Chapter 45:

Epona vs Al-Qaum

Elyon - Gods among us

—What a hassle— said the god Al-Qaum as he stood up.

The Nabatean god pulled out a totema from within his chest robes; it had the shape of an eight-pointed star. Then, he raised the totema towards the sky and chanted: —Ana layl w shalt—. Darkness began to envelop Al-Qaum's body like a black cloud.

Epona maintained her combat stance as she waited for the dark god to finish his transformation.

The darkness finally left the deity, and he still wore his black cloak and turban, which covered his entire face except for his eyes. His body was now covered in padded armor that ended in a long skirt covering his legs. His boots were made of steel, and he wore long red sleeves that covered his arms completely. He wielded a powerful scepter and a shield covered with camel hide and feathers.

—You would have had a quieter and deadlier end as a statue of salt— said the god.

—Perhaps, but it wouldn't have been a fair fight against you if we didn't have equal conditions— Epona replied.

Dark clouds began to gather in the sky, completely blocking the meager sunlight. They were much darker than the black clouds caused by volcanic activity. The clouds slowly spiraled and then suddenly opened at the center, revealing a gigantic eye with a red pupil.

—I was a deity who protected caravans at night. My duty was to guard them against thieves and wild animals. That's why I have the ability to see everything several kilometers around— the Nabatean god said as he also entered a combat stance.

—So, you see all my movements?— Epona asked.

—Basically, yes, but hurry up and die because I want to sleep again— the god said.

Epona unleashed a burst of energy towards the giant eye, but it was repelled with a blink.

—I wanted to test it, just in case— she thought.

—Unfortunately for you, that huge eye is not my weak point— Al-Qaum said.

Epona positioned herself for a sprint and launched herself at the god with a flying kick while shouting: —Ép ádhvóithl—. However, Al-Qaum gracefully and easily evaded the attack. Just as he had avoided the impact, he struck Epona in the ribs with his scepter, causing her to fall backward onto the massive Martian dunes.

—I told you, little one. Your attacks cannot harm me— the god said as he raised his enormous mace to strike Epona.

The goddess tried to roll on the ground to evade the impact, but the god saw her movement and struck her before she could move. The impact created a massive hole in the desert, which slowly began to fill with sand.

—Rest eternally beneath the sands of this desert, little Epona— said the god as he walked away.

—That bastard broke about four of my ribs. At least I still have enough ichor to get up, but both impacts took a toll— Epona thought as she rubbed her abdomen.

The goddess emerged from the hole created by Al-Qaum, flying slowly. The god stopped and turned to look at her with a weary gaze.

—Why didn't you stay in the hole, little one? Why do you insist on fighting a battle where you will only suffer and die against a superior power?— Al-Qaum asked.

—For a friend— Epona replied.

—The malak? Is a simple malak really worth so much pain and suffering?— the god asked in frustration.

—Friends have no rank, Al-Qaum— the goddess said.

Epona formed her horse-shaped wings into two energy balls and threw them towards the god while shouting: —Ép sunarth

The god saw the energy balls approaching him, and in that moment, a look of surprise crossed his face. Both spheres changed course swiftly, heading to either side of Al-Qaum, and exploded, creating a massive cloud of sand.

The goddess launched herself at the Nabatean god once again with a kick, and while he was coughing and covering his face with dust, she struck him with tremendous force, bending his body. The eye in the sky couldn't see through the dense dust cloud.

Then, Epona fell to the ground and unleashed her enormous energy balls again towards the giant eye, hitting the iris and causing it to explode into thousands of pieces. The sky returned to normal.

—You really thought you could defeat me with such a childish attack?— Epona asked as Al-Qaum got up.

—Alright, I admit it. I'm lazy to fight, and that's why I use that technique. I hate getting into a serious fight— the Nabatean god responded.

The god looked at Epona, raised his hands in front of him with open palms, and said: —Easifat ramlia—. Suddenly, the air became extremely dense.

—Listen, little one— the god said. —Soon, you will become a statue of salt. Perhaps without my totema, I wouldn't have been able to do it, but right now, our difference in power is too great. You will die petrified— he explained.

Epona began to feel her fingers becoming numb, while her face started losing the ability to make gestures.

—So, I just have to defeat you before I turn into a statue of salt, right?— the goddess asked.

—What turns into salt cannot be repaired. No one can, not even with ambrosia— the god replied.

—And do you think I'll believe that lie?— Epona asked.

—You saw it before— the god said.

—Remember your friends who were petrified by the basilisks? Once the molecular structure changes, it's irreversible— he responded.

Epona then ripped off her fingers and destroyed them to prevent them from reattaching. Her hands were bleeding. Immediately after, she shot an energy ball into her own face. Blood filled her visage.

—Rodrigo will hate me for doing this. Now my face will be worse than the scar I had, but I have no other choice— the goddess said.

—Foolish. As long as you're in my gas cloud, you'll petrify anyway— Al-Qaum taunted, laughing.

—But this way, I can start from scratch— Epona shouted as she jumped and kicked the god in the face. However, he didn't fall; he remained standing.

—I'm tired of your kicks— Al-Qaum yelled.

Then, the Nabatean god began moving his hands in a hypnotic manner, causing the sand beneath his feet to move along with his commands. He shouted, —Janu alsahra'!

From the sand, a huge and grotesque being emerged. It had two gigantic hands and a deformed face. Its body only extended to its torso. The enormous creature grabbed Al-Qaum with one hand and engulfed him within its structure.

—There's no way to destroy this monster, not at your level— Al-Qaum shouted from inside the sand creature.

The monster threw a punch at Epona, who easily evaded it.

—You're joking, you're too slow like this— Epona said.

—It doesn't matter if you evade all of my creature's attacks; you'll soon become a statue of salt—Al-Qaum said.

Epona began to feel her legs and arms becoming unresponsive. Additionally, she had inhaled the gas, and her lungs felt heavier and heavier.

—Damn it, he's right. He's doing it just to kill me slowly— the goddess thought, feeling desperate to defeat the creature.

At that moment, a slight smile appeared on the goddess's face.

—I only regret dying before such a weakling being like you, Al-Qaum— Epona said as she started to elevate her energy and levitate slightly.

Then, the equine goddess shouted, —Iccona Loiminna—. Epona transformed into a beautiful white mare, enveloped in a tremendous white light.

—What tremendous power!— Al-Qaum exclaimed.

—In the past, you would have easily defeated me, but I have surpassed my limits, and now I will destroy you. I don't care if I die petrified. I will defeat you!— the goddess shouted as she began to charge white energy throughout her body.

—Wait! Stop!— Al-Qaum cried out, but it was too late.

Epona launched herself like a meteorite into the body of the sand monster, piercing it while passing through Al-Qaum. The monster disintegrated, and the god fell to the ground, badly injured.

—I haven't killed you yet, but if you don't turn my friends back to normal, I will crush you until I turn into stone— the goddess said, still in her equine form, as parts of her body began to petrify.

—I'm telling you it's not possible anymore!— Al-Qaum frustratedly shouted.

—Is that so? Fine— the goddess said as she crushed the god's face under her hooves.

—Please, stop! Don't kill me!— the pleading god shouted, but Epona continued to harm him.

—Fine, fine, I'll do it! Spare my life!— Al-Qaum yelled.

Immediately, the goddess stopped attacking the Nabatean god, and although she remained in the form of a mare, she gave a semblance of smiling at him.

—See? It was possible. Do it then— Epona said.

Al-Qaum raised his right hand and murmured, —Nadarat alrabie—. The air filled with a pleasant-smelling pink smoke. The petrified parts of Epona's body began to heal, and she saw in the distance that Mithras, Sol, and the other malakim were also starting to recover, wondering what had happened.

—Take some of this fragrance to heal your malakim petrified by the basilisks— Al-Qaum said.

Epona returned to her original form and sat next to the fallen god.

—You see? You're a good boy— the goddess said to him with a smile.

—How did you know you could heal them?— Al-Qaum asked.

—I saw it in your eyes, though they were depressed and tired, I saw purity in them. I'm sorry for being rough, but I couldn't think of any other method— Epona replied as she stood up.

—What happened, Epona?— Mithras asked as he approached the goddess.

—Did you re... rescue us?— Sol asked.

—I only found a new member for Orniskem, right?— the goddess asked, smiling at the defeated god.

—I guess I won't have anywhere else to go. I just ask to be allowed to sleep for now. I feel great fatigue— the god replied.

—This girl is incredible, she defeated a Keres without anyone's help. Even though he's defeated, I can sense that he is much stronger than the previous energy she faced and vanished along with Maahes and Montu. Truly, these kids are prodigies— Mithras thought, surprised.

—And if it's not too much trouble— Epona said. —I urgently need ambrosia, or my face will remain disfigured!— the goddess shouted at Mithras.

—Oh, yes, of course— the god gave Epona a small vial with just a few drops of ambrosia.

The goddess drank it and saw how her wounds healed, although the scar left by her siblings couldn't be healed. It had been a long time.

Epona took a bit of the fragrance in the air, stored it in the vial, and handed it back to Mithras.

—Give this to a malakim and take it to those who were petrified. They will return to normal— the goddess said as she returned the vial to the Persian god.

—Sure thing, Epona— Mithras replied.

The Persian god gave the vial to a malak, who bowed and departed to where they had lost their companions. Meanwhile, the god turned to Al-Qaum, who was trying to sleep.

—So, tell us, Al-Qaum, right? Where is Areopagus? You said it was nearby, didn't you?— Mithras asked.

—Are you really going to make me betray my comrades?— the Nabatean god asked.

—You don't have many options. Won't Ares execute you for helping his enemies?— Mithras asked.

—Fine, I'll tell you. But then you'll let me sleep— he replied.

The god sat on the ground and pointed towards the cluster of mountains.

—If you keep going straight, you should be able to see the mountain in about an hour— the Nabatean god replied.

—Can we... can we trust him?— Sol asked.

—At the moment, we don't have a choice. Besides, it will also serve to see if he is worthy of joining our group— Mithras responded.

—I trust him— Epona interjected.

—I just want to warn you— Al-Qaum said.

—I was one of his weakest Keres. The Keres from level six and above are exceptionally strong, especially number one and number two. They are as strong as a katteres— he continued to explain.

—We'll have to rely on our strength— Mithras said.

—I don't say this to disappoint you, but if all of you lost to me in my non-totema form, you won't stand a chance— the Nabatean god continued.

Mithras swallowed hard. He had joined this expedition to prove to Athena that he wasn't weak. Mithras enjoyed a huge following among humans, both in ancient Persia and Rome, but he just couldn't tap into his power as if it were blocked.

He hadn't been expelled from Garo Demanae, the realm of the Persian gods, he had simply fled, ashamed of his low power. He believed that by joining Athena, he would be able to increase his power, but it wasn't the case. Internally, he felt envious of Epona.

—I must push forward and prove my worth— the Persian god thought.

—Thank you for the warning, but I haven't decided to give up— Mithras responded determinedly.

—And I'll show you that I'm much stronger than you think!— he shouted resolutely.

But Al-Qaum had already fallen asleep and hadn't heard him, which only increased the god's frustration.

—What are we... going to do, Mi... Mithras?— Sol asked.

—Let's leave the malakim here and the three of us will continue ahead. From now on, the difficulty of our battles will increase— Mithras answered.

—Are you sure?— Epona asked.

—I know I disappointed you, Epona, that the one who gave you a brief training didn't meet your expectations, but I swear I will be useful for the mission— the determined Persian god replied.

Epona nodded, and the three gods set off in the direction indicated by Al-Qaum.