I knelt in front of the thirteen assholes, inwardly seething. How dare they think to command me? They fear my very presence. I knew it. I could smell it on the air, acrid and sour.
And these are the supposed “major” gods? Their weakness did dishonor to Greece.
Zeus, the spineless weasel, was the first to speak.
“You may rise, Thanatos.”
I snapped my head up at that statement, my eyes surely blazing at his crude attempt to undermine me. I saw the brief flash of nervousness in the King of Olympus’ eyes, and Hera gasped quietly in abject fear. I fought back my signature wolfish grin. Hera was a stone-cold bitch, and nothing pleased me more than making her sweat. The only gods in the room who looked unconcerned by my wrath were Athena, Hephaestus, and unsurprisingly, Hades. They were also the closest thing I had to friends.
“I will rise as I wish, just as I chose to kneel. I do not require, nor particularly care for your permission, Zeus.”
My voice was icy, cutting through the silence like a frigid whip. Indeed, Zeus and several others flinched as if I’d swung a leather strap.
These fuckers would never get that honor.
“For once, I believe I speak for all of us,” Hades spoke up calmly, albeit with a hint of a smirk, “When I say we apologize for my buffoon of a younger brother’s transgression.”
Zeus’ stormy eyes flashed with barely restrained fury, but he couldn’t speak without risking offending me. Hades was one clever bastard.
We tended to get along quite well.
“I have no patience for further politics, Athena barked, her tone that of a general on the field of battle, “My father has a foolish and idiotic task for you.”
“Quiet yourself, Athena!” Hera sneered, tossing perfectly coiffed dark hair over a pale shoulder, “You’ve spoken your piece.”
I paid no mind to the pointless bickering. I let the wicked grin that had been hovering just below the surface to show itself. The room went dead silent at its appearance.
I smiled like a predator, and they knew they were the prey.
“If Athena believes my ‘task’ to be foolhardy, then surely it is,” I purred, my voice low and lethal, “The fact that you’ve lost sight of that bodes ill.”
Athena inclined her head in the barest of nods. Her equivalent of a wild declaration of undying friendship.
Of course, it would not be tactically wise for her to do so, so she refrained.
Like Hera, she was also a stone-cold bitch. But, unlike Hera, Athena was my stone-cold bitch.
“As you know, there is a new religion rising. In the broken remnants of Rome, they worship a singular ‘God’.” Hephaestus drawled, undoubtedly just to irritate his mother. It was effective.
“I am aware, of course. I hardly live under a rock, Blacksmith.” Hephaestus’ expression told me exactly what he thought about that. “And yet I do not see how the Byzantines should concern us. They are merely the dying embers of a once great empire.” I waved my hand dismissively to punctuate my words.
“Ah, how must it feel to transcend the pantheons?” Hera muttered sarcastically under her breath. She hadn’t meant for me to hear it, but I did.
And I never could resist a snide comment.
“It feels delicious.” My voice was a purr, which I wielded it like a weapon, the low baritone as lethal as it was soothing.
“They are not a threat to you, perhaps,” Zeus snapped, his voice cutting. “You are Death. Universal. Untouchable. But to us, the Byzantine’s betrayal of their old faith weakens us significantly.”
My eyes cut to my only three friends. They each met my searching gaze without any attempt to disguise their emotion. Each were calmly accepting of their own weakness. This appeared to be a rare case in which Zeus spoke truly.
Damn him to Tartarus.
“And what, precisely, am I meant to do about it?” I growled, grinding my teeth at my defeat. With those words, I’d just signed a contract with the most pathetic worm on Olympus. It rankled.
Zeus’ eyes lit up dangerously. He hadn’t been expecting me to help, that much was clear. The gleam of malice in his eyes told me all I needed to know.
Fortunately for him, I was loyal to those who deserved it. I’d be damned to the Underworld, drowned in the Lethe, and eaten by Cerberus before I let my friends waste away. Not when I could do something about it.
But damn them for having weaknesses. It was making my life difficult.
Zeus’ next words only worsened my dread.
“This supposed ‘God’,” Zeus sneered, his expression bloodthirsty and manic, “We want you to reap him.”
I stiffened, my eyes narrowing in acute hatred. Zeus looked too damn smug.
“Wipe that smirk off your repulsive face!” I snarled, baring my teeth, “Do not celebrate your supposed victory, lest I cast your blackened, wretched soul to Tartarus. When you get there,” I spat, stalking forward, “You can tell him I sent you.”
Zeus gripped his lightning bolt like a child gripped a favored toy, as if a bit of electricity could ward off death.
“You would not be so foolish-” he began, but I cut him off with a growl.
“You are pathetic and weak, Zeus. I could crush you like a bug beneath my sandal.” I warned. He knew the truth of my words, all the gods and goddesses present did. “You’ve made me break my laws. My sacred vows. Ridding Olympus of you would be justice served.”
“You do not have to do this, Thanatos.” Hades’ familiar baritone echoed throughout the extravagant marble chamber. “None would fault you for going back on a promise with this joker.”
“My word is not what holds me, Hades. Do not be ridiculous.” I replied shaking my head and backing away from the throne. “I will follow through for you, my brother. I will take this God, so you may continue to thrive.” I sighed, before grumbling, “But it’ll be a real pain in my ass.”
“He is in Byzantium as we speak,” Athena informed me, her eyes saddened in an uncustomary show of emotion. “He walks in his own churches, visiting his oracles, or as he calls them, his priests.”
I nodded slightly at her to show my gratitude.
“I will be off presently.” I told the pantheon, hiding my heavy heart behind my fury. I turned to leave, my inky black cloak swirling behind me.
“And Thanatos,” Athena called, stopping me mid-stride, “Do not underestimate this God. He hides immense power behind a mask of oddity.”
Without further acknowledgement, I continued out of the room.
I sat, waiting in the most extravagant church I could find when God found me. I leaned my back against the rough-hewn pews, staring at the odd symbol in the front. It almost resembled a Tau, but with a top piece sticking out.
I sensed it as soon as he entered the building. A wave of power unlike any I’d ever felt before assaulted my senses. He’d tried, unsuccessfully, to cover the breadth of his power behind a flimsy mask that was child’s play to break through. Yet, I was still rattled. This God was a force beyond belief.
This was why it paid to heed Athena.
“Thanatos! It has been too long my friend.” The voice was rich and silken, designed to assuage fears and put one at ease.
It did not put me at ease.
“I was unaware that we were friends. Or that we’d even met, for that matter.” My reply was stiff and decidedly not friendly.
“Oh, I suppose we haven’t yet, have we? Silly me,” God shook his head self-depreciatingly, “The time I’m thinking of you will also be upset at me, in my defense. Easy to get mixed up.”
I studied God as he prattled on about this supposed future, paying little mind to his ramblings. He was tall, albeit shorter than my six and a half feet. Still, respectable. His long, straight black hair shone like the inky waters of the Styx. His skin was the color of the golden sands of Egypt-indeed, he looked if he belonged to that area. Surprisingly, this was no fat, lazy young deity as I had anticipated. His arms rippled under his modest linens, and a set of extremely off-putting silver eyes watched me like a bird of prey. A warrior could always recognize another warrior; and this was no exception. I recognized his easy, powerful way of moving-I’d seen it many a time when I sparred with Ares. The cold, calculating confidence in his odd gaze was identical to one that often graced Athena’s dark eyes. This was a fighter, and a fucking dangerous one.
That did not bode well.
“I will not insult your intelligence. I assume you know why I’m here?” I said once his inconsequential rant had ended. He grinned, his white teeth almost startling against his dark skin and beard.
“You’ve been talking to Athena, I see. I can never get one past her.”
No one could.
“I have, but I’d like to think I could smell your deception from a great distance.”
Possibly not the smartest move on my part, I thought as his nostrils flared, but I wanted to disrupt his balance a bit. He was entirely too unconcerned for my liking.
“You think me a new being,” God rumbled, glowering at me in an almost fatherly manner, “You think I threaten the ‘old gods’.” He spat the words as if they were poison. “You did not create man from clay. I created both. Prometheus did not give them fire, I gave them the knowledge to create it themselves. You Greeks are only old enough to create stories and forget the truth of the past.”
I chuckled darkly, “You think I don’t know that the gods are full of shit? I am as old as Gaia and I escorted Ouranos’ soul to Hades. Yet I have no memory of you, God.”
“And of course you don’t!” God scoffed, waving his hand as if to dismiss my words from the room. “I work behind the scenes, Thanatos. But the time of watching the very gods I created ruin the Earth is behind me. I will no longer stand for it.”
I hated that I was almost starting to agree with this arrogant prick.
“I cannot allow that,” I growled, my long, wicked scythe materializing in my hand as I spoke. My white-blond hair whipped around my face as I lifted my free hand into the air.
But then, God disappeared.
I whirled, swinging my blade in a lethal arc as I did so. But God was already too far in for me to reach, pressing a palm to my forehead and sending me flying backward.
Agony consumed my body like wildfire. My muscles seized and contorted, my skin rippled and roiled. I was forced to grit my teeth as they too began to change and sharpen. I refused to give him the satisfaction of hearing the sounds of my suffering. I had no idea what he’d done to me. All I knew was that I’d be contacting Tartarus, an old colleague, and telling him to give this God his absolute worst.
And Tartarus was one sick fucker. He’d had eons of practice torturing souls. God would stand no chance.
Now, I just had to hurl him into the underworld like the trash he was.
I groaned soundlessly as I forced my battered body to rise. I felt as if Herakles had pummeled me with his club for hours, every muscle tender and unfamiliar. They groaned in protest as I heaved myself to my feet, but they responded nonetheless. I leaned heavily against the wall, the cold stone bricks of the church supporting my weakened form.
God, the asshole, looked on. He wasn’t at all concerned, either. Normally, such nonchalance might inspire a more cautious approach.
But I was too pissed off to think rationally. All gods were at least somewhat wrathful, and my age had done nothing to quell it.
“Crows take you, you piece of cow shit!” I snarled when I regained my feet. Furious, I held out my hand to summon my scythe.
Real fear punched me in the gut. That scythe was more than just a weapon. It was an extension of myself, as vital as a limb or organ.
I’d called Athena and Hades my friends. If they were friends, then that scythe was my family. God knows it was more pleasant company than my father, Chaos.
I growled rabidly, stalking forward and clenching my fists. My scythe was vital, but it wasn’t the source of my power. I could damn his soul with or without it.
“Perhaps you may want to observe yourself before you try to damn me, Thanatos.” I froze, and God threw his hands wide, a mirror appearing between them, floating midair.
I was vaguely aware of a strangled sound erupting from my throat. Clawed, gray hands shook as they rose to my long, braided hair, now silver like metal. My eyes, once as dark as obsidian, shone scarlet as they took in my new form.
Fuck, I was also shorter.
I had horns. And a gods damned tail.
I knew what I was. What God had warped me into.
That day, God had taken more than my godhood. He’d also destroyed my identity.
I was no longer Thanatos, the free and respected god of death. I was God’s bitch, his daemon. He called me the Grim Reaper-an evil agent of grief and sorrow. Ironically, God had been the one to cast me into his version of the underworld-a fiery place he called Hell.
And in a castle there, I’d met the lonely angel. My boss. And, eventually, my friend.
I still remembered his first words to me. He’d looked my new, powerless, pathetic form up and down and said:
“Pick a name, Death. What do you wish to be called?”
Much to my annoyance, I knew I liked him right then.
I also knew I couldn’t connect myself to my old home. Greece was behind me now. My old life had died as soon as God had taken my power and slapped me with metaphorical shackles. So, I went with the next best thing.
I chose a Roman name, a name that meant war. A name that meant bloodshed. A name that meant victory. My name became a vow, a vow to escape from under God’s thumb and show him what happened when he messed with a Greek.
“Marcus.” I’d spat, my voice strong and hateful, “My name is Marcus.”