Once, her names had been countless. Her names used to be chanted across the ages by believers who were hoping for a tip of the veils as they glanced into the mysteries and gave themselves over to her. To those who succeeded though, she was Despoine, daughter of Demeter, the nameless one, the one they called Mistress. And to those who believed in her, she still was.
She was of the fields, of the cities, of civilization and war, she was of the land and of the water, but most of all she was of all that was alive that came to her to be nurtured into being and taught about life. Whether it was chickens asking how to lay an egg, or deer with their eternal need to run through the woods. Wolves and bears came to her as well, and she would say, pick those who are weak, for they are meant for you, and leave the strong, for they are your future.
And she loved and cared for them all. But of all those who carried the flame of eternity in their very essence, it was humans that she held foremost in her hearts. She loved humans, she loved caring for them, holding them on her lap as they grew, training them once they were ready. She knew the truth that was hidden even from them and she felt sorry for all the millions of males and females who were out there searching for their masters in faith and government and would yet never feel the true pleasure of being owned.
Oh she knew all about human’s tendency towards self delusion. How much they loved the word ‘freedom’, especially Americans, with their Land of the Free. Nonsense they spouted relentlessly, even as they allowed themselves to be pulled along on leashes made up of religion, or the worship of those with money or power. They claimed they wanted to forge their own destinies, and then they fit themselves into the mold of lives that had been lived before them in a never-ending, monotonous circle of being. Even those put on the outside of society formed their own circles and habits to belong to and tell them how they were supposed to behave, looking at characters on their screens and the music on their radios and iPods to tell them what their life was supposed to be like. She couldn’t blame them, after all, those who fell outside of the accepted path were seen as sick. Seen as too ill to fit into society and forced out of it by rules and regulations.
But most of all, those who fell through the cracks were desperately unhappy and just waiting for someone to take command of them so they could be happy again. Humans wanted nothing more than a guide to live by, to fall in line, to have someone controlling them, even if only to buck under it and ask to be tamed with their every desperate no.
Humans were funny that way, they liked to close their eyes to reality, because it made things easier for them. It was so much easier to relax in their lives, if they could believe themselves to be at the top of the food chain, even though they were barely in the middle. Human flesh, human souls, human hearts and emotions, all of that was the primary food source for literally hundreds if not thousands of species, and yet humans still closed their eyes, pretending there was nothing to be scared of in the dark. It was simply put adorable.
Humans put themselves at the mercy of their gods, their religion, putting their souls in the hands of those they believed to be their makers, putting in little more than a pretense of a care for their own protection. And all their predators loved to let them keep their illusions because it made it easier to grab the stragglers of the pack and consume them at leisure.
They’d argued themselves out of putting salt at their windows, they reasoned their way out of the use of their symbols, their herbs, calling them nothing but superstition and living behind locked doors and stone walls as if those would protect them when a predator came calling.
It’s why the gods for ages had encouraged science, even if it went at the cost of human belief in themselves, because once faith transferred over to the deadbeat god that abandoned his human children, it was useless to the other gods of the world to begin with.
Despoine was a child of an age long past, but like many of her kind, she’d grown beyond that. She still remembered the time when human parents would cleanse their children dress them with rosemary and thyme to make them more pleasing to the gods as they sacrificed them. She remembered the look in the sacrifices eyes, fear, acceptance, worship, and most of all, joy to be of service to their gods.
Her family was one of the strongest among the gods, exactly because they had managed to adapt with time. When other gods lost their believers, Despoine’s family had started farming their humans, keeping them close, raising and training them to serve and allowing them to fulfill their lives purpose. They’d taken the Spartans ideas of keeping their race strong and had used their method to alter their livestock until they grew into the perfect herd.
Any human in their hands knew they could fill one of three purposes. The most beautiful and most intelligent in their number were kept as pets. Trained from an early age to serve at their master’s pleasure, coddled and cared for from birth to death and living in the lap of luxury at their owner’s feet. Others were marked by their strength and stamina, their ability to handle stress and hardship, those were picked for labor on the farms, in the mines, living happy and contented lives with their spouses, honored when their offspring was picked as pets, knowing the joy that would await them.
The largest part of the herd though, was the cattle, those bred for their meat, cared for, protected and encouraged to breed freely and often. Their lives kept short, but filled with nothing but pleasure. They descended of those humans who’d been too weak to work, too ugly to serve as pets and too stupid to be kept for their intelligence. They ate better than the majority of their free kin on earth, were kept healthy and allowed to roam freely across the meadows surrounding the farm under the eyes of the shepherds who kept the beasts away from the herd. Innocent, naïve and trusting like children, their meat and trade paid most of the everyday expenses of the farm.
Despoine had watched as their herd grew from three families to several thousand males, females and even more juveniles. She had walked behind her mother’s feet, as they fed their human cattle, watching them as they grew their own food, mated and bred. She’d played with their young and cuddled their infants. She had followed her mother to the market as she bargained with beings of all species and traded their humans in exchange for money, goods or magic. But it had been hard on her, dealing with creatures far beneath themselves and forced to treat them as if they were equals, simply because they bought their merchandise. Her mother was never cruel to her animals, even when a client solely wanted to buy a human’s eyes, she’d kept them from suffering as she cut out their eyeballs, letting them huddle in comfort until another bought their flesh or blood. It was all so … civilized, so … dreadfully dull.
Becoming a part of her uncle’s wild hunt had been as much a rebellion, as it had been her first attempt at trying to find herself; She had dressed in leather and rode one of her father’s horses, as they found wild prey suited to their farm, driving said humans to their limits, testing to find which of them were worthy and then returning with their chosen human hung over the back of their steeds, tied and leashed, and ready for their future. She’d sat at his fires as they roasted the weakest of their catch and fed on their flesh, and she’d been repulsed by the look of fear in their other captive’s eyes as they saw what happened to their companions.
Many of her brothers and cousins sided with their elders on that, but not Despoine, she couldn’t forget the look in that last human’s eyes, a young girl who had watched as her brother fell, and rather than run on, had frozen in place and returned, desperately trying to get her brother back on his feet, get him to safety. Hades had caught them both, choosing the girl for a pet, but the boy who was mentally addled was barely suitable as food. Despoine’s hearts had melted at the sound of the girl’s pleading for her brother’s life, begging to please let him go, not to hurt him. But Despoine had been the only one to listen. His flesh had tasted bitter on her tongue, and though the girl had still been beautiful, like many of their other catches, her mind was broken.
It was then that Despoine knew there had to be better ways to save the humans from themselves.
She had come to realize that she shouldn’t be following her mother’s path, because it bored her, nor her uncle’s path which repulsed her. So she had looked to her father and the humans at his feet, and she asked him how he did it, how he took their hopes and molded them rather than breaking them. And Poseidon had looked at her and smiled, because after all that had happened between him and her mother, he’d despaired of ever finding favor in her eyes.
She’d spent several lifetimes living amongst humans, she made a thing of doing so every few centuries, getting to know the new flavors and habits of mankind, learning how they hid their need for submission, and their desire to be owned. The last time she’d done so was during the sixties. She’d cared for those who lost themselves in a haze of drugs and had been there at Woodstock, picking up many of the forgotten and bringing them to the farm. She had shared that duty with her brothers and they tended to divide the spoils amongst them. Pretty boys with long hair and names like Moonstone and River, and sweet girls that liked to call themselves Angel or Lilly, falling under her gentle hands and responding to her words and her whips until the day she could hand them over to their new owners. They’d kiss her and thank her for saving them before heading on to their new lives and she’d move on to the next pet that needed her help to find him or herself.
It was rare for her to fail, and even the most disobedient, recalcitrant pet that was put in front of her, came out of her care almost like a new person, loving caring, and sure of themselves, both in who they were and what they were meant to be. She took the abused and made them trust again, took the prideful and broke their arrogance, but the times she’d failed broke every last one of her hearts, not because she’d lost, like her father liked to think, but because she felt she’d let the human in her care down somehow. She’d promised to do her best and it hadn’t been enough.
It had happened five times, the first one, a former king, had been unwilling to bend no matter what, and she’d had no choice but to let him go, she still heard stories of how he escaped her care and she snickered at the thought that one human could have possibly escaped her if she hadn’t let him. He never quite got rid of that pigtail she'd given him as a reminder.
The next two she’d lost due to their disrespect. No matter how many time she’d warned them, they kept treating her or her kin as if they were monsters rather than gods. One of the two had gone as far as calling them pretenders. Her father had finally taken the decision out of her hands and eaten them both. She’d mourned their deaths, but knew he’d been in the right.
The last two… gods of mercy… the girl had starved herself, choosing to die, rather than allow herself to be trained, even when Despoine had forced her to feed using the Paidopagis, the girl had just taken the first chance she had to put her fingers in her throat and remove whatever Despoine had managed to get inside of her. Despoine had held her body, carved the remaining flesh of its bones and made a stew out of it. The bitter yearning for freedom still lingering in her flesh as she crushed the girl’s bones and watched the ashes of her meal flow through her fingertips, praying for the girl’s soul. But the boy… she still didn’t understand how he’d found the knife he’d cut his wrists with. By the time she found him, he’d been gone. She’d eaten his flesh raw in respect for his strength, in penance for her failure to understand his needs. The pain carried in his soul was deafening on her tongue.
It was after that last failure, over two centuries ago, that she’d gone to find a way to do better. She hadn’t failed since. And by now everyone knew that if you needed someone to train your pet, Despoine was the god to ask.
All of which was a damn good reason to be pissed off with her father when he offered her services to the new god, without even asking her first if she actually had the time for it.