“Oh! That name again! Heracles!” The shout ripped from Titan Prometheus was so loud, so agonised, so unforeseen that the whole of Monstro flinched.
High up on Olympus, Zeus heard the shout – so faintly that he mistook it for a passing thought. He resolved next day to scan the world for a glimpse of his favourite son. He had been paying too little attention lately to Heracles’ Labours, adventures and complicated love life… In fact he had been paying too little attention to the world in general.
“Leave here!” said Prometheus, addressing himself to the whole of Monstro. His voice was gentler now. “Turn back before you give Zeus the satisfaction of destroying you. Remember! For all Typhon here despises mortal Humankind, most of you are mortal! Thanks to Zeus, the Herb of Immortality you Giants once grazed on is gone from the world. I would no more have you die than the little creatures I made from clay. You are unevenly matched, and life is too sweet to pit against the casual cruelty of the Olymps. Live in the far reaches of the world, away from their games and dramas. Remove yourselves from their game board. Remove yourselves from their little stage. Move out of their shadow and into the sun. Rob the Heroes of their blood sports. Defy augury and go. Stories will take your place. You know? How escaping prisoners leave pillows in their beds to fool the prison guards? So! Let Stories lie there in your place. Heroes will go on looking for you. Mothers will go on scaring their children with talk of monsters. The gods will smirk still. But you will be… gone. Away! Elsewhere. Living out the balance of your lives.”
The zebra grew bored and clambered its way awkwardly over the ridge of rock and soil that circled the vast pit they stood in. But the rest of Monstro stood transfixed, feeling the terrible truth of their mortality; seeing the possibility of something other than either victor or defeat.
Typhon allowed his mate the Echidna to help him to his feet, then pushed her aside. “I am the pyre of Zeus!” he said, his vocal cords scorched and unreliable . “I’ll burn him on the mountaintop!” and his individual heads each sought out a face in the crowd to outface, some subject to scare back into submission. The one that glared into Hylas’s face called him ‘My Lucky Boy’. The one that grinned in Pythia’s face told her she owed it to The Three Insects to kill an Olymp. The one that confronted Thoősa had only one eye and no nose and only shrugged and moved on, having no idea who she was. The one that poked its lop jaw between the horses, and nipped at the leopards’ tails, promised to wring immortality out of the gods like wine from a bunch of grapes.
But when one jowly, fist-sized head bobbed close by Xyno, the little fixer-and-fetcher did not wait to hear what it had to say. Instead, he leaned forward, took the head between mittened hands, and whispered into its ear: “They got the itch for immortality, Mightiness. And I can scratch it. Listen up, right? You’ll like this.”
It took a moment for Typhon to work out through which ear he was hearing the words. He could be seen tilting each head in turn, eliminating the possibilities. Xyno waited until he had done so, then nudged his black nose again against the grizzled cheek and whispered his priceless secret.
A shiver ran through Typhon so savage that it seemed his sorry crop of heads must fall from their necks like overripe fruit. Then he began to laugh and cough, and gurgle and prattle and chatter and swear and babble and bubble and cough and laugh a wrenching, rabid laugh. Once more Xyno dobbed his wet nose against the small skull’s single remaining ear. A snotty kiss. “Go on. Help yourself. It’s right behind you, look. He’s full of it.”
Xyno was pointing at Talos. His whisper had already told Typhon. Now he told the rest of Monstro: about the ichor that flowed in the Brass Man’s pipes - the blood Talos shared with the Olympian Immortals. “Blooda the gods is what. Hera give it ‘im when she got ‘im made. Comes out ready enough, too. Glug glug. Seen it. There’s yer Immortality. Ready for the taking.”
Monstro’s eyes all turned on Talos, astonished – even the cyclopses who had built him and whose own hands had poured the ichor through a funnel into a the screw-hole in his heel. Meeting up with him afresh, they had remembered him only as their finest piece of metalwork, and been surprised by his pleasant nature. They had never looked at him as a flask of immortality.
The meat-eating horses had never wondered what manner of blood might flow from a bite in that brazen trunk. Stheno had enjoyed his poetry. Talos had become a new landmark in Monstro, a source of warmth on a dark night. Now they were invited to see him as a drinking fountain of everlasting life.
Talos looked round him at the community that had taken him in. Among these thousand kinds of ugly he had been neither freakish nor fearful. He had felt loved – at least he had loved, which feels like the same thing. But Monstro was looking at him now with new eyes. Jealous eyes. Wishful eyes. Covetous eyes, shrewd and hungry. Eyes thirsty for his transparent blood
“Go on, go on!” urged Xyno, enticing, inciting. “Can’t grill you all. Help yourselfs. Don’t let one drip drop now, will yuh?”
Typhon continued to laugh …but he did not lead the attack. Twice burned, he was content to leave that to the mob; wettingly funny to watch the way the circle formed, closed in, recoiled from first touch. Xyno’s mouth also fell open in a grin so broad it showed his dog-teeth.
Hylas and Thoősa found themselves inside the closing circle, trapped inside a noose of monsters. Some, like the leopards, were apologising to Talos. Others had already decided to see the Brass Man’s overthrow of Typhon as proof of treason. Others were calling him ‘Hera’s Man’, ‘Tinpot tyrant’.
“He’s our friend!” said Thoősa. “Remember the locust-eaters? Remember…”
“You need him!” said Hylas, knowing it was already too late to appeal to better natures. “If it comes to a battle…”
Talos, though, said nothing.
Somehow his deadpan face, with its absurd moustache of a mouth, achieved an expression of infinite sadness. It made Thoősa reach out and touch him. He was stony cold. “Heat up! Heat up! Save yourself!” Get away! Walk right through them!”
But Talos would not – or could not – heat up. His fiery core remained as icy cold as loneliness. “Do as you please. I will not burn my fwends,” he said, and turned his head through a half revolve so as to look at the cliff rather than the mob. Typhon hooted like a treeful of owls. A coterie of giants broke the circle in a hobbling run and, swinging their clubs, brought them down on Talos’ pock-marked metal carcase.
“Careful! Don’t spill it!” called someone in the crowd. The cyclopses looked down at their forge hammers, wondering. They had built the Brass Thing: who but they should have the job of dismantling it?
“Oh yes? Oh yes?” Panacea’s voice was not pleading, her expression a sort of puzzled amusement. “Oh yes?” She rested her hands on her hips. “And how will you manage this?” she asked. “Will you drink the Man’s blood?”
There was a roar of enthusiasm for the idea. The crowd laid hands on Talos, cautiously at first then searchingly, looking for the way to open him and reach the priceless liquor inside.
“And what exactly will that achieve?” Panacea did not go in among them. She held off at a distance, busied herself checking her satchel for such herbs as the Oracle had not pilfered. She laughed, and shook her head at their stupidity. “And when you drink water, tell me: does it end in your bloodstream? Does your heart pump it about your body? Do your veins run transparent with stream water? Fine doctors you would make! Did no one ever teach you anatomy?”
They snarled and growled at her, but they listened at least.
Thoősa squirmed from under the trampling eager feet of the mob and up on to the chest of the Brass man, pulling Hylas up too, the pair of them like wrecked sailors clinging to a hull.
“It’s poisonous if you drink it,” suggested Hylas gamely. “Isn’t it, Pan’, isn’t it? I wouldn’t drink it, would you, Thoősa?”
“Be like drinking snake venom,” said Thoősa, though her throat was choked with tears and her heart caked with defeat. The faces pressing close all around her were bestial, a different species – a thousand different species and none with a trace of pity.
Panacea went on, in her clinical, matter-of-fact, reasonable voice: “No, no. You will have to be patient. I will need a hollow tube, an open vein. I have seen my father do transfusions of blood. – Of course, they rarely succeeded. Olympian ichor in Giant veins? Scalding through the valves of an old horse’s heart? Bubbling behind the eyeballs of a Cyclops?” Fingers struggling to unfasten the plug in Talos’ heel hesitated and hung in mid-air, reflected in the shiny metal. “…Oh, and all the blood that’s in your veins right now… that must be got rid of. The two kinds must not mix. Not good. In a transfusion, the blood must be all of the same kind, or it curdles… I can’t be sure, but I would guess the mortality rate would be roughly ninety per cent.” The cyclopses blinked their single bloodshot eyes. The giants plucked at their fleshy lips. Even Thoősa and Hylas had no idea what she had just said. “Let me put it another way,” said Panaceas patiently. “One in one hundred of you might survive the transfusion. ...Does anyone have a tube?” Now she walked in among them, squeezed between the press of bodies, looking for the purple twist of a convenient vein in the crook of an arm, the back of a knee, a flank, a groin. “And how far will it go, I wonder? There won’t be enough for everybody, that’s for sure. Typhon first, of course – ah no! Of course! He is immortal already, isn’t. He does not need to risk it.”
Over the heads of the crowd, Thoősa watched Panacea and understood why the gods had so feared her All-Gentle father. To have ichor in your veins is one kind of unfair advantage, but to be cleverer than the fools around you – that is true power.
The mob eyed each other, rivals now for the limited quantity of the precious liquor inside the metal man. Rivals for the chance to poison themselves and reach a sudden end. Their resolve could almost be smelled seeping away into the ground. Like ichor.
Over the heads of the crowd, Hylas locked eyes with dog-faced Xyno. You lose, said the look on the boy’s face. More than any monster there, the little fixer-and-fetcher repelled Hylas with his treachery, his cold-blooded manoeuvring.
The jowly face grinned back at him, tongue dangling. Some you win, some you lose, said the look on Xyno’s face. Then the grin broadened and his pink-rimmed eyes flickered upward. “No matter!” he yelped aloud, and leaned, with heavy devotion, against Typhon’s hairy shin. “That one there is immortal too, int’ee?” and he pointed up at Prometheus. “Plenty wholesome Titan blood in his veins. Need a tube? To siphon it off? Lady says you needs a tube. Plenty tubes inside that brass-arse man.”