Pagan Passions

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Chapter 9

"Now," Forrester said gaily, "let's see if your God has all the names right, shall we?"

The seven girls seated around him in a half-circle on the grass giggled. One of them simpered.

"Hmm," Forrester said. He pointed a finger. "Dorothy," he said. The finger moved. "Judy. Uh—Bette. Millicent. Jayne." He winked at the last two. They had been his closest companions on the march down. "Beverly," he said, "and Kathy. Right?"

The girls laughed, nodding their heads. "You can call me Millie," Millicent said.

"All right, Millie." For some reason this drew another big laugh. Forrester didn't know why, but then, he didn't much care, either. "That's fine," he said. "Just fine."

He gave all the girls a big, wide grin. It looked perfectly convincing to them, he was sure, but there was one person it didn't convince: Forrester. He knew just how far from a grin he felt.

As a matter of fact, he told himself, he was in something of a quandary.

He was not exactly inexperienced in the art of making love to beautiful young women. After the last few months, he was about as experienced as he could stand being. But his education had, it now appeared, missed one vital little factor.

He was used to making love to a beautiful girl all alone, just the two of them locked quietly away from prying eyes. True, it had turned out that a lot of his experiences had been judged by Venus and any other God who felt like looking in, but Forrester hadn't known that at the time and, in any case, the spectators had been invisible and thus ignorable.

Now, however, he was on the greensward of Central Park, within full view of a couple of thousand drunken revelers, all of whom, if not otherwise occupied, asked for nothing better than a good view of their God in action. And whichever girl he chose would leave six others eagerly awaiting their turns, watching his every move with appreciative eyes.

And on top of that, there was Gerda, close by. He was trying to keep an eye on her. But was she keeping an eye on him, too?

It didn't seem to matter much that she couldn't recognize him as William Forrester. She could still see him in action with the seven luscious maidens. The idea was appalling.

All afternoon, he had put off the inevitable by every method he could think of. He had danced with each of the girls in turn for entirely improbable lengths of time. He had performed high-jumps, leaps, barrel-rolls, Immelmann turns and other feats showing off his Godlike prowess to anyone interested. He had made a display of himself until he was sick of the whole business. He had consumed staggering amounts of ferment and distillate, and he had forced the stuff on the girls themselves, in the hope that, what with the liquor and the exertion, they would lie down on the grass and quietly pass out.

Unfortunately, none of these plans had worked. Dancing and acrobatics had to come to an end sometime, and as for the girls, what they wanted to do was lie down, not pass out—at least not from liquor.

The Chosen Maidens had been imbued, temporarily, with extraordinary staying powers by the Priests of the various temples, working with the delegated powers of the various Gods. After all, an ordinary girl couldn't be expected to keep up with Dionysus during a revel, could she? A God reveling was more than any ordinary mortal could take for long—as witness the ancient legend concerned the false Norse God, Thor.

But these girls were still raring to go, and the sun had set, and he was running out of opportunities for delay. He tried to think of some more excuses, and he couldn't think of one. Vaguely, he wished that the real Dionysus would show up. He would gladly give the God not only the credit, he told himself wearily, but the entire game.

He glanced out into the growing dimness. Gerda was out there still, with her brother and the oaf—whose name, Forrester had discovered, was Alvin Sherdlap. It was not a probable name, but Alvin did not look like a probable human being.

Now and again during the long afternoon, Forrester had got Ed Symes to toss up more rocks as targets, just to keep his hand in and to help him in keeping an eye on Gerda and her oaf, Alvin. It was a boring business, exploding rocks in mid-air, but after a while Symes apparently got to like it, and thought of it as a singular honor. After all, he had been picked for a unique position: target-tosser for the great God Dionysus. Who else could make that statement?

He would probably grow in the estimation of his friends, Forrester thought, and that was a picture that wouldn't stand much thinking about. As a stupefying boor, Symes was bad enough. Adding insufferable snobbishness to his present personality was piling Pelion on Ossa. And only a God, Forrester reminded himself wryly, could possibly do that.

Now, Forrester discovered, Symes and Alvin Sherdlap and Gerda were all sitting around a large keg of beer which Symes had somehow managed to appropriate from some other part of the grounds. He and Alvin were guzzling happily, and Gerda was just sitting there, whiling away the time, apparently, by thinking. Forrester wondered if she was thinking of him, and the notion made him feel sad and poetic.

Gerda couldn't see him any longer, he knew. The darkness of night had come down and there was no moon. The only illumination was the glow rising from the rest of the city, since the lights of the park would stay out throughout the night. To an ordinary mortal, the remaining light was not enough to see anything more than a few feet away. But to Forrester's Godlike, abnormally perceptive vision, the park seemed no darker than it had at dusk, an hour or so before. Though the Symes trio could not possibly see him, he could still watch over them with no effort at all.

He intended to continue doing so.

But now, with darkness putting a cloak over his activities, and his mind completely empty of excuses, was the time to begin the task at hand.

He cleared his throat and spoke very softly.

"Well," he said. "Well."

There had to be something to follow that, but for a minute he couldn't think of what.

Millicent giggled unexpectedly. "Oh, Lord Dionysus! I feel so honored!"

"Er," Forrester said. Finally he found words. "Oh, that's all right," he said, wondering exactly what he meant. "Perfectly all right, Millicent."

"Call me Millie."

"Of course, Millie."

"You can call me Bets, if you want to," Bette chimed in. Bette was a blonde with short, curly hair and a startling figure. "It's kind of a pet name. You know."

"Sure," Forrester said. "Uh—would you mind keeping your voices down a little?"

"Why?" Millicent asked.

Forrester passed a hand over his forehead. "Well," he said at last, thinking about Gerda, only a few feet away, "I thought it might be nicer if we were quiet. Sort of private and romantic."

"Oh," Bette said.

Kathy spoke up. "You mean we have to whisper? As if we were doing something secret?"

Forrester tightened his lips. He felt the beginnings of a strong distaste for Kathy. Why couldn't she leave well enough alone? But he only said: "Well, yes. I thought it might be fun. Let's try it, girls."

"Of course, Lord Dionysus," Kathy said demurely.

He disliked her, he decided, intensely.

There was a little silence.

"Well," Forrester said. "You're all such beautiful girls that I hardly know how to—ah—proceed from here."

Millicent tittered. So did one of the others—Judy, Forrester thought.

"I wouldn't want any of you to feel disappointed, or think you were any lower in my estimation than—than any other one of you." The sentence seemed to have got lost somewhere, Forrester thought, but he had straightened it out. "That wouldn't be fair," he went on, "and we Gods are always fair."

The sentence didn't ring quite true in Forrester's mind, and he thought he heard one of the girls snicker, but he ignored it and went bravely on.

"So," he said, "we're going to have a little game."

Millicent said: "Game?"

"Sure," Forrester said, trying his best to sound enthusiastic. "We all like games, don't we? I mean, what's an orgy—I mean, what's a revel—but a great big game? Isn't that right?"

"Well," Bette said doubtfully, "I guess so. Sure, Lord Dionysus, if you say so."

"Well, sure it is!" Forrester said. "Fun and games! So we'll play a little game. Ha-ha."

Kathy looked up at him brightly. "What kind of game, Lord Dionysus?" she asked in an innocent tone. She was an extravagantly pretty brunette with bright brown eyes, and she had been one of the two he had held in his arms during the Procession back from the uptown end of the park. Thinking it over now, Forrester wasn't entirely sure whether he had chosen her or she had chosen him, but it didn't really seem to matter, after all.

"Well, now," he said, "it's going to be a game of pure chance. Chance and nothing more."

"Like luck," Bette contributed.

"That's right—uh—Bets," Forrester said. "Like luck. And I promise not to use my powers to affect the outcome. Fair enough, isn't it?"

"Certainly," Kathy said demurely. There was really no reason for him to be irritated by the girl, so long as she was agreeing with him so nicely. Nevertheless, he wasn't quite sure that she was speaking her mind.

"Oh," Millicent said. "Sure."

Bette nodded. "Uh-huh. I mean, yes, Lord Dionysus."

Forrester waved a hand. "No need for formality," he said, and felt like an ass. But none of the girls seemed to notice. Agreement with his idea became general. "Well, let's see."

His eyes wandered over the surrounding scenery in quiet thought. Several Myrmidons were scattered about twenty feet away, and they were standing with their backs to the group as a matter of formality. If they had turned around, they couldn't have seen a thing in the darkness. But they had to remain at their stations, to make sure no unauthorized persons, souvenir-hunters, musicians, special-pleaders or just plain lost souls intruded upon great Dionysus while he was occupied.

The Myrmidons were the only living souls within that radius, except for Forrester himself and his bevy—and the Symes trio.

His gaze settled on them. Ed Symes, he noticed with quiet satisfaction, was now out cold. Forrester thought that the little spell he had cast on the beer might have had something to do with that, and he felt rather pleased with his efforts, at least in that direction. Symes was lying flat on his back, snoring loudly enough to drown out all but a few notes from the steam calliope, which was singing itself loudly to sleep somewhere in the distance. Near the prone figure, Gerda was trying to fend off the advances of good old Alvin Sherdlap, but it was obvious that the sheer passage of time, plus the amount of liquor she had consumed, were weakening her resistance.

Forrester pointed a finger at the man. The one thing he really wanted to do was to give Alvin the rock treatment. One little zap would do it, and Alvin Sherdlap would encumber the Earth no more. And it wasn't as if Alvin would be missed, Forrester told himself. It was clear from one look at the lout that no one, anywhere, for any reason, would miss Alvin if he were exploded into dust.

The temptation was very nearly irresistible, but somehow Forrester managed to resist it. He had been told that he had to be extremely careful in the use of his powers, and he had a pretty good idea that he wouldn't be able to justify blasting Alvin. Viewed objectively, there was nothing wrong with what the oaf was doing. He was merely following his religion as he understood it, and the religion was a very simple one: when at an orgy, have an orgy.

Gerda didn't have to give in if she didn't want to, Forrester thought. He tried very hard to make himself believe that.

But his finger was still pointed at the man. He didn't stop his powers entirely; he merely throttled them down so that only a tiny fraction of the neural energy at his command came into play. The energy that came from the tip of his finger made no noise and cast no light. It was not a killing blow.

Invisibly, it leaped across the intervening space and hit Alvin Sherdlap squarely on the nose.

The results were eminently satisfactory. Alvin uttered a sharp cry, let go of Gerda and fell over backward. His legs stood up straight in the air for a second, and then came down to hit the ground. He was silent. Gerda stared down at him, too tired and confused to make any coherent picture out of what was going on.

Forrester sighed happily to himself. That, he thought, ought to take care of Alvin for a while.

"Lord Dionysus," Kathy asked in that same innocent tone, "what are you pointing at out there?"

The girl was decidedly irritating, Forrester thought. "Pointing?" he said. "Ah, yes." He thought fast. "My target-tosser. I fear that his religious fervor has led to his being overcome."

The girls all turned round to look but, of course, Forrester thought, they could see nothing at all in the darkness.

"My goodness," Bette said.

"But if he's unconscious," Kathy put in, "why were you pointing at him?"

Forrester told himself that the next time the Sabbatical Bacchanal was held, he would see to it that an intelligence test was given to every candidate for Dionysian Escort, and anyone who scored as high on it as Kathy would be automatically disqualified.

He had to think of some excuse for looking at the man. And then he had it—the game he had planned. It was really quite a nice little idea.

"I hate to see the poor mortal miss out on the rest of the evening," Forrester said, "even if he is asleep now. And I think we may have a use for him."

He gestured gently with one hand.

Gerda and Alvin Sherdlap didn't even notice what was happening. They were much too busy arguing, Alvin claiming that somebody had slapped him on the nose—"and pretty hard, too, let me tell you!"—and Gerda swearing she hadn't done it. The fact that Ed Symes's snores were fading quietly into the distance dawned on neither of them.

But Ed was in flight. He rose five feet above the ground, still unconscious and snoring, and sped unerringly across the air, like a large, fat arrow shot from a bow, in the direction of Forrester and the circle of girls.

He appeared overhead suddenly, and Forrester controlled him so that he drifted downward as delicately as an overweight snowflake, eddying in the slight breeze while the girls gaped at him. Forrester allowed the body to drop the last six inches out of control, so that Ed Symes landed with a heavy thump in the center of the circle. But no harm was done. Ed was very far gone indeed; he merely snored on.

"There," Forrester said.

Millicent blinked. "Where?" she said. "Him?"

"Certainly," Forrester said in a pleased tone. "He's a good deal too noisy, though, don't you think?"

"He snores a lot," Judy offered in a tentative voice, "if that's what you mean, Lord Dionysus."

"Exactly. And I don't see any reason to put up with it. Instead, well just put him in stasis for a little while, and that'll keep him quiet." Again he waved one hand, almost carelessly. Ed Symes's snores vanished immediately, leaving the world a cleaner, purer, quieter place to live in, and his body became as rigid as if he were a statue.

"There," Forrester said again with satisfaction.

"Now what?" Kathy asked.

"Now we straighten him out."

One more pass, and Ed Symes's arms were at his sides, his legs stretched straight out. Only his stomach projected above the rigid lines of his body. Forrester thought he had never seen a more pleasing sight.

Dorothy gasped. "Is he—is he dead?"

Forrester looked at her reprovingly. "Dead? Now what would I do that for, after he's been so helpful and all?"

"I don't know," she muttered.

"Well," Forrester said, "he's not dead. He's just in stasis—in a state of totally suspended animation. As soon as I take the spell off, he'll be all right. But I don't think I'll take it off just yet. I've got plans for my little target-tosser."

He reached over and touched the stiff body. It seemed to rise a fraction of an inch, floating on the tips of the grass. The wind stirred it a little, but it didn't float away.

"I took some of his weight off," Forrester explained, "so he'll be a little easier to handle."

Now Ed Symes was behaving as if he were a statue carved out of cork. With a quick flip, Forrester turned the statue over. The effect was exactly what he wanted. Ed did not touch the grass at any point except one: the point where his protuberant stomach most protruded. Fore and aft, the rest of him was balanced stiffly in the air.

Forrester gazed at the sight, feeling fulfilled. "Now," he said with a note of decision in his voice, "we are going to play Spin-the-Bottle!"

The girls giggled and laughed.

"You mean with him?" Bette said.

Forrester sighed. "That's right," he said patiently. "With him."

He got into position and looked up at the girls. "This one's just for practice, so we can all see how it works." He gave Symes's extended foot a little push.

Whee! he thought. Round and round the gentleman went, spinning quietly on his stomach, revolving in a merry fashion while the girls and Forrester watched silently. At last he slowed and stopped, his nose pointing at Bette and his toes at Dorothy.

"Oh, my!" Dorothy said. "He's pointing at me!"

"He is not!" Bette said decisively. "His head points my way!"

"But he—"

"Temper, temper," Forrester said. "No arguments. That one didn't count, anyhow—it was just to see how he worked. And I do think he works very nicely, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, Lord Dionysus," Kathy said. There was the same undertone in her voice, as if she were silently laughing at everything. She was, he told himself, an extremely unlikable young woman.

The other girls agreed in a chorus. They were still studying the stiff body of Ed Symes. His stomach had made a little depression in the grass as he whirled, and he was now nicely bedded down for a real spin. Forrester rubbed his hands together.

"Fine," he said. "Now, all of you are going to be judges."

"Me, too?" Bette asked.

Forrester nodded. "The head will be the determining factor. If our little Mr. Bottle's head points to any one of you, that is the one I'll choose first."

"See?" Bette said. "I told you it was his head."

"Well, I couldn't tell before anybody said so," Dorothy said. "And anyhow, I—"

"Now, now, girls," Forrester said, feeling momentarily like a Girl Scout troop leader. "Let's listen to the rules, shall we? And then we can get down to playing the game." He took a deep breath. "Isn't this fun?"

The girls giggled.

"Good," Forrester said. "If Mr. Bottle's head ends up between two of you, then the other five girls will have to decide which girl the head's nearer to. The two girls involved will remain absolutely quiet during the judging, and if the other five can't come to a unanimous agreement, we'll spin Mr. Bottle again. Understand?"

"You mean if the head points at me, I get picked," Bette said. "And if the head goes in between me and somebody else, all the other girls have to decide who gets picked."

It was a masterly summation.

"Right," Forrester said. "I'm going to give Mr. Bottle a spin. This one counts. We'll have the second spin, and the rest of them, later."

"Gee!" Millicent whispered. "Isn't this exciting?"

Forrester ignored the comment. "And remember, I give you my word as a God that I will not interfere in any way with the workings of chance. Is that clearly understood?"

The girls murmured agreement.

"Now," Forrester said, "all you girls get into a nice circle. I'll stand outside."

The girls took a minute or two arranging themselves in a circle, arguing about who was going to sit next to whom, and whose very proximity was bound to bring bad luck. The argument gave Forrester a chance to check on Gerda again. She was whispering softly to Alvin, but they weren't touching each other. Forrester turned up his hearing to get a better idea of what was going on.

They had progressed, in the usual manner, from argument to life-history. Gerda was telling Alvin all about her past.

"… but don't misunderstand me, Alvin. It's just that I was in love with a very fine young man. An Athenan, he was. A wonderful man, really wonderful. But he—he was killed in a subway accident some months ago."

"Gosh," Alvin said. "I'm sorry."

"I—I have to tell you this, Alvin, so you'll understand. I still love him. He was wonderful. And until I get over it, I simply can't … "

Feeling both ashamed of himself and pleased, as well as sorry for the poor girl, Forrester quit listening. The Gods had arranged his simulated death, which, of course, had been a necessity. His disappearance had to be explained somehow. But he didn't like the idea of Gerda having to suffer so much.

My God! Forrester thought. She still loves me!

It was the first time he had ever heard her say so, flatly, right out in the open. He wanted to bound and leap and cavort—but he couldn't. He had to go back to his seven beautiful girls.

He had never felt less like it in his life.

But at least, he consoled himself, Gerda was keeping Alvin at arm's length. She was being faithful to his memory.

Faithful—because she loved him.

Grimly, he turned back to the girls. "Well, are we all ready now?"

Kathy looked up at him brightly. "Lord Dionysus, it's so dark I can't even see for sure what's going on. How can we do any judging, if we can't see?"

Forrester cursed Kathy for pointing out the flaw in his arrangements. Then, making a nice impartial job of it, he cursed himself for forgetting that what was perfectly visible to him was dark night to mortals.

"We can clear that up," he said quickly. "As a matter of fact, I was just getting around to it. We will now proceed to shed a little light on the subject—said subject being our old friend Mr. Bottle."

The trick had been taught to him by Venus, but he'd never had a chance to practice it. This was his first real experience with it, and he could only hope that it went off as it was supposed to.

He stepped into the middle of the circle, near Ed Symes's stiff body and held his right hand above his head, thumb and forefinger spread an inch apart and the other three fingers folded into his palm.

Then he concentrated.

A long second ticked by, while Forrester tried to apply even more neural pressure. Then …

A small ball of light appeared between his thumb and forefinger, a yellow, cold sphere of fire that shed its radiance over the whole group. Carefully, he withdrew his hand, not daring to breathe. The ball of yellow fire remained in position, hanging in mid-air.

The muffled gasp from the circle of girls was, Forrester told himself, a definite tribute.

"Now don't worry about it, girls," he said. "That light's only visible to the eight of us. Nobody else can see it."

There was another little series of gasps.

Forrester grinned. "Can everybody see each other?"

A murmur of agreement.

"Can everybody see Mr. Bottle here?"

Another murmur.

"In that case, let's go." He stepped outside the circle of girls, reached in again for Ed Symes's foot, and set the gentleman spinning once more.

Symes spun with a blinding speed, making a low, whistling noise. Forrester watched the body spin dizzily, just as anxious as the girls were to find out who the first winner was going to be. He thought of Millicent, who chewed gum and made it pop. He thought of Bette, the inveterate explainer and double-take expert. He tried to think of Dorothy and Jayne and Beverly and Judy, but the thought of Kathy, irritating and uncomfortable and too damned bright for her own good, got annoyingly in the way.

He was rather glad he had promised not to use his powers on the spinning figure. He was not at all sure which one of the girls he would have picked for Number One.

And he had, after all, given his word as a God. True, he wasn't quite a God, only a demi-Deity. But he did feel that Dionysus might object to his name being used in vain. A promise, he told himself sternly and with some relief, was a promise.

After some time, Mr. Ed (Bottle) Symes began to slow perceptibly. The whistling died as Symes began rotating about his abdominal axis at a more and more leisurely rate. Seconds passed. Symes faced Bette … Millicent … Kathy … Judy … Bette again …

Forrester watched, fascinated.

Finally, Symes came to a halt. All the elaborate instructions in case the Bottle ended up pointing between two girls had been, Forrester saw, totally unnecessary. Symes's head was pointing at one girl, and one girl alone.

She gave a little squeal of delight. The others began chorusing their congratulations at once, looking no more convincing than the runners-up in any beauty contest. Their smiles appeared to have been glued on loosely, and their voices lacked a certain something. Possibly it was sincerity.

"All right, that's it for now." Forrester turned to the winner. "My congratulations," he said, wondering just what he was supposed to say. Not finding any appropriate words, he turned back to the group of six losers. "The rest of you girls can do me a big favor. Go get a couple of the Myrmidons to protect you, hunt around for the nearest wine barrel and confiscate it for me. It's been a thirsty day."

"Gee," Jayne said. "Sure we will, Lord Dionysus."

"Now take your time," Forrester said, and the losers all giggled at once, like a trained chorus. Forrester grimaced. "Don't come back till you find a barrel. Then we'll play the game again."

In a disappointed fashion, the six of them trooped off into the darkness and vanished to mortal eyes. Forrester watched them go and then turned to the winner, feeling just a little uncertain.

"Well, Kathy," he started. "I—"

She flung herself on him with the avid girlishness of a Bengal tiger. "I have dreamed of this night since I was but a child! At last I am in your arms! I love you! Take me! I am yours, all yours!"

"That's nice," Forrester said, taken far aback by the girl's sudden onslaught. His immediate impulse was to unwind Kathy and set her back on her own feet, some little distance away, after which he could start again on a more leisurely basis. After all, he told himself, people ought to spend more time getting to know each other.

But he remembered, just in time, that he was Dionysus. He conquered his first impulse and put his arms around her. As he did so, he discovered that his face was being covered with kisses. Kathy was murmuring little indistinct terms of endearment into his ear every time she reached it en route from one side of his face to the other.

Forrester swallowed hard, tightened his grip and planted his lips firmly on Kathy's. A blaze of startling heat shot through him.

In a small corner at the back of his mind, a scroll unrolled. On it was written what Vulcan had told him about his mental attitude changing after Investiture. When he had been plain William Forrester, an attack like the one Kathy was making on him had pretty much chilled him for a while. But now he found himself definitely rising to the occasion.

There was a passion to her kiss that he had never felt before, a rising tide of flame that threatened to char him. The movement of her mouth on his sent new fires burning throughout his body, and as her hands moved on him he was awakened to a new world, a world of consuming desires.

He wished his own clothing away, and fumbled for a second at the two fastenings that held Kathy's chiton in place. Then it was gone and there was nothing between them. They met, flesh to flesh, in a fiery embrace that grew as he forced her down and she responded eagerly, wildly, to his every motion. His lips traveled over her; her entire body was drowning him once and for all in an unbelievable red haze, unlike anything he had ever before experienced … a great wave of passion that went on and on, rising to a peak he had never dreamed of until his body shivered with the sensations, and he pressed on, rising still higher in an ecstasy beyond measure… .

His last spasm of tension turned out the God-light.

 

She lay in his arms on the grass, holding him almost as tightly as he held her. He felt exhausted, but he knew perfectly well that he wasn't. A God was a God, after all, and Kathy was only the hors d'oeuvres of a seven-course dinner.

"You're wonderful," Kathy said in a soft whisper at his ear. "Absolutely wonderful. More wonderful than I could ever dream. I—"

She was interrupted by a strange, harsh voice that bellowed from somewhere nearby.

"All right, bitch!" it said. "Get the hell up from there! And you too, buster!"

Forrester jerked his head up in astonishment and froze. Kathy looked up, fright written all over her face.

The man standing over them in the darkness looked like a prize-fighter, one who had taken a number of beatings, but always given better than he had received. His arms were akimbo, his feet planted as firmly as if he were a particularly stubborn brand of tree. He glared down at them, his face expressive of anger, hatred—and, Forrester thought dully, a complete lack of respect for his God.

The man barked: "You heard what I said! On your feet, buster! If I have to kick your teeth in, I want to do it when you're standing up!"

Forrester's jaw dropped. Then, as the initial shock left him, anger boiled in to take its place. He toyed with the idea of blasting this mortal who showed such disrespect to a God. He sprang to his feet, ready to move, and then stopped.

Maybe the man was crazy. Maybe he was just some poor soul who wasn't responsible for his own actions. It would be merciful, Forrester thought, to find out first, and blast the intruder afterward.

He looked around. Twenty yards away, the encircling Myrmidons still stood, their backs to the scene, as if nothing at all were going on.

Forrester blinked. "How'd you get in here, anyway?"

The man barked a laugh. "None of your business." He turned to Kathy, who had devoted the previous few seconds to getting her chiton on again. Hurriedly, Forrester wished back his own costume. Kathy got up, staring straight back at the intruder. Fear was gone from her face, and a kind of calmness that Forrester had never seen before possessed her now.

"So!" the intruder bellowed. "The minute my back is turned, off you go! By the Stars and Galaxy, I—I don't know what to call you! You're worse than your predecessor! Can't turn anything down! You—"

"Now wait!" Forrester bellowed in his most Godlike voice. "Just hold still there! Do you know who you're talking to? How dare you—"

And Kathy interrupted him. Forrester stood mute as she stripped the stranger with a voice like scalding acid. "Listen, you," she said, pointing a finger at the man. "Who do you think you are—my husband?"

"By the Stars—" the stranger began.

"Don't bother trying to scare me with your big mouth," Kathy went on imperturbably. "You don't mean a thing to me and you can't order me around. What's more, you know it. You're not my husband, you big thug—and you're never going to be. I'll sleep with whomever I please, and whenever I please, and wherever I please, and that's the way things are going to be. After all, lard-head, it's my job, isn't it? Got any questions?"

Her job?

Forrester began to wonder just what he had managed to walk into now. But that was a detail. The important thing was that his Godhood had been grossly, unbelievably insulted—and at a damned inconvenient time, too!

He stepped between Kathy and the intruder, his eyes flashing fire. "Do you know who I am? Do you know that—"

"Of course he knows," Kathy put in abruptly. "And if you don't want to get hurt, I'd advise you to stay out of this little quarrel."

Forrester turned and stared at her.

What the everlasting bloody hell was going on?

But there wasn't any time to think. The intruder put his face up near Forrester's and glared at him. "Sure I know who you are, buster," he said. "You're a wise guy. You're a Johnny-come-lately. And I know what I ought to do with you, too—take you apart, limb by limb!"

That did it. Forrester, seeing several shades of red, decided that no God could possibly object if this ugly blasphemer were blasted off the face of the Earth. He raised a hand.

And Kathy grabbed it. "Don't!" she said in a frightened tone.

The intruder grinned wolfishly at him. "Pay no attention to Little Miss Sacktime over there, Forrester. You go right ahead and try it! All I need is an excuse to vaporize you. Just one tiny little excuse—and I'll do the job so damn quick, your head won't even have time to start swimming." He set himself. "Go on. Let's see your stuff, Forrester."

Forrester's arm came down, without his being aware of it. There was only room in his mind for one thought.

The intruder had called him Forrester.

Where had he gotten the name?

And, for that matter, how had he seen the two of them in the darkness?

While the questions were still spinning in Forrester's mind, Kathy threw herself forward between him and the stranger. "Ares!" she screamed. "You stupid, jealous idiot! Get some sense into that battle-scarred brain of yours! Are you completely crazy?"

"Now you listen to me—" the stranger began.

"Listen, nothing! If you want to pick a fight, do it with me—I can fight back! But if you lay a hand on Forrester, we'll never find another—"

The stranger reached out casually and clamped one huge paw over her mouth. "Shut up," he said, almost quietly. He glanced at Forrester and went on, in the same tone: "Don't give away everything you've got, chum."

A second passed and then he took the hand away. Kathy said nothing at all for a moment, and then she nodded.

"All right," she said. "You're right. We shouldn't be losing our tempers just now. But I didn't start—"

"Didn't you?" the stranger said.

Kathy shrugged. "Well, never mind it now." She turned to Forrester. "You know who we are now, don't you?"

Forrester nodded very slowly. How else could the man have come through the cordon of Myrmidons and seen them in the darkness? How else would he have dared to face up to Dionysus—confident that he could beat him? And how else could all this argument have gone on without anyone hearing it?

For that matter, why else would the argument have begun—unless the stranger and Kathy were—

"Sure," he said, as if he had known it all along. "You're Mars and Venus."

He could feel cold death approaching.

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