Chloe went on and explained everything and in turn, Algasath told her everything about Nalisatna. Lasha struggled to listen though. She felt like a heavy sludge had been draped over her ever since she came back and it was sucking away the last of her energy. Algasath gave Chloe a room to stay and the two got up. Algasath noticed that Lasha remained seated.
“Hey, not feeling well?”
“Tired, I guess.” Lasha lied.
“You don’t have to go too. Milala and Chloe can handle it. You can stay and recover.”
Lasha didn’t like staying behind. She was a demigod, she should be out there. But she really wanted to just curl up in bed and stare at a wall. From experience she knew that was as much fun as anything in this state.
Lasha got up and made her way to her room. Algasath gave her a cold hug on the way and she returned it. Then she walked to her room to lie down.
It was afternoon by the time Lasha grew frustrated with doing nothing. There was something she wanted to do but she was able to force herself to go out and find Chloe instead. As numb as she was at the moment, she was still a little curious about her.
Lasha found her in the room Algasath gave her, discussing something with Susi, lying on the bed.
“Hey!” Chloe sat up on the bed. “Come in, come in!”
Lasha sat down on the sofa. It was the same kind of hotel room she had.
“Sorry, I wasn’t really listening earlier.”
“Oh yeah, I could tell. You aren’t doing too hot right now.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“I’m an Akaname, we can taste people’s emotional state.”
“Yeah, sorry, do you have mutations in this world? I think your pal was a Stüpp. Akaname are some sort of half-demon mutation people can have.”
Lasha remembered a conversation with Marvie and Milala’s quick rundown. “Wait, you said taste? Akaname are the taste mutation?”
“Yeah.” Chloe stuck out a really long tongue. “Cool, right?”
It reminded Lasha too much of the Sykyyr. Chloe pulled it back.
“Does becoming an Akaname give you a demon form like Susi?”
“No, Susi is unique to me. We have an evil goddess in our world who I tried to take down but instead she put Susi into me. But then I turned Susi good.”
Lasha sat down on the sofa. “What are your five improvements then?”
“I was told each mutation gives you five improvements. You got a better sense of taste, with a side of mind-reading I guess. And the long tongue. That’s two things.”
“Uh… I also got pointy shark teeth that grow back.” Chloe listed off on her fingers. “I can digest about anything. And my saliva can disinfect and clean stuff of all bacteria and filth. That’s five things. I don’t think I’m forgetting anything.”
“Why are you here now?”
Chloe sat up and pulled her legs up to her chin. “You remember I said the Sykyyr were dying on their home planet? There is a plague spreading through the universe. The Sykyyr are the latest victim. What happened today was the attempt to move them to another world, but, I don’t know if it was panic or miscommunications, they got the idea they needed to kill the native population. Until they realized they couldn’t breathe here. The second plan was to hybridize them with humans to allow them to live in these worlds, which created the Akaname.”
“You’re part Sykyyr?”
“Yeah, I guess. But yes, this plague will eventually reach this world too, and my home. We are preparing to finally stop it within the next ten years. But that shouldn’t be any of your concern unless you are approached by Calico too.”
“Calico is the one who organized this? Who opened a portal between universes?”
“Yes. I know she caused a lot of suffering here, but she is trying to save us all. I hope you can forgive us.”
“Well, I know on which side you fought.”
There was silence for a moment. Lasha grew anxious and stood up. Chloe’s tongue wrapped around her before she could leave. “Please stay for a little longer.”
Lasha grabbed the tongue to tear it off but lost the strength to. Could it taste what she was about to do? Chloe gently tugged her towards the bed until she was close enough that she could wrap her arms around her instead.
“I’ve had many friends with feelings like these. Please fight them.”
“I’m tired.” Lasha said.
“I have a friend called Jackie. She’s a little younger than you. She had a rough life too. She was in a really dark place when we found her. But she is doing much better now. We surrounded her with love and friendship and that gave her the strength to fight those battles. I know we just met but let me give you that strength too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends.”
“I don’t want them to know about it.”
“I understand that. But I think it can help to share the pain with someone. So when it happens again, you can keep them in mind to fight with you.”
“I’m immortal. Why should it matter?”
“It hurts you, doesn’t it? That’s why it matters.”
Lasha finally hugged Chloe back. Chloe tightened her embrace. Lasha wondered if she tasted a little different now.
The next day, Lasha managed to get up for breakfast. Marvyad joined them, staying behind as well. Lasha feeling down had happened a couple times in the past by now, so Algasath and Marvie were used to it. It had never happened when something important was going on before though, and that frustrated Lasha. Marvie offered to stay but Lasha said she’d rather be alone. She knew she was irritable right now and would rather not say something mean to Marvie. Her friend respected that. After eating, Lasha went back to her room, using the time to think about her life, what she could do once this phase was over. She never did any of those things she had planned. It just came natural to think about what could be.
“Hello.” Lasha turned around to see Estih. “Can I come in?”
Lasha didn’t see Estih as often as the others, so she didn’t like sending her back out. “Okay.”
Estih sat down on the couch. She looked good in the black dress. “Don’t worry about not going to Red City. Nelub said there wasn’t much you could do there.”
“Nelub is there too?”
“Yeah. She used it as an excuse to visit a human city. They pretty much just need healers there.”
“Shouldn’t you have gone then?”
“Oh, there are much better healers than me. It was a miracle I patched you up as well as I did.”
Lasha remembered that Estih never managed to restore her eye. She had completely forgotten that was something she had wanted a better healer to fix. Didn’t matter anymore.
“I know a lot about mundane health, magical healing I’m still very inexperienced with.
“When I went, I could feel the depression creeping up on me, but I think I fought it back for a couple days.”
“I don’t think this is something you can keep from happening. Not like that at least.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hmm… Okay, so Sjetta don’t really get mental illnesses. At least not like humans and Asterians do. But since I plan on handling Asterians as well, I learned about it as well. I’ve researched your condition for a couple years now but I never felt confident enough to diagnose you with anything.”
“Is this not just depression from the trauma of having my family killed?”
“Not exactly. Between the depressive phases, you also experience times of euphoria, right? I believe you might have bipolar disorder.”
“...What does that mean for me?”
“Mostly that you now have a name for what’s going on with you. But I’d like to get a second opinion from a more experienced source.”
“And then what?”
“I believe it can be medicated. There are some side effects that can occur and we might have to try around a bit. But we should worry about that later. I wasn’t prepared to talk to you about this.”
“It’d be great if this didn’t happen anymore.”
“Yeah, but you’ve made it through these at least twice now.”
“What kind of side effects?”
“Depends on the medication. Generally, getting sick, weight gain or loss… though as a demigod, your body usually stays the way you feel fits you best. Being tired. Ideally, we’d like to find a medication with little side effects.”
“I feel like, as a demigod, I should be above getting sick at all.”
“Sicknesses don’t only happen to lowly creatures. It’s a part of life, like having to eat or being able to see. Some may never experience it, but these are all things a living being can be. The universe doesn’t ascribe value to either state. You are here to experience things. Some you may like, some you don’t.”
“Is that your belief or do you know that? That that’s our purpose?”
“Belief. You can’t tell for sure these days, hm?”
“My dad is a god.”
“Not one like that.”
“How are you feeling?” Malai asked. “I heard you were trying out medication.” She sat down on the table to be on eye level with Lasha. Her antenna served as eyes. Lasha sat at the long table they had moved into the throne room, used for meetings but more often as a dining table.
“Unfortunately, they don’t take effect immediately.”
“Oh. Well I hope it helps.”
“How are you?”
“Me?... Appropriate to the circumstances, I guess.”
“Dumb question, but do Attejs eat?”
“Of course.” Malai understood this as an invitation to join breakfast. Algasath was away organizing the aid for Red City, even if he wouldn’t be present himself. He wanted to keep the presence of gods secret for now. Humans had enough on their plate with all these new lifeforms.
“I guess things are about to change with humans learning of us now.” Malai said while pouring herself some tea.
“I wonder if anyone will remember me. Classmates and neighbors…”
“Do you plan on taking on a diplomat sort of position?”
“I don’t really have friends at home.”
“From what I’ve heard, Attejs don’t seem to be the nicest people.”
“Well, yeah… We were the ones that started the only war in history. Killed a lot of people and to this day feel righteous about it. But there are many Attejs that disagreed with that. I’m not the only good one there is. It’s Jaliehv, who forced this war and those swept up by her rhetoric. We are not inherently evil.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m actually pleasantly surprised with how trusting people are of me here.”
“We did lock you up for a bit.”
Malai sighed and drank her tea. “I understand though. We are known to be very deceptive. Which we are, that’s how we defended ourselves from harm, historically. But lying is very frowned upon by most other people.”
“It’s annoying at best, I guess.”
“It’s easier to navigate when you grow up with it. But we have gullible ones among us as well.”
A grey cat hopped up the stairs and jumped on the table.
“Hey. Where is Algasath?” Cynthia asked.
“You’re back!” Lasha acknowledged.
Cynthia ignored her and repeated the question with her eyes.
“Uh, I don’t know where he is exactly, but I’d guess in the magical district.”
Without another word, Cynthia ran off. Lasha and Malai decided to follow her and hear what she found. It appeared urgent.
Something felt odd though. Cynthia had been to Amieredetta before, so she should be able to teleport around it. So why was she walking everywhere?
The cat was small but fast and their walking speed matched up. Lasha had only seen Cynthia walk at a languid pace before. Her running looked rather clumsy. Lasha spotted Algasath near the portal to the outside of Red City. It looked like he was helping with the management of resources to be moved over. Cynthia was the first to reach him, standing up on her hindlegs in the disturbing fashion that allows for more human expressions. She did not begin to explain the situation as Lasha expected though. Algasath turned his head to her. Then Cynthia convulsed and collapsed. Algasath vanished without a word.
“Damn it!” Cynthia yelled, getting back up.
“What happened?” Lasha asked, looking around as if her father only ducked into an alley.
“I fucked up is what happened!”
“He’s probably fine.”
“Where is he?”
“With Jaliehv, most likely.” Cynthia sat down like a regular cat.
“What’s with the yelling?” Marvyad appeared. She wasn’t helping with reconstruction but was aiding the organization on this end.
“Jaliehv has already set her plan in motion. Give me a minute. Meet me in the central chamber. I’ll explain everything I know.” Cynthia teleported away.
Lasha, Malai and Marvyad walked back to the throne room. Lasha guessed Cynthia meant that with ‘central chamber’, as it was the room from which all other rooms of Algasath’s abode were accessed.
“This sounds like she’s gonna send us on another adventure.” Marvie said. “Are you ready for that?”
“I have to go save my dad, don’t I?”
They found Cynthia preparing herself a breakfast sandwich. “Oh, you’re here.” She said, putting it down.
“Will you explain what happened with my dad now?”
“Well, let me start from the beginning…”
The land was divided into ten areas, each named after a god. Jaluxar was the name of the desert in the west. It was mainly populated by Attejs, as the only beings withstanding the heat and sunlight. All the Asterians that tried to adapt were pushed to the edges of the region by territorial Attejs. The main city of the Attejs was Ebledans, located at Jaluxar’s center. The most notable non-Attejs settlement was Ishaeul, near the border to Maddrak. Cynthia’s destination was Jaliehv’s chosen home, an underground vault called Jekit-Lafier. As a goddess, the temperature didn’t bother Cynthia, but she would stand out. She could take on the appearance of an Attejs, but she’d rather not be seen at all. If possible, she’d merge with the shadows. There were three pyramids arranged in a triangle above Jekit-Lafier. If Jaliehv was up to anything, she’d keep it in there. Cynthia couldn’t simply teleport inside, since she had never been there before, so she’d have to sneak in, making sure not to be seen. Attejs had full 360° vision thanks to their antenna, so she had to be extra careful. She expected if anything amiss was going on, it would be contained in an area Jaliehv didn’t let anybody in. So Cynthia decided to search the most restricted areas. Namely, the deepest floors.
As luck would have it, the first temple she tried was the one that bore a secret below. She snuck in through the ventilation system, all the way down, leading into a small room. She wished there had been a smell to warn her, but this pile of bodies did not decompose. Attejs corpses thrown into one corner like a mound of dirt. There were about fifty. Naturally, Attejs should reform into new lives shortly after death, like Sjetta. For whatever reason, these didn’t. Cynthia tried to think of an explanation. If Jaliehv found a way to kill Attejs permanently, it would work the same way on Sjetta. But the reason for the war was never to exterminate Sjetta. Why would she want that now? This was just the chamber to store the waste. Finding the room that produced these bodies would clear things up.
Cynthia crawled into the next room under the door. This one was larger but mostly empty. Only two tables and strange stains on the floor. Either whatever equipment was used had already been cleared out of the room, or the procedure was magic in nature and required no tools. The latter was more likely.
While Cynthia was looking for more clues from the safety of the shadows, Jaliehv teleported into the room. Attejs had a childlike appearance but somehow Jaliehv exuded such authority that it broke the illusion. Cynthia had believed this was because she knew her for so long but she heard young beings say the same.
“Make yourself known.” Jaliehv spoke into the room.
Cynthia wasn’t sure how to act, certain she was found out.
Jaliehv groaned. “Of course, hang on.” She teleported away and shortly returned with an Attejs, who she promptly threw to the floor. The Attejs got up and seemed not at all bothered by the treatment.
“Welcome back, Jaliehv.” They said.
“Are you ready to serve me?”
“Good. Of all the results, you’ve shown the most promise. As such, I will make you one of my demigods. Do not disappoint me. This needs to be carried out in secret. Should you fail, your replacement will have a much harder time accomplishing this task.”
“I will not fail.”
“I should also give you a name… You will be known as Valyra Valeran.”
“You understand your mission?”
“I was created with the ability to copy the powers of the gods I take over, in particular the omnipotence of the gods over their respective element. I am to collect these powers in secret and transfer them to you. Instead of ten gods, there will be only one.”
“Perfect. One last thing. Let’s make sure it works. Use the power of light you have copied from me earlier.”
A second later, Valyra illuminated the entire room, aside from a tiny speck that tried to hide within the dark. Cynthia should have teleported out of there, but she reacted too slowly, her mind occupied trying to comprehend the scene. By the time she tried to teleport away, she no longer could.
“This appears to be the goddess of air.” Cynthia’s mouth said. She saw the Attejs wiggle their antenna in confusion.
“It’s unfortunate she heard us, but at least we caught our first fish. Well, as long as she is under your control, she can’t tell anyone. Try and teleport to the Afterlife.”
“I’m unable. I have the ability to teleport, but only to places I remember. I can copy Cynthia’s powers but not her memories.”
“I was afraid so. Looks like you’ll have to walk. As soon as you leave Cynthia to possess another, she will go and warn the others. But there isn’t anything we can do about that now.”
Jaliehv knelt down. “Cynthia. I know you aren’t exactly reasonable, but try to understand that I am helping. You’re not the good guys. It’s not that I just want absolute power for myself, I just don’t know anyone better suited for the job. You have to realize that things as they are aren’t working. A god shouldn’t tell his people to sit idly and let themselves get killed. A god shouldn’t hide from the world in fear of their own responsibilities. A god shouldn’t beat themselves up in self-doubt. A god shouldn’t be controlled by fear. A god shouldn’t control others by fear. These aren’t gods. They’re broken people. And they will break anything in their power.”
Valyra didn’t let Cynthia respond.
“Go now, Valyra. Try and gather as much power before they can prepare. In the meantime, I will prepare help for you to aid in the home stretch.”
“Thank you, Jaliehv.”
Valyra shifted into Cynthia’s cat form and went on her way. All the way, Cynthia strained to gain control over her body again.
It was useless. Valyra made her way to Amieredetta. And she took Algasath next. Lasha was there. A Demigod could kill another Demigod. So could a god, but throwing them at Valyra would be too dangerous. She told her to meet her in the central chamber. She would have to warn the others first.
She teleported into the Afterlife. To Madrian’s house.
“Hello, Cynthia.” Sinder said. She was playing with dolls in the living room.
“He’s in the bedroom. Reading.”
Cynthia made her way there. He wore his human appearance. Sinder grew up with dead humans and Asterians and as such grew to look like them. Madrian matched her when at home.
“Welcome home, Cynthia.” he said. He had long white hair and his tiger stripes were replaced with scars.
“There have been no… dead Attejs making their way here recently, right?”
“I fear there is now a way to kill them permanently. But as I feared, their souls were used for something else.”
“What are you talking about? What did you find in Jaluxar?”
“Jaliehv wants to take the powers of the gods all for herself. She’s already got mine. You must hide. Yours would be especially troublesome for her to get.”
“What about Sinder?”
“She is not a target. You may leave her here.”
“I see. Will you stay with her then? They already got you, right?”
“I don’t have time for that. I must stop her.”
“...I suppose I’ll leave her with Marcella then.” One of Madrian’s demigods who aids him with his duties in the Afterlife. Cynthia wasn’t sure if he actually would give her to someone else. For some reason, he was really protective of the child.
“Fine. I’ll prepare our countermeasures. Inform the other gods if you get the chance.”
Cynthia teleported back to Amieredetta. Looked like Lasha had been in the middle of breakfast. A god did not require to eat, but she might as well indulge herself. Such things calmed her nerves.