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Authors: Raye Wagner

Curse of the Sphinx

BOOK: Curse of the Sphinx
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, media, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

The following brands are used in this work of fiction: Barbie, BMW, Burberry, Civic, Crock-Pot, FedEx, Goodwill, iPad, iPhone, Mercedes, Microsoft, Monopoly, Porsche, Prius, Rice Krispy Treats, Salvation Army, and Tupperware.

 

Book design by
Inkstain Interior Book Designing

 

Text copyright © 2015 Rachel Wagner

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APHRODITE: Goddess of love, beauty, desire, and pleasure

APOLLO: God of light, music, arts, knowledge, healing, plague and darkness, prophecy, poetry, purity, athleticism, manly beauty, and enlightenment

ARES: God of war, bloodshed, and violence

ARTEMIS: Virgin goddess of the hunt, wilderness, animals, young girls, childbirth, and plague

ATHENA: Goddess of intelligence and skill, warfare, battle strategy, handicrafts, and wisdom

BOREAS: God of winter and the north wind

DEMETER: Goddess of grain, agriculture and the harvest, growth, and nourishment

DIONYSUS: God of wine, parties and festivals, madness, chaos, drunkenness, drugs, and ecstasy

EROS: God of love and desire

HADES: King of the underworld and the dead, and god of the earth's hidden wealth, both agricultural produce and precious metals

HEPHAESTUS: God of fire, metalworking, and crafts

HERA: Queen of the heavens and goddess of marriage, women, childbirth, heirs, kings, and empires

HERMES: God of boundaries, travel, communication, trade, thievery, trickery, language, writing, diplomacy, athletics, and animal husbandry

HESTIA: Goddess of the hearth, home, and chastity

HYPNOS: God of sleep

LETO: Titan goddess of Motherhood

MOIRAI: The Fates, the incarnation of destiny, namely: Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter), and Atropos (unturnable)

PERSEPHONE: Queen of the underworld, wife of Hades, and goddess of spring growth

POSEIDON: God of the sea, rivers, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and the creator of horses

THANATOS: God of death

ZEUS: King of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky, weather, thunder, lightning, law, order, and fate

THE GRAEAE: Three ancient sea spirits who personified the white foam of the sea; they shared one eye and one tooth between them. By name: Deino, Enyo, and Pemphredo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DEAD THEY
escorted always cried. From the time of death until their delivery to Hades, tears dripped and trickled from their grief-stricken eyes. Clearly, there was
something
they felt a need to mourn. Athan trudged through the musty mists of the Underworld, his thoughts swirling in blackness as gloomy as his surroundings. Life wasn’t meant to as barren as the banks of the River Acheron.

“Athan!” Hermes’s voice beckoned. “Hurry up, son.”

Focusing on the bright aura surrounding his father, he sprinted ahead.

“You’re quiet today.” Hermes’s voice had a rich lilt to it, the accent of the divine. “Did you know this demigod we escorted? Was he a friend?”

The young man they’d delivered to Hades had hung his head as he wept, refusing to even acknowledge his guides.

Athan shook his head. “No.” And
definitely
no.

“That is always my concern, bringing you with me. I would hate for you to have to escort a friend.”

Athan snorted at the ground. “You don’t have to worry about that, Dad.” He’d stopped making friends years ago. “I don’t really have time.” He looked over at his father, and offered a wan smile. “And, I’m glad I get to come with you.”

“Me, too.” Hermes laughed. “Who would have thought, my son, the best
psachno
? Athena was quite jealous, you know.”

Athan’s heart stirred briefly.

They walked through the desolate waste that separated the Fields of Asphodel from the River Acheron. Shrieks from Tartarus, what humans called hell, pushed through the dense fog. Dark mist swirled at their feet carrying with it the saturated scent of decay. They could hear moans and cries from the river before it came into sight, the misery rolling off the lapping waves.

At the dock, Charon’s tall figure cut through the fog, his dark robe billowing behind him on the small ferry.

“Hermes.” Charon’s hollow voice came from deep within his hood.

Athan looked down at the pitch waters where the dead wailed in despair, their tears feeding the river. If he looked closely, he could see the faces of the mortals who had drowned themselves in their own desolation.

“Charon.” Hermes held out his hand and dropped two small coins into the ferryman’s emaciated palm. “How are you?”

A ghostly chuckle emerged from within the folds of fabric, and the god stood aside to allow passage onto his vessel.

“Hermes!” A feminine voice rang through the thick vapor.

A lithe woman with warm russet skin and dark chocolate curls ran out of the mist and onto the dock. She wore a traditional chiton, a dress trimmed in gold, and in her hands she clasped a long rod with markings running the length of it. Across her chest she wore a small, but very modern, messenger bag.

“You must hurry.” Her rushed speech also held the musical inflection of divinity. She shoved a piece of paper into his hands. “Messengers from Olympus arrived just after you left. Apollo has summoned Thanatos to kill her.”

Athan glanced at his father. The god’s warm hazel eyes were flint, his jaw clenched, and his hands balled into fists.

“You don’t think . . .” Hermes looked at his son.

“Atropos was commanded to cut her thread.” The girl continued, “She will delay as long as she can.”

Atropos. One of the three Fates, the goddess responsible for cutting the thread of life. Athan didn’t know who
her
was, but for four gods to meddle with her future? Extraordinary.

Hermes ground his teeth. “I brought only enough obols for passage. Not enough to speed the way.”

“Charon.” The goddess’s lilting voice brought the cloaked figure to the edge of his boat, and the god tilted his head at the young girl. “Please take them quickly across and to the portal.” She threw a handful of golden coins toward the ferryman. Several clattered on the wooden dock, a few plunked into the river, but the majority of them rattled at the bottom of the skiff. “More awaits when you return.”

Charon waved his hand and the small coins levitated from the boat’s floor and into his palm, the water dripping through his bony fingers. “No need, Lachesis. This is more than sufficient.”

Two additional figures emerged from the mist. Both were young women—one tall, dark, and angular with several pairs of shears hanging from her girdle; the other walked with her head down, her loose blond curls obscuring her face. Her hands worked knitting needles in a furious clacking, and pale thread trailed behind her.

“He’ll never make it in time, Lachesis.” The dark-skinned girl’s sharp tone matched her shears.

Athan’s eyes narrowed. The pictures in his textbook looked nothing like the beautiful goddesses standing before him. These were the Moirai: the weaver, the measurer, and the cutter of the thread of life.

Anxiety tickled his throat, and he coughed.

The pale girl, Clotho, looked up from her needles, and her hands froze. Her blue eyes locked on him. “It is fine, Atropos.” Her voice was steady, and her gaze stayed fixed. “This is what is necessary.” She nodded and then dropped her head. The clacking of the needles started again.

Trepidation fluttered in his chest. The gods didn’t notice you, unless . . .

They pulled away from the dock, and the boat rocked on the water. Athan shifted his footing, and when he looked back, the young women had disappeared into the swirling vapor.


Skata
!” Hermes’s curse broke the heavy silence. “Can you move us any faster?”

The water churned where Charon’s pole pushed through the black depth, and they glided noiselessly across the river. Time seemed suspended, and yet each moment felt an eternity.

Hermes released another string of curses, the profanities rolling from his tongue and stagnating in the thick air.

“Dad?” Athan gripped his father’s arm. “What’s going on?”

Hermes exhaled and ran his hand through his hair. “We must hurry. There is no time for me to take you elsewhere, or I may miss too much.”

Athan’s mind raced, but he nodded.

“I’ll veil us. Just don’t
do
anything. I don’t want Apollo to know we’re there.”

All these gods . . . Who were they going to see? Athan was about to ask, when a dock swirled and solidified before them.

“Thank you, Charon,” Hermes said as he leaped from the boat.

“Anything to vex Thanatos.” The ferryman chuckled.

As Athan stepped from the boat, Hermes grabbed his arm, and the two of them lurched ahead.

Athan and his father were standing in the corner of a small living room. In the kitchen, a striking blond woman holding a telephone to her ear crossed the linoleum floor. Tears streaked her haggard face, a sharp contrast to her beautiful white silk cocktail dress and her careful updo.

Hermes had disappeared, and as Athan looked down at his own body, he realized he’d been veiled, too. It was an odd sensation to not see your own body.

Glancing around the apartment, he noted simple furnishings: a couch and loveseat, table and chairs. The walls were empty—no art or family photos. A marble sculpture of Hecate sat on the mantle. The only other decorations were four wooden letters sitting atop the mantle of the fireplace. Clearly painted by a child’s hand, they were vibrant green and blue and spelled the word
hope
.

“Come quick,” she said into the phone. Then, “No, I’ll wait here.”

A warm breeze tickled the air, bringing with it the smell of honeysuckle and sunshine. A flash of light momentarily blinded him, and when Athan’s vision cleared Apollo stood in the doorway of the kitchen. The blond god of light, prophecy, and medicine arrived barefoot. His skin was sun kissed, and he wore a pale linen skirt trimmed in gold that fell to his knees. A bronze sash hung from his left shoulder to his right hip. Apollo was muscular, and his face was both beautiful and terrifying.

“Foolish girl.” His harsh words seemed at odds with his melodic voice.

The woman turned, and the phone slipped from her fingers.

“It is fulfilled.” He stepped toward her, his lips flattened in accusation. “You did not even give me a chance. One rash decision, and your fate was sealed. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do. Do you understand?” His nostrils flared. “I would have made you happy.”

With a moan, she sank to the floor and buried her face in her hands.

A dark mist, similar to the one Athan had seen in the Underworld, spilled from a shadow on the wall. The darkness solidified, and another figure appeared a few feet in front of them. Tall with inky hair, this god, Thanatos, was dressed in the dark colors of the Underworld.

The woman’s eyes widened, and her breathing hitched. “Oh, gods! NO! You can’t!” She looked from one god to the other. “What will happen to my daughter?”

She made her way to her feet and stumbled toward Apollo, her arms outstretched.

The sun-god withdrew every time she took a step toward him, staying just out of her reach.

She fell to her knees, her arms imploring. “I didn’t know.” She shook her head vigorously. “You can’t do this. Who will take care of her?”

Apollo glared at her. “YOU did this.” His finger punctured the air in front of her. “You married him. A stupid mortal, thus fulfilling the curse.” Turning toward the god of death, Apollo waved a hand dismissively. “Take her.” Apollo’s skin began to glow brighter and brighter until the light engulfed his entire figure.

The woman closed her eyes and pulled away from the heat.

Athan felt a sudden coldness hit his core, but he shook it off. If he took even one step forward, he would break contact with his father. One step forward, and he would be exposed. This wasn’t his affair.

Thanatos glided to the crumpled figure and placed an ashen hand on hers.

She snatched her hand away. “Don’t touch me! I know who you are.”

His delicate features twisted to a grim smile. “You cannot cheat death, Sphinx—or a curse.”

The Sphinx? A curse?

“But you don’t understand.” She tilted her tear-streaked face up, and her golden eyes locked on his midnight ones. “I have a daughter. She needs me.” Her hands fluttered uselessly in her lap.

Hermes cleared his throat.

Athan looked toward the sound and saw his dad. They were visible!

The ashen god turned, and his posture stiffened. “Hermes.” Thanatos’s eyes narrowed.

The woman turned to them. “Please help me. My daughter . . .”

Hermes looked at Athan, his lips pinched and a pained expression on his face. He turned back to the woman. “I can send my son—”

“NO!”

The woman’s scream became a roar of protest, and Athan watched in horror as Thanatos pulled her soul from her body.

“Thanatos!” Hermes lunged across the room.

But it was too late. The woman’s body and soul were separate, and no longer the same. The form now crumpled on the floor was still human from the waist up, but large feathered wings lay folded on the floor behind the feline haunches that had appeared in place of her legs. This was the Sphinx!

“You can’t bargain with them, Hermes. They have nothing to offer except their pain.”

The woman’s soul turned to Thanatos and fixed him with a glare. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.

“She cannot speak?” Athan looked from his father to Thanatos. In all the years he’d been going with his dad, he’d never even tried to talk to one of the deceased.

Thanatos laughed. “The dead cannot speak in the realm of the living.” He shifted and then amended, “Not before judgment. I’m surprised you did not know this, Hermes’s son.”

“Athan.” He tilted his chin up and extended his hand.

Thanatos chuckled but did not take his hand.

Hermes pushed his son’s arm down. “Never shake hands with Death, unless you are done living.” He pushed the other god away. “You’ve done what you need to do here. I’ll do the rest.”

The spirit of the woman watched silently.

Thanatos’s smile became a thin line, and he reached for her. “She is strong, that one. She did not want to come.”

BOOK: Curse of the Sphinx
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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