T.D. Thomas
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.Hera, Queen of Gods
Book 1 of “Goddess Unbound”
October 2, 2012

CHAPTER ONE


“Come on,” she begged, batting her eyelashes.

It was a little overdone, but what did I know about seducing a man? Definitely not my area of expertise, which was why I was watching and she was doing.

“It’ll be fun,” she assured him. “I swear.”

She reached out and took the hands of the guy sitting across from her. He was plain and lanky, more than a little awkward--he hadn’t grown into all of his parts yet. Some were too big, some were too small. He was all out of proportion.

He wouldn’t have been my choice, but he seemed healthy. He would do.

A girl had never touched him this way before. Except in his dreams. Through the top of his T-shirt, I could see the red creep up his chest, then his neck, and finally his face. She was so very close now. He wouldn’t last much longer. I could feel it. But to my surprise, and barely-contained fury, he shook his shaggy head stubbornly.

“I don’t get it,” he said, yet again.

Deep down, he wanted to do it. I could tell. He wanted to make the girl happy. He wanted her to keep touching him. So why was he resisting?

“You’re telling me that I just repeat what’s on the screen and suddenly, like magic, I get into any fraternity in the country?” he continued dubiously. “That’s not even possible. It doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t even been accepted to any colleges yet.”

“I already told you.” She tried her best to sound casual. The best lies were casual. “Some rich, old nutjob created this scholarship program. He was totally obsessed with Greek mythology or something. I don’t know the details. I guess he figured that by making up this game, he would get seniors to learn something. Anyway, he was super important, and he donated piles of cash to schools all over. He can make things happen. Trust me.”

Damn. We needed a better lie. That sounded weak, even to me. Then again, it’d worked so far. But each person we used it on seemed to resist a little more than the last.

Still, she wasn’t giving up. She couldn’t. We needed him. So she smiled and slowly slid her hands up and down his legs. His blush deepened.

“I . . . it still seems like a prank to me,” he confessed.

“Hey, I’m just trying to do you a favour.” She changed tack quickly, going on the offensive. Brilliant.

“Is this why you’ve been acting weird lately?” he accused suddenly, avoiding her smoldering gaze. That couldn’t have been easy. “This . . . program?”

“Yeah,” she lied. “To do this thing, you have to really get into it. You know, do some acting. You can’t just say the words. I mean, anyone could lie and say they said some stuff just to get the scholarship money. So, the real trick is, after saying the words, you actually have to play the part of the god you choose. You have to act it out. For real. It all has to be documented.”

“And you have to get other people to join,” he guessed.

Sharper than I’d given him credit for. Hopefully that wouldn’t make things harder for us. He was the last one, and waiting was driving me crazy.

I turned to look at Zeus next to me. Turned, and tilted my head up. Way up. Even in this mortal body, he was enormous. Overgrown.

“This is taking too long,” I said. “Just let me use my powers on him.”

“You know you can’t, Hera,” Zeus rumbled, as he watched the conversation mere inches away from us.

“You didn’t argue when I used my powers to make us invisible to him,” I pointed out, waving my hand in front of the mortal’s face.

The poor guy didn’t react. He saw nothing. I could’ve punched him right in the face, and he wouldn’t have seen it coming. Frankly, a part of me was tempted to do just that. Very tempted. I had many virtues. Patience wasn’t one of them.

“He has to recite the oath of his own free will,” Zeus reminded me. “Just let Athena do her thing.”

He was right, of course. I’d known that before I’d even opened my mouth. I was just angry. I hated waiting. I never had to wait. Queens do not wait.

I turned my attention back to Athena, who was still caressing the mortal, listening to him babble about some mortal nonsense none of us could care any less about.

“Can’t you hurry this up?” I demanded.

To her credit, Athena didn’t even react. She kept her focus on the mortal, smiling slightly, letting her eyes captivate him. She was so patient. She never rushed. She never gave in to emotion, not even anger. I envied that about her.

“He’ll give in. Don’t worry,” Demeter assured me. “Just be patient.”

I gritted my teeth. Not that she could see, stuck as she was behind Zeus and me. I wasn’t a fan of optimism. In my experience, it led inevitably to disappointment, and I really couldn’t stand disappointment. But Demeter was my sister. And I loved her. Even when she was annoying me.

“Look, what’s the worst that could happen?” Athena said. “You say some stuff, nothing happens, I’m a big liar, you never have to talk to me again. Ever. But if I’m right? Major payoff. It’s so worth it.”

It was a winning argument. I watched his defences crumble. No one could lay a siege like Athena. From the mightiest stronghold to the smallest mortal, it was all the same to her. Minor obstacles next to her vast intellect.

“So, I just say these things?” he asked, reading the screen again.

“You just say those things,” she agreed. “Your life will never be the same. I promise.”

I smiled.

With one last, nervous look at Athena, the guy recited:

I, of my own free will,

Invite and invoke the most ancient of gods

To inhabit my flesh

To take me as their instrument

To use me as their tool

To do with me what they will.

A cat, which had been sitting petrified on the bed, staring at me, let out an ear-splitting scream and dashed between Zeus’s legs and out the bedroom door.

“Oh, no! Don’t be afraid, kitty!” Demeter’s voice trailed off as she ran after the terrified animal.

The mortal had gone deathly pale. “That was weird,” he whispered.

He was spooked. But Athena was quick. She got up from her chair and stood behind him, pressing against his back, her hands ever-so-nonchalantly resting next to his neck, fingertips gently stroking.

“Exciting, isn’t it?” she breathed softly in his ear. “Keep going.”

Even I believed Athena’s performance. Damn, she was good. But, then again, that’s why we’d chosen her for this.

“Yeah,” he squeaked. He took a moment to collect himself and deepen his voice. “Sure.”

He continued reading:

By the River Styx,

By the deepest hells and highest heavens,

By all that was, is, or ever shall be holy,

Take me.

Use me.

Do with me what you will.

There was a clap of thunder. It was so loud and close that the house actually shook. I worried that the mortal might run off before we were finished.

Sure enough, he jumped out of his chair.

“What was that?” he demanded, his eyes wild.

“I don’t know,” Athena lied. “Must be some kinda storm.” She let a grin slowly spread across her face. “Kinda freaky, eh?”

The guy looked at her sparkling, mischievous eyes. He let out a forced laugh. “Kinda.”

He was trying his best to sound calm.

“Wanna keep going?” Athena asked, sitting down and patting the chair next to her. “Or do you wanna stop?”

He slid down into the seat next to her. Her smile widened. He was like a fish on a hook.

His brow furrowed as he examined the screen.

“What do you mean ‘keep going’?” he asked after a moment. “I read everything on there.”

Athena put on her guiltiest look.

“Don’t be mad,” she began. “There is one other, teeny-tiny thing.”

He let out a breath. “I knew it! I knew that couldn’t be it. Is this a cult or something? Are you trying to convert me?”

“Oh, my god, as if!” Athena laughed. It sounded so genuine. “Do I look religious to you?”

“I don’t know,” he replied uncomfortably.

Before he could say anything, Athena slipped off her sweater to reveal a small, tight tank top, and bent over to rifle through her backpack, exposing her impressive cleavage. She pulled out a thermos from her bag.

“I’m not a religious nut, so don’t worry,” she promised, unscrewing the thermos and pouring some of its contents into the lid.

He jerked away, covering his nose with one hand. “What is that? It reeks.”

“It’s the finishing touch,” Athena answered, lifting the lid to his face.

“Keep that away from me.” He waved it away. “It smells nasty.”

“Look, it’s part of the whole ritual or whatever,” she explained. “Probably some weird Greek thing. I don’t know. But you have to drink it. If you don’t, I can’t initiate you into the program, and you don’t get the scholarship. And I can’t lie for you. If they ever found out, they’d boot me. And I’m not taking that chance. A quick swallow, and it’s over, I swear. I did it. We’ve all done it.”

“I am not drinking that,” he swore vehemently.

“But you’ve come so far.” Athena pouted. “Besides, you have to be a little curious. I mean, I was.”

But Athena obediently pulled back the cup. She never used force. She was far too smart for that.

Silence.

“What’s in it?” he finally asked, looking at the lid out of the corner of his eye.

“A bunch of stuff,” Athena replied. “Herbs, mostly. Stuff I’ve never heard of. You’re not scared of some New Age-y herbal crap, are you?”

“I’m not scared: I’m just not stupid,” he replied hotly.

“What if I drink it first?” Athena offered.

“Athena, no!” Zeus warned.

She ignored him. I felt a small surge of pleasure at that. They were normally so inseparable.

“Would you drink it then?” Athena pressed, keeping her voice innocent and light. “If I drank first?”

“Maybe,” the guy answered cautiously.

Athena patted his thigh, letting her touch linger a bit longer than necessary.

“If I’m going to drink this--for the second time in my life--you have to drink it, too,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. It is kinda nasty.”

More silence.

He was considering. It felt like forever. I held my breath until I couldn’t take it any longer. I wasn’t used to breathing. I was probably doing it wrong.

“Fine,” he said at last, eyeing first Athena and then the glossy package of official-looking brochures she’d brought with her. A little evidence to support our lie about the scholarship program. Not that we really needed it. Mortals would believe almost anything these days. Especially if they wanted to. And when it came to getting something for free, they always wanted to.

But a few convincing props never hurt.

“On three, I drink. Then you drink right after,” Athena said.

With a sigh, and an overly dramatic face, Athena tipped the thermos into her mouth. She immediately thrust the cup at the guy as she playfully swished the liquid in her cheeks, making a show of waiting for him. He took the lid and drank.

“Actually that wasn’t half bad,” the guy admitted. “Once you get past the smell, it kinda tastes like . . .”

Athena spit out the liquid onto the carpet.

The guy’s eyes widened. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, he began to seize. Violently. He flew off his chair and landed on the floor, convulsing.

“Hold him,” I ordered Zeus. “We don’t want him damaging the body. We don’t have time to find another one.”

Zeus obediently knelt and easily restrained the mortal with his massive bulk. Eventually, the tremors stopped.

“Do you think it worked?” he asked, worried.

“Of course it worked,” I shot back. Stupid question. “It always works.”

But in my heart, I was unsure. I didn’t like being unsure. It virtually never happened to me. At least, not when I was in my real form. A god.

And then the mortal opened his eyes.

Those were unmistakably Hermes’s laughing, golden eyes.

“Welcome to the land of the living, my friend!” Zeus roared, hauling Hermes to his feet in one effortless motion.

Zeus didn’t bother to hide his joy. Those two were attached at the hip. Two of a kind, bringing trouble with them wherever they went. But not this time. They’d keep their focus, given what we were here for. I’d make sure of that. Someone had to after all. And like all jobs that needed to get done, that someone had to be me.

Hermes bowed with a flourish. “Your Divine Majesties.”

I ignored him.

“Good work,” I told Athena. I hated to admit it to her, Zeus’s favourite, but it was good work. And I never lied.

Athena inclined her head deeply in respect. And probably in acknowledgement of how difficult it was for me to compliment her. She had no illusions about how I felt about her. Possibly because I made no real effort to hide it.

“Let’s go,” I ordered. “We’re all here now. And we don’t have time to waste.”

“The twins haven’t found them yet?” Hermes asked, as we walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs. “It’s already been a week. I thought . . .”

“We wouldn’t have summoned you if they had,” Athena pointed out.

“Good point,” Hermes laughed. “Stupid question. I blame the mortal brain.”

“Enough,” I said, as I opened the front door and led them outside. “We have missing Fates to find.”