There is a mountain in the land of Nod.
Just the one. And it isn’t really that big. Just cresting past the tree line, it stands majestically because there really isn’t anything else to challenge it. An hour or two of steady hiking will let anyone reach the summit. An ordinary accomplishment, to survey the extraordinary of Nod.
Cain liked the call the peak Mount Elementary. Difficult the first time, and then built into one’s bones forever.
He sat on top of Elementary, and ate a sandwich. The Sinner was dressed in a simple black t-shirt and jeans. His club leaned against the rock he sat on, and his pipe was already filled with the strange tobacco he seemed to prefer. There was a tiny bit of sweat on his brow, just to remind him that he had started exercising.
It was going to be a good day.
Artemis sat next to him, sulking. The sun was beating down on her head, and she didn’t like it one bit. It was too hot, too sunny, and she just wanted to go back to the cabin and figure out a way to assassinate Cain.
Her bow and knife were back in the cabin, next to the bed. Cain had been calm, but firm in his declaration that they would not be used.
“So, Melanie,” Cain said. “Why did you join the Test?”
“My name is Artemis,” the goddess muttered.
“Actually, your title is Artemis,” Cain corrected. “Or your handle, I guess. That’s the right lingo, I think?”
“Lingo? How old are you?”
“Old enough to know I’m not young,” Cain said. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
Artemis pursed her lips, and looked out.
Cain sighed. “Fine. How about this. When I tear the twelve of you to pieces, can we all promise to talk? Then maybe we can be civil.”
Artemis thought about it. Cain had been able to take her in the forest, and he was supposed to be one of those big enemies of the Test. Maybe even a superboss. But there was no way he could take all twelve of them. Certainly not Zeus, Ares, and Poseidon.
“What do we get if we win?”
“You already know that,” Cain said. “The Proctor passes you. Wealth and power beyond all imagining. Isn’t that enough?”
The goddess shrugged.
Cain smiled. “And I’ll tell you all some truths. If you haven’t killed me yet. How about that?”
That sounded fair. Artemis nodded.
“Great.” Cain stood up, and dusted off his hands. “You get phenomenal cosmic power, or I get to talk with teenagers. That has to be an even trade.”
“Do you have any more bacon?”
“You ate it all.”
“Did not! You had a ton!”
Cain surveyed the landscape of Nod. This was going to be a chore.
“How long are we going to be here?” Artemis asked. “I came alone, and the others didn’t exactly know where I was going.”
“They’ll know,” Cain said.
“And why’s that?”
“Because the Proctor isn’t going to pass up an opportunity for test takers to do battle. Especially if they have a chance to take out Cain.”
Also, Cain could start to see the rampage through the forest.
Smoke was rising up out of the golden trees. A sickly green and yellow, with stormclouds gathering over the smoke. The sun blazed ever harder, and seemed to move towards Mount Elementary.
“Ares, Apollo. Even Zeus has come out to fight,” Artemis said. “You really have no clue what you’re dealing with.
Cain watched, bemused. At least three, probably the lot of them.
“Do you understand, Cain?” Artemis demanded. “You aren’t just screwed. You’re screwed so far, you’re coming out of the other side still screwing!”
Cain just looked at her, eyebrow raised.
“These are gods. And you’re just a man.”
“Am I?” Cain asked.
That made her stop for just a moment. And then the air was filled with fire.
Bolts shot out of the earth and sky. Golden, burning flames arced towards Cain. He swatted them away, and sighed. “Apollo, Hephaestus, you really have to work on your power and aim,” he said. “Don’t just start firing all over the place.”
There was a howl, and a man leapt out. Pale, glistening with sweat, and armed with two short swords. Ares, the god of war, charged up the mountain.
“CAAAIIINNNN!” He screamed. Ares threw one sword, and kept moving forward. Cain ducked under the thrown blade, and picked up his club. Ares swung down in an overhand chop. The Sinner stepped backwards, missing the blow. It cleaved the rock he was standing on in two.
Artemis looked up. Streaking out of the sun was her brother, Apollo. God of archery, art, and the sun, his golden curls glowed over a tanned skin. He waved and then started firing at Cain.
Cain sidestepped another strike, and looked down. He could see the gods running up his mountain. Only three were armed. One with a trident, the sea god Poseidon then. Another, a young girl with a spear. That would have to be Athena then. She hung back, assessing the situation.
And the last one, hobbling up way behind everyone. Hephaestus, the lamed god of the forge, carrying a large hammer.
“Keep your eyes on me!” Ares shouted. “I want my face to be the last thing you see!”
Cain turned. He spun away from the blow, and stepped back, placing Ares between himself and the rest of the gods. Then kicked the war god back down the mountain.
Ares’ screams echoed down Mount Elementary. He crashed into Poseidon, the first charging. The two tangled, tripped, and kept moving back down the mountain.
Another sun bolt struck next to Cain. He looked up, and saw the sun god. The young kid zipped through the air, firing as fast as he could draw. Always keeping well out of range of the man in black.
Cain moved one way and then another, slow and methodical. Every movement from Apollo was jerked, too fast. He could aim to hit something at that range, but the boy couldn’t compensate for even a slight movement.
Cain looked down, picked up a rock, and threw it. Apollo winged out of the way, but the club came sailing towards him, faster than he thought possible. The club clipped his shoulder, and he heard a break. Apollo cried out, and slowly fell to earth.
Pathetic. No strategy. Cain could see the other godlings just starting to crest the treeline. They had no coordination, no driven goal that brought them together. He sat back down, and waited.
The Olympians finally reached the top of the mountain, and slowed to a stop. They were expecting a monster, holding Artemis hostage. Instead, there was a single man, almost nodding off.
He waved, and tried to see everyone. “Let’s see. I’ve already met Ares and Artemis. Apollo was shot down out of the sky. Time for a bit of a roll call.
“Poseidon.” The boy in blue blinked, and looked away. dressed in a skintight swimsuit, he looked more prepared to dive in the ocean than climb a mountain.
Cain smiled and nodded to a young girl dressed all in white. “Hestia.” The goddess of the hearth frowned, unsure what to make of that.
“Would that be Demeter, taking care of the trees?” The goddess of the harvest turned around. Her light skin tinged with sweat.
“I can see Athena, still trying to formulate a strategy.” The young girl blinked, before nodding. She set her spear down, and leaned against a tree. The goddess of wisdom and war knew when she was outclassed.
Another girl tried to flash a winning smile his way. Cain grunted. “Aphrodite.”
“Hi!” The smallest one shouted, waving. “Hi, Cain! I’m Hermes! Please don’t kill us.”
Cain nodded. “Hephaestus is bringing up the rear.” The god grunted, sweat pouring down his face. He carried Ares in one arm, trying to keep the other god standing. Ares looked one way, and then another. His head lolled around, trying to stay upright.
“Hera.” A young girl stood apart from the rest. “Obviously.”
Cain looked at Artemis. “Was there any Dionysus named in the Test?” he asked.
“I don’t think so?”
Cain nodded. That left one forgotten, and one trying to make an entrance. Well, he knew how to ruin those.
“Right. My name is Cain. Yes, that one. The first killer, the Sinner. Apparently worth more than anyone else in this damned Test. And you’re here to kill me?”
The Olympians looked at him, trying not to speak. This was Cain. And he couldn’t be trusted. The best thing they could do would be to charge him. Hopefully, in all the chaos, somebody could get in a lucky blow.
Artemis looked on, nervous. She had seen the battle. Several of those strikes and arrows had hit home against the man. She could see the singed clothes. Smell the acrid smoke. But if Cain was in the slightest bit bothered by it, he certainly didn’t show it.
Cain looked at each of the gods in turn. They glared back. They still didn’t fear him. A bunch of students, kids to him. This might be Cain, the Enemy. But he couldn’t handle all of them.
He needed to demonstrate just how far they were from his level. How they couldn’t even think about challenging him.
“I wanted to have a chance to talk,” Cain said. “Maybe understand what’s been going on. Why you’ve all disturbed my rest.”
He looked up at the sky. “But it seems like your leader has turned tail and run.”
The sky darkened. Apollo winced, and turned away.
“Cain,” Hera warned. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Where is your leader, Olympians?” Cain asked. He spread his arms in question. “Where is Zeus?”
Black clouds spread over Mount Elementary. Thunder rumbled through them, a last warning.
“Perhaps he’s run away?” Cain asked. “He needs the rest of you to stand in front of him. Can’t take on one man. For the king of the gods is nothing but a coward!”
Lightning flashed, and sped towards Cain. A thunderbolt streaked into him. Artemis dove away, screaming. The rest of the gods ran, trying to get out of the way of the blast.
Cain turned, held out his hand, and caught the bolt. Electricity surged through him, setting his hair ablaze. It burned away, revealing a scar in the middle of his forehead. Written in a language that none knew. None save for the man who wore it.
Cain grimaced, and tightened his grip on the bolt. He pulled, and a boy was struggling inside the lightning. Trying to stay in, away from him. He had to escape the Sinner. Keep away from God’s Enemy.
But he would not be denied. Cain grimaced, and pulled Zeus out of the lightning bolt. And held him aloft.
The rest of the Olympians looked up, dumbstruck. Zeus flailed in Cain’s grip. Six feet tall, with more muscle than the rest of the gods put together. His dark skin lit up as lightning coursed down on the mountain. His eyes sparked, looking at Cain. Struggling to be set free.
Cain looked at him with contempt. And Zeus knew fear.
The king of the gods finally went limp, and submitted.
Cain tossed him away, and looked back down the mountain. The rest of the Olympians cowered, save for Hera.
“Anyone else?” he asked.
Hera turned to the rest. “He could take one of us at a time, but not all! Not all of us! Come on!”
Cain flickered, and was behind her. He flicked her ear, turned, and swept her legs out from under her. He stood next to Poseidon, and had a hand on the boy’s shoulder before Hera hit the ground.
“Please understand,” Cain said. “I am stronger than all of you. I am faster, I am smarter. And more importantly, none of your attacks are working in the slightest.”
His eyes narrowed. “If I wanted to, none of you would leave my mountain alive.”
Cain walked between everyone. “You have invaded my home. Attacked me. Tried to kill me. And now, it is time for explanations.”
He pointed to Demeter. “Why?”
Demeter paled, and looked around. Aphrodite, Hermes, and Athena all started to speak.
“No. No one else speak. I want to hear it from her.”
Demeter shook, and shook her head. “We weren’t trying…” her words started to mumble.
“We didn’t start by trying to kill you,” Demeter whispered. “We just don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Cain looked up at Zeus, and the rest of the gods. He suddenly noticed them for the first time. The travel-stained clothes, the lack of supplies. Each of them ran and moved like their lives depended on it.
Cain walked over to Zeus. He stood over the godking, and glowered.
“What?” Zeus muttered.
“What happened to Olympus?” Cain asked. “The Proctor should have shown you your home base.”
Zeus spat, and looked away.
“Tell him, Peter,” Hera said.
“It’s Zeus, Stella!” Zeus shouted. “I’m Zeus.”
“We’re nothing!” Hera screamed. “We just got our butts handed to us by a single man. We’re nothing!”
She looked up at Cain.
“We’ve been thrown out of Olympus.”
Thrown out? Cain shook his head, trying to comprehend. That was impossible. The Olympians were supposed to be unstoppable on Olympus. That was their turf, their power source.
Hera sniffed. “Who else? The Titans.”
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