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?”
“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.