Lo! Even as the earth was yet forming its newest continent, encircled by the sea of Athlais, to the wondrous Isle of Atlas, the gods could hardly wait to descend. They descended feet first, rushing downwards from the skies like falling stars trailed by streaks of light. As they streaked downwards into earth’s atmosphere they imagined palaces of soaring spires and turrets and lo, the City coalesced beneath their feet, as they touched to earth. Heliopolis, the city of tall cool rooms, sparkling as terrible and fair as the People of the Sun.
By day the city sparkled. At night its hypnotic blue beacon swept the skies. Whether by night, by day, by fable or by deception Heliopolis lured trading ships like moths to a flame. There will always be those who dare to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules, beyond any rock-thrashing Capes of Dashed Hopes. Heliopolis lured the daring beyond their imaginations of the equatorial; gleefully they tossed their seasick overboard to quiet any misgivings that lurked beneath the watery depths. To Heliopolis they raced. They swarmed like flies to honey seeking the fabled Elixir, its mystical prize.
From the north, from the west or from the south, the passage was the same: one sailed clockwise on currents that encircled the continent. Having circled the continent at least once, out of fear and respect towards Oceanus God of the Sea and Harbormaster, one’s ship may granted admittance finally from the east and into the miles-wide embrace of Heliopolis port.
Ships arrived laden with precious gems, singing chimes, dreamlike silks that changed colors as they rustled in the afternoon. Down the gangplanks sailors strode bare-chested and tattooed, balancing on their heads those studded chests laden with wonders they hoped might beguile favor of the gods. What they desired in return was not only a glimpse of the immortals but hope against hope they might just earn or beg or steal a taste of the famed Elixir. Scurrying off their ships also came those banes of ports everywhere, the hoards of tiny abominations, small crawling stinging things, and these the gods did not like.
Now it happened that in the depths of Hades there dwelled a choir of demons. Shadow spiders who sang demonic yet hypnotic songs. They sang of their hunger. They spun their sticky strands. They sang to bind and yes devour with smacking delight any living thing that fell their way. To their lairs, in merry moods, the gods did descend, cloaking the godly brightness of their light so as not to dissolve –so useful– these shadows. The gods did descend in laughter, empty baskets on their arms. Gathering up in their baskets whole clans of shadow spiders, the gods returned to earth. That was how it came to pass that in the shadows across the great continent of Atlant the spiders jumped and bred, singing their hypnotic songs, spinning their sticky webs. They thrived in the wilds, catching and devouring all small creatures that dared befoul these happy lands.
Seasons passed, followed by millennia. The serene gods sported, seeding their sunny Isle with offspring. At long last, tiring of the mundane world, most of the gods glided upwards back into the heavens, leaving behind their offspring tall and fair.
These descendants that the gods had left behind were earthbound and long lived but mortal. They became known as the Masters, the minor gods. They occupied the palaces and lands of their fathers. The Masters inherited the artisans, servants and field workers, those small dark Humet the gods had fashioned from sweet clay. They called them the honey-men. The babies of Humet, they laughingly called the honey-honey, the met-met.
The Masters did also inherit the hellish shadow spiders. From the clans of the demon wilds they bred an elite. The Great Clan of Shadows was bred to be more cunning, more intelligent and larger than their tiny brethren of the wilds. The Masters bred shadow spiders as large-as-Humet, some were even three feet tall.
The best shadows could spin silk garrotes as strong as light cables. They were bred to kill. Exterminators brought good prices and the larger gladiators fought at the fairs. Masters displayed them and wagered their prowess against that of visiting sailors who entered the ring lured by a hope of winning the prize purse, a drop of the Elixir of Immortality, the fabled Elixir, worth more than gold. What they longed for they became.
Masters prized best those shadow spiders who could quickly hunt and bind unwanted men. The Masters sent their shadow spiders to bind and devour even any of their own troublesome and competitive offspring. Ultimately the Masters bred shadow spiders strong enough to hunt those outlawed gods who they deemed bothersome to their pursuits of pleasure and greed, which worked —as long as the shadows behaved.
The Elixir of Immortality is real. It is distilled in the fabled City of Heliopolis. It can be made from anyone, the sweetest from those with longest years yet to… But that is the secret. The secret of who makes up the most precious of the secret ingredients, the Humet parents know. Then too, it may be why in disobedience of the Masters they hide their babies. They pray for the safe arrival of the goddess. The oracle promises she is on her way. The goddess shall arrive, smuggled safely into the city in the guise of a hero. They raise their palms outwards, spreading their fingers in oneness and hum their prayers, praying her arrival will be soon.
She heard their prayers, distressed by the curse of supernatural hearing. And tired she was of hiding in this Siren charade. Supernatural powers in this realm, like pure Truth, had slid downwards into toothless philosophies. She anguished, grinding her teeth on shadows. A goddess cannot allow her sweet ones to writhe helpless, helpless in the hands of her betrayers.
She tossed her head and narrowed her eyes. She would find a vessel, some means to get back in. It was time… and yet… she knew she was about to make a decision she would regret. At least, she vowed, I will never fall for a mortal again, not even a partial mortal.
Her supernatural sight traveled west, through the Pillars of Hercules and across the circling sea. She watched the spires of her city glinting in the sun and tasted the bitterness of her exile. Below her feet the waters crashed.
How could he have betrayed me if we had truly loved? She felt the sting of salt spray. And now he was immortal. The stinging salt drops rose to her eyes. It must have been spray from waves slapping at the rocky foundations beneath her feet. Leaning against the mouth of her cave she pretended to watch the setting sun. Each time the tide pulled these waters out to sea it tugged her heart out with it. Again her vision traveled over the heaving surf, westward, through the Pillars and a thousand miles beyond. Even a goddess can nurse a broken heart… She had paid. She had paid enough.
… The crew jumped overboard. Their captain prepared to face off the Siren by jabbing his fingers in his ears. “You can’t have this ship,” he shouted, looking away from her beguiling nakedness. “Take the hero. We have a contract.”
“Take him back,” she shouted in return, yanking the captain’s fingers out of his ears and pressing her face close to his. “I say, I will not punish you if you simply take him back.”
“We have a contract. Heroes for tribute,” The captain said, sticking his fingers back in and squeezing shut his eyes.
“He is not a hero,” Siren stamped her tiny foot.
“I am indeed a hero,” Xerk walked around Siren and glared at them both.
Under the side of the ship, the crew clutched at barnacles, treaded water and traded advice in low voices.
“Women monsters are the worst,” said one.
“No sense of fair play,” said another.
“Were either of you with us the that time in the north, when Capt’n killed a monster and damned if his mother didn’t storm in and complain? Said he hadn’t killed it right.”
“Them women monsters always complaining about the rules.”
“And they change the rules to suit themselves.”
“Shush,” said another. “She might hear you. Don’t want them learnin’ nothing about each other. Can’t have them women monsters teaming up.”