The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Installment #12: Flight

It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I was disoriented from the fall and groped at the earth trying to regain my bearings as the wind and rain continued to assail me. My eyes and ears were still reeling from the first thunderbolt when a second struck just inches from my right hand. The instantaneous flash of heat seared through me from my fingertips down to my wrist, and I cried out in pain as my hand burned and then went numb. Hades was screaming my name from the other side of the grove, where he was entangled in the brush after having been thrown back by the second explosion. I squinted to see him through the relentless rain as my eyes readjusted to the dark and soon saw that he was not simply entangled, but was being restrained. The branches were holding him back as if on someone’s command. It was then that I knew this was not merely a storm. I was under attack by Zeus and Poseidon. Only one being had the same authority over the earth that my mother and I had, and that was the king of this world. Zeus was hurling his thunderbolts at me on purpose, and his aim was getting better with each strike. Likewise, it was Poseidon who supplied the stinging wind and rain, which could not have manifested on land with such force except by his intervention. I knew then that I had been found out. They had heard of my blasphemy, and they were coming for me.

I panicked for a moment, then suppressed the screaming voice inside of me and tried to focus on what I could do. Hades was still trapped on the far side of the grove, the branches cinching him more and more tightly to the ground with each passing moment. He was fighting his restraints with the greatest display of strength I had ever seen before, but the plants were augmented with Zeus’ power and were splintering only slightly. From my prostrate position on the ground I slid my left hand into the earth, feeling the cool soil surround my fingers, protecting it from the elements in a sanctuary of strength and stillness. I closed my eyes, trying not to think about when the next thunderbolt would strike or where it would land, and concentrated. I spoke with the earth, held communion with her, and asked her to obey me instead of Zeus. She whispered that she had not wanted to do his bidding, but could not resist his power. I asked her to find the strength to pull away from him and release her violent hold on Hades, which was contrary to her nature. I asked her to slip out of Zeus’ grasp and return to her natural state.

I felt her power flow through me again, healing my hand, and then sensed her relief as she relaxed her limbs and let them fall limp. Her hold on Hades was gone, as was Zeus’ hold on her. Perhaps because of this act, Zeus’ rage escalated, and before I could make sense of it an indescribable pain ripped through my back with a force that felt like a boulder had been dropped on me. I vaguely heard Hades scream my name again, and the fear and desperation in his voice troubled me. As my body seized and burned with the shock, my mind drifted oddly, as though watching these events from the outside. I saw him break free of the limbs that had constrained him and run to my side, lifting my torso from the ground and weeping. He turned his face upward into the maelstrom and cursed his brothers as he cradled my head, which drooped from my slack neck. My left hand was still embedded in the soil, and mother earth was good to me. Her power flowed into me, healing me even more quickly than I would have on my own, and I returned to my body as I struggled to open my eyes, the pain of the blast returning to me from each and every one of my extremities as sensation returned to me. I groaned and Hades turned back to me, as though discovering in that moment that I was still alive. He should have known that even a bolt from Zeus could not kill me, a demi-goddess, but he seemed shocked that I was stirring in his arms.

“Persephone?” he uttered in amazement, as though not believing what he saw.

“I’ll be fine,” I murmured, “If we can escape them. They know…” I tried to explain to him what was happening, but the words would not emerge. My tongue seemed huge in my mouth and my lips would not obey me.

“They have found us out,” he said, as something terrible dawned on him, “I have done this… I must have broken some law or code by presuming I could commune with a goddess of the earth… I have violated Zeus’ sovereign territory.”

Though I was only half-conscious, I balked at the thought that I was Zeus’ territory. “No,” I tried to say, trying to make him understand why they were attacking us, but the words still would not come.

“Don’t try to talk, Persephone, your body is fragile right now. Fear not, I can deliver us from this attack.”

He lifted me in his arms and rose from the ground, walking purposefully through the cataclysmic storm as if it were of no consequence. His steps did not falter and his pace was constant as he strode out of the grove and across the meadow.

Erchomai!” he shouted through the screaming wind. In half a moment, a chariot appeared drawn by two enormous and fearsome black horses. “Can you stand?” he asked gently, as the rain stung our skin and the wind attempted to swallow his words. I was somewhat more lucid now and was feeling some strength return to my limbs, even as the pain in them increased with my growing awareness.

“I think so,” I said as he lowered my legs to the ground. I felt my weight begin to settle into the soles of my feet and bit my lip to keep from crying out. I pressed my fingertips into his shoulders to ease the pressure on my legs, but that only made my fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders exclaim their own protestations. I gave up on fighting the pain and let it wash over me, easing my full weight down onto my feet.

“Can you make it?” he asked, glancing around nervously.

“Yes,” I said haltingly, the word coming out in a burst as I tried to hold my breath against the pain.

“You need to breathe,” he said, “That will help it to fade. We have to make it into the chariot, and I cannot carry you and drive at the same time.”

“I can do it,” I said more firmly, looking him in the eye.

He nodded at me and gathered my waist into his left arm as I started to limp towards the chariot. Every step was agony, and when I stepped onto the platform my left foot bellowed as I hoisted myself upwards. An ugly noise escaped my lips as I pushed myself forward and leaned against the front railing. Hades came in after me and took the reins of the unnaturally large horses, supporting me with one arm and commanding the animals with the other. “Epistrepho!” he shouted, and the chariot lurched forward, causing another streak of pain to rip through my body. Another thunderbolt crashed into the ground in the very spot which we had been standing only a moment before, and Hades prodded the horses faster. I turned my head to look behind and saw the terrible faces of Zeus and Poseidon taking shape in the swirls of rain and fog behind us as the fury of their storm increased. I turned away to look forward again and clutched at the rail of the chariot as the platform jostled and shook violently with the frantic pace. I was barely hanging on, and certain that if he hadn’t been supporting me I would have been thrown from the basket. Our speed continued to increase and the wild careening of the chariot became more and more tumultuous as I struggled to maintain my grip. My fright rose higher and higher as we seemed to fly more and more out of control and Zeus and Poseidon closed in on us. My ears were now filled with nothing but the screeching wind that tore at my hair and clothes, my eyes were nearly blinded with the torrents of stinging rain, and I felt my mind starting to unravel. When my panic became so overpowering that I thought I could no longer bear it, the impossible happened. The earth cracked open before us, exposing not layers of soil and rock and roots, but instead a great black void that seemed to pulse with power and density. I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out. I thought Zeus was trapping us, drawing us in to this horrifying black, but when I looked at Hades I saw no trace of fear on his face, only a stern focus. In an instant we were plunging into the darkness, and the rain and wind instantly vanished, replaced by a sensation that was cold and heat and nothingness all at once. I felt the darkness swallow me whole like a great monster and I shut my eyes against the blinding blackness. I held my breath, certain that I could not inhale this dark matter, knowing it would clog my lungs like a heavier form of water. The silence that assaulted my ears in place of the howling wind was terrifying, and for a moment I could hear nothing but my own frantic heartbeat. Then I heard something else, which confused me enough to make me open my eyes. It was Hades exhaling a sigh of relief, and when I looked around I saw that we had come to rest in a great cavern, dark compared to the world above but bright as day to my eyes after experiencing the horrible blackness of the void. The cavern was lit with strange blue flames that undulated slowly upward, and I instantly recognized Hades’ dancing blue women.

His grip on my waist relaxed and he turned to look at me, trying to assess what sort of state I was in. “Are you alright?” he asked, his eyes darting from my head to my arms to my feet in anxiety.

I managed a smile, which came surprisingly easy as relief flooded my body and my damaged muscles began to unclench. “I believe so,” I said. I let go of the chariot railing and tested my weight on my feet. “Yes,” I said, “I’ll be fine,” then collapsed into unconsciousness and knew nothing more.

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