I wake, opening my eyes slowly.
I expect drab gray ceilings and walls, that everything will have been a dream and I will be waking up in Tartarus once again. I expect a prison.
I am pleasantly surprised by sunlight pouring in through a window over my head while my hands touch smooth sheets of a comfortable mattress. I hear birds singing their songs as the sun bids me good morning. I sit up and swing my legs off the bed, my feet touching a floor that isn’t cold and hard as I remember.
I stand and stretch up, feeling my muscles release all the ache of a good rest when I do. Then I lean down and touch my feet, letting the stretch carry through my calves and back. I take a deep breath of the sunlight and let it out slowly, the warmth flooding from my scalp to my toes.
It’s barely been a full day since I killed Zeus with his own lightning, since Tartarus collapsed around Iapetus to leave my brother behind in a cold space as he had left us. Our celebrations were interrupted by a man that spoke for a Council, some ruling authority over the godly powers of this new world. What sort of fool believes that the gods return would allow for some time to see his children?
I hear breathing in the room. Soft and steady. I freeze in place and clench my fists, ready to strike, to attack. I whirl, leaping onto the bed. She breaks into a fit of laughter, giggles more like, as I attack her sides with dancing fingers. Her arm comes up around my neck, her leg pinning mine, and she flips me onto the bed. Then she on me, holding my arms down by the wrists. I laugh.
“Oh, disgusting!” I shout, rubbing my ear on my shoulder after she shoves her finger in it. A wet finger.
She leans down and presses her lips to mine. Then she is up, off the bed and pulling her hair back, taking shorts from near the bed and shoes from under it.
“Come on,” Artemis says. “Time for a run.”
If Tartarus had been like this, I would have been much less opposed to prison. As most would. I follow her like an obedient lapdog, finding a pair of shoes and tugging them on. When I leave the bedroom I nearly run into Kronos, who is trying his best not to break into an enormous grin. And failing.
“Brother.” He says.
“Brother.” I reply.
He shakes his head and sidles past me, still trying to hide that grin.
I take the stairs three at a time and find her in the entryway to our hideout, tapping fingers on her forearm impatiently. Our hideout is a pleasant home provided by Aphrodite, one of many on a street without neighbors. Artemis pushes open the door and sunlight floods in, bouncing off glass and polished floors. It is rejuvenating.
I see Cerberus waiting for us in the yard, his tail violently wagging and all three heads panting in excitement.
“Come on, I’ll go easy on you.” She says, giving me a very strange smile.
We begin our run.
By the end of the run I am gasping for air while she bounces on her feet around me, poking at me. My shirt is soaked with sweat and I feel like vomiting. We stand in front of the house. I hear distant applause from the gathered gods that have come to watch me lose a race, terribly.
When I catch my breath, I take a bow in front of them, to prove my humility. Cerberus chuffs with two heads and licks me with a third. He managed to keep pace with her. In my defense, he has twice as many legs as I do. I tell myself that to soothe the burn of being so humiliated.
Only Jeff, who remains with us, stares at me with his mouth open.
“What?” I ask, when my breathing slows.
“That’s impossible.” He finally manages to say. I don’t understand. Artemis pats Jeff on the cheek as she passes him into the house.
“We’re gods dear, impossible is different to us.”
“We ran a stage, that’s what the mortals used to call it. That’s not so long.” I say to Jeff.
“That’s nearly twenty miles. In less than an hour.”
I look at him, with the most serious face I can muster, because I understand now that he is impressed. As many mortals would be. But it’s more fun to toy with him.
“Is that good?”
Once the novelty of my loss has worn off and the jokes has subsided, we gather for a breakfast meal. We sit outside wherever there is space, given the sheer number of us, and I feel a growing sense of contentment. There are painful reminders of those we have lost, but they will fade to happier memories.
Coeus has returned to us, though sometimes I see his eyes grow distant while he stares off into nothing. When Phoebe sees, she taps his leg and he comes back to us. Jeff’s little girls tie his long hair up, putting small bows or braids in it. They keep him grounded, asking him for story after story. Coeus will never run out of stories to tell, he forgets little.
Tethys and her elemental are as popular as Coeus’s stories. She chases the girls around in the warmth of the morning sun, though her elemental turns on her and soaks Tethys through while all of them collapse into a pile of laughter. Oceanus swoops in and picks up the whole heap in his broad arms and the whole group thunders into the pool in the yard.
Jeff and Hades confer, eating off each other’s plates while they become fast friends. Though both still feel the weight of Crius’s death. Barely three days past now, of course they can feel that weight. His body burdens my memory.
Aphrodite and Prometheus left us, along with Atlas and Menoetius, to take Hera somewhere. That leaves just this new pantheon of gods, Olympian and Titan, to heal itself.
“I think Themis would have been pleased with this justice.” Artemis says, just to me. I agree. I think she would have been pleased. Justice isn’t always about violence, that is more often vengeance.
“Well, this is quite the collection of power, isn’t it?” The man that interrupted our fire steps into the now silent yard. Many eyes watch him carefully, a study of his movements. They are cautious but smooth, each step measured until he sits in a chair. That puts most of us at some sort of ease, a man in a chair is hardly a threat.
“The Council will meet in two days. I have been asked to bring two of you to the meeting.”
The ease explodes into many shouts, some laughter, and a general furor among my siblings. The man in the chair folds his hands across his lap and waits for the calm that follows every storm.
“That’s what I told them you would say.” He says, chuckling at his own little joke. “The Allfather told me to give you his word on your safe passage to the Council. And from it. He also said to give you this.”
For some reason this man has chosen me to speak to, I disapprove, but he tosses me an iron coin with three interlaced triangles on each face. The valknut. Odin’s bond as his word, the weight of the coin means Odin and his retinue would die before failing their promise.
A weighty symbol. I feel the energy coursing through the coin as I pass it to Kronos, who plays it over his fingers.
“Well, you are the known diplomat among us.” He says to me. I laugh. “What do you say?”
When the coin is returned to my hand, I look it over once more and clench my fist around it. It burns when I do, the triangles echoing in a black mark upon my palm when I release the coin again.
“I accept the bond of the Allfather. Kronos and I will come to this Council.”
The man nods his approval and leans over to steal a piece of bacon from Hermes’s plate. He crunches through the meat and rests back in the chair, chewing away.
“Excellent. In any event, I have been asked to remain and provide a watchful eye until it is time. So, we’ll have some time to get to know each other. I’ve heard so much already. Mixed, of course.”
Again, he chooses to look directly at me, unwavering in his stare. Chewing the last bit of bacon.
“We should start with introductions, no?”
He grins, snatching another piece of bacon until Hermes just hands him his plate and goes to get another.
“Wado.” He says, continuing into the food. “I am Kanati, and it is my pleasure to meet all of you.”
Over the day I discover that I like Kanati. I see something of myself in him, he relaxes with us and tells stories of the ancient days when he hunted across these lands with his people.
“We tracked the bear for seven days and seven nights, until we cornered it in it’s den!” He is an animated storyteller, hands waving as he regales his new audience. That is not what I see of myself in him. I see how tense he is beneath the calm exterior, ready to strike without hesitation, there is an edge to this Cherokee god.
“What do you think?” Kronos says to me, watching the story unfold with cautious eyes.
“Not much, brother, you know this.” I say. He rolls his eyes and sighs. “Kronos, I am worried. I am worried that we have come to a world that doesn’t want us, surrounded by enemies that are more capable than Zeus ever was. True gods, with true power. With thousands of years of experience and freedom and little desire to share either with us.”
He stares at me.
“What?” I ask, offended. “Despite all belief, I am not without thought.”
“Fooled us.” He says.
“My grand scheme, all along.” I say. We laugh to ourselves. He sobers.
“Hyperion. Do you believe the Allfather? Do you trust Odin?”
I think back those thousands of years when the gods would meet, our powers were equal and growing. Our people learned and expanded as our power did. The Allfather was a kind man with the soul of a warrior. His sons were much like he was, as was his family. Men and women of honor, with a love of war and exploration. There were others as well. Others with more earthly goals and desires. Three thousand years to an immortal is not a long time. It is long enough to change any immortal, though.
“I don’t think I trust anyone.” I finally say. “I trusted Iapetus. We didn’t know our own brother, Kronos. How can we trust anyone?” Kronos looks to our siblings and the remaining Olympians. I follow his gaze to Artemis, who has joined Mnemosyne and Tethys in playing with Jeff’s daughters.
“True, Hyperion. How can we trust anyone?”
I have nothing to say. Even as she sees me looking at her and smiles, picking up a little girl and twirling about. Even as I smile back at her, even as happiness sits in my stomach, there is a pit there as well.
I have nothing to say.
When night comes, the first day that we didn’t crash through someone’s walls or club, being punched in the face or shot at. I almost miss it.
As night came I slipped away and climbed up to the roof, watching the night sky deepen and the stars come out. Artemis attempts to teach my siblings a game with little paper cards, she claims it is hilarious. They struggle but as their laughter rises, I see that they are taking to the game.
“Too nice to give up, isn’t it? Like the old days?” Kanati slips through the darkness and sits beside me on the roof, looking up at the stars. I take a deep breath of the cool air and debate on being honest about something so personal. I decide that I like him enough.
“We used to have days like this. Back in our day we would throw these feasts and the mortals of our little town would come and dance, sing, and drink until the sun rose. Themis always pretended she hated them but after enough wine she would dance with the mortals. I thought about those days often in Tartarus, staring at the gray walls and waiting to see the sun again. A reunion, something like this.”
I listen to their laughter and Oceanus’s roar of approval at some dirty joke and I can’t help but smile.
“Fewer bodies in your dreams, I would think.” I stop smiling.
There is a very long silence.
“None. In my dreams. No bodies.”
His hand touches my shoulder, gently.
“Then you are who I thought you might be.”
“Who might that be?” I ask him. His teeth glint in the light of the moon.
“A good man and a better god. Come. We have things to discuss.”
Kanati tries to summon Kronos to a side room where just the three of us can speak. Kronos, as is his way, does not come.
“Whatever you have to say, can be said here.”
Kanati obliges and we gather in the largest room to hear him speak. I take a spot on the arm of a couch, Artemis sitting beside me. Kronos and Oceanus pull in chairs while everyone else finds a place to sprawl or sit. The game may be ruined but this is of enough interest that the large gathering listens intently as Kanati speaks to us. It is not good.
“The Council consists of seven members. The Allfather leads, currently. Svarog of the Urals sits as his second. Set, of Egypt, will declare you enemies of the Council and all the members within. That is why this meeting was called.”
“Set. Why?” Mnemosyne asks. “We gave them no reason to hate us.”
“You killed several mortals on their soil.”
I feel a great many eyes turning to look at me. I want to be offended but in this case, and many others, it is justified.
“I remember,” I say. “Those men in the desert, soldiers of some kind. They attacked us, and they failed.”
“Odin will argue that because you have been imprisoned, you could not have known the boundaries of the new nations. Nor could you have known of the Council or even if any gods remained. He has some support within the Council. Nephthys and Svarog will vote with him.” He pauses, letting us do the math. One vote is not so far-reaching.
“You will not find a friend in Set, nor Kali. Both sit on the Council.”
“There are still two, no?” Rhea asks. Kanati chews his bottom lip before he speaks.
“There are. Erlang Shen is impossible to know, he is a man of logic and order and we think he can be persuaded. We cannot be certain though.”
“Who is he?” Oceanus asks. “He must be of the East. We never managed to get far. Not after Hyperion and Kali.”
I wince at the memory. It was not one of more diplomatic moments and it turned a great many of a powerful pantheon against me. She tried to kill me, I tried to burn her, it was good fun all around.
“She has not forgotten. Erlang Shen was a great and revered emperor of China, rising to the position of mythical through his deeds. He is to be feared, respected, and admired.”
There is nothing in the recommendation that suggest Kanati does not mean every word he said.
“That still leaves one more.” Kronos says.
“Yes. Mama Killa.”
The males in the room perk up. Artemis punches me in the side. I stop perking up. Kanati rolls his eyes and there is a gentle ripple of laughter from the others. Mama Killa is beautiful even to gods, she was an Andean god. I look at Oceanus, who was the first to meet her. Born to the sea that one but his heart was always somewhere else after that trip. He is lost to his own world of memory, eyes glazed over.
Tethys prods him and he grunts something, then blushes.
“I’ve never seen him blush!” Rhea says, and it deepens the red on his face. He mutters something and looks to the floor with great interest.
“We don’t know how she will vote. Like Erlang Shen, she is impossible to know. You only have to win one of them over to your side to gain the vote.”
“Why should we be bothered?” Hades speaks, feet up on the coffee table and using a pocket knife to dig at his finger nails. “Why should they be bothered? The Council is bureaucracy among gods. Why should the mortals not know of the presence of greater powers? We could help them.”
“Says the merchant king of the black market.” Kanati doesn’t like Hades. His attitude does make him abrasive, an arrogant façade I begin to wonder.
“I shut it down.” Hades says, leaving his feet up and saying it as if it was of no more importance to him than whatever he picks from his nails. “It existed to get to the Titans. Here they are. Just call me Nero. Ask nicely and I’ll even dance for you. Don’t worry, I still have legitimate businesses and all my contacts.”
Kanati, with the rest of us, are lost for words. It is an unexpected thing, to hear a man has given up his power and wealth. Not a man, a god. One of us.
“He isn’t wrong, no matter your feelings.” Kronos scratches his jawline in thought, when he speaks to Kanati. “This world knows us now. There are things that cannot be explained by mortals, no matter how hard they try. Why should we now scurry to the shadows into a new Tartarus?”
“I suggest you ask that of the Allfather, instead of me. I’m a messenger.”
His smile suggests something else to me. There is a hidden slyness behind it, a greater plot to his words.
“He’s dangerous.” Artemis whispers in my ear, while others continue the conversation. “But who does he stand with?”
“This is a small world, we have returned to. Many gods and little room for any of them. We won’t know where he stands until his blade finds our backs, or that of our enemies.”
“How very poetic.” Artemis says, rolling her eyes. “Keep an eye on him. That’s all I was saying.”
I watch the man and wonder how this meeting will go. A Council of gods, some that despise us.
Surely nothing can go wrong with that.