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When an unusual man comes into the protection of Officer Liam Phillips, Liam doesn’t know what he’s in for. His world gets broadened and turned upside down in this adventure of love, sex, gods, a one-quarter equine, and a vacation he will never forget.
7:50 p.m., June 21st
The jet began to shudder and shake.
“Mr. Adrianus,” said the flight attendant, “we are experiencing some turbulence. May I stow your bag for you, sir?”
She stood over him, the only flight attendant on the private Lear jet, wearing her red uniform and pillbox hat, performing her job as anyone should expect. They had only an hour left of the flight, and the bag in question lay in the window seat beside him. He rested his hand upon it, knowing it contained the dagger given to him by the woman who called herself Happiness, so he felt protective and defensive of it. “This is the second time you have asked me during this flight,” he said, “so for the last time, no, and if you ask me once more, I will fire you.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I’m merely trying to keep you safe.”
Adrianus tilted his head looking up at her, he laughed a little and shook his head. Turning his gaze out the window at the sunlit clouds during that last hour before sunset, he recalled years earlier during one of the many times he killed himself off. While on a solo flight, he allowed himself to endure a plane crash, having left all his money to a nonexistent son whose identity he would assume, so he could eventually claim it. By her reflection in the window, he could see the flight attendant hadn’t left his side, he raised the crystal lowball glass in his hand to her. “Just pour me another.”
He had watched the 4K video on the tablet several times. What he found so ironic and galling is that Henri believed he outlived his child, and yet, hundreds of years later, there he sat on a private jet headed to Miami. Over time, he had evolved into the perfect model of a man both lonely and friendless, who had just outlived the father he never knew, while this Ronan person, who Henri knew only a few years, had received all the love and companionship that should have come to Adrianus by birth. He knew Ronan carried no fault for that, but he hated him for it anyway.
In the video, the fire passed from his father to Ronan, after which, Adrianus saw his father fall to ash and the skinny young man lying there for the entire night in that awkward position, undisturbed, unconscious, and unmoving. The next morning, as the sun began to rise and the light level increased enough to see, it showed that Ronan had never moved, but he appeared different from the man his father had placed onto the ground the previous evening. No longer skinny, his body had swollen with muscle, and he seemed taller.
A few minutes before eight that morning, a female jogger of about thirty, dressed in running tights and a t-shirt came upon the man.
She pulled the earbuds from her ears when she stopped. Sounding disgusted, she said, “Oh no, another drunk.” Bending over him a little, she gave his body a closer inspection. “My god, it’s the man from Nantucket.” She knocked at Ronan’s leg with her running shoe. “Hey, you can’t stay here. Get up and move along, will you?” He never moved, so she shook her head in dismay and called the police. She noticed something off-camera, retrieved it, and tried to cover the man’s genitals by scooping them up with the red solo cup she found, but it refused to stay put. With her hand, she pushed down on the cup and attempted to wedge it into place by moving him into an even more awkward position with her foot. A few minutes later two other people loomed over the man, and not long after that, a policeman arrived driving an olive-colored Jeep.
Adrianus noted the license plate, and given an opportune moment, the video had the officer at the perfect angle. He zoomed in and could easily read his name tag, L. Phillips, and his sleeve had a patch stitched with the words The Village of Key Biscayne. He concluded, by the officer’s concern that he most likely drove him to a hospital. He made an online search and based on the distance, Mercy Hospital seemed most likely, so Adrianus would start there when he could talk to the morning shift.
Thinking of killing the man on the video with his own hands, he thought, “I’m too wealthy to kill someone myself. That’s what money is for!” He couldn’t imagine any hitman agreeing to use the dagger when they probably had their preferred methods, and he wouldn’t know how to acquire a hitman anyway, not that that would present the greatest complication. He accepted what the woman had told him with relative ease because he had lived for hundreds of years. He couldn’t imagine how a mortal not already exposed to anything otherworldly would view the dagger given to him by the woman. He gazed into his glass and stared transfixed at the single transparent sphere of ice that chilled his drink and the light fog that had settled over his whisky.
After the woman had vanished from his office, he studied the dagger. The metal of its handle and scabbard he had never seen before, but the curiousness of it paled when he unsheathed it. He beheld a transparent blade whose subtle vaporous wisps from the sharpened edges and pointed tip vanished into the air around it, manifesting its ethereal nature.
Waking from his thoughts, he asked himself, “What sort of magic is this?” He lifted the drink the flight attendant had brought him to his mouth and downed it in one gulp, but the thirst of his anxiety remained parched, and he demanded another.
The aptly named lucky fox, Felix Raposo, worked as a bellhop at the luxury boutique hotel on Miami Beach called The Cerulean Sea Hotel and Spa. He had worked there for a year, and not once had anyone mentioned the little side-hustle he had going with the owner/night manager, Mr. Moreno, who covered for him.
The handsome nineteen-year-old of Puerto Rican descent took pride in his considerable abilities and the unblemished, sienna-skinned body that displayed the virile athleticism for which he was known. And by word of mouth alone, new clients gathered to him faster than he could ever have imagined. Monday through Thursday, he could count on having one client a night—two at most. However, from Friday at check-in through Monday morning at checkout, he could have a dozen clients, and many of them stayed at the hotel just for an experience that only Felix seemed capable of providing.
One such client, the math teacher from a local middle school, learned that his best friend, the teacher of English Literature, hadn’t exaggerated in his assessment of him, rewriting and repurposing a famous Shakespearean quote from Hamlet, “What a piece of work is Felix. How solicitous in spirit. How seductive in speech. In form and movement, how capable and confident. In action, how like a lord. And in pleasure, how like a god.”
With the math teacher both contented and fast asleep, Felix took a quick shower, redressed in his cream-colored uniform, pocketed the money left for him on the table by the television, and quietly closed the door behind him. In the elevator to the lobby, he counted the cash and tucked half of it into his wallet. The other half he held in his hand to slip to the owner who crammed it into his pocket before anyone noticed.
Mr. Moreno was not Felix’s pimp. They had a reciprocal arrangement. Mr. Moreno pretended to hire him as a bellhop, and that allowed Felix to hire Mr. Moreno to cover for him with other employees while taking care of a client rather than taking care of someone’s baggage.
Unlike some boutique hotels, The Cerulean Sea Hotel was not a Dadaist’s dream, nor one that, upon entry, screamed MIAMI in a pastel nightmare of neon capital lettering. The Cerulean Sea Hotel had a nature-based décor both stylish and timeless with a serene atmosphere. The lobby’s contemporary modern furniture, based on tried-and-true styles, sat atop mottled, latte-colored marble slabs for flooring. But the spectacle of the monolithic black granite check-in desk with its gravity-defying cantilevered design overshadowed all else.
Standing at the sandstone Bellhop wall that evening, Felix watched a limousine drive beneath the covered drop-off. He walked to the entrance and when the door attendant opened the car door, a late 20-something man wearing a coal-colored Armani suit exited the vehicle, and he shouldered the satchel he carried.
“May I take your bag, sir?”
The man gripped the strap more tightly. “Just the one in the back.”
The driver had opened the trunk and Felix reached to grab the handle. It was a piece built in an antique style with no wheels, so he knew he would carry it to the man’s room. He stood at a respectful distance while he checked in.
“My name is Elias Adrianus, and I have a reservation,” he said to the night manager.
“Ah, Mr. Adrianus, it’s good to have you with us,” said Moreno checking the computer. “I see you have the Terrace Suite which you will find at the top, on the 12th floor.” He fingered the credit card Adrianus dropped onto the polished granite counter for incidentals.
“What time does the bar close?”
“It closes at 2 a.m., sir.”
When Adrianus returned the credit card to his wallet he noticed a pale pink business card there he couldn’t remember acquiring and wasn’t there a moment ago. It read, “You don’t need a drink. Wink at the bellhop and let him take care of you” signed Happiness. His insides stiffened, and his hands shook in agitation as he slid it into the wallet alongside the credit card.
“Here are your key cards, sir,” said Moreno, “and if you like, Felix can take you in your suite.”
Adrianus blinked and looked at the night manager in astonishment. “What did you say?”
“I said, if you like, Felix can take you to your suite. Have a goodnight, sir.”
He turned and raked his eyes over Felix, thinking how he certainly was a handsome young man—young being the operable term, especially compared to his 970 years. They entered the elevator and the moment the doors closed, Adrianus asked, “Is it true that if I wink at you, you’ll take care of me?” He gazed upon Felix awaiting his answer.
“Do you need taken-care-of, sir?”
“Someone believes that I do, apparently. I’ve never been taken-care-of by a man before.”
The lift doors opened to a short cream-wallpapered hallway. They walked to the back corner room. He held the key to the card reader, the door unlocked, and they stepped inside.
The 12th floor consisted of four duplicate terrace suites. A color palette of medium and light-colored earth tones filled the enormous room on every wall and surface. It had a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, and a king-sized bed sat before a wall of windows that one could pull back allowing the terrace—which overlooked the ocean—to blend into the living space.
Felix unfolded the suitcase stand from the closet and laid the case upon it. When he turned around, Adrianus stared at him.
“Who referred you to me?” asked Felix in a lovely Latin accent in his smooth masculine voice. “I have many clients, and they’re all referrals.”
“A woman named Happiness if you can believe it. Clients… So, you charge for your services?”
He removed his hat and tossed it on the table beside him and spoke in a slow, comfortable way that demonstrated his confidence. “Would you expect to enjoy the Bolshoi or Vienna’s philharmonic for free?” He stepped within a foot of him, and stared, without deviation, into the unblinking eyes of Adrianus. “They have dedicated themselves to their artistry, and that requires time and effort. What I do is as consuming and just as artistic, but the dance is far more intimate and the instrument much more beautiful.”
“And just what is the instrument?” asked Adrianus whispering. “Do you make a living playing people like a fiddle?”
He drew closer and Adrianus never backed away. Felix made a rapid glance to his lips, and another, as they came together. “If so, I would play you as one would a Stradivarius, and I assure you, you will want an encore.” Felix kissed him, and his innate sensuality had an alluring, forbidden, seductive power over Adrianus. In all his years, he had never met anyone like Felix.
Adrianus couldn’t imagine why he would allow himself to have sex with the man, but he didn’t care. Lost in the moment, he needed what Felix had to offer, and he had it in abundance. By the time they were on the bed naked, Felix had Adrianus’s cock in his mouth making love to it, and Adrianus had Felix’s in his face. At about 9-inches with a slight upward curve, soft skin, and perfectly hooded, it was the most elegant looking one he had ever seen. He tasted the clear liquid that flowed from the tip, and he enjoyed its unique flavor. He covered the entire end with his mouth and imitated the motions that Felix used to pleasure him. After about 15 minutes, Felix stopped, turned Adrianus onto his stomach, and lay atop him.
“I’ve never done this,” said Adrianus.
Kissing his ear, Felix rubbed his length along the cleft of his ass. “Shhh…,” he whispered into his ear and continued with the musical metaphor. “Your instrument is in the hands of a virtuoso. I will warm you before the bow touches your strings, and while you are only one instrument, when the music starts you will feel an entire symphony, and I promise, you will not want the concert to end.”
Felix enjoyed doing what he knew he did best, plucking a man’s cherry as he plucked his strings to pleasure him. After sliding down his back, he planted his tongue onto his tight pucker, and the more he ate his ass the more the man moaned, arched his back, and relaxed. Once he wet him well, he stopped.
“That was amazing,” said Adrianus.
“The music hasn’t even started. Just allow your body to relax and feel.” He moved upward and rubbed his wet, leaking knob against the opening. Felix kept an erection with no difficulty, and unlike some men with no patience who think pain is always involved the first time, he pushed and pulled at a slow incremental pace, taking many minutes to fully enter him, and the man felt no pain, just steady internal pressure. Once fully inside him, he knew he had leaked enough precum to wet him well, so he said, “And now we begin.” He pulled back slowly and began to thrust in longer and longer strokes. Adrianus had squirmed beneath him, moaning, and making sounds that told Felix he enjoyed it. Before long, he began long-stroking him, and then he varied the length of the stroke and the intensity. Along with a heavy breath, a series of mostly unintelligible words poured in a pleasure-filled stream from Adrianus’s mouth as he writhed under him for just over an hour, some of which he repeated. Oh. Felix. Yes. More. So good. Don’t stop. Oh my god. When Felix felt the tight squeeze of his cock in a series of rhythmic contractions, he knew the man had an orgasm. When it ended Felix slowed, slid himself deep inside the man, lay atop him, and brought his mouth to his ear. “I wrote that piece just for you. I hope you enjoyed it.” Every few seconds, Felix pulled back a little and slid into him again.
“It was beautiful.” Adrianus laughed, having almost forgotten what it was like to feel happy. “Felix, there is no other word for you; you are magnificent. I had no idea that could feel so incredible.” He turned his head and kissed him. “Can you stay with me tonight? I will understand if you can’t, but I would love for you to stay.”
“I can stay,” he said and kissed him.
“Will you play that song again?”
“I can play it as often as you like.” And once again, Felix began to saw his bow against the man’s Stradivarian strings, playing an exquisite melody that vibrated throughout the man’s body, but only Felix heard the music as the instrument vocalized his pleasure.
Phillips had kept an eye on Stallion the previous evening, watching him grow slow enough to find it on par with the speed at which paint dries. So, while he could have more interest in Stallion than drying paint, the passing hours caused the act of remaining conscious too heavy a burden. A foggy haze had drawn his mind ever deeper into a need for slumber with eyes that wouldn’t stay open or focused and just before he faded for the evening, he had laid his hand on Stallion’s arm, semiconsciously thinking that would be enough.
Having deactivated the alarm on his phone the previous evening, Phillips awoke the next morning at 8 o’clock, and the first thing he noticed was a muscular arm over him and the realization that Stallion was spooning him. He backed away a little as he turned over.
The color of the man’s slightly tousled midnight-brown hair began a theme for all the rest as Liam’s eyes took in what he could see of him. Thick, dark lashes surrounded the depth of his kind and fully awake, cognac-colored eyes. His prominent jaw held a well-kempt beard, and his pectorals, densely packed with an armor of muscle, had a hairy covering across their broadness and within the deep crevice between them which spilled down his abdominals and disappeared under the covers. Gauntlets of hair on his forearms faded at the elbow on their way to his cannonball biceps with their mountainous peaks leading to shoulders so thick and meaty, it looked like he could easily give Atlas a break for a long liquid lunch.
The godlike man gazed in benevolence and smiled upon Phillips for the first time. “Ah, that’s what you look like.”
“How long have you lain awake?” Phillips couldn’t recall a time when a man that beautiful ever shared his bed.
“I’m not sure, you don’t have a regular clock. Thank you for protecting me, cleaning me up, and not giving me the silent treatment.”
“Oh, so you could hear me, good. Just who and what are you?” he asked in apprehension.
“Since you’re my protector, I owe you an explanation, but apart from my name, all the rest is between you and me. Okay?
“My name is Ronan Stallion. I am Centaurian. To put it simply, I am part who I was and part life essence of Chiron the Centaur, bound by an eternal fire gifted by Prometheus.”
Phillips nodded. “Of course, and if given a few more waking hours, I could have figured that out all on my own.”
Ronan laughed a little. “I want you to know that I’m not here to harm anyone, but you intuitively know that; don’t you?”
“I don’t know how, but yes, somehow, I know that. Why are you here?”
“Zeus held Prometheus captive and horrifically tortured him. So, in an act of empathy, when a particular situation occurred with Chiron, he gave up his immortality to set him free. Prometheus, the prescient and skillful thief that he is, felt grateful and captured Chiron’s essence in an eternal flame, and then hid it from the Olympians inside the first of us, a Neo-Centaurian he named Epivítoras; that’s Greek for Stallion. After one thousand years Chiron and the fire must transfer to someone of the current Centaurian’s choosing. The millenniums passed and after Epivítoras came Hrb’eh (That is Hebrew for Stallion), then came Admissārius (that is Latin for Stallion), and then my friend Henri Estalon (Estalon is old French for Stallion), and now there’s me. I exist to give Chiron a kind of life that he would otherwise have lost. Prometheus saw that Chiron was too special to lose and his life too precious. However, what Prometheus did, no one had ever done, and he created something far more that has no name.”
“What is the more?”
“It had given us a power that the others were too afraid to tap into, and I can see why.” Ronan tipped his head in curiosity. “You’re taking all this rather easily.”
“After everything I’ve witnessed so far, you could have told me you were from a planet around Alpha Centauri, and I would have believed you. What have you done since you awoke?”
“Meditate and cuddle with you, which was lovely, by the way. So, should I call you Liam, Phillips, or would you want to keep it professional and have me call you Officer?”
“You steal cuddles, and now you ask whether I want to keep it professional?”
Ronan laughed. “Actually, you cuddled up to me in your sleep and held my dick in your hand most of the night, but you slept so soundly, I hadn’t wanted to awaken you.”
Liam laid back on the pillow, covered his face with his hands, and laughed. “I’m so sorry! That’s embarrassing, but I haven’t slept like that in a long time. That was kind of you to let me sleep. Please, call me Liam. You’re almost a stranger; why do I trust you so much?”
“I think you already know the answer to that.”
They sat there staring at one another for a long moment.
“Maybe,” whispered Liam. “So, do you know what you look like, or are you just as curious as me?”
“I’m pretty curious myself.”
Liam left the bed and opened his closet door which had a mirror on the back. Ronan moved to the side of the bed, and Phillips could see the hair trailing off at the bottom of an extraordinary eight-pack of abdominals, but when he pulled the covers away to stand, he could see that hair covered each proportionally muscular leg to a distinct line just beneath his iliac furrow and down the crevice between the leg and the groin area. He stood slowly to his full height and looked down at himself. He had no pubic hair or hair on his penis and scrotum at all. And the tattoo on his oblique had finished; it was of a centaur.
Ronan hefted the smooth, foot-long hunk of flaccid meat in his hand. “Henri told me it would be centaur-like, but I had no idea. And not being a full centaur, I can’t pull this back into my body.”
Liam stared at it in disbelief. “You may need my expertise as a snake wrangler.”
Ronan’s forehead furrowed. “Are you really a snake wrangler?”
“In my time as a police officer, I’ve caught and relocated quite a few snakes. Many of the guys won’t do it, so they tend to call me. I’m certainly not afraid of your python, and I can think of a few choice locations to put it.”
“Is it not too big?”
Liam slowly shook his head staring at it. “It’s perfect.”
“It doesn’t bother you that I’m part centaur?”
Liam shrugged. “What part of you is really centaur? You’re just the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”
“I appreciate your saying that. In this form, physiologically, I’m human in appearance, but I am half Chiron, and he was half horse. That makes me one-fourth horse, but just as a flame can change its shape, I can change form to a kind of bipedal centaur, like a satyr or faun.”
“I would love to see you change shape.”
“That’s part of the more that I talked about, and from the memories provided by Chiron, I know that the first time tapping into that power comes with a serious irreversible consequence. It was a line the others would not cross. I see now why Henri couldn’t tell me about it.”
“Why couldn’t he?”
“They could never tell because the knowledge of it could make agreeing to replace them too alluring for power-hungry people or make the idea of having access to such a power too aversive for most anyone good.”
“What kind of power is it?”
“A power too strong to contemplate and too terrifying to wield lightly. That’s all I can say.”
“I see. Hold on a sec…” He retrieved the scales from his bathroom and set them in front of the mirror.
“You want to guess?” asked Ronan.
He looked Ronan up and down. “Mmm…260.”
He stepped onto the scales and the readout read 265 pounds.
“I would have guessed it perfectly, but I forgot to take into account the 5 pounds of Centaurian appendage.”
“Well, it’s close enough without going over, right?” He stepped off the scales and slid them to the side. “I weigh about forty pounds more than I expected, so that’s Chiron’s doing. He hadn’t done that with the others, but I have no memory for why he would choose that on this occasion.”
As Ronan faced the mirror, Liam could see the completed STALLION tattoo, shoulder to shoulder, and the hairless skin of his wide back, but the thick dark hair covering his legs and buttocks began with a distinct line from the iliac furrow at his sides toward the sacrum at his spine. On anyone else, it would appear too perfect to be natural, but on Ronan, it must be.
“Did you intend your body hair to be like that? You have no pubic hair.
“It’s because I’m part centaur. From what I could tell, Henri was the same way. In the front, as a full centaur where my pubic hair would begin is a transition point where the horse part of me would have pectorals and the penis would be toward the back, so since I’m not fully centaur, it left off what would have been my pubic hair.” He looked himself in the mirror. “I like it. So, how tall do you think I am?”
“Umm… I would say you look about 19 and a half hands high.”
Ronan laughed to himself and did some quick math. “So, 6 feet 6 inches.” He turned to Liam. “I want you to know that I appreciate the help you’ve given me, and if you want to stop helping me at any point for any reason, it’s okay. I will understand.”
“I will help you for as long as your needs coincide with my ability.”
“That’s kind of you, thank you.”
“I need breakfast,” said Phillips. “Are you hungry?”
“You do eat, right?”
“I can, but I only look human. I don’t have to sleep, or eat, or drink, or go to the bathroom. I don’t even have to breathe or blink my eyes. Apparently, some habits are just too integrated to break, but I needed the ability to simulate breathing so I can speak like you do. Can you cope with that thought?”
“But you have a heartbeat, a readable blood pressure, and a normal body temperature.”
“Those are real but simulated, and they serve a purpose. Those things are for me, not for others. People don’t realize it because they’ve had it for a lifetime, but if suddenly you were alive without a relatively stable, normal body temperature, or had no sensation of a heartbeat and the ability to passively sense the blood coursing through you, you would not be able to tolerate the silence of your own body; it would be maddening. It would be like you were dead, but not dead.”
Liam placed his hand on his chest. “Am I sensing the blood coursing through me?”
“You may not realize you sense it, but if it suddenly stopped, you would recognize its absence immediately. So, can you cope with how I am?”
Ronan stood in silence for almost a minute while watching Liam scan his every feature and movement.
“Those things don’t matter to me. I just know that the opportunity to remain in your company would please me enormously. Let’s make your Centaurian appendage street-legal, we’ll drop by my favorite smoothie place, and then we’ll find you some clothing that actually fits.”
“I need to meet up with a friend. He has my money, identification, and other necessities.”
“Who? And how can you have identification? You just came into existence yesterday.”
“I met him through Prometheus. He’s quite adept at making identification, and whatever else I might need that isn’t quite on the up and up.”
“What do you expect, Liam? I can’t just trot off to the DMV and ask for a driver’s license.”
“I understand that, but I’m a police officer!”
“If I ever abuse it, you’re welcome to arrest me. I promise not to buy alcohol for anyone underage.”
“Did you have a driver’s license in your previous life?”
“I don’t know; I’m sure I did.”
“How can you not know?”
“Because those memories are gone now.”
“You have no memories of your life before? Why?”
“They would intrude and hinder my ability to accept who I am now. But don’t worry, if you ran the IDs, you would discover they’re completely legal.”
“How can that be?”
“Because Dolos is thorough.”
“So, they’re registered.” Liam walked into his closet. “This, I will have to see.” He brought out the navy and black pair of “long shorts” he had on him the day before. “I washed this yesterday afternoon along with everything else. They’re mediums, but the elastic is pretty forgiving.”
“What about underwear to rein in the Centaurian appendage?”
“I have nothing that would fit you. This will have to do until we get something more appropriate.”
“What will we do, go to a discount store?”
“We could, but I know of a store that’s perfect for your needs.”
Ronan had slipped a leg into the shorts. “It’s not some equestrian tack shop, is it? Because I’ll tell you right now, this stallion will not be broken.”
“No, smarty pants, it’s a proper clothing store. I’ve shopped there for myself many times.”
He had a tough time squeezing them over his hips and muscular ass, but once he had they slid right on.
“Those shorts aren’t supposed to fit tight, but they look fine that they do. I told you that you had a major bootie. If the store I have in mind doesn’t work, we’ll just go to a sporting goods store, but I want to avoid that if we can.”
“It would be a good place to buy a jockstrap.”
“You’ll never find one with a stallion-sized pouch. The store I have in mind sells underwear from the only company I know that caters to the undergirding needs of the…aah…supportively challenged. So, trust me on this, I know what I’m doing. Where will we meet this friend? Do you need to contact them and set up a time?”
“I just have to be outdoors, say his name, and he’ll show up.”
“Dolos is a god. He’ll hear me.”
“A god…like Zeus and Apollo.”
“Dolos isn’t one of the Olympians. He’s the son of a much older deity.”
“I see, so he’s Old Money. Well, whatever you decide, don’t call his name downstairs in the parking lot. Mrs. Novak in apartment 3 has a terminal case of Gladys Kravitz syndrome.” Liam dug into a drawer for an A-shirt and found a white one. “Here, try this on. It says it’s large, but it’s oversized on me, so it might fit, but no guarantees. I may have to cut it, and that’s fine; I have plenty.”
Slipping it over his head, Liam helped pull it down, but the seams around the neck and arms were too tight.
“Hold on, let me get the scissors.” He returned with a pair from the kitchen. Sliding the scissor blade between his pecs, he cut the middle of the collar several inches, and under each arm on the sides to split the seams. After that, it fit fine for the time being.
“I look like shit in this, don’t I?” Ronan asked.
“Are you kidding? You could make bin bags look sexy.”
He gave him the pair of house shoes to wear. They barely fit, but he could wear them for a while. Liam wore a pair of tan linen shorts with a sky-blue A-shirt beneath a white short-sleeve button-up left untucked and open.
The moment Ronan stood in the breezeway outside Liam’s door, he looked around and saw that no one could see. “Dolos,” he said, and down the staircase from above came a bearded and swarthy-looking man in his thirties wearing a white suit holding two 40-liter-sized traditional duffel bags in leather, one in black and one in brown. Ronan waved him into the apartment and closed the door behind him.
“Hello, Ronan,” said Dolos. “I’ve been wandering around Miami. I see why Henri wanted to live here.”
“Liam Phillips, please meet Dolos, the god of trickery and deception. Dolos, this is Liam, my friend and protector.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Liam.
“Any friend of Ronan’s is a friend of mine,” said Dolos who squinted at Ronan looking him up and down. “What are you wearing?”
“We are making do with what we have.”
“Making do…” Dolos laughed and shook his head. “Here…” He gave Ronan the brown bag which had a Centaurian archer embossed into a leather tag stitched onto the side. “It has everything Henri asked me to hold for you, and it has everything you needed of me, including clothing. So, you can change out of that embarrassment before anyone else sees you. And Liam, although your attire is a marginal improvement, this is for you. It has everything you could want or need. Don’t thank me now, wait until you’ve browsed its contents and then thank me. I will hear you.
“You know, Ronan,” said Dolos, “Prometheus could easily forgive the others for not using their abilities because they came from a far less sophisticated era; you do not have that luxury, especially with Zeus sending Henri’s son after you. Zeus wants to know what you can do, and just how vulnerable you are…or aren’t.”
“So, Zeus had caused Henri to have the child. Henri believed he outlived him. I thought I could feel a presence here. He’s in Miami.”
He nodded. “His original name is Aquila, but he’s now known as Elias Adrianus, and your ability to feel his presence is because he carries a spark of the fire within you, and they’re connected. Prometheus told me that Zeus had Kakia visit Aquila yesterday, and that seductive goddess of immorality and all-around badness has convinced him of an easy means to get what he wants. He believes he needs to kill you so he can die, and she gave him a Chronosian blade for the job.”
“What’s that?” asked Ronan.
“You are bound by an eternal flame. Eternity is a temporal construct involving duration, so the blade will destroy the flame by removing its eternality; an instantaneous flame can have no real existence.”
“Wouldn’t that create a paradox?” asked Liam.
Dolos smiled. “It’s so refreshing to talk to you modern humans; I don’t have to explain so much or assume you wouldn’t understand. It would create a paradox if it removed its eternality from all time, but it doesn’t, it begins from the point the blade pierces Ronan’s skin by temporally snuffing it out.”
“Can it pierce my skin?”
“That’s a question I can’t answer, and neither can anyone else. No one even knows if what they’re attempting will work. As human scientists like to say, it’s a hypothesis; one that Zeus is putting to the test. But I’m not sure that Zeus wants you dead; I think he wants to create conditions so dire that it will force you to use the power within you. He wants to see what you can do.
“Why doesn’t Aquila just use the blade on himself?” Liam asked.
“Unlike everyone else, he is not independent. He owes his perpetual existence to the flame that binds Ronan and Chiron, and he can only die if he destroys Ronan’s flame. Apart from him though, it can destroy anyone whose skin it can pierce by turning their future into an instantaneous blip. That also includes yourself, Liam, so be on your guard.
“I know that Aquila stayed at the Cerulean Sea Hotel last night. I sent him a little pink card to distract him and signed it with Kakia’s preferred nickname. Zeus’s plan only works if Aquila wants to die. I figure, he’s been an unhappy man for a long time, I’m hoping a new experience will help to change things, and perhaps he might see that living isn’t such a terrible thing.”
“Just a spark has kept Aquila alive all these centuries?” asked Ronan.
“Yes, so imagine what you can do with the full flame.”
“But isn’t fire just a destructive force?” Liam asked.
“From a human perspective,” said Dolos, “fire destroys forests and things humans create, so it’s viewed as destructive, but there’s something more profound happening. Normal fire doesn’t destroy, it’s a conversion process. It mindlessly changes things from one form into another. Prometheus believes Ronan is an eternal flame given sentience, a fire that burns in such a unique way that it can willfully create by converting one thing into something else, and that’s just the beginning of what he believes Ronan may be capable.”
Liam turned to Ronan. “You said using the power just once would have a consequence; what is it?”
“Once he uses it,” said Dolos, “there will be no turning back. The eternal flame remains transferable only until a Centaurian uses it. At that point, it has found its permanent home. That’s why finding a good man for a replacement had been so crucial.
Liam asked Dolos. “If Ronan uses the power, what would he become? It sounds like he would be a god.”
“That’s how it sounds to me too, but no one knows, not even Prometheus in his prescience. Ronan doesn’t know what he is, what he can do, or whether he can control it if he uses it.
“In that case, Ronan,” said Liam, “you need me more than I thought. If Zeus wants to know what Ronan can do so badly, why doesn’t he just challenge him directly?”
“When royalty fears the food, they get servants to taste it first, only then will they decide if it’s a meal fit for a king.”
“Oh, I see,” said Liam. “Well, Ronan, if this Aquila person is in Miami, then we should leave.”
“I agree with the warrior,” said Dolos. “It may only delay the inevitable, but it gives you time to think about what to do. The last thing you need is for Aquila to show up while unprepared.”
“Won’t they just tell him where to find me?”
“Probably. So wherever you go, don’t stay too long, unless you lay in wait of him. You should abandon this location soon.”
“If we flew somewhere, wouldn’t Zeus just knock the plane from the sky?” asked Ronan.
“I can’t imagine why he would bother. You would only survive it, and it wouldn’t give him what he wants. He has no reason to lift any more fingers. He has a man willing to travel anywhere to find you, and he has the resources to do it.”
“Why does Aquila want to die so badly?” Liam asked.
“The difference between Ronan and Aquila is one of choice. Ronan chose this, but Aquila had immortality thrust upon him at birth, and for him—or anyone in his situation (even a god)—the price of forever is too high if you have no one with which to share it. Prometheus understands that, and that’s why the other stallions had only one thousand years, and Ronan has-”
“That’s enough beans being spilled for one day, I think,” Ronan interrupted.
Dolos paused staring at Ronan for a moment and gave a little smile. “Very well, I must go, anyway. This morning I have my first genuine Cuban coffee followed by my first genuine Cuban. Yesterday, I met an exquisitely handsome man named Eterio at the nude beach.”
“Oh…well, don’t let us keep you, Dolos,” said Ronan as he walked him to the door. “Thank you for your assistance. You are, as always, a deceptively bright spot in any friend’s day, and I hope you enjoy your Cuban!”
The moment the door closed behind Dolos, Liam asked, “And Ronan has…what?”
“Much to do. That’s what.”
Liam laid his bag on the dining room table. “If Dolos is the god of deception and trickery, how can we believe anything he says?”
“Oh, even he would admit that’s a fair question,” said Ronan as he set his bag beside Liam’s. “He and Prometheus are trickster gods, but they’re not bad. Prometheus made humanity and wants us to do well. He gave us fire, and that resulted in all the technology that came after it. Dolos is Prometheus’s apprentice. Together, they have been helpful to humanity and especially to those stallions who came before me. Besides, it gives Dolos opportunities to use his amazing imagination and abilities for a noble cause.” He pushed at the bag in front of Liam. “Here, open it.”
Liam took the bag and unzipped it from the left. “Hey! This is like the clothing from that store I wanted to take you to.” He pulled out a white, tailored Oxford shirt. The bag held an entire suit of clothes, jeans, socks, a pair of underwear, a belt, and a shoe bag containing a pair of coordinating shoes.
“Is that acceptable?” asked Ronan.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something different?”
“There’s nothing else in the bag.”
“Oh, really?” Ronan zippered the bag. “Look again.”
Liam opened the bag, and inside was an entirely different suit of clothing. “Oh wow! How is that possible?”
“The bag unzips from both directions.” Ronan tapped the pull from the opposite side of the same zipper.
Liam unzipped it from the right and inside was a white linen suit. Ronan zipped it back, turned the bag around, and got him to unzip it from the left. Inside was various and sundry bathroom items and other necessities. He zipped it back and unzipped it from the right and the bag was empty for whatever he wanted to bring. Ronan turned one end of the bag toward Liam. When he unzipped it, he found ten thousand dollars in American currency bundled in stacks of tens, twenties, and fifties. When he re-zipped it, he turned the bag to the opposite end and unzipped it again. It contained ten thousand euros in European currency divided into the same denominations, an Italian passport, and a wallet with an Italian driver’s license, and various other pieces of identification, all of which had his photo on them.
Liam appeared stupefied as though he had just witnessed an illusionist performing a particularly convincing bit of street magic. He stood there studying the Italian passport. “Is all this real?”
“Of course, it’s real,” said Ronan. “Let’s get changed, get a smoothie, and decide where we’re going. Whatever you need, be sure to bring it, like your US passport.”
“Okay, Dolos,” said Liam sifting through the Italian wallet. “I have no clue how you managed it, but you’re a genius. Thank you. I just hope we don’t get arrested while attempting to use any of it.”
Having opened the glass wall to the terrace during the night, at about eight o’clock that morning, to the faint sound of seagulls and ocean waves, Felix played his final encore after several overnight performances of the song Adrianus loved so much. Only then had he allowed himself an orgasm during his final bow.
Adrianus laid there for a few minutes, enjoying the sensation he felt both inside and out, wishing Felix could provide a series of performances for the rest of his life, keeping his body aflame with the stimulation of every thrust like a bellows blowing coals to keep them hot. He made him feel alive and close to another human being for the first time in a long while, and with every intimate moment, it drew him closer to the place inside him where the ability to feel care, love, and concern for another human being had lain fusty and fallow.
He rested his head on Felix’s chest and wrapped an arm over him, holding onto him as though he might leave, and said to him, “Sexually speaking, you are a giant among men. Did you know that?”
“Am I?” asked Felix.
“Oh yes. You are out-of-this-world, as some might say.”
“Now that you’re no longer in me, though, I’m unsure that I’ve ever felt so empty.” The moment he said those words, he sensed the depth of their truth, in more ways than the one that prompted it.
The sound of his voice spoke to Felix as much as the words. He had heard it before. He knew he could fulfill a need that people seemed incapable of satisfying any other way. He gave them an experience that made them feel alive, and for some, it was not much different from those who bungee jump or casually steal from a department store, but for others like Adrianus, Felix fulfilled their need for a human connection, but also something even less tangible, something akin to a state of well-being, something to tip the scales back to an otherwise inaccessible okayness, even if only for a moment.
Felix asked him, “May I speak with you about you? One human being to another.”
“How long have you felt empty?”
Adrianus thought about it for a moment, hesitated to answer, and sighed. “A long time.”
“The emptiness inside you… it cannot be filled from the outside. There is an external component to it, but there’s only so much that someone outside you can do. Do you want to feel whole?”
“I don’t know that I can; it’s been so long. How old do you think I am?”
“I am far older, and if I told you how old, you would think I was crazy.”
Felix shrugged. “Maybe, I already think you’re crazy.”
Adrianus laughed. “I probably am.”
“So, how old are you? I promise to believe you.”
“Out of fear, I’ve never told anyone this, but after my nine-hundred and seventy years, I feel as empty as a dry well. I don’t know how to live my life anymore, and I just want it to stop.”
Felix tipped Adrianus’s head back to look him in the face to see if he were joking, and in the morning light, his eyes conveyed nothing but an unfathomable pain. “Okay,” he said. “Well…I made a promise, and I will stick to it. You already know how unbelievable that is, but let’s suggest for a moment that it isn’t. After all these years, what’s your biggest problem?”
“Being alone and watching everyone I care about die one day.”
“So, you have needed some interpersonal consistency in your life. At the very least, you need a friend like you. Do you know of no one who is as long-lived as you?”
Adrianus thought about it for a moment. It never occurred to him that he could befriend Ronan as an alternative to killing him. The stability of a consistent friend could be what he needed to make life more tolerable. He must admit, he had never had that, but he wasn’t sure. He felt he had lived too long, and Ronan’s death may be his only means out of life itself. Either now or later, Ronan would have to die if Adrianus wanted to die. He would have to think about it.
“You told me you were only nineteen,” said Adrianus, “how did you get so wise?”
“I’ve been told I have a young body and an old soul.”
“I know that feeling, but I think you’re a wiser man than me.”
“Usually,” said Felix, “when it comes to problem-solving, someone’s objectivity is inversely proportional to their emotional proximity to the problem.”
Adrianus stared at him for a moment with a raised brow. “You’re obviously more than just a high-priced call-boy. How about we clean up, dress, have breakfast (on me), and we drop by a bank, so I can pay you? I’m not exactly poor; how does one hundred thousand dollars sound? In my opinion, you’ve more than earned it.”
“A hundred thousand?”
“Someone could easily pay an in-demand violin virtuoso ninety thousand for a one-night performance for a group of people who collectively paid more than that to hear them. You gave me six performances over about nine hours and proffered some invaluable advice. I think one hundred thousand is fitting considering your skill level. You’ve given me a transcendental experience and spoiled me for anyone else. That’s the problem with starting at the top, you know; anyone else will pale in comparison. How much do you usually charge for an overnight?”
“Just a thousand,” he said. “A hundred thousand is so outrageous, I don’t know that I should believe you, but I think you would pay too much if you did.”
“You must not have heard of me, but I insist. For the first time in my life, I would pay someone what they’re actually worth. You’ve helped me more than you can imagine. Besides, I suspect you waste that brain of yours. Think about going back to school.”
As Felix showered first, Adrianus set a code to the room’s safe, built into the cabinet that held the television. Not that he felt he couldn’t trust Felix, but he had to hide the dagger, and just so there would be no question, he tossed his wallet in while he had it open. He saw it as taking a reasonable precaution, given the circumstances.
He joined Felix in the bathroom and entered the oversized stand-up shower. He stood at the end watching Felix rinse off.
The young man smiled. “I enjoy the hotel’s water pressure.”
“Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life.” Adrianus eyed him as the rivulets streamed down his sinewy body. “You are beautiful, Felix.”
“So are you, especially for a 970-year-old. Why have you not aged?”
“That’s a long story. I’ll tell you over breakfast.”
“I look forward to it.” He kissed him as they swapped places, and Felix left the shower to dry off.
As Adrianus showered, he fantasized a crazy notion of taking Felix with him and giving him a better life than the one he had. But he wouldn’t have wanted him to feel beholden to him; a healthy relationship of any kind needs a better foundation than that.
Over the sound of the water, he thought he heard voices, and at first, he figured it was the television, but then came the deep resonant metallic sound of something heavy ripping apart, and Felix yelled, “Elias!” He turned off the water and grabbed a towel as he ran into the room.
The only one there was the woman who inappropriately called herself Happiness wearing a red minidress, and Adrianus held his breath as he scanned the room. She stood at the dining table digging into his wallet. The wooden cabinet door and the door to the metal safe lay across the room, and the unsheathed dagger lay on the floor behind her. Felix’s bellhop uniform remained draped across the chair where he laid it the night before, but he saw no sign of him. The pall of a terrible truth fell over him, and a weight settled into the pit of his stomach like concrete. She had destroyed that beautiful young man, the first person with whom he had made a connection in over a century, and with swelling anger, he shook as he asked, “Why did you kill him?” She said nothing as she pulled the pink card from his wallet. “WHY?” His voice could express no more than a fraction of the rage he felt.
“You need to remember why you’re here,” she said with a calm innocence, which only served to further infuriate Adrianus.
He moved toward her. “He was good; he didn’t deserve it!” He picked up the dagger from the floor.
“He was of no consequence. Where did you get this card?”
He came up behind her and looked over her shoulder. “I don’t know,” he said containing the rage that drove him to act. He snatched his wallet from the table in front of her. “I thought the card came from you.”
He gripped the dagger as hard as he could and drew back his right arm. It seemed fitting that she should receive what she meant for Ronan. The woman was manipulating Adrianus, but she wasn’t just the enemy, she was pure evil, and you don’t give evil a fighting chance. He thought to himself, “For Felix.” He gave her one sharp jab in the lower back, and the blade’s tip pierced her skin. In the moment of her destruction, time slowed, and a spherical shockwave punched him in the gut as it pushed his body away. As it expanded, it shattered like glass everything else in its path as the leading edge propelled him backward through the wall. Small chunks of metal and concrete accompanied him as he cannonballed through the open air, away from the hotel, and over the beach. As it all receded, he watched the wave eject part of the building upward and outward, but also, as the sphere of destruction continued to expand, a concave depression broadened and deepened, compacting entire floors of the structure, crunching downward and away from him as the invisible wave demolished the building from the top down. As the wave lost energy, his momentum took over, carrying him a bit further, but eventually, he dropped into the water ten yards from the shore.
He awoke naked on the beach with someone trying to resuscitate him, blowing air into his lungs, and for a moment, he thought it was Felix kissing him. He coughed and gasped trying to catch his breath from the gut punch.
The man who rescued him from the water had jogged the beach that morning. He removed the wet zip hoodie he wore and covered his naked body with it. “Are you okay?” he asked. Adrianus heard his muffled voice through the high pitch note in his ears from the percussive blast. “I saw you land in the water.”
Within a few minutes, Adrianus’s body would simply return to its previous state, just as it had whenever he had faked his own death. With stiff muscles, he struggled to turn onto his hands and knees, gasping for air, trying to comprehend what had happened. He could see building debris scattered around the beach and several floors of the hotel had disappeared from the detonation that he knew began when and where he stabbed the woman. The wind from the sea moved the dust cloud further onto the island. He gazed downward. One fist gripped his waterlogged wallet, but the fingers of the other still strangled the remains of the dagger, the blade either broken off or destroyed. He sat with his feet beneath him. Shaking, he threw his soggy wallet onto the sand and made a slow, painful effort to peel the fingers from the metal hilt in his hand.
“You are incredibly lucky,” said the man. “You look like you don’t have a scratch on you, but you probably should go to the hospital anyway.”
In breathless gasps, he said to the man, “Thank you, for your help.”
Knowing that not only was Felix gone, but his actions had killed many innocent people that morning. It caused him to look at himself and his life through the tears running down his cheeks. He had no idea who or what that woman was, but surely, she wasn’t alone, and he swore in the name of Felix Raposo and all those innocents who died that morning, that he would oppose them. “I need to find Stallion,” he whispered to himself.
Dolos had tricked Ronan. Zipping and unzipping the bag would change the contents of the clothing, but no matter how many times he tried, he always had light-colored pants. With considerable aplomb, Ronan accepted that he couldn’t do much to rein in his Centaurian appendage, and apparently, Dolos insisted that it remain noticeable. As they dressed in far more stylish clothing, their pants fit a tad tight, but acceptable—Ronan’s in light gray and Liam’s in faded, distressed indigo. And like Liam’s light blue shirt, the white fabric of Ronan’s properly sized button-up gave a subtle display in the broadness of his armor-like pectorals, thick shoulders, and bulging biceps with a tapered fit at the waist.
In the bedroom, and nearly ready to go, Liam watched Ronan finish slipping the belt through the loops in his pants. “So, why do you think Chiron increased your size by forty pounds?”
“I’m uncertain. He must have believed we needed the extra strength for some reason.”
“Just how strong are you?”
Ronan pointed to the kitchen in the other room. “Do you have a case knife you can spare?”
“Sure.” He went to the drawer, retrieved one, and handed it to him.
He watched Ronan, thinking he would just bend the knife as though it were rubber, but instead, he took the stainless-steel knife and began to reform it as though it were nothing more than sculpting putty. He flattened the handle and spread it out to make it roughly uniform in width and thickness to the blade. He folded the metal over on the short side, turning it into a slender and relatively flat bar. He then began to roll it up into the spiral shape of a snail shell or nautilus. When he finished, he tossed it in the air and said, “Here you go. Catch.”
Liam caught it but bounced it back and forth between his hands. “It’s hot!” He rushed it to the sink and cooled it under the faucet while looking it over. “That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I watched Henri do that, and he wasn’t even half my size. So, I don’t know how strong I am. I hope that doesn’t scare you.”
Liam dried off the bent hunk of metal with a dish towel, and he thought about it for a moment. He slipped it into his pocket, opened the refrigerator, and took out an egg. “Now it’s your turn to catch.”
Ronan caught the egg firmly but never broke the shell. He held it up. “What’s this for?”
“Well, you’re no Lennie Small, so that’s good.” Liam retrieved the egg from Ronan. “I figure, if you have the control necessary to catch an egg without breaking it, then I have no reason to fear you.”
“Chiron has had several lifetimes of great strength to grow accustomed to handling delicate objects, so I have no problem with that.”
“I see.” He returned the egg to the refrigerator. “Let’s get out of here.”
They stepped outside to the breezeway with their bags, and Liam inserted his key into the deadbolt to lock up. They descended the staircase, and Liam unlocked his Jeep when a sudden noise like an enormous nearby sonic boom shook the ground and vibrated through the air. A strong gust of wind sent dust and sand through the breezeway in front of the vehicle.
“What the hell was that?” asked Liam.
And then came the falling debris. Dust, detritus, and larger fragments of building material rained from the sky, up to six blocks from the epicenter of the explosion, and all around them, they could hear the bits fall on every surface. Liam noticed Mrs. Novak gazing out her window. He spoke across the top of the Jeep’s hood. “Didn’t Dolos say that Adrianus stayed at the Cerulean Sea Hotel?”
Liam pointed. “The boom came from that direction; the hotel’s maybe three blocks away.”
The air grew hazier. “Quick, get in,” said Ronan, “this air is dangerous.” He laid his bag into the floorboard of the passenger side and tapped the vent control on the air conditioner. “Keep the vent closed until you get away from here; don’t breathe this air.”
“Where are you going?”
“I will assume that people need my help, and I’m going to give it to them.” He flashed a momentary smile. “The wind is blowing our direction, so go north. I will meet you at the bench shaped like a mooring cleat at the Haulover rescue station.”
“Do you think this has anything to do with Adrianus?”
“It could, but the meaning behind it is unclear.”
“As careful as I can be. See you soon.”
As Liam drove to the right out of the parking lot, Ronan turned left and sprinted around the block toward the source of the mayhem. People were racing away from the Cerulean Sea Hotel, either on foot or in their vehicles. The sound of sirens told of the imminent arrival of police, but the fire department, rescue workers, and ambulances would soon follow. One officer had already stopped to set up temporary roadblocks and direct traffic away from the building.
Ronan had to circumnavigate a mound of fallen debris and wrecked vehicles that lay on the road along the front. As people trickled from the entrance, he rushed inside. The air held a haze of powder, the ceiling had cracked, plaster had fallen, and the incident left the lobby in disarray. He could hear someone crying and calling for help. The stone check-in desk had cracked from the vibration of the explosion and had fallen onto the foot of the clerk. One of her coworkers, who happened to be her husband, tried to shift it enough to free her, but it weighed two tons, and it wouldn’t budge. He had already tied his belt around her lower leg, above the crush point.
They coughed from the bad air. “My wife is stuck. We need a jack.”
Ronan shook his head. “When I lift, you pull.”
“You can’t move it.”
To the man’s astonishment, Ronan slipped the fingers of his right hand beneath the granite slab and lifted it with little effort.
As the man picked up his wife, he asked Ronan, “Who are you?”
“My name is Stallion,” he said. “Are you okay to carry her out?”
Once he indicated he could, Ronan hurried off to help someone else without waiting for or expecting any thanks.
Meanwhile, in their desperate need to get away from the scene of the explosion, Liam had to contend with drivers speeding and blowing through stop signs and red lights. By the time he reached Fifth Street, the air had cleared, and the panicked drivers took the causeway to leave the island. The farther north he drove, the day seemed less eventful for most everyone on the road and the sidewalks.
He hadn’t eaten breakfast, so as he waited in the drive-through of his favorite smoothie joint for his mixture of yogurt, whey, berries, fruit, and beef liver, he tuned his radio to a local station, and they had stopped playing music to cover the events happening at the scene. As Liam expected, it was the same hotel. The discussion had the inevitable mention of a possible terrorist attack, but they had no evidence for that and admitted as much.
Back out on the road, he continued north, and at the Haulover Beach car park, he picked a spot in the mostly empty lot. He used his phone to livestream a local television channel’s coverage of the scene while he waited for over an hour before carrying Ronan’s bag to the rescue station. He rushed through the tunnel when it disrupted his cell connection while watching the livestream on the way.
Trace Hawkins knew that he got his job as the Chief of Operations at the Haulover Rescue Station because people found him attractive. At 32 years of age, with his fit body, dark blond hair (that would lighten from the sun), tan skin, and a classically handsome face, it wouldn’t matter who else wanted the job with equal education and experience, they always seemed to pick him. He considered his striking appearance as almost a superpower. It drew people’s attention, seemed to overshadow those around him, and he had never met anyone like himself. Looks alone hadn’t gotten him the job, of course. His curriculum vitae had him perfectly qualified for it, and the fact that he had more than a few brain cells to rub together, natural leadership abilities, and an affable temperament hadn’t hurt any. But for all that Trace had going for him, he had a serious problem. Trace lived in quiet desperation as a gay man trapped in a straight man’s life. He grew up with a check mark beside every box for the common causes of Closet-Life. The top three, close-minded parents, raised in a Pentecostal church, and the prevalence of toxic masculinity in his childhood home and surrounding culture, exampled the worst of them.
On the morning of June 22nd, as always, Trace arose to breakfast with his beautiful wife and 2.3 children in their house tucked away among thousands of other misfortunates who called Miami’s suburban sprawl their home. Due to his circumstance, he experienced the reverse of a common expectation; work became his haven from the daily grind of maintaining some semblance of marital bliss and the responsibilities of fatherhood, both of which he fell into by the social conditioning of his upbringing. So, five days of every week, when the time arrived for his morning commute to work, he couldn’t flee from his life there fast enough. He struggled with the need to tell his wife everything, but he lacked the courage.
By 10:45 that morning, Trace and two relief lifeguards, Benny and Alice, stood in the lobby watching the report on a local television channel about an explosion that occurred at 9:28 AM at a hotel to the south. Since the vanishing point on the horizon is no more than 2.9 miles away, and the hotel lay at a location three times that distance, they knew nothing of it.
Reporters at the scene spoke of an amazing man, known only as Stallion, who had taken over the rescue operation due to his ability to find and reach many people trapped in pockets of the building that professional rescue workers would likely have missed, or the victim would have died before they could cut through the fallen parts of the building to reach them. One fireman emerging from the hotel with an empty tank on his self-contained breathing apparatus, when asked about Stallion, stated, “I’ve never seen anyone like him. He needs no mask or fire protection. He walked through fire to rescue someone in a burning room like it was nothing, and when his shirt caught alight, he just tore it off and kept going. He’s lifting things by himself that should be impossible, and he’s done all this without breaking a sweat.”
Liam entered the lobby of the rescue station. Two men and a woman in rescue uniforms faced the wall monitor viewing the same channel he had on his phone.
“I see that you’re watching it too,” he said.
“May I help you?” asked the handsome blond man.
“I hope you will. I’m currently off duty, but I’m Officer Liam Philips of the Key Biscayne police department.” He showed them his identification and pointed to the television screen. “Stallion is a friend of mine. He will meet me out front when the rescue operation at the hotel has ceased, and he will need to clean up. May he use your facility? We would really appreciate it.”
The blond man said, “I’m Trace Hawkins, chief of operations. If it’s for someone who rescues people, absolutely.”
“Is what they’re saying about him true?” asked the man whose name badge read Benny.
“Yes,” he said, knowing fully well, how unlikely that sounded.
“How is that possible?” asked the woman named Alice.
“Stallion is unique.” Liam pulled the chunk of bent metal from his pocket and held it up. “This morning, before Stallion got ahold of it, this was a case knife from my kitchen. I’m thinking of making a keychain from it.”
“Holy shit,” said Benny.
Trace examined it. “What did he use to do this?”
“Just his fingers.”
“No way…” said Alice.
“I couldn’t believe it either,” said Liam, “but there it is.” Trace returned it to him.
They heard the fire chief at the scene tell the reporter that the firefighters had extinguished the fire and were bringing out the last of the survivors, all of whom Ronan found quickly.
They watched closely as Ronan emerged from the building behind everyone else. The bits of soot covering his shirtless upper body only served to highlight his heroic appearance. Unable to get closer, the cameraman zoomed in. It marked the first time the world saw the 27-year-old man known as Stallion, and it wouldn’t be the last.
The four of them stared at the screen. “Does he have a girlfriend?” Alice asked.
Not wanting to speak for Ronan, Liam said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
After realizing that the professionals had everything well in hand, Ronan sped away from the scene faster than would seem possible to join Liam at Haulover.
“Just give him a few minutes,” said Liam. “I’ll meet him out front.”
Trace took note of the time and told his coworkers they needed to make a sweep of the park, so they left.
When Liam left the building, Trace joined him.
Ronan arrived wearing singed pants, scorched shoes with disintegrating soles, and a friendly smile. Liam introduced Trace to Stallion.
“Anyone who helps others is a friend of mine,” said Ronan.
Shaking his hand, Trace said, “It took 6 minutes for you to run roughly ten miles. That’s about a hundred miles an hour.”
“Yeah, I had to slow down because of the traffic and other obstacles.”
“Right…,” said Trace, uncertain what to think, considering the unbelievability of it all.
Noting his absence of a shirt, Liam said, “We heard your shirt caught fire.”
Ronan nodded. “And the rest of this is ruined; I don’t know what to do about flammable clothing. Going shirtless into a fire isn’t a problem, but at the very least, I need pants that don’t burn. I wouldn’t want to expose myself.” Ronan noticed Trace’s astonished expression. “Are you okay?”
“For the first time in my life,” said Trace, “the sentence, ‘you beat all I’ve ever seen,’ seems fitting. Are you even human?”
“My speed, strength, and that I don’t burn will become well known. So, for the sake of honesty, I must admit that I am more than human.”
“You look like a superhero. Is that what you are?”
“That’s for others to decide. I can only be who I am.”
“You’re a hero to me,” said Liam, “and I think you’re pretty super.”
Ronan laughed. “Did you get something to eat?”
Liam nodded. “Yeah. I’m good.”
“Well, come inside and clean up,” said Trace. “We have a locker room you can use.” They followed Trace into the building.
The locker room had all the necessary amenities, sinks, toilets, lockers, a couple of long benches, and a double shower at the end of the room. Liam handed Ronan his bag, as Trace casually took a bench across from him. He paid no attention to Ronan zipping and unzipping or turning the bag around to pull all manner of things from it. He simply stared and asked questions. Ronan was more than willing to let him ask anything he liked. He saw it as good practice for the inevitable questions that the public-at-large would one day ask.
“So where are you from?” asked Trace.
“I’m from here…and Greece.” He sat on the bench and removed the remnants of his shoes and socks.
Seeing Ronan’s ruined shoes, he asked, “How can you do those incredible things?”
“It’s all in who I am.”
“And just who are you?”
“It even sounds strange for me to say it, but I am the Centaurian.”
“The Centaurian…” said Trace.
Ronan stood, unbuckled, unbuttoned, and unzipped his pants. “I’m part centaur.” He pushed down his pants and underwear. He had on full display the Centaurian appendage along with the unusual body hair.
Wide-eyed and unblinking, Trace sat in dead silence for a moment. Ronan stripped down, then took the soap, shampoo, and cloth to the shower to wash. Trace said nothing and just stared as he scrubbed the soot from his skin.
Liam watched Trace. “He’s unimaginably beautiful, isn’t he?”
Mesmerized and unable to look away, Trace nodded. “There’s no way that I’m not gay.”
Liam laughed a little and turned toward Ronan in the shower. “Yeah, it’s pretty affirming, isn’t it?”
“I really need to tell my wife,” Trace said.
“Yikes. I hate to hear that still happens.”
“It does. Stallion wouldn’t happen to be gay, would he? That’s probably too much to hope for.”
“We’ve not discussed it directly, so I’m not sure.”
When Ronan finished, Trace watched his every movement as he picked up the towel by his bag.
“Aren’t centaurs just a myth?” asked Trace.
Ronan stepped right in front of him, his body dripping wet, with the towel over his head, patting his hair dry. “Do I not look part equine to you?”
Trace sighed. “Sure, but you have no hooves.”
Ronan stepped back and dried off. “I’m half centaur, and therefore, one-quarter Centaurian equine, but most of what makes me what I am is on the inside. My speed, strength, overall physical size, and the configuration of my body hair are external manifestations of my Centaurian nature. I have a question for you. Besides Liam, you are the first to know this much about me. Does any of it sound frightening?”
“You’re not as much frightening, as you are unbelievable.”
Ronan nodded. “I can understand that. Do you have a quarter you can spare?” Ronan wrapped himself in the towel.
Trace took one from his pocket and dropped it into Ronan’s hand, and he held it up.
“Do you know what I can do with this?”—Trace shook his head—”Well, not a lot, a quarter won’t buy much anymore.”
“However,” Ronan stepped in front of him and began to re-form the quarter into a thin square sheet of metal. He then began to fold it as though it were paper. He folded it this way and that way, and in the end, he opened what he had made. He blew on it a little, cooling it down, and placed a tiny nickel and copper origami boat—slightly larger than a Monopoly piece—into Trace’s hand. He removed the towel and finished drying himself.
“If I hadn’t watched you do that with my own eyes,” said Trace, “I wouldn’t have believed it. Have you any idea the amount of force it takes to manipulate metal like that?”—Trace stared at the tiny boat—“Apart from seeing you naked, Stallion, this is the most amazing thing I have ever seen.”
“Trace is curious to know if you’re gay,” said Liam. “Since we haven’t had that conversation, I couldn’t say.”
“I’m proud to say that I am gay,” he said.
“Really?” asked Trace sounding surprised.
“Yes, but I don’t consider myself available,”—he made a rapid glance at Liam—”at least, I hope I’m not.”
“That remains undetermined,” said Liam.
“And understandably so,” remarked Ronan in a quiet voice. He donned a similar set of clothing to the one he had ruined. “Well, thank you, Trace, for allowing me to clean up. Apparently, rescuing people can be a messy business.”
Liam grew curious and asked. “How many people did you find?”
“About three dozen altogether, most of them injured, some just trapped, but a third of them had died in the explosion. There were more that hadn’t survived, but I couldn’t reach them without putting the rescue workers at risk, and I wouldn’t do that.”
Trace nodded. “You did a good thing today.”
“Well…I have made doing good things my mission in life.”
Once Ronan finished dressing, the three of them meandered through the corridor to the lobby, and out to the front of the building. “You are welcome here anytime, Stallion,” said Trace. “I don’t care what you are.” He held his hand out, and Ronan shook it. “I hope I get to hear more about the good you do. You’re a fascinating and unbelievably handsome man, and I’m glad you showed up in my life. It’s solidified my need to get my personal life in order.” He shook Liam’s hand. “I wish you both the best of luck.”
When Trace re-entered the building, Liam asked, “Had you seen any sign of Aquila at the hotel?”
“No, but I can still feel his presence out there somewhere. Shall we go to the airport?”
“Aah…hold on.” Liam pulled out his smartphone to begin a search. “On the way here, I heard the words nine-eleven bandied about on the radio. I’m sure other people had the same thought. So, let me check the airport status. And… Yep. Just as I thought. They’ve closed the airport as a just-in-case measure. It says that it may reopen tomorrow. If you want to leave today, we could drive somewhere.”
“This is Miami,” said Ronan staring out at the sea, a ship on the horizon. “We could hop a cargo ship. They often take on passengers. That would be unexpected. It would give me time to think, and for us to get to know one another.”
“That sounds like an amazing idea, but would that be safe?”
“I would make it safe. And it’s not like the captain would insist we ‘heave to’ or anything. We wouldn’t join the crew, just be there.
“Heave to?” Liam laughed. “That’s a sailing term. Look, I can take care of myself with the crew; I meant safe because of your distant relations, namely Poseidon. The ocean is his domain, after all. Should we consult you-know-who?”
“Probably, although I dislike interrupting the enjoyment of his Cuban. Dolos…”
Dolos stepped out from behind Ronan, and his face carried a sullen expression.
“Hello, Dolos,” said Ronan sounding concerned. “Have we taken you away from your Cuban?”
“No. Things are not good right now. I have a profound sadness, and Zeus is furious.”
“No, at Aquila. Kakia discovered what had happened with the bellhop named Felix, and she destroyed that beautiful young man with the Chronosian blade, and that upsets me. I feel that I’m at fault because I instigated their liaison last night. Felix was an amazing lover, specially blessed by Eros who truly outdid himself, and I’m heartbroken over it. Anyway, Aquila rightly took his anger out on Kakia and stabbed her with the blade.”
“So, that caused the explosion?”
Dolos nodded. “Prometheus and I are upset about the deaths of those innocent people too, but unlike Felix, at least they’re in the underworld now, experiencing whatever they expected when they died.”
“So where is Felix?” asked Liam.
“He no longer exists. I would love to ask Prometheus to bring him back, but there’s nothing left of him. The blade destroyed him utterly, just as it did with Kakia, but unlike Felix, she deserved it. I always despised her for her callousness.”
“What specifically angered Zeus?” asked Ronan.
“The Chronosian blade was Zeus’s idea—made by Chronos himself; one had never before existed. That it destroyed a goddess has embarrassed Zeus, and when events deviate from the plan, he gets angry.”
“Where’s the blade now?” asked Ronan. “Does Aquila still have it, or should I go search the rubble for it?”
Dolos shook his head. “As Sir Isaac Newton realized in his third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You can’t just destroy a goddess without a reaction, so it destroyed the blade at the same time, and at the point where the blade and Kakia intersected there came a hotel-destroying boom!
“It threw Aquila so far from the building, he landed in the water. He feels terrible about the whole situation; he was crying on the beach after a jogger pulled him to shore. We can hardly blame him for it though; he couldn’t know that would happen.”
“So, does Aquila still want to die?” asked Ronan. “Without the blade, he has no means to try and kill me.”
“I can’t tell. I heard him whisper to himself that he needed to find you. I have no idea what his intentions are for when he does. Like with you, he’s immortal, so his thoughts are opaque.”
“The airport is closed due to the explosion,” said Liam. “Ronan has suggested that we take a cargo ship to somewhere.”
“At this point, with Zeus having a conniption fit, the sea is safer than the air.”
“What about Poseidon?”
“He refuses to mind Zeus’s business for him; he won’t bother you.”
Liam turned to Ronan. “Okay, let’s try a cargo ship.”
“I can help you with that,” said Dolos. “There are a lot of ships here. What destination had you in mind?”
“I want to go home for a while,” said Ronan.
Taken aback, Dolos raised a brow. “Really… It’s about time one of you Stallions decided to go home. I will get you as close as possible. Let me speak to Prometheus, and I’ll have something by the time you get back to your vehicle.”
William Grosz, a German man with ash-brown hair, a square face, and a gym-honed body, worked as a purser for a container ship called the CS Fritz Himmel for the Reliance Shipping Company out of Hamburg. A purser dealt with all the logistical, financial, legal, and administrative matters for the ship that concerned the crew, the cargo, supplies, and the authorities at their ports of call. And if the ship had any passengers—a rare event for the Fritz Himmel—it would be the task of the steward and the purser to ensure they had everything they needed. So, while William could be a busy man, the bulk of his duties occurred while at port, and he had streamlined his tasks to a level of efficiency that, during the transatlantic crossing, it left little for him to do.
By noon of that day, he had completed his in-port tasks, and the ship had scheduled its departure at 5:00 p.m. After lunch, he left the superstructure and took a stroll around the main deck and paused by the aluminum gangway (the staircase used to reach the dock from the main deck of the ship), and below sat an olive-colored Jeep with a woman leaning against the side. When she saw him, she gestured for him to come down, which he did.
He found a voluptuous woman with straight blonde hair in a ponytail had awaited him. Her pale blue, painted-on jeans showing her slender, curvy figure and the white blouse she wore displayed just enough skin to see its porcelain-like smoothness, but her sensuous lips that held a pleasant smile spoke with the most incredible voice he had ever heard. By her accent, he could tell she was Swedish, and he had never seen anyone who had fit his description of the most beautiful woman he could ever hope to meet than the one who stood before him then.
“Oh,” she said, gazing upon him in interest. “Hello, my name is Emma Nordstrom, and I was wondering if by chance you were heading back to Europe when you leave Miami. My two friends and I need a ride, and I hear that a voyage aboard a cargo vessel can be a pleasant, leisurely journey. If you have two cabins available, one for me—as I’m alone—and the other for my friends, I would be grateful. We can pay you whatever you ask; money isn’t a problem.”
He stood there looking at her dreamily. “I would love to have you…aboard, I mean. I would love to have you aboard. And yes, our next stop is Genoa, Italy. Let me speak to the ship’s first mate, and I will be right back. Don’t go anywhere!” He hurried up the staircase.
Prometheus discovered the Fritz Himmel rarely took on passengers, and they never advertised their four available cabins, so they usually remained unoccupied. In his prescience, he saw William’s stroll as a means to get aboard and conveyed the information to Dolos.
The purser found the first mate, Paul Hurst, on the bridge in conversation with Captain Stettler about ship matters and took him aside at an opportune moment.
“A woman on the dock has made a request for two rooms and passage to our next port of call for herself and her two friends,” said William.
“Who is it?”
“Someone you will want to see before making a decision.”
Descending the aluminum staircase, Paul then understood what William meant. The woman was beautiful, although he never really found himself attracted to blondes. She stood on the dock by her two male companions, one of whom had considerable height, a lot of muscle, and a familiar face.
“This is Emma Nordstrom,” said William, “and I’ve yet to meet her friends.”
“This is Liam Phillips,” said Emma, “and Ronan Stallion.”
“Stallion…” said Paul. “I thought you looked familiar. I saw you on the internet news. You were at that hotel this morning. We heard the explosion and saw the smoke from here. You saved a lot of lives today. Have you a reason you wish to leave Miami with us? Our journey to Genoa is slow, taking nine days. And as for you Ms. Nordström, we have an amazing chef, but our accommodations aren’t exactly the Ritz Carlton.”
“I expected that,” said Emma, “and I’m tougher than I might seem.” She glanced at William, and he took notice.
“We are in no hurry to get to Europe,” said Liam, “but we do need to go there. May we ride with you? We can pay you whatever you ask.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have three rooms?” asked Paul. “Ours only have double beds.”
Ronan asked Liam, “Would you rather have a room to yourself?”
“If it’s no problem,” Liam said to Paul, “Ronan and I will stay together in one room.”
Paul laughed a little. “We don’t mind.”
He gave them a quote, and they accepted the price of the trip, and the captain welcomed them aboard.
William had an instant crush on Emma, and Dolos—disguised as Emma—thought William Grosz was dreamy, too dreamy just to walk away from, so Emma accompanied Ronan and Liam to Genoa because why not? Apparently, William usually experienced a great deal of boredom for eight of the nine days across the Atlantic, and on this occasion, he hoped to spend a lot of that time with Emma, and she intended to keep him exceedingly busy.
The hull and the superstructure made up the two basic parts of most container ships. The hull housed the ballast, the tanks for usable freshwater, fuel, lubricant, various storage locations, the engine room, tool room, and other items of utility necessary for the ship. The deck is on the top of the hull and that’s where the crew stacked and stored most of the cargo containers. The superstructure contained the bridge where navigation took place, the crew and guest quarters, the sickbay, the kitchen, the dining room, meeting rooms, a gym, a seawater pool, and as they stayed on a German ship, it also had a dry sauna.
From their single square porthole, Ronan and Liam could see that their cabin held a double bed. It had lots of storage, a small refrigerator, and a utilitarian bathroom with a sink, commode, and a shower that didn’t require a curtain. They lay back on the bed, their feet still on the floor, and stared at the ceiling for a moment.
“Did you really mean what you said in the locker room earlier about not considering yourself available?” asked Liam.
“Yes,” he said. “Humans can’t know one another without experience because you can’t see one another as you truly are. I heard everything you said to me yesterday, but today, I can see into your heart. You are beautiful, and I could be happy with you. But I know we have some drastic differences. You have a fear of me, but I can’t tell what it’s about. Will you tell me?”
“I have a few things. There’s the whole ‘you could become a god’ aspect of who you are. How will that affect you? And another, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, I will grow old, and one day, I will die. It seems strange that we can’t grow old together, and I would not want to burden you. I guess my fear is that one day you wouldn’t find me so beautiful anymore and you would leave.”
“I understand,” said Ronan.
“However, I know that, at the moment, neither of those things are a problem.”
“Okay, good. I’m not prescient, so I don’t know what the future holds, but neither do you. All we have is right now. Should we worry about things that haven’t happened as if we could know? Will we deny ourselves some happiness today because of what might happen decades from now?”
Liam rolled over and brought his face to Ronan’s. “May I kiss you?” he asked.
A first kiss is a special and magical thing, as thoughts and desires and hopes, all wrapped up and expressed in a passion that inflames the senses and disregards the fears. From the point of that kiss, Liam couldn’t care what the future held, he wanted Ronan just as he was, however that was, then and in the future. And if Ronan wanted him, he was his, willingly ensnared and not looking back.
With the help of the jogger who pulled him from the water, Adrianus acquired clothing and other items to replace any necessities he had lost in the explosion, including a new smartphone. Having settled into a small but stylish room on the sixth floor of the Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key, he showered again to remove the saltwater residue from his skin, and the shower’s spray induced disturbing reminders of that morning’s incident that echoed around in his head. The groan of fracturing metal and Felix’s last word haunted his memory, “Elias!” He had known Felix only a few hours and still, he felt devastated by his death. He had sensed something special with him. He wasn’t just a call-boy; he had intelligence. And it hadn’t mattered that his talent lay along sexual lines, he shared with the world his ability to enwrap someone in an ecstasy so profound, the experience would change them. Regardless of what some might say, his considerable talent made the world a better place for many people, and Adrianus held the privilege of being its last recipient.
His blind desire to end it all had killed Felix. Not to forget all the others who died at the hotel, most certainly another lesson in unintended consequences. He knew that woman who called herself Happiness was right though. His actions over the years had killed many people, and it just kept happening, as it had that morning. Regret… regret… a constant companion from then on, he knew. He had become an awful person, even in his own eyes.
Holed up in his hotel room, he ordered the beef tenderloin from room service and avoided the world. With his phone in his hands and his back against the headboard, he read one article after another about the explosion and the astonishing claims made about the man known as Stallion—who had saved twenty-three people that morning—and about the many others who had either died or were still missing.
When his food arrived at six o’clock that evening, a knock from room service came upon the door, and he answered it. A nude woman pushed the cart into his room. She looked to be in her early thirties, slender with dark wavy hair kept in a classic braid and pinned up.
“I bring what you hunger for,” she said, pushing the cart to the room’s intimate four-chair dining table.
He shut the door behind her. “Madam, what are you doing? Where are your clothes?”
“Come, you should eat while it’s hot.” She laid a plate of beef and asparagus with jasmine rice onto the table and pulled the chair out for him to sit.
“I don’t know who you are but—”
“Sit and eat.” Her voice and stare could have bored a hole through him.
He refrained from any further argument, sat, and picked up the fork. She relocated herself in his line of view a few feet from the table.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Aletheia, the unconcealed, naked truth. Prometheus has asked that I come to you because Kakia, the goddess you met who called herself Happiness, kept the truth from you. Of anyone in the entire universe, I stand before you the one person who can never lie.”
She nodded. “Yes. He wants you to know your true origins and your circumstances.”
“Okay…” he said with a cautious air. “Your nudity feels awkward. Please, won’t you sit?” He gestured to the seat across from him.
“Thank you, but no,” she said. “The truth stands… always.”
“I see.” Too hungry to argue, he began to eat. “Well, you have my attention.”
“Henri Estalon could not have a child, but Zeus made it happen. He is using you. By ensuring your birth, and every hardship you have endured, Zeus created who you are, and what you have become. But to him, you are a tool and nothing more.”
“Zeus… A tool…” He hadn’t liked the sound of that. “What about Stallion?”
“He is the object to which Zeus would ply you.”
“If I weren’t immortal and hadn’t experienced everything that I had the last day or so, I would think you were insane. So, why would Zeus do such a cruel thing? From what I remember reading, he was supposed to be good.”
She made a decisive shake of her head. “Primitive notions of what it means to be good and propaganda. A proclamation of someone’s goodness has no validity without actions to support it. According to his actions, Zeus is a psychopathic, serial rapist. He is a god; he does what he wants and has no one to answer to.”
He paused eating and his brows rose in surprise. “Wow.”
She shrugged with indifference. “The truth is sometimes harsh and unpalatable.”
“Will you not anger Zeus by saying these things?” He continued to eat.
“Zeus already hates me, but only because he hates the truth of himself.”
“Well, about Stallion… who is he? What is he? And why is Zeus so interested in him?”
Her face held an affectionate smile to think of him. “Ronan is part human and part life essence of Chiron the centaur stallion, the two of them bound together by an eternal flame. Ronan Stallion is the light, and Zeus stands overshadowed by his own past; the promise of a better ruler than Cronus, his Titan father, died the moment he took the throne. Ronan is something new, and his nature may have made him the most powerful being in existence. Zeus isn’t sure whether to believe that, but still, he fears him more than anything or anyone.”
“So, let me see if I have this right,” said Adrianus. “Zeus caused my birth to use me as a tool. He kept me oblivious about my father, just so I could survive the ages alone, watching the people I love die. All, so I would stop loving, stop connecting with people, get sick of living, and feel a desperate need to kill Ronan, after only one spellbinding conversation with some evil witch named Kakia, calling herself Happiness.”
“That is precisely what happened, and all went according to plan until you destroyed her.”
“Is what she said the truth, about my inability to die, unless the eternal flame is destroyed?”
She tipped her head a little. “That plan had no guarantee of success for you. Zeus wanted information, so your attempt would have gotten him what he wanted regardless of the outcome. However, Prometheus has an alternative that wouldn’t require destroying Ronan.”
“The gulf of difference between yourself and those around you makes you alone. How would you like mortality, so that you can have a normal life, open yourself to the world around you again, fall in love one day, have children if you want, and perhaps die of old age?”
Adrianus dropped his fork, swallowed, and stared at her. “You can do that? I thought that would ask too much.”
“It can be done, but it would require sacrifice.”
“That’s fine,” he said, “whatever I would have to do, I would do it.”
“That’s the problem,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “The sacrifice is not yours.”
Due to his size, Ronan walked the hallway of the ship a few steps behind Liam. After having left Miami’s port on Dodge Island at five o’clock, the two had taken an hour to walk the main deck and explore the superstructure, leaving them to conclude that, as far as no-frills travel goes, it would do. The designer had to minimize everything to the essentials and consider whatever may come upon the high seas which resulted in an aesthetic of mere adequacy. The only exception to that rule was the beautiful wood-lined dry sauna which would hold about ten people.
As was tradition, during their welcome aboard, the captain invited them to dine with him at six that evening. The officer’s mess consisted of four round tables with seating for six each. The steward, Garit Bruckhauser, seated them with Captain Stettler and Paul Hurst, the first mate, both of whom wore the casual dress of a long sleeve pullover and jeans.
In a gentlemanly fashion, Ronan pulled out the brown Naugahyde-upholstered wooden chair for Liam and took the seat beside him.
“It reminds me of the dining set in my grandmother’s kitchen,” said Liam.
“Have you toured the ship?” asked the captain.
“Yes,” said Liam. “I think we’ll be comfortable, and we’re looking forward to the sauna this evening. I’ve never had a ship voyage, so out of curiosity, and for my peace of mind, are we carrying anything dangerous? And how often do you see inclement weather across the Atlantic?”
“Storms can occur any time of year,” he said, “but it’s not too bad in the warmer months, and according to the shipping report, the weather ahead is relatively calm, so nothing to worry about. As for what we’re carrying, it’s nothing too dangerous really. Currently, we have a ship half full of Hondas, but quite a few other things as well. I wouldn’t concern myself, just sit back and relax.
“I had hoped that the lovely Frau Nordström would grace us with her presence this evening, but the steward says that she and our purser will be—shall we say—busy for the next few days, and they will take all their meals in her cabin.”
“That’s our Emma,” said Ronan. “In her defense, she’s actually choosier than it might seem, but the purser is quite handsome.”
Paul nodded. “He is handsome, but he’s no Gustav Lauterborn.”
“Who is that?” asked Liam.
“He’s our First Engineer. You may have your man named Stallion,” said Paul gesturing to Ronan, “but we have Gustav Lauterborn. He’s quite impressive and always getting erections in the sauna.”
“The purser’s shortcomings probably won’t matter to Emma,” said Ronan. “He has a nice thick head of hair. It wouldn’t surprise me if, by the time we reached Genoa, it was thinner.”
“The two of you will get along well with the crew,” said Paul. “No topic is taboo with us, especially sex. We can get bawdy, and it keeps things lively.”
When it came time to order, the captain and first mate ordered their usual, and Liam ordered the salmon.
When asked what he would like, Ronan said, “Nothing for me, thank you. I’m just here for the company.”
“You won’t be able to get anything from the kitchen later,” said the captain.
“Actually, captain, I don’t eat.”
“You don’t eat?” he asked. “Everyone eats. How can you survive and not eat?”
Ronan shrugged a little. “I just do.”
“Okay…” the captain said and gave Ronan an odd expression. “All the bridge crew saw the news reports about you, and now you tell us you don’t eat. Are you from another planet?”
“I am Centaurian,” said Ronan. “Half-human, half centaur. You’ll have yet to have heard of me, but I must start somewhere.”
“It sounds to me like you have a problem,” said the captain.
Liam smiled a rather sardonic smile. “A mental-health problem, right? I recognize the look on your faces. Ronan and I know how mad it all sounds. However, what he said is true. He is half centaur, and he doesn’t eat.”
“No disrespect intended,” said the first mate. “It’s just that the reports about him are too incredible to believe.”
“I understand,” said Ronan with the little smile. “For now, it’s not important. You’re welcome to believe whatever makes you comfortable.”
After dinner, they returned to their cabin. “I don’t want people treating you like you’re delusional.”
“That will happen for a while,” said Ronan, “and we will just have to accept that.”
A knock came upon the door. Emma entered the cabin dressed in a short diaphanous white gown that barely covered anything.
“Hello!” she said.
“Have you had fun with William?” asked Ronan.
Emma whispered, “Oh yes, he has a tongue like you wouldn’t believe, but he does seem to have an enormous ‘little’ problem, and a lifetime of memories of people cruelly teasing him over it, including some members of the crew.”
“Is his problem that significant?” asked Liam.
She continued, “I would tell anyone who would thoughtlessly use the blanket statement, size doesn’t matter, that they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. It may not matter to them, but it does matter. Regardless of the person’s intended use, be it for conception or purely for pleasure. As far as feasibility is concerned, if for a human, one like a whale is too big, but one like a gnat is too small, and there is a middle range of sizes that allow it to perform its personally intended function with a descriptor like ‘best’, ‘well’, ‘okay’, or ‘not at all’, then size matters. This poor man has some condition that caused him to have no protruding shaft when erect, and nothing protrudes when flaccid. So, during his sleep tonight, I intend to help him.”
“Wow,” said Liam.
“He’s a good man and not the first that I’ve helped this way.”
“Hey,” said Liam, “if you’re handing-out extra inches, I’ll take a few.”
Emma smiled and patted Liam’s cheek indulgently.
“So, is this what Emma wears to bed?” asked Ronan gesturing to her attire.
“No, it’s what Emma wears for less than two minutes before William takes it off her. Currently, he is showering. He knows I came across the hall to talk and check up on you. I have from Prometheus both good news and bad. The good news is that Aquila no longer wishes to kill you, but he does want to talk to you and is planning to meet you at the station while boarding the overnight train from Milan to Brindisi. As for the bad news…Zeus is planning something, but we don’t know what. Given that it’s Zeus, it will probably involve lightning.”
Gustav Lauterborn, a handsome, dark-haired man in his early thirties with a strong body, big biceps, and spectacular forearms from working with his hands all day, held the position as a well-paid first engineer on the CS Fritz Himmel. He knew all the inner workings of the ship and his superiors thought to tap him for the replacement of the chief engineer when the current chief retired. So, the crew had respect for Gustav’s abilities since he had the responsibility of most of the engineering work aboard the ship and the chief relied on him so heavily.
After a typical hard day’s work—when things ran smoothly—the engineer had an excellent dinner with conversations among his crew mates for an hour. This would begin his evening relaxation routine which he typically maintained like clockwork. Every evening, at 7:45, he would shower. At 8:00, he began the first of two 15-minute sauna sessions with a 20-minute break in between. Afterward, he cooled down for 5-minutes, walked back to his cabin, and showered again. He would then sit on his bunk to read for a little while, and just before bed at 9:45, the steward would make his nightly visit to suck off his well-admired nine inches, after which he would sleep until morning. Life was good for Gustav, but for all that he had going for him, he wasn’t perfect…
The First-Mate Paul Hurst along with Crewmen Kurtis Eisen and Otto Gleich always took the sauna with Gustav, as did the friendly steward named Garit Bruckhauser who had a crush on Gustav. That evening, however, William and Emma joined them, at her insistence. The sauna had two sets of risers that faced one another. Paul, Gustav, Kurtis, Otto, and Garit sat on one side of the sauna while William and Emma sat on the other, facing them. The two sets of risers had only five feet between them, so one might call the sauna cozy.
Traditionally, everyone would go naked into a German sauna and sit on a towel, ensuring that no part of their body touched the wood beneath them. And while German saunas also had the tradition of treating the space as a non-sexual environment where everyone minded their own business, that part had never quite worked out aboard ship.
Within a minute of the group’s second 15-minute session, William could no longer stand it, he grabbed his towel and fled the sauna, bumping into the towel-wrapped Ronan and Liam about to enter. As they heard someone say from within the sauna, “There goes Envy,” whereupon Ronan and Liam found Otto, Kurtis, and Gustav having a laugh at William’s expense as they entered, closing the door behind them to keep in the heat.
Emma got up from the bench she sat upon, towel in hand, eyes ablaze, staring at those who laughed. “Shame on you,” she said. “The three of you are particularly cruel. If you don’t give William a heartfelt apology by morning for every snide remark you have ever made to him, with a promise to never treat anyone like that again, you will awaken to find yourself missing most of that which you hold so dear.” She turned and smiled at her friends. “Ah, Ronan, just the man.” She spoke confidentially into his ear. “Do me a favor and make sure these men feel as inferior as possible.” She then left to find William.
Liam gestured to the door through which Emma just exited. “Sounds like some of you are in deep shit.”
“It would serve them right,” said Paul. “They never leave William alone. He stopped using the sauna because of it.”
“Nothing will happen,” said Gustav. “Curses are not real.”
“We were all just having a laugh,” said Otto, “that’s all.”
“Really?” said Liam as they climbed to the second level of the empty risers. “I didn’t see William laughing. Did you see William laughing, Ronan?”
“No, I never saw him laugh either.” As Ronan took his place beside Liam, he just stood there for a moment. “I take it,” Ronan said to the men, “that you think that having a smaller penis is amusing.”
“Ja,” Gustav said simply, making a blatant display of his partially erect larger-than-average one.
“Humph,” said Ronan. “I see.” He unwrapped his towel and laid it onto the wood behind him and sat beside Liam allowing his fleshy hose to drape down from the riser between his muscular legs for everyone to see.
They all sat staring in complete disbelief.
“Scheisse! (Shit),” said Garit.
“Ficken Pferdeschwänz! (Fucking horse cock),” said Otto
“Du hast Konkurrenz, Gustav (You have competition, Gustav),” said Paul.
Gustav’s brows drew together, he leaned forward and asked, “How big are you?”
“Not sure, but I much bigger than you,” said Ronan. “I see a few of you getting an erection. Is this the part where we all get hard and compare ourselves to one another?”
“I have an erection,” Liam said in conviviality. “Will you have one? I must admit, I’m just as curious about yours as they are.”
Ronan lifted his Centaurian appendage and as he hefted it, it began to harden and lengthen and thicken in his hand. It rose until the head reached his pecs.
Liam stared at it. “You and I are going to have so much fun with that.” Ronan smiled and gave him a quick kiss.
Most of the others just stared in silence.
Paul asked, “How can you be so big?”
Ronan shrugged a little. “I told you at dinner that I was half centaur. I have something to say to those of you who laughed at William. Emma is many orders of magnitude more than she seems. If you don’t heed her warning—as sure as I’m sitting here before you—you will awaken to something that I doubt you will find so amusing when it’s yours. Now, I just want to sit here and enjoy the heat.” He leaned back and closed his eyes.
Afterward, Ronan trailed a few steps behind Liam as they trekked naked up the four floors back to their cabin. He watched Liam’s ass, noting he had worked it hard in the gym to give it an attractive curve with that firm, mildly bouncy quality so evident with every stair-step upward.
Upon reaching the cabin, Ronan walked him backward, kissing him into the room. He picked Liam up and tossed him onto the bed. “You want to hear something amazing?” Ronan asked him.
“My erections work nothing like a regular human’s. I can stay erect for as long as I like—even permanently if I want.”
Liam stared wide-eyed in disbelief at the idea, and it left him to draw one conclusion. “Okay, that settles it,” said Liam, “you really are a god.”
Ronan laughed a little, grabbed Liam’s hands, and held his arms over his head. “Am I?” he asked.
He hovered his bulky musculature over Liam, who could feel the heat from the equine-like penis laying from his scrotum to his sternum. As Ronan studied every feature of his face, Liam stared into his cognac-colored eyes and sighed at the pleasure of his insides melting like butter in the heat of Ronan’s godlike presence.
“You are to me,” he whispered.
Ronan kissed him. Releasing Liam’s hands, he felt Liam’s body and rolled them on the bed until he lay on the bottom. Changing position, Liam lifted Ronan’s cock vertical, pressed its heat to his face, and inhaled the scent. It seemed no different from that of any other man, but holding onto it, it surpassed the ten-inch length of his ex-boyfriend by about six inches, placing its size firmly within the scale of one of the smaller equine breeds, a Shetland pony, maybe. As for its circumference, it had a decent thickness but not excessively so, more on par with a slightly thicker-than-average human penis, except at the base which was at the top end of the human scale.
“If you morphed into the bipedal centaur, how would that change you?” he asked.
“I would have hooves, two equine legs, with an ass to support them, along with the accompanying tale. I would grow significantly taller and bigger in general. That cock you’re playing with would probably become even larger and equine in shape. I might even have the ability to pull it back into my body, but I’m not sure.”
“Holy shit… So, you would have like…the size of a quarter horse overall?”
“No, that’s a horse bred for speed, think strength…more like a Shire horse. Although, Chiron was never that big as a full centaur.”
“A Shire is the biggest breed there is!”
Ronan nodded. “Yeah, but don’t worry, I would never ask you to have sex with me like that. Among other issues, it would be dangerous with a cock about two and a half feet long. If morphing ever became an option, chances are, I would only change to fulfill Chiron’s need to be that; if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, of course,” said Liam, “that’s completely understandable. He’s been so human for many thousands of years. I can imagine that he would want to stretch his equine legs fairly regularly.”
He drew Liam’s lips to his and kissed him. “The day you found me, you told me you believed that perhaps you were meant to find me because your situation and mine fit too hand-in-glove. You were right. Prometheus chose you to find me, but whether you remain with me is entirely up to you. I know you like the idea, and you are drawn to me something fierce, but that’s an enormous life-changing decision. Please, don’t make it without giving it a lot of thought. You have known me less than forty-eight hours.”
“I know that you’re right,” he said, “and I do love being a cop, but the pull I feel toward you isn’t easy to resist.”
“I’m sorry for that. All I ask is that you try. You’re on vacation. Take your time.”
He nodded. “There’s time to decide that later. Right now, I want to suck you dry.”
“That’s likely impossible,” said Ronan laying flat again. “Because of my nature, my body continually produces anything it needs on-demand, so theoretically, I could geyser a sustained stream of cum for all eternity.”
“Wow… in that case, I better get started!”
Ronan loved the sensation of Liam sucking and jacking his gigantic cock. And it had been a while for Liam, so he was quite enthusiastic about the opportunity. After twenty minutes, Ronan started to have an orgasm, and Liam intended to take it, but Ronan would shoot more than any other man, and he just kept cumming and cumming, with Liam guzzling shot after shot.
Ronan strained to say, “You probably should stop,” all while his orgasm continued to feed Liam and he tried to stop it.
After Ronan finally got the flow to stop, having drunk the whole thing with a somewhat full sensation in his belly, Liam pulled the cock from his mouth and smiled. “That was delicious!”
“You were incredible, but you just chugged a Centaurian quantity of cum!”
“It’s the equivalent of blowing anywhere from 110 to 130 guys at once. You drank about two measured cups of cum.”
“Holy shit! Well, it won’t kill me.”
“No, it won’t kill you, but you haven’t built up a tolerance for swallowing that much, you might throw up, or else you’ll find yourself on the pot all night, if not both.”
Liam laughed. “I hadn’t realized I was such a piglet. It was so good, though, I couldn’t quit.”
“Well, given how much I cum, I probably need a piglet. You should work up to a full load, but let’s see what this one does to you.”
He shrugged. “I feel fine, and oddly, it didn’t even taste like cum.”
“It would shock me if it had no effect on you. Regardless of the consequences though, I can give you more anytime you want it, and I know you will want it.”
Liam laid on his left side next to Ronan and reached out to grip his cock. “I like it when you’re erect. It makes me want to keep it in my mouth though.” He kissed the end of it.
Ronan slowly jacked Liam’s dick for him. “When you asked for the extra inches, how many times did Emma pat your cheek?”
“Let me think…aah…about five. Why?”
“You’ll probably have five more inches by morning.”
“What?” Liam sat up.
“You had meant it when you asked for them, hadn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but she patted me on the cheek like, ‘In your dreams, buddy.’”
“No, you and I have a unique relationship with Dolos/Emma. She patted you on the cheek like, ‘Here you are, sweetie.’”
“Holy crap! She would just do that?”
“It’s no problem for her. It’s that easy to accomplish, so what’s the big deal?”
“I had no idea,” he said. “She didn’t have to say any magic words, get me to drink some concocted potion or anything.”
“All that is pure Hollywood. She never even had to pat your cheek. How’s your stomach?”
“I don’t remember the last time I got to suck dick.” Ronan repositioned himself and took Liam’s seven inches into his mouth where he slurped and moaned and savored the experience for just a couple of minutes.
“I’ve not cum in days,” he said, “and I’m about to.” So, he did, six full shots which he could feel Ronan swallowing. “You drank it?”
Ronan cleaned him up, withdrew it from his mouth and smacked his lips, and said, “Mmm… tasty.”
“I thought you would never eat anything.”
“You’re the exception. Hey, I know…rather than telling anyone I don’t eat, I should say that I’m on Liam’s South-Beach Cum Diet.“
He smiled. “You have my permission—” He pointed at him. “—but make sure they understand it’s completely proprietary. If the cum’s not mine, it ain’t the real one.”
Ronan laid back and laughed. “Could you imagine the captain’s face at dinner this evening if I told him that?”
“Time for Ronan’s evening feeding!—as I stand by the table and whip it out for you.”
“In the right setting, that might be fun.” He thought for a moment. “So, still no problems?”
“Still nothing, and actually I’m feeling really good. Maybe, I’m immune to its effects somehow. Or maybe yours isn’t like regular cum; the taste was sweeter—a little like honey—and the texture, creamier. I loved it; it was delicious.” Liam noticed he had trouble with his eyes. “My eyes are getting blurry; I must need to clean my contacts. I should remove them for sleeping anyway.” He dug into his bag and retrieved his contact lens case and cleaner. He moved to the bathroom, washed his hands, and put lens cleaner into the case. He plucked a lens from each eye, dropping them into their respective sides of the plastic holder. He closed it, dried his hands, and took it back to his bag. “What the fuck!” he exclaimed looking about the room.
“What’s the matter?”
“Everything is clear! Has Emma corrected my eyesight?”
Ronan stood from the bed. “No, she would have said something.”
Liam scrunched his face. “What the—” He put his hand to his mouth, and he spit something into it. “Oh shit! Is that my fillings? What the hell is happening to me?”
Liam took the cellphone from his bag and rushed into the bathroom to use the mirror. From the flashlight of his mobile, he could see that his teeth were white, straight, and healthier than they’ve ever looked. He showed Ronan their appearance.
“This has to be your cum,” he told him.
“That sounds crazy, but I can’t say that it isn’t.”
“I would suggest we could ask Emma,” Liam said, “but she’s helping William, and I wouldn’t want to distract from that, the poor guy. If this were hurting me, that would be one thing. I guess it can wait until morning.” He took a deep, exhausted breath and yawned. “I’m suddenly feeling tired. Would you hold me while I sleep?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
They left the light from the crack of the bathroom door as the only illumination in the room just in case Liam needed to go but awakened disoriented.
Ronan laid his head on the pillow and Liam laid his head on Ronan, an arm across him and his face laying against the warmth of the fully erect Centaurian appendage. As Liam slept, Ronan called upon Prometheus in his mind and spoke to him the entire evening.
Prometheus admitted that he considered Ronan his son. In his prescience, he had seen his coming thousands of years ago, and he was everything that he knew Ronan’s predecessors could never be. They were good men, chosen to carry Chiron into the future…for Ronan. He expressed his pride at seeing him help the people at the hotel that morning. Prometheus knew that Ronan would shine the light from his eternal flame upon everything and everyone he encountered, illuminating the shadows where evil hides and acting as a beacon for the good, letting them know they were not alone, helping those in need.
Ronan asked him about the power he had yet to use. Prometheus told him not to worry about it. That time would come, and when it had, he would use it for the best of reasons, and he would be ready.
During that conversation with Prometheus, time passed far more rapidly on Earth, and it ended with Liam awakening at 5:33 with Gustav knocking on Emma’s cabin door across from theirs.
“Good morning,” said Ronan in the light from the crack of the bathroom door. “How’s the stomach?”
Liam gripped the Centaurian dick that Ronan had left erect all night. “It feels fine.”
“Excellent!” Ronan crawled under the covers and began to suck on Liam. He found pleasure in the taste and the movement of the soft skin over its hardened interior as he pleased Liam, throating his newly enlarged, full foot of cop cock. He savored every moan escaping Liam’s lips as he brought him closer to climax.
Liam pushed back the covers and saw in the shadow from the light of the bathroom door, that his erection had grown to the length of Ronan’s in its flaccid state. As he sucked him, he could feel the draw of his impending orgasm, and at that moment, his mind went blank in the pleasure of blowing his load in Ronan’s welcoming mouth. When it ended Ronan pulled it from his lips, kissed the end, and said, “We will have a lot of fun with your new dick.”
Liam felt its length with his hand. “Yes, we will. I want breakfast.” He positioned himself to shove the head and several inches of Ronan’s cock into his mouth and began to blow him.
It went on for about ten minutes when Ronan said, “Use more teeth.” When Liam complied, it sent impossibly pleasurable sensations through Ronan’s body, and within a minute… “Get ready, I’m gonna-” And Liam focused on chugging jet after jet after jet of the same delicious creaminess he tasted the previous night. And rather than trying to control it, Ronan allowed himself to relax, and his orgasm continued for several minutes, but with difficulty, he managed to stop it when he felt Liam was probably full. He squeezed his cock from the bottom to get at the remainder of the liquid, and he let Liam clean him up.
“That was unbelievable,” said Liam, and he kissed Ronan.
Tasting it himself, Ronan broke the kiss. “That’s not cum, Liam. What is that?”
“I don’t know, but I want to gorge myself with its creamy goodness until I explode.” He stuffed Ronan’s cock back into his mouth.
“No no.” He wrested his appendage from Liam’s lips and allowed it to go slack. “You need to lay off the sauce until we speak to Emma. I don’t know what I fed you, but overnight, you seem to have grown an addiction to it. Let’s have a shower and get you some breakfast.”
“I’m not really hungry,” he said.
“Well, I’m not surprised. Perhaps, you’ll want something when we get down there.”
When they went to dress from the clothing in their bags, Liam had a cranberry tank top with a white shirt to wear over it, tan shorts, and slip-on rubber-soled shoes. The bag only offered Ronan an unusually designed, cream-colored, square-necked tank top with midnight-blue colored reinforcement around the arms and neck. The opaque—relatively thick—strange material accentuated and clung to every curve of Ronan’s upper body—even more so than Lycra would. It had the word “CENTAURIAN” stitched across the light-colored material covering the broadness of his armor-like pecs in blue thread. He had a pair of shorts in the same blue coloring that reached a third of the way to his knees—made of the same material—both fit and styled like compression shorts. For footwear, he had a blue pair of slip-on shoes with rubber soles.
“You make that outfit look sexy,” said Liam.
“You don’t think this is a bit over-the-top?”
“You probably need a long pair of pants for when shorts are inappropriate, but it has a stylish design and looks iconic—I would instantly recognize you—but given your nature, I think you can get away with it. Considering how you got it, I get the feeling that someone has given you this because it suits your needs. It would allow freedom of movement, but I would be willing to bet it’s as tough as you are and doesn’t burn—an attribute you said you needed.”
As they entered the officer’s mess the steward—who took the opportunity to give Ronan a smile and a wink—once again, seated them at the captain’s table with the First Mate Paul Hurst, but also present were Emma and William, who looked quite happy. Ronan pulled out the chair for Liam.
The captain had the broad smile of amusement. “Guten Morgen, Herrs Stallion and Phillips (Good morning, Misters Stallion and Phillips). I hear the rumor mill has much grist to grind this morning, and I have many assurances that the rumors are true, including from Frau Nordström who provided specifics.”
Ronan gazed at Emma as he took his seat. “Thanks.”
“Just boosting your reputation, that’s all.”
“And here we were, impressed over our first engineer,” said the captain.
As the captain continued, Emma gave Liam a strange expression, and she leaned over to speak to him confidentially.
“You are positively glowing this morning,” she said, “and in a way that makes me suspicious.”
His brows rose as he shook his head and whispered, “I assure you, I’m not the least bit pregnant.”
Emma laughed. “No really… something is different about you. What is it?”
“We’ve wanted to talk to you. Last night, within minutes after having drunk quite a bit of Ronan’s cum, I no longer needed my contact lenses and the fillings in my teeth fell out.”
With a look of complete perplexity, she thought about it for a second and asked, “What did it taste like?”
“I don’t know, a little sweetish maybe.”
“It tasted Swedish?”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, it was a bit sweet, a little like honey. It was delicious. I didn’t want to stop chugging it down last night, or this morning when I had more, and I’ve had cups and cups of it, apparently. I don’t even know why we bothered coming to breakfast, I’m not remotely hungry.”
“Have you seen what Ronan’s cum looks like?” she asked.
“Oh no, it all went down the hatch, if you know what I mean.”
Her mouth dropped open, she grabbed the empty Hefeweizen glass from the place setting before her and interrupted the ongoing conversation at the table. “Ronan, excuse me. Is it possible to speak with you, please?”
“Is anything wrong?” he asked.
She glanced at the others at the table, and despite their presence, she decided to press on, regardless. “Well… it’s just that I’ve had an enlightening little conversation with Liam here, and from what I’ve gathered…I suspect that, when you have an orgasm, your cum is actually Ambrosia. If you would, please fill this glass for me, so that I can know for sure.”
The three Germans at their table and all those at nearby tables heard Emma’s statement, and her unusual request causing a momentary shock and silence.
Ronan’s brows drew together, not believing what he was hearing. “What?”
The men let out a peal of laughter which continued for some time.
“Oh, Frau Nordström,” said the captain as they all laughed, “are you not aware that every man’s cum is Ambrosia?”
“Especially if he’s German,” said the first mate. And of course, all the German men there could not help but agree.
The silliness even had Liam and Ronan laughing. The first mate had warned them that they could all get bawdy.
When the laughter died down the captain said, “Herr Stallion, I wish to make you a bet. If you can fulfill Frau Nordström’s request by filling that glass to the top with your ‘Ambrosia’, I will give you all your money back.”
Ronan sat there for a minute. He knew they didn’t need the money, but they had paid eight thousand dollars for the trip. The captain thought he would bet on a sure thing; no man could fill a 16-ounce Hefeweizen glass.
“And if I lose?” asked Ronan.
“If you lose,” said the captain, “you have to admit you’re human, just like everyone else.”
“Okay, but rather than giving back the money, I want your word as the captain of this vessel that you will give the money to a children’s charity, even if it’s just one in Germany. And…you have to start believing me when I tell you something because I won’t lie.”
“It is a deal,” he said, “you have my word. But you must do it right there. No trickery.”
“At the dining table?”
“Ambrosia is the food of the gods,” said the captain. “What more appropriate place is there than the table?”
Ronan gazed upon Emma.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I had no idea it would go this far.”
“Do you seriously think it could be Ambrosia?” he asked her.
“What would that mean?”
“I don’t know, but Liam’s drank quite a lot, so the three of us need to talk about the consequences of that.”
Ronan reached out. “Hand me the glass.”
He set the glass before him, and as the men gathered around, he pulled down his shorts to the expected gasps and whispering. He hefted his enormous penis and willed himself erect enough to make it stick straight out and still capable of bending into the glass. He glanced at the captain who, like all those around him stared wide-eyed at the spectacle. Rather than the crowd causing him difficulty, as he thought might occur, their presence helped him along and within five minutes he held the end of his cock over the glass, and he came. Jets of a thick honey-colored liquid filled the glass; it just kept coming and kept pouring out of him. The more the glass contained the more it became obvious that he had filled it with a suspension of metallic gold that glinted in the light of the dining room. As the liquid reached the top, he set down the glass and gave Liam the remainder as he forced himself to stop, after which he allowed himself to go soft and he pulled up his shorts. Everyone in the room stared in utter silence at the glass. Liam carefully moved it to Emma who knew what it was the moment she saw it.
She nodded. “This is Ambrosia.” She lifted the glass to her lips and took a long drink of it. “And it’s delicious.”
Ronan turned from Emma to the captain.
The captain’s brows had lowered in perplexity, he shook his head a little, and asked, “What are you?”
As he stood beside the table, every eye on him, Ronan held out his hands a little, shrugged, and dropped them to his sides. “I am your friend. I am a friend to you all. That’s the only thing that matters.”
The reaction by the men ranged from amazement and curiosity to wariness and disbelief.
Emma told William that she needed to speak to her friends for a bit, and he said he would busy himself with other things after breakfast. The instant they entered Ronan and Liam’s cabin with the glass of Ambrosia, she started, “I apologize, Ronan, I had no idea that would happen.”
Liam said, “I can’t believe you went along with his bet.”
“It would help people if I agreed to it, and it was a small sacrifice.” He turned to Emma. “What are the consequences of Liam drinking Ambrosia?”
“As with so much of the knowledge from ages past, it gets jumbled, convoluted, embroidered, and embellished over the years to the point where any grain of truth it may have held is often difficult to discern. So, one should not believe every story about the gods, or all the ideas held to be true about the world of the divine. There is a story about the origin of Ambrosia involving a wood nymph, but that story is just that—a story. For as much as many would like to deny it, the gods are not all-knowing. If any of us have known of the real origins of Ambrosia they have kept it to themselves. I only know that someone brings it to Olympus, bearers distribute it during feasts, that it’s delicious beyond all else, and it has magical properties. The gods drink it because of its taste and preciousness, similarly to the way ancient kings might hoard diamonds because of their beauty and rarity—at least before industrialization. But a king was king before the diamonds, and the gods were gods before Ambrosia. The difference is when a mortal partakes of it, and it only takes once.”
“What has it done to me,” he asked.
“You are no longer mortal. Your body has repaired itself, so you no longer need the lenses, and your teeth have renewed themselves, pushing out your fillings. It has restored everything about you; you are now whole.”
“So, I’m invulnerable now like Ronan?”
“No,” said Emma, “Ronan is different. He will have a vulnerability somewhere. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but he is probably the least vulnerable immortal to ever exist, but nothing is perfect. As for yourself, you are like the way Chiron was immortal before Prometheus saved him. Heracles accidentally struck him with a poisoned arrow. Chiron would survive it, but because of the poison, he would have lived in agony. So, he gave up his immortality in exchange for setting his cousin Prometheus free from Zeus’s punishment, and that’s how we got here. Would you want to grow old and die?”
Liam flopped down on the bed. “I don’t know. It’s not like the typical human walks around all day thinking of their own mortality. On an average day, we put it out of our minds and live in the illusion that it will never happen, although when pressed, we must admit that it will. Maybe that’s what Aquila did in the beginning, just like everyone else. And over time, it became less and less possible to live the illusion when he realized it was true. Can I still pleasure Ronan and drink as much Ambrosia as I want?” He gazed up at Ronan who gave him a little smile.
“It won’t hurt you,” she said.
“Well, that’s something at least,” said Liam.
Ronan hugged Liam from where he sat on the bed.
They suddenly heard a loud but muffled creaking sound, a metallic clatter, and as they rushed to the porthole to see out onto the ship, there came a ship-shaking explosion on the port side. One of the cargo containers collapsed from the weight above it, causing something inside it to ignite and explode, tearing open several of the containers around it, making them lose their structural integrity, and the resulting fire caused black smoke to billow into the sky from the gaping remains. The captain stopped the ship, a general alarm sounded, and crewmen were rushing to their posts from other cabins on their floor.
As Liam turned to Ronan, he saw that he had already left the room.
Ronan mounted the stairs to reach the bridge. The moment he entered, another smaller explosion happened closer to the top of the container stack.
“That was probably the petrol tank on one of the Hondas,” said Paul Hurst, the first mate.
Seeing Ronan on his bridge vexed the captain. “You need to leave, Herr Stallion; we have this under control.”
William had searched through the manifest. “It says containers on that level were packed full of paper.”
“Paper doesn’t explode,” said the captain.
“Misdeclared cargo,” said Paul, “that’s all we need.” He informed the fire crew by radio as they pulled a hose to the area, which, just by its location, would be difficult.
“Let me help you,” Ronan said to the captain. “Would you like me to toss those containers off the ship?”
“We had our fun this morning,” said the captain, “but this is serious, you need to leave.”
“Captain,” he said as he took him by the shoulders. “I can do this. Do you want those containers tossed?”
“The containers carrying Hondas would need moving, and they weigh 4.8 metric tons each. Don’t tell me you can lift that.”
“Actually, I probably can,” he said. “Look, it’s my neck, and I’m willing to stick it out. You have nothing to lose.”
The captain stared at him for a moment when an explosion shook the ship from the same area as the first one.
“If you can do what you say,” said the captain, “if it’s on fire, toss it overboard. If it seems excessively hot, toss it overboard. If it’s just in the way, try to keep it if you can. You may have to disengage the twist-lock connectors at the corners before you can pick anything up.”
“What about the balance from the starboard side?” asked Ronan.
“If it’s a significant problem, we’ll deal with that later.”
“I’m on it.” Ronan left the bridge and hurried down the stairs. He met Emma and Liam on their way to the bridge. He kissed Liam. “Wish me luck!” he said and kept going.
“Good luck!” Liam yelled after him. When they arrived, the bridge crew could do nothing else, except watch the fire destroy the cargo as the crew tried to extinguish it.
Liam asked the captain, “What exploded?”
“Misdeclared cargo. Some companies think they can ship things we normally would reject by declaring it as something else. Misdeclared cargo is the number one cause of fires aboard these ships. Can Herr Stallion do what he says?”
“Ronan would never lie about anything as serious as helping people,” he said.
Fire and smoke boiled from the containers of section 10 toward the bow of the ship. They saw Ronan climb atop the containers and head in that direction. With all the smoke it became difficult to see his precise actions, but the container with the Honda that had sat directly above the first explosion needed to go. Liam and the bridge crew watched as a flaming Honda Civic flew at least two hundred yards out of the smoky mass where Ronan had ejected it off the port side.
“Mein Gott! (My God!),” stated the captain.
The broken container that surrounded it followed, along with everything Ronan could find that had caught fire, including those in the stack next to it. He tossed entire containers the blast had cracked open and left burning. The crewmen with the fire hose put out the remaining fire far easier and cooled down all the containers left in place. Ronan had one container left to toss. It held a Honda Civic and the crack in the side smoked badly. During the explosion, the door on the front of the container had popped out, but he thought little of it. He picked it up to toss it off the ship, and when he gave it the necessary shove, the container flexed, and the door squeezed onto his hand. When the container went flying, its weight caused it to pull Ronan into the water along with it.
Liam and Emma watched horrified as it flew away from the ship with Ronan attached to the doorframe, and when it struck the water, it went under with a rapid kerplunk. Air had bubbled up where it landed, but it disappeared, and Ronan vanished right along with it. Crew members rushed to the railing with a lifebuoy, but there was no one to throw it to. He was gone.
“I just realized Ronan’s vulnerability,” said Emma. “He isn’t human, and his body is too dense to swim; he’ll sink like a stone.”
“He doesn’t breathe,” said Liam, “so he can survive this, right?”
“He won’t die,” said Emma. “He’ll be on the ocean floor.”
The captain turned to them. “I can’t imagine how he could survive, but I should tell you that we’re no longer over the continental shelf.”
“How far down is the bottom from here?” Liam asked.
“About two miles,” said Emma.
After making the plunge, Ronan jerked his hand free of the container door. Having left his element, among the broken strings of kelp and the flotsam he had chucked from the ship’s cargo, he found himself enveloped by a world where sound plays a more important part of life than sight. His ears filled with a cacophony of sounds from the ship, a few creaking groans from the metal containers, the motion of the water around him, and every stroke of his limbs as he struggled to swim to the surface, but his efforts came to nothing; he continued to drop with the shipping container which, with every passing moment, inched its way farther from his reach.
He tried not to panic and worked as fast as he could to find a way to reverse his descent; the greater distance from the surface, the less light he would have to see.
He could alter his trajectory by swimming any direction but up, so he returned to the twenty-foot container and ripped the doors from it. As the opening faced the surface, he could see the Honda’s position—the front bumper pointed downward—and most of the straps that held it to the bottom of the container had burned to a few threads that would snap when it impacted the ocean floor.
Due to the width of the container, he could barely reach the vehicle’s unburned driver-side rear tire. It still had air but would weigh too much to have sufficient buoyancy. He used its Schrader valve to inhale air from it, thinking to fill the space inside him that he used for speaking, attempting to make himself more buoyant before it was too late, but the external water pressure had already reached the pressure of the air inside the tire—maybe, 33-pounds per square inch—so the negative pressure in the tire drew water inside rather than allowing air to escape. A few seconds later, the tires tried to implode, but rather than collapsing inward from the vacuum, it broke the seal, and the air he might have used, he lost to the ocean.
He tore open the trunk and scavenged for what he could find. Beneath the floor mat, he found the vehicle’s donut spare tire. He figured it would float, and it had yet to lose its air, so he hurried to remove it from its holder, but before he could, it imploded sending the air inside it bubbling to the surface. He wouldn’t climb farther into the vehicle to reach anything else; even the foam cushions rapidly grew waterlogged.
He thought to use the metal of the car to craft a large set of rudimentary hand-held flippers—at least, that would be something—but his ability to manipulate metal in regular air wouldn’t work in the ocean. The water kept the molecules too cold, and it wouldn’t bend to his will.
The light he used to see in the photic zone transitioned to a darker blue tone, and he knew he had entered the twilight zone of the ocean: less of the spectrum made it that deep. Ronan could not think of anything else he might use, and it became harder to see as he descended. He gazed upward and watched the light from above grow evermore remote along with his hopes of easily reaching the ship.
In that experience of an unwelcome and uncomfortable sense of imposed solitude, he could only think of Liam. He knew him enough to know that he stood at the railing waiting for him, but every second took him farther away, and he couldn’t tolerate the sensation of being torn from him. He realized just how much Liam meant to him. Having been the first person he saw upon awakening, he almost felt as though he had imprinted upon his protector. And in his own unique way, he had, and at a level he couldn’t understand at the time.
He wished he could feel Liam’s presence the way he could Aquila. He could still sense the man out in the world and which direction he could find him. As a last resort, while more than seventeen hundred fathoms beneath the surface, he could make a blind trek in Aquila’s direction across the ocean floor, and if he hadn’t stumbled along the way into a worse problem than he already had, he would reach dry land…eventually.
Feeling alone and exposed to the openness of his abysmal surroundings, as the minutes ticked past and the light grew dim, he held fast to his metallic companion. As he glanced around, he could barely detect his hand in front of his face, and the evidence that the surface world existed at all had become little more than a memory. He hadn’t known what creatures dwelled at that depth—or how large they could grow—but he would catch from the corners of his eyes occasional flashes of a ghostly luminescence from something that lived there.
He closed his eyes and concentrated to speak to Prometheus.
“I’m in trouble,” he told him. “I can think of nothing to use to help me; my resources are limited. Is this when I should use the power? Is that my only option besides walking the ocean floor?”
“You could,” said Prometheus. “But you have the power to help yourself without it. You have had it within you all along.”
“Is this where I close my eyes, click my heels three times and say, ‘There’s no place like ship?’”
Prometheus found the reference amusing. “I’ll give you a hint, my son. Watched or not, a cold pot never boils.”
Ronan opened his eyes, smiled, and shook his head at a solution so simple he couldn’t think of it.
Time passed faster while speaking to Prometheus, and as he continued to drop in the benthic depths, an inky blackness had shrouded Ronan’s vision; he had reached abject darkness. But in the ocean, sound moves five times faster than in the air, and it carries for miles, so when a new noise invaded Ronan’s ears, he listened intently to discern its source. The crew had engaged the ship’s propulsion; the captain wouldn’t believe he could survive and would choose to leave him behind. If he wanted to get back to Liam, he needed to make a rapid ascent. He swam a few yards from the shipping container, called upon the eternal flame within him, and turned up the heat.
When the engines engaged, pushing the ship forward, Liam jerked his head toward the bridge at the top of the superstructure. “What the hell is the captain doing? We’ve waited less than half an hour!”
He felt fine when Ronan helped people at the hotel a few miles away, but the watery divide became more distressing with each passing moment. He, along with Emma and William, had stared out over the ocean at the railing where the container had pulled Ronan overboard. The incident aboard the ship had left the water littered with debris, including a couple of containers with air pockets large enough to keep them afloat for a while.
When it first happened, Emma had spoken with Prometheus about Ronan, but he had nothing to say. Not that Prometheus had no knowledge, but for things to play out as they should, an absence of knowledge often catalyzes much decision-making and change.
William told him, “If you ask Captain Stettler to stop the ship, I know what he will say; we have fallen behind schedule.”
“Is that the sort of consideration Ronan deserves?”
“He will refuse to believe Herr Stallion can survive underwater unaided for this length of time, especially if he has fallen to the bottom.”
Liam asked him, “You believe us, don’t you?”
“After this morning, I will believe anything that Emma tells me, and she has said that I can trust you and Herr Stallion to always speak the truth. So, I believe you.”
“I appreciate that. I know I can speak for Herr Stallion on this, but you’re welcome to call him Ronan, and me, Liam.”
“Thank you,” he said. Germans are usually very formal when addressing people unless explicitly told otherwise. “And you all may call me William. So, what shall we do about leaving the vicinity? I know the captain; he won’t change his mind.”
“If Ronan manages to reach the surface,” said Emma, “hopefully he can catch up with us. Alternatively, the land and the ocean floor are connected…” She turned her gaze upon Liam.
“That sounds like such a long, lonely walk back to Florida.”
William glanced over the railing and pointed. “Something is happening…”
Off the port side of the ship, a fog-like mist rose from the water, and the ocean began to bubble. Someone on the bridge must have noticed as they had, once again, stopped the ship. Liam, Emma, William, and several crew members ran to the section of railing closest to where the water roiled near the ship. And as it grew increasingly frenetic, they realized they were witnessing not just air bubbles but water in gaseous form boiling up from the ocean, which, unfortunately, had the effect of cooking several fish that lay floating on the surface. When it reached its peak—looking like a pot of water hot enough to steep tea—it appeared as though the ocean had rid itself of Ronan’s presence by ejecting his muscular body three feet into the air where he then landed atop one of the floating cargo containers where steam surrounded him. A scorching heat emanated from him. Viewing him through hand-shielded faces and squinted eyes, felt like they stared into a blast furnace, with the extreme temperature distorting his image. They could see he had burned off his clothing when he stood. He moved his feet and bounced the container into the water to wash over the top to keep it from getting too hot, and steam rose from where the brine touched his skin as he began to cool.
“Are you okay?” Liam yelled to him.
Ronan nodded, raised one finger, and then tapped his throat.
“Give him a minute, he can’t talk,” said Emma.
Captain Stettler joined them all at the railing to watch.
Ronan bent down and stuck his hand in the water. The water steamed and bubbled around it. Once it had cooled enough, he held onto the container with it and slid into the water over his head. The ocean continued to boil around him, while he cooled himself as though he were searing hot metal pounded into shape by a blacksmith’s hammer.
Dunking his head to cool himself beneath the surface along the way, he attempted to move the container closer to the gangway staircase built onto the side of the ship; it reached a foot above the waterline to the main deck. Everyone moved closer to the stairs, and by the time Ronan reached it, the water around him had stopped boiling.
Liam descended the stairs and met Ronan at the bottom where he had remained submerged hanging onto the metal staircase until he reached a normal temperature. Ronan stared up at him, pleased to linger in Liam’s proximity.
“So,” Liam said with a smile, “you can’t swim.”
Ronan made a few tests of his vocal cords and said, “Not a lick. I don’t have any memories from Chiron of the other Stallions swimming, so they may not have been able.”
“So, unless we find something to assist you-”
“I’m no better than a sinker in a fisherman’s tackle box.”
Liam laughed. “Do they make water wings for biceps the size of yours?”
“Yeah, that would be cute,” he said. “Let’s just avoid my having to save anyone from drowning.”
“One day, we need to find a way to make you buoyant. It’s a vulnerability we need to eliminate.”
“Agreed,” he said and tipped his head. “One day? That sounds suspiciously like a long-term plan.”
“Yeah. About that. I want you to know that I’ve learned something about myself in the brief time you were gone.”
“I learned something too,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“I’m unsure of the precise cause, but for as much as I have loved working as a police officer on Key Biscayne, I can’t stand being away from you, and I would like to think you need me more than Key Biscayne ever has. Besides, I never went into law enforcement just so I could brag about being a policeman. I wanted to help people, but I can do that more effectively by helping you than I could anywhere as a policeman. So, if you will have me, I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Ronan smiled. “Really?”
Liam nodded. “So, what was your revelation?”
“The worst part about falling to the bottom of the ocean was that it took me away from you, and until I spoke with Prometheus, I felt powerless to stop it. I don’t quite comprehend the reason either, but I want nothing needlessly keeping me from you; it’s unbearable. So, I do need you, and I want you. I hope it’s okay that I always want us together…except at the bottom of the ocean, of course. You wouldn’t enjoy it; it’s terribly unpleasant down there.”
Liam laughed a little. “Oh, I believe you! Let’s make a pact to stick together as best we can. I think we both know that occasions exist when that will prove impossible, like at the hotel, but…when you fell into the water…” Liam shook his head and stopped himself. He tried not to sound too maudlin, so with levity, he added, “It’s that damn gravity!”
“Oh, I know!” Ronan said, joining in. “How dare it come between us! I suppose I’ll just have to find a way to defy it.”
“Well, that’s nothing less than it deserves.” They smiled for a moment, and Liam took a deep breath and relaxed a bit, and whispered, “It worried me.”
“It worried me too.”
Liam reached out a hand. “Are you ready to come up?”
“I think so.”
As Ronan took his hand to climb upon the staircase, he used one foot to shove the metal container away from the ship.
The moment they could, they wrapped their arms around one another and kissed a proverbial sigh of relief.
By the time they reached the main deck, nearly the entire crew had arrived with Captain Stettler, Emma, and William in front.
“Herr Stallion,” said the captain. “I wish to offer you my sincerest apologies for doubting you. You are a most remarkable man who has proved himself a friend to this entire crew, and we thank you for your assistance.”
“Not a problem, captain, but should we not get going? I believe you have a schedule to keep.”
“Indeed, we do. Everyone, get back to work.” The captain radioed the bridge to get the ship underway.
“Captain,” said Ronan as their group returned to the superstructure, “how is the balance of the cargo load from the starboard side. Is it acceptable?”
“It’s within limits,” he said. “I believe we will be fine. I have a question for you. I have the challenge of explaining to the company what has occurred in the insurance report over the cargo and the damage to the ship. Fortunately, the company equipped this vessel with cameras to record incidents and issues that occur along the journey, so they wouldn’t have to take my word for it, but as a courtesy to you, I wanted to know what name you would like me to give them. At the hotel, they knew you as Stallion. Would you prefer that?”
“That’s considerate of you to ask, captain, thank you. Give them the name Stallion, the Centaurian. And if anyone asks who that is, just tell them it was a passenger who wanted to be helpful.”
“I will do that,” he said, “and Herr Stallion, welcome back aboard.”
Up the staircase back to their cabin, Ronan walked ahead of Liam who petted the fur-like hair on Ronan’s muscular ass. He said, “Well, so much for those clothes. Why hadn’t your hair burned off?”
“The hair, like the rest of me, doesn’t burn. As for the clothing, no fabric would have survived the amount of heat I had to generate to get to the surface before the ship left, and I had ruined my shoes in the fire before the container pulled me into the water.”
Emma followed behind Liam. “I have someone working on improving your clothing and crafting something for your feet that won’t ruin so easily.”
“Really? Who?” asked Ronan.
“You wouldn’t know him. It’s Rhapso’s youngest son Caleius, an immortal demigod who held an apprenticeship with Hephaestus a thousand years ago. He learned certain metallurgic techniques that he’s utilizing in what I would call his profession, but he insists that it’s just a passionate hobby.”
They paused outside their cabins.
“Well, if he could make something that would suit my needs,” said Ronan, “I would appreciate it. That’s the second pair of shoes I’ve burned up in the last two days.” He turned to William and looked him up and down. “You’re hearing this conversation without a look of bewilderment, so I take it Emma has clued you in on the situation.”
He nodded and smiled. “Ja. She kindly helped me with a problem, and she told me.”
“I see,” said Ronan. “I’m glad she could help you. Emma, may we speak to you, please?”
She had William wait for her in her cabin while they talked in the one occupied by Ronan and Liam.
“How much have you told him? Does he know you’re Dolos?”
“I’m glad you’re asking,” she said. “There’s no sense in confusing him. I told him what I always tell them in these situations—since he enjoys women—I said that I am the goddess Erastís, that I came to help him disguised as the woman of his dreams, and that he should call me Emma. In the past, with men who prefer men, I’ve also played the part of Erastís as a male god.”
Liam’s brows drew together. “Erastís?”
“If my memories from Chiron are correct,” said Ronan, “it’s a name that means Lover.”
“And you can just do that?” Liam asked Emma. “I thought that the gods had realms of influence.”
“We do,” she said, “but you might be surprised at what a trickster god can do. In my opinion, it’s the best sort of god. So, while Zeus is the god of the sky, and Hestia’s stuck at home, I can do a lot, as long as I trick someone in the process.”
“And as a result, William got the help he needed,” said Ronan.
“Speaking of a size increase,” said Liam. “I want to thank you for the five-inch gift. I never believed you would do it, but I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. For a human, your penis was perfectly fine as it was”—then she gestured to Ronan—”but you’re with an enormously endowed, gay Centaurian.” She raked her eyes over him thinking for a moment. “Ahh…I wanted to discuss this earlier Liam, but we had the Ambrosia matter to deal with and then the cargo incident, so this is my first opportunity. I have a problem, and I’m hoping you will help me.”
“Sure,” he said. “What is it?”
“After divvying up the inches with you and William, I still have some. So, I would consider it a personal favor if you would take the remainder off my hands; I need somewhere to store them. I know it would hang a burden on you, so if it’s too much, I promise one day to take however many you don’t want and give them to someone else. If you prefer, just think of them as a lease with the option to own.”
He scrunched his face and shook his head a bit in befuddlement. “What are you talking about?”
“I think I understand,” said Ronan who turned to Emma. “We heard Gustav knock on your door this morning. Had any of them apologized?”
“I searched their minds last night,” she said, “Kurtis is mean and rude, but he’s cowardly. Gustav is self-centered and insensitive, but Otto is just a bully. So, I figured—at most—I would have the inches from Otto and Gustav (those inches I had homes for). I expected Kurtis to cave in and apologize, but apparently, he’s more easily led by the others than I realized. So, none capitulated.”
“How many inches from them had you taken?”
Emma smiled and laughed a little. “Between the three of them I took nineteen inches, and I left them just one inch a piece.”
“Are you saying I have five inches of their dicks?” Liam asked.
“No,” said Emma, “you have grown five inches from the energy I transferred from them to you, and William has eight.”
Liam feigned a gasp of shock, and whispered, “Why, Emma Nordström…you’re a peter pirate!” He smiled and laughed.
“Ha ha ha, very funny,” she said. “These men need to learn an important lesson. If they’re incapable of empathy, then it’s that speaking is an action and actions have consequences. As a law enforcement officer, I hope to find you sympathetic to my cause. And while they haven’t broken any human laws, they broke mine. In front of me, they were cruel to someone I care about. Besides, I just caused their condition to give them a first-hand experience, and it’s not necessarily permanent; they have an opportunity for redemption. I told them their penis would stop looking like it belonged on a two-year-old when—after three days—they acted like a man and apologized to William for what they’ve said with a promise to never do it again to anyone.”
“Well, law enforcement should never exist to teach lessons, but I am sympathetic,” said Liam, “and I suppose their opportunity for redemption does change things a bit. So, nineteen inches minus five minus eight leaves-”
“Six extraneous inches with nowhere to put them,” she said.
Liam laughed. “And you need a mule to lug around your illicit inches until—at some point—you find them a home, is that it?”
“Minus the inches, you decide to keep,” she said. “I wanted to give you the option.”
Liam looked at Ronan for some input. “It’s your burden to bear,” said Ronan with a shrug, “so the decision is entirely yours, but”—he put his arm around him and whispered to him—”think of the fun we could have with so much cock.”
“I can’t wear the underwear available to me now with the twelve inches I have.”
Emma just gazed upon Liam with a little smile. Beckoned him to come closer so she could whisper to him. He hesitated but complied, bringing his ear close to her mouth.
She said, “Have you ever had a god beholden to you?”
He drew back a little and looked her in the face as his brows drew together. “Do you mean…?”
She raised an eyebrow gave him a tiny smile and nodded. “Anything you want.”
Feeling a tad apprehensive, he thought about it for a moment and came to the compelling conclusion that the benefit outweighed the inconvenience. He gave a slight nod. “All right. You’ve got a deal.”
“Wonderful!” She caressed his cheek with her hand before he could change his mind. “There you are, thank you, sweetie.”
“So, when their penises grow back where will you obtain their inches?”
“I have the energy to grow someone’s penis,” she said, “that’s easy. However, if I make one shorter, I’m removing energy from it, and I can’t just hold onto it until I need it; it must go somewhere.”
“Oh…well, that makes sense.”
Emma smiled. “I still marvel over you, modern humans. You’re not scratching your head and looking at me like I’ve spoken a foreign language.”
“Yeah, we’re a little more sophisticated than that.” He pointed to his crotch. “Will this grow as I sleep tonight?”
“Not this time,” she said. “You may not feel it yet, but you’re growing right now. It should only take about fifteen minutes.”
When Emma left, Liam kissed Ronan who then said, “I should shower, I’m sure I taste fishy like the ocean.”
“I think there’s no part of you that isn’t delicious, even now.”
“That’s nice to hear,” he said, “but I would like to get the smell and salt off me anyway. The shower barely fits me, so inviting you to join me would only impede my goal, but will you stay in the bathroom while I clean up? I feel that I need you near me for a bit.”
“Wild gay centaurs couldn’t drag me away.”
As Ronan showered, Liam sat naked on the lid of the commode and watched him, their eyes rarely leaving one another.
“So, what are you thinking?” asked Ronan.
“It should be fairly easy to make you a life jacket that could keep you afloat, right?”
“Actually, no,” said Ronan, “we would have to make something so unwieldy; it would become useless. Humans are easy to float; your body is roughly 60% water already, and you all carry some body fat, which is lighter than water. So, you only need to offset your body’s dense matter which is a fraction of your actual weight.” Having finished, when he turned off the water, Liam handed him a towel. “I weigh 275 pounds, but my body uses little water, and I have no body fat. So, if the goal is to float me, think of the weights in the gym you’ve used, and imagine trying to float 275 pounds of that.”
“Oh, shit…that would be a lot of weight. How did you reach the surface?”
“I had to reduce my body’s density by mostly returning to flame to make myself lighter than water.”
“You can do that?”
He nodded. “It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Fortunately, water couldn’t extinguish an eternal flame, and the process wouldn’t hurt me so long as I kept my structure intact. Otherwise, I could re-form, but chances are I wouldn’t look exactly as I do now. I would be a bit different.”
“Like a stunt double?”
Ronan laughed and put his arms around him. “Maybe.”
“So, when you became what you are now, what happened to the human body you had?”
Ronan’s lips pressed into a line. “I wondered how long it would take before you asked me that question. When I tell you, I want you to know that I understand how horrific this sounds, so try not to think about it too much. Chiron is a non-physical essence who Prometheus bound to an eternal flame in the realm of the divine. In this world, it cannot become more than that unless it binds to a human. When the flame and Chiron passed to my former human self, it—for the lack of a better term—burned away my unconscious physical self by replacing it with one that included Chiron, so that—in some form—he could exist physically here. It had an identical appearance to the human I was, and in my dormancy—as the doctor put it—I grew into the person before you from the image I had held in my mind which Chiron had a direct influence over.”
“So, what exactly are you made of?”
“I am sentient eternal-fire incarnated through my own will.”
“You are actually made of fire…”
Ronan nodded. “Fire being whatever I will it to be.
Liam stood before him, expressionless, taking in all he had heard. “Now, I understand why it worries you that people would fear you. If I hadn’t had the experience of you the last two days, knowing this now, if I got past the part about how unbelievable it is, I think you would terrify me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“No no.” Liam hugged Ronan. “You’re fine; you don’t frighten me. Although, if you can will this into existence, I can see why there’s a question over what you may be capable, and why Zeus wants to see what you can do. He fears you can remove him from power, doesn’t he?”
“That’s the impression I got. So, has understanding this better changed how you feel about me?”
“No. My knowing this doesn’t change who you are as a person, so you just seem even more like a superhero, and they always have unique origins. I know you shy away from the idea of being a superhero but let me give you some advice. Never deter anyone from viewing you in that light; there are worse things.”
He held Liam to him. “You are my protector, it’s your job to think of these things, so okay. Are you hungry? How about I feed you lunch, and a little later, we mosey down to the dining room to socialize with the others?”
“Shouldn’t I eat regular food at some point?”
“It’s not necessary,” said Ronan. “You’re a human made immortal through Ambrosia, so you could stop eating altogether. You would feel hungry, but it wouldn’t kill you. I can satisfy your hunger with Ambrosia anytime you like. And if you’re worried about losing muscle from not eating proteins, don’t. You are as you are, so that won’t change now. But there’s a benefit to living on Ambrosia that you may like.”
“What might that be?”
“You will never gain any body fat from it, and trips to the bathroom will be a thing of the past.”
“Really?” Liam stood there in shock. His eyes narrowed and he gave Ronan a sidelong gaze. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Ronan laughed a little and nodded. “A preparatory cleanse before sex becomes superfluous.”
“Oh, I’m more than willing to give up human food for spontaneous sex, but I hope your mention of this isn’t strictly for my benefit.”
“Well, no, of course not,” said Ronan with a smile. “I have sexual needs too. So, as far as sex is concerned, if I had a profile on some hookup app, it would probably say something like: ‘Horny horsey needs muscular man to mount. Centaurian seeks enthusiastic equestrian desirous of frequent bouts of bobbing and bouncing on giant johnson.’ And from what you said, you know a thing or two about horses, so you sound perfect to me.”
Liam gave a hearty laugh. “Have you just offered me your giant johnson as the source of both my pleasure and sustenance?”
“As a rule,” said Ronan backing Liam onto the bed where he hovered over him, “Centaurs would refuse to suffer the ignominy of acting like a beast of burden, but you, my handsome lap-jockey-cum-dairyman, have my perpetual permission to milk and ride me as much as you like.”
Turning onto their sides, Liam and Ronan began that most famous of double-digit positions, the sixty-nine. Liam had never felt anything as incredible as Ronan’s ability to throat all eighteen inches of his cock. He hadn’t realized that Ronan never needing oxygen would come in so handy. He slurped and slathered Ronan’s Centaurian appendage for about ten minutes, and when Ronan came, he just allowed himself to experience an extended orgasm with Liam chugging every drop of his Ambrosia, and it wouldn’t matter how long Ronan wanted to feed him, he would have taken every drop. However, cognizant of Liam’s limitations, Ronan stopped when it amounted to about a two-liter bottle, which his body would immediately begin absorbing.
For the gods to drink Ambrosia was one thing, but for a human to have unlimited access to the magical liquid was unprecedented, and Liam had greater access than even the gods themselves. On that day, Liam overloading his body with enormous quantities of it had started something, and at first, it had gone unnoticed…
Life aboard the ship for the thirty crewmen had a certain rhythm with three rotating eight-hour shifts, including those who held positions that could not go unmanned during the hours of darkness. The daylight hours had much activity with either the crewmen working on general maintenance, cleaning, or defending the ship by various means from the corrosive sea air or crewmen relaxing off-the-clock in whatever means they saw fit until their next shift.
For the next three days, Ronan and Liam had taken to getting some sunshine just after lunchtime on the forecastle—the foreword most part of the bow where one would find the mooring station for docking. They also spent time naked in the sauna allowing Liam a non-sexual environment where he could release his—never fully flaccid—18-inch hose. (That’s exactly what it looked and felt like at its softest, a smooth, rubbery hose, five inches in circumference, whose weight kept it from shrinking even half-an-inch from just below his knees.) Ronan loved it—its length allowed him to suck and fuck Liam simultaneously—so when they weren’t talking, they also spent many hours in their cabin, pleasuring one another and slowly getting Liam accustomed to taking as much of Ronan’s Centaurian appendage as he could, filling his gut with a glut of Ambrosia which his body would absorb, giving Ronan the room he needed to fill him again and again. Every day that passed as Ronan continued to feed and fill Liam with that magical fluid, he could see Liam growing slightly more muscular and more handsome, but on the evening of the third day—when his body had reached complete saturation—the changes grew more apparent in other ways.
After receiving three massive doses of Ambrosia that evening, Liam lay asleep atop Ronan for several hours, and at three that morning, a knock came upon their cabin door. Liam awakened when Ronan left the bed to answer it where he found the pajama-wearing first mate, Paul Hurst. Apparently, he had knocked upon Emma’s door as well, as she and William also answered their door.
“We have someone aboard the ship that most likely isn’t a stowaway, and the captain wishes to speak with the three of you on the bridge.”
“Okay,” said Ronan, “we’ll be right there.” He closed the door. “May I turn on the lights?”
“You may as well,” said Liam who moved to the side of the bed.
When the lights came on, as Ronan turned to get some clothing, he glanced at Liam but stopped, walked to him, and tipped his head back to study his appearance. “You might want to look in the bathroom mirror.”
While Ronan tossed yesterday’s clothing into his bag, zipped it closed then unzipped it again, pulling a new suit of clothes from it, Liam rushed to the bathroom.
“Oh my god!” Liam looked closely at himself. His dark-brown hair hadn’t noticeably changed, but his skin had taken on a healthy golden-tan color, and most unusual of all, inundating his body the past few days with the yellow gold of the Ambrosia had turned his blue irises to a bright emerald-green color whose metallic glint looked stunning even in the poor bathroom lighting.
Liam left the bathroom. “Is this permanent?”
Ronan smiled. “The way we Ambrosia bomb your body? Probably.”
“Well, it will just have to be permanent then because I want that to continue, and is it my imagination, or am I slightly bigger than I was?”
“It’s not your imagination,” said Ronan. “I’ve watched you grow evermore handsome and hunky the last three days. That’s why I’ve given you as much Ambrosia as you’ve wanted.”
“Are you okay with this look?” he asked digging into his bag for some clothing.
Ronan kissed him. “I would glow with pride to be seen with you in public. Wait until Emma sees you; we’ve hardly spoken to her the last few days; she’s dead set on providing William every opportunity to use his new toy.”
“So, who is this person on the ship, you think?”
Ronan shrugged and shook his head. “If the captain wants to speak to us, this can’t be good.”
At night, the usual mode for the bridge is to keep the lighting dim. It lessens the window reflections for a better view, but upon their arrival, they found the lights turned up a bit, and the bridge’s usual night crew there, with the captain, first mate, William, and Emma staring out the window.
Emma turned to them when they entered. “We have a problem,” she said. “For as much as the container incident a few days ago caused us some trouble, it was likely a coincidence. It seems Zeus has elicited the assistance of Kratos.”
Liam and Ronan gazed out over the shipping containers illuminated by the ship’s floodlights, and there stood an unmoving, muscular naked man not much different in appearance than a stone depiction of a bearded Heracles with a wide, rippled torso. He stood staring up at the bridge on top of the superstructure. Due to the distance, it would have been difficult to say between Ronan and Kratos which had the greater size of the two. With Kratos naked, however, one could easily tell which was the Centaurian. Ages ago, the people, in what is now Greece, viewed having a smaller penis as preferable; anyone oversized they considered a fool.
“Who is he?” asked Liam.
Ronan said, “He’s the god of strength, and the guy who—at the behest of Zeus—used the chains forged by Hephaestus to bind Prometheus to the rock so an eagle could eat his liver every day.”
“Oh, he’s that guy. Ugh….”
When Kratos saw Ronan in the window, he yelled with a booming voice, “Centaurian! Fight Me!”
“He’s a lunatic,” said Ronan. “I’m not gonna fight him.”
“I hear you have a fondness for these humans,” yelled Kratos. “Will you fight me, or do I start tearing their weak little hearts from their chests until you do?”
“He’s also known for his needless brutality,” Emma added.
Kratos yelled, “Shall I start with your pathetic protector? He’s human, what possible good is he to you, except to mount his ass like the stupid half-donkey you are?”
“Herr Stallion…,” said Captain Stettler with a look of extreme concern.
“Captain, I’m sorry that my presence has endangered you and your crew. That was never my intention.”
“You are not responsible for his actions,” said the captain. “Obvious to me, you are a peaceful man but one not to be underestimated. What will you do?”
“If you fight him,” said Emma, “he will try to kill you, and he won’t stop until he does.”
“Captain,” said Ronan, “this world has people who refuse to leave someone to their peace, and to get back to that, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
“Which shall it be?” yelled Kratos. “I won’t wait long.”
Ronan told the captain, “I need you to stop the ship, and when I get outside, gather everyone aboard—including you, Emma—and get as deeply into the lower part of the ship as you can get yourselves, stay out of the superstructure. You’ll feel the ship bounce in the water. After that, wait 3 minutes, and you can come out.”
“Will you kill him?” asked Liam.
“For the record,” Ronan told him, “I’m not a killer; Kratos is the killer, and I’m just stopping him. I will try to avoid it, but I would never let him carry out his threats against the people I love”—he held Liam’s chin—”most especially you.” Ronan kissed Liam and left.
The captain stopped the ship, and the moment he saw him leave the superstructure on the CCTV camera, he used the intercom to draw everyone to the ground floor, and from there, he intended to take them down into the engine room.
Once the ship stopped, it seemed odd for everything to feel so calm; Ronan couldn’t feel even a hint of wind. When he climbed atop the cargo containers, he moved closer to Kratos who stood almost amidship.
“There you are,” yelled Kratos. “I wondered if you were cowardly as well as a stupid half-donkey.”
They were about the same height, but Ronan appeared larger, not that it mattered. Kratos was the god of brute strength, which had to count for something. However, Ronan had more in his arsenal than that.
When Ronan inhaled to speak, he sensed a revolting stench. “Why are you here?”
“Zeus wants to know which of us is the stronger.”
Ronan held his hand to his nose and kept it there. “Well, if Zeus has a nose at all, he will know it was you. I can smell you from here. What the hell is that? Hygieia should host an intervention. Look, no one needs to fight anybody. I just want to be left in peace with my sense of smell intact.”
“Zeus knows you’re plotting to remove him from the throne. We all know it. Even Prometheus knows it; he’s seen it. I will never allow that.”
“I know nothing about it,” said Ronan. “I have better things to do than try dethroning Zeus; My purpose is to help people. So, since I don’t want to fight you, I forfeit. You’re welcome to strut into Olympus knowing that, between the two of us, you smell the stronger.”
“You must find yourself amusing,” said Kratos. “I will enjoy killing you. Afterward, I’ll follow through with the rest of the crew, but not before I start with your pathetic protector.”
“You will never get that chance.” Ronan tipped his head back and yelled to the sky, “Zeus! I know you observe this. You have heard what he has said to me, and because of who he is, I must take him at his word. I am peaceful, and I have no ambitions for Olympus but think carefully on what you start here; my priorities can change, and if they do, you will have changed them. So, given a choice between his death or ours”—Ronan pointed at Kratos—”he dies. If you want to keep your little pet, you need to take him home before I put him down…and for goodness’s sake, give him a bath!”
“He’s not listening to you,” said Kratos.
“That’s because Zeus is sacrificing you to learn what I can do.”
Kratos ran toward Ronan, but Ronan wanted to keep him as far from the superstructure as possible, so he ran toward him even faster, luring him to the middle of the ship.
A god or not, Kratos had many vulnerabilities. He expected to kill Ronan by brute force because he fought his enemies, and with no shields or weapons he wanted it to test their strength in some form of hand-to-hand combat.
However, Kratos had never met an enemy who avoided fighting him the way Ronan would. He wanted to get in his punches, to hold Ronan above his head only to slam him down, to dig a hand into his chest, to search for whatever he had for a heart and pluck it out, but Ronan was having none of that; he wouldn’t play his game. Ronan ensured that every attempt by Kratos to hurt him hit nothing but air. He sought only to eliminate a threat to the people he cared about, and that was all.
Dodging a series of punches, Ronan asked him, “Have you ever felt afraid?”
“No,” said Kratos taking a swipe at his opponent.
“Well, no wonder you’re such an efficient killing machine. You may not realize it, but fear is important; it helps everyone stay alive longer.”
Kratos paused his attempts to get at Ronan as he assessed him for a better strategy. “I’m a god, what have I to fear?”
In a deep menacing tone, Ronan said, “Me.”
It took little more than two seconds for Ronan to push Kratos’s hands together grabbing both of his thumbs with one hand in an unbreakable grip, then, after knocking him face-down off his feet, he grabbed the god’s big toes with the other. As Ronan lifted Kratos from the surface beneath them, he raised him high enough to look him in the face, Ronan sneered at Kratos for forcing him to deal with his sorry ass, and he continued in the same voice, “and you should be absolutely terrified.”
The way Ronan held Kratos he couldn’t do much but squirm a bit, and with a mighty push-off from the ship, Ronan made a vertical jump as hard as he could. The air rushed past as they rose into the sky, and they just kept rising. He hadn’t a clue how high he could go but even with the lurch of the ship down into the water as it bounced, he had to have made a mile-high leap holding Kratos’s squirming body by his thumbs and toes.
On the way up Ronan prepared himself for what he would do, he felt the pressure of containing the buildup of a massive amount of heat, the likes of which one might only find in a neutron star, and the moment he felt their direction change to free fall, he released a directed microburst so intense it burned blue-hot and lit the night sky like a flash of lightning that, within that split second, vaporized Kratos, and as with Kakia, his destruction sent out a shockwave into the atmosphere, but this one had no building to destroy.
However, it shoved Ronan’s nearly naked body off course and out from over the ship. As it was, he would fall into the water, and this time, he would have no cargo containers to land on when he resurfaced. That would cause him to remain separated from Liam for a long time unless he used that untapped power within him, and if he needed the power to keep himself close to the man he loved, then so be it. Prometheus was right, he would use it for the best of reasons. He tore from his body what little remained of his shirt and shorts.
Transforming into Chiron’s idea of how he should appear, felt like a rush of energy, and it happened all at once. In an act of pure creation, he grew and changed from lines of embering on his body that glowed in the night sky like the smoldering edges of burning paper but in reverse. As he bent his knees a little, he felt his feet lengthen as his toes became hooves. The hair from his waist down thickened and turned pure white, as a horse tail with long white hair emerged from the base of his spine. The appearance of his human cock grew more equine to a massive 24-inches of pale horse flesh. His legs thickened and stretched, making him a beautiful 7-feet-tall Centaurian with a god-like power that would both fascinate and frighten. But to stop his fall, he sprouted from his back a powerful set of giant Pegasus-like white wings. He struggled with them for a moment but slowed his descent, swooped down in the darkness to only a few yards from the water, rose into the sky, and headed back to the tiny oasis of light floating on the black sea in the distance.
On the return, however, he recalled the captain saying that the ship had CCTV cameras. He wasn’t quite ready for the public to see him as the centaur, so he returned his lower body to its usual appearance.
Having used his abilities, he hadn’t felt different. To him, he seemed the same Ronan Stallion, the Centaurian, the one whose mission was to help people. If he was a god, that hadn’t interested him; he only saw a greater capacity to help others with his abilities. He and Liam would have to discover all he could do.
As he approached the ship in the darkness with the illumination from all its floodlights, he could see Liam, Emma, William, and several other crew members looking out from atop the shipping containers for any sign of him.
As he slowed his descent, he flew into view of those people standing on the cargo and the bridge. The lighting reflected off his white wings causing him to glow, and not once had it occurred to him how it may have looked to anyone else. He carefully set his bare feet onto the metal surface giving his usual affable smile, and while he noted everyone’s look of awe, his own relief at having gotten back to the ship in one piece made him just chalk their reaction as his simply having returned. Sure, he had given himself wings, but he had obliviousness of his actual appearance. After all, he had looked closer to a Pterocentaur only a minute earlier.
Liam gave him the brightest biggest smile and rushed to hug him. Thankfully, the short duration of the heat used, and his exposure to so much air had cooled him without the need to dunk himself into water.
When Liam wrapped his arms around him, Ronan asked, “Do I stink?”
“You’re far too angelic to stink, but ahh…you might want to ixnay the ingsway; you are giving people the wrong impression.”
As Ronan eliminated his wings, Liam saw that their disappearance began at the tips with a thin fiery line that burned them away until it reached his back. Emma and William had joined them along with several members of the crew.
“You used your abilities,” said Emma.
“Yes, if I hadn’t, I would have been separated from Liam for an unknown amount of time. We’ve reached the middle of the Atlantic, so when Kratos’s destruction threw me several miles that way”—he pointed—”I would remain in the pitch blackness of the depths for maybe a month until I walked out of the ocean, or I could just use my abilities and return to Liam’s side where I belonged. I have already experienced a short separation from Liam once, I won’t do that again.”
William had a big smile on his face. “You are one well-hung angel.”
“My favorite kind,” said Emma and put her arm around William.
Ronan gave Liam a look of concern. “I will probably need the wings on occasion.”
“We’ll deal with that later.”
“Why did we need to go down into the ship?” asked William.
“I hadn’t known how far I could jump, and if it was too short, I needed all of you as far away from the blast as possible when I vaporized him. We’ve already seen what the destruction of a god can do at the hotel in Miami. By the way, Emma, has Kratos always stunk like rotten eggs and horse dung?”
Emma nodded. “Pretty much, yes. He says it’s so off-putting that it helps him win against his opponents.”
“Yeah, well, he’s dead now, so a fat lot of help that was. How do you think Zeus will react to Kratos’s death?”
“I’m unsure,” she said. “You may want to ask Prometheus.”
“Well, after something Kratos told me tonight, Prometheus and I need to have a long talk.”
Released by the gods from its disconcerting doldrum, the wind continued its characteristic oceanic breeze, and when the captain gave the order for the ship to return to cruising speed, it rode the swells of the relatively calm waters at a fuel-saving twenty-two knots.
Since the entire incident with Kratos took less than sixty minutes, it left a few hours before the next work shift. Those who had awakened from their slumber tried to rest a little longer before morning, hoping they had seen the last of the overnight events.
As Emma, William, and Ronan, mounted the staircase, Liam, who trailed behind them, noticed a change on Ronan’s back and seemed alarmed by it. “Ah, Ronan…were you aware you have a new tattoo?” Liam tapped its location in the center of his back just below the one that read STALLION.
“I do? What is it?”
“It’s some kind of symbol about three inches tall and a bit less in width.”
Emma and William paused on the next floor before continuing upward, so she could have a look.
“It’s your mark,” she said. “I meant to tell you about it, but I hadn’t realized you would use your powers so soon.”
“I have my phone,” said William pulling it from his pocket. “I’ll take a photo and show you.”
“What does it mean?” asked Liam.
She traced it with her finger. “It’s the astrological symbol for Chiron fused to a backward ‘R’ for Ronan,” she said. “It marks upon his skin a visible sign of the permanent connection of Chiron to his former self. So, he could use it as a symbol for the name Ronan Stallion or for the Centaurian. William, dear, please send me a copy of that. I’ll send it to Caleius for inclusion on Ronan’s future clothing.”
“It is an attractive design,” said Ronan studying the image on the screen, “but I happen to know that someone invented this astrological symbol for Chiron in the twentieth century for a newly discovered orbiting body.”
“That doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s just symbolic. If people refused to use a symbol due to its recent invention, no symbol would ever become old.”
“This was your idea, wasn’t it?” he asked her.
“Prometheus decided long ago using the power would result in a mark, but nothing distasteful, of course. Since I stay au courant [conversant] with life on Earth, its appearance and location he left to me. I put a lot of thought into it and considered assorted designs over the years, but I settled on this one due to the name of the orbiting body, and just as with you, it has a hybrid nature. Do you disapprove?”
Ronan shook his head. “I like it; it makes a great tattoo. While you’re at it, let Caleius know that my Centaurian shirts need to leave my back unobstructed for my wings.” He gazed upon Liam. “Regardless of my angelic appearance, I will use those when necessary.”
“I can’t say I blame you,” he said. “They’re too awesome to forgo. But now that you’ve used your power, why don’t you just manifest your own clothing from now on?”
“I’m sure I could, but I’m not a designer. I would need a pattern to copy.”
When Liam noticed Emma studying his eyes, he opened them wide to give her a better view.
“You must be absorbing Ambrosia in quantities that no one ever has,” she said. “The gods are lucky to get a few glasses on Olympus. So, if you made a guess, how much do you think you’re getting?”
Liam shrugged a little. “Two liters, maybe.”
“Every day?” asked Emma.
“No, every time. So, six or seven liters a day, probably.”
She gasped. “Oh, sweetie, I don’t know what that will do to you.”
“That’s a lot of anything to put into your body,” said William.
“It won’t kill him,” said Ronan.
“Well…no, it won’t do that,” she admitted.
“So far,” said Liam, “it seems to make me leaner, more muscular, tan, and green-eyed.” He shrugged. “Let’s see what else it will do.”
“Very well,” she said, “that’s up to you, but just know you’ve entered unknown territory.”
They parted ways, and upon entry of their cabin, Ronan headed straight to the sink, not that he had an overly fastidious nature, but he had touched that foul-smelling god and wanted to remove any residue. As he stood there washing his hands of Kratos, he gazed into the mirror at himself and asked how he felt about having—in all honesty—executed him. He questioned whether he had made the right choice, but he hoped that having the knowledge of his ability to destroy a god would deter Zeus from further action, but he wasn’t the sort to give up, and Ronan had a much greater vulnerability than his lack of buoyancy.
Liam had removed his clothing and kissed him the moment he emerged from the bathroom. Ronan held him in his arms, appreciating his ability to save himself from a long sojourn away from Liam at the bottom of the ocean.
Straddling Ronan’s body on the bed, the head of Liam’s cock lay on Ronan’s lips. He kissed it repeatedly. Liam bent down kissing Ronan who moved back and forth between kissing Liam’s lips and the head of his cock.
“I like you this big,” said Ronan.
“If it were up to you, you’d have me leaving three trails in the sand, wouldn’t you?”
Ronan’s brows rose in interest. “At least three!”
“Oh, at least!” Liam laughed. “And preferably more, right?”
“Uh-huh.” Ronan smiled, pulled Liam’s face to his, and kissed him. “You never have to say it back to me, but I meant what I said to you earlier on the bridge. I do love you.”
“I know. Would you really not want to hear me say it back?”
“A lot of people feel an expectation of having to say it in return when told they are loved. I know you prefer to avoid mushiness, so you never have to say it. To me, your actions practically yell it from the mountaintops.”
Liam kissed him for several minutes and felt the heat on his back from Ronan’s erect Centaurian appendage. Once they had begun having regular sex, it always leaked a stream of slippery precum when erect, making entry into Liam’s body smooth and pleasurable.
They moved to Ronan’s favorite position with Liam lying on his back, Ronan deep inside him, and Liam’s cock in his mouth. He rubbed the head on Liam’s hole, which had become nothing more than a port of entry to give Liam orgasms and fill him with Ambrosia.
The soft-coated steel bar of Ronan’s cock began its long slide into Liam’s interior world, a place to bond in waves of mutual pleasure. He fucked inch after inch deep inside Liam, giving him exactly what he needed, that stretched and full sensation.
Liam ran his hands over Ronan’s impossibly muscular body, and he marveled over how it flexed as he thrust into him. He knew, if he wanted, Ronan could fuck him continually for a hundred years—one orgasm after another—and not make a dent on the sustained pleasure his body was capable of supplying. In all the universe, no one else like Ronan existed and his love came with a privilege that only he would ever know.
One inch. They had reached that last inch his body had trouble accepting, defying his wishes with its stubborn refusal to allow entry. Ronan never complained, but Liam wanted it all, so he could get that rough pelvis-to-ass banging he so often needed. The continuous pistoning, the thrust and pull of cock went on for fifteen minutes. Ronan lifted Liam’s cock and bent to stuff the head into his mouth. Liam’s would need to be even longer if Ronan were to perform that maneuver with greater ease, but the simultaneous suck and fuck had him on the verge of orgasm. He jacked his monstrosity into his lover’s mouth and when he came, Ronan began to fill him. He allowed himself to savor the pleasurable waves of paroxysmal spasms that accompanied every jet of Ambrosia filling Liam’s body. It went on and on, and Liam loved to watch him knowing he helped make it happen, and he could feel every surge of the magical liquid like the mild quake of a gasoline pump, filling Liam’s tank with Ronan’s nozzle deep inside him.
Lost in the sensation, Ronan kept slowly fucking a few inches in and out of Liam as he filled him, and when their usual stopping point—the fifteen-minute mark—came and went, it continued. Curious to know how long an orgasm Ronan could sustain, and how much Ambrosia he could hold, Liam allowed it. He had already reached the point of saturation and adding more had begun to supersaturate every cell in his body. When the twenty-minute mark came, and his belly felt like a balloon, he began to feel strange.
“Ronan,” he said placing his hand on Ronan’s chest, “you need to stop.”
His eyes opened. “Okay.” He laid his hand on Liam’s belly. “Wow. How do you feel?”
“As content as a kitten with a belly full of cream. Don’t pull out. May I sleep on you a bit before morning?”
“Of course.” He pulled Liam to him and kissed him. He held him in place as he laid upon the bed with his sleepy man atop him fully impaled on his long nozzle.
As Liam slept, Ronan thought about what had happened with Kratos. As per his information, if Prometheus foresaw him dethroning Zeus and had kept vital information from him—or whatever may be the case—if necessary, he knew he would forgive him anything for bringing Liam into his life. There were things beyond price, especially the love of a good man.
In the darkness, Ronan concentrated and sensed the swirling imagery that accompanied his connection to Prometheus. The minutes slipped away, but he never had to ask his question, and he barely had time for an answer; morning would soon arrive.
“I know what you will ask, my son,” he told Ronan. “The answer is not a simple yes or no. Have I seen you dethrone Zeus? The answer is yes, but I have told no one of this. What you have experienced, is someone manipulating both you and the future by lying in the present. Their lie has created a chain reaction that will result in Zeus’s removal from the throne because he will give you no real choice but to remove him. I’m uncertain who has started this lie, but know this, having told it, doesn’t necessarily make them your enemy. There are mitigating circumstances.”
A knock came upon their cabin door which disrupted Ronan’s conversation with Prometheus. The captain had requested that his three passengers join him and the first mate in the meeting room just before breakfast.
Liam led the way, and with his body having absorbed the Ambrosia, he appeared slightly taller and more muscular than before. Emma followed him, then William, and Ronan came last, dressed in shorts and a tank top identical to the ones he wore the previous day, with CENTAURIAN stitched across the chest. They found the meeting room, a bland space located on the third floor with a table at the far end with several chairs surrounding it. Apart from that, the room contained a lot of empty space for the many folded chairs held in a rack against the back wall for the crew to use in a congregational fashion.
At the table sat their hosts with a laptop. Their expressionless faces foretold the serious nature of the gathering, although the specifics remained unclear as the passengers and William seated themselves.
“We have a question,” said the captain. “As you know, the company equipped the ship with several CCTV cameras, and it caught on camera the altercation between Herr Stallion and Kratos. So, we have something for you to see.”
“The ship’s computer stores the video feeds and uploads them via our satellite link to the company’s server,” said Paul. “I transferred this to the laptop after I saw it.” He played the file for them, which included an audio track.
The video began just before Kratos arrived, and when he did, he walked forward, fading into existence where he stood waiting. It recorded the words he yelled to the bridge, Ronan joining him atop the containers, and everything said between them. Then Ronan, with his face to the sky, shouted to Zeus, but the moment the two men ran toward one another, three men faded into view at the lower end of the image and watched the scene with great interest.
Liam leaned in for a closer look. The video cut to a different camera angle with a closer shot of the men as they stood near the superstructure. “Is that who I think that is?”
Paul touched the space bar on the laptop to pause the video with the image of the men.
“That is our question,” said the captain.
The three of them had perfectly built, muscular bodies—as befitting gods—dark hair with a beard, and none of them looked older than thirty-five years old. One stood naked holding a trident; one wore only a pair of what looked like black jeans and held a bident; the third one wore a pair of white pull-on linen pants carrying a single-pointed staff.
Emma nodded. “They are exactly who you think they are.”
“Kratos had me so busy,” said Ronan, “I hadn’t noticed them.”
“Let’s see the rest,” said Liam.
Paul increased the volume of the laptop and continued the video. Ronan dodged all that Kratos gave him, and they spoke only a moment. Rapidly, Ronan had Kratos immobilized and jumped with him into the sky. On the camera with the better view, the three men watched with their heads tipped back, and a few moments later, a bright blue flash lit the sky and illuminated the ship and the water around them.
The three men began speaking a language only Emma and Ronan could understand, so Emma translated for them.
Poseidon turned to Zeus. “What am I supposed to see, brother?”
“That abomination can destroy a god,” said Zeus.
Hades shrugged. “So what. Good for him.”
“That abomination, as you call him,” said Poseidon, “is our brother.”
“He’s no brother of mine,” said Zeus.
“He is half Chiron,” said Hades, “so he’s our brother whether you like it or not.”
“He tricked me into setting Prometheus free. Chiron is supposed to be dead.”
“You called me away from my millennium marathon of coitus with Persephone for some vendetta, is that it?”
“You saw how dangerous he is,” said Zeus. “He will dethrone me; the word is that Prometheus has seen it.”
“Prometheus has remained in hiding since he created the first Stallion,” said Poseidon. “He knew you would punish him after saving Chiron. So, you don’t know the source of that rumor.”
“I only saw that foolish prick, Kratos,” said Hades, “pick a fight with the most powerful kid on the playground—who was just minding his own damn business, might I add—and he paid for it with his life. Those who poke their finger into the eye of a scorpion should expect to get stung. I don’t blame the Centaurian for his actions (I wouldn’t put up with Kratos’s behavior either), but since you instigated it, Zeus, I do blame you. This is the second one of us you’ve destroyed in your feeble attempt to kill the Centaurian. He made his point clearly; if you leave him alone, he will leave you alone, a sentiment upon which I wholeheartedly subscribe.” Hades shook his head emphatically. “I will not help you with a problem of your own making.” He stepped away and faded into nothingness.
“Nor will I,” said Poseidon. “Hades is correct, entirely, and I have been approached twice; the others have concerns over your growing paranoia. Perhaps, it’s time you retired.”
“I will not,” said Zeus, incensed over the idea.
“Over the ages,” said Poseidon, “none of the Stallions have ever shown malice. Generally, we have left them alone, and they have left us alone. Incidentally, why did you ensure Aquila’s birth?”
“I wanted future leverage,” said Zeus, “in case it proved necessary.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Poseidon rolled his eyes a little. “I suppose, I should expect nothing better of you, but the Centaurian has more power than you’ve realized—likely greater than your own. If you push him, he has the power and the will to defend both himself and others, but he doesn’t want your throne.”
“No, he doesn’t want it; I think Prometheus does, and he will use the Centaurian to get it.”
“If he should dethrone you, I can only hope he will show you more mercy than he just showed to Kratos. Let it go, brother.” Poseidon heard the people leaving the superstructure, saying no more, he stepped away and vanished. Likewise, Zeus walked forward and disappeared as well.
Paul paused the video.
Liam turned to Ronan. “Why is Zeus so down on you?”
“Zeus never liked Chiron.”
“Really?” asked Emma. “I never knew that.”
“The evidence had lain before everyone to see. Chiron was immortal, so when Heracles accidentally struck him with the poison arrow, rather than dying, he would have lived a life of suffering, so he asked Zeus to trade his immortality in exchange for letting Prometheus go. Zeus should have released Prometheus long before then, but he never would, so this begs the question, why would Zeus consider Chiron giving up his immortality a sufficient price for letting Prometheus go? What sort of trade is that? Had no one ever asked that question?”
Emma thought about it for a moment and shook her head. “I hadn’t thought about it before, but…now that you mention it.”
Ronan continued, “Chiron was viewed mostly as a teacher, a tutor, and a healer. And while the gods could appreciate his abilities along those lines, Zeus never considered him his half-brother, and although Chiron was a demigod, no one treated him as such. He was an outlier, an oddity. Chiron knew how Zeus felt, but others felt kindlier toward him, and he was useful, so Zeus tolerated his existence.
“If Zeus had denied Chiron’s request, no matter how agonizing, he would have remained. But Chiron never liked the way Zeus continually punished Prometheus, so he offered to give Zeus what he really wanted—Chiron’s absence—in exchange for letting Prometheus go. Zeus agreed to his proposal, putting on a show of taking pity on Chiron for his suffering, and as a consolation, he gave Chiron a celestial equivalent to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with the constellation Centaurus. Some people like to say that Zeus placed them among the stars, but they’re not actually there, are they? It’s just representative. To my mind, it’s no better than some company giving a retiring employee their name on the company plaque—which hangs on the wall of some obscure hallway—and a gold watch before shoving them out the door.”
Emma laughed to herself and placed her hand on Ronan’s. “That sounds like your humanity giving Chiron the voice he apparently couldn’t find at the time. I’m so pleased that he lives on within you. I had no idea about any of that.”
“Herr Stallion,” said the captain, “as the one ultimately responsible for this vessel and crew, I must ask. Has not the video indicated that we are in danger?”
“That’s a probability,” said Ronan. “I offer you my apologies, captain. Would you prefer that we left the ship?”
“Wouldn’t that leave us vulnerable?” he asked.
Ronan closed his eyes and tipped his head. “Maybe, but we must leave when we reach Genoa.”
“Might Zeus sink the ship before we get there?” asked William.
“Don’t give him any ideas,” said Paul.
“Guaranteed, he has already thought of it,” said Emma, “and he might try.”
“What would that get him?” asked Liam.
“Apart from making me furious?” asked Ronan. “I don’t know.” He turned to Emma. “Have you the ability to transport anyone?”
She shook her head. “I don’t have that kind of power. I can move myself and relatively small inanimate objects, but not anything as complex as a person and nothing large. You probably can, however. That, and a lot more.”
“I have little doubt that I can play the piano,” said Ronan, “but that wouldn’t mean that I know how.”
“How did you know how to use the eternal flame to destroy Kratos?” asked Liam.
“The same way you know how to digest food.”
“I don’t know how to digest food; it’s just something my body does.”
“Exactly. I’ve only used my mostly internalized abilities, those aren’t much different than taking an intentional breath or flexing a muscle but manifesting something external from myself or instantaneously transporting something from one place to another, especially over a great distance is something else entirely. I feel the power within me to do that and more, but I don’t know how it works.”
“It’s not much different,” said Emma. “I could probably guide you a bit on how to teleport. I wish I could show you how to manifest externally, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s something you will have to figure out on your own. I will say this, however, once you’ve done one thing, you’ll quickly get the idea how it works, and the rest will come naturally.”
“That’s good to know.” Ronan turned to the captain. “If Zeus should try to sink the ship, at the moment, I don’t know what I can do to stop him.”
He remembered what Prometheus told him and a thought occurred to him. He rewatched the video of the brothers, and although difficult to discern with clarity, he observed them closely. Zeus and Hades never turned fully toward the CCTV camera on the wall, but at one point, Poseidon looked directly into its lens, and he seemed undeterred. “Perhaps, it’s time you retired,” he had said to Zeus.
“There’s someone I need to speak to,” said Ronan.
“Who?” asked Liam.
“I don’t want to say just yet.”
“Should I come with you?” he asked.
“I wish you could, but I think him more prone to show himself and speak candidly if I were alone.”
Poseidon, the god of the oceans and seas, earth-shaker, storm-maker, horse-pater, and middle brother to the major Olympians was not the god he used to be, but few of them were, anymore. Humanity’s abandonment of them proved the best thing that could have happened to both humankind and the gods. The gods, like the attention whores they were, had convinced humanity that it needed them, but that could never have been true, any more than a slave could really need their master, when the master, apparently, could do nothing for themselves. Masters and gods become spoiled at great cost to the ones spoiling them—whether that spoiling occurs by force or by choice. Humanity lavished the gods with the attention they craved and felt entitled to receive, in the form of worship, sacrifices, and adoration. The supplication of the masses teeming with valid needs; however, the gods had fulfilled on divine whims at no greater frequency than coincidence. One only puts up with negative returns on earnest efforts for so long before the inevitable questioning occurs, followed by a well-deserved desertion.
Most of the gods found their abandonment a humiliating and humbling experience. Their golden age had come and gone, and with it, their perceived importance, along with all that lovely attention used to bolster their massive egos. In its absence, many of them became more introspective and searched for a way to find some purpose for their existence. Others—usually lesser gods—lived in denial that anything had changed or had the grace to diminish in a divine melancholia from which they seldom ever resurfaced, if at all.
Ronan could see the first traces of the sun peaking above the horizon as he made his way toward the forecastle to call to Poseidon. Upon reaching the forwardmost point of the ship in silence, he found Poseidon leaning naked against the foremast enjoying the sunrise with his eyes closed. Within reach, his glowing golden triton defied gravity in its unsupported vertical position upon the deck.
Ronan hadn’t immediately made his presence known; he simply studied Poseidon’s hairy and tan body for a moment. Droplets of water traced the lines of his impressive musculature. It visibly dripped from his hair, short beard, elbows, and generously sized genitals as it puddled around his feet, discoloring the metal deck plating beneath him. He ran his fingers through his tousled heartthrob hairstyle to keep it from his face and crossed his arms. His overall appearance characterized a modern notion of masculine handsomeness, rivaled only by Ronan himself. He sensed Poseidon’s mystique and could understand why he had had so many lovers of both sexes.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to gaze upon Ronan. “Have I met with your approval?”
“You are far more handsome and different than I had imagined, you have body hair, and your penis is certainly larger than I expected; so much classical art tends to depict your body as hairless, and when they bother to show your penis at all, it tends toward the diminutive. You don’t mind that I took a moment to admire you?”
“I’ve always been this size. The minuscule genitals in artworks are nothing more than popular sculptors and painters placating some ridiculous cultural notion of intellectualism, and when they have me draped in cloth, it’s to avoid encouraging pruriency among the viewing public.”
“If they ever depicted you as you actually are,” said Ronan, “they would have plenty of pruriency among the viewing public. I found myself with a few prurient thoughts myself.”
Poseidon smiled. “Thank you. That means a lot to me coming from you. You’ll find that I am always naked. For the god of the ocean to wear clothing makes about as much sense as a man wearing an overcoat in the shower. I will admit, though, the body hair is new, it seems you’ve started a trend among the gods. So no, I don’t mind if you admired me; it only seems fair; I’ve admired you since you met Henri Estalon, but I must say, you have excellent taste in your appearance. I much prefer you this way, although you look even better without the clothes.”
“Knowing your blatant disregard for keeping a familial distance,” said Ronan, “I figured being one-quarter your brother wouldn’t stop any flirtations, but I must ask, ‘Aren’t I a little old for you?’”
“Damn those ancient Hellenes and their proclivities. They merely ascribed to the gods what they would have done, but I assure you, speaking for myself, all my lovers were adults. Granted, one might even view a twenty-year-old as a child compared to someone thousands of years old, but still, the legal authorities of the age would consider them legal adults today; so, no, you’re not too old. As for the rest of you, the eternal flame has you far removed from your biological origins, and mentally you’re three-quarters not my brother. Besides, I have an appreciation for horses. I’ve been a stallion many times, and had several equine children, two of whom were particularly famous.”
“That all sounds strange to me.”
He shrugged a little. “Meh…the life of a god.” He held out his hand to shake. “I believe you have the custom for this form of greeting.”
Ronan stepped up and shook his hand.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” said Poseidon.
“And not merely spy on me?”
“I spied in the most appreciative and respectful way possible.”
“Oh, then you left when Liam and I had sex.”
“Well, no, of course not.”
Ronan’s brows rose in surprise. “Would you watch and masturbate like some peeping-tom?”
“Oh, don’t make it sound so sordid.”
“So, you did masturbate while we had sex? How is that respectful?”
“It’s of the highest respect. One, I had never before had the compulsion, and two, I’m a god; what greater compliments do you need?”
Ronan thought about it for a moment and realized they came from entirely two different perspectives and decided not to press the point. “Oh, well, in that case, thank you for bestowing the honor upon us.”
“It was entirely my pleasure,” he said.
“Yes, I dare say it was,” said Ronan.
“I believe we have something to discuss,” said Poseidon, “shall we get on with it?”
“Would we not attract the attention of our paranoia-prone brother?”
Poseidon pointed to his trident. “I have us isolated from the outside world. We are neither seen nor overheard.”
“So, you can do that. As I suspected, you wanted the CCTV camera to see the three of you.”
He nodded. “You needed to see it firsthand. I even stopped the wind to improve the sound quality. I hoped you would want to speak to me.”
“But why now? Why not just come to me from the start?”
“I hadn’t wanted to interfere with you and Liam; you need one another. This little experiment of Prometheus has proven pure genius, but it has succeeded because I helped you; I helped all the Stallions over the years, especially during their crucial transition period. You’re rather vulnerable just then, and I’ve held everyone at bay who might have caused any of you harm, and as for you, I paved the way from the island where Liam found you to the hospital and all the way into his apartment, so he would have as little difficulty as possible. I have done all this because the gods are people too, and as someone who has vowed to help others, we need you.”
“You started the rumor because you want me to dethrone Zeus.”
“No, Athena started the rumor,” he said, “but we don’t want you to dethrone Zeus, we need you to, and as the Temptations would say, I ain’t too proud to beg, if you should insist.”
“You, Poseidon, would beg. You really are desperate. Has Zeus gotten that bad?”
He took a deep breath and gave an awkward little laugh. “Firstly, I want you to know that I loathe speaking ill of our brother; I honestly wish I had no call to. Many of us were wilder in our younger years, doing terrible things we shouldn’t have, but the passage of time has tempered us—the changes on Earth have affected the gods too—but while most of us have matured to varying degrees, for some, maturity isn’t enough. Based on a fully developed concept of evil, some gods are evil by their nature, and some, like Zeus, come to be that way. You haven’t access to all of Chiron’s memories, have you?”
“No, I think a lot is missing.”
“Zeus is the reason we won the Titanomachy, the war against the Titans. He saved us from the belly of our beast of a father, he led the rebellion, and then came ten years of war. The written descriptions of the war, as bad as they sound, invariably gloss over the true horrors of it. When humans wage war, it results in deaths, and as such, it deprives the enemy of soldiers. The war of the gods included many mortal beings that fought alongside the gods of their loyalty. Their enemies had slain most of the mortals, but since gods don’t die, and none could destroy us, how could the gods wage war against one another? We get creative. To make someone give up, pain, torture, and confinement are pretty much our only options, and Zeus proved himself rather clever at it. Some of his punishments since the war reflect what he had learned. He had Prometheus chained to a rock where he endured a never-ending cycle of an eagle tearing open his body to eat his liver every day, only for it to grow back every night. The war taught him that cruelty and malevolence would get him what he wants, and it desensitized him to the suffering of others. As a result, Zeus is not good, so he is not a good king, never was, never will be. He is a malevolent tyrant, and his occasional displays of compassion and mercy are nothing more than an attractive veneer intended to impress.”
“Couldn’t all of you ban together and remove him?”
“Apparently, you don’t remember, but ages ago, Hera, Athena, and Apollo sought my help to end Zeus’s tyranny. At first, I refused them, but they convinced me to go along with it. However, it would never have succeeded.
“Zeus overpowered us. As punishment for our attempt to overthrow him, Zeus tortured Hera. He used golden chains to hang her by her hands from the sky with anvils attached to her feet and forced her to stare into the abyss; it almost drove her mad. As his favorite child, he never punished Athena, but—for a while—he stripped Apollo and me of our powers and sent us to serve that con man, King Laomedon for wages. He tricked me into building the walls of Troy by refusing payment.”
“So, a scoundrel of the first water.”
“A multifaceted and highly polished scoundrel. I learned he did it frequently and once too often. After all that work, I was so angry with the king, I sicced a sea monster on him, which of course, would have destroyed the city and the creature would have eaten all who crossed his path. Some fake oracle told them they could only appease the monster by the king sacrificing his daughter to it. They often believed such nonsense back then, and it wasn’t true. She would just be an appetizer for the meal to come. Heracles, who happened to be in the vicinity, offered to kill it for a price and save the princess. Laomedon agreed to the price, so Heracles killed the monster, but the king reneged on that deal too. Afterward, Heracles, with the help of a squadron of warriors, promptly killed him for it.”
“Well, if Zeus can take away your powers,” said Ronan, “what makes you think I can dethrone him then?”
He stood straight and made a sexy rake of his fingers through his drying hair. “What I will tell you, you must keep to yourself.”
“Okay,” he said, “you have my word.”
“Do you know what an eternal flame actually is?” asked Poseidon.
Ronan shrugged a little. “Enchanted fire?”
“Not even close.” He shook his head. “Energy is neither created nor destroyed, so even an eternal flame must have a continuous source. The flame is a remnant from the formation of our universe. It’s a tiny permanent leak from the failed universe adjacent to ours from where Chaos broke free to create our universe.
“The one there is filled with nothing but a nearly inexhaustible amount of creative energy that, for some reason, never expanded, but when it leaks into the space of this already formed universe, it appears intensely bright and produces heat, so we perceive it as a kind of fire, but it’s just pure creative energy with nothing to do.”
“And I can tap into that leak.”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s inside of you. It constantly creates what you are through your will. It’s why you’re entirely self-sustaining. However, there’s more to it than that.”
“And that is…”
“On our own, none of the gods were ever fully immortal. That was a presumption from our having an extremely long lifespan.”
“How can that be?”
“Because, at birth, our parents imbued us with a finite amount of that same creative energy, and over our considerable lifetimes, we deplete it. I couldn’t say how long we would live with no external input—it could be a million years. However, Ambrosia is a transmuted form of that same creative energy. We all drink Ambrosia, so we keep adding energy to our reserves, extending our lives and our ability to maintain our powers at their peak level.”
“I see. Speaking of that, why do I have Ambrosia for cum? Surely, that’s not where Ambrosia comes from. Where the other Stallions just the same?”
“I have no knowledge of the origins of Ambrosia. I have come to think that we might find a hint in the fountain of youth story. But you must remember that Henri had a son, so he couldn’t have produced Ambrosia. I suspect that Zeus had less to do with the creation of Aquila than it sounds or as much as he prefers to take credit. Zeus often takes full or partial credit for things in which he was not involved. He likes to claim credit for instigating the creation of humanity, but regardless of the stories told about it, he had nothing to do with it. He saw Prometheus’ genius and wanted a share of the accolades. And as Aletheia is the personification of truth, Zeus likes to claim her as his daughter, but she isn’t. I could go on and on about that topic. On Henri’s own—with just any woman—he could never have had a child. So, what I think Zeus did was bring Henri’s ideal woman into his path and he into her’s. It occurred the way Prometheus brought you and Liam together. I think both you and Henri gave the one you love—and to whom you have a special connection—exactly what they wanted. Henri’s wife wanted to have his child so badly, he subconsciously manifested what he needed to make that happen.”
Ronan remembered. “Liam expressed a concern about growing old, burdening me, and a fear that I would leave him if he wasn’t handsome anymore.”
“So, you subconsciously manifested Ambrosia to solve the problem,” said Poseidon.
“If it is the same energy that gives the gods their power, then that would mean-”
“Your Ambrosia has charged Liam with so much creative energy that, if things continue—at some point—he could achieve godhood.”
“Okay,” said Ronan, “that I will need to discuss with Liam.”
Poseidon nodded. “Agreed.”
“So, how do you know all this?”
“Athena, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge, would only discuss her dangerous insights with a rare few and in secret. We have discussed various points on the nature of our power and how it relates to you. Here’s why you can dethrone Zeus. You are the creative energy in its purest form, and through the leak, you receive a continuous supply of it. A god’s powers emanate from the same energy but it’s several steps removed in purity from yours, we can’t hold as much as you do, and we can deplete ours.”
“But I don’t know how to wield it,” said Ronan.
“Like all the rest of us, you can learn, and it’s deceptively simple. I suspect you would find little impossible for you; the problem would come from your inability to effectively utilize your imagination and see beyond your perceived limitations.”
“So, imagination is important?”
“It’s all-important. You cannot manifest what you cannot conceive.”
“I see. So, why hasn’t Zeus tried to take away my power as he did yours?”
“I suspect he tried that first, and his failure has caused him to fear you, and the ease in which you destroyed Kratos has him worried. He was the strongest, and not even Zeus can generate the heat necessary to vaporize a god and convert their energy. A god’s destruction results in an instantaneous conversion of all their energy into an unstable form which is the source of the explosion, or so Athena says. The more powerful the god, the larger the explosion. Destroying Kratos required power beyond the ability of any god that I know. I couldn’t speak to how far your abilities go. None of us are truly omnipotent, but you may be the closest to reach it.”
“The idea of having that kind of power scares me,” said Ronan.
“Good,” said Poseidon. “It would worry me if it didn’t, but you asked me if Zeus had gotten that bad. You’ve no need to just take my word for it. Unlike with Zeus, you’re welcome to question my veracity anytime you like. That’s something I’ve learned from Aletheia. If I’m honest, the truth will stand on its own. So, believe your own eyes. Zeus refused to stop you from destroying Kratos just to see if you could. He threw his life away, so yes, he is that bad.”
“I destroyed him without remorse,” said Ronan, “so what does that make me?”
“Kratos was a rabid tiger and the strong arm of Zeus’s tyranny. You gave both Zeus and him an opportunity. You even told them what you would do if they wouldn’t back off. Those are not the actions of someone who is without kindness, understanding, patience, or control. You destroyed him to protect people. You did what you did because you care about others, but Zeus and Kratos did what they did because they only care about themselves, and therein lies the difference. You question yourself, Ronan, because you are good; the people who aren’t, wouldn’t bother.”
Ronan thought about that for a moment. “He never even called out to Zeus.”
“Kratos would have viewed that as weakness,” said Poseidon. “He swore long ago that, if need be, he would die in Zeus’s service, but in full disclosure, he only swore that because Zeus insisted.”
“That’s terrible,” said Ronan. “I couldn’t imagine myself wanting anyone to do such a thing.”
“I know you don’t want the throne,” he said, “but you would make a wonderful king.”
“Speaking of that, if Zeus is deposed, who would take the throne?”
“If you dethroned him, then it would be you, but your power would be so immense that you would have the authority to appoint a ruler if you chose. I just ask that you not appoint me. I don’t want it.”
“Can I count on you?” he asked Poseidon.
“Once you have deposed Zeus, you will have my full and open support. Until then, I will help you as best I can, but I cannot allow Zeus to see me openly helping you. I hate to think what he would do to me if he knew.”
“In whatever way you can help without jeopardizing your own welfare is all I would ever ask. Who can I trust?”
“You can trust Prometheus, Dolos, Athena, Aletheia, and me. Other than we few, I couldn’t say, undoubtedly, you can trust more than those you can’t, but this isn’t a topic open for discussion among the gods; we have no intellectual freedom. To act as if we do would make us the target of Zeus’s cruelty.”
“Olympus sounds like hell.”
“Under a powerful malevolent tyrant, Olympus is a beautiful hell.”
“What would the gods prefer?”
“We must have a strong ruler, someone to answer to. The problem with Zeus is not that he’s a powerful monarch who punishes unruly behavior. We need a powerful ruler willing to punish. The problem is that, among all the gods, he’s the one with no form of oversight. He has no one to answer to, and that has turned him into a biased, capricious, unreasonable, and malevolent tyrant who wields his power unevenly, unjustly, and with cruelty. Those are the things that no one wants.”
“Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. Let’s take this one thing at a time for now. Do you think Zeus will try to sink the ship?”
“Kratos pointed out your fondness for the humans. I suspect he knew that from Zeus. He attempted to use it to get to you, Zeus may try that too, except with deadlier consequences. He could try to sink the ship and far-”—he tipped his head, listening for a moment—”Do you hear that?”
“Zeus is also likely to send someone else after you. There are gods more dangerous than Kratos, and one is coming. I must go.” He grabbed his trident and vanished as he hurried away.
At first, it started with a simple rhythmic beat of the air. Whoosh… Whoosh… Whoosh… With time, it gained volume, but Ronan couldn’t discern its direction. With room to maneuver on the forecastle, he jumped atop the shipping containers behind him. He wheeled around, listening. The sound came from the direction of the sun. The moment Ronan saw the dark-winged figure, he removed his shirt and manifested his giant white wings. He glanced atop the superstructure to the ship’s bridge. He knew they watched, but the exterior had too much light to see anyone inside.
When the winged god landed forty feet from him, Chiron’s memories helped to recognize the being as Thanatos, the personification of death. The ageless and eternal entity rarely showed himself. He appeared as a young man, perhaps eighteen years old at most, with a thick mop of dark hair atop his head. He stood naked with his head held high, his wings extended, and his lithe hairless body in a guarded stance, his hands on his hips.
“Hello, Centaurian,” he said.
“Hello, Death. Taken a holiday, have you? Or like Kratos, has Zeus sent you?”
“He asked me to look you over. He even asked me to take you if I could, but I don’t do those sorts of requests; I am Death, I have no loyalties, not even to Zeus. However, since I wanted to meet you anyway, I told him I would come and do what I could.”
“…making no promises,” said Ronan, “that’s smart. If you just want to meet me, why don’t you come in for a cup of coffee and some apple cinnamon strudel?”
“Are you actually inviting Death to dine with you?”
“Well,” said Ronan, “I don’t eat regular food, so you would dine while I kept you company.”
“It’s not that sort of visit.”
“Oh, I see. So, you’re not really here to meet little ol’ me then. How disappointing.”
“We must discuss Kratos. He didn’t die, you destroyed him and denied me my due. Having done so, you are intruding upon my territory.”
“Aquila destroyed Kakia, have you already given him this speech?”
“Kakia used the Chronosian blade in the senseless destruction of a mortal beloved by Eros, and in turn, Aquila destroyed her for it. Eros has asked me to consider it justice served, and that I would do. Besides, he no longer has the blade, and despite his status, one day he could be mine. You can still destroy gods, and now—having stood in your presence—I sense you permanently beyond my reach; you are not really alive in the traditional sense and therefore incapable of dying.”
“That’s right. You can never have me, but I could destroy you, and do you know what? I really hate that it boils down to a question of a god getting their way—whether I like it or not—or me having to destroy them, just so they would leave me alone. None of you can have me under your thumb; I won’t tolerate it.”
“If you should destroy me,” said Death, “no one would die ever again, and that would be dangerous.”
Ronan shook his head. “No, I’m not falling for it. Kratos was the divine personification of strength. He’s gone, and I can assure you that strength still exists. Your mother is Nyx, the personification of night. If she didn’t exist, would the sun suddenly begin shining on the entire planet simultaneously, or would half always remain in shadow? So, death exists independent of you. Do you know why humans stopped believing in the gods? Because they realized you weren’t necessary, and yet, here you are…superfluous…redundant…expendable even. No doubt, you have power, but you’re not invulnerable to me.”
“That remains to be seen,” said Death, “but you’re not completely invulnerable to me either, so I suggest we come to an arrangement.”
“What sort of arrangement?”
“I ask that you leave me to my job and refrain from destroying any more gods. In exchange for that, I will avoid anyone you designate off-limits.”
“I see three problems with that,” said Ronan. “One, it implies that I would destroy gods for no valid reason like I’m stalking them for sport or something. Two, if gods would leave me alone and not make threats on my friends and loved ones, they’ve nothing to fear from me, so let’s not pretend they have no choice. And three, my friends and loved ones are already off-limits, and I could view what you just said to me as a threat, so back off. I will destroy anyone who touches them, so no deal. If you feel the itch to tackle someone, come after me. You’ll find me a challenge. Have you ever seen what bad kids do to butterflies? You wouldn’t enjoy it. However, I will play just as fair with you as I had with Kratos. You are welcome to leave now in peace, but you will be responsible for what happens to you if you choose to stay. Give Zeus a message. I won’t put up with his shit. He has two choices, he can either leave me, my loved ones, and friends alone, or he can lose his throne. The choice is his.” Death began to beat his wings and took to the air, but just before he left, Ronan yelled to him, “And one last thing, Death, you visit me again at your peril.”
Death faced Ronan in the sky as he moved away as if he feared turning his back on him. With Death in the distance, Ronan’s wings burned away as he picked up his shirt and returned to the superstructure.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “If Zeus thinks that I will dethrone him, why does he keep poking me with a stick?”
He met his friends, including the captain and first mate on the bridge. The first mate called them there to watch as Ronan spoke to the winged man. Dolos—in the guise of Emma—immediately recognized his brother Thanatos and told the others who he was.
“All the other Stallions kept their head down,” said Emma, “and in doing so, they appeared non-threatening. You’ve drawn attention to yourself. And now, in believing you mean to dethrone him, you have challenged his authority, but worse still, you’ve told him what he must do. If he complies, then he’s not the King-of-the-Gods, you are.”
“Ugh…that’s absurd,” said Liam.
She shrugged a little. “He does what he wants, not what he’s told.”
“I’ve told him to leave me alone,” said Ronan. “He’s mistaken if he thinks he has the right to harass anyone he wants just because he’s Zeus.”
“Herr Stallion,” said Captain Stettler, and everyone turned his direction, “I’ve heard the concerns of several crew members after last night. It seems that some of the crew believe you present a danger. I have had time to think on it, and it has occurred to me that if Zeus would try to sink the ship, it would have a greater likelihood if you were aboard. It was bad enough to have Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Kratos here, but now we have had a visit by Death. I have never believed in omens, but it doesn’t bode well. I think the time has come for you to leave the ship.”
“Captain…” said William.
“No, William,” he said, “I think it’s best.”
“I’m truly sorry it has gone this far, captain,” said Ronan, “but I think your first instinct was the right one. I ask that you not allow our recent visitor to change your mind.”
“You said if Zeus tried to sink the ship you weren’t sure what you could do about it.”
“Yes, captain, but if I’m not here, I can do nothing.”
“That assumes he would bother in your absence,” said Captain Stettler. “Now that you have access to more abilities, I need you to find a way off the ship and go. This isn’t just about the ship, it’s about the crew’s livelihood. We need this vessel to complete its round. I will keep my word and donate to the children’s charity. I’m sorry it must be this way, but it’s settled. You should go as soon as you can accomplish it.”
“I understand, captain.” Ronan looked upon Liam, Emma, and William.
“Can you do that?” asked Liam.
“I better start learning how,” he said and made to leave the bridge.
“I’ll be there to help you as soon as I can,” said Emma as he left.
With brows drawn in a severe angle, William broke his usual reserve, “Captain, I believe you misunderstand the depth of the problem. They are gods, and Zeus sounds irrational to me. To hurt Ronan, he could use any or all of us at any time. The distance from him won’t make a difference.
“If we take our chances either way, then as captain, I think we should take our chances alone.”
“This ship and its cargo can be replaced,” said William, “our lives cannot.”
“If Ronan can do it,” said Emma, “we will take anyone who wants to reach land for safety.”
“Encouraging people to abandon the ship in the middle of the voyage is tantamount to inciting mutiny,” said the captain.
“I couldn’t say that any of the crew is willing to go,” said William, “but if Ronan leaves, I am not staying.”
“You’re the purser,” said Paul, the first mate, “we need you.”
“I am unwilling to take chances with my life. The captain has the legal right to make decisions for this ship; he doesn’t have the legal right to make anyone stay. I have much respect for you captain, but this isn’t the Deutsche Marine; it’s just a job. I was looking for a job when I found this one; I can find another.”
“What will we do without you?” asked the captain.
“That’s up to you, captain, but if Ronan must leave, consider me resigned as purser of this ship.”
“Do you think to give me an ultimatum?”
“No, I merely exercise my right to leave based on your decision.”
“I will refuse to let you back me into a corner. I will fire you.”
William shook his head. “You mistake me. I know that when you’ve made up your mind about something, you refuse to change it. Ronan was leaving no matter what, so you can’t fire me, I’ve already resigned.”
“You’re making a mistake,” said the captain to William.
He gave that a moment’s thought. “If I leave and I’m wrong about the ship, good, I can live with being wrong, but I think your judgment in this matter is faulty.”
Emma left to help Ronan, and on return to Emma’s cabin, Liam and William met the attractive blond steward, Garit Bruckhauser, waiting outside the door wearing his white smock.
“Is something wrong?” asked Liam.
“I wanted to speak to William. I know that Otto and Kurt apologized to you this morning, and Frau Nordström returned them to normal. Gustav asked me to tell you that he intends to apologize, but his duties have kept him extremely busy this morning. I also wanted to tell her how much I appreciate her having cursed them.”
“Why is that?” Liam asked.
“I have worked aboard this ship for three years, and Gustav knows I’ve had a serious crush on him, but he thought I only wanted his big dick, and don’t get me wrong, I love it, but he now knows that isn’t the only reason. We had talked before, but we have had in-depth discussions the last three days. Gustav said the words ‘I’m gay’ aloud last night for the first time, and he admitted that when we complete a circuit and return to Hamburg, he misses me when we don’t see one another on our off days. He also realizes what a jerk he has been.”
“That’s nice to hear,” said William who began to pack. “If he wants to apologize to me in front of Emma, he needs to do it before our passengers leave today. I have resigned as purser, so I’m going with them. I’m unsure when. It depends on how quickly Ronan can do it; it could take just a few hours.”
“Why have you quit?”
“Because when Thanatos showed up, the captain asked our friends to leave, and I think the ship could be in danger if Ronan isn’t here. I have no guarantees of that, and admittedly, I could be entirely wrong, but we have only this one life, so I’m taking no chances. I’m leaving.”
“Well, I’ve always had respect for your intelligence, if you think the chance of danger to the ship is enough to make you leave, then I’m not sure I want to stay.”
“Emma said anyone who wishes to leave with us may do so,” said Liam.
“Don’t leave without me,” he said, “I will talk to Gustav and pack a bag.”
Emma found Ronan leaning against the railing overlooking the ocean on the main deck outside the port-side hatch. She joined him, and he hadn’t acknowledged her presence before he started talking.
“Are you at all upset that I destroyed your cousin Kratos?”
“It wasn’t personal,” she said. “You hadn’t destroyed him because he was my cousin, or because he was a god; although his being a god forced you to destroy him. He was a problem, and at the time, you hadn’t used your abilities, so you had limited means to deal with him. But that’s not why we’re just standing here, is it? You have a fear of your power.”
He turned to her. “How did you know?”
“The look on your face before you left the bridge. The captain is pushing you before you’re ready. And…because most anyone else would be so excited about it that they would explore it as soon and as quickly as possible. You’ve not even attempted to manifest anything external from yourself, have you?”
He glanced downward. “No,” he whispered sounding ashamed. “Have I disappointed you?”
She gazed up at him and saw the evidence of his concern writ across his face. She laid her hand on his cheek and stared into him for a moment. “Here you are, probably the most powerful being in the universe, and you worry that you’ve disappointed me.” She started to laugh but the wetness of her eyes showed more than amusement and she hugged him. “How wonderful you are.”
Suddenly, they heard a series of unknown, heavy metallic sounds at an extraordinary volume from the stern of the ship. TANK…TANK TANK…TANK…TANK, and a BOOM accompanied by a rapid violent earthquake-like shaking of the ship as Ronan ran into the superstructure. The ship stopped, the general alarm sounded, smoke poured from the hatchway from the bowels of the ship, and people began to run out onto the deck. On his way to the bridge, he met the captain in the process of evacuating the structure.
“What’s happened?” Ronan asked in a hurry.
“We’ve been hit by a meteor shower; we watched them fall. The engine is out, we’re taking on water, and I don’t know whether to blame you or not.”
“There are men trapped in the engine room!” yelled a crewman from the floor below.
A message came from the radio on the captain’s shoulder. “Captain,” said the man, “the lifeboats are missing. I repeat, the lifeboats are missing.”
Among humans, the occasional dethroning of a monarch has happened repeatedly for as long as monarchs have existed, and whether they happen by murder, forced abdication, civil war, or military coup, the removal of a monarch is usually a messy business, depending on the strength of the opposition. In the case of divine royals, the Greek gods have had a line of rulers, but one might consider only three of them real kings, and the stories from ancient humans of how the first two lost their thrones are—to put it mildly—bizarre.
According to the stories, Uranus, the first king, despised his children and kept them inside their mother Gaia (Earth) and wouldn’t allow their birth. Gaia called upon her unborn—fully formed—children to seek vengeance on their father, so Cronus used the adamantine sickle given to him by his mother while still in the womb and castrated his father Uranus when he came to lie with Gaia and tossed his testicles into the ocean, which allowed the Titans to be born, and Cronus assumed the throne.
In retaliation, Uranus placed a curse upon his son Cronus so that one of his children would dethrone him. To prevent this, Cronus swallowed his children when they were born. Rhea, the mother of Cronus’s fully divine children, hid her youngest son Zeus at birth to prevent Cronus from swallowing him. The goddess Metis mixed wine and mustard for the adult Zeus to feed Cronus which caused him to vomit up his—now fully formed—children. Afterward, there came the rebellion and the war, resulting in the removal of Cronus from the throne in favor of Zeus, the god of the sky.
Zeus reigned as King-of-the-Gods for many millennia. He withstood prophecies as well as rebellious children and siblings who attempted to overthrow him, so he had a proven mastery of his extensive powers, and he used them to intimidate until he had no opposition to his supremacy. For millennia, he had the luxury of considering his throne secure, but then came Ronan the Centaurian and Prometheus’s prescient vision.
Without witnessing it, he wouldn’t believe Ronan had as much or more power than himself. Apart from his capacity to vaporize a god and his immunity to Zeus’s attempt to remove his power, the Centaurian had demonstrated no ability he found noteworthy. Ronan’s claims of fearing these much talked about but unseen powers, might prove nothing more than an attempt to conceal a profound inadequacy, so Zeus wanted certainty over how much danger he presented.
He knew from lifelong experience; one should never reveal personal desires to an enemy. He found it better to simply take a thing—usually by force—to avoid anyone manipulating him over it. In Ronan telling Zeus what he wanted, it revealed his weaknesses. To Zeus’s mind, if Ronan wanted his peace, he should simply go after Zeus and destroy him, taking his peace by force with the strength of his power, just as Zeus tried to remove Ronan as a threat the moment he learned of his dethroning.
Figuring to test the Centaurian, he made a careful selection of asteroids. He hadn’t wanted to utterly devastate the ship by sending one too large. He sought a more tactical strike, so the Centaurian would either rise to the occasion or prove himself impotent.
The smaller meteors made of a two-inch shard of metal struck the superstructure from behind. The seismic-like event that had shaken the vessel down to its keel, however, came from above, a strategically aimed meteor the size of an anvil whose supersonic speed, odd shape, and composition allowed it to rip through the steel ship like a bullet through a tin can.
Ronan had raced up the staircase in search of Liam where he met the captain in the process of evacuation. The engine had stopped, the general alarm had sounded, and smoke began pouring through the hatchway from the bowels of the ship as men ran onto the deck in panic.
The moment the captain used the word meteor, Ronan knew Zeus had caused it, and if the meteors alone hadn’t proven his villainy, he also stripped them of their only means of escape by taking their lifeboats.
It came down to Ronan doing or men dying, and he would need the power he feared. He stood paralyzed for a moment upon the staircase, knowing that to act upon one need would delay acting upon others, perhaps with deadly consequences. The ship had just begun sinking beneath the water, the engine room had men trapped, he could hear calls for help from above and below him, crewmen raced past them on the staircase in urgency, and he still hadn’t seen Liam.
“Are you just going to stand there?” asked the captain. “You wanted to help people, so help them!”
The situation had Ronan pulled too many directions and pushed too far. His second and triple guessing himself caused a lapse in his ability to think or decide, and in an unreasonable fit of momentary madness, he squinted his eyes, clenched his fists, and with a voice erupting from deep inside him, he shook as he cried, “Stop!”
Faster than he could blink, Ronan thought he had gone completely blind, coupled to a silence so profound it would have driven most anyone insane. He felt no vibration, no sensation of temperature, or even direction. As though disconnected from his body, he felt nothing. He tried to touch whatever lay before him in the darkness, but he found himself trapped as though he had petrified in Medusa’s gaze and with a growing sense of terror, he thought, “What have I done?”
The answer came from someone else inside his head, a deep masculine voice that would have resonated in a man’s chest. “You’ve gotten yourself into a pickle. That’s what you’ve done.” The man chuckled to himself in amusement.
Ronan hadn’t recognized the voice. With Chiron and his former human self fully combined, it could be neither as individuals. It sounded like no one he knew.
“It’s true,” said the man in his measured, casual tone, “you and I have never met.”
“You can hear my thoughts?” asked Ronan in his mind.
“Yes, but only here,” he said. “This is my domain. Do you know where you are?
The man was enjoying this. “That’s right, you’re nowhere.”
“Nowhere? How can I be nowhere?”
“I suspect most people wonder how they came to be nowhere, especially when in the middle of it; with its popularity, one might think to find a tourist attraction. However, unlike other people’s experiences, you have willed yourself to the most nowhere of all nowheres. I come here when I need some time to myself—which sounds funny for me to say.
“I’ve never been here with anyone before, and I now realize that I know nothing of the future here. Having no knowledge of what you will say next is fascinating. So, welcome to my nowhere.”
“Who are you?”
“I am one of the two oldest beings in this universe and the only other person capable of coming here. Except, when I come here, I avoid the pickle you’re in.”
“And what precisely is this pickle?”
“You willed everything to stop, so it stopped…except your mind, probably as a defense mechanism…and me, of course, because I can live both in and outside of time.”
“You’re Chronos, the god of time.”
“Only to the gods who aren’t my close friends, my children, and my ex-wife Ananke (the goddess of necessity and inevitability. I’m proud to say that she and I fucked this universe into existence, and it came to be at the birth of our son Chaos. You may know that event as The Big Bang). For everyone else, what they call me, depends on who they are. You know, humans too often confuse me with your Titan father, Cronus. That’s why they mistakenly depict me as carrying a scythe—he was a god of the harvest—but I’ve no need for such an implement and talk about insulting… Cronus swallowed his own children for goodness’s sake! No one wants to get mistaken for that monster.”
“Hadn’t you created the Chronosian blade for Aquila to kill me?”
“No, I created the blade because Zeus told me to. He never makes requests of anyone except to his brothers and Athena his favorite daughter. To everyone else, he makes demands, and we must comply. So, I apologize that I had to create it, but I already knew it would cause you no danger. It’s a shame about Felix Raposo. He was a magnificent young man. I also mourn his loss. His destruction should never have happened, but I could not say the same of that garish and horrid Kakia. Good riddance.”
“Well, if Zeus ordered you to make the blade, I understand. So, why can’t I move?”
“All movement requires time, so by stopping time, you eliminated the possibility of space. Except for myself, apart from your mind, you have locked your physical self and the entire universe—to its farthest reaches and from the highest point on Olympus to the deepest pit of Tartarus, everything, down to the last quark—into a state not unlike a solid block of concrete.”
“I hadn’t meant to do that,” said Ronan.
“Well, you have.”
“I hope you’re not angry with me over it; it was an accident, and unfortunately, it has me stuck. Could you get me out of this?”
The man gave a deep chuckle. “Oh no…no, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “It would deprive you of the opportunity to learn to use your abilities. You do want to learn, right?”
“I do,” said Ronan in hesitation, “but…I have a fear of the power within me.”
“And just why is that?”
“Well—for one example—because getting stuck in time is apparently a thing, but the power is too much. Everyone keeps telling me that I have more power than anyone else, and someone just today said that I could be virtually omnipotent. And I happen to know that virtual omnipotence is as close to true omnipotence that anyone can logically get. Why would anyone want that much power?”
“For you, that’s a sensible, if naive, question,” said Chronos, “and the answer is easy—they want control. Someone will always have more power than others but combine that with an overzealous willingness to wield it for their own benefit, and typically, they rule. Unfortunately, when someone threatens their reign, they make the most dangerous of enemies. They will do anything to maintain their control. I see both a lesson there and a warning, don’t you?”
“Message received,” said Ronan. “I had no idea about this power when I agreed to take Henri’s place, and I get why he couldn’t tell me about it, but it appears Prometheus intended that I should be the final Stallion, so I guess the question is, why me?”
“With that question, you’ve asked the right god. Prometheus has prescience and a knowingness of future events, but I am the god of Time. I have an intrinsic connection to the timeline with the knowledge of all events. So, let me ask you, just before Henri passed the eternal flame to you, what did he say?”
“Remember to keep the love in your heart and the image in your mind,” said Ronan.
“Well, surely you comprehend the importance of the image, it’s part of your appearance, but Henri hadn’t told you to hold the love in your heart just to express some flowery sentiment. Henri and Prometheus chose you, due to your loving nature because almost anyone can acquire knowledge and experience, but someone either has a loving nature or they haven’t. And the fact that you agreed to replace Henri demonstrated bravery and a willingness to commit. Holding the love in your heart—which you did—has kept you a fundamentally loving person during your transition. You couldn’t let that love go now even if you wanted to, and while people too often view love as a weak emotion, it has aspects that many people rarely consider.
“Kratos never made idle threats, and him threatening the people you care for and love made you understandably angry. He pushed you into a corner to force you to fight him—and make no mistake, he would have fought to the death. He intended to kill someone that night, but you had no obligation, so you simply destroyed him, and no one who knew Kratos could reasonably blame you. It seems to slip the mind of many people that Love isn’t always kind and gentle. Sometimes it’s fiercely protective, but that’s okay, sometimes it needs to be. So, why you? Search inside yourself, Ronan, you know why they chose you, and you’ve known it all along, you just have difficulty believing it.”
“Sometimes it puzzles me why I care so much,” he said.
“It’s a result of your experiences as Chiron, and especially as a human, which you knew were best forgotten. I have nothing further to say on that topic.”
“I knew I would forget my past, so I must agree with that.”
“It’s fortuitous that you should wind up here, you have the chance to learn to wield your power, and with that, I will help you. You need it to dethrone Zeus. Besides, if you will muck about in my domain, I insist that you know what you’re doing. But don’t worry, now that you’ve stopped time, you have an eternity to learn this, but I suspect it won’t take that long. The movement of matter and energy requires Time, so if you want to move, you must separate your material self from it with a time-field. Your mind is still functioning, so already, you create a field there as a means of self-preservation, just expand it.”
“What does a time-field look like?”
“Your body should fill with a white light and in its glow, you expose everything your light touches—or you touch physically—to the time-field. It unlocks the matter around you, so you can move.”
Ronan concentrated, but nothing happened. “I’m using my imagination, but it’s not working.”
“If imagination alone made things manifest, your every thought would require extreme caution. Manifesting requires intentionality, and this is no different than manifesting your wings. But whether you manifest internally or externally, you create, and to create is to act with intention.”
“Why does external manifesting seem harder? What’s the trick?”
“The trick is deciding it isn’t harder,” he said. “If you have trouble with that, we will be here a while. Some people might call this a watershed moment for you and this nowhere the perfect proving ground. I will help you as best I can, and together, we will fix this. Zeus deserves no satisfaction from his actions here, and you will discover that he has caused more damage than you realize.”
“Is Liam okay?”
“Blood has splattered the wall of the room in which you will find him.”
“No!” In Ronan’s need to reach Liam, he focused, and from his body emerged a light, and it grew brighter as it expanded. He began to feel his limbs again, and his eyes could see the wall of the staircase and the captain who remained temporally locked beside him.
At the top of the stairs, on the floor that held the room he shared with Liam, he could see a figure that glowed with an eerie light like his own, that together, illuminated the staircase. The shirtless, ruggedly handsome Chronos had the size of an enormous bear with huge, rounded muscles with enormous pecs like his own, and while his abdominals remained visible, they hadn’t appeared deeply chiseled. He had some slight graying in the dark hair on his head, his beard, and profuse body hair. He wore black-leather boots and a wide belt of the same material. His beefy thighs packed a pair of faded blue jeans, and Ronan noted the thick horizontal bulge in his pants that lay far across his hip.
Chronos spoke with his lips, warning Ronan in a deep rumble, “Don’t touch the captain. I must caution you against touching anyone accidentally. The light of your time-field affects them superficially, but to touch them for only a moment would cause them an unpleasant, rapid temporal disruption.”
“We can talk to one another?”
“The light of our time-field unlocks the air around us. As the light dims farther away from us, the speed of time slows to a gradual stop, but while our lights mingle, it creates a shared pocket of time that will carry sound.” He waved Ronan up the staircase.
Due to his sizable body, Ronan had difficulty skirting around the captain on the staircase without touching him.
Once he reached the top of the stairs, Ronan said to him, “Am I reading into it, or do you and I have things in common?”
Chronos smiled. “I haven’t always had this appearance, just the last thirty years, and I intend to keep it, but we have much in common. You, Liam, and I should talk one day,”—he raked his eyes over Ronan’s body—”and you are one fine-looking Stallion.” He jerked his head toward the hallway. “Liam’s this way.”
Ronan hurried down the hall and reached for the door handle to his cabin.
“Not there, he’s in this one.” Chronos opened the door to Emma’s cabin, and Ronan hadn’t expected what he found.
The room held four people, and Ronan discovered someone hurt but not Liam. The blood splatter on the wall came from William. As he stood packing a bag, a small shard-like metallic meteor pierced the outer wall. It left a ragged and oddly shaped, golf-ball-sized hole. It matched the one through William’s belly and the hole through the interior wall to the corridor where the meteorite lay embedded in a metal stud on the opposite side.
William lay on the floor between Liam and Emma, who apparently had teleported herself there before Ronan had stopped time. Their features had frozen in a look of horror and concern, but from the angle of Emma’s head and the position of her mouth, she was—most likely—calling for Ronan’s help. The other person in the room, Ronan never wanted to see again, the winged figure of Thanatos.
“I told him not to mess with my friends and loved ones,” said Ronan.
“I will ask you to temper your anger at Death,” said Chronos, “no one likes to see him due to what his presence could mean, but he has not caused this. He came to fulfill his purpose. It’s not personal.”
Ronan thought about it for a moment and nodded. “You’re right. I will keep that in mind.”
“I would like you to look at this scene. What do you see?”
Ronan looked around and at the people. “William isn’t dead. His eyes are open, his face shows he’s in pain, and Emma is still calling for help.”
“Good. Also, Death heads toward William, not moving away, so this is great timing. Once Death has someone, we would have difficulty bringing them back, and if they were in the underworld, it would be impossible to bring them back without Hades agreeing to it, and he would insist that we pay a heavy price.”
“Could Emma not heal him?”
“Emma is Dolos, and his powers are bound to his nature of deception, lies, and trickery. He has made an amazing evolution over the millennia and found a means to help others by getting around his limitations through plotting, but he isn’t a powerful god, and he hasn’t the time to circumvent his nature. For now, he can barely think. He just knows he loves William and cannot bear the thought of losing him.”
“What does William want?”
“Not to die, obviously. He is a good man who admires you and trusts that you will save him. When the captain asked you to leave the ship, he stood up for you. He wishes he could remain with the three of you when you leave, and Emma wants him to. He loves Emma, but that’s a problem because he thinks she is the goddess Erastís, the lover. He would dearly love to be with her forever, but he knows that cannot happen because he’s just a mortal, and helping people like him is what she does. He thinks she will move on to someone else, leaving him just another man in her past.”
“I see,” said Ronan. “Can I just heal William, or should I just rewind time and undo everything Zeus has done here in one go?”
“You could do either,” said Chronos, “but this event is part of the timeline, and changing time comes with consequences. Every event has ripple effects, some might perceive them as positive or negative, depending. As things stand, the gods will know this event has happened, and they would expect you to save everyone, so no one needs to die. Fortunately, while Zeus sent four other meteors this size, the others had near misses. If you change time, Zeus will not get the level of negative attention his actions deserve than if you let it happen and save everyone, along with the ship.”
“Why is that necessary?”
“Because Olympus has gods not so sure about you and your abilities, and some that, surprisingly, have yet to see Zeus for what he is. He has acted without provocation which gives you support and not enemies willing to stand up to some interloper dethroning their king.”
“That’s rather political. I had no idea the gods had any interest in such things.”
“Only when it suits our purpose, and in this instance, it suits yours.”
“Wouldn’t that allow people to suffer, even just for a short while, for the sake of expediency? I would prefer to eliminate all suffering.”
“The desire to eliminate all suffering appeals to you,” said Chronos, “and that you want to end it says wonderful things about your character, but not all suffering is bad. Often, it causes growth and change. The problem is chronic suffering for the sake of suffering. You are welcome to end that; it serves no good purpose. But to take away all suffering would be extremely bad for everyone.”
“Because the tapestry of the world is woven with many threads. You would find three of extreme importance—consequences, compassion, and empathy. Without suffering, consequences have no teeth. And compassion and empathy help to draw people together. They only exist because of various degrees of suffering. So, while you could reduce suffering without an issue, to eliminate it entirely would pick apart the threads that hold the world together, and it weakens the cloth.”
“Okay. I get it.” Ronan thought for a few minutes and an idea occurred to him. “I like William, and if he wants to join us, he’s welcome, but this incident has demonstrated to me that if he remains with us, he can’t stay mortal. If he changes his mind later, I can undo it, but for now, he will need this.
“In being partly my son, Aquila has a spark from my eternal flame that has not only made him immortal, but he’s also impervious to injury, otherwise he would never have survived the hotel’s destruction. I will give William more than just a spark, with a strength of body and even greater strength of character.”
Ronan removed his shirt, placed his open palm onto his chest, and concentrated on precisely what he wanted as an intensely bright fire leaked from beneath his palm. Ronan pulled his hand up and drew his thumb and forefinger together pulling a delicate web of fiery embering from his skin, and from within him, he drew a tiny sphere of golden light the size of a pea.
Ronan turned to Chronos. “I think I’m getting the hang of this.”
“Well done. Do you know how to administer it?”
“I imagine that I would place it into the wound. Is there anything you would recommend?”
Chronos smiled a little and looked kindly upon Ronan. “You are so different from Zeus. You hadn’t taken it personally when I said to you what I had about Thanatos, you listened, and now you seek advice. It’s refreshing to see someone with your power not have violent outbursts, pretend to know everything, or seek to control others through fear.”
“That’s because I’m an adult. I hear Zeus likes torturing people, has he ever tortured you?”
“Indirectly,” he said. “You have no idea what living under Zeus is like, especially for me. Many of the others have experienced Zeus’s torture at one time or another—which is terrible—and they know a lot he has done, but they couldn’t stop him and must accept that. As the god of Time, I know everything he has done and all he would do…all of it. And knowing is a burden because—unlike everyone else—I could stop him. So often, I have contemplated giving in to the temptation of going back in time to undo Zeus. I’ve wanted to on many occasions. He has harmed so many people.”
“What stopped you?”
“If I did that, you wouldn’t exist. I had to remind myself repeatedly that we had to endure Zeus, so everyone would have the benefit of your presence.”
They stood staring at one another for a moment. What an astonishing, disturbing, and humbling thing to hear. Ronan had no idea what to say to him, and Chronos hadn’t expected him to.
“William is in the last few seconds of life,” Chronos told him, “so when you place it into his wound, be cautious not to touch him. Afterward, hover over the wound with your hands and focus your time-field there to get the healing process started by illuminating it like sunshine. It will only heal so far for now, but it will be enough to stabilize him and keep him alive to allow it to complete its work when you restart Time.”
Ronan did so, and William’s tissues knitted back together in a glow of embering that began to spread throughout his body but stopped when the light could no longer penetrate his skin.
The four other small meteorites had only left holes in the superstructure. The larger metallic meteorite, reminiscent of an anvil, had pierced the base of the superstructure and passed through several floors of the substructure. It shot through the engine room, through the double-walled hull, and then began its long drop to the ocean floor.
The door to the engine room had sealed itself as a safety measure, but the meteor’s entry point in the ceiling would allow the room’s air and smoke from the engine to rush out as the room rapidly filled with seawater and as the other floors above were compromised by that hole, they would also fill with water and within a couple of hours, it would send the ship plummeting to the bottom.
“If we open the door,” said Chronos. “Our time-fields would cause the water inside the field to unlock and run out.”
“Are the men inside still alive, and if so, are they injured?”
“It’s two men you know, Gustav Lauterborn and Garit Bruckhauser. Fortunately, they have just minor injuries.”
“Good,” said Ronan. “I want to temporally undo this to a point before the meteor strikes the ship.”
“We have made changes elsewhere, so you must isolate this from it, but you lack the expertise.”
“You and I move about in a pocket of time, right?”
“Well, if we can do that, why don’t I manifest a bubble of time that encompasses the trajectory of the meteor and reverse it? I could include the engine room and the damage that it made as it tore through the ship.”
“That sounds workable, but it’s not that simple. Currently, the ship has sunk to the same degree that the water has entered the engine room, so a bit of the ship has filled the void. There is no pocket of empty space in the ocean for the water to flow to. Without time there, the water outside the ship is like concrete. It’s a matter of hydraulic pressure, the water wouldn’t evacuate the room.”
“So, I would…”
“You would have to lift the entire ship, along with several other simultaneous actions, but I can think of simpler alternatives.”
Ronan began inspecting the door to discover how the locking mechanism functioned. “How deep is the water in the room?”
“It’s a fairly sizable room, but it flooded quickly, so when time stopped it had only reached their knees.”
He turned to Chronos. “Okay, I probably should just restart time and lift the ship, have we anything else I should accomplish while time has stopped?”
“Before you continue this train of thought, there’s something I should tell you. I hadn’t wanted to distract you from learning here; for the moment, there isn’t a rush.”
“This morning, you spoke to Poseidon on the bow of the ship, and he had to flee when Death arrived. Death suspected you had spoken to someone in secret. He has keen eyesight and saw you emerge from a cloaking field, and he noted the discoloration on the deck from a puddle of seawater, and the vanishing trail of footprints from someone’s bare feet leaving the scene, so he had no difficulty guessing to whom they belonged.”
“And he told Zeus.”
“He told him he would do what he could. Remember?”
Ronan closed his eyes in silent frustration. “Shit. Is he…?”
Chronos nodded a little. “Zeus has prepared to torture him for information.”
“Where can I find him?”
“Olympus has a temple to Zeus, and out front, he has placed a duplicate of the Brazen Bull of Phalaris with Poseidon inside it. He had yet to light a fire beneath it, but he says he will if Poseidon refuses to tell him what he wants to know.”
“Poseidon should just tell him then.”
“Based on what he would say, if he told the truth, he would light the fire beneath it anyway for betraying him.”
“Can I go there with time stopped?”
“No. Teleportation requires Time, and one can reach Olympus no other way.”
“Then I should take care of everything aboard ship now.” He considered it for a moment. “I think I have an idea, but I must go to the bridge.” He mounted the stairs at a trot to reach the top floor with Chronos close behind.
“What will you do?” asked Chronos.
“Well, if I have as much power as people have insisted, then let me put that to the test. Our presence aboard this ship has caused trouble for the captain and crew, making them behind schedule with a damaged ship. And although the captain has asked us to leave, I refuse to abandon them near the middle of the Atlantic in this condition.” They came to the flight of stairs where the captain stood locked in time, and they used caution to pass him without making contact. As they continued upward Ronan asked, “Have you any action that you would forbid me?”
Chronos smiled a little. “I appreciate your desire to respect me and my domain. I know you would only do what you must, so I would forbid nothing, but if by some circumstance you must change the past, I ask that you consult me first. Alterations to the timeline can have drastic consequences, and I can give you a picture of those beforehand.”
“I agree to that. My plan requires unlocking the entire ship but not the people. Do you know who Robert Baden-Powell is?”
“Founder of the Boy Scouts, I believe,” said Chronos.
“Exactly. One thing he said was, ‘Try and leave this world a little better than you found it,’ which easily translates into leaving the places you visit in better condition than when you arrived. If this works, I have decided to take that on as a philosophy. Which reminds me, I made a mess in the ocean when I chucked things off the ship, I need to clean that up when I have spare time.”
“Commendable,” said Chronos, “but you also injected extra heat into the ocean when you boiled it, and into the atmosphere when you destroyed Kratos. That’s not good.”
“Thank you for pointing that out, I will take care of that when I clean up my mess.”
“And you killed several fish,” he added.
“Okay! I get the picture.”
“Just trying to help,” he said as they entered the bridge.
Ronan’s light began to intensify as he moved to the instrument panel and laid his palms onto the console before him. While intending to leave the people time-locked, he sent out a wave that began an illumination on, in, and throughout every part of the ship, creating a pocket of time that encompassed the entire vessel, including all that its light could touch, namely the air and water around it.
“Poseidon told me I would find using my power deceptively simple, and he was right.”
“Do you still fear it?” Chronos asked.
“Yes, and I think I now know the real reason why.”
They gazed out the windows to watch the ship emerging in a bright glow that, in the distance, faded to the vast, black, timeless nowhere beyond.
“I fear that I will grow to like it too much,” said Ronan.
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because power corrupts.”
“Oh, I see, so if power corrupts then anyone on the verge of omnipotence should turn into the most corrupt being in the universe, is that it?”
“Something like that, yeah. Take Zeus for example, he’s powerful—and not nearly omnipotent—but look at him.”
Chronos rolled his eyes a bit and shook his head. “You are not Zeus. Beneath the power itself, you are entirely two different beings, not remotely similar.”
“Poseidon said Zeus’s evil had grown over time,” said Ronan. “Wouldn’t that mean it could happen to me too?”
“Zeus has always lacked what you have. He hasn’t a clue how to love anyone, and he has never had the benefit of a protector.”
At the mention, Ronan’s brows drew together. “You mean Liam?”
“Did you think perhaps your need of his protection extended little beyond him picking you up and carrying you into his home?”
Ronan turned toward the window his mind trying to work it out.
“Kratos’s jibes at Liam protecting you stemmed from his ignorance. The god of brute strength could not comprehend the more subtle aspects of what it means to protect someone. Liam is—forever and always—essential to you, not in defending you from anything external but protecting you from yourself. Liam is your policeman; he is your compass; he is your someone to answer to. And you will because you love one another, and you would never want to disappoint him. So, do you want to ensure that you never become evil?” Ronan turned his head, and Chronos held his complete attention. “With every decision, always keep in mind his love for you and his favorable opinion. Because losing him can happen.”
Ronan leaned forward with his hands on the glowing console before him, he hung his head, and from his lips came that not quite laugh, not quite cry of a relief that allowed his body to relax which melted into amusement and gratitude. “Prometheus really is a genius, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but he can’t take all the credit for this,” said Chronos. “Most of the other Stallions successfully avoided being found by anyone during their initial dormancy period, and typically, they remained alone throughout their lives not fully connecting with anyone, but Zeus ensured that Rosine ran across Henri in Toulouse. She took him in, and something odd happened. He became emotionally attached to her upon awakening, almost if by compulsion. Prometheus hadn’t wanted you to spend eternity alone, so he searched the entire world and found Liam on the little island of Key Biscayne. Prometheus wouldn’t want you to think he had manipulated you both into a relationship. He simply anticipated several of your needs and fulfilled them, as best he could, by playing matchmaker.”
“But Henri left Rosine after he got her pregnant,” said Ronan.
“Henri was afraid. He had believed that having children could not happen and should not have happened. He felt he had betrayed his duty to carry the eternal flame, and that his remaining would expose his agelessness. He had not left her with ease. But also, you must remember the dangerous and superstitious era in which it happened.”
“Someone would likely have tried to burn him at the stake or something, I suppose.”
“His never aging would have caught up with him,” said Chronos, “and it would have been bad.”
“Was Aquila’s birth supposed to happen?”
“In temporal logic, every event automatically falls under the umbrella of supposed to happen, including changes to the timeline which are not really changes at all.”
“But how can-”
“Don’t ask me to explain that because I couldn’t. Language is an inadequate means of communicating the complexities of Time. We should get on with your plan.”
“Very well, if you say so,” said Ronan. “I have a question. Would moving the ship harm the others here?
“Although they remain internally time-locked,” said Chronos, “they are—essentially—little islands of stopped time cut off from the rest while surrounded by the ship’s time-field, and you can safely move them.”
Ronan held out his upward-facing palms at waist height. “In that case, I will lift the ship, make all the repairs, give them some new lifeboats, and while I can’t teleport the entire ship, I can still move it to an empty patch of the Mediterranean just off the coast of Genoa. That would more than make up for lost time and save them a significant amount of fuel.”
“Have you thought of using your imagination and doing a little more than just repairing the ship?”
“Ooh,”—Chronos shrugged a little and his eyes skimmed the ship for a moment—”like giving it an upgrade, perhaps…”
Ronan’s brows rose as he glanced around. “Hmm…I could use the practice.”
With Time stopped, Ronan took the opportunity to hone his abilities to the point he could manifest his will with relative ease. His most significant challenge came from broadening his imagination far enough to effectively utilize his power.
He renewed the entire ship as though it were brand new, and during that, he found many items the crew had attempted to seal out the corrosive effects of the sea with multiple layers of paint, giving them an unsightly appearance, so he took it upon himself to change its metals to a titanium alloy that wouldn’t corrode. He had wanted to change the entire ship’s metals to titanium, but the designers had built the ship with the weight of steel in mind and changing it to a lighter metal would require altering the ballast, so that would mean restructuring the ship. Not having the necessary expertise in such matters, he felt it best not to tamper with that.
Moving the ship took little effort, and he made a gentle landing with it in an arm of the Mediterranean called the Ligurian Sea, a third of a mile off the coast of Genoa, ensuring the ship hadn’t lain in the pathway of any oncoming vessels.
With all that accomplished, he had just a few things left before he restarted Time.
“I want to thank you for your assistance,” Ronan said to Chronos. “Without you, I might have been stuck for an eternity.”
Chronos smiled. “I doubt it,” he said. “Eternity is a long time. Eventually, you would have thought of something, but you’re welcome. This has been my privilege. So, what’s next on your agenda?”
“Before I restart time,” said Ronan, “I need to speak with Liam.”
“Right. I will meet Liam on the timeline, so I cannot meet him now.”
“I was about to ask you for some privacy.”
“Ahh! So, that’s how it happened. Not a problem.” He held out his hand, and Ronan took it. “I want us to be great friends, and please, know that you can count on me.”
“I appreciate that Chronos, I can never thank you enough for what you’ve done here.”
“Well, perhaps you can help me. And why don’t you and the others call me Angus.”
“Angus?” Ronan asked in disbelief.
He nodded. “I own and live in the Barlow Building in Los Angeles. It holds three successful gay clubs—two public, one private. I have a dance club called Beef, a strip club called Beef Strips, and in my home there, I have a members and invited-guests-only sex club and bar called Beef & Chill. So far, the club has fourteen permanent members. I have a blast at my clubs, and I have even been known to strip at Beef Strips for special gatherings and charity events, so nearly everyone has seen me naked, and unlike during my marriage, my bed is never lonely. The humans know me by the legal name, Angus Barlow, but the guys at the clubs like to call me Steakhouse.”
Angus unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned, and unzipped his pants. Reaching inside he pulled out the cause of his bulge. Even soft, it hung heavily off him like a hairless forearm atop a sack filled with two unenhanced goose eggs, and each one could fill a man’s palm.
“I get it now,” said Ronan. “What an appetizing hunk of meat and potatoes you have there.”
“Why, thank you. You, Liam, and the others may drop by as my special guests anytime.”
“I appreciate the invitation. The place sounds amazing, and I would love to see it. So, you suggested that I might help you. In what way do you need help?”
You and I never have this initial discussion on the timeline, so it must happen here. I would normally have a reticence to reveal the future to anyone, but I will on this matter since it’s already evident. You need to know what’s coming on this topic. Your cum is Ambrosia, but that’s not the only way you can make it. Unlike anyone else, the source of your power is so strong, stable, and pure that you can create Ambrosia at will, and that will be important to the gods in the future.”
“Why is that?”
“Our supply of Ambrosia has dwindled, but the usual flow of it to Olympus will soon cease. It would arrive there every day, and today, we received about one-tenth less than before. Our having it every day has never been more than a decadence, but we have received it daily, so we must drink it, or it goes to waste. We couldn’t store it like wine; old Ambrosia isn’t good.”
“If you’re connected to the timeline and know all events,” said Ronan, “then you know where Ambrosia comes from.”
“That’s right, I do. I refuse to say from where, except that no other planet has Ambrosia. It’s a substance that accumulates over a twenty-four-hour period, and it has a short lifespan of only twenty-four hours after we receive it, and the following day more arrives.”
“And you’re saying that, over time, it has begun accumulating less and less.”
“Yes. So, you see, our need for you is twofold.”
“Who else has noticed it dwindles?”
“I don’t know what everyone thinks—or suspects and keeps to themselves. For that, I can only surmise based on the evidence from the timeline. I only know those things said and done. That it dwindles would create a stir, and no one has spoken of it, so, for the moment, I think it’s just me, and now you.”
“Okay, then I have two questions. How long before the supply to Olympus stops? And how much do the gods actually need?”
“According to the timeline, the source will dwindle until it stops by the end of next year, but our access to it ceases well before then for reasons I cannot say. As for how much we truly need, Ambrosia is powerful. If we made a specific feast day once a year and everyone had some, we would be fine.”
“Would they eat nothing in between?” asked Ronan.
“Oh no, we manifest food when we get hungry, and we eat all sorts of things, but we cannot manifest Ambrosia.”
“I’m glad you’ve told me. So, how does this apply to my helping you?”
Angus smiled. “For a long time, Zeus had made an edict against giving mortals Ambrosia. Not all mortals are worthy of immortality. I hope that you will be more trusting. I have an inner circle of friends that are very much like Liam and William. I would like for them to have it, and if you could send me a wooden firkin cask of Ambrosia on a prearranged date every year, I would be most appreciative.”
“Would you agree to let me meet them first?”
“Yes, please do,” said Angus. “They work during the week, so any Saturday night you like would be perfect.”
“Let me meet them, and I will decide then.”
“That’s most fair and gracious of you. While you’re with Liam, I will transport myself to Genoa to look around, but call me if you need me. And by the way, just so we’re clear, I am here for you even if you must say no when you meet my friends. Okay?”
As Angus left the CS Fritz Himmel for the continent, Ronan returned to Emma’s cabin, and the four people in the room hadn’t moved but the space around them reflected the pristine condition of the ship that the captain and crew would soon discover.
He squatted to look carefully at Liam. Fortunately, when time stopped, he had lifted his hand from William, so Ronan could unlock him without unlocking them both, but how to go about that without causing him a fright seemed important, but maybe unavoidable.
From Liam’s perspective, he had knelt beside William before Emma arrived, and from his training, he thought to apply pressure to the wound, but as the odd-shaped projectile had tumbled and tore into his body, it left a golf ball-sized hole, and Liam could see through it to the rapidly pooling blood on the floor and pushing on the wound would likely have done nothing more than cause William more pain. They both called for help, but mid-blink everything had altered. Liam saw that the lighting of the room had changed with everything around him glowing except Emma and William who had frozen in place.
“Liam,” said Ronan who stood just behind him to the left.
He turned his head, smiled to see him, and stood. “Hey! Why does everything look strange? What’s happening?”
“I have stopped Time, but everything that you see glowing is generating a time-field.”
“Holy shit… You can stop Time?” Liam spied a figure with folded black wings at the side of his vision that startled him. “Death.”
“He had come for William, but he will walk away empty-handed.”
“So, the gods stop when Time stops?”
“Apparently so, but only Chronos and I can do it, and I’m uncertain that the others know it happens. I doubt they even notice it. I stopped Time many hours ago, and a lot has happened since then. We have much to talk about, but first…” Ronan guided Liam into their cabin across the hall, took him into his arms, and kissed him for several minutes.
Liam pulled back. “Oh, I need you.”
“Absolutely.” He began to undress.
With raised brows, Ronan made a momentary tip of his head. “Why not?” He removed his shirt. “We have time.”
Liam began kissing him again.
Ronan pulled back. “There’s something I should tell you about the Ambrosia.”
He shook his head and got onto his knees before him. “Later.” When he pulled down Ronan’s shorts, he shoved his rapidly hardening cock into his mouth and began sucking him.
“Ooh…I love you,” said Ronan.
As Liam’s lips caressed the head, he ran his tongue along the foreskin and frenulum before taking more into his mouth. It reached the entrance to his throat but having so often practiced on his ten-inch ex-boyfriend caused him to lose his reflex, and even with the thickness, he slid several more inches into his face. He wished he could disengage from the practical necessity of breathing, a wish that most anyone who found comfort in accommodating an appendage as magnificent as Ronan’s would make at every opportunity. Just slide it in, and leave it there, like the perfect garage for a vehicle as fast and sexy as a Lamborghini, as classy as a Rolls, and long like a super stretched limousine. Ronan reoriented his cock with a downward curve to make an easier slide into Liam’s throat as he fucked his face. Retreating to his mouth with every other stroke had allowed Liam to breathe as he raced to his orgasm. Just before it started, Ronan pulled back until Liam held his Centaurian cock like he was jacking a fire hose into his mouth with the flared tip of a smooth bore nozzle trapped between his lips. With a determined, machine-like efficiency, Liam gulped and guzzled the massive gouts of Ronan’s delicious Ambrosia. It pumped out the end for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, the twenty-minute mark had come and gone, but still, Ronan stood there with his eyes closed enjoying the sensations, his feet planted on the floor, his legs locked into position as his upper body swayed with Liam jacking his giant meat into his mouth and chugging his liquid gift.
As they hit their new record of thirty minutes, Liam tapped Ronan’s leg, his eyes flew open, and he immediately stopped the flow. With concern, he helped Liam lay upon the bed with his head and shoulders elevated by pillows, and his belly stood out like he had swallowed a watermelon.
“Are you okay?” Ronan asked.
“I’m feeling strange.”
“I’m not surprised, but I probably should tell you what Poseidon told me. He said all this Ambrosia is likely to cause you to achieve godhood. I suspect he means that you’ll become a demigod, and I think that’s what you feel about to happen.”
“What will that do?”
“I’ve watched you grow taller, stronger, and more handsome, so I suspect this will complete that transformation, but in my opinion, it’s not enough. Chiron was a demigod, and he could still sustain an injury. You are my partner, my protector, and the one whom I love above all others. I want to give you the same invulnerability that I gave William when I healed him, but also more. For now, you need time to absorb this, and as we wait, let me tell you all that’s happened the last few hours.”
As the Ambrosia absorbed into Liam’s body, Ronan conveyed all he had done with Time stopped and all the information he had acquired. He told him about Chronos (Angus), the dwindling Ambrosia, Zeus readying to torture Poseidon, all the practice he had renewing the ship, saving William, and how the time fields worked, but he also informed him fully of what it meant to be his protector, and for Liam, it lifted an enormous weight.
Liam needed Ronan to have an obvious need of him. Ronan’s love meant more to him than he could say, but he needed more than to live as the object of Ronan’s affection or as an ornament for him or as Kratos might have put it—useless for anything more than an ass for Ronan to mount. Kratos’s words had made a deep cut into Liam’s confidence, making him question whether anyone as powerful as Ronan really needed a protector. He never wanted to struggle with finding some use or relevancy to Ronan’s existence, but in the light of the current information, he had a vital function and a responsibility greater than he could have imagined, one that made him irreplaceable. He had never been irreplaceable for anything, and it gave him a feeling inside that his career as a police officer couldn’t touch in a billion years.
When Ronan began to tell him his thoughts about Aquila, the power in Liam’s body had reached critical mass and the light emanating from him began to brighten causing him to strain to hold back the pain he felt all over his body.
“Are you okay?”
Unable to get comfortable, Liam squirmed as the light intensified. “I hurt.” He began to moan, and his breathing became irregular. “I’m a little scared.”
“I’m right here,” said Ronan who held his hand.
His moaning turned into a long continuous wail as his light grew so bright it made Ronan squint. He partially lifted Liam from the bed and hugged him. “Hold onto me,” he said to him, “you’re going to be okay.”
Liam tried for a minute but fell limp, having fainted from the pain, and although Ronan couldn’t see inside the brilliance of the light, he could feel Liam continuing to breathe as his body grew bigger. The growth continued for several minutes as Ronan held him, and when the light faded, he smiled when Liam wrapped his arms around him again.
“How do you feel?”
“I feel glad it’s over,” Liam whispered, his forehead on Ronan’s shoulder, he took a couple of deep breaths. “The pain is nearly gone.” He pulled back to look Ronan in the face.
“What? Are they blue again?”
Ronan shook his head. “They’re like mine, the color of cognac…which, now that I think about it, is the color of concentrated Ambrosia.”
“That makes sense, actually.” He kissed Ronan. “Let’s check the damage.”
Standing from the bed, Liam felt heavier and bigger, but he had also gained more height. Originally, he stood six feet tall and had grown nearly an inch the previous few doses of Ambrosia, but he stood six feet four, and his musculature had increased to demigod proportions, but he couldn’t match Ronan who had far surpassed anything remotely human. But for as much as his height and muscles had a drastic change, his greatest change had more subtlety. He had a godlike handsomeness on par with Poseidon. Except, unlike Poseidon, Liam still carried the extra eleven inches of cock gifted to him by Emma which, when added to what he already had, dangled well below his knees before, but with the added height, came to just below his knees.
“A slight improvement,” said Liam gazing down at it.
“Is it too much, really?” asked Ronan.
“If it would make you happy, I would have a cock that hung to my feet, but I couldn’t walk about with that much. This gets in the way as it is.”
Ronan placed his hand onto Liam’s chest. “I think I have the solution. There’s something I need to give you. I wouldn’t want anyone injuring you, especially just to get to me, so I will give you some protection, and with that, a few other things.”
“Will this hurt me?”
“Not this time.”
Ronan released a burst of energy into Liam that spread throughout his body. It happened with such intensity his eyes widened as his mouth dropped open from taking in a rapid breath with several orgasmic spasms as his cock hosed a stream of ejaculate that coated his feet.
“There…” Ronan smiled, staring at the string of cum hanging from the head of Liam’s cock. “That’s better than pain, isn’t it?”
“I loved it! Do it again!”
Ronan laughed as he bent down to catch the string of cum on his finger. Tipping his head back he dropped it into his mouth. He then kissed Liam. “Maybe later. I’ve just given you an invulnerability like mine, the ability to heal people (I figure that could come in handy for us when we finally get back to the task of helping people), and now, not only can you change your junk at will, but also, you can help others with theirs. I know you liked the idea when Emma told you about doing that.”
“That’s thoughtful of you. Thank you.” Liam kissed him. “So, I’m a demigod now?”
“A gifted and immortal demigod. William is like Aquila; they both carry the spark that makes them invulnerable, as well as immortal. I also gave William superhuman strength, so he’s stronger than the strongest human being, but as a demigod charged up with a couple of kegs of Ambrosia, you’re stronger.”
“You mentioned Aquila before my transformation. What about him?”
“He wanted to meet us at the train station in Milan where we would transfer to the overnight train, but I have placed us within a few minutes of Genoa, and we’re several days early. We need to find him, so I can bring him to us. It’s just easier than him flying here. And although I can find anyone who carries a spark from me, I couldn’t teleport to their exact location just to the general area. However, once I restart time, I will be busy.”
“I see. So, what about Emma, William, and Death over there?”
“I would unlock Emma to talk privately, but she’s touching William, and that would unlock him as well, so it will have to wait. I want to ask her if she would like to leave Dolos behind and become Erastís. I wouldn’t want to discuss that with her in front of William for obvious reasons.”
“He should be told the truth.”
“I agree, but that’s not our secret to tell.”
Ronan donned his cream-colored, square-necked tank top with the midnight-blue reinforcement around the arms and neck, bedecked with CENTAURIAN across his chest, but when he held up his shorts, he had to reconsider them. “I have no problem with these for the ship or some resort, but I need these in pants.” He put them on and stared at the hem on the legs for a moment. He concentrated, and in a fiery embering, they extended down to his ankle. “That’s better.”
“I’m impressed,” said Liam, “and you said you weren’t a designer.” He held up his clothing. “Could you help me with these, they won’t fit.”
Ronan took Liam’s shorts, shook them a bit, and a line of embering changed them into a pair of pants like his own. He did the same with the shirt, but rather than Centaurian across the chest, he left it blank, and Liam noted it.
He shrugged. “Think of something, and I’ll put it there.”
“You make all this look so easy.” He stuck a foot into a pant leg and began to dress. “So, have you considered having a team with these our uniforms?”
“What would you think of that?”
“I think it would solve some problems,” said Liam. “You couldn’t always stop Time whenever you get overwhelmed in an attempt to do everything yourself.”
“I can think of circumstances where stopping Time wouldn’t help much. My Time field would negate its effect on things around me, but my helping people also extends to setting a good example, which couldn’t happen if I stop Time as I have here.”
They crossed the hallway as Ronan asked, “You know what to tell the captain, right?”
“I may be gone a little while. Ask Emma to find Aquila and get his exact location. When I return, hopefully, the ship will no longer be in danger, and the captain will have docked.”
“So, you will go ahead and dethrone Zeus?”
“If I have the opportunity, but I will definitely save Poseidon.”
Liam kissed Ronan. “I love you.”
Ronan smiled. “Okay, I admit, that’s nice to hear. And you know I love you.”
Liam returned to William’s side where Ronan found him. “Good luck.”
Ronan moved in front of Death to block his path. “Thanks, I’ll need it. Are you ready?”
“Let’s do this.”
Ronan held his left hand out, so Death wouldn’t walk into him. He held his right hand up, his fingers at the ready. He concentrated on what he wanted, and with intention, he snapped his fingers.
Immediately, the glow of everything around them vanished, light poured through the cabin window, William’s wound continued to heal as he received Ronan’s spark and gifts. Death walked into Ronan’s hand. And with a look of astonishment, he gazed up at Ronan’s stern and unamused face. Only two words escaped the Centaurian’s lips, “Off-limits.”
Thanatos backed up a little, staring at Ronan for a moment. He gave a curt nod, but turned and left, vanishing into nothingness.
It relieved Ronan to find William breathing normally again, and Emma hugging him.
“I must go,” Ronan told them. “Emma, should I concentrate on anything specific to teleport to Olympus?”
“You’re going to Olympus?” she asked.
“Zeus is about to torture Poseidon.”
“Concentrate on Zeus, and it will take you to Olympus.”
Ronan’s brows shifted both incredulous and repulsed as he tipped his head.
“It’s narcissistic, I know,” she said.
“Ronan,” said William, “thank you. I knew I could count on you.”
He nodded. “I’ll be back when I can.” He concentrated on Zeus, walked forward a few paces, and faded into nothingness.
Mount Olympus is Greece’s tallest mountain. It has an array of fascinating flora and fauna, waterfalls, and incredible views topped by fifty-two craggy peaks, and every year, thousands of regular mortals trek up and down Mount Olympus, all heedless of the knowledge that their feet tread upon the earthly foundations of the abode of the gods from the divine realm, who they believe to be nothing more than myth. Olympus has coexisted there in the primordial aether atop its mountainous namesake since the Titanomachy.
Ronan teleported to the divine realm, just outside the gates, near the base of the acropolis. He found himself in a rectangular courtyard flanked by two marble fortifications highlighted with architectural fret. He took in his surroundings, and the air held the warmth of early summer and the sweet fragrance from a variety of perpetual blossoms from the gardens of Olympus. The sun in the cloudless sky illuminated the intricate marble and gold mosaic beneath his feet, whose vanishing edge several yards behind him, told that he stood near a cliff, beyond which seemed to lay nothing.
He could see little of Olympus apart from its only entrance, a towering columned and arched gateway made of white marble inlaid with metallic gold. It appeared that no one guarded the gates, and he thought to hurry through the golden bars. As he approached, three sisters of incredible beauty known as the Horai appeared, dressed as guards with golden helmets and armor, carrying adamantine swords whose razor-sharp blades they had kept inside their scabbards.
“Welcome, Centaurian,” said the middle one. She nodded her head acknowledging him. “We have awaited you.”
His brows rose in curiosity. “Who are you?”
“I am Eirene, the goddess of Peace.”
“Eunomia, the goddess of Good Order.”
“And I am Dike, the goddess of Justice.”
“Ah…Peace, Good Order, and Justice, three goddesses whom I admire greatly,” said Ronan. “Given your importance—if I may so inquire—why do you have the task of guarding the gates?”
“An astute question,” said Dike who glanced at the sister beside her.
“For millennia, we have stood here,” said Eirene, “initially believing our appointment held honor. We have come to realize that we stand outside the gates of Olympus to give Zeus free reign to distort a meaningful Peace, impose his own tyrannical Order, and pervert the spirit of Justice. At great risk, we have discussed this and have made a conscious choice.”
Their unsmiling faces no longer held Ronan’s gaze, and with their heads held high they maintained a forward stare reflecting their united resolve.”
“We know why you have come,” said Eirene, “and you may pass.” Whereupon she stepped to the side of the passage.
“With our blessing,” said Eunomia who did the same.
“And may Justice prevail,” said Dike who copied her sisters.
Ronan thanked them, and as he moved to the gate, three heroically handsome naked men, rippled with muscle, emerged from behind a pillar on the other side. One god looked in his thirties along with his two identical twins in their early twenties. The younger ones looked genuinely pleased to see him, and unlike when the older one lived on Earth, he had well-kempt hair and beard. His overall appearance outshone any statue ever created of him. Ronan knew him from Chiron’s memories; it was his former pupil Heracles. He stood staring at Ronan for a moment, the figure of a model athlete and Olympian.
“Hello, Centaurian,” he said through the gate. “These are my sons Alexiares and Anicetus.”
“Hello,” Ronan said to them. “Like you, your sons certainly are handsome, Heracles.”
His brows drew together. “You are half Chiron, and we discussed this; you should know how I hate that name.”
“Still not quite ‘Hera’s Glory’ after all this time, Alcides?”
“The things she did and made me do are unforgivable, and she will remain my enemy for eternity. She is no better than Zeus, and he let her do it. When Athena brought me here, Zeus made me gatekeeper only to help Hera avoid me. We have an uneasy truce. That’s about all.”
“You know why I’m here,” said Ronan.
“Will you let me pass?”
“Zeus ordered me never to let you in,” he said, and he tapped the golden bars between them, “but you probably could rip these gates down with one finger.”
“At this point, I wouldn’t even need my hands. I’m just trying to be non-combative.”
When a rumble of thunder echoed throughout Olympus, they both noted it, and a deafening clash of a close lightning strike followed.
“Hmm,” Heracles said with a little tip of his head, “he knows you’re here; you might want to change tactics.”
“You told him I was here?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s Zeus; I had to.”
Ronan nodded. “I understand.” He concentrated and stepped through the bars with a fiery embering that allowed him to slide through.
The three men’s eyes went wide as they backed away. “The gates are gold-covered adamantine. That should be impossible,” said Heracles.
“Really? No one told me that.”
“We’re glad you’re here,” said Alexiares. “The six of us will follow.”
Ronan nodded and hurried away.
Beyond the gates, Ronan faced a right turn to a wide golden stairway that followed the marble wall, curving to the left and upward around the base of the acropolis. To his right lay the line of life-size statuary of lesser gods. They stood atop the newel piers of a railing along the cliff edge, a drop so far down, the bottom disappeared into the cloud cover below. As he raced up the curved stairway, he would have passed a few hundred statues before reaching the top, but he realized that he had no memory of Chiron ever visiting Olympus, so he had no knowledge of its layout. He hadn’t a clue where to find the temple to Zeus. So, he burned away his shirt, manifested his giant white wings, and took to the air.
Due to its extreme age, and contrary to all expectations, Olympus looked old-fashioned in an unappealing way that couldn’t even match the beauty of the Athenian acropolis in its prime. That acropolis—built hundreds of years later, largely by Ictinus, the greatest architect of ancient Athens, during the fifth century before the common era—had the benefit of many centuries of human innovations and a greater understanding of architectural beauty. Ictinus would have found the aesthetics of Olympus appalling. Rather than a focus on great visual appeal, what Olympus had was great quantities of gold—as if that represented the pinnacle of elegance and beauty. It had gold streets, gold roofs, gold this, gold that, it had an overuse of gold to the point of monotony which gave Ronan, who flew above it all, difficulty when trying to distinguish one thing from another.
Oddly, he could find no one on the streets and wondered where they might have gone. When he spied a thin trail of smoke rising above one of the courtyards, he knew where to find Poseidon.
The Brazen Bull of Phalaris consisted of a life-size hollow bull made of bronze. A hatch on its back allowed authorities to seal the condemned inside it, and a fire built beneath it would then bake to death its occupant. The method of torture and execution seemed so horrific and cruel that historians have had difficulty believing it ever existed, but they had pronounced it one of the worst ever conceived if it had, and arguably only a sadistic maniac would ever dream of using it. However, the Athenian Perilaus created it for the Sicilian tyrant, King Phalaris, who fit that description well. Perilaus told Phalaris that once the screaming inside began, it would echo through a series of chambers and tubes built within it and would exit the bull’s mouth and nose sounding like those noises made by a real bull. According to the story, the king loved it and wanted a demonstration, but unfortunately, he had no one on which to test it. However, Phalaris had its inventor Perilaus who—in short order—became its first victim.
It hadn’t surprised Ronan that the Brazen Bull appealed to Zeus, not only would it give him a means to torture someone, but he had taken the bull as one of his symbols when he cheated on his wife Hera with Europa long before then. This caused many on Olympus to note how baking inside the bull paralleled life on Olympus under Zeus’s tyranny.
The courtyard in front of Zeus’s temple held a beautiful garden, with a wide variety of colored bulb plantings in permanent bloom. In the center, the bronze bull stood atop a massive slab of marble that carried the scorch marks from the fires of the bull’s previous usage. When Ronan arrived, he saw the fire had just started. From a distance, he reached out his hand and imitated grabbing the burning wood beneath it and flung it, causing it to fly off into the distance. He raised his hand concentrated for a split second, snapped his fingers and time stopped, leaving him in an angelic glow within his personal time-field. When he landed, his wings burned away in a line of fiery embering as he rushed to the bull. He grabbed the locking mechanism and tore it from its hasp. Having thrown back the hatch, he saw Poseidon inside curled into a ball, his face wet with tears in an expression of abject terror. With his hand glowing evermore brightly, Ronan placed it inside and touched Poseidon, giving him his own time-field.
Poseidon gasped in fright at the sudden change.
“It’s me!” said Ronan.
“Ronan!” He said in panic. “Get me out of this thing!”
After helping him climb out, the moment Poseidon’s feet touched the ground, he hugged Ronan.
“Thank you. I wasn’t sure you knew what had happened.”.
“Chronos told me,” he said. “I have stopped time; that’s why everything looks strange.”
“You can stop time? You are as powerful as I thought.”
“I should get rid of this…” Ronan placed his hands onto the bull and heated it. “You might want to step back a bit; I wouldn’t want to get this on you.” The metal oozed, dripped, and then ran down the bull’s body until Ronan had left nothing but a solidifying puddle of bronze on the marble slab it stood upon.
“Where’s Zeus?” asked Poseidon.
“I’m not sure, I suspect he’s somewhere nearby. Where is everyone? When I searched for you, I saw no one on the streets or anywhere else.”
“They’re all here,” he said and gestured to the darkness around them. “They stand watching from the cloisters surrounding the courtyard. Zeus had everyone on Olympus gather to witness as he took my powers from me before placing me into the bull.”
“He took your powers again?” Ronan shook his head. “That needs to stop. Would you like me to give you power he can never take away?”
“I will do this, but I must tell you that I cannot give you a realm of influence or the divine authority that Zeus took from you. I can only give you an equivalent power. And while he cannot take this from you, I still could. Having given it to you makes me responsible for what you do. I only ask that you never use it for evil, no violent revenge—especially for minor offenses—no petty vindictiveness, and no violating anyone either—sexually or otherwise. We have no legal system, so if you feel you must take vengeance upon anyone, make sure it’s for something truly awful, like when Aquila stabbed Kakia for destroying Felix Raposo.”
Poseidon told him, “I trust that you would only take my power if I actually deserved to lose it. With Zeus? Not so much.”
Ronan laid his hand on Poseidon’s chest, and as the energy flowed to him, he took in a sharp breath as he felt the surge.
Breathing heavily, he said, “This feels different.”
“You’re probably stronger than you were,” said Ronan. “You should have seen Liam when I gave him his powers.”
“So, Liam has gone through apotheosis. I told you he would.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t a pleasant experience for him.” Ronan held out his hand, manifested a brilliantly lit time-sphere, and tossed it into the air where it hung unsupported about fifteen feet above them. He made a hand gesture to brighten it further, illuminating the entire courtyard.
Within the cloisters, there stood those who lived on Olympus. Ronan then understood why Athena told the lie. It wasn’t enough for Zeus to torture people; he made his subjects watch as a warning.
Ronan gazed about to find the miscreant. “Let’s find Zeus.”
A search of the courtyard and the temple told of his absence. When Ronan came across Athena in the crowd, he decided to unlock them all to ask what they saw. The moment Athena saw Poseidon, she hugged him in relief and thanked Ronan.
Behind them, from the direction of the courtyard, came a belligerent voice from a god approaching them. “You should not interfere with the king’s decisions. I will defend my father and his throne.” When Ronan turned to see the golden-chest-plated god who had spoken, everyone backed up as the god punched Ronan in the face with all his might, after which, the assailant yelled out in agony cradling his hand. Ronan found the god devilishly attractive with that wild and dangerous bad boy vibe that looked more than willing to cuckold his own brother, slay a thousand men without a second thought, and immediately begin to lay a thousand women with a virility of a thousand gods.
“Ah, it’s you, Ares,” said Ronan. “What a handsome god of savage warfare and slaughter you are. But now, I see why many of the gods find you so annoying.”
His upturned right hand lay shattered and crippled in the palm of his left. “I have fought many battles against a multitude of fearsome enemies and never have I broken a bone! What are you made of?”
“Ooh,” said Ronan, “snips and snails and puppy dog tails, probably. Here, allow me.” He used his forefinger to touch Aries’s hand, and it began a line of embering that mended his injury.
Unfortunately, the moment it healed, he drew his sword and everyone around them retreated even farther. “I will not allow you to dethrone my father!”
“You’re a right old stereotype, aren’t you?” asked Ronan. “I have noted your objection. However, you are but one voice among many. For now, let us listen to what others have to say.”
Ronan hadn’t bothered to stop Ares when he made an unsuccessful attempt to slit his throat with his sword. He grabbed the adamantine blade and jerked the weapon from Ares’s hand. As everyone looked on, they gasped as he started at the tip, manipulating the metal as he folded the blade—end over end—until it met the hilt. He then handed it back to Ares.
“That was my favorite sword.”
“And this is my favorite neck,” said Ronan. “Do you know why Zeus has used torture to keep you all in line, and never destroyed any of you? It’s not because he’s so forgiving or cares about you, it’s only because he hasn’t the power to do it. You’re lucky, Ares, that I’m not like your father, or else, I wouldn’t hesitate to take you by the pollex and hallux—as I had with Kratos—jump into the sky with you and vaporize your ass. So, I suggest you reach deep inside yourself and find the discipline to listen, or at the very least remain quiet and non-disruptive.”
Poseidon grew tired of it. “Why don’t you just freeze him in time…permanently?”
“Because, as the opposition, he should hear other voices besides the one in his head telling him to kill, maim, and slaughter.” He addressed them all. “I don’t know how many of you agree with Ares, but I want to thank you for taking a moment to listen. I have been asked to remove Zeus from the throne by those who are tired of his tyranny and torture. I would find it helpful to know how many of you would ask me to remove him. One thing is certain, even if only a minority of you want his removal, something, somehow, must change.”
“I want Zeus to remain the King of the Gods,” said Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. “I agree with his methods of punishment. Why should those of us loyal to Zeus lose him in favor of the will of traitors?”
“I agree,” said Enyo, the goddess of destruction. “If you attempt to remove Zeus, I will call for civil war.”
“There aren’t enough of us who disagree to mount a civil war,” said Apate, the goddess of deceit.
“You do this Centaurian, and we will make you regret it,” said one of the Erinyes, the goddesses of vengeance, of which there were several.
Ronan turned to Athena and Poseidon. “This may be more complicated than I anticipated.”
Poseidon whispered, “I told you that some gods were evil by their nature.”
A goddess with braided hair encircling her head came forward. She wore a snowy white chiton whose drape resembled a fluted column. Knowing Ronan’s power, she uncharacteristically restrained herself. “You do not belong here,” she said to him. “Who are you to interfere with the gods?”
Ronan asked, “Who is Zeus to interfere with me?”
“He is the King of the Gods.”
“Well, he’s not my king. And which goddess are you? Olympus has so many.”
“I am queen.”
“Ahh, well, if it isn’t Hera, the queen of petty revenge. I expect no answer to this question, I only ask it as food for thought. Do you not care what Zeus does, other than when he’s cheating on you? Surely, you remember when he tortured you. He has harmed you, just as he has harmed many other people, not just long ago, but recently. Today, he nearly killed a good friend of mine. He deserves no one’s loyalty.” As Ronan spoke to them all, several within the crowd loyal to Ronan separated themselves and moved to stand behind him. “You ask me, who am I to interfere? Half of me is Chiron—a son of Cronus—so I am brother, uncle, cousin, or some such distant relation to all of you. So, do I belong here? Not to live, perhaps, but certainly related enough to drop by without calling first. As for the topic of interfering, I hold no enmity for any of you, but since I’m the only one powerful enough, I cannot allow Zeus’s actions to go unchallenged. He would just continue to harm others, and for the sake of all that’s good and decent, I will not allow that.
“I know that long ago many of you also did horrible things for whatever reason, but that is the past. However, I want it to go on record, that the Earth and its people are now under my protection. A protection—I will add—which also extends to those of the divine realm who request it, and I have had such requests.
“I know some of you have already made this choice, and I commend you for that. You have my admiration and gratitude. But the rest of you, have the choice to either learn to embrace the larger community and get along or—at a bare minimum—you can adopt a benevolent indifference to its existence, for I refuse to tolerate anyone acting against it.”
“And if we are the ones who refuse?” asked Hera.
“I will make this exceedingly clear,” he said. “By your actions, if any of you make yourself an enemy to humanity, the Earth, or any of your fellow divinities under my protection—including civil war—you will have made me your enemy. At that point, I would consider every aspect of your transgression before I respond to it. However, rest assured that I have no need to torture anyone. I have plenty of other options. I ask so little, just play nice with others and mind your own business. If anyone refuses to do that…well, we’ll just see how that works out for you. Zeus has already made himself my enemy, so you may wish to reconsider following him. I must ask that those of you who wish to live in peace and recognize that things must change to stand behind me with the others.” A few others joined them.
So that they could speak in privacy, Ronan raised his hand and removed the personal time-field from everyone except those who stood behind him. Of the two-hundred and thirty-seven gods and goddesses present on Olympus that day, only sixteen of them wanted things to change, including those who Ronan met at the gate who had joined the group.
“There aren’t many if you,” he said.
“Some of us are on Earth,” said Athena.
Ronan nodded. “Okay. I can dethrone Zeus, but the fallout from that could be enormous. So, I have a recommendation, and I don’t know how you might feel about it, but I intend to build a home base, and all of you who wish to live in peace may join me. It may not have thrones, but it will have what matters most, peace, choice, respect for others, freedom like you’ve never experienced, and an opportunity to grow.”
“That sounds wonderful,” said Athena, “and I appreciate the invitation, but why should the others get to keep Olympus?”
“I can only ask,” said Ronan, “why would you want it? There are so many bad memories here. Of those of you who have evolved, why not let go of the past, act in accord with who you have become in all its fullness, and start afresh? I can give you that chance.”
“But this has always been my home,” she said.
Poseidon laid his hand on her shoulder. “You have an understandable emotional attachment to Olympus, but you’re not thinking clearly. Many here remain stuck in the past. You know they spoke the truth about a civil war. Is Olympus worth that?”
“You’re willing to leave Olympus forever?” she asked him.
“Yes, and for three reasons. One, Ronan is good and happens to have more power than anyone else. That’s a unique combination that doesn’t often happen, and I want to surround myself with good people. Two, when it comes to those of us who have evolved versus those of us who haven’t, by necessity, it will fall to us to make the magnanimous gesture and give Olympus to them. You know they haven’t the capacity, and I can think of myriad things I would rather do than fight to keep this place, when… three, I want to continue evolving, and I’ve come as far as I can here.”
“You’ve made some valid points,” she conceded, “…especially the last one; I find myself in the same position. So, what’s the plan?”
It seemed unlikely that Zeus would allow any of his subjects the freedom to reject him as their king, leave, and carve out a new life for themselves with Ronan. He would view it as usurping his dominance, and with it, his power. So, what would Ronan do with Zeus? Ronan had no problem seeing the king as one who perpetrated horrific crimes against his subjects and deserved what would come to him, but Zeus had so much support that dethroning him could cause more trouble than he’s worth. He would have to give it a lot of thought, but a clear plan seemed unattainable at that moment.
It surprised Ronan that so many whom Zeus had tortured still supported him and saw his ability to torture his subjects as his divine right as king. They hadn’t evolved enough to recognize how twisted that was.
The list of the ten people who wanted to leave because they had evolved—including those absent—consisted of Poseidon (the god of the oceans and seas), Athena (the virgin goddess of war, wisdom, and knowledge). The Titan Prometheus, the god of fire and knowledge, as well as the maker and champion of humanity), Dolos (the apprentice of Prometheus and originally the god of deception, trickery, and craftiness), Demeter (the goddess of the harvest, agriculture, and the fertility of the earth), Chronos (the self-created primordial god of time), Ananke (the goddess of necessity and inevitability), Aletheia (the goddess of the naked truth), Apollo (adopted father of Chiron and the god of archery, poetry, dance, music, healing, and many other things), and finally, Hestia (the virgin goddess of home and hearth).
The reasons why ten others wanted to leave had more nuance, and Ronan took each of them aside to ask them about it.
Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt, said, “Zeus tortured my twin brother Apollo just for questioning him. That’s all he had to do, and he always made us watch. In secret, Zeus had become my enemy since then, so when Apollo leaves, I will go with him.”
At just five feet five, Eros, the hunky primordial god of carnal love and son of Chaos, looked like the unconsciously seductive, twenty-four-year-old blond swimmer who lived next door. He preoccupied the mind with an irresistible crush that included an overt willingness to be an object of his seduction. He told Ronan, “I’m indifferent to Zeus keeping the throne. Although, I always recognized the torture as horrific. I’m a god of love; it’s beyond my nature to comprehend such barbarity. I want to leave because I find the atmosphere of Olympus repulsive, with its hatred, anger, and oppression. But not only that,”—he smiled looking Ronan up and down—”I find you incredibly attractive, not just because of your body, but because I sense an enormous wellspring of love inside you, and that makes me smile.”
Ronan couldn’t help but find Eros charming. “That’s kind of you,” he said. “I know that Aphrodite is your best friend, are you okay with her remaining here?”
Eros sighed. “I understand it,” he said. “She will remain because Ares remains. Long ago, I had Ares once out of curiosity because Aphrodite kept going back to him and couldn’t seem to stop herself”—he began whispering—”even when she was married to Hephaestus who—as I’ve discovered—is one of the most sexually generous, attentive, and loving gods I’ve ever known; not that Aphrodite would know, she never had sex with him. In contrast, Ares’s passion for carnality is positively savage, and Aphrodite seems to enjoy that. For myself, I thought Ares was a bit overblown. She never knew what she gave up with Hephaestus. He and I have spent much time together.”
Hebe, the wife of Heracles, also wanted to leave. She had begun having nightmares from witnessing so much torture, and Heracles wanted to leave to be with her and to get away from Hera. Their identical twin sons, Alexiares and Anicetus, wanted to leave as well, feeling they would have a far better life with Ronan and gave him their loyalty.
Dike, Eirene, and Eunomia just wanted some respect, and with Ronan, they knew they would receive it.
Hephaestus, the god of the forge, stood naked before Ronan using a cane to walk, and although he had the same height as Ronan, he had a body that one wouldn’t expect. It certainly hadn’t lived up to an Olympian standard of godhood. From the top, his head had gone almost bald, which is why he wore a cloth cap. His forehead looked too wide, his brow ridges jutted too far, his eyes looked too far apart, cheekbones too prominent, and his jaw too large. He had an unbalanced musculature and an odd shape to his torso. His lower half gave him an ungainly appearance, and his genitals looked to be the size of the average human, which looked out of place on a god. His legs looked thick with no definition, and of course, he had that wrong-turned left foot.
He had a unique situation that encouraged his desire to leave. He had conflicting stories of his parentage as well as conflicting reasons for someone casting him from Olympus. The truth was that, just as Zeus liked to take credit for impressive things in which he was not involved, he also tended to deny his involvement in things out of convenience. Despite whatever stories to the contrary, Zeus intentionally cursed the last child Hera carried for him. That was Hephaestus. When she gave birth, the cursed baby had the congenital defect of ugliness and a clubfoot. So, Zeus obtained the imperfect child he secretly sought, just so he could reject it, shame Hera, and vow to never lie with her again. He did this to give a further excuse for his many infidelities, which resulted in heightening Hera’s vindictiveness against his paramours and their children. Out of anger for his deformity—in true Hera fashion—she blamed the baby and tossed him from Olympus where he eventually fell into the ocean. The oceanid Eurynome, and the nereid Thetis—the mother of Achilles—found Hephaestus, raised him on Lemnos, and they loved him dearly.
Eventually, Dionysus brought the adult Hephaestus back to Olympus, and he remained the only god ever allowed to return after his ejection (Zeus only allowed it to use him for his skills). At the time of his return, Zeus’s daughter, the beautiful Aphrodite had many suitors. So, to stop them from fighting over her, Zeus forced her to marry Hephaestus simply because Zeus knew she would never lie with him. As a result, she had affairs with many others during their marriage, and since they hadn’t a good union, it forced Hephaestus to find affection elsewhere.
Hephaestus had one story told of him that besmirched his good name, and that’s the one involving the alleged attempted rape of Athena, but that story never actually happened. It supposedly caused Hephaestus’s semen to strike the ground, resulting in a birth from the soil an early king of Athens named Erichthonius. The king invented the story from whole cloth for the sole purpose of fabricating himself some divine origins at the expense of Hephaestus’s reputation. In truth, Hephaestus, along with a tiny minority of gods, had never harmed anyone of his own volition. Like many others, he only did what Zeus made him do.
“Eros likes you a lot,” said Ronan.
“Eros and I have been spending a lot of time together if you know what I mean.”
“So, you’re no longer with Aglaea?” Ronan asked.
He shook his head. “Like Aphrodite, she cheated on me with Ares.” He shrugged a little. “I can’t say that I blame her, Ares is so handsome, and look at me. Eros has been the only one who sees beyond this.”
Ronan glanced down at Hephaestus’s foot. “Has no one tried to help you?”
“Zeus cursed me before my birth,” he said. “He’s too powerful; every attempt to lift it has failed.”
“And of course, Zeus is too much of a jerk to undo it himself. Would you like me to do it?”
Hephaestus dropped his mouth open. “If you would try, I would be grateful.”
“I won’t just try; I will remove and reverse it. What Zeus did to you was cruel. But first, I need to find what you would look like without the curse. Hold onto me so you don’t fall.” Hephaestus held Ronan’s shoulders to steady himself.
When Ronan laid his hands on Hephaestus’s chest, he closed his eyes and concentrated to see in his mind beyond what Zeus had done to him. In the distance, an image came racing toward him, and there he was. Tucked away in another universe, over the farthest reaches of time and space, Ronan could see him…Hephaestus, whole and glorious—the blue-collar god, the proud symbol of skills and innovations born of the sweat and struggle of hard labor. Beneath a covered workspace, he stood mostly naked before his anvil near the flaming forge whose light cast shadows behind him. He pounded away at a chunk of red-hot metal, while sweat ran down his sooty, lean, well-balanced physique rippled with an astonishing quantity of fur-coated sinews. He lifted the tongs to inspect the piece, and in its glow, Ronan saw his face. He had short hair and beard, dark like the coals of his forge, and a face that anyone lucky enough to have his love would have eyes for no one else and would never conceive of sharing anyone else’s bed. They would look forward to every tender moment beneath him, his kiss, and his loving embrace. The level of Zeus’s disservice to Hephaestus was palpable, and it upset Ronan.
He opened his eyes and gazed upon Hephaestus in amazement.
“Did you see me?” he asked.
“You’re beyond belief.” Ronan hugged Hephaestus and held onto him tightly. “Brace yourself, removing and reversing Zeus’s curse is likely to hurt.”
At that point, they had the attention of all those nearby who moved closer.
Ronan built up a surge of purifying energy and began bombarding Hephaestus with it. With the light emanating from the blacksmith, the moment Ronan removed the curse, a flash of darkness burst from his body causing him to collapse, but Ronan held him aloft, as Henri had when Ronan accepted the eternal flame.
The others shielded their eyes, the light outshining everything, like standing near the sun. When it dimmed, Ronan settled Hephaestus upon his feet. For the first time, they would hold him without assistance or discomfort.
Ronan jostled him. “Wake up, buddy. It’s done.”
He opened his eyes and stood on his own. “Everyone, I would like you to meet Hephaestus without Zeus’s curse. When Ronan backed away, everyone had a chance to see him whole for the first time, and they had more than just shock upon their faces at how delectably handsome he was. They also recognized it as just one more horrible thing that Zeus had done. In many ways, he had tortured Hephaestus for his entire life.
“Is anyone else cursed?” asked Ronan.
“I know someone,” said Alcides (formerly Heracles).
“Priapus,” said Hestia. “Before he was born, Hera cursed him with ugliness, foul-mindedness, and impotence because Paris (a prince of Troy) said that Priapus’s mother, Aphrodite, was more beautiful than she.”
“I see…more petty vindictiveness. Well where is he?”
“Because of the curse,” she said, “which we could not remove, he was so foul minded that he had nothing but lustful thoughts, and in his youth, he tried to…well, let’s just say that nothing happened because I woke up before he even touched me. However, because he was a threat, we cast him from Olympus. He lives on Earth now with Pan. I know the incident only happened because of Hera. It would be in everyone’s best interest if the curse were lifted.”
“Are you saying he tried to rape you?” asked Ronan.
Alcides spoke up. “Hera cursed me with a madness that caused me to kill my first wife and my children, so I personally know what she can do. Please, help him.”
Ronan palmed his face. “Ugh…what a mess. Okay, I’ll do that, and if there are any others, bring them to me as well, but let us settle elsewhere first. Before we do that where is Zeus?”
“We just were discussing that,” said Poseidon.
“He used lightning to ignite the fire beneath the bull,” said Athena, “and teleported immediately afterward.”
“Where would he have gone?” asked Ronan.
“Maybe, he just left because he fears to face you,” she said.
“Maybe. For now, I can think of nothing else that we can do with time stopped unless any of you would like the time to pack before we leave.”
They indicated they had nothing they couldn’t reacquire.
Poseidon thumbed over his shoulder to the crowd left frozen in time. “What will you do with them?”
“For the moment, I’ll leave them that way when I restart time. I don’t want them plotting civil wars against anyone, after all, I prefer to leave them in peace. Have you all someplace you can go where Zeus can’t find you?”
“We have a house hidden from him on Earth,” said Athena. “We can go there.”
“Good. Hephaestus, would you accompany me, please? I will soon need your input into our new location.”
“I am here for anything you need of me, Ronan. You have my loyalty.”
“I appreciate that, and I want you all to know that you have my loyalty, and even those who I must leave frozen for now have my loyalty. I would never do anything to harm any of you, that’s just not who I am. I only destroyed Kratos because he was a threat to the people I care about, and I had no other options at the time. I have many options now, and the age of hurting others, just because someone can, has ended with me. Through the choices that you’ve made here, I will trust that you’ve learned that there is another way to live, and I will hold each of you to that. As for those frozen here, I won’t hurt them, but at the same time, I cannot allow them to hurt others, especially any of you and those on Earth. I will have to think of some way to give them the freedom to live—and an opportunity to evolve—while not allowing them to play havoc with everyone else by acting on their nature. If any of you have ideas on how I might go about that, I welcome some suggestions. I ask that you give it some thought. You may think of something I cannot. Okay, here we go.”
Ronan lifted his right hand to make an exception of those he intended to keep frozen and snapped the fingers of his left hand. In an instant, everything changed. The light from the sun shone all around them and felt as though they stepped from a darkened room into the daylight, but as little islands of stopped time, the light would not reflect from the frozen gods standing nearby. They each appeared as a person-shaped black hole with all frequencies of light vanishing upon them.
The voice came from the golden doorway of the temple behind them. Ronan turned to find Zeus standing as one might find the Colossus of Rhodes, hands on his hips and legs astride the entryway of its harbor. The moment he saw him, he raised his hand and froze Zeus in time just like the others.
“That was easy,” said Poseidon.
“Too easy,” said Ronan. “For now, at least, we know where he is. No one can unlock any of them but Chronos and me.”
“I have seen his look of satisfaction before,” said Athena. “He’s done something.”
She turned her gaze upon Ronan and stared him in the face. “Something that has made him comfortable enough to confront you.”
“If he left the moment he lit the fire with the lightning, no more than three minutes passed before I stopped time here.”
“For him, that’s more than enough.”
“Right. Thank you, Athena.” Inside his head, he heard his name called. “Emma needs me. I must go to her. Let’s go, Hephaestus.” He took him by the hand.
“Wait, we can’t teleport from here,” he told Ronan.
“Why not? Zeus did.”
“It’s part of the security for Olympus,” said Dike, the goddess of Justice, “only Zeus can teleport within Olympus without first passing through the gate.”
“Well, that’s inconvenient,” he said.
“You must break The Great Seal if you wish to leave any other way,” she said.
“Without knowing what form that it takes,” he said, “I wouldn’t know how to do that.”
“We’ll take the shortcut to the gate,” said Hephaestus.
At the time of his birth, Elias Adrianus had the name Aquila (meaning Eagle), a symbol of Zeus foisted upon the subconscious of the mother in an act of the sky god taking credit for her child’s existence. As with all mortal beings, in time, Aquila’s mother died, his wife died in childbirth as did the baby, and every relationship he fostered seemed doom to failure as those around him who hadn’t died of disease, aged while he remained unnaturally and inexplicably young. When the how of it came into question by enough people—with no acceptable explanation—the necessity of faking his own death arose (the first of many such occasions).
Over his lifetime, he had cast aside his birth name along with a string of assumed aliases, and those new identities came with the hope that things would improve, but they never could. So, with every arduous beginning—and there were many—after the death of his third wife, and every child he attempted to raise, the hope he occasionally felt, faded into the reoccurring misery of having to face the onerous chore of another name, another location, another attempt to fit in. The curse of his unwanted immortality forced him to endure these pernicious disruptions with a growing despondency in their wake.
Throughout his life, Elias had believed himself attracted to women, but later, as his lust for living had waned, so had his lust for the female sex. He, of course, had replaced it with a lust for money and power attempting to find, if not meaning, then something to occupy his seeming endlessness, but his attempt to fulfill his avaricious desires had also grown tiresome. After nine-hundred and seventy years, he thought he had done it all—all he deemed worthy of him, anyway—but then came his transcendental sexual encounter with Felix Raposo. Afterward, he felt an aching need to recreate that sense of joy and fulfillment that he had gone without for more centuries than he cared to count. Suddenly, he had sexual fantasies of every man he found even remotely attractive. Doubtless, they wouldn’t measure up; Felix had set the bar so high. Anyone would have difficulty measuring up to Eros’s specially blessed and beloved Lucky Fox, but to have someone with whom he could share his bed sounded better than having no one at all.
He had envisioned erotic scenarios with the handsome limo driver en route to the Miami airport, the hunky co-pilot of his private jet in his fetching uniform, the White House intern who—at the president’s request—ensured a rapid replacement of the passport he lost in the hotel’s destruction, the FBI investigator who questioned him about the incident at the hotel, and even his own broad-shouldered administrative assistant who stood before his mahogany office desk that morning. He held a curious expression when asked how he and his husband were faring.
“Okay, who are you, and what have you done with my employer?”
Elias laughed. “Carl, how long have you known me?”
“Seven years, sir.”
“And in all that time, have I ever asked about you and your husband?”
“Not once, sir.”
“Well, I do beg that you forgive me that neglect and those years of my Scrooge-like behavior. It had evolved over a lifetime, but it hasn’t taken a fright from three spirits and a major holiday to help me see the error of my ways. Oddly enough, I credit the giver of a pink business card and the care of a nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican bellhop named Felix Raposo for saving me.
“It seems that I had acquired more power and personal wealth than I could ever know what to do with, and I have come to the terrifying conclusion that the allure of power is like a black hole. It has a pull so strong, that it twists and distorts anyone who seeks it, until they grow so warped it sucks the light from them entirely. That captivating singularity held me in its clutches for too long, and I have a lot to make up for, but…I know that it could never happen here. As an independent lobbyist for corporate interests, this company is morally irredeemable. Its clientele is a corruption of scoundrels, and you have no idea of the weight I bear for having hurt so many people over the years by pandering to venal politicians. So, as the sole owner of Adrianicus Ltd., I have no public investors to answer to, and I’m shutting its doors for good. However, I am doing right by my employees, and this morning I have given a generous severance package to all the others, but you are my last.” He handed him the final Manila envelope from his briefcase and held up a white one the size of a personal letter. “Only you receive one of these, and this is added to the top of your severance. When was the last time you took a real vacation, Carl?”
“Never, sir,” he said. “Something always got in the way.”
“I want you to know that I like you. I have always liked you. And I know when this conversation ends, I have no right to ask you to do anything, so I won’t ask. I beg you and your good husband to take a proper vacation to unplug.” And this,” he said, shaking the white envelope, “is to make up for the last seven years of underwhelming bonuses I have given you. They devalued what you have meant to me and this company. I took advantage of you even when I knew you performed most of the heavy lifting here. I sincerely apologize, and you have my word that I will never do that to anyone again.” He handed him the envelope, and Carl pulled a check from it.
“You’re giving me forty-million dollars.”
“That’s right. This company functioned well because of you. I wanted to give you four million for every year you’ve worked here, but they will deduct an extraordinary amount of taxes from it, so I rounded up to ensure you get the full twenty-eight million you’re due, but it’s more than that after taxes. Please, take some of it and go on the best damn vacation you’ve ever had, and I hope you have a marvelous time.”
Completely flummoxed, Carl asked, “Sir, why are you doing this? Are you dying?”
He smiled and laughed. “I understand why you ask, but it’s funny to give a man forty-million dollars only for him to ask why. And no, I’m not dying, not yet anyway. It’s just this is a new world, Carl, and this is a new me. I’m about to take a flight to Milan to meet someone who I think will give me what I have needed for a long time.”
Off to the side and several paces behind Carl, a ponytailed blonde woman wearing a white button-up shirt and skin-tight jeans faded into the room, and Elias saw it happen.
“Ah! There you are,” she said. She took a moment to concentrate and said, “Ronan…” in a voice that she knew Ronan would hear.
Carl turned. “Ma’am, you can’t come in here.”
“It’s alright, Carl,” Elias said as he ushered him from the room. “I’ll take care of it. Thank you for all you’ve done over the years.” Carl shook Elias’s hand, and the moment the door closed behind him, Elias asked the woman, “And you are which goddess?”
She smiled. “It’s complicated. I call myself Erastís, but for the moment, you may call me Emma Nordström.”
“You’re Swedish?” he asked.
“Just for now. Ronan sent me to find you. He’ll be along any time now.”
“Why? I thought I would meet all of you in Milan. I looked forward to being there, actually.”
“Zeus tried to sink the container ship we traveled on, and almost killed someone I care about, so our plans changed. Ronan left to save Poseidon from Zeus’s torture, and I don’t know much beyond that. Things have moved rather quickly.”
“Is Ronan angry with me, after what happened?”
“No, not at all. And we’re sorry to hear about Felix Raposo. Many of the gods loved him, including me, and I’ve not heard the slightest hint of grief over the destruction of Kakia. And you couldn’t have known what would happen when you stabbed her. I’m not sure that anyone could blame you, not even Ronan. Did you know that you and Ronan are the only two people to ever destroy a god?”
“Ronan destroyed a god?”
She nodded. “Kratos, the god of brute strength.”
“Did he use a blade like the one I had?
“Oh, no, he wouldn’t need it. I hope you get to know Ronan. He is the kindest, most thoughtful, loving, and compassionate being I’ve ever known, and that’s just scratching the surface of how wonderful he is, but he’s also deadly dangerous to anyone who would harm the people he loves and cares about. Kratos threatened the lives of everyone aboard the ship and had threatened Liam in particular. He is Ronan’s protector, his lover, and no doubt, his future husband. So, Ronan vaporized Kratos.”
“There are temperatures that not even the matter and energy of a god can withstand, but only Ronan is capable of producing.”
“So, he’s that powerful?”
“There’s every reason to believe he’s the most powerful being in the universe, but he wouldn’t want you to think of him in that light. He’s just Ronan. So, do him a favor and never mention how much power he has. He prefers not to talk about it.”
“Why would you tell me about it?”
“You must not realize how special you are.”
A moment later, Ronan—wearing only pants and shoes—and a naked Hephaestus teleported into the room.
Looking a bit frantic when he arrived, Ronan made a gasp as his eyes went right to Elias, and he never deviated from looking at him. He snapped his fingers and stopped time while giving the four of them a time-field. “Thank you, Emma, for finding Elias. I have discovered that Zeus has done something, and I worry that he’s done something to Liam. However, I can’t be everywhere at once, and I must do this, Elias has waited over nine hundred years, and this is well overdue. Elias, Emma, please meet Hephaestus. Hephaestus, this is Erastís but, you can call her Emma. And this man standing before me in this beautiful Armani three-piece suit is Elias Adrianus…my son.”
Hephaestus and Emma, who spoke to one another for a moment about the blacksmith’s appearance, stopped as Ronan had drawn their attention. Elias, whose head reached Ronan’s shoulders, couldn’t take his eyes from Ronan, who stood there staring down at him with a little smile. “Your son?” asked Elias.
Ronan nodded. “I’ve never seen you before, but I remember your mother through Chiron’s memories, and I knew Henri. Looking at you now, I realize that you resemble neither of them. You look like Chiron. Chiron and my former human self are not only fully bonded, but unlike the others, they’re fully merged. Apparently, Henri couldn’t feel you out in the world. If he could have, he wouldn’t have believed you died long ago. Standing this close to you, I feel you so strongly, it’s almost overwhelming.”
Emma spoke up, “But I thought that Henri and the others were bound to Chiron.”
“They were,” said Ronan, “but it couldn’t have been in the way I am. Chiron and the flame would be transferred every thousand years, so it couldn’t be permanent, so a difference had to exist. With me, it’s permanent, and there’s no going back.”
Elias told him, “You’re bigger and taller than I thought. I’m sorry I allowed Kakia to entice me into thinking that murdering you was the best solution to my problems.”
That’s okay,” said Ronan as he smiled a little, “Kakia had a reputation for tempting people into doing evil and horrible things, so I would never hold it against you, but I hear you wanted to speak with me.”
“Yes, I had wanted to ask if you would take my immortality, so I could grow old and die.”
Ronan hesitated. “I see. Why don’t we sit and talk for a few minutes?” He gestured to the couch in the seating area. Emma and Hephaestus stood by and listened to them.
Once seated, Elias asked, “Why can’t I feel you? If you’re my father, shouldn’t I be able to feel you too?”
“That’s a fair question,” said Ronan and turned to Emma and Hephaestus. “Why do you think that is?” Ronan waved them into the wingbacks across the seating area from the couch, and they took a chair.
“He needs Ambrosia,” said Hephaestus. “If he’s Chiron’s son, he can carry power, but he must have just enough to protect his body and make him immortal, and nothing else. Ambrosia should fix that problem.”
“I agree,” said Emma. “He needs charging up.”
“He just asked me to take his immortality from him, so he could die one day. Ambrosia would carry him in a direction, he may not wish to go.”
“Why did you leave us?” Elias asked. “Mother was heartbroken, and I have needed you the last nine hundred and seventy years.”
“I’m sorry.” Ronan shook his head a little. “I probably have no satisfactory answer for that. From all that I remember, Henri and your mother had been together for quite a while, and she had reached the end of her ability to have a child. She used to beg Henri to have his baby. And this may be supposition on my part, but because of Henri’s nature—he wasn’t really human anymore—he had no control over having children. However, as the one fully bound to the creative power of the eternal flame, Chiron did. He could have made you fully human and mortal, but he had experienced what it was like to almost die when Zeus took his immortality, and Prometheus saved him. Having gotten that second chance, he knew that life is invaluable, and so long as someone had their health, it’s invariably better than death. To a mortal, nine hundred and seventy years sounds like a long time, but as an immortal, you’ve not even experienced a drop of time in the ocean of eternity. I cannot undo what you’ve gone through, and I cannot make up for my absence. Unfortunately, atrocious childhoods and intolerable periods of time are ubiquitous among the gods.”
“Among the gods…” he said.
“I’m sorry,” said Ronan. “Do you even know what you are?”
“Not really. All this is still new. You would need to be specific and spell it out for me.”
“You are the immortal demigod son of Chiron the centaur, so you are half human and half centaur. My name is Ronan Stallion, and Chiron is the Stallion part of me, which makes you my son. You are grandson to the Titan Cronus, and nephew to the six main Olympians, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia. You are first cousin to all their children, like Hephaestus sitting there. You’re also a distant cousin of Emma. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust all my relatives, but you could trust those who stand with me.”
Elias sat there beside Ronan in a daze. “So, I have an actual family.”
“That’s right, and to ask me to take your immortality is to ask me to sacrifice you when you have an opportunity from this point onward to have a life with your divine family that mortals could never dream possible. However, this decision must be your own.”
Elias watched in wonder as his father manifested on the coffee table before them a transparent sixteen-ounce crystal goblet. Ronan ran his finger around the rim as he spoke to Elias causing it to vibrate in a musical tone, and as it filled from the bottom in a line of embering with a honey-colored liquid suspended with gold flecks of pure creative energy, the tone rose in pitch as the glass filled to three-quarters full. “If you embrace who you are, you can have a brand-new experience of your immortal life, one with all the things you could want in abundance, a father, a family, love, stability, support, an opportunity to grow, and a new name that has a connection to who you are. You could put the past behind you, we could pick up from here, and I could show you what a beautiful and fulfilling life you could have. Or…”—Ronan sat back with his hands in his lap and turned to Elias—”or you can have what you said you wanted. You can reject who you are. I could make you fully human with mortality, vulnerability, and all that entails. To do that, I would have to remove from you all that makes you divine. At that point, you would experience occasional illness, injury, suffering, and one day you would die.”
“Wow, you make mortality sound like fun,” said Elias in sarcasm. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because you’re my son, and if I love you, then I should not control you, but at the same time, it would be heartless of me to not give you this chance. I couldn’t be here before, but I’m here now, and I would love for you to stay with me.”
“If I choose to be with you. What if one day I change my mind?”
“That’s another benefit of being my son. It would break my heart then, rather than now, but I would give you what you want. At least then, I would know you had tried, but I suspect, just a little time with me, and you would never want to leave. All the things that have made life so intolerable for you would end. I can’t give you the perfection of a placid life, there would be challenges, good times and bad. But you will not be alone, and I will love you more than any son could hope of their father.”
Elias sat there a moment trying to control his breath and his emotions, blinking away the wet from his eyes. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” he said, and Ronan hugged him as Elias sniffled. “If I drank the Ambrosia, what would it do to me? You said I’m half centaur. Would I end up with hooves?”
He sat back and thought about it. “I don’t know. Fortunately, you wouldn’t have to go through the unpleasant process of apotheosis as Liam had; being my son, you are already a demigod. I suspect that most of the typical demigod powers and centaur characteristics are lying dormant until you power up. At that point, they should manifest themselves. I don’t know how much ambrosia it will take to fully charge you or how fast the changes will manifest, but I can pretty much guarantee changes will occur. I can have hooves if I want them, and they’re pretty cool, but I admit, they’re less versatile than human feet, so if you end up hoofed and don’t want them, I can change it.”
“If I end up with drastically apparent changes, how would I explain that to anyone who knows me?”
“Don’t worry about it; I’ll take care of it. If you want, you can leave Elias Adrianus behind. You can take on a new name with this new life, and I can make it where no one remembers you other than with the new name and appearance, all else will remain the same.”
“So, you can do all that,” said Elias, “…and you’re my father.”
“Yep. You’re welcome to take my surname if you want. But please, never be afraid to tell anyone that I’m your father because I will never deny that you’re my son. Being my son means you no longer have to run when people wonder why you’re still in your late 20s. I won’t get older, none of our family will get older, and neither will you, which means everyone will just have to accept us as we are and move on.”
“I hated having to reset my life every so often.”
“This time don’t think of it as resetting your life. Think of it as finally leaving all that behind to join the family that loves and wants you. If you want this to be permanent, it is.”
Elias took a deep breath and laughed a little. “I can’t believe I’m doing this because I had my mind set on dying one day, but okay, I’ll take the Ambrosia.”
“You might want to get out of that suit first. It could grow tight rather quickly.”
“What about Cousin Emma over here?”
“If you’re shy, she’s a goddess, she’s seen more cock than you can imagine. You might be surprised at how many gods never wear clothing.”
“I never do,” said Hephaestus.
Ronan asked him, “If I asked you to wear clothing when it was important, would you?”
A broad smile bloomed on Hephaestus’s handsome face. “After what you’ve done for me, I will do anything you ask of me.”
Emma told Elias, “I saw you naked on the beach when the hotel was destroyed. It would be nothing new.”
“Oh, very well.” He stood and began removing his clothing. He laid his jacket on the back of the couch. “I’m glad you stopped time, so no one will interrupt this.”
“I should tell you, I have only one rule for anyone I help this way. Never use the power I give you for evil. So, don’t go out of your way to hurt people, you can lose what I give you.”
Elias unbuttoned his vest and nodded a little. “I understand. You have people to protect, just as you would protect me. That’s a rock bottom, bare minimum thing to ask, and I think that’s more than fair.”
“Thank you for saying that son. That means a lot to me.”
“I think I like you calling me son.” Elias tried to smile as he loosened his tie and removed it. “May, I call you Father?”
“You sure can.”
Elias began unbuttoning his shirt, smiled, and shook his head a little. “All this feels so strange, and you’re right, if I’m going to do this, why not go all the way and just change my name as well? Over the years, I invented so many names for myself, and I often wanted to break up the monotony by going with something unusual, but I always chickened out and went with something sedate and boring. When I chose Elias Adrianus, I just liked the sound of it.”
“It’s a nice name,” said Emma.
He shrugged, and nodded a little, removing his shirt. “And I’m not attached to it any more than my previous names, and I’ve had so many. They held no meaning for me, and the name Aquila was awful. I couldn’t imagine why mother named me that.”
“I’m certain Zeus made her do it,” said Ronan. “It means Eagle, one of Zeus’s symbols.”
“It figures.” He untied his shoes, kicked them off, and removed his socks.
“So,” said Hephaestus, “what name would you like to have?”
“If I’m half centaur, Something Something Stallion seems appropriate.” He pulled off his pants and underwear together, and his penis dangled a bit more than halfway down his thigh.
“Well, aren’t you just a chip off the old cock,” said Ronan. “Is that what, ten inches?”
Elias nodded. “And twelve erect.”
“That’s a decent size for a colt like you, but don’t be surprised if that changes with the Ambrosia.”
“Really? How big are you?”
“Wow…that’s definitely horse-like, but I’ll accept whatever happens with it.”
“You have no body hair at all,” said Hephaestus.
“Yeah, and I never understood why,” said Elias. “Also, I’ve always just had the average body type.”
“I suspect,” said Ronan, “all that was intentional. It makes you look more human.”
Elias picked up the Ambrosia.
“That’s a special glass,” said Ronan. “Drink it all, and it will refill itself, so keep drinking entire glasses of it until you just can’t drink more.”
Elias tipped it back and the instant it touched his tongue, he began chugging it. He couldn’t believe the taste and planned to drink a lot more before he even finished downing the first glass. “That was delicious!” He held the glass vertical, and it began to fill from the bottom with Ambrosia. Within moments he felt it, and it grew in intensity, he told Ronan, “I think I’m starting to feel you!” He began to drink more.
“It’s likely to grow stronger.”
Hephaestus said, “I thought no one could manifest Ambrosia.”
“Ronan is the exception,” said Emma.
They watched as Elias guzzled one glass after another of the golden liquid, and his body absorbed it immediately like every cell had become an energy sponge. The more he drank, the more his body changed. His muscles grew, his body hair came in, the configuration looking just like Ronan’s. He had the same reddish-brown hair color as Chiron. A chest full of curls began appearing, and a much thicker pelt of hair—almost fur-like—filled in from his iliac furrow downward, and like Ronan, it covered his buttocks, but he had no pubic hair and none on his genitals.
Unlike Liam, Elias never seemed to look bloated and full. He just grew bigger with every glass. He downed three glasses, five, eight, but by the time he reached ten, he had to stop, leaving the goblet mostly full. Hephaestus reached for it, Elias handed it to him, and the blacksmith began chugging as much as he could.
“Wow,” said Elias to Ronan, “my being close to you is so distracting!”
“I think we’ll grow accustomed to it over time. I thought when I gave Liam and William a spark like yours to protect them and make them invulnerable, I would feel them the way I feel you, but I don’t. It’s just your singular presence out in the world. They’re not my son, I guess that’s the difference.”
Elias gestured to his body. “So, how big am I?
“You look about the size of a professional gymnast ready for the Olympics,” said Ronan, “but how do you feel?”
“Incredible. And I’m still growing; I can feel it. I’m glad I removed the suit. Sadly, I have a closet at home full of expensive and unwearable Armani.”
“Which would you rather have,” asked Ronan, “this or the suits?”
“No contest, this. Absolutely, this.” He bent over and put his hands on his knees as he stood there. “Well, I see no hooves coming in, so I think I might have dodged that bullet, but my body hair is strange, and look at this thing!” He lifted his cock from his newly muscled thighs. “It’s gained a couple of inches. So, overall, how do I look?”
“You look like a handsome, very fit half-centaur,” said Emma. “I’d fuck you.”
Elias’s brows rose. “You’re my cousin, and I’m not from the backwoods of Appalachia!”
They all laughed.
“Boy, are you in for a shock when you learn more about the gods,” she said.
“After Felix Raposo, I’m not sure I’m much interested in women, at least for now. I am probably bisexual though.”
“Most of the gods are just sexual,” said Hephaestus.
Ronan stood next to him. “You’re an inch or so taller, but you’ve yet to reach demigod proportions. We’ll keep working on it.” He held his hand out to Hephaestus who almost finished off his fourth glass of Ambrosia. “Glass…”
Hephaestus handed it to him. “That’s the strongest, best-tasting Ambrosia I’ve ever had.”
“That’s because it’s fresh.” From a line of embering, the glass and its remnants burned away to Ronan’s hand. He then placed the hand on Elias’s shoulder where he manifested the current Centaurian uniform for Elias to wear and manifested his own shirt with CENTAURIAN across his chest, and above it, he placed the symbol identical in size and shape to the tattoo on his back.
Elias adjusted his cock in his pants and tapped the blank space on his own chest. “What about something for right here?”
“What would you like?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Aren’t sons usually named by their fathers? Why don’t you name me?”
“Alright,” he said and thought about it for a moment. He realized he used the perfect name for him earlier. He held his finger before his son’s chest and said, “I dub thee, my son, Colt Stallion.” He laid his finger on the cloth and a line of embering stitched COLT upon it in a navy-colored thread, below which he had placed a half-sized Centaurian symbol. “If you’re wondering, that’s my symbol. On Earth, everyone, everywhere who has ever known you as Elias Adrianus has now only ever known you as Colt Stallion, and even your IDs are changed.
He stood there open-mouthed. “I’m blown away you can do that so easily.” He hugged Ronan. “Thank you.”
Ronan pulled back and put his arm around him. “I need to catch Emma and you up on what’s happened. I froze Zeus in time on Olympus. As I said before, he’s done something, but I don’t know what. It may have to do with Liam. Emma, had you seen anything unusual before you came here?”
“Liam had gone to the cabin you shared, I kissed William goodbye before I went in search of Colt, and nothing seemed any different when I left.”
“Okay,” Ronan turned to Colt. “If you have anything to bring, you should get it. We need to get to the ship and look around.”
As Colt retrieved his smartphone, wallet, and passport, tucking them into the waistband of his pants, Hephaestus manifested a uniform like Ronan’s with HEPHAESTUS across his chest with an anvil and hammer symbol above it.
“Very nice,” said Ronan.
“I’ll get used to it.”
“I’m ready when you are,” said Colt.
Once Ronan restarted time, he took his son’s hand. As they formed a line and stepped forward a few paces, the office they stood in rapidly blended into the hallway of the ship just outside the cabins, and as they completed the teleportation, the office faded away.
“That sure beats air travel,” said Colt.
They checked the cabins, and both lay empty.
“This is a big ship,” said Ronan. “Let’s get to the bridge and page him from there.” He raced up the staircase two steps at a time, the others on his heels.
They reached the bridge and found William there in his Centaurian uniform with the crew.
“Ronan!” said the captain. “William tells me that you restored the ship. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, captain. This is Hephaestus and this is my son, Colt. Has either of you seen Liam? Have there been any strange occurrences apart from the ship’s renewal and the fact that I moved us to Genoa?”
“I’m glad you asked,” said William. “I have looked for Liam, and I can’t seem to find him. I just paged him a minute ago. I’ve heard nothing so far.”
“Nothing else has occurred that we’ve noticed,” said the captain.
“I’ve stopped time twice since I left and little actual time has passed from then until now. He should be here.”
“It’s as we feared,” said Emma, “Zeus has done something with him.”
Ronan could feel the anger swell inside him, and he knew he would need help. “Emma, William, Hephaestus, Colt, I need you to come with me. We’re going to Olympus to confront Zeus.”
William asked, “What could we do to help against Zeus?”
He looked them in their faces. “I need you there because your presence will stop me from doing something stupid that I’ll regret.”
Chronos, the primordial god of Time, had grown accustomed to knowing all events on the timeline, and for as much as his knowing could burden him, it conveyed a sense of order and logic that he appreciated. It often pained him how language could not comment upon it without grotesque inaccuracies like the crude simplicity of cause “A” leading to effect “B”. It stripped away all nuance leaving little else but false impressions, like a five-year old’s black and white drawing of a universe that had decillions of colors. But he also knew that if language could depict a genuine description of the relationships between causes and effects, it would ultimately lose its audience in its profundity. However, as it stood, the complexities of Time, and all it entailed, defied description. He alone could comprehend, in its fullness, the beautiful tapestry of the universe’s seemingly infinite number of causal chains, and as such, he thought of it as a work of art in his own private gallery.
No one noticed the furry muscle god and his concerned expression atop the staircase at the entrance to the bridge. He watched as Ronan invited Emma, William, Hephaestus, and Colt with him to Olympus. Wanting to show his support for them, as they turned to leave, they saw him dressed in a Centaurian uniform like Ronan’s. His shirt held a depiction of an hourglass made from a lemniscate—an infinity symbol—with the name CHRONOS stitched into the fabric.
“Angus,” said Ronan, surprised to see him. “Is something wrong?”
“We should talk,” he said.
Ronan turned to his companions. “Pardon me, I must stop Time for a moment.” And he did so.
Angus entered the bridge and stared at the others.
“What’s the matter?” asked Ronan. “Have I done something?”
“Yes,” he said, “but I carry the fault, and it’s complicated so bear with me. As I said, I have never had anyone but myself capable of stopping Time, and I have never unlocked anyone with Time stopped, so this is unusual. The experience of Time is linear, and events—with a minimum of randomness—are largely a matter of cause and effect, but those causes and effects have always occurred on the timeline. However, you’re having to stop Time just to get things done—and given your perspective, understandably so—but many large events are happening off the timeline, and it has fractured the timeline’s continuity, a problem exacerbated by the inclusion of many unlocked people during these extra—timeline events. They create ripple effects that appear to have no causes. If that’s not clear, please let me know.”
“I unlocked over two-hundred gods on Olympus.”
“Yes, and it’s making the timeline messy, which is a real problem, not because it damages the timeline per se (it’s pretty forgiving), but because it hinders my ability to help you. I must apologize for this necessity, but since I only know events that happen on the timeline, I have had to secretly follow you to help mitigate the problem, so the faster we get back to the timeline the better. From what I can see, things smooth out soon, but I think that happens from this conversation, and I think I help you here, so we can get back to normal. You could create a great many extra-timeline events trying to coax Zeus into telling you what he has done with Liam, but I can tell you from what I know of him, he would reveal nothing. I wish to spare you that. I hope you know by now that I can’t do this for you by giving you the final solution—that would be T.M.I. (Too Much Information). However, I have a tiny tidbit that I believe I should give you because I don’t know how you get it; you do not receive it on the timeline. I worry that it’s my doing, and if I hold to my usual code of silence, by choosing not to tell you, I might alter events. Perhaps, from that alone, you can see how messy this is getting. So here it is, ask Emma about Métis.”
“Ask Emma about Métis. Got it. I apologize for making a mess of the timeline.”
“You’re just doing what you must,” said Chronos. “So that you know, if you must stop Time, keep the number of people unlocked with you to a bare minimum; it helps to reduce the problem. Here’s why this is so important. Even with all your power, this is a limitation for us both. Events are accessible along the main timeline because of its perpetual existence.”
“The moment we stop Time, as now, we begin a secondary timeline and any event that occurs on that secondary timeline is only accessible to us while that timeline is active. If something should happen on a secondary timeline that has damaged the main timeline, you can’t go back to that secondary timeline to search for its cause to change it because it no longer exists.”
“Oh… Well, no wonder you’ve followed me around. So, none of the secondaries are connected.”
Chronos shook his head. “If you should stop Time again later, you are beginning a new secondary timeline, independent of all the others. Once they end when you restart Time, they vanish.”
“We really do need to get back to the timeline then. Thank you. I’m glad you’re telling me this.”
“I’m pleased you understand,” said Chronos. “I will leave you to it.” He descended the staircase.
“Thank you, Angus.”
Ronan turned to Emma and unlocked her. “Hey.”
She smiled a little and looked around. “Where’s Chronos? Is something wrong?”
“Apparently, I’m making a mess of the timeline by all these off-timeline events, like the one we’re having right now, and the more people unlocked with Time stopped the worse the mess gets. He says that we need to get back to the timeline as quickly as possible, so he gave me a hint. He told me that I should ask you about Métis. The name is familiar to me, but what can you tell me about her?”
“Métis…,” she said, sounding almost nostalgic, “I haven’t heard or thought of that name in centuries, but I think I know why he told you to ask. Métis was the goddess of wisdom and good counsel, Zeus’s first wife, and Athena’s mother. Someone prophesied that she would bear two of Zeus’s children, and both would have great power, but the second, was a son who would dethrone him. So, Zeus followed his father’s example, tricked Métis into turning herself into a fly, and swallowed her. Unfortunately for Zeus, she had already gotten pregnant. Somehow, she made her way to his head, and she gave birth to Athena who grew there, causing him terrible headaches. When it became unbearable, he asked Hephaestus to crack open his head with an ax, and Athena leaped from Zeus’s head fully formed and wearing armor.”
Ronan laughed. “Uh-huh,” he said, with a look of extreme skepticism. “How can that possibly be true?”
“Because, like yourself, the gods are more than we appear. You continue to view yourself as a physical being, but you’re not. I find it charming that you prefer to live in the illusion that you’re more biological than you are, and I understand why you prefer it, but we are energy beings. We have these bodies as a conduit for experiencing this universe, so we may have the ability to touch and sense and fully feel our emotions. We intuitively understand that this“—she patted her chest—”is living, but as pure energy, we would have only existence. That is how Zeus can survive an ax cutting open his head to release his fully formed daughter.”
“I see. So, what happened to Métis?”
“Zeus sealed himself up again, keeping her trapped inside his head. Zeus said that she became pure thought and has the same role she had before he swallowed her…as his wise counsel.”
Ronan tipped his head in disbelief. “Ha! Right. I’m more inclined to believe the ax in the head story.”
“Well,” she said, “I saw Hephaestus wielding the ax, so I can attest that it’s true, however, we have only Zeus’s word about Métis, and it would be an easy lie.”
“Angus had me ask you for a reason, and the only one that makes sense is if she’s still there, and she knows where Zeus took Liam.”
“I agree. Why do you call him Angus?”
“That’s a story you’ll have to hear another time. I have a question to ask you, and I want you to think hard about this, and decide what you want. Would you like to leave Dolos behind? You could stop having to find ways around your trickster nature to help someone and you could become Erastís. Whatever you want, Emma, it’s yours.”
She smiled. “I appreciate the offer. I have yet to tell William; he may not want me once he knows.”
“If he rejects you, that’s his prerogative, but in that event, let me talk to him. What sort of relationship would you want with him?”
“You may not know this, but I never married, and I’m unsure how I feel about marriage. So, while I hesitate to get my hopes up, I would love it if he was my companion and lover.” She took a deep breath and leaned her back against the wall. “Perhaps, William and I should stay aboard the ship; we should have that conversation, and it would mean two fewer people to unlock when you get to Olympus.”
The moment Ronan, Colt, and Hephaestus arrived on Olympus, the sun still shined high in the sky, but they found the once pristine marble mosaic of the courtyard fractured and sullied with piles of debris. Someone or something had mangled the gates and destroyed its surrounding columned structure.
A booming voice echoed, “Zeus!” Then came the sound of beating wings and a thunderous boom, followed by a shower of gold and marble chunks from the citadel which rained over the cliff edge behind them with lesser bits falling into the courtyard. Ronan stopped Time with a snap of his fingers. The sun in the sky vanished as though he had flicked a light switch, rendering all around them barely viewable in the glow from their mingled time-fields.
“Who the hell was that?” asked Colt.
Ronan shook his head and shrugged.
“You’ve mostly kept Time stopped,” said Hephaestus, “and only a few actual minutes have passed since we left Zeus frozen here earlier, so whoever that is, they must have just gotten here.”
“I will fly up and see who we’re dealing with,” said Ronan.
“Can you fly?” asked Colt.
Ronan burned away his shirt. “Should that really surprise you at this point? You two might want to move to the side of the courtyard. On the way up, my time-field will likely unlock a bit of falling debris. If your time-fields keep it unlocked, it might fall on you. While I’m gone, get to Zeus. We’ll meet there.”
As they backed away, Ronan turned, manifested his giant white wings, and took to the air causing some rock already in transit to fall farther as he rose into the sky.
Colt watched in amazement as Ronan flew out of sight and earshot. He asked, “Is my father a god?”
“No, I think he’s something better. We should go.” He gazed upon Ronan’s son, smiled a little, and began leading him to the citadel above. They tromped through the debris to the gate. “I think you’re a handsome man. Would you go out with me? That is the phrase, isn’t it, go out?”
“But you’re my first cousin,” said Colt.
“I have news for you,” he said as they climbed over the ruins, “all the gods are related. However, if that matters to you, just remember, you could never have my children. Beyond that one concern, is there anything applicable keeping us apart?” He helped him navigate some larger pieces of marble.
“You mean, other than the fact that I find you so shockingly attractive that you’re well out of my league?”
“We have both seen one another naked,” said Hephaestus. “All that should matter is that I liked what I saw. How about you?”
Colt raked his eyes over Hephaestus’s body and jumped from the block he stood upon. “Of course, I liked it.”
“Have you ever cheated in any of your past relationships?”
“No, definitely not.”
“In that case,” he said ushering Colt to the shortcut, “you sound perfect to me. If we do well together, I would swear upon the risk of ruining my reputation with your father, that I would be good to you, and I would never cheat.”
“You barely know me, and already you speak of relationships. I’ve never had a relationship with a man.”
“Good,” he said, “neither have I. Zeus had arranged my previous marriages, and they both cheated. I figured if I could make my own choices, I would choose you. You are desirable, so I would feel awful if I held back and squandered this opportunity.”
“When we get settled somewhere,” said Colt, “I will agree to a date, and we’ll see how it goes.”
“May we have sex on the first date?”
“Looking at you, it would disappoint me if we didn’t.” Colt smiled to himself, as they entered the passage.
The landscape of Olympus followed the shape of the mountain, and Zeus’s palace lay at the top. The peak of the mountain held his highest and most favorite throne, enabling him to look down upon all his kingdom and subjects.
Every beat of Ronan’s wings lifted him toward the peak. He manifested time-spheres in his palms to use them as searchlights. Swooping upward at the top when he saw the damaged building, he realized he stared down the throat of a giant snake with fangs that matched his height.
“Shit! Don’t touch the snake!” Ronan struggled to back away with the tips of his wings coming within inches of unlocking the creature frozen in a wide-mouthed, standing posture
The light from the time-spheres hadn’t provided enough light, so he backed much farther away, increased their intensity, and released them to illuminate all of Olympus, and he saw the massive culprit.
Typhon—known as the father of monsters and the youngest son of Gaia and Tartarus—had an immensity that one might expect of a Titan, one-quarter the size of Olympus. He had the head and muscular torso of a man, the massive wings of a demon, and giant vipers for arms and legs. Ronan had caught him mid-flight, and the time-spheres unlocked the air around him. Unable to keep himself aloft by his wings, the shadow beneath Typhon caused him to drift down from his position as if he weighed no more than a feather. He would have crashed upon the buildings below, but the closer he came to the roofs, the shadow would grow darker, slowing his descent to a stop before causing damage to them. Once Time restarted, however, they would bear his full weight. The beast had destroyed Zeus’s palace, flattening and pulverizing what he hadn’t ejected from the mountaintop.
Ronan flipped his body in the air to change direction, soaring to the courtyard at Zeus’s temple below.
With Time stopped, Zeus and the other frozen gods had once again become visible. It showed them in slightly muted tones like everything that hadn’t had a time-field of its own. Colt and Hephaestus joined Ronan as he stood before Zeus staring at him.
“So, what will you do about Typhon?” asked Hephaestus.
“For now, nothing,” he said. “Frozen in Time, he’s of no danger to anyone. Zeus is a more pressing matter. I can’t unlock him without taking his power, so when I take it, what should I do with it? Neither of you will get this reference, but it’s sort of like Emma and the inches from the men aboard ship, I can’t just hold onto it, it must go somewhere.”
“Inches?” asked Colt.
Ronan laughed. “It’s a funny story. Remind me to tell you later.”
“I think that Zeus could absorb the power of a god for quite a while,” said Hephaestus. “He would have done that with Poseidon, so you probably could absorb it.”
He turned to him, his face an expression of having scented something rotten. “I consider his power tainted, so thank you for the idea but no.”
“You have only one other option I can see,” said Colt. “Use a container of some kind.”
“That’s what I was considering,” said Ronan. “What container is strong enough?”
“If you froze it in Time,” he said, “a container wouldn’t need a lot of strength, would it?”
“That’s a good point,” said Hephaestus.
“What do you intend to do with it once you have it?” asked Colt.
“Not sure,” said Ronan, “but I probably won’t give it back to him.”
“In my opinion,” said Hephaestus, “a powerless person who sits on a throne is no monarch. If you take and keep Zeus’s power from him, you’re the king. Is that what you want?”
“Would that really be so bad?” asked Colt. “After all, what is a good king but a leader? You’re already that without the label.”
“There’s far more to being a monarch than just acting as a leader,” said Ronan. “But I seek neither a kingdom nor followers to lead. You are my friends and my son,”—he put his arm around Colt—”and I love you all very much. I’ve just wanted to help people, and for now, Liam needs my help the most. Whether I ever return Zeus’s power to him remains in question, but that he must lose it for now, is certain. Thank you for the idea, son. That’s what I’ll do.”
“How will you remove his power?” Colt asked.
“I’ll siphon it off him like this…”
Hephaestus rested his hands on Colt’s shoulders. “Let’s not stand too close.” He moved them back a few feet.
They watched as Ronan held out his hands and acted as though he pulled long and powerful lines of fiber from Zeus which he imitated as though he were spinning threads onto a single strand that wound around itself, and as he did, Colt watched as though his father had lost his mind because nothing was happening. When Ronan finished, he said, “See? Just like that.”
“Okay,” said Colt, “I’m impressed by your pantomimical theatrics, but let’s see you actually do it.”
“I just did,” he said. “It’s done. Now, I need a container for it.”
Colt tipped his head back and glanced up at Hephaestus’s grinning face, looking for some shared skepticism. “He’s pulling my leg, isn’t he?”
Ronan smiled. “Watch and learn.” He moved to the side of where he had stood as they looked on. He held his hands out with his palms open as though he would catch a fly, and he paused before shouting, “Now!” The king unfroze, and Zeus wailed while his power extruded from every pore in thin fibers of golden light, and it spun together and wound itself onto a ball of glowing string at the exact spot Ronan meant it to. As it continued, Ronan waited, his hands at the ready.
“I have been patient with you, Zeus,” said Ronan. “You have grown so comfortable with bullying and hurting others with impunity. But I had warned you; I’m not putting up with your shit.”
As the last of Zeus’s power left him, he fell to his hands and knees. Ronan manifested two halves of a diamond sphere and encapsulated the brilliant light before him. He twisted the two halves together and froze them in Time. As he held the crystalline container, lines of embering surrounded it in a layer of adamantine, and a layer of gold until he held a perfect golden sphere. He then applied a layer of cork and finally a white leather cover with the familiar red stitching around it and printed it with the words “Zeus” and “Powerball”.
“He held no more energy than that?” Colt asked. “It wasn’t much.”
“The power in this is coherent, stable, and ultra-concentrated,” said Ronan. “If I hadn’t bothered it would probably end up the size of a beach ball. Here catch.” He gave it a little toss. “I’m placing you in charge of that until I ask for it back.”
“A last-second decision. I couldn’t resist.”
Hephaestus took Zeus’s arm and lifted him to his feet. He looked a little pale and weakened.
“You’ll regret this,” said Zeus.
“You and I need to have a talk,” said Ronan.
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“A narcissist like you with nothing to say. I find that unlikely.”
Zeus looked at Hephaestus who held his left arm and he read his shirt. “Who are you? You’re not Hephaestus.”
He ignored the question, and asked Ronan, “What now?”
Ronan manifested a set of handcuffs and proceeded to cuff him. “Zeus, I’m placing you under arrest for the abduction of Liam Phillips. The only right you have is the right to tell me what you’ve done with him.”
“I might tell you if you tortured me, but you’re too weak to do it.”
Ronan drew close to Zeus’s ear. “I’ve already done something far worse to you.” He then turned and placed his hand on the golden door of Zeus’s temple behind him. He gave the entire building its own time-field and proceeded to reconfigure the inside.
Upon opening the door, the spacious columned room with the reflecting pool and the giant marble statue of Zeus, which had sat at the far end, Ronan replaced with a classy Art Deco interior of a police station in bronzes, silvers, coppers, and various grays, lit by overhead and sconce lighting that used time-spheres for bulbs.
“I’m impressed,” said Colt.
“I’ve seen a similar interior before,” said Ronan, “but I can’t remember where. It was probably a movie.”
“It would look better in gold,” said Zeus.
“Oh, what would you know?” asked Hephaestus. “When I redesigned Olympus, they wouldn’t let me do anything interesting. They all wanted gold and marble, marble and gold. Ugh… what a bore.”
Zeus looked up into his face and his brows drew together. “You are Hephaestus?”
“That’s right,” he said, “no thanks to you. Ronan removed and reversed your curse.”
The interview room off to the left held a plain ebony wood table and chairs reminiscent of interrogation rooms of ages past with a single pendant light above it. Hephaestus shoved Zeus into the single chair on one side, and Ronan attached the links in the cuffs to the clip built into the tabletop.
“We have only two other chairs,” said Ronan. “Hephaestus, may Colt sit on your knee?”
Colt whispered to his father, “Not subtle, are you?”
Ronan took a seat. “I’ve seen how you both look at each other.”
“As long as I have a knee, Colt will always have somewhere to sit”—Hephaestus patted his right leg—”providing he promises not to keep his hands to himself.”
Colt turned his gaze upon his father with a smirky smile.
“You’re welcome,” said Ronan, watching his son—baseball in hand—settle onto the leg Hephaestus offered him.
Ronan manifested a small clear dish that held a thin layer of Ambrosia. He gave it a sniff. “Mmm…I’ve made this one extra pungent,” he said to Zeus. “Would you like a whiff?” He waved it under Zeus’s nose, and when he smelled it, his head followed the dish as Ronan passed it before him. With a gentle hand, he laid the dish on the table just out of Zeus’s reach.
“You can manifest Ambrosia,” said Zeus.
“I’ve manifested quite a lot. I’m surprised you’ve just learned of it.”
“I wasn’t always watching you.”
“Apparently so,” Ronan said. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Because I did to you what you just did to me. I took from you what you love most.”
“In an immediate sense, yes, but in the broader scope, no, that’s not why you’re here. Care to give it another guess?”
He kept eye contact with Ronan but turned his head a little. “Because I attacked the ship.”
“It makes sense that you would expect me to act out of vengeance, but no, that’s not the reason either.”
“Prometheus wants my throne,” he said with a little smile. “That’s it, isn’t it? He wanted revenge after I punished him for giving fire to the humans.”
Ronan shook his head. “Prometheus doesn’t want it, but you hadn’t punished Prometheus, you tortured him, just as you have many others over the centuries. That is why you are here.”
“So, all this is because I punished them like gods and not as mortals. Should I have incarcerated them in a place that would make them worse criminals by the time they leave? Or would you rather I sent them to bed without supper or put them in time-out for an hour?”
Ronan said, “I understand that gods would require a different sort of punishment from a mortal, but torture isn’t punishment.”
“It is for a god,” he said. “I punished Prometheus with pain longer than I had anyone else, and it only lasted seventy-nine years.”
“You continue to look at this from a limited mortal perspective,” said Zeus. “For an immortal being, a billion years is nothing.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, it is something when you willfully go out of your way to hurt someone, and everyone has their psychological breaking point, even gods.”
“Of course, they do,” he said, “how do you think I know when they’ve had enough? I should never have taken Chiron’s offer; Prometheus was still defiant.”
“Then you admit you only tortured any of them to break them.”
“That’s the purpose of punishment!” yelled Zeus.
“There’s a difference between giving a penalty for an infraction and subjecting them to cruelty. When you tortured someone, your efforts had not intended to do anything but destroy their agency, to supplant their will for yours, and don’t tell me you don’t see a difference. When Hera, Athena, Apollo, and Poseidon tried to overthrow you for your tyranny, you hung Hera by her hands from the sky using golden chains with anvils attached to her feet and you forced her to stare into the abyss.”
“That only lasted four days.”
“I don’t care how long it lasted, it’s torture! And I know you know the difference because you only punished Apollo and Poseidon. You took away their power and made them work for King Laomedon for wages for a while. So, you do know the difference. Why would you use torture if you know another way?”
“My divine will is sovereign.”
“That might still play well in the nosebleed section where they can’t see what you are, but those of us who sit near the orchestra will not accept that. To us, you’re an obvious tyrant. That’s what has started all this, and why you’re here.” Ronan’s eyes stared upon his quarry. “Did you enjoy torturing them?”
“Again, what you call torture,” said Zeus, “I call punishment, and I never punished them for my enjoyment.”
“Wow,” said Colt, “you spoke around that question so smoothly one would think you were a politician.”
“Indeed,” said Ronan, “Just because you hadn’t ‘punished’ them for your enjoyment wouldn’t mean that you hadn’t enjoyed it.”
“So, what if I did?” he asked. “I’m King of the Gods. I do as I please.”
“You mean were King of the Gods and did as you pleased,” said Hephaestus. “All that’s in the past now.”
“Things would have been far worse without me,” said Zeus. “They needed a heavy hand. You don’t know what they were like.”
“They reflected your leadership,” said Ronan. “You hadn’t brought out the best in them, they just followed your awful example. Not that I can fully blame you for that. After all, your example swallowed your siblings.”
Ronan noticed a twitch in Zeus’s left eye.
“Would you like another sniff of Ambrosia?” asked Ronan. “He lifted the dish and waved it under Zeus’s nose again. Unable to stop himself, he inhaled its scent, and the twitch of his left eye happened again.
“What will you do with me?” asked Zeus.
“You’ve accepted that I have more power than you?”
“You can take away my power, and you can manifest Ambrosia. None of the gods can do that, so what are you?”
“I’m unsure what I am, specifically,” he said, “but I can tell you what I was not. I was not a threat to you until you believed the lie about how I would dethrone you, and you made me a threat to you by your own actions. So, you turned a lie into a prophecy, and you ensured it was fulfilled.”
Zeus stared at the table in thought.
“This isn’t the first time that’s happened though. Our father Cronus did the same thing. Uranus told him one of his children would dethrone him, and only by his belief in its truth had he acted in a way that ensured it came true. If our father were an amazing parent, loving, good, and kind. You all would have loved him so much that the thought of overthrowing him would have been unthinkable, but he just couldn’t do that. Evil begets evil, but that cycle ends with me.”
When the twitch in Zeus’s eye became more pronounced, Ronan waved the Ambrosia under Zeus’s nose again.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m helping your captive find her way out of your head.”
His eyes went wide. “No!”
Ronan yelled into Zeus’s face. “Métis, if you can hear me, exit through his sinus.”
Zeus could feel the fly inside his head moving around, and the moment he sensed her in his sinus, he began to sniff hard like he had a head cold. Ronan manifested a feather and began tickling Zeus’s nose with it. It had reached the point he couldn’t control it, he inhaled twice, and his face contorted into a grimace while trying to hold it in.
“Give it up, Zeus. Not even you have the power to overcome the compulsion to sneeze.”
Zeus squeezed his eyes shut and with the force strong enough to strain his vocal cords, he violently convulsed, blowing Métis from his head. They could hear the buzzing wings of the fly as she soared around the room. Ronan held out the dish of Ambrosia in his palm. The fly went right to it and began drinking. “Once you’ve had enough to transform yourself, I will heal you. I promise you’ll feel better in no time.”
With a hoarse voice, Zeus said, “I will have her loyalty no matter what I may have done. She loves me.”
“Ha!” said Ronan. “You wish…”
“How long was she in there?” asked Colt.
“Thousands of years,” said Hephaestus. “Since the end of the Titanomachy.”
Ronan set the dish onto the floor, and within a minute Métis had drunk enough to transform back into herself. It happened slowly and with struggle. Zeus held her captive in a confined space the whole time, and only Ronan’s removal of Zeus’s power allowed her to break free. As she transformed, she couldn’t manifest herself some clothes, she stretched and had trouble standing upright, but once she had, she turned, saw Ronan, and began to cry from relief. As Ronan hugged her, she wrapped her arms around him. After he healed her of her aches and pains, he gave her some power and manifested her some clothing, a snowy white chiton like the one Hera wore. She kissed Ronan on the cheek, thanked him, and walked over to the table where Zeus sat, his hands manacled to the table. She reared back with her right hand and slapped Zeus hard enough to have knocked out most anyone else’s teeth.
“You bastard!” she yelled into his face. “How dare you betray me! And to think I loved you. I can’t kill you, but you are dead to me!” She turned to Ronan. “It’s a good thing you can stop Time, he took Liam to the underworld. He wanted to drop him into Tartarus, but Hades stopped him. Zeus was so angry over it that he immediately teleported to Mount Etna and released Typhon from the underground chamber. He will come to Olympus and destroy everything.”
“Typhon is already here. I froze him in Time.”
Zeus tipped his head back in indignation. “I figured if I can’t have Olympus, then no one will.”
“Why hadn’t you taken him to Tartarus?” asked Ronan.
“I tried, but Etna was as close as I could get him. That’s how dangerous he is. I wish I had known you could stop Time. I doubt you could win if you fought him in a fair fight as I had. Using your ability to stop Time is cowardly and cheating.”
“Oh!” He sat across from Zeus again. “I guess I’ll have to fight him now, just to prove to you my bravery because I so value your opinion.” He shook his head and laughed. “You’re pathetic. I can’t imagine why any of the gods support you, but you have given me my answer to what I will do with you. If your throne means so much to you, I insist that you keep it.” He leaned in close. “You wanted Typhon to destroy Olympus, but he only destroyed your palace and thrones before I stopped him, so I will leave you to reign as king for all eternity from the remnants of Typhon’s rampage. I will ensure that future generations remember you as nothing more than Zeus, the Mad Tyrant King of Olympus, and a prime example of the follies of cruelty, unkindness, and greed. But not to worry, your wife Hera will be right here with you. I wouldn’t want to separate you when it’s clear you deserve each other.” He froze Zeus in Time, stood, and turned to his companions to make plans.
Hephaestus would return Colt to the ship, and Métis had requested that she see her daughter Athena, so Hephaestus would take her to the secret house.
Once Ronan took care of the Typhon problem, he turned all of Olympus into a unique kind of cage. He couldn’t allow any of them to hurt people or start a civil war. So, he did the only thing he could do, given the circumstances. Apart from Zeus, all the other gods on Olympus would keep their power, but it would only have any effect within the shield he placed around the entire complex atop Mount Olympus. Among all the gods, only Zeus could break The Great Seal preventing anyone from teleporting away from Olympus. And with Zeus’s power gone, he couldn’t break the seal or teleport himself away. Ronan hadn’t exactly imprisoned them though, not even Zeus. They had three choices. They could stay and keep their power. They could evolve, and if so, they could send word to Ronan, at which point, they would talk about it. Or they could just choose to walk out, but in choosing to pass through the fully restored gate, they chose to pay the price for their freedom. The shield would absorb their power, and they would find themselves on Earth to live out the remainder of their days as a human. Once Ronan restored the natural flow of Time, he gave them the news of their situation, and they were not happy, making many empty threats. Afterward, Ronan left them to contemplate their lives there as he journeyed to the underworld on his own.
Unlike with Olympus, one doesn’t teleport to the underworld without an open invitation. Just as the rites for the dead had structure and customs, Hades had structure and customs in his realm, and he took those things seriously. Hades could be a stickler on formality. Ronan felt that by Hades having saved Liam, he owed it to him to honor his traditions, and enter through the front door as any respectful visitor should. Of all the gods, he wanted to keep on the good side of Hades most.
On his path to the underworld, he crossed the divine terminator to the dark side of the realm, the side influenced by many deities like Nyx—the primordial goddess of the night but presided over in whole by Hades himself. Before the darkness, however, came the twilight.
Lost in thought, Ronan repeatedly tossed the baseball he carried as he strolled the pathway in the growing darkness. He caught it label-side up, displaying the word TYPHON.
He had followed a trail to the edge of a meadow where he reached darkness and the first of five rivers. On the River Acheron, he found an ancient dock lit by a single lantern hanging from a rusted pole. The darkness and the glowing mist upon the flowing water obscured its opposite shore. Not wishing to lose the ball in the water below, he tightened his grip on it and took a few cautious steps onto the dock and waited for the ferryman. Two lights approached from the mist, and once its origin came into view, he saw some sort of black punt boat. The prow and stern of the ship had curves made to hold lanterns for the punter to see.
Many human authors have described the man who propelled it as generally silent, ugly, and filthy, sometimes wearing a dark cloak with a conical cap, or something a bit more distinguished, but Ronan only saw a slender naked man in his thirties with long dark hair kept in a ponytail. He hadn’t an ounce of fat on him, but otherwise, he looked clean and healthy.
When the man came within earshot he said, “Hello, Ronan.”
When the boat reached the dock, he asked the man, “You are Charon?”
“That’s right. I’m Charon, son of Nyx.”
“It’s good to meet you.” Ronan studied him for a moment. “Forgive me, but you look nothing like any description I’ve ever heard.”
“That’s because not everything in the underworld is as it seems. How I look depends on who I’m picking up. Some people deserve the honor of an armored warrior, or a dashing young man in a nice suit to ferry them, but for others, I’m nothing more than a hideous man in greasy rags. It’s all part of the service, and I always give them what they know they deserve.”
“And I deserve…?”
Charon held out his hand to help him aboard. “The truth. Are you ready?”
“Should I not pay you?”
His mouth tightened, brows lowered, and he shook his head. “Nah, that’s just for the tourists.”
Ronan laughed as he climbed aboard and settled himself on the opposite side from Charon to balance the boat. “I would never have thought you would have a sense of humor.”
“I usually never get a chance to express any humor.” He pushed off from the dock with his punting stick. “Most people I ferry are so morose with all that dread and fear, but I suppose, Acheron isn’t the ‘river of woe’ for nothing.”
“How far can you take me?” Ronan watched as the glowing mist surrounded them.
“I know a shortcut to Hades’s palace, but we still must pass through the Styx, and I guarantee she will stop us. The Goddess Styx has remained a staunch supporter of Zeus since the Titanomachy, and I’ve never known her to keep quiet.”
“Anything important I should know about her?”
“Avoid flattery. She hates that. She hates a lot of things, actually, but then she is the personification of hatred, so that follows.” He thought for a moment. “Ahh… Oh! Kratos was her son, so there’s that too.”
Ronan palmed his face. “Oh, shit…”
“She has a respect for strength of will. That’s why she has stood by Zeus. I have heard how you are, Ronan. You’re a good and kind man. Personally, I find that a pleasant change for someone as powerful as you, but she might have a different opinion.”
“I appreciate the warning.”
They traveled a fair distance, but made a turn, following a narrow and shallow passage through the thickets which barely fit the width of the boat, and Ronan could tell Charon had difficulty punting when the boat’s bottom scraped the bed of his shortcut. Ronan concentrated and holding his hands out he lifted the boat a few inches to allow it to skim the surface, and Charon easily punted them through the channel.
“Thank you,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we would make it.”
“Not a problem,” said Ronan. “I wouldn’t want you to damage your boat just to help me.”
With a lift of his brows, he gave a tiny jerk of his head as he punted along. “You really are unique, aren’t you?”
When they reached the mouth of the channel, the River Styx lay before them, Charon punted into the flowing water, and the moment he had, the boat moved far faster than his punt could account for, and Charon nearly fell from his vessel. An unseen hand dragged the boat counterclockwise in an arc, causing them to go around and around in an ever-tightening spiral. When they reached the middle of the developing whirlpool, the boat turned on its center axis upon a column of water as the rapid swirl around them receded to reveal a ten-foot trough, isolating them from the rest of the river.
Ronan forced the boat to stop spinning, and over the sound of the rushing water that swirled around them, Ronan yelled out, “Styx! Show yourself!”—she seemed disinclined—”Don’t think you have me trapped here. I can leave whenever I like. I’m merely allowing you the chance to speak to me, so if you have something to say, say it now. Otherwise, I’m leaving!”
The rapidly moving trough shallowed enough for a nude woman who emerged from it to walk upon the water around the boat with her head the height of Ronan’s, meeting him eye to eye. It was Styx, the Oceanid, goddess, nymph, daughter of the Titan Oceanus, the personification of hatred, and oath protector. Not ordinary by any means, her aqua-colored skin glowed brightly in the dim light from the lanterns of the boat, and her eyes fixed upon Ronan with an evil, contemptuous glare that might have killed any mortal man. A meticulous braid of hair, the color of the bluish depths Ronan had witnessed in the ocean, circled her head like a garland. He might have thought her beautiful, if not for the hostile expression marring her features. She said nothing for almost a minute as she strode around the boat.
“I’m guessing you’re a tad miffed with me,” he said. “Could we get on with why, please? I have things to do. Is it about Kratos?”
She stopped before Ronan. “You destroyed my son honorably, and he kept his oath to Zeus. I am not angry about that. I think oaths should mean something; wouldn’t you agree?”
“Not necessarily?” She sounded completely taken aback.
“I find it curious how so many people, including gods, find nuance so alien to them. I understand that it complicates matters, but have the gods no concern for circumstances?”
She looked upon Ronan as if he had spoken a foreign language.
Seeing his words had fallen upon uncomprehending ears, he said, “Let’s just get to your point.”
“Long ago, Zeus had the gods take an oath on the waters of the River Styx…on me. He bestowed that honor upon me because, among all the Titans, I gave my fealty to Zeus first.” Whereupon she just stopped talking as if that explained everything.
“You are helping gods break their oath with no repercussions.”
“If their oaths were anything like the one Kratos gave Zeus, I don’t think I care. And what repercussions?”
“If anyone should break their oath, they must drink from my waters which would make them comatose for a year, they would be denied Ambrosia from then onward, and when they awaken, they would either be banished or excluded from everything for nine years, and they would live in disgrace for all eternity.”
“Who ensures these punishments are met?”
“Well, Zeus wouldn’t leave me and my loved ones alone, so I’ve taken his power from him, and in doing so, I’ve voided all oaths.”
“You dethroned Zeus…”
“Some of the gods threatened civil war if I dethroned Zeus, so I insist that he keep his title for as long as he likes. So, he can remain your king if you want; I couldn’t care less about such things. However, Olympus now serves as a sort of holding place until they decide what they want to do. They’re welcome to grow up, stay there, or leave whenever they like, but walking through the gate now exacts an extremely heavy price. As for all those who don’t live on Olympus—such as yourself—if any of the gods go out of their way to harm anyone, they’ll find themselves on Olympus with the same three choices. As I told the gods there, ‘just play nice with others and mind your own business,’ that’s all I ask.”
“No…,” she said in disbelief, “you can’t have.”
“I have; it’s already done. Zeus thought I would dethrone him, so he released Typhon to wreck Olympus, because if he couldn’t have Olympus then no one would. But Ares warned me emphatically that I shouldn’t thwart the will of the king. So, I wouldn’t undo the damage Typhon caused when he destroyed Zeus’s palace, but I figured, why should any of the others be homeless just because Zeus is so selfish? I hadn’t left Typhon on Olympus, of course; he’s a menace.” He held up the baseball that contained a miniaturized Typhon frozen in Time.
“He’s inside that?”
“Yes, I’m taking him to Hades as a gift.”
“What about the Ambrosia delivered to Olympus every day?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Ronan, “because of the shield, that can no longer happen. No outside help can enter Olympus, but Chronos tells me the natural source was drying up anyway. Speaking of that, would either of you care for a glass?” Ronan manifested two goblets of Ambrosia and handed them to both Styx and Charon.
Charon immediately began guzzling his, but she sniffed the contents of her own. “You can manifest Ambrosia?” She drank of it.
“Yes. So, all the Ambrosia the gods receive must come through me. Outside of Olympus, I won’t lord that over any of you. I’m hoping you will one day reflect my goodwill toward you into the world. I encourage all of you to evolve. I know you can, but as the personification of hatred, you might have the hardest time finding some love in your heart, but I believe in you.”
“But no one can manifest Ambrosia,” she said. “How?”
“The same way I can destroy a god,” he said. “I’m something else. Something…more. You have my word that I will gift a rundlet of Ambrosia as fine as you hold in your hand to Hades for all his underworld feasts, so the gods won’t go without.”
“You are not as I expected,” she said. “I don’t know how to take you.”
“I’m hoping you’ll take me in the same spirit I take you, in a live and let live sort of sense.”
“I wouldn’t know how,” she said.
“Oh, Styx, you’re a river! I should think going with the flow would come naturally to you. You could just think about it for a while. Things will be different, yes, but there’s nothing wrong. Life will be good; you’ll see. And if either of you ever needs me, call me. We will discuss the problem, and we’ll figure out a way to solve it. In the meantime, however, may Charon and I go? I need to get to Liam.”
Momentarily befuddled, she let them go, and while Ronan knew their dependence on him for Ambrosia would tend to sway them into compliance with his extraordinarily small request that they behave themselves, as he said, he had no intention of lording it over them. He wouldn’t have to, their need for Ambrosia was so great that they would view him in a different light anyway, but he couldn’t help that. The natural source was drying up, and only he could produce it, so that was that.
In the darkness, they turned a bend in the river, and from the light of the torches upon it, Ronan saw the gates of Hades’s palace, and a silhouette of Cerberus, the three-headed hound, within the dark metal gates. He patrolled the grounds for living intruders and escapees of the dead. Fortunately, near the dock lit by the brilliant glow of a bident, he saw Liam standing alongside Hades.
The moment they were close enough, Ronan sprung from the boat, ran across the dock, took Liam into his arms, and kissed him. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, thanks to Hades. Zeus nearly shoved me off into Tartarus!”
“He won’t bother us again.”
Hades said, “Zeus’s actions up until this were bad enough, but he crossed a very personal line, so I accept your decision on whatever you do to him. What was your decision regarding our brother?”
“I hadn’t destroyed him, but I took his power,” said Ronan, “and whether I ever give it back is up to Zeus. I want to thank you for saving Liam. I respect you for that.”
Hades gave a little nod and a thoughtful smile. “I can tell.”
“Oh! I have a gift for you.” He handed Hades the ball.
“You have gifted me a baseball?”
“Read what it says.”
He turned the ball around. “Typhon…” He pointed to the ball. “Is this?”
Ronan nodded. “Zeus released him from Mount Etna. He knew Typhon would destroy Olympus. I arrived, froze him in Time, and eventually shrank him down before I put him inside that.”
“Astonishing,” he said and held up the ball. “Typhon was extremely powerful, and for as much as we gods can do, none of us have this much power. That’s why we stuffed all the troublemakers into Tartarus. So, thank you for this. It’s certainly an improvement; he takes up much less space this way. I shall display him upon my mantle. I would invite you in to show you around and meet Persephone, but I know you have a lot to do, and a tour of the castle can take quite a while. From now on, you both have an open invitation to visit anytime, and feel free to teleport directly.”
“Thank you, we will, especially when making a delivery of Ambrosia.”
“Chronos informed me of the Ambrosia issue. We’re grateful you can supply it. Well, I won’t keep you. I’m sure the others wish to see Liam safely where he belongs. I will see the two of you again soon.”
When Hades teleported back into his palace, Ronan saw that Charon and his boat had gone, so with no one left to bid farewell, they teleported back to the CS Fritz Himmel.
Aboard the ship, the crew typically kept busy with maintenance, cleaning duties, and that never-ending struggle against the deleterious effects of the sea. However, with Ronan having left the vessel anchored off the coast of Italy in perfect condition, the crew had nothing to do, so the captain had given most of them time off until needed. At first, they either meandered through the ship marveling at the miracle of its condition, or they stood at the deck railing staring at the city of Genoa, a view they shouldn’t have had for a few more days. Ronan had won over the crew, including those initially skeptical of him and his intentions. They had seen far too much of what he could do to think it nothing more than a trick, and his repeated defense of them spoke volumes.
When Ronan led Liam into Emma’s cabin, it pleased their friends to see him in one piece.
“Liam, I would like to introduce the god Hephaestus, blacksmith to the gods and a dear friend of mine. And I also want to introduce the demigod Colt Stallion, formerly named Elias Adrianus, billionaire, and as a son of Chiron, he is my son. Colt, Hephaestus…this is the demigod Liam Phillips, a former police officer of the Key Biscayne Police Department, my protector, and… husband?” He gazed upon Liam for confirmation.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“And husband,” Ronan said to Hephaestus and Colt.
“It’s good to meet you,” said Hephaestus.
Colt shook Liam’s hand. “I’ve seen you!” Colt said. “You picked my father from the ground in the park on Key Biscayne.”
“Yes, I did! You have seen me? How had that come about?”
“Kakia,” said Colt. “When she came to my office in New York, she had with her a tablet that held a video of the whole thing. From just before Henri transferred my father with the eternal flame to Ronan’s former human self, all the way to the next morning when you drove off with him to what I must presume was the hospital.”
“Someone recorded that?” Ronan shook his head at the audacity.
“Apparently so,” he said.
“Well, Ronan,” said Emma, “William and I have talked.”
“What have you concluded?” he asked.
“Dolos needs to go. I haven’t been him in so long, I can’t remember what it felt like to be myself in honesty rather than deceit.”
“I love her no matter what,” said William, “but she’s unhappy as she is, and if she needs Dolos gone, then I support that.”
Ronan gestured for her to come to him. “Tell me what you specifically want.”
“I want to walk away from this ship Erastís, the lover, a self-determinate deity of any sex or gender I choose, and if I want to be Emma Nordström, then that’s who I am, when I am, and in truth. I want to help people the way I do best and eliminate the constraint of it being a lie. Could you help me do that?”
Emma stood before him, and he turned her around, placed his hands on her back, and concentrated. “All the gods can look however they want and always could, but they all have a constraint preventing it from being true by their nature. Poseidon told me he had been equine many times, and—like you as Emma—Poseidon is the horse when he’s a horse, but even while being that, he’s still no less the god of the sea, so I comprehend what you’re asking. Your mother is Nyx, the goddess of night. She has imbued you with dark energy, and that’s what constrains you to the lies and deceit. I admire your strength of will. I find it amazing you’ve gotten this far in your evolution, but unlike the others who have evolved, you need to change your fundamental nature. To remove the restraint is to remove Dolos from you, so let me do this. Concentrate hard on being Erastís. This will feel warm, but it shouldn’t hurt you.”
She did so, and as Ronan fed her new energy with his left hand, he drew out the darkness with his right. It emerged as a sooty substance from Emma’s back and swirled in Ronan’s palm like a black cloud the size of his fist. “There, it’s done.”
Emma turned as everyone gathered around to see what Ronan held. William wrapped his arms around Emma’s waist from behind and gazed over her shoulder.
“What will you do with it?” she asked.
Ronan transformed the cloud of dark energy into a small, shiny winged black bird with an orange beak like those indigenous to the area around Genoa. It sat in the hollow of Ronan’s palm as though it were nesting. “Everyone, say hello to Dolos.”
“So, that is Dolos,” said Emma. “Why don’t I feel any different?”
“It’s as you told me,” he said, “this hasn’t been you for a long time. I’m unsure that you should feel different, but the experience of your life will be entirely different from now on. Hephaestus, would you open the window, please?”
“The windows don’t open,” said William.
“Sure, they do,” said Hephaestus. He laid his hand onto the glass, removed the entire pane like he had a suction-cup hand, and smiled at William.
William shook his head and rolled his eyes. “I forget who I’m with.”
Ronan helped the bird into Emma’s hand. “I think you should be the one to release him.”
She stroked the little bird on the way to the window. “Well, Dolos, I would say I hate to see you go, but that would be a lie, and I don’t do that anymore, so off you go.” When she tossed it out the window, it flew away, and Hephaestus replaced the glass in its frame. “So, am I Erastís now?” she asked Ronan.
“Yes, but one last thing,” he said. He laid his hand on her shoulder and increased her ability to hold energy, causing her to feel a surge of power. “There, not only are you free to be yourself, but you have more power, and you can teleport many people.”
Emma giggled and hugged him. She then manifested herself a Centaurian uniform like Ronan’s. It highlighted her shapely form and had ERASTÍS across her chest with a little red heart. “Do you like?” she asked William.
He smiled, nodded eagerly, and kissed her.
Ronan raised his hand. “By a show of hands, who wants off this ship?”
They all wanted to go, and while Colt and Hephaestus hadn’t lived aboard, Emma, William, Liam, and Ronan couldn’t wait to see the CS Fritz Himmel in their proverbial rear-view mirror.
They stood upon the main deck ready to go, as Captain Stettler, the first mate Paul Hurst, and the entire crew wanted to wish them farewell.
“Well, captain,” said Ronan, “thank you for your patience with us. You could have proven yourself far less understanding, and I wish to apologize for the disruption we caused aboard the ship.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said, shaking Ronan’s hand. “I should be thanking you for all you’ve done for us, and you’ve given us an unforgettable adventure on our transatlantic crossing. I underestimated you repeatedly, and for that, I apologize. It has been a privilege to have met you all and had you aboard. Since the threats to us are no longer an issue, all the crew has decided to remain except for William, and the company is sending us a new purser who will be here this afternoon. We have arrived early in Genoa, so we haven’t permission to dock; they schedule these things for a reason. The company also wants me to thank you for restoring the ship; it saved them time and money. They wish to apologize that one of their employees has leaked onto the internet all the video footage from the ship’s uploads to the company’s server. It seems they’ve gone viral, and the number of people who know about the gods, you, and what you are capable of grows exponentially. The public and the media have a great many questions and concerns.”
“I bet they do,” said Liam.
“In a world of internet users eager for amazing content, I figured that would happen,” said Ronan, “and I accept it. They’ll get their answers over time, but eventually, they must grow accustomed to our presence.”
“What about the paparazzi?” asked Paul. “They don’t get used to anyone’s presence; you get used to theirs.”
Emma said, “That’s all right, we have ways around virtually anything.”
“So where will you go now?” asked the captain.
“That’s a good question,” said Liam.
Emma spoke up. “We have an enormous villa with a dozen bedrooms on Mykonos. When Ronan said he wanted to go home. Prometheus and I ensured we had somewhere to go.”
“That’s not big enough for everyone,” said Hephaestus.
“I intend to form a new island in the Aegean Sea for a permanent place to resettle the gods from Olympus,” said Ronan, “but like Rome, it can’t be built in a day. You, my friend, will soon be extraordinarily busy.”
“You will let me design the whole thing?” asked Hephaestus.
“Once I make the island. All I ask is that you do what you think is best with it, and not let them bully you again into producing some marble and gold nightmare.”
With all business complete, all apologies made, and every goodbye said, Emma used her extended power and teleported them to Mykonos.
The Grecian LGBTQ mecca of Mykonos, an island of the Cyclades of the Aegean Sea, had picturesque views and villages, many beaches, and an active nightlife with frequent parties at various locales. Prometheus had informed Emma about the villa, and she secretly bought it on their journey to Genoa. To Emma’s mind, it presented the perfect location for their home. They teleported to the vast stone courtyard behind the white multi-leveled limestone villa, with its twelve bedrooms, and fourteen bathrooms.
Colt started laughing when he realized where they were. “Oh my,” he said, gazing about.
“What’s so funny?” asked Liam.
“I built this house about a decade ago.”
“You lived here?” asked Ronan.
“No, I bought the property and had it built for an investment. I’ve done that all over the world. The agent sold it immediately to some Turkish billionaire. I can’t remember his name now. It seems like it was Murat something.”
“Murat,” said Emma, “yes, that’s the man I bought it from.”
“You had the money for this?” asked William.
“Prometheus did,” she said.
“I see some damage to that stone wall over there,” said Hephaestus. “Looks like Murat hadn’t taken care of it.”
Liam peeked over the edge of the enormous empty infinity pool behind them. “The pool has a crack.”
“I suspect he used it for parties,” said Colt.
“I bought it as is,” said Emma, “so the house isn’t in pristine condition.”
“I think I can take care of that,” said Ronan. He set his bag onto a stone block of the courtyard beneath his feet, squatted, and laid his hands flat on the stone. “When I removed the curse from Hephaestus, I discovered that I could see beyond what my eyes can see around me, including other realms and universes. Let me see what the house can tell me.” He concentrated for a moment. “The house isn’t livable. It has no water, no electricity, no furnishings, or necessities at all. I see damage throughout the house, and the construction crew hadn’t built the pool properly; that’s why it cracked.” He searched to see how owners of the house in other universes had decorated it, he found one he liked and duplicated some of their décor. He sent pulses of energy into the entire property. He cleaned it, made repairs, and manifested everything they needed to turn the empty house into their home, like furniture and linens, but he also stocked the cabinets and refrigerator with groceries and dishes, and he filled the bar with an array of alcohol and glassware. He made a correction to the pool’s design and filled it with water. He gave the house a permanent water and electrical source, and lastly, he took care of the landscaping. When he opened his eyes and stood, the courtyard had outdoor furniture and a retractable sun sail above them to shade part of the space.
“Looks like we’ve moved in,” said Liam.
“If you dislike anything I chose,” he said to them, “you’re welcome to change it.” He suggested the others find bedrooms, as he wanted some time alone with Liam. He embraced him. “Had Zeus made you afraid?”
Liam rested his head on Ronan’s shoulder. “No, I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “I knew if you had to tear the universe apart to find me, you would.”
He nodded. “If it came to that.”
“And then you would put it all back together with an apology for the inconvenience.”
Ronan laughed. “You know me so well. While I looked the house over, I noticed that about forty of our friends are inside the main part of the house waiting to give me a surprise party.”
“Yeah, that’s terribly nice of them, but I need to leave for a minute, and I’ll be right back. Okay?”
“Where are you going?”
“I need to take care of something important.”
“Should I go with you?”
“I wish you could, but due to the circumstances, the fewer people the better. I want to do this before I go upstairs, but you go on up and I will be right behind you. This won’t take but a minute.”
“Okay, be careful,” said Liam.
“As careful as I can be.” He held Liam, kissed him, and left.
Liam hurried up the stone staircase with their bags, and he smiled to see all the gods and goddesses Ronan had freed from Zeus’s tyranny, even Apollo, Hades, and Persephone attended.
“Where is he?” asked Athena.
“He’ll be here in a minute. He had something important to take care of.”
Ronan walked up the staircase accompanied by a young man. When everyone inside the house saw who it was, they were so happy. Felix Raposo stood there wearing a Centaurian uniform with LUCKY FOX across his chest and a depiction of a little stylized fox head stitched above it. Kakia had destroyed him before he had the chance to dress, and they could take nothing from the hotel room, so Ronan manifested him some clothing. Everyone rejoiced at seeing Felix.
The party was Prometheus’s idea. He set the whole thing into motion when Ronan had made it safe to come out of hiding. Standing at the front of the group, he had raven hair with a matching beard. The classically handsome god wore a black bikini swimsuit, and an unbuttoned white shirt. He smiled at Ronan who wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tightly.
Athena spoke, “We know we haven’t a permanent place to call our own yet, but we’ve talked it over, and we want you to know that we’re in no hurry for it. The estate in the Norwegian wilderness is comfortable and more than adequate, so take your time and find the perfect spot.”
“I appreciate your lifting the pressure,” said Ronan who laid his hand onto the bar beside him and began manifesting enough glasses of Ambrosia for everyone to have some. “I have made plans; I just need some patience. Here,” he said, “everyone, please, take a glass of Ambrosia.” He made sure to give one to Felix. He saw no sense in losing him again.
Once everyone had a glass, Athena continued, “We want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. We could not have freed ourselves on our own, and we want you to know that we understand you didn’t have to do it. You did it out of the kindness of your heart and we will be forever grateful. So, a toast…”—she raised her glass, followed by everyone else—”to Ronan Stallion, the Centaurian, our friend.”
When the toasting with Ambrosia ended, Angus brought in many of his friends and the DJ from his nightclub. They invited many of the crewmen from the ship and teleported them to the party. Colt invited Carl and his husband Wesley. They agreed to come, and since Ronan had given Colt the ability to teleport, he quickly learned how and brought them to the house—much to their surprise and delight.
The alcohol flowed freely from the home’s fully stocked bar.
Ronan met Caleius, the designer of his uniform, he talked to him about his upgrades.
The party continued well into the night. They drank, conversed, and skinny dipped in the pool, but at some point, Ronan and Liam snuck off to their bedroom to make love until sunrise. Upon Liam awakening atop Ronan late that morning, they met a beautiful day.
“How about a final trip to my apartment to get my things?” asked Liam. “I need to hand in my weapon and badge to the department and let the remainder of my leave serve as my notice. If I have a tough time convincing them it’s me, I might need some of your magical persuasion.”
“I think that can be arranged,” said Ronan. “It’s early in Miami, would you like to go to the nude beach here on Mykonos for a bit? We can both fly down there.”
“Me, fly? You’re the angelic one.”
Ronan left the bed. “Well, I say you’re my guardian angel, and every superhero needs a sidekick. So, let’s go Angel Boy, you need a flying lesson.” Ronan tossed Liam his Centaurian uniform shirt. It read ANGEL BOY across the chest, and he could see a little halo sitting at a jaunty angle on the “B”.
“Now I regret pushing that superhero idea.”
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(Updated text, 30 January) Devin washes ashore on the legendary isle of Atlantis, and quickly finds himself in the company of a handsome local. But it would seem the stories of Atlantis’s wonders omitted a number of lurid details...