Chapter 32:

Determination and doubts

Elyon - Gods among us

Rodrigo woke up lying in a bed. A woman with blonde, almost white hair and pink eyes was standing next to him.

—Oh, there you are. You finally woke up, Mr. Rodrigo— the woman said to the young man.

It was a small room completely white, with no windows, only a rustic wooden door. The bed where Rodrigo was lying had a large feather mattress, covered with a white sheet. Next to the bed, there was a shelf filled with bottles that the doctors likely used to prepare medicine and operate on their patients.

The woman attending to Rodrigo was wearing a long white dress like a nurse. In her hand, she held a medical scroll, possibly to analyze the symptoms of her patients.

The room was filled with a chilling silence, which was essentially terrifying. There was very little light, and one could smell substances like formaldehyde and alcohol, as well as some other medicinal plants that Rodrigo didn't recognize. Rodrigo noticed that he wasn't wearing his usual clothes, but instead was dressed in a long white gown. And finally, he understood that he was in a hospital.

—Where am I? Where are Ana and the others?— Rodrigo asked, startled.

—Don't worry, Mr. Rodrigo. Miss Epona is already stable, but Miss Ana and Miss Tania are still in surgery; they will be fine— the girl replied.

—I must go see them— Rodrigo said as he struggled to get out of bed.

—Sir, we had to inject ichor into your body. You must still be weak... sir!— said the pink-eyed girl, trying to stop Rodrigo, but he rushed out of the room.

If there was little light in the room where Rodrigo was, the hallway that connected the rooms was terrifying. He could hardly see anything except for some dimly lit lamps.

Rodrigo walked cautiously, but he couldn't sense the presence of anything or anyone. The young man took slow and somewhat hesitant steps to avoid accidentally tripping. For a moment, it reminded him of when he was a child and entered a cemetery at night. He felt the same sensation again.

After walking for a few minutes, Rodrigo found Epona sitting on a wooden chair. The goddess had a melancholic look and wore a white toga. However, now a horrible scar appeared just below her mouth.

—Rodrigo, are you awake?— Epona asked, trying to hide a smile and covering her mouth.

—Are you okay, Ep?— Rodrigo asked, still agitated.

—In this place, they have very little ambrosia, so the healing methods must rely on the powers of the few medical gods that exist— Epona said, lowering her gaze.

—I suppose you've seen... my face, right?—

—No, I haven't noticed— Rodrigo said, trying to look away.

Epona shook her head with a discreet smile.

—You're terrible at lying— Epona replied.

Both fell silent.

—Ep, tell me, do you know where Ana and Tania are?— Rodrigo asked anxiously.

—They are still in surgery in the room next door. Tania has a hole in her abdomen, and Ana's entrails were burned. Without ambrosia, they can only rely on an ichor transfusion and healing magic to repair their wounds. But those marks will remain forever if they don't drink ambrosia soon— Epona answered.

—How terrible!— Rodrigo said, worried.

Rodrigo then looked around. The enormous dark hallway they were in and the white door in front of them, which had light coming from behind it.

—And another thing, Ep, do you know where we are?— Rodrigo asked, intrigued.

—I'm not sure, but I believe this is the planet Pallas, where Athena and her rebel groups hide— the goddess of horses replied.

—Do we escape then?— Rodrigo asked.

—It seems so, but I don't know the details yet— Epona answered.

Rodrigo kept looking at the goddess of horses, but she quickly tried to avert his gaze.

—Do you still find me attractive?— Epona asked Rodrigo with a face full of sadness.

Rodrigo pondered for a moment.

The scar on Epona's face was truly grotesque, but she still looked as beautiful as ever.

—Yes, very much— Rodrigo said.

Epona smiled, and once again, they fell silent.

Hours passed with both of them saying nothing. Rodrigo was leaning against the wall next to Epona, who remained seated in the small wooden chair.

At that moment, a man emerged from the door in front of the two gods. The person had dark skin and a quite muscular build. He was wearing a shiny blue toga with white geometric patterns.

—We're done; the goddesses are stable now— the man said.

—Thank you, sir... umm— Epona said, questioning.

—Erinle, I am the chief medical officer of this hospital— he said.

—Thank you, Mr. Erinle— Epona said as she stood up and curtsied.

—I'm not used to seeing people of your complexion. May I ask where you come from? If it's not an issue— Epona inquired.

The man burst into joyful laughter.

—Of course, young lady. I am from the heart of Africa, from the Yoruba kingdom— he said, smiling.

—Incredible, you come from the kingdoms in Africa. I thought there were only Berbers there— Rodrigo commented.

—Of course not, the Berbers reign over the desert in the northern part of the continent, which the Arabs call 'The Great Desert.' But once you cross it, you will reach an area full of valleys and lakes. In that beautiful place lies the newly created capital of Ilé-Ifè in the Yoruba kingdom— Erinle explained.

—You must visit there; my people will welcome you with great joy— he concluded.

Rodrigo was astonished. The world was far more vast than he had imagined. He never thought that civilizations existed beneath the great desert in Africa, but this man, or god, was living proof. And although his appearance reminded him somewhat of some Berbers, he definitely looked quite different. Inside, Rodrigo wanted to learn more about the world and the people who inhabited it.

—Well, youngsters, the two goddesses must be eager to see you again, so why don't you pay them a visit before meeting with Athena?— the medical deity continued.

—As for me, I will inform our leader that the operation was successful— he added.

Rodrigo and Epona nodded.

Erinle raised his hand, bidding farewell to both gods, and walked through the dark hallways of the hospital. After a few steps, his presence had completely disappeared.

Epona then turned to Rodrigo and gestured for them to go. The young man nodded, and they both entered the room.

Ana and Tania were in separate beds. Tania was sitting up, while Ana remained lying down. The room was identical to the one where Rodrigo had woken up. Both goddesses were wearing white gowns, just like Rodrigo and Epona.

—Oh, well, it's good to see you're okay, Epona— Tania said with a smile.

But Ana remained lying down; she looked at Rodrigo and looked away. Rodrigo approached her, but she remained silent.

—I'm pathetic, aren't I, Rui?— the dark-haired goddess said without taking her eyes off the ceiling, as if staring into the void.

—No, I think you are, you both are very strong— Rodrigo replied, trying to hold Ana's hand.

—Not even five miserable minutes..— Ana said as her expression changed to anger.

The goddess squeezed Rodrigo's hand, who tried to hide the pain on his face.

—Our totemas are dead, Ana. Don't feel so bad— Tania said indifferently.

—But still, how the hell are we going to rescue Anpiel if we can't even face a bunch of miserable katteres?— Ana frustratedly responded while continuing to squeeze Rodrigo's hand.

—Oh, sorry, Rui— the goddess said, letting go of Rodrigo's hand as she realized she was gripping it too tightly.

—No, it's okay— Rodrigo replied, feeling embarrassed.

—Knock, knock, may I come in?— the goddess Athena said as she entered through the door.

—Athena— everyone exclaimed, startled.

—What happened? Did you rescued us?— Epona asked.

—No, Thor joined the fight, and he and Loki stayed behind to fight against your siblings— the Greek goddess said.

—Forgive me, teacher. It was my fault— Ana mentioned, closing her eyes.

—It's all right, Ana— Athena said with a smile. —It's evident that they were stronger than you because they had the full power of their totemas, but that can be fixed—

Ana fell silent.

—As far as I'm concerned, all of you passed the test, and I'm particularly interested in this young man. What did you say your name was?— the Greek goddess asked as she approached Rodrigo.

—R-Rodrigo, ma'am— the young man responded timidly.

—It's true! Rodrigo— Tania said, surprised.

—Rui...— Ana said, wanting to avoid the young man's gaze.

—What? What about me?— Rodrigo asked, perplexed, as he moved uncomfortably away from the Greek goddess's face.

—Have these girls not told you anything?— Athena asked as she continued to approach Rodrigo, who grew more uncomfortable.

—Rui, when you were fighting that huge serpent, you transformed into something... monstrous— Ana said, trying to avoid his gaze.

—Into a tannin— Tania replied.

Rodrigo remembered what Anpiel had told him about the tannin or serpent gods. The young man didn't know what to think of these revelations.

—According to the absolute law in Lel, we should kill you— Tania continued.

—But you're not in Lel anymore— the Greek goddess interrupted.

—But Athena, he...— Tania tried to say, raising her voice, but was once again interrupted by the goddess.

—I have tannin blood in my veins, Tania. And my son is one of them. Do you think he or I are monsters?— the goddess's voice rose in anger.

—Since when are you a mother?— Ana thought of saying to the Greek goddess, but she kept it to herself.

—You have tannin blood?— Tania asked. —I'm sorry, but I don't believe it—

Athena fell silent and turned away.

—Do you remember when I stopped Ana from getting close to Rodrigo, but I didn't hesitate to do so?— she remarked.

—Yes, I remember that— Ana replied.

—In order to use Aegis, the strongest protection of Olympus, I had to undergo certain procedures that ended up giving me half of my blood as serpent blood— Athena continued, raising her arm and showing it to the others.

—Isn't tannin blood supposed to be poisonous to the gods? It's impossible that you survived— Tania responded incredulously.

—In Olympus, we have studied the tannin for centuries and have learned to harness some of their properties. I'm not the only god from there who partially has serpent blood— Athena replied.

Tania looked at her with surprise and disbelief, especially when she saw Athena emit small drops of purple liquid from her fingers that, upon hitting the ground, created small holes.

—So, do you think I'm a monster then?— the Greek goddess asked, addressing the spectacle.

Rodrigo felt embarrassed and nervous. Despite Athena's demonstration, he could sense that Ana felt uncomfortable around him, and that made him feel rejected once again. It reminded him of when he was a child and everyone said he was a devil or a bastard child of some demon.

—Rolf— Athena said, looking at Rodrigo. —Never be ashamed of who you are, ever. Okay?—

Rodrigo wanted to tell her that wasn't his name, but he felt too embarrassed, so he simply nodded timidly.

—Guys, changing the subject— the goddess continued. —I want to inform you that both Thor and Loki have agreed to join this group, and judging by the situation in which Asgard was left, we may have the support of the Norse gods—

—And that bastard Loki didn't even apologize— Tania thought to herself.

—And I have decided that you will join them in the search for the god Odin in Vinland— the Greek goddess said firmly.

—We can't do that right now— Tania responded. —We need to know Anpiel's whereabouts and help him—

The others nodded in agreement.

—If you go to Lel, you will be mercilessly crushed. You need to become stronger, and Vinland could be an excellent training ground— Athena said solemnly.

—Excuse me, teacher— Ana said. —Yes, we lost, and I'm sure we disappointed you by fighting against those Celtic gods, but Anpiel sacrificed his life for our totemas. His blood was in them when we received them. We can't abandon him—

—I know— Athena said.

Everyone fell silent.

—I understand perfectly that a comrade in need should not be abandoned, which is why I will support you in this fight against Lel. However, I want to inform you of what I know about the current situation— the Greek goddess continued.

—Anpiel, your malak, confronted another group of malakim to obtain their totemas. However, just before he could send them to you, he was captured and tortured. I know that Anath has him crucified in one of the main courtyards of Lel—

Everyone was stunned. Tania ground her teeth in anger.

—Listen carefully, Anath knows that Anpiel sent you his totemas, and I'm sure she will use him to lure you into a trap. She probably knows that I can intervene, so a brutal war between us and Lel may be on the horizon. But I believe that a victory there will show our strength to those arrogant genocidal maniacs— the goddess concluded.

—A war?— Epona asked nervously.

—Yes, and I need you to become stronger. If you were to face a katteres again, you can no longer afford to lose, do you understand?— Athena said, raising her voice.

Everyone nodded.

—And you, Rupert, we need to bring out your serpent god abilities as well— Athena continued.

—Ro... Rodrigo, my name is Rodrigo— the young man responded nervously.

—Yes, that's what I said, Robert. You will train separately from them. There is someone in this place who can train you, do you understand?— Athena said.

Rodrigo nodded.

—Alright, feel at home today and welcome to the planet Pallas. I have instructed some malakim to take you to your respective rooms. Tomorrow, Horus and I will speak to you further about all of this and begin your training— the Greek goddess said.

—Thank you, teacher— Ana said.

Athena left, and the others looked at each other while Tania tried to get up, although her wound still pained her. She looked at her abdomen and saw the terrible scar in the shape of an X drawn across her belly. The goddess sighed and covered herself again with her gown.

—Well, I swear this won't happen again— Tania said.

—No, I feel safer with Athena— Ana responded simultaneously.

At that moment, Rodrigo looked at his two companions in bed. He swallowed hard and stared at them.

—You're not going to kill me, right?— Rodrigo asked nervously.

—In other circumstances, I would have to— Tania said firmly. —But not at the moment. However, I want you to know that I don't feel comfortable with you, and your actions will determine whether I regain that trust or not—

Rodrigo swallowed hard again.

—I'm sorry, Rui. Give me time to process all of this— Ana said nervously. —I trust you, but I'm uncertain about your blood turning against us—

Rodrigo felt saddened.

—Are you fucking kidding, Ana? This man admires you, no matter what he is or how he was born. Didn't you say he changed your life and gave you a purpose?— Epona shouted.

—Don't get involved!— Tania angrily yelled at the equine goddess.

—What? Are you going to judge and belittle him because of his blood? What kind of people are you?— Epona shouted.

—Shut your mouth, Epona. You're not a warrior goddess; you're just a horse caretaker— Tania angrily shouted. —What do you know about the danger of the tannin?—

Epona's face turned red with anger while Rodrigo discreetly moved away. He no longer wanted to be there.

—Come and shut me up, you child-devouring whore— Epona angrily shouted.

—Both of you shut up!— Ana shouted as she got up from the bed. —Shut your damn mouths!—

—Rodrigo is not our enemy, Tania. I know my teacher will help him control his power— Ana responded furiously as she glared at the Punic goddess.

—And you, Epona. If you say that to Tania again, I swear I'll rip your damn head off, do you understand?— Ana said defiantly.

The atmosphere was heated, and a horrible tension filled the air.

Epona took Rodrigo's hand and pulled him away as she left.

—If you can't trust an ally, then we won't be comrades. As far as I'm concerned, both of you can go fuck yourselves— the horse goddess said angrily.

—Come, Rodrigo!— Epona pulled the young man, and he didn't offer much resistance.

Both of them left the room. Ana put her hands on her face and started sobbing in frustration. Tania simply looked up at the completely white ceiling.

—Am I a monster who deserves to die?— Rodrigo asked Epona, who was still pulling him.

—No, fuck it. You're Rodrigo, my friend— Epona responded, still furious and with a red face.

—But they...— Rodrigo continued insisting.

—Are you going to listen to some stupid racists? Their whole lives, they've been told stories about the evil people of your blood, and they still believe it. They're acting as if they've been brainwashed by Lel, and they don't understand the position they're in now— the horse goddess said.

Rodrigo didn't know how to respond.

—We should be happy. Anpiel is still alive, and Athena will help us. Damn it, it's as if they solved a fucking problem for us that we couldn't solve. But no, those assholes only care about your blood— Epona mentioned.

The Celtic goddess then stared at Rodrigo with her beautiful green eyes. Her gaze was filled with determination.

—Rodrigo, you're a good person. You saved me and fought even knowing you would lose. I trust you, and I will always trust you— Epona said to him.

Rodrigo remained silent and ashamed.

—I... I'm sorry for calling Ana a racist. It wasn't my intention— Epona apologized.

—Since I was a child, I've always been told things and insulted for being different. When I met Ana and Tania, I finally felt integrated into this group, and you were kind to me. But I guess this is, once again, my fault for being who I am— Rodrigo responded.

Epona stopped at that moment.

—Don't say that again, Rodrigo. Never! Do you hear me?— Epona said angrily.

—My siblings tried to kill me, Rodrigo. I understand how you feel, but you can't give up. I will support you no matter who you are, okay?— the goddess continued.

Rodrigo nodded.

At the end of the hallway, two angels were greeting them. Both were wearing red breastplates and white tunics. Their white wings were in a resting position. They stood in front of an open door leading outside the hospital. The door was illuminated with a gloomy reddish color.

—You're Miss Athena's guests, correct?— one of the angels asked, and Epona nodded.

—Two are missing, but they stayed in the room— the horse goddess said.

—Oh, I see. Well, I will take you to your quarters then. Follow me— said the angel on the left. His hair was blonde, and his eyes were almost golden.

The angel started flying, and Epona did the same. However, she realized that Rodrigo didn't know how to fly, so the goddess took him by the arm to carry him. They both flew out of the hospital where they were. Rodrigo looked back at the building, and indeed, it was a rectangular-shaped structure, but it seemed to be mixed with the earth of the place. Looking at it more objectively, the hospital was located beneath a cavern.

However, he couldn't gaze at it for long. The speed at which Epona was flying was very fast, and soon enough, the image of the cavern disappeared on the horizon.