All four of them rise at once and begin talking over each other.
Three of them do, more accurately. Loki rolls back onto the desk and laughs hysterically, clapping his hands in enjoyment of the moment. I can hardly argue with him. It amuses me too, I never get to be the one who knows something the others don’t. Odin is the first to come to his senses, of sorts, and roars for silence.
There is a timid knock on the door and Rune shoves his head in.
“Everything alright, Wotan?”
“Out!” Odin shouts, throwing a crystal glass from his desk. Rune snatches it from the air and disappears. I watch his arm slink back through the door just before it shuts to take a bottle of amber liquid from a small cabinet by the door. The hulking god of the Northmen towers over me. I do everything in my power to appear calm, though I worry his broad hands will tear my head from my shoulders at any moment. He places both large paws on my shoulders, just near my neck. I reflexively twitch under the touch.
“You, the burning fire of Hyperion, were made aware of the greatest secret of the gods? You?!” His voice lowers from the sound of thunder to a more reasonable level, one that merely causes the room to vibrate rather than shake. “Tell us where!”
“I can’t.” I say. Kronos is the first up from his chair, wrapping his arms around Odin’s enormous bicep and stopping his fist from breaking my face into so many pieces. “I can’t because it’s not a where!”
I manage to shout that and it calms Odin, somewhat. Loki is sitting upright again, eager for the riddle that he anticipates will follow. I know something that few gods, if any, know. The secret path to The Vault.
“My people’s power is in that Vault, Hyperion. Talk, now!”
“And I thought Thor was the angry one.” I say. Odin growls through his beard at me, eyes a gray storm that flash with lightning. I hold my hands in surrender to his superior rage, the game can only go as long as I feel safe enough to prod the beast. It is no longer safe.
“I liked Thoth. Between him and Ra we spent some years together. Do you remember Ninkasi?”
“Yes, I remember her. She was a brewer from Sumeria, no?” Theia places a hand on Odin’s shoulder and somehow forces him to sit on the desk again. He looks like a heaving bull, his chest rising with enraged breaths.
“Exactly. Invented beer. Given what I’ve seen of this mortal world, she might be the strongest god out there, if she survived. She gifted the recipe to a few chosen mortals, the first brewers. Odin, you’d remember one of them I think. Germanic boy from those bronze tribes, Olvar?”
“I remember him.” Odin was no longer heaving as he thought back, thousands of years. Their belief grew in those ancient tribes where they mastered the sea and violent war. “He came wandering back with a cart of pots and little memory of what happened.”
“That’s him. Ninkasi thought a contest was in order before Olvar or other mortals ever arrived. Thoth and Ra, myself, a few other gods, were to drink as much as we could. Simple contest, the last god standing would win. Thirty days, by mortal counting, we drank. On day eighteen there were only four of us remaining. Just before my memory goes dark of the rest of that day, Thoth and I held a separate contest. He wagered knowledge, as was his way, and I was drunk enough to wager a gift of pure sunlight.”
“He told you where the Vault is.” Theia interrupts. “I remember when you returned from that, stinking and falling down. Slept for a week.”
“Deepest sleep of my life.” I say. “But I didn’t forget what he told me and I believe he was drunk enough to forget he ever had.”
“You could have opened the Vault during our war.” Kronos says, very quietly. His words bring a heavy silence and tension to the room. They all realize the truth in that. Weapons of immeasurable power, even by godly standards. An army marching with those could have conquered the world.”
“It would not have been right.” I say, truthfully. “I had considered it but I wanted to win on my own merit and break your neck with my own hands. A grave mistake had I managed it.”
He accepts this.
“You would have never been able to.” He says. The tension breaks.
“So you know the secret.” Odin folds his arms. “What is it? Where is the Vault?”
“We could leave it closed. Lost forever.” I say. The four look at me as if I have suggested that we simply cut our own throats. “If we open it, we release those weapons into this mortal world. Should we lose, they could be enslaved. Opening the Vault is a risky move.”
“Cautious words from the god of fury to rival the sun.” Theia says. In her eyes I see…pride, perhaps.
“Hot fury tempered by freedom from Tartarus and the return of my family. Rage cooled by loss of Themis and Crius, even by the betrayal of Iapetus. I like these mortals. I don’t want to visit war on them.”
“Noble but if we do not have the weapons, we may lose. Set and Kali are not alone, just as we are not. This war is coming, no matter your feelings.” Odin’s stare is heavy and carries all the weight of his words with it.
“We will need to see Selene.”
“Your daughter?” Loki asks. “Why?” Odin cuffs the boy on the back of his head.
“It’s important, she can help us.” I say.
“Where is she?” Odin’s glare keeps Loki from speaking again, rubbing the back of his head in irritation.
“Artemis followed me?” I ask him. He nods. “She knows.”
At least one of us knows where our children are.
Before Tartarus, even before the war that led to Tartarus, I remember hunting in the woods by the city we favored. At that time, our people were spreading and would have been called an empire. Islands were dotted with small towns that Oceanus would visit and protect, Poseidon at his side. Trade routes existed that connected us to other cultures and gods, including our sometimes misguided adventures. The city was called Mycenea.
Coeus established written word for the mortals to maintain a historical records, aided by Athena. Rhea and Hera delivered children and watched over mothers and families. Kronos and Demeter farmed and tried to convince us that they were not in love. It is a good memory for me.
I would stalk through the trees and enjoy the peace of it. Cerberus at my side and the sound of game animals prancing through the wood was enough to keep my time and attention in those trees. In those days I did not carry my chain, some fool had built a temple and we had all agreed our implements would be best stored there. Instead I carried a bow and rarely used it.
I just liked being alone in those trees, with Cerberus. He seemed pleased enough to chase a hare of sun and flame and I was content to watch him.
It was one of these fine days, sitting under a tree and drinking from a wine skin, that I discovered I was not alone. I remember her, moving through the forest with nothing but grace. Where my feet were heavy, hers were light as a feather over the layer of leaves and branches that layered the forest floor.
I knew she was Themis’ ward, Artemis, but little else about her. With the gods living among mortals, there was little need for justice, so Themis lived a life much like mine. She did whatever passed for fun, in her mind.
I watched Artemis move through the trees on that day, tracking a deer.
So I held my hands together, called upon the sun, and did what any bored god would do. I sent the hare dashing for the deer and Cerberus crashed through the trees in chase. He had been sleeping next to me but was up in a flash for the thrill of the chase. Artemis rose from her crouched pose and walked to me, sitting against the tree laughing at my own joke. Cerberus shook the hare and his heads fought over the thing, chasing the deer off.
“You owe me a deer.” She said, flatly and without humor. Though I could swear I say the hint of a smile.
“Come, sit.” I offered her the wine skin and she did, taking a long drink. We knew each other in passing, or I knew her in passing.
Everyone in our world knew the gods. We were famous.
“Is this what you do all day? Chase off deer and drink?”
“Some days I don’t even chase the deer.”
She laughed. It was a sincere thing when she laughed, brightening her eyes. She brushed her hair back and leaned against the tree beside me. I remember that my stomach danced when she did, her arm brushing against mine. A strange feeling for a god.
We sat in the shade of the trees and talked until the sun began to disappear and dusk fell. Cerberus curled beside her in a display of friendliness towards a mortal that I had never seen before. He liked her.
I recall a feeling of envy. Another strange feeling.
I felt the fool for days after that, hunting in the forest and finding myself searching for her movement and no longer the game. Three days went by like this and on the fourth I was rewarded, she had returned to the forest. We sat again, her hand brushing against mine while we talked and laughed.
I remember seeing a deer, not far from us.
“I owe you that one.” I said, pointing it out for her. She did not reach for her bow.
Almost five years passed and the war between Titans began, to lead to our imprisonment in Tartarus. Blood spilled and the civilization we had fostered would be forgotten to history. Zeus would take power and wipe out records and memory, demolish everything we had built and rebuild the world he wanted.
It was not just the mortal world I left behind in that war, a foolish war that I take small comfort in knowing I was manipulated into by my own brother. It excuses nothing, but it eases some of the pain of that mistake.
I marched to war and left behind three children, children that Artemis and Aphrodite would hide during Zeus’s attempts to purge history of the Titans and their mark. His efforts to turn us into monsters and himself into the hero of the stories.
I left behind three children and now I would finally see them again. Who they had become in my absence. I would see if they could forgive me.
Somewhere, far from my thoughts and while we prepared for a lengthy journey to prepare for war, Set seethed in a plush vehicle. He sat with Kali while they drove to an airport where a plane awaited their arrival. He sipped whiskey from a crystal glass with a single round ice cube in it, breathing heavily through his nose. His suit jacket was thrust open, shirt wrinkled and tie pulled off over his head and tossed towards the front of the limo. Kali had maintained her appearance and was unruffled other than a hard set face.
Kali ignored him, as difficult as that was, and stared at New York as it passed them by. She watched the mortals go about their lives, so used to limos and convoys that they barely spared a look for it. She felt a twinge of pity for the Egyptian, she still received offerings and prayers from her corner of the world. Set, his siblings, had so little.
“Stop brooding and start thinking of a plan.” She said, wishing she could slap the glass out of his hands. Gods with thousands of years should not act so petulant and wounded by another god.
“Plan? This was the plan. You want open war? Or do we go back to sending them at Sunspear? Do you remember the last time we did that?”
He drained his glass and poured another, this one almost to the rim of the glass. His private troops were no match for Odin’s, no matter how much money and equipment he gave them.
“Stop sulking!” Kali slapped the glass from his hand, spilling whiskey over the interior. The driver rolled up the partition window and didn’t make a sound, though he found himself wishing he could get a new job where he wouldn’t have to scrub whiskey out of the interior.
Set, forgetting himself, tried to punch her across the jaw. She had his arm up and behind his back, his face pushed up against the window and a blade against the back of his neck. It had seemingly appeared from nowhere. She pushed the tip in until golden blood welled around the tip of the blade.
“If you try that again, I will remove your head from your shoulders and personally delivering it to your brother. Then I will make him a true lord of the dead by sending him to meet them. Do you understand me?”
He snarled something, lips pressing against the window. She removed the blade and released his arm. He sat in the seat and pressed one hand to the back of his neck and rolled his shoulder of the pain from the twisting she had done.
Kali regretted it, he would sulk even more now. It had to be done, when Set was victorious he was a force to be reckoned with. When the god of rage and destruction lost, he became nothing more than a sniveling boy. She would rather Osiris be on the council but he had served his time too recently and was forbidden from it.
“What’s your plan then?” He asked, avoiding her eyes when he asked. She replaced the sword into thin air and sat back in the seat, wrinkling her nose at the smell of the whiskey as it worked it’s way through the interior.
“We have to talk to your brother. If Zeus hadn’t bothered being such an arrogant ass we wouldn’t be having this problem. All he had to do was ask for our help at Tartarus instead of letting Iapetus play a silly game. We could have pulled them from their cells one by one and siphoned off their energy like he wanted. Fool.”
She spat the last word and looked out the window again. Tapping her fingers on her knee.
“What’s done is done, now we look forward.” Set said. She looked back at him with unimpressed eyes. His smile at his gem of a thought faded, rapidly.
“Yes. Quoting your father is all very impressive. If he were here we would have fewer problems.”
Set’s brow furrowed and he scowled.
“He would kill us if he were here.” He said. Kali raised a single eyebrow at Set’s words.
“That does count as fewer problems, no?”
He snorted through his nose at her. It did count as that, none could argue with the logic of it. Ra would have butchered his children for their ploys and schemes, but he had disappeared thousands of years ago. None had heard from him, just as none had heard from dozens of other gods. The limo sped on towards the airport where a sleek white jet waited, pilots having prepped for take-off and the myriad of staff waiting their arrival on the tarmac. Dozens of men with a modicum of gods blood guarded the plane and hangar, each man with an ankh tattooed on their neck.
Zeus had tried to replicate these men, stronger and faster than the average mortal, with Hera’s help. He had succeeded in several but Kronos and the other Titans had destroyed them all at Hera’s research facility. The Hoplites were no more.
Set and Osiris controlled Khopesh Manufacturing Industry, the premier Egyptian manufacturer of military weaponry. Nine factories were under their control, each named after one of their family members and managed by the same. KMI’s logo was emblazoned on the side of the jet, marking it as theirs. Kali, in her modern position, had heavily invested in KMI and the Egyptian troops.
An agreement from many centuries passed allowed two pantheons to control a private army that was intended to prevent godly warfare. They were meant to be an enforcement group that hunted a rogue god or kept peace when tensions flared.
Instead they became private military forces, heavily armed and highly trained. Sunspear and Khopesh, neither with love for the other.
Odin was proud of his relatively small but superior force. Set stepped out of the limo and finally smoothed his jacket and shirt, making himself look the weapons magnate he was supposed to be. He and Kali walked to the plane, sparing no glances for the guards or staff.
“How many more are in training?” Kali asked as they mounted the stairs, climbing into the plush interior.
“Five hundred, hand picked. We expect three hundred to complete training alive.”
Kali was finally impressed.
“Three hundred and the existing one hundred? Four times the manpower that Odin has?”
They ducked into the plane and took their seats. Set demanded another drink and the attendant raced to oblige.
“If we can keep their training secret, it will dwarf his precious Sunspear. Once they’re ready to see combat with gods, it will be too late to stop us. We’ll sweep them off the board, Vault or not. If they can find the Vault.”
“If they can.” Kali agreed, asking for an ice water for the flight. “Our man on the inside will keep us abreast of any developments. The time of the Council is done. Now, it’s time for war.”
Set agreed, nodding along, taking a drink from his glass.
‘Yes’ he thought. ‘Then we’ll kill you and reign over these mortals again.’
He simply smiled at her raised his glass in a silent toast.
What Set could not have known was that Kali had the exact same thought as she returned it.