The penultimate chapter
of Volume 1.
While being victimized by Aphrodite,
Jesse encounters the most
vivid vision yet.
By Taylor Ryan
Copyright© 2017 Taylor Ryan
All Rights Reserved.
Volume 1: Part 9
"Your friends abandoned you."
Aphrodite's taunting voice startled me awake. I stumbled to my bare feet, pulling anxiously at the bonds around my wrists. A medium weight chain held me within a limited area. It was light enough for me to lift, but heavy enough to be a burden after awhile. The chain held fast to the shackles upon my wrists, and was bolted to the floor behind me. Another hot bead of sweat rolled down my brow. It stung when it hit my left eye, blurring my vision momentarily.
Not that there was much to see. I had been staring at the same scenery for several days. A grey rectangular room, probably about fifty feet in length, had become my current residence. The chain only allowed me to reach the middle of this room. At the other end, a camera watched me intently; next to a speaker box which Aphrodite had been using to communicate with me. Below this, upon an old battered Grecian pedestal, a pair of black tights were draped unceremoniously.
This was Aphrodite's latest game. She had shackled me, and left me locked in this sweltering room. Wearing nothing but a black tank top, and panties, I struggled to reach the one item of clothing I desired the most. It wasn't so bad at first. I made it probably the larger part of a day before the desire became strong enough for me to try to reach that pedestal. The irony of struggling desperately to wear an article of predominately feminine apparel was not lost on me.
That seemed to be the one thing Aphrodite hadn't learned from me. She still had no idea I used to be a boy, or that I desired to return to being one. Not that it would have mattered. My fate would most likely be the same as one of those golden statues lining her throne room. It didn't take long to realize that nobody passed her so-called tests. Even if they did, she would probably encase them in gold for having the audacity to best her at her own games.
"Think about it," Aphrodite said. "It has been weeks since I set them free. Have they even returned to ask about you?"
"Go to hell," I grunted, as I yanked on the chain.
"Tsk tsk," Aphrodite said, mockingly. "Such a foul mouth on such a pretty thing."
After one final tug on the chain, I fell to my knees. "What is this exercise supposed to prove?" I asked, through gritted teeth. "I said I give up. You win."
"This trial is not about winning, or losing," Aphrodite said. "Though it amuses me that you think you had the opportunity to do either."
"Then what?" I asked. "Am I supposed to get over my desire to wear tights?"
"Oh, heavens no," Aphrodite said. "That desire is the catalyst."
"Please let me go," I said, with an exasperated whine. "I want to leave."
I imagined Aphrodite smiling on the other end. Her voice certainly sounded like it when it returned. "In due time, pet," she said. "For now, I think we'll bump up the temperature in there to one-hundred and ten."
"Please," I cried out, before being met with the sound of the speaker system clicking off.
The room temperature had been another element of torture added to Aphrodite's game. When her guards first shackled me in here, it was actually rather cool, but comfortable. It stayed this way probably for the first couple of days. Right as I was growing accustomed to my prison, Aphrodite started raising the heat. She started with increments of two, or three degrees, but quickly moved on to adding five at a time. This last jump was an entire ten degrees.
I could feel the rising heat instantly. What I found out, in my short adventure, is that being under this curse didn't exactly keep someone from feeling ordinary things. I could still feel pleasure, which occurred to me during my first shower. When I fought with the guards outside, I clearly felt pain. I even felt temptation, mild curiosity, and arousal, from my stroll through Aphrodite's sex dungeon. The oddest feeling so far, however, was nausea from this heat. While I couldn't get sick, due to the curse, I would hit that edge of no return, and then I'd feel okay again. It was like a rollercoaster of feeling like I was about to throw up, and then not, but then the feeling would return.
This feeling, along with my exertion, made me feel weak. It took all of my strength to crawl on my knees, just far enough to gain enough slack in the chain to lay down. My clothes, or at least what little I had on, were sopping wet. Aphrodite offered to take them as well, but I refused. She wouldn't steal that last shred of my dignity. My mess of black hair clung to my scalp, face, and neck. It had no body left in it at all, and felt like wet plaster.
If Aphrodite's game was to make me uncomfortable, she had far exceeded her goal. Truth be told, I couldn't figure this test out. I asked her every time we talked, but she would ignore me in this regard. She kept denying each guess I had as well. Every single one of her tests so far had a set goal to achieve. This one made absolutely no sense. Maybe that was the point of it; to show that some things in life are simply pure nonsense.
I had positioned myself on my side, as to be able to see the tights across the room. My body lay almost lifeless; chest heaving in staggered breaths. This new heat increase had literally reduced me to panting like a dog. Aphrodite did call me her "pet." Maybe she wanted to turn me into an animal. I started to smile deliriously to myself about that mental image. Did she want me to die of hysteria? Wait… I couldn't die, right?
I could begin to see those wavy lines that sometimes come off of hot asphalt. Laying down had helped relieve some of the nausea, but I still felt uncomfortable. Sweat continued to roll down my face, and other less dignifying parts of my body. I always imagined sitting in a sauna would be kind of neat. Maybe with my hands not bound behind me, it would be more enjoyable. However, at this moment in time, that curiosity to try out a sauna had died a merciless death.
As I continued to stare at that pedestal, those wavy lines became more prominent. My eyelids felt heavy. The short panting breaths seemed rhythmic. Soon I found myself in a trance; brought on by the sheer inability to do anything else. An immense feeling of helplessness washed over me. Despite the heat of the room, I felt a cold chill run up my spine. My body began to tremble, and tears started to fill my eyes.
I could no longer see my desire. The pedestal seemed to be across a great chasm, or rushing river. Now it was a blurred shadow. The stinging tears in my eyes, and the waves of heat, kept me from even seeing what I wanted so badly to see; so badly to feel. My panting turned to sobbing, and I shut my eyes tightly. Regardless of needing any, I desperately wanted some water. I only wanted a taste; a cool drop of liquid to saturate my parched lips.
"Why are you crying?"
My eyes shot open. "Who's there?" I asked with a raspy voice.
A young female reached out, and put her cool hand upon my forearm. "It is I, Tryne," the girl said. "Your humble servant."
"But I don't…"
I stood abruptly. My wrists were free of their shackles. That agonizing pain in my shoulders, from having my arms pulled harshly behind me, was simply gone. The heat of the room had vanished. Although it still felt warm, every so often a cool breeze would hit me. As I looked around my immediate area, I soon realized why. Two young women were fanning me with large palm fronds.
"I am aware the Archeress has requested a respite," Tryne said. "But she is in danger."
"Who?" I asked. "Who is in danger?"
"You, my Goddess," Tryne said, bowing low to me. "Please." She offered her hand. "We must make haste."
I stared at Tryne, perplexed by what she was saying. The day seemed peaceful. There were no signs of trouble. I couldn't understand why she wanted to pull me away from such a relaxing moment. All of my pain had vanished. The stiffness and soreness in my arms had been relieved. Even the blistering heat from my prison had turned to a balmy, yet pleasantly mild day. A light breeze sporadically blew through the large enclosed porch in which we stood.
Tryne's pleading brown eyes beckoned me away from my relaxation. Her outstretched hand seemed to be reaching in desperation. The urgency of the moment seemed illustrated clearly in every inch of her small frame. Her youthful nature and appearance projected an atmosphere of trust and innocence. Despite my understanding of the situation, I found myself placing my hand within her hand.
"Quickly!" Tryne exclaimed, as she pulled me away.
We departed the enclosed porch at a breakneck speed, and soon found our way into a larger passageway. The sound of my bare feet slapping against the marble floor, contrasted discernibly to Tryne's sandaled feet. She did not slow her pace; pulling me down the path, and around a sizeable courtyard in the middle of the building. The few glimpses of sunlight in the courtyard didn't prepare me for when we reached the front entrance.
Shielding my eyes with one hand, I held firmly onto Tryne's hand with my other. She continued to lead me away from the building. I managed the few stairs in front without tripping, and soon my bare feet found lush grass. Tryne continued to pull me along, without saying a word. All I could manage to focus on happened to be her curly black hair bouncing with each step she took.
Eventually we reached a cobblestone path. Dreading what it would feel like on my feet, I cringed as my first footstep landed upon it. Surprisingly it felt smooth, and I took quite naturally to it. For some reason it felt like I had run upon this path so many times before. I knew every stone, and every crack. Anywhere that might have tripped me up, I managed to avoid.
"Where are we going?" I asked, my eyes slowly adjusting to the sunlight.
"The shrine, my Goddess," Tryne said, without looking back. "It is the only safe place."
"Safe from what?" I asked, glancing around us. "I see no danger here?"
"Not here," Tryne said. "But where you are now."
Tryne kept leading me further down the cobblestone path. We passed several buildings; houses it seemed. They were all in disrepair, and some had even crumbled to the ground. None of them were occupied. In fact, there had been no signs of life since we had left the first building. As I continued to look around, I eventually came to realize where we were headed.
In the distance, upon a narrow cliff's point, stood an ancient structure. It was unlike any of the other buildings in the area. It consisted mainly of large, carved stones. The entire structure seemed to be slowly sinking into the soft dirt around it. Two large columns, about three feet in diameter, stretched from within the dirt up to the heavy triangle-shaped roof. A massive Cypress tree burst through the middle of the roof; its tip towering over the shrine itself.
"Are you sure that place is safe?" I asked, as my feet sank into the soft dirt.
Tryne's pace finally slowed. "The shrine has seen its share of weathering," she admitted. "Though it is safe for now."
"Safe for now?" I pulled back, causing Tryne to stop and let go of my hand. "It looks as if it will fall into the sea at any moment."
"Not for another forty years," Tryne said, looking at it solemnly.
I took a step back. "How do you know that?"
Tryne turned to face me. "It is difficult to explain," she said. "I live in this moment, but I have long since passed on."
Tryne nodded; her eyes downcast.
"But you're standing right here in front of me," I said.
"I live on in your memories," Tryne said.
"How is that possible?" I asked. "I don't remember this at all."
"This…" Tryne looked out to the shrine. "This never happened. At least… not like this."
"Then how is it a memory?" I asked.
She turned back to face me. "You remember me," she said. "And though I cannot understand why you would find such favor in a lowly servant girl, I can be called to your mind at any moment." Tryne smiled. "In the time in which I lived."
"But how can I conjure up a memory of something that never happened?"
"Because the memory is of me," Tryne said. "I'm a familiar face. What we say and what we do… It doesn't matter." She reached out and took my hand. "You know how I will react. You know what I will say." She smiled. "Because you are saying it."
My bare feet sank into the soft dirt, as Tryne gently led me toward the shrine. I couldn't wrap my head around what she had said. Everything felt so real to me. I could smell the sea, and taste the salt on the wind. The earth below me brought back memories of hunting in the wild; barefoot and free. They were memories of another life though; things I never experienced as Jesse. All of these recollections weren't of my life, but the life of someone else.
My eyes focused on the entrance to the shrine ahead of us. A young woman stood there; a veil covering her face. Her arms were outstretched as if to welcome me into an embrace. The mere mention of that name opened my eyes, as if I were seeing for the first time. I suddenly realized why all of these images kept coming back to me, and why Tryne had called me her Archeress and Goddess. We were walking toward my shrine. I was Artemis; or at least I used to be some time in the past.
"Hurry! Hurry!" the other woman exclaimed. "We haven't much time."
Tryne walked with me a few more feet, and suddenly released my hand. Looking at her, I somehow knew why she could not proceed. I suddenly had memories of Tryne. She had been my personal servant for many years, but she was not a priestess. Therefore, she could not enter this place. I strolled past her, and approached the entrance to the shrine. The doorway had sunken into the soft dirt in which I stood.
"You're her. Aren't you?" I asked, following the young woman inside. "You're Amara."
"When you saved my life, so many years ago, I vowed to never use that name again," the woman said.
"Why?" I asked, as I strolled alongside her.
The woman glanced at me. "You know why," she said. "How can I be named 'unfading' when my devotion faltered, so many moons ago?"
"You're here now," I said.
"Because you saved me," the woman said. "You jumped right into the sea after me. Without hesitation." She turned her face to me once more. "You freed me, and opened my eyes. You gave me wisdom."
"Wisdom…" I said, staring straight into her veil. "Sophia?"
"It is I, Goddess," Sophia said.
I cringed inwardly. "Please don't call me that," I said.
"As you wish, Artemis," Sophia said. "Or would you prefer Jesse?"
"This is all so strange," I said, as we stepped toward another door.
This door led into another chamber. It looked to be the inner sanctum of the shrine. A worn statue of Artemis stood as a centerpiece. She traipsed barefoot; her hand on her brow, as if searching for her next kill. Her other hand clasped a strung bow and arrow; gently resting at her side. A short chiton clung to her body like a rippling sea. While a laurel decorated her wavy tresses.
I stepped around the room; examining the varied artifacts. There were several ancient pots and bowls. Most likely these were used in ceremonies. Piles of papyrus -covered in Greek text- littered a makeshift table in the corner. As I continued around the room, I happened upon a broken trinket. It was a small statue of Artemis, or at least her upper body. She held a drawn bow; the arrow of which seemed stained with dried blood.
"So it's true," I said, lifting the statue. "You really killed that man in the temple." I turned to face her.
Sophia stood with her head downcast. "It was the only way to save my sister," she said. "I couldn't live with the thought of a man forcing himself upon another priestess."
I placed the statue back on the shelf. "So everything Leann told me was true?" I asked.
"Leann means well," Sophia said. "But she never saw the bigger picture. She keeps searching for a scientific, or logical way to expunge our gift." Sophia sighed. "I'm afraid it goes much deeper than that."
"Can the cur… spell be reversed?"
"It's not a spell," Sophia said. "And it's not a curse." She strolled over to me. "It's a gift. And I do not possess the power to remove it."
"Wait," I said. "Leann told me you were the one responsible for… this gift."
Sophia shook her head. "I begged Artemis for youth," she said. "I wanted to remain in her service. She felt immortality was too much of a burden on humankind, so she only granted me a youthful appearance. My body continued to age."
"But you're in the present," I said. "You're working for Aphrodite."
Sophia lowered her head. "I never claimed to be perfect," she said. "In this time… In this moment, I am still serving Artemis." She strolled away from me. "In forty years time, the city here will be invaded. This temple will be destroyed and will crumble into the sea. The one responsible for this is… was… Aphrodite. She is fueled by her immense hatred of you and your followers." Sophia let out a long sigh. "In a moment of weakness and selfishness, I gave in to Aphrodite's lure. I pledged to serve her if she would spare me."
"Why does she hate me?" I asked.
"To say Aphrodite is the jealous type, would be putting it mildly," Sophia said. "She considers herself to be the most beautiful creation on Earth. So when she feels another is about to surpass her beauty, she becomes… vengeful."
"And she thinks I surpass her beauty?" I asked, with a laugh.
"That, among other things," Sophia said, beginning to stroll around again. "She sees Artemis as a natural beauty. Because Artemis is one with nature, and hardly gives any effort to being attractive. Her attractiveness is one of pure mystery. A mystery that Aphrodite cannot understand." Sophia stopped to look at me. "Not to mention Artemis' chaste nature is extremely adversarial to Aphrodite's propensity for fornication."
"Yeah… I kind of got that," I said. "Some of the things I saw…"
"Please don't judge me by my future self," Sophia said. "I am most likely a weak shell of a person."
I shook my head. "You're actually pretty strong and confident in my time," I said. "You could take charge if you wanted to."
Sophia studied me thoughtfully for a moment. "You must stop Aphrodite," she said. "You're the only one with the power to do so."
"Power?" I asked. "I don't have any power." I started to walk to the other side of the room. "Right now she has me chained up in a cell. Torturing me…"
"I believe in you," Sophia said. "Others have come before you. Other manifestations of Artemis. But you're different. You're special somehow. There is something about you…"
"I'm not special," I said. "I'm just a kid. All I want to do is rid myself of this curse, and go back to my old life."
Sophia stepped over to me, blocking my path. "Stopping Aphrodite is the first step in returning to your old life," she said. "You must understand. She is one of the catalysts for what you call the curse."
"One?" I asked, looking at Sophia in disbelief. "Are you saying I have to go on some kind of Greek Goddess killing spree?"
Sophia tilted her head to the side.
"How do I know this isn't one of Aphrodite's games?" I asked. "She could be putting these thoughts in my head. Playing with my memories. Seeing if I'll do something, or say something, to give her justification to do whatever. I don't want any part of her world."
"It's not like that," Sophia said. "I'm trying to help you." She approached me; her hand stretched out.
"No!" I exclaimed, backing away from her. "This is the test. I'm not falling for it."
"You are in danger, Jesse," Sophia said. "The walls are closing in. Aphrodite has already written you off, and she'll be going after your friends next."
"My friends?!" I stepped toward the entrance of the room. "She was right. If they were my friends, why haven't they come back for me? Why would they just leave me to rot in this hell?"
"They are dealing --"
"I don't want to hear anymore," I said. "Take me back to the sanctuary." I glared at her. "I want to go back. I want to leave! Anywhere, but here."
Sophia lowered her head. "As you wish, my Goddess," she said. "But remember this place. Remember what we discussed. There is still time, but it grows short."
"Let me go," I said, in a hushed voice.
Sophia's body heaved in defeat. She lifted her hand toward the doorway. The memory of the shrine slowly melted from my vision. My eyes blinked open. Wavy streams of heat greeted me; in the distance, that taunting pedestal came into focus. Behind me, my shoulders and elbows ached. My wrists were sore, and felt the weight of metal shackles. I tried to push myself up, but barely had the strength to move along the floor.
"Well, well," Aphrodite's voice echoed through the chamber. "She lives after all." A slight laugh came from the speaker box. "I was beginning to worry." After a short pause, she continued. "I have seen all I need to see here. It's clearly evident you do not possess the power to free yourself."
"I could have told you that," I said, with a raspy voice. "Please, just let me go."
"Oh, you're not going anywhere," Aphrodite said. "You may not be the reincarnation of Artemis, but you are far too pretty to be set free. You'll make a fine addition to my trophy collection."
The lock of the door sounded like thunder as it unlatched. Two burly guards made their way into the room, and approached me. Leaving the shackles in place, they released me from the chain. I felt their meaty paws wrap around my arms; lifting me underneath my armpits. My legs and feet would not resolve to supporting me, and I soon felt myself dragged unwillingly from the room. The last thing I remember was seeing the tights draped over the pedestal.
To Be Continued...
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.