Elyon - Gods among us
Three days have passed since the battle on Mars, where Rodrigo and his companions emerged victorious against Ares' men. In addition to winning the battle and saving Anpiel from being sacrificed, Athena was able to recruit five warriors from Ares' Keres:
- Susanoo, the Oriental god and Keres number twelve.
- Menrva, the Etruscan goddess and Keres number one.
- Al-Qaum, the Nabatean god of the night and Keres number ten.
- Ishtar and Ninshubur. The former being the queen of the ancient kingdom of Uruk, and the latter her companion in arms and most faithful devotee.
Apparently, things in Lel have been turning upside down. According to what Ares told Athena, Anath, who acts as the leader of Lel on behalf of her father Elyon, has begun an aggressive expansionism in the world. She planned to destroy Asgard to prevent the Norse gods from forming alliances with the gods in Vinland, becoming a real threat to the powerful and proud kingdom.
Though Odin's whereabouts, still alive in Vinland, remain unknown to them, it could be a huge advantage for the group, as they believe he's dead.
While Lel was trying to prevent Orniskem from making contact with Asgard, Athena acted ahead of Anath's plans by meeting Tania and Ana. Orniskem had now formalized an alliance with Asgard, and it was necessary to find Odin, who, according to Loki, was hiding somewhere in that vast continent.
Athena had commanded one of her most powerful warriors, Bellona, to aid Thor and Loki, who had lost contact the moment they entered the continent. There was also no word from the Asgardian gods. Athena suspected that enemy forces, already bribed by Lel, could be in that region.
The problem was even greater because hundreds of kingdoms rose in that continent, and Athena had in mind two kingdoms in the northern area of Vinland: the Mississippi kingdom and the Toltec kingdom, believed to be the most powerful in the region. These two kingdoms had very strong gods, not to mention the vassal kingdoms ruling throughout the area.From these two, Athena was concerned about the Toltec kingdom. She had a hunch that Rodrigo's totema had come from that region. It was a group of deities ruling tyrannically over their people, demanding large amounts of human sacrifices. The gods in that region were exceptionally powerful.
Bellona had used a secret entrance that the Norse gods had managed to create from a gigantic island they called Greenland. This route was far from the sight of Lel's malakim, or so they believed. On the other side, there was a small kingdom with which Asgard had managed to form an alliance, the kingdom of Adlivun, ruled by the goddess Sedna.
In ten days, Rodrigo and his companions would embark from Iceland, the last region admissible without Lel's supervision, to reach Greenland and enter Vinland in the kingdom of Adlivun, whose people were called Skræling.
The team members who had voluntarily chosen to enter Vinland were: Rodrigo, who had an interest in knowing his past; Menrva, who would lead the group; Tania; Ana; Epona; Anpiel; and surprisingly, Susanoo, who insisted on accompanying them. Perhaps the legend of a feathered serpent in the Toltec kingdom motivated him even more to go.
However, ten days was still quite a long time. After a funeral in Pallas for the fallen malakim at the hands of Ares and in the war on Mars, Tania asked Athena for permission to host a party as she had promised at her home in Ibiza.
The goddess prepared a feast where not only the gods mingled but also the common people. Unbeknownst to them, they were sharing bread with deities. There was an abundance of beef, lamb, and chicken; lentils, bread, and limited wine, as Ibiza was in a Muslim region where wine was not consumed much.
Tania had prepared the entire feast, although she was helped by Epona and Nabu. Ana was prohibited from entering the kitchen, as she often ended up burning the soup.
Mithras had provided cows from his personal cattle. He referred to himself as the 'master and lord of banquets,' and he, along with Sol, dedicated themselves to arranging the tables and decorations for the party.
From Orniskem, only Athena and Horus came to eat at the banquet. The new gods who had joined the group, former Keres of Ares, were also present: Ishtar, Ninshubur, Susanoo, Al-Qaum, and Menrva. The others stayed in Pallas to watch over the planet in case something happened or they received news from Bellona.
The people of Ibiza joyfully approached the feast Tania had prepared.
—I wanted to celebrate my thirtieth birthday in style— said the goddess to the people. As she was much loved and respected on the island, many people joined the celebration, and several brought food and gifts for Tania. She hugged each one of them. Rodrigo was surprised that she could remember the names of each person, as they were more than a hundred.
Nabu, who stayed to protect the island from the diabolical hands of Baalat, also stayed at the banquet at Tania's insistence. He turned out to be an expert cook, teaching Tania several recipes used in ancient Mesopotamia, especially a lamb stew he called Tuhu.
Tania worked diligently in the kitchen to give the best feast to the guests, partly as a thank-you to her friends for forgiving her and for her people being safe and alive despite Lel's terrible threats.
Epona, on the other hand, drank wine brought specially from Normandy and enjoyed herself with Anpiel, Mithras, and Sol, who also drank wine and shared funny anecdotes.
—Darn it, Sol, do you still have that huge bandage all over your right arm? Did you get hurt or something?— Epona asked, slightly tipsy from the wine.
—No... well... I like to have my a... arm this way— replied the solar god.
—Surely, he got a stupid tattoo in Syria, and he's embarrassed to show it to the world— Mithras said, laughing, also slightly intoxicated.
—Really? Show it to me! Show it to me!— Epona said enthusiastically and cheerfully.
—It's not a tattoo— Sol responded frustratedly.
—Since I've known him, he's had that bandage. He doesn't even take it off to bathe— Mithras sarcastically remarked.
—And how do you know how he bathes?— Anpiel asked, who wasn't drinking but was accompanying them.
Mithras and Sol turned red at that moment.
—Don't tell me you two...?— Epona said, smiling.
—Very Roman of all this— Anpiel said, laughing.
—It was VERY normal to bathe together in Rome, obviously, we shared the bath several times— Sol replied annoyed.
—But your stutter is even gone— Epona said.
Anpiel and Epona laughed and continued to celebrate.
On the other hand, Rodrigo, Ana, Athena, and Horus were drinking at the same table.
—I must admit that Tania's lentils are the best of the best— Rodrigo said as he ate enthusiastically.
—She's an incredible cook— Horus replied.
—Although I'd like to help her, all this must be a huge task for her alone— Ana responded.
—Don't worry, Nabu is helping her. By the way, have you tried his lamb stew? It's very good too— Athena said.
—By the way, Ana, I see you still suck in the kitchen, that's why they don't let you in, right?— Athena said to Ana with a presumptuous look.
—That's not true!— Ana retorted angrily.
—This girl, when I lived with her and she had to tend to a wound, those were the worst days of my life. I asked her for some pita bread with lamb and olive oil, the simplest thing in the world, and she couldn't even bake that bread properl—
—It came out something shapeless, full of lumps, or broken and burned. Then, the lamb was dry, and goodness knows what she marinated it with because it tasted like poisonous herbs. I'd rather face Hades than eat that again— Athena recounted playfully.
—Teacher, you're exaggerating— Ana replied with puffed cheeks.
—By the way, Robert, did you hear about the passionate kiss the blonde girl gave you back on Mars?— Athena asked the young tannin.
—Kiss?— Rodrigo asked, blushing.
—Yes, the blonde girl took your head in her hands, and even though you were still a tannin and your saliva was supposed to be venom, she kissed you. Although I admit it's surprising that your salivation didn't affect her— Horus continued to tell.
—Epona is a flirt— Ana replied a little annoyed.
—Ana, don't tell me you're jealous?— Athena asked Ana.
—Teacher, you know perfectly well that, since what happened in my past, I haven't felt physical attraction for anyone— Ana replied grumpily.
—Really? I could have sworn you were in love with this boy. That was the impression you gave me on the boat— Athena replied.
—No!— Ana shouted, annoyed.
Rodrigo felt a little rejected.
—Rodrigo and I have a teacher-disciple relationship. And although I appreciate him very much and could relate to his suffering, I'm not in love with him. I'd be happy if Epona and him ended up in a relationship— Ana replied, trying to sound serious.
—Are you sure, Ana?— Athena asked.
At that moment, Ana slammed the table angrily.
—I think I've had too much to drink. Excuse me— Ana said and got up to leave.
—Is she mad at me?— Rodrigo asked.
—Ana has feelings for you, lad— Horus replied candidly.
—That's impossible, I don't think she even treats me like that— Rodrigo confessed.
—Well, I believe you should go look for her and talk about this with her— Athena said.
—Do you think so?— Rodrigo asked, confused.
—Well, yes, go already, lad— Athena urged, annoyed.
Rodrigo got up to look for Ana, but at that moment, he found Epona a little tipsy.
—Hello, Rodrigo, you look great today— the Celtic goddess said with a smile.
—Epona, tell me, have you seen Ana?— Rodrigo asked intrigued.
—Sorry, Rodrigo, but I haven't seen her in a while— replied the goddess of horses, a little annoyed.
—Alright, thank you, Epona— Rodrigo replied and turned around, but at that moment, he felt Epona grabbing his arm.
—Before that, Rodrigo, I want to tell you something in private— Epona said, causing Rodrigo's heart to beat like a drum.
—O-Okay— the young man replied, cursing himself inside because he should be looking for Ana.
Epona smiled at him and said: —Follow me— leading Rodrigo away.
Away from the party, near where Rodrigo first learned to control his divine energy, Epona sat down to watch the waves of the sea, which Rodrigo quickly imitated.
—I lived far from civilization a long time ago, in a small stable, and hardly ever interacted with people. I guess you could say I was a peasant. Even among my siblings, my accent was strange and rudimentary— Epona said as she hugged her legs with her arms.
—I don't know much about your past, Epona— Rodrigo said to the Celtic goddess.
—It's not necessary; there's not much to talk about. I would get up, milk my cows, herd my horses, and cultivate fertile lands for my little ones. I lived like that for hundreds of years— Epona said.
—It doesn't sound very fun when you put it like that— Rodrigo replied.
—Even so, I miss that simple and peaceful life. In the world of humans, I started to feel arrogant, as if I were very important just because I was a deity, but you've never behaved like that. I met two Nephilim who, when they discovered their divine blood, quickly tried to subjugate humanity, but you're not like that. You're a great person!— the goddess said.
—I don't think I'm that great— Rodrigo replied, feeling embarrassed.
—People with power show their true colors, or so they say. I'm afraid power might have gone to my head a little, but when I met you, I began to admire you— Epona said.
Rodrigo blushed and thanked her for the compliment.
—What I mean is this... Rodrigo, after our mission in Vinland, I'd like to go back to having a peaceful life in this world. To live like Tania in a place where I can interact with people and help them. I don't like all this fighting and battling. If we could stay to live in Vinland, far from Lel, I'd like to do it... with you— Epona replied.
—Me? Really?— Rodrigo asked, taken aback, but deep down, he felt excited. The woman he liked wanted to live with him.
Epona looked at him and smiled.
—I really like you, Rodrigo. I want to live with you— Epona confessed.
Rodrigo felt like he was in heaven. At that moment, he completely forgot about Ana, and he only wanted to hug and kiss this woman.
—Before anything else, Rodrigo... tell me... do you feel something for Ana?— Epona asked.
The young man froze again. Once again, he was asked that question about his mentor. Did everyone think she felt something more for him, beyond companionship?
—I appreciate her a lot, but I feel like I can't see her as anything other than my mentor. But you, Epona, I see you with different eyes. You've always supported me, even when you found out I was a tannin, you defended me— Rodrigo replied.
—It's natural; people should be judged by their character— Epona replied, smiling at Rodrigo.
—And I never thanked you for it— Rodrigo continued to explain.
—Rodrigo, you saved my life in Denmark. You thought you'd die, you knew nothing about your tannin blood... and yet, when I saw you impaled by that horrible serpent, I couldn't stop thinking about you from that day on— blushed the equine goddess.
—I didn't want to lose anyone that day— Rodrigo replied, embarrassed.
—No one gives their life for others so easily... only you... You're my hero, Rodrigo!— Epona replied, excited.
Epona's smile was beautiful. Her face was very flushed, and the goddess had her eyes closed with small tears in them. Rodrigo was captivated by seeing her face.
At that moment, Epona took Rodrigo's face in her hands and kissed him. Rodrigo responded to the kiss with great energy and passion. He hugged her tightly as their tongues touched each other.
After the kiss, Epona laid her head on Rodrigo's chest.
—It's incredible, when I kissed you on Mars, I didn't think about the consequences, and yet, for some strange reason, your saliva didn't poison me— Epona said.
Rodrigo remembered what he had been told about Epona kissing him to restore his health and blushed.
—Will you live with me then, Rodrigo?— the young woman asked.
—Of course, Ep— Rodrigo replied.
—You make me very happy,— said the goddess of horses as she snuggled in Rodrigo's arms.
It was as if the sky had opened up for Rodrigo. He had fallen in love with Epona since he first saw her. But he also felt sad, as that meant leaving Tania and Ana, as he had grown fond of them.
Both fell asleep outside while watching the full moon, illuminating their faces.