“My name is Marius. I slay harpies. It is not what I chose to do, but rather what was chosen for me to do. I write these words so that my wife and children know why I did what I have done. I know my time is short.”
I hunched over the table pondering what I would write next and continued.
“My father was Gaius, a human; my mother, Diana, goddess of the hunt. She broke her vow of chastity with Gaius and their union produced me, a demi-god. I realize now that she needed me.
“I think my parents loved each other, although I saw my mother infrequently. That is the way it is with the gods. They come and go focusing intently on a subject for a short time. Then they venture off to whatever they want to do next. I feel more human than a god.
“Gaius taught me how to farm and most everything about life. Diana taught me hunting. My life changed when I was fifteen. My father disappeared one night and was never seen again. Diana told me she knew what happened to him and little else. All I know is a harpy was involved. Diana would tell me what I needed to know when I became the right age. Then it would be my responsibility to avenge him.
“Harpies are disgusting beings. They come in different shapes and temperaments. They have faces and chests of women with wings and talons of birds of prey. They can be benign, small, and of little bother. Others are large, hideous, and violent. Some steal food from human’s homes or at banquets. Others capture humans and take them to the underworld or worse. Harpies are related to the gods and have gained particular favor with Pluto, god of the underworld.
“My mother trained me to hunt and kill the harpies that preyed violently on innocent humans. I must be careful in my work. Not only are these harpies dangerous, but I also had to avoid the wrath of Pluto. I was very successful at my work. Perhaps other gods looked after me during my quests.”
I finished writing and looked up into the face of Diana. I was not surprised at her abrupt appearance. She usually appeared to me in this way.
“Greetings, Son. I have one final hunt for you.” Diana came right to the point of her visit.
“Why now, Mother?”
“Because Son, this harpy is the one who killed your father. She is the worst of the lot.”
“I had given up waiting for you tell me about this harpy, Mother.”
Diana ignored my anger. “The harpy is called Scaela and she is the most foul, dangerous harpy you will ever encounter. She is a cousin of Medusa. You are very good at hunting harpies, but Scaela is exceptionally cunning. She is also believed to be a shape shifter and is Pluto’s favorite.”
“I don’t care how dangerous she is, Mother. I will take my revenge. One of us must kill that beast! That shall be me. Tell me all I need to know.”
Diana showed no emotion. “To prepare you for your quest, I will describe Scaela’s habits, her strengths, and the desolate island she is known to inhabit. Scaela has no known weakness, yet I am aware of one.”
When Diana finished speaking, she reached behind her head and withdrew a sword.
“This sword is the only weapon that can kill Scaela.” Diana ran her hand along the sword. “It was fashioned by Vulcan himself. When a harpy is near, the sword glows.”
“Why give me the sword now and not earlier?”
“You have become the man who can wield it against Scaela. It is time. Go now, avenge your father.” Diana presented the sword to me.
“What did my father mean to you, Mother?”
“He was my love and we made you. I think that is all that needs to be said.”
Diana disappeared from my sight. I looked at the space where she had stood and then at the sword. I quickly packed a satchel, wrote a note to my wife, and left home.
The voyage to the Island of Despair could not go fast enough for me. I had one thing on my mind: to kill this hideous creature. The ship I hired to take me to the island would go only to the point where the island became visible. The ship’s crew lowered me into a small boat and I pushed off for the island. The captain told me bluntly that I would need to return to the ship within two days’ time.
I rowed heartily with the wind at my back. It did not take long to reach the shore. I pulled the boat up onto land through surging seas and glanced around. Everything about this island represented hopelessness. Low hanging dark clouds squeezed the warmth out the sun. The vegetation, primarily a thick, slimy green moss, attached itself to the rocks like a parasite. The few dwarf, spindly trees stood like corpse sentries in pockets of soil between the sharp rocks and boulders. I found the slime along the shore too slick to walk upon. I picked-up a piece of driftwood to use as a staff.
I walked carefully for nearly one hundred yards inland. Ahead, I observed not a living thing, including even a pinch of moss. Only cragged rocks stood around me like towering enemies. I unsheathed my sword and noticed it was not glowing. I think this sword lies, I feel the harpy’s presence. I must keep moving forward.
The rocks became larger and formed spires as I treaded inland on the narrow trail that snaked between them. The air became heavy with dread and a foul smell.
As I navigated a particular wider section of the path, I suddenly felt a breeze overhead. I recognized immediately what it was and dropped forward, prostrate to the ground. I heard the sound of claws clasping air just above my back. A high pitched screech of failure echoed between the rocks.
I rose quickly scanning the sky. My sword glowed with anticipation. When and where would Scaela strike next? I realized that I could be torn to shreds by the beast’s talons. My remains would feed it and whatever other evil inhabited this forsaken place. However, my desire to kill Scaela overwhelmed all fear.
The creature came from above and behind me. Again I sensed the attack and dove flat to the ground. Without hesitation, I rolled instinctively to the right. The harpy’s talons struck the path with a violent crunching sound at the spot where I had first dove. For a second, the harpy and I locked eyes. She let out a horrible cry that echoed between the rocks as she flew away infuriated that she had again missed me.
I stood slowly, shaken by the closeness of my encounters with the grotesque beast. It will not give up until one of us is dead. It will try a different approach. I must summon my courage.
This time instead of attacking from above, the harpy flew low to the ground around a rock formation and flung itself at me. My ears, though, had picked up the faint sounds of the harpy’s beating wings as it approached. In an instant, I flattened myself into a crevice in the rocks. As the harpy flew by, I thrust my glowing sword forcefully into the side of its torso.
The harpy screeched in pain from the wound and fell against a rock and tumbled to the ground. Before it could arise, I cut off its head in one blow. The headless body rolled over, and after a few convulsions the beast died.
“Curse you, wretched Scaela. That was for my father. You brought this upon yourself!” I raised my sword above my head in triumph. I saw the sword no longer glowed.
Exhaustion rolled over my body as I sat beside the decapitated harpy. The creature was larger than I expected, powerfully built with claws like the sharpest of swords. Her scowling face portrayed a hatred for me.
At the moment, I heard a cry coming from deeper in the island. The voice sounded like a woman in distress. What could this be?
I walked to the center of the island. The voice grew stronger and came from inside a cave. I entered the cave ever alert to any new danger. Scaela was dead, but there could be other threats.
The floor of the cave was remarkably flat. As I pursued the sound further, I shuddered when I saw an enormous pile of bones in a recessed area off to my left. This is where Scaela feasted on her prey. I hope my father’s bones are not in that pile.
I heard rustling noises coming from an area at the back of the cave. I walked slowly to the sound. A woman hesitantly poked her head out from the darkness into the faint light from the cave opening. She relaxed when she saw me.
“I thought that monster had returned with another of her victims. I always feared that if her hunts were unsuccessful I would be her next meal.”
Her beauty and soothing voice mesmerized me. I felt no threat from this woman who had been a prisoner of Scaela. I sheathed my sword without taking my eyes off her face.
“Who are you?” I asked gently.
“My name is Bathal.”
“Where do you come from, Bathal.”
”Across the great sea. My father is a wealthy merchant. I was on a trading voyage with him when the beast, Scaela, descended from the sky and took me to this island. It has been terrifying.”
Bathal started to cry. I put my arm on her shoulder.
“My name is Marius. I killed Scaela. You have nothing to fear. I have a boat down by the shore. I will take you to my land. We can get you home from there.”
“Are you married, my brave Marius?”
“Yes, and I have three children.”
“Where are you from?”
“I live to the west, two days sailing from here in the village of Cindar. Have you heard of it, Bathal?”
“No, but now I know where you came from.”
I found Bathal’s statement odd. I gazed at her. She seemed larger than when she first emerged from the darkness. Her eyes were yellow and grew brighter. I glanced down at my sword. Even though it was sheathed, the sword glowed brightly through the leather scabbard.
I swore looking back at Bathal. She indeed was a shape-shifter. In a second, she changed into an enormous harpy. The odor in the cave became unbearable. I placed my left hand across my face.
“My brave Marius.” The harpy’s voice crackled with sarcasm. “You came here to slay me. It is you who shall die.” The voice laughed dripping in hatred. “I am Scaela, fool.”
“No. I killed Scaela outside this cave just a short time ago. Who, what are you?”
Again the beast laughed in a deeply sinister tone. “That was my sister, Cyclae, you killed. The harpies are legion. Did you think I was the last? I am not. I am their leader.”
“You monster! You killed my father, Gaius.”
“Yes, and he was tasty. Now it is your turn. The harpies demand vengeance and I shall lead them. We will go to Cindar and your family and village will be no more. Pluto – release my sisters! Release the harpies! Release our terror upon the human world!”
A deep rumbling sound came from beneath the cave. Cracks formed like spider webs on the floor. I could hear a multitude of beating wings and cackling cries emerging from the earth.
“They are coming, half-god! The time is ours!” Scaela shrieked.
I drew my sword illuminating the entire cave. I shouted, “I won’t let you. My mother, Diana, will stop you in Cindar. Those are her grandchildren.”
“She can try, but she will fail.”
I advanced on Scaela pointing my sword. Scaela flew above me.
“You are no matching for me pitiful half-god, even with your magic sword.”
Scaela pounced, but I was too quick and jumped out of the way. I jabbed my sword forward and caught air. We fought viciously each delivering shallow wounds, but not a death blow.
I saw an opportunity to plunge my sword into the chest of Scaela. As I did, I slipped on a puddle of vile spit from the harpy. I fell hard on my back. She was on me in a flash. The talons on each leg pinned my arms to the ground and with her weight on my torso, my legs were useless. She squeezed strongly my right arm forcing me to release the sword.
Behind Scaela, I saw a blur of winged shapes flying towards the cave entrance. I stared at Scaela. Her mouth had turned into a razor sharp beak. I knew I was doomed. I thought of my family and said a prayer to Diana.
“There will be nothing left of you but bits to fly in the wind.” Scaela bellowed.
As Scaela bent forward to strike, her face became translucent. She looked to her sides and was shocked to see her wings fade. Her talons grew weak and she relaxed her grip on my arms.
“NOOOO….Not now!” She screamed so loud the ceiling and the walls of the cave crumbled.
I passed out.
When I awoke, I was back in my village home and bed. My wife and children were gathered around me. Their eyes and voices showed relief in my return to them. I felt grateful. I fell soundly back to sleep.
Diana stood beside me when I opened my eyes again.
“Mother, how did I get here?”
“The gods were merciful, Son.”
“There is more to it than that, Mother.”
“Son, we know our time is coming to an end. Not an abrupt end, but the end. Scaela and her harpies experienced this when Pluto dragged them back into the underworld as she was about to kill you. I brought you here. The gods had an understanding. No more will die.”
“Mother, why again is our time ending?”
“The Roman emperor and his people chose a new god, the one God and his Son. We have been replaced.”
“What will become of me – a demi-god?”
You too will disappear in time. Be grateful that your children, my grandchildren, will survive.”
I sighed. “It is inevitable, then. We will become myths.”
“Yes, Son, enjoy what you have now. We have been eclipsed.”
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