“How can we fight him?”
It came from everywhere and nowhere all at once. It was my thought, yet it wasn’t.
“We have to take the shield down so the Demon and Devourer can get him.”
“How? We are part of the shield…”
Even now it pulled at the very core of me. Of us. When he pulled the power from Mother and entered the link, he…took something from us. There was a piece missing, and even now it was part of him and his shield. His celestial corruption was reaching for us, trying to draw more power from us. It was greedy, just like its host.
“We went into this knowing dying was a likely outcome. We can’t let that stop us now.”
“–are strong, and we’ve taught them well.”
We simultaneously headed toward and were pulled to the shield. The black and gold lightning flashed in earnest now as the battle raged toward its peak. We had to hurry. Even Angels and Demons must have their limits, and Hood could only buy us so much time.
The city blurred beneath us. Random, familiar sights were captured in split-second moments of crystal perfection. With the joining, they were both recognizable and new, holding nostalgia and unfamiliarity in a cup like an intoxicating libation.
We passed the fight, but went by too fast to see who was winning or losing.
When we hit the shield, it wasn’t a hard impact, like a fist. It was like falling into a pile of sheered wool. Itchy, but not horribly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, after that, we dropped like a stone let go over a well. There to meet us once we hit the ground were the totems and the guards. One totem stepped forward, and though as a stone creature it had no face, it radiated malice like an forest fire radiated heat.
“We have been sent to take you to the master,” it rumbled.
“No,” we said, and reached forward. Through our new eyes, the bluish-white celestial energy coursed through the stone like veins of precious metal through mountain rocks. It also carried Kairon’s taint. It was like oil on water: shimmering and greasy. The totem grabbed our wrist in a crushing grip before we could touch it, but we didn’t need to reach it with our fingers–we only needed contact.
In that moment, everything paused–even the wind died down. The totem froze, as though we’d paralyzed it, and we turned our wrist in its grip until our palm was flat against the underside of the cold, stone arm. One of the larger veins ran through that part of the stone, and our fingers slid through the rock as though it were water, straight for the energy. It resisted at first, the taint making the energy slippery and hard to grab, but we finally hooked a finger around the vein, and pulled.
Clover weeds grow anywhere there’s dirt, and their stems and roots creep along the ground to create a system not easily eradicated. The kids loved to make crowns from the flowers, but Mother detested the things growing in the meager flower bed some of the children past had gifted to her. The best way to deal with clover, is to hook a finger beneath the root system, and work it upward, which pulls all the clover toward the initial root point. From there, you can pull the taproot out.
That is what we did with the totem.
We didn’t pull from the initial point, but between the contamination trying to infect us, and the untainted energy’s desire to reconnect with a pure source of celestial energy, it was drawn to us. Once we hooked our index finger and pulled some of it toward us, enough was separated from the totem that we could reach up with our other hand, grab it fully in our fist, and yank.
There was a flash, and a crack, like lighting splitting the air in front of us. Rocks exploded outward, pelting our body in a spray of gravel, and enshrouding us with a cloud of dust. There was nothing left of the totem, but a hissing and sizzling rope of energy, that crackled with small bolts stinging along our skin. The totems and guards drew back for a moment, as though collectively gasping, and then rushed forward as an angered mass.
We gripped the totem’s energy, and brought our right arm across and above our head as though we were blocking a strike from above. Our right foot remained planted as we pivoted with our left foot, and when we twisted our upper body and hips to the right, we brought the whip of energy down and across the first row of totems. As the energy connected with the first totem’s head, we flexed the tip of the energy into a hook, and it snagged the veins of energy as it cracked across five totems. They detonated outward just as the first one did. The humans, who weren’t so enthralled as Kairon would like to believe, cried out and shielded their face and eyes from the hail of rocks, and fell as they choked on the cloud of dust.
When the whip reached the end of its arc, we released the hook and sent the energy flying toward the shield. It impacted with enough force to make our teeth rattle, and lightning crawled across the energy field like giant spiders. We were still connected to the shield, and it took the breath from us as we fell to our knees.
The shout echoed through both the link, and through the air. We jerked our hands up to our ears, though we couldn’t stop the painful ringing reverberating through our skull, and curled in on ourselves to get away from the noise. A high-pitched ringing replaced all sound, and when we removed our hands from our ears, there was blood on our palms. It was…strange seeing the red substance.
“More power, and more control, but also a downside. Having such a corporeal form must mean we can also be hurt physically.”
It was an observation from Bash’s corner of our mind. Always the strategist.
Through the link, Kairon’s agony seared us like thousands of hot knives, but it was distant. We weren’t melded, so we didn’t receive the full force of his pain, but getting it second-hand through the link wasn’t a walk in the rich people’s park, either. The shield was still more Kairon than it was us, and that obviously had some disadvantages.
“BACK DOWN, AND LET THEM COME TO ME!” It wasn’t as loud the first time, though it was still muffled and difficult to hear through our injured eardrums.
The totems, who had started forward, though more slowly than their destroyed counterparts had, stopped. They split down the middle of their formation, and made a statue hallway for us to pass through. The humans were still too incapacitated to notice or care about what was going on.
We stood, and started toward the inner shrine.
“We should stay and just hurt the shield. It hurts him.”
“But it hurts us, too. We wouldn’t be able to keep at it for too long.”
“If we take him down, it will happen all at once.”
“He made our ears bleed with his voice. How are we going to do that?”
Silence. None of us knew. Yet, we continued to the shrine.
“If we’re all attached to the shield, he can’t hurt us either. We have to harry him until he makes a mistake.”
“Like, a killing us kind of mistake?”
Suicide by proxy was never the best battle plan on any day of the week, but it was all we had to go with. Mother’s optimism was waging a war with Bash’s pragmatism, both hoping against hope that we’d come up with a brilliant plan once we assessed the situation, and knowing it was unlikely. Spud was resigned, Dare was angry, and I was…sad. It was a strange sensation, but all I could think of was playing peek-a-boo with hundreds of toddlers over the long years, or hide and seek and tag with the older ones like Eero, and draughts or chess with the teens. Thinking about how it would all end today, because some god got uppity and greedy.
The voice pulled me from our reverie.
“Don’t, or we’ll fracture. Can’t you feel it?” Spud asked.
It was such a shock to hear him yell, it pulled me from the mire of my thoughts. He was right. The more we let our individual personalities take precedence over the goal as a whole, our energies tried to pull apart. Spud’s admonition snapped us back into focus, and our energies hummed in tune once more.
“More than one downside, it seems. Babaga left much out when offering this suggestion.”
As our thoughts almost destroyed our merging, our steps had slowed, but we still neared the shrine much faster than we would have liked.
There was no need to ask each other if we were ready, as we knew the answer.
The shrine doors opened of their own accord, and we stepped through them.
Kairon had changed, and not for the better.
Where he’d been an attractive male, with a lean body, decorated with all manner of fine clothing and heavy jewels, he was now fat from the energy he stole from us, and glowing with sweat and the eerie, shimmering of his power’s corruption. His fingers bulged around the bands of his rings, and in a human they would have had to cut the fingers off from lack of circulation. His robes had burst in the front, revealing a bloated belly, and wide waist. His skin everywhere was cracked and coursed with veins of pulsing, slimy celestial energy.
His short golden hair was in the final stages of falling out in clumps, and what was left was greasy and limp. His golden eyes, once as shiny as the coins people prayed to him for, were dull, and swirling with a black as dark as the ink from the squids that sometimes found their way into fisherman’s nets.
His perfect smile now revealed sharp teeth, receding gums, and they had torn at his lips as he smiled maniacally.
“Finally know where you belong? In service to the greatest god to ever walk this lowly plane?”
“Gag me with a spoon.”
Kairon didn’t react to the thought, which meant he wasn’t submerged in the link.
“You have taken what’s not yours, Kairon. You have subjugated humans for your selfish purposes, and betrayed your faithful. You hide from your reckoning behind a shield not of your own power, and we have come to bring you to justice,” we claimed, our voices as one.
“Or, just a few good punches in the face.”
“I have taken nothing that wasn’t rightfully mine. You, and the other gods of the city, are mine.” He laughed, and it grated on our nerves like a grinding wheel sharpening metal.
“He has stolen from the other gods as well…which means he is fat from more than just our energy. This gets better and better by the second.”
Before we had time to formulate our brilliant, last-minute, suicidal plan, Kairon moved. He was faster than his bulk suggested, and he slammed into us. His momentum carried us all to a nearby pillar, and we were smashed into the taint-covered, slimy rolls of his stomach. Though there was no urgent need to breath like a human would, an overwhelming panic brought on by the sense of suffocation drove the sense from our minds. We struggled, in vain, to free ourselves.
“Calm yourself, or all will be lost!” The strange voice howled like a winter’s storm, and brought with it a burst of energy that cleared our faces from Kairon by an inch.
We had no idea what such a distraction cost him, but the fact that he could reach us here meant we’d done more damage to the shield than we thought.
Kairon cursed, and grabbed us by the neck.
“You will be mine! You can’t resist me if you’re unconscious. Having a physical body is not always an advantage, is it now?” he cackled.
“The link!” Mother shouted from the depths of our consciousness, and it clicked.
This was going to be painful.
Normally, melding was a joint process, but as Kairon had shown us, he could force his way in. Which also meant we could bring him down, even if he didn’t want to. As the world danced with stars and the edges of our vision darkened, we lifted a hand up and put it over his on our throat, .
“No, you will join us, Kairon.” We reached through the physical link, and dragged his consciousness, kicking and screaming, down into the deepest depths of the link.