Step Zero : The Bet
“So we’re all in agreement?” Loki asked as he dropped his wager into the large black pot in the middle of the three men.
Set snorted. Of course it was Loki who needed clarification. More than any of them, the Norse trickster thrived on his golden tongue coming up with words and agreements that twisted things in his favour. Probably thought that would help him.
Plus that cape. Set almost rolled his eyes. Trust Loki to find the most ostentatious shade of green available. Every so often a gust of desert wind would whip up and grab the tails of the cape, nearly hiding the Norse god under the folds.
“We are,” Eshu stepped forward, and threw his own wager into the cauldron, “the terms of the bet seem acceptable to me.”
They both turned to Set, waiting for his confirmation.
He just crossed his arms and stared at them. Chest broad to Loki’s skinny frame. In plain clothes suited for crossing his deserts while Eshu stood resplendent in a golden fabric that Set was pretty sure he’d stolen from the sun. Something to do with yams apparently.
Set wasn’t worried, the prankster god of the Yoruba was just that, a prankster. As a messenger god, he thrived on words and tricks to achieve his purposes as he crisscrossed across Africa.
Set was a man of action. God of Egypt. Lord of chaos to their puny tricks and as patient as the desert itself. Calm until the storm struck. He didn’t shift, moving only his eyes to stare down the two gods standing across from him. Loki wearing a scowl while Eshu waited, face unreadable.
Then Set’s gaze flickered up to the sky.
There was nothing more beautiful than the desert at night but it was a sight he so rarely got to see. With never a cloud overhead and cities far from his shifting sand dunes, the stars were free to pierce the darkness. Twinkling like a thousand tiny grains of sand scattered across the universe.
Pranks were fine and tricks could work.
But true chaos reigned supreme.
He nodded and threw his wager into the cauldron, “May the best god win.”
Step One: Acquire Apples
He didn’t know what Eshu and Loki had planned but he was fairly certain it wasn’t this. Because this was mildly insane, even for him. He’d swung by Ptah’s to ask for any advice on this particular challenge and the creator god had just blinked at him. Then he’d asked what kind of body Set would prefer next.
So maybe a little more than mildly insane.
His lips curled in a smile.
Set burst over the top of the hedge he was hiding behind and ran straight for the tree at the center of the garden, sword flashing in his hand. Theoretically easy enough. Run in. Pick an apple. Run out.
His legs pumped as he went, gathering momentum.
Eyes on the golden apples before him. They grew on a tree in the center of the Garden of Hesperides, one that seemed to rise to the heavens with it’s branches and dig all the way down to the underworld itself with it’s roots. A joint effort between pantheons as the garden belonged to Hera of the Greeks and was cared for by a series of nymphs. But the tree itself was Norse in origin, belonging to Iounn. There was a deal made that none would touch them.
The apples precious to both pantheons.
But for the purposes of his bet, the Greeks would suffice. Winding up the Greek gods was easy for anyone, in the short time they’d been the dominant pantheon the Greeks had already shown a strong proclivity for fighting amidst themselves. Attention span of gnats and the hunger of locusts. Hardly a challenge to wind up.
Yet they had more power than they knew what to do with. Magic in abundance and more demi-gods than any of the other pantheons could lay claim to. Set shook his head at the thought and leapt past the nymph coming from the center of the garden, sprinting past her before she could call out.
If even half of the Greek demi-gods had the sexual appetite of Zeus, they’d soon be overrun with tiny Greek demi-gods.
Perfect play for a trio of tricksters with nothing better to do.
Never hurts to do a little weeding and cut down the numbers. Throw in a challenge with a reward most appealing and Set was hooked.
Thus, the apples. Shiny. Unattainable. Perfect for a group of gods as petty as they came.
Except for the dragon.
A treasure that precious couldn’t be left unguarded.
Ladon was curled around the tree at the center of the garden, almost serpentine in his appearance as his long tongue licked in and out of his mouths. All 100 of them. The dragon looked lazy, Set had been watching him for days, but there was something glinting in the deep red eyes that had Set on edge. Calculating all the angles before approaching.
He was a General first. Fought wars that Pharaohs started and commanded thousands of good Egyptians who rode under his red banner.
But today he was alone. Something else he was no stranger to. Every night when the sun went down, he was left to fight alone. Pushing through the darkness for things more dangerous than a red-eyed dragon.
Ladon’s head lifted as Set got closer and the god tightened his fingers around the sword in his hand. The blade glowed red, illuminated by the sparks of magic that poured from his fists to dance down the saber.
He kept running and as he leapt over a small circle of stones, the air flickered. Ladon leapt upward with a speed well beyond the sluggish naps that Set had seen. The beast extended to his full length, teeth longer than Set’s arms and with claws thicker than his waist that ripped the ground into furrows of mud.
All 100 heads fixed on his approaching form.
Last chance to back out.
Step Two: Get a New Face
The golden apple was clenched tightly in his fist, sword long swallowed by head 28, when Set stumbled home and burst into his roommate’s chambers. Ptah was many things but nimble wasn’t one of them.
Set hit the ground. Bleeding out a circle of golden ichor from cuts that were so numerous he couldn’t tell where one started and the next ended. A few sets of teeth still embedded in his flesh and poking through the linens that he’d improvised as a bandage.
The apple tumbled from his fist. Golden fruit sending golden drops flying.
When he woke again, Ptah already had the apple cleaned and pressed back in his new fist. Set smiled, threw it in the air, and caught it again. These new fingers would take some getting used to but the body was roughly the same. Always large. Always a warrior. His friend knew what he liked.
Ptah didn’t even look over as he stood, “If you’re going out, we need more wine.”
Set put the apple on the table, “I’ll even get you those figs you like if you can engrave this for me.”
The apple disappeared before his eyes.
Ptah really liked figs.
Step Three: Spread a Rumour
If you wanted to make sure that everyone knew your business, the market was the place to go. With magical passages connecting it to a hundred different lands, gods from all over could use it to come together. Trading nectar for ambrosia. Norse swords for Yoruba amulets.
There were even gods who were working on establishing longer connections, claiming that there had to be a new world beyond the oceans. He’d believe that when he saw it.
Usually Set lurked in the corner, sticking to the shadows and maybe bumping into a god or two if they looked like they were carrying something that was worth his time to relieve them of. But today he had a new face and was looking for one god in particular, so he camped out on the edge of the water. A crystal clear pool in the center of the market with what was supposedly a bottomless depth and contained a variety of water spirits.
Today he was only interested in one.
Thus, the cucumber. He put one on the ledge of the pool and starting gnawing at the second. He was almost a quarter way through the vegetable when the water started to ripple, conveniently right next to where he’d placed a cucumber on the ledge.
He forced himself not to look. Muscles tense as he slowly kept eating the cucumber. He’d never been one for fishing but the principles were the same as those of the desert. Move fast and die.
He could hear the ripples even over the noise of the market around him.
The lightest splash. The kind only a god who has spent centuries on a boat listening for the slightest disturbance would hear. Set whirled, arm flying out to grab the creature by the arm. His fingers closed on slimy skin, wet and uncomfortable. But he held and yanked.
A decisive pop of victory.
When he turned around fully there was a kappa. Glaring at him. So he gave it his best smile and simply said, “we both know the rules. You get the limb back. I get whatever I want.”
The kappa continued to glare. As a water spirit, it was vaguely humanoid with reptilian features accompanied by webbed hands and feet. Hardly menacing. Unless you knew better.
Unless you knew how many gods had drowned in that pool.
“I don’t make the rules.” Set shrugged. “Now, all you have to do is tell everyone who comes your way, everyone in the market, about golden apples.”
One re-attached kappa arm and an hour later the market was buzzing with talk of golden apples.
Step Four: Wait
Each day, Set dragged himself back to the palace just as the sun was rising. Night’s work done and the courtyard nearly silent as the last glimmer of stars faded to the continual rise of the sun. Ra safe for another night.
The only thing disturbing the stillness was Ptah, always up when the sun rose to ‘maximize his working hours’. The creator god always with a new project tucked under his arm.
Set figured that Ptah hated the hustle and bustle of court life as much as he did. Osiris ruling from his throne. Isis constantly trying to get them to do something or other. Thoth inevitably blowing something up when he wasn’t camped out in the underworld with Anubis.
Sometimes, Set used it as an alarm-clock. Usually fairly dependable to get him up in time for lunch.
But every day since the market, as he passed through the courtyard with his sword heavy in his hand and the sands of sleep poking at his eyes, he stopped to ask Ptah a question, “Hear anything about apples?”
He’d get a simple no from the god already lost in his latest designs and tumble off to bed.
Until finally, as Set slumped past with water black as the nethersphere dripping down his shoulders, Ptah said, “So apparently golden apples are the most valued magical item in all the lands and will bestow beauty and honour on those who own them?”
Set stopped short, a smile cracking over his face as his head popped up.
“That seems contrary to the research. I was under the impression that they were primarily for immortality for those of mortal soul and flesh.” Ptah met his gaze then shook his head, “Do I want to know why that rumour started?”
“No.” Set said.
If Ptah, the god who barely noticed if you blew something up two feet away from him, had heard the rumour then the waiting was over.
Step Five: Get a Wedding Invitation
This should be easy.
He walked up to the goddess with a grin on his face and a flower in his hand. Eris took the flower, returning a matching grin.
Before smacking him upside the head.
Right. The last bet. He probably shouldn’t have been such a sore winner.
Step Six: Rethink Step Five
His face hurt.
Ptah chuckled at the bright red handprint and tossed him the golden apple.
The words, ‘To The Fairest’ carved across it’s surface.
Step Six: Party Crash
Who really needs a date to attend a party anyway?
Set walked confidently into the wedding feast, golden apple tucked in the pocket of his borrowed clothes. They glimmered red in the light of the small suns illuminating the party. Apollo really didn’t need that big of a closet anyway and if the god hadn’t wanted to share, why in the world would he have left his window open like that?
Or mostly open. Or at least so easily openable with a couple of quick tools that any respectable god carried on them.
He wasn’t even entirely sure who was getting married, some demi-god and a sea nymph maybe, but it hardly mattered. What mattered was the crowd in attendance. Every Greek god from Zeus himself straight down to the bottom of the pile. Hera and Athena. Apollo and Artemis. Aphrodite and Hephaestus. Ares and Poseidon. A handful of gods from the other pantheons as well.
Frigg and Odin. Isis and Nethpthys. Venus and Mars.
Everyone. Except maybe the underworld gods but they hardly mattered, trapped in their own affairs. Pluto. Hades. Hel. Anubis and the rest.
Even Eris was here. Her head spun in his direction as though the goddess of discord could hear his thoughts. Set touched his cheek lightly and ducked behind a large sculpture of a swan, covering the motion by grabbing a piece of goat and stuffing it in his mouth.
Set peered around the sculpture, coming eye to eye with the god standing on the other side of the table. She was nearly as tall as he was with a fine sword strapped to her waist that had his fingers itching to touch. Easily recognizable although he never had the pleasure of her acquaintance.
Freya. Norse goddess of magic.
He gave her a wink and lifted a finger to his lips. She raised a brow at him but then nodded her head, walking away.
He paused to shove a little more goat in his mouth and then reached for the apple. Sending a quick spark of red magic straight to the golden core.
Then with a quick toss, he let it go.
Step Seven: Bask in the Glow of Your Victory
Set settled onto the low couch in his chambers and rubbed his hands together before picking up a scroll. Slowly writing a message across it, he then duplicated the effort. Ready to be sent out.
Threw a golden apple in the middle of a bunch of Greeks. We’ll have to see what comes of it. Low interference chaos, as per our agreement. Expecting promising results.
To those who aren’t up on their mythology, a golden apple thrown between the Greek gods leads to the Trojan war. So yeah… Set’s definitely going to get his chaos