by Michæl W. Bard
©2009 Michæl W. Bard
-= Vengeance =-
I fell more than galloped down the slope; my feet and hooves slid, clattering, on the pebble-strewn sand. There was Ephebus, stumbling up onto this hooves. Had he been asleep? Philya just lay on the ground. Soon I would have my vengeance!
At that I wanted to stop, but I forced myself to continue on. Ephebus looked confusedwhich didn't stop him fumbling around for a javelin. Should have tried the sneaky approach.
By then I was on the pebbled beach. Each rock was smooth and wet; I slipped and skidded, but kept my balance. Ephebus seemed to have no problem. He threw his javelin and it wobbled through the air. Had he ever used one before? It clattered onto the beach.
And then I was upon him. I saw a half-awake Philya just before I slammed into Ephebus, and we both stumbled down the beach and into the edge of the water. Behind me she screamed, but I had other problems. The moon had passed behind a cloud and all I could see of Ephebus was a shadowed outline surrounded by specks of a deeper black. The crest of a wave passed beneath him, sparkling with phosphorescence, and then crashed into my forefeet and the shore.
Kill him! He killed your family!
You need to talk to himwhat if its a mistake?
Staggering, I forced down Ixions blood and let my fathers sword drop into the edge of the surf. It clattered on the rocks and the water burbled and hissed around it. I heard it calling me, crying for me to give it vengeance. It wanted blood but I refused to feed it.
And then Ephebus reared above me, my only warning a spray of cold water as he kicked at my head. Ducking, I thrust myself beneath his legs and stood upward. He leaned down and grabbed my hair and yanked as I pushed.
Both of us fell into a wave and tried to scramble back up. I was coughing and gagging.
Scylurus!? he spat out. What the bloody hell are you doing?
Screaming, I crouched down on my hind legs and leapt at him. He acted innocent, but was he? I didnt know; I dont think I really cared. He tried to rear up, but he was too late. Landing on him, I pushed him down and further out into the sea. With pebbles twisting underhoof, I crashed down on top of him.
The slope from the beach was gentle, and the water was only a metre deep. Still, we rolled around, four legs flailing and kicking off the rocky bottom when they could, two arms grasping for handholds. As we fought, the sea grew angrier, the waves higher. Sometimes I was above him; other times he was above me. I tried to suck in air only when I wasnt under the water, but didnt always manage.
Finally I had to push myself away from him, find my feet and hooves, and hold my head above water. I was gasping for air, coughing and gagging out water.
Ephebus was gasping for breath, too, but wasnt coughing.
What the bloody fuck are you doing, Scylurus!?
Im going to beat the goddamned truth out of you!
What truth? I did what you asked me too. I waited
You gods-be-damned fucking liar! You set me up! You killed my family, and you made me cover your gods-be-damned tracks!
By now the water was up to my human waist. Each passing wave rolled up to my shoulders and lifted my fore body up off the bottom, my weight keeping my hindquarters submerged. Slowly I stepped backward as Ephebus followed, seemingly unbothered by the waves.
I didnt do anything! I waited for you and finally left! Just as you told me to!
And what about the horses? You killed them just as you killed my family!
I thought you were dead!
Screaming incoherently, remembering the stench of the dead, I leapt almost out of the water and landed on top of him, pushing him under. I was certain the bastard had killed every last one of them! I managed to suck in a lungful of air before he dragged me under.
The next few moments were a blur; all bubbles glittering in the moonlight, twisting bodies, kicking hooves, and pebbles and grit. At one point, I could swear that light glistened off his teeth as he smiled! Id just gotten my arms around his lying neck when I had to let him go and struggle back to the shore to breathe.
That was when I discovered that centaurs were so top-heavy with their human torso that they really couldnt swim. Somehow I managed to roll, tumble, and stagger back until I could stand.
The waves were almost a metre tall; each one pushed me backwards. One after another, they rolled up and slammed themselves against my mouth, pulling themselves down my throat. Coughing and gagging, I backed even closer to shore until I could breathe.
Whats the matter, Scylurus? Having problems?
With water still gurgling in my lungs, I looked out and saw him floating on the waves. How the hell was he keeping his balance?
Why dont you come in? I can help you.
No remorse, Poseidon damn him! No remorse at all! Gulping down precious breaths, I staggered deeper into the water. I wanted to kill him! I wanted to wring his lying neck and let his body drift away and rot.
He was there waiting for me. Bobbing like a Poseidon-damned duck!
My mind was incapable of rational thought: I kicked and swam through the water. I found that by leaning forward and beating the surface with my hands, I could keep from rolling over.
And the bastard just laughed!
I pulled myself forward, flailing my arms, until I finally touched his shoulder. Then I wrapped my fingers around his lying neck.
Before I could take a breath, both of us were sucked under. Was it a current? An undertow?
Letting go, I tried to struggle to the surfacebut he grabbed me at my waist, hugging us close as we got pulled further and further out to sea, and got sucked deeper and deeper.
Somehow he spoke: Dear, dear, Scylurus! You found me out.
By then I was frantic, oblivious to almost everything but the need for air, the need to get to the surface.
Oh yes, I killed them. I killed your family, and I helped kill your herd.
He had killed them! I no longer cared if I lived or died. If he wanted to drown, then by Poseidon, Id make sure he drowned! Ignoring the red pain in my lungs, I wrapped my hands around his neck and squeezed.
That was when he began struggling and we both floated up towards the surface. He kicked as I squeezed; I was able to wrap my forelegs around his forelegs, pinning them and keeping us together. We rotated upside down and my chest bumped into hisand I could feel pulsing flaps of skin.
Gills? The son of a bitch had gills!?
I almost let go, but a small fire in my mind kept my hands clenched tight.
Our legs churned under the surface. We bobbed up and down as our heads and human bodies hung in the depths. He was beginning to weaken; I wasnt much better off. Bubbles slithered through my nose as water dripped into my lungs. A burst of air slid past my mouth before I forced my lips shut. In the flickering moonlight I thought I saw his mouth gape open and closed, like a fish drowning in air. My hands loosened and I felt water pour down his throat. Good!wait, down his throat towards his gills
No! I would not let him live! I would not!
A wave passed, we bobbed up and down, and the pebbles of the bottom slammed into my head. I had a chance!
More bubbles burst from my mouth as my lungs fully emptied. An idea burst into my feverish brain! For an instant I let go of his neck and then I grasped his chest, my arms brushing his gill slits as they pulsed open and closed, water finally flowing through them. With my hands I dragged my body around, rotating us both sideways. I felt him move, I could feel his arms grabbing at my legs. Pushing myself up and away from him, I kneed him in the mouth and then let go.
My head burst through the surface and I sucked in air, the gas rasping down my desperate throat. At the same time I wrapped my human legs around his neck, crossing my ankles and squeezing. He was almost sideways, his hooves kicking up clouds of foam as his arms grabbed at my legs. He dragged me under as I tried coughing out water and it was only by the grace of the gods that I burst to the surface as I inhaled. My hooves scraped against the gravel and I let the water help me stand up as I struggled back towards the shore.
And then he began to change. In the moonlight, through the shattered surface of the water, his body squeezed into itself. His tail stretched. As his legs pulled into his body his hair fell out, floating to the surface so that I caught only glimpses of scales growing. Coiling, his body pressed against the bottom trying to pull us out to sea. His eyes rose up into the air and I saw a massive snake-head pressing against my chest. A forked tongue slid out and between my breasts, and then snapped back in.
Fortunately, his pressing upward also forced my hindquarters downward, and I began dragging us both slowly into shallower and shallower water. Always I kept my forelegs wrapped around his neck, squeezing tighter and tighter as I gulped down breath after breath of life-giving air.
The water was maybe half a metre deep when he changed again. This time his body sucked in on itself. Short, hairy legs burst from his sides, and I found my own legs pressed outward as the snake-head grew into the massive, furred head of a bear. He reared up, saliva dripping from his fangs. With all my will I squeezed tighter. His head lolled backward, his tongue rolled out. His struggles weakened as I refused to let go.
Until he stopped. He was dead.
Still gasping for air I loosened my forelegs and
The bear sucked in air and roared! His head snapped at my arm as I yanked it away.
What in Poseidons name will it take to kill the bastard? I tightened my legs, ignoring the pain in my sinews. His neck was so thick that my ankles couldnt cross! As his forepaws dug into my lower chest, I forced my legs together with all the muscles the long chase had earned me.
With an audible crack, his neck collapsed. My ankles crossed and I squeezed. His claws flailed, more flesh was torn from my lower chest. In the moonlight I could see blood staining the water.
He changed again. This time his head stretched upward as his neck healed. His eyes rose until they were even with mine, and his face stretched outward into the muzzle of a stag. Below, his body burst outward and hair floated thick around us. I crawled up his neck with my knees. As if I was stupid enough to repeat the mistake of letting him go! Foam splattered from the stags mouth as it sucked in a breath, and another, before I again pinched his neck shut. More foam dribbed out; his nostrils pulsed as his lungs tried to heave.
I squeezed harder.
Again his body flowed. A wave washed his short hair off his naked flesh, and his antlers fell out. His skin roughened and burst into thick scales. His legs shortened, his hooves fell off as clawed, webbed toes burst out of his feet. Tail lengthening, his body shrank smaller and smaller
and I was holding a crocodile that twisted and whipped its tail around, beating the water behind him into foam. His massive jaw opened and I looked down into hundreds of teeth that tried closing around my chin. The stench of his breath made my eyes water.
I had just enough time to lean my head backwards and away as his jaws snapped shut. My legs squeezed harder.
He began to shrink, his tail sucking into him. His legs stretched out, brown fur burst out around his body. Ears stretched, and then flopped down and my legs slapped together as the rapidly shrinking body slipped out between them.
Hed turned himself into a rabbit.
Leaping backward, now almost completely out of the water, I grabbed his furred neck in my hands as the rabbit inhaled. My fingers wrapped around and squeezed as I staggered further out of the water and onto the pebbled shore. Spittle dripped onto my hands, and then his body expanded.
His ears shrank, his muzzle grew into a human nose as a human face burst out around it. His body stretched backward, a pair of hoofed legs burst out of his chest and his hair above those legs began to fall out. Behind, his tail grew out into that of a horse as his legs stretched and his toes vanished beneath hooves. Soon, Ephebus was the centaur Id first met.
He was limp as I dragged him shoreward by his neck. Carefully, grudgingly, I loosed my hands just enough to let a trickle of air out of his lungs, and then back in.
He didnt struggle.
I was fully ashore now, and the low waves barely reached up to the tip of his tail which stretched out behind him, wet and limp. Still panting for breath, I let go of his neck. His lungs heaved, fetid hot air burst out, and more air was sucked down.
Before he could even move I wrapped one arm around his neck and grabbed my wrist with my other hand. I could now, in an instant, yank my one arm tight.
Try anythingany damn thingand Ill kill you!
He coughed and gagged up some water and glared at me.
I pulled my arm tighter around his neck.
He spat in my face, then coughed again as I waited for him to get his breathing under control. I could hear Philya stumbling over the pebbles, but I focused all my attention on Ephebus. No way in hell was I going to let him go now! His breathing slowed from frantic to desperate.
What the hell did you do!?
I I was just paying the price
Price? What price!?
Poseidon I had had no choice
What did he offer!?
I came told you thing of water tortured by others stretched, twisted. They they flowed in me, piercing me. Wouldnt even let me scream!
My experience as a Naiad hadnt been like that.
Poseidon came offered a way a way out.
I just stared at him.
Told me he told me I had to to bring you. Ephebus body shook as he began coughing and gagging.
I loosened my grip slightly, but not enough to allow him to pull his head out, ignoring the blood streaked water that splattered onto my chest.
It was the price!
The price of what!?
To free me from from the endless torture! He he made me into a, a centaur, like you. Told me told where to find you.
Whyd you kill my family!? Why the fuck did you kill the herd!?
He gave me the poison poison to kill them, not not you. He he told me what to do. Told me to kill them all all of them. He took took the life from the the horses. He wanted everybody dead everybody except you and Philya. I had to bring you back
To Greece you had to be there!
He didnt say!
And what the hell other lies did you tell me? How did you change?
A gift, he gave me. It was was to let me find you. I waited waited until you were alone. The rest was truth, the bloody truth!
His description of the hell hed lived in flashed into my mind. Could the world have gone to shit like that? The world outside couldnt be the way you said. It couldnt!
He laughed, and then coughed again. Oh, yes it could. It was everything I said and worse. You cant hide here, none of us can!
But why the horses!? They were Poseidons childrenthey were my children! Memories Id supressed of past lives shoved themselves into my mind. Things Id hidden from. A rage and a hatred Id forgotten
Because theyd betrayed Him. They follow you, not Him! He smiled and began laughing. Youre doing what He wants, you know
You fucking bastard!
The crack was loud as I snapped his neck.
-= Aftermath =-
As Ephebus life slipped from his body, I collapsed to the beach.
Scylurus? Is that you? It was Philya.
I blinked my eyes and looked up at her. Youre alive
Dear Poseidon, it is you! She leaned down and hugged me and then let go and backed away.
What the hell..? Philya, its over now. Youre safe. Hes dead.
She sniffed, swallowed, and then spit out, Good!
Philya, what did he do to you?
The bastard raped me!
I remembered. Year after year. But I had to get her mind off it. Err I swallowed. Im not being insensitive, but how is that physically possible? You dont, err fit together
Oh Scylurus! I missed you so much!
Philya, whats wrong?
Ignoring me, she instead asked, Are you okay? He didnt wound you too badly, did he?
Im okay. Its all right. I just need to rest. Ill be fine
She leapt to her feet and hooves in a clatter of pebbles and started throwing driftwood onto the fire. It took her less than a minute to blow the smoking coals into a roaring flame. I blinked at the sudden brightness. Then she turned around and, even though I could see only a silhouette of her against the fire, I could see how her hind legs limped as she made her way back to me.
She stopped, standing over me, shivering a little. Let me help you up. I could see her trembling.
Groaning, I let her pull as I stumbled to my feet and hooves. I had to grit my teeth to keep from screaming. The world swirled around me; I was barely able to keep my balance. I think Philya pulled me stumbling close to the fire and then I collapsed and screamed from the pain.
What did that bastard do to you? she asked, but I was in no condition to answer.
She pushed me onto my side and I sort of nodded off. It wasnt restful; it was more a near-conscious state with random periods of light sleep. She prodded me, I think she screamed and cursed. I remember something tearing, and I think I screamed as something was yanked out of my lower chest. Maybe she rolled me over at some point too.
It was late the next day when I came to something resembling awake. The fire was low and a big pile of driftwood was piled neatly beside it. Philya was laying against me, her head resting on my lower chest. Finally I saw what Ephebus had done to her.
Her human half was intact, untouched. But her hindquarters it was as if a wild animal had attacked her. The flesh of her upper legs was covered in scars from what looked like claws. Her anus was torn and ripped, and I could see streaks of dried blood all through her tail.
Well, at least that answered the question of how hed raped her.
Suddenly she jerked away from me. She looked sorry, horrified, and tried to hide it by stretching out her arms and yawning as she staggered to her feet and hooves.
I considered telling her about Poseidontelling her that he was the one ultimately behind our pain. I decided against it. Poseidon would pay. Never never would I forget again! Poseidon Id deal with later, as Philya needed me more right now. Something was badly wrong and I would give her all the time she needed to tell me. Do you have anything to eat? It took all my will to try and keep my voice steady as memories that had been hidden, or that Id surpressed, forced themselves into my soul.
I think therere some rations left. Let me go and check.
Youre staying right where you are! Those wounds need at least a little time to heal. I managed to sew the worst ones shut, but you arent moving!
Yes, indeed! Now let me see what we have
I watched her limp over to the bags Id given her and Ephebus when we fled the camp. She also gave me a good view of Ephebus handiwork.
Damn him! And damn Poseidon even more!
I thought back to the myths: In the Trojan War, Aphrodite had meddled on the battlefield and shed been wounded by a mortal arrow. I remembered Chiron. Hed been immortal, and when poisoned hed been in pain but couldnt die.
Well, maybe I couldnt kill Poseidon but by the entire bloody pantheon, I would make him hurt!
Philya walked back slowly, holding some dried meat. Here, its the best I have.
Reaching out to take it from her hands, I winced as she flinched away. She turned her face away and her hands shook when they touched mine as I took the dried meat.
Philya, whats wrong?
I cantDamn him! Damn him!! She spun around, the motion causing one of her scabbed-over wounds to ooze blood, and galloped to the far side of the fire. She collapsed, sobbing.
Gritting my teeth, I pushed myself up to my feet and hooves and managed not to scream as the wounds in my lower chest tore and blood oozed into the wrappings shed gotten around me as Id slept. Slowly I walked to stand beside her. I reached out to touch her and she flinched away. Swallowing, I let my hands fall to my side.
Philya, please talk to me. You know I wont hurt you
I know! Of course I know!
Then whats wrong?
I cant By Papay She turned her head away from me. Damn that Ephebus! Her voice lowered to a whisper: Its not the pain; its the humiliation. Ive never felt like this. We, you, never did before we came to this place. Its a female thing, I guess. I dont know Touching, any physical contact. It terrifies me. I cant I cant!
It was a good thing Ephebus was already dead.
-= Healing =-
Sighing, I slowly walked in front of her. She didnt look comfortable until I was almost a metre away.
Comfortably beyond arms reach.
Lowering her head into her hands, she started sobbing.
I took a deep breath, struggling to compose my thoughts. Philya. Ive been through what you
No, you havent! Not even close!
Philya Your soul is an echo of mine. We were born twins from our womb, when the soul we shared was Pegasus. Do you remember?
She sniffed and nodded, still refusing to look at me.
These bodies were born when Centaurus raped us. Iyouas Pegasus, we didnt want to mate with
It wasnt the same.
Earlier we were the first horse that Poseidon created. Year after year, we were dragged back to the sea and raped by the water. Do you remember that?
We had no choice! Poseidon compelled us then. Centaurus compelled us. They were gods! Turning, she fled down the beach.
I almost started after her no. She needed time. And it seemed that my first method of attack didnt work. There was a second
As the sun set I stood and waited, nibbling on the hard meat shed offered me. I checked through her baggage, found a half-empty waterskin, and poured a bit of it down my mouth. Then, as I ate the rest of the meat, I looked around the beach until I found the javelin Ephebus had thrown. I needed something to try and hunt with, and that would do. A bow would have been much better. She still had the arrows but Id have to make a new bow.
The sunlight was dimming by the time I returned to the fire. Philya was waiting for me.
Scylurus. Im sorry. I wish
Philya, its not your fault. You did
I let him! I let the bastard do it!
You resisted It was obvious from her wounds.
I I did but I gave in. I could have beaten him
I forced down the urge to grab her. I barely beat him! Youve nothing
Its me! I wanted it, secretly!
Philya! I slapped her. The sound echoed in the distance.
She glared at me.
Shut up and listen! It is not your fault!
It isnt! Now, listen, just listen. Please
Okay Her voice was small and lonely.
Philya, why are you afraid of me? Think. Is it because youre afraid I might rape you?
Philya This would be so much easier if I dared touch her. Philya, if you know Id never do anything to you, then why are you afraid. What do you feel when I touch you?
I feel no, I know. Youre going to do it. I know you wont, but Her body was shaking, trying to flee and trying to stay.
Philya. Why do you remember our past?
IWhen you came back with E Eph him, I suddenly knew. I, I guess I saw it in your eyes. It Dear Poseidon! Why? Why!? She started sobbing again.
Philya. I remembered those things when I was alone. Like it was fated. If we share the same soul, then my awakened memories must have awoken the same memories in you. Does that make sense?
Philya! Concentrate! Dont think about me, think about what Im saying!
I right, shared souls. That makes sense. Its possible, I guess.
Okay. Think back. Think before we were born. Before Pegasus. Youre a horse, the first horse. Do you remember?
I I was You were We ran. Wewe had children I was raped! God damn Eph him!
Why were we raped?
We were I was the first. I was the mother
And I was you. I was the mother, too. I was a female! Like you are.
Yes that makes sense. But but youre my brother. You can
Philya, later we became Medusa. Another female. How long were we, was I, female?
I dont She paused, blinking. A long time
And when Perseus killed us, we became Pegasus. Again female. Do you remember?
I I remember. I was, you were
Think of me as a female. Picture me that way. Im your sister, I cant hurt you. Just like you couldnt hurt you.
I Oh Scylura, Scylura! she cried, using the female form of my name.
I held her as she threw herself into my arms and sobbed out the pain, really sobbed it out. I held her shaking body and rubbed her hair and mane as the fire died to coals and darkness fell, muttering sweet nothings.
Eventually we fell asleep in each others arms.
The next day was cold and windy; drops of water blew off the waves and onto our bodies. The fire was long dead, and Ephebus body was beginning to smell ripe. I probably should have buried it yesterday, but Id refused to then, and I refused now. Again it was late afternoonI guess we both needed our rest.
Philya? I whispered.
She sniffled and looked at me. Im sorry. I
Philya, Ive been there. You need time. You know that I would never hurt you.
Butsomebody else might! I I have to always think of you as a sister. Otherwise
Philya: If it works, then dont be afraid. We should get going. The body is going to attract
Scavengers. I know.
Get your stuff and lets get going. Pegasus is waiting for us, and the herd
Her body stiffened.
Philya, theres only three left. Theyre all mares. Theres nobody who can hurt you.
She relaxed, but only a bit. I dont know if I can face
Philya, let me pack. Go and wash the dirt and dirt off you.
But Scylura, your bandage. You come too.
No. Not the ocean.
Go, Ill pack.
She swallowed and turned away. As she moved off I watched her body relax more and more the further away she got. Gods damn Ephebus, and gods damn Poseidon whod sent him!
As most of the supplies were still in the packs, I only had to pick them up. They were supposed to go on my horses back, but each time I moved I could feel twinges of pain from beneath the bandages. Shed have to carry them. I ended up organizing the packs a bit better as time passed. I was still trying better arrangements when she came back. Turning, I called out: Id carry them, but I dont think its wise, as I motioned to my bandages.
Thats all right. Let me.
I did pack them a bit neater. Helping her strap them on, I carefully kept my hands away from her front and her rear. Can you manage some more weight?
I want to put in some driftwood so we can have a fire tonight. I gathered a load from the pile shed brought and started filling up the one nearly empty pack. Let me know when you think theres enough. I wouldnt want to overburden you.
She glared; good. A little anger should be good for her. She ended up letting me fill the bag completely.
Are you sure thats all right..?
Of course it is! I am just as strong as you, Scylura.
Lets take it easy tonight. Well just go up onto the plains and go west for a while, get away from that bast-ahh
She shuddered and spun her head away from me.
Damn it! I had to remind her! Shaking my head, I sighed. You can set the pace
Youd better The fire was gone from her voice.
I clenched my fists to keep the anger out of my voice and tried to keep a light tone. You wont be able to keep up
She spun around. Of course IScylura, you just walk slowly. You need to heal.
As you command.
I started up the slope, hoping shed walk beside me. Instead she followed behind. At least she was following.
It was a relief to get off the pebbles and onto the soft soil and amongst the grass. It felt like Id torn something whilst getting up the rise, but I was able to keep silent. The bandages would have to be changed but not yet. Then I turned northwest and slowly walked. We kept going until the moon rose and I could only smell the cursed sea.
Philya, I I need to stop.
Scylura? Are you all right? Let me check
Im fine. Im fine, really. I didnt want her to check. What if her hand wandered, touched my manhood..?
Are you sure?
Absolutely. Let me unload you and we can get a fire started. Well have to look for water tomorrow, and maybe Ill be able to bring down some game. A javelin wasnt the best tool, but it was possible. It I was lucky I might get a rabbit.
Well, okay. If youre sure.
I pulled out driftwood and piled it, and then lifted the packs off her, careful not to touch her skin. While she kicked and stomped the grass with her rear hooves to create some bare ground, I whittled away at one of the smaller driftwood pieces carving off some kindling. She started the fire easily with flint and tinder, and soon a small blaze was going.
While we were doing this, I realized that this couldnt continue. Philyas mind was fragile, a piece of thin porcelain. I needed to get her back to Pegasus; I could feel my chest wounds going bad, and I feared that her wounds were, too. Plus we needed fresh water. Right now, I was afraid that Philya would flee when she saw the mareswhen she saw anybody.
Philya? She was crouching down by the fire.
Turning her head she looked at me. Theres a little bit of ration left. Do you want..?
No. We need to talk.
Philya. You know I would never hurt you, right?
Im your sister, right?
Err Yes! Yes, you are! Her voice flew loudly into the darkness.
Walking over, I lowered myself onto my horse belly beside her, clenching my hands so I wouldnt scream from the pain. Then I looked into her eyes, willing her to look only into mine, as I gently reached for her hands. She didnt flinch when I touched them. Philya, not all men are bad
She ripped her hands away from my touch. Yes they are!
Philya. I we Id never had a wife. Some flings in university, but never love. I closed my eyes, inhaled, and then exhaled. Philya we both know what love is. Do you love me?
I well, yes, I guess so. As a sister
The other kind is said to be better.
This time I shuddered a bit. She needed to be shown that it wasnt all pain, she needed it proved to her. But how could I do what needed to be done? She was my sister! Then again, neither of us had been born naturally. Maybe but shes my sister!
Scylura? Are you all right? This time it was she who touched me.
Then, in an instant, all my doubts were stilled; maybe one of the gods had touched my mind, I dont know. But what I did know is that it was right, for us at least. We were the only two of our kind, and we were divine, or at least semi-divine. The Greek gods were believed to have been perfect physically, other than Hephastus. We were born by the will of divinity from the water. And Philya needed it. That last was what decided me, I think. Philya I Well Do you trust me?
Of course, Scylura.
Let me show you what it can be.
Show you what love can be. Trust me.
She turned away.
Im your sister, remember? You know I would never hurt you. Your soul is my soul. Search it. Would I hurt you?
Philya, you have to face this now. If you hide, then Ephebus wins.
Reaching out I put one hand on each side of her head and slowly turned it to face me. Philya. You need to do this. Search inside yourself.
But were sisters we
Are we? Ive thought about it. Were all there is of our kind. We were born from the ocean by divine will, and then changed and moved from body to body by divine will.
She shuddered and I could see the revulsion behind her eyes. We were twins, brother and sister, and that made it horribly wrong.
But I knew it had to be done. Maybe it was the gods telling memaybe? more like almost certainly!but somehow I simply knew. I knew it would be all right; I knew that good would come of it. Philya, all the gods are brothers and sisters, yet they marry and mate with each other. Divine blood is in our veins.
I Oh Papay, Scylurus! Whats happening to me to us
Philya, lets deal with what we have power over. We have to live as best we can, one day at a time.
I Im not ready
Philya! The longer you put it off, the harder itll become!
I would have preferred to simply stand up like a human could, but my four-legged stance forced me to leap to my hooves and feet. I had to let go of her, back up a bit, and then stand up. When she saw what I was doing, she did too.
Philya. Trust me. Trust me this once.
I She didnt say anything, but instead untied her shirt and threw it to the ground. And then untied the waist of her pants and let them fall. Do it. Do it now. I dont know if Ill be able to get this far again if we stop
Shhh I pushed her hair from her forehead and kissed her there. She stiffened. Then I let my arms fall down her human back and clasped my hands together. I held her, gently, giving her time to back out or to continue.
Scylurus Its so, difficult
I know. Just, trust me.
It was awkward. Not because of the darkness, not because of our wounds, but because neither of us really knew what to do. Finally we figured it out. She winced a little as I pierced her for the first time, but after that it was good.
If only the price hadnt turned out to be so high
-= Revelations =-
We woke up shortly past dawn and started packing everything. I used some of our remaining water to wash off, and gave the rest to Philya. My wounds felt better, as shed removed the bandage and replaced it with cloth torn from her shirt. Soon we were on the way, me leading, towards the spring where Pegasus was waiting. Or at least I hoped I was heading there.
We didnt touch each other, but Philya didnt flinch either. Had it worked? Or had I simply driven her soul closer to destruction? She looked much better, yet
Ahead of us, I heard the sound of galloping hooves getting closer; I motioned Philya to crouch down. Slowly I moved forward, holding the one javelin ready to throw. It wasnt much, but I refused to go down easily.
Then I recognized them. Three mares: Anarcharax, Modyexa, and Sauliux. I couldnt see Pegasus, shed probably come at nightfall. Lowering the javelin to a ready position I waited. Inwardly I braced myselftheyd be angry and rambunctious. The three of them skidded to a stop in front of me, Anarcharax leading.
Walking up to me, she snorted, and then nipped my arm. You not leave us!
I reached up to scratch between her ears but she pulled away.
Not again leave! Never! You do, we leave!
The others nickered their agreement.
Im sorry. I had to do it aloneyoud make too much noise, slow me down.
We keep up! Modyexa snorted.
Then Sauliux broke in, her nickers quiet and amazed: You mated Philya?
I blushed. Howd they oh. So much for cleaning up.
Philya over there! Modyexa neighed. They turned towards where she was hiding.
They did stop and, as one, turned to glare at me.
She she had a rough time. Go to her slowly, give her time to get used to you.
The mares started slowly walking.
Philya! Theyre friends. Theyre the mares I told you about.
Turning, I watched as she stood up. She was quivering a little, I think. She just stood there, her tail pulled against her rear as they approached. The horses stopped a couple of metres away and Anarcharax slowly approached Philya. She sniffed at Philyas human crotch between her human legs and pressed her nose into the dirty cloth of her pants. Philya pushed her away.
He did! neighed Anarcharax.
Good for him, Souliux snorted.
Gently Philya rubbed Anarcharax between the eyes. The others walked to her sides and started nibbling at Philyas horse back, pulling out flies and ticks. She relaxed as Anarcharax pushed her head closer until Philyas hand was between her ears, her favourite spot, and, closing her eyes, she nickered in pleasure.
Philya was certainly better than she had been.
With the mares busy, I made my way towards them; soon Sauliux was nibbling at my back. I hadnt realized how bad itd gotten. I just sighed, and then reached to scratch Anarcharax between the ears.
My hand touched Philyas and we both yanked them away. I looked at her; she looked back at me; our eyes met.
Anarcharax flicked her tail in my face. What about me?
I shook my head, saying: Shes annoyed that were not paying her any attention.
Philya smiled and shook her head.
I moved my arm up and touched Philyas. This time, neither of us flinched. Together we resumed scratching Anarcharax in her favourite spot.
It was late in the afternoon before we moved on. With Anarcharaxs permission I nicked her neck and sucked at her blood, and then did the same for Philya from Sauliux. By nightfall we werent so hungry, though we hadnt reached the spring yet. It turned out that we didnt need to, as Pegasus landed and made a spring for us. Walking into the spring to wash, I let Philya and Pegasus get reacquainted.
I was standing there in the deepest point where the water reached halfway up my lower chest, soaking my healing wounds when I heard the soft whoosh of Pegasus wings. This time, rather than hovering, she settled to the water like a swan, folding her wings to her sides. Philyas asleep, she nickered.
You looked her over then?
Shell be fine. None of the physical wounds were deep.
I think you did the right thing.
About the, ah
But it was wrong! It was unnatural!
Was it? Am I natural? Are you natural? She needed it desperately. And if you hadnt
Pegasus snorted and leaned down and sucked a couple mouthfuls of water. She seemed as hesitant to talk about it as I wasmore echoes of my soul. I watched her settle noticeably deeper into the water.
When she finally raised her head, water dripping into the spring, I asked: What are you talking about?
About what you and she..?
You know what Ephebus did. Ive been told by Apollo that Poseidon helped him.
My voice was cold. Yes.
Do you know why?
The why doesnt matter! He killed my family, and I will make him pay.
Well, I do knowsome of it, anyway. Poseidon is afraid of you. He has been ever since you tore the mask from the Medusa priestess.
Why would I scare him?
He believes that you will change the world.
-= The Price =-
Me? Change the world?
Thats what Poseidon believes, Pegasus nickered.
I dont know. I doubt he knows. But theres a prophecy, and you know from the myths what those are likeHe will destroy a great Empire.
I remembered that prophecy. It was given to King Croesus of Lydia when he asked whether or not he should attack Persia. Croesus assumed it meant the Persians were fated to lose; thinking himself invincible, he attacked. And when he did, an empire fell, alrightCroesus empire. And I was prophesied to change the world..?
You should know the excuse that Poseidon used to send Ephebus after you. And why Im here.
I thought you wanted to see us.
No. Your mating was ordained by Zeus; how you felt about it wasnt his concern. Had it been my decree, I would have had you do it peaceably. As for Poseidon, he told Ephebus that you needed to be forced back to Greece, as your child needs to go there.
Your child has a destiny. Hell be born in a year.
Youll know what to do. Now I must go.
I could only come because I carried the gods message. Now that Ive delivered it, theyre calling me to my next task. And with that, Pegasus spread her wings and leapt into the air, flapping hard. Too soon she was gone.
Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful! Answers that only generated more questions. I was to change the world? How? Youd think Poseidon would know that a prophecy couldnt be stopped. Or had Oedipus not happened yet? Assuming Ephebus goal was to get me free from my tribe, and to make his position as strong as possible, his tactics made sense. But why did he try to rape Philya? He had to know that nothing would happen. He had to know it wouldnt enrage me so that I would make mistakes, as I wouldnt even know until he was dead. So why?
I never did get an answer to that one. All my questions were still buzzing around in my head by the time I got to sleep that night.
The next day I asked the mares to scout for any danger that might be around us. I had a dagger and a javelin, and Philya had her pants, her packs, some arrows, a waterskin, her sewing kit, and flint and tinder; that was it. We couldnt even trade for supplies! Well, there were other ways. Philya and I needed time to rest and heal, and soon she wouldnt be able to travel anyway. So, we remained at the spring.
I had no wood to make a bow. The best wood was from the Greeks and Thracians, and we were nowhere near any of their trade routes. And without a bow, we didnt need Philyas arrows. The three mares gave us a ready supply of dung that would dry, and then be used for a fire. As for food, it was almost springtime; the local wildlife would be coming out from wherever it hid during winter, and we could eat whatever we managed to catch. So I cut Philyas packs into leather strips, and used them with the arrows to make snares. Meanwhile, Philya wandered around with the horses, gathering wild grains and roots. After a month she and I started working the hides and furs into some basic clothing, and larger packs for both of us. As the time passed, all of our physical wounds healedthough my lower horse chest remained mostly bare skin.
At first Philya seemed to have truly recovered herself, but with time I realized it was a false front. Her eyes were haunted, and I could see madness at their edges. Neither of us spoke about that one night, and the horses stopped talking about it when I continually ignored them. Each day we were busy surviving and preparing to travel, and each night we collapsed into an exhausted sleep.
I was never able to sleep well; I always had nightmares. Most were about the humans Id killed, some about the mares that Id let die. But there were also horrible nightmares about Philya giving birth to hideous monstersGreek mythology was full of them, after all. For instance, the minotaur (yes, there was only one) had came about because Minos wife had mated with a bull. My rational mind realized that Philya and I were the same kind, hence we could not generate such a patchwork creature, but I also dreamed of centaur abominations. Things born without legs, with no head, with ghastly deformities The dreams grew worse and more frequent as time passed. My only comfort was that Zeus himself wanted the child to exist; he would make sure the child was born right. That didnt mean that it couldnt be a mythological monster. It just meant that it wouldnt be a genetic abomination.
Some nights I was awoken by Philya sobbing in her sleep, and I knew she wasnt sleeping well either. She never told me if it was because of Ephebus, or because of what she and I did. And I never asked.
After two months, we packed our supplies and started a slow walk to the west. We didnt talk. The mares were sullen; Philya didnt understand them, and I ignored their persistent questions about my child. Philya said very little at first, then less and less until she said nothing at all. My mind drifted, the puzzle pieces moving around and around but never fitting. Ephebus, Poseidon, Pegasus, my child
After a month of wandering we encountered a tribe of proto-Scythiansa different tribe than the one thatd raised us. Wed set aside as much of the furs and hides as we could for just such a meeting, and I bartered our goods for a bow and some arrows and a pair of javelins. It wasnt a good bow, but I could use it. The javelins were fine. We parted, and Philya and I and the mares continued our way west.
Two weeks later, I brought down an antelope of some breed. Philya and I spent a few days skinning it and gorging ourselves on the meat. We dried what we could quickly. It would last us a couple of weeks; not as long as properly prepared rations, but better than nothing.
Weeks passed. I brought down game as we needed it. Each day I could see Philyas condition becoming more and more obvious. I dont know when she realized she was pregnantprobably before we encountered the tribethough fortunately she was still relatively sane then. Day by day I watched her sanity decay. First she reverted to calling me sister and Scylura. Her mind became more and more childlike, and often she danced off to see something interesting and I would have to chase her down.
We traveled slower and slower, both because of her condition, and because of her mental state. At first Id thought wed reach Thracia long before the childs birth, but now I doubted it. Another month passed. My dreams worsened, and Philya never seemed to sleep at all. She never spoke. Shed only let the mares near her, and they had to chase her down when she wandered off, as she fled if I approached her.
One morning I awoke and found them all gone: Philya had galloped off shortly after I got to sleep and the mares hadnt been able to stop her. It took me almost a week to catch up to them, and the only reason I did was because Philya had collapsed.
She had attempted to claw open her womb with her fingernails.
The mares had kept her from doing much damage, though her chest was covered in wounds that never properly healed.
I asked the mares to take us to the nearest spring. Anarcharax led, the other two restrained Philya between them. I still couldnt get anywhere near her.
Close to a year had passed since Id saved her, and I was no closer to a cure for her problems. All I could do was worry.
One night I made a permanent camp and, when Philya was asleep, I hobbled her. Two days later her labour pains started.
I dont know why, but as the pain of her labour worsened, her mind cleared. Was it blessing, or a curse? The mares huddled around her. I didnt know what to do! I started pacing around, first one way and then the other.
Night had fallen. It had rained on and off all day, and a storm was threatening. There was no moon, just the starlight and the light of the coals in the fire.
Scylurus? she asked, between pains, between screams.
Instantly I was beside her. The mares made room. Philya?
It hurts. It hurts so much! Her hands grabbed mine; her fingernails dug into my palms, drawing blood as she screamed.
Itll be all right. Soon itll be over.
We shouldnt have done it. Were cursed! And she screamed again.
Her eyes were haunted her face was white and pale. Hours passed. Finally I could no longer bear to gaze into her tormented eyes, and looked down in time to see a human head pushing its way out. It was small and red and wrinkled, and covered in blood. I could smell blood and the dense musk of horse from the child.
Oh god, oh god! Her fingernails dug into my palm.
The head slowly pushed out and then stopped. Her fingernails dug almost through my palms as she screamed a final time, her voice harsh and hoarse. In front of me her body tore open. Tiny blood-covered shoulders thrust out into the air.
I forced myself to look back at her face. Its going to be all right.
She was panting, gasping for air. With each harsh breath, blood splattered on her lips. No, it isnt. It isnt! She screamed, spraying blood all over my face. We have to kill it! Its an abomination!
She let go of my palms but I grabbed her lower arms. She strained against me, but I held her away from the child. Her arms were damp, sweat soaked. So was the rest of her body.
She screamed, louder than before. Her body shook and she wrenched her arms out of my grasp. Fearful of what she might do, I looked down just as her body ripped itself completely open pushing the child out. Lightning flashed in the heavens, and I could see that it was a centaur like us. Its forelimbs were human.
And that was when I realized the true horror of our form. Philyas forebody was human; her womb was human; the opening was human. And
A centaur is much bigger than a human.
Blood gushed out, and then I felt Philyas hands grasping mine.
Scylurus, Scylurus, Im so sorry! Her grip was weakening fast.
I tried to get up, my head whipped back and forth, left and right, looking for something, anything, to try and staunch the wound.
With a sudden inhuman strength she pulled me close to her. Her eyes stared into mine. Care for him, Scylurus. Raise him. Tears were falling down her face. Her body shook with pain and terror, and she coughed up globs of blood mixed with saliva.
The child sucked in its first breath, screaming its need to the world and Philya died.
-= Miracle =-
The sky opened up and rain poured down. A little part of my brain thought, insanely, that it was Zeus trying to help clean the child
I just lay there, Philya in my arms dead, her blood still oozing out onto me. The child was heaped on the ground, crying. Slowly my arms slipped away until the child grabbed one finger and shoved it in his mouth and started sucking. Of course, nothing happened.
Oh god, what am I supposed to do?
Gently the mares pushed past me and one bit through the birth cord as the others started licking the afterbirth off the child. At least they knew. But that didnt help the immediate problem: The child was hungry. It needed milk, and I was woefully incapable of providing that milk.
Oh gods, what do I do!?
Philya had the milk. Id watched her breasts swell in recent weeks. But she was dead but if
No! I cant!
I had to.
Swallowing, with my other hand I gently squeezed one of Philyas breasts. A bit of milk dribbled out to be washed away by the rain.
Forgive me. Please forgive me
Holding the childs head, I gently pulled my finger out of his mouth, holding back his head as it tried to follow. I lifted him up, careful to hold the human upper body and the head. I managed to crawl sideways, dragging my scars across the grass. It was hard, but I couldnt get up while I held the child. Putting him down, I guided his mouth to one of Philyas breasts as I pulled her upper torso around by her shoulders.
The child started suckling greedily.
The milk wouldnt last long. If only somebody elseanybody elsewas here
Anarcharax turned her head and pressed it almost into my face. Rain thudded down on her muzzle and she snorted out some water. Us feed.
How!? I screamed out.
You our god. Make one ready. She sounded quiet, certain, confident.
But it wont work! It cant! Ive gothe needsOh gods oh gods..!
Angrily she nipped me on the shoulder. Do it.
Well, what the hell? It couldnt hurt, it wouldnt take long. It wouldnt work, it didnt have a hope of working. But Gods damn it all, what else could I do? I refused to let the child die.
Anarcharaxs teeth broke my skin.
Angrily I pushed her away, her teeth tearing flesh from my shoulder. It wont work!
Fine! Fine then! My voice turned sarcastic. I, your god and creator, say you have milk.
Her eyes flashed angrily and she snorted. Do! It!
Can! Touch teats. Rub. Massage. Call milk! Angrily she leapt to her hooves and then thudded down onto the ground with her teats almost in my face.
Its not going to goddamned well work!
I rolled my eyes. Fine! Whatever you say!
Reaching out I felt her nipples through her hide. They were warm, and very, very dry. I tried squeezing them, squeezing them far too hard, but Anarcharax only snorted. Nothing came out. Of course nothing came out.
Turning her head she looked at me. She wasnt angry anymore. She was desperate, eager. And, above all, she was worshipful.
Why me? Why me? I wanted her to have milk. I needed her to have milk. Rubbing below the teats, I imagined her breasts filling, bulging. I moved my hand up and along them, wishing that milk would follow. Gently I squeezed the teats. It wouldnt work, I knew in my soul that it wouldnt, but the desperate father in me hoped
And then the miracle happened.
On the tip of my finger, I felt liquid. Warm liquid.
No Not possible It has to be the rain. Thats it, the rain. Nothing else.
But if only
With one hand sheltering the other I pinched again, and then I leaned down and licked my hand.
Id done it!
No, Anarcharax had done it. Id only provided the motivation.
But it couldnt happen spontaneously! Given a little time, maybe, but not like this..!
The storm was dying. The child was desperately suckling at Philyas other breast, but somehow I knew that nothing was coming out. Modyexa and Sauliux were looking at me. Theyd licked the child clean, and were resting their heads on him to keep him warm.
Turning at my waist, I nudged the child away from his dead mother. He looked at me, smiling. I smiled back. Then I turned him away and gently moved his mouth to Anarcharaxs dripping teats, which he thrust his head against eagerly.
After making sure the child wouldnt fall over, I leapt to my feet and hooves and spun around. The rain had stopped and a man was there. Clean-shaven, dressed in pure white linen and with a halo of golden hair. Over his shoulder was a pale leather quiver for a massive bow and long arrows, all in a case that was sealed against the rain. His eyes were golden, and a bright light, painful to look at, shone in their depths and all around him.
Who are you?
Ah, Stephan. Im surprised you dont recognize me. He bowed. Apollo, at your service.
The Greeks never bowed when they worshipped their gods, and I felt no need to.
What do you think of our little Chiron? He pointed towards the child, still suckling at Anarcharaxs breasts.
Chiron? I remembered the legends of Chiron, the immortal divine teacher centaur. According to the myths, hed been the child of Chronos and his niece Philyra. One story said that Chronos had been searching for Zeus, who was preparing to free Chronos childen. Chronos came upon Philyra and desired her; she transformed into a horse and fled, but Chronos became a horse too and chased her and caught her. Another story was that Chronos fell in love and transformed himself into a horse as he mated with her, to hide the act from his wife, Rhea. Regardless, Philyra was so horrified by what came out of her that she called upon the gods to transform her into a tree. They did, and Apollo adopted the child and raised him and, with Artemis, taught him.
You know what I must do.
No! Behind me I heard a sudden groan, and then the cracking of wood and rumbling of ground. I didnt bother to look; I knew there was now a linden tree where Philyas body had been.
Im sorry, but it is the will of Zeus.
How can he be Chiron!? Im not Chronos! This isnt the Golden Age! And I definitely havent been deposed by Zeus!
The myths you know are not the truth. They are images, distortions and explanations of what has happened, is happening, and will happen. I must take Chiron.
I have no choice, nor do you. Youll see him again, and again.
Slowly I walked over to where Id stored my supplies. I pulled out a javelin, its bronze point glistening in Apollos glow, the bright metal hungry for blood. Turning back to face him in a cold voice I said, You wont take him.
Stephan, you cant stop me. Not now.
I drew the javelin back for a throw. You will not take him.
He sighed, then muttered, I should know that a prophecy cannot be changed
He reached one arm behind him, untied his quiver, and pulled out the bow. It was massive, black, heavy. The most beautiful thing Id ever seenbut his momentary distraction gave me a chance! Leaping forward, I threw the javelin. It flew true, quivering its hunger
and Apollo caught it in his other hand. He squeezed, and there was a snap as the wood shattered in his grip.
Turning to face me, he strung his bow and pulled out a long black arrow. Im sorry, Stephan. I knew this would happen, but I hoped I cant kill you, for today you cant die. When you find my bow, come to Delphi.
And in one smooth motion, he drew the arrow back and released it. It flew straight and true, passing into my left eye. It didnt hurt, it didnt draw blood. It passed through my flesh as though it was water and lodged itself in my brain.
It killed my sanity.
-= Madness =-
To a madman, everything they do is perfectly logical. I knew I was insane, but I also knew that my condition was right and proper. Everything I did made sense. Fleeing from Chiron into the night, galloping until I collapsed from exhaustion: Since Id done it, it was obviously the right thing to do.
All the mares except Anarcharax followed me and easily caught up. I stopped and let them get close, and then I spun around and lashed out with my hind hooves before racing off. I could hear them speaking to me, but their words didnt make sense. This happened again and again; it wasnt too long before the inevitable happened, and my kick snapped one of Sauliuxs hind legs.
She fell to the ground screaming.
I stopped. Was it a new game? I walked up and she snapped at me, but I slapped her in her nostrils. Modyexa was screaming something at me, but I just laughed.
Then I leaned down and touched my hands to Sauliuxs snapped leg and felt a warmth flow through me. Before my eyes the leg healed.
What a great game!
I raced away again, and they pursued again. Twice more I badly wounded themModyexa in a foreleg, Sauliux in the head. And both times, hurt that theyd no longer play, I healed them.
It was sometime near dawn that I collapsed in exhaustion and when I awoke the mares were gone.
How dare they!? I wanted to play and they left! Oh well, Id have to find some more.
Years passed as I wandered through the grasslands. When I was hungry, sometimes I grazed on wild grain; at other times, I chased after a deer, took it down with my bare hands, and ate the meat raw. The first ones didnt expect me to kill themI must have smelled like a horse. But eventually they seemed to learn, and that just made the game better! I had to be cunning. I started by joining a herd of wild horses. Theyd always accept me, worship me as was my due, rub and care for me. Oddly, I never hurt themmaybe Id gotten that game out of my system the first night? I just dont know. Anyway, Id live with a herd, roll in the dirt with them, nibble at their backs as they nibbled at mine. After a while Id move towards a clump of deer, acting as one of the herd, letting the herd gain the deers trust. Then Id leap out, wrap my arms around one of the deers necks, and snap it. The rest of the deer would flee, and the horses would mill around nervously.
I mentioned that after my first night as a lunatic, I never hurt a horse. More, I never ate a horse. Not a one! That fact was one of the few things that kept me from trying to kill myself when I was sane again.
Sometimes I encountered bands of humans. I never let them get close, acting as skittish around them as a wild horse. For weeks or months I observed their strange and incomprehensible habits. Why they covered themselves, I had no idea. How could they merge with their horses and then detach? I couldnt do that! One night I stole a knife from one of the camps and tried to cut my horse self off of my human self. I succeeded.
When I awoke the next morning, I was healed.
Once, a tribe hunted me. They shot these strange, thin birds at me, some of which hit and dug into my flesh in bites of pleasure. Then I rolled around so that the birds could wiggle inside me. After that, the hunters came closer and threw javelins at me. What a wonderful gift! A new source of pleasurous pain. When I got to my hooves and feet and tried to thank them, they fled. And the next day, the wonderful pain was gone and my body healed.
Most of the time, though, I was alone. I slept when I was tired; I walked and galloped when I wasnt. I ate when I was hungry and drank when I was thirsty. I think there was a drought one summer, as I remember not being able to find water for a long time. That made me angryvery, very angry. I was thirsty, hot, sore. The world wavered in my eyes. I could only walk, not having enough energy to gallop. But I didnt die. Eventually I found a lake surrounded by kilometers of dried mud flats. I threw myself into the remaining water joyously. I even breathed it, sucking it down into my lungs in exquisite agony. I lay on the bottom, the last blurps of air slipping up through my nostrils.
But I didnt die.
Instead, I wandered along the bottom, eating fish when I could catch them. One time I saw some things floating on the surface, and swam up to see what they were. They were humans! I pulled one boat over and dragged one of the humans down to play with. He bubbled and struggled and finally went still. I threw him away and he sank to the bottom.
Eventually I walked out, but this time into a sea of vibrant grass. There were no dried mud flats. The rains must have come. Blood-tinted water gurgled out of my lungs, and I rasped in air for the first time in who knew how long.
More years passed, and I drifted westwards. The land became rockier. Once I leapt off a cliff, thinking I could fly. The next day I woke up, undamaged, on the rocks below. Humans were sparse and avoided me. Once I saw some centaurs, not quite like me: All four of their legs were hoofed. They babbled at me, all going bar-bar-bar, and I tried to duplicate that sound but never understood it. That was when they offered me a new and wondrous liquid. They had it in a sack of some kind, and I gulped it down greedily. It filled my body like a golden nectar; when the others imbibed, they joined me in my gleeful madness.
I stayed with the centaurs for years. An icon, I guess. Humans fought us and we struggled. I always fought with my bare hands and feet and hooves, and I always won. But there were so many! Centaurs died, and the humans always came back. I always healed, but the scars remained. My human torso became covered with them, and my horse torso crisscrossed. Then something happened, and I couldnt fight anymore. My centaur friends wouldnt let me. Nasty centaurs!
Eventually, the herd started growing again. We stayed near a cave where the greatest of the elixir was stored. One day visitors came, two centaurs and a human. One of the centaurs was like me, with feet instead of forehooves. The other was a monster. He was hairy all over his body, even his upper body, and kept his upper half wrapped in a feathered cloak. His head extended outwards like a horses and twin horns, like those on a deer, extended up from his head. A man was beside the two centaurs, even bigger than the weird centaur. He wore a lionskin, and he carried a big stick and a bunch of little sticks. The man wandered off and into the cave and there were loud bar-bar-bar noises.
It was the centaur like me that drew me. I knew himI remembered him. He must have noticed me because he turned and stared, his eyes moving down past my exposed, dangling centaurhood. The centaur like me turned to the monster centaur and went bar-bar-bar.
And that was when the elixir was opened.
As I turned towards the cave entrance, I heard centaurs galloping from all over. The man roared and burst out of the cave, the elixir dripping from his mouth. The keeper was behind him.
The other centaurs attacked and I leapt to join them. The man was amazing; a centaur tried to gallop over him, and he threw the beast aside like it weighed nothing. I tried to grapple with him, but he burst my arms apart. Nobody had ever done that before!
From behind, I heard a screamit was the centaur like me. The human pushed me aside, and I fell onto the hard rocks. He was past me, rushing towards the scream. I pushed through the other centaurs, and saw the human shooting sticks at the centaurs that were swarming the monster centaur and the centaur like me.
Sanity burst into my mind like a flood.
Dear god Pholus. Heracles. Chiron!
I knew how Chiron would die. Just as Heracles was drawing his arrow to shoot, I leapt into him.
In a distance I heard somebody scream, Nooo!
Heracles and I both fell in a tumble, and as he threw me away I watched the arrow I had caused Heracles to fire pass through one centaur and nick Chiron on the leg.
I knew the arrow was poisonedall of Heracles arrows were. He wouldnt have missed. It was I who made him miss!
My momentary sanity vanished, buried in terror, and I fled away into the mountains.
Years passed. I avoided all contact. My madness was dark and self-hateful. I threw myself off cliffs, but was always alive in the morning. I drowned myself in rivers, but eventually walked back onto shore. My mind had long fled. All I knew during that time was that I was cursed. I didnt know why.
On day I was on a cliff looking down at a marble temple. Small. Vaguely familiar. Humans were praying. I felt dizzy. Standing there I looked at the cliff. I sought the pain, but I knew it wouldnt do any good.
Somebody was beside me and they said something to me. Bar-bar-bar.
Panicked, I spun away to flee, but instead he was in front of me. And over his shoulder he bore a great black bow, strung and ready.
I recognized that bow. And the divinity holding it. The god was Apollo. And the bow was his too.
Sanity came crashing down upon me.
-= The Pythia =-
My lips quivered with sorrow. I killed him.
Apollo just stood there.
I killed him. You didnt even let me help him grow up!!
Apollo sighed. I thought about leaping off the cliff and taking him with me but the memories of my madness told me how useless that would be.
My voice turned to a whisper as I choked back tears. Why? I asked, but I knew the answer: I was cursed.
You must know the legend of Oedipus.
Of course I do! Oedipus parents received a prophecy that their son would kill his father and marry his mother. They abandoned him in the wilderness, and he was raised by shepherds. Oedipus discovered that he was prophesied to kill his father, so he fled his stepparents, thinking them his real parents. He met his biological father on the road and killed him in an argument, saved Thebes from the Sphinx, and as a reward married his mother. By trying to break the prophecy, his parents caused it to happen.
Chiron died because he was fated to die. When youre there again, youll understand.
I trotted over to him and started beating on his chest with my fists like a petulant child. God damn you all! God damn you!
Stephan, the world needs to change. Its what youll do. All of this happens because it did happen. Time twists and bends upon itself, events repeat themselves over and over again.
Stephan, youre not the one cursed! We are!
Stephan, it happened because it happened. Youll see Chiron alivejust not yet.
But hes dead!
Stephan! His hand slapped my face and pushed me to the ground at the edge of the cliff.
I glared up at him through my tear-blurred vision.
I did what had to be done. Just like you must do what you have to do. Go to the temple, and ask how to kill Poseidon.
I cant kill Poseidon. I cant kill you. I cant even kill myself!
Youre wrong. There is a way, for were damned and youre free. He pulled the strung bow from over his shoulder, and the open quiver from his back. My gifts. A heavy gold cup appeared on the ground in front of me. And this for Gaia.
A wall of heat roared over me: Apollos chariot and its fiery horses. They both turned their heads and bowed to me; Apollo boarded his vehicle. Then the gods horses leapt into the air, pulling the chariot off into the distance.
Holding my head in my arms, I sobbed out my grief. Id promised Philya. Id promised Id care for Chiron. Id promised Id raise him. And now Chiron was dead. Her son, my son. Dead, and all because of me! Dead dead Philya, forgive me! Please forgive me!
I never even knew him
I dont know how long I lay on top of the cliff sobbing and moaning; days, certainly. I know there was rain at one point. Still, even my grief couldnt last forever. It faded, though it never went away. I was thin, starving, thirsty, by the time the grief faded to something a mortal could bear.
Chiron was dead. It was done. Nothing could change that.
All that was left was vengeance.
Poseidon: Because of him, Chiron had been born in forbidden love, in hate, and in desperate anger and fear. Hed been born because Philya needed me. There had been no love; just a desperate need.
I didnt hate Apollo, just like I didnt hate Pegasus. They were messengers, nothing more. Neither had wanted to do what theyd done.
It was Poseidon who was responsible for twisting it all up, making everything a twisted mockery.
Staggering to my feet and hooves, I picked up and unstrung Apollos bow. The rain hadnt done any it harm. The bow was made of what looked like smooth black ivory, it felt warm and alive. Placing it in the quiver with its arrows, I tied the flap shut. The quiver itself was plain worked leather, and had a bronze decorated leather strap that felt snugly over my shoulder. I picked up the cup Apollo had left me and gulped down the rain water left in it. The cup looked like a single piece of gold. At one point was a handle, and from that handle centaurs with four hoofed legs faced in each direction. They were intent, quiet. Each looking for wisdom. I followed one line around the cup and saw that opposite the handle was a centaur like me.
Dropping the cup, I closed my eyes and fought to hold back tears. All the centaurs on the cup were looking up to Chiron. The cup clattered on the rocky ground and rolled almost to the edge of the cliff before stopping.
I wanted to leave it. I really wanted to. But Delphi needed an offering, and I needed answers. And there was a kind of symmetry in offering an image of wisdom in order to gain wisdom.
Still weak with hunger, I carefully leaned down and picked it up again. The fall hadnt damaged it. At least
A hare burst out of the underbrush and stopped, staring at me.
I was so hungry
Making no sudden moves, I untied the flap of the quiver and pulled out Apollos gift. The hare just stood and watched. Carefully I strung the bow. Chirons cup I shoved in where the bow had been so it wouldnt drop. Pulling out one arrow, I slowly aimed and drew. The rabbit watched. The bow had a very strong pull; strong as though made for my divine strength. With a snap I let go and the arrow sped into the rabbit.
My mouth was salivating as I walked over to pick it up. Removing the arrowhead, I discovered that it was completely undamaged. I wanted to eat the hare, I didnt care that it was still quivering as it died. It smelled warm, rich with blood and fat
By all the gods, I was a thinking being! I may have been an animal in my madness, but I refused to be any longer!
It took me most of the rest of the day, but I finally got a fire going by rubbing two sticks together. The rabbit I skinned using one of the razor-sharp arrowheads, and by sunset I was wolfing down the succulent roasted meat.
For almost two weeks I hunted and gathered, regaining my strength upon the slopes of Mount Parnassus before which lay Delphi. Delphi was a center of power, and I would go to it in glory and mightnot as a dirty barbarian! As for the cup, I discovered that the quiver had a pouch that just held the cup, so I dutifully stored the cup there.
During that time I picked my way down Parnassus, and into the valley on its slope that contained the temple. It wasnt large; just a small circular outbuilding, a ceremonial stone pool, and a rough cave entrance with a number of rough huts and other structures close by. It would be centuries yet before it attained its classical glory. Had Apollo taken it over yet? I wasnt even sure. And hadnt he said something right, hed called the cup a gift for Gaea, which meant the temple was still dedicated to her.
It was shortly after dawn when I arrived.
Id washed in a small creek as best I could, but the scent of the beast was strong on me. My hair was rough and tangled, as I hadnt anything to comb it with. I couldnt help but smile; I probably looked like one of the Gallatian gaisatai which were due to sack Delphi in 279BC.
As prepared as I could be, I entered the valley, stopping before the pool and waiting. Before long, a woman whose clean linen clothing was dyed an earthy brown-yellow left the small temple and walked towards me. Her feet were bare, and her red-brown hair was long and flowed down her back.
I waited as she walked up, my arms hanging loose at my side, and as she came closer I realized that she was nervous. I just hoped she would accept me as a pilgrim. She stopped and I waited for her to speak.
Her nervous voice squeaked on the first word, but then calmed into the ritual cadence. Do you seek the wisdom of the Pythia?
Do you bring an offering?
I do. I retrieved the golden cup from its storage-place and handed it to her.
She looked into it, her face reflected in the polished gold. The offering is accepted.
As I watched, she turned and walked towards the pool and I followed. Two acolytesthey must have been in the shadowswalked out, pulling a leashed goat between them. Both were naked, but clean and washed. The priestess stopped and kneeled beside the pool, in front of a large flat rock that was stained with dried blood. The acolytes let go of the goat; it walked over to the altar and lay down upon it.
I could feel the earth and the heavens watching. Was it always like this? Or was it that I was different?
The priestess withdrew an ancient flint knife from inside her robes. The blade was highly polished, and a deep green-black. It was old. Very, very old. As I watched, the priestess slit the goats throat with long-practiced moves, and then cut open its chest, releasing a bitter smell. The goats blood poured out onto the stone and into the pool as the beasts entrails burst out.
For a moment the only sound was the dripping of blood as the priestess examined the entrails. Then she spoke: Gaia will speak through the Pythia this day.
With that I heard the sound of bare feet on rock; I turned in time to see the Pythia leave the cave. At first she was in shadow, but as she passed the tall cone-shaped stone that marked the entrance, the early morning sunlight touched her.
She was young, almost a child, and her skin was dark, but with an odd reddish tinge. Her hair was drenched in reddish mud and hung down her back in thick strands, and I could see that each strand was tied at the end with strips of leather. Still, it was her face that drew me. Not because I could see it, but because of the mask she wore.
I stared at it. At the fragments of bone that made the horrific expression.
At the exact same mask that Medusa had wore.
My body quivered in fear and my tail swung back and forth.
Oblivious to me, the Pythia slowly walked into the pool below the altar until the bloody water was up to her waist. She ducked under, then burst upwards through the densest cloud of blood and gore. Bloody water streamed off her, streamed along the cracks between the bone fragments that made up the mask that hid her face, streamed down the thick strands of hair that clung to her back. Stains of reddish mud mixed in with the blood as the priestess poured more blood from a clay vessel over the Pythias head.
She must have scooped it from the altar stone.
The Pythia turned to face me; something touched me and I jerked. I spun my headthe acolytes were on either side of me, and each had brushed against my horse half. One was holding a scrap of parchment, and the other a clay bowl which held blood and a copper stylus. I looked at them only for a second, and then I turned back to face the Pythia, my eyes drawn by the mask.
Write your question, the priestess intoned.
I had to close my eyes to free them and didnt open them until I was looking down at the bowl. My left hand fumbled for the parchment which was thrust into it, and my right hand, shaking, drew out the copper stylus.
Blood dripped from its tip.
There was power here. Ancient power that knew who I was and what Id done. I could feel the pressure of its gaze
With my hand shaking, I dredged ancient written Greek out of my scholarly memories.
I found that the blood dried fast. It was thick and sticky, almost a tar. Had they added something to it? My letters were crude, ill formed, barely legible. I had to write large, and had room for only a single short phrase: HOW DO I KILL POSEIDON?
The acolyte with the blood gently removed the stylus from my hand; he handed it (and the bowl) to the priestess, who then poured the remainder of the blood over the head of the Pythia. The other acolyte gently pulled the parchment out of my grasp.
The Pythia hadnt moved. She stared at me. The mask hid her emotions, but not the power hidden within. Its scales glistened in the blood and water, and seemed to slide one around the other.
Turning, she walked the rest of the way out of the pool, blood and water slithering down her back, dripping from between her crotch and backside, coiling down her legs and gathering in pools after each footstep.
By then the sun was higher. A faint wisp of mist rose from the entrance of the cavern as the Pythia walked in and vanished in the darkness, followed by the priestess.
I just stared, unable to look away from the hole into the stygian depths of the earth.
Another touch and again I jumped, my hooves clattering on the rocks as I landed. This time it was only one of the acolytes. Come, she said. You should rest. I have wine and meat.
Unable to say a word, I just let her lead me off.
From the cave burst an inhuman ululation that rose and fell, echoing off the sides of the valley.
-= Prophecy =-
All day, weird inhuman cries came from the cave, bouncing from cliff to cliff before fading into inaudibility. Sometimes they seemed to be words, but words that could never quite be made out. Other times it was more the growling of an animal, or the grinding of one rock on another.
The priestess had followed the Pythia into the cave, for she was the one who would interpret the insane cries. I was led by an acolyte, not into the small temple, but instead into an open area nearby. There a fire had been lit; the goat had been skinned, and its meat was roasting over the flame. Gaia had the blood, the flesh she left to her worshippers. First the heart was put over the fire and cooked. As the honoured guest it was offered to me.
It was so hot it burned my tongue, but I ate it all: Failing to do so would cast a shadow on the entire prophecy. The heart was gamy, tough, and greasy.
By the time I finished, the rest of the edible meat was being cooked by the other acolytes. We were silent until it was ready for consumption, and then it was shared amongst all of us. We ate it slowly and respectfully. When we were all finished, the others left so that the first acolyte and I were left alone. Shed been left only water, fresh from the earth; Id been left wine.
I nervously tried a sip, as Id never had any alcohol when I was sane. My memories of the myth and my insanity made me nervous. Opening it carefully, I held myself ready in case the scent overwhelmed me. It didnt. Certainly it smelled like wine, but there seemed nothing special about it. I took a sip. It was cold, salty, almost bitter. A warmth came from it, a gift, a promise Fortunately, its promise was weak. I let myself take two swallows, ended up taking three, and then managed to let the cup slip from my hands and shatter on the stony ground.
Is the wine all right?
Dont worry, its fine. Its, I dont ah, dont trust it.
She nodded. Let me share my water then.
We sat there in silence, she on a chair, myself on the ground, alternately sipping from the same cup. Both waiting. Time passed. The sun rose to the top of its arc and then started sinking lower and lower.
Does it usually take this long?
She jerked. What!? Sorry It takes as long as Gaia needs.
Well, does she usually need this long?
I couldnt say much to that so I just lay there. Most of the time I thought of Chiron. The momentary vision I had of him just before the arrow was clearest. Hed looked healthy, happy. And hed looked old. What year is it? burst out of me.
It is the 312th year of the Oracle.
Then I remembered that the Greeks didnt have a common calender. One of the big problems of Bronze Age archeology was datingeach state tended to say in the year of King X. Who is the King in Mycenae?
Agamemnon: Madman, general, murderer. A dark figure. Chiron was dead. Time had passed. According to the myths, Chiron had taught Achilles, amongst others. If Agamemnon was king
Has Agamemnon gone to fair Ilium?
Two years gone. She looked directly at me. Our kings did not leave us defenseless.
You have no need to fear. Ive been wandering the wilderness for a very long time.
Suddenly there was only silence from the cave.
Gaia has finished. Let us go and meet the priestess and hear your answer.
Nodding, I clambered to my feet and hooves and followed the acolyte back to the altar. The sun had almost set, and torches placed at the entrance to the cave. Slowly, moving in a trance, the Pythia walkedno, glidedout of the darkness and into the flickering orange light. The acolytes didnt know what to do. The priestess at the entrance tried to grab her, but the Pythias body twisted out of the way as she paced towards me. I stood in place, watching the Pythia approach with the priestess helplessly fluttering after.
They both stopped in front of me. The Pythia was drenched in blood and clay, but her mask glistened cleanly. Scars oozing blood streaked her chest and arms. She looked at me. Cold. Distant. Then she said two words: I remember. Then she pushed her way past the priestess, and vanished into the darkness of the cave mouth.
For a long time there was silence, except for the crackling of the torches. In my mind I watched again and again as I pulled the mask away from Medusa with my teeth
The priestess broke my reverie. Listen to the words of Gaia.
Blinking my eyes I forced my attention onto her. I watched as the pupils of her eyes expanded until all I could see was two black pools in her face. Her gaze passed me and focused on something in the infinite distance. With a loud, low voice that sounded like rock dragging along rock, a voice utterly devoid of emotion, she spoke:
Around the sea, but not across
Two times all told your coin youll toss
The second time your first will be
The first one second time will flee
When in war you first will fail
There your gift will turn you pale
If youd learn to do the deed
In death the answers will be freed
It is in peace that you will take
Its with the sea that you will make
And only then shall all partake
Then she blinked, her eyes returning to normal. The acolyte that had been with me appeared beside her and offered her a drink from a polished granite bowl.
I started chanting the verse to myself, I didnt want to forget it.
The first line was easy: I had to go around a sea, but not travel across it by boat. Given my relationship with Poseidon, that was simple prudence. But what was all this first and second and twice? And the in death? Did I have to die? I couldnt die, Id become a god. But then, Poseidon couldnt die either. But death would have to give me the answers
The priestess voice was harsh. You must go. You have what you asked for.
Her voice became a screech: Never return to this place!
Medusa suddenly appeared in my mind. I fled, galloping into the darkness.
Sometime in the night I stopped and, by the light of the moon, made my own fire. I couldnt sleep, I had too much to think about. Some parts of the prophecy made sense, some were obscurely veiled hints. In a war I would fail to kill Poseidon. Kill Poseidon
my hatred for him burned cold in me. Was that what it meant? It said that I first will fail. Obviously I had to try twice. What war was going on?
Well, that was easy: The War. The Trojan War. The war that anybody who was anybody went to.
I had to get there, and by land, not by sea.
Could I go alone? Better not. Poseidon would be therehe was on the side of the Greeks, because he and Apollo had helped build Troys walls, and they hadnt been paid for it. And there were certainly instances of truce within the war. Was that what was meant by in peace? But the prophecy had been specific about in death
There were a number of myths where heroes had gone to Hades. Orpheus had visited Hades, but he knew where the entrance was. Odysseus had been told to talk to the blind prophet Teiresias in Hades; hed been given clear directions by Circe, but I had no idea where her island was. Aeneas had been led into Hades by a Sibyl after hed arrived in Italy. Was it possible the entrance was there somewhere?
There was an alternate possibility for death. In the Trojan War there was lots of death; could death be another clue that I had to go to Illium? It was possible, and it was supported by the War reference. I also remembered that there were fragments of other myths about Troy lost to history. One of them hinted that centaurs had fought on the side of the Trojans; in other words, they fought against Poseidon.
That decided it. I would gather the centaurs Id fought beside in the depths of my madnessthat was in Thessalyand together wed enter the Trojan War. If some of them died, well, they were partially responsible for the death of my son with their wine and drunkenness. I wouldnt miss them. To get to the war Id travel north around the Black Sea.
No, I would not cross the wine-dark sea, but still would I seek my vengeance beneath the walls of fair Illium! And beneath those walls, I would kill Poseidon.