Ares and Aphrodite shared a surprised look, then turned their gazes back to us. Aaron looked at me like I was completely insane. Let’s see. In ancient Greece? Seeing gods and goddesses? Body adding lean muscle mass by the minute? Maybe I was insane.
But assuming I wasn’t, I needed to get my shit together and deal with this latest turn of events, like, now.
I looked first at Aphrodite, then at Ares. I gulped. I was about to talk to two heavyweight members of the Greek pantheon. I really hoped I hadn’t gone insane.
“Does that mean we’re your champions? Or are you talking about these Spartan dudes here?”
I was speaking in Greek as I had been since we arrived. I idly wondered what “dudes” came out to in Greek-speak before turning my attention back to what they were saying.
“You and Aaron are our champions. The Spartans are about to face an overwhelming force of Persians, and they have been making supplications for our aid. Since the Spartans focus on the body more than the mind or the spirit, as the Athenians do, we felt that gifts of beauty and strength would be appropriate. Ares provides the strength, and I, of course, provide the beauty,” said Aphrodite passionately. “Have you not noticed the sapphirine glow about you as you have received our gifts?”
“We have noticed the blue glow… but why did you bring us back in time and give us these gifts? Why not choose a Spartan from this time?” I said. I noticed Aaron’s curious glance at me.
“You are Spartans, are you not?” Ares said, tensing, as if afraid he and Aphrodite had made a mistake.
“Hell, n--” I began to say, when Aaron interrupted.
“We are! We are Spartans!” he said, giving me a dirty look. He lowered his voice and told me in a vehement whisper, “We said so at the start of the race, remember? I’m thinking it wouldn’t be a good idea to tell Ares we’re not!”
Aaron was right. We had said that. But we weren’t really Spartans, were we? I wasn’t about to impersonate someone from a culture I knew nothing about…
I looked over to Ares and saw him looking tensed and ready for action, his hand on the hilt of his sword. Um, yeah. I was suddenly thinking Aaron was right--not a good idea to piss this god off. Okay, then. Spartans, we were!
“Hell, yes, we’re Spartans! The Spartiest Spartans of all, in fact! It’s no wonder you picked us to beef up and stuff...” I said, trying desperately to sound convincing.
Ares’ hand relaxed on his hilt. Whew! He was buying it--at least a little.
“So, um, what are we supposed to do about this little Persian problem of yours?” I asked, trying to smile. I wasn’t sure, but I was thinking my expression probably looked more like I had just swallowed a half dozen lemon wedges.
“Why, you will aid the Spartan army in defeating them, of course,” said Aphrodite.
I began to feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, the queasiness from the deaths of those Immortal soldiers again flooding into me.
“Okay. So how many Persians are we talking about here? Are we talking, like, a hundred, or a thousand?”
“Two hundred thousand, give or take,” said Ares.
“Excuse me,” I said, turning green.
I turned around and walked behind Aaron.
When I rose again and turned to face the gods, they were gone. My gaze landed only on the seven remaining Spartans, who were looking at Aaron and me in complete shock. Rattled to the core by the notion that Aaron and I were supposed to help some army take on two hundred thousand freaking Persians, I was more than a little off balance mentally, my emotions penduluming between terror and hysterical humor. After vomiting out my latest round of terror, I was beginning to feel bemused disbelief instead.
Yeah, that’s right, Spartans. Your uniformed little gods picked my sorry little pseudo-Greek ass to be extra-Spartified, I thought with manic smugness.
My eyes met Aarons after surveying the Greeks. His face was white, and he was trembling. Uh oh. That was moving my emotional pendulum back toward the terror end of the spectrum. Damn it, Aaron!
As my emotional roller coaster began to flatten into something resembling… maybe not calm but perhaps less completely freaked, the Greeks piled up the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. They motioned for Aaron and I to follow as they once again set a swift pace to their camp.
Several hours later we arrived. Aaron and I stood at the edge of an army of seven thousand. I was sincerely hoping that they had another hundred thousand or two somewhere around here, or we were about to be in a serious world of hurt when the Persians showed up.
Why did I have to be on the Spartan side of this mess? Would it be really shitty of me to flip sides? I mean, my only real allegiance to these Spartan guys was a stupid little entry form I’d filled out in a race near Seattle a couple of thousand years in the future. Was I seriously supposed to die with these people just for that?
“Aaron, do you think we should get the hell out of here? I mean, we’re not really with these Spartan guys, right?”
“You mean abandon them? After their gods just told us we’re receiving their blessings?”
“Exactly. I don’t really feel like dying for some people I don’t even know. Hell, how do we even know these are the good guys?”
“Kate, I think this is the Battle of Thermopylae!”
“Yeah, yeah. The Gerard Butler movie, I know! Only with a bunch of stupid armor to take away my eye candy! So you in? I mean… out?”
“Kate, we can’t leave three hundred Spartans to take on a huge army by themselves! Maybe this is how they really succeeded in delaying the Persians--they have our help!”
“Well, look who’s got a high as hell opinion of himself! First, there are a lot more than 300 guys in this army. Second, I seriously doubt our help is going to really make a difference here. I mean, you’re looking buff enough to fit in with the six pack movie troupe from that movie, but that doesn’t mean you can take on 200,000 freaking army guys!”
“Kat, we can’t abandon them right now. We just can’t!” Aaron’s voice was growing agitated.
“Do you seriously want to sign up to die for a bunch of strangers?”
A voice came from a tent nearby.
“King Leonidas would like to see you now!”
“Damn it!” I hissed to Aaron in a loud whisper. “We missed our chance to get out of here!”
We made our way to the tent, then paused as two spear-toting guards blocked our passage. I noticed a barrel of water a few feet away and walked over to it to get a sip of water. As I stood over it, about to dip my hands in to draw some water to my mouth, I noticed my reflection.
My jaw dropped.
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