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First Try

Written by HikerAngel :: [Thursday, 01 April 2021 01:30] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 03 April 2021 10:13]

First Try

Commissioned by Anonymous

Written by HikerAngel

“It is your turn to undergo the mortal test, child.”

The Voice echoed through the galaxy, causing Marie to turn her head to look for its source. As always, she was unable to find it. She always wondered who the commands came from but felt the compulsive power of its words. This time, however, she really didn’t want to do what it was asking of her.

“Really? Now? I don’t know if I’m ready to try to pretend I’m a mortal! They’re so tiny! And squishy! Can’t I take another test instead?”

“It is imperative that you learn a mortal’s perspective, Marie,” boomed the voice. “You must understand how your power impacts more fragile beings. You have a tendency to be careless, and this examination will teach you the importance of precision. You must find a job center, gain employment in a mortal career and successfully complete your assigned duties in the role that you choose – without using powers beyond what a mortal would have at her disposal.”

“I see your point,” Marie agreed with a sigh. As she acquiesced, images of mortals began to flash rapidly through her mind, preparing her for her mission. Mortal clothing, culture, language, and social habits imprinted themselves in her mind until she understood what was expected of her. At the end of the rapidfire stream of images, vast flows of text entered her mind. Marie grumbled as the information flowed into her. It was her homework. But she could scan through it mentally later. If she felt like it.

Marie was the most beautiful of the new goddesses. Her long, thick mane shimmered in the radiant starlight, sparkling strands of gold and platinum weaving into a voluminous blonde river that flowed over her broad shoulders and down her toned back. Her body was slender but fit, her breasts full and her legs long. She was also enormous, vast on a scale that mortal could scarcely conceive, her head about the size of an average planet, her toes like small moons. She floated, naked, dormant in the depths of space, simply another part of the gorgeous landscape that made up the universe.

The thought of shrinking down to mortal size and seeing the universe from the perspective of such insignificant beings was a bit terrifying to the golden goddess. The notion of acting like a vulnerable little human mortal was so alien to her that it made her trepidatious about this particular test. Growing nervous as she continued to ponder the idea, she decided to reach out to her best friend for support. She opened a telepathic link to Phoebe, who had already been through the mortal test and could perhaps help her to prepare.

“Phoebe?” She reached out into the cosmos with her consciousness.

“Yes, Marie?” Her friend’s voice echoed through Marie’s mind, an image of a youthful face framed by raven locks forming simultaneously with the telepathic link. Phoebe was an attractive young goddess as well, but no one could match Marie’s beauty.

“I’ve been tasked with my mortal test.”

Phoebe laughed before responding with a voice still rich with mirth. “This should be amusing…”

“What!? Why do you say that?” Marie asked with a frown.

“It’s just that you can sometimes be a little flighty, Marie. And careless.”

“That’s exactly what The Voice said!”

“And that surprises you?” replied Phoebe, a touch of amusement coloring her voice.

“Well, no. I suppose not,” Marie admitted, knowing better than anyone that she had a tendency to be forgetful and make mistakes. Sometimes, she simply couldn’t be bothered to take the time to go through a bunch of dreary details when there was fun to be had.

“Well, then, you see why everyone makes the comment,” her friend chided.

“I guess,” said Marie sullenly, feeling the sudden urge to prove to everyone that she really could be careful if she truly set her mind to it.

“How did you do on your test?” she asked, genuinely curious. She had never spoken to Phoebe about this particular test. Marie simply hadn’t been interested in the particulars of dreadfully dull things like daily mortal activities.

“Passed first try. But I tend to be good with mortal studies,” said Phoebe. “The whole thing actually inspired me to work toward becoming the new Goddess of Death, actually. Seeing how fragile the poor little mortals are was quite inspiring. I think I’d be good at reaping nice harvests of mortal souls.”

“Really?” Marie blinked her massive, luminous eyes in surprise. “So you like the mortal realm?”

“Absolutely! I’ve been meaning to go back. I just haven’t really had an opportunity.”

“Isn’t it strange to be so small?” asked Marie uncertainly.

“It is,” Phoebe confirmed. “But keep in mind that your mass doesn’t change. You’ll have to focus on making yourself lighter all the time or you’ll fall right through their planet’s crust.”

Marie thought about that, glancing down at her feet. She remembered the footwear that she had seen in the instructional images from The Voice.

“How did you handle the foot apparel? Doesn’t our weight crush their mortal foot coverings? I remember seeing people with small wedges and stilts under their heels in the training course. Wouldn’t our mass crush such flimsy little things?”

Phoebe snickered. “I can see that you didn’t do the extra courses on mortal societies. Those are called ‘pumps’.”

Marie sighed. “I suppose. It’s just that mortal lives are soooo boring. And you know how I hate homework.”

“I do,” Phoebe laughed again. “Okay, here’s a tip. Go to Canis Major. It’s on the way to earth, and there’s a mortal civilization there that’s fairly advanced. Way beyond humans, anyway. They’re capable of making some shoes that can support your mass if you forget to lighten it occasionally in your mortal form.”

“Shoes?” The word sounded vaguely familiar, but Marie couldn’t quite remember what it meant.

“Yes, that’s what the mortals on earth call their foot coverings.”

“I thought you said they were pumps?!” Marie objected, examining her feminine fingernails.

“That is merely one specific type of shoe,” Phoebe clarified.

“Ah, okay,” Marie said disinterestedly.

Phoebe smirked. “Yes, this will definitely be an interesting test for you, Marie. I can’t wait to see what you do with it…”

Marie smiled, taking her friend’s words as a compliment. “Okay, then. Thanks for your help! I’m going to go to Canis Major now…”

“Good luck, Marie.” With that, her link to Phoebe ended, and she was alone in the cosmos once more. She looked over her body, remembering the images of the humans’ painted fingernails and toenails from The Voice, and willed her own nails to turn a bright red.

Marie stretched, admiring her instant mani/pedi, pleased at how precisely she had been able to mimic the look she had seen on the humans, then flew toward Canis Major. She arrived at her destination, traveling lightyears in seconds, using the map Phoebe had imprinted in her mind.

This mortal civilization did appear to be a bit beyond that of the humans on earth. She watched as a steady stream of spaceships flowed to and from the planet before deciding on a good way to get these mortals’ attention. She sat down on their oversized moon, then extended her long, slender legs. She swung her feet around the planet, her massive, red-painted toes swirling through the planet’s atmosphere to unleash countless hurricanes. She accidentally grazed the planet’s surface with a massive scarlet toenail, tearing apart a dozen cities and shaking the crust of the planet, before bringing her heels to rest atop the planetary sphere, casually lounging as the flow of spacefaring traffic abruptly came to a halt.

Two small vehicles the size of large comets zoomed toward her face from the planet below, slowing to a hover right before her huge, luminous blue eyes. Reaching out, Marie pressed a fingertip that was at least twice the size of both vessels to the side of one ship, connecting with the minds of the tiny mortal beings inside.

Realizing that this species didn’t use verbal communication, she chose to communicate in the way The Voice communicated with her, broadcasting images of earth-style footwear to the creatures inside, followed by a feeling of longing.

She picked up on their panicked thoughts and questions as they struggled to understand what she wanted. Giggling, Marie sent images of creation then another round of footwear concepts, selectively sending only the cutest of styles to the beings inside the ship. This time, as she detected their thoughts, she realized that they were beginning to understand her desires.

Unfortunately, she also detected resentment and anger. What was that all about? Searching their minds, she saw images of toppling structures and crushed people, a set of red-painted toenails ripping through the sky to crunch into their planet’s crust, digging a deep canyon into the hide of their planet on their journey to its northernmost point. Buildings were razed, billows of countless tons of soil belching into the atmosphere in the wake of her giant feet, snuffing out the solar heating effective of their star.

Wait! Were those her feet? Oops. She hadn’t really thought about the fact that she might be destroying a fair amount of their silly little planet by simply resting her heels. It had just been that their planet was the perfect distance from their moon for her to stretch out her legs! Mortals could be so finicky about a tiny little bit of damage to their cute little worlds.

Sighing, shaking her head yet again at the fragility of these mortal species, Marie removed her feet from the sphere, swinging them alongside a planet that was about the size of one of the earth mortals’ soccer balls to her.

Marie rotated in space, then allowed herself to drift toward the planet, bringing her eyes close to the outer atmosphere of their delicate little sphere to examine the brown soil roiling through its upper atmosphere. She would need to fix her little oversight or their planet would get a lot colder and probably kill off the rest of the silly creatures.

She pressed her lips to the planet’s outer atmosphere and sucked in a breath, watching as currents of floating brown sediment flowed into her lungs. She turned, then exhaled, sending a streaming cloud of dust into the inner portion of their solar system. It swirled into orbit around their local star.

Turning back to the planet with a smile, pleased at her quick thinking, she saw that the planet had become a large, bare rock. Now where had its atmosphere gone?! She cast a sidelong glance at the stream of rocky air that was now swirling around the nearby star.

Oh no! She must have accidentally sucked out the gasses that gave the planet an atmosphere along with the unwanted soil! In so doing, she had probably killed every being on their planet. Marie sighed, then shrugged. It was too bad, but it couldn’t be helped, really. There hadn’t been another way to remove the dust from their atmosphere and prevent them from freezing to death from the blockage of their local star’s solar radiation. Oh, well. Such things sometimes happened to mortal worlds. Goddess mistakes happened. Fairly often, actually, at least in Marie’s experience.

Marie turned her attention back to the small craft, touching the hull of their ship with her fingertip again. This time, she did it a little too forcefully, causing the vessel to lurch to the side with a massive dent in its hull. As the ship came to a stop, she reached out to touch the aliens’ minds, sending an even greater sense of shock and horror this time. These little creatures were incredibly afraid. Of her!

Marie’s eyes grew wide. She really hadn’t intended to kill so many billions of these nice little mortals. It had been a simple mistake. Surely, they couldn’t hold that against her. Would that mean that they wouldn’t make her shoes for her?

Thankfully, that didn’t seem to be the case. The little mortals were scrambling about inside their tiny ship, frantically attempting to figure out how to deliver what she wanted so she would go away. As she probed their minds, however, she realized that without access to their broken planet any longer, it was going to take them far longer to create her shoes than she wanted.

Marie hated waiting. It was even worse than homework! So, radiating a golden aura from her finger into the ship, she granted everyone on board immortality – with a condition. They couldn’t rest until they fulfilled her desires.

It was going to take these little beings a while to rebuild their world and repopulate the bulk of their species, so Marie decided that she would simply suspend time for herself and the rest of the universe until they were done. Pressing a huge fingertip to her perfect lips, she considered how long to give them. Ten thousand years should probably do. And it was such a short amount of time that The Voice probably won’t really notice it.

***

Quiryl held in his tentacle a model of the ultra-dense, super-reinforced quilarium sandal, made to look exactly like the image of the wooden sandal that had been burned into his that the huge goddess had formed in his mind thousands of years ago. He had been among those tasked to fulfill her needs, finally finishing after ten millennia.

It had taken a thousand years to create enough atmosphere generators to build up a new atmosphere for the planet. It had taken five thousand to repopulate his species to the point where they had sufficient resources to create the machinery needed to build shoes her size. It had taken a thousand years to harvest enough resources in faraway worlds to construct them and two thousand years of fighting with other remote alien civilizations to bring them back to their home planet through the dangerous galaxy. They had spent the last two thousand developing methods of making the dense materials look like the images that Goddess Marie had planted in their minds, not to mention the effort it had required to make them expand or contract at the goddess’ whim.

In all this time, Quiryl had never rested, his golden skin dull, withered, and scarred from work, war, and thousands of years of perpetual toil for the Goddess Marie. He was thankful that it was now over, save for the wait for the Goddess to awaken. If he were lucky, maybe she would let him die. Then he could truly rest.

He looked through the sky, seeing the hazy reflection of her beautiful face looming over the horizon as she rested just outside the planet. It was the view his people had seen every time they looked to the horizon for ten thousand years. This time, however, her massive azure eyes suddenly blinked open.

Quiryl’s heart leapt as he watched the massive goddess awaken. He found his communication device with a tentacle and pressed the button on the screen to open the massive cube that floated in space outside his planet.

Goddess Marie’s eyes lit up, her massive hands clapping together delightedly to send a shockwave through his planet’s atmosphere. Thankfully, they had built their structures stronger this time around, and he saw none collapse.

She extracted four pairs of planetary-scale footwear, trying each on in turn. He watched as her massive lips curled upward into a breathtaking smile.

Her mouth began to grow clearer as it moved toward their planet’s surface until her scarlet lipstick expanded over the entire horizon. Her lips opened and spoke a word, releasing then from ten millennia of toil on her behalf.

As she did so, she saw that one pair of shoes, the wooden sandals that had been Quiryl’s pride and joy, remained on the surface of the planet, massive cranes and supporting structures erected around them. The goddess smiled, then her face shrank, growing more distant from the planet until it disappeared from view entirely. After a few minutes, from the point in the sky where her visage had last appeared, a massive foot descended through the sky. Red-painted toes slipped into the massive shoe, wobbling the planet on its axis, rippling the surface of the planet with earthquakes. This time, even their improved buildings began to fall, the tremors in the planet too great for their technology to handle.

A second foot did the same, this time cracking the planet, nearly breaking it in half. The cracks sent structures toppling as massive fissures opened in the planet’s crust. The goddess reached downward, her monstrous, red-painted fingernails whistling through the air toward the planet’s surface to adjust their straps to the perfect fit. A moment later, the shoes launched upward, ascending through the sky until they disappeared into space.

Delighted, the goddess above pressed her manicured fingers to her lips and blew the planet an enthusiastic kiss. She turned to leave as the gesture met the planet with far-beyond-hurricane force winds, never noticing the twin hunks of rock as the already damaged planet broke in half under the force of her powerful breath. The planet flew out of orbit, its jagged surface freezing instantly as its fractured pieces tumbled into the dark depths of space.

Quiryl felt joy ripple through his heart as his life finally ended, content in the knowledge that his goddess was pleased, so he could finally rest…

***

Marie turned from the planet, delighted at the crafty mortals’ wonderful handiwork. She shrunk down her body to human size, her shoes able to transform with her yet still support her colossal mass, thanks to the alien civilization’s wonderful technology.

She snapped her fingers, able to replicate a cotton garment over herself without difficulty, unlike the shoes, which needed to be able to support her weight while still accommodating her varying sizes. If she had bothered to learn quantum molecular densification techniques, she could probably have done it. But it was so much easier just to get a mortal civilization to do the work for her. She smoothed the summer dress over her toned stomach with a brilliant smile, then flew off to earth to begin her test.

Marie soared into earth’s solar system, her summer dress fluttering as ambient radiation and cosmic dust swirled in the wake of her impossibly fast form. She touched her wooden sandals down on the soft white soil of her destination world, her small toes wiggling into the comforting plushness of the planet’s spongy surface.

She looked up, marveling at the beauty of the blue and white swirling moon overhead. Earth had such a pretty, colorful moon. It would be a joy to spend time on this planet, at least, with a view like that in the black sky. Looking around, she spotted a structure on the cratered surface of the sphere, causing her blue eyes to twinkle with delight. She strode over to the building to greet the human mortals inside.

***

“Commander? You’d better come see this!” Astronaut Lin’s wide-eyed gaze never left the moon base’s window as she spoke to her commanding officer.

Commander Deng bounded over to her, his own eyes bulging as he saw what lay outside the base. A gorgeous young woman walked casually over the surface of the moon toward the station. She wore no spacesuit, merely a summer dress and sandals. She looked comically out of place on the harsh landscape of the moon, but miraculously, she was moving, clearly alive…

…something that shouldn’t be possible in the vacuum of space.

As she reached the station, she reached toward the outer wall right next to the airlock. Warning klaxons began to sound as the pretty young woman’s scarlet fingernails dug into the solid aluminum of the station’s wall. Commander Deng was swept off his feet as her fingers emerged through the solid metal structure into his view. Air whistled out of the punctured station as the sexy young blonde peeled the wall downward, creating an entrance just large enough for her now human-sized form to fit through.

Commander Deng grabbed a handle along the wall of the compound as he was pulled toward the massive breach in the station’s outer wall. He looked around, seeing the interior doors of the station automatically closing to protect the other areas of the compound, thankful that at least Matthias, who was in the interior quarters, would survive.

Astronaut Linden flew out of the breach, bouncing off the blonde girl as she was sucked into the vacuum of space to her death. Commander Deng felt his own fingers slipping, the strength required to continue to hold on in the wake of such overwhelming pressure too great for him to sustain.

The attractive blonde stepped into the station, her expression full of excitement as she waved at him with puppy-like eagerness and delight. His surprise at her happy greeting caused his last finger to slip free of the handle, and he flew toward her, then past her, bouncing across the surface of the moon as he held his breath to hold onto a last moment of life. His lungs began to burn, his fingers and toes going numb nearly instantly from the extreme cold. The numbness worked his way up his arms and legs as his lungs bulged within his body, the bottled air pressure within them causing his body to expand like a balloon. It was the last thing he ever felt.

***

Marie blinked in confusion as she watched the earth mortal within the structure fly past her and out the door. Were they running from her? Did they somehow sense she was a goddess and fear for their lives? She hoped not. She was supposed to be blending in with these people! She looked down, running her fingers over the soft cotton fabric of her covering. This did look like something that these mortals would wear, didn’t it? She turned to look at the mortal bodies that were skittering across the surface of the small, white planet as they continued to distance themselves from her. They were wearing blue jumpsuits made of cloth. Similar enough to her own clothing. Or so she thought, anyway.

Maybe they didn’t know she was a goddess but simply ran away from anyone new? These mortals were quite easily killed. Perhaps this was a defense mechanism they had to protect themselves? Fleeing the presence of any new mortals that approached?

She shrugged. Such reactions could make things difficult for her to find a job and complete her mortal test, but she would simply have to learn how to work with it, she supposed. There had to be a mortal that wouldn’t fly away from her. It was silly. She hadn’t even realized these mortals could fly! At least she didn’t have to hide that ability during her test, it appeared.

She looked around the station until she came to an interior window with a view into another room. There, she saw another human. A male, judging by his size and build. Pleased that she had come across another human mortal so quickly, she waved at him. He seemed to be urgently getting dressed, donning much more bulky clothing than the others had worn. This man’s clothing was rather strange. She couldn’t remember seeing anything quite so bulky in the images that The Voice had sent her.

As the man’s eyes found her, they looked surprised. Startled even. Marie smiled. At least this mortal wasn’t flying away from her. Maybe he would be willing to speak to her and help her find the job center to begin her test!

She pressed her fingertips into the center of the plexiglass window, feeling the dense, reinforced plastic giving way to her slender digits with ease. The man inside seemed alarmed as the plastic began to crack, hustling to place a large, clear dome hat over his head and attach it to the top of his bulky suit. It seemed to have a metal ring around his neck for just such attachment. This must be some sort of new style of dress, Marie thought, reexamining her own outfit.

Marie finished breaking the window. The moment she broke it free of its casing, the large sheet of thick, shielded plastic blasted into her, bouncing off her invulnerable face before flipping backward to lodge itself against the hole in the outer wall, sealing the gap to the moon’s surface she had torn open moments before with a loud thunk.

She stepped into the inner room, the man inside now fully covered in his bulky, padded suit. “Hello there, mortal man! I’m Marie! I’m so pleased that you didn’t fly away, giving me the honor of making your acquaintance.”

She hoped that greeting wouldn’t scare the man away. His face was pleasant-looking, and she really needed to gain information from him. But he simply stared at her silently. Why was the man not speaking? Had she done something wrong?

She tried again. “Greetings, mortal. I am Marie! If you would be so kind, I could use help locating an earth job.”

“E-earth job?” he stammered from inside his clear, domed hat, oddly nervous.

“Yes, I need to find employment on your world as quickly as possible. Would you help me?” Marie asked him, her luminous eyes imploring.

“I-I guess so,” the man said, still looking at her strangely.

Marie was relieved. Too relieved to notice his questioning gaze. She hugged him, remembering to use only the tiniest fraction of her strength so as not to crush his delicate mortal body to a pulp. She didn’t want to crush her fragile new friend; she needed his help!

“Thank you, mortal,” she began as she released the hug. “Where might I go to obtain my earth job?” She looked around, focusing her eyes beyond the walls of the flimsy mortal structure but seeing no other buildings beyond.

“Well, I mean, we should probably go back to earth for starters, right?” the man said warily, unable to look away from Marie’s breathtaking visage.

Marie’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean? Are we not on earth now?”

“Well, no!” said the man emphatically. He pointed through the plastic-covered hole toward the blue orb on the horizon. “That’s earth.”

Marie turned to look, her gaze following his pointing finger. “Oh, dear!” she said with a frown. “Then what is this planet?”

“Planet? It’s the moon!” the man said, still not quite able to come to terms with the fact that he was speaking to a pretty girl in a summer dress inside a mangled moon base.

Marie’s expression brightened as she realized her mistake. “The moon! Of course! I should have realized its dissimilarity to the mental images of earth’s surface The Voice gave me. Thank you so much, human mortal!”

She probably shouldn’t have discussed The Voice with a mortal, but she had simply been so grateful for his helpful information that she had forgotten to blend in momentarily. With luck, he wouldn’t notice…

In her gratitude, she also momentarily forgot to lighten her mass and her wooden sandals crunched into the metallic floor of the base crinkling the floor under her immense weight and, sending a tremor through the entire sphere. She quickly adjusted, however, and the pressure relented, though not before a thousand-mile-wide fissure opened up in the rocky surface of the white moon.

Concentrating on addressing him in normal human fashion, Marie made a request of her new friend. “Would you please accompany me to the job center on the surface of your planet, kind sir?”

The man gaped. “But we’re on the moon! We’ll have to call for a shuttle from the international space station, and they are going to have all sorts of questions about…”

As the man spoke, Marie merely smiled and took his arm in hers. Pulling him off his feet, she dragged him along until she reached the aluminum wall of the base. She kicked her sandaled toes right through the metal wall, red-painted nails ripping through the flimsy material to step onto the silty ground outside. Using her free hand, she punctured the wall a second time, curling it backward until she had created an opening large enough for them both to walk through. She took the man outside the structure, pulling him off his feet once more to drag him along the moon’s sandy surface. Then, she pushed off with a flexing of her small feet. The pair launched from the cratered ground, accelerating through space until they reached earth’s upper atmosphere. They then began to descend to the surface miles below.

The man in the spacesuit, completely in awe of Marie’s incredible powers during their interplanetary journey, began to feel sweat beading on his brow. His suit, despite being designed to insulate against extreme temperatures, became uncomfortably warm as the pair tore through the earth’s atmosphere at breakneck speed. Marie herself needed to keep putting out fires on her cotton clothing, a number of holes burning through it to expose her perfect flesh to his view.

Finally, they landed, Marie momentarily forgetting to adjust her weight again, and landing hard at the edge of a cliff before she remembered to lighten her mass once more. Her wooden heels slammed into the rocky plateau, the ground behind her fracturing and dropping away as she set a gaping Matthias before her. Not until she heard the immense boom of thousands of tons of hardened earth destroying everything in its path did she look behind her, quickly realizing what she had done. There had probably been mortals down there, who had been crushed, but Marie was unconcerned about them at the moment. Not while the nice man who had helped her lay on the ground, unconscious and engulfed in flames. Marie’s eyes widened out of concern for her mortal friend, and she pressed her fingers to his suit, stealing the heat from its surface to instantly put out the fire.

She tapped a fingernail to his clear glass hat, shattering it, before tearing apart the rest of his suit and extracting him from its smoldering padding. She pressed a hand to his forehead, healing his burned flesh instantly. She seldom bothered to use her healing powers on mortals, knowing their lives would be over in the relative blink of an eye anyway. But she had a particular fondness for this one. He was her first mortal friend, after all.

His eyes fluttered open, his vision blurry at first, until it focused on the gorgeous creature looming above him. She had brought him to earth from the moon. She had healed him from his burns. She had saved his life! Before he knew what he was doing, he felt his heart well with a heady mix of gratitude and attraction, and he sat up and kissed Marie’s perfect lips.

Marie’s brow furrowed in confusion. What was this all about? This man had touched his mouth to hers! Was this some sort of greeting that she hadn’t read about? Maybe the way mortals said thank you to one another? Maybe this had been one of the homework assignments she had bothered to complete. Oh, well. At least she knew how to properly thank a mortal now.

After a brief moment, the man collapsed back to the ground, licking his lips, his pupils dilated as feelings of rapturous pleasure coursed through his body. What a kiss!

Marie touched her own lips, enjoying both the tingling sensation and the lingering taste of the man after his unexpected thank you. She smiled warmly at him. “How are you called, earth mortal?”

“How am I…? Oh! My name!” the man realized, coming to understand what she had meant, despite her odd phrasing. “I’m Matthias!”

“And I am Marie,” she said, pleased that she had learned the name of this particularly captivating mortal. “Thank you for directing me to your planet. And thank you for your mouth thanking. Now, please fly to earth’s job center. I will follow.”

Marie looked at him expectantly, tapping her petite, sandaled foot. Matthias gaped at the beautiful girl. Who was she? What was she? She was clearly not human. And she was so beautiful.

“I-I don’t have a plane, Marie,” he told her, struggling to his feet. She rose from her crouch beside him. “So we can’t fly there.”

“A plane?” Marie searched her mind for the meaning of the term. It was a machine that humans used to travel through their atmosphere at extremely slow rates of speed. But why did they need such a thing when they could clearly fly. The other human mortals in the moon building had clearly been able to fly! They had done so to flee her as she had entered their structure! “Are you not able to travel through your planet’s atmosphere without the assistance of a mechanical device?”

“Well… no!” said Matthias, giving her a curious look. “I’m, um, not like you.”

Strange, thought Marie. He must not have mastered that skill as the others of his kind had. No wonder he had not run from her! Maybe he was just a fledgling mortal.

“I shall take you then, Matthias. Just show me the way…” She grabbed his arm again, preparing to launch herself into the sky.

“Wait!” said Matthias urgently. Marie paused, turning her head to look at him, her huge, glimmering eyes wide with surprise.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to go to a job center,” Matthias said, relieved to still be on the ground.

“Why not?” said Marie, honestly confused. “It is a requirement of my test!”

“Well, the kinds of jobs that they have probably just wouldn’t be a good fit for someone like you.” Matthias phrased his answer as delicately as he could. It would probably be unwise to upset this girl, as powerful as she seemed to be.

“Someone like me?” Marie asked again, looking down at her half-burned dress.

Matthias’ gaze followed hers down her body, and he swallowed hard, fighting the urge to kiss her again. He had been lucky to get away with it once, overcome with the feeling of her healing hand on his head. He might not be so lucky should he try it again. Trying not to focus on the glimpses of the perfect form that he saw through the numerous holes in her dress, he tore his gaze from her body to focus on her spellbindingly gorgeous eyes.

“Yes, I’m thinking you’d do better as a model or something. You definitely have the looks for it!”

“A model?” Marie asked, puzzled. “Is that a job?”

Matthias nodded, relieved that she seemed open to the idea.

“What is the nature of this job?”

“Models wear clothes and have their picture taken. It’s a simple job, but beautiful women like you are highly sought after for that kind of work.” Matthias looked at her hopefully.

Marie considered the idea, finding that she really liked it. “I accept your proposal, Matthias. So how do I achieve this job?”

It was Matthias’ turn to consider. “Well, I guess you’ll need a portfolio for starters. You can show that to people, and they might hire you for making more photos. They might even offer to buy the photos you’ve already had taken. They call them stock photos.”

He looked up, noting the confused look in Marie’s eyes. “A portfolio is a set of photos – pictures with your likeness in front of nice scenery.”

“Ah, photos,” remembered Marie. “Artworks made by mechanical devices, correct?”

“Um, yeah,” said Matthias with a shrug. “I guess so.”

“Do you have such a mechanical device?”

“Not really. I usually just use my phone to take pictures. And I think that’s still back up there on the moon.” He pointed toward the heavens.

“Then we must obtain an art-making device!” said Marie, her voice growing excited. “Where can we find one?”

Matthias scratched his head. “Maybe at the mall?”

Marie scanned the surface of the planet until she saw a sign labeled “Woodbridge Mall” a few hundred kilometers away. Grabbing Matthias’ arm, she launched them both into the sky, rocketing toward the collection of stores to arrive there in a matter of seconds. The wooden heels of her shoes crunching into the sidewalk outside the mall, as she came in for a graceful landing, doing a slightly better job with the landing than she had last time. Satisfied with her improvement on the landing, she set Matthias down gently. His knees wobbled, and he collapsed in a lump on the ground, stomach heaving, dizzy from accelerating so quickly that it had nearly caused him to lose consciousness again.

“Are you well, mortal Matthias?” asked Marie, examining him for damage.

“Just Matthias,” he corrected, taking deep breaths to gather himself. “And yeah. I’ll be okay.”

He rose to his feet, then nodded toward the huge, floor-to-ceiling glass display window before them. “We might be able to find one in there!”

Marie’s head swiveled to look in the indicated direction. She clapped her hands together excitedly, her lips curling upward into a dazzling smile. In her excitement, she forgot that these mortals used clear materials within their structures, and she crashed right through the plate glass window of the store, sending sharp shards raining all over the store’s patrons, injuring a number of them.

Shrieks and cries surrounding her, Marie looked around in confusion before realizing what she’d done. She looked back at a shocked Matthias, her expression sheepish. “Oops!” she said with a helpless shrug. My, these mortals were delicate!

She looked around until she saw a sign that read “Cameras,” quickly recalling that this was the name of the art-making device that she needed. She snatched one from the shelf and strode out of the store, only to pause as she heard a voice call out after her.

“Miss? Miss! Miss!!!” the voice said, becoming more shrill with every repetition. “You need to pay for that!”

She spun on her wooden heel, her wide, innocent eyes finding the owner of the voice. “Pay?”

Mattias came running up behind her, gently taking the camera from her slender fingers. “Marie, you can’t take that from the store. Not without giving them money in exchange.”

Marie looked heartbroken. “But I don’t have any money!”

Matthias’ eyes softened as he took in the pretty girl’s distress. “I wish I did, but I’m pretty sure I left my wallet back on the moon,” he joked.

He walked the merchandise back to the alarmed clerk, who took it, giving the pair a glare before walking it back to the shelf.

“Why do they require an exchange of currency in order to give me things?” asked Marie, staring longingly at the camera as the clerk placed it back where she had found it.

“It’s just… how things are done here,” Mattias advised her.

“But usually mortal beings simply give me things!” said Marie, her lower lip beginning to tremble.

“Mortal beings?” Matthias finally gathered the presence of mind after the whirlwind of events to notice how she referred to other people. “So you’re some kind of immortal or something?”

Marie suddenly looked stricken, her disappointment giving way to fear. She hunched down, shifted her eyes from side to side and placed a finger over her luscious lips. “Shhh…” she said, remembering a gesture that humans used to silence speech. “You must not reveal my identity to these other mortals!”

Matthias lowered his voice to a whisper, hunching next to her conspiratorially. “So you are immortal?” he said, incredulous but prepared to believe her if she said yes, given everything he’d seen today.

Marie’s eyes twinkled mischievously. She looked around again, then gave him a barely perceptible nod.

Matthias stared at her, unsure what to say. Marie looked thoughtful for a moment before grabbing his arm, nearly hauling him off his feet as she ran excitedly toward a department store. As they arrived, she released him, and he staggered forward. He caught his balance, then glanced at Marie to see an expression of wonder written all over her delicate features as she surveyed the racks of expensive clothing elegantly arranged throughout the store.

“Like clothes, do you?” asked Matthias with a wry smile. Maybe immortal women weren’t all that different from mortal women after all!

Marie nodded, her gaze still roaming the exquisite, colorful fabrics and styles arrayed before her. She ran up to a rack, pulling a skimpy cocktail dress from its hanger to hold it before her tall, slender body.

Matthias smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “I’ve gotta admit. You’d look pretty amazing in that.”

Marie flashed him a brilliant smile, then began to strip out of her damaged dress, eager to try on the new dress.

Matthias’ eyes widened in alarm. “No! Marie! Not here! They have changing rooms for that!”

Marie paused to look at him, then pulled the strap of her summer dress back over her bare shoulder. “Oh! Okay!”

The beautiful young woman followed the man over to the changing rooms, disappearing inside the small cubicle to change into the expensive designer garment.

When she emerged, Matthias’ jaw dropped.

Marie looked absolutely stunning.

The dress was short to begin with. On Marie’s tall, willowy body and long, slender legs, it looked positively scandalous. Nearly every inch of her smooth, perfect thighs was visible, her shapely calves tightening as she stepped forward in a new pair of pumps.

Her hips were rounded but athletic, stretching the fabric of her dress tight over their elegant lines. Her stomach was flat and firm under the figure-hugging garment. The swell of her perfect breasts caused his breath to catch as his gaze worked its way up her sumptuous figure. The dress bared her slim, sculpted shoulders and arms, her lush mane of liquid gold flowing luxuriantly over flawless bare flesh.

Matthias blinked, unable to look away from Marie’s spellbinding form. This girl was more than simply immortal. She looked like some kind of goddess.

“What do you think?” Marie said uncertainly, looking expectantly at Matthias.

“I think… wow!” he rasped, barely able to speak.

“Really?” Marie’s alluring visage brightened, her eyes twinkling in delight. “That’s good, right? You like the dress?”

Matthias swallowed again, then cleared his throat, still struggling to speak. “Yes, it’s very good. And yes, I like it.”

Marie giggled, then twirled, giving him an entrancing view of her deliciously toned back, nearly completely bared by the skimpy dress, and her lovely derriere, whose sleek, graceful curves the tight fabric clung to in delectable fashion.

Matthias reached out to a nearby rack to steady himself, taking several deep breaths.

“Are you alright, Matthias?” Marie asked, her smile fading. She walked over to him, her small, curved feet wobbling slightly in the heels she wore. She touched him lightly on the arm.

Matthias reacted as if he’d been shocked.

Marie’s full lips curled into a frown. She didn’t know what to make of this man’s reaction. Did he not like her clothing? Despite what he was saying? Her expressive blue eyes took on a puzzled look.

“I’m fine,” he said again, crossing his legs. He seemed to be uncomfortable or something.

“Well, alright then,” Marie said, her face once again brightening. “What else do mortal models wear?”

A passing woman overhead Marie, giving her figure a quick once-over before moving on. She called out to Marie as she walked away. “Ha! Mortal models! With a body like that, you should be modeling bikinis, not dresses. Then everyone really would look mortal by comparison. They’d be calling you a goddess!”

Marie looked at the woman as she walked away, wide-eyed and blinking. She leaned toward Matthias lowering her voice to a whisper. “How did she know I was a goddess, Matthias? Is it that obvious?”

Matthias chuckled. “So you’ve graduated from immortal to full-on goddess now?”

He sobered when she didn’t seem amused. “Well, it really kind of is obvious that you’re not a mere mortal, especially when you’re wearing these sorts of clothes…”

“But I thought you said that these clothes were what models wore!” Marie pouted, crossing her arms stubbornly, upset that all of her efforts to blend in didn’t seem to be going well.

“And so they are,” said Matthias, still smiling. “I just meant that you look like a particularly pretty model, that’s all. That’s what the lady meant too. She didn’t really know that you’re immortal. Goddess is just a term people use to recognize a particularly beautiful woman. They don’t actually know that you’re, well, you.”

Marie brightened, looking relieved. Then, she considered what the woman said once again. “She said I should be modeling bikinis…” Marie said absently before turning to Matthias. “What is bikinis?”

Matthias scanned the store for the swimwear section, then nodded in the appropriate direction. Marie followed his gaze, clapping her hands together excitedly before running off toward the section and returning with a white string bikini. “I found this in the section labeled ‘bikinis’ but all of these sorts of garments seem to be damaged! Most of the fabric is missing! All that’s left are these tiny little scraps!”

Matthias couldn’t help but smile. “Actually, that’s all there is to it. That’s a bikini for you.”

Marie looked surprised. She looked at the tiny bits of fabric again, her eyes widening. “But it will barely cover my body at all!”

“That’s, uh, kind of the point,” said Matthias, his heart fluttering with the mere notion of seeing Marie in the tiny swimsuit. “They’re meant for women to show off their bodies with the absolute minimum of clothing. They, uh, go into the water in them.”

Marie screwed up her beautiful face, then, without another word, turned and marched into the changing room. When she emerged a moment later, Matthias felt faint, his knees weak. He listed to the side, thankful that the clothing rack was there to catch his fall.

Because Marie was an absolute vision.

She looked like a supermodel’s far prettier young sister, her body a breathtakingly perfect work of art. Tanned, toned, perfect flesh met his gaze everywhere he looked, Matthias’ knees wobbled, becoming too weak to remain standing. He stumbled to a nearby chair and slumped into it.

“Do the clothing scraps look good on me?” asked Marie innocently, twisting her tiny waist to get a look at how the solitary white string looked drawn tightly over the silky bare skin of her rounded hips. She picked up her small foot, again encased in the wood-soled sandals, gazing downward to watch the smooth muscles of her legs flex, fully uncovered.

Matthias, unable to speak, nodded, his eyes trembling.

Marie gave him a puzzled look. The mortal man looked unwell, but he had just told her he was fine.

In truth, Marie was happy to wear so little. Typically, in her normal form, floating through the cosmos, she wore nothing at all. It felt freeing to be so close to her natural state. She had simply believed that mortal women covered themselves more fully. It was liberating to know that she could simply wear four cloth triangles with a tiny bit of string connecting them.

“Matthias?”

“Yes?” the red-faced man squeaked.

“I had thought mortal women wore more cloth over their bodies than this. But now that I see that is not the case, I was wondering if it would be acceptable for me to go without any clothing at all?”

Matthias turned a deeper shade of crimson.

“Matthias?” Marie examined him. He was looking less well by the minute! “Do you require healing Matthias? Are you hurt again? I know that mortals are easily injured. Did something puncture you?”

He shook his head.

Confused, Marie shrugged. She didn’t know why the man was acting so strangely. Some of the things these mortals did were simply beyond her understanding. She turned, bumping her elbow into the mirror and shattering it.

Sheepishly, Marie disappeared in the changing room. In her haste to retreat from view, however, she accidentally slammed the door a bit too hard, and the wood cracked and splintered as it swung through the locking mechanism into her.

The wood broke in half against her nearly nude body, her attempt to steady it only mangling its hinges until it broke completely off.

Matthias blinked in surprise. Marie merely smiled sheepishly and shrugged before going to the next changing room over.

She changed back into the cocktail dress, this time dancing out of the small room in ballet flats. Where was she getting these other shoes? Matthias hadn’t seen her taking those inside with her. She twirled happily, catching the last in the row of changing cubicles with her elbow as she left. Matthias turned to watch the entire structure in the center of the department store collapse before turning his wide eyes to Marie. She hadn’t seemed to notice the damage. She simply continued to lead him by the arm out of the store, snagging a half dozen other outfits along the way.

“Are you sure those are your size?” asked Matthias, fairly certain that she hadn’t bothered to check.

Marie looked unconcerned, her luminous eyes twinkling. “That does not matter, Matthias. I can always just change my size.”

Change her size? She could do that too?

The two of them strode toward the exit, an ogling clerk between them and the door. Marie handed her armfuls of clothes to Matthias, then planted a kiss on the young clerk’s lips. He collapsed in some combination of shock and pleasure as she released the kiss. Unaware, Marie gathered up the clothes, spun on her heel, and guided Mattias out the door.

“What was that all about?” asked an incredulous Matthias, looking back at the clerk’s prone form.

“I was thanking him for giving me the clothes!” she said with an innocent smile. “Just like you thanked me for healing you!”

Matthias’ stunned expression gave way to a belly laugh.

***

“This is your place of dwelling?” asked Marie as they walked into Matthias’ massive, marble-floored mansion.

He nodded modestly.

Marie looked around at the opulent home, a pleased smile gracing her perfect lips as she surveyed the artwork on the walls. “I like your structure, Matthias.”

“Thanks,” he said with an amused grin at her interesting phrasing. “I think.”

“I would like to engage in my modeling job now. Would you take my picture?” Marie said, turning suddenly to him with eager eyes.

“Well, I don’t really have the kind of camera that we would need to take those sorts of pictures, remember? Why don’t I call a photographer? I’m sure we could have someone here tomorrow morning.”

Marie frowned, disappointed at having to wait. “Okay, but I just really want to complete my job!”

“Sorry, Marie, but photography isn’t really something I’ve ever done before.” Matthias said apologetically.

“So that is not the job that provided you with the resources to construct this building?” Marie asked, puzzled.

“No!” he replied. “I’m an astronaut, but this house has belonged to my family for generations. Remember that stonecutting operation we saw on our way to the house? That’s the family business. It’s what made it possible for us to build this house.”

“Stonecutting. Right…” said Marie absently, clearly disinterested in such mundane mortal affairs. Her attention drifted to the marble sculpture in the entryway of Matthias’ house. “The quarry you showed me would provide an interesting backdrop for the art-pictures you shall create of me, would it not?”

“Um, I guess so…” said Matthias uncertainly.

“Good!” said Marie, returning her gaze to him as she sought information that actually interested her. “What else should I know about modeling, Matthias?”

“Well, I think that models usually try to create a character for their photoshoots. They act a certain way that’s appropriate to the outfit that they’re wearing. Like when they wear a bikini, they’re playful. When they wear a cocktail dress like yours, they act sexy. When they wear a work outfit, they’re focused.”

“Playful. Sexy. Focused,” repeated Marie, her brows furrowed in concentration as she memorized the words like a mantra.

“Yes,” confirmed Matthias. “The only thing you need to keep in mind is to avoid breaking character.”

“Avoid breaking character,” Marie echoed, biting her full lower lip as she committed the advice to memory.

 “Look,” said Matthias after watching Marie repeat his words several more times. “Why don’t you spend the night here tonight? I have a guest room you can use. Then, we can get started first thing in the morning.”

Marie’s eyes lit up with delight. “Really, Matthias?! You are so wonderful!”

She gave him a bone-creaking hug, then followed him like a happy puppy as he showed her around the house.

***

As she lay in bed that night, however, Marie grew impatient. She hated waiting, really wanting to complete her test now rather than waiting until morning to begin. But she needed a camera…

“Phoebe?” Marie reached out to her friend with her mind.

“Yes, Marie?” came her friend’s amused-sounding voice.

“I need a device that uses the refraction of light to create artwork by capturing it through curved lenses after it contacts matter, Phoebes. These human mortals call it a camera, but they wouldn’t entrust one to me when I attempted to obtain one at an establishment known as a mall. Can you help?”

“I have just the thing…” came Phoebe’s voice.

A few moments later, Phoebe arrived, holding a smooth egg-shaped metallic device in her hand. “This little gizmo does exactly what you need. It’s powerful enough to be meant for goddesses like us, and it even adds sparkles and cool effects to the images it creates!” Phoebe smirked, knowing that Marie couldn’t resist a good sparkle.

“I’ve never tried it in a mortal realm before though, so it may have a few side effects after absorbing the necessary lightwaves to create the sort of image you’re after, but that shouldn’t really be a big concern.” Phoebe’s eyes twinkled mischievously.

Marie smiled, clapping her hands together in excitement, not really caring about the details. “Let’s try it out!”

Phoebe’s eyes flashed darkly above her signature smirk as she followed her beautiful peer outside, whirling a finger to speed up time, slowing it back to normal as the sun crested the horizon to provide sufficient light for her device to work properly.

***

Matthias awoke the next morning to a chunk of plaster landing on his forehead. Confused, he sat up in bed. The walls of his house shook, the posts of his bed squeaking as they shimmied over the floor. What on earth was happening?! An earthquake?

He leapt out of bed, then ran to the window. As he looked over the stone quarry a good distance away, he saw two tiny figures in the distance amongst the huge stone blocks. His hand rose instinctively to his forehead. Was that Marie? He had a sinking feeling that it was. But who was the other figure?

Matthias threw on a jacket and shoes and ran outside, jogging to the quarry. He weaved left and right as the tremors in the earth shook the ground beneath him, throwing off his balance. But he continued to stagger forward, worried that Marie might create more havoc – this time on his own property!

When he arrived, he saw Marie with some sort of high-tech metal hammer, wearing coveralls with nothing but her bare skin beneath. Her small feet were clad in her wooden sandals.

She swung the hammer, a massive boulder shattering into pieces. A dozen jagged stone missiles whizzed past him with deadly speed, ripping a hole in the sleeve of his jacket, just under his arm. Another attractive young woman stood nearby holding a silver oval-shaped object before her.

Matthias watched in horror as a beam lanced out from the smooth metallic device. The hillside, along with the heavy machinery behind Marie began to glow orange. Everything behind the gorgeous blonde began to shake and shimmer, engulfed in what appeared to be a raging inferno of swirling fire. Steel dripped from machinery to pool on the ground as it melted. The grass and trees at the top of the hill caught on fire. Even the stone behind Marie seemed to liquify and pour over the surrounding gravel. Then, in a blinding flash of light, everything was gone. The entire landscape behind Marie had vanished, leaving only a scorched crater of smoking rock. Only she and her cute outfit seemed unaffected by the destruction.

Good God! Matthias thought in complete shock. What had that metal egg done?! He gaped at the brunette, horrified at the destruction she had somehow wrought.

“Marie!” Matthias cried, his voice cracking as it attracted the beautiful blonde’s attention.

She momentarily broke character, giving him a dazzling smile and waving at him. She bounded toward him, in her excitement forgetting to adjust her mass. The earth shook beneath her feet as the rubber soles of her sneakers pulverized the massive slabs of rock within the quarry. As she neared him, she seemed to remember something. “Wait! I can’t talk right now, can I? I’m supposed to stay in character, like you said!”

“Stay in…” Matthias repeated, his brain taking a moment to process her words after what he had just witnessed. “…but you’re destroying my family’s business!”

Marie, however, was no longer listening, bounding back into position, not seeming to notice that the entire landscape had changed.

Thinking quickly as she turned to face him once again, Matthias gave her an imploring look. “The photographer I hired should arrive soon. Why don’t we wait for him? Then, you can take pictures in all sorts of locations…. Safe locations… maybe the moon?”

Phoebe examined him appraisingly, responding coolly. “We don’t need your camera, mortal. We have a better one of our own!” She turned to Marie. “But he’s right. We should take pictures in more locations. Why don’t we replicate ourselves? We can get the whole photoshoot done at once!”

“Ooooooo… good idea!” Marie squealed, raising a hand and snapping her slender, red-tipped fingers.

A moment later, Matthias heard a massive crash followed by the creak of bending steel from behind him. His head swiveled, his eyes quickly locating the source of the sound.

Another Marie, this one wearing a ballerina outfit, did a graceful pirouette atop the apex of a massive crane, a second Phoebe standing below, readying another metal egg.

“Holy shit!” cried Matthias, his gaze flicking back and forth between two copies of the gorgeous blonde. “There’s two of you?”

Marie giggled. “Oh, there’s way more than two of me now, silly.”

The sound of straining metal returned his gaze to Marie #2. Her toe-spin seemed to be placing an immense amount of pressure on the crane, and it lurched forward before beginning to crumple under her tiny foot. The crane’s arm cracked as it separated from its cab. It gave way, collapsing to the ground in a massive billow of stone dust, leaving Marie suspended in mid-air.

That’s when Marie began to grow.

Her small form, high above, expanded like a balloon, except that her body remained in perfect proportion. Her breathtaking face and perfect body grew until her slipper-clad toes touched the ground.

Laughing, giant Marie launched herself into the air in a Jeté leap, landing perfectly on the toe of a single foot, her other leg fully extended behind her. Unfortunately, that massive toe pierced the roof of the machinery garage, the corrugated steel no match for the girl’s huge, indestructible pointe shoe. A cacophony of breaking machinery and screeching metal met Matthias’ ears as he ran his trembling fingers through his hair.

Marie had just destroyed millions of dollars worth of equipment in a single step! Not to mention countless acres of land. And countless cubic tons of marble deposits.

Matthias’ eyes widened in horror as he watched Phoebe #2 raise her egg-device. A moment later, another landscape, along with most of the buildings of his family’s company, had become a smoldering ruin, this one having also taken the lives of more than a few of the quarry’s workers.

“Marie!” Matthias screamed, his voice desperate.

The young goddess met his trembling eyes and smiled innocently, giving him another cheerful wave.

Oh God, oh God, oh God! thought Matthias, attempting a smile of his own but succeeding only in molding his lips into a sickly grimace. The young goddess didn’t seem to be intending any harm, but she was wreaking havoc on his family’s business on a scale he could scarcely imagine! Their workers had been incinerated! For a photo!

 

He heard another giggle, turning his head to see a third Marie and Phoebe pairing, this version of Marie wearing a bikini and pumps and walking into his house. Matthias’ stomach sank as he realized that several members of his family would be killed if they took a picture in that building.

He broke into a sprint, desperately attempting to catch up with them before they made it inside…

…but he was too late.

Flinging open the door, Matthias looked around the main floor of the huge house, beads of sweat rolling down the sides of his face from the temple. Finally, he saw the girls through the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. He raced through the house, pulling open the door to step onto the concrete patio that surrounded the pool. Marie #3 was in the water, splashing and frolicking as Phoebe #3 prepared to take another photo with her metal egg.

“No!” screamed Matthias, his hand outstretched as he raced around the pool to where Phoebe stood.

But again, he was too late. He could feel the heat of the massive fireball behind him, knowing that it was consuming everyone inside. A flash from behind knocked him off his feet, and he stumbled past Phoebe, flipping over the small fence of the outer patio to land on his face in the dirt beyond.

He rose, spitting out dusty soil, and turned toward the pair of goddesses. A lump of horror forming in his throat, his wide, trembling eyes rose to find Phoebe staring back at him with an amused smirk before suddenly snapping her fingers to wink out of existence.

Matthias’ gaze turned next to Marie, who jumped out of the pool with a sizzling splash. The smoldering ruin of his mansion directly behind her, she wiggled her small toes into her pumps, then strode toward him, concrete crunching and shattering with every step, clearly thrilled at having finished her last shot. She gave the stunned man, still in utter shock, a huge hug, then slipped a sheet of paper between his trembling fingers.

“Thank you so much, Matthias, for helping me complete my mortal test. I couldn’t have done it without you!”

As she raised her hand, about to snap her fingers, a voice boomed over the destroyed grounds, whipping Marie’s blonde hair about her face.

“Marie, you have used your power and unleashed destruction upon these poor mortals, ruining their lands and ending many of their lives. You have failed your test. You must repeat this examination once more at a time of our choosing.”

Marie’s brilliant smile faded. “Oh, no! But I worked so hard! I have to do this all over again?!”

Matthias winced at her final statement.

Marie’s face scrunched up in disappointment, but she snapped her fingers and disappeared.

Matthias raised the paper in his hand, lowering his glassy, horrified eyes to it. It was a photo of Marie in a bikini, surrounded by animated, glowing sparkles. The haunting face of his uncle in the window of the mansion stared back at him. Tears welled in his eyes, and he began to sob, his body shaking as he continued to hold the photo before him with quivering hands.

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