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Philippus began to clear up the slaughter-strewn deck of the Sun Barge and looked up at Micon. “I’ve got this, you see to Nadina.” Micon nodded, more to focus his mind on the task in hand than to acknowledge his friend, and stepped over the lifeless tentacles of Poseidon towards the figure standing alone at the bow. The sun was high in the sky, bouncing harsh, oppressive light off the nymph’s bronze war helmet. Her eyes were in shadow, her mouth barely visible between the large cheek guards, her broad shoulders covered by her long flame coloured hair and the pale, scruffy cloak given to her by Micon. It rippled slightly in the gentle breeze and flicked against the long spear that she held in front of her. Blood and saltwater slowly dripped from the spearhead down the wooden shaft and over the hands that gripped it tightly. Micon wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen anyone quite so imposing, nor anyone quite so afraid. He wanted to take her in his arms, tell her that everything was going to be alright, but he knew that she was more likely to be the one taking care of him. She was a supernatural being, a daughter of Zeus. He was just a young sailor who had been caught up in a series of highly improbable – and terrifying – events.
He was close enough now that he could see her eyes. She didn’t move but her eyes were on him, large and intense. She reminded him of a cat that had lived in his village when he was a boy, a beautiful feral beast that only a fool would try to pet. He stood and waited.
Eventually she spoke. “It’ll always be like this.”
“Often enough for it to feel like always. Wondering whether another Olympian god is about to try to rip me from my freedom, use me to satisfy their lust in some dark, lonely place.”
“Well, the numbers of gods who could possibly want you to be their sex slave keeps reducing. We’ve killed three of them now.”
“There will be more.”
“You don’t know that.”
Nadina paused before replying. “Perhaps not, but it’s probably true.”
Micon forced a smile. “If they come, we’ll be waiting for them”.
“But that’s the point, Micon. We’ll always be waiting for the next attack. I don’t want to live my life in fear.”
He moved towards her, to embrace her but she stepped back and swayed out of his reach.
“No. You should stay away from me. I will be the cause of your death. I should have gone with Poseidon to keep you safe. I should never have left my island.”
“Nadina,” he said, gently putting a hand on her arm, “without you we would still be on that island, either starving to death or at the mercy of Hera. Or actually already dead. This isn’t just about you. Philippus and I are on the run from the wrath of the gods too.”
“But it’ll always be like this.”
“If that means having to clean up the corpse of another dead Olympian, then I suppose I can cope.”
Nadina said nothing. The wind blew her cloak and revealed her nakedness beneath. He reached around the spear that still stood between them and pulled the cloak back around her body. She slowly lowered her helmeted head to rest against his, but she still held on to her spear. Micon noticed that her knuckles were no longer white.
A few paces behind them Philippus was hacking through squid tentacles the girth of a rich man’s waist. His technique alternated between cleaver-like chops and steady sawing; he was glad he’d got a decent edge back on to his long knife after cutting down the tree that had ultimately helped fix the Sun Barge and prevent Poseidon from escaping with Nadina. He paused his butchery work as he reflected on the fact that this time yesterday he was still trying to cut the bloody tree down. It had certainly been an eventful day, even by their standards. One moment the only thing that’s happening to you is killing a couple of gods and eating their animalistic flesh, and the next you’re tallking to a frog that becomes a beautiful naked nymph who takes you to a secret cave where you’re almost eaten by a huge shark and where an ancient Egyptian magical boat is resurrected and you meet an undead former crew member and you finally escape the island only to be attacked by the Queen of Olympus and then the God of the Sea. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was currently cutting up the remains of Poseidon on the magical boat with the zombie sailor watching on, he would have been convinced he’d imagined the whole thing. A thought struck him: perhaps he had. Perhaps he was still asleep back on the island and was having the craziest dream of his life.
He looked over at Xanthius. “Is this real? Or am I dreaming?”
The skeletal sailor said nothing and then swiftly clattered Philippus on the ear with cold, gristly fingers.
“Felt that, didja?”
“Of course,” said Philippus with a frown.
“Not bleedin’ dreamin’ then, are ya?”
“Thank you, Xanthius, for that demonstration of your very direct personal philosophy.”
“Any time, Philippus. Always happy to help.” Xanthius settled back down to watch the dismemberment continue. The heavy knife broke through another section of tentacle and Philippus chucked it into the growing pile of squid meat.
“So,” Xanthius said, “you’re gonna eat that then?”
“It’s been a while since I’ve had fresh squid.”
Philippus looked up at him. “You can have some if you like.”
“Nah, best not. I don’t have any appetite. Or stomach. I’d only make a mess.”
“Yeah, fair enough.” Philippus continued his work.
“Have you tried any?”
“Not yet, no.”
“I might be ‘orrible. Huge creature like that. Prob’ly tough too. And then you’ll have wasted all your time and effort on it for nuffin’.”
Philippus sighed, cut a sliver of flesh and popped it into his mouth. He nodded and between chews muttered, “It’s fine.”
Xanthius continued to stare at him. “So, just tastes like normal calamari, then?”
“But you said it was Poseidon.”
“In squid form, yeah.”
“How did you know?”
Philippus drew a deep breath. “Some things happened on that island, weird things. And we’re not quite the same people as before. We’ve changed.” He shrugged. “I don’t suppose that I’m making much sense.”
“You ain’t changed that much, sonny, believe me. At least you’ve still got yer skin.” The undead sailor tapped his bony fingertips together. “Umm…”
“Micon mentioned some… ahh… abilities that you have acquired?”
“Is that how you knew that the monstrous squid was Poseidon?”
Philippus gave a small nod. “We can sense supernatural stuff that happens around us.”
“Cor. And that’s how you killed Zeus and Ares, is it?”
“Umm, no. Not quite. More the other way around.”
“Ah, right, you said sumfin’ about eating them. That’s prob’ly what did it.”
“And now you’re gonna eat King Fishface too.”
Philippus frowned. “I thought he was your favourite god.”
“Yeah, well, I prefer my gods to stay hidden, knowworramean? I can’t be doin’ with all this manifestin’ all over the place. It’s not natural. And appearing as a scary-looking monster from the deep and then attacking my mates is bang out of order.”
“Thanks, Xanthius.” He paused his dismembering and looked up. “It’s good to have you on the crew.”
“So, do you fink you’ll get any new abilities from your squiddy snack?”
Philippus went back to his hacking. “I don’t want to talk about it, anymore.”
“There’s a lot of squid to get through. Mountains of the stuff. You might end up like gods yerselves.”
“Shut up, Xanthius.”
“Seriously. You can’t possibly eat all this.” He waved an ivory hand at the head of the squid bobbing alongside the boat.
Philippus caught sight of movement up above. A couple of gulls. Ordinary gulls, he realised, not a goddess in disguise, attracted by the chance of a free meal.
He didn’t like gulls.
Hera had drifted slowly along in Poseidon’s wake, content to pick up the pieces once her brother had finished with them. If the two grubby mortals were still alive she’d take them back to the island where she would keep a closer eye on them. As for the nymph, well, it was unlikely that she’d ever see her island again. Or daylight. Hera was also intrigued to discover what kind of creature unleashed from hades had unceremoniously dumped her into the sea. She was intrigued and bent on revenge. She swam on, wondering when she would encounter the wrecked driftwood of that ridiculous boat. The two sailors would be clinging onto the wreckage and be grateful to be rescued.
After a while she noticed a thin haze in the water and a taste of iron. A shark slid past and dove gracefully down into the Stygian-like depths. She followed, with a knot of trepidation tightening in her stomach. The shark joined two others that were tearing pieces out of the carcass of an enormous squid.
There was no driftwood.
There were no sailors.
There was no escapee from hades.
There was only a dead sea creature of godly proportions.
The anger began to boil in her veins again. First her husband, then her son and now her brother. These mortals and the meddling nymph would pay with their lives. Although, she mused, they had consolidated her role as the Ruler of Olympus. Only Hades, Apollo and Athena could challenge her supremacy now. She turned away from the sight of sharks ripping the flesh off her brother and slipped through reality back to her throne on Olympus.
The four crew mates stood on the deck of the Sun Barge as it skipped along the surface of the sea whilst the sky began to turn purple and bronze behind them. They had altered course slightly to prevent being followed and were warily hoping that the day was going to end more peacefully than it had started.
Micon held Nadina’s hand as he gazed at the open sea before them. “It’s been a difficult day, but we’ve survived.”
“’Difficult’ is a bit of an understatement, innit?” said Xanthius
“Leaving my home is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” replied Nadina.
Xanthius scoffed. “Everyone leaves home at some point. It hardly rates as proper difficult.”
Philippus slapped the skeleton on the back. “I agree with Xanthius. Leaving home isn’t as difficult as killing a god disguised as a giant squid.”
“Just because you two have no strong emotions about home,” said Micon, “it doesn’t mean that it comes easy to everyone.”
“One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” continued Xanthius, “involved a noblewoman in Knossos, her sister, her eldest daughter and a spit roast kebab.”
“Please don’t tell that story again,” said Micon, wrinkling his nose.
“The important thing to remember,” said Philippus, “is that we’re a crew, working together.”
“I fink it’s also important to remember that you two have got supernatural senses, Nadina’s a warrior with the strength of ten men, I can’t be killed and we’re on boat that sails by magic.”
Philippus thought about it for a moment. “Yes, I think that list works too, although it does rather downplay the whole ‘togetherness’ angle that I was going for.”
“No matter,” said Nadina, “I just want you to know that the last few days have been hard for me and I appreciate everything you’ve done. I’ve never known true companionship.”
Philippus put his arms around their shoulders and smiled.
“We’re an incredible crew,” said Micon happily, “us against the world! The Unstoppables!”
Philippus stopped smiling and immediately checked for oncoming disaster, which is how he spotted the island.