Chapter 14:

The Girl Named Ballerina

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

“What the hell are you doing here?!?” Caisey screamed, snatching his hand away from Elise like she had offered him a bucket of urine. He rolled military style and scrambled to his feet. His mind was spinning like mad. “Where’s Rina?!”

“Rina?” Elise asked, her face bunched up in confusion.

In his panic, he had totally slipped up with her name. “Oh—Uh, I mean Lady Terpsichore. How did you get here?” He asked, trying to change the subject.

And return to the freaky, totally unacceptable situation at hand.

Elise rose to her feet now, dusting herself off. “I don’t know! I was sure I had been banished from the Realm for losing the contest and I was packing my things for when I was thrown back down to Earth.”

“Packing your things?” Caisey interrupted.

“Yeah. I’ve been here a while. Lady Rán has given me a ton of things as a parting gift. Anyways, as I was packing, a cherub came running into my bedroom screaming, ‘The Banishment Ceremony! You’re supposed to be there!’ And I was all, ‘Whaddya mean?’ and then I was suddenly zapped here on this wet grass holding your hand. I’m just as confused as you are!”

Caisey didn’t know what to say besides, “… Why us?”

Elise’s face changed from confused to resigned, matching the look on Caisey’s face. “Same.” She said. “Same.”

“What in the HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING?!” A voice cried from somewhere afar. By now, Caisey was able to identify Hades’ voice in a second. The god continued, “Get a move on! Some of us have places to be!”

“I hate to say it, but for once you’re right, brother. Precious time is being wasted.” Zeus agreed, and Caisey glanced at the hourglass. Sure enough, the sand was falling fast, and the caverns were no longer equal halves.

“You’ve wasted your head start, Chosen Ones.” Poseidon spoke suddenly and called to the gods around them. “Gods, goddesses… Any volunteers?”

A roar of cheers immediately went up in answer and Caisey felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck. “VOLUNTEERS?” He squeaked, remembering the pain Sir Ares and Sir Apollo had inflicted upon him the day before. He looked at Elise. Her expression matched his once more. They both clearly had the same thought in their mind.

Without another word, both turned on their heels and ran.

Caisey sprinted across the great expanse of green, willing his angelic wings to burst forth. The previously barren terrain was shifting and rolling. Trees were rapidly being erected, streams carved into the land, and boulders being dropped from the sky.

Mudslides, quicksand, volcanic eruptions, tornados, dust storms, hail—everything short of the freaking Apocalypse was being thrown at Caisey as he took his route on land and various gods fluttered around like deadly butterflies in the sky. He was running with his arms over his head, crying out in pain as overly large chunks of ice pelted him all over.

“These gods don’t know that contests aren’t supposed to be death sentences!” Caisey huffed bitterly. “Ouch!!” A piece of hail wacked him in the hand he shielded his head with.

“You might actually die before finding your precious Lady Terpsichore,” Lady Skadi, goddess of hunting and winter called from above. “Oh, did I say ‘die’? Whoops! I meant to say ‘retire.’” She cackled and sent another barrage at Caisey.

“Quit it, you beast!” He yelled, convinced that since she had volunteered a second time that she really was out to kill someone. “Give me a break. Stop following me!”

“I’m just curious, Honored Guest. What’s so great about Lady Twerp? I’d knock her silly in a battle on any day.”

Caisey felt his ears grow heated with anger, “You might, but you lose to her in every other department, Lady Skadi. No question.”

“No question?” Lady Skadi asked, her voice a touch deeper and more menacing.

“No question.” Caisey repeated without hesitation. Then, he pictured the look on her face and the fact that she could conjure a razor-sharp icicle in her hand and run him right through with it if she wanted to. The gruesome image dropped him into a cold sweat. “W-With all due respect…” he added.

Caisey was unable to see behind him, but he both heard and felt the moment Lady Skadi took off flying in the opposite direction with no warning. Uhm, that’s weird. He thought but felt relieved to be rid of the ice shower regardless. He continued faster on his path and finally felt his wings extend from his back. He lifted rapidly as the wind caught his feathers and Caisey was soon speeding through the air.

This is where he wanted to be. From up above, Caisey could see everything. He saw where Lady Skadi had flown off to—chasing after Elise who was about four hundred meters off to his right. Explosions of some sort shook the ground in her area and Caisey wondered briefly if the any of the gods wanted the two of them to make it out alive.

Flying fast, he scanned the grounds for Rina. He hoped he’d spot her from this vantage point or at least could narrow down the possibilities of her location. Even still, it was challenging, and they were almost out of time. One look at the floating hourglass confirmed Caisey’s fears. He needed to find her right away if he had any hope of escaping banishment.

Where are you, Rina?

He was shocked to find how drastically the terrain had changed. The ground had been ripped up in several places with slabs of jagged stone sticking outward at strange angles. The great plain itself had largely become a forest of trees and brush. Up ahead, he saw that he was approaching a rocky terrain where the forest came to an abrupt end. There were massive rocks built up to make one hulking monument and a series of cliffs where certain death beckoned should one fall.

As he flew closer, he felt a pulse within his body as if something was being yanked from his chest. It compelled him forward and he let it pull him, like a dog on a leash. For some reason, the word, Ballerina, jumped into his mind and got stuck there, untouched by any other thoughts.

‘Ballerina.’ It came again. Caisey felt like he was calling out for someone, a sensation so wild he didn’t know what to think of it. ‘Ballerina.’

His body zipped through the air now with a mind of its own, his body pulsing nonstop like a giant bleeding heart. It was intense, this feeling. It made him light-headed and short of air. He felt vulnerable yet giddy beyond reason.

‘Ballerina.’ His inner voice called again.

And then he got it. It was more like he felt it, his ancient spirit.

“Rina,” he said aloud. No words could describe how he was feeling now. He remembered what the goddess had said before. ‘I’ve been your valentine for centuries.’

A smile graced Caisey’s lips as he descended upon a cave nestled into a cliffside. This was a magnificent revelation for him, but it felt just right. He felt different somehow, like someone special, someone resilient, someone with many stories.

“Ballerina,” he said with his own voice and marveled at how sweet it sounded on his tongue. His heartbeat responded like crazy to the name and he landed at the space before the cave’s entrance with graceful feet. “It took me a while to understand, but it all makes sense. Of course it does.”

Caisey could’ve been talking to himself to any far-out onlooker as the mouth of the cave provided little visual of whatever was inside. But Caisey didn’t need to see what he already knew. He could feel that she was inside, and he said to her, “I’ve loved you for centuries.”

A giggle echoed through the cave’s entrance and Caisey followed it inside. From behind a row of metal bars, Rina lounged on a golden throne, her left leg crossed prettily over the other as she waited. She smiled a knowing smile when she saw him. “You found me,” she said. It reminded Caisey of the ‘first time’ he’d met her that afternoon at the theater, and another puzzle piece slid into place.