“Blimey! This place is… well, it’s bloody gorgeous, that’s what it is.” For once it was the younger brother effusing while the elder gawked at the looming prospect, open-mouthed and wide-eyed.
Still as statues, they remained just outside the TARDIS doors, awash with wonder and awe at the beauty of the unknown planet, and in respective anticipation and anxiety of the possibilities it presented.
Pantheons of marble shone brilliantly in the sunrise on this mysterious world. The early morning sun crested a snow-capped mountain keeping its solitary vigil over the gleaming marvels below. Pale gold in the chilly, early morning hour, the sky held whisperings of clouds that gently swagged the horizon like puffs of silvery gossamer. Gardens of brightly coloured flowers, most of which the brothers had never encountered, flourished around the marble-paved canals of shimmering water that wended their leisurely ways through the city. The water itself picked up the hue of the dawn, and appeared as though bullion rivers flowed like life’s blood through the streets. Creeping ivy climbed nearly every wall in sight. Olive trees, and fruit trees occupied every nook and cranny, as if the structures had been built lovingly around them, and an enormous, white oak, covered with thousands and thousands of just-stirring butterflies, stood in the centre of the large, verdant courtyard before them.
The city was quiet, but it seemed to pulse with veiled life and energy.
The Doctor unobtrusively observed the boys as they gaped, the spectacle more beguiling than the wonders of an alien world. A small, private smile graced his deceptively young face. Their reaction reawakened the thrill of exploration within him. He’d feared – was almost certain – he’d lost it after he lost Amy. He had simply been… going through the motions since. He’d been so close to… giving it all up. After all, what purpose did any of it serve? What good did he do in the end? Why did any of the paltry little problems on any of the pathetic little worlds around their fleeting little stars matter? Where was the greater meaning?
This. Right here. This was it. Shining from each of their astonished faces, was why he travelled.
It was always new and beautiful to someone. There was always something more to learn, to experience. The phenomenon was not unique to him. He lived to give it to others. That was how he made his difference.
Torin finally found his voice. “What is this place? Where are we?”
Inexplicably to the thunderstruck brothers, the Doctor frowned. “Somewhere we shouldn’t be, I think,” he confessed and straightened his bow-tie nervously. “Still,” he grinned, “should be fine if we keep our heads down. Blend, Tylers, blend,” he chided, waving a lazy arm at them as he did.
“Shouldn’t we be dressed differently?” Lios, ever cautious, glanced down at his silver waistcoat and black twill trousers in a worried manner. His sister would call them all idiots for running about unprepared and conspicuous. Their clothes were fine on Garazone Prime, and other such market planets where diversity was the norm, but this place seemed as though it had a unique and untouched culture inhabiting it. It would not do. If they were going to explore, he had to get them to go back in and change. The Doctor had a wardrobe two miles deep. Maybe, while they were getting changed, he could pop in and tell the Alpha not to worry…
The Doctor regarded him with an expression which clearly stated he cared very little for the idea of going incognito—in fact, he very much thought of the notion as utterly boring and totally useless. “Nah,” he replied like it was obvious, hands flapping, “just try not to get arrested.”
The younger man gaped at him.
“Really,” he insisted, clapping a hand on Li’s shoulder and giving it a light, reassuring squeeze, “it’s fine! Stop fretting! I mean, unless you want to have a little fancy-dress excursion, and in that case, I’ll take you to Venice—the planet! Every day is a masquerade on Venice, but from the look you’re giving me, no, having a bit of dress up isn’t what you’re after, is it. Well, I think it would still be worth a visit some time. We’re on Olympia! I think. Fairly positive, yes. Only… er… They don’t really care for…” he moved in closer and stage whispered, “Time Lords,” then tapped his nose and leaned back away. “So, we’ll be keeping that under our hats, even if we aren’t wearing any just now.”
Torin grinned, clearly twitching internally to be off and amid all the exotic and unfamiliar.
“Just keep a telepathic barrier in place, and try not to drink anything anyone offers you. It’ll be fine, I think. Nearly positive,” the Doctor continued in the same placating tone. “Besides! It’s gorgeous! And just wait ’til you see the locals! Yowzah!”
Both brothers looked incredulous after he uttered the word, one with eyes narrowed and an eyebrow cocked, the other with barely-contained mirth behind wide eyes. If he had been a human, he might’ve blushed. It slipped. He’d tried to give it up once, and failed. So, it was a word he said, and, therefore, it was cool… well… he liked it, in any case, and it communicated the point he was trying to make efficiently. Oh, well. Damned judgemental kids. They were bound to hear it sooner or later.
They’d get used to it.
“Oh, look!” he dodged. “A fig tree! Love a fig.” And with that, he was moving in the direction of the flowering fruit trees, leaving them to their opinions and entertainment at his expense.
“Oi!” Lios grabbed his brother’s arm before he could get too far. “I have a feeling we shouldn’t be here. I’m going back to let the Alpha know in case she has to get us out of it, at least.”
“Liiiii-oohs…” He yanked his arm away with a huffed sigh worthy of their crabby sister. “Just shut up and enjoy it for once!” Torin grabbed hold of his brother and dragged him after the Doctor.
They caught up and fell into step with the older man.
He was glowering at a gnarled tree with broad green leaves. “Figs are rubbish…” he muttered darkly, then clapped his hands together, and adopted the demeanour of a university professor. “So! Olympia. Planet of the Almighty Immortal Gods! Well, not really gods, are they? And not immortal, just very, very, very long-lived natives, and well-known throughout the universe. Throughout their long history, they touched many other star systems. Gave the proverbial Promethean Fire to many a civilisation— oh, Prometheus was a generous fellow, but it wasn’t literal fire in most cases. It was usually just a push in the direction of democracy, and scientific reasoning. Earth! Earth was visited once early in human history—by mistake, of course. A diplomatic ship had a rough landing after a run-in with some Ice Warriors who didn’t appreciate being talked down to— and they had to stay on Mount Olympus while they fixed up their ship. They also needed to give the locals a bit of a jumpstart to get the materials they needed though, the humans were so primitive at the time. Well, I’m sure you clever boys can deduce what happened after. One of the golden ages of humanity! Of course, none of their myths actually happened, but the Olympians left a fingerprint on them that never quite went away, did it? Of course, humans weren’t ready for what they were given. It was too soon for their tiny little brains, all these grand ideas only a few of them remotely grasped. It was only a matter of time before it all devolved back into poking each other with sharp objects, and squabbling like cats, wasn’t it?”
“Why don’t they like Time—” Lios began soberly.
“Geejuhbrrnuh-uh! Shhhh!” He tapped his nose again once. “Well, rivalry. Old rivalry. Nothing to fret about.”
“Come on, Li, stop being a prat,” Torin rolled his eyes. “Look where we are! No ship parts in sight! No nagging! No digging through dirt and piles of—and look!” He grasped one of his brother’s shoulders and pointed toward the natives newly emerging from the pantheons. “People! Cor… Those’re… look at her…” His eyes were the size of saucers as he took in the woman who had emerged from an ornate pantheon, and was filling a delicate amphora in the canal to their left.
Draped in shimmering, diaphanous cloth of sky blue and silver, she had long, platinum hair, intricately plaited around her head. The braids were ornamented with enamelled roses, and jewelled ivy garlands. Her skin was a coruscate, golden tone, and her lips a deep crimson. She hummed a lovely, lilting melody as she went about her business, and Torin found himself drifting, dazed and absent, in her direction.
His brother pulled him roughly away before he made a fool of himself.
He made a choked, thoroughly disappointed sound in the back of his throat as the woman stood and vanished between the carved white columns.
“Ah,” the Doctor interjected nonchalantly, popping his head between their shoulders, “probably should have mentioned, not a big deal really, but that was a Muse. They’re the ones who wear the silver sashes. Best to avoid listening to them sing—or talking to them—or looking at them directly—or generally getting near them at all. They—er—inspire others to—er—act on impulse. Lower inhibitions, and whatnot. Supposed to allow one to be creative, you know, letting go of the things that hold one back. Trouble is, most people let go of the good judgement that keeps them out of a prison cell—or a pig’s wallow, covered in mud with a massive headache and a dicky belly. Magnificent, eh?”
Again, Lios regarded the old man with narrowed eyes and a quirked eyebrow.
“Guh…” Torin agreed.
“Right,” the Doctor smiled knowingly, “should be able to get some breakfast soon. The locals are waking now. Eat up, but don’t wander off, and don’t drink anything but the water. I’m going to find out which city we’re in.” He loped off in search of information, and left them standing in the centre of the courtyard which was beginning to buzz with activity.
The alien butterflies had left the tree, filling the air and gently fluttering amongst the many lush gardens. One alighted softly on Lios’s nose, and he giggled with child-like wonder. Its wings were silver, and rimmed and dotted in gold. He examined it, cross-eyed, before blowing it back into the air with a gentle puff from his lungs. He held up his hand, and several more touched down upon it. He stayed as still as he could, allowing the beautiful insects to roam freely over his outstretched limbs. It tickled a bit, and he had a hard time keeping still to let them explore him as he, in turn, observed them.
This was brilliant! He wished his sister could see it. He had to admit to himself, this was a damn sight nicer than lurking in alleys, and staying cooped in their console room. It was a shame she shouldn’t be having a break with them. His mum would have loved it here too! She would have laughed with utter delight at the sight of her son covered in hundreds of metallic butterflies. She would have danced with joy at the beauty surrounding, and skipped about in the many gardens. She had no such opposition to figs, and—
He heard a soft, tinkling giggle behind him, and was startled out of his reverie, sending up a cloud of silvery, fluttering wings as the insects took to the air. He looked, first, for his brother, and noticed he was alone.
That was what he got for allowing himself to be distracted. Not two minutes, and he couldn’t be bothered to—bloody git, wandering off and leaving him standing there like a—
He’d turned on his heel, and found himself nearly nose-to-nose with a young woman. Long, strawberry hair cascaded loosely behind her in soft waves under artfully draped plaits. Her intense, green eyes watched him with a joyful grin on her cherry-blossom coloured lips. She was swathed in soft white and gold cloth that was clinging to her tall, lithe figure in a way that made his stomach clench tightly. She was uncomfortably close, but he couldn’t bring himself to step back and give himself the space he needed to reboot his stupefied brain.
Instead, he swallowed audibly.
She was carrying a basket of fruit that was alien to him. All were the shape of large aubergine, but golden in colour. She tilted her head and smiled at him again, making his stomach clench. “You, sir, are a butterfly charmer. I have never before seen them behave so.”
She giggled and stepped even nearer. “From where do you come? Your dress is strange, and your face is unknown to me.”
“Er—ah—yeah,” he finally found his voice, wishing he could find the ability to move—away. He needed to be away. Or not. Not was okay too. But away was maybe, perhaps, better. “Not from around here. Er… I’m from far away from here. I’m just visiting here. I like it here… It’s beautiful here.”
Blimey, he sounded like a div.
She giggled again. He wished she wouldn’t. It made his brain turn to jam, and his gut feel like he’d swallowed a pack of the fluttering insects he’d all but forgotten. He had little experience with women of the opposite sex. He had little experience with people in general, to be totally honest, but women were an especially confounding conundrum. He couldn’t behave as he did with his sister, because his sister was apparently not typical by a long shot. Being shy made the comfortable, safe dynamic he shared with both his siblings an easy refuge. He used it as a buffer to keep from interacting with others—especially girls.
“I am Nymph Clytie.”
He stood, stock still, and continued his ridiculous gaping.
“And you are called?”
“L-L-Lios.” He finally managed to move himself back a couple steps with the prompt for a proper introduction, and extended a hand awkwardly. The distance did not seem to fix his issues. Perhaps, more would have been ideal as they were still far too close for comfort, but he still could not seem to make his legs cooperate, and so he reasoned that her people may naturally behave in such a familiar manner, and that, maybe, moving too far would be an insult in the highest. He certainly couldn’t risk it.
She tilted her head again, pondering his outstretched appendage with a cocked, red-blonde eyebrow. “As in, Helios Shining?”
“Sh-short for it, yeah… Only not really.”
He jerked his hand back and stuffed it in the pocket of his huge brown coat. They must not shake hands here. Or, maybe, he had just made a pass at her, or committed a taboo. Another capital offence, he was certain. He could do nothing right. Not only would he set the record for time it took to get himself locked in a cell, but he was going to make the lovely creature run screaming from him any moment. And she might cry.
“Just Lios, actually. O-or Li. You can call me Li, if you like. My mum insisted that I’d never stop being teased if it was fully Helios. No one to tease me about it mostly, though. I-I didn’t grow up with a lot of other children. Just my sister and brother, mostly, and they’d never have known the difference, now I think about it. Would’ve been completely normal. Normal is good, yeah? Very normal to be named H-Helios,” —danaritaxicor, he added in his head. Couldn’t add that bit here, sounded too Time Lord-y, and she probably wouldn’t like him anymore if he did, and he’d definitely, absolutely go to jail. And she’d cry. A lot. And maybe faint. Or hit him, though he’d be happier about hitting than crying. “Or, well, you could call me Helios. I really wouldn’t mind at all—like it even, if you did—do—you—er, well, you can.”
Blimey, when did he lose control over his gob? He sounded like Torin!
“Er—ah—erm—what-what’re those?” He pointed to her basket, seizing the opportunity to try to engage her in speaking instead of continuing to run his mouth like a clod with a death wish.
She gave him another confused look. “Surely you recognise Ambrosia fruit when you see them?”
“Right!” He smacked himself on the forehead and made use of the opportunity to move another step back. “Yeah. Ambrosia fruit. ‘Course! Er… “
He shook his head to clear some of the haze from his brain. What had he been doing?
“Want to eat—er—food? Er—with me? Get something to eat, I mean. With me. You and I could eat—er—something. Together. If you wanted to.”
He wanted to kick himself, or run away. Or, kick himself and run away. Or, less embarrassingly, run away then kick himself. Yes, that was the one.
She smiled, and his insides melted again. “I would be delighted, Helios Shining, Charmer of Nymphs and Butterflies.”
Relief and triumph flooded him in equal measure, fear and doubt taking a back seat to the influx of endorphins and oxytocin he could calculate in some banished corner of his consciousness. He grinned like an idiot and extended an arm, which she looked at in surprise for a moment, but took with no hesitation after the initial surprise. He swept the basket out of her hands in a chivalrous gesture he hardly understood or planned, and led her from the courtyard with no idea where he was going.
The Doctor, meanwhile, was meandering his way through the Olympic marketplace, picking up rare fruits here and there to bring back to the TARDIS. Some he would eat with zeal, others would make brilliant jam, and that alone was worth this trip into just-slightly-forbidden-ish territory. They might even be able to tempt the elusive Alpha from her cave if they had a few of the more irresistible delicacies as well. And if she still balked, well, none of it would be wasted.
Winning entirely so far.
He amused himself with the idea that he cared at all, and upon closer inspection of the feeling, it wasn’t all vindictive. She was obviously content to stay withdrawn, and he figured he should just leave her to it, but he could hardly invest himself so thoroughly in her brothers, and ignore how important they all were to each other. It wasn’t as if he thought she was a lost cause either; she was her own brand of fascinating and frustrating, he just remained at a loss as to what he should do to bridge the chasm between them. He was angry, sure. He disliked her methods, her insults, her bossiness, her manner in general—right, well, they had differences, but all problems had solutions by nature. He just needed to solve the particular problem that was she.
Perhaps, swanning off with the people she cared for most wasn’t the best way to go about it, but they’d be back before she was even aware of their absence, and it made Torin and Lios happy. Well, Torin was happy. Lios would warm up to happy presently, even if he had some initial resistance. That was worth weathering anyone’s sulky displeasure.
As luck—or the meddlesome design of a sentient ship—would have it, they were in the Outer City of Zeus Lycaeus, and he was glad of it. If they’d ended up anywhere else, he might have ushered the boys straight back to the TARDIS, but Lord Lycaon was an old friend.
Lycaon visited Arcadia a few times, and the Doctor and he had gotten on—almost, sort of—in their mutual disgust with Time Lord arrogance and austerity. Olympians were an open and affectionate species; a stark contrast to the formal, physical near isolation instituted by his people. Touch, among Time Lords, was not forbidden, only deeply frowned upon, but the people of this world viewed the practice as untrustworthy, secretive, bordering hostile. Touch, to these telepaths, was truth. To his people, it was invasion. Both their peoples were proud, and immovable in their principles. There were bound to be problems.
In short, those diplomatic stays in Gallifrey’s capitol hadn’t ended well. The Time Lord High Council had effectively cut off dealings with the Olympians, and, likewise, the Olympians had banned all trade and commerce with Gallifrey—but that was centuries ago! And Olympians weren’t really uptight as a rule, even if they did know how to carry a grudge for… indefinitely.
Still! Olympia! He hadn’t been there since he escaped the dungeons of Apollo! Very exciting! And the boys—oh, right, the boys, he should probably go collect them—were getting a sight that few in the universe got to experience. Literally stuff of legends.
He fished in his pockets for some gold coins—they weren’t Olympic, but gold was gold, and acceptable almost everywhere—and offered them to the merchant for the fruit he had picked. She smiled and accepted them with a bow, pushing a few pastries filled with date jam in his direction. He stuffed one, whole, into his mouth, and grinned in pleasure at the buttery sweetness.
Loved this planet. Best tarts and treats anywhere.
It was time, he decided, to collect the Beta and Omega. He wanted to see how they were getting on, having been essentially thrown into the thick of things without a hand to hold. Would they enjoy it as much as he expected? It was high time they were given the opportunity for independence, but he did need to make sure they could get out of whatever trouble they found—or whatever found them. He had no doubt it would, they were Rose’s children, after all.
He passed by a shop selling bolts of the shining silks that adorned the planet’s people, and a length an exact shade of Police Box blue caught his eye. He stopped to pet it, the vendor scowling momentarily at his sticky fingers, before adopting an expression of submissive interest. He grinned sheepishly, and offered her a few of his remaining coins. Her demeanour changed instantly, and she plucked the swath of silk from the wall, wrapping it around his neck before leaning in to kiss each of his cheeks.
They certainly had gotten friendlier here! He’d expected a reach for his hand, palms up—which was the customary gesture between strangers, or those in business—but kisses! Too bad he didn’t do well with kisses. Although, so long as they were the on-the-cheeks kind, and in the one-on-each-side format, he thought it might be something he’d try in the future as a greeting. Seemed fitting.
Come to think of it, he’d never met so many demonstrative female Olympians. And, as he looked around, he wasn’t seeing any males of the species. Only ladies. Interesting.
The woman plucked from the wall another bit of silk in a pale gold colour, spangled with swirls and stars, and tied it about his waist. “This will bring you good fortune, young man. May the Wolf Goddess keep you ever in favour!”
“I’m sorry,” he fished, “did you say, Wolf Goddess?”
“Of course!” she nodded in bemusement. “Lycanea, and may her light shine upon you.”
“But, isn’t this City devoted to Zeus Lycaeus?”
She tilted her head and furrowed her golden brows. “Not for centuries! Not since the Great Purge. From where did you come, stranger?”
“Oh, nowhere anymore,” he evaded with a wave of a limp hand, a charming smile, and pull at his fringe. “I get restless. I travel around here and there. The Great Purge, did you say?”
“Yes,” she replied hesitantly, as though the subject were a little taboo, or at the very least impolite to mention in mixed company, “when we were banished to these out-land cities to protect our peace and virtue. Surely you know! It is a rare treat to have a man call upon us! Thank you for the blessings you have offered!”
“Right!” He nodded amiably with another smile that he hoped would soothe any suspicions she was experiencing. “You’re welcome. Should I… Not be here? My last visit was before the—er—Great Purge.”
“Good sir,” she reassured, “men are always welcome here. It is we who dare not go into the Capitol Cities.”
“Yes, of course. Stupid of me. Carry on.”
Something was definitely, very much not exactly right on this planet. Segregation of the sexes? On Olympia? That couldn’t be right! These people revelled in the company of the opposite sex—had fertility festivals in the names of Aphrodite and Hestia which lasted weeks! Not to mention the drunken ruckus they made whenever it came time to honour Bacchus! The Maenads were so zealous in their celebrations, no one could resist joining them once they’d started… He was younger—and curious! It was another time and another him, and it put him off drinking for centuries. And none of that mattered now, what mattered was the culture had never been so abstemious! What the devil had happened?
Right. First, he’d get his charges, then they’d figure out what was going on.
However, when he returned to the courtyard, the boys were nowhere in sight.
Did no one listen when he said, “Don’t wander off?”
No, they really didn’t. Long gone were the days when he had an old face to which young people were inclined to listen, or follow his directives implicitly.
Actually, had they ever?
Forget it, didn’t matter. Finding the Tylers mattered, so that’s what he’d do.
Torin found himself staring up at a shrine topped by a snarling wolf. The enormous marble statue was beautiful, and… unsettling. Something about it was eerily familiar, but it just felt… insidious, like the wolf in question was a gross misrepresentation of something inherently benevolent. It evoked the feeling of ferocity and danger where he’d always associated wolves with family and benign power. He didn’t like it, and couldn’t pin down exactly what made it so… wrong. Despite the garlands of pink and yellow roses which draped the altar and lined the marble walls, and the offerings of strange golden fruit in woven baskets before him, the whole temple seemed steeped in menace.
For the first time since he’d begun his exploration, he found himself wishing for his brother and sister, if only to get what they made of it all. Being on his own was great, lovely, molto bene, but it felt like he was missing a limb.
Perhaps, it was just the newness of the culture and his own lack of experience with the universe. He certainly hadn’t been given cause by any of the ladies he’d bumped into to feel such alarm, quite the contrary, actually. They’d been friendly as anything. Food was shoved at him from all directions, and he had access to every place he’d sought entry. He was probably just experiencing culture shock. No doubt, they saw a staunch defender when they looked at the vicious snarl, nothing to worry about. After all, they made offerings of fruit and flowers, not living sacrifices, or anything awful.
Out of pure scientific interest—he’d eaten quite a lot in his last hour exploring the market, he casually picked up a piece of the golden fruit, and sniffed at it a moment before giving it a lick. He determined the chemical composition was, indeed, innocuous, if curious in the balance of 4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, and copious amounts of fructose. Deeming all were easily metabolized, he took a tentative bite.
His eyes widened in astonishment at the indescribable flavour, then rolled back with pleasure. It was truly heavenly, with a mellow sweetness, and a slightly tart aftertaste. Juice dripped, unheeded, down his chin as he chewed. He’d eaten the whole thing in a matter of seconds, and quickly snatched up another.
He’d quickly eaten four and was going in for a fifth, when his wrist was seized in a steely grip by gnarled, golden fingers.
“Oh. Hullo!” he intoned amiably with a wave of his sticky, free hand to the silver-haired crone glaring daggers at him. “Good, those! What are they?”
He felt a tingling emanating from her fingers, and a pushing at the back of his consciousness. He quickly tried to re-enforce his barriers as she prodded.
Had the Doctor mentioned the natives were telepathic? He couldn’t remember, but he didn’t think so. Would’ve been useful information, but he didn’t want to assume the withered old woman had any nefarious designs on him. In the end, it was just one more thing to file away for future examination.
“Stealing the offerings to Lycanea is utterly disrespectful, boy!” she chastised in a creaky, unnerving voice. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Right! Sorry!” he blustered in return.
Not, in retrospect, one of his better choices in general, no. He shuddered to think what Lios would say, or Selene would throw. Many utterings of “plonker,” and “gormless,” or even “twat” would have been levelled in his direction, he was sure. But, he hadn’t harmed anyone or anything. Maybe, she just wanted paying for them, and he was sure, if she’d let him find the Doctor, the situation could be easily rectified. He hoped he wouldn’t be the one to foul up the only directive the Doctor had really given by going and getting himself arrested.
“Didn’t mean to offend!” he continued, nerves and embarrassment making the blood rise in his cheeks unchecked. “I was curious, and it was quite delicious. Got carried away. Won’t happen again.”
“What are you, child?”
Oh. Not good.
Bloody non-existent impulse control. He must not have gotten his shields up in time to keep her out entirely. Well, he’d just have to worm his way out somehow. He was sure he’d find a way. How hard could it be? She was one, little—well, not so very little, the Olympians were not small in general, but not as large as he could boast—old woman, and he was quite brilliant.
“A man!” he shot back, as puffed up and affronted as possible. Maybe, if he waffled proudly enough, she’d back down a bit. “Good Lord! Haven’t you ever seen one before?”
She relaxed, and let go of his now aching wrist. “Not in many, many years,” she said, almost wistfully, before tentatively adding, “you have something of the wolf about you.”
“Oh, do I?” He wasn’t sure, with their depiction of wolves, if he should be impressed or offended. He certainly didn’t think of himself in the way they portrayed, but again, cultural differences… “That’s interesting. Well, places to see and all! Good chat.”
He tried to scurry away, but she stepped in front of him.
“You will find what you have come seeking if you follow me,” she persisted as he tried, once again, to move past.
“Weeell, you see, I’m not really looking for anything,” he deflected, rather unsuccessfully if her face were any measure. “Just—er—you know, seeing—er—the sights.”
Still she did not move from his path.
“Lots of sights about. Not here. Out there,” he babbled. “More out there than in here, actually. So, I’ll be going. Out there.”
He moved to go around her several times, but she kept putting herself directly in his way.
“Right,” he huffed impatiently. He resisted the urge to just pick her up and move her to the side. She was small for an Olympian, and he could if he wanted to. “If you’ll just budge up a bit, this will work much better.”
Several wrinkled old women in grey robes appeared from behind the altar. In moments, they surrounded him.
So, bit of a pickle. A little tricky, sure. Just a tad not good.
“I do insist, you see.”
“Ah. Yes, I do believe I’m gathering that. Genius, me.” He spun in a small circle, taking in each of the shrivelled, golden women in their heavy, grey attire. “Any chance I can persuade you not to? Insist, that is.”
Many pairs of hands grabbed him from all sides in answer.
“That’ll be a no, then.”
Clytie was absolutely entrancing.
It was the way she moved like she weighed no more than a feather—or maybe, the way the sunlight caught her coppery hair just right and it shined like rose gold—or perhaps, it was the way her bottle-green eyes danced as she named each flower they passed—or the way her slender golden arm felt tucked into his own… perfect, and soft, and—not that he could feel her skin, but he imagined it was soft and velvety—or how each time she offered him a bit of fruit, she brought it right to his lips, and delighted in the pleasure she saw in his eyes. Or maybe, it was the way she laughed when he blustered and made speeches worthy of Torin’s Almighty Gob. His inexperience made it impossible to tell. He was feeling like a goner already, and he hadn’t known her three hours! Only two hours, thirty-eight minutes, and five seconds.
“Helios Shining?” She caressed his name—well, sort of his name if you squinted, and tilted your head, and overlooked the fact that his mum had staunchly refused to officially make it his name—in her mouth like a lover’s embrace. He didn’t think he was imagining it.
“Where do you come from?” she posed innocently with a disarming smile. “Your speech is strange, your attire unlike any I have seen, and you tell tales of places I am sure are not found anywhere on Olympia. Your mind, too, is closed to me. Are you a god?”
“W-What?” He choked and spluttered, missing the implication that her mental capacities were more than he’d picked up on. “N-no! Of course not! Nowhere near! I’m just a-a person! A travelling person, who—er—travels, and—er—popped in for a bit to see the sights and such! Beautiful here, you know?” he said, looking only at her as he did.
She smiled her glorious smile, which showed each of her pearly teeth between plump, pink lips, and his legs felt wobbly.
“Will you be travelling again soon?”
Was that sadness in her voice, or was he projecting?
His stomach dropped. “Well, y-yeah, I guess I will. See, I’m not by myself. My—er—family is here with me and we—er—really can’t stay.”
She cast her eyes downward sadly, and nodded. “Is it very strange that I feel I know you, Helios Shining? Like I have known you for thousands of years?”
He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. “Not at all, Clytie. I—er—feel like that too. I mean we just met and already I—wait, thousands of years? How old are you?”
She laughed, and it sent shivers up his spine.
“Ageless, of course. You are not?”
“N-no… No, not quite.”
Lios didn’t know what to make of it, but decided, quite boldly for him if he thought about it, that it didn’t matter at all. Well, to him. Maybe it would matter to her? He hoped not. It wasn’t like he had a human lifespan to her not-human one.
“Old enough,” he said firmly, “but well, that’s amazing, yeah? Have you always lived here?”
“No, I once resided in the Capitol City of Zeus Olympus,” she had a touch of melancholic regret in her voice, and refused to meet his eyes as she spoke, “but that was long ago when my people were… very different.”
“Different? Different how? I—er—don’t know much about Olympia, but I’d like to very much—if you’ll tell me.”
They sat together near the stream which fed the city’s canal system and she reached a couple of slender, golden fingers into the cool water. She didn’t speak for three minutes and eleven seconds while she thought. The only sounds, bird song and the babbling brook before them.
“Long ago,” she began timidly just when he was about to begin apologising profusely for bringing up painful memories, and renounce his request to learn her history, “my people lived as one. Peace and prosperity were universal and without exception. We were the models to many other worlds. Models of culture, and government, and knowledge. Our influence was far-reaching, and our lives blessed.”
A wistful smile graced her visage for only a moment before it was replaced by an expression of bitter pain.
“Then, hundreds of years ago, a war came to the planet of the Lords of Time, and all the systems surrounding them were thrown into chaos,” she almost whispered. “Their war raged for nearly a century before a man, fleeing from its ravages, sought safe-haven here.”
Lios swallowed hard, but the lump forming in his throat seemed to be stuck fast, and growing.
“At first, we welcomed him, and made him a part of all that we could. He was thankful, and charming, and eager to share his knowledge. We had so much to learn about his people, having never associated much with the Lords of Time. Our culture, you see, was of little import to these mighty Lords of Time, and we cared little for such arrogance. Do you know of them?”
Lios forced himself to shake his head, and he thanked the universe for being able to regulate his temperature so he wouldn’t sweat.
“I thought not. They have been gone a very long time. Their war destroyed them all… I must admit, and please do not think me very wicked, but I am glad of it.”
Lios, once again, tried swallowing that lump, which he was sure had grown to the size of a small moon. “W-why is that?”
“They were evil.”
“They can’t all have been,” he nearly pled.
She shook her head sadly. “I cannot believe that when so many innocents suffered on their behalf.”
Eager to move the conversation in any other direction, Lios asked, “What happened to the one who came here?”
“That man shared his knowledge unreservedly. His influence ushered in a period of great technological advance and we rejoiced, but the man was insidious. He betrayed our trust. He killed our High Lord Zeus Thunderous, and together with the traitorous Lady Hera unleashed the Titans, and conquered and slaughtered so many. We had not experienced such wanton destruction and death since the High Lord Zeus imprisoned the Titans in the Before Time. We were devastated. We had no hope, and the few lands where resistance still existed, were soon to be crushed when the Wolf Goddess came. She destroyed the Titans and banished the Lord of Time and the Lady Hera forever. I know not where they fled. The Lord of Time, it is said, went back to the stars, and perhaps to his war. The Lady travelled with him, though some say she is still cowering on the great mountain, waiting for the Lord to return for her.” She heaved a sigh before continuing her tale. “The Wolf Goddess was never seen again, and my people, torn and broken, were left to rebuild. A new High Lord was elected, but my people remained divided. Some believed the fault of our suffering lie with the man. Others argued it was the Lady’s evil influence that inspired such heinous acts, so the High Lord decreed that peace was best kept if the sexes no longer influenced each other, and all of Olympia’s women were sent to cities outside Zeus Olympus. We are forbidden to travel to the inner cities, though men may come here to trade and propagate.”
“Do you ever wish it could go back? To the way it was, I mean, without everything being separate? Seems wrong that you can never go home again.” Lios frowned. Her story had gutted him. He wondered who the Time Lord who cocked everything up had been.
“Yes, I miss the place of my birth immensely. I am thankful for the peace, however.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s something.”
He flopped down onto his back, and looked up at the bright blue sky. The silver clouds from the morning had burned off, and the expanse of azure seemed to go on for eternity.
“But this can’t be the only way, can it?” he asked, folding his hands behind his neck as she leaned in next to him. He shivered again at her proximity. “Why hasn’t anyone tried putting it right? Or rather, back the way it was. Surely, it was long enough ago now, you lot could give it another go?”
“Only the High Lord or Lady may change the laws.” She smiled to hide her gloom, and returned her gaze to the water.
His heart broke for her and her people. Surely, they could do something! A Time Lord made this mess. Perhaps a few of them could fix it?
He got to his feet and pulled her up after him. “Come on, Clytie. There’s someone you should meet.”
“Oh? Another traveller?”
“Yes. He’s called the Doctor.”