Atalanta’s Quest, Part Two

(This is part two in a three part story line. Atalanta’s Quest Part One is here.)

Atalanta stood alone on the beach, watching the ship sail from the shore, when she first heard the sound. Like a great drum being beat, the sound had thudded across the island to her. She was alone, having been cast off the ship by Jason and his crew. Jason was a good leader, a good captain on the Argo, but a sore lover at times. Atalanta turned inland, looking for the source of the sound.

Sand and large boulders littered the shore to the tree line. Her bow, gripped lightly in her right hand, was assurance enough against most foes, but she was glad to have the short sword tight against her back; at least Jason had the kindness to through it down to her as they pulled up the ropes.

Jason. Smug, self-righteous and so beautiful, loved by the gods; and he knew it too. But he is beautiful, she thought to herself, and a fine leader, if not sometimes completely wrong and ox-headed she thought. He would return for her tomorrow at dawn, she knew him too well to think he would actually leave her on this unnamed island alone. But he was making his point; he actually thought this would teach her a lesson.

A mother bear raised me from a babe; does he think I need to be taught a lesson? She thought to herself.

The sound boomed again from beyond the tree line. Atalanta closed her eyes and breathed in the forest around her. In the umbra she sensed the she wolf in the thick brush some distance into the wood. The she wolf was upset; hiding under a shadowed tree limb. All the smells of the forest were at her disposal now. Atalanta moved from the she wolf to a hawk perched high in a thickly leafed tree. The hawk too was agitated; he scanned the horizon seeking the sound and stretched his wings; ready for flight. There is safety in the air. She could see with his vision now; but longed for the flight he was about to take.  She pulled out of the hawk’s mind and pushed out further into the umbra.

Further on still a great ram stood facing the direction of the sound. He was resolute, nothing would move against his flock without being downed in the melee. He had been tested many times, but nothing could down him, he knew this to be true.  Her eyes snapped open, and though they looked human enough, they were the eyes of an animal. She moved into the underbrush silently and settled down onto her haunches to think for a moment. Push on to find the source of this sound, or wait until tonight, when she would have the upper hand in any event?

The sound boomed again, but this time it was more like a giant brass bell, and this time the sound was something more; this time it was angry. Birds flew into the air; animals of every ilk ran towards the ocean, as if the seas could protect them from whatever was out there. Poseidon had other things on his mind, she was sure of that much.

“You aren’t waiting until tonight are you?” she asked the sound. “Fine then, I come for you now.”

With one last look she made a note of the shoreline so that she could return once this was over and meet the Argo tomorrow. Lifting a branch out of her way with her free left hand as she stood, Atalanta walked into the sunlight and towards the sound. The earth was loam and pine needles, soft under her sandals, and that was good; though she was always quiet this only helped her stealth as she moved in a left to right pattern. She paused to listen and watch behind her every three meters until she was certain no person or thing was pacing her from behind. She had learned that lesson all too well from the Old Bear. Hunting is not something to take lightly. Hunting simpleminded can get you killed from behind too easily.

Atalanta covered ground quickly; soon she was far enough inland to lose the sound of the waves on the beach. Checking with the hawk she found him to be far above and circling on the rising air, still scanning the area for what he had heard.

BONG.

Again it rang out, but this time off to her right. This was all wrong; she knew the sound had come from a vast distance inland. She knew it had to be far off still, but now here it was, somewhere all too close; it had moved.

Atalanta reached out to the hawk and willed him to inspect the area where the sound seemed to be. His head flicked back and forth as he looked down at the land.  Though he would not have understood what he saw, Atalanta was horrified to see a swirling black darkness half a days run from where she now stood.  The swirling darkness was pulling tree and animal into it.  As wide as the valley it lay within, hungry and demanding more it boomed again, shimmered, and was no more.

Atalanta turned back to the ocean and ran.  Poseidon might be busy, but she knew one of the gods would hear her calls.  If the Argo didn’t return tomorrow she would have to find another way off this island herself.

Atalanta’s Quest, Part One

For a timeless moment she stood there, swaying to and fro, dizzy, and disoriented. Her toes dug into warm sand and she could feel a gentle breeze upon her skin. Her eyes would not, or could not, open. Her breath caught within her lungs; burning for release. Slowly, she brought up her right hand, slid it up to her exposed stomach, moved over her breasts and felt for her face. Her cheeks were wet, tears or blood, she wondered.

“Why have you come?” The voice was so vast, so powerful, that it brought her down to her knees. The voice of a god, inside her head, no ears had heard that question.

Afraid for the first time that she could remember, she opened her eyes slowly, looking up into forever.

His skin was a moonless night, all stars and comets, suns and planets; moving over him, through him. His head was larger than she was in height, his eyes were unfathomable to her; they seemed to show her every outcome to every action she had ever taken. His body was that of a lion, but with a human head.

“I ask you child, why are you here? This is not your time, you are mortal yet,” he said again to her without moving his mouth.

She stood again, taking a moment to survey her surroundings. Her feet were resting firmly upon sand, but she could clearly see that the sands were falling away into the darkness that surrounded them both; her and this god. There was an illumination on them as well, but she could see no source of light. No candles, no torch, no lamps in her eyesight aglow. There was a soft darkness surrounding them, she could see all of the being before her, but beyond him there seemed to be movement in the black, like shadows of shadows.

“The sand is not there. Do you understand that child?” again his mouth had not moved.

She shook her head no.

“Why have you come here Atalanta? I did not bring you, you came of your own accord. What is it you seek?”

She closed her eyes, trying to gain some strength from her own heart, felt the dryness in her mouth and wished her waterskin was snug against her back.

“Water? Is that what you seek child? I thought you might have real questions for me. For yourself.” This time his voice echoed off of something real, something substantial.

Atalanta opened her eyes again. She stood upon alabaster marble. They were inside a temple somewhere, it looked like home, it even smelled like Greece. Beside Atalanta stood a waist high pillar with a clay pitcher and a small brass cup.

“Thank you. I am thirsty,” she said to the god.

“I did nothing child,” he said, again moving his mouth for her.

She stepped back, turned to take it all in again and saw that they were at the end of a very long row of pillars. The floor, walls and pillars were all made of the same alabaster marble. There were lamps hung from the ceiling and the flames danced with the light breeze that moved past her skin. She felt exposed suddenly, remembering her nudeness and wished for her bronze chest armor, or at least a leather shirt that could cover her.

“Do you not yet understand?” he asked, drawing her attention and eyes back to face him.

At his feet there lay a bronze chest piece, a soft leather undershirt, her longbow and quill.

“Who are you?” she asked of him. “Are you Ares?”

“Sometimes, yes.”

“Are you Zeus then, or maybe his father the Titan, come back to end us all?” she kept her eyes upon his while she bent low to pull back the shirt, armor and weapon.

“Yes, I am your Zeus, when need be.”

“Maybe you are the god of the eastern men, come to deceive me then? Did a Persian pray to you?”

“Yes, many Persians have knelt in prayer to me.”

Atalanta poured water into the brass cup and lifted it to her lips. The water was cool and clean, it tasted like spring water, drawn from the ground at great depth or maybe a fresh spring creek. She walked back away from this god, this god who sat there looking at her as if she was a newborn.

Once the armor and bow was hung on her body she turned to look at him again.

“Have I prayed too? Have I called out to you by another name?”

“Yes,” he seemed to smile down at her, happy in her little triumph.

He shimmered and was no more; now standing in front of Atalanta was a woman of raven hair and white dress, much like her own. She walked to the pitcher and poured wine from the clay container into the brass cup.

“You called to me before, and I answered you, but you did not always like the answers you were given.”

“Artemis?” Atalanta began to fall to her knees.

The god reached out a hand and stayed her from falling lower.

“Stand Atalanta, look me in my eyes and decide what you seek. You came to me, I had no hand in this.”

***

This story continues in Part two.