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Strength (Curse of the Gods #4)
Author:Jane Washington & Jaymin Eve

Strength (Curse of the Gods #4)

Jane Washington & Jaymin Eve




One



The greatest thing about being dead was the food. I mean, sure, I had to endure a knife in the chest and a creepy death-cuddle from the worst being in all the worlds to get to the food, but I couldn’t help but feel it was all worth it. Every sun-cycle I woke up, I pressed a panel on the wall, and a server appeared on the table.

On the table. Like a menu.

The server I was currently looking at was short, with a bald head and pale, grey eyes. I knew that it was a woman because her weird little skinsuit covered the chest. The skinsuits of the male servers only covered the hips.

“What’s your name?” I asked her.

It was my favourite game—asking their names. I’d been hiding out in Cyrus’s sterile white residence for almost seven sun-cycles, and in that time, I’d had seven different servers. After asking one of them why there was a new server each sun-cycle, I had discovered that a certain number of servers were assigned to the different sections of Topia. They were on a regular rotation because of the high volume of servers that ended up dismantled or banished when the food wasn’t exactly right. In reply to that, I’d asked if they were the ones cooking the food, and she had replied that no, they weren’t.

The servers that attended food calls had a relatively simple schedule: they were assigned to a section of Topia for the sun-cycle, and they answered the food call of every being in that section. After receiving the order, they went back to their dormire to fetch the food and deliver it. I hadn’t had a chance to ask who or what the hell their dormire was, because the server that I had been questioning had been called away to answer another food call.

“Bush,” my current server answered me, interrupting my thoughts and reminding me that I had asked for her name. “I am called Bush, Sacred One. What can I get for you?”

Bush. I cringed. “I’ll have some bread, and some cheese, and some milk … and I suppose I should have some chocolate, just in case. And some of that iced nectar drink, to wash down the chocolate. And some crumbed swimmer cakes, because you should always balance out too many sweets with other things that aren’t sweet. And some chocolate milk, because you should always balance out too many savoury things with other things that aren’t savoury. And some apple pie, with the frosted crust. And some—”

“That’s probably enough for breakfast,” Yael drawled, walking into the room.

The server snapped her head to Yael, and then switched her eyes back to me. Then back to Yael. Back to me. Back to Yael. She needed some sort of confirmation.

“That’s enough … for now,” I told her.

She nodded quickly, looking relieved, and then disappeared.

I twisted in my chair to narrow my eyes on Yael. “I wasn’t done ordering,” I grumbled.

“Yeah you were. You told us you needed to leave the cave or else you would wither and die … again, so Coen organised a little outing. We leave in one rotation and there’s no way you can eat that much food in one rotation.”

“Try me.” I huffed a little, but it was hard to stay angry when they had finally decided to let me out of the cave.

I turned back around as Yael took the seat to my right. I was sitting at the head of Cyrus’s dining table, clutching the knife and fork in front of me and leaning over my empty plate. It was the same way I had greeted the past seven sun-cycles. I called it my power stance: back straight, head up, cutlery ready. If I was going to have to be dead, I was at least going to spend my afterlife eating cheesy bread and gulping chocolate milk. I deserved it. Dying was hard.

Yael leaned back in his chair, smirking at me as Aros came into the room. I could sense him rather than see him, the smell of burning sugar plants drifting faintly through the air, so faint that I could barely catch it. A touch drifted across the back of my neck. He took the seat next to Yael. They knew the drill: breakfast first.

Aros tsked. “Actually, the family motto is safety first.”

“I’m the one who died, so I get to pick the family motto,” I countered. “It’s breakfast first.”

“We’re all undead, technically.” This had come from Rome, who had entered the room far too silently for his massive frame.

His hands gripped the back of my chair and I could feel him hovering over me, his breath against the top of my head.

“You were born already dead.” I toyed with the knife in my right hand. “That doesn’t count.”

Instead of answering me, Rome straightened away and spoke to whoever had stepped through the doorway after him. “Willa changed the family motto.”

“It’s not safety first anymore?” Coen asked.

“Nope.” This had been from Siret—the last to enter the room. “It’s dinner first. We spoke about this last night, did you all forget?”

“No.” I dropped the knife and fork, spinning around to face their little group, since Yael was the only one who had actually taken a seat. “It’s breakfast first.”

“I swear it was dinner first.” Siret seemed confused. “Did it change?”

I didn’t answer, because Bush had reappeared and was laying down dish after dish. I quickly picked up my knife and fork again. The appearance of food also seemed to clear up all the confusion in the room, as the guys claimed seats. Coen ended up on my left.

“We’re going somewhere this sun-cycle?” I asked him hopefully.

He wasn’t by any definition the ‘leader’ of our group, but he was the grumpiest and the most responsible, so that somehow translated to him policing most of the rules … but he definitely wasn’t the leader. If the leader was anyone, it would definitely be me—

“We’re taking you to see our mother,” Coen said, interrupting my thought, and I suspected that it was deliberate.

He leaned forward, piling his plate with food. I quickly began to fill up my own plate before all the dishes emptied out. I had only ordered my part of breakfast before Yael had cut me off—I hadn’t had a chance to order for all the rest of them, too. Luckily, the server had brought several servings of each dish and several jugs of each beverage. She was now standing off to the side, I noticed.

I was torn. Coen had mentioned his mother with such a lack of care, as though we went to see her once every few sun-cycles for family dinner. The rest of the Abcurses went on eating as though nothing was happening. None of them were acknowledging the strangeness of the outing he was suggesting, which meant that they had all planned it without me, and definitely had ulterior motives. On the other hand, I really wanted to ask the server where she managed to get all this food from if she wasn’t cooking it herself, and what the hell dormires were.

Putting aside the mention of the Abcurses’ mother for now, I turned to Bush before she was called away to serve anyone else.

“So who makes all this food?” I asked her.

She blinked as though she had heard me, but her face remained stoically facing the table, waiting for any further orders.

“Bush,” I prompted, forcing her head to snap up and turn my way. “Who makes this food?”

“The pool,” she told me. “The Platter of Staviti is used for the food, and the Cup of Staviti is used for the beverages.”

“You mean the cup that—”

“Yes,” Rome cut across me. “That one.”

“But if we stol—”

“It’s a copy,” Aros answered, glancing up at me from his plate, his golden eyes holding mine, warning me to drop the subject in front of the server. “Staviti lost the original cup after being tricked by Abil—and then the original cup was stolen from Abil. Nobody knows where it is.”

I snorted, turning my attention back to my plate. “So mysterious. But—” I looked to the server again. “How can the pool and the platter and the cup make all this food?”

“The platter is placed in the pool and we ask for the food. It is the same with the cup.”