The Seashell

VIII. The Divine Discussion


"They are coming for you!"

Suddenly, all I want to do is run. I want to run away and as far away as possible! The scared little animal in me has taken over and nothing exists for me but blind panic!

I feel my breath suddenly come in great gasps and I cast my eyes about looking for somewhere, anywhere, that I can go to hide! This can't be happening! This is another nightmare! This isn't possible! None of this is! I'll wake up soon! Yes! I'll wake up in my bed, on the beach, in a hospital, or a padded cell! I want to wake up and be anywhere but here!

"You are panicking and you have no cause to. None of us can do anything to you, really. We certainly can't and won't kill you. It's against the rules!" Pan says in a way of trying to calm me down. Unfortunately, he hasn't been kept up on current events! I was already almost killed by one of them! Then, that same one poisoned me with 'sticks' or whatever it was. So obviously Pan does not know what he is talking about.

I realize then . . . I remember who did this to me! Aphrodite! She was the one to curse me! More of my memories come back from that night and a sudden chill comes to me remembering how 'nice' she had been to me before administering this most diabolical of tortures!

"Wait. She did . . . whaaat to you?" Pan suddenly takes me by the shoulders to gently face him. His grip is irresistible and so my panic quickens. He's read my mind, damn him!

"LEMME GO! LEMME GOOO! NOOO!" I begin struggling to the point where my shoulders begin to smart in Pan's grip. I'm near to dislocating them to get out of his clutches! He looks at me like I've completely lost my mind. The pure fact of the matter is that if this isn't all madness already then I will soon go completely mad for this is way too much for me to handle anymore. Aphrodite! She DID this to me . . . and she could be up there in that cloud even now waiting to hurt me all the more deeply!

"Alexis! Calm yourself! No one is going to hurt you! I won't let them. I give you my word under the Source that I shall not!" Pan begins flowing with an energy that is bright green in color. It looks like sunlight through leaves and as soon as the power envelops me I feel bliss enter me and the fear lifts and I go limp in his hands practically drooling with euphoria.

"As for Aphrodite . . . if that bitch lays one bloody sandal on my island I'll have Mother encase her in diamond where she can live out the rest of her eternity trapped and frozen! She . . . has gone too far this time! The Aegis is broken! This must be why they are here!" Pan looks to the cloud that looms right above us as it hovers near the shore. The water spouts below it rush in there splendorous noise that sounds like beautiful music to my Pan-addled ears.

"Prettyyyy!" I hear a stupefied voice say and realize that it's my own! Somewhere, deep inside my mind, the voice of reason tries to cut through the spell and scream at me "ALEXIS! IT'S NOT PRETTY! IT'S DEADLY! RUUUUN!!"

But, alas, I do not run. Pan's power is too great and I am spellbound and waiting in stupefied childlike wonder as my doom approaches!

The vast water spouts extinguish themselves as the cloud finally makes it over land. Everything becomes hushed! Unnaturally hushed! All the animals and birds stop whatever they are doing and are completely quiet! The winds stop and the trees go still! The only sound is a high whistling of air as it is displaced by the cloud. Not even the sea makes noise. The whole of the surrounding sea has gone as placid as a gentle lake. There are no waves! There's no surf! The waters of the sea are made completely still.

There is a low rumble of thunder that sounds soft and distant. With the sound a few more beautiful lights shimmer through the great cloud. The cloud towers to the very limits of the sky above and yet, all around its highest reaches I can see stars as if it's nighttime! My addled eyes gaze in wonder rather than fear now. Such is Pan's power over me.

"Alexis. Aleeexis? Come forth. We would have you answer for what you have done." a deep, terrifying voice thrums from the cloud and it mixes itself with the sounds of the soft thunder. The voice is piercing enough that it cuts through Pan's anesthetic power and a deep terror rises in my chest.

Come forth or do you dare defy the will of Zeus, the Ruling god and Protector of the Sacred Aegis. The voice thrums steadily, imperiously, but strangely, not angrily. Alas, I have no choice but to 'defy' the King of the Gods because . . . my legs no longer function and neither does my bladder. Piteously, I pee all over myself and let go my bowels. It is not a thing to find humor in, alas, for it is what all bodies do when they are faced with imminent death. The last dignity of man is stripped away when Death comes to claim its toll.

But then there is another voice. It is not loud and booming. It is a normal voice and a familiar one and I find my eyes force themselves away from the terrifying speaking cloud and level themselves upon a different shape. It is one of a simple man in a blue homespun wrap facing skyward. The only thing that gives him away as something more than a man is the glittering trident he holds in his hand and points at the cloud.

"And what mortal man could possibly answer such a summons and not die of fright, my brother? Are you so forgetful and foolish as to not remember the frailty of men?" The being dares to speak to the cloud in a way that invites what comes.

It is due greatly to your weakness that the Aegis has been breached! You are the last who should defend what has transpired. It is you first who shall be judged when the time for an accounting comes! The voice booms back . . . almost petulantly. Despite the abject terror I feel I can't help but think that the response is like that of a younger brother to an older one who has been caught playing with the older one's toys without permission.

Despite this petulance, the being in the clouds does make his ire known to his landed brother on the beach. Sparks of lightning suddenly jump down from the cloud where the man in blue promptly gathers them into his trident! Almost flippantly, the man in blue casts the lighting back into the cloud with a slight wave of his trident. It is the most amazing display of casual power I have ever seen! It looks like the two beings are playing 'catch'!

"You have indeed lost your mind, my dear Zeus. Come down from that ridiculous cloud now! Bring whoever else has come with you. We need to have this meeting and we shall do it with civility! No more with this nonsense! It is not impressing the young Alexis. It is merely terrifying him near to death! Should he die this day because of your theatrics then and ONLY then will there be a reckoning . . . and it is at that time that we can cast lots as to who will take the blame for what has been done then!" The man in blue calls up to the cloud with dourness.

Very well. I have decided to descend once again upon the land. A fete I have not assented to in years beyond counting. The deep voice announces with profound majesty.

"That would be exactly 1,978 years, my Lord Brother. Certainly countable. Now, if you would please . . . let us not have any more unpleasantness between us today." and the man in blue gestures in a regal bow of invitation toward the sand basically telling Zeus where he can 'land'.

The man in blue then turns and I am captured by a familiarity as I see kindly glowing blue-green eyes turn to Pan and I. He walks calmly using his great golden trident as support. His handsome and wise features smile warmly upon me and then look with deference to Pan.

"Lord Pan, if it would please your Great Mother and Yourself, we should like to make our Council here upon your shore. May it be so?" The genteel blue clothed glowing eyed man says meekly as he places the trident at Pan's feet.

"I suppose so, Lord Poseidon, though I hope as part of this 'Council' you can explain why my domain had to be damaged!" Pan stands tall and crosses his arms almost defiantly before the taller and more imposing being.

"All things will be made right, my old friend. Please accept my apologies for the damage caused by my disagreement with my . . ." Poseidon turns to look up to the cloud where there seems to be 'stairs' forming out of it that are descending to the sand below.

". . . disagreeable brother." Poseidon finishes his sentence as a dark form appears out of the cloud at the top of the stairs. Even from here, his beard and lightning bright eyes are visible. Slowly and majestically the bearded god of thunder descends upon the stairs made of cloud. He is awesome beyond words!

However . . .

"Oh, by the Great Powers, why does everything have to be so melodramatic with my brother!" Poseidon says with a tired sound in his voice.

He turns back to face me as he waits for his mighty brother to finish his 'promenade'. The stern look of irritation leaves his face and a look of pity overcomes this Poseidon's handsome face. Slowly he approaches and I draw away in the blind terror that has not left me through this whole ordeal.

I feel, for sure, that my heart wants to burst from pumping so hard. Poseidon sees this and is immediately greatly saddened by my reaction. All I can gather from the look is amplified fear. The being before me is power beyond comprehension and could kill me with a thought! Yet, I cannot control my responses. I am become, as said before, little more than an animal pointlessly trying to evade death even though he is already penned up in the slaughterhouse!

"Oh . . . oh by all that is holy. What harm have we done here? The Sweet One has been reduced to this by us? Alexis, Son of my Heart, do you not recognize me at all?" Poseidon asks with profound sadness. All I can do is shiver and stare at him with wide tearing eyes.

A look of anger contorts into the blue clothed beings face and his eyes flash with a green brilliance. I throw my head into the sand waiting for the inevitable death blow but cannot help but look up through my arms to see when it will come. Instead, I see Poseidon turn swiftly around, blue cloak billowing about him with a renewed sound of angrily crashing waves as the sea becomes an instant tempestuous fury. The trident leaps into the god's hand and he directs its point to aim right at his brother's chest for Zeus has come to stand behind his older brother.

WHERE IS THAT BLASTED DAUGHTER OF MINE? WHERE IS APHRODITE? WHAT DID SHE DO? WHERE ARE YOU HIDING HER? Now it is Poseidon's turn to boom his voice.

"I thought we were here to have a 'civil' discussion, my brother. The Mother of Love rests above per my direction. There she will stay until called for." Now it is Zeus' turn to sound like the reasonable and rational one.

"Oh, and do not brandish that weapon against me, you know I have the more potent of our two rods, Lord of the Seas." Zeus raises a silver rod in his hand capped on each end with a pommel of plain unadorned gold. With a shake of his arm the rod ignites with blinding arcs of lightning! I cover my eyes so as not to go blind as I begin to sob in hopeless terror.

"You are both asking for it, my 'Lords'. Mother is watching all of this and . . ." Pan allows his 'Mother' to finish his sentence. Beneath all the earth shakes and quakes with a threatening rumble and huge boulders pop up out of the ground to surround both of the powerful divine brothers. Beneath me, however, the sand turns soft as down and begins to shimmer like diamond dust. Through my misty eyes I cannot help but wonder at the material as I let it sift through my fingers like sugar. This is diamond dust! I suppose it is a way of sending comfort to me. I dare to smile and the diamond dust warms beneath my body soothingly. Instinctively I run my hands over and through the precious dust and mouth a heartfelt 'thank you'.

"Put down both of your 'rods' and stop measuring them or Mother will deprive you of everything you have that is rod shaped!" Pan growls.

"You presume to threaten me, little god of the mean creatures of the earth?" Zeus, seemingly unaffected by 'Mother's' display of power, stares the brash Pan down with onyx black eyes. His dark beard shimmers with residual power as he speaks making known the portent and threat of his own considerable power.

But, with that, a glowing red rock suddenly flies out of seemingly nowhere making loud popping noises as it beaks the sound barrier right in our midst! The rock smashes into Zeus' rod and knocks it right out of his mighty hand! When the rod falls into the sand several yards away it suddenly sinks and presumably goes under the ground and out of reach.

Poseidon quickly drops his weapon with hands raised in surrender and allows it also to be consumed by the earth.

"Ok, so we were talking about having a civil discussion and whatever. So . . . here we are. Talk." Pan says with a self-satisfied tone as he flops down next to me cross-legged.

Zeus ignores Pan and turns his fearsome attention to me instead. The diamond dust rises about me, shimmers and I am suddenly shielded by a crystal clear diamond dome! I touch it's cool surface and fear that I may be trapped but looking behind me I see that I have a way out at any time I wish. This must be Pan's Mother's way of telling Zeus that I am protected and he is to keep things civil with me as well.

Zeus blinks in astonishment at what the Earth Mother does for me.

"Not that I had any intentions of delivering punishments today, but why does the Earth Mother condescend to protect this mewling mortal whelp and to do so with precious Adamantine besides?" Zeus asks Pan without bothering to look at him.

"First of all, God-Father, I'm over here, secondly my Mother protects what is important in this world that is Her Being. Alexis the Beloved, if certain things are to be believed, is the most important person here in Her estimation. She will tolerate no harm coming to him nor even threat of it." Pan answers testily.

"He is of great importance, Brother. It is he who can bring an end to Nerites' onslaught upon both the mortal and divine worlds." Poseidon says with a quiver in his voice.

The Name echoes in my ears and I cannot help but speak the name aloud as all the inexplicable feelings it engenders in me need expression. I feel myself swoon at the name. It is like I can feel him right with me. I can almost smell his heavenly god's musk and feel the invulnerable softness of his divine skin on my skin.

"Nerites! the whispered name coming from my lips seems to take on a life of its own and increase to impossible volumes all around me. It is as if a part of my soul leaves me to find him in that word!

"Incredible! The mortal calls to him? No ordinary mortal should be able to deliver a god's call! Truly, the Aegis has been compromised if . . . this child . . . can now work within divine powers and principalities! It is near blasphemy!" Zeus exclaims with wonder, anger, and more than a little fear!

"He is more than a child now, Zeus. He is 'Becoming'. This was not a breaching of the Aegis on his part as I've been trying to tell you. His part in this is part of a bigger plan! It was destined! It is the work of the Source Himself." Poseidon again looks upon me with such wonder and affection. Why does he think that I should know who he is and why does he seem so familiar to me? Obviously he knows much more about me than I do about him. This 'Sticks' thing must still be at work in me. I can remember, up to a point, Nerites . . . (sigh). But I can't remember this being. The name I know and of course, by his actions, he is indeed the Poseidon, Lord of The Seven Seas, but why he should know me, be so familiar with me, and so caring and protective towards me completely alludes me.

"He should know who I am. He should be able to remember. I allowed for it knowing who he is and what he means. This softness of memory is not natural and I know it was Aphrodite's doing! I just don't know how she did it, though I know all too well why." Poseidon regards me with sad thoughtfulness.

"If he is so ignorant of us then we should wipe the rest of his memory of all of this. Mortal man cannot have any interaction with us at all. It is expressly forbidden. The Aegis must remain inviolate." Zeus growls unhappily as he looks at me warily.

"Well, I don't know anything about that, but I know what happened to him or rather what Aphrodite did to him. We've been trying to correct it ever since he got here." Pan says with his ever annoying nonchalance. He stops his disclosure without giving an answer which seems to be one of his 'things'.

Zeus looks up from me stroking his beard to skewer the infuriating Pan with a penitential gaze and asks long sufferingly: "Would you care to enlighten us then or is THAT beneath your 'lofty' station too?"

"No. For you I wouldn't care to at all. But, for his sake I will." Pan smirks challengingly at Zeus who is becoming more and more impatient with each passing second.

"Do tell us, Lord Pan. I should like to know what has been done with the Dear One. I would want to know the depth of Aphrodite's crime this time! Please." Poseidon pleas with sadness.

"I will now do it for Poseidon too since he said . . . 'Please'!" Pan's irksome smirk nearly sends the hot headed god of thunder into a complete tirade. I can feel Zeus' anger like an incredible heat even while inside my diamond glass dome.

"THEN TELL US, HADES TAKE YOU!" Zeus bellows, which illicits a localized earthquake right below the thunder god's feet causing him to lose balance for a moment and then sink his sandaled feet deep into hardening sand.

"I am almost out of patience with the LOT of you! I have no time for these games! The Destroyer could be coming for us even NOW! That Dark Shadow even we god's cannot escape if it is set upon us! Under it's black wings ALL die! So, by the Sacred Name, please tell us what we need to know. I must get to the bottom of who and how and where the Aegis was compromised . . . before it's too late!" For the first time I actually see true terror in Zeus' face. The meaning for all his theatrics and haughtiness become oddly clear to me. He believes something comes for us. Something terrible. Something that the gods are all threatened with should they ever break through to the world of mortal men again. How I understand this I cannot say. I just . . . know it.

The words leave me before I know what I am saying: "Fear not. Believe in the providence of true love guided by the pure heart. The truth in faith lies there. The Final Power will not be sent to overcome such a faith. It is not what God wants."

I have no idea where the words come from and yet I know them to be true and I fully understand their meaning. All the gods look upon me with wonder and a little fear.

"The mortal prophesies? Has Aristotle been reincarnated? How can one so young and so ignorant know to speak these things into my heart?" Zeus is the most astonished by my proclamation. The only one that is more astonished than he would be . . . me!

"It is as I have been saying to you all along, dear Brother. Alexis is a child of Providence. He was chosen for some destiny even we cannot yet fathom. Like Perseus and Theseus of ages past, this one was born to help us in some way. He has already helped me greatly and has freed the life of my sweet son who was lost to me for millennia. To put upon him the burden of an evil done by a certain goddess is to invite the wrath that brought the Aegis into being in the first place. Had we been better custodians of this world and of the human race we would not have had to have been placed behind the Aegis. Our mismanagement of earthly matters and our injustices to mankind are the things that broke our trust with the Source of All Life. To repeat that injustice again and revisit it upon another mortal chosen for a goodly purpose is to invite a worse judgement upon us than the Aegis." Poseidon sermonizes.

I should feel greatly honored that this great being should think so highly of me, but instead I feel terrible dread that all this is leading to some kind of crisis. A crisis that will end badly for me, my father, and possibly everyone else here and beyond!

Zeus looks truly horrified by that prospect! I must wonder at a power that could make such a mighty being as this tremble in his sandals as he is doing. The Dark Shadow? The Destroyer? What horror could this be? Was it worse than the Kraken? Could it possibly be worse than what Aphrodite can do with her powers?

"All that may be and, indeed, I have no desire to judge the child in any way if he is truly free of guilt in this matter. It is no longer my place to judge any human being as far as that is concerned. But, I do need to know what occurred. I need to know how the gods interfered." Zeus reissues his request for answers.

"He was poisoned by water from the River Stix, Lord Zeus. It entirely destroyed his memories of his encounters with any of the gods before that point. Cruelly, it would seem that the dosage was mismanaged. Alexis was given just enough of the Stix to render his brain incapable of remembering these events but the emotions he had from his time with Nerites were not wiped out. They drove him to where you find him now. He believed that there was more to this 'calling' he kept experiencing and went in pursuit of it. He had to or be driven mad." Pan summarizes things so clearly that I feel he has answered some very important questions I've had all through this.

"By Hera's Wig! Aphrodite went to Hades just to do this? What could have possessed her? The Lord of the Underworld could have captured her and held her for the trespass! He has longed to entertain Aphrodite for time out of memory." Zeus' remark gives light to the depth of Aphrodite's dark will in this matter.

"Such an act was a total corruption of her principality. Love and this kind of wickedness cannot be compatible. This old jealousy Aphrodite has nursed for eons has finally betrayed all of the gods! This attack on this mortal child must be the very breach I am looking for! Perhaps it would have been better if Lord Hades had taken Aphrodite into his hall never to see the light of day again. It is where she deserves to be if all this be true!" Zeus says with continued astonishment and horror.

"The mortal would take what is mine! Nerites is MINE do deal with. His doom has ever been in my hands since the day he injured my Love for him! a female voice rings out now from on top of the Cloud Stairs. There stands a beautiful figure in white casting a rose pink glow against the surrounding cloud. The pink is then disrupted by a color like midnight skies: black and blue with roiling and churning colors of blood red. Soon all of the goddess's pink sunset colors in the cloud are totally eclipsed by this black and red nimbus. A tall dark figure wearing what looks to be an old hoplite helmet with a comb of flame appears! The menacing shadow takes and casts part of his crimson cloak over the goddess's naked shoulders. The goddess is held close possessively and protectively.

"You were not yet summoned, Aphrodite. Return inside until called for. You needn't involve Ares in this. He has no part in this." Zeus commands of the god and goddess atop the Cloud Stair. Neither move.

"I am involving myself . . . Fatherrrr. Aphrodite is my love and nooo judgement shall be rendered against her without confronting meee first. " Ares' voice is, by far, the most terrifying of all. It growls and crackles with such great menace that it cannot help but instill some measure of fear in anyone who hears it, even Zeus.

In the voice I hear the echo of every murdering warlord ever to scourge the earth. It is a voice you might give to Satan if you would dare to imagine such a thing. It is cold and full of unquenchable wrath!

"Do you DARE to defy my will as well, Ares? Yet again, your memory fails you worse than the Styx Plagued young prophet in our midst. When last we clashed you were near to broken completely and Tartarus-bound. As cruelly vicious as you are in your power . . . you are still no match for my mandated strength. Now GO! Take Aphrodite with you and WAIT for my summons!" Zeus' voice rumbles with thunder, but Ares and his consort do not move an inch.

"You forgot my oldest rules of war . . . Fatherrrr. NEVER surrender the high ground for the low . . . and NEVER be without your arms. Ever!" Ares' seems to sneer his words with disgust. Zeus reaches out his hand to bring forth his Ruling Rod from which the Thunderbolt arrises, but finds his hand empty. Indeed, he has forgotten that Gaia has deprived him of his great weapon.

It is then that Ares produces a huge longbow and he notches a glittering and fiery arrow to it. Aphrodite turns to regard Ares' actions and immediately grabs the arrow from his hand and breaks it. This awards her a devastating smack across her face which sends her tumbling down the stairs to the sand below.

"Do not let yourself become weak now, my beloved. The opportunity has at last come and our time is nye that we supplant this old god and his older brother. The Aegis is broken. They are powerless to stand in our way now that Gaia has deprived them of their power. Allow me to finish what needs to be finished! Let me . . . destroy all here who will not bend the knee to the new King and Queen of the Gods!" Ares' hisses with hateful delight priming again his bow with another shaft.

"Let us begin with the maggot who was fool enough to awaken my rival for Aphrodite's affections. With the mortal maggot's death, Nerites will come for revenge and then I can put an end to him also!" I hear a smile in Ares' voice as he primes the weapon. He then aims it directly at ME! I knew this would end in horror! I knew this would all end in MY death while these 'gods' looked on without care! Would Gaia's shield hold? I suppose I will have to find out because Ares' is ready to release his shaft into me and send me to my death at any moment.

The arrow flies and I cannot help but be fascinated by it's flight. It leaves a trail of glittering shards that fall like murderous rain over the heads of Zeus and Poseidon, leaving small cuts! Both gods are caught off guard by this and the brazenness of this attack! It almost seems like all of this was . . . planned somehow. Still, they are the ones to stand frozen in horror and shock as my death comes so quickly toward me now. I'm not even afraid anymore. This is the end of this. Thank God!

But just as Gaia's diamond shield is to be tested by Ares' weapon, a black shadow instantly blurs in front of me from seemingly nowhere! The shadow has leaped with a sternum vibrating roar that even fills the gods with a thrill of terror.

However, without a sound, not even a whimper of pain, Velvet, the last of the Shadowcats, sinks to the sand as if in sleep. I cannot see his front for only his back is too me, but when I see the dark red blood pool under him onto the sand . . . I finally know what has happened.

Velvet has sacrificed his life for mine!

"NN-OOOOOOOOO!" I scream as I throw myself against the crystal clear diamond window to my protective cage. Why him? Why this most beautiful of all wild creatures? Why Velvet! Not for me! Not for poor, small, weak little me! I am not deserving of the life of the last of its kind!

"Veloúdo! H-how? Why?" Pan looks at the death of his dearest and most precious friend. There is a look of utter despair on his face that is beyond anything I've ever seen in my young life. Unlike mine, his grief is quiet and it becomes supernaturally quiet all around with him, even more so than before when the cloud came. It seems like the entire Earth itself has just . . . stopped.

This was his Mother's sorrow-filled reaction to her son's sudden anguish.

But then it comes. The look of anguish on Pan's face changes to one of such hatred that I have to look away because it terrifies me to the core. It is soul withering, but, fortunately, Pan does not direct this against me. I feel the focus of his rage turn away from me. I dare to look back up and see Pan as he turns to face Ares. As he turns, Pan's hair falls completely out! Right above his ears ram's horns sprout. His body gets monstrously bigger and his limbs change into something vicious and feral looking with double jointed cloven hooves for feet and flesh rending claws for hands. I see fangs drop from below his upper lips to graze his chin below! A tail whips itself out from just above Pan's extraordinary behind! It lashes with an razor sharp arrow's head at it's tip.

Ares ignores this and seems only to grunt in dissatisfaction for having his shot spoiled. His evil focus remains trained on me and he notches another arrow to finish his job to fulfill his promise of killing me.

Again, he does not get the chance.

Pan emits a piercing scream that splits the air and my ears with its pitch and volume. It is the sound of a giant eagle screaming! It is enough to throw Ares off his aim to stare at Pan with what seems to be shocked annoyance. Then, out of the canopy of the forest behind what seems to be a BILLION birds come flying out at speeds I thought impossible for the amazing creatures.

They come in all sizes from sparrow size to enormous eagle size. They fly directly at Ares with the intent of tearing him to pieces! Could even an Olympian god survive such an onslaught? But Pan does not stop there! He begins to stalk Ares as he approaches the great Cloud Stair. Unfortunately for him, he has completely ignored Ares' accomplice in all this. The seemingly terrified and benumbed Aphrodite who, up until now has laid near insensate at the bottom of the Stair after her 'boyfriend's' bitch-slapping of her, raises to her knees and begins glowing with that familiar and terrible rose-red aura about her.

As Ares' valiantly tries to defend himself from the birds with sword and shield Aphrodite raises her hands into claws toward Pan who has not yet noticed her. I find voice through my fear tightened vocal cords to issue a warning:

"PAN! WATCH OUT!!" Is all I can get out before Aphrodite strikes!

"You'll not TOUCH my beloved you . . . old . . . GOAT!" With the word 'goat' the terrible pink-red energy reaches out to Pan and he is instantly transformed into a mere he-goat with all of the strength and intelligence there-of. Seeing all the scary things happening around him the Pan-goat does what any sensible animal would do . . . he runs back into the forest at top speed!

"APHRODITE! WHAT ON EARTH?" Poseidon finally comes out of it long enough to make known his horror at his daughter's actions. He seems continually surprised and betrayed by his daughter's vile actions.

"You will . . . pay for that . . . Queen of 'Love'." Zeus growls in a terrible anger. I am sure that if he had not been deprived of his weapon that both Ares and Aphrodite would now be fried to a crisp.

But he is still not so armed. Gaia, for whatever her reasons, has not yet seen fit to give the two great powers back their weapons which seem to be the focus of all of their godly might. She also has not retaliated against Aphrodite for her abuse of Pan. So Aphrodite merely rises to her feet, her fisted hands still scintillating with her metamorphic powers.

"Don't presume to hold me to account for anything, All-Father. You're weakness has prevented our reordering of the world! You allowed that ghostly figment of your imagination to cause you to create the Aegis. There ARE no gods before us! If there were, wouldn't you think He would have manifested himself in some way other than whispers to your holy ear? Ares and I no longer believe in your Over-god! We will reclaim our dominion over this earth . . . over YOUR dead body if need be! Just as it was in the times when you overthrew the Titans . . . so will it be with us now. Notice none of your other progeny have come to help either of you! We took care to prevent their interference. The Dreams of Acheron now ache through their godly minds even now. The Waters of Eternal Sleep from that river in Hades will keep them still until the powers of War and Love have transformed the earth into something we should all want to rule when you are gone!" Aphrodite looks mad with her rantings! She looks like anything but the Goddess of Love she purports to be!

At the end of her soliloquy I hear a deafening explosion and look up in shock as a near blinding ball of fire spreads out from Ares. I can feel the heat from the blast even as far as where I am from it. I feel a sunburn blister my skin instantly. The fireball burns away ALL of the birds and dispels the vast cloud in vaporous bands leaving the air around him clear. I come to realize that Ares has managed to conjure nothing less than a small nuclear explosion around his being! Another weapon of war that he now has at his command!

All that is visible now is Ares and nine other beings floating behind him seemingly either dead or asleep. Presumably, these are the other gods that Aphrodite has managed to bewitch with some of that vile water from Hades. One of those beings has folded angelic wings . . . it is EROS! Even my sweetest friend and heart's brother is caught up in this madness! Her own SON!

"You know nothing of what you speak of Aphrodite. Obviously my teachings have fallen on very deaf ears. The 'Overgod' as you call The Power is no myth as we are no myths ourselves. The Power has made itself known in infinite ways and even the Titans knew of Him and His might. We Three Brothers were born to overthrow our fathers to restore order to the world made by The Power. What you have done is doom us all, little goddess. You have invited powers the likes of which you cannot even comprehend to visit us here and put an end to us . . . permanently." Zeus responds with quiet resignation.

"The old one continues to dither on about his madness. If he was so 'all-knowing' as he purports to be then he would have been able to prevent what we are doing. Notice, have you, that not even Gaia rises in defense of the Elders. She is silent, even after your transmogrification of her misshapen freak of a son. Even the great Earth Mother dares not defy us! We are preeminent! We are God and Goddess now! Now shall I finish this blasted task that these fools keep interrupting." Ares says through a harsh and evil stage-whisper. His face is black as a void beneath his helm and this time he raises a gun at me! It is a glittering golden .45 caliber magnum! I see a most hateful smile stretch upon his vile face. He will enjoy killing one as small and weak as I am. Ares is truly reprehensible and I find I would rather be dead than to live in a world with him as its god!

"I see you now welcome death, Mewling. You are wise then. I pray that others of your kind will be likewise as welcoming of my judgement upon them. It will make my winnowing of the weak so much the easier." Ares actually laughs at my nihilism. Indeed, why would any person want to live under such a spiritual tyrant!

The glittering weapon is suddenly shattered in Ares' hand by a whirling disk made of a multicolored shell-like material! Then, a massive tentacle lashes out at a speed faster than lightning and smacks Ares out of the sky sending him flying nearly half a mile away where he splashes down into the ocean!

Aphrodite turns and falls backwards onto the sand in horror at what she shes! Apparently, it is a sight she thought she'd never see in the eternity of her long life! It is the breaking of a dream and the undoing of a long preconception she has held. I can feel the confusion and fear radiate from her by some means. I can almost . . . read the fear and despair in her mind at what she is seeing.

I too feel shocked and at the same time overjoyed! Despite his present warlike raiment, it is still HIM and to my eye he is the most valiant and heroic of figures.

Nerites stands solidly atop the finned crown of the Kraken who has surfaced in such a way that his towering body-head completely breaches the surface of the ocean with his tentacles writhing about him for yards and yards. Kraken is on fire with purest red with the angered color of his feelings and Nerites reflects that color off of the iridescently reflective surface of his seashell armor! Nerites looks like he wears armor of pure fire!

In both of his hands he holds two disks and on the forearms of his armor he has plates of more of these disks! Each disk looks sharper than the sharpest steel blade! It must be with one of these that he has effortlessly disarmed the horrible Ares and again stymied the war god's murder of me! My Beloved has come and already he has saved my life yet again! My heart swells at seeing him and I cannot help but to call out to him!

NERITES! my voice rings out in a desperate appeal! It distracts my divine love as his shelled helm turns to face me. I see under the dark shade of the helm two blue eyes flare and a smile of transcendent joy spread across his glorious face! I feel a wash of that profound joy come over me as Nerites' spirit reaches out for me.

ALEXIS!!! the name spoken this time fulfills my longing. It is, at last, the voice reconciled within me that I have been hearing for a year's worth of suicidal madness! It is the completion of my yearning and how I want to go to him and be held in his arms again! But, even at a distance I feel our spirits intertwine in a way more intimate than what bodies can experience.

Alas, my love is used as a weapon against Nerites for it gives Aphrodite the moment she needs to strike.

She does not hesitate. She does not even blink once in any lover's regret. Her powers reach out to Nerites in full and her hate filled voice echoes again with her curse upon him:

"Return you to the bottom of the sea, Nerites, faithless and loveless! Return you now to the Seashell from which you came! Let be done again that which was undone! Let my Curse hold true. Let my beloved nemesis find again his place in the empty eternal night of the deep!" Aphrodite twists her clawed hands and the metamorphoses begins.

Nerites stands shocked and his face contorts in grief stricken horror as the powers of his hated lover overtake him once again and does its work upon him. The shellweave that is his armor changes, turns, and twists about Nerites. With sickening ease what was protecting his sweet body soon encases him and contains him. Once again the Seashell imprisons him and Nerites falls from the height of the Kraken's crown and back into the sea to sink again into oblivion!

The new Goddess of Hate's power turns from rose to black at this last act of love's ultimate betrayal! The sands beneath her fel feet become stained black as if burned or polluted by an oil slick. She cackles wickedly as the morning light falls to the blackest midnight instantly. I can feel a quaking despair shudder through me with a pain so sharp that I can't even scream.

My Beloved . . . is no more! My love is forever gone! My death would have been a kinder fate than having to play witness to the end of all that was once good in my life. The cruel pain of finding again my lost love only to have him so viciously snatched away from me is a suffering I cannot endure. I sink into the diamond dust beneath me and curl up into a ball. I can't even cry. All I can do is hope that I will die so that I can take the mortal's blessed escape from the never ending pain of this life. It is at this time that I see what a gift death can be. It can bring an end to my unnecessary suffering in this world and it can deliver from the impossible cruelty of others. Unrequited love and love lost can be escaped in Death's darkest sleep. At last I can see why Death is indeed a great gift and not a curse.

"Now I pray and hope that The Source sends the Destroyer, daughter. I would pray that he would undo all of us. You are become Ares' true consort now: the Goddess of Hate and a goddess of the bitterest misery. The Black Dragon will make good use of you now, foolish one! He, it is, who has wanted for the destruction of all things since their beginning. You and your lover will now be his slave until the Avenging One comes to unmake you and the rest of us here." Poseidon says with bitter disgust at his wayward daughter.

"Can you never be silent even once, Father Dear?" With casual malice The Hateful One gestures and Poseidon's mouth suddenly disappears completely! His eyes then roll up into his head and Poseidon falls unconscious to the sand. So much for the mighty sea god.

"Your tortures in Tartarus will be sublime, Aphrodite. I shall invent such punishment as to make Prometheus' anguished screams seem like laughter!" Zeus growls defiantly.

The leaden shot-put comes down and Zeus' skull of skulls is struck with a crack. The Father of Gods falls with terrible ease now that he is bereft of his lightning scepter. Ares', incredibly satisfied with his work, comes to settle next to his consort and takes her by the arm in a loving but possessive way . . . but it is a wrong move.

"Strike ME will you? AWAY FROM ME!"

The Hateful One growls this and then turns and pushes Ares away from her with a strength that completely disarms the god of war. He is pushed back toward the waterline . . . where wrathful tentacles await him!

"EEEEYAAAAAH!" Ares' agonized screams are terrible! Even for one such as him, he who would have murdered me without so much as a twitch, I cannot but feel horror and pity. Kraken literally tears the god to pieces. The shocks of explosive power that erupt from Ares as he is so injured, though, are enough to scorch and burn the Kraken first into blindness and then into catching fire. The great monster screams a sound I have no words to describe. The King of Sea-Beasts sinks to be with his beautiful master beneath the waves . . . and there, perhaps, die with him.

The unendurable horror of the creature's scream leaves me near catatonic. My heart breaks for my multi-armed friend, for my beloved velvet Shadowcat friend, for my irksome nature god friend, and, finally, for my beloved Nerites. I have no joy in Ares' apparent destruction. I have no joy in anything. Joy is dead. Love is dead. Hopefully, soon all life will be dead and this divine travesty can finally come to its end.

As for The Hateful One, she seems completely unphased by any of these atrocities she's been party to. She walks up to me, all cold blackness and ebony will, and there she regards me thoughtfully.

"You have had spirit through this trial, mortal. You yet retain your sanity despite the day's challenges. You are strong! Strong where Ares was not. Strong where Nerites was not. Strong where Apollo or Hephaestus or any of my other consorts were not. Come with me. Become my consort. I will make of you a power on this earth worthy of the name 'god'. You now embody perfect despair! Become then that which you embody and rule it! The perfect consort of Hate is ever. . . Despair!" The beauty Aphrodite once had is now replaced by a withering blackness that makes me nauseated to see. How can she even ask such a thing?

"I will never, ever join with you in anything. You are vicious and cruel and now you have betrayed love itself. You are the broken Aegis. You are the one who will soon be judged." My voice, weak and despondent as it is, rings out penetratingly. Again the words that come seem to come through me as opposed to from me.

"Then you too will die." The Goddess of Hate says simply.

She raises a hand to deliver some kind of deadly strike agains me. I don't bother to look up at her. It, hopefully, will only hurt for a little while and then I can enter oblivion. My broken heart is Hell enough. Any pain she can deliver to my body can only pale in comparison.

A black bolt of fel energy reaches out from her hand but is blocked completely by Gaia's shield. The Goddess of Hate grunts with frustration and redoubles her outpouring of black power from both hands. The blackness strikes the shield fiercely but deflects off of it in shards that strike back against the Goddess instead! The shards of power raise bloody cuts on her pale flesh. It would seem that even she is not immune to her own hateful powers.

"Blast you! Why does the Earth Mother protect you when she's done nothing for these others?" The Black Goddess snarls. She takes a different tactic. She directs the fel energies to the ground where immediately roots rise and slither upon the blackening sand like snakes. I am reminded of Medusa the Gorgon for a moment as I see the root tentacles slither toward me to ether burrow under me to reach me from below or come in through my shield's back door.

The tentacles lash angrily at my crystal housing and I can feel the vibrations of their strength ring through my very bones! If they get me, they will easily wrench me to pieces and I will die . . . horribly! I will die much as Ares did . . . if he is indeed even 'dead'.

But, instantly, the diamond dust rises from behind me and closes off that entrance and then it solidifies underneath me. I am suddenly completely cocooned inside the crystal shell. For some reason I have a pang of recognition of my current situation. I come to realize that I too am now inside of a 'seashell' of sorts just like my beloved Nerites!

Thicker roots rise up lashing from the ebony sands surrounding the determined Goddess of Hate! Her tenacity in trying to kill me is fearful and very sad too. How can a being once so given over to love suddenly become perfect hated? Then wisdom comes to me: love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Love flips to hate with perfect ease if love is denied. The pain of love unrequited festers and turns to hate in a selfish heart. Unless a person loves selflessly, that love will be corrupted and turned, inevitably, to as dread a hatred as it had once been a powerful love. Apparently, Aphrodite's love was strongest of all as it was her domaine to rule.

"Blast you Gaia! You pervert my own spells and use them against me! You encase this one in a shell where I cannot get to him just as I cast a shell around Nerites so that none can get to him! You should not meddle with me, Earth Mother. My curse upon you would be long and agonizing! I'll turn you inside out and watch the world burn in your death screams!" The Goddess of Hate rants. For effect she stabs at the very earth around her with her titanic dark fury! All about the Goddess the world distorts into monstrous forms! Sand turns to pools of blood! Trees begin to writhe as if in agony! The little creatures under the sand mutate into agonized little hellish creatures that try to tear themselves to pieces to stop their own anguish! My eyes bug out at the living nightmare suddenly sprouting around me! For all the horror I've experienced today . . . they all pale to this . . . abomination! It is as if the whole natural order of Creation has been suddenly thrown into utter chaos!

The Queen of the Vile raises her hands skyward and the ebony fire licking from her hands seems to turn the sky to ashes over us! She cackles demonically! I doubt even the Devil himself could compare his evil to that which stands before me now in all of her dark majesty!

It is then that Gaia or . . . something . . . has had enough of this!

The Hate Goddess is suddenly flung into the air as the ground beneath her detonates! I am thrown against the side of my shell, but it holds and I am otherwise unharmed!

Lava then starts to bubble and stream out of the newly formed miniature volcanic cone that has risen where the ground exploded! I fear that the lava will run toward me and burn me alive even in my protective bubble for I feel its terrible heat already even at a distance! But the lava freezes into obsidian stone almost instantly as something dark rises from the ground in a fume! What new evil has beset me now? Has the Devil himself indeed come to restore his supremacy over all things evil by challenging this newly made Goddess of Hatred and Chaos?

As shadows and smoke clear I see the dark figure standing with its back to me. I see the material of an ebony hooded robe with a long sleeved arm thrust out to its side. In an ice white hand, with fingers covered in glittering bejeweled rings, I see a long black staff that is crowned with what looks like two sharp tangs like a two pronged pitchfork. Between the tangs a blue fire whirls with a cold light. Where I had felt the heat of the lava before I now feel a chill as if off the Arctic. It is a deathly cold and I find my teeth begin to chatter as the being's numbing radiance captures me in its cold, icy grip.

"Enough my niece. You have had your fun. Now put away the newfound toy of this black power you have come by and come with me. You have much to answer for. I have Judged it so." The voice crackles like broken ice in an ancient throat. It is the voice you might imagine that Death itself might use. With the cold, the blackness, the hood, the pronged staff, could this, in fact be Death or the Destroyer or whatever other dire being Zeus warned us against?

"Oh, Hades! Even you would challenge me? Your two mightier brothers were no match for me. Why would you think your aging power would fair any better? Your province is over the weaker things in this world. The dead spirits that have no substance. Your purview was the greatest of jokes played on any god. You are the ruler of and the soul of NOTHING!" The Hateful One rises with preternatural grace back to her feet as if she is the dead rising from a grave.

"My two brothers were made to stay out of this. Trust me, young one, if they had not been deprived of their might by Gaia, you would be roasting in lightning and drowning in heavy water even now. Your metamorphic powers are ridiculous next to a true mandate." The cloaked figure moves forward to advance on the Black Goddess. I fear for him because he does not seem to know what he is dealing with! She really did overcome all of the other gods! By guile, treachery, and pure power, she'd managed to neutralize all who opposed her this day . . . except for me! Weak, mortal, little me! Why?

Growling with rage she reaches out and strikes with her black venom only to have it swatted away as if it were nothing by Hades' staff. She strikes again more fiercely, a sustained black torch of that ebony flame this time! Hades' staff absorbs it into itself and I see the blue flame between the staff's tangs turn from blue to a void of absolute darkness that is difficult to look at. It is a blackness so dark that it is almost as blinding as looking at the sun's light!

With a wave of the staff, Hades returns The Hateful power back to its source causing the Black Goddess to shriek in agony as she is suddenly gripped in the warping embrace of her own power! Her divine body begins to twist and melt and reconstitute only to be twisted and melted again! Her wails are beyond horrifying and I find, despite myself, a tear of pity slide down my cheek as I see her hoisted, figuratively, upon her own petard!

"You always thought you were immune to your own curses, Vain One. Alas, not so. Not when they are applied with a finer hand than yours. You can never hope to master the Dark Powers as proficiently as I have, my dear niece." With that, Hades grabs the wayward goddess by her long hair and yanks her to the ground brutally. The effect is that he actually delivers her from her own torments that she has visited upon herself! This irony lost on her, the Hateful One reaches up to claw at the bone white hand that is now dragging her around to cast her into the Underworld. Her blackened nails merely spark as they rake uselessly against the many rings on Hades' hand damaging nothing.

I almost dread seeing the face of Hades as it finally comes into view. I am, fortunately, pleasantly surprised! Hades is, though pale as snow and with brow and hair somehow even whiter than his skin, almost angelically beautiful and his white skin stands out so starkly from the surrounding darkness of his sable robes. His eyes glow with a vibrant icy blue that is the one thing about him that is truly disturbing. They look as though they can see through anything and anyone right to their soul! But, however hale he looks otherwise, Hades walks hunched over like an old man that carries too many burdens.

Like a sack of garbage he hoists Aphrodite by her hair and tosses her bodily down the volcanic vent where I hear her scream fade as she falls down to some unfathomable depth.

For a moment he glances up at me and I am suddenly frozen in terror! This is HADES! This is the most feared of all the gods in mythology! The jealous one! The greedy one! The one who judges souls so that they either go to the paradise of Elysium or the hell of Tartarus. The one who steals away the fair to keep by his side in the dark dungeons of his eternally dark kingdom!

It is THE Hades that holds my gaze as he slowly descends into the pit and favors me a wink and a smirk as he disappears back into the ground. I blink twice wondering if I saw what I just saw! In those blinks, two things happen, the rent in the earth heals completely as if it had never been there to begin with and my crystal shell disintegrates back into the soft diamond dust in which I sit.

All is at last quiet. Deathly quiet.

I am either the last to remain alive or at least the last to remain conscious. All the others, gods and fabulous creatures combined, are either dead, gone, or incapacitated in some way. Zeus and Poseidon lay a distance from me, both are unconscious from their ordeal with Aphrodite and Ares.

The nine other gods, including Eros, still hang suspended over the sea asleep or in comas, if gods can even enter into comas. Pan has not returned so perhaps his transformation is permanent or he became too frightened to return and confront Aphrodite after reverting to normal. I would not blame him if that were the case.

Velvet lies dead before me, resting so still. So very still.

Nerites, of course, is gone and it is with that loss finally that, in the silence of this aggrieved beach, I break into heart broken body wracking sobs.

My beloved is gone. All of this has been for naught. Nerites has been returned to his Seashell and can never come back to me again!

"You are gone! You can never come back to me! Oh, Ares should have killed me so that I would not have to endure the rest of my life torn in this way!" I sob in my memory of Nerites.

"Dead, you're no good to him. Alive, there is still hope. What makes you think that what you did before you can't do again?" The familiar voice of my beloved father speaks to me gently from behind me.

"He rests now at the bottom of the sea. A place I am not sure I could survive even in my merman form." I answer over my shoulder without turning to look at him.

"You think so, eh? Where's your faith, my sweet son? Where is that innocent heart that brought Nerites back to the world on that cove the first time?" My father's voice continues patiently.

"My faith is dead, Papa. Today I have seen were god's fail. If even they cannot contain the chaos of their lives, how can I ever hope to control it in mine? Faith only works if you have hope that what you believe in is real." I answer with that new 'sageness' that I seem to have developed.

"I see no evidence for hope here." my voice sounds dead even to my own ears.

"Ah, but you have always been the stubborn one. Look you toward the shore and tell me about what is real and what is not, then. Go ahead. Look." the voice cajoles me kindly. I refuse for a few moments, but at last I relent, if for no other reason than out of just plain curiosity. I look out and both my eyes and mouth gape open in pure astonishment!

There it lies again. There it lies like it did before a year or so ago on that cove of destiny. There it lies within reach of me!

There again lies the Seashell!

I turn to look behind me to share my joy and to thank my father for making me see . . . only to find no one there at all!