To Know You
It turned out Shane was spot on when he said that Maya was ready to leave as soon as possible, because no more than a week after Shane started training with Garrette, he found himself sitting with her bright and early in a large war room with the rest of Bai Hu. Shane tried not to yawn as Maya spread out a large map on the table and began to meticulously walk them through her plans for their god-slaying conquest.
“I really think Lumiere is the best place to go first. Our problems will be a lot easier if we deal with Sasha, and I’ve heard how he treats the people there. They’re basically trapped if they want to keep their lives.”
When she was finished, she looked around at each of them. “Okay! Thoughts?”
“S-Sasha...” Reka trailed off, looking terribly nervous.
“That’s definitely…lofty,” Letitia added, looking unsure.
“Well, she’s not wrong. Taking out the god of immortality first would be convenient,” Garrette said, arms folded.
“Maya,” Shane hissed. “Can’t we start with someone a little easier to defeat than a god who can’t be killed?”
“Why?” she asked. “Isn’t it easier to overthrow the bigger gods first so that we can obtain their divine power and take out lesser gods more easily?”
“So, a top-down approach,” Garrette mumbled, his hand on his chin. Rather than being frazzled like Reka or lacking confidence like Letitia, he didn’t seem intimidated by the idea. Rather, he was genuinely considering how such a strategy would work out.
“Maybe if Sasha wasn’t the god of immortality I could understand this strategy, but how are you even going to defeat someone like him without divine power?” Shane asked. This was another situation where he found Maya’s way of thinking hard to accept.
She was going to get them all killed for nothing. Maya had never had people’s lives in her hands before. If something were to happen, she would have to take the full brunt of the blame. Worst still, she would be responsible for the deaths of people she cared a lot about, and he knew that would crush her spirit. It was possible she could even get herself killed in the process is things went poorly, and then what would become of Bai Hu? Shane wouldn’t allow her to make brash decisions, even if she thought herself goddess enough to handle Sasha herself.
“The other gods are immortal too, so I don’t really see how it makes a difference if we go after him first,” Maya argued.
“It’s conditional immortality in their case,” Terra clarified. “While they can’t die from disease or due to age, they can be killed. At least, they can be killed by mortals. Gods can’t kill each other.”
“Why not?” Reka asked timidly.
“Ironically, it’s because of their divinity. When two divine forces clash, they cancel out. Divinity, by nature, is life-giving, not life taking. They can fight each other in battle and defeat each other in other ways, but they can’t kill each other.”
Letitia glared down at the map. “So that’s why they always involve mortals to fight their battles for them.”
Master Terra thumped her fingers against the table.
“Indeed. Between a god and a mortal…it’s possible, if exceedingly unlikely for most. You would need to have a considerable amount of power to overthrow a god. Power which I think Maya possesses,” Terra said with a smile. Maya puffed up her chest at the praise.
“So, what you’re saying is that Sasha is a true immortal that can’t even be killed by a mortal, right?” Letitia asked, looking less and less convinced of the plan as the conversation went own.
“That’s correct,” Master Terra said. “He would be considered one of the progenitor gods, and arguably the most powerful, especially since he cannot be killed by mortals like the other gods.”
“According to my reading in the catacombs, I’d argue that just based on his immortality that might be true. In terms of combat and other abilities though, he actually kind of sucks. He’s not a combative type, despite the stranglehold he has on Lumiere,” Garrette added, not bothered by the fact he had just said that the god of immortality sucked.
“T-That’s true, but the Winslet Armory provides him with incredibly expensive magic weapons, so he doesn’t have to fight if he doesn’t want to,” Reka added. “I’d even say Winslet Armory’s biggest patron is Sasha. It would still be tough to take him out.”
“And I’m sure he has plenty of top-notch acolytes that can wield those weapons for him,” Letitia said with a sigh. “It won’t be enough to just send Maya and expect her to be able to take him one-on-one.”
Shane had to resist the urge to crinkle the rough parchment of the map and just throw it out. They would all have to fight to even get a remote chance at getting Maya face-to-face with Sasha to begin with.
It was terrifying, even though he had been training do this, that he would be facing other people in battle again. This is a warpath, and everyone will suffer because of it.
“Shane,” Maya said softly, touching him on the shoulder lightly. “What’s the matter?”
He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eye. “Do you really have no other choice but to do things this way?”
“Of course there’s a choice. This is just the best choice I think we can make.” She rubbed his shoulder soothingly. “I know that it sounds bad. I know you probably think I’m not thinking clearly, but we can defeat him. At the very least, we need to convince him to help us. He’s hurt a lot of people in his time as a god. This isn’t just about going after him first for my sake. It’s also because the people there are suffering because of him. So, let’s show the world what Bai Hu is all about and make an example of him by taking him down.”
That’s not it, Maya.
It wasn’t the current plan that he was talking about when he said that. He was talking about what they were going to do while killing all these gods and shedding all this blood, upending lives in the process. Did they really need to do this? What if this was just…self-satisfaction?
He could see the battlefield stretching before his eyes, Maya in the middle of it all, driving it all. It made him desperate, desperate, desperate for another path. He didn’t want to see Maya that way. He didn’t know if he could bear it.
“That’s not it, my dear,” Terra told her gently. “Sir Shane was a solider, you see. He doesn’t like violence.”
“I-Is that true, Sir Shane?” Reka asked.
Shane clenched his jaw and nodded. It was a bit more complex than that, as Terra likely knew, but if Maya didn’t even remember that much about him, it wasn’t the time to bring up the rest. He wondered if she even knew that they were engaged.
Maya cupped Shan’es face and pulled him so down so that they were as close to eye level as she could get them. “Listen to me, Shane. No matter what happens, it’s not your burden to carry. You can blame everything on me. As a god, I have to take responsibility for my actions and for as well as one of my followers.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying trust me. Trust that I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. Trust that even if I go god slaying that I’m going to hold myself accountable for the consequences.” She let go of his face. “Just have faith.”
Just have faith.
Maybe he truly should cast all his feelings to the side and have faith in her. The problem was, Shane didn’t want her to have to bear anything. She didn’t even remember parts of who she was, how could he just watch her kill others without regard for the person she was? If she got her memories back, would she be able to keep her word and hold herself accountable? Would she be able to forgive herself for what she was putting everyone through?
He didn’t know, but he was so weak to her, and to her determination. It made him want to trust her, even if every part of him was screaming not to. He gulped, daunted by the idea of fighting again, but still deciding that he would trust Maya. “If I end up ruined because of this, you’re going to have to take responsibility for the rest of your life for me.”
She grinned at him, before kissing him on the cheek. “Deal.”
Shane took a breath and pulled away. “Alright then. If anyone else has any objections to taking down Sasha, let’s work them out now so we’re as prepared as possible. “
“Yes, sir!” Letitia said, saluting him in a half-serious way.
They worked on the plan into the wee hours of the morning, going over it over and over until Shane felt like his head was stuffed with wool.
It was at this point that Maya dismissed them, telling them to get rested up for journey they were to go out on the following day. While Shane knew that the others would be busy with preparations, he had surprisingly little to do, and was just urged by Maya, and surprisingly the rest of them, to rest. Now didn’t feel like the time to rest, but he knew that there was no sense in starting a serious journey without his head being all there.
It seemed like he must have been more exhausted than he thought, because Shane slept through all the way until the next morning when they were due to set off. Feeling refreshed, he went down and grabbed a quick bite with everyone before preparing his horse for the journey.
Letitia joined him shortly afterward, two other horses in tow with her.
“Only two?” Shane asked.
“Well, Master Terra and Garrette are going to be providing support and guarding the Cavity Combs while we’re gone, so we don’t need anymore, do we?”
“Did you…not get one for Maya?”
“Oh, that’s right! She wanted me to tell you that she’d be riding with you. She said you rode together all the time when you were kids, so it would be fine. Besides, we only have these two other horses.”
Shane’s eyebrow twitched. “Mmmhm. Yes, we did ride a lot together as kids.”
She gave him a weird look as she threw the dimensional bags over the horses with their supplies. “Why do you sound as wooden as a wicker bear all of a sudden?”
“No reason,” he said, trying to make his voice return to normal but failing miserably.
“Mhm. I guess we’ll find out in a second, won’t we? Everyone is coming now.”
Shane didn’t dignify her words with a response and watched as their companions came barreling out of the castle. Maya had an arm around Reka’s neck and was practically dragging him along as he tried to keep up, while Master Terra and Garrette seemed to be having an argument about something.
“I should not leave the Cavity Combs unattended! You can’t even reach the top shelves to dust them! Those books are delicate.”
Terra picked at her nose and a magic crystal popped out. “I liked you better when you were quiet and not incessantly nagging in my ear about how to take care of the books. I’ve been attending to the catacombs longer than you’ve been alive. Just shut up and join them on their adventure. I’m more than capable of running this place myself.”
“Are you coming with us, Garrette?” Shane asked.
Terra and Garrette glared at each other, and Shane wondered when it became his new normal to have to break up petty arguments like this. He did it a lot as a child, and especially during the war. Keeping your soldiers from killing each other was just as important as making sure the enemy didn’t kill them.
“I’ll make this easy for you, then. As Maya’s second-in-command, I order you to come with us as our advisor and my personal trainer.”
Master Terra laughed. “Hweh, hweh, hweh! Outranked!”
“Please stop, Master Terra. I’m feeling a strong urge to hit you right now.”
“Just hear me out,” Shane said quickly, hoping to diffuse the situation. “You’ve got all that knowledge stored in your head, and I need you to use it. What’s so bad about that?”
“You have a point.” He paused. “I don’t like it.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to come unless I thought it was necessary. We didn’t get to train much, and you have a much better understanding of Lumiere and how it functions than the rest of us. You don’t have to fight if you can’t.”
Garrette snorted in a way that marred his handsome features. “Please. How many times did I beat you this week alone?”
“With magic, maybe. But I didn’t use my physical strength and I had my armor on at that. It was a handicapped victory at best.”
“You know, you really are the pettiest of us all.”
“Alright you two!” Maya interjected. “As funny as it is to watch you try to one up each other, we got a god to slay. Let’s get going!”
“We don’t have enough horses for all of us to ride solo. Garrette, who do you want to ride with?” Letitia asked
“Reka,” he said instantly. “He takes up the least amount of space with his body.”
“Oh...” Reka trailed off. He sounded disappointed somehow. “Well, I guess I don’t mind. “
Letitia pumped her fist discreetly before mounting her horse. Garrette mounted the other horse first, before giving Reka a hand and helping him climb on too. That just left Maya and Shane. He watched wearily as she gleefully lept on the horse, patting the back of the saddle expectantly. “C’mon, Shane!”
He gulped before climbing behind her and putting his arms around her, nearly completely engulfing her waist. “Alright then, we’re off!” Maya said. “Take care of the place, Master Terra. Until the end of the gods!”
Master Terra smiled at them, giving Shane a lingering look before waving. “Until the end of the gods.”
Maya licked her lips, sending off a spell as she snapped the reigns, causing the horse to adopt a silver glow before taking off.
Shane’s eyes watered at the speed they were going, and he worried that his eyes would dry out at the pace they were going. Maya made twisted and turns on the hills that quickly led into dirt roads with such reckless abandon that it was a wonder the horse didn’t fall over. She laughed joyfully as they continued to ride, the scenery going by so quickly it was making Shane feel sick. “Isn’t this great, Shane?”
“No,” he said weakly. “We’ve been separated form Reka and Garrette.”
Maya abruptly brought them to a stop at his words, the horse nearly falling face first into the grass. Shane shuddered, relieved for the reprieve despite the way his head was spinning. “What? I thought they were right behind us!”
“You put a speed spell on the horse, what were you expecting?”
Maya looked back at the hills they had flown over, the Cavity Combs no longer in sight. “Oh,” she said, for once actually looking a little sheepish at her eagerness.
Shane pinched his nose and closed his eyes, trying to ward off a headache. “Let’s just stick with the plan and meet up with them in Lumiere, okay?”
“Sure but…” Maya shifted in the saddle like there was something she wanted to avoid saying. “I don’t know where we are.”
“Well then,” a deep voice called. “Maybe I can help.”
“Who’s there?” Shane unmounted the horse quickly, before swiftly falling to his knees. He was still dizzy from the insane speed Maya had them traveling at.
Maya pointed up the dirt road they were riding. At the top of the hill was a creature Shane had only heard tales of, but never seen himself.
The creature smiled, revealing rows of bristles similar to a whale in place of teeth. “Hyello! Good to see you again, Maya!”
Maya’s face brightened. “Brine!”