CHAPTER 3: PROMISES AND MEMORIES
A/N: The original Chapter 3 has since been edited and cut up. Hopefully, this new and improved Chapter 3 will flow smoother. Chapter 4 (which has the biggest changes to the story so far) will be up soon, as I have most of it written.
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I awoke, immediately recognizing the warm feeling supporting my head as a lap. My eyes flickered open to confront the woman I was using as a pillow, but all I saw was a mass of brown cloth. I felt a hand run through my hair and I blinked once.
Confused, I looked upwards at whoever was currently combing my hair with their fingers. Large, swirling red-orange eyes framed by pretty brown hair met my own, searching my expression for any sign of discomfort. When the woman found none, she smiled, and I found a little part of me latching onto that smile. I wanted to see it more often.
I smiled back and parted my lips to ask her who she was. Before I could even speak though, I was lifted up from her lap and immediately pulled into a tight embrace. I felt the rumble of her chest on my cheek as she spoke, softly, so as to not startle me. "I see you are awake, little one."
I blinked again. "Who are you?" I said, though it probably sounded more like 'mmph?'
I heard a soothing laugh. "I am your mother, little one."
I placed my hands on her abdomen and pushed out of her hug so I could stare at her face. I'll admit, the heartbroken expression she gave me at the action was terrifying and I never wanted to see it again. "Don't look like that," I blurted out, already feeling bad. "I just wanted to see your face."
She immediately brightened, reaching down to press a kiss to my forehead. She hummed and resumed her combing of my hair. "I may not have the gift of prophecy, but I believe you'll be quite the charmer, little one," she said, smiling.
I blushed, "No! I-I meant I wanted to see what you looked like, that's all." I avoided her slowly dimming eyes. "I've never seen my mother, you see. I just wanted to know what she looked like." I took a deep breath and looked up at her again. She had a weird expression; half-way through amused and confused. I was quick to remedy that with a hug. "Not that you aren't beautiful. I can honestly say you're the prettiest lady I've ever seen." Also, like, the only lady I've ever seen.
She seemed to melt at that. "Are you sure, little one? What about the woman who guided you to the forest?"
For a split second, I was completely and utterly confused. Then, a sharp pain erupted in my mind and I clutched my head in my hands, bending over and letting out a sharp gasp as foreign memories - no, my memories - flooded my mind.
I remembered cold, uncaring eyes and a flinty look. Auburn hair and silver pools of apathy staring down at me. I shivered unconsciously at the memory. "N-No," I said, shaking my head, partly because of the pain, and partly from the question. "She wasn't very pretty," I shivered again, remembering the oppressive power the woman had forced down on my body as a warning. "Not at all," I whispered, still confused.
Apparently, some woman had guided me to the forest where I woke up - at least, my physical body. I didn't remember anything, of course, but the system, I think, was moulding the experiences everyone else has lived with my physical body into memories and then forcing those bits into my head. To help me keep up the charade, I guess.
My mother pulled me closer, rubbing soothing circles against my back. "Shh. It's alright, little one. She's not here anymore. I am."
I nodded idly, wrapping my arms around her. She felt so warm, and she had a nice smell. Like campfire logs and burnt marshmallows. Wait…
I gingerly let go of her and scrambled back, not seeing the decimated look crossing her face. I shivered again as I came to the realization of just who she was.
Just to make sure, though, I mutter, "Observe."I don't want to mess up names and die because of something so silly.
The misty white from before appeared here too, and it looked like it wasn't noticeable at all, even to people. I waited with bated breath for the mist to coalesce and the words to form.
Name; Lady Hestia.
Alias: Greek Goddess of the Hearth, Home and Family. Goddess of Domesticity, Virginity, and the State. Mother of James Herth.
My eyes went wide at the words goddess.
"Please forgive me, L-Lady Hestia," I said, firmly bowing my head and keeping my gaze on the pillow to my right. I didn't want to die, of course. Not after my last two brushes with death - the trek in the forest and the meeting with the silver-eyed goddess, even if the latter was just an implanted memory.
And certainly not for such a stupid reason as hugging the wrong individual. Heck, I probably drooled all over her! I really hoped I didn't drool all over her. Oh, I am so going to get smitten.
Now, normally, I would've begun visibly panicking by now, but the soothing divine power I recognized from earlier during the campfire was back, and it put my mind and body at ease. So I didn't focus too hard on the bubbling terror inside of me. Instead, I tried not to get blasted to pieces for laying on top of a goddess as if she was my mom. Even if she might be. I then turned around, sitting on the edge of the bed.
My eyes flicked around and I slowly took in the room I was in. It was dark, for one, and that made seeing rather difficult. To my front, long blinds covered what I assumed was a window, and a little bit of silver light pooled onto the floor from under the blinds. I realized it was still nighttime. Probably midnight, or maybe the early hours of the morning.
I then swept my gaze around the rest of the room; the only other source of light came from the crack under the door at the right corner of the room. My eyes slowly adjusted to the lighting, and I took note of the decór. Everything seemed normal enough. It looked like a regular kids' room, I think. Other than looking a little bit sparse, it also looked ready to move into. It was filled with warm tones, which fit the space rather well. Whoever designed the room did a very good job, I reckon.
I was drawn out of my thoughts but the sound of blankets moving. Alarmed, I turned around, only to come face to face with my mother, who was glaring at me sadly. Fiery tears ran down her cheeks and she sniffed once, twice. My eyes widened and I went to apologise, but she shushed me with a glare.
After a tense moment of silence, she spoke, her eyes shining with emotion.
"I want a son," she pleaded, grabbing my hand. "Someone I can love and nurture and care for, my own flesh and blood. Someone who treats me like a mother first and foremost. I don't need followers, nor worship. I don't want fear or apprehension. I only want love and respect. Not because I could strike you with a word, but because I raised and care for you." Hestia leaned back and sat against the headboard, but her teary eyes never left mine. "I hope you'll let me be a mother to you, little one. It's all I ever wanted. My own family," she added, staring off into the distance almost wistfully like she was still awaiting the chance. "Please—"
But she needn't say another word. I jumped her, hugging her so tightly I might've broken some of her bones had she not been a goddess. Tears pooled down my own eyes and I snuggled into her larger, warmer frame. "I'm sorry for being stupid, mum." I heard a sob - it wasn't mine. "I'll admit, I don't want a goddess. I want a mother." Pause. "I'll try to be a good son to you, mom." I stared up at her and she gave me a watery smile, caressing my cheek, before setting me onto her lap and hugging me tightly. "My little one," she whispered. "I love you."
My throat choked up and I nodded, grasping her robes tightly in my fists. "I love you too mum. So much." I didn't even know where this emotion was coming from, but it was there, and I sure as hell wasn't holding it back.
I felt her frame shake slightly and I hugged her tighter, not wanting to let go just yet. It seemed she didn't either because an immense feeling of home and comfort and love pooled over me and I smiled into my mother's robes, before pressing my cheek to her chest and listening to her heartbeat.
"I love you too, mum," I said in response to the power washing over me. A yawn overtook me just then, and I slurred my speech as a result. She noticed this and smiled, before picking me up and setting me aside, under the blankets. She tucked me in and shifted, about to leave before I called out, my eyes working furiously to stay open.
"Mom," I called reaching out with one hand.
"She looked at me warmly, grasping my hand with her own. "Yes, little one?"
I rolled over to the left and patted the bed beside me, where she had laid down before. "Could you?" I asked, still half-asleep.
I couldn't see or hear anything all too well, but I swore she beamed at me and said 'Of course, little one." Either way, I felt the bed shift, and soon after, she scooped me up in her arms and twisted me over so I laid on the rightmost side of the bed. She hugged me and pressed a kiss to the back of my head. I sighed in relief before slowly drifting off into sleep.
Willingly, this time.
I woke up in the same room I had fallen asleep, wrapped in the same blankets, and wrapped by the same warm scent of burnt marshmallows and log fires.
I was also currently functioning as the elusive 'little spoon' in some sort of cuddling arrangement. I sighed at the feeling. I loved being the little spoon. Probably because I was eight and very small. Was this kind of self-awareness normal for eight-year-olds? I doubted it. Either way, I didn't complain.
Especially once I realised that I didn't know when I had died last time around, so I had no idea of what my mental age was.
Previously, during my wait in the white room, I had been so very focused on remembering the how, that I spared no thought as to the when. But now that I was in a real physical body, those thoughts began emerging. I began wondering if I had died older than this, or if it was simply because of the rebirth in general that my thoughts had become so introspective. Though, surely, I had lived a long and happy life, right?
After that, I realized I really didn't know much of anything related to my past. My recollection of world knowledge seemed to span at least ten years, though I wasn't sure if that was the system's fault or my own. Meaning that, either I had died in my early teens and subsequently only remembered the last ten years of my life vividly, or that the system was simply restricting my memory of adult life.
Honestly, I was baking on the former. I remembered a few bits and pieces of what should be the late seventies, but the larger wealth of my information seems to stem from the mid to late eighties. That probably meant I was born around 1973 and died in 1990?
Though, there was still the case of the eight years this body had experienced that I hadn't. Maybe I had simply been on autopilot? I shivered. That was a strange thought. Gods, all of this was strange.
It felt like all I had was information, like reading a published history book detailing events from the years I was alive. Nothing personal. Nothing emotional. Just straight, cold, facts that stretched at least ten years, possibly more, considering a child's memory isn't very good.
Hades, for all I knew, I had died at the age of eight in my past life and was now simply enjoying the benefits of a childhood I never had to experience.
Benefits like… a mother?
Dear Chaos that was morbid. I stopped my depressing thought process and focused on the task at hand with newfound determination.
My task? Remaining as the 'little spoon'.
I smiled stupidly at the thought and wriggled in situ like the cute little blanket-worm that I was. I felt a murmur reach my ears and arms wound tighter around me. I felt my little heart flutter at the movement and I sighed blissfully.
Naturally, that blunder cost me dearly, and my task was soon ruined.
"James?" the woman behind me murmured.
I stiffened slightly before nodding. It was my name, so I'd have to get used to it. "Yes?"
"Are you awake?" the voice murmured. I dearly wanted to say 'No! Back to sleep!' but I held myself admirably and simply whispered out a hesitant "Yes."
In an instant, the arms left my side and the weight of the bed shifted. The woman behind me had risen. I groaned at the loss of heat and tried to bury myself in the blankets.
Unfortunately, the 'cruel' woman swiped my blankets away before I could properly burrow into them, and I was let awkwardly hunched, grasping nothing but air as the chill of the room hit me. I whimpered slightly before turning around and glaring at the offender.
Not for long, though.
I stiffened. "L-Lady H—"
I was tackled so quick that I barely had any time to protest before I was thrown onto my back and forcefully used as a snuggle pillow by Hestia - my mother. I never complained, though. The hug was perfect - quick enough to startle me - clearly, it was a response to something I said - but gentle enough that it never hurt, and I didn't feel winded.
Barely though, mind you. Hestia might've been kind and caring, but she was still a goddess. They had trouble dealing with 'fragile, mortal bones.'
Tentatively, I raised both my hands and prodded at her sides. Her brown mop of hair was splayed against my ribcage as she hugged me fiercely, and I let out a strangled and confused sound instead of words since I was much too nervous to actually try and call her attention.
The grip on my sides lessened, and the figure moved back to give me a stern 'glare'. "It's Mum to you, James," she said, with so much conviction and hope and enough hurt that I felt myself nodding along with her words.
"Y-Yeah," I stammered, sheepishly looking up at my mother. "S-Sorry, M-Mum… I forgot," I said, though it sounded more like a question.
The beaming smile that lit up her face in response made all the awkwardness just vanish from the room immediately. I suddenly didn't care that I didn't know who, or what, or why I was. I didn't care that I had nearly died yesterday. I didn't care about greek deities, demons, or any divine at all. I simply didn't.
I only cared about my Mum, now.
"Mum," I whispered again, the realization hitting me all at once.
Sure, I understood plenty of things. Maths, Language, Social Sciences. History, Biology, and the future of a kids' fantasy series turned reality. I understood what cooking was, the function of a mother, a family, children, and love.
But I never really knew what they were like. I didn't have any memories, or emotions, attached to those definitions.
'Fuck,' I thought. 'Rebirth kinda sucks, if I have to go through it like this. It'd be better if I had more time growing up. I'd be able to relearn all of this with time.'
But that thought didn't stick around for long, because I realized something as I stared back at Hestia.
Even if I was to die right there and then, I would've died able to know one certainty, at least. If anything, It would be that the woman currently smiling at me - Lady Hestia - is my mother. My sweet, sweet mom.
And I wouldn't change it for the world.
A sob escaped my lips and hot, warm tears pooled from my eyes. I rubbed at them fiercely even as they erupted; I didn't want my mother to see me cry. That was a terrible first impression.
As if she had read my mind, Hestia reached out with tender hands and cupped my cheeks, while her thumbs wiped away any stray tears. She looked at me intensely for a moment; eyes so full of love and trust and hope and love and—
"Do not fret, little one. Everything will be alright. I am here," she said, rather simply, and I nodded viciously, flinging myself at her and latching onto her neck tightly. She simply sighed contentedly and cradled me closer, tighter, before shooting the billion-dollar prompt.
"Whatever shall I do with you, little one?"
Without thinking, I blurted out, "What do the other gods do with their children?"
In all honesty, the facial expression she showed was the closest I had ever seen her form a sneer. But that just meant that the gods weren't very good parents, which must've sucked for the demigods. Unfortunately, one bit of information stuck with me - a notice from the system, on I, had been given some while ago.
'...Even the gods have rules and regulations they must follow.'
With that resonating in my mind and the look of sadness on my mothers' face, I understood. The gods could never properly raise their children, and by the looks of it, I would not be exempt from that law.
Laws could be changed.
I didn't even question if it would be a good decision or a terrible one. I didn't bother at all with that train of thought. It all went out the window when I looked at Hestia's compassionate expression. I nodded to myself. Even if she couldn't raise me, she'd always be my mother. Of course, she would. She was my mother. My mom.
"Don't worry, mum," I said, looking her in the eyes. "It'll be ok. You'll always be my mum, even if we can't spend that much time together."
After all, I basically owed her my life, my second chance.
Even if I hadn't owed her anything, I'd still stick by her. She was that awesome.
Hestia smiled at me. I grinned right back. She pecked me on the cheek. I hugged her again.
"One day, mum," I muttered, though I was sure she could still hear me. "One day I'll change that stupid rule, and then we won't have to worry about anything."
"So, what am I supposed to do now, mum?"
Hestia pursed her lips, tapping a single finger thoughtfully against her chin. I looked up at her hopefully. She'd know what to do, right?
I leaned in closer, waiting for a solution, an answer.
"I do not know, little one."
The words floored me. How?! She was a goddess, she was supposed to—
"But we will find out together. Like mother and son, no?" Hestia continued, sending me a warm smile with a twinkle in her eyes as she leaned back on the bedpost and surveyed my expression.
Her reassurance filled me with a warm buzzing - hope - and I beamed at her, nodding eagerly. "Yes, mum. I'd love that."
"Good," she muttered, her warm, fiery eyes brightening at my upbeat mood.
I couldn't help it, though. I had a mother. An actual, genuine mom. How cool was that!?
Pretty damn cool.
Just then, Hestia shifted as she moved to the edge of the bed. I stared after her, confused. She stood and noticed my forlorn expression, before giggling. "Well?" she ventured, gesturing with her palms. "Do you want me to go make pancakes or do you want to stay under the covers all day, little one?"
I'll admit, the second option was very tempting, but I held out bravely. "Pancakes!" I exclaimed, making Hestia's giggle turned into full-blown laughter. "Are you making them?" I asked, unsurely. Did deities make their own food? Did they eat food?
Hestia's eyes mirrored my own as she twinkled them in amusement. "Of course, little one. My pancakes are the best. Do you want to know the secret ingredient?"
I leaned forward, shifting my covers, eager to hear the vaunted Secret of the Pancakes. "What is it?" I asked, my eyes wide.
She leaned in closer to the bed and brought her hand up to cup around her lips; like she was trying to whisper some great secret, but for my ears only. Her eyes darted around mischievously and I leaned in closer. She had one knee and another palm on the covers as she moved closer to me to whisper the secret.
When Hestia was nought five inches away from me, she lunged forward suddenly and pecked me on the cheeks, making me turn red in embarrassment and quickly swipe at my cheek heatedly, even though I was inwardly sporting a shit-eating grin.
"Love," Hestia said brightly as she pulled away. I scowled at her slightly but felt my heart swell at the words. Someone loved me. Me. My mother loved me. She was making pancakes and the secret ingredient was love. Was it the same love? Feeling slightly nervous, I pointed a short finger at myself in silent question.
Hestia cocked her head slightly in thought and I felt a lump in my throat grow when she nodded seriously. "Always, little one. You are my own."
I breathed out, a wide grin forming on my face. "I love you too, Mum."
If anything, Hestia seemed to smile even brighter. (Though I sincerely doubted that was possible)
"Alright," she nodded. "Go get dressed. Pancakes should be finished by the time you're done."
I bobbed my head. "Yes, mum," I said as I hurriedly got out of bed and placed my feet onto the brown carpet. Hestia snapped her fingers once before smoothly walking out the room. She paused at the doorway, though.
"Your clothes are over there," she said, pointing towards a small armchair in the corner of the room which had been vacated to make room for the small pile of clothes. I made my way over to the armchair after hugging her with a quick "thank you!"
Hestia smiled before leaving the room; shaking her head all the way.
Once I heard the door click shut I managed to quietly make my way over to the armchair and pick up my new clothes. I slipped into a warm, white tunic of linen, fashioned as an Ancient Greek chiton that was lined with my mother's colours. Then, I secured a thin, fiery-red belt at my hip to tighten the garb together. Finally, I picked up the woollen chlamys with a single red stripe down the edge and draped it over my shoulders. I slid into a pair of leather sandals that were set to the side. I left my other clothes at the feet of the armchair.
Almost instantly, I noticed the system's soft ping! I looked up at the notification.
You have equipped the clothing outfit [Traditional Greek Men's Wear]
This simple outfit includes leather sandals and a linen chiton, tightened by a twine belt. The entire set is topped by a woollen chlamys. The outfit is designed to give you maximum mobility, and it's made of high-quality fabric. You can keep light weapons attached to the belt, and the chlamys allows for hidden weapons. This outfit is designed for the hot and dry weather of Ancient Greece and permits for comfortable travel.
Size: Matching (Small)
Weight: 2 lbs
Price: 5 GDR
I grinned at the notification, before swiping the message away. That was one more thing I had discovered, then. Clothing could give you stat benefits. Very nice.
Feeling refreshed, I looked down at myself and then at my bare toes, wiggling them experimentally. I nodded once before jumping in place once, twice, and then thrice in an attempt to get my blood flowing.
Once I was sure that my brain was working properly and I was feeling warm, I sat on the chair and slowly slumped into the seat. I quietly went over my current situation and methodically processed my pent-up emotions that I had pushed aside earlier this morning and yesterday afternoon.
"First off, my entire past life experiences and memories, both good and bad, had been wiped out. I think I'm in a video game, or at least, I was gifted with the ability to access a game-like interface. And now, apparently, I have an amazing first-class fantastic goddess for a mother," I muttered.
I smiled despite myself. Even though it all sounded really dreary, I wasn't even sarcastic for the last bit. I was genuinely happy about that.
"Wonderful," I muttered, somewhat truthfully, "but now that I'm part of the divine world, I'll probably be forced to go on dangerous quests and stuff. The perks of being a half-blood, I guess."
Speaking of being a half-blood, I wondered what exactly was expected from me now that I had discovered my 'sub-race' heritage. Feeling only minutely hesitant, I cleared my throat and cast my eyes around. My mother hadn't seen the need to question me about my past - in fact, she seemed almost sour at the mention of it, so I was content to leave that whole debacle undisturbed.
Whenever I tried to talk about my lack of memories, the blank-mask-man or even the 'special' gaming powers I had, my throat became unnaturally constricted and I couldn't utter a word. It was a strange self-defence mechanism, but there wasn't much I could do about it, either.
It also seemed as though the system wanted me to fully integrate, so it was forcefully shoving artificial memories down my throat to match whatever references others make to the first eight years of my life.
Either way, my life was weird enough without having to explain the holographic boxes and jazz, so I was somewhat grateful for—
'Boxes!' My mind screamed. 'Use the commands!'
I drew a nervous breath and closed my eyes tightly shut before whispering softy:
"Notifications. Character. Inventory. Abilities. Biography."
Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping!
"Oh dear gods," I muttered, opening one eye slowly. "It's the fu—'ping!'—ing bleeping from Hades'"
I stared, gobsmacked, at the various screens splayed out before me, though the smaller box in the centre was the most shocking one of all.
Congratulations on fully discovering your heritage! All starting abilities & information have now been unlocked!
"What the fu—'ping!'"
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