by Michæl W. Bard
©2008 Michæl W. Bard

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

Home -=- #19 -=- ANTHRO #19 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

Chapter 1
-= Explorations =-

   “There!” I called, my voice distorted and ducklike from the helium.
   My earphones squawked: “Where? We can’t make it out.” It was Dr. Palmer on the surface. Neither he nor I was alone; John Cantor was down here with me—only a fool would abandon the ‘buddy system’ when they dove deep—and Dr. Helga Joyce accompanied Palmer on the surface.
   Just then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. The same kind of thing I’d been seeing for the last couple of days whilst out in the depths. I spun around… nothing! Always nothing! The only thing I could see was my partner’s helmet lamp on the bottom, off in the distance.
   “Stephan?” crackled in my ears. Still Dr. Palmer.
   “Sorry. I just… nothing. Give me a bit to move closer.” Saying that, I carefully swam towards what I’d seen, using a slow frog kick to avoid disturbing any silt. I watched John’s light approach as I shone mine back and forth along the object. It was a pillar; smooth, round, and brightly painted in red with human figures in other bright colours. “Can you make it out?”
   “Definitely from the Thalassocracy period,” Palmer noted. “I need you to get closer—the figures will help date it more precisely. And look at its condition!”   
   “I can’t believe it!” John’s voice squawked in my ear. “It’s like it was painted yesterday!” He punctuated his words with exhaled bubbles.
   Pressing my gloved hands up against the yielding seafloor to cancel my forward motion, my lower body sank into the silt which rose in torpid clouds. I leaned down, giving my camera  a better view of the painted woman leaping over a bull…
   A living girl appeared in the corner of my vision—what the hell!? Spinning around, I saw… nothing. And then everything changed into a dim yellow glow as John’s and my helmet lights bounced off the clouds of silt and silvery bubbles from our exhaled breath.
   “God damn it, Stephan! You have to be—”
   Dr. Joyce broke in: “Stephan, John. Mark it and get back to the bell.”
   I felt a hand on my left shoulder and spun around—it was only John. What was wrong with me? The rasp of my rapid breaths, the roar of my burbling exhalations, all was loud in my ears. Something flickered in the edge of my vision on my right… and I resolutely ignored it.
   Johns voice burst into my speakers as I watched his stream of bubbles: “What’s going on?”
   “Scrap that!” Palmer said from the surface. “They’re predicting another quake, a big one.”
   “Shit,” was John’s response.
    Succinctly put. I felt around my waist for a rope and flag, to tag the find.
   “Don’t, Stephan,” John said. “We’ll find it again.”
   Already he was pulling me away. “It’s not worth it.”
   I sighed. My breath transformed into a stream of bubbles that danced through the clouds of silt, up towards the surface far far above.
   Dr. Joyce: “Get a move on!”
   For a moment I had no clue as to which way to go. All around was a yellow glow from John’s and my lights—and nothing else. Calm, I told myself. Slowly, carefully. Never hurry. I forced my breathing to slow. Don’t panic! Air isn’t a problem; I’m getting mine from the bell, which is supplied from the surface. Idiot! I started carefully coiling my umbilical, just as John was already doing. It led back to the bell.
   The image again, a woman in the corner of my eye—I could almost see it… No!
   Move, slowly and carefully.

   Dr. Joyce: “Get a move on!”
   We were out of the silt, and the only thing around us was cold water illuminated by our lights, and the bright orange of our umbilicals. Both of us kicked hard against the current.
   Faintly I heard, “Holy fuck! Look at the damned needle!”
   Neither John nor I paid any attention to the shouts from the surface. The first thing I felt was a low rumble through my body, and then I heard groans and pops and whistles over the roar of my breathing. John spun away from me, vanishing to a pinpoint of light as I furiously kicked after him. Small pebbles drifted down and clattered off my hardhat or thudded off my body or clicked off my pony tank—but my only thought was to reach John. Suddenly the current whipped like a drunken sailor and something yanked my umbilical out of my hand. I was swept downcurrent, my bubbles sucked down in front of me, as helpless to escape as I was. “John! Are you—”
   “I’m alive. What the hell’s going—?”
   “The water has to be draining somewhere—maybe the quake opened into an air pocket beneath the Mediterranean? I don’t know!”
   “Just stay calm.” We were both ignoring the shouts and screams from the surface. We didn’t need any topside help, or at least not immediately; if needed, the bell alone would suffice to keep us alive, decompress us, and take us to the surface. “Try climbing up your umbilical.”
   “I’ve got nothing better to do…” The current still pushed me downward as our weight pulled the bell off of the direct vertical. I could feel myself gently swaying back and forth, like a flag in a strong wind. For an instant I saw the glow of John’s light. Slowly, gloved hand over gloved hand, I began to pull myself up the umbilical. The thing was built to withstand far more force than I could exert on it, so I wasn’t worried about it breaking—
   A face appeared before my eyes.
   What the hell?!
   Her face was upside down—she must have been holding onto my hardhat and looking in through the plexiglass—but why couldn’t I feel anything? Stopping my climb, I examined her carefully and realized that the face wasn’t human. It was close, but no human face was tinted blue-green. Strands of hair that were too thick to be real hung around her face, oblivious to the current I could feel streaming past me. Bubbles from my exhaled breath seemed to slowly roll along the edges of her face, clinging in defiance of the water rushing past. Clenching one fist tight to my umbilical, I reached up to touch her…
   It was like touching a bubble. A moment of tension, and then—water. Instantly she flowed away, bending in ways a human never could.
   She was gone.
   “Stephan, you still there?” It was John.
   “You all right?”
   “I think so.”
   “I think the current is slowing. We shoul-”
   And then my headphones went dead! All tension in my umbilical vanished as the current swept me downwards.
   For a moment I couldn’t breathe, not because of a lack of air—the pony bottle kicked in automatically—but because of absolute terror. Somehow I started breathing again, not that it mattered.
   I was dead.
   The pony bottle would last me maybe 10 minutes at this depth. And there was no way in hell I would get back to the bell in 10 minutes. Not with this current.
   I watched the torn end of my umbilical sweep by.
   What had happened? A falling rock maybe? It couldn’t have been the force of my dangling at the end. Could it?
   Did it really matter?
   The weight of my useless umbilical started to pull me around.
   I was dead.
   We knew this was dangerous. There’d been arguments when a routine sonar scan after a large quake had detected irregularities. We all knew that Santorini was always grumbling. Yes, the remotes kept malfunctioning—all we ever got were tantalizing images of intact statues and buildings in miraculous condition. One badly distorted picture showed some jewelry and armour perfectly preserved.
   John and I had volunteered to investigate in person.
   Had a minute gone by?
   I looked up at the faint glow of the surface, unreachable. Even if I could swim up to it in time, I’d die from the gas bubbles that would form in my blood.
   There was a timer on my wrist, but I didn’t really want to check it. It would just tell me how long I had to live, and I didn’t want to know. To save air, I stopped swimming and just let myself drift with the current into the depths.
   Would any future archeologists find me and wonder? I—
   She was back. This time a metre or two in front of me, drifting in the current, looking at me. A hallucination? Was my air mixture off? Possible. Did it really matter any more?
   Soon my breaths would come harder and harder as I sucked at an equal pressure pony bottle. I’d struggle, lose consciousness, and never wake up.
   I don’t want to die!
Whatever she was, she flowed towards me. She didn’t move her limbs, didn’t swim; she just got closer. In the yellow light of my headlamp I could see others hovering around us. Circling without moving their limbs…
   She was upon me and I felt a slight pressure, like stepping into a bathtub where the water was the same temperature as the air. Her face was against my faceplate and the air bubbles of my exhaust caught in what seemed to be her hair. It became harder to breathe… Not yet! The bottle couldn’t be empty!
   Unless the current had sucked me very, very deep, a part of me whispered.
   I felt the breathing cup pull tight against my mouth and nose as I sucked at nothing, and then exhaled a few lonely bubbles.
   The figure outside in the deep watched me with emotionless eyes. Through their bodies, I could dimly see the others moving.
   I tried to inhale, short panting breaths, a little air, a few bubbles… I was hot, feverish… My vision grew distorted. Was that singing I heard? My body felt like it was compressing, flowing over its bones.
   My vision changed to a tunnel of yellow light. Her face was distorted, bent as though behind a fishbowl.
   I exhaled one last time, my body following my breath through the valves, through the passages. It was a long exhalation, slow and continuous, an endless breath that passed my form through and away from my bones and out through the valve into the warm, welcoming sea, a friend, a provider, home to my Lord Poseidon…
   Turning, I watched an empty suit sink into the depths with only bones inside, a few bubbles drifting through the exhaust port. The umbilical snaked around it as it vanished into the dark.
   Soon all that was left was myself and my sisters. Together we flowed through the water that was us, and was apart from us. Mindless, I followed as they led me away from the current, around rocks coated with debris and ooze, around boulders that were still drifting downwards ever so slowly. Through cracks and tunnels and up into a sunlit world. Up into our home.
   We were foam, mingling and bubbling and laughing, swept back and forth in the waves, in and out of one another. Smashed against pebbles and shattered coral, and then flowing back into the sea.
   The sun rose and set, the moon changed from full to new and back.
   Time passed…

Chapter 2
-= Poseidonus? =-

   The sea was a place of timeless peace, ever changing and ever staying the same. I and my sisters played in the crests of the waves, passing in and out and through each other, sharing what we knew. I forgot myself, lost myself in the timelessness. Sometimes something would call us; we’d go out through the tunnels and cracks and into the deep darkness, and our number would grow. I think some were divers, but others I didn’t recognize. Some were hard metal, others were as I’d once been. We played with all of them! The metal things were toys of which we eventually grew tired, because they wouldn’t respond. The flesh-things responded, becoming what we were. I don’t know how many I changed.
   We were all playing in the crests in the sunlight, stretching ourselves into bubbles of foam and riding the wave when our Lord called. He didn’t call everybody, just me. In part, I couldn’t believe the honour of it; in part I wanted to flee and hide expecting something horrible; but most of me just obeyed. His power forced more and more water into my body, along with pieces of coral and stone. I expanded until I was many times the size I’d been even as a human, and then I began to harden. The stones and corals compressed into bones, stretching and entwining. Wave foam congealed and dried into a cloud of fine hair along my head and neck, and even a tail that I’d never had before. Fragments of onyx gathered themselves from their lairs along the beach and mobbed my hands and feet, hardening into four hooves. Weak, frightened, I tried to stand, stretching my now-elongated head out above the waves as the rounded pebbles slipped and rolled around me.
   I was alone. My sisters had long since fled.
   The call, my Lord’s call, was not done with me. Heavy with water, I lowered my head almost to the surface and opened my mouth as nameless fluids fled up my throat and sprayed out, dragging sandy fragments along my inside. First I screamed my agony, and then I snorted the last dregs out my nose. Inhaling for the first time in who knew how long, I found the air cold and thin, a nothingness that had been foreign but was now necessary. The air strengthened me as knowledge of my new body filled my mind. I stood up, salt water first pouring and then dripping from my hide. Rearing, I shook my now hard and clenched hands through the waves that hovered around me. I screamed and nickered and momentarily fought to resist the call.
   It was irresistible.
   Screaming my rage, I galloped onto the shore on my four onyx hooves and then up a rocky path and across a field of oh-so-sweet-smelling grass.
   Dust and pebbles scattered behind me as my lungs heaved for air and my heart pounded and foam spattered from my nostrils. Before, my life had been a cold sameness; now it was a hot rush. Before I’d lived in a formless softness, now I raced across an irregular hardness, covered in scatters of grass and clumps of fragmented rock. Soon I could see a huge hill looming, and the call pulled me up a rock-strewn face towards the top. My master was there. Screaming out my joy, my hooves pounded on rock that twisted underhoof and was kicked out behind. I should have fallen, should have stumbled, but a fraction of Poseidon’s divinity was inside me. I would have kept galloping… but He wanted me to stop here, so I did. Holding my head high, I panted for breath, though I knew I could have run for eternity.
   I looked around, blinking my eyes against the dust my arrival had brought. There were three figures. One was my master: Massive, yet gentle, towering above me with a sharp glow in his eyes that was both horrifying and loving. Opposite him was a woman, as tall as he, and with the same glow about her eyes. She was armoured in polished bronze with a helmet of boars’ tusks and a figure-eight shield. A fragment of long-dormant knowledge told me that both armor and shield were Mycenean in design. In her hand was a long spear with a polished bronze head. A third figure, small, mortal, stood between the two divinities. Below his waist he had the twisting body and tail of a massive green-splotched serpent, but above he was human. His chest and shoulders were clothed in coarse wool with fringes dyed bright colours, and his head was topped with a leather cap. He was armed with a short throwing spear.
   “My gift!” the divine male—my lord, Poseidon—boomed. “A friend to bear you, a servant to work for you, and a companion to be with you!”
   The mortal slithered over and then slowly around me as I turned my neck to watch him. He was clean; he smelled mostly of clover and oil, with a faint aroma of sweat and dirt. On my far side he stopped and carefully held his hand out towards me. Stretching my head, I inhaled his scents, one of sweat and work, and one a slight trembling of fear. I watched as he backed away between the two divinities.
   “A fair gift, Poseidon.” The mortal did not look down or avert his eyes; instead he looked straight up and into Poseidon’s. “He will aid me in this city in many ways.” Then he turned to the woman. “And what is your gift, Athena?”
   She spoke, her voice soft, melodious, yet hard as flint. “My gift is far simpler, Kekrops, and a child of the earth you came from. Behold!” And with that, she raised her spear and threw it into the earth—point first. So mighty was the throw that almost half its length vanished from sight in the soil. For a moment nothing happened… and then the visible half of the spear shattered, transforming into branches and leaves. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, it grew into a tree that loomed over all of us. Buds grew and changed into small green and black fruit that ripened in an instant. One fell, landing in Athena’s outstretched hand. It was small and innocuous, yet she handed it to Kekrops.
   “The olive. It is food, and from it you can get oil. In time you will find other uses. You will trade it, and through that trade your city will grow wealthy and wise. This is my gift.”
   Kekrops looked at the olive in his hand, turning it around and around. Sniffing it, he finally tossed it in his mouth where he chewed it, first slowly, and then with eagerness. He turned away from Athena towards Poseidon. Before speaking he finished chewing and swallowed. “O Poseidon, though your gift is wondrous, Athena’s gift is even more so.” The goddess smirked as Poseidon frowned. “I must choose her gift over yours.”
   For a moment the sky darkened, but then the gathering clouds parted. “As Zeus proclaimed, your judgment must be accepted. The horse is no longer your gift, but a gift to all. My gift. And I offer a blessing and a curse: By my sea shall your city become great, and by my sea shall it be brought to heel.” Then he turned to me and I looked up and into his face. “I give you the freedom of the land! From the sea you came, and with the sea shall you breed. Your children will fill the earth and eventually bring this city of Athens low. You are immortal, semi-divine. Live well!” And with that he vanished.
   I was free! For a second I looked back to the remaining two. Kekrops was picking another olive; Athena ignored me. It didn’t matter. Turning, I leapt down the slope and galloped through the grass. Miles passed beneath my hoofs, grass, rock, mountains, sandy slopes. Nothing could hurt me. When I felt the urge I nibbled at dry grasses on rocky slopes, or on rich grasses near burbling streams in hidden valleys. Mostly I galloped, caught between the emptiness of the sky and the hardness of the earth.
   I galloped and ate and galloped some more until the sea called…

Chapter 3
-= Primitive Answers =-

   The sea, always the sea. It had cast me out—why was it calling me again? I tried to resist, galloping higher and further, but I could always feel its call. It became like a drug, a need, a desperation. Galloping as far as I could, as fast as I could, galloping to the top of the furthest mountain I could reach… no matter where I fled, the call was as strong as ever. Finally I stood at the edge of a cliff of unbelievable height, and at its base, invisible beneath the layers of cloud, was the world-circling sea—a snake that curled upon itself and entrapped everything.
   I was hot, sweaty, nervous, irritable. I wanted to flee, but I couldn’t. Rearing, I screamed my hatred and fear, but—suddenly a prisoner in my own body, I leapt off and into the sea far, far, far below. The fall was long, possibly endless. Was it gravity or the sea’s call that pulled me down? Too soon and too late I reached the water and it embraced me, loved me, gently held me. It pushed me to the surface and gently carried me away from the cliffs and towards the gentle beaches. But that was not all it did.
   I was a man in my first life; I was an elemental force with the appearance of a woman in my next; and in my third incarnation, now, I was a horse. Not a male horse, but a mare. Not a free semi-divine being, but a mere tool, a creature to create a race. I was in heat, and only the cooling waters of Poseidon’s domain could press in and cool my fire. I tried to flee the ocean, screaming my rage and terror, but I was out too far; I forced myself to inhale the water that surrounded me, but as it passed my nostrils it became air. Helpless, I felt the water push itself into my womb, changing, shrinking. A pair of eggs met the water as it divided… and I knew I was pregnant with twins, one of each sex.
    on my side, sucking in gulps of air and feeling nothing but betrayal. I’d been used!
   But in that betrayal my mind snapped and reformed. And I remembered.
   Forgetting Poseidon’s gift of coordination, I clumsily staggered to my hooves, and then fell onto the rounded volcanic pebbles as I tried to walk. I tried again, got up faster, got a step further, and then fell again. My hate grew, as did my memories of what had happened to me.
   Days passed. Falling again and again I relearned how to walk, and then to gallop. Always my flesh remained undamaged. Neither scarred nor scratched, not even when I tried nipping my pale blue-gray hide. My teeth could not break the skin. Grabbing the white hairs of my tail in my mouth, I couldn’t even pull one out! Even refusing to eat or drink didn’t work, because I remained stubbornly healthy.
   Months passed. Where once I’d galloped, now I wandered. Even though I remained stubbornly healthy, I always felt thirsty and hungry. Finally I gave in and ate and drank.
   And hated.
   Months passed. The sun rose and fell. I was a horse, a mare, and now I had nothing but time. Lots of time. Time to think, time to plot.
   My name—my human name—was Stephan Kratousa. I was born in the outskirts of Athens in 1973. I’d attended university, where I specialized in early Bronze Age Mediterranean culture and history, and the classical myths my father had taught me to love that derived from that period. Early I’d learned that I could never be a leader in the field; I lacked what it took—maybe the intelligence, or maybe the mindset—to look at fragments of an unknown artifact and see how they were put together. But I knew my stuff. Instead I specialized in the grunt work, the gathering, the digging. Jobs were tight, so being physically inclined I learned to dive, and specialized in that. The mysteries off of Santorini had been a godsend, perfect for me. John… did he survive? He’d been the technical specialist, I’d been the assistant.
   What had happened?
   Was I dead?
   My death was possible, even likely… yet I couldn’t accept it. I felt too alive, even as I became more and more bloated. Had I been recovered—was I, even now, lying in a delirium in a hospital somewhere? I couldn’t believe that. Granted, I had no evidence, but I just knew it was wrong. So what was going on?
   Just then one of the twins kicked, and I nickered from the pain and the joy my body felt.
   No! It was not joy! I refused to feel joy!
   I’d been used!
   But by who? Could the classical divinities be real? I refused to believe that. What then? Aliens? But why would they be doing this?
   By Poseidon… No! By God, I’d find out! But how?
   And then I felt the first pain. In the middle of endless grass I stood, my legs quivering ever so slightly. The divine horse engulfed my mind, my memories fled. I stood and squeezed and squealed in pain and joy as my first children were pushed out, one after another. One was as black as night, the other a light bay. I licked them clean, and then let them suckle, at peace with the world. My mind was wholly that of a mundane horse.
   More time passed. My children grew as I remained unchanging. They learned to eat grass, to flee from predators. They became adults.
   And the sea called again.
   Again I struggled, but to no avail. The sea reeled me in, and again it raped me. Again, it was that shock which summoned forth my human memories that had been submerged in the process of giving birth. But this time they came harder, slower. I fought for them, clinging tightly to them. More time passed, more unwanted litters, and then the return to the sea, another rape, a fight for my memories, pregnancy, and birth. This continued… I can’t say how many years. As my progeny grew into the hundreds and then the thousands I learned to hide my memories, to keep them safe, to keep them always mine. Only when I was pregnant could they appear from their hidden places, for too short a time. For a few days a year I could actually think. And then I hid them away again as the cycle continued.
   But even with everything I remembered, and with all my plotting, I gained nothing. What could I do? How could I escape? Ages passed… and nothing changed. I needed help—but from who? Not the gods. They hadn’t—couldn’t have—existed in the history I knew, but I couldn’t argue with what I saw here and now. And there was Kekrops. Were there any normal humans, mortal men and women? Could I seek them out?
   More rapes; more births. I wandered, searching. Finally I found primitive huts and towns. Not Mycenean—it was far too early for that—but recognizable as one of the seeds from which that culture would spring.
   When I approached they all fled from me.
   I needed someone special. A being believed to have powers. It was risky, but I was getting desperate. Given the time period I would need a priestess—the male dominance of the classical Greek myths was thousands of years in the future.
   But then why had I already been at the mythological founding of Athens?
   I shook my head and searched, wandering the land in my lucid moments between impregnation and birth.
   And finally I found what I was looking for.
    I remembered the story of Medusa, and what were likely the historical truths behind that story. Once she’d been the primary earth goddess; the snake symbolized female wisdom and mystery, the cycles of time, the cycles of life and death. She had been feared and needed, kept isolated all the time but for a few special rituals. I searched for her, cycle after cycle, until finally I found her.
   I picked my way across the broken rock and sacrificial bones. Keeping my head low to avoid the faint mist of volcanic vapours drifting along the ceiling, I walked into the torch-lit cave. Animal hides hung as doors one after the other, keeping people from gazing upon the vessel of divinity. I passed one and another and another, and eventually the last. With each passing I had to force down the fearful mind of the horse as it threatened to engulf me.
   The final chamber was large, a cathedral-like space encircled with stalactites and stalagmites, most of which had met in mutual embrace. I heard water dripping in the distance. She was before me, sitting with legs crossed on what I thought was a bearskin, fur up. Her flesh was covered with a greenish mud cracked from her movement, and even her hair was covered in the green mud and divided into thick strands that hung down her back. Her only other covering was a crude facsimile of wings, made of bones tied together with leather straps and covered in feathers that sat on her shoulders and stretched out a metre to either side. A mask hid her face. It was carved—or rather constructed—of bone, tiny fragments somehow cemented together to appear like scales, and then shaped and carved and assembled into a fanged face of horror through which her eyes peered as shadows.
   Her voice echoed through the cavern: “You seek answers from Medusa.”
   I tried to speak, but all that came out was neighs, nickers, and snorts. I screamed out my anger and frustration.
   “You want to know what is going on.”
   I screamed again, hating my inability to talk. Yet somehow… she knew! Human she might be, but her perceptions were more than human. I could sense power, ancient knowledge. Around us the torches flickered and dimmed.
   “This is a place of memory, a vortex of human dreams.”
   What? I wanted to ask, but my question came out as a loud and long nicker.
    “Dreams surround us. The rocks remember, the earth. The vines and plants. Their power gathers, swirls, remembers, seeks.”
   Involuntarily I took a hesitant step backward, ending with one of my forelegs still raised.
   “The memories need a mind to exist. For ages they were formless, quiet, dark. But then humanity came near enough. Their minds were weak, they’d forgotten other than memories they didn’t know they had.”
   She stood up, still wearing the mask. The wings, more real now then created, settled behind her back and the mud looked more and more like actual scales. I stepped backwards to keep my distance.
   “One came, the first one. From him the dreams gained existence. They gained power to drag others down. They gained life!”
   I was pressed back against a cage of calcium pillars as she grew taller and darker.
   “They can’t let you escape!” Her voice turned into a hiss, the mask became slick as though alive.
   I fought to remember the tales—the reality behind the myths. That had never been my strong point, but I’d taken part in discussions about it. There were symbols of power, statues, carvings…
   Masks! If I removed the mask, I would remove her power!
   “This place is your dream!”
   With that I lunged forward, curving my long neck to grasp the edge of the mask in my teeth. No longer inert bone and paint, the mask was alive! It was warm and pulsing. I could feel the fangs that had once been painted dig into my lips and pump out their venom. Rearing up, I yanked the mask away; then I stumbled backwards, falling on a single stalagmite that pierced me like the ocean had. The mask twisted itself onto my face and I screamed in fear and panic.
   Medusa, averting her face, screamed with me.
   The torches went dark and the cave plunged into blackness.
   I could feel the stalagmite changing, transforming from rock to flesh. I could feel the mask stretching. It surrounded me, engulfed me. It began changing me.
   A form, glowing, hovered before me. I recognized it through the narrow eyeholes of the mask. It was Athena, wearing the same form that had planted an olive tree and claimed the city.
   “Stephan!” Her voice echoed off the walls and in the distance I could barely hear Medusa whimper in fear. “You dare rape my priestess!”
   Rape? What?! And then I remembered: Zeus had overthrown the old Medusa goddess by devouring her. What Medusa had represented was reborn as Athena—but that hadn’t been enough. The old cult was still active, hence Medusa was changed into a hideous creature eventually to be killed by Perseus. One of the later myths held that Medusa had been a mortal who was raped by Poseidon in a temple of Athena. Athena had blamed Medusa and cursed her, transforming her hair into snakes and her appearance into something so horrible that anybody who looked upon her would turn to stone.
    I was Poseidon’s creation; from a certain point of view, that made me the god. And by tearing off the mask I had raped Medusa—symbolically, at least—just as her temple had raped me.
   Most primitive rites had treated sex as a source of power, and it seemed that I was trapped and surrounded by that power which seemed to exist in this place and time.
   “Stephan, you hate your life, so I free you from your form!”
   I felt myself continue to change, shrinking. My hind legs were sucked into me, my fur and mane fell out, and I writhed in pleasure and pain. The mask engulfed me, fighting to take over my mind.
   “I curse you. You will become so horrible that nobody can look upon you, lest they turn to stone! You shall be shunned and hated, forced to hide, to eke out an unenviable existence.”
   My forelegs stretched, split, become scaled reptilian hands as my body stretched and grew. My mane twisted, entangled itself, changing into hissing snakes that curled and snapped. Snakes had been part of the symbology of the original Medusa; the shedding of their skin represented death and rebirth. When her cult was deposed, they had changed into symbols of evil and death.
   Like I was changing.
   Athena turned from me. “As for you, the fault is not yours. You shall replace what Stephan had betrayed. You shall become Poseidon’s creation and continue His will.”
   A horse screamed, hooves clattered. I heard the creature gallop and then the sounds faded in the distance.
   “Stephan, live your curse!” And with those words, Athena vanished.
   My changes ended. The cave resumed its rocky state, all except the stalagmite that continued pumping into me. I writhed, trapped, unable to escape.
   On my head my hair hissed and snapped. Fangs ripped into my neck and arms, leaving behind blood and scraps of flesh that bled, and then healed.

Chapter 4
-= Medusa =-

   My life became a living hell. My lair was the cave that the other Medusa had lived in, but for her it had been a shrine, a sacred temple. For me it was a prison. My hair constantly ripped chunks of flesh from my back and face; the snakes even tore out my eyes.
    I always got better.
    And I was always hungry. Any living thing that saw me, even trees and plants, turned to stone. If there was the slightest light, there was instantly a new rock.
   I couldn’t eat rock.
   The only thing that kept me alive in the early days was the stalagmite in the blackness of my cave. Sucking at it yielded a hot, salty goo that I often couldn’t force myself to swallow. And even when I did, the stuff made my head-snakes even more active…
   The only real solution was to pierce my womanhood—snakehood?—on it; somehow, that sustained me in a kind of half-life.
   Hell passed. I got used to my chthonic existence hiding in the cave, and learned to come out only on black, moonless nights. Eventually I found that dead things were immune to my petrifying curse—only the living turned to stone. That suggested possibilities… and I had all the time I could want to explore them. I gathered fallen branches, deadwood, and I dissected (as best I could) the bodies of bats which laired in my cave and were caught by my hair. With bat sinews and wood, I fashioned a crude bow and some arrows.
   Years of practice improved my skills, and years of living in blackness improved my senses. Eventually I could hunt in pitch dark, sensing my prey by its body heat and its sounds of movement. The first time my prey injured me, I learned that my blood was a hideous, acidic poison; after that, I pierced my flesh to tip the flint arrowheads with my blood.
   With time, I only needed one shot.
   After each kill I had to fight the snakes on my head to consume it. As I raised the flesh to my mouth, they struck down, clamping onto it with their fangs and trying to rip it away. Usually they got most of it; eventually I just let them have all of it. They being parts of my body, whatever they ate couldn’t help but sustain me. My stomach always rumbled its pain regardless…
   I just wished, time and again, that I could control them.
   Always they were snapping. If not eating flesh I killed, they were eating me in a pointless orgy of failed self-destruction. I have vague memories of smashing my head against a cave wall time and again, beating the snakes into a pulp, cracking my skull until I could feel my brain dripping down along with my blood…
   …and waking up, fully healed, the next day.
   The only way I could gain a semblance of clear-headedness was to carve a mask from the deadwood I’d collected. Crude flint tools allowed me to shape the wood, and eventually I had something to protect my face from the snakes. At first I had to hold it in place with a hand, as my skin excreted a corrosive slime that quickly ate through any grass or sinew I tried to tie the mask with. With time I learned to twist leather straps together into a heavy rope that lasted for a while. Of course I got plenty of practice reweaving this rope after the corrosion ate it away, but it was the best I could do. Eventually the mask broke, too, both from the slime and from my head-snakes’ incessant attacks.
   But it gave me some time to think.
   Medusa had said that this world needed dreams. Before them it had been formless, without purpose. To gain life they had had to steal them from a human. In ancient times could this place have been above the surface, a shrine, a place of power, before Santorini exploded? Could this place be the source of the classical myths? How many others beside myself had this place ensnared?
   I thought about Medusa’s words. From what she’d told me, it seemed that this world could be a kind of living thing unto itself. It just wasn’t sentient—or at least it hadn’t been until the arrival of humans. And there was something in this world which, having touched human dreams and memories, wanted and needed more of what it had gotten a taste of. But did that sort of contact work both ways—could this world affect human minds, as those minds had affected it? In ancient times could this place have been above the surface, a shrine, a place of power, before Santorini exploded? Could this place be the source of the classical myths? How many others beside myself had this place ensnared?
   Did it really matter?
    I had to escape, and my current form was not the way to do it. I tried willing a change; nothing happened. I tried praying to the classical Greek divinities, but I never got any kind of answer.
   Given that I’d assumed the role of the literally godforsaken Medusa, I hadn’t really expected one. Or maybe it was because I couldn’t speak—just hiss.
    Eventually I decided to simply wait for my death. I knew the myth of Perseus—the final destruction of Medusa’s cult by the religion of Zeus. Perseus kills Medusa and takes her head; from Medusa’s blood rise two monsters, the first Pegasus, and the second Chrysaor. That suggested a way out—reincarnation. Given the choice between a winged horse and a warrior giant, I knew which I preferred.
   The question was… how?
   Well, Pegasus was also said to be a son of Poseidon, through Medusa.Since I’d been the first horse, that experience might help guide my soul into the desired new body. If—and a terribly big ‘if’ it was, at that!—things worked that way.
   As I waited, I took to carving replacement masks in the shape of a stylized horse, with feathers scavenged from the ground spreading out from the sides to represent wings. I had no idea whether this would influence my fate, but my only other options were becoming a giant, or simply dying.
   Eventually a third possibility occurred to me: Barter! There were creatures with the power of divinities in this place. If the Perseus myth was true here (and all my experiences so far suggested that it was), then if I convinced Perseus that I could kill him, I might be able to bargain. I practiced with my bow.
   Years passed, though it was hard to keep track in my eternal darkness, before somebody came. They came with a torch, dressed in crude furs with leather wrappings around their legs and armed only with a flint-tipped wooden spear. Could this be Perseus? Oddly, though I could see him in the light, he remained flesh. Did the victim have to see me? It fit the myth… Remaining in the blackness, I readied my bow; my first arrow went through his leg. I slithered back into the darkness and waited.
    He screamed. That was all that happened. Time passed and his torch went out… and eventually his screams stopped.
    I was easily hungry enough to eat the corpse, except I couldn’t. He was human, I was human. At least in mind I was. A day passed? My mask fell to pieces and I was driven to slither by him to hunt food I could eat, and to find more deadwood.
   My snakes had other ideas. They struck out at the corpse and began tearing off chunks of cold flesh. Some just held on so that all I could do was drag the corpse along with me. Eventually I gave in to the inevitable and let them eat.
   Was this cannibalism? After all this time, was my soul still human? It seemed that it was, as I became nauseous, and then sick. But as my hair gorged itself, all I could vomit up was a thin gruel. By the time the snakes were done, only bone remained.
   At least they stopped biting me as they digested.
   Years passed. Others came. Each one I crippled with a single shot, and they lay there until they died. Each one I eventually let my snakes eat. It seemed that the snakes had some control over my body; though I often resisted until I fell asleep, I always awoke beside what was left of the corpse with the snakes gorging themselves.
   Eventually I gave in to the inevitable and let the snakes eat right away. And every time, I vomited up what little was in my stomach.
   More years passed, my mind wandered around and around, learning nothing new. My movements wore down the rock, changing the cave into a labyrinth of curving corridors. And eventually Perseus came.
   How did I know it was Perseus? I just knew—I can’t describe it any other way. Somehow I could feel that it was him, that the gods were with him. That my day had come.
   By now my horse masks were exquisitely carved, my bow and arrows deadly and sharp. Part of me wanted to not resist… but the snakes wouldn’t let my body wait for death. I went on the hunt.
   The hunt lasted far longer than any of the others. I could see his torchlight reflecting from the wet ceiling; I could hear his bronze panoply gently rattle as he moved. Because of these I could ambush him, or so I thought. No matter how hard I tried, how carefully I planned my surprise, somehow his shield was always in the way. Just before I fled each failure I could sometimes see his face, its fear, its hope. A fear and hope that echoed mine. Slowly I was forced further and further back as my arrows ran low. He cornered me, and I saw his form as he looked at me in the polished surface of his bronze shield.
   His first arrow struck me in one eye, shattering the mask which clattered to the floor. His second in struck me in my other eye. I screamed in pain in my blindness. The pain burned through me, and yet a part of me listened as he approached. My snakes hissed and struck at his spear, which he let them wrench from his hands.
   Finally, a single stroke of his bronze sword cleaved my head from my shoulders.
   Even through the pain I exulted, and I feared. I focused my thoughts on the blood, and on Pegasus. He clasped me by my snakes which hung limp and dead, and behind me I heard my body writhe as it died.
   But no blood. No changes.
   I tried to hiss out my rage. My mouth opened, but no sound came out.
   I could feel him toss me into a coarse sack, and only then did I feel a single drop of blood ooze from my severed throat. Desperately I thrust my mind into that blood. All sensation vanished. I had existence but nothing else. More blood dripped; my body grew larger.
   My body collected, slipped through the material. I forced myself to ignore everything. To feel a link to Poseidon. To remember the horse I had been. To dream of wings… That last dream I held on to like a terrier. I refused to let go! I felt my body coalesce, gather, grow, as more blood splattered on the ground.
   Nothing happened and I despaired. I almost lost the dream. But then, a miracle!
   My body stretched, it pulled air into me, it drew upon the souls of all the masks I’d carved. A spring burst from the ground and fresh water filled me like the ocean once had. My body grew, my liquid form sublimated to a mist that emulated flesh and blood. Feathers burst from my shoulders; hair from my head, neck, and rear. In an instant I had eyes and I could see Perseus staring at me, the bag with Medusa’s head dropped on the ground. Between us were currents, movements of air. My body changed and stretched, I screamed in joy. But I never became solid. I was a creature of mist; not of earth, not of blood, and not of flesh. I realized that I controlled my very being—I could solidify and walk as solid on solid; I could drift through the air as a creature that belonged there. Always I appeared as a winged horse. And best of all, the pain—the eternal pain—was gone!
   I let myself coalesce standing in the water of the spring that had formed with my birth, not quite touching the rock beneath, and let Perseus approach.

Chapter 5
-= Flight =-

   I stood there, floating more on the air than in the water, but not standing on the earth either, as Perseus approached. The water felt odd; it felt a part of me, and it felt separate. It was like two liquid mediums that touched but did not mix. I could feel the rock, and I could feel myself pushing away from it.
   And then Perseus touched my shoulder.
   His touch was odd—not like the touch I’d felt from other horses when I’d been a horse. Has hand felt hot, and painfully dry. I could feel my hide ripple like water, and it seemed as though my skin was an elastic wall containing my mass. I turned my head and looked at him. He stopped, so I took a step forward.
   I heard a voice, and from his reaction I’d guess he heard it too. It sounded to me like Athena: “Take her…”
   ‘Her’? Not a stallion, then; this form wasn’t everything I’d hoped for. Well, considering my past record, gender-wise, I treated it philosophically. I lowered my head, inviting him aboard. I knew the myth, and I couldn’t see any harm in letting him fulfill it now. A short trip, an adventure, and then I might be able to escape!
   And suddenly he was on my back. I’d never been ridden before, and I had to force down an urge to buck, though I did stumble sideways and onto the rock beside the spring which then began burbling forth more water.
   I could feel my body changing, hardening, at least around him. To compensate, my head and neck grew less dense. Not much, but enough.
   “Good girl…”
   I nickered.
   And then he kneed me!
   I reared, screamed my displeasure, and Perseus almost fell off. In fact he would have if he hadn’t grabbed my mane—which hurt! Instead of lowering my forequarters, I tried pushing with my mind and succeeded in raising my hindquarters as I stretched out my wings.
   He patted me on the neck. “Go, girl… Go!”
   I rolled my eyes and floated over towards where he’d dropped the bag with my former head. As I rose out of the water, it rolled off me like oil off of a slick plastic. Stopping beside the bag I nickered.
   “Good girl.”
   I just snorted.
   He quickly swung off, grabbed the bag, and then leapt onto my back. This time I was ready and kept from rearing. Then he kneed me again, the bastard, and again I reared and leapt into the air.
   All around me were transparent streams of air patterns, like long splotches of transparent oil floating in clear water. Twisting my head, I made a course around them, pushing myself along with each stroke of my wings. The wings didn’t keep me aloft; it was the nature of my body. I was air and water, and it was easy to push away the elemental earth. A last glance behind at my prison showed Chrysaor in his polished bronze waving his sword and cursing. As expected, since the myth stated that both of us came from the blood…
   And then we entered a cloud. It was a cold mist that called to me, and I let particles be pulled into my body to mix with my mass. Another stroke of my wings and we were above the clouds and I heard Perseus whoop for joy. I screamed with him.
   “To Joppa!”
   And where the hell was Joppa? I heard a voice in my head: It’s across the Aegean.
   Athena? I thought.
   Only silence greeted me. The voice had sounded like her, but purer. I couldn’t be sure. Still, it was likely as Athena had been Perseus’ patron in the myths.
   I read the air, felt the pressures of the earth, and turned myself to the west. Was this how birds did it? Or was this simply the magic in the myth? Who knew? At this point, I didn’t care. Stretching my neck forward, I beat my wings faster and faster, glorying in the streaming of air past my nostrils. Perseus gripped my mane and I neighed in pain and laughter as he began to struggle to hold on. I just went faster. The clouds became a blur—
   The same voice in my head: If you drop him, your eternity as Medusa will seem an instant of pleasure…
   I slowed down to a more sedate pace and felt Perseus relax.
   I’d escaped Medusa’s hellish existence… but what was I to do now? There were various versions of the Perseus myth, and not all involved him using Medusa’s head to defeat Poseidon’s sea monster. In some he sued for Andromeda’s hand, using the head to defeat King Cepheus’ guards; in others, he used it along the way to defeat other horrible monsters.
   I wasn’t sure which version I wanted. Up to now you could consider me as a loyal hero devoted to Poseidon, with Athena as an enemy. Yet now I was helping Athena, possibly against a creature of Poseidon’s. Goddess of wisdom, or god of the sea: Whichever of them I helped, I’d be opposing the other—and the myths were all too clear on what happened to mortals who crossed the gods. I didn’t want to offend either deity, yet what choice did I have? And if I was in the myth where Perseus defeated a monster about to eat Andromeda—a monster created by Poseidon!—the sea-god would not be pleased with me.
   Or was I reading too much into the whole thing..?
   Again in my head: Turn south, Stephan.
   I did so, and let myself fall through the clouds until I could see what I guessed was the eastern coast of the Aegean below me.
   It couldn’t be the Aegean, though—I was in a god-damned cave! Yet cave or no, it looked like a real ocean, and I had to treat it as such. Even if this place had been created from human dreams, it had rules, and it seemed that I was bound to them.
   “There she is!” Perseus yelled.
   From the corner of my eye, I saw him pointing. I followed his gaze until I saw what I had most feared: A woman, naked, tied to a rock outcropping and surrounded by crashing waves. And in the depths, I could see a massive greenish head. Whipping my wings down, I reared and stopped where I was.
   “It’s all right, girl,” Perseus said. “I won’t let the beast hurt you.”
   I beat my wings and drifted backwards, my head raised high.
   And then Athena in my mind once more: Stephan, you know what you have to do. Do it!
   I swallowed, yanked my head even higher, flapped my wings, and moved further away.
   “Andromeda! Close your eyes!” Perseus shouted.
   My worst nightmare—Whipping my head back and forth, frantically looking for an escape, I felt Perseus struggling to hold on. Below me, the water boiled. A serpentine head broke the surface and reared upwards. It was smooth, a medium green lightening down the neck. Its scent struck me as I climbed to safety, the hot, fetid breath of decaying meat. And age. Incredible, ancient age. Through the water I could see its legs, or rather fins, and its long sinuous tail. A plesiosaur!?
   Athena: Stephan, if Andromeda dies…
   What the hell was I supposed to do!?
   Well, if I was in the myths… I shouted out, “Poseidon!” though the sound came out as a horse’s scream.
   Athena: Take Perseus closer!
   I pulled my wings close to my body and began to drop like a rock. Perseus grabbed my mane and managed to stay on. Maybe if I got close enough to the sea, Poseidon would hear me..?
   “Pegasus, just bear me this once and I’ll grant you your freedom. Andromeda..!”
   A few hundred metres above the water,I stretched out my wings and caught the air. “Poseidon!” I screamed again.
   By now the plesiosaur had humped its body up onto shallow rocks, and I could see water rolling off its back. Its head reared back and saliva dripped from its jaws to splash into the surface below. All around was a piercing scream from the tied-up woman, not that I could blame her.
   “Poseidon!”—and the sea-god ignored me still.
   The clouds cleared and beams of sunlight bounced off the waves below me. I stroked again, getting closer to the creature’s jaws.
   Stephan… Athena’s voice was getting angry.
   I could feel Perseus struggling, raising his hand to hold the sack up high. He let go of my neck and clasped the blood soaked bottom of the bag and preparing to yank it.
   “Poseidon!” I screamed again.
   If Perseus falls off, Stephan..!
   What was I supposed to do? Had Poseidon abandoned me? Surely he didn’t consider my visit to Medusa a betrayal; the myths said he’d raped her, which is what had started the cycle!
   I looked up. The plesiosaur was lunging at Andromeda, though it was watching us too. It was a beast; Andromeda was a human.
   I knew what I had to do.
   With a slow downbeat I held myself steady and closed my eyes. Flicking my ears backward to cup the sound from the sack I heard it slither off my former head. There was silence, even the ocean seemed to be waiting. Then a reptilian scream—followed by the roaring cracks of rock shattering under immense stress. Opening my eye on the opposite side from where Perseus was holding Medusa’s head, I watched the craggy stone outcropping that had once been a plesiosaur collapse into the angry waves.
   I screamed out, “Poseidon! What was I supposed to do!?”
   Only the hiss of the waves answered me.
   Fine! Still keeping my right eye closed, I beat my wings slowly, gently drifting to where Andromeda was tied to the rocks. I could hear Perseus fumbling with the sack and hoped he wouldn’t take too long. In the distance I heard a voice, shouting. Twisting my ears I caught hints of sound. I glanced towards the walls of the city and saw warriors armoured in leather with bronze helmets readying bows. An older man was standing amidst them, clothed in Tyrian purple and pointing at me and Perseus. King Cepheus! Hoping Perseus wouldn’t fall, I whipped myself around and sped towards the wall, moving at an angle along it so that Medusa’s head was in clear sight.
   There were no arrows, just the sound of a statue toppling off the wall and falling, bouncing off the cliff on the way down and shattering at the bottom. Turning the other way I let myself look. A line of archer statues, and a shattered statue of a king being consumed by the waves.
   Finally Perseus got the head back in its sack. “It’s all right, Pegasus. It’s all right,” he whispered as he leaned close to my ears. He patted my neck. “Can you take me to Andromeda?”
   Gently I flew us over to the rock outcropping and let Perseus get off. Still hovering, I watched him draw a bronze dagger and start cutting her ropes as she sobbed.
   “I free you, Pegasus,” he whispered. “Go.”
   I was free! Free!
   You believe yourself free? Athena’s voice said. You can’t escape.
   Screaming defiance, I beat my wings and flew higher and higher. Going through the sea would not work for my escape, but there was the ceiling. There could be cracks, tunnels, caves. Possibly volcanic tubes leading to Santorini. That was my hope, but most of me didn’t care. I was free of Medusa, free of darkness and pain.
   I was free to fly!
   Like a rocket I burst through the clouds and into the glittering sunshine. The earth began to curve below me, but I pushed away from the earth harder and beat my wings faster. I would see the whole world that trapped me—a planet-sized prison I’d escape! With each beat of my wings I flew higher, further from the hell I’d been in. The world curved more, and soon I could see the ocean glittering around everything. Higher, higher! The world below me began to distort, as though seen through a funhouse mirror. It twisted and bent. Portions began to swirl as though caught in a whirlpool. First slowly, and then faster. The air grew thinner, and warped. Electricity danced amongst my feathers and sudden gusts of wind tried to thrust me down. The wind grew stronger and spun me around, slowed me down.
   I wouldn’t be stopped!
   I was tired now, tired for the first time in this body. The air swirled around me. Balls of lightning burst in my feathers, on my hide, burning, piercing the thin film of my skin and ionizing the liquid inside me before I could heal.
   Higher! Higher!
   The air was a shrieking gale. Below me the world was now whirlpools of colour that slowly moved around each other in complex randomness. There was no order in them, just swirls of colour. I could see the vortexes stretch, change.
   The wind howled, lightning flashed. Ozone tinged my nostrils with every breath. Hail began beating against my wings pressing me down. A black and angry tornado caught me, whipped me around and sucked me down, but I fought it. I angled my wings and the wind shoved me out and up before it could adjust. Lightning was all around me, the world below was nothing but a swirl of colour. Wind beat upon me from all directions, the hail thickened, pounding on my wings. If I had bones they would have snapped, but I was made of air and mist and I laughed at the storm’s fury! The wind howled, roaring out its anger. Lightning stabbed out continuously.
   Still I pushed myself higher.
   The air changed, it beat on my from all sides, always pushing me down, or trying to. It spun me around, flipped me over, but I refused to let it win! Ages passed as I fought it, my lungs gasping for air in the howling gale. Electricity danced along my mane and tail and body, stinging where it touched even though there was nowhere it could have grounded.
   I pushed myself higher still.
   And suddenly—nothing. It was black, silent. Below me was only a dim angry glow. My body twisted, began to collapse. I was not alive and where I was now would not let me continue to exist. Helpless, I began falling; I looked upward as long as I could, and saw only twisted, dry rock…

   I don’t know how much time passed. The next thing I knew, I was standing just above a field and nibbling on the tips of the stalks of grass. It seems that I’d survived my fall.
   According to the common myths Pegasus was never slain, and had no offspring. He flitted around, was tamed by Bellerophon using a magic golden bridle from Athena, and eventually Pegasus threw him when he tried to reach Olympus. Then Pegasus became the lightning bearer for Zeus, and was eventually transformed into a constellation.
    An interesting fate, perhaps, but not a way out; this existence of mine, while it might be peculiar, was surely preferable to an eternity of boredom. then again, perhaps becoming a constellation would kill me, as there were no stars above—just naked rock. Perhaps… but I really didn’t want to find out. As far as I knew, I was trapped: I couldn’t escape in this form, and I couldn’t escape from this form.
   Time passed. I was unchanging, eternal. I never flew that high again, though I did try once or twice. Each time my body revolted and went back down on its own. I tried flying over the ocean, and diving into it, but I found that I couldn’t break its surface. I tried from greater and greater heights. Eventually when I hit I splashed into a puddle of liquid that floated on the surface. Days passed before I coalesced back into a Pegasus form.
   No gods ever spoke to me.
   More time passed and I just flitted and ate and cursed my fate. Eternal life, eternal boredom…
   Why was this happening to me!?
   I searched my memories for the lesser known myths, the uncommon myths, the alternate myths. Eventually I remembered one, or a fraction of it: A story which told that centaurs were the children of Ixion and a cloud which had been made to look like Hera. Ixion had married Dia, the daughter of a man named Eioneus—and then killed his father-in-law, to avoid paying the bride price for his daughter. No man or god would purify Ixion of his crime of murdering kin, but eventually Zeus decided to and brought Ixion to Olympus. Ixion attempted to seduce Hera; Hera told Zeus; and Zeus transformed a cloud into Hera as a test… which Ixion failed. Depending on which version of Ixion’s story you chose to believe, the children of Ixion and the cloud were either the race of centaurs, or else the individual Centaurus who then birthed the centaurs upon the Magnesian mares. I vaguely remembered a third version involving Pegasus? but couldn’t recall the details. Could it be that Centaurus had mated with Pegasus..?
   I clung to that version of the story. After all, what did I have to lose?
   I started flying and nibbling around the base of Olympus and waited. Years passed. I thought about what I’d seen. Obviously I couldn’t exist as a magical entity beyond this place, whatever it was. There was a definite border; maybe not visible, but present. I couldn’t fly out. The only reason I’d been able to, that one time, was because my magical nature allowed me to fight for all the time it took. But beyond the border… my magical form could no longer exist. That meant that I had to escape by water.
   And what had I seen? Were there regions of myth that interacted? Could I move from one to another? Were these regions inhabited—for that matter, could they be sentient themselves? I wish I knew.
   Time passed as I pondered. Eventually Ixion was taken to Olympus, and I watched from a distance and waited. The cloud was transformed and Ixion doomed himself. A few days after the mating, the cloud birthed what I assumed was Centaurus.
   I’d never read a description of Centaurus, and maybe what I saw was the reason. He was not a centaur, not a man, not a horse. If anything, he was a human-shaped air elemental. His human body formed from mist as did his chest, and then both faded into a cloud, sort of like the body of a centaur.
   I could have fled—part of me wanted to—but Centaurus represented escape!
   As far as I could tell he wasn’t intelligent, just a force. I had to woo him, tease him by flying round him and zipping through the tenuous outer portions of his rear body. He could move only slowly, unless the wind blew him. Ultimately I had to fly into the center of his body, at speed to pierce the shell around him that was similar to the shell around me. Inside was not a cloud but a thick, cloying mist; it felt like a bath of clinging oil and smelt like a sewer. A drop forced itself into my womb—and then more, and more. I could feel myself bloating, expanding like a balloon. Screaming, I flapped my wings and forced my way out through the molasses of his body.
   I was free of Centaurus, but was I free of my prison? Not yet. But something was happening; I could feel it. The thing inside me felt like a rock weighing me down. Flight became an effort. I took to standing in springs, as whenever my hooves touched the earth, water sprang forth. I could feel the thing inside my womb dividing, changing into two, each growing.
   It was my chance.
   I prayed to Poseidon, I thought of myself in one of the bodies, I willed my soul to move into one of the forms. Suddenly the light was gone, and all that was around me was darkness. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t need to. I and my twin were squeezed together between walls as we slowly grew and changed. Rages moved through my body, hatreds, angers, arrogance: Remnants of the cursed spirit of Ixion. Eventually I could move, and I could tell that parts of me were flesh and parts were bone or hoof. My body shaped itself and grew. The darkness came close to driving me mad as it summoned memories of Medusa. And eventually… I felt pain. Incredible, pressing pain! I was squeezed, crushed, and slowly pushed. My twin was expelled first, I had to wait. The pressure intensified, it crushed my form, changed it, squeezed it and then squeezed harder. A pause and a squeeze. Pause, squeeze. Pause, squeeze. A biting coldness and goo all around me. A pause, and a last squeeze that sent me slipping out and onto the cold hard ground.

Chapter 6
-= Rebirth =-

   I don’t remember much of my early colthood… just impressions and feelings, and a sense of loss for memories that I had to find. I remember coldness. I remember warm liquid and warm feathers. Pegasus must have nursed me. I remember learning to make sounds. I remember chasing my sister around through the grass and stubbing my toe. And I remember being found by humans.
   As for myself… I think some explanation is required. On classical Greek pottery, centaurs were depicted in three manners. The oldest depiction was a human with a horse attached to the rear; its forelegs were fully human legs, and the rear legs fully horse. The short-lived second depiction had human forelegs, but with hooves instead of feet. The final depiction was the one everybody knows with four completely horse-like legs. Of these three versions, I most closely matched the first; human legs in front, with horse legs aft. Since I was the earliest centaur, whatever controlled this place must have picked the earliest form out of my mind.
   It felt odd, but there were a few advantages. It was slightly easier to climb very rough surfaces than when I was pure horse. I had a better feel for the ground, even through the thick calluses that developed, and I had a better chance of avoiding dangerous holes and logs and preventing injury. It also made mating a more personal thing, since the sexual organs were fully human, and in the human location. But overall, the design left a lot to be desired. It was much harder for the woman to bear. The form was slower than a more unified design. And, at least until my foster parents made thick leather pants for my forelegs, they were always scratched and often bleeding. I endured it all.
   My foster parents belonged to a culture that would eventually be known as the Scythians. Always wandering, they moved through the great grasslands north of the Black Sea in small groups. Their diet was bland, consisting mostly of vegetable stews and fermented mare’s milk, but they did hunt for meat occasionally. And they loved colour, both in cloth and on their own bodies.
   I have no conscious memories of the actual transference from the care of Pegasus to the care of my foster parents, Madyes and his three wives (Athea, Sauli, Skunxa). Madyes told me that he had found me and my sister at the Idanthyrsus watering hole, surrounded by hoof tracks that presumably belonged to Pegasus. He gave me the name Scylurus, and he named my sister Philya.
   I grew swiftly, faster than a human child, and learned the javelin and bow with ease. The bow skill came from my subconsciously remembered imprisonment as Medusa; the javelin, I can’t say. My father had tough boots made for me, but I could never wear them; while they protected my feet they just didn’t feel right. Still, I kept them, and other pairs as I grew, for ceremonial use. What I did wear was the heavy hide pants common to the culture. I tied them around my ankles in the Gaelic style, and my legs had far fewer scratches and bruises. The rest of my body was generally clothed in dyed linen and hide that were covered in zigzag patterns and stripes. The shirt ended beneath the top of my trousers, and the combination hid my personal bits from prying eyes. Unfortunately my hair continued down my upper spine like a mane and was imprisoned inside the shirt. It always itched. I wore a colourful blanket strapped over my lower back, and the distinctive Scythian fox-hide cap over my head.
   Philya, I learned later, was treated far differently. These people, that might be called proto-Scythians, were an extremely male-dominated society—though a strong-willed women could join the men in the hunt and in war.
   Philya was not strong-willed.
   She was always cloistered, hidden in the tents with Modyes’ wives and other female children. They always pampered her, and her forefeet grew soft and she was forced to wear thin-soled leather shoes the rare time she had an opportunity to gallop. Like me, she hated the shoes; unlike me, she didn’t have a choice. Women’s clothes were similar to men’s, but lighter and more colourful, and Philya wore the same style as the rest of the women. The main difference was that her pants were tucked into the boots she was forced to wear.
   As we grew up I was accepted as part of the tribe, both for my skill as a hunter and as a warrior, and for my merger with the creature these proto-Scythians worshipped above all others: The horse. Unfortunately, Philya was rejected. There were no suitors for her hand, and Scythian law forbade me from taking her. I knew that we had to have some genetic relation through Pegasus, but given the disparity in forms compared to our parents I wasn’t sure how dangerous that could be to our children.
   Eight years after my adoption, I underwent the rites of adulthood. The ceremony was long and complex, and consisted mostly of my being tattooed. The men loved tattoos, and their bodes were covered with them. To my dismay I had a lot more surface to be covered. I became drunk on fermented mare’s milk, draped in gifts of gold, another love of the culture, and my body was covered with the tattoos of adulthood. The images inscribed on my human body followed the traditional pattern; pictures of hunters and images of sexual prowess over women, all intermingled with religious signs. My horse body presented the tattooists with an interesting puzzle. They ended up doing much the same set of images, but with horses in place of all the humans. At the point where my two backs met, they did a complex, and explicit, tattoo of a man mating with a horse. After I finally saw it in a polished bronze mirror, I always made sure to keep that portion of my anatomy covered.
   The final stage of the rite of adulthood was to spend a week journeying through the grasslands alone. Normally one could only drink his mount’s blood, but in my case I was given a mare for that purpose. My only weapons were a javelin and my bow, and my only clothing was a pair of pants and boots. I went without the boots. The tribe would wait for me at the Idanthyrsus watering hole where they’d found me.
   For the first day I galloped west, towards hills I could dimly see in the far distance. I didn’t meet anybody. Though there were many tribes, the grasslands were unimaginably vast. The mare had no trouble keeping up with me; the first night was quiet and peaceful under the stars.
   It was during this trip that my memories of my past started returning. The stars were the catalyst. Proto-Scythian religion had them as the souls of the blessed dead, but suddenly I knew that they weren’t real—that none of this around me was real.
   It was like a dam burst. Memories of lifetimes tumbled into me. I remembered my original name, Stephan; I remembered being a human, a Nereid, a horse, Medusa… I remembered the Greek gods, and especially Poseidon and Athena. On the second day I walked, working through my memories, organizing them. Thinking of what they all meant. I lost track of time and it wasn’t until nearly sunrise that I stopped and collapsed from exhaustion near a small spring.
   And, across from me, a patch of darkness in the dim eastern glow, was a winged horse.
   Her scent was odd, not horse but instead horse mixed with salt and ozone. I looked up and she looked down. I couldn’t see them, but I knew the instant our eyes met. She did too. Her memories of me were dim, but still buried. Was my soul still within her? An echo of my soul? She nickered and took a step through the spring towards me. I wanted to approach her but was too tired to stand. She took a couple more steps and then her warm breath brushed my forehead. Remaining still, I let her sniff my face, and then lick it.
   Sister? I heard my voice in my head, and I knew that it wasn’t me, it was Pegasus.
   With that I remembered Philya. Through my youth I’d accepted her cloistering as right, as her choice. She must have wanted it, as she hadn’t fought it. That was how it had always been done, and how it would always be done. With the deluge of my memories I’d forgotten about her. Pegasus made me remember. I thought as response: She lives. She—
   Watched. Never see.
   She’s safe. She’s kept hidden. I asked myself how I could have let them do that to her.
   Frowning, I bowed my head. I can’t.
   She’s safe! I see her—
   Bring! Her teeth grasped a clump of hair on my head and tore it out in a spray of flesh and blood. Bring here!
   There was a rush of feathers, a splash of water, and then silence. Pegasus was gone.
   All my new memories fell aside as I thought about the problem, cursing myself. Sure, I’d been taught that it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t! I knew that now. I could have done something. I should have done something. I—
   In the distance I heard hoofbeats. Another horse, just one. Not a gallop, but a fast canter.
   I forced myself to my feet and hooves in the pool and readied my bow.
   The sun was higher now, everything was still in shadow but I could begin to make out details. At first I thought it was a horseman, but as he got closer I recognized that it was another centaur. Not Philya. The shape came even closer, and I saw that its forelegs were identical to a horse’s. Huh?
   That was when the attitude my proto-Scythian parents had drilled into me took over: If you were not one of the tribes, you were the enemy. My sister and I were the only centaurs. Aiming my bow at the intruder’s human chest I pulled the arrow back. I paused. No. I wouldn’t fire. It wasn’t right! This was another centaur and I needed to know if there were others.
   And I might need him to save Philya.
   He must have seen what I was doing for he suddenly stopped about 100 metres away. I couldn’t make out details, but watched as he slowly spread out both hands to show that he was not readying any weapons. Then he shouted out, in Greek. At first I didn’t understand him, but then memories of my prior life as Medusa clicked in and I knew what he was saying.
   “I come in peace!”
   I waited, my mind full of questions. Another centaur, one who spoke Greek.
   And spoke it with what I would swear was a British accent.

Chapter 7
-= The Passage of Time =-

   Without lowering my bow, I shouted out, “Approach slowly!” Then, when he was about 20 metres away, “Stop!” He did.
   He called out, “I’m looking for somebody like me. Have you heard of any such?”
   Centaurs? Why was he looking for centaurs? Was it me he was looking for? “Don’t move!” I slowly walked out of the spring, feeling the water wind down my legs and drip off my pants. Keeping my bow ready, I stopped 10 metres in front of him. By now the sun had risen enough that I could see him as more than a shadow, and evidently he could see me, too.
   “Bloody hell!”
   With my bow ready I asked, in a normal tone, “Why are you looking for people like you?”
   “‘Your kind yet is not’…” he muttered. Then he jerked his attention back to me. “I’ll thank you to lower your bow. I’m not going to hurt you; I believe you’re the one I’ve come so far to find.”
   I held my bow steady. “Why?”
   “Because I was told to. Can you kindly put that bloody thing down!”
   A large part of me wanted to fire, another part refused to trust him. And yet, my soul said to do so. His colouring was dark, his flesh darkly tanned. His hair was pale, and flowed into a mane down his back that matched the colour of his tail. The only clothing he wore was a floppy hat, sort of like a cowboy hat but with a wider brim that I recognized as Thessalian, bags strapped to his horse’s body that contained what looked like javelins poking out, probably with other stuff, and a scabbard with sword suspended from a belt over his shoulder. “Drop the sword. Toss your packs away from you.”
   “My, but you’re touchy—”
   “Do it!”
    Grumbling, he obeyed. I waited as they thudded into the dew-soaked grass.
   “Walk away from them.”
   He slowly did.
   He did. Only then did I lower my bow and slip it back into its case. I returned my arrow to its quiver; I also got a javelin ready for use, but not immediately so.
   “What is your name.”
   “About time,” he muttered. “Ephebos. Now—”
   “Why are you looking for me?”
   He rolled his eyes. “Bloody… I asked the Oracle at Delphi how to avoid my fate at the hands of the Lapiths.”
   Lapiths? Was there… Wait, a wedding! “Why didn’t you just not go?”
   “Because I will be invited, and I won’t have a choice. Fate and all that blasted stuff.”
   “Why me?”
   He sighed. “Because the Oracle told me:
   Seek the soul older than yours
   Daughter of water; daughter of blood
   Son of air
   Go east across the green sea that is not wet
   Seek he who is your kind, yet is not
   Find him
   Then shalt thou be free
   “I don’t know what it all means, but the green sea was obviously grasslands, and the ‘who is your kind’ is obviously a centaur. Our differences explains the ‘yet is not’.”
   Only part of me paid attention to what he said after the prophecy, though it was more instructions than a path of the future which was unusual though I didn’t notice it at the time. The first stanza suggested that it was me he was looking for; ‘daughter of water’ probably referred to when Poseidon changed me from a Nereid to the first horse, ‘daughter of blood’ was probably when I burst into Pegasus from the blood of Medusa. ‘Son of air’ must refer to my current body being the child of Pegasus. But what about the ‘soul older than yours’ bit? No… Could he be somebody from the outside? The accent?
   “Are you from London?”
   He frowned. “London? Well… Blimey! You are like me! Originally I was from Bristol.”
   I put my javelin back in its case. “What year is it?”
   “That I couldn’t tell you. When I left, ’twas 2109 by common reckoning.”
   2109? Had it been that long? Years, possibly centuries had passed for me, but it didn’t feel like that long. It felt like passages in a story, but the time had been real. 2109. “By Poseidon,” I whispered, “the date I remember is 1997…”
   “That does explain the first stanza…”
   Over a century… “How the god forsaken fucking hell did you get here!?”
   “I swam.”
   “Swam? Swam!?” I remembered watching my umbilical, the certain knowledge that I was dead. John…
   “Calm down!”
   “Why? Why the hell did you come here!?!?” A century… “Why!? Why?”
   The next thing I knew he was cradling me in his arms. The sun was up, though it was starting to look like rain. Nearby I could see the mare I had been given calmly grazing. Had she followed me? On small things is sanity built. Gently I pushed him away and then turned to look out into the wilderness. “Thank you… What’s the real world like?”
   “The real…” A puzzled look flashed across his face, then he nodded. “Right. Of course you wouldn’t know. Do you mind if I start a fire? It’s a long story. I’ve some dried meat in my bags, some dried onions, a pot. I can—”
   I wasn’t supposed to eat food from others, it would spoil the rite—the rite? Hah! What did I care about a primitive rite created by dreams. Dreams that held my sister! Dreams, everything was just dreams!
   Before I consciously realized anything, I’d spun around and had my bow up and ready. He’d just leaned down to open one of his packs. Stopping, he held very still. I forced the tension out of my body and lowered the bow. “Do it. Set the fire. I need…” What did I need? I had no clue. “I need to think—I’ll be back.”
   He nodded and slowly leaned down. I guess he didn’t trust me, and who could blame him?
   One hundred and twelve years…
   I heard him gathering brush and branches from behind me as I wandered towards the mare. I might as well check her condition.
   Over a century…
   She didn’t shy away. Instead she lowered her head almost in a bow and in my mind, I heard a voice that I somehow knew was hers. She said one word: Father.
   I collapsed in a tangled heap in the grass. What in Poseidon’s name was happening to me?!

Chapter 8
-= The World Outside =-

   The mare walked over and started licking my face.
   “Stop it!”
   She backed away, lay down on the ground and grabbed a mouthful of grass. As she chewed she watched me.
   What was going on? ‘Father’? Maybe… In a sense I was her mother, or my soul was. Damn Poseidon! Focusing my attention on her I looked into her eyes as she stopped chewing. “Technically I was your mother.”
   No longer, I heard in my head as she nickered out loud.
   Of course, I could be insane too. Still, if I was going to save Philya, being the demigod of equines would be useful. “Why didn’t you talk to me before?”
   Did. Didn’t listen.
   Damn the gods and their games! The words were only part of what she said, there were emotional overtones, hints of meaning. I knew that she meant that she’d talked to me. I had just never recognized it. Why now? The memories? Did I have to find my soul? I remembered that the horses owned by my tribe had always been nice to me, they had never bit, never kicked. Not me, anyway. They’d done it to others. It had been believed their behaviour was because I looked like them, but…
   “The other horses with the tribe. Are they my—?”
   Yes. I could swear she laughed.
   If this wasn’t my imagination, it could definitely be useful. “I’ll be back. Relax, you’ve earned a rest.”
   She nickered in thanks and went back to the grass.
   Slowly I pushed myself back to my hooves and feet and turned back to the pool. It was almost like I was one of the Greek heroes. Special birth, divinely gifted powers, a revelation when I was ready…
   I frowned. Too close: I was a Greek hero. It all fit! Had I been so absorbed into this place that I was creating my own stories?
   I needed answers, and Ephebos stated that he had some. But… was he lying? How could I know? Could I trust him? I could see more details now. His human half was definitely darkly tanned, his horse’s body a dark chestnut with black splotches at the bottom of each leg. His mane and tail were both a pale ivory. He was like me, except my body was a light gray-blue where his was brown. His beard was long, pale like his hair, and his face was old and wrinkled. Already he had a fire going and looked to be boiling some water.
   Could I trust him? His story bugged me. If he’d been a native of this world, an actual Greek, I would have believed him. His position fit the culture. Yet, I’d never heard of the Oracle to give instructions like those he related. Of course, I only had the myths and classical records for guidance, but still… He could have stayed away. I could have. Or could I? I remembered Athena telling me not to drop Perseus or else. Could they have a tighter hold on him?
   The mare nibbled on my tail and I yanked it away from her. She nickered.
   Trotting back to the pool, I saw that Ephebos was tossing something—grain, it looked like—into the pot. The mare snorted behind me, stood up, and went back to the grass. The fire stank; like my tribe, he wasn’t burning wood but instead dried dung.
   I stopped a few metres away and looked down at him. “Okay Ephebus. How’d you get here?”
   Slowly he turned to me, still stirring the pot with a wooden stick or spoon. “I told you, I swam.” He certainly didn’t sound happy—maybe I was getting on his nerves. Good.
   “I was almost 200 metres down when the Nereids got me. There’s no way you could—”
   He threw down the stick. “You arrogant bloody bastard! You think nothing changed in a hundred years—that the whole world is your personal domain!?”
   With an effort I kept from readying my bow. Instead I put both hands on my waist. “Then tell me about your world.”
   “I couldn’t…” Sighing, he retrieved the polished stick and resumed stirring the grain stew he was cooking. I could see some bits of dried meat bobbing around in the water. “You don’t… you couldn’t…”
   I started tapping my left forefoot. “Try me.”
   “Maybe I should just let you kill me. It’s better—” He was silent for almost a minute. “Fine! Whatever. The world I came from was incredibly different from yours. Have you heard of the vanishing point?”
   Vanishing point? “In geometry—”
   “Bloody… Fine. From the beginning, then. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, technological change has come faster and faster. It could be graphed as an ever-steepening curve. You’ve heard the theory?”
   “Blasted ancient… Never mind, then. I think it was originally from a 20th Century novel by somebody, Vernor Vinge—Marooned in Realtime, I think—oh, never mind. By the mid-21st Century we had cheap fusion, AIs, nanomachines, biotechnology, colonies in the L4 and L5 points and on the moon. We were terraforming Mars and studies were underway to do the same for Venus.”
   “Sounds like paradise.”
   “Paradise?! Hah! All the power was controlled by barely 1% of the world’s population, all descended from the idle rich and the upper management levels that controlled the big corporations. The rest lived on handouts as they couldn’t afford the education and biotech enhancements to join the cutting edge of a world that changed ever faster. The important people lived in arcologies, sealed off from the world they’d wrecked; the rest of us survived as best we could in the wasteland outside. Always hungry, cold, sick. And dying. Bodies on top of bodies—”
   I didn’t want to hear anymore about that. “That doesn’t answer—”
   “You uncaring bastard!”
   I turned away. “I’m sorry.” I’d seen death, Greeks, Hittites, the odd Egyptian, all hunted and killed by the proto-Scythians. And yet it had been in battle, honourable. “I can’t comprehend a life like that. Please go on.”
    “The problem was that even with all the tech available, they still needed biomass to create planoforms for Mars and oceans. Asteroid mining was starting, but too damned costly. The machines were too expensive. It was cheaper to convert the dying outside the arcologies.”
   “Of course bloody me! England had collapsed into anarchy when the oil supply collapsed—in fact, most countries did. The Middle East more or less nuked itself. We were all freaking barbarians, looking into a golden land we couldn’t have. Of course I volunteered! Everybody did, or tried to.
   “They take you and they don’t care. Quick and dirty nanite cell chromosome purification/replacement. No anesthetics—too expensive—and no antibiotics, as they stopped working in 2020 or so. They grow cybernetic enhancements throughout your body, neural interface nets throughout your brain. They don’t bother testing for incompatibilities; if the standard insert pattern fails, they grind you up and reprocess your protein for the interior gardens and go on to the next poor bastard in line. I was one of the lucky ones.
   “Then they force feed you. You learn the machinery you need to tend, problems that can occur, dangers of the environment. Every day a headache that burned in my skull; every night bloody dreams of critical system failures. They teach you nothing else. By the time they finished I was little better than a biobot. Conditioned. Dedicated. They took us out in a refitted oil tanker and dropped us in the water at each site. Probably a third drowned when their implanted symbiotic gills failed. Mine didn’t. The water was warm, oily, dead. A bitter concoction that I had to live in.”
   “So you escaped?”
   “Not likely. Your time had left nothing to chance, you stupid bastards. By my time there was nothing edible left in the ocean; everything that did still move was so full of toxins it’d fall apart if you touched it too hard. ‘Escape’ isn’t the right word anyway. We weren’t fenced in; there were no chains or walls. Just the sure knowledge that however bad our lives were after they claimed us and changed us, we had it a damn sight better than we’d done before. And apart from everything else, the bleeding hearts that had the wealth didn’t condone slavery. Of course, you only counted if you survived all the changes in the first place. I don’t suppose they ever asked about the failures… I was paid, and had opportunities to better myself. Saving up, I got my cybernet upgraded, and started to learn offshift. Nothing technical, the bastards won’t let you near that! All I could learn was history, philosophical ideas. Fourth- and fifth-wave sociological conceptions. And the vanishing point.”
    “Yes, the ‘vanishing point’—whatever that is.”
   “It’s a memetic belief with a growing number of followers. The curve of technological advancement keeps getting steeper, right? So if it keeps on—and what the hell’s going to prevent it from doing just that?—it eventually goes vertical. At that point, you’ve got a serious discontinuity. None of the old rules apply any more, and Christ knows which rules do. Suddenly society would know all that was knowable. And at that point, what? Would the human species evolve? Destroy itself? Move to another reality? There was no way to know. It terrified a lot of people.
   “I worked on the ocean floor for 15 years, becoming more and more active in memetic discussions on the planetary net. A lot of us became terrified. As many of us were actually full members of society, we started making plans to form our own isolated community. If society did hit the vanishing point, we didn’t want any part of it.”
   “And you came into this place as refuge? How’d you find out about it?”
    He shrugged. “How else? It was all on the net. This cavern we’re in, seismic studies discovered it in 2031. Statistical analysis of events in the region flagged a higher than average level of disappearances going back to the end of the 20th Century. People tried to investigate further, but only collected more anomalies. AI controlled probes searched for the entrance in the Mediterranean; they were all destroyed. Probes tunneled from the surface—nobody could interpret what they saw and complex space/time changes rapidly destroyed them. Remote non-intelligent bioprobes lasted longer, but their information didn’t make sense.
   “One of the members of our deme volunteered to go in through the ocean after the appropriate aquatic planoforming. He vanished. More volunteers, all bored upper class, followed. Finally one managed to make it out as an entity of living water. He escaped the guardians, and somehow translated a partial account of this place to a bioremote that was waiting for anybody to return. Then he disintegrated.”
   I started pacing back and forth. Escape as a Nereid was impossible, but I’d figured that. It had to be a body that could survive in the normal world. But according to Ephebos, nothing could anymore. Wonderful. Damn you, Poseidon!
   “By this time, the leading edge of the fifth wave was conducting high-energy experiments on Ceres to manipulate space/time and allow FTL travel. There was a continuous ring of stations and refineries all around Earth’s equator. A second beanstalk was under construction. More and more humans were downloading their minds into AI networks, becoming machine intelligences. Nanite technology had become so cheap and efficient that the dying masses outside the arcologies were abandoned. Nobody cared about them anymore—they were insignificant to the majority of the population. Some demes developed cheap techniques to ‘snatch and grind’ them. Remotely controlled robots went outside, grabbed any living things they could find, and dragged them into quarantine areas. There, the deme would copy the victims’ minds into memory cores, and then grind up the body for raw materials. The victims lived, but most couldn’t adapt to the reality. The poor bastards went mad until they were rewritten to be productive members of virtual society.”
   I didn’t understand half of what he was saying, but if I asked for clarification I was afraid he might explain it.
   “As a whole, my deme decided to immigrate into this place. Anything was better than what humanity was turning itself into. I know that other demes did the same thing. We swam here as a group… and here I am.”
   It was all so incredible, so inhuman—a bad SF movie—yet I could see it happening. Ephebos certainly seemed to believe it…
   I turned away. A hundred years… Could so much have changed? Why would he lie? Yet, something wasn’t right. I think I could have refused to go to the Lapith Wedding, or would refuse if I ended up being invited. Some centaurs had lived—Chiron had. I started pacing back and forth, from the fire to the pool and back.
   I could see Ephebos stirring the stew viciously, I could see the anger and hatred all through his body. He, at least, believed what he’d told me.
   But if escape was impossible, what reason did I have to go on?
   I didn’t want to die.
   Did the outside world even exist in a form I’d recognize anymore?
   Why had this happened to me? Why!? Poor John—had he escaped? Was he dead? An echo in the memory of a computer somewhere?
   Then I realized something: None of this mattered right now. If I found a way to escape I’d remember, but until then the outside world didn’t matter. At least I knew others had come in from the outside. I wasn’t the only real living human being here!
   It was strangely comforting.
   Thinking of John reminded me of my training: If a problem seems unsolvable, break it down. Solve what you can, and then worry about the rest. Escape was a distant possibility. Others from outside this place might come in, if any of them still lived. None of that affected me right now.
   The first thing was to save my sister.
   She was a prisoner because she’d never have a husband. My foster brothers always ridiculed them—I’d beaten them up time and again when we were young, but it never seemed to help. My foster sisters tittered at her. A spinster.
   Pegasus, I, was right—she had to be saved. And to be saved, she needed a husband.
   I looked at Ephebos and smiled.
   The rest of the world could wait. I would deal with it one thing at a time.

Chapter 9
-= Plans and Politics =-

   He flinched, and then spun his upper torso at the waist to face me. He stopped stirring.
   “I need to ask a favour.”
   “After all the bloody—” He stopped and looked through me for a moment. “Is it about your sister?”
    “Well… yes.”
   “About bloody time! What’s the plan?”
   Had I mentioned her? I could have when I was in his arms sobbing. Remember Stephan, one thing at a time. “It’s time you became a husband.”
   “A bloody husband!? Now just—” He flinched, and jerked his hand away from the pot. “Just temporary, right?”
   “Unless the two of you wish otherwise.”
   He sighed. “Yeah, I’ll help. What else can I do?” Carefully he put his hand back on the stick, pulled it out, exhaled on it, and licked some of the broth. “Breakfast is ready. Not my best cooking, but it’ll do.”
   It smelled good. Rich and with a hint of spice. I walked over through the now dry grass and lay my lower body down. “I really shouldn’t—”
   “Oh come on! My ruddy cooking isn’t that bad!”
   “I’m not supposed to eat anything except what I hunt, and mare’s blood.” I looked over my shoulder. “No offense!”
   “Great, another wacko. If—” he muttered, his voice fading below what I could make out. Then, at a normal level again, “You could say you successfully hunted me! And here I thought Thracian barbarians were bloody paranoid!” He grinned.
   “It does smell good…”
   “There you go! I’ve got two bowls somewhere, and spoons. Just give me a second.” He started to get up, and then stopped. “You aren’t going to shoot me in my bloody back, are you?”
   “My future brother-in-law? Poseidon forbid!”
   “Just thought I’d check.”
   I watched as he got up, rooted through his packs, and pulled out the promised bowls and spoons. Each was a single piece of polished wood, unpainted and unvarnished. Of course, I remembered, they didn’t have varnishes in the classical world. The stew was actually quite good, though a bit watery for my taste. I thought the meat was boar, though it might have been cow or ox. It was dry and tough, even after being boiled in the broth. He tossed me a wineskin and I took a gulp—bitter, bitter stuff—to wash out my mouth.
   “So, what’s your plan?”
   I explained why I was out here. “You’ll have to come with me, otherwise they’ll just kill you. Do you understand Scythian?”
   “A few words.”
   “I’ll have to translate for you anyway. I don’t think anybody knows Greek, so let me do the talking. You’re a foreign noble who heard of a hidden woman of surpassing beauty and you’ve been searching for her for years. The elders love that kind of thing. Do you have any gold?”
   “A bit of jewelry for trading. A couple of necklaces, a bowl—”
   “It’ll have to do for a dowry. Modyes, my stepfather, will be happy to get rid of her, but he won’t let on. After you take her with you, I’ll go on a hunting trip and meet you back here. We can discuss our future plans.”
   “You’re that willing to leave?”
   I thought about it. Part of me refused, but most of me, the part that returned with the memories, just wanted out of this barbarous wasteland. ” I should have taken my sister and fled years ago. Anyway, I have to be gone for a week, so we can’t go back for another five days. We might as well just stay here and relax. I’ll do some hunting.”

   We stayed at the pool for another 5 days. I never saw another person, but I did take down a wild deer. There were lots of wild horses, but when they all call you ‘father’, they’re hard to kill. Finally it was time to return.
    We didn’t get back until halfway through the eighth day since I’d departed; I must have wandered longer than I’d thought. The scouts saw me a long ways from camp and at first hurried to greet me, but then stopped and stayed just in bow range when they saw that I wasn’t alone.
   Well, I’d known it wouldn’t be easy…
    Ephebos and I entered the camp proper just at sunset. All of the warriors, except those patrolling around the camp, were there waiting for me. The women and children were hidden in their tents, but I’d expected that.
   With my mare beside me, I stopped and let my father approach. The shaman was behind him. As I bowed they stopped in front of me. “Father, I return an adult.”
   He stopped and I waited. Time passed. Too much time. Then he motioned me up.
   “Welcome, Scylurus. I—”
   The shaman, Palacus, cut him off. “You’re not alone.”
   “No, shaman. I encountered another of my race and I name him friend. He has sought a rumoured woman of unsurpassed beauty for years. He wishes Philya’s hand in marriage.”
   “He’s a stranger! He must—”
   “Palacus, ” my father broke in, “Scylurus is my son. He’s a man and a member of this tribe! He wouldn’t bring one who would harm us as friend.”
   Palacus turned and glared at my father, the horse tail tied to his waist almost falling off from the force. My mare nickered in laughter only I understood. “Look at him!”
   “He was accepted by all of us! Now he is a man, and I will stand beside him!”
   I may not have liked stepfather’s ways, nor the way they treated Philya, but I’d always believed he loved me… and now I knew. It was a warm feeling.
   “You just want to get rid of that extra mouth!”
   I couldn’t believe Palacus had said that! Nor could most of the other tribesmen. I’d earned my place. Though as a child I’d never been the most popular, or the most loved, I’d earned respect. I’d fought for it. Always I’d fought fairly, and only when provoked. The adults in the tribe knew.
   I could see the anger in my father, and if the shaman hadn’t been sacrosanct, I think he would have challenged him to a duel.
   Palacus seemed to realize that he’d crossed a line and thought carefully before speaking. “I acknowledge that Scylurus was adopted into the tribe, and that he is an adult according to our laws. He can… he can offer guest rights.” Palacus slowly turned to me. “The gods welcome the return of Scylurus. Adult and warrior!”
   The other warriors shouted out their approval, but all the horses neighing and screaming overwhelmed them.
   There was an awkward silence which I quickly decided to fill. “I have extended the status of friend to Ephebos, a centaur from the tribes of Thessaly. I hold his honour and accept responsibility for his behaviour.”
   Palacus spoke the response, though grudgingly. “The tribe accepts Scylurus’ guest and welcomes a friend.” He leaned to me and whispered, “And you better watch him carefully, boy. When he screws up, your head is mine.”
   Why did Palacus hate me so? I hadn’t noticed any sign of it before I left on my journey. Could he know that I’d changed, regained my memories? That made no sense! I couldn’t afford to think about it, so I called out in Greek, “Ephebos, come and meet my father, Modyes.”
   I winced as Palacus glared at me and I knew that he understood the Greek I was speaking.
   Slowly Ephebos trotted over and bowed. “I honour the father and household of my friend.” I translated his words and my father smiled.
   Palacus, on the other hand, almost melted from the heat of his hatred.
   And… why did I smell fear on him?   

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

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