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Chapter 2 : Narcissus, Beyond the Reflection.





As the heavy door swung shut behind me, I shifted my gaze to what lay ahead, my curiosity still aflame with the mysteries this place held. And in an instant, my eyes beheld a sight that defied belief.

Spread before me unfurls a verdant vista, reminiscent of the fabled fields of Elysium itself. A tapestry of lush, emerald green stretched as far as my eyes could see. Each blade of grass swayed in harmony with the gentle caress of the breeze, a vibrant stroke of life against the canvas of nature. Amidst this sea of green, a congregation of daffodils stood in regal splendour, their pristine petals gleaming in the sunlight. Atop each delicate bloom sat a crown of resplendent yellow, basking in the radiant embrace of the sun.

Above, the sky stretched boundlessly, a majestic canvas painted in hues of azure and cerulean, with wisps of clouds drifting lazily across its vast horizon.

« Is this truly the underworld? » I pondered, my footsteps muffled by the grass beneath me as I traversed the everlasting fields of green. The air around me seemed to hum with an otherworldly tranquility, punctuated only by the occasional rustle of leaves.

In the distance, a shimmering expanse began to materialise, drawing my gaze like a moth to flame. It resembled a lake, its surface glimmering in the soft light, beckoning me closer with each step. The air grew cooler as I approached, a gentle breeze carrying the scent of damp earth and fresh blossoms. Standing sentinel near the water’s edge, a solitary willow tree extended its weeping branches towards the lake, their delicate tendrils swaying in a melancholic dance. Its leaves rustled softly, as if whispering ancient secrets to the rippling waters below.

As I moved closer, the details of the scene before me sharpened. I noticed a figure, barely discernible amidst the play of light and shadow, perched at the water’s edge. They were motionless, their forms blending seamlessly with the tranquil surroundings.

The scene was surreal, bathed in an eerie yet captivating glow, surrounded by an aura that seemed to defy all explanation. Was this truly the realm of the underworld, as the legends foretold? Or was it merely a trick of the light, a mirage born of my own weary mind?

As I drew nearer, the features of a youthful man, scarcely beyond his twenties, began to emerge. His broad, commanding shoulders rose like pillars above his sturdy arms, supporting his statuesque form as it leaned towards the lake’s tranquil surface, draped in velvet chlamys.  His hair cascaded in flowing locks, the colour of beaten gold, obscuring his countenance from view.

Though I stood just a few paces from him, he remained utterly oblivious to my presence. Monk-like in his stance, he was slave to a haze of introspection, lost in perpetual contemplation of the mirror-like surface of the lake. 

« Could this be… » My thoughts began to drift, whisked away by the enchantment of the scene unfolding before me. However, reality swiftly pulled me back as I witnessed his face slowly sinking beneath the surface of the water, his figure crumpling as it abruptly succumbed to the cold embrace of the lake’s depths.

With a surge of urgency, I hastened to his side, my heart pounding in my chest as I reached out to grasp his hand, pulling him from the icy waters and into the safety of land. His breathing was laboured as his sturdy chest heaved vigorously with each desperate gasp for air, still struggling against the weight of the water he had inhaled. His body still shivering from the cold waters below, he unburdened his face by pulling his hair back with his hands, and slowly, his gaze met mine.

To describe him as striking would be an understatement of grand proportions. His visage, graced with the elegance of finely chiseled cheekbones and a nose of sculpted perfection, bore the hallmark of divine artistry. Each contour and line seemed meticulously honed, as if by the hand of a master craftsman. His eyes, a deep and piercing shade of sapphire, held an intensity that mesmerised the beholder, drawing them inexorably into their depths. And his lips, plump and inviting, quivered with a mixture of confusion and intrigue as he tried in vain to make sense of what just happened.

With a furrowed brow, he finally broke the lingering silence. « Well, that was certainly odd, » he remarked, his voice a melodious cascade akin to the ethereal notes of a harp. « Could you perhaps be another unfortunate nymph, cast into this realm by the whims of the gods for some perceived transgression? » he continued, his tone laced with skepticism. « Absurd notion, really. Nymphs, while perhaps not quite as striking as myself, are undoubtedly far more captivating than you could ever hope to be, » he concluded, a derisive smirk playing across his lips as he dismissed the idea with disdain.

His pomposity spoke volumes, a clear giveaway of his identity.  « No, I am certainly not a nymph », I replied,  « nor a simpleton for that matter, to suggest that I could rival your allure, Narcissus. »

Amused by my familiarity with his name, he retorted, « And what brings you to this place? Your sight is an unwelcome one, almost as is this hideous garden. »

Suppressing my rising frustration, I maintained a composed facade and responded « I am here by the workings of greater forces beyond my comprehension, the full extent of which remains veiled to me. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that our meeting was orchestrated by fate itself. »

He scoffed, my reply’s absurdity too much for him to bear., and retorted, « And why, pray tell, should I deign to engage with a mere insignificant worm such as yourself? For all I know, you could be yet another ploy, another twisted jest orchestrated by the whims of capricious and malevolent gods, intent on subjecting me to the torment of reliving my demise time and time again. » Pausing to pluck a daffodil from the ground below, he cast a disdainful gaze upon it. « Behold, » he sneered, « surrounded by a flower bearing my own name. Oh, the cruel irony! Yet it pales in comparison to my own resplendent beauty. » With a swift motion, he crushed the delicate bloom in his hand before callously discarding it into the nearby river. « Everything in this accursed realm is but a grotesque mockery, a cruel charade designed to inflict upon me endless suffering, » he declared with bitter conviction, fixing me with a gaze filled with suspicion and scorn. « And you, my dear interloper, are no exception. Of that, I am quite certain. »

« Then maybe I am here to help you. » 

« Help me? » Narcissus’s laughter echoed through the clearing, a symphony of arrogance and contempt. « And pray, what could a mere mortal like yourself possess that would pique my interest or warrant my regard? I am Narcissus, beloved by the divine, the very embodiment of perfection that incited envy even among the gods themselves. So much so that they saw fit to reprimand me for my unparalleled beauty, » he declared haughtily, his tone laced with a hint of smug satisfaction. « His gaze bore into me with an intensity that bordered on denigration, challenging me to justify my audacity in daring to approach him.

Staring boldly into the depths of Narcissus’s azure gaze, I offered my response with unwavering resolve: « I believe there’s a lesson in vanity that even you, Narcissus, could stand to learn. »

A flicker of anger danced across Narcissus’s features, his voice resonating with fierce intensity as he vehemently retorted, « Vanity, you say? It seems you misunderstand the workings of the divine. Fools like you cling to the misguided belief that feigning humility will earn you favour in the eyes of the gods. But let me enlighten you: there is no mercy to be found in their capricious whims. This, all of this, » he gestured emphatically to the surrounding landscape, « is but a spectacle for their amusement. And mark my words, nothing within these treacherous realms is as it appears. It is a labyrinth of deceit, betrayal, and unrelenting suffering. » His voice carried a weight of bitter experience, each syllable dripping with the harsh truths he had come to know. 

Narcissus’s gaze lingered upon the tranquil surface of the lake, the blue of his eyes betraying a profound sense of melancholy. « Do you truly believe that I desired this fate? » he questioned, his voice tinged with sorrow. « Do you imagine that I find solace in the way events have unfolded? » His words carried the weight of a burden too heavy to bear alone.

« I am naught but a marionette, manipulated by unseen hands upon a solitary string, » he continued, his tone heavy with resignation. « Cursed to yearn for an unattainable love, ensnared by the illusion of my own reflection, » he confessed, his voice trembling with the weight of his confession. « A phantom, a mirage, condemned to wander this desolate realm devoid of the warmth of genuine affection, » he lamented, his words a lament for the love he could never know.

« And yet, know this, » he concluded, a flicker of defiance igniting within his gaze, « this cruel destiny was not of my own making. It was thrust upon me by the whims of fate, a twisted irony beyond my control. » With a heavy sigh, he turned away from the lake, his gaze haunted by the spectre of what could never be. 

Driven by an inexplicable impulse, I found myself drawn towards him, compelled by a force beyond rational comprehension. Though I knew deep down that my efforts would likely be futile, I couldn’t shake the instinctive urge to reach out and offer whatever semblance of solace I could muster. But as I drew near, his gaze remained fixed on the shimmering surface of the lake, refusing to acknowledge my presence. With a dismissive gesture, he waved me away, his voice tinged with bitterness as he uttered, « Just leave me be. Begone, have no use for your hollow pity. ».

Bathed in the sunlight, Narcissus transcended mortal confines, his radiant aura blurring the line between God and mortal. With a resigned sigh, he returned to his customary place by the lake, his movements weighted with the burden of centuries-old sorrow. His reflection shimmered on the water’s surface like a ghostly apparition. Lost in contemplation, he stared into the rippling depths below, seeking solace in the silent companionship of his own reflection, a poignant symbol of the unattainable love that had eluded him for centuries.

I shifted my gaze, and to my surprise, a door had materialised within the roots of the weeping willow. Without hesitation, I made the decision to leave Narcissus to his solitary devices. Torn between determination and the trepidation of the unknown that lay beyond, I grasped the knob and hastily entered, bracing myself for whatever awaited me on the other side.


Written by : Zied Kharrat.

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Chapter 6 : Achilles, Valor and Vendetta.







The frame strikingly tall and intimidating, waltzing in reconfigures my senses; a stench of blood encapsulates all, though I seem to be the only one to notice, or rather the last to accustom to it.

The smell of strong hints of iron, rust particles in the atmosphere engulfing the area I was standing, and the eerie noise of metal clashing, I knew I was in for an intricately disturbing turn of events, one that I wasn’t ready to stomach: I found myself on the battlefield.


I presumed that after a decade of perpetual warfare, either side would relent and surrender, or at the very least fight with less valor and patriotism, it is common for the passage of time to dwindle hope and demoralize warriors, but not in the Trojan War, I fear. A grandiose display of courage and heroic sacrifice litters the battlefield, much like the countless corpses impaled with spears.

I never was one to indulge in the idea of warfare, let alone wish to witness it unfolding. I always found the resolution of conflict through violence seldom a path to ending a feud, but rather delaying it.


It appears I’m on the Greek side, and as I realize my stance, the hairs on my nape stand up, and I tremble, feeling the slightest gust of breath over my shoulder, an ominous presence hovers above me, but I dare not turn, neither utter a letter nor exhale, for I fear my fate lies in the hands of what ambushed me. A statue I become.

moments pass and an eternity of paranoia clouds my mind, I am but a prayer away from the river Styx, and I don’t understand the fate I’m bestowed.


« You bear no resemblance to a myrmidon, yet neither are you a Trojan. Where, then, do your loyalties reside? », the silence that befell me as soon as I petrified broke, the voice young, taut, and disembodied, but the tone trod the line between fierce and menacing. Inclined to answer, my thoughts race to implore my limbs to move, but trepidation courses through my frozen nerves, and dread holds me in place. I am but a still husk of a man, dare I glance wrong and I may meet my fate. Nevertheless, glance I shall, my eyes roll cautiously down, and a white silhouette captures my attention: wings.


Wings, even here, rarely turn up on someone’s heel, unless Zeus has something to do with it— and then it blinded me clear as a lightning bolt: those were Arke’s wings on his heels, Zeus’s something borrowed for Thetis and Peleus’s wedding, making their beholder the pinnacle of Greek warriors, the legend of the Trojan War, and the foretold harbinger of peace after a decade of bloodshed: Achilles.

Somehow, in the murk of my innermost self, a deeper tumult of anguish surged, and I recalled a verse wherein his name found sanctuary, which reads:


« Rage, goddess — Sing of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, accursed,  doomed, that brought the Achaeons great suffering »


How must I compose myself when faced with such a formidable presence, formidable yet daunting? Achilles was infamous for his uncontrolled burst of fury, only Patroclus could guide him back to reason with his wise words. As childhood companions, the both of them were inseparable, Achilles and Patroclus. The latter being the role model in kindness and wisdom, and the former in heroic attributes and combat valor, they were an imposing pair. At last, courage stirs in me a storm, and I find myself pivoting gradually to meet his gaze, his sharp, cold, preemptory gaze.


« I mean no harm. » I quivered. It seems as though the courage I amassed wasn’t enough to answer without traces of trembling in my voice. « I’m here to observe, not interfere. »


From behind him approaches a towering figure— a friendlier one than what I confront, though it be void of relevance, for Achilles remains peerless at that.


« Achilles, my brother in arms, hear my earnest plea, » solicits Patroclus as Achilles lowers his defenses. His focus shifts from glaring at me to attentively heeding his companion’s entreaty. Finally, I could draw a relieved breath.


« The time has come for us to don the mantle of strategy as well as valor. Your divine armor, crafted with such skill by Hephaestus, holds not only the strength of the gods but also a potent symbol to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. As we stand against the Trojan hordes, let us wield not just swords and spears but also cunning and deception. Allow me, with your blessing, to bear your armor into battle. Let the Trojans believe that Achilles himself strides forth, while in truth, it is I who shall wear the gleaming bronze. In this ruse lies our advantage, a shadow of fear cast upon our foes, as they face the might of Achilles where he is not. Grant me this honor, my friend, that together we may achieve victory on the field of Troy. »


Achilles has abstained from engaging in battle ever since Agamemnon, the commander of the Achaeon forces, dishonored him. In earlier raids, Achilles captured Briseis and Chryseis, the latter of whom he surrendered to Agamemnon. However, her father, chryses, a priest of Apollo, intervened with ransom and the threat of divine retribution, compelling Agamemnon to release her. In retaliation, he seized Briseis for himself. With wrath coursing through his veins, Achilles lifted his voice to the heavens, his words resonating with fervor and anguish:


« Zeus, ruler of the skies, heed my prayer! Injustice stains the battlefield, and the honor that once bound warriors together lies shattered. Stripped of my due honor, I stand aggrieved. Yet, I beseech you, turn your gaze upon the Trojans, and grant them your favor. Let them gain ground, that Agamemnon may taste humility and I may reclaim my rightful glory. O Zeus, if ever my valor earned your favor, let vengeance be wrought upon those who wronged me. Grant me vengeance, O mighty Zeus, and restore my honor in the eyes of men! »


As Zeus answered his prayers aiding the Trojans in their advance against the Greeks led by Prince Hector, the situation turned grim, with more soldiers falling in arms. In the midst of this chaotically bleak scenario, Patroclus’s demand appears increasingly more justified, perhaps the most reasonable course of action.


« Patroclus, my trusted companion. » Achilles sighs with compassion, he knows the inevitable, and he comprehends the fate bestowed upon him, yet he acquiesces with a tinge of regret in his voice. Perhaps putting hubris before reason was unwise; maybe he ought to stand alongside his comrade in battle. Nevertheless, Achilles, pompous as he is, complies.


« I bestow upon you the privilege of donning my armor in battle. Yet, I beseech you, do not forget my plea: once you have repelled the Trojans from our ships, return to me unharmed. Your bravery is unmatched, but my heart cannot bear the thought of losing you in the fray. With this gift, I entrust not just my armor, but a piece of my own spirit to your care. May its gleam blind our enemies to the truth, may its weight fortify your resolve, and may its presence upon the battlefield be a beacon of hope to our allies. Promise me, Patroclus, that you will come back to stand by my side, so that together we may revel in our victory and face whatever lies ahead as brothers in arms. »


Patroclus, instilling trust in Achilles, dons his armor and charges forth with formidable strength. None among the Trojans dare to oppose him as he cuts a path through their ranks, and each who dares meets his untimely fate. The disguised hero successfully repels the nearby enemies. Proud, Patroclus basks in the glow of glory, and hubris, once again, trumps reason as an unfulfilled promise is disregarded. Pressing onward towards the gates of Troy, Patroclus finds himself ensnared in battle and Apollo removes his wits. Patroclus falls victim to the spear of Euphorbos, followed by the fatal blow from Prince Hector. As Patroclus lies bleeding on the ground, and as Hector strips him from Achilles’ prized armor as a trophy of victory over the cunning warrior, he utters his last words:


« You yourself are not one who shall live long, but now already death and powerful destiny are standing beside you, to go down under the hands of Aiakos’ great son, Achilleus. »


News of Patroclus’s demise spreads swiftly across the battlefield, and upon learning of his companion’s death, Achilles’ composure shatters, his muscles tense, his gaze hollow, enveloped in an eerie haze of grief. Slowly, Achilles’s world crumbles around him. Slowly, he turns to confront the remainder of his comrades-in-arms. As I stand there, I resign once more to the whims of the great son of Peleus, unsure of what lies ahead, uncertain of his reaction, knowing full well that his wrath may even affect those who stand by his side. And I, unfortunate soul, am burdened with that very fate. For Achilles, hearing Patroclus’s death rewires him, honor recedes in significance and friendship comes to the fore as he exhales with sorrow, consuming and profound:


« The man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life — I lost him. And now, far away from the land of his fathers, he has perished, and lacked my fighting strength to defend him. Now, since I am not going back to the land of my fathers, since I was no light of safety to Patroclus, but sit here beside my ships, a useless weight on the good land, I, who am such as no other of the bronze-armored Achaeans in battle »


Thetis, his mother, rushes to console the grieving Achilles, entreating Hephaestus to forge another set of armor for him, complete with an intricately crafted shield. His sorrow fleeting, his wrath bursting at the seams, Achilles unlearns restraint and his eyes sparkle with the lust for bloodshed. No grudge against Agamemnon, no swollen pride, no vendetta to reclaim honor, and no pursuit of glory or heroic deeds could ever eclipse what Achilles sought after the most; in that moment alone, Achilles, liberated from hesitation or uncertainty, consumed by a fiery passion to fulfill his one true burning desire above all else: vengeance for Patroclus.


At that moment alone, he unleashed a display of wrath unparalleled by any mortal, as if he had harbored it within his soul since birth, as if his destiny dictated that it would erupt only at this juncture in the war. Perhaps it was the gods who scripted this sequence of events in their celestial books, decreeing that Achilles must lose his dearest friend and embark on a merciless killing spree.


Yet Achilles did not contemplate such matters; consumed by rage, he transcended his own identity, becoming nothing but a harbinger of death to all who crossed his path. His once invincible hands are now stained with the blood of countless foes, the more he advances relentlessly into the enemy ranks, drawing ever closer to Hector — the embodiment of his vengeance — the sooner he fulfills his purpose and returns but a mere shell of his former self, devoid of all impetus and ipseity.


The river ran thick with blood. Angered by the defilement of its waters, the river god Scamander attempts to drown Achilles, but Hera and Hephaestus intervene, allowing him to rise unscathed and undeterred, pressing onward toward his sole target. Even Zeus dispatched the gods to restrain Achilles, so he doesn’t sack Troy before the time allotted for its destruction, for his unhindered rage seems to defy fate itself, threatening to rewrite the very will of Olympus.


Affronted, wroth, and deranged, a determined Achilles tracks down Hector, the subject of his smite. Once Achilles locates his prey, the wings of Akre aid him to catch up swiftly with the Prince. Circulating the walls of Troy, the vengeance-crazed warrior shouts:


« I shall ensnare you with your own entrails, coiling them around you like a scarf, tightening the grip until it suffocates you, until it feels like my hands around your throat »


The anticipation hung thick in the air as Hector and Achilles closed in on each other, poised for a clash of legendary proportions. Maybe it was here and now that the Trojan War vanquisher comes to light. Hector charges through the wind with his sword, fast, efficient, sharp, perhaps from fear of the debilitating force before him, perhaps with the help of his opponent’s trusted shield, he misses. The poor prince, not hearing the sound of metal penetrating flesh, seeing his famed blade not stained with blood of his most formidable opponent, accepts his grim fate. In seconds few, he shall be dead. In seconds few, he meets the consequences of murdering Patroclus in cold blood, and he understands those consequences will be severe.


« Hector— surely you thought when you stripped Patroclus’ armor that you, you would be safe! Never a fear of me— far from the fighting as I was— you fool! Left behind there, down by the beaked ships his great avenger waited, a greater man by far— that man was I, and I smashed your strength! And you— the dogs and birds will maul you, shame your corpse while Achaeans bury my dear friend in glory! »


Hector raises his gaze to Achilles as the blade penetrates further his chest, as the warrior stands over him, towering, terrifying, fatal:


« I beg you, beg you by your life, your parents— don’t let the dogs devour me by the Argive ships! give my body to friends to carry home again, so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor with fitting rites of fire once I am dead. »


Disgusted, Achilles grips the spear with both hands and twists it as Hector groans in agony.


« Dog! » Achilles shouts, still inebriated with rage. « Talk not to me neither of honor nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill have done me, as I am that nothing save you from the dogs— such agonies you have caused me. Your noble mother shall never lay you on your deathbed to mourn the son she bore. The dogs and birds will rend you— blood and bone! »


On the precipice of death, and in a hopeless effort to frighten Achilles, Hector struggles to collect a breath, then proclaims:


« Be careful now; for I might be made into the gods’ curse. Upon you, on that day when Paris and Phoibos Apollo destroy you in the Skainan gates, for all your valor. »


Hector’s prophecy is cut short, and as his soul trickles down into Hades’s realm, his body’s fate is as grim. Achilles wrenches the spear from the corpse, sets it aside, and rips his stolen armor from the fallen prince. Not one of the nearby warriors flocked to the body and did not stab it mockingly, proudly, as if the war was already won, as if the prince’s remains shall never know peace. Achilles, perplexed by the Hector’s last words, was determined to shame him, finding solace in the lament of his grieving mother.


He pierces the tendons, from ankle to heel behind both feet, then binds them with straps of rawhide, lashing them to his chariot, and leaving the head to drag along the ground. Mounting the wagon and hoisting the armor abroad, the troops aside him follow as he charges onward and leaves a cloud of dust in his wake from the humiliated prince Hector, the once glorious and pompous warrior now reduced to a mere spectacle, being defiled in the lands of his ancestors.


The desecration of Hector’s body broke the once proud Trojans, their spirits shattered by the sight of his lifeless form being dragged behind Achilles’ chariot. The agony that envelops their ranks is palpable, a suffocating shroud that weighs heavy upon the hearts of all who bore witness to their prince’s downfall. And amidst that turmoil, the mother’s cries pierce the air, from the depths of Troy’s walls to the chambers of the royal palace, echoing the grief that courses through every corner of the besieged city.


And as the atmosphere of Troy sways between the landscape of murderous warriors driven by carnage, the humiliating display put on by Achilles to drag a dead man through the mud as you ransack your enemy’s motherland, and the harrowing sounds of a weeping family over their son’s departure and public mockery, I stood there more perplexed than I was when I came in through that door. Once again, stuck in the ebb and flow of tragedies that don’t concern me, I was frozen in place, pondering the same thought that I tend never to omit: what am I doing here?


While tending to that query I realized that I had gotten used to that overpowering smell of blood and that I now wasn’t terrified of Achilles anymore than he was threatened by me at first, a stranger ominously appeared amidst his ranks, perilously close to his most cherished companion. The more time I spend among these flawed gods and legendary mortals, the more I recognize the humanity in them, as if they hold a mirror reflecting our strongest desires and deepest flaws. What is Achilles but a man driven to fury by the loss of a loved one? What is Hector but a patriot willing to sacrifice honor to defend Troy, the land of his ancestors? What is Scamander but a guardian of what he holds dear? And mighty Zeus— What is he but the embodiment of desire for things to unfold according to his will?


In the end, gods and warriors alike are not immune to the passions and frailties that define the human experience. The Trojan War, too, was but a reaction to human emotions of control and greed, and the warriors and gods alike participated, each for the opportunity to bring glory to their name and nothing else. Achilles, with his insatiable thirst for vengeance, and Hector, with his tragic downfall, were but manifestations of the same emotional tapestry that weaves through the fabric of mortal existence. They feel love, grief, and remorse just as keenly as any mortal.


My prejudice of these mythical creatures has led me to unfairly judge Achilles when I met him, for it is not the legends etched in stones or the rumors whispered around that define anyone’s character, but rather their actions and the motivation behind them. And while the path to it may be fraught with peril and uncertainty, it is far nobler to embrace the human emotions within than to meddle with the ever-shifting currents of fate and fortune.


Although I had long forgotten the concept of home, a glimmer of hope lit my face as I gazed at the door materializing before me. Through its threshold, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a reflection of myself from before I came here. Perhaps another adventure awaits me, but an instinct within tells me home awaits on the other side of that door. And so, unwavering, I stride forward and step through.



Written by: Rayen Aouicha.

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