“They’re fighting for their lives – and ours – right now. And you want to do nothing?” Artemis had to fight the urge to scream those last words, hissing them through clenched teeth instead. The megaron was in chaos. Everyone was clamoring to shout over each other. It was less a congress of the gods and more of an ill tamed mob.
“-tore Hermes apart, and you-“
“-don’t know what he wants, an agreement could be-“
“-fighting Athena, he can’t be that bad in-“
“-what about the human sacrifice, we can’t ignore-“
Poseidon sat in on the throne, watching and listening, although his attention was focused on Artemis. “I didn’t say I wanted to do nothing. I just said that we should consider all options.”
“Our defenses won’t hold forever, Poseidon. You know that as well as I do.” Hearing the sea god over the din was hard enough. “And we have traitors in our midst. Moloch will get through, be it brute force or treachery. “
“I find your evidence for other traitors…lukewarm, at best. Hera was misguided, and by your own admittance, Ares only said he ‘talked to other gods.’ Assuming he was telling the truth, that doesn’t mean they agreed with him, or that they’ll go ahead with their plan absent Ares.”
“Fine!” Artemis couldn’t prevent herself from snapping. Poseidon sounded so reasonable, so logical, so calm. He also sounded completely wrong. “He will still wear us down, Poseidon. Even if there aren’t traitors, which I disagree with, you can’t deny that. We don’t have the fields, our Hungers will claim us before Moloch wears out.”
Poseidon nodded. “Which is why I’m not suggesting we sit inactive. However, we cannot just blindly rush out to join in the fight.”
The general clamor behind them was getting louder. Artemis glanced over. Apollo was shouting directly in Heracles face. Demeter was gesticulating firmly as she tried to make her points to Hephaestus, whatever they were. Aphrodite was in a huddled conversation with Dionysus, being relatively quiet – which just meant they weren’t shouting.
“We aren’t blind,” Artemis growled. “There’s an army of horrors on our doorstep. We’re the opposite of blind, we can see them through the damn window! Why won’t you act?”
Poseidon frowned, and Thalassa leaned in, putting a hand on Poseidon’s shoulder. “Artemis, we are not convinced we should be aiding Moloch’s adversaries. They are the ones with a stated goal of ending the world.”
Artemis took a deep breath. “One group brought an army to our doorstep. The other is fighting against that army. And you think we should be more worried about the latter?”
“There is the matter of Earth,” Poseidon began, but before he could continue Artemis cut in.
“Earth? You pretend we suddenly care about what happens on Earth? None of us have set foot upon our home in hundreds of years. We abandoned Olympus, we abandoned Earth. Only Hades and Athene remained free! Now you claim you care about Earth? It’s an excuse, Poseidon, and you know it.”
Poseidon sighed and looking over at Thalassa, who was frowning. Snippets of conversation began to reach Artemis’ ears in the silence.
“-die if we try-“
“-he’s crushing nanoverses out there-“
“-just felled an angel, how strong is-“
Artemis’ eyes narrowed as Poseidon and Thalassa sat there. “The do something. Anything! Just stop sitting there. Restore order!”
Poseidon nodded and stood up. “Silence!” he bellowed, his voice echoing through the megaron.
One by one, like the last drops of a passing rainstorm, the gods fell silent.
When Poseidon continued, his tone was calmer, more level. “I understand how hard this is. It’s a situation we’ve never faced before – we’ve never faced a foe where we could not be sure of victory. Even when we warred against the Aesir, we believed our victory was assured. Artemis and I both agree we cannot remain behind our defenses indefinitely. Can all present agree with us on that?”
Artemis scanned the crowd as they hesitantly nodded. Now that they weren’t shouting at each other, Athena could see the looks on their faces. The furrowed brows, the clasped hands.
Moloch had managed to strike fear into the hearts of the gods of Olympus.
“Excellent,” Poseidon continued, stepping forward magnanimously. “Artemis believes that we should go out and aid Moloch’s aggressors. Athena. Ishtar. A man calling himself Eschaton, a man who willingly names himself the End Times, and others.” Artemis noted he had glossed over Dianmu, who had little to do with the gods of Olympus, and Anansi, who most of them at least liked. “It is a heroic goal. A noble goal. A goal worthy of Achilles.”
Poseidon paused for effect, and Artemis was sure she was beaten. Everyone remembered the death of Achilles. Poseidon was calm, rational, and eloquent. Everything the Olympians loved in a god. I can’t out orate him, Athena thought, searching the crowd for anyone seeing they were being played.
None showed it on their faces.
“I commend Artemis for her heroism. Especially since Artemis has long said she does not want glory. That she does not want power. Artemis has told you all how much she only wants to protect those who need it. It is noble for one whose goals are so altruistic to be willing to lead such a glorious charge.”
Artemis bit back the urge to roll her eyes. Surely the other gods could see though what he was doing. And yet…she noticed Hercules looking at her with narrowed eyes. Aphrodite tapping her chin. I know you all saw Shakespeare! We haven’t been gone for that long. Don’t tell me you’re falling for this!”
Poseidon evidently felt he’d made his point, and changed tactics. “Is it that hard to believe that those who come to fight the monster at our gates are here as friends? Even when they keep such distasteful company?” Poseidon nodded to himself. “And yet…I wonder. I wonder why Moloch has come to our gates. I wonder why he felt driven to attack us. I disagree with Artemis on one point. I do not believe that because we have withdrawn from the world, we should stop concerning ourselves over its fate.”
Mutters through the crowd, and all Artemis could do was clench her hands. That’s not what I meant. That’s not even close to what I meant! But if she tried to explain it away, it would just confuse matters.
“We all received the Curators messages, from both Enki and Ishtar – though she called herself Crystal. Both spoke of the end of the world. In this, both sides are agreed. We decided to sit here, to wait, and to see what happened. We dismissed the warning as mere folly. So why, then, would Moloch turn aside from his course? Why would Moloch come all this way to attack us?”
Poseidon leaned forward. “I posit that Moloch misunderstood our withdrawal. I believe that Moloch took umbrage at us believing we could sit out the end of the world. I think that the monster at our gate is not the one that attacked us who heard of the end of the world and did nothing, but that the monster is those that would seek to end the world! I posit that our best course of action is to treat with Moloch, and aid him against his foes.”
The mass of gods were nodding, and Artemis felt her heart sink. Poseidon’s points were flawed. Artemis knew that. But they were presented well, they were logically reasoned, and more importantly they took away that fear.
Poseidon stepped aside to allow Artemis to make her counterpoint.
Bastard. Artemis stepped forward. She couldn’t match him for wits. She definitely wasn’t his equal with words.
So she reached for the weapon she had always been best at and drew her bow. The Olympians gasped as she knocked an arrow and fired it at a statue at the back of the room, striking it in the neck. It stuck into the marble, quivering. “One arrow does nothing,” she said quietly into the silence that followed. In quick succession, Artemis drew and fired four more. Each one hummed to their target, quivering in the stone when they impacted. “Four arrows do nothing.”
Then Artemis began to empty her quiver, shooting as fast as she ever had before, each arrow striking the neck of the marble statue or driving another of the arrows deeper. All of Olympus watched in absolute silence as Artemis emptied her bow until finally, with her last arrow, the statue’s head was severed. They all held their breaths as it began to shake on the statues shoulder, a breath that was not released until the head fell to the ground and shattered.
We don’t even need to breathe, but old habits die hard. Artemis waited until the statue finished ringing. “With an entire quiver, even arrows can break marble. And we are not mere arrows. We are gods! We have not acted as one against a threat this great.”
“We shut ourselves away from the world. We do not know what is happening, why Moloch is attacking. In this, Poseidon is right. But you do not believe him because he speaks rationality. He speaks to your fear. He thinks you cowards, and wishes to prey upon that cowardice.”
“I am afraid too. I swear it by any and every oath you may wish me to swear. I. Am. Afraid. And yet if we go out there to fight the obvious evil, to fight the man who brought an army to our doors – ” Artemis gestured with her bow towards the headless statue, “we will have him by the throat.”
Artemis turned to Posiedon, and found it in herself to smirk, “And if you think I do this for glory, I do not expect to find any. After all,” she dropped her bow to the floor, “I’m out of arrows.”
Artemis waited for a few more seconds of silence, taking deep breaths as she did, an old habit that still calmed her nerves. I’ve done what I could. Before someone else could break the silence, she bowed to Posiedon. “I do believe it’s time for a vote, don’t you?”
This time, the hall remained silent.
Small Worlds Book 1: Weird Theology is now available for preorder. More information here.