Category Archives: The Cain Chronicles

Olympian Sin, Chapter 9

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.”

“Of course.”

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.

Aphrodite nodded.

“Still…” Athena muttered. “You weren’t useless.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“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.”

Cain nodded.

“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.”

“Your job?”

“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.”

“Prove what?”

“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.

“Okay.”

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?”

“I wouldn’t…”

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?”

“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.

Burying Arthur.

“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.

Olympian Sin, Chapter 8

“Heaven?”

Cain and Aphrodite looked up. Zeus was there with them, leaning against the well.

“What do you mean, Heaven?”

Cain shrugged. “Stands to reason. In the Test we have several afterlifes. The Norse and Egyptian mythologies. Plenty of underworlds. Nod is even a reference to someplace East of Eden, untouched by man. But where is Heaven?”

“Heaven isn’t a place,” Zeus said.

“Neither are a lot of things,” Cain said. “Like gods shooting lightning.”

Zeus fumed. “So, what? they’re looking for heaven, but can’t find it?”

“Is this a part of the Test?” Aphrodite asked. “Some way to find the answer?”

Cain smiled. “Who knows what is part of the Test? But Proctor and the Test named us all after legends. Heroes, villains, gods and demons. We are all supposedly involved in something cosmic, spiritual, and supernatural.”

He pointed to Gabriel. “And the leader of the Jacobin is convinced that finding Heaven is the best way to discover just what this is all about.”

Gabriel. Cain knew Gabriel. Or more accurately, Arthur had known Gabriel. He had been one of the first to be invited into the Test. There when everyone else had started to come in, and just understand what their names truly meant.

The angel’s powers were unknown to Cain. Not even Arthur had known what Gabriel could do. Just that he had never lost a fight, or even be seen drawing a weapon.

Oh, and he could fly. That part was always important.

Gabriel sat next to Athena, and the two kept talking. Athena was growing more and more animated, excited. She waved her hands around, pointing into the air. Figures started to appear, illustrating her point.

Athena wasn’t like Aphrodite. She didn’t get noticed, never got noticed. Most people overlooked her in high school. She was short, she was quiet, and she didn’t have…she wasn’t exactly feminine. Nobody really cared about her.

Except in times like right now. Classmates always wanted to pair up with her when it came time for group projects. Or test prep. When it came time for an answer, it was time to look at the nerd.

“So, Athena,” Gabriel said. “What do you think of the Test thus far?”

What did she think? She thought this was the coolest place in the universe. She thought that this was the pinnacle of artificial achievement. It was divinity, molecularized.

“I think this proves God is dead,” she said.

Gabriel’s eyes flickered, before chuckling. “Interesting. Why do you say that?”

She looked up in the air. “This entire world, is artificially made,” she said. “Every stone, every breath of air, every world, is created by a computer program.”

Athena looked up into the air. This was, quite possibly, the most brilliant creation since the Big Bang. Each part of this world was so delicately programmed to the point of being indistinguishable from “reality”.

“Our worlds, our new powers,” Athena mused, her brain running faster than her mouth. “Someone is able to overwrite certain portions of our DNA, and unlock abilities within our bodies that would take millennia upon millennia. Someone has unlocked the code to deity.”

It all made sense to her. They were living in a simulation of the world beyond. Proctor, or whoever she really was, encoded each invitation with a neural coding. Everyone saw their “entrance” into a realm beyond imagining. Once there, new machines were able to encode their subconscious desires for being gods into a new reality.

Or, they were all in the Matrix. Not entirely impossible, but way less cool in her mind.

“You’re saying that there are no gods,” Gabriel said.

Athena sighed. “Gods are only sciences we’ve not yet fully grasped. Pyrokinesis, telepathy, self-propelled flight, those are only the possibilities of tomorrow.”

She stood up, and looked down into the well. “Think about today’s achievements. The idea of picking up a piece of metal, whispering a spell, and communicating with someone across the world, well, a hundred years ago you’d be considered mad. Three hundred, and you’d be burned at the stake for heresy.”

“And yet, there are gods here.”

“There are no gods,” Athena said. “We only call ourselves that because Proctor said so. We’re just a bunch of children playing around in a sandbox with the rules turned off. And I’m not interested in being called a deity.”

“What’s she saying?” Zeus asked Cain.

Cain grimaced. “Nothing good.”

Athena could see it. The Proctor could see it, it’s why she was named Athena. It’s why Gabriel was so desperate to get a hold of her.

“But where is it?” Gabriel demanded. “Where’s Heaven in this place?”

Athena shrugged. “How should I know?”

Gabriel picked her up. His glow intensified, and burst out into a pair of wings from his overcoat. He towered above her, furious.

“You think this is just a game, girl?” Gabriel demanded. “You think we’re all just playing?”

Athena tried to wriggle out of his grip. “You’re hurting me.”

Gabriel blinked. “Am I? Or is this just another part of your new science?”

“Gabriel!” Cain called out. “Stop this. She’s just a kid.”

“She is so much more than that, Cain,” Gabriel hissed. “She is supposed to be a goddess of wisdom. Blessed with insight, understanding. Do you know how many gods of wisdom there are in this realm?”

He held up a hand. “Five. And they have all turned away. Run into their own little pocket worlds to pursue their own truths. Just like this one would if given half a chance.”

He looked down at Athena. “Little smart girl, who would rather sit in her home and read than do anything useful.”

“Utility is overrated,” Athena said.

“So is unnecessary life,” Gabriel said. He leaned forward. “Now tell me what I want to know, or you’re going to find out that a failing grade in this Test, is far worse than anything you dealt with in high school.”

Athena looked up, and saw the truth. Saw the desire in Gabriel’s eyes. He didn’t just want Heaven to be real. He needed it to be real. And he needed her to find it.

And for the first time, she couldn’t just give him an answer.

Was this where she was supposed to die?

 “HEY!”

A bolt of lightning sped towards Gabriel. It hit the glowing light, bouncing off into the air, before bursting a piece of the ceiling to rubble.

Zeus pointed at Gabriel. “You. Glowing wing guy. Get your hands off my friend.”

Gabriel puffed his hair, and glowered. “Godling. You do not want to make an enemy of mine.”

“Yeah, yeah, divine wrath,” Zeus muttered. He clenched his fists, sparks crackling around him. “I’ve got some of that myself.”

Gabriel nodded to the other people in the room. “Take care of the infidels.”

Cain turned, and realized that everyone was focused on them now. Glowing, with a faint light. He recognized some of them. Minor angels, cherubim, and several heroes and legends.

And they all hated him. They knew Arthur’s legend, and his downfall by his own brother. The chance to remove Cain, to finally kill the Sinner, was more than they could have ever wanted.

Cain flexed, cracked his knuckles and started forward.

“Stay out of this, Cain,” Zeus muttered. “This is Olympian business.”

Cain’s eyebrow rose, but he said nothing. Leaned back, and looked over to Aphrodite. “How are you?”

“You can’t be serious.” Aphrodite started. “You, you have to help him.”

Zeus stretched a little bit, glaring ahead at the people in front of him. Overhead Cain could hear storm clouds crackling, which was rather odd for an underground area.

“Cain, come on!” Aphrodite shouted. “He could be killed!”

“He’s fine,” Cain said. And he was.

Zeus flung his hand forward. Lightning shot out, sparking through four of the men. They were picked up, thrown across the room and flung into the stone wall. The wall cracked, sending the four slumping to the floor, twitching.

Zeus smirked, and started walking forward. He pointed at one person after another, sending lightning coursing through their bodies. Most didn’t even scream before they fell unconscious.

Aphrodite blinked. “He’s not losing.”

“He shouldn’t be. His power’s enormous,” Cain said.

The goddess frowned. “But you took him so easily.”

“I take everyone easily. One of the perks of being the Enemy,” Cain said. “And losing to the Titans, your superiors in power in almost every way? Within a week of you coming here?”

The two watched as Zeus systematically tore through everything the Jacobin could throw at him. Fists were useless. Swords were lightning rods to him. And the strange Test magics that everyone had access to seemed to just pale in comparison to Zeus’ might.

This was good, Cain thought. This was exactly what the god of lightning needed. It had been several bad shakes for Zeus and the Olympians. He had been humiliated by the Titans. Taken apart by Cain. And then he had to bow his head to Cain just to get through a Proctor pop quiz?

Zeus had forgotten just how powerful he was. Sure, right now he was not one of the elites. He wasn’t able to take on the Enemy, or the Titans. But who should have expected him to, truly? He wasn’t a god, he was a student.

But he did have power. Power enough to take on so much more than he realized.

More followers appeared, and Zeus laughed.

“Let’s talk about you.”

Aphrodite looked up at Cain, shocked. “Me?”

Cain shrugged. His gaze remained locked on Zeus as the boy charged the new foes. “I can see why Zeus is in here. The boy who would be king, trying to establish himself in the unknown arena. Athena makes even more sense, a nerd with a new puzzle to play with. This Test must be as fascinating as it is terrifying.

“Everyone else…they make sense. What are you? What is your sense in all of this?”

Aphrodite shrugged. “Proctor needed a love goddess. And I fit the mold.”

Cain snorted. “Come on. Do better than that.”

“I’m serious. I just wanted out, and the Test gave me that.”

“The Test doesn’t give anything,” Cain said. “You were chosen. Why?”

Aphrodite waved her hand over her body. Cain kept his gaze looking the other way, and that made her steam.

“Hey!”

“Why were you chosen?”

“You’d know if you looked right at me!” Aphrodite shouted. She grabbed his cheeks, turning his face straight to her chest.

“You know exactly why I was chosen. Because my chest is big, my waist is tiny, and I have a big butt! I’m what guys want, and girls hate, and I can’t do a thing about it!” she shouted.

Cain frowned. he tried to turn away from her. Aphrodite clenched, and her nails dug into his cheeks, drawing blood.

“Don’t,” she hissed. “Don’t look away. It’s not respectful when men look away at pretty girls. It’s demeaning. Like I should be ashamed for looking like this. That I should feel guilty for what they think.”

A gentle tear rolled down her face. “I have value, Cain. I matter. Not just because I’m pretty. I have a mind. I have a voice. Hear me.”

She tugged at him, harder. “Please. Just see me.”

Cain stopped struggling, and looked at her. Aphrodite started back. When Cain looked at her, he pierced. Eyes, usually so sunken and despondent, were suddenly alight. They looked past her own, and straight into her.

There was understanding in his gaze. There was compassion. It scared her.

And then it was gone, and he was looking somewhere else.

“You’re wrong,” Cain said. “You do have a pretty face.

“I’m not,” Aphrodite urged, but he held up a hand.

“You have a pretty face. A pretty voice. A pretty smile.”

He stuck his thumb back towards Athena and Gabriel.

“Use them. And save your friend.”

Aphrodite looked at Gabriel. The angel held Athena aloft, sneering.

“Absolutely pathetic,” he muttered. “Your king is nothing more than a brute. A thug, hoping to enact his philosophy of might making right. Picking on those of true faith.”

Athena rolled her eyes. “Right. Fanatics always accept that theirs is the way of truth.”

Gabriel glowered, and looked down at her. “Where is the entrance to Heaven?”

“Bite me.”

Athena laughed. “I know you’re not going to kill me. I’m way too valuable and rare for you to risk it.”

The angel laughed. A cold sound that made Athena shiver.

“According to legend, you Olympians are immortal. Nothing I can do will kill you anyways.

“However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t purify your mind, body and spirit. After several months of reeducation, you might be converted to our way of thinking.”

“You wouldn’t,” Athena said.

He bent forward, looking at her. Still with kind eyes. Still smiling. “It’s for your benefit. It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

“Is it, though?”

Aphrodite stepped forward.

“Step back, harlot,” Gabriel warned. “I am not to be trifled with.”

Aphrodite bit back a curse. Harlot. That was a new one for her.

She never stopped moving forward. Calm, innocuous. Just keep his eyes on her.

“You are trying to get to Heaven, right?” Aphrodite asked.

“Obviously.”

“Everyone?” she asked. “All of you?”

“Heaven, paradise,” Gabriel said. “We each have our own different name for our eternal reward.”

Aphrodite smiled. Something warm, and kind. Try not to think about all the fallacies in that argument. Focus instead on word choice.

Our. Everyone. Gabriel considered himself a leader, and given how everyone here treated him, that might not be far off. She could use that.

“Each and every one of you?”

“Absolutely,” Gabriel said. “This is why we were chosen. This is why we were all put in this Test. So that we can realize the Courts of the Almighty, in this place.”

“But what about you?” Aphrodite asked.

Gabriel paused, and looked at her, fully. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, just look at what you’re doing,” Aphrodite said. “You’re planning to torture a young girl. Physically tear her apart, until you get the information that you want.”

“It’s not what I want!” Gabriel roared. “It’s what’s necessary!”

“Is it?” Aphrodite asked.

“We are finding paradise,” Gabriel says.

“But at what cost?” Aphrodite said. “Your morality? Your dignity? Your soul?”

Gabriel stopped. He stared down at the goddess. “My soul? You would take my soul, witch?”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t even know where to look. I’m sorry if that sounded like a threat. It’s not. Not even Zeus could stand against the might of you and your God.”

“Don’t be so…” Cain stomped on Zeus’ foot, and clamped his hand over the young god’s mouth. Zeus started to protest. Cain moved his hand, placing it on Zeus’ shoulder, and made a small shushing motion.

Zeus grunted, and started wiping himself off.

“Then what claim do you have to my soul?” Gabriel asked.

“I don’t,” Aphrodite said. “Your God does.”

She moved forward again. Now she stood beneath the angel and Athena. The young goddess looked down, incredulous. What could the airhead beauty queen be thinking? What was she doing, even thinking? That was her field.

But Aphrodite wasn’t just thinking. She was surmising weaknesses, and feeling out strengths. Gabriel had a singular type of vanity, one that couldn’t be soothed with easy flattery. He was a leader of men, he was supposed to be a savior.

And true saviors reached the promised land as well.

“Your God commanded you, do not kill,” Aphrodite said. “And just think for a moment how the Almighty must think of you, trying to enter Heaven, by torturing a young girl?”

The Jacobins glanced at Athena. The young girl struggled, trying to break free. She looked tiny in the angel’s arms, helpless.

“Gabriel, look at her,” Aphrodite said. “She’s terrified of you.”

The angel grimaced, pained. His grip tightened, and loosened, fearful of hurting her.

“We are trying to get to Heaven,” he pleaded. “We need to find our way.”

“But where would that path lead, Gabriel?” Cain asked. “Good intentions do not tend to lead where you would expect.”

“And you would know, Sinner!” someone shouted from the back.

Cain turned, and pointed at the Mark on his head. Everyone recoiled. And stepped quickly back.

“I know exactly what the road to Hell looks like,” Cain whispered. “And I’d rather walk it alone.”

Gabriel shivered. Aphrodite could see the turmoil within him. The need.

This was a believer. He knew that Heaven was real, and that it lay within the Test’s borders. Not with evidence, not by word of mouth, but by the simple fact that only God could name an angel. He existed, and so there must be a Heaven. With that knowledge came a need to see it.

But could a murderer ever witness Heaven?

He set Athena down.

“Leave,” the angel whispered. “Never return to the Well.”

“We were looking for Olympus, Gabriel,” Cain said.

Gabriel turned on the Sinner, full of fury. “You dare?!”

Cain stood tall, defiant. The Mark flared crimson. Gabriel tried to threaten. This was his home, his place of power. Gabriel had faced down gods without even breaking a sweat. But even the angel turned away in the face of the Sinner. He would not risk the Mark.

“I don’t know where Olympus is,” Gabriel muttered.

“Bull,” Cain said. “We’re tired, ticked, and ready to start breaking heads. I’ll tear this place down if I have to.”

“And we would give our lives,” Gabriel said. He looked at the Olympians. “And while I would not take a life to gain Heaven, I’d surely kill and die to defend my flock. Can you say the same?”

Cain glowered, but didn’t deny it.

“Leave this place,” Gabriel said. “I will not ask a third time.”

Cain looked to the Olympians. He sighed, and walked towards the door.

“It should have been you who died, Sinner!” Gabriel called out. “Arthur would have been King of this world. Of all worlds. And you stole him away!”

Aphrodite noticed Cain’s fists clench. Felt him tense. She laid a hand on his back. He walked away. Back into the cold.