Chapter Seven


If there's anyone reading this; my apologies for taking forever with this chapter. Though I really like this one, especially the language, I couldn't think of much to do with Sekt, who you'll meet here; so she just sat around and rotted for a while while I worked on other stories. Newer stories, such as The Society of the Gryphon's Shadow, who recently reached 250 pages while this little novel is still struggling to reach 40. Well, it explains why this chapter's shorter than the others. Remember to review, and enjoy!

There is madness in the tunnels of the Otherworld, a type of gray cloud that clogs the air, traveling along the moaning winds with a foul stench clinging to it. It brings with it a chill, a feeling of unease, a terror that travels through your bones and makes your spine quiver. The golden throne upon which I sat seemed stiffer, more constricting, and the air became difficult to breathe, thick and heavy. It was cold, here- horribly cold, and yet I felt sweat sliding from my arms as Father walked into the ivory throne room from a few feet in front of the massive doors. The door were there merely for decoration- they may as well have been painted on, for no souls were permitted to enter and I was not permitted to leave, and Death himself could and did appear where ever within the room he wanted to be. The great Yeth Hound at my side, who had been given to me and bound to me by Father before his Madness became, began to rise as the nearly tangible cloud began to fill the room, but he settled back down when he felt my hand upon his shoulder. His name was Anubis, the son of Set, who walked at Father's side, looking uneasy but proud. For Madness was settling into her, as well, slower than the Lord but just as permanently. The red- eared dog looked up, her motions as graceful as her master's had been before this, and snarled silently at Anubis before lying down on the cold floor and shutting her glowing eyes.

"My daughter," hissed the black-robed entity, clawed, black-scaled dragon's feet poking curved claws from the hems and huge, black bat-wings stretching from his back. "Rise, Sekt, my daughter and Heir. Rise and embrace your father."

I was scared, but I succumbed to his command. That Father wanted me dead was not a mystery, nor a surprise. Death was supposed to be without emotion, but as he aged, and even the gods aged, he gained a singular feeling. Fear. He was terrified of his own weapon, he was scared of death. And when my mother, the Lady Phoenix, conceived child, his heir, he was more than scared. He was terrified of the tiny child that looked up at him with flaming red eyes and bore flaming wings on her back, was terrified of the feline head with it's feathers stretching down to her bipedal body, with backwards-bent legs and talons. He was terrified of the protection to bird of Fire gave her, was terrified that he could not kill her as he could kill any other living soul in the world. He was terrified that, if there was anything for me to inherit, he would die as so many others of the so- called immortal died. And every time he faced a new death, the fear grew, until he never once more left his realm, but sent the hell-hounds out in fleets to tear apart the mortals who otherwise would be there to give me a reason to take over. He acquired the goblins, and sent them, with new magic and the coerced dragon Morrasinar to tear apart to humans, while the Clans of basilisks that would have him, he sent against the gryphons, their ancient enemies.

My father was a fool. There would always be life, always be breathing, living souls who would dwell in their protection, always be a god who would protect them. And if everything died, and there was only a single sparrow, I would stand up. He didn't know- I barely knew- but I would stand up. I was his Heir, and it was my fate to stand when he fell.

I embraced him, but I pulled back first, and I couldn't keep the disgust from my face for that one fateful moment.

He said, "Morrasinar has escaped from my goblins."

I looked at the floor so he couldn't see my face, and answered, as soberly as I could, "My apologies, Father. I hope the blow it not too bad."

The hood revealed nothing of the entity's thoughts, and his voice merely hissed in insanity and age, but his words seems honest enough. "It was, Daughter. Morrasinar was the only dragon besides the ancient Sheerung who can preform magic, and the Tiger Dragon is weak. Now, he is guarded by many who wish him to live, and elves cannot be controlled." He chuckled, a soft sound, a testament to his insanity. "They can be killed, however. Hunted down by my pack, torn by Yeth Hound teeth!"

And he was gone in a cloud of gray madness. I felt a chill traveling up my spine, and was alone again. _______________________________________________________________________

The obsidian mirror reflected everything on a face that could never be seen by the world, glistening in another world, a black world, where everything was dark and there was not interfering gray. It reflected emotions no goddess had a right to feel- as if there was an emotion a goddess, particularly a goddess of Death, had a right to feel. Pain and a silent anger, a hint of desperation and Father's downfall, a streak of fear. I reached out to touch that perfect world, a world of perfect shadow, but my fingers would not reach past the monotonous gray. I let my fingers slide down the polished stone, icy cold but warming slightly under my own heat, and whispered, "Mother."

And she appeared- first only in the streaks of fire left by my fingers, and then, as those streaks broadened, and reformed, as a bird of flame, proud and regal. The Phoenix looked down upon her daughter, glowing embers of eyes warming in approval.

"Daughter," she whispered, the same title Father had called me by but with unimaginable warmth. This was the one who had protected me from my father's fear and madness, raised me when I was very small, before the Lord of all Gods decreed I go to my future realm, and the one who continued to protect me, through her intricate magic. The Phoenix spread her wings of fire, and gave a simple wisp of song, like a caress of warmth upon my face.

"Mother," I replied, and there was warmth in my voice, as well. Once more, there were emotions, emotions no goddess had a right to feel. "Mother, Morrasinar the Fire Dragon has escaped Father's reach. He's trying to recapture them- there are mortals protecting him, and he will destroy them, to get to Morrasinar. Warn the Lord."

Mother looked down upon me, her eyes glowing with pride and another emotion, one no goddess had a right to feel. "My child," she whispered. "Yes; Morrasinar must not be coerced again, it is true. He is too powerful. And yet- he cannot die, not yet. The gods cannot kill one whose time has not yet come- and that would be your father's reign, anyway. We will not stoop to Death's level to release mortals on other mortals, not ever."

"Mother, he is frightened. He is frightened of his own realm, but he is still frightened. And fear has driven him mad, in his own right. The gods-" she swallowed a lump in her throat. "The gods aren't made to feel."

"He is a coward!" the Phoenix crowed, her song coming out like the beating of war drums.

"That is true," I replied, and if any of my sorrow showed through, I didn't hear it. I reached for the smooth glass, and felt the fires die beneath my hands. "And it has bred true, mother. It has bred true." _______________________________________________________________________

"The gods have found the Fire Dragon. They have blessed his journey to find Sheerung." There was accusation in his voice, and it was a weapon pointed to me. "With the Tiger Dragon to guard him, Morrasinar is a harder catch to coerce."

I shook off his dagger-glare and tried to gather my wits. If he discovered my betrayal- he couldn't hurt me, but he could make it feel he was. "Why can't your mortals merely speak his name, and call him to your command?" I asked him, trying to keep anything suspicious from my voice. "Why can they not merely call him to you, and kill Sheerung and the elf in the time?"

"Because Sheerung the Tiger Dragon knows how to disenchant the bond between a dragon and his name!" snapped Father, throwing back his hooded head. "Or dilute it- no creature can officially shake off the bond between itself and its name, not with magic. But Sheerung can keep the geas from controlling Morrasinar, and the Fire Dragon can protect him from the Hounds, the goblins, and the basilisks. They are, quite unfortunately, a strong team."

"A one-eyed dragon and an ancient artifact?" I replied, hoping I sounded supportive of my father and not openly gloating for the others. "Surely, you are not frightened by them? And who walks with them?"

"Merely the elf, a human, and a flightless gryphon," was Death's reply. "But it is the dragons I fear."

A wingless gryphon? A human? What did the Fire Dragon think he was pulling, with such an outrageous army?

"However." For a moment, Death's face was contorted with a victory he could almost taste. "Once they are dead. Once they are dead."

No. He was wrong, and like fire, it rose within me. Like fire, it would not be kept inside- for holding an open flame in one's hands is a sure way to be burned.

"You cannot win, Father," I said, though I hadn't meant to. Once they are dead, indeed! He couldn't possibly be that thick. "The gods are behind the Fire Dragon. They have power."

"As do I." His tone was calm, so deadly calm that it sent a shiver down my spine. It was the silence before a storm, the hiss that told him he would kill me if he could. "I have power, as well, my dear Sekt. And I have something they don't."

"What?" I asked, in a moment of true stupidity. I wished I could just keep my mouth shut, but fear did not focus what little sense I possessed.

"I have sense. They have honor. Hardly a fair trade, I'd say." I couldn't see it through the shadows cast by his hood, but I knew he was grinning, horribly. A taloned hand slapped me across my face; the Phoenix's protections sent fire up his arm, but he barely winced. "My intelligence, Sekt, will win the war for me. And their thickheaded honor will kill them."

"You are mad." It hadn't been said before, but now it was voiced. Now, it was announced to all, blatantly, obviously. "You are utterly, completely maddened, Father."

"Silence, daughter." The voice was harsh, strict. It emerged from the shadows of the cloak like an enraged snake rising to the tune of its charmer, hood flared and fangs bared. Set appeared at her master's side, snarling. "You have put your bid in the wrong way, I see. You will change the way the flowers face when you see my power, daughter."

"You are dying." The words kept coming, uncontrolled, unchecked. "You are dying, it is why I was born. I will be the next Goddess, while you fade away to a memory, to a legend, to a myth. While you fade away, father- "

The hard hand, clawed at the joint, snapped from the depths of Lord Death's dark cloak and struck the side of my face, the icy, bone fingers snapping my head to the side. Pain washed through my mind, freezing the fires in my heart. Breath flowed sharply into my lungs, and for a second, vision faded to darkness and then re-emerged with clarity enough to even see the radiating magic of the Phoenix's spell.

"I will never fade away!" cried the cloaked figure, though he drew back with pain far greater than that he had inflicted. "I will never fade away! I will see you and everyone else in this damned existence dead long before that!"

I drew back, and he was gone. _______________________________________________________________________

His name was Kargan, and he was to be my husband. The marriage was all set up by Father, who had been delighted at the turning of the God of the Rivers and Seas. He sat across from me now, not the least frightened by Anubis, though the Yeth Hound snarled at the mist that rose from his skin. Like all the gods- most, at least- he had chosen a two-legged form, but his was as interchangeable as the waters of the seas. His influence, my Father had crowed, was like the currents that drowned stray swimmers, his strength that of the furious tsunami, his charm that of the waves reflecting a million different sunsets at once. The perfect husband.

I hated him. Oh, shadows save me, I hated him. Goddesses do not possess emotions, but then I am not a goddess- for my loathing of the water God was like fire in my breast, and I refused to look at him even as he spoke to me. For he was not a God at all, in my eyes- he was a symbol, an embodiment of the control over me which Father held, and the leash with which he would chain his rebellious dog. I, his heir, would not be trusted with her own fate, her own future, her own house, but would be bartered off to the Earth Clan as a bride.

"You are beautiful, Sekt." The voice that Kargan used was like the water's flow- so sincere and beautiful that it hurt not to believe him. "Fire itself- lovely. I am a rather lucky one, don't you agree, that your Father decided that I was the right God for you?"

I was frightened of Kargan. I was more frightened of my father. But I was the next generation, the future, and the future should never fear the past. No matter how the former is changed by the latter, it will always come. I spat at Kargan's feet, watching the attack melt the stone and fizzle away. "You are hideous," I told him, feathers rising with fury. "You are the embodiment of my father's malice, and merely a puppet in his show. You are disgusting, horrible, heartless, prideless, and idiotic, and if I had a choice, I would stab you now and avoid marrying you!"

He laughed, the way a father would laugh if his child did or said something stupid which she could not possibly understand. As if I were merely a little girl, with no brain of my own. "Yet you can't, little bird," he said, softly. "Yet you cannot rule even in your own chamber. If we were mortals I could beat you mercilessly, take advantage of you and strangle you with your dog's own tail and you could do nothing. I could kill you now without you being able to stop me, and Death, you can be sure, would not stop to save you."

"I'd prefer you kill me rather than marry me."

"And I'd prefer to marry you." The malleable face of the God twisted into a grin. "And as I am the only one here who can do as they please, I will tell you now that my way is the way it will turn out. My way, little phoenix."

There was a motion at the door of my room, and Lord Death entered in a sweep of black. "Kargan," he announced, softly, almost deviously. "Come with me, my son. Come and see what I can do- there are mortals down below who wish to defy me, and I would love for you to see me annihilate them."

The water god drew away from me, and I relaxed- not visibly, but very slightly in the way my feathers were arranged. "Why kill them yourself?" asked Kargan, sounding amused. "Why not send the goblins or Yeth Hounds to do the work for you? You know, of course, that it is against Law to kill a mortal."

The mad never obey the laws- and Father, who had abandoned the practices of merciful death, had become the sole expert on killing. "The Yeth Hounds and the goblins are not doing their bidding," was Lord Death's reply. "It is time to take matters into more divine hands."

It WAS time to take matters into more divine hands- and, more importantly, take powers from hands far less divine. I approached the obsidian mirror as silently as I could after my husband to be and my Father had gone, and whispered my mother's name into the tracing fires.

"My daughter," said the phoenix, looking into my eyes with deep red circles of her own. "Why do you call on me? Are you in need of my protection?"

"No, Mother." I was terrified- more than terrified- but I covered it up as best I could. "It is not myself who needs protection. Father wishes to destroy the mortals- Morrasinar, the elf, the human, Sheerung and the gryphon. I- I must stop him."

The phoenix lowered her graceful head. She had known the moment would come that I would have to take the powers from Death that were mine by right- but she had not expected it to be this soon. Neither had I. "Normally, this sort of transaction happens gradually, over time. But it must happen quickly, now- in leaps of power, one at a time. They will leave you winded- you will have to make many transactions at once. But the time has come for the first one. Take some of Death's power, and he will not be able to strike down the assembled from afar- and will not venture onto the mortal world to kill them. He is a coward."

I did everything Mother told me to. She said to close my eyes, I closed them. As the darkness was penetrated by ghosts of lights, she instructed me to find my Father- which I did, tracing his mind and presence through his intertwining walls. He must have truly thought himself grand, not putting protections against my sorcery in my chamber- but there was no time to think of that, then. I was forced to battle through the clouds of his madness, to feel for the pulsing area that was his power.

He was attempting to kill Morrasinar and the others, and the power was already stretching, glowing. I clung to it, pulling on it, trying to take as much as I could and painfully aware that it wasn't nearly enough.

Doubt frightened me. What if I wasn't ready to take the powers of the god? What if I was going to kill myself, merely touching him? The powers rushed into me, and pain welled inside my body like the fires that raced naturally in my veins- something happened- my feathers combusted for a moment in a phoenix reflex of defense-

Then it was over. Powers of Death roiled inside of me- a fraction of Father's might, but more than I had ever touched in my life. And I was empty, otherwise, and hurting and pulsing and unable to think except to wonder if it had worked. If I had stopped Death from conquering that small group of mortals on a planet called Earth.

A scream of foul rage proved my purpose successful as gray clouds of madness rose once more from the rocks themselves.