The question cut into Zeus’ mind, crashing him back to reality. “The young ones count, don’t they? Or since they aren’t yours, do you even care?” Orpheus was taunting Zeus now, baiting him for something.

“Eurydice was not mine to return to you. The Underworld is not my domain,” Zeus replied.

The sorcerer did not take the statement lightly. A sudden and heavy bolt of purple energy cracked into Zeus’ shoulder. Fast. Incredibly. A match for Hermes even. Zeus fell back a step and cried out in pain. Pain? He was hurt and taking a quick look at his shoulder, he realized something that Zeus had not ever thought possible again: he was bleeding.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. My bad. Well, I guess this was all just a misunderstanding. I’m so embarrassed.” Orpheus feigned shock and held his hands to his cheeks to mimic concern. “I’ve only been planning this for three millennia, you stupid prick. Hades will get his, but this is your call, big boy. You had the power then, have the power now, and you promised me. I want her back.”

Orpheus stood in front of Zeus now. No fear. No pleading. This was a demand; this was a collection for payment. The King of Storms was used to being the aggressor in situations like this. In fact, it was Zeus and his rigid policies on hospitality that made the demand he was being given now so alarming. Orpheus was right. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder as much as he could, he squared himself to meet the partner in this duel.

“I am sorry, Orpheus, to have promised you something I could never give you,” he said.

This caught the poet off guard. Apparently, honesty was not an anticipated response. Orpheus shuffled slightly on his feet, a sign of insecurity.

“No. I sang for you. You said that you were moved. You allowed her to follow me from Tartarus. Why did you take her back when we made it out?” Orpheus asked, a tinge of emotion building in the question.

Zeus forced himself to ignore the fire in his shoulder and looked his foe directly in the eye.

“I lied to you. It was a trick,” he began, unsure of why he thought he could just talk his way out of what was to come. “Eurydice was never behind you. It wasn’t real. I wanted to teach you a lesson. We couldn’t, I mean, I couldn’t ever let someone beg me to get a soul back when it’s gone. I’d have mortals lined up from here to Troy trying to cheat the ferryman.”

Zeus felt a buzzing in his pocket, took his eyes away from Orpheus for just a moment. Instant regret washed over the King of Storms. Orpheus darted forward with speed Zeus could barely comprehend, and a feeble attempt to block the sorcerer failed as the pair tumbled back to the ground. Orpheus now had what looked like a magical knife of energy in his hand. He stabbed Zeus again and again. Cuts and lacerations appeared over the arms of Zeus, blood coloring the ground beneath them.

“Why? Why? Why?!” The repeated word from Orpheus came at the end of every strike. “Why?” There would never be an answer to that question good enough, but it kept being asked as the tip of the knife dug into flesh. Zeus finally caught the wrist of the man on top of him, grabbed tight and with the mighty strength of Olympus, twisted it backwards until the knife vanished.

They fought for control, and Zeus was gaining the advantage. Orpheus was sobbing the word over and over again even in the fight for his life. “Why? Why?” Zeus finally got position behind the now sobbing poet, clutching him in a bear hug, hands clamped on each wrist, pulling them across his chest.

“I am sorry, Orpheus. Listen to me. Listen.” The man struggled against Zeus in a way that no one had in thousands of years. “I can take you to her, Orpheus, I can. I can let you talk to Eurydice again,” he said loudly, hoping to pierce the emotional wall in the man he wrestled with. “I can take you to Eurydice.”

Orpheus stopped struggling. He sunk down into the arms of Zeus, and both collapsed onto the ground, still tangled together. Zeus chanced a glance around him. The scene was full of the legionnaires who were securing the perimeter, and Ajax, his great grandson. They all stood a generous distance away, but weapons clearly ready. Zeus took a moment to breathe, calm himself and figure out what to do with the now silent poet still locked in his arms.

Zeus never let his grip go, using his considerable power to lift Orpheus up off of the ground. He made eye contact with Ajax, who recognized that as permission to move. Legionnaires and Myrmidons alike came forward in a rush to secure the quarry.

Behind Zeus, he heard a sound of rumbling, like horses charging or…the rapid succession of explosive charges being set off. Zeus felt himself let go of Orpheus as he turned around to look at his depository as it blew up in front of him. Gold coins, the backbone of the Olympus Administration economy, was housed in that facility and it was being ripped apart from the inside. Immediately realizing his mistake, he looked back at the silent sorcerer, who held out a hand with a remote detonator, red light flashing to show it had been activated.

“Fuck you, old man.” Orpheus created a large dagger of purple electricity and lunged forward at the Lord of Olympus, gutting him completely. The magical blade plunged into the stomach of Zeus so deep that it nearly poked the tip out of his back. Orpheus quickly restored his orb of shielding, this time including Zeus inside the sphere. The soldiers caught in the field as it extended were shredded by the force of energy created. Body parts strewn about the field as cries of agony and alarm were raised. Orpheus closed his eyes, as if to enjoy the chaos he had created.

“You almost had me, you clever sonofabitch,” he said. “You should get credit, I think, for being the salesman that you are. But you blew it. You said you could ‘take me to her’. That’s where you went wrong, because I want her HERE. With me, on THIS plane. You take me to her…that means I’m dead. And that, you slippery prick, simply will not do.”

Zeus crumpled into a ball. On both knees, he held his stomach to keep it from falling out of his body. The amount of blood coming out was astonishing. Zeus had only ever been this wounded once in his life, and it took a monster of legend and myth to carve him into pieces. That had been the work of Typhon, for crimes against Gaia and how he had failed as a ruler. This…this was different. This was a man who wanted his wife back and somehow came into a power that could leave Zeus at the brink of death. Death? Was that even possible? He’d been alive somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 years, and the thought of actually dying had never been as close as it was right now. A darkness bordered his vision, slowly tunneling and closing. He could feel his breath slow, his heart pumped, but most of the blood it pushed was exiting through the gaping wound Zeus couldn’t keep closed.

“Now, before I get caught monologuing here, I should really mention that this is just step one,” Orpheus said. “I wanted to take you out first, because it’s personal. That wasn’t…entirely the plan. Hey, we make adjustments on the fly sometimes, right? Anyway, before you bleed out and finally take the fucking dirt nap you’re overdue for, let me tell you one thing: your dad says hi.”

Zeus looked up into the eyes of his tormentor, vision cloudy and fading. He caught a glimpse of a shadow behind Orpheus, gliding down towards the shield. In an instant, Zeus gathered the last vestiges of energy he had and created a bolt, tossing it straight up. Orpheus went to yell out, but just as it had before, the lightning bolt crashed into the shield, and it dissolved and redirected back to Orpheus.

“Jesus Christ, you’re an idiot,” Orpheus said as the energy redirected back into the hand of the poet. He took his right hand and made a finger gun right at the forehead of Zeus.

“Bang” came the word. It wasn’t from Orpheus. The poet was too busy staring at the gauntleted arm that was protruding from his chest, blood dripping from a hand that did not belong to him.

“Tell your wife I said, ‘Heeeey’.” The voice was female, and the owner of the arm that now removed itself from the chest of the just now dead Orpheus, sorcerer, poet, Argonaut, husband.

The body fell to the ground in a heap, purple energy all faded and gone. The only thing left was the figure of a battle armored woman, who was cleaning the blood and entrails from the gauntlet on her right hand. She was a daughter of Zeus and a Goddess of War: Enyo.

“Hi, Daddy. You get my text?” she said as Zeus lost consciousness and fell over.

The world went dark.

Zeus (Michael Z. Ryan)
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