Athena watched as Poseidon strode to the center of the court, his trident over his shoulder, a grim expression on his craggy face.
“I wish you all to hear me now,” he began in his great fiery voice, “so that we may all understand that there is to be no interference.”
“Begin, brother,” said Zeus quietly, unwilling to allow the God of the Sea to go into a drawn-out introduction, “why have you demanded us to gather here?”
Poseidon glanced respectfully at Zeus, seated upon his golden throne; beside him, seated on a similar throne, was Hera, wife of Zeus and Queen of the Gods. Poseidon made a slight bow.
“Noble brother,” he continued, his tone milder, “I would not have called you all to such a gathering over a triviality. Listen to me, all! For twelve whole months, the mortals of Athens have grossly failed to pay due respect to me! To me, Poseidon, God of the Sea!”
“In what way have they angered you so?” interrupted Hermes, his tone casual and disinterested.
Poseidon cast a furious glance towards the messenger of the Gods, who stood with the other Olympians around the perimeter of the court.
“In what way would you have me tell you? My temples in that city are few, small, badly maintained and infrequently visited. Their sea captains often forget to ask my mercy before setting out across my realm. It seems as if they have almost forgotten me! Forgotten me! Poseidon, God of the-”
“Brother,” Hermes once again interjected, smiling wryly, “it will take only a minor display of your divine power to remind them.”
“No, no, Hermes,” continued Poseidon darkly, “a year of failure to pay respect to the God of the Sea, and all they receive is a few sunken ships? No, brother, that is not how I wish to be remembered...”
Poseidon turned back towards Zeus, his face grim and his voice becoming quieter.
“I will not have it said that those who failed to pay respect to me, to Poseidon, God of the Sea... lived to do it twice.”
A look of shock spread across the faces of the fourteen watching gods and goddesses.
“I will remind those cities that still stand of the power of Poseidon. Of me, God of the Sea!”
“You would destroy the city of Athens?!” exclaimed Zeus in dismay. “Brother, I must beseech you to change your path!”
“Nay, brother, nothing will sway me,” said Poseidon, raising his hand and shaking his head, “I have waited a year for them to remember. No longer shall I wait, nor any reminder shall I give them, save one final reminder that shall cast their city into ruin.”
“Athens is the seat of culture and advancement,” said Hera in her strong, even voice, speaking for the first time, “the pinnacle of civilization in this world. You cannot destroy that.”
“I will not say I would not rather have it otherwise,” said Poseidon fiercely, “but pinnacle of civilization or not, no matter how advanced a city is, they should know not to forget me. I will not have the most advanced city in the world be one that fails to recognize my power. If that means I must remove it from the face of the Earth, then so be it.”
“Poseidon, will nothing I can say or do change your mind?” pleaded Zeus.
“Nothing,” replied Poseidon firmly.
“Please, brother, can I not ask you to spare the city for the sake of our brotherhood? Will you not change for me?”
Poseidon shook his head sadly.
“You know me, brother. I will not let it be said that I ever showed mercy to those who defied me.”
With that, the God of the Sea turned and strode from the court without another word, leaving the other Olympians glancing at one another anxiously.
Zeus sat silent on his throne, his face drawn with anxiety. After a few moments, he took a deep breath and shouted, “Olympians! For the sake of our brotherhood and peace amongst us, I forbid any of you to interfere in the destruction of Athens. Do you hear me?”
All bowed their heads in sorrow and replied, “Yes, oh mighty Zeus...”
“This gathering is adjourned!” finished Zeus, getting up from his throne and walking away, a dark frown on his face.
“The skies will be dark tonight...” murmured Ares, standing beside Athena.
She turned to see the God of War departing along with the others. Athena stood alone at the edge of the court for a long while, deep in troubled thought. Athens was her city, she was its patron, and she had protected it from calamities throughout the ages. But now she was barred from interfering with its fate by her father, Zeus himself. She knew he was right; for any of them to step in Poseidon's way would set the Gods against each other. Sides would be taken and all would suffer in a war of the Gods. But still...
Athena walked away, through the grounds of Mount Olympus. She passed paved courtyards, deep shimmering pools, and groves of fruit trees, until she eventually came to the Caeliphals. This place was a mountainous pine forest, perched on the very edge of Mount Olympus, overlooking the mortal world far below. Athena liked to come here in her times of distress.
As she wandered through the shady forest, she was interrupted by a polite cough to her left. She turned and her face soured as she saw the smiling face of Eris. The Goddess of Discord leaned against a tree, her raven black hair tied in a long ponytail. At a brief glance, Eris appeared as beautiful and shapely as any of her fellow Olympians; her body tall and lithe, her features finely sculpted. But if one were to look for more than a moment, they would see that her godlike perfection was marred with flaws; her cheeks were hollow, her lips were thin and colorless, her limbs were gangling and bony.
“I heard all about it, Athena,” Eris began, her voice projecting sympathy and sincerity, “about Poseidon and how he intends to destroy Athens. It's simply terrible!”
Athena was unmoved by Eris' empathetic tone. The Goddess of Discord possessed a unique ability to change her persona at will. Her physical appearance changed very little if at all, but through the assumption of different personalities she could come across as an entirely different person.
“If you're here to gloat about it, I'm not in the mood,” said Athena coldly, walking away through the pine trees.
“Hey, sorry, Athena,” persisted Eris, following after Athena, her persona now one of camaraderie and respect, “I didn't mean to sound gloating, really. I mean it, it's terrible! I can't imagine why Zeus allows it to happen.”
“You know very well,” retorted Athena, “if I openly stood against Poseidon it would, well... create discord, and a lot of it.”
“Sounds wonderful to me,” giggled Eris, smiling humorously, “but, unfortunately, no-one ever lets us have what we want, do they?”
“Are we back to gloating now?” asked Athena coldly.
“Athena, please,” Eris insisted, her tone full of sincerity, “if you would just listen to me...”
“I'm listening,” growled Athena impatiently.
“I know of a way to avert this tragedy.”
Athena stopped and looked hard into Eris' beseeching eyes.
“I'm not getting into anything which would defy my father's orders,” said Athena flatly.
“Athena!” burst out Eris in a passionate, almost hurt tone, “I would never seek to disobey our almighty king! If you would simply hear me out...”
“Alright,” said Athena, “you say there is a way to save Athens? Without breaking my father's order... or causing discord in some other way?”
“Yes! Yes, to all, sister,” insisted Eris sincerely, “it will save Athens and, if anything, create more peace among us. For if Athens still stands and Poseidon cannot point a finger at any one of us, where shall the grudges lie?”
“Alright then, I'm interested,” conceded Athena, “now tell me plainly.”
Eris took a deep breath, her persona shifting slightly.
“Poseidon will send his children against the city of Athens,” she began solemnly, “the city will stand no chance-”
“I know that!” said Athena impatiently, “get to the point.”
“But,” continued Eris, “if a champion were to take up the Spear of Athena that you dropped to Earth all those centuries ago...”
“Yes, yes, the weapon I gave Polyndes to vanquish a horde of rampaging mountain ogres,” said Athena brusquely, “but only one with the blood of the Gods in their veins can wield that weapon.”
“Exactly. If it were wielded by the one with divine blood-”
“What do you mean 'the one'?” asked Athena, “there are no Athenians with divine blood!”
“That's where you're wrong.”
“Yes, there is one Athenian, and only one, who can wield the spear.”
“You mean Valeseus?” inquired Athena.
Eris shook her head.
“He is a mighty hero, yes, but not a descendant of the Gods. The one I speak of is a young servant woman.”
“A servant woman?” interrupted Athena amusedly, “what, does she have superhuman powers in the ways of housekeeping? That shall be of no use against Poseidon's children.”
“Her name is Ava,” continued Eris, ignoring Athena's interruption, “and she is descended from the mortal Nidra and our own brother, Ares.”
“Ares?” said Athena in surprise, “he has a descendant in Athens?”
“By about nine generations or so,” replied Eris.
“How do you know about this?”
“It's a bit of a long story,” said Eris, “I was pursuing a rather fetching young Athenian man, and though it ultimately came to nothing, I happened to find that Ares was also on a quest of love that day. I have kept an eye on that line of demigods ever since.”
“Why?” asked Athena.
Eris gave Athena a quizzical look.
“In case an occasion like this ever came up,” Eris replied irritably. “Luckily for you, Goddess of Wisdom, I have some foresight.”
“So,” said Athena slowly, “you're saying there is an Athenian servant woman, descended from Ares, whose name is Ava?”
“And thus, could wield the Spear against the children of Poseidon?”
“And win?” persisted Athena, desperate hope rising within her, “save Athens?”
“If she proves to be worthy, if she is brave and strong, then yes.”
“You are not giving me false hope?”
“Athena,” insisted Eris, taking on a caring, maternal persona, “all that I say is true, I swear it!”
“And what do you want out of this?”
“Athena, I want the same as you!”
“I don't think so,” said Athena suspiciously, “this isn't like you at all to just help me, for nothing.”
Eris smiled wickedly. After all the fake personae, Athena was strangely pleased to see such an honest expression, even one as sinister as this.
“Honestly, I want the same as you,” said Eris, “I want for Athens to survive the assault of Poseidon's children. There is simply too much possibility in that small city to let it be destroyed in such a boring manner. Wouldn't you agree?”
“I would,” said Athena wryly, “though I'm sure we're both thinking of very different kinds of possibilities.”
She still didn't trust Eris or her motives, but if this plan succeeded there seemed little loss that could negate the gain.
“Alright,” said Athena after a few moments, “but how do we get this servant girl to realize her divine heritage, take up the Spear, and fight the children of Poseidon?”
“For a start,” replied Eris matter-of-factually, “you go before Zeus and ask him if you can at least select a certain unremarkable citizen that you'd specially like to help defend the city. He will, more likely than not, agree. That allows you to use your divine influence to get that citizen drafted into the Athenian Guard and receive some basic training before Poseidon attacks. The rest is up to her.”
“What can go wrong?” asked Athena warily.
“Nothing can go so wrong as to make it worse than had we not done anything,” replied Eris.
“You'd better be right,” said Athena darkly. She turned to go, then suddenly turned back to Eris with a look of concern.
“Wait, if this plan works, then Zeus will realize I knew that the one I chose was-”
“That's simple,” said Eris unperturbed, “just choose two champions: the real one and a decoy. When questioned, say that you chose the decoy. It's as simple as that.”
“That is so like you, Eris,” said Athena wryly.
“And where would you be without me?” asked the Goddess of Discord irritably.
“Well, thanks, then,” said Athena grudgingly, turning to depart, “but this whole affair doesn't mean we're friends.”
“Agreed,” said Eris with a wry chuckle.
* * *
Athena re-entered the court of Zeus and approached the royal thrones. The King of the Gods had not yet returned and Hera sat alone on her throne; Athena could feel the Queen's imperious gaze as she approached and knelt before her.
“Oh, great Hera,” began Athena humbly, “I wish to speak with Zeus his almighty.”
“He has gone to ride his chariot across the skies, as he does when he is in an ill mood,” replied Hera disinterestedly, “but he will be back soon. This is not going to be a private audience, I hope.”
Athena shook her head. “No, your presence will be welcome, your almighty.”
Hera seemed pleased with this comment, to Athena's relief.
It was a few minutes before Zeus returned. Athena watched him rein in his chariot and stride furiously across the court towards his throne. Seeing Athena, Zeus stopped and asked, “What are you here for, Goddess of Wisdom?”
He frowned sternly as a thought crossed his mind.
“You know that I cannot spare Athens...” he began.
“I would never ask such a thing, mighty Zeus,” said Athena, “I only wish to ask a small, small favour.”
“I'm afraid I cannot grant it if it any way-”
“Almighty, I ask no such thing!” insisted Athena, “I merely ask that I be able to choose a certain citizen of Athens to fight in my city's final battle.”
Zeus gave Athena a quizzical look.
“Father, can you not even grant me the wish of having one whom I admire defend my beloved city?”
Zeus considered for a while, then asked, “Who is this one?”
“A patrician's son,” lied Athena.
“Well... alright,” conceded Zeus, “it will not matter in the end. I grant your wish.”
“Thank you, your almighty!” said Athena gratefully, bowing to Zeus and Hera before departing.