Our theme tonight was a grand and classically epic one. I’ve decided to turn it on its head, just a bit. Thank you Elliot, for The hero’s journey. Yes, our heroes will be going on a journey, but it’s the kind of journey you and I take more often than we would like – the daily commute through central London.
(If you are joining Emmeline’s story today, welcome! It might help for you to begin here.)
What’s in a name? J R Manawa.
Emmeline ran because she had to. Out the back door and over the ancient stone wall between the cottage and the wood as darkness descended. At first she felt like she was running in slow motion, not making any movement at all, and then Charon in one move swept her off the ground and took her along with him.
Through the cemetery and out onto the main road they ran, and the world outside was full of ordinary everyday life. People shopping up and down Stoke Newington high street and going about their daily business. Shopping bags in hand, the dog on a leash, a child in a buggy. Children out of school, chasing each other with their school books bouncing around inside oversized backpacks. Young couples walking arm in arm, a bag of takeaways carried home for dinner. It was all so normal.
Emmeline looked over her shoulder. From outside the cemetery, everything did seem normal. There were snow clouds in the sky and a cold wind on the air, but no darkness like that which she had seen, and no acknowledgement that someone had been murdered in a little cottage on the edge of the cemetery.
“What do we do now?!” Emmeline asked Charon, stopping to catch her breath and wipe the tears from her face. She stepped to the side of the footpath to let a man in a wheel chair pass. “You said he wouldn’t come until the full moon!”
“How am I supposed to know? I took a good guess based on the things I knew, but I was wrong!” he shouted back at her, and the storm in his eyes flared indignantly.
Emmeline was about to yell back when she realised it was she who had yelled at him in the first place. The passers by glanced glanced awkwardly at the two of them. Emmeline ignored them. “Charon, I’m sorry,” she said. “Back there, that was really horrible. I liked her, a lot. And there were so many things I wanted to ask her about my grandfather. Things that now I will never know.”
Charon shook his head at her before he turned and paced away up the road.
Emmeline felt exhausted already. “Look, I just want to go home. I’m getting the train back to central London,” she told him, pointing to the station on the opposite side of the road, “Come with me if you want, but I’m almost beyond the point of caring what happens.” She crossed the road without waiting to see if he followed, and entered the station. As she reached into her pocket for her oyster card, her fingers touched the iron box that he had found in her room. It had been sitting in her pocket the whole time. She pulled it out along with the oyster card, touched in, and walked down to the platform to wait for the next train.
She turned the box over in her hands and rubbed her finger over the date that had been scratched into its surface. She chewed her lip for a moment as she pondered over it. There was still five minutes until the next train to Liverpool street came in.
Plenty of time to open a little iron box.
She was about to pull on the latch when a hand closed over hers. Charon was standing on the platform beside her. “Don’t. Not yet,” he said, not letting go of her hand.
Emmeline was both annoyed and relieved that he had chosen to follow her, but she frowned as she said, “You know, we have not learned anything yet that has gotten us a step closer to defeating this monster.” She turned to face him, keeping the little box tight in her hand. “Charon, at the end of the day I work in an ice cream parlour. I have not unlocked any secret powers that might save us, and no one yet has given any solid suggestions on how I will survive when he actually does get his hands on me. As far as I can see, I am pretty average even for a human being. I certainly don’t qualify as one that is half monster. The best I can do is blow up a teddy bear and a handful of crows under pressure.”
He gave her a hard look. “Do you know any other humans who can blow up teddy bears and crows?” he let go of her hand, and she put the iron box back in her pocket. “You know what we are called, Emmeline? My kind? Semideus. That is the closest word your world has to understanding what we are. It is a Latin word that was once used to describe us, though it was not entirely correct. Your English word ‘demi-god’ has the same origin. While we may look part human, we are not. That aside, you truly are semideus. You are part human, and part something else that doesn’t belong here. I have every belief that you are capable of defending yourself, you just need to find that confidence in you.”
Emmeline blinked as she looked up at him. “I don’t believe you,” she said sadly, as the train rolled into the platform. “Especially when you can’t even defeat him,”
Charon let out a long breath and followed her onto the train. The carriage was empty. They both sat down on opposite sides and stared blankly at each other. Eventually, Charon crossed his arms and looked away.
At the next station, two teenage girls joined their carriage. They walked over to the row where Charon was seated, smiling and talking to each other, though Emmeline could see it was Charon they were looking at. The girl who took the seat nearest to Charon had long blonde hair, and she flicked it out of the way as she sat and turned to smile at him.
Charon did not smile back when they made eye contact. Instead, the girl recoiled like she had been stung, and stood straight away. So did her friend. They walked to the far end of the carriage and sat down meekly, whispering to each other but not daring to look in Charon and Emmeline’s direction.
“That was mean.” Emmeline said.
“You enjoyed it,” he replied, still not looking at her.
“I did not.” She hated falling into this kind of argument, so instead she changed the subject, “Phythia and my grandfather were close, weren’t they?”
He nodded. “She loved your grandfather for thousands of years, but eventually their paths took them in different directions. Necessity is a force that drives us all. She was bitter like me when Geras left her without a word. In absence of my father to blame, she blamed me a bit. We hadn’t talked much since then. No one could have know he was hiding you in London the whole time.”
“It seems they were very good at hiding under your noses,” Emmeline pointed out.
“I don’t understand what you mean by that,” he said, obstinately, “but they were both very powerful with their magic. There were few capable of standing up to him,”
“My father. I want to know his name,” Emmeline declared all of a sudden.
Charon sat up a bit in his seat.
“I’m not going to let a name get the better of me, Charon,” she said.
“But you don’t believe,”
“You will tell me his name.” Emmeline levelled her eyes at Charon.
Charon opened his mouth to speak, but the train was pulling into Liverpool street, so they both stood up and went to the door. The two girls notably went to the door at the opposite end of the carriage.
“I’m waiting,” Emmeline said as they stepped out of the train, but he remained silent. They crossed the station and made their way to the underground. “I’m getting the train home and I’m opening the box when I get there, unless you tell me,” she threatened him as they went down the escalators and under ground.
“Come with me to Waterloo first. I want to show you something,” he said suddenly.
He sighed, “You will never forget it. It will be etched on your mind forever,” he warned.
“My forever might not be very long,” Emmeline pointed out, as they boarded the tube train. This time the carriage was packed. The rush hour had well begun. It was evening and everyone in London was desperate to get home and out of the weather.
Charon and Emmeline found themselves squashed up in a corner between the door and a rather sweaty city worker wearing a thick woollen winter jacket. It didn’t smell that great.
Still Charon said nothing to her.
At the next station, even more people packed into the tiny space of the carriage, and the doors tried to close twice before they succeeded. Emmeline was pressed right up against Charon, though she tried to brace herself against the window.
Suddenly Charon looked down at her, “Okay, I will tell you,” he said, barely audible above the noise of the train in the tunnel, “and we will change at the next station to go to Waterloo,”
Emmeline nodded, and Charon leaned forward and whispered the name in her ear.