“Hey, Stan,” Kyle grinned at his friend. Stan shook the seawater out of his hair before approaching Kyle to hug him. His arms were rough with sand, and it scraped off of him when they touched, falling to the ground. “How’ve you been?”
“Oh, you know,” Stan looked away sheepishly, “Having to memorize history and rules and stuff is super boring, but training how to fight and talking to the creatures in the domain is actually really rad! Did you know there are sponges that are over ten thousand years old? They’ve got dirt on literally everyone in the ocean, dude; it’s so cool.” Stan glanced at the sea behind him, then back at Kyle. “So, how’s your training been going?”
Kyle deflated with a long groan.
“That bad, huh?” Stan asked, a comforting hand on Kyle’s shoulder.
“It’s awful!” Kyle cried, “My mom just won’t stop hammering it in!” His voice sunk into a high pitched imitation of his mother’s accent, “‘You have to keep training Kyle,’ ‘the people are going to have to depend on you, Kyle,’ you have to know the difference between horse manure and sheep manure, Kyle.’” Kyle rolled his eyes. The beach grass around his ankles climbed up his calves in dry, vicious stalks. “And that isn’t even mentioning my dad, who keeps looking at me like I’m some kind of mistake.”
“Sorry to take all this out on you dude,” Kyle said to Stan, “I’m just glad we can hang out.”
Stan gave Kyle a watery smile, unable to meet his eyes.
Kyle’s smile dropped. His brow furrowed.
“I kind of have a date with Wendy—”
“Seriously?” Kyle yelled. Beach saltbrush erupted around his feet, extending out past the grass, growing around where Stan was standing in front of him. “I haven’t even seen you in so long and you’re blowing me off for Wendy?”
“Kyle, please,” Stan pleaded, “I’ve already had to cancel a bunch of dates with her, and she’s been super stressed lately because Eros has really been bugging her. I have to do this for her, Kyle!”
Kyle frowned. His and Stan’s schedules were both extremely busy, and it took Kyle forever to talk his mom into giving him the day off. And now he was going to have to spend it without his super best friend.
“I mean...I can hang out here for a little while longer…?” Stan’s voice was hopeful, apologetic. He had the look of a kicked puppy—the same look that always made Kyle feel like a shitty person for yelling at him. Kyle sighed, and collapsed backwards onto the bed of saltbrush. Stan sat next to him.
“So, why’s the Love God messing with Wendy?” Kyle asked, “Isn’t he, uh, a little too old for her?”
“Ew! Sick dude!” Stan grimaced, “No! He’s just looking for an heir, and Wendy is the best archer in the Heavens—” (Stan’s voice took on the edge of pride and awe that made Kyle want to puke),”—so he’s been trying to talk her out of her apprenticeship with Artemis.”
“Didn’t he already have an heir?”
“I...I think so?” Stan sounded unsure, “But, not anymore, obviously.”
“Do you think his heir did what Shelley did?”
Stan cringed, as he always did when his sister was mentioned.
“You mean the part where she ran off with a mortal and gave up her heir-hood or the part where she did it without telling anyone?” Stan rolled his eyes. “You know where I was when we got the news? On a date! I was three inches away from kissing my girlfriend when Kenny kicks down the door to drag me back to the ocean without even letting me say goodbye! We didn’t even get to finish the date because I had to start training, like, immediately!”
“But can you imagine having to train with her?” Kyle said, remembering Shelley’s mean glare and even meaner fists, “Or, even worse—sharing the throne with her?”
Stan shuddered, and Kyle laughed. They continued to chat, the tide coming in higher than it should have, seafoam lapping at their toes. Stan was in the middle of a story about an argument between a whale and an anemone when they heard an unmistakable humming.
They turned around, and Kenny, apprentice to Hermes, was hovering above them. He pulled down the collar of his short cloak, grinning.
“Aw, Ken get down here! No one wants to see up your toga!” Kyle said, the beach grass rising to tug at Kenny’s ankles. Ken laughed, tickled, and the wings on his heels buzzed faster as he tried to kick the unruly plants away.
“Sorry to break up the happy reunion,” Ken said, producing a note from his cloak. He handed it to Stan. “It’s from Wendy, dude.”
“Oh, shit! I gotta go,” Stan scrambled to his feet. “I’ll see you later, Kyle!”
Then Stan ran directly into the sea, diving under the water. Kyle watched him go with a sigh.
Kenny lowered to the ground, the buzzing of his winged shoes quieting once his sandals hit the sand.
“I don’t have any mail for you, Broflovski, but I do have a couple minutes I can spare.”
“Thanks, Ken,” Kyle said, “But I think I’m gonna go clear my head.”
“Alright dude, but if you need me, just write.” Ken gave Kyle a clap on the shoulder and then started flying off. Kyle watched him go, a blip on the horizon, then stood once he vanished from sight.
Well. Since Kyle took a day off, he might as well use it to do something. No use moping around. Kyle put his hood over his head, making sure the shadows covered his face. His mother may have promised him the day off, but if she, or any of her followers, caught sight of him, they’d somehow be able to rope him right back into training.
Kyle ended up wandering around, giving plants little pick-me-ups as he passed along. Training under his mom may have been a nightmare, but if there was one thing Kyle always liked, it was their powers. He had a vivid memory of his mother kneeling by a rose bush, gently whispering encouragements to it, the wilted, fading petals suddenly becoming vibrant, reaching towards her as if to kiss her in thanks. Kyle always wanted to emulate that—the feeling of helping preserve and enable life.
The forest eventually opened up into a path, leading to a small village. Kyle didn’t dare walk directly into the village—humans were stupid, yeah, but they probably weren’t dumb enough to not notice a mysterious man with flowers growing in his footsteps. So Kyle stuck to walking around the village, peeking into people’s windows and backyards. He found a home with an egregiously overgrown, unmaintained garden spilling into the neighbor’s backyard.
Upon closer inspection, the main culprit of the spillover was a slowly dying rosebush. Its flowers simply looked sad. Kyle gave them a little boost, watching how the buds began to plump up again. He smiled. He heard footsteps from the house and hid behind a tree. He watched the human sleepily allow their dog to run around the garden, digging up a few black-eyed susans in a way that made Kyle cringe. Then the human and their pet were gone. Kyle watched for a little bit longer, wondering if he could save the susans, when suddenly, the rosebush began to rapidly wilt. The beautiful roses crinkled and curled and Kyle gasped in horror.
When the dying had stopped, the bush seemed to be on its last legs, and Kyle pushed more power into it, invigorating the bush again. The rosebush popped with the sudden rush of life, dead petals flying off of the plant.
Kyle heard someone swear, and a power began pushing against his own, trying to sap the life of the plant away. Kyle grit his teeth, channeling more energy into the plant. Kyle fought back against the power, and it fought right back. Kyle’s hands had begun to ache; the tree he was standing by had begun to bend in his direction at the trunk.
They were at a standstill. Kyle gathered every bit of power he had stored away, and gave a final shove against the life-sapping energy coursing through the little bush—but the other energy had apparently decided to do the same, because Kyle was jolted back, physically pushed away by the impact of their powers meeting and clashing. The little bush cried out, Kyle could feel it. The bush was back to a normal, neutral state, but it begged to not be touched by divine energy again. The stress of the powers on the poor bush was almost too much for it.
“What the fuck!” A voice yelled. From the shadows below the human’s porch, a shadowy figure emerged. “You!” The figure pointed directly at Kyle.
It was a reaper, one of the henchmen of the Underworld. The reaper wore the typical uniform of his kind, a long, flowing cloak that melted into the shadows, and a bone white, birdlike mask.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The reaper yelled. He marched directly up to Kyle, towering over him. “You ruined it! Now I can’t do jack shit without straight up just murdering the fucking flowers, you dumbass!”
Kyle was taken aback. He processed what the reaper said and reared right back up, defiantly staring dead at it.
“Well that the hell were you doing just killing innocent plants? Last I checked Hades wasn’t interested in those,” Kyle snarled, “Or maybe you just enjoy spreading misery?”
The reaper jerked, as if shocked.
“You take that back!” he screeched, “You have no idea what you’re talking about! God! Who the fuck even are you?” The reaper leaned back, and though Kyle couldn’t see his face, he knew the reaper was looking over him. “Oh, I see, you’re a minion to that whiny cunt Demeter and her bitch daughter Sheila.”
Kyle’s heart stopped. Not out of hurt or fear. But out of sheer, blinding rage. Without a thought, the grass at his feet erupted into a flurry of vines, lifting Kyle in the air as he roared in fury. The vines contorted around him like an extension of his limbs, his arm slammed down towards the reaper, who just barely had enough time to slip away into the shadows with a yelp, into the forest behind Kyle.
“Holy fuck!” The reaper cried, throwing up a shield to block the incoming flurry of thorns. The reaper fell back into the shadows, fleeing. Kyle chased him.
“Get back here you dirty son of a bitch!” Kyle yelled, chasing the thin snake of black on the forest floor. He grew thorny brush around its path, blocking it from going anywhere but forward. Kyle didn’t want him to have any chance of escaping. Eventually Kyle finally funneled him out of the forest, into an open field—under the bright summer sunlight, with nothing to offer shade.
The reaper was forced out, and he summoned his scythe, knowing he had no option but to fight. Shadows shot forward from the forest behind them, slicing through the “arms” of Kyle’s vines. They tried to twist around him, but Kyle resisted. He shot forward, the earth rumbling beneath him. A gauntlet of thorns twisted around his arms. His fist came in direct contact with the blade of the reaper’s scythe. Kyle pressed down harder, snarling.
The scythe began to crack, its hellish aura seeping into Kyle’s gauntlets, slowly rotting them from the inside. Death oozed between Kyle’s fingers; he pressed on. With a final push, the blade of the scythe snapped in two, and the burst of dark energy instantly disintegrated Kyle’s gauntlets, killed the vines around him. The shadows retreated back into the woods, and the momentum from Kyle’s punch angled his fist directly into the reaper’s stupid fucking face.
They tumbled to the ground in a tangle of hitting, grabbing limbs, frothing at the mouths. They grappled at each other, wrestling around on the field like a pair of squabbling children. Kyle ended up kneeling over the reaper, pinning his thighs down with his knees, one hand was smashed against the reaper’s mask, trying to push his face into the ground, his other hand was gripping the reaper’s wrist, as the reaper had his fingers twisted in Kyle’s miraculously still up cloak hood.
The reaper yanked back on Kyle’s cloak in the same moment Kyle reared back his fist to connect to the reaper’s mask. In the same breath, Kyle’s hood had been thrown off, and the reaper’s mask laid in the grass next to them. They both froze, panting heavily, staring each other in the face.
The reaper—he...Kyle was struck silent. The reaper had the biggest honey-gold eyes Kyle had ever seen. Thick brown bangs framed his round face and pink cheeks. He looked nothing like any reaper Kyle had ever seen. He looked almost...alive.
“I...um—” Kyle stuttered. He suddenly scrambled off of the reaper. Kyle offered a hand to the reaper, who took it with a dazed look in his eye. Without the help of the shadows, the reaper was actually shorter than Kyle.
The reaper continued to stare, his hand still in Kyle’s. Kyle glanced down, noticing how small the reaper’s hands looked, at his pudgy fingers under his dark gloves. The reaper snatched his hand away, suddenly, and when Kyle looked up, the reaper had a look of shock, fear.
“Uh—fuck,” the reaper swore, “Um…” The reaper searched Kyle’s face, before looking away and turning swiftly on his heel. “I gotta go—”
And then he ran into the forest, disappearing on the staircase down to hell.
Kyle stared at his back as he sank into the ground, still a little flabbergasted.
Kyle whipped around. A human saw him, running towards him with open arms, collapsing at his feet. Kyle grimaced. Shit. Now he had to deal with this. He knew his mother was gonna catch wind of it too—