(This is the seventh 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.’)
“Then challenge us,” Ravana said. “You could squash me like a bug. I know that. But all of us?” He waved at the crowd behind him. “Not to mention Tezcatlipoca and Shiva? No. You barely have the power you need now. I don’t see you risking not having the power to save humanity, but challenge me if you wish.”
Apollo moved his hand and I turned to look at him. He was looking past me up at his father. I didn’t need to be psychic to know he was telling Zeus something.
Zeus nodded, still staring Ravana down. When was the last time either of them blinked? “After the solstice, I will kill you, demon.”
“So you’re going to let this slight pass for now?” Ravana’s tone was a challenge itself.
“You know I can’t.”
“Perhaps one of your people then?”
Apollo took my hand and drew me close. “None of us can fight without weakening ourselves.” He was whispering so low and fast I honestly didn’t know if it was a breath on my ear or inside my head. “One of our humans could fight one of theirs as surrogates, without us losing power we’re going to need on the solstice.”
I turned, meeting his eyes. He couldn’t be asking what I thought he was asking.
Zeus nodded. “I challenge you by surrogate.”
“This is all about to happen very fast,” Apollo said. I was pretty sure he really was in my head this time. “You’re the perfect deception. You look harmless and your powers aren’t overt. Accept your place as my minkati, agree to work for me, and to fight for us tonight. It may discourage some of Ravana’s followers.”
“What?” I hissed.
“You will use a human in your retinue that you can bring here immediately,” Zeus said. “And they must match our human physically.”
“You…” I started and my mouth clacked shut as Apollo shook his head.
Think it, he said inside my mind.
Get out of my head, you bastard.
This is not the time. This is the end of your world if this goes bad enough. His eyes bore into mine.
Oh please. Don’t pull that shit on me. This is a tiny pride match. You can’t just put me on the spot like this and tell me to suck it up because the world could end.
Apollo shrugged. I am.
The conversation took maybe two seconds.
“All right,” Ravana said. “Show me your human and I will do my best to match.”
No, I thought at Apollo. You can’t make me work or fight for you.
If you agree to this, I’ll bring your mother out of her coma.
I sagged like I’d been sucker punched.
I can and I will. You work for me, you get her. Deal? The urgency on his tone hurt my brain.
My mom. I could have her back. Gods didn’t promise things like that if they couldn’t deliver.
I thought you couldn’t drain yourself that much.
The power I’ll gain from joining with you will outweigh what I’ll lose from bringing her back. You are that powerful. That’s why I’ve waited until the last minute to get you instead of settling for someone else.
Zeus waved his hand in our direction. “Stand, our champion human,” he said formally, with an incline of his head. A great show of respect for a god king to make towards a human.
Apollo squeezed my hand. Choose. Now.
I closed my eyes for a second that was a lifetime.
I shoved my chair back and stood. “Alright, Ravana. Show me what ya got.”
The demon broke the line of sight with Zeus and it was like the air lost ten pounds of tense around its mid-section. Zeus smiled at me, inclining his head again as Ravana turned slowly. This time, his eyes were just eyes as they met mine, and I knew whatever’d happened before hadn’t been my imagination as something close to hatred flashed in them.
Ravana’s lips pulled back off teeth whiter than a movie star’s. “This little thing? She’s built for pleasure,” his eyes lingered on my admittedly disproportional chest, making my stomach churn, “hardly a champion, and not even all human.”
“She’s a psychic,” Zeus said, “but she’s as human as any other magical being reborn.”
Wait, my head snapped towards Zeus, did he just say magical being reborn? What does that mean? If Apollo heard me, he didn’t show any signs of it.
“You may pick a human with similar powers if you wish, but it will be one physically similar since this will be a fight of flesh and blood.”
Ravana held my eyes and I swear I saw the hanged man in them for a split second before he said, “You have chosen poorly.”
I had no clue if he was talking to Zeus or me.
# # #
“Cliffnotes it,” I said three minutes later as Apollo and I appeared at the edge of a stadium. It looked like something from the Olympics: a long oval track of plain dirt with hurdles along the way and lights hanging above, making it bright as day. In the real world, the lights would’ve been on posts. Here, they just floated. Was this place for races? Did they put their humans through their paces here like dogs?
Were we just pets to them?
And I did mean we. I signed over my soul in a second. I was part of Apollo’s retinue whether I liked it or not. I quite possible doomed myself. And I’d do it again if it meant bringing my mom out of her seven year sleep.
Apollo led me behind a sky blue partition by the stone wall encircling the track. There were lightweight gi pants and a red sports bra in my size hanging from nails in the wall.
“About five thousand years ago, the last time the planets aligned, we foresaw the end of the human race,” Apollo said quickly. “In almost exactly nine days, the planets will align again. That is and always has been a pivotal point. It is a time when anything can change. Fifteen thousand years ago, the alignment was used to cast a curse.”
“This is the Cliffnotes?” I interrupted, reaching behind me and pulling out the bow at the bottom of the corset.
“Here.” Apollo got behind me and went to work on the ties, fingers loosening them far faster than mine could’ve. “This curse on humanity reaches critical mass when the planets align because the alignment acts as a focus. Five thousand years ago, we used the alignment’s power to fight off the curse, and see what it’d throw next. We saw this year. The poles will shift, magic will burst forth fiercer than when it woke back up and that will trigger an unimaginable amount of volcanos to erupt. All at once. In short, it’s your Christian Armageddon. The only living things left will be gods and cockroaches.”
I pulled the top apart at the back and glared over my shoulder at him. “Turn around, and keep talking.”
He grumbled under his breath about puritanical modesty as he turned, and I stripped. He probably peeked, but I didn’t take the time to turn and check.
“We won’t survive without humans.”
“WHAT!” I screeched, barely remembering not to turn to look at him.
Apollo sighed. “Without people to worship us, we’ll fade.”
My jaw dropped. They sure liked to keep that close to the vest.
“So,” Apollo continued quickly, “we calculated how much power we’d need to stop this destruction. It was more than we had. We figured out if we took magic into hibernation, it’d grow. Like…” he snapped his fingers as I wiggled out of my skirt, “like if a rich man took all his money and stored it in a bank. The money grew in the bank. When we released it, some leaked back into your world, hence people like you, but we kept most for ourselves and we’re going to pool our magic slowly over the next nine days so we can stop all the destruction on the twenty-first.”
I put on the pants and grabbed the sports bra. I pulled it on my arms and a finger pressed into the middle of my spine.
“Um!” I jerked straight. The finger trailed down, tracing each vertebra.
“We need all the help we can get,” Apollo whispered. “Which is why I’ve been trying to get you as my minkati since I met you. I thought if you saw it as just a job offer, you would take it.”
His finger paused on my tail-bone and started a slow journey up. I shivered.
“I should have told you truth. And this… this was not supposed to go this way. I was supposed to explain, join my magic with yours, then go to the meeting where we’d all start bleeding our magic. I did not see their betrayal until that moment in my bedroom.”
“But…” My breath escaped in a sigh. I licked my lips. “Why didn’t you offer me my mom before? All those times you tried to get me to talk to you?”
He took his finger away, resting his hands on my hips, thumbs grazing my bare sides. “I needed to know how powerful you truly were before I offered to lessen my powers by giving you your mother. Which meant getting you to the doorway to see if you knew what it was.”
“I set the trap with this lawsuit because I simply ran out of time and by then you wouldn’t speak to me, and I still didn’t know the extent of your powers. I suspected, though. And you’re more powerful than I dared dream. Even with the defectors out of our calculations, we will have the power to save the planet. It’s after that that I’m worried about. Magic has already started to increase, building under this reality, ready to explode.”
Holy shit, did that sound dirty.
He kissed my hair and let me go.
I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing until I started again.
I pulled on the sports bra and turned around. Apollo was at the edge of the partition, looking out at the field.
“I’ve noticed there seems to be an uptick in magical activity lately. My dogs stumbled onto a magic, sentient flower thing just today. Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Just wait,” Apollo said, then straightened to attention. “They’re arriving.”
I walked over, keeping a foot between us. The stands built into the wall were filling by the second with more and more appearing gods.
“And this whole fight thing is about pride and appearances, right?” I asked, hands flying. I couldn’t look at him.
“Yes. Ravana insulted my father. He can’t let the slight go without appearing weak. If we want any chance of convincing the defectors we will kill them even after our powers are lessened, we can not look weak. But none of us can fight without risking losing too much power in it. So our humans will.”
“Why can’t you guys do a plain physical fight?”
“Because we are magic. If we start to fight in earnest, magic pours out of us.
I could see him looking at me through the corner of my eye, but kept my gaze glued to the stands. “So Ravana and his people really don’t want humans to die, because they’ll fade, but they want the rest of you weakened while they keep all their powers?”
“How weak will you be after the solstice?”
“About on par with a demon like Ravana. If Tezcatlipoca and Shiva can’t be reasoned with to incorporate their magic with the rest of us, they’ll be approximately two or three times as powerful as any of us.”
“So after the solstice…?”
He laughed, but there was no humor in it. “It’s going to get ugly. It’ll be less if we can convince some of the defectors to come back before then. For instance, if we can prove to them we’re a threat.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like by winning pride matches through your humans. I get it. What happens if I lose?”
“It means Ravana has the right to insult my father. It won’t be the end of the world, pun intended, but it will make us look weak.”
“But if I win, we’ve answered the challenge and taken back the honor Ravana put into question? Proving we’re not weak, right?”
“Yes.” That one word held warmth and hope and spread them through my middle.
I put a hand on my stomach and Apollo was in front of me. His eyes shown the brightest I’d ever seen them and he smiled. It was boyish and innocently happy. It made me smile back.
I was about to beat someone into a bloody pulp, probably get pulped myself. I didn’t want to smile. “What?” I demanded.
“You said we.”
My smile pulled back into a sneer. Can you say Freudian slip?
We stared at each other for a short eternity.
“Contestants,” boomed around the stadium, making me jump, “take your places in the center of the track.” It was Zeus’s voice.
“Be careful,” Apollo said, stepping out of my way.
“Don’t think that’s an option.” I straightened my back and walked to the grassy area in the middle of the dirt.
Thousands of eyes watched me. There must’ve been gods from all over the world. Apollo did say they were all meeting soon. Apparently some came early. Kind of like the cartoon before the movie.
Gee, where was the popcorn?
The woman walking from the other side was almost as short as me and much slighter. She looked like she should’ve been a Bollywood princess, not a champion for the gods. She was dressed like me, toned muscles on display.
We met in the middle of the grass. I reached with my mind, feeling her out. The ground, stands, and air itself sizzled with pure energy. She was like a tear in the fabric. So they found what I was guessing was a martial artist, but couldn’t find one with magic.
We bowed to each other at the same time, keeping our eyes up.
“Welcome,” Zeus said. I searched the stands but couldn’t see him. “Contestants, you are fighting for your gods. Fight well and honorably.”