Modern Goddess: Trapped by Thor Book One
“I’m afraid the rules are non-negotiable. If you don't like them, you don't get to go to Earth.” I stared at the mountain of teeth, stone-carved skulls, and grass skirt in front of me.
“What? I’m god!”
“No,” I corrected, hands arranged on the desk, “You are a god. Look around,” I gestured to the building around us – the one made of flickering, glistening glass and diamond, “We are all gods here. The rules are the rules. If you want to go to Earth for a vacation – or whatever you have planned.” I flicked my gaze at him over the top of my glasses. I didn't have a vision problem – I was a fully-functional goddess – but the glasses added something to my demeanor cheaper and easier than lightning bolts and tidal waves. “Then you have to play by the rules. No god, goddess, or demi-god can be cleared for entry into Earth unless they agree to uphold the rules and to be held accountable to them should they...” I traced a finger down the file on my desk, “Decide to get creative.”
He clenched his jaw. The necklace of actual skulls around his neck jittered to the side, and each of the skulls turned their hollow glares on me.
I stared back over the top of my unnecessary glasses.
“I have killed warriors,” the god growled, the runes and symbols painted across his face (in what looked like permanently fresh blood) glistened as he shifted in the light, “I have killed men, I have killed gods—“
“Really?” I leaned back and pretended to be impressed. “I suggest you go hand yourself in to the Divinity Police. Times have changed, Mr,” I glanced back at his file, “Balang, and we tend to frown on that type of thing these days. Plus, if you are trying to convince me that you are a stable and reliable enough sort of fellow to be let loose on the streets of Earth, I suggest you tone down the murder talk. If you want to be let in,” I smiled wanly, “Sign the damn contract.” I refrained from asking him to sign the goddamn contract, though the word was on my lips. Goddamn had a different meaning when you yourself were a god.
Balang looked ready to kill me.
I didn't react. I'd seen this type of thing before. I’d been looking at godly tantrums for centuries.
“I’m afraid unless you sign that contract, you will not be allowed through customs,” I pointed out one final time. “If the details are not in place, you will not be allowed entry.”
Balang settled. From his file, he was one of those composite gods. Death, destruction, war, crops – you name it – he stood for them all. A lucky thing. For now he was stepping aside from the warring side of himself and falling back on the crop-growing side – the side that appreciated the logical, methodical, sensible approach to growing maize, potatoes, and signing necessary divine contracts in order to process his visa application.
He didn’t mutter a “Fine,” or an “Okay then.” He grabbed the scroll and scribbled his name across it using the pen propped in an inkwell on my desk.
I let out a small sigh. Thank god for that. I smiled at the thought. Thank god because it was a god who’d presided over this victory – me.
What was I the goddess of? What particular skills did I have to bring to this situation? Details. That's right, facts. No fancy elements or abstract concepts for me, thank you very much – just the parts that constitute the whole.
Throughout all the pantheons that existed there were all sorts of extraordinary gods and goddesses – creatures who stood for and symbolized the greatest forces of the galaxy. In the human pantheon alone you had gods of thunder, death, war, wisdom, and love. They lived their lives through and commanded those forces.
They were the big guys.
Then there was me. I stood for details. I couldn't call the denizens of the dead from the underworld. I couldn't command the oceans to rise up. I couldn't inculcate wisdom into a man's soul. I could, however, dot my i's and cross my t's. Which made my job perfect for me.
As soon as Balang signed his scroll – which bound him physically to the rules of the Integration Office – he stood, his necklace of skulls indignant. He marched away immediately without as much as a “Goodbye.”
I watched him go, the light streaming in from the sun behind me catching each leaf in his grass skirt. When he disappeared down the great glass stairs that led through customs down to planet Earth, I gave a hearty sigh.
I cleared my throat and glanced at the clock. It was time to go home.
I scanned my office one last time, nodded in satisfaction that everything was where it should be, then closed and locked the door.
“Knocking off then?” one of the cleaning gods asked from down the corridor as I headed for the stairs.
“See you in the morning,” he mumbled back.
“Yes,” I confirmed. I walked for the glass steps and took to them gingerly.
He would see me in the morning. This was my job, and I took my job seriously. I had to. I was the sole immigration officer at the Earth Division of the Integration Office. It was up to me to sign and stamp the visas that allowed gods and goddesses transport to Earth. It was up to me to keep the riffraff out. It was up to me to ensure every visiting divinity knew the rules and accepted to abide by them. It was up to me to ensure Earth stayed as it was while the various gods and goddesses of the universe secretly took their vacations there.
Oh yes, it was an important job, and one I took very seriously. I was Officina, goddess of details and facts.
I stopped past the shops on my way home to pick up some cat food. I lived in a nice but modest cottage on the edge of a city. I had roses, a well-kept lawn, and a nice white clean kitchen where I baked things like muffins and pies. I spent my time – when I wasn't working – poring through books and catalogues of data. I was never more at home than when I had information before me, and the more specific, the better. Numbers, calculations, variables, patterns – I didn't watch television like some of the entertainment gods when I got home from work, I studied.
Surrounding myself with hundreds and thousands of facts made me feel alive. It made me see the divinity in the universe and, importantly considering what I was, the divinity within. The universe literally opened up for me when I had my nose stuffed into a book of weather facts or an almanac or a catalogue of engineering tools.
By the time I made it through the front door the sun was already setting. It was strange seeing it from far away again. The Integration Office was located, of all places, right next to the sun. It was made of diamond and glass. It didn’t, however, melt or burn to a cinder. It was constructed and run by gods, not humans. No one complained of being blinded by the light streaming in through the great glass windows – though they offered an unshielded view of the sun's bubbling corona. Only gods bothered going through the Integration Office.
After work, each night I would come home to my Earth cottage. Unlike some of the other divine permanent-residents on Earth, I didn't bother living in the abandoned ruins of some temple, castle, or palace. I’d gone for an affordable delicate cottage on the outskirts of a large city. I had a small pond with tadpoles and frogs, and rows of neat white roses along the fence. I wouldn't trade those for all the semi-abandoned sacred ruins on Earth.
I had a library, too – a great, grand, wide library. Mundane things like frogs and roses aside, my library wasn’t... ah... normal. Technically, when you stepped into the room between my lounge and bedroom, you came upon a rip in the space-time continuum. A rip that took you to any library that had existed on Earth: the Library of Congress, the Library of Alexandria, and every public library you could think of. I would grab a great handful of books after making my dinner and before sitting down in my lounge room, and every night I would read through them all.
It was how I liked to live my life. Or rather, it was how the divine quality of details and facts established itself within me.
Not all gods were like me. There were a few gods and goddesses who had been granted permanent residency on Earth. Some of them chose to live like hermits in the forest, flitting through the darkened ruins of their once great temples. Still others abandoned the old for the new and became rich – but apparently ordinary – women and men of power and play.
They didn’t, however, break the rules. While using your godly powers to create small space-time rifts in your living room didn't break them, the rules forbade direct interference with the human populace. That would break the rule of Freedom of the Will. The rule which stated all creatures – all beings, from slime molds to birds to humans to non-corporeal energy entities – had the freedom to choose the ultimate direction of their lives. Break that rule – interfere in such a way that a person loses their freedom – and you go straight to Divinity Prison.
There were other rules, too. The business of keeping Earth safe was an important one. There were a great many burgeoning life forms on this planet, all trying to figure out their place in the universe. Despite a god or goddesses’ ultimate predilection – be it to wisdom, death, or war – they had to safeguard the sanctity of life. These days that meant staying out of things and letting all those entities figure it out for themselves.
Us gods and goddesses were still creatures and still had rights, though. If a god of war wanted to visit a temple of peace on some far-off planet, he could – as long as he didn't get creative halfway through his holiday and start carving up the monks for some light exercise.
As long as people respected the rules of integration – and people included gods – they were free to go anywhere and explore whatever experiences they may.
All you had to do was accept to live and behave in accordance with the rules. Yes, that often meant leaving the golden chariots pulled by man-sized scarabs at home, along with your marching army of dead and angry warriors. But it wasn't all bad. You could bake pies, you could read books, you could walk on a street full of humans and watch their expressions, emotions, and lives – all without anyone knowing who or what you were.
I did love to watch. Some of the other gods – like the ever-irritating Thor/Zeus/Jupiter – would prefer to be sitting on a mountaintop throwing lightning bolts at goats, but they had to find other ways to indulge their creative passions these days.
Thinking about Thor/Zeus/Jupiter brought an angry flush to my cheeks, and I took a hearty sniff as I turned the key to open my front door. My cat appeared around my ankles. It meowed with all the force and passion of a warhorse eager to go into battle. The battle it intended was some nice prolonged meowing until I fed it, but the sentiment was there.
“Yes, yes,” I said softly, “You'll get your food, Chia.”
I took one last glance at the sky and the rays of sunlight filtering down. They were long, purple, and orange – rich with the colors of dusk. I smiled up at them.
If I’d had the time, I would have counted them – though it technically isn't possible to count rays of light. I would have noted the exact hues of each ray. I would have noted the way they interacted with the objects they hit – how they shined off the clean white of my picket fence and the glorious pearly-color of my roses.
It was always in the details for me – everything was.
I considered the collection of files on my desk. It was a popular time of year for gods and goddesses to visit Earth. It waxed and waned, but whenever the constellations aligned, you could bet every god worth his toga and wreath would hop a golden chariot to Terra.
Now was one of those times. I had fourteen various divinities to get through today. They ranged from gods of battle to a god of plumbing. All of them wanted to go to Earth, be it on business or pleasure.
I sighed into my steaming cup of cocoa and waited for the clock to strike nine. I always made it to work precisely ten minutes early. That gave me enough time to make a drink, straighten the files on my desk, and wipe away any streaks on the glass wall by the side of my chair. It also gave me a chance to memorize the details of whichever divinity wanted to visit today. While I sometimes pretended to check back to the files every time I wanted to intimidate a potential godly immigrant – it was an act. I made a point of memorizing every single detail of their files. Their powers, their height, their reason for visiting, their dental records. I was the goddess of facts and details – paperwork was my champion never my tormentor.
I glanced at the clock several seconds before it ticked over to nine, then straightened the ice-white blond bun at the back of my neck. I pushed my black-rimmed glasses further up my nose and tugged down my no-nonsense navy-blue blouse.
I looked at the door in haughty anticipation of the next godly arrival. That was the thing about working at the Integration Office – every single entity you dealt with, from the cleaners, to the clients, to the cafeteria ladies, were gods, and they all came with a certain attitude. A god was used to being worshiped, lauded, and cherished. Having a building full of gods all boasting about how good they were while they waited around for their worshipers to clean the temple and prepare them dinner wasn't going to happen. Up here in the Integration Office, gods and goddesses – at least the smart and efficient ones – had to take a deep breath and realize they weren't all that great. In other words, if you want tea and a biscuit, get it yourself. If you notice a spot on your shrine, go fetch a sponge on your own time.
When everyone around you is equally as divine, things tend to even out.
Well, mostly. In the realm of divinity there were those gods and goddesses who had personalities and egos the size of the universe. I hated them.
The first god to walk in was a thin chap in a dingy toga with a scraggly beard. His watery gaze darted around the room as he sat at the desk. I already knew who he was, but nonetheless I leaned in with an eyebrow raised and patted his file. “Who are you, why do you want entry to Earth, and have you read your rules?”
His eyes watered more at my curt tone. “Ah, great madam, I’m Tolus, god of Barely Enough.”
I raised my other eyebrow and cocked my head to the side. “God of Barely Enough? I have never heard of that.” I was lying. What with working for the Integration Office, having read Tolus’ file, and being the goddess of facts – I'd heard of most things. Admitting that would ruin the tough-immigration-officer act I was going for here.
“Yes, great madam, I’m the god who embodies,” he brought a thin hand up to his chest, the skin so meagre his knuckles protruded like balls, “Having only barely enough. When a peasant has but enough food to survive or a man has but only enough breath to live – I’m the god they worship.” Tolus’ eyes flickered and watered as he spoke, and his dirty toga hung off him with all the limpness of a dead flower about to lose its petals.
I softened my expression. Though I wasn't about to give anyone any breaks, I wasn't heartless, either. I’d been doing this job long enough to form opinions – however work-inappropriate – about the various divinities who walked through my door. While I harbored a genuine dislike of the outrageously powerful and egomaniacal gods, I liked the more understated ones. The gods and goddesses who stood for humble things like the way buttercups dot through the grass in spring, to the first rains of autumn, to divinities of things obscure yet necessary like knit wear. They were all different, those gods – they were far humbler, far nicer. They were also far less likely to take a chunk out of your desk or threaten you with a lightning bolt.
I offered a bare smile then hid it with a cough. “What is your reason for visiting, god of Barely Enough?”
“I’m visiting a refugee camp.”
My heart quietened. “Work, then?”
“Work,” Tolus confirmed with a nod that saw his thin head jut forward too fast.
“You agree to obey the rules?” I asked softly.
“Oh yes. I respect the right of every being to choose their own path. I will offer comfort and solace where they are sought – I will not intervene directly,” as Tolus spoke, his eyes widened, his lips spread a touch, and his thin hair brushed against the top of his head. It was always the details like those I noticed.
Details made the picture. If you noted – if you immersed yourself in every second, in every line, in every color, in every stroke, in every feature – you could reconstruct reality from the bottom up.
“Very well. Please sign this binding contract, and you will be on your way.” I pushed the sacred scroll towards him.
As Tolus signed it in his shaky scribble, the scroll came to life. Every time a god or goddess put their name down to a binding contract, they breathed life into it. They signed their name to it, and in doing so, everything that god stood for poured into the contract. They ratified it with their own divine power.
“Good luck.” I smiled at Tolus as he got up to leave. I meant it, though I shouldn't have been saying it. To me, every god should be a detail on a contract. If the facts aligned, I let them in. It was a simple system. I should treat them all the same and have no particular like or dislike for any one of them.
I stowed the freshly signed contract in one of the drawers of my desk and watched the god of Barely Enough walk through the door, back hunched, but head held forward, his watery eyes staring ahead with determination. For all the gods of victory who passed through my office, the difference in Tolus' gaze was so distinct it sent a shiver down my spine. Tolus stared at the world with the determination and knowledge that whatever came, he wouldn't defeat it – he would survive it.
It left a chill in my belly and a thoughtful expression playing across my face. An expression which froze as I heard a commotion in the hallway.
“Make way,” a triumphant voice boomed.
I knew that voice, oh god (and any god would do), I knew that voice!
I jumped up from my desk, my half-full cup of cocoa spilling, and I ran to the door. My worst suspicions were confirmed when I saw a god marching down the corridor towards my office. Thor, Zeus, Jupiter – whatever you wanted to call him. The god of lightning. The god of victory. The god of being a bloody, self-righteous annoyance of divine proportions.
He sauntered towards my door dressed today like Thor – his Viking helmet glittering as if trapped within was a galaxy of stars. His chest puffed out so much the sparkling golden breastplate appeared to pop from his torso. His footfall was heavy, his boots clapping against the glass floor with all the dramatic commotion of an army of beating horse hooves.
Tolus, unfortunately for him, didn't get out of Thor's way fast enough, and soon the Nordic god of thunder crashed rudely right into his back. “You there,” Thor thundered, literally, “Get out of my way.”
I gritted my teeth and walked forward, pushing my thick black-rimmed glasses up my nose. “Excuse me,” I said officiously before Thor had a chance to whip out Mjollnir – his sacred hammer – and bop Tolus right on the head. “We do not permit...” I paused, not sure what I was going to say next. Running in the corridor? Shouting like a football coach outside of people's offices? Carrying a hammer with you to a meeting with your immigration officer? The truth was, I couldn't say any of those things because they were all permitted – this was a distribution point for gods. We didn't and couldn't have rules about carrying weapons or booming at people with a voice that sounded like a century's worth of thunder storms. That's what gods did. They couldn’t help it.
“Ha,” Thor laughed so heartily his breastplate looked as though it was going to pop off, “Details!”
He always called me that. My name was Officina. It was a nice name. It was lyrical. My name was not, however, Details.
I pursed my lips and crossed my arms over my blouse. If I hadn’t already pushed my glasses up my nose, I would have done that, too. “Is there any reason you are shouting in the corridor, Thor?” I said his name with as much disdain as I could get away with – I did know whom I was talking to, after all. “You are not on my books today, why are you heading towards my office?”
Tolus looked from me to Thor, then did the wise thing and scuttled off. Being the god of Barely Enough, he was adept at keeping alive. He would know not to stand in the middle of a fight between the god of victory, thunder, and general angry outbursts and the unremitting goddess of facts.
Thor laughed again, his wide jaw dipping open and his blond hair flicking over his shoulders. “I’m Thor, and I have chosen to visit Earth,” he said, as if those facts were enough to explain why he'd decided to show up at the Immigration Office without first putting in an application for a visa.
I kept my lips thin and my expression unimpressed.
“You look like a wet fish or a dead man,” Thor pointed out with another gruff laugh.
Several of the other gods waiting in a respectable line outside my office snickered.
Thor was like the boisterous bully challenging the teacher, much to the delight of all the sensible students. I knew my role as immigration officer made me unpopular with most divinities. Still, laughing at one of Thor's less-than-humorous jokes was low even for them.
I pursed my lips. “You do realize we have a process, don't you? I have explained this to you before. You can't swan in here whenever you feel like visiting Earth. You have to put in an application first, and you will be seen in a timely manner when it is your turn—“
“I do not wait in lines, goddess of details,” Thor boomed at me, his eyebrows descending sharply. When he wanted to – which was most of the time considering his outrageous personality – Thor could look more menacing than any god of death or chaos.
I kept still. I’d seen this act often enough, though it always made me suitably nervous to be stared down upon by one of the most powerful gods of the Nordic pantheon. “In that case, if you go to the end of the line, I might be able to see you by the end of the day—“ I tried, knowing it wasn't going to work, but not wanting to lose the edge off my indignation. As the god of victory – among other things – Thor knew how to win all the time. You had to fight hard when you were with him to prolong that inevitable victory for as long as possible.
I’d dealt with him enough times over the past several centuries to be able to put up a good fight.
Thor grabbed Mjollnir from his pocket, and as soon as he touched the great hammer, it sang. It was a single note, but it was so sharp, clear, and powerful it resonated right through me.
He played with it.
He pointed to the goddess at the front of the line – a forest divinity who was a stunning green with patterns of flowers flecked all over her skin. “You,” Thor smiled dashingly, “Great goddess of the forests, Thor requests to take your place in this line.” He smiled again. It was the kind of smile that told everyone that a) he was going to get his way, and b) everyone was still going to adore him anyway.
It worked as planned on the forest goddess. She puffed out her substantial green chest, her eyes sparkling like morning dew on new foliage. “Great god of victory.” She bowed.
“It's thunder today,” Thor replied with another intoxicating dose of his dashing smile. “Continue.”
“I would be honored,” the forest goddess kept her keen, glittering gaze on Thor, “Honored,” her plush lips molded around the word with all the warmth and pressure of a kiss.
Thor kept Mjollnir at his side, nodded – though not nearly as low – then promptly skipped to the front of the line.
I watched in annoyance, but there was nothing I could do. If this forest bimbo wanted to give up her place in the line to everyone's least favorite blond-bearded arrogant nong, she could. There was nothing I could do. Likewise with the fact Thor hadn't put his paper work in yet. Being an official god worshiped on Earth, the process was simpler for Thor/Zeus/Jupiter.
Thor marched to the front of the line and flashed a triumphant look at me. The look was rightly triumphant because he’d rightly won.
For my part, I watched the way each strand of his golden hair glinted in the light from the sun beyond us. I noted the way Mjollnir sat in his grip as if it were an extension of his own body – neither his skin nor his arm were under any pressure from the great hammer. I watched the way his towering form cast a long shadow over the other gods and goddesses behind him.
Thor caught my gaze and crossed his powerful arms across his chest plate, his biceps rippling. “Stop watching me, Details,” he spat. “Hurry up – you have a whole line of divine beings, and you have a job to do.”
I didn't need him to remind me what my job was. Rather than point this out, I turned and marched into my office. “I’m ready to see you, Nordic God of Thunder,” I said through a tightly clenched jaw.
Thor sauntered in behind me, and I could feel the presence of Mjollnir with every reverberating step.
He sat in the chair opposite my desk with such a thud the thing's feet grated against the floor. I was sure there was a scratch there now.
As the sun filtered in from the glass wall beside me, it played against the gold of his helmet, of his chest plate, and of his hair. It lit him up until he shone, and yet it plunged one side of him into shadow. A stark contrast between light and dark that made him all the more real and imposing.
He rested one hand over the edge of the chair, Mjollnir held loosely. He used the other hand to tap on his armrest. “Make this quick, Details.”
I stared at him coldly. I fancied the only reason he treated me with such disdain – other than the fact I was the one who always stood between him and his less-than dignified exploits on Earth – was that I was immune to his particular set of charms. Unlike the forest bimbo out in the hall, I wasn't about to fall for the smile of some victory god – I wasn't about to get sucked in by those wondrously blue eyes that sparkled like the clearest ocean, or that physique that was more chiseled than a marble statue of a god.
Because I saw beyond the impression to the details underneath. The way the fabric of his belt didn't sit flush with his torso, the way his hair was messy on the left side of his head, the way the fine lines at the corners of his eyes gave away his true age. Noticing these details – paring Thor back to the lines, shapes, colors, behaviors, and words – stopped me from becoming overcome by the god himself.
“Details,” he growled, “Less staring, more stamping.”
I took an obvious sigh and was annoyed when a tendril of ice-white hair popped out of my near-perfect bun. Thor always had a way of making me come undone. Patting my hair back into place, I tried to regain my immigration-officer stare. “Why might you be wanting to visit Earth, Nordic God of Thunder?”
Thor grinned, his golden beard hardly hiding the obvious mirth locked in his jaw. “That would be for pleasure – if you know what that is, Details.”
I stared back at him. “You are intending to maintain your identity, are you? You are going to be Thor today, I suppose?”
He stared back at me, one large finger tapping against the handle of his hammer.
“I'm sure you can remember that one of your alter-egos – Jupiter, was it? – got into a messy fight in Rome the last time he visited and has been banned from touring Italy for at least a month.” I pushed my glasses up my nose and settled back into my chair. I was going to play this card for all it was worth. For several sweet seconds I was going to enjoy a victory over the embodiment of victory himself.
Thor ran a hand through his beard, anger starting to trace across his brow. “I’m Thor.”
“Yes, but you are also Jupiter and Zeus. You have three functioning divine entities, God of Thunder. A fact you exploit to the utmost. While I cannot hold your current form to charge for the crimes of Jupiter, I can point out that you are rapidly running out of chances.”
Thor dipped his head down. It was the smallest of moves, but it had all the gravitas of an army standing right in front of you and cocking all their guns at once. “Are you threatening me, Details?”
I took a sharp breath, trying to ignore his glare and the rising song of Mjollnir. “Threatening? No. I’m pointing out that you are rapidly running out of identities. I suppose you remember that incident last summer with Zeus, where you – in your own words – accidentally destroyed an entire bar after a spectacular brawl? After that mishap, Zeus can no longer visit bars, alehouses, pubs, clubs, or any establishment that serves alcohol. You've been banned from Italy with Jupiter, too. Your current identity as Thor is the only one you have left. A word of advice, God of Thunder: don't go breaking any more rules.” I tried not to smile too much. I was playing this scenario for all it was worth, though I knew I was going to pay for it later. This was Thor/Jupiter/Zeus I was taunting here. He was powerful, arrogant, and usually held one hell of a grudge. He was also extremely connected.
Thor leaned forward in his chair, his grip fastening on his hammer until his knuckles whitened. I couldn't stop my gaze from flicking over to it. With every second his knuckles popped up further against his skin and the song of Mjollnir grew louder.
“I do not need your warning, goddess of details – grant me the contract, and I will be done with you.”
I tried not to swallow as I reached for a fresh contract from my top drawer. I handed it over to him without another word.
Thor grabbed the pen on my desk, disturbing the inkwell until it tipped and sent great puddles of ink soaking over the wood.
I let out a sharp breath, but didn't jump back in time to stop the ink from pooling over the desk and dripping onto my skirt.
Thor laughed slowly and deeply as he signed his name.
Patting my skirt, my jaw so tense I could have chewed through a small moon, I stared up at him. “Do you agree to be bound by this contract, Thor?”
He waved me off. “Yes, Details, I will be bound by it. Before you take the time to remind me of what those rules are – I have heard them before. Save your breath.” He stood up – not a splash of ink anywhere on him though I was covered in the stuff.
“How long do you plan on staying on Earth?” I remembered I hadn't asked nearly enough questions, though more questions at this stage would lead to Thor throwing me out the window and right into the heart of the sun.
“For as long as I feel like.” Thor swung his hammer onto his shoulder and rested it there as if the thing weighed nothing more than air and light.
I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes. “Fine.” I stopped short of saying the usual “Please enjoy your stay, divinity” speech, and stared pointedly at the door.
Thor glared down at me. He was a towering titan of a man with a winged Viking helmet, a glittering breastplate, and a giant hammer resting easily on his shoulder. Me – I was a small ordinary goddess with large black-rimmed glasses and a stained skirt and blouse.
A triumphant smile spread over his lips.
He turned on his heel and left – not before Mjollnir gently struck the door frame and caused a massive crack to appear from the tiny impact.
He didn’t turn around to say sorry. He was Thor. He half-marched half-sauntered down the corridor, not before he made quick and distasteful plans to meet up with the forest bimbo later.
I leaned out of my door – tiny fragments of glass drifting down on me – staring at his back. My eyes naturally narrowed and my mouth instinctively pressed together. If I'd had something near me to throw, I would have pitched it at him. That would, however, not be in my job description, nor would it be a good idea. Thor tolerated me while I worked for the Integration Office. He had to at least not kill me while I was in uniform. If I, however, breached the rules or acted outside the confines of the office, Thor could treat me however he liked. In here, I was an official god immigration officer – out there I was just the goddess of details. The great god of victory and lightning versus the goddess of details would be a short and demoralizing battle.
I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself. I glanced at the crack in my doorframe and tried to count the fractures in the glass, then I tried to distinguish the exact colors of the stains on my skirt. Letting myself sink into details settled me down.
“Um, excuse me,” a small voice said from behind me.
I turned to stare down at a tiny radish-like creature who was about half-a-foot tall.
“Yes?” I asked politely.
“I do not mean to hurry you,” it said in a high, but nonetheless earthy tone. “I have a harvest to get to.”
“I see,” I said professionally. I noted the detailed patterns on the toga the radish-god wore, and I felt ready to press on with the day. Thor, for all he was worth, could go hang. I only had to deal with him in the Immigration Office, and our run-ins were usually short enough that I could not bother about them.
I tugged on my ink-stained blouse and led the radish god into my office. I had a job to do. This radish god had to get to a harvest.
I was tired. Though I was a goddess, I still felt fatigue and weariness.
I might not age like ordinary humans or animals, but I shared their ability to get worn out.
I decided, uncharacteristically, to pick up take away on the way home. Though I loved to cook – as I relished the sight of seeing tiny bubbles form and build in a boiling pot of water, or that certain sound crackling hot oil makes as freshly cut vegetables are thrown into it – today I didn't have the energy.
I decided the best thing was pizza, a small tub of boysenberry-swirl ice cream, and a film. Though I preferred a good book or a meteorological assessment as a wind-down from work, a movie would do. Anything that contained information set me at peace. Though I couldn't get pulled into the story of a movie – the colors, and shapes, and forms could pull me in, instead.
I walked along the street, my simple handbag held primly before me. As I walked, I watched the people. I saw what they were wearing, how they were moving, and noted each and every expression. I also watched the buildings, the sky, and street. There was always more to note. The harder you looked at something, the more the details of its reality unfolded, and the more that occurred, the realer it became – and in turn, the realer I became along with it.
I patted a hand against my tight bun and let a smile spread across my lips. I may not have had the power of Thor, nor the victory, nor the smile – but what I had was still divine. At the end of the day – or the era, or time, or however you wanted to put it – divinity was all equal. It might express itself differently, but there was something germane to all gods – they are all god-like, all divine, all supreme.
Thor could keep the hammer and golden hair, and I'd keep the facts and figures. Oh, and the cottage with the cat and roses.
As I walked farther along the street, I settled back into myself. It was like walking back home after a lifetime of being away. My arms wrapped around me with all the warmth and welcome of a long-lost family member.
The warm, happy, I'm-a-goddess feelings didn’t last. As I tried to count the rays of the dying sun, I stupidly walked into the back of someone. One of the things about dazedly staring up at the sky was you forgot to look where you were going.
I mumbled a quick sorry and went to move around the man – who was abnormally large.
“Details,” the man grumbled as he turned around. Sure enough, Thor stared down at me from his considerable height.
My jaw could have dropped off – and would later on when Thor socked me in the face for having the hubris to walk into him.
He was no longer dressed in his full godly garb – that would break countless rules. Walking around in a helmet that glistened with the trapped light of thousands of suns and carrying a hammer that sang a distinct and trembling note of victory wouldn’t go unnoticed on a normal street. Though the people around me no longer believed in gods – not as they did 2000 years ago – they might adjust that belief at the sight of thunderous Thor.
It was forbidden to reveal your god identity to mortal man. That meant no swanning around in impossible armor with singing weapons.
I didn't have that problem. None of my powers were of the overtly obvious kind. My power came from within – and while I used my senses to gather information, the true divinity of it sat within my ability to hold onto facts with all the power of a god. Yes, I had ice-white hair that could – if I wanted it to – glitter like Arctic tundra under full sun. Apart from that, I was normal looking. I had glasses – and how normal are they? Very normal.
Thor, though he wasn't dressed in his armor from Asgard, hardly looked normal. He was around 6'5 and was built with all the obvious strength of a warrior of old. He had his golden beard and shoulder-length hair – though they didn't glitter at the moment.
He was dressed in jeans and – of all things – a Led Zeppelin T-shirt (he was going for a grunge-god thing).
He still drew everyone's attention. Jeans and a T-shirt were not enough to hide his powerful proportions, nor the powerful look in his eyes. A look that grew sharper as it met mine. “Details, Details,” he clicked his tongue, “You have attacked me from behind – an undignified and cowardly move.”
I stared up at him, almost having to crane my neck. “I didn’t attack you,” I said quietly, not wanting to launch into a full-blown god-domestic on an ordinary city street. “I bumped into you.”
Thor kinked a lip and snickered coldly. “I assume this is all the attack you could muster – while some gods wield a fiery sword of doom, you bump into people from behind to command their attention.”
I stared back at him, looking purposefully dumb. For all his god-like power, Thor often didn't make sense. His booming voice and predilection for powerful prose combined to make his speech odd. He couldn't ask you for a pen – he had to point dramatically at it and request “A sword of writing,” or a “Means to enable victory over the scroll.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t on purpose accidentally bump into you, Tho—“ I stopped myself from saying his name in time. “I bumped into you. You realize that can happen on Earth, don't you?” I crossed my arms and stared up at him. “I hope you don't accuse old ladies of attempting to mount vicious rear assaults on you with their rods of power when they knock into you with their walking sticks.” I kept my expression challenging.
“They are human.” Thor crossed his own arms – and it was a far more impressive move than mine. I could make out the detail of every bulging muscle along his forearms – from the change in skin tone, to the varying shapes, to the way they caught the light. “You are not.”
This wasn't the first time I'd stupidly run into Thor down on Earth – though this was the first time I’d literally run into him. He was always the same – though depending on which god he was, he'd be dressed differently. The man – the god – behind the guise was always the same. Zeus tended to swan around – hilariously – in a white set of pants and a polo shirt like some sort of Greek yachting tycoon. Jupiter would wear an impeccable black suit with a simple gold chain around his neck like an oily-haired Italian mob boss.
Thor was the most sedate of the forms: jeans, a T-shirt, and big boots.
“Details,” Thor tipped his head back, the dying rays of the sun glinting off his hair, “You are staring. And staring does not win battles – only action does. If you are going to follow up on your pathetic attack, I suggest you do more than blink at me.”
“Thor, stop it,” I said firmly. I sucked in a quick breath when I realized what I’d done.
A grin spread across his face. “Isn't that breaking a rule, Details?”
I groaned. I’d broken a rule, he was right. It wasn't such an important rule, but it was one nonetheless. You were not meant to draw any attention to an under-disguise god while on Earth, which included not using their real name. The people around me were hardly going to pick up on it – they would assume it was a fun and appropriate nickname for the Nordic giant with the golden beard and flowing hair – but it was still not something I was meant to do.
Thor could get away with calling me Details because it wasn't my name.
“Will they take away your job for this?” Thor said with a wide and victorious smile.
I dearly wanted to smack the blighter in the face, though I'd have to run into a café and get a stool to help me reach high enough. “I will be reprimanded,” I replied. “If you are done pretending I’m trying to engage you in glorious battle on a quiet city street – I have things to do.”
Thor considered me, and I could tell he was dreaming up insults. “Things to do? You mean go home to feed your cat, correct?”
I glared at him.
“Details, what an exciting life you live. A small house without any battlements, turrets, secret treasure rooms, or warriors. Instead of a mighty white steed, you have a small meowing creature that smells of fish. You are a credit to your kind.” Thor kept his arms crossed but looked pleased – at himself. He smiled in that private way people do when they are sharing a joke with their best buddy, Ego.
“Fine,” I said firmly, not wanting to be drawn into this conversation. Yes, I was aware that when Thor wasn't being Janus, Urs, or Sven – or whatever normal human name he had adopted this time – he was living out his time in Asgard or Olympus. Me, when I wasn't in the office, I was in a simple cottage with only one measly space-time rift and one un-horse-like cat.
“Don't tell me, you have an exciting night planned eating a plain dinner, sitting on a plain chair, and reading a plain book.” Thor chuckled to himself.
I was growing less and less patient with this conversation. I dearly wanted to pick Thor up, roll him into a ball, and throw him into the rubbish. Fat chance though.
“Details, what a boring life you lead,” he noted again, tone far colder. “You shun your own kind for the comfort of a weather report.”
His words cut sharper than they usually did, that, or what he was saying resonated more closely this time.
I didn't shun my own kind. I was a goddess, and day-in day-out I dealt with other gods and goddesses. While I might not frequent any of the god bars or other divine gathering places, I didn't shun the others. I led a quiet life of solitude – not drunken parties and debauchery.
I backed off. “Good bye,” I said curtly and made to walk around the Nordic giant.
Thor snorted but didn't stop me.
As I walked past him, I could feel his eyes on me. For someone who lost herself in the details, I had the presence of mind to notice when others were doing the same. It was the other side of my power. Not only did details live and come alive for me, I stood for that effect in other people. Every time a scientist or an artist found themselves drawn into the lines of data or the fine play of shadow on a canvas, a part of me was there.
So, paradoxically, I shared a moment with him as I walked past – not that the great big, blond-bearded lug would notice. Axes, wine, women, and victory were all he resonated with.
As I walked the rest of the way home, I tried to forget Thor's admonishment that I shunned my own kind. The more I tried to suppress it, the more it rose in my mind. I could remember the exact quality of his tone, the exact feeling of his words as I heard them.
I was happy in solitude – that was the correct answer. This was my life, and it was how I lived it. For every god of power and victory, there was a god of weakness and defeat. Then there were all the in-between gods – like me – who were neither. If I chose to spend the night with a cat on my lap and a small china bowl of boysenberry-swirl ice cream, that was my prerogative.
I became lost in thought, and I walked straight into someone again. This time I didn't bounce back like I’d struck an immovable object. I walked into this man as though he were nothing more than paper flapping in the wind.
He stumbled forward but managed to keep his balance.
“Oh my gosh,” I stuttered, putting out a hand to stable the man, “I’m sorry, sir.”
He looked up at me with a set of watery eyes, and I realized he wasn't a sir at all – he was Tolus, God of Barely Enough. “Oh. It's you.”
Tolus nodded lowly. “I’m sorry for being in your way,” he said, sounding unmistakably genuine.
“Not at all – I was the one who wasn't looking where I was going. My fault.” I let go of his arm when it was clear he wasn't going to fall over – yet. The continually sickened, weakened look of his body hardly gave you confidence he could bear something as simple as standing for long. “Please forgive me,” I added with a smile.
It was getting old-hat for Tolus to be walked into by gods today, but I was eager to be more polite to the guy than Thor had been. Not all gods were arrogant jerks.
Tolus nodded and teetered on the spot as if he were about to fall over. Thankfully he didn't, and he returned his head to an even level, patting a thin hand down his dirty shirt. He was wearing an old pair of beige pants and a frayed grey shirt. He still had his scraggly beard and dark hair and those watery, watery eyes. “Please, do not worry. I forgive you.” He managed a smile.
I couldn't help but smile back – and I knew for sure that both our smiles were qualitatively different from the harsh grin that usually spread across Thor/Jupiter/Zeus’ arrogant visage. Ours were genuine, light, friendly.
Tolus nodded a second time then stepped back gently. “I should not take up any more of your time.”
I was the one who’d walked into him and interrupted his time, and yet he was the one apologizing for it. I shook my head. “It's not your fault at all. You aren't wasting my time. I was off to get some food,” I said the word food carefully, looking at Tolus’ starved form. If there was anything this guy needed, it was food. That and a shower, a new set of clothes, sleep, some money, some sunlight, some friends, and a place to stay. He was the God of Barely Enough – there was a lot he could do with.
I hardly fraternized with the gods I dealt with through the Integration Office while I was on Earth. To me, being on Earth meant living amongst the humans and doing precisely what they did: getting take out, painting your picket fence white, and planting roses in your garden. But Thor's accusation came to mind: my willingness to integrate with the humans led to the appearance I was shunning the company of my own kind.
I bit my lips. “What are you doing? I was about to grab a bite to eat – you are welcome to join me.”
Tolus’ watery eyes grew more watery. They reminded me of rain dribbling down glass. “Food?”
I nodded, wanting to tell him that, yes, it was okay to eat. But that wasn't what he was the divinity of, was it? He was hardly the god of “Let's go out and get some nice pizza and ice cream.” He was the god of “Let's go find what food we can from the bins behind shopping centers and restaurants.”
“I... I suppose I’m new to this city. It is my first time here, you know,” he admitted with a lost look.
Yes, I did know that. I’d read his file. The fact it was his first time here was hardly a good thing. I stopped short of asking him what business he was on – he was probably intending to visit the homeless people living in the storm drains underneath the city before heading off to whatever refugee camps he planned on visiting.
“I could show you around,” I offered uncharacteristically. Thor was right about me in one respect: I was the goddess who went home every night to bake herself a simple meal and enjoy a few hundred books by the fireside. Yet here I was offering to spend the night instead showing around a gaunt god of Barely Enough.
“Oh, that would be nice. I get lost sometimes. I have many people to visit tonight.”
I realized what I had agreed to, but it was already too late.
“If we go collect the food you spoke of, we can hand it out to the needy.” Tolus’ gaunt face took on an other-worldly glow as he spoke.
Tolus was the god of Barely Enough, and he lived in the moments of giving people enough to survive. The thought of it, the action of it made him divine.
While I was not the goddess of Barely Enough, I could hardly back out. While it was true I found peculiar comfort in the weather report, skipping it for one night to hand out food to the needy was hardly going to kill me.
Plus, it would show Thor I didn’t shun the company of my own kind. Far from it. I assisted where assistance was needed. While Thor would be swanning around some god-bar with any number of goddess bimbos hanging off his arms, I would be helping the needy.
“Sure,” I said gently, “Where do you need to go?”
“We can begin with the storm drains – from what I feel, there are many in need down there, some critically. There are also various shelters and alleys....” The look on Tolus’ face hardened with determination – an odd, strong, different determination worlds apart from the arrogance of victory. Though he was hunched, thin, gaunt, and sickly looking, he looked like a god. The appearance no longer mattered. The form seemed inconsequential. The energy behind it was divine.
“Okay, you let me know where you need to go, and I can take you there.” I could easily take him anywhere. I wouldn't need to look at a map, either – I knew the details of this town. I knew each street, each storefront, each alley, each tunnel. I could remember the details of every city map I’d seen, and the places I’d been were lodged in my memory with perfect clarity.
“Oh thank you, goddess of—” he began.
I put a hand up to silence him before he could break a rule. “Call me...” I searched around for a name. “Details,” I said without properly thinking about it. It happened to be fresh on my mind, unfortunately. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the idiotic name Thor taunted me with wasn't such a bad thing. This way I could take the name back and own it.
“Details? I suppose you can call me...” Tolus appeared to think hard.
I could tell he was racking his brain for a suitable name, going through everything from Aid, to Charity, to Survival. “How about Jeff?” I offered. It was hardly god-like, but that was the point.
“Jeff?” He appeared to roll the word around in his mouth as if it were food he was savoring the flavor of. It was the closest thing he got to food judging from his gaunt appearance. “I’m Jeff and you are Details. Are you sure that you wish to accompany me? I understand you must have your own duties to perform—”
If by duties he meant poring over a sheet of mathematical calculations and trying to remember each number and equation, I could get away with shirking those for a night. “I'm flexible. I can work anywhere.” Which was true – wherever there was experience, there were details. Wherever there was something to see, it could be divided into colors, forms, shapes, lights, and shadows. Wherever there was something to hear, it could be split into tones, pitches, and hums. All were details, and details were all around.
“I suggest we get a sack, procure sustenance, and hand it out where it is necessary.”
“Easy enough. Though I have no idea where you buy sacks these days. People tend to use boxes and bags more than sacks and swags.”
“Boxes it is then.”
For the first time in fifty years, I set off to spend a night away from my books and fireside. One of the things about being the goddess of details was I tended to get stuck into a routine. Though technically all gods faced that problem. One of the things about being the divine embodiment of some quality was it drove your actions more than you did. If you were the god of death, most of your days revolved around death. The same with gods of war and harvests – they would spend every day in battle or shucking ears of corn.
Tonight I would break the mold.
We procured our boxes and food. I stopped Tolus from paying for them with what was literally his life savings, and we set out to work. First we went to some of the darker, colder, and more out-of-the-way alleyways on the outskirts of the city. Tolus instinctively knew when there was someone in need around him. He would wander off down an alleyway only to find a homeless person curled up under a makeshift blanket of newspapers.
It wasn't only people he helped. Tolus didn't seem to mind what the creature was – from a stray cat, to a cockroach, to an injured bird – if the thing was in need, Tolus was there.
He didn’t act from charity. Rather than handing the food out, he left it somewhere the needy could find it. Tolus was the god of Barely Enough, not the god of philanthropy. When he came across an entity on the edge of survival, he would leave the food – barely enough for the creature to survive – somewhere close by, then he would offer a gaunt smile their way and disappear into the night.
I felt the chill of the evening descend around us as we worked, though I didn't dare complain. I wasn't here for myself. I was here to help Tolus. I plunged into the details of the cold sensation as it raced and shivered down the backs of my arms and the tops of my thighs. In plunging into those details, my own powers emerged and the chill subsided. As I concentrated, I could appreciate Tolus was doing the same. In offering enough food for a creature to survive he was igniting his own powers and keeping himself, in turn, alive.
That was how it worked with us gods and goddesses. Not only were our powers rooted in what we stood for, but they were also what kept us alive. A war god who couldn’t go to war was no longer a god and rapidly diminished to nothing at all. The same was true for the god of radishes. Without radishes, there would be nothing for him to feel the divinity of – nothing for him to connect with – and he would diminish.
If Tolus didn't have those to help, he too would no longer be needed, and thus, no longer exist. Without details, I wouldn’t be Details. Without lightning and thunder, Thor wouldn’t be Thor.
Every god and goddess needed their ability and force as much as humans needed food, rest, and air.
Tolus finished canvassing the alleyways and we headed towards the great storm drains. This city had a large set of interconnecting flood tunnels that serviced all the drains and gutters along the streets. This area was prone to great rains in the autumn and spring, and the drains were there to stop the place from flooding twice a year.
I’d heard that the homeless lived down there, but I’d never been down to verify that. Nonetheless, I knew where the entrance was and precisely how to get there. I knew – based on my knowledge of the flow rate of the tunnels and the levels of recent rains – how much water to expect. I didn’t know, however, how imposing the structures were in real-life.
For a goddess, I didn't experience fear as often as a human did. I always had a place to go when things became desperate. Details. If I plunged into those, I became them. Inseparable from reality, nothing could harm me there.
That being said, a god can die. We are not indestructible, just harder to kill.
Walking through the great entrance and into the storm drains was accompanied by a quick furl of anticipation across my back. The tunnels were massive concrete tubes that smelled strongly of dank water and disturbed dirt. There was graffiti sprayed slapdash across the inside of the concrete – various symbols and inappropriate sayings. I noticed the curve and curl to the writing and the way the once-vibrant colors were dim after being washed and battered by floodwaters.
It was like going through a gate, I realized as I walked through the mouth of the tunnel. The way the street lights above stopped their illumination at the mouth of the tunnel. The way the sounds of the cars beyond were muffled when you took several steps beyond the threshold. The place had gravitas and presence.
“I believe once we have finished here, we will be done for the night,” Tolus said, his skin looking much clearer under the light of his torch.
Though both Tolus and I didn't need light, we carried them nonetheless. We were not allowed to let mortals know our true identity and powers. Walking around unaffected by the darkness would be the first indication something wasn't right with us food-carrying, divine aid-workers.
The farther we walked, the more the smell of the place changed. The air became staler, the water far murkier. We were outside of the flood seasons, which meant the water flow through the tunnels was minimal. With no great tides to flush the place out, the smell settled down like a thick blanket. I noticed the way it hung around in pockets and how it was stronger closer to the walls.
There was also a scent of something... else. What that thing was, I couldn't discern.
Tolus began to hum as he worked.
We found the first of our charges for the night – an old man on the edge of starvation. I stood back as Tolus did his work, and watched as he hid a packet of bread close to the man's makeshift tent. The man, I was sure of it, wouldn’t turn his nose up at eating surprise bread he found in a storm drain – he was beyond that. A humbling thought. I couldn't help thinking if Thor saw this it would strip that arrogance from tugging at his eyes and puffing up his cheeks. Then again, if Thor somehow found his way down here, he would hardly deem to offer this homeless man charity. Thor would offer a rousing and food-devoid speech about how victory was at hand only for those willing to seek it.
I tutted under my breath as I thought of my least-favorite Nordic god. Loki I could get along with – well, I could at least have a vaguely reasonable conversation with him while I stamped his visa application as rejected. He often tried to get back to Earth – one of his favorite play grounds as he'd put it once on his application. He was banned from the place. He was banned from Asgard, too. Too much trying to destroy the planet and fighting other gods.
That didn't stop him from trying. He was the god of mischief, and a surprising amount of mischief can be had while applying for visas. He’d once shown up at my office with a fake beard and a ridiculous hat, claiming to be the god of Victorian crime novels. I’d seen through the disguise and refused him entry. Still, at least he'd taken it reasonably – he hadn't bothered threatening me like Thor always did.
Thor was my least-favorite Nordic God. He was also my least favorite Roman and Greek god, too. No matter the divine guise, that man was ultimately irritating.
My lips pressed together harder and harder as I thought of him.
Tolus tugged carefully at my arm.
I'd been out of it and it took me a moment to snap back. During that moment, I heard something at the edge of hearing. As soon as I attended to it, it was gone.
I blinked over at Tolus.
“Done here,” he whispered. “I feel we are done in these tunnels altogether...” he fluttered his eyes closed, “The other beings in need are not as needy as I once thought.”
I didn't bother to point out to Tolus that regardless of the fact they weren't hollering at death's door they would still enjoy food. We weren't dealing with the over-fed and rich here. Any scrap of sustenance could benefit someone who lived their life in a storm drain.
He wasn't that kind of god. He gave to those who needed something – anything – to separate them from death.
“I can take you to where you are staying – if you have somewhere to stay.” I doubted this guy had enough dosh to put himself up in a hotel or a caravan. He would be planning to spend the night on a park bench somewhere.
“Oh, that would be helpful. I do get lost. I also have a colleague I would like to meet up with.”
“Where are they?” I had firm resolve to help Tolus all I could tonight. I would devote at least several hours of my time helping one of my own kind, without thought of reward or recompense – unlike certain other gods.
“At Ambrosia.” Tolus walked before me. When he’d walked into my office that morning, he'd barely had enough pep to amuse a rock – now he strode. He was alive with his ability and power, and it was feeding and nourishing him.
“Oh,” I said quietly. Ambrosia was the only god-exclusive joint in the city. Not all cities had them, but this place was big enough to support one. Not that I’d been there – not my kind of place at all. Ambrosia was the ale-sloshing, feast-giving establishment where Valkyries danced on the tables and war gods recounted their bloody battles at the tops of their considerable lungs.
I couldn't back out, though I hardly wanted to walk into Ambrosia. I had agreed to help Tolus – and I took agreements to heart. An agreement was close to a fact, and a fact was closer to me than anything could get.
We crossed town quickly now Tolus was enlivened from his night of work. I, however, was flagging. I stifled several yawns and tried to lose myself in the details of car lights reflecting in puddles and off shop windows. While these details would do for now, I wouldn't feel properly rested until I could find some facts or had enough time to stare at some picture or scene and deconstruct every detail therein. Only then could I regenerate.
We soon arrived at the door of Ambrosia – a simple and nondescript turquoise-blue door situated right next to a garage. From the outside, it was nothing but a scratched door. Any god, however, would know the appearance concealed reality. The door in the wall didn't lead to the inside of the building – it led to a place in time and space distinct from anything a city planner could dream up. It led to the beating heart of a bona fide god bar.
I pressed my lips together and blinked several times at the door.
I turned to Tolus. “Here’s the place. It was nice helping you tonight—” I began, wanting to wrap things up so I didn't have to stand too long around the door. The last thing I wanted was for Balang – the riotous tribal god I'd dealt with the day before – to pop his head out the door, off-his-face drunk, and set his skull necklace on me.
As immigration officer to Earth, I was the least popular divinity on this rock – at least as far as other gods were concerned. As a true goddess of details I had my followers and worshipers among the native populace of this planet, though most of them wouldn't explicitly call themselves adherents to the Cult of Officina. But at heart, many people found themselves in details – mathematicians, data scientist, knitters determined to make a tight stitch.
I didn't need to be popular among the other goddesses and gods – I needed to do my job. Still, I wasn't willing to taunt the Fates – who could be mean when they felt like it – and stand around outside the hottest god bar this side of the Acropolis.
“Oh,” Tolus turned his watery gaze on me, “I was hoping I could thank you – buy you a drink.”
I stopped from saying “What with?” I got the impression he wanted to thank me for my help. Sometimes you had to let people offer their thanks – a lesson a god or goddess had to live by.
I tried not to sigh – I didn't want Tolus to think he was a burden – but accompanying him into the Ambrosia wasn't a good idea. Going home and reading the weather report was, however, a great idea. Yet as I looked across at Tolus, I realized I couldn't say no.
Gods and goddesses had to support each other. Great, raging god wars were frowned upon these days. If we all wanted to live together, we had to learn how to cooperate. A lesson I knew, but one I never affirmed through action. I stayed out of other gods’ ways. I didn't bake them muffins and pat them on their backs when they had a successful sacrifice. I remained uninvolved.
I took a second to damn Thor for pointing out I shunned my own kind. I took another moment to damn myself for letting his words affect me so much. “Okay,” I agreed with a great big breath. “Why don't we just have water, though?”
“A wonderful plan.”
Oh lord, it was too late to back out – I’d said yes. Though I knew walking into the Ambrosia would get me more than a drink. I could categorically guarantee a certain arrogant, ale-loving, me-hating god would be there to put on a show.
I walked up to the door and knocked once. It opened. That was all it took. There wasn't a secret rune you had to scratch into the surface of the paint or some mystical chant you had to utter. There wasn't an ogre you had to kill. Nope, you knocked. It opened.
The door, from the outside, appeared to lead into a dimly lit brick room. As soon as I closed the door behind Tolus, the place changed. The brick wasn't so much brick as glittering and gold-encrusted marble. The room wasn't so much small as cavernously large and lit with great burning lanterns hung along the walls.
As the room formed, so did the noise, the chatter, and the other gods. Before us was a formidable-sized hall filled with great hewn tables, all packed with gods of varying sizes and descriptions. It was a heck of a sight – and though it wasn't one I’d wanted to indulge in, it was one I couldn't help but gape at. All the color, all the shapes, all the forms, all the power.
There were gold wreaths on the tables and great glistening chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There were pillars with beautiful winding vines wrapped around them, and each table had its own themed decorations ranging from swords to glistening carvings of wild boar and deer.
Any god could find something here to make them feel at home. There was a table made from gravestones stuck in a dark corner replete with deep dark shadows and several cloaked figures. There were even a couple of scythes leaning against the wall next to it.
I couldn't stop as my eyes scanned the new sight and took in the details. It wasn't in me to ignore them. All the movement – the gods tipping back their heads and laughing, the sloshing of ale-filled glasses, the lithe forms of the wait staff nipping through the crowd – was intoxicating in a way only I could appreciate. To everyone else, the atmosphere, the company, or the reasonably cheap beer might be what pleased them. For me, it was the fold in the fabric of the sun goddess’ dress as she sat at the table opposite me.
I was getting so caught up in the details I didn't notice when Tolus found his friend and waved at him. It wasn't until Tolus tugged on my arm that I paid attention to him. I let him lead me along without question.
Whenever I saw a visually rich, novel sight, I became overpowered. The true power within me – that noted, reveled, and lived for details – grew. With every detail I drew in, I drew in power. Come love or money, you couldn't drag me from something new I hadn't seen before.
I was still in a daze when Tolus stopped pulling me along – an impressive fact, as Tolus looked incapable of pushing a cockroach or lifting a single sheet of paper.
“Details!” someone shouted right by my elbow – and that someone was Thor.
I snapped my head to the side so fast tendrils of ice-white hair fell loose from my bun. My glasses also slipped several notches down my nose.
There he was – bloody Thor. He sat at a giant carved table as you might expect befitted a Nordic God. There were all sorts of gods and goddesses around him, including the forest bimbo from earlier this morning. In usual Thor style, there were several gaudy, trashy goddesses hanging off both of his arms and several more next to him who seemed overly proficient at tittering for purportedly divine beings.
There was also an assortment of other gods from all across the various pantheons of Earth. The one thing Thor/Zeus/Jupiter could be credited with – the only thing other than an insane ability to make husbands jealous and cause riotous bar fights – was he brought the pantheons together. There were many gods and goddesses who stuck to their neck of the woods and mingled only with divinities from their local area. Coming from three of the most powerful and influential pantheons, Thor had a unique ability to draw gods together. Yes, in his current guise as Thor he wasn't technically Zeus nor Jupiter, but that didn't stop him from having the keys to their houses.
Here he sat amongst an impressive variety of Roman, Greek, and Nordic gods. There was such an assortment of helmets, togas, and sandals as you wouldn't get this side of a high-school historical production.
The table was overflowing with food, ale, and gold laurels. Why there were so many gold laurels, I didn't know, but it led to the impression this was a table where the gods were letting their hair down.
Fun aside, as soon as most of the gods glanced up at Thor's roar of “Details,” I noticed everyone start to recognize me. I noticed, because their expressions became progressively less friendly.
Tolus walked past me and waved at a pasty-faced Roman god at the end of the table. How Tolus had a mate on the Thor table, I didn't know. Now was not the time to find out. Now was the time to back away from the mischievous look in Thor's eye.
The Nordic god took a mighty sniff that might as well have sucked his beard up his nostrils. “You do go out, Details. Dressed in a stained set of human clothes,” he noted with a loathing but lecherous look. “You are less of a goddess and more of a pathetic excuse for a mortal.”
This drew the usual round of tittering guffaws from the amassed divinities at the table. The two goddesses hanging off Thor's arms tipped their heads back and laughed so emphatically I could see their tonsils – a detail that made their attempt at cruel humor all the less effective.
“Please, girls,” I pushed my glasses further up my nose, “Close your mouths before a giant walks in there.”
The goddesses snapped their mouths shut.
Thor closed his mouth and shifted his jaw. It was a move hardly worth noticing were it not for the way it changed the shadows under his eyes and across his cheeks. It made his face look more alive and yet paradoxically stiffer. It also framed his less-than-pleased gaze. “Do you enjoy belittling your own kind?”
I was about to open my mouth to point out he'd been the one to start the belittling, then I noticed the silence spreading over the table like a pool of toxic waste. It was nasty and deadly.
This, this was why I didn't go to Ambrosia. I was the least popular goddess around these parts, and having verbal cat-fights with other divinities was not how I liked to live my life.
Also, there was the niggling fact that while I was in my office working officially for the Integration Office no one could touch me – or no one who didn't want to end up in Divinity Prison. Out here – in the real world – I was the same as the rest of them. While it was frowned upon to fight other gods, it wasn't illegal. Gods like Thor got away with it all the time.
Thor loosened his arms from around his two twittering golden goddesses and slowly ran the back of his hand over his mouth. It wasn't to wipe anything off – there was nothing there. For someone who ate as graphically and enthusiastically as a pig at a trough, the guy always remained clean.
He stood up.
Damn, he stood up.
He towered over me. He towered over everyone. He also had this unique ability to cast people into shadow even if they were standing directly by a light source. No matter who you were, Thor always blocked you out.
“You hate your own kind,” he said in a low, menacing tone.
The sentiment rang true with the rest of the guests at the table, with several gods nodding so vehemently their helmets came loose and jolted down their faces.
The other tables around Thor were also starting to grow quiet as various divinities turned around for the potential fight. Not that there would be a fight. Thor would bang me on the noggin with Mjollnir, and I'd wake up in god hospital in a week or so.
“She rejected my application for a working visa last week,” one of the gods said from further down the table.
He was right: I'd rejected it because he was the god of famine and he wanted to tour Africa for several months.
“She stopped me from visiting Egypt – my homeland,” one goddess mentioned emphatically as her black cropped hair brushed against her shoulders.
Too true. She liked to make her followers sacrifice cats, and as a proud cat owner, I frowned on that. Plus, it always upset the cat goddess.
Thor spread his arms, his muscles clear and present as they blocked out more of the light. “Look around you, Details – do you have friends here?”
I wanted to point out to him he was a golden-bearded idiot for thinking the assembled gods were his friends. They were the divine equivalent of groupies. They sat at his table and laughed at his jokes because he was one of the most powerful gods on Earth. If Thor fell from grace, they wouldn't offer him a helping hand. They'd find some other table to sit at.
I couldn't point that out considering I didn't have any friends to call to my own side.
“You consistently tread on and get in the way of your own kind,” Thor rumbled, sounding like a clap of thunder. The glasses on the table shook and trembled at the sound of his voice. “You are a blight.”
Before he could finish his sentence with something suitably Thor-like, like “And I will rid you from the Earth with the power of my magical hammer,” or “And I will strike you down with a strike of lightning,” something inserted itself between Thor and me.
Tolus. Tolus stared right up at Thor – at the giant menacing Nordic god who looked as though he was preparing for a righteous and violent fight. Tolus’ eyes didn't stop watering, nor did his frame look anything less than feeble. Standing right before Thor brought home how tiny, weak, and humble Tolus was. The contrast was stark, the difference as plain as black on white.
Yet the look Tolus gave Thor made up for the difference in size. It was that determination I'd seen before. The one that told you that no matter what, he'd find a way to survive and a way to help others survive, too.
The look had an effect on Thor, though the golden-bearded brute was incapable of noting the exact watery-detail of Tolus’ eyes or the way his face glowed despite the shadow Thor cast him under.
“She has never trod on me, nor gotten in my way,” Tolus said plainly.
“What?” Thor looked down at the tiny god before him.
“You said that Details treads on her own kind and always gets in their way – she has not done this to me. You also called her a blight. I have seen blights, great god of thunder, and she is not such a thing. She is a goddess,” Tolus’ tone was so plain and simple you couldn't help but be drawn in by it. It offered a gentler, easier alternative to Thor's booming, belly-shaking voice. One that promised less violence and a whole lot more peace.
Thor stared down at Tolus, expression hooded by shadow.
Knowing Thor, he was deciding which window he was going to throw Tolus through.
I slowly reached out a hand, latched it all the way around Tolus’ bone-thin arm, and pulled him back. “It's okay,” I said through a clenched jaw. “You can leave this to me.”
I wasn't being brave and suggesting the small-time goddess of details and full-time divine immigration officer to Earth was going to be a match for the triple-god of thunder and victory – I just didn't want Tolus to get hurt. And hurt he would get – badly, judging by the look on Thor's face.
Still, the fact Tolus was willing to stand up for me was nice. It was more than nice: it was comforting. Thor was right, due to my job, I tended not to get on with all the other divinities. They saw me as a hindrance to their grand and inappropriate holiday plans. They couldn’t appreciate I had a role to play: I kept Earth safe from them. I kept the people and the planet free from the devastating god-wars that once raged here. Back in the bad old days, the human and animal population had been forced to put up with all sorts of outrageous situations and punishments. Having their livers picked out by eagles, rolling rocks up hills for eternity, having their crops and villages trampled and destroyed by giant wars – you name it. Letting gods run amok was always a bad thing.
Now it was different, and it was different because of a functioning customs and immigration system. No longer would we blithely allow destructive gods entry to the planet so they could attempt world-ending wars. No longer were gods allowed to demand whole fields of innocent goats to be put to slaughter. No longer did the people of Earth have to put up with world-covering frosts, storms, or earthquakes every time a couple of brutish gods got into a fistfight.
There was relative peace because the gods were kept in check – okay, there wasn't that much peace, but at least none of the human wars involved never-ending winters, world-sized cyclopes, and more blood than could fill the Pacific Ocean.
I didn't expect any of these gods to appreciate that. To them, Earth was still their playground. But none of them played nice, so Earth was off limits to that kind of fun.
I clenched my fists. I could feel a little of my power returning. True, I couldn't produce lightning and I had no chance against Thor, but that didn't mean I was going to give into him easily.
“You are a brute, Thor,” I said strongly. I wanted him and his assortment of divine groupies to know he hadn't won. I also wanted Tolus to know I appreciated the save. “As for all your whineging about visa applications and rejections, need I remind you that while you swan about starting bar fights and finding bimbo goddesses to giggle in your ears, it's the Integration Office that keeps Earth peaceful. Or would you prefer to have Loki, Seth, or a gaggle of cyclopes stampede into your party and step on your beard? You speak grandly, Thor, but remember it's the immigration officers – and no longer you – who keep the evil spirits at bay.” With that, I decided it was best to retreat.
Yes, I’d stood up for myself, but I could also see the sparks collecting in Thor's eyes.
“Loki,” he roared.
Oops, I had touched a nerve. I shouldn't have mentioned the one-time cherished friend who’d gone on to betray him and try to kill his whole family.
“Okay, Tolus,” I said with a squeak, “I suggest you run.”
Tolus was a lot smarter than I'd given him credit for, and didn't resist when I pulled him towards the door.
I hoped we had time before Thor blew up and sent his hammer soaring through the establishment to strike me dead.
Oh dear, why had I mentioned Loki?
I pulled Tolus towards the door. This was going to come back to hit me in the back of the head....
Somehow we made it to the door before Thor got it together enough to send Mjollnir our way singing its happy and murderous tune.
I grabbed the handle and yanked it open with all my might – and luckily for me the handle was made out of strong stuff, because I didn't yank it off or crush it into dust. While I was a small-time goddess, and I couldn't count on god-like strength, I still wasn't human.
Regardless of his awesome god powers, Thor couldn’t strike us down with thunder or hammer us to death out in the street. He couldn’t display any super-human powers out in the real world.
The cool night air hit us, buffeting so welcomingly against my hair and face I almost considered finding out who the god of night-time breezes was and sending him a bunch of flowers.
I closed the door shakily once Tolus had made it through. I sucked in a lungful of air – something technically unnecessary considering I wasn't mortal, but I did it nonetheless. Breathing and eating were things gods and goddesses had to do to fit in with the human population, and were proscribed while divinities were staying on Earth. Not breathing and not eating were sure signs the walking talking apparent human before you was more apparent and less real.
“Oh my,” Tolus glanced back at the door behind us, “He became angry at the end there.”
“Should we....” Tolus kept his eye on the door.
“Get out of here before Thor comes out and beats us to death in a legitimately non-god like, but still painful way? Yep. Sure.” Still keeping a grip on Tolus’ bone-thin arm, I pulled him along the street.
This would go down as the dumbest thing I’d ever done. Well, maybe not. In my days as a younger goddess, I’d done some extraordinarily foolish things. When my powers had been new to me, I would often wander in a complete daze through the forests and cities for days on end. I had accidentally walked right into cyclopes more times than I could count. Back then, I’d grown a rightful reputation as an airhead. Over the years that had changed. As humanity had begun to take a finer eye to the details of the world, I’d become more powerful and better respected. I had also become far more logical and far more rational.
In the world of gods, however, I was still only somewhere near the middle. I didn't have raw power like the forces-of-nature gods, and nor did I have mythical weapons like Thor. My true power could only be utilized when I was used in conjunction with other things. Knowing and appreciating the details of something was one thing, but it was how you went on to use those details that mattered. You get me in a room with the god of logic and a couple of gods of maths and physics – and we would make an unbeatable and nerdy team.
I wasn't about to wait around outside of a god-bar while Thor was seconds from busting down the door and cracking my skull on the off chance some maths-loving gods would chance upon me. Nope, now was time for running.
Ducking into the alleyway beside the Ambrosia, I kept a firm but not bone-breaking grip on Tolus. I figured our only chance was to get far enough away from the Ambrosia that Thor would become too bored to track us down. It was a small chance, but it was all we had.
“Do you think I should give it a couple of minutes before I return?” Tolus asked, his voice punctuated by his ragged breath as I dragged him behind me. “Only that is where I’m staying tonight.”
Damn, I'd forgotten about that bit. “Ah, no – a couple of minutes isn't going to work.” A couple of hours wasn't going to work, either – Thor could, and often did, hold a grudge for eons. “Um you should stay in my spare room tonight.”
“Oh, if you think that is for the best.”
“Ha. Let's put it this way: you will be less likely to wake up from a hammer blow between the eyes if you bunk in my spare room.” I kept pulling Tolus along, not confident he could sustain a suitably Thor-avoiding pace on his own.
“Thor holds a grudge,” I pointed out needlessly, “And a magical hammer.”
“He does have a temper. But I do not find him to be overly disagreeable.”
I almost stopped and turned around. He didn't find the brute of a Nordic god disagreeable? The same god who’d virtually stared us to death with his disemboweling gaze?
I held my tongue and kept pulling him along. “Damn,” I suddenly spat as I took the time to note my surroundings. I was taking us in the wrong direction. In order to get back to my house we would have to go back the way we'd come. That would take us face-first into a singing hammer. “We need to double back. I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. I've taken us the wrong way.”
We ground to a halt, and I admonished myself with a few quick curses. Damn Thor for putting me in such a tizz that I'd forgotten where I was going.
“Oh...” Tolus appeared to appreciate what this meant. “Why don't we take one of the flood drains?”
“The flood drains – the ones we were down in barely an hour ago. I believe we passed an access only several blocks back – we could climb down said access and find our way to your house that way.”
I looked at Tolus then shrugged my shoulders. That sounded like a reasonable plan. Why go around or through when you can go underneath?
We made our way back to the drain access Tolus had seen. As we climbed down the ladder, I felt that exact same feeling: the one that told me I was entering something. Something I wouldn't be able to turn away from again.
As we descended, I tried to notice-away my uncomfortable feelings. Being the goddess of details, by noticing details, I could often disarm or change a situation. If I didn't like some emotion or action, I could concentrate on all those facts and figures that went into making it appear real, and that took the edge off the whole thing.
“These tunnels are remarkable,” Tolus’ voice echoed as it bounced off the round walls of the tunnel. He sounded like he was coming from all around me. “For a human invention, they have a god-like feel.”
“Oh, they get it right sometimes,” I tried to blow the comment off. I didn't like the way that conclusion sat with me. “They still remember some of the things we taught them back during the eons of god-rule. The architect of these tunnels probably found a book on sacred architecture,” I mumbled, realizing how silly it sounded to suppose a human would use divine geometry to build a system of flood-tunnels of all things. When it came to cathedrals, temples, and other spiritual buildings I could see the use of divinely inspired proportions, but drains were another thing. “They probably accidentally hit upon the right shapes and patterns, or perhaps the god of sacred buildings has branched out to work at the city planning office.”
“I should be able to get us home from here,” I said, mostly to be reassured by the sound of my own voice. For a goddess, there wasn't much in the human world that could scare me. I was technically immortal, with emphasis on the technically. While I'd be okay if I came across an angry homeless guy with a homemade potato gun or a confused and lost alligator, there were other creatures who could set my teeth chattering. Monsters, frost giants, denizens of hell – there were plenty of beings who could pose a threat to a goddess. There was a bloody menagerie of them. For every god and goddess, there was whole armies of giants and god-hating meanies.
While the Integration Office did its job and mostly did it well, it was never outside the realm of possibility that an evil creature could slip through the net. Frost giants were not unheard of in Scandinavia, and I'd recently read a report about a cyclopes still sleeping in one of the underwater caves off the coast of Greece.
I began to walk faster. I hadn't read any reports of creatures coming to this city – and certainly not taking up shop in the flood drains – but that didn't mean much. Maybe one of the deep-sea oil rigs off the coast had dredged up something old, angry, and immortal, and the darn creature had been washed into the drains during the wet season. And maybe said denizen of the deep was watching Tolus and me as we awkwardly loped our way through the tunnels.
“I wonder,” Tolus said, voice too loud for my comfort, “Whether we should abandon this plan and climb up the next drain access we see?”
“Hmm,” I squeaked. Tolus was feeling what I was. As a god used to surviving despite the odds, I would be wise to follow his lead. “Yep. Let's get out of here.”
I realized it was odd that, upon our earlier visit, neither Tolus nor I had felt these exact exquisite feelings of unease. I also realized that the longer we stayed down here, and the farther forward we traveled, the more the feelings grew. That told me one of two things: either we were moving towards something of considerable immortal threat, or said threat was making its own way to us.
We ran, and this time I didn't have to latch a hand onto Tolus’ arm – the god was as spritely and energetic as a racehorse. We found an access and scrambled up it.
I let Tolus go up the ladder first. Contrary to what Thor believed, I was not a treacherous, god-hater. When it came to the safety and welfare of other divinities, I could be as generous and caring as the charity goddesses.
Both Tolus and I scrambled up the ladder as fast as we could, and I made a mental note to call the Integration Office as soon as we were clear to let them know of a possible breach in customs. They would send a divine clean-up squad straight away to flush out whatever evil had made its home down in the dank tunnels.
Tolus shifted the top off the drain entrance – displaying the strength his immortal form had by default, despite his paper-thin body.
He jumped lithely onto the street and made a gurgling noise. I dismissed it as a choked-throat “Yippee“ for getting to safety.
I shouldn't have.
I crested the entrance, my head popping out onto the street above. I stared straight at a massive pair of legs tucked neatly into light blue jeans. I slowly looked up the legs until I noted the T-shirt, the golden beard, and the righteous, crackling gaze.
“Oh you are kidding me.” I had run from the Ambrosia, then gone into the flood drains only to come back up right outside the Ambrosia.
I hung there, still half on the ladder.
Before Thor could reach down and crush me, something happened. I winced, expecting the attack from above, but it came from below. Something rushed up from underneath me – something fast, something that went swoosh in an evil way. That same something wrapped itself tightly around my middle.
Before I had time to register it – before I had time to scream – the thing tugged on me with immortal strength. My hands were ripped away from the ladder, and I plummeted back down the access tunnel. Only when I was about half way down did I bother to let out a scream. It was short, it was sharp, and it was mostly stifled due to the horrendous pressure of the thing around my middle.
I slammed into the bottom of the tunnel. It wasn't enough to kill me, just enough to daze me.
The grip around my middle was only growing tighter. With my face pressed into the dank dark water of the tunnel floor, I desperately tried to figure out what was going on.
Being the goddess of details, I wasn't good with fast situations. I was more inclined to quietly note every single leaf on a tree – I was less inclined to immediately reach for the axe when said tree turned out to be an enchanted demon.
I could feel the fact my hair had come undone and was stuck to my face, a few strands spreading out in the water below me. I could also feel the fact my glasses were shattered. The broken glass and frames were sticking into my flesh.
None of this was enough to kill or harm me. What was enough, however, was the growing grip around my middle.
The tentacle began to pull me backwards. I could feel my hair drag through the cold water and stick to my face and clothes.
I could feel the exact pressure being exerted around my middle – the way it slammed up against my power and forced it back.
I could smell the sharp scent of earth and an acrid bitter aroma that sat above it. It smelt like burnt bones.
The tentacle began to twist me around. The increase in pressure around my middle stopped. It was still strong enough to keep me in place, and to keep my meagre goddess powers in check – but it wasn't about to kill me anymore.
As I twisted, I realized what the thing was going to do. It was going to turn me around until I came face-to-face with it. It was going to stare at me in an I'm-going-to-eat-you-in-a-second way before promptly gobbling me down.
Before it could go through with its plans, something soared down from the access tunnel above. Several things did.
They weren't things. They were gods.
One after one, five heavy-set gods plopped down into the dank water of the tunnel. Though they had bypassed the ladder and jumped the considerable height, they hardly hit the tunnel floor with much force – not as much force as physics would have liked, anyway.
As the tentacled-thing turned me, I caught a glimpse of the god at the lead. I already knew who it was: Thor.
The question was, was Thor in such a mood that he would kill me first then the sea monster – or would he kill the monster and leave me until last?
Before Thor had a chance to do any posturing, the creature reared up – trying to show its impressive height and girth in the confines of the tunnel. Though the tunnel was large, the creature was massive, and I heard a squish as the top of the thing smashed into the concrete above.
As the thing rose, it took me with it, and soon my head pressed right up against the ceiling, my body still as limp as a dead flower – but I had the pleasure of my face being smooshed into dank concrete to go along with it.
“Sea monster,” Thor roared from somewhere below me, “Denizen of the deep.”
I wanted to scream at him to get the hell on with it – but I couldn't make a sound with the grip around my waist, and I still wasn't sure whether Thor would attack me first. I hoped he wouldn't....
The sea creature wasn't all that enthused by the prospect of listening to a Thor-rant either, and began to move.
He was retreating – the blasted sea monster was acquainted with odds, and didn't like the blond-bearded ones that carried magical hammers.
The thing moved fast, astoundingly fast considering how darn huge it was.
Thor shouted something suitably godly from behind like, “Hey, wet-one, get back here!” but I could no longer hear him. The sensation of being tightly gripped by an immortal tentacle as the humongous owner of said tentacle launched itself down a flood drain with all the speed of a bullet train, was too distracting.
I wondered for a fleeting second where this thing was taking me, whether it was going to find some nice junction somewhere it could peacefully and quietly gobble me down.
It didn't get the chance. From behind, I heard a familiar whistle. I instinctively winced and tried to duck – though I could hardly move.
I need not have worried. Thor's hammer did come screaming out of the blackness, but it wasn't aimed at my head. It sliced right through the tentacle that held me before boomeranging back to Thor.
“You are right to flee me, sea monster.”
It took a second for the tentacle gripping me to fall free from the body of the sea monster – it felt like I was on a seesaw gently slipping down. Then gentle turned to quick and violent, and the tentacle, with me still attached to it, slammed down to the ground.
It landed close to Thor, so close that he could have easily caught me. He didn’t bother to try.
I hit the ground with considerable force, the tentacle pressing me hard into the dank concrete. It somehow still had a grip on me – even though it was no longer attached.
The sea monster gave a great and terrible cry, a sudden and violent burst of acrid air escaping from its fang-covered mouth.
The scent of the thing surrounded me, but I still couldn't move under the grip that enclosed me.
“You are right to scream, too,” Thor added casually.
I felt a tentacle swipe down from above and noted the giant press of air it brought with it. It didn’t flatten me – it headed for Thor instead.
Thor dodged out of its way and hooked a powerful arm around it as it passed. He twisted up until he stood on the thing and ran along its length – back to the head to which it was attached.
I heard a sharp, loud, oddly welcome ringing. Thor brought his hammer up in a great arc and slammed it right into the center of the sea monster's less-than-attractive head.
The thing let out a great cry and a gurgle that sounded like water going down the drain, before unceremoniously falling over.
Thor lithely jumped off, landing easily in the dank water without a splash marking his clean jeans.
“Ha,” he chortled. “Totally beat you, you stupid sea monster.”
The relief washed over me.
I was safe.
Except the tentacle – the heavy oppressive one that blocked my power – was still attached to me.
Thor stared up at his handy work, Mjollnir held over one shoulder, his other hand clamped firmly on his hip. He looked pleased with himself. Why wouldn't he? He'd single-handedly taken down a giant sea monster, while the most I'd been able to do was note how exquisitely strong it had been while it had dragged me off into the darkness.
Before I could indulge in self-pity, I felt something odd: I was moving. Or rather, the tentacle holding me was. It wasn't moving in a twitching way, nor was it growing limp and letting me loose. Nope, it was dragging me down the tunnel as if the fact it had lost 90% of its body – including the important brainy parts – was a minor setback.
Due to its horrendous grip, I couldn’t call out for help.
Thor was too enthused with his victory to bother looking down at the skulking tentacle sneaking me off down the tunnel. Instead, he was poking one of the attached tentacles with his hammer like a child prodding a dead animal they find in the woods.
The thing was quick. I had enough time to catch a last fleeting glance of Thor tipping his head back and shouting that this was the perfect way to finish off a night, before I was pulled around a bend in the tunnel.
I’d never, in all the time I’d known Thor, wanted him to take the time to stare down at me more than I did now.
He didn't – he was too busy being victorious, which is what he lived for, after all. Saving small-time detail goddesses from autonomous tentacles would be an annoying side note to him.
I tried with all my might – with what power I could spare that wasn't keeping me alive – to call his name. It wasn't a name I usually wanted to shout unless it was followed with a well-placed insult, or the words “Your application for a visa is rejected due to your uncontrollable and riotous behavior.”
Now was different.
“T- T,” I managed, my mouth barely moving. “Thor.”
There, I said it. By the time I had, I was already too far off to be heard.
Or I thought I was.
Something came whistling out of the darkness, and it wasn't an overly jolly janitor – it was Mjollnir.
The hammer headed straight for me, and I was genuinely worried Thor was going to kill me – then the thing stopped dead in space and dropped right on the end of the tentacle, pinning it in place.
The tentacle couldn't scream – it didn't have a mouth. The sentiment was there in the way it thrashed. But no matter how much it tried, it couldn’t get free. The weight of Mjollnir was legendary.
I heard heavy footsteps approach.
My face was pressed into the wall of the tunnel, my lips and cheek smooshed as if someone had my head pushed up against a window. As such, my field of view was limited.
I still saw Thor make his slow way over to me. The other gods were behind him, all sauntering in that particular way only macho gods can.
Thor had one eyebrow raised. He stopped a half-a-meter from me and stared down. “Now.”
It was a preamble, but a preamble to what? I kill you, Details. I leave you here to rot. I take the opportunity, considering you are pinned to the floor by an immortal tentacle, to flick you in the nose.
Several of the other gods laughed – macho laughs, because they were in we-kill-monsters-mode. This was not a time for giggling or twittering.
Now the tentacle was pinned, its grip waned. I was able to concentrate on my powers. I tried hard to draw in all the details I could.
The way the concrete pressed into my face, the way Mjollnir looked solid and immovable as it pinned the tentacle, the way the other gods stood behind Thor, and the way Thor's T-shit was clean despite the sea-monster-in-a-flood-drain battle of moments before.
There it was. I could feel the power.
I didn't bother telling Thor to get this tentacle off me. I didn't try to plead with one of the other gods to let me free. I was going to do this on my own.
I turned my full attention on Thor. I watched the way he stood – the way he planted his feet with equal balance, the way his back was straighter than a tower. I saw the shadows play across his face, though there was no light down here to warrant the difference between a shadow and a highlight. I looked at the way he stood there, hands clamped on his hips as he stared back at me.
He was clearly watching me too – noting every hilarious detail of my face smooshed up against the concrete. Noting the way my usually criminally neat hair was a wet mess plastered over my face and back. Hell, he was having a good look at my torn blouse and my mud covered neck and arms.
Watching him watch me – noting the way he looked as he noted the way I did – created a sort of feedback loop. My power surged. I was a goddess of details – and while I was sustained through those details, I still oversaw that same faculty in others.
I doubted he was doing it on purpose – Thor was darn dim witted.
I cut through the strength of the tentacle, pushed back into it, and pulled free. The thing thudded to the ground and sent an unwelcome spray of water scattering over my body and face.
Thor watched me as I rose to my feet, then he crossed his arms and laughed.
I took a needless breath and stared down at the tentacle.
“This must be a big night for you, Details.” Thor opened his hand wide and his hammer shot straight into his grip. “Insulting gods and being hunted by sea monsters.”
He hadn't forgotten about that, then? Part of me had hoped the rare opportunity to fight a bona fide immortal sea monster on Earth would have been enough to quell his temper for at least as long as it took to gloat.
My sides ached and my head was filled with a thick heavy fog. I didn't have a scrap of energy left to engage in any hearty banter with Thor.
I swayed on my feet.
Thor narrowed his eyes.
“What's a sea monster doing in these tunnels?” one of the other gods asked.
“It's a little cramped down here,” another noted, more worried that the poor sea monster had been forced to put up with a painfully small abode, and less worried about the fact sea monsters in human flood drains was a bad thing.
Typical god behavior – they never wondered what the flow-on effects to the rest of the world would be. That's where the Integration Office came in. The office was set up to ensure the smooth and seamless integration of gods and goddesses into human and alien societies. The Immigration Office was only one arm of it. There were customs and the police, too. As soon as I told them – or as soon as I had enough breath to tell them – the office would be a hive of activity considering the fact an ancient immortal sea monster had somehow infiltrated a human city.
I put a hand up to my middle. My fingers brushed against the torn, wet, and muddy fabric of my blouse. I checked for blood. Yes, gods had blood. Unlike humans, it was not red – it was crystal clear. Also unlike humans, losing blood wouldn’t kill a divinity. Only losing the source of their power would. Still, blood was a useful indication of injury.
I brought my fingers up to my face. Though there was no light, I could still see, and I could see blood.
“You think the Immigration Officer,” one god started, stressing the word immigration as if it were the worst insult he could think of, “Would mind if we took the sea monster's head as a trophy?”
Ah, yeah, yeah she would. I didn't bother replying out loud. I stood and tried hard not to fall over.
Thor shifted his jaw around, took a sniff, cracked his shoulders, and shook his head. “The Immigration Officer is about to faint – you can do it while she's unconscious.”
Before I could splutter and tell Thor what I thought of his hilarious statement – I fell over.
Thor didn't step forward and catch me. He let me fall.
As I fell, I shut down. Unlike a human, a god does not need sleep. They do, however, when the situation calls for it, have to slip into a regenerative reverie – a reverie I was falling into regardless of whether I wanted to stay conscious long enough to stop any enterprising god from dragging a giant sea monster head back to his Earth apartment for an impressive mantelpiece decoration.
I didn't have a choice in the matter.
I noticed one last detail – Thor looming over me – then I conked out.
I awoke in god hospital. Unlike ordinary hospital, there were no nurses or doctors. There weren’t clean white walls or shiny expensive equipment either. Nope. I was on a plain slab of stone in a room with all sorts of candles and incense burning. There were potions lined up alongside me and a pleasant breeze was blowing through the place.
I felt... better.
I also knew the incense, candles, potions, and breeze weren't what was making me better – they were all for show and tradition. Nope, one of the healing goddesses had done the majority of the fixing up, and the rest had been my own regenerative powers.
To boost them along, I sunk into the details of my surroundings: the way my hair fluttered gently across my face from the breeze, the way the incense puffed in great rings of smoke, and the way the candlelight flickered to and fro. It was all peaceful and all thankfully slow. After the speed of the – I'll admit – one-sided battle with the sea monster, I needed to take things slowly.
Here was where I could do that. I was safe, there was nothing I had to do, and I could indulge in my power all I liked. The more I indulged, the quicker I would heal.
I felt strong enough to glance further around the room. Lined up on the ledge to my side were various statues, stones, and trinkets of amazing and intricate detail. There were tiny brass boxes with enameled pictures of various scenes. There were also pots and earthenware depicting everything from battles to mundane chores like mucking out the sea-monster pit.
I breathed again – though I didn't need to. I felt the air swell around me. I felt my lips part gently.
I rose, pushing up until I sat squarely on my allotted slab of stone.
A god swanned in. “Oh, dear, you are up then.” He clapped his hands – which were covered in rings and bangles – and they jangled and clinked. “You had me worried for a moment there. Such a tight grip that nasty sea monster had around you.” The god made a face as if he were gasping for air, then he flopped a hand at me. “It must have been terrible.”
“It wasn't pleasant.”
“Now look at you, all better. Heard you were the goddess of details,” he said, hands moving as he spoke, jewelry moving more. “I surrounded you with all the details I could.”
“Thank you.” I sighed and pushed off the slab. My feet touched the marble of the floor, but it wasn't cold. Nothing about this place was cold. Or, more likely, I was now so accustomed to my god-like powers that I was failing to note the mundane and human notion of warmth.
“As far as I’m concerned, you are all healed – you can take a look for yourself, if you'd like.” The god gestured towards my middle.
I looked down to see I was in a toga. I patted my middle and felt assured it was still there. Then I went back to the fact I was wearing a toga. I hadn’t worn a toga in at least two thousand years. I’d worn skirts, pants, dresses – you name it. But it had been millennia since I'd dressed in the usual garb of my kind.
I patted my hair and realized it was being held back by some kind of laurel. Wow, it had been longer since I'd worn one of those.
The god noted my surprise. He gave a pressed-lipped grimace. “Oooh, you don't like it? I tried to look up the files to see what you wore – but I couldn't get the details. So I popped you into the standard toga and laurel. Pale white isn't your color? Though with that gorgeous white hair of yours, you can pull off white better than most of the ice goddesses.”
“Ah, thanks. The clothes are fine,” I lied. The clothes weren't fine. They were odd. They reminded me of a history I’d abandoned long ago. I was a woman who lived in a cottage with white roses, a cat, and a pantry stocked with everything you needed to make any type of muffin you could think of. I was no longer the kind of goddess who milled around in white togas and golden laurels and stared down on humanity from atop heaven.
“Now you are up, you might want to....” The man pressed his fingers together and looked mildly concerned.
He wasn't going to say duck, was he? Thor wasn't waiting to thwack me on the head, final payback for my earlier insult, right?
“Calm yourself. You are going to have to answer some questions, you see.” He scratched his nose.
I frowned at him. “The Integration Office will want to get my side of the story so it can close the case on this. Those details will be vital to helping prevent future incidents,” I recited the company policy easily, and with the usual monotone voice I used as Immigration Officer.
“Oh, that's okay then, I thought you'd be worried, see. It's just that sometimes goddesses and gods get nervous when they know they have to speak to Him.” The god flopped another hand at me.
My eyebrows descended in a twitch. As far as I was aware, the god I would be dealing with was Tremulous, god of Law Enforcement. Yes, he was a brusque fellow, but nice enough once you got to know him.
“Sometimes gods get a bit put-off by the one-eyed stare and the generally foreboding countenance.” The god laughed it off now he'd confirmed I had no problem with the whole thing.
“Sorry? One eye? Tremulous has two eyes,” I noted. A detail I was hardly likely to forget.
“Who? You'll be talking to Odin.” He chuckled. “He's going to be overseeing this one personally. That sea monster was one of the old ones trapped under the fjords or something. Anyhow, it sounds as if some wayward divinity let it loose. What, with those fjords being his territory,” the god leaned in conspiratorially and pressed two ring-clad fingers together, “He is a little angry.”
A little angry. Odin, a little angry. There was a reason Thor had a temper like a super volcano. He was Odin's son. There was a reason Odin was feared, more than any other god on Earth. There was a reason all the other gods and goddesses avoided him like the divine equivalent of the plague.
That god had a temper.
The notion I would be recounting my sea-monster adventure directly to Earth's most tempestuous god was not a comforting one. I would rather walk right back into that tunnel and take my chances with the creature again. “Oh. This should be an Integration Office matter. I work for the Immigration Office – I know the procedure. I should be talking to Tremulous.”
“Oh – that's right, you do work for the Immigration Office,” his smile stiffened, “You refused my application to go sunbathing on the top of the Eiffel Tower several years back.”
Oh, I had, hadn't I? Because applying to go sunbathing in public while strapped to the top of the Eiffel Tower was never going to get approved. It was bloody ridiculous. But you could never outright tell gods and goddesses that. You couldn't look them in the eye and tell them they couldn't enflame a war between France and Germany because they wanted old-fashioned Gaul-on-Barbarian fighting action. They always assumed it was their right, and I was the pesky idiot stepping all over their wishes. None of them stepped back to appreciate the world was different now – you couldn't parade among the people anymore. You couldn't sit on top of a cliff, throwing lightning bolts at peasants and cheering with your god mates. Doubly, triply no could you sun bake while strapped to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
“Anyhow,” he said, voice a touch cooler, “He's waiting for you. I wouldn't keep him waiting long either – he hates that.”
Yep. I imagined there was a long list of things Odin hated: everything from frost giants, to leaking taps, to meddling immigration officers.
Dejectedly, I followed behind the medicine god as he led me through the halls of the hospital. The place was peaceful and had that otherworldly feel that confirmed it was a non-man-made structure. It was floating right in the clouds, which was a dead giveaway.
I caught glances into rooms as we walked along the wide corridor. I wondered – by way of distraction – what the other divine patients had done to see themselves in god hospital. Had they also had run-ins with sea monsters in flood tunnels? Or – more likely – had they gotten into some riotous bar fights with other equally riotous gods?
It wasn't enough to distract me from where I was going. While it was true I thought Thor was the worst Nordic god out there, I had to qualify that. Thor was rude, brash, violent, boisterous, indulgent, and hairy. But nothing compared to Odin. Odin was the equivalent of a god-like Christopher Lee. He had a voice with more gravitas than a planet ripping asunder, he had a beard whiter than the brightest light in the cosmos, and he had all the presence of the galaxy wrapped up on itself and concentrated down into the form of an ordinary-sized man.
Oh dear. What a day.
We soon turned a corner and straight into a cavernous hall. Old-school divinities loved the megalithic when it came to architecture. It reminded them of fighting giants, so they built their homes and palaces with the correct proportions should a giant pop their head through the window and suggest a god-battle.
It was circular and had great big marble pillars all around the sides. In the center was a single throne set upon a raised marble plinth. There weren't any steps leading to the throne, and the distance was greater than a meter – meaning either Odin had to scramble up and down into the thing when no one was watching... or he just flew up there.
This hospital wasn't equipped with its own Odin-suitable throne, so the king of the Nordic gods had obviously brought one with him. Which would have been humorous were it not for the fact Odin stared at me while I walked through the hall.
He was not as large as Thor was, though he was still big for an apparent human. He was in full, shiny, silver-white armor that matched the color of his beard. Beside him, floating on its own, was his magical spear. He had a long white beard that cut down to the center of his chest, and white hair to match. He had a simple golden eye patch (well, as simple as solid gold could allow) that covered the eye he’d legendarily given up in exchange for wisdom.
One arm rested heavily on the solid side of his throne, the other propped up his head as he stared fixedly my way.
I wanted to put my hands up and point out this hadn’t been my fault. I also wanted to foolishly ask him whether he could tell his magical spear to stop floating so darn threateningly.
There were other gods standing demurely before him at the foot of his throne. It took me until I stood alongside them to realize who they were. They were the gods who'd saved me from the sea monster. Yes, Thor was there too. He was no longer in jeans and a T-shirt. He was wearing his full battle armor. It was as shiny and imposing as Odin's.
Thor stood respectfully at the foot of his father. Well, one of his fathers.
Just as Thor had multiple identities, so did Odin. Once upon a time, Odin had also been Saturn and Cronos, the fathers of Jupiter and Zeus respectfully. Both Saturn and Cronos were no longer technically alive. Or, to put it another way, they were no longer functioning divine identities as far as the Integration Office was concerned.
When Thor was Jupiter or Zeus, he was the bona fide leader of his own pantheon. When he assumed his Nordic persona, he had to kowtow to his father. He was like a boy who'd grown up to assume responsibility over only two-thirds of the family business while his dad still held the most important chunk.
A part of me wondered how odd it must be for Thor to be standing before Odin. Before I could get into the complex daddy-issues a triple-identity god would have, Odin cleared his throat.
“Goddess Officina, ruler of details and facts,” he addressed me by my full title.
It sent such a shiver down my back. It had been years since someone had bothered addressing me like that. I was usually plain Officina or Details.
It was the tone Odin used – it was so god-like. Which wasn't surprising considering he was a god. But that didn't capture how important it was. It was truly god-like – it wasn't like the petulant whines I'd get from rejected small-time crime gods, or the light and fluffy tones of mildly annoyed cloud gods. No. Odin spoke with the authority of a ruler of gods. It was something I hadn’t dealt with in a long time. Since the Integration Office had taken over divine administration, gods like me had been distanced from the bigwigs. We did the work while they sat in their ivory towers.
I nodded low, my bunched hair – which the medical god had bothered to curl and tassel while I was regenerating – brushed over my shoulder. I didn't address Odin in return – I knew this was going to be a one-sided conversation until he gave me permission to speak.
I caught Thor glancing at me as I straightened up again. It was odd seeing him contained like this. Rather than expressing himself in his usual loud, boisterous way, he just stood there, straight and tall.
I wondered fleetingly if he'd been the one to take me to god hospital, or whether he'd left me there and Tolus had found me later.
Now wasn't the time to ask.
Odin leaned forward. “Tell me.”
I did. I told him everything. I put in all the details I could remember – which meant my account wound on for a long time. I told the king of the Nordic gods precisely how heavy I believed the sea monster to have been and how much pressure it had exerted around my middle per cubic centimeter. I described the quality of the thing's breath. I did, however, leave out some – okay, most – of the considerable number of details I'd noticed about Thor. As I recounted the tale, I realized I’d paid way more attention to Thor than I had to my would-be killer.
When I finished my story, Odin sat there silently. Briefly, I worried my fact-filled tale had sent him to sleep. “Do you have any enemies?” he asked me.
I blinked. “Um,” I said stupidly. “I... that sea monster... it was an opportune attack. Tolus and I merely accidentally disturbed it. I don't think—“
“I didn’t ask you what you thought,” Odin said, voice tight and oh-so authoritative. “I asked you if you have any enemies.”
One of the other gods beside Thor gave a slight snigger.
Yes, it was mildly funny – or at least it would be to a macho, groupie, sidekick god. The fact was, I could safely say I had a world-full of enemies, heck, a universe full. This was easily evidenced by the fact the medical god had turned from friendly and supportive to icy upon realizing who I was. I was the immigration officer who told all those gods and goddesses what they couldn't get up to on Earth. I was the one who – in Thor's words – trampled on and got in the way of all those divine wishes.
Odin's gaze shifted to the snickering god, and the snickering died quicker than a fly falling into a pit of molten lava.
“I.... I have some enemies,” I said diplomatically.
“Who?” Odin asked.
I didn't see why this line of questioning was necessary. I also didn't see how listing every single potential enemy I could have was going to help – it might be easier to get a list of all registered divine identities and safely assume the majority of them had it in for me to varying degrees.
“She is the Immigration Officer,” Thor cut in. “Listing her enemies would take too long, father.” The way Thor said father gave his tone an edge. For a man usually full of himself, his deference to Odin was obvious. I'm sure it evidenced daddy-issues of god-like proportions.
“I see,” Odin said. “You have many enemies then.”
I nodded. “You could say that.”
He leaned forward, his white beard resting against his knees, his single gold eye glittering far brighter than any star or constellation. “One of those enemies is trying to kill you, Officina, goddess of details and facts. Or capture you,” he added, as if that were meant to make me feel better.
Academically, I knew my job made me unpopular. But there was unpopular, then there was being told by the king of the Nordic gods someone was out to get you.
I was a controlled goddess. Unlike some of the other more emotional gods and goddesses, I tended to hold my feelings in check. Now I was close to falling over.
It was the way he'd said it. It was the way his mouth had barely stretched, had barely moved as he'd intoned his cold words. It was more in the details than the statement. Those details hinted at a violent and frankly perilous future.
Odin didn't cut in with a “Don't worry, though, I'll send my skull-cracking son after those goons, and we'll catch them.” He didn't offer me any solace at all, he just stared on at me with his single golden eye.
I barely stopped myself from whimpering like a trapped and doomed dog.
“I would hand this over to your Integration Office,” Odin said the phrase with the usual disdain it elicited, “But I’m afraid this is personal. That sea monster was mine.”
“Yours?” I squeaked, wondering if Odin meant the thing was his personal sea-monster pet – the god equivalent of a gold fish.
“I’d trapped it under the fjords. Someone un-trapped it. In doing so, they broke into one of my personal undersea facilities.”
I didn't feel like laughing – though Odin's admission that he owned a personal underground facility was very Bond-villain.
I got the gist. Someone had broken into one of his numerous cribs and stolen from him. Why Odin had a trapped sea monster, I didn't know. Gods – especially the old ones – were odd fellows. Maybe it was a vestige of some long-lost war, or he liked the way it looked as it floated around in its undersea prison.
The fact was clear, though: Odin was going to take this situation personally. His sea monster; his case.
I hoped in taking it personally, he didn't reject me as a useless side note. It was clear he was after the complete idiot who'd stolen his questionable pet, but did that include keeping me safe from the same ambitious fool?
Standing around and waiting for his answer – if he was going to give it – was torture. What I wouldn't give for Tremulous with his bustling mustache and blue-gold hat. Alas, this case was going to be solved in-house and old-school. The kind of old-school that included giant beards, terrifying gazes, magical weapons, and an outrageous number of god-on-monster fights.
I wanted to ask what would happen to me, but I stared at my toes instead. It didn't help.
“You will help to find who stole that creature. They are after you – you will bring them out from the darkness.” Odin abruptly shifted his head back into a neutral position and stared off into space.
I swallowed. Was Odin suggesting that I – alone – go out there and bait my attacker with a chicken dance on a deserted street corner?
“Thor, you will help her,” Odin added.
I felt relieved for a single second before I processed what that meant. Thor, bloody Thor was going to help me? I would have to put up with the giant gold-bearded buffoon as he tied me to a mountain and waited in the bushes to catch my attacker before it leapt on me and pulled my head off.
I couldn't trust Thor! Nor could I go on the god-equivalent of a manhunt with him.
I could see the same thoughts crossing Thor's mind – his chest stiffened, and he blinked. He tried to stand straighter, too, though if he stood any taller, he'd start floating.
Before I could plead my case to Odin – and suggest any other god but Thor accompany me on my fatal mission – I noticed the quality of his gaze had changed. He was no longer staring at me, though his single eye was opened. The attention was there, but it was also clear it was no longer penetrating the outside world.
I’d heard that in sacrificing his other eye in return for wisdom, all Odin had done was to have that eye turned around in his skull. It no longer stared at the world around him, but within at the world inside. Which, apparently, was all it took for true wisdom to take hold.
When the gods beside me turned on their heels to leave, I realized that regardless of whether Odin was engaging in a little self-reflection, this meeting was over. There would be no chance of convincing Odin to assign another god to this – it was done.
Though I didn't belong to Odin's pantheon, I still had to follow his orders. As king of the Nordic gods, and the last true god of old with a functioning divine identity, he held considerable weight. I couldn't ignore an order from him. Neither could any of the other gods.
Nope, I was stuck on this one. I could lodge a complaint with the Integration Office that I'd been given an unsuitable command by a divinity not directly related to my pantheon, but the paperwork would take weeks to process. Also, there was that pesky problem that Odin was technically Cronos and Saturn too, and therefore, by proxy, had all the rights of the Greek and Roman gods.
My heart fell as I turned on my heel and made for the door far away. This room was cavernous. One of the problems of being a small god in a big-god building – you had to walk blasted far to get anywhere.
I took one last glance at Odin as I left. The sight of him with one eye turned inside was a quieting one. How other gods amassed their power and felt the divinity within was always a question that intrigued me. So I noted every detail of Odin's breathlessly still form.
Soon I reached the door and made it out into the corridor. Immediately, the laughing started. The other god groupies who'd been at Thor's side erupted into guffaws. One playfully clapped Thor on the shoulder, though he had to stand on his tippy-toes to reach.
I didn't laugh.
“Ha,” one of the gods guffawed, “You have to protect the immigration officer.”
They all thought it was stupendously funny.
There were a couple of “Why don't you tie her to a wall and wait for the enemy to come – then you can leave her there afterwards and get rid of two problems at once.” And “We could dangle her over the wall and see if any eagle monsters swoop in to catch her, then we can clock them on the head and drop her off the side for good measure.”
It took me several hot-cheeked seconds to realize Thor wasn't joining in with the laughter. He paused there, manipulating his jaw with his free hand as Mjollnir rested on his shoulder with the other.
The laughing died off. It confirmed that these gods were Thor's groupies. Now he wasn't joining in with their humorous hardly-veiled threats, the groupies weren't finding things funny anymore.
Thor just stood there, and I started to wonder if he was so bored by the whole idea of protecting me he was considering a nap instead.
No, that wasn't right. The way Thor played with his jaw wasn't out of boredom. The movements of his fingers were too stiff. The fine lines at the corners of his eyes were bunched up, indicating there was more tension there than his casual stance belied.
He flicked his gaze over to me. “Stop staring at me, Details.”
This elicited a laugh from his groupies – though it was a stuttering one. They were still unsure about what was funny – because what was funny to them, was what was funny to Thor, and Thor didn't seem in a fun-loving mood.
I sighed at the dumb pet name, shifting my gaze off him, settling it innocently on the shadow he cast on the wall behind instead.
I was waiting for him to tell me what was going to happen next. I’d never – surprisingly – been on a god-hunt before. I was the goddess of details, not the goddess of tracking bad divinities and bringing them to justice. I didn't know the fine details of catching dodgy divinities – although, ironically, I would soon enough. I would know each and every exquisite fact of what it felt like to accompany Thor as we found the god who both wanted to kill me and had stolen Thor's dad's questionable pet.
Details, details. Usually fine things, but I knew these details were going to be of the unpleasant, frequently-fighting, loud, golden-bearded variety.
I took a needless breath and tried to weather the storm.
Without a word of explanation, Thor began to stalk off in the other direction. Mjollnir was held stiffly at his side and his shoulders were so tight they looked ready to pop.
I wasn't sure whether I was meant to follow, and nor did I want to when he looked that angry.
His groupies didn't appear to know what was going on, either. A couple of them exchanged glances and looked fleetingly after him.
“Details,” Thor rumbled.
I was vaguely impressed by how he could make his tone roll like a clap of thunder. When I realized the thunder was directed at me, I hopped, skipped, and jumped into action.
I scurried after him, ignoring the several snickers I received from his groupies. As far as I was concerned, what I was doing – following Thor around at his rumbling beck and call – was at least a tad more dignified than these divine hangers-on. They stood there like lost sheep waiting for their butch shepherd to come back. Their stuttering laughs were their pathetic equivalents of bleating.
I angled my chin up as I passed them – even if I was scurrying at the same time. I was a goddess, they were gods, and as far as I was concerned, I had no intention of being belittled by their laughter.
“Details!” Thor boomed, the great clear windows on either side of the corridor shivering ominously.
I scurried faster. It wasn't my fault – I was doing my best to keep up. Thor was striding around like a bloody god in full swing. Couldn't the man ever just walk somewhere?
Once I caught up to him, which took a full run on my behalf to his simple walk, I stopped myself from asking what next.... For about a second. “Right,” I puffed, even though I didn't breathe, “Where are we going? Why do we have to get there so darn fast?”
He turned on me, somewhat like an unexpected clap of thunder on a clear night. “You think I don't have better things to do? I came to Earth for a holiday, not to escort you around while small-time monsters try to do away with you once and for all.”
I glared back at him. “You always come to Earth for a holiday.” I clamped my hands on my hips. “Some of us have to work here, you know – work I won't be able to do while we're running around looking for whatever idiot stole your dad's sea-monster pet. If you think I don't have anything better to do, then you are wrong. It just so happens that while you will be missing out on drunken parties, I won't be able to complete my important job of keeping this planet safe.”
Thor snorted. I saw his nostrils flare in perfect detail. I knew from history that one of his alternate identities – Zeus – was fond of turning into a magical bull. Over the years the habit of looking like one when he was a man had become ingrained. Soon he'd probably produce a salt lick from his pocket and nuzzle up to it.
“Listen, Details.” Thor leaned down, eyes flaming so brightly I was surprised they weren't sending out sparks to catch his beard alight. “More keeps this Earth safe than you stamping bits of paper.” He pressed two of his giant fingers together to indicate how small those bits of paper were, and how small I was at the same time.
“I know that.” I crossed my arms, noting the unusual bunching of my toga underneath them. It was an off-putting feeling. It reminded me of a time long, long ago. “The police—“
He snorted again. He straightened up. “You small-time gods never get it.”
“Small-time?” I stressed the words. While I was aware many gods used the term, including me, it was profoundly insulting to hear Thor use it. “It's not just how big you are that matters.” I raised an eyebrow but resisted the tried and true comeback of “It's how you use it.” Instead I pointed a finger right at him. “It's who believes in you. An apparent small-time god today can turn into one of the big guys tomorrow. You big-time gods tend to forget that. You are not powerful in and of yourself – you stand for something.”
Thor turned his snort into a gruff laugh. “I’m the leader of two pantheons.” He began to lean in again, and this time his eyes sparked with something that could only be described as timelessness. “I’m one of the most powerful gods on Earth. I do not need to be told about what it is like to be a god, especially not by an insignificant goddess of details. Now,” he twisted his head to the side, “Stay out of my way while I sort this out.”
That look in his eyes – the one that threatened to cancel out all of creation in a single instant – trapped me in place. It was like turning a mirror up to the universe and watching it reflect itself in its entirety.
Then he just turned his powerful gaze off, as if it were as simple as flicking a switch.
I shook off the lingering effects of his power, then opened my mouth to continue.
He shook his head once, turned, and strode away.
What a total arrogant idiot. I managed a comeback, but I didn't dare say it out loud. Some uncomfortable truth was making itself known with an unpleasant tingle at the base of my spine. It was telling me that, yes, Thor was rude, blustering, violent, and often idiotic. He was also fundamentally powerful. As much as I wanted to dismiss the latter as plain god luck – what, with him being born into the right pantheons at the right time – I was having trouble justifying that conclusion. Thor was right. He did know secrets I didn't.
Secrets about the universe, secrets about the heavens, secrets about the history of the gods. Because of his position, he would be privy to information I would never be allowed to see.
As goddess of details, the knowledge that some facts were off limits was as annoying as it sounded.
It took me a moment to realize I was still gaping at him as he strode off down the corridor. I began to scurry after him again.
I knew deep down this was all going to end in the divine equivalent of tears. My tears. Giant, golden-bearded, magical-hammer wielding head gods don't cry. They hit things.
Thor deemed to tell me the plan. It was an exciting, exhilarating, genius plan. Not.
We walked along the corridor of the floating god hospital and out into an open-air garden. He peered over the side, right down into the billowing clouds below. This god-hospital didn't have a railing – health and safety was less of a concern in building design when all the occupants were immortal.
Watching him, I knew Thor had every intention of jumping over the edge in a furl of golden hair, hammer, and beard.
I didn't know where I fit in. I couldn't fly, and although the drop to Earth wouldn't kill me, it wouldn't thrill me, either. I'd wind up in a giant crater in the side of some snowy Himalayan peak, and it would take weeks to walk to civilization. Hey, maybe that was Thor's plan – get me out of the way so he could do some monster smashing solo.
When Thor didn't immediately grab my arm and throw me off the side of the building, I began to be drawn in by the details. He stood with one foot on the side of a small stone wall – small enough to offer no protection against the sheer drop, but large enough to constitute a tripping hazard. His hammer was held gently at one side, and the majority of his torso was twisted forward so he could stare down at the world below. The sunshine glinted easily, and happily, off the metal of his breast plate. It played along the wings of his helmet, the movement making them look like they were in full flight.
His stare was... engaging. It was the kind of stare you could imagine a shepherd would give while watching his flock grazing below. His lips were pressed into a tight line, his eyes narrowed, and his brow furrowed enough to show his eager concentration.
Without turning around, he pointed his hammer at me. “You are staring at me, Details.”
I sighed through my teeth, rolled my eyes, and stood my ground – several thankful meters away from the ledge. “I hope you don't plan on throwing me down there,” I admitted. “I can't fly,” I pointed out with what I hoped was a righteous sniff.
Thor snorted. “That doesn't surprise me. No. You go home. I fly.”
“What?” My lips kinked up with surprise. “I thought we were meant to—“
He turned around, resting his hammer on his knee. “You are meant to not die – a function you can fulfill while at home with your bake wear, books, and cat,” he said with enough disdain to impress a class-full of surly, authority-hating teenagers. To Thor, bake ware, books, and cats were about as welcome as Loki, Seth, and Hades.
“Home,” he repeated, voice strong. “I will track down who is responsible. You,” he pointed Mjollnir right at me, “Would just get in the way.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but closed it. He was right. I would just get in the way. Not because I was weak – because I wasn't a macho, god-fighting goddess. If solving this problem were up to me, I wouldn't do it the same way. I would gather every detail I could find and construct the reality of events from them. That way I would be sure to reach the correct conclusion.
Thor, on the other hand, would run around, smash any monsters he could find, and hope that at least one of them was the bad guy we were after.
We were different, irrevocably so. If Thor wanted to take charge, then yes, it was better that I stayed at home.
I leveled my gaze, meeting his. “A good plan. I will go home and bake muffins,” I reveled in the word. “I'll feed my cat. Hey, I might even do some ironing.”
Thor snorted, and before I could offer him a ring for that bull-nose of his, he stepped backwards off the edge of the building. When you were a god, that was how you finished arguments. Not suggested for humans, though.
I watched him go, and when he was out of sight, I glared at him. I put all my godly powers into it, squinting my eyes and gritting my teeth. While I couldn't stop time with my gaze, like he could, I was still capable of a mean stare.
Then... then I went home.
Fortunately, my home was like a temple. That didn't mean I treated it with all the reverence of an acolyte. It was a technical term. While on Earth, as the goddess of details, I didn't have any churches, temples, or shrines set up for me – I was too complex a goddess for those types of things. It meant I had to build my own. Some of the older, more established, more powerful gods like Anubis or Venus still had functioning temples they could call home (and by functioning, I meant ruins). When they visited Earth and found themselves in a spot of trouble or were hankering for some free accommodation, they could hang at their own temples. Me, I had to build my own, replete with a white picket fence, white roses, a white cat, and multicolored cupcakes.
The temple, shrine, or church was an important part of a god's existence. It was their home turf. When they were in trouble, they could retreat inside the walls of their homes, and said home would offer protection against whatever afflicted them. They were far more effective than a bunker, armored car, or highly-defended castle. The belief that kept the god or goddess alive was deeply woven into their place of worship.
A cottage in my case.
Thor was correct in thinking I would be okay at home. It was unlikely anything could walk up to my front door and force its way in. Unless it was wearing a skirt and insistently selling Girl Guide cookies. My shrine – my cottage – would, or should, protect against immortal attacks, for a time.
It would take considerable effort to break through my front door. While some of the more powerful gods could manage it, they would still have to put up a noisy fight.
Once I walked in my front door, I was sure to lock it securely, sliding the bolt to the side. I ensured my cat was inside, and went around securing all the windows. I had enough food, considering I didn't need to eat in order to live, and I could rustle up enough reading material to keep me happy. I didn't think this whole thing would take too long. As much as I hated Thor, I had to admit he was powerful and also suitably brash. Two things that should work in my favor. I could easily imagine him taking several minutes to track down the bad guy, another couple of seconds to knock him out, then a couple of hours to drink to victory. I'd be let out to go back to my ordinary life. If I was lucky, I'd only miss one day of work.
I set about cleaning my already spotless house in order to give myself something to do. I made muffins – chocolate chip and raspberry ones. I decorated them with exquisitely detailed icing. I didn't bother eating them, though.
After several hours passed, I wondered whether it would be a smart idea to go out into the garden and mulch the roses. Technically, although the garden was outside, it was still behind my picket fence. The fence was still part of my cottage-temple.
I stared out of the window, watching the afternoon settle over my garden. I got caught up in watching the bees zip over my flowers. I had a bank of lavender, verbena, and cornflowers right next to my kitchen windows. The small, brightly colored finches usually rested in the sturdier branches of the verbena and tried to peer in through the glass, in the hope they could spy something more appetizing than bugs.
I leaned down on the spotless kitchen bench, resting my chin in my hand. With my other hand I gently brushed a speck of something off the glass.
The mulberry tree in the center of my garden was casting a long shadow over the wooden bench seated underneath it.
The grass looked like it needed a cut.
Thor was such an idiot – from that arrogant pose, to the way he treated me.
I blinked. I had allowed myself to get distracted, by Thor of all people. I pushed air through my teeth. I wasn't going to sit here and moan about that Nordic nong. I was going to push him from my mind. Soon this would all be over and I'd be back to my old life, and I'd only have to put up with the arrogant bull whenever he wanted entry into Earth.
I stopped noting the details on each petal of each stalk of lavender as they played in the gentle wind that swayed past my window. I stopped noticing the bees, too.
It was the way he looked at you, it was the way he treated you. None of the other gods did that. Not even Odin – though he wasn't exactly a cuddly bear of warm and generous godliness. Still, he seemed more stable and reliable than Thor/Zeus/Jupiter.
His evil friend, Loki, treated me better than he did. Hades was polite, though sometimes he left parts of dead bodies wherever he sat. Hell, Seth – though he did tend to make a storm in a teacup, literally – treated you with more dignity than bloody Thor.
Was there anything redeemable about the triple god? Yes, technically he’d saved me from the clutches of that sea monster, though more accurately he’d waited until I'd saved myself. He'd just taken the opportunity to smash some slimy, tentacled skull.
The more I thought about it, the more I worked myself up into a tizz. I was fuming here. With little to no outlet – not being the type of goddess to smash things or start throwing needless lightning bolts around – I did the next best thing: I reached for a muffin. I ate it with a great deal more vehemence than your average muffin deserved.
I walked into my lounge room and grabbed the weather report. Spraying bits of muffin all over, I read the report angrily. I glanced down it, and it took me a long time to allow the details of the thing to wash over me. Once done, I grabbed an almanac that listed the historical rain levels of various countries around the world. That settled me more.
Then I grabbed my cat, patted it gingerly, and told it at length about how bloody infuriating a certain Nordic god was.
Over the course of the afternoon and into the night, I finished off all twenty-four muffins and read through approximately two hundred books. I turned the television on. Storms in Egypt, an outbreak of a disease in Greece, and some frostier-than-usual weather in Norway – the news was never cheery. I turned it off after a while.
I closed my eyes. Though a god didn’t need to sleep, over the years I’d experimented with it. I’d taught myself to breathe, to bake, to mulch, to pay taxes – sleeping was another notch in the ladder of finding out what it was like to be human.
After several more angry thoughts, I felt stillness descend on me. The sensation humans know as sleep settled, and I – goddess of details – had a nap.
I awoke to someone knocking on the door. At first I blinked languidly. Coming around from sleep – especially sleep you didn’t technically need – was always an odd affair. It left you drifting between two separate levels of consciousness.
I rubbed my eyes, because humans did that.
The knocking continued and grew louder. Either the Girl Guides were back and weren't going to take no for an answer, or Thor had returned.
Thor. I stood up, picking up my cat in my arms. He’d fallen asleep on my lap and looked too comfortable to put on the ground, so I carried him as I half-jogged to the door.
“Finally.” I reached the door. Thor had returned, victorious, and I could get on with my life again. Those darn roses needed some mulching.
I went to open the door, but thought better of it. I peered through the eyehole. I saw a sight I wasn't expecting.
I opened the door, eyebrows knotted. “Jupiter? You stated on your application you weren't going to switch identities while on Earth,” I pointed out, cat still in my arms. While I was eager to find out how Thor had fared, so I could get rid of the guy, I still thought it necessary to remind him of Earth Entry Rules.
Jupiter grinned, slicked-back black hair glinting under the porch light. The gold chain around his neck glinted, too. Everything glinted in an oily way. That black suit of his with the unbuttoned shirt showing his supposedly manly chest hair, even his long, pointed, black shoes.
Of all Thor's godly guises, Jupiter was by far the greasiest. He looked and felt like a small-time mob boss. Except one who could occasionally stop time with his gaze.
“Officina,” Jupiter said, lips clinking up. They really did clink, as if they were made of gold, not flesh.
I blinked. Thor never called me Officina – that would be giving credence to the fact I was a true goddess and not someone designed to get in the way of Earthly fun.
“It's done.” With his hands still in his pockets, he shrugged expressively and peaked his eyebrows.
I looked at him. His suit was unusually shiny and his hair was slicked back too far. His eyes also didn't glint nearly enough.
“You're safe now.” Jupiter grinned again, dipping his head forward and looking up at me in what was meant to be a half-dashing, half-manly way.
It was neither. It was wrong. All of it was wrong. I backed into my house, my arms still around my cat.
Jupiter's grin faltered. “There's only one thing left to do.” He winked.
I slammed the door in his face.
He put his shoe in the doorway, jolting the frame with a powerful shudder and stopping the door from closing.
I backed off.
This was not Thor. It was not Zeus, and it sure as hell wasn't Jupiter. The greasy chap on my doorstep was, however, a god.
The door blasted off its hinges. I twisted to the side, protecting my cat with the bulk of my form. The chips of wood struck my back and ripped the fabric of my pajamas.
After my return from god hospital, the first thing I'd done was change out of that silly toga. As far as most other gods were concerned – or at least the Roman and Greek ones – if something was worth doing, it was worth doing in a toga. To them, there was no more functional or dignified item of clothing. Need to clean out the drains? Wear your toga. Need to give a rousing speech to your acolytes? Toga. War? Toga.
I didn’t find the things comfortable. When it came to hanging around my own cottage, I preferred a large pair of flannelette pajamas and some soft slippers. The slippers weren't humorously shaped or anything – I was still a goddess, thank you. Comfort was just something I valued more than toga tradition.
Now my PJs were ripped. Oh, and I’d opened my door to an evil god. Once you let them into your temple/cottage, they were harder to remove than cockroaches.
I turned to see the fake Jupiter walk casually over the broken remains of my door. He tugged down on his black jacket, revealing more of his chest hair.
He cracked his head from side-to-side.
He reached behind him and pulled out one large, menacing golden gun.
The gun, though it did make the whole mob-boss act more convincing, was not a conventional one – it glowed and crackled.
Fake Jupiter gave a grin. “We do this the hard way, then. You are coming with me, goddess of details.”
Like hell I was.
I ran into a room before fake Jupiter could say another word.
A shot from his gun sliced into the wall beside me, and my cat gave a loud cry, sinking its claws deep into the fabric of my PJs.
Great. I would have to go shopping again.
I had other things to think of now.
Things were happening fast again – twice in the space of a day. I tried to push my detail-driven mind to catch up with the situation. I tried not to be distracted by how much PJs cost, or whether my neighbor had a functioning sewing machine I could borrow. I tried not to notice the pattern of wood chips that had spread through my bedroom. I tried not to be pulled in by the feeling of my loose hair playing across my neck.
No. No. There was a fake Jupiter with a freaking magical gun hunting me down in my own darn house – I had to pay attention to the situation and not the details!
I also had to think of a plan.
“Come on,” fake Jupiter drawled from behind me, “Don't make this hard on yourself. You can't beat me, Officina. You can only prolong this by several seconds.” Another blast sunk into the wall – and I knew he’d missed deliberately.
My cat struggled to get free, but there was no way I was going to let go of it – not while there was an angry and evil god with a magical gun on the premises.
Whoever he was, he was right: I couldn't fight him, and I was stuck.
He walked into the room, whistling through his teeth and cracking his head to the side. I'd seen that exact move before, and I'd heard that whistle, too. “Loki,” I realized.
Loki shrugged his shoulders, one hand still stowed in a pocket. “Nice. Pity for you that you didn't realize sooner.”
I’d opened my door to Loki, god of mischief, fire, magic, and general evil. By opening my door to him, by proxy I’d invited him into my temple.
I winced. I was trying to run through the details of this situation as fast as I could. I was trying to come up with a plan. Planning wasn't my forte – creating strategies was a step beyond facts and figures. That's why, as a goddess, I was always stronger when I was with others.... The real truth to Thor's admonishment that I shunned my own kind. On my own, the most I could do was process visa applications and get lost in the details of how one simple gaze could stop time.
“Why have you come here?” I demanded.
Loki gestured at me with the gun. “Details you'll learn later. Officina, you are coming with me.”
I didn't want to.
I stared ahead, noting the door before me. It was the one that led to my library – the library that wasn't so much one room of books, but a spatial anomaly that led to every single library that had ever existed on Earth.
It always led somewhere different every time you opened the door. Over the years, I’d learnt to control it somewhat, but spatial anomalies were always temperamental.
I straightened up. “Hold on,” I made my voice even, “Let me turn the oven off.”
Loki gave a sharp laugh. “Be my guest.”
I reached for the handle of my library door, opened it, walked in, and closed it behind me.
Loki would be confident there would be nowhere to run to inside my cottage. Or at least nowhere he wouldn't be able to find me and drag me from. He was one of the most powerful evil gods on Earth. He had considerable and formidable magic – and a nice golden gun to complete his outfit today. All I had was a cat.
Loki, however, didn't realize I had a whopping great spatial anomaly squeezed between my bedroom and living room.
It was too late. As soon as I closed the door, I was transported somewhere far, far away from my cottage. With the door closed, the anomaly reset itself. Despite his considerable magic, it would take Loki a while to figure out where I’d gone.
I let out an enormous breath of relief and turned on my heel to find out where I’d ended up.
Several toga-wearing men were staring at me, brows raised in surprise. Their skin was dark, and several of them wore the kind of heavy eye makeup you rarely saw in modern times beyond emos or goths.
I glanced up at the wide, arched ceiling above and along the walls at the rows and rows of scrolls.
Alexandria, I was in the library of Alexandria.
One of the men who stood closest to me looked as though his bottom lip was about to drop off from surprise. To him, he’d seen a woman in strange but comfortable clothes holding a cat walk out of a shelf. Which wasn't something that happened often in the library unless it was hashish day.
I held my cat and grinned. I noticed the detail of the man's skin – the soft scars scattered up the side of his face, probably from a childhood bout of some disease. I dipped my head down, and I noticed the detail of his hands as they tightly clasped a scroll. I scanned his head, seeing the pockmarked surface of his shaven skull. I drew him in.
I was not Thor, I was not Loki, I was not Odin. I was the small-time goddess of details. Yet I was still a goddess. I still had powers. Just as I could lose myself in facts and figures, I could bury others in them, too.
The man's eyes started to become glazed.
I moved. As much as I didn't want to shock the inhabitants of the Library of Alexandria, I still had to get away from Loki. It could be minutes or hours until he found me.
Luckily for me, when it came to the rules that stopped gods and goddesses from making themselves known, they became less strict as you travelled back in time. The closer you came to the real reign of the gods, the less it mattered whether you interacted with humans. Yes, you still couldn't act in a way that took away their freewill. But popping up magically through a shelf of scrolls meant one thing in a population already comfortable with gods and magic – it meant an entirely different thing if you did it at the local library during a meeting of scientific skeptics.
I should get away with this. Oh, that and Loki was chasing me. Mitigating circumstances, that.
I half-ran, half-jogged through the library. I hoped the oft repeated rule that you can't run through a library didn't count when you were being hunted by a magical-gun wielding mad-god.
I broke into a full run. As I ran, I tried to draw the people around me into the details of the way my bare feet sounded as they slapped against the sand-encrusted marble floor, the way my hair fanned out behind me, and the way my cat still hung onto my arm for dear life.
The more I concentrated on the details, the more they would, too – and it would take away the reality of the situation for them.
I made it out into the city beyond. It had been a long time since I'd been to Alexandria city, though I did visit the library often enough (not usually abruptly while dressed in flannelette PJs).
It looked like morning, the sun peaking over the horizon. Or, more accurately, considering where I was: the sun being slowly dragged across the sky by a magical set of star-dragging scarabs.
I needed a disguise, I realized as I began to draw more and more stares.
While the people of ancient Egypt might be more comfortable with gods than your average modern agnostic, a woman in PJs with white hair was still a bit unusual.
I ducked into the first alley I could find, and was more than glad when I spied a dirty, but appropriately large thick sack-like cloth. It was hanging over some cart, and legitimately belonged to someone else. While I wasn't the goddess of minor crime or theft, I had to widen my horizons. Saying a short prayer to Lady Luck – and reminding myself to send her a present later – I begged that whomever I stole this cloak from would be repaid for my crime.
I pulled the cloak around me as I ran, settling into the disguise. By the time I made it to the end of the alleyway and back out into the sun-filled glory of ancient Egypt, I’d cut my pace to a respectable one, and was trying hard to fit into the crowd.
To everyone else, hopefully I would look like your average be-cloaked figure carrying around a shocked white cat. Hey, this was ancient Egypt – carrying cats while wearing cloaks was marginally more respectable than it was in current times.
I still wasn't wearing shoes, and the feel of the sand-encrusted road underneath my toes was distinct. It played against my skin, reminding me I wasn't in – as the saying went – Kansas anymore.
The sun beat down, and I felt the heat of it through the thick fabric of my cloak. Though temperature didn't usually bother me – unless it was at the extreme ends of the scale (like the cold of the frost giants or the powerful fire of Vulcan's forge) – I still noted it. Blame it on trying to integrate with the humans, or the fact I was trying desperately to figure out what was going on, but I was allowing myself to become too distracted by all the facts, figures, sensations, and details to gain a handle on the situation.
I calmed my mind by remembering the average rainfall experienced in Paris over the last hundred years. Then I ran through the ingredients listed on my shampoo bottle.
Okay. I told myself with a lick of determination. Fact one: I'm in Egypt. Fact Two: Loki is after me. Fact three: he didn't kill me. Fact four: Thor... would have no idea where I am.
I became dejected at that thought and started to be sucked in by the heavy cold feeling descending through my stomach. I was on my own here. Yes, I’d bought time by hopping a spatial anomaly and galloping into the past – but how much, and at what cost? As far as Thor knew, I was still at home. By the time he came to check on me – if he bothered to – I wouldn't be there. While I didn't put it past Loki to figure out how to control my spatial-anomaly library-door, I did think it was beyond Thor. He'd get frustrated and hit the thing with his hammer – and while ordinary doors reacted predictably to being hit by heavy objects, temporal anomalies never did.
I felt heavier and heavier as I walked. I was on my own here, being hunted through time by a powerful and evil god.
It was a question I should have asked earlier. It was a question I should have asked Odin, Thor, and Loki at every opportunity that hadn't involved being ogled, attacked, or menaced by them. Instead, I'd either looked-on dumbly, argued, or run for cover.
In other words, upon the chance to gather information I’d shirked my godly duty.
I held my cat fast to my chest with one hand and used the other to rub my eyes and face.
This was a frankly unacceptable situation. I wasn't having fun here.
I had to fight the urge to give up and sit right here behind this sandstone building and wait for whatever would come to catch up with me. In other words, to surrender to defeat.
Being the god of victory, that would never be a thought to cross Thor's mind. Being the goddess of details, surrender was just a fact to me. I lived my life surrounded by facts, but now they were deserting me. For in the current situation it was not the things I knew that mattered, but the things I didn’t know. Not knowing them drained power from me.
I glumly decided on a plan: I had to find another god or goddess, hopefully a sympathetic one. I had to beg them to either get me back to modern times, to alert the authorities, or to at least let me hide out in the back room while the storm blew over.
The only problem was Thor was right: I wasn't the most popular goddess. As far as friends went, I didn't have any. I had angered too many of my own kind with rejecting foolish visa applications over the years to be able to count on any of them in this time of great need.
Or maybe I was overreacting. I was still a good goddess, technically, though most of them wouldn't like to believe that. Surely they would have an obligation to help me?
I steeled my gaze and looked up at the sun. I fancied I could see the strong rays glancing off the armor of the great scarabs tirelessly dragging it across the sky.
I scratched my chin and tried to think of what shrine or temple would be closest. Wasn't there a nice Horus temple somewhere nearby? Though I always found it creepy when he changed his head into that of a hawk, if I got down on my knees and begged him for help, there was a chance he'd offer it. I'd end up owing him a lifetime's supply of mice or something, but I could weather that later.
Horus could contact Thor, Thor could come here and beat Loki, and I could return home.
Unfortunately my awesome plan didn’t last long, because the next corner I turned forced me to stop. Alexandria was a port city. On one side she stared out to the languid blue of the Mediterranean, and on the other back into the expanse of the desert.
The corner I turned gave me an unusually good view of both. Both views had abruptly changed. Moments before I’d been staring at the horizon and watching the glint of the sun. Now, from the direction of the desert, a giant sand storm loomed like a tidal wave. A quick shift of my glance told me that an equally foreboding, but meteorologically distinct, storm was racing in from the sea. Two storms racing towards the city, both having formed within seconds....
I gulped and clutched my cat all the tighter.
I knew enough about weather to know storms didn't appear out of nowhere, real or of the sand variety. Yet I knew enough about gods to know the rules didn't always apply.
Soon, the growing clouds began to block out the sun, casting the city in a long and deep shadow. One look at the exact grey and dark blue of the clouds above told me this sudden storm wasn’t going to be of the mild variety. A glance back at the sandstorm behind the city told me it could easily engulf the whole place in an instant.
“Oh god,” I said without thinking. One of the things about trying to integrate with the humans was you sometimes picked up their expressions. I appreciated the meaning of that statement in a way no mortal could.
My fate was with the gods, literally.
I considered both directions carefully – sandstorm or ordinary storm – and decided I'd stick to the clouds and rain variety.
I headed towards the docks. I had no idea what I was going to do once I got there. I could hardly hop a boat and paddle furiously all the way to Greece or Rome. While I might technically be able to run back into the library and try to get back to my cottage through the anomaly, I didn't like the idea of trading a storm for Loki.
Due to the ferocity, suddenness, and locale of this particular set of storms, I knew I wasn't dealing with cloud seeding gone wrong. There was only one god who could produce weather this frightful and chaotic in ancient Egypt: Seth. Least favorite god of the Egyptian pantheon, and Loki’s equivalent this side of Europe.
Oh dear. Either Seth was having an impromptu and badly-timed hissy fit, or he was in league with Loki.
My cat had long ago become limp in my grip. It was no longer trying to rip my PJs to shreds. It was huddled as close to my chest as it could, resigned to the situation in a cat-like way. I had always fancied he knew – as far as a feline could – that I wasn't an ordinary human. From the day I’d picked him up from the cat home, I imagined he'd figured out that other people didn't treat their cats as regally. If something was wrong with my dear, I would bypass the vet and take him straight to the goddess of cats. If he was hungry for something other than tinned cat food, I fed him ambrosia. If he wanted a nice place to sit, I'd go nick one of the cushions from Olympia.
Now he was putting two and two together, and figuring he was far safer in my arms than out on the street being pressed between two humungous storms and a city's worth of frightened people.
I tried to ignore the gritty feeling between my toes as I ran full-tilt towards the docks. I figured that at least during an ordinary storm I might be able to see more than a meter in front of me. The sand storm would envelop me and reduce vision to zero. If I was going to be of any help to myself, I needed to be free to gather as many facts as I could.
Oh, sod it, who was I kidding? Seth and Loki were both after me. I had no chance.
I ran desperately and let out a prolonged and pathetic whine.
I didn't reach the docks before the sandstorm hit, and boy did it hit. It grabbed the city as if trying to pull it into the desert. In moments, everything was covered in a seething golden cloud. The rain started, too. It poured down with a rage and speed I'd learned to associate less with water and more with bullets.
The force of the wind ate into me with every step. While an ordinary gale I could weather, this extraordinary one was taking its toll. With every howl and blast of the wind, I slowed. With a powerful god behind each gust – a god far, far more powerful than me – I had no hope to resist.
I did the only thing left, and inched down to my knees. It was more of a slow collapse. Whatever it looked like, it felt like surrender. I couldn't move against the elements. I couldn't stand against the power.
I heard footsteps above the bellowing gale.
I peeled my eyes open against the sand-biting wind, and saw two silly, pointy, shiny black shoes stop about thirty centimeters from me.
“Now,” Loki leaned down, the wind stopping around him, “Are you done playing games?” he asked with a mischievous grin on his face. He was still pretending to be Jupiter, and the gold chain he wore around his neck dangled a centimeter from my nose.
I looked up into those eyes – the ones that couldn't so much stop time as pull time into a bomb and make it go boom right in your face.
I was starting to reassess my earlier conclusion that Loki was better than Thor. The details were plainly right in front of my nose, and I couldn’t ignore them any longer: I would have Thor any day. Or rather, I would prefer Thor any day.
As the gale stopped, I saw the damage it had caused. Around me, the streets were covered in thick, wet sand. All the buildings were standing and no people were in sight, which hopefully meant no one had gotten hurt during this atrocious double storm.
I sniffed softly.
“Nice touch with the spatial-anomaly door – can't say I was expecting that.” Loki shrugged, his gold chain jingling by my nose as he leaned towards me. “But wrong place to go.” He smiled.
As he did, the sand by his side formed, combining with the residue from the grey clouds above. In another second, Seth stepped into being. His gaunt face angled my way, his black make-up clad eyes narrowed and blazing.
He didn't bother to speak. He just stared with all the pent-up ferocity of a storm ready to break.
I blinked hard and held onto my cat for dear life. This wasn't the first time I’d dealt with either of these gods. I'd seen them in the Integration Office numerous times. Up there, they had been kept in check. Down here, there was nothing stopping them from being who they were. Which was totally evil.
Seth was dressed in a sand-colored robe that ran the length of his towering thin form. He was totally bald. He didn't even have eyebrows. In other words, he was like the skinhead, robe-wearing, ancient version of a hooligan. A quiet, imposing, sinister hooligan with the power of chaos and storms.
Loki sucked at his teeth, then ran a hand over his oily hair. “Enough of this,” he said as he flicked his gaze over me. “Let's get out of here. Hades ain't gonna be pleased if we're late,” he said in a mob-like voice. Either he'd been watching too many human movies, or he wasn't sure how to pull off the fake Jupiter act. While Jupiter did dress like this, at least he didn't speak with his teeth clenched and his mouth puckered to one side.
“Hades?” I questioned, voice high. Hades was in on this, too? Dear lord! I hadn’t only angered Loki and Seth, but Hades also. Gosh, as things were going, every bad god with an axe to grind would be after me, baying for revenge for rejected visa applications.
“Hades.” Loki shrugged. He clicked his fingers right in my face.
I jerked back.
“But that ain't all, baby girl.”
Baby girl? What was he going to do next, pull a whole salami from his pocket and chew on it while he called Seth Tony and bemoaned the drug dealers that were moving in on his turf?
No. He reached out a finger and patted me on the nose. “We've got someone who wants to see you.”
I shivered. It was the tone, it was the light tap, it was the greasy hair. “Who?” I stuttered.
“We're not super villains, goddess, we're gods. We don't give away the details of our plans.” Loki locked his hand over my wrist and pulled me up.
I couldn't resist. I did furrow my brow at him, at least.
Right. The situation was this: I was being goddess-napped by two powerful and evil gods, while holding my cat, and in my PJs. Damn, things couldn't get worse from here.
Then again, there had been the ominous mention of someone else. Which other god was after me? Who else had joined this illustrious litany of evil to hunt me?
Oh hell, I was going to find out, wasn't I? Hell being the operative word here.
Loki wrapped a firm, tight hand around my wrist as Seth disappeared back into the sand and cloud from whence he'd come. I was alarmed at the fact the Egyptian meany was leaving me alone with the Nordic meany. Then I realized that two meanies or one, this wasn't a good situation.
“Where are we going?” I managed, trying to ignore the distinctly fiery, yet icy feeling spreading through my wrist. My arm was beginning to go numb.
“Down,” Loki said, lips spreading wide. He pointed to the ground with the gun he'd pulled from the back of his pants.
The paradoxical fiery cold was spreading up my arm and into my shoulder. As it did, I began to lose hold of my cat, and I had to let him go. He jumped out of my grip, gave me a mournful look, then did the smart thing and high-tailed it out of there, literally, with his tail stiffer and fluffier than I'd ever seen it.
I hoped he would make it to a nice cat-shrine somewhere.
I fell against Loki, unable to keep standing on my own.
The earth below us started to give way.
I heard a howl from the desert. A fleeting, great, mournful cry of some jackal.
It took a while to realize it was Anubis – the Egyptian god who protected the dead, right-hand man-dog of Osiris, god of the underworld.
My head was becoming cold, and it felt as if my thoughts were freezing in place. The fact that Anubis was howling... was important, somehow....
A set of stairs opened up below us as a great dark chasm appeared in the street. Loki pulled me down it, his eyes warily glancing behind us. “Seth,” he said as he poked a pile of sand on the stairs with the pointed toe of his shoe. “You keep him busy. I don't want any trouble.”
The sand responded by furling up, a mouth forming in the chaos. “Do not step on me, god of fire and magic,” it hissed.
“Yes, yes,” Loki dismissed him, “But there are more important things to worry about. If Anubis catches us wandering through the underworld, he ain't gonna be pleased. You keep him occupied, and I'll meet up with you in Greece. Got it?”
The sand responded by shooting into the sky. All the sand that had once covered this city in a thick blanket started to recede. It formed a sandstorm in reverse, and soon the tidal wave of dust and grit was moving away from the city at a frightful pace.
Anubis. I thought slowly. The Underworld.
They were interconnected, weren't they?
I'd read that. You could go through secret back doors that connected the underworlds of various pantheons. It was some administrative necessity in case a foreign national, who didn't believe in the local gods, died on your soil and you had to get his soul back to his own pantheon lickety-split so he could be judged and sent off to the afterlife.
All the Earth-based underworlds had back doors that linked up to each other. That's what Loki was doing. He was going to take me down into the Egyptian underworld, hop a security door when no one was looking, and march right into the realm of Hades.
The hot-cold spreading from Loki’s grip consumed my body. It was numbing, but in a painful and heavy way. It wasn't just that I couldn't move, but that I was being contained at the same time. My power was being locked away, and struggle as I might, I couldn't break free.
Loki led me down the stairs to the underworld, his ridiculous shoes clinking on the dark obsidian stones. He had one arm wrapped around my middle, as I was as limp and incapable of movement as a broken doll.
I tried hard to stay awake – concentrating on any details I could find. Loki’s chest was hard and uninviting, and my shoulders slipped against the smooth surface of his satin shirt. His gold chain was caught in my hair, and tugged it with every step he lugged me down. He smelt of fire: wood smoke, burnt remains, hot coals, licking flames.
I let my eyes drift closed, intending to open them in a second. The seconds drew on and on, and the cold only became more and more encompassing.
I awoke. It took me several seconds to blink my eyes open, several more seconds to realize I wasn't dreaming, then one painfully long moment to realize I was chained to a freaking wall.
The chains were tight and hard against my wrists, and I knew immediately they were magical. These were not the simple link chains you bought from the local hardware store for a couple of bucks a meter. They weren't even the heavy-duty ones you had to get from the engineering depot. These were the specialized god-links you had to get direct from Vulcan.
They were not usually used to tie up innocent goddesses. These were reserved for your pesky giant, ogre, or sea monster. Yet here they were, nonetheless, fixing me in place, and doing a thorough job of it.
I stared around at the room I was chained to. Though I’d never visited the underworld of the Greek Pantheon, I knew the style of the place. There were pillars and chains, oh, and I had a great view of the hill outside where Sisyphus was busy rolling his least-favorite boulder up the incline, only to fail, and have to try over and over again for eternity.
I sunk my teeth heavily into my bottom lip and sighed. It was a choked, shaky sigh.
I was defeated. I hadn’t put up much of a fight, I'd been defeated from the outset, but I was only now starting to appreciate what that meant.
I tried to pull at the chains holding me in place. It was about as successful as moving mountains by blowing at them.
I tried not to look out the window at Sisyphus. I didn't need to be reminded of useless toil.
Except there was nowhere else to look. This room was empty. The goddess tied to the wall was meant to be the main feature, and the designers had cleverly decided that any other details – like pot plants and colors other than stone grey – would detract from the centerpiece: me.
I found my gaze drifting back out the window. I had a remarkably clear view from here. My captors had likely intended it to be that way. They were going to leave me in a room with no chance of escape, with a clear view of someone else who labored and toiled without gain, to underline how powerless I was.
Gods were not above psychological manipulation. They invented it. Divinities had the full gamut of psychological conditions from narcissism to general egomaniacal power tripping.
I let my gaze drift to Sisyphus’ face. It was a punishment that didn’t fit the crime. Doling out bizarre and unwarranted punishments on the human population was one of the reasons the influence of the gods had been cut back. You can't rest too much responsibility in the hands of the powerful. They tend to think they are above the law and that they can get away with whatever they like – whether it be smashing some poor farmer's crops or accidentally letting out the leviathan while tooling around on their skidoos.
No. Gods had to appreciate the rules too, and that's why the Integration Office enforced them. Before that, things had been chaotic, violent, and not that productive. Too many god wars had led to not enough progress as far as humanity was concerned. Plus, gods relied on humans far more than they would like to admit. Without believers and perceivers, gods couldn’t exist. If the divinities of Earth spent all their time warring with each other and killing the population upon which they relied upon for survival, they were going to war themselves to death. It had been decided by the Powers that Be – literally – that if gods were to survive as a species, they needed to become less active in human life. Peace would come, or so the plan had stated, when the divinities took their fingers out of the pie....
It hadn't worked out like that. Nothing did.
Though I worked for the Integration Office, and wouldn't go on record saying anything against it, I could admit – while tied to a wall in Hades’ Underworld – that things weren't as peachy as they seemed. While making gods step back and stop demanding sacrifices from humans was a good thing, the intricacies of belief in the divine were complex. Though most gods found the new rules stopped them from having fun, they also found that being less publicly involved in human affairs led to a real downturn in belief. As gods were based on belief (in part), it wasn't a good thing. Most gods these days found that in order to survive, they had to live vicariously through their supporters. That is, while no normal, modern human would admit to being an acolyte of the God of Knit Wear, as long as people approached cable-tie jumpers with sufficient reverence and belief, the God of Knit Wear lived on. It was belief by-proxy, and took a creative Hollywood-esque accounting on the part of divinities, but it worked.
Therein lay the problem. While small-time gods like Old Knit Wear scrape out a living based on recurring internet memes depicting hilarious knitted-jumper-wearing children, the new laws favored other gods in a disproportionate way.
I stared at Sisyphus as I thought. I’d often wondered what modern humans would do if they found out about us gods. How would the old lady down the street react if she knew the giant man in jeans and a T-shirt could produce lightning at will and had a magical hammer that could crash through any substance in the universe? Would her whole worldview be irrevocably shattered? Would she have a heart attack from the shock? Would she take a couple of breathy minutes to think about it, then ask Thor if he wouldn't mind using that hammer of his to fix her wonky door?
It was a hard one. Humans – though their beliefs often seemed entrenched – had a remarkable ability to adapt to change. That was their gimmick: adapt to survive. If tomorrow everyone on modern-day Earth woke up to the admission that, yes, gods exist in all sorts of funny shapes and sizes, I doubted the world would crumble. Yeah, there might be riots, but only because some humans use any excuse to take to the streets to turn over rubbish bins and engage in some good old group window-smashing. I was sure civilization wouldn't crumble. While it would take humanity a couple of years to adapt to the idea, they'd soon settle into it and find a way to turn it to their advantage.
Tireless, was a word I would use for it. The tireless ability to adapt to circumstances and integrate them, without destroying or shattering your worldview. I realized with a blink that the word tireless didn't fit humanity as well as it fit Sisyphus continually rolling the stone up the hill. At this thoughtful moment in my life, I could see the connection. Sisyphus pushed the stone up the hill, and from the outside it always looked as though he was failing to reach his goal: the top. To Sisyphus, would it seem that way? Would it seem to him that he failed each time the stone rolled back down? Or was success not based on the perception of victory, but on the unyielding commitment to the process?
I became drawn into the philosophy of it all.
The door opened. In walked Hades.
Hades was one of those semi-evil, semi-good gods. A little like Loki used to be before he turned all the way to the dark side. Hades sometimes helped out the other Greek divinities, and sometimes he dragged up giant sea monsters and tried to get them to eat Zeus. He was a complicated guy.
Hades ran a finger over his eyebrows, smoothing them both down. He was dressed in a regal purple toga clasped at the shoulder, fittingly, with a black-skull brooch. He had a shock of fuzzy black hair, and dark, strong features.
He walked in, glanced at Sisyphus as if to check that the guy wasn't shirking off, then returned his gaze to me. He blinked then wobbled his jaw from side-to-side. “Comfortable?”
He didn't follow up with a boomed “Good,“ and a hearty evil laugh. Like I said: a complicated guy. He lifted his hands in a shrug. “For what it's worth, I'm sorry we had to do this.”
I didn't believe him. “You are?” I said tritely.
“It was necessary.” He tried to smooth down his hair, which didn't seem possible this side of a mound of hair gel and several industrial clippers.
“Necessary? Was the sea monster necessary, Hades, or was that just fun?”
Hades spread his lips wide and laughed softly. “Yes,” he cocked an eyebrow, “That was fun. The kind of good old traditional fun that we don't get to see these days.” He crossed his arms and kept his eyebrows raised, though his expression was far less amused now.
“Oh for crying out loud,” I replied, “Are you still bitter about me rejecting your application for sea monster races in the Strait of Gibraltar? Times have changed, Hades, and if we expect to survive as a race, then we have to—“
Hades showed his teeth in a wide tight grin. It was much less of a grin and more of an upside-down frown. “Times have changed. That's why we are here,” he pointed an elegant finger my way, “And more specifically, that is why you – Goddess Officina of Details and Facts – are tied to the wall.”
I couldn't believe this, I just couldn't believe this. When the hell were the gods of Earth going to grow up? “You cannot be serious? You kidnapped me to get back at the Immigration Office—“
“You are slow, Goddess of Facts. I suppose that is your weakness: you only deal with what you have and cannot think beyond that. You get lost in the details,” he ran a hand over the intricate pattern engraved into his skull brooch, “And you cannot see the bigger picture. Do you think three of the most powerful gods on Earth kidnapped you because we are sore at our visa applications being rejected?”
I opened and closed my mouth. As much as I hated to admit it, he had me on that one. Up until a second ago, I’d genuinely thought this was some sort of grand administrative-revenge mission. I hadn’t thought beyond that obvious conclusion to entertain any others.
He tried again to flatten his hair. “There is a new world order, I’m afraid,” he stared glumly out the window, “Times have changed. As you say, we have to live by a new set of rules to survive. Let me ask you this, Goddess of Facts, who makes those rules? Who drafted the grand axioms of the Integration Office?”
It was an easy enough answer: “We did. The gods did.”
He nodded. “We made the rules,” he let his lips curl into a bare smile, “And I believe that means we can change them too.”
I blinked. “What? We can't—“
“There was a time not long ago when the gods were respected.” He brought his hand up and rested it flat on his chest, somewhat like an orator from ancient Rome. “There was a time when our wisdom was feared as much as our power.”
“Times change.” I rattled against my chains. “We have to change with them. We can't exert our power over humanity anymore. We have to let them choose for themselves.”
“Do you know why we came up with the new rules?” Hades’ smile widened. “Do you know why we decided to step back from humanity and allow their freewill?”
“We didn’t give them freewill,” I said firmly. I was confident I was right. Freewill, or at least as far as the esoteric god-philosophy line went, was a fundamental part of reality. The gods hadn't clicked their fingers one day and made monkeys men, following up with some star-fingers to give the monkey-men the ability to choose. Freedom was inherent.
“True, but by schooling them, by sharing with them our wisdom, we allowed that faculty to grow.” Hades lifted his arms in a grand manner and took another step into the room. “It can take millions of years for a race to learn about its power of choice. Humanity learnt it in a matter of years, all because we gods shared our wisdom.”
I rolled my eyes. This was all familiar. Many gods, especially of the powerful old-school variety, thought they were, literally, god's gift to humanity. They fancied everything revolved around them, and without their assistance (read: interference) humanity would have died off long ago.
“Now I ask you again, do you know why we taught them freewill, then stepped back, allowing them to choose for themselves?” Hades took another step into the room as his lyrical voice floated over the place.
I frowned. I wasn't going to be drawn into his Socratic argument. If he wanted to ramble at me, fine. I'd hang here chained to his wall and try and think of other things.
“We did step back, you realize that, don't you?” Hades gestured out the window with one slow, delicate move.
I followed the move and stared at Sisyphus.
“I realize that the official company line no longer recounts that. But, Goddess Officina, respect this: the fact remains. We gods chose to step back. There was a time when we were in complete control of Earth.” He slowly closed his hand into a tight fist, his knuckles pressing up in great white streaks against his tight skin.
“We didn't step back,” I said with a huff, “Humanity changed. Humanity itself found it no longer needed us,” I pushed forward against my chains, “It no longer needed all the chaos and goat-sacrificing that we brought along. It realized that if it could create its own power, live its own life—“
Hades slowly shook his head, a quiet and compelling move. “There are many secrets of the gods that you, ah – what is the word? Small-time divinities do not know.”
“There aren't any secrets here,” I said firmly.
“I'm afraid there are secrets everywhere.” Hades shrugged easily. “Now, Goddess of Details, pay attention while I reveal an important one here. Do you think that we gods, at the height of our reign, lacked believers?”
It was a silly question, so I wasn't going to answer it.
“Do you think that when we battled in the skies and seas of man, that any human being lacked belief in us?”
“I suppose it is hard to ignore when some great lug of a god ruins your potato patch,” I admitted tersely. “But that doesn't mean anything.”
“I'm afraid it means the world. While we chose to be observable to humanity – and it was a choice – they believed in us, because they had no choice but to. When we walked, played, and fought amongst them, they couldn’t deny the sight. While we did, we had all the belief we needed to survive. While the official Integration Office line is that our power had to be reined in before we destroyed the people we relied on,” he dipped his head low, “That I’m afraid is a lie. Gods are powerful. They are not stupid. We kept humanity safe through the ages with the occasional sacrifice here and there if you were one of those bloodthirsty Incan gods. For the most part, humanity survived under our golden reign, and it did so splendidly.”
I rolled my eyes again. It was funny how much I was degenerating into a surly teenager while strapped to this wall and being lectured by Hades. “Humanity—“
“We stepped back,” Hades patted his chest, “Because we decided – once we had taught humanity freewill – it was time to let them exercise it. It was our choice, and it was not due to the economic pressures of a reduced population and a resulting crisis in belief. You will appreciate, especially as the goddess of facts, that the population levels before the decision to create the Integration Office revealed a historically stable human population.”
I pressed my lips together. I tried to access the information he was hinting at – the average human population during and after the often-called God-Pull-Out.
In truth, while I knew the facts, I’d never thought of them in the context Hades was using. I’d been a small-time goddess when the Integration Office had been created, and for most of the years before it, I’d been in too much of a daze from my growing power to appreciate more than the detail of sand blown over a path or the pattern of daisies in a field.
I realized he had a point. I’d seen the population statistic of Earth before the Integration Office was created, and Hades was right: it had been stable.
I tried not to look too put out by this revelation. He was playing on my main problem: my inability to see the whole picture. Once given a fact, I tended to store it without questioning it further. It wasn't until I found new information that my reality changed.
“What is your point?” I huffed. As much as I enjoyed being chained to a wall in the Underworld while Hades lectured me on the true reasons for the current state of divine legislature, I was starting to get a backache.
“My point,” he pressed his fingers together, “Is that the gods chose to abandon humanity – and not the other way around. Why do you think that was? What divine reasons do you think led to such a seemingly self-defeating strategy?”
“You were all getting bored fighting each other every other day and wanted to do something meaningful,” I spat back haughtily.
“You will find there is greater meaning to racing sea monsters in the Strait of Gibraltar than you assume.” Hades slipped out of character, but fixed himself by patting his hair and sniffing. “I'll reveal to you another secret, Goddess of Facts, but only half of it: the gods taught humanity freewill because freewill feeds the gods.”
I peaked my eyebrows together. He was making gods out to be a trash-disposal unit able to run on anything you put in it: belief, freewill, kitchen scraps, old chair legs – you name it. Except everyone knew it wasn't true. Everyone being restricted to everyone immortal.
“Belief is one thing, but freely-chosen belief is another. That, goddess, is more valuable than all the ambrosia in Olympia. A freely-chosen belief can run a god for years,” he said regally.
I snorted. “You make us sound like petrol engines.”
He shrugged again. “All things need energy to survive. It just so happens that as gods we need belief. Yes, over the years we have realized how to make that belief more powerful and more efficient,” he tapped one hand against the other, “It's called innovation, goddess, and it doesn't just happen at MIT. We invented innovation too, of course.” He smiled easily.
“You are telling me that we gave humans freewill so we could increase the efficiency of their belief, thereby reducing our own running costs as gods, and enabling us to live on less for longer?” I let my lips drop open, hopefully to underpin how ridiculous I thought all of this was.
He tutted. “We didn’t give them freewill. Come now, you made that point yourself. We only taught them how to extend it. Do not believe that we did this for selfish reasons. It was symbiotic. We gave humanity as much as it gave us, and more.”
I blew a loud breath through my teeth. “Wow,” I said sarcastically, but then couldn't think of what else to follow it up with. I wanted to point out that his account was ridiculous and that I didn't believe him... but the thing was, I wasn't sure he was wrong. What he was saying seemed to make sense....
I hung off my chains and stared at him, trying to make sense of things. I had a whole host of new facts to deal with, and I needed to integrate them as much as possible.
“I suppose that you know the truth on the matter,” Hades looked at his fingernails then picked something out from one of them – something grey and suspiciously flesh-like, “You must be hungry to learn the truth of why you have been brought here.”
I stilled. When Loki had hastily told me that evil gods don't reveal their evil plans, only super villains do, I’d believed him. Here was Hades offering to do otherwise.
I leaned forward as far as I could, no longer feeling constrained by the chains that held me in place. The realization I was about to learn a new fact, a super important one, was magnifying the power within me.
“Why, why do you need me?”
Hades opened his mouth – but the building gave a sharp shudder.
It threw me violently against my chains.
I watched a look of contained terror cross Hades’ face as his eyes widened to show a full rim of white. “Goddamn it,” he spat vehemently.
Another god raced in behind Hades. My heart soared. It was Zeus. Replete, not in his historical garb of a trusty toga with a nice laurel wreath, but in his modern get-up of white yacht pants and a polo shirt.
Never before had I been happier to see.... Nope, my mistake – it was Loki. It was the eyes that gave it away. They flickered differently. He also didn't wear his polo shirt right. I'd seen Zeus rest languidly enough against the wall of my office while I processed his application to know precisely how his shirt stretched over his generous biceps. I also knew he wore his short black hair with a dead straight, neat part, and that he would always look at you with his head cocked to the left.
Hades took one look at Zeus, appeared to have a moment of terrible shock, then rapidly came to the same conclusion I had. After all, Zeus hadn't immediately started throwing lightning around the place and ruining good walls and Underworld gods in his rage.
“Do you have to pretend to be Zeus?” Hades said with a hand flat and stiff on his chest. “It's frankly creepy.”
“It has its advantages,” Loki said as he turned a dapper smile on me. “Impersonating my once best friend—“
“You mean my brother, in this instance.” Hades raised an eyebrow.
“Thor, Zeus, Jupiter – the same thing. Doesn't matter. What matters,” Loki stepped to the side as a stone fell from the ceiling, “Is that we get out of here before everyone's least favorite brother finds us.”
“Why have you trapped me, what do you want to do with me?” I tried to prod Hades into continuing his lengthy explanation. As much as the prospect of being saved by Thor was welcome, I was the Goddess of Facts, and here was a big important one I was dying to know (and, in the long run, would die to find out).
“You were telling her the plan?” Loki raised an eyebrow. “I thought we agreed we would let him do that?”
“Who?” I demanded immediately. “Who else are you working with?”
“Shut up.” Loki waggled a finger at me. “Hades, if you can manage it, keep your old brother busy.”
Hades raised one perfect eyebrow and stared back at Loki without moving. “I would think that you are the best to fill that ignominious task. As he is Thor, you can distract him in a way I cannot. Plus, I don't get on all that badly with him these days.” Hades shrugged easily.
Loki turned his gaze on Hades, and his eyes became green as he partially lost Zeus' form. “Do you think, ha, that old Zeusy-Thor is gonna get on a whole lot less nice with you when he finds out what you've been up to?”
Hades locked gazes with Loki.
“We're all in this together, Hades.” Loki’s green eyes went back to the particular shade of golden-brown Zeus had. “I know Thor better than you, and I'm telling you our best hope is for you to go out there and use your knowledge of the Underworld to hold him off.”
Hades dipped his head, then his skin aged measurably. The clean and dapper look of his purple robes changed and they rotted on him, the fabric peeling apart and withering like dead leaves. Altogether, the effect was magnificently creepy.
Loki held Hades’ gaze.
“Very well, God of fire,” Hades said, his lips a noticeable shade of dead-grey and blue.
Hades retreated, probably to scrounge up some sea monsters and giants to throw into Thor's path to keep him occupied while Loki kidnapped me (or extended the current kidnap situation to another locale).
“Where are you planning on taking me?” I struggled against my restraints again. “What do you want from me?”
Loki took a moment to look bored. “Ragnarok,” he said offhand.
“What?” I receded from him.
Loki enjoyed a private laugh. A creepy edgy laugh that saw a violent chill spread across my chest.
Hades was one thing – and I hadn’t been lying when I'd said he was half-good, half-bad – but Loki was something else. Loki was twisted, violent, gone. The old adage that the gods were fundamentally there to protect and shepherd humanity didn't seem to stack up when Loki was involved. He had plans to kill all the gods at Ragnarok. While that had been a fact on a piece of paper whenever I'd seen him walking through the Integration Office – now it was a fact with a face, a laugh, and a world-full of power and anger to back it up with.
“Come along, goddess.” Loki walked up to me and waved his hands.
My chains disappeared and I fell with a thud against the hard stone floor.
I lay there, staring up at the man in white walking my way, one hand stowed casually in the pocket of his yacht pants.
As he made it to me and stared down, cocking his head not to the left, but to the right, an out-of-place sound echoed through the room. It was the mournful howl of a jackal.
Loki gritted his teeth. “Anubis,” he said, his nose crinkling with anger.
He grabbed me roughly and pulled me to my feet. “Move.”
Anubis was here. Obviously Seth had failed to keep him occupied. Anubis had likely become a bit put out by the fact kidnappers were using the underground tunnels he was tasked to protect to transport their victims. From what I knew about Anubis, he wasn't that nice when he was displeased.
Right about now, he would be having words with Hades of the gnashing teeth and biting your ankles variety.
If Anubis was free to tackle Hades, then that left—
The doorway behind Loki shattered, sending chunks of stone hurtling through the room. There hadn't been a door there, and there was only one god I knew who would bother busting into a place even though there was nothing stopping him from entering in the first place.
Sure enough, the beard, the hammer, the armor, and the god himself walked in. His footsteps echoed in a loud, clear, and oh-so-welcome way.
Loki seemed frozen to the spot. His lips were stiffly pulled to the side, his teeth were clenched.
“Loki,” Thor said, or should I say, thundered. A giant spike of lightning flashed outside the window, striking the hill outside.
I looked over to see Sisyphus roll his stone around the lightning and the steaming crater it had created, and continue with his task.
I looked up at Thor, though I had to twist my head to do it. Loki still had me in one of his ice-hot grips.
Thor walked into the room. There was no act. He wasn't pretending to be casual. He wasn't pretending to be arrogant, either.
Right now, he was Thor, god of thunder. And I wouldn't have it any other way – well, at least until he tried to re-enter Earth on a fake visa.
“Put her down,” Thor suggested as he wielded his hammer.
Loki did what he was told. He let go of my arm, and I fell unceremoniously by his feet. I wasn't trying to be pathetic. The ice-hot of his grip had cut through my power and left me weak.
I watched Loki as his eyes flashed to green. He exposed his teeth, but didn’t turn to face his once best friend.
Thor let out a booming, mirthless laugh. “You look good, Loki.” There was no conviviality there, just words. “You will not face me? After all these years, you will not face me?”
I knew – hell, every god knew – that the relationship between Thor and Loki was exquisitely complex. Loki hadn’t always been evil. Once upon a time, he'd been of the manageably mischievous variety that only occasionally tried to get his friend killed, somewhat like Hades. But he'd turned. And Loki had turned in a big way.
“Face you, Thor?” Loki’s voice lost the Zeus-like edge, and returned to its real cold harsh tone.
I watched patiently, but wanted to hurry things up. Unfortunately now was not the time to point out to Thor that hey, yes, the friend he once loved and cherished was evil and it was time to come to terms with that. No more giving the guy a break. Hell, Loki was publicly committed to destroying all the good gods at Ragnarok. It was time to strike him off the Nordic Christmas God card list for life.
Thor took one more step into the room, and he brought Mjollnir down and pointed it right at Loki’s head.
Loki lost the act. He no longer resembled Zeus – the stunning white pants and shirt melted away. Instead, he stood there in a shining hotrod-red set of armor, with hair and eyes the color of frozen water. A fine soft fire collected along his brow, hair, and down the edge of each finger.
“Thor,” Loki still faced the wall, “You will get what is coming to you,” he promised.
Thor's lips kinked to the side. “Not today, Loki,” he said assuredly.
“No.” Loki twisted his head to the side and looked at Thor askance, his ice-white hair glinting. “But soon.”
Thor brought his hammer up, but, just in time, Loki formed a tendril of ice with his hand and sent it directly at me. Not at Thor – not at the guy about to shatter him with a bloody magical hammer – but at me, the goddess pathetically and non-aggressively resting by his feet.
I didn't have time to scream. Nor did I need to. In a sharp, snapped moment, where all I could make out were the details of the light glinting over the wings on Thor's helmet, he moved before me.
The spear of ice Loki had sent my way crashed into the armor of Thor's back as he bent over to protect me from the blast. It didn't kill him. It would take more than a little ice to kill the triple god of thunder and victory, but the force of it did send him jolting into me.
He didn't fall, and thanks to him, neither did I.
He turned, twisting on his feet with his hammer in hand.
Loki was gone.
A heavy silence descended upon us. It was broken when Thor dropped his hammer to the ground. Mjollnir made a loud, sharp, resounding note as it struck the stone. That note seemed to shatter the world without making a single break, scratch, or dent.
I swallowed and stared at his back. His shoulders dipped forward, the light making the shadows of his curved back far more noticeable, far more... real.
Mjollnir hadn't cracked the flagstones. It hadn't carved a hole right through the center of the Earth. It didn't bring the whole building down. No. The only thing that had been brought down was Thor.
I pressed my lips so softly together that the slow move sent a tingle of nerves racing across my flesh. I didn't know what to do here. On the face of it, I was the one who should be comforted. I was the one who'd been plucked from my home by a fake Jupiter with enough chest hair to build nests for a wood full of birds. I was the one who'd been systematically hunted by three – count it, three – mostly evil and very powerful gods.
Yet I wasn't the one standing with his head turned towards the ground, his shoulders rounded, his back dropped. I wasn't the one staring down at his weapon with a look of pity, regret, and shame that shouldn't be possible on the face of a god of victory.
I reached out a hand, while still crumpled on the floor, and let it rest against his wrist. I didn't squeeze it and tell him it would all be okay. In all likelihood, it wouldn't. So I just rested it there.
Time can be a funny thing for gods. It can pass without you noticing. A thousand years can flit by you in the wink of an eye, and you can look back and hardly remember anything but a pall of sacrifices, bleating goats, and the occasional cyclopes attack.
Sometimes time slowed down. It didn't do it in the way human movies depicted. It wasn't that everything – from the dust motes floating through the air, to the hair slowly drifting across your face – moved tremendously slowly. No. When time slowed down for a god, it wasn't the outside world that ground to a halt. The inside world took over. Just as a human can experience a seeming lifetime in one single dream, a god can impose their own internal time onto the world around them.
I can't say the world turned to details, or thunder or lightning. Instead, there was this palpable sense of existence, devoid of the pressure of linearity.
Thor shifted his hand. Not before I had a chance to note how warm his skin was and how stiffly he held his wrist. I noticed countless imperfections along the surface – cuts, grooves, scars – reminders of various run-ins with various world-destroying giants over the years.
He pulled his hand forward and broke my grip. He stooped down and picked up his hammer. Its song changed. It took on the resounding hum of victory again. Yet, between the oscillations, I could still pick up the sad note of remorse.
Thor turned to me. I’d never seen him looking like this. What was more uncharacteristic – for me at least – was I couldn’t define precisely how it was he looked. I couldn't seem to separate the details, to pick up what his eyes were doing, how far his lips were dropped, where the shadow was playing across his face. All I could see was an impression of Thor. I couldn't split it up into what lay beneath.
My, oh my, did it hurt my head.
I put a hand up to my brow and closed my eyes sharply.
“Officina,” Thor, for once in his entire god-life, used my real name, “Are you whole?”
I blinked my eyes open. The look that had distracted and overcome me before was thankfully gone. I could again pick up the way Thor's hair brushed against his massive shoulders and the way his helmet sat uncharacteristically askew.
It was an odd question. I put a hand up to my chest to check there wasn't a hole there or something. “I... guess. My PJs aren't though,” I said as I noted the rips along my sleeves.
Had I really just said that? Thor had saved me from a triple-bad-god plot, then had a crushing moment with his once-good friend, and the first thing I'd bothered to mention was my PJs. Priorities, I didn't have them.
Thor cast a glance down me. He curled a lip in amusement.
This was the Thor I was used to.
“You have worn strange clothes to this great god battle.” He cocked his head to the side as he stared down at me for a little longer.
“They are called PJs,” I said, crossing my arms. In the real world – the one filled with cynical humans of all shapes and sizes – it would be hilarious and embarrassing to be saved from kidnappers in your PJs. In the god-world, it was worse.
“I see.” He tipped his head back and laughed raucously, but the exact notes of mirth and arrogance I was used to weren't there. “You are the first goddess I have saved who has been wearing something so undignified.”
I rolled my eyes. “Shouldn't we, I don't know, get out of here? As great fun as it is to sit crumpled in the Underworld while you laugh your ass off at me, don't you think Lo—“ I stopped in time, “Hades or Seth are going to come back?”
“Seth?” Thor looked serious and ran a hand over his beard.
“He was after me too.” I sighed deeply and rubbed my eyes. I caught sight of my hand – it was filthy. By extension, I was filthy, too. It was all those rain/sand storms and being dragged through interconnecting underworlds and being strapped to walls.
“I see,” Thor said. “Then let us leave.” He shifted, casting a glance out towards Sisyphus.
Sisyphus, for his part, looked nonplussed by the whole thing. He was getting on with his infinite task. God battles by his hill weren't going to stop him from rolling his stone anywhere.
“Details,” Thor boomed, “Get up.”
I couldn't. Loki, before he’d disappeared in a puff of god-hating smoke and fire, had frozen me in place. I could manage to sit here on the floor, but that was it. My legs, no matter how much I encouraged them, didn’t want to work.
I remained silent until Thor got the picture. Sighing, he leaned down and picked me up as though I weighed little more than a puff of air. He did it quickly, too – I didn't have time to adjust to the sudden change in altitude.
I blinked right into his face – as it was barely ten centimeters from my own.
“Do not worry, Details.” Thor grinned then offered an abrupt laugh, the air from it pushing against my fringe. “I will not eat you.”
Funnily enough, that particular thought hadn't crossed my mind. Thor/Zeus/Jupiter didn't have that bad a reputation when it came to eating people or gods (goats, boars, and bulls, however, where another thing). He did, though, have this epic reputation for sleeping around. By epic, I meant literally that some of his exploits had been turned into bona fide epics by poets and writers.
I didn't reply. I glanced around trying to look at anything but Thor. Which was hard, considering he was taking up my whole view.
“Details.” Thor strode forward as he talked, proving he could do two things at once. “You appear to be weak.”
Who knew that being chased through time by gods and being chained to walls tended to wear you out?
I concentrated on my sarcasm. My sarcasm stopped me from remembering what type of god Thor was. While he wasn't nearly as bad as the white-panted, yacht-owning cad, Zeus, he was still up there when it came to his nightly exploits.
Being scooped up in his arms was not something I'd counted on (not that the last several hours had given me much time for forward planning). This was a problem, a real problem. It also wasn't fair. I prided myself on the fact I was not one of those effusive forest bimbo-gods. I felt I was immune to the charms of the less-than-monogamous divinities – the ones with the smiles that could melt gold and make wild flowers start growing in previously barren fields.
What's more, I prided myself specifically on being immune to this particular god's charms.
That's why this wasn't fair. Being the goddess of details, I couldn't help but note all those goddamned (excuse the paradox) details. Being close to Thor now meant I knew all the facts about how it felt to be pressed against his chest, to be barely centimeters from his face, and to feel his arms around me.
This wasn't fair.
Once upon a time, I'd been able to resist his divine charms, but now—
“Stare at my nose,” he said.
I blinked hard. My previous thoughts forgotten, I tried to make sense of what he'd said. We were running from naughty gods in the underworld, and he wanted me to stare at his nose. “Ah... why?”
“Details, dear Details. That's what you live on, isn't it?” He didn't look my way as he ran through the bleak dark halls. “Note them. You are weak. I also don't want to carry you forever. Replenish your power. Stare at my nose and note all the details.”
I didn't respond.
“Stare at my nose, Details,” he commanded in a far more Thor-like voice.
“Okay,” I squeaked, and did what he said. He had a nose. Yep, I could confirm that. It was nose-shaped, had two orifices for breathing through, and had a septum like most other freaking noses.
Really, stare at his nose?
Was he serious?
“If that doesn't work,” Thor twisted his head one way as we came to a junction in the darkened and morbid corridor, “I brought you the weather report. It is tucked into my belt.” He secured me to his chest with one arm, then grabbed something and dumped it in front of my face.
It was a sheet of newspaper.
Thor had brought me the weather report.
I pulled it off my face and began to read it.
Yes, that's right, I began to read the weather report. While the Nordic god of thunder was carrying me through the maze-like underworld, trying to save me from a triple-god attack, I was calmly noting the forecasted humidity and barometric pressure.
Except, and I would never admit this to anyone, especially not Thor, I wasn't really reading it. I tried to, oh god, did I try to. But I couldn't concentrate. All my attention was diverted elsewhere.
And you could guess where.
We met up with Anubis. He stood at the doorway that separated his own Underworld from that of Hades. Though his dog-like face was sometimes hard to read, I could see the guy was furious.
He let out a ferocious bark when he spied Thor.
“I know, I know,” Thor said as he slowed down.
“This is unacceptable,” Anubis whined like a dog that had been left out in the rain. “The doors between the Underworlds are not meant to be abused.”
The doors – I wanted to point out – hadn’t been abused. The door behind him – the imposing black structure with all the gold and silver sparkling runes painted into it (and the numerous skulls, too) – looked fine. It hadn't been abused. The trust between Osiris and Hades, on the other hand, had.
While Hades wasn't the nicest god out there, he wasn't on the Integration Office's black list, either.
That might change after today.
“I trusted Hades,” Anubis snapped again. “Osiris trusted him.”
“I will bring this up with the Powers that Be,” Thor said powerfully.
... He was one of the Powers that Be. When it came to Hades, Zeus was technically the go-to guy for disciplining the Greek gods. He was saying he would bring it up with one of his other functional god identities... but saying the Powers that Be sounded a whole lot cooler. Thor was hardly going to say he wasn't going to deal with Hades’ indiscretion until he could change into some white pants and a polo shirt, but it was the truth.
Anubis gave a soft growl, then opened the door behind him. He did it by bowing his head low and touching both of his paw-like hands to the ground. The door swirled open – swirling like it was nothing more than mist being sucked into grooves in the wall.
As Thor walked me through, I could feel the relief ebbing through him. Which was odd. How did I know that the exact way he'd heaved his chest up and down was relief? How did I know that the way his cheeks softened revealed he was letting go of tension?
They were details, sure, but I was extending beyond them. Way worse than that: I was seeing them as a whole.
I put a hand up to my head again as I felt an uncomfortable heaviness there.
“Shouldn't you be reading the weather report?” Thor glanced down at me, one eyebrow raised.
“Hmm,” I mumbled as I tried to burry my face in the paper. “Where to from here?” I asked.
How was Thor going to deal with this? Despite his usual go-get-'em style, he hadn't smashed his way through the Underworld until he'd brought all culprits to their knees with plenty of black eyes and bruised noggins.
“We go back to the current time,” he said with another heavy sigh, “We must report this to my father.”
Odin. Damn. We'd have to report this to Odin. Which meant I had to stand in front of the old one-eyed super scary divinity again. Great. Things couldn't get any better.
Yet I knew for sure they could get far, far worse.
I’d only just been saved by Thor. What if I hadn’t been? What were Hades, Seth, and Loki after? And what did it have to do with me?
I remembered that Hades had been about to tell me himself before Thor had walked in swinging his hammer.
I gave out an annoyed huff at the memory.
“Ha.” Thor laughed heartily, and he put me down. Abruptly too, treating me less like a goddess and more like a bag full of trash.
I blinked up at him.
Now that we were on the other side of the great door that separated the Underworlds, the décor had changed.
Hardly surprisingly, there was far more sand on this side. The corridors and rooms were all made out of great sandstone blocks, much like the pyramids. There were the usual ancient-Egyptian-style paintings decorating the walls, too.
At least things were warmer here, though it was a bit stifling.
Still, all those details weren't enough to stop me from narrowing my eyes and staring up at Thor.
“You can walk on your own now.” Thor tapped his hammer as it was stowed in his belt. “I hardly think you are the type of goddess who likes to be carried everywhere, especially by me,” he added with a personal grin.
I sucked in my lips slowly and tried to convince myself that he was right.
I tried to stand.
I wobbled and stumbled. For Thor and Anubis’ part, they stood there. Anubis looked on, curious, and Thor looked amused.
But I did feel a little stronger. Concentrating on details – if they had been neither the weather report nor Thor's nose – had enabled me to restore my power. In fact... it was coming back far quicker than it should. It was different somehow, too. The tingle escaping deep inside my chest and playing down my sides was qualitatively quicker and sharper than any I’d felt before.
“Are you going to offer your effusive thanks for me saving you?” Thor flicked his hair to the side like the Nordic god-version of a peppy hair model.
“If you'd been able to hold off for a few minutes,” I stared back at him, then found it uncomfortable so I glanced at the wall instead, “Hades would have told me what he'd been planning.”
Thor boomed with great whoops of laughter. It wasn't that he was a particularly cheery fellow – it was that he found nearly everything us small gods/mortals did to be funny.
“I see, you would have preferred that we didn’t save you.” Thor nodded sharply. “Then,” he stepped away from the door behind him and gestured towards me, “Be my guest.”
I looked from him to the door, but didn’t move.
“Seth attacked me,” Anubis growled by Thor's side, ignoring me. The great god who protected the Egyptian dead wasn't about to let a small-time goddess-rescue distract him. Nope, the giant black-headed dog was far more interested in the slip-ups in god etiquette he'd had to weather. “These actions break the rules,” he grumbled. “That Loki god – he broke through my sand barrier, he stole his way through these tunnels, he burnt several of my guards.”
At the mention of Loki, everything changed. I sucked in a quick breath and watched the shadows descend over Thor's face. Either Anubis was a ballsy god, or he didn't realize that he wasn't talking to either Zeus or Jupiter here.
“It will be dealt with,” Thor assured him, voice icier than a thousand winters. “Details,” he snapped at me, “We must go.”
I stopped from asking Thor how he was planning to get us from the ancient Egyptian underworld back to our own time, because questions would be met with growls, threats, and hammer-blows.
I crossed my arms and glanced down at the weather report I still held. Strange that Thor, of all gods, had such a thing tucked into his belt. Being the triple god of thunder, the sky, storms, and whatnot, predicting the weather was not a problem for him. He often created it.
Unless he'd picked up the weather report for me specifically, that was.
Before I had a chance to analyze that possibility, Thor leaned in and grabbed a hand around my wrist. I instinctively shivered. It wasn't from the suddenness of it, or from any real worry that Thor was going to snap it in two to prove a point. It was from the still-fresh memory of Loki.
“Do not worry,” Thor said, voice soft for the first time, “I’m not Loki.”
I stared at him, relaxing.
“We must go,” Thor said through a deep, manly sniff.
“How? Where?” I asked through several blinks. Thor's grip was strong, but it didn't eat into my skin like Loki’s had. It didn't send tendrils of ice-cold streaking up my arm and across my chest.
It was warm.
“How do we get from now to then?” I stammered. “Or rather, how do we get from the past back to the future? I got here through a rift in the Library of Alexandria, but it has closed. I'm not sure if there are any others around. From what I know of all the other functioning, stable space-time portals, there aren't any others close-by.” I stopped abruptly. Was I, goddess Officina, babbling?
Thor looked amused. Though there was still that edge there. That edge that the mere mention – let alone the actual presence – of Loki seemed to produce. It was sharp, palpable. I almost felt like I could reach out a hand and touch it.
It was a wound of divine, god-like proportions.
“I have a list of complaints,” Anubis snapped, “I don't want anything like this happening again. I have already registered a complaint with the Office detailing recent underwater disturbances around my tunnels. I also don't like the way some of my—“
As I’d dealt with Anubis before, I knew that the guy could bark and bark for ages. If we let him, he would literally chew our ears off. He would also get one of his whiz-bang quick scribes to write out a couple of hundred scrolls detailing each and every complaint he had to make. There would even be pictures and diagrams.
Thor had enough experience with Anubis too to know not to stick around. He turned to the Egyptian god and bowed his head low. “Your complaints will be brought up with the Powers that Be.” He turned sharply and furled a hand out towards the door behind us.
Though Thor – with his mighty grip and mighty strength – had a hand over my wrist and was pulling me towards the opening door between the Dead, I resisted.
I held my ground. I didn’t want to go back in there.
He turned his head. “We aren't going back to visit Hades,” he assured me with a dip of his chin. “Come along, Details. I want to get this over with. Ambrosia have a happy hour at seven tonight.”
I rolled my eyes at him. Grinning, he pulled me through the Door of the Dead.
He was right. We didn't end up back in Hades' halls. We didn't end up in any other death god's house either. No. We ended up under the ocean.
For a second, I forgot I'm immortal.
I struggled, flapping my free arm around and trying desperately not to open my mouth.
Thor laughed. I heard it too, though I was under water. I was a goddess.
“You have become far more human than I thought, and it is funny.” He demonstrated his mirth by laughing so hard that several schools of nearby fish turned tail and swam as fast as they could in the other direction. “You are wearing these PJ things and trying not to drown when you are under water.” He laughed again.
I was starting to confirm something I already knew: Thor's sense of humor was as blunt as a plank of wood to the face.
“Ha, ha, you are funny,” I snapped back. I noticed the way the fabric of my top was billowing and puffing up with the swirl and current of the water. My hair was a mess of floating tendrils playing around my face, and my bare feet were sinking slowly into the soft sand underneath me.
It was a magical scene, despite the laughing Nordic god. The color of the water was deep blue, and I could see the sunlight above refracting through it. There were various fish swimming by, though they were giving us an excessively wide berth (likely they had heard of Thor's ridiculous appetite for wild boars, and wondered whether that extended to fish/sharks/whales/anything at all that wasn't vegetables or fruit).
The coral and seaweed glinted softly all around us, and the shadows cast by the great banks of pockmarked rock off to my side hid more colorful wonders.
Before I had a chance to march off, Thor yanked on my arm as he propelled himself upward with the speed of a missile.
He'd obviously been serious when he'd said he didn't want to miss happy hour at the Ambrosia. He probably had another date with the forest bimbo from my office, I thought bitterly.
We crested the surface.
I glanced around us. We were close to some white glistening strip of beach somewhere. Considering there were more than a couple of beaches on Earth, I could hardly locate our exact position. I tried to peer around us, tried to spot anything that might give me any more clues.
“Greece!” Thor roared. “I wonder where my yacht is?” he mumbled to himself as he twisted around.
Greece. Greece? When he'd said we were going home, I'd thought we'd pop up from a drain in my house or something. Greece was on the other side of the world!
“Ah ha!” Thor rumbled as he spotted a nice massive yacht on the horizon. It was anchored far out from the shore, bobbing in a glistening and sparkling ocean.
I'd never been on a yacht before. I’d been in a building made of glass and diamond that floated next to the sun, and a hospital made into the clouds, and in the Underworld – but I'd never been on a yacht.
Why was I thinking this now of all times? Oh, that's right: it was that or thinking about how gently yet firmly Thor held my wrist.
So, yachts, then – this would be fancy. I threw myself into the thought as best I could. I wondered how stupidly large this boat would be and how gaudily it would be decorated. While Thor was more grunge, when it came to his alter ego, Zeus, that man-god knew how to live. There would be sashaying women, gold-plated taps, and an entire tugboat nearby to store his wine collection. I was sure of it.
Thor thankfully didn't shoot us along the top of the water towards his yacht. If any humans had been watching from the beach, two people skimming along the top of the ocean moving faster than a torpedo would be worthy of note.
Instead, the boat came to us. It was the maritime equivalent of Lassie. I wondered whether just as Mjollnir was magically bonded to Thor, he'd extended that power to include yachts too.
Soon enough, the yacht crested aside us. As it neared, and as it moved far quicker than any normal yacht could, I realized how un-yacht-like it was. It was far more of a giant, well-endowed cruise ship.
As soon as it was beside us, a rope ladder was thrown from the deck high above. It would be one of the sashaying goddesses throwing it down, I was sure.
Thor climbed first, wanting to get on board as fast as possible to change into his white pants and polo top. Hell, he'd want to put some white golf shoes on too and a big watch. He might even put a couple of gold signet rings on both his pinkies.
I forced myself to snigger as I climbed the ladder behind him. Though I was trying valiantly to push it from my mind, there was a swirl of complex feelings twisting their way around my gut like a leviathan. I’d spent a whole life (which was a long time for a goddess) hating Thor in all his guises. I’d thought I’d known everything about him – every detail of every identity. Every way he laughed arrogantly, every way he railroaded others. Every single detail of every single expression and movement.
Now I was realizing there were a set of details I’d never had the opportunity to learn: precisely how it felt to be close to him.
I was filled with frustration, tingly excitement, and annoyance all at once.
Thor jumped lithely onto the deck of what could only be called the world's biggest yacht. I followed slowly.
I paused to stare around me. Thor hadn't rushed off to change into his yachting-tycoon guise. But I’d been right on one account: the place was posh. By posh, I meant posh in a god-like way. There were even sashaying goddesses, as predicted. Hell, one of them had a bottle of champagne in one hand.
Thor/Zeus was so predictable. Before I could point that out, I heard a slight swoosh from behind me.
Something coiled around my middle. It was cold, it was wet, it was strong.
It yanked me with all the strength of a giant. I lost my grip on the rope ladder immediately. As I sailed back down the side of the ship, and a tentacle wrapped around my middle, I screamed, “Not again.”
Something – a sea monster, likely – had gone and snatched me off the side of a ladder for the second time in two days. Was this a record? Or was this how sea monsters rolled these days, considering there were a whole lot less heroes to tangle with? Did they trawl around looking for goddesses to attack in precisely the same bizarre way? Had this particular sea monster spied me walking down under the water but put off capturing me on the off chance I could find a ladder to mostly climb up instead?
Bloody sea monsters!
My thoughts happened before the monster could get moving. By moving, I meant pelting. With me tightly coiled in one of its fat tentacles, said denizen of the deep did a 180, then shot off back under the surface.
I had the odd but fitting thought (considering my line of work) that hopefully by diving this monster wouldn't draw any unnecessary human attention.
As my body plunged through the water, the tentacle wrapping more tightly around my middle, all those thoughts faded away. The mere fact I was being kidnapped yet again came to the fore. The pain, the cold, and the fear.
The monster moved fast, shooting through the sea, its tentacles propelling it along with great, monstrous tugs. I could see them virtually grabbing the water as they moved around me.
The one that held me hardly moved. Until it twisted around and brought me face-to-fang with one of the giant, rotting-meat-covered teeth in its wide mouth. It had been intending to glare at me, but with it being mostly tentacle and teeth, the sea monster was having trouble orienting my form towards one of its pin-prick eyes.
As the force of the water slammed against my face, pinning my eyes open, I felt the fear grow. It went hand-in-hand with the cold.
The tentacle around my middle fixed me so tightly that I could hardly move the rest of my body. My arms hung limply over its girth, my legs slack and unresponsive.
Sharp, nasty, aching pain shot through my sides and across my back. It felt as though the thing was slowly crushing me under a vise.
I tried to let out a scream, but I couldn't manage to arch my head back.
Pain. It was all I could see, feel, experience.
Then there was a thought. Thor.
The word itself sent a spark through me.
I felt a surge of energy combat the pain. The power twisted itself through me, then seemed to seep into my skin. As the tentacle pushed in, the power pushed out.
I hadn’t felt power like this in years. Centuries, eons.
I could feel the sea monster losing its grip. Barely. I would need much more to win the battle here.
That much more came sailing through the water, shooting forward with a note so loud and sharp the stones and sand beyond and underneath all vibrated as if a powerful earthquake was shaking through them.
The hammer, having a predilection for cracking skulls (considering its owner) bypassed my tentacle and smacked solidly into the head of the sea monster. There was a resounding, ringing thud.
The tentacle that held me – much like the annoyingly autonomous one that had snuck off with me in the flood tunnels – didn’t loosen its grip, despite the solid blow wrought to its head.
Mjollnir shot back through the water, having struck its welcoming blow. I knew Thor couldn't be far behind.
That thought did a strange thing to me: it brought up a powerful new set of details swimming in my mind's eye like stars shining in the night's sky. I'm sure I don't need to tell you what those details were.
I felt my power grow again. I was not, nor ever would be, the goddess of strength, sea-monster fighting, or self-defense. I would always be better suited to reading tool catalogues and astronomical data reports than fighting with god goons.
But I was still a goddess, and given power, I could fight.
I sunk my hands into the soft, extremely slimy skin of the tentacle that held me. I tried to get a grip, and when I got one, I pushed the damn thing off.
It tried to resist, tried to redouble its grip, but it didn't matter: my power was too great. The divinity of details was swelling within me, the serenity of facts and figures, the metaphysical grandeur of the parts that made up the whole.
I kicked the damn tentacle for good measure.
That ought to teach it. The tentacle shuddered, then sank. I trod water and maintained my position. I knew there was a dumb “Ha, I kicked a sea monster“ look on my face I couldn't seem to shift.
I wasn't used to power like this. Or rather, I wasn't used to being able to manifest details in this way. It was usually paperwork for me, not underwater victories.
Thor came thundering through the water, and to my perverse disappointment, he wasn't decked out in white pants and golf-shoes.
He held Mjollnir, the hammer still singing.
I felt a flush of energy escape over my cheeks. Not nerves mind you, energy.
The sea monster knew the tide had changed for him. He tried to turn slimy tail and streak off into the ocean.
Thor grabbed said tail, climbed up it, made his way to the thing's head, and for the second time in two days knocked a sea monster out cold.
The thing floated down to the seabed, where it impacted in a great cloud of sand, disturbed coral, and broken shells.
It was over.
I looked over my shoulder to check there weren't any more sea monsters tooling around the water. Thankfully there weren't. That or they were waiting for me to start climbing ladders again, the sods.
Thor half-swam half-walked my way. He didn't bother saying anything. He didn't bother chortling at his victory. He didn't bother telling me I was a total nong of a goddess for being captured by sea monsters more often than most humans bothered getting petrol.
He was worried. I knew he was worried. I wasn't deriving this fact from the way his features were drooped or stiffened. I knew the whole of the situation for what it was: a tight, nervous, fear.
My head began to hurt again.
“No more games. Straight to Asgard,” Thor said. It was the first time I’d heard him just say something. He didn't boom it, he didn't thunder it, and he didn't laugh it. He simply spoke.
For my part, I pressed two fingers into my forehead and tried to push away the heavy pain settling there.
A pain that told me this situation was only going to get worse.
I didn't bother asking how we were going to get to Asgard – whether we were going to retrofit his yacht and set it bombing along the sea until it slipped into inter-dimensional space.
Things were happening too quickly. The pace of the situation was arcing up like some great crackle of lightning as it darted its way down to Earth.
As the head god of two-and-a-half pantheons, Thor knew secrets I could never know. Maybe he was privy to the secret great-god bus timetable. Perhaps he had a jetpack tucked into his belt next to Mjollnir. Or maybe he was genuinely good at flying – good in the way that could get us from Earth, through space (though not in the literal sense), and to the home of the Nordic gods.
We didn't open a door in the seabed, or spin around in circles until the centrifugal pressure created caused a nice wormhole. No. Thor sung. I don't mean he cracked out Neil Diamond while under the ocean dressed in full Nordic-god garb. He didn't hum a catchy ad jingle.
He sung a single note. One resounding, ear-splitting, vibrating, oscillating, shuddering note. He hardly opened his mouth when he did it, too. It was only by the fixed look of concentration on his face that I knew he was the one producing the hum.
Mjollnir started to hum the note, too. Though, that wasn’t right. It wasn't that Mjollnir began to sing the same tune – the hammer was resonating with it. It was somewhat like striking a key on a piano in a room full of other pianos, and hearing them all begin to play the same note.
It was spreading. First Mjollnir, then the rocks around us, then the sand. My own body began to pick up and translate the vibration too. The water all around us shuddered with the same tone.
It all... shifted. The note was all it took. No jetpacks, no wormholes, no god-bridges. One consistently-sung, powerfully held note changed the location around us to Asgard.
I felt the depth of the tone move through me. It felt like I was being pushed backwards from every point in space. Except I wasn't moving anywhere. It also felt as if every single part of me – every single particle, every single detail – was all chiming into the same, primordial, powerful song.
Suddenly reality shifted, and the sea slipped away.
I noticed the glittering, great buildings before me. I noticed the ice-white path we stood on. I noticed the turquoise-blue sky above shot through with colors no mortal could see. I noticed the great tower before us – the one that twisted and spiraled like a double helix of DNA as it rose into the impossible sky.
I’d never been to Asgard. I wasn't a Nordic god.
The details... were divine.
The place was still and yet was shifting through space at the speed of light. That, or it was made of nothing more and nothing less than light itself. It wasn't the kind of light you could wave your hand through or use to illuminate your kitchen or the book you were reading. It was the light that formed objects. It was matter. Unlike the matter that made up Earth and most of the rest of the universe, it was matter that hadn’t forgotten its illuminated origins.
Whenever I shifted my head, I caught rainbows of color glinting off every building and window.
Thor began to stride forward towards the great twisting tower before us. “Come, Details,” he spoke, but the arrogance didn’t shift through his voice anymore. All it was, was loud.
I pushed forward, though the effort of doing so pulled me away from the details that were swirling around and through me. I didn't want to move, I didn't want to follow. I wanted to watch, I wanted to take in every feature there was.
“It will all be there when we are finished,” he intoned, “Trust me, it is forever.”
We walked along the path and up into the great tower, though through most of it I was lost in a daze. Here, here I could count the rays of the sun. The rays were trapped within each object. Each leaf of each plant, each side of each building, all was light.
Being a small-time goddess, I didn’t get to hang out much at the homes of the powerful divinities. Here I was, walking through Asgard of all places....
“Details,” Thor rumbled from my side, “Pay attention: you are about to walk into a pillar.”
I blinked up at the pillar Thor was indicating – the one I was about a centimeter from. I smiled back at it, a touch giddy.
Thor sighed heavily. “Why do you have to be the goddess of details?” he mumbled to himself. “Couldn't you be something manageable, like forests or knit wear?”
I didn't answer. I stared up at the great ceiling above us and counted the light.
As I did, I felt the divinity and power swell within me.
“Stop gorging yourself, Details.” Thor shook his head, beard glinting in the light, eyes shining. “While the pillar won't mind if you walk into it, step on father's beard, and we'll see how many details you can pull in before he stabs you with his spear.”
I laughed melodically.
I sounded like I was on drugs.
The doors before us – the gilded, arched, carved ones that depicted, in unimaginable detail, all the realms of the gods – opened. They didn’t grind, nor scratch against the floor. They flowed like breath on the breeze.
They revealed a simple room. A dark room. Black, save for a single throne in the center. On the throne sat Odin, one golden eye glinting out through the gloom.
The contrast from the room of light outside was startling.
The act of standing before a staring, hardly-amused, mostly furiously-annoyed looking Odin was sobering.
As the doors closed behind us and the light was cut off, I felt my pall of wonder close with it. I rapidly became aware of where I was and who I stood before.
I sucked in a breath though there wasn't technically air in Asgard.
Odin, sitting on his simple throne, was all I could see. He looked mad. Furious in that way that only a king of the gods can. His gaze promised some world-destroying fury and smashed-up frost giants.
“What have you done?” he asked, voice a slice through space.
I shivered and shook. My lips jutted forward, but I didn't speak a word.
Did Odin think this was all my fault? Did he think I’d somehow organized to be kidnapped by a range of sea monsters and evil gods? Did he think I’d brought it all on myself by centuries of working for the Immigration Office?
“Father,” Thor began, voice so sedate and softened I hardly recognized it.
“Thor, Zeus, Jupiter – what have you done? How did you let this happen?” Odin shifted forward in his chair, his single eye not directed anywhere in particular, but somehow directed everywhere at once.
I realized he wasn't talking to me. I slowly slid my eyes to the side to stare at Thor. His face was ashen, his gaze directed towards his feet.
“You let him escape. You had him, yet you let him go,” Odin's voice scythed through the paltry distance between us.
Loki. That's what he was talking about. Odin was admonishing Thor for letting his wayward former best buddy escape. Odin was genuinely annoyed at that. Loki had confirmed on more than one occasion that he was going to bring down Asgard – Odin included – at Ragnarok. For a god who had lived as long as Odin/Cronos/Saturn, I doubted the guy was too pleased at his impending doom.
Thor didn't answer.
“How did we let it come to this?” Odin rested one arm on the side of his throne, one on his knee, and stared down at Thor. “How have we let it come to this?” he repeated.
I had the distinct impression his words belied far more than I could imagine.
Thor lifted his chin. “I don't know,” he answered.
Odin let his own head dip, and when he brought it back up, his single eye stared fixedly my way. “Goddess Officina,” he intoned powerfully.
I nodded, but didn't answer.
He let the silence draw on for some time, enough time for me to grow powerfully uncomfortable.
“You are involved,” he said, “Beyond what I once thought.” He leaned back in his chair. “They seem to want you for some other purpose.”
“Want me?” I found the courage to speak up. The topic was one of particular importance to me, after all.
“They have plans for you,” he clarified without clarifying the situation at all.
“Plans? What plans? Who are they?” I stopped myself from flapping my hands around in a frazzle, though the sentiment was there in my high-pitched tone. Being told by one of the oldest and greatest gods of Earth that 'they' had plans for me wasn't a comfortable, peachy experience.
“The ones who are rising,” Odin mumbled, hand still resting on his knee.
Oh, those guys...? Rather than point out to Odin that his definition wasn't illuminating, I let my eyes widen.
“You, I feel, are at the center of this. They require your power to fulfill their ends,” Odin continued, his single eye glinting and sparking.
Oh... that wasn't good. It did explain the unusual number of kidnappings in my recent past, though.
I took a small swallow.
“I should have foreseen this,” Odin appeared to admonish himself. His gaze shifted from his one outward-staring eye, disappearing behind his eye patch to stare at the world within. “I didn’t. We cannot, however, let them succeed. They threaten our existence.”
This had gone way beyond me being the mildly-disliked Immigration Officer. I was just the small-time goddess of details! I didn't have magical weapons, and it took a great deal for me to muster enough strength to fight off one measly sea monster. I was hardly likely to be the center of some evil plot to destroy the gods.... Not unless it was by systematically demoralizing them every time I rejected their visa applications to do inappropriate things on human beaches.
I stared up at Odin, not wanting to point out that he had the wrong goddess here. He meant Artemis or Freya or Venus – someone who stood for something greater than a couple of details and facts.
“We cannot let them win. They will take all.” Odin sat back in his chair, though slumped was a more accurate description. His body was heavy with a great visible weariness.
Whatever could make a powerful god weary was heavy. More than enough to squash me flat.
I looked over at Thor. He seemed caught up in something. A feeling, a notion, a possibility, a potential. Some imagined circumstance was playing across his face like light playing across the surface of the ocean.
My head started to hurt again.
I wasn't good with situations like this (not that many would be all that great when it came to being stuck in the middle of god-destroying plots, apart from German philosophers). I couldn't deal with the unsaid or mysterious. I needed facts, I needed details, I needed information. I couldn't hope for a vague impression. I couldn't stand back and try to form the whole picture from the wisps of mystery that lapped all around me.
“What is going on?” I found my voice again, pressing a hand to my forehead as I spoke. “Why me? I'm a small-time goddess of details. I don't have power—“ I began.
“All have power.” Odin stared straight ahead. “In all there is the same. Every divinity is divine. We are all equal – we are all gods.”
It was a strangely socialist statement for a king, and it was one that didn't ring true for me. Though I did know that, yes, technically all gods were god-like, I still knew I could never hope to have as much power as Thor, Odin, or Loki.
That's when Odin closed his one remaining eye. “A god does not make themselves, they are made. The belief of their followers endows them with meaning – with power. When the belief shifts, so too does the power.”
Was Odin suggesting that, all of a sudden, the people of Earth would start worshiping details like never before? Was he suggesting there would be a sudden and explosive proliferation of weather-watching nuts or maths-loving boffins? Would people everywhere start trawling through pages of computer code and staring at each pixel of every picture their computer screens offered? Would gallery-goers start counting how many brush strokes made up their favorite art works? Would bankers nip into their vaults to count every single note by hand?
I doubted it.
“I’m just details and facts,” I tried to reason with him.
“You are neither,” Odin replied sharply, “They simply empower you.”
I gave a frustrated sigh. “I... I don't have anything that anyone would want.” I looked around the ground by my bare and dirty feet. I was still in my wet, muddy, torn PJs. I still had dirty bedraggled hair. I felt like picking it up and pointing at it dramatically and asking Odin if he thought terrible destruction-loving gods would need my power. I knew it wasn't going to work. Odin was Odin – all-powerful, all-wise, and more than half beard. I couldn't argue with him.
I didn't understand. None of this made sense. I didn't have enough facts. I didn't have enough details—
Thor put a hand on my shoulder. “I will deal with it.” He looked up at his father. “I will solve it. I will stop it before it can begin.”
As this had already begun (unless a triple-attempted kidnapping was freshening up for the main event) Thor could hardly stop it before it had started.
Then again, he was Thor and Zeus and Jupiter. He had a yacht, a magical hammer, and a greasy black suit. He also had more wisdom and power than I would like to admit.
“You must.” Odin let his eye drift up until he stared at the zenith of the ceiling. “If you do not....”
Yep, that was end-of-the-world-Ragnarok talk, even if it was dramatically veiled.
“I will stop them,” Thor intoned powerfully. “I will stop him,” he added far more quietly.
“It will not be easy,” Odin warned.
As if saving the world/universe was easy – especially when the bad guys were gods.
“I will prevail. I will be victorious,” Thor's voice rang out.
Odin's good eye seemed to lose focus, and I knew that he was returning his gaze inwards.
I felt cold, confused, heavy, sick, overcome, and a lot like I wanted to mope into a corner and drape my arms over my head until it all went away.
Thor's grip slid down my shoulder. His fingers spread wider, felt more pronounced over the coarse, wet press of my clothes.
That detail broke through the heady mess of potential hysteria. That detail shone like a light through the darkness.
While I still didn't know what was going on, this new fact lodged itself in my mind with far greater primacy and importance.
The feel, the warmth, the expectation, the meaning of his touch.
Then Thor slapped me on the back. “Time to go save the universe, Details,” he said with a note of mirth. “We better get you to a weather station before you freak out, though.”
I turned slowly to stare at him. Though it appeared that Odin was deep within himself – and therefore unlikely to snap at us to stop play-fighting in his godly throne room – I wasn't comfortable with shouting at Thor in Asgard.
Still, I dipped my head down a touch and snorted. “I still don't see what this has to do with me,” I said, tone bitter, but voice quiet.
He snorted. “You think being kidnapped by two sea monsters and three gods is coincidental?” He crossed his arms and tried to grin.
This was mostly an act, wasn't it? No one, even if they were an arrogant, rude, and stupid triple-god, could go from having a super serious conversation about saving reality with their all-powerful dad, to joking about it several minutes later.
I could see the press of concern crumpling the corners of his eyes. I could make out the slight pitch to the corners of his lips.
“Details,” he dipped his head, “Are you staring at my nose again?” He held my gaze.
He grabbed my arm. “No more games. We must go save the gods.” He began to pull me towards the door and, apparently, towards my impending doom and Ragnarok.
As he pulled me from Odin's throne room, I began to realize things had escalated. The last time I'd left the one-eyed god, I'd been forced to join Thor in a mission to find out who had nicked Odin's monstrous underground-facility sea-pet. Things had gone up a notch. It was world-saving time.
I was still stuck with Thor/Zeus/Jupiter.
I didn't resist as Thor pulled me along on our mission – I couldn't.
I'd like to say that after our quick discussion with Odin, Thor changed tune. I'd like to say that after it was impressed upon him by his own ruddy father that this situation was of the important, potentially world-ending variety, that the hammer-wielding god got down to business.
I would be lying.
If I’d thought the prospect of Ragnarok was one that would put a firecracker under Thor's butt and get him at least acting, if not proactively, then I was wrong.
Sometimes it felt like the triple-god was on the wrong side of adulthood. After countless millennia of being a tough and in-charge guy, he was still growing up.
If I’d entertained a glimmer of hope that old golden beard would slick back his eyebrows and get on with saving me proper and saving the rest of the universe at the same time, I was sorely mistaken.
Instead of going straight to the Integration Office, or making an appointment with one of the wise goddesses, or booking a ticket to an oracle somewhere – we ended up in the Ambrosia.
Yep, that's right. The world was ending, I was being hunted by a trio of powerful and angry gods, and Thor sat across the table from me enjoying happy hour.
Thor chucked back another ale. He jerked his head, slamming the glass into his face, the golden ale sloshing all over his cheeks and down his beard. Rather than pool down the sides of his mouth and splatter across his clothes, the liquid disappeared the instant it touched him.
I glared at him. I sat in a large overcoat, which I’d borrowed off a passing mystery god, and had my arms tightly crossed around my middle as my eyes narrowed further every time Thor gulped back another ale. I was still in my bedraggled PJs underneath the overcoat, and they were still damp. My hair was a sandy, dirty, clinging mess that stuck to my neck and itched the skin something shocking. My feet were also bare and unclean.
Thor looked the picture of perfection. Inexpertly-drinking perfection anyway. He was still in his shiny, powerful armor. I’d suggested – being dirty and bedraggled – that both of us should find the time to change before hitting the streets and finding out who wanted to destroy the universe. Thor had grabbed my wrist and pulled me on (something he was doing an awful lot, especially when I complained about anything at all). He had assured me there was no time to change. The universe was in jeopardy and we had to save it regardless of what we were wearing.
He'd taken me straight to the Ambrosia. Fortunately, we had gone through the back door, as the sight of a giant, magical-armor wearing Nordic god and one dirty and bedraggled pj-wearing details goddess wouldn’t be a welcome sight on most city streets.
Thor was slowly gathering his entourage around him. At first, his usual drinking buddies seemed unsure about my presence at the table. They rightly thought that having the immigration officer sitting next to them would spoil some of their fun (especially if their fun consisted of recounting all the illegal and frankly un-hilarious exploits they'd gotten up to like racing titans in diamond mines and setting off volcanoes to roast marshmallows).
I sat there, dripping, itching, and seriously put out.
What an ass.
“Details,” Thor roared, downing his two-hundredth beer. He was acting drunk, though he couldn't become inebriated (no matter how much alcohol he consumed, I doubted anything could make him stupider). “Stop looking at me like that, Details,” Thor said as he banged a giant hand down on the table and leaned in with a massive ear-to-ear grin.
All the other gods at the table cheered at the move. They would cheer at anything. If Thor declared that two plus two equals four, they would all give a rip-roaring cry of joy. If Thor declared that he was potty trained, then they'd bring the roof down with their cheerful shouts.
I let my teeth sink so far into my bottom lip I could have chewed right through it.
He pointed a finger at me. “You know what you lack, Details?”
All the other gods leaned in. The god of merriment who sat next to me hiccupping with constant laughter, leaned in so far that he jostled my arm, making my wet, sandy hair slap me in the face.
He was like an eager puppy waiting for his master to throw him a titbit. They all were – all of these gods were hanging off Thor's words as if being here with him was the best thing the universe had to offer.
“You lack imagination,” Thor said, and there was a flicker in his eye. His tone was still jovial and his words still elicited a raucous and out-of-proportion laugh.
“I lack imagination,” I repeated and shook my head. I wasn't about to point out that if these groupie-gods thought sitting and watching Thor drink beer with all the accuracy of a potato gun was rewarding, then they lacked imagination, too.
“Yes.” He leaned back, resting his hand on the table.
He looked serious.
Everyone laughed and laughed.
For my part, I let my fingers curl up until my neat nails dug neat and evenly into my palms. What a total jerk. “If I lack imagination, Thor,” I said, hardly able to unclench my jaw, “What do you lack then?”
A quick hush of silence ran along the table. They were all waiting for Thor to come back with a semi-lame, but still laughable comeback, or for him to reach over and bang me on the head.
“What I lack, Details, is something you will have to find out.” He smiled, grabbed his ale, and tipped it down his throat.
This grew only a smattering of laughter.
Damn him, I thought for the millionth time. Damn him for being who he was. Damn him for being powerful, damn him for being assigned to me, and triple damn him for bloody existing.
I rose. It was a quick move and my chair tumbled out from behind me. I turned sharply. I was sick of this bloody—
Thor grabbed my wrist quicker than I could blink. “You aren't going to go get yourself in more trouble, are you, Details?” he asked almost languidly, and he slowly turned his head over to stare up at me (though across at me was more accurate, because though Thor was still seated, he was a man of godly proportions).
The groupies cooed and chuckled. Ah yes, they had all heard about my escapade in the flood drains several days ago, if not my recent adventures in Egypt and Greece. They were all under the impression that Thor was begrudgingly protecting me from some small-time immigration-officer-hating divinities. The begrudging bit was right, but the small-time bit was totally wrong.
This was huge, this was enormous, this was terrible. I was being hunted for god knows what reason (because, presumably, some god did know the reason). Yet here Thor was, taking it as seriously as 200 ales and a happy-hour party could allow for.
I yanked at my wrist, intending to pull it free. I could hardly move it. “I’m going to the bathroom,” I snapped at him.
He held my gaze, almost looking like the Thor who had saved me from his perpetually evil, once best friend. He grinned. “Be sure to scream if any sea monsters try and attack you from the toilet.”
The god-groupies howled with laughter. Apparently toilet humor was still comedic gold for all-knowing divinities.
He let my hand go. I could have bloody slapped him, if it weren't for the fact it would shatter my arm. Still, the sentiment was there.
I walked away so stiffly that my muscles were twanging.
By the time I made it into the bathroom, my jaw was so tight my teeth felt as though they would pop from my mouth like a spring under strain.
The bathroom of the Ambrosia wasn't what you would expect. It was a bath house, for one, and not a set of toilet stalls. Gods didn't need to go to the bathroom – they didn’t, to put it delicately, expend waste common to humans and animals. Gods were sustained on belief, not high-fiber cereals.
Gods still had bathrooms. They had a few more baths, pools, palm trees in pots, and candles than your usual toilet stall.
The bathroom of the Ambrosia was modeled on one of the old baths of Rome. There were beautiful frescos and statues everywhere. There were also, inexplicably, palm trees in pots. It was funny how gods picked up the apparent wealth-indicators of whatever time they were in. In Rome, a couple of nice gilded statues and a sweet many-roomed marble palace were usually enough to indicate how posh a place was. In modern times, however, it was palm trees in pots. Lots of them.
I’d put off coming to the bathroom the moment we'd gotten to the Ambrosia for several reasons. Firstly, I had stupidly harbored the hope that all of this had been part of Thor's plan. Perhaps he was coming here to get some god gossip – to try to find out from the other divinities what the word on the street was. The second reason, however, was that... I hated going to the public goddess baths. Why? I was unpopular wherever I went. Also, I was wearing human bed ware, I was hideously dirty, and everyone would know by now that I'd been saved recently, and humiliatingly, by Thor.
I blew air through my teeth as I walked through the doors. They were gilded, of course.
The bathhouse was huge – impossibly huge considering the small space the Ambrosia took up from the look of the building outside. This room alone sprawled more like a complex, with interconnected domed-ceilinged rooms housing baths of varying shapes and sizes. They were all magnificently decorated and smelt of wonderful oils and scents.
They were also full of the kind of goddesses I didn't want to pull off my jacket to reveal my clothes in front of. There was a certain type of goddess who frequented god bars like the Ambrosia. The kind who would hang off a certain type of god's arm – like Thor – and giggle, twitter, and hiccup cutely every time said god said anything at all.
I sucked at my teeth, my hand hovering over the tie in my jacket. I was a mix of angry, worried, embarrassed, and uncaring.
A tall, slim, beautiful flower goddess walked past me, her skin glistening like the morning dew on my white roses. She looked down at me, her bright eyes lingering on the protruding bottoms of my dirty pants. She raised a single eyebrow, swallowed a smile, and walked off with a single high-pitched twitter.
Twittering – it was something that birds did, I replied in my head.
Damn it. I gave a heavy sigh, patted the tie on my jacket, and let my hand drop. If only I could return home and have a bath in my own modest non-gilded bathroom. I could hop into some clean, non-sea-monster ripped clothes, and climb into a simple, non-godly bed.
Except I couldn't. I had to... what? Return to Thor's side and watch him drink the night away while all I could do was imagine what would happen to me next? Not that I could imagine it – I could only become bogged down by the details until they....
I put a hand up to my head. The damn thing was throbbing with a familiar pain.
I waited until it subsided, then shot several blinking glares at the room and the swanking goddesses around me. Sod this, I decided, and turned on my heel to leave.
Someone grabbed my wrist. A tingle escaped across my back, but then the tingle died when a face came down by mine.
Dear lord, it was Hera. Hera, known official wife-kind-of-thing of Zeus. Their relationship was complicated – everyone knew that. They had been on-again off-again for millennia.
The same Hera had one manicured hand clasped around my wrist, and it was clasped tightly. Any tighter and I'd have to get some bolt cutters to snap her fingers loose.
I took a quick look from her cast-iron grip up to her face. “Um,” I began.
In all my time as Immigration Officer for Earth, I'd had precious little to do with Hera. Hera was a permanent resident. She rarely travelled away from Earth at all. From what I'd heard, she ran a successful wedding-planner business and had a couple of posh places scattered across Greece and Italy. She was what you might call one of the better-integrated gods. She had many dealings with the humans, and she kept all of them civil and within the non-interference rules of the Integration Office.
Before her recent vise-gripping moment, I would have called Hera one of the better goddesses out there. She wasn't a walking bimbo, like some of them, and she stuck to the rules without complaint, unlike most of them.
She was, however, staring down at me, her peacock earrings jingling as she shook her head from side-to-side. She looked angry, exquisitely angry.
“What have you been up to?” she said, her lipstick-clad lips puffing out with each word. Her eyes glittered not in a pleasant, star-like way, but more like diamonds reflecting a ravaging, all-consuming fire.
I stared up at her. Really? Could I add Hera to the growing list of gods who had it in for me? What had I done to her?
Other goddesses started to gather behind Hera, and most of them had their arms crossed and their eyes narrowed. They were Hera's groupies, I realized with a swallow. Just as Thor had a table-full of his own giggling yes-men, Hera had a gaggle of yes-ladies. Most of the powerful gods and goddesses did.
I slowly tried to pull against Hera's grip. It didn't work. She had a hold of me and had no intention of letting go. “Umm,” I answered, “I haven't been doing much,” I said, though it was a lie. I'd had an extraordinarily busy couple of days. Except, for my part, I’d only been running from things. I hadn’t been building things, destroying things, plotting things, or kissing things – I’d just been running.
From the look in Hera's eyes, I could tell she thought differently. “Understand that he is my husband,” she said slowly. She obviously thought she was either talking to the hard of hearing or the extremely stupid.
I blinked slowly back at her – confirming everything she thought about me. “Sorry?”
“Even in this form, understand,” she leant in, “That he is mine.”
Hera's groupies all narrowed their eyes, several of them tapping their long fingernails against their bare arms. They looked ready – should it come to it – for a one-sided cat-fight.
I gave out a pop of a laugh. I knew – hell, everyone knew – of Hera's extraordinary jealousy. Once upon a time I'd thought the goddess had been justified. Zeus was legendarily disloyal to his on-again off-again official wife-thing. That Hera put up with him was a miracle. Except now Hera was tightening her grip on my wrist and staring into my eyes, one lip kinking to the side like a sneering caricature.
“Oh, I'm not with Thor,” I said in a high, almost wheezing tone. Also, I wanted to point out, Thor was not Hera's husband. Different pantheon, dear. But I knew Hera's legendary jealousy wasn't going to be put off by the fact her apparent husband had grown a couple of feet and had a yellow beard. Plus, the exact demarcation between gods with multiple identities was a confusing one at the best of times.
I kept silent and tried to smile encouragingly.
Hera pushed her face closer to mine, her peacock earrings brushing against my cheeks and making me blink. “Listen to me, you small-time goddess. I will not have—“
I pulled at my hand. Guess what? I broke free. It was a sudden thing. Just as I’d momentarily been able to resist Thor dragging me back through the Door of the Dead, I was able to break free of Hera's grip. Which was somewhat surprising considering who she was and who I wasn't. Hera was a big-time goddess. As Zeus’ maybe-wife and as one of the official goddesses of Olympus, she was powerful, very powerful. As the numerous sea monsters that had attacked me recently had proven, a divinity or creature's power was what mattered when it came to strength. It wasn't going to be down to who had bigger biceps. It was down to who had bigger belief. So Hera should outweigh me, hands down....
Except with one simple tug, I broke free.
Hera looked pallid with frustration. Whether it was from a small-time goddess somehow besting her, or from the prospect that the same small-time goddess was wooing one of the functional god-identities of her maybe-husband – I didn't know. I did see her gaze shift ferociously from my hand to my face, though.
I took several hearty steps backwards, bringing my hands up in a plea of defense. “Look,” I said as I continued to back towards the door. “I didn’t... I have not – I never would,” I tried to force the words out, but they were all frightfully jumbled. “There's nothing going on between us!” I managed as my back rested against the doors.
Hera didn't seem ready to take my jumbled plea as fact, and marched towards me, her arms held stiffly at her sides and her fingers curled wickedly.
I ran. Again. This was starting to become a habit of mine. As someone who usually went from work straight back to feeding her cat and mulching her roses, I rarely had the need to run or jog. Sometimes I had to walk somewhat fast when I smelt my muffins burning, though.
I pushed against the doors, opened them easily, and darted back into the main room of the Ambrosia. I headed unashamedly straight back to Thor's table. Though I did, for a split second, entertain the possibility of bolting from the joint. All this business of interacting with other gods was what had seen me being hunted, I was sure of it. Until that fateful day when I'd met up with Tolus and hopped down into the flood tunnels, I’d been a normal, decent, and self-contained goddess, always dressed sensibly and neatly. Now look at me? Running from the semi-wife of one of my current protector's other identities – this was the junk plot the pulp-fiction gods would churn out over too much coffee and too many giant chocolate-chip cookies.
The thought of running home and trying to ignore everything until it went back to normal lingered. But I found my legs pulling me back to Thor's table. I was in such a state of confusion that I ran right into my chair. The only problem was, my chair was being occupied by a rock god. I ran into him and it was very much like running into a solid wall. I rebounded immediately and fell flat on my back with a resounding thud.
Thor leaned over the table and peered down at me, as the other gods laughed heartedly. It would have looked funny. One messy goddess in an overly large mysterious-overcoat running right into a giant rock-man and falling flat on her butt.
Ha, ha, ha.
I put a hand up and covered my face, blocking them all out as I lay there.
Yes. That's it, I was going to stay here with my hand on my face, lying on the floor of the Ambrosia until everything went away.
I heard Hera stomp up beside me. I heard her, because somehow those amazingly high high-heels she always wore made a distinct and angry clicking noise, somewhat like a fashionable and angry crab.
I kept my hand over my face.
“Details,” Thor snapped at me, and he almost sounded concerned, “Sea monsters in the bathroom?” he quipped, then his voice seemed to die in his throat.
I fancied, though I still had my fingers clutched over my eyes, that he’d looked up to see Hera stamp over to him. Oh, the look on his face would be priceless.
“Hera?” Thor's voice took on a controlled tone.
“Thor,” Hera lingered on the th sound for too long.
I was more than willing to continue to lie still until everything erupted, then crawl off under some table somewhere to curl up into a ball of abject pity – but then something kicked me. It was sharp, it was quick, and it was the pointy end of a shoe.
“Ow,” I dodged to the side, removing my hand from my face.
Hera stared down at me, her make-up clad eyes so narrowed they almost closed. Hera was one of the only other goddesses apart from me who regularly wore human clothes. Except whereas I tended towards sensible business apparel that could be bought for reasonable prices at the local clothing store, Hera wore high-end fashion. She was currently wearing a well-fitting, swanky high-cut skirt and flouncy blouse with a pair of monstrously pointy high-heels. She also had a shiny, expensive golden choker around her throat. Oh, and a wedding ring on. Zeus and her were obviously more on-again than off-again. Which would explain the malignant look she was giving me.
She went to kick me again, but I dodged out of the way.
Sea monsters, evil gods, and being kicked by divine wedding-planners – what next?
I pushed to my feet, not wanting to get into a goddess cat-fight with Hera in front of a table-full of Thor groupies. They would take bets, cheer inappropriately, and ask the god of maize for some quick popcorn.
I need not have bothered. Hera had her full attention turned on Thor.
Thor slowly crossed his arms and stared at her. It was hardly an endearing, lovey-dovey move. Just the opposite. “How many times have I told you, Hera, when I’m Thor, I’m not Zeus,” he said his words slowly and clearly. It gave the impression that this was something Thor had repeated often in his life.
“Don't you give me that multiple identities crap,” Hera spat as she clamped her hands around her middle and tapped one of her shoes over and over again. “When you are Zeus, you are my husband. And darling, underneath, you are always Zeus. The golden beard and hammer doesn't change who you are. It doesn't give you an excuse to be hanging around with tramps.” Hera sliced her gaze my way.
Tramp? I was a tramp now? Technically, in my current garb, I did resemble one meaning of the word, but not the one Hera intended. The divine wedding-planner was suggesting that I – clean loving goddess of details who spent all her nights at home with a book and a cat – was the divine equivalent of a loose woman.
I was wearing my PJs, for Pete’s sake. Any of the other golden-skinned, twittering, tiny-toga-wearing goddesses sitting at Thor's table were a better candidate for trying to catch the Nordic god's eye than me.
Thor started off with a low laugh which only got louder until it boomed out in great whoops. “Tramps?” He slid his gaze over to me, caught my eye, then laughed louder.
It was when everyone else – minus Hera – joined in that it happened. I snapped. I pushed to my feet stiffly.
Screw it. I'd had enough with being the butt of his ridiculous jokes. Enough of waiting around with Thor as he drank away precious time that should be used saving me/the entire freaking universe. If he was this irresponsible, then so be it. I wasn't going to wilt in his company and receive volley after volley from his maybe-wife.
“This small-time goddess—“ Hera began. Her tone was vicious on the word goddess.
“Shut up, Hera,” I said firmly. There was such a note of... authority in my voice that the beer mugs on the table beside us rattled. “I’m not going to stand here and listen to your insults. I have told you there is nothing going on between your possible husband and me. If you don't believe me, that's an issue you are going to have to take up with your overactive, paranoid imagination. Now get out of my way.” I didn't puff out my chest as I spoke, I didn't glare, I didn't clamp my hands on my hips. I let the words flow. The details of them... seemed to flow together somehow – the tone, the timing, the volume.
A terrible pain snaked through my brow, but I wasn't about to follow up on my single act of defiance against Hera with an “Ow, I've got a headache.” Instead, I held her gaze and walked off.
Hera didn't lash out at me with her high-heels, nor did she call up her godly powers and try to zap my head off. Nope, she looked... shocked. It was probably the first time a so-called small-time goddess had stood up to the precious maybe-wife of Zeus. She must have been momentarily overcome by the suddenness of it... and the exact tone I’d somehow hit. It had been authoritative. It had suggested a power I didn’t have. It was the same tone Odin might have used to shock and awe anyone who dared scratch his throne.
It left a tingling in my chest and arms, and the more I concentrated on the sensation, the more my head hurt.
It didn't stop me from stalking away from the table, head held as high as I could manage.
The place was as silent as deep space as I walked away from Hera. All the assembled gods and goddesses had stopped what they were doing – their ale mugs halfway to their lips or their heads half tossed back, mid-laugh. They were all waiting for what would inevitably come next.
Hera's reaction to Zeus’ various lovers – whether confirmed, or innocent, as in my case – was the stuff of legend. The viciousness, the violence, the single-minded willingness to hunt them down and turn their lives into the embodiment of misery.
While a majority of Zeus’ romantic-equivalent side-servings were of the pouting human damsel kind (though not so much these days with all the anti-interference laws), it wasn't unheard of for him to dip into the goddess basket, too. Based on experience, Hera had every right to believe Thor/Zeus was up to something. Based on how she reacted to such experience, every single god and goddess in this room knew she was about to attack me viciously and screaming at the top of her lungs from behind.
As I mentally steeled for the attack, something happened: there was a rustling of leaves. It wasn't all that distinct, it wasn't all that loud, it wasn't all that noticeable. Somewhere far off, at the edge of the room (or at the edge of my senses), I heard the gentle shifting of leaves under a slight breeze. While it could have been a draft unsettling any number of laurels or tree gods, it felt different. The bare sense of it sent such a tingle through my gut that I felt giddy from shock.
Blinking and twisting my lips in, I tried not to stumble as I walked, yet I couldn't help but slow.
“How dare you!” Hera shrieked from behind.
I hardly heard her. She sounded as though she was at the edge of hearing, and the incessant rustling of leaves was growing until it threatened to press in on me from above.
I stopped moving, parking myself right in the middle of the room, jaw humorously slack as I stared above at the moving leaves I could hear but couldn't see.
I got the impression of a warm welcome light filtering in through young, tender foliage. The green of spring and the golden glow of the sun beckoning me on.
Then something smacked me right in the back of the head. It made a terrible thwacking sound and felt suspiciously like the back of a chair.
I fell forward, but didn't drop to my knees. It was more of a dignified stumble. Though the chair had been flung at me with full-force by one of the most powerful goddesses of the Greek pantheon, it was more of a surprise and less of a concern.
I wasn't injured.
I turned to the side, putting a hand up to the back of my head. It didn't hurt. It was an automatic move at being struck with a heavy object from behind.
Hera, face a hotter red than the lava that spewed from Mount Etna, still held the chair easily in one hand. With a vicious twist of her mouth, her eyes pulled shut from the anger clawing across her face, she swung the chair right at my head again.
From her expression, to her movement, to the light glinting off the chair – I saw it all at once. Every detail.
I put up a hand, grabbing the chair leg and stopping it in place an inch from my face. Despite Hera's huge, grunting effort, she couldn't shift it from my grip.
I could feel the grain of the wood against the skin of my hand, and the wood only served to remind me of those rustling leaves.
I was aware of the fact I stared over at Hera with a confused look on my face.
She looked out of breath and shocked. “What?” she puffed at me as she tried to yank the chair from my grip. “How are you doing this?” she spat through a tight jaw.
She gave another almighty (literally) tug on the chair, and the thing snapped in two. I kept one of the legs. She got the rest. The force of her effort sent her stumbling backwards, face still a picture of sneering shock.
For my part, I kept my lips closed and my head cocked to the side, as my eyes wondered from side-to-side trying to locate the origin of that damn rustling.
Hera – because she was Hera, and wasn't about to let the surprise of a small-time goddess besting her in a chair fight stop her – came at me again. Except this time it was fist-cuffs. With nothing but the look of calculated, frightful, impending vengeance on her face and her fingers curled into the equivalent of grappling hooks, the wedding-planner launched herself at me.
I noticed it like you might when you take a quick glance out the window to check what the weather is outside. It was a fact, but not one that had much importance for me.
Then reality snapped back with a twang. With no more edge-of-awareness rustling to keep me distracted, I realized in a single strangled heartbeat that Hera – a goddess ten times more powerful than me – was seconds away from ripping me to shreds.
I screwed my eyes shut and gave a pathetic yelp as I slammed my hands over my face.
I need not have bothered – Hera didn't reach me. There was a half-strangled puff of air, and I opened one of my eyes between the gaps in my fingers and saw that Thor had grabbed an arm around Hera, stopping her in place.
Boy, was there a look on his face. Except it wasn't directed at his malevolent, paranoid, crazy, wedding-planning, half-wife from a different identity. Nope, he looked right at me. His expression was such a mix of angry, bothered, surprised, and something far, far deeper. Something... old was gathering and tugging at the edges of his eyes, like a long suppressed memory that could no longer be subdued.
He held my gaze for all of about two seconds – though I'm sure time somehow squeezed several eons between that stutteringly short moment – then his cheeks stiffened and he turned back to his half-wife.
Hera still steamed, but was turning her boiling inferno of a temper back to where it belonged – Thor.
She rolled up a hand and thumped it against Thor's shiny breast plate. It gave a resounding twanging sound. “You always do this to me,” she began to mope, then hit his breast plate again. “Always.”
Thor took a rumbling sigh. “How many times, Hera? When I'm Thor—“
“You're still Zeus. When you are Jupiter, I’m Juno. I know the mysteries of identity, Zeus, don't you stand there and tell me it doesn't matter. You've been telling me the same old story for millennia – and guess what? It matters to me.” She placed a delicate hand on her chest and stared up at the blond-bearded version of her half-husband.
“When you're Juno you are a lot less paranoid,” Thor mumbled to himself.
Which was the wrong thing to mumble – even quietly – when he had an arm around the middle of his maybe-wife from a different pantheon.
Hera sucked in a sharp breath of air from between her clenched teeth and hit Thor a lot harder this time.
This was... great. Here I stood in the middle of the Ambrosia, in the middle of a divine domestic. If they started make-up kissing, I'd hit them both with my chair leg.
I wanted to point out to Hera that Thor wasn't Zeus. I wanted to defend the buffoon. Though, as immigration officer, I knew the differences that allowed a god to have more than one functioning identity didn't run that deep. Hera was right: underneath it all was still the same god. He still represented the same forces, he was just given different names and systems of belief under different pantheons.
That point didn't seem important to me. What was important was the fact that whilst entering Earth as Thor, he couldn’t be held accountable for the actions of Zeus or Jupiter. If it was good enough for the Integration Office, then it should be good enough for Hera.
I watched them, a growing nervous feeling swelling in my stomach. I flicked my eyes away and tried to find something else to stare at. My gaze soon settled on the chair leg in my hand. The one that belonged to the chair I’d somehow caught after it had been swung by Hera of all people.
How had I done that?
I used to watch the leaves flutter above me.
I blinked slowly. Words had formed in my mind – unspoken but undeniable. I hadn’t thought them. They had thought themselves.
I slid my gaze slowly towards the chair leg still in my hand. Sudden Hera-chair-stopping powers, mysterious fluttering noises, and spoken words forming directly in my mind?
Being a goddess, I immediately skipped through the possibilities, and none of them involved standard human causes of delirium. I wasn't dehydrated, I hadn’t munched on some suspicious fern shoots, and nor had I gobbled a brightly colored pill I'd spied in an alleyway behind a club. There were all sorts of divine sources of madness however, but none of them tended to involve chair legs as far as I knew.
Was I tired? I hadn’t got much rest between being chased by Loki, chained to a wall, taken to Asgard, and coming to happy hour at the Ambrosia. Yes, that had to be it – I was exhausted.
“Details—“ Thor was somehow right in front of me, his hands pressed into my shoulders. He gave me a tender shake.
Blinking up at him, I realized I had allowed myself to become monumentally distracted by my thoughts. So distracted that I’d tuned out everything else in the universe.
Everything – and that’s a lot of things.
It hit me, and it wasn't another chair. It was the same pain I’d been feeling on-and-off for the past several days. No, not the same – this was worse by a factor of about a billion.
I didn't shout anything indicative of my situation like “Ow,” “Blimey,” or “My head is about to explode.” I crumpled. It was too much. It was too severe.
It felt like the universe was either trying to rip into my mind or rip free from it. It wasn’t a good feeling.
Unsurprisingly, for the third time in three days, I conked out.
I can't say I awoke in a nice God Hospital somewhere. I can't say I awoke with a nice godly blanket pulled over me and a curled-up toga supporting my head. Then again, I wasn't, thankfully, strapped to a wall either.
I didn't wake anywhere either appropriate or inappropriate for a potentially injured goddess. Instead, I didn't wake up at all. I never lost consciousness.
Something far stranger occurred: my awareness was shunted to the side as if someone had slapped me hard on the face, jolting my head to a position that allowed a view I’d never before seen.
And what was the view of? Those darn rustling leaves.
I was lying on my back, I was sure of it – though precisely seconds before I’d been standing in the middle of the Ambrosia with a worried Thor shaking my shoulders. I was no longer in that god-awful (excuse the pun) divine bar. I was lying on wonderfully soft grass, staring at fluttering leaves above me. The sunshine filtered through them in a divine, dappled light. It was wondrous, relaxing, and oh-so welcoming.
I could stay here forever.
I had already spent eternity here.
I blinked rapidly as that thought raced through my mind. I hadn’t been here for an eternity, had I? I couldn't concentrate long enough to answer that. My thoughts faded in and out like a dream lost upon waking.
I watched the leaves. I listened to them move. They held more secrets than one person or god could appreciate. It would take eternity to listen to their wisdom.
A smile spread slowly across my lips.
I had eternity. I possessed an entire, immortal, never-ending existence to watch, listen, and know.
I could lie here with my back on the soft grass, with the tree above me and my husband beside me.
The leaves began to shake above, and in a terribly violent fashion. The whole world around me was shaking itself loose. Loose from what, I didn’t know.
I tried to hold on, but it faded.
The leaves turned into hair, and the glorious dappled sunshine filtering through them shifted at once to a pale, cold light.
I stood back in the Ambrosia. Standing was hardly an accurate term – I was being held up by the shoulders. My head was lolled to the side, all muscle control gone. The only reason I wasn't a pile on the floor was that Thor had such a hold of my upper arms that he could use them to prop up a bridge.
Reality didn't click back as quickly as I hoped. I didn't snap back into the present with a look of popping-eyed wonder followed by a strangled “Awesome, I was hallucinating, and the colors, man, the colors!” No. I had to claw my way back to the present and to who and what I was. As that was such an odd way to describe what was going on, it placed serious doubts on the exact epistemic credentials of what I'd previously been comfortable to describe as me.
I could still hear the rustling of leaves far, far off in the distance. It was fading. The more it faded, the more I tried to hold onto it. The more I did that, the more my head hurt – the more my brain tried to shift out of my skull through the center of my forehead.
Thor gave my shoulders a shake, and he almost shook my head off.
“Ahhh,” I managed, though it was more of a gurgle.
This appeared to satisfy the searching, pressed, unsure-look in Thor's eyes. It was a look I’d never seen, and not one I would have thought possible for the Nordic god of inappropriately-timed-happy-hour parties.
He looked lost and yet on the cusp of finding something.
I watched those cheeks for... what? Seconds, moments, a fraction of time?
“There is something wrong with that goddess,” I heard someone say from off to my side.
My neck muscles still weren't what they should be, so I wasn't about to bother lolling my head their way like an uncoordinated puppet. Plus, I knew who it was: Hera.
She was right, there was something wrong with this goddess. My problems ranged from being hunted, to having a blown up front door, to having had a hallucination in the middle of a god bar.
I was starting to regain control over my body and was starting to hold my head aloft. This gave me a fabulous view of all the people staring at me. Boy, were they staring. This was, for the assembled gods and goddesses, the equivalent of dinner and a show. Thor, Hera, and my partially paralyzed, oft-hallucinating self were providing an act in the middle of the bar for all to appreciate over their ale and club sandwiches.
I went to push my glasses up my nose – a move I’d grown accustomed to performing whenever a situation was beyond my control in the Immigration Office. If some boisterous, loud, and dangerous war god was seconds from destroying my desk with his magical spear, I would take a moment to slowly and pointedly push my glasses up as if they were magical microscopes that enabled me to peer right through the problem.
Except I wasn't wearing my glasses. No rims to hide behind. Instead I... had to take it all in. Which wasn't a good thing to do considering how much there was to stare at. In a move becoming all too familiar to me, my bloody head hurt.
“Do something about it,” Hera stamped up to Thor's side and pointed a finger right at me.
I was it, apparently.
I glanced her way. I didn't like being talked to in that manner while I was recovering from sudden leaf-filled dreams. “I have a name, Hera,” I said, proud that my voice was more in control than the rest of me. “If you can't remember it, I'm happy to write it down for you.”
Hera looked murderously at me.
Thor looked confused and torn. “I—“
“My cat!” I spoke the sudden thought out loud. “Damn it, I left him in Ancient Egypt.” I pulled free from Thor's grip – which was easier to do than it sounded – and stood on my own two feet as I tried to think. If I went back to my house, I might be able to con the old spatial anomaly between my bedroom and living room to send me back to the library of Alexandria. Then I would... grab a bag of dried food and walk around the sandy streets of an ancient port city shaking it and calling “Here, kitty, kitty.”
“Her cat?” I saw Hera out of my peripheral vision swing her gaze from me back to Thor and twist a finger in a circle next to her head.
I wasn't crazy – I just had priorities. Plus, if Thor was going to stand there having an almost-domestic with his almost-wife during happy hour at the Ambrosia, then at least I was going to be proactive. Yes, he’d been assigned by one of the most powerful gods to protect me. But if Thor wasn't going to do his job, then by Jove (excuse the joke), I was going to do it for him.
First things first, I was going to get my cat back. Or – considering I wasn't a total klutz fond of walking into traps/offering myself up free-of-charge to my kidnappers – I would make some enquiries at the Integration Office. I would check with our contacts in Ancient Egypt as to whether the cat goddess would mind having a roam around for a stray. While I was there, I would also get on to the Divinity Police and ensure they put immediate measures in place to track down my kidnappers.
Gosh, yes, this was a good plan. Why I hadn’t thought of doing it before, I didn't know. The entire point of the Immigration Office was it provided a centrally organized point of security. Going to them was logical. Staying with Thor was idiotic. I’d been lulled into staying by his side, since he thought that good detective work was qualitatively the same as good ale.
So be it, I was going alone.
I turned and walked away as Hera stepped into my place. “I can't believe you—“ she began to admonish Thor in a riotously loud tone.
I tuned her out.
“Details, don't wander far,” Thor immediately boomed from behind me. He was being diplomatic – realizing that he could hardly blow off Hera and yet not wanting to disappoint his old man by losing sight of me.
That was the problem with gods like him – split personalities meant split priorities.
“I won't,” I lied. When the truth would have a golden-bearded idiot breathing down your neck, a lie was always preferable.
I didn't head straight to the door. I meandered around the side of the room for a while first. I didn't want to out-and-out leave the place while Thor was still watching. It was one thing to say you would do something then do the opposite immediately and brazenly. It was what Thor would do. I wasn't that stupid.
I waited until the exact note in Hera's wailing tone was so high it could have cracked the ceiling, then I quietly made my way out. To my knowledge, every other god and goddess was too busy watching the show to see me leave the scene.
As soon as the door to the Ambrosia closed behind me, I drew in the cool night air. I picked up the mingling scents of far-off rain, near-by curry, and the general muck of packed-in city living.
The smell itself didn't matter, it was the fact I could take the time to note the details.
I felt measurably calmer than I had in days. I wasn't on someone else's timetable here. I wasn't running from or running with anyone else. I was on my own. If I wanted to take the time to note the exact waft of turmeric and cinnamon in the air, then I was going to do that.
I was also a practical goddess, and I wasn't about to get distracted. I would enjoy the details as I worked.
I was going to head straight to the Integration Office. I wasn't about to brave my own home (though the prospect of a shower was one that seemed almost as important as saving the universe). For all I knew, Loki was still hanging around on my porch, sitting on the stoop, polishing his fake Jupiter gun, and sighing about how he'd lost “Da broad.”
Nope, if I wanted to go alone and if I wanted it to be a success (i.e. If I didn't want to end up tied to a wall again), then I had to be smart. I knew, though it was an unpleasant thing to know, that Loki, Hades, and Seth would still be after me. I had to act now – no heading to the store to pick up some sugar and eggs for some late-night cupcakes.
Time to go to work.
The Integration Office was located in space, but I didn't have to hop a NASA shuttle every time I wanted to head there. The transport networks available to gods were more extensive than your average suburban bus route. Summoning them, however, involved less goat sacrifices than you'd expect.
I stepped onto the road, looking both ways as I crossed to the other side. There were god-transport hubs (or great whacking spatial anomalies if you wanted to give them a science-friendly definition) at set points around the globe. These anomalies were of the trained, reliable, non-world-destroying variety. All you had to do was know where they were and know how to access them, then you could con them into taking you to anywhere in time and space.
The reason I lived in a homely cottage on the edge of this city was there was a travel node close by. It was in a church on the outskirts of town. The exact location of the divinely-controlled spatial-travel anomalies was a little random. Some were in deepest-darkest forests. Others were in underwater caves. One was in a female bathroom stall in the London Underground. There wasn't a whole lot of reasoning behind the locations, at least from the modern point of view. They were, however, all related to ancient sites of power. The church at the edge of this city happened to be sitting over the location of an old, catastrophically epic god battle. The battle had sanctified the site with the kind of frantic, zippy, charged energy that made the fact a spatial anomaly had grown from the grass hardly a surprise. Those spatial anomalies love atmosphere.
The church itself was rundown, and to my knowledge no longer had any regular parishioners. Despite its disuse, it had never been sold or torn down to make way for car parks and whatnot. Such a thing would never make it past city planning. The number one rule of the Integration Office – not to interfere with the freewill of other creatures – didn't extend to letting wily developers tear down the locales of spatial anomalies. That type of thing tended to irritate space-time rips something chronic.
All I had to do was make it to the church, then hop a ride to the Integration Office. Once at the Office, I would be safe. Loki could try to walk in pretending to be any god he pleased, but he wouldn't get through. He could steal a whole hoard of sea monsters (who might object to performing a raid fryingly close to the sun) and try to attack the building – but it wouldn't work.
When safe inside my own office, I could start to solve this problem my own way. I could delve into various files and amass all the details there were until I could construct the true story from the bottom up.
That would be action. While happy hour would only result in a large tab, I would be solving this crime the proper way.
I only had to get from my current location to the church.
I let myself be pulled along by the tingly, nervous, frightened feeling welling in my gut. I glanced behind me at the ordinary door that led to the Ambrosia.
Was leaving Thor the best thing to do?
I pushed the feeling away as I turned around.
Yes, it had to be. I was sure Thor's ways were the old ways (not that they had many happy hours back in ancient Norway, but the point still stood).
Wiping my hands on my jacket, I paid close attention to the feel of the fabric as I ran my fingers over it. The move was quick, the fabric a mix of soft but hard.
I took a breath and began to walk. I put enormous effort into focusing on my environment. The way the lamplights made the pavement seem a different color. The way the noise of traffic from the busier main roads beyond filtered through as I passed near the mouths of connecting alleys. The way the stars above were mostly enshrouded by a growing, thick cloud.
If I was careful to pay attention to the details – and to stay within them – then my power would remain with me. The true divinity that kept me a goddess wouldn’t be far from my grasp. The details enthroned me. And if I enthroned them in my awareness, then I would be divine.
I clicked my tongue against the base of my mouth as I walked. The sound was hollow and quick, and echoed through my jaw like a judge banging a gavel in a silent courtroom. Though a growing voice in my head kept questioning whether this was a good idea, I dismissed it. I'd decided to go alone, so alone I would go.
Plus, I was a goddess for crying out loud – a bona fide immortal female with powers beyond the imagination. I wasn't like some poor old nanna who couldn't hope to defend herself against an armed robber or a slippery step.
No. Just because Loki and his dodgy mates were supposedly big-time gods, didn't mean they automatically bested me. I’d shown Hera up, hadn't I? She was as big as they came.
As I walked, the tingling in my stomach continued to grow, but I tried to rationalize the unpleasant sensation away. It was left-over nerves. It was the effect of being cast into the care of a god who couldn't care less about my welfare (or the universe's, apparently) and cared more for sitting at a table and watching eternity through the bottom of his empty ale glass.
Or maybe it was the slight chill in the air.
I tapped my fingers against my legs then clenched and unclenched my hands.
In the Integration Office, I’d been taught that the classic distinctions between the gods – the assumptions of power that came along with their slice of believers and legend – didn't count for much these days. The system mattered, not the individuals who went through it. When Jupiter had been banned from Italy for a destructive bar-fight, the system had overpowered him. If the system could do that to one of the most powerful gods out there, then it could do it for Loki, Hades, and Seth, too.
Yes, they had thwarted it somehow by getting to Earth/letting out sea monsters/kidnapping me in the first place. But that fact didn't stand alone. I knew what they were up to, I could bring this information to the system, and everything would work smoothly again.
It had to.
My strides became stronger – my legs stiffening in a determined fashion that saw my pace increase measurably.
Plus, Loki and his assorted illegal brethren were hardly likely to attack me on a populated, modern, human city street. They might have gotten away with using their godly powers in ancient times, when such powers would cause less of a ripple in the belief of the humans who saw them. That wouldn't be the case here. Seth could hardly order up a sandstorm to pin me down, and Hades wouldn't be able to pop out from the drains with a couple of thousand denizens of the dead. That would draw real and quick attention from the Office. They might have gotten away with their sea-monster-in-the-flood-drain escapade, but there were more people to notice their inappropriate shenanigans above ground.
Some part of me knew all of this self-posturizing was just that. I didn't want to listen to her. I needed to justify why I’d left Thor – who could demonstrably protect me against everything but a lack of beer and his half-wife.
I looked up and saw something. No, that wasn’t right – I heard it before I saw it.
It wasn't Jupiter clicking his fingers and munching on a cigar, and nor was it a sea monster throwing a ladder at me in the hope I'd climb it before it attacked me.
It was an oak tree.
It was... beautiful. The leaves shone and the trunk was so indented and gnarled you could spend your life following every twist and turn.
Its leaves were rustling.
I smiled up at them.
How long did I smile for? How long did I watch it? How many details did I process before I realized... it was smack bang in the middle of a street?
It was in the middle of a street. There was a giant, beautiful, old oak sitting right in the middle of a main road.
Okay, that wasn’t normal, unless the city's pro-tree council had upped their ante.
I twisted my head left and right, checking whether any cars were speeding around the tree. There were no cars. No traffic. No pedestrians.
I clicked my tongue, and it echoed along the empty street.
I was a sensible, in-control goddess, or so I liked to think. Before my recent run-in with out-of-control kidnapping situations, I’d led a stable life. A life that didn't involve leaf-filled hallucinations or oak-filled streets.
But there was a problem: I hadn’t always been the same goddess I was. Or rather, my power hadn't always been refined in the way I now displayed it. There was a time, long ago, when I'd have been the worst person to leave in charge of a global divine immigration scheme. When I was still a young newbie goddess, I would wander about with my head in the clouds, mesmerized by the details that unfolded around me. I wouldn’t think, I wouldn’t process, I wouldn’t reason.
I'd been a real airhead.
Thankfully I'd grown up and out of that stage. I was an adult now. I was sensible. I was rational.
Except... somehow, I’d just stared at a tree for god knows (not this god) how long without picking up it was in the middle of the bloody road! The incongruity hadn't been noticed because I'd been too mystified by the detail of the bark.
This... this was old me. This wasn't Officina Immigration Officer to Earth – this was Officina Airhead Goddess who walked around like she was perpetually off her head.
A spike of genuine fear shot through my belly, and I clutched a hand to my stomach immediately. The kidnapping I could intellectually take. Loki wanted me and was going to find a way to get his fiery paws on me, story closed. This... this was me losing control....
I drew a sharp breath and took several snapped steps back from the oak tree. It didn't disappear. It stayed merrily in the middle of the road, shining in a light I realized couldn't be coming from the sky. There was no sun – it was night.
How hadn't I noticed that before? Why hadn't I been suspicious of the dappled sunshine playing across the leaves sooner?
Another spike of fear raced through me, leaving an angry, nervous tingling in its wake.
The oak tree didn't have roots. It sat on the road as if it had been cut in half by the bitumen. Yet another all-important detail I’d failed to see.
I knew the tree was not changing before me. I knew the roots hadn't been there before only to disappear when I checked. I just hadn’t noticed them the first time around.
The problem was with me, not the tree. Reality was normal. I was not.
I put a hand up to my throat and rested it there. I kept glancing this way and that along the street – trying to convince myself I was alone, that Loki wasn't standing right in front of me with a giant goddess-catching net. That was just the thing: I didn't trust my eyes. I didn't trust myself to be concentrating on the right details. If I hadn’t noticed the incongruity of the oak before, then I could still be allowing myself to be drawn in by the wrong details of this scene. I could be concentrating so hard on the fact it didn't have roots, that I couldn't notice the cyclopes leaning behind the trunk munching on some goat kebabs, getting ready to wash down his tucker with some goddess blood.
I was doubting myself like I never had before.
I closed my eyes tightly, then opened them again, giving the world time to revert to normality in between.
The oak was still there.
So I ran. It wasn't dignified. It wasn't sensible. It wasn't reasonable. It wasn't something an in-control, powerful, knowledgeable, dignified goddess would do. I was reverting, body and soul, to that airhead who couldn't see the forest for the trees.
I ran, and for all I knew, I wasn't running from anything. An oak in the middle of the road, sure. But it was hardly likely to uproot itself and start chasing me (hopefully).
I ran from myself. From the realization that the person I thought I was, was not who was there.
I ran until I saw the cars, the pedestrians, and the buildings.
I didn't stop running. The slice of normalcy restored to me by the sight of headlights reflecting in puddles (and not through the foliage of lane-dividing giant trees) was not enough to restore faith in myself. For all I knew, the headlights were attached to giant titans running along the road playing catch with toasters.
I couldn't trust... anything.
So I ran. Where did I run to? Home, of course.
It was my temple, my shrine, my house of solace and worship.
If I’d been able to trust my senses – if I’d been in a state capable of appreciating reason – I would have either headed for the Immigration Office or back to the Ambrosia. But reason was far from my grasp. Reason required justification – proof that something was the right thing to do given the situation – and I could no longer justify a thing. For all the details I could still pick out, I had no idea what I was missing beyond them. For all the certainty I could concentrate on, the uncertainty that bounded it was insurmountable.
I ran home and, in a daze that threatened to overcome everything I thought I was, crumpled. I didn't bother performing any invocations to restore my power. The details wouldn't work anymore. I held no trust in myself and that meant no more faith.
Was it this easy to overcome the divinity within?
I picked my way over the broken remains of the door strewn over my carpet. Leaves and sticks from outside had blown their way in during the day-and-a-half my door had been wide open. These details alone caught my attention. But they weren't enough to offer any form of solace. They were only integrated into the nightmare of confusion playing out in my waking mind.
I stumbled to my bed and fell on it, curling into a ball, lying there on top of the covers. For all I knew, Loki stood in the corner making a success-fist and jumping up and down from the excitement of having his target come to him. That was just the thing: I couldn't know. I could no longer be sure of what I knew and what I didn’t. For the evidence of my senses was too closed, too specified, too untrustworthy.
I didn't sleep. I didn't have my consciousness shift pleasantly to another happy, tree-filled dimension of leaves and sunlight. Instead I lay there in a ball. It was a human thing to do, but without direct access to my own divinity within, what was I now?
Time passed. In chunks, in days, in thousands of years. I lay there. With my eyes tightly closed, I blocked out the external world. All I could wonder at, all that seized my mind, was the palpable tornado of doubt shaking me from within. It felt as though my mind was being capsized or broken asunder by giant and never-ending earthquakes.
The snippets started. Snippets of... details. Leaves, sunlight, temples, stones, lives, time, movements, change. At the edge of my consciousness, a swirl of different images and experiences – none of which were mine, but all of which was a part of me.
I saw the oak tree again. I saw myself lying on my back and staring up at the leaves above me. A dove cooed from somewhere nearby. The pleasant scene was almost reassuring, but it wasn't enough to calm my twisting, writhing soul.
Then a hand gently reached out and touched my shoulder. It anchored me. It brought me back to Earth.
It was tender, it was warm, and it was the kind of reassuring that could only be linked to surfacing from drowning to suck in a life-saving breath of air.
It was my husband.
“Off—“ I heard at the edge of my hearing. The word didn't come from beside me, but from the leaves above.
Confused, I stared up at them. They moved this way and that in the gentle, pleasant breeze.
“Offic—“ the noise came again.
The scene around me started to shake. The hand, the hand that anchored me to the spot, the hand that had saved me from drowning, it began to drift away.
I struggled to stay where I was, but with nothing to hold on to and nothing to hold on to me, I couldn't.
The oak above shook so violently I feared it would fall and crush me to death.
I lay there shaking with it.
“Officina.” The leaves melted into the unmistakable face of Thor.
For the second time in several hours, Thor was shaking me awake from a leaf-filled hallucination.
Except this time was different.
I woke screaming. I couldn't help it. As the dream – if that was what it was – faded, so too did my grip on reality.
“No!” I squeezed my eyes tightly closed and tried to remain inside the dream.
I couldn't. The more the memory of it faded from my mind, the more the moment of reassurance faded with it.
I couldn't trust my senses, I remembered with a terrible shudder. The face before me, why, it could be Thor or it could be Loki pretending to be him. Without the ability to concentrate on the right details, how was I to know, how was I to pick out the inconsistencies, how was I to trust myself?
I tried to shrink away from Thor or whoever he was.
I kept my eyes tightly closed.
“Details,” he boomed, then cupped a hand to my chin, pulling my head gently this way and that as he peered across my face.
I put my hands up and clamped them over my eyes.
“What are you doing, Details?” he asked, except his voice had a foreign tone. It shook on the high notes and bottomed at the end as if he'd run out of breath.
“Just go away, go away,” I mumbled into my hands.
Who knew who I was talking to?! Thor? Loki?
He sighed. He let me go. He got up – I felt his presence shift though I wasn't about to open my eyes.
I heard him leave the room.
I heard his heavy footsteps until they picked their way over the scattered wood of my door and out onto the porch.
Under my hands, which were still pressing into my face in a last ditch attempt to keep the unstable reality around me outside, I blinked.
“Is this far enough?” he called from outside, still presumably on my porch.
I kept blinking.
“I’m not Loki,” he said in a deep voice. “And you should not have left the Ambrosia.”
I didn't remove my hands from my face. I couldn't trust my ears. The details of the words I was picking up... I could be mistaken.
“You are also...” he trailed off.
I was also what? I held onto his words as if they were an anchor somehow keeping me in place though a storm of uncertainty was threatening to sweep me off my feet.
“Not normal,” he finished with a heavy sigh that shook my bedroom window.
Not normal? Hardly an illuminating thing to say, a voice of reason said from somewhere inside the storm of my mind.
“You are not...” he trailed off once more.
I waited on his words.
He didn't speak again.
What was he trying to tell me? I was not what?
I pulled my hands from my face.
There was a room around me: my room. There were bullet holes in the far wall and plaster was strewn all over the carpet.
“Details, we cannot do this all night,” Thor said from outside my bedroom window.
Rubbing my eyes and still shaking like a leaf in a storm, I turned to the window behind my bed. It was a large window, and though the curtains were drawn, they were thin enough that I could see the giant shadow of Thor behind them, his form illuminated by the street lamp outside my house.
I watched him.
Would Loki bother going outside when I asked him to get out? Would he bother mooching around on my porch while I had a breakdown – respecting my need for space and yet not wanting to outright leave?
Wouldn't Loki cackle, pull a gun, and take me off to strap me to a wall somewhere?
The tiny voice of reason that had been small moments before began to grow. I pushed to the corner of the bed as I kept a wary eye on Thor.
“I didn't expect this,” his voice lowered as if he were talking to himself.
He didn't expect what?
The questions pressed at my mind, and the more they gathered, the more they pushed the confusion out. A question indicated ignorance of the unknown, and it was the threat of the unknown that had pushed me into this frantic, self-doubting frenzy. Somehow the questions were like rungs on a ladder, while the confusion blew me off my feet and twisted me inside out.
The only problem with ladders was enterprising sea monsters, but hopefully there weren't any hiding under my bed.
I held onto the questions, cupping them in my hands (if you could imagine it) and keeping them safe from the doubt and confusion.
I stood up.
“I’m sorry,” Thor said quietly. His voice no longer shook the window, walls, or floor. I had to strain my hearing to pick it up. “I didn’t realize....”
He didn't realize what? What was he trying not to say here? He didn't realize that going to the Ambrosia was a dumb plan? He didn't realize that his maybe-wife from another identity would be there to hunt me down and try to scratch my eyes out? He didn't realize that taking the time to have a domestic was not something he should prioritize over taking the time to save the universe (and me)?
I walked over to the window warily. I watched his shadow. I could see his shoulders heave up and down. He was breathing heavily (though gods don't breathe).
“Details, there is much to find out, and you can't help me if you are lying on your bed,” his tone returned to normal.
I stared at that shadow. It was the first time I’d looked not at Thor, but at the effect he cast on the objects around him. The shadow was solid, reassuring, real.
I needed real right now.
I pressed my teeth hard into my bottom lip. I felt... different. The hysteria was passing and the doubt was leaving with it.
“Come on, Details, don't make me come in there and knock you out with Mjollnir,” he said through a gruff laugh.
Thor. Yep, it was Thor.
“You do that,” I said, voice still unsure but growing in power with every breath, “And I'll be sure they revoke your current visa.”
“Details,” Thor boomed with a definite note of happiness that shook my window something chronic.
I crossed my arms and stared at his silhouette. It disappeared.
I heard his thundering steps as he rounded my porch, went through my broken door, and popped his golden-bearded face into my bedroom.
I crossed my arms and took a shaky breath (though I hoped the fact I was still shaking was hidden by the half-dark of the room).
“You should not have left the Ambrosia,” he said.
I narrowed my eyes and glared at him. “You shouldn't have gone to the Ambrosia in the first place—“
He put up a hand. “I was gathering information.”
“You were gathering empty beer mugs,” I shot back.
He took a sharp laugh, his mouth kinking up to the side in a familiar move. “You, of all people, must appreciate that the details of a situation are not always what they seem.”
I clutched my hands tighter around my middle. The statement brought up the familiar lick of uncertainty I'd been grappling with over the last couple of hours.
Thor watched me carefully. If I hadn’t known better, he'd said that on purpose to see how I would react. “Details,” he said after a deep breath, “I’m afraid this is more serious than I originally thought.”
Despite everything, I gave an abrupt snicker. “Really? You mean you are going to take the fact I'm being hunted down by gods seriously now? How nice of you.”
Thor's face didn't turn to stone at my snide comment, and he didn't reach behind him, rip off a chunk of wall, and throw it right at my head. No... he went silent. “Who are you, Details?”
I let out a sharp, involuntary breath. What a stupid question, I thought bitterly. Yet the thought shook through me. I swallowed. “You know the answer, don't be stupid—“
“I know more than you allow for,” his tone had a note of warning, but not a threatening one. This was his attempt to point out to me that, although he acted like a total and complete jerk/bully/nong most of the time, he was still privy to the kinds of divine secrets small-time goddesses would never learn. He'd done the same thing in God Hospital when he'd stopped time to stare at me.
While academically I appreciated he must know – and I hated to admit it – more than me, it was a fact I was usually willing to bury.
I sucked my lips in.
He pointed right at me. “I do not know who you are,” he said.
I locked my jaw together, not wanting and not capable of moving it.
“There is much to this situation that is strange.” He grabbed a hand to his chin and appeared to think.
My mind caught up to my body. “I'm Officina,” I said with a punctuated breath of air.
He looked down at me immediately, eyes blazing. “Who is that? Where do you come from? What pantheon? When did you arise? What is your mythology?”
I shook my head. No. I said to myself firmly. I didn't want to begin doubting myself again. The incident with the oak in the middle of the street... it had almost torn me in two. It had made me doubt the evidentiary base of everything I believed in –everything I was.
No. No. No.
“Officina, goddess of details, what is your legend?” Thor asked, a distinct note of authority in his voice. He was talking to me, not as a petulant-bully god, but as the combined champion of various divine pantheons across the globe.
“Stop this, Thor,” I wanted to say with finality, except my voice shook so much it sounded far more like a plea. “You know who I am, so stop this. I'm a goddess of details, I work at the Integration Office, I live in a cottage.” I shrugged my shoulders tightly, trying to indicate the godly shrine around me.
“But what is your legend?” He kept staring down at me, and the more he stared, the more he looked statuesque. The less and less he looked like the golden-bearded, hammer-carrying nong who would smash a sea monster only to let one of its wily tentacles kidnap a goddess by his feet. The less he looked like the kind of god who would leave you in your sitting room while his once-best-fried blew up your front door. Or the kind of god who would ignore a plea from his father to save the universe and instead indulge in some ale-sloshing party times.
The less and less he looked like the Thor I thought I knew, the more he looked like the Thor of legend – the Champion of the Nordic Gods.
I immediately dropped my gaze. It was a defense mechanism, I realized. If I wasn't looking at him, I wouldn't be able to pick up the change in his visage – the way his stature and stare became innately powerful. Seeing that change made me doubt – and it was a terrible, gut-wrenching doubt. It made me suspect that Thor had always been that way, but I’d chosen to see him as the godly equivalent of a teenage boy, supporting my conclusion by concentrating on all the wrong details.
I backed off.
“I will not harm you, Details, but tell me who you are,” his voice had a growing force.
I glanced at him then jerked my gaze away. In that quick move, I saw the same look I’d seen in the Ambrosia when he’d shaken me from my first leaf-filled hallucination. It was a look of searching. It was a look of loss. It also had a pressed, determined, frightening edge to it.
It was as though Thor was looking for something – something important enough to make the usually-contained god show a tender, uncontrolled emotion at odds with his boisterous and macho personality. As though he thought that whatever he looked for had something to do with me.
He must believe I stood between him and his goal.
Instinctively, I shifted to the side.
It didn't change the way he stared at me.
I shrugged my shoulders again, but it was a tight move. “I don't have a legend like you,” I pointed out in a single breath. “I'm not a big-time god, Thor,” I tried to reason with him.
He stood there, glaring down at me.
“Look,” I said desperately, “I don't know what you want me to tell you! I'm the goddess of details. I've always been the goddess of details—“
“Always?” he cut in sharply. “Always?”
That question sent a shiver down my spine – a cold and quick move that felt like a blizzard slicing down my back.
I shrugged again.
It was the best answer I could give.
Unfortunately it wasn't good enough for Thor.
“When did you arise?” he snapped. That look in his eye was only growing.
I unwrapped my arms and put my hands out in a peaceful move. “Look, I have a file, or a legend, if you want to put it like that.” I swallowed. “It's... it's not detailed,” I said the word, and as I said it, it gave me a terribly odd feeling. It was true. My origin story paradoxically wasn't that fact-filled. For the goddess of details, I had a murky past.
I... just arose one day. For centuries I wandered around in a haze. It wasn't until mankind learned to appreciate the necessity of details in reasoning that I began to form the personality (and control) I had now.
Thor was hardly going to like that peculiar origin story in his current mood.
He pointed a finger right at me. “Tell me.”
“I don't,” I sniffed, “I don't have a story like you. I'm a small-time goddess. I just appeared... or something.”
“You appeared,” he repeated my exact tone with an incredulous look crumpling his brow. “Goddesses do not simply appear.”
“Look,” I batted a hand at him and backed off again, “I did. I appeared. I can't remember where I came from. For centuries, for eons, I wandered around... looking at stuff. Okay? I was an airhead. I didn't do anything. I wasn't involved in any heroic battles. I didn't go on any legend-worthy adventures. I... I don't know, I just lay on a hill and smelt daisies and watched the clouds or something.” I spread my fingers wide and stiff and hoped like hell Thor wasn't going to respond to my story by bringing down the house with a lightning bolt.
He looked furious. Then his expression softened a tad. He raised an eyebrow. “That is not an origin story, Details. Gods do not appear and wander around aimlessly for years. They are born in battles, out of stars, in the fiery pits of mans’ imagination. A god must unfurl from a moment of concentrated, powerful belief. The belief must be enough to sustain, personify, and embody them. What you have described couldn’t sustain a divinity.”
Great. Just great. I didn't only have reason to doubt my senses and my sanity, but also my past, too.
I clamped a hand on my stomach as a whirlpool of bitterness took hold. I looked up at him. “Why are you doing this?” I gave a sharp breath. “Why are you coming in here acting like this?” I flapped my arms around, frustrated but unable to find the exact words to express myself. I couldn't put into a sentence how much I hated Thor right now. He’d come to anchor me, to save me, only to push me right back to the ledge I'd been standing on, then to push me off altogether. He'd given me hope, only to take it away. He'd unloaded my burden only to hurl more onto my shoulders. “Why are you doing this?” I asked far more sharply and bitterly.
Thor closed the gap between us in an instant. A snap didn't do justice to it – he came upon me faster than lightning.
His face was right next to mine.
He didn't say anything, just stared down at me with his eyes narrowed.
I hit him. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I balled up a hand and struck him right on the chest. It was a pathetic move, and it wasn't one that was going to achieve anything. The tiny fist of a tiny goddess against the full-body armor of a mythic god.
But sometimes the smallest of moves have the largest of effects.
Thor softened his expression. “I’m not doing this, Details – you are.”
I balled up a hand and hit him on the chest again.
How could I be doing this? How could this be my fault? Thor was... ahhh!
I hit him again.
He was useless. He was a nightmare. He was insufferable.
“You are the goddess of facts, and yet you do not know the facts of your own beginning. How can this be?” he asked, voice close enough to boom right through me like a clap of thunder.
“I don't know all facts,” I said through clenched teeth. “I don't know every detail – it doesn't work like that.”
“Then how does it work?”
I had no idea, so I hit him again. With every pathetic, desperate lashing-out, my determination was cut in half. It withered up and curled in on itself until my hand limply hung there, resting against the armor I couldn't hope to dent let alone break.
There was a moment of silence.
“I'm Officina, goddess of details and facts,” I said weakly.
The truth was, with every passing second, I knew less and less about who I was.
Thor grabbed a hand around my limply balled-up fist as it rested on his armor.
“There are more details in this universe than you can imagine, and yet you must rule them all. How?”
What? The frustration surged in me again. The question hung in the air. I was the goddess of details – all of them – and yet I had the apparent power of the God of Knit Wear. I could see where Thor was going here, but I didn't like it.
“Everything, all – there are details to be had in each and every thing. There are facts innumerable and infinite that can be drawn from every single process. You embody them, and yet you hardly have the power to dent my armor. How?” his voice hit that shaky note again.
The note was unsettling, unsettling in that way that shook parts of me I hardly knew existed.
He was still holding onto my hand, and though I didn’t want to accept the feeling, it held me in place.
“I don't know,” I admitted. “It doesn't work like that,” I tried to protest once more. It was a last ditch effort to hold onto the me I had always thought I was.
“I'm afraid it does,” he replied.
Oh god, I thought appropriately. It was the most fitting, logical, rational, wisest thought I’d entertained all day. I didn’t know what god I was. All I could do was generalize to whatever divinity would hear me.
My shoulders deflated, and in a snap, I lost all my fight.
Thor didn't let go of my hand, demand to know who I was, and smash some of my stuff to give me an incentive to tell him.
He didn't let go of my hand at all. As he held it, he took a heavy and noticeable sigh. As his chest moved up and down, so too did the hand that held mine. I was pulled along by every detail of the move.
“Right,” he said, letting go of me and taking an almighty and rattling sniff. “We need to get to work. No more wasting my time, Details.”
Snap: he was back to being the Thor I knew and mostly hated.
He looked over at me and he looked me up and down. “You are filthy.” He reached a hand forward and grabbed a tendril of my sand-caked hair.
I shuddered at the unexpected move.
Thor chuckled. “You look like a swine that has been rolling in mud. You are not the goddess of muck, Details.” He let the tendril of hair go. “Not that we know of.” He shrugged his shoulders and enjoyed another laugh.
Snap: he could change personalities just like that. One minute he stared me down, questioning the life out of me as he searched for something dear to his soul. The next, he was cracking unfunny jokes only he could laugh at.
If Thor wasn't a god who – for divine cross-pantheon purposes – had a legitimately split identity, I would start to suspect the guy had a personality disorder.
I shook my head and tried to ignore the bare warmth that remained on my skin from where Thor's fingers had brushed across my cheek.
He pointed right at me. “Are you going to bathe? Are you going to change out of your ridiculous,” he snorted as he looked at my outfit, “Inappropriate clothes? I cannot promise you will not get dirty again – you most certainly will. But please have the dignity to do it in a toga.” He clamped his hands on his hips and posed heroically, though his last statement had been a pitch for a dress that both men and women could enjoy – not something that required the spruiking of a Nordic god in body armor.
I ran a hand through my hair (or tried to) and shook my head.
“We must investigate this, Details,” Thor said with his hands still on his hips, then he pointed my way. “We must investigate you.” There was a wicked flicker in his eyes as he finished his words.
I ignored it and tried to look dignified while standing around in my smashed-up bedroom in a dirty trench coat and dirtier PJ’s. “What's the big plan, then?” I flicked my hair over my shoulder. “Going back to the Ambrosia so you can have at least a hundred beers between each thought?” I crossed my arms, not wanting to let him dominate this conversation through his ability to switch between caring and being a complete nong. “You know, just so you don't tax yourself.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You attempt sarcasm, Details. Where are your priorities? I would have thought that you – of all people – would enjoy the prospect of getting clean.”
I snorted, not wanting to admit how tantalizing that prospect was.
“The plan, Details – which I will continue to call you until we can replace it with a more appropriate name like Paperwork, or Goddess of Getting Kidnapped by Sea Monsters while Climbing Ladders.” His eyes sparkled.
I looked at him with my lip twitching.
“The plan, Details, is to head to the Immigration Office. There, you will open up a file on yourself.” He kept posing, trying to underline with his tight posture how tight he thought the plan was.
“Right.... I don't see how that will help. I have seen my own file, and I remember all the details—“
“I have access that you do not. Also, in your current state,” he nodded towards me, “I do not trust you to be able to pick out the important facts.”
What a jerk. What a total jerk. He'd gone from holding my hand to happily shrugging and admitting I was mad and untrustworthy.
“Plus,” he let his voice echo and a mischievous grin spread across his face, “While you are in your office, Details. You can do us both a favor.”
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. A favor for Thor? What would that entail?
“Because of the seriousness of this situation, it is clear to me that I cannot allow myself to be hindered.” He took another rattling manly sniff.
Hindered? What? He wanted me to lock myself in a cupboard so I wasn't a liability to him while he ran around Earth smashing up the goons and bad guys? “What do you want, Thor?” I asked when I realized he was too busy enjoying the moment to fill me in on the plan.
“You are going to grant full working visas to every single one of my divine identities,” he said with finality, and boy did he mean it.
My mouth froze in place, then I shook my head firmly. “Not on your life, sunshine,” I snapped. Grant full working visas to every single one of Thor's identities, all at the same time? Dear lord (literally), that would be a nightmare. That would mean Thor would have access to every single power, visage, personality-trait, and belonging of Zeus and Jupiter at the same time. It would be a total, and destructive, nightmare.
Thor ignored me. “While you are there, you can remove all restrictions on Jupiter and Zeus. I will need the ability to travel freely everywhere.”
I snorted. This god was a fool.
A part of me realized that while I ran through the reasons why I wasn't going to grant Thor what he wanted, I was more of myself than I’d been in days. The prospect of getting back to work was reminding me of who I was.
“Also,” he brought up a hand and appeared to tick off his wish list on his massive fingers, “I would like to ensure that no retaliatory actions can be taken against me for...” he stuck out his bottom lip, “Any indiscretions that might occur on my behalf.”
I snorted again. The prospect of denying Thor's idiotic application was bringing me back to myself in such a comforting, reassuring way. Clearly all I needed was a great big pile of ridiculous visa applications and a rejection stamp. I lifted a hand to push up the glasses I wasn't wearing. “There is no way—“
“There is every way,” he let his voice bottom out in that same tone he always used to threaten me when it came around to his visa assessments. “You will make it happen.”
“Let me get this right,” I crossed my arms and stared up at him, “You think I’m not only going to give you three visas, but I’m going to ensure you don't get in any trouble if you break any rules. Wow.” I made the word pop with my lips. “How about no.”
“Tie my hands, Details, and you might as well offer yourself up to your kidnappers. I’m doing this to protect you.” He kept his arms crossed and one eyebrow raised.
Sure, he was doing it for me. If doing it for me meant he was doing it for the prospect of having as many drunken brawls as he could with impunity.
“If you want to find out what is happening to you, how to stop it, and who you are,” he added the last one in a quieter, more thoughtful tone, “You will need my help. If you handicap me,” he shrugged his shoulders and trailed off.
He was, presumably, attempting to tell me that if I handicapped him by refusing to wave the rules, he'd be as useless as a soggy old rag when it came to battling gods. Which was a total lie. Up until now, he'd been fine at saving me – if a little slow. Being Thor, and having Mjollnir or course, was enough. He didn't need the ability to wear yacht pants, carry around gold-plated guns, and be generally and hairily above the law too.
“You'll do fine as you are,” I clicked my tongue. “Plus—“ I began.
He put up a hand and shook his head. “Please don't pretend to think in your current state, Details. I saw you when I came in – you are breaking apart,” he said the words without a hint of sympathy. “You are beginning to doubt who you are. You are having visions. Flashes of things you do not understand.” He still had an eyebrow raised as he stared down at me. “In your current state,” he thumped a hand on his breast plate, “Let me make the decisions. Your last decision saw you curling up on your bed like a...” he paused to search for a word.
What was he going to say? Like a girl? Like a frightened child? Like something abjectly foolish and pathetic?
“Like someone who,” he clicked his fingers, “Cannot win.”
“You mean a loser,” I supplied with a stony look.
“Yes.” He clicked his fingers again, excited that I knew what he was talking about. “Somebody who cannot know victory through their own general weakness and inability to try.”
My nostrils flared. He was such a bloody, freaking, god-sized turd.
“Details, we will go to the Integration Office, and you will grant me all that I ask. In exchange, I commit to keeping you safe,” he gave a bow, “And finding out who you are.” He flicked his gaze up at me.
I gave a small shudder but tried to ignore it immediately.
“For now you will bathe.” He flopped a hand at me. “You smell of an unsavory mix of sand, seawater, and general filth. You offend my nostrils. You also look unappealing.” He noted with a genuine nod of his head.
Words couldn't express how much I hated this guy.
“Go, bathe. You will be safe in your own temple,” he said the last word with a look that suggested he'd swallowed something nasty. “As long as I’m here, no vagabonds, gods, or evil creatures will assail your walls.”
I glanced over at my bullet-hole-covered walls. They were already assailed.
But I realized that a bath was what I could use right now. A quick one – enough to get this awful gritty sand from my hair. Thor, though I hated to admit it, was right: I would be safe as long as he sat on my porch with Mjollnir, sneering at potential attackers/ women walking their dogs late at night.
I still wasn't going to grant his visa applications, though.
“Go bathe.” He flopped a hand at me again, shooing me out of the room. “Unless you need a hand, that is?” he asked with a curled-lip smile.
I sneered at him and walked from the room. “You want to do something handy, Thor? Fix my bloody door.”
I went to have a bath.
The feeling of warm, clean water surrounding me was the most glorious experience I'd had in days. It was comforting to be able to relax back in my simple, white bathtub and watch a single candle flickering on the bench beside me. It was such a stark difference to running away from gods and sea monsters.
Though the thought of it pained me, it was comforting to know that Thor was nearby to ensure no militant/cycloptic girl guides tried to force their way into my cottage temple.
Then again, he was probably destroying my stuff as I languidly lay in the bath. Or worse, he would be searching through it. I imagined him grabbing my basket of old weather reports – the one I kept in my lounge room – and sniggering until he cried tears. That, or he'd be outside chewing on my roses as he read through one of the many diaries I had that kept a meticulous record of my days.
The damn brute. I didn't know how to deal with him. He was a firecracker of a nong. What was worse, he was always more in control than me.
I sunk farther into the hot water, allowing it to lap over my closed lips.
I swirled my fingers around in the water, creating small eddies and vortices.
At least I wasn't sandy anymore. About the only thing that I could be happy for. After this lovely, but brief, bath, I imagined things would get dirty again. They'd get loud, they'd get ridiculous, they'd get out of control. In the middle of it all would be the loudest, dirtiest, and most controlling nong of them all – Thor.
I sighed again.
“Details,” Thor thundered from the door.
I gave a startled jump. “Don't you come in here, Thor,” I snapped.
He paused in silence, then laughed heartily. “Are you threatening me again, Details? I have told you, you cannot best me in battle. Do not provoke me.”
I stared at the door. I would not put it past the giant cactus to burst in and laugh at me while waggling his eyebrows.
“You have bathed for long enough. We must save the world.”
I glared harder at the door. If I was the goddess of deathly stares, then the door would have turned into dust by now.
That thought sent an unsettled feeling mucking up my stomach. It reminded me that, if Thor was right and wasn't playing an outrageous game with me, then I couldn't be sure of what goddess I was. All these years I could have been convinced that I was the goddess of details and facts, only to be wrong.
What was my legend? Where did I come from?
“Details? You have gone quiet. Are sea monsters attacking you from the drains? Do you require rescue, again?” he said the last word with enough sarcasm to impress a school-full of rebellious teenagers.
The door handle rattled.
I leapt up from the bath immediately, water sloshing everywhere, and grabbed for my bathrobe.
The door, despite being locked, opened anyway. In strode Thor (keeping in mind that my bathroom was only small and couldn't permit too many strides from a giant Nordic god).
I had enough time to whip my bathrobe on and to prepare a shocked and indignant glare.
“Details,” he said with a cheeky smile fattening his cheeks. He looked down at the bath and appeared to inspect it. “There are no sea monsters there, unless they are of the pitifully small variety.” He pressed his fingers together in case I didn't understand how small he was talking about here.
“Excuse me,” I blustered at him, “But where I come from, you don't walk into people's bathrooms while they are in the middle of taking a bath!” I stamped my foot.
He looked down at my foot then up at my face. “Where do you come from? Where I come from, I walk into bathhouses all the time. Two of the places I come from, anyway.” He shrugged his shoulders.
I clutched at my bathrobe, aware that my knuckles were as white as the toweling fabric that surrounded me. What a lecherous jerk. “Thor,” I looked up at him, “What would Hera think if she heard about this?”
At the mention of his half-wife's name from another identity, Thor lost the act. He paled. “She wouldn't think, she'd hit me.” He shrugged his shoulders, and this time it was a far more genuine move.
“Right,” I said, happy that the mention of his paranoid, but still legitimate half-wife was enough to make my point. “I'm going to go get dressed. Then I'm going to reject your visa application.” I mentioned over my shoulder as I headed for my bedroom.
Thor followed right behind me. He paused at my bedroom door.
I had to turn and look at him pointedly. “I'm going to get dressed alone,” I pointed out, “I'm a big goddess, and I know how to put a sweater on.”
“Toga,” he said automatically. “I thought we discussed how—“
Luckily my bedroom door hadn't been damaged in Loki’s attack on my house, and I took the time to slam it in Thor's face.
I waited several moments, ensuring Thor wasn't going to open it/kick it down/hammer it to pieces with Mjollnir.
When it remained firmly closed, I dressed. I didn't put on a toga. I may not know what goddess I was, but I still wasn't one of those goddesses. Which was a comforting thought; it reminded me that regardless of what I found out about my past and my true powers, it would still not invalidate the life I’d been leading to-date. It would frame it in a different reference. Who I was – all those books, muffins, roses, and mulching – wasn't going to be wiped away if I found out I was the goddess of rejecting foolish god ideas. It would still remain as part of my history, I would just look at it differently....
I grabbed something sensible. No skirt and heels for me, thank you. I put on a sensible pair of black work pants, a sensible shirt, and a sensible pair of shoes. I tied my hair into a sensible bun. If Thor was right – and I hoped he was wrong – and this all did end up with a god battle somewhere, I knew for a fact a toga wouldn't be a helpful thing to wear. Toga's had a habit of snagging on broken tree branches/spears of war gods who were chasing you. They also had a habit of slipping down at inappropriate moments.
I patted my clothes neatly and reached over to pluck up a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses from my dresser. I stopped. I didn't need glasses. I had no problem with my vision.
My hand hovered there. My fingers closed around the glasses and I pushed them onto my face anyway.
I didn't care if I didn't need them. I wanted to wear them.
I walked over to my door and opened it again dramatically.
Thor wasn't there.
He'd been shadowing my every move, and now he'd nicked off. I checked through my bedroom window to ensure he wasn't hanging around there staring in through the gap in the curtains like a creepy giant stalker.
I heard noises from the kitchen.
I marched there only to find Thor with his head in my pantry. He had two tins worth of cookies and slices in his arms, and he had almost devoured his way through both of them.
I let my lips slide open and I stared at him.
He stared blankly back as he finished a swallow. “These are okay,” he shrugged his shoulders then wiped his fingers on my pantry door, “But I could do with a beer to wash them down.” He looked at what I was wearing. “Unless the fashion in togas has changed in the past two minutes, then you have disobeyed a direct order and are not dressed appropriately for divine adventures.”
I shook my head and pushed my glasses further up my nose. “You can't order me around, Thor – I don't belong to your pantheon.”
“That you know of, Details.” He dropped the tins, having finished their contents, and waggled a finger at me.
“Precisely,” I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow before he could, “For all you know, I could be from the Indian pantheon, or Chinese.”
“You don't look Chinese,” he pointed out with an easy shrug. He appeared to find more crumbs on his fingers and wiped them on the rack of clean tea towels behind my pantry door – all of them.
I responded by pushing my glasses further up my nose, though they hadn't slipped down from the last time. “You are a slob.”
“And you don't need glasses.” He walked past me and whipped my glasses off in a quick move that saw me unable to respond.
When I tried to snatch them off him, he used his superior height and held them aloft with one arm.
Yes, that's right, like a child keeping a toy from a younger sibling. There was no way I was going to jump for them. I did, however, consider a quick junk punch – that would fell the brute. If he wasn't Thor, that was.
Instead, I settled for turning sharply and heading for the back door. “Are you going to act childishly in my kitchen all morning, or are we going to do something proactive about saving the world?”
“Childishly?” he repeated, tone neutral.
He wasn't going to comeback with “Takes one to know one,” was he? If this was going to degenerate that far, then I was ready to call Odin and have him pick up his son before the crotchety big baby needed a diaper change.
“Where are you going?” He brought down the arm that held my glasses aloft and stared at the rims thoughtfully.
I thought he was going to offer them back to me – realizing that the game was not funny to people who were divine and much, much older than preschoolers (by a factor of eternity). But as soon as I made a step towards them, he crushed them in one of his giant hands.
The glass was just so much dust as it filtered through his fingers.
My jaw could have dropped off.
“You do not need glasses, Details,” he said. “You hide behind them.”
“You, you—“ I couldn't form the words, but oh boy did I want to tell him how much of a giant, universe-sized jerk he was.
He wiped his glass-covered hand on the apron strung up on a hook by my pantry. “If you are to find out who you are, then you can no longer hide from me.” He turned to the side, too quickly for me to see his exact expression.
I saw my solid, cast-iron frying pan in my peripheral vision, and I was seconds from reaching over, grabbing it, and whacking Thor right on the nose.
“Details, we must go.” He headed towards my living room.
“The nearest God Transport Hub is this way,” I said through clenched teeth as I pointed out of my back door.
“You have one in between the room in which you read and sleep. I thought you would have noticed that,” he said casually as he walked for the door.
Yes. There was that. “You can't use it to get to the Immigration Office,” I said through clenched teeth as I followed him.
“Perhaps if I was as uncreative as you, Details, that statement would be true.” He burst into my living room with the kind of drama and gravitas that my living room door didn’t enjoy. The damn thing fell off its hinges.
I watched the door clatter to the floor.
Words couldn’t express....
“This temple of yours requires work, Details. Also, I have found through years of experience that marble is a sturdier building material.”
If I kicked him in the back of his legs, would I break my foot? Or would I just bruise it?
Thor stopped in front of the door that led to my tamed, library-loving spatial anomaly.
“It only goes to libraries,” I pointed out with the lowest, most annoyed tone I could manage.
“Perhaps for boring goddesses, like yourself. But there's one thing you should know about me, Details.” He paused to look over at me dramatically.
Oh, there were plenty of things I should know about him. All of them were as annoying and useless as the next. “What's that, Thor? That you still sleep with a teddy bear?”
He looked confused. “Who is this Teddy? Has he been spreading rumors that he has shared my bed?”
My bottom lip wobbled, but I tried to look as stony as I could. “It is a small toy in the shape of a bear.”
“I see, you use it to remind yourself – as a visually striking image – to dream of fighting bears and other creatures of great strength. Fitting images to dream of. I see,” he looked thoughtful, “I will have to look into these Teddy Bears.”
I could kill him, and, who knew, I would by the end of this all.
“But there is another thing you should know about me: I’m anything but boring,” he admitted with a flash of a smile.
I rolled my eyes, but not before he simultaneously grabbed for my wrist and wrenched the door open. He plunged us both through the gaping anomaly before I had time to register what was going on.
I stumbled right out of a broom closet in the center of the Integration Office. Not the front door, mind you – but a broom closet.
The god of cleaning stood right outside of it, blinking.
Thor walked out behind me, grinning lasciviously.
The cleaning god raised one arched eyebrow, then looked slowly from Thor to me. He shook his head at me and walked off.
I tugged firmly on my shirt. “It's not what you think, Barney,” I called after him. “I—“
“She likes tight, enclosed spaces,” Thor called in a louder voice. “Or at least she likes sharing them with—“
I stood sharply on Thor's boot. It hardly made an indent, but it did shut him up.
“Do you mind?” I turned on him, breath caught in the top of my chest. I was beginning to learn that I had untapped feelings that Thor was helping me to bring to the surface – feelings of exquisite embarrassment and indignation, mostly. “I work with him. How dare you—“
“Shut up, Details.” Thor marched past me. “Where is your office?”
I stared at him, my mouth opened, all muscle control lost. I couldn't deal with this guy, I just couldn't.
“Is there something wrong with your jaw?” He flicked a curious look my way, then turned this way and that as he tried to figure out for himself where we were. “Ah ha,” he said, “I remember this corridor. I remember this broom cupboard,” he said with a thoughtful look. “You aren't the first goddess I've shared it with, let's put it that way.” He let his grin spread further.
He was doing this to wind me up – I knew that, academically. But it didn't stop the hot flush from escaping over my cheeks. It didn't stop me from gripping my fingernails into my palms in an effort not to scream at him so loudly that I cracked the ceiling.
This was all the height of fun for him. While he was having a hell of a laugh, he was bringing my reputation along for his unsavory ride.
What would Barney think of me now?
“You know, for a goddess, you spend too much time worrying what people think about you,” Thor pointed out as he strode off. He was reading my mind.
“I've seen too many gods who no longer care, and I don't want to be one of those. They tend to be of the arrogant and insufferable variety,” I said pointedly.
“The junction between faith in yourself and belief in the view of others is one that only the powerful can navigate, this is true. You – you care. You dress in human clothes, you follow their customs, you make their slices and delicious baked goods. You seem to care how you appear. Yet you have no idea how it is that you really look.” He glanced at me as he strode on. “Is that not a paradox, Details?”
“It's not a paradox, and it's not strange,” I said, ineloquently. I followed it up with a huff.
“I see. It often takes more – much more – than the words of another to enable someone to change their worldview.” He tipped his head up as he spoke, fancying it made him look more in-control – giving his words that extra, divine authority.
It gave a better view of his nostrils. “Let's get to my office and get this over with.” I glared at him. I was beginning to realize that Thor – in his current mood – was not something I wanted walking around the Integration Office. The sooner we did what we had to and the sooner we were out of here, the better. I still wanted to have a job where I could show up with a measure of dignity and authority once this was done. That meant that I had to focus on managing Thor like a mother must concentrate on ensuring her unruly children don't tear apart the candy section of the super market.
“You are being determined. Well done, Details.” Thor nodded sagely.
When this was over, I was going to ensure that every single visa application this brute put in would be rejected for the rest of eternity.
We made it to my office, and thankfully we didn't run into any more of my colleagues. I could trust Thor, about as far as I could throw him. Which was not at all.
Opening the door to my office and walking in sent an oddly familiar and pleasant sensation alighting across my middle. It felt a lot like everything was normal upon coming in and seeing my desk with all its neat stationary and my clean, comfortable chair.
I let out a sigh.
“You miss this that much?” Thor said immediately from behind me.
It was all those ales, I tried to reason. They must be making him infuriating. Or it was the prospect that soon he would be (at least in his mind) happily cavorting on Earth with three functional simultaneous visas.
“Yes,” I answered. “I do miss it.” I didn't bother to elaborate. I hardly thought that Thor, of all gods, would be able to appreciate how comforting it was to be able to walk into a room where all you'd done were normal things. I didn’t associate any sea-monster attacks or kidnappings or seeing oaks in the middle of the street with my office. Every memory I had of this place (that didn't involve Thor/Zeus/Jupiter) tended to be relatively pleasant. Far more pleasant than my last couple of days.
Not for the first time, I wondered whether sitting down at my desk and getting on with my job would make all my problems disappear.
Thor walked over to my chair and flopped down on it. He then raised his giant feet and plonked them onto my desk.
The wood underneath him groaned with the weight.
My lips slowly parted.
Thor rested his head in his arms and grinned back at me. “Whip out a couple of those visas, and lets have those sacred contracts signed. Things to do, after all.”
“Get out of my chair, and get your feet off my desk,” I snapped at him and tried to push his feet down. It was a tireless, fruitless, and unwinnable task.
Thor watched me with interest. Somewhat like a human might watch an ambitious ant who picks up too much weight to carry. “Are you done yet?”
I sighed heavily and gave up. “I’m not going to approve three visas for you, Thor,” I said. “You are dreaming if you think—“
“Details, what do you think will happen to you if...” Thor shifted his jaw to the side, expression hardening, “Those who are after you manage to find you again?”
He couldn't say Loki – he couldn't mention his name. Though I was in a Thor-hating mode, I still had a measure of sense left in me. If Thor was going to play the game of referring to Loki as “a god who was after me,” then I'd have to play along too.
I didn't answer his question. I picked at some non-existent fluff on my shirt cuffs. “I'm not going to approve your—“
Thor twisted in the chair to stare at me more directly – but he didn't remove his feet from my desk. “It will be unpleasant, Details.”
“More unpleasant than being with you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow as I still picked at my cuffs.
A grin spread across his lips. “Details,” he said carefully, “Must I point out that you have never been with me?” He looked thoughtful. “That I remember. I have to say, I do lose track of these things.”
These things? Were all the numerous mortals and goddesses he (or mostly Zeus) had courted over the years just things to him? Wow, what a super dignified way of referring to living souls. Well done, Mr Universal Jerk.
I shook my head over and over again. I wanted to point out that a) it wasn’t what I'd meant, and he knew it, and that b) I was starting to wonder if Loki and his gang wouldn't be a better option than spending my time with Thor the godly ass. Before I could speak, Thor removed his feet from my desk, and the wood seemed to spring back with a relief-filled groan.
“Yes, Details,” he appeared to look serious, “Being with me is a far, far better option. You play, you jest, but the reality would haunt you. Their intentions – whatever they are – are of the malicious variety.”
His words and his serious tone seemed to hang in the air.
He was doing it again. He was controlling the entire conversation by switching between being uncaring and startlingly sincere.
“Thor, no – I’m not going to sign those—“
“Details, be reasonable. We – together – must do everything we can to track this problem down. We must – together – do everything we can to bring those gods to justice. We must – together – do everything we can to keep you, and this planet, safe. Do you not understand how important this is, Details?” his voice echoed with a seemingly undeniable genuineness.
Together? By together did he mean that he would leave me at home while he got to business smashing skulls? Or that I could sit by his elbow as he looked for clues in the way his ale splashed in the bottom of his mug?
I patted my bun and tried not to boil to death under the pressure of my own frustration and anger. “You say this, but then you are going to go to the Ambrosia, have a fight as Thor, then one as Jupiter, and one as Zeus. I know you, Thor—“
He shook his head sharply. “You do not. You do not know yourself. How can you know another?”
That's it, I was going to have to resort to hitting him over the head with something heavy. It was the only option left open to me.
“Details,” he sighed heavily, directing his head down as he stared at his hands. He did something unexpected – he pulled Mjollnir from his belt and rested it on the desk. He didn't bust it down with a resounding thump – physically winning the argument through strength rather than reason.
He just rested it there. He pointed to it. “Try to pick it up,” he motioned towards the hilt.
I took an obvious blink. He was wasting our time again. Everyone knew that no one but Thor could pick up his hammer. It was bonded to him. “Thor, don't be—“
“Try to pick it up, Details,” he said with greater insistence.
He tapped the hilt.
Mjollnir wasn't a hammer; it was a magical hammer. It could hit anything that Thor wanted it to. It could strike with as much force as Thor wanted it to. It would always make its way back to his grip no matter how far he threw it.
I couldn't pick it up.
“Pick it up,” he said, voice vibrating on that frightful edge it had when he'd made time virtually stop.
Sighing, rolling my eyes, and trying to show him how stupid I thought this was, I placed my hand on the hilt. I attempted to lift it. I couldn’t.
I gave it another go – trying to prove to him that, yes, I was trying here. The hammer was immovable. It felt like I was trying to move the whole universe with the strength of my pinkie.
“Are you happy now?” I let the hilt of the hammer go and put my hands on my hips.
“No,” he said, genuinely. He stood up and towered over me. He looked serious, divinely serious. “Do you know why you can't pick it up, Details?”
I didn't want to let his tone and the endless look in his eyes railroad me. I didn't want to fall for another twist in the Thor-mood wheel that would see him getting away with acting like an ass for 99% of the time only to pull it back with the occasional wise one-liner. “It is your bloody hammer, Thor. It's magical and it is bound to you.”
He shook his head slowly, hair shifting visibly over his shoulders. “These reasons to do not account for the truth.” He looked at me pointedly, waiting for me to try again.
What was this, god school? Was he going to stand here and question me until I got the right answer?
I threw my hands up. “I don't know then. I'm a weak goddess—“
“It's because you don't want to pick it up,” he cut in. His tone was... endless again. He was speaking the truth. He was speaking with the authority and knowledge of the divine (which wasn't as common as you would expect when you dealt with gods all day).
I don't want to pick it up. Great, this was going to degenerate into another Thor chest-pumping lesson in victory. If I wanted to be motivated, I'd go get some self-help CDs from the library.
“Do you know why you do not want to pick it up?” he asked, tone stretching, elongating, becoming everlasting.
“I don't want to pull a muscle?” I answered facetiously. Anymore Socratic-method mid-crisis teachings from Thor and I'd turn into a rebellious school child.
“You don't want the responsibility.” Thor grabbed Mjollnir and looped it back into his belt. He stared at me. “I have this hammer so that I may use it to defend the gods at Ragnarok. I have this hammer so that I may protect all of creation at the last battle of the gods. There, Details, I will die.”
The last word hit a note, and boy did it ring. Mjollnir picked up the same note and it... shifted through everything.
I blinked. He wasn't lying, I knew that. I knew the legend.
I felt cold and unashamedly gave a shiver.
“You cannot pick up Mjollnir, because you cannot give your life at Ragnarok. That is my destiny alone.”
I blinked several more times and found myself looking at everything but Thor.
That sad, haunting note died away, and Mjollnir grew silent. It was an empty silence.
I knew about Ragnarok. All Earth gods did. It was far off – it was the end of gods, it was hardly going to happen next Tuesday.... that I knew of.
“We do not know when it will happen, Officina,” he used my real name, if it was my real name, “We must be vigilant. For this, for this I ask you to grant me three concurrent working visas.”
The last statement was at odds with the dramatic end-of-the-gods talk that had preceded it, and Thor's tone had lifted. Yet the whole sentiment behind it remained. I fancied Mjollnir was still managing to sing a silent, mournful note into the room.
I slowly looked up at Thor. Technically, the threat of Ragnarok would be the kind of reason that would allow me to grant three simultaneous working visas to Thor, and to wipe away the records of all past transgressions. Due to the complicated interconnected way that the pantheons worked, the threat of Ragnarok was not just a threat for the Nordic Gods. Not this time. In the past, before the Integration Office had established the clear connections between the pantheons to enable a smooth and efficient immigration process, Ragnarok would have just involved Odin and his kin. Not anymore.
The gods were connected, which meant their myths intertwined.
Ragnorak, if allowed to happen, could kill not just Nordic gods, but all gods....
Thor looked over me, stopping time with his gaze.
I couldn't deny that he was serious and that the situation was serious to boot.
He kept holding my gaze, and it was clear from his demeanor that he was in victory mode. There was no way he was going to accept no as an answer. I could tell from the endless expanse behind those eyes that he would shift stars to get his way.
... I caved.
I took an enormous sigh and rolled my eyes – hoping he could see how much of a burden this was.
He cracked a grin, snapping from serious, I'm-going-to-die-at-Ragnarok mode in an instant. Except it wasn’t true, because there was a reserve of tension underneath his eyes that made them fall into shadows.
“You do me a service, Details.” He clapped his hands together with such a great big whoop that several unsecured papers fluttered off my desk.
He didn't follow up his admission with something nice like “I'll buy you whatever you want,” or “I'll protect you rather than ditching you for more booze and broads.” Nope, he clapped once – somewhat like he was catching a fly between his giant palms (and that fly was me).
He then reached for the drawer where he knew – from experience – I kept the blank contracts that a god had to sign once their application was accepted.
I watched him like you might a full-speed train as it headed towards your broken-down car on the tracks – with a total inability to stop the crash I knew was about to happen. With Thor/Zeus/Jupiter bounding around Earth all at once, things were bound to get loud and destructive.
He flicked me a glance as he grabbed the pen in my inkwell and signed his name to the contract. “Cheer up, Details,” he said as he finished signing the contracts and dumped my still inky pen back on my desk, “This is the first step in something—“
“Divinely terrifying,” I finished for him.
The end. Thank you for reading Modern Goddess: Trapped by Thor (Book One). The conclusion to this story – Modern Goddess: Trapped by Thor (Book Two) – is currently available.