Trevander wandered the village, feeling out of place. The streets were wild with activity as the villagers celebrated the downfall of the tyrant and mourned the loss of the dead. A stranger to this community, he had no place in either activity.
Earlier, he had been swept away with the crowd when the tyrant had been defeated and nearly followed the crowd back to the fortress as Villetes was being taken to be locked away in his own dungeon. He managed to break away when he saw the ground by Villetes' feet where Onyx had fell. A smear of dark red blood was left behind and a trail of droplets marked her path. He decided to follow.
As the crowd made their way up the hill to the fortress, he went alone around the corner of a building towards the edge of the village. He had lost the trail when he reached the grassy area between the village and the wooded area beyond.
He stood a moment surveying the area, squinting into the late afternoon sunlight, looking for some hint as to where she'd gone. He found none. The amount of blood left at the site indicated that her injury must have been severe in spite of how quickly she had fled the scene. He knew she couldn't have traveled far or kept up her pace for long. If her injuries were extensive, she might be lying somewhere dying and if he didn't find her in time, he'd never get the answers to his questions.
He walked forward, carefully searching the area, trying to find some sign of Onyx. He spent the next few hours looking for her as the sun set and twilight set in. When it finally started to get too dark for him to see, he gave up the search and went back to the village.
The village was busy with activity by the time he returned. An orange glow lit up the village square as crowds gathered around brightly burning bonfires. He heard the commotion long before he could see what was going on. Cheers and shouts, wails and moans mixed together into a cacophony of sound. He walked into the crowd past mourners wailing, on their knees, pulling at their hair in grief; past celebrants drinking, singing, and cheering the fall of the tyrant; and past more sober groups discussing politics amongst themselves, expressing their opinions on what should be done with Villetes and where the village should seek out leadership next.
Trevander kept his eyes open for Onyx and for Penelope. He hadn't seen the younger woman since they'd fallen into the thick of the fighting. Whether she'd been injured or killed or escaped unharmed he had no idea, but he hoped to find out.
Most of the villagers were too wrapped up in their own activities to take note of him, but whenever he encountered someone not distracted and sober enough to talk, he tried to ask about the two women as best as he could. Since both were also strangers to this village and he had little information to give, his search was not fruitful and he had to give up without coming any closer to finding either woman.
Exhausted and discouraged, Trevander had to admit defeat and gave up for the night. He started looking for an inn in which to spend the night and vowed to continue his search in the morning when hopefully things would be calmer and he might have better luck.
With some guidance from a passerby, Trevander found an inn. When he entered he was taken aback by the amount of activity inside. The building was filled with the injured, lying on makeshift beds on the floor of the entryway, as their caretakers rushed back and forth, busy with the tasks of caring for the wounded. Startled, he just stood in the doorway and stared for a moment not sure if he should continue on through or go back out and try his luck elsewhere. Before he could make up his mind he caught the eye of a woman carrying a bucket of hot water and an armful of bandages.
"Can I help you with something?" she asked breathlessly. She was clearly in a hurry, but there was no hint of impatience in her voice.
"I was looking for a place to stay the night, but I can see you're filled up."
"Yes," she huffed, blowing a stray strand of hair out of her face. "We have a lot of beds so we ended up being the place for those who are too injured to go home or those who have no one else to take care of them. We may be able to find a corner for you. I'm afraid you won't be able to expect much in the way of quiet or privacy though."
"That's alright," Trevander declined. He could find somewhere else to spend the night, but at the moment another idea had come to mind. "I don't want to keep you from what you're doing, but maybe you can help me. I'm looking for someone. A woman. Well, two women actually. One is younger, the other is very old. I don't know if they might be here."
"Relatives of yours?" she asked as she started to walk down the hallway.
"No, not really," Trevander said as he followed her. He wasn't sure why he needed to add the qualifier at the end. Neither were related to him at all, but he also didn't want to try to explain their relationships. He wasn't sure he would know how.
"There was an old woman brought here earlier, but no young women. She won't tell us her name or where she lives or who her family is. She is very old though, so she may be senile. She let us tend to her wounds, but wouldn't let anyone take her boots off. So strange how older folks can turn. Could that be who you're looking for?"
"Yes, possibly. Could I see her?"
The woman nodded as she passed the water and bandages to another worker, then motioned for Trevander to follow her to another room.
"We've put her in a bed in the corner of the kitchen to give her a little more privacy from the injured men that are here and we thought she might be more comfortable near the fire." She stopped short of the door and spoke quietly to Trevander. "I should warn you, her injury is severe. She was cut very deeply in the abdomen and has lost a lot of blood and at her age..." she dropped her voice even lower. "It would be miraculous if she survives the night. There's not much we can do but try to make her as comfortable as possible. I hope you do know who she is so we can contact her kin. She won't tell us any anything except that she needs to get to some tavern out of town. Maybe that's the senility talking, but even if she does have someone there to take care of her, she would never survive the trip."
Trevander nodded knowingly. He was almost certain now that the woman she was talking about was Onyx, but he was anxious to see for himself. "I'll try to find out," he promised.
The woman smiled gratefully and opened the door for him to go in.
Trevander walked into a fairly large room with a table and lit fireplace to one side. The flickering of the fire and a candle on the nightstand next to the bed cast strange shadows across the room. One corner of the room had been partitioned off by a stretched hide. In the corner he saw Onyx laying on the bed with her eyes closed, her thin white hair spread across the pillow framing her withered head. She was lying flat on her back with only a thin blanket covering her thin frame. He stepped forward cautiously, afraid to disturb the quiet in the room. Onyx lay so motionlessly and still that he was afraid that he had come too late. As he stepped closer, Onyx's eyes suddenly snapped open. She turned her head slightly and focused her piercing stare on him. The simple action was so startling that he froze in place.
"Come closer, child," she croaked. "I can't have you turning timid towards me now. Sit."
Trevander pulled a chair over to the bed and sat by the bedside as the woman who had brought him here left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Onyx closed her eyes a moment as if regrouping her strength, then sighed. "Good. I can use you."
"Me?" he asked. He had hoped to drive the topic of conversation in order to finally get the answers he had been searching for, but as always in the old woman's presence, he found himself at a loss of words. Now that she was in such a vulnerable state he was hesitant to press her with hard questions. "What for?"
"A couple of things. Firstly, I need to get back to the tavern where you found me. My supplies are there. The taverness will know what to do to help me heal."
Trevander looked down at the side of her body and frowned. He couldn't see any hint of her injury through the blanket, her clothing, and the bandages that were surely suppressing the bleeding, but he couldn't help imagining them and thinking of the woman's words in the hallway. "Do you think you can?" He asked hesitantly. "I heard your injury is . . . severe."
"I won't die, if that's what you're hinting at. That's not even a concern," she scoffed. A humorless chuckle escaped her lips and the effort of that minor action made her wince in pain. "But I won't heal without help. I need you to arrange transportation for me; you can wait until morning if you must. If you cannot find someone to transport me, you will have to get word to the tavern owner and have him come for me. Can you do that?"
"Yes, I suppose," Trevander replied slowly. His brow was furrowed with doubt and confusion as he tried to make sense of the situation. "Can you answer some questions for me first?"
"Oh, yes, about the stones," she said knowingly. "And you've been waiting so patiently. What can I tell you about them?"
"Everything," he answered simply. She turned and locked eyes with him. With much effort he managed to hold her gaze. He felt like he could see the past in her eyes. He didn't know how many decades or how many centuries those eyes had seen, but in his mind he was seeing a moment in the past when he was a young child.
He could remember clearly seeing this same old woman talking with his father as they stood along the riverside near the old house where had been born, the home he hadn't seen since his mother had died. He had been wary of her then and tried to stay out of sight as he curiously watched them from a distance. He hadn't been able to conceal himself well enough to go past Onyx's notice. When the old woman had left that day, she had stared at him with that same piercing stare, with those same murky green eyes. He wondered now as she stared at him, if she saw that same moment, that little boy that he once was. He felt that she knew exactly what he wanted to know without him having to ask.
"Everything is a lot to tell. Years and years of information is surely more than you could care to hear and would take more effort than I have to recall."
"Then what are they?" he asked. "I've been trying to research and I've heard rumors, but . . ."
"The rumors are true," she cut him off. "Skeptics will dismiss them as myths, legends, but they are the story of my life." She paused to see if he would interject, but when he only waited patiently, she decided to continue. Speaking was difficult, even simple movements were painful to her. She laid still and spoke in a low, even voice that he had to strain to hear.
"My brother and I were born to a wood nymph mother and a satyr father. We were considered rejects, outcast from our mother's community, estranged from the father we never knew, and reviled by men. From the time we were old enough to fend for ourselves, we lived alone in our little home in the woods outside of Amphidelphos. I was content there, just he and I, but my brother was not; he wanted more than I. He wanted to belong and if he could not be accepted, he wanted revenge on those who rejected us. We both studied ancient magic and grew very strong and powerful. We sought the powers of the gods. I was looking for the key to immortality; he was looking for power.
"After . . . an incident with men from the village, a long story that probably isn't of particular interest to you, he went into a rage. He threatened to destroy the village and everyone who lived there, but first he threatened to overthrow the gods who made us outcasts amongst all.
"I went with him as he traveled to the foot of Mount Olympus and stood at his side as he raged at the gods until they came down to face him.
He fought bravely, but in the end he was no match for the gods of Olympus.
The power of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Hephaestus combined surged into him and filled him with such . . . brightness and strength as I had never seen and one could never imagine unless they had witnessed it as I had. It split him into four pieces, the four stones which were scattered to the four corners of the earth. He was turned into the powers of the gods, but my brother, as I knew him, was no more.
"When the gods left, they left me with a gift as well. They granted me the power I sought, immortality, but denied me the benefit of everlasting youth. So here I grow older and older each year, but I cannot die. My brother and I are both cursed to these fates until the end of time or until I can unite the four stones together to restore my brother to life and myself to my youth.
"For two centuries now I have sought the stones. For many years I have had three of the stones under my control, but the fourth eludes me. But I am so close now, so close," she spoke barely above a whisper, but excitement shone brightly in her eyes. "I'm almost free."
She fell silent, but Trevander didn't speak. He studied the old woman, deeply wrinkled and nearly toothless. She looked older than anyone he had ever seen and was, if her story was true. Lying in this bed she seemed so small and fragile as if she could wither away before his eyes or disintegrate into dust, but at the same time there was an otherworldly strength in her eyes. The protrusions on her forehead and her long, heavy nails lent to the appearance of something not fully human. In the light of day those traits were easy to ignore, but in this eerily darkened room with the story of her past lingering in the air, they were undeniable.
"The three of the four stones under your control-" he started. His voice came out as a croak and much weaker than he had intended. He could hardly bring himself to finish his thought, but he didn't have to.
"Are held for me by various warlords. The individuals have changed over the years, but they have all been ambitious men who welcomed the chance to use the powers of the stones for their own gains and whose desire for more power has made them loyal, which brings me to my second task for you." She slowly reached a hand underneath the pillow on which her head was resting. She fished around with her fingers for a moment before retrieving a small leather pouch. She handed it to him. "I need someone to hold this for me."
"What is it?" he asked taking it from her.
"The stone of Zeus."
He recoiled, still holding the pouch in the space between them, hesitant to bring it closer to him as if it were poisonous.
"Go ahead, open it," she urged.
"Is it- what will it do to me?"
"The stones give the holder all the powers of the gods. The Zeus stone gave Villetes authority and leadership. It made him seem larger than life. Without it, he was nothing out of the ordinary. He was only able to hold Cynara by its power. I saw it drop from him during the battle. Once it fell, so did he."
Trevander remembered how quickly the battle had turned. It was as if Villetes' men had woken up from a trance, like they no longer knew who or what they were fighting for. It had seemed instantaneous.
"But there are negative effects as well, aren't there?" he asked pointedly.
"There may be, but those are not always so apparent, especially at first. Villetes had not been exposed to the Zeus stone for very long at all. The previous holder held it much longer. Villetes was disappointing, but for me he did what I needed him to do. Don't worry about the stone harming you. When you touch it, when you use it, you will take on the traits of the gods, good and bad. When you set it aside, they fade."
"So its effects are always reversible?" Trevander asked, mulling over this information.
She shrugged slightly, indifferent to the answer to that question. "Open the pouch," she urged.
Trevander hesitated, but warily followed the old woman's request. He pulled open the drawstring and peered into the pouch. Inside was a medallion on a golden chain. He recognized it as one he saw Villetes wearing before. Gingerly, he reached his fingers inside to lift it out. He felt a small jolt of energy when his fingers made contact with the metal. It was strong enough to make him hesitate, but slight enough that he thought the sensation might have just been his imagination.
"Go on," Onyx urged, her eyes wide and eager.
Trevander hesitated, growing increasingly wary, but his curiosity was getting the better of him and he lifted the medallion out of the pouch. When he held the medallion fully in the palm of his hand he felt a sharp jolt as if a bolt of lightening was passing through him, the sound of wind whistled in his ears, and he felt as if his body were expanding, filling with air. He felt like he was growing larger, taller, stronger, more powerful. Suddenly it was as if the world was his and his alone and he was capable of anything. He was unstoppable.
He didn't like the feeling. As soon as he became aware of himself, he opened his palm and let the medallion drop to the floor.
While he was still recovering from the effects of the stone, the old woman pulled herself up more quickly than he thought possible and turned to sweep the medallion up off the floor. With the blankets now moved aside he could see blood from her wound seeping through the bandages and her nightgown along the side of her body. Once the medallion was securely in the palm of her hand, she groaned and grimaced as she pulled herself back up into the bed. She laid back, closing her eyes tightly and panting from the exertion.
"I'm sorry. Are you alright? Should I call for someone to help?" he asked.
She shook her head and waved away the suggestion dismissively; then she motioned for the pouch.
Meekly, he handed it to her. When she set the medallion on her stomach as she struggled with the drawstrings, Trevander got a better look at the actual stone set in the medallion. The stone was perfectly round and smooth. The color at first appeared light blue streaked with white, but the longer Trevander looked at it, the more it changed. As he leaned in for a closer look, he noticed the colors seems to shift across the surface like clouds drifting across an afternoon sky. Then it seemed to darken to a deep, mottled gray, still swirling, like darkened clouds gathering before a storm.
He jumped back when Onyx snatched up the medallion and tucked it back into the pouch.
"Hold on to it this time," she ordered as she pressed the pouch into his hand. "I'm trusting you to keep this safe for me until the time I am ready for it."
"But why? Why do you need someone else to take it?"
"Because I can't be around them for long periods of time. The stones make me weak. They pain me, like a piercing through my skull. I can't keep them myself; it has to be someone else." She shook her head. Seeming to have regained some strength back after her previous exertion she mustered a pained grin. "I don't think anyone has ever thought to ask me that; usually they don't see beyond the power I'm offering them for themselves and the further powers they can gain by continuing to help me. You wouldn't care if I told you that holding multiple stones only increases their power, would you?" She smirked at him, amused, as he seemed at a loss for a response. "That's what I usually tell someone new to drive them to search for the stones that are missing. Instead, I will just tell you directly, I want you to help me obtain the stone I am missing so that I can reverse the curse the gods have placed on us."
"And you think Penelope has the fourth stone, the stone of Hephaestus?"
"I'm sure of it. It's her bloodline, her ancestor that fueled my brother's fire. The Hephaestus stone will always make its way back to that source. I can sense it near her. It must be close." She exhaled deeply. "I can speak no more now. I must rest, gather my strength for the trip tomorrow. You will do these things I've asked, won't you?"
Trevander nodded, speechless. He wasn't sure if he agreed, but he could think about that later. The air in this dim room had grown stale and felt too close.
She reached out a bony, wrinkled hand and patted his arm. "Your father has served me well these last years. I trust you will as well." Her tone seemed soft, but the piercing look in her eyes was anything but. She was not a woman who would stand to be crossed. "Help me and I will reward you well. You only need name what you want in return."
She pulled back her hand and laid it over her stomach. She leaned back and closed her eyes with a deep sigh. The conversation was over.
Trevander rose from the chair and crossed the room, the pouch held tightly in his fist. He walked out of the building without a second glance at the wounded in the hallways and without looking for the woman who had shown him to Onyx's room. He had no other thought at the moment other than getting away.
Once he opened the outer door and stepped outside, the cool night air seemed to jostle him awake and he breathed it in deeply as he walked out onto the street. He tossed the pouch in his hand lightly, gauging the weight of it not only in his hand, but in his mind. He huffed out a sharp breath, shook his head, and shoved the pouch deeply into his pocket. He didn't want to look at it. He knew there were other men who wanted this stone so badly they would have stopped at no lengths to get it, but he hadn't asked for it. He didn't want it, but maybe there was something he could do with it and with the information Onyx had given him. He didn't fully trust her, so he would have to proceed carefully with whatever he did next. He those thoughts aside for the moment and focused on finding a quiet place to spend the night. He had a lot to think about before morning.