Ana doesn’t care to keep track of how long it’s been. She remembered the sun setting and rising and sees that it now looms overhead. Through a half-lidded gaze, she watches as a sea of blues and whites rush by. Hope cries, and Ana realizes she couldn’t fake being asleep any longer. Sitting up, Ana reaches for the baby and pulls her away from the noodles that held her in place. Ana briefly rocks Hope in her arms, but can’t seem to quiet the poor thing.
“I think she’s hungry,” Ana asks without looking to Fea directly. She hasn’t looked at Fea for a few nights now; doesn’t miss the sight of her evil counterpart.
“Again? She just ate yesterday.”
Fea’s rough groan cue Ana onto the girl’s irritation. It doesn’t seem fair to Hope, or FSM or even IPU that they have to put up with someone so easily annoyed. One could look at Fea’s behavior and actually think she’s the one that’s annoying. “Hand her to me,” Fea says, causing Ana to finally glance her way. They may look alike, but Ana knows they couldn’t be any more different.
Fea wiggles out of her noodle strap and climbs across the spaghetti until she reaches them. She takes Hope, then with a nod of her head, tells Ana, “Take the driver’s seat.”
“W-what? Me? Really?”
Ana pauses, taken aback by the request. Fea just gives her this little look that she imagines says ‘isn’t that obvious’.
Ana’s thoughts are confirmed when Fea oh so sarcastically responds, “No not you, the baby.”
“I don’t know the first thing about Flying Spaghetti Monsters...how am I supposed to-”
Ana says up until she’s cut off by a straight look from Fea. Her cold sapphire hues callously strike Ana’s gaze.
“It’s easy, even an idiot like you could do it..” Fea motions to the two long appendages that end in eyeballs. “Just push em forward. We’re nearin’ the place anyway.”
Ana sighs, nods and does as she’s told. There’s no telling what Fea would do to her if she put up a fight. Then again, even Ana knows it isn’t in her nature to fight back. Especially after seeing how easily Fea has handled her opponents. Ana doesn’t know the first thing about fighting and is starting to regret passing up on Athena’s offers to teach her.
Ana takes Fea’s spot at the center of the spaghetti creature. Noodles wrap around her waist, tightening her in place. She hesitates to touch the stalk, having noticed just how slimy they are.
“Come on Hope, shuddup already.”
Ana overhears Fea’s ‘parenting skills’. She glances back and sees Fea holding Hope up, her hands tight beneath the whining baby’s armpits. It almost looks like Fea’s shaking her.
If Ana were to escape, could she rest well knowing the last mortal is in Fea’s clutches? Ana’s eyes are on the two, and she’s about to make a suggestion. The words are making their way from her heart to her throat, when she stops them, expecting to be yelled at again. Even so, for Hope, she decides it’s worth it. Ana’s lips part, but she stops again, not by her own doubt, but by the display before her. Fea’s brought Hope close, closer than any other time Ana’s seen them together. Fea closes her eyes and presses her forehead against Hope’s. It’s almost like Ana can hear a hymn, but it’s quiet, so quiet she can’t discern if it’s Fea or the melodic sound of the wind flying by. Regardless of the source, Hope stops crying.
“You weren’t hungry at all, were ya?” Fea says, pulling away from the baby, an almost smile on her rough little face. “I was annoyed. Gotta watch my temper around ye. Cause once you start goin’, then I’ll start goin’ and before long we’ll both be an angry mess.” A hint of something new lingers in Fea’s voice, but Ana’s not going to mistake it, not again. After letting her guard down around Fea last time, she’s cautious. She can’t afford to think in absolutes anymore.
Noticing Fea setting Hope down, Ana looks forward again, not wanting their gazes to meet. “Not bad flyin’ for a noobie.” Ana hears Fea’s voice right next to her, then feels a quick pat at on her back. “Look,” Fea’s arm stretches out past Ana, and towards the ground below. “We’re here.” With that said, Ana feels herself being pulled from the ‘driver’s seat’. “We’ll leave him on auto-pilot for a while. The breeze up here relaxes Hope. She needs a nap.”
“Wait? We’re going down there,” Ana asks, already knowing the answer.
“Alright boy, dinner will be served soon!” Is the last thing Ana hears Fea say before she leaps from FSM, pulling Ana along with her. Ana screams and, on instinct alone, clings to Fea. “What are y’doin’? You can fly, moron!” Ana opens her eyes in time to see Fea whipping her arms outwards. Suddenly, both arms are overtaken by deep black feathers, covering every inch of her pale skin. All it takes is several heavy flaps of those wings to slow their descent. It doesn’t take too long before the two of them land gently in front of what looks like a tavern. When Fea drops her wings the plumage bursts from them, leaving her regular little girl arms to fall at her side. Fea shrugs her shoulders and Ana takes the hint and looks down to notice she’s still clinging helplessly to Fea.
“I’m sorry,” Ana squeaks as she lets go of Fea and steps back. Fea shakes her head then looks ahead to the tavern.
Fea plucks two feathers from the plumage at her neck. She offers one of the feathers to Ana, while still holding the other one before herself. “Wear this.” Without much thought, Ana reaches out and takes the feather. As soon as Ana pinches Fea’s feather between her fingers it begins to twitch as though it’s alive. Light blue energy starts swelling up around the feather and then it changes shape, growing larger and reforming altogether. The feather becomes a crow themed headdress, complete with a pelt cloak. “Let me do the talkin’.” Ana hears Fea and looks up to see that she’s already wearing her’s. After a swallow and a nod, Ana drops the mask over her face.
Surprisingly, there’s nothing loud or intrusive about the way Fea enters the tavern. Fea takes these slow long, almost elegant, bounds forward. Unsure how close she should be, Ana scurries behind Fea. She looks around and sees that they have the attention of the tavern’s many patrons. A wood shack filled to the brim with large men, scary looking women, and creatures, unlike anything Ana has ever seen. Some are fashioning pool sticks in anticipation of another game, while others sat down drinks to get a better look at the children entering their bar. To be honest, it makes Ana feel funny, but not in a silly way. She’s lost in the intimidating details, so it’s no surprise to her when she bumps into Fea and falls over. Quickly Ana gets to her feet and readjusts her mask. Laughter dances around the girls, and Ana knows it’s her fault. Despite her size, Fea does a good job at looking intimidating. Why did Fea bring her along? It isn’t like if a fight broke out Ana would be of any use to her, maybe a distraction at best. Though the most likely reason is that Fea doesn’t trust her with Hope. That’s right, now that she has an idea of how to pilot FSM there’s little else to stop her from taking off with Fea’s soon-to-be boon.
“You two old enough to be in here,” Asks a man from behind the counter. Judging by the single eye at the center of his face, the bartender is a cyclops. His skin is like clay, and his hair is short, spiky and orangish brown like rotten carrots. Aside from his sharp teeth and prominent eye, his most distinguishing feature is a large horn protruding from the back of his head. He uses a greasy rag to wipe the inside of a dirty glass.
“Age matter? We’re goddesses, been around for hundreds of years.” Fea answers in a sharp sounding voice. Several steps forward and Fea’s nearing a swivel chair at the front of the bar. After a little sigh, Ana inches forward after Fea. She makes sure to keep an eye on her surroundings, watching as others watch her, and by extension, Fea.
Chuckling, the dapper cyclops puts down his glass and shakes his head. “Goddesses? All I see is a couple of godlings. What we sell here isn’t for you. Now run home to your mommy and daddy’s domain, and stay outta trouble.”
Ana agrees with what the cyclops has to say, and takes a precautionary step backward when she hears Fea chuckling. The laughter stops her, and she groans, having an idea by now what comes next. “What if we’re lookin’ for trouble?”
There’s some laughing and clapping and stomping, much to the Cyclop’s chagrin. A hairy beast with ten eyes slaps his hand on the bar. His stomach, or at least what Ana thinks is a stomach, jiggles as he laughs. “Come on, let em drink! They want trouble, give em trouble!”
“I’m not serving godlings,” The cyclops barks back. He jabs a finger towards the window. “It may look like hell out there, but I still have standards. I’m gonna make an honest living, and I won’t have the Archangels on my ass, ’cause a little girl thinks she can do what big girls do.”
Nodding, Ana tugs on Fea’s wrist but can’t seem to make her budge. “He’s right, Fea, let’s just go.” Fea laughs.
“Who says the kind of trouble I want comes in a bottle?” Fea says, snatching her wrist from Ana and staggering her.
“Don’t do this Fea,” Ana says as she steps around her lookalike. She holds out her arms and shakes her head. “He’s just doing his job...Don’t tell me we came all this way just to...”
“To take this all away from him,” Fea responds before Ana even finishes speaking. “This guy’s making an honest living, alright. Peddling off cheap booze for high prices. Seems like all the assholes stranded down here have divinity to burn. So I’m thinkin’ it can go to somethin’ a lot better than their pathetic vices.” Fea steps forward, but Ana tries forcing her back. It doesn’t work, and with each step, Ana gets pushed back until she feels the bar railing against her spine. “It can go to makin’ me a helluva lot stronger!”
“Little girl.” Ana turns when she hears the Cyclops’ voice. “Twice I’ve asked you to leave my bar.”
His one eye falls into focus on the two of them. The pigmentation of his cool blue skin begins to redden. As his pupil starts to glow, Ana can see red veins creeping in around his eye. In a louder, gruffer tone, he barks, “I don’t want to have to ask again.” As the Cyclops says this he steps out from behind the bar, giving Ana her first full view of him. He’s a massive man, one of the biggest she’s ever seen. His forearms bulge and his biceps threaten to rip through his tight dress shirt. Even from here she can see his chest flexing against his strained top, the buttons barely holding everything in place. He bares his fangs, revealing rows of sharp teeth just past his parted lips. To make matters worse, he’s cracking his knuckles threateningly.
The bar’s getting loud again. There’s hollering, clapping, and slapping on just about every hard surface around. Even the hairy creature is getting a kick out of it all, proclaiming, “Look, everyone, these lil girls are gettin’ to ol’ Corb!”
It doesn’t make any sense, the cyclops, Corb, seemed reasonable just a moment ago. Ana looks at Fea and notices she’s just laughing as if this display has no effect on her whatsoever.
“F-fea?” Ana shakes the other girl. “Come on, let’s just leave. Can’t you see how angry you’re making him?”
Suddenly, Ana’s hands are slapped away, and she notices Fea’s gritting her teeth, and her expression is somewhere between a grimace and smirk. “Idiot,” Fea snickers out. “Just watch.” Fea walks towards the large figure. As she walks she speaks, and like her steps, her words are dripping in a confidence that somehow eases Ana’s nerves. “If this man knew his eye from his asshole he’d know he can’t win this fight.” A hop puts Fea’s on a table, where she’s still not eye level with her opponent to be. “A smart god would just eject us from his domain, no questions asked. Unless...” Slowly, Fea’s hands work their way up towards her corvid mask. With her thumbs curved just underneath the beak, she continues, “...He wants a fight! ” Those final words eagerly spring from Fea’s mouth before she flips her mask upwards, revealing her face to everyone. There are gasps and laughs intermixed with maybe an aww or two. “Once I’m done kicking your ass you’re going to bow to me...Morrigan, The Phantom Queen!”
The room goes quiet, almost silent. There’s still voices, but Ana’s really gotta focus if she wants to hear anything. What she can pick are mostly ends or beginnings of loose sentences throughout the tavern, all about Fea. From a moment’s listen she hears “Phantom Queen” said again and again, usually paired either with a flippant or scared sounding ‘no way’. The room seems mixed on if they believe Fea’s claim or not. Ana hears the door and looks up to see a few people running over one another to get through.
Ana watches closely. Every move Fea makes needs to be noted. She can’t be left in the dark like she was when Fea fought Gilgamesh. While watching, Ana spots something subtle, a slight ruffling in the plumage at the Fea’s shoulders. The feathers shuffle, as though there’s a breeze in the room, but Ana feels nothing. Then all at once, she notices it, something in Corb. It isn’t just the snarl contorting his face, or the veins pulsating on his exposed flesh, it’s this aura he’s giving off. Ana can’t see, but she feels it in her own feathers. It’s nostalgic as though she’s felt it once before. It’s like the air is thick with his nasty intent. The last time she felt something like this was when Throoth attacked Fea. In fact, the look in Corb’s eye in the same as Throoth’s. Back then when Fea asked if she ever saw Throoth look like that she said no, and now she’s beginning to believe that Fea definitely had something to do with it.
A blood-curdling scream forces Ana’s attention to Corb. He’s bolted towards Fea, both arms out, grasping repeatedly at the air. Once close enough, he leaps, closing any distance left between them. While wondering if Fea will move, Ana feels a twitch in her own legs. Just when it looks like Corb’s fist is going to crash into Fea, Ana winces and looks away. Even after all she’s seen, she still can’t handle violence. After watching Jesus in that intimate moment she couldn’t stand to see anyone hurt. That includes Fea.
Only after hearing a crash does Ana look back to the scene. The sounds of gasps and huffs guide Ana’s vision To Fea. Fea’s standing with her fist out and a tremble in shoulders. In a straight line, her gaze moves from Fea’s fist forward. Past several broken tables, over a few unconscious patrons and finally through a fresh looking hole in the wall.
There’s a clear look of disbelief painting the faces of those around her. Silence makes itself known by becoming a thick miasma throughout the room; Ana can almost taste it, and it’s stale, like days old bread. Next, comes a deep rumble; a chuckle that blossoms into a bolstering laugh. “Did all you assholes see that?” Fea spins as she shouts, as though to make sure her voice bounces off every remaining wall. “He’s not just the owner, is he? He was the strongest one here! A Fomorian!” There’s an emphasis on the last word Fea speaks, but Ana doesn’t understand why.
Ana gauges reactions from around the room. Eyes are wide, people are easing up from their seats, and those close enough to the doors are making breaks for it. Ana’s gaze snaps back to Fea and she watches the girl pluck a feather from her around her neck. The feather straightens to such a sharp point it glints in the dim light. In a swift motion, Fea throws her arm out and whips that feather across the room. Like a small knife, it cuts through the air and comes to a loud stop in a dart board behind the bar; bullseye.
Ana watches the single feather ruffle and glows a bright blue, then she notices a feather fall into her line of sight, then another, then two more. Like snowflakes, feathers fall freely from the ceiling. It isn’t long before the tavern is covered in the black down. Patrons are screaming her, no, their name. Some people rush for the hole left in the wall by Corb, others for the door. Then there are the few that just fall to their knees.
“This is my domain now. Anyone here ought to bow down and swear their fealty to The Phantom Queen.” It sounds like Fea might choke on her own sinister sounding laughter. “Even if you get away ya won’t make it far. I’ll come for y’all sooner or later!” Fea’s wide grin shows off her mouthful of sharp teeth. “If you do escape tell the world I’m back! The Phantom Queen is ready to finish what she started!”
“My...divinity...” A hurt sounding voice beckons Ana’s gaze towards the hole.There she finds Corb, bruised and battered, climbing back into his bar. He reaches up towards Fea, with a hurt look having long since replaced the anger in his eye. “W-why?”
Ana looks from Corb to Fea. She’s her staring down at him, a calloused look about her face. “I wanted your territory. Now I have it. Swear your fealty to me and I’ll let you keep this bar. You’ll sale in my name and any Orison you make will become divinity for me, got it?” Fea holds her hand out, with the backside turned up towards Corb.
“I didn’t want to fight.” Corb sounds like he’s choking, fighting something deep inside of himself. Ana feels sorry for the cyclops. A likely trend that will continue throughout anyone she and Fea encounter. “You can’t be her. The Phantom Queen...Morrigan, she’s...she’s supposed to be dead!” Clutching his head, Corb crawls towards Fea. “You look like her, sure, but that’s what all her kind look like. B-but the way you made me feel. You took my temperament out of my hands. You made me...want to kill you.” Corb staggers to his feet but his stance is shaky. Fea looks like she couldn’t care less about the man’s epiphany. “You’re really The Phantom Queen...”
Next thing Corb does is rush over fall to his knees and kiss Fea’s hand over and over again. As he does this he begins to glow, as does Fea. She exhales softly, and the faint aura surrounding him moves up and into her. This is what it looks like when someone swears fealty. Fea yanks her hand away and hikes a thumb over her shoulder. “Beat it. Be back here bright n’ early. Those drinks aren’t gonna sell themselves.” Corb nods, again and again, fear clear in every little bob of his head. As ordered Corb leaves his bar, his territory, to The Phantom Queen.
“Well,” Fea finally lets out a much softer sounding giggle. “That wasn’t so bad. Went a lot smoother than I anticipated.” Fea hops down from the table and begins over to the bar. “Give me a hand would ya? Let’s grab as much stuff as we can and get it to one of my larger domains,” Fea says from behind the bar, where she’s no doubt rummaging through stuff the way she did at Ana’s apartment. “There’s gotta be something around here that Hope can eat...”
Stealing is wrong, but stealing to protect a baby isn’t so bad. Though stealing for a baby, just so you can use that baby, to steal more stuff for yourself can’t possibly be right.
“I don’t get it,” Ana whispers, shaking her head as she does. “Why do you have to do this to people? It’s one thing to be a leader and ask people to follow you, but it’s another thing to force them.” She ends up pulling off her mask, so she can lock eyes with Fea. ” Why’re you so cruel?”
Fea doesn’t answer right away, and Ana hopes it’s because she’s thinking about her words. Admittedly, Ana doesn’t know how any of this works and can only go off of what she’s learned from her time with Fea, and from what Jesus and Throoth have told her. So sure, she’s naive, even so, this can’t be the only way to gain loyalty.
“So you think what I’m doin’ is ‘cruel’?” Fea doesn’t glare at Ana, which isn’t so much reassuring as it is disturbing because she’s making an un-fea like face. Fea looks serene. “I’m no different than any other deity. This is what ya have to do to survive. If you think that your friends never had to defend their territory or take divinity from others to secure your ‘perfect little life’ then you’re dumber than you look.”
“W-well, I look like you so...” Ana says in a huff, her eyes narrowing desperately. Even though she was trying to look angry, she fears she looks sadder than anything. “I admit that I don’t know how anything in the world works. I’m a stupid little girl. But, I was happier before. S-so I want that back. I want my old, safe, stupid life back. I’d rather be a happy idiot than a monster like you any day!”
A gust almost pushes Ana over. It only took a second for Fea to go from behind the bar to right in Ana’s face.
“You abandoned them.” Right then Fea hoists Ana up off the ground by the collar of her shirt. “Yer the one who pushed me out your window. Yer the one who ran to my domain. Yer the one who stuck with me, even after you knew your friends were willing to fight to get you back.” Slowly, Fea tilts her head causing her red hair to brush along her freckled face. “Yer friends fought for you. Then I took you under my wing. But you don’t appreciate anything. You’re a selfish brat, ya know that?”
Ana feels those words burning through her. She feels like crying and probably is. Yeah, there’s the wetness running down her cheeks.
No one has ever talked to her like that. Ana wraps her arms around herself, as though it’d be enough to shield her from Fea’s words. What hurts most is the truth Ana finds in them. She did run away with Fea because she wasn’t sure she could face Throoth and Jesus again. Then she was so torn up about Jesus’ death she didn’t think for a moment how anyone else felt. They must be hurting just as bad, Throoth especially. If she loved Jesus even half as much as Ana did, then she’s missing him right now. And if Throoth misses Ana like she misses her, then her heart must be breaking.
“I’m sorry...I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Sniffles fight back tears but lose out, and Ana’s words can only barely make it through her trembling lips. “I....I just... wanna go home...” Ana mutters, bawling and babbling from word to word. “I wanna see Throoth and everyone again. I wanna be with my friends...so please...please take me home now...”
Ana hits the ground rear first when Fea releases her. “Then go. Leave. I don’t care.” Sharp, cold, matter-of-fact, Fea’s words hit Ana so hard she can’t stand. She loses Fea’s gaze, and can only watch the girl’s back as she walks back to the bar. “I know your type. Incorruptible Pure Pureness. Thinking yer doin’ the right thing, you’ll tell your friends ’bout Hope.”
Fea stops and lets the pause linger, it feels purposeful like she wants the tension to ripen. Slowly, Fea turns her body, until Ana sees her glowing blue eyes. Fea tilts her head as she speaks in a hushed tone. “Then your friends will tell the whole world and everyone will come for Hope. Then you’ll see that there are gods in this world much worse than I. You’ll learn the same way I did.”
Once again, Ana loses track of Fea’s eyes and is left with only the sight of the swaying black plumage beneath her red hot hair. “Not everyone can be happy.”
Ana doesn’t know how to process Fea’s words, at least not immediately. There’s a shiver inside of her, and she lets it out so that she can speak, but only manages a soft whine.
“Who let a couple of kids in here?”
A masculine sounding voice gets Ana’s attention. She sees a young looking male, older than Jesus but younger than Gilgamesh, emerge from the back room waving his damp looking hands, drying them. He’s wearing a toga, much like Athena’s. Draped over his shoulders is what looks like a lion’s pelt, but it carries with it this odd golden luster. Beneath the head of the pelt, as though emerging from the lion’s mouth is his pinkish hair which comes into several fine pointed spikes. There’s a softness to his face that contrasts with his visibly muscular figure. He peers around the room with his pair of red dead fish eyes.
“Was he in the bathroom?” Fea asks herself aloud, which raises Ana’s suspension as well. “What kind of god has to go to the bathroom?”
“Hey, Achilles? Where are ya?”
The young man calls out, his eyes tracing over the room. Following this Ana hears a sound, a loud sharp painful sound. A slap echoes throughout the tavern and soon enough two more figures emerge from the back. The first is a female cyclops adjusting her top, and looking rather angry, her one large eye narrowed. Another young man, of similar age, build and complexion to the one in the lion pelt, follows after her.
“Sorry about that! Your eye looks kinda like a target.”
He’s got the beginnings of a beard in the form of light peach fuzz along his square jaw. He wears a gold chest plate, bracers and a rather thick greave on his right leg. Instead of a lion pelt, he’s donning a long white cloak, held together by a golden amulet. His hair also has a pink tint but it’s wavy and runs down along his neck. There are three spears strung up over his left shoulder.
“Achilles,” the first man turns to him, balling his hands into fists, before punching one into the other as he continues, “I go to the bathroom for one second and you just disappear? Look, the bar’s a total mess now. We must have missed a good scrap. You were supposed to be on the lookout and call me if anything fun was going on.”
The ‘suave’ looking man, Achilles, chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, I got bored and sought out some entertainment.” He flicks his wrist, lightly batting his hand against the first male’s chest. “Come on Herc. Just think of this way. You had to relieve yourself, I had to relieve myself. Now if another fight does break out, we’ll be at 100 percent.”
“Nobody can handle our 100 percent, Achilles.”
The first male, ‘Herc’, responds in a groan and a palm to the face. “A slight disadvantage would be a lot more fun. I mean, come on, how are we gonna get stronger if we’re never pushed to our limits?”
“Herc.” Achilles shrugs his shoulders, looks to the ceiling and sighs. “I’ve got some news for you. We have no limits. We just might be the strongest SOB’s on Midgard.” Herc looks like he’s going to respond when Achilles throws his arm out and laughs. “Are you not satisfied sparring with me anymore? I thought what we had was special.”
Herc rolls his eyes and shakes his head while crossing his arms. “Let’s just say there’s a charm to our fights. They last way. too. long.”
Fea clears her throat and gets the attention of the two boys. Their expressions seem uninterested at first, but then Herc’s hardens and Achilles, well, he gets this really wry-looking smile.
“This bar’s under new management,” Fea says with a cheeky grin, one hand on her hip and the other lavishly dancing around before her. “From here on out the owner answers to me. If you’re regulars you should swear your fealty to me as well.” Shrugging her shoulders, Fea adds, “I might convince the ol’ one eyed wonder to give you a discount on drinks!”
Neither boy responds at first, but Herc does begin digging in his ear. After twirling his pinky about for a bit, he pulls it out, examines it, then flicks the contents of his exploration elsewhere. “Athena said you’d be tiny and annoying, but I had no idea you’d be this bad.”
Ana’s eyes perk up, and she feels her feathers ruffle. This boy knows Athena.
Narrowing her eyes, Fea grunts a response. “What?”
Herc puts one of his arms into the sling of his toga and walks towards them. “Small. Cute. Ruby red hair. Sapphire blue eyes. Neat ebony feathers. A single horn on the side of her head.” He says, gesturing with his index finger in a wide swoop along the side of his head, pantomiming a horn. He stops in front of Fea, unaffected by the fact that she’d just robbed Corb of his domain. His eyes narrow as he continues speaking. “She’ll be in the company of someone who looks similar, yet different. Tiny. Annoying. Blood red hair. Sea blue eyes. Wild black feathers. A single horn on the opposite side of her head.“He repeats the gesture from before, this time on the opposite side. He glances at Ana. His eyes move up and down as though studying her, then they fall back on Fea. “I’ve been instructed to be on the lookout for the cute one. Didn’t expect to run into you two this soon though.” His hardened expression cracks, revealing a rather kind looking smile. “This’ll make my lil sis real happy.”
When Herc smiles Ana notices a resemblance that she can’t believe she missed. It also helps that he referred to Athena as his little sister. So Ana’s easily able to piece it together given all the stories she’d heard from Athena herself. This boy must be...“Herakles! You’re Herakles, Athena’s big brother, aren’t you?”
Herc scoffs and laughs all at once. “Herakles, haven’t heard that in a long time.” He shakes his head and explains, “I prefer Hercules, or Herc for short.” Slowly, he moves past Fea and towards Ana. “Now come on, let’s get you back.”
Suddenly Achilles slides in, blocking Ana’s view of Hercules. There’s a big grin on his face, and he’s reaching out and grabbing at the air. Eventually, his hand falls on a nearby chair and he pulls it before himself and sits with the back facing Ana.
“Wow, your sister was right, Herc; she is cute.” Cupping his chin, Achilles squints his eyes and turns his head slightly. “I mean, she’s a bit small for my taste, but I’m not one to shy away from trying new things. She’s definitely up your alley, though.” Resting his chin in his hands, Achilles winks and asks, “So red, what are we drinkin’ tonight?”
Admittedly, Ana is confused about everything going on around her. Heat rises to her cheeks as a result of being called cute time and time again. She didn’t really think or know if she was attractive in that way at all, but apparently, someone outside of Athena seems to think so. She always just thought it was the older girl’s way of teasing her.
Herc grips Achilles’ shoulder. Ana can see him behind Achilles, his eyes narrow and a scowl forms on his face, there’s also a red tinge to his cheeks. “There was another special instruction from Athena.” The cloth making up Achilles cape begins to fold around Herc’s tightening grip. “Don’t let Achilles near her.”
It looks like Achilles is in the motion of turning around when Ana hears a loud thud and sees Fea’s fist smashing into the side of Herc’s face. Ana gasps in surprise, but despite how powerful the attack looks, beyond the contorting of his features, Hercules doesn’t seem phased. Slowly, he reaches up and grabs a hold of Fea’s ankle.
Before she even knows what’s happening, Ana hears a loud crash and turns her head to the side, only to see a smaller hole next to the one Corb had made earlier. Ana looks back up at Herc, the attack hadn’t done anything but worsen the frown on his scary mug. He blows a few loose tousled strands of pink hair out of his face, exhales, then lets go of Achilles. Hercules puts his arm back into the sling of his loose toga and walks towards the hole Fea had made.
“Athena mentioned that too, y’know. That you had a mean streak a mile long and seemed to be itching for a fight. After hearing that, I was hoping you were going to make this fun for me.” Loud cracks echo through the bar as Herc balls one hand into the other. Herc stops and looks back at Achilles, who has begun inching his way back towards Ana and points a finger at him, before gesturing to her.
“No touching. No looking. No talking. No anything.” he deadpans, before turning back to the hole.
Ana sighs in relief when she sees Fea climbing back into the bar. Outside of a few tears in her dress and some rumpled feathers here and there she doesn’t look too bad.
Fea takes a deep breath and lets her arms hang at her sides. Her eyes narrow and she stretches her limbs, starting with her arms and ending with her legs. “Okay, crunch time Annie. These jackasses are your ticket home.” Ana watches Fea’s gaze move from her over to Hercules who’s back on the approach. “You can go with em, but know this. I’m gonna fight tooth and nail for what’s mine. That includes that baby.”
“Whoa.” Ana hears Achilles pipe up from right behind her. Somehow, he sounds closer than he was before. “You have a kid already? Wow, they start younger and younger these days, don’t they?”
Ignoring the peanut gallery, Fea continues her speech. “I’ll fight every army in the 9 realms. I’ll take on the strongest Archangel. I’ll even fight my way outta hell if they try to lock me up.” In an exaggerated whip of her arm, Fea points at herself. “Nobody is defeating me because I’m The Phantom Que-!-”
Fea’s head snaps back as Herc flicks her forehead with a single finger. Ana doesn’t think he hit her as hard as he could have because Fea doesn’t go flying back like last time. Still, Ana does wince and cover her own nose. With a bored look on his face, Herc points at Fea.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, I get it, you think you’re a big shot or something. Doesn’t matter to me, we gonna fight already or what?”
Fea keels forward, trembling as she clutches her face before straightening up and glaring at him. “Augh, that...you motherfu-”
Herc rolls his eyes and taps her on the nose as though she’s some small animal.
“Hey. Language. You said you had a kid around, right? So watch your mouth.”
“That rule only applies to her, right Herc?” Ana hears Achilles again. Though she’s barely paying any attention to him given the current situation. Ana finds her hands balling into fists at her sides, as though she hopes it will help Fea somehow. But she has to wonder, isn’t Fea the bad guy in this situation? Athena sent her brother to find Ana, he’s doing the right thing, so why does she want Fea to win? Especially after how hurtful her words were earlier.
Fea flips away from Herc. When she lands on a table Fea plucks two handfuls of feathers from her shoulders. “Ya sucker punched me. Don’t expect to get that lucky again,” Fea declares in a nasally voice, no doubt a result of her clearly busted nose. No more words are wasted, as she leaps into the air, kicking over the table in the process. While midair she spins several times, with each turn Fea throws out some of her feathers, which sharpen as they whiz by Herc.
Grimacing, Herc turns and flips that pelt of his over his shoulder. Ana expects the feathers to cut right through, but instead, they bounce off and sound like clashing metal. In that quick exchange, the pelt flashes gold, before Herc whips it back behind himself.
Ana feels a tap on her shoulder and glances over to see Achilles leaning forward, hunched over the back of his seat. “The Nemean Lion. Its fur was impervious to attacks, and its claws could cut through any metal.” His eyebrows arch and he points at Herc. “Can you believe he was naked when he slew the poor thing?” He punches a hand into his fist. “Story goes he just knocked its block off with his bare hands...or a club. Can’t remember. Hold on a sec.” He looks up to the fight and puts a hand near his mouth. “Hey, Herc, remind me; you kill the lion with your hands or the club?”
Ana’s gaze hurriedly returns to the fight, where she finds Herc trudging towards Fea, pelt raised and deflecting more feathers. He peeks back, mouth agape. “I used my-” Is all Herc finishes before he’s silenced by Fea’s crotch.
“Try keepin’ yer eyes on the prize, buddy!”
Fea’s lithe legs tighten around Herc’s head. She twists her body and somehow manages to send the larger boy careening towards a banister. It looks like she’s finally got Herc, but just as he’s about to crash, his body flips upright and he lands perfectly, crouched like some sort of cat. Herc blitzes forward, managing to reach Fea before she can land after her last attack.
Unperturbed, Herc picks Fea up her head.
“I think this calls for a powerbomb.”
Fea’s eyes widen.
“What’s a powerbomb?”
Achilles whistles from alongside Ana. “WHOO YEA, POWERBOMB!” he nudges Ana, “You’re gonna love this.”
Herc glances back to Achilles.“Table!”
Achilles shouts as he kicks the nearest table to Herc.
The sound of the wood scraping along the ground fills Ana with dread which only grows when she watches it comes to a stop right in front of Herc and Fea. Fea glances over her shoulder at the table, before looking back to Herc.
“Consider what you’re-” Fea doesn’t get to finish as Herc swings her forward, slamming her through the table with a tremendous crash and straight into the floor beneath it.
On contact with the ground Fea’s body bursts. Ana gasps as she watches the girl become nothing but a mess of feathers spill out across the floor. When the feathers are far enough from Herc’s reach they become tiny baby crows. Chirping like mad, the miniature corvids fly to the bar. The flock congeals into a black and red mass that quickly reshapes until becoming Fea. At first, she’s panting, but those strained breaths soon become a deep rumbling chuckle.
“Yer pretty good. Not gonna deny that. Stronger than me, that’s for sure,” Fea says, a smirk creeping onto her face. “But it takes more than brawn to win a fight! I’ve fought plenty of gods that’re a helluva lot stronger than me. Didn’t stop me then, ain’t gonna stop me now!”
“There you go talking again kid,” Herc says while stepping forward. This time Fea cuts him off as a sudden updraft of feathers stop Herc in his tracks. The feathers beat around the room, slicing and dicing tables, chairs, and walls. Through squinted eyes, Ana sees Herc’s exposed skin being cut by the feathers. It’s then Ana notices she isn’t being harmed at all. Ana checks on Achilles and much like Herc, the feathers are hitting his body, but unlike his companion, they don’t seem to leave any marks.
Ana stands up. Her hair dances in the wind and an endless swirl of feathers dart around her.
“Hey Herc, ya wanna tag out?!” Achilles calls through the gale of sharpened quills. “Pointy things are kinda my specialty!”
“I’ll ask one more time.” Ana and Fea’s gazes meet through the tornado of back feathers and chopped wood. “Do ya wanna see how bad it really gets? Or will ya be able to keep my secret once you’re back home?”
“You’ll really let me go with them,” Ana questions while stepping forward, through sharp winds that part for her.
“Just promise you’ll think of the brat.” Ana can’t tell for certain due to the stream of whirling black muddying her vision, but she’s sure Fea’s expression softened. “Keep her a secret...”
“No!” She hasn’t an idea what spurs her on to say that right then. Instead of thinking why, she just repeats it, “No!” Shaking her head, Ana continues forward through the gust. “I wanna go home. I wanna be with my friends.” Each step feels heavier than the last, as though the wind is picking up the closer she gets to Fea. “I miss them so much, and I know they miss me too.” Feeling around, Ana’s hands fall atop a swivel chair. She tightens her grip on the sides of the chair and pulls herself up onto it. A few slight turns of her body is all it takes to balance herself atop the stool. Her gaze rises up and finds Fea’s, right before her. Smiling through the cloud of quills and woodchips, Ana continues speaking softly. “But I think Hope needs someone like me around. At least for a little while longer.”
Fea’s voice reaches Ana, and then a touch brings Ana closer. She feels Fea’s arm around her waist, then she’s lifted onto the counter. There’s something tickling Ana’s shoulder, and she finds it’s Fea’s plumage shuffling about. Ana looks out and sees Fea’s gale dying down. “Stay out of their line of sight.” Once the gust subsides gone Ana sees Herc and Achilles again, now wrestling with one another. Herc has Achilles in a headlock, but it isn’t long before Achilles turns it around and gets his companion in an armbar. Herc answers with a suplex.
“Ya comin,” Fea whispers as she ducks down and starts crawling around the bar.
“R-right.” Ana steps down off the bar and follows Fea. She stays crouched, much like the girl before her as they walk around flipped tables, and sneak past the wrestling boys. Ana notices Herc and Achilles’ eyes both have the same red as Corb’s had earlier. Regretfully, Ana whispers, “I’m sorry...” before rushing towards the large hole left over from Corb earlier. She stops next to Fea, who’s standing guard at the hole for some reason. “Fea?”
“Just a minute...” Fea narrows her eyes as she plucks a feather from her plumage. It straightens out, and Ana sees a sharp glint along the feather’s edge. “Steady....steady...” Just as the feather leaves Fea’s hand, Ana tackles her. “What the hell!?”
Pouting, Ana pins Fea. “If I’m staying with you there are gonna have to be some serious changes.” Ana glances back into the bar. “We shouldn’t attack people for no reason. You took over this territory and now we have a way out. You won. That’s great. Let’s go.” As Ana finishes she hears the last bits of life escaping the tavern in the form of strained wooden groans. She looks over and notices that Fea’s feather stabbed into one of banister barely standing after her little trick earlier. It stays for maybe a second or two more before snapping in on itself, causing the entire tavern to collapse on top of Hercules and Achilles. Ana stares, mouth agape.
“Nice one,” Fea chuckles before slipping out of Ana’s grip and pulling them both to their feet. Taking the time to dust herself off, Fea walks a small circle around Ana. “Lemme grab some of this taverns divinity.” Fea steps towards the yards of debris that used to be a tavern. “Heh, if you killed those two assholes, I might get their divinity too. ” Hoping that isn’t the case Ana tugs at her skirt and yanks on her bangs. Fea crouches down, touches a single hunk of wood. Blue energy flutters up from the wood and into Fea’s arm. Soon the light encompasses the rest of Fea’s body and then swirls into her chest. She exhales softly then stands up.
“So are they...” Ana asks expectantly, looking back and forth between Fea and the pile. Fea scratches her cheek and glances away. The physical display does nothing for Ana’s nerves. Just then, Ana hears two loud grunts and sees the debris shifting out of place to make room for both boys as they climb out. ” Thank goodness!” Ana sighs in relief. They’re okay, and from the looks of it, the red glint has left their eyes as did Fea’s control of their emotions.
“Dinner’s done! Come and get it! We’re having spaghetti!” Fea calls out while taking Ana’s wrist and running away. It isn’t long before Ana hears the loud sound of gnashing noodles. FSM causes quite the updraft as he descends before them. Fea tosses Ana up, and FSM catches her mid-air. Ana shivers as FSM’s noodle wraps tightly around her then settles her in nice and close to a sleeping Hope. Fea climbs up one of the larger noodles. Once she’s on the creature she sits down between his eye stalks and puts a hand on both tendrils.
“Ana!” Herc shouts as he and Achilles come running up to FSM. “You don’t have to go with her! We can protect you!” He says while skidding to a stop and throwing up an arm that stops Achilles as well.
“Get bent asshole!” Fea says from her seat and flips her middle finger up at Hercules, whatever that means.
A horrible feeling plumes in Ana’s stomach, but a glance to Hope helps fight it back long enough for her to call out to Herc. “Can you please deliver a message for me, Hercules?” Tears form in her eyes, and her lips quiver, but she keeps shouting anyway. “Let everyone know I love them all very much and I’ll be home really soon! ”
Ana’s gaze rests with Herc’s for just a bit before she ultimately looks back to Hope, sleeping peacefully beside her. “There’s just something important I have to do first.”
“Hey, Herc,” Achilles says while patting Herc on the shoulder. “First one to kill it gets a date with your sister.” Next thing she knows Achilles is chucking a spear at FSM. She turns to see Fea yanking FSM’s eye stalks away from the tavern.
They once again take to the sky at a tremendous speed. Ana takes one last glance down and watches her way home shrink away in the distance.
“Shit!” Fea’s fist slams into one of the many coils of pale noodle surrounding her, and it causes FSM to groan. His entire body rumbles out the sound and Ana notices Hope’s face react. “Oh sorry,“Fea pets a stray noodle. “Just kinda pissed how much of a waste this trip turned out to be. I picked up more territory just to lose it a little while later.” She grits her teeth and shakes her head. “Those guys wouldn’t have sworn fealty anyway. A shame, they were pretty damn strong.”
One of FSM’s noodles trails up Fea’s back and coil around her midsection. It travels all the way up her body and comes to a stop at the side of her face, where it brushes against her cheek. “I’m fine boy,” she chuckles. “I got a bit banged up, but you know I’ve survived worse.” The sound of Fea laughing up here in the sky with no one else around is a lot more comforting than her chuckles in the midst of battle. “That guy was nothin’ compared to them. Fights like that are just a reminder why I can’t give up yet. I’ll get stronger. Promise.” Ana overhears Fea’s words and things make a little more sense. So there’s someone out there who Fea wants to fight. Maybe it’s someone who hurt her? It couldn’t just be a physical pain because Ana’s seen Fea take a pretty bad beating and shrug it off. Whoever the person is, they must be a whole other kind of bad to make Fea seem sympathetic.
Fea’s voice rattles through Ana’s ears and pulls her from her thoughts. Even though she’s addressed Ana, Fea’s attention remains on the setting sun in the distance. “She’s gonna be worth it.” Those words weigh Ana’s gaze down to Hope. The baby girl yawns and Ana can’t help but comb her fingers through the baby’s hair. “You’ll see. You won’t regret it.”
Smiling, almost sadly, though she isn’t quite sure why, Ana responds, “Yeah. I know.”