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[personal profile] paperninja69
The final chapter of The Cassandra Project. Make sure you have lots of tissues.
Thanks to everyone who has kept up and given feedback throughout this process. Not sure what I'm going to do with this. I've considered self-publishing but also considered doing the same thing but with two other mythological characters and submitting the three as an anthology titled "Triad". Another option is to take Cassie and Joshua on more adventures.
Without further ado, I give you one last time Cassandra, daughter of Heccuba and Priam.

The sun was setting on the day as they made their way to the line of decorated floats alternating with tractors. Masks and beer in hand, they climbed up ladders to enter the place they would call home for the rest of the night. Beads were hung in bright, metallic strings next to stuffed animals and oversized plastic trinkets.
The lights were switched on as the sun dropped lower. A cheer went up as the floats began a slow crawl toward the parade route.
Muses rolled into the night.

Cassie tried to run a hand through her hair only to snag her fingers in the elastic cord holding her mask to her forehead. She cursed fluently and untangled herself. “Callie, I can't believe you paid for this madness.”
Callie sat on a seat, watching the city travel past. She waved to a passing car with a smile. “This will be the most fun you have in your entire life. In case you don't believe me, that five gallon cooler in the back is full of margaritas.”
“Fantastic.” She stared at the scenery without looking.
Callie gave her old friend a gentle push. “What is it?”
Cassie shook her head. “I've a bad feeling. The future's clouded. I'm not used to being blind.”
“No worries.” Callie laughed. “It's Mardi Gras!”
“Yeah, yeah...” Cassie slid her mask in place. “Let the good times roll and all that happy shit.”

Joshua and Angel tossed beads at the crowds of people shouting, chanting and laughing. She leaned over the edge to hand a small child a stuffed animal, waving to the girl's father who held her over his head. Hands grasped for the cups Callie rained on them. Cassie threw handfuls of beads and occasionally tossed a plastic trinket without looking.
Angel turned to Joshua in time to feel the tractor lurch to a halt. “Why did we stop?”
He shrugged. “No idea. Maybe the driver knows.”
“No, he doesn't have a clue. Poor mortal.”
Joshua went pale. “Oh, no...” he whispered.
The blonde man on the other side of the float took off his mask, revealing a too-perfect face. “Like all mortals, he is unaware of what is truly happening around him.” He smiled at the stone-faced Cassie. “Cassandra, my dear, you do know what today is?”
She raised her chin. “Yes, Apollo.”
Apollo's smile was frightening. “Today is the anniversary of the day you spurned my gift.”
“Some things are worth keeping the receipt for.”
He laughed. “Oh, how I miss your sense of humor!”
She didn't smile. “Is that what they call it these days?”
Apollo put a friendly arm around her shoulders. “I thought I would come by and try to make amends. Have a drink with you on this fine evening.” He glanced in the plastic cup she clutched in her white-knuckled hand. “Here, allow me to refill your cup.”
Callie jerked her head to the back of the float. “Cooler's that way. Help yourself.”
Apollo kissed Callie's cheek as he passed. “Muse... good to see you.”
“Like you didn't know I would be here, ass,” she snapped. “Cut the crap. Have your fun and be gone like the bad habit you are.”
Angel clung to Joshua. “What's going on?” she whispered.
“Long story,” he whispered back, holding her hand tightly. “I'll explain later when we have more wine and time.”
“Looking forward to it,” she replied.
Apollo returned, two cups in hand. He handed one to Cassie, who took it without dropping her gaze from his face. “To you,” he said, raising his cup.
She saluted him back and took a deep drink. Her face contorted with pain, cup falling to the floor. Strange laughter erupted from her, a wide smile on her face. “Poison!” she gasped, falling to her knees.
“What!?” Apollo frowned at his own cup.
“I'm dying,” she gasped, tears in her eyes.
“You can't!” Apollo snarled, grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. “You can't! How!?”
“Poison,” Callie said, raising her cup. “She can only die by your hand. I poisoned the cooler.” She smiled through her tears. “Forgive me, friend.”
“...forgiven...” Cassie said faintly.
Apollo threw Cassie to the floor. “There should be two gods in attendance!”
“Done, brother.”
Two women climbed down from the top of the float and removed their masks. Nike gently cradled Cassie. Athena glared at Apollo. “We were waiting for you.”
“But Fate..” he growled.
There was a rapping on the side of the float. Moire waved from the crowd. “I see you, Apollo!” she shouted. Joshua reached down to help pull her up. She stood beside him, eyes narrowed.
“Death-” Apollo sputtered.
“-is fashionably late.” Hades came form the other side, taking off his mask as he came closer. “This is done, Apollo. Your hold over her is gone. Let her go.”
“She spurned me!” He howled. “ME! A GOD! HER god! How dare a mortal deny a god their pleasure! The gift I gave her was priceless! She was favored over all!”
Athena put a hand on his arm. “Brother-” she began gently.
He jerked away from her. Without looking back, he walked away.
Cassie coughed, moaned softly. Nike sobbed, clutching her closer.
Everyone gathered around her. Hades touched Cassie's hand. “Cassandra, I who hold your soul ask you to hold onto your body for a little while so those who love you can say their farewells.”
She took a shuttering breath and opened her eyes. “Why are all of you staring at me like that? Let me die without feeling like a zoo animal!”
Athena smiled, not bothering to hide the tears. She kissed Cassie's cheek. “I'll see you in the after. Safe journey.”
She moved away, replaced by Callie. The Muse smoothed Cassie's hair. “You were my inspiration. Sleep well, dear one.” Callie stood up, covering her face with her hands and collapsing against Athena. The goddess wrapped her arms around the muse, the two crying together silently.
Joshua knelt beside Cassie and took her hand. “I always thought this scenario would be reversed.” He swallowed hard. “Thank you. For everything.”
Cassandra coughed. “You are very welcome, nephew. I'm very glad I got to see you.”
“Nephew?” he echoed.
She nodded weakly. “You are the descendant of my brother. My nephew. I could only die with my family in attendance. That was the only part of my death the Fates would reveal to me. That's why you were hidden from me. If I didn't know, then Apollo wouldn't know either.” She drew in a deep breath. “It's been a pleasure.”
“For me too, Aunt Cassandra.” He kissed her hand.
“I don't have much time, do I?” she looked at Hades.
“A few more minutes,” he confirmed, kneeling beside her.
She looked at Angel. “Come close...”
Angel took Joshua's place. Cassie touched the girl's face and whispered one word: “...remember...”
The girl's eyes went wide with shock. She crawled away, chest heaving. “”
“There's more than one afterlife,” Hades said quietly. “I know you, Gabriel.”
She curled in a ball. “”
He reached for her hand. “I know it's hard-”
“NO!” Angel screamed, standing on her feet and backing away. “I have a life! I-I...” She fell to her knees, crying. “I have a chance at love...” She glared at Hades. “I won't go back!”
“...Gabriel..” Cassandra whispered. “Will you take me home?”
“Don't ask me that!” The angel sobbed. “Please don't make me go back!”
“It's the last request of the dying,” Morie whispered. “You have no choice.”
Nike rocked slowly, her face buried in Cassie's hair. “Please?” she whispered. “I can think of no one else I'd want to carry something so precious to me.”
The angel's sobs quieted. She looked at Joshua, tears spilling from her eyes. “I love you,” she whispered.
Gabriel carefully took Cassandra's limp form from Nike's arms. “I promise to bring your friend home,” she told the goddess.
Hades nodded and backed up.
The angel and her charge shimmered for a moment and were gone.
Joshua wiped his eyes and turned to the mourning immortals. “What now?”
Hades put a cold, gentle hand on his shoulder. “You take the gift of life she traded for her immortal soul and use it to make her proud.”
“We carry on in remembrance.” Calliope put on her mask. “Time stands still for no one.”
The parade continued and the wheel turned on.

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August 2011


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