Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Greek Gods and Sparkly Vampires

There are quite a few things out there that should never, ever go together:
  • bleach and ammonia
  • cheese and seafood
  • football and golf
  • rap and Bollywood
  • boiled eggs and beer
  • polka dots and plaid
  • drinking and driving
  • math class and karaoke
  • and my new favorite: cold medicine and a Twilight movie marathon
You're probably thinking, okay, I get all but the last.  Right?  Though I personally have always wondered about the cheese and seafood--I like my seafood fettuccine alfredo just fine, but the judges on Chopped have absolutely nothing good to say about the combination.

Still, cold medicine and Twilight movie marathon was what I went through this weekend.  I'd taken plenty of the former to help myself suffer through the agony of the flu and bronchitis smushed together.  The latter was what my wife was really into on TV while I was trying to take a nap.  I couldn't really sleep, so I kept dozing in and out as the exploits of sparkly vampires and buff werewolves were played out in front of my somewhat-open eyes and all-too-open subconscious. 

The result?  I woke up with the strangest scene EVER written on the backs of my eyeballs.

How strange?  Well, combine Greek gods and sparkly vampires.  No, I'm not kidding.  That strange.

I left it there, too, hoping that like most of my story ideas it would dissipate over time, falling off of the edges of my consciousness. Nope.  Didn't happen.  It hung  on right there, daring me, commanding me even to write it.  Write me!  Write me!  Its voice was--well, undeniable.

Put simply, I had to write it.

And I did.

So here it is.  I can't present it commercially even if I wanted it, as it's technically "fan fiction" because over half of the characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.  But I have to inflict it upon someone else, so here goes:

---------------------Bella meets Ares---------------

Bella loped easily through the woods beside Edward, both her and her mate glowing in sated pleasure.  The Cullen coven had experienced a few lean years after the cataclysm had wiped all but the werewolves and the vampires from the area, but the animals had slowly returned and, with no human competition, the coven and the tribe now both flourished.
Attuned as Bella was to Edward’s expressions, she caught the flicker of concern that flashed across his face as he sped up.  She matched his pace, asking, “What is it?”
“Trouble at home,” he said, darting between the trees.
“Figured that.  What kind of trouble, darling husband?” 
 “I don’t know.  I can read concern from Emmett, Jasper, and Alice, but there’s also a big blank spot.”
“Another shield?”  Her own powers kept Edward from reading her, but they had hoped she was unique in that ability.
“I hope not.  Besides, if it’s a shield, it’s an awfully big one.”
The pair ran the remaining miles to the mansion in silence, emerging from the woods to be greeted by a strange sight.  Emmett, Jasper, and Alice stood on the front porch, their postures defensively confronting two strangers.  Bella blinked as she came to a stop; she hadn’t seen strangers in the neighborhood since after the destructive tidal waves and earthquakes. 
The man stood at his ease, either unaware or unconcerned that he was now surrounded by vampires.  His black flowing silk shirt accentuated a muscular build that rivaled Emmett’s, but his wide smile had an easy-going charm to it that negated any threat.  His companion, though, radiated danger.  She sported a lean, wiry frame with biceps that looked like steel cables.  The thin-lipped grin stretched across her face might have been intended for pleasant, but between it and her silvery-grey eyes Bella could easily see that the woman was a predator.  Her metallic silver hair fell across her shoulders—so maybe she was a 1980’s predator, Bella thought.
“Ah, more of you are here,” the man said, looking across his charismatic smile to Bella and Edward.  “A telepath, and—oh, my, a shield.  How wonderful to find one of your powers.  And you’re mated, yes?  I can’t imagine a telepath being happily mated to anyone but a shield, to be honest.  My own lovely bride and I take great care to—well, that’s neither here nor there.  It is outstanding to meet the two of you.”
Edward returned the man’s pleasant greeting with a cautious nod, his body rigid in his anticipation of a battle.  Bella smiled at the man’s kind words in spite of herself.  He didn’t seem dangerous, after all.
“Who are you?” Edward challenged, glancing Alice’s direction.  Alice, catching Edward’s request, shook her head slightly; she could read the man no more than he could. 
“Oh, well, see, that’s the thing.  I’ve offered to introduce myself a couple of times, but I’d prefer to only do it once, and that to Doctor Cullen.  And all of you who wish to be there as well, of course.  Your good brethren, though, insist that the doctor is indisposed at the moment and cannot be disturbed.  It has us at an impasse, I’m afraid.”
“What is your business with Doctor Cullen?” Edward asked through narrowed teeth.
“He is your coven leader, is he not?”
Bella sensed Jasper’s eagerness to strike.  She could read it on his face, on the way his body leaned toward the stranger with all muscles tensed.  She understood why; the stranger somehow knew way too much about them.  He was a threat and needed to be dealt with unless, or possibly whether or not, he came clean on his reason for being there.
Alice, though, held Jasper’s violence at bay with an expression of caution.   She was obviously unsettled, and completely unsure what to do about it.
The stranger swiveled his head Jasper’s direction and said in a less-friendly voice, “You should not do that.  I came in peace and have no desire for a fight with you or anyone else on these grounds, but if you start one you might be surprised at the finish.”
“What is your business with Doctor Cullen?” a new voice sounded as Carlisle stepped out onto the porch.  Bella was careful not to show relief; Doctor Cullen seemed to be trying to fish for answers without making an appearance as himself.
“Ah, Carlisle.  How good to see you again,” the man said.  There went that idea.
The coven leader shook his head.  “I remember everyone I’ve ever come into contact with, but I don’t remember you, stranger.”
“No, of course you don’t.  I’m Matthew, by the way.  I have gone by many names over the years, but Matthew is the name I took on at birth.  My companion is my friend Sorscha.”
“So why don’t I recognize you?”
“You were very near death when we met the first time.  You were rambling, something about not becoming one of them, as I recall.”
Carlisle’s eyes narrowed as the rest of the coven—they’d been joined by the rest of the vampires as well as Renesmee and Jacob—looked back and forth between the stranger and him.  He said, “You’re not—one of our kind.  How could you possibly have been there several hundred years ago?”
Matthew shrugged.  “You’re not the only long-lived—kind—that exist.  I’ve outlived your kind by quite a stretch.  Look, you might know who I am better if I tell you that the Greek civilization built temples to me and worshipped me under the name of Ares.”
“Ares?” Bella asked.  “As in the Greek god Ares?  But that’s impossible.  That’s just mythology.”
Matthew snorted and turned to her, raising his arms with palms up.  He said, “Have you ever heard what the vampire said to the werewolf after both had been away for several days?  ‘I mythed you.’”
Carlisle snorted at the joke, prompting Matthew to turn to Sorscha and announce, “Rough crowd.”
“Vampires usually are,” Sorscha said, grinning.  As her lips opened, Bella saw that the woman’s teeth were all sharpened rather than flat.  She felt a chill that was immediately intensified as Sorscha’s eyes grasped and held hers.  Bella shuddered; she’d thought vampires were the greatest predators, but one glance had her questioning that.
Carlisle eased the tension by clearing his throat and saying, “So, if we assume for a moment that you’re telling the truth, we’re still left with the difficult question of why the ancient god of war would show up on my doorstep wanting to talk to me.  Don’t you gods just hang out up on Olympus?”
“Some hang out there more than others.  The trickster who initiated the mutation that creates your kind likes to hang out there a lot.   To create balance, another of my colleagues initiated the mutation that creates the wolf-men like him over there.  She hangs out on the planet in the woods a lot, though.  Me?  I just go every so often for a drink or two—ex-wife and all, you know.”
“And you’re here why?” Edward challenged.  Bella could tell her husband was losing his patience.
“Easy, big guy,” the god of war said with a chuckle.  “I just need to talk to you about the Volturi.”
“That’s easy,” Emmett said.  “The first rule of the Volturi, you don’t talk about the Volturi.  Have a nice day.”
Matthew glared at Emmett and said, “You really do want a fight, don’t you?”
Emmett shrugged.  “Bring it on.”
“No,” Carlisle said.  “We’ll fight if we have to, but I won’t have my own picking a fight.  That said, Emmett is right.  We don’t talk about the Volturi.”
“You’re that afraid of them?” Matthew asked.
Carlisle waved Jasper back.  “Peace, Jasper.  No, we are not afraid of the Volturi.  We are, however, respectful of their wishes.”
Matthew snorted and said, “Yes, that’s why you were so happy that they chose not to fight last time.  Are you aware that in the short time since the cataclysm the Volturi have added to their ranks significantly?  That they’ve nearly doubled their force?  They haven’t come after you yet, but you have to admit that it’s only a matter of time.  You know that, don’t you, Carlisle?”
After several quiet moments Carlisle nodded once, his chin moving down and then back up tersely.  He said, “I know that.  So what are you suggesting, god of war?”
“Well, first I’m suggesting that you be willing to talk about the Volturi.”
“Here’s the deal, then,” the man who claimed to be a god said, “for over three thousand years we’ve watched the Volturi grow in power, satisfied that there was enough balance of power to stand against them.  Now, we are convinced that they have reached the point that there is no longer a power great enough to hold them in check.”
“Who’s we?” Edward interrupted, drawing a glare from Carlisle.
“’We’ in this case is the Olympian gods and goddesses.   We met and decided it was time to invite the Volturi to step down a notch or two in power.”
“Yeah, that’ll happen,” Bella snorted, drawing a rebuking glare.
“Yes, it will, one way or another,” Matthew said.  The daggers in his voice, combined with the leer on Sorscha’s face, caused Bella to wonder why she could still feel chills in her vampiric spine. 
“But we’re not the Volturi,” Carlisle objected.  “You must have a reason to be here talking to us.  What is it?”
“Some vampires are easier to locate than others.  You live in a big glass-fronted house on a hill.  The Volturi reside in several ancient stone buildings.”
“You came to us to get practice finding vampires, then?” Rosalie asked.
Matthew snorted and said, “No, I can eventually find anyone I set my mind to.  I came to you, Doctor Cullen, for your help in getting to them without them scattering into the spires.”
“You must really be powerful if you are mostly concerned about the Volturi scattering before you can get to them,” Carlisle said.  Jasper snorted; Carlisle didn’t bother glaring.  “Most people, most vampires, would be more worried about their own death before reaching them.”
Matthew shrugged.  Suddenly the six-foot-tall muscular man disappeared, replaced by a giant that towered well over twice the height.  The giant reached over with one arm and lifted Carlisle from the porch, holding the coven leader at eye level.  The beast’s voice rumbled, “I am quite powerful, yes.  Your children, meanwhile, are annoying.  Would you like to call them off me, or should I kill them?”
When the god lifted Carlisle, Emmett, Jasper, and Edward had launched themselves into a fight.  Bella watched, both horrified and amused at the trio’s lack of effectiveness.  Emmett and Jasper both bounced off of an invisible force field that surrounded the god, while the god’s eyes turned to watch Edward sail through a powerful leaping attack.  With his free arm Matthew moved faster than Bella could see, catching Edward around the waist and holding him out at arm’s length.  Edward kicked and scratched to no avail, and then he bent his body over and bit the arm.  He tried to bite the arm, Bella corrected herself, as for the first time ever she watched a vampire’s teeth repulsed. 
“Stop,” Carlisle said, and the three attacking Cullens obeyed.
The giant put Carlisle down and transformed back to normal height. 
“Do I have a choice in whether or not to help you?” Carlisle asked.
“It’s a long trip, you know.  Since you’re a god, though, you can probably just wrinkle your nose and zap us there.”
“I’m a god, not a genie.  I don’t wrinkle my nose.  You’re right that I could portal us there, but that might be a little hard on your system.  How about if we fly instead?”
“You can fly?” Alice asked.  “I’ve always wanted to fly.”
“Ye of little faith…” Matthew mused, shaking his head.  “I can sparkle.  You didn’t ask if I could sparkle, but I can.  See?”  Bella had to agree; Matthew sparkled just like a vampire.  He continued, “That was actually a stupid little trick Hermes put in there to get Aphrodite’s attention.  But of course I can fly, with or without a dragon.  With a dragon is easier.  Let’s go, then.”
Bella suddenly understood the appreciation she’d had of Sorscha’s predator status when Matthew mentioned dragon.  She’d never believed dragons existed, of course, but then again she’d never believed Greek gods or vampires or werewolves existed either.  But the gleam in Sorscha’s eyes, the sharp fangs she’d bared once—those could only belong to a fierce predator.  A dragon.
She didn’t have long to imagine it.  Sorscha quickly leaped onto a bare spot in the lawn and transformed.  Bella gasped, and then questioned herself.  She’d watched Jake and his pack transform from man to wolf and back many times.  She’d seen the god transform into—well, a bigger god.  But the dragon transformation was truly breathtaking.  In just over a second—a relative lifetime in the vampire eyes she now saw the world through—the lithe silver-haired woman became a tremendous silver-scaled beast.  In dragon form, she looked large enough to carry the entire Cullen clan. 
Matthew leaped, landing gracefully on the dragon’s back just behind its withers.  Smiling, he called down to Carlisle, “Come on, doctor.  Don’t tell me a vampire needs help jumping a few feet.”
Carlisle leaped, landing behind the god just as gracefully. 
“And here I thought the god of war had a chariot drawn by four demon horses,” Alice said, her voice carrying.
“I do,” Matthew said.  “I used it back in Greek and Roman times when they didn’t believe in dragons.”
“But they did believe in demon horses?”
“So why don’t you ride in that chariot now?”
“Because riding a dragon is cooler.  Now, let’s go!” Matthew bellowed, and Sorscha vaulted into the sky, a cry of joy trumpeting from her lips.  Bella and the rest of the Cullen clan watched as the shiny silver form of the dragon winged up and then farther away, finally vanishing into the eastern sky.
Carlisle was amazed at how easily the large creature was able to come to a landing.  He watched the ground rising toward them as the wings extended their fullest, and suddenly they were motionless.  Even the private jets he’d landed in hadn’t been that skillful.
It had been exhilarating, though.  Being a vampire, he didn’t have to breathe, and neither apparently did the god, so they’d been able to climb to well above the elevations where oxygen was normally available.  Sorscha had seemed to enjoy it as much as Carlisle did, trumpeting loudly with each climbing and diving series. 
Now the serious work began, though.  He’d seen how powerful Matthew was when faced with the physical attacks of his three ‘sons,’ but that wasn’t the same as an attack by the entirety of the Volturi security legion.  Carlisle knew that the Volturi wouldn’t accept the excuse that he’d been forced to bring him, so his fate was tied to the god’s. 
“Go eat,” Matthew told the dragon.  Sorscha transformed back into a humanoid and shook her head. 
She said, “If it’s all the same, I’ll go along,” and picked up the clothing that had appeared on the ground beside her.  Carlisle had been too amazed by the initial transformation to notice that she’d stripped down just prior, but it made sense that she’d have to do so.
“You won’t have room to transform back in the stone buildings,” Matthew said.
“Since when has that stopped me?”
“Good point.  Fine, come along.”
Carlisle observed, “I wouldn’t have guessed that the god of war would let his dragon speak to him in fairly insubordinate tones.”
Matthew shrugged and said, “There’s a lot you wouldn’t guess, starting with the fact that she’s been my companion, and my sidekick in battle, for hundreds of millions of years.  Very nearly since the earth began, in fact.  She’s more than capable of holding her own in battle, no matter which shape she’s in, if that’s your concern.  And she’s earned her right to speak to me as she needs to.  Now, I’m betting that the Volturi already know we’re here, so let’s be off on our mission.”
Carlisle led the god and his companion through the now-deserted town, much of which now sat in ruins thanks, he presumed, to the disasters that had killed so many near Forks as well.  He noticed several security patrols that clearly noticed them but decided to let them pass.  Finally they approached the door that led to the great throne room of the Volturi.
It didn’t surprise Carlisle that there were two Volturi guards standing watch over the entrance.  It did surprise him that they allowed the trio to pass without question.
They entered the throne room to find the Volturi leaders seated and apparently waiting on them.  Aro sat in the middle, a customary wide grin on his face, Caius and Marcus to his sides bearing no expressions.  As he’d expected, Alec and Jane stood behind the thrones, their dangerous presence looming.
The door thudded closed behind them, finality in the sound.  Carlisle strode several feet into the room and then stopped, Matthew behind and to the right, Sorscha behind and to his left.  Around them Carlisle could sense the thirty other members of the Volturi guard taking positions. 
The Volturi were prepared for a battle.
This was going to be more dangerous than he’d thought, Carlisle realized.
“Carlisle!” Aro called out, false joy ringing in his voice.  “How grand to see you.  Whatever did I do to earn a visit from you?  And to have you bring me such luscious visitors, too.”
A shocked expression on Jane’s face and faint muttering around the circle told Carlisle that the Volturi were discovering the same things about their ‘luscious visitors’ that his coven had learned.  Aro raised his hand to silence the muttering.   Rising, he walked slowly across the throne room, reaching out his hand toward Carlisle.  As he walked, he said, “Or maybe not such luscious visitors.  My old friend, you’d better let me help you to a seat.”
Knowing Aro’s powerful ability to read all of his current and past thoughts in touching his hand, Carlisle started to shrink back.  He didn’t have to move far, though, as Matthew and Sorscha both stepped forward to stand between the two clan leaders.
“I’ve known men to refer to my companion here as ‘luscious,’” the god of war said drily, “though they didn’t live long after it.  Still, I wouldn’t have thought I was your type.”
Aro sneered at Matthew and reached out to brush him out of the way to get to Carlisle.  Matthew snorted, and Aro sailed backward, landing against the bottom stair of the dais on his butt.  He rose slowly, brushing his robes off slowly and with affected care.  Finally he finished his grooming show, smiled warmly once again at his visitors, and nodded slightly.
The attack came from both sides, four vampires each.  Matthew and Sorscha clearly were expecting it, though, as the pair split.  Sorscha moved to just in front of Carlisle and took up a guard position, while Matthew moved nearly instantaneously to the center of the room and stood, waiting.
The pair’s movement, faster even than a vampire would think possible, brought the attackers up short as all eight nearly collided where the man and woman had been standing.  Wordlessly they separated, four moving toward Matthew’s unprotected back and four stalking toward Sorscha, who was already in a crouch.
The four stalking toward Sorscha were in for a surprise.  They’d clearly grown too used to relying on their impressive psychic abilities to render their opponents ready to defeat.  Now that their abilities weren’t working, they attacked clumsily.  Sorscha took advantage of the clumsiness, kicking on in the chest as she pivoted underneath a second and tripped him.  Carlisle watched as she skipped right past one, moving faster than a vampire could react, and took his head off with a flip of her forearm.  The fourth likewise found himself headless with the second swipe of Sorscha’s foot.  By then the other two were back and approached more cautiously, but they still proved no match for the dragon’s great speed and strength. 
Captivated by the incredible display of unarmed fighting prowess, Carlisle almost missed the attack on Matthew.  Two more from each side, having watched the dragon handling their comrades easily, leaped in toward the apparently-easier man who stood silently in the center of the room.  The timing of their attack was perfect as the four from behind and the four from the sides leapt in simultaneously, all emitting wicked hisses as they flew through the air.
Carlisle watched transfixed as Matthew stood still through the leaps, hands down to his side.  The doctor’s vampiric vision tracked every instant of their flights as they converged closer and closer in to the god.  Each prepared a slashing or biting attack as they flew. 
He expected to see the same as had happened with Emmett, Jasper, and Edward: a force field repulsion of the attackers.  Carlisle gasped as, within fractions of a second of the attacks landing, a red sword appeared in the god’s hand.  It spun a blazing circular path and then ended stuck through the chest of one of the attackers.  He had a brief moment to wonder what the god would do for the remaining attackers without his sword when he saw them all land, headless and dead. 
Matthew gestured contemptuously, a flick of his hand that caused all eight corpses to blaze up in fire.  He then held out his right hand and the red sword reappeared in it.  He advanced on Aro, but Felix intercepted the god’s path.
“Who are you?” Felix asked.
“That is none of your concern, Your Ugliness.  Now, step aside so I may speak to your leader,” Matthew replied.
With a roar, Felix reached for the god, whose reaction forced a gasp from Carlisle’s mouth.  The vampire was known as the fastest and strongest of all vampires, yet Matthew flicked his hand away and grabbed the monster by the throat.  Pulling Felix’s face close to his, Matthew growled.  He opened his mouth, and fire flew out and into Felix’s mouth.  The Volturi guard, the brawler of brawlers, stood unmoving for several seconds, his face turning redder and redder.  Finally his body burst, ashes falling onto the floor.
Aro’s gasp matched Carlisle’s.  “Who—who are you?” Aro asked, climbing backward onto the dais.
Matthew followed, saying, “I am the god of retribution.  The god of justice.  The god who destroys vampire clans that get too big for themselves.”
Caius, Marcus, Alex, and Jane all took up defensive positions in front of their leader, hissing at the god.  Matthew laughed, the peal of his laughter causing bells in the tower to vibrate in harmonic resonance. 
“Little vampires, you have been the source of others’ fear for so long that you do not know how to handle it within yourselves,” Matthew said.  He flicked his hand, and all four burst into flames, screaming as they went down.  He continued his approach on Aro. 
“Do I not get a court of judgment?  Do I not get to press my own defense?” Aro asked, still backpedaling across the dais away from Matthew.
“Would you prefer that I give you a court of judgment similar to that you have given others?  One that is already predestined to go the way of acquisition or death?  Or that I just take the shorter, easier path?”
“My lord god, I have never….”
“Oh yes, you have.  Never attempt to lie to a god.  I read your thoughts as easily as you read others’ palms.”
“Then I appeal to your mercy.”
“My mercy?  Kneel, then.”  Matthew growled the last as he reached Aro, who had run out of room to back up.
Aro dropped to his knees, pressing his lips to Matthew’s proffered hand.  Around the hand, Carlisle could hear Aro say, “In exchange for your wise mercy, oh great one, I shall never again….”
Aro’s head rolled away from his body, coming to a stop against a rear leg of the central throne.  Matthew twirled his conjured red sword once and then allowed it to blink out of existence again.  He flicked his fingers and Aro’s body joined the others in flames.
“Did I or did I not tell him to never attempt to lie to a god?” Matthew growled as he stalked back to the center of the room.  He stopped in the middle and glared at the remaining Volturi guards, each of whom was doing his best to stand innocently. 
“Your leader went down and you just stood watching?” Matthew asked them all.  “You’re the kind of guards a leader does not need, I think.”
“We recognized your power, great one,” one said.
A bolt of fire shot out from Matthew’s hand, burning the speaker to the ground.  He growled, “How many times do I have to say to never attempt to lie to a god?  Now, the rest of you have a choice.  You can either swear fealty to the Cullen clan, if the clan will have you at all, or you can move off and start clans of your own.  Never should you attempt to join together in another version of the Volturi clan, though, for if you do, I promise I shall be there to hunt you down and kill you.  Do you understand me?”
They all nodded.  Carlisle set out on the long process of interviewing each one, determining which former Volturi members he was willing to accept into his own coven.  The number was small. 
As they landed in Forks, Carlisle asked, “You didn’t really need me to get in to see the Volturi, did you?”
“Of course not.  But you needed to see what transpired.”
“So that I’ll never be tempted to raise a coven as powerful as the Volturi, you mean.”
“So that you’ll know the penalty for raising a coven that attempts to be more powerful than anything else on the planet, actually.  Right now, you need to be a powerful coven.  The other covens need that as well.  As rotten as they were, the Volturi formed a power block against which none of the other vampire clans were willing to revolt.  Now that they’re gone—and word will spread quickly, as I’m sure you know—a power vacuum exists.  You’re the only clan in the position to fill it, thanks to the damage the Volturi had already done.  If you don’t step up, there will be open warfare.  Not that I mind warfare,” Matthew finished with a grin.
“I’ll prepare my coven to take its place, then,” Carlisle said into the night sky as the god and dragon flew away.

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