As The Arrow Flies - by C.L. Stegall

1. Chum on a Cupcake

“Why didn’t you stand up for me?” I said, my left hand snaking in, drawing his attention. I threw a right hook, catching Mark across the chin. He took a step back, shook it off.

“What was I supposed to say?” He dropped low with a leg sweep that I easily avoided. As I leaped up to avoid the sweep, I kicked out with my left foot and struck him solid on the temple. He crumpled to the mat. “Jesus, you’re fast,” he mumbled, rubbing his head.

“How about that I didn’t do it, huh?” My short fingernails bit into my palms. I forced myself to clamp that down and reached out to help him to his feet. His gi was twisted and I saw his bare chest, all muscles and skin. He was a cute guy but, since he was a friend, under no circumstances would I ever cross that line. Especially not with his father, Frank, all bitchy about my extracurricular activities.

“Did you?” He just came right out and asked. I appreciated that. Skipping all the bullshit. Now, the question was, should I even answer?

“Doesn’t matter, anyway,” I stated, plopping down on the edge of the mat to pull on my socks and tennis shoes. “I’ll start looking for a new place. Save him the trouble of kicking me out.”

“Don’t be like that, Lily. You know how he is. He’s been all pissy lately with the dojo not making ends meet. He’s got a lot on his mind.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “So do I.” I pulled out the hair band and re-wrapped it tighter around my long red ponytail. I traded the gi for a windbreaker, punching my arms through the sleeves and shoving the gi top into my bag. The wind was finally cooling off from the long California summer. “I’ve got better things to do than try and convince someone to trust me.” I stalked toward the door.

“It’s just, he doesn’t know if he can,” Mark whined. I whirled to face him.

“Can you?” He stared at me. The boy just wasn’t the brightest bulb in the dojo. “Can you trust me?” His pause was enough to tell me all I needed to know. One more relationship out the fucking window. I turned to leave, spoke over my shoulder, “I didn’t take the damned money.” The bell on the door jingled angrily as I jerked it open and strode out into the sunshine.

Frank, Mark’s dad, had let me rent out the old condo of his for the past several months, after I began helping out at the dojo. I figured I’d lucked out: a seventeen-year old runaway with a job, a car and an apartment? Unheard of. And, here I was. Throwing that shit all away.

I arrived at my beat up Jetta and tossed my gym bag over the seat into the back. Starting it up, with only a small backfire, I headed north into Encino proper. I could never be certain how I got myself into the crap I did. I just always seemed to screw things up. True, I had a few less-than-legal tendencies but I never took more than I needed. That was my rule. Survival was a must – greed was not.

Turning onto Preston, I parked at the edge of the lot inside the gate that always seemed to be open. I left the bag. I’d have to wash clothes later anyway. My mind was a flurry of possibilities as I stomped my way toward the condo near the back of the complex. This wasn’t the best of neighborhoods. That was part of why Frank had let me rent it out in the first place. Now, it seemed I’d have to change my modus operandi and figure something else out.

I was almost to the stairs that led up to my place when the two guys stepped out from around the building, blocking my path. Now, I’m not a waif but I am a little thing, at barely four foot eleven. And these guys were about to take all kinds of advantage of that. A quick glance around and I knew it was me against them. No easy way out of this.

“I was just thinking to myself,” I said, “that this is not the nicest of neighborhoods. You guys here to reiterate that fact?”

“What the hell does that mean?” the smarter one asked. He was thick-necked and squat, looking askance at his buddy, who was less muscled but carried a nastier glare.

“Don’t matter,” the nasty one said. The switchblade snicked out and he smiled with joyous malevolence. I shook my head in disbelief.

“Really? You two goons are going to attack little ol’ me in a parking lot with a switchblade? You been watching way too many old movies.” Then, more to myself than to my attackers, “This day has been nothing but bullshit.”

“You got a mouth on you, little girl. A pretty one, though.” The thick one sniggered at the nasty one’s comment.

“I know,” I said. “So, let this pretty mouth give you something to think about. You walk away now and I’ll let you keep one of your balls. Each.” My gaze bounced back and forth between the two Neanderthals. Neither one of them was over twenty-one. I hated to be so rude but that was the only language these guys spoke. At least I warned them.

“I’m gonna enjoy cuttin’ you, bitch,” the nasty one said. He lunged forward, knife out front. I side-stepped the move with ease and whirled downward with a rock-solid strike. The edge of my hand connected with his neck, just below the occipital bone. There was no sound other than a slight crunch as he fell, unconscious, face-first into the pavement. My guess was that his nose took the brunt of the fall. And, he was such a handsome bastard.

“So,” I said to the thick one, who stood staring down at his buddy, “You want to keep that ball? Or, should I take ‘em both? Do the world a favor, you know?”

For a split second, I thought he would be stupid enough to try his luck. Then, he caught my eyes and confusion struck him like a mallet on a drum. He scuttled off, leaving his buddy lying there on the ground. I really didn’t feel like dealing with this right now. I had other worries. So, I left the guy lying there and trundled up the stairs to my apartment.

* * * * *

I chained and bolted the door behind me, stepped into the kitchen to pour myself some orange juice. In the living room, my choices were the ratty old sofa I had gotten from Goodwill or the papasan I had bought as my first piece of new furniture for the place. That’s me. Big spender. I settled into the papasan and ran the recent events through my head. I had some decisions to make.

Frank, nice guy though he was, was not going to let me stay here for very much longer. I understood. He served on some neighborhood committee or some other. Their purpose was to keep kids like me away from the criminal elements in the area. Like me.

He’d been kind enough to help me out when I’d first come to town. Mark was a good kid. I’d met him hanging out at the local burger joint. Later, he’d introduced me to his father at the dojo.

As a sixteen year old runaway, I’d been edgy to start with. Add to that my personal uniqueness and you get a very jumpy Lily. But, Frank and Mark looked after me, no pressure, no B.S. I was going to miss them.

Seemed like nothing was ever going to be perfect anymore. Not like it used to be.

She crossed my mind a thousand times a day, her words of advice floating back to me years after her passing. More than anything, I missed the talks we had. Mom was a great conversationalist, with a wealth of knowledge on so many subjects. I told her once that she should’ve been a teacher. She only smiled and shook her head. I never quite understood.

The doctors caught the breast cancer too late; we both knew it. Still, mom was a fighter and she went through all the chemo and radiation like a trooper. A month after I turned fourteen, I attended her funeral. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t.

Now, sitting here, thinking about my next moves, I knew she’d be disappointed, but proud at the same time.

I’m a survivor, after all.

A natural born thief, it was hard for mom to not notice my habits. For some strange reason, she simply accepted that it was part of who I was and that I had my own set of morals by which I lived. I never got the chance to tell her that she was the one who helped instill those in me.

I never stole anything more than I needed, talented though I was. Especially as I moved through the foster care system. I had to watch my ass. I took great care in being careful, selective in my targets. Still, that stuff catches up to you. No matter what. Rumors started sifting in and my foster parents got all paranoid. To save them the trouble, I just slipped away one night, never looking back.

I’m not sure what drew me to Encino, of all places, but here I was. Thanks to Mark and Frank, I had a lackluster income, a place to call home and transportation. I guess that’s all in the wind, now, though. Like I said, stuff catches up to you. Frank started hearing tales of some red-headed thief, slicker than mercury through water. Since he’s trained me in martial arts over the last year or so, he knows how fast I can be when I want. It didn’t take a second for him to guess at the truth.

I was feeling pretty depressed with myself when my cell phone buzzed. I looked at the number, recognized it and hesitated. Was fate playing some cruel joke on me, or what? I closed my eyes in surrender and hit the talk button.

“Yeah?” I said.

“You sound down, girl.” Kilo’s voice was high and mousy, perfectly suited to the rat he was.

“What do you want, Kilo?”

“Got something for you. Sweetness, you know?”

“Why?” Kilo never came to me with anything that wasn’t bait on a hook. He wanted something. I was just the best way to get it. There was always a price for his sweets, as he liked to call his leads.

“Right up your alley, girl. House. Suburban wonderland. Word is, lots of goodies to be gotten.”

I really needed to start hanging with a better crowd. Still, I thought about my next moves and having to give this place up. I would need cash for a new one. Somewhere. The thought of going on a job right now had all of the appeal of chum on a cupcake. Nevertheless, I had little choice. “Fine,” I muttered. “What’s the address? And, what do you want out of this, huh?”

“A bag.”

“Just a bag? I don’t think so.”

“Come on, Lil’,” Kilo whined. “It’s a bag of old coins, that’s all.”

“Right. What do they look like?”

“Bunch of different kinds. Some have a weird manly chick on one side and an owl on the other. Some have a guy’s head on one side and a sitting dude on the other.”

“I take it these are expensive.”

“Not individually, no. But, my info says there’s a decent bag of them. Anything else you find is yours for the taking. I just want the bag.” Kilo paused and heard only my breathing as I pondered the true nature of the coins. Something didn’t sound kosher. Of course, it rarely did with him. “We cool?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’ll scout it out and see. What kind of security are we talking here?”

“None.”

“What?” Alarm bells went off in my head. Someone who kept a coin collection had to have some sort of security.

“Seriously. None that I’m aware of. Dude who owns the house is an arrogant shit. Just stay out of his way and it’s open market day.”

I shook my head and pinched the bridge of my nose at the rising pain in my head. There was more to this than Kilo was telling me. That was for certain. I thought about backing out. Then, I thought of how the next few weeks were going to play out. Great. Rock and a hard place.

“Like I said, Kilo. I’ll scout it out.” I tapped the button to end the call.

2. Whirling Dervish

The Fairfax District in L.A. was nice but not ostentatious. A few nicer homes among a few older, well-kept ones. The address Kilo had given me led to a two-storey charmer in the middle of the block. No sign of life but I almost whistled my admiration for the BMW 650 series sitting in the driveway. Nice taste, this guy. I strolled by the house on the far side of the street, scoping out the neighborhood and still caught no sign of activity inside the target abode.

I slipped into super-speed and whipped around the block, coming in from the other side to check out the fence line and the available views into the house. When I move like that, no one can follow me with their naked eye. I like being special. My few talents helped me get through mom’s death, through the foster homes and, now, being on my own.

It was only a couple of years before mom’s cancer that I discovered my gift of speed. The stealing thing I’d had from an early age. Mom caught me on more than one occasion, but for some reason my punishment was never more than the minimal, stern talking-to. I wondered about that from time to time. Of course, once I found out I could move with unbelievable speed, it kind of freaked me out. I confessed to her.

Being an only child helped, I guess. Mom and I were always close. When I told her about my new talent, I remember she just stared at me for a second, then looked off into space for almost a minute before speaking.

“You’re special, Lily,” she said. “One day you’ll come to understand just how special you really are. But, trust me when I say this. Never, ever, take it for granted. Whatever you can do, you can do for a reason. Always remember that.”

I thought it was strange that she just accepted it like that, but she hugged me and asked me to show her. I zipped through the house a few times. She laughed in amazement and said I was a regular Speedy Gonzalez. I smiled at the reference and mimicked the little mouse before zipping off again.

God, I miss her.

After scoping out the target, I headed back to my car, which I parked at the end of the block and staked out the place. I made few calls, tried to gather some intel of my own on the sole occupant of the house. It took longer than expected to get the information. I had just hung up the phone from my seventh call, when the owner exited the house.

He was in his mid-twenties, average height. He was very fit, with broad shoulders and muscled arms. His hair was dark brown and cropped close to his head. He slid on a pair of dark sunglasses as he strode with purpose to the BMW.

I went over what I had learned. Buck Sebo kept his profile low and limited his exposure to his neighbors, as well. He had no employer that I could find and records indicated the house was paid for with a cash deposit. He had no phone in his name but I had seen what looked like a cell phone case on his belt. Buck lived alone and conducted any business elsewhere. My contacts couldn’t find any work address for him.

He moved with a strong gait and I noticed that his head swiveled slightly from side to side as he walked. This guy was familiar with his neighborhood and knew what to look for as being out of place. I prayed he didn’t see my POS Jetta. He slid into the sports car, brought the engine to life and eased away down the street in the opposite direction. I settled in for the wait.

* * * * *

I cased the place for several days, watching his movements. At least he maintained a regular schedule. It would make it easy for me to slip in and out unnoticed. I decided it was time to make my move.

In the blink of an eye, I stood on his porch and spoke to the locks. This was another talent I had learned I’d just before mom died. I never got to tell her about this one. It was the one trick that had become my true stock in trade.

Once, when mom was in the hospital overnight after chemo, I had forgotten my key. Standing there, pissed at myself, I told the lock to “open, dammit.” To my great shock, it did. After I went inside, I locked the door again and stared at it. There was this strange connection to it, as if I were seeing it from the inside. I asked it to open again. The resulting click sent me into a tizzy, let me tell you. I bounced around the house talking to all the locks, opening them and closing them, too. I was more than special. I was amazing.

To say that this new talent was a gift for someone who was already a natural born thief was the understatement of the century. My new ability sent me on an array of adventures—some quite dangerous—just to prove to myself I could really do it.

Now, I slipped into the house on North Edinburgh. Inside, it looked quite average. Simple decorations, a concave ceramic dish on a black finished bombe chest. Above it hung an abstract painting consisting of various tan hues with two contrasting bright red swipes. I raised an eyebrow at the artwork and then moved farther into the house.

The living room was another variation on the tan theme, with a simple bench chair, a coffee table and a small sofa as the only furniture. I was just about to continue through the first floor when I noticed the statue high above me. There was a balcony that ran the width of the living room and in one corner, just at the top of the stairs, stood a life-sized statue of what looked to be Julius Caesar.

I eased up the stairs, my eyes never leaving the statue. It was gorgeous. The detail and the magnificence of it made me even more curious. This was not some cheap porcelain or plaster replica and, if my estimation was even close, it weighed well over a thousand pounds.

I swung to my left to see narrow tables lining the balcony that ran the length of the living room below, each covered in ancient and beautiful treasures. Busts of Greek figures wore necklaces and headdresses; vases and figurines were scattered among ancient tools; and trinkets of every kind imaginable covered any remaining space. It was like a museum, this place. Although I was far from an expert, I knew that the value of the artifacts here was very possibly priceless as a collection. As individual pieces, there was no telling what they could bring in.

No wonder Kilo was high on this job. Still, he only wanted the bag of coins. It seemed a small take from such a collection. Or, perhaps, Kilo had no idea of the true nature of this place, the treasures it held.

I meandered down the hall past the balcony. The walls were hung with various swords, shields, knives and bows. I slipped into the first room I encountered and was taken aback by the amount of precious items lying about. To my left was a long cherry table and that was where I spied the bag. It lay to one side, with ancient Greek and Roman coins spilling from it. This was Kilo’s price. Something told me that there was a hell of a lot more to this place that Kilo either failed to mention, was unaware of, or was keeping from me purposefully. It didn’t feel right. I scooped up the coins and shoved them into the bag, tying the neck closed. I scanned the room one last time.

It caught my eye and drew me in as would a porch light would draw a flying insect. It was brilliant among the more ancient items, shiny and new. I reached out and caressed it, my fingertips feeling the cold metal like a tiny shock. The necklace lay around the neck of a granite bust portraying a beautiful young man with strong features. There seemed to be a slight smile on his carved face and a glint in his eyes. I admired the sculptor for capturing it so wonderfully. The rope chain appeared delicate, so I gently unclasped the hook from the bust and held it up to my face. Holding it there, staring at it with hunger, I felt an irresistible pull and a peculiar sense of calm.

The metal was one solid piece, forged into the shape of a silver bow and arrow. It was stunning. My decision was made in an instant, regardless of how I felt about the rest of the items here, this was meant for me. I just knew it. I placed the thin chain around my neck, locked it in place. I retrieved the bag of coins, which had fallen to the table once my eyes had settled on the pendant. Time to get the hell out of here.

I made my way downstairs, touching nothing more of the priceless artifacts. I was none too certain I’d be returning either. Something about this house felt wrong. I’d taken but one step out the door when I froze in my tracks at the sight of Buck standing on the steps to the porch, a gun pointed at my chest.

“You dare to steal from me?”

I looked left and right. There was no easy escape. I would have to be quick. Which I was.

“You move, you die, girl,” he said, while shaking his head slightly. “You must be Progeny. No one else would have the guts to enter my house against my will.”

“What’re you talking about? What’s a progeny?” I saw the closest porch column was to my left, Buck’s right. It might be just enough of an obstacle for me to slip past him, using the column to block his shot. No matter how fast he was, the bullet wouldn’t penetrate the thickness of the column before I was off the porch and full speed.

“Idiot,” he remarked. “You have no idea of what you’re getting yourself into. I should just kill you now and save you the misery to come.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. I leaped left, gathering my unique speed, faster than the eye could follow.

Buck moved with admirable speed but he did not shoot past the column. Instead, he pointed farther to his right into the yard, into thin air. I heard the sound of the gun’s discharge, rocking the quiet of the neighborhood, and then Buck’s voice rang out.

“Make no mistake, little girl. I’ll find you! And, then, you’re dead!”

* * * * *

I was lucky enough to find a parking spot close to the stairs that led up to my apartment. I waited to make certain no one else was around and then used the last of my energy to dash up the stairs and into the limited protection of my home.

I locked the door and tossed the bag of coins to the side. Kilo was going to get an earful from me. That was for sure. I took two steps toward the sofa and collapsed onto the ugly yellow carpet. Lying there, staring at the ceiling, my hair billowed around me, I was incredibly pissed. Buck had been so fast. How could he have known where I was going to be? My head swam with nausea, the pain from the bullet wound radiating waves of terrible sensation outward through my chest. I could feel the blood pooling underneath me.

I’d never been shot before. I was always too fast. I had only been shot at once and that was a stupid mistake on my part. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Déjà vu. My breathing became ragged and I knew the bullet had punctured the top of my lung. It was high on my chest and I initially hoped it had just gone right through. No such luck. I tried to remain calm, to think about what to do next. My thoughts wouldn’t congeal. They kept spinning around like dust in a whirling dervish. I was still trying to think straight when the darkness came and I lost consciousness.

3. Nothing Special

I felt the world shift as if the whole of the globe was but a basketball in the middle of a wave-filled ocean. The nausea brought me around enough to realize I was being carried. I must be dreaming, I thought. As I was laid onto the sofa, I fought to open my eyes against the throbbing pain. Yes. I was definitely dreaming. The most beautiful man I’d ever seen stood smiling down at me with gorgeous golden eyes.

“I’d rather you not die yet, Lily.” His voice was a deep baritone, rich and scrumptious and I couldn’t help but smile. “Now, there’s a good sign,” he said.

“Who are you?” I whispered, unsure if I could speak. My words seemed to float away into the room as if filled with helium, like party balloons. Wanted to reach out and touch them but couldn’t muster the strength nor the will.

“I am Apollo. God of the sun. And, prophecy.”

“Oh, yeah? That’s cool.”

“Yes, it is,” he replied, his resonant laughter warming me through the loss of blood.

“Why are you here?” I asked. As soon as I said it I thought, well that’s a stupid question. It’s a dream. You’re making this shit up as you die, girl.

“I’d like to offer you a job. A position, as my assistant. I’ve been watching you for some time. You’re very resourceful. I like that. Not to mention your knack for survival.”

“You mean aside from getting shot?” My voice rose and fell in awkward intervals, in almost a sing-song manner. I knew these were my final moments.

“That was unavoidable.” The tone of his voice made me believe him. “Lily Abrams, would you like to be taught how magic happens? How to survive in almost any circumstance? Would you like to learn who you really are?”

“I’m dying,” I replied. He waved away the comment.

“Inconsequential at the moment. Answer the question.”

“Yes, please,” I said after a moment’s thought. Why the hell not? I won’t be around much longer, so being some god’s gopher in the afterlife sounded as good a job as any.

“Do you swear by Zeus’ Bolt to do as I say? To work to my ends and serve as my assistant in all things large and small?” He waited for me to respond, then, “You must swear, Lily.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay. I swear by Zeus’ Bolt. Whatever that means.” Once I spoke the words, I felt the pressure of some strange force pushing against me, entering my every pore. I moaned aloud as the pressure touched my bullet wound.

Apollo reached down, placed his hand over the wound. The view was awkward but I could have sworn his hand glowed with a pulsing golden light. As he withdrew his hand, the intact shrapnel came with it, exiting the wound. I cried out as the pain wove through me. It felt as if I’d been shot again.

“Lily Abrams,” Apollo said, his voice booming in my small apartment. “You are the daughter of Hermes, god of communication, thievery and travelers. You are more than human, you are a demigod. You are the progeny of the gods. Do you understand?”

“No,” I whispered, the pain surging through my chest and shoulders. I could barely concentrate on keeping my eyes open. I figured what the hell, I might as well die now and get it over with. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

I felt Apollo’s hand on my chest, the glow pulsing through my closed eyelids. Warmth and renewed strength crept through my chest, my arms, my stomach and legs. All of me ached, the central pain still emanating from the bleeding wound. My thoughts coalesced and I found myself staring at the beautiful man in the white shirt and jeans who called himself a god. He repeated his statement and question.

“Is this for real?” I asked. I placed my hand to the wound, as he removed his, and it came away sticky with blood. “Are you serious?”

“You are half human and half god, Lily. You can heal yourself to prove it.”

“Heal myself? What the hell are you talking about?” For some reason, I found myself annoyed by this vision that would not let me die in peace.

“Focus your thoughts on the wound; picture it in your mind, healing, closing, the skin reconnecting. Try, Lily. Do it,” he commanded. I could sense the irritation in his voice, now.

I’ve seen and heard some crazy shit in my day, but this was on a whole new level. Feeling the pain and seeing the blood, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try his little trick. Hell, if all else failed, I could ask him to teleport my ass to the nearest hospital. If this wasn’t the weirdest dream in history, that is. I looked up and saw the bastard smiling as if he had read my thoughts and found them quite amusing. Screw it.

I closed my eyes and placed my hand back over the wound, trying hard to concentrate all of my thoughts on just the wound itself. It wasn’t easy. My head swam and the pain was distracting at best. Still, I decided I wouldn’t give up. I would do my best. Once I set my mind to something, it was a one way street. I guess I’ve always been a bit stubborn.

I grunted with the exertion, but gritted my teeth and directed the wound to heal, seeing it in my mind. I pictured the interior of the bullet hole closing, the flesh knitting itself back together, sealing the channel. The pain lessened and I felt a bit more motivation and my concentration increased. I focused harder, seeing the wound close and the outer skin expand and rejoin to itself. With that final bit of closure, I felt the pain dissipate and relief flooded through me. I angled my head, removed my hand to see a newly healed scar there on my chest.

“Holy shit.”

“Indeed,” he remarked, a smirk of approval plastered across that gorgeous mug of his.

“This really is happening?”

“Yes. Would you like to learn more?”

“Wait,” I said, sitting up. I remembered. “You made me swear something.”

“I made you do nothing. It was your choice.”

“I was dying, you ass! I had no choice.”

“There is always a choice.”

I sat up and fell back into the cushions of the sofa. I remembered the oath, now. I remembered the weight and pressure of it sinking into me, becoming a part of me. “There’s no going back, is there?” I asked.

“No. But, would you really want to?”

“That depends. I don’t even know what you’ve gotten me into.”

“Truth be told, Lily, it was you that got you into this situation. You were the one who robbed Buck. You were shot prior to my arrival, no?” He stared at me with all the smugness of a god. Or, at least, what I would expect would be smugness. He knew damned well what had happened.

“You knew about that,” I stated. As I said it, I remembered that this was the god of prophecy. This bastard probably knew it was going to happen and then just planned to take advantage of me after the fact. “You knew I was going to rob him.”

“It was a distinct possibility but I wasn’t certain. The paths of destiny are winding in the way of a Celtic knot.”

“Nice reference from a Greek god,” I commented. He winked at me.

“It was that which called me to you.” He pointed at the pendant around my neck. The one I had stolen from Buck’s house.

I fingered the bow and arrow, thinking about my actions. “Yours?” He nodded. “Wonderful,” I added, my tone sharp as a Ginzu.

“I think so,” he said, his face lighting up again with that damned pretty smile. “I can teach you all you need to know, Lily. Everything you will ever need to know to survive in this world of myth and mystery into which you have finally stumbled.”

“Why you?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel down this line of questioning but on I drove. “What about my father? Hermes.”

“You have to understand that not all gods take a great deal of interest in their progeny. Sad though that may sound, the fact remains that we are talking about gods here, not humans.” He paused for only a second. “Think about it this way, with regard to your father. You have some very special abilities, correct? One of them being amazing speed?” I nodded in response. “Well,” he continued, “Hermes moves like that most of the time. He rarely ever slows down. Once in a great while he will get to take a break, slow down to normal speed for a short time. Those are most often the times that he has his dalliances with the mortals.”

“Dalliances? That’s what I am? The result of a dalliance?” I tried to be angry but I could only muster up disappointment.

“One thing I promise you, Lily, is that I will never condescend to you. I will never take you for granted and I will never speak anything but the unrefined truth to you. Neither of us have time for nonsense. The world is so much more than you’ve seen so far. And, changes are coming. You and I will affect those changes. We will help guide those who have greater impact than even they know. You are destined for greatness. I’m here to prepare you for that.”

I took a heavy breath and let it out at length. “You talk big, dude.”

“I want you to trust me. I want to trust you.”

“Why me?”

He paused in thought before speaking. “Let’s just say that I see something special in you. I’d like to see you live up to your potential.”

“I’m just a thief. I’m nothing special.”

“Do you really think that?” His tone implied that I didn’t.

I thought about my life to present. I was the only child to a single mother. An orphan. A product of foster care at fourteen, a runaway at fifteen. I was making a living as a professional thief by the time I turned sixteen. And, I was nearly killed during a robbery, today, at seventeen. It had been an interesting life, if nothing else. I did have talents, this was true. If this was not a dream, if this was truly the god Apollo, then I was a demigod. Nevertheless, if I continued on my current path, it sure as hell looked like I was doomed to an early death.

“What are you offering?” I asked him.

“A partnership. Stability. A life of purpose.”

I nodded. It sounded a whole lot better than being tossed out on the streets. “Fine. So, what did you have in mind?”

“A final test.” I watched his smile fade into a serious expression and wondered what I was about to go up against. “A dangerous one. Should you survive, I will provide all that I have promised and more.”

If I survive?” I said. “You do realize that I was just frigging shot.”

“I do. Still, you need to prove yourself. Now that you know who you are and what you are capable of.”

“Prove myself? How?”

“Face Buck Sebo.”

“Shit. You can’t be serious. The guy just tried to kill me.”

“Oh, and he will. You’ve encroached on his territory, stolen from him. He takes attacks on his precious artifacts quite seriously. He will not stop until he finds you and kills you. Trust me.”

“Why should I?”

“Have you not heard anything that I’ve told you?”

“You’re a god. I’m a demigod. You want me to be your secretary. Yeah, I heard.”

“Not secretary. Agent.”

I sat there in shock at the reality of what he was saying, and the weight of the oath swept over me once again, sending a chill creeping up my spine. Face the guy who just tried to kill me? There could be only one outcome of that confrontation. That’s when I knew it.

“Oh, my god,” I said. “You want me to kill him.”

“I want you to face him. The rest is up to the Fates.”

“Bullshit. You know exactly what’ll happen if I get in that guy’s sights. I’m not stupid.”

“No. You’re stubborn and arrogant and a bit naïve, but definitely not stupid.”

I stared at him for several moments. What were my choices? Back to a life of petty crime, maybe life on the streets; or, working for an honest-to-god god. He stood there in silence, awaiting the answer he already knew he would receive. I threw up my hands. “What are my chances?”

“I think that is entirely up to you, my dear. However, I do have the greatest faith in you.”

“That doesn’t help much,” I replied. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

Written by CL Stegall