It was the last day of 2013.
Heliod gently put down his iPod, a smile slowly creeping across his sun-drenched face. "Now that is some of the freshest, dopest, most illest beats I have ever heard." He quickly sprung into the infamous stance. His left foot was poised as if coming down to smash through a city while his arms spread out to his sides, left hand clenched into a fist. It had been over two decades since Straight Outta Theros, but it wasn't uncommon to see kids still jump into the popular "Polis Crusher" pose.
Heliod chuckled quietly to himself. "I'm pretty sure nothing could possibly ruin this awesome day," he said to no one in particular. "I've got my sweet-ass music, my charming, devil-may-care attitude, and the kind of rugged, chiseled look that only an Orcish Lumberjack crossed with a male model could possess. How could it go wrong?!" He grinned sheepishly as he flexed his muscles, way too satisfied with himself.
"Well, for one, the Devil doesn't care," said a soft voice behind him.
Heliod quickly spun around in shock. He was usually quite vigilant. It wasn't every day that someone was able to sneak up on him. Especially not today. Especially not here.
Behind him stood a figure dressed in all black. A hood as dark as night covered the mystery figure's face, hiding features behind an impossibly dark shadow. Heliod quickly realized that dark as night was a pretty poor way to describe just how dark that hood was. Blacker than black was a bit closer to the truth. This wasn't the kind of hood that simply shocked you with its darkness; it was the kind of hood that actively took the surrounding light away.
"I'd like to amend my previous statement," the soft voice said with a hint of amusement. "The Devil does care about your music selection. Crush Tha Polis? Really? Naiads Wit Attitude is so last year. This year it's all about the Bestow Boys. You know. Bronze Sable. That stable Sable. Bronze Sable . . . " the figure trailed off. "You know. You know how the song goes."
Heliod could only stare speechless. His mouth hung open in a position that the Scholar of Athreos would later qualify as "decidedly agape." A sudden chill rippled across his body, shaking him out of his stupor.
"How did . . . how? It's not possible," Heliod sputtered out.
"Oh, come off it, dear Heliod," the voice said playfully. "You of all people should know just how possible it is. Or did you think I was just going to rot forevermore, destined to be nothing more than a scary bedtime story?"
"Yeah. I did actually think that," said Heliod blankly.
"Rats," said the voice in mock frustration. Heliod very briefly heard the faint sound of pack rats skittering across cobblestones in the distance. "It's been too long, dear old friend," the figure sighed. "Where did we last leave off?"
The soft voice suddenly lost its tone of playfulness. "Ahh yes, that's right. I remember now. I was minding my own business when you and your punk-ass friends tore apart the only thing in this world that I held dear. Then you subjected me to the most painful moment of my life as you unceremoniously banished me to the Underworld, destined to live a lonely life of immense suffering for the rest of all eternity."
The voice was now filled with pure ice-cold malice. "You didn't forget, did you? It was a long time ago after all."
The air around Heliod grew heavy. The light around Heliod grew dim. Heliod briefly glanced up at the sky. The sun was now covered by thick dark clouds. Heliod shivered.
"Did you miss me?" the voice said, its playfulness returned.
Heliod blinked three times. The dark figure was gone.
"Well," Heliod said to himself, "that certainly put a damper on things."
It began to rain. Heliod grew damper yet.
Heliod ran all the way to Purphoros' apartment. Halfway there he realized he had left his iPod behind. He didn't turn back.
Purphoros was busy heating up some leftover lasagna when the door to his apartment burst open. A soaking-wet Heliod burst in, gasping for breath.
"What the hell, man? Don't you ever knock? What if I was standing here butt naked doing stretches? What if I was watching Curse of the Swine Flu again and wasn't quick enough to change the channel and save myself the embarrassment? That could have been really awkward." Purphoros was annoyed. "Also, take off your shoes, you ass. You're getting mud all over my new carpet."
Heliod briefly considered running over to Purphoros' couch to stomp on it repeatedly while yelling "I'm Rick James, bitch" but a rare moment of restraint held him back.
"Guess who's back?" Heliod said dryly, no hint of emotion in his voice. "He's back again."
"You're damn right he is. Tell a friend." Purphoros said emphatically.
"You saw him too?" Heliod gasped.
"Saw who? Dude. What's gotten into you? I'm talking about Slim Shady. His new album is sick. He's back. He's back, baby." The two friends had been listening near nonstop to Eminem's new album. They couldn't get enough.
"No. Not him. I'm not talking about him. Not Eminem. I'm talking about Him. He's back. You know. Him."
Purphoros shuddered at the thought. "You're lying. It can't be."
"It can. It is. I saw him. Get the others. Nasty T will know what to do. She always knows what to do." Heliod said.
"Come on, man. You gotta stop calling her Nasty T. You know she hates it when you call her that."
Heliod shrugged. Purphoros paused briefly and then continued. "That happened in middle school. It's been years. Grow up."
"Yeah, I have no clue what to do," Thassa shrugged. "I mean, we can't just do the same thing we did last time. He's certainly not going to fall for that again."
"We could chain him to the rocks," Purphoros casually suggested as he clinked two pieces of ice together in his glass.
"We tried that last time. It didn't work out too well, did it?" You could hear the tension in Heliod's voice. "We need to figure out something . . . something good. And soon."
"We could ask the grinning bobcat why he grinned," Nylea finally piped up.
"What? What does a bobcat have to do with this?" Heliod asked. You could hear the annoyance in his voice.
"Oh, I got it!" Nylea said excitedly. "We could run the hidden pine trails of the forest. If that doesn't work, we could always taste the sun-sweet berries of the earth."
"Are you just quoting Pocahontas again?" Thassa finally asked.
"Yeah," Nylea looked smug, "it's a great film."
"This isn't a joking matter. If we don't figure out how to defeat Him, then we're all going to end up . . . We're all going to have . . . He is probably going to do some things that might seem alright on the surface but deep down aren't quite necessarily aligned with the greater good. None of us want to see that. He must be ended." Heliod gripped the table so hard that his hands turned white.
"Is there any reason you refuse to say his name?" Nylea smiled. "You're only painting with some of the colors of the wind. You know who he is. Say his name."
A long tension-filled pause filled the room. Finally, Heliod stood up.
"He's Erebos," he nearly spat as he said it, "God of the Dead."
"He seems quite a bit less dead these days," Nylea giggled.
"Not for long. Do whatever you want. I'm going to find him and destroy him whether or not anyone is there to help me."
"You have my bow!" Nylea cheerfully shouted.
"And my bident," Thassa responded on cue.
Nobody said anything. Everyone looked around nervously, pointedly avoiding making eye contact with Thassa. Eventually, after a long pause, she piped up.
"What? Is there a problem with that?"
"It's . . . uh . . . it's just that . . . " Heliod gulped. "Look. No offense, but nobody is really that scared of a bident. I mean, not to say that a hammer is necessarily that badass," Heliod looked apologetically at Purphoros, "but you can at least bludgeon someone with it. What are you going to do with a bident? Prickle someone? Poke someone until they relent? I don't want to overstep my bounds here, but you might consider replacing it with something a little more . . . uh . . . menacing. The sword is still unclaimed. Nobody has jumped on the battle mace train yet. Bident is like a solid twelfth pick."
"I know you're not talking about my bident like that," Thassa had a look on her face that could kill any lesser being. "I know that you are certainly NOT talking about my bident like that," her voice was quite a bit louder the second time.
"Certainly not," Heliod said quietly. He stood up and walked to the door. "Later, Nasty T. I've got a God of the Dead to make redead," he walked out with a flourish.
"If Erebos doesn't kill him, then I just might." Thassa looked angrily at the swinging door.
"EREBOS!" Heliod shouted at the empty sky. "Show yourself. Fight me! If you aren't too scared, that is."
"Scared?" Heliod spun around, surprised by the soft voice behind him. "Whatever would I be scared of?" Erebos chuckled softly. "You do amuse me greatly, dear Heliod."
"I'm not in a talking kinda mood," Heliod said, staring intently at the hooded figure.
"That's quite a shame. I just got out of Book Club and have a lot of insight I would have loved to share," Erebos retorted. "Well then. Shall we settle this the old-fashioned way? Shall I count off twenty paces for our duel? I defer to your wisdom of course in this matter. You seem to know a lot more about destroying lives than I do."
"You know exactly how we're going to settle this!" Heliod shouted at him. To his surprise, his voice didn't quiver. He looked at Erebos with hard determination as he gripped his spear.
Erebos casually flicked his whip around, seemingly unfazed by Heliod's aggression. "I see. Well, I suppose I shall begin then." Erebos cleared his throat and started.
"I am Erebos, God of the Dead.
My rhymes are dope. I have maximum street cred.
You are Heliod, punk-ass bitch.
I'm going to leave you face down in a ditch.
I've won tourney after tourney, Mono-Black yo.
You're the cheapest mythic, just two tix on the MODO.
Weak, pathetic, unplayed.
I couldn't even get a Squire off you in a trade."
Heliod then launched in.
"Well aren't you just a pretty boy. A real southern belle.
I can't wait to shove my spear right up your Asphodel.
I'm going to wreck you so clean. It's surgical.
You're going to bow down to me prayin'. It's clerical.
You're a one-of at most in a deck that's falling out of favor.
Heliod's the new hot thing. Sunny D, savor the Flavor.
The only way you've ever won is to chain together Gary
Well guess what, son, I'm about to pop your Black Cherry."
With that, Erebos reached into the pockets of his coat, clearly digging for something.
"What's that, Erebos? What are you looking for? A way out?" Heliod laughed.
"Actually, I'm just looking for my sideboard. I think I misplaced it," Erebos nodded casually.
"That's . . . that's actually a good idea."
The two spent the next three minutes poring over their options. When three minutes had passed, Erebos submitted and raised his hand to call for a judge. He was just about to ask them to watch Heliod for slow play when Heliod finally called him off.
"You can't possibly defeat my tech!" Heliod yelled.
Erebos simply slapped him in the ass with his whip. "You better check yourself before you out-tech yourself."
"I've had enough of your clever wordplay, you bastard." With that, Heliod shed his mortal form and grew to three times the size of a skyscraper. "It's time to end this."
Erebos rose to meet him, the two gods towering above the surrounding landscape. They immediately launched into each other. You could hear the sound of a spear flying through the air. You could hear the cracking of a whip. If you listened really closely, you could hear a soft voice telling Heliod some very uncouth things regarding his mother.
The battle raged on for hours.
In a nearby town, happy townsfolk were celebrating the new year with their annual Holiday Festival. The air was full of the sound of children laughing and the smell of freshly cooked treats.
"Ma!" Billy tucked on his mother's skirt. "Ma! Yeh done outdid yerself this year. Yer apple pie is better than last year!"
"Oh Billy, you say that every year. You're just trying to get another piece out of me. I won't spoil your appetite before dinner." Still, you could see her beam with happiness.
"Really Anne. This pie is something else. Those apples are just so fresh," the Mayor weighed in. "I feel like a fella could get used to this."
Suddenly, an enormous spear crashed down from the sky right in the middle of the festival, smothering everything. Everyone present and all living organisms within a three-mile radius were instantaneously snuffed out.
Heliod picked up his spear as he dodged a particularly vicious whip activation from Erebos. Sensing his opening, he closed the gap between him and the dark god. He grabbed ahold of Erebos and flung him into the ground.
Erebos crashed into the earth and slid through the metropolis of Athreos, leaving an untold wake of destruction in the unsuspecting city. Heliod crashed down on top of him, his leg arching out and destroying an entire city block in the process. Thousands of innocent lives were lost.
"Finally!" Heliod pressed his spear up against Erebos' chest. "You lose."
As Heliod was about to jam the spear through Erebos, the God of the Dead made one final motion. He reached up and pulled off his hood, leaving his features visible for the first time.
Heliod gasped. He stopped his motion. His face went pale. He was as pale as death. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
"Surprised?" Erebos wheezed, still recovering from his fall.
"It . . . it cannot be. It's not possible." Heliod whispered, unsure of himself.
"Didn't we have this discussion earlier today? You of all people should know just how possible it is," Erebos smiled grimly.
When Erebos had ripped off his hood, Heliod was not prepared for the face he saw. It wasn't a marred, gruesome face. He could have stomached that. He could have finished Erebos if that were the case. No, it definitely wasn't a dark void, a gaping maw, or any kind of grotesque image you would expect to see in a horror film. It was something far more disturbing to Heliod.
What Heliod saw was his own face staring back at him. Nothing could have prepared him for that.
"So . . . so does that mean . . . I guess that means you're my . . . brother?" Heliod sputtered the question, still shell-shocked from what he saw.
"Twin brother," Erebos corrected matter-of-factly. "We're not so different after all."
"No, no. We're quite different. I am nothing like you." Heliod spat.
"Interesting." Erebos looked amused. "We look the same. We sound the same. We share a lot in common. So no. No. I don't think you're quite right. I think we are a lot more alike than you would care to admit." Heliod looked aghast as Erebos continued on. "We both have a, how do you say it? Ah yes, we possess a 'devil-may-care attitude.' I also happen to share your rugged, chiseled features. Half lumberjack, half model, half pig sans the pig part.
We also have a lot of the same tastes. I imagine you really loved the new Jason Bourne film."
"You liked Bourne of the Gods?" Heliod interrupted. "I thought I was the only one."
"Not quite." Erebos said softly.
"I can't believe it only got a 27 on Rotten Tomatoes. It was definitely film of the year," Heliod continued. "It deserved better."
"That poor rating definitely goes down as the biggest tragedy of the year without question." As Erebos said that, he stretched his arm out, crushing a wide swath of houses in Athreos and killing hundreds and hundreds of innocent people. "It's hard to think of something more catastrophic than that 27 score."
Heliod stood up and helped Erebos to his feet. "I guess you're right. We aren't so different after all . . . brother."
Thassa, Purphoros, and Nylea arrived just in time to witness Heliod pick up Erebos.
"What are you doing Heliod?!" Thassa shouted. "Why didn't you finish him?"
"Hello Nasty T," Erebos said, a cock-sure grin spreading across his face. In later histories of this event, the lone surviving Scholar of Athreos would go on to describe Erebos as possessing a decidedly "shit-eating" grin at that very moment.
"What? How could you possibly know about that?" Thassa was shocked.
"Word travels fast," Erebos laughed.
"That happened ages ago," Thassa stated.
"People don't forget," said Erebos as he and Heliod high-fived each other.
"Ugh. You two are both pigs," Thassa accidentally dropped her bident as she said it, causing a group of nearby Athreos townsfolk to be cursed to live the rest of their life as swine.
"Nature is cool," Nylea tried to also get a high-five out of the deal, but nobody bit. "Even Tom Brady would have gotten a high-five there," she mused dejectedly.
"You need to explain," Purphoros said.
Heliod spoke up. "I learned a valuable lesson here. You see, all this time I wanted to destroy and eradicate Erebos. I wanted nothing more than to never have to see him ever again. But why? He had never done anything to me. He had never harmed any of us. I wanted him gone simply because he was different. He was dark. He was mysterious. I didn't understand him, and I was afraid of that which I didn't understand.
But take one look at his beautiful face and it's easy to see why you wouldn't want to destroy him. I mean, who could honestly hurt such a good-looking gent?"
"It sounds like you still have a lot to learn," Thassa said bitterly.
"He looks a lot like you," Purphoros noted.
"Exactly!" Heliod looked pleased. "Those fine features," Heliod shuddered, "it pains me to think of anyone harming that. I'm just glad I was able to learn this lesson at no great cost. It hurts me to think of what kind of devastation could have been brought to bear if I had taken any longer to figure it out. It's really quite lucky that no one was really harmed in the quest for my enlightenment."
"That was heavy," Purphoros said.
"Nah. He's not heavy. He's my brother!" Heliod exclaimed.
Everyone looked over at Erebos. He paused, unsure of their reaction.
"Correction. Seven toughness. He does have a pretty fat ass," Heliod said thoughtfully. "I guess he is kinda heavy." Everyone laughed. Erebos relaxed.
As the other Gods began to converse with Erebos, Heliod slid off by himself deep in thought. Glancing to the sky, Heliod could see the five ghostly spirits that made up the Obzedat smile in support. Unfortunately, one of their grisly faces had been replaced by Hayden Christensen, ruining the experience for Heliod.
Heliod blinked three times. The ghostly spirits were gone.
Off in the distance, a bell rung fourteen times.
It was the first day of 2014.