Artemis

I really am going to die this time.

I hacked and clawed at my throat, trying to dislodge the poisoned thread threatening my continued existence. It’d trapped itself in the fold of skin between the side and bottom of my throat, Purgatory of popcorn kernels, curry chicken, and the latest attempt on my life.

Chugging Mountain Dew was ineffective. The honey-roasted peanuts only added more souls to my oral Purgatory pit. Finally, I conceded my life might be worth the moral sacrifice, and switched to water. Still nothing.

Loki sat at the foot of my bed, watching me thrash with the feline indifference I’d warned my mom about his kind before we’d gotten him for my last birthday. They thought 13 was something special to celebrate, despite my insistence that the number almost never signified anything good, no matter what folklore or mythology you looked at.

Unfortunately, I’d spelled my own doom when I mentioned Sikhism did have a good story involving thirteen. Some Hindu accountant had found money and food aplenty after his thirteenth customer or something, accidentally starting his own religion and the corporate marketing scheme to bait new customers through their doors. His ancient generosity had been my parents’ “inspiration” for getting me a cat, and thus the little brat sat apathetically watching the fruits of his latest labor.

His hairs floated like cottonwood blossoms all over my room. Since it was late spring, his winter coat was coming off, and since it was my cat, it was my responsibility to help with the de-shedding. I’d tried rollers and brushes, and Loki had hissed, spat, and clawed his way out of each endeavor. But he loved being petted, and petting got the hair mostly off, and so I petted him.

And then he tried to kill me.

Passive murder is no excuse. My mom would say it’s my fault for not using the brush, but she’d never tried to wrestle with an eight-pound American Shorthair who wanted nothing to do with it.

Still coughing, I drank more water, shivering as it went down. Loki finally blinked, the only indication he’d noticed anything amiss.

“Is everything okay?” my mom called up the stairs.

“Fine,” I croaked.

I coughed some more, sending cat hair swirling across the room.

“Make sure your room is cleaned by dinner,” she said.

“Okay, Mom.”

I glanced at the clothes scattered across the floor. I’d shove those into the basket in the closet, shut the door, and be done with it. Nice and easy.

My computer monitor flickered to life on my desk in the corner. My Vocaloid figurines stood in various idol poses across the oversized Miku “Love is War” mousepad I’d gotten to play Magic the Gathering with my friends. The ratty, old gray swivel chair looked out of place surrounded by my gaming rig and figurine collection, but it’d served me faithfully since I’d started gaming and I was reluctant to part with it.

Discord blipped its notification. Probably Rick, my best friend, wanting to jam some League while the summer was still young. If I didn’t want to tilt the whole match, I’d never say “the summer is still young” to him, or he’d spend our games open mic’ed and shouting “thees” and “thous” filled Shakespeare quotes in his awful British accent. I’d spent last summer at Drama Camp, and he’d never forgiven me for it.

Discord blipped again.

Maybe Rick’d gotten grounded again.

Discord blipped again.

“I’m coming,” I muttered at the computer, pushing off my bed. My eyes watered briefly as the cat hair scratched my throat. Yep, still there.

Discord blipped again.

Jeez, must’ve been really bad.

I shook my mouse as I slid behind my desk, flicking the hotkey to pull up Discord.

A weird new server flashed at the top of my server list. A thunderbolt across a Celtic knot was the new server’s icon, with three, now four, notifications. I clicked into the server, which someone had named ‘Gods Anonymous.’

“Welcome.
This is not a drill.
You have been chosen.
Incoming,” the messages read.

Huh.

“That would be me,” a feminine voice said behind me, and I about fell out of my chair.

I spun my chair around slowly, envisioning all the lovely ways my parents would end my existence if they knew there was a girl in my room. Nor would they believe I didn’t know her and had nothing to do with her sneaking in. Not to mention being on the second floor, and…

“Uh…” was all I managed when I finally saw her.

She was drop dead gorgeous. Grand Master to my Silver 3 out of my league level gorgeous. Startingly bright ginger hair (obviously soulless), piercing blue eyes, and skin that practically glowed. She was thin and carried herself like the poster girl for the “flat is justice” armada. But her forest green LARPer outfit was the strangest part. Green tunic, green skirt, brown leather belt with a hunting knife, and a bow rested among a quiver full of arrows. But her face was what drew my eyes. Wow.

“You said he was intelligent,” she said, frowning at Loki. I blinked. I’d forgotten about him (wonder why), and he hadn’t moved from his spot at the foot of my bed. He didn’t seem surprised, and she seemed to know him.

“Why do you know my cat?” I said, surprised words came out of the Sahara my throat had become.

She arched a brow at me. “That’s your first question? Not, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘How did you get in my room?’”

“Well, I, uh, you, er,” I stammered, and swallowed. “People usually don’t appear out of thin air and talk to people’s cats.”

“True,” she said, flicking a loose hair out of her face. She glared at Loki. “This is the last time I let you scout the throwaway stories first.”

Loki grinned.

“Uh…”

“You’re wasting words.” The girl huffed and sighed. “Mortals.”

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