Altair stood on the grand staircase of the Olympian Kingdom. He stood rigid with his hands perfectly folded in front of him and a steely gaze upon his Master, his blood-red wings extended slightly to his sides. He was called upon early in the morn to escort the God of Gods to a reunion with Aminediyl in the Grand foyer, and as customs mandated, he stood at a distance with the rest of the quintet.
Master Zeus, admittedly, was far stronger than any archangel. Even Altair, the strongest of his species, wouldn’t stand a chance in a battle. But the Gods liked being accompanied by others, enjoying being at the top of the social hierarchy.
It was all...social tradition and it bored Altair to the highest extent, but he valued his duty. He was proud to be an archangel, proud to serve his role to the Olympians, and would fiercely fight in their stead when commanded.
The Gods didn’t like to get their hands messy with the blood of war contrary to the stories. Olympians far preferred watching war from afar like it was a common sport. No, the only time the Gods fought was to avenge their lovers.
But those wars were a distant memory much like women.
It seemed as if the lack of motherhood and femininity in the world swallowed the sun, the stars, and the moon. Harvests were light in all the Kingdoms and natural disasters ravaged the outer regions. The pious believed the Gods were punishing them, the Gods knew the situation was far more dire.
For the past five centuries the population of women steadily fell, and the babes birthed were boys. Among the Gods were no Goddess, not anymore. In fact, the only females in existence were a few human women, a female in Voltulora, and Khadija, the truemate of another archangel. Khadija was barren, however, and the human women of Earth could only birth boys.
The Gods could live without the harvest, but no other species could. It was alarming how fast it seemed the world was ending.
Altair resisted the urge to readjust his stance.
No, it didn’t seem. The world was ending. Without Goddesses meant no fertility and no light. No fertility meant no children. No light meant no harvest. The world had fallen into an ever-lasting, pervasive, terrible, cold darkness. No one knew why females seemed to be disappearing, even Zeus himself.
He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t relieved. He’d lived far too many eons. The reality, while pessimistic, was that archangels would go extinct and eventually the other species would as well until only the Gods lived.
Gods couldn’t venture out of their specific reign. Ares couldn’t sprout a tree, Zeus couldn’t create females, and Apollo couldn’t warm the frosted world. Women could. Women did. The world was unbalanced without females and Gaia yearned for it to be restored.
The low timbre of Zeus’ bellow resonated through the hall. The reunion ended sourly as the two parted ways. Zeus marched away, coming toward his quintet with a particularly angry scowl. The archangels waited a few paces before starkly turning and following.
The males traveled up the grand stairs and down the Olympian halls. The palace was a sight of power, one that humans dreamt of seeing but never did. Zeus pulled the doors to the outside open and stalked out onto the terrace. Again, the archangels took their positions on the outskirts as their master scowled at darkened, pathetic sky.
A cross of lightning shot through the raven cloud above, an indicator of just how sour Zeus’ mood was. “Altair.”
The archangel in question left his spot near the door and walked to his master.
“Do you remember the last time the sky was lit?”
“Four hundred and ninety-five, master, right after the Fallen War of Voltulora. It was the last full harvest we experienced, and the last female archangel was birthed in Selmat.”
“And then Hera vanished.”
“Yes, followed by Mistress Aphrodite.”
“And then Artemis.”
“The following year the trees never bloomed leaves and the Earth shattered in Geldrid.”
Zeus hummed in sorrow-filled resignation. “We’re dying, Altair.”
“Not we, master. You will continue to live amongst the other Gods. You have nothing to fear.”
“What’s the point of being a God if no one worships me?”
“How...reserved, of you, Master.”
“I was never known to lack hubris.”
Altair remained silent, questioning why exactly Zeus called him to stand next to him. The tales of Olympians weren’t quite accurate, though some tales rang truth. Altair had protected and served the Gods and Goddesses for many centuries. Knowing them intimately made the disappearance of Goddesses just a bit more...personal. No, he didn’t shed a tear for those women, and he didn’t know that the species was dying. Life was coming to an end and that was eerily comforting.
“She came to me the night before the Fallen War.”
The archangel cocked his head toward his Master. Zeus didn’t regard him, holding his gaze on the lighting in front.
“Hera,” Zeus added, “she came to my bedchambers before I had left for war. She pleaded with me to stay with her. Begged me to halt the war. Cried that something terrible would happen. I thought she was being hysterical. I didn’t listen.”
Altair knew Zeus wanted him to say something kind like it wasn’t your fault or you couldn’t have known, but the truth was maybe if Zeus did listen, his wife would still be seated on her throne.
Zeus gave a heartless chuckle. “Oh, Altair, never one to comfort.”
“Admittedly, it’s not my strong suit, Master.”
“Do you think she knew what was about to happen?”
Altair wasn’t sure. “Hera ruled over marriage and women. I do not think she knew exactly what would happen, but I think she had a feeling that something would happen to her disciples. Were you with her?”
“No.” A muscle in Zeus’s jaw ticked. “I was with another.”
The sexual escapades of Zeus in wedlock didn’t escape the archangels. It was known that women were his weakness. Though, Altair couldn’t understand it. Never would an archangel betray their truemate in the same way. Marriage paled in comparison to the mate bond.
But Altair only knew from the words of mated archangels.
“It was quick,” Zeus remembered. “She was below me one minute and then took on the complexion of a ghost. I could see the fear fill her eyes. She asked me what was happening. I didn’t know. And then she was gone. I blinked and her body vanished before me. And when I got out of bed, dressed, and walked to the door, I saw Hera’s crown on the floor.”
This was the first time Zeus spoke of this moment. As far as Altair knew, Zeus was supposedly within the Kingdom. That was wrong, apparently. “Hera was in the room,” Altair concluded.
Zeus nodded. “She must have watched.”
“Master, why are you telling me this?”
“Because the situation is dire, Altair. We have no more time. We need to do whatever we must to have a chance of survival.”
Zeus turned to Altair with a steely gaze. The dark clouds above them shadowed the massive Gods’ palace as a crack of thunder shook the heavens. The resounding boom fazed neither the God nor the archangel. “In my younger days, the proposal I was given wouldn’t have made me hesitate in accepting it.”
“What’s changed, Master?”
“My wife would have chastised me relentlessly. She’d even fight me tooth and nail if she had to. She’d murder me for even considering accepting the proposal Aminediyl came with today.”
Altair didn’t speak, assuming the God would continue when he was ready, but when silence followed for a while, his lips parted. “Hera was the only Goddess willing to challenge you for what she believed in. She was fearless.”
“Yes,” he agreed, nodding at the raging clouds in front. “but we are in dire straits. I feel I have no other choice.”
“What was the proposal?”
“There’s a Voltulorian woman who resides in the Middle Kingdom who is of age to wed. King Cailborne insists she marry him and immediately begin trying for children.”
“And she’s refused?”
“I do not know. Though I couldn’t blame her if she did.. King Cailborne of Voltulora is a savage.”
“But you are considering a forced marriage even if she does not want it, Master?”
“Yes, for what other option remains? She is a citizen of Voltulora and her King has dominion over her and the land. We need possibility – nay, we need babes. All the other women, what few remain, are barren.”
“How do you know she is not barren as the others?”
“King Cailborne insists she’s a virgin. She has been his ward since childhood.”
“Pardon me, Master, but this seems like you have made a decision.”
“Yes, but the voice of Hera rings in my head like an insistent dithyramb. She would have fought for the rights of that woman and it seems the woman’s King is looking to taint her with his darkness. I wouldn’t wish marriage on my worst enemy to that Voltulorian. What are your opinions?”
Altair thought for a moment. He was never one to make rash decisions when emotions were involved. He was calculative – intelligent. But above all else, he was a man of old way, the ways of the ancient archangels. And he remembered, distinctly, that the greatest joy in any male’s life was his woman. Because of this, archangels lived to please women in every way. To archangels, women were the source of life and light.
Khadija, the last female archangel of his species, always said that babes would only come when the female and land were nourished when both were of happiness. And if this woman, this Voltulorian, was forced into a marriage and forced to copulate, Altair firmly believed that babes would not come. For if the heart and mood of the female were dark, so was her womb.
Khadija had it right, at least somewhat. She was the last woman amongst the Gods and archangels to have conceived, and she was happy, loved, and protected with her truemate.
“Altair, what is it?”
He turned to Zeus. “The voice of Hera sounds in your head for a reason, Master.. Perhaps she is trying to communicate with you. You have reservations for a reason. The world needs children, this is not in question, but do we want to accept rape as a method? You and I know well that babes won’t be made under stress. I suggest you send someone to meet the woman and ask her what she would like to do.”
“We don’t have time, Altair.”
“We have a day, Master. That is all it takes. One day to ask her, and I am sure her answer will be that she would willingly try for babes under her conditions. Only under these circumstances do we have the best chances of healthy pregnancy.”
“Perhaps you’re right, Altair. I value your word deeply.” Turning toward the quintet of other warriors, Zeus called out another’s name. “Crixus, come here.”
The ebony warrior with hallowed eyes left his position, making his way to his leaders with the prominence of a God. His leathers were riddled with various weapons of an archangel – multiple double-sided short daggers and the large weapon of his choice. In this case, Crixus proudly donned his halberd.
Crixus stopped beside the Dominus of archangels.
“Please bring Aminediyl to us and then prepare Malachi for an expedition to Voltulora.”
Zeus watched the other archangel leave before following in the same direction back into the massive castle. Altair allowed Zeus to make it a few paces ahead of him before following shortly behind. His arms once again, locked behind him in a rigid stance as he walked.
The other three archangels that were part of Zeus’ quintet found their positions behind their Dominus.
“King Cailborne will not take it lightly that I am sending amendments to his proposal. We should be prepared for whatever anger-spawned decision he makes.”
“Yes, I agree.”
Zeus led the archangels into the Olympian room which contained all the thrones of the Olympians. The thrones of the Olympians created a semi-circle of which Zeus’ was at the crescent. Each throne held intricately designed carvings for the God that sat within it. The female thrones remained in the room, though no one sat in them anymore. They were dusted and maintained; all the Gods hoped their return would eventually come.
Up until recently, Zeus was sure the Goddesses of Olympia would come back. He was sure Hera would never let him alone for too long. She always said if I let you rule alone, you’d destroy the world.
How right she was.
Zeus had never felt such remorse. He was never knocked down to the rawest of human emotions like he was when The Vanishing happened.
That’s what everyone called the mysterious disappearance of most females within the world. The Vanishing forced Gods and men alike to think about life without women and it wasn’t one anyone would ever choose.
The God slowed down as he passed Hera’s throne that was next to his. The arms were designed as the ends of scepters that had bright, blue feather-like designs lined in gold trim. Peacocks. Those were her favorite.
At the peak of the lavish throne was a cuckoo bird with a branch that was connected to Zeus’ throne. It represented their first encounter where he disguised himself as the cuckoo to get closer to her. That bird represented love. Zeus’ love.
He sighed. He knew the last few hundred years of their matrimony it seemed to her that his love had dwindled, and perhaps it had. But she was always at the apex of his heart and his desire for her never wavered. He betrayed her time and time again. He built her up and broke her down so many times he questioned why she remained with him.
No, he knew why. Because no matter how many times he hurt her, broke her heart, she was undeniably and unfortunately in love with him.
How he hated himself since The Vanishing. Like it or not, when he lost what he loved most, it changed him for the better. He didn’t realize what he had until he woke up in forever darkness and frigid cold.
As he gazed upon her throne, he made a silent yet loud promise – a promise that screamed so loudly but was silent in the world. A promise he would never break.
He sat upon his throne, waiting for Aminediyl to make his appearance. The archangels stood on the perimeter as they usually did with their backs straight and their expressions emotionless.
If Hera were here, he knew what she would do. He knew what she would believe and what she would fight for and Zeus would honor her wishes. That Voltulorian woman would be protected, even if it meant the demise of her species.
Moments later Aminediyl walked in behind Crixus and Malachi. They didn’t bow to him, but they showed their respect by lowering their gaze. Aminediyl stood in front of the adorned throne as a diplomat should.
“Your King wanted my approval to forcibly wed a woman in his Kingdom with the intent to birth children, is this a correct summation?”
“And in return, the key to his proposal, is that a forced wedlock would lead to consummation in which children would hopefully be birthed?”
“The situation of which the Kingdoms find themselves in is grave as we all know. Of that, I do not deny.” The silence was loud as Zeus shook his head in contemplation. “But my dear wife Hera would never allow me to approve of these circumstances. Not only would she staunchly disapprove, but she would also protect that woman regardless of the personal or political costs.”
“With much respect, Hera is not you and she is not here.”
“Precisely, Aminediyl, precisely. I will not condone the marriage or the intended actions. I will not allow it. However, I am willing to send a proxy in my favor to question this woman about what she wants. If she agrees, without coercion, then so be it. I will then accept this marriage.”
“My King will not be happy. You must understand that the Voltulorians are dying. Food is perishing, the waters are freezing, the plants are suffering. We cannot go on without more females.”
“We are all dying,” he responded miserably. Although, he wasn’t physically dying, emotionally he was. “We are all suffering. Ending suffering with suffering is not decent. You may leave.”
And as Aminediyl turned, clearly annoyed and disapproving, the God spoke up once again. “And to ensure my wishes are obeyed, Malachi will return to the Middle Kingdom with you and fulfill my request.”
As Aminediyl and Malachi took their leave, Altair walked to his master, bowing once. He bowed because he was under his quintet. Altair wouldn’t bow to any other God, however. As an archangel, he was sworn into protection and had a strict code of honor that he never strayed from. His code was all he had.
Zeus didn’t look at him as his eyes were still fixated on the doors the other males walked through. “King Cailborne is a manipulative cod, but he is smart, nonetheless.”
“Are you concerned about your choice?”
“Nay, archangel. I have nothing to lose but the memory of my wife. This is what she would consider to be correct.”
“Verily, Master, this is true.”
“Be prepared for whatever is forthcoming, Altair.”
“I no not another way to live, master.”
Zeus gave an audible hum in agreement. No one dared underestimate Dominus Altair. He was the oldest of his species, the most talented, the best at strategy. His skills were only rivaled by Olympians.
The impending doom of life itself sat in Zeus’ stomach like icicles. Altair deserved life and an honorable one at that. Although Zeus knew Altair looked forward to the blissful end, Zeus felt he was needed here with the living. And somewhere deep in his mind, Zeus knew Altair’s happiness was teasingly close. Though, Zeus wondered if Altair would still be alive by the time it arrived.