A Fool’s Errand (Finale)

(This four-part story first appeared during February 2020 at inthepantheon.com. Details exclusive to that project have been removed.)

I fled to the land of dreams in the Underworld, where the Oneiroi and my other kin dwelled. I wasn’t sure who to talk to or where to begin. I checked the Hall of Night, and no one was there who could give me any sound advice.

In the physical world, I was stuck in time, hundreds of years ago in a place I had been to before called Candel Falls. A witch would soon wake an army of undead to ravage the town because her newborn child had been taken from her and murdered for the crime of being born with a minor defect. Her husband was the son of the chieftain. Avelia, the witch, was accused of cavorting sexually with demons and then run out of town after the tragedy with her baby when her husband abandoned her.

She was innocent until her child’s murder, when she actually did summon demons to find a way to exact revenge. A spell was imparted to raise an obedient army of the dead, ancestors buried in the ground. I originally went on a quest to the elflands and bargained for a counter-spell.

I was unsure if I had been sent here randomly by Epimetheus or if he sent me here for a specific purpose. I was alone. I could re-enact the quest, but I wasn’t sure that would fix anything. I would still be in the wrong timeline. I could hide in the land of dreams, but I would still be out of time. It was infuriating. I would ensure Epimetheus had nightmares and unsatisfying dreams for a hundred years or more when I got hold of him and sent him back to Tartarus. If I could.

When in doubt, sleep. I wouldn’t dream, but I might receive a message or be able to reach a deity who could help in the dreamscape. I lay down on a bed of poppies and closed my eyes. The pitch black and total silence lulled me to sleep. I just hoped someone would hear my call.

As I floated, aware in the ether, a presence made itself known to me. It was the Muse Urania. She had offered friendship to me when I returned to get a mortal job and said I could call on her if I needed help reacquainting myself with the human world – or for anything else.

“Urania,” I said, excitedly. “I am honored you answered.”

“Hi, Morpheus. I can’t stay long. Apollo is missing. I’m sick with worry. You don’t know anything about it, do you?”

“I’m so sorry, but I don’t. I haven’t spent time with anyone except my mortal assistant, Bear, and Amphitrite’s dog, Seabiscuit. I’m still woefully uninformed of the happenings of all who returned.”

“What can I do for you, Morpheus?”

“I’m stuck in time. Epimetheus hypnotized my brother, Phantasos, and has control of him. He threw me back in time, hundreds of years ago, and I’m trapped. I can either stay here indefinitely, or go back to where he sent me. I know where he sent me. I was there before. I don’t know if I’m supposed to redo what happened. But that would almost seem pointless because I’d still be stuck in the wrong timeline. I don’t know how to get back!”

“Where is Epimetheus now?”

“I have no idea. He and my brother were in Cloud Nine. He has powers, not his own, that he acquired. He wants revenge. Big surprise there.”

“A lot of the Titans have escaped Tartarus. It’s chaos. Many of us are scrambling to unravel their chaos and get them back where they belong. It’s…not a good time.” Urania bowed her head in sadness. I could tell she was distraught.

“I won’t keep you. I am sorry about Apollo. But do you know anything about time travel or manipulating time? Anything you can do with rearranging the stars? Maybe changing them where I am now in the past to where they would be now? Would that cause a shift?”

“I’m not sure it would be wise to shift the stars that dramatically. I don’t think it’s ever been attempted. Are you sure you aren’t stuck in an illusion? Maybe you aren’t really back there at all?”

“It sure seems real. I’m not sure how to test that theory.”

“I don’t know of anyone but Kronos who can control time like that. No offense, but why would Kronos give Epimetheus the kind of power to send the Dream God back in time? What purpose would it serve? Why get you out of the way? If it was Zeus or Nyx, maybe…”

“I have no idea.” I was feeling extremely depressed. No ideas were forming here. I should let her go search for Apollo and do what she needed to do.

“I do have an ability. I can travel to other dimensions and realities, but it’s not yet reliable. I might be able to travel to the timeline you are in, but I’m not sure if I can bring you back. I’ve never tried bringing someone back. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“There is no concern there. I will return here if anything happens to me. I’m more worried about you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Let me think on it and ask around. Maybe I can ask Clio or another sister if they have any ideas. Have you spoken to any of your relatives yet?”

“I haven’t been able to contact them. I don’t intend to be selfish by taking your time when you are going through a terrible experience. Thank you for answering my call.”

“I will get back to you. I’m sure there is a way to fix this, even if Epimetheus needs to be trapped and forced to undo what he has done. We’ll find a way.”

“Thank you again.” We hugged briefly and she faded away. At least there was another deity who was now aware of my predicament. I felt a little bit better. I decided not to mope around anymore and traveled back to Candel Falls. I was still on the mat and someone was about to walk in and discover me. I quickly climbed out a window and eavesdropped.

“Can you believe her child was born with devil’s horns? Surely she is a witch of black magic. I think her husband did the right thing by putting the creature out of its misery. I’m glad she’s gone. Now that her demonic taint is erased, we won’t have to worry about spoiled food, dying crops, and whatever else her evil presence might have caused.”

I walked away. I didn’t need to hear anymore. Avelia was gone. She was no doubt procuring her spell and the dying would start happening within the next twenty-four hours. This was when I started walking to the elflands to get the spell to stop her. I had nothing else to do but start the quest again.

As expected, before I entered the wood, I ran into the gnome named Benticle. “Greetings, I am Morpheus.”

The gnome grunted and pulled a short sword on me, just as he did the last time. “Wait, sir! I do not wish to fight. I have a proposition for you. I am the Dream God. If you travel with me and lead me to the elflands, to an elf named Gray Leaf, I will pay you in – ”

“I’m bored. I need attention too much to pretend to be a gnome, Morpheus!” The gnome twisted and blurred, its shape warping and stretching. The short, stout creature grew tall, its body slimming, and becoming more human-like.

After the transformation was complete, Epimetheus stood triumphantly before me, his long arms stretched wide. “Ta-daaaa! Aren’t you surprised? That was good, come on, you have to admit it.” He frowned at my face, which was not amused even the tiniest bit.

“Send me back now.” I said flatly, my arms crossed.

“I will, I will. First – ”

“No. Now. I’m not fucking around. I am beyond angry. I am ready to raze you to the ground until every muscle, every inch of skin, every organ, is pulped and mangled beyond repair.”

“You think you could?” He arched an eyebrow in interest.

“I am willing to give it my best effort.”

“Okay. I admit, I was a bit of an asshole. I never intended to just abandon you here. I have a plan. I need your help. I’ll make a deal.”

“A deal? Why don’t you go ask one of your Titan friends? They are all hungry for revenge and destruction. I’m sure you could bargain with them for whatever it is you want. Send. Me. Back.”

“I will. I give you my oath.” He placed his hand over the spot his heart would be if he had one.

I knew that the giving of an oath from a divine being was worth something and would bind him. Who knew if he had some method of getting around it, though? Also, I could get in a boatload of trouble if caught helping him. It wasn’t worth it.

“You know, Epimetheus, I think I will take my chances. You go your way and I’ll go mine. There are many deities who can manipulate time. You don’t hold as much power as you think you do. See ya.” I waved sarcastically at him and began to walk away.

“Wait. Wait, Nyx kin! I gave you my oath. I swear that I will return you to your cute little club and leave you and your kin alone. Forever. If you help me.”

“What is it you want, Titan?” I was infuriated with Epimetheus and my circumstances.

“I need a potion.” He wrung his hands.

“A potion?” I rolled my eyes.

“Yes, that is what I said. I want to leave this world. I can’t go back to Tartarus. It seriously cramps my style. So boring. No one cares about me. I won’t be missed. I just want to leave.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“The elflands. I wish to become elfkind and live out my days as a mortal – or an elf, as it were. Long-lived, but not immortal. I’m willing to give it up. I just don’t want to go back there. I’ll do anything.”

“It’s not my decision to make. Even if I wanted to…”

“No one will know.”

I shook my head. “Zeus would never allow it. Nyx would never allow it. You burned all your bridges, man. I am not very high on the totem pole of power. You picked the wrong god to help you.”

“Then take me to the dream lands and I will stay forever. Surely that is as good of a prison as any?”

I scoffed at him. “It’s heavenly. It’s my domain. Why would I allow you to call it home? No. Absolutely not.”

“Then you stay here. Forever.”

“I’m happy to find my way home on my own. I’d rather stay here than be implicated in your escape. You don’t deserve it. If, or when, you pay for what you did, your time will be considered served at Zeus’ leisure. Not mine. Not yours.”

“I won’t go back,” he growled and flashed away. A bright light popped in my eyes and the Titan was gone. I sighed.

Benticle the gnome stood before me, eyes blinking. “What just happened?” he asked.

“Let’s find dinner and I’ll explain after we set up camp. You do know me, don’t you?”

“Of course. You’re the Dream God. Everyone knows you here.”

“Thank Gods,” I lifted my head up to the stars. I could see them perfectly.

There was no moon, but I didn’t need a moon to see. Benticle and I caught two hares and roasted them over a spit. The stars weren’t visible once the fire was started. Just because you couldn’t see something didn’t mean it wasn’t still there. I hoped help was on the way, or that I could manage to create my own escape even though I didn’t have an ounce of power in me that could warp time.

Benticle and I traveled deeper into the elflands, toward the home of Gray Leaf, an ancient elf. The elfkind had the pointed ears of legend and were the approximate height of humans. They had hair the shade of leaves, rocks, and flowers. Living thousands of years, many thought of them as immortal, but they were just very long-lived. Gray Leaf was a master of the magic arts and was considered royalty in her world.

Gray Leaf was one of the oldest masters the gods were aware of, although most gods ignored or were bored with elfland’s magic. We could usually procure what we needed from other deities (Hekate or Circe, for example) or could conjure it ourselves, if we possessed the ability.

I’d been the butt of many jokes for bringing the human game of Dungeons & Dragons to life, but truthfully, I simply enjoyed exploring different worlds. I couldn’t conjure magic, at least I never tried. I could invoke spells already prepared, and I usually bought what I needed – or bargained for it.

“So Benticle, how are you doing?” My attempt to make small talk with the stubby gnome while we walked through the forest was lacking in complexity. Chit-chat had never been my forte.

“All right, I suppose. I had another kid. That’s…um, let me see, thirteen, fourteen now? No, fifteen. My wife has threatened to start eating any others that are born. So, I figure I either buy me a birth control amulet, or remain celibate for the rest of my life.”

“Fifteen gnome children. That’s a handful for sure. Being celibate’s not so bad.”

“We have two goats as nannies. The gnomlings behave well enough once they
get bit a few times. You have any, Morpheus?”

“Uh, goats or kids? Heh, pun unintended. Children? No.” I didn’t tell him that I had thought about love recently. Love, making love, dating, romance. The whole sappy package. I inwardly shivered.

“You got a sweetheart?” He pulled unidentified dried meat out of a pouch and gnawed on it, offering me a piece. I declined. I didn’t need to eat often.

“No. It’s not really my thing. Or at least it hasn’t been since I was created.” I was ready for a change of subject.

“Don’t you get lonely?” the nosy little bugger asked.

“I haven’t. But since returning to the human world, I admit, I have started thinking about it occasionally. I think their rituals are rubbing off on me.”

“You should live here. Humans are crazy! I wouldn’t step foot in their world. They’re worse than unicorns!” He stopped to pick a small rock from between his toes. Gnomes didn’t wear shoes. Their feet were very calloused and leathery. The harder and uglier their trotters were, the more attractive to other gnomes.

“True. Ah, looks like we are here. Do you remember how to ring for Gray Leaf?” Huge metal gates rose before us. There didn’t appear to be a lock, and we certainly wouldn’t find a handy call box with a microphone and speaker to announce ourselves like you’d find outside some homes on Earth.

“Hmm. We could try shouting. GRAY LEAF!” I had to cover my ears from the gnome’s monstrous roar. His breath was pretty sour as well, and it blew directly at me.

The tall gate slowly opened. In this world, elfkind were not allergic to metals. To my knowledge, that was a human invention. Of course, there could be other worlds with fey creatures in it where cold iron was toxic.

Regardless, it appeared the elf heard because we were let inside. We walked toward the castle not sure what awaited. We both knew Gray Leaf personally, but it was a business relationship, and one never knew what kind of mood the elf master would be in.

A skinny human met us at the door. He looked like a butler and wore a suit. There were a few mortals who lived among the elfkind, enjoying an extended life with their service contract. “Greetings. Please follow me.”

Benticle and I followed the person further into the huge house. It was even larger inside than it appeared outside, which was not unusual. There were stone floors with lavish carpets placed strategically in areas where richly carved wood furniture and chairs were arranged. Sconces lined the walls, although I doubted they were needed. The entire living area seemed lit from within, glowing and golden.

“Here we go.” The man held his arm out in front of a doorway, and we walked in. Gray Leaf sat in a tall-backed mint green suede chair. She gestured for us to sit. The elf was tall and slim with light brown skin. Even as old as she was, I could spot no wrinkles or loose skin. Elf genes were impressive. She did not smile often, but she still seemed to radiate warmth.

“Please, have some tea and cakes, if you so desire. They are not magicked. I purchased them from the mortal world.” Benticle grabbed a small cup and slurped the tea, then stuffed two colorfully decorated tiny cakes in his mouth. Crumbs stuck in his red scruffy beard.

“Mmm, really tasty, Gray Leaf.” Benticle replaced the cup on the table and looked longingly at the remaining cakes. He picked up one more and bit into it delicately, as though suddenly remembering the concept of manners.

“Have as much as you like. Would you care for any, Morpheus?”

“I’ll have some tea.” I picked up a cup and sipped. I couldn’t identify the blend, but it was the tiniest bit sweet with a dash of peppery spice. I had to remind myself not to say thank you because that myth about fey creatures was true. One might end up owing a favor or being in debt unintentionally.

“I’ll get right to the point. I am here to make a transaction. A Titan by the name of Epimetheus has escaped Tartarus, hypnotized my brother Phantasos, has the ability to hypnotize other Gods, and somehow threw me back in time hundreds of years ago. He is seeking revenge on the Olympians and other deities. I wish – I need – to stop him, capture him, and return him to prison. As well as return myself to the present timeline. Do you have anything that would accomplish this, and if so, what are your terms, master?” I couldn’t believe I delivered my predicament so succinctly. I wisely shut up and waited.

I could not interpret the look that Gray Leaf threw my way. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Benticle and I did the same. We could be here awhile. The room was silent as Gray Leaf meditated, or thought about whatever she needed to think about, before answering. Twenty minutes passed. Benticle finished the cakes and had another cup of tea. I started tapping my foot. She finally opened her eyes.

“You ask for much. First of all, let us address the timeline issue. You said Epimetheus has the ability to hypnotize Gods. Have you been hypnotized?”

“I believe so. In my place of business, he forced me to listen to him speak words that I believe might have been a spell to send me back in time.”

“You believe? So, might you simply believe you were sent back in time?”

I sat in silence. The thought hadn’t occurred to me, but I remembered Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, saying something similar. Are you sure you aren’t stuck in an illusion? Maybe you aren’t really back there at all?

“You weren’t sent back in time, Morpheus. He made you believe you were.”

“But the details were perfect. Flawless. How…?”

“All he would have to do is weave a falsity using your memories. Gods have
almost eidetic memory.”

“What a fool I was to fall for it.” I felt like an idiot. I should know how to spot an illusion. I felt weak and stupid.

“Do not blame yourself. It quite literally could happen to anyone. Even I am not immune to deceit. So, that is the answer to one of your problems. Now, I must tell you one of mine. I am dying. No, don’t say anything. I’m almost as old as Zeus’ sinews.” She chuckled. “Not quite, but I have lived longer than most of my people. It’s my time. My daughter…her birth name is Tiamelle. She will choose her own name soon. She is not old enough to claim her birthright. She is only one hundred years old, and that is the human
equivalent of a teenager on the cusp of womanhood. I need a regent. I choose
you. Do this, and I will give you what you need.”

I sat in my chair flabbergasted. “Um, master, I do not have the qualifications
for this position.”

“Tiamelle knows her job. She is a certified mage already. She just needs an elder present for another fifty years. It is the way of royal elfkind. Surely that is nothing for you. I’m not asking you to marry her.”

“What if I were to find another suitable person to fill this position? Would we
still have a deal?”

“If you can find one that will meet my standards, then yes.”

“Okay. I agree.” There was a pop of air and our pact was sealed. Now to find out how I would catch Epimetheus.

Gray Leaf rose and went to a desk, removed a key from the top drawer, and then unlocked another larger one. She held up a polished brass oil lamp. “This is a djinn lamp. Inside is a djinn I captured a thousand years ago. He will be furious when summoned, but also compelled to give you three wishes. You can wish to put Epimetheus inside, and he will be trapped until returned to Tartarus.”

“What about the djinn? What happens after the three wishes are made?”

“The djinn will be free and bound to the human world. He will be in spirit form, but can influence the weak and violent. I do not know the nature of his heart. Being a demonkind yourself, he may be neutral toward you. Deal with Epimetheus, the larger problem, and the djinn will seem like a fly buzzing before your eyes.” Her voice sounded tired and her body seemed to diminish before my eyes. “I don’t have long, Morpheus. Do you want it or not?”

“Yes. I want it.” I took the lamp from her.

She rose. “I must rest. Do what you wish here and then may the winds guide you home. You have two weeks to return and fulfill your part of the bargain. Good day.” Gray Leaf turned and left through another door in the room.

I huffed. “Well. That’s that, Benticle.” I had no intention of releasing the djinn in Gray Leaf’s house, so we journeyed back to the gnome’s domicile. His children surrounded me laughing, excited to meet a God. I couldn’t say no to dinner with his family. His wife served roasted goat with root vegetables and homemade flatbread. I hoped the nannies weren’t offended. We said our goodbyes, and I knew it wouldn’t be for long. I would be back in two weeks.

I was relieved to freely teleport back to Cloud Nine. It was the present day, and I had indeed fallen for the timeline illusion created by Epimetheus. I looked forward to telling Urania her hunch was correct. I held the lamp, ready to make my stand. “Epimetheus! Let’s make a deal. Show yourself.”

The Titan materialized quickly, which meant he had lurked, waiting.

“Morpheus,” he curtly nodded, then noticed the lamp. “What’s that?”

“A djinn’s lamp. Shall we try and get some wishes?” I rubbed the object and activated the summoning, ensuring the djinn would be bound to me. I didn’t want Epimetheus to get any wishes. I hoped his lack of forethought would score me points.

A smoky mist whooshed from the lamp’s spout. Epimetheus stared, transfixed. This was good. I guessed not many deities had witnessed a djinn coming out of their lamp before. A cloud swirled and a vaporous male form took shape. A roar escaped his mouth. The two of us froze in place, not sure what to do.

Quickly, I stepped up. “Djinn, I am Morpheus, the one who called you. I am due three wishes before you are free.”

“Wait! I want a wish, too!” Epimetheus shouted. “I wish for freedom on my own terms for eternity.”

The djinn looked at Epimetheus and turned to me. “Is that what you wish?”

“Morpheus, you said you wanted to make a deal. I’ll never let your brother go if you deny me this. You’ll always be looking over your shoulder. I will run you down.”

I looked at the Titan, then my gaze swung back around to the djinn. “I wish for Epimetheus to be trapped in the lamp until I decide otherwise. Now.”

The djinn simply stated, “As you wish.”

“No! No!” Epimetheus yelled. “I refuse. I don’t consent. You can’t do this.” His body began to twist and warp. It flattened and molded into a thin string that was sucked into the lamp like a spaghetti noodle slurped into a hungry mouth. His screams and wails grew shrill and tiny as he shrunk to nothing and disappeared inside.

The club was quiet except for my rapid breath. I was shocked, excited, scared, and entranced. The djinn looked at me. “What now?”

“I am not sure what my second wish is yet. But, for my last wish, when you are free, I wish that you do no harm to humans or supernaturals unless in strict defense of your life. Do you agree?”

The djinn hesitated. The longer he was out of the bottle, so to speak, the more humanoid he looked. His physical features were androgynous and he was bald. The lower half of his body remained vaporous-looking. “As you wish.”

“Would you like to see what the Underworld looks like?”

When we arrived, I placed the lamp in Hades’ hands. “He is trapped inside. You can free him in Tartarus or keep him in the lamp for a while. It might make a nice decoration for your house. When you are done with it, I’d like it back, please.”

Hades and I spoke briefly of family and deity gossip, of which there was quite a bit these days. The djinn was allowed to look around the outskirts of the Underworld God’s domain for a few minutes. He was awestruck and speechless.

“What will you do with the djinn?” Hades asked.

“I have yet to make my remaining wish. My last wish was that he do no harm when he is freed. Until then, I will keep an eye on him.”

“Very well.” The God grew impatient with our company, so we returned to Cloud Nine.

The djinn looked around and asked, “What is this place?”

“It’s my business. People sing and dance and do art here. I suppose I should think of my other wish, so you can be on your way.”

“There’s no hurry, if you wish to think on it. I haven’t been in this world for a thousand years. I will behave.”

“All right. But I don’t think you will be able to stay here indefinitely. It’s just for a day or two until I figure out my final wish. You won’t go out creating mayhem until then?”

“I give you my word that I will harm no one, Morpheus.”

“Okay. Hey, do you have a name?” We wouldn’t be friends, but it was better than calling him djinn.

“Komenu.” He wandered off to look around some more.

I had to make that last wish soon. Just because the creature said he wouldn’t hurt anyone didn’t mean he couldn’t get into other kinds of trouble.

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