After losing contact with Isabel and the others, Athena and Anansi had agreed the best course of action was to follow the drone Isabel had set to find Crystal. Neither of them particularly trusted the machine to know what it was doing, but it was a better option than wandering and hoping for the best.
“So, you mentioned there was a Trickster?” Anansi asked after a bit, giving her a small grin.
Athena turned towards Anansi without slowing her pace, her lips curling downwards at the question. “One of our companions is in possibly mortal peril, the other three are out of our reach, and you want that story now?”
“We have nothing else we could be doing,” Anansi said with shrug, “The first problem is beyond our ability to impact at this time, and the second problem is one we are currently doing everything we can to resolve. Or, if you would prefer, we could walk in silence?”
Athena didn’t respond at first, and found herself wondering if she would prefer silence right now. Concern for the others was grating on her nerves to the point of irritability, and Anansi even trying to distract her right now set her teeth on edge. On the other hand… he was right. Realizing that did nothing to lessen her irritation, but there wasn’t anything else that could be done right now. “Fine. So, I mentioned it was Autolycus.”
“The very wolf,” Anansi grinned wider.
Athena shook her head. “Yes, him. Autolycus,” she put a slight emphasis on the name, since if Anansi kept calling him ‘very wolf’ she’d never be able to finish the story with a straight face, “had been cast out of Olympus some time before.”
“Why was he exiled? I’m assuming he angered Hera somehow?”
“No, that would have probably been better for him.” She saw Anansi’s expression and chuckled. “Yes, that should tell you exactly how bad his infraction was. The myths, if anything, have undersold Hera’s anger. No, he was the one to uncover that Zeus had sired Heracles, and in an effort to avoid angering Hera, he brought it to her attention.”
Anansi frowned and stroked his beard. “So he angered Zeus?”
“He angered Zeus,” Athena confirmed. “Zeus had never before shown much care for his various bastard children, but Heracles was special. Zeus had even found a nanoverse he intended to give to Heracles when he was older. He actually did give it to him eventually, but because of Autolycus’ revelation, Heracles had to contend with his step-mother. Zeus was…unamused.”
“I imagine that’s quite the understatement.”
Athena had to give a small smile at that. “I thought he’d tear Autolycus in half right there. Instead he was banished, and I didn’t see him again until after I’d lost everything.”
Athena lapsed into silence after that, and Anansi maintained pace behind her while she found the words she was looking for. “I was like a drowning woman who had clutched onto a log. I was so desperate for a connection, I had no idea my log was a crocodile.”
He nodded in understanding, and Athena continued. “It was good at first, great even. He helped me get myself back together. I even met a man, a human, and fell in love again. I knew it wouldn’t last with Drahos , not unless I could find him a nanoverse, but I was able to enjoy it for what it was. He lived in a village in what would become Kievan Rus and later Russia. I set myself up as the protector of that village. They didn’t have a written language, and I didn’t teach them one. Autolycus thought I should, but most of my mistakes up to that point had been because I thought I knew what was best.”
“What about the local deities?”
Athena shrugged. “I was on the edge of their territories, and the Slavic deities back then interacted with Olympus and only rarely – at least in Europe, we were all fairly isolationist back then. It was just enough interaction where they wanted to avoid me to avoid angering Hera, but not so much that they were willing to tell me to leave. I even met Svarog a couple times back then, but he was always distant.”
“Very different from how we were.”
“I’ve heard.” Athena chuckled. “Before my exile, I envied you all for how comfortable you were with each other. Even if your peoples went to war, you remained amicable. After my exile…I was grateful for how we hid ourselves away.”
Silence returned for a bit, and stretched so long that Anansi almost broke it first, but then Athena spoke in a low and furious voice. “Then I made an adversary, a monster that threatened the town. A monsterous spawn of Baba Yaga, or so he claimed. His name was unknown to me, but he had a particular hatred for me and Autolycus. Never got bold enough to attack when we were together, however. After a time, however, he did grow bold enough to kill my Drahos .”
Anansi made a sympathetic sound, the quick inhalation of air that often came with learning of bad news. Athena gave him a slight nod of appreciation. “I was hunting for a nanoverse by that time. I didn’t want him to die. Losing him…I flew into a rage, went hunting down my adversary with Autolycus. We searched across all of the tundra, I made demands of the Slavic pantheon I had ignored, I even made deals with underworld gods to try and find my love’s soul, so that I might resurrect him. Yet strangely, none of them could find it.”
Long forgotten rage furrowed Athena’s brow, and she found herself clenching her hands without thinking. “Finally I made a deal with Lucifer, since angels often can know what is hidden from us. I would give him the location of Pandora’s box if he could find me the name of the creature that had taken my Drahos from me, or if he could tell me who had Drahos’ soul. He agreed to do both.”
She actually paused to spit here. “It was one name, Autolycus. Autolycus the Protean, one of those rare gods who learned shapeshifting before they learned to warp reality.”
Anansi pressed his lips together into a thin line in reflected rage. “He’d been your adversary the entire time, and somehow captured Drahos’ soul?”
“No. Even worse.” Athena had to take a deep breath to calm the rage. “He was my adversary, and he was Drahos. The man I loved? Never existed. The monster? Never existed. The only person in the world I considered my friend? Was a fiction. And do you know why he did it, why he spent a decade toying with me, comforting me, pretending to both love and hate me?”
“I assume some kind of elaborate revenge for his exile?”
Athena shook her head. “I could have understood that. I could have maybe even, eventually, forgiven him for it. But no. He did it because he was a Trickster. He said he thought it would be funny. The sick bastard honestly didn’t understand why I wasn’t laughing.”
Silence returned for a bit, and this time, Anansi did break it. “Well, I certainly understand now why you might be mistrustful of Tricksters.”
Athena chuckled bitterly at that. “I know it’s unfair, and I’m sorry to have painted you with the same brush. I shouldn’t distrust Tricksters for that, I should just distrust assholes.”
“I always find it is wise to distrust assholes. They’re full of shit.” Anansi grinned, and Athena snorted out a laugh. “So what did you do to him?”
“The worst thing I could think of, the nastiest, cruelest thing I could do to one like Autolycus.” She smiled at the memory. “I ignored him. Completely. Refused to respond to his presence in any way except self defense when he tried to touch me – and even then I did the bare minimum. Eventually he went away, having lost the only person in centuries to give him even slight notice, let alone friendship.”
Anansi let out a long, low whistle. “I imagined he took that poorly.”
“Very. It was a couple hundred years before I stopped assuming everyone I met was Autolycus in disguise. I started to make friends again, and pulled myself back together. I won. He eventually ran afoul of Hades who dragged him away – I don’t know what Hades did with him. And, anymore, I don’t care.”
Anansi smiled. “Thank you for telling me the story. I’m glad that you have recovered yourself so much after those two tragedies.”
“It took a while. But now, I think you owe me a story. I’ve been dominating the…the conversation.” Athena trailed off, and they both stopped in their tracks.
Ahead of them, the hallway was littered with bodies. Fresh bodies, hundreds of them, their throats slit and their stomachs ripped open, covering the floor and wall with gore and viscera and the stench of death.
The guiding drone hovered, trying to push further down the hallway.
“I believe,” Anansi said slowly, “That my story will have to wait till after we’ve passed that.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Athena said, drawing her sword from its scabbard, preparing to face whatever lurked in this hallway.