I clung to the stone pillar, pressing my fingers against the cold, firm surface. Maybe if I just stayed here, he’d go away. Maybe he was bluffing. This could be his game, after all.
But between the soft gurgle of running water and the sensation of his eyes boring a hole straight through my rocky hiding place to where I stood, I knew better. He’d seen me - somehow.
Probably the fact I was trying to hide behind a fucking pillar. I allowed myself another moment’s indecision. And then I sighed.
He was still there when I stepped out, turning back to face him. The fox leapt down with the tiniest of squeaks. Inari had no intentions of helping me, then. Shocker. My palm itched, like the knife was screaming at me to pull it out. I didn’t have to be told how stupid an idea that was.
The man was every bit as big as I’d seen from my momentary glance, and compared to the other Olympians I’d seen trolling around the mountain, his attempts at modern dress were blissfully normal. If this was Earth, the button-down plaid he wore would have been totally and completely unremarkable. Only the glimpse of what looked like an animal skin belted over his shoulder tipped me off that he was anything but a Starbucks hipster.
My assessment of him was brought up short by the look on his face. He glared, his eyes narrowed. “There you are. About time. Why were you hiding?”
The tension that had been building inside me right up to that moment stopped, confused. He...wasn’t attacking. He wasn’t even reaching for the massive, heavy-looking club dangling from his belt. The look in his eyes was more confused and irritated than wary.
He didn’t know. The realization was sweet enough I almost sang. He hadn’t guessed who I was - or he didn’t know enough to guess. And the ridiculous white top Toby had drawn my new body in had the same wrapped, old-fashioned style as the others. It was probably even intentional - the bastard probably thought it was ‘suitable to the godly aesthetic’.
“I-I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head hurriedly as I remembered he was probably expecting a response. The women from before flashed through my mind. “I was just- I was here to take down the tapestries.”
“Didn’t you hear?” the man said, wrinkling his nose. “There’s something odd afoot. One of the boars was slain outside the Hollow, and there are whispers of a commotion in the rest of the Realms. All duties are canceled until Hermes can figure out what’s going on, and the servants are sheltering underneath my father’s temple.”
“O-Oh,” I said, faltering. He’d given me an out, though, and it’d be rude not to listen to orders. “Right. I didn’t hear. I’ll just...I’ll just go, then.”
I’d no sooner lifted my foot, though, when the man dropped his arms and hooked his thumbs into his belt. He didn’t say a word, but the order was clear - ‘wait’. “What’s your name?” he said. Furrows spread across his forehead as he eyed me curiously. “I’d thought I knew all of the handmaidens. And I don’t think I’d have forgotten someone like you.”
I could’ve done without the feeling of him inspecting every inch of me, and continuing this conversation was the very last thing I wanted. “I’m...Pauline,” I said, spitting my mother’s name out at the last. Giving him my real name - either of my real names - would only make him more suspicious than need be. “I’m new, sir. I’m still learning. I didn’t mean to-”
“Really?” the man said, arching one eyebrow. Inwardly, I groaned. Considering he’d been warning me of impending danger just a few moments before, he didn’t seem worried in the least. Rather, he inched forward. I crept back, but he still loomed over me. “That’s quite surprising. You’re one of Gaia’s? I didn’t think she still had a cult influential enough to draw handmaidens from."
She was weak, then. My heart leapt, but I fought to keep it from my face. “I really couldn’t say, sir.” It couldn’t hurt to be respectful. He seemed like the sort of guy who’d like it - and I hadn’t missed what he’d said before. His father’s temple. If what I’d learned about the Olympians in school was true, that didn’t mean a whole lot, but it did narrow the candidates for his identity a little.
And the furred cloak he wore slung over one shoulder was setting off alarm bells in the back of my mind.
My fears were confirmed when he stuck his hand out, smiling cheerfully at me. His eyes were still calculating, though, fixed on me. “Well, then, the pleasure is mine, Pauline. Heracles.”
Fucking great. Why was he here? What sort of piss-poor luck did I have to run into a goddamn greek hero right out the gate?
Maybe it has something to do with the fact you killed a fucking boar right outside the front door, Tara. If they think someone’s marauding around that might hurt them, they’re going to send someone capable of handling the problem to check it out. I fought the urge to scowl.
Of course, it could just as easily have to do with the deity I’d pissed off seemingly minutes after awakening - and Fortune had said something about ‘pieces’ being moved around on the board.
Somewhere behind me, I heard someone start to laugh - a woman, her voice rich and velvety. I didn’t turn. I already knew there wasn’t going to be anyone there.
“O-Oh,” I said instead, smiling cheerfully and taking the hand I’d been offered. My mind raced as he shook it, politely not commenting on the limp noodle I knew my hand was in that moment. “I’m so- I’m so honored.”
He only grinned down at me, eyeing me. Inspecting.
I was completely and totally screwed, wasn’t I?