Need to catch up?
- What is The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp?
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Prologue
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter One
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Two
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Three
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Four
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Five
Some people have noticed that this story has veered wildly off the course set by the blurb my friends wrote for the fictional book cover. That’s because this nonsense is flowing through me. I am a conduit for the whims of the universe. And that universe is full of Greek mythology because that and ragging on Nathaniel Hawthorne were the only parts of English class I liked in high school. #OriginalClashOfTheTitansWasBetterThanTheRemake
The skies over Elysia sparkled with Apollo’s light, but soon, Nyx would pull Erebos together, and Selene would take to the skies on her nightly visit to the mortal realm. Time in the Astral held no real meaning, but Marcaeus estimated it would take fourteen Earth years to reach Chiron’s temple at the pace with which Fiona traveled.
“Why can’t we use one of those magic portals?” Fiona whined.
“Because Chiron’s secrecy and protection are absolute. He won’t allow anyone to travel directly into his home. If you rode me, we would be there by now,” he grumbled at her, not for the first time.
And not for the first time, she grumbled back, “Stop phrasing it that way.” This time, she added, under her breath, “You’re my boss, for Christ’s sake.”
“I thought it would be obvious that you’re fired.”
She trudged slightly behind him through the hip-deep, iridescent wheat, and her ill-suited footwear carried in one hand. Now and then, a soft curse would escape her; the ground could not have been comfortable under tender mortal feet.
Not that he cared a bit for her comfort. She is an enemy. You should treat her as such. But empathy dictated he do something to help. “If you won’t ride me—”
“Stop saying that!”
“—at least, let me carry you. Your feet will be bloody by the time we arrive.” He twitched his tail in annoyance. “And several decades older, if we have to wait for you to pick over every rock and broken stalk. Not to mention the serpents.”
“Serpents?” She turned in a circle, skittering on the balls of her feet.
Marcaeus fought against a smile. Any serpent they met would likely be Zeus out hunting for nymphs. Of course, that might also complicate things for Fiona. The God of Olympus could be incredibly persuasive, and Marcaeus assumed a half-snake offspring wouldn’t be welcome in the Trasket dynasty.
“Suit yourself, though. I would hate to give you the impression that I’m bossing you. As I am not your boss,” Marcaeus added pointedly.
“Fine!” she acquiesced, still standing on her toes. “I’ll…get on your back. I just don’t know how.”
“Like this.” He reached down before she could protest and gripped her upper arm firmly, pulling her from her feet and swinging her behind him in one smooth motion. She shouted in outrage and surprise and grabbed his shoulders as she scrabbled to get her leg over his back.
“No. Here,” he said, guiding her arms around his torso. “Haven’t you ever ridden a motorcycle?”
“No. But somehow, I don’t think it’s the same at all.” Her sentence ended with a startled noise as he took off at a gallop, and her fingers dug into his sides.
“Hold on,” he warned her belatedly.
After some time, her hold loosened, though he would likely bear scars from her fingernails, and not in the way he would have preferred.
And in what manner would you have preferred such maiming?
“I wasn’t lying,” Fiona said, startling him. Was she one of the rare humans who could read minds or emotions?
“You were lying,” he replied evenly after the context of her remark occurred to him. “From the moment you stepped through our doors, you have been lying.”
“I meant I wasn’t lying about my motive for lying. I really was trying to protect someone from my brother.”
“Dishonesty is dishonesty, no matter the reason.” That was a difficult truth for mortals, he’d learned, especially in business. It seemed that any lie could be justified if the deception benefited the deceiver in some way.
To his surprise, she agreed. “You’re right. But sometimes, the end justifies the means.”
“Didn’t your human, Machiavelli, write that?” The book had come out recently; he was fairly certain.
“My father quoted that around the house, more than he quoted the Bible.” She snorted in derision. “Regardless of what his campaign ads said.”
“That is something I’ve never understood about mortals.”
“Our hypocrisy? I can’t figure it out, either.”
“No. Your belief that there is a god who wishes you well or grants boons based on a system of goodness or morality. The truth is, all-powerful deities are only as all-powerful as their attention spans allow. Once they lose interest, you’re all on your own.”
“And you think God has lost interest in us?”
“You’re a shrewd person. You make foolish decisions, but you are no fool. Do you really need me to answer that question for you?” The mortal plane had been burning when the Astral races had stepped in. Where had the god of man been? Why had he not intervened? And yet they still could not bring themselves to believe in his disinterest.
Her hold around his waist tightened. “What’s going to happen to me?”
He wanted badly to reassure her that no violence would come to her, that she wouldn’t be detained in the astral for long, but no matter the sweetness of her voice and the courage of her convictions, she was still a spy—still his enemy.
“That’s for Chiron to say. Not I.” Let her believe danger awaited her; perhaps it would serve as warning enough to stop her from participating in her brother’s schemes.
She is not your student. His own voice sounded too reasonable in his head. It wasn’t his place to teach this mortal ethics, especially since she came from a family who so deftly maneuvered around them.
“I assume I’ll be interrogated,” she said, her sentence tilting slightly upward at the end.
This, Marcaeus had learned, was referred to by humans as “fishing.” If they didn’t state what they meant plainly, someone might correct them, and that correction might come with additional information or context the querent sought.
“You won’t trick me, mortal.” He reached behind his back with one arm to hold her steady as they approached a stream tumbling merrily down gently sloping rapids.
“I’m not trying to—” she began. “Wait…you’re not going to swim us across that thing.”
“Of course, I’m not.” The water was hoof-deep at most. “But you do not wish to be pulled down.”
He stepped into the water, moving carefully over the rocks, and almost immediately, a playful squirt arced a hair’s breadth from his face.
Water flowed upward to form the deceptively pleasing shapes of Naiads, spirits of the river who lazed decadently along the banks and peaked over the swirling rapids.
A fluid hand crept up his back leg. He flicked his tail, dispersing the droplets. “Let us pass without mischief. I have no time for Fae foolishness.”
One of the Naiads lifted herself from the water’s surface, rising on a waterspout of foam. “Oh please! We’re ever so lonely here—”
The water spirit walked its fingers up Marcaeus’s chest, soaking his shirt through in seconds.
Fiona yelped, “Hey!” and clung to him tighter. He turned his head to see another Naiad gripping the human’s leg while she fought and kicked free, spraying them both.
“Leave her be,” Marcaeus snapped at the stream.
A chorus of sinister, bubbling giggles answered him. Fiona screamed, and her hold on him vanished; he whirled in time to see, but not prevent, her fall into the dangerously shallow water. Her head struck the rocks and lolled to the side, a grim red flower blossoming at her temple.
The water receded in horror, leaving the human stranded on the moist rock. Marcaeus cursed and bent his forelegs to kneel beside her. He laid a hand at the side of her neck, feeling for the current of energy through her, the electrical impulses that raced the pathways of human bodies. He found no evidence in the flow of her energy to suggest anything had broken, but he was no doctor. He scooped her up, looking about the now dry streambed and cursing the damned Naiads to Tartarus.
Fiona’s head lolled against his chest, her blood staining his sodden shirt pink, then crimson, spreading across the fabric like sinister flowers opening.
With another frustrated curse, he bowed his head. “Asclepius…I know I am still indebted to you. Grant me this favor, though?”
A sliver of golden light flared and took form; Apollo’s son had inherited his father’s flare. “You’re knee-deep in favors, you know. And those are higher-than-average knees.”
“To those who chose to appear as mortals, perhaps.” There was no time to trade barbs. “Consider it a favor to Chiron. This mortal is his prisoner.” However, he does not know it yet. “He’ll want her alive for questioning.”
With a weighty sigh, Asclepius rolled the sleeves of his golden robe up to his elbows. “For Chiron, then. But only because he taught me everything I know.”
That, Marcaeus knew, bothered the god more than he would let on, despite the fact that he’d surpassed his teacher. Any comparison to Chiron or his skills wounded Asclepius’ vanity. This was why Marcaeus said, “And his hard work certainly shows through in yours.”
“I raised Hippolytus from the dead, you know,” Asclepius grumbled under his breath. Still, he would never deny a patient, no matter who’d brought the injured individual to his attention. He raised his hands and laid them gently upon Fiona’s head. The still-wet blood staining Marcaeus’s shirt lifted off in a twisting curl of red smoke that slowly dissipated into golden sparks that raced back to her body as if suddenly remembering where they should be. But then they popped and fizzled back to the surface, crackling like the embers of a dying fire, and the mortal did not stir.
Asclepius raised his eyes to meet Marcaeus’s. “There’s something—”
“A demonic mark, yes.” His gaze flicked down to Fiona’s paling face.
Asclepius’s normally arrogant tone took on a foreboding gravity. “Then I fear this healing may require more than my powers can provide.”
“She’ll die, then?” Marcaeus could no longer bear to watch her fade in his arms, but they felt suddenly empty when Asclepius reached for her limp body.
“For once, I must set my ego aside. But there isn’t much time. I will take her to Chiron. Perhaps by the time you arrive, she will be conscious.” The god fluttered his glorious robes and vanished, leaving Marcaeus stunned and alone.
He’d done this. Brought the mortal into the Astral, where she might die.
It was his fault.
The stream slowly crept back, water rolling to collect in an apologetic puddle around his feet.
“We’re sorry,” it simpered.
Marcaeus stamped and galloped toward the temple, his guilt growing with every hoofbeat.