We fell hard into the meld, and even here in our most intimate place, we were still one. Kairon hit the ground and remained in a heap, groaning. As we’d gone down through the link, the energy was ripped from him like deboning a fish. It left his flesh limp, and his skin sagging like an empty potato sack.
At least a potato sack is useful.
We walked over to his body and kicked him over to face upward. His eyes were open and staring, but they flicked over to us momentarily before he rolled back away and staggered to his feet.
“What have you done?” he screeched at us, his fingers trembling over the skin hanging from his face like jowls on a fat hog.
“We took back what was ours,” we said, and clenched our fist against the renewed power coursing through our limbs.
Still, he’d forged some kind of conduit between us, and there was a pull on our combined powers from him. It was weak, but gaining strength. We yanked back on it, like pulling on a rope. He fell forward onto his knees, and steadied himself with a hand on the ground. Where he touched came away coated in the oily taint. Our lip curled.
Most of the power came back, but some of it remained. Tiny threads of power he weaved together to try and form something cohesive he could work with.
We couldn’t give him the chance.
We closed our eyes, and lifted a hand in the air above our heads, palm up.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice rising a couple of octaves.
We didn’t answer him the first time. Taking the shield down wouldn’t be easy, and we needed to concentrate. The energy to repel the Demon and Hood had soaked into the very ground. Trying to remove it was going to be like trying to pull out a weed with a deep taproot, and peeling it back would be the equivalent of skinning an animal without a knife.
At the first tug against the shield, Kairon managed to stagger to his feet. Though our eyes were closed, his movements through the meld sent ripples outward, and the small waves lapped against us.
He lurched forward. We placed to other hand outward, palm toward him. He was new to the meld, so he didn’t have the control we did. We’d never had to shield within the meld, and we wouldn’t have known how to, if not for Kairon. A barrier snapped up between him and us, and he ran into it face first. It only stopped him for a moment before he pounded against it with both fists. It chipped away at our energy, bit by bit, and we needed to hurry this along before he could stop us.
The shield pulled, like the strap of a slingshot, and if we didn’t keep going until it snapped it would just spring back into position. Just as Kairon raised a fist to break through the weakened internal shield, the one outside shattered into thousands of iridescent shards, falling like glittering rain to the vision in our minds eye.
Kairon let out a scream of rage, and surged upward from the meld.
He was running.
We followed close on his heels, and staggered when we were thrown back into our physical body with such force it jolted us. Kairon was on the ground, his physical body matching the manifestation in the meld. When he turned his face up to look at us, fury burned within his eyes like that of a city fire out of control.
“You wretched, pathetic excuse for a god!”
He moved to grab us, just as he’d done before the meld, but we had no energy to withstand his assault. Before he could reach us, the Devourer, Shinkuma, pounced and landed on his back like a boulder. It flattened Kairon with a great whumph of air, and the creature growled low in his throat at the disgraced god.
“The time of your reckoning is at hand. The corruption is so thick on you, I could smell it through the shield. Shinkuma will feast today,” the Demon said.
Hood was nowhere to be found, and my heart tripped along at what that could mean.
Then the Demon whispered something to the Devourer in a language we couldn’t understand.
As the creature reared back to dive at Kairon’s throat, it’s head snapped to the side and it leapt backward, just in time to avoid Babaga landing over top of Kairon. Her hair belly rubbed along him, and I shuddered.
“Now, now, child, let not your beast run wild. This little morsel will be mine, not to return unto the divine,” she said, and cackled at the angry Demon.
Yet, he didn’t fight her, or try to deny her Kairon. Neither did he give her permission.
Kairon tried to crawl away, but she planted a long, spindly spider leg in the small of his back, pinning him to the ground.
“Time to die, little snake.” Then she reached down, grabbed Kairon by the hair, and lifted.
He was too weak to fight, though his eyes shone, silently pleading with us. We said nothing, and made no motion to stop Babaga.
She swallowed him in three gulps.
Her lower belly bulged, and moved for a minute, or two, during which we all watched in disgusted fascination. Finally, the movement stopped, and she sighed. She lowered her gaze to meet ours.
“If you do not wish to die, let the feather float, and fly,” she said, then giggled and jumped away, disappearing from sight behind the shrine in one go.
“I will not have my pet go home hungry,” the Demon growled.
Our head jerked to the right, facing the Demon, who we noticed for the first time was covered in a multitude of wounds. As was the Devourer, waiting for its master’s command to kill us.
Bash’s voice range out from within, and we looked down to our belt. Despite merging all five of us together, it was still there. The soft glow made hope swell within us. We grabbed it, and threw it into the wind. It remained there for a moment, before turning into a small, brilliant spear, and hurtling back to where we’d last seen Hood.
The Demon whispered the same command as before, and Shinkuma jumped at us. Before he could reach us, however, he was struck down a golden, fiery fist, and landed in an unconscious heap at the Demon’s feet.
“Their fate is not in thy hands, Demon,” Hood said, appearing between us and the angry entity.
“They have touched, and been touched in turn by the corruption.” The Demon growled the words, doing a fair imitation of the Devourer.
“If they were tainted, they would not have been able to touch, or use, the feather to calleth on mine own aid.”
“I will tolerate, barely, the interference from a Fallen, but not from one such as you, Zadkiel.” The Demon spat. “You took my name, and made me what I am.”
“Thy actions were increasingly erratic, and vengeful. ‘Tis is not our place to judge. We protect the gods, until they prove useful only for a Devourer’s gullet, or need assistance returning to the Celestial.”
Devourers for the corrupt, and mercy killings for the crazy.
Or we simply fade. Mother’s voice whispered, sorrowful and soft as a wind stirring a tree over a child’s grave.
The Demon turned to us and weighed Hood’s words. “If you are wrong and they return to the Celestial, they will taint the energy, and destroy It. Better to be safe than sorry.” He pulled out his sword, and took a step forward.
Hood’s sword also appeared, but he held it loose in his grip.
“They fade even now, Brother. I swear on mine own name they art pure, and if I’m wrong may I Fall in disgrace.” Then Hood’s sword vanished.
As if Hood slapped him, the Demon took a step back. It was only another second of hesitation before the Demon’s sword disappeared, too.
Hood turned to us. “Whither Kairon was greedy, and walked from the true path of a god willingly, the Demon had been drawn down a path made from his own misconceptions. The price was steep, but so were the stakes. We could not alloweth him harm viable gods meant to return to the Celestial. His name was taketh from him, and he became a Demon. The job is important, but not one most willingly choose,” Hood admitted.
“I–” he started, then had to swallow. “–did what I thought was best. I was confident I knew better than the Collective. I’m still angry,” he admitted, and grit his teeth, “but you all were not wrong to do as you did.”
I suspected this was the closest the two of the beings would ever get to an apology. To each other, and us.
We can give him a name, Spud said.
We all considered his words incredulously, as the Demon was just willing to murder us in cold blood.
He was simply doing his job, Spud insisted. Let us do this final act with the rest of our energy.
We sighed. He wasn’t wrong. It was there, now that Kairon was dead; we could use our power as gods and give him a name.
We moved forward, and Hood and the Demon froze. The Devourer, finally coming to, growled, uncertain. The Demon hushed him with a small, cutting gesture with his hand.When we were right in front of him, we motioned for him to lean over.When he did so, his hair fell forward in a shining sheet.
We put a finger to his forehead, and willed the remainder of our energy to go to him. “Your name was taken from you, and rightly so. But here, today, you stayed your hand when you could have killed us, all because you have faith in your Brother. Your new name is Besim.” As we made the pronouncement, the accumulation of energy we’d gathered released, and the Demon–Besim’s–eyes widened.
“Thank you,” he whispered, as we removed our finger, now translucent. “You didn’t have to do that.”
We shrugged. “We wanted to do one, final good deed before we were gone.” Then we turned to Hood, and smiled sadly. “Make sure the kids are okay?” we requested.
He nodded. “It will be done.”
“Though you’ve given me a name, by my own choice I will not return to the Collective. However, I will continue my work, though with more discretion, and honor the great gift you’ve given me this day,” Besim said, and smiled.
Then everything went hazy, or we did, and then there was nothing but warmth, light, and a sensation of completeness.
Eero wandered the grounds of Haven, kicking at pebbles. The flashes of light in the sky, and all the destruction of the city weeks ago had left the children anxious and uneasy. Then, when the fiery man returned but the others hadn’t, Eero and the others had cried for days.
The man reassured them that Jolly, Bash, Dare, Spud, and Mother had given their godhood to protect them, but it was little comfort on the long, dark nights. His parting gift, at the gods of Haven’s final request, was a permanent shield to protect the children.
“Time for dinner,” Coye said softly from behind Eero.
He balled his little hands into fists, and lowered his head, refusing to move. He couldn’t cry anymore tears. In fact, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to cry again, he’d done it so much over the last few days.
“Not hungry,” he said, sullen and angry.
“You have to eat, Eero,” she insisted.
“Don’t want to eat. Want Mother, Jolly, Bash, and the others. Now!”
Coye was silent. They’d explained this numerous times to Eero, but he refused to listen. She walked forward, and gave him a brief hug. Instead of refusing her one in return, he turned around and buried his face in her skirts.
“Want them back, Coye,” he whispered.
Her heart broke all over again for him, and she sat them on the ground, rocking him back and forth. His body wracked with sobs, but no tears graced his dry eyes. After a while, his grip loosened.
“How about we talk to them?” Coye suggested, recalling what humans did for the spirits of their dead.
“Can they hear us?” he asked, hopeful.
“I’m sure they can, even if they can’t answer back,” she said, trying to make sure he understood how such a concept would work.”They loved us very much, and even after the people we love are gone, they are still with us in spirit.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Close your eyes,” she instructed, and he did so. “Now, you can either talk out loud, or in your head, and you can say whatever you want to them, you understand?”
He nodded, and his face screwed up in concentration. Coye smiled a small smile, and followed suit.
If you can hear us, wherever you all are, we miss you. We wish you could come back to us, but most of us understand why you cant. Thank you, for everything.
When she finished, she opened her eyes to a smiling Eero.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yes! Can I do that anytime?”
“Any time at all. Now, go wash up for dinner.”
He scampered off, and Coye stood, following along behind him at a more leisurely pace.
Everything will be okay, she insisted, and went back to tending dinner.
In a place between time and space, the Celestial swirled with all the colors imaginable, and unimaginable. It was warm, and safe. Then the words slowly filtered in. First, they were simply one or two, here or there. Then over time they formed sentences.
They listened, not sure why they were hearing them, but here in the place where everything was right, something was missing. Like a hole in the center of their being.
Get back to them, the words circled around them like a constellation around a planet. Distant, but real.
We can do this, were the next.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the energy pulled together, like water trickling down into a depression in the stone. Converging.
It’s time. This time the words were not theirs, but they had a vague sense of something powerful, and far beyond them.
Instead of being scared, though, we smiled.