Gods walk among mortals and chose followers from their young. Cas awaits her choosing.
| Bethany Weeden 2019
The Second Born Gods
Cas didn't feel much as she walked out of her English exam. If the silence of the people trickling out with her was any consideration, they didn't feel much of anything either.
The hallway back to the maths block looked just as it had when she'd left it last. It's crumb covered dark brown carpets sucking all the light and life out of the students that passed over it. The heavy red curtains had been mostly drawn, allowing only a slip of the cloud muffled white light to slip through. It hadn't seemed quite so depressing in the years she had tramped across it, but exam day had put a pall of darkness over everything.
Cas' gaze caught on a familiar figure leant against the door too the main hall and she felt a smile began to crack the wax work of her face. Lucy's hand fluttered out in a small jittery wave, her smile weak as Cas approached.
"All right Cas?" Lucy asked.
"No. The whole thing was a pain and the only bit I did enjoy I didn't get to finish." Cas sighed, "Not that a short story is likely to count for much."
"Far too imaginative to be graded." Lucy said, falling in to place beside her, "Hungry?"
Cas asked how Lucy's own exams had gone so far, but she knew they weren't the reason for the dark shadows under her eyes. They'd settled behind the arts block, pannies sweating liquid cheese through the paper wraps when Cas finally brought it up.
"Is it the Godhood next for you?" she asked.
Lucy winced and lowered her panini, as if it had suddenly become unappetising.
The fingers of Lucy's right hand flicked up and caught the chain of her crucifix in one hand. It was ornately decorated in the catholic style and as she rubbed it between her fingers two smaller charms came in to view against her dark skin. Cas didn't need to ask. She was similarly adorned, her parents and aunts smothering her in every kind of Christian symbol ahead of her Godhood visit. If they weren't so devoutly protestant she would have every saints charm known sown in to the material of her jumper.
"How were your parents this morning?" Cas asked.
"Nervous. Dad tried to hide it, saying he didn't know what all the fuss was about. No daughter of his and all that nonsense." Lucy swallowed heavily.
Cas winced at the double meaning of the words. Lucy sighed heavily before continuing.
"Mum made me prey before I left the house and when dad wasn't looking she slipped me a letter to be opened in case of disappointment."
Cas's brows shot up.
"Tell me you opened it?"
"I did. It's my passport, the address of my grandmother in Bangalore and enough money to get me there."
Lucy stared at the floor as she said the words.
"Would it really come to that?" Cas asked.
Lucy shrugged but they both knew the answer. Lucy's mother was one of the rare God Chosen that converted to marry. She'd left Hinduism behind to join a Christian family and had ever since feared one of her children being turned away by the Christian faith. Her fathers side of the family, so Christian they found it difficult to come to terms with a interfaith marriage even after conversion, would never consider Lucy true family if their God did not chose her.
"I know she didn't do it for the others and I know what she's thinking." Lucy said with a flash of her dark eyes. "The Hindu Gods have left her other children alone, I am their last chance to punish her for abandoning them."
Cas scratched at her ear.
"If it helps, I think punishment is more of an our God kind of thing."
"What would you know about Hindu Gods?" Lucy snapped.
Cas bit her tongue to keep her from pointing out she knew about as much as Lucy did. It wasn't helpful. Lucy didn't need the reminder that she would be completely lost in India, a country she had never visited, with Gods her mum refused to even teach her the names of in fear that it would garner their attention.
"I'm sorry Luce." Cas said instead.
Lucy's hands were gripping her Panini so hard it was in danger of falling apart entirely.
"I Just wish she had done more to prepare me if... that happens."
They sat in silence until the bell went. It was the first time in all their years at St.Barnabus' that they didn't finish their lunch.
They weren't technically supposed to be in the same line when it came to the Godhood test. They were in the same form but not the same denomination. Mrs Cutty even looked like she would make something of it until she saw Lucy's wide eyed panic and the way she held Cas's hand in a death grip.
It felt like an age for the line to shuffle forward, one person at a time filing in to the dark room. Cas had heard that at nonreligious schools it took much longer, with students having to wait sometimes and hour at a time. But every student at St.Barnabus' had been christened at a young age and made regular trips to their local church. For most the Godhood test was just a formality.
Before long Andrew Jacobs was the only person between them and the door and Lucy's hand was shaking in hers.
"Do you want me to go first?" Cas asked quietly.
"No, I... I want to get it over with." Lucy said, lips wobbling.
Cas squeezed her hand as Andrew stepped through the door. The window gave nothing away, a dark curtain pulled across it on the other side to hide everything that went on beyond. Of course they all knew what it looked like in theory, had been walked through the Godhood room their very first day as part of their induction, but it was generally felt that there was something different about it on Godhood days. Something spiritual.
The door slipped open and the school priest smiled kindly through it, the whisper of 'next' faint enough to be misheard if he hadn't been saying it for the last half an hour. With a last squeeze Lucy straightened her back and stepped through into the dark room.
As the door closed softly Cas blew out a slow breath and crossed her arms. The familiar cold prickle of standing alone ran up her arms and she fought the instinct to look around to make sure no one was staring. The feeling only grew until she was forced to fish a strand of her fly away hair out to tug on in her anxiety. It was ridiculous, she told herself, that she should be tying herself in a knot because she was on her own when her friend was terrified of losing everything.
The door slipped open and the Reverend offered her an encouraging smile. He gave no indication of how Lucy's test had gone and Cas found she didn't have the words to ask. Instead she was ushered in with the soft 'next' and found herself following wordlessly after.
The Gods room was dark, its walls round and its ceiling high. It was the only room in the whole school that admitted to any knowledge of other Gods. A plinth stuck out all around the room, draped in sheets of various colours and clustered with symbols, religious objects and statues. The school was required to represent the authorised Gods equally, but that hadn't stopped them putting a large crucifix up exactly across the entrance, bracketed on each side by a large statue of the Virgin Mary and a tapestry depicting the crucifixion itself. The message was clear. Look this way children, ignore the little statues in the corner of your eye.
The lights had been dimmed and candles lit around the room. The reverend gestured to a spot on the floor just in front of the crucifix and smiled kindly.
"Take as long as you need." He whispered, before taking himself through a second, hidden door.
Cas drew in a deep breath and knelt, staring up at the large cross. The light from the candles flickered over the wood, throwing each crack in stark shadow. It was so imposing she could almost let herself believe that it was the real cross, that the shadows at its edges were the stains of His blood, but that would be silly. It would need to be a great deal larger and such an artefact would never be allowed near England where the wet weather would rot it away.
Cas blew out sharply, only to become self-conscious of how loud her breathing was. She straightened her back, trying to shift the weight off her left leg and on to her right. The cross still bore down on her, no change but for the flickering gold shadow. Her fingers tapped out a nervous rhythm against her knee until she stopped them with an internal recrimination.
What was taking so long? Her eyes flickered to the Virgin Mary statue before guiltily flickering away, then apologising and calling herself a fool all over again. It wasn't if the Lord set denominations. He didn't much care how he was worshipped as long as it was done. Cas' gaze travelled back over the image of the Mother in her blue head scarf. She hadn't really had the opportunity to properly appreciate a Catholic Madonna, with all its beautiful colours and careful detail.
Her attention was broken by a slight click and her head snapped round to find the priest cautiously sticking his head out of his cubby hole. He held out an apologetic hand when their eyes met.
"No rush." He said, smiling and closing the door softly again.
Cas swallowed hard and twisted her fingers in her hands. It was taking longer than it was supposed to. Heat flushed up the back of her neck at the thought of the que of people outside patiently waiting their turn. Gingerly she unknotted her fingers and pressed them together. 'Take your time' he'd said. Perhaps she had to do something. Bowing her head she began to prey.
'Dear Lord...' she trailed off.
What was she supposed to say? 'please hurry up you're keeping people waiting?'
Cas bit her lip and tried again, mentally running through a quick blessing, followed by amen.
She opened her eyes and found the room just as it had been when she closed them. Cas shifted her weight to her left leg, the right one having gone numb. It must be a test, she thought desperately, but why me? Why is it so quick for everyone else but me? Her tongue darted out to wet her now dry lips. She bowed her head and tried again.
The next time the Reverend glanced in he managed to quiet the door, it still creaked slightly, even if it didn't click shut as loudly when he went back inside. Cas grit her teeth and held her position, sweat beading on her forehead and dampening her armpits.
When he stuck his head out again, she felt like she might scream at him to stop looking at her. her articulate prayers had devolved in to 'please, please, please' as the pain in her knees grew excruciating. Tears burned in her eyes as her hands shook in front of her.
Lucy had been out far quicker than this and Cas didn't even have the question of another faith in her family. Something cold lodged in her throat at the thought her test would not be so clear cut as she had expected. Opening her eyes she glanced sideways. Off to her side a squat statue sat, its large belly and distinct nipples throwing off odd shadows in the candlelight. Cas forced herself to look forward again. No she couldn't be chosen by a God when she didn't even know its name. She'd seen the figure in garden centres but didn't even know to which religion it belonged. Nervously she glanced again. The jumping light made it almost look as if it was laughing at her.
She forced herself to stare at the crucifix in front of her.
"Please." She whispered, staring at the centre of the cross, at the symbol that had been with her throughout her life.
A loud crash sent a jolt of terror through her. She had just enough time to cry out before glass rained down around her, shards falling and fracturing in to countless glass balls. Cas curled in on herself, but nothing touched her. the door to the Priests nook swung open with a sharp cry as the last pane of class fell and shattered on Cas's right. Shaking she lowered her hands from her face and opened her eyes. The dark room had been transformed, sunlight now spilling through the high window and shards of coloured glass glittering on the floor around her like hail stones ipped in every colour of the rainbow. The candles were gutted filling the room with the cold light of day.
"My God." Whispered the priest.
Cas looked up at him but his gaze was fixed on a spot just a few inches in front of her knees. There, surrounded by a neat circle of yellow glass lay a pendant the likes of which she had never seen.
The amulet was carved from a red stone and looked like a rudimentary person made from rope. There was a loop at the top with dashes beneath it that made it look like the stone had been tied in a knot. Bellow that the body that widened at the base like a dress. The arms were similarly made of loops, that hung down against each side of the body, like the arms of drooping ribbons.
Cas reached out on instinct and cradled the stone in her hands. It was smooth to the touch and warm, as if it had fallen from the stars. Pain seared around her throat and she dropped the amulet with a cry. Her hands scrambled for her throat and caught on the chain of her necklace. Her fingers fumbled the clasp but couldn't catch it. As she pulled the crucifix away from her skin the pain lessened enough for her to untie the clasp and cast the necklace away.
It bounced across the glass covered carpet until it settled, a cold silver in the white light. Between it and her the blood red amulet that had fallen from the sky.
They made her wait in the staff room while they went looking for her parents. The Godsroom she had been in had to be closed and there was much groaning as the remaining catholic students were spread out amongst the other denomination rooms. Cas had to walk past them, the priest not wanting her to step outside where the crowd of parents and other chosen students waited.
As the priest had walked with his hand clasped on his shoulder Cas thought numbly that Lucy was probably alright. She clasped the red amulet between her shaking fingers while the crucifix her mother had given her lay wrapped in a cloth in her pocket, so that it couldn't burn her.
She heard her mother's voice before the door before and set the amulet on the table in front of her with a click. The door swung open and her mother stood in the doorway, a confused smile frozen on her lips while terror screamed in her eyes. She stopped dead when she saw Cassey, eyes widening in horror.
"Mum?" Cas whimpered.
"Oh my God."
Her mother covered her mouth, eyes staring at Casey as if she'd grown a second head. Casey's view swam with tears, but there was something else different about her mother. she seemed oddly hallowed by a white light that settled across her head and shoulders, fading out at the elbow.
Her mother turned and barged out of the room with a cry leaving Cas's father in the doorway. He was a short man. Soft brown hair tending towards grey, with the pale skin tone of a ginger that Cas shared. He too had the odd white light around his shoulders and it seemed to dim a little as he looked at her.
"Oh my poor girl."
Cas stood shakily as he reached for her, wrapping her in his arms as she buried herself in his shoulder.
"I don't understand what I did wrong." She sobbed.
He hushed her gently but said nothing at all, swaying her side to side. After a long moment Cas gathered her thoughts again to speak.
"Dad, what's going to happen to me?"
"I don't know." He said, voice rough.
The door opened and closed again softly to admit the catholic priest whose name she still didn't know. Cas's father released her, turning away to dab at his eyes.
"Sorry to interrupt." The stranger said with his kindly half smile, "We've had word back from the committee. The amulet is a Tyet Knot."
Recovering himself her father turned to the priest with a frown.
"I've never heard of it." He said.
"It's an Ancient Egyptian piece." The priest said softly, "Favoured by a goddess Isis."
Her father rocked back on his feet,
"The Islamic State Isis?"
"I have been assured there is no connection." The Priest rushed to add.
He didn't offer any further information. Cas imagined he had probably started panicking the moment the committee member started filling his head with knowledge of another God. He'd probably hung up on them.
"A car had been sent down from London this morning and will be redirected here. It seems they knew someone was to be chosen." His gaze flicked to Cas and away again.
"But I don't know anything about Egyptian Gods!" Cas cried, "How can they chose me?"
The Priests smile tried for comforting but didn't quiet manage it.
"I don't know child, but there is nothing to be done for it now. Their car will take you to the British Museum and hopefully you will have some of your questions answered there."
Cas stared at him in disbelief. She noticed then that he too had a white light, brighter and thicker than either of her parents.
"What is that light you all have?" Cas asked, rubbing at her nose.
"Ah," The Priest said, clearly brightening at the prospect of a question he could answer, "That is a mark of our religion. The white halo for all good Christians and a variety of others for the different religions." He looked encouragingly at her father, "At least those that chose her have allowed her to see."
Her father turned away. Cas looked down at her own hands but couldn't see anything.
"Gold." The priest said, quietly, "Mostly around your head."
A tight series of knocks on the door sounded before Mrs Herron half stepped inside.
They walked her to Branborough road, furthest away from where her classmates were celebrating their choosing. A sleek black car had pulled up by the tennis courts, a uniformed driver chatting amicably with one of the teachers. A woman stood waiting by the back door, a cigarette in hand as she gazed in to the distance. She looked so beautiful and so full of confidence that for a moment Cas though it was the Goddess herself, but as she approached she saw the thin gold bronze light around her head, fainter than even her father's Christian white.
"Casandra Grain is it?" The woman asked as they approached.
Cas nodded shyly. The women's eyes flicked to her father.
"I'm her father, Cyrus." He choked out.
She nodded, unsmiling.
"Will you be coming with us?"
"No." He said, quickly, shooting Cas an apologetic look, "I must attend to my wife."
"But Dad!" Cas cried, fresh tears coming to her eyes.
He bent down, holding her shoulders.
"I am sorry my girl." Tears filled his eyes and his voice turned choked, "but this... where you are going now, I cant follow."
The priest popped up at her fathers' side, nervously twisting his fingers,
"That is quiet understandable Mr Grain." He said softly.
"No its not!" Cas cried, desperately looking between them, "I can't go to London on my own! I don't even know these people, how will I get home?"
The woman lifted a dark eyebrow and dropped her cigarette, crushing it under foot.
"We will take perfect care of you and someone will run you home once your patron is finished with you."
Her father's hand caught her chin and lifted it. His warm brown eyes looking into hers.
"You'll be fine, Cas. I'll see you soon."
They hugged tightly but all too soon he was ushering her away. The priest handed her her school bag and with nowhere else to turn she settled into the dark maw of the car.
The woman got in after her without another word. They buckled themselves in in silence, the door closing before Cas could wave a last goodbye. The new car smell engulfed her with hints of polish and fresh leather. She clutched her bag tight to her side, Goosebumps forming on her arms and legs at the chill in the seats. The drivers voice was muffled as he asked a last few questions, it grew louder as he opened the door. Cas caught something about the M25 before he waved his thanks and settled in to the driving seat.
The man turned and smiled back at Cas.
"Right, any stops before we get on the road? Food? Something to drink?" Cas shook her head shyly, "Anna?" He prompted.
"Just drive." She said, not looking up from her phone.
The man rolled his eyes, doffing an imaginary cap as he turned back to face the front.
The engine rumbled and the car pulled away with the crisp crunch of tires on gravel. Cas turned to watch the figure of her father grow smaller, before disappearing behind the hedge.
They were an hour into their drive before Cas's shaking began to calm. Anna had spent the whole drive scrolling through her phone with a single-minded focus. Cas had almost calmed herself enough to reach for her own phone when the humming coming from the driver's seat stopped abruptly.
"Anna, do we have any shadows on this run?"
"No." Anna said, frowning down at her phone, "It's a milk run, why would we have a shadow?"
"Well someone's decided to follow us today." Their driver said, adjusting his mirror.
Anna sighed heavily and finally deigned to set down her phone.
"I swear, Sol, if this is you cracking up on me..."
Anna twisted around in her seat to look.
"Two down in the next lane. Black Honda."
"Is everything ok?" Cas asked.
Anna hushed her.
"Can you slow down?" She asked Sol.
Cas twisted around to try and get a look at the car. It appeared to try and slow along with them but a sharp blare of a horn from the car behind them had them keeping pace. Anna leant across the seat between them and squinted through Cas' window.
"Sol, have you got an Eye?" She asked.
Sol snapped open the glove compartment without taking his eyes off the road before chucking a talisman back at them. Anna caught it in mid air and held it up to her eye. She said something low and quiet that sent the gold light around her head shining. Turning it on the other car she let out an angry breath.
"Bloody Romans." She said harshly, lowering the eye.
"Not the Gods themselves I hope?" Sol asked.
"No. Just lackeys."
Anna sat back in her chair tapping at the talisman in her hand. It was about the size of her palm, an eye with trailing lines inscribed with small markings. It looked to be carved from gold, though Cas supposed it could just as easily be brass. Anna eyed her speculatively.
"Which God will you be serving?"
Cas opened her mouth only to find to her shame that she had completely forgotten. The priest had given her a name but it was completely gone from her mind.
"I- I don't know."
"Was it Set? He does like his red heads." Anna said.
"No, the priest said it was a Goddess."
"Hathor? Show me your pendant."
Obligingly Cas fished out her pendant, the red stone cool in her hand. Anna's brows leapt upwards.
"Eset? Well, well, well. I didn't think I would live to see the Queen bitch herself."
The car swerved slightly before Sol got it back on track.
"Anna!" He hissed.
"Lose our friends, will you Sol." Anna said, staring intently at Cas.
Cas squirmed beneath the gaze while Sol continued to grumbled from the front seat.
"Lose them she says, on the M25!"
Never the less he sped up, the engine leaving behind its low growl for a higher roar.
"The name doesn't sound familiar." Cas said quietly, "I think it may be another Goddess."
"She of 50,000 names? No, I know your Goddess. Auset, Aset, Eset. Isis, though the family have been trying to hush that one up in recent years. The names make no difference to her." Anna sat back, squinting at her, "Your probably her first chosen devotee in a life time."
"What?" Cas croaked.
Bad enough that she was chosen by a strange God, but to be singled out? The car swerved in to the left lane and Cas yelped as her head bumped against the glass. Horns blared out behind them but the car only sped up again. Anna twisted round with a scowl.
"Still following then? We'll see."
Reaching in to her pocket she pulled out a small blue figurine seated on a throne. Before Cas could get a good look at the details she enfolded it in her hands and bowed her head. Sol's eyes fixed on her in the mirror and he groaned.
"Bleeding hell, please try not to cause a collision."
"They'll never know it was me." Anna replied, her voice deepening and filling with a feint growl.
Cas twisted around and tried to locate the black Honda. It was easy to make out, being that it sped through the rest of the traffic at speeds that sent other cars swerving out of the way. A flash of heat emanated from Anna's side of the car and before Cas's eyes the bonnet of the car behind them flashed briefly with gold lines, that twisted their way into the cracks in the hood. For a moment nothing seemed to have happened, Anna lifted her head and tucked the figurine back in to her jacket with a satisfied smirk.
"What did you-"
Before Cas could finish the question smoke began to trail from the cars engine. What was at first a small trail quickly whisked away by the wind grew denser every moment until the car was billowing a thick cloud of smoke. The car swerved and then began to slow, quickly falling behind.
Sol's eyes flicked up in the mirror.
"I hope your Lady will approve that, because my Patron will not."
"My Mistress approves of everything I do." Anna said archly.
"Really? I hadn't heard you were a favourite. Oh bollocks."
Sol's eyes had gone wide in the mirror. Cas twisted around at the same time Anna did. Behind them a dark cloud of smoke rushed towards them, growing bigger with every car horn that screamed at its existence.
"Fucking Jupiter." Anna hissed.
The smoke rushed towards them, twisting in the air but remaining whole. It moved like a swarm of bees, working with a singular purpose. It dived for the car and within a blink had smothered the windows in black.
"Ann, the eye!" Sol shouted.
Ann fumbled with the gold pendant, slapping it into his waiting hand. Keeping one hand on the wheel he held the eye up to his face. The car swerved sharply to the right, dragging a scream from Cas's throat as she gripped the door. The black smoke covering the windscreen didn't even shift.
"Plan?" Sol shouted,
Anna hesitated a moment.
"If we get far enough away from the caster the spell should dissipate.
"I thought Sekhmet controlled the desert winds."
"Do you see any desert here?" Anna snapped.
The car lurched left and then right again with still nothing but black to be seen. Tears welled in Cas's eyes as her heart beat an almost painful rhythm in her chest. When the car next dived to the right she let out a desperate cry, hand reaching for the crucifix at her neck. Of course she found nothing her fingers coming up against an empty spot. Desperately she clutched on to the seatbelt while her hand dove through her pocket for the cloth wrapped necklace. Instead she found the red talisman, as strange and alien looking as it had been the first time she saw it. All the same she clutched it to her chest, closing her eyes and begging.
"Please help me."
Cas was well used to clutching at her crucifix, feeling the cold bite of metal against her skin and nothing else. So her breath caught in her chest when the talisman heated in her hand and another mind drifted in to her awareness, the sense of a person, as if someone had taken a seat just across from her. relief warred with her panic, sending more tears spilling down her cheeks as she cried. The mind settled close to hers, a balm of warmth to her terror, and before Cas knew what was happening she relaxed in to its embrace and the world went dark.