Chapter 101:

Mississippi: The Empire of the Sun

Elyon - Gods among us

Rodrigo and his companions had been walking south of Onondaga for two days. Vast forests and green meadows rose around them under a clear blue sky with beautiful, fluffy white clouds. Rodrigo felt this was the ideal place to live with Epona.

Blue mountains with snow at their peaks blended with another range of green mountains where gigantic pine forests grew. In the distance, buffaloes were seen running. Obviously, neither Rodrigo nor anyone else had any idea what these animals were, so they likened them to wild bulls.

But one thing was troubling Rodrigo: Epona. He had chosen not to tell the group that he had clearly heard the goddess saying goodbye to him in his fight against Sawiskera, so as not to worry them, but deep down, he was a bundle of nerves.

—Are Epona and Ana alright?— Such questions and uncertainties did not allow him to fully enjoy the beautiful landscape before him.

—I can't believe there are such beautiful landscapes on Earth— Tania said, amazed. Similarly, the goddess wasn't very familiar with the world, just North Africa and parts of Europe.

Suddenly, Anpiel stopped.

—I sense human life nearby— he said.

—It must be scouts scouting the area— Tania suggested.

At that moment, Susanoo drew his sword, causing everyone to become alarmed, fearing the oriental god might start a fight. They whispered to him not to do something rash.

—Gomen gomen— the oriental god replied. —Actually, I just wanted to invoke a stealth skill for us all so we can pass unnoticed by our enemies—

Rodrigo then remembered that the god had used a similar ability when they had faced off.

Susanoo then chanted: —Mayonaka no u~ōkingu

But apparently, nothing happened.

—Did anything happen?— Tania asked. Then she realized that she couldn't hear her own voice, just the thoughts of the others.

Anpiel moved his arm and found it moved like it was a ghost.

—Hai— said Susanoo, —this ability still works here, despite the barrier—

The gods then realized that their footsteps made no sound, neither did their breathing; all their communication was purely telepathic.

—Even so, it might not be a good idea to wear our totemas— the angel said, and everyone nodded in agreement.

They continued to move, soon spotting advance parties nearby, but these couldn't see them. These were men dressed only in loincloths, carrying large bows. Their hair was styled into a large ponytail. Rodrigo realized that the skin of these men was darker than the people in the previous territories they had visited.

—If there are scouts here, there must be a city nearby— Anpiel noted. —But we must be careful; this trick might not work against deities—

The gods walked for another hour, as the sky began to turn a shade of ocher, with the sun disappearing behind the green hills. What they saw then was mesmerizing.

A massive palisade stood before them, and beyond it, a gigantic square pyramid. The pyramid consisted of three clearly defined levels, and at the top, they could see a kind of hut, entirely protected by a wall.

Around the massive pyramid were hundreds and hundreds of houses with straw roofs, and several smaller mounds around. Below the great pyramid was a vast plaza where dozens of people bought and sold, with many market stalls arranged in linear fashion.

—Is this the kingdom of Cahokia?— Rodrigo asked, surprised.

—I don't think so... Cahokia should be further southwest— Anpiel said, puzzled.

—You mean, this is just... a small town in the empire of Misapini?— Tania asked, alarmed.

—Mississippi— Anpiel corrected, to which the goddess just made an angry face.

Just then, a woman greeted them. —Are you travelers? Why not stay in our city?— she asked.

The gods were puzzled.

—She knows the divine language?— they wondered. But after seeing how common it was for people in this region to speak the divine language, it wasn't so surprising.

—Eh... yes. We're heading south— Anpiel replied.

—South? How far south?— the woman asked.

—Ever heard of the kingdom of Tula? We plan to go there— the angel continued.

—Oh, I'm sorry, but I haven't. Still, you can stay at an inn today and continue your adventure tomorrow— the woman suggested.

Anpiel looked at Tania, and she nodded in agreement. But just as they began to move, Susanoo suddenly stopped.

—What's wrong, Susanoo?— Rodrigo asked.

—Don't you realize? We're still under the stealth spell. That girl shouldn't be able to see or hear us— said the oriental god with a look of fear.

In that instant, chains surged from the ground, ensnaring the four gods of Orniskem.

—These chains... it can't be— Tania said, struggling.

—It can be, Tania— the girl replied, her demeanor entirely shifted.

Up close, she didn't appear human but a mere puppet, manipulated by chains as if a marionette. Behind her stood the goddess Bellona, garbed like a native from the region. She gripped the chains binding the gods in one hand and puppet strings in the other.

—Bellona! What the hell are you doing here?— Anpiel exclaimed, as the others tried to break free.

Then, scores of soldiers surrounded Bellona and the trapped gods, and in the sky, two monstrous creatures from Onondaga began to appear. The Roman goddess swiftly discarded the puppet, making it vanish.

—You left me naked and humiliated in Taltheilei, but the king of Tula found and rescued me— Bellona declared.

—He brought me here, and I've awaited your arrival to spring this trap, having learned of the repelled attack on Onondaga— she elaborated.

Rodrigo recalled that he had argued for sparing Bellona's life, and now they faced consequences of that decision.

—Is it the same as sparing Sawiskera? Are there beings truly meant to die, truly irredeemable?— he wondered.

—Luckily, neither Menrva nor Loki, who could counter my chains, are here— Bellona continued.

—Why are you doing this, Bellona? Why follow Lel's orders?— Tania questioned.

—Let me ask you the same, Tania. Why fight against your father? Can't you see he desires a world where gods no longer battle, where we achieve peace and unity?— Bellona retorted with questions.

—That doesn't justify using humans as war fodder— Tania shot back, furious.

Bellona then gripped Tania's face, looking at her with disdain.

—Do these pathetic beings matter more to you than your own family?— she sneered.

—My family is who I'm with every day, not ancient gods with minds warped by human blood!— Tania shouted. Bellona responded with a fierce slap, knocking the goddess aside.

—Having blue blood as lineage and wasting it in such a revolting way... Pathetic!— Bellona scoffed.

—Is that it, Bellona? Jealousy?— Anpiel probed.

—Silence, angel!— Bellona snapped, turning away.

Rodrigo felt ashamed, unable to assist Tania. Once again, she was hurt, and he was powerless. He couldn't access his chakras without his totema, which they had foolishly decided not to bring.

—I'll take the green-eyed boy south, to Tula— Bellona ordered the soldiers.

—Take the others to Cahokia. But remember, the red-haired girl mustn't be sacrificed, or we'll face trouble— she cautioned.

A translator immediately relayed Bellona's orders in pawnee, the empire's official language. The soldiers saluted the goddess and approached Tania, Anpiel, and Susanoo, binding them with Bellona's chains.

Bellona approached Rodrigo, seizing him. She noticed her totema in his pocket, a figurine of a helmeted woman, and violently snatched it.

At that moment, Tania looked at Rodrigo with determination.

—Rodrigo— she declared, —don't worry about us. We'll make it to Tula to help you, no matter what—

—We've been through worse— Anpiel remarked.

—Indeed, I won't die until I fight you again, Rodrigo-san— Susanoo vowed.

Empowered, Rodrigo shouted: —Don't worry about me! I'll get out of this too! See you in Tula!—

The three gods smiled, nodding in agreement, just as Bellona positioned herself behind the young tannin and struck him unconscious.