As I struggle to return to a regular writing and blogging schedule, a big part of that routine is writing flash fiction every week, usually as part of the Terribleminds challenge. This week, the goal is to tell a story using a photo, or provide a photo for others to use. Upon seeing this photo on Terribleminds, I had to run with one of my favorite concepts – old gods and demi-gods in a new world.
For a long time, both of them stared at the sign. Neither of them said a word.
A rickety old Ford truck rattled by them, the headlamps playing off of the letters, the glass, the metal of the news box. The taller figure, a willowy man looking to be in his early twenties, could not take amber eyes from the black block letters. The shorter, stockier onlooker turned to look upwards towards the angular face framed by the streetlamps.
“You can’t tell me you weren’t expecting this.”
“It’s madness.” The tall person shook his head. “Some of my kin have always treated the secrecy with which we’ve operated for centuries as inconvenient. But this?” Long fingers made an exasperated gesture at the sign. “It’s like she wants to expose the mortals to our realms.”
“I thought you two were on good terms. What happened?”
The taller figure shook his head, reaching into his pocket for a small cardboard packet. He flipped up the top, removed a thin black filtered cigar, and placed it between his lips. A snap of his fingers brought wisps of faerie fire around his thumb, which he held to the stick until the tip glowed.
“That midsummer night all of those turns ago. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me for my conduct.”
“That? Are you joking? A few drops of love potion are a petty thing. A bit of rain washes them away. It isn’t worth killing you, and this could put all of us in terrible danger.”
Oberon puffed out a ring of cherry-tinged smoke. “Even so many of us in one place?”
“We are not who we used to be, my young friend. Gone are the days of pungent, sweet sacrifice in the town square, even if the sacrifice was for some petty, selfish end, or arranged to be a form of deception.” There was a short, derisive snort. “As if piling the best bits on top of the offal would work more than once.”
“Mere mortals, deceive the mighty Zeus? Such a preposterous notion.”
“Upjumped whelp.” Zeus was smiling, though, even bitterly, as he prodded the faerie king with an elbow. “Still, my point is that nowadays we must sustain ourselves on scraps. Retold tales and Hollywood casting.”
Oberon nodded. “How often do you get told ‘I thought you’d be taller’?”
Zeus frowned. “I am not that short. 5-foot-9 by the American reckoning. And I used to be taller.”
“We all used to be taller.”
Neither of them spoke for a moment. Oberon finished his cigar, dropping it to the gravel and crushing it under his designer bootheel.
“Come on. Let’s go inside. We’re likely to be starting soon.”
As they walked, Oberon glanced over his shoulder at the sign again. Titania. What are you up to? While his queen was given to experience periods of great melancholy, especially of late, this sort of blatant disregard for the secrecy in which their ilk operated was lunacy. It simply did not fit with how Titania tended to operate, nor did it make sense even in the context of striking back against a perceived wrong.
But if not Titania, then who?
The pair of them entered the hotel’s conference room, rented out and set up for the occasion. There were over a hundred individuals gathered, having arrived from all over the world. Some were dressed in their traditional garb, in flagrant defiance of any modern fashion sensibilities. Others had invested in true top-flight fashions from the current age. Despite some of them wearing different mortal forms, due to one calamity or another, Oberon knew all of them on sight.
“Well, well, well. Aren’t we a brave one?”
Oberon turned slowly. The woman who spoke was of a height with him, gliding silently across the carpeted floor, the dark, textured fabric of her dress taking the shape of her hips and thighs as she moved. Her hair, piled into a stylish coif of curls, was ebony, shot through with silver and snow-white. She studied Oberon with ice-blue eyes, bringing a flute of wine to lips the color of frozen mulberries.
Even in a room full of their peers, Oberon knew better than to speak the name of Mab aloud. She smiled more broadly at him.
“Still cautious, after all of this time? No pleasantries for me? How long has it been?”
Oberon narrowed his eyes. “Not long enough for me to forget your desire to bring all of fae under your heel.”
Mab pouted, for a moment, then looked down at her shoes. “But they’re such nice heels.”
“I am not in a gaming mood. We have many matters to discuss tonight, beyond our personal entanglements.”
“But entanglements lend spice to life, my nephew.”
He shook his head. “Are you here for the price on my head?”
“What need have I for that reward, steep as it might be? You must know that if I wanted you…” Mab’s eyes met his for a long, disquieting moment that smoldered like the embers of a hearth. “…I would already have you.”
Oberon swallowed. Mab was a wily creature, and definitely preferred this sort of persuasion to anything blatant. His eyes narrowed, and he seized upon a more likely notion. “Excuse me.”
Turning, he moved with haste back out into the parking lot.
“Puck! Robin Goodfellow! Stand ye forth!”
Instead of the expected silence, Oberon’s command was met with the immediate appearance of a genteel-looking sprite, of a height with Oberon, dressed in a suit.
“Were you hoping the hunters would do your dirty work?”
Puck laughed. “If you could handle them, you prove yourself worth of kingship. If not, Puck claims the reward and your throne.”
“Call off the hunters, Robin, and let us have done between us.”
The sprite’s eyes narrowed. “And let you cower indoors with your skyfather friends? Nay, my king. You have much to prove.”
Oberon gestured. A crystal rapier appeared in his hand.
“So be it, Puck. Allez.”