Mud and dirty water rose up as Gerry pressed his boot into the ground. He pulled it out with a squelch and repeated the process as he walked across the UNC Charlotte campus. The main campus sat northeast of the metropolitan area, so it had avoided Satan and Michael’s rampage through the city, but that didn’t stop the students from fleeing in droves. Now, it was a scholastic graveyard with the occasional squatter that campus police or the Army came through and cleared out twice a day. Unlike most of the structures in the city, the school buildings were still intact, and the UNC system wanted to keep it that way and get kids back to school quickly.
<It’s all about the money.> Gerry thought as he passed a library with a smashed out front window. There was a faint smell of fire in the air. The newly homeless masses had broken in and started to burn books for warmth. The city was on the cusp of winter and things were going to turn into a bigger shitshow soon.
“You hear that?” Gerry stopped walking so he didn’t have to strain over the squishing of his shoes.
He’d chosen his companions for this journey carefully. First impressions were going to be important. Jezebel stood next to Gerry wearing a Laura Croft getup. Adventurous but sexy was how she described it, and he wanted her to bring the sexy.
He almost didn’t want to bring her at all to avoid twenty minutes of her talking about him fucking the power back into her, but she was necessary for this part of the plan. The pros outweighed the cons, so she got to ride shotgun. Also with them was one of Vicky’s soulless and one of the Infernals Gaius had brought with him from Hell. The Soulless was a big bloodsucker in a velour track suit. He would have fit right into some 90s mafia show. The Infernal looked just as big, but that was because of the armor peeking out beneath the XXXL clothes they’d found for him. Gerry didn’t bother learning either of their names.
“There.” Gerry strained his head to the side as music cut through the normal sounds of the night.
“I hopped off the plane at LAX…With a dream and my cardigan…Welcome to the land of fame excess…Whoa…am I gonna fit in?”
“What the hell is that?” Jezebel’s face soured as the bass beat through the air.
The Infernal bodyguard shrugged. This was the first time he’d heard modern music complete with auto-tuning. On the other hand, the Soulless tapped his foot along to the beat.
“So I put my hands up…They’re playing my song…And the butterflies fly away…”
“What is that child screaming about?” Jezebel rolled her eyes and followed Gerry as he set off in the direction of the music.
Gerry didn’t answer her. He kept his thoughts collected and fixed on the mission. He needed this meeting to go well or he was shit out of luck for powerful allies in the city. He ignored the mud as his foot sank nearly ankle deep in the filth, just like he ignored the chorus to the annoying pop song.
“Yeeeaaaaahhhhh, it’s a party in the USA!” Miley’s chorus was overridden by an exuberant male voice as the front door of a nearby frat house clean off its hinges.
The door easily cleared the front lawn, and the perimeter of burning trash cans to crash into the side of a car parked on the street. Since the owner of the car was either dead of fled, Gerry didn’t think they’d care.
The man Gerry wanted to speak to descended the front stairs while wailing on his air guitar to the end of the song. He finished with a flourish of windmills midway between Gerry and the front door. His face was sweaty, his eyes were on fire with passion, and his mouth twitched with excitement as he took in his audience.
“I remember you…from that meeting thingy,” Brock pointed at Gerry while sweeping some of his long hair out of his eyes.
Brock, the Remnant from the previous management of Earth, was broad-shouldered, with a star quarterback’s good looks, and clearly had a flair for throwing parties. The only problem was that he was the only one in attendance.
“Where are my manners,” Brock smacked his forehead with a hand big enough to nearly wrap around Jezebel’s slender neck. “Please come on in.” He motioned over his shoulder for them to follow him.
“Stay alert,” Gerry ordered his small team. He hadn’t missed the slightly unhinged look in Brock’s eyes, but he followed the Remnant anyway.
Gerry had never been inside a frat house, but the upgrade Seere had given him before making him a Dux had given him glimpses into Greek life. Mostly it drew from pop culture films like Animal House, but Brock’s home didn’t miss the mark by much.
It was a pigsty, but that might have more to do with the post-apocalyptic conditions of the city then its tenants. An abundance of red solo cups littered the floor, and the smell of stale beer infused everything. Brock led them down a hallway that needed some spackle, a fresh coat of paint, and through a door into the main common area. It was big, stretching the length of the house, and was filled with everything from couches to beanbags. Several TV’s crowded the space with every gaming system ever invented, and situated in a place of prominence was a full bar. Brock went directly to the top-shelf booze.
“Sure,” Gerry answered before Jezebel could turn Brock down. The look on the lusty Infernal spoke volumes. She was used to being wined and dined by the sophisticated and powerful, not being entertained in a shithole.
Brock moved with practiced precision. Gerry got a scotch on the rocks, Jezebel a Manhattan, and the two guards got plain beer.
“So,” Brock plopped down on a beanbag chair that puffed out decades of stale Dorito farts on impact, “what can I do for you…Gerry.” He snapped his finger in triumph when he remembered Gerry’s name.
“First, thanks for the drink,” Gerry took a long pull and found the scotch to be excellent. “Second, I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“Pass.” Brock answered immediately, spilling his own drink as he waved it back and forth. “I’m not interested in your martial magician crusades. I don’t deal with mortals.”
“Good,” Gerry smiled and summoned his power.
He’d used the throne to top off before they’d left, and his only expenditure so far was powering the four concealment wards he’d carved into Jeb’s Land Rover. That left more than enough to convince Brock he wasn’t some puny mortal.
“Well…tickle my pickle,” the Remnant laughed as waves of æther swirled around Gerry. “You from upstairs or downstairs?” Brock leaned forward to inspect him.
“Downstairs.” Gerry replied as he let his power dissipate.
“Huh,” Brock shrugged as he leaned back in his beanbag and took another gulp of his drink. “So you want me to help you take down the Divine.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.
“I want to know what you want.” Gerry didn’t ram the proposition down Brock’s throat. He needed some leverage before he could convince the Remnant of the worthiness of his cause.
Brock cocked his head to the side and stared into Gerry’s face. He was looking for something, but Gerry didn’t know what.
“Is something burning?” Jezebel’s nose wrinkled next to him.
“Oh shit!” Brock jumped to his feet more fluidly than someone his size should ever be able to, and dashed off to the kitchen. “My roast!”
“What the fuck?” The Infernal bodyguard mumbled, and got a hard glare from Gerry in return.
“Thanks for the heads up sweet cheeks.” Brock winked at Jezebel as he brought a large platter back into the room. His roast sat on top of it, and that roast was clearly a human torso.
Brock plopped back down into his chair, balanced the platter on his knees, and dug into the human flesh with his hands. “You want to know what I want?” he asked between bites. “I want things to go back to the old ways.”
“The old ways?” Gerry repeated.
“Yeah the old ways!” Brock exclaimed as he nibbled on a shoulder. “I’ve been a prisoner in my own world for millennia now. I want things to go back to the way they were.”
“How did things use to be?” Gerry asked. He honestly didn’t know, and it completed part two of his plan.
He’d caught glimpses of the battle for Earth thanks to the memories and knowledge stored in the Throne, but he didn’t know much beyond that. If he was going to fulfill Seere’s final mission and resolve the problems of the past, then he needed to know what had actually happened. The Divine wasn’t going to tell him, Jezebel and Jeb hadn’t been around that long, and all of Seere’s people in hell were dead or worse. That only left the Remnant sitting in front of him to answer his questions.
“Things used to be awesome when great-great-great Grand Daddy ran things.” A blissful expression came over Brock’s face. “Cronus knew how to run shit much better than God.” He spat the last word like it was poison.
“So Cronus was the primordial that created this realm?”
“Yep,” Brock confirmed as he ripped a rib out of the torso and began to strip it clean. “He created all of this, made himself a wife, and then got down to business making his immortal children.”
“The other old gods?” Gerry wanted clarification.
“Yes and no.” Brock raised and hand and wiggled it back and forth. “Cronus wasn’t a one hit wonder like his brother. God made angels and gave up. Cronus experimented. He’d make something new every few years, fuck it, and start a new immortal race. Just about every mythical creature in history is some descendent of Cronus. Well…not all of them,” Brock corrected. “Human have got crazy imaginations.”
Gerry nodded along for Brock to continue. This was gold.
“I like to think we were his favorites.” Brock pointed to himself. “At least that was what my dad said. Do you know I’m descended from his first child?” Brock went off on a tangent. “Cronus and his first-made wife, Rhea, did the nasty and gave birth to Hyperion. Hyperion got with his sister from Cronus’ coupling with his second-made wife, Theia, and they made Prometheus. Don’t judge,” he caught the disgusted look on the Soulless guard’s face. “When there is only a handful of your race in existence you’re going to mingle. “So,” Brock tried to remember where he’d left off. “It went Cronus, Hyperion, Prometheus, and then my dad Zeus.” Brock finished off his drink and got up to get another.
Gerry tried to piece it all together during the story’s interlude. He wasn’t a student of the Classics, but he was pretty sure that wasn’t how things had gone. In fact, he was pretty sure there was a story about Zeus punishing Prometheus for something he’d done.
Brock seemed to know where his mind was at when he returned. “Yeah, don’t believe anything humans wrote down. Cronus created them to, but they were just meant to be food.”
“Food?” The only person in the room that looked mildly disgusted was the Soulless who used to be human.
“Yeah, food.” Brock confirmed. “We’re all descendent of a primordial being, a creature of æther, so we require æther to survive as well, and what better way to get it than through digestion.” He took a big bite for emphasis and moaned with satisfaction.
“So, Cronus made humans for the livestock of his children…all his children, not just the pseudo human-looking ones, and everyone was happy for hundreds of years.” Brock sighed as he remembered happier times. “Humans worshiped us as gods. They weren’t as smart as they are now, but smart enough to be entertaining and follow instructions. Family BBQs were the best.” He smiled. “We all used to fuck with each other and tell the humans stories, which became the modern myths, which is why they’re all bullshit.”
“Like Zeus and Prometheus. Your father and grandfather.”
“Yeah!” Brock laughed. “That was a good one. Dad punishing Gramps for brining fire to humanity.” He put fire in air quotes. “Truth was that Gramps was a wizard on the grill. He brought fire to humans in a more literal sense.”
Most people would have been sickened to hear this information, but Gerry was from Hell. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“Dad also didn’t fuck everything with a hole. He only had three kids with my mom, Hera: me, Ares, and Athena. Athena was the oldest, Ares was the brooding middle child, and I’m the baby. Mom loved to dote on me. I think I got my knack for party planning from her.”
“And then God ruined everything,” Gerry cut off the rendition of Brock’s family saga, and the Remnant’s face darkened.
“He ruined everything.” The air shook a bit with Brock’s anger. “Cronus said he saw God’s own singular creations getting restless. They were all supposed to be hoity-toity choir boys and girls, but a bunch didn’t want to sit on their thumbs and rotate for eternity, so he gave them something to do. He gave them a war.”
“My whole family was killed by angels one by one. Only Gramps and I survived, and I’m pretty sure he’s living as a hermit somewhere to avoid notice. Then, after God defeated Cronus, he felt bad for the humans, or he saw them as his key to power. He messed with them, made them smarter, and tweaked their souls and the ætherial rules of the realm so he gets all the power. He even tweaked us too.” Brock shivered at the thought.”
“How?” Gerry didn’t know this part.
“Like I said we’re ætherial creatures, and need æther to survive. Since God had his new pets running around he needed to put us on a leash, so he made it so we could feed off their excess emotions. It kept us weaker, but it kept us alive. I’ve spent the last two thousand years throwing parties just so I can get a full meal.”
“Two thousand…that’s all?”
“Time works different in the different realms. The rebellion in Heaven happened nearly right after the war here on Earth, but to the angels it seemed like decades passed. All God did was delay the inevitable.”
“Kind of fucks up the whole timelines of existence,” Gerry added.
“It’ll only make your brain hurt if you think about it.”
“But only two thousand years. That means the battle for humanity would have happen…”
“Smack dab at the height of the Roman Empire…yep,” Brock confirmed.
“But how…?” Gerry didn’t get it. “There’s no evidence that.”
“We weren’t going to fight among the food supply. We aren’t animals.” Brock took another bite. “We used Antarctica.”
“Yeah. It used to be nice and green until it got glassed and covered in snow from the fighting. Some happened in space to. God and Cronus didn’t want to destroy the planet and all of their creations in the process.”
Gerry’s head was swimming. “And now you want to go back to the old days.”
“Yeah, and this mess with Satan and Michael has allowed me to pregame.” Brock grinned as he swallowed another mouthful of flesh.
“You knew it was them who destroyed the city?”
“I’ve seen them fight before.” Brock shivered at the memory. “Of course, they were on the same side back then.”
“It seems like you’ve got a lot of unresolved issues with the Divine.” Gerry brought the conversation back around to the topic at hand. “Would you be willing to do something about it?”
“Depends.” Brock’s answer was not the one Gerry was hoping for.
“I’ve already fought and lost one war against God and his winged, asshole children. I barely survived that one. I want to be on the winning side.”
“That’s the problem with war, Brock. You don’t know the winning side until it’s all over. I bet Cronus thought he was going to win. God thought he was going to. You’ve got to fight it out to see.”
“True.” Brock scratched his chin. “Then I at least want to reunite with my remaining family. Make that happen and I’ll fight with you.”
“We can make that happen.” Gerry had no idea how, but he should be able to find another Remnant, especially if Brock had an idea of where he was.
“In the meantime, we want you to start working with us. We can start covertly so we don’t arouse the Divine’s suspicions. You can pass intel or anything else the Divine sends your way. Pretend to ally with them. I’m sure they’ll come asking the same thing we did.”
“I’m sure they will, but if I’m going to be covertly working with you until my Gramps, then I want to blatantly be tapping that ass.” Brock pointed a large finger right at Jezebel.
“Done.” Gerry finalized the deal, stood, and shook Brock’s hand. He did it all while feeling the burning hatred coming from Jezebel. Thankfully, the lust Infernal waited until they were back outside to chew him out.
“What the fuck! You aren’t my pimp, Gerry!”
“No, I’m your Dux.” Gerry flexed his power. It slammed into Jezebel and smashed her to her knees. “You’ve been complaining for a while about not being at full power. Well…here is a chance for you to fuck a powerful Remnant. I’m sure you’ll get something out of the deal.” He released his hold and Jezebel rose back to her feet.
She was still seething with anger, but didn’t say anything as they walked back to the parked Land Rover.
<I got to kill two birds with one stone.> He got the info he wanted, a more complete look at what happened on Earth millennia ago, and got to keep his dick out of Jezebel’s Infernal grip.
It was a pretty successful trip if he said so himself.