Seeing that the presence of Echo's suffering spirit did not appear to disconcert Hera in the least, Wyrm caused the wraith to vanish. With vast courtesy he invited Hera to join him in the Black Labyrinth; she countered with an invitation to hold their negotiations in the comfort of her home on Mount Olympus. Both knew, of course, that neither would yield to the other's territory, so it was easily agreed that they would remain where they were, at the intersection of their planes.

Hera caused a throne to appear for herself, and beside it a tray of delicacies, which Wyrm declined to share with her. From the blackness at his feet Wyrm created his own black throne of sorts, an imposing and distorted thing that writhed peculiarly at the edges.

"So, Lady Queen," he said, his voice as always startling in its mellow depth and smoothness, "tell me what it is you want -- other than Echo's soul."

Hera smiled. She knew she bargained from the stronger position, for Wyrm wanted only one thing -- Vezhan -- and it would be such an easy thing for her to make sure he was denied.

"You know, I am sure," Wyrm went on conversationally, as if what he was about to say were of little importance, "that if you were to destroy Echo's mind, I would destroy her soul, and you would lose her forever."

Now Hera frowned, touching a curled forefinger to her lips in thought. Could Wyrm do this -- destroy the soul of one whose spirit partook of the gods themselves? She should have consulted Hades before coming to this meeting ... but no matter, she did not truly wish to exercise her threat, and no doubt Wyrm knew this. But she would, if it came to that ... she would ...

"Come, Hera, speak," said Wyrm. "Tell me first why you want her soul at all, if you will. Perhaps if I know that I can suggest an alternative that will be acceptable to you, to me, and to those who now hold Vezhan." Hera noticed with a certain satisfaction that he did not stipulate that the solution be acceptable to Echo herself, and permitted herself another smile.

Hera"My daughter betrayed me some three thousand years in the past of the plane where she now lives, O Wyrm," Hera began. "She spoke against me, and for that act, I took her spirit, took away her memory, gave her the mortal form you know and sent her as my emissary to kill one whom I hated. Yet again she failed me, she fell in love with the very man she was to kill. At the end, she took a blow meant for that man, a blow that killed the body I had placed her spirit in." Hera brooded darkly for a long moment then, remembering the agony Echo endured when Ares, aiming the enchanted weapon at Hercules, had instead struck Echo herself.

Wyrm read Hera's expression accurately, divining that Hera was not so immune to Echo's pain as she pretended to be. An idea began to take shape in his thoughts, but he said only, "Do go on, O Queen. I had no idea Echo had such spirit, meek creature that she has always seemed to be."

Hera gave a short, amused laugh. "Meek? My dear Wyrm, therein lies her true strength ... take her at face value and you will be taken by surprise when you find the supple core of steel at her center, steel that bends but is almost impossible to break." Her expression grew suddenly dark. "Yet he ... this Static creature ... he cracked her at her center ..."

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