Both my hands flew to my throat, which made an odd gurgling sound, and each of them was instantly warmed and wetted by an enormous flow of ichor. I gasped and sputtered, unable to take in any air and instead tasting a metallic saltiness in the back of my throat which I somehow knew was my own blood. Withdrawing my hands and holding them in front of my enlarged eyes, I panicked to see them entirely coated in the glistening substance that now poured so freely from my throat, which had been slashed across, nearly severed entirely. I saw spots forming in the corners of my eyes as I felt my knees hit the cold stone floor painfully, followed by my elbows and then the side of my head. I blinked repeatedly expecting my vision to improve, but each time I opened them, I could see less of the sunlight as the black spots turned into halos which expanded across my eyes.
I drew in a single, gasping, ragged breath — a breath that would be my last.
There were sounds all around me in the darkness. I could hear a hammering followed by a chinking sound which was followed by a scraping echo. This went on for an extended amount of time before it stopped, during which time I heard cloth move, something that sounded like water being poured, and then the rhythmic song began again.
It was black as midnight wherever I was. I thought I might be lying on my back and staring up, but I had no sense of direction at all. I imaged moving my arms or legs, or even more reasonably my fingers or toes, but I felt nothing at all.
It was an odd sensation, to feel nothing at all. If I were lying down, I felt nothing beneath me, though I was clearly suspended somehow. I could feel no movement, no breath entering or exiting my lungs. It was as if my limbs didn’t even exist any longer. The only sense I had at all was that of hearing, so I merely listened as the symphony I’d been hearing continued on without interruption.
Strangely, I felt the sense that someone was with me, wherever I was. I could feel anger, remorse, resentment, all being released with each hammering sound, only to be refilled and then released again like the ebb and flow of an ocean wave.
“My son, you can’t bear this burden alone,” I heard a woman’s voice say. “I don’t understand why you’re so upset. After all, you didn’t even know this woman.”
“Neither did you,” a man grunted through clenched teeth. It sounded like he wielded something heavy. I heard the sound of stone splitting followed by labored breathing. “But I knew her better than most.”
“A few days are not enough time to get to know someone as well as you claim.” I heard scraping sounds and a thud like several tools were set down. “Mother, it was you who recommended I accompany my father on many of these adventures because of my ability to read people and judge character. And now is the time you choose to call that skill into question?”
The woman sighed. “That is not what I meant.” She paused. “At least accept some help carving out her tomb. Your uncle has offered...” Tomb? The world hung in my mind.
I heard the man groan as he picked up his tool and swung again. “No,” he heaved. “I need to do this. I feel responsible.”
“None of this rests on your shoulders! She made her choice when she consumed the ambrosia, regardless of how she came across it. Your father has laid out justice as he saw fit.”
"I believed her story, Mother.” There was a pause as I heard the sound of him swinging a heavy tool. “And I believe it still. She didn’t deserve to die. Not like that.” More hammering and chiseling. Time passed without conversation.
“At least come back to the summit for dinner. You don’t have to finish all with such determination so quickly. Even your father knows the effort it takes to carve a tomb, much more when you’re doing it alone.”
The man said nothing. I could feel his struggling loyalty. Light footsteps across the stone grew faint until I could no longer hear them, and I gathered that the woman had left her son to his business.
It occurred to me that there was some familiarity in the voices I’d heard. I tried to traverse my recent memory and found it difficult, as if I were walking through a fog. It seemed that something recognizable lay on the other side of the mist but its edges were unrefined and difficult to place. As I walked through the thick vapor in my mind, it turned from a white cloud to a thick shimmery liquid the consistency and color of honey. Then I was coated in it, held fast in the ooze until I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t breathe as the substance poured over my lips and into my throat. I choked and coughed, but when I’d inhale, more of the liquid would fill my lungs.
Somewhere far away, the sound of metal on stone rang out like a thousand bells chiming all at once. There was a voice, and I tried to call out to it, but I still couldn’t breathe. I started to thrash and flail against the force that bound and choked me.
Then there was a blinding white light, painfully bright against the darkness which had encased me, and I squeezed my eyes together trying to block it out, though it was so bright I could still see it through the thin skin of my eyelids. Something leaned over me and blocked it, and I slowly opened my eyes.
“I saw you die. You’re supposed to be dead,” said the shadowy outline of a man with a warm, though alarmed, voice. The same voice I’d just heard arguing with his mother.
I drew in the longest most wonderful breath my lungs could stand to hold. “Am I not?” I responded; the inside of my throat felt like fingernails dug across it as I spoke. Slowly, a tingling sensation passed through my body, and everything began to ache and throb.
A rough but gentle hand ran softly across my neck. “No, miraculously you’re not.” There was relief in the man’s voice.
I blinked repeatedly, and each time the face of the man who knelt over me grew more focused and defined. The beams of light added a coppery luster to the man’s dark auburn hair. When I could discern the face more clearly, I found his eyes; they were blue like the sun-lit sky. “I know you,” my raspy voice croaked, and then I coughed spastically, having to gracelessly flop over onto my side. The man’s arms wrapped around me as I rolled, and I realized I was laying on a cold unpolished stone floor. “Where am I?”
The man seemingly pulled a skin of water from thin air. I attempted to sit up, but my body refused. I tried to reach for it; my arms wouldn’t quite obey my intense desire to drink.
Gingerly, the man placed one hand on my upper back, between my shoulders, and lifted me to a seated position, leaning me against an equally cold and unpolished wall. He held the skin to my lips with his other hand on the back of my head, and I drank gluttonously. “What do you remember?” he asked me.
I closed my eyes. Immediately the golden honey-like liquid filled my mind again, but this time I wasn’t drowning in it. It flowed backwards, away from me like I was watching a waterfall moving backwards toward its source. As I watched the flow, it entered into a grotesque laceration across a woman’s neck, made by a long sword that glinted menacingly in the light. I stared at the woman, and she stared back at me. I heard a woman’s voice call out, “Aphrodite.” I knew that was my name, and I knew that woman was me.