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Thick cloud cover, heralding an approaching storm, obscured the sun The ear-piercing screech of a carrion bird tore through the air. Any who heard it would know that it signaled a recent or approaching death, as if the bird were saying a blessing over its meal before it dined. Neither man nor beast mattered to the fowl; it only knew that the natural order was soon to provide a meal.
The residents of the coastal city, Aigio, knew the sound well. Aigio was a coastal town on the Gulf of Corinth. It relied on exporting fish as well as fruits grown in the hills clustered around the city. Like many cities, Aigio had its athletes, its smiths and carpenters, but its main claim to notoriety was the luscious fruit. Without the export of fruit, the town’s economy would collapse. This made the arrival of a particularly bloodthirsty beast even more troubling. The beast, a chimera, had situated itself between the town and it’s crop. A few men from the town risked the beast for the sake of the harvest.. Their blood stained the ground. Aigio’s desperate mayor chose to outsource the task of dealing with the beast, rather than risk losing more of his residents. Were the heroes successful in their venture, a few coins would be an acceptable sacrifice to be rid of the nuisance. If (or, more likely, when) the beast killed them, the town would preserve its numbers. Perhaps the beast would even consume enough to be satisfied for a time, allowing the town to harvest it’s fruit for a brief time.
Although, should they witness the chimera devouring the champions, the mayor doubted Aigio held men brave enough to attempt it.
The beast was huge. With the body of a gigantic lion, it stood nearly ten feet from the ground. Its tail was a python that wrapped and swirled its way around any nearby attackers. Should there be none close, it would spew fire from its mouth to incinerate assailants at range. Atop the lion’s head, emerging from beneath the mane and behind the ears, ram’s horns sprouted, threatening those who thought to avoid the tail by approaching the beast from the front. Those who were not swayed by the horns would certainly be made more than a bit weary by the jagged line of razors which lined the inside of the monster’s mouth, dripping with acidic saliva. Upon each of the monster’s feet were five long and sharp talons, capable of shredding a man beyond repair with a mere twitch. The beast roared, and those who heard saw the gates of the Underworld opening to welcome them. None with a shred of sanity would dare to approach this monster.
Sanity, of course, has no place in heroism.
“Pollux!” screamed a youthful man of sturdy build with long, blond hair, wielding a long sword. “Go for the belly! Slice the beast open!”
“You go for the belly, Castor,” a nearly-identical (disregarding his dark, braided hair and choice of weapon, his being a flail, rather than a sword) man screamed back. “I’m not getting anywhere near those claws!”
“You’ve gone soft,” Castor ridiculed his brother. “There was a time when you would have raced me for the glory!”
With a quick jump to the side, Castor was able to block a tail strike with the broad side of his sword.
“Oh, I’ll still race you,” Pollux countered as he leaped out of the way of an attacking paw. “You’ll just win this time!”
“I’d win anyway,” Castor hollered back.
“Σκατά!” He dove toward the ground, avoiding the attacking jaws.
“Will you two shut up? Focus!” a dark, ruggedly handsome man reprimanded them. He was clothed with a breastplate, greaves, and a golden tunic, which hung across his torso.
He lunged for the creature’s side with his own sword, only to be blocked by an intimidating talon, “Orpheus, any chance we’ll get some music to soothe this thing soon?”
“I’m trying, Jason!” Orpheus, a thin and good-looking man with tawny hair and a soft face, answered. “This αηδιαστική σωρό από κοπριά broke the strings on my lyre! Give me a moment to fix them.”
“Hurry it up!” Jason cried in desperation as he narrowly evaded a striking paw’s talons.
The final member of the quintet, the largest and gruffest of the bunch, lunged with a grunt for the beast’s tail. The serpent wriggled and lashed with rage as the hero seized it behind the head with his massive hand, paralyzing it momentarily. With his free hand, the hero crushed the serpent’s head with a large rock. A small victory, only short-lived. The creature’s back paw connected with the hero’s torso, hurling him backward. Recovering, the hero sat up from the ground, and groaned. The serpent was repairing itself and, within seconds, bellowed a wave of flame in the direction of the attacker. All the hero could do was drop to the ground and roll out of the way, the flames barely burning his back hair.
The beast rose to its back legs and let forth a monstrous roar, heard for many leagues. The heroes took this opportunity, whilst the beast was distracted, to regroup.
“Bravo, Hercules,” Pollux chided the fifth hero. “You knew the tail would heal itself: It’s a chimera! All you did was make it angry.”
“You faired no better!” Hercules snapped back. “I have taught it the meaning of pain!”
“It doesn’t seem to be taking the discovery very well,” Orpheus muttered as he desperately tried to restring his lyre.
The beast returned to the ground and targeted the group of heroes. It lowered its horns as it prepared to charge.
“I have a plan!” Jason blurted out. He turned to Hercules. “Toss me onto the monster,” he cried.
Hercules had no time to think with the beast thundering down upon them. As the group separated, diving out of the way of the beast’s charge, Hercules took hold of Jason’s tunic and tossed him into the air, toward the beast.
Jason’s chest collided with the monster’s shoulder, his breastplate protecting him from the majority of the impact. He gripped the chimera’s mane and hung on as the monster thrashed and bucked, attempting to throw him loose. Quickly, Jason pulled himself up the chimera’s back.
“Castor,” Pollux cried, realizing Jason’s plan “The tail!”
Castor hefted his sword above his head, and threw it with accuracy toward the tail, just as it began to rise toward Jason. The point of the blade pierced the serpent’s neck, obstructing airflow.
Pollux, who had been charging the beast with his own weapon, froze. The serpent writhed about, attempting and failing to dislodge the sword. Turning, Pollux scowled at his brother. Castor’s attack had effectively incapacitated the tail.
“I have your thanks,” Castor smirked back at him. “And the glory.”
“I should have sliced its belly open,” Pollux muttered, frustrated.
Castor’s quick action had allowed Jason time to get situated directly behind the creature’s head. Once there, his mission was easy. Pulling the sword from his hip, Jason drove the weapon deep into the chimera’s neck.
The beast paused for a moment as if unsure of what had just happened. It then wasted one of its last remaining breaths in an indignant roar as it threw its head back wrathfully. Jason used all of his might to hold on as the monster thrashed about, as if to avoid the obvious eventuality. As the monster raged, Jason withdrew his weapon, and plunged it into another area of the creature’s exposed throat, just as deeply. The creature’s blood ran thickly down his thighs and legs, splattering onto his chest and face as he withdrew the sword and repeated the strike in a third location.
With a final seizure, the beast whimpered. It then collapsed to its knees, and finally to the ground.
Jason slid down the beast’s now-motionless back, dragging his weapon behind him. Landing upon the ground, he wiped his sword clean in the grass and retrieved Castor’s blade from the now-motionless tail.
“We are victorious!” Hercules cheered as he ran to Jason. “Well done, brother!”
Jason barely had time to brace himself for Hercules’ emphatic pat on the back. He stood again and smiled widely at his excited comrade.
“Argonauts forever!” Castor shouted with joy, his left fist in the air.
“Until the end!” Pollux continued the cheer, copying Castor’s movement with his right fist.
The twins looked at each other and beat their testosterone-filled chests triumphantly.
“We are still Argonauts, are we?,” Jason laughed. “Even without our ship?”
Orpheus looked away from his lyre momentarily. “People still tell our tales, and in those tales, we are the Argonauts,” he said, smiling along with his comrades. “We’ve done great deeds, not soon to be forgotten. Besides, have we not just proven that we are still champions? I agree with Castor: Argonauts forever.”
“To the end!” Castor and Pollux completed the cheer in unison, thrusting their opposing fists into the air once more.
Orpheus chuckled: “My point is made.”
Jason laughed as he examined the group: Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, always opposing each other, while at the same time, complementing the others talents with their own; Orpheus, the master musician, playing music on his lyre that could calm any beast; Hercules, the son of Zeus, mightiest of mortals and a god amongst heroes. Compared to his company, Jason felt almost inadequate. Still, wrapped around his breast was his own prize, the legendary Golden Fleece. The five of them were all that was left of the original Argonauts. Once their number had stood at nearly fifty. Time and war had worked their will, slowly eroding the group, chipping away at their numbers. Now, they were a mere shadow of the original cast. Still, as Jason looked at the small group, he felt a deep satisfaction. Perhaps they truly would be Argonauts forever.
He had been known as the man with one sandal.
It was not an impressive-sounding title (and a bit inaccurate, since most of the time, he wore two), but those who knew what it meant both respected and revered it.
Jason was the heir to the throne of Iolkos, placed in exile for his own safety when his cousin Pelias murdered his father, King Aeson, thus stealing the throne. During his ill-gotten reign, an Oracle warned Pelias that he would be murdered by a kinsman. The Oracle had also mentioned that he should be weary of anyone that he saw wearing only one sandal. From that day on, Pelias watched people’s footwear very closely.
Jason spent the first twenty years of his life under the training of Chiron, the famous centaur who had also trained Hercules, in the mountains of Pelion. This was far enough away from Iolkos to avoid detection from Pelias, who surely would have killed Jason if he had known where Jason was. During this time, Jason had learned how to fight with as many weapons as Chiron knew of (including unarmed combat), how to survive in the wild, and how to ride and groom horses. Once he had reached the age of manhood Jason had set out to confront his cousin.
Just outside of Iolkos, there was a river. As Jason approached it, he saw an elderly woman sitting , looking forlorn. He asked her why she was so downcast. She informed Jason that she needed to cross the river, but there was no bridge for nearly a mile, and the water was moving too quickly for an old woman to wade across. She would surely drown. Jason volunteered to carry her across the river, and the woman accepted his help.
The river was indeed flowing quickly, and the bottom of the river was treacherous and dense with mud. Jason hefted the woman onto his back, secured her, and began to cross. About half way through their journey, Jason’s left foot snagged on something, and he kicked violently to get himself loose. He achieved his goal, and soon, both he and the woman were safely across.
Once on the other side, the old woman smiled and revealed herself to be the goddess Hera. She thanked Jason for his heroism and chivalry, promising to watch over him during his quest. Jason thanked the goddess and continued on his trek to Iolkos.
Upon reaching the town, Jason requested an audience with King Pelias. Perhaps his request came with great authority and confidence, or maybe Hera’s blessing granted him favor that was evident to all, but he was uncharacteristically escorted directly into the throne room. There, he confronted the king without hesitation. Those within the throne room were amazed at the strange man’s ferocity, his courage, and the learned way with which he spoke. Others were simply captivated by Jason’s rippling musculature, his finely bronzed skin, and the golden curls that spun from his head to his shoulders.
King Pelias noticed none of this.
He was too distracted by Jason’s barren left foot.
After the battle, the heroes separated, each going about their own life. Orpheus announced he was playing a show at a nearby tavern and, should any of them wish to join him, he could supply drinks at a discounted rate. While this tempted the Gemini brothers, they said that they also had a commitment back in Sparta with their wives, Phoebe and Hilaeira. Hercules was headed back to Olympus (plus, Orpheus’ music always put him to sleep), so he could not make it. Jason honestly stated that he probably could have come, but he wanted instead to get home to his wife, Medea. She was surely waiting for him with a large meal. Thus, the company split, promising to meet again soon to see what adventures the world would hold.
Since Jason and Hercules both had destinations in the same direction, they walked together for a bit. Jason was still feeling pretty elated about the achievement, but Hercules seemed to walk with a cloud over his shoulders. They walked mostly in silence, occasionally engaging in petty small talk about the weather and local politics, topics that interested neither of them. The tension was too heavy.
“Hercules,” Jason confronted him finally, “is something wrong?”
“No, no,” Hercules shook his head unconvincingly. “It’s nothing. Simply my own thoughts.”
Jason shrugged and continued to walk beside his comrade.
Within a few steps, Hercules sighed.
“One chimera!” he blurted. “There was only one chimera, and it nearly bested us!”
Jason shook his head and chuckled, rolling his eyes at Hercules’ unbridled ambition. “To be fair,” he replied, “it was a rather large chimera.”
“The size should not matter,” Hercules grumbled. “We are the Argonauts. There should be no challenge too large for us. We should be defeating entire armies, not being paralyzed by a single beast. Remember the island of Lemnos?”
As Jason thought about the island, populated entirely by beautiful women, he smiled widely. “Of course I do,” he laughed. “Although, I fail to see how eating good food, drinking the best wine, and receiving fine clothing could constitute a challenge.”
“Those women had killed every other man that they had met,” Hercules defended his assertion. “Yet, they did not kill the Argonauts.”
“They did not even try!” Jason said, still happy with the memory. “I believe that they were simply overjoyed to see men once more. And if I might remind you,” he continued, looking at Hercules with raised eyebrows, “I believe you abandoned us shortly after that when your armor bearer became drawn to that water nymph.”
“Well, yes,” Hercules dropped his gaze to the road sheepishly. “But, I came back, did I not? I am still an Argonaut, and that is my point. If we are Argonauts forever, then we should proclaim that.”
Jason sighed as he considered reality. While his makeshift army of adventurers had at one time been a force to be reckoned with, it now seemed as if they were merely a dwindling cabal. There were those who still told of their adventures around campfires and sang of their journeys in taverns. They likely always would. However, the likelihood of new adventures seemed to be grow dimmer each day. The heroes left to find work elsewhere, or to live their quiet lives, free of adventure.
“Both of the Boreads are dead,” Jason said, his face falling to his chest.
“I know,” Hercules replied. “I was saddened when I learned of this. They were great warriors. That happens to adventurers sometimes. The risk of death comes with the territory.”
“It does,” Jason agreed, raising his head again to look Hercules in the eye. “Think, though: We are family men now, each with a wife to defend and care for. If I were to die on an adventure, who would care for Medea? I know that was Nestor’s reason for leaving. He wanted to start a family, and he could not do that if his life were constantly in danger, as it was during his time with the Argonauts.”
Hercules cocked an eyebrow. “Was that Euphemus’ reasoning as well?”
Jason shook his head. “Euphemus chose to leave because politics offers a more stable salary than freelance adventuring. While you and I have our resources, not everyone else is so blessed. Some would find a steady pay more appealing, as Euphemus proved.”
“He was weak.” Hercules scowled. “Money is no substitute for adventure.”
“Oh,” Jason chuckled. “Should I tell Aigio’s mayor to keep our fee?”
Hercules swatted Jason on the back of the head. “That is not the point. We are adventurers, we are champions, and above all, we are Argonauts. Argonauts forever!”
With his fist thrust into the air, Hercules looked expectantly toward Jason for the completed cheer. Jason looked back at him with regretful eyes.
“There are but five of us now,” Jason sighed.
“So, maybe we should recruit more members.”
“Maybe we should let go of the dream.”
Hercules stopped walking abruptly. Jason walked two steps more, then turned to see his comrade glaring down at him darkly.
“I only stated what needed to be said,” Jason defended himself.
Hercules’ scowl deepened. Jason imagined he might see steam escaping from his ears and fire about to launch from his eyes.
“You still wear that Fleece,” Hercules growled.
Jason paused and ran his fingers through the golden fibers that composed his makeshift tunic. He understood Hercules’ accusation. While Jason was suggesting that perhaps they stop attempting to be heroes, his legacy was still wrapped around his chest, rather than hanging on a wall in his chamber or on display in a trophy case at his dwelling. While the thought of peace and tranquility appealed to him, the thought of taking off the Fleece nearly caused him physical pain. There was still adventure left in Jason and, until that spirit was quieted, he would not be able to simply let the Argonauts pass away.
“All right.” Jason stepped back to where Hercules was standing. “I’m in. What are you proposing?”
Hercules smiled, victorious once again. “Well, like you said, five champions are not enough. We should recruit others. I think that we should form a list of possible candidates and proceed with that accordingly. There are plenty of eligible heroes who would be overjoyed to join our ranks”
“I agree,” Jason smiled, becoming more excited about the prospect as they continued the discussion. “Shall we go to the tavern where Orpheus is playing in order to discuss this further?”
“No,” Hercules shook his head. “I wouldn’t be able to pay attention, what with the falling to sleep and all. Let us go to Oblivion.”
“Oh!” Jason’s grin widened, excitedly. “I’ve heard of Oblivion! That’s definitely where we should go.”
“Argonauts forever!” Hercules repeated his unanswered cheer with his fist in the air once more.
“To the end!” Jason replied this time, punching the air as was the accepted custom.
The champions left the road on which they had been traveling and proceeded instead down a detoured path, toward the future.
Hercules made his way back to the table where Jason was seated, carrying two large glass goblets, filled to the brim with a dark beverage, topped with a thick head of foam.The tavern was dimly lit with a soft light, provided by candles situated strategically around the room and by lanterns hung on the walls. Creatures and deities from all different regions sat, basking in the ambiance of the tavern and enjoying the their drinks.
On one end of the room, there was a long bar, where two attractive women served drinks to patrons, perched on stools. Opposite the bar, there was a small stage where an acting troupe was preparing for the evening show. At one table, the god Anubis could be seen discussing the afterlife with Nanna, the Norse goddess of grief. Elsewhere, Jason spotted Narcissus, sitting proudly with a wide smile and a beautiful water nymph on his arm. Drinking alone in a corner, sat the tentacled Cthulhu, a god who none of the others really understood. For his part, did it seem he desired to be understood. He was satisfied, sitting alone, drinking his beer, and dreaming of worlds to devour.
The god Dionysus walked through the tavern, moving from table to table, making small talk with the patrons. He laughed at jokes, whether funny or not, and refilled drinks from the pitcher he carried with him. This was his tavern, and all were welcome, providing that they did not make too much of a scene. If they did make a scene, it had better be an entertaining one, otherwise they would be thrown out. The occasional fight could not be avoided, but if it was a foolish quarrel or a one-sided combat, the value was seriously diminished.
Hercules sat down in his seat, considered the drinks closely for a moment, and then passed the one with a thicker head to Jason. Jason accepted it and drank deeply. He made a face as he swallowed the fluid.
“Ugh,” he complained. “This is not wine.”
“It’s beer,” Hercules explained. “It’s a drink that we got from Egypt, Mesopotamia, or some other culture we conquered.” Hercules lifted his own goblet to his lips and drank.
“It’s good,” the demigod continued. “It probably cures some disease or something, but even if it doesn’t, I like it. I think it’s kind of like what the Egyptians used to give the slaves when they were working.”
“Was it a punishment?” Jason stared into his cup. “Because, I have to say, it tastes like punishment.”
“You have to get used to it,” Hercules took another draw. “Once you are, you’ll love it. I can’t get enough of this stuff now.”
On one end, there was a long bar, behind which two attractive women were serving drinks to the bar patrons who sat there. On the other, there was a small stage where an acting troupe was preparing for the evening show. At one table, the god Anubis could be seen discussing the afterlife with Nanna, the Norse goddess of grief. Elsewhere, Jason spotted Narcissus, sitting proudly with a wide smile and a beautiful water nymph on his arm. Alone in a corner, drinking by himself, sat the tentacled Cthulhu, a god which none of the others really understood, nor did it seem he desired to be understood. He was satisfied, sitting alone, drinking his beer, and dreaming of worlds to devour. Walking through the tavern, the god Dionysus moved from table to table, making small talk with the patrons, laughing at jokes, whether funny or not, and refilling drinks from the pitcher he held in his hands. This was his tavern, and all were welcome, providing that they did not make a scene. If they did make a scene, it had better be an entertaining one, otherwise they would be thrown out. The occasional fight could not be avoided, but if it was a foolish quarrel or a one-sided combat, the value was seriously diminished.
Jason took another sip of his beer, and cringed as he swallowed. “So, explain to me how time works here again?” he inquired. “It stops, right?”
Hercules nodded his head, and lowered his mug. “I guess so,” he said. “Time stops while you’re here. It’s a separate reality. Dionysus promised Dad that he would provide the best wine to Olympus if Dad were able to get him a bar where the patrons would never have to leave. It doesn’t work right, though, because time keeps moving in the world outside. So, you could be here for what feels like an hour, step back into the world, and find out that you’ve been gone for a couple days.”
“Is that not somewhat dangerous?” Jason frowned. “I mean, how can you tell if you’ve been gone too long?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Hercules dismissed the concern with a wave. “The most that I have ever been here was a week. What is the worst that could happen? Are you afraid that your wife is going to leave you?”
Jason shook his head. “No,” he said. “Medea and I are very committed to each other.”
“Then don’t worry about it.” Hercules took another large swallow from his drink, and rendered another large burp. “Just drink your beer.”
Jason took another sip, a bit larger than the last. “So, while you’re here at the bar,” Jason swallowed with a cringe, “would you age?”
“No,” Hercules shook his head. “That was the whole point. Oblivion is an escape from everything, even time.”
“That is nice,” Jason smiled widely.
Hercules spread his arms wide, indicating the entire room. “Why do you think it’s so popular?” he asked, beaming.
“Well, it’s certainly not because of beer.” Jason took another drink. “Now, let’s get down to business. Who is the first hero that you’d want as an Argonaut?”
“Odysseus,” Hercules stated. “He’s strong, courageous, and plus, he knows how to captain a ship. If we were to revive the Argos, he would be a perfect crew member.”
Jason shook his head. “I agree that he would be perfect,” he said. “In fact, I agree so much that I asked him to join the Argonauts after Troy fell. He told me on no uncertain terms that he was not interested. All he wanted to do was get home to his wife in Ithaca.”
“Troy fell a long time ago, Jason,” Hercules raised his eyebrows. “Maybe his desire has changed.”
“Perhaps,” Jason shrugged. “Still, I don’t think we should count on him joining. What of Achilles? He was a great warrior, and instrumental in the Trojan war.”
Hercules rolled his eyes. “The man all but died,” he exclaimed, “just from being stabbed in the heel!”
“Yet, that is his only vulnerable spot,” Jason insisted. “If it becomes an issue, we could simply get him better sandals!”
“Everyone knows of the spot now, though,” Hercules continued his critique. “That makes him a liability. I certainly would not be comfortable with him having my back. Now, Perseus, that would be someone I could get behind.”
“Oh, Perseus would be great,” Jason agreed. “Plus, he rides Pegasus, and that would be an added resource. Do you know where he is now?”
“Absolutely,” Hercules nodded, eagerly. “He’s the founder and ruler of Mycenae, so that’s probably where he is.”
“He’s a politician?” Jason grimaced.
“Oh,” Hercules glee dropped with his gaze. “Right. Well, we can still ask.”
“What about Atalanta?” Jason asked.
“No!” Hercules declared emphatically. “No women!”
“She is a good fighter,” Jason insisted. “She bested Peleus in the funeral games back when my cousin was ruling my country. Plus, who can forget the Calydonian boar hunt? She was great as an Argonaut. I do not see a reason why she would not join us again.”
“Perhaps,” Hercules relented. “I still do not like, though. In my experience, women warriors always seem to cause strife. Besides, none of them seem to like me.”
“Did you not get beaten up by the Amazons a couple times?” Jason chuckled.
“Maybe,” Hercules shifted his eyes. “But that was different. There were... a lot of them.”
“Well, I suppose that would be a good excuse,” Jason laughed loudly, “for anyone but you.”
Hercules paused and took another long drink from his goblet. He looked to Jason, seriously. “This is going to take a bit of time, isn’t it?”
“Good evening, gentlemen,” came a cheerful voice. Looking up, Jason saw the welcoming face of their host as he approached them with a pitcher full of beer. He wore his usual casual smile, with his dark hair was combed back, away from his forehead. His eyes sparkled with life as he stopped at their table.
“How are things going tonight?” he asked, the smile never flickering.
“Hail, Dionysus,” Jason returned the greeting with a smile of his own. “The place looks terrific.”
“Thank you, Jason,” Dionysus laughed. “It’s not much, but I do what I can. What are you boys doing this evening?”
“We’re recruiting more Argonauts,” Hercules informed him. “Well, technically, we’re just finding candidates, but after that, we’re going to start recruiting.”
“So, the Argonauts are returning,” Dionysus raised his eyebrows as he tipped his pitcher in order to refill Hercules’ glass. “I’m looking forward to hearing of your new ventures. Once you’ve formed this new crew, won’t you bring them here so I may meet them? The first round is on me.”
“We never went away, Dionysus,” Hercules insisted. “In fact, we just finished slaying a chimera. You should have seen this thing, Dion! It was huge, like, twenty feet long. It breathed fire from its tail, and its teeth were like swords. We barely survived!”
“Wow,” Dionysus took a step backward, looking impressed. “That does sound like a story. I cannot wait to hear it. Sadly, I must be getting back to my duties now.” Dionysus put a melodramatic hand to his forehead. “Oh, so much work, it never stops, never stops,” he sighed with exaggerated exhaustion.
Jason and Hercules both laughed at the act.
“It was good to see you boys,” Dionysus smiled authentically. He then motioned to the stage. “I hope your work does not prevent you from enjoying the show.”
“There’s a show tonight?” Hercules turned toward the stage, where a satyr sat prepping himself next to a wood nymph. Across the stage, a man was fitting himself into a gorgon outfit.
“Oh wow!” Hercules exclaimed. “Is that really Pan?”
Dionysus chuckled and winked at Hercules. “It is indeed, brother. Enjoy the show.”
Turning his back to the table, Dionysus walked back to the bar, stopping to wipe off an empty table en route.
“Check it out, Jason!” Hercules pointed excitedly to the stage. “It’s Pan!”
“I see that,” Jason smiled. “But now, I think we should really get back to the project at hand.”
“Yeah, yeah, we will,” Hercules’ eyes never deviated from the stage. “We’ll do that right after the show.”
“If we are wanting to become a presence again, I think--”
“Shush,” Hercules turned to Jason, holding his finger to his lips. “It’s starting.”
Jason started to become concerned. “Hercules,” he said, “I really should not be gone that long.”
Hercules did not respond, but four or five neighboring tables shushed Jason for him. As the lights in the tavern dimmed and music began to play, Jason sighed and shook his head. It seemed that he had lost this battle, but it was only one show. It was Pan, after all. What harm could one show do? Jason sat back, and lifted the beer to his lips again.
The stuff really was not all that bad, once you got used to it.
Dionysus looked back to where the two were seated and smiled slyly to himself. It was rare that he found two such popular heroes in his bar together, especially ones with virtually endless resources. Even if they could not afford their tab at the end of their stay, Dionysus knew that Zeus, Hercules’ father, would never allow his favorite son to be indebted to the establishment.
At that moment, Dionysus began to contrive a plan to keep them at Oblivion for as long as he could.
Hera had never liked Hercules.
Hercules was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal woman. While this was not the first of Zeus’ affairs, Alcmene was beneath the standards that Hera had set, even for Zeus’ extramarital conquests. Gods, after all, are almost expected to sleep around. Hera herself, the goddess of marriage, had gotten into her own share of affairs. Alcmene, however, was unworthy. Her illegitimate child was therefore unworthy as well.
When Hercules was still a supposedly defenseless infant, Hera made an attempt to eliminate him. She set two venomous serpents loose in his crib. To this end, Hercules first showed his inhuman strength. Taking a serpent in each hand, he strangled them both. Whether this was intentional or simply an infant’s attempt at exercising newly found muscles is not known. Later, when his nurse came in to check on him, she found Hercules playing with the two dead snakes as if they were toys.
Through his youth, Hercules had little influence from the gods. He grew to be a healthy young man, having the strength of ten others. Alcmene’s human husband, Amphitryon, adopted and raised Hercules as if he were his own. He received no special treatment, either positive or negative, through his youth. Amphitryon was a farmer, and one day, he sent Hercules to tend to the cattle. Hercules herded the cattle onto the side of a mountain nearby his home. As the cattle grazed, young Hercules noticed two beautiful women approaching him. These women were actually nymphs. They introduced themselves to Hercules as Pleasure and Virtue, informing him that they each had an offer for him. With her long, blond hair flowing behind her, Pleasure grew close to Hercules, running her nimble fingers through his hair and down his back. Rubbing her perfect body against his own, Pleasure kissed him gently on his neck, again on his cheek, and again behind his ear, nibbling gently upon his earlobe. Her breath smelled of sweet honey as she made her offer: a pleasant and easy life, but without adventure and satisfaction.
The second nymph, Virtue, made no attempt to seduce Hercules. Whilst Pleasure continued to lavish herself on the young man, Virtue, with her strong body and auburn hair, stood her ground. She simply smiled at Hercules and offered a severe but glorious life. It would be more difficult than he could ever anticipate, but he would be remembered for decades, even centuries, afterward. He would work for every glory he achieved, but because of this, each glory would truly be his own.
Hercules considered the choice that was presented to him. The offer of a pleasant and easy life was tempting, surely. It was also difficult to think of anything else, with the Pleasure nymph enrapturing him with her stimulation. Still, his earthly father had taught him the value of hard work. He had taught Hercules that hard work was its own reward, and that it would bring forth profit. A man who achieves a world of riches through the sweat of another is not a man at all. To truly know the value of something, one must first earn it.
With Pleasure’s arms still strung about his neck, Hercules locked eyes with Virtue and accepted her offer. Repulsed, Pleasure abandoned Hercules immediately, while Virtue stepped up to replace her. She smiled at the young man lovingly, and pulled his body close to her own in a tight embrace. Bringing her lips to his, she kissed him deeply. Hercules closed his eyes as her tongue filled his mouth. She did not taste or smell as sweetly as Pleasure had, but she was real and authentic. His saliva mixed with hers, and Hercules knew that he would never regret the choice he made. The kiss lasted for what felt like hours, and after it was through, Hercules opened his eyes to find that he was alone with the cattle once more. He could still feel Virtue’s breath inside of him.
Throughout this entirety, Hera watched him and waited for her moment.
Meanwhile, at Oblivion...
Over the years, Dionysus had watched Cupid evolve from Aphrodite’s upstart, practically useless, son to the fashionable, worldly character that he was now. Over the years, very few had lost as much as he. Now, as he approached the bartender with a cigar in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, he looked confident and secure. Dionysus was almost proud of him! He had never seen one recover from their woes so elegantly as he had.
From the look in his eyes right now, though, Dionysus knew what was coming. It was not as though he hadn’t dealt with the problem many times before over the past hundred years or so.
“Hello Eros,” he smiled, using Cupid’s original name, hoping to take him off guard. “How are you? How’s the drink treating you tonight?”
Cupid didn’t skip a beat. Instead, he pointed at a table in the center of the room.
“Is that,” he began haltingly “both Jason and Hercules over there, drinking beer as if they haven’t a care in the world?
“Why, yes, I believe it is,” Dionysus confirmed, his smile never flickering. “I hadn’t noticed! I wonder how long they’ve been here.”
Cupid’s jaw dropped. “How long they’ve--” he began to stammer in exasperation. “Zeus has been searching for--- They have been-- The war-- !”
“Hmm,” Dionysus nodded, furrowing his brow with false concern. “Yes, I suppose they would have been useful in the war. It’s a shame that they were not here during that time; I would have alerted them, regarding the conflict, for sure. Ah, well; one cannot change the past. Isn’t it funny that, with as many powers as we Olympians have, changing the past is not amongst them? Maybe we should look into that one.”
Cupid’s eyes bulged with rage. “My mother died!” he blurted out, angrily.
“Keep your voice down,” Dionysus said, frowning at him. “This is a place of relaxation. I can’t have you disturbing that.”
Cupid shook his head vigorously, attempting to organize his thoughts. “I have to tell Zeus,” he muttered, turning away from Dionysus, toward the exit.
“I agree,” Dionysus said. “Just pay your tab, and you can be on your way.”
“Oh,” Cupid turned back, “right, my tab. Can you ring me out, please?”
Dionysus signaled a maenad on the other end of the bar, and pointed to Cupid. “Right then, we’ll have that right up for you,” he said, returning his attention to Cupid. “While you wait, let me freshen your drink, on the house.”
“O...kay...” Cupid frowned at Dionysus’ uncharacteristic generosity, but handed him the glass, just the same. “Yeah, that sounds nice. I guess one last drink can’t hurt.”
“Not at all,” Dionysus said, his smile returning. “I just got something special in that I you’ll like. It’s a wonderful blend; you’ll forget all of your troubles.”
He smiled as he filled Cupid’s glass again, complete with his own “special ingredient”. He was not worried about the threatened report to Zeus. He had, after all, been doing this for a very long time. Well, perhaps it would be considered a long time, in any place but Oblivion.
It was a beautiful day, just as it was every day. The sun shone brightly in the pure blue sky where big, puffy, white clouds hung like decorations. The air was clean, and the temperature was comfortably warm. The morning frost that had nourished the ground was quickly drying on the grass of the field, just between Oblivion and the dimensional nexus, which lead back to Earth. The Field of Sobriety, Dionysus called it. It stretched for nearly a mile. No animals made a habitat there. There were no trees or foliage of any kind. No birds sang in the sky, and no wind rustled the grass. It was simply a field for the guests of Oblivion to walk through, while preparing themselves to enter the world again. What occurs at Oblivion stays at Oblivion, including the drunkenness.
If one were to listen to the field, they would hear singing. Not bird-song of any sort, since there are no birds within the field, but singing still. The song was not pleasant to listen to, nor did it make any sort of sense in classic music theory. Still, it was music, in a sense. It was the type of music that one can only hear when two drunken men attempt to sing a song, when they can neither remember the words nor the tune.
After three attempts, the song was abandoned, concluded with an encore of laughter.
One of the men tripped over a root that was not there, and the other attempted to bend over, in order to help him up again. Both actions were failures, and both men wound up on the ground, laughing.
“My,” Jason declared as he rose unsteadily to his feet. “Oh my! That bar, you know, that bar was great!”
“Oblivion,” Hercules stated with as proper a voice as he could manage in his current state of inebriation. He crawled to his feet before continuing his advertisement. “The time where bar stops. Time stops, yeah, time stops. Where it’s always happy hour, but the drinks are never half off.”
“Unless you’re the bartender’s nephew,” Jason laughed loudly.
“No, no,” Hercules threw a wavering finger in Jason’s face. “Dionysus, he’s not my uncle. He’s, I think he’s my step-brother. Yeah, step-brother, twice-removed, or something... I dunno...“
“Women sleep with your dad a lot,” Jason said. “And they’re always different women. I think your dad’s easy.”
“You take that back,” Hercules commanded Jason with the same unsteady finger, stepping a bit closer to get in Jason’s face. “My father, he is not easy. Girls just... I mean, women just... he’s just popular, okay? You wish that you could have as much sex as he does.”
“All of Sparta combined wishes they could have as much sex as he does,” Jason replied, not backing down. “Your dad, he has a lot of sex. And it’s always with different women!”
“Oh, yeah?” Hercules bent his face into Jason’s own. “Is that what you think? Well... well, you stink! You couldn’t have sex with anything right now, you stink so bad. That fleece that you wear, the golden one? It stinks.”
“Is that so?” Jason sneered. “Well... you need to wash your hair! You need to wash your hair because your hair is gross.”
“No!” Hercules threw his head back triumphantly. “For the gods have decreed that I shall lose my strength if I wash my hair. I must never wash my hair!”
“What?” Jason looked at Hercules suspiciously. “When did this happen?”
“While you were in the washroom a little bit ago,” Hercules answered.
The two of them locked eyes and stared each other down for a moment. Jason broke first with a snort, then Hercules with a barely concealed laugh. Soon, they were both laughing hard enough to hurt their sides.
“All right,” Jason struggled to say. “All right, we’ve been walking for a long time now. When do you think that we’ll--
“Γαμώτο! !” he suddenly screamed and stop dead in his tracks.
Hercules, walking a few paces behind him, stopped as well. He looked at Jason, drunkenly. “What are you screaming for? You were just walking, then you stopped and screamed.”
Jason paused for a moment. He stood up straight, and looked down at his hands. They were still there, as were his feet and torso. Jason ran his ten fingers through his hair (which was still there, apparently) and turned to Hercules in shock and horror.
“Hercules,” he said, fearfully. “I’m sober.”
“Oh,” Hercules sighed, sympathetically. “I’m sorry, brother.”
“Hours, maybe days of drinking, and now I’m completely sober!”
“Yeah,” Hercules stumbled forward, until he was standing next to Jason. At that point, his demeanor completely changed. He stood up straight, dusted himself off, and looked at Jason through a completely sober pair of eyes.
“That happens at Oblivion,” he explained. “Dionysus thought it would be easier to explain long absences, sometimes days or even weeks, if the explain-er was not drunk. Plus, he didn’t want them to go accidentally blurting out details about Oblivion to common men. It’s still a fairly elite club, after all. So, Dionysus set the Field of Sobriety right outside. No matter how drunk you are when you enter the field, you are always sober when you reach the other side.”
Jason looked back at the field with dismay. “Couldn’t we have stayed in the field a little while longer?”
Hercules laughed and patted Jason on the shoulder. “Nah,” he said. “We’ve probably been gone too long already. I don’t even remember why we came here in the first place, now!”
“We were drafting more Argonauts,” Jason reminded him. “We didn’t actually get it done, though.”
“That’s all right,” Hercules chuckled. “There’ll be plenty of time for that in the future.”
He reached out his hand, and felt for the barrier between worlds. The air around his hand shimmered and crinkled like transparent foil. Hercules smiled at Jason.
“Are you ready to get back to the real world?” he asked.
Jason shrugged. “I suppose I must be,” he said reluctantly. “How long do you think we were actually out of commission?”
Hercules shook his head and laughed. “Probably too long,” he said. “A few months, perhaps. Maybe even a year.”
“Medea’s not going to be happy with me,” Jason laughed.
“No, she’s not,” Hercules agreed, jokingly. “It’s okay, though. We’re legends, we can find new women.”
“You, maybe. I happen to love my wife.” Jason motioned toward the portal. “Shall we?”
“After you,” Hercules graciously stepped aside, waving for Jason to proceed. “I wonder how the world has changed since we’ve been gone.”
Jason wondered this as well as the two of them stepped across the barrier.
As the legends emerged on the other side of the nexus, they stepped into an alien world. Hercules froze as he looked around. Monstrous edifices, taller than any that he had ever imagined, reached into the sky, covered with what appeared to be eyes. Horrid monsters raced past him, growling loudly, with their eyes blazing. Within the body of each beast, Hercules could see the humans each had devoured, still alive and most looking quite unhappy to be so. To Hercules’ right, there was a strange building, beside which there was a long line of monstrosities. One after the other, they would bring themselves up to a projection. The projection would open, and a human, holding a bag or a tray would partially emerge, handing the objects to the monsters, or rather to the humans that the monsters had consumed. Hercules watched in shock as he saw one of the humans begin to consume what had been handed to them. This must be how the beasts kept their human slaves alive.
Jason witnessed the horror as well. Humans dressed in strange, tight, and restricting clothing walked past him, some looking his direction as if he were the freak. Some of these humans seemed to be speaking into strange looking shells, holding one end to their ear, and the other to their mouth. A few yards in front of them was a strange, square building, surrounded by several boxes from which hoses spewed. Jason watched in horror as the beasts would stop next to these boxes, and regurgitate their human victims. The humans would then take hold of the hose and place it within the beast’s body. They then wait until the beast had taken its fill, then replace the hose and allow the beast to consume them once again.
The odors in this place were disgusting and offensive. Hercules could not identify even one of them, but none of them were pleasant. Even the humans who walked past them smelled grotesque. Should the odor they emitted not be as foul, they smelled as if they were trying to cover their stench with less offensive scents. However, the scents that they chose were almost as offensive as the humans themselves. This was nothing, however, compared to the stomach churning clouds that were emitted from the beasts. As they roared back and forth, a cloud of unearthly stench followed them, polluting the air, Hercules’ stomach churned.
One of the humans took notice of Jason. He stopped talking into his shell, and smiled, babbling something in a language that neither Jason nor Hercules understood.1
Jason stared back at him, mystified.
The stranger’s smile faded. He continued babbling, this time slower and louder.2
Jason shrugged, having no idea how to answer the stranger.
The man uttered a final frustrated phrase before returning to his shell.3
Jason watched as he walked off. There was nothing he could have done. He remembered how the Romans would take those who spewed such nonsense and throw them to the lions.
Distracted by the sensations, Hercules absentmindedly stepped into the path of one of the beasts. The beast screamed as it stopped directly in front of him and began to roar its challenge at him. Hercules was never one to back down from a fight. Turning to the beast, he raised his fists to his shoulders, and smashed them both into the front of the monster. To his surprise, it crumbled with ease, displaying the creatures interior. The human prisoner freed himself and ran from the scene, screaming. Hercules assumed that he was screaming with joy, but the human never stopped to thank him or offer him his daughter as payment for his heroism. Perhaps he were so overjoyed to finally be free of the beast that he merely forgot. Hercules proceeded to destroy the beast’s inner organs, becoming covered in the creature’s foul black blood.
“Hercules!” Jason screamed after watching the champion in battle. “What is this place?!”
“Come, Jason!” Hercules turned to his comrade. “Let us free the humans from these monsters! Argonauts forever!”
“To the end!” Jason answered.
Thus, the two of them ran out into battle to destroy as many of the beasts as they could
Deleted User: This is a very clever story in the style of 19th century (and turn of the century) Gothic writing, very reminiscent of Stevenson's The Body Snatchers or even of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (less so of Frankenstein itself, since the author is more minimalist than Shelley's florid, Romantic rhetoric). ...
Tony Lee: Very interesting with good ideas! Would recommend it as a casual read. Been depressed for quite some time but this novel kept me occupied for about a week. If you enjoy fiction-thriller novels with some magic involved, then this is the novel for you.
Nymeria: Really can't get enough of this story. It flows well, it captivates the reader from page 1, and throws you into such a well-written, well conceptualized world that you'll believe it's real. Everything in the book is meshed together really well. From character backgrounds to plot twists, you can t...
Lauren Suzmeyan-Raine: I'm so glad you found a place to post your stories. I was horrified when I saw yours had been taken down, they are definitely the best 'reading' stories I've ever read. And I've made it my business to read every one I can. Well done.Lauren
JWalker: I loved this story from start to finish! It flows at a really nice pace and the story world feels so real. The fight sequences are a treat especially when Isanfyre is training to become a warrior. I found the names really cool and thankfully easy to pronounce. Personally I have always struggled w...
MavisMcQueen: "To Live Again" is a well crafted, highly engaging, heart vibrating tale surrounding our favorite Elven King. The author will keep you engrossed until the very end and by that time you will feel so strongly for Clara and the other characters that you will never want it to end...like ever. Thrandu...
Hudson: Your story was fantastic Erin! The Rising Sun was one of the first stories I read on Inkitt, and I have to say I don't regret the three to four days I spent pouring through the story.Probably the biggest strength I see in your writing is your characterisation of Eliana, Oriens, and the rest of th...
summerstone: Seriously this is one of the best books I've ever read. The plot is intriguing, I love the narrative style. Its very descriptive and unique, with minimal cliches. It makes for a great read and the sequels are amazing. Totally worth reading. ^^ That's me trying to be professional. But in all hones...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."