The Challenge of Ate

Chapter 1: Twenty-Five Years Before

An animalistic howl emanated from the underbrush.

Artemis tracked her prey, not knowing what type of beast had the intelligence to evade her for over an hour.

Silent as a cat, Artemis crept up to the beast while considering her surroundings.

With a blast of godly strength she threw a large stone to drive her prey into the open where she could get a clear shot with her bow and arrow.

The figure dashed out of the bushes as expected and Artemis let the arrow fly. A fraction of a second later she realized that this wasn't an animal, but a person... a woman.

Artemis ran forward to find the woman collapsed on the ground with an arrow piercing her heart.

There was nothing to be done, the shot had been on target and the woman would die.

Artemis retrieved her arrow and looked curiously at the woman laying dead at her feet.

She looked familiar.

Then to Artemis' shock, the wound began healing itself.

//Apollo! I need your help!// Artemis called to her brother with her mind.

* * * * *

Apollo stood in the forest over the strange woman, trying to understand what he was seeing.

"She's a goddess... but I've never seen her before." Apollo said in bewilderment.

"Is she from another pantheon? Maybe they cast her out and she's been hiding here?" Artemis asked curiously.

"No, her power signature is Olympian... in fact..." Apollo trailed off in thought.

"What?" Artemis asked as she stared at the woman.

"It's almost the same as Strife's. We need to get her to Olympus. She'll be waking up soon and I'd like to get some hephestian metal on her so she doesn't get away before we can get some answers." Apollo said with resolve.

"Ready when you are." Artemis said firmly.

In a burst of power, the twins flashed their unconscious find to Olympus.

* * * * *

Strife appeared in Apollo's temple with a cautious expression.

The bright and shiny side of the family never called on him, and the few times they had dealings, Strife tended to end up worse off for the experience.

"Can you explain this?" Apollo asked shortly.

"What?" Strife asked, looking at the dirty, disheveled woman laying on the examining table.

"Who is she?" Artemis asked impatiently.

"How in Hades name should I know? Nevah seen her before." Strife said defensively.

"Come on Strife, her power signature is almost identical to yours. You have to be related." Apollo said in an accusing voice.

"Don't know what ta tell ya 'Pol. I ain't nevah seen her. Ya need ta look somewhere's else." Strife said firmly.

"Could she be your child?" Artemis asked, sounding less accusatory.

"She's a full goddess, right?" Strife asked, waiting for Apollo to answer.

"Yes." Apollo said as he looked at the facial features of the woman.

"Well that proves it. Ain't no goddess nevah spread her legs fer me. I just got me three kids, boys. An their muthah don't even know Ah'm a god." Strife said with absolute certainty.

"Just look at her Strife, look at her face. She's related to you." Apollo said quietly.

"Can't help ya 'Pol. I gotta get back ta Unc." Strife said quickly.

Apollo stood dumbfounded, then his attention was drawn to the woman waking up.

* * * * *

"Who are you?" Apollo asked carefully.

The woman looked at Apollo with unseeing eyes.

"What's your name?" Apollo asked a little more loudly.

The woman looked at him in confusion and finally said, "Little buggies, little tiny buggies, crawl and swim, flit and fly. Breathe them in, eat them up, they make you sick and sleep and die..."

Apollo looked at his sister with wide eyes.

"She's insane." Artemis said hesitantly.

Apollo focused his god power to look in her mind and fell to the floor.

He started choking and turned himself half over before vomiting.

"What... what did you see?" Artemis asked in confusion.

Apollo took in a deep, cleansing breath, then with a thought, cleaned himself and the floor.

"It's not like anything I've ever seen before. She's quite mad. Whatever answers we find about her, we won't find that way." Apollo said as he made his way to his feet unsteadily.

"I'll go to the halls of time and see what I can find there. Let me know if you find out anything else." Artemis said with resolve.

"I will, thanks for your help... would you check in on Asclepius before you go? I haven't seen him all day and want to be sure he's alright.

"Sure. I know right where I'll find him. In the archive of the muses. That boy isn't going to be happy till he knows all that is knowable." Artemis said fondly, thinking of her nephew.

"Did I tell you that he asked me to teach him about medicine?" Apollo asked with a smile.

"Really? Another god of healing? You might actually get to take a day off." Artemis said with a smile.

Apollo thought about that, then shook his head. "Never happen. If I take a day off... there won't be a day. Remember that I do the whole sunrise thing."

"You could get Helios to do it. He's been working for you for... forever. It's about time he had some responsibility." Artemis said, knowing she was right.

"Won't work. He's afraid of horses." Apollo said simply.

Artemis laughed as she walked out of the temple.

* * * * *

Eris walked into Apollo's main temple in an impatient stride.

"WHAT?" She demanded, glaring daggers.

"Do you know this woman?" Apollo asked, not letting Eris' attitude phase him.

"No. Is that all?" Eris demanded.

"Eris, this woman has a power signature almost identical to Strife's. He says he doesn't know her so the only other explanation I can come up with is that she's Strife's sister." Apollo said in a clinical voice.

"Strife's probably lying, he does it all the time. Only thing the little pest is good at." She said and stomped out of the room.

* * * * *

[Damn it. Apollo's too close. I need to throw him off the trail.] Eris thought as she walked back to the halls of war.

A thought occurred to her and she diverted to the halls of time.

[I need to block access to her past... and maybe while I'm there I can find something useful to draw Apollo's attention.] Eris thought as she walked through the ornate garden to the grand temple.

* * * * *

"What are you doing here?" Zeus said in a booming voice.

Eris turned and faced her worst nightmare and her eyes darted around, looking for an escape.

"Answer me!" Zeus boomed.

"Covering up for you... as usual." Eris said in as confident a voice as she could manage.

Zeus got a surprised look on his face, so Eris continued.

"Ate's back." Eris said simply.

"I thought you killed it just after it was born." Zeus said with anger burning in his eyes.

"I dropped them in the forest. I figured they'd starve or get eaten by wolves or something. But Ares found Strife just where I'd left him and knew he was mine by the power signature. I don't know what happened to Ate." Eris said while inching her way toward the door.

"Then kill it now. If Hera finds out, she'll make both our lives a living Tartarus." Zeus said with a scowl.

"Apollo's got her. He thinks she's Strife's daughter because they have the same power signature." Eris said, inching further.

"Well they're twins. Of course they'd have the same power signature." Zeus said as he started to pace.

"I can't get her away from Apollo, he's like a dog with a bone." Eris said seriously.

"Then we need to give the dog something more interesting to chew on..." Zeus said with a crafty smile.

"Let me fog the memory mirrors so no one can trace Ate back to us, then we can mess with shiny boy." Eris said with purpose.

A figure stood behind the pillar, just two feet away listening intently.

* * * * *

"What is the meaning of this? As King of the Gods I am the only one who can call a council of the gods!" Zeus said in a booming voice.

Artemis looked around the room to confirm that all the major gods were present... and Strife.

"I called the meeting." Artemis said in a full voice.

Zeus looked at her with stunned disbelief before breaking out in malicious laughter.

"Tell us what you know about Ate." Artemis said coldly.

"Who?" Zeus asked, looking as innocent as a new born babe.

Artemis continued undeterred, "Ate, your daughter... and granddaughter."

Then Artemis turned to face the room and said, "The daughter of Eris and Zeus, Strife's twin."

A gasp went through the room and Strife bolted upright.

"Yer my dad?" Strife asked in disbelief.

Zeus looked on in equal parts humiliation and anger.

Hera looked at her husband in rage as Eris did her best to fade into the background.

"How did this happen?" Ares asked, directing his question at Eris.

She couldn't answer. She had no voice.

"He raped her." Hera said in a guttural growl of disgust.

"What?" Apollo asked in surprise.

"Whenever he gets mad at me he finds some way to take it out on our children. What do you say Zeus? Couldn't you track down Ares so you could beat him unconscious that day?" Hera asked her husband with might.

"I..." Zeus began to say.

"What do you have to say?" Strife asked his mother.

Eris looked into Strife's questioning eyes and slipped into her defensive posture.

"Yeah, so what? You lived. What more do you want?" Eris said with her arms crossed over her chest.

"No thanks to you." Artemis said forcefully.

"What do you mean?" Ares asked in confusion.

"You knew Eris was pregnant. When she gave birth, you followed her at a distance to be sure she was okay. You found Strife, abandoned in the tall grass in the mortal realm outside Tanegra. You never told anyone, you just said that Eris chose to let you raise Strife. What you didn't know is that she had twins. If you had looked closer you would have found Strife's sister not three feet farther on." Artemis said seriously.

"How do you know that?" Eris snapped.

"I got to the halls of time before you could cloud the images. I was there when you told Zeus that you'd abandoned your babies and left them to die." Artemis said darkly.

"How did Ate survive?" Aphrodite asked in an uncharacteristic small voice.

"She was raised by wolves. She finally came into contact with mortals when she was about nine years old. They did their best to teach her, but... she was wild. They determined that she was beyond help and did their best to provide for her. She lived at their farmhouse until they finally died of old age. Since then she's been surviving by hunting in the woods by the farmhouse... that's where I found her." Artemis said sadly.

"What're we gonna do for her now?" Strife asked and looked around the room.

"She won't be able to stay at my temple indefinitely. She'll need almost constant supervision." Apollo said plainly.

Everyone looked around but were careful to be silent so they wouldn't be mistaken for volunteers.

Strife looked at his uncle with hopeful, pleading eyes.

Ares thought for a moment, then asked, "What's her godhood?"

Everyone looked to Zeus, since he was the only one to confer godhoods.

"Ate: The Goddess of Drunken and Destructive Insanity." Zeus said quietly.

"I've seen a few wars started that way." Ares said in thought, then continued, "I Ares, Head of the House of War accept Ate into my house and offer her my guidance and protection."

Strife walked to Ares side and said under his breath, "Thanks Unc."

Ares made no outward indication of having heard, but� Strife knew that he did.

"What about Zeus?" Hera demanded of the council of gods.

Apollo stood and declared, "If no one objects, we will stand in recess on that matter to give Ate time to adjust to her new surroundings. In two moons we will reconvene and settle the matter of Zeus."

No one objected, and the gods began to go their separate ways.

* * * * *

Two months had passed and Ate was settling in surprisingly well in the House of War. She was stark raving mad, but once one accepted that fact, she was pleasant company.

"Ate, we're bout ready fer dinnah, come on an eat." Strife said as he walked into the lounge where she was staring out the window.

"Grubby, wormy, crusty shell. New eyes, new wings, natures spell." Ate said with excitement.

Strife walked to her side and said, "Yeah, tha butterflies are nice. We can go out an try an catch some aftah dinnah if ya want."

"Broken wings, broken eyes, broken heart, falls and dies." Ate said with damp eyes.

"Kay, we can jus watch'm." Strife said softly.

Ate smiled and said, "Drippy, lumpy, sloppy, bumpy?"

"Yeah, you can have some mashed potatahs an gravy with yer dinnah. But ya gotta eat yer greens too." Strife said as he led her from the room.

"Sour, stringy, icky, clingy?" Ate asked hesitantly.

"No, yah don't have'ta eat any spinach, Ah promise." Strife said as he put an arm around his sister's shoulder.

* * * * *

Though Ares wasn't usually one for family gossip, when it directly related to him or his household, he passed on the information that they might need.

"You know Hera cut him off� about two months ago." Ares said absently.

"Yeah, Ah don't blame her." Strife said as he ate his dinner.

"Well I just found out that Zeus found another mortal's bed to warm... and he left her pregnant." Ares said sadly.

"Ya think tha old coot is really that horney? Mebbe 'Pol could cook sumthin up so he don't have so many wild oats ta sew." Strife said in thought as he glanced to see how Ate was doing.

"No. I think he does it to hurt Hera. He knows that by being unfaithful he's not only insulting and disrespecting her, but he's also tearing directly into her godhood. I doubt he even remembers the mortal's name." Ares said as he looked off into a distant place only he could see.

"But ya know we'll all be hearin 'bout it fer tha next thousand years." Strife said with a shake of his head.

"Yes. The name Alcemene will be very well known on Olympus when Hera finds out." Ares said with regret.

* * * * *

After some time in the garden watching the butterflies, Strife heard the call of Apollo to attend the hearing of Zeus.

Strife put an arm around his sister and said, "We need ta go to tha Great Hall. 'Pol's callin fer us."

"Teeny tiny little bird. Careful moves, careful step, careful hands or break it's neck." Ate said with worry.

"Naw, Ah'll be right there wit ya. No one's gonna hurt'cha. Me an Unc will keep ya safe." Strife said with affection.

Ate cuddled close to her brother and waited for him to transport them.

* * * * *

Strife looked around and found that not only the inner council was present as before, but also Hades, Poseidon, Hestia and Gaia.

"We have discussed this matter and come to the conclusion that Zeus must make reparation to those he has injured. Each of you will be asked for one thing that will compensate you for your suffering at his hands, so consider your answer carefully." Apollo said to the group.

A murmur went through the gods and Apollo waited for silence so he might continue.

"Eris, what is one thing that Zeus can do to ease the suffering he has caused?" Apollo asked with a note of compassion in his voice.

Eris was disgusted by the pity Apollo was showing but fought to keep her expression neutral. Finally she answered, "I want him to swear on the Styx that he will never touch me again for any reason."

"I promise." Zeus said in a sullen voice that appeared on the surface to be true remorse.

"Say it, I want to hear the words." Eris said with venom.

"I swear my sacred oath on the river Styx that I will never again, under any circumstances touch you again Eris." Zeus said in an emotionless voice.

Eris nodded and looked away.

The gods knew that Zeus couldn't be trusted to keep his word, but an oath on the river Styx would guarantee his compliance, otherwise he would lose his godhood... permanently.

"Strife, what can be done to ease the suffering that Zeus caused you?" Apollo asked in a quieter voice.

Strife held his sister closely and said, "He was nevah a fathah ta me, he nevah claimed me or my sistah. No one outside this room knows that Zeus is mah dad. All I want is ta keep it that way."

"Does anyone object to that?" Apollo asked the group of gods.

No one answered so Apollo took that as acceptance.

"Then it is done. Strife has no father." Apollo said seriously.

An aire of agreement spread through the room.

"Strife, you're the only one who seems to be able to communicate with Ate, can you ask her what she wants?" Apollo asked in a voice filled with tenderness.

"What'cha want we should do 'bout Zeus? What's gonna make yas happy?" Strife asked quietly.

"Teeny tiny, itty bitty, never hurt, never pity." Ate said, looking into Strife's eyes with compassion.

"Who you mean?" Strife asked as he narrowed his eyes.

"Promise kept, still betrayed. Left alone, feels afraid. Lives in virtue, lost desire. Strength, love, peace, fire." Ate said with pleading eyes.

"Alright. If that's what ya really want... Yer a bettah person than me." Strife said as he pulled his sister close for a hug.

"What does she want?" Apollo asked in confusion.

"Tha things that Zeus refused ta do fer us, she wants him ta do fer his unborn child." Strife said as he watched Hera for her reaction.

"What?" Hera said suddenly then turned to glare at Zeus.

"What exactly does she want him to do for the child?" Apollo asked carefully.

"She wants tha kid ta be acknowledged b'fore all tha gods an mortals as his. She wants fer Zeus ta protect tha kid and do his best ta give tha kid a happy life." Strife said with a wistful little smile.

Zeus looked with irritation at Strife and Ate.

"Then we will proceed. Zeus, if there is to be an end to this matter, you must do as Ate has asked." Apollo said forcefully.

Zeus reluctantly stood and said loudly enough for all to hear, "I Zeus do hereby declare before all Olympus that the unborn child of Alcemene, is my son. At his birth he will be named Hercules. I grant my child the blessing of godly strength that he will be protected from those that would harm him. At his birth, it will be announced by every priest at every temple that Hercules, my beloved child has been born. My protection will also include the mother, so that no action shall be taken against her."

Hera couldn't hold her indignation at the proceedings and said, "He raped his daughter and denied his children and *this* is his punishment?"

"We've left it to those he injured to decide. It is not in our power to undo what has been done. Without true remorse on Zeus' part, any punishment we could devise would serve no purpose but vengeance." Apollo said calmly.

Hera seethed, but stayed silent.

"Is Ate satisfied with this declaration?" Apollo asked hesitantly as he turned his attention to Strife and Ate.

Strife looked at his sister and saw the happy, contented smile that she wore.

"Yeah, it's jus what she wanted." Strife said in peace.