In the past, the gods were numerous and omnipresent on Earth. They intervened in the affairs of men according to their whims. People built temples to them, hoping that their favorite gods and goddesses would answer their prayers.
With the rise of new monotheistic cults, the ancient pantheons lost their supremacy over the terrestrial world; their places of worship were abandoned and gradually faded into oblivion.
Rejected by their people, these gods retreated into their own dimensions, abandoning humans in turn, without heeding their pleas. Kindness gave way to resentment.
The whole planet is now abandoned to man. All of it?
No, a pair of deities have chosen to live among the humans to better fulfill their missions. Over time, they have hidden in plain sight and completely immersed themselves in human society, adopting its codes.
Today, they run the Strikes & Charm Agency in New York City. Revenge and love are two very strong emotions in humans, and their business is thriving.
Most Immortals look baffled at this experiment. And yet, over the centuries, humans have used their services when needed, discreetly, as the agency promises…
Except when a pantheon comes along and upsets this well-oiled machine… and all hell breaks loose!
When I arrive at the office that Friday morning, the phone is ringing off the hook! But it’s 10:30 a.m.—I'm not a morning person—and I don’t see anyone. Where’s Cindy, the assistant who usually opens at 8:30 a.m.? She’ll hear me! Annoyed by the shrill, deafening noise, I answer and pray for it to stop.
“Strikes & Charm Agency, hello! Please hold…”
Once caller after caller is put on hold—all the lines are flashing—I finally pick up the first one.
“Hello again, thank you for waiting. What is your request?”
Of course, given the time of year, they’re all for my brother! I transcribe the requests as best I can—each one weirder than the last—and finally sit down at my desk with a sigh of relief.
And to think I’d only stopped by to finish my paperwork and activate my automatic mailbox before my annual vacation… Because it’s November 1st, and for me, that’s synonymous with a two-month vacation. For my partner, on the other hand, it’s a mad rush. I’m a god of revenge and he’s a god of love. It’s amazing how many people want to “find their soul mate” for Christmas dinner! It’s almost as if you automatically need a sweetheart to go with the turkey; otherwise the meal just doesn’t taste the same?
Luckily, I, Tisiphone, am a Fury. My mission on Earth among the humans? To give them the punishment they deserve! I excel in my field and have a lot of fun carrying out the missions I choose from the requests I receive on my blog. Under the guise of “therapy,” I ask people to write down their misfortunes and then decide whether or not to carry out a punishment. In other words, for me, screw Christmas. I hate this time of year. If it were only December 25th, it would still be okay, but right now, starting in November, people make a big deal out of it and go on for weeks with the blah-blah-blah of good tidings.
How do you expect me to work properly when everyone’s talking about the “magic of Christmas,” forgiveness, love, and blah-blah-blah… By the way, traffic to my blog drops drastically during this time, as if it’s in bad taste to talk about your troubles when there’s tinsel everywhere. In short, as soon as Halloween is over—now that’s a killer holiday—I go on vacation to Olympus until all the “spirit dripping with marshmallows and hot chocolate” has passed, so I can finally get back to my penitents and resume my activities in a state of mind conductive to vengeance and punishment!
Yes, because unlike my peers, I love living on Earth—well, except for two months. I’m totally immersed in human culture, which I found fascinating from the start. I never get tired of it. Over the centuries, I’ve mingled with humans and, according to a certain portion of my family, even been contaminated by them… It’s true that I’ve had regular “friends” in my earthly life, and that they have educated me in human codes.
Over the past few centuries, I’ve also trained my brother Cupid, who discovered all the advantages. Convinced, he joined me in the agency, which we gradually adapted to our respective markets. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last dozen years. In fact, we’ve become, as the humans like to say, “filthy rich”! This allows us to share a huge penthouse overlooking Central Park and be VIPs in all the hottest spots in the city. In short, I love it!
But I also love this “return to my roots on Mount Olympus” and have found a life balance that suits me perfectly. I enjoy this time almost as much as when I’m doling out punishments. If I had to draw a human parallel, I would say it’s like a really good moment of relaxation with a big bowl of Haribo candy—the red crocodiles—which are my favorite sins. After all, I’m in my research “lab,” working out all the new revenge scenarios to include in my catalog for next year.
You have to admit, in my nearly two thousand years of existence, I’ve come up with a lot of punishments! So, for the last few decades, I’ve limited myself to listing the interesting ideas I’ve come up with, because people have an overflowing imagination when it comes to this subject. Why rack your brain when others have done it for you?
All this is to say that this time of the year should have been relaxing and enriching for me, as usual…
But it’s not true, the telephone is going crazy again! I’m going to pull the plug just long enough to finalize my files and make a quick getaway. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to implement my plan before everything goes to hell…
“Tisif!” my brother shouts, bursting into my office out of breath. “It’s a catastrophe! I don’t know how to get out of this. With Mother on top of that, I’m good for chaining myself to Prometheus and…”
“Stop!” I say firmly, putting an end to his tirade. “Take a deep breath and start again. Why put yourself in such a state on a Friday morning? What does this have to do with punishing Prometheus?”
It’s a childhood achievement of mine, but knowing my little brother, I know he couldn’t bear to have his liver eaten by an eagle. So, for him to cause that kind of pain…
“Cindy quit! She’s leaving me high and dry. Just like that. And the files just keep piling up. I’m finished! And Mother adds another layer—”
“What’s the connection between Mother and Cindy?”
“You haven’t turned your phone back on… I’ll leave the surprise to you. There’s no reason why I should be the only one having an anxiety attack this morning…”
Okay, now I’m worried. In fact, I’ve been turning off my phone since last night so I can enjoy my Halloween evening. The Lust Demon I spent the last twenty-four hours with wouldn’t have left me time for anything else, so—
By Olympus, eighteen missed calls! And three voicemails from Mother. I listen to them with a heavy lump in my stomach. Now, I understand my brother’s panic!
Every four years, the Council of Immortals is held, bringing together all the pantheons and groups of supernatural beings of all kinds. In the past, each community interacted with the others, mixing according to their affinities. Behind-the-scenes agreements were made, for example, to separate the influences of one group from another on humans. But the Angels changed the situation and established their supremacy thanks to the ever-growing number of their followers. They systematically refused any kind of agreement or concession with the various Immortals. Over the centuries, this has made the event completely obsolete, to the point where no one goes anymore. However, with the agenda set for the next four millennia, when the time comes to organize the Council, each community takes turns sending out an invitation card. Everyone politely declines, and the Earth continues to spin.
Except this year… Because guess what? This time it’s my pantheon that’s hosting, and my dear mother, Nyx, Goddess of the Night, has been named in charge of the festivities.
Do you think she would have been content, like all her predecessors, to send out an invitation that no one will bother to respond to? Of course not! She had it in her head that for the thousandth edition, we would make this event The Place to Be, a must for everyone! It must be the event of the century. No, of all time! And my brother and I have to go, even though we’ve been skipping it like everyone else since… I can’t remember when.
Because we’re part of the “show”?! What else did she think? Because the Darkness can be full of surprises. I don’t need to ask my cousin Pythia to know right away that I’m not going to like it.
“Okay,” I say in a calm tone that I’m far from feeling, while Cupid stares at me, more stressed than ever. “Let’s take one problem at a time. Where is Cindy?”
Do I postpone the discussion about our dear mother’s whim? But nooo…
“She left me a message at 8:30 this morning to say that she had to take her career in hand and get on a bus to Los Angeles. Just like that!”
“Well, I’ll take care of her, don’t worry. The only role she’ll get is Mrs. Pee in a B-movie! No, a rotting corpse in a Z-movie!”
“Tisif, don’t bother…”
Of course, the God of Love doesn’t believe in revenge, but I’m all for it! And anyone who does us harm must expect “karma back,” as the humans say.
“I don’t know how I’ll manage without an assistant,” my brother whines, interrupting my vengeful thoughts. “I can’t answer the phone, sort the requests, and answer them all at the same time… I desperately need help. If only my dear big sister would agree to help me because she has nothing more important to do.”
He looks at me with a puppy dog look and tears in his eyes… He’s trying to manipulate me, the scoundrel!
“Wow, I don’t know anything about love. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“You wouldn’t have anything to say. Honestly, do you think Cindy meant anything? You can only do better. I mean, I think…”
Of course, his assistant was the stereotypical mindless blonde bimbo! That she lasted ten months is quite a feat. And to compare myself to her while challenging me to do better… He knows which button to push to get what he wants. Never negotiate with someone who knows you inside and out!
“Okay, okay, okay. I have a feeling I’m going to regret this, but I’m going to cut my vacation short to support you… say, two weeks? Until the Council’s inaugural ball? Will that give you time to hire a temp in the meantime? But you’ll owe me one hell of a favor, with no time limit to pay it back.”
“Yes! You’re the greatest sister ever! And what about Mother? You will try to reason with her, won’t you? I can’t lose even one day right now. Especially not to participate in this tacky thing.”
Would you ever dream of getting in the way of a high-speed armored tank? You wouldn’t, would you? Well, when it comes to our mother, it’s the same thing.
“Absolutely not, Cupid! You’re going to have to get used to your imposed agenda, just like me. In fact, you’re well aware of it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t try to give me the baby—”
“Pfff, at least I tried,” he dares to answer with a little pout. “But I’m counting on you to talk her out of it, whatever she wants.”
“Well, as if she’s going to be influenced by anyone or anything…”
His grimace is almost comical, because he knows very well that going against our dear mother is suicide… In comparison, Prometheus’s ordeal looks like a health class—and for scrawny old men!
“Well,” he continues, letting go of the case, “since we have an agreement, will you pick up the phone? Because right now, I really need to get to Arizona to work on the five files I have there. It’ll take me a few hours, but I should be able to take a look at this week’s requests when I get back.”
And poof! He disappears before I even have time to respond. Grrr, it’s so annoying, this ability to “teleport” when it’s to my disadvantage… Resigned, I go back to the phone, but not without getting out my special supply of red crocs, because something tells me I’m going to need them. Three hours and a killer headache later, I’ve decided that two weeks is just tooo long!
I couldn’t keep up with all the requests for love I received, so I came up with a whole bunch of ideas for torture. It’s all a matter of motivation… Honestly, what’s with these people who want “the neighbor to faint at her feet after just one longing look.” Or that “the electrician is a sex beast on the washing machine—when it’s on the spin cycle.” For me, it just inspired me to throw the bimbo in the drum and not on top of it. In short, listening to all these requests for love is a real ordeal, worse than having a tooth pulled without anesthesia. In fact, I don’t think I have many left, I’m clenching them so hard because I can’t say what’s on my mind to all these stupid people.
But on the one hand, my little brother wouldn’t forgive me and, on the other hand, I take the season into account. At the mere sight of a garland or a Christmas tree with baubles, the humanoid brain goes completely haywire. It’s like entering a time bubble of collective hysteria. I’ve never understood how the Angels pull this off, but over the years I’ve come to recognize their mastery. And it doesn’t surprise me for a second that they’re the ones standing in the way.
There it goes again…
“Strikes & Charm, good morning. How can I help you?”
“I would like compensation for an unsuccessful request.”
Ah, what’s this now?
“What do you mean by that? Could you give me your client number if you already have a file with us?”
I sound very professional when all I want to do is soak in my scented bubble bath. Especially when I re-read that disgruntled customer’s famous “unfinished” file…
“Uh, I see your inquiry goes back thirty years? Frankly, that’s a bit long to wait before complaining.”
“I’ve been patient, I grant you! But now, enough is enough. I want another heir, for this one has been an unparalleled disappointment. Cupid has betrayed me!”
Holy spiked whip! That he should name my brother, it’s because he’s an Immortal.
I’m desperately looking for the customer information sheet on the system… And damn it, I’m right—as always. Pfff…
“Listen, Moloch, you applied to mate with a human and produce an heir. Which you did diligently, as you have a twenty-nine-year-old son. So, I don’t quite understand your accusation.”
“A son who has never shown any aptitude for death. He's a nature lover! What am I supposed to do with that?!”
Ouch. Of course, this is the risk of mating a divine being with a mortal: the offspring won’t systematically inherit the supernatural essence. Even though it’s extremely rare, let’s face it…
“I understand your disappointment, but as you may have read in our contract, we cannot guarantee the outcome of procreation. Therefore, we have fulfilled the terms of our mission, even if it didn’t quite meet all your expectations.”
“I paid Cupid a fortune in energy. And he betrayed me. I want compensation! Another game, but this time with a goddess. To avoid another mistake like this, because it’s unacceptable!”
He’s got some nerve! For Immortals, we demand payment in “power,” because it takes a lot to intervene against one of our own. We’re not going to bleed for “colleagues” who don’t even talk to us anymore, so we don’t go overboard—or push Grandma through the nettles, as humans would say. This juggernaut chose to play with a human… So, either he’s cheap, or he’s not powerful enough to afford our premium service. Either way, he should take a hike. He’s from an obscure pantheon and yet he acts like I’m Amazon’s customer service? Who remembers the Carthaginians and the Punic gods? Why does he want an heir when he must not have had a single living worshipper in a millennium? I have a good mind to hang this Immortal!
But… I pull myself together, because I’ve just been thinking about the Council. With the luck I’m having, this idiot is coming, and it’s never healthy to upset my mother. Keeping it professional, knowing that this is the last case I’ll be dealing with before taking a well-deserved break, I take a deep breath to answer in a calmer voice.
“I can send you a new contract for this request and…”
“There’s no way I’m paying for this again. Cupid owes me that much after the fiasco I’ve just explained to you. Besides, I don’t have to deal with a subordinate. Put Cupid on the phone right now!”
He’s starting to get on my nerves. So much for professionalism…
“So, first of all, stop talking to me like I’m a servant, because I’m not. Second, we don’t owe you anything because the contract was fulfilled according to the terms you duly agreed to. If you can’t read and sign without knowing what you’re doing, that’s not my problem. Third, in light of your accusations, I am happy to remove you from our customer base. Hoping to have met your expectations, I wish you a good day!”
Clack! Hanging up on him when he’s yelling at the end of the line makes me feel so much better! Frankly, hitting people is so much easier than talking to them…
To get a few moments of peace, I neutralize the damn telephone by sending it back to the automatic message. I’ll have to deal with the voice later, but right now I just need some silence. Let’s just say that the last time this happened to me, I had to call in an armada of Fairies and Elves to clean up the mess and put things back in order. My brother is still shaking, and my bank account took a beating for quite a while.
Speaking of Cupid, here he is, coming home all chipper; his missions must have been a success. At least one of us had a good day.
“Here are the fifteen or so requests we received this morning, sorted by your Post-it system,” I say, handing him the sheets of complaints. “Frankly, you really should stop killing trees to print out your files. Why don’t you read them in the cloud like everyone else?”
“What can I say, you’re the computer geek. I miss the days of vellum. The texture of the paper, the analysis of the handwriting… it all helped me make my decisions. Now it’s all sanitized and impersonal.”
Of course, without me, we would still be in the telegram era… I had to fight for a month to get him to give in and let us go digital. But my little brother has a knack for resisting in his own way, grrr…
“By the way, I sent off a little god who complained. So, if he ever calls again, don’t even listen to him and hang up!”
“But… what did he complain about?” Cupid asks me with a catastrophic air.
It has to be said that he’s extremely uncomfortable with conflict. Unlike me. A question of nature, I suppose. As a result, the slightest remark puts him in a state of stress that he finds extremely difficult to manage.
“An old story in which you have absolutely nothing to blame yourself for, so just ignore it. He’s pissed off because his offspring isn’t what he wanted.”
“Ah… It’s rare, but it happens, and I make it clear every time—”
“Don’t worry, I made it clear to him, go ahead!… Well, it’s Friday, so I suggest you close the agency early. I won’t take any more applications, and you can get on with your selection. Is this a win-win situation for both of us? Because right now, I just want my bath with my pearls and my book of the week!”
“But… you can’t leave me like this with all these files to choose from!”
“Look, you just need to draw your damn files and that’s it. I’ve had enough! And—”
“Okay,” he says reassuringly, realizing that I’m on the verge of getting really upset. “Go home, run a bath, add a ton of scented beads, and relax. I’ll meet you after I stop at the trattoria. And we’ll choose together. With a bottle of Dionysos?”
He knows how to take advantage of my weaknesses. I love Gino’s truffle pizza! And our cousin, a good wine god, has a stock of classified Grands Crus that humans would compare to gold bars.
“Okay,” I say, smiling in spite of myself.
Weak, me? But nooo…