Chapter 44:

Epona, the exceptional igigi

Elyon - Gods among us

A week ago, in Pallas...

—Are you really an igigi, Epona?— Mithras asked in surprise as he watched the goddess of horses unleash her power using her totema.

Epona had trained together with Mithras and Sol in a desolate area of the planet Pallas. Sulfuric acid rained from the sky, and the ground boiled due to being lined with several active volcanoes. Despite the absence of horses, Epona had managed to greatly enhance her power, learning to tap into her full potential without the need for equine presence.

—I am— Epona replied, lowering her divine power and relaxing her body once again.

—But I... I've never heard of an igigi with your power— Sol said, astonished.

—Well, I am just a pastoral goddess who grew up tending to stables in Avalon, the realm of the Celtic gods— the blonde goddess said as she remained standing.

Mithras and Sol approached to hear Epona's story.

—The Celtic gods entered into a war with the Roman gods, but all those matters were foreign to me; I simply cared for the stables, and nobody took notice of me. My Celtic brethren only sought me when they needed a horse. I didn't even knew their names— the equine goddess continued.

—One day, I descended to Earth together with several Celtic gods. I had to go because they decided to use war chariots pulled by my horses, and only I could control them. The battle had catastrophic consequences in the human world, and I was traumatized by witnessing what my brethren were doing— Epona said as she scratched her right arm.

The goddess closed her eyes and looked up at the sky. It was dark, as if a mass of smoke covered the atmosphere. Small rays of light pierced through that layer.

—I wandered through the battlefield camp and discovered horrified prisoners who were going to be sacrificed. They had been mutilated and injured. I begged the druids to spare their lives, offering to heal their wounds. I identified myself as Epona and managed to save those boys and nurse them back to health. I remember the men were surprised, and they all bowed before me— Epona continued, reminiscing.

—But wasn't that forbidden?— Mithras asked.

—Yes— the goddess replied.

—But I didn't know. I didn't know the rules or anything. I was brought to trial in Avalon for it and was condemned to be executed. But the cult around me was so successful that it increased my powers to the point where the Celtic gods saw me as a potential ally and decided to absolve my offenses— Epona said.

—And didn't they... offer to pro... promote you to katteres?— Sol asked.

—They did, but I declined— Epona said.

—I was just a pastoral goddess whose life revolved around the stables. Talking to the horses, riding them, feeding them; that was my life. And when I gained fame and power, the way my brethren treated me began to change. I attended parties, gatherings, received accolades, and participated in battles. But I despised that life. So, I rejected my katteres title and returned to the stables— Epona concluded her story.

—An igigi with the power of a katteres— Mithras said, surprised.

—Whe... when I was promoted to katteres, I never thought of re... rejecting the promotion. You are truly unique— Sol said.

—I am a simple girl. In fact, my dream was to live among humans in a small village, teaching young children and taking care of their health and animals. That's the life I wanted, but by twists of fate, I ended up as a fugitive on a planet without any vegetation— Epona said, disappointed.

—Do you regret your decisions?— Mithras asked.

Epona fell silent for a moment.

—Yes, a little. Although, being on Earth, I started to lose sight of my dreams. I wore elegant clothes, drank expensive wine, and stayed in refined places. But I think all of this, being betrayed by my brethren, meeting Rodrigo, interacting with Ana and Tania; they reminded me a bit of who I am. Especially the sacrifice of my friend Anpiel— she said.

—Do... do you want to continue with the tra... training?— Sol asked.

—Of course, I'm doing it not just for myself, but for Anpiel and my friends. And if I survive, I hope to retire and fulfill my dream— Epona said as she continued to gaze at the sky.

The smoke began to dissipate, and rays of sunlight covered the goddess's pink face.

—We... well, let's continue increasing your manna— Sol said as he approached Epona, who once again assumed a combat stance.

—An exceptional igigi, not because she is a warrior goddess, not because of human or animal sacrifices; she was a goddess who cared for people and bestowed them with health. She was a beautiful and radiant being, loved by the young ones. I feel terrible about having to toughen up this girl— Mithras thought.

Back on Mars, in the present time.

An enormous valley opened up in front of Epona, Sol, Mithras, and several malakim. They had defeated the basilisks but had been unable to rescue the fallen turned to stone.

Mithras showed immense frustration in deciding to abandon the fallen, and Epona felt terrible. Those people were in Anpiel's rank, and they had to leave them behind to rescue someone like themselves. Did they have families? Friends? Epona couldn't help but feel pain and anger about it.

The valley was a vast desert with gigantic sand dunes, resembling the Sahara Desert in Africa, but with a reddish hue. The sky in that place was equally red, and the heat was intense due to the nearby active volcanic zone.

—We've reached a valley, which means we're close to a massive mountain range— Epona said, surveying the scenery.

—Fortunately, in a setting like this, we won't be taken by surprise— Mithras said.

—If the di... dimensional barrier wasn't so low, I could fly up to the strat... stratosphere and see the planet perfectly— Sol lamented.

—Nevertheless, we must remain alert in case any enemies appear— Mithras said as he ordered the others to continue flying forward.

—Wait, Mithras— Epona said.

—I have a feeling that Mount Areopagus is nearby. We should look for that mountain in the massive range visible on the horizon— the goddess continued, pointing to a chain of mountains in the distance.

—Indeed, Areopagus is in that direction— a calm male voice spoke up.

—Who said that?— Mithras asked.

—Apologies for not introducing myself; I don't like to talk much— the voice said.

Everyone turned to look where the voice came from and saw a figure sitting in the middle of the desert.

The man was dressed in dark robes that covered his entire body, with only his eyes visible. A black cloak fluttered in the air that blew across the region.

—Who the hell are you— Mithras asked.

—I am Al-Qaum, the Nabatean god of the night and the tenth Keres of Ares— the man said, still seated.

—Tenth Keres?— Epona asked.

—Yes, we Keres are organized by levels; the lower the number, the stronger we are— the man explained while remaining seated in the desert.

At that moment, everyone was surprised, and the man fell asleep while speaking.

—What the hell is wrong with this guy?— Epona asked.

—He's mo... mocking us— Sol said angrily.

Al-Qaum woke up in surprise.

—Oh, excuse me. I tend to fall asleep. I suffer from narcolepsy— the god in dark robes said apologetically.

—Well, he doesn't look like he's very strong— Epona thought.

—Epona, Sol, continue ahead with the malakim. I'll take care of this guy— Mithras said as he unsheathed his curved dagger.

—Oh no, no. Nobody can leave here because I have orders to stop you— Al-Qaum said as he yawned and rose slowly and lazily.

But Mithras didn't wait for the god to fully stand up. He lunged at his enemy and tried to strike him with his weapon. However, the entire environment transformed into a gigantic sandstorm that prevented anyone from seeing anything.

—I don't like to fight, so I'll turn you into statues of salt. No hard feelings, it's just my job as the guardian of this planet— confessed Al-Qaum.

Mithras tried to locate the Nabatean god, but he couldn't see or sense him. He used his dagger to attack, but he couldn't land a hit. Then he saw his body quickly petrify, and unable to prevent it, he turned into a statue of salt.

The sandstorm subsided, and all members of Orniskem had turned into statues of salt. Al-Qaum yawned and sat back down in the sand.

—Well, I'm done. Now I can go back to sleep— he said.

Suddenly, the Nabatean god was struck by a powerful kick that sent him flying several meters. When he got up and saw who had done it, he realized it was the girl who had accompanied them; the goddess described as a unique igigi, whom Ares had not considered a threat. It was the goddess Epona.

—Your tricks don't work on me. Now, put on your totema and fight seriously because if you don't return my companions to normal, I will break every damn bone in your body with my kicks— Epona said with a determined smile.

—Oh, how interesting, an igigi threatening me. That's both ridiculous and sad. At least I'll finish this quickly— Al-Qaum said as he stood up again.

—Aren't you going to use your totema?— Epona asked.

—I don't need it— the Nabatean god said as he moved his hands in a hypnotic manner.

Suddenly, the sand beneath Epona took the form of a giant pit of quicksand with fangs. It trapped the goddess, enclosing her in the endless desert.

But with little difficulty, the goddess destroyed the sand monster and flew into the sky with her horse-shaped wings made of energy.

—Impossible, she's just an igigi— Al-Qaum exclaimed in frustration.

Epona performed a somersault in the air and descended with a flying kick towards the Nabatean god, striking him and causing him to fall face down among the enormous Martian dunes. Blood flowed from his mouth and nose, staining his turban.

—Yes, I am an igigi, but an exceptional one. I am Epona, the goddess of horses. Remember that well!— the goddess shouted as she pointed to herself with her thumb.