Chapter 12:

The Banishment Ceremony

I Became the Plus-One to a Party of the Gods

“What are we doing here?” Caisey whispered, his lips shifting almost imperceptibly as he spoke. He was being eye-stabbed by the countless gods of the Realm who lounged in high booths attached to the walls of an ancient, chapel-like building. The large chamber they were in was filled with wall-to-wall rows of white benches with short backrests. On the farthest side of the room, an imposing performance stage was set up.

This stage is where Caisey currently found himself, with Rina standing right beside him. Before them, filling up all those very long benches, was an impossible number of cherubs who varied in expression from bored to wildly excited.

Beside himself with discomfort, Caisey shivered and knocked his elbow against Rina’s arm, prompting her to answer. Instead of doing that, Rina stood with her back straight, her arms and fingers intertwined behind her back, and her eyes looking straight out into the crowd. From where Caisey stood, she seemed totally unperturbed.

While Caisey was this close to having smelly bricks slip out his backside as his stomach was a ball of nerves, she stood there humming like a child. In answer to his question, she shrugged her shoulders and switched to humming a new song.

Rina!!” Caisey hissed, but the girl didn’t even bat an eyelash in his direction. What is going on with her? He thought and frowned. He wondered if she too was nervous and guessed that this was her way of hiding it.

They had, after all, lost the Climb. Caisey could remember the devastated look on Rina’s face the moment she figured out it was all over for them. The night after, when they had kissed, Caisey had felt something strong in the air. Something lovely and passionate but also desperate and lonely, like there would be a finality to letting go. He worried about her.

Caisey tried for her attention again. “Is this a banishment ceremony?” He asked. Rina shrugged. “What’s going to happen to me if I get thrown back down to Earth like Lady Nox said? Aren’t you going to miss me?”

Rina shrugged, still humming.

Caisey gasped, made his eyes go wide like a strangled fish, “What’ll happen to you, Rina?!? Will you be punished?!” No dice. He was still unable to get a reaction out of her.

Tsk.” He smacked his tongue against his teeth and folded his arms in defeat until he had a brilliant thought. In a low mumble he said, “I wish I could’ve seen how the Climb ended. I wonder whatever happened to Lady Rán and Elise. Poor girl. Oh, Elise. I hope she’s okay—”

Rina suddenly went rigid, and her humming stopped. Her aura burst forth like a bomb and had Caisey tumbling like a weed several feet away from her. She snapped her head over to the left and looked Caisey—who was picking himself up off the ground—up and down like a wild beast, “Who are you concerned about, Caisey?”

Caisey could have sworn that her voice was magnified and sounded much too deep. The way he heard it sent sickening shivers down his spine. “Are you possessed?!” He squeaked, afraid to come closer.

Just then, the mostly silent room fell to a complete hush as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades ambled into the centermost booth risen high above the rest of the already far-up gods’ booths. This booth was far larger than the others and had engravings specific to each supreme brother craved into the surface. Their presence commanded attention and even Caisey, wary of returning to Risa’s side, slithered back toward her as the three took their positions on their respective thrones.

Caisey’s heart was quaking in his chest as he waited for them to speak. Despite Rina’s refusal to answer, in his heart, he knew this was some sort of banishment ceremony and he couldn’t imagine what his life would be like after the fall. He would never be the same again. He was sure of it.

For it would be an existence without Rina.

“Welcome gods and goddesses of this enchanting Realm,” Zeus began in his usual way. “Yesterday, we concluded the first day of our Festival of the Gods with an unexpected outcome. Behold the hourglass used in the Climb of Mount Olympus.”

From completely out of nowhere, the familiar, giant golden hourglass with the engravings of skulls and three-headed dogs popped into existence. It floated high above the seats on ground level, hovering just nearby where Zeus and his brothers were seated.

Caisey’s mouth dropped open as he observed the sand in the glass. Despite the object standing straight up and down, the sand on top no longer flowed into the bottom cavern. Instead, the golden sand remained stuck in the upper half, refusing to meet what sand had already fallen into the lower half. Loose specks of sand fluttered around the hourglass like restless butterflies. It was like a spell to Caisey. He couldn’t look away.

“The sand has gone still,” Zeus announced to invested onlookers in the crowds around him and far below. The gods were stirred up, mumbling animatedly to one another as if amazed by what they were witnessing.

It was evident that this phenomenon had never happened before.

“What does this mean?” A cry came from one of the gods in the booths above. Others echoed the concern and the noise level rose as everyone started talking at once.

They questioned whether the hourglass was malfunctioning. They wondered if someone had tampered with it. They doubted that this was a natural phenomenon and worried that something ominous was at play.

Hera, on the other hand, Queen of the gods and Zeus’ wife, spoke up with a clear and projecting voice that drowned out all others, “It seems obvious that our father, Kronos, can quell our curiosities.” She turned to Zeus, “Don’t you think so, my love?”

Upon hearing his name, Titan king and god of time, Lord Kronos spoke up. Far below where Caisey stood beside Rina, he watched this whole wild spectacle with his mouth still hanging open. “Indeed, I can.” Lord Kronos said. “As you can see, the sands are stopped in motion. The upper and lower caverns are equal in quantity. Chosen One, Caisey Legna and Chosen One, Elise Reedy both retired halfway through the tournament, having reached the exact same point on opposite sides of the mini Mount Olympus.

“Therefore, I took the liberty of deeming the contest inconclusive and froze time in the hourglass. Selfishly, I determined both contestants worthy of continuance and am not yet ready for the festival to end so soon.”

A temporary silence blanketed the theater. Meanwhile, Caisey looked over to his right side at Rina. To his utter surprise, her jaw was tensed and she had tears streaming down her cheeks. However, a bold determination shone in her eyes as she looked up at Kronos in silence.

There was something more, Caisey noticed, about her eyes. She looks grateful, he thought, and in a wave of emotion felt his heart thundering against his chest. He felt a little lightheaded watching her and turned his focus on Kronos instead. He blinked the prickling feeling in his eyes away and recognized why Rina had been acting so strange all along.

This was supposed to be a banishment ceremony, Caisey realized. Discomfort swam in his belly at the thought, and he breathed in deeply. I was doomed, but… Thanks to Lord Kronos…

He let out an unsteady breath and squared his shoulders against whatever task would be thrown at him next. He pictured dragons, goblins, thunder strikes… Even another bout with the gods of war and Lady Nox. He’d take on Hercules and Thor if he had to. Nothing mattered; he would face them head on and succeed. For himself. For Rina.

For them.

I have a second chance.