It was a beautiful beast. Grey scales like twilight clouds along her back, the undulations of her silver belly as she rose into the air, as she slid across the sky; supple and sensuous, a dancer's wrist, how the Hydra moved. Even in that light-less fen, dark and horrible, black bracken and naked trees, mud up to your thighs and toads croaking and ravens squawking, she was full of radiance. I watched as she slithered through the fog-clung waters and reared up over Heracles and brought her gnashing teeth down on him, and watched as he hacked through her waving heads with his sickle and watched as two more grew in the place of every one, and with each new twin birth I watched the first blinkings of all four filmy eyes and saw the world as if through them: the persecution, the hopelessness of escape. That the most beautiful and singular monster may burrow into the most lifeless, forgotten place in the world and still be hunted down, that its own doubling self creation will be seen as hideous rather than a monument to life, to living, to preservation.
“Iolaos!” Heracles cried, and he ordered me to burn down the bloody stump of every severed head before it could grow anew. Tears were in my eyes and I said it was from the smoke. Mud splattered along the back of Heracle's lion-skin cloak as he at once sliced away the heads of the Hydra and fought the enormous crab that had clattered out of the deep muck to help the swamp-queen. The crab had one of Heracle's legs in its mighty pincers. I was like that crab, but I was less.
With my torch I burned the Hydra's many necks until only one head remained: strong and lithe and immortal, whipping about from the center of her great body, bloated and obscene now without the waving fan of heads. The dead crab floated away. Heracles swung and the final head of the Hydra fell flopping and gasping into the water. The body turned brittle and thin and dissipated throughout the swamp. We buried the head under a rock so it couldn't escape, couldn't recreate itself. It is there still. It will live forever, without a body, as Heracles will live forever, decorated and celebrated. I will die, and when I do, I only ask that there be no everlasting part of me to suffer this life again and again.