The Aeonian Ball

“Yes, wife,” Theodore ‘Teddy’ Hoodwink Samuel mumbled, patting his Caballus’ hand as they walked under the eves into the packed Aeonian Ball upon Mount Olympus, “I will be sure not to embarrass you, dear. No, I won’t drink too much wine–“

Teddy kept mumbling affirmations, half listening to his wife’s litany of instructions for the evening. They were at the top of the world. In fact, just above the world here; Mount Olympus overlooked the mortal world and the palace at its centre overlooked Mount Olympus. It was awfully fancy.

Around them crowded the mythical world: centaurs flexing their muscles and stamping their hooves, satyrs lounging around, winking at anyone they thought they had a chance to bed, a flash of white showed a pegasus somewhere while a wide birth naturally formed around a sphinx and a minotaur that were deep in heated conversation to their right.

But these were rabble compared to the divine members of the Pantheon that had gathered there. Each great god and goddess of the Pantheon had a circle of sub-mythicals that had formed around them sycophantically trying to gain their favour.

With the roar of a stormy ocean, Neptune’s voice boomed out around a circle of tittering nymphs regaling some or other tale of his power. His boastful tales were only ever outdone by Mars, who had surrounded himself with a noxious bunch of harpies and sirens who gazed up at him in awe as he, no doubt, told them some story that ended in him killing something. Mars always ended up killing something.

The attention-seeking Apollo–ever dramatic!–stood on a chair and was making grand gestures to his crowd, no doubt reciting some poem or making some vast, world-shaking prophecy. Wherever there was Apollo, he was sure the Three Fates lurked; an overly-dramatic bunch, the Three Sisters always had a respectful crowd trying to garner favour and hoping for a good prophecy or two about them.

Not to be upstaged in their own home, Jupiter and Juno sat above the masses and on their golden, not-so-subtly-raised thrones, casting their gaze on their subjects below. Far below, just how they liked it.

“Yes, dear,” Teddy sighed, what were they doing here? He was the God of Irony and his wife was the Goddess of Arguments. Not exactly powers likely to shape the course of history or be involved in world-shaking prophecies. Little gods like them were often the nieces, nephews, second cousins and distant relatives of this pretentious bunch but, tradition dictated that family was always invited for these occasions. Gods lived a long time and family was important.

“And, Teddy,” Cally droned on, her red hair bellowing behind her and her sharp eyes shooting daggers at all their marginally fancier relatives mulling around them, “It is also very impor–” she froze and Teddy felt her grip tighten on his, snapping out of his gloomy contemplation and he looked where her she was looking.

Her sister was standing there: Influffi,┬áthe Goddess of Clouds in a flowing white dress with her husband, Oblivus┬áthe God of Forgetfulness, stood before them. Oblivus’ robes were inside out and he was looking wide-eyed around him like this was the first time he had ever seen the inside of the Palace. It was not. Influffi was absentmindedly inspecting a glass of wine in her hand as if she had forgotten what it was for.

“Hello, sister. I hope you are well,” Cally managed to make the greeting sound like a curse, “I am glad you found your husband,” she added as an afterthought, which triggered a slightly confused look on Oblivus’s face. He had been lost–technically, he had “forgotten where home was”–but it had resolved peacefully when he had simply turned up back at home. No one–not even him–appeared to know where he had been.

Not exactly world-shaking prophecy stuff, Teddy thought wryly, but at least he made it home peacefully.

Well, almost peacefully. Teddy gulped and tried to smile politely while ignoring that the last time he had seen Fluffi, she had ended up with decidedly less clothing on. At his wife’s direction, he had gone to console her about Oblivus’ absence and, well, wine, bad judgement and irony had gotten involved. His memories were fuzzy about the exact details but his wife was quite certain that she knew everything.

All water under the bridge, he tried to convince himself, but he knew better. Cally had forgiven him but not forgotten.

“Oh, Cally,” Fluffi exclaimed, her expression flowing into a warm smile, like the sun breaking through the clouds, and she threw her arms around her sister. Fluffi was a truly malleable, flexible person. Teddy could feel his wife stiffen just before she let go of his hand but when he looked up, he saw a flash of happiness on her harsh face as she embraced her sister back. They had always been close sisters and a stab of guilt pained him at his indiscretion.

Teddy nodded at Oblivus, who crinkled up his face like he was trying to recall who Teddy was. Or maybe he was angry too? Or he was angry but he had forgotten why? Sometimes Teddy wondered if Oblivus remembered that he was the god of forgetfulness. Ironic.

In a mild panic at the moment, Teddy coughed and muttered about getting everyone some wine before scampering off, dodging a lumbering minotaur. He hoped it would take a long time to locate wine but, at that moment, the arrival of Bacchus with all his party friends indicated otherwise.

Teddy sighed. It was going to be a long night.

***

“…and then legionnaire’s wife came home, but Teddy’s protection still held true!” Cally finished her story, her and Fluffi roaring with laughter, even Oblivus was laughing, “Ironically–yes, dear, I am going to make that pun!–Teddy cannot cast his little blessing on himself! Bad for him but good for me!” Cally was wiping tears from her eyes, staggering on her legs, and Fluffi buried her face in her husband’s chest as both of them held their sides from eruptions of laughter.

Teddy managed to crack a smile. He did not find the story as funny as apparently everyone else did, despite being involved in it. He gulped down his wine and filled it up again quickly from the nearby amphora.

At least the wine was good, and all of them had had plenty to drink.

“Yes, well,”,” Fluffi, changeable as ever, flowed straight onto the next topic, “What do you think the Big Prophecy of the evening will be? There always is one at these Balls. Maybe something to do with Venus? She hasn’t featured much these days…”

Teddy snorted, “She’d be one of us Little Gods, if she hadn’t slept with Jupitor and wasn’t so beautiful,” his wife’s hand tightening on his made him realize what he had said. In a panic, he kept babbling on, “But, well, you know, it won’t be any prophecy about one of the Little Gods. No Prophecy of How the Corners Met, or How Clouds Changed the World, or like… Hey, wha-what? Why is everyone so quiet!?”

He stopped. Confused as his sphere of awareness expanded from the three people he was talking to–whose faces had just gone deathly pale–to the whole ballroom in the Palace that had gone absolutely silent.

What is going on!” he said, looking around when, through a clear parting of the crow, he saw the Three Sister pointing in his direction. The hair on the back of his neck was starting to rise. No… No, they were pointing directly at him!

“The Destroyer of Worlds, the Ender of Olympus, the God that is not a God!” all three of the Three Fates were dramatically proclaiming together, their words harmonizing as they all pointed at Teddy. Mythicals love a good prophecy and the crowd of gods, goddesses and magical beings were hanging on their every word, “He will bring an end to our world, changing all things by changing nothing! He stands there, the vile Bringer of the God-slaying Apocalypse!”

And then things began to happen very quickly.

Rage exploding across his face, Jupiter was rising from his throne, his thunderous voice booming out, making the walls of the Palace shake as thunderclouds began to appear and lightning flashed out. Apollo was leaping forward, declaring that he had seen the vision too! Juno was waving at the Palace guards as the crowd surged forward, none too friendly. A spear suddenly in hand, Mars began to push through the crowd shouting about killing…

“Run, dear, run!” Cally–Goddess of Arguments and the Sayer of the Last Word–whispered as she pushed Teddy away and stepped in front of him to face the descending hordes, “Now wait a second, you three sisters, we need to talk–“

Teddy was a lot of things but brave was not one of them. He was already out of the Palace and–under fast-growing thunderclouds flashing lightning–he sprinted down Mount Olympus before he realized what he was doing.

***

The ground next to him exploded from a bolt of lightning, raining jagged chunks of Mount Olympus on him as he ran. The air smelt thin and he could taste copper at the back of his throat. Was it blood? He could hear the hooves of the pegasuses pounding down the sky just behind and above him. A clap of thunder rattled his bones and another lightning bolt hit somewhere else. There were shouts from behind him and a spear shot over his head splitting a boulder some yards ahead of him.

He put his head down and kept running!

Why is this happening!? He could hear his inner voice whining but the cries of the gods and goddesses hunting him drowned that miserable voice out. Why!? Just behind him, he could hear the bellow of a minotaur charging, the clang of metal and another bolt of lightning lit up a tree to his right, temporarily blinding him.

Unfortunately, that also meant that he did not see an awkward stone, and his foot caught on it. He tumbled forward, shrieking, and rolled, his momentum carrying him further and further down the steep slopes of the mountain. Rocks cut him and bruised his soft parts and the last thing he remembered before the darkness took him was an image of Mars charging–spear retrieved from the rock–bearing down on him with murder on his face.

***

“…be anyone, really, as the world is full of not gods. Isn’t that right, Nona? Nona, isn’t that right?

There was a pause before a begrudging grunt of agreement came.

Slowly, the world came back to him: light, form and shape, sound crept in and then the pounding head hit him. He lifted a hand and the touch prickled with pain where he had obviously hit his head rolling down the mountain. He licked his lips–the bloody copper taste was still there–and lifted his head to a strange scene.

His wife was standing over him with the consort of heaven looming over her and shooting murderous looks at him. Mars stood off the side with a bizarre frustrated look twisting his face, placidly poking the ground with his spear. Apollo was there too, shaking his head. Wreathed in light and with a shared expression as if they had just eaten something bad, Jupiter and Juno stood in front.

No, not quite in front… In fact, Cally stood facing the Three Sisters with the hordes that were out to get him behind them. And, what was even more unique was that everyone was just listening. No one was trying to murder him.

“And, if you are honest and not dramatic about it–no one likes an attention-seeker!–Decima,” Cally was saying, wagging a finger at the Three Sisters, “and are more careful which words you use in throwing around these ‘Prophecies’–” Teddy could hear his wife’s inverted commas and sense the collective silent gasp that everyone did not make at this insinuation, “–Teddy’s name did not actually feature anywhere in this ‘Prophecy’, did it, Decima?”

Blushing and dropping her gaze to the ground, the middle Sister mumbled something while poking a rock with her toes.

“I am sorry, Decima, please speak up. What did you say?”

Decima coughed and looked up. Ignoring her red face, she then spoke in forcefully flat tone, “No, Cally, no it did not, but, it’s like, the Prophecies are more feelings and we as feelings we know–“

“Right, well, we cannot go accusing people of horrible things based on your feelings, can we,” Cally cut Decima off and moved on to the next and final Sister, “And, thus, Morta, there is absolutely no evidence at all that suggests my dear, sweet, gentle, somewhat-dumb husband will end up causing the end of our world and destroying anything at all. None at all. You do agree, don’t you, Morta?”

Morta blinked, looked at her two sisters, who avoided making eye contact, and then very slightly nodded before dropping her gaze and trying to sink into the ground.

“Right, then it is agreed,” Cally firmly declared, casting her gaze across the gathered gods and goddesses who all were suddenly inspecting the ground or their fingernails, “This was all just a big misunderstanding and we should not be so quick to jump to conclusions before trying to murder someone. Not least of all, murder family. Come, dear, get up, let’s get you home and mended up. We’ve had quite enough of this age’s Aeonian Ball.”

Teddy fumbled his way up, his wife helping him, and they turned to walk down the mountain. Already some of the gods and goddesses were starting to wander back up the mountain. There was still wine, dancing and orgies to be had and, honestly, they were never actually going to kill Teddy… Maybe Mars would have, but not them! Never. It was just a misunderstanding and the Three Sisters needed to up their game, sort out their ambiguity and, perhaps, take a course in logic.

Somewhat supporting his weight on his wife, Teddy stumbled down the steep, ragged slopes of Mount Olympus. The two of them walked in silence for a while before Teddy looked behind him and saw that no one was following. He squeezed his wife’s hand and she squeezed his back, but then a thought struck him.

“Ah, dear,” he began, tentatively, “the Three Fates are never wrong. How did you do that?”

Cally smiled and looked at him with her sweetest look, eyes sparkling, “The Sisters may be able to tell the future, dearest one, but they aren’t the Goddess of Arguments. Logic is not their strong suit!”

He blinked and nodded, shaking his head. He knew. He had lost many arguments with her over the ages… And then another thought struck him! This thought felt like one of Jupiter’s lightning bolts as it shot down his spine, his skin grew cold and a dark pit appears in his stomache.

“Then I, Theodore Hoodwink Samuel, God of Irony, will indeed end our world,” he breathed out in shock and horror.

They had stopped walking and his wife turned to him, deep concern on her face and tears appearing at the corners of her eyes. She reached out and hugged him tightly, and he hugged back as if clinging to the edge of a cliff overlooking the abyss. The pit in his stomach was growing…

“Yes. Yes…” she whispered, tears suddenly streaming down both their cheeks as their embraces grew tighter and more desperate, “Yes, Teddy, you will, and, I guess, after all, that is the irony.”