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The silence that followed the battle against Poseidon was just one more unnerving experience for Micon. The blood still pounded through his ears and his breath came in heaving gasps, but everything else was still and quiet. Philippus had poked at the lifeless tentacles of the giant squid before slumping down to the deck, back against the hull, eyes closed in a mix of exhaustion and relief. Nadina had quietly stepped aboard the Sun Barge from the corpse of Poseidon which gently bobbed alongside, its tentacles still pinned to the vessel by magical tree tendrils. He watched as she retrieved her helmet – he couldn’t help but think of it as hers, even though it was originally the war helm of Ares – and somberly placed it on her head and pulled her battered cloak around her. She held the War God’s spear in front of her with both hands, a vertical barrier between Nadina and the rest of the world. Her hands were splattered with blood but her knuckles were ivory white.
Micon pulled himself back up onto his feet and surveyed the devastation he had helped cause. Much of the port side of the Sun Barge, where Poseidon’s cephalapod incarnation still lolled, was a brutal war zone. Blood dripped and pooled next to hacked tentacles and grotesquely questing plant tendrils. Micon became aware of the large knife in his hand. He wanted to drop it, to deny that this carnage was linked to him in any way but his fingers refused to release their grip.
The roaring in his ears finally subsided enough for the gentle lapping of the sea to be heard again. He gingerly explored his surroundings with his newly acquired supernatural perception but everything appeared normal. Everything apart from the quiet chuckling coming from behind him. He turned and saw Philippus, eyes still closed, burst into full laughter. Micon staggered over and nudged him with his foot. Philippus paused, opened one eye to appraise his friend and then erupted into more hysterical guffawing. He toppled onto his side and slapped the deck with his hand, completely overcome with mirth.
“What?” Asked Micon. “What’s funny?”
Philippus gradually pulled himself together and rubbed the tears from his eyes. He took a few deep breaths and blew air through puffed-out cheeks. He shook his head. “Sorry, mate. I couldn’t help but laugh.”
“Laugh about what? What in hades is there to laugh about? We could’ve died. Nadina could’ve been kidnapped by Poseidon who… who…” he struggled to put the horror into words, “who clearly wanted to do unspeakable things. And you find it funny?”
The smile on Philippus’s face dropped a little but didn’t disappear completely. He nodded. “I know, I know. But that’s what’s so bloody hilarious.” He held out his hands to somehow encompass the enormity of what they had done. “We stopped him. You and me. Micon and Philippus. We stopped Poseidon, god of the bastard sea. We bloody well killed one of the most powerful gods of Olympus. How mad is that?”
“Yeah, well,” said Micon, grudgingly, “we’ve already killed Zeus and Ares.”
Philippus waved his hand dismissivley. “They were both accidental. Neither of them were actually trying to kill us either. But this… this was impossible, unbelievable. That has to be the biggest squid in the world and that would be difficult enough, but with it being Poseidon as well, it’s just… we should be dead, Micon. And we’re not. He is. I can’t believe we bloody won.” He sniggered again. “And you…”
“What about me?”
“Where did you get those moves?”
“What do you mean, ‘what moves’? The way you ducked and span out of the way of those tentacles. Almost as if you knew where they were going.”
Micon shrugged a little guiltily.
“Wait… so you did know where they were going? It’s that power of the god flesh again, isn’t it? I could see that the squid was Poseidon and you could feel what was about to happen and managed to get out of the way. You were amazing, keeping those tentacles off me. I had no idea you were that good in a fight.”
“Neither did I,” admitted Micon. “To be honest, I’ve never really liked getting into fights. It’s usually me that comes off worst.”
“Not this time, mate. And there’s the proof.” He gestured towards the bloody mess of tentacles.
Micon frowned. “Do you think we ought to cut it’s head off?”
Philippus looked surprised.“You’re always banging on about my supposed decapitation fixation. Why do you want to do another one?”
“Like you said, better to be sure.”
They both stared at the remains of Poseidon the squid. Eventually Philippus broke the silence. “It’s pretty much all head and legs, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you’re right. I think we’re just going to have to chop off the tentacles.”
“All of them?”
“Dunno. I’m sure there are some under the boat. I’m not sure how we’d get at those,” said Micon, trying not to think about diving into the blood-enriched sea, hacking at a dead god’s octopoid limb on a lungful of air whilst fending off any inquisitive sharks.
“Come on then,” said Philippus, rising to his feet, “let’s get this lot sorted out.”
Micon held his friend’s arm as he went to walk past. “Hang on, Phil, I just want to check Nadina’s alright.”
Philippus glanced at the motionless figure at the bow. “She looks fine to me.”
Micon pursed his lips. “You reckon?”
This time, Philippus really looked, peeling back the layers of mere reflected photons to see the truth underneath. “Shit,” he whispered. He saw a lonely woman, a frightened girl, a slave, a rebel, a shattered soul far from the only home she’d ever known clinging to a sketchy reality where the most powerful beings wanted to do her harm. He saw terror and defiance. “Yeah, I’ll clean this up, you speak to Nadina.”
Micon nodded and had taken just two steps when a bony hand thrust against his chest. “Oi!” hissed Xanthius, “what the stinkin’ seaweed just happened?”
Micon glared back at the skeletal sailor. “We were attacked. We survived.”
“Yeah, but,” said Xanthius, his gaze bouncing between his two crewmates, “you said we was attacked by Poseidon, great god of the sea that he is. Is that true?”
Philippus nodded. “He came for Nadina.”
Xanthius swivelled his skull to face the bow, a gristly ratcheting sound coming from his neck vertebrae as his head rotated further than it could have done when he was alive. “She’s still here,” he said, puzzled.
“So what happened to Poseidon? And what’s all that gory slop?”
“That gory slop is Poseidon,” said Philippus. “We killed him.”
The skull wobbled as it slowly carouselled back to face Philippus, the lower jaw hanging down. “Whaaat???” Xanthius eventually croaked.
“I said, we killed him.”
“You can’t kill him. He’s a chuffin’ god. Best god in the world, too.”
“He’s not our first,” said Micon. “We’ve also killed Zeus and Ares.”
Xanthius stared at him. “Sorry, Micon, I think I’ve got a shrimp in me ear of sumfin’. I thought you said you’d killed Zeus and Ares.”
“He did. We have,” said Philippus.
Xanthius looked at them both with clear incredulity, which was impressive for someone with no facial expression. “What are you, some kind of divine assassins or sumfin’?” He shook his head in disbelief causing a spray of fine sand and a surprised beetle to fall out of his cranial cavity. “Have you got any proof, lads? Cos it’s a bit of a tall story, know whorramean? You might think you’ve killed Zeus but it was really just a loud bloke with a dead good beard or sumfin’.”
“Well,” said Philippus, gesturing to Nadina, “she’s wearing the helmet that used to belong to Ares. And that’s his spear too.”
Xanthius turned and looked at Nadina once again and eventually began to nod. “Fair play, lads, fair play. What about Zeus? Do you have any of his thunderbolts stashed away somewhere?”
“Um, no,” said Micon. “He wasn’t actually in his normal body at the time.”
“Right. So he was a bull or a lion or sumfin’?”
“Sort of. He was a really big…”
“A swan? What in hades was he doing as a swan?”
“It’s a long story,” sighed Philippus. “Let’s just say it involves sex.”
“Yeah, that sounds like Zeus,” said Xanthius, “the kinky bugger. But no real proof it was Zeus, though.”
“Apart from our new abilities,” said Micon. Philippus glared at him.
“Eh? What ‘abilities’? Can you finally tie a knot properly?”
“Never mind,” said Philippus. “Look, let’s just say that after we’d eaten Zeus and Ares…”
“You ATE them? What kind of sick monsters are you?” said the decaying corpse, aghast.
“We were starving…” began Micon.
“I’ve been starvin’ but gen’rally I tend to nibble on fings a little more basic than the main gods of the Olympian pantheon.” Xanthius tottered around in a circle surveying the remains of Poseidon that lay scattered across the deck. “And this is all that’s left of Poseidon is it? Are you going to eat him too?”
The two sailors looked at each other. “Well, we are out of food…” began Micon.
“You can’t eat Poseidon! He’s the only god I ever prayed to!” Xanthius shouted at them. “Who’s gonna look after us on the sea now?” He pointed a bony finger at Nadina. “If he wanted her, why didn’t you let him have her?”
“Because she’s with us!” Micon yelled back. “She’s saved us and we stick together. We’re crew. Us against the bloody world. And the gods can piss off back to Olympus. If they come after her again they have to go through us.” He stepped up to Xanthius and poked him in the what was left of his chest. “And you, Xanthius, what about you? Would you really have allowed Nadina to be taken down to the deepest, darkest cave in the ocean to be Poseidon’s whore? Are you really part of this crew?”
Philippus watched as Xanthius wrestled with the moral dilemma of religion over companionship. He could just make out the ghostly soul of the dead sailor wrinkling his nose as he considered the conundrum. Micon merely saw a blank grinning skull.
Xanthius sighed, although Philippus wondered how he actually managed this without any working lungs. “You’re right lads. I asked to join this crew and we gotta stick together. We can’t be havin’ anyone boardin’ us and takin’ us into slavery or sumfin’. We gotta fight ‘em, whoever it is.”
Micon held out his hand. “Thanks, Xanthius. That means a lot to us.” The zombie crew-member looked down and tentatively shook the offered hand.
Philippus slapped Xanthius on the back, which felt somewhat insubstantial under the battered rags he was wearing. “We understand that you’d prefer it if we didn’t eat those bits of squid. I’m sure we’ll manage to catch a fish or something.”
The undead sailor sniffed and stared grimly at Poseidon’s remnants. “Nah, I’ve gone off him now, dirty bastard. You get stuck in, lads.”