Elyon - Gods among us
—What happened?— Rodrigo asked from the ground after crashing against the barrier that protected Chaco.
Tania and the others began to get up, as they had no idea what had happened or where they were. All they saw were massive canyons shaped by desert erosion, with the ground being arid and only populated by a few shrubs. The moon illuminated the huge brown mountains in the distance.
—Tul, tell me... are you sure the last thing you used wasn't sleeping powder?— Tania asked with a smiling and almost homicidal look, seeing the nervous rabbit goddess, who realized her mistake in choosing her ingredients.
—Ch'úupal, I thought it was my energy mix of peyote with sik'ar and epazote; but I must have picked the wrong ingredients— said Tul, very nervous, and then she threw herself on the ground and bowed her head. —I'm sorry! It was my mistake— she said, completely ashamed.
—How do your mixes work, Tul-chan?— Susanoo asked, approaching the rabbit goddess with a huge smile.
—Well, every night I prepare medicines and concoctions that I store in a pocket dimension, which I access through this bag— explained Tul. —In my bag, however, I also keep my medicine-making tools like my mortar and pestle, knives, containers, and some emergency herbs—
The rabbit goddess stood up proudly with her hands on her hips and boasted: —In fact, I was named a dzac yah from a very young age—
—And that... is?— Tania asked, still unimpressed.
—An expert healer. I know all the functions of the herbs around me and know how to use them to cure both human and divine diseases— continued Tul, boasting proudly.
—So, Tul, how could someone as expert in medicines confuse an energy potion with sleeping powder?— Tania asked, still unimpressed.
—Uhh!— exclaimed Tul with a surprised expression and quickly looked away.
—Don't worry, Tania— Menrva commented as she also got up. —We've already reached Chaco—
—Wow, it seems that, instinctively, we were able to follow the route we saw on your map, Menrva— said Tania as she stood up.
—If I could maintain this transformation for more than a minute, we wouldn't have had to stop or rely on Tul's energy drinks— Rodrigo commented disappointedly.
—I also can't maintain my manticore transformation for long— added Tania. —We've just started pushing our limits, Rodrigo. Don't feel bad—
—And don't you think... soldiers are approaching us with weapons?— Freyja asked as she saw a crowd of Hisatsinom warriors surrounding them, pointing their bows and spears at them.
—We're not here to cause trouble; we come in peace— said Anpiel, raising her hands as he stood up, but none of the warriors understood him.
And then Rodrigo saw her. It was Ana, dressed in a long white skirt held at her shoulder and tightened at her waist with a red sash. The dress had black and red geometric patterns and reached her ankles, where she wore brown moccasins. The goddess had her beautiful dark hair loose, blowing in the slight breeze.
Next to Ana was the Speaking God, wearing a white mask with a minimalist face drawn on it, and his long brown hair waving in the wind, crowned by a headdress of white and black feathers. He was dressed in a brown tunic with a green belt around his waist, and he wore a necklace of shiny blue beads. His arms were covered with leather gloves, and his feet in furry boots that seemed bear-like. Even though his face was covered, it was evident that the god was quite upset.
But before the Speaking God could say anything, Ana ran to Rodrigo and hugged him, even though the young man was still seated on the ground. Rodrigo couldn't help noticing that Ana looked thinner, her skin paler with dark circles under her eyes and her hair disheveled.
—I knew you'd come back, Rui!— Ana said as she squeezed Rodrigo tightly, tears flowing from her eyes.
—And Epona... is she okay?— Rodrigo asked.
At that moment, something broke in Ana's heart.
—Couldn't he ask about me first?— she wondered.
—She's undergoing treatment, she'll be back to her old self soon— Ana replied, letting go of Rodrigo and looking at him with eyes he had never seen before. They showed a mix of sadness and disappointment. Ana hadn't meant to give Rodrigo that look, but she couldn't help it.
—I'm glad to see you too, Ana— Tania commented sarcastically.
—The feeling is mutual, Tania— Ana replied.
—Well, I can tell that you all are indeed friends— the Speaking God finally commented, approaching the group as they stood up again.
—My name is Haashchʼééłtiʼí, but you can call me Speaking God; I am in charge of the military defenses of the Hisatsinom realms— the Diné deity said. —I'm sorry that Spider Grandmother, the ruler of this region, cannot receive you, but we will try to provide good hospitality for all of you—
Anpiel stood up and bowed to the Speaking God.
—We will be very grateful, great Haashchʼééłtiʼí— she said.
—Really? You managed to pronounce it correctly on the first try?— Freyja asked in surprise.
—I've been here for several days and I still can't say that name— Ana said apologetically.
—Wait a moment— the Speaking God said, looking at Rodrigo and Tul more closely. —Aren't you travelers from Tula and Mayapán?—
—I am indeed from Mayapán, from a village called Cazumel — Tul said.
—I'm not from Tula, although I've been told I look like an ancient king who lived there— Rodrigo said.
—Yes, I told him he looks identical to Kukulkan— Tul said with a smile.
—It's just not common for people from the south to come to these lands, as an evil god named 'Coyote' has taken over the desert at the south— the Speaking God commented.
—Actually, I couldn't even pass through the Chichimeca realms; somehow, I ended up in Cahokia, to the north— Tul replied apologetically.
—Well, we can talk more comfortably inside Chaco. Please come in— the Speaking God said, and at that moment, the soldiers stopped aiming at the gods and stood at attention.
Rodrigo, who realized too late that he hadn't asked Ana about her current situation, quickly got up and approached the goddess.
—I didn't ask about you because I heard Epona was in a very worrying condition— Rodrigo tried to apologize. —But I do want to know if you're okay too, Ana—
—I'm fine, Rui. Thanks for caring— Ana replied with a smile, although Rodrigo knew she was very upset inside.
—What was that? Jealousy?— Ana wondered. —It's natural for him to immediately worry about the woman he loves, especially after she almost died—
At that moment, Ana began to understand that she wouldn't have reacted this way if Loki hadn't planted those strange ideas in her mind.
—That jerk— she continued thinking, —I'll give him a piece of my mind when I see him again—
—I'm sorry, Ana— Anpiel approached the Irish goddess as they continued walking toward Chaco.
—Menrva told us that Epona was in a very bad state after her encounter with Anath. I would like to know if she's out of danger— he asked.
Ana remained silent and remembered Epona's condition. While she trusted that the ritual would work, she feared that if they saw Epona in her current state, they might blame her for not doing enough to help.
—She... is okay, Anpiel— the Irish goddess said, trying to force a smile.
—Then why do you look so worn out?— the angel asked insistently.
Ana didn't say anything, but she felt a strong urge to cry, although she held back. Anpiel, on the other hand, understood the indirect message and decided not to press further, but she sensed the grave situation she and Epona had experienced in the past month.
Finally, they entered Chaco, where the Speaking God led them to the guest house where Ana and Loki had stayed.
Tul looked at the great city in amazement, her mouth agape. She had seen the majestic cities of Mayapán, like the recently abandoned Bàak' or the current capital of Mayapán: Chichén Itzá. But the sheer sight of new architecture and cultures filled her with joy and excitement. Susanoo looked at her with eyes full of love at the evident excitement of the rabbit goddess.
—Who's that girl?— Rodrigo asked as he entered the room reserved for Ana and Epona, seeing Loki, now in a female form, inside.
Loki, like Ana, wore a similar outfit, as it was the Hisatsinom way of dressing. The difference between him and Ana was that Loki had tied his long hair into a ponytail. Additionally, he had chosen a dress with a neckline to accentuate his breasts.
The Norse god quickly approached Rodrigo and began to caress the young man's face with his index finger, while making his breasts touch his body.
—Wouldn't you like to find out who I am in a private room, boy?— Loki asked the nervous young man, who didn't know what to say.
At that moment, Ana appeared behind them and, with a punch, hit Loki, who fell flat on the ground, slightly cracking the floor.
—Stop taking advantage of Rodrigo's innocence, you deviant— Ana said.
Freyja approached Loki and looked at him with disdain as she said: —Pathetic—. Immediately, she turned around and left him lying there, face down on the floor.
The gods then sat down in the room where Ana and Epona were staying, arranging themselves in a circular formation. In the center of the room, warm air emanated from a pipe connected throughout the building to provide warmth in the cold desert. The torches were also lit.
—I'm really glad you're okay, Ana— Tania commented with a smile. —When Menrva told us you encountered Anath, I feared the worst—
—We survived thanks to Thor's sacrifice; otherwise, she would have killed us without a doubt— Ana said melancholically, at which point Freyja visibly winced in pain and sadness at her words.
—Although, the good news is that we found Odin, and he offered to help us if we encounter problems in the future. Freyja is here to help us get to Tula— Ana continued explaining.
—Freyja, I am very grateful for your help— Tania said to the Nordic blonde goddess, to which Freyja gestured that it was no big deal.
—I've decided to help you not just here. I heard from Ana that the planet where Athena was has lost communication, so my brother, when he arrives in Asgard, will give us more information about it— Freyja said.
—That would be a great help in easing the terrible uncertainty we're facing— Anpiel commented.
—But like you, I also want to make that damned bitch Anath pay for Thor's death; although, she must be rotting in Jotunheimr now— Freyja added.
—Hold on, Freyja— Anpiel interrupted. —Athena told us that an elohim was the one who freed Loki from there. Couldn't she do it again with one of her kind?—
—We reinforced the dimensional walls of the prison with more than a thousand shields this time— Freyja replied.
—That will be useless— Loki interrupted mockingly.
—What do you mean, Loki?— Freyja asked in confusion.
—That woman went through the dimensional walls like they were butter. It's as if her body was a massive sword— Loki replied.
—Loki's right— Tania said. —I know that woman; there's no barrier that can contain her—
—Are you saying that... Asgard and all of Yggdrasil are in danger if that woman helps Anath escape?— Freyja asked, alarmed.
—Indeed— Tania replied with a bitter look, as she herself remembered her encounter with Baalat and touched her scar in her cheek.
—I need to contact my brother immediately... please excuse me— Freyja said, getting up and running out of the room by leaping up the stairs.
—I hope Yggdrasil remains standing— Anpiel commented disappointedly. Everyone nodded.
—By the way— Ana said after a brief moment of silence, —who's this lovely bunny that's with you?— she asked.
Tul quickly stood up and gave a slight bow.
—I am from the kingdom of Mayapán, and my name is Tu'ul-Uj, but you can call me Tul— the rabbit goddess said.
—She's a friend I met in Cahokia, and she decided to join us to explore the world— Tania explained.
—Additionally, Tul-chan is an expert herbalist and has a wide range of magical potions for both attack and support— Susanoo abruptly interjected.
—She's a skilled fighter, a great warrior, a beautiful mage, and also...— Susanoo continued, getting increasingly excited, when he was interrupted by a smack from Tania.
—I'll do what I can to support you— Tul said somewhat embarrassed by the Oriental god's words.
—She's Tania's adoptive daughter— Anpiel stated firmly.
—Stop misinterpreting things, Anpiel!— Tania snapped at the angel.
At that moment, Tania noticed Tul still standing.
—Tul, you can sit down now. Your introduction is over— the Punic goddess said, to which the rabbit goddess nodded and sat back down.
Everyone let out a discreet laugh as they saw how Tania treated Tul like a daughter, indeed as a strict mother.
But everything fell into a grave silence when Anpiel finally spoke: —Ana, I want you to tell us what happened in the Haida realm and why Epona is undergoing treatment right now—
—Yes, Ana. What happened with Epona?— Rodrigo nervously added.
The Irish goddess lowered her head and took a deep breath. —Alright, I believe it's my duty to talk about it— Ana finally said.
The Irish goddess recounted what had happened in Haida Gwaii, how they encountered Anath, and how Epona had been dead. She also explained the current state of the equine goddess. Rodrigo swallowed nervously as he finally understood why he heard the voice of the equine goddess saying goodbye to him.
—Strange voices? A monstrous creature at the moment of death?— Tania asked.
—Yes, Epona described it that way— Ana said with concern.
—It's possible then that Epona might have seen one of the dwellers that Eshmun mentioned to me some time ago— Tania commented.
—Does that mean Epona didn't imagine it all?— Ana asked, puzzled.
Tania shook her head.
—They're just legends about beings that appear when we die, but if we resurrect before those creatures show up, we won't lose our consciousness. Otherwise, it seems that being feeds on it— Tania explained.
—So, did Epona see that creature but resurrected before it attacked her?— Ana asked.
—The most unsettling thing here is the fact that you're all talking so casually about 'resurrecting oneself'— Menrva interjected.
—Ignoring mythological cases like Jesus Christ, Buddha, or even Heracles; the mere thought that someone, without the intervention of another Earth or Venus god, could resurrect themselves is nearly unbelievable— Tania commented.
—Well, I saw it— Loki interrupted. —The girl was already dead, her eyes were vacant, and her body was cold. Suddenly, I heard her cough, and that's when I gave her mead— he concluded.
—That sounds incredible— Anpiel commented.
—But Epona has always been an Earth goddess, right?— Menrva asked.
—Yes, she's an Earth goddess. But still, I haven't heard of an Earth goddess resurrecting herself. Someone or something did it— Tania mused.
—Well, why don't we talk to her about this matter when she's recovered?— Ana suggested.
—I don't want to be pessimistic, guys— Menrva interrupted once again. —But we don't know what happened to Athena and Pallas, and I believe that reaching Tula should be our top priority above all else—
—Are you suggesting we leave Epona here and march to Tula?— Tania asked.
—Yes, it's necessary for Rodrigo to awaken his power to the fullest, and for that, he must find his true totema— Menrva commented. —That has always been Athena's plan, for Rodrigo to regain his full power to face Lel— she concluded.
Then, Menrva touched her arm and continued speaking.
—I'm ashamed to admit it, but in the face of this boy's newfound power, I'm just a hindrance. And if he truly is the king of Tula as many have mentioned, I'm sure his power will be even more immense— she said.
—It's not that big of a deal, Menrva; I've just... gotten a bit stronger— the young man said sheepishly.
—So you're back to being shy and insecure when you lose that state— Menrva thought, disappointed in Rodrigo's attitude.
At that moment, Rodrigo felt Ana's hand touching his, and he turned to look at her.
—You promised you'd become stronger than me to protect us... and you did it in record time. Congratulations!— the goddess said with a huge smile.
—Stronger than you, Menrva, but not stronger than me— an excited Tania declared with a satisfied smile.
—Well— Rodrigo interrupted, —let's get back to the point about Tula—
—Are you okay with leaving Epona to finish her treatment here while we continue on to Tula— the Etruscan goddess asked.
—I'm sorry, but I'll stay here with Epona— Rodrigo said.
Menrva stood up angrily and agitated.
—Rodrigo— she said, —do you understand that while we're here, we don't know Athena's whereabouts?—
—I understand— Rodrigo replied somewhat nervously but also with frustration.
—But I won't leave Epona alone here, nor do I want any of you to stay. I want to be the first person she sees when the ritual is over— he added.
—Your obligations come first!— an annoyed Menrva shouted.
—My obligations?— Rodrigo asked.
—Doesn't Athena have an army to defend herself? Epona only has us!— the young tannin protested.
—I'm worried about Athena, and I'm grateful for your support on Mars— Rodrigo continued, now in a more confident and frustrated tone.
—But my responsibilities towards my loved ones are greater. Am I just that to you? A tool? Is it only important to you that I become stronger to serve Athena?— Rodrigo responded, his frustration evident.
Menrva stood up furiously and grabbed the young man by his clothing collar.
—Do you forget that Athena trusted you with this mission?— she said with a threatening glare.
Without warning, the Etruscan goddess received a powerful blow to her cheek, sending her crashing into the wall of the room. It was Ana, furious with the goddess.
—Rui is not a tool!— the Irish goddess shouted furiously. —I'm worried about my teacher too, you're not the only one, Menrva!—
—If we've come this far, it's because we trust each other and support each other in the toughest times— Tania said seriously, while Menrva got up, spitting a bit of blood from her mouth.
—I tried to kill Rodrigo a while ago because I was focused on my selfish matters rather than the friendship he offered me— Tania continued explaining. —For that reason, I won't abandon Epona. We still don't know if the ritual will succeed, and she'll need our support fully—
Tul was shocked by Tania's words. Although she was alarmed by the fact that Tania had attempted a crime, she also understood that it was part of the growth of the caring and kind goddess she had met in prison.
—There's no need to fight— Anpiel commented, trying to calm everyone down. —We haven't rested in a month, and I don't think five more days will change Pallas's fate much—
—As I see it, if Pallas was invaded when we left, what difference do five more days make if we've been wandering for over two months since we left Asgard?— Anpiel continued.
Menrva understood the angel's words and accepted her defeat.
—You're right, I apologize for going too far— she said.
—Menrva-san, why don't you return to Asgard to find out about Athena-sama's whereabouts?— Susanoo asked in a very serious tone.
—Rodrigo-san is worried about Epona-chan, just as you're worried about Athena-sama— he added.
Menrva fell silent for a moment and lowered her head.
—As tempting as it may be, my duty is to protect you all— she said. —Besides, I think I've grown fond of all of you—
—I'm sorry for the slap, Menrva— Ana apologized, a bit embarrassed about her impulsive actions.
—No, I deserved it... forgive me, Rodrigo— the Etruscan goddess said.
—Don't worry, Menrva. I'm worried just like you. Epona saved your life, right?— Rodrigo said with a smile.
Menrva realized that she was just trying to appear strong and sat back down.
—Alright, let's rest for five days in this city, and let's hope Epona recovers in that time— Menrva said.
Freyja then leapt through the hole in the room's roof and gracefully landed on the floor. She had a communication crystal in her hand.
—Guys, I have some news to discuss with you— she said.
—Is Asgard alright?— Tania asked.
—Yes and no— Freyja replied. —Anath is persistently trying to destroy the dimensional shields that keep her imprisoned. She managed to break fifty of them at once, although they are restored immediately. Heimdall believes it's only a matter of time before the goddess escapes with her immense brute strength— she explained.
—So, she hasn't made contact with Lel?— Menrva asked, puzzled.
—It's impossible for her to communicate from the prison, and since she came alone, Lel might not yet realize her whereabouts— Freyja commented.
—But having her there is a ticking time bomb— Loki retorted.
—It is, so Father communicated with Heimdall to issue an evacuation order for all of Yggdrassil— Freyja said, a heavy pain in her chest and almost tears in her eyes, although she was trying to hold it together.
—They haven't even been able to retrieve Thor's body from the prison— she said in a choked voice.
Moving all of Yggdrassil from there. Thousands of years of culture lost because of a monster trapped inside. It was something so sad and unbelievable that it was hard to process.
—Damn Lel— Loki muttered, bowing his head in frustration.
—On the other hand, Father has already sent Vidar to investigate Athena's whereabouts, but since Pallas is a hidden planet, he hasn't been able to gather any information about it— the Nordic goddess continued, her head hanging low.
—That's true, I forgot about that little detail— Ana commented.
—But... it seems that two months ago, there was a massive mobilization of an army from Olympus— Freyja continued explaining.
—Are you saying that... it was possibly the gods of Olympus who attacked Pallas?— Menrva asked, surprised.
—If the conjectures are true, then it must be— the Nordic goddess continued.
—Just when things couldn't get any worse— Ana said frustratedly.
—Who are the gods of Olympus?— Rodrigo asked.
—They are the strongest gods under Lel, assigned to what is now called the 'Eastern Roman Empire.' My teacher was part of that pantheon— Ana replied.
—Well, I think it's time to consider her dead. That monster named Heracles in their ranks is known to be the strongest god in the universe— Loki responded cynically.
—Not stronger than Melqart, one of Lel's elohim— Tania commented. —But I have heard stories of the brute power of that deity. He was as strong as his father when he was a demigod, but he managed to become a full-fledged god, and his power increased hundreds or possibly thousands of times over—
—Wait, how strong are we talking about?— Rodrigo asked.
At this point, Menrva started laughing.
—What's gotten into you, Menrva?— Ana asked.
—I get it now. Athena knew that Olympus would attack her, which is why she needed Rodrigo with his maximum power— the goddess said. —Only he can defeat Heracles if he uses his hidden power to the fullest—
—Me? How powerful am I?— the young tannin asked.
—We have no idea, but he's the guardian of the entrance to Olympus. And if Athena wants you to defeat him, it's because she knew that we would have to rescue her in that world— Menrva commented.
—Rescue her? Are you implying that Athena is now a prisoner of Olympus?— Anpiel asked.
—I'm almost certain of it. She's the most dangerous criminal in the universe. Still, I fear for the other inhabitants of Pallas— the Etruscan goddess replied.
Menrva then stood up and looked at all her companions.
—Athena didn't just send me to take care of you; she wanted all of us, including me, to become stronger to face Olympus and defeat Zeus himself— she said with greater confidence now.
—And the best training is to break the limits of this anti-divinity barrier, like Rodrigo and Tania have done— the goddess commented.
—Breaking the barrier... Menrva-sana means flying?— Susanoo asked.
—Not just flying. I suppose that's the most basic level we can achieve here, and that's why the toughest test is about to come to us, the realm of Tula— Menrva said.
At that moment, she smiled and shouted: —Let's become stronger and save Athena when we achieve it!—
—Even me?— Tul asked nervously.
—With us, you'll become so powerful that they won't recognize you in your realm— Tania said cheerfully.
Freyja then smiled and shouted: —And I intend to do the same too!—
Everyone laughed in unison.
The gods continued talking throughout the night because everyone, except for Loki, had rested enough to stay awake.