Gods and Monsters is a lot of things. It’s a story about a young woman, not exactly a coming of age story but coming into her own. It’s a story about parents who learn that their daughter is something new and powerful, and work to reconcile that image of her with their little girl. It’s a story about how politics chews you up and spits out the bones, and you don’t even notice until someone comes along who can play the game just as well and still hold onto some kind of faith in the goodness of people. It’s a story about redemption, about a journey, about love and the relationships that make you stronger, and the ones that eat away at you. It’s also got some children of some gods, and a few monsters, too.
This story has its origins in so many different places, I don’t know where to begin. Most of the protagonists in their current forms began several years ago, on a whim and with a fair amount of wild collaborative brainstorming, more than we ever wrote out. The idea of a story involving a supernatural version of modern politics wafted back and forth while I was growing up in DC, and has shown up in several projects since. The antagonists are the most recent addition, well, most of them at least. I could say I wrote this in a vaguely linear and traditional fashion, not beginning to end but all in one chunk as a draft, and then revised, and now am publishing. I’d also be lying through my teeth. I know where it begins and where it goes and even how it ends, but this is very much a journey, and you’re all getting dragged along with me.
This weekly serial to be published through my e-mail mailing list starting May 2. You can sign up here, at the form to the right, or off the main page. Back issues will be available to subscribers, for those who miss an issue or who come in later in the story. If you like it (or any of the other stories on my site) enough to leave something in the tip jar, the PayPal button’s off to the right as well.
“Your garden looks lovely today.”
Serena looked through her glass at the distorted view of her neatly manicured lawn. Carl was being ironic, she decided, with the possessive pronoun. So much time and effort from other people, and only money and a choice of color scheme from her, had gone into making it a picture-perfect backyard setting. It would all be gone in the winter. Surely it embodied some sort of commentary on the transitory nature of life that she didn’t have the energy to make. “Thank you. Many well-paid skilled laborers worked hard to make it so,” she smiled up at him.
He smiled back, but it was sun behind the clouds and not the reassurance she had looked for. Serena sighed.
“So, not just stopping by for a visit because you were in the neighborhood, then.”
“No,” Carl pulled up a chair with a scrape of metal legs on brick patio and sat. “It’s about Lucy.”
She set her glass down carefully. “What about Lucy?”
Once upon a time and long ago, this patio had been regularly occupied by a bevy of teenage girls, her daughter and friends. They’d kept the patio in a constant state of chaos, annoying her stepfather with the noise and holding court in their awkward, experimental way. Lucy had learned from her mother how to handle a crowd, how to read expectations and needs and sort through to see which needed matching, with the result that she usually led her group of friends. Serena didn’t know whether to be proud or wish something less familiar for her daughter, with a new set of dangers she could imagine less vividly, if at all. And then Lucy went off to college, after which she’d pleaded to go up north and join her father at his investigations and security firm. She hadn’t had to plead very hard. Carl was happy to have her. Serena was happy for her daughter to be doing something she enjoyed.
That didn’t mean there weren’t risks. She’d been dreading a conversation like this for a few years. When he didn’t launch into it she leaned forward, trying to get him to look at her. “Carl. What about Lucy?”
“You know that … that what we are. It comes out…” Carl made a face, swore in a few different languages that resembled nothing she spoke, she only recognized it because they were some of his favorite curses. “What do you remember about the first time you realized you were special?”
Serena fell back in her chair, hurt and tired. “Are you asking me that? You. Now? After that lead-in? You know what we were like back then.”
“I’m serious, Serena. Please?”
A cloud slid over the sun, though she didn’t think either of them had gone far enough to bend the weather to their mood. Still, it made for an appropriately timed shiver. “I was… seventeen? Eighteen? I was seeing that boy. We were over at his place going over our college admission packets. His father took an interest in where I was going…” She didn’t like to talk about those days. Not that there was much shocking or new and unique, or even shameful on her better days, about what she’d done. But she had been far too young and scared, and it was with a great deal of luck that it came out all right in the end.
Carl didn’t push, but he did take her hands in his. “And he made you an offer…”
Serena nodded, breathing slow and even. “He made me an offer. It was… more money than I could ever have earned otherwise. And it was a college education, and he wasn’t a bad person. Just a bit lonely, I think. And part of me saw the wisdom in it. And the opportunity.” She sat up, tugging her hands out of the way. “Why are you asking me this? Is there someone…”
“No!” Carl shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. But, you were seventeen, eighteen, right? And I was twenty something…”
“You were at University,” she remembered. His first year, too. It had to be worrying him, now, she knew, he never talked about that time, ever. At least not to her anymore. She couldn’t imagine he hadn’t gone through it at least once with Will by now.
“And Lucy … there’s nothing. Unless she’s talked to you about it…”
There was that cloud again, unease crawling down her throat to sit curled up like a worm in her stomach. “She hasn’t said anything to me, and I don’t know why she wouldn’t. It’s not as though she didn’t know what Stephen and I are, what you are. We raised her to know about scions. About us and what we go through.”
Behind her ex-lover’s eyes, Oghma surfaced long enough to smile at her. “And she’s better for it.” Then Carl shook his head and the old god was gone. “But she hasn’t said anything. And I haven’t noticed anything, neither Will nor Anubis has noticed anything, and no one at the firm has reported anything strange. A child of two scions…”
“Must be a scion of one or the other, I know, I know,” Serena pressed her fingertips to her temples. “Do you or he, do you know what that means?” Because she didn’t. She hadn’t noticed the passage of time with Lucy gone and the house quieter. She hadn’t realized how old her baby girl was getting, because she was still her baby girl. Carl and she, and to a lesser extent Stephen, had long ago resigned themselves to her growing up to inherit either Oghma’s presence or Ishtar’s, had grown accustomed to waiting to see, but this was a new form of hell. At least the transition from childhood to scion had an ending.
Carl shook his head. “I don’t know. I could be wrong? It could just be a very quiet manifestation…”
“In your household? Given her options?” Serena laughed, rueful. “Be serious.”
“I was hoping,” he chuckled with her.
The conversation skidded to a dead halt. Because she didn’t want to ask any further questions, and Carl didn’t seem to have anything else to say until she did. Or until she came out and said she was okay with it. She wasn’t okay with it. They’d barely survived their own introduction to the world as it was for them, and Lucy was the first person any of them knew who’d been taught, from the day she was old enough to understand it, about the presence of the divinity within and what it meant.
Carl came over after a bit and knelt on the ground by her chair, tugging her into his arms. They’d been lovers once, but they’d been friends a short time before that and a long time after, and it was still comforting to have a friend there who knew this world and the creatures in it. Old gods, or things that might as well be and had been called such. Titans, giants, animal figures. Things she had heard in books of mythology as a girl, and then discovered one living in her head, driving her to do things she never would have thought of doing on her own.
It turned out well, at least. She’d hoped, telling Lucy, that her daughter wouldn’t have to know that same terror of uncertainty.
“Have you told her?” she asked, turning her head into his shoulder.
He sighed. “I haven’t told her. Not yet. If she hasn’t figured it out on her own yet, I didn’t want to bring it up with her before I’d talked to you.”
“Probably good,” Serena sighed. “Let her have as long as she can with even our idea of normal before …”
Before life intervened. Before their world turned upside down again, before something else horrible happened. Before another of Will’s pantheon showed up, all of whom seemed to know from birth what they were. The last time it had been his brother Seth, and Lucy had been caught in the middle. Had he known something, she wondered now? Or was it simply that Lucy was her daughter, Ishtar’s daughter, and that was enough to make her a target. And now it seemed as though her baby girl was being singled out again. She curled tighter into Carl’s arms, knowing he understood. They both had wanted their daughter to have a normal life, an easier life.
The world had been so much simpler, a long time ago. It had been a lot simpler, even, that morning.