Is this another Test sent by God?
It seems fantastical enough. A black ball, floating above the ocean. Gifting people with powers that rival the Almighty’s. The fact that the Enemy is me.
I have believed in Jesus, and His Father, all my life. I thought I had seen the good works, the majesty of the ineffable plan. Walked through paradise.
All without hearing a single sound that I could call God’s Voice.
Now I am surrounded by gods of today and tomorrow. Beings that defy imagination, and can call down the furies upon their foes. Curdle time, rip new tears in the worlds, and unleash the constricts of madness.
In the face of all this, do I still believe? Or do I just know?
“This place is absolutely filthy.”
Cain ignored the love goddess, and kept walking.
“I mean, can’t they clean this up a little bit?”
Can? This was the ground floor of Central Testing. Several miles of skyscrapers and floating businesses filled the air above, casting neverending shadows on the subworld below. Up there was the Sorting Hall, the information libraries, and the fastest network to all the worlds the Test had to offer.
But down? Down was where there was muck. And dirt. And refuse foul enough that no one would touch it. Certainly not the goddess of love and beauty. Even looking at it made her heels start to tarnish.
Certainly not for the king of the gods. It was beneath him to be here. Everything was beneath him. He just had to prove it.
Not even the goddess of wisdom could see any reason to be here. The information was up there. All the answers were up and beyond.
No one thought they belonged here. No one, save for the Sinner, plodding through with black shoes that were quickly becoming soaked with mud, drainwater and more liquids than he felt comfortable thinking about.
Can the Test clean up this place? Most likely. The Test could most likely have stripped every waste particle down to its atomic components. Sterilized, even vaporized anything that didn’t belong. Didn’t fit.
Which meant that it chose not to. The Test liked having an underbelly to its central hub.
Or at least, it didn’t care enough to get rid of it.
“Seriously, where are we going?” Athena asked.
“A place where most everything doesn’t make sense.” Cain frowned, and paused at an intersection. Was it left, or keep going straight? He was never particularly good at directions.
“Most everything doesn’t make sense,” Aphrodite repeated in a singsong voice. “Does being mysterious cost extra, or is it your package deal?”
Cain shrugged. He wasn’t trying to be mysterious. He just didn’t have time for responses.
Zeus darkened, but kept moving with him. The boy looked back, and tried to smile.
“Thanks, both of you, for coming along.”
Athena rolled her eyes. The girl was short, with white hair and gray eyes. She wore a simple black t-shirt and jeans, and was trying to keep her sneakers as far away from the muck as possible.
“I believe your exact words were do this or I make you,” the goddess said. “Super scary threats.”
“Whatever,” Athena muttered. “Like we had anything better planned.”
“You were the one splitting us up!”
“And now I regret that decision,” Athena said. She looked around. “If only because your girlfriend had enough sense to keep moving on.”
Athena chuckled. “Right, isn’t Hera supposed to be your queen and all that? Then again, you do get around if all the myths are true.”
“That’s not…I’m not…look, we just get on each other’s nerves.”
“Look, none of that god stuff is really real anyhow,” Zeus said. “Besides a certain amount of powers. It’s a title, nothing else.”
Athena nodded, but she wasn’t really convinced.
They kept walking. Cain was almost convinced that he knew where he was going. That last intersection had had a wall marked three times. This upcoming one, he could see six. Getting closer.
“Why did you ask me along, anyways?” Athena asked.
“I didn’t,” Zeus said. He nodded to Cain. “He just said we needed you and Aphrodite for his plan to work.”
“And why does anyone need Aphrodite?” Athena darkened.
“Because all the brains in the world, little girl, just don’t compare,” Aphrodite said, stepping forward towards Cain. Where Athena was short, Aphrodite was statuesque. Voluptuous, with long golden hair and a warm smile. She walked right besides Cain, her four-inch heels clicking through the pavement.
“Don’t compare to what?” Athena asked.
Aphrodite smirked. “If you have to ask.”
Gods, Cain thought. It was all about the gods. This was about to go south fast.
Athena darkened, and quickened her pace. She passed the love goddess, and planted herself in front of Cain.
“All right, where are you taking us, why are we going there, and why are you making me stick next to the braindead blowhard and mistress eyecandy?”
Cain looked up, and saw a shining man in an overcoat. The man leaned against the wall, mouth agape. “Is that you, Calvin?”
Cain bowed, and took two steps back. “Gabriel. So I did choose the right path.”
The man looked past Cain to the three teenagers. “What are you…who are your comrades?”
“Three Olympians, Gabriel,” Cain said. “I’m looking for the Jacobin Well.”
Gabriel stepped forward. Aphrodite noticed the curled blonde hair that almost matched hers. The clear cerulean eyes, promising an open ear and a kind word. Full-lipped, and shining like the sun.
Athena noticed the fact that the man was floating three inches above the ground. And that he made sure to keep some distance from Cain.
“The Well,” Gabriel said. “Have you finally returned to confess, Calvin?”
Cain looked away. “I’m just looking for Olympus, Gabe,” Cain murmured. “I’ve got some lost godlings that could use some help.”
Gabriel looked at them. “Olympians? Has the Test started…”
“It has. The Test is putting in more pantheons. And they’re using children.”
Gabriel made a sign of the cross over his chest. “Merciful God.”
Cain fought the grimace, and simply nodded. “Gabriel, please. They need to find their way home.”
The angel nodded to Athena and Zeus. His gaze lingered on Aphrodite for a moment or two, before finally looking at Cain.
“I’m sorry. You know you have been banned, Cain.”
Cain placed his hands in his pockets. “Gabriel, I have something to trade.”
“Trade?” Gabriel said. “The Jacobin is not a barter house. You can’t possibly…”
“One of these gods is Athena,” Cain said.
“Come on, Gabriel. You know what that means.”
Athena looked at Cain, startled. You know what that means? What could that possibly mean?
“You’re sure?” Gabriel asked. “You are positive?”
“If the Test really made her right, then yeah.”
Gabriel nodded. “Then enter the Jacobin, Olympians. Enter, and be fulfilled.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Athena, Aphrodite and Zeus were ushered into a blank wall, seemingly nothing more than another part of the underbelly of Central Testing. Even as they felt the stone pass by them, and they were pulled into another space, Zeus could have sworn there wasn’t an entrance. There was just outside, and inside, no inbetween.
And suddenly, there they were. In a large gathering area, made of solid stone. Great columns of stone stretched up above them. The ceiling towered hundreds of feet above them.
Beyond the columns, the only other feature was the well. A monstrous thing, over thirty feet in diameter. Men and women milled about the mouth, conversing with each other.
Cain nodded. The Jacobin hadn’t changed.
Gabriel nudged Athena. “What do you think of this place, young one?”
Athena started to speak. Cain flickered, and he was by her side, and clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Don’t speak,” he whispered. “Just look, listen, and learn.”
Athena ignored him, and moved forward. “I think it’s a fascinating place. This place is inspired by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, right?”
Cain tried to intercept her. Gabriel swept the young goddess forward, out of Cain’s reach. “Absolutely. Our Savior Jesus Christ came before the well Jacob had been gifted. There he saw a Samaritan woman, drawing water from the well. The two speak on the nature of living water, and the woman’s eyes are opened, to reveal the nature of the Savior before her.”
Zeus fought an urge to snort. He and Aphrodite moved away, trying to see everything. In seconds, they realized there wasn’t much to see.
There was the well. There was the people. And there were them.
“This is stupid,” Zeus muttered. “Why did he bring us here?”
Aphrodite shrugged. “Maybe these people have the information?”
“Information that Central Testing and the Sorting Hall wouldn’t give us?” Zeus asked. “These folks are in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing but talk. I thought he was going to be taking us someplace to…I don’t know, hack into the system.”
Aphrodite laughed. “Do you even know what you are saying?”
“These are people,” Aphrodite said. “People who know things.”
She straightened, adjusted her dress, and sauntered towards the well. “And getting people to tell me what they know is just one of my specialities.”
Aphrodite walked over to the well. Cocked her hip, gave a small pout, and giggled. “So, like, what’s going on here?”
Several eyes bugged out just looking at her. And then there was a respectful, lustful, walk to her side. And the love goddess was soon bombarded with answers.
It had always been. Even before she came to this place, the girl known as Aphrodite knew she had been a talented speaker. She could ease people’s fears and worries, and just open up to her. They could feel comfortable around her. Like she was unlike anyone else.
And then puberty hit. And she filled out more than most. She remembered a few months in a row where every top stretched. She had started wearing sweatpants because every day she seemed to be bigger. More and more people wanted to talk to her. They were eager to talk to her, and maybe so much more.
But the comfortability was gone. Teachers looked at her with suspicion, especially the men. She couldn’t go to any meeting with a teacher after class. For a man to be alone with her…people would talk.
It was the same with her classmates. Girls kept their boyfriends away from her, afraid she’d steal them. The boys who did hang out with her clearly only had one thing on their minds. Even some girls. But if she wanted to talk about anything, it always turned back to sex.
She had hated it. Hated that she was the wrong kind of beautiful. That people would never see beyond her chest.
When the Test had appeared, she had leapt at the chance. A chance to be different, worth something. Something different.
And instead, she was called mythology’s biggest airhead. Made even hotter, more desirable. Anyone who saw her, knew that she only had one thing on her mind.
“If you want to talk about this more, maybe we could…”
Aphrodite kept the smile plastered on her face. Each and every one of them had propositioned her. Not in so many words, but in every way that mattered.
They all had information. She could glean a little bit. But it was all so jumbled, and barely made any sense. If only she had more time to figure it all out.
A curious hand trailed up her leg. “Would you like to, um…go somewhere?”
Cain gripped the man’s hand, and the arm with it. Before the man could protest, Cain flung him over the edge, and into the well.
Cain walked over to the edge. “Pardon me, Aph,” Cain muttered.
“How did you know there was water in the well?” Aphrodite asked.
There was an assuring splash.
“Why did you do that?” Aphrodite asked.
“What? He was being a creep,” Cain said. He leaned back against the well, and sighed.
“So, what do you think of the Jacobin?”
“Seems like any other place,” Aphrodite said. “I didn’t need your help, by the way.”
“Never said you did,” Cain said.
“Then why throw the guy over the edge?”
“Because I don’t want people to think I’ll let them do that in my presence.”
“Oh.” That made sense, she guessed.
Weird. Cain wasn’t even looking at her now. He was watching the rest of the people in the area. They glared at him. Some were attempting to get the man out of the water, but even those looked at Cain with absolute venom and fury.
“Why do they hate you?” Aphrodite asked.
Cain shrugged. “Who doesn’t?”
A nicely evasive answer. Aphrodite looked up at Cain.
“You know I could make you answer.”
“Really?” Cain asked.
“It’s one of my powers. I can make men do anything for me. Absolutely anything.”
Cain looked at her, and studied the response. “But you don’t want to do that, do you?”
Aphrodite paused. “What? I mean, I can do it, just you…”
“No, I mean you don’t want to,” Cain said. He looked at her, and then chuckled. “Ah, you hate being chosen as Aphrodite.”
“No, I don’t!”
Aphrodite blushed. She looked around. “Can we not do this here? It seems a bit public. And everyone hates you.”
“Everyone hates me everywhere.”
“Here especially,” Aphrodite said. Though it was true, their guide seemed to be more trouble than he was worth.
“Fine,” Cain said. “What do you want to talk about?”
Aphrodite looked around. “What is this place, really?”
“The Jacobin Well,” Cain said. When that didn’t get a better response, he sighed. “Ok, how much do you know about Abrahamic mythology?”
“Abraham. The first Jew,” Cain said. “The first one God called. Abraham is known as the father of the Jews, and Muslims, and through the Jews the Christians. All three believing in the same God, albeit in very different ways.”
Aphrodite nodded. Made sense.
“Between those three religions, you have over four billion souls, more than half the population of the earth. Believing in a God that – for many – has never appeared in a way they completely comprehend.
“Then along comes a Test. A black sphere that no one can pierce. Taking who it wills, and answerable to no one. Many preach or proselityze, but in truth, no one knows what this means in terms of what it means for their religion.”
“But what does that mean for the Jacobin?”
Cain pointed at Gabriel. “Each and every one of these people have been given names and abilities, straight out of Judaic, Christian, and Islamic mythology. Heroes and myths out of the biggest religion in the world. Given a new form, a new purpose, and many believe a Cause gifted from the Almighty.”
Aphrodite’s blood ran cold. “Then Gabriel is…”
“An angel. A messenger and envoy of God.” Cain shrugged. “Or some guy.”
“What could they want with us?” Aphrodite whispered.
“My guess?” Cain asked. “They want us to tell them where Heaven is.”