Death has a funny way of giving your priorities a new light. I, who have given death both peacefully and violently, have never experienced it before. So when I was pulled out of its embrace – quite literally – it made me wonder what I was really doing here.
The adrenaline of being rebirthed—was it adrenaline?— came crashing down over me after leaving Titiarial. At my request, we headed straight back to the Complex, and when we entered Dinlas’s floor, I threw up every protection spell and enchantment I knew, before collapsing on his couch. I had changed to my mortal form as soon as we left the Underworld. It cut me up to be myself right now, when I didn’t even know who ‘myself’ was. I did not leave the couch for two days, preferring to watch amata work and tell me of things that were happening as he heard of them. The world fell away from me, and for two weeks I had nothing left except what was inside these four walls. In a way, it was all I wanted. To be secluded, in one spot, no meaning of time. It was comforting not having to worry about anything, though I realize now it was not healthy for me to do so. Dinlas would gently prod me on occasion to get out or leave the apartment, but I refused to take the bait, so after several days he stopped baiting the hook.
But as the second week unraveled, the urge to move around started to come back to me. I didn’t want to go home; my Apartments were, for lack of a better word, demolished. My London flat felt violated after the tulpa, and I wanted to be closer to the others but not directly there. So, after assuring Dinlas I would stay close to home, I headed to Whole Latte Love and there I sat with Luna, near the back of the shop while Nerina and Myron assisted the customers. I munched on a scone and downed my tea like it was the last thing on earth. Luna held my hand, running her thumb over my knuckles every once in a while and watching the door with a thousand-yard stare until my daughters, the Fates, came in.
They had healed well enough, though I was sure that they were still shaken from their encounter with Kronos. Gathering around the table, Lachesis and Atropos tucked against Luna, while Clotho squished close to me.
“How are you doing, miteras?” Atropos asked as Nerina brought over a basket of muffins for us. I nodded my thanks to her.
“I am well. Dinlas is taking good care of me, but I still feel…open. Like a flesh wound that will not be stitched.” Luna squeezed my hand. “That might be a bit more dramatic than it seems, but it is how I feel. I am not the same.”
“What can we do to help?” Lachesis had linked her arm through Atropos’, watching me with worried eyes. “Is there anything we can get you? Someone you want to speak with?”
I remembered the statue of Chaos and myself in Eventide, and my heart gave a sad pulse. “No, kori, the only person I could ask about this is your giagia, but she is long from this plane. This is not her home anymore.”
Luna was chewing her cheek thoroughly, and I watched her absently, my mother still on my mind. She glanced at the Fates, at the table, at the muffins, and then at me.
“Lady Nyx, I’ve been having a thought,” she started, looking between me and Clotho. “About your safety and wellbeing.”
“Luna,” I sighed, “I’m-”
“You’ve not fared well these past few weeks, Lady Nyx.” Luna overrode me, her stubborn streak shining through. I leaned back in my chair – she wasn’t wrong. “And as your head priestess, I cannot help but feel helpless and entirely anxious over you. You gave me this role for a reason, allow me to use it. So, I would like to propose that we start, officially, recruiting for Eventide. The,” she cleared her throat, looking embarrassed for a moment,” the Order of the Aurora, if it pleases you.”
“I like that,” Lachesis commented, grabbing a raspberry muffin. “It suits you and Eventide, miteras.” Her sisters nodded in agreement, but Luna was watching me, fiddling with her braid.
I leaned on the table, meeting my head priestess’s gaze. “Did you have something else in mind, dear? Any other ideas?”
Her mouth twitched slightly, but she nodded. “Two.” I waved her on, and she took a deep breath. “There is a man whose love of the sea runs deep. Rumours surrounding him suggest that he might have had an encounter with your mother, and I thought it would be worthwhile to seek him out. The second,” she said, rushing onward at my blank face, “is a mysterious figure. They…have no other name but the Oracle. If anyone is going to have an answer for you, even if it is something strewn with riddles, it would behoove us to find them and have you speak with the Oracle.”
I felt winded as if I had run miles and miles. I didn’t know what to say; speechless, yet again. Clotho’s eyes darted between Luna and me before a small smile crossed her face.
“Well, you know we are at your disposal, miteras. I would like to meet this man. A mortal who has crossed paths with our giagia? He must be special indeed.”
“And the Oracle would surely point you in the right direction,” Lachesis chimed in, Atropos nodding fervently. “It couldn’t hurt, could it?”
“Lady Nyx,” Luna murmured, eyes on the table. “I would not suggest it if I did not care for you. I mean you no embarrassment or harm.”
I rubbed my face hard, leaning on the table. My wanderlust was already ahead of me, searching the seas and seeking the Oracle, wherever this Oracle may be. I could hardly up and leave. I had so much and so many to look after. My mind wandered over the man Luna had mentioned again. Chaos would not show herself to a mortal, would she? I knew not what she was like, perhaps she liked visiting mortals, exhibiting what raw life and power looked like. I decided to put that to the side for the moment.
“Luna, the Oracle is no easy task. I cannot just meander down and ask a question. And besides, are they not nomadic? We’ve no idea where they could be at any given time.”
Luna rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, no, but I am confident there are those that would point us in the right direction. We just need to -”
The door of the shop slammed open, and two women fell inside. A raven-haired woman with a beautiful face and very familiar eyes was half-carrying the woman under her arm. She was dressed in vibrant blues and greens that reminded me of Hera’s peacocks, and a silver helm hung loosely from her fingertips. They staggered towards us, patrons skirting to the side with hushed gasps and wide eyes. Clotho and Atropos rose from their seats and darted towards the unseemly pair, helping them to our table. The raven-haired woman let her charge be taken from her, gathering herself as my daughters helped the injured woman sit. She pushed her hair from her face, shaking it out, before giving me an indulgent smile.
I blinked, peering at her face for a moment, recognition hitting me.
When she smiled, I rose swiftly from my chair and pulled her into a bear hug, her sisters squealing with joy behind me. Philotes buried her face into my chest, her arms wrapping tightly around me. The smell of rain and myrrh wafted from her, and for a moment, the world was alright. Philotes was the dove among my beautiful raven babies. As the goddess of affection, friendship, sexual and social intercourse, she had stood out from my dark wonders, and filled me with a sense of peace that the others did not quite capture.
I pulled away from her gently, holding her at arm’s length to look her over. She wore a thick white hoodie, black yoga leggings and stark white shoes, a little charm bracelet dangling from her left wrist and a hair tie on her right. Philotes watched me examine her before Luna caught my attention.
I released my daughter and turned to the stranger now. She sat alongside Luna, trying to catch her breath, the helm on the floor between her feet. She pressed her head against the wall behind her, eyes closed. A crowd of muttering patrons was watching us from behind mugs and pastries, so Luna rounded them up and advised that we were closing for an hour to restock. She herded them out with Nerina, before making her way back to us.
“Who is this, Phil?” Clotho asked, sitting opposite the fatigued woman. She apparently did not take kindly to being spoken about as if not there, and straightened herself up, ruffling her outfit in a way that reminded me of a disgruntled chicken.
“I am Philomela, princess of Athens, youngest daughter of Archon Nikos Dasalakis. And just who are you?” The princess glared at Clotho, who blinked and laughed, infuriating Philomela. “This is no laughing matter, who are you people? And where am I?”
“You sit in the presence of immortals, do not act so crudely!” Luna hissed, glancing at the giggling Clotho, shaking her head.
Philomela snorted, her eyes stopping on each of us. “Immortals? Pray tell, who these immortals are, or I shall tell my father to imprison you all!”
Clotho’s smile was far too wide as she bowed to the princess, her sisters moving to her side now. “We are the Moirai. I am Clotho, these are my sisters Atropos and Lachesis.” She gestured to her respective sister as she spoke. Philomela blinked.
“The Moirai? The three Fates? Im-impossible,” she muttered, her eyes darting between the three of them. Luna ignored her, gesturing to me now.
“And this is Lady Nyx, goddess of night, eldest of Chaos, Queen of the Void.” Philomela’s eyes went wide and quickly snapped to me.
“What is the goddess of night doing in a coffee shop…? And where am I?”
Philotes sat down beside her, a hand on her shoulder, and Philomela visibly relaxed. “Do you remember me, Mela? When we were in Athens, traveling?”
Philomela nodded slowly, a smile growing on her face. “I remember you, Phil. You saved me. Do you…know these people?” She gestured to my daughters and me, and Philotes laughed.
“I should hope so, that’s my mother and sisters.” She squeezed Philomela’s shoulder again. “I am the goddess of friendship and affection, among other things.”
The princess shuffled backward, eyeing us. “I’ve never met a god before.” She shot a look at Luna. “You better be telling the truth!”
I sighed, and let my human form melt away, revealing my immortal self, only to have my daughters and Luna grow wide-eyed.
“Miteras, what happened to you?” Clotho said, touching my arm. I looked down, and caught myself on the table out of sheer surprise.
I had not been in my immortal form since I arrived at Dinlas’ apartment. It had been too much, and I wanted to feel…normal, I suppose. Whatever normal was meant to be. Amata had been understanding and had taken the best of care with me, but I had been too shaken. Now, being questioned by a mortal with the disbelief of an arrogant child, I guess Luna had been right.
But I was not my usual starry-skied skin anymore. Now, I had sunbursts decorating me, shifting when I moved and dancing over my skin like the Northern Lights. On my forearms and wrists were golden handprints, reminiscent of molten gold, where I had been pulled out of my deathbed. Further up my arms, and faintly on my fingers when I looked closer, were thin white lines, crisscrossing and wrapping around my limbs. I shifted back to my mortal form, speechless as Philomela was now, and we looked up at each other.
Philomela waved her hands around me, as if looking for strings or something to explain what had happened. “W-what…” she turned to Philotes. “Did you trick me into liking you? Is our friendship fake?”
Philotes shook her head. “No. I genuinely consider you a dear friend of mine. The only magic here is what you and I have created.”
The princess squinted at Philotes, then me, then the Fates and Luna, then back to Philotes. Slowly, she straightened herself up and grabbed a muffin, biting into it and watching us again. “Alright, immortals it is. So, who else is here?”
“A moment, please.” I held up my hand and turned to Philotes. “You just stumbled into my shop without so much as a warning, and looking the worse for wear. Are you going to explain what’s going on?”
Philomela coughed as she inhaled her muffin, and Philotes glanced at her. “Mela got into a spot of trouble, and I helped her out.” My raised eyebrow made her sigh. “Fine. She stole from the wrong politician, tricked two security guards into fighting each other while she escaped, and stole two cars to get away before I caught up to her. One is totaled, the other is full of jewels, dresses, and other things deemed ‘irreplaceable’ by her.”
Philomela had finished her muffin and shrugged. “Alen was being rude to my father a few days before, and I wasn’t about to let him get away with it. And for the record, one of the guards had tried to watch me shower, and the other had stolen one of my sweaters. That’s the last I sleep with security! Here, I thought she was a nice girl.”
Philotes rolled her eyes, before turning her attention back to me. “I brought her here because I heard Zeus had gathered everyone here, and where else would she be safer than among the pantheon? And it gave me the opportunity to come home, as well.” She glanced down, red creeping on her cheeks. “I’m sorry I’ve been away, mother.”
I tilted her head up to face me, a small smile on my face. “You can come home any time, kori. You know that as well as your siblings do. So,” I turned to Luna and Philomela, who was munching on another muffin. “We’ll need to set you up with your own place, you’ll need a security detail as well. If you’ve angered that many people, I can guarantee they will send someone after you. I will speak with Dinlas about getting you something subtle -”
“Wait wait. Who?” The princess’s eyes had lit up, muffin forgotten. “Did you say Dinlas? As in the Guardian of Lamark, that Dinlas?”
Luna cut her eyes to me, but the way Philomela had said his name had my hair on end. I shifted where I stood, keeping my eyes on her. “Yes, why?”
“He-he saved one of my ancestors. Well, more than one, but…I grew up hearing his name within my family. He’s a hero. And so dreamy,” she added, resting her chin on his hands. I resisted rolling my eyes, but it was Clotho that spoke up.
“Uncle Dinlas is with Nyx, so watch who you speak of, princess.” Clotho winked at Philomela, who blanched.
“He’s with you? How in Hades did that happen?”
“None of your business. Let’s go upstairs and start looking for a place for you, and you can tell me about your home in Athens,” Luna said, taking Philomela by the arm and, with a knowing look between us, took the princess upstairs. I sat hard in my chair, the Fates sitting across from me with Philotes, staring at my hands again.
“It doesn’t stop, does it?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. Philotes slipped her hand into mine and squeezed.
“If it was always the same, we wouldn’t be here, mother. We’ll look after her,” she nodded her head to the stairs, “don’t worry about that.”
“Phil, you should come with us!” Lachesis said, leaning on the table. “Miteras is getting a small army together, well, Luna is, for her,” she said, backtracking at my look, “and we’re going to seek out the Oracle as well! It could be fun.”
Philotes nodded slowly. “It would be nice to catch up. And I do want to move closer to home, seeing as I’ve been away for too long. Who else is here? Is Nemesis around?”
The girls fell into chatter, catching up on their siblings and the goings-on, while I carefully changed my hands back into their immortal form. The god rays were still there, shimmering against the stars and nebulae. Flecks of molten gold, not unlike my own blood, shimmered on my wrists, flowing into the handprints of the Fates, Dinlas, and Eros. I needed to see what had happened to me, properly. I excused myself from the girls, promising to visit, have them over for dinner, and so on, before walking back to the Complex to find Dinlas.