Armed with the knowledge that Ich Bin had shared, they started the climb to the next trial. Sthenno would be more challenging to overcome than the Sphinx or the Nemean Lion. She was a Titan, older even than the Pantheon, more potent than the other foes they had faced and much more deadly. One look from a Gorgon and would turn any living thing to stone. Ihk Bin had given Tamara a unique gift. The shield of Perseus which had been thought to only be a legend. The face was a polished metal mirror and in the center was the effigy of a head with snakes for hair said to have become part of the shield because of Medusa’s reflection on it when Perseus took her head with the sword Athena had given him.
They approached the Titan’s lair with caution they didn’t know what to expect, and so far no one had ever returned to share what to expect when meeting. As Tamara stood in the maw of the cave, they heard laughter and the whirring of wings. Above them was the winged nightmare that described in the most ancient of Greek texts. Golden wings, snakes for hair, and resembling a monster in a child’s dream more than anything else she swooped into the cave ahead of them and took her customary seat.
Tamara approached the Gorgon with caution; she sat cleaning her talons waiting as the group approached. Apparently, she did not feel threatened by them. She looked directly at Tamara, and her eyes began to glow. Tamara raised the shield and using great care to only look at the Gorgon’s reflection spoke to her.
“Someone came through here and made it to Pythia. I want to know who, and we will be on our way, no conflict, no fight.”
“You must think yourself to be undefeatable or be scared, no one enters here and leaves unchanged, besides you must still speak to my sister’s before gaining access to Pythia, and they will not be so easy to pass, there is a ….. price to pay.”
The Sorcerers looked at each other remembering the myth and what happened when someone went to the Stygian Witches, they always exacted a price. Tamara answered Sthenno, “We will pay the price.” The Gorgon showed what passed for a smile and spoke, “The one you seek came here with something that belonged to my sister, I told him how to pass the next test and what to say to Pythia when he arrived. You call him The Black Magus, but he was quite lovely to me and brought me the one thing I desired above all else my sister’s headless body.”
Barnwell had been here, brought Medusa home, and gained the monster’s trust. “Sthenno, if the Magus succeeds, all that you have known, our entire world will cease to exist. We are all that stands between him and the destruction of our society. Plainly that compels you to help us regain what he has taken and to keep him from releasing the Witch King and unleashing Chaos?” Tamara stated.
“I was born in Chaos human, I have been around since before time started. I am a Titan, alive since before the time of the Olympians, and predate them by generations. I live in seclusion because of their meddling. I will welcome the return to Chaos; it will allow me to be free once more.”
Tamara was apprehensive; this was not a good meeting. Knowing that Sthenno supported what Barnwell was doing made her very afraid. He had found allies in the past, but to have the Titans on his side would make them prepare for all-out war. Charged with protecting humanity and the world; now with this knowledge, Tamara knew that this was more than a game or just the use of magic, this was the eternal battle, good vs. evil, the ultimate fight.
She steeled herself for the worst, taking Sgiath in hand, she prepared to launch the weapon when Sthenno saw it, she held up a hand to stop Tamara from hurling Sgiath and said. “Where did you get that from?”
Tamara looked up, and Sthenno was bowing, “Why are you bowing Sthenno, what is it about Sgiath that makes you acquiesce?”
Sthenno replied, “The one who carried that was the only one who ever treated us with kindness and acceptance, who are you to carry this blade?”
“I am Tamara Jenkins, Sorcerer, a descendant of Semiramis and the carrier of Sgiath, the Assyrian Queen is my direct bloodline ancestor, and I have received her powers.”
Sthenno stayed bowed before her and spoke as one who had yielded said to her, “We knew not that Semiramis had been reborn. We are your servants when you reach the next trial, enter that chamber in your pure form, my sisters will yield all the information needed to approach Pythia and gain the answers you seek.”
This prophecy was a revelation, no one had told her of any prophecy concerning Semiramis, or of her being reborn. She was under the impression that it was just something that had happened, she was going to question Ihk Bin when she saw him, but James and Caladan were going to give her some answers once they got out of Sthenno’s lair.
As Tamara was preparing to leave, Sthenno called to her, “Semiramis, when you need us, just call, and we will come, this mountain nullifies magic, but if you call me by name, I will hear you and rally the others and aid you wherever you are. That is my sworn promise to the heir of Assyria, and Queen of the Protectors.” Tamara bowed her head and acknowledged her; it was the beginning of an alliance that would last all of Tamara’s life.
Once outside and before they went to see the witches, Tamara confronted the Watchers she wanted to know what this prophecy was, what it said, and how she was the fulfillment of it. James and Caladan were astonished at her anger, Sebastian though, was completely understanding, and said, “Tamara, four thousand years ago as Semiramis was on her deathbed, a Sarmatian Seer gave a prophecy, this is the prophecy. At the appointed time, when the world is in its most significant need, Semiramis will come forth once more, carrying Sgiath, and wearing Ysbrid, she will lead the Protectors against all the enemies of good.”
Tamara was surprised but asked for more, Sebastian explained to her that one of the things that had given Semiramis the allies she had amassed as Queen of the Assyrians. Semiramis was the agent of Ihk Bin, and as such had led the warriors of old against all the enemies of Good including the Fallen, Fomorians, and all others that had risen against them. Sebastian explained that Semiramis had allies all over the known world, and as yet, she, Tamara Jenkins, had met but a handful and as the years passed she would meet many more allies and restore the balance and give Humanity hope for the future. Tamara was shocked; she was not the hope of Humanity, that honor belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, the one who came to save Humanity from their sin nature and restore fellowship with YHWH. Sebastian smiled, then she truly understood the source of her powers, and he was relieved from the burden he had been carrying. He knew Helen and his sons were safe.
Sthenno had given Tamara a talisman that would warn her of impending danger and also get her past the Stygian Witches. They were the watchers of fate but also craved the taste of human flesh, and they had sent many an ancient Greek to their doom. Sthenno was their sister and what she had given Tamara would get her and all her party safely past them. Sthenno had also given her a warning, do not ask for anything beyond what she needed to know, the sisters were crafty and would try to entice her into asking more questions if they could.
Tamara and the others started the climb to the last trial; it was an odd place they went. It was not a cave; this was an open space surrounded by a henge, one of carved granite and marble. In the center was the pool that they looked into to see one’s future and give their prophecies. It was a foul place that reeked of rot and decay, and around the pool was a stone altar, where they killed their victims and ate them.
Sthenno had told her that if they attacked the way to stop them was to take the eye they shared, and threaten to destroy it; she gave that to her as a last resort. Tamara knew that based on mythology, she would need to take the eye and hold it until they got away from the Witches, they were famous for their deceit.
As they approached the henge, the foul odor was almost overwhelming, how could any living thing survive in that stench, it was overpowering and made them all nauseous. Tamara covered her nose with a scarf, and the others bound their faces as well. Tamara using every ounce of stealth she could muster carefully approached the pool. The witches were busy mulling over their last victim and arguing about whose turn it was to have the eye. Tamara approached and saw the eye on the altar, grabbed it and then spoke.
“I am Tamara Jenkins, Semiramis’ Heir, I need you to answer my question, and then I shall leave.”
The Witches responded, “You have come to get the answer as to how the Black Magus got Odysseus’ Bow from Atlantis. The answer you seek is plainly before you; he was taken there by Hades, who hates all that the Olympians have become and desires only to see their downfall. He is in league with Barnwell and has set himself against all that is Good and has chosen to be your enemy. But he isn’t the real danger, the real threat is Barnwell himself, he has determined to raise The Witch King and if Barnwell does he will become your equal in power, for in him lies the bloodline needed to assume his mantle and indeed rise to ultimate power.”
Tamara thanked them for their answer and was backing out of the henge when they said, “Have you no other questions for us heir of Semiramis, Queen of the Light?” Knowing the warning that Sthenno had issued, she chose not to answer, and once outside the henge; she tossed the eye next to the pool. The time Tamara had spent with Ihk Bin had prepared her mind and heart to overcome her curiosity to a point; she would find her answers elsewhere, once they got off this mountain.
The final approach was unusual, they had to ascend an additional two hundred feet, and it was vertical, and it meant they would be free climbing, no place to insert a peton to tie off. James was the best mountain climber in the group, and he went first and played out the rope they would all be following up. He made the ascent in record time; it took him ninety minutes to get to the top and tie off the rope. Tamara came next and then by Caladan and Sebastian. It had taken them three hours to get to the top and just as the sun was setting, they approached the entrance to Pythia’s home.
It looked like the Parthenon but in full repair, along the eaves were frescoes and reliefs depicting the ancient heroes of Greece and all the mighty things they had done. All the Gods of the Pantheon and their symbols, and above the center mantle of the door, the sign of Apollo, the Blazing Sun, and his chariot.