Lasha walked into the portal room of Amieredetta. Marvie carried the baby and Celeste walked behind them. Algasath waited there for them.
“Who is that?” He asked.
“His name was Ralek. He disagreed with your philosophy and joined Jaliehv.”
“I killed him.”
Algasath knelt down and hugged her. “How do you feel about it?”
“Are you angry with me?”
“No, I’m not. You are your own person, Lasha, I cannot demand that you do everything the same way I would’ve. And it’s not like I never questioned my decisions. As your father, I wished I could protect you from choices like this. But when I appointed you my demigod, I also knew you would have to make them one day.”
“What will happen with the baby now?”
“We will raise them here. Like we would with any baby.”
“You are done. You can stay here and rest now.”
“No, no.” Lasha ended the hug. “I want to see this through.”
“Fine then. We will have to discuss our strategy soon. We don’t have much time. Join us then.”
“Alright, let’s discuss what to do.” Algasath said. Everyone so far involved with the situation, that wasn’t in hiding, was gathered in the throne room.
“Let’s figure out their next move first.” Cynthia said. “I could see Valyra going after Ralsathi next.”
“Ralsathi is in the ocean. She’ll be hard to find for someone without water powers.” Milala reasoned.
“Well, she’s collected all the easy targets. Madrian is inaccessible. So is Midori. No one knows where Apolomyem is and Varhaysel is too unpredictable.”
“There is one thing that complicates this matter.” Duuri said. “Kekremu is her fourth victim, so once she releases her to collect the next one, there will be four gods that no longer need to hide.”
“And what’s the significance of that?” Lasha asked.
“Celeste mentioned something. We can strip Jaliehv of her godhood. To do that, at least half of the gods need to be in accordance, meaning five. So when we have four over with, we only need to pull out one from hiding to complete the ritual. We can do it without potentially exposing a god before we can complete it.”
“Okay but we established that won’t help us. Once Jaliehv has all that power it won’t matter that she’s technically not a god anymore.”
“Taking away her godhood also makes her mortal. We will have to kill her right after.”
“But then Valyra will still have those powers.”
“It’s much less of an issue in her hands.” Cynthia said. “I learned a little bit about her kind. She has been alive for maybe a week and barely has a will of her own. Without Jaliehv’s orders, she will maybe complete her task of collecting all powers and then wait for instructions.”
“Are you sure about that?” Lasha asked.
“I went to the chamber where Jaliehv created them and was controlled by Valyra for a while. I think I got a good idea.”
“Okay. So we will kill Jaliehv and then try to catch Valyra.”
Algasath raised a hand. “Are you sure about this Cynthia? Is it necessary to kill her?”
“We are running out of options.”
“Jaliehv is as old as this world. Like us. It is hard to imagine removing her from it for the rest of time.”
“We were given this power. Certainly our creator imagined we might have to use it one day.”
“I suppose so.”
“Wait.” Milala interrupted. “I don’t think she’ll go for Ralsathi. If Jaliehv expects us to remove her godhood soon, then she will go for Madrian next. Only gods can enter the Afterlife. This might be her last chance to bring Valyra there.”
“But Madrian is in a part of the Afterlife only accessible to the god of death. It’d be pointless.” Duuri argued.
“I think Jaliehv would have thought all this better out if she had had the time.” Cynthia said. “I think Malai’s warning and my investigation made her begin her plan prematurely. I believe Madrian was supposed to be the first target, before we suspected anything. Power over death would have been invaluable. I think that might explain why Valyra was going for the easiest powers first.”
“But if that’s true…” Duuri thought aloud. “Then we really don’t have any time left.”
Kekremu appeared in the middle of the throne room. “Here you are.”
“Where has Valyra released you?” Cynthia asked.
“She went back to Jaliehv. She then released me and both of them disappeared.”
“Shit. We have to move.”
Madrian sat in a featureless room. The arrival hall, he called it. It was the place where dead souls go after they die. They usually require some time before they are ready to enter the Afterlife. Sinder sat before him. As a demigod of death, she was allowed here too. Here they would be safe from Valyra. Madrian wished he could know what was happening in the world outside, but not even other gods may enter this place.
This place was not meant to simply sit in, however. When Madrian was present, dead souls would pop up to be processed. At the time, he could not bring them into the Afterlife or even bring them back to life if there had been a mistake. He could put them back into the waiting line but that would only make the next soul come in moments later. So he resigned himself to chat with them until they were ready to wait a little longer.
“Hey! Where the hell are we?” the next soul approached the two. They always looked the way they expected themselves to look. Usually uninjured, sometimes wearing different clothes than they had been. Their image is not as clear as their actual bodies. People usually don’t memorize it down to the last detail. It’s a sight that takes some getting used to as a new soul. This soul’s perception did not appear to deviate much though.
“It’s the arrival hall.” Madrian explained.
The soul looked around, unaware they were no longer limited by their eyes’ sight.
“Did we get abducted by aliens?” They asked.
“No, no, there will be no harm done to us here. No one but us can be here right now.” Madrian patted the ground beside him. Ground that was only there if you wanted or expected it to be there. The soul sat down. They trusted Madrian. As the reaper, you needed to be able to calm people down with just the sound of your voice.
“What’s your name?”
“You may call me Madrian.”
“And who’s the girl?”
“My daughter, Sinder.”
“I see. How did you get here?”
“I was tasked with overseeing this place and all who come here. Unfortunately, all I can do at this time is talk with you.”
“What would you normally have done?”
“I’d have a more specific topic in mind. People don’t just come here at random, you see.”
“Okay. We’ve recently discovered there were aliens on our planet. Many different ones even. You know what I mean by aliens.”
“I believe the term xenobeing is commonly used to refer to people of different species as oneself.”
“I see. What I mean is, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised something else weird exists in this world. Has this here happened to a human before?”
“None of the famous people I know of have been here so far. But I also know very little.”
“Hmm. Is time stopped in here?”
“Right now it matches with the time outside but I can also slow it down if needed. I had a lot of people to go through recently. I probably passed several years in here in days.”
“That sounds rough. How come?”
“Sometimes my services are just needed more than others. But that certainly was an abnormal case.”
“Do you not age then?”
“So… you’re not just some wizard, are you?”
“Some call me a god but others might want to call me something else.”
“...Am I dead?”
People generally took the news better when they realized it themselves. “Yes.”
“How did I die?”
“Unfortunately, I cannot see right now.”
“What happens to dead people?”
“Generally, they go to the Afterlife. There they may spend their time until they are ready to be reborn. They will lose all memories in the process and provide the soul for a new life.”
“There is no way to come back alive?”
“None in your power. It is my duty to preserve life so we strive to create a series of events that ensures that life will continue. I may be able to bring you back if you have yet to contribute your part to that end. But it is rather rare that I have to do so.”
“I see. When will you be able to tell me?”
“I can put you back in line. By the time you pop in here again, all issues should be resolved.”
“How long will that be?”
“I wish I could say. But you will not be awake during the wait. It is your decision if you want to move on or want some more time to think in here. Though I can provide you that time either way.”
“Then put me back in. If I wake up to this twice, then I know it’s real.”
“See you soon, Kira.”
Kira nodded. Madrian terminated their session.
Madrian and Sinder exchanged looks. He wished he could say anything encouraging. At least all she seemed to be was bored. So far no one got overly emotional at their dilemma. Sinder had the foresight to take a music player with her. It was probably loud, so there was no point in saying anything. She’s gotten pretty good at occupying herself. Madrian had never let her out of the Afterlife, which was a vast space but also empty for the living. Here she was born and here she was safe. In all the years, he never got truly numb to death. As an eternal being, ends scared him. He came to understand why no other god decided to have a child. Why his wife decided not to get attached. Sinder was a demigod of death, but that still did not guarantee anything. Then Algasath adopted a human. Madrian was terrified that she could be the next one to enter this realm.
“What is happening?” a new voice shouted. “I’m burning! Help me! I’m-” they looked at their hands. “I thought I was burning.” Their eyes rose up and darted around the nothingness before settling on Madrian. “Where am I? Who are you?”
Madrian stepped closer, making his guest back away.
“Where did you bring me? It was so hot. Where’s the child?”
“You’re safe here. Nothing can hurt you here.” Madrian said.
“I felt it.”
“You’re okay. Look. You’re okay.” Madrian came closer.
“Who are you? Who was that child?”
“You can call me Madrian.”
The stranger backed away again. “You! What the hell do you want from me?” He appeared torn between running and fighting.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“This… this little yellow fairy sent me to you.”
“Are you talking about an Attejs?”
“The fuck do I know? She told me about you. To bring you a message. And then I-” he stepped back and forth in distress. “Then I burned. Where the hell am I, man?”
“You’re-” Usually being upfront about it was very distressing to his guests but Madrian felt this soul would be more upset with evasions and secrets. “You’re in the Afterlife.”
“The fuck?” He looked around once more. “The fuck do you mean? The brat killed me?”
“I’m sorry you got dragged into this.”
“Into what? Are you saying you’re the Grim Reaper?”
He let Madrian come close. Madrian grabbed his shoulders, forcing him to stand and giving him some stability. “What’s your name?”
“Daniel.” He said, beginning to tear up.
“Listen, Daniel. There is currently a conflict between us gods. Jaliehv must have hoped to lure me out by killing you.”
“Can you help me?”
“Your life has been taken in a very unnatural way. It is possible that it does not fit into the plan for the world, in which case I am to undo all of this. I cannot say for sure though. Jaliehv will have to be dealt with first.”
“That isn’t fair.” he lowered his head, unintentionally leaning it against Madrian’s shoulder.
“I’ll give you all the justice I’m able to give you. You said something about a message.”
“She said… Jaliehv has found a way to destroy souls.”
“I see. Those are dire news.”
“I don’t understand any of this.”
“You will be safe in here. If you wish, I will put you back in line. That would mean you would sleep until you’re brought before me again. When this is dealt with and I can determine your fate.”
“Then you can undo my death?”
“I cannot promise it.”
“I don’t want to wait.”
“You’ve been very strong throughout this. When next we meet, I promise I’ll bring good news.”
Madrian hugged the man and patted his back. Then he vanished.
“What will you do, dad?” Sinder had apparently listened in.
“I cannot let her do this. I’m not sure if it is possible to destroy a soul, but I have to protect them. Please stay here. I am a god, I am completely immortal. You needn’t worry about me.”
“Will more souls come still?”
“Yes, but it is okay if you send them back in line. I will get yelled at for it later.”
“Okay.” Sinder hugged him. Madrian kissed her head and disappeared.
The Afterlife was a vast place to accommodate all the souls adequately. It appeared as green fields, blue skies and soft clouds. Familiar but also fantastic in endearing ways. You could walk on the clouds and the rivers ran with a clear blue color. Fires only warmed and the rains were like refreshing showers. After all, some souls may wait for a hundred years here, only to say ‘I love you’ one last time. Unlike the Arrival Hall, time was consistent here, flowing just as fast as it did for the living. The dead would sleep wherever they wanted and eat only for the taste. None had a house, as they soon found their home in their souls. Something they could decorate without restriction, something that provided the same comfort. But no matter how different they ended up looking from their living self, their newly dead loved ones would always recognize them.
Jaliehv and Valyra stood on top of a hill. Valyra had possessed an Attejs to take on a physical form. Possessing a god, Valyra could use their teleportation ability, but only to places she herself had been. She could reach the afterlife if Jaliehv brought her there though. After her plan got started early, she wanted Valyra to collect more power before coming here and get used to them. Souls walked around them, aware of no danger. After all, there were supposed to be none here.
“Ah, I was worried I might have to give you direction as well.” Jaliehv said. “Looks like you found us.”
“Is it true?” Madrian asked.
“I’ve experimented a lot with souls lately. Figure out how to shape and change them. Turns out you can forge a soul into a blade. One that can cut right through these precious little things.” Jaliehv revealed a blue sword. It looked like it had been shattered into little shards and yet was held together. The fine cracks turned the transparent metal opaque. A soul, crystalized and broken so much it could only recover to this twisted form.
“That is sickening.”
“It’s a shame souls don’t leave anything behind. I would’ve loved for you to see their remains” Jaliehv held out her arms, presenting the empty meadow.
Madrian started to feel dizzy. A sensation his body should not be able to feel. He did not possess a brain that could falter like this. Yet it was happening.
“What a funny face you make.” Jaliehv’s head twitched his way. “Go possess him already. Do I have to tell you everything?”
The Attejs controlled by Valyra fell limp to the ground. Madrian braced for it. There was nothing he could do to stop it. His only hope was that Jaliehv would leave the dead alone afterwards.
But nothing happened.
“Madrian, we have to perform the ritual.” Cynthia’s voice appeared. Madrian found her and many others behind him.
“I was too late to trap her in a body but I can hold her in place.” Some dog girl said.
“Madrian!” Cynthia repeated.
He knew what she meant by ritual. He was ready to do it. What Jaliehv did here was unforgivable. It was an easy and quick thing once five gods were of a mind about it. Still, it had never been done before, so all they knew about it were from the instincts given to them at creation. Would Jaliehv feel it happen? What would she even be afterwards? Gods had no original form, so would she just stay however she was?
“Guess it’s time to retreat.” Jaliehv said and teleported out. It didn’t matter, she didn’t need to be present for the ritual. Still it was smart, as she would be trapped in the Afterlife otherwise. The ritual was done. A strange feeling magic left from their bodies.
“Alright, we gods go after Jaliehv.” Cynthia said. “Madrian, you stay here and help with Valyra.”
Madrian saw Lasha was here. Duuri, his wife’s demigod, that dog girl and Milala. He hoped they would be enough to defeat Valyra.
“I’ll release her now.” the dog girl said. Madrian had no idea what their plan was but he trusted they had one.
“Celeste, did she enter him?” Duuri asked.
Celeste looked worried. “No.” she shook her head.”She just disappeared.”
“But demigods can’t teleport. How did she-?” Duuri began.
“I think we should ask, where exactly did she go? Who would she rather possess than Madrian?” Milala said.
“I have a bad hunch.” Celeste said. “Madrian, can you bring us to Amieredetta?”
Madrian brought them to Algasath’s main chamber. There they saw Lasha’s Shandari friend, eyes wide in shock as she spotted them.
“Get me out of here.” she said and vanished.
Lasha tried to catch her but it was too late. She turned around to Celeste. “She didn’t-”
“I’m afraid she saw through our plan.”
“But how did she teleport?”
“I’m afraid… gods can shapeshift. They can make themselves invisibly small. That also makes their souls hard to sense.”
“We should meet the gods in Jaluxar.” Celeste reasoned.
“I’ll go and set you up with a portal.” Duuri offered and zoomed off.
Madrian retreated back to the Afterlife. The dead still went about their day undisturbed. Madrian stepped onto the hill and stared at the grass, hoping to find just a flicker clinging on. He didn’t even know who he had lost.