The group laughed at Tyndur’s comment. The einherjar grinned at the remaining members of the party.
“A little laughter goes a long way, my friends. It ails me to see our party disheartened by such misfortune. But look at it this way, we are all still alive. It is said that not every cloud that darkens the sky brings rain,” said Tyndur with uncharacteristic seriousness though a smile lingered.
“One of the sagas, I remember,” remarked Habrok.
“Indeed, it is,” replied Tyndur. “Now our party is less two, but it does mean more heads for us to bash.”
Now that’s the Tyndur I remember. But that serious part of him I have not seen before, thought Tyler.
“Gather your things and come closer, our transportation is nearly upon us,” advised Tyler.
Each man, including Tyler, quickly took hold of waterskins and provisions, shouldering some packs and holding on to others. To Tyler, they all looked comical, loaded down with various sacks and bags.
We’ll sort everything out on the other side. I doubt if all of the bags are full, the mage thought just as a sudden bright circular glow erupted from the edges of the mound. Immediately, it shrunk, the luminosity intensified, though Tyler could see that the lower portion of the dazzling half-orb enchantment was not touching the ground. It reached the group, gave off a flash, and disappeared.
Disorientation struck Tyler as soon as his feet felt the ground. He dropped the bags held in his right while he hung on to the staff. The mage had to close his eyes as a spinning sensation assaulted him when he tried to open them. At the same time, he hoped his companions were better prepared than he was for the sudden change. But even as vertigo made him dizzy, he erected a square barrier around them, estimating the distance from what he remembered as the locations of the members of the group as they departed the mound.
Thaut’s transportation spell has a different flavor. I never felt this sick in the transfers made by the other deities, the mage observed as he held on to his spinning head.
“I have erected a barrier around us. Give me a moment. That transfer made me dizzy,” he called out to the companions.
“It was a disconcerting trip, sire. But we have recovered. We are on another desolate plain. No creatures in sight. The ground is rocky and the terrain is hilly. But there appear to be trees in the far distance,” Kobu updated him.
“Elder, if we may?” spoke X.
“We apologize, but we believe you should be aware that we have detected faint Elder emanations. It’s in front of us, right in the direction you intend to go.”
“What kind of signals? There are dark Elders on this world as we have confirmed. It could be another cult,” replied Tyler.
“We don’t believe so, sire. It is similar to what one would detect from an Elder shrine, similar to what we once occupied, but this one is heavily shielded. We doubt if even dark Elders could detect it, much less those of the pantheons of this world. Remarkably, it is specifically attuned to a frequency which is not accessible to the lost ones,”answered Hal.
“Interesting. We don’t have any record or information about a shrine in these parts. We’ll find out sooner or later what’s waiting for us. Monitor it. Hopefully, we won’t need to divert from our course,” said the young mage.
“Of course, Elder.”
“Can you call me Tyler or First Mage instead? Seeing that Zon structure made me uncomfortable about being called an Elder. I know, they’re lost ones. But still…”
“As you want, First Mage,” replied X.
“Yes, Elder First Mage,” added Hal.
I swear Hal really is developing a human sense of humor. Or is he learning it from Tyndur’s dialogue? Well, as long as he doesn’t affect a skaldic air, I guess it’s ok.
Slowly, Tyler opened an eye, trying to gauge its reaction to the bright sun. The dizziness which affected him was now disappearing. Thankfully, it didn’t leave any queasiness behind. But as his vision swept across the surroundings, the morning glare reflecting off the ground momentarily left tears in his eye. Finally, he was able to open the other one. The vista that greeted him did appear to be the same bleak and empty land of the Barrens. But he noted that the ground seemed to change the closer one got to the second mountain range he could espy ahead. And a dark smear several miles away was indeed a forest, a scraggly one, but a welcome green in the shades of brown and gray which was the hallmark of the land.
That first mountain range must have shielded this part of the Barrens from the worst effect of what happened, Tyler concluded. That means we would be encountering animals and vegetation of the normal kind the closer we get to those tall peaks. But still a long way off, the thought occurred to him.
He turned around to find Habrok to ask him to sort out their provisions and found the ranger and the einherjar already doing it. Kobu stood guard. Tyler walked to the exile.
“Your thoughts, Kobu?”
“A much better land than the one we left, sire. Hunting animals to add to our food is possible here. I don’t think it would be difficult for the ranger to find water too. If those mountains are our destination, then we have at least a week of travel ahead of us. But if we survived the Void Lands, then I believe the journey would not be too difficult,” replied the man.
“I pray it would be so, Kobu. Though be warned that, disconcerting and frustrating as it may be, this world has a way of making matters complicated for me,” said Tyler.
“I noticed that, sire. But what is food without some spice or salt in it? What is life without its challenges and mysteries?”
“Oh, don’t go Zen on me, Kobu. It’s easy to say those things when you’re not on the receiving end.”
“Ah! You know of that discipline, sire? Impressive. Very few outside the lands of Wa know of its existence. Maybe A few priests and monks from the Zhong empire, but for a man of the East to know of Zen, that is a pleasant surprise.”
Tyler was about to comment when a small shining orb abruptly made its appearance in front of them. It was several meters away, but its gold and white radiance made it impossible to miss its arrival. The glowing sphere started to grow and the pair stepped back a few paces. They were joined by Tyndur and Habrok. The group slowly spread themselves out, a few feet separating them, with weapons at the ready.
“Life in our party never ceases to be interesting,” he heard Tyndur comment with a chuckle.
“We’ll see if this encounter would be spice or salt,” added Kobu, clearly alluding to their earlier conversation.
“It could be vinegar,” said Habrok with a laugh.
Tyler could just shake his head though he was relieved that the remaining members of the group have not lost their usual demeanor despite what happened to Asem. The orb grew larger and dissipated, revealing a very tall blonde man attired in an Aztec warrior’s garb. He towered over them, easily ten feet in height. A massive conch shell adorned his breast and the visitor wore a headdress with a gold band to which were attached numerous multi-colored feathers. The flamboyant adornment reached down to his waist. He was unarmed and had held out his right arm, palm out, as a greeting.
“Sire, what is it with you and deities?” he heard Habrok whisper.
Tyler didn’t reply. His attention was on the newcomer who walked through his barrier as if it didn’t exist. Meanwhile, he was already furiously trying to come up with options in the event the visitor turned out to be belligerent. Or the meeting becomes a disaster. Either way, he knew he had to come up with a plan. Anything. But nothing came up. The encounter was too sudden for him to think of an idea.
“Guys! Who is this deity?” he quickly asked his guides.
“We believe he’s Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. Known as Kukulkan to the Mayas,” answered Hal.
“Viracocha did speak well of him, but next few seconds will show if things have changed,” the guide answered. “Remember though he’s Aztecah. But with a bit of everything thrown in.”
“Hail, First Mage,” said the giant in the Incan language, his voice surprisingly gentle for his imposing bulk.
At the greeting, Tyler noticed his companions all stared at him.
Now the freaking cat’s out of the bag. My companions now know I am not a mere High Mage, the thought came to him. He put that consideration out of his mind for the time being. A more pressing concern was right in front of him.
“Rimaykullayki, great Quetzalcoatl. What brings the Feathered Serpent way out here, in the middle of a wasteland,” replied Tyler.
The deity grinned. A good sign, thought the mage.
“My mentor did tell me you were full of surprises. You knew my name. Fortunately, Thaut was kind enough to send me your way. I haven’t been to the northern parts before. Pantheon politics and easing the burden of blood on our people took up my time. I have sent Tlazolteotl, the Aztecah goddess of healing and purification, to help in the recovery of Thaut’s daughter. That’s how I found a way to get here. Patecatl would be of help too, but he’s the messenger of the deity you squashed,” Quetzalcoatl laughed.
“How is she?”
“A lot better than worse, but a lot less than hale,” came the cryptic answer.
“Thanks, that makes matters a lot clear,” said Tyler in a sardonic tone.
Quetzalcoatl laughed again. A loud sound that showed genuine merriment and amusement.
“You do know us, First Mage. Without a veil of mystery and a cloak of enigma, what would a deity be? A mere walking focus of power. Bland, colorless, uninteresting in the scheme of things. Even a volcano would have more personality. No, that wouldn’t do. Only those of the dark appear like that. Blind terror, no artistry at all. Some mad ones do try to wrap themselves in their own versions of what we naturally exude but many fail.”
“You mentioned a mentor, do I know him? asked the mage.
The deity looked at him, slight disbelief in his face. Then he relaxed.
“It doesn’t do your mantle any honor when you ask questions to which you already know the answer.”
“I apologize. Come on, don’t tell me it’s Viracocha! On second thought, it does make sense. The old man had been around for a long time. Even predated a lot of the pantheons around here. How may we be of service? To travel such a distance, far from your usual fields, makes your visitation an urgent one indeed,” said Tyler. Good God. It’s so difficult to talk this way. It does keep you on your toes – verbal fencing, knowing when to be polite. How to conceal intentions within words. And the ability to recognize when indirect insults or hidden threats were being thrown left and right.
“I wanted to meet the mortal who gave us a chance. And that incident with that arrogant upstart was an entertaining one. Don’t worry, he still doesn’t know who made a mess of his face. We’re in open war now with the rest of our pantheon. But what else is new? That cycle had been going on for millennia. Though this time, my misguided brethren are severely weakened and facing conflicts of their own making on several fronts. We might win this time,” said the deity.
“Fighting against one’s own?” asked Tyler.
“Don’t mind it. It has been going on since we first laid eyes on the First World. We’re like mortals in that aspect. A period of peace followed by a time of war. Though a conflict between siblings is more brutal and unforgiving. But my time here grows short, and I have to attend to an on-going war. I did learn the tidbit that the patrons of my enemies were defeated. That leaves them right where we want them. The mortal war though is another matter. So, First Mage, what can I do to show my appreciation? You won’t be able to wriggle your way out of this one. I know Zeus’s debt is still unpaid and I heard it’s making him uncomfortable.”
A favor? But I think I have to make it realistic and uncomplicated. From what I heard, I doubt if he had recovered his full strength during his exile and a war does await him, though the mage. And I guess he won’t take no or not yet for an answer.
“Well, we are a little worse for wear. My companions lack armor or weapons of appropriate power, given what we will be facing,” requested Tyler.
“I will see what I can do. But I cannot include the Valkyrie and Thaut’s daughter. That’s within that god’s purview,” replied Quetzalcoatl. The deity walked towards Tyndur first.
“An einherjar! Far from the halls of Valhalla!” the entity exclaimed as he neared.
“And there’s no way I am going back there. Even if Thor’s blasted goats come to drag me back,” commented the einherjar.
The deity looked at Tyndur closely.
“An einherjar which Fate herself had marked for a different path. Ah, fear not, warrior. If even I could see that, your All-Father could see that too. And nobody wants to anger Fate. Now, to your weapons and armor. Your armor is of Aesir make, protected and enhanced by their runes and a strange power I cannot identify. It is good enough. And your battle-axe! It appears to be an ancient one. Power is smoldering under its physical shell. The only gift I could give you is to awaken it from its slumber. It’s time for it to rouse itself. Great deeds await, Eldhofud! Awake!”
Suddenly, flames burst around the head of Jorund’s Justice, a great flowing ball of fire. The einherjar nearly dropped it out of shock. But it didn’t burn Tyndur as the fiery tendrils now danced their way down the handle, caressing the hands of the wielder which now tightly gripped the shaft.
“It will immolate your enemies provided the power of the axe exceeds theirs, but for more powerful opponents, each successful hit will burn the area around the inflicted wound. Unfortunately, the blade of the weapon, due to its nature, won’t be successful against fire drakens, flame drakes, salamanders of a fiery affinity, and similar creatures. Demons though are fair game. The fire of the axe is a purifying one,” clarified the deity who then turned to Kobu, leaving Tyndur examining his enhanced weapon gleefully.
“So that’s its secret name, Eldhofud. Fire Head. Quite proper,” Tyler heard thenmurmuring of the einherjar.
“The exile from the hands of Wa. Be warned, Lord Warmaster of the clan of…. “ Quetzalcoatl started to say but stopped when he saw the shocked and desperate look on Kobu’s face. “My apologies for saying things before their time. But three creatures passed through Aztecah lands in the midst of the conflict and confusion. But Ehecatl took note of their momentary appearance and sudden movement towards the north. I brought the aspect of the wind’s description to Viracocha, a fount of lore and knowledge. He suspected them to be Jorogumo from your native land, their spider-like traits being their most prominent feature. And there is only one target on the mainland worthy of such expenditure of magical power and baleful animosity.”
Tyler believed he saw Kobu’s face lost its pallor for a second. The man quickly recovered and bowed his head.
“My utmost thanks for the warning, great deity of the Aztecah. But it will be as Fate decides.”
“Truly said, exile. But a good suit of armor would help,” said the deity.
A black suit of armor abruptly appeared on Kobu, replacing his mishmashed protection. Even the exile was caught off guard by what happened.
“A tribute to your homeland though an old man did contribute something to its appearance. Light but quite difficult to penetrate with conventional weapons and highly resistant to acid and poison. Also to fire but that was not my doing. I decline to improve your weapon. It is exceptional enough.”
The exile quickly got down on his knees and bowed deeply.
“This is such a great gift! One fit for kings and emperors! My utmost thanks, o great one,” cried out the man.
“Or fit for somebody being hunted by three half-human spiders. It is not me who you should give thanks to, but rather the First Mage who made my return and the cleansing of my pantheon possible,” replied Quetzalcoatl.
“Now the ranger. Your enchanted armor is one which I cannot even create. The aura of the ancient ones is ingrained in it, not to mention the material itself is of a singular origin. Both the giver of the scales and the creator who made it and gave it its blessing would be furious if I tinker with it. Though I have to admit, the forging of the armor is beyond me. But your bow leaves much to be desired,” commented the deity again as he waved his hand in the direction of Habrok.
“There! An unbreakable bow. With your will, decide whether an ordinary arrow would be tipped with lightning or with flame. But only after every five arrows. And your long sword. It will cut through the hide of any beast known to man, except drakens again. I apologize, but there is an eerie quality about that race which baffles deities and mortals alike.”
Habrok merely bowed his head and voiced his thanks. But Tyler saw that as the deity turned his back to face him, Habrok’s face broke into a huge grin and started to examine his bow. Even Kobu was feeling out the kinks of his new armor.
“This is unbelievable! My heartfelt thanks, Quetzalcoatl. We might have a chance after all in our journey,” declared Tyler. The mage was ecstatic. He never dreamed one of his primary concerns was already resolved. The news about Kobu’s new adoring fans was unnerving, but he did expect it. Way back when the party was still in Viracocha’s temple.
“But I am not finished yet,” said the deity. “I have something for you. For your staff, actually.”
Inwardly, Tyler panicked. He was already worried about the myriad of different energies already in the staff – from Rumpr, Hephaestus, Viracocha, Nike, and others. Even his guides did not know what would happen if more powers of a different kind were pumped into it.
“Uh, that won’t be necessary. You’ve done a lot for us, for me, already,” Tyler started to protest.
“Nonsense. Your armor is more powerful than that of the ranger, but a mage’s staff could always use more power.”
Oh my God. Not this staff.
Despite Tyler’s protests, a powerful burst of energy erupted from Quetzalcoatl and embedded itself in the staff. Shocked, the mage, with eyes closed, waited with desperate fear and trepidation as to what would happen. He half expected a massive explosion of magical energy blowing the party to pieces. Nothing happened though the staff felt hot to the touch.
“What was that?” he finally asked the deity as he opened his eyes.
“A spirit of wind and fire. It now resides in your staff. Take care of it. It is young but with time and care, will grow to a magnificent creature. But remember, it is an elemental force of nature. How you treat and teach it has a lot of bearing on what exactly it will be in the future.”
“As with my companions, I humbly offer my gratitude for the gifts. I never expected that you would be so generous.”
“Do spread the news around. It helps with a deity’s stature,” replied Quetzalcoatl with a smile, just as an inquisitive voice sounded in the back.
“Excuse me, but how do I turn off this thing?” asked Tyndur who was already covered with flames from his axe.