Please enjoy Chapters One through Three
Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure!
“The question of who killed Zeus is unimportant. Trouble neither us nor yourselves further with this. It is only for you to know that the gods of Olympus have returned.”
“’Cept I’d also add that it was me. Next question?”
—Hera and Ares (live press conference, June 18, 2009)
“Though none of them ever went into details publicly, it seems clear that the Olympian gods’ return was sparked by whatever happened to Zeus.”
—excerpt from The Gods Are Back and How It Affects Your 401(k)
Zeus watched his child stumble through a rain-drenched wilderness, the victim of a mudslide that had lamed an ankle and snatched a pack containing food, water, and a spectacularly nifty smartphone. The child winced with every step back to the trail, but did not stop. The king of the gods swelled with pride at his offspring’s courage even as his immortal heart broke: no aid could he ever give.
Long ago, it would have been simple for him to help. He could have stopped the rain, ordered Artemis to lead the child to safety, or even dispatched a full squadron of rescue helicopters. (Okay, so helicopters weren’t an option 3,000 years ago—save once, and that was a very special case—but he had used the other options a dozen times over.) Now, he could not risk even dropping a granola bar into the child’s pocket as encouragement.
That Zeus could blame no one but himself for his inability to act only deepened his heartbreak. His own decree had forced the gods to withdraw from mortal affairs many centuries ago. He’d never told the others why, never shared the prophetic vision that led him to believe the Withdrawal necessary. There was no need; he was their king, and the vision contained knowledge he preferred to keep secret. They would obey his commands or suffer the consequences.
Yet standing idle while his mortal progeny suffered was one of the things Zeus hated most about the Withdrawal. There was also the greater discretion now required in siring those progeny, but that was more easily managed. The lack of mortal worship via temples and sacrificed bulls wasn’t terribly wonderful either. His mouth still watered at the thought of a burger made from sacrifice-beef.
In truth, the danger that his child would fail to make it to safety was not a major concern for the king of the gods. His mortal children were always exceptionally capable. Perseus slew Medusa when he was younger than this one, albeit with a few gifts from Zeus to help him along. On the plus side, the forests were long cleansed of hideous, snake-haired women of Medusa’s ilk, and his Withdrawal decree prohibited any Olympian from loosing any more of them upon the world. Even so, he longed to reach down and lift his child to safety.
And replace the smartphone, of course. Really, who liked losing their smartphone?
With a grumble, Zeus turned off the 200-inch plasma screen Hephaestus had built him for such viewings. As long as the danger to Zeus’s own immortal life was mounting, voyeurism was an indulgence. It was ironic: the child was a result of indulgence (and his love of redheads), and yet that same child was his ace in the hole.
If he needed it.
If he had time to prepare.
If he was even right that a threat existed, really.
Lacking omniscience, Zeus couldn’t be sure. If there was still a threat, then his attempt to prevent it with the Withdrawal had failed—which meant he’d misunderstood the original prophecy and could reach down right now, save the child, and deal with things in proper fashion. Yet if there was no threat, to lift the veil of discretion that hid the gods would surely bring doom of a different nature upon him.
Thrice-damned prophecies! They were twisty buggers. More often than not, a prophecy didn’t help you escape trouble, it just stressed you out while you failed to do so. Then before you knew what happened, you’d killed your father, married your mother, or been deposed by a son you thought you’d properly eaten already.
Zeus grinned despite himself, thankful he’d been on the winning side of that last one.
For the hundredth time he considered consulting Apollo. Though Zeus would never admit it to the other gods, Apollo was far better at the prophecy thing than he. Perhaps it was no true shame. Apollo was his own divine son; would his glories not reflect upon Zeus as well? Yet consultation required trust, especially with enemies likely lurking. Zeus was unwilling to share his suspicions with anyone until he was certain about his foes.
The door chime sounded, followed by Aphrodite’s tentative, “Daddy?”
“Enter, child,” he called. He turned toward the door and masked his worry to appear, he hoped, stronger than he truly was of late.
The door swept aside at Zeus’s will, and Aphrodite stepped in. He was unable to keep from smiling at the sight of her. In her hands she held a small, wrapped box. “A gift, Daughter?”
“Of course, Daddy.”
He smirked at the lurking falsehood in her tone, eyes narrowing in amusement. “From you, Aphrodite?”
Her answer came only after she set the gift upon a little table. “Not . . . exactly. It was outside your door, and as it had no tag . . .”
“You sought to take the credit as your own?”
She blushed. “Oh, come now, Daddy. Is it not wonderful to see me as always? What better bow on a gift than for your favorite child to deliver it?” She flashed a dazzling smile that weakened under Zeus’s scrutiny. She pitched the detached tag onto the table. “All right, so Athena left it.”
Zeus’s smirk turned to laughter despite his troubles. “Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, though it’s true I love you highest of all, you must work on your honesty.”
“All’s fair in love, Daddy.”
“Not war? That is how the saying goes, I believe.”
She rolled her eyes. “Not today. Ares and I are fighting.”
Zeus frowned. That she was embroiled in a millennia-long extra-marital affair with the god of war didn’t mean she had to mention it so boldly to the father who’d betrothed her to another. “Ares is always fighting. And you should be faithful to your husband, Daughter.”
“As you are to your wife?”
“Not to hear Hera tell it.”
Zeus groaned. He had enough troubles without thinking of Hera. Aphrodite changed the subject.
“Besides, somebody has to pay attention to Ares. All the other gods are cranky with him for all the glory he gets from the mortals’ wars.”
“This again? Have you come to visit only to press your king again on an old decision?”
“At least allow the monsters back, Daddy. There are so few opportunities for mortal glory that don’t involve fighting wars. Grant them a few creatures? Where’s the harm in that?”
“Few opportunities? Are you not still goddess of love?”
“Yes, yes, sexual conquest, romance’s triumphs and all that. But oh, it’s so much hotter when the man has just driven his sword through some fearsome beast!”
“Such subtle imagery. And isn’t that why you invented porn?”
“Daddy, that was Dionysus.” She pouted. “Can’t you keep that straight?”
“I only tease, Daughter.”
Aphrodite flashed one of her haughtiest looks and turned with a huff toward the door. “Fine! Open your gift by yourself, then! It’s probably just another stupid lightning bolt cozy anyway!”
And with that, she was gone.
One nice thing about not being able to contact your mortal children, Zeus supposed, was that they couldn’t act like brats to your face.
He glanced at Athena’s gift and decided to let it be until he had finished his preparations. He was nearly done making that loathsome amulet, yet there were still instructions to impart, lawyers to call, contingencies to set up. All of that was preamble before he tackled the real problem of finding out just who had stolen the god-killer.
Zeus picked up the amulet. Its central purple sapphire glinted amid its gold setting. Not for the first time, he questioned his decision to create it, this talisman that sapped his strength and wits, before taking care of the other details. Yes, it was necessary, but should he have waited? Yet what good were instructions without the amulet?
Gah! Had creating it drained him of his confidence as well? By the Styx, someone would get a lightning bolt where the sun didn’t shine if crafting the amulet had actually rendered him impotent.
It occurred to him that Athena, though charged to protect him, might be duped into sending a gift that would attract his attention. Perhaps someone planned to attack from outside when he was distracted with opening it! Still holding the amulet, Zeus rushed to the window and looked out. Even searching for the telltale signs of an invisible assailant, he saw only sky.
The peculiar thing about gods—or one of many peculiar things, really—is that they’re just as prone to stupidity as mortals, if not more so. Ego gets in the way of clear thought at times. In fact, only after Zeus felt the immortal-killing sting on his suddenly no-longer-immortal backside and tumbled out the window down the slopes of mighty Olympus did it occur to him that perhaps Athena hadn’t sent the gift at all.
It also occurred to him that he had very little time to make an impossibly accurate throw. Three seconds later, things stopped occurring to him entirely.
Fortunately for the rest of this story, plenty of other things occurred afterward to lots of other people. Some of them involved cellular phones. Gold ones, even.
And savage man-eating kittens, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Like Marley, Zeus was dead: to begin with.
“Poseidon: New king of the gods, also god of the sea. Moody, wrathful, big on earthquakes. Creator of the horse and (later) the motorcycle.”
“Hera: Queen of the gods, as well as the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Widow of Zeus, has recently married Poseidon.”
“Ares: God of war, conflict, and aggression. Son of Zeus and Hera. Note: Ares should not be confused with Athena, the wise battle goddess who values tactics and defense, and doesn’t spit.”
—excerpts from the official Olympian press kit
“It is ironic that Apollo, with his skill at prophecy, seemed at the press conference so blissfully unaware of events to come. Foresight-hindsight is twenty-twenty, I suppose.”
—personal journal of Clio, Muse of history
Zeus’s edict of Withdrawal died with him, and not long after, the Olympian gods burst from hiding like the proverbial genie from the bottle. (Note that this is merely a simile; the actual existence of genies would be downright silly.) Moments later they realized it had been centuries since they last demonstrated themselves to the mortal world. They returned to Olympus to plan, each god and goddess proffering that the pantheon must reveal themselves in a truly fantastic fashion. It was a rare moment of agreement for them, which they took as a clear sign of the rightness of their decision.
It should be noted that the Olympian gods will often take anything as a sign of the rightness of their decisions. Sometimes a god takes the mere instance of losing an argument to another god as a sign of their own rightness due to the sheer “rarity” of the occurrence—akin to the birth of an albino elephant. But in this case, all (Olympians, not albino elephants) were agreeable about their being in agreement, so they could all agree to agree about the agreement being, well, agreeable.
Some may be put off by the preceding sentence. To those difficult individuals, it can be said only that Olympian language is difficult to translate at best, and do try to relax a bit.
And so the Olympians put their heads together and came up with a stunt that would both announce their return to the mortal world and demonstrate their power:
They would raise the lost city of Atlantis.
There was some debate about this, but it primarily consisted of Ares’s claim that General William Tecumseh Sherman had already done such a thing during the U.S. Civil War. Others swiftly pointed out that what Sherman had actually done was raze Atlanta. Ares was promptly laughed at; those who had foolishly named Atlanta after a doomed sunken culture were then laughed at as well, and the plan continued unabated after that.
Natural laws being what they are, even the gods could not raise Atlantis without sinking something else to maintain the balance.
They went with Iceland.
They nearly opted to sink Atlanta instead just for the sake of symmetry, but finally decided on Iceland. This was partly due to the fact that Iceland, unlike Atlanta, was also an island, but primarily because the gods honestly didn’t think anyone would miss a country located entirely above the timberline. And so one late November afternoon, the whole of Iceland was unceremoniously plunged under the sea—swallowed up in a horrible torrent of water, destruction, and sheep.
A new island simultaneously surfaced off the northwestern coast of Spain. Truth be told, it didn’t surface nearly so much as hurl itself from the water like a spastic whale before crashing back down to the ocean surface in a cataclysm that instantly shattered the remaining ruins of ancient Atlantian culture. But it was above sea level, and that was the goal.
No one noticed.
Atlantis hadn’t been in that spot before, of course—and that is to say, ever. This was a large part of the problem. Before it sank (due to one of the first and most wholly catastrophic experiments in flushable toilets), Atlantis lay off the coast of Crete. It’s just that none of the gods were ever truly happy with the island’s previous location, so they deemed it worthwhile—and altogether more divinely impressive—to move it. Yet now that Atlantis suddenly existed in a spot on which absolutely zero historical scholars had staked their careers, recognition of the island stood to invalidate numerous theories, and so none of them cared to pay it much heed.
Everyone else was busy wondering why there was now a large tract of open sea northwest of Britain and trying to determine why the price of wool had just gone up.
So the gods made other attempts to get noticed. Apollo held the sun in place in the sky for a full hour, which people mistook for another revision to Daylight Savings Time. Hades incited an entire cemetery’s worth of corpses to rise, create picket signs announcing the gods’ return, and march outside United Nations headquarters. All were promptly arrested for holding a sci-fi convention without a permit. Even Ares had an idea: pull to Earth some debris from Saturn’s rings and create a gigantic “marquee of the gods” from the resulting meteor shower! He got only so far as yanking the rocks out of orbit before the others informed him that the debris would take a number of months to reach Earth.
It was Hermes, with his communications savvy, who finally suggested the press conference.
The conference was already in progress when local Seattle television Assistant Producer Tracy Wallace arrived in the control room. Late. For the second time in as many days. Right in front of her boss. During a major news crisis.
Without a cranberry-orange nut muffin.
The muffin wasn’t really an issue, but as she was listing everything that was going wrong that day, the lack of her usual cranberry-orange nut muffin should be on there somewhere.
She shot an apologetic smile to her boss and, suppressing a yawn, limped to her usual place beside Chelsea. Her boss fired back a glare that Tracy ignored as she sat down; she did damn good work, and he knew it. Besides, they were essentially just on standby while the national feed of the conference came through. And she had enough drama in her life this week to think about already. And no one had prophetically left a cranberry-orange nut muffin at her workstation.
“Got you some coffee,” Chelsea whispered as she handed it to her.
She gave a thankful grunt and shotgunned the life-giving ambrosia until she could no longer ignore its scalding temperature. Okay, so that was a poor choice.
“Thanks. I slept like a crack addict.” She blamed her friend’s stupid uncomfortable couch; though she’d had trouble sleeping in her own bed the nights before too, she supposed. Okay, wake up, Tracy. There are gods on TV for crying out loud. She rubbed her eyes behind her glasses. “What’d I miss?”
“Not too much we didn’t know from the press release yesterday. The Greek gods are back, and their king Zeus is dead. Oh, and ‘Posideron’ or something is king now. They opened the floor for questions pretty fast.”
“Yeah, sea god.”
“Oh, and Fagles is standing by in the studio with some mythology expert in case the network doesn’t preempt us for their own post.”
“Like that’ll happen.” She slipped on her headset and focused on the press conference the entire world was watching.
Six men and six women sat at a long table, each with a nameplate and microphone in front of them. Clad in reasonably modern fashion, they looked nothing more than human—save for an intense, almost otherworldly regality and an inner radiance that seemed to light up the stage. No, she amended, that bit was from the spotlights. Well, mostly. None of the gods seemed to be under six feet tall, though it was difficult to tell while they were sitting down. At the center of the group sat a stern, white-armed woman and a stormy-eyed, bearded man holding a trident. The man she guessed to be Poseidon even before she saw his nameplate.
A trident at a table? Well, that was just trying too hard, wasn’t it? Tracy realized they each carried a symbolic accessory: Apollo a lyre, Artemis a great bow, Athena a National Rifle Association jacket. It was like a photo shoot for some sort of ensemble TV show. Featuring gods.
Hera, the white-armed one beside Poseidon, was speaking.
“Hades has chosen not to attend this conference. My brother has much to attend to in the underworld—”
“And he likes being mysterious,” shot Hermes, the youngest-looking god present. Tracy had only a moment to notice he had a British accent.
“—but he wishes to assure everyone that he, too, has returned, and that he shall meet all of you . . . eventually.”
“Is Hades the devil?” shouted one of the reporters lucky enough to be in attendance.
Hera glared as Poseidon frowned and ordered, “Do not shout questions. My brother is the god of death, not the devil.”
“If I may, Uncle?” Athena spoke, leaning closer to her mic to address the reporter. “In modern times, Hades endures much bad press for being god of the underworld. He is god of precious metals as well, yet mortals see only his connection to death and deem him evil.”
“He’s actually a decent enough chap,” Hermes chimed in. “A bit inexorable. A tad strict, perhaps, but it’s his job to keep the dead out of the world of the living. You don’t want someone like me in charge of that. One good distraction and wham! Zombie apocalypse!”
Some of the press chuckled at this. Hera motioned to one of the many other reporters with hands up. “Speak.”
Hera immediately cut off the question. “Address the gods with respect, child! ‘Queen Hera’ will do in this case.”
The reporter—a woman Tracy knew to be in her late fifties and used to humoring such demands due to more than a decade’s worth of experience in the White House Press Room—gritted her teeth and began again. “Queen Hera, are there other gods not in attendance?”
“Only my sister Hestia, goddess of the hearth—and as such something of a homebody. However—”
“However,” Poseidon said, “there are other, lesser beings whose existence you will soon relearn: the Muses, the Erinyes, and . . .”
As Poseidon continued, Tracy leaned over to Chelsea. “Hera’s queen, Poseidon’s king; are they married now or something?”
“So they say.”
“And he just cuts her off like that? She looked annoyed. Could you see it?”
“She looks annoyed at everything so far.” Chelsea turned to her. “Still stinging over your breakup? Maybe you’re projecting.”
“Still? It was two days ago.” Two days since Tracy walked out on Kevin. Two days she’d been crashing at the apartment of a generous friend with an uncomfortable couch. “And yeah. Now shh! Gods.”
“Hey, you brought it up.”
“What about the Titans?” another reporter was asking.
Poseidon pounded the butt of his trident on the floor. “Speak not of them,” he ordered. “Our precursors remain safely locked away, and always shall be so.”
Hera nodded. “Hear also that we are the only gods from your ‘mythologies’ who truly exist. Mortal speculation has reached our ears that others, such as Thor of the Norse stories, may also ‘return’. Know this: those cannot return who never were. Thor is a god only in your mortal imagination, just like Loki, Anubis, and Elvis Presley.”
“Queen Hera, what about Christ?”
Silence took the room as the Olympians exchanged glances. The assembled reporters awaited their response with bated breath. It was Hermes who finally spoke.
“He’s not really what you’d call a team player. Put it this way: We don’t bother Him, He doesn’t bother us.”
“I will allow no further questions on the subject,” Poseidon warned.
“That’s going to tick off a lot of people,” Tracy whispered. And why did Hermes have a British accent?
“Everything ticks off a lot of people. It’s a big world.” Chelsea turned to her again as Poseidon began introducing each god in attendance and their major purviews. “So you heard about Patrick?”
“Getting the Seattle Scenes job? Yeah, I heard. Shh.”
“Sorry. I was pulling for you.”
She shrugged. “Other shows’ll need producers.”
Okay, so it probably wasn’t a very convincing shrug. She’d wanted that job, damn it. Maybe what she needed was an idea for a show so good they’d have to make her the producer. Yeah, and then she needed a magical goat that vomited money.
“Yeah, but since you broke up with Kevin—”
Tracy covered her mic and cut Chelsea off with a whisper. “Would you shut it? There’s frigging gods on TV now, and I’m trying to do my damn job!” Frustration boiled up as if she were still having the argument with Kevin; she couldn’t force it back down. It wasn’t that he got the Miami job while she was trying for one in Seattle; but he just expected her to go with him without even asking her!
“Okay, sorry, I didn’t—”
“Forget it,” Tracy told her. They weren’t even married and he’d treated her like a damn accessory! Okay, let it go . . . She took another swig of coffee and tried to focus. “I’m sleeping like crap lately.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that.” Chelsea winked. “Don’t worry about it. Now, shh. Gods.”
At the conference, Poseidon had finished the immortal introductions.
“Understand that we have no intention of ruling over the everyday trivialities of your international affairs. You are free to govern yourselves as you see fit, to make war and peace as you see fit, and to live your lives as you see fit. We will simply require the recognition and worship that is our due. As god of the sea, those who sail the oceans would do well to respect me. Those who farm the bounty of the land should give thanks to Demeter, goddess of the harvest.”
“Et cetera, et cetera,” Hermes added.
“Sacrifices will be rewarded,” Hera said. “Insults will be punished. You may find it difficult to adjust at first, but we will guide you. As in times of old, those who worship best and are beloved of the gods will find great rewards.”
Poseidon nodded. “And for those of you who believe you have no need of gods, who point to the advances mortals have made in the last two millennia, know this: Never have we who dwell on high Olympus been gone entirely. We simply have not made ourselves known. Many of the advances you mortals claim as your own came from immortal hands.”
Reporters clamored to ask further questions, but Poseidon spoke over them. “The influence of Apollo and his Muses on the creative arts is widespread. Shrewd Athena, goddess of defense, originated the idea of nuclear deterrents”—(Athena smacked an open hand on the tabletop. “And it’s not ‘nu-CU-lar,’ damn it!”)—“and prior to that, Ares, god of war and conflict, aided the development of the Manhattan Project and many of your political pundit programs.”
A particularly bold reporter shouted out, “Did one of you invent the Internet?”
Poseidon scowled at the interruption as messenger-god Hermes cleared his throat. “Ah, no. That was Al Gore.”
Chelsea suddenly leaned toward Tracy. “You know you’re pretty enough to work in front of the camera if you want to, right? Why hide it?”
She bristled. “My looks aren’t what I want people to care about.”
“Oh, come on, you’re sort of . . . Athena-esque!”
“You’re not helping.” Tracy redoubled her focus on the conference.
“Regardless,” Hera announced, “now that we have returned, we shall be taking credit for our deeds from now on.”
“King Poseidon, what happened to Zeus?” This question came from a younger member of the press. He paled for a moment as all twelve immortals focused on him. “Er, just curious.”
“Gone,” the sea god spoke.
“Killed,” Ares added. “Big damn part of why we’re back.”
Poseidon pounded his trident anew and glowered at Ares.
“But . . . killed?” someone in the room asked. “An immortal can be killed?”
“What’s the connection between Zeus’s death and your return?” another called out. Others shouted questions over each other in a sudden free-for-all until no one could be heard clearly. Tracy caught Ares smirking on one of the feeds amid the din.
Then the camera began to shake. Reporters reached out for something to hold on to, with startled glances to the ceiling, the floor, and everywhere. Questions were forgotten. “Earthquake!” someone shouted. A few of the gods on stage looked about nervously as well, yet most—Poseidon in particular, his overturned palm held out before him—merely presided over the chaos.
“Are they causing that?” Chelsea asked.
“Probably a good bet at this point.”
“Awesome. Maybe this is real.”
In moments the quake retreated, taking the reporters’ clamoring with it. Hera looked out over the throng. “Witness the power of Poseidon, Earth-Shaker!”
“None may slay an immortal,” Poseidon announced, finally answering the question, “save for another immortal, and then only in the most extreme and unlikely of circumstances. I will say only this: the events that culminated in Zeus’s death precipitated our return. That is all you need know.”
A brave member of the international press raised her hand. “Queen Hera?” All seemed to hold their breath as the goddess’s eyes turned to the woman and seemed to give her leave to continue. “Who—that is to say, may we ask who killed Zeus?”
Tracy caught traces of what was either uncertainty or discomfort across the immortal stage.
Hera raised her head high. “The question of who killed Zeus is unimportant. Trouble neither us nor yourselves further with this. It is only for you to know that the gods of Olympus have returned.”
Ares cleared his throat. “’Cept I’d also add that it was me. Next question?”
Chaos threatened to break out amid the reporters again before Poseidon once more held out his palm. The reporters quieted instantly. “You learn well,” the sea god said. “Next question, one at a time. On a different topic.”
Seconds passed as the press murmured and attempted to change direction.
“King Poseidon,”—the next question came from a “correspondent” for a prominent fake-news program on a comedy cable channel—“a lot of you have names that start with A or H. Just what’s that about?”
The question garnered a few snickers about the room. In the wide shot, Tracy caught sight of Apollo, Hermes, and Dionysus cracking smiles. Poseidon merely arched an eyebrow.
Hera, however, lifted her arm, raising the correspondent out of his chair with a small demonstration of power. Following a moment’s study, she flicked her wrist to one side. With a yelp, the reporter ceased to exist in the room.
No one asked just what she had done, but the correspondent did fail to show up for work for the rest of the week.
“Neat little trick,” whispered Chelsea.
Tracy nodded. “I’ve had job interviews like that.”
“Of glorious Apollo, son of Zeus, twin brother to Artemis, all shall sing praise! Great things does Apollo bring us, for he is god of the sun, of healing, of music, of archery, of prophecy, and so much more! He gives us poetry, he gives us light, and he brings to us the wonder of gelatin desserts! Though there are those more powerful, no other god upon Olympus holds such broad interests.”
—Your Olympian Gods: Wondrous or Fantastic? (propaganda booklet)
“Artemis: goddess of nature, goddess of the hunt, goddess of the moon. Despite being a chaste and childless Olympian, Artemis is often equated with the concept of ‘Mother Nature,’ though she refuses to comment on this. While close to her twin brother in temperament, she seems far more focused. Note to the media: though archery is a shared interest of both Artemis and Apollo, the question of which of them actually invented it seems to be a subject of contention and is not a recommended topic for joint interviews.”
—A Mortal’s Guidebook to the Olympians’ Return
“So now that mortals are getting more environmentally conscious, are you planning to ease back on this whole climate change thing of yours?” Apollo watched his twin sister draw back her bowstring, sight down the arrow, and hold it.
“Oh, probably. Or maybe. Well, no,” Artemis answered with a shrug. “Our return has distracted them from the environment. Should I turn the heat down too soon, they’ll forget all about it and learn nothing. Besides, I wish them to go green. That was the whole intent! So many buildings and cars everywhere. It’s not natural.”
“Shall I point out the irony of your saying so while relaxing atop a skyscraper?”
“You probably shall, yes.”
Her eyes narrowed and she let the arrow fly. It sped down from the top of the skyscraper and through two open corner windows of another building before embedding itself in the skull of one of the monsters below. “Ha! Right between the eyes. Beat that.”
Apollo squinted. Right between the eyes, indeed. “That means little when your target is a seven-eyed beast that’s mostly head.”
“Stop trash-talking and take your shot. You’re terrible at it.”
He pulled an arrow. “Trash-talking?”
She grinned. “That too.”
“And yet I’m the one Homer called ‘Archer-god.’”
“Only because you snapped it up first, Brother.”
“And invented the bow.”
He nocked the arrow and looked for a worthy shot. The five remaining creatures skittered over the outside of a city bus, looking like nothing more than large, boggle-eyed heads with talons sprouted behind their ears. There was good reason for that: they were nothing more than large, boggle-eyed heads with talons sprouted behind their ears. Funny how that worked.
“Ha! Right, ‘invented’ the bow. But that’s what you do, you snap things up. ‘Music? I’ll do it!’ ‘Healing? I’ll do it!’ Exactly how full does your portfolio need to be?”
“Someone has to do it.”
Artemis whapped the back of his head with her bow. “Darn right. My question stands.”
Apollo spotted a perfect bank shot before he could answer and drew back the bowstring, concentrating. “There’s . . . only . . . so many of us . . .”
Shrill beeping from the phone at his belt dashed his efforts.
Artemis snickered. “Case in point. Too busy.”
He relaxed the bow and checked the incoming text message. “More worshippers. A garage band just sacrificed a keg to me in hopes of a blessing.”
“They drank it on your behalf, of course.”
“Of course. They’ve yet to get the hang of that ‘sacrifice’ concept. ‘Twig?’ What kind of horrible name for a band is Twig?”
“Country-jazz fusion. It’s new. And not my fault.”
He put away the phone, drew the bowstring back again, and aimed for a stop sign at just the perfect angle to skip the arrow and hit one of the creatures. Everyone loved bank shots. Well, maybe the thingama-monster he was about to hit wouldn’t, but—
Another text alert jarred his concentration as he released the arrow. It skipped off the stop sign well enough but caught only a small piece of the monstrous creature.
“Styx on a stick!”
“Well, don’t wound them! That’s just unkind.” Artemis quickly sent another arrow after his—without the bank shot, of course—that put the monster out of its misery as Apollo went to check the message. “You know you could try ignoring those for a bit.”
“Not like I used to. There’s entirely too many now.” Nevertheless, he turned the phone off without checking it, knowing even as he did so that it would grate on him. He was supposed to be relaxing, yet who had time to relax? He couldn’t just ignore those who had the good taste to worship him, could he? “You’re really not having trouble keeping up with everything now?”
She shrugged. “I never have before. And it’s your shot.”
“But so many mortals know we exist now. I’m not complaining about the recognition and worship, but there’s a lot more to do. I got rusty.”
“That’s what you get for being the multipurpose god. Are you going to shoot, or are you going to brood about it?”
He scowled at the nickname, apt though it was. Even as he sighted down his arrow and looked for a shot, he couldn’t shake the thought that he really shouldn’t have taken this break. Entirely too much work awaited him: worshippers to care for, musicians to inspire, Muses to manage—not to mention keeping up with Olympian politics. With Zeus’s killer still unknown eight months after the fact, the tension had yet to resolve itself. Officially the gods were all outraged, but most were either too immersed in the thrill of the Return or too afraid of being slain themselves—or both—to look for a guilty party. The very topic had swiftly become taboo.
Too late, Apollo saw an opportunity and fired. His arrow flew clean through the skull of one of the creatures and out the other side, narrowly missing another creature that had been right in its path only moments before. So close! Still, he smiled, trying to pass it off as being exactly what he’d intended.
Artemis glanced at him, shaking her head after a beat. “Wow. You really are preoccupied, aren’t you?”
“I go for a solid shot instead of a fancy one and that means I’m preoccupied, does it?”
“I speak of you hitting that mortal in the leg.”
“Oh for the love of—!”
She was right. His arrow had ended its journey sunk in the thigh of a young man who had been snapping photos of the spectacle a moment before. Apollo considered claiming that the man was a blaspheming oil baron utterly deserving retribution, but doubted she’d buy it.
“Oh, he’ll be fine. His camera’s okay; look how well he held on to it when he tumbled! In agony.” Apollo sighed. “Listen, do me a favor and finish off the creatures while I fix this, will you?”
She grinned and nocked two arrows at once.
Healing the mortal’s wound was simple enough for the god of healing, and the man had the good sense to be gracious about it. (It helped such things that five months ago, a Hollywood starlet had sued Aphrodite over a botched facelift after she’d sacrificed a luxury convertible to the goddess. Aphrodite didn’t bother to show up in court. She collapsed the hillside under the starlet’s house and dared her to keep complaining.) Really, the man would now be something of a local celebrity for a few days, enough for a few free drinks at least. Apollo even posed for a photo. Stern. Dignified. Taking a moment to bask in mortal adulation while his sister quietly dispatched the monsters behind them. She didn’t like city crowds anyway.
Of course when he joined her atop a nearby hill, he realized he now had even less time to relax than before.
“I really need to be going now.”
“Already? I’m telling you, Brother, you must to learn to delegate more.”
“I’m serious. It’s not as if you don’t know how. The Muses are quite independent, are they not?”
“Zeus’s daughters, if you recall. He forced them on me.” You don’t say no to Zeus, after all. Or you didn’t, anyway.
“Truly, but they’re good at what they do, yes?”
He gritted his teeth. “Mergh.”
“I didn’t catch that.”
“I said ‘Mergh.’ And very well, maybe. Most of the time.” In truth the Muses were his closest friends on Olympus and among the best things that had ever happened to him. They were up there with his automation of the sun chariots and accidentally inventing solar panels, but admitting so would lose the argument. He tried changing the subject. “Did we decide where those monsters came from?”
“Who knows? Lousy design, though. Hideous, but inept. Perhaps Aphrodite?” She grinned.
“Shh. She might hear.” It was unlikely, of course, but feuding goddesses had destroyed nations, and cleanup was a bitch.
“Ha! Like I’m afraid of her. Goddess can’t even take a little knife wound without crying to daddy, and now that he’s . . .” She trailed off at the mention of their slain father. “Anyway, delegating. Just give it some thought before you drive yourself crazy.”
Apollo’s evening appointment to evaluate an apprentice prophetess for transfer to his Oracle at Delphi was canceled. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it gave him a free half hour to catch up on things. On the other hand, the prophetess had cancelled because she’d been hospitalized after an encounter with one of the many swarms of “razorwings” plaguing the southwestern American countryside of late. She would recover, but really, if the apprentice prophetess had any promise whatsoever, the woman should have seen it coming.
He supposed the evaluation took care of itself at that point.
Ancient myth has long told of how the prophetess stationed at his Oracle at Delphi would seek the divine vapors hissing from the rock fissure. In doing so, went the legend, she would be possessed of Apollo so that she might have oracular visions. Modern scholars theorized that the vapors merely contained a powerful hallucinogen that caused the Oracle to experience what primitive Greek culture misinterpreted as prophecy. Neither theory was more than partially correct, and had anyone thought to ask one of the gods about it, they might’ve learned the truth. (Then again, they might not. Mythology is filled with contradictory versions of the same stories, stemming from various gods’ attempts to spin those stories in their favor. Plus, some gods simply enjoy pulling a mortal leg or two. Ares once convinced one of the more ambitious tribes of Crete that properly grown olives would explode when thrown, a lie which led to the simultaneous destruction of a culture and invention of salad dressing.)
While it is true that the vapors do contain a hallucinogen, its single curious effect is to make the prophetess see, of all things, lithium batteries amid the rest of the prophecy. To counter this, the prophetess simply omits any mention of lithium batteries before relating an interpretation—a mostly harmless practice, save for when the prophesied future does indeed involve lithium batteries, which was blessedly rare prior to the 1970s.
Nor was there any distasteful and time-consuming possession involved in seeking visions. Apollo had merely imbued the vapors with his power so they enhanced the prophetesses’ natural gifts, allowing them to seek visions for others. Clearly the apprentice didn’t have enough natural gifts to enhance.
In any case, the cancellation gave Apollo a little more time to work with than he’d expected. Artemis’s advice continued to weigh on him as well. Combined, the two topics forced the realization that he’d not actually sought a vision for himself in months.
He’d not done it often, of course, even when he did have time. Despite his superior skill, looking into the future was akin to performing exploratory laparoscopic surgery through a kaleidoscope. Sure, you’d see some things, but while they’d probably look cool, there was no guarantee that they’d be any more useful to you than planning ahead like a normal person.
But when in doubt . . .
On the door of his apartments on Olympus, he hung the golden sign Artemis had given him for his 2,000th birthday (Divine genius at work. Do not disturb.) and stole away to the roof. After seating himself on a mat of silk, Apollo looked up to the sky, spread his arms, and willed himself into the trance that would, eventually, produce a vision.
His breathing slowed. His mind opened. Images of dolphins wearing hats floated by as they always did for some reason. Apollo focused on the mellifluous music of the future made by vibrations in the strings of time (a difficult task when one is simultaneously trying to avoid being bothered by overwrought, melodramatic phrasing that tested the patience of even the god of poetry). He awaited . . . anything.
The dolphins stuck around longer than usual. One wore a green and purple reindeer sweater. Momentarily recoiling in aesthetic horror, Apollo managed to dismiss the dolphin and its eldritch sweater as mere ethereal rubbish.
There was floating. There was waiting. There was more floating. There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, more waiting.
Then with a flash, the vision came. (That is to say the flash was a part of the vision; the vision itself slipped in like a cat and was suddenly just there. Any vision that comes with a separate flash before it is of course a sign of impending brain aneurysm.)
The flash is lightning. It reflects on the eyes of a young man who clings to an iron frame high above a crowded, brightly lit cityscape. Rain begins to fall, pelting his sandy-blond hair moments before he looks up with a curse.
No, not a curse. A name. “Zeus!”
As Apollo ponders the futility of calling to a dead god, the vision widens. He recognizes two things: the structure the young man climbs and the figure perched above him at the very top. The figure gazes down on the man in both amusement and curiosity—the figure whose manifest power and life fill this vision of the future.
“How did you find me, mortal?”
Lightning flashes again, and the vision ends.
Apollo opened his eyes with a curse. Zeus, alive again? Or never dead? Two possibilities immediately occurred to him: either Zeus had faked his murder to test the Olympians’ loyalty or his killer had been sloppy. Either way, the true king of the gods would be more incensed than a minotaur at a barbeque.
A knot in his stomach, Apollo rose to look down upon the world and realized that he now had even more problems than when he started. Mortals were right; ignorance was bliss. Total ignorance, at least; partial ignorance was a pain in the ass. Was it really Zeus? Was it some sort of trick or a figurative vision? (He hated those.) He needed to learn more.
Temptation tugged at him to seek another vision, despite the likely futility. Seeking a second vision on the heel of a first was doomed to failure more often than not. Yet given the stakes, he had to try.
Apollo returned to the mat, hoping for further clues, for further insight . . . or at the very least for dolphins with better fashion sense.
That sweater was an abomination.