As I whistle through the air, I remember why I hate travelling with the Goddess of Winter. We fly across the night sky as the wind itself. It’s confusing and disorientating, the last thing I need before confronting Seth. If he thinks he can take my city from me, he’s got another thing coming. This ends tonight.
A flock of birds, or maybe bats, swoosh past me, and I feel sick. I suddenly wonder how we’re actually going to get into my apartment. It doesn’t take long for the answer to reveal itself. We blow through the wide-open window of my flat, straight over the hooded head of a figure hunched over a laptop at my dining table.
We condense back into our forms in the middle of the room, and I shake the snow from my shoulders. The God of Thievery and Trickery looks up, his attention caught by the remains of the wind whistling over him. He lowers his gaze to stare at the pair of us. I meet his expectant gaze.
“About time you got here, Dolus.” He’s confident and cocky, but I can see the uncertainty he is trying to hide. It’s only a flicker, but I see it before his features harden again. “What lies did you tell Kia to get her here?” Khione looks at him, deep concern on her face. “At least she’ll tell the truth when she goes back to Olympus. Unlike others.”
I put my arm up, stopping Khione from moving towards him. I’m glad she’s with me, but I need to speak with him trickster to thief right now. “Seth, is it now?”
He gives me a wicked grin and eases back in my chair. Slowly, deliberately, he puts his dirty boots up on my table. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Dolus, God of Trickery?”
“Why so formal?” I ask, my eyes narrowing.
“Why so slow?” He waves his hand high in the air as if dismissing me. “I thought you would have worked out where I was much quicker than you did. Have you lost your touch?”
I know he’s egging me on, but I can’t help curling my fingers into fists.
“Boys!” Khione steps between us. “What’s the matter with you? The first time the three of us have been together in centuries, and all you can do is trade insults and push each other’s buttons? Haven’t you got anything else to say?”
“After what’s happened tonight, I have everything to say to Seth.” I glare, the true meaning behind my mistruths obvious. I can see Khione shaking her head. It’s not what she had expected from me. If I’m to keep her on my side, I need to try harder.
“Lying again, Dolus?” Seth growls at me, kicking his feet off my table. “You never change.”
“Seth,” Khione says, trying to break the tension. “He’s changed. He apologised to me earlier tonight. I’m sure he’d do the same for you, wouldn’t you, Dolus?” She looks between us, eyebrow cocked. I can see she’s remembering us as we were. “You used to be so close. Don’t let something that happened in the past ruin the friendship you can still have.”
“The God of Trickery is no friend of mine,” Seth spits.
“After tonight, you’re my best pal in the whole world.” I say, watching as the quip hits home. Seth jumps up, his arms spread wide.
“Were you a good friend after we saved Khione?” The Blizzard Queen’s head drops. She doesn’t like remembering when she was cursed, collecting orphans. Although, if I know her, she’s more upset that the incident indirectly caused this moment.
“Aren’t you over what happened?” I demand.
“Over it? Over it!” Seth hollers at me. Khione flinches at his words. “You stole my fucking moment, you bastard!” There’s real malice in his words, but I wait, knowing he’s got more to say. “It was me who found Khione in that ice palace. It was me who worked out how to save her. It was me who came up with the plan. I just needed your lies.” He pulls back his hood, revealing his full face. “And when we’d done it, and she finally broke free of that endless torment, where were you?”
“Home?” I ask quietly, knowing the answer. It feels strange, though, referring to the God Complex that way, especially after all this time.
“Yes. Olympus. You did so little, yet went back to the other gods, the big guns, and took all the credit. You stole what was rightfully mine. You let them shower you with praise and glory for saving another immortal from damnation. And what did I get? Nothing but disbelief. They accused me of trying to steal from you. Can you imagine what that feels like?” He seethes, his chest rising and falling.
“Is that really why you rescued me?” Seth and I focus on the tiny form between us. Khione shakes, struggling to control her powers.
“Of course not.” Seth’s features ease as he recalls that moment. “I came for you because you were my friend. You were in trouble.” He straightens slightly. “It didn’t cross my mind until you vanished again. As I travelled home, I realised what I’d done. I’d saved a goddess. The daughter of a god. That should have seen me become a big deal again. Think of what that would have done for me. Instead of the lowly thief, I could have been the hero of the story.” His face falls as he looks back at me. “Instead, I became even more of an outcast. You deserve what’s coming to you, Dolus.”
“Why would you do this?” Khione implores sadly. “You could be your own hero! Instead of ruining someone else. You’ve been good this last year. Finding me, encouraging me, being a friend. Why would you do this?”
Seth bristles. “Because he needs to see what it’s like to put the effort in and get nothing in return.” Her eyes are fixed on him like she doesn’t recognize him.
I take a few small steps, trying to ease towards him and his computer. Seth notices and turns toward me.
“I’ve waited so long for the right moment to pay you back, but you stayed tucked in the shadows. You were smart and careful with your schemes, never leaving enough evidence that they could be pinned on you. But now you’re a public figure, and it will ruin you when I reveal you as the god you are. No one will believe a word you say ever again.”
I go cold. I figured that was what he was building to, but hearing it aloud is very different. He knows there’s a reason I stay hidden. A trickster can’t exactly ply his trade if people expect the con. As I inch closer, I know I need to keep him talking, but Khione gets there first.
“You can’t do that, Seth!” she cries.
“Oh yes, I can! I’m going to expose Dolus to the world. Everyone will know the face of the God of Trickery. He’ll never be able to run a scam again!”
He can see the fear that crosses my face. I don’t mind being known in Springfield. It’s small enough not to command any major news coverage. There’s no real risk. If I walk away, I can restart somewhere else. But if Seth goes through with his threat, I will be impotent. Unable to trick.
“You won’t even get to finish whatever scam you’re running here,” Seth says, driving home his point.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, I can’t help but laugh.
“You are so smart, Seth.” He growls at me but stays quiet. “I’m the same god I always was. I’m not doing this because I want to make a difference.”
I can feel Khione’s eyes on me.
“Dolus,” he breathes, “you are the God of Trickery. It’s in your nature to lie and cheat like mine is to sneak and steal. I am going to expose you to everyone, and you will go viral. By the morning, no one will believe a word you say, including that you won the election honestly.”
“No, I didn’t,” I lie, cursing myself that I can’t correct him. He drops back into the chair and fiddles with his computer for a few moments. I ease closer to him, stopping when he looks up again.
“You won fairly, did you?” His grin is pure evil. “Because all those people went into those booths, cast their vote on screens, and it all went to a central computer. One that isn’t that secure.” He pats his laptop and looks at me as his eyebrows shift up and down suggestively. My eyes go a little wider.
“Kinnesberg didn’t do everything in her power to get me elected.”
“Oh, yes.” He’s enjoying this, Khione not so much. “Your wonderful Campaign Manager, the woman who betrayed you before you got her arrested. Did you really think she moved all that money by herself? Didn’t you realise she had some help?” He points his finger at his chin. “An accomplice.”
A shiver runs up my spine. I hate the fact that Kinnesberg betrayed me, but I like the idea that another trickster was in league with her even less. I can accept that when my powers weren’t working perfectly, I struggled to spot a mortal’s deception, but if Seth was pulling strings behind the scenes, what else did I miss? “I thought that was going to be the end of you, all that money trouble, but when you slipped through the net, I had to move to my next plan.”
I suck air through my teeth. There’s something else I need to hear from him.
“And Lily’s father? Did you send him?”
“Yeah,” he sighs, “you dodged that too, didn’t you? Even turned it to your advantage. I am surprised you let him off so easily, though.”
“As opposed to holding a grudge for years?” I ask flippantly. Seth lunges to his feet, glaring at me.
“My back was turned, and you did steal so much from me.”
“Are you sure it was everything?” My face falls as I briefly look at the Blizzard Queen, a hint of longing once more pulling at my insides. I shift uncomfortably, my eyes downcast. I can feel them both staring at me. Then Seth lets out a deep snigger.
“Oh, that is precious.”
“Shut up, Autolycus,” Khione snaps, anger flushing her cheeks. He snarls at her. “If you’re going to be your father’s son, you might as well be called your name.” Both of us stare at her. Then she softens as she focuses on me. There’s an unspoken question there.
“You always did like him more, didn’t you?” I try to shrug it off, giving her a reassuring look. “Lots of water under the bridge since then, eh?” I’m sure I’m not convincing her, but it’s true. When you’re always treated with caution by others, to find someone who likes being with you, especially an immortal as kind as her, it turns your head. A lot has happened to me since then. I know now it was an unreciprocated crush that wouldn’t have worked between friends. There has been plenty of women since, and Lily had owned my heart. She loved me, and I her. Earlier this evening, I told Khione I wasn’t the same god I used to be. I meant it.
Seth chuckles. “Tonight gets better and better.”
Suddenly, Khione’s at my side. She doesn’t like picking between us, but he’s forcing her to.
“I told you he was different, didn’t I? He’s trying to change himself, to be better, to say things that he can’t say.”
“Don’t make me laugh any more than I have! He’s always been a liar and a cheat. And he’s about to get what’s coming to him! His time as mayor will soon be over, and no one will believe his words ever again.”
“And how are you going to do that?” I goad him, taking confidence from the strength that resonates from Khione.
“I’m going to release the tape I’ve made of this conversation onto the internet. Everything’s been recorded, including your arrival.”
“You wouldn’t.” Khione blanches, and I feel the room getting cool around me. “What about you?”
“The camera wasn’t watching me.” Seth lifts his head, and we look up to take in the little red light tucked into the corner of my ceiling. I replay the conversation in my mind, and I can see Khione is doing the same. She stares intently at Seth’s laptop.
“Isn’t there something that would change your mind?” I try to negotiate, “If not for me, what about her?” Seth doesn’t even glance at our old pal, as he continues.
“You never thought of anyone else when you were screwing me over.”
“And aren’t you better than me?” I ask evenly.
“I am.” He almost gloats. “And that’s why you’ll have to go through the rest of your life knowing that it was your actions that resulted in Khione being revealed as the goddess she is.”
“Please?” I plead.
Seth leers at me. “Not this time, Dolus. Actions have consequences, and this is one of them.”
His finger drops towards the laptop, and I’m on the move. I break into a run, moving as quickly as I can. Despite my efforts, I know the distance is still too much. I won’t make it in time.
The air next to me goes cold, a concentrated blizzard darting past my arm. It hits the laptop, turning it a brilliant white, just as Seth’s finger hits the keyboard. He whacks his finger down over and over again, then lets out a grunt. I’m still closing in on him. There’s no time for him to check the device any further. Seth turns and sprints to the window, taking one final look over his shoulder before leaping out. I make it there a few moments after and stare down. The end of a rope flicks in the breeze as a motorbike roars into the distance.
I turn back to Khione, who is already on her phone. I wrestle mine from my suit pocket. We stand silently, checking the internet.
“I think I froze the laptop just in time,” Khione tells me, colour returning to her cheeks. The whole incident has shaken her. She didn’t expect that from him at all.
“That wasn’t close,” I say.
She lets out a long sigh of relief, her expression serious as she says, “Are you okay?”
“Still got my cover, haven’t I?” I try to be light, but I know there’s more to come.
“Seth said you didn’t win your election fairly. What would you do if he did rig the results? If your people ask you questions?”
“Sounds like something I’m going to have to think about, doesn’t it? At least everyone knows about it.”
We turn to the frozen laptop.
“He’s a pretty techy guy. What if he’s got some sort of backup recording?” Khione muses and then sends out a blast of cold air to the camera on the ceiling, freezing the cables and anything that may have been stored on it.
“I’ll have to be prepared, won’t I?”
Khione’s forehead creases.
“Dolus,” she starts softly, “about what you said…”
I force a grin on my face, hoping that she buys it. I’m not sure she will. She was always a cool customer.
“Said that to trick him, didn’t I?” She relaxes slightly. There’s a little upturn of her lips, the twinkle coming back into her eye. “And he’ll think he’s at least got one over on me tonight, won’t he? Won’t he be happy thinking he’s ruined things between us?” My smile stretches across my face as I add, “Did you notice how talking about us helped us get closer to him?”
“It was very smart.” She gives me a smile that would have melted my heart a long time ago. “Thank you for being concerned about protecting my identity.”
“You saved both of us, didn’t you?” I nod towards the block of ice that’s slowly melting on my table.
“Lucky I was here.” She clasps her hands in front of her and twists her shoulders happily.
“Yes, lucky, wasn’t it?” I say as I give her a very mischievous grin.