Chapter 112:

'That' that dwells the afterlife

Elyon - Gods among us

The night before the ritual where Epona was being treated ended, the members of Orniskem set up camp in front of the city's main kiva, waiting for the equine goddess to emerge the next day.

The kachina on top of the kiva and the priests below kept dancing tirelessly, even though almost eight days had passed. Smoke continued to emanate from the center of the enormous building, and around it, a kind of translucent white barrier had formed, preventing anyone from approaching due to the immense sacred power radiating from it.

The kiva was located on a kind of mound, accessible only by a staircase. The space of this sacred hill in relation to the other houses was quite large, giving a margin of a large paved esplanade in a circle between the houses and the temple. The gods settled in the square, laying out mats they had bought in the markets and some others that Ana had in her cabin.

The scene was lit by the full moon over the curious architecture, accompanied by countless stars. Around the city, bonfires burned as soldiers watched from the city's watchtowers. There was a hint of music and revelry throughout the city, showcasing its vibrant night life, as people enjoyed themselves, albeit without alcohol, as it wasn't consumed in this region.

—Impossible to have fun without a drop of beer— remarked Loki, who continued in his female form, sitting defiantly on one of the mats.

—It's better without it, Loki-san— commented Susanoo, who was also sitting in a lotus position on another mat.

—I agree with Susanoo, alcohol just messes with your brain— added Tania, who was sitting next to Ana.

Tul then took out several corn cakes from her bag, which she and Tania had prepared using the corn that Menrva had bought. Some were filled with meat and others with chard and mushrooms.

—Xiipalo'ob, Tania and I made these corn cakes. You'll see they're delicious!— said Tul as she handed a corn cake to each of the members.

Everyone started eating them and were amazed, while Tul looked pleased to see them enjoy.

—Tul-chan, you're undoubtedly an excellent cook— said Susanoo, enjoying his corn cake filled with bison meat and adorned with berry sauce and some chilies.

—Of course, I tried the local dishes to mimic their recipes— replied the joyful rabbit goddess. —When I tasted them, I knew immediately that everyone would enjoy them!—

Tania then remembered when she used to go down to Carthage to learn human cooking, and those memories filled her with nostalgia.

Anpiel, after almost finishing a corn cake filled only with chard, commented, —I'm sure Epona would enjoy this since it doesn't have meat—

Ana and Rodrigo looked concerned but continued eating.

—Don't worry, yuum Anpiel , we made several cakes. I'm sure she'll taste them when she wakes up— replied Tul to the angel.

Then, the rabbit goddess handed each member of Orniskem a cup filled with hot chocolate.

—What's this drink?— asked Menrva, puzzled by the frothy brown texture of her drink.

—This is produced from the seeds we use as money in this city. In fact, in Mayapán and in Tollan, it's really a form of currency— the rabbit goddess explained as she finally sat next to Tania.

Everyone blew a little on their drink and tasted it. At that moment, their eyes sparkled, and a huge smile appeared on everyone's lips.

—This tastes even better than ambrosia— Ana exclaimed in surprise, and everyone else nodded in agreement.

—A touch of alcohol and it would be perfect— Loki remarked.

—In some parts of Tula, I know they use pulque with this drink, which is the alcoholic beverage of our cultural region— said Tul.

—Now I understand why that seed was so valuable— commented Anpiel. —What's this drink called?—

—In my land, it's called chukwa, but the one made in Tula is more popular: 'Chocolatl'— replied Tul.

—I was also amazed by the taste when Tul let me try it; it's truly wonderful— Tania said cheerfully.

At that moment, Tul made the gesture she always made for Tania to praise her. The goddess petted her, and the rabbit goddess purred with joy. Tania had already learned to recognize several of her new companion's gestures.

—It's fortunate that Tul also knew how to cook, because if I had to rely on Ana in the kitchen, instead of cakes, we'd be eating charcoal right now— Tania teased, causing Ana to give her a disapproving look.

Everyone began to laugh, but soon realized that Tul was having a fit of laughter.

—Hey, rabbit girl, are you mocking me or what?— Ana asked defiantly, seeing the rabbit goddess clutching her stomach while continuing to laugh.

—No, no, sorry... it just made me laugh so much, ch'úupal— Tul continued to laugh as she apologized.

—You shouldn't be so rude to Tul-chan, Ana-hime— Anpiel said, hoping to keep the two goddesses from clashing.

—You stay out of this, Susanoo— Ana retorted, as everyone continued to laugh.

After eating, Rodrigo turned to look at the gigantic kiva and gazed at it nostalgically.

—I hope tomorrow we can all eat and laugh together— said the young tannin.

—Is she special to you, chan Rodrigo?— asked Tul, approaching the young tannin. —You must tell everything to your kiik—

—Well, she and I are... a couple— said Rodrigo bashfully. Those words echoed loudly in Ana's ears, but she chose to remain silent.

—Don't worry, chan, she'll be fine, I promise— the rabbit goddess said as she petted the young man's head.

Ana, as if by reflex, got up from beside Tania and sat next to Rodrigo, discreetly pushing Tul aside.

—I also support you, Tul. She'll be fine— she said.

—And you've learned your lesson, little Tul. You'll earn a shove from Ana if you touch her 'Rui'— Loki teased sarcastically, and Anpiel began to laugh.

—Ooh! It's a love triangle!— the rabbit goddess exclaimed excitedly. This caused Ana to blush while Rodrigo was left speechless.

—And with this, our lovely little Tul becomes the last person in the group to find out— Loki commented, still speaking cynically.

—Of course not, he's my disciple, you perverts!— Ana yelled angrily.

—I'm the newbie here, but I noticed from the first day I saw you two together— Freyja commented, raising her hand.

Everyone continued to laugh, while Ana turned to Rodrigo, telling him to ignore them.

—Besides, Loki, you're just jealous because the other day you told me you loved me— Ana teased, looking at the Norse god.

—Oh wow, the plot of this comedy thickens— Menrva remarked animatedly, eating popcorn from a plate.

—Loki!— Freyja yelled furiously upon hearing that.

—Well, I won't deny it like others. Too bad I can't compete against your 'Rui'— the Norse god remarked nonchalantly.

Freyja then got up and kicked Loki in the stomach so hard that it caused a shockwave. The Norse god doubled over and fell face-first onto the ground, writhing in pain.

—I'm sorry, I need to put a leash on this dog— the goddess of beauty said, lifting Loki onto her shoulder and walking away.

—Was that the intermission?— Menrva asked, laughing, while Anpiel approached the goddess to also eat some popcorn.

—Our trio grew into a quartet! This group is amazing!— Tul exclaimed again. Everyone laughed except for Ana and Rodrigo, who was redder than a cherry.

—What was that, you bastard?— Freyja asked Loki, who had blood in his mouth from the kick the Norse goddess had given him.

The two were a few streets away from where the gods were camped. The goddess had set Loki on the ground and was questioning him about Ana's comment.

—I just expressed how I feel about that girl. Is it a sin to love someone?— Loki asked, still in pain from the kick.

—You're just scum who uses women as objects— Freyja said angrily. —What about your wife? You haven't even seen her—

—Oh, the woman who cheated on her husband every time he went on a trip, is talking to me about morality?— Loki said with an annoyed look.

Freyja kicked Loki again at those words.

—Does it still hurt? Knowing you enjoy the cocks of several men in your mouth more than the love your husband gave you? And you talk to me about faithfulness?— Loki retorted defiantly, still coughing and spitting blood.

—You're scum!— Freyja yelled angrily. —I was so foolish to think you had changed—

—I have changed... and I didn't lie nor plan to use her— Loki said.

—That girl truly makes me feel things I've never felt before, and I'm willing to risk my life to help and protect her— he confessed.

—What about your wife? Do you know how much she suffered taking care of you?— Freyja asked.

—In the same place as your husband, who only had eyes for you. What's his name? Cuckold? Naive?... Oh yes, I remember now, Ódr— Loki replied, getting up.

Freyja wanted to punch Loki in the face but restrained herself. Something deep down told her Loki wasn't lying, and although she disapproved of the idea, she knew she shouldn't interfere.

—If you break that girl's heart, I'll rip off your balls and make you eat them— Freyja said furiously, turning halfway around.

—If they don't end up in your mouth first, lusty goddess— Loki retorted cynically, struggling to get up after the goddess's blows.

Freyja and Loki returned to the camp where the gods were singing and laughing while Tul danced joyfully to the rhythm of the songs. Freyja quickly joined the chorus, while Loki sat on his mat and remained silent. They spent the night awake like that.

The next morning, only Tania, Rodrigo, and Anpiel had stayed awake. Rodrigo looked concerned, while Ana was lying asleep on his shoulder. Tania had Tul lying on her lap, and she lovingly stroked her head. Susanoo was sleeping in his lotus position, while Freyja and Loki were each lying on their respective mats. Menrva had fallen asleep sitting next to Anpiel, who just stared at the sky, turning orange at the desert sunrise.

At that moment, a terrible noise echoed throughout the area. A sound so strong and horrifying that it made the entire city shake as if an earthquake struck. Several clay pots shattered from the ensuing shockwave.

Everyone woke up to the horrible noise that came from inside the kiva, which trembled as if it were an erupting volcano. The priests and kachinas who had been dancing non-stop until that day finally stopped, and the smoke from the room ceased.

—What was that noise?— Ana asked frightenedly, getting up abruptly from Rodrigo's shoulder. The young man looked at the massive structure with a fear he had never felt before.

—I've never heard such a noise— Menrva exclaimed, watching Anpiel whisper Epona's name softly with a look of horror.

Tul had also gotten up from Tania's lap and looked at the kiva in front of them with a look of uncertainty. Tania just gritted her teeth in rage. —Is this what you heard, Eshmun?— she wondered.

Loki and Freyja also looked with terror and uncertainty at what was happening. But then, Susanoo stood up and donned his totema.

—Mina-san, I don't know what's happening inside that temple, but we must be ready to fight to save Epona-chan— he said, drawing his sword.

—Susanoo is right, it's time to fight— Menrva added, putting on her totema too.

—We cannot wait for whatever sounded inside to destroy this town that was so kind to us— she said.

Everyone nodded and donned their totemas, except for Ana and Freyja, whose totemas were being repaired, and Tul, who did not have such an outfit. But at that moment, the sky turned black, so dark that nothing could be seen, much like the technique of the king of Tula. A huge tremor began to shake the entire city, while black lightning emanated from the kiva, which, due to the immense power starting to manifest, the white barrier that covered the structure shattered into pieces.

At that moment, all members of Orniskem felt something they had never felt in their lives. A divine power so powerful, so elevated, that it made the power of Ares combined with his children seem insignificant. The power of Anath or the power of Heshuka would only be a nuisance against this monstrous power. It could easily consume the entire universe if it wanted.

Words could not describe it; it was something so atrocious that Rodrigo and the others paled and felt at that moment that there was no hope.

—Epona... Did you saw this?— Ana wondered nervously, just as a demonic face formed from a dark gas that began to emerge from the kiva. From the face, several anguished faces began to emerge, all with huge fangs and white eyes that terrified the members of Orniskem.

—Mina-san! We must not doubt! It's our enemy, and we must defeat it!— Susanoo shouted, trying to rally the group.

Everyone snapped out of their fear-induced daze and prepared to fight. But at that moment, the Speaking God appeared behind them and ordered them to stop.

—Can you defeat it?— Menrva asked the god, who, unlike other days, was wearing an all-white outfit that shone like a gem. Upon closer inspection, his mask resembled a minimalist drawing of a corn plant instead of a mouth and nose.

—No, I could never defeat it. I doubt anyone could defeat such an abyssal power— the god confessed.

—But we must do something!— Tania shouted.

—Our friend is in there!— Ana added, also shouting.

—Of course, your friend carried that germ. That egg inside her, like a parasite, was destroying her from the inside until she was left as just an empty shell— the Diné deity said, continuing to walk toward the kiva.

—Did the ritual went wrong?— Anpiel asked.

—Is this what Epona saw in the afterlife?— Ana asked fearfully.

—No, that is just an egg. What your friend saw was infinitely bigger and more powerful— the Speaking God replied.

Everyone was dumbfounded. Was an egg from that monster more powerful than all the gods combined? It sounded insane.

—As I said, I can't defeat it, but we will use all our power to eject it from our universe and send it back to its dimension. Thanks to this land being protected by the great Tawa, it will be possible— the Speaking God continued.

—Us? Do you want us to help?— Ana asked.

—He means us— three voices identical to the Speaking God's echoed. Behind him, three gods appeared, dressed exactly like the Diné god, with the difference being their colors. One shone blue, another red, and the last one black.

—These are my brothers, the Water God, the House God, and the Black God. Together, we will send this abomination back to its dimension— the Speaking God stated.

—It's incredible; the four of you have such impressive power— Freyja remarked in awe. At that moment, the goddess realized that the Norse gods were just a small part of this world, and more powerful beings existed beyond them.

—The Spider Grandmother and I, and the kachina inside the kiva, we all knew this would happen. We knew what we were up against— the Speaking God continued.

—But we couldn't let that girl die because of these interdimensional marauders. It's not the first time we've sent one of these beasts back to its world, and this won't be the last— he said resolutely.

—Epona, you carried that creature inside you and still moved forward... and I was jealous over nonsense... You are genuinely a strong woman, and I admire you for it!— Ana thought, feeling ashamed of her previous thoughts about her friend and Rodrigo.

Without wasting time, each of the brothers positioned themselves at different points of the mount that raised the kiva. They all began an invocation, lifting their arms, while the priests and kachina resumed their ritual despite the overpowering dark energy emanating in the area.

The demonic face from the dark cloud began to show signs of agony as it started to twist in a psychedelic manner. The emanation began to emit a sharp, deafening scream.

At that moment, corn plants began to emerge around the kiva. They grew rapidly, showing the cobs birthed within them. The ones from the Speaking God were golden, while those from the other three were the colors of their energies, blue, red, and black.

The Speaking God and his brothers began to writhe in pain, but they kept their hands raised towards the kiva until the white barrier surrounding the monument took on the shape of a 3D diamond. The demonic emanation tried to expand, taking the lives of several kachinas and priests in its path, but they continued dancing, unfazed by the consequences.

The giant diamond began to spin rapidly, and the dark cloud started shrinking, making agonizing screams that echoed throughout Chaco.

The four gods screamed, and the diamond shattered into pieces. Within the floating shards, the dark cloud was visible, but it was no longer physically present in the sky. The shards were then absorbed by the atmosphere, carrying away the grotesque monster.

The sky returned to normal, and the tremors ceased. Dawn's light began to illuminate Chaco again, although the city had suffered significant damage due to the unfortunate phenomenon.

The four gods fell to the ground, exhausted from the immense effort they exerted in sending one of those creatures back to its dimension. The members of Orniskem finally grasped their insignificance in a world they didn't fully understand.

Rodrigo then looked towards the kiva and saw her. It was Epona standing atop the monument. The goddess had regained her figure; her hair was golden again, and her face was free from wrinkles. Her hair looked longer since she hadn't cut it in a month, but she looked as beautiful as ever.

Rodrigo ran towards the kiva, climbed the stairs, took off his totema's helmet, and surprised Epona with a kiss, hugging her tightly.

—I missed you so much, Ep. I feared the worst— Rodrigo said, his voice full of emotion. Epona, with teary eyes, kissed him back with all her might.

—I knew you'd be the first person I'd see— the Celtic goddess replied with a smile, snuggling into the young tannin's chest.

The members of Orniskem cheered with joy because their friend was finally back.