Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Brand New Cupid

Henry’s heart raced at the thought of becoming Cupid. It was graduation day, and today he may well get the enchanted bow and arrows that would create love. Anyone struck with those arrows would immediately gain great emotional attachment toward whomever he or she was gazing. Today was going to be a great day. If he was the one chosen, at least. There were a dozen other students who had been studying under Cupid for the last three hundred years. Only one of them would be selected to be Cupid’s replacement and earn a new name. Godhood would come with the bow. Whoever was chosen would become Cupid Two, the new deity of desire, erotic love, affection, and attraction. Henry fervently hoped it would be him. The pantheon was gathered high on their mountain, looking on with approval as Cupid One gave a speech about what it meant to be the father of desire. The potential Cupids paid rapt attention, fidgeting as they waited for the announcement that would change not only one of their lives, but his whole existence. That grand announcement was coming. Henry was just as restless as the others. Would he be the one to become Cupid Two?

"And with that, the moment you have all been waiting for!" Cupid One announced, his wings fluttering with excitement. He was no longer the eternal child that the old books and stories described him to be. The child-god had grown old, his wings gone from white to grey. His hair matched, and his eyebrow had thickened and were drooping. A beard reached down to his knees, and his back was bent. Rheumy eyes looked over the thirteen students he'd been teaching for the last three centuries. He had aged so gradually over those decades that it had been hard to notice how much he had been aging, but now the memory of first meeting the god returned to him, and the difference was plain. Henry fancied that the old fellow’s eyes settled on him for a moment longer than any of the others. He crossed his fingers behind his own wings, hoping, hoping. His feathers fluttered. He’d been given those wings after the first hundred years of training had passed. Oh, how he loved to preen them. And he loved flying about, invisible to the people below, of course.

"I am pleased to pass on my famous bow and arrows to..." Cupid One drew in a breath and paused. All the other people and gods present leaned forward, balancing on their tiptoes or perching on the edges of their seats. They all held their breaths, waiting. Not that the gods needed to breathe, really, but sometimes it made the tension that much more delectable. Cupid One smiled and finished his sentence. Cheers and applause filled the air as the new Cupid Two ran up to Cupid One to receive his new weapons of affection.

Henry's heart fell. Of course, it would be Isaiah who was chosen. Perfect, brown-nosing Isaiah, the best in the class. Everyone liked him, he never did anything wrong, and he was handsome. Smart, too. Henry kicked at the clouds beneath his feet, bringing up a little poof of moisture. With the other rejected students, he filed forward to congratulate Isaiah— or as he was to always be called now, Cupid Two.

Jealousy consumed Henry. Even if he hadn’t been chosen to be Cupid One’s replacement, he could still help Cupid Two. He could… hold his quiver, or something. But he couldn’t get near it. Cupid Two was protective of his new weapons, and for fifty years, he never let the out of his sight. But Henry couldn’t just give up his dream. He would find a way to bring desire to people, as he’d wanted to do for decades.

Being a human— even if he was a human who had been gifted with wings and was therefore not really just a human- Henry needed sleep. The gods didn't; they could keep going forever. A thought struck Henry. Cupid Two might not need sleep, but he didn't have eyes on every part of him. He couldn't see everything around all the time. Sure, he would cling to that bow and arrows for centuries more, enjoying the excitement of a new toy, but he would put them down sometime. All Henry really needed was one arrow. With that, he could still be a new Cupid. He could do what he was born to do.

His chance to steal an arrow came more quickly and in a different way than he thought. The arrows disappeared once they struck someone and imparted their desire, but Cupid Two wasn't a perfect shot. Even the most perfect archer will miss a shot every now and then. An arrow that didn't hit a living target wouldn't disappear immediately. All Henry had to do was wait for Cupid Two to miss, dart down, and take the errant arrow for himself.

He did so one morning, diving to Earth somewhere in North America. Henry didn’t know who Cupid Two had been aiming at or why, but he watched the projectile fly and saw the moment it whizzed past its target without touching. Henry dove to earth and spent the better part of a dozen years searching through a heavily-forested area, looking for the arrow Cupid Two had discharged. He scanned the foliage fervently. Would the arrow die before he found it? Early in the thirteenth year of his search, white feathers caught his attention, and he dove for them. A very unhappy bird was attached to those feathers and attacked him with surprising anger and strength. Wings flapped in his face, small talons scratched at his face, drawing blood. He managed to escape, only to hear other sounds amid the trees. Once the flapping of wings was gone, he could make out the tramping of feet. Many feet. There were lots of people coming!

Henry hid himself in the bushes and watched as an army stomped by, picking their way through the trees and other plant life. They were decked out in uniforms, each man looking tired and haunted. Were these men on their way to battle, or from it? War was something Henry just didn't understand. What could drive men to kill each other en masse like that? So many of those soldiers really couldn't have any hatred for their enemies. Why did they fight when it was their rulers or governors that had the quarrel?

The army was well out of sight when he happened to look down. There, at his feet, was the stray arrow he'd been searching for. He'd very nearly stepped on it. He knew for certain it was a Cupid's arrow because the arrowhead was shaped like a heart and the shaft was red. Smiling broadly and clutching his prize to him, he spread his wings and rose out of the trees.

A battlefield spread before his eyes. The forest was on the edge of a great plain, and the plain itself was full of soldiers. Two armies stood facing each other, weapons at the ready to attack once given the command. Henry stared down at them, flapping his wings to keep his height. The men below spread out for hundreds of feet. They had guns, some had curved swords, and he even saw cannons. They were going to kill each other! A lot of these men were going to die! It would start any moment now.

Henry looked down at the arrow in his hand. He couldn't end this, couldn't stop them from destroying one another. He only had one arrow, and a stolen one at that! He had no bow to shoot it! He couldn't save lives with this! But how could he allow all those men to die? He had to at least try something, didn’t he? The general in charge of one of the armies raised his sword. It was about to start! Henry had to do something!

Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he zoomed down toward the general. No one could see him; that was one of the perks of being a student of the gods. At least he was undetectable by regular humans. Arm shaking, he extended the tip of his arrow toward the general's shoulder.

And he stopped himself. If he used the arrow on the general, the arrow would disappear. It would be used up and gone. This general might call off his part of the fight, but what about the other general? Henry didn't have the time to find another arrow or beg for one, and he wasn't about to turn this battle into a one-sided slaughter. There had to be another way.

That was when he saw the cannons. A uniformed soldier had just lifted a heavy cannonball to load one of the weapons. Both armies had the cannons. That gave Henry an idea. He flitted over and touched the tip of the arrow to the cannonball just before it was shoved into the weapon. The sphere of heavy metal flashed red, pink, and then white for a split second, then was back to being dull and blackish-grey. He didn't remain to watch the soldier load the ball, but flew over the tense field to the center cannon of the other army. He used the arrow on a cannonball there too, and then rose into the air, crossing his fingers again and hoping this would work. If it did, he might actually manage to stop this war.

The general lowered his sword and pointed it at the enemy army, shouting something Henry couldn't hear. His shout was echoed by the yells of his soldiers, and then the other army began screaming and everything erupted into chaos. The soldiers ran or rode horses toward their enemies, waving blades and brandishing guns. There was a great clang and crash as the front lines rammed into one another, and the battle had begun. Henry’s eyes welled up with tears at the sight.

At almost the same moment, the cannons of both armies fired. Booms sounded in rapid succession, and the cannonballs were in the air. They flew past one another and landed among the fighting men, kicking up dirt and dust, breaking weapons apart, and showering the men with the shattered remains of the cannonballs themselves. But the shrapnel did no damage to flesh, only to ground, grass, and weapons. The soldiers couldn't see any more than black pieces of metal raining down on them, but Henry saw the pink and red dust that the gave the arrows their power as it spewed from the cannonballs. It flew up like a cloud and settled over the battlefield, covering the entire mass of soldiers. The officers and the generals were left untouched, though. The cloud simply did not extend that far, even with the wind that suddenly blew over the plain.

Henry held his breath. The soldiers stopped running at each other, ceased waving and aiming their weapons at one another, and just stared. A thousand pairs of eyes went wide, and guns and other tools of death and destruction fell to the grass. The wind blew loudly, ruffling clothes and the hair sticking out from underneath caps. For the longest time, not a soul moved. Henry finally had to let out the breath he'd been holding, and still no one below him had so much as twitched a muscle. The two generals looked just as stunned as the soldiers, even though the cloud hadn't touched them. It was one of the officers that finally broke the silence.

"What are you doing? Destroy them!" the man shouted, waving the flag he was holding. The man had no weapons, and he had no one's attention, either. His voice drifted away on a final gust of wind, and perfect calm settled on the battlefield.

A few seconds later, a strange chaos broke loose. The soldiers regained their presence and raced toward one another, only this time with arms outstretched. Bodies clashed and hung onto one another, and the attack began. Only, this was no assault of gunfire, blood and gore. The attack erupted in kisses and groping. Uniforms were torn from soldiers by their enemies, and the battlefield was soon full of the sounds of moans and proclamations of love and adoration, affection and desire. Everything degenerated from there.

The unenchanted generals and their officers went bug-eyed. The glorious battle they had both planned and strategized for had been ruined. Surely, no man could have predicted this. Henry felt a burst of pride when he saw for certain that no one would die today. He left the armies to their orgy— and the officers to their bewilderment— and flew back to the realm of the gods. On the way, he tucked the arrow into the sash tied around his waist.

Things weren't quite as great when he reached the godly realm. It had been over a decade since he was here, but his absence had not gone unnoticed. Cupid Two, Mars, and a dozen other gods and goddesses were there, arms crossed and faces scowling, when he first set foot on the great cloud. Mars in particular had a frightening fury in his eyes that made them glow like coals. Cupid Two was tapping his foot. His gaze went straight to the arrow in Henry's sash. He held out his hand. "Give me."

Henry immediately sulked. Slowly, he pulled the arrow from his waistband and held it out to Cupid Two. The love god snatched it away, inspected it for a long while, then snapped it in two. "Do you realize what you just did?" Cupid Two demanded.

"I... I stopped hundreds of men from being killed," he replied, his voice small.

"You stole from me!" Mars thundered, face turning crimson. Beads of sweat popped out all over the god's forehead, making him resemble a bubbling volcano.

"It was just one battle," Henry said defensively. "There will be others—"

"Not for them there won't! You've robbed me of a thousand gallons of blood, years of strife and death, war cries, defeats, and glorious victories! You've ended that war!"

Henry perked up a little at that. He'd actually stopped an entire war? He’d only been trying to prevent a battle. None of the other faces looked near as pleased with his actions.

"Now, Mars," Jupiter's voice broke in. "The peace will only last for a generation. Those men won't have any children to pass the ideals of peace and love on to." He glanced sideways at Henry as he said this. "They'll be too entranced by their new partners' flesh. The desire and attraction from that blast will last a generation, but only until the next group of young men grow up. The same offenses will be there in twenty years, when the children in those areas grow older. The war will resume then and will likely be even bloodier for the delay. You'll have your gore and your deaths."

A vengeful glint sparkled in Mars's eyes. "No. I won't," he said, grinning evilly. "I think it best that I retire." Strutting up to Henry, he thrust a great sword into his hands and placed a helmet on his head. "Congratulations. I’ve decided to forgo the centuries of training and simply appoint a replacement for myself. You may call yourself Mars Two, beginning immediately. You can revel in the blood that will be spilled in twenty years." He started walking off, leaving the other gods standing there, grinning at Mars Two. For himself, Henry just stood rooted in place, looking baffled at the sword in his hands. "Oh, by the way," Mars One said, turning back to look over his shoulder, "There are a couple hundred thousand people in Europe and Asia that are going to slaughter each other in the next eight years. You might want to look into that."

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