When we left off, Terra spoke with Renata and Toby. Renata took a bit of convincing, and was initially spooked, but eventually settled down and found some level of acceptance in the idea that Terra was still alive. Terra again reassured them that between them and Shade, the tasks should be easier - but before she could get much further, she was awakened by Alice. Terra returned to Ebb’s cave, drowsy and fighting her way back to consciousness - just in time to see a trident-wielding man step into the aspect’s domain.
I stared at the man.
He stared back at me.
Well, shit. That did the work of a half-dozen cups of coffee IV-dripped right into my veins. I leapt upright, my limbs going stiff and rigid.
The man’s lip curled back, his expression twisting with displeasure. “So you were hiding here.”
Damn Hermes, and damn the sigil he’d burned into my chest. I’d hoped to have a little more time before trouble followed to Ebb’s doorstep - and if the ragged fishnets dangling from his belt were a hint, the trident screamed his identity for the world to hear.
Poseidon. Well, that did make sense. If I belonged to Avani-
“Okay, just hold up,” I said, throwing a hand out between him and I. “Time out. Truce. This isn’t Olympus. So let’s just-”
“I don’t care where we are,” he retorted, his voice gravelly and low. “I’m not about to let you start another war. Your run is over.”
The cave wasn’t that big, damn it. I backpedaled wildly, clattering across the stone.
Alice’s hands grappled at my shoulders, steadying me. “Mistress, run. We can-”
“Get out of here,” I breathed, shoving her free of me. I appreciated her stubbornness, but it was Alice. She couldn’t fight a sea god.
And when this inevitably went badly, she didn’t need to wind up stabbed.
She fell away with a squeak. Maybe she’d try to jump back in. Maybe she’d try and intervene.
Poseidon lunged forward, every muscle in his body snapping like a whip and blasting Alice clear from my mind. In a second, the gap I’d put between us vanished to nothing.
A weapon. I needed a weapon. Right now. I tumbled to the side, half-falling over the uneven floor, but caught myself. My hand came up, fingers wide, and I grabbed for-
“No!” I heard Poseidon bark, like storm clouds rumbling over the waves. A flash of movement - something long and metal flying toward me.
Giving up on the notion of getting my weapon, I lurched away from the blow, throwing my arms wide. The trident that he’d thrust toward me sailed through empty air instead of my chest. My heart hammered. He wasn’t playing around. He was really trying to-
With a grunt, he twisted, spinning on the spot. The metal twisted with him, faster than I could follow.
I screamed, my shoulders hunching as agony seared along my forearms. The blades on the end. He’d...He’d cut me. A scant inch from falling backwards over my own ruined feet, I forced my eyes back open.
“Stop!” Heracles bellowed from somewhere...somewhere else. It might as well have been a thousand miles away. “Don’t- Just stop! Let us-”
As though talking was going to stop Poseidon - who was even then advancing on me with ice in his ocean-dark eyes. He threw an arm up. The water lining the floor surged, boiling into waves of steam that blocked us off from the other Olympian. He gripped his trident more tightly, swinging it to the ready.
Blood dripped down my arms from the gashes he’d left. I didn’t know if I could summon my weapon with my fingers still twitching and shrieking in pain - and I was pretty sure even if I summoned it, I couldn’t hold it.
I threw myself back instead, calling on the magic that’d saved me time and time again.
My eyes snapped wide with horror at the cool emptiness of the room around us. Stone. Stone, and water - that was all. No soil, no plants, no living things I could call on and manipulate to my own ends.
The moment of panic cost me, I realized immediately. Poseidon twisted, bringing his arms back. The corded muscles lining his legs tensed.
Armor. The thought flashed into my head, accompanied by the memory of barkskin coating my too-soft actual skin. I needed armor. Maybe with that, I could-
He surged in again, eyes cold. Somewhere, distantly, people were yelling. Screaming. I brought my hands together, instinctively grabbing for anything to push him away.
Vines coiled from my fingertips, blossoming to life.
His expression hardened.
Before I could cut loose, he pivoted, bringing his leg up. I watched, mute and altogether too slow, as it sailed toward me.
And then the air left me in a rush as his heel slammed into my gut, driving me back into a rocky wall. I wheezed. My head spun, afire from where it’d hit the stone.
In the murky shadows of my vision, I watched his foot fall away - to be replaced by the gleaming sparkle of his trident as he thrust forward again.
I reeled, trying to collect myself and shield my vulnerable midsection and get my Gaia-gifted magic working all at once. Which...worked about as well as you’d expect.
Which left me defenseless.
My gut tensed in that single, frozen moment as the points of his trident shot closer.
A hand burst from nowhere, seizing the base of the prongs. The trident came to a stop as surely as if it’d hit concrete.
The tips of the blades brushed against my shirt. I stared at them, still wheezing and trying not to gape.
“Why?” I heard Poseidon snap. “Why are you-”
“This is my space,” a voice said, sounding almost bored. I coughed, lifting my head.
Ebb held the trident back, not an ounce of fucks-given in his posture. He eyed Poseidon sidelong, his milk-fog eyes darkening.
“And this is our business, lord,” Poseidon said. The muscles in his arms bunched. I shivered.
But the trident didn’t budge. “You may conduct your business on Mount Olympus,” Ebb said. “Don’t abuse your welcome here to bring such troubles to my home.”
“I do not appreciate it,” Ebb said. His voice never lifted from that on-the-verge-of-yawning tone, but somehow, his expression hardened further.
Poseidon didn’t move, glaring at his aspect. The veins in his neck flexed, popping. And then he turned, yanking hard on his trident. Ebb let him pull it free, casually stepping forward until he stood between the sea god and I.
“Hide here if you choose, imposter bitch,” Poseidon snapped, whirling back around to face me. “My lord won’t shelter you forever. Or maybe he will, and you can rot in this cave.” His eyes narrowed. “Take a step out of Ebb’s domain, and we’ll be waiting. You won’t divide us again.”
I steadied myself, clamping my hand over the slashes he’d left in my arm. Red-and-gold blood stained my fingers, already starting to slow. “Well, how about-”
Poseidon made a noise in the back of his throat, waving his arm. His shape blurred - then exploded into droplets of water, scattering to nothing against the stone.
I held my ground, staring at the space he’d vanished from. In and out, that was the way. And then, leaning back against the rock wall that’d so recently knocked me from the fight, I exhaled.
“Mistress,” I heard, and saw Alice scurry closer. Her eyes were perfectly round, with tears glimmering at the corner. “Oh, mistress. You’re bleeding, and-”
“What now?” I said, numb. Alice skidded to a stop, going pale. “What now, Alice? I did what Fortune asked. I did her damn chores.”
“Mistress, I’m sure she-”
“What now?” I snapped. “Damn it, she’s supposed to help me. She’s-”
“I’m sure the Golden Lady is attentive,” a woman said. I already knew what I’d find, but looked up anyway. Avani lounged on the stone bier, her skirt billowing about her legs. She offered me a smile, her dark lips delightfully smug. “You must be patient, daughter. That’s all there is to it.”
“Patient?” I snapped. “When I’m getting ambushed everywhere I go? I’m only surviving because-” I threw my arm out, but stopped. Ebb had vanished again, leaving us alone in his cave. I ground my teeth together. “If our host decides we’re being too much trouble and lets Poseidon in again, I’m fucked. Utterly and completely boned.”
Heracles crept closer, his lips downturned. “If he shows up again, I’ll-”
“He’s a water god in the water aspect’s domain,” I snapped. “Appreciate the thought. Really. But you’re fuck-all useful here.” I slowed a bit at the wince that passed over his face, sighing. “It’s not your fault. I get that. But...it doesn’t change anything.”
The others fell quiet as I lifted my hands, tearing at my hair. “I just...really need her to hurry up a little.”
“You will see the opening when she offers it,” Avani said. She didn’t move from her seat, but her expression softened. “I am quite sure of it. She would not lie to you.”
I snorted. “You don’t think she’d lie? Why the hell not?”
“Because she doesn’t need to lie,” Avani said, with a chuckle rippling under the words. “And I daresay she feels it spoils her fun.”
“That’s just great,” I muttered, stepping away from the wall on unsteady legs. My knees shook, but held. “Really reassuring.”
“So, daughter, you must-”
“Whatever. Just...let me have a moment.” It wasn’t polite, and I knew I should be a little more circumspect if I wanted them to help me.
But I was tired, and I ached, and I was starting to feel like the aspects were treating me like...I didn’t know. A pawn in their game. I wished I at least knew the ruleset. It might keep me from getting stabbed every round. The whole scenario left me less than interested in being diplomatic.
Avani only laughed, though, shaking her head. “You will survive, daughter. That is your domain, is it not?”
I opened my mouth, ready to snap back, but she disappeared into thin air.
Alice glanced to the empty bier she’d occupied, then looked back to me. “Be careful, mistress,” she whispered, drawing closer. “I’ll...I’ll go see what she’s planning. Fortune. I’ll- I’ll ask. Or something.” She offered me a tiny, lopsided grin. “I’ll figure something out.
I forced a smile. “Great. Yeah. That’s awesome. Let me know if she’s planning on getting this party going, okay?”
Alice bobbed her head in a nod, wrapping her arms about her clipboard more tightly.
And then she vanished just like Avani, so abruptly I rocked back on my blade-feet. I stared at the space she’d vacated, caught off guard. I...couldn’t remember her pulling a stunt like that before, even while she’d certainly gotten around on her own.
My head ached, and I’d seen the gods and goddesses of this fucked-up world pull enough tricks I couldn’t muster up even a scrap of concern for my arbiter’s games. I turned toward the cave’s back entrance, hobbling forward.
Heracles stiffened as I passed him, but I gave my head a quick shake. Not...Not right then. Not when all I wanted to do was sleep until I hurt a little less. I needed to process, not have him trying to plot and plan.
The tension bled from his shoulders, and even if he looked a bit sad, he only nodded. I crept past him, out into the open air beyond.
This was Ebb’s domain - more than just the cave itself. Poseidon had come from the front, from the trail leading back to the mainland. But I could see a beach poking out from the cavemouth, with waves lapping at its edges that looked a little more gentle. A little more solitary.
I could use solitary right then.
And so I stepped out onto the sand, wishing more than anything that I could feel it squish between my toes, and stewed. Somehow, I had to find a way out of this. A way to beat Gaia - and if things were any indication, a way to mollify Poseidon. And Hermes, and Zeus, and all the others.
As much progress as I’d made, I still couldn’t quite see it.