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There was a blinding light, and the next thing I knew, we were all in the meeting room with the bell. All nine of us were present, minus ten who had seemingly been removed at some point previously.

“So, this is the humanoid god?” First crossed her arms, appraising me with an unpleased look on her face. “You don’t belong in the Celestial Palace, boy. That is my decree, and it cannot be denied.”

“And just who are you anyway?” I asked, feeling a bit angry at her dismissive nature. “What right do you have to set the rules.”  

I had come so far recently, it felt wrong to just bow down now. Perhaps it was the very definition of an ant standing against an elephant, but I was far smaller than even an ant before. As I said these words, all of the other goddesses gasped. Mother looked to be filled with shame, and even my girls looked very worried.

“I’m the star attraction here.” She declared. “Whatever I say goes, and everyone and everything revolves around me! Do you understand?”

I understood. She was full of herself! Beloved? I started to realize what she reminded me of. She reminded me of a Hollywood prima donna. The way she held herself was a woman who had her nose up in the clouds. She was convinced of her superiority. I could even see it in her eyes when she looked at the others. She looked down on them all. It started to make me feel irate. I knew that I was in real danger, but this woman rubbed me the wrong way.

“Look…”

“Shut up!” she waved her hand and turned away from me, and I wasn’t able to get another word out.

I opened my mouth, but there was no sound. She had silenced me completely. More than that, I felt pressure weighing down on me. Compared to the time when Eighth had threatened me, this felt a million times worse. My legs started to shake, and it took everything I had to keep from kneeling on the floor. Was this the so-called worship? Forcing people to kneel to you? If that was the case, then this woman was just a bully!

Even Sixth, Seven, Eight, and Ninth could only look at me longingly. They dared not speak. Even after winning their hearts, they still followed First. In that respect, I hadn’t won their loyalty at all. I thought I had accomplished so much here. It was a bitter pill to swallow. On top of that, everything I did could be obliterated in a second. I started to realize just how volatile everything I did seemed.

“Beloved! Beloved!” The door slammed open, and Artemis ran in.

Beloved glanced at Artemis, and for just a moment she smiled. “Ay, what are you doing here?”

“Please! It was my fault!” Artemis fell to her knees, “I’m sorry! I brought him here. He-he’s my boyfriend!”

When she said these words, she blushed. Beloved’s expression turned sour.

“I already know the truth of things. Yer told me everything…” She turned to Mother. “You knew the rules, but you decided to defy me anyway. Your closeness with that lot has caused you to grow foolish and stupid.”

Mother seemed to wince more with each word. It was hard to watch. She was always so calm and sure of herself, but under the brightness of this Beloved, she was quickly being bullied. All of them seemed bullied by her. I had originally thought they called her Beloved because they all had a deep affection for her. Now, I realized they called her Beloved because the thing she seemed to love most was herself!

“I’m the one who brought him to her though!” Artemis spoke up again. “Please, punish me!”

“Silence, girl!” Beloved bellowed, causing her to lower her head again. “You’re just a servant. Ultimately, it is your Master who will take responsibility for this error. She is the one who made this decision, and for greedy and selfish reasons besides!”

Artemis was nearly on the ground in a kowtow position by the time First was done berating her. She turned to the rest of them as if daring any of them to speak up. When no one dared, she gave a nod once again.

“Fourth, I know you have brought humanoids into this palace before. I can always smell them. This one has been slippery, but I finally caught him as well. You shall be punished. I first thought to wipe out humanity, but the council would have a panic attack if I did that.”

Wipe out humanity? She said that so calmly as if it was of no consequence to her. My heart skipped a beat. Wiping out humanity wouldn’t just kill humans, it would kill more than 90% of all existing gods. It would be the most destructive apocalypse imaginable, and Beloved spoke of it as if she could do it with ease and wouldn’t even lose sleep! That irritation I had been feeling started to turn to fear. I had been a frog in a well.

“Therefore…” She continued. “Upon careful reflection, I’ve decided to take Artemis from you.”

All the girls cried out in shock at once. Artemis’s head rose in shock, and then her eyes rolled up and she passed out on the floor. I didn’t know what the big deal was, but everyone else had reacted like this was horrible.

“Y-you can’t do that!” Fifth was the first to speak out.

“Artemis would be better off closer to me anyway. She’ll be even more radiant as long as she stays by me.” Beloved declared.

“You… you can’t!” I was shocked to hear Mother cry out, her eyes in tears. “You can’t take her away!”

“Can’t?” A fiery expression filled Beloved’s face. “That was me going easy on you for repeated transgressions, don’t tell me what I can’t do…”

Mother didn’t back down though. “Artemis belongs to me! She’s a part of me! You can’t take her away. You’ve always coveted what we have! You’ve always wanted my baby! I won’t have it!”

Slap!

A gasp filled the air as Beloved slapped Mother. She stumbled back holding her cheek. She looked back up at Beloved, her eyes filled with tears. Beloved looked guilty for a second, but then she shook her head and her expression firmed.

“What I do, Yer is for everyone’s good. I have the power to burn the bonds between gods and goddesses. I will sever your connection to her with my holy fire. Then, I will take her to my quarters. She will be safe and protected there. She will feel my warmth, and no longer concern herself with the realm of humans.”

I had heard that Artemis was Beloved’s favorite, but now I was seeing it first-hand. She had a strange obsession with the woman, like a big sister who didn’t want to let her little sister be free. However, when it was at the level of goddesses, she came off as extremely terrifying. As Beloved’s words dawned on Mother, she collapsed to her knees. She was sobbing, but there seemed to be resignation. All of the other goddesses looked away.

Was that it? Were they all just going to accept it? A single slap and this woman could just take Artemis away? It sounded like she wanted to indoctrinate her, detach her from humanity. I didn’t want that to happen at all! Artemis was my woman! How could I let someone else take her? This went beyond the plights of gods and goddesses. This was about my women. A strong feeling of anger and defiance grew inside me.

Beloved held out her hand, and suddenly it ignited into flame. It looked like a long sword which incorporated her arm into it. The blade left her body far enough that it was between Mother and Artemis. As she raised her arm, Artemis seemed to come to. She looked up as Beloved readied the cut.

“No! Please!” She cried out.

“I’m… I’m so sorry…” Mother looked at her, tears falling down her face.

“Stoooooop!” She lowered the sword, and I leaped in the way.

The blade struck my shoulder, and I felt pain. The sword was impossibly hot, and not a single drop of blood fell, as the wound was instantly cauterized. All of the girls in the room let out cries of shock as I flew back and struck the wall. I looked down to see a massive burn across my chest, smoldering sizzling.

“Hakaru!” Artemis screamed out.

It was Mother who somehow reached me first, grabbing my arm. “Wh-what did you do?”

“Did… I protect your bond?” I asked weakly, feeling a numbness in my body.

The other girls Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth ran over as well.  The lower numbers looked uncomfortable and confused, while Beloved stared down. Her blade had disappeared. She could have destroyed me. She could have cut right through me and the bond as well. However, she held back at the last second, pulling away. Now, she was staring as the majority of her followers was crying on the floor, holding me.

“Hakaru… you foolish… foolish… why?” Mother demanded.

I reached up and touched her cheek, wiping the tear from her eye. “I couldn’t stand to see you cry.”

“Hakaru, it’s just the bond between me and Artemis. If you died…”

“Nothing… is more important than the bonds we share between each other,” I explained. “All of my time reading in that library, this I’m clear on above anything else. Our bonds are what make us who we are. It’s cruel to cut the bond between someone you love. We should make bonds, not destroy them. I’d… I’d rather die than see the bonds between the people I love destroyed.”

“H-Hakaru…” Mother shook, and then she leaned down and kissed me.

I started feeling a warmth inside me. Her kiss was healing me! I could hear the girls that were standing inhale in shock as they witnessed Fourth kissing a humanoid goddess. The kiss felt like it lasted ages but only ended when all of the healing was finished. When she pulled away, she suddenly slouched on me, her bountiful chest pressing against mine like she had grown weak.

“What did you do?”

“It’s fine… I just gave you some of my power for a bit. I’ll just be a bit weak for a while.” Mother said.

“So, it’s all of you then?” A low, angry voice sounded from in front of us.

All the girls turned to Beloved. However, instead of cowering like before, they all moved in front of me defensively. The wore looks of defiance. It was as close of a mutiny as I had ever seen. There was an extremely bitter expression on Beloved’s face.

“So, this is how it is,” she said. “Even you, Artemis?”

Artemis turned away from her grabbing onto my free arm for support.

“It seems like this… human god… has formed bonds with all of you. If I tried to cut them all, it would cause lasting harm.” After a moment, First turned away, and I felt that the weight was finally is lifted. “I won’t kill him. However, he will remain confined until I can figure out what to do with him. You are ALL forbidden from seeing him! I’ve created a new room for him on Earth’s hallway. None of you may enter it!”

All the girls let out breaths of relief. However, once she finished, they all wore complicated expressions. It looked like I wasn’t out of things yet. I was a prisoner now. I was going to say something else, but she flicked her finger, and there was a flash. I was in a room that looked a lot like Artemis’s room, but it was a lot smaller. It was probably fine, but after being in the massive rooms, it felt almost cramped. There was also no door. It was impossible for me to leave.

I had managed to live, but what would happen next? She could leave me there for a thousand years if she wanted to. From then on, it was all out of my control.

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