In a place where two planes intersect, the great Enemy of Gaia and the Queen of the gods of the Greeks met for the first time in their long histories. Wyrm, the embodiment of chaos, blacker than the darkest night, gave a courtly yet ironic bow to Hera who, resplendent in cloth of gold, inclined her head condescendingly, missing the irony.

Wyrm spoke first, in his smooth, deep voice. "I have received your message, great lady, but I regret to tell you I must refuse your request." A slight smirk accompanied his words, for Hera's request was no such thing, it was an imperious demand. "The soul of Echo is mine, and will remain so."

Peacock feathers surged up in Hera's eyes, but then with some difficulty she controlled her anger, for she recognized that Wyrm's power, though of a nature entirely foreign to her, is formidable. Her voice, rich in timbre, sounded amused. "Perhaps I cannot wrest the soul from you by force, O Wyrm. But ..."

Wyrm's eyes narrowed as he heard the triumph in her tone. "But?"

Hera smiled like a shark. "I can prevent you from obtaining the child Vezhan, which I know is what you really want."

Wyrm spoke a bit sharply. "The child Vezhan is already mine. It is agreed."

Hera laughed low. "But the child was the price for restoring Echo to life, was it not? What will happen when I make it known that Echo's mind is destroyed? Will they still give you her son then?"

One sleek black eyebrow rose on Wyrm's face. "Her mind is not destroyed."

"No, but it will be." Hera laughed again. "When she tried to take her own life, she yielded a portion of herself to me, O Wyrm." Mockery in her tone now. "You control her soul, but I have her mind in my hands, to destroy at my whim."

wraith1.jpg With a flick of his mind and will, Wyrm summoned the soul of Echo. A cold wraith formed in the air beside him, its mouth contorted in a silent scream of agony. During the few moments that were needed for the wraith to obtain enough solidity to speak, Hera regarded the spirit of her wayward daughter impassively. Wyrm would have given much to know the Queen's thoughts, but she hid them well.

"Echo," he said, "your mother tells me she now has a measure of power over your mind. Is this the truth?"

The wraith spoke with difficulty, in a thready whisper. "Yes... and if I had died by my own hand, her claim on my soul would have outweighed yours... 'twas always so..."

Wyrm frowned slightly. The unique child Vezhan, being half fire demon, quarter god and quarter mortal, was a prize he did not want to relinquish. But Hera was right: if it became known that Echo could only be restored to life as a mindless creature, Vezhan would be lost to him.

He smiled silkily. "Hera," he said, almost purring, "let us bargain."

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Wraith: Detail from a picture by Edward Burne-Jones
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