“It’s a pity,” said Chief Strong, looking at the statue. “Have you seen this before?”

“Yeah,” said Officer Carruthers. “It’s a shame, really. Kids want to get stoned, and they don’t realize what it’ll cost them.”

They were looking at a group of marble statues, accurate to the smallest detail, of a group of frat boys.

“I bet the Gorgon didn’t even mean to do it,” Strong continued. “All it takes is a few drinks and one slip of their sunglasses.

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Hades, the Lord of the Dead, was exceptionally put out. This was in both a literal and figurative sense; he had been booted out of his home by his wife Persephone and was currently hunched under a metal bus shelter in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas.

He’d been forced to sleep on the couch before, but this was a whole new level of humiliation. “One time,” he told himself. “You get a little too handsy with a naiad one time and out you go.” Hades sighed and looked around morosely. Time was, he’d had to beg Persephone to stick around, had to kidnap her for a little attention. How times had changed now that she was sitting alone on the bone throne and he was flat on his face.

The Lord of the Dead wasn’t exactly sure why Persephone’s portal had spit him out in Kansas. The Underworld was, of course, connected to everything, but…

“Why not Las Vegas?” Hades asked the portal 30 feet above him. “Vegas I could work with!” The aperture blinked shut in response; he wasn’t getting out of this anytime soon.

“Hey, dude, Topeka Nerdicon was last month!” shouted a local embarrassment from his Tahoe, idling at a light. Hades, in response, cast back his hood and let loose the full power of his baleful gaze. Skeletonized, the driver careened of the road as the Lord of the Dead enjoyed a dry chuckle.

“I just need to crash with someone until Persephone comes around,” Hades muttered. He wandered for a bit, skeletonizing all who crossed him as a bit of a pick-me-up. “But who do I know in Kansas?”

Eventually, it hit him: General Juan “Mad Dog” Contigo, former dictator of the Republic of Valverde, was living in Topeka under an assumed name. He owed Hades a favor, too. A few hours later, the god of the underworld stepped out of a grimy cab on the outskirts of town, rewarding the cabbie for his service by releasing him from his mortal coil. Contigo’s pad was a gaudy stuccoed villa surrounded by a tall wrought iron fence draped in festive Christmas tinsel even though it was April.

“You call this living incognito, Juan?” Hades groused. “This is why Comrade Conmigo overthrew you.”

As Hades swung open the door–which, to his surprise, he found unlocked–he was surprised to see a gigantic metal crucifix in the entryway. General Contigo had never been the religious type, not after the Nun Massacre of 1987. But even more surprising was the figure beneath the hanging crucifix: Posidon, god of the sea.

“Brother?” Hades gasped. “What are you doing here? what have you done with Juan Contigo?”

“Did you really think I wouldn’t find out, Hades?” Poseidon snapped. “All water flows to the sea, and that naiad was my granddaughter!”

“We’re all related to everybody else,” Hades said. “Look at Zeus! He’s regularly cheating on the people he cheats on Hera with-”

“Silence!” Poseidon thundered. “I cast your sleazy friend into the depths for a spell in my mines, and I will see my granddaughter avenged. You will serve every minute of the punishment we have devised for you.”

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A Long Way from Minos

“I like to come up here at night. It’s the only place in town where I can eat a bird in peace. Eating a bird is very important in Minotaur culture. It’s how we commune with our taurcestors and with the Minogods. Everywhere else, people point and laugh, or they tell me that I’m being cruel to animals, or that the birds aren’t organic enough.”

“Why don’t you raise some chickens so you can eat birds and their eggs?”

“It’s illegal to raise chickens in New York anymore. I could never leave. Minotown’s the only place I feel at home; there’s nowhere else with such Minotaur delis and vibrant Minoculture. People tell me I should go home to Crete, but I was born here. I’ve never eaten a bird that wasn’t from here. I’ve never slaughtered the lost in a labyrinth that wasn’t a New York labyrinth.”

This post incorporates a modified version of this portrait and this cityscape both from the Wikimedia Commons. Please see their pages for full rights information for the images used in creating this transformative parody work.

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“In the matter of Feodor Pushkov, also known as Feodor Serpov or Feodor Oruzheynik, it is the decision of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption that he be stripped of his title and rank and executed.” Lebedev, the head of the troika, peered at Feodor over his glasses and under the sky-blue cap of a Chekist.

Feodor, still wearing his uniform but with the insignia newly torn off, sat in a rude wooden chair in front of the three Cheka members, the most senior of whom was in charge of the entire region. His shoulders were sagged, and he nervously played with worry beads in his hands. “There was a time,” he said wearily, “when you all reported to me as your commissar. Does that mean nothing to you? Does all that I have done for the party and the state mean nothing to you?”

“It has been established to the satisfaction of this extraordinary committee that your actions were undertaken in the context of your role as informer and spy for the Black Army and foreign interventionists,” replied Lebedev, sounding bored. “You yourself said that traitors must be shot without mercy and that terror is the cost of a new utopian state. At least conduct yourself with dignity and hold true to those words.”

“What of Tatyana?” Feodor said. “What of Pyotr?”

Lebedev rolled his eyes. “It has been established to the satisfaction of this extraordinary committee that the woman Tatyana Alexandrovna is under no suspicion. As for the aristocrat Pyotr you mention, the extraordinary committee has sentenced him to death in absentia. But you know as well as I do that there has been no sign of him since the…incident…and that he is presumed dead. We will not waste the bullet to execute a dead man.”

“Very well,” whispered Feodor. “If that is to be my punishment for my sins, so be it.”

He was led away to the execution cells, and the Chekists of the Troika chatted amongst themselves for a time. Lebedev had just been promoted to Feodor’s old post as commissar, and the others were eager to gain his favor and avoid being added to the ever-lengthening execution rolls. Once they left, he turned to the window and his features blurred, revealing the scaly visage and deep-set red slit eyes of Peklenc, the Old God of judgment and the underground.

“Even with so many of us dead, we can make this work,” he said in a soft and serrated voice. “We can use this new order to ensue that those who remain have their fill of blood.”

His gaze wavered, though, as he spied a figure in a window across the courtyard. There, peering silently at him from behind the glass, was Pyotr.

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“It was wiped clean in the space of a few short decades, that which we had spent generations, centuries, millennia, in building. Perun and Veles were cast down, and without the strength of the peoples’ beliefs to sustain them they were unable to respond. Those of us who survived were forced to mime the hateful rituals of the Enemy.” Boris–or was it Triglav?–advanced on Pyotr, his three goat heads leering over the tattered remains of his uniform.

“I don’t understand!” Pyotr cried, brandishing his Obrez pistol. “Why try to make things worse?”

“This is an opportunity. In chaos are always opportunities. When people lose faith, we of the old gods suddenly find our playing field leveled. When people who believe in nothing are in power, we grow stronger.”

“And Feodor…?”

“We need intermediaries as we always have,” said Triglav offhandedly. “Now, since you have proven yourself adaptable, will you join him? The Germans are fleeing, the Bolsheviks are weak and tottering in Petrograd, and we are well-placed to sow chaos and misery and death among those that remain. If you assist us, you will be spared.”

“What kind of god would want to sow misery and death among its own people?”

“Beyond punishment of the people of this land? Simple. We are spirits of this place, and our thirst can only be slaked with blood. For too long have we had to content ourselves with a trickle, and a pious trickle at that. We have worked for many years to undermine the new faith and its defenders, and our efforts are finally about to bear fruit. We haven’t been closer to our return, our rebirth, in a hundred years.”

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When the Great Work was complete, and Q’idaa was as his own lush and eternal garden, I’ozru summoned his children to him one last time. Then said he to the gathered R’de “four shall be your number, and your number shall be four.” He laid forth the precepts binding the Four Castes.

First were the R’odue, the Keepers of the Bonds. They were given power over workplaces, governments, and other organizational tools. Their edict was organization and cohesion, but not at the expense of love.

Second were the R’idye, the Reshapers of the Bonds. Their sphere was that which could not be organized and resisted cohesion. Theirs were the artists, the dreamers, the thinkers, the architects, and their edict was to form new and exciting things, but not at the expense of the old.

Third were the R’adue, the Movers of the Bonded. All that moved and worked was theirs to keep and maintain, and they were to be the craftsmen, workers, and soldiers of the R’de. To them was given the edict to reshape their world, but not at the expense of harmony.

Last were the R’ydae, the Viewers of the Bonds. At their feet was laid the great task of planning and orchestrating all the others, of visions and plans and overall harmony. Theirs was the gravest edict of them all: to ensure the survival of the R’de and by extension their world, but not at the expense of other groups or other worlds.

In doing so, the R’de were split into their castes and the rulers of the great Houses were selected and their membership decided upon. The last words were a warning: above all, no caste was to be held inviolate and none was to be raised above the others. It was deliberate that the R’ydae, from whom the heads of the Houses were chosen, were numbered last and lowliest though theirs would be the most visible power. They were to be servants as base as those R’adue who toiled in manual labor.

The pronouncements made, the new heads of the Houses were each given a final, private audience. I’ozru gave unto them his last wisdom and departed from the R’de never to return. His words, known only to the heads of the Houses, guide the R’de through the ages even unto now through prosperity and adversity, want and plenty, war and peace, suzerainty and enslavement.

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“And so Hercules had to make up for his behavior with twelve labors,” I read.

“What were they, Dad?” Sean asked, leaning forward a bit under his blankets.

“Slay the Nemean Lion. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis. Capture the Erymanthian Boar…” As usual, The Big Book of Greek Mythology wasn’t helping my attempts at educating the boy through bedtime stories. Did anyone but a classics scholar even know what half of those adjectives meant?”

“Wow, Dad, that sounds really…boring,” yawned Sean. “I catch Pokémon with cooler names than that all the time.”

“Hahaha,” I laughed in a really fake laugh. “Good catch, Sean. Those were just fakes to make sure you were paying attention. The real labors were much, much cooler.”

“Like what?”

“Ah…the capturing of the Nemean MissingNo with the Golden Pokéball, for one,” I said.

“Oh wow!” Sean said. “You can’t get that one without hacking!”

“And neither could Hercules,” I said. “He also had to slay the, uh, nine-headed Creeper of Craftmine, which grew another head every time it exploded.”

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“Look, lady,” said Randall, nervously tugging at his overalls. “We had a work order from the city. This moldy old ash was tearing up the sidewalk and interfering with power lines.”

“Yeah,” said Malcolm, fingering the ripcord of his now-silent chainsaw. “And after you screamed at us, and waved that carving knife, and then screamed at us while waving that carving knife, we had to get the police in on it. It’s a lawful work order.”

“They’re right, you know,” said Officer Hartman. His pistol was holstered, his pepper spray can in a limp hand at his side. “It was a legal cutdown order, legally served, on an ash that we had every reason to believe was endangering the common good.”

All three men were surrounded by the detritus of limb-shearing and trunk-felling that accompanied cutting down a tree in a residential area, even if the residence in question was a filthy double-wide trailer occupying the site of a long-ago demolished house. All three of them were looking skyward.

“Well, be that as it may,” said Freja, the dirty and disheveled occupant of the double-wide who had first quarreled with and then bodily threatened the city treecutting crew and their escort. “That doesn’t change the fact that you just cut down Yggdrasil, the great ash that has held up the sky since time immemorial.”

She, too, was looking up…looking up at the great cracks which were crisscrossing the robin-egg-blue sky, and the first small fragments that were beginning to fall.

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With time, the Prince grew to covet the power that he had been given while his father and brothers were at war. The poison of jealousy began to course through his veins, gradually turning his once-noble heart green with envy.

When the Sultan at last returned from a campaign ten years long, one which had brought him to the very edge of the world, he was welcomed with open arms by the people. The Prince, seeing his power slip away, was driven to action. At a grand banquet for the returned rulers, he poisoned the water. Hundreds of guests, including the kingdom’s most experienced courtiers and generals, perished. The Sultan died as well, along with six of his seven sons.

But the Prince had acted in haste, not contemplating how his subjects would react. The death of so many could not be concealed, and the existence of a single survivor made his guilt evident. The palace guards stood aside as the populace swarmed the palace, clamoring for the Prince’s blood. He was forced to flee on horseback into the deepest desert in the realm while a distant cousin was elected Sultan in his stead.

Some say that the murderer died in the desert wastes, but most maintain that through dealings with the powers of evil, the greedy royal slumbers beneath the sands, waiting for the right time to return and stake his claim. The people never refer to him by name, which due to the enormity of his crime has been expunged from history. Rather, he is known only as the Prince with a Heart of Nephrite That Sleeps in the Desert.

Legend has it that the Saudeleur grew to resent the power of his nahnken, who wielded power absolute over their own weis but were bound to give tribute to their lord and master. And so it was that the idea of Nan Madol came to the Saudeleur in a dream: a great city of stone islands, where the nahnken and their saudeleur would reside. He could keep an eye on them by controlling the boats that plied the stone islands and even keep an escape tunnel ready under the coral to the edge of the reef should his overthrow be imminent.

Thus bound and determined, the Saudeleur had a problem. Though the isle of Ponape had stone and coral aplenty for quarrying, it lacked the manpower to move the stones once they had been hewn. It was to this end that the Saudeleur sought out the magician Isokelekel, who lived in seclusion on the north of the island. Isokelekel, said to be the son of a woman from the isle of Kusaie and the thunder god Daukatau, had sworn to hold himself and his powers separate from other men. But the Saudeleur prevailed upon him, and Isokelekel agreed to move the stones as the Saudeleur saw fit, breaking his vow.

Knowing that to do so would anger his father Daukatau, Isokelekel extracted from the Saudeleur three promises which would secure the magician’s future. First, Isokelekel asked for the Saudeleur’s totem of Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture; his request was granted. Second, Isokelekel asked for the Saudeleur’s throne…in 1000 years. The Saudeleur readily agreed to this condition, thinking such a promise impossible to enforce. Third, Isokelekel asked for the isle of Ponape itself…in 2000 years. Again, the Saudeleur agreed to what he saw as a mere flight of fancy.

True to his word, Isokelekel used his powers to move rock and coral to build the magnificent canal city of Nan Madol. He then vanished with the Saudeleur’s totem, never to be seen again. One thousand years later, a man claiming the name Isokelekel led a band of 333 rebels to topple a corrupt and decadent descendant of the Saudeleur, founding a dynasty that lasted until the pale men in boats arrived 900 years later.

Of the last promise the Saudeleur made Isokelekel, nothing was heard…until now.