are the righteous ones. My younger children, I will not risk the Mindways from here. Once we have reached the upper floor and we enter the building’s fire escape, you will remain on that landing and guard the door to the stairs. You must be vigilant at all times, especially within these unfamiliar surroundings. Use your senses to seek out trouble but protect your minds from servants of The Darkness,” said Chronus, taking a hard long look down into the stairwell. He continued, “Ares, light is our guide and saviour. Take Athena’s talisman. I will enter this demon lair first. You will follow once I have released the light of Sirius(19). The talisman will guide you to her. I will draw Erebus, and whatever else is in there, whilst you release Athena and make your escape with the others.”
Ares nodded and both he and Chronus turned in unison to the three young deities and, with a grin on their faces, bowed before heading off up the last few flights of stairs, the youngsters hot on their heels, as they made their way to the upper floor.
They all reached the top of the stairwell and stopped, listening and probing with their minds for signs. The sense of evil was strong and disconcerting. It was everywhere. It reminded Toddy of Chronus looking into the stairwell earlier and, bearing in mind his recent encounters with the Shadow Wraith and the Garganter, he thought he had better keep a close eye on the stairs. Chronus took his access pass and presented it to the reader on the left. There was a soft hiss as the door broke the seal and slid open. There was a little more light in the fire escape stairwell than in the bunker.
Chronus turned and smiled, placing his thoughts in the younger deities’ minds.
“We will be but a short time. Keep true to your righteous faith and guard this place.”
With that parting comment, he and Ares entered the corridor beyond the fire escape door and disappeared off into the gloom.
For what seemed an age, there was silence before Toddy reached the others in their heads.
“Guys! Sophie, you watch the corridor; Carter, you watch this stairwell. I’ll keep an eye on the bunker stairs. Make sure you pipe up if you see anything!”
The moments passed into minutes and, as with any experience of standing around waiting for something to materialise, nothing happens! Time plays with your mind and takes longer for nothing to happen; the lack of anything tangible when you are concentrating, looking for something that may come along, brings your imagination into play – imaginary sounds, subtle movements within shadows, time moves on, slowly, nothing stirs…
As they walked along the corridor, Ares noticed the talisman in his left hand glowing brighter with every step they took. He realised they were drawing much closer to Athena. He knew they were almost there. As they came across the imposing door to Stoneman’s apartment, the talisman sang in Chronus’ head. Chronus and Ares looked at each other, knowing Athena was within, and suppressed their desire to make contact with her, realising any element of surprise would be lost. Ares grinned at Chronus. He smiled back, waving Ares to one side, and stood magnificently in front of the massive oak door. He raised his right hand, palm facing the door, and gave the slightest of pushes against the air. The huge door opened without a whisper and, at that precise moment, Chronus took two massive strides into the room, his imposing frame filling the entrance. His outstretched palm burst into the brightest of lights, flooding the room to the very deepest corners, illuminating and exposing the evil within.
A mass of Shadow Wraiths, now ghostly grey in the light of Sirius, cowered as the light ate into their black hearts. They clambered over each other as they tried to seek sanctuary in shadows. There were none. They withered and died, screeching as life finally abandoned their shapeless bodies. In that moment of confusion, Ares leapt past Chronus in a blur of speed, collected Athena in his arms and retreated to the door behind the protection of the light of Sirius.
The mass of Stoneman completely dwarfed the rear of the room. For a brief moment, he appeared to be reeling from the bright light that emanated from Chronus’ outstretched hand. He shielded his eyes from the intense light with his massive hand. He was alone now – his soldiers of hate had either fled or been destroyed by the light of Sirius – yet he seemed almost casual in his self-defence. Stoneman suddenly straightened up, making himself more imposing, and brought up his left arm, palm facing Chronus.
He chanted, “Arath na chole seith rehena(20).”
A darkness, so black, came forth from the underworld; it gathered around him and spread throughout the room. As it grew in magnitude, the darkness gradually overpowered the light of Sirius then approached and surrounded Chronus, but not before he had the foresight to call to Ares.
“Flee with Athena, my son. Collect the others and head home to Arcturus as fast as possible. I will return.”
Without hesitation, Ares turned and ran with Athena safely in his strong arms. He knew not to look back or both he and Athena would be lost too.
The darkness, deeper and blacker than the deepest cave in Hades, had completely trapped Chronus and extinguished the light of Sirius. Chronus struggled, his boundless strength no match for this strange phenomena. As it tightened its grip, he tried to rekindle the light of Sirius again. It flickered and died. This blackness – so deep, so intensely evil and viciously cold – had Chronus in a vice-like grip.
Stoneman, more silent than death, suddenly appeared in front of Chronus and snapped his fingers, illuminating the scene with a strange ‘black’ light that somehow allowed the adversaries to see each other. Chronus noted the smug grin on Stoneman’s face and resigned himself to having been outwitted by a clever foe – stronger, smarter and, unfortunately for the known Universe, evil beyond measure. He waited for retribution.
“Dear Great Uncle, Father of Time and the Universe, I wish I could destroy you for the pain and suffering you have caused my beloved mother and father, yet…” he paused and breathed slowly and deeply, clearly finding it difficult to lash out, then continued in a much calmer tone, “I know I cannot harm or kill a God, but…” he paused again, though more for effect, then resumed, “I will banish you, as you did Nyx and Thanatus; a fate that is just and deserved. Your pathetic friends will not get far, for I will find them once I’ve finished my work on this wretched planet. Now, before I send you to your new home, you have something of mine.”
Chronus looked at Stoneman quizzically and wondered what he meant as the deepening blackness completely engulfed Chronus’ body to his neck and began to swirl around him.
Stoneman thrust his right arm deep into the swirling mass and deftly removed the talisman from around Chronus’ neck, chuckling insanely, “You won’t be needing this where you’re going.”
Taking the talisman, he placed it around his own neck. Immediately, the clear sparkling bead turned jet black. It didn’t reflect light, it appeared to absorb it. Stoneman returned his attention to his quarry and stood solidly in front of the black mass, which by now had completely cloaked Chronus. His arms outstretched, his mind concentrating intensely on the now spinning ball of blackness, Stoneman pressed down on the black ball and it began to contract and spin faster. The faster it spun, the smaller it became, until it finally was so dense it folded in on itself, creating a black hole. Any remaining light, loose objects in the room, even the very air, everything that wasn’t fixed down was drawn towards the all-consuming vortex.
A few moments before it finally collapsed, Stoneman’s cat, Abaddon, was woken from a deep sleep and found himself clinging, claw deep, to the arm of the couch, trying to avoid being sucked into the black hole.
He suddenly cried out to Stoneman, “You could have warned me!”
Almost immediately, the black hole closed and vanished with a loud whoosh. A deathly silence ensued, during which Abaddon began to metamorphose into a strange-looking humanoid – a Sceadugenga, a shape-shifter, a surreal looking death form with a stunted yet lithely muscular torso, short legs and long arms and, where they ended, massive hands with wicked looking talons. His body was covered in dense black fur, his eyes were a deep and fiery red, he had a permanent grin, revealing long razor-sharp teeth, and around his neck a glowing black pearl talisman, key to the Mindways. Abaddon released his grip on the couch and sprang over to stand by his master’s side.
The continuing silence, coupled with the black light, provided a ghostly backdrop for Stoneman with Abaddon at his side, both staring at the point where the black hole had imploded and disappeared.
Stoneman, his right hand caressing the talisman now hanging around his neck, turned to Abaddon and, without even a hint of a question about his metamorphosis, hissed in a threatening voice, “You’re lucky not to join him. Now, to work! I need you to prepare my laboratory, along with a few live subjects, as I need to progress with my plans for the wretched, pathetic humans. Now, go!”
Abaddon bowed low, acknowledging his servile position to his master, and turned, sloping off down to the basement that housed Stoneman’s laboratory.
Stoneman turned towards the door of the penthouse, projecting his thoughts to his fleeing kin, “You can run back to your imperfect Godly worlds, but there is nowhere you can hide anymore. I’m coming to destroy and conquer!”
With that, he followed after Abaddon, still clutching his new friend hanging around his neck.
Ares had nodded agreement to Chronus’ order and fled Stoneman’s apartment. He had known not to look back; Chronus could look after himself!
In a matter of seconds, he reached the corridor leading to the fire escape stairwell and, on putting Athena down, he looked her in the eye and held her hands, opening her right hand palm up and placing her talisman in the centre of her outstretched hand. The moment the talisman touched Athena’s skin, it burst into a bright bluish light and sang with joy. A renewed, youthful glow radiated from Athena.
Tears welled in her eyes, as she looked first at her long lost friend, then to Ares and asked, “What of Chronus? Where is he?”
“Athena,” replied Ares, “we have little time. Chronus is giving us this moment to get away. We must go now. Follow me!”
Taking her hand, he pulled her, breaking into a sprint, and they ran to the end of the corridor where they met Carter, dutifully standing guard at the door to the stairwell.
“Hyperion, we are leaving now. Go!” ordered Ares, ushering Carter who didn’t need to be told twice.
Carter opened the door and pushed Angie and Ares through, following swiftly behind. Sophie, who stood by the bunker stairwell door, ran to meet Angie, smiling as she hugged her tightly.
“Artemis, Athena, please, not now,” commanded Ares sternly. “Hyperion, let us get to the safety of the bunker.”
He shooed them into the bunker stairwell, following quickly, and closed the door behind him. It shut smoothly and securely with a low hiss that sealed them in.
Toddy stood on the landing staring at them, a deep frown on his face; he had clearly noticed that Chronus was missing.
But, before he could ask, Ares raised his hand and, gesturing down, asked Hermes, “Have you seen anything below?”
Toddy looked at Ares and replied, “I don’t think so. It’s difficult, though; you think you see things, then, when you look harder, there’s nothing there!”
Ares smiled and replied, “We will go now, Hermes. You bring up the rear. Come everybody, make haste.”
They all sped down the stairs. The dim bulkhead lighting provided little solace. They were ever cautious but soon reached the bunker lobby door, which opened out into a strange deep murky darkness, worryingly different from when they had first arrived.
Ares raised his right hand, signalling everyone to halt. He entered the bunker cautiously, looking into the deep shadows. He reached for the golden cord around his waist, at which, all of a sudden, many black pearls of inky light appeared from within the depths of the shadows. A marked stench of evil emanated from the depths of the blackness and curdled the very air they breathed.
“Shadow Wraiths!” cursed Ares and, in a blur, he unleashed the golden cord into the depths of the nearest shadow. Choking screams echoed from the depths as the cord found its mark. Although it was hard to comprehend, as the cord found and struck each Shadow Wraith, there was a flash of brilliant blackness as the Wraiths died.
The others looked on at Ares, fixated by the surreal action being played out in front of their eyes. An unrelenting desire to help their kin welled within each of them. Their common thoughts linked their minds and aeons of memories came flooding in, bursting like the light from a new-born star and surging between them. When multiplied like this, it fuelled an ever-brightening aura that lit up the room, laying bare the disciples of hell – thirteen Shadow Wraiths, fighting each other to escape, as the light burnt deep into their flesh. Ares, now able to see his quarry clearly, lashed out again and again with the golden cord. It sang a song of righteousness each and every time it hit a target. The Shadow Wraiths, cornered and desperate, with nowhere to hide, regrouped and fought back, dragging darkness from the very structures around them. Darkness came flooding in from the depths of the bunker, black, filthy and stinking of death. The aura from the four faltered under the renewed onslaught. The four, still coming to terms with the use of their powers, lost their cohesion and the aura weakened. The darkness gained the upper hand.
“Ares!” cried Angie as, all of a sudden, a brighter and more intense light burst from the far side of the bunker. The Shadow Wraiths screamed in terror, withered, turning grey, and died painfully in the fresh bright light.
The four young Gods stared in disbelief at the other side of the bunker, where Chronus stood, looking ashen, utterly spent, and, if one could be forgiven for thinking such a thought, near death. Ares, returning his golden cord to his waist, ran over to him and grabbed him under the arms as he stumbled. Carefully guiding him to a nearby chair, he gently sat him down.
“I thought you were trapped!” said Ares, clearly worried by the fragile-looking Elder God in front of him.
Chronus raised his weary head so he could see Ares and replied, “My dear, Ares, I was overcome by Erebus. He is very strong and very clever. I was cast into the depths of Tartarus(21) and, although you may believe I was with you only a short while ago, I have endured an eternity of evil in the depths of hell and worse. I fought my way free and moved time to be here for you, for I knew a trap had been set for you.” Chronus took a deep breath, clearly exhausted, but as Ares went to give comfort, Chronus raised his hand and continued. “For all of Erebus’ skill, he is naive in the ways of the Gods. Yet, it will not be long before he learns and, when he does, he will be very dangerous. Unfortunately, he managed to take my talisman, which will now endanger the Mindways, but, although I once needed it, it is no loss now for it has come to pass that I no longer have need of a talisman to transcend time. We must flee. Now, no questions; I am so tired and we have a long way to go. Follow me.”
Chronus got up from the chair stiffly.
Sophie looked on, clearly upset at seeing this once strong man in such pain. “What has he been through?” she thought.
“I’d like to know too,” added Carter, lost in thought.
Sophie turned and grabbed Carter’s hand and squeezed it tightly then together, hand in hand, they followed the others and reached the mirror.
Ares turned and said, “Danger is everywhere. We are to go home now. Hyperion, Hermes, you are at the rear, so be aware. Athena, Artemis, you help Chronus. I will lead. We go now!”
He stepped into the mirror and the others followed quickly. Toddy took one last look back to see deathly darkness filling the room and creeping silently towards them.