(Earlier parts are linked on the Amie’s Fiction page. I’m working on turning this into a full novel and have revised a lot of it to accommodate a longer and more involved story. Sorry about the huge gap since the last installment, I’ve been Nanoing.)
Dressed up people milled about and light chatter echoed along with classical playing in the background, but it was clear the show was going to start soon by how the few people left glanced at watches and cell phones. We walked to an elevator in the back and rode up to the fourth floor. I chattered the entire time and Bruce nodded along, looking interested. Man, he had to have been paid well to play babysitter.
The elevator doors dinged open onto a floor I’d never been to before, and Bruce walked me down a hallway, my arm still in his. The wallpaper was light gold in a leaf pattern. Paintings in the Renaissance style decorated the walls between doors I was guessing led to executive offices. I was pretty sure some of the paintings really were from the Renaissance. The carpet was burgundy and so thick my heels sunk to their stems with every step. I looked behind me; I was leaving a trail of little spikes in the carpet. Can you say decadent?
One thing you could say about Apollo was he had great taste.
There was a single door at the very end of the hall. It was white with a sort of tree design carved into it. A shocking plainness amidst that splendor.
A shiver ran down my spine like I was facing down a pit full of pythons.
The door… buzzed. I didn’t know how else to describe it. It was a low, bone rattling rumble. Like an old truck idling on the street, shaking just enough to make the world feel off without you consciously knowing why until you looked outside.
I focused on the door and couldn’t see anything besides the door. No colors, no shapes, no invisible spells over it. That either meant it was normal, or it was coated in magic so hidden and powerful even I couldn’t see it. Guess which one I was putting my money on?
I stopped ten feet from the door, digging my heels in, the carpet depth giving my something to actually brace against.
If Apollo wanted me to go in there, he’d have to come out and drag me in himself. And if I was right about where it led, he couldn’t do that.
I wasn’t positive because I’d never been there, but I was guessing the door was one of the entrances to Olympus.
“Ms. Berry?” Bruce asked. He didn’t tug my arm or anything, just stayed next to me. “Are you coming?”
“In there?” My hands flew out, waving like I was conducting a symphony. Heat prickled my skin as my heart raced and my hands talked with me as I said, “Not a snake’s chance in Ireland.”
I eased my hand down to the side of the dress, clenching it like I was trying to calm down. I inched to the side and eased my hand through the slit hidden in the skirt’s folds. The skirt started at my waist where the corset practically pinched it in half, so the belt, holster, and pistol secured by a belt around shorts on my hips were completely invisible to the outside world.
“Ms. Berry?” Bruce stepped in front of me and I pulled my hand out of the slit. I wasn’t going to shoot him just because he was ‘escorting’ me to the gods’ little pocket dimension. He probably didn’t even know what was behind that door. He bent a little to look me in the eyes. “Are you okay?”
I probably looked paler than usual and I knew I was breathing too fast. What was it about even the idea of that door that made me panic? Probably the not being able to get back out part.
“You don’t feel that?”
“Feel what?” His eyebrows drew together.
“Magic. I’m not going through that door, Bruce. Can you go in there and tell Apollo to come out?”
He shook his head. “I’m not allowed in there. He just told me to escort you up here and through the door, if I could.”
“If you could? He thought I’d be able to tell.” Something about that bothered me. Fire tickled my arms and I rubbed them. That was some serious magic. It was making my dinner roll over. Bile coated my tongue. Bang; bad stomach, play dead.
“Tell what?” Bruce looked genuinely interested.
I took a deep breath. “Do you know anything about magical theory?”
He smiled. “It’s my major.”
“Really? When did that happen?” I whirled a finger. “Magical theory being put in colleges, I mean.”
“Okay. So you know about Olympus?”
“The gods’ magical dimension. It’s where they live when they aren’t in this one. All the gods’ ones are connected, but you can only enter into the area connecting to the territory in the real world. So all the entrances in the U.S. go to Olympus. In say, Sweden, you’d end up in Midgard, and so on.” He sounded like he was reciting a paper in front of the class.
“Yeah. My point is, going there’s kind of like Gitmo during the War on Terror. They can’t legally hold you, but there’s nobody making them let you go. If I go in there, I’m probably not coming back out. So…” I spread my hands.
“Why didn’t Apollo just drag you there then?”
“Can’t. Magic seems to have a lot to do with free will. Like, they can’t take your soul, but they sure can screw with it once you sign it over.” I flinched. “Um, no offense.”
“Some taken.” He grinned, though. “You know, most people don’t know that bit about the gods can’t drag you into their dimension? How did you know that?”
“Oh, I…” My stomach howled, burning like a cat was scratching its way out and I doubled over. “Ugggh!” Bruce just stood there. I glared up at him, my lips pulling back in a snarl. That wasn’t just me reacting to the doorway’s magic. “What did you do to me?”
His face was as blank as if we were discussing the carpet’s color. “You were never told the gods couldn’t drag you in there. You just knew it. Like you knew about the doorway. Congratulations. You passed.”
I fell to my knees, arms wrapped around my stomach like my intestines would explode out of my belly button if I didn’t hold them in. “It was a test. That’s why…” Nausea rolled through me. I knew something else that I didn’t just a moment before.
Another human could drag you to Olympus just as easily as anywhere else. Once inside, you were just as trapped as if you had gone of your own free will.
A loophole that’d do a corporate contract attorney proud.
“You bastard,” I breathed, slumping to my side.
Heated darkness took me in its arms before I could hear Bruce’s reply.