THE SHELBY CHRONICLES
BOOK 2: WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
By Shane Lutz
Shelby sat back in her chair, arms folded, smiling triumphantly. One more move with her queen and her opponent would be hers. They had been playing for a long time and she had lost track of the hours, neither of them daring to even turn away for the briefest moment.
Athena rested her head on her olive-toned hand, eyeing the chessboard with immense concentration. Her king was cornered, her queen trapped, and her rooks, knights, and castles were spread across the board from a previous strategy. Maybe after a lifetime of winning the ancient game, and too many years playing with the teenaged girl, she had finally met her match.
And then she moved a single pawn forward.
Shelby leaned forward immediately, dumbfounded. Her mouth hung open in shock. No way. She had been strategizing the entire game! Planning ahead, anticipating her opponents moves, knowing what she was doing before she even did! How did she lose? She had been sure she was going to win. Sometimes she suspected her teacher abused her godly powers a little too much.
"Hmph." Shelby muttered, flicking her king over defiantly.
Athena chuckled. "Do not worry, my child. You were a greater match than Queen Hatsheput ever was," she encouraged with a wink. Then, sighing, leaned back into her chair.
The two sat in an immense courtyard. Gargantuan oak trees the thickness of pillars and broader were scattered across the lawn. They were sitting in black marble chairs that seemed strange but were surprisingly cool in the humid sun. The chessboard was made out of a dark gray and white marble similar to the chairs, and the playing pieces were crafted from black and white glass but were more durable than gold.
Out of the corner of her eye, Shelby noticed two men in matching tuxedos approaching. They were obviously guards sent to disrupt their peace. The Brotherhood of the Snake was so keen on being ominous that they seemed to be so apparent in doing so.
"It is time, goddess," one of them said, pulling out the chair from beneath her as Athena rose, her silver dress rippling like a cascade of liquid moonlight. It looked like something a Greek queen would wear, complete with golden earrings, bangles, bracelets, rings, and a prominent necklace.
"Time for what?" Shelby said, pushing herself up before the other man could pull her chair out for her.
She just smiled at the young warrior. "Before you past judgment on it, you must know that all warriors before you had to…ascertain one as well."
"You will soon find out." Athena smiled, and then turned and walked across the courtyard with the guard, the other remaining with Shelby and motioning for her to follow him.
"Come, Shelby Sparks," he said with such authority yet gentleness that she wondered for a second if he was human or not. "There is someone waiting for you."
She was about to ask who but figured he wouldn't tell her anything anyway. Sometimes it really angered her that no one ever bothered to tell the girl who saved all their sorry tails anything. So with a huff of annoyance, she trudged out of the gigantic courtyard, following the human-or-not man with a mix of agitation and curiosity. She had a feeling that this was not going to end well.
When Shelby had been led out of the courtyard, she was escorted through many long and intricate hallways where she was reminded once again at how terribly labyrinthine the Brotherhood of the Snake's New York headquarters was. There were far too many secret stairwells, hidden doorways, masked chambers, and obscured dwellings. She wondered how anyone could ever learn all of them, and then doubted that anyone ever did. Except for the builder of the base himself, a man named Daedalus.
The strange man who had disturbed her peace with the goddess Athena brought her to the end of a hallway where two large wooden doors inscribed with what looked remarkably like Egyptian hieroglyphics on it stood. Shelby had discovered that the man was a shabti, a sort of statue that could be called to life for specific duties. They were usually used in libraries where the tomes and writings were so vast that only the animated sculptures could locate them. And now, apparently, that were being sent to find people, too, she thought bitterly.
The shabti stood to the left of the doors, silent, staring blindly ahead. Shelby tried to get its attention, and then sighed, figuring he had resorted back to his lifeless state. Her gaze then shifted to the giant doors. The only place where they were used was at the threshold of a council or tribunal. But as far as she knew, there were no assemblies on this wing of the base. Then again, when did the Ichor – the Golden Bloods, the gods – ever stick to the obvious?
Before she could knock, the doors swung open slowly, and just enough for her to squeeze through.
"Don't stress yourself," Shelby grumbled. She slipped through the thin space between the doors, turning sideways to allow herself more room.
While she had expected a council, it was far from one.
It was a library.
Bookcases spanned the walls of the library's floor that she was on, with desk piling tomes scattered throughout. All the floors themselves were rings that went all the way around the room. Above her, higher levels rose for as far as she could see, all holding books. But only a short distance in front of her, the floor went down, revealing lower levels. Here, the tomes were older. Scrolls and rolled papyrus were slid into honey-combed shelves. Large, thick slabs of rock and clay were also piled, scratches of ancient languages – Hebrew, Sumerian, Babylonian, and others – etched into them for eternity.
"Well, are you coming in or not?" A voice called from below.
Shelby blinked, caught off guard. "Um…pardon?" She said, licking suddenly dry lips.
"The door, child," the voice said, agitated and impatient. "I don't mind if you stay, but if you do, will please shut the door? I find it difficult to write when the wind keeps blowing my paper around."
"Oh, sorry," Shelby said quickly. After she had closed the door and a loud click sounded, she descended the first five-stepped staircase to one of the bottom levels. Only two more short floors below her, the rings ended and a flat plane – the very bottom – spanned. There were unorganized books and scrolls and all sorts of writings scattered across the ground and on small desks from all across the library. At the center was a large desk with a giant, yellowed piece of paper sprawled out, cursive flourished across it in black ink. A man, with his head bent low, hidden from view, sat at the desk with his back to her, sitting on a three-legged stool, writing impossibly quick with a feather quill, constantly dipping and redipping it into the ink.
Shelby slowly approached the desk, trying to get a better look at the man. "Didn't you call me here?"
The man raised his head, staring straight in front of him. "Did I? Are you Genghis Khan?"
She stopped, her brow furrowed. "Um…no, I'm Shelby Sparks…"
"Then I did call you! God thing you aren't that wretched Mongolian. I could never have a decent conversation with him. His lisp drove me nuts."
The man stood up from where he sat and turned around, revealing his features to Shelby. He wore the classic attire of an Egyptian male: a white skirt with a blue and gold belt and sandals. He wore a large, chunky necklace that shared the same colors as his belt and looked like something the boy king, Tutankhamen, would wear, with matching bracelets around his wrists. He was bare-chested, revealing his deeply tanned, olive skin. A pharaoh's headdress adorned his head, dark-blue and white stripes decorating it with the golden snake – the symbol of the Pharaohs – protruding from the top of it. While all of this might be odd in the modern world, in the realm of gods and heroes, monsters and magic, this was rather commonplace. Many immortals and gods chose to dress as they had in their glory days or in the traditional attire of the city of their youth.
But instead of a human face, the man's head was that of an ibis.
Lean-necked with a long, thin beak, the man's eyes regarded her with bizarre intelligence. Dark black eyes watched her and seemed to see into her soul, which made Shelby shudder. This was no ordinary immortal and definitely no human. This was a god.
"Thoth," Shelby whispered, almost inaudible. She was caught awestruck. Should she bow? Should she collapse on the floor in reverence? Thoth was the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and knowledge. He was very powerful, possibly one of the most powerful in the Egyptian pantheon. While also a patron of the moon and magic, he was also said to be able to bend time itself, which was a skill reserved for only a handful of the gods, and even less of the Ichor actually knew how to use it. There were even rumors that he had worked alongside the god Prometheus in rearing the human race.
"Was it the ibis head that gave it away?" He snapped, "Or maybe the Egyptian clothes? Really, you humans are getting more and more dense as the millennia go by."
"I…I apologize…" Shelby began, but was quickly cut off by a raise of his hand.
"No, no, I will not let you grovel and such. Honestly, have you ever tried contemplating the universe with someone who is curled into a ball at your feet?" Shelby remained silent before she realized that the question he had asked wasn't rhetorical. Before she could answer, he continued. "Nevertheless, won't you join me? We have much to discuss. At least, I hope we do, or else I called you here for nothing."
Shelby eyed the god with scrutiny as he lowered himself back onto his bench, pushing a pair of circle-lens glasses onto his beak. She walked slowly around the desk and sat opposite on an identical stool, watching Thoth write letters and words that resembled Aramaic – the language that Jesus Christ, the White God, and his disciples spoke. While she didn't doubt for a second the god's power and knowledge as well as wisdom, she also was beginning to believe the rumors told about this particular Golden Blood being insane. No, not quite insane, but not entirely there, either.
"So you are Shelby Sparks, warrior, slayer of beasts, golden child, apprentice to the goddess Athena," Thoth said, more of a statement than a question, not looking up from his work. He sounded almost disappointed.
"How do you know so much about me?" She replied dumbly.
The god raised his ibis head, bored black eyes staring at her through circular glasses. "I may seem odd to you, but my knowledge is vast. I am old, very old, and what I have heard, learned, and read, I have never forgotten. It's all up here," he said, tapping a slender finger on his temple. Then, a look of confusion crossed his face, and he titled his head and hit his temple with his palm several times. "Well," he finished, shrugging, "it's up there somewhere."
"That's…reassuring," she said, biting her lower lip.
"Indubitably," he responded, returning to his work as if nothing had happened.
"So…why did you summon me here again?"
"Oh yes!" He said, excited. "I wanted to introduce you to someone. All warriors before you did not work alone forever. They had someone with them. Someone to help them in times of need and even save them on certain occasions. It has always been from the same House in the Brotherhood of the Snake that these allies are chosen. Now, it is your turn to take your place amongst your ancestors and meet your new accomplice."
It took Shelby a few moments to fully understand what he was saying. "So you mean I won't be working alone anymore? I'll have to fight with someone?" This was not good, not good at all. She had always fought alone, killed alone, living alone. The closest one to her was her Ichor master to whom she was apprenticed to, Athena, and even that was not a close relationship. Did the Brotherhood honestly expect her to work with someone and not tear them to pieces?
"Well, of course," Thoth said. "While you are a warrior, your knowledge of the mythos and legends of the past are not very extensive, which is understandable, but not acceptable. A member from the House of Wisdom – who has been trained in the stories and knowledge of the world – is matched to every warrior eventually. But yours," he added, and Shelby could've sworn there was a grin on his beak, "yours is special."
Before he could answer her, the sound of fluttering paper erupted above them. Shelby snapped her head up in the direction of the sudden noise, her palms bristling the hilts of her twin sais. Yellowed paper spiraled to the level two floors up from them and several books rained down, pounding against the stone floor.
"Sorry!" Someone shouted from above, and Shelby watched as a shadowed figure raced along the railing on one of the higher up floors and then slid down a ladder. When they came into the light, she saw that it was a boy, tall and slim, not very muscular but he looked like he could hold his own and she guessed he was her age, fifteen, almost sixteen. He claimed a tousled head of red hair that indicated that he had woken up not long ago, with dark sable, almost black, eyes and a crooked smile. While she was sizing him up, an awful, horrifying, bone-chilling thought struck her…
"He's not…" She began, turning her attention back to Thoth, trying to ignore the boy as he scurried to pick up the papers he had dropped.
"Shelby," the Golden Blood said, "meet Josh Newman."
"You're my new partner in crime, right?" He asked her, trotting down the stairs towards them. He deposited the books and loose documents on the first desk he came to. Casually, he approached them, resting his hands on the corner of the work table that they were sitting at.
"So they keep telling me," Shelby muttered, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'm guessing you want to work alone…?"
"I don't have time to fight and protect you," she said defensively, her voice sounding whiny. "I'll have to watch your back when I should be watching my own. Someone is going to get hurt.
"I can take care of myself," Josh said lightly.
"Ever use a sword?" Shelby inquired impatiently.
"Well, no, not really," he admitted.
"What about a bow? A dagger? Spear? Nunchaku? Mace?"
"Then you can't defend yourself."
He let out a sigh of surrender, seeing the pointlessness in arguing with her. They had known each other not even three minutes and he already knew that they were not going to get along very well.
"Splendid," Thoth said, looking up at Shelby, then Josh, and back again. "It was a pleasure to meet you both. Now if you are ready for your mission, I can...."
"Wait, what?" She said frantically.
The god rolled his eyes. "Your mission awaits you, Shelby Sparks. Josh will accompany you, of course, and when you two return, I hope to hear all about it."
"I still don't see the point in bringing him alone!" She complained, acid in her voice. "He'll only hinder me."
"Actually, warrior," Thoth replied, dipping his feather pen in ink. "Josh is probably the most knowledgeable of the mythos and legends in the House of Wisdom. He will be able to assist you when you encounter creatures and gods from the darkest pits of your imagination. You're the brawns, he's the brains."
"Plus," Josh added, "I have certain skills that will definitely come in handy." The Golden Blood bobbed his ibis head approvingly, then turned his attention back to Shelby, waiting for a reply.
"Great," she snapped, "If I need to make an egg roll, I'll be so grateful I brought you along." His mouth dropped open, obviously offended at the comment, but she continued. "This is a waste of both our times. I don't need a sidekick!"
Thoth chuckled. "Josh is not your sidekick. You two are equal. You both must work together to complete the tasks set out for you in the not-too-distant future. These are desperate times, and we need desperate warriors. You two will make a deadly combination and few will challenge you; I doubt any can defeat you. Not while you work as one, that is."
Shelby started to retort, but just sighed. She was getting nowhere with the god. Looks like she was stuck with the Josh kid. Maybe if she was lucky he'd get eaten or fall into a pit of bubbling lava.
"Fine," she grumbled. "What is the mission that we have to go on?"
Thoth shrugged. "How should I know?"
"I thought you knew everything."
"I do, especially everything about your mission," he said simply.
"But then…never mind," she said, admitting defeat.
"Well then," the god said, "are you ready?"
Shelby's brow furrowed. "Well, sure, but what are you going to…"
Thoth snapped his fingers, and…
They were gone.
The Golden Blooded god made a clicking sound with his tongue. "I hope they don't die like the others, or get eaten. Especially eaten. It's such a shame when people get killed right after you meet them." He shook his head, shrugged, and then, dipping his quill in ink, returned to writing as if nothing had ever happened.