6

Pavlos rubbed his eyes, peered about in the gloom of the storeroom, and wondered how long he had been asleep. He sat by the eastern wall, in a circle of helmets, scrolls, ancient artifacts, and articles from his pack, letting his gaze rest on each item in turn.

Weapons, texts, personal items from a hundred brave men. Each hero must have striven in his own way to overcome the ancient creatures who dwelt here. And each instead served them, by reporting the state of the world he knew.

His gaze fell on the transceiver, still turned on and apparently operational, yet also apparently useless. Frank had never answered. Now Pavlos hoped he never would. If he heard Pavlos’s story, he would undoubtedly think his friend delirious, and have a helicopter sent out.

The helicopter would, of course, burn like the jet did, as would anything humanity sent against these hags.

The door at the far end scraped open. Footsteps whispered softly in the dust, and Moira appeared at the end of a nearby aisle.

“Atropos and Clotho want to see you,” she said.

“What do they want?”

Moira shrugged “They will want to ask you questions, to have all of your knowledge. They are curious about some of the changes that have taken place in the physical lives of men.

Pavlos held the bronze helmet on his lap, fingering the design along its crest. “How can you manipulate us without knowing anything about our science, our machines… our weapons?”

“They hardly matter, do they?” She sighed. “Have they changed your emotions? The way you treat each other? The savagery and misery—”

“Which Clotho colors in!”

“Which she only exaggerates! They are there anyway, to a lesser extent!” Moira snapped. There was power in her voice, and irritation. Pavlos also thought he detected a note of defensiveness. “It would be impossible for her to corrupt you if you had not the seed already, in copious supply.”

Pavlos looked down, avoiding her gaze.

Moira glared for a moment, then shrugged again.

“We were surprised, three heroes ago, to learn of gunpowder. The last hero told us of steamships. Clotho added some new pigments to see what wars would match the scale of your new toys. The pattern of the weave became more uniform.”

She looked pensive for a moment.

“I will admit that I’ve become curious, these last few years. The number of new threads Clotho collects shows a massive birthrate, as if you humans were testing our power, somehow.

“And there have been times when I have seen things in the air, like the rocs of elder days; things that fly growling through the sky. I have recently come to think that they might not be natural, but something caused by man. Are they these ‘planes’ you spoke of? They fly so swift and free”—her expression grew distant—“much as I once flew, before the war that brought down Zeus’s sky tower and ended the glory of my race.

Pavlos hardly paid attention to her words; he remembered something she had said earlier:

Clotho added some new pigments to see what wars would match the scale of your toys.”

No wonder we’ve gone so long without nuclear war, he thought. In our natural hues we’re too sensible to go that far. Now, though

Pavlos shook himself away from that thought. He looked up at Moira. “Where do you fit into all this?” he asked. “Your name, I know—”

“Means ‘Fate,’ yes. Another of your nations called me Nemesis.” Her eyes seemed to shine, as she remembered. “When we agreed, at first, to the experiment proposed by the emissaries from the Other Place, I was the one who was the most enthusiastic. I worked with the emissary whom you now call Prometheus. I weeded and pruned. I ran to and fro across the globe, tending mankind like my own personal garden.

“You needed so much work, in the beginning.” Moira smiled distantly. “It is true that the Spark of Imagination and Ambition needs practice. Your ancestors were always hiding from it, or misusing it terribly. They wasted it on ‘magic tricks’ and mental powers for which they were simply unready. It took us long to suppress those powers deep within you, until such a time as you were ready for them.

“Yet still I remember the most precocious of my children. Aesculapius, who had so much Spark of his own that he had to be destroyed. Alcestis, who spontaneously invented self-sacrifice, something we had never known. And sweet Odin, who visited me when I was Mimir, sitting by the gateway beneath the Great Tree, long before the terrible war, and offered me his eye in exchange for wisdom.”

Moira frowned.

“Then came the day when Zeus declared you ready, and my sisters became afraid. Even I, your eldest mother, who was Gaea and Demeter and Amaterasu, thought you were unripe and dangerous.

“I helped my elder siblings pull down the sky tower and drive Prometheus into the Gateway. The last I saw of him was his smile. He winked at me, then disappeared. Within a day, the threads began arriving; and Clotho found she no longer had the power to end your race, merely to warp it.

“To do even that much we had to make our transumptive personas almost real. To gain control over the potency of the threads, we were forced to weave ourselves into the tapestry, giving, for this epoch, our very lives into yarn to be woven therein.

“Is it any wonder, then, that my sisters and I grow bored or bitter at the passage of time? There was a sweetness that I once knew, in wearing this form, but now I cannot remember it. Now even a rare visitor excites in me no more than a vague unease… and a wish that somehow this labor could come to an end.”

Pavlos began to speak; but something powerful stopped him as he looked at her distant, unfocused gaze. It was as if his ancestors had reached out to stifle him with a warning. Something of the experience of his forebears told him it was better to stay small and quiet during the confession of a goddess.

As if to verify this, Moira’s eyes shifted to gaze upon his. They were now steely and alert. If lightning had flashed from them he would not have been surprised.

“So get thee up, thou lean-thighed Athenian, and bring toys to demonstrate them,” she said. “You will get to ask of us one great reward, as heroes are privileged to do, before giving us your mind and becoming immortal in our memories.

Pavlos hurriedly swept the items on the floor together and stuffed them into his pack. At this stage disobedience was the farthest thing from his mind.

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