Read first, Hera, the She-Wolf
A fictional story created and written by Damian Galvin, to capture the mythology, magic and beauty of Romania and its people. Reading time: 17 minutes. Please like and share if you enjoy this story.
Reina returned home from Targu Jiu with the Witch’s potion safely stored away. Upon arrival, she made efforts to organise her affairs for her trip, knowing she might never return, so she was careful to leave easy to find clues at home, to explain her story, her mission, and of course, she left her diary explaining the vivid dreams. She also wrote a letter to her grandfather, Nicolae explaining everything, in the event she should never return, explaining she was sorry for leaving him, and that she loved him dearly, but this was a mission that went to her very soul, and she was not able to live without at least attempting to complete it.
She took emergency leave from work for a few weeks and set out, this time to Bistrita, northern Romania, complete with her trusty camping gear. From there, she made her way to the foothills of the Zaspas Peak and made camp. That night, she stripped off all her clothes, and sitting in her tent, took out the magic potion, then consumed it all. She began to feel dizzy, and somewhat unwell, with a strong headache and loss of vision, so she la down to rest. When she woke, she woke as Hera, the She-Wolf. The Witch’s mixture had indeed worked. Hera wasted no time and set out on her mission, climbing up the foothills almost vertically, with a ferocious speed in her legs, and death in her eyes, for she sought one thing. Revenge for the death of her mate, Torak. Hera knew her destinate, from her dreams. She needed no pause to chose the route. It was as if she had made this trip many times. For Hera was headed directly for The Celestial Hollow of The Burdened, the alleged cave system of the underworld, only accessed through a single entrance, beneath an overhang on the Zaspas Peak,
Upon arrival at the cave mouth, she again encountered the hideous strange green fog from her previous visit in her dream. At the entrance, she was met by two enormous Demon warriors. Hera explained, “My fight is not with you. I seek the place of An-Ona, the Grove of the Devout Demon. I want revenge from this Demon for taking my mate from me, Torak, the great warrior wolf”.
The two Demon warriors looked at each other, with a mixture of disbelief, respect and surprise at the same time. Finally, they simultaneously laughed. Surely this lone Wolf, although almost a meter in height, did not think she could challenge the Devout Demon of An-Ona Grove?. Finally, one responded ‘Very well, brave one. You may pass into The Celestial Hollow of The Burdened. Follow the path, but as you make your way to An-Ona Grove, you will encounter 7 chambers of Sin. Within each of 7 chambers is a Demon, one for each of the 7 deadly sins. You must win the battle over each Demon to pass to the next chamber. If you do not succeed, you will remain in that chamber for eternity, in an undead state, in unending agony. If you wish to turn away, now is your last chance, or be forever damned and remain here in this Grove of the underworld. For no man, nor beast, nor creature, nor alien, has ever succeeded to reach An-Ona of their own volition, although many souls remain imprisoned there. For the only way to pass each chamber, is to be clean of that particular sin, and to conquer that demon. In the unlikely event that you succeed, you may pass to the next chamber, until you reach An-Ona. What you find there, we cannot speak of, but that matters little because you will never reach that point.
Hera was grateful for this surprising act of empathy on the part of the demons. She had not expected it but did not let it soften her heart. She was not, in fact, sure, if it was a trap, a deliberate deception, for this is the very essence of how evil works. She was determined, however, to continue. She had nothing to lose, and as the Witch had advised, she was indeed willing to dig 2 graves.
Along the dimly lit pathways in these catacombs of limestone, she found littered along the way, the bones of various creatures, brittle and decayed, that crackled as she walked on them. It was cold, damp and had the same strong smell of sulphur. Waves of Bats flew past violently as if to scare Hera, but she remained fearless, determined to find her foe and devour it.
Further along the corridors, Hera entered an enlarged cave, and above the entrance, was written Golem’s Gate, Chamber of Lust, within which were many sumptuous comforts, rich cloths of silk and satin, and rich carpets lay around the space, and a beautiful, sweet perfume scent hung in the air. Seated on a chaise lounge, Hera found Sizranoz, Demon of Lust, a beautiful creature, part man, part woman, part beast.
As she entered, Sizranoz rose, somewhat surprised to receive a visit unannounced. For only those dragged screaming for their life, arrived here. It moved with a seductive sway but had the hiss of a snake, and eyes of the devil. Hera snarled at the Demon, teeth bared, for she was here to avenge the loss of her mate, Torak.
Sizranoz merely laughed at Hera and said, “you cannot win a fight with me, for in every living being, is the force of lust, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with lust in their hearts, can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
But Hera was not afraid, because she knew Torak to her was much more than simply Lust. For Lust would not fill Hera with sufficient power to come this far, this determination. It is a weak force that loses strength quickly when it comes to the affairs of the other person. And so the fight began. Sizranoz lashed out at Hera, but Hera simply leapt straight at the bosom of Sizranoz, and with enormous ferocity, she sunk her teeth into the soft, satin flesh, and blood poured quickly. Sizranoz collapsed, wailing and screaming in such a high pitch, it was hard to bear. It was a quick fight, very easily won.
Hera stared at her prey for a moment and watched the demon die, yet felt no remorse, only the taste for more fighting, more revenge. She left the sweet-smelling cave and returned to the catacomb’s corridors, venturing deeper into the cave system, amid the green, putrid fog.
Next, she came across The Devourer’s Graveyard, Chamber of Gluttony, and within was seated Degdrol, the Demon of Gluttony, and within which was seemingly endless tables of food, and drinks, such an amount would take forever to consume and many half-eaten items lay everywhere as if tasted and discarded. Hera appeared at the chamber door, blood-stained teeth bared, and death in her eyes. Degdrol looked at Hera and declared, “you cannot win a fight with me, for in every being, is the instinct of Gluttony, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Gluttony in their hearts, can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera was not moved by these words, because she knew she possessed no gluttonous instinct. When she hunted with the pack, they ate only the food they needed to survive, and not more. And Wolves did not over-eat, only consuming enough for peak performance. Gluttony would make Hera fat, and lazy, too comfortable for the fight of her life, something she wanted more than anything right now. And so it began. Degdrol moved into the fight like the wind. Hera pounced on the Demon, knocking him backwards with her force, and sunk her teeth into the stomach of Degdrol, who bled profusely. After only a few moments, the demon was unable to run, and collapsed on its knees, holding his gaping wound, but the blood poured rapidly and it lost consciousness. Soon after, it perished. Once again, it was an easy fight. Again, Hera watched over the demon until death came.
Returning to the corridors, Hera continued down, through the green mist, until she came across the next cavern. The Chapel of Honde, Chamber of Greed, and within was seated Var’id, the Demon of Greed. The chamber was full of objects, riches of every kind, flowing from tables across the floor. It appeared if the wealth of many kingdoms was hidden here. Hera entered the chapel, at the door, again, blood-stained teeth bared, and death in her eyes. Var’id leapt at Hera, “how dare you enter my Chapel?, said Var’d”. Hera responded only with another snarl, interrupting the demon’s words. “you will not win a fight with me, for in every being, is the instinct of Greed, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Greed in their hearts, can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera again was unimpressed by these words, for she knew she held no such greedy instinct. When the pack hunted, they took only the food needed to survive a few days and did not kill needlessly, unlike hunters do. No trophy kills, no killing for sport, or killing of anything that was not to be eaten, except humans, who they killed for revenge, or maybe for survival?. Hera had a sudden moment of doubt about that. Was revenge a sin? Would she become trapped in one of these chapels? but she quickly cast it from her mind. It was not relevant to this particular fight. The sin of Greed, should Wolves possess it, would only expose them to unnecessary danger, venturing into areas regardless of risk, only to have more food than required, and Wolves did not suffer from that temptation.
Hera’s thirst for a fight was undiminished, and she fronted up to the demon. Both Hera and Var’id engaged, lashing out, claws and teeth sinking into each others flesh, but alas, Hera slashed the eyes of Var’id, and he could no longer see her. She circled him one way, then the other, before finally delivering a fatal bite to its shoulder, causing rapid blood loss, collapse, and finally, amid squeals like a pig, death came. Again, Hera witnessed the final breaths before leaving The Chapel of Honde and returning to the catacombs.
Further down the gallery, was a branch in the pathway. Hera paused for a moment, trying to sense the danger in either branch. Finally, she decided on the left branch, because it had a stronger smell of sulphur. From the right branch, she could hear the screams of trapped souls, pleading for mercy. As she took the left path, it grew darker, harder to navigate, leaving Hera to use her sense of smell more than her eyesight.
Hera soon came across the next cavern. Thargo’s Den, Chamber of Envy, and within was seated Lucius, the Demon of Envy. Hera arrived at the door, as always, blood-stained teeth bared, and death in her eyes. Lucius glared at Hera in mild shock, “well, well, how did you reach here?”, said Lucius. Hera responded with heavy breathing, and a death stare. “you will not win a fight with me, for in every being, is the instinct of Envy, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Envy in their hearts, can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera knew she possessed not, the sin of Envy. For wolves respected the territory of other creatures and did not covet what was not rightfully their territory. Nor did they seek what was not essential for their survival, nor resented the good fortune of others. The sin of Envy, should Wolves possess it, would mean they lacked the superior skills and evolution of other creatures, yet they did not. Wolves, in fact, possessed all the skills they needed for survival and were wanting of none.
Hera’s desire for a fight remained strong, and she launched herself at Lucius. Again, Hera’s purity of soul, and sheer determination, gave her the upper paw in this clash. Hera bit hard into the feet of Lucius, so he could no longer move freely, then gradually, she attacked it from every angle, until pouncing on its back and sinking her strong jaw into its neck from behind, causing fatal loss of blood once again. Hera had proved herself to be a master predator. Hera waited for all signs of life to fade, before leaving Thargo’s Den and returning to the catacombs to continue her mission.
Hera soon came across the next cavern. Gates of Vameth, Chamber of Sloth, and within was seated Rhazien, the Demon of Sloth. The chamber itself was a complete mess, in disarray. Nothing was in place, it was dirty, disorganised, even for a cave, with debris and bodily waste everywhere. Hera arrived at the door, once again baring a look of death, with blood-stained teeth exposed. Rhazien was pleased to see Hera, “welcome to my Chapel, relax, make yourself comfortable”, said Rhazien. But Hera returned only a look of war. “you will not win a fight with me” said Rhazien, “for in every being, is the instinct of Sloth, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Slothin their hearts can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera knew she was the very opposite of a Sloth. For wolves worked hard for their existence, and kept in peak performance at all times, developing each of their senses to the very optimal state. The sin of Sloth, should Wolves exhibit it, would mean they would be hunted to extinction in no time. Wolves, in fact, put their every talent to work, until they were too weak to live any longer, Hera’s instinct to fight was ever strong, and she launched herself at the seated Rhazien, who had not even bothered to stand. This was to be her quickest battle, and Hera devoured the idle Rhazien in a flash. not taking eyes off the Demon until she was sure there were no signs of life before departing from the Gates of Vameth and heading back into the catacombs for the next fight
Hera came upon The Grieving Stronghold, Chamber of Pride, within which was the Demon of Pride, Autar. The chamber itself was neatly arranged, with many trophies, medals and self-images of Autar around the cave. It is said that Pride is ruled by the celestial sign of the Sun. It is “the mother of all sins”, and leads to all other sins. The act of self-love, the excess belief in one’s abilities and the thin line between righteousness and self-righteousness.
Autar saw Hera appear at the door but barely bothered to look around. The demon had heard Hera’s growling and gnashing of teeth, but said in a slow, bored voice, “you will not win a fight with me, for in every being, is the instinct of Pride, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Pride in their hearts, can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera momentarily was confused. Did she possess Pride? A self arrogance just as Autar was displaying? For if she did, she would not leave this chamber. Her mind was racing, examining her, and her pack’s behaviour. Did their purposeful, confident stride represent pride? She hoped not. She reasoned that each Wolf had its position in the pack, and respected the next in line of authority, so the pack for sure had no unwarranted pride. They knew their place in the pack. But the Alphas, what about them? It was their job to lead firmly but fairly and to guide, and without strong confident leadership, the pack would descend into chaos and be destroyed by lack of solidarity. For only as a unit they stood the best chances of survival. Hera had convinced herself she did not carry the sin of Pride, but only the fight would determine this. She set to it, leaping from the entrance into the centre of the room, engaging Autar. Indeed, this Demon was a cunning and skilled fighter. Hera took several deep slashes to her chest, but she managed to sink her teeth into the upper arms of Autar, weakening his swipes considerably. The fight raged on for some time, but gradually, with many small victories, Hera was getting the better of Autar. Finally, after she had weakened his ankles, slowing his movements, and his arms, reducing the force of his blows, Hera was able to deliver the deep bites into his upper thighs, causing fatal blood loss. Again, Hera waited for final breaths, before leaving The Grieving Stronghold and seeking out the last chamber in her mission before tackling the ultimate demon.
Hera soon came across the next cavern. Shadowbone’s Cellar, Chamber of Wrath and within was seated Otto, the Demon of Wrath. The chamber itself was by far the most intimidating, a cavern of death and misery, or pain. Hera arrived at the Chamber door, wounded and tired now, but with her, she brought the trademark look of death. Otto was angry, seething in fact, “You must have come to die here?”, said Otto. But Hera returned only a look of battle. “you will not win a fight with me” said Otto, “for in every being, is the instinct of Wrath, an all-consuming and destructive force, and it resonates with me. Anyone that fights against me also fights on my behalf, and with Wrath, their hearts can never leave this space, and will be forever damned”.
Hera knew this would be a hard battle. How can she fight the demon of Wrath, without exhibiting Wrath itself? But she remembered the teachings of an ancient Dacian warlord. “Do not confuse my desire to quell evil, with hatred or Wrath”. This was the answer to her confusion. Hera determined that she was not, in fact, carrying the sin of Wrath, evil for the sake of evil, but the righteous desire to bring to an end, an evil that plagued her fellow wolves. Local hunters were blaming wolves for the slaughter of cattle, when in fact, it was these demons causing the deaths, with their hideous and needless thirst for blood, and more souls. Fighting this Demon was not driven by the sin of Wrath, but by Justice, a force for good. With her mind clear, Hera was ready to engage. and so she did. Otto moved upon Hera with a ferocity she had not seen before but flashing in her mind’s eye, were images of Torak being mutilated, and of her kind being hunted for no reason. These thoughts steeled her nerves and her determination. Each creature scoring blow after blow. Hera knew she would have to use her brains as well as her strength in this fight. She had to explore Otto’s weaknesses. His temper and aggression could be used against him since it reduces rational thinking. Also, since the Demon was much larger than her, she could use its size against it. Hera determined to wear the demon out by mocking it to enrage it, by simulating uncertainty, appearing to run away and then change her mind, repeatedly, making half-hearted bites that served to annoy Otto rather than hurt him, boosting its anger, and reducing its rational thinking. Hera kept this style up for some time, running all about the cavern, this way, then that, faining confusion and cowardes. As Otto began to tire, so Hera had her chance. With almost unnatural force, she switched from a confused cub-like wolf to a determined Alpha hunter and dived straight for Otto’s throat, sinking her razor-sharp teeth, all 42 of them, into Otto’s soft windpipe. Death followed surprisingly quickly, to Hera’s relief.
After Hera was sure Otto was no longer alive, she sought refuge. She would need to rest well, to lick her wounds to recover. For sure, the next fight would be the greatest of her life, to fight the Devout Demon, seated in the Grove of An-Ona, the very very bowels of The Celestial Hollow of The Burdened. Hera had studied long and hard about this place, or rather Reina had, and knew about the myths, superstitions, folklore. The Devout Demon was rumoured to be the evilest entity to walk the earth, although there were no claimed encounters or physical descriptions. So Hera really was walking into the unknown depths of Hades.
To be continued here: Hera and the ultimate battle