Shade: Welcome to the Cursed Blade. Some of you may have read the previous version. As I went back and reread it I began to feel that it was in desperate need of revision and later reviews reinforced that. So I'm back to square one. I hope to address some of the issues the previous version had, but I really don't plan on rewriting yet again so please have patience and leave reviews so I can improve going forward. To everyone, whether you like it or hate it, constructive criticism will make the next chapter better. I hope you all enjoy.
The Golden Age of the Titans has long passed. Zeus, together with his five siblings and numerous allies, sheared off the peak of Mt. Othrys and destroyed his father, Kronos. The Titan army was scattered, with many of them being confined to Tartarus like Hyperion and others locked away in prisons like Atlas and his daughters. The defeat of the Titans heralded the beginning of the Age of the Gods. Since then, mankind has been protected by the gods in exchange for their belief and sacrifice. The only serious challenge to their rule occurred long ago when the Giants crawled out of Tartarus to destroy the gods but were destroyed themselves. The cycle of vengeance had ended with Zeus and the Olympians solidified their hold over the world, confident that there was no longer a threat to their reign.
They were wrong.
Though the Titans had been defeated, they were not gone forever. Many of the peaceful Titans continued to live in the shadow of Olympus, quietly making their way in the world. Most of the Titans that fought the Olympians continue to exist, bound and forgotten, but not destroyed. And despite being slain and shredded by Zeus, the Titan king Kronos had not faded. It took thousands of years, but his essence has gathered back together to form consciousness. Whether from fear or arrogance, the gods did not prepare for their old enemy's return. Divided by petty arguments, many of their number have lost faith in Olympus. In the hearts of minor gods and forgotten demigods resentment burned, providing fertile soil for the whispers of Kronos.
At the end of the last World War, the gods were presented with a prophecy foretelling the salvation or destruction of Olympus at the hands of a demigod child of Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades. Rather than prepare, they opted to repeat the mistakes of the past and attempt to prevent the prophecy by swearing an oath to sire no more children. They failed to acknowledge that the weave of Fate could not be prevented, a lesson Kronos had learned well. Knowing that the oath would be broken, he set in motion the wheels that would bring him victory over his traitorous children.
Deep beneath the earth, deeper than even the Underworld, lay a pit that had been the root of evil since the beginning of all things. Tartarus. A desolate wasteland of rock spires, pools of lava, clouds of toxic gas, and bristling with monsters and cruel curses. A place even the gods fear to tread, despite their preference to keep their enemies down there. In a far corner of the pit, a moat of lava surrounds tall bronze walls. A prison for the worst enemies of the gods. Within the enclosure, five beings stand together. Four of them stood over ten feet tall and radiated power, though they seemed greatly diminished from so long in the pit. The fifth, shortest of them all, was not physical at all but resembled a spirit. He shone a dull gold, being far too weak to assume a physical form. Despite being the smallest and weakest present, the other four gave deference to him.
One, a figure wearing navy blue armor and holding a helmet with rams horns tucked under his arm, pointed at another, "Surely you can't agree with this Koios. It will be years before we can influence them, enough time for them to be indoctrinated by the gods."
Koios, a pale Titan with snow-white hair and frost covering his body, replied, "That is a possibility Krios but one dependent on the gods bothering to indoctrinate them. More likely they would simply vaporize what they view to be a potential threat. On the other hand, they would possess a freedom and flexibility we simply cannot exert. It will be some time before we can return and even then, we cannot break the ancient laws without consequence. What do you think Iapetus?"
Before Iapetus could reply another figure jumped in, golden armor shining and radiating heat. "If Kronos believes this is necessary then there is no need to debate the pros and cons. Our immortal children have already proven themselves to be traitors by siding with the gods or simply refusing to help us. I for one would be glad to have at least one loyal offspring, even if they are mortal. Besides, why would we second guess the man who brought about our golden age to begin with?"
"Because Hyperion," Iapetus began. "We should not forget that he is the reason we are down here instead of ruling the world. That said, "He returned his attention to the glowing spirit. "we will need all the allies we can get. The gods are divided true, but if they could betray one side could they not betray the other? We need reliable forces, ones that will stay true to our side. Besides, they can help us solidify our rule after the war. My only concern is your offspring brother. Our father's curse may still apply."
The glowing spirit replied, "That curse was broken when Zeus slew me. The child will not be compelled by the cycle as Zeus was." He scanned the four before him. "It is a gamble, but I foresee the demigods will be a stronger force than they appear. They possess a fraction of their parents' power yet can move unseen among mortals. We need an appropriate counter. Any other objections?"
The four remained silent, then Hyperion turned to the spirit. "Lord Kronos, should our offspring prove loyal, will you allow them to live? I care not for the fate of the rest of the mortals, but I still wish a child of my own, one who will not turn as Selene and Helios did."
Kronos gave a nod. "Mortal they will be, but they will bear Titan blood. And the Golden Age was meant for all Titans."
He raised his hands and began to chant in the Old Tongue of the Protogenoi. One by one each of the five glowed. Far above on the surface world all Titans, bound and free, glowed as well. In the Underworld too, the River Styx began to shine as the old magic coursed through its waters. Returning to the pit, Kronos brought his hands down and clasped them together, the tempo of the chant increasing. From each being a small glowing light appeared, a fraction of their essence. Kronos moved his hands as if shaping clay; his chant began to crescendo. Upon the final syllable, a brilliant flash erupted from the lights. For a brief moment, an infant was visible where each light hovered, then the light returned as a ball around each infant and shot up, away from the pit and into the mortal world.
Drained Kronos dropped his hands. "It is done."
Koios nodded, his eyes still trained on the ceiling of the cavern where the balls disappeared. "We only have one shot. Ananke, let this work."
Twelve Years Later
Hector carefully traced his way through the snowbound forest. The dirt trail that marked the path was buried deep underneath the snow but the chiseled marks in the trees guided him to the river. He had set the lines late yesterday and now it was time to see if any salmon had taken the bait.
The sun shone pale on the snow, providing plenty of light as it reflected off the white surface but little heat or comfort. The trees' branches were weighed down by the snowfall and the forest was quiet and still. The only sound came from the soft crunch of snow beneath Hector's feet and the murmuring of a river ahead of him.
Hector was twelve years old, though he was tall for his age and carried himself with more confidence than you would expect from a child. Thick, black hair was hidden by a fur hood and a lean, muscular build was obscured by a heavy jacket. Thick pants and tall boots kept the snow from getting to his feet, and amber eyes searched for the marks on the trees and for any signs of predators. A small water-proof pack hung from one shoulder.
Growing up in the mountains Hector was compelled to learn basic survival the moment he was old enough. While his mother accomplished the more difficult tasks associated with getting food or keeping their home livable Hector gradually took on more responsibility for their home. While she was out hunting for elk, he made simple traps and lines to get smaller prey, gathered wood for the fire, or simply cleaned the home. Sometimes he envied the classmates who spoke of the appliances they had to do chores or being able to simply go to a restaurant for dinner, but he wouldn't trade his life out here for anything.
Approaching the river, he was pleased to see the line was taught. He eased his way closer to the bank, mindful of his steps. A slip would send him tumbling to the river, and the cold water could quickly give him hypothermia, an experience he would rather not relive. He looked down into the water and saw a foot-long salmon hooked onto the line. He reached into his pack and grabbed a hook, then used it to lift the string and fish out of the water. It began wriggling wildly as soon as it felt open air. He laid it on the ground and used the hook to stab into its head, making it stop moving. He quickly reset the line, then picked up the fish and made his way back home.
His way back was faster than the way to the river, spurred by a desire to avoid any predators. His mother had warned him against taking too long to get back, since the less he had fresh meat in the open air the better. Soon he reached a small cabin in the woods. The trees were cut back 50 feet in every direction from the house, and a small column of smoke coiled from the chimney. Stomping his boots on the porch to knock off loose snow, he stepped inside.
He stepped into a living room with old furniture cluttered into the available space. A sofa took up a wall and a small reading chair sat next to the window. A brazier, filled with coals but unlit stood next to a dining table with three stools around it A kitchen lay along the left wall with a wood fire stove and grill sitting next to each other, a pantry on the other side. To his right a doorframe stood empty, leading to his and his mother's rooms along with a simple bathroom. He lay the fish down on the counter and began to take off his jacket and hood. As he hung them up he heard footsteps on the porch. The door swung open and a woman stepped into the cabin, quiver on her back and a silver bow in her hand.
Naomi was tall and lean, somewhere in her 20's and beautiful. Dark brown hair was drawn back into a ponytail that hung over her shoulder and her face was angled, almost elvish. Warm, brown eyes lit up when she saw Hector and she smiled, "Anything today?"
Hector beamed. "I got one today! Did you have any luck Mom?"
Naomi sighed as she hung up her silver parka. "Almost had one but then the herd got spooked by something. Wanted to track them further but like I've told you," she looked him in the eyes, "a hunter should always know when to turn back, otherwise they get into trouble they can't get out of."
She stepped into the kitchen and quickly rinsed her hands. "Come here, Hector."
He stood up and rinsed as well before helping her clean and cook the fish. Naomi pulled out some potatoes and greens from the pantry. Hector was surprised. "Where did you find those?"
Naomi grinned. "Your Aunt Luna brought them in. You would know that if you weren't hibernating this morning."
Hector pouted as Naomi laughed. "I was tired from gathering the wood!"
Naomi rolled her eyes at his excuse. They sat at the table while Naomi got the brazier going. When the flame was steady and the food ready Naomi slid off some of her plate into the fire, where it disappeared. "For Artemis."
Hector copied her action. "For Artemis."
Despite believing in the Greek gods it was difficult for him to say the words. He always felt a slight reluctance when making the offering, though he chalked it down to being a boy when Artemis hates men. Even so, hunting was what put food on the table and Naomi reassured him that being a hunter meant he was under the goddesses' protection.
They ate in silence for a while then Naomi began, "Are you ready to head back to school?"
Hector shook his head no, then yes. At Naomi's raised eyebrow he sheepishly explained, "I really don't want more homework, but I know Diego will be waiting. Can't let him suffer math class alone."
Naomi shook her head muttering "Boys". She seemed to think for a while, then told him. "I've made a decision. Regarding your request at the beginning of the break."
Hector tried not to look too eager as Naomi finished, "I've decided to let you go on the field trip to the museum with the rest of the class."
Hector couldn't restrain it. "YES!"
His face fell while Naomi smirked, "I will quiz you on what you learned when you get back."
"Because I know that you mainly want to go because Diego is going. I want to make sure you're paying attention rather than just talking with your friend." Her eyes narrowed. "I don't want another note from Ms. Hopkins about you misbehaving, alright?"
Hector opened his mouth to argue that Ms. Hopkins wasn't being fair, then closed it. He knew arguing with Naomi wouldn't get him anywhere except grounded. "Alright, Mom."
Naomi smiled. "Good, now wash up and go to bed. We'll be getting an early start to get you to the bus on time."
Hector cleaned up and went through his nightly routine. He climbed into bed and pulled up the covers. Soon enough the light in the house dimmed as Naomi put out the brazier, then he heard her footsteps as she went to bed. The wind whistling around the cabin was the only noise he could hear after that. He briefly considered staying up and reading by moonlight, but last time the trip was miserable because he was exhausted. He rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes, slipping off into his dreams.
Hector opened his eyes to see the ocean roaring around him. Shocked he scrambled to his feet, spinning around in place. He was standing on a rocky outcrop in the ocean and in the far distance he could see tall cliffs that were jagged as if they had just been thrust up. The wind howled and thunder boomed. Lightning crackled across the sky and the waves surged and tossed, somehow breaking around but not over the island.
He turned back into the sea and saw at the crest of an enormous wave a man standing upon it. No, riding it. His lower torso seemed to morph into a scaly tail, and a glowing green trident was clasped in his hand. His eyes were trained upward and he growled, "How dare you accuse me?"
Hector followed his gaze to the clouds where another man stood with one arm to his side and the other pointing down with condemnation at the first. "You have always been jealous of me. You want the throne for yourself."
"I am not a thief!"
"You are not just a thief but a liar too!"
The two bickered back and forth, and at the edge of Hector's hearing, a dark voice chuckled from deep below the sea. His vision swam and he stood in an elaborate garden.
Two figures, one male and the other female, stood in front of him. He couldn't make out their features but one glowed gold and the other silver. The gold one, at teenage height, said, "I know how you feel but we don't have a say! Athena has made up her mind and Father won't stop her."
The silver figure, the size of a young girl responded, "If she continues, she could ruin everything! If the gods try to kill them, they will turn to the only other place they can. I won't allow it!"
The first replied, "You know the ancient laws. No interference."
The second, "So what would you have me do? Just stand aside and do nothing? He already fears me on instinct. If she does anything, he will think that fear is justified and I won't be able to bring him back."
The first again, "We can only have faith in them. We brought them to good parents, and you know better than anyone their morals are strong. We just need to wait until they cross our paths. I've seen it sis, they'll be fine.
The second grumbled, "Don't call me sis." She sighed and continued, "I hope you're right."
The dream faded away, leaving Hector with a brief vision of a black throne inlaid with gold and jewels.