Elyon - Gods among us
To the south of the Samalayucan desert, a range of gigantic mountains stretches out in the middle of the desert. These mountains did not rise from the desert; in fact, the gods partially saw a group of them when they were in the Hisatsinom territories. It's a mountain range that crosses almost the entire northern continent, from the Haida territories.
On the foothills of these mountains, in the most fertile parts, the gods asked for shelter in one of the many villages they found. They were surprised that there were no gods living in this region; instead, people lived similarly to those on the other side of the world, relying on their own human effort. Although they couldn't understand anything, Anpiel, who spoke a bit of Tano, discovered that some of the older people in the village spoke it. Thanks to this, the villagers kindly took them to their tribal chief.
The people were called Rarámuri, known by that name for being excellent runners. They lived in small, almost family-like villages, and were dedicated to maize farming, similar to their northern neighbors. Anpiel was amazed to learn that this group was distantly related to the Hisatsinom, but this relationship had been broken years ago when Coyote became trapped in the Samalayucan desert. In some ways, this was why they had no gods looking after them, as the gods had stayed in the north.
The Rarámuri worshipped a single god named Onoruame, but Anpiel understood it to be the same concept as Tawa in Chaco. It was, again, the name of that demiurge deity that created the universe and was somehow a part of it. The men wore unique loincloths while the women wore colorful dresses. While the men farmed, the women wove clothes or baskets from wicker. Additionally, many had homes within the mountain caves surrounding them.
In the evenings, they had running and athletic games, where many of them placed bets. They were indeed a very peculiar people. After speaking with the siríame, or village chief, Anpiel realized they were quite a modest community, and the angel suggested helping with daily chores to repay their stay.
Thus, the gods ended up helping with farming, where Rodrigo, Susanoo, and Anpiel assisted the farmers with their harvests. Tul and Epona treated the population's ailments, while Ana, Tania, Freyja, and Menrva learned to weave and embroider with the local women. Tania also helped with the village's cooking. In the evening, Rodrigo and Anpiel raced against other Rarámuris without using divine powers... and they lost miserably. Hence, a village legend was born where their runners could even surpass the gods.
For lodging, the gods were offered a room inside a cave, furnished with just some mats for sleeping and clay utensils. Loki, who still couldn't move, had lain in the makeshift room all day. Ana brought him some food and a drink called kichari, water with ground maize, and fed him.
Finally, after an exhausting day, the members of Orniskem gathered in the cave to share their experiences, at Tania's suggestion, wanting everyone to have a sort of social circle. After a bit of laughter, Anpiel spoke of his past and his dream, although he omitted his feelings for Epona. Everyone laughed when he described his dream.
—Sorry, Anpiel, but... useless? Thanks to you and your language skills, we're here in this little village healing— Epona commented with laughter. All others agreed with the equine goddess's remarks.
Rodrigo also talked about his past, the little he knew, and his experiences in Spain, and the massacre he carried out with Almanzor's soldiers.
—Is that why you're afraid to kill?— asked Menrva. Rodrigo nodded.
Then Epona spoke of her past. Notably, not even Ana knew about the goddess's experiences as a child. She also told how Coyote took on the form of her Avalon siblings, but thanks to her powers, she was able to break the illusion before they could harm her.
Lastly, all eyes turned to Menrva, the only one who hadn't shared about herself. She apologized but chose to keep her story a secret for now.
—Don't worry, Menrva, take your time— Tania said with a smile. Menrva nodded.
That night, Menrva shared her sleeping mat with Freyja. The Etruscan goddess woke up and noticed Freyja had gone to the cave entrance to talk on the communication crystal. The next morning, before starting their morning tasks, Menrva asked Freyja why she hadn't slept. The Norse goddess admitted she wasn't sleepy, although her eyes looked tired - something she likely didn't want to admit. Ana, as always, was the last to get up, earning a nudge from Epona. The gods returned to the same tasks they had done the day before.
As Ana was weaving baskets, Epona finally mustered the courage and went to visit the Irish goddess, taking advantage of the fact that Ana was alone at that moment.
—I want to talk to you, Ana... about Rodrigo— said Epona with a somewhat depressed look.
—I've told you not to worry about such matters, mare— Ana replied, not paying her much attention.
—Of course, I do— Epona said anxiously. —I've always known you liked Rodrigo, and I understand you have conflicting thoughts about me—
—Epona, you're my friend. I just wish you both happiness— Ana said calmly. —I can't choose between you or Rodrigo, it's that simple—
—Then why did you dream about Rodrigo and me?— Epona insisted. —Did you see us... doing it?—
Ana remained silent as she continued weaving a wicker basket.
—Ana, you were the one who took care of me in my worst moments. I saw how you sacrificed for me— Epona said with a melancholic face. —There were times I thought of leaving you or killing myself... but that creature I saw terrified me, and my cowardice stopped me—
—I did it because I love you, Epona, I've told you— Ana said, not wanting to look at Epona.
—I love you too for everything, Ana— Epona replied. —That's why I've decided to break with Rodrigo, to repay you for all you did for me—
Ana looked at Epona, who had a downcast, depressed expression.
—No! Don't even think about saying that!— Ana yelled in anger, which surprised Epona.
—But it must be hard to see us like that— Epona said, taken aback.
—And how could I be happy knowing that decision will hurt both you and Rui?— Ana retorted.
Epona remained thoughtfully silent.
—In my dream that night, I finally got my answer, Epona— Ana added. Then, the Irish goddess summoned Excalibur and held it in her left hand.
—This sword only awakens with one's courage. My courage was to love you both and accept the conditions of that love— Ana remarked.
Ana made Excalibur disappear again.
—Although it was challenging to take care of you, I did it with joy and devotion. Seeing you kissing Rui is nothing. Besides, he's not the only man in this vast universe— Ana continued, smiling at Epona.
Epona was dumbfounded, watching Ana return to her basket weaving.
—Thank you, Ana— Epona replied shyly. —I wish I could repay your love somehow—
—Well, you still owe me that beer you promised in Ireland when we were enemies— Ana mentioned.
—How on earth can you remember that?!— Epona asked in astonishment.
—You were my first friend, mare— Ana laughed.
—When we rescue Athena, we'll drink till we drop— she declared.
Epona returned to her makeshift hospital, leaving Ana weaving baskets as the day again came to an end.
Once again, Rodrigo and Anpiel participated in the Rarámuri village marathon, and just like the day before, they were soundly defeated, coming in last.
That night, Menrva again saw Freyja get up to communicate with her brother. But the Etruscan goddess stopped her by grabbing her arm.
—You need rest, Freyja— Menrva said.
—But... I'm not sleepy— the Norse goddess replied, although her eyes looked tremendously tired.
—You're afraid to sleep because of what you saw with Coyote, aren't you?— Menrva asked. The Norse goddess looked away and denied it.
—She's too transparen— Menrva thought.
—Come on, Freyja, get back to bed— said the Etruscan goddess, making room for Freyja. The goddess hesitated a bit but then sat down again.
—I'm really not sleepy— the Norse goddess commented.
Menrva saw Freyja's arms trembling. It must have been tough for a proud and powerful goddess like Freyja to admit that the illusion Coyote made her live was too strong, even for her. Menrva stood up and hugged Freyja.
—I will protect you; you don't need to be afraid— she said. She then made Freyja lie down next to her again.
—I'm not scared... really!— Freyja nervously stated.
—In that case, you won't mind me hugging you all night— the Etruscan goddess replied.
Little by little, Freyja could feel herself relaxing, and her heart began to beat more calmly. Before long, both goddesses fell asleep, and finally, Freyja was able to rest that night. The goddess hadn't been able to sleep since regaining consciousness after Coyote's attack.
The next day, Tul came to visit Freyja, who was weaving a Rarámuri dress on a small loom.
—I've come to kidnap you, ch'úupal Freyja!— said the rabbit goddess with her characteristic smile.
—Kidnap me? What are you talking about, Tul?— Freyja asked, puzzled.
—Come with me. It's an assignment from ch'úupal Menrva— added the rabbit goddess, gesturing for Freyja to follow her.
Surprised, Freyja followed Tul, who was walking joyfully while eating a small guava with enthusiasm.
They both arrived at a small hut made of logs and an improvised roof, where Menrva was attending to the Rarámuri who had accidents or were feeling unwell. The two goddesses saw Epona playing with some children at the entrance of the hut.
—Is it time, Tul?— Epona asked, turning to look at the goddesses.
—Yes, I'll need some privacy, if it's not too much trouble, ch'úupal— Tul replied.
Epona then crouched down and said something to the children in the Rarámuri language. Freyja was surprised to see that the goddess was trying to learn that language, just like Anpiel was.
—Very well, I'll go see Rodrigo and be back in an hour, alright?— the equine goddess asked, and Tul nodded.
Epona then departed, and the children bid farewell to the goddess. Tul also said something to them in the Rarámuri language, drawing a big smile and a thumbs-up.
—Each of them is doing their best to understand and coexist with the humans in this small village— Freyja thought, surprised because it was the first time she had seen something like this. Having always lived in a violent and savage culture, coexisting and understanding other civilizations were not part of Freyja's way of thinking. Conquering, enslaving, and massacring while dying in heroic battles – that was the life of a Viking. But here, despite the mental struggles she was going through, she could feel, after many centuries of life, a feeling similar to peace.
The two goddesses entered the hut, where there was only a mat and some clay and mud utensils. Tul had various tools on blankets, along with water and various herbs. Next to her instruments was her classic volcanic stone mortar and pestle with a rabbit face.
—Why did you want me here?— Freyja asked, puzzled when she saw Tul gesturing for her to lie on the mat where they examined patients.
—Ch'úupal Menrva told me you have post-traumatic syndrome from what Coyote made you suffer in your nightmares— the rabbit goddess commented.
—Oh! No! I've already overcome that!— Freyja said embarrassed. —Can't you see I'm a proud Viking warrior?—
—Then why are your arms trembling, ch'uupal?— Tul asked, surprised.
Once again, Freyja saw that her arms wouldn't stop trembling. The goddess felt frustrated.
—This is none of your business!— she said angrily and tried to leave the room.
—We're all here to help each other— Tul commented. —No matter how strong you are, sometimes we all need a helping hand—
—You don't understand, Tul— Freyja said, still upset. —I'm a warrior; being sexually abused shouldn't mean anything to someone who has seen the horrors of war—
—So what are you afraid of, ch'uupal?— Tul asked with a serious look.
The rabbit goddess knelt next to the mat where patients lay and began mixing liquids with herbs while continuing to talk to Freyja, who had remained motionless at the entrance of the hut.
—People here don't have many resources, but they help each other. That's the true strength in both humans and gods—
Freyja fell silent, still standing, looking down at the floor. Her eyes were watery, and she wanted to cry but tried to hold back her tears.
Tul finished making a concoction and offered it to the goddess.
—Go ahead, drink this. It will help calm you a bit— she said.
Freyja tasted it, but it was very bitter, and she made a disgusted face.
—Yes, it doesn't taste good, but it works as an antidepressant— the rabbit goddess said. —You'll see; it will help you—
The Norse goddess took a deep breath, drank it all, and handed the cup back to Tul. Then, she looked at the pure smile of the Maya goddess and felt much calmer.
—All right, let's do this— Freyja said and lay down on the mat to treat patients. Tul then sat on her knees next to the goddess.
—Let's work a bit on your mind, ch'uupal— the rabbit goddess commented.
—Every day, you'll come to see me at this time, and we'll talk about your dream. Our goal will be to eliminate the emotional damage it has caused you, implanting a new reality— she explained.
—I feel... ashamed to talk about it— Freyja admitted sheepishly.
—Don't worry; I don't need to know about it. We will just talk and do exercises to alleviate the pain it causes you— the rabbit goddess continued explaining. —When you're ready, you can talk about it—
Freyja nodded and began her therapy with the rabbit goddess.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo was busy with a hoe, tilling the farming soil. Spring was coming, and the soil needed to be ready. The young man was working in an area where pumpkins were being grown.
—You look very sexy working shirtless, Rodrigo— Epona said, standing behind the young man.
Rodrigo had taken off his shirt, leaving him in just trousers. The gods had changed their attire, finally, in Chaco and continued wearing clothes from there. The young man wore only khaki-colored pants and sandals since he had taken off his shirt. Additionally, he had pulled back part of his hair into a small ponytail.
—Oh, hi Epona. What brings you here?— the young man asked.
The Celtic goddess wore a dark tunic, tied with a red belt around her waist. The dress reached her ankles and left part of her left shoulder exposed. Her hair, which she began to leave long, was tied with two cute braids resting on her shoulders.
—I've come to talk to you... actually, we have— the equine goddess continued explaining.
Ana also arrived and stood next to the Celtic goddess. Ana's attire remained the same as what she wore in Chaco, a white dress with a red belt.
—Rui, tell me— Ana inquired. —Did Bellona tell you anything about human sacrifices towards us?—
—Why do you ask, Ana?— Rodrigo replied, pausing from his tilling.
—I saw your dream, Rodrigo— Epona said with an annoyed look. —Literally, Ana, Tania, and I were devouring you. I also saw Bellona as a zombie and a fat man... which I assume was that Al-Mansur— she explained.
—We want to talk about it, Rodrigo— Ana interjected. —I don't know what that witch told you, but we want to clarify these matters—
—Have you... eaten humans in sacrifices?— Rodrigo finally asked bluntly.
—Eat? No!— Ana replied. —But I did receive energy from human sacrifices, especially from prisoners— Ana said with a serious, emotionless look, something that surprised Rodrigo.
—I haven't received human sacrifices— Epona commented. —But they used to sacrifice horses to me... even though I like them— Epona added with a pained look.
—So, it is true— Rodrigo commented dejectedly.
—Rui, tell me, have you ever been given something you didn't want?— Ana asked.
—It's the same; we never asked for them— Epona clarified.
—You never asked humans for such things?— Rodrigo inquired.
—NO!— both goddesses shouted in unison.
—Didn't Tania get any benefit from Almanzor's massacres in Spain?— Rodrigo continued asking.
—No, Rui. Those times are long gone— Ana said.
—Neither the wars nor the sacrifices were part of Ana's or Tania's responsibilities; they gained nothing from that violence— Epona added.
—And about human sacrifices, it wasn't as drastic as what happened to Tania— Ana clarified. —But it's also not pleasant when you feel those essences in your body. They feel like laments—
—Imagine dedicating your entire life to caring for horses, and then some idle humans think they should offer horse sacrifices to please you— Epona explained. —What the hell were they thinking?—
—It must be terrible, I suppose— Rodrigo commented, feeling slightly relieved.
—You've known us for almost a year, Rui— Ana said with a conciliatory smile. —We would never ask humanity for something like that. Neither did Tania intentionally—
—That's partly why we like to help, to prevent these practices from continuing among them, even if it's just one step out of millions we have to take— Epona explained.
—Don't worry— said Rodrigo. —I never doubted you, even if my mind thinks silly things—
The young man smiled at them, and both goddesses returned the smile.
That evening, Rodrigo and Anpiel, once again, finished in the last and second-to-last places in the Rarámuri evening race. Even though both had trained on land to live using only their human abilities, without borrowing any of their divine power, the endurance of these people when running was phenomenal.
After everyone dined together, the gods bathed in a nearby lake and proceeded to sleep. Loki still couldn't move, so Ana fed him again.
That night, Menrva embraced Freyja again, and the Norse goddess resisted less. Deep down, she felt safer with the support of all her new companions, something she had never experienced with her Nordic counterparts.
—Why don't you want to talk about your past, Menrva?— the goddess of beauty asked the Etruscan goddess that night.
Menrva remained silent for a moment.
—Because I'm ashamed— the Etruscan goddess finally confessed.
—Ashamed? What terrible event happened to you?— Freyja inquired, surprised.
—Nothing... that's the problem... I haven't experienced something as traumatic as everyone here— Menrva admitted with a disappointed look.
—But that's good, Menrva— the fertility goddess responded.
—No, if I was entrusted to lead this group— Menrva continued. —How will I talk to Tania or Ana, after everything they've been through?—
—Exactly the way you did with me— Freyja said, looking at the Etruscan goddess and smiling. Menrva also smiled.
—Alright, I'll think about it— she said.
Both goddesses fell asleep, their expressions more peaceful.
The next night, Menrva finally decided to open up and talk about her past.
As a child, she had admired the stories of Athena and wanted to emulate her. But Etruscan women could only be housewives and mothers. Tinia, Menrva's father, locked her in her room, not allowing her to leave until she gave up those foreign ideas. However, her brother, Laran, the god of war, would secretly visit and teach her everything from swordsmanship to reading.
Thus, the goddess spent several years locked in an ivory tower, surrounded by all the luxuries one could hope for, unable to leave her room. Every time her father asked if she was ready to come out, she replied that she would only when he accepted her passion to be a goddess of war.
In her teens, Laran took advantage of a conflict where Man, Menrva's kingdom, clashed with Saturnia. He helped Menrva escape and told her to follow her own path, and he would always be proud of her. Since then, Menrva has been living in the world, perfecting her skills, and dreaming of meeting Athena someday, which she eventually did.
—That's my life— Menrva explained. —I know I haven't faced significant hardships, but I hope you'll still accept me despite that— the Etruscan goddess concluded.
The other gods applauded, making Menrva feel finally accepted.
After a week, Loki began to move again, and Freyja had a brighter demeanor, thanks to Tul's therapies. The gods then agreed to leave the small village and continue their journey south.
—After crossing this desert, you'll reach one of the first Chichimeca kingdoms, the Zacatec—the village leader told Anpiel, who had learned enough Rarámuri to converse.
—Are they dangerous? We've been told they're warlike— Anpiel asked.
—Very much so. We avoid the south because of them— the leader explained. —They engage in constant warfare, and their rituals are quite cruel and sadistic—
—The ruler of the Zacatec— the leader added, —is a deity from one of those massive cities in the south, which was abandoned long ago—
—Are you referring to the Toltec empire?— Anpiel inquired.
—It predates that empire— the leader said. —In fact, most gods in Tula originated from that mythical city which I think they call: 'The place where the gods were born'—
The man then looked at Rodrigo, who was with the rest of Orniskem. Only Epona, Tul, and Tania could somewhat understand the angel's speech.
—That young man looks just like the king of the Zacatec— he said.
Rodrigo was puzzled when Anpiel stared at him intently. Epona discreetly told him that his face resembled the king of the next place they were headed to.
—Could he be the man the King of Tula mentioned? His supposedly dead brother?— Rodrigo wondered.
That night, the Rarámuri village held a festival to bid farewell to their honored guests. Men began playing drums and flutes, and the entire village danced. Ana, Epona, Tul, and Freyja were the first to join in the dance to the rhythm of the music.
—Apparently— Anpiel said to the other seated gods watching the festival, —music is how they communicate with God, meaning the universe—
—So, as gods, we should also communicate with them through that music— Menrva remarked with interest.
—Well, you could do the same as Tul and the other three— Tania commented, pointing to the four goddesses showing their moves to the people.
At that moment, some girls approached Rodrigo, Susanoo, Anpiel, and Loki to dance with them.
Tania gave the young tannin a hearty pat on the back. —Go ahead, boy, don't be shy!— she shouted.
The boys began dancing with the village girls, leaving Tania and Menrva alone.
—Aren't you worried about Athena anymore?— Tania asked, noting that Menrva hadn't protested about spending over a week in the Rarámuri village.
—I trust that Athena is okay and knows what she's doing— Menrva replied.
—This whole experience, helping a village with my own hands without using my divine powers... it was such a beautiful experience. I never thought I could feel this level of peace in my life— the Etruscan goddess continued, looking at her calloused hands from weaving clothes and baskets.
—It's the most beautiful experience of this life— the Punic goddess commented.
—Humans can be cruel and ruthless— Tania continued, —but when they come together like this to live among each other or help each other, despite their limitations, it shows that we still have a lot to learn from them—
The dance lasted all night, until sunrise. After that, the village bid farewell to Rodrigo and company. Epona and Tul, in particular, made close friends among the village children and even managed to speak a few words in their language.
After the formalities were concluded, the siríame, along with the village, said their goodbyes to the group. The gods, smiling, continued their journey south.