The tunnel seemed to go on forever before finally dropping Indy into another pool of water. This one was much shallower than the lake above, however, and his feet hit the bottom quickly enough to cause shock and pain up his legs. He pushed off from the bottom of the pool floor and breached the surface sputtering and choking. The darkness was still impenetrable and panic set in as he swam around, wondering what was lurking in the water and if he’d ever reach a shore or a bank. He no longer had the coin to guide him, and he swam in circles for a moment before he began to take in light and shapes.
Something was glowing from above. The same shimmery blue light of the coin had leaked down like blood through the tunnel that had dropped him. It began to illuminate the ceiling of the cave like the glow worms he had seen once on a trip to New Zealand. Little stars began to twinkle on the roof of the cave until he could see enough of the cavern to find his way.
It was no bigger than a pond, and the ceiling appeared to be held up by smooth marble columns instead of rocks or mineral deposits. The darkness began to fade beyond the water, and he could make out the carved stone walls. He moved toward the shore and his feet met solid ground moments later. The floor of the pond was smooth and stepped up like a pool. The glow of the ceiling couldn’t penetrate the dark water, but he could feel the ridges of tiles and carvings as he stepped toward the shore and continued into the slowly lighting cave.
A throne of some sort appeared as the glowing from far above moved through the cavern. It was vast and solid marble, but many chunks and pieces had broken off. It was in a state of decay but still magnificent to behold. The God who sat on it must have been at least twenty to thirty feet tall. He imagined her as a combination of great and talented film actresses. A sharp nose and a long, lean neck. She would have a look of power and majesty. Someone who was clearly the embodiment of wisdom.
There was another pool before the throne. The water was dark and black but slopped against the tiles on the side as if pushed by unseen current or an unfelt breeze. He felt his heart seize in his chest. This was the moment he had been training for all his life. All of the people in his family, from his parents to his Greek ancestors, had prepared for this moment. To be given the task of waking the gods. It had passed all of them by. They passed their knowledge onto their children when they were old enough to join the CORE, and they faded into memory.
But somehow, the task had come to him. Through everything, he had been born at the right time to be the one person with enough skill and talent to stand before the throne of Athena. THE Athena. Of course, some might argue that he had no skill and talent at all. Certainly, if they had seen the fiasco that was his entrance into Athena’s tomb. But luckily, no one had seen it. Except for the bird. And then he wondered if the bird would tell its master about how dumb he must have looked hanging by the ankle and dripping wet without a weapon and a mind that suddenly forgot all that skill and training. Regardless, the other members of the CORE certainly weren’t qualified.
Something shifted in the water again, causing it to lap over the edges of the pool and spread over the tiles to where he stood. Then he wondered if it wasn’t the Goddess of Wisdom he was going to meet already, but another guardian. His mind went through all of the possibilities. Gorgons. Harpies. Furies. Hydras. What did Athena favor along with owls? He couldn’t remember, but something black was moving through the water. Not enough to breach the surface, but enough for him to see that it was solid and real and much too small to be a thirty-foot woman.
It reached the edge of the pool, and he took a step back. His hands went to his pack, but he’d left all his good weapons it in the cave entrance. All he had on him now were a few small knives and various artifacts he thought he might use to persuade a god that he was really a member of the CORE.
An arm slipped out of the water. For a moment, he thought it was a snake, and his heart jumped again. But it was definitely an arm. With five fingers and wet skin. The other one followed shortly after and he took another step back as she pushed herself upward. Her head was covered in long dark hair so that he couldn’t make out her face and was instantly reminded of the movies with little ghost girls that climbed out of wells and killed people. He didn’t know any creatures like that in all the mythology he studied. Was she dead? Was she an undead monster? Or something similar?
Whatever she was, she pulled herself out of the pool and slopped onto the tiles. Then she made a sound that sounded an awful lot like “Ugh.” She was wearing a dress in the exact cut and style he would have expected for a goddess. Apparently of ancient Greek origin, with gold clasps, and a dark blue gauzy fabric that was soaking wet and stuck to her skin. But that was about it. She was twenty feet smaller than he imagined. In fact, she was smaller than him. She was shorter and more curvaceous than he imagined, and then finally, she peered at him from behind her curtain of wet black hair.
Then she stared. And he was at a loss for words. Wet and petite or not, she was still a goddess. THE goddess. He had chosen her specifically for her knowledge and skills. If anyone knew how to defeat all the monsters someone was waking, then certainly it was the goddess of wisdom and warfare.
She reached out a hand and waved her small fingers. It took him a moment to understand what she wanted, and then he rushed forward to help her to her feet. She felt so normal and real. She didn’t appear from a burst of light or feel like a goddess. He didn’t know what a goddess felt like. But he hadn’t really expected her to feel—well human.
She got onto her feet almost sloppily. Then she moved her curtain of hair out of her face and looked around the cavern, blinking and confused. Like someone who had just woken up from a long nap and hadn’t quite figured things out yet.
“Athena?” he said. “Is it really you?” Her head snapped back to him, and she pulled back. The look on her small round face could only be described as complete confusion. She whispered something under her breath that he couldn’t quite make out. She spoke in a language he didn’t recognize. Not Ancient Greek, but not the language of the gods either. He took a step back, not wanting to confuse her or make her uncomfortable.
“My name is Indy,” he explained. She blinked at him again. Her dark eyes reminded him of the owl. But she kept her arm up almost defensively and looked at him like he smelled funny.
“My name is—Athena,” she said. Her voice was soft and average. Not powerful and strong. But he laughed anyway. He couldn’t believe it.
“Yes! Athena! You’re Athena! You speak English?”
“You speak English.” He shook his head then. Confused.
“I don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I speak what you’re saying.” He took a moment to understand.
“You’re using my speech to understand my language?”
“Yes. Using your speech to understand English.” Then he laughed and ran his fingers through his dark blond hair. It felt wet and dirty and grimy, but he was elated.
“That’s incredible!” She looked around again, biting the inside of her lip as if she was searching for the right words.
“What?” she asked. He was confused again. He gathered that she could only use words he’d already supplied her with.
“Uh…” he started. He was always good at talking. He could probably provide her with more words. “My name is Indy. Like I said. I’m a member of the CORE. I was sent to wake you.”
“What wake you? That doesn’t make any sense. You mean why? Why wake you?” She turned to him and examined him more closely now. She looked him up and down.
“Yes,” she said. “Why wake me?”
“Something is happening on the outside. Someone is waking monsters. We don’t know who it is, but it’s obviously a member of the CORE. We’re the only ones who have the ability to do that.” She walked around him, examining him, occasionally poking at his clothes or his packs. He followed along, not caring that she kept jabbing him in the ribs.
“What is happening?” Her speech was slow, but she was apparently getting a grasp of sentences and language. She was even mimicking his Mid-Western accent almost perfectly.
“CORE divisions are being overrun with monsters. Their tombs are being opened. We keep finding them empty. People have been going missing. We’re afraid that they’re going to start dying in large numbers. We don’t know how to fight these kinds of monsters or stop any more of them from being awakened.”
“Because you’re the goddess of wisdom and I figured if anyone knew what to do it would be you.”
“What…” she paused, searching through her growing index of words to find the right one for what she wanted to say. He’d have to buy her a dictionary. Better yet, just give her a cell phone. She could Google it. “What tombs,” she said then she stood back and looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “Like me.” She put her hand on her chest. “Are being opened?”
“The other gods? You want to know which gods we’ve woken up?”
“Just you so far. Your tomb was easier to find than the others. Most of them are still lost. But I figured you could help me.” She sighed. It was a definite sigh. Her shoulders slumped, and she dropped her hands as if this was a relief to hear that the other gods hadn’t been reached. “You don’t want the other gods to awaken?” he asked.
“I don’t want the other gods to be—awaken.” Then she looked confused again. As if she understood that the sentence didn’t quite work.
“The other gods are monsters?”
“Uh…” she said, using the term he’d used when he was confused. “Yes and…” she waved her hands at him.
“You want to know what the opposite of yes is?”
“No. Yes and no.”
“No,” she said matter-of-factly. “Not monsters. Gods.”
“But you think it’s a bad idea.”
“Yes. Bad idea. Gods are not monsters. Gods are bad.”
“Huh. Well, that kind of sucks.” She motioned around the cavern.
“Sucks,” she agreed.
“This language thing isn’t really working out. If we can get out of here, I could probably teach it to you faster.”
“No,” she decided. “Bad idea. Awaken…” she motioned toward the water she’d just exited.
“Asleep? You want to go back to sleep?”
“Yes. I want to go back to sleep.” Then she walked toward the water. He reached out and gripped her arm.
“No, no, no. You can’t go back to sleep. We need you. We need your help.”
“Your monsters. Your divisions.” She’d said it so condescendingly he was almost angry. She was the goddess of wisdom. Surely she would want to help them. That was the whole reason the gods went to sleep anyway, to protect them. To save them. But the gods were wild, he remembered. They’d caused so much chaos they had to leave their own world behind just to save it.
She looked down at his hand wrapped around her arm.
“No,” she said. “Bad idea.” Then she wrapped her fingers around his and yanked his whole hand back. She was stronger than an ordinary woman of her size, and he felt stupid for almost forgetting she was a god and not actually the petite woman standing before him.
“Sorry. I’m sorry!” He pulled his hand away and stood back, but she watched him with anger flashing in her dark eyes. He held his hands up where she could see them. “I didn’t mean to touch you. It was a reflex.”
“Bad idea,” she repeated.
“Yeah. I got that. Again. I’m sorry. But please? Please don’t go back to sleep? We really need your help. Pretty soon these monsters are going to overrun everything. As you can probably see—we’re really unequipped to deal with this kind of thing. It’s been thousands upon thousands of years since you guys ditched us. A lot of information has been lost. To be honest, even though I’ve been training for this my whole life, I still wasn’t entirely sold on the idea that you guys were real. I mean, I knew. But I didn’t believe. Do you understand?”
“Of course you do. The more I speak, the more you learn, right?”
“Please? Don’t go to sleep. We won’t wake any of the other gods if that’s what you think is best. But we could really use your help. Otherwise, no one is going to be here to wake you up again because we’re all gonna fucking die.” Then she cocked her head to the side.
“What is fucking?” she asked.
“Oh shit, my bad. I’m sorry. That’s a curse word. A bad word. We’re not supposed to say those words.”
“Uh—You know, I’m not really sure? Apparently, there are some words that are just—inappropriate? You can say them with friends or whatever, but some words mean bad things or can be used for bad things. Or just make you look bad. Shit—I said shit too. That’s another one.”
“So will you please, please just stay awake and help me figure this shit out?” She sighed again, almost groaning as if he was inconveniencing her with something so small and trivial as monsters and the end of the world. She clearly had more important things to do. Like a millennia-long nap to get back to.
“Shit,” she huffed as she rubbed her forehead in such a human-like action. “We can get out of here.”
“Great! That’s good! And good use of the word ‘shit.’ Really impressive. You used it in the right context and everything. So…” He put his hands on his hips and looked around at the seemingly endless cavern. “How the hell do we get out of here?”
Character aesthetic for Indy by me.