There was no better time to be invisible to adults than now. The shrine grounds were crawling with guards, who all had a glassy-eyed, vacant stares, and they moved past us without second glances. They weren’t just the stone totems from yesterday; there were humans here, too. I shuddered, a chill crawling down my spine like sewer slime.
Gods were essentially an amalgamation of energy from the Celestial, brought to life by the desires, hopes, and wishes of the sentient beings of the world. Our constructs had base knowledge, like how we should have known about Angels and Demons, while the specifics could be as varied as Bash’s capabilities versus mine. The mindless way the humans were wandering around the grounds, like worker bees protecting a hive, was something else Kairon had forced us to forget.
I just wished I knew how, though with the Demon’s appearance the why was obvious. Whatever summoned the Demon to Raventide, Kairon was part of the reason. He was scared, and holed up like a fox, baring his teeth.
“Where do you think she is?” Bash asked under his breath.
Even though they couldn’t see us, there was no use in taking the risk they might be able to hear us, and hone in on our position. Though it was eerie that Kairon was using humans, it gave us an advantage over the totems. Totems could see gods, no matter how minuscule, because they were forged from the same Celestial energy as gods.
I closed my eyes and reached out through our consciousness. Unfortunately, now that we weren’t near the barrier, it was as if she was everywhere, and I couldn’t pinpoint her location. I blew out a frustrated breath and opened my eyes.
“She’s everywhere,” I said.
Bash scowled, but Dare smiled. It was thin-lipped, and grim. “We don’t need to know where she is, we just need to know how Kairon operates.” He paused, and I made a circle motion with my hand, urging him to continue. “He’s an extravagant peacock, and exactly like the over-the-top villains the kids love to hate in all Mother’s stories.” Dare stopped again, and pointed to the largest building in the shrine, nestled in the middle of other, smaller buildings. “She’ll be there, and him with her.”
We headed toward the buildings. The main building, where Kairon received visitors, was only the main building because it was the most important; not because of its size. The one beyond the greeting room was by far larger, and likely housed any human shrine workers, and the totems when not in use.
The three of us skirted around the buildings, avoiding the totems, and ducking in and out of the alleys. They were dark, thanks to the cloud cover and rain, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever loved terrible weather more than now.
“Celestial blessed, this place is like a small city,” Dare complained, as we were waiting for another group of totems to stomp by. “He puffs himself up, like those stupid, fluffy yapper dogs the rich women like.”
He wasn’t wrong. The shrine had deceived us into thinking it was smaller than it was, and I wondered what else Kairon was using his power to do.
Unfortunately, once we finally reached the largest building, it was absolutely surrounded by totems.
“Snorg,” Dare growled.
“How do we get past these things?” Bash said, echoing Dare’s frustration.
Something fluttered in my gut. “I think we should just walk in.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Dare screeched in my ear.
“Shh!” Bash admonished, then turned to face me, his golden eyes dull in the low light. “Why?”
“If they hurt us, they hurt Mother. They need her for the barrier.”
“They could still capture us, making it impossible to save Mother,” Bash said, making an observation. His usual scathing nature was put on hold in light of the situation, though it peeked through now.
“Mother is already in a weakened state, and I doubt they’d risk making it worse.”
“We’ll have to take the chance,” Dare said, backing me up. He may not agree with me, but he’ll always take my side over Bash’s.
Bash huffed, but didn’t refute us. Then with nothing left to say…I simply stood, straightened my shoulders, and marched out toward the totems.
Nothing happened. They didn’t move.
“Weird,” Dare murmured.
Though they showed no signs of moving, we still moved at just above a crawl. They were perfectly spaced, like soldiers in a formation, and there was just enough room for us to squeeze through. Bash remained silent, as his staff made the going slower, and he needed all his concentration to not accidentally hit the totems. We made it through them without incident, though if it were possible for us to sweat, we would be.
We opened the heavy, ornate, wooden doors, without a single squeak from the hinges. Still, the totems made no movement behind us, and we stepped inside.
There she was, in a heap in the middle of the room. Her back was to us, and she wasn’t moving. Then Bash did something he shouldn’t have been able to: he teleported to Mother’s side. Well, almost. Something stopped him about five feet from her, and he was thrown back. He landed on his feet, but then again, Bash always landed on his feet.
“Hey!” Dare ran over to join Bash.
Bash cut an angry glance behind him to Dare. “Shut up, you idiot.”
“Now, now. It’s too late for that,” Kairon’s oily voice said from the balcony above the main floor.
He jumped lightly, and landed next to Mother, who still hadn’t moved. He could pass through whatever barrier was there, but Bash couldn’t.
At the sound of Kairon’s voice, Bash stood at the ready with his staff, and Dare held up his fists. I remained in the doorway, desperately trying to think of a way out of the situation.
“What are you doing to Mother, Kairon?” Dare demanded.
“He’s siphoning her ability to make a shield, right?” I asked, and took a couple steps forward.
The harsh glow from the magefire tinted everything in orange, especially the arrogant smile on Kairon’s face.
“Such a smart little godling. Yes, I’m using her to make a shield, but she’s been so much more useful than that.”
“Because the Demon won’t attack us. It’s here for you,” I said, and stumbled with my next step.
“Yes,” Kairon hissed. “The Demon cannot attack without cause, and apparently none of you brats have done anything deserving of his blade,” he spat. “So not only did she give me a barrier, but it’s one the Demon cannot touch.”
Bash’s staff hit the floor with a heavy thud, and he leaned on it, wavering on his feet. Dare fell to a knee, and Kairon watched, unsympathetic.
“Unfortunately, for you at least, taking her from Haven and then using her to create a barrier has this nasty side-effect of draining all your energy.”
I could sense it then–the drain. As though I was caught in a riptide, and nothing would be better than putting head to pillow and sleeping. My eyes drooped before I caught myself, and I cleared my throat and tried to stand straighter.
The Angel’s and Demon’s battle still raged, and only to a discerning ear could one differentiate between their clashing blades and the rolling thunder of the storm.
“I’m sure one will kill the other before your companion has been all used up,” Kairon stated. “If the Angel is victorious, I won’t have anything to worry about. If the Demon wins, well, I should have enough totems and subjugated humans on hand to take him down.” He was smug, and filled with confidence in his plan.
“Won’t they just send another Demon?” I asked out loud. “Hang on, guys,” I urged the others through our link.
“Mother!” the three of us shouted through the link in unison. We all flinched, but Kairon either didn’t notice, or didn’t care. He was talking, but it was taking all my effort to concentrate on the link.
“Fat chance,” Dare responded.
“We’ll figure this out, and save you,” Bash said, his usual arrogance marred by the fact he could barely stand.
Then something caught my attention: Kairon was no longer talking. In fact, his eyes were narrowed, and he was glancing between the four of us. He reached down and grabbed Mother by the wrist.
A presence appeared in the link. It was large, nearly overtaking the connection, and greasy like lamp oil.
“What do we have here, hm?”
A thrill of fear raked down my spine like claws. Kairon was in the link, and any advantage we had was dead.