I step out of the car, my polished black leather shoes nearly sucked in by the mud. One of the attendants – one belonging to Neptune, based on his clothes – holds the car door open for me. Another, the manservant of some lesser Roman deity, holds an umbrella up for me. Both servants are sopping wet, but neither of them move a muscle as they wait. If there is one thing these gods deserve credit for, it is that they run a tight ship. Still, I am a tad annoyed that my shoes got wet.
When I stand I am nearly a foot taller than the unnamed servant. He needs to keep his arm almost fully extended to keep the umbrella above my head. Iron shackles with markings inscribed in them are locked around his wrists and ankles. A pale, glowing chain connects the shackles to the slave's heart.
"Only a little more," I mutter to the slave.
"Sir?" the shackled man looks at me inquisitively. I do not repeat myself.
The ground is spongy as we make our way to the entrance of Jupiter's house. I am not surprised that it is storming here, but I was hoping that he would have at least put down some stones to walk on. We may be gods, but some of us are more akin to savages than anything else. This monolith of luxury in front of me, this mansion of polished stone, is nothing but a façade. These gods are pitiful.
When the invitation had originally come, I wanted to burn it. Its ashes would be a fine addition to the other invitations I had received over the centuries. But this one was different. This was a party for Roman gods and me, from the mighty Jupiter to the lowest demi-god. Jupiter never invited me to his dinners; I was forced to associate with the disgraced, failing gods. I am only a fledgling deity, after all, I should know my place.
I tighten my grip on the briefcase in my hand. Its contents will show Jupiter exactly what my potential is. One of the slaves moves to take it from me, a gesture of subservience, I am sure. A simple thought makes half his hand disintegrate as it nears the leather case. The slave stops moving, a confused look on his face. He raises his hand and turns it over, as if examining it. His features return to that of a carved piece of stone. I would like nothing more than to put him out of his meaningless existence and obliterate the rest of his body, but Jupiter would not appreciate the loss of a soul.
I walk up the polished marble steps, admiring the detailed work that adorned the mansion. No matter how much I despise the archdeity, his taste in ethereal accents is almost as good as mine. He just has more worshippers, thus his display of power is more... apparent.
"Enjoy your dinner," a slave says as she opens one of the large, carved wooden doors that separate the mansion from the raging tempest. The clanking of her chains was barely audible over the roar of thunder. When the lightning flashes I can see her real soul, the image underneath what Jupiter shows the world. The poor thing barely has enough light left in it to exist.
"Go wait in the car," I say to her, touching one of the links of her binding chains. A current of energy traces back to her core. The runes on it vanish and then reappear as my own. I decide that I will go and assist the other slave when I am done here, the one whose hand I mangled. Jupiter will not be able to resist me, not after he sees what I have.
Inside is just as much a storm as outside, but with gold and platinum in place of rain. It does not just embroider the walls and sculptures in the foyer, flecks of it seem to float in the air. Multi-coloured torches reflect off the flakes of precious metal, making the air itself dazzle the eyes. Perhaps mortal eyes; mine can see matter at a level one thousand times smaller than an atom. Jupiter's act of extravagance did not impress me.
I hear a feminine voice speak my name. It sounds more like a melody than spoken word. I turn to see what may have been a female form, though the body is shrouded in brilliant armour. Colours that do not exist in the eyes of our followers ran in veins through the crystalline armour. Bellona has an equally dazzling helm resting on her head. Her eyes are small galaxies that gaze out at me, seeing things that even I have not yet witnessed.
"I see you will be joining us for the lectisternium," Bellona says to me. "It will be the first time we have more than twelve gods at the table. Did you bring a partner?"
"I am alone, Bellona, as always," her eyes widen as the very essence of the air ripples in the wake of my voice. "Are you on the arm of Mars tonight, or does that privilege belong to Venus yet again?"
I can feel the air thicken around me as Bellona's anger manifests material. She thinks that such a display of force will push me into subservience, as it has done before. She has no idea that I am so far beyond her now that I can barely feel her puff her chest at me. But I cannot let her know that, so I drop to one knee and stare at the ground. It is humiliating.
"You are not of our pantheon," she hisses at me, making the arduous journey of bending down to my ear. "You belong with the fallen and the hidden sects, the cabal cults and the false prophets. Be sure to kiss Jupiter's feet to show your appreciation tonight."
"You do me too much honour, Bellona." I turn and walk further into the colossal mansion. I have only been here a handful of times, when Jupiter deemed all deities worthy of invitation, but I knew how to get to the dining hall myself.
More enslaved souls line the halls, each of them refusing to look me in the eye. I am torn as to whether I should free them, to allow them to join me in my heaven as free souls, or to wipe them out of existence to snub Jupiter and the other Roman gods. I ultimately decide to do neither; I do not want to agitate Jupiter before I need to. I may have become more powerful, but his limits should not be tested.
"My lord," one of the slaves mutters as she opens the door for me.
I could get used to that title.
The dining hall is just as luxurious as the rest of Jupiter's estate. A long obsidian table ran most of the length of the room, a miniature storm raging under its surface. There are already the major deities of the pantheon sitting around the table, save for Bellona who trails behind me. They all look up and regard me. Juno sits with Jupiter, Mars with Venus, Mercury with Ceres. There are others there, too, sitting usually in pairs or – depending on their musings – threesomes. Most of them do not bother to hide their looks of disgust or, in some cases, pity. Jupiter, however, stands with a lupine smile.
He wears nothing more than a white toga robe and a laurel crown. I remember the days when Zeus held the same position as Jupiter, how the young Roman deity admired the Greek one. The fact that he even dressed the same as his predecessor was pathetic, especially considering how he displaced his mentor. His gaze carries power with it, though. I can almost feel the energy boring into me as our eyes meet. He shouts my name from across the room.
"I am glad you could make it," the king of gods sounds like thunder itself. "Please, come and sit next to me. We will break bread together." I can hear Bellona scoff at her father's words as she walks to her own seat.
A slave pulls the chair out for me before I sit down. Jupiter noticed the briefcase I am carrying and raises an eyebrow at it.
"A gift," I smile at him, "for after dinner." Jupiter responds with a laugh.
A procession of slaves, an aura of melancholy surrounding them all, carry in course after course of delicious food. Jupiter, fueled by the power of his worshippers, could reach out to every corner of the material universe to acquire the finest ingredients. I begrudgingly admit that it is half-decent.
"I am sorry to hear about your son," Juno says to me as we finish the main course. She has always been kind to me, no matter how the others treat me.
"Thank you," I force a smile. "It was his choice to live with the humans, he knew the risks."
"And you let him?" Neptune's voice is cutting. Jupiter jumps in before I can retort.
"How many worshippers did you steal from us as a result of your son's sacrifice? Do not feign worry when you rescued him after just a few days. That is a blink of an eye for deities." The jovial, laughing Jupiter is gone, replaced by the bitter one I am used to.
Jupiter always treated me as a second-rate deity, despite the potential I have always shown. I was created outside of his pantheon, not even to one of my own. I am an outlier, a lone god whose worshippers have been persecuted since my name began to spread among the primates.
"You have lost sons of your own, Jupiter," I mutter softly. "You know full well the pain it causes. How many cities have you destroyed? How many deities have you slaughtered in the name of vengeance? This was not a political move."
A half-truth, at best. I knew my son would return to me after he sacrificed himself. There was that moment of hesitation, the flicker of doubt when it took so long. But he came back. And when the other humans realized what had happened, I could feel the power begin to grow in my almost immediately. Some centuries had passed since then, in the human sense, and my persecuted followers have started displacing the heretics. The Roman gods, so arrogant in their ways, have barely noticed that their power is waning. They use it for luxury, their sense of security and superiority blinding their own instincts. And I have been careful not to flaunt my power, because even now it is still inferior to Jupiter's. But I have been building it, storing it, saving it until I truly need it.
"Do not speak to me of loss," the king of gods roars. "You know nothing of the subject!"
"Jupiter, enough." Juno's words have an immediate calming effect on the angered deity. "We invited our guest to strengthen relations, not strain them."
"I still do not know why you even bother, Juno," Jupiter spits at the table in front of me as he sits.
"My apologies," I smile sincerely at Juno. It is unfortunate that her heart belongs to this brute. "I feel that it is time to take my leave. Perhaps next time, we can have dinner in my realm?"
Most of the deities around the table make a face like they had just bitten into a lemon. Bellona almost chokes on her food before laughing.
"I think that would be lovely," Juno smiles back at me. I cannot hold her gaze as I walk past her.
"I am sorry," I whisper. She gives me a confused look.
I make my way through the hallways back to the large doors that stand as bulwarks to the raging storm outside. Slaves stand idle along the halls, still, but I refuse to leave them behind. A thought compels them to move within reach of me as I walk, forming a tunnel of souls. I trail my hands behind me and brush each of their chains, shattering Jupiter's hold on them and binding my own. When I exit the front doors, more than two dozen slaves trail behind me. I even bring the one whose hand I destroyed; that can be mended later. The car is not big enough to hold all of the souls, so I will have to send it back. I make them walk a little farther away, for protection.
I think of the briefcase that I left under the table. The one holding all of the divine energy I have been accumulating. I hope Jupiter is holding it.
The mansion erupts into a pillar of pure white light, blinding to all but my eyes. The heat generated from it evapourates the rain that falls from the skies, making a wall of steam before me. I look at the very essence of the explosion, to the basest of materials and see only raw power. It lasts for only a few breaths, and then disappears. When it clears, there is no trace left of Jupiter's mansion.
One of my new souls opens the car door for me. There is much to do now, much to prepare for. The fallen and outcast deities will bend their knees to me, the slayer of Jupiter. The remaining Roman gods, for there are many, will want vengeance. I order the drive to take me home. I have been preparing for this since the day I met the Roman deities. My army is ready, my power is great.
The heavens will be mine.