Rome was a monstrous empire, so I am told, that rose and fell over many mortal generations that would be a blink to gods. The span of that empire barely composes a sixth of my sentence in Tartarus, just over five hundred years. It fell to corruption, barbarians, in-fighting, and the whim of gods that did not understand their place. For thousands of years we led civilizations to steady growth and success with a gentle hand, Zeus took up the mantle of Jupiter and demanded too much from them.
Rome, in the grand scheme of the totality of time and immortality, was meaningless.
Except for one moment that Zeus, acting as Julius Caesar, carried out one action that would ripple through time.
Coeus brought the written word to our people but he was not the only one to have this gift. Thoth, Anansi, Bochica, Al-Kutbay, Chista, Gamayun, there were so many of them that loved wisdom and knowledge and the written word.
Once, just once, they gathered as one.
The product of that was a trove of recorded knowledge to be provided to the mortals. The history of their worlds, ideas, great thoughts that should have been studied for thousands of years.
Eventually this would become the Library of Alexandria, after we were locked into Tartarus.
Then Zeus burned it down.
We sit in the monastery, gathered in a large common room around a heavy wooden table. I sit at the head and regale them with knowledge they already have about history I have only just learned. Eos and Selene sit with me, Helios is still gone. They all patiently wait for the information that I know they want.
“Thoth was the guardian of the Vault, the closest to an impartial party we could have asked for. He recorded the seven tasks that would have to be completed to enter the Vault as well as how to merely open the gateway to the Vault.”
“So, how do we do it?” Odin leans forward, the well-built chair still creaking under his bulk.
“Wait, the Vault?” Selene speaks. “I’ve never heard of that?”
“It was part of a truce, we locked some of the most powerful weapons ever created into it.”
She looks horrified, then confused.
“Why does he have his chain? And the others?”
“These aren’t nearly as powerful as what’s locked away.” I say.
There is a heavy silence. They have seen what it can do but I am not lying. Especially not now, some of the weapons have been used in mortal culture and will be capable of feats we could not have thought possible. We have to get to them.
“So, how do we get in?” Odin breaks that heavy silence, eager to have his arsenal back. “Where is the Vault?”
“It’s not so much a question of where it is. It was built under a red moon and the entry will only appear under a red moon. And we will only have the length to enter, open the Vault, and exit again before the doorway is lost. We will have but a few hours and only Thoth knows the challenges that await inside.”
That heavy silence returns. As well as a shifting of eyes to Selene. She looks around, confused, then it dawns on her. The moon.
“You need me to change the path of the moon. To get weapons of untold devastation out of an impregnable vault. To fight a war.”
“Yes.” Odin says it and I can almost see his hand tapping on the table with anticipation of the victory that will come. Selene stands, brings herself up to her full height, takes a long and deep breath, and speaks.
Then she leaves, the room buried in stunned silence.
Artemis looks at me and I look at her.
And we share a smile.
That’s our girl.
I leave the chaos of the group’s general furor and find Selene, sitting on the hill overlooking a forest and under a wide open sky darkening as the sun dips below the horizon.
“Are they arguing about me?”
I sit beside her and lean back on my palms, looking up at the moon as it hangs there, becoming brighter and brighter with each moment the sun dips down.
“Yeah. Odin wants to force you to help. I told him that wouldn’t happen. He made some threats. I made some. And here we are.”
She laughs to herself.
“So that’s where Helios gets it from.”
We laugh together, sitting there on the hill alone. Slowly it fades away, leaving us sitting there in the silence with each other. Not an uncomfortable silence, just a calmness between us.
I open my mouth to speak and she beats me to it.
“You don’t know what I was going to say.”
“I do.” She says. “You were going to apologize for not being here, for disappearing, for being gone, or something like that. You don’t have to, at least not to me. Helios, maybe, even Eos. Just not me. So, don’t.”
“Maybe I was going to say something else, did you think of that?” I say.
She snorts and pats my hand on the grass. She doesn’t believe me. I don’t suppose I can blame her, since that was exactly what I was going to do. We sit and watch the moon continue to climb into the sky and I feel the hum of power between us. The night is hers, where the sun is mine. Titans are unique among gods. Odin and his kind come from a world that is hardly like ours, living in realms we couldn’t imagine. Or so the stories go.
The Egyptians have an underworld that I wouldn’t dream of, a dark place of justice and weight. So the stories go. They both rely on belief more than a Titan does, most gods do.
We can tap into the physical power of mere things, that’s what separates us from the Olympians. Belief may sustain them but they will never have our gift. Our access to power from elsewhere.
That is why Titans are dangerous among gods.
“I don’t want to help you fight another war.” She says, quiet and staring up at the moon. “I remember what it was like the first time. I suppose I could be grateful that mortals aren’t marching off with banners like last time but that’s not really a comfort. Give it time, they so do love their fighting.”
“I don’t want to fight another war.” I say. She doesn’t believe that and it’s obvious from her face. I think she’s close to laughing. I push on and ignore it.
“I really don’t. When I left you I did, I wanted blood and death and I don’t have a reason for having wanted it. I think it would have always happened. But I don’t want to fight a war now. I want to see this world and these mortals, I’ve been gone for three thousand years and it looks nothing like it did. I think, that, maybe…”
I trail off, not really knowing that I did. Just staring out into the sky and playing back all the cities we’ve been through, all the mortals I have seen so far. Then her hand is on mine again and her face is softened, the laughter behind her eyes gone. She’s waiting for me to go on.
Now I feel embarrassed. I blush, try to hide it, and fail.
“I think they might need us. Now, more than ever before. I think they’re lost and confused and afraid. We came out of Tartarus wanting vengeance, puppets to your uncle and his wants. More death, more power. I…I don’t think I expected that all the gods would be like that. Armies fighting in secret, gods clashing for scraps of power, unsettled grudges.”
She squeezes my hand and I try to clear the lump in my throat. She waits.
“We failed. I failed, back then. To look after them, humans, that is. I don’t want to fail them again. Or fail the three of you. I don’t want this war but it is coming. I will finish it and that will be it.”
She doesn’t speak for a very long time, there is only the sound of the wind and finally soft steps in the grass, two pairs of feet. They sit with us and it’s a strange feeling. A family, dysfunctional and all, sitting on a hill together.
“You think you can end it?” Selene finally asks, staring at the moon that hangs in the sky. Every watching, ever present.
“I don’t know.” I am honest with them, it wouldn’t be good to come back now only to lie to them. “I can try. “
She nods, thoughtful, absorbed in her own thoughts for hours after. Until the sun rises and I find myself surprised that we are all still sitting there. Even Helios, in a sour mood, sits with us.
When the sun rises and the light drives the moon to nothing more than a ghost in the sky, still visible but only just. When the morning comes with all the brightness that I crave and the sun drenches me in warm strength and drives away any tension, pain, and almost all worries in that golden glow. When Helios takes a sharp breath at the noticeable crackle in the air, when the chain begins to pulse with an energy only those with Titan blood could ever sense.
When all of this happens, that is when Selene speaks.
“I’ll do it.”
Hades sat across from the figure still wearing a black bag over her head. She sat upright in her seat, projecting calm with her crossed legs and her bound hands gently resting in her lap. Quite the feat of stress control for someone in a plane full of almost-gods that wanted her dead. They tapped fingers on their weapons, wanting desperately to put a god-killer into her head and be done with it.
He leaned forward and pulled off the bag in one rough motion.
Hera squinted and blinked in the sudden light but that was all the reaction she gave. She didn’t recoil or cry out with the roughness of it. Her breathing didn’t even quicken, just remained as calm as it had been all along. There was no surprise, no horror, nothing but a calm stare into Hades’s eyes.
“Hello, you scheming prick.” She said. Hades chuckled, continued chuckling while he looked at the others in the plane, then stopped when he hit her across the chin as fast as lightning. She slumped in the chair for a moment and then recovered, sitting up again with blood dribbling from a split lip. She didn’t bother to try and wipe it away.
“Scheming. You turned me into what I am, you and that enormous idiot. Throwing me out like that. I was an outcast, even among the outcasts.”
Hera shrugged as best she could, still leaking blood from that split lip. Everyone, including the mercenaries, pretended to ignore the conversation. In such confined quarters it was impossible to actually ignore it. Hades stared daggers at the Olympian queen, as she fancied herself.
“Why’d you kill her?” He finally asked, quietly. Many of them stopped pretending, leaning in to try and hear what he’d asked. Hades ignored them.
“Who?” Hera seemed genuinely confused, her eyes darting up as she went through a mental list of all the women she had been involved in killing. Then her eyes lit up, just before Hades hit her again.
“Oh, her!” She exclaimed, laughing in a light way despite the moment.
“Yes. Her.” Hades jaw was set tight, grinding his teeth together with the words. He still had his fist back for another blow.
“Poor little Hestia, she was always so concerned about family and others, silly girl. She wanted to help them, you see. Notions of love and rainbows dancing in that pretty little head of hers. And her own suffering to pay the price for the power she didn’t really want. You probably filed her head with ideas, ideals even. Your only friend on that side. She had to die. Not because of any of that, mind you, just because she was weak. She was nothing. She did not deserve the power, so we took it back.”
Hades hit her. Hard. Tethys was up and out of her seat, holding him back from more. Hera laughed, almost hysterically, while the others contained Hades as best they could. He pushed them away, roughly.
“I’m fine!” He shouted, straightening his suit jacket and running his hands over the new wrinkles, taking deep breaths to control himself.
“Sir.” The pilot’s voice was distant during all of the chaos in the back. Five mercenaries loaned to them by one of Hades’s dark contacts, all trying to figure out if they should shoot Hera or not. Tethys and Oceanus trying to calm Hades down. Prometheus and Sekhmet watching it unfold, both unsubtle in their lack of concern for Hera’s general well-being. Set’s pilot nervously held the door open.
“Sir!” He finally shouted. Hades had a gun out and was stalking up the length of the plane towards the pilot, finger on the trigger.
“What? What the good fuck do you want, right now?” He roared, raising the weapon towards the pilot’s face.
“Someone is following us!” The pilot shouted, trying to make himself as small a target as possible. “They’re threatening to shoot us down and they won’t identify themselves!”
Hades stopped cold. Hera laughed again, something close to a cackle.
“You were never going to get away, you idiot.” She said, almost in sing-song way. She looked unconcerned by the whole turn of events. Hades was three steps towards her with the gun raised, mouth open to shout something at her. Oceanus and Tethys were both in mid-step to grab his wrist and stop him. Prometheus was out of his seat and charging to the cockpit to find answers. Sekhmet was still sitting in her seat, buckling herself in. The mercenaries took note of that and did the same.
It was general chaos inside the plane, gods trying to out shout each other.
The only noise louder was the explosion of one of the engines, metal shrieking under the impact and the plane suddenly and violently rolling. Anyone not buckled in was tossed around the interior, the plane shifted and began an aggressive descent. Someone screamed. A gun went off.
Just before the plane hit the waves of the ocean and was torn into nothing but pieces, Hera was still laughing.