"Hey, Simi. I have something for you to eat."
Acheron jerked around at the deep masculine voice that called out to them. There was a tall, dark-haired man whose beard was thick. His skin was dark like a Sumerian and yet he spoke flawless Greek. Acheron held Simi back to keep her from running to him. "Who are you?"
The man stepped around a fallen column to kneel before Simi. He set a basket down at her feet and uncovered loaves of bread, fish and cheese. "I know you’re hungry, sweet. Dig in."
Simi let out a squeal of delight before she set on the food with a vengeance.
The man stood up and offered his arm to Acheron. "My name is Savitar."
Acheron frowned at the tattoo of a bird that marked his forearm before he shook it. "How do you know Simi?"
One corner of his mouth lifted. "I know lots of things, Acheron. And I’ve come to help you learn your powers and to understand your simi demon. She’s too young still to be left to callous care and the last thing I want is to see either one of you hurt because of it."
"I would never hurt her."
"I know, but the Charonte have special needs you must understand. Otherwise she could die . . . as could you."
Acheron felt the brush of hackles rise and he wasn’t sure why. There was something about this being that rubbed against his god-hood and made him wary. "Are you threatening me?"
Savitar laughed. "I never threaten. I just kill whatever annoys me. Stand down, Atlantean. I’m here as your friend."
Once Simi had devoured every crumb, Savitar picked her up in his arms to carry her while he walked through the crumbled streets. "She’s impressive, isn’t she?"
"My mother or Simi?"
Savitar laughed. "Both, but I was speaking of your mother."
Acheron looked around and sighed at the destruction his mother had wrought. "Yes, she is." And as they walked Acheron realized something. "I can’t hear your thoughts."
"No, you can’t. And you never will. You’ll find that many of the higher beings of the universe will be silent to you. Some gods, demons, and other special creatures. We all have our secrets, but the comfort to you is that most won’t be able to hear yours either."
That was comforting. "Can you hear them?"
"The answer you seek is no, but the truth is, I hear you, Acheron, and yes, I know all about your past."
He cursed at what he didn’t want to hear. "What of the others? Will they know my past too?"
"Some will." Savitar shifted Simi in his arms, then paused to look at him. "I don’t care about your past, Acheron. It’s your future that matters to me. I want to make sure that you have one and that you comprehend how important you are to the balance of power."
Balance of power? "I don’t understand."
"Apollo cursed his Apollites."
"And my mother killed them all."
Savitar shook his head. "Many died with Atlantis, but there are thousands of them who have spread over the Mediterranean and who live in many other countries now, including Apollo’s own son, Strykerius. All of them have been cursed to die on their twenty-seventh birthday. All of them."
"Then how are they a problem? If they all die in a few years, they’ll be extinct."
Savitar stroked Simi’s head before he started walking again. "They’re not going to die, Acheron. They will live and they will procreate many times over."
Savitar sighed before he answered. "A goddess will lead them and show them how to prey on human souls to circumvent Apollo’s curse."
Acheron was appalled. "I don’t understand. Why would anyone do such a thing?"
"Because the universe is complicated and there’s a delicate balance in all things that must be maintained."
"Yes, but if you know these people will die, can’t you stop the goddess from teaching them?"
"I could. But it could unravel the very essence of the universe."
Frustration ran deep through Acheron. He didn’t understand. Why would someone fail to help another if they had the power to?
Savitar picked up a random stone from the ground and held it in his hand. "Tell me what happens if I throw this with all my power."
Acheron frowned until he saw an image in his head. It was the stone traveling through the air . . . it sped until it hit a man in his shoulder, wounding him. No, not any man. A soldier. His arm now lame, the stone’s wound forced him to become a beggar . . .
Eight score people would then die because the soldier could no longer protect them in battles that wouldn’t even be fought for years to come. But out of those people who died . . .
"It goes on and on and on," Savitar said. "One tiny decision: Do I throw the rock or do I drop it? And a thousand lives are changed by one innocuous decision." He let the rock fall to the ground.
Now it was harmless again and history wrote itself forward the way it was supposed to.
Savitar smiled down at Simi who’d fallen asleep in his arms. "You and I are cursed to understand how the tiniest decision made by every being can go onward to affect the rest of the universe. I know what should happen . . . what needs to happen. And if I stop something as simple as a rock throw, it could cause catastrophic consequences. However, unlike you, I don’t see the future until after I act. The moment I do something, I then see everything unfold from that point on. You are lucky. You will always see the future before you act."
"But I didn’t see my sister’s death."
"No. The Greek Fates, when they cursed you, blinded you to the fate of those closest to you. Anyone you care about will be your blind spot."
"That’s not right."
"Well, kid, brace yourself. This one’s even worse. You also will never be able to see your own future or the future of anyone who seriously impacts your future."
Acheron ground his teeth at the injustice. "Can you see it?"
"It’s why I’m here."
"Then tell me what you see."
Savitar shook his head. "Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you knew what was ahead of you, you’d avoid doing the very things you must do in order to have it unfold properly. One small innocuous decision and your destiny will be altered forever."
"But you can see your future."
"Only after I’ve set it into motion and can’t change it."
Acheron shook his head as he pondered which of them was the most cursed. The one who was blind or the one who saw it instantly and was powerless to stop it.
Savitar clapped him on the back. "I know how confusing it is for you to have all this power and knowledge and not know how to channel it. Or tap it."
Acheron nodded. "It is hard."
Savitar smiled. "That’s why the first thing I want to teach you is fighting."
Savitar laughed as they walked. "Because you’re going to need it. There’s a war coming, Acheron, and you have to be prepared for it."
"A war? What kind of war?"
Savitar refused to answer. Instead, he shook Simi awake. "Little one, I need you to return to your akri and stay on him while he fights. Don’t worry though, it’s only pretend fighting. No need for you to come off him to protect him."
Simi nodded sleepily before she obeyed. She drifted onto Acheron’s arm.
"Move up, Simi," Savitar said to her. "Go to his neck where you won’t be hit."
Acheron frowned at his orders. "Can she feel a blow when she’s on my skin?"
"Yes, she can. And if she’s stabbed while she’s there and it wounds you, it will wound her too. Guard your demon, boy."
The next thing Acheron knew, they were alone on a beach. "Takeshi!" Savitar shouted.
Black smoke roiled out of the earth.
Acheron stepped back as the smoke cleared to reveal a man in armor the likes of which he’d never seen before. Blood red, it was made of shining metal. Wickedly carved blades curved up over his shoulders while a neck piece came up to cover the lower part of his face. All that could be seen were his eyes and the red scrollwork tattoo that was drawn across his forehead.
His black hair was tinged with red tips. His eyes slanted exotically like a feral cat and they were a deep, blood red. But the moment those eyes fastened on Savitar, they lightened with friendship. The metal around his neck folded down from his handsome face to show a man no more than a year or two older than Acheron.
"Savitar-san," he greeted with a crooked grin. "It’s been a long time."
Savitar inclined his head to him. "And I’m calling in a favor."
With one hand resting on the hilt of his sword, Takeshi tsked as he looked about the beach. "Sav, you can’t keep doing this. I’m running out of places to put the bodies."
Savitar laughed. "Nothing like that." He stepped back to allow the two of them to size each other up. "Takeshi, meet Acheron. Acheron this is Takeshi-sensei. Listen to him and he’ll teach you to fight in ways you can’t imagine."
Takeshi narrowed his gaze on Acheron. "You would have me train a new god?"
Savitar leaned in and whispered something to Takeshi that he couldn’t hear.
Takeshi nodded. "As you wish, brother." Stepping toward Acheron, Takeshi smiled and knocked the staff out of Acheron’s hands. He let out a long sigh of disappointment. "I have much to teach you. Come and learn the art of war from the one who invented it."
Cocky, Acheron went with him-after all, he was a god now, surely he could fight. At least that’s what he thought until Takeshi pinned him to the ground with a move so fast, he hadn’t even realized the man had gone into motion until Acheron was face down in the sand.
"Never take your eyes off your opponent," Takeshi said before he moved back and allowed Acheron to rise. "And never think you don’t have to work for a victory. Even now, you could surprise me."
Takeshi rolled his eyes. "Surprise me, Atlantean. Attack. This isn’t a dance party."
Acheron went for him and again, he landed face down in the sand. "You know, this isn’t building my confidence. In fact, I think I’m just going to lie here for a bit and take in some sun."
Takeshi laughed, then patted him on the back. "Get up, Acheron." He looked over to where Savitar was now sitting on a rock watching them. "He doesn’t anger easily. This is good."
Acheron laughed bitterly. "Yes, I’m more of a simmer slowly until it boils over and ruins everything, kind of man."
Takeshi turned back to Acheron and handed him his staff. "Just remember, anger is always your enemy. You must keep your emotions in check. The moment you lose control of them, you lose the fight every time."
Acheron twirled the staff around and brought it into a defensive block.
Takeshi tsked at him. "Always be the attacker. A defender never wins."
"Defenders get their asses kicked," Savitar said. "Trust me. I’ve got crack impressions on every pair of shoes I own."
Takeshi arched a brow at Savitar. "Do you want to teach him?"
"Then shut up or grab a sword and come help."
The humor fled Savitar’s face. "Is that a challenge?"
"It would be if I didn’t know for a fact that you’re too lazy to rise to one."
"Eqou," Takeshi taunted.
Savitar flashed from the rock, to stand before Takeshi with a sword the likes of which Acheron had never seen before. He brought it down across Takeshi’s vambrace. The next thing he knew, the two of them were at war.
Takeshi scoffed. "Ah, you fight like a sissy demon."
"Sissy demon? Have you ever met a sissy demon?"
"I killed three this morning."
Savitar swung at his throat. The blade whistled through the air, narrowly missing the man’s adam’s apple.
Feeling neglected, but grateful he wasn’t in the middle of this titanic brawl, Acheron went to sit on the rock Savitar had vacated.
Savitar shoved Takeshi back. "Your mother was a goatherder."
"It’s an honorable profession."
"Yeah for a goat."
Takeshi swung around and kicked Savitar away. Savitar flipped over and came back with an upstroke that barely missed gutting him.
Takeshi shook his head. "Have you been drinking this morning? How did you miss me? I swear I’ve fought old women with better reflexes."
"The fact you fight old women tells me just how rusty you’ve become. What? Your ego needed the boost and they were the only ones you could find you could beat?"
"Savitar, Savitar, Savitar. At least I won. Wasn’t it you who had to cry to the counsel to come save your ass from an attack of a four-year-old?"
Savitar gaped in feigned anger. "Four-year-old . . . tarranine demon. Don’t forget the most important part. Those bastards are hatched full grown and it wasn’t just one. It was a swarm of them."
"So you admit you had help?"
"Oh that’s it, sensei. You’re tasting sand . . ."
Acheron shook his head at their bantering. While they were being harsh to each other, there was a good-natured spirit that let him know they didn’t mean a word of it. It was as if they were sparring with words the same way they were sparring with their swords.