The first thing I noticed was pain and the smell of sweat and blood. There were desperate voices at the edge of my hearing, speaking words I did not understand. It seemed like an eternity passed in darkness as things went on around me. I tried to cry out, but only gargled. Someone must have heard it, because they told me it would be over soon.
“Aries! How hold the gates?”
“They hold, but not for much longer.”
“Hephaestus, where do we stand?”
“Almost finished. I need a few more minutes. Less if you stop interrupting me.”
I heard a loud explosion, and someone swore.
“That will not help, my Lord. You need to concentrate on the lightning bolt, or all is lost.”
“I am well aware of my responsibilities, Hestia. Just keep up your end of the bargain and let me tend to mine.”
“Do not disparage she who is most high, Husband. She sacrifices as much as any of us.”
“Of course, Dear. Whatever you say. As always.”
“Go stick your lightning bolt where the sun doesn’t-”
“Hey! I don’t need that in my head!” Someone else yelled.
“Apologies, Apollo. Zeus, shut up and concentrate.”
The way the man replied “Hera,” made it sound like a curse. Before anyone could say anything, he called out, “Asclepius! To your task!”
I felt a pressure on my chest, as a set of powerful hands pressed down on me. I could hear someone chanting, but I had no idea what he was saying. Once he stopped and lifted his hands, I heard a loud crack, and I could see. I tried to scream, but my voice would not cooperate.
A woman put a hand on my shoulder and I felt myself relax. “Be still child. Let Asclepius and Athena do their work.”
I nodded, then gasped as her face came into focus. Hers was the most beautiful face I could imagine, even marred with pocks and scars the way it was.
“My part is done. The child will know as much as is possible when it arrives.” Another woman took her hands away from the sides of my head and backed away.
Whatever this person…Asclepius…did must have worked. He poked my right foot with something hard.
“My apologies, child. It has to be done.” I recognized Hera’s voice, though I could not see her. Before I could say anything, I heard the voice of Aries again.
“To arms! They have breached the throne room.”
“To me, all of you! Eris, Enyo, hold the gates!” Zeus snapped.
Several faces approached me, and each laid a hand on a different part of my body. The chanted for a moment, then withdrew.
“It is finished. The final form will be chosen by the Fates. Know child, you go with the blessings of the Twelve, those with us and those who are not. You will wake in a place that is not your own, and you must find your way home.”
“The task will not be easy,” someone muttered.
“As if we need the gift of Prophecy to figure that out, Apollo.”
“Peace, Ares. There is no time.”
“There is always time for war.”
“So you have said, over and over again, far more often than I would like.”
“Would you both go mind the gates or something? I’m trying to concentrate. We have so little time, and so much to lose.”
“Yes, Aphrodite, of course we do. You need not remind us of that.” Ares snapped at her.
“Maybe go practice a bit of self-love over in the corner if you need something else to distract you.”
I decided these two were not worth my time and stared at the beautiful, scarred face of Aphrodite. She smiled, and for a moment I thought the sun had warmed the room.
“You are our greatest hope. All our love goes with you.”
“No need to get sappy, sister. The world is coming to an end. This is no time for-”
“Shut up, Artemis.”
“You want to spend some time as a stag, Aphrodite?”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“You two need to stop talking. The child will have weapons, and the strength to use them.” Hephaestus called out. “I’ve given up the best I have.”
“We all have, Hephaestus.” Athena chided him.
“Time’s up!” someone yelled. “The portal is open and it must be now.”
“You are our last hope. Stop the Titans, and find your way home.”
Several hands pulled me to my feet. Someone handed me a pack, then pushed me though a doorway. I felt like I was falling, but I could only see a purple haze. The next thing I remember was slamming down onto the ground and passing out.
I woke to the smell of fear, and a splitting headache. As my eyes adjusted to the sun, I heard someone yelling in terror. No one else seemed inclined to do anything about it, so I made my way to a tree stump, adjusted my pack and watched along with everyone else. Someone was strapped to a board with iron collars around his wrists, ankles, and neck. I could see the collar around his neck was being tightened and it was not long before his terrified cries become stifled choking. After a bit, he stopped making any sort of noise at all.
Some people might say the punishment was harsh, regardless of his crime, but I had no chariot in that race, so I decided it was not my place to intervene. A passerby paused to look at the body and asked what the man’s crime was. One of the guards spit on the ground next to the corpse and said, “He spoke the name of our Lord Kronos with disrespect.”
Okay, so maybe that was a little harsh. I was a bit confused by the idea of Kronos being in any position to demand such brutal justice, but before I could think much about that, I realized something that concerned me a lot more. Try as I might, I could not remember much past my name, Theodolus, and a burning sense that I was not here by accident. There were brief flashes of other things, but they were just out of reach. Instead of dwelling on that, I decided to try and get my bearings. There was snow everywhere, and people were in heavy winter clothing. I was in a light one piece that ended above my knees, with sandals and a red cloak. I was getting some strange looks as people took more notice of me now that the spectacle was over. A woman with dark hair and blue eyes approached me, but everyone else seemed content to observe from a distance.
“By Tethys! You must be freezing! Come with me. We need to get you inside before you catch your death. Come! Idiot cosplayer wearing a chiton in the dead of winter!”
Since I had no idea what else I was going to do, I allowed her to lead me into a log cabin a short distance away. Once inside, she grabbed a blanket from a hook behind the bar and wrapped it around me. She ushered me into a chair and thrust a mug of something hot into my hands. “I’ve run out of fire starter, so drink up, idiot. By Iapetus I don’t need you dying on my watch.”
“Th-thank you, but I don’t feel cold.”
“Of course you do. I said drink your tea. Do it now.”
I drank the tea. I had no idea what was in it, but it was delicious. “Is there more?”
“Greedy too. Perfect.” She set another mug down and I drained it. She shook her head and reminded me to breathe before taking both mugs and putting them somewhere out of the way.
“What brings you to Titus, Idiot?”
“I have a name you know, it’s Theodolus.”
She tried to pronounce it, but her attempt was so bad I almost clapped my hands over my ears. “It’s pronounced, ‘Thee-odd-o-las’”
“Yeah, no. You’re going to be Theo.”
I was not sure how I felt about that, but she moved on before I could comment.
“My name is Naomi. Try not to wear it out.”
“How can you wear out a name?”
She made a face somewhere between a smirk and a sneer, so I let it go. Instead, I asked her what this place was and why there were so many people in one area.
“Where have you been living? Under a rock? It’s the Festival of the Twelve.”
“I don’t…know where I’ve been living. I can’t…I can’t remember.” I felt a twinge of panic, but something about the idea of the Twelve tried to stir something in my mind. “You mean the gods?”
“The Titans. Please tell me you’re not one of those idiotic Olympian cultists?”
“I don’t think so.”
She gave me a look like she was not certain she believed me, but did not press further. Instead she set a plate of food in front of me after hearing my stomach growl.
“Cold stew will have to do. If I could light a fire I’d have hot food.”
I nodded and ate the meal without complaint. Once she was assured I would not die right away she told me to stay put and went outside to run an errand. I moved over to the fireplace and closed my eyes as I pressed my left hand against one of the logs.
If it pleases you, Lady Hestia. I thought in a brief prayer. A moment later the cabin was filled with the glow of the flames. I nodded in thanks and sat back down to wait for Naomi. It would not help me, but I decided she would appreciate the gesture. As soon as the door opened my thoughts proved true. She came back in with an armload of blankets which looked like they had seen better days.
“Horse blankets will have to do, but they’ll keep you from—how did you do that?”
“Start the fire. I can’t do it without fire starter.”
“It’s uh…a matter of being good with my hands.”
“You mean you rubbed two sticks together and it caught? You’ll have to teach me that trick someday,” she noted, “You’ll sleep in the guest room. The fire will warm the entire cabin before long, so we should be comfortable enough until the blankets work their magic with body heat. My door locks, so don’t think of trying anything stupid.”
“No, nothing stupid.”
“What’s in the pack?”
Since I could not answer her, I opened it and peered inside. “Odds and ends. Some trail food, a change of clothes, things of that nature.”
“So, you aren’t completely uncivilized after all. You just want to pretend to be a homeless person with everything you have in the world in a backpack.”
I gave her a small smile because I had no idea what she was talking about. I was not sure how long I could bluff my way through things like this, so I was thankful she did not press me. She busied herself around the cabin while I turned inward. There were brief flashes of…something, from before I woke up on the mountain, but nothing I could put together.
I remembered seeing the most beautiful face, even scarred like she was, but I could not put a name to it. People were arguing, and there were loud noises…but that was all I could recollect. I dared not tell Naomi, because I did not know if I could trust her, and because not remembering my life would make me vulnerable to exploitation, which something told me was a strategic weakness. For that matter, I had no idea why I got the urge to pray to someone named Hestia, but I was glad she answered my prayer.
The fire worked its magic quickly, and the cabin began to feel cheerful. I noticed Naomi becoming more animated and joyful as the cabin warmed up. Before long she was humming a tune I could not place, but I found myself tapping my foot to the beat anyway. She noticed and flashed a smile at me before finishing up what she was doing and sitting with me at the table.
“What brings you to Titus, Theo?”
I bristled at the familiarity, but answered, “Just a feeling I’m supposed to be here.”
“In little more than a bedsheet, in the dead of winter, calming you don’t feel cold, with nothing more than a backpack with odds and ends to your name?”
“Fine then, keep your secrets. No skin off my teeth.”
“Sorry. I’m just a bit of a wanderer I guess. I did not really have any reason for coming here I can remember, I just found myself here and it seemed like an interesting place to be.”
“Who is your Titan?”
“Which Titan do you connect with most closely?”
I had no answer for her, so I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Uh…Kronos?”
She gave a low whistle. “If He accepted your service, you’re a powerful one indeed. I guess it’s no wonder you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. You’d have to be able to think on your feet.”
“I’ve been known to have some good ideas from time to time.”
She laughed, then continued, “I follow Phoebe. My mind is my greatest ally, and to Tartarus with anyone who tries to challenge that.” She waited as though she expected me to do just that, but I kept silent.
“Best to rest then. Selene will take to the skies soon, and it’s best not to disturb her. Goodnight.”
After Naomi left, I stayed at the table for a long time. I heard her door lock behind her, so she must have been concerned I might try to do something stupid despite my assurances. I tried to pull something—anything—from the depths of my mind, and had to stop when I realized I was just making myself angry. I made the decision it was best to move on before Naomi woke up, because I did not want to risk slipping up and making her suspicious. What little I could gather from my memory told me my deities were gods, not titans, and from the way she mentioned an Olympian cult, I decided that was a bad thing. A few hours of sleep would not hurt anything, as long as I was gone before she rose for the day.
I gave myself a stern command to wake at first light, then headed toward the only open room in the cabin with my blankets. Just before closing the door, I glanced at the fireplace and was surprised to see the flames rekindle themselves, the coals becoming a large cheerful fire with fresh logs once more.
As it turned out, my brain decided sleep was more important than any stern commands I might issue. By the time I opened my eyes, it was well past dawn, and I could hear Naomi bustling around in the cabin outside my door.
“Styx” I snarled a bit louder than I intended, not caring how I knew the term.
“Did you say something?” Naomi called to me.
“My-my foot’s asleep!” I lied.
She laughed at me, which made feel guilty for lying to her. I dug through my pack until I found a change of clothes, then ran my fingers though my shoulder length hair to make myself appear to be somewhat presentable. A few minutes later, I joined her in the kitchen.
“Sleep well,” She asked, her back to me as she fiddled with something I could not see.
She shrugged. “The horse blankets might have some…guests, I suppose.”
“You can say that again.”
“The horse blankets might have some…guests, I suppose.”
I looked at her but did not deign to dignify that with a response. After a moment she shrugged and muttered something under her breath.
“What’s on your list today,” She asked.
“Of things to do.”
“I didn’t have one.”
“You should probably find some new clothes. That chiton will be the death of you.”
“Feel cold. That’s because you’re crazy. But even if that was true, you don’t want people giving you funny looks, do you?”
“I guess not.
“That settles it. You can go to Arachne’s place in the shopping district. She weaves all the best stuff.” She got up and started bustling around the kitchen again.
“Oh. I don’t have enough money for that, and I should find something to eat so I don’t give my stomach reason to–” I caught the apple she tossed my way. “Hate me. This works, thanks.”
I took a bite and was surprised at the flavor. “I wonder if this is what the apples taste like in the Garden of the Sunset?”
“Garden of the Sunset. You know, with the Hesperides.”
She looked at me for a long moment before she shrugged. “I guess you’d have to ask their father…Adonis, wasn’t it?”
“I knew it! You are one of those Olympian cultists!” Rather than looking shocked, she appeared gleeful at the implications of my slip of the tongue.
“How do you mean?” I rallied, “Atlas is a Titan.”
“But the Hesperides are associated with Hera!” She countered, her expression triumphant.
“Only incidentally! The wedding and all.”
“To Zeus! How can you blather on like this if you’re a disciple of Kronos?”
“Lied to me!”
“If you were a disciple of Kronos, your lord would strike you dead for disrespecting his name!”
“You should be. Where are you from? And don’t lie to me.”
“I don’t remember.”
“What do you mean you don’t remember?”
“I don’t remember anything before waking up right before you saw me yesterday.” So much for not being vulnerable, idiot me.
She glared at me for a moment more before disappearing back into her room and shutting the door. I was not sure what to do, so I sat at the table and did not do or say anything.
I heard her talking to herself for a few minutes, but then her voice faded. A short time later she came out of her room and went straight to the door. She opened it to admit someone a new guest.
My fight or flight reflex kicked in and every nerve in my body began to ping. The hackles on the back of my neck stood up and I shot to my feet as though I had been fired from a bow.
“Sit down right now.” There was something about the hooded newcomer’s voice compelled obedience, but I was still hesitant. I sat but found myself holding a knife I had not known I possessed. I made sure to keep my hand under the table but pushed the chair back so I could jump up to defend myself if need be.
“I told you, Reg. He’s one of us!” Naomi seemed excited rather than angry, which left me more confused than anything. Τhe newcomer threw back the hood of his cloak to reveal a middle-aged man and a thinning beard.
He held out his hand and to quiet Naomi said, spies are everywhere and we can’t be too careful. Remember what happened to—”
“One of you,” I interrupted, further confused.
Instead of answering, Naomi locked the doors and windows as Reg watched me like a hawk. When she sat down again, she was almost vibrating with excitement. Reg smiled at me, then shot to his feet, raising his left hand, fingers pointing straight up.
“Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to Lord Zeus and Lady Aletheia, to whom I give allegiance.”
Naomi followed suit, but said, “Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to Ladies Athena and Artemis, to whom I give allegiance.”
Without understanding where I knew the words, I rose and mirrored them. “Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to the Olympians, to whom I owe my life.”
Both Naomi and Reg looked shocked and a little uncomfortable. Naomi opened her mouth, but Reg spoke first. “To whom you owe your life? Hail all of them? You don’t follow one or two specifically?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Then how do you know the words?”
“I can’t remember. I hate to repeat myself but…”
“That’s impossible.” Naomi glared at me again, but Reg put a hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t sense untruth from him. Aletheia would know.”
“What’s going on?” I asked them.
“You’re safe here. Hermes must have sent you to Naomi as safe harbor.”
“He’s also the god of travelers.”
“That still doesn’t explain what you two are going on about.”
“We follow the Olympians, Theo.”
“But I thought you said they were ‘idiotic Olympian cultists’ last night.”
“I did. When you hide something for as long as we have, you learn to play the right tune.”
“The right tune?”
“People who follow the Olympians are killed if they get found out.”
“Is that why that man was killed yesterday? Right before we first met?”
“Maybe. Even the accusation of being a follower of Olympus is enough to turn people suspicious of you.”
Reg cut in, “but if you can prove you’re a follower of the Titans, or at least make it believable, the person who accused you can be killed instead, so people don’t toss that accusation around unless they think they can make a good case.”
“So don’t say anything to anyone if you can help it. You got lucky Naomi found you.”
“A blessing of Hermes, I guess.”
“As I mentioned, yes.”
“I suppose I should thank you, Naomi.”
“Don’t mention it, Theo.”
“I never heard of someone named Theo who followed the Olympians.”
“My name isn’t Theo, Reg. It’s Theodolus. But Naomi can’t pronounce it.”
“Yeah, I agree with her. Theo it is then.”
“Whatever sharpens your blade. What do I do now?”
“I was serious when I said you needed to get new clothing. Reg, why don’t you take him to Arachne’s shop?”
“I don’t have any money.” I reminded her.
“Naomi takes on charity cases now and then. Don’t worry about it. She’ll work you to the bone in compensation, but it’s honest work.”
Naomi gave me a predatory grin before unlocking the door, tossing my pack to me and ushering us out of her cabin. I turned to Reg in surprise, but he shrugged.
“Once she makes her mind up about something, she tends to want things underway.”
“Thanks again for your help.”
“No problem. Let’s go get you some decent clothing.”
We walked for a long time before getting to our destination where I learned something new about myself. As it turns out, I hate spiders.