Everything that is learned is a matter of faith.
In scientific reasoning, there is the function of the idea. Theories, becoming hypotheses, becoming accepted science, becoming solid fact. Histories are written in textbooks, and the world spins on.
But with each and every new life, we have to take one major leap of faith. That those before us were not completely, totally wrong. We cannot build on the works of others, if we suspect that their knowledge is porous and unsound.
Before anyone checked, this world was able to be built into a marvelous structure of lies, half-truths and pure conjecture. And then the wisdom of an age tore it down to cinders and ash.
I have seen the crumbling of certainty. I know where it has led. But I do not know where it leads.
You cannot be a teacher if others do not believe in you.
Athena huffed, looking up. “I could have handled that Well.”
“Sure thing,” Aphrodite said.
“I had everything under control. I knew that Gabriel had the whole Savior complex going on.”
Cain watched the two goddesses walk through the streets. He had pointed them in the direction of a nearby elevator to get them all up to the upper levels, but beyond that, he was simply watching.
“I’m just saying, I didn’t need saving,” Athena said.
“Still…” Athena muttered. “You weren’t useless.”
“And maybe he was more willing to listen to you than me.”
Aphrodite nodded. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Athena said.
“For saying stuff,” Aphrodite said. “Stuff that mattered.”
The two girls walked forward, unsure of what was going on.
Cain rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help but smile. Athena was starting to recognize that there were others who might also have the answer. And Aphrodite, she was able to see that she had worth.
Which just left one other.
Zeus finally worked up the courage to poke Cain in the arm. “Hey.”
“We need to talk.”
Cain rolled his eyes once again, but slowed his pace. Soon the goddesses outdistanced them, pulling away.
“What?” Cain asked.
Zeus glared down at the Sinner. “You know what. That deal with you, me, and Proctor.”
“What about it?”
“I want it done, you hear me?”
Cain chuckled, and started walking again.
“Hey!” Zeus said, louder. “You deaf? I said I’m not being your servant, or whatever. You’re not the boss of me.”
“Is that so?” Cain asked.
“Yeah! I’m not going to spend my life being shackled to you.”
“From now on, I am my own person.”
“And what if I have a problem with that?” Cain asked. He turned, and squared up on Zeus. “What do you think about that?”
Zeus balled up his fists. “Then I guess we have a problem. And only one way to deal with it.”
Cain sighed. “Violence. Is that the only way you can deal with a problem?”
Zeus faltered. “What?”
“You’ve got strength, Zeus,” Cain said. “And a brain, when you care to use it. But what happens when you try and take on the world by yourself?”
Cain turned away, and kept walking. “Someone, somewhere, shows you just how powerless you truly are. They’ve already done that to you twice already. How many times before you’re killed?”
Zeus ran forward, and grabbed Cain’s shirt. “I don’t care. I can’t do my job if I’m your lackey.”
“I can’t lead them!” Zeus said. “I can’t be a leader.”
“And what if they don’t want you to lead?” Cain asked. “What happens then?”
“Then I prove myself,” Zeus growled. “I prove myself again. To you, to them. To everyone in this world.”
“That I’m the king,” Zeus rumbled. “King of the Olympians, meant to rule. That we are not going to be pushed around. We push back.”
Cain chuckled. “Okay. That’s a start, at least.”
“I’m not your servant anymore!” Zeus roared.
Zeus crackled. “I’m not playing.”
“Neither am I,” Cain said. He waved his hand. “I release you of any obligation, geas, or compunction to obey me. I, Cain, declare you a free man.”
He shrugged. “Though I don’t know what good that’d do. You’ve already freed yourself. What use is it if I’m the one to confirm it?”
Zeus thought about it, and then he gave a wry grin. “Does that mean that if I think about it, I’m the boss of you?”
Cain didn’t answer. He just kept moving, and thinking. Zeus tried to engage, but Cain was wrapped up in his own problems, and needed to think.
The Jacobin Well was really his last good shot at finding the new path to Olympus. If the Sorting Hall refused to help, and the Abrahamics were this hostile, it stood to reason that most other places would be as well. It came with being the Enemy of all, and with a dozen losers that nobody wanted to back.
But if he didn’t help the Olympians, they were going to wander the Test lands until they got themselves killed. Or worse, they’d follow him back to Nod.
“Hey! I found something!”
Cain looked up. Aphrodite and Athena milled around a pedestal. A simple Greek column, with a mountain stretching up into clouds.
Zeus’ breath caught in his throat. “Olympus,” he breathed.
Cain nodded. But a pedestal, leading straight to the one thing they were hoping to find, in the middle of the muck?
Athena looked around the pedestal, and frowned. “It seems like a trap, right?”
Cain shrugged. He didn’t think so, it was too obvious. But it was a rather impressive pedestal. It was carved out of a single sapphire, a dull black in the dim light. The mountain was an emerald, with diamond dust floating to simulate clouds.
If it was a trap, it was a truly expensive one.
Aphrodite looked at the clouds. “Guys? I think it’s saying something.”
Cain looked at the clouds. They swirled, but he couldn’t understand it at all. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah!” Athena said. “It’s telling us how to get to Olympus. You can’t see it?”
Cain darkened. “No. I think we should back away.”
“Come on,” Zeus muttered. “What’s the harm in looking at it?”
Too late. The Olympians crowded around the pedestal. They stuck close, trying to read the clouds.
“Gods,” Cain growled. “Back away. slowly.”
“Relax,” Athena said. “We all know traps. The second one of us touches that thing, we’re going to be facing something horrible or whisked off to some unknown area. So as long as none of us touch it, we can analyze the trap.”
Warning bells sounded in Cain’s head. Something was off about that statement. It made the wrong kind of sense.
He blinked, and realized. It was too easy.
“No!” He shouted.
The ground beneath the pedestal swirled. The Olympians turned to run, but their feet were already caught in the muck. In seconds, they were pulled down.
Cain surged forward, running straight for Athena. “No!” He screamed, and dove forward.
His hands passed through Athena’s. there was a last look of wonder on the goddess’ face before she disappeared.
Cain whipped around, looking for something. The alley was empty. No pedestal, no muck, and no gods. He was alone.
He tilted his head back, and screamed.
“Temper, temper, Cain.”
Proctor stepped into view, and shook his head.
“Anger will get you absolutely nowhere.”
May 13, 2020 Progress
Cain clenched his fist. He punched into the ground. “Where are they, Proctor?”
“Elsewhere,” Proctor said. “Off galivanting with their newfound confidence, I suppose.”
Cain stood up, and started towards Proctor. “If you hurt those kids, I’ll…”
“You shall do what?” Proctor asked. “Hurt me? We both know that is less than an idle threat. It is nonsensical.”
Cain grabbed the man’s shirt, bringing him close. “Right. But it’ll make me feel better just to tear you apart.”
Proctor didn’t struggle. He didn’t move, as Cain tried in vain to destroy him. He punched, kicked, he screamed and tore at the man. All to no avail. Proctor’s limbs would not bend. And he would not break.
Finally, huffing, covered in sweat, Cain let go.
Proctor nodded, and dusted off his clothes. “Therapeutic, I believe? Finally released some pentup emotional distress.”
“I can still drop you from the top of a building,” Cain muttered. “Let’s see how well you bounce.”
“As intriguing as my demise is to you,” Proctor said. “I have some matters to discuss about Testing.”
Cain snorted. He stood up, and started walking away.
“Concerning the fates of three Olympians,” Proctor said, falling in line with Cain. “It was rather stunning to see just how they dealt with their first individual questions. Remaining true to their deity, while expanding upon their own character.”
Cain ignored him.
“Pushing these young immortals into unknown situations, and this striking combination,” Proctor said. He looked at a piece of paper he pulled out of nowhere. “A love goddess and a wisdom goddess, their natures should have been incompatible! And to top it all off, you managed to let the young godking figure out his own path to salvation.”
“If you’re going to bug me,” Cain said. “Could you at least give me directions?”
“Directions?” Proctor asked. “Where to?”
“Nod,” Cain said. “If you’re going to start snatching these kids up, I might as well go home. Can’t help if I can’t get to them.”
He kept walking. “I’m going home.”
Proctor rushed forward, and barred his path. “Not just yet, Sinner.”
Cain shouldered the Proctor out of his way, and kept moving.
“Cain, do you know what you have accomplished in just a few hours? Taking the Olympians on a quest, disrupting Central Testing and the Jacobins?” Proctor said. “You have injected uncertainty into the process.”
“So, there is now a finer sublevel to the whole of the Test!” Proctor exclaimed. “People and deities are clamoring now. The Titans are rumbling, hoping to keep hold of their claim. While the Olympians are scattered across the Test Worlds, striving for a return to their promised land.”
Cain sighed. “That’s not my problem.”
Proctor held up a hand. “Just a minute, just a minute. This is good for the Takers. For the Test, for everyone. So far everything has been individual achievement. Personal goals that do not necessarily align with each other. The Takers have largely ignored each other in their attempt to understand the fundamental questions of the Test.
“But now, they are starting to work together. They are talking, discussing. Learning.” He smiled. “All thanks to you.”
Cain nodded. “You put an enemy where they could see him. Everyone’s nervous, and a swift kick in the pants makes them start to study.”
He frowned. “Speaking of which.”
He spun Proctor around. Pulled back his leg, and punted the Proctor thirty stories into the air.
“I want to go home.”
Proctor stepped out from shadows, smiling. “Cain, be reasonable. This is wondrous for the Test. For everyone. Is there any way I can make you amenable to this?”
“None, back off.”
“More amenities in Nod. Perhaps even new powers!”
Cain walked away. Boring. He just wanted to go home.
“How about an end to all of this?”
Cain stopped. “What?”
“Make the Test more interesting,” Proctor said. “Help the Olympians take Olympus. And I will send you home. Your real home.”
Proctor looked up at Cain. “No more Enemy. No more Testing, or Nod, or any of this nonsense. You coming here has felt like your greatest mistake. And if you help me, I will help you rectify it.”
“If you could have sent me out, you would have a long time ago,” Cain sneered.
“Not as a punishment, no,” Proctor conceded. “But for a reward. A massive reward that far exceeds everything that has happened. And you will given us twelve replacement Takers for the two that will have been removed.”
“It’s not possible,” Cain said. “The Test would never allow it.”
“For this, yes. The Test will allow you to leave.”
Proctor smiled. “You have hated every instance in this place, Cain. It is inconsistent with your values, your ideals. Help me. Return home. And forget this place ever existed.”
Cain thought about it. This was a trap. It had to be. The Test would never pass up on an opportunity to screw him.
But still…going home. Getting out of this. Leaving the house without fearing death. Going to a store. Paying with real money. Considering God without having to explain why He wasn’t there.
“I put the Olympians on Olympus, and we’re good?” Cain asked.
“Nice try,” Proctor said. “You establish the gods as rulers of Olympus. Overthrow the Titans. Kill the beings, and send them howling into the depths of Tartarus. Then, we will send you home.”
“Deal.” They clasped hands. Cain tried to break Proctor’s fingers. Just to try.
“Ok, what next?” Cain asked.
“What next?” Proctor smiled, and slipped out of Cain’s grasp.
Cain grasped at Proctor, but it was too late. His feet started to sink. He tried to jump for safer ground, but it was already shifting.
“That remains to be seen.”
Cain was falling. He scrambled, and slammed his fists into the ground. They sank into…sand. He was falling into sand.
“No,” Cain breathed. “No, not there.”
“It has been a thousand and one nights, Cain,” Proctor said. “Perhaps she has forgiven you.”
“Damn you, Proctor!” Cain screamed. “Damn you!”
“Enjoy your next story.”
Cain screamed, sinking into sands and out of sight.