Chapter 100:

The army of Cahokia

Elyon - Gods among us

—No, there are no foreign gods here— said Sosondowah to a group of armed men who were in the now ruins of Onondaga.

—We were summoned yesterday by your leader, the great Sawiskera, to search for a group of deities he had captured— said the leader of the advance party of soldiers.

—We are not familiar with that name. Please leave— insisted Sosondowah.

A group of about a hundred soldiers had come from the west to Onondaga, the Iroquois capital, to take Rodrigo and his company to Cahokia, the capital of the Mississippi kingdom. These had been contacted by Sawiskera earlier.

The Mississippi empire was gigantic, spanning parts of the territories established in the southwest of the Great Lakes, to the end of a mountain range that began from what was known as Markland in the north.

The capital of the empire, Cahokia, was located approximately 1,200 kilometers southwest of Onondaga. The leader of that empire had demanded the heads of the members of Orniskem, who were still sleeping after the tough fight against Sawiskera.

On the night of the incident, Hé-no, along with Sosondowah and the other Iroquois gods, sat in a circle in front of the now destroyed cabin where Sawiskera lived. They had lit a bonfire, and the thunder god had put on the headdress that was worn by the former and defeated leader of the Iroquois.

—I will act as the leader in this ceremony— said the smiling god, making appear the tobacco pipe he had previously given to Tania to smoke.

Rodrigo, Tania, Susanoo, and Anpiel were seated on the left side of the bonfire. Thanks to the ambrosia, all their wounds had healed, but they were tired.

Hé-no then extended the pipe to Rodrigo, indicating that the whole group should smoke it. The young tannin tried and coughed violently, causing the Iroquois gods to laugh.

Rodrigo handed the pipe to Tania, and she smoked again. She managed to smoke without coughing. Then she passed it to Anpiel and finally to Susanoo. Rodrigo returned the pipe to Hé-no, who smoked from it.

—This is a friendship ceremony— said the elder god, —and what you are smoking is a sacred herb called mitaakozigan for all of us—

The Iroquois gods also smoked from the pipe and returned it to Hé-no, who held up the artifact to show Rodrigo and his company.

—With this, we have forged a bond of friendship between you and us. So, we are ready to help you on your mission to travel south— said Hé-no, and all the other gods clapped. Rodrigo nodded and thanked.

—However— Hé-no continued, —the matter of Sawiskera is still pending. For some reason, we can't remember much about who was governing before you arrived—

—Yes, it's like there are clouds in our minds— added Sosondowah.

All the other gods nodded, and an awkward silence followed.

—It's normal, all of you were manipulated by Sawiskera's power to distort reality— a voice said, but no one could see where it came from. Then, Tania saw a friendly rabbit next to her. The goddess remembered and blushed as the little animal began to caress her legs.

—Is that you, Mr. Wenabozho?— Hé-no asked, surprised.

The rabbit jumped into Tania's lap, making her uncomfortable, and she slapped the small animal, throwing it away from her, almost falling into the fire.

—Ow, ow, that hurt!— the little rabbit whimpered.

—And you're still as lecherous as ever, Mr. Wenabozho— commented Sosondowah, unsurprised.

The rabbit stood up and transformed into its female form.

—Today I am Nanabozho— she said, —this way, that beautiful girl won't feel bad about me touching her—

—And how is that better, you idiot!— Tania shouted angrily. —No matter what you turn into, you're just an old pervert!—

Everyone started to laugh, while Nanabozho sat by the bonfire and cleared her throat.

—Well, let me tell you— the rabbit goddess began. —Several decades ago, the ruler of this land was a light god named Teharonhiakwako. He was the twin brother of Sawiskera—

All the gods were surprised.

—We believed that the only son of Atahensic was Sawiskera— remarked Hé-no.

—No— Nanabozho replied. —In fact, Sawiskera was evil since being born and killed his own mother during childbirth. Thus, Teharonhiakwako swore he would create a world of peace to counteract his brother's dire intentions. Sawiskera just wanted to bring chaos and destruction to the world without any reason—

—Now I understand. That's why we've been fighting with other tribes; and the appearance of serpent monsters and stone giants across our land was his doing— Hé-no said, surprised.

—Hold on!— interrupted Sosondowah. —Where is Teharonhiakwako now?—

—He was murdered by his brother a few decades ago— Nanabozho said somberly.

—So, does that mean... we have no leader?— Hé-no asked, concerned.

Nanabozho then gazed intently at Hé-no.

—I believe you should become the leader of Onondaga. You are the most qualified—

—Me? But I don't think I'm up for such an important task— Hé-no responded nervously.

—I believe you'd be a great leader— Sosondowah said, signaling his approval. All the other Iroquois gods nodded in agreement.

—Well, let me think about it— the Iroquois thunder god replied, nervously taking another puff from the pipe.

—I've relayed what I needed to, so I'll be going— the rabbit goddess mentioned, transforming back into her animal form.

—We appreciate it, Mr. Wenabozho— Hé-no said, still looking concerned.

—As for you— Wenabozho said, turning to Rodrigo and his companions, —I'm surprised by how powerful you've become. Despite this anti-deity barrier and your short time in these lands, you managed to defeat Sawiskera and the giant serpent in Ontario—

—I guess you've become stronger than me— Tania said with a smile to the young tannin, causing him to blush.

—Am I stronger than Tania? That means I can now protect them like a knight— Rodrigo thought to himself.

—But remember, it's only within this barrier and by just a bit, so I'll catch up soon— Tania added with a proud look.

Everyone laughed at that moment.

—I knew my rival would become stronger and stronger— Susanoo exclaimed enthusiastically.

—Congratulations, Mr. Rodrigo— Anpiel added. —I hope you now understand when I told you not to underestimate anyone—

—Thank you all— the young tannin replied, a bit embarrassed.

—However, the southern kingdom, Mississippi, is a formidable empire, only surpassed in power by the great realm of Tula— Wenabozho continued. —Its ruler, Heshuka, is a hawk god who can invoke the power of the sun and has developed an addiction to human sacrifices—

—A sun god— Tania thought.

—Addiction to human sacrifices? Is that possible?— Rodrigo asked, puzzled.

—You see, Rodrigo— Tania began explaining nervously, —gods gain power from human faith, which I think you already knew. The greater the act of faith, the more power we gain—

—Yes, I'm aware of that— the young tannin replied.

—However, those emanations of power create a dependence on us, and the higher the dose, the more dependent we become. The worst of all is when humans are sacrificed in our honor. The effect is even more potent than this pipe we're smoking— Tania said regretfully.

She took a deep breath.

—I know, because... I was an addict too— she confessed.

—Tania, you don't have to talk about that if you don't want to— Anpiel said, trying to comfort the goddess.

—I have to. I don't care if you judge me or not— Tania said with an angry but determined look.

Anpiel then stayed silent.

—Thousands of children were sacrificed in my honor in Carthage. Although I was unaware of these practices, I noticed changes in my behavior. I was constantly irritable and thirsty for blood, many of my memories are clouded, and I only remember major events. The addiction to sacrifices turned me into a monster— the fiery-haired goddess shared.

—Ana had mentioned something about this, Tania, and I can't judge you for something like that— Rodrigo said, trying to calm her down.

The Punic goddess smiled at the young tannin.

—The gods in Lel are very powerful because, for a long time, they relied on human sacrifices to live— Anpiel said.

—Many of them, even though sacrifices are no longer made in their honor, continue to receive their energies from those practices through the great Molochs that reside in Lel— she added.

—A Moloch? A demon or something like that?— Rodrigo asked, puzzled.

—No, it's... a massive statue that exists in each of the realms. This statue acts as a magnet for the faith that humans place in gods, and that faith is sent to the totemas— Tania explained.

—The reason why the totemas of Tania and Ana are dead is that their Molochs were destroyed when they deserted their realms, so they can only depend on the faith that their totemas were able to accumulate— Anpiel added.

—Hai, I also have a... dead totema, Rodrigo-san— Susanoo remarked.

—But... it's possible that your totema is not dead, Rodrigo— Tania said. —Seeing how your power increases so drastically, I believe it still receives power from the land we are heading to—

Rodrigo then grabbed the totema, which he wore as a necklace around his neck, and stared at it intently.

—I don't know who this totema belongs to or from whom it came, but I'll guard it with my life— he declared.

—Well, your conversation was very enlightening. Good luck on your journey— Wenabozho remarked, interrupting the conversation. —Unfortunately, my realm is peaceful and my subjects aren't fit for battle, but I'm confident you'll reach your goal—

—Don't worry, Mr. Wenabozho, we're grateful you guided us here— Anpiel said.

—Although, if you'd let me sit on that girl's lap...— Wenabozho began but was interrupted with a decisive: "NO!" from Tania.

—Oh, well, I was just saying— the rabbit god said and departed.

After a deathly silence between the two parties, Hé-no finally spoke:
—Tomorrow, soldiers from Mississippi will likely come here, so a long and complicated battle awaits us. We suggest you rest to properly recover the manna you depleted in the fight—

—Yes, agreed— Anpiel said, and with the others, they stood up.

A few women approached and showed them a massive tipi where they could rest.
Inside, there were four mats with geometric figures, and in the center, a tiny bonfire. The tipi was decorated with red animal figures on the inside, and there was a strong smell of tobacco combined with other sacred herbs the Iroquois considered holy.

—I wonder... what happened to the leader I defeated— Rodrigo pondered aloud.

—They'll likely execute him— Anpiel said calmly as he sat on one of the mats.

—And is that right? What's the difference between killing someone and what they said about human sacrifices?— Rodrigo asked anxiously.

—Did you notice something, Rodrigo?— Tania inquired. —When we arrived before Sariswera...—

—Sawiskera— Anpiel corrected.

—Right, thanks for embarrassing me again, Anpiel— Tania retorted, annoyed.

The angel laughed discreetly, allowing Tania to continue speaking.

—Anyway, when we arrived at the massive wooden hut, you probably saw bound people. I'm sure many of them were slaves, and not just because... well, the guy you defeated forced them— Tania finished.

—Slave labor is commonly used in these lands— Anpiel commented.

—But... that's bad, right?— Rodrigo asked. —Everyone should be equal and have the same rights—

—In theory... but life is like that, and every people adapt to their needs. It's up to them to change their customs, not for us to force them— the goddess replied.

—To each their own— Anpiel added.

—So, there's nothing to be done?— Rodrigo asked, disheartened.

—All we can do is act as best we can and hope that it inspires new generations to change their attitudes— the angel stated.

—Life sucks, but we're all stuck in it— Tania said as she lay down on her mat and put her hands behind her head.

—If Sawiskera dies, it's a fact you'll have to accept— Anpiel finally said.

—I know... but... I was the one who defeated him, and I couldn't deal the final blow because I didn't want to kill him. But now he'll die because of me— Rodrigo said, dejected.

The young man remembered the horrified look of the soldiers he had massacred in Coimbra and made a face of disgust.

—Easy, Rodrigo, it wasn't you— Tania said, turning to look at the young man with a smile.

—Rodrigo-san— Susanoo began to speak, sitting in a lotus position on another mat. —One must accept life and death, as it is part of this cycle we live in. Every life will inevitably come to an end—

—I understand— Rodrigo replied, still sounding depressed, and he lay face down on his mat. —I just wish there was a way to break this bleak cycle—

That night, Rodrigo struggled to fall asleep. He had clearly heard Epona's voice saying goodbye to him. He remembered it vividly and was terrified, fearing she might have died going to the Haida territories. He wanted to talk to her but couldn't. The communication crystals only worked for communicating to Pallas and vice versa.

The gods slept, but were awakened around five in the morning. —The soldiers from Cahokia have arrived— a woman informed them in Seneca. Although they didn't understand her words, they knew trouble was afoot.

Sosondowah tried to calm the soldiers who were at the gate of the palisade protecting Onondaga. The Iroquois god peeked over the palisade at the soldiers, who wore armor that seemed to be made of bronze, consisting only of a breastplate and helmet. They were armed with clubs that looked like massive knives and bows.

—Do you not understand what it means to oppose the will of the great sun god, Heshuka?— the leader of the platoon replied.

—The previous leader of this tribe has fallen. We now have no duty to an alliance none of us agreed to forge— the Iroquois archer god responded. —So, if you want war, you'll have war—

The soldiers all laughed.

—Do you think flies can challenge a bear?— the spokesman jeered.

In a swift motion, Sosondowah grabbed his bow, pulled an air-made arrow from his quiver, and shot it straight through the man's heart. The soldier fell backward, vomiting blood.

—The humans of Mississippi are very arrogant, not knowing how to respect the gods— Sosondowah chuckled. —I think they need an important lesson—

However, none of the soldiers looked scared or worried. They remained serious. The attacked soldier got up, pulling the arrow from his heart, which disappeared instantly.

The archer god was shocked by what he saw.

—The gods from other lands are mere flies to our great Sun, Heshuka— the man declared with arrogance. —As long as the sun illuminates the men of his people, our lord, the almighty hawk, will bestow his power upon us, which is superior to you, disgusting and vile insignificant lizards—

Nervously, Sosondowah launched a volley of arrows, but the soldiers deflected them with their bare hands, surprising him even more.

—So, we assume the men are here, and your attack can be used as a casus belli against our authority— the Mississippi soldiers' leader replied.

The soldiers began to form circles, drawing geometric figures on the ground with their weapons and chanting in divine language.

—What is this? Can mere soldiers speak the divine language and invoke beings?— the Iroquois archer god wondered.

Lights emanated from the geometric figures, revealing monstrous creatures. They were massive beings covered entirely in golden scales, with enormous claws, human faces, deer horns, long beards, and eagle wings. They exuded anger and hatred. Five such creatures appeared. The soldiers shouted: —Payiihsa

The monsters began to fly toward Onondaga. Sosondowah tried attacking them, but his arrows bounced off their scaly bodies.

Rodrigo and the others, seeing the beasts approach the palisade, prepared to fight, but Hé-no stopped them.

—No, you've helped us enough— he said. —You flee from here and continue south. We'll fend off this threat—

—But those creatures seems to be incredibly powerful— Rodrigo warned.

Hé-no darkened the sky and, pointing his bow at one of the beasts, fired a powerful thunderbolt, which exploded the creature, and its remains fell over Onondaga.

—Don't underestimate us, we are a warrior people— Hé-no remarked. —I'm only ashamed that I can't lend you any soldiers to accompany you south, but if you ever need help in the future, our alliance will always stand—

Rodrigo tried again to refuse, but Anpiel stopped him by touching his shoulder. —Mr. Rodrigo— he said, —we must respect the wishes of our hosts—

The Iroquois gods then appeared and began to fight against the enormous monstrous birds attacking them. The creatures spewed fire and electricity from their mouths, while the gods attacked them to the best of their abilities. They eventually managed to bring down two more, as they fell onto the battered city of Onondaga.

—Go on, run; and may the Great Spirit accompany you. If the enemy sees you, all will be lost— shouted Hé-no, as Rodrigo, reluctantly, complied.

A woman signaled to Rodrigo and company and gestured for them to follow. They agreed. Everyone ran until they reached the ruins of what was left of the cabin where Sawiskera reigned, where the woman indicated for them to enter. But, just then, one of the flying creatures landed violently and tried to crush the girl; however, Rodrigo, using his wind abilities, teleported and saved her.

—I don't think it will let us pass— said Anpiel.

Tania then tried to turn into a manticore, but she couldn't. Still, with one of her fire claws, she managed to scratch the creature's cheek.

The monster immediately caught the Punic goddess in its jaws and began to grind her. Susanoo quickly tried to cut the monster's neck, but his sword bounced off. Rodrigo laid the girl on the ground and teleported beneath the monster, hitting it with all his might with his holy fists, but his damage was technically negligible.

—It worked against the serpent because it was its weakness, but these behemoths are not tannin!— shouted Anpiel as he watched Tania being crushed by the beast's fangs.

Rodrigo then shouted: —Open, fourth chakra!—

He immediately lunged at the monster like a whirlwind of fire while shouting: —Ejekauakki

Landing a series of punches, he made the creature retreat and release Tania from its mouth.
Tania was in very bad shape, her internal organs crushed by the beast's powerful jaws. Anpiel hurried to give Tania ambrosia, while Rodrigo continued to fight the enormous monster.

Anpiel poured the mead into the Punic goddess's mouth, and her body recovered. The goddess then immediately stood up.

—If a single behemoth from that realm is this strong, what awaits us as we travel further south?— she wondered in frustration.

Rodrigo continued to hit the creature when he saw Susanoo join in, his sword wrapped in air, also hitting the monster. Their attacks damaged it, but many of them were absorbed by its powerful scales.

Tania then created a crescent moon of fire while praying: —Shani Lemah

The goddess quickly grabbed it and threw it like a disc at one of the monster's eyes. Fortunately, the moon embedded itself in the monster's left eye socket and immediately exploded with immense power. The creature fell back to the ground from Tania's massive attack.

—If we can't penetrate its scales, we must try to hit it from the inside!— shouted Tania, as Rodrigo and Susanoo withdrew from the creature.

The monster got up and stood again, though its face had suffered significant damage, to the extent that half of its face had disappeared, leaving only a mass of pus and blood. The beast screamed in rage and began shooting lightning in all directions from what remained of its mouth.

—It's lost control!— shouted Susanoo.

—But Tania has made a massive hole in its face, we can now attack it there— shouted an excited Rodrigo.

Anpiel quickly covered the girl who had been guiding them, while Tania, igniting her claws, plunged into the monster's wound and entered its body. Rodrigo and Susanoo were stunned by the goddess's action.

At that moment, the monster burst from its chest, as if a massive explosion had occurred in its windpipe. The creature fell to the ground, dead, with Tania emerging from its belly, covered in blood and fat.

—Tania-san, you are crazy— shouted the terrified eastern god.

—There was no other way to beat it— said Tania as she removed pieces of the monster's organs that had fallen on her body. She then turned and saw that the Iroquois gods had the situation under control.

—We must move on and become stronger— lamented Susanoo as he sheathed his katana again.

Rodrigo felt he had failed in his duty to protect Tania.

—If I'm stronger, what's the use if she had to fight again to protect us?— he asked himself.

The girl thanked the gods in her language, giving a gesture of reverence. She then pointed back to the cabin again. The gods followed her to where Sawiskera's throne room had been.

Behind the throne, there was a hidden door with stairs. The girl indicated for the gods to enter, and they agreed, not without thanking the woman first. Below the throne, there was a vast damp, moldy hallway made of wood. The gods moved quickly and arrived at the other end. The hallway was easily about ten kilometers, but the gods covered it in minutes.

On the other side, there were stairs that led to the exit of a cave hidden among the region's forests. The gods exited and saw, far from there, the battlefield still ongoing in Onondaga. Unable to do much, they decided to continue south, towards the Mississippi territories.