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Perseus and the Oracle

And so it was that Perseus rushed right home after Ashkaan delivered his directions and began packing for his quest. Perseus was resolved to be nothing but victorious in the resolution of his six labors (although he still felt it should be seven).

As usual Perseus was greeted at the front door to his apartment atop Olympus Towers by his manservant Alfred. It was common knowledge that Perseus was not only a gifted, handsome, and popular hero, but he was also immensely wealthy. Perseus had the foresight to take the advice of an uncle at a young age and had invested in plastics and pork bellies. Finally in his mid-thirties he got out of the often barbaric stocks and commodities market and invested his fortune in tax free state bonds which generated a generous effective annual yield of 7.5 percent.

"I trust your meeting with our fat free and floating God of light was successful?"

An elated Perseus threw his helm on the tastefully appointed leather couch and turned to his gaunt, elderly and well-dressed butler, "I have been blessed, Alfred! Asshkaan has selected me to quest for him! Can you believe it? If I can pull this off I'm a shoo-in for the Hall of Heroes."

Alfred frowned, "A quest? What kind of quest?"

Perseus opened the door to the hall closet and began digging inside, "I'm not totally sure yet. It has something to do with Balthon. First I have to complete six labors."

Alfred raised an eyebrow, "Really? And what are these labors?"

Perseus hauled a large canvas suitcase out of the back of the closet, "I have to go to the Oracle at Ihpled to find out."

"You're just a wealth of information," Alfred remarked under his breath, "And I suppose you'll be wanting me to tag along."

Perseus lugged the suitcase into his elegantly decorated and spacious neoclassical living room, "Of course loyal friend and servant. How could I embark upon such a grand adventure without you by my side."

Alfred frowned, "Ducky."

Perseus unzipped his luggage, "We'll need to pack light, although I should like to bring an assortment of weapons. You never know what kind of hideous creatures you may encounter in the outlands."

"I suppose you'll be wanting to bring your lucky nine spear."

"Oh! Most certainly, I couldn't go on such a glorious mission without my lucky nine spear."

Alfred shook his head and left the room to go pack.

After a week of packing Perseus and Alfred caught an airboat to the hinterlands where they were to pick up their faithful steeds. After being dropped off at the Augean stables a bubbly and affectionate Perseus collected his beloved steed Luscious. Luscious was a strapping, white Arabian stallion with a long flowing mane and gorgeously coifed tail. Alfred's steed was a more sedate gelding by the name of Jim. Finally they leased two mules to carry their luggage and they were off.

They traveled three days and nights through the hinterlands until they came to the outlands. The hinterlands were actually quite pleasant with rolling green fields and abundant wild orchards. The outlands on the other hand turned into hardscrabble and rock. In addition to the rougher terrain it got decidedly warmer and Perseus found his armor most uncomfortable. Alfred on the other hand managed not to perspire in his perfectly pressed butler's suit. Sometimes Perseus wondered if the man was human.

On the fourth day their road turned into a small rocky canyon. Luscious reared up in terror upon rounding a corner and almost threw Perseus.

"Ho fair steed! What troubles thee!?"

Alfred yelled, "SNAKE!"

Perseus spied a slitherer as it darted between some rocks, chuckled and then cooed, "You're not really afraid of that sniggling little reptile are you precious… my little gumdrop?"

Alfred frowned and pointed, "No! I mean SNAKE!"

Perseus' jaw slammed into his belt at the sight of his steed's cause for terror. The immense reptile reared up before them stood at least thirty feet off the canyon floor. It was a monstrous golden cobra which was at least a hundred feet long and as wide as a man.

Perseus' expression turned to one of glee, "Now that's a monster! Quick Alfred! My nine spear!"

"Are you sure you don't want the five? It is in the sand."

Perseus puzzled over the situation, "You're right. Let's go with the five, but keep the nine handy."

Alfred dismounted and retrieved the two spears for his employer. Perseus dismounted and moved closer to the gleaming reptile as it swayed in the noonday sun. Alfred handed the lighter of the two spears to Perseus.

"Don't you think you should approach yon beastie on horseback? It looks quite formidable."

Perseus frowned, "Luscious is quite terrified of snakes and I don't wish to cause him concern. It upsets his stomach."

"It will upset yours if you're squashed like a bug."

Perseus steeled himself, "I'm a hero Alfred. I'm known for making the best of a dire situation."

Alfred frowned and remarked under his breath, "I didn't know you wanted to be Flatman."

Perseus cautiously moved within striking range of the cobra while a hesitant, but loyal Alfred followed not too far behind with an assortment of weapons.

"NONE SHALL PASS," boomed the snake's sonorous bass voice across the canyon.

A startled Perseus stopped dead in his tracks, "Excuse me?"

"I know it's corny, but I'm required to say that in my contract", the snake replied apologetically.

Perseus switched from stalking mode to conversational mode, "Really? What contract would that be?"

The snake sighed, "My contract with the Oracle."

"You work for the Oracle," an incredulous Perseus replied.

"Yes. For five years now. She got very tired of everyone coming to her and asking such amazingly stupid questions. Will my boyfriend leave me? How can I get my girlfriend in the sack? Is my wife cheating on me? When will the world end? Finally she got feed up with it all and summoned me from the void to weed out the whiners."

Perseus brightened, "Really!? Which one?"

"Which one what?"

"Which void were you summoned from?"

The snake frowned, "There's only one void."

"I beg to differ, Sir Snake. I bought one week of the second void from a gentleman in the resort town of New Toot. He called it a timeshare."

The snake snickered, but did not shatter the gullible hero's beliefs, "And what do you propose to do with one week of a void."

"Why I might have to cast something into it."

The snake grinned, "Really…"

Perseus clutched his spear more tightly, "Now Sir Snake-"

"Ska," the snake interrupted.

"Excuse me?"

"My name is Ska."

"Oh. Well, Sir Ska I must insist that you step aside… slither aside. I have been directed by Asshkaan the First to go to the Oracle so that I might be given six labors."

Ska leaned forward, "Then you have the password."

Perseus scratched his forehead, "I was given no password."

Ska leaned back, "Then you can not pass."

A frustrated Perseus sneered and adopted a fighting stance, "Then we will come to blows Sir Ska."

Ska sighed, "Oh bother. I really don't want to brawl with you sir. I always end up getting hurt during these tete-a-tetes. It's all that armor you know."

Perseus lost the sneer and the stance, "Well it is meant for protection."

"Well it's quite irritating. I remember the first hero I ate. His spear tore me up inside. I had bloody stool for months."

Perseus was aghast, "That's terrible."

"I changed my strategy and stomped the next one with my tail, but I received a terrible gash in the process. See?"

Ska held up his tail for the hero to inspect. A long jagged scar was evident on the underside of the Snake's tail.

"Oh my that is bad," Perseus observed.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'll ask you three questions. If you get them all correct then you'll have proved yourself worthy to see the Oracle, and that your not just another bothersome fortune seeker and then you can be on your way."

Alfred joined his master's side, and rolled his eyes.

"Ducky an IQ test. We're doomed," the manservant said under his breath.

Perseus steeled himself and stood to attention, "Very well then Sir Ska. Ask your three questions."

Ska grinned, "What is your name?"

Perseus concentrated mightily. He was not sure if it was a trick question. He was very careful to answer, "Percy of the Seven Lairs."

Ska frowned, "You have to put the answer in the form of a question."

Perseus brightened, "Oh! I get it. Who is Percy of the Seven Lairs?"

The snake looked quizzical, "Seven Lairs? What does that mean?"

Perseus became quite animated, "Oh that's how I gained my entrance into the Guild of Heroes. I slew the beasts of seven lairs that were terrorizing the village of Alderan."

Alfred rolled his eyes, "Please! Annoying the village of Alderan is more like it."

A sheepish Perseus was stung and shot Alfred a frown, "I got into the Guild of Heroes."

Ska's expression again turned quizzical, "I don't understand."

Alfred grinned, "Perseus has an absolute genius for a P.R. man."

Perseus stomped his foot, "I fought those beasts fair and square!"

"What beasts," Ska queried.

Perseus puffed out his chest, "The beast of the first lair was a wild, crazed, slavering canine."

"It was a rabid golden retriever."

"We fought to the death!"

"You ducked and it hit its head on a rock."

Perseus was becoming very aggravated with his manservant, "Well what about the second lair! A plague of rats!"

Alfred held up seven fingers for Ska to see.

Perseus stammered, "Well they were very big!"

Alfred held his hand apart about eight inches. Ska chuckled.

Perseus became very defensive, "What about the third lair! It was a gigantic slime creature which oozed poison!"

"It was a gigantic slug. If you can't outrun, excuse me, outwalk a slug, you don't belong in the questing business."

Ska grinned, "It does sound somewhat dangerous, what with the poison and all."

Alfred rolled his eyes again, "It wasn't poison it was merely sticky and disgusting. Percy set it's lair afire, threw in garlic, onions and spices and invited the townspeople over for escargot."

Ska snickered, "Well, that was thoughtful."

"You can't deny I was challenged by the fourth lair. I defeated forty thieves," Perseus exclaimed.

"They were all over sixty-five and ready to retire anyway. They were just as happy to leave."

Percy was becoming lived, "And I suppose the cunning I used to defeat the metal monster of the fifth lair was naught?"

"It was rusted into a solid hunk. When you threw the water on its tired head and it set about to sparking, cracking and popping, you put it out of its misery."

Perseus clenched his teeth and glowered at Alfred.

Ska was becoming quite amused, "And what about the sixth lair?"

Alfred grinned, "It turned out it was empty and just smelled bad. Percy gave it a good cleaning with bleach and scented candles."

Ska was close to bursting out loud in laughter, "Surely the seventh lair must have been a challenge."

"I defeated the Minotaur," an irritated Perseus snapped .

Alfred smirked, "Oh yes that poor beast. It did come at Perseus. Of course it was half blind and suffered a very bad case of arthritis. It was terribly old. The largest part of that challenge was exiting the labyrinth. Percy was stuck in there for six days."

Ska snickered, "It seems, Percy of the Seven Lairs, that you are somewhat heroically challenged."

A furious Percy jammed a finger at Ska, "I will not suffer this insult Sir Snake. If you care to test me in battle then so be it."

"That won't be necessary", Alfred observed, "Ska has had more than his three questions, so let's be off."

A dumbfounded Ska reared up, "But… I didn't mean… I mean those weren't the ques-"

"Never-the-less you've asked far more than your three questions. Let's go Percy."

With that Alfred hopped on Jim. A more than a little confused Perseus followed suit and mounted Luscious. In a few minutes they were out of the canyon and on the road to Ihpled.

Perseus did not talk to his manservant for the rest of the day. He was very angry at the way Alfred had spun the tale of the seven lairs. His P.R. man had done a much better job of telling the story.

After a while night came to pass. Perseus and Alfred set up camp against a cliff that preceded a grassy plain. Alfred cooked a wonderful trout almondine with a side of rice pilaf and broccoli smothered in a delightful cheese sauce. Percy still wouldn't talk to him.

After a while Alfred became exasperated, "Percy you're acting like a petulant child. I only told the truth in order to get by the snake without harm."

"You… you… totally humiliated me! I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life!"

"But you're alive and able to continue your adventure."

"You doubt my ability to defeat the snake?"

Alfred thought very carefully before he answered, "Percy you're new to this hero business. Remember I wanted you to go into the entertainment industry with your good looks and all. You've had no formal training in the questing field and I think discretion is the better part of valor until you get some more adventures under your belt."

Percy really wanted to be angry at Alfred, but he could not deny the wisdom in Alfred's words, "You totally trivialized my previous adventure."

Alfred grinned, "It is you who will totally trivialize your previous adventure."

A confused Perseus replied, "I don't understand."

"When you complete these six labors and embark upon Asshkaan's adventure everyone will forget about the seven lairs."

A broad smile broke out on Perseus' face and his mood swung, "You think so!? Oh it's true! It WILL be a grand adventure."

Alfred slapped his friend and master's knee, "That's the spirit. No let's get some sleep. We've got an Oracle to see tomorrow."

With that the two turned in and soon drifted off to sleep for a gloriously uneventful night.

The next morning the two men broke camp and headed off across the grassy plain. They traveled for the better part of the day across the lonely plain. Occasionally they spied a prairie dog or a bandalump, but for the most part they did not see much in the way of life.

Eventually the grass gave way to a tree here and there. They came upon a small river via a dirt path they'd discovered that cut across the plain. On the opposite side of the river a forest began to form and birds were evident about the edges of that wood. The hero and his servant followed the dirt path to a ford in the river and then into the forest on the other side.

They traveled through the forest which grew increasingly thicker as they went a long. Strange noises emanated from the wood and Perseus loosened the sword at his belt just in case. Alfred seemed disinterested.

The dirt path ended at a cottage in the center of the wood. The domicile was a two storied affair which Perseus thought was a tad crooked. He also noted that the place was dark and gloomy. The trees around this place seemed to tower over them with menace and it was as if the trunks cast hateful glares at them. It was almost like some malevolent preternatural force hovered over the place, and watched their every move.

Of course this was all paranoid prejudice on Perseus' part. The cottage was actually quite lovely with perfectly tended flower gardens and a hedgerow with a nice two level effect. Alfred found it quite quaint.

They tethered their horses on to the picket fence that bordered the front of the property and made their way down the stone lined path that lead to the front door. Perseus lightly tapped the old weathered oak door with a brass knocker that was fastened to the center of the door.

The voice of an ancient echoed from inside, "Come in Perseus of the Seven Lairs."

A startled Perseus turned to Alfred, "She knows my name!"

Alfred rolled his eyes, "She's an Oracle, Percy."

"Oh… right," with this Perseus leaned on the front door and strode inside.

A spare light lit the cottage inside which was cluttered with the debris of eons. Perseus wondered at the strange collection of artifacts that littered the large single room they had just entered. In one corner sat an old desk that was covered with parchments and ancient tomes of the old ways. The ceiling of the place was barely visible through the forest of herbs which hung upside down, attached to the ceiling by bits of string. Old rusting weapons leaned against the walls in places and the wall themselves were covered with tapestries depicting fantastic scenes of battle and magic. Near the center of the room a stone stiff, silent parrot clutched a trapeze that was suspended from the ceiling.

In the middle of the room, atop a table that was constructed from the twisted limbs of a thornbread tree, was the seer's crystal. It was an immense sphere the size of a large pumpkin. The crystal was fitted into a three pronged golden frame that was bolted to the table. Arcane energies crackled up the length of each prong and disappeared into the crystal.

The silhouette of a dark figure stood in an alcove directly across from the pair, "So Percy of the Seven Lairs, you have come as you were bid. This in itself is no small task."

Perseus became animated, "I thought so too! Don't you think it should be a labor?"

A wizened old crone in a Victorian era dress with a lovely cameo at her neck stepped out of the alcove, "It's not on the list. Hello Alfred."

Alfred bowed with a smile, "Lady."

Perseus was once again confused, "List? What list? You know Alfred?"

The Oracle met the pair in the center of the room and handed Perseus two pieces of paper, "The first list is your six labors. The second list is a roster of contacts, artifacts and general tips to help you with your journey. Alfred and I met many years ago."

The Oracle slipped a grinning Alfred a wink while an incredulous Perseus took the paper, "This is it? A couple of lists? Aren't we going to gaze into your crystal ball, burn incense and invoke nameless gods to divine the future?"

"Nope. You're all set."

Perseus looked longingly at the crystal ball, "Couldn't we just check out the next couple of days or so?"

The Oracle frowned, "Listen Percy, I don't do parlor tricks or demonstrations. If you want entertainment go to a carnival."

The parrot perched overhead squawked and nearly sent a startled Percy crashing into Alfred, "I thought yon bird was dead!"

"It's not dead, it's just pining for the fjords. Now be on your way. You've a quest to attend to."

Percy was a bit nonplussed by the old woman, but relented, "So be it. Good day lady."

With that a sulking Percy exited the cottage. Alfred lingered for a moment.

"My apologies, Betty. He's a bit new to this hero business. He's just learning the ropes as it were."

The Oracle smiled, "Well you'll take care of him I'm sure. Don't be fooled by the seemingly silly nature of this quest. I've spoken with Asshkaan and there are dire portents in the air."

Alfred frowned, "His Farcical, Floating highness has said this before."

"Be alert Alfred. This time I believe he speaks the truth. I fear Balthon may be the least of his worries."

Alfred frowned again and bowed to his friend, "I'll be sharp, lady. Take care of yourself."

The Oracle smiled as she watched Alfred leave the place. In short order the hero and his manservant were soon on the path to Perseus' six labors.