The Dark Ages Ruined It For Everybody

August 15, 2018:

Hercules has agreed to keep Nico's tamed clone of the Nemean Lion at his sanctum in Greece. The two share uneasy conversation. Trees mostly move on their own.

Dead Panoreus

Characters

NPCs: Nemean Lion clone

Mentions: Angela

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Names. Names are difficult things past a certain point. The longer a person lives, the longer a place stands, the more and more names pile upon them. He has been called Hercules, Heracles, Herakles, Herkle, Alexicacus, Makistos, Promachos, and more things no one alive remembers but he and his ilk.

So many names. So many words that can be laid across his broad chest. Is it a wonder, then, that he looks at Nico Minoru as one might an unfamiliar animal in one's home? A spectre of looming danger, a knife left out on the counter?

But oh, muses, we speak of Hercules, strongest and most flawed of the Gods, who hides from responsibility still…

—-

"Dead Panoreus, upon the Argolic," he names, mounted upon the back of the Nemean clone, one hand resting on the beast's neck. Hercules is not sure quite how much time has passed since its taming, as he spent most of it dedicatedly drunk, only a strong culture of bathing keeping the alcohol from stinking from his pores. However, faced with the need to spend time with the young Minoru, he spent the previous day regaining a rough sort of sobriety.

In case.

The location so named by the Prince of Power has not been trod upon by mortal feet for over a thousand years. Time has nearly obliterated all signs that people once lived here at all, but the skeletons of roads can be traced in the bare earth, fragments of marble and pottery nestled in the greenery. It is a flatland trending gradually down southward to a wide coastline looking out over crystalline Greek waters, separated from modern civilization to the north by hills that seem almost arranged.

A short distance away, set slightly apart from the former city, is a humble temple in some disrepair, with fallen columns and a partially collapsed roof. It couldn't hold a space significantly larger than a studio apartment, though in contrast to the flattened space of Dead Panoreus, a few patches of its friezes maintain their bright colors.

There is a sense of magic in the air here. Not enchantment or spell, nothing worked and laid by hand, but a sort of magic created by breath, by work, by life, like the sense between a lived-in home and one abandoned, but greater than the sense of mortality that fills a room.

A feeling of the living pulse of myth. Of divinity.

*

That's a lot of names, or so Nico Minoru would think. She has had, in the most generous analysis, three.

Nico got up on the back of the clone of the Nemean lion. She brought along a shoulder bag, probably in order to enjoy the Greek beach on some level - this is also strongly suggested by the striped swimsuit she is wearing instead of a top, though it comes with some blue jeans and a pair of sandals. (Sandals are not normally goth but screw you, the scene can be wherever, even a Greek beach.)

The Staff of One is also there. It kind of floats in Nico's hand. Not literally, but it has a sort of glossy, eternal quality to it.

"Everybody touching the clone of the Nemean Lion travel to Dead Panoreus upon the Argolic in five seconds," Nico says. There is a ripple of magenta light from her, from her staff. Afterwards, it vanishes. Nico exhales -

- SHUNT -

- and then they're there. "Gah!" Nico says in the face of the sunlight, which is both brighter and, in general, present. She shades her eyes with the staff, which honestly is a pretty good plan.

Her eyes adapt slowly.

Her head turns towards the area. She drinks it in with respectful silence for a second, then two, then four, then ten, then fifteen before she finally speaks. "It's beautiful," she says, before she slides off and lands in a three-point staff, bracing herself on the ancient artifact. "Wow. Wow! Shit! I'm in Greece!"

Nico immediately pulls out her phone, flips it open, and — pauses, to look over her shoulder.

"Are you alright with pictures?" (Another glance makes Nico mutter, "right, no bars. hashtag thanks tony")

*

Hercules is in his raiment - strapped sandals, leather kilt, mace strapped to his back with the genuine Nemean pelt draped on one shoulder, head-first. It looks far smaller than it should be, given the size of the actual lion, but magic items do this sort of thing.

Shunt.

The god, damnably, doesn't seem affected by the abruptness of the teleport, the time zone shift, the sudden sunlight… any of it. Only an instant after they land, Herc grunts as he swings back off of the Nemean clone, pulling its head in the direction of damaged temple and giving it a swat on the hindquarters.

What it does at that, of course, is its business.

Beautiful. While Nico looks out over the coastline, Hercules looks behind, over the space where you can barely tell a small city once stood. "Mm," he responds, non-committally. Then: "Sure. Whatever. Mortals cannot wander on a god's land without a guide or a combination of knowledge and a dedicated will - and unless certain stepmothers have been spilling tea only one mortal alive knows the name Panoreus."

He turns to look at Nico for a moment. Herc's thick eyebrows bounce up once, meaningfully.

"Anyway," he says, moving toward a small cypress forest that winds through a break in the hills. "Gonna need a pen, I guess, in case someone unexpected still drops by." He stretches his arms over his head, yawning.

*

The cloned lion departs the area as if pelted with dung. Probably it's happy to be here, rather than living in a garage and being given horse doctor's doses of magically created canned fish courtesy of Nico Minoru's staff and the good word of Jesus Christ, who, you will recall, was good at 900x fish outlays.

Nico takes a deep breath, lets it out -

Hercules gives her permission. There is a noise of a digital camera shutter, several times, as she turns eventually to follow after Hercules. She doesn't grab a snap of him - but the steady 2-every-3-seconds beat of Nico filling up her flash card with images of the Aegean stops abruptly.

"What," she says with a laugh, "Me? Oh, damn. That is super touching. I can't get over how you just sound… completely normal." Stepping forwards, resting her staff on her shoulder, Nico does not seem to suffer from the pace.

She sees the yawn. "Sorry, yeah. Jet lag. I haven't ever gotten out this far before."

Nico senses an awkwardness in the air, and shifts her grip on the staff, resting it over her shoulders after pocketing the millenial totem. "Probably," she says. "Is there a valley or something you want to work with? Or one of these…"

"Were they temples? I mean, before, everything."

"We could…" Nico begins, before trailing off. No, she thinks. I'm talking to frigging Hercules. Am I seriously going to organize things like it's Girl Scouts again?

*

The forest is not far and sound carries easily through the clean air - plus, god. Herc can hear Nico easily and project his voice like an actor.

"More like a warning," he says, disappearing into the woods. "No other way to get the cat over here." Wood creaks. "So if some archaeologists show up to pick at my mancave, I'll know where the info probably came from."

CR CR CR CRRRRRRRRACK

whooosh

THUDDO <

An entire cypress tree, pulled up by the roots, hurtles through the air. It smashes into the ground, branches shattering, bouncing once.

The process repeats three times. Hercules finally emerges, dragging a fourth tree behind him, a few drops of sweat on his forearms. "Most gods keep to themselves. They talk like they've always talked. Force of habit. Me," Herc takes a stutter step and swings the last tree into the small pile of the others, just another branch on the pile. "nah. Never fit in all that much. Olympus is boring. All the stuff happens out here."

The big man brushes his hands off and points to the temple. "That's a temple to me, last one out of the way enough for me to get a little peace and quiet." At a second look, with the initial impact of the area closed off, there are some antennas and satellite dishes hanging off a pillar, obscured from sight right from the front. A few big wires leading from the back of the temple connect to a generator. He then points to a wide flat space, with more surviving stone. "That used to be a sport field. We'll put the pen there."

Hercules rubs at his chin, giving Nico a look. "You got a spell for that now that we've got these raw materials, right? Unusual goeteia. All the magi I've known have to fiddle around too much to do some of the things I've already seen you do."

That distant, weighing look in his eyes again, like when she tamed the lion.

*

"Oh," Nico says.

Fortunately, she didn't text any of this, and her phone fell off the grid. The name of the locale is safe from mortals not named Nico Minoru.

She is then interrupted by the hurling of the tree, which is not close enough to make her startle-shock, but does make her jump a little. Right, she tells herself afterwards. Hercules. Why would he wait for an axe. She exhales again, reaching up to fiddle with her septum piercing out of pure anxiety.

The wood falls further. Nico circles it.

"It's good to have the choice, at least…?" she says about Olympus.

The tension isn't eased too much by the sight of the satellite dishes, although they do make the corner of her lip quirk up. There is a location indicated, and Nico unlimbers the Staff of One. "K," she says. "Let me think about this a minute. Something open air, right? I guess you want a roof in case it rains… it does rain around here sometimes, right."

She isn't sure. And what's more there's something else.

Nico can tell when she's being eyed.

Cheerful Upbeat Nico starts melting away. What slips into her voice is wary. "Well," she says, "I'm just bad-ass I guess. I didn't even have to go to Hogwarts or do push-ups." That much was obvious.

As she circles the field, poking at a rock here and there, Nico says, "I don't know if you mean it the same way, but 'Goetia' to me is like, devil worship. So if you're getting at something…" At about the 4 o' clock position relative to the eternal noon that is HERCULES, Nico crouches down to squint at a tuft of some kind of grass thing.

Maybe Hercules is going to punch my head off, she thinks. Do I want to see him coming?

"Do you want the whole story, or just why I have the Staff?"

*

Hercules rubs his face. "Agrippa and his bullshit," he mutters. Fortunately, that displaces the irritation. "Look, mageia was more like science people weren't ready for. Goeteia's the stuff outside mortal rules. Everyone was fine with it for hundreds of years and then people started getting edgy for attention." He reaches behind his back, toward his waistband. "Fuckin' Dark Ages ruined it for everyone."

He produces a flask and slugs from it before shoving it back into his waistband.

Urban planning is not his forte. The Greek reaches down to an old paving rock, dragging it out of the dirt to make a little seat for himself. He slumps down onto it, shoulders hunched, rubbing the back of his neck. The tension's giving him an ache. "Oh, it's a Staff proper noun, is it." His tiredness seems to tick up a notch. Herc hates being on guard almost as much as he does trying to pick out information subtly, and now he's out of the energy for both. "I mean, tell me or not. I don't force histories out of people. We've all got enough on our plates."

He watches, waiting to see what Nico's going to do with the wood.

*

Nico's brow furrows. She almost recognizes the name despite her ill education. The second time around she does recognize the extra tone in the second syllable, and her tension eases.

("is that like a legendary flask")

After this Nico rolls her head slowly. "Yup," she says. "The Staff of One. My evil wizard mom tried to hit me with it and I guess I stole it from her on accident. It feels weird." She takes a deep breath.

Then she lets it out.

"I'll go with not," she says.

She finishes her orbit, glancing over at the cypress trees and then back towards the ball field. Her gaze eventually returns to Hercules as she says, "Why does it bother you? Is it the blood thing?"

I should really get out my phone app and do this properly, Nico thinks, but some obscure egotistical matter makes her pivot the Staff of One towards the stack of timber and say: "Cypress Hill." There is that same nimbus, a rustle, a flash. Nico's eyes are concealed. She takes a few steps back hastily, and the reason why is clear: the trees are hoisting themselves upwards, branches becoming like unto arms, roots to feet!

Not legs. Feet.

The uprooted timber starts to waddle onto the sports field. The limbs are raising, shuddering, turning into something more shaped. Topiary. Or maybe baobabs.

"This is gonna take a minute," Nico explains.

*

"Evil moms," Hercules repeats. "We've all been there."

Well, Alcmene never did any wrong by him, but then, he wasn't named for Alcmene. He gets his flask out again and lets Nico not tell her story without complaint - and, perhaps, relief.

The 'blood thing.' He snorts. "Girl," he starts, "I have experienced the Aegean stables, waded through the red river of Acheron, witnessed the aftermath of the Tumu Crisis, and aided as best as I could after the birth of the manmade god Atomos on the streets of Hiroshima."

He shakes his head. He's not being smug, not condescending, just… stating. "It will take more than a cut on your wrist to gall the likes of Hercules." But enough latin lingo. He tilts his flask, watching the trees make a move and carry themselves away, taking up some real estate once again like it ain't nothing. "I expected something a little more conventional." He tries a joking half-smile. "This might clash with my yard decorations."

There are no yard decorations.

*

The cypresses start settling into place. Their branches elongate. The formation is going to look like a mesh. It might, inadvertently, remind one of the home of the Cyclops, but then that probably wasn't alive. Right?

Nico's eyes thin a little at the last two items. But she is beyond skepticism. "What was Atomos like?" she asks, warily.

The Yard Decor of Hercules arises. Leaning against the staff, Nico says as she looks away, "Before I found out she was an evil blood wizard, my mom was always like, 'exceed expectations, A-minus is F-plus.'" She shrugs one shoulder. "It's why I wanted to piss her off, kind of, I guess."

Her eyes narrow. There is a minor flash of violet in them, and one of the trees gets up and moves over a couple of yards.

"This way you just have to dump some water on it once in a while," Nico says. "If the lion damages it, it'll grow back."

After this there are a couple of moments of silence, marked only by the sounds of the forest.

"… Can I ask you something?"

*

"Your kind lives in perpetual fear of his return, and you ask me what he's like?"

He doesn't look particularly haunted. Perhaps the gods have no true fear of nuclear fire. After all, it can only burn the flesh.

Still. Nico Minoru talking about trolling her mother causes some minor relaxation in Hercules. He can at least relate to that. "Not bad," he replies to the idea of a self-repairing structure. "I have some deals with some local spirits. There'll be water, weaker and older animals will find themselves coming here. He won't want for anything this time around."

After it's clear what the trees are doing, he's shifted his gaze to the Lion. There, his expression has become unreadable. He pulls one last time at his flask, holds its emptiness over his eye as if to confirm what he already knows, and tucks it away again.

His shoulders rise and fall with a heavy breath. "Shoot."

*

"I'm from Los Angeles," Nico says, although the prospect of the rest of what he's saying - as well as the fact that it is Hercules, the Prince of Power, not Herk Ulysses, dude in a red cap at the truck stop, prevents an impromptu seminar.

The trees start stabilizing. "… That's awesome," she says about the spirits, but then comes the question.

"So what do you think is up with Angela? I have a theory but you're, like, ten thousand years old and a god, so you probably have a better perspective than I do."

*

Herc scrubs at his hair with one hand and readjusts his headgear, brushing a little dandruff off on one thigh.

"I think she's a hell of a woman. If it weren't for her eyes, accent, and ability to hold a weapon and complete a thought at the same time, I'd've assumed Asgardian."

He gestures up at the sky. "Probably from somewhere out there. Happens all the time, always has. Of course," he mutters, brows dropping… Herc stands up from his rock, pushing the great weight back into the hole he'd pulled it from with one foot. He folds his arms. "If I knew, I wouldn't be telling. Better to hear a story from the person who lived it and she doesn't seem forthcoming. If my stories weren't slathered over every book, temple wall, and cartoon, I'd want to keep my cards close to the chest too."

*

"Oh," Nico says.

"I guess that makes sense," she says, hoisting up her grip on the Staff of One. "I never met an Asgardian. I thought maybe she's like, Satan, but the 'not a bad guy' kind of Satan, since she keeps talking about debts. What are Asgardians like in person?"

She shoves the staff back into her soul. "ugh"

*

Herc actually does something like a grin. "Not like her. They're a wild people. More my style than Olympians - less petty, more fistfights. She's too quiet, thoughtful, reserved. Like I said - not an Asgardian, just built like one, if you ask me."

He rolls his shoulder in a shrug. "Besides, I barely know her all that well myself." Beat. "For now."

Now that is a grin.

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