The following years were far from the most exciting ones in my life. They were spent with endless searches, both in the 3D world and in the dimensions beyond, to find this 'veiled queen'. I could tell about my struggles with the older god Dernigal, who had a real problem with accepting that I was the one in charge. Or I could tell about the few Giant battles we were involved in. But it was mostly boring and tedious work, tracing through 5D sightings as well as the desolate mountains of Outgard where even an encounter with wild beasts or outlaws was seen as an entertaining interruption.
I couldn't help feeling that I have drawn the shorter straw when I heard about the successes of Ares and his troops in slaughtering Giants. All right, they took some losses, like Cleopatra's mother Diophaessa and Hermes' brother Esrendan. On the other hand, when they returned to 'Tanni from time to time they had stories of glory to tell, and they were always regarded as heroes, while no-one paid any attention to us.
Finally after more than two years of struggles our luck turned. We had followed a trace to the southernmost continent, the uninhabited Antarctica. After a fierce battle, where we lost poor Loria and almost Chrysandros "Hermes barely managing to heal him "we backtracked our attackers through a landscape of eternal winter and found a secret gate closed by a spell which only Dernigal was able to break. Behind the gate was an opening to a tunnel leading us through some obstacles and right into the lions den. Or, rather, the Giant's den.
They were strange, these Giants. In battle they appeared like beasts with the intelligence of a 4 year old, relying on strength, number and size to acquire success. Yet someone must have been able to construct these fortresses the Giants dwelt within. Strongholds of iron, bronze and cupper that hid them well from attackers and with every convenience available.
We guessed these were built by the 'original' Giants, the Gaianes. Still they were so well preserved. Perhaps we had yet to meet these engineers that might've constructed the Giants' strongholds.
This fortress we entered now was no exception. It was only bigger. Probably designed to hold tenfolds of more Giants than those who came at us while we blasted through the iron front doors. They were screaming, swinging their iron maidens and flaunting their fangs, trying to scare us as so many times before.
Another fierce fight, but without losses this time, although Philotes was wounded and had to get help with healing. Britomartis had to hide together with him behind an Aegis while they took care of his blood filled belly, spilled guts and injured inner organs.
Then we had her "the 'veiled queen'. We found her hiding behind large and locked copper doors. She was trembling with fear, but still able to defend herself with some kind of pyrotechnical powers. Auroanos ducked them all and ran up to her and ripped off her veils. Beneath them she was almost naked. Only a tiny leather skirt covered her private zone. And she was a terrible sight indeed.
All the titans we had encountered so far had been leathery in context, but at the same time fish-like and with some kind of mother-of-pearl iridescence. This "queen "was no exception. She also had these reptile-like yellow eyes and pointed ears. But while the rest of the Giants had been more or less covered in thick, green-black hair, this creature was completely hairless. She was thin but not skinny, it seemed like her bone structure was diminutive, giving her an insect-like appearance.
"Ugly thing," Akiko wispered behind me and Chrysandros hummed in agrement.
When Hercules and Auroanos had gripped her she seemed to sway and then she fell down on legs refusing to carry her anymore. My brothers forced her upright, simply by holding her that way. She almost paid them no attention. Instead she was looking at me, she understood I was the leader.
"Stranger woman of the Usurping Race," she hissed. "If you have come so far to kill me, why don't you go ahead and do it now?"
"Because we want something more," I said.
"You can have my name," she answered. "It's Echidna. Content?"
"No, Echidna, we are not. We want the one you are protecting."
I wouldn't have thought it possible for this white woman to pale, but it was. Echidna's yellow eyes widened with fear and she became notable paler in the dim light from the oozing firebrands and our plasma balls.
"Where's that one?" I insisted.
"The Great Mother," Echidna whispered. "Noooo...."
"I know where she is now," Astraea said, pointing ahead. "Behind those doors."
"Which doors?" Hercules asked. But at the same time we all saw them. Another pair of these huge, gothic double doors which had been hidden by Echidna.
"Pleeeaz..." Echidna whispered, clearly terrified. She was drooling as she did that. Auroanos, who had always been a bit wimpy about these things, looked like he was going to puke when she spilled her greenish saliva on his bare, muscular arm.
Hermes went up and opened the doors, to Echidna's terrified screams. And there she was - asleep on a cross between an altar and a stretcher. The Great Mother of the Giants. The instant I saw her I knew who she was. The one who had given birth to all these thousands and thousands of monsters. But in spite of these creatures terrible appearances this being was in fact beautiful.
"So we brought both this Great Mother and the Veiled Queen with us," I told the gathered deities. "Unfortunately Echidna didn't survive the trip. We believe she died out of fear. Her heart stopped. Her body is being studied right as I speak. Along with other Giant bodies. The Great Mother, who calls herself Gaia, is being held imprisoned at a safe place at the northern foothills of Olympos. A thorough medical research has showed among other things that she's without eggs in her ovaries and in a hearing she told that she used them all to create her race of Giants through parthenogenesis. The hibernation she put herself into was to regenerate her egg cells. Echidna, her daughter, was supposed to guard her sleep. I'll take the first round of questions now."
"Is she the real Gaia?" Neyta of Kergandar asked.
"Is it true that all the Giants were sterile?" Saretos of Aswee wanted to know.
"And that this Gaia was in a coma all the time and knew nothing about this war?" was the question of Chrysandros' father Kanaton.
"How many of those cursed Giants are still out there?" Marpessa was wondering.
"By 'the real Gaia' I presume Neyta is referring to the old Gaiane immortal who ruled the world before she was brought down by Uranos, precursor of Chronos in that position. We don't know yet if she is the one she claims. We have only held shallow hearing with her so far. She claims to have been in a kind of regenerative hibernation for more than 30 years, and thus unaware of the war. To answer Saretos of Aswee's question, the Giants we have caught and examined were all sterile. But it's too early to say if all Giants are. Last but not least, Marpessa, the number of remaining Giants is a bit uncertain. Ares' last approximation was a figure of 2000 remaining Giants."
"Come on, Athena!" Eurytiar of Senartheda let up his thundering voice, "isn't there any question you can answer with a clear yes or no?"
"Not yet. It's still to early in the process to..."
"Where's Hermes, the real spokesperson of the Divine King's office?" Eurytiar went on.
"He's busy elsewhere. I'm not really representing the Divine King. I'm representing the Defence Project, the organisation started to defend the Union against the Giants. And I'm not a politician. I don't give straightforward but erroneous answers to please someone who is supposed to vote for me. I give the answers I have and consider true. I will get back with more information when I have it. It only happens to be that the last Open Forum of 223 takes part less than a week after our return with the prisoner calling herself Gaia."
Apollon's son Asklepios was next with a request:
"Athena, I've a wish to see and examine genetic material of Gaia and Echidna. To compare it to other Giants. Should that be possible?"
"I can't see any reason why not. The more talented people studying these material the more we can learn."
I answered some more Gaia questions which were all variations of the first ones. Finally the gods and goddesses in the Open Forum seemed content and went on to pester Artemis' secretary of treasure Maera. Maera is one of those people who never forget a number and she's really talented in maths. Artemis inherited her from Hera, so she has been in her office for almost two centuries now. She's nice enough, the tall, auburn-haired semi-amphibian, but there's something with her voice that makes at least me want to fall asleep.
Soon I found myself with my head resting on Chrysandros' shoulder and looking up at the murals in the ceiling. Once there had been nothing but abstract patterns, but after the doom was rebuilt the artist selected for the decoration had chose to make a representation of us defenders of Ekarantanni instead.
I had to turn my head to see myself, almost right over the entrance. It was the event with me attacking Giants with the spire I had prayed loose from 'Spear of Tomorrow'. But instead of my burgundies I was wearing a long, white evening gown and an ancient parade-helmet. How can anyone even think of fighting in such an outfit? In fact we all had odd dresses. Dad fought dressed up in his formal Divine King wear, Auroanos had a long cape and an actor's masque and Nike had seagull wings! Then there were Hercules in a lions hide and Sakura in a long, turquoise gown with an enormous belt. Not to mention Hera in peacock feathers. On the other hand Chrysandros looked quite good in a tight fitting black-and silver armour.
"Looking at 'us' again?" Chrysandros asked while I was stretching my neck.
"Yup, it's fun. Especially on boring exchanges like the one going on right now. I always see something or someone new. Who's that guy behind Zeus by the way?"
"That's... That must be... That's Ganymedes!"
"The catering guy?"
"The very one. With a tray of food of course. He was never on the battlefield."
"No. He's too much of a YUGI. Neither was Maera. Yet she's right there at the end of the rainbow. With a horn of plenty. Very fitting."
"Oh, right! That's her. Wonder what Iris is doing on top of the rainbow by the way?"
"Colour coordinating her hair. Only thing I can think of. "
We had become really close Chrysandros and I after these years in search for Echidna and her mother. Even so close that people regarded us as lovers. All right, we had sex, but that was a mere pleasure thing. Buddy sex "just like it had been with Nardalon. Or perhaps we were in love. I don't really know. What I do know is that we had a great time together. But hardly ever just the two of us. There were always me, Chrysandros, Nike and Aeolus. And most of the time Nardalon, Donin, Melia, Philotes and Akiko too as well as various constellations of sisters and brothers of mine, including non-Olympians like Britomartis and Arcas.
Artemis and Orion on the other hand "they were a couple for real now. After their first failed try ages ago, they had in a way left each other alone. Up until the attack against Ekarantanni. Artemis and Orion had fought side by side, and had fallen for each other a second time. This time it seemed more steady. We were all happy for Mimi "except for Apollon, who for some reason couldn't stand the large Attic.
To be true several things were going on among my closest kins and friends. It was something with the way Nike was shuffling around her feet and pulling at her fashionably straightened out strands of hair that made me understand that something had happened. I leaned closer, looking at my friend, and she breathed in, started to say something, but then she stopped, avoided eye-contact.
"Nike, come on! You know that there's no reason for not telling me."
She still didn't say anything, just pulled and pulled at her hair and I insisted:
"It's me! Athena! Your best friend. We've been talking about everything for two centuries!"
"I guess... I just had to find out..."
"What? Lay off your hair and tell me! Now you've have me cracking up with curiosity."
"Athi, curiosity won the upper hand for me too. I just had to find out if he was as good as everybody was saying."
"Who? Who've you been having?"
My friend went totally tomato and I had to swallow all the giggles that started to bubble inside of me.
"You've been having Zeus?"
"Yeah. In fact... yes. Well, it's not like... Well, he's been trying before, but I've always been... But even you know how talk goes. How fabulous he is at these things, and... I wanted to know if he was, if they all were right."
"And were they?"
More blushing, and a moment of silence before Nike nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry..." she started, but I lay my hand on top of hers:
"Sorry for what? As long as any feelings didn't get hurt – what do I care? He can't stay away from women. It's a kind of an addiction of his. Not even Hera bothers anymore. I guess it's rather – well not really harmless, but nothing to fuzz over."