(This is the sixth installment of my short fiction story, The Gods Defense. If you’re just seeing this, all the parts up until now are posted on here. Just find the Categories widget on the right and click on ‘My Writing.’)
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I crossed my arms.
He smiled and it was bitter. “I know this is a foreign concept to you, but that was not a request. We’re leaving and you will stay with me and stay silent. I’m not above muzzling you. Do you understand?”
Muzzle me? Oh, how I was going to kick his ass. Let me count the ways.
I smiled sweetly. “Shove your commands up your dick, Apollo.”
I blinked and he was behind me. He pulled me into him with rough hands, whispering, “I do not have time to explain or play more with you now. You’re my minkati.”
“Your part starts now.” His voice was a low growl that set the hairs on my ears vibrating like he was speaking much deeper. “We’re out of time.”
We appeared in what looked like a circular conference room. If conference rooms came in size 10XL. It was big enough to swallow the Coliseum and still have room left to down a football field for dessert. The biggest table I’d ever seen stretched the length of the room in the shape of a horseshoe. It could probably seat a thousand.
The wood floor, table, and cushy office chairs were solid black. The walls and domed ceiling were a stark, nearly blinding white.
Apollo pulled me around, eyes searching mine as his hands squeezed my biceps. “We do not have much time before they arrive,” he whispered. His eyes were wide. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was scared. “Know, no matter what, that we are your allies in this. When I tell you to shut up, just do it. Lives may depend on how strong a front we can present.”
Okay, now I was a little scared.
I shook my head. “Apollo, what’s…?”
“Are you serious?”
I jumped at the voice and tried to whirl, but Apollo still had my arms. He looked at me, shrugged, and let me go. I turned. Henry and Hades were about five chairs down.
Hades looked like a god was supposed to. Easily six foot six, with ivory skin, symmetrical features, wide set dark blue eyes, and black hair in long ringlets. He wore black silky pants and blue flames danced over his bare chest and arms.
His out there ‘style’ always seemed more godlike to me than Apollo’s classy suits and colorful ties.
“Please tell me this is some prank I don’t understand, Apollo,” Hades said, flames flickering to his hair.
“I wish I could.” Apollo shrugged. “The others will be here in a moment. I called you first because Cassandra knows your lawyer. I thought he could help put her at ease.”
When had he called Hades? Could they communicate silently and that fast?
“Cassandra,” Hades bowed, “lovely to see you again.”
“Cassandra.” Henry hurried over and shook my hand. “To be honest, I’m shocked Apollo got you here. I thought for certain you’d tell him to, well, go to hell.” He chuckled, sweat beading around his receding hairline. “Well I think I’m funny.” He pulled out a red handkerchief and wiped his forehead.
“I didn’t come willingly, trust me.” I grabbed Henry’s wrist as it came down. If I had one friend here, it was my former professor. “Henry, what’s going on?”
He looked at Apollo. “She doesn’t know?”
“I had to knock her out with dust,” Apollo said, voice flat. “She barely came to five minutes ago. And now, those bastards are early.”
“You kidnapped her?”
Apollo’s face went hard. “Don’t use that tone with me, mortal.”
“Children,” Hades said, gliding between them. “Now is not the time. The nine days starts in less than an hour and we have a very confused young lady in our midst.” He took my hand off Henry’s wrist, giving it a comforting squeeze. Shocking how the torturer of the gods was so gentle outside his ‘underworld.’
Hades patted Henry’s shoulder with his other hand, still holding mine. “Besides, you say kidnap like it’s a bad thing. Some girls like that.”
Henry smiled, dabbing the side of his face. “Persephone wanted to go with you. Her mother was just in the way. I can guarantee Cassandra didn’t want to come here.”
“We need her.”
“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” I said, pulling my hand free.
“Sorry,” Hades said. “Terribly rude of us.”
“The others are coming,” Apollo said, walking up behind me and putting his hands on my shoulders. I shrugged him off and stepped away. He sighed just loud enough for me to hear it. “And they will be here in a moment.”
“I can’t believe they’re defecting. So rude.”
“That’s what you’re worried about, Uncle?”
“This is just a meeting, right?” Henry asked, gulping. “I mean, they’re not…”
Hades shook his head. “No. They can’t do anything until the twenty-first. Still…” He turned to Apollo. “Have you sensed anything else?”
“They mean to betray us.” Apollo did a palms up, a gesture far too clueless and cute to look right on the god. “But I don’t know how or even why. We all agreed at the last alignment. This is…”
Gods started popping into the room. Apollo grabbed my shoulders and pulled me back into him. A water nymph appeared right where I’d been three seconds before. The gods and demigods kept coming until they took up the free space around the front of the monolithic table. There were maybe thirty.
Zeus took the chair at the head of the horseshoe, Hera on his right and Poseidon and a woman I didn’t know on his left. Hades, Persephone, and Henry were next. Apollo pulled out the chair next to Henry and I took it, letting him roll me in. He sat down next to me and Artemis sat next to him. The chair next to her stayed empty.
The gods took chairs and spots like they were assigned. The centaur stood. A half snake women I was guessing was a Lamia curled up on leather poof across the horseshoe from me. Her tail was brilliant indigo. It matched her eyes and bra-like top. She smiled, flashing fang, when she caught me looking and flickered a long forked tongue at me.
I made a small sound in the back of my throat and Apollo took my hand. He leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry. Lamias are all female and I’ve yet to meet one who was gay or even bi. And Sarasha’s much too pragmatic to try to hurt you.”
“How did you know? Some kind of magic phone?”
Apollo gave me a look. “Yes,” he said like I was slow. “It’s called psychic powers. You didn’t know I was psychic? Why do you think I’m your patron god?”
I shook my head. I couldn’t even line up all the questions I had before Zeus started speaking.
“My son tells me some of the Aztecs and Indians have decided to be early. He also said they are planning to betray us.”
Mutters filled the room and I took the opportunity to lean over and whisper in Henry’s ear, “Is he talking about gods?” Henry nodded. “Betray them in what?”
“The deal the gods made at the last alignment,” Henry whispered, “to take magic and go to sleep until this one.” My confusion must’ve shown because Henry shook his head. “He really hasn’t told you anything, has he?”
“Please.” Zeus raised his hands and the room instantly quieted.
Zeus’s black hair was a cloud of waves to his shoulders, dusted with grey at the temples. His face was strong and handsome, with twinkling blue eyes and full lips. He was nearly as tall as Hades and all solid muscle. In his grey suit, he looked like a college professor. You know, one of the ones you got a crush on when you were a flighty freshman.
“Even without their help, we will still be successful on the solstice. This is to be a cordial meeting. No one is to break the treaty and attack, no matter what provocation. We will not give them any excuse to weaken us before the alignment.”
What alignment were they talking about?
Gods popped into existence inside the horseshoe, maybe thirty of them.
Most had darker skin, exotic features, and colorful clothing. One was in a loincloth. Another was stark naked except for a bright yellow belt with knives hanging off it like pleats. How did she walk without cutting herself? They all had weapons clipped to their hips and over their backs, and I was betting there were more hidden.
The air in the room changed, became solid, like I could’ve scooped it out with a spoon and licked it up.
Apollo kept a hold of my hand and I didn’t even try taking it back. Henry dabbed his face again. Why was he so nervous?
“Greetings, Zeus,” one of the new gods said, stepping forward from his crowd.
He was maybe five six, with the smoothest cinnamon skin I’d ever seen and eyes so dark I couldn’t tell where the pupils ended and the irises began. His features were pleasantly masculine, good looking but not too much so. His suit emphasized his wide shoulders well and was probably very expensive despite the fact that it was tomato red. The suit, bright blue shirt and yellow tie with little elephants on it all clashed in some eclectic, actually seemed to go together kind of way.
“Greetings, Ravana,” Zeus said. Neither of them bowed or so much as inclined their heads.
Ravana? The Hindu demon with ten heads?
This one had only the one head, but a lot of stuff had been blown out of proportion or outright changed in the years the gods had been asleep. I doubted his status was much different than in the stories, though. Why was he leading this pack? He wasn’t even one of the major deities.
“The nine days starts in fifty minutes,” Zeus said. “Is there a reason you are early?”
“We’re here as a courtesy, to tell you we disagree with this plan.” Ravana’s voice was light and pleasant, a tenor with an Indian accent. It really didn’t go with the suit.
“We all agreed to this at the last alignment.” Zeus’s voice was flatter than an unsalted cracker. “What seems to be the problem, demon?”
“We don’t think we should stop it. You forget, oh great Zeus, the world will not end, just humanity’s part in it. Look around. Humans have run amuck while we slept so we’d have the power to save them.”
World ending? They put themselves into hibernation for the power to save us? Huh?
“You know why we’re saving them, Ravana.”
Ravana’s lips twitched. “Yes. And we think you’ll be successful even without us.”
Zeus clenched his jaw as whispers erupted around the table. “If you think you can keep your full powers and still reap the benefits of humanity’s survival, you are severely mistaken, demon.”
Ravana finally lost his friendly businessman face and broke into a full smile. Arrogance flowed around him like fine champagne, bubbling up near his eyes. “If you challenge me, you challenge all of us. You will win, but you won’t have the power to pull off the spell on the twenty-first.”
“You will go through with the power joining,” Zeus said, voice the low rumble of thunder at the height of a storm. It rattled my teeth like a bass had been implanted in my jawbone.
I shivered and Apollo squeezed my hand then reached up to stroke my arm. I’d actually forgotten he was there.
“You will keep your word,” Zeus continued, “or you will be called oath-breakers.”
Ravana spread his hands wide, staring Zeus straight in the eye. Even I knew that was an insult of the deepest kind, a demi-god staring a king in the eye like they were equals. His grin widened.
“So be it.”
I expected more whispers or for Zeus to answer or… something. Silence filled the room like clouds, making the world fuzzy around the edges. My ears buzzed like they needed something to do, even if that something was make up noise to keep them occupied.
My eyes jerked around, looking for motion. No one else so much as blinked. It was like the room had been captured in a painting, and I was the only one aware that time hadn’t stopped, or maybe time had and I was the only one that didn’t stop with it.
The air didn’t even move. If anyone else was breathing, I couldn’t tell.
Motion. Sound. Something!
There! My head moved with my eyes like a whip. The elephants on Ravana’s tie moved. The grey and white beasts, no bigger than a tablespoon each, crawled around the tie. They went over each other, disappeared at the ends, and came back. It was like they were looking for the world of sight and sound to pick up again, too.
My breaths were too loud and fast. I tried to move again, to squeeze Apollo’s hand.
My eyes inched up like a magnet captured them until I met Ravana’s eyes.
Black pits struck me like I fell into them and hit a granite bottom. An ache built between my eyes and I tried to move to rub it away. The hanged man from my cards appeared upside down, dangling in each of his eyes.
His smile grew. It was almost too wide, like his lips were actually lengthening instead of just pulling up.
“Well, well, well,” he almost seemed to sing. “Hello, mongrel. This is your warning; stay out of this.”
“You know I can not let such an insult go,” Zeus said, the words a slap on my ears. The world moved again. Breeze and breath filled the air. The centaur shifted on his hooves. Henry mopped his forehead. Apollo was rubbing my arm like he’d never let up. Artemis stroked her bow next to him.
And Ravana was still staring at Zeus.
What the hell just happened?