Chapter 68:

Why are you crying?

Elyon - Gods among us

The sky began to shatter as Ares' dimensional shield lacked sufficient energy to remain stable. Cracks in the air revealed a peaceful and serene vision of the planet Mars, as its destruction occurred only in an alternate dimension created by the god of war.

The erupting volcanoes, floating rocks, and lava emanating from the planet, which had been shattered into several pieces, were gradually replaced by a tranquil and desert-like planet, with a grayish-blue sky. While several hours had passed within the alternate dimension, in real time on the planet, only a few seconds had gone by.

—We survived, fortunately, the dimensional shield was destroyed before the planet imploded— said Zalmoxis, who stood with the goddess Shaushka, leading a group of igigi, malakim, nymphs, and behemont who had survived to evacuate the planet. The Hittite goddess carried Selardi, still unconscious, on her shoulder, while Zalmoxis carried Mahrem.

—It's unbelievable that Ares manipulated us for this. But I suppose with this, the era of these warrior gods will come to an end— said Shaushka thoughtfully.

Zalmoxis remained silent, feeling despondent.

—I know it's very hard for you; you were possibly the only one who respected his leadership within our group of Keres— Shaushka continued speaking.

—Lord Ares must have had his reasons for doing this— Zalmoxis replied, still skeptical.

—No! Don't try to justify it! If we hadn't regained consciousness, we might have died, along with all these people— the Hittite goddess shouted furiously.

Zalmoxis remained silent, feeling remorseful and refusing to accept that he was merely manipulated by the capricious god of war.

—I can't sense Ogun's presence. Could he have remained inside the labyrinth dimension? If so, he might not have been harmed while inside— Shaushka continued.

—What are your plans now, Shaushka?— asked Zalmoxis, feeling sorrowful.

—Plans? Oh god, I don't know. Should I ask Lel for forgiveness or create a new rebel group with the survivors here? I honestly don't know," the Hittite goddess replied sadly.

"I don't have any plans either. Lord Ares was my devotion, and now without him, my life feels empty," the Thracian Nephilim replied.

Then, both gods, along with their followers, flew away from the planet Mars.

On the other hand, Rodrigo and his companions stood on a set of snowy mountains on the Martian planet. Now, they could only see the red soil of Mars and the blue sky discreetly illuminated by the sun's light.

—Is it all over then?— asked Rodrigo, looking at Tania standing in front of him, while Ana embraced him as he sat on the ground.

—Yes, my teacher succeeded— Ana said, just as the dimensional shield above them shattered, and the sunlight illuminated the Martian surface.

Ana's eyes gleamed with a bright blue color that startled Rodrigo. He then realized that his totema was no longer on him; instead, it had transformed into a collar.

—Is that a totema, Rui?— Ana asked, puzzled.

—You didn't see it, did you? It looked like a bird— Tania replied with a smile.

—Rui! We are both birds now!— Tania exclaimed excitedly.

—Epona said I looked strange and intimidating with it— Rodrigo replied.

—Oh, you have to show it to me when you can, okay?— Ana replied, smiling.

—I remember seeing some Vinland warriors a long time ago. They also wore colorful feathers in their attire. When I saw you, I couldn't help but think of one of them, although it's very unusual to see them due to the ban we both have on crossing the Atlantic Ocean— Tania said.

—Are you from Vinland, Rui?— Ana asked, intrigued.

—I don't know, I just know that the totema was called Eje, Eje... I forgot the name— Rodrigo replied, embarrassed.

—Ejecal— Tania answered.

—No, I'm sure that wasn't it— Rodrigo replied, still embarrassed.

After a moment of silence, Rodrigo finally remembered the name.

—I remembered now. It was Ehécatl. He told me he wasn't my totema, but a servant, and that he would lend me his power— Rodrigo replied.

—Then you are from Vinland. I've never heard a name like that around here— Tania said.

—After I bonded with him, he told me I should go to the land of my ancestors, that I should find the feathered serpent in a pyramid, or something like that— Rodrigo answered.

—If you go, I'll accompany you— Ana said, stroking the young man's head.

—Count me in too, Rodrigo— Tania replied.

—And... why is it forbidden to go to Vinland?— Rodrigo asked.

—Well, a long time ago, there was a commotion due to cultural differences between the peoples living there and those living here in Europe, Asia, and Libya. There were no horses or any kind of pack animal, nor did they have certain minerals used to create steel weapons, nor natural defenses against diseases to which the men in our region had developed immunity— Tania commented.

Rodrigo couldn't even imagine life without horses or pack animals. —How did they travel? How did they plow their fields?— he wondered.

—It was determined that the clash of both cultures would end up being catastrophic for the humans there, and a law of non-interaction was established between the communities of gods in that region and ours. Violation of these guidelines would be punished by death— Tania continued explaining.

—But the Norse gods have been trying to send humans to that area; in fact, they named that land Vinland— Ana said.

—But the malakim who guard the Atlantic Ocean usually destroy any human ships that cross it. I suspect that if the Norse humans made it there, it must be because they know an alternate route to get there— Tania replied.

—But doesn't Athena want us to go to that land?— Rodrigo asked.

—She must know a way to enter there without alerting Lel— Tania replied.

—Forgive me for intruding on your conversation, Rodrigo-san. And, also, Tania-san and Ana-hime, right?— Susanoo asked as he approached the three gods.

—Oh yes, you're the one who rescued Rodrigo, right? We never knew your name— Tania asked.

—My name is Susanoo-no-Mikoto, but you can call me Susanoo— the Oriental god replied.

—He's from the East, as he told me. I faced him, and he's very strong— Rodrigo added.

—Well, I didn't know Ares had such exotic warriors. I guess not even Athena has someone from such a distant land in her army— Ana said.

—It's not common. I was expelled from my realm, Takama-no-hara, and I cannot return until I achieve a great feat. I would like to accompany you on your adventure to Vinland. Also, I would like to accompany Rodrigo-san to make us both stronger— Susanoo replied, bowing respectfully to the two goddesses.

—Uhhh, Rodrigo, first you stole Epona's heart, and now this young man's— Tania teased, smiling smugly.

—Rui, you're such a charmer— Ana replied, playfully annoyed.

—Mina-san, please, it's not like that at all— Susanoo replied, embarrassed, as he stood up again.

—That's how they are, being a nuisance. Get used to it— Rodrigo said.

—Well, as I already told you, I have no problem with it; it will depend on what Athena, my teacher, thinks— Ana replied to Susanoo.

—I don't have a problem with it either, Susanoo, right?— Tania replied.

—Domo arigato, mina-san— Susanoo said, bowing again to the goddesses.

—Please, don't do that in front of me— both goddesses replied in unison to Susanoo, while Rodrigo laughed.

Rodrigo was glad to see Tania so happy and lively; it was as if she had returned to being the same person as before, or even more cheerful and relieved. She had attacked him, but wasn't he the one who caused a massacre just to see his mother and friends die? How different was he from that goddess who, at first, seemed to have no emotions or feelings? Undoubtedly, she was a lioness, and she would protect her own no matter the consequences.

Meanwhile, Anpiel, who was in another location, began to open his eyes slowly when he realized that Epona was hugging him while she lay on top of him.

—Epona? What are you doing here?— the angel asked when the goddess looked at him with tear-filled eyes.

Never in his life did Anpiel think he would see Epona in that state. She had always treated him poorly, as if he were inferior, and he had playfully responded with sarcasm. But seeing her like this surprised him greatly.

—Epona, why are you crying?— Anpiel asked.

—I'm not crying, you idiot. I'm just glad you survived— the horse goddess said.

At that moment, Anpiel remembered the Chronoxiphos sword that had been hovering above him. He looked up at the sky and saw nothing, just a ray of light caused by the weak sun almost hidden among a group of clouds covering the Martian mountain range.

—The sword disappeared, so you defeated Ares, right?— Anpiel asked.

Epona nodded.

—Thank you, Epona, for coming to rescue me— Anpiel said with a smile.

—I didn't do it for you, stupid. Who would serve me if you died? It would be unforgivable— Epona replied, still teary-eyed.

—I appreciate you too, even if you smell like manure— Anpiel retorted.

—Is that what I get? Mocking me for sacrificing my life for you? Believe me, being a goddess of a miserable stable is still a much greater honor than being a malak— Epona said with a look trying to feign arrogance, but Anpiel just laughed.

—Well, this malak received a squad of gods to protect him. I don't think they would have done that for you— the angel said, laughing.

Epona remembered her brother shooting her, and she touched her scar while a look of melancholy crossed her face.

—No, I suppose not— she said.

—What happened to your face?— Anpiel asked, noticing the goddess's scar.

—This? It's nothing— Epona replied.

—You look tough now, nothing like the spoiled little girl you used to be— he said, smiling.

—Oh, thank you... I guess— Epona blushed.

—I never expected you to give me a compliment— he continued.

—Consider it my thanks for your dedication to me— Anpiel replied as he stood up and looked at the malakim who had protected him still on the ground, recovering.

—I also thank all of you for your support, even though you didn't know me, you were willing to help me— Anpiel said, bowing slightly.

—It's the least we could do, Lord Anpiel— one of the malakim replied, while the others nodded.

On the other hand, Ninshubur woke up and saw Ishtar sitting in a lotus position in front of her, holding her broken sword in her right hand.

—Milady, what happened?— Ninshubur asked.

—Well, guess. I was right after all, and Ares was defeated by these people— Ishtar replied with a smile.

—Your perception always surprises me. I apologize for doubting you— Ninshubur replied.

—That's why I told you, never doubt me— Ishtar said, giving her a thumbs-up.

—And what will happen now?— Ninshubur asked.

—We'll join Orniskem, of course— Ishtar replied.

—If that's what you believe is best, I will accept your decision— Ninshubur said, the faithful servant of Ishtar.

At that moment, Al-Qaum and Menrva arrived flying to where everyone was. Mithras and Sol, who were closer, recognized him and greeted him.

—Glad to see you're okay, Al-Qaum, and who is this girl?— asked Mithras.

—I... I...— stammered Menrva.

—What's wrong?— asked Mithras intrigued.

—I just want to know if Lady Athena is okay!— Menrva said loudly.

Sol and Mithras were surprised to see the girl completely red like an apple, with an anxious expression.

—Of course, she's... over there— Sol replied, pointing with his index finger to where the goddess Athena was.

Without saying goodbye, Menrva flew off to where Athena was.

—I apologize for her, she's been obsessed with the goddess Athena since she was very young. Her name is Menrva, and she's very powerful— Al-Qaum said.

—Wow, what a group of weirdos Ares had— Mithras said.

—Who are you calling weirdo?— Al-Qaum asked, annoyed.

—Well, I didn't mean you— Mithras replied, embarrassed when he noticed that the god had fallen asleep while speaking.

—Don't fall asleep in the middle of the conversation!— Mithras and Sol shouted simultaneously.

—Oh, sorry— Al-Qaum replied as he woke up.

Everyone started laughing, but then Al-Qaum became somber.

—I want to tell you what happened while you were fighting Ares; I believe this concerns all of you— the Nabatean god said.

Al-Qaum recounted the appearance of the man who came from the Land of Manu and took Khonsu and Sekhmet.

—I can't describe it with words, but despite him hiding his power, I felt it was enormous; even the great Ares in his final transformation wouldn't have stood a chance against him— Al-Qaum said.

—His name is Serapis— a voice came from behind them.

It was Horus, who was bandaged around his abdomen where Athena had hit him. Beside him were Maahes and Montu.

—Lord Horus, are you okay now?— Mithras asked.

—That goddess couldn't have defeated me even with my divine level at its lowest. Still, it's embarrassing that that dimwit Ares managed to control me— Horus replied.

—If Khonsu survived, it's our fault for not killing him— Maahes said.

—In the chaos of the battle, we forgot about him— Montu replied.

—No one is blaming you— Horus said as he sat on the ground.

—Who is this Serapis?— asked Mithras.

—As I said, he's the current Anunnaki of the Land of Manu. He was appointed as such by Elyon after realizing that Amun had no intention of making peace with Lel— the falcon god replied.

—Is... he... our... enemy?— Sol asked nervously.

—Yours? No. He's my enemy and the enemy of these two gentlemen present here. It's an issue specific to the Land of Manu, and we will handle it— Horus said with a serious expression.

At that moment, Athena arrived floating, holding Ares' head by his hair in her right hand. Everyone present turned to look at her and approached her. Behind the goddess, Menrva was walking alongside her, still blushing and looking timid.

—Alright, everyone, it's time to leave this depressing planet and return to Pallas. We'll have an emergency meeting— Athena said.