Again the darkness yielded to an unnatural light, and Demetrios heard a soothing voice slither into his ears.
“Come, my child, come,” said the voice, honey to his ears. “Find me in the dark. Find me in your heart.”
A niche in the cave, carved by her teeth and illuminated by a flaming brazier of wrought adamantine, opened before him, and when his eyes adjusted, both wonder and fear ensnared him. His eyes followed the end of a serpent’s tail, coiled around a dilapidated pillar of stone, to where scales merged into the flesh of a female torso, laden with breasts. Her arms, open to accept him, ended in talon-like hands, but her face in the soft glow of the flames reminded him of Alkinoë. In his mind, he knew who she was, but he didn’t fear her, even though many heroes had encountered her offspring in their own tests of valor. Herakles had bested her son, the Lernæan Hydra, with torches to his severed heads, and had wrestled with Cerberos, the Kuna tou Aidou, or Hound of Hades. Bellerophon had choked her son, the Khimaera, with molten lead dripping from a spearhead. Her daughter, the Sphinx, outdone when Oedipus solved her riddle, cast herself off a cliff. But, Gaea’s daughter by Tartaros would not be brought down; in fact, she would bring forth new progeny to go up against heroes of every generation, monsters more inconceivable than those who had come before. Ekhidna would prevail.
Collapsing into her serpentine embrace, he suckled at one of her nipples, taking nourishment from her milk, the same milk that had fed her grotesque brood for eons. He had respect for her and those she birthed, however, as a daughter of Gaea, and humbled himself in her coils. As she fed him, the tip of her tail cautiously moved toward the sword, slinking from the tip of the sheath toward the pommel. Her scales brushed against the hilt, curling around it, caressing it, but then releasing it. She had no designs on the blade itself; her mother forged it, and she wished to touch its grandeur.
Hypnos and his son, Morpheos, came from the darkness, touching Demetrios’ brow and brought him some of the peace he needed to continue his journey because the next task would be the hardest. Zeus’ request would be fulfilled.