‘What’s the rush, boyo?’ Ness wriggled awake next to me as I dressed on the edge of her bed. I looked down at her soft form half covered by the sheets, her red hair an utter mess. She reminded me of the Acidalia a little, the exception being Ness was shroud in deep purple linen as apposed to the white silk of a high priestess. I smiled at her while I finished buttoning my shirt. ‘Get dressed, I’ll treat you to breakfast.’
‘My, my, aren’t you the gentleman.’ She said, slowly rolling out of bed. ‘A girl could get used to this kind of special treatment, you know?’ With a sleepy wink Ness disappeared into the bathroom and the small apartment filled with the noise of running water and creaking pipes. I spent the next forty minutes exploring her life while I waited for ‘just a moment.’ Given the size of the apartment the majority of her furnishings were located in the bedroom. The mixture perfume, soap, flowers, and incense intermingled and infused the air like an aromatic ghost of girlfriends past. Her walls were decorated with photograph after photograph, perfectly framed and expertly hung. They all featured Ness front and centre with some older man desperately trying to hang onto her or a beautiful woman wrapped tightly in her arms. I recognised some of the faces from the bar but most I had only seen in the movies with a few I knew from the large mug shot folders at the police station.
When I had tired of playing ‘mobster or movie star’ and flipping through her extensive library I retreated to the couch to collect my thoughts and rest my eyes. I was startled awake by a dolled up Ness standing impatiently before me.
‘Are we going out to breakfast or are you going back to bed?’ Impossibly, she looked even more beautiful in the daylight and I told her so, she responded with a smile and a twirl. Her blue and white floral day dress flared out around her like a flower blooming in the morning sun. Arm in arm we headed to the car, but even before we hit the bottom step I knew it wouldn’t last. We’d try and hang on to this feeling for as long as we could but we both knew eventually her gambling or my drinking would get in the way and we’d be screaming at each other over something stupid. Still, I held her tight and tried to ignore my pessimistic mind.
We arrived at the bakery across from my apartment. As I opened the door for her Ness refused to get out.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked offering my hand for her.
‘Is this your idea of breakfast, James? A crummy bakery next to your office?’ She turned a nose up at the fine establishment before her. I put my hand in hers and gently encouraged her from the car.
‘Hey, I said I’d treat you, I didn’t say where. And don’t let Earl hear you say that, this is a cafe my dear Ness, not a bakery.’ I proffered up a seat for her in the alfresco area as the sun was warming up enough to warrant eating outside.
‘I don’t know James, a woman of my tastes should be brunching at a five star hotel or enjoying room service at said hotel. Not shlepping about some cafe that can’t even afford a decent offering pyre.’ She nodded towards the cheaply made statue of Zeus sitting on an old plate, surrounded by the remains of even cheaper incense, that sat on the counter.
‘Earl makes the best damn pastries this side of the River Styx, and if that isn’t good enough for an amazing woman such as yourself then I don’t know what is.’ I waved the waitress over and ordered coffee and two full breakfasts between us. We sat in comfortable, albeit mildly annoyed silence on Ness’ part as we waited for our coffee. While Ness’s concerns weren’t wrong I enjoyed watching the hum drum world walk past it helped remind me there was something bigger than myself out there. It also had the knack for making me feel isolated and alone. The odd feeling of being alone when your friend is sitting next to you tends to skew your perspective inwards as my mind explored my inability to feel connected with people. Luckily our coffee arrived before I could make any major breakthroughs.
The waitress quietly served our drinks and Ness and I wordlessly inhaled them. I closed my eyes and let the black liquid wash over me chasing away the beginnings of a headache and generally brightening up the day. Caffeinated, we started talking again and after sufficient small talk about life in general, our morning conversation steered itself towards the case at hand.
‘I found out something about your girl Scarlett yesterday.’
I raised my eyebrows. ‘Something I’d be interested in no doubt?’
‘You could say that. A friend of mine works at the temple, well she’s technically a priestess but you know what I mean.’ Our conversation paused as our food arrived and we hungrily laid into the mound of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and mushrooms in front of us. I polished off the last of my meal and leaned back, full and satisfied. I watched Ness pick at her meal, blissfully ignoring how fast I had inhaled mine own.
‘You were saying about your friend at the temple?’ I prompted.
‘Mmm, yes,’ she said putting her fork down. ‘She told me quite a bit about young Scarlett. Apparently she hates the order. Well, hate is a strong word, but she has no interest at all in following in dear mother’s footsteps.’
I nodded in agreement, ‘yeah that’s the story I’ve been getting. She’s a right little miss that one.’ I proffered up my cup to the waiter for a refill and let Ness continue.
‘Her best friend though, some girl called Rose or was it Rosie? Anyway, she’s the prodigy. The High Priestess is mad for this girl. My friend says she acts as if the kid is the embodiment of the goddess herself.’
I choked on my coffee spluttering and wheezing all over the place. ‘That’s all we need,’ I said gasping between ragged breaths, ‘another Aphrodite running around the place.’
It’s getting hard enough to think clearly as it is, I thought to myself as I managed to get my breathing back under control. ‘Go on.’ I said, wiping the spilt coffee from my shirt, just another stain on the shirt of my life.
‘Anyway, seems to be something of a rivalry between Scarlett and this Rosie girl.’ She punctuated this with a stab of her fork into the last piece of bacon on her plate. She savoured the crisp meat and lent back with a satisfied sigh.
‘Anything else your friend might have mentioned? Weird goings on, sacrifices, kidnappings?’ I was hoping for an easy answer but knew one wasn’t coming. Ness thought on the question for a while, sipping slowly on her coffee.
‘Hmm, well she did mention something, apparently there’s this huge tension between a few of the local sects that’s bubbling over. Seems to me that something’s going to explode into public view soon and each of the sects are going into preventative mode.’ She smiled, happy to deliver that little extra.
‘She happen to mention which sects?’
‘The local Hera and Athenian ones. Unfortunately that’s all she could tell me, she’s not that high up but I told her to keep an ear out and let me know. I did good, James?’
I flashed her a toothy grin, ‘you did really good, kitten.’ We sat in silence for a moment, just enjoying the slow start to the morning. I found myself hoping we could just sit like this forever, no more cases, no more debt collectors. Just us and the world walking on by.
Eventually I decided it was time to go. ‘Want me to drop you off home?’ I asked, pulling the chair out for her.
‘No, that’s ok. I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll walk while it’s still warm out.’ I shot her a cautious look, ‘those errands don’t happen to be anywhere near the track do they, Ness?’ Like I said, the romance would be shattered soon. She glared at me a little. ‘No, as a matter of fact I have a shopping date with a friend of mine, if that’s ok by you?’ I apologised for jumping to conclusions and wished her well on her expedition. With a chase kiss we departed. I watched her disappear down the main street with an air of grace. She was amazing but I held no illusions that one of us wouldn’t fall back on old habits and we’d be lost again. For now though I resolved to hang on to what we had for as long as I could. I made my way across the street with the intention of cleaning up and sorting out some fresh clothes but stopped when I spotted three large men waiting in the lobby of my building. I’ve been around the block a few times to know that you don’t stick around long enough to ask the question of why there are three goons waiting for you, and decided to avoid the building entirely, getting out of there as quickly as I could without drawing attention to myself. My car hummed to life on the other side of the road before the goons had even noticed me. Sadly the death rattle of the beast I drove caused them to look outside.
As I peeled out on to the street I saw two of them begin to chase after me on foot with a third getting into a nearby parked car. I rounded the corner and entered a maze of side streets, dead end roads, and car parks luckily I knew this area like a blind man knows his lovers. Twisting in and out of side streets, double backing on myself several times I had hoped to loose them long enough to get away leaving them stuck in this network of housing projects and small businesses. As I passed by my own office again I took a glance and saw a fourth man waiting outside. I pulled my hat down low and drove past slowly, hoping I wouldn’t be recognised. When you’re driving a old lime green Doge though it’s hard to be invisible, something I hadn’t counted on as I tried to lose my tail. In the rearview mirror the black car following me turned a corner and spotted their man pointing out my location, and before long I had a chase on my hands as I made a beeline for the on ramp to the freeway. Things were about to get a Hel of a lot more interesting before they got better.
I pushed the ageing Dodge as hard as I could and it shuddered down the freeway. A check of the rear view mirror saw the suits following close behind, their gloss black Cadillac coasting down the bitumen with ease. Across my dash sat a bobble head of Poseidon - lord of horses, and by a vague extension, vehicles. I shot out a quick prayer to the god for more power or the earth to open up behind me and swallow my enemies. You know, whatever was easier. Sadly the earth refused to open up and I was still stuck in an underpowered car, weaving in and out of traffic, so much for the ‘Earth Shaker’ Poseidon. I decided to risk it and swerved through several lanes of traffic to exit the freeway, taking my chances with the slower back streets and their various hiding places. They were right behind me, having seen easily through my quick lane change. My wheels screamed as I slammed the hand break to take a sharp corner, narrowly missing a small bus shelter. My perusers were not so lucky. Their car slid sideways into the fragile tin shelter sending twisted metal flying. I sped off trying to gain ground but before long they were behind me once again. It was then that the bullets started flying.
A gun shot echoed from behind as my side mirror exploded in a shower of glass and metal. It was quickly followed by four more shots all thankfully missing their mark. I lead my pursuers through side streets and around parks as I hoped for another bus shelter to take them out. Then I saw it, a multi story parking garage. It would ether mean a short end or a great escape. I sped through the entrance smashing the wooden barrier across the bonnet as I raced up the ramp. The floors few by as I spun the car around, and around the winding ramp. I passed a blur of a sign indicating that there were eight levels to this parking garage and I figured I would need to get at least two levels ahead for any chance of escaping with all of my limbs intact. Despite not being able to see my pursuers I figured they were a floor away by the squeal of their tires echoing through the complex as they turned sharply at each ramp. Pushing the struggling engine up the final incline, I soon burst forth from the dark and cavernous carpark into the bright midday sun. I quickly made the lap of the roof and was on my way back down before the other car made the last turn. It obviously was a surprise to see me flying towards them and I knew they would have to circle round the top floor to turn round, buying me precious time. I floored it and headed for the spot I had mentally marked on my way up.
With my pursuers now comfortably behind me I was able to navigate through the half full maze of the parking garage. With ample time I slid easily into an empty parking space between a black Ford and a white Volkswagen. Killing the engine, I ducked down as far as I could go and waited. Holding my breath I listened for the sound of squealing tires rushing past me and on their way out, I didn’t have to wait long. The roar of their engine grew faint as they quickly descended the parking garage. A smile came to my face as I thought my plan fool proof till I heard the smash of the exit barrier splintering against their hood. Shit. My only chance now was them being too full of adrenaline to figure out that I should have smashed through the barrier first. Again I held my breath hoping beyond hope that I was dealing with idiots. My ears rang with the sound of my own blood rushing through my body as I strained to listen out for the slightest hint that they were doubling back. After five minutes I figured I was safe enough. They had either given up and gone back to the office to wait for me, or they were sitting just outside the car park which is what I would have done. Starting the car back up I tapped the bobble headed Poseidon and watched him wobble back and forth in a very ungodly manner. ‘Fat lot of good you were,’ I said gently easing the car out of the parking spot and back out into the street.
As I slowly made my way out of the the parking garage I scanned the street for signs of the black Cadillac. A sigh of relief came out when I saw the empty street. After a quick glance in all directions I eased out of the garage just as the lone security guard started to rush over from his glass cubical, probably wanted to pin the whole mess on me. With the black Cadillac still on the lose I couldn’t go back to my office, not now at least, so I decided to follow up on the only other lead I had. The question being which temple to visit first, Hera’s or Athena’s? I chose the Athenians as they had a reputation for being less… well insane is putting it nicely. After the fun of the chase I could do with a little less, everything really. Thankfully the drive to the Athenian temple was uneventful and relatively calming, despite having to keep a constant vigil for anyone following me. There was an old woman who gave me the evil eye when I stopped short at an intersection but I think I managed to lose her.
Unlike Aphrodidic temples the Athenian equivalent had a reputation for being rather utilitarian and functional. Their houses of worship were usually plain, simple buildings with large open spaces opting in most cases for functionality over ascetic design. While Aphrodidic temples were a monolithic representation of old Athens jutting out of the dull modern landscape, Athena’s cult had chosen to blend in and work with the surrounding community. A simple bronze plaque indicated I was in the right place as I pulled up in front of the grey rendered building. I sat in the car for a moment waiting to see if my favourite goddess would pay me another visit and offer words of warning. The hairs on the back of my neck stayed where they were and so did my libido, I took that as a good sign and made my way inside.
Past the metal and glass doors fluorescent lights lit the wide corridor. The crisp white walls were adorned with simple paintings of the goddess in various poses, the favourites being hunting scenes or simple warrior poses in full Grecian armour. I followed the brass signs pointing the direction to the High Priestess’ office. Being just past noon the temple was relatively quiet, the occasional priestess moving hurriedly through the hallways with brooms and other cleaning products being the only indication that anyone else was even around. A bold oak door proclaiming the title of “Plyntrídes” beckoned, I knocked loudly and waited. Within moments the door opened and I was greeted by a rather tall, imposing woman dressed immaculately in a navy blue pantsuit and white blouse.
‘Yes?’ Her voice carried the weight of command as she looked me over. Her red hair sat high and tight at the back of her head. Silently I thanked Athena for keeping Aphrodite away, if anything red heads were my one weakness. Well, one of them. I must have hesitated too long in answering as she repeated her question, glaring down at me this time. Awkwardly coughing I proffered a hand.
‘Forgive me, James Carol of Carol Investigations. I was wondering if I may have a moment of your time to discuss a missing girl.’ I waited for a blunt rebuff but none came, instead she invited me inside the modest office.
‘Please, take a seat.’ She said directing me to the hard metal chair in front of her desk.
I took the seat, remembering to remove my hat as I did so. The High Priestess sat down behind her desk and stared directly at me, I shifted nervously in the uncomfortable chair.
‘How can I be of assistance to you Mr Carol of Carol Investigations?’ There was no sarcastic tone to the question, just pure straight forward business.
‘I’m looking for a young girl by the name of Rosie Oliver, she went missing a few days ago. Pretty young thing, here,’ I passed over a photograph the Oliver’s had given me. Auburn hair ran to her shoulders resting on the grey uniform of the Zeus school, she was grinning like a cheshire cat as she flashed a peace sign. The High Priestess looked over the photo and handed it back.
‘Sorry, never seen her before.’
‘Never?’ I found that hard to believe. These cults were always spying on each other, they were in a constant state of war over worshipers. While Zeus had the pull of being the all father, others were left to fight over the scraps trying to entice others to join them. Occasionally it spilled out onto the streets but it was usually resolved quickly and anyone involved clammed up. I pushed a little harder.
‘She’s Acidalia’s star pupil, practically attached at the hip. You sure you’ve never seen her?’ We locked eyes and I attempted to read the Priestess’ face. Sure, I might not have a great track record when it came to this type of thing but it never stopped me trying. The leader of the Athenai Sisterhood stared me down, cool as ice.
‘No, I try not to bother myself with those low moral...’ she stopped herself short but I knew the next word would have been ‘whores.’ It was a common enough negative adjective used to describe the Aphroditic cult, just like the word ‘virgin’ was used with the Athenai sisters. Personally I had no negative associations to either word, but then again being male I don’t tend to get judged based on my own sexual activities, or lack thereof.
‘You don’t have a, fondness for the Aphroditic sect do you?’ I queried, trying again to read her blank expression.
‘Mr Carol, it is no secret that both temples run in very different circles. While Athena teaches us wisdom and virtue her half sister teaches lust and beauty. So yes, our teachings often clash but we are the stronger people and refuse to play their little games.’ A fiery anger slipped through when she spoke the word “games”. An angle worth pursuing.
‘Games?’ I questioned, attempting to lean back in a relaxed position on the world’s most uncomfortable chair. ‘What kind of games has Aphrodite been playing exactly?’
She glared at me but soon gave in with a frustrated and heavy sigh.
‘I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to show you. Come.’ Without pause she swept from the room and down the hallway towards the main prayer hall.
We walked in silence, the High Priestess several steps ahead of me the entire time. She opened the solid oak double doors and ushered me inside. Once in I could immediately see what she meant. While the rest of the building was modern and unassuming, the main prayer room was almost in the same style as the Aphroditic temple. Greek columns lined the walls interspaced with life sized marble statues of the goddess Athena. The room itself was in complete disarray however, wooden chairs and velvet pillows were scattered haphazardly about the chamber. In the centre several young priestesses in long black dresses were scouring the central alter, the overpowering smell of ammonia that filled the room told me what they were scrubbing it with. Several more were cleaning up other parts of the room, rehanging fallen drapery and smashed paintings. It had always been a sort of cold war between the gods I had never heard of anyone desecrating another’s holy place quite like this before. I gestured at the mess, ‘The Aphrodidic cult did all this?’
The Athenai sister shook her head solemnly and managed to look abashed. ‘No, the cultists didn’t do this damage. We did.’
Confusion spread over my face, then at the back of my nose I smelt it. Despite the overpowering sent of cleaning products that faint, sickly aroma of flowers coupled with the lingering memory of your first real kiss.
‘Aphrodite...’ I had said it without even thinking. The High Priestess nodded solemnly beside me.
‘It was late, well after evening prayers when she weaved her presence around the remaining sisters. Their unbridled lust has caused more emotional scars than physical ones.’
We surveyed the damage together and with this new knowledge I struggled to keep my thoughts pure in this Athenian hall. At least I knew now why she didn’t hold the Aphrodidic cult in the highest regard.
‘She has never breached our sanctum before and it will not be tolerated.’ Her voice had a hard edge to it as she watched her sisters cleaning the desecrated hall. I had to stop looking at the alter, especially as one priestess was furiously scrubbing away at a particular spot, her face scrunched up in deep concentration as if trying to scrub the memory of the previous night away. Normally the idea of stereotypically uptight priestesses giving into a night of unbridled lust would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so tragic and non-consensual that is.
‘Why would the goddess do this to you? She doesn’t strike me as the aggressive type. Vindictive, yes but she’s not one for pre-emptive strikes.’ The High Priestess turned and looked me in the eye.
‘She thinks we’ve stolen something from her.’ There was an accusation hidden in her tone that I was well aware of, she obviously knew something I didn’t. I decided use one of my best attributes and play dumb.
‘What would you have stolen?’ He asked, knowingly.
‘It’s not the girl if thats what you’re thinking. It’s an apple.’ She replied, looking around the room calmly.
‘An apple?’ I repeated, ‘what like the fruit?’
‘A golden apple.’ She looked at me like the idiot I was. ‘She thinks we’ve taken her precious golden apple, the prize awarded to her by Paris of Troy.’
My heart sank instantly. I had heard the story before, who hadn’t? Zeus was throwing a shindig and the goddess Discordia decided to leave a present, a golden apple, addressed only to ‘the fairest one.’ Three goddesses claimed ownership: Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. All held that they were indeed the fairest and demanded that Zeus settle the argument. Zeus being Zeus and not wanting to make a tough decision, he defaulted to the mortal Paris to make the tough call. Long story short, the goddesses offered everything they had to Paris but it was Aphrodite who won out by offering Paris the love of Helen of Sparta and we all know how well that turned out. I began to realise exactly how Paris felt being a tool of the gods and getting in way over his own head. It struck me that Pepworth must be working for Aphrodite in some way, maybe as a curator or go-between. Although it was odd that he hasn’t seemed to have told her I was the thief, good thing too else I’d be nothing more than a stain some poor priestess would have to scrub off an alter. And not in the fun way.
‘You’ve gone awfully quiet Mr Carol.’ The High Priestess asked.
I brought my thoughts back down to the mortal plane. ‘I was just thinking who would be stupid enough to steal something like the Golden Apple of Discord?’
‘Someone with either a lot of backbone or a complete lack of wits as whomever it is will have at least two goddesses breathing down their neck.’ She turned and lead me out of the chamber, leaving the priestesses to continue their tiresome work.
‘Wait, why two goddesses?’ I inquired as we walked back towards the temple entrance.
‘The whore of Athens and our radiant and wise Pallas Athena. Of course if they don’t turn out to be a follower of Hera then that poor sap will have a holy trinity of goddesses tracking them down.’ She leant down to whisper in my ear, ‘I have it on good authority that wise Athena is looking at a second chance at the prize, especially after last night’s disgrace.’ She opened the door letting the afternoon sun pour in. As I left I had one last question of the High Priestess, ‘what would you suppose the goddesses would do to this poor idiot?’ I held my breath while she pondered on the idea, hoping against hope that her answer wasn’t the same as mine. She cocked her head to the side in thought before answering in a slow, ponderous way. ‘I would say that they would be in a very unique situation.’
‘Well, the apple belongs to ‘the fairest’ so returning it to the rightful owner would mean the competition would be on again. The thief could theoretically demand anything from the three: wealth, wisdom, love...’
I perked up at that thought. The idea of having three goddesses promising me the world on a plate was too good to be true. Maybe my luck would be turning after all.
‘Although,’ she continued, ‘the two losers would have a mighty grudge to bare afterwards. No, I pity the poor fool and their endeavours. Having one goddess bless you for an moment and two others loath you for eternity…’ She shuddered at the thought. As did I.
I bowed and doffed my hat. ‘Thank you for your time, High Priestess, it has been most...enlightening.’ She bowed in return and closed the door behind me. Retuning to my car I decided to push on to the sanctuary of Hera and get it over and done with.
Through the ages artists have painted Hera as the majestic and solemn queen of the gods but she was just as well known for her vengeful and jealous nature. I didn’t want to be this centuries’ Paris, I wanted to live a quiet life, get paid, and die of liver failure after several blissful years of drinking. I had to hope that Pepworth would continue to keep his mouth shut so he didn’t look incompetent before his goddess. Looking into the busted side mirror of the car I began to think that maybe the men who chased me weren't Pepworths. What if Athena or Hera had figured out I stole the apple? Odds were low that it was Athena as they probably wouldn’t have let me leave if it was. The question now was do I keep going and head into Hera’s domain, walking into what could quite well be a trap? I took the next exit and turned the car around. Why risk it? I was too young and beautiful to die, plus I have this great sense of humour. As I drove along the busy streets I thought about Rosie, holed up in some cult’s basement praying over and over again for her goddess to help. It was becoming clear that I was her only hope of coming back home. Aphrodite would be annoyed that one of her competitors had stolen a priestess in training from her, but clearly she was more concerned about the apple than Rosie. Taking another exit I turned back the way I came and set course for Hera’s temple. Who was I kidding, I’m not that young.
The Heraion stretched out before me, it’s opulence screamed at you from several blocks away. If Aphrodite’s temple was over the top then Hera’s temple was so far over Mount Olympus you couldn’t see it for the clouds. Looking like a modern art deco building had drunkenly smashed into the back of a Grecian palace, the Heraion sat there oppressive and stark white, the building loomed over it’s visitors. Two massive columns stood guard amongst the angular walls around it while an army of marble Heras surrounded the entire temple. Royal red carpet flowed between the columns and ended at an extravagant wrought iron gate who’s spikes rose up towards the heavens. A long whistle escaped my lips as I stood i looking up at the grand building. I took a moment to freshen up wiping the sweat from under my fedora and giving my coat a good shake before pressing the gate’s intercom. It crackled to life and quite curtly stated that prayer hours were between eight and eleven in the mornings and four and ten at night before it went dead. I pressed the com button again and waited. The prayer time speech began again so I held down the button and spoke over the top of the recording. ‘Hi, I’m James Carol from Carol Investigations. I was looking to speak to someone in charge. It’s about a missing girl.’ I released the button and stood back waiting for a blunt response and directions to the river Styx.
My response came in the form of the gates swinging open of their own accord. Shrugging, I walked along the red carpet through the columns and up the wide steps. My footsteps echoed across the checked marble floor as I walked cautiously through the entrance hall and followed it out into the atrium. A large and imposing statute of Hera occupied the space, standing tall and holding the various emblems that have come to be associated with the queen of the gods. Upon her head lay the crown and veil, while she held a pomegranate in her outstretched hand, a symbol of both life and death. The prayer hall lay beyond the atrium, its entrance sat behind the larger than life statue forcing worshipers to flow around their goddess. I stood in the atrium and marvelled at the craftsmanship it would have taken to complete this feat of engineering and artistic merit when the statue spoke. We locked eyes as it asked in a soft voice, ‘Can I help you, sir?’ I was confused to say the least until I realised that the voice had come from behind the statue. Moving out from the garden was a slight young girl, she wore similar robes to the Aphroditic priestesses except in a dull grey rather than the pure white of her rival sisters.
I flashed my friendliest grin and removed my hat.
‘My dear, you can indeed. I’m looking for someone, a young girl like yourself in fact.’ The girl blushed bright red and hung her head low.
‘I think you may be after the temple of Aphrodite, sir. This is Hera’s domain.’ It took me a moment to catch on, which is odd as my head is usually firmly rooted in the gutter. I waved an apology, ‘No, no. Not like that.’ She relaxed a little but was still burning red.
‘Here,’ I said closing the gap between us and handing over a picture. ‘The girl I’m looking for is called Rosie. She was kidnaped a few days ago. You haven’t seen her around by any chance? Her parents are worried sick.’ She studied the photograph and I studied her. She looked deeply at the young girl in the photograph before handing it back with a quick shake of her head.
‘Sorry, sir, I’ve never seen her before.’ I was pretty sure she was lying as she refused to meet my eyes while replying, choosing instead to look at the floor or my stained tie.
‘My name is James,’ I said hoping to win her confidence a little. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Lucy...’ she whispered, looking up at me.
‘Are you sure you haven’t seen her before, Lucy? You wouldn’t be in any trouble if you had.’ She tried to look away, hiding her face under the fall of her lace veil. I was about to push further when we heard the screams. I raced to the doorway behind the statue as another scream sounded, much more primal than the first.
‘You can’t go in there!’ Yelled Lucy, finally finding her voice. Ignoring her I pushed open the large metal doors and the atrium was filled with the sound of violence.
Stepping into the room took my breath away, literally. Static sparks crackled and flew through the air bouncing from wall to wall as the two goddesses fought. Like most people, I had both watched and enjoyed the professional demigod battles. Part mortal, part god the two fighters would enter the ring with a no-holds barred fight, there was no sight quite like it. Bouts were known to go on long into the night and spectators forced to evacuate, I had once seen the legendary Hercules destroy an entire stadium with nothing but his bare hands. Those demigod battles were a pittance compared to this. With every passing second both goddesses doubled in size. Hera, in her flowing royal dress complete with signature golden crown, grappled with the equally powerful Athena, her golden Grecian armour flashed as sparks hit it from all directions.
Within moments both were the size of the double story prayer hall, their heads pressed up against the ceiling scraping away at the finely crafted mouldings. Chunks of marble and plaster crashed to the ground as Athena slammed her queen into the corner and brought down her shield edge onto the goddess’ face. I could only watch as Athena was thrown backwards across the hall, her size reducing with every meter. She shattered three marble statues of Hera as she crashed through them on her way to the far wall. Bouncing back almost instantly Athena stalked across the prayer room, recovering her ground. Hera came at her from the opposite corner, her mass decreasing to match the now statue sized Athena. With all the commotion I failed to notice the young priestess Lucy follow me in until I heard her scream and run towards the shattered remains of a marble bust. Amongst the rubble lay a woman draped in similar ceremonial robes, her grey cloth stained blood red. Next to her lay the broken body of a suited man, his black bespoke jacket covered in white marble dust and blood. Watching out for any incoming goddesses I made my way over to the two figures, Lucy was already cleaning marble shards from her fellow priestess. I moved to check the pulse of the fallen man but stopped when I saw half his face crushed under the remains of Hera’s marble torso. Thank the gods I skipped lunch today.
Lucy looked up at me and I shook my head solemnly. ‘What about her?’ I yelled above the crackle of thunder and amazonian war cries. I couldn’t hear the reply but I managed to get the gist of it. Carefully I lifted the woman and carried her out to the atrium’s alter, knocking off the incense burners and candles as I laid her down. Shooting a quick glance back to the prayer room it seemed that the goddesses were content to contain their altercation to the one room and ignored the mortals beneath their feet. I checked and found a weak but steady pulse from the priestess and told Lucy to stay with her. She called out to me but I ignored her as I strode purposely through to the decimated prayer room. Clearing my throat I yelled at the two giant goddesses currently trying to wrench each others heads off.
‘Hey, you two!’ I called out. Despite their size and current occupation both turned to glare at me. Fire and lightning reflected in their huge eyes. I swallowed my nerves and held out the photo of Rosie. ‘I’m looking for this girl, have either of you seen her?’