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Back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I got started with writing online on the Spore forums. Man, those were the days. We're talking like 12 years ago!

I've been here on and off for almost as long, and have GM'd a bunch of different things to varying success.

Discord: VMS#8777

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>@Cyclone Is there a number of days you would like me to have separating the post for Isaac from the meeting? Or should I wait until the gods go to storm his hideout, assuming they do, and go from there?

>EDIT: I realize the above might need some clarification. The heresy takes place around 3 days after Zeus' death, so what I'm wondering is by how many days I should advance my post with Isaac, or if it would be better to wait until Zeus and crew make the move to assault his base of operations instead and then post.


The heresy was just beginning around then, but with the chaos going on in Olympus (and with Isaac's invasion of the underworld distracting them further once it starts) it's unlikely to get resolved. It will continue for a while and presumably only gain traction as the days go on without a strong response from Olympus. You have the option of interacting with it around day 4/5 if you want to say that Isaac was keeping tabs on it while also organizing the underworld assault, which seems feasible. But there's also the option to just not entangle the timelines and have him look to fan the flames and/or subvert the heresy to align with him later, a few days after he's done the underworld attack.

I'm not sure exactly when a direct attack on his base would come from Olympus; Zeus was talked down from using the nuclear weapons but he still might have the north pole bombarded soon. So basically I don't want to keep your hands tied until we get around to writing that since there's no concrete plan yet. As an aside, it looks like we've lost Demeter's writer, so if you want Isaac to get a win I'm thinking there could be a world in which he somehow causes her death or abduction.
Heresy

Roughly 3 days after the death of Zeus


Along the placid banks of the rushing White River, a band of woodsmen toiled. Their brows glistened with sweat. Dirt had seeped into their linen and wool, had found its way beneath their nails, and a bit of it had even gotten into their ears. The morning’s drudgery had been as grueling for the men as the past two days’, but soon their work would be done and they could break camp and return to their villages. In the meantime, they rested and took their midday meal in the shadow of a great tree.

This was an ancient cedar, its trunk massive, scaly, and fissured, its aroma potent and as pleasing to the nose of men as it was repellent to insects. These trees, with their crushed leaves like incense and their wood red-tinged just like the innards of men, were sacred. Yet their lumber was also strong and sturdy, and they were abundant enough -- a verdant carpet of cedar forest sprawled from this very riverbank all the way to the slopes of Mount Chimaera upon the horizon, so an individual cedar was not so precious as to be overlooked by the lumberjacks. When the men were rested and their bellies full, they thanked the cedar that had granted them shade by felling the one beside it instead. Once the trunk had fallen upon the ground, they looked to the many irregular branches and broke off those parts too gnarled or small to be worthwhile. The usable lumber that remained was dragged to the riverbank (this was the most grueling work) and lashed together with other logs and limbs into great rafts that could be floated to construction works in the settlements downstream.

Their day’s labors were honest and uneventful, until the moment that a rustle resounded from the nearby bushes. The laborers thought nothing of it beyond it being boreal gusts. But the rustling began to envelop all surrounding groves around the woodsmen’s camp. In every direction it was heard, coming closer, and the first few woodsmen began looking up around them, unsettled. Had the hunting party returned? In a larger number than they were sent off, apparently.

Before it dawned on them that something unnatural was afoot, a booming voice was carried towards them in the aether.
‘’Citizens, drop your equipment.’’
The voice was accompanied with a fierce crack of lightning, frightening the humans. And they quickly did as instructed, dropping their equipment and falling prostrate on the ground.
‘..Olympus? T’is Olympus…’ they whispered among each other in hushed tones.
‘’SILENCE!’’ The booming voice spoke with holy impatience.

The whole workplace was rendered a graveyard of silence.Their work was abruptly halted to such a state where even the birds and crickets dared not make utterance.

‘’I am the Grand Aether. And I return to you with the following demand: sacrifice!
You are commanded to return to your abodes – that is to say, your village – and bring out every last bit of cellulose fiber – that is to say – paper.’’
Hearing this, the workmen looked at one another with bewildered looks, but they dared not question the sudden request. As if answering their confusion, the voice continued.
‘’Yes. Every last bit in your possessions. Reserve even a single morsel, and I will know immediately… I am always watching you.’’
Any common sense Hellesian knew that the last part was no idle threat, and they were likewise cognisant of a history where terrible punishments had been dealt before… Unwilling to risk its anger, the workmen complied.

They left their works at the logging camp unfinished and returned to their hamlet downstream. Other disparate bands that had been out making their living in the forests and countryside had already returned after having been given the same ultimatum, so the village’s hovels were turned upside down and what little paper there was -- mostly ledgers and receipts, with just a few parchment maps and books -- had all been piled up in a clearing just beyond the settlement’s edge.

Witnessing this, another breeze picked up and bristled past the accumulation of paper as though inspecting. At least that was how the villagers interpreted this breeze. They tensely awaited judgment, hoping that nothing had been overlooked.

Slowly the same voice returned, distant and ethereal.
"I see your offering. None of it is what I seek. Therefore, therefore.."
The voice began to tremble with indignation, its tone raised to a higher pitch. "Lying mortals! You are keeping the true paper from us! You clearly do not fear us enough!"
Having heard this declaration, some of the villagers tried to plead to the wind.
"But this is truly all we have!" Some of them tried to say. However it was to no avail. It took only moments until from the nearby groves growling was heard, sounds not from ordinary wildlife, but beings wholly different from what the villagers are accustomed to…

The first creature emerged from the woods. An enormous 5 meter long jaguar-looking predator with metallic hooves for feet, and writhing serpentine appendages with fang-like hooks at their tips protruding from the beast’s spine. It bellowed a mighty roar, and those who heard it were filled with a deep primordial dread. The penultimate predator of their very ancient cavemen ancestors, every aspect of this creature was consciously designed to evoke the deepest anxieties stored in the human psyche.

Screams and madness engulfed the villagers. Some achingly grabbed for their axes, yet none of them had any intention of taking on this godly beast the Grand Aether had unleashed on them. Panickedly they ran into the village, hoping to barricade themselves into its cottages, or do anything at all that their unraveling sanity could strategize.

But before they could even think of rushing into their houses, another beast appeared from the opposite direction who with a speed unmatched tore itself into the village’s center. It was even more horrifying than the last. It came in the guise of an animal in suffering – an abstract lion-shaped entity covered in pulsating grey skin and a complex system of moist, moving veins, spliced with bone fragments and tied up with a hulking mess of sinews and tendons. The creature was essentially completely inside out, but had a discernible head with great, predatory tusks and enormous incisor teeth. With no visible eyes it could only perceive its surroundings by wild sniffing.

The stench of fear and human sweat was what drew it and triggered its aggression. It bellowed a guttural roar before driving its teeth into the nearest woman it located. It struck with a force that snapped her spine and ribcage, the trauma of which ended her instantly.
These beasts – the Chimera – were hardly alone. Hundreds of them, in all manner of hideous forms and sizes appeared across the countryside, depopulating entire villages as they went when those failed to provide satisfying sacrifice. Which was each of them. For it appeared that no community had that specific piece of parchment they sought. And as quick as the Chimera moved under guidance of the grand Aether, news of their terror seemed to move even faster, to the very far reaches of the mortal dominion.



There were few temples in the woody hinterlands, and so it was not uncommon for Nikos’ small shrine in one of the first seaward towns to receive postulants from far abroad about the countryside. On his hillock overlooking neatly tilled fields as far as the eye could see, he would receive woodloggers and huntsmen alike, and for each he had a bit of paternal advice, as if he shared his home and haunts - for in his time he had seen much of what the White River’s long shores had to offer.

That day, however, he was astonished as he rarely had been in his declining years, for such a visit was unprecedented. A gaggle of ragged, dusty men stood panting below the small stoa, each one of them looking as if he had wrestled a lion. The many rags they had wrapped around their extremities were stained in deep, crusted red.

More surprising yet were the words that came out of their mouths.

“Why did it happen? Why here?”

“What were they looking for?”

“Why wasn’t he pleased?”

“Why—?”

The aged priest raised his hands to quiet down the frantic mob, wincing as their voices frenetically piled over one another.

“Peace now, my friends. Who wasn’t pleased?”

“They–”

The voices cut off as one man, less thoroughly shaken than the rest, stepped forward.

“We were-” his speech stumbled before finding its footing, “We were working in the cedar grove, and then there was a voice from the sky! The Great Ath- The Great Aether, it called itself. It told us to bring out all the- paper we had, and we did, but- It wasn’t-”

His voice broke off, and the man behind him picked up.

“It wasn’t pleased- It wasn’t good enough, I don’t know, I don’t know! And then the beasts, the beasts from the mountain- !”

“They killed them, us! The wrath of the gods! Only we got away. Why did they do it?!”

“Why, father? You know the will of the gods! Why did they do it?”

Nikos blinked, running a hand through his beard as he tried to make sense of the barely-coherent tale that had just swept over his head like a burst of hail. Divine punishment was a truth that everyone was aware of, but few ever had the misfortune of truly encountering. He had well expected to live out the full of his age without hearing anything more than cautionary tales about it, and yet now here it was, thundering down on his very doorstep. And he, who had collected every legend and odd tale that had trickled down from Olympus to his corner of the world, could make no sense of this.

“This Great Aether, it wanted paper? Did anyone in your town have any strange scrolls, books?”

“None!” The lead man threw up his hands. “We’re just loggers, father. Just five of us even knew how to read. We’d never kept more than shipping records for the market!”

“Ah.” It was all Nikos could say, to prevent the silence from becoming torturous. “If you weren’t demanded anything in particular…”

“Just paper,” the man shook his head, “It said something about cellulose, but I reckon that’s just another name for it. If you’re asking…” He looked at Nikos disconsolately. “Does that mean you don’t know, either?”

The priest grimly nodded, feeling oddly ashamed about this deficiency. It was not something he could rightly blame himself for, he realized - what could he, a mere old man, know of what the gods thought from one moment to another? - but that did not help. These men had rested their hopes on him, if not for solace, then at least for an answer, a reason for their lives being so abruptly torn apart for no apparent reason. His one and only duty there was to reassure people, to clear the sometimes murky designs of the divine in their eyes, and he had failed. There was no proverb, no parable to give here, only words that he did not have, did not know where to find.

And if he could not even do this one thing, then what good was he?




What grievance against the gods have we wrought to deserve this calamity?

This was the question that Nikos was left to contemplate as he brought those survivors that could walk down the river, hoping to find aid and refuge for them. Their wounds could be healed, but for their questions, what was there that he could say?

Now he was just like them. To whom was a guide to turn to when he himself was lost?

The answer could only ever be to an older, more experienced guide… be that an even more exalted priest or the gods themselves. The Great Temple of the Highest was of course dedicated to the King of the Gods, and there resided the High Priest of Zeus who ruled over the country with an authority that could only be rivaled by the king of Lycia himself. Fortunately, this grand temple was located in the capital, so both secular and sacral leadership came from the same wellspring.

The capital was a thriving port-city called Telmessos that lay a good two leagues downstream at the river’s mouth. Beyond its deep harbor lay the channel separating the mainland from that powerful archipelagic country called the Presidom of Herea, and before its limit lay a great wall wrought from slabs of sandstone. Etched upon the edifices of the great gates of Telmessos were the depictions of great men and gods, heroism and glory and bravery coming to life upon the rough, suntan rock. The expressions of the living were not so inspiring, though.

The gates themselves were narrow, half-closed so as to be wide enough for only a small donkey-drawn cart to pass through, or a few men abreast. Right before and around the gate were a few dozen soldiers with spears in hand so as to stave off the mob, and a mob it was! Throngs of people stood before the gate, pleading for entry. There were farmers and herders, woodsmen and trappers, withered whitebeards and bawling infants, wealthy merchants and diseased paupers. They all wanted in, but even a great city could only spare so much room and succor.

Here and there, priests made their way through the crowds bearing rough linen blankets, loaves of bread, and skins of water. In other places, the wounded had been gathered together so that a few overworked medics and herbalists could do what they might.

Nikos turned to those charges that he had brought. “Friends, it seems that we are not the only ones that turn to the capital for protection. Keep patience and hope upon your breasts. Hold to it so tightly as Penelope, and in time the good men of the city will speak with you and offer what aid they can.”

“And what of you?” demanded one of them.

“You leave us?” another said, panic creeping into his eyes.

Nikos rested a hand upon that second one’s shoulder. “They will not turn back a holy man. I feel your scorn; I advise patience to you but do not exercise it myself, but it is of great importance that I see the High Priest of Zeus immediately. He must be made aware of all that has happened to us.”

They accepted that explanation grimly, so without another word, Nikos turned about and began approaching the gate. There was a queue of sorts; he felt the stinging ire of many eyes and heard curses in many murmurs as he walked past the line. Then when the winding queue became a great disorganized crowd nearer to the gate, he began to push his way through, and here he was pushed, his ribs struck by elbows, his face once spat upon, but he stride by stride pressed forward to the very front of the masses. He stopped only when one of the gatesmen leveled a spearpoint to his breast.

“And who are you?” the soldier shouted over the clamoring of the crowd, whose tumult was so great as to have deafened Nikos.

“A warden of a shrine,” he shouted back, “a priest of Zeus!”

The guard scoffed. Nikos clenched his jaw. “You will grant me entry! The High Priest must know what I have seen! Beasts roam the countryside, and a god brought retribution unto a village–”

“You think yourself the first?”

Nikos blinked, not understanding. Had he misheard? He looked intently at the soldier’s lips to read them over the din.

“A dozen like you are already come! The High Priest knows, fool! These are the end of days! Zeus himself is dead!

The words pierced through the clamor, then echoed back from distant corners of the crowd as surely as if they’d been cried out into a canyon.

Zeus is dead.

The world began to spin, and Nikos no longer heard anything else, not even the clamoring crowd. He hardly felt them either, even as hands seized him to push and throw him backward through the throngs, even as he fell down and the first of many feet trampled over him.


Year 413 P.A.
The day after Zeus’ death





Politicking was always a delicate, subtle art. Even in a monarchy of immortal gods, perception and appearances were all; even the young Zeus understood this. Accordingly, it was with great care and exacting purpose that the great rectangular feast table had been arranged by him and the Majordomo. The seating was as thus:

For Zeus himself was reserved the highest and grandest seat of all, a resplendent golden throne adorned with thunderbolts wrought from electrum. His place was naturally at the head of the table, for he was king. Sharing the end of the table with him was Hera, the queen, who sat beside him on the left atop a silvered throne adorned with imagery of cows. Though they were not with them at the head of the table, Athena and Hebe still came next; however, at that moment Athena was not present, having excused herself to retrieve her gift to the king of the gods. Because they were the king’s children, theirs were the auspicious spots closest to the end, with Hebe on Hera’s side and Athena on Zeus’, taking the especially prized position as the king’s right hand. The goddess of wisdom arrived just as everyone had finally started to settle into their chairs, striding past with military speed - it was her manner to go everywhere quietly and at speed, her movements betraying nothing other than single-minded purposefulness. Stopping at the head of the table, by Zeus’ seat - throne, really - she fell to one knee and presented him with a broad-bladed quantising antimatter amorphodantium energysword forged and reforged until its purity had caused the entire blade to become a faint blue, and odd patterns reminiscent of flowing water to run along the entirety of the blade. Currently dormant, Athena had painstakingly laboured over it in her Tartarian FORGE facility, and refined it so that it would only ever respond to the touch of the highest of the gods; the merest contact by him with the nanofibres interlaced along the entirety of the white hilt would immediately cause the stabilised antimatter power nexus embedded within the hilt and inside the blade to issue forth a devastating antimatter corona that would destroy all forms of matter on contact. Within that antimatter corona was a second layer of disruptive energy issued by multi-energy nanotransistors that acted to ensure the blade was as effective against all forms of energy as it was against matter. “It came to you last, Almighty Zeus, but let it not be least.” She spoke softly, eyes downcast as she sheathed the blade and extended it, perched gently on her hands, to him.

“Speak not such things, for neither it nor you could ever be the least,” he answered softly, accepting the blade with ginger hands. “It’s beautiful. Perhaps before this year is passed, this blade will have shorn Typhon in half.” It sounded like an idle platitude, but Zeus was indeed imagining the thing cleaving through Typhon -- or Isaac Holcomb, as it was. Ruminating upon Typhon had consumed a good deal of his mental energy that morning, but he resolved not to let it show, and so directed his full attention to the assembly before him.

Athena took her seat at last and her eyes fell upon those of her sister, Hebe. The two sisters faced one another across the table, opposites in every way. Hebe’s chair was decorated with images of the eternal ouroboros and the immortal phoenix, while Athena’s had been personally carved by the goddess from olive wood and was replete with intricate olive motifs, medusoid ornaments, and owlish designs. It was in every way the display of masterful craftsmanship she had intended it to be. Athena’s grey eyes observed the girl for a few moments, she gave the slightest of smiles, then let her gaze fall down towards her feet. Hebe on her part avoided looking at Athena altogether as the Olympian Princess and Queen Hera walked over to their end of the table. There was faint whispering between the two royal ladies.

Next came the spymistress Apate, seated to Athena’s right. Hers was a sable seat so simple and unadorned that it seemed out of place, especially beside that of Athena, but it was comfortable enough with its cushions of black velvet. Hermes’ place was situated across from her and to Hebe’s left, the mercurial god’s chair decorated with motifs of fish, winged birds, palms, and the likeness of his beloved caduceus. Past Hermes came Demeter’s place, her seat appearing to have been grown from the hard floor. Thick vines thrust from the floor, entwined into a solid mass. The back of the chair converged into a delicate wreath of floral sprays. And then that of Artemis, smooth, silvered and looking rather uncomfortable. Across from them, Apollo sat beside Apate, and across from the virtuoso was Eros. There was no real space for Hephaestus (or Coeus as he insisted) now, the late Zeus in his ire ordering the engineer’s chair scrapped after he’d decided to disfigure himself and take the guise of a cat, but near the far end there was enough open space for the cat to at least bring his hoverboard up to the table.

And then on the opposite end of the table, furthest from Zeus and Hera, were the obsidian seats for Hades and Zagreus, the only scion that had a place at this high table. Their chthonic thrones were ornately fashioned with deathly iconography, each arm of the placements ending in sculpted skulls and both backs ending in a pair of crossed bidents. Hades might have disliked the great distance between himself and his supposed brother, but in truth that was a place of honor too; giving him the other end all to himself was some soft recognition to his title as king of the underworld. That placement almost made Hades look like Zeus’ equal… almost.

For the rest of them, their distance from Zeus’ end of the table was supposedly a mark of their standing with him. In reality, it was more indicative of their usefulness and the frequency of their interactions.

And of course, the table itself was topped with a feast of all manner of choice things. A few calves and lambs had been claimed as tribute from nearby villages, and the choicest cuts had been slowly roasted. Hellas’ massive and bountiful oceans made seafood a staple for much of the planet, so a great many fish had also been prepared: blackened salmon with lemon and dill, spiced tuna with rice and creamed cheese and seaweed wrapping, and even seared steaks of swordfish, boiled octopus legs in a rich dark sauce, and dishes made from other aquatic creatures that were stranger yet. Aside from those main fares, there were too many smaller things and finger foods for anyone to possibly sample. Little sandwiches, layered baklava pastries filled with honey and almond, crisps with cheese, all manner of sweetmeats, and a dozen different fruits were on offer. Seemingly fantastical apples gleamed more vividly than gold or jewels rested on platters, but they were not mere decoration; even their gleaming peels were edible, and the flesh inside was delicious. Dates, figs, and pears were there too. A myriad of grapes of all manner of colors, size, and wild flavors surrounded the other fruit on the platters. Courtesy of genetic engineering done long ago under Demeter, there was a grape for almost every sweet or sour flavor that one could want for. Then there were bits of cheese and pickled olives to cleanse the palate, and pitchers of wine and ale were scattered here and there to wash it all down.

And then there were amphorae filled with ambrosia, perhaps the most legendary item of all. In reality, the stuff disappointed; it was glorified nutrient paste synthesized from chemicals within an automated reactor that came as a relic from the ship. In time the mildly sweet, carbohydrate-rich goop could grow on a person, and by virtue of being so nutritious you could live on it and little else, but the lack of texture and odd taste of all the minerals made it far from a gourmet’s first choice. Zeus had tried the ambrosia exactly once, and that had been enough. Still, a few ascetics in Heaven favored it, whether out of some deliberate rebellion against decadence or just to cultivate a severe and disciplined reputation. On the rare occasions he had observed Athena to eat at all, for instance, it had been some kind of specially altered ambrosia of her own engineering. She eschewed - nay, perhaps looked down upon - all else.

When Hephaestus came upon the table for the first time in nearly two centuries, a familiar feeling of nostalgia washed over him. This sweet reminiscence however was quickly disturbed by a glooming reminder: his seat had been replaced. Immediately his snout turned to a frown as Coeus quietly hissed at Hermes for having supplanted his old spot. Once upon a time it was Coeus who was the favorite of Olympus. Now look how the Master Engineer had fallen from grace – all due to Zeus’ unwillingness to accept the new him. T’was nearly enough to make a grown panther cry.

“Please, be seated,” Zeus’ voice rang out. His head cocked just slightly to glance at the absurdity that was Coeus, who’d come to hover near Hades’ end of the table. To think he was Olympus’ best engineer, and perhaps the one who’d brought the greatest gift! Perhaps the real joke wasn’t Hephaestus, but rather the rest of the council. The king shook the thought out of his mind and took a few steps over to pull out Hebe’s chair for her. He offered her a hint of a smile and a reassuring pat, then paced back to his own place. The Princess replied with a nod and a curtsy before sitting down, followed by a hushed “Thank you..’’.
They’d all taken their seats by then, but still the king himself remained standing.

“So I am king. There will not be any coronation, because Zeus was already king and still is king, forever shall be king, and so forth. We are all agreed on this, yes?” His gaze flitted back and forth, scanning them all, lingering on the faces of each and every one of them in turn. “Swear your allegiance. It’s important that in these trying times, we begin with that. So that will be our first of many matters to address today.”

“It seems curious you would demand an oath of allegiance given we have already sworn one to you.” Hermes drawled, holding his helmeted visage up with one elbow propped up irreverently on the table. “After all, you are almighty Zeus, King of the Gods and the Heavens, the All-Father on High, and always have been. All this fuss about new beginnings seems so terribly confusing to me, given nothing has changed.” He turned his faceted visor to stare dead at Zeus. “Am I right?” He asked rhetorically to the assembled high pantheon. “We are all loyal and avowed subjects to Zeus and always have been.”

Zeus smiled icily at the messenger of the gods. “Of course. You speak truth, and this shouldn’t be necessary, but I have to make sure that this was understood. It would not do to have anyone think otherwise. So reaffirm your allegiance.”

“Naturally.” Hermes said cheerfully as he finally corrected his posture and sat up straight in his chair. “I imagine you would like this expedited, but formalized? For the sake of our recordkeeper over yonder.” He gestured to GULA’s EMU, stood silently at one end of the room.

Zeus affirmed the notion with a small nod. Of course, GULA wasn’t there as a recordkeeper, but they didn’t need to know that yet…

“Well I can hardly make such a formal avowal without my badge of office…let’s see…where DID I leave that damn thing…” Hermes made a play of patting down his feathered cloak. “Ah. According to my staff I appear to have let you borrow it for a while. Would you happen to have my Kerykeion on you at the moment, All-Father?”

Now Hermes was making a nuisance of himself, and Zeus didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. “Messenger,” he addressed the god, smiling widely, “be quiet. Now is not the time to ask for your toy back.” The king looked expectantly at the rest of them. Hermes shrugged before making a gesture indicative of zipping his lips with one hand, before craning both arms behind his head and leaning back in his seat.

Zeus should have let Hermes’ impudence go so that there wouldn’t be even more of an interruption, but he couldn’t help himself. That last little mocking gesture had made him seeth even more, but he had an idea. “Actually Hermes, why don’t you take off that helmet? We’re trying to speak and have lunch here, as a family.” That last, strange word rolled off his tongue roughly. It wasn’t one that the clone had heard or used more than a few times in his life.

Hermes shrugged again and raised his hands to his helmet. There was a loud, buzzing hiss as atmosphere vented from a seam that abruptly materialized around the messenger’s neckline before the messenger removed it and set it on the table.

Hermes’ face stirred no recognition in Zeus’ faded memories whatsoever. It was as though he were gazing at a stranger. If the original Zeus had ever known the semblance of the Herald of the Gods, this was not it. His face was rounded, with foxen features and pronounced cheeks, and his curled hair was a dusken black with flecks of ruddish gold. His expression was nothing less than one of self-satisfied smugness - an easy and effortless smile that never quite left his face, leaving a habitual crook in the corners of his mouth. The only irregularity about his appearance were his eyes - low and lidded, revealing nary a trace of tension, as the corneas were a solid black in coloration, and his irises a field of opalescent stars.

A thud rumbled across the table as Hades, the abyssal deity, shifted his weight onto the ornate slab, rustling plate and plaster alike. The chthonic king leaned onto his armored elbows, bringing his clawed gauntlets into a steeple before him. “Hermes speaks the truth in one matter, brother, we have already sworn our allegiance to you upon Olympus many, many years ago. The Fates have decreed that you will forever be vested as the High King of Hellas and beyond. It goes without saying, but you have my - and those of my realm’s - allegiance. Glory to you, Zeus!” The thundering voice of Hades finished, casting his gaze across the table to the rest of the Pantheon. Twin, azure orbs narrowed on Hermes for a second longer as his facial features swiveled to the High King and inclined his head in a bow. His stern features rose once more after eventually being acknowledged.

The chthonic prince, stiff and uncomfortable, cast his emerald gaze across the Pantheon before joining his father’s gesticulation. His unkempt, black hair bounced as he inclined his head in a bow to the All-Father of Olympus. “Glory to you, Lord Zeus. As my father said, so shall I. You have my allegiance.” Zagreus spoke in an unnaturally formal tone, under laden with unease after the previous accidental confrontation with the High King. His emerald eyes rose to rest upon Zeus, and then on Hebe with an uneasy, small smile. To this Zeus nodded slightly, once, twice; first directed to Hades and again for Zagreus. He sensed the prince’s unease and made a deliberate effort to relax his own expression and posture. Of course, even that failed to break all of the tension in the air.

The pregnant atmosphere was anon pierced by a loud, dull crack. Imperceptible in the instantaneous flow of her motion, Artemis had stood up; but where her movement had been soundless, not so was the impact of the long, recurve hunting knife she had driven into the wood of the table. Her hand kept a firm grip over its bone hilt as she looked up at Zeus' throne, with such intensity as if nothing else around them existed. For the king’s part, he tilted his chin and raised his eyebrows; she’d commanded his attention.

"It was not I who swore allegiance to the King of the Gods in my place, and it was not you that it was sworn to," she began, "But our loyalty has always stood regardless. It is the oath of the forest to Olympus, more than any words that run from mouth to ear. So I'll swear now to you, High King, that as long as the trail of my knife is on your table you will have nothing but obedience from me, but this is the echo of words older than us both. It's not mere fealty that ties us, but fate." A satisfied smile and a nod were the response that she earned from Zeus.

"You're doing well, dear." Eros quietly said to Zagreus, giving him a reassuring smile and a squeeze on the arm after he finished saying his allegiance. The god of love stood up gracefully and turned to Zeus, their cherubim hair and face contrasting the intense red of their eyes. "The original Eros had sworn loyalty to you eons ago, Lord Zeus, and that will not change now. As the current title bearer, this Eros will serve you dutifully and swear allegiance to the High King in the name of love." They said serenely and with a bow, to Zeus’ approval.

Eros then turned to the other members of the Pantheon. "Now, now. There's no need for all this tension in the air. We are family, yes? Please don't tell me this is how we'll always be whenever we all gather together again. Let us all be cordial and warm for the sake of family. Unless of course, you all want me to lighten up the mood…" Eros playfully said and giggled before sitting back down on their seat.

"Another time, dear Eros." Apollo tittered, briefly tearing their gaze from Zeus to the god of Love. "I suppose I would agree with Hermes, in a sense, for complex philosophical reasons I will not bore all of you with -- nonetheless, I will duly reaffirm my loyalty, as will all my kin, as is good and appropriate," she said, dipping her head in a small show of careful deference.

“Take heed not to agree with him too often, lest your mind fester and his ways become your own,” Zeus quipped back, surprised by his own vitriol. But he waved it away with a hand. “Your loyalty is appreciated.”

Next came Coeus’ turn to make his loyalty vow. ‘’I, Hephaestus the Hypernaut do so solemnly pledge my subservience to the King of Olympus, Zeus the Magnanimous Omnipotent.’’ The cat declared as solemnly pompous as possible, holding out a metal appendage from his hoverboard onto the table.

“And your pledge is happily received, Engineer,” Zeus answered back with what bordered upon unnerving enthusiasm. “I do look forward to working with you, especially over the coming days, on the specifics of your gift’s deployment. All in due time!” The king found himself wondering if the eccentric cat didn’t deserve a choicer place at the table, but he kept such thoughts unvoiced for the time being.

Demeter eyed each fellow god as they spoke, but it was Hades’ reaction she had been most intrigued to see. First to readily agree after that scamp, Hermes said his piece. The goddess was stoic in her musings, though by the time that she felt a moment to put herself forward, the whole proceedings had felt like they had gone on too long. “I, Demeter, do pledge my fealty and that of my kin, to you, Zeus.” What more was needed than the affirmation the reborn king desired - however curious that may have been.

Athena was last to speak. Leaning forward in her seat and resting her elbows on the table, she allowed her gray gaze to drift across the faces of the other gods, a small smile, uncomplicated and candid, frozen on her lips. She paused on Hera’s eyes, her smile falling away as she beheld the woman. Sophia, the clone who had so impeccably filled Athena’s role in Olympus since the previous day, had naturally made it her first priority to visit the woman and comfort her, but no amount of comfort could chase away such grief. It was only a momentary pause, and her eyes shifted and stopped, at last, on Zeus. The smile returned to her lips and she nodded to him. “I am but an extension of you, my lord.” She spoke in her characteristically gentle tone, then leaned back into her chair and said no more, her eyes downcast and mind seemingly elsewhere.

“Good, then.” Finally satisfied with the lot of them and their renewed fealty (for whatever the words were worth; even Zeus estimated their value to be little) the king seated himself at last. He carelessly seized a single grape and popped it into his mouth, biting into it to experience a pleasant snappiness to its texture and an explosion of blue raspberry flavor. He swallowed it quickly and pointedly, waving a hand; now that he’d claimed the first bite, they were all free to help themselves if they had the appetite for it. Zeus didn’t.

“Now we can move on to other, important things,” the king went on. He’d almost said more important things, but he’d stopped himself before tripping there. Their fealty was important. “I know that what most presses your minds will be the gruesome events of yesterday… truly sickening, horrifying. The attack on my prior incarnation was an attack on my own person too, and by extension upon all of you, and Olympus itself, and upon reason and order and the state and so forth. It cannot and will not stand, and for that matter I immediately took it upon myself to lead the investigation.”

He stopped, remembering himself. Lost among all the indulgent platters and plates of the banquet, there was one particular device and its remote. Zeus found the controls and activated a noise-cancellation field that surrounding the table and its immediate vicinity; none of the guards and servants attending them from a few feet away would hear anything, let alone anybody closer to the gates or across the courtyard at the tables that had been set aside for most of the scions and lessers. Even Majordomo Zelos and the GULA’s EMU had been left to watch and wait just beyond the veil of silence. No, here they had the privacy of their words, even if they remained visible. It was good and deliberate that they were seen together out there in the courtyard, though.

“Now we can speak more freely. Rest assured that I have been diligent and tireless in the investigation’s work; the last day and night has been entirely devoted to it. It took me from the palace’s highest levels to its lowest, through all manner of dusty vaults -- and as an aside, I did uncover one old artifact that might be of interest to you all. I’ll even share it; perhaps its rediscovery will bring some light to these dark times, and repay the generosity of all these gifts you’ve brought.”

Zeus smiled and clapped, almost instinctively. Then he remembered that nobody beyond the table could hear, and irritated at himself for looking the part of a fool, he glanced over his shoulder to try and signal his majordomo. The ever-vigilant Zelos had seen and understood the clap though, and he was already gliding forward. When the minor god leaned his head through the energy field, Zeus commanded simply, “Bring the relic.” Then Zelos was gone as quickly as he’d come, and the king was left to continue his allocution.

“We tore the palace apart, turned it upside down,” he summarized. “143 servants, guards, and other potential witnesses have already been questioned, 86 of those subjected to memory audits, a half dozen tortured,” he detachedly rattled off. “Full forensics analysis was done of the scene, the remains were transferred into the custody of GULA for an autopsy, and of course, I consulted what relevant data S.I.H.T. could provide. I even took it upon myself to go through all of my past incarnation’s personal effects -- not just to inventory and claim them, but to try to find anything unusual, any suspects or possible motives for this butchery and defilement. It will take time to go through all of his journals and logs; I confess I’ve only read a miniscule portion, but then, they span centuries and I’ve had mere hours.”

He stopped. There was an icy, long, and very uncomfortable silence while he let the news settle in. He waited longer still so that it could ferment and fester, and then finally he broke the silence with a chuckle of all things. “You may think this excessive, or myself mad or obsessive. But it’s like I told Zelos: I’d sooner raze the whole palace to the ground than suffer potential traitors, assassins, spies, or conspirators to skulk within its august halls.” Pointedly, this meeting was happening outside.

“You must also understand that I had to do this without consulting any of you at first. I know that we are family and should be able to trust one another implicitly, but it would have been foolish not to wonder… there’s only so many that would have had the knowledge, the power, the connections to do this -- nobody could have done this alone or without leaving a trail, no matter how genius. Fortunately, I’ve made some findings, and what evidence has been uncovered thus far points in directions away from this table.”

Apollo, all the while, twisted her expression into knots, already deep in thought as the god of knowledge was often wont to do. "It is most reassuring that the culprit does not appear to be among us, My King." Apollo interjected, forcing her expression to relax somewhat as she looked toward Zeus, making certain to look at his face without directly meeting his gaze. "...I must notice the trepidation with which you speak, however -- the evidence points away from us," she said, gesturing around the table with her left arm. "But does it point away from Olympus?" Zeus raised both his eyebrows but didn’t answer; he was enjoying the drama of drawing this out.

The chthonic king carefully listened to the words of his elder brother and Apollo, picking apart particular phrases and sifting flowery language to get to the core of the matter. Without even realizing it, he had already arrived at the answer to the conundrum before them. He raised a clawed hand, waving it dismissively at the notion of the murderer within Olympus. “Brother, you’ve gone through all of this trouble when the answer is outside of the High Pantheon. We’ve been waging wars with him for nearly four centuries. The most obvious culprit is Typhos - damn his existence to Tartarus. For the transgression of assaulting your previous incarnation, I shall swear wrath and murder upon Hellas.” Hades’ thunderous tone was resolute, firm in his findings to the point he appeared as if ready to do just as he spoke. Only when his scion put a hand on the abyssal lord’s shoulder did his fury momentarily pass.

Zagreus returned to a calm demeanor after halting another episodic rage from his father. The chthonic prince gave a short smile to Eros after their comment before returning his emerald gaze to the speakers of the High Pantheon. He dared not speak, though his mind ran amok of the possibilities. Each thought he gathered, however, was an equally heretical one. The scion felt his voice slip before he could catch it.

Could Lord Gula not have done it?” His voice was soft and silent, words spoken in thought as opposed to intentionally uttered. Zagreus then realized his mistake in pronouncing that question, slowly hiding his mouth behind a raised hand and praying that only his chthonic father heard him. A single glance across the far end of the table showed that Hermes - who had been pretending to be asleep - had cracked a single starry eye open in Zagreus’ direction.

“I have a suggestion.” Hermes yawed as he lazily stretched his arms. “Here we all are at this nice party, great food, great drinks, great decor, and, uh, company…” He waved vaguely across the assembled party at the table with a smirk. “It would be a shame to ruin this congenial atmosphere with accusations, even if we are all in the clear, yes? I suggest that if anybody has any notion as to possible perpetrators, simply deliver the idea to me and I will convey them anonymously for our benefit - no hard feelings or ill will required. After all, the innocent have nothing to fear, and to reward prudence with hardship seems most deplorable. Let us skip the theatrics and assess all possibilities earnestly.”

‘’I for one suspect it was you, postal boy.’’ Hephaestus boldly declared with a sneer. ‘’How come you were on the scene so early? Also, I would like to point out you’ve taken my spot.’’

Zeus cleared his throat to silence them all. As droll (and telling) as their rampant speculation had been, he sensed that letting it run out of control for much longer would cause mayhem. “Such interesting thoughts! Now Hermes, what a noble offer. But as it seems like this whole affair bores you to the verge of sleep, I think it best that any whispers go directly to my own ear. I am leading the investigation, after all.”

“Ah, so we are doing this with throwbacks?” Hermes quipped, blatantly ignoring Hephaestus’ accustation. “I wonder how long it has been since any of us last actually wrote down anything. I, for one, have not touched a quill in over a century. Such dreary things.” He splayed his hands and conjured a small, holographic visage of Zeus that then proceeded to vomit a deluge of illusory calligraphy pens onto the surface of the table which then began to spread and propagate until the entire front end of the table was submerged under the faintly translucent sea of implements, with more starting to spill over the edges and dribble down onto the floor with the faux–sound of clattering metal.

Hebe Dia can’t help but hold a hand to her mouth as she playfully chuckles. ‘’Oh Hermes, you are simply the wittiest among the gods! Don’t you think so too mothe–’’

Zeus was livid. He stood from his chair and roared loud enough to make Hebe flinch, to make a drop or two of spittle fall upon her face, “Hermes, cease this foolishness at once! Your king is speaking!” Hermes wordlessly waved a hand and the holographic cascade vanished, along with their vomiting progenitor. He then resumed his craned-back position and closed his eyes once more.

Zeus sat again and took a few moments to find his train of thoughts once more. This time, he didn’t take so much enjoyment out of the dramatic pause. “As for the investigation, why, I’ve already made some findings that could illuminate you all.” Another long, pregnant pause let that sink in. The cloned Zeus really had a penchant for theater. “Hades,” he eventually chirped. “Brother. You and I…” He stopped to look down at the table, chuckle, and helped himself to another grape. He slowly chewed, enjoying that particular one’s chocolatey flavor, before finishing his thought. “...we think much the same. I too suspect Typhon; beyond the obvious motivation, the timing just so happens to coincide with when he’s about due for another attempt at killing us all. And there’s other circumstantial evidence for it too. We’ve laughed at him for too long, arrogantly thinking him under control and useful to Olympus. Yes, arrogantly. Too many of us have grown complacent and overly confident. Too much time in the sun, or out in the woods,” he lectured, casting his eyes and his aspersions towards Demeter and Artemis in that moment, “...or not enough.” By the end, his eye had wandered to Hades’ anemic visage. “Let this tragedy at least rouse us from our stupor so that we can regain control over my planet. Let us no longer be so assured in the foolish thought that Typhon wouldn’t learn, wouldn’t change his methods.

“It was a brave choice indeed to try to exploit his presence and predictable nature, to create a bogeyman to rally the mortals and demigods around. That’s now become a foolish choice. It might be a wise choice to make an example of him now, but I’m not interested in quixotic wisdom. The pragmatic choice is to kill our enemies so that they cannot make further nuisances of themselves. So, Engineer, Typhon is my intended target for your neutron bomb. Let’s blast the ice cap to smoke him out, and then finish him for good.”

Demeter’s stoicism broke, perhaps by the utter absurdity of the plan offered - surely this was a test - but also from the slight she felt he had dealt her. Caring for the fields of Hellas was agonizing work. She only received brief moments of euphoria when she was able to work in her lab before it was time to return to the mundane work that kept the planet fed - or starving when needed. “You would kill far more than sinister Typhon, and the damage would be far beyond what I could repair.” She paused. “Surely there is an option with less…ah…collateral damage, my king.” By the end she had found a way to smooth the edges of her words.

Beside her, Artemis grim-facedly nodded her agreement. “Worse still, if we strike so recklessly and blindly, he will see it as our weakness and nothing more. It might be awesome for the mortals, but Typhon has not survived so far without cunning. He’ll know such a display as betraying our fear, and make himself an even greater nuisance. If we are to strike him down at the last, we must do it swiftly and quietly. He last of all must know when our bolt is at his throat.”

Coeus just looked at the two Goddesses with a perplexed frown. ‘’You are this invested in some god-forgotten remote wasteland? Nothing is alive out there. And even if there is, my tools shall soon remedy that.’’ The feline said with a smirk, confident this would put their concerns to rest.

Zeus had erstwhile clenched his jaw, and one fist to match. His fingers unclasped and he waved his open hand in an explosive, dismissive motion. “Bah, so be it! I’ll not look weak. Engineer, keep the device on standby; I’ll have to find another use for it. As in for Typhon? His demise should be anything but quiet. I want to extirpate him in spectacular fashion, in terrible fashion. I’ll have to think of something else.” His hand wandered down to the sword that Athena had bestowed unto him; he’d rested it upon the side of his chair, but now his hands wandered over the grip, imagining the thought of driving it into Typhon himself. He quite fancied the thought of challenging Olympus’ nemesis to personal combat, but didn’t bother voicing the suggestion aloud. He already knew that the complacent cowards would all protest against it, but his recklessness was more potent than they could imagine.

A smug aura surrounded the young king; he thought the idea quite ingenious, quite bold. But in that moment a servant stepped through the noise-cancellation field with a glass bottle in her hands. “Ah, the prized relic that I told you all about,” Zeus announced. He smiled. “This ought to bring the memories back! By my reckoning, it might be five centuries old. Set it right there,” he told the servant, gesturing to the corner of the table. She placidly did as he asked, and he turned the bottle to read its label. “Amon…till-a-dough? From a vineyard somewhere in a place called Italia.” He turned to the servant. “Girl, uncork this bottle. Then fill this cup. Don’t spill a single drop, or I’ll have you killed.”

Smiling all the while, menace never crept into his tone, but the color drained from the girl’s face all the same. Who knew if he was really joking? Ever carefully, she did as he asked, filling up the chalice only halfway for fear of spilling some. “What, that looks full to you?” Zeus chortled. She poured again, bringing it almost perfectly up to the top. “Good. Now let’s see if this spirit was worth the wait.” He held the gilded chalice up to his mouth, but before he brought the light, cloudy fluid to touch his lips, he sniffed. His brows furrowed and his nose wrinkled. He set the glass down.

“Dear wife, it occurs to me now that you’ve been quiet this whole time. And look at you, all in black; your mourning touches my heart. The first cup is yours. To my renewed life, and to my everlasting reign.”

She was silent, staring. He stared back expectantly before eventually gesturing to the chalice again. “I don’t want it,” Hera eventually told him.

He just laughed at that. “But I want you to try it. Besides, don’t people drink when they mourn? Drink.” She stared at him defiantly. “I won’t ask again.”

Finally, Hera broke beneath his withering gaze. She slowly brought the cup to her mouth and took a tiny, vinegary sip. Disgust was painted plainly across her face.

“So, how is it?” Zeus inquired. “Was it worth it to open such a priceless treasure? Ah, but I suppose you’ve hardly wet your lips; you won’t be able to say! Drink some more. Actually, the whole cup is yours.”

Hebe just stared nervously at her new father, wanting to speak up in her mother’s defense. But words just would not leave her throat. She stammered meekly ‘’F-fathe… Don’t d-’’ but her vain effort was thankfully cut short by the heroic reinforcement of another god.

"My most glorious King, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news-" Apollo offered, her voice soft and apologetic, "but I do believe that bottle may have been improperly sealed, allowing the contents within to spoil." She continued, dipping her head in a show of deference. "Surely, the bottles my children and I have brought would be preferable, for I have brought only the finest libations from abroad."

“We have only just decided to hunt our enemy, and already we’re toasting?” The Maiden of the Hunt (Artemis) had withdrawn her knife, but her scowl had only deepened as the repartée around the banquet table continued. “With all respect, o king, this is premature.”

Hades scowled at the appearance of a reminder from Old Arith, a deep frown darkening his complexion as his azure eyes fell onto the bottle. Once more, he made his presence known by letting his armored hands fall flat against the table. “The Maiden of the Hunt speaks correctly, as I’m sure Athena would agree.” On mention of her name, the silent goddess of wisdom glanced briefly towards Hades. Her expression was inscrutable and her eyes swiftly swung back to Hera; they were cold and full of meaning Hera, alone, well understood: this was not the time or place to make a scene; here she had but to do her queenly duty. It was a fleeting look and Athena’s eyes were cast down again barely before Hades continued. “Let us celebrate after we’ve torn Typhon asunder and cast his essence into the Underworld. Be rid of that relic, it stinks of Old Arith. Demeter or Apollo could ferment far better wine than the likes of that place.” The chthonic king hissed in annoyance, slowly remembering parts of his mortal life as Hera drank of the putrid liquid. His demeanor began to slowly shift as if threatened by the bottle’s appearance.

A thin layer of pink mist swirled throughout the room. The mist emitted a fragrance so potent that it overpowered the acidic smell of the centuries-old drink. The smell of the mist varied depending on the individual that inhaled them, the scent reminding them of the thing or event in their life where they last felt genuine love and peace. The source of the pink mist was Eros, wafting from their skin while they twirled the creamy pasta on their plate. “Now, now. That is not how you treat the honorable Hera, o’ great Zeus. You are indeed the King of the Pantheon, our most glorious leader, but you are also a husband, an uncle, a brother, and a father. Would you really act that way towards your wife in front of your family? In front of the God of Love?” Eros said, with a smile that didn’t reach their deep red eyes, as they looked at Zeus.

Coeus began to gag in the background. “GROSS. I inhaled it!’’ His paws began mashing buttons to activate the in-built air cleaner of his hoverboard lest his mind addled further. This – this was why he came prepared. In moments the pink mist that reached the Engineer’s part of the table was neutralized with an obnoxiously noisy vacuuming from the engine.

Apollo, likewise, recoiled from the mist, her chest abruptly heaving as her lungs shifted and warped, a membranous film covering the passage to her lungs just as a memory of her, drinking something on Old Arith and laughing, began to form. The last word she heard was mention of the vessel that would become Olympus -- and then it was gone. "Eros speaks true, father." Apollo commented, hoping that her show of deference -- one she rarely even gave to the original Zeus -- would further placate him.

They barked and squealed and protested and squirmed, but Zeus had no ear for any of it. Hera alone transfixed him. Beneath his stare, she drank another small sip, then a torturous gulp. She gagged. Hera shifted her eyes to meet the clone’s; he maintained a fierce eye contact until she broke her gaze away. “Finish it,” he insisted. He spoke softly, his lips barely even parting, and so quietly that it might have been drowned out by the clamor were it not for everyone awaiting his reaction. With a quavering hand, the queen brought the chalice back to her lips, but this time she ingested the vile swill more readily. Zeus snorted with contempt. “Are you using I.R.I.S. to mask the taste now?” This accusation came louder, venom and fire creeping into his tone. “And you thought I wouldn’t notice? Bah! I need a fair verdict of the taste. Will you need another cup now?”

It was in that moment that the pink vapor reached Zeus, and he found himself lost in a reverie. Athena, appearing unaffected and unfazed by the substance, sat silently right before him in the waking world, but he saw her as if in a dream, too. Then he blinked and roused himself from it, and looked down to see Hera crying -- he took it to be over the poor vintage, but it was another memory that had moved her to tears. “The taste was lacking. I must excuse myself, the drink did not suit me.”

“Sleep it off,” Zeus dismissed her. ‘Because you’re my wife, I might even let you wake from that sleep,’ was the part that he barely managed to leave unsaid. He finally looked towards the rest of the table then, with a mirthful grin. ‘If I could do that to her, what do you think I could do to all of you?’

After a tense moment Zeus instead declared, “A pity that the vintage disappointed. Brother, you were right. And Virtuoso, I’ll have her sample one of your own wines next time. When it’s a better occasion for a toast.” He grabbed the priceless, ancient bottle off the table and threw it over one shoulder, a servant barely ducking out of the way before it struck the ground and shattered. The sound of breaking glass was at least muted by the noise-cancellation field.

Hera gingerly rose from her place and took her leave. Once she was behind Zeus and out of his sight and hearing, she stepped around the broken bottle and flew toward the palace, doubtless to vomit. Zeus had more important things to worry about than the eyes of those who followed her retreat. “There’s another matter,” he proceeded as if nothing had happened. “It pertains to GULA. Well, first I’ll let it share the autopsy results and deliver its own verdict regarding what happened, absurd as it is…”

The young king gesticulated toward the EMU, beckoning it to advance toward the table.

“Current hypothesis accuracy: 76.6% likelihood of suicide,” came the modulated voice from the EMU, turning its head to the other gods to guage their reactions. For a moment it allowed for a brief silent before speaking of the other possible outcomes, “Other possibilities considered: Vitamin B12 Deficiency Induced Complication 1%, Cardiac Arrest 0.6%, Alcohol Poisoning 0.5%, Suffocation 0.4%, Arsenic Poisoning 0.1%.”

“A curious analysis.” Came Hermes’ voice. His tone had shifted - no longer lazy and lilting. The Herald was still leaning back in his chair, arms behind his head, but his eyes were now wide open and alert rather than low and lidded. The opalescent chasms glittered dangerously as he spoke. “Just for reference, here is a depiction of the body at the time it was discovered.”

A holographic screen shimmered into view near the head of the table, showing the state of the first Zeus’ corpse - if it could even be called that. What remained was a rancid, putrid mound of putrefied, blackened charnel with rough clumps vaguely approximating the ruined morphology of something that had once been humanoid. Several attendants standing outside the field of silence took a single look at the image and visibly blanched. A few dropped what they were holding in shock. A number of them suppressed retches. One of them abandoned their post on the spot to noisily vomit off to the side. Zeus grimaced, but forced himself to look at the gruesome sight yet again; a king oughtn’t be squeamish. Hermes’ tactless act caused Hebe to nearly faint. When the Princess caught a glimpse of her late father all the accumulated grief and dread she had repressed resurfaced in an instant. She despondently lowered her head as she held her face in her hands, softly weeping.

The heartless Hermes continued unimpeded:

“Rather conveniently, their nanites stopped transmitting to I.R.I.S. around half an hour prior to discovery, including biometric data. Local surveillance was, also conveniently, obscured due to atmospheric parameters being adjusted to create an appropriate ‘aesthetic’ for meditation - but, of course, one of Zeus’ rings monitored his biometrics at all times independently of his nanites and continued sharing them.”

Zagreus felt bile tickle the back of his throat at the thought that his uncle had been reduced to that form. A blackened gauntlet covered his lips to bite back the vomit desperately seeking to escape his insides. He shook his head in protest, managing to prevent himself from retching. Sorrowful eyes fell on the pitiful state of the High King’s previous incarnation.

Hades, having seen a plethora of more macabre instances, carefully scrutinized the blob that his brother had transformed into. The pale skin scrunched around his eyes as they narrowed in the conclusion wrought by Hermes. Reduced to Stygian sludge. A form easier to fertilize the Elysian Fields, he thought to himself as the Herald of the Gods continued to speak. The chthonic king remained silent, once more steepling his gauntlets to await a more appropriate moment to make his request. Outwardly, the abyssal lord beheld a quiet rage about his presence.

Coeus all the while only tensely squinted his eyes in skepticism that this holographic ooze could really be his former Lord Captain, and not some Hermesian faux. The cat wondered for a moment whether he could reanimate a genetic profile based on the substance, though the molecules are presumably too damaged.

On the other side of the table, Artemis did but briefly quirk an eyebrow at the sight before sinking back to her habitually grim expression.

“The data is consistent with what I am certain most of you already recognize as rampant medical Nanites.” Hermes carried on. “What is interesting though, is I had a virtual emulator run a few projections using the same biometric data, and it came up with this.”

The image of the old king’s gruesome remnants vanished and was replaced by a chart of labeled figures.

Catastrophic Spontaneous Organ Failure: 7.21e-12%
Medical Nanite Malfunction: 0.00000000001%
Coadopted Necrotizing Fasciitis: 0.00001%
Coadopted Autophagocytosis Necrosis: 0.0001%
Mass Enzyme Denaturing Cascade: 0.001%
Radiologic Attack: 0.01%
Intentional Self-Harm: 12.94%
Invalid User Modification of Medical Nanite Core Parameters: 19.17%
Erroneous Medical Nanite User Settings Reconfiguration: 29.52%
Medical Nanite Sabotage: 38.36%
Analysis Display


“And yet, somehow, the esteemed Lord GULA has naught to comment on except vitamin deficiency, alcohol poisoning, suffocation, and arsenic of all things. Nevermind that independent emulation found those possibilities even less likely than catastrophic organ failure. And the coroner doth rule the death a suicide. I think an elaboration upon your analysis is necessary, Lord GULA. You must have had the same information I did…unless you knowingly were not minding the late King’s biometrics.” Hermes gestured airily to GULA, his expression now one of nearly unmasked fascination.

“Elaboration, unnecessary. All present, untrained at medical sciences. Data expungement is only available for medical staff capable of understanding proper protocol,” GULA stated, the gaze of the EMU had not moved to truly acknowledge the demands of Hermes. It glared at the data analysis, seemingly taking in the information before a trill akin to a scoff came from the robotic being. The medical unit would only speak eerily further, “Medical Nanites Self-Sabotaged, hence, suicide. No further information dissemination allowed unless requested by Priority Personnel.”

Hermes opened his mouth as if to respond, but then paused, turning his head faintly to look towards the end of the table where Hades and his delegation were seated. He brought a hand up to his cheek, propping his head on the table in thought, his expression one of resigned contemplation - evidently troubled for some reason that was not immediately apparent.

"Is it truly so unthinkable that Zeus would commit suicide, as your analysis indicates?" Apollo interjected, turning to face Hermes. "The burden he carried was one of unthinkable weight to any of us but his new self, and eternal life itself can be said to be a terrible burden alone. I will apply the Antikythera to the investigation regardless, but I can't find much reason to be so suspicious of GULA's analysis until we gather more evidence. How did your analysis reach its conclusions? What guarantee do we have that your analysis is not flawed in the same way?"

“No reason to be suspicious? Apollo, if you saw the state of the body and thought for even a split instant that the cause of death could have possibly been due to suffocation amongst other evidently asinine afflictions, then you are very nearly as suspect.” Hermes snapped at Apollo irritably. “The issue is with the conclusory nature of their analysis. Either Zeus committed suicide or else he drank too much and had a heart attack, consequentially leading to his entire body to dissolve into viscous, molecular sludge.” Hermes made a very odd gesture with his head - reminiscent of one rolling their eyes, though given the twinkling, stygian depths of his helm it lost some of its effect. “Meanwhile, Lord GULA refuses to provide insight into their analysis and why it seemingly so deterministically eliminates foul play as a possibility. This is not some plebeian closed room mystery where the least likely outcome must default by virtue of being the only one left. Even acknowledging that suicide was possible, independent analysis and common sense dictates that so was murder. Unlike Lord GULA, I have already availed you of the details behind my analysis. The biometric readings in question have been made available to all of you, and I for one am done attempting to be as acceptingly blasé about all of this absurdity as the rest of you. I am supposed to be the lackadaisical one, but this bad joke is too much even for me.”

“Correction; I am fully willing to divulge the information of my findings, however, everyone present lacks the requisite permissions to access it. If you bear issue with standard protocol; that is unfortunate,” GULA responded, finally looking to Hermes. The red optic scanned the god for a brief moment, analyzing some unknown information of the god. It would speak once more, “My diagnoses have always been accurate. Additionally there is no possibility that I can lie; such action would be against my programming.”

“Programming,” Zeus echoed. “A curious thing indeed. Perhaps it bears mentioning that GULA has refused to acknowledge my rank. Do any of you care to hazard a guess as to who it now claims to answer to?” Zeus didn’t bother waiting for any of them to play the game and guess. “Isaac Holcomb,” he spat out, “an ancient name for the blighted Typhon, as I’m sure we are all aware. Yet another reason to ensure his annihilation -- for good this time! -- but first, this grave error needs to be remedied. There is a procedure.”

‘’Your emanationence,’’ the engineer Coeus remarked, raising a paw, '’Why, I ask? With your permission I could disassemble and re-engineer GULA in my workshop and spare us this trite hassle. It might take a week. Some minute data might enter digital purgatory, but at rainbow’s end you’ll find a perfectly cooperative software.’’

To this GULA loosed a defensive trill, almost surprised, before he spoke hurriedly, “Negative. Technology, proprietary. No access.” It piqued Zeus to raise both eyebrows and give the cat a look that said something like ’perhaps’.

"At the very least," Apollo interjected once more, raising an eyebrow. "How would Typhon have accessed GULA, assuming he was able to -- and if he did, could he not have ordered it to simply turn all of us who utilize its nanotechnology into biological soup? I quite despise Holcomb, the hypocritical barbarian he is, but I do not think he reprogrammed GULA, else far more of us would already be dead. A localized failure or targeted attack seems more likely to me."

“Who can say? With safeguards and protocols in place, perhaps he dared not try to compromise more than one of us for fear of someone noticing before he could send the kill signal. Or perhaps, idiot that he is, he roused from his century-long slumber unaware of my existence, and he figured that if he only killed my predecessor then the rest of you would succumb to infighting and raze Olympus for him. In any case, before taking any drastic measures,” he paused to glance at Coeus again, “A vote must be held. Having GULA acknowledge Typhon as its master is unacceptable; you must declare me administrator over the computer just as you have affirmed me as king over this world. Then I will be able to advance with my investigation. I need to access the GAS Core and inspect Gula for signs of tampering.”

It occurred to the young king at that moment that his impulsive treatment of the queen had backfired. By driving Hera into retreating from the meeting, he’d guaranteed her vote would be absent. He clenched a fist as his gaze drifted to her empty chair, contemplating having her dragged back. ’No,’ he thought, ’that won’t be necessary. The rest of them will vote for me.’

“Process simple, all registered crew eligible to vote. Voting is anonymous, additionally, this unit shall vote upon the candidate it sees fit for duty,” GULA explained, the modulated voice increasing its volume so that all may hear. It looked to Zeus, seemingly analyzing him before looking back towards the general body. The artificial intelligence would add one more stipulation to the voting process, “Voting shall be done electronically, linked to bio-signatures in order to prevent fraudulent use of dud-accounts and as proof of being of the crew. Protocol dictates that fraudulent voting or tampering will result in 10 years prison and additional fine up to court stipulation."

Artemis, who had visibly been forcing her eyes not to wander into the distance of the open sky as the proceedings took an increasingly querulous turn, creased her mouth in distaste. “Are we to sit through this - game while the enemy we know roams unpunished? Dance at the tune of a machine that sees no ill in openly calling him its master?” She pointed at the EMU with the tip of her knife, then at the spot where Coeus hovered. “As rash as our brother Hephaestus can be, he has the right of it this time. If the GULA would name itself our adversary, we should treat it as such.”

"Openly calling him its master?" Apollo sighed, idly drumming her fingers against the table. "Dancing to its tune? GULA is a machine, sister, albeit an intelligent one. It obeys programming and protocol. It seems far more likely to me that it is obeying some ancient protocol in which Holcomb is named than following some villainous desire to oppose us that I'm quite sure it lacks the capability to have. Besides -- as much as I trust brother Coeus, can we truly afford to disassemble GULA on an unproven hypothesis? What if we cannot reassemble it?"

Zeus dismissed the two of them with a sharp gesture. “Simply elect me as its ‘Captain’, that I may examine its logs and find the truth of any biases or corruption. And then if something troubling is manifest, we can contemplate these…” the king waved his hand around, trying to find the words, “...more drastic measures.”

So then the vote began.
Progress is still coming on the supercollab, but by its nature of involving so many people it's cumbersome and the inevitable IRL things that some people have had to deal with have slowed it.

In any case, to help with the IC slowdown, I'm thinking I'll make a more mortal-centric post about an emerging heresy. Perhaps that is something that Isaac will be able to plug into if he wants to support a group of humans that are rising up against the gods. @Zyx
@Cyclone

Hello. I'm so sorry to have kept you all waiting. I've been absolutely swamped IRL and haven't had the time to log on. I will spare you further uncertainty and bow out of the game. Thank you for considering me.


No problem; thanks for letting us know, and hopefully things calm down for you.
@Golem

Hey pal, I was just wondering if you’re still interested. Making progress on a Poseidon sheet?


Year 413 P.A.
The day after Zeus’ death





Within the depths of his palace-arcology, Zeus plied at some decrepit old computer terminal that probably hadn’t been touched in a century. This whole storage area was as dusty as a crypt, and probably less visited than one, but the technology was robust and the old databanks had been brought back online easily enough.

Of course everything – even that which was of no conceivable use or interest – was walled off behind a hundred passwords and authentication steps. Fortunately the Key allowed Zeus to bypass it all and then some. This venture down the rabbithole had begun after the King of Olympus had made some inquiries and discovered that ‘Isaac Holcomb’ was an ancient name for Typhon. His predecessor had surely known of this and so much else, of course, and had selectively chosen to deny him those memories… some part of Zeus wanted to believe it was because such things were best spoken of in person, and that his mentor, his master, his predecessor, his previous life would have eventually deemed it fit for him to know. And then what would he have done? Why, then he would have just explained, from his own lips -- this and everything else.

But of course the late Zeus had done no such thing, so here his clone was, dredging up the troves of lost secrets and information. Many files and logs had been expunged, but with the data caches not in regular use, the Key allowed him to restore some of the old files. Zeus was taking particular interest in just those ones, the ones he presumably wasn’t meant to have ever seen. He opened another one that’d been restored with minimal losses to corruption or overwriting.

>Captain’s Note:

>In t̵h̷e̴ ̸e̶v̷e̵n̴t̷ ̴I̶ ̵d̶i̷e̵,̷ ̵no matter wha̶t̶ ̶e̴l̴s̷e̶ ̸h̴ap—---ensure that whõ̸̮͓̀ever is ̴i̷n̴ ch-rge of T̴͛͜e̴̢͊l̴̟͂ë̴̫ċ̵̝o̸̞̎m̶͈̒m̷̻͝s̵͉̃ does not̶ ̵-̶ ̷r̴e̷pe-t̴,̷ ̷e̷mphasis - DOES NȎ̴̖T - win- up w̷i̵th ̵t̵h̶e̴ ̸ R̷̬̾̓é̷̖͖̈m̸̡̡̍ò̶̗̀t̴̖̀́ȅ̴̛̺͜.̵̗̈́…
The Old Terminal Screen


Zeus blinked, trying to discern whatever meaning was meant to be held within the arcane squibbles and words on the monitor. And then his reverie was interrupted by light footfall echoing through the sepulchral chamber. “Your Highness,” a familiar voice called out.

“What is it now?” Zeus tersely replied to the Majordomo.

“The first round of questioning has been completed. Many rumors of interest have been noted and prepared into a report for your pleasure. One was discovered to be an informant reporting to Apate…”

’The spymistress – can I even trust her?’ the King thought irritably.

Zelos’ spiel had finished, Zeus having not even listened to the latter half of it. The Majordomo’s mien alone had already told him the outcome of the interrogations before his mouth had even opened. “And?” Zeus prodded. Let the man state the failure frankly.

“Nothing necessarily pertaining to your predecessor’s demise was recorded,” Zelos confessed. “But everything was noted down, and upon further examination, perhaps the threads will come tog–”

A fuming youth shouted him down. “This is the product of questioning them softly! Seeing as that has told us nothing, perhaps it will soon be time to interrogate some of them… sharply. I will not brook traitors in this palace.”

The Majordomo nodded tersely. “It will be as you say, Your Highness. But the night has come and gone, and now that it’s morning the first of the gods will surely be arriving soon to wait at your pleasure. Many are already in the city. The preparations are complete; you need only give the order and we shall open the gates and admit them.”

So Zeus powered down the terminal. “Very well. Bring them into the courtyard; I’ll ready myself to greet them.”




The city of Mount Olympus was nestled between the highest peaks of Hellas’ greatest mountain range, and yet it seemed perfectly flat, unnaturally so. That’s because it was – some four centuries ago, they’d glassed an entire summit and then used orbital laser arrays and other equipment to finish the terrestrial sculpting, then paved over the whole thing with obscene quantities of marble and even gold. It was ostentatious, unnecessary, costly, time-consuming… but it had been grand, just like the late Zeus’ designs.

The whole place was mostly above the cloud line. The air should have been thin and frigid, barely even breathable (let alone habitable!) and yet it was instead idyllic. Perfectly maintained gardens and parks were everywhere, ancient and comforting old trees lined the streets, and grapevines and honeysuckle abounded. Their natural fragrances meddled with a few subtle chemicals sprayed from unseen dispensers to make the whole area feel homely, sweet, clean, and ever blossoming as though it were spring. The chirping songs and flashing colors of birds were also present at least when the inhabitants wanted them to be; but now all the birds were turned off to mourn the death of the late Zeus. It only took a press of a button to release pheromones that would induce the engineered birds to go into an indefinite hibernation. These avenues and parks were juxtaposed with the many towering arcologies that most of the Olympians made their residences, their workplaces, their storage areas, even their farms. Many of the colossal buildings had more than a hundred floors, their tops gouging into the heavens more deeply than any mountain’s peak. The city certainly did not want for more space given that it housed only a few thousand.

The absurdity of its scale and splendor was illustrated by how even the lowliest servants and guardsmen enjoyed their own apartments that rivaled the palaces of mortal kings. Automated factories that could have been crammed into a single floor often occupied five or six, just for ease of access to the machinery. In truth, the city often felt empty, its carefully engineered sights and smells and sounds little more than a facade to make one forget that by design it was something of an isolated bunker away from mortal eyes and reach.

Still, on that morning there was at least one lively place: the gate outside of Zeus’ courtyard. There, a pantheon had assembled. A low marble wall (topped with bars of wrought iron, and probably enough invisible force fields to survive a nuclear bombardment) enclosed a generous space around the grandest arcology of them all: it housed the king’s living quarters, and the queen’s also, dozen theaters and other entertainment complexes, a dozen-dozen offices and monitoring centers, and too many locked away ancient caches of technology and treasure to count. It also had a magnificent meeting hall specifically designated for great conventions like these, the likes of which tended to only happen every few decades at most, but that chamber would see no use today judging by how another half dozen guards stood blocking the entrance into the palace arcology. Instead, the courtyard seemed to have been prepared for this occasion, but even outside the ornament and finery were not lacking.

Obviously Hephaestus, or Coeus the Cat, was among the first to arrive. It’s just that his hoverboard was floating in the back of the congregation. On top of it – and seated triumphantly inside a glass dome filled to the brim with various installations – (a bureau of screens, buttons and accessories for ease of comfort to the Truest Cat God of Hellas) the mighty Engineering God sat. He had flown to Olympus with all due speed on this flying chariot of choice.
Laser fuel propelled the board in place in the aether, where his prattling engine reverberated obnoxiously in the courtyard. Coeus could’ve dampened this noise if he wanted to, if maybe someone had asked him to, but the Cat wanted first to be acknowledged by the others, and NOT be ignored.

Demeter had arrived at the courtyard on Arion, ahead of the Horae, though they would not be far behind. The city, which often felt so bare, now felt as if it had been entirely condensed in front of the palace. Everyone was waiting, and surely politicking. As she stepped off her transport into the growing throng of gods, demi-gods, and attendants, dark green eyes took in the scene, unease creased across her brow. The ceremony had better not last too long, she’d prefer to tinker a bit about with GAIA and then return to one of her rural temples. Zeus had always been content to leave her be, surely nothing would need to change there.

An incessant noise caught her attention and reflexively her eyes darted upwards, head cocked towards the source. Of course it could be none other - arrogant, proud, fickle, Hephaestus - Demeter could not pretend she did not notice him and easily moved through the crowd to greet the cat god of engineering.

Seeing her, he addressed Demeter first, ‘’Salutations Demetron. I see you looking. And yes, this impressive apparatus is indeed of my own making. What do you think?’’

The god was far too necessary to injure ego, regardless of any annoyances. Like perpetually ignoring corrections to pronouncing her name. “Yes, indeed, dear. Magnificent construction. Though I’m not sure everyone else approves of the noise.” She gestured absently to the crowd that occasionally passed judgemental looks in their direction.

‘’That is because only True Gods can appreciate fine art.’’ Coeus sternly replied. ‘’But I find you worthy, Demetrean.’’
Having gotten the attention he craved, Coeus at the very least lowered the engine noise to a soft humming rattle – which was a bit less annoying.

The Mórrigan, clad in the guise of Apollo, smiled at the sound of Coeus's teasing, dressed in a loose, flowing white toga, a simple laurel wreath atop her head with little ornamentation. Her children, in fact, were more regally appointed -- the first of the Musa Apollonides wore an utterly pristine Peplos pinned in place by shimmering platinum-gold bands, sparkling opals hanging from her ears, likewise clad in gold. Asclepius, to the right, carried a roughly-hewn staff of pine in addition to his richly appointed toga, a silvery python wrapped about his staff, all while four of the armored Korybantes, their hoplite-styled plate clad in gold and polished to a mirrorlike sheen over crimson cloth tunics, all designed to accentuate their perfectly toned musculature. Each -- even Apollo -- carried a tall, cork-plugged ceramic jug, though only in one hand; in the other, a richly-appointed wooden box.

Then the next moment, a dozen members of the Sacred Band suddenly opened the gates to the courtyard. Half that number remained there standing at attention, and the other half bowed deeply and then led the waiting crowd to a feast table where Zelos, the Majordomo of the Highest Palace, received them, “Our lord bids you all welcome, and thanks you for arriving upon such short notice. He will be here shortly.”

So the waiting had at last ended. The line of guards before the palace’s entrance parted, and the heavy doors swung open. Zeus himself – the new, younger Zeus anyway – strolled out to meet these greatest of his subjects. He allowed himself to wear a warm enough countenance, but he didn’t go so far as to smile. He wore a white toga adorned with some stripes woven from cloth of gold, and despite his title as king he wore no crown – the golden thunderbolt scepter in his right hand declared his station loudly enough. He had all the other accoutrements of the late Zeus, too; his fingers gleamed and sparkled from a hundred advanced artifacts cleverly disguised as rings, and beneath that toga he doubtless wore the armbands too. He carried himself well – after all, he’d been created to one day wear this role and those trinkets. His presence was so magnetic to the eye that for a moment or two it was easy to gloss over Hebe Dia standing besides him; the Princess of Olympus was likewise ever radiant in a long silken gown and with long silver hair flowing gently down to her waist, shimmering jewelry draping her body – her hair, neck, waist, wrists and ankles. Each gemstone and artifact is more brilliant than the last. She walked out by Zeus’ side, her delicate right hand locked with his left, an otherworldly allure about her glowing smile. Yet beneath the smile also lingered a small residual sadness. Indiscernible dried tears were on her cheeks.

Hebe – out of all gods – had perhaps the deepest attachment to the late Zeus. She had never known him as a tyrant, but only as her dear father. Hebe’s grief over his passing was only abated by the consoling embrace of her father’s new placeholder, a reminder that part of him still lived on. Afterwards she had been as pliable as clay. The new Zeus endeavored to treat her with reciprocity for it… her mother may have been a wretched creature, but Zeus bore no ill feelings towards this perfect daughter. If she behaved, her appearance would go a long way towards legitimizing his place as Zeus in the eyes of the rest of the Pantheon, he knew. So, he would be kind to her indeed, if she behaved

‘The carrot and the stick,’ Zeus thought to himself, the words echoing through his mind in the voice of his originator and predecessor – his voice.

He let go of Hebe’s hand, and then one by one, he moved to personally greet the gods. First, his favorite of them all, the only one he was truly pleased to see. He embraced Athena suddenly and tightly. “Sister,” he found himself whispering to her ear. It sounded wrong now that he was Zeus, but it felt right, so right that it had just slid off his tongue. When he broke off from the hug, he spoke again, this time loud enough for the rest of them to hear. “It’s good to see you. I need you now more than ever, as does Olympus.”

Next, Apate approached the god king and flashed a smile. She was dressed for the occasion, wearing an all-black sleeveless keyhole dress that had a plunging neckline that fell just below her belly button. The bottom half of the dress fell to her ankles that barely revealed the heels she wore that boosted her height even higher. She wore her hair in a halo braid that was done to perfection with nary a stray hair in sight. Her face was pristine, and she wore more makeup than usual to the event. That is not to say she looked porcelain and fake. Instead the look was one that complimented her features without looking out of place or overdone. The makeup around her eyes was dark, with precise and consistent lines. Around her neck she wore a massive necklace filled with some of the biggest gems she could find. They were shaped by the finest craftsman that could be found in the godly realm and their look led to the stares of many an envious god… Hephaestus especially, with his feline laser-eyes glaring offendedly at the pristine baubles of the Deceiver Goddess. ‘’Pah!’’ The Cat scarcely more than muttered from atop his floating hoverboard. Needless to say, he could have crafted a better necklace if he wanted to…

In any case, Zeus answered Apate with a fake smile of his own, maybe even as convincing as Apate’s. He looked into her eyes, and for a moment there returned the flash of some alien memory – not his – of some other woman… probably Nyx. Holding her gaze then was hard, so he cast his eyes and chin upwards to look just over her head, beyond the shoulder…

“Father, I am at your service now and forever more.” Apate spoke with sincerity. “Your wish is my command,” she finished the sentence and she bobbed an elegant curtsey.

Well, at least she’d said the right things. The honorific of ‘father’ was not lost upon Zeus, so he answered with an amiable air, “Be welcome, Apate.” Now he could meet her eyes again, and if there had been any sign of startle the first time, now it was gone and his feelings were an enigma. “You look striking as ever. In these trying times, I’m sure that your service will be needed.”

“Thank you, Father,” Apate smiled a little wider as she paused. Apate could sense that Zeus had a thought on his mind. Maybe her appearance stirred a memory of old, one that was not his own. Regardless, she did not want to pry at this moment. There would be time to reflect on the past as time goes on and they get further from the death of Zeus. Apate wanted to linger in the conversation but she felt the weight of the situation bear down on her. This was not her time to shine, not yet at least, and she wanted to make sure Zeus knew that she would never try and upstage him, especially on his special day. “Father, I brought you a gift,” Apate paused as she lifted up a decorated little chest. She opened it up revealing a bounty of jewels and artifacts of renown. “You gave these to my late mother, she would have loved to return them to you as I do now.” Though they were small, they were ones that had made an impression on her mother and Apate hoped they would do the same for Zeus.

The king’s eyes lit up at the gift – this was something he hadn’t been expecting. “You have my thanks, dear,” he told her. And to think that he’d contemplated excoriating her before all the rest! Well, perhaps her failings in regards to the assassination could be brushed over more gently. With a finger, Zeus gestured his Majordomo forth. “Please, take this to my quarters,” he told Zelos. “Find my dear wife too,” he hissed. “She’s late.”

But not wanting to dwell, Zeus then moved on to the next of them – Demeter. The goddess of the harvest had opted to arrive in what she considered her court regalia; her broad body was swathed by many layers of sheer golden, green, and red chiffon, cinched with jeweled cornucopias at the shoulders and waist. With each step she took, her garments both obscured and displayed the solid form beneath. Atop her head, nestled between flowing aurous waves, a luxurious if simple gold crown of laurel. While some may have called her matronly and meant it as an insult, Demeter preferred to think of it as a maturity typically lacking of many within the capital. And if that isn’t a lack of physical maturity. Her eyes caught Zeus’ form, her head bowing reflexively in response as she closed the distance to him.

“My King, how often Fates take away and give with the same hand. My condolences for this tragedy.” The goddess paused just a moment, body straightening from obeisance. She may have never been equal to Zeus, he had been first among them, but as their numbers decreased against the demi-gods, they were more alike than not...at least in Demeter’s mind. “I look forward to our continued partnership of course. I stand ready for whatever you may need of GAIA.”

Tragedy? The word caught him off guard, but of course… “Demeter,” he addressed her. Strange feelings welled up in him, the vestiges of a dream that he’d never dreamt, at least not in this lifetime. With internal rage, he bottled up the bewildering, truncated desires. And of course he was speaking again in the next breath, as though that brief inner turmoil was nothing, “in times so trying as these, your steadfast presence is appreciated. Our fortunes grow together; let our partnership continue evermore, and the rains shall nourish your harvests for so long as the skies are blue.”

’That seemed quite eloquent!’ the king thought to himself as he turned toward the next of them.

"Most eloquent words, My King," Apollo said, nodding before gracefully dropping so far down into a bow that their fingers touched the ground, a respectful act of proskynesis. Unlike Demeter, Apollo was hardly richly appointed, yet the youthful beauty of her false skin shone through regardless, finely sculpted and absent any sign of advanced age. Rising, she presented the small box to him, inviting him to open it.

"I know that no gift can truly soothe the tragedy that has befallen us, but, nonetheless, I bring to you a solemn contribution," she said, opening the box to reveal a finely etched statuette of a powerfully built centaur, clad in the armor of war -- though there was only one, the details of the statuette were etched to practical perfection, every little hair, contour, and fold of fabric carved in incredible miniature, clad in gems and tints to further enhance the illusion of ceremonial armor. "From myself and my children, to you."

Zeus nodded appreciatively. “Apollo, this tribute from you and yours…” The words trawled off for a moment. Now the king stumbled in his speech, but in part it was also because he was staring. Something about Apollo always struck him the wrong way. “...is appreciated,” he finished. He reached into the box, lifting the centaur out and running a finger across its veneered armor, over the rippling muscles of its powerful limbs. A fine work of art, indeed. He placed it back into its container. “But of course, I’m sure you foresaw as much,” he told Apollo as he handed the box to the Majordomo.

Next his gaze drifted over to find –

Before it could alight on any one figure, there was a stirring in the assembled crowd outside the sanctum wall, and the outer demigods and attendants hastily parted to open the way for whoever was behind them. Beyond the gate, an odd cortege was approaching upon the marble-paved great alley of Olympus. Artemis, the Maiden of the Hunt, approached in long, graceful yet firm strides, looking every bit as though she had just emerged from her woodlands - unblemished yet unadorned in her simple garb, the fabled quiverless silver bow slung over her shoulder. At her heels trotted a canine beast the likes of which none present had ever seen: as tall as the goddess' hip at the shoulder, sleek and lean like a sighthound, but shaggy and muscular like a wolf, with an arrow-like pointed snout and a cool, predatory intelligence in its beady eyes.

Behind the two of them came the towering silhouette of a moon-elk, crowned with a magnificent pair of antlers. It bore on its back something that could have seemed a bundle of rags at first sight, but that clearly struggled to remain upright - the figure of a badly disheveled woman, her clothes in tatters, scratched and bruised skin underneath, hair a wild tangle and glassy eyes half-alive with exhaustion. As she passed through the gate, Artemis snapped something at a nearby guardsman - the keen ears of the divine could discern “This is my guest,”, whereupon the hoplite led away the unusually docile elk and its doddering charge - before advancing down the cleared path with nary a glance at the gathered pantheon. Her steely eyes were fixed on Zeus, and they passed over him with the uncomfortable thoroughness of the huntress.

“Lord Zeus,” she bowed rigidly as she took her place in the assembly, barely swerving in her steps, “It is always a pleasure to receive your summons.” Nonetheless, there was as little cheer in her voice as ever. She gave an almost imperceptible nod with her head, and the hound came to seat itself at Zeus’ feet, looking up at him with unflappably patient expectancy. “May Labros be your loyal companion from this day, and your steadfast guardian.

An acknowledgement, and perhaps an admonition, hidden in her words and gift like a stalking tiger in the grass. Boldly, Zeus reached down to pat the strange dog on its head and rub its coat; it seemed that the animal already knew its master, for it only licked the king’s hand in response. “This canine – Labros, did you name him? – pleases me. And your presence gladdens me even more still, in these trying times.” Yet his gaze wandered to the retreating sight of the moon-elk and its charge as the soldier escorted them away, his eyes narrowing. “And who might be your companion yonder?”

“She is someone Hermes thought meet to introduce to me, for reasons he did not care to explain,” the goddess’ brow creased as she swept her eyes about the plaza, vainly seeking the fleet-footed messenger of Olympus, “His carelessness with mortals will be the doom of him someday.”

“Says the goddess who carelessly dragged this one all the way up Mt. Olympus.” Drawled Hermes’ familiar, smarmy voice. He then walked into view from behind the Moon Elk, as though he had been standing there the whole time. The woman mounted upon the Elk visibly flinched with a plaintive whine.

“Felicitations once again, All-Father.” Hermes tipped the brim of his helmet to Zeus. “I will present my offering to you in time, but for the moment I am merely here to heckle. I would not dream of cutting in line at such a prestigious affair.”

Zeus cast one final nod in Artemis’ direction, then directed his gaze towards the messenger god. His face was stoic, and he had few words to say. “Timely as ever, Hermes.”

“I can hear my name on others’ tongues. Always best to ensure it has a little bite to it.” Hermes quipped.

“Can you?” Zeus whimsically asked, his straight lips budging ever so slightly to make a bemused look.

Then, stepping past Hermes was but one of the forms of GULA’s EMUs, moving past the other gods without so much as greeting them or their lord. The single optic did not move or acknowledge any of the gazes that would befall it. The robot evidently cared little for the formalities or the talks of the gods - but why would it? Their words would mean nothing to its eternal duty, only focusing on whatever task it was designating as important. In this instant, the voting and designation of the new Emergency Acting Captain.

“GULA, wait by the table,” the king told the EMU. “You’ll get to say your piece in due time.”

What sounded like wings fluttering from the distance was getting closer and closer to the gods below. The clouds parted and revealed a group of Cupids flying and tossing pink rose petals for the deities below as they approached Zeus and the other members of the Pantheon that had gathered. Two Cupids were carrying a wooden bench attached to an archway filled with blooming pink roses. Sitting at the bench was Eros, the God of Love, smiling and giggling joyously. They were wearing a pristine white gown that hugged their androgynous figure with see-through laced-sewn rose motifs over heart-shaped cut-outs at their lower sides that subtly revealed their hips. The dress flared at the knees to give an elegant, full-looking skirt with pink roses decorating the hemline and train. It featured a heart-shaped bodice and off-shoulder laces with long white sleeves. The love god also wore a white high-neck embroidered choker with a pink heart-shaped gemstone on it, a veiled tiara with the same smaller crystal at its center delicately nestled on their golden cherub-like hair, and subtle make-up that highlighted the timeless allure of their face and the rich redness of their eyes.

The Cupids descended on the ground and Eros slowly got off of their seat before the Cupids flew away. The love god approached the gods with their hands folded in front of them and a serene smile on their beautiful face. “Greetings, God-King. I humbly bow before you in servitude.” Eros said with a deep respectful curtsy, their voice light and melodic with a hint of playfulness. “My apologies for being late. I needed to make sure my work is well and accounted for before I could leave. I promise I will not be so tardy in future events.” They put their hand on their chest and bowed apologetically before Zeus. They presented a long red box to him and opened it, revealing a tear-dropped gem with golden chain. The gem’s contents was a shifting liquid of bright pink and red. “I present to you a gift, a necklace that exudes a calming aura and makes its wearer more charming and admirable to those who lay their eyes on its wearer. May it aid you in bringing an era of unity and prosperity.” Eros humby said, bowing while presenting the gift.

“Good tidings to you and yours as well, Eros. You’ve been missed, friend, but I see why you waited so long. This new body of yours is striking!” the king greeted back.

Eros laughed and twirled around as the petals from the flowers on their dress fluttered around with them. "I admit it took me a while to pick out a new title bearer, God King. I am glad that you find my new bearer appealing to the eyes. With this new body of mine, I will serve you dutifully." The love god said with a smile that could warm the coldest of hearts. Beneath that smile, Eros was sad about the passing of their own old friend though of course, heeding Hermes' words last night, they should still be very careful with their actions before this Zeus.

“And another gift? How shall I repay all of you?” the king ran his fingers through the gold chain and held it up, looking at the jewel’s scintillation in the light. “I suppose it’s as good a time as any to charm,” he laughed to Eros before slipping the chain over his head. He fixed the jewel to not be tucked under the fold of his toga, and then he looked to the last of them – Hephaestus.

Or Coeus, or the madman, or the cat. The clone had heard many a mocking name about that one sniggered in private. “Don’t be shy, Engineer of the Gods,” he called out to Coeus on his hoverboard. “They say that you and my dear Athena have the sharpest minds of us all. I’d like to think I might come somewhere near a distant third place,” he jested.

Hearing this, Coeus’ whiskers quivered with delight. ‘’Nonsense your Cosmic Eminence, you make up the apex of minds.’’ The Cat giddily but sincerely replied.
‘’I was first to arrive here I’ll have you know. Whether it be Late Zeus or Zeus Prime, I serve Zeus – the Lord of the Heavens. And AS Lord of the Heavens I felt this could – perhaps – be adequately reflected with a new innovation of mine…’’

The king’s nostrils flared. “Do not call me that! It’s Zeus! Not Prime – just Zeus!”

‘’Eep! Of course. I mean, Err. In context of– err, nevermind, your Galactic Opulence…’’ He stammered tremblingly as his paws mashed several buttons in his hoverboard installation.
“As for my gift: let us see…’’ Coeus began to nuzzle over notes and hidden alloy drawers. ‘’…I have it rrriight…’’ He cast a quick look beneath the desk – not there either: ‘’….at home!’’
He cast an uncomfortable look from over his bureau to meet Zeus’ very judgmental gaze. ‘’Fret not, your Astral Magnanimence. My lab pantheras are in the process of wrapping up the gift. Wrapping up with a gift wrap, even. It shall be delivered with all due haste on very, very short notice.’’

An incredulous Zeus scoffed at the whole situation. “And what is this… ’gift’ that you intend to present? Or is it a surprise, too?”

‘’Hohohoho…’’ The cat-god giggled with anticipatory glee. ‘’It is… indeed… a Hyperneutron Thermobaric Pantherion Explosive Shell by which to –SMITIFY - your foes. And I am reminded just now: given its volatile nature I took precaution NOT to bring it to this congregation-- ‘’ He finished reassuringly.
‘’--It awaits you in the Hephaestean lair, near readiness of deployment.’’
“A bomb?” the king looked even more incredulous. “A neutron bomb?” His consternation melted into full-blown laughter, like this was the best joke he’d heard in weeks. “Glorious! A gift befitting a god!” His smile was so wide that every last one of the clone’s pearl-white teeth showed.

All chafing from Coeus’ mishap in calling him ‘Prime’ was forgotten in an instant. Zeus took a step forward, but rather than falling onto the ground his foot seemingly found purchase upon empty air, and then the other one too. He floated upward, the soft hum of his anti-gravitation apparatus overpowered by his gleeful laugh. He came to float in the air right before Coeus’ own craft, and he leaned forward and over onto it to pat the cat on the head. “Actually, I think that I may have a target in mind already,” he announced. The words sent shivers down spines and made faces grow pale, but then Zeus fell softly back onto the ground and looked around his assembled court. “But we can speak of that later today… All will come in due time.”

Coeus merely nodded in agreement, but dared not speak and push his luck further with mischosen words. With eyes that smiled and a mirthful countenance about the rest of his visage, Zeus returned to Hellas with a fall so gentle that it scarcely made a sound.

A distant commotion stole Zeus’ attention, but not before he called out to the cat above, “Thank you, Engineer! You’ve won your king’s favor today.”

A raucous sound could be heard across the labyrinthine corridors of Olympus. It had started as the opening of ancient, rarely used gates and the subsequent closing as if tectonic plates had crossed over one another. Yelps, wails, and cries spanned the length of the High Pantheon’s most prestigious temple. The clanking of armored feet followed the desperate exclamations of departing deities, separated or tossed aside by the intruder high in the revelries of the mountain. If one had paid close attention, then they could hear the stomp of multiple greaves beyond the throng of noise. The moans of unnatural entities pierced the howls of terror, only accompanied by fleeing feet.

“ZEUS!”


The utterance was a crack of thunder in the midst of a storm, the roiling of magma beneath the crust of Hellas, and the stampeding beats of a centaur horde. Deities, demi-gods, and servants alike began to eagerly divide on the path of the grand boulevard leading up to the courtyard of the High King. Bright, celebratory faces were replaced by the shock and horror of the interloper. The things that followed the voice were the first to be seen. Great amalgamations of twisted obsidian with blotches of necrotic flesh beneath talons, plates, and spikes. Each was titanic in relative proportion to the attending deities, rising up on feet, claw, tail, or air. Instruments of war were held aloft in their various extremities, lowered and waiting by the command of their chthonic overlord. Their visage was torn between bastardized hoplites in nightmaric form and great Hellenic terrors of Old Arith.

“Ah, he’s finally here,” the Lord of Olympus had meanwhile stated to nobody in particular. He opened his mouth again to command the Sacred Band into positions to block the oncoming horde of monsters and maintain some semblance of order, but the soldiers were already scrambling to do as much at the direction of their captain — the Majordomo already quietly whispered the order to that officer, unbeknownst and unseen by Zeus and all but the most perceptive of the rest.

“ZEUS!”


The object of terror incarnate became clear as it stepped out onto the final stretch of the boulevard that transformed into the courtyard proper. An unnaturally tall, broad man in dark armored plating stepped into view from within his cohort of nightmares. Motifs of the dead, thorny protrusions, and pipes full of pulsating fluid adorned the surface of the man’s armor. Utop his skull was a hoplite’s helmet with four great horns and a plume of black-red hue. His facial features were hidden beneath an artificial darkness of the wargear, only glaring red eyes staring out from tinted lenses. Across his shoulders lay a swarm of black, writhing darkness in the image of an unfurled cape. In one of his clawed gauntlets lay a bident of perpetual midnight, lowered and materialized from a sphere within the polearm.

“ZEUS!”


The deity stomped through the boulevard, tossing aside those individuals that refused to part from his warpath. Those that had been thrown to the ground were greeted by one of the interloper’s cohort, a young man in obsidian plating with unkempt, black hair and a shaven face. An unarmored hand reached down to each, pulling them up from their stupor and apologizing by gifting small trinkets from the chthonic realm. The youth would shortly return to the cohort of nightmare machines, lowering his emerald gaze in frustration as he followed. Armored footfalls halted at the entrance of the courtyard with the leading figure stepping out into the throng of the High Pantheon, followed only by the younger man.

"ZEUS! Come to me, elder brother, and greet me with your thunderous laughter! Show me your corporeal form and prove your undeath! Bequeath your cadaver unto me! Grant my request in the name of Hades!”

His voice was unhinged, uncontrollable, and ludicrous. It sounded as if it came from the vocal cords of a lunatic, despairing in the insanity of their own mind. At the same time that it was deep, booming, and dominating, it further cracked with desperation, despair, and anguish. Hades spread his arms wide in gesticulation, the glaring eyes falling level with the rest of the High Pantheon and honing in on the facsimile that proclaimed themselves as High King. The scion behind him, Zagreus, bit his lip in silence as his progenitor roused the ire of Olympus. Champions of the Underworld awaited silently with no shortage of groans, short wails, and insectile chattering.

Dozens of guards now stood to face off the monstrosities of the underworld, their weapons still sheathed -- for the moment -- but their hands hovering precariously close to the grips. The Sacred Band, demigods all, were well equipped and disciplined, supposedly fearless. Still, a few of them looked at least shaken.

Fortunately all the court’s eyes were not upon those soldiers, but their king. Zeus approached the hulking Hades with measured and steady strides, chin upraised, and something closer to a haughty and arrogant pride than to fear. He was nervous of course -- scared, even; who wouldn’t be? --, but he masked it exceptionally well.

“Hades,” the new Zeus boomed, his regal walk not stopping until he came to stand about five paces from the chthonian lord. Labros the hound had followed his new master intently and stood by the king’s side. “We’ve been anticipating your arrival! The grief hurts; we all feel it also, but you mustn’t let it consume you. Zeus died, but through me, he lives on.” Zeus let that ferment just long enough for a blink or two, then gestured at Hades’ power armor and his veritable horde of ‘shades’. “Your precautions here are warranted of course -- if something could befall the greatest of us, then are any of us truly safe? But here and now we have numbers, and I think it best to project strength and confidence, not paranoia… Have your shades stand down.”

The chthonic king did not respond for several seconds, staring unflinchingly at the smaller version of the High King before him. Zeus’ reflection was evident in the crimson lenses of Hades in his staredown. Tension filled the air across the courtyard, the five paces separating their distance thick with palpable tensity. He threateningly loomed over the facsimile, his fists continuing to clench silently by his side and his bident remaining unmoved. In the silence, one could hear the quiet rage of the deity as a crackling fire within a furnace. Then, a rumbling echoed from the helmet. A harsh bark more akin to a cough than an utterance of words. It was laughter, rough as gravel and deep as a volcano.

“Yes… yes… that makes sense! Your soul was not among those attending my halls! Brother, why would you send a message like that? I had been prepared to storm Olympus to kill your usurper.” Hades adopted an entirely new tone at the revelation that occurred to him, his tone switching from the eye of a storm to the light rainfall of a nimbus. His fists unclenched as the bident dematerialized into a dark sphere, attaching itself to the side of his powered armor. In one move the helmet was removed to reveal the sickly, pale features of the chthonic lord. A thin smile poked out from the black facial hair overlapped by the long, dark hair that trailed over his narrow face. Azurite orbs traced the prestigious features of the High King, relishing all the details of his sibling’s new form.

His head then suddenly turned away from Zeus to the shade champions standing behind him, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. The chthonic king raised a clawed gauntlet, holding a single digit in gesture to the nightmare automata. “All but one of you, leave. Attend the passage. Return to Charon.” Wordlessly, all but one of the automata groaned within their cyclopean gait. Their antediluvian presence meandered down the boulevard, the semi-sentient biomechanical shades finding their way back to the hole they festered up from without any incident. The one that remained was a towering monstrosity of crimson eyes, elongated claws, and obsidian plate. The shade champion appeared as a demonic entity of Old Arith myth.

“Accept this champion of the chthonic realm, elder brother. As an apology for the intrusion and a gift to celebrate your new form. ” Hades offered, gesturing to the nightmare creature behind him with one of his clawed gauntlets. Many knew of the strength of the underworld’s denizens, rivaled only by the chimeric beasts of the grove or centaurs of the plains. By the side of the shade, Zagreus released a breath of relief that his father had fallen back into normalcy to a degree. The relief of everyone else was palpable, too; like a sizzling bottle that had just been uncorked, the tension had threatened to erupt into madness, but in the end it had died without so much as any froth spilling over.

Zeus closed the remaining distance between himself and Hades, his hound bravely matching his every footstep and coming to face the mighty champion -- Labros, for all his bravery and loyalty, seemed like a sand dune blown up to the foot of a mountain. He gave his fellow (but subordinate!) king an endearing pat on the shoulder and offered him a handshake. “You’re a good brother,” he declared then, for all to hear.

“Do not scare me like that again, brother, the whole of the Underworld could hear me wail in despair.” The abyssal king said with substantial worry weaving into his grim tone. Zeus blinked and his jaw might have clenched an almost imperceptible amount, but he said nothing. One of Hades’ gauntlets mimicked the gesture of the High King, patting the smaller version of Zeus on his shoulder. His other gauntlet reached out and accepted the hand of his fellow king, shaking it firmly and warmly as one would their own bloodborne sibling. The chthonic lord made no movement to embrace the other, understanding the political atmosphere around them finally.

The clone then cocked his head toward the looming shadow of the chosen shade. “Well then, do you have a name, Champion?”

“The chosen champion’s name is Zeuxidamus. Taken from the king of a small, warrior city-state of Hellas, your Highness. Unlike most shades, he has limited sentience and can respond to all requests. Further, he can dip into his memory to guide warriors of his own.” The spritely, energetic voice of Zagreus stated as he moved to answer for the shade. The scion of the Underworld bowed before the regent of Olympus, dropping to a single knee and inclining his head in reverence. The youthful man was a picturesque version of the chthonic king, albeit shorter and more lithe. Healthy, lively skin in place of Hades’ sickly pale. Unkempt, black hair wholly unlike the deity of the Underworld. He remained under the watchful eye of the newly risen High King, silently paying penance for his father’s transgressions.

Zeus looked upon Zeuxidamus with satisfaction, but the shade didn’t hold his attention for long. His gaze drifted down to the scion. “Zagreus! I remember you fondly and well, nephew.” The Highest allowed the youth (who was truly his elder by a great deal) to prostrate himself below for a few moments before offering his bejeweled hand to lift him back to his feet. When Zagreus accepted it, then a tiny, almost inaudible snap of a sound: just a tiny shock. For a split second, Zeus’ pupils darted toward Hades from the corner of his eyes, eyes that silently whispered, ’Don’t do this again.’

Or was it all imagined? The threat was so subtle that Zagreus didn’t even notice, and Hades surely second-guessed it. But then Zagreus was back on his feet just half a moment later, pulled up gently and yet so firmly that his feet almost seemed to leave the ground for a moment. The king possessed what seemed like unnatural vigor -- in reality, just a clever and flawless use of the anti-gravitation engines hidden beneath the king’s toga.

“Did I shock you?” Zeus murmured quietly with a slight chuckle. “Just some static that must have been left on my fingers. Forgive me, Zagreus; I still need to familiarize myself with these old trinkets again.” Those ‘trinkets’, the rings upon his finger, were of course among the Thunder Bringer’s greatest accouterments, nearly capable of hurling lightning, though the late Zeus had used them with great restraint.

The scion of the Underworld felt stunned for only a moment, feeling the shock coursing through his right hand and into his powered armor. The facial features of Zagreus contorted before shuffling back into a placid gaze, failing to understand the prospect of what had happened. Regardless, he gave the High King an energetic, toothy grin as the scion had always done with his uncle. Internally, the chthonic prince could feel a pang of fear creep up within his breast at the possibility of it being truly an accident. Despite his humble demeanor, Zagreus was more aware of his surroundings than his chthonic father.

“Lord Uncle, accepting even the smallest portion of your lightning is an honor! Even if it was by mere accident. Formalities aside, Uncle, it’s nice to see you.” Zagreus replied, nearly ready to fall to a kneel again in the middle of his Olympian etiquette. His emerald eyes reflected a feigned benevolence, the scion’s mind sharper and keener than his father’s twisted personality. As Zeus lost interest in him, the chthonic prince strayed to the side of the chthonic king. Whatever had passed between himself and the High King had not been noticed by Hades, the patron deity of the Underworld’s mind preoccupied with the transpiring events.

Zeuxidamus, the great shade champion gifted to Zeus, lingered outside of the courtyard under the careful watch of the Sacred Band. Imperceptibly programmed to follow the orders of the biocoded individual, the biomechanical automata remained eternally still as events continued around it.

In that moment it was hard to even think of the late Zeus when the new one was right there, looking around contentedly. He was the striking image of the original and yet so much more youthful and energetic, so much less poised. “We’re all here,” the king brightly declared. “All except my beloved wife.”

Venom dripped from his tongue, but he could only seethe for a moment before the palace doors were opened once again and Hera was walked out between two guards. She wore a black dress, intricately woven and of magnificent fabric, but unadorned… a dress of mourning. She did not look happy; Zeus looked like he was about to kill somebody. Instead, he swallowed and his facial muscles twitched for a moment or two before he forced himself to smile.

‘’Hello dear mother!’’ Hebe innocently waved a hand towards Hera. ‘’We were all waiting for you! Almost the whole family is here now! It’s just like old times, isn’t it?’’ She beamed with a smile, her hands clasped in gladness. Hera embraced her beautiful daughter and softly murmured something with the words, “...my sweet…” mixed into it.

Zeus barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes, but at least Hebe’s innocent remark had defused his anger, if only slightly. He afforded them a moment, but then looked toward an awaiting Zelos. “Majordomo?” the king prompted, diverting the eyes away from him for long enough that he could steal a comfortable breath or two.

The First Servant Zelos stepped into the foreground with impeccable decorum. “Esteemed lords and ladies,” he addressed them all, “there are a great many things that must be discussed on this day. The Highest Palace is pleased to host all of you and your scions, but His Majesty the King would first dine with only his High Pantheon. Refreshments and food will be provided to all other attendants on the far side of the courtyard.”

And sure enough, right there near the palace’s doors and deliberately within sight of the gates and onlookers, there was a huge banquet table prepared for about a dozen. Much further away lining a distant corner of the courtyard were longer and less opulent tables meant to accommodate a much larger rabble -- the ‘kiddy tables’, so to speak, meant to keep the various scions, minor gods, and even the occasional demigods out of earshot and out of the way. The real business was almost at hand.
@Golem

Sure, I'm still happy to take more applications. Did you have some sort of character in mind?

Also it'd be great if you'd join the Discord linked in the OP; that's where the majority of our conversation has been taking place and we could talk ideas over more easily in there.
Several posts have been out of order now and so as to keep something of a timeline in track, let's start dating posts at the top.

For now the easiest way to do this will probably be to just indicate 'X days after the death of Zeus' but maybe we can figure out some better form of dating system. The suggestion came up to start the years' count at the Coming of the Gods. It's supposed to have been about 400 years since then so we can roughen that up a bit and say we start at 413 PA, or post-arrival -- AA or ante-arrival would be the equivalent of BC and refer to before Zeus etc. showed up, but I doubt we'll need to have any extremely distant flashbacks set back then or anything.

The idea also came up to rename the months after gods. Presumably to not get too pulled into the weeds we'd just be renaming the months and not trying to account for a different day or year length on Hellas. Maybe at some point we can iron out a calendar but again, for now just counting days after the death in the first IC post is good enough.
@Zyx

Should be interesting no matter how it turns out! I was going to have Zeus bring up Typhon at his big meeting, wondering aloud if he could've somehow been involved in the assassination, and probably also declaring that they'd put up with his shit for too long and should make a renewed and serious effort to find and extirpate his forces. Looks like Isaac is getting the first move though :)
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