A wave of sound washed over Isabel with a near physical force as the doorway to Empyrean Provocation opened. The music was elemental, primal, but undeniably the product of modern technology – what she imagined hunting cave men would have come up with if they had the tools.
Crystal flashed her a grin as the music hit them. During the trip here, they’d both been occupied with changing behind curtains that had risen from the floor of Crystal’s staging area. Isabel had asked a couple questions to try and get some idea of what – besides potentially deadly drinks – she should expect here, but Crystal hadn’t wanted to answer.
“Love, it’s not every day you get to see someone’s first impression of the Club of the Gods. Athena got that with Ryan, so I’m going to get it out of you.”
Isabel hoped she was enjoying the reaction as she realized her mouth was actually hanging open. She closed her jaw forcefully and returned the smile.
Crystal’s eyes sparkled. “I know, right? C’mon.” Crystal grabbed her hand and pulled her through the doorway, and Isabel just took a moment to let the sights wash over her, a beautiful and chaotic assault on the eyes.
The dancers were the first part that drew her attention, much like it once had done to her brother. However, when Ryan had first seen it, he’d noticed individual members of the throng. Isabel focused on the whole of it. The mass of…beings, since it was far too diverse a group to be called “people,” moved with a collective grace in tune with the music, to the point where the entire collection was almost its own living, breathing, dancing organism. It was almost hypnotic, and Isabel thought she could stand there for hours just watching the dance.
Crystal still seemed to enjoy watching her wide eyed fascination, so Isabel let herself drink the sights in a bit more. Eventually she spotted their companions. Anansi and Dainmu had already found partners and hit the dance floor, and Ryan and Athena were in conversation with a couple of individuals she didn’t recognize. A man in a suit, and a woman in a black dress with blood red wings.
Raising her free hand, she pointed them out to Crystal. “Who’re they?” She was afraid she’d have to shout over the music, but it came out clear and easily hearable, somehow. Must be something about the place – neat trick.
Crystal’s gaze followed the finger and she frowned. “I have a feeling I know. C’mon, love. You’re about to meet royalty.”
To Isabel’s disappointment, Crystal let go of her hand and they headed down the stairs and into the throng. A few beings gave Isabel odd looks as they passed. One, a pale man with fangs, licked his lips and took a step forward.
Before Isabel could even react, before she could even flinch, Crystal whirled in a fluid motion and placed herself between Isabel and what could only be a vampire. She planted her feet and uttered a single word, “No.”
The tone she used was what one might use to scold a puppy that was chewing on the corner of a carpet. The vampire initially bristled, baring its fangs. Crystal tilted her head up to meet his gaze and repeated, her tone showing a hint more annoyance. “No. She’s with me. Do you really want to tick me off?”
Maybe it was her tone, or maybe the vampire figured out what she was, but he suddenly slumped a bit and backed away. Crystal gave him a smile and motioned for Isabel to follow her again.
“Was that a vampire?” Isabel asked as they wove through the crowd.
“Yup!” Crystal said over her shoulder, “I wouldn’t worry about it though. Even if I hadn’t been here, he wouldn’t have tried anything. Empyrean Provocation is a no hunting zone. I just didn’t want you to have to deal with him.”
“Thanks then,” Isabel said, her stomach doing a slow flip-flop as she did. Maybe I should have a bit more to drink.
They finally found themselves at the bar behind Ryan and Athena.
“Ryan!” Crystal said brightly, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention.
Ryan turned and smiled at them. Isabel noted the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes – not nerves, knowing her brother, but distraction. “Hey!” He turned to the suited man sitting next to him. “Crystal, you remember Arthur?” She turned towards the man and gave him a regal nod of her head, which he returned. “Arthur, this is Isabel, my sister. Isabel, this is Arthur, current King of Hell, and the Lady Uriel of Hell.”
Unsure of what to do, Isabel gave an awkward bow. She wasn’t sure how to read the grin that it evoked from the suited man. “Charmed.” He offered a hand, and Isabel took it.
“So it’s true then? Lucifer is out, and you’re in charge now?” Isabel asked.
He nodded. “He’s super out. I’ve got his head on a pike outside of my citadel right now.” The winged woman next to him, who’s actually a freaking angel and apparently fell? Good God this place is too damn much, offered her hand as well, and Isabel shook it.
“Pleased to meet you,” Uriel said. “So you’ve heard of us? Through your brother or…”
Isabel shook her head. “I saw your Pope – sorry, Heresiarch – on TV. Half the planet has by now, I think.”
Uriel laughed lightly at that. “Arthur preached the gospel of good press early on,” she said, smiling pleasantly.
Arthur chuckled. “And it’s done wonders for us.” He glanced at the four gods, and Isabel got the sense he was studying them each, “Well, I did promise this lovely woman,” he took Uriel’s hand, “a good time tonight, and I just spent a chunk of time talking business, so I’ll take my leave. We’ll talk later, Ryan?”
Ryan nodded. “I’ll look forward to it. Glad we ran into each other.”
Goodbyes were said, and Isabel and Crystal slid into the seats the nobles of hell had vacated. “Business?” Crystal said immediately, her voice dangerously casual. “What business did you have with him? I thought our business with him was done, yeah?”
Athena stepped in, speaking for the first time since they arrived. “We’ll fill you in later, promise. But nothing to worry about – we didn’t promise your help without your permission again.”
Crystal relaxed at that last sentence. Isabel raised an eyebrow at Ryan. “You cut a deal with him, didn’t you? That’s where you got the demons from for that battle. Please tell me you didn’t sell your soul.”
Ryan shook his head. “I’m not as dumb as I look, Izzy,” he said with mock indignation.
Isabel snorted. “That’s a relief; otherwise I’d wonder how you remembered to breathe.”
He gave her a broad smile and an extended digit. “Thankfully, I don’t need to remember it anymore.”
She rolled her eyes, her own smile creeping across her face. “Oh, please, remind me again how awesome it is to be a god. ‘Oh, I don’t need to breathe!’ ‘Oh, I don’t need to use a bathroom, ever!’ ‘Oh, I can get my face shot off and give my sister a heart attack and be better the next day!'”
Crystal chuckled and Ryan shook his head. When she was sure neither of the two goddesses were looking her way, she mouthed “thank you” at Ryan, who gave her a thumbs up.
The sibling back and forth had been exactly what she’d needed to relax as the bartender walked up. Her skin was the grey of a storm, and Isabel tried not to stare at her antenna. “Crystal! What’ll it be?”
“Brigit, love, good to see you again!” Crystal ordered something Isabel didn’t recognize, and the bartender turned towards her. “And for you?”
“I’m just a mortal human!” Isabel blurted out, terrified of forgetting. Brigit nodded seriously.
“Well then, not often we get one of you lot in here. Do you want an armband so you don’t have to repeat that?”
Isabel extended her hand, “Thank you,” she said, as the band was slipped onto her wrist. “And I’ll have a margarita?”
“Sure thing lass. One mortal-safe margarita, coming up.”
Isabel leaned in towards Crystal. “Okay, I have to know – is it rude to ask what she is?”
Crystal grinned and adopted an airheaded tone. “Oh my god, Isabel, you can’t just ask people what they are!”
“No, seriously,” Isabel said after she got her laugher back under control.
Athena answered the question before Crystal could follow it up with another joke, “Most people here won’t mind. She, by the way, is an Aos Sí, the species that came before us.”
Crystal nodded, “I mentioned it had been a couple thousand years since I last had sentient life to talk to before I met Eve? They were what I was talking about.”
“Gotcha,” Isabel said as Brigit returned, handing them each their glasses. “Just flag me down if you need anything.” She headed towards the next customer, moving with the rapid but seemingly casual stride that was one of the secret tricks of bartenders and waiters of busy establishments.
Ryan leaned over. “So did you get everything taken care of?”
Isabel nodded. “And I saved a Moon Stone for you.”
“Yes,” Ryan said, drawing out the word with childish glee. Athena gave him a raised eyebrow. “Oh, no you can’t tell me you’ve never had a Moonburger?”
Athena shrugged. “Well, I unfortunately have not had the pleasure.”
“Okay,” Ryan said, after taking a swig of his beer. “We? Are going to fix that.”
“I…well, what is it?”
Isabel tuned them out as Ryan started expounding on the glories of Moonburger to Athena, instead turning to Crystal. “So, this is what gods do for fun? Come here and club it up?”
Crystal smiled. “Sometimes. More and more these days – it’s a good way to unwind.”
“Hey, no judgement,” Isabel said. She took a sip of her margarita, and then stared at the glass.
Crystal furrowed her brow. “Everything okay?”
Isabel held up the glass with only slightly overstated reverence. “This is the single best drink I’ve ever had.”
A burst of laughter came out of the goddess’ mouth. “Well, they serve actual gods and kings and lords and all that here. Only the best!”
“I … I just realized I don’t know if I can afford this drink.”
“Oh no,” Crystal shook her head. “You’re drinking on my tab tonight; feel free to get as obliterated as you want.”
Isabel looked at her, looked at the drink, and decided to show her appreciation by taking another long sip from it. “You really are a goddess,” she said, smiling.
“Absolutely.” Crystal waited for her to take another sip, and then, “Oh, love? I don’t recommend trying to get a hookup here. Once you’re out of the club we can’t guarantee your safety, and supernatural snogging can be dangerous.”
Isabel choked on her drink and coughed a few times as Crystal’s grin widened to Cheshire cat proportions. “You did that on purpose,” Isabel accused.
“Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Crystal raised a hand to her neck in a gesture of pure umbrage at the remark. “I would never attempt to,”
“Crystal!” Ryan said reproachfully, “stop trying to choke my sister!”
Isabel downed the rest of the drink to hide another flush as Crystal maintained the indignant facade.
She raised her hand to get Brigit’s attention for another drink. Yes, Isabel, the rational part of her mind piped up, because lowering your inhibitions could only improve the situation.
After considering that voice for a moment, Isabel decided that tonight, she’d ignore it and see what happened.