Chapter 58:

Arriving at Areopagus

Elyon - Gods among us

Epona and Rodrigo landed on one of the mountains near Areopagus, where they decided to wait for the others to arrive. They were in a very elevated place, and the freezing cold made Rodrigo shiver.

—Oh come on, Rodrigo, still not used to these abrupt temperature changes?— Epona said, laughing.

Rodrigo looked at Epona's smiling face and felt comforted. He truly loved seeing her with her totema, how her features became brighter and more beautiful, how her hair turned as white as snow, and her eyes had a special sparkle. The young tannin couldn't help but smile back.

But those beautiful rosy lips, with a slight gloss, he adored them. Rodrigo couldn't think of anything else but touching them with his own lips. Blushing, he turned away.

—I must say, your totema is... peculiar. That mask of yours looks intimidating... but your eyes look very beautiful— Epona replied with her characteristic smile.

Rodrigo blushed even more and continued trying to look away while thanking her for the compliment.

Epona chuckled discreetly. —It's not my totema, but he told me his name is Ehécatl, and he came to protect me— Rodrigo said apologetically.

Suddenly, like a lightning bolt, a fireball appeared above them, and when it extinguished, they saw that Tania had arrived.

Rodrigo and Tania finally locked eyes after the incident in outer space. Although Tania hadn't seen Rodrigo with his totema, she could quickly identify him by his eyes.

—Oh well, it's Tania— Epona said, feeling a bit annoyed.

—Hello, Epona, sorry I wasn't the person you were expecting— Tania replied with a smile.

The Punic goddess landed where Rodrigo was, and she stared into his eyes, making him feel nervous.

—You look great with your totema, Rodrigo. Where did you get it?— Tania asked.

—It's not my totema; he came to protect me during my previous fight— Rodrigo answered.

—Ah, something related to your past, perhaps?— Tania asked.

—Maybe— Rodrigo replied.

Tania looked into his eyes again and took a deep breath. —Rodrigo, I feel better now. My mind is clear. More than apologizing, I want to tell you that I don't care who or what you are. I trust you, and I'll fight alongside you— she said, giving Rodrigo her hand.

Rodrigo shook Tania's hand, and they had a firm grip. Tania then pulled Rodrigo into a hug. —Thank you for helping me, Rodrigo—

The young tannin was surprised at first but then returned the hug to the Carthaginian goddess.

—Well, guys, we didn't come here to fool around. Wait until we get to a tavern!— Athena's voice echoed above them.

Tania and Rodrigo separated and turned to look at the sky; Athena and Horus were flying towards them.

—Atenea, Horus, nice to see you!— Epona greeted them with a smile.

Horus stood in front of Epona and placed his right hand on her shoulder.

—I know you helped Mithras and Sol in their fight, I thank you— said the falcon god to the goddess of horses.

—Well, it was nothing, but I couldn't help them in their last battle, and I had to leave them behind— the goddess replied pessimistically.

—Don't worry, Epona. They are both fine, and thanks to that, Mithras was able to help my disciples— Horus replied.
—And Sol? Where is he?— Epona asked.

—Uh... right here, Miss Epona— said the nervous voice of the blond god, who was behind a hill.

—Sol! I'm glad to see you're alright— the blonde goddess said with an angelic smile.

The blonde god blushed immediately.

At that moment, all of Mars trembled, and a tremendous divine power, very similar to Ana's, could be felt.

—Whose immense power is this?— Athena asked in surprise.

—It's Ana's power, I'm sure!— Epona exclaimed excitedly.

—No, it can't be Ana, it's a colossal power— Tania said, surprised.

The clouds moved rapidly, and the sun moved at an accelerated pace. The sky quickly turned darker. It passed more than an hour in just seconds.

Immediately afterwards, Ana's voice echoed in all their minds:

—Guys, forgive me, I'll stay here— and at that moment, they all felt Ana's divine power fade away.

Rodrigo then tried to fly towards where Ana was, but Tania held him back.

—No, Rodrigo, we need to focus on our objective— said the goddess.

—Ana won't die, Rodrigo. I'm sure of it— Epona reassured the young tannin, who had lowered his head in frustration.

—Impressive, that girl managed to achieve such tremendous divine power in just a brief moment— Horus said in amazement.

—Guys, we mustn't lose sight of our goal. Ana is very strong, and I know she'll be fine— Atenea said as she stood in front of them and looked towards Areopagus with determination in her eyes.
Everyone else nodded in agreement.

At that moment, the sky turned crimson, and the voice of Ares began to be heard all around.

—Welcome, winners of my game. I congratulate you for finding Areopagus and defeating ten of my strongest warriors— said Ares' voice.

—I don't know how you expected to stop us with such weak warriors, Ares. You have always been a loser, destined to fail due to your inability to think of a strategy— Athena shouted.

—It's true, big sister. It seems I'm destined to always lose against you. Or will it be different this time?— Ares' voice replied.

—Tell us, where is Anpiel?— Epona asked.

—When you reach my palace, you will see him floating above it, at the top of the volcano that makes up this mountain. But even if you rescue him, you won't be able to save him— Ares answered.

—What do you mean?— Tania asked.

—I placed a Chronoxiphos sword on him. No matter where he goes or moves, the sword will follow him. And when time is up, this sword will pierce his heart— Ares replied.

—Then we will destroy the sword— Epona said, furiously.

—The sword is an emanation of my divine energy. Unless you defeat me or my ichor runs out, you won't be able to destroy it— Ares replied.

—If what he says is true, then he's right. Those swords were used in the past to punish mankind when they lost faith in us. It was a kind of totalitarian blackmail, used by our kind against humans when they saw them as mere energy cattle— said Athena.

—Then, that means we just have to destroy Ares— Horus responded.

—Seems like it— Athena replied.

—Do you really think you can do it? There are less than 50 minutes left at this moment— Ares said, amused.

—Why do you cling to Anpiel's life? Tell us!— Epona shouted furiously.

—Why should I answer you, insignificant igigi?— Ares responded with a question.

Epona gritted her teeth.

—Don't try to negotiate with him, Epona. He only understands punches, and that's precisely what we're going to do— Athena said to the goddess of horses.

Ares sat on his throne and opened his left hand. Inside, he still held the golden sphere they had seen before.

The god looked at it and thought: —Just a little longer—

—Fine, I'll wait for you here, sitting on my throne. Don't worry, I won't move from here. Who will be the first to come before me? It will be interesting to see— Ares said as he finished the transmission and returned the sky to normal.

—Well, you heard him. We have to go to his castle and defeat him there— Horus said.

—We could destroy him from here, don't you think?— Tania suggested.

—I don't see what you would gain from doing that. Besides, I feel that the palace is protected by a dimensional wall. It would be impossible for us to do it— Athena replied.

—Excuse me, I'd like to go up to the volcano and rescue Anpiel— Epona interrupted with a sad expression.

—I'd like to ac... accompany her, Miss Epona— Sol said, standing next to her.

Rodrigo felt a twinge of jealousy. For a moment, he wanted to say that he would accompany Epona, but he knew that his mission was to enter the castle. He now possessed a totema, although it felt heavy and gave him a headache, he knew that he could now fight at a better level, possibly at the same level as Epona herself.

—I don't see any problem with that, just be careful— Athena said.

—Ep, I would like to go with you, but I think my duty is to follow and confront Ares— Rodrigo said, blushing as he approached Epona.

—Don't worry, Rodrigo, I'll manage to rescue Anpiel with Sol— the goddess replied with a smile, a smile that made the young tannin uncomfortable again.

—Take care, okay?— Rodrigo responded.

Epona nodded.

—And you too, Sol— Rodrigo continued, looking at the blond god.

—No pro... problem— Sol replied.

—Remember to come back safe and sound, Epona. When we win, we'll have a party in Ibiza with lots of food and wine— Tania said with a smile.

—Wine from Normandy?— Epona asked.

—From whatever region you want— Tania responded, smiling.

The goddess of horses returned the smile sincerely. It felt as if Tania had lifted a huge burden from her shoulders; she seemed like a different person altogether.

Epona and Sol said their goodbyes and continued flying towards the volcano higher up in Areopagus, while the others flew towards the palace.

Upon arrival, there stood a woman near the entrance to Areopagus. She was a beautiful goddess with dark blue hair and light blue eyes. She wore a crown with several peaks, from which a golden veil covered her hair and part of her face. She adorned two beautiful golden earrings and a breastplate made of precious stones with golden accents. Additionally, she wore a long blue dress and a belt made of gold and precious stones, with a rose-shaped stone at the front. In her right hand, she held a light blue rose.

—Welcome, everyone. My name is Selardi, the moon goddess of Urartu, and the third Keres of Ares— said the woman, taking a moment to smell her rose.

—We don't have time to fight you, so move aside, and we'll spare your life— Horus replied.

—I am well aware that I wouldn't be a match for you, Lord Horus and Lady Athena, after witnessing how you defeated my two superiors— replied the Armenian goddess.

—Will you let us pass then?— Athena asked.

—My Lord Ares is only interested in the red-haired girl with you. She is the one I came for. The rest of you may proceed if you wish— Selardi answered.

—Are you kidding? I won't allow you to fight her!— Rodrigo interrupted aggressively.

Tania placed her hand on the young tannin's shoulder.

—I cannot refuse a duel, Rodrigo. It would be cowardly— Tania replied.

—But Tania, first Ana fell, and now...— Rodrigo responded with a worried expression.

—Rodrigo!—Tania shouted, causing the young man to fall silent.

—I am not the same Tania who attacked you like a coward. I am the Queen of Carthage, the goddess of Maghreb. I am a lioness who will always protect you, my little cubs— Tania said as she approached Selardi.

Rodrigo swallowed hard. He still looked annoyed and worried.

—Ana did not fall without reason. You must also have more faith in her and Epona; just as the three of us trust you in this difficult mission— Tania replied.

—But...— Rodrigo tried to interject, but Tania silenced him as she turned her back to him.

—Do you think I lied about the party? Would I do such a thing if I knew one of us would fall today? I have confidence in all of you because, even in my moments of weakness, you were there for me; that's why I have faith, and faith gives us strength and works miracles— Tania said as she stopped and transformed into her manticoresque form in front of Selardi.

Rodrigo was surprised to feel the immense power that Tania was emanating at that moment.

—Are you done saying your goodbyes, Ramiro? It's our time to proceed into the castle— Athena interrupted, to which Rodrigo nodded, but he kept his gaze on Tania's transformation.

Rodrigo, Athena, and Horus hurried to enter the castle, which already had its main door open, and the three gods disappeared from Tania's sight as she prepared to fight.

—Selardi, right? I've heard several stories about you. One of the most powerful deities in the Caucasus region, capable of controlling freezing powers— Tania said, facing the Armenian goddess and assuming a combat stance.

—Indeed, and I've heard of you, the Queen of Carthage, who sacrificed hundreds of children to use her power for her own benefit and ravaged entire towns and civilizations— Selardi replied, pointing her rose at the goddess, causing it to freeze.

—I think you've mistaken me for someone else. These souls do not belong to me; they belong to the world and will help me create a better future for the humanity I love so much— the Punic goddess replied.

Both goddesses lunged at each other, beginning their fight.