A melodic drip drip came from the corner of a low ceilinged cave as mineral rich water dripped into a pool along the outside edge. I was raining outside and up in the world of mortals, enough so that even here they got a taste. Echidna rolled in her nest and smiled as the babe within her womb rolled inside her and began to kick. He was strong this one, already so much like his father. She ran a gentle hand over her distended belly, now slick with blood and fluid from where his claws had popped through. She smeared the rust tinged fluid into arcane symbols of protection and hummed him a little song, a song that promised freedom and safety to grow big and to live a long life. Her boy was restless though and the song wasn’t soothing to him because he jabbed at her hand as it passed and she felt a sharp burst of pain in her palm.
“You little devil you.” She said with a smile evident in her voice. From all around her sounds of movement could be heard, the sound of scales scraping along the floor, flesh against flesh, claws and horns scratching at the wall as the smell of her blood and birth fluid roused her brood. She smiled into the dark, her features, so beautiful in their alien cast all but lighting up the room.
“I think tonight you want a story don’t you?” she asked with gentle indulgence making her voice ring with love. The little monster inside her quieted, settling down for his tale and she rubbed at her belly with affection. The brighter blood from her palm smearing the symbols she’d drawn earlier in its slow circular path around her ripe belly. The cave around her quieted as her other children settled down for the tale, each one eager to hear its mother’s voice filling the echoing cavern with a story. When she spoke her voice was like song, rolling off of the walls and filling their hearts and minds of her eager and devoted audience with pictures. Images of things they had never seen, pictures of the way things had been when their parents had been free, the way things would be again filled their heads as she wove her tale.
“Long ago in the days of gold my children, your father and I lived in a cave in Scythia. We roamed in the sunshine and cavorted in the moonlight and all the world was ours. The fruits of my body were plentiful and spread like a blessing over the earth. But the gods high on Mount Olympus disliked the way my children looked. Vain gods, they didn’t like to see anything that was different, what they perceived as ugly. See how they treat their own? They cast Hephaestus out for nothing more than being what they saw as unsightly. And so with me and mine they had even less reason to be kind. They gifted mortals, Mortals!!, with the weapons to kill my children and made it into a game for their entertainment. They would call forth a hero; gird him with the means to slay one of my babes and then watch. My poor children were slaughtered and they did it for sport, congratulating themselves afterward. They called it a challenge for their chosen ones and expected me to watch and let it happen.”
She paused then, her voice becoming rich with fury and the bodies in the cave began to move, reacting to the emotions of their mother, their lover, their goddess. She smiled and crooned a little as the small one in her womb began to kick again, black claws ripping through her flesh in sympathetic fury. She rocked her fecund form and sang again until the babe was soothed, her multitude of teats leaking rich colostrum down her belly and to the floor. It perfumed the air and caught the attention of the multitudes whose bright eyes focused with devoted attention onto the woman who had birthed them all.
“I would not let it stand, what mother would? I called out to the Olympians and demanded that they stop. They ignored my words, laughed at my pleas and told me to go and make them some more sport.”
There was a loud hissing from the thousands of throats, a hissing that filled the cave in a cacophony of sounds and Echidna laughed, a rich, ringing sound that cut through the hissing like a fine blade.
“My dear babes, do you want me to finish or not?”
There was the sound of settling and with a smile she began again.
“When my pleas were ignored I went with your father to the titans, to all the enemies of the Olympians and asked them to join us and rise up against the arrogant young gods. Many were eager to join because the Olympians had few friends, being too proud, too brash to keep them. We rose up and fought and many of your siblings died.”
She paused then, wiping at her cheeks which glistened with tears. They were wiped away and in their place was a smear of her red blood that looked black against the pale turquoise of her scales.
“We lost that battle and for the crime of wanting to live free and to not be hunted we were locked into the deepest pit of Tatartus, in the dark and cold for countless years with nothing but our fury and revenge to sustain us. What’s worse, they denied us the gift of your Father’s presence. They divided our family in the cruelest of acts. It is for those crimes, their cruelty and hubris that we fight now. We will live free and we will cover the earth once again and we will rule as is our right.”
The last part rang out into an absolutely silent cavern, the drip drip even held its peace as if confirming the promise behind those words. For a long moment the silence reigned, but then in cry that was nearly uniform all the mouths of those gathered spoke. One word, no matter how disfigured the mouth, no matter how many the teeth or how forked the tongue and the word they cried was a promise and a prayer, that word was, “Mother.”
Athene stood on the steps of the Parthenon and swore. Loudly and long with words that didn’t fit the image she presented in her steel colored, silk floor length evening gown with a long slit up the side and coordinating heels with straps that twined up her well muscled calves. The warm night air that brushed past her bare shoulder carried the bustling sounds of Nashville Tennessee, cars and people and the soft touch of country music. The sound seemed out of place as she stared up into the replica of the statue that had once stood outside her temple on the acropolis. He would do it here, she thought to herself as she chocked back her irritation.
She had received a hand delivered invitation with her mail a few days back, the envelope a soft white that one could only get with high cotton content and her fingers had lingered on the paper, appreciating the craftsmanship that had gone into making it. The invitation inside, with a high silk content she was pleased to note, had been hand lettered by an artist, which was evident in the grading on the ink and the different curves of the letters. She’d been impressed with the skill that had gone into making it and read eagerly. Written in that lovely hand had been an address, a time and date as well as the promise of a good time and not much else. Once she saw the host and recognized the name to be Hermes in his latest guise, she knew she had to attend.
She’d been in communication with many of her siblings and family since the events of a year ago but had actually seen so few of them. She hadn’t realized it had fully been a year and the invitation had made her sit down and realize with a start that it had been a full year since their greatest triumph in the modern day or their greatest failure depending on your perspective. He would want to celebrate that, she had thought with bitterness and fondness mixed in equal measure. She thought about spending the evening mingling with them in this modern replica of her past glory and sighed. There was no helping it, she couldn’t and wouldn’t stay away, there would be talk and there would be plots and in the end they were family and she needed to be there, likely as they all would need to be there so she made preparations to go.
With a final sour look at the statue she finished ascending the steps and walked through the door which was opened by a rather hairy gentleman in a servant’s suit who bowed low. With a smiled she saw deep within his curling mass of hair that he had horns. She felt something ease inside her upon the sight, they could be themselves then. She gazed around the lobby of the art museum, with its many galleries and saw servants milling about, all of them with the distinct look of Fauns and Nymphs. Hermes had done well she thought and eased over to the bar to grab a flute of champagne and wait for the others to arrive.
The Lovely Banner was made with great skill and speed by Noel