With a Little Help From My Friends
The guard was different from the Telos. He didn’t have the overbearing aura of destruction around him, for one thing. He was a massive creature, with arms like steel and a chest wide enough that the metal plate he wore looked like it was actually stretching. He had a long shock of blonde hair, and his eyes burned with a coldness altogether different from the Telos I’d encountered before. He had a sword at his side and a shield at the other, but the surprise on his face as I approached seemed to indicate he wasn’t used to needing either. He looked into me, and I felt my nerves rippling up my spine.
“You do not belong here, mortal,” the guard’s voice boomed. It felt like thunder, a tremor that reverberated throughout my body. Somehow, this figure was more frightening than anything else I’d run across in the bowels of Hell.
“Hey, um… you. Look, I need to get in there.”
The guard took a step towards me, shifting the sword from his side to his hand. “Proceed, mortal man, and I will cast you out into the clutches of the Telos.”
“Little bald guys with big, ugly swords? I think I’ll pass.”
I stepped back from the guard, teetering on the slender stone bridge. After my unexpected Styx-bath, I didn’t know if he could actually hurt me, but there was still enough of the cartoonist left in me that I wasn’t going to press my luck.
“So how does somebody get into Elysium?” I asked.
“Only those escorted by Zeus may enter the divine realm.”
“Faboo. How am I supposed to get a god’s escort?” I’d encountered a lot of gods over the last year, but Big Daddy Z wasn’t one of them. But his kids… I had palled around with a lot of his kids. And one of them promised me a favor.
The moment I thought of it, there was a warmth on my forehead, a tingling sensation, and what looked like a spotlight shone out onto the stone in front of me. In the circle, a shape began to appear – tall, shapely, beautiful. And frankly, she looked royally pissed off at me. She didn’t waste more than a few moments glaring at me before turning to the guard. “Artus, isn’t it?” she said.
The guard fell to his knees at the sight of her. “Mistress Athena! I never thought…”
“Yes, I know. Artus, you’ve been a faithful servant of my father for a long time now – millennia. And in that time, have you ever faltered in your duty?”
“And have you always done exactly what was asked of you?”
“Of course, Lady.”
“And did my father ever mention me?”
“Yes, Mistress. He said of all the misbegotten refuse he’s spawned over the millennia, he regretted you the least of all.”
Athena glanced over her shoulder at me. “Father went through something of a depressed period after the mortals began forgetting about us. He was never the sort to keep his pain internalized. Artus, did he mention my domain?”
“Warcraft and wisdom, my lady.”
“That’s correct. I am the mistress of Warcraft and Wisdom. And thus, when I tell you something, you know the truth behind it, correct?”
She leaned in very close to him, reaching a finger beneath his chin and lifting it up so they could meet eye-to-eye. “Then believe me when I say that if you don’t let this man pass into the fields of Elysium, all my father’s dominion may fall.”
The guard’s mouth dropped, and he looked over at me. “Him, Mistress?”
The guard, Artus, pushed himself to his feet, then stepped aside. He reached towards the small, humble sun that burned next to him and placed a hand on its surface. The outline of the door shimmered, then darkened. Instead of looking at the surface of a star, I was looking up at a beautiful gate made of gold. As I watched, the gate rolled open.
“Thank you, Artus. When my father is himself once more, he will reward you for your service.”
Athena waved at me and I stepped through the gate. She stepped in after me, and the gate closed behind me. I found myself in a tunnel, a long pathway lit by torches several yards apart. She nudged me, and I continued walking.
“This is foolish, Adam. This is far worse than foolish. This is highly likely to end in your death, and if I didn’t think that would be insignificant to our potential success, I would send you back to Earth now.”
“Thanks, Theenie, I love you too.”
“I’m serious. It’s a miracle you haven’t died already.”
“I think I’m okay. I took an accidental dip in the Styx.”
“Did you now? Well, that will protect you from most harm. But do pay attention to history, Adam. Achilles though he was safe as well, and his hubris brought his death.”
“Thanks for the heads-up.”
“One last thing, boy.” She stopped then, and I took my cue from her. “There is a chance – a small chance, but a chance – that you may yet alter the outcome of this affair. If you’re smart. If you don’t do anything foolish.”
“Everything I’ve done since this whole thing started has been foolish…”
“Yes, I know. But you are not a fool. Adam… I am skeptical, but you wouldn’t be the first mortal I’ve seen change the course of history. I’m not giving you another boon. This was your only one. But I will give you advice. When the time comes, use your strengths. Allow your friends to use theirs. And accept what is beyond your power to change.”
She took another step down the tunnel and, when I followed her, I found myself on a cliffside. It was beautiful – the sky was the most amazing, indescribable shade of blue. The grass under my feet was emerald and flowing in a soft breeze. There were trees, and a brook of pure, clean water. And in the distance were houses – far enough apart from one another that nobody would be bothered by their neighbors, but close enough that people could come together when need be.”
“Is this it? Are we in Elysium?”
“Yes, Adam. Welcome to paradise.”
“It feels like years since I’ve been outside.”
“You’re not – not the way you mean the term. We’re still in the underworld, but this place is a sort of… pocket world, all its own. Nothing you see here is real in the sense you would imagine, but it’s real enough for the warriors who have earned an eternity of rest.”
She looked at me again, scowling. “They’ve earned their rest, Adam. You’re here to ask one of my favored champions to sacrifice that rest. More than anyone in all of Elysium, that man has deserves his peace.”
“I know,” I said, not bothering to ask how she knew who I was there to find. “But I need him. And you said it yourself – if this doesn’t work… well, I doubt there’ll be a nice place even in the brightest part of paradise if Hades gets his way.”
She didn’t say a word, and it was in that uncharacteristic silence that I knew I was right. She pointed down a road.
“My last gift to you, Adam. The man you seek can be found that way, perhaps three miles as you would recon distance. Walk, and you’ll find the person you see.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Athena.”
“Good luck, Adam.”
She vanished, and that warm tingling that had buzzed in my forehead since she offered her boon was gone. I felt totally alone again. I just hoped it wouldn’t be a permanent condition. I turned in the direction she’d indicated, and began to walk.
The grass was green. That’s what stuck out at me, just how green it was. And not a simple dusty, well-manicured lawn sort of green, but a brilliant verdant that was so mesmerizing I was almost afraid to set foot upon it. I knew it wasn’t quite real – it was manufactured, just as the sky above wasn’t really blue… hell, wasn’t really a sky… but it too was a dazzling color that made me feel so humbled, so out-of-place, that I was almost ashamed of even being there.
He was sitting outside, the man I came to find, not on a throne or a pedestal but on a simple wooden chair, and although the home behind him was impressive, it didn’t look as regal as one might expect. It was stone, at least three stories tall, and the door the man sat near was set into the wall of a room that bulged from the side of the home, as though it were built around something. As I approached he took my measure, looking me up and down, and it was then more than any other time that I feared he would refuse to help me. Nobody looking at my pudgy frame and slight limp would think of me as a warrior, and they would be right.
He looked up at me, and he smiled. “Welcome, my friend,” he said.
* * *
My companion took another sip of his wine and I licked my lips. They were dry. Parched. I was growing increasingly aware that I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since Hermes picked me up back at home, but I knew that eating in the Underworld trapped you there forever. It was torture, but I refrained.
“Your story moves me, Adam,” he said, placing his goblet on the table. “And I understand what you have come here to ask, but I’m afraid I can’t give it to you.”
“Please, sir, you’re the only one who can.”
“My lady Athena told you that my rest is earned. She was not speaking figuratively.”
From the doorway, the wife appeared again. She was truly beautiful, on par with Athena herself, and had a smile that made me feel calm and welcome. “Has your friend finished his story?”
“Yes, love, and an epic tale it was. But he must be leaving us soon.”
She looked up into the sky. I’d been talking for hours, and it was starting to grow dark. She leaned over and placed a kiss on his lips. “Say your good-nights then, my love, and join me within.” She smiled at me again, and walked back inside.
“Gotta admit,” I said, “I’d find it hard to turn down an invitation like that either.”
He looked at me. “Athena was right. My rest has been earned, Adam, but not by me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have been absent from your love – how long now? Days? She spent twenty years waiting for me. Ten while I was at war, another ten while I ran Poseidon’s damnable obstacle course across the seas. I wanted nothing more than to come home to her, but her faith… her refusal to believe I was dead, her planning and wisdom in the face of men who were ready to fight to steal my kingdom… she has earned this rest far more than I have.”
“I know sir, but that’s why I need you.”
I took a knee in front of him. “I know your stories, Lord Odysseus. Even know, you are remembered as one of the wisest, bravest warriors who ever lived. But there are a lot of great warriors here. You spent two decades trying to return to her. You twice turned down immortality and life with a goddess to be with the woman you loved.” I shook my head. “I’m not looking for immortality. I’m not even looking to be with her. She’s a goddess, I’m a man. I don’t know if that’s possible. But I know I can’t just let her spend forever trapped in his clutches.”
He stood up then, and took my hand. “Adam, you are braver than you give yourself credit for, and not least for daring to contradict me. But my travels are over.”
“No, they aren’t.”
His wife stood in the doorway again, draped in a sheet. She smiled at him. “Somehow, love, I knew you weren’t finished yet.”
“Penelope, please, this doesn’t concern you.”
“You’re refusing to help this man because you want to remain with me. Of course it does.” She walked over, kissed him. “I love you for it, you know. But Odysseus, you heard his story.”
“And you as well?”
She smiled. “You knew I was listening.”
“I know you.”
“It’s not just about him, although that would be enough if it were. Odysseus, all of creation is at stake.”
“We’re safe here. This is a land of warriors. We can stand against any invader!”
“You can stand against the gods themselves? If Hades decides to conquer all creation, not even Elysium will be safe.” She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. “Go with him. Help him. You fought for years to come home to me. Fight now to keep me safe.”
“I swore to never leave you again.”
“Three thousand years ago. We can stand a bit of a break. I love you, my Lord Odysseus.”
He smiled. “You’ve always been the wise one Penny.”
He looked back at me. “Very well then, Adam Solomon. Tonight, you stay here as my guest. Tonight, I lie with my wife once more. And tomorrow, you and I shall begin our planning to save the world.
Summer Love by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.evertimerealms.com.