If I was too close to Delusion when I summoned Athena’s owl, she’d find me in a week’s time. I rode for hours, putting as many monuments and markers behind me. I didn’t know how Athena’s powers worked, but I’d be surprised if the Goddess of Wisdom wouldn’t know exactly where I summoned her. I pulled my dirt bike off the side of the road. There wasn’t any traffic here. I couldn’t even see anyone around the lush hills of green. I poured the brandy into a bowl. I put the borrowed flute to my lips, and tried to play. The notes came out poor and thin. I took the olive into my lips and remembered her smiling in a fresh coat of blood.
I didn’t have to warn her.
I bit down and chewed. I didn’t see the owl appear. He was just in my bowl of brandy, bathing in it as much as he drank from it. The bird takes his time finishing the brandy before flying off under a blue sky. It’s an odd thing to see an owl in the daytime being so active. How can it fly so far, so fast?
I was sitting by the asphalt under the hot midday sun, and the next thing I knew, a ball of light fell from the sky. It flew right at me, growing in size and luminosity. I blocked the light, but I could see the bones of my fingers through my eyelids. Then something tall, strong, and armored in bronze wrapped their arms around me. “You’re safe.”
“I have been.” I wasn’t sure if I should hug her back, so I kept my arms low by my sides.
“What do you mean?” She pulled back to look at me.
Athena was different in more ways than one. She’d allowed herself to age, maybe ten years, maybe twenty. She was undeniably a woman, and could’ve been a mother in her own right. I suppose she had been. She was mother to an entire city, and nearly the world. There was something else aside from maturity. There was an unwavering confidence, taken from her. She’d learned doubt, and she had you to thank for that.
“I sent Hermes and other to find you, and they came back with their missives unopened. I had thought you dead, if not for your blogs,” she explained. She was worried about me.
“Ate created a sanctuary. She isn’t there now, but I’m safe. As long as Artemis is protecting me, I’ll be safe from Zeus.”
“Good. This is great news.” She wrapped a protective arm around me and lead me to the seat of my bike. She more or less sat me down. “Now, enough of the past and sorrowful times. We have a disguise to plan for you, and a friendship to renew after that.”
I looked down at my palm, her eyes saw the freshly burned skin telling me, “don’t go.”
“What is this? Is this the work of Hephaestus?” She picked up my hand, examining me as her child.
“No. I did it myself.” I pulled my hand back. “There’s something going on, there are things happening at Olympus.”
“Of course there is, it’s Olympus,” she chuckled.
I got up. “No. You’re not listening.”
“Pro, I told you, I’ll be there to protect you. You’ll be on my floor, surrounded by people who want to see you. We miss you, Pro, you don’t have to invent disasters. Everything is fine.”
I looked to her and then she finally understood that this wasn’t a fear for myself, but for her.
“I tried to talk to Nike.”
She gave this dismissive look, as if to say, “Oh, it’s only Nike.”
“She was upset about a sex dream she had. She acted like she had no idea how to process the idea of sex.”
“Well, she has stopped her aging,” Athena grumbled, thinking it complete nonsense.
“But she said she was sixteen,” I reminded Athena. “What sixteen-year-old doesn’t know what a sex dream is? She’s got herself all fucked up in the head.”
“Yes, but it’s her decision. I can’t exactly ram my hand into your cranium and rip out your past trauma.” She paused to contemplate if that was within her purview.
“Nike believes she’s young. She’s been forcing out thoughts of sex for thousands of years, so why would she think about it now? Why is Artemis hooking up with Dinlas? And Dinlas,” I scoffed. “He hooked up with Artemis after his mother told him to go for it! Mention sex and Aphrodite around him, and see if he keeps his cool. And Aphrodite blew me off to go fuck Apollo.”
“This is the pantheon, Pro. This is how things have been for a long time now.” She put her arms around my shoulders to calm me.
I backed up frantically and she raised her hands. “There’s more. It’s more than that. Nike said something would happen.”
“She’s planning a surprise for me,” Athena said to calm me.
I looked at her with dread, and Athena seemed to understand. “She said it would shake Olympus.”
“She said those exact words?”
I nodded. “It was in the chat.”
“Pro, you might be overreacting.”
“I’ve been thinking about everything that’s happened. Zeus said he wanted everyone together to connect with humanity, right? But then why is he keeping everyone in one cushy little building? Why aren’t we spreading around the world to influence all of the cultures of Earth? Why are we getting these low risk jobs and doing literally anything we want? If he’s so concerned with connecting with humanity, then why aren’t we doing jobs that relate to that? Should we have a…news studio or something at Olympus? Or making us write or make video games to influence that way?” I shook my head violently. “It doesn’t make sense. His goal doesn’t match his actions.”
Athena paused to consider this. “There’s also the possibility that he’s playing nice before getting serious about it.”
“There’s something else.”
Athena got tired of my dramatic pause and spread her arms out.
“He told Artemis to go find me. She wouldn’t bring me back, but when she talked to Zeus, he said that I was forgiven for the crime of stealing fire.”
She thought about that. “He wants you in Olympus.”
I nodded. “He wants ALL of us in one place.”
Athena’s eyes darted back and forth. I could see her running through the palace of her mind, throwing the doors open and tossing rugs to the corner to find hidden truths.
“Delusion is safe. Zeus can’t find me. We can just stay there and wait out whatever disaster they’ve planned for tonight.”
Athena shook her head. “Pro. You’re scared of going back, and I can understand that. But the smarter you are, the more your mind works against you. It’s creating reasons for you to isolate yourself. What if Zeus wanted Art to bring you in because He wanted to tell you that you were pardoned himself?”
“Do you remember that cryptic phone call he left on the blog back in May? We never got an answer for that, right? What was the common thread with all of that?”
“Bringing us together.” Athena was starting to believe me, but there was too little evidence. “What if you’re right? We can’t just abandon all of the other Gods to their fate, Pro. With the two of us together, we can figure this out. We can help them face it together. That message spoke of prophecy, and how we were all needed. Ate freed you, and she gave you a haven from Zeus, but where is she now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re jumping to conclusions. No one knows where Ate’s loyalties laid, and we certainly don’t know what she’s up to now. On the surface, she just wanted to date Hades and got upset when he showed no interest, but by your same manic logic, she could be working against Olympus. She could be using you to bring it down,” Athena offered gently, despite the condescension of her words.
“Would it really be so bad if it fell?”
She took a step back and cocked her head.
“The Gods take extreme measures for the slightest offenses. You’ve known that power yourself, and it led you to punishing a mortal for being raped.”
“Don’t you dare try to use that against me.” Athena got in my face.
With a single unintentional bump of her breastplate, I hit the floor.
Standing above me, she viewed me with disgust. “If it’s as bad as you’re saying, it could be more than Zeus paying the price. It could be Nike, Artemis, me, and almost a hundred others. You’d have all of them die?”
“Humanity already controls the world. They don’t need us.”
“And what of the thing that kills us?” she shouted. Athena reached down to hoist me to my feet with a single powerful hand. She righted me perfectly, and made her disappointment clear. “If it’s strong enough to destroy the Gods, then what hope would humanity have?”
“They’re resourceful. They will live in the darkest cracks and find a way to defeat it. With enough time-”
“How do you know there’s any time at all!”
My head sunk down.
She brought my chin up. “Come back to us, Pro. Stop this quest for vengeance. I missed you, and there’s so much that we need to talk about, things that are real, and that are affecting our lives.”
I looked down to my palm. “I can’t.”
She closed her eyes and let out a long calming sigh. “I’m going to find you after the potluck is over. Artemis will help me because we’re all worried about you. You can’t keep isolating yourself and preparing for a war that might never come, that would change nothing even if it did.”
Athena turned her back to me preparing to…turn into a comet?
She stayed as she was.
“If I am wrong, and all of this is in my head.” I held my head down in shame. “I don’t think I can be helped.”
“Of course you can,” Athena replied immediately. “Behind every great pain is a beautiful life waiting to emerge.”
She came to hug me and I hugged her back, squeezing as hard as my thin arms allowed. I don’t think she felt a thing through her metal plates. We said our goodbyes and she left me. Once she was out of sight, her words returned to me and I dropped to my knees. I sobbed uncontrollably until I ran out of tears to shed.
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