It was refreshing to have bruises on my skin.
My mouth felt slightly off. I reached up to my jaw, then clicked it back into place. I spat out blood and a few teeth, then felt hard matter extrude from my gums anew. The bruises faded away, returning to the colour of simple flesh. I grinned.
At this, my opponent was somewhat taken aback. He responded with another punch.
Heat flowed around my abdomen; the demigod's fingers ripped between my ribs and punctured my lungs, my previously inhaled breath now whistling through the open wound. He pulled back, then struck again, this time slicing my heart and stomach. My eyes widened, I felt blood and gastric juices start to pour into places blood and gastric juices should not pour into. Another blow popped my left eye; then my opponent took a step away.
He watched, intrigued, as my muscles rippled and realigned. The pain used to bring me to my knees; now, with my steeled mind, there is only extreme and excruciating discomfort. My diaphragm spasmed and I coughed up blood and misplaced vomit, then my gut tightened and I threw up vomit and misplaced blood. The wounds re-knitted, my stomach and heart sealing; then my lungs, which felt as if on fire as I drew a deep breath. I stared into Perseus' face as I felt a lens pull itself into existence, and felt my eye reinflate with vitreous humour.
"Well then. It seems I was mistaken. Which member of the pantheon were you looking for again?"
"You think… you're a son of Hephaestus?"
"With your body and build? The god of craftsmen? I'd think you to be one of Ares' boys."
"My body is of his, for it is a work of art."
I flexed for emphasis. Perseus smirked a little.
"Maybe a son of Narcissus."
"I don't mean to brag. This is not my opinion on the matter."
"Then whose is it?"
"Professor Mared Gretchen's."
Perseus' eyes widened at the name.
"Old Mared sent you?"
"If that is what you will call her, then yes. You've met her?"
"No. She is, however… quite well known in our circles. She is known to override."
"Override and overwrite. The tales of Old Mared are… genuinely mythical, even to people like you or I."
"I've not heard such tales."
"Well… we try to keep them under wraps. They are mostly embarrassing to the rest of us. She kicked Zeus in the balls once."
I felt an eyebrow raise involuntarily. Perseus scratched his neck.
"Regardless… I cannot personally hold audience with Hephaestus, but I can certainly find someone who can. Your negotiations from there on will be your own. Understood?"
"Then let us exchange phone numbers."
I passed a slip of paper from my pocket to him, he passed one in return. He looked over my body, still slightly damp and red from blood, then nodded.
"It was good to meet you, Khoren."
"And you, Perseus."
Perseus started to walk away, then turned over his shoulder.
"If you don't mind my asking, why do you want to meet him?"
"Besides being my father?"
"He owes my mother a lifetime of child support."
Perseus chuckled lightly and walked away.
I selected the contact labelled "Prof. Gretchen" on my mobile phone, then called. After three rings, the Professor answered in her grandmotherly British accent.
"Khoren, my boy, my boy! How goes the epic quest?"
"I've got to say, Professor Gretchen, substantially better whenever I mention your name to people."
I heard her laugh; big, booming, gut laughs that I'd seen many times before.
"Good to hear they haven't forgotten me over there! The amount of drinking that went on at their parties, surprised they manage to remember their own names. Where are you up to?"
"I've made some progress with things. I'm mostly just calling to clarify something."
"Did you ever kick Zeus in the balls?"
That big, booming laugh again, which I tried to interrupt.
"Really though. Did that happen?"
"Oh, absolutely. His fault for hitting on me. At the time, of course, he didn't know I swung for the other team, but he kept pushing and pushing. Clearly quite inebriated - normally a reasonable enough chap, but cannot stomach his alcohol. Goes straight to his head. Incapacitated him long enough for me to run out the back door with Eris and Athena though. Honestly, Eris throws much better parties, and Athena can do that thing where you tie a knot in a cherry stalk with your tongue."
"But you never met Hephaestus?"
"No, no, no. A few thousand years of turning down invites to sit indoors working on your next big piece, eventually they stop bothering to ask you at all."
"Hm? What's wrong, boy?"
"I'm not sure why you didn't tell me this before I left, Professor. It might have helped a bit."
"Khoren, you get to my age, you gather enough stories to fill a hundred phone books. I could bore you to your death and mine with all the things I got up to with just that pantheon. And anyway, this is your quest, not mine. If I could just give you an address, it wouldn't have any meaning, would it?"
"It would certainly make things a lot easier, though."
"All I say is that nothing is easy, and the best things are the hardest. Gotta go, Khoren; have an appointment with a poker player."
"Thanks, Professor. Talk to you soon."
Perseus didn't end up calling; instead, he texted through an address, a date, and a time. I sent him my thanks in response. It was still not for another two days that he would arrive. I sipped my coffee lightly, enjoying the sun.
A loud bang echoed around the corner. The source then drove out; a brightly coloured van made a hairpin turn and rocketed past the cafe, followed by a pursuing large black van labelled "σκληρά κρούστα πιτσαρία". The sputtering of their engines faded off into the distance, and the patrons returned to their newspapers and beverages.
I felt some concern.
It was an uninteresting building. It looked like any other in the vicinity.
What was concerning about it was that I recognised the psychedelically patterned van outside.
Still, I had arrived to the meeting half an hour early. I read to pass the time; a small pile of visitor's pamphlets lined my hire car, and I slowly made my way through. Twenty five minutes later, a man wearing large sunglasses and a girl of school age exited the building, seemingly in deep conversation. They returned to the van, the man starting the engine with a low rumble, and then drove away.
The black van parked around the corner pulled out of their hiding place and drove to tail behind. I felt a deep itch in my shoulders, though I wasn't without a contingency plan. I confirmed the presence of the cold, heavy metal in my pocket. It was a short wait for the black van to leave from my sight; then, I opened the door of the hire car, stepped out, and closed it with a thunk.
The front door of the building was made of some heavy wood, not quite matching the rest of its construction. I knocked it solidly, then waited some time, before a man pulled it open from inside.
He looked young. He was dressed in a bright neon t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a simple silver chain around his neck, and a tattoo covering the majority of his right arm with a hammer. The man looked up at me, then cocked his head slightly.
"Yes. I'm here to see-"
The man suddenly moved, hugging me around my midriff.
"My son, my son! Home at last!"
With some reaching, he put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my face. Looking at him closer, there was black stubble around his chin, and his right ear was pierced in three places. This was not the image of Hephaestus I had in mind. He slapped me on the shoulders, grinning and turning.
"Come on in, and close the door behind you."
I turned, pushed the door closed, and followed my father into what appeared to be a workroom. An anvil sat in the corner, which caught my interest; then I noticed the thick layer of dust along its surface. In the room's centre was a wooden table covered in paint and surrounded by similarly styled stools; on it sat a bowl of potato chips, which Hephaestus took a handful from and munched audibly. He looked up at me.
"Have a seat, have some chips. Some friends brought them here - really interesting flavouring, impressive stuff."
I sat across from him, picked a chip up, and crunched it around in my mouth. It tasted like strawberries. As I chewed, my father started to speak.
"I know what you're going to say: I don't look like all the pictures."
I swallowed and gave a response.
"I will admit, I was expecting an old man working at a smith."
"Not as much smithing these days as there used to be. Us gods latch on to whatever gets us the most people within our purview. I've always been in charge of blacksmiths and fires, but these days being the god of artisans gets me a bit more attention. Quite a bit more, in fact. People keep asking me for favours - minor miracles, you know - and I really can't help but oblige."
I kept silent. Hephaestus sighed.
"But that's not why you're here."
"Right. Well. Tell me what I've got to sign."
I pulled out a packet of paper and offered it to the man across from me, along with a pen.
"Read it thoroughly."
"I don't need to. Your mother was a lovely lady, but despite what she's probably led you to believe, she was always much more interested in me than I was in her. That got her into trouble; as far as I see, this helps her out of it."
Hephaestus signed the paper with a flourish, passing it back to me along with an envelope. I took them both, looking at the front of the envelope. It was addressed to my mother.
"If you could pass that on to her I'd appreciate it. She should be more forthcoming with a few things after that. I would tell you myself, but it's the sort of thing that she'd want to say herself. Oh, and also, give her this."
Hephaestus pulled out a small ring from his pocket, then passed it over to me. It looked like weaved silver and gold. I placed the ring and the envelope in my right pocket, then folded up the legal document and placed it in my left. I stood, looking down at my father.
"I appreciate your understanding in this matter."
"Your mother really must have changed, she's raised you to sound like a lawyer."
"No, she's not changed much, I think. I never quite fit what she wanted from a son."
"Bah, to hell with her. Anartists are a fickle folk, I'm sure she loves you all the same."
I bowed to Hephaestus.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Dad."
He stood, showing me back to the door.
"The pleasure's all mine, Khoren. Come back if you're in the neighbourhood again."
I left his house, strode back to the car, and drove away without looking back.
That was the one time I saw my father while he was still alive.
« Oops | Hub | Coldposter »