Children of Pan

Michael Panush

The Runtle Family received an authentic ancient Greek statue taken from the hills of Attica, which they were quick to place in the garden of their manor in Upstate New York. The statue was a particularly garish icon of Pan, the satyr-god of nature, licentiousness, and all wild beasts and men. It stood amongst the rosebushes and flowerbeds in the Runtle's garden, one furry hand clasping the pipes to its leering mouth, the other cast up in an attitude of ecstatic dance. Its hoof-tipped and shaggy legs were splayed out like it was about to leap from its pedestal and gambol off through the garden at any moment.

Minerva Underhill, the governess for the two young Runtles, did not like it. When she took the children out for their lesson in the garden, it being a too nice of a day to remain inside the Runtle Manor, she found her eyes lingering on the gaudy, joyous statue, like one's eyes would linger on the sight of some grisly accident.

Minerva adjusted her round spectacles and looked at the statue, before turning her back to it and facing her two charges. They had reached a wide green field, ringed with flowerbeds, and Minerva decided it was a fine place to begin the day's lesson. She smoothed her dress and sat down, and seven-year-old Phillip and nine-year-old Penelope did the same.

"Miss Minnie?" Phillip asked, tugging at the grass with his small hands. "What's that goat fellow standing there in the garden?" He was a small boy in a blue felt Norfolk suit and tie, with dark hair under a peaked cap.

"That's Pan, dear," Minerva explained. "It's a statue of a Greek god. He represents wilderness and parties and things like that."

"Does he make you recite your lessons at parties?" Penelope asked. Her parents would often show off their daughter and son whenever they had guests over at the manor. "If he does, he might be a very annoying god." She wore a pale blue dress and her chestnut hair was tied with a bow. She shared her brother's bright eyes and upturned nose.

"Not those sorts of parties, Penelope. The kind you'll have to learn about when you're older." Minerva shook her head as she opened her book. They were studying the English Romantic poets today, as Phillip and Penelope's parents loved the culture of England as much as they loved the Classical Greeks and Romans. Minerva didn't mind. She was English herself, and the anglophile tendencies of the Runtles were perhaps why she had been hired.

"Does he make music with that flutey thing in his mouth?" Phillip asked. "It would sound very weird, I think."

"It could make people become very frightened," Minerva explained. "That's where the word 'panic' comes from, you know. Some people were very scared of him, and some people weren't, but he was very powerful. But one day, a sailor was going to Italy, and he heard a voice cry out 'the Great God Pan is dead!' and after that, Pan was gone for good."

The story entranced the children, particularly Phillip. "So, he's dead, then?" Phillip asked, a little saddened.

"All things die, eventually," Minerva replied. "That is one of the few things of which we are certain. Now, let me show you this poem here, and we can learn more about the other Greek gods a little later." She began their lesson, and both Penelope and Phillip were quick to follow her words and they studied well. They asked the right sorts of questions to understand the poems, and Minerva supplied the right sorts of answers, the kind that would make them think more.

The sunlight gleamed on Minerva's light brown hair as the afternoon progressed. It was a little cool, but in the white blouse, skirt and striped tie of her station, she was comfortable enough. Her eyes kept going back to the statue of Pan, drawn to the maddened grin about its bearded face and the curled tips of its ram horns.

Her mother was Lydia Underhill, the most famous medium and ghost breaker of England, and she had taught her daughter about all of the spirits of the earth, the stream and the sky. She had much to say on the subject of the Hellenic spirits.

"They are a nasty bunch of shades, sylphs and daemons, little Minnie, and that is certain," Lydia had remarked on the subject. "Our belief that the Greece was the cradle of our civilization (misguided, as you know – the true cradle lies leagues under the water, in Lost Atlantis), has granted a certain veneer of respectability to the Cyclops, the gorgon, the Stymphalian bird. But they are wild fiends, little Minnie, as savage as any Germanic, Slavic or Oriental spirit. Never forget that."

Lydia's words echoed in her head throughout the lesson, until it was concluded. Minerva folded her book and came to her feet. "Well, very good work today, my dears. Tomorrow we'll examine Coleridge, and his fascination with tutelary spirits. For now, I believe your nurse is waiting for you."

Phillip and Penelope stood up and followed their governess down the field and back to the stately gray manor. Sure enough, their nurse was waiting for them. Mrs. Driscoll was an old Irishwoman with red hair turning steel gray, a slight paunch and very kind manner. She walked over to join Minerva and the children, and embraced Phillip and Penelope.

"Have a good lesson then, dearies?" she asked. "You learn a lot?"

"Very much, Mrs. Driscoll," Penelope agreed.

"Mrs. Driscoll?" Phillip asked. "Can we go and look at the statue of the Great God Pan a little? Please? He looks very strange, and I want to see if he is more goat or more man."

"Go ahead, little ones," Mrs. Driscoll agreed. The two children hurried off, walking amidst the flowerbeds to star at the statue of Pan. Mrs. Driscoll and Minerva Underhill looked at the two children, as each of them reached out to touch the ancient stone. "And how are you then, Miss Underhill?" Mrs. Driscoll inquired. "Children behaving well?"

"Very well," Minerva agreed. "They are polite and courteous."

"Oh, they're good ones, Miss Underhill," Mrs. Driscoll agreed. "I've been at this job for twenty, going on thirty years and I've had some bad ones, you know, but not like Penelope and Phillip."

"Well, they've had an excellent nurse," Minerva said. "They do seem rather taken with that statue though."

"Yes," Driscoll muttered. "Beastly thing. I told Mr. Underhill, I told him we shouldn't have something like that in the garden. It ain't Christian, I think. And I was talking with the groundskeeper, and he said that ever since that statue got here, the plants have been growing like crazy, getting all tangled and out of their places. And did you see them brown stains along the base? Don't know what they are, but it can't be good." She shivered. "It ain't Christian, I tell you."

"It certainly isn't," Minerva agreed. She smiled at Mrs. Driscoll. "I'll turn in now, I think. Good afternoon, Mrs. Driscoll."

"And good afternoon to you," Mrs. Driscoll said, waving as Minerva Underhill gathered up her books and walked back to the manor.

Minerva paused to wave back to Mrs. Driscoll and to Phillip and Penelope, before going inside. She headed to her room on the second story and sat in the armchair in the corner. Minerva waited for a few seconds, and thought of her father. Sir Francis Underhill was a famed explorer, who had taken countless expeditions to the dark heart of Africa, the furthest peaks of the Himalayas, and the hidden temples of the Indian subcontinent.

Sir Francis Underhill was full of advice about instinct and intuition. "Underhills have a nose for danger, Minnie, my jewel. Why, back in '63 when I was fleeing from the Taipings along the banks of the Yangtze, I had the queerest feeling that our convoy was driving into an ambush. I was just a little chap, so nobody paid me much mind, but I was certain the Taipings would be coming over the next rise and I was ready. Of course, it wasn't Johnny Chinaman that was stalking us, but a pair of deadly Maltese tigers, which had come up from Fuijan. But the core lesson remains – we Underhills can feel when something is going to happen."

Minerva felt that way now, so she took the rosewood violin case from her desk and opened it, making sure all the exotic weapons were in place. Her father had given her the weaponry, collected from all across the world, and trained her in their use. A man who had seen so much of the world knew of its cruelties, and wished for his daughter to be prepared for them.

She was not totally surprised when there was a harsh, panicked rapping at the door. Minerva opened it quickly, and saw Mrs. Driscoll framed in the doorway, her red hair wild and her eyes big with fear. She looked like she might collapse at any moment.

"It's the children, Minerva!" Mrs. Driscoll cried. "They've gone! Disappeared!"

"What?" Minerva helped Mrs. Driscoll in and sat her down. "Are you certain they didn't just, I don't know, wander in amidst the bushes or something?"

"They were playing around that awful statue, I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back, they were gone." Mrs. Driscoll gulped in air like a dying fish. "I'm sorry, Minerva, oh god, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…"

"Hush," Minnie said, coming to her feet. "I've got some experience with this sort of thing. I'll handle it. You should go to the kitchens and have the cook make you some tea. That's always the best for when you've had a little shock." She reached for her violin case. "And I'll get them back, I promise."

She helped Mrs. Driscoll out of her room, and then walked downstairs and to the grounds. She headed straight for the statue of Pan.

Minerva walked outside into the garden. A cloud went over the fading sun, and shadows grew and danced like maddened snakes around the statue of Pan and the unkempt, overgrown flowerbeds. Minerva held her violin case tightly. "Phillip! Penelope!" she cried. "Come in! You'll catch cold out here!" Only mocking silence was her reply. She stared at the face of the statue of Pan, and saw its lips curled in terrible exultation, which she swore had not marked its visage before.

She opened the violin case and reached inside, withdrawing a curved Japanese Wakizashi dagger. Carefully, Minerva held the blade behind her back and she approached the statue, stepping over the flowers and newly grown weeds. She looked at the dark stains along the pedestal, and the crack that ran up and down Pan's legs and chests like drops of shadow. She reached out and gently rested one slim hand on Pan's head. For half a second, she closed her eyes.

A wind tore past her, making her skirt flutter and her hair stream. Minerva kept her eyes closed and held tightly to the statue of Pan. She heard wind roaring like a caged beast finally set free, and beyond that, the hideous, endless sounds of Panpipes playing a mad, tuneless dirge. Minerva couldn't feel the ground under her feet, or the fading sunlight of the garden, but only the cold touch of the wind.

It stopped as soon as it had appeared, and Minerva opened her eyes. She was standing on the beach of an island, looking out into a borderless blue sea the exact color of the cloudless sky above it. Minerva felt sand crunch under her shoes, and she took a halting step forward. Everything remained where it was, so she took another.

She walked out to the beach and looked at the water. There were ripples inside, and then the waves parted and a strange aquatic procession came to the surface. First were naked women, lithe, blonde and drenched, riding upon dolphins, whales, and fish, and their laughter mingled with the gentle crash of the waves into the shore. Hippocamps, slick equine creatures that narrowed into curling tails, followed them, with bearded men garbed in seashell armor following them.

The women were Nereids or sea-nymphs, Minerva knew from her mother's lessons. They were all spirits of Greek mythology, proudly splashing through their watery domain. Minerva Underhill took another look at them and then turned around, looking up the beach and whatever land she had come to.

She saw a border of trees, as closely packed together as fence posts, and beyond them a gentle sloping hill dotted with shrubs and the occasional oak. It rose gently into the sky, but seemed high enough to touch the very sun, which hung directly over the hilltop. Minerva wondered if there was an end to this island, or if the forest, and beach simply went on forever.

She opened her violin case again and withdrew a smart leather belt, with more weapons resting in holsters and loops. Quickly, she fastened it around her waist. "Phillip? Penelope?" she called, but there was no response. Minerva started walking up the beach, when she heard something approaching.

It sounded like the inside of a textile mill, with all the rattling, creaking machinery, twisting cogs and roaring engines, had been set in a carriage and left to roll along. Minerva shielded her eyes from the sun and looked down the beach. She saw a strange shape moving along the beach at the border between sand and the water. It towered over her, as big as two carriages stacked on top of each other, and had four large legs holding aloft a great spherical chest. Countless long necks grew from the end of the chest, each tipped with a sharp-toothed yawning head.

But it was no beast of flesh and muscle. The creature was made of copper, its visible innards were the twisting cogs and levers of a clock, and its teeth were steel. Stone, metal and wood formed the machine's four pointed legs, while long copper tubes formed the necks of the contraption's innumerable heads.

Minerva stared at the clockwork creature for a second, remembering her father's tales of the lost technology of ancient Greece, of clockwork mechanisms from calculating engines to automata. But that wasn't what held Minerva's attention. It was the eyes of the Clockwork Hydra, the black, smoking stones set above each of the steel-toothed heads.

"Oh god," Minerva whispered. "Death. It's got death in its gaze." She turned away from the creature to the forest. Hastily, Minerva squeezed through the border of densely packed trees, and noted that though an adult found it difficult, a child would not. Her fear only ended when she heard the Clockwork Hydra marching away down the beach, until the sounds of its machinery faded away.

Minerva then found herself on a trail of green grass, thick as a carpet, leading to the hill. The grass was bright, clean and still flecked with a little morning dew. Minerva walked down the trail carefully, marveling at how the trees, vines and bushes created a natural barrier from leaving the path. She felt like someone had designed this, though there was no way the wild trees, flowers, vines and greenery could have been planted by human hands.

"Phillip? Penelope?" Minerva called, but only the pristine trees and soft grass seemed to hear her voice. She walked forward, her eyes scanning the underbrush for any sign of the children. Then she saw a dark shape resting under the bough of a trio of curving, sinuous trees in the middle of the trail. The dark blue felt stood out like coal in snow in the green field. The strange trees were thin and twisted, their branches interlocked above Minerva's head.

The governess ran to the tree, and saw that it was Phillip's peaked cap. She straightened it and tucked it into her violin case, then looked up the trail to where it ended, expanding into a wide meadow with the hill in its center. "Phillip?" she asked, her voice quaking. "Phillip, darling, are you all right?"

"He's dead." Minerva looked up at the trees, and saw a strange womanly shape wrapped around each of the three trunks. They had the general shape of women, but their stomachs were too narrow, their shoulders too large, and their limbs too long for them to be anything earthly. Their skin was the same bark as their trees, and their hair was strands of leaves and twigs.

Minerva knew them as dryads – tree nymphs, and she regarded them warily. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Did you see him? Tell me, or I promise you'll regret it."

"You're dead." The nearest dryad swung down from her tree and raised a hand. Her fingers were like curling roots, twisting about on her hand. "We're dead. Everything here is dead, though it's not Hades. And most of all, the Great God Pan is dead. But he doesn't know it."

"They're with him, aren't they?" Minerva asked. "The children are with Pan."

"Yes." The other two dryads slid down and faced Minerva Underhill. "And they'll be with him, dead and happy, in the Untrodden Glen, forever."

"They're going to be at home in time for bed," Minerva said, drawing out both Wakizashi daggers. "Now get out of my way and I'll go fetch them."

"They're dead. You're dead. We're dead," the dryads sang in unison. They moved for Minerva.

"You're right about that last part," she said, and swung her blade into the outstretched arms of the nearest dryad. The fine Japanese steel sliced deeply into the wooden limb, hacking it off and letting sap flow in rivers to the grassy floor. The dryad reeled backwards, and the other two leapt at Minerva. She stabbed her curved knife deep into the chest of one dryad, pushing the wood nymph backwards. The second grabbed Minerva's arms and pushed her down.

Minerva tumbled backwards, feeling the twisting, binding branches of the dryad wrapped around her body and crushing her breath. She dropped one of her knives and reached down for her belt, feeling her bones strain as vines from the body of the dryad tightened like a noose. Minerva found what she was reaching for – a howdah pistol her father had taken back from India.

She planted the massive, double barreled pistol under the dryad's head and pulled the trigger. Splinters of wood flew through the air as the dryad fell backwards, landing under the shade of her trees. With a hiss of pain, Minerva came to her feet. "Wretched plants," she muttered.

The dryads pulled themselves together. They faced Minerva, and she watched as their wounds grew together. The cuts in their bark-like skin vanished, their wooden limbs grew back, and their vines and branches were as full as ever. Minerva knew she should have known better – dryads couldn't be killed by trimming their branches.

"You foolish little girl," the dryads said in unison. "Your body will go under our roots and our trees will reach the heavens."

"Hamadryads," Minerva said, reaching to her belt. "That's what you are. And I have just the thing for dealing with you." She drew a vial of Greek fire, taken from the catacombs of ancient Byzantium when her father visited the Turkish Empire. "Because you're not immortal. No more than your trees are."

"No!" The dryads charged for her, their long, thin legs pounding across the grass. Minerva hurled the vial forward, and it landed on the middle tree. It exploded, showering all three of the trees with a wave of fire. The flames leapt and danced, spreading wildly amidst the trees. The hamadryads collapsed, their skin turning black as their trees burned.

Minerva walked past them, and headed up the hill.

The Untrodden Glen, as the dryads called it, was much bigger than it looked. Minerva passed numerous trees, streams, and the occasional statue or ruined column, all with nymphs playing about them, as she headed to the summit of the hill. The sun and fine weather of the face flickered, like some switch had been pulled, and darkness grew. The grass around her grew taller than her waist, and Minerva soon realized she was being followed.

She produced a collapsible assegai spear from her violin case, and a crossbow, which she was careful to load with a silver-tipped shaft. Minerva had no idea if it could harm a god, especially one who was already dead, but she would not face Pan unprepared. She continued walking up to the hill, and noted a grove of tall white trees, cedars perhaps, resting between the green grass and rapidly graying sky.

The grass around her shifted and Minerva spun around. She remembered her father's hunting stories, about battling a wolf pack in the Yukon with only a sharpened piece of walrus tusk, of swimming with man-eating crocodiles off the coast of Australia, of fighting lions with a dagger in North Africa. He had taught her how to handle predators.

The beasts leapt out of the tall grass, snarling and clawing the air as if they couldn't wait to be ripping and gnawing through flesh. They were strange animals, a mix of twisting horns, jagged teeth, curved claws, midnight black fur and staring, horribly human eyes – all the general shape of a child of no more than ten years.

Minerva hesitated for a fraction of instant. "I'm sorry," she said. "But there's no helping you." She fired her crossbow, sending a bolt into the chest of one of the beasts, and then drew out her assegai. She swung the short spear about in swift, hacking arcs. The broad blade did its grim job, slashing at the beasts and keeping them back.

They danced about her, growling and snarling but not attacking any more. They roared and bayed, waving their claws in the air and prevented Minerva from going anywhere but forward. She realized they were guiding her to the top of the hill.

"That's where I was going anyway, you wretched little beggars," she said, resuming her trip to the top of the hill. She reloaded her crossbow and pulled back the cord. She looked down at the beasts and saw the way they walked, toddling forward and moving between walking on hands and knees or standing upright. It was like they had walked as men do, but were forgetting it. "Poor little things," she whispered, thinking about Penelope and Phillip as they approached the shaded grove. "I'm sorry." She wondered if she was too late.

"They are the Lost." The words echoed out from the grove and Minerva Underhill stepped inside, walking under the shade of the golden boughs. There were crumbling pillars and broken columns lying about the grove, overgrown with vines and flowers in full bloom. Grapes, fat with juice, hung heavy from the vines, and birds fluttered between the trees and the shafts of sunlight.

A tall figure walked out of the shadows and stood before Minerva, as the strange bestial children gathered about its heels. She saw that he was a tall man, head and shoulders above her and wearing a suit of green leafs and vines. His horns sprouted from the side of his head, curling five times before going out to narrow points. Cloven hooves walked on the dirt, but his hair was golden and shone like the first rays of dawn.

"They are the Lost and they are my children." The Great God Pan extended a hand, each long finger ending in a curved claw. "And here we will dwell, in splendor and happiness, forever."

Minerva raised her crossbow. "You're dead, and they're dead," she snarled. "So it's too late for them, bless their hearts. But where are Penelope and Phillip? If you've hurt them, by God, I'll make you—"

"Miss Minnie!" Penelope's clear voice came from behind one of the pillars. She stood up and walked over to join her governess, holding her brother's hands. They had fur coats around their shoulders, and little horns resting on their heads. They ran to Minerva's sides.

"Miss Minnie, you followed us!" Phillip cried. "We were, we were playing by the statue, and it, it took us here, and then we walked up here and Pan came and met us, and gave us these clothes, and said we'll stay here forever, and I don't know if I want that. I want to go home."

"We will, dear," Minerva said, patting his shoulder. She carefully peeled off the fur coats and horns, and handed Phillip back his hat. "You gave your nurse quite a fright, but we'll go home and forget about all of this." She hugged Phillip and Penelope, doing her best to keep calm. She looked up at Pan. "We're leaving now, you devil," she said.

"Don't presume to order me about, mortal woman," Pan snarled. He stepped forward, drawing himself to his full height. He seemed to hover off the ground, gaining flight as easy as walking into the sky. "This is my kingdom."

"This? This little island of lost Greek myths, standing around like specimens in a museum case?" Minerva asked. "It's a travesty, Pan. Be a good man and let it go. You're finished. Don't inflict it on the children."

"They're mine!" Pan cried, chomping his teeth down. "All the wild things of the world, the growing things and the merry, dancing things, they are mine forever and ever! And I will never die! Never die, never grow old, never grow up! And neither will they!" He lowered his head, his horns shifting position on his head and his lips curling back to reveal fangs. "But you, mortal woman, you will die and die slowly."

"When I start shooting, you start running down the hill, all right?" Minerva asked the children. "You don't look back, and we'll go down the hill, through the forest and over to the beach. I'll be right behind you, so don't worry, and we'll be home soon. You understand?"

"Yes, Miss Minnie," Phillip agreed.

Penelope seemed worried. "But what if he catches us? Will he make us stay here? What will he do to you?'

"He won't." Above them, the sky had grown dark. Thunder rumbled along the island, and rain started seeping down. The grapes fell away from the vines, replaced by black, dying flowers and long, serrated thorns. Pan and his children moved forward. Minerva raised her crossbow and fired, sending a silver shaft straight between Pan's eyes. "Run!" she cried, and Penelope and Phillip dashed out of the grove and down the hill.

Minerva followed them, as the Lost Children pounced for her, and Pan followed. Minerva slung her assegai over her shoulder and went for the howdah pistol. She fired it behind her, letting both barrels of the massive handgun thunder into Pan's creatures. She holstered the howdah pistol and reached for one of her daggers.

Then Pan slammed his hooves into her back and knocked her forward. She tumbled through the drenched grass, rolling down the hill as she struggled to steady herself. Phillip and Penelope had reached the foot of the hill, but Pan was almost upon her.

"I'll rend you to ribbons!" Pan cried, reaching out to gut her with a clawed hand. "I will make of your intestines a tangle of vines, and I'll play and sport in them every day, singing as the blood pours down and fills my goblet!"

But now Minnie had drawn her dagger. "Go on and try it," she said, slashing it across Pan's wrist. The Great God Pan let go and Minerva came to her feet. She ran down to the forest, only to see Phillip and Penelope trapped by the trees, caught by the twisting vines and branches, which reached down like jailer's chains.

"Minnie!" Phillip cried. "These trees and trying to pull me away!" He struggled to stay on the ground, while his sister tried to pull herself free.

"Oh no, you don't!" Minerva cried, drawing out two vials of Greek fire. She hurled over the heads of the children, into the depths of the forest. They exploded, showering the trees with fire. The branches and vines pulled back as they burned, flailing about like living things. Minerva ran forward, grabbing the hands of Phillip and Penelope and running down the trail.

The rain was tearing at them now, as horrible winds buffeted Pan's kingdom. Minerva squared her shoulders and struggled forward, as the trail turned to clinging mud under her feet. She was soaked to her skin, her glasses dotted with rain, and Phillip and Penelope were crying with panic and terror.

"Come on, children!" Minerva cried, doubling her pace. "We're almost there!"

Pan and his children were close on their heels, running through the torrents of rain and the shifting, moving vegetation. Minerva looked over her shoulder and saw the Great God Pan leaping across the ground on all floors, baying madly as he became all that was horrible about the ancient pagan faith. He leapt into the air, reaching for her. Minerva fired her crossbow into his chest, then reloaded and sunk a shaft into his legs.

The god ignored the blows, but he sank down and it gave Minerva and the children time to reach the beach. The found the sands turned to gray mud, the ocean a writhing, horrible surface of tentacles, waving hands of sea-nymphs, and panicked leaping sea creatures. But there was nowhere to run from here, only the cold ocean to escape into.

From behind, Minerva heard Pan laugh. "This is my kingdom," he replied. "And here my very thought is law!"

"It's a delusion!" Minerva shouted. "You're just a fragment of the Great God Pan, trapped in a statue like some phonograph nobody remembered to turn off, playing on and on though you should have stopped centuries ago!"

"Don't speak to me!" Pan leapt forward and struck Minerva. She toppled to the sound, feeling the wind leave her. Penelope screamed and Phillip ran to her side, terrified and wringing his hands.

"Minnie! Minnie! Please be all right!" Phillip cried, taking her hand. "Please!" Minerva saw light flashing in her head, perhaps from the lightning in the sky. She closed her eyes and struggled to stand. In the distance, she heard some machinery clanking up the beach, rumbling and twisting like a jumble of pots and pans were rattling around in a closed room.

"Do not cry for the children," Pan said. "They are mine now. And they will be untouched by the sorrow of aging, by the ravages of time, by the cruelty of fate. They will never die, and play and laugh, as happy as the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, forever and ever."

Minerva gritted her teeth and dug her hands into the sand. She came to her feet, drawing both Wakizashi daggers. "But there's no joy of childhood without growing old. No joy of life without death. All things must end, Pan. It's the way of the world." Behind Pan, she saw the Clockwork Hydra appearing on the beach. "And even in this little playroom you've built for yourself, you can't keep death out. You put it in a form you understand and keep it at arm's length, but it's still there, ticking and tocking away and reminding you of the inevitable."

The Great God Pan looked over his shoulder. "You won't—"

But Minerva leapt for him, plunging both daggers into his chest. He grabbed her arms with his clawed hands and hurled her back, gripping hard enough to break bone. Minerva dropped her daggers and fell back, but stayed on her feet. Pan swatted at her face, but Minerva ducked down and grabbed her daggers. Every one of her bones felt like it was nearing the breaking point, but Minerva ignored them.

She stood up and slashed Pan wildly, each blow driving him further back, towards the Clockwork Hydra. Pan struggled to stop her, but she was moving too fast for him. Her face was streaked with rain and the blood of a god, and Minerva Underhill could not be stopped. Then Pan let out a roar, and his Lost Children leapt out from the burning forest, onto Penelope and Phillip. The Runtle children ran from the beasts to the ocean.

"Minnie!" Penelope cried, pulling her brother out of the way of a set of snapping jaws. "Minnie, oh! Please help us!"

Minerva paused, and Pan grabbed her throat. He lifted her into the air. "Your desire to keep them from my grasp is your doom. Let that be the last thought in your head before I pull it off."

"You stinking goat," Minerva hissed. "Too confident to even look behind you."

The storm had covered the approach of the Clockwork Hydra, but now it stood exactly behind Pan. The countless heads surged down, wrapping around Pan and pulling him away. His golden hairs faded to gray in seconds, and his horns drooped. Pan screamed and struggled to free himself, but the rhythmically ticking hydra held him in place, sinking steel fangs into him as he aged millions of years in mere seconds.

The Lost Children turned away from Phillip and Penelope and bounded around their dying master. The heads of the Clockwork Hydra swooped down and snatched them up. Minerva ran to Phillip and Penelope and held them close.

"Don't worry!" she cried, as the storm above them churned madly. The forests tumbled down, the trees turning to dust before they hit the ground. The hill cracked and collapsed in on itself like a deflated balloon.

"Miss Minnie!" Phillip cried. "What happened to Pan? What's happening?"

"The Great God Pan is dead!" Minnie shouted, and then closed her eyes tightly.

When she opened them, they were back in the garden of the Runtle's house. The sun was going down over the far hills, and the lights were coming on in the windows. Minerva stood up shakily and felt over her chest. She'd be bruised and batter in the morning, but nothing permanent had been done to her. She looked down at the children, and found them both rubbing their eyes in the fading sunlight.

"What happened, Miss Minnie?" Penelope asked. "You got us out of there? You saved us?"

"Yes," Minerva agreed. She took the children's hands and led them back to the house. "You're completely safe now. Safe to grow up, of course, but you won't do that just yet, and you can savor your childhood all the more."

Phillip nodded, clearly a little confused. "Well, thank you, Miss Minnie," he said. "You were very brave."

"You were as well, Phillip. And Penelope too." Minerva started leading them back to the Runtle Manor entrance. "Now, let's go on and see Mrs. Dirscoll. I'll bet she be very happy to see you. Then you can have your supper, and play a little bit, and it's off to bed for you."

"But what about Pan?" Phillip asked. "What happened to him?"

Minerva looked over her shoulder at the statue. She saw cracks appearing in the ancient stone, running from the tips of the horns to the hooves. Then the cracks widened, and the statue of Pan crumbled to the ground in a heap of fractured gray stone.

"He's gone for good," Minerva said. "And this time, he knows it."

-The End-

7