Archive for the ‘Goddess in Waiting’ Category

Goddess in Waiting Ch. 9

I paused in front of the coffee shop and looked at the guys. “I’m going to talk to Gaia. You lot can do whatever you like. I’ll meet you back at my place.”

Mikhail cocked his head. “Shouldn’t we go with you?”

“I think that would be ill-advised. Gaia doesn’t like visitors and she especially doesn’t like guests she doesn’t know.” I made a wry face. “In fact, I’m not certain she wouldn’t throw me out as well.”

“You’re going to see if she’s willing to let you bend the rules of the Pact, aren’t you?”

I nodded at Raphael. “Yes. I was one of the original contractors, so she might be willing to discuss it. Or she might decide to swamp me with molten lava. You never know.”

“I will go with you.”

“Thanatos. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not? My interactions with her in the past have been amiable for the most part. In fact, if she could be said to like any of us lot, it would be me.”

“If I remember correctly, your last meeting with her didn’t go so well.” That was immediately after we’d made the Pact. I could still see the rage in his face when he realized what we did. What I did.

His eyes iced over. “You don’t know when my last meeting with her was, wife.”

That was true. He could have had tea with her on a weekly basis for all I knew.

“Fair enough.”

“I will need to go as well. I’m your observer, remember?”

Mikhail raised an eyebrow. “So now it’s only me that gets left out? Ah, the joys and perils of being the junior member of the team.”

“At this point, if you really want to, we could drag the entire circus there. Not like one more person is going to tip her into magma levels of rage when there’s already three.”

“Ah, no. Thank you.” He gave a theatrical shudder. “I haven’t had the need to talk with our supreme overlord yet and I’d like to keep it that way. Alexandros always used to get stinking drunk when he went to see her and I think I’ll take a cue from that.”

“As you like. We’ll see you later then.”

He gave me a jaunty salute and disappeared.

I exhaled. “All right. Let’s go.”

 

 

“Gaia lives here?” Raphael looked around at the rainforest surrounding us and then at the cave entrance.

“Not exactly. This is just one of the many cave systems that lead to her. I just chose this one because South America is closest to home.” Interacting with Gaia was always an experience and I knew that a short teleportation afterward would be the difference between feeling like a truck or an eighteen wheeler ran me over the next day.

I pushed aside the trailing vines that guarded the entrance and walked in. Two steps in, the walls began to emit a faint blue glow. I trailed a hand over the rock face, leaving behind a brighter neon blue trail behind. The cave narrowed into a tunnel about five feet in. Stone steps were carved into the floor of the tunnel, a necessary feature as the passage sloped sharply down. Before Gaia relented and put in the steps, the only safe method of arrival was to use bring your own lube and use it as a slide as our powers was blocked here. It was messy and undignified. Then there was the inevitable frustration and pain when the lube ran out a mile from destination.

We walked down, single-file and silent. The faint blue glow lit at our approach and receded in our wake.

About an hour later, Raphael cleared his throat. “In the interest of curiosity, how long does this trek usually take?”

Thanatos’s laugh was mocking. “It depends on Gaia’s mood. If she wanted us there, three steps would have done. When she doesn’t want to see you, then it could take you a few lifetimes. Assuming you don’t give up.”

“I see.”

“Thanatos. I thought you said she liked you.”

“That wasn’t quite how I phrased it, my flower, and how do you know this isn’t because she doesn’t know Raphael?”

I sighed and trudged on. I liked Gaia, I really did, but she brought a whole new meaning to the concept of power tripping. Add in her propensity to act like a slighted mother and it made for very uncomfortable dealings.

“She’s probably punishing me because I haven’t come to see her the last two thousand years.” In my experience, it was better to admit to being wrong. “Maybe, if she doesn’t want to see me, you can go talk to her on our behalf, Thanatos. We’re only about an hour in. Raphael and I could go wait for you outside.”

My husband’s voice sounded amused. “And you don’t think it’d make her angrier if you showed such a lack of sincerity as to quit half-way through?”

“Considering we have less than twelve solar days to try and save her planet from a hard reset, I think she’ll eventually forgive me if I delay seeing her by two weeks or so because I’m trying to help.”

“That’s rather opt—”

He didn’t finish the sentence because the ground opened up under us. The next moment, we were plummeting through a tunnel that led straight down. I bit back a yelp. Letting her know she got to me was simply a bad idea.

The bio luminescence followed us. It lit up as the air we displaced activated it. The speed at which we were falling meant we barely had three feet of lit space under us and an endless glowing above.

Darling. Well played. Thanato’s mental voice sounded like he was on the verge of laughter.

Thank you. I just hope she doesn’t take it out on us with a hard landing.

A blast of warm air surged up the tunnel. My free fall slowed. The air flow grew progressively stronger and I knew we must be close.

We were falling at a slow enough rate I could see further down the tunnel. The shimmer of a bio luminescent pool gave me just enough warning before the air cushioning us cut off. I took a deep breath and turned head-first. An icy chill assaulted my senses as I broke through the water surface. My chest seized up as all my muscles protested the abuse. I forced my limbs to move, to swim toward upwards and toward shore, but my movements were sluggish. My temples throbbed from the cold. Water filled my nose and mouth as I sank. My vision dimmed.

Pressure at my waist. A hand grasped hold of mine and pulled.

My head broke the surface. I gasped for air. Raphael wrapped an arm around my torso. Thanatos had his hand fisted on my skirt waist. Breathing hurt. Swimming wasn’t going so well either. My limbs sagged in the water despite my best efforts to move.

“You’re killing her.” Thanatos’ roar echoed in the chamber.

“Less rage, more swimming.” Raphael’s voice was calm and unruffled. He tucked me closer to his body and started the side stroke toward shore.

I closed my eyes and did my best to stay out of his way.

Minutes later, his grip loosened and I was swung up into another pair of arms. Thanatos carried me out of the water. A muscle ticked at his jaw. My eyes fluttered closed and I curled closer to his warmth. The cold sank into flesh and bone. I would have yawned if I had the strength to do so. So cold. So sleepy.

“She’s going to die of hypothermia if you don’t do something, you witch.”

Gaia snipped at him. “Do something yourself, Thanatos. I’m not one of your serving wenches.”

He growled under his breath. “You know very well I can’t.”

“Allow me, Thanatos.”

A warm hand settled over my forehead and another over my heart. Heat spread through my body. The cold was still there, hidden in my marrow, but I could feel my toes again. My clothing started to steam gently.

I opened my eyes and croaked at him. “Taking advantage of an old lady? Tsk.”

He smiled and sent an additional burst of warmth through me before lifting his hands. “Such gratitude, Amarantha.”

I reached up to pat his cheek. “Thank you.”

Thanatos set me down, careful not to release me until he was sure I could stand on my own.

Gaia stood in front of us. A toga of linen gauze was her sole concession to modesty. I was surprised to see it, as she usually didn’t bother, just as she often chose not to take human form. Her arms were folded across her chest and her expression was set in obstinate lines.

I sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

“Well met, Gaia.”

She sniffed. “It’d be better met if your husband had the courtesy not to shout at me.”

Thanatos growled. “You nearly killed her with your games, witch.”

“It’s not my fault she’s turned into a puny thing, Thanatos.”

My husband snarled.

The throbbing turned to pounding. I interrupted before he could get going again. “Gaia. Thanatos. Please.”

“I’ll let it go if he behaves.”

“Don’t forget I’m older than you, witch. Don’t you play the elder card on me.”

I raised my voice. “Could we possibly discuss the matter at hand?”

“What is there to discuss? It’s quite literally out of my hands.”

“I would appreciate it if you could release us from the Law.”

She tapped a finger on her chin. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Could you please note that I’m only asking so I can help avert a hard reset to your planet? The last I checked, you didn’t particularly enjoy those.”

“I don’t particularly enjoy these humans either. Since it’s a tossup between one and the other, I might as well thwart you a bit as well.”

“What have I done lately?”

“Not much, other than never coming to see me. But thwarting you means thwarting that husband of yours, and that’s not something I get to do often.”

I turned to stare at Thanatos. “I thought you said that most of your interactions with her were amiable. You even implied that she liked you.”

He crossed his arms. “I have not the slightest as to what has her in a snit.”

“So what you’re saying is that you’d rather let a bunch of gods who think they’re superior to you and know better than you decide what to do to your planet just to spite me and Thanatos.”

She sighed. The mask of frivolity dropped and she pinned me with a fathomless gaze. “I will allow it provided you agree to what Grace asked of you.”

My shoulders slumped. I should have known.

“You know it’s necessary once the gods get their act together again, which they will need to do if they are to mobilize to avert this situation. If I allow them their Voices, then what is to prevent them from running amok again? The humans get to enough hijinks on their own with their cults and political parties and so forth. To add Voices to the mix would simply be a recipe for disaster.”

“But why me?”

She smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. “Because you care. For some reason or the other that I cannot fathom, you still care. Who else would I entrust the world to? Thanatos would just let it burn were it not for you.”

He shrugged. “And well you know it.”

If this was amicable, I didn’t want to see animosity.

“So. Will you or won’t you?”

“What exactly did you have in mind?”

“A guild, a consortium, a council, a judiciary branch, enforcers, rules, rewards, punishments — you know, the usual.”

“And in return, I get my Voice back?”

“Oh, I’m willing to be generous. You can return the Voice to anyone you deem worthy. Of course, if they then fail to meet expectations, you will have to hunt them down and retrieve it.”

“I’m quite overcome with gratitude, Gaia.”

“Sarcasm ill becomes you, young lady. Now, if you give me your word, you can be on your way.”

I closed my eyes. The last time I gave her my word to do something, I lost my child, my husband, and most of my godhood.

“What will it be, Amarantha?” Her voice was soft, as if she recalled the same memory I did.

“Did I really have a choice?”

Her tone was hard and cold when she replied. “If you have to ask that, then you haven’t learned a thing. You always had a choice. You have one now. You’re the one you need to answer to as regards whether or not the price you pay for something is too great. If you consider the price too great, then perhaps you should either consider not paying it or letting go of your hubris long enough to save yourself and others more pain and see what’s been in front of you all along.”

My gut cramped as a sense of betrayal washed over me.

“Don’t look at me that way, Amarantha. You know I consider you a daughter. How do you think I felt when I knew you lost your child, a being I would have considered my grandchild, because of my request and your foolhardiness? I know you blame me for it and I can accept that blame. However, never forget that there was a choice somewhere along the way where you didn’t need to carry as much weight as you did and instead you chose your damnable independence and pride over asking for help.” My breath choked in my chest and pain lanced through my heart.

She flicked a glance at Raphael and Thanatos. “Mikhail would call forth his army if you asked him to. Raphael appears to have at least a vested interest in not letting you die. You don’t need me to detail what Thanatos would do for you. Lucifer would offer up his demons to you in a heartbeat if you only hinted that you might welcome aid. Grace and her godlings are yours to command if you would only take up the reins. You have an embarrassment of riches and yet you disregard them like so much trash.”

The truth of her words swept over me. Heat flushed my cheeks. Just as quickly, ice prickled my skin as what what she said sank in. Realization dawned. If she was right, then I had single-handedly sentenced my child to death — for nothing at all.

“No.” I backed away. “No. No no no.” I tripped over a loose rock and nearly went to my knees. Thanatos caught me by the arm. His touch was the stick of dynamite that blew up all of my denial and grief.

Pain raged through my body. My heart felt afire and my breath sawed at my lungs. I killed my child. Our child. And there was likely to never be another. Not that any could replace the one we’d lost, but knowing that I would never have the chance to cradle life in my arms and it was my fault slayed me.

“Amarantha.” His voice was soft and pained.

I closed my eyes and clapped my hands over my ears and shifted. It shouldn’t have worked. I didn’t question how I was able to. I just needed to be away. Away from the god who looked at me with such horror in his eyes. Away from the disappointment in my mother’s eyes. Away from the husband I’d so cruelly betrayed.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 8

We stood in downtown Taipei, across the street from the Taipei 101 building. I looked up at the skyscraper and smiled. Why was I not surprised Chang’e chose to live at the top of a skyscraper?

Thanatos tipped his head back. “So this is the Taipei one-oh-one.”

Mikhail followed suit, raising his hand to shield his eyes. “How do we get in? I’ve heard rumors of the VIP club at the top, but it’s never been substantiated.”

A melodious voice came from behind us. “You don’t.”

I turned. “Chang’e. Or shall I call you Grace?”

A girl walked toward us, her hip length ponytail swaying in counterpoint to her hips. She wore the uniform of a prestigious private high school, a white silk blouse paired with a red tartan plaid knee-length skirt. A band of cloth was pinned to her sleeve, proclaiming her to be the class president. The former moon goddess took off her mirrored glasses, revealing large black eyes, and regarded me steadily.

“Grace.” Her lips quirked in a humorless smile. “Only my estranged husband calls me Chang’e anymore.”

“I’m Amarantha and these are the boys. They’re just there to look pretty.”

She gave them a leisurely once-over. “And they do very well at that. Why are you here, Amarantha?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know via your grapevine. I need to find someone who can speak to the leaders of the supernatural community.”

Her eyes hooded and her faint smile disappeared. “You know the Law.”

“Yes, and so do you. Your blog and forum, however, is not governed by the same rules we are, is it?”

Her eyes flickered at that. “What do you need, and why?”

“You know of the rules of Ascension.”

“Yes. We should be on target.” Her lips twisted. “Even if certain people insist on sowing strife where ever they go.”

“Happens we’re not. The ruling has come down that this planet is to be wiped in twelve solar days.”

“What?”

I continued, ignoring her outburst. “To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re counting from when I got the verdict, or if we’re halfway through our first day already, but I’m not certain I care. Either way, we needed to fix this yesterday.”

“We’re counting from when you got the verdict.” A smooth voice interjected from behind me.

Grace arched a brow. “I thought you said he was merely decorative.”

I shrugged. “Are you going to help, or are you going to hop on your phone and call for immediate evacuation?”

I thought about it. “Not sure what worlds we could evacuate to though. Raphael, any good ones?”

“The closest one with an Earth-like composition and atmosphere was still fiddling with the pulley the last I checked.”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “You needn’t mock me.”

“I’m not mocking you. I’m actually genuinely contemplating what would happen if we didn’t manage to save this world. Twelve solar days. That’s not a whole lot of time.”

She whirled on her heel and strode down the sidewalk. “Then we better get moving, don’t we?”

 

Grace led the way to a coffee shop. She didn’t even glance at the sign that said ‘closed’ before she pushed open the door.

A long bar hugged the wall on the right. Ceramic tea caddies and tea sets both Eastern and Western lined the shelves behind the bar. Wooden tables were set along the wall with the stairway up to the second floor.

She fluttered her fingers at the boy who came out from behind a cloth curtain at the back of the shop, his hair sleep-rumpled and his eyes drowsy. “Nono, make us something nice, all right?”

His eyes sharpened. “Grace. What…”

She hopped up onto one of the bar stools. He reached under the bar, pulled out a tablet, and handed it to her. He set a glass kettle over a stand and lit the alcohol burner beneath it.

I took the seat beside her and the guys remained standing behind us.

Grace’s fingers flew over the touchscreen keyboard. “I’ve sent private messages to all the reincarnated deities that I know. They’ll be in touch. I’ve also posted a note at the top of the forum. Everyone who’s anyone will see it and then they’ll be in contact. Have you considered how you are going to do this? You can’t speak to them directly of this or you’ll be in breach.”

I smirked over my shoulder at the guys before turning back to her. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer if we could cut in the demon summoning line.”

She didn’t even blink. “That’s not a bad idea. I have some girls who would find that amusing. They’re cute too, so they probably won’t be instantly sent back. My question would be, how are you going to phrase this so they actually give a fuck?”

A low groan came from behind us at her easy capitulation. Someone muttered something about crazy women and their antics.

“I’m thinking that telling them the earth is going to go medieval on their ass should be sufficient incentive, don’t you? It’s kind of hard to continue being the big bad when you’re all dead. Besides, it’s not like the white magic types don’t know how to summon demons.”

Nono placed cups of tea in front of us along with a plate of buttery cookies.

I flicked a glance at him. Pure human. Warlock. Grace was a clever girl. Then again, she always had been.

“What else do you need?”

“What can you give me?”

She smiled. “Depends on what you can do for me in return.”

She leaned forward. I noticed Nono had started polishing glasses just within ear range.

“I want your help in reviving the gods.”

“And how do you propose that I accomplish this miracle? The worship simply isn’t there anymore. If you haven’t noticed, I’m spirit housed in flesh as well. I don’t have the ability to clothe myself in flesh.”

“Yes, but you have the ability to help us retain our memories.”

“What good would that do? Your memories return eventually anyway.”

She cocked her head and studied me for a moment before shaking her head. “No. They don’t. Not all of them. And the more we Fall, the more memories we lose. That’s part of why we Fade to human.”

I blinked. “Interesting. But that’s not all of it. I’m Fading as well, and I remember everything.”

Her smile turned wry. “In your case, I actually think it’s because you’re overloading your human flesh with what it wasn’t built to handle. You’re burning out to white ash.”

“The Fading process is irreversible, however. So how will having more of their memories help?”

“Yes and no. The Fading process can be reversed. I’ll discuss that later because it might be applicable to some, but it won’t be for the vast majority. Having access to more of their memories will allow us to have a foot up in this world. We might not be able to be revered as gods anymore, but the sort of adulation celebrities receive is still more than enough to sustain us and possibly gradually reverse the damage.”

“And how would I justify doing this? We drink the brew before we Fall for a reason: to level the playing field. We must earn back our powers and prove that we are worthy and capable of wielding them. You remember what happened before this rule went into effect.” The Black Plague, the Inquisition, Qin Shi Huang, Shang Zhou Xin and the Crusades were all direct results of gods Falling without having their memory wiped.

“The werewolves, vampires, and everything else under the sun has a governing body of some sort. Maybe it’s time we took a hint and did the same before we all go extinct. The virtuous get rewarded and the rule-breakers get punished.”

I folded my arms. “And you expect me to be the poor bastard to set all this up? Why me? You have a platform and you are able to call in and mobilize more gods than I can — why not do it yourself?”

She grinned at me. “Because you’ve always been a sucker for a good cause?”

A muffled laugh. I jabbed back with my elbow and was rewarded with a pained grunt.

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who laughed.”

“Tough titties. Feel free to pass the jab along to whoever did laugh.”

Another grunt. A muttered curse.

Grace flicked a glance at them. “However, if you’re going to be disruptive, take it outside.”

“Yes’m.”

“He’s such an obliging boy, isn’t he?”

Considering the ‘boy’ in question was Mikhail, I grinned back at her.

“In all seriousness, however, you are the perfect candidate as you are already the representative for the planet. Why not keep all the hats in once place?”

“That’s the shittiest attempt at persuasion I’ve ever heard.”

She spread her hands. “Well then, what do you want me to say? You know that it would all fall apart to in-fighting if we tried to have someone else head the council.”

“And what makes me so special? Specially unlucky, to be specific.”

“You have something we all want — the ability to grant us our memories. There’s your carrot and your stick. In addition, you know I’m right about the many hats thing.”

“Aren’t you whippersnappers supposed to respect and care for your elders?”

“I’m helping you make Earth a better place. How’s that for respect and caring?”

I looked up at the ceiling. “Why me? I’m supposed to be retired.”

“Well, there is that lovely little planet a few galaxies over. I have a very nice cave I could show you.”

I turned around just in time to see Thanatos smack the back of Raphael’s head. “That whole etching thing went out of fashion a long time ago.”

Grace shrugged. “Think on it. There’s no rush.”

“Unless the world resets in twelve days.”

“Well, then, the rush would be for something else entirely.”

“Fair point.”

I slid off the bar stool. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Yes. I do believe you will be.”

I pushed open the door to her knowing laughter, barely resisting the urge to curse out loud.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 7

I lifted the bronze ring and let it fall with a crash against the door to Dawn’s cave.

“C’mon Dawn. You better be home, or else.”

I tapped my foot against the stone ground and resisted the urge to look over my shoulder. If he had wanted to follow me, he would have caught up with me by the time I’d arrived at Dawn’s dwelling. His continued absence probably meant he was willing to honor my wishes.

The heavy stone door swung open and Dawn peered out.

“Amarantha. Come in.”

I breathed out a sigh of relief when the door slid shut behind us. Even Death couldn’t come into another god’s home without an explicit invitation. I kicked off my shoes and tucked them into the wooden cabinet behind the door.

The door onto a short tunnel that led into the gigantic cavern Dawn called home. Globes of golden magelight were embedded into the sandstone and alabaster walls. The top of the mountain had been sheared away by her brother at some point and sunlight flooded in through the glass ceiling. A waterfall flowed over the wall directly opposite the tunnel, functioning both as a decorative focal point and as a shower. Plants grew in profusion in gigantic planters inside the cave and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers and fruit. The ground was warm underfoot and I relaxed as the heat soaked into my bones.

Dawn took my hand and tugged me over to the polished tree root table. She pushed me down into one of the root tangle chairs before seating herself opposite me.

She poured me a cup of jasmine tea.  ”So. How did it go?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Thanatos?”

My voice came out soft and strained and old. Startled, I took a deep breath and focused my thoughts. I couldn’t let this get to me or I’d sink into the past.

She sighed. “He just showed up at the last meeting. It wasn’t as if we could bar him from it. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think you would encounter him. He’s been almost impossible to find the last thousand years — I thought he’d continue the trend.”

I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the sympathy in her eyes. “It was such a shock to see him. And to have him see me like this.” A laugh escaped my throat, bitter and grating.

It was times like this when I wanted to curse, to shatter, to set something afire just so I could stop feeling impotent.

“Amarantha. Why don’t you just talk to him?”

“And speak of what? Our dead child? How I’m a shell of my former self? The impossibility of being married to someone who has to die every hundred years or so? What is there left to say?”

“Love?” Her quiet word fell into the silence between us.

I flinched back, incapable of hiding my reaction.

“He hasn’t had another in over a thousand years and neither have you. Eternity is too long to spend hiding from yourself, Amarantha.”

I swallowed hard and cut her off. “He won’t forgive me. I asked. First thing I did when I saw him.”

“Did he actually say so or did you assume?”

“He didn’t answer and the ambient temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. How’s that not answer enough?”

“Remember the chicken feather? Mikhail said that he’s claiming his place as your husband. Isn’t that promising despite all that he said and didn’t say?”

“And when did Mikhail say this?”

She waved her hand airily. “You know how useful email and Twitter is.”

I let my head fall back, the effort of holding it up suddenly too much to bear. “You know love isn’t always enough, Dawn.”

“No, I don’t.”

Her words snapped like a lash between us. I sat straight, surprised at her sudden show of temper.

She pinned me with amber eyes gone the color of flame. “I do not know that love isn’t always enough, Amarantha. He’s sulking and you’re hiding. You’re both allowing everything to speak instead of love. If you’re going to relegate love to last place in your priorities, you have no business claiming that it is failing you.”

Something broke in my mind. My heart shattered further. Against my will, my voice swelled into a shout: “I can’t force it, Dawn! I killed his child and I lost his wife. I’m not the goddess he fell in love and married anymore. I Fell and broke that promise to him on top of everything else. What am I supposed to do? Walk up to him and tell him that despite everything I did, I want us to be together? That I’m really sorry but he’s just going to have to cope with having a wife like this?”

“So you’re letting pride get in the way.”

I threw out my hands. “What pride? I apologized. I begged him to forgive me. I admitted that I should have waited for reinforcements. I said I was wrong ten million times over. What more can I do?”

“Have you asked him what else you could do? Or have you just been compounding your error by asking him for something he could not give and flouncing when he refused?”

I pressed a hand to my heart, fighting the urge to curl in on myself from the pain.

“Is that how you see it? Is that how he sees it?”

She reached for me and wrapped her hands around mine, chafing it between her own.

“Speaking of your marriage and your marriage only? Yes. You made a mistake and then you ran. You’re still running instead of fixing it.”

I tried to pull my hand away, but she held fast.

“Don’t turn away, Amarantha.”

“You never said anything. Have you all been thinking that this entire time? That I’ve been running away from my mistake instead of trying to fix it?”

“No. Not at all, dear heart. I would have said something earlier if I had.”

“When, then?”

“Something caught my attention at the meeting.” She bit her lip. “‘If you’re looking for a savior of the world, then why look further than Amarantha? She may have failed our marriage, but no one can fault her devotion to this world.’ He said this when Anansi questioned his support for you.”

Ice lodged in my heart and clogged my throat. My eyes burned, but I had no tears left to weep. I’d done all the crying I could when I realized that my child was gone and my husband with her.

Dawn grasped my wrist and shook me. “Amarantha. Stop thinking about that part and think about the important bit. Listen. He didn’t say that you failed him. He said you failed your marriage. To me, that says it’s fixable. It’s now a matter of whether or not you want to.”

Hope bloomed for the merest second. Then I saw my hand, cradled in Dawn’s, and reality slapped me in the face. It was a fine enough hand for a woman of sixty years, unlined and soft. However, the thickened knuckles and prominent veins gave the game away.

“And for what prize?” I motioned to myself. “To saddle him with this?”

Her brows snapped together. “Do you really think that he’d care what flesh housed your spirit? If you’re going to be insulting, perhaps you’re right and you don’t deserve him and your happiness.”

I yanked at my hand and this time she let me free, her eyes dark with condemnation.

“No, Dawn, it’s not about the fact that I look like his grandmother. It’s about how I cannot give him children. It’s about how I don’t want to burden him with having a wife who has at most sixty years in which to be a wife every hundred or so years and who spends the rest a blubbering idiot because of first youth and then senility. It’s about how this flesh is too weak to support consummation with Death.”

I stopped to catch my breath. She reached for my hand again and I stood up, curling my hand to my chest.

“And as people forget, I’m only going to become weaker. Sooner or later, I will become just another human and what then? Don’t forget how we’ve never had a happy ending between a mortal and a deity.”

“Amarantha…”

I shook my head. “Perhaps he will find another to love, in time.The sooner I release him from his vows, the faster that can happen. I need to go. I have to meet the boys.”

“Amarantha!”

Her voice followed me even after I shifted, angry and anxious, reminding me once again why I chose to retreat these last few centuries. The less others saw of me, the less likely I would be to disappoint them.

 

Goddess in Waiting ch. 6

Mikhail lifted the cup of tea to his lips, sooty eyelashes sweeping down to hide those piercing silver eyes. Dressed in a soft blue cambric shirt and worn jeans, he looked more the part of a too-pretty cowboy in one of those denim ads rather than the archangel he was.

Strangely enough, he’d insisted on moving somewhere else for the discussion. Somewhere without a dead man and a pool of congealing blood.

It was somehow decided that my home was the place to go, over my objections.

I looked around the table and swallowed a sigh. I had my estranged husband, my leash-holder and an archangel in my garden drinking tea together. It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.

“Are you always so strongly scented?”

Death looked at Raphael. “Yes.” His voice was flat. “It is all the flowers that are for Death.”

It was also why we were in the garden. He wasn’t quite as oppressively fragrant out here. What he wasn’t admitting to and what I wasn’t going to bring up was that he could tone it down quite a few notches. He was only this bad when he was metaphorically whipping out his peen.

Raphael looked like he was about to say something but Mikhail cut in. “What is your demesne, Raphael? Israfil, who shares your name, heals.”

“Information. Numbers. Technology.” He shrugged. “I suppose you could generalize my demesne as governance over the scientific arts.”

I frowned. “How does that work?”

“The prayers for the car to start up, just one more time. The fierce longing of the scientist for a break through. The focus of the accountant looking for that one discrepancy to unravel all the others. All those come to me and more. Of course, I also heal. Who doesn’t?”

I didn’t bother answering that. “Right. So you facilitate information.”

“You could say so.”

“It’s a step up from his days of watching men try to create fire.”

“My usual last resort was lightning. Of course, the rain could be problematic, but short of starting a forest fire and hoping they didn’t all burn to death, there wasn’t much by the way of options.”

Mikhail crossed his arms over his chest. “You two know each other.”

Raphael and Death exchanged a look. They shrugged simultaneously.

My gaze darted from one to the other. Their motions mirrored each other to an uncanny degree. That was something I would have to explore some other time. Right then, I didn’t have that luxury.

A suspicion teased at my mind. “You two know the D too.”

“The D?”

I flipped my hand. “The Devourer. I decided that calling him that was giving him a little too much pomp and circumstance.”

Raphael chuckled and shook his head.

Thanatos’ eyes hooded and his lips compressed. He studied the teacup he held in his hands as if it were the single most important thing in his life at the moment.

“I have heard of him, yes, but I am not familiar with him, if that is what you implied. That is all.” Raphael’s voice was final.

I wrapped my hand around the base of my neck and squeezed. “All right. I was simply hoping you had some more intel you could share since Mikhail has already admitted to having nothing.”

Mikhail shrugged. “Since we can’t kill him, what good is more intel, Amarantha?”

“I just like knowing what we’re up against. Besides, I wasn’t aware that killing him wasn’t an option.”

“He’s the Devourer of Worlds. That’s not something you jab a sword at and hope for the best.”

“Actually, I was thinking something more along the lines of shoving him into a supernova-ing star or a black hole.”

Raphael blinked. Mikhail sighed. Thanatos threw his head back and laughed.

“We’re all essentially energy, right? So theoretically, a supernova could either scatter him far enough we wouldn’t have to worry about him for a while and a black hole could put him in enough of a tight spot that he would be less of a distraction for us.”

“And who would do the shoving, Amarantha?”

I flapped my hand at my husband. “Details.”

“Important details.” Mikhail growled. “I do not wish to see Alexandro in a few decades and explain to him how I allowed you to run face first into either a supernova or a black hole.”

I arched a brow. “Allowed? There is nothing about allowing between you and I, Mikhail.”

What was it with all the men in my lives and their love for control?

“I would not permit it, moglie.”

“I wasn’t asking permission, xianggong.” I used the archaic term for husband on purpose.

“Anyway. Bossy gods and archangels aside, I’ve thought about it and I think we should leave the Watchers alone unless Mikhail can afford to spare angels to watch over them. If Mikhail wasn’t able to roust them out of hiding, I’m hoping that D is going to give it up after running a cost benefit analysis. Right now, there are other groups that we should contact first. Once we have established connections with them, then perhaps the Watchers will come out of hiding.”

Mikhail arched a brow. “Who did you have in mind?”

“The High Coven, the Convocation, the Exaltation, the Lepe, the Pack, and the Cohort for starters.”

“And how are you going to bypass the Law?”

The Law that no deity, major or minor, was allowed to be in direct contact with humanity. No more speaking from bushes, no more stone tablets, no more oracles, and definitely no more appearing in person to perform miracles.

I shrugged. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer to let me cut in line.”

Mikhail’s eyes widened, then he broke out laughing.

My husband shook his head. “My wife is going to ask Lucifer for a favor. And the boon she craves, is to be allowed to the head of the line of demons waiting to be summoned and bound by humans.”

“It wouldn’t cost a favor. Lucifer’s a friend.”

“Morning Star would just let her do it for the shits and giggles.”

Thanatos muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“I think someone should explain the Law to me and why it’s necessary for Amarantha to ask for a favor to be summoned and bound and why that’s amusing.”

Thanatos and I responded at the same time.

“It’s not amusing.”

“It is verboten for us to deal directly with humans.”

Storm-dark eyes narrowed. “And your method of circumventing this is to allow yourself to be bound and summoned as a demon?”

“We’re allowed to speak to them then, since appearing in a demonic summoning circle means that we’re pretty much not allowed to speak unless spoken to and in response to direct questions. It is assumed that we’re going to lie as much as possible, so the Law doesn’t care.”

“And how does that aid us?”

“It’s one way of getting the information out.”

“Surely there are other ways.”

Thanatos pinched the bridge of his nose and cut in. “You could, for example, talk to the Fallen. That is allowed since they are technically not precisely human.”

“I was going to do that also. However, we will need to get word to the supernatural community as well. Their help could mean the difference between winning and ignominious defeat. If at all possible, I’d prefer not to be known for the rest of eternity as that goddess from that planet. Screws with my social life.”

“I don’t believe that between blogs, forums, tweets, and all other similar social media detritus, you can’t find a Fallen that has an in with the supernatural community.”

But where would the fun be in that?

Thanatos’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in close, gritting out his next words in a near growl. “We will do this, but we will not do this in a way that involves you being naked and trussed up liked a heavens be-damned present.”

I sighed. “Killjoy.”

He raised a long-fingered hand to my chin, a devastating smile curving his lips. “If you want entertainment of the naked and bound sort, I’m more than willing to lend you a hand. Or two. And in my case, you know your fun is guaranteed.”

I rolled my eyes and pushed his hand away.

Mikhail coughed. “Focus, you two. I’d tell you to get a room but I think it’d take a decade for you to even begin to take the edge off. So, knock it off.

Death arched a brow, his smile deepening. “Why, Mikhail, I do think that’s the nicest compliment I’ve had in an age.”

“Or the worst insult to your sexual prowess in an age. Requiring a decade to bring a woman to ecstasy implies staggering amounts of incompetence.”

I blinked at Raphael before bursting into laughter. His comment was made completely deadpan, his expression as smooth as if he were delivering a statement about the weather, but there was a wicked glint in his eyes.

Thanatos smirked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know which one it is.”

“I was assuming that they didn’t just call it la petite mort for no sound reason. Perhaps I shouldn’t have.” The archangel sounded penitent, but his eyes danced from beneath his lashes.

“I think you three should get a room, just so you can settle the question once and for all.”

Near identical looks of male confusion from the god and the archangel.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, darlin, but we don’t exactly have the right parts.”

Raphael glanced over at Mihail, his gaze assessing. “Do angels even have the parts in question?”

I folded my arms. “You being a deity clothed in flesh means you can create the necessary parts. As for you, Mikhail, wouldn’t they need an arbiter of some sort? Of course, you can always test out his oral skills in addition to his manual ones. The parts may be different, but I’m sure they’re mostly translatable enough that you can get a decent impression of his ability.”

Thanatos spread his hands, his smirk firmly in place.

Mikhail shook his head. “Tempting, but I think I’ll pass.”

“Because of Leviticus? Again, assuming you have the requisite parts.”

The archangel snorted out a laugh. “Hardly.” He looked over at Thanatos. “What I’m afraid of is that one taking la petite mort to an extreme that I would find very inconvenient and unfortunate.”

“Ah, Mikhail, you wound me.”

“That’s not a denial.”

My husband shrugged.

“Would he truly? Why would he have cause to?”

“He would have been tempted twice over at the point where I didn’t look as if I were going to intercede about the plan involving Lucifer, nudity, and bondage.”

What was this? Afternoon tea with the ladies?

I decided to ignore them and pulled out my smart phone.

Raphael directed his next statement at my husband. “You said earlier that she was your first choice. So you knew of this and you knew what you were sending her into.”

“Don’t be tiresome and coy, Raphael. I was hardly sending her into danger. I knew you’d step in to champion the situation. What could they have done except give a verdict we don’t agree with?”

“You knew? Even I didn’t know I’d be the one to hand her the verdict.”

Thanatos exhaled sharply. If he was any less than his elegant self, I’d have called it a snort. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been babysitting this planet since they first discovered the wheel and what it could do. Who else would they have given the task to?”

“Implying that they do not wish the planet to be reset.”

“They could hardly care less about that. You were simply the least likely to decline the chore and so it fell to you.”

Mikhail looked from Thanatos to Raphael. “So, what are your intentions? Are you in or are you the peanut gallery?”

Raphael arched a brow. “I wasn’t aware my duty was an optional venture.”

“Per the directive you mentioned, you only need to observe and ensure that the numbers are correct. It says nothing about aiding us or not.”

“It would be immensely tiresome to tag along like some unwanted younger sibling. I might as well render myself useful.”

“And you, Thanatos?”

“Whatever made you think that I would allow my wife to walk into danger without me at her side?” His  low voice was filled with silken danger.

I held back a cringe. Please don’t bring it up. Don’t…

Mikhail’s eyes flared, but he only nodded. 

I breathed out in relief.

“Amarantha. You done playing with your toy yet?”

I closed out of the app. “Yeah. I have some leads. I’ve texted you a list of names and addresses. I’ll see you guys at the first one in about four hours.”

“And where would you be going?”

“This old lady needs food, a nap, and to talk to Dawn. Not necessarily in that order. I’ll see you guys there.”

I shifted before they could object.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goddess in Waiting ch. 5

The scent of Death hit me as we crossed the threshold of the church. The richness of roses with just enough of chrysanthemum’s bite to undercut lilies’ cloying sweetness. Shadows clung to the corners of the room, skittering away from the brilliant sunshine flooding in from the stained glass windows.

I froze and raised an arm to block Raphael.

“Amarantha. So long apart and you hesitate to greet me?”

I sighed and walked forward.

A cloaked form rose from a crouching position beside the body.  He turned to face us, uncaring that his movements trailed the hem of his cloak through the pool of blood. His hair blazed against the starkness of his black cloak, the blend of russet and gold reminiscent of the dawn and a twisted counterpoint to the crimson at his feet. The billowy poet’s shirt he wore couldn’t hide the supple grace of his muscles as he moved. He wore it untucked over black leather pants so soft and worn they looked like cloth.

His beauty hit my gut like a fist. A thousand years I hadn’t seen him and I still hadn’t found another to rival him. Even the Morning Star’s beauty paled beside him and Lucifer was known for his bad-boy pretty looks.

I stopped three feet away. “Thanatos.”

His mouth curved in a humorless smile, his ice blue eyes severe. “So careful, my Amarantha. Do you not remember, the forced taking of maidens was never my gambit?”

Pain clenched around my heart. Pain that I thought I had left behind already. I did remember. The problem being I remembered far too much.

I asked, my heart in my throat turning my voice husky. “Do you forgive me?”

His body stiffened and the surrounding air turned icy.

I battened down disappointment and deliberately lightened my tone.

“Right then. In that case, we’re moving along. Can you show us his last moments?”

His eyes were far too knowing, as if he knew that I still carried a torch for him after a thousand years. “And what will you give me in return, my Amarantha?”

“What will you accept, Thanatos?”

He shook his head and laughed low in his throat. “Ah, no. Offer me something, my Amarantha and I will tell you if it will suffice. We shall not play this game again, you and I. It shall not be I dictating to you the terms of your surrender but your voluntary submission to me.”

I bit my lip.

Submission. The cornerstone of our discontent, something I could never give him and what he couldn’t be happy without.

His gaze fell to my mouth and his jaw set. “What will it be, Amarantha? The longer you tarry, the more his memories will deteriorate.”

“Will you accept blood?”

“You know there’s only one way I’ll take your blood, Amarantha, and it’s not from your wrist.”

I took three steps forward and rested my palms on his chest. His heart beat steady under my palm, its beat quickening just enough to be detectable.

He looked down at me, his eyes inscrutable and his mouth flattened in a grim line.

I lifted myself up on tiptoe and bit down hard on my lower lip as I raised my mouth to his. His arm came around me and hauled me up against his body. His mouth settled more firmly on mine. His tongue flicked against my lower lip, licking away the blood before he deepened the kiss.

Male voices started speaking, the sound muffled to a low murmur. I pushed against him, distracted, but he tightened his embrace and brushed his tongue against mine. Thanatos filled my senses with his scent, his taste, his aura and the unmistakable feel of his arousal. I closed my eyes and reached up to curl my arms around his neck.

Not willing to simply accept what I was willing to give, he swept in and tore down all my defenses. His hand fisted in my hair, tugging my head back so he could plunder at will.

Desire coiled in my core and my knees went weak. He’d always been my greatest weakness and I couldn’t resist him the way some women couldn’t resist chocolate.

He whispered my name against my mouth. “Amarantha.”

I snapped back to myself and looked up at him in barely concealed horror. Not again. It was supposed to be a simple kiss. Maybe not quite so simple with the blood, but it was supposed to be a transaction and nothing more.

The look he gave me was pure lazy sensuality, his eyes gleaming as if he knew my thoughts.

“It’s never going to be simple between us, my Amarantha. But I will allow you your temporary escape in return for the sweetness of your blood kiss. Not quite what I want, but it will have to be enough for now.”

I braced my hands against his chest and took a step back. His mouth curved in a small smile. We both knew that the distance between us was only because he allowed it.

“Show me the memory, Thanatos.”

He flicked a glance behind me. “You’ll want to be touching me for this, whoever you are.”

“There’s more than audio?”

“He was blinded before he was killed. I can place us in his mind for the moments before his death and perhaps his other senses will provide additional information.”

Thanatos extended a hand and Raphael took it. Honey gold skin against snow pale. 

He cupped my cheek with his other hand and the world fell away.

 

Worry pressed at the corners of my mind. Worry and fear. Cold sweat slid down my spine. Ice settled in my bones, already always cold because of Time’s harrying.

I looked down to see my gnarled, age-spotted hands shaking so hard I had to erase the last sentence I typed in onto my phone.

No. This wasn’t me.

I reached into my core and remembered, pulling forth enough of my memories to maintain my sense of self.

Losing yourself was always a danger when you entered a person’s consciousness and more so when it was a dying person’s last memories. Placing yourself within a dead person’s memories, that was foolhardiest of all. It was common for those who tried such a thing to be sucked into the dead person’s body, forcibly assimilated by the physical in search of the intangible. If not careful, you could find yourself with a whole new body. Unfortunately, since usually humans died for a reason, you could find yourself going the way of the previous soul in a hurry.

The doors of the church opened and the sharp acridity of sulfur wafted in. John Miller raised his head. Panic seized his breath. An explosion of light. Pain. And then there was nothing but darkness. John Miller shook so hard his muscles were on the verge of cramping.

He straightened his back and looked straight ahead, something I did not really expect from his fear before.

“What do you wish from me, demon?”

A low laugh. Dark and sultry, the sound wrapped around him like a courtesan’s perfume and curled deep. He tensed as arousal bit deep into unwilling flesh.

“I want the names of the Watchers under your care, good reverend.”

“No.” His hands gripped the phone so hard the plastic let out a squeak of protest.

A phantom hand wrapped around his cock. “Come now. I can make this hard for you or very, very hard. Is your silent god truly worth your devotion?”

“Heavenly Father,  I pray you sanctify me. King of kings, I beseech your protection against temptation. Lord of the Hosts, I entreat that you cast out all forces of evil, within and without…”

A phantom hand cinched around his throat, cutting off his prayer. ”Useless as it may be, I find blind devotion to be so very irritating.”

The hand around his cock tightened. Pain erupted as sharp nails scored his skin.

“Now, I will ask you once more, nicely. Where can I find the remaining Watchers?”

“My Lord, my Father, my Sovereign of all that is good and holy..” John Miller forced the words out as soon as the hand loosened enough for him to speak.

The voice sighed.

Just as the first wave of pain hit, I felt a tug on my spirit. More than happy to leave, I caught hold of the thread binding me to my body and slid back.

 

 

“Well. That was certainly different.” Raphael’s voice. Dry, with an edge.

I forced my eyes open. It felt like I’d been hit with a truck. Twice.

I blinked. I lay on a pew atop the cushions and my head was pillowed on Thanatos’ thigh.

Not good. I didn’t want to be this vulnerable around him.

Thanatos laid a land on my stomach and pinned me in place. “Don’t move just yet. Your spirit has not fully settled.”

“I’m not a newborn godling, Thanatos, that my spirit would shake free so easily.” I kept my words light but I knew that he was right to keep me prone. That one twitch let me know I was in no condition to be too careless.

“That lie is truly insulting in its transparency.” His voice was harsh.

“Thanatos…”

“What does he mean?” Raphael crouched beside me.

I stared at him. “Nothing of import to you, I’m certain.”

His brows drew together and his gaze lifted. “Since she’s being contrary, perhaps you’ll tell me.”

“The ties holding her to this earthly shell are weakening due to the body’s aging. If she is not careful, her essence could slip free.”

“That is bad?”

Thanatos exhaled. “Only if you consider having to wait two decades or more before she can finish whatever the two of you are doing bad.”

Raphael’s gaze snapped to mine. “What? Why would that be necessary? Your spirit cannot stand alone?”

Thank you, Thanatos, for letting the cat out of the bag. I was hoping to keep that secret a while longer.

I sighed. “No. It cannot. I can only do that when I am at home in the Netherworld. If I wish to take on living flesh, I must do it the old-fashioned way.”

He frowned. “Why would they place such a burden on you if you are such a minor goddess that you cannot even clothe spirit in flesh?”

Thanatos stiffened under me. He slid his arm under me and helped me to a sitting position, his touch firm but gentle.

“Didn’t we have this discussion? There wasn’t much of a selection. Sorry to disappoint, but what you see is what you get.”

“Do not dare put down my wife, Amarantha. I will allow many things from you, but this is one I will not tolerate. You were our first choice, before all the others. There will be no suggestion of anything else.”

I glanced at him in surprise.

He wasn’t looking at me. He pinned Raphael with a glare. “I will hear no complaints from you.”

The other god shook his head minutely. “That was no complaint but worry.”

He looked at me, a wrinkle appearing between his brows. “I thought your current guise was a whim. I assumed you would be able to shed this skin and manifest should you need to. This changes things.” He flicked a look at Thanatos. “Knowing that you’re bound to Death also changes things.”

My husband’s arm tightened around me. “How?”

“I will be much more mindful of her safety, for one.”

“And for the other?”

“Guys. I’m sitting right here. Please don’t talk about me like I’m an inanimate object.”

Raphael inclined his head. “I apologize.”

I didn’t wait for Thanatos to apologize. It would be faster trying to get blood from a stone.

“All I got from that lovely experience just now is that our adversary smells of sulfur. Did anyone else catch anything more useful?”

“He called it a demon and it smelled of sulfur. Could it be…”

I shook my head. “No. It’s not Lucifer.”

“You sound very sure.” His tone made it a question and not a statement.

“I know Lucifer and that’s not him or any of his underlings. Besides, he is beloved of Alexandros and his brothers. He Fell on their directive. He would not betray them thus.”

“Who, then?”

“The Devourer of Worlds.”

I looked up at my husband. “The Devourer of Worlds? What leads you to say that?”

“I didn’t just smell sulfur. I smelled something else. Something indescribable but which I have encountered once before. It was when I witnessed the death of a planet. There was this presence, a sensation of almost unbearable pressure, the air was suffused with this smell and then the planet was no more.”

There were some times when I forgot how much older Death was. He wasn’t a god created by the humans. He was here first, before any of us and he would outlast all of us. The only thing that could snuff him out would be the death of the universe itself.

His lips compressed and his eyes turned grim. “If the Devourer of Worlds has his eye on this planet, the battle we face may be beyond us.”

“We?”

His back, already ramrod stiff, tensed further. “You did not think I would let you face this alone, did you, wife?”

Oops.

I stared back at him, not quite certain what to say. It wasn’t as if we’d seen each other in a thousand years. More than enough time to declare a marriage null and void and more than enough time for him to lose whatever affection he once held for me. Besides, having Death on hand to fight the Devourer of Worlds wasn’t exactly what you’d call a dream team concept.

Raphael rose to his feet and leaned against the pew. “You know of our adversary. Do you know how to defeat him, then?”

“It all boils down to the evolution coefficient, doesn’t it?”

Thanatos nodded. “Yes. The Devourer cannot take a world that has ascended or is in the process of ascending. Once a world descends and the balance is tipped, then an opening is revealed to him.”

“But we’re not descending. We might be very slow about it, but the evolution coefficient has definitely been rising. As I pointed out to Raphael, we would be in violation of the pact between us and Gaia should that be the case.”

“The balance is always most precarious before a rise in the consciousness. With all that’s been in the global awareness lately, we are due for a jump, but that will also come at a cost.”

“One misstep and he has his in.”

“Yes.”

Raphael looked between me and Thanatos and shook his head. “This is turning out to be quite more than I thought I was signing up for.”

“Not quite your cup of tea, Raphael?” He arched a challenging brow and his tone carried the faintest hint of mockery.

“Quite the contrary. I haven’t had quite this excitement in eons.”

A male voice came from behind us. “I’m relieved to see that you all seem to be enthusiastic about the situation. You’re going to need that energy.”

Mikhail.

I sighed. Fan-fucking-tastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goddess in Waiting Ch. 4

“Alexandros.”

I took a page from his book and popped into Alexandro’s garden without waiting for him to respond to my telepathic knock, Raphael in tow.

He looked up from his laptop. Blue eyes weary, he sighed.

“You know.”

He didn’t acknowledge Raphael and I was in no mood to play at niceties.

“You couldn’t have warned me? What did you and Dawn expect, sending me off like that? Did you guys want the earth to be wiped? Did your triplet doing it once before make you more sanguine about it happening again?”

“Dawn doesn’t know. She doesn’t have this problem, with all of Inari’s kitsune that she can call upon.”

“Nice to know that I can put her back on my New Year gift giving list. So what gives with you? Why didn’t you say anything?”

He flicked a look at Raphael.

I half-turned. “No repeating anything that goes on in this conversation.”

Raphael exhaled. “I told you. I’m not here to function as a spy. Now, if you can deal with your cohort, we can be about our business.”

Alexandro’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I like him.”

“The feeling’s mutual, I assure you. You’re the reason the numbers are in such disarray and why this is necessary.”

“Break it up, boys. No time for that right now.”

I stared at my friend and tapped my foot. “Well? Raphael mentioned Watchers. What do you know of them? I thought your angels did your grunt work for you.”

His broad shoulders moved in what could be a shrug or apology. “There’s not nearly enough of them to go around. Used to be that you couldn’t walk over a patch of grass without one of the angelkin standing over it, whispering. Now? They’re spread extremely thin. The demons are gaining power as we hurtle toward the end of days and I need them on the ground, in battle, not sitting around transcribing deeds.”

I pinched the point between my brows. “We computerized that ages ago. You know that.”

This time, the movement was a definite shrug. “Actually, I don’t. We don’t talk shop, you and I. I did wonder on occasion how you managed to keep up with your exploding population, but it was always a passing query.”

I threw up my hands. “It never occurred to you to ask? What, did you just hide your head in the sand and hoped it would all sort itself out?”

“Amarantha. There are many things I will put up from you because you are one of my oldest remaining friends. However, do not mistake my tolerance for weakness. There were sufficient Watchers. Perhaps not enough, but sufficient. Then the computer age happened and I thought that the problem was solved. It’s only been very recently that someone has started killing my Watchers.”

“How recent?”

“Before, it was slightly below replacement rate, well within the bounds of normal Fate and death. In the last five years, however, a pattern has emerged. Someone is deliberately and systematically targeting them. They go through each city in sweeps, killing off some with every turn, leaving just enough so as not to cause an immediate uproar. Earlier this year, they’ve abandoned all semblance of covert activity and have begun a genocide.”

“What’s your solution?”

He slashed me a sardonic smile. “What makes you think I have one, Amarantha? After all, haven’t I been drifting this for these few millennia without one?”

“Alexandros.”

“Ever so heartless. No wonder your title is known as a synonym for ‘cold bitch’.”

Raphael stiffened at my side.

I only sighed. “Alex. How much of the brew did you drink?”

“Not much. Just half.”

With about fifty cups to the barrel I’d gifted him a thousand years ago and one cup sufficient to lay low even Ares, he was well beyond drunk.

I walked up to him and cupped his jaw. “That’s going to hurt, Alex.”

He turned his face into my hand and kissed my palm. “When does it not, Amarantha? Knowing what I did, that I sent you on that task, I couldn’t remain sober and keep what remains of my sanity. I’ve failed them, Amarantha, and I’ve failed you. How is a man supposed to live with that knowledge?”

Pain twisted in my heart.

I leaned in and kissed his forehead. “Fall, Alex. It’s past time.”

Tormented blue eyes raised to meet mine.

“You’ve put it off far too long and you’re losing perspective.” And sanity. I held those last words in my mouth and swallowed them.

“They’re in hiding. They know what’s hunting them is likely one of us and they’ve covered their tracks well. I could set angels upon their path, but that could lead others to them. The journals of those slain have been uploaded to the Cloud. I have Mikhail upon the trail of the killers.”

“Has he reported back yet?”

“He is following a lead.”

“Let him know your plans and Fall, Alex. I will take care of it.”

“My Watchers…”

I cut him off. “You won’t do them any good in your current state.”

If I didn’t get him to Fall now, while he was under the effects of the brew, it simply wouldn’t happen. The last thing I needed right now was a semi-sane, self-hating deity of his stature. If he went on a rampage….

Every so often, we needed to Fall to regain enough humanity to continue as gods. We would be reborn to an earthly mother and grow much as human children would, except much, much slower. The slow growth allowed for the gradual regaining of our godly memories without rising insanity.

“Always trying to take care of others, Amarantha. When will you allow yourself to Fall?”

“When I’m done with this ridiculous task you and Dawn set me, Alex. Now, will you go, or will I have to drug and push you?”

“I have informed Mikhail that he is seconded to you. He will apprise you of all he knows.”

“You will be safe, Alex?”

His mouth quirked. “I am not quite so far gone that I would deliberately choose a poor birth-mother. I still have some conscience left, believe it or not.”

I slanted my mouth over his in a brief kiss, erasing his cynical smile. “Don’t make me worry.”

The smile he gifted me then was one reminiscent of the godling who’d braided phoenix feathers into my hair thousands of years ago. “You always worry, my dove.”

He brushed his lips over mine. “I will be safe and I will let you know when it is time for me to return. In the meantime, speak to the Reverend John Miller in Arlington, Massachusetts. You know which one.”

Alexandro took a step back and lifted his goblet from the table. He raised it in a salute, then drank it down. His eyes closed. The cup fell from his hand. His entire body shimmered to light and fragmented into shards of rainbow.

A single feather floated down through the air. Crystalline, it looked as if it were made of sapphire filaments with a shaft of diamond.

I caught it in my hand and stared at it for a moment before tucking it into my pocket.

“Let’s go.”

Raphael studied me for a heartbeat. “To Arlington?”

“Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Goddess in Waiting ch. 3

I’d barely settled myself on a rock and made myself comfy before he popped back in.

His gorgeous mouth was set in an unhappy line and his eyes snapped blue fire. “What have you lot been doing?”

I raised a brow.

He made an impatient motion. “Your Watchers have all but died out. Somewhere, down there, you have less than ten souls doing what should be the work of thousands, if not millions. Some of those reports appear to be highly questionable as to their provenance and some are clearly outright fraudulent.”

“You mean to say that you guys were going to wipe out my planet due to some errors in paperwork and red-tape?”

A muscle ticked at his jawline, his eyes frosty. “Do not you dare blame this on me. What have you been doing on that planet of yours that your Watchers are near extinction?”

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know. For that matter, I wasn’t sure what the Watchers were or what they did.

Some of my confusion must have leaked through. He sighed in frustration. “Who decided you were a good candidate for this position?”

I shrugged, “There wasn’t exactly much of a choice in the selection. Also, the Watchers aren’t part of my purview. Why would I know anything of them?”

His brows snapped together and his eyes narrowed. “You have no Watchers? Then who catalogs the evolution of humanity and how?”

“That seems like an extremely inefficient and potentially error laden way of doing things. We tally up the sins and good deeds of every soul at death and enter them into the appropriate ledgers. At the end of every solar cycle,  we take the total and run that through Zhang Heng’s Theorem. We arrive at the evolutionary coefficient in that way. All of our paperwork is uploaded at the moon rise.”

He took in a deep breath. A vein pulsed at his temple. “You are a goddess of the Chinese pantheon.”

“Yes.”

He drew a symbol in the air.

The night sky blazed with sudden light. Rows upon rows of numbers and words scrolled up from the horizon.

“That explains why the accounts for your planet is such a mess. Do you gods speak to one another? I’m not going to ask if you cooperate with one another because I already have the sorry answer to that.”

I stared at the numbers, ran some quick calculations in my head, and cursed mentally

Alexandros. I’m going to put you in a world of infinite pain for this.

He had to have known. There was no way that he didn’t know that his numbers were spotty at best and completely missing in far too many places. He wasn’t the only offender, of course, but his high number of followers made him falling down on the job a much bigger problem. It was like taxes — a multibillionaire skimping on his return was going to be a problem. Someone barely making minimum wage? Not as much of a big deal.

“The order has been rescinded, for now. You are required to bring in documentation of your evolutionary coefficient and proof of it in seven solar cycles in order to maintain the reprieve. Of course, you will also destroy the tech before it becomes a problem.”

I raised my eyes to the heavens in search of patience. “Oh, for the days of having a proper enemy to smite and be done with. Death is so much easier than bureaucracy. At least with that one you knew where you stood at all times.”

“Any questions?” His words were prim and his tone prissy.

Clearly, someone didn’t agree with my barbaric notions.

I shrugged. “No. It was fairly clear. Straighten up a few millennia’s worth of messed up numbers, put a whole new bureaucracy in place for a couple of religions who won’t appreciate me butting in, and set up some sort of protocol to unify the world’s religions. Nothing to it.”

“Your levity seems inappropriate.”

“Honey darling, you have no idea. Either I can sit down on this here rock and start rocking and weeping, or I can indulge in a wee bit o’ sarcasm. I’m choosing the latter because I have a personal rule against crying in front of a man I’m not fucking.”

His eyes widened. “I see.”

“No. You don’t, and that’s fine. Just letting you know what the score is.” I stood up from the rock and stretched out my limbs, wincing with each little pop.

I inclined my head. Courtesy was courtesy, no matter how much I wanted to jump on his prim and proper ass.

“Thank you for reviewing the case and for gaining us the reprieve. Will I see you again when I come to submit the paperwork?”

His mouth quirked. “Yes.”

I nodded and was just about to shift when he casually added another sentence.

“I will be with you when you do.”

“What?”

“I have been tasked to assist and observe.”

I arched a brow. “Oh, no no no. No. I don’t do together. I don’t do partners. I don’t do guys, especially.”

He didn’t miss a beat. “How fortunate that you are not required to do me then. That wasn’t a suggestion or a request, Amarantha. My company is a requirement for your reprieve.”

He drawled my name, caressing the syllables with his deep voice.

I inhaled. “All right. We need to discuss this.”

“By all means.”

I ignored the note of amusement in his voice. “What, exactly, is your task?”

“It is not to spy upon you and the workings of the gods on your planet, if that is your fear. We already know that it’s a spectacular mess.”

“Then what?”

“Much as you may find it hard to believe, Amarantha, the Council does not set such orders lightly. There seems to be an inordinate amount of confusion involved in the situation and I have been seconded to you so that I may ensure that your planet receives as fair a treatment as possible. Should there be further extenuating circumstances, I might be able to garner more sympathy for your planet’s plight.”

I tapped my fingers against my thigh and considered him.

He didn’t seem to be lying and he didn’t seem to be a big honking scumball like that god from before, if a bit on the prissy side.

I sighed.

I just knew this was going to be another one of those things I’d regret. Not that I had a choice either way. “All right. Fine.Are you going to interfere?”

“In how you do your job? No. In how you deal with others? No. In anything not directly pertaining to this case? No.”

I sighed again. “Allrighty then. Let’s do this.”

I said it as if I had a choice.

 

Goddess in Waiting ch. 2

I fingered the piece of vellum in my hand. Golden numbers were illuminated against the heavy cream of the material: coordinates to a specific point in space. The meeting place of the gods. Closing my eyes, I imprinted them upon my mind, bound them to my spirit, and shifted. When I opened my eyes again, I stood in infinite darkness. Not a single star blinked against the velvet dark. My breath caught in my chest, ice crystals forming in my lungs before I remembered to stop breathing. I exhaled out what air remained, wincing a bit at the pain. I’d have cursed a bit to relieve the agony, but I didn’t want to give whoever was watching the satisfaction of knowing I’d done such a stupid thing. Silence spooled out, endless and daunting. There was a heavy, crystalline quality to the lack of sound in space, a mute reminder of how very small we all were, even us who claimed to be gods. I waited. It wouldn’t be a proper initiation without some hazing. And it wouldn’t be a proper hazing if they didn’t at least let me cool my heels for a little while. “So. You are the new one.” A male voice, deep and resonant. A star winked into existence right in front of me, its pale golden light blinding after the absolute absence of light. He didn’t even bother to turn down the luminescence a bit, knowing that I would have been waiting in the dark. Just goes to show how much of a tool this god was going to be. “Yes.” I blinked away the dancing lights in my vision and stared at him. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, and built like a brick outhouse — he had Zeus’ style down to perfection. He arched a brow. “Dainty little thing, aren’t you?” His tone made it clear that it wasn’t a compliment. I raised my brows right back at him. “We can’t all have something to compensate for.” Azure eyes narrowed, thick blond brows beetling for a moment before his expression cleared. “Here to represent that quaint little backwater planet about to be wiped, is that it?” “Yes. Whereas you’re playing doorman and escort, so why don’t you hop to it instead of wasting everyone’s time?” I hid my shock, taking refuge in arrogance. The last I heard, it was still in debate, not a settled fact. Ice settled around my heart and curled about my spine. I thought I was here to argue Earth’s case, but it seemed that I had been summarily summoned here to hear the verdict instead. A thin smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “When your planet is no more, I wonder if you’ll still be as sassy as you are now.” He flicked a glance over me, surveying, cataloging, and dismissing within the span of milliseconds. “A little old lady with a big mouth — there’s no market for that. Now, if you were a pretty young thing, I could consider giving you a spot at my feet, but…” I blinked at him and said in my most courteous tone. “If you’re quite done with your delusions of grandeur, perhaps we could proceed?” “Don’t say I was not benevolent, little goddess. Soon, you will regret your insolence and beg for my mercy.” I drew a circle in the air with my hand and tapped my foot. His smile grew. “I will enjoy breaking you when the time comes. I shall count the seconds, never you fear.” A chime sounded, a haunting note that hung in the air between us. “Ah, it seems that the bean counter grows impatient. Very well. On you go then.” He waved his hand and a corridor of light opened before us. “Till we meet again, little goddess.” I ignored his mocking bow and stepped forward into the light.   The weight of light pressing against my eyelids lessened. I opened my eyes, to a pastoral view unlike any I’d seen before. The grass covering the hill I stood upon was deepest indigo, the sky spring green with clouds of palest lavender. A bird with a wingspan taller than I was soared over me, shrieking its defiance. The scent of sun-warmed grass rose in the air, mingling with the scent of something else. Something masculine. I turned. He stood there, quiet permeating every inch of him, so still I could barely see the rise and fall of his chest. His naked chest. He wore only a linen kilt, belted at his waist with a golden cord. His feet, slender and fine-boned, were bare as well. Eyes the color of storm-tossed seas regarded me steadily from under inky lashes. His arms were crossed, veins cording under honeyed skin. Not so calm as he wanted to portray then. I placed my right hand between my breasts and inclined my head. “Amarantha.” He shifted to cross his arms over his chest with his palms to his shoulders, and bent his head. “Raphael.” “I see that there is to be no meeting after all.” Discomfort flashed across his eyes, darkening them further and his lips tightened. “No.” “So there is a verdict I have yet to hear.” “Yes. Your planet will be reset in twelve of your solar days.” The ice wrapped around my heart spread to my stomach and contracted. I fought to keep my voice even. “Reset? Such a clean word for such a bloody reality.” “It is the rule. Your planet has not ascended and yet it is on the verge of discovering faster than light travel.” “That is the rule. However, isn’t destroying the technology an option? Why so quick to jump to what should be a last resort? And without even giving us a chance to fight for the future of our people?” His face turned cold. He waved a hand at the sky, which immediately darkened to night. The stars appeared, more than I’d seen on Earth in recent cycles, and in a more regular pattern than our constellations. Raphael snapped his fingers and the stars came into focus and I saw they weren’t stars at all. Tiny, delicate script flowed across the sky and endless numbers scrolled alongside. “According to your Watchers’ reports, your people have not evolved in the last two hundred or so years. In fact, one could argue that they have chosen to descend instead. It is only a matter of time before your planet achieves true space travel. The collective consciousness has been wakened to the possibilities and it will be difficult, if not impossible to contain the technology. The gods have left their post and the people do not listen. What would be the point of giving your planet another year, perhaps two?” I closed my eyes, his every word a whip against my heart. “You will still be gods. Why slow the inevitable?” My eyes snapped open as fury rose to choke me. “You think that is what bothers me?” He gazed back at me, his eyes steady and cold. “The numbers do not lie, goddess. You and your people have abandoned each other to mutual destruction.” Where to even begin? It wasn’t that we’d abandoned our people. It was simply that we’d used most of our powers in the last great Cataclysm and henceforth made the pact that we would not, could not, reveal ourselves directly to the people any longer. I stared at the night sky, trying desperately to think of an argument that would support my case without having to admit to the truth. Then a number caught my eye, blazing bright against the dark before it disappeared. “Your numbers aren’t right.” “I beg your pardon.” His tone was frosty. “They are numbers submitted by your very own Watchers. I assure you they are correct.” I shook my head. “No. The numbers you have for the last few decades are absolutely incorrect. If the evolutionary coefficient was truly that low for the past few generations, considering the level of tech on the planet, we should be on World War Four right now. Your numbers do not bear out.” “It may simply be pure luck on your part.” No help for it. I had to admit to at least this one secret. “We have a pact with Gaia. Should the evolutionary coefficient dip below a certain number, she will commence cleansing as she sees fit. The number we have is significantly higher than the numbers you have on your report. This pact should have been entered into the universal consciousness in the Archive Halls under the code Sigma Jia Kaph Qop Tet Isaz.” The contract scrolled across the horizon even before I’d finished speaking. He stared at the writing for long moments, expressionless. I remained silent, knowing the look of a frustrated male with a bruised ego. “I will look into it.” He disappeared between one breath and the next, the stars winking out into oblivion with his departure.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 1

I stretched in the luxurious sunshine and tried to work out the cricks in my neck. It wasn’t easy, between my years and the added weight of my silver braid hanging half-way to my knees. My right elbow popped, a disconcertingly loud sound in the quiet calm. I winced as my left knee twinged, letting me know its displeasure at my long hike yesterday.

A smoky gray Maine Coon sat on the chair opposite me and stared at me with mocking golden eyes.

“Mock me all you like, Brutus, but growing old isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ll laugh at you when you can’t catch those grasshoppers anymore.”

He sniffed and turned his head aside, deliberately tracking the passage of a cloud with great attention.

I lowered my arms, relieved when nothing else cracked or popped. This body was nearing seventy and it was starting to be insistent about reminding me of that fact, even with the boost to healing and longevity due me as a goddess in a human form.

Curling my fingers around my teacup, I buried my face in the warm scent of  the Iron Goddess of Mercy tea and sighed.

The day stretched ahead of me, with nothing more pressing than my own comfort and amusement to take heed to.

Much as it was inconvenient some times to be older, it was worth it to be rid of the tempestuous mess that many people liked to call youth.

I shuddered.

Hormones. Awkward collisions that were called relationships. Jealousy, love, envy, lust, and all those fun things that tore lives apart.

I took a sip. The clear fragrance of the tea filled my nose and mouth, clearing my head, and I sighed again in contentment.

A shiver in the air, a vibration in the energies around me was all the warning I got before everything went sideways.

“Oh damn.” I set down my teacup with a clatter.

Between one blink and the next, the two empty seats at my dining table were filled.

Brutus yowled in protest and streaked out of the sun room.

The man opposite me arched a brow, twirled his fingers in the air, and pulled forth a crystal goblet filled with red wine. “Such language in the face of an old friend, Amarantha.”

“I’d be a lot more welcoming if you wouldn’t simply pop in without invite or warning, Alexandros.”

I turned to the woman sitting on his left. “Dawn, I didn’t expect better from him, but you…”

Dark-chocolate eyes met mine, serene and unruffled. “You haven’t been to the latest meetings and you’ve been very hard to contact in recent years. We didn’t want to take the chance of sending you to ground.”

Alexandros tossed back his wine in one smooth swallow, his goblet refilling as soon as it left his lips. He drank that as quickly as he did the first, barely waiting for the goblet to replenish before he lifted it his mouth again.

“Do you want some of my special blend?”

He flicked a glance at me from deep blue eyes, his lips twisting in a grimace. “No. The last time I had some of your special blend, I lost a decade or two.”

“Why do you even care? It’s not as if you could actually affect anything. Why not drown yourself in oblivion more effectively than you are now?”

“The pater cares and so I must, my darling Amarantha.” A sharp look came and went in his eyes, the lines around his mouth tightening before he took another healthy mouthful of wine.

“When are you going to stop being such a …”

Dawn raised a hand, cutting me off. “Much as it’s amusing to see you two bicker, that wasn’t the goal of the visit today.”

I swallowed the words, more than a little relieved for Dawn’s interruption. Alexandros was one of my oldest friends and much as I hated to see him use drink to blunt the pain, it wasn’t my place to jab at him further. It was just so painful to watch that I often caught myself saying things I really shouldn’t.

It was one of the reasons I’d withdrawn. Eternity was long enough without alienating your friends.

“So, what brings you here?”

Dawn leaned forward, clasping her hands before her. “We need you to represent Earth at the celestial summit this coming summer solstice.”

I blinked. “What?”

Alex lifted his goblet in a mocking toast. “The celestial summit. We need a god or goddess to go and stand for the Earth. You’re it.”

I reached over and plucked the goblet from his hand and drained it in one smooth swallow. “No.”

The wine burned pleasantly down my throat, the fragrance of roses and jasmine intertwining with the sweetness of strawberries and passion fruit.

The celestial summit.

I hadn’t heard of that in an age.

I tossed back the refill just as fast as I threw back the first cupful. “They didn’t want us there, remember? Our planet was too unformed, our people too barbaric, us gods too provincial for them.”

Alex sighed and pulled out another drinking vessel, this one of paper thin transparent jade. “They changed their minds.”

“And so now we jump to their tune? No thanks. I’m quite content to remain as I am, provincial and all.”

She bit her lower lip, an unusual sign of stress for her. “The problem here is exactly that: if we do not find someone to represent the Earth, then the end of days will commence.”

I stared at my goblet. “There isn’t enough wine in the world to help me deal with this amount of bullshit.”

A white jade amphora appeared in front of me, complete with a glass straw that bent at an angle perfect for the height of my mouth. The goblet in my hand disappeared.

I glanced over at Alexandros, who only gave me a single mocking look before lowering his eyes to his own cup.

“There is a challenger. If we do not meet his challenge, then he lays claim to all of Earth as salvage. All of Earth, all of its inhabitants — devoured.”

“By what right?”

It was Alex who answered. “By right of failure to ascend before achievement of interstellar travel.”

I threw up my hands in disgust. “We are so far from interstellar travel it isn’t even funny.”

“Actually…”

I gaped at Dawn, who only shrugged, her answering grimace wry.

“Remember those alien ships that crashed a few decades ago? Well, they think they’re on the verge to cracking the riddle.”

Exhaling a slow breath out, I pinched the point between my brows. “How close is on the verge?”

“It could be anything from decades to mere days. Breakthroughs are hard to predict.”

I slumped back into my seat, cuddled the amphora to my chest, and took a good long swig.

There really wasn’t enough booze there to make the situation even vaguely tenable, but no sense in heading into a quandary sober when I could do it sloshed.

We did end up breaking out my special brew after the fifth bathroom run between the three of us. Having a super charged metabolism wasn’t all it was fired up to be when it meant that you spent more time running to the toilet than you did drunk.

“All right. So tell me again: why me? I’m just a little, minor goddess out of mostly obscured Chinese legend. Hells. Most people don’t even know I’m a goddess.”

I lifted my cup and pointed at Alexandros. “I can see why Mr. Sunnyface over there doesn’t want the job, but why not any of the numerous more well-known gods out there?”

At this point, Alex’s drinking problems aside, none of us wanted to give his worshipers the satisfaction of knowing that they were right about his existing. Not to mention that he already had more than enough on his plate to deal with all the problems his followers dreamed up on a daily basis. If we put more on his shoulders, he could very well decide that he was better off perpetually floating in a vat of wine rather than not.

Dawn flicked me a look. “Most of ‘em have gone the reincarnation route.”

“But not all. I mean, if you’re scraping the barrel, you could consider Bast, Tiamat, or who’s that one with the gorgeous accent and the feathers?”

Alexandros raised his hand and started ticking down fingers. “Bast is currently reincarnated as a cat who is pet to the principessa of some rich country. She’s hardly going to give up her foie gras and cream for this posting. Your hot stud with the gorgeous accent and feathers recently went on tour of another world to find more worshippers. And do we really need to bring up Tiamat? If we let Tiamat be the representative of Terra, we might as well let the challenger have it. It’ll be less embarrassing.”

I tsked at him. “Tiamat would be heartbroken to hear you say that about her.”

He arched a brow. “Tiamat can…”

Dawn sighed. “Children…”

“The buddhas are busy. Alex can’t and won’t do it. Hells. You don’t want Alex doing it because you don’t want to give his followers the chance to be smug. I can’t do it because I have descendants and they don’t count me as an impartial party. Almost everyone else has reincarnated. Tell me, Amarantha, who would you leave the future in the hands of right now?”

Alex gave me an oddly sweet smile, untainted by cynicism. “It’s your choice, Amarantha. But I know you. You’ve already made it, haven’t you?”

I took a swig of special potion number five. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a warm sensation floating up from my abdomen, my memories blurring slightly, my emotions clouding just enough for me to say the fateful words.

“Fine. I’ll do it. What does it entail; where’s my entourage; how do I kill the big bad; and where is the bling?”