After coming to the terrible realisation that the dire events that have played out in the archaeological dig are mirroring the ancient fate of the Giants, who were doomed by their own hubris, Antonios ploughs on through the darkness for answers, and meets somebody he does not expect, in terrifying circumstances.
I inched along the crawl space, past where I had been before, past where the huge wall with the tabernacle had been, where the crawl space widened and heightened, so it was tall enough for me to walk erect comfortably. All the while my mind raced, and I thought of what Albert had said. Men and women were being murdered or maimed in the manner of the ancient Giants: Albert, Maria, even Alexis – whose death I recalled with the worst disgust, for I wondered if he had been sent to goad me into murdering him, and thus fulfilling some Hellish, preordained pattern of events. I pushed the thought from my mind, deciding that any loss of self-determination in such a terrible situation would be akin to doom itself. I had to believe that Medas still lived, and that this Apoystraphus fellow could be stopped.
Along the corridor I noticed small eyeholes cut into the stone, to allow hidden trespassers (or perhaps the custodians of that now-desecrated site) to spy upon those crossing the great hall. It was then I realised that the statues of the Fates could have been perhaps pushed, or their foundations tampered with, somehow, to make them fall at just the right moment to crush a trespasser below.
The corridor stopped abruptly, and apparently absolutely, with no door or other exit visible. All I could see was just another wall. Even so, I was wise to the fate that had befallen Albert (and ridiculously believing that, in my quasi-status as a symbolic Heracles, I would be immune to such malevolence), and felt carefully for trips, traps and clicks. My fingers found a sort of handle set into a small recess at knee height. Seeing no other holes from which some deadly weapon might have shot, I decided to pull the handle. It creaked towards me with a click that echoed loudly. It moved more smoothly than a three-thousand-year-old lever had any right to. In fact, it moved as though it had already been moved quite recently.
The slab of stone creaked back to reveal a vast, cavernous hall bathed in a gory, orange light. The doorway opened onto a kind of stone balcony hewn from the wall itself, and led to a stairway clinging to the stone and leading down the ground. As the firelight of the hall slammed into me, I instinctively flicked off my lighter and blinked into focus, crouching down to make myself small so as not to give myself away. The hall was as tall as the great corridor had been, and half as tall again. A hall for giants. And truly a hall for The Giants. Around the perimeter of the hall there were enormous stone reliefs of figures from the Gigantomachia: those Gigantes borne of Uranus’s blood, who became locked in mortal combat with the Olympians and raged against the dying of their kind. Each one displayed their mortal wounds, their muscles taut with agony: Ephialtes with the arrows of Apollo protruding from his eyes; Lion lying upon the floor being pounded to death by Heracles; Enceladus and Polybotes crushed by huge pieces of Nisyros; Agrius and his companion Thaos clubbed to death by the Fates; Pallas flayed and his skin being forged into the aegis of Athena; Mimas and Porphyrion slain by Zeus’s thunderbolt; and Hippolytus slain by Hermes, Eurytus killed by Dionysus, and Hopladamus run through once again by Apollo, scourge of the Giants.
Fifty feet high and more stood these great sculptures against the wall, a timeless reminder of the Giants, distinguished by their monstrous excess and the hubris of their supposed success, and their futile uprising against the universal laws of nature, the eternal Gods of Olympus.
A single pyre was set at the centre of the hall, small against this huge backdrop, yet throwing off enough flame to bring the old statues almost to life, dancing in the shadows anew. By the pyre was a wide, octagonal font which seemed to be filled to the brim with liquid. Around this scene there was movement; human movement. I squinted, and slowly crept down the steps, my intrigue piqued beyond control. In a moment I saw two figures silhouetted against the fire, one carrying a strangely elongated flaming torch in his hand that seemed a cross between torch-head and quarterstaff, for it stood perhaps seven feet from the ground. It was only when I saw him walk away that I could see a third figure set upon the pyre itself. The figure’s head was slumped forwards, consumed by the smoke and flame. My heart hammered wildly and a cry of anguish almost escaped my throat as my mind played with the idea that this might be Medas. I clenched my fists into balls and prayed hard that it would not be that cruel an end for my dear friend.
I half thought to leave then, but in the flickering hope that Medas might yet be alive I cursed myself for my pathetic, milquetoast indulgences, and crept further down the stair. I would not relent until I was sure I could not save Medas from whatever plight fate – or perhaps the Fates – had in store.
The bearer of the quarterstaff torch suddenly stood in the light. He was a shirtless man; from this distance it was difficult to determine his age, but he looked tall, and powerful. A name flashed through my head: Apoystraphus? As I considered the possibility, the second figure approached him and placed a hand upon his chest. When the second figure moved into the light, I almost cried out.
She stroked his chest, and he stroked her cheek. How had he seduced her into this macabre dance, this carnival of murder? A maddening ire crashed through my chest, splitting my lungs and clenching my teeth as I thought of the corruption he’d brought unto her. And what now? As he slipped off the top of her shirt to reveal her bare shoulder I knew what diabolical fleshly corruption he had in mind for her. I made up my mind to surprise the two, attack him, and beat a hasty retreat with Medas in tow. Such was the rage and mad hope that had rekindled itself in my heart at the sight of her that I would have made another Lion of him, and pounded his brains into dust, had my movement not been arrested by the sight of Medas pulling from somewhere on her person a small scythe that twinkled in the firelight, and as the man pulled down his trousers and brought forth his member, erect and ready to act, she grabbed hold of it tightly with her free hand, cried out, “for the salvation of the Earth,” brought down the scythe and jerked it up with a flash. The man screamed and sank to his knees, clutching her clothes in futility before lying on the floor, crying unintelligibly.
Horrified, I watched as Medas took the stricken man’s bleeding genitals and tossed them into the octagonal font, where they bubbled suspiciously. And I couldn’t help then but let out a cry, and call out to her, “Medas! Medas! What are you doing?”
She spun around and saw me, stricken with shock and surprise, wearing the sheepish look of a child being caught red-handed – and her hands did indeed drip with the scarlet sign of her crime. “Antonios…” she said. “You’re alive…”
I wasn’t sure whether it was a question or a statement of the obvious. I reached her and took her firmly by the shoulders. Red ribbons were spattered up her arms and all across her dress. Her eyes were strangely vacant, as if robbed of their keenness, but after a second she looked at me anew, and shrugged me off.
“Who is that?” I cried, shouting at her quite viciously. “Is that the one called Apoystraphus tou Phalcou?”
“Yes, it is he.” She looked around her, and smiled, which disturbed me. “This is our divination.”
“My dear…” I started, but she cut me off with a cry of exasperation. The man a few yards from our feet groaned again, his flesh a sickly pale colour, in contrast with the vivid crimson streaks stretching beneath him.
“My dear, my dear, my dear,” she said. “Do you know how much I hate it when you call me that? But it was I who was the Stoical one, who bore that indignation with a stiff lip and a hardened heart, for I knew those days were soon to be at an end.”
Instinctively, I almost called her ‘my dear’ once more, not knowing what the right response might be, but caught my tongue in time, and asked a different question. “What are you doing here? That man; he was about to…”
“…To what? Rape me? As Uranus was about to rape Gaia, when her children struck forth from within her with a sickle of adamant, and castrated that vile abuser?”
I blinked. The sickle. The man on the floor bleeding. The Giants, those foul creatures who had fought the Gods, had been borne of the droplets of blood spilled when Gaia had had her father and rapist, Uranus, castrated by a sickle of adamant wielded by the Titan Cronus. I swallowed a lump in my throat as I put the pieces together. The hall seemed awfully hot. My shirt stuck to my chest and neck, and I struggled to breathe. “Who do you think you are? Gaia? Then is this man your… your father? You planned this? You planned this? Everything?”
She laughed, a humourless, joyless laugh. As she did, I noticed the blood of the stricken man run into rivulets hewn into the floor of the hall. The blood travelled to the hall’s perimeter, and to the feet of the huge statues of the Giants, where it collected in little pools by their pedestals. At the sight of it my blood ran cold, and I was then afraid of my wayward student. “What is this place?” I asked.
“The resting place of the Giants,” she said. “And believe me, they are only resting. Alcman called them ‘hubristic.’ Bacchylides, in his own poetry, called them arrogant, unsympathetic and, once again, filled with hubris. Against the power of the Gods, the Giants’ hubris was their undoing.” She cast her eyes skyward, implicitly towards the masturbatory crowds convulsing on the rim of disaster back in the Athens daylight above us: with that withering glance she condemned the bloodsucking media, the narcissistic celebrities, the venal politicians, and the eschatological preachers. She threw her eyes, dripping with contempt, back on me. “Remind you of anyone?”
The blood collected now before the reliefs of the ancient Gigantes, caught in their shadow dances, in the moment of their greatest triumph and eternal failure. I racked my brains. Why would this man plot his own death with Medas in this place? “Ovid said the Giants were symbolic of the ages of civilisation descending into spiritual and moral chaos,” I said. “Cicero called the Giants arrogant for fighting against nature, against the Gods. But you above all…” I shuddered as the realisation hit me. “Your research. Your work into the Giants, and your politics. It’s all intertwined. You more than anyone know that the most obvious symbolic meaning for the Giants is Man himself. You think it is through our own arrogance, our own hubris, our own belief in our invulnerability, that leads us to destroy ourselves. And which in turn will cause nature – that unknowable, untameable force of judgment – to destroy us. My God, Medas. What are you trying to do?”
I already knew the answer. Medas’s eyes, hardened by murder and conspiracy and robbed of their wit and humour by the madness and corruption of this foul and insane man, melted just for a second. “Oh, Antonios. I was very fond of you, once. But take a look at the world. It is sick. It has been ailed by mankind’s wickedness and willingness to fight against nature, rather than succumb to it.” Her face turned to a sneer. “You always thought my Hellenism was an affectation, a trend.” She shook her head in disgust. “The Gods will put pay to such arrogance once more. The Giants will rise from the blood of the creators of this wicked world, and they will be angry enough to fight the Gods. And they will lose, once more. And the site of their battle will be a glorious ekpyrosis, from which the world can be reborn anew!”
“You are trying to bring the Giants to life? Just so that they can be killed all over again? Medas, for God’s sake, they are statues, sculptures, bits of rock!” I shook my head, partly in disbelief, and partly in sorrow that this quite brilliant child had been seduced by the temptations of foil hats and the web of the supernatural. “You have been tricked, my dear. That dead fellow, your father, was mad. He was as mad as those religious lunatics preaching the end of the world above our very heads. Come with me. I can take you away, and perhaps help you. The supernatural is a crutch to those who fear the cold beauty of logic.” I extended a hand. “But we know better, we who strive in the name of the Philosopher and all those who came in his wake, that the betterment of man is through the pursuit of knowledge. Here the only knowledge is of death and madness. Come, while you still have some of your true nature left.”
She held a hand up as I approached and wielded the sickle above her head as a warning, though the heavy breathing in her chest and the wavering in her arm told me I must have been close to reaching her. It was, then, to my dismay, that the intimacy of that moment, when I may have rescued my dear Medas, was brutally torn away by a monstrous crunching noise behind me. It was so loud I flinched, covering my head. When I turned to see the source of the noise my bowels turned to water and my spine to ice. Where there had stood the great statue of Mimas was now a flowing pile of rubble, as a huge, scarlet man, forty feet tall, bare-chested, muscles coiling and rippling in the shadow of the pyre’s light, stepped from the rubble almost in slow-motion, his great limbs and face as terrible as a battleship riding a wave, his beard as thick and maddening as a forest at night, covered in a grey layer of ancient dust. I tried to rub my eyes, and call to Medas, but found I could do neither, and my feet refused to move. The Giant held a shield displaying a wicked horned insect in one hand, and in the other hand wielded a huge spear, and I knew him to be Mimas, he who had been struck dead by Zeus. He stood to his full height and looked around, craning his neck before letting forth a huge roar, sounding as though mountains had rent themselves asunder. I found I had crept to the edge of the font quite unbeknownst to myself, and squatted in its shadow, trying to make sense of this madness. I realised I had started to pick at my clothes in my mania, and scratch my shaking fingers.
When the statue next to Mimas, that of Eurytus, also shed its stone carapace and revealed another gargantuan monster within, stepping forth with skin of gold and eyes of white and a sword of purest silver that shone in the fire and displayed images of the birth and death of the world on its shimmering blade, I concluded I had finally lost my mind. That did not prevent Hopladamus, and Ephialtes, and Lion all rising from their antediluvian graves to torment the world once again.
All this while Medas had crept forwards from the centre of the room, as I had tried to hide, so she became intent of showing herself, first disrobing herself so she walked naked towards the creature Mimas, and holding her arms wide, as might a mother in greeting her child. Mimas leant down by her, his joints and his weaponry creaking like a ship’s sails, and regarded her with blank curiosity, the lines in his face a sign of age but devoid of any wisdom or humanity. This was an otherworldly thing, a horror not from the imaginations of men but spewed from some cosmic nightmare where logic and truth had been viciously scrubbed from existence. Mimas held out a hand big enough for her to stand on, and she delicately, lovingly, stroked one of his fingers. “You will ride the world, Êndoxi Gigantes mou, and it will burn.” she said, proudly. “Kai metá apó ólous tous laoús tou kósmou.”
“Medas!” I called, trying to break her from this trance. “We must escape! They will crush you!”
She turned and looked at me sadly. “There is no escape from the end of the world.” And then she offered me a smile, and looked forlornly beautiful, and my heart burst. “But just think! Soon it will be reborn, and perhaps we will meet again.” With that, Mimas scooped her up, crushed her like a dried autumn’s leaf, and tossed her lifeless body upon the pyre, to my utter terror. The pyre itself was knocked to the ground by the force of the blow from Medas’s body, spilling fire onto the ground. A numbness took hold of me, but when my senses regained some hold over me, I screamed at the loss of my dear friend.
It was Lion himself, the one whom had been represented by Alexis in this dire scheme, who spotted me, or perhaps heard my screams, and stooped down to grab me with great, muscular hands, fixating upon me with burning eyes and a roar that half-deafened me. He had huge snakes’ tails for legs, which writhed and coiled around the floor revoltingly, slipping and sliding and propelling him with an uncanny smoothness. What could I do? I ran. The flames from the pyre spread across the room as the oils trickled this way and that, mixing with the spilt lifeblood that had brought the Giants to life in the Hall’s many rivulets. I avoided Lion’s fist as it smashed down upon the pyre, spraying sparks and fire and yet more oils into every corner of the room. Fire gathered at the ruined pedestals above which the monsters had for so many millennia stood. My heart pounded and lungs ached with the heat and horror and unfairness and wickedness and absurdity of it all, yet I ran in a blind panic back to the staircase from whence I’d come. There was a deep, rumbling hack hacking noise in the air, and I turned for the merest moment to see Asterius, that wicked monster with the impenetrable skin who was flayed by Athena and whose death was richly celebrated, laughing out loud in a sound that almost stilled my heart. But my legs kept pumping and got me to the steps. I bounded up, three, four steps at a time, slipping, using hands and fingers. At the far end of the hall I saw Clytion and Pallas standing shoulder to shoulder, pressing their brawny backs into the walls, as if trying to bring it down. Their muscles surged with the strain though on their faces was writ no effort. They were trying to make good their escape from this place, even as the fire now licked at their feet, and crept along their limbs. A shattering crunch sounded not metres from me as the sword of Ephialtes careened into the wall just below me as he tried to swat me from existence, but I evaded the blow by inches. Chunks of rock spilled from the wall, the steps crumbled beneath me and fell into the spitting, wicked flames now roaring below. I yelled at myself to rally, and I miraculously made it to the top of the steps and dove into the corridor, just as the flail of Thaos slammed into the wall, breaking it into a thousand pieces, and I ran.