Son of WarbyOctavianEarth©
Jupiter stared at me. The seconds ticked like an eternity. I could feel the storms in his eyes weighing my words with a surgeon's care. "You have one day, and one night. If the mortals are not cleansed by that time, or if the chaos within him is set loose, he will have to be destroyed."
"I will not fail, Sir."
I don't remember walking home, but I do remember the centurions massing in every open space. Where only hours before there were drunken couplings, now there were cogs of my father's machine. It had been millennia since the Trojan war, and the advancements in weaponry and tactics had progressed in ways I could never have dreamed. I felt so cold, numb, and sick that I staggered at times. I wanted nothing more than to drink from Bacchus' cup and never stop.
As I stepped upon the threshold of my home, Psyche was waiting. After watching the massing armies from our windows, she was quick to seek any answers I might have. I admit that I had a fleeting temptation before I spoke to her to repeal my plea to Jupiter: what was the worth of two mortals, anyway? I could let Jack be struck down and be done with it. Mortals were multiplying across the universe, in droves in some cases. Their species were amassing in greater numbers than ever before. What could really be lost from two small lives... But then again, I left Dido to his own devices. The gods took sides in that 'mortal' war. Even the words of my mother echoed in my thoughts. 'If you regard a task as worthwhile, even once, then it is never a waste of time.' I sighed, and then told Psyche everything as I knew it to be true.
"What will you do?" She asked.
"I don't know. I will go to Jack first; he is the most dangerous and I fear, the most difficult to convince."
"Then I will go to Karen. I'll see to it that no harm comes to her until you arrive."
I remember opening my mouth to speak, to ask her what she was talking about, but Psyche already turned toward the door. Her dressing gown dissolved in her wake in favor of a clean black business suit. The last thing I saw before she disappeared was the faintest trace of a white blouse as her hair pooled itself up in a style that left her neck exposed for my lips.
I tore my eyes from the doorway long enough to lift my bow and quiver from its cradle and then followed after her. War drums were churning up and down the streets as soldiers lined up before the storm gates. In every courtyard, orders were being shouted into the fray as marching feet receded into peoples darkest fantasies. Nightmares were becoming real, and I was already wasting borrowed time.
How Psyche knew where Karen was, I did not question. Jealousy, perhaps. Maybe even a deep intuition, but I dared not become distracted. I raced to the outcrop where Olympus hovered in the night sky and looked out toward Nexus. I waited until I could see the city where Jack lived and tried not to listen to the sounds of the Pantheon behind me. It took several long moments before I saw a glimpse of him, and before I lost sight of him again I leapt into the darkness. My wings burst from by back and grew during my descent until they were easily twice my height. With as strong a thrust as I could manage, I pushed myself toward the mortal worlds. Light shimmered around me for an instant, and I felt a rush of speed as I flew between gravitational vortexes, maneuvered between stellar shifts and came racing toward a pinprick of light that grew steadily into a massive solar system. Three suns danced in a swan song at the system's core. I swerved from the light in time to see Nexus speed past. I ground to a halt and my wings kept me locked in place while I watched the world turn beneath me. I looked out toward the darkness of space and knew I could still turn back; I could still call Psyche home and help tend the wounded that I knew were already coming back to Olympus. This should have been the finest hour of a rising hero, not the frenzied reconciliation of a small god.
I saw Jack on the surface, one ember in a city of a million souls. That was why I stayed. One believer. Planet-wide there may have only been enough to count on one hand if I searched hard enough. Belief was what kept gods alive. Even one believer who fell to darkness would weaken everything we had left. I folded my wings flat on my back and descended like a falling star. When I touched the ground, I felt my robes fold in upon myself as my wings collapsed and disappeared. My thoughts reached out for Jack's, and I felt him respond almost instantly. I didn't wait; I just turned toward him and started running.
Mortals have always had the uncanny ability to see what they wanted to. Only rarely did any of them see what is really there. Children were of course the easiest to appear before because they haven't yet learned how to tune us out. They haven't been scripted into what their society wants them to believe, or been blinded by their own brand of magic: science. Logic replaced religion eons ago but it was just as ironclad as the most inflammatory of religious texts. Defy logic, and you defied a forward-thinking society. When I ran past people on the street, some saw me as a common jogger, others as a thief, and to children I appeared as I truly was, robed in the garb of Olympus carrying my bow, with a quiver strapped to my back.
To Jack, I looked like a courier. He paused halfway from his cab to the front door of his office building when he caught sight of me running up the sidewalk. I could already tell he was having a bad morning from the way the creature driving his cab told him to have a nice day. Jack recoiled from a long, thick tentacle that offered him his change.
The glow over the center of Jack's chest radiated with a curious intensity that I could only assume was a leftover part of Somnus. My arrows rarely left mortals looking like contaminated radiation victims. The more pressing concern I had though, was why he was even standing here in the first place. He was ready to go to work instead of the shuttle-port looking to meet up with Karen.
I decided to play to his senses first. "Excuse me, sir?" I said, and jogged the last few paces.
He hesitated and I felt the clothes around my body morph in time with his perception of me. I went through a dozen different sets of clothes before he recoiled and ran straight into the lobby. I sighed, and then saw a three-headed zebra appear out of the ether and start to walk down the center of the street. It dawned on me that I might have made a poor choice in coming. I let Jack get a good head start before I followed him. I knew where he was going, where he sat, when he got his coffee, and...who he was having a meeting with this morning.
I smiled, despite myself, but I still needed a few minutes to think. I followed the morning crowd to the stairwell instead of the elevators and slipped between the brain-numbed masses. I climbed a half dozen steps with each stride and even made my way up thirty seven floors without bumping into anyone. While it would have been easier to just follow Jack right in, I didn't want to spook him past the point of reason. By moving slower, it gave him time to relax into his routine.
I also realized I only had one real strategy to make Jack realize what True Love was, and that was to show him what True Love wasn't. For every thousand arrows in my quiver, only one was golden. The rest were steel. It was a testament to the rarity of True Love over raw lust. Jack had never experienced either one, at least not as far as I could tell. It was true that he felt True Love now because of my arrow, but he didn't know what it meant or who it was meant for. Again, I wasn't able to show him that. At least not without bringing Karen here and if the creature behind the wheel of his cab was any indication, Jack had no idea how his fears were manifesting or why. Showing Karen to him now without establishing some kind of hold on Jack's mind could be disastrous. He and I needed to talk first, without giving him a chance to run away.
It was barely after nine in the morning by the time I reached his office floor. The usual morning stupor was controlling everyone and the walkways and cubicles were full of quiet chattering. Jack headed for the far end of the hall with a steaming mug in his hand. He set his briefcase on his desk, and looked over his shoulder at every loud noise. I shook my head, and let myself fade from mortal view. I kept my distance as he made his arrangements for the meeting, collected his notes, and placed a few calls. At nine thirty, I followed him and a small group of drones into one of the meeting rooms that flanked the hall and stood sentinel from the back corner.
I listened for the sound of the door closing, and then silently locked it with a thought. And since the conversation I needed to have with Jack was...confidential, I also lowered the shade on the small window. To further ensure we got the privacy I wanted, I erased the room from the minds of the mortals outside. Now to do it permanently would have required monumental concentration and skill that I simply did not possess. But to compel a few dozen mortals to look the other way for an hour or so: time enough for passion to overrule common sense? Well, that wasn't very difficult at all. Under my influence, the room and the mortals within would simply not appear in anyone's thoughts for awhile.
Jack unknowingly did his part by staying focused on his presentation, and it did seem to calm his nerves quite a bit. There were distant echoes of things stirring all over the building, but they were just sleeping shadows now instead of turning into three-headed zebras that walked down the middle of the street. Jack showed confidence, was decisive, and commanded the attention of his audience: three men wearing similar dark blue suits like his own, and five women dressed equally ready for long, successful careers. I waited for him to really get into the heart of his presentation before I stopped time with the snap of my fingers. The second I did, I felt my clothes shift again. My casual exercise clothes morphed into black slacks and a wrinkled black button down shirt. With nothing else. I wiggled my bare toes against the thin carpet.
"Really, Jack?" I said, and straightened up off the wall. "Anything at all, and you make me look like a CEO with a bad hangover?" I set my bow aside and connected the loose buttons of my shirt.
"Oh my god, what the hell is going on?" he tripped over his feet and stumbled backward. His eyes were wide with shock as he stared at the men and women in front of him. I could sense the sleeping bits of shadows I felt earlier in the building start to wake up.
"Just relax..." I said, holding my hands up. "No one wants to hurt you. Believe it or not, I'm here to help."
"What...?" He pointed a shaking hand to his coworkers. "What did you do to them?"
"I just needed to talk to you, Jack. Just talk. It's about what happened last night while you were asleep..."
I stopped walking toward him because he stopped backing up. The wall kept him from disappearing, at least for now. If I pushed him too far too fast, his grip on reality might have erupted like a volcano. Stopping that roller coaster once it started would have been difficult at best.
"How do you know about that?" He asked softly. He started to sweat and I could almost hear the beating of his heart.
"Because it was my fault, Jack. It wasn't on purpose, and I know you're probably scared out of your mind about now...but I can help."
"What? No, I mean... how?"
"I've been in your shoes before. It was a long time ago, but I know the feeling. You feel something here in your chest, wrapped around your soul. Like a longing you can't explain. You feel it inside you with all of your heart. It's Love, Jack. You do believe in True Love, don't you?"
"What? Of course, but..." He blinked like he was trying to shake a bad dream out of his head. "A zebra was waiting at the bus terminal this morning. It was wearing a coat and tie! So I just took a cab, and then the driver turned into a...a...."
"Monster, yes. But he did have exact change, so he can't have been all bad."
His attention and frustrations rounded on me. "Wha...you think this is funny? I'm losing my damned mind, for what, so you can have a laugh?"
"Not at all." I said softly. "It just proves that even in your nightmares you still have control of your principles. At least for now."
"What does that make you, then? My conscience?"
I laughed; I couldn't help it. "Conscience? No. But this might be where things can get a bit complicated. My name is Cupid, Jack."
Looking back on it, that was our turning point. Once he heard my name all he could think about were the cherubs, the paintings, and the holiday cards with the little hearts all over them. That little twist of history was one I would have loved to talk Saturn into letting me go back and change. Just mentioning St. Valentine's name in the same breath as my own was enough to make me want to put an arrow into someone, and not the good kind. Granted, Jack handled it fairly well. At least if you considered that I was the one who stopped time and was armed with a bow.
A moment of silence hung in the air. "You don't look like Cupid."
"You dressed me this way, not me."
"My god, this isn't happening, this isn't happening..." He leaned against the wall and put his head in his hands.
"Jack, I do know how you feel. I've felt the longing you feel right now. But this-" I said waving my hand at the room, trying to encompass the whole building, even the whole planet, "won't bring you peace. Karen is waiting for you, but not here."
He looked up at the sound of her name. "Who's 'Karen'?"
"She's the one, Jack. The One. True Love. Just now, with the mention of her name you felt it pull at your soul."
He suddenly looked uncomfortable. "But in my dream..." Jack flushed with embarrassment. It took me a second, but then I understood.
"Ah, I see. You were having one of the most powerful dreams you've ever had, and then I intervened." I sighed, "Jack, that wasn't love. And it certainly wasn't True Love."
He had shock written all over his face when he looked up at me again. He thought I was reading his mind somehow and he looked a smidgen more than scandalized. "How would you know?"
I smiled at him in a way I hoped wasn't lecherous, but knowing me, it might have been. "Because I know the difference between lust, love, and True Love." I reached back and snatched my bow before he could even blink and stepped along the side of his coworkers. I pulled a steel arrow from the quiver and drew back.
"What the hell are you doing?" He yelled and started to move, but to stop me or stand in the way, I wasn't sure. The arrow went right through the first man. His dark hair was trimmed short, and his clean face had lines at the corners of his mouth. The faintest tan line was visible beneath his wedding band. The two women to his right, a short brunette with a full figure and a thin redhead with gold earrings each had arrows pass through their necks before sticking into a chair. I side-stepped a rather stunned-looking Jack and drew one arrow after another. The bolts crisscrossed between the men and women seated in front of him and when I was finished the shafts stuck out of a dozen chairs all around the room. One was at an odd angle in the far wall near the ceiling. He looked up at it, but I just shrugged my shoulders. "I'm a god, Jack, I never said I was perfect. "
I walked around to the back of the room and aligned Jack with the two women between him and me and fired one last arrow. It passed seamlessly through both of the women, one raven-haired and nearly twice Jack's age, the other younger with snow-white blonde hair. Jack flinched as the arrow streaked toward him but the shaft just bounced off of the glow rising from his chest.
"See?" I said, lowering the bow. "True Love beats lust every time."
Jack looked at the arrow lying on the floor and he nudged it with his toe. Within seconds, the arrows started to fade, leaving no trace they had ever existed. "What did you just do?"
"I'll show you." I said, and then released time. "Ladies and gentlemen, I just need to borrow Jack here for a moment to talk about the Ablugotti account; please feel free to talk among yourselves for a few minutes."
The people looked from Jack to me and I felt a ripple in my clothing as it began to change again. My bow morphed in my hand and turned into a black briefcase before it reverted to its true form. I waved to Jack and he numbly walked to the back of the room next to where I was standing. "Now watch what happens, Jack." I said softly. "They have taken to my suggestion easily enough and in a moment, they won't even know we're standing here. Except maybe those two there." I pointed to the two women I shot last. They were watching Jack, and nothing else. He stared back at them, but he also watched the rest of the room. A single steel arrow could create enough passion in a mortal to melt an iceberg, but it could take hours or even days to manifest. Time was a luxury I didn't have, and with the amount of arrows I'd used, I hoped the floor wouldn't melt out from under us.
His coworkers were all talking mildly amongst themselves, but the conversations grew steadily more flirtatious. After five minutes, it bordered on intimate. After ten, two couples were openly kissing. The man with the wedding band was holding hands with the shorter brunette woman sitting next to him. The raven-haired and snow-white blonde were watching Jack closely, holding hands, and talking quietly to each other in whispers.
"So you put some kind of charm on them, or something?"
"'Or something' would be a better description. I was never very good at charms. Listen, Jack, I'm older now than I ever was and the kind of power my kind wields throughout the universe is even older than me. My talent is at finding and keeping True Love. A more subtle tool in my arsenal, is lust. It's a raw kind of surging love that focuses not on eternity, but on an eternal moment. It fractures our senses, mortal and godlike both. We enter into lust freely, but then we are overwhelmed by it until it drives out all rational thoughts-"
One of the kissing couples broke apart at that exact moment and illustrated my point perfectly. The man was stocky with a goatee, and the woman was a thin blonde with a pixie cut. She pushed the man back and then drove her mouth hard against his. She grabbed at his hands and mashed them against her chest. He groaned and nudged her head aside to kiss along the line of her neck while their hands both fought to unbutton her blouse.
"-it becomes an animal, primal and fierce. Words fail you, and consideration for anything but your base instincts are lost."
The second couple, an older man with grey highlights and the curly-haired redhead with gold earrings were pressing against each other roughly. She was grinding her leg between his, and riding his between hers. He gripped her hair tightly in one hand while his other pulled open her shirt. He kissed savagely at her exposed cleavage, trying to push her bra aside with his nose. The pixie-haired blonde had already pushed the man with the goatee off of his chair and straddled him on the floor half-hidden under the edge of the table. She rolled on top of him and his hands reached up under her skirt to pull her panties aside. She lifted herself up only long enough to open his zipper. Once he was fully in her hand, she sank down on top of him in one swift motion.
I pointed to the two women, the older raven-haired and the young snow-blonde. "Lust will also blind you to who you really are. It makes you want like nothing else can, leaving you to forget who you are at your core. If you ever do wake up, you'll wonder what happened to yourself, or how you ever let yourself get so carried away. It can also make you focus every part of your being on something, or someone, who is completely unattainable."