Last week two terrible catastrophes befell the dig party. As the survivors survey the wreckage of the calamity, Antonios tries to find his friends among the rubble, and as he has a violent confrontation he comes to a terrible realisation of what links the history of the Giants to the tragedies afflicting them in the present day.
I blinked, but couldn’t discern light from dark. When I tried to speak, my throat hacked up a lungful of dust. That must have alerted someone else to my presence, for I heard a groan. Female. My heart fluttered as I suddenly thought about Medas, and a terrible stab of fear struck me, and I wondered what horrible fate had befallen my young protégé. I tried calling her name, but nothing. Then I realised that it must have been Helena, for she had been standing right next to me when the walls had caved in. I called her name, but it came out as a hacking cough that made my eyes water. In the perfection of colourlessness that the absence of light achieved – I pondered, yes, in that moment how Caravaggio would have enjoyed the tenebrosity of this infelicity! – I wondered if death or, perhaps, a coma had worked itself upon me. Then I wondered whether I had become trapped in some purgatorial cycle of my basest fears – that the one person nearest and dearest to me was now gone – ensconced within an eternal moment of peril and ekpyrosis without resolution.
The next sound I heard was my own breathing, so loud I made myself start, and then laugh, and then weep.
Lies, damned lies, and contracts written by billionaires!
“Who’s there?” came a voice.
I tried to speak once more, but still the dust lay thick on my chest, and I sneezed and painfully coughed some more before the words came out. “It is I, Antonios.”
“Professor! It’s me, Kat.”
I sat up, and my side coiled up in pain. I winced audibly and clutched it. Despite the dark, I was aware of how forlorn I must have been: my forehead was slick with something wet which I hoped was merely sweat, my stomach flipped this way and that as the reality of this terrible situation began to dawn upon me, and my legs were as jelly, barely functioning at all. “Oh, Kat. Forgive me, but I am so pleased to not be alone in this awful place. Are you alone? Did you see Medas, or Helena?”
“No,” she said. Her voice was someway close, and someway distant, loud enough to be heard at a regular volume, but sufficiently far that it sounded as though it had bounced off some debris to reach me. “But Professor Winston is with me. He’s hurt very badly, but Demos and I managed to bandage his eyes, around those horrid sticks. But he is raving.”
Albert. My heart sank at the hideous misfortune that had befallen my old friend and colleague, and I found myself rubbing my chest with a greasy, dusty hand, reflecting on my good fortune not to be the one who had peered into the macabre mechanism within that fiendish statue. My mind raced. Something at the site we had breached was being protected. I briefly recalled Medas’s citation of Ibycus’s use of the word safeguarding, but my mind was too discombobulated to process the thought, and I was more concerned with the crisis at hand. “Kat, my dear, do you have light?”
“Yes, a little from my phone, but not much battery. I think the falling ceiling knocked out the electric cables.””
“We need something that will last a bit better.” I rummaged in my pockets, found my lighter and retrieved it from my inside breast pocket as joyfully as though I had found one of Archimedes’s original Planetariums. “What luck! I have my lighter. Together, perhaps, we can make a torch, and find our way out of here.”
My lighter sparked into life, casting a scant, throbbing light upon the piles of fractured rubble and debris surrounding me, its little ‘∑’ shining out with plucky fortitude. I gingerly stood and attempted to make sense of my surroundings, and to look for someone.
“Medas,” I cried, hoarsely, hacking up more snotty dirt. No reply. I gritted my teeth and felt my way along the rubble, stumbling this way and that, and slipping on stones large and small. I progressed slowly, cursing loudly. “Medas! Helena! Can you hear me?”
Still no reply. I swore again and decided it would be better to focus on finding Kat and Albert, and from there figuring out what to do. I had been surrounded by rubble, but my lighter revealed a steep slope. I held up the little flame and – yes! – a faint draught caught it and made it dance. There was a draught, and that meant a way out. Sure enough, up the slope I went, chest wheezing and calf muscles cramping, for what seemed like a good many metres, until I found a low passage which must have run back towards the sinkhole. I had only taken a few steps when I saw another light in the darkness below.
“Kat! Is that you?”
The light blinked, and she called back. “Yes, it’s me. Come quick, your friend is very hurt.”
I scrabbled back down the rubble and skirted around a large rock to find Kat kneeling by Albert, holding her phone in one hand and Albert’s trembling hand in the other. When I saw the bandages wrapped around his eyes, dotted with blood, a lump of bile rose to the base of my throat, and I once again felt helpless. His flesh looked awfully pale, even notwithstanding the dust, and he shook terribly. Out of his mouth came soft mutterings, upon first listening sounding like garbled nonsense, but as my breathing calmed and the sounds kept coming, I realised he was recalling names from antiquity.
“Eurymedon… the rapist… he brought forth Hell… Mimas…”
I knelt beside him. “Albert, what are you saying? Eurymedon and Mimas were two of the Giants. What of it?”
He turned to me and reached out a hand. “Antonios! This place is cursed… so do all things return… my God, man! Agrius, Agrius was the first… look back! Polybotes, hefted by his Olympian enemies… look to those greatlings, Antonios.” He laughed then, a kind of despairing, maddened laugh, as though the sticks that had blinded him had severed his faculties, and he gripped my hand, finding it with such alacrity I thought he surely couldn’t be blind at all. “I’m Ephialtes, you see!” Then the smile left him, leaving only a red abyss where his mouth was. “Lions and tigers, my friend.”
The words sent a shiver down my spine, and I shushed him, telling him to rest some now, and not to speak any more. It was true that he needed rest, but also, his words disturbed me. They bore the ring of familiarity, but one of the problems of being a professor in the Classics is that most things carry the ring of familiarity. As humans, we are doomed to the repetition of all things, after all.
“Will he be ok?” I asked Kat, my voice flat.
“He is in shock. He could poison himself. He desperately needs a hospital.”
The thought of Albert dying as well as Medas sickened me, and I was thunderstruck by guilt. What a terrible Stoic I was! I forced myself to swallow such self-indulgence and to attack the situation at hand. “Perhaps we could go back to that crawl space up there and find our way back to the Great Doors. Albert!”
Albert spluttered something about Ephialtes again, and dabbed a trembling finger to his bandages, before flinching.
“Albert, can you stand? With your arms around my shoulders, can you walk?”
“Yes, yes! But do not see me as Hippolytes, who did not see Hermes coming, as only now do I see nobody coming.”
Kat and I ignored the comment, and hauled him to his feet, slinging one arm around my shoulder. Luckily Albert was rather slight, so it was no great burden to bear him anon. Kat ripped some fabric from my shirt and tied it around a long shard of stone. I released some of the fluid from my lighter onto the fabric, and lit it to serve as a torch. To our wonderment, it worked, and Kat led the way.
After a painful ascent we reached the crawl space. “This way,” I said, and, stooping, we made our way along the tiny space back to the Great Doors. None of us spoke, allowing me to ponder Albert’s words in greater detail. ‘Agrius was the first,’ he’d said. Agrius was one of the Gigantes, the Giants, killed during the Gigantomachy by the Fates wielding bronze clubs. I thought of Maria, crushed, and gasped so loudly I almost dropped my blind companion to the ground in my shock.
“Albert! Maria was crushed by the Fates, clubbed by a bronze statue, as was the Giant Agrius. And you said you are now Ephialtes, who was blinded by arrows from Apollo – and of course the wolf is a sacred symbol of Apollo…” my mind raced and my heart hammered. “Albert, what do you think it means?”
He clutched at my chest and made a kind of wheezing noise, and then moaned from the pain. Kat turned and looked at us. “What is he saying?”
“He’s in terrible pain. But he may have understood what is happening here.” I racked my brains. “Polybotes. He was a Giant crushed by the Earth. Just as many of our team were crushed. Medas… my dear,” I said, suddenly lost in thought and threatened by sorrow. I gritted my teeth and told myself to save my grief. And then the idea, so mad in its bizarre perfection for my sceptical mind to bear, came rushing into my brain like a tidal wave of blood, and screeched itself lucid, drowning out my critical faculties. It was happening, and the madness of this place would brook no further logic. “My God. Maria, clubbed to death by the Fates, as Agrius. Albert, as Ehialtes, blinded by Apollo. Our team, as Polybotes, crushed. We are being killed like the Giants!”
“What of your friend? Medas?”
“She must have been…” I winced at the thought, and swallowed back grief. “Swallowed by the Earth, like Enceladus. She was right!”
Kat visibly shivered despite the warmth of the torch by her. “Then we must go.”
I agreed, and with renewed strength borne of fear and amazement, I dragged Albert along with gritted teeth, ignoring the cramping pain arcing down my spine and the acid burning in my legs. The Great Doors were maybe fifty metres ahead of us, but in these horrific conditions, it seemed a Marathon.
I froze, wondering whether to address the voice behind me or not. Hoping that it might bring us greater aid, I turned, only to see Alexis limping after us. I instinctively snarled at him, wanting to strike him for all that he had brought upon us. In that moment his guilt was absolute in my mind, though I confess my mind had been stripped of its deductive powers; my own culpability in joining this wretched spree had been excised from my mind, and all I saw was the man who had led us here, perhaps under false pretences, perhaps under something more sinister. I cared not.
“You are a lucky man that I am currently bearing my friend to safety,” I said with a grimace. “For you have no idea how much I want to beat you at this time.”
Alexis got closer, and said nothing, but looked at me blankly. His suit was ripped to shreds and caked in dust, while a hundred cuts lacerated his face and hands. He had coarsely tied a sling around his arm, fashioned from his shirt. “Then you are just as big a fool as I,” he eventually said. He sneered at me, and then Kat. “I knew we should have hired better professionals.” He looked me up and down distastefully. “Third rate hacks.”
My hackles were well and truly raised at this awful man now. “My dear fellow, you may utter what you like of me, but to speak of my wounded friend here, and my deceased partner Doctor Kespas, in this way, is an insult. Do not forget that I stand between you and the exit.”
He laughed at that, and tried to push past me, but I moved to block him, and pushed him away with my shoulder, making him wince and Albert cry out.
“My apologies, old friend,” I said, setting down Albert as Alexis reset himself. “Kat, go! Raise the alarm.”
“But you need the light,” she said, backing away.
“Then leave the torch. It’s only a few dozen metres from here,” I said, not taking my eyes off Alexis. “Run!”
She left the torch and fled, slowly, painfully, into the darkness. Meanwhile, Alexis had pulled a knife from somewhere on his person – a short, stubby penknife, but it piqued my alarm nonetheless. He only had one good arm.
“Get out of my way, Professor,” he said, clenching his teeth together. His flesh was wan and his brow damp with sweat. He lunged for me. I stumbled, falling onto my backside. From there I kicked hard at his shins, and he fell with a howl. I got up, my back shooting with pain and chest rattling with dust and spit, and got on top of him. He slashed his knife at me, and I defended myself instinctively, causing him to cut my forearm. I roared with the wound, took his arm with both of mine and smashed his wrist into the ground, making him squeal and drop the knife. I pinned him to the floor, and he had no strength to wriggle free.
“What is happening here, Alexis?”
He panted and looked at me with a hateful, defeated gaze. “I don’t know,” he said, eventually. “Truly, I don’t. All I wanted was the money. You academics,” he sneered through a bloodied mouth. “You professors… everything has to be code, everything has to be a sign of something. All I wanted was to be rich. And this could have made us all rich, but you idiots… you have to meddle.”
“What? What do you mean?” I leant on his bad arm, making him cry out. I felt no gladness for doing it, but I sensed some revelation was at hand. “Who do you work for?”
“Ah, to hell with it!” he moaned. “I’m just a fixer. A cog. A project manager. The one who gets things done. His name is Apoystraphus tou Phalcou.”
“A billionaire. He thought this – this sinkhole – was a sign. A sign to make money. When he wanted to sign up the most esteemed professors in classical Greek and its archaeology, I made it happen. He was most adamant that we signed up that wilful young colleague of yours,” he said with a broken smile. “Pfft. Hellenists, eh?”
I drew back. That’s right. Alexis had mentioned the Hellenism before. “He’s a Hellenist?”
“He calls himself a Citizen of the World. When you’re that rich, you can afford to be a little crazy, and can afford not to pay any tax. He always said tax wouldn’t matter in the end.”
“And what did you want Medas for?”
“I didn’t want her at all. Apoystraphus did. I wanted the best. But then I only wanted to make money. More fool me. Whatever the hell that nut wanted to do back there with Medas…” he looked around in disgust. “I’m done. One thing’s for sure, though. If he wanted to draw your young Medas into it, she’d be better off dead.”
My breath caught in my throat. “You mean she’s alive? How… how can you know?”
He spat blood at me and grunted. “Third rate hacks.” Fool that I was, I was distracted by the conundrum, and Alexis moved free just enough to grab his penknife and slash at me anew with a cry. I blocked the blow, and instinctively punched him in the face, hard. My knuckles cracked with the blow, and Alexis fell back to the floor. Shame be upon me, for I could not control the rage in me at his second attempt to murder me, and I drove his head into the granite ground below us, once, twice, before I stopped myself, and rolled off him. I almost retched, panting, water streaming from my eyes as I realised what I’d done in the dying of the torchlight, as Alexis’s fingers tapped out a final, silent message into thin air before they went still.
Shivering, I tried to rally my mind and make sense of what had happened. Had Medas had been sacrificed? Had this Apoystraphus fellow brought us here just to die? Or for something else?
“Lions and tigers,” came Albert’s weak voice from behind me. He woke me from my trance, so I grabbed the torch and scrambled over to him. He reached for my hand, and said the same thing. “Lions and tigers, killed in the pit. The Giants!”
I remembered: Lion was the name of a Giant killed by Heracles in single combat. I looked at the body of Alexis and shuddered. Was I now Heracles, and thus complicit in this gruesome tapestry of murder? My mind filled with sounds and insane theories.
“Did you hear what he said, Albert?” I whispered. “There is a plan to all this. Someone is killing us.”
“No. They’re killing the Giants.” He laughed weakly. “You’re an Olympian now, Antonios!”
I didn’t feel like one. “Then you are Tiresias.” I winced at my feeble, distasteful joke. “Stay here, Albert. I must find out what is happening.”
I left the torch with Albert so Kat could easily find him, and to keep my friend warm in that Godforsaken place. I still had my lighter, so it was with the tiniest of lights in the darkness I pressed on into the abyss, prey to my raving mind and intellectual curiosities.