Pandora prattled on for another half an hour discussing the different types of strudels one could make, but Bacchus heard little of her dissertation. Instead he went through his mental checklist of all the things he needed to know about the boxes and The Sorrows. Once she reached a logical moment to pause, having departed to the differences between regular cherries and maraschino cherries, Bacchus patted her hand.
“Love, I’m so sorry to interrupt. I never tire of hearing your stories on fruit fillings, but may I ask you a couple more questions about The Sorrows.”
“I’ve always believed The Sorrows could be vanquished by strudel.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Strudel aside, what else could be used to conquer The Sorrows?”
“I’m not sure. They’re very much like cockroaches and they reproduce like rodents.”
“What do you mean they ‘reproduce?’”
“Well, when the box was opened, The Sorrows fractured into infinite pieces and attached themselves to every human who existed and every one that would ever exist for eternity. I have a box for each mortal.”
“Oh my, that must be a very lot of boxes. Do you keep an inventory of all of them?”
“I do try, but it’s tricky because a new ones pop open every seven minutes and once in a while a soul achieves enlightenment and a box retires.”
“And how’s that work?”
“When our children vanquish all their own Sorrows, they achieve enlightenment. And the box goes dormant.”
“What happens to it then?”
“I really don’t know. The Mother comes to collect the dormant ones, but I couldn’t tell you what she does with them.”
“And what about the boxes that haven’t opened yet?”
Pandora took Bacchus by the hand and led him to a stepped, mountainside garden of sorts that stretched as far and wide as either of them could see. “Here’s where they lie in wait, ready to attack all those poor newborn babies. When they’ve opened, I pick them and store them in the Hope Wing of the Hall of Earthly Gifts and that’s where they stay until a soul reaches enlightenment.”
“What happens to the souls that die before they reach enlightenment?”
“The souls that are plagued to death by The Sorrows continue through the cycle of birth and death until in one lifetime they are able finally to overcome.”
“I imagine it is.”
She led him in from the terrace and shivered. “I’m sorry to rush you in, but I really don’t like it out there in the garden of evil.”
“I don’t blame you one bit.”
“The moaning of the specters. I hate it.”
“May I ask, what exactly is a specter?”
“A specter is pure evil. And what’s nasty about The Sorrows is that they’ve bonded together into binary specters. Fear is bonded with despair, cowardice with anger, famine with poverty. Envy and greed, cruelty and violence, and of course disease with death. Each member of the pair feeds off the success of other so no matter which one makes the host more miserable, they both win. You get the picture?”
“Indeed I do. And how would a third-party go about capturing another person’s Sorrows?”
“Why I’ve never heard of such a thing. It’s up to each man or woman to imprison them.”
“Theoretically, though, could it be done?”
“I suppose it’s possible. Anything is possible.” Pandora smelled the air again. “Are you sure you don’t smell blueberries cooking? I’m quite sure I smell muffins—no, wait—maybe not muffins. Blueberry pancakes perhaps? Those are lovely, too.”
“Madame Pandora, please focus, love. If a third party wanted to imprison the Sorrows for someone else, how would he go about it?”
“Haven’t the faintest idea, sweetheart. Maybe if the third party was a god or a demi-god, any divine or magical being can see The Sorrows attached to a human. How to go about plucking the wee beasties from a host, I couldn’t tell you. And once you got them in the box, I don’t know that they’d stay. They could just pop right out again when you opened the box to put in another ”
Out of the corner of his eye, Bacchus thought he caught a glimpse of Loki’s verdant skin. If he could perceive the trickster with his feeble human sight, Pandora would surely see the mischievous god skulking about.
“Hey, how about one of those blueberry muffins?”
“Oh you’ve decided to try one?” Her eyes lit up. “I’ll be right back.”
She headed off in a flurry of pink clouds.
Bacchus spoke into the air around him, “Whatever mischief you’re up to, wrap it up, I’m not kidding.”
“Did you say something, sweetheart?” Pandora reappeared at Bacchus side with a muffin and glass of Riesling.
“Blessings to you, my dear lady.” Bacchus drained the glass of wine then took a bite of muffin.
“This is lovely. The streusel really makes it.”
“Come by anytime you want one.”
“I hope very soon to be able to take you up on that offer, Madame Pandora.” He finished his snack. “I’m afraid, though, I must be on my way. You’ve been such a dear to talk with me about all this.”
“As I said, anything for you.” She hugged him.
Bacchus loped down the marble steps in front of the Hall of Earthly Gifts. Loki rolled in the meadow off to the side of the path, cackling with amusement.
“What in Hades is wrong with you?” Bacchus yelled.
“Oh—” Loki wiped a tear from his eye—“You gotta admit the blueberry muffin scent was genius on my part. What that dingbat has for fruited cupcakes is beyond me.”
“There are a great many things that are beyond you.”
“But not these.”
Loki held up two Sorrows’ boxes.
“What have you done?” Bacchus said through clenched teeth.
“I purloined Arianna’s vessel.”
“And the other one.”
“I’m a genius, a genius. I took one of the boxes that hasn’t bloomed yet.”
“You pus-for-brains imbecile. You don’t even know how dangerous that thing is.”
“Bacchie baby, why are you angry? It’s just a teeny-weeny cube of evil. And we won’t use it unless we have to.”
“We won’t use it at all. Give me the box.”
“Give it to me.”
“No!” Loki juggled the two boxes. He vanished when Bacchus reached for him and reappeared in a different spot, giggling. “You’re quite the lard arse now aren’t you?”
“Nice, make fun of the divinity-impaired.”
“Oh that’s right, you really can’t catch me.” The trickster doubled over in a gale of laughter.
“Fine, you twisted snot-bubble, just give me Arianna’s box.”
“Oh Hades Euphrates, I don’t know which is which.”
“Then you’ll have to give me both.”
“Or I could give you neither.”
“I knew I shouldn’t’ve gotten you involved in this. You louse up everything you touch.”
“But you did involve me so here we are. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyaaahhh.”
Bacchus could feel a vein in his forehead throbbing, but he concentrated his awareness on thoughts of Pan. The satyr appeared in a flash of wiry fur, his hand around Loki’s throat.
After Bacchus blew the goat hair from his lips, he said, “I may not be able to catch you, but Panny certainly can. You may still have your divinity, Loki, but I have divine friends and that’s something you can’t say. No wonder no one likes you.”
A scowl darkened Loki’s features and he growled at Pan, but handed over the boxes. “Cut the insipid flute music you’re piping into my head.”
“Once Bacchus is safely on his way,” the satyr replied.
The former God of Intoxication clapped Pan on the shoulder. “I am forever in your debt, my friend.”
“Think nothing of it, Sire.”