Ungodly: A Novel (The Goddess War)

 

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To Athena and Izzy, the two coolest teens at Centralia Library

 

PART I

THREE QUESTS

 

1

AT LARGE

The California coast. Soft, hot sand beneath her feet and an expanse of blue before her eyes. Cassandra pulled a deep breath in through her nose: dry heat, and oil from the fryer in the café behind her. A hint of engine exhaust, too, from somewhere, and underneath all the rest, barely detectable on the edges of the air, the smell of salt and deep, dark cold.

Deep, and dark. And blue. But I know what moves farther out underneath the currents. Behind the waves. I’ve seen their fins, and their lidless eyes. I’ve tasted their blood.

Her eyes tracked the water for ripples and shadows, but saw nothing. None of Poseidon’s Nereids, or Leviathans. Not even a shark. Nothing to wade into the shallows and meet, to fill her nose with fish and rot. Nothing for her to pop like a blister.

“It’s been months since your Aidan killed Poseidon. Maybe they’re gone. Dead, like him.”

Cassandra turned. Calypso bent over a wooden table, arms laden with red plastic baskets of French fries and turkey club sandwiches.
Dead like him,
she’d said. She meant dead like Poseidon, not dead like Aidan. But that’s what Cassandra heard. Her mouth opened, ready to spit out something bitter, to say Aidan wasn’t
her
Aidan. That he never had been. But he had belonged to her as much as any god could belong to anyone.

“If they were dead, they’d wash up on the beaches,” Cassandra said. “They’d be lined up for me to see. Black, bloated bodies to crack under the sun and be torn apart by seagulls.”

Calypso pushed a sandwich toward her.

“Their deaths on display for you. Their corpses for your approval. You think they owe you that, do you?”

“It doesn’t matter. They’re not dead.” Cassandra pulled a toothpick from the turkey club and pointed at a tomato. Calypso took it and added it to her own. They’d been on the road for a month, since Cassandra had dragged them both out of flooding Olympus. Only she’d taken a wrong turn. When they emerged on dry, cold dirt in the back of an anonymous cave, they had been hundreds of miles from Kincade, New York, and when they turned back, the cave wall was just a cave wall no matter how she’d tried to pry her way back inside. Olympus was gone. So she’d had to let Aphrodite and Ares go, while she growled and gritted her teeth and screamed loud enough to drown out Calypso’s wails for Odysseus. Odysseus, who lay ruined on rocks somewhere outside of time with Achilles’ sword through his chest.

And Athena is lying just as ruined right beside him.

She clenched her jaw. She hated that Odysseus’ death should be twisted through with a god’s, that hate spread thick and covered everything. Even him. Her friend. She tried to smile at Calypso.

“Thanks for the sandwich.”

“You’re welcome.” Calypso smiled back, and small wrinkles appeared beside her eyes. The skin of her face was softer, and drawn thinner. The price of Cassandra’s touch when she’d dragged her to safety. A streak of gray had appeared in her hair in the space of a blink inside the cave, just behind her ear, bright white against the brown waves. Now she kept it gathered together in one piece, and twisted it through a new braid. In the sun it looked shiny and separate, pretty as pulled taffy.

Calypso nodded toward Cassandra’s basket.

“You should eat more. You’re getting thin. And you need to sleep. You need to do something to sleep better.”

“We’re not going back,” Cassandra said. “And we’re not calling them. Not yet.”

“Not yet,” Calypso repeated. “They think you’re dead.”

“Not everyone. Not my parents.” When they left that cave in Texas, she decided she wasn’t going back to Kincade. Not to a mess and grief and confusion. Not to watch Hermes panic and try to regroup. She had work to do, the work of killing gods, and she wanted to do it alone. Or so she told herself. But the first time she had Internet access, she scoured the web for news from Kincade. Andie and Henry’s Twitter feeds were both jammed with speculation about why she’d run away. There was nothing else. The papers didn’t write up runaways. Only Andie and Henry thought she was dead. And so far they hadn’t let anyone else in on the suspicion.

“But your brother,” Calypso frowned. “And poor Andie.”

“They’ll understand. When it’s over.”
When all the gods are dead, and we have our lives back.

As if we could ever have our lives back.

Calypso raised her brows.

“You’d feel better if you called them.”

“No I wouldn’t. I’d feel heavy, and guilty, and I would miss them.”

“You miss them anyway. At least if you spoke to them you might have some comfort.”

“The only thing that comforts me—the only thing that gives me an ounce of comfort—is the thought of Hera sinking like a stone in that underwater cave.” Cassandra threw a tomato onto her napkin. “I hear the sound of it, the
clink, clink, clink
of her body against the bottom. I hear it in my dreams, and I sleep like an angel.”

“You don’t sleep at all.”

The nymph’s steady eyes hung on her, heavy and so damn thorough. An almost constant irritant these days. Calypso saw everything. Half the time it felt like she could read Cassandra’s mind.

“It’s almost time to go,” Cassandra said. “Are you sure he’ll be there?”

Calypso glanced at her watch and brushed crumbs from her palms.

“Yes. If he wants to keep my friendship. Which he does.”

“Good.” She watched Calypso clear the baskets and discarded napkins without trying to help. She would’ve only been batted away. Calypso acted very much like a servant sometimes.

Cassandra frowned. It would have been nicer to have a friend.

“You don’t have to do everything, you know.”

“Yes, I do,” Calypso said.

“You pay, and you’re helping. You’re not a slave. And I shouldn’t snap at you all the time.”

Calypso stopped, and crunched an aluminum can of Fanta in her fist.

“Cassandra. Don’t forget your promise. Our bargain.”

Cassandra lowered her eyes. “I won’t.”

“Look at me when you say so.”

“Okay. I won’t.”

“Say it again.”

The gravity of those green eyes held her up and down all at once. But Cassandra did as she was asked.

“You’ll help me. And when all the work is done, and the gods are dead, I’ll kill you, too.”

 

2

POST-OLYMPUS

Andie was a master at lugging grocery bags. She looped plastic over her wrists and hugged paper to her chest and was altogether blind by the time she started making her way toward the door. Hermes watched from the window. He could’ve helped of course, but it was early April, and the ice on the walk had melted so it wasn’t like she was going to fall. He did open the door, though, when he heard her start to grunt.

“Andie.”

“I saw you in the window, lazy ass. You want to start doing your own shopping?” She threw a bag into his chest. It appeared to be filled with nothing but Oreos and E.L. Fudge cookies. “There’s a lot here, and more in the backseat. If you supplement with Stanley’s Wok, maybe it’ll last you a week.”

The five bags wouldn’t last three days, but Hermes smiled at her anyway.

“You know I’d be just as happy ordering pizza.”

“You would not,” she said, walking into the kitchen. “There are some super fatty steaks in here.” She dug them out and put them in the refrigerator. “So don’t argue.”

“Henry coming over later?” he asked. “We could put some of those on the grill. Have a feast.” He almost didn’t need to ask. Since Olympus, Andie and Henry barely gave him five minutes to himself. As if he were the one who needed looking after.

Andie shook her head.

“He’s with his parents. For the duration, I think.”

“It won’t be much longer before they’ll want real answers.”

“It won’t be long until we’ll have them. Until they’ll be back. Right?” She paused her unpacking and looked at him with big eyes over a box of cereal.

“Right,” he said, and turned away so she wouldn’t see the falsity on his face. Around his eyes. Around his mouth. He was usually a much better liar.

But this time they should know the truth. That I don’t know what I’m doing. That I’m not sure if we’ll ever see Athena or Cassandra again.

It was easy enough at first to pass off the story that Cassandra, Athena, and Odysseus had taken off together. To Cabo, or Cancun. In the months preceding, Cassandra had become enough of a delinquent for her parents to buy it. But then weeks passed and they didn’t come back, and concern slowly burned into panic.

“Tom was here again today,” he said. “Asking if I’d heard from my sister.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That Athena left a message a few days ago.” He swallowed. “I made it sound like it’s all about Aidan. That Cassandra had to get away for awhile.”

Andie pulled her black hair back over her shoulder. “That’s good. But don’t sound so guilty when you say it. You’re saving their skins. When they come back they’ll thank you.”

“They’re not all coming back. Odysseus is dead. Remember?”

Andie paused less than a second before stacking boxes of cookies next to the microwave. Sometimes Hermes wondered if she had come to believe the Cabo story just as much as Henry and Cassandra’s parents.

“I want to go over for awhile and see how Henry’s doing,” she said. “You’ll be all right here, won’t you?”

“I’m a god,” Hermes said. “I think I can hold my own for an evening. It should be me following you around everywhere, making sure Ares or the Fates don’t pop up and squish you like mosquitoes.”

Andie gestured vaguely around the empty kitchen.

“I know. It’s just that—you’re all alone. Without her here. And—” Her eyes flickered over his emaciated body. “I don’t want you to get bored and skip town. It’s one more week until spring break. Then we can go find Demeter, and she’ll lead us to Cassandra and Athena. I don’t want anything to happen before then.”

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