I have been alone for so long.
It’s been wondrous, solitude. The opportunity to be with myself, my discretions. Bury my head in a world of mine own devising.
But there is something to be said about community. The opinions of others, the very presence of another living soul.
It is a quite delightful form of torture.
“We all just started the Test.”
They were all gathered around the mountain peak, looking up. Cain was sitting there, looking at everyone in turn to keep them in line. He was already feeling rather bald, and wondered just how much hair had been lost. That Mark was really annoying to look at in the mirror every day.
Demeter blinked, and looked at everyone. She wasn’t the best speaker, not even close. That was Zeus, and Hermes, and Athena and Aphrodite. Even Hephaestus was a better speaker than her.
“That’s right, right?”
“You’re doing fine, Demeter,” Hestia said. She smiled to Cain. He grunted.
“Well, all of us are…well, some of us know each other. Like, Zeus and Hera, and Apollo and Artemis were on, like, the same archery team at some school. But that was on the other side of the country and all that. But we all somehow came to at the same time.”
The entrance. Different for everyone. For many, it was a conversation with the Proctor. For others, it was entering in the middle of battle. It helped establish who they truly were, and for many defined their goals in the Test.
“Zeus and Hera were told where Olympus was, and that it was to be our new home,” Demeter said. “It was going to have everything we’d need to pass, and we’d be able to do anything we want. Plant some new trees, read up on grain attributes. Maybe even,” she gulped. “Try some wine…”
“But when we got there,” Ares said. “We found out that we weren’t the only ones told about Olympus. And the Titans had moved in.”
The Titans. Cain tried to remember his mythology. They predated the Olympians by several thousand years. The sons and daughters of the earth and sky. Similar to the gods, but way several times more powerful.
“We tried to negotiate,” Hermes said. “But they weren’t exactly okay with that.”
“And so we had our posteriors handed to us,” Athena said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Zeus began.
“No, we were pretty much destroyed,” Poseidon said. “Tossed out of Olympus, thrown back into the general testing area, and told never to return.”
Cain chuckled. That must have been rich.
“It’s not funny!” Hera shouted. “We can’t complete the Test if we don’t retake Olympus. Or kill you.”
“Hera,” Cain said. “I haven’t heard of anyone completing the Test.”
“And how would you know?” Artemis asked. “You’ve been here for years. Loads of people could have completed it and you wouldn’t know.”
She had him there. Cain had been out of the loop for a while.
He looked at each of them. “You each are trying to complete the Test?”
“Or at least find a way to understand what’s going on here,” Athena said. “We want to actually succeed.”
The way she said that made Cain pause. Athena, or rather the girl given that name, wasn’t used to winning. Maybe none of them were.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hephaestus said. “We needed to take Olympus, and we failed.”
“Because you’re children,” Cain said.
The Olympians immediately protested. Children! Children were babies. They couldn’t get things done. They weren’t able to take on the abilities of gods. They were Olympians.
Cain rumbled, and they all fell silent.
Aphrodite stood up, and looked at Cain. “Can I make a proposal?”
Cain said nothing. She smiled, as sweetly as she could, before proceeding.
“It seems like we need to pass the Test, and keep moving forward. That means one of two things need to happen. Either we have to retake Olympus, or we have to defeat you.”
Cain shrugged. That made sense.
“So, if you help us retake Olympus, we don’t have to do the other thing.”
“Why not?” Hestia asked. “It’s a win-win. We’re back on track, and out of your hair.”
“I can make you ‘out of my hair’ anytime I want,” Cain said. “There’s nothing in this for me.”
Cain stood up. “Now, I need you to leave. Next time, I start removing body parts.”
He stood up, and started walking back down the mountain.
“What are we supposed to do then?” Hermes called out.
“Get stronger,” Cain called back. “There’s whole worlds in here dedicated to developing your powers. If you’re lucky, they won’t kill you.”
This was ridiculous. All of them were supposed to be gods. Beings of power, of stature. They were the movers and shakers of the world. And they couldn’t even make him break a sweat. If the world was lucky, they’d be dead within the week.
Cain kept moving. Back down the mountain, to his cabin. He needed to fix himself lunch, maybe even start thinking about dinner.
“Have you ever thought about God?”
The question made him pause. He looked up, and there was Aphrodite. She stood, looking down at him.
“God?” Cain asked.
She walked over to him. “I was just wondering, because you have a name that’s from Judaism and Christianity. Is there a reason?”
“Yes.” Cain didn’t elaborate.
“Each and every one of us have,” the goddess said. “We’ve been chosen to represent gods. Being that we all grew up thinking about. The stories of Zeus, and Hercules, and Athena. Helen of Troy, Odysseus, Psyche. We’re here representing them. And we’re failing.”
“You’re not failing,” Cain said. “Not yet.”
“But if we fail, does that mean we’ve failed their legacies?” Aphrodite asked. “Because we cannot live up to those ideals?”
Cain could have mentioned any number of things. The darker legacies of the Olympians, or the fictional nature of them. The sinking feeling he had that this Test was not designed to be won.
But there was something else, in the back of his mind. These kids had been told what had to be done. They had been given a task, and then screwed. The Proctor had known this, watched it happen, and then sent them into the lion’s den to die.
He was probably supposed to have killed them.
That gave him pause.
The gods stood up. Cain walked over to them, and grabbed Zeus. “If we are going to do this, you’re going to have to follow my lead?”
“Why?” Zeus demanded. Cain loomed over him, which was hard for someone half a foot shorter than the godking.
Cain marched them back down the mountain. “We’re going to find out what’s going on back in Central. Maybe check some contacts that don’t entirely want to kill me.”
And if he could tweak the nose of the Proctor while he was at it, that would be quite all right.
Leaving the land of Nod for the first time in three years. He wondered what music would be like.
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