THE SHELBY CHRONICLES
BOOK 2: WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
By Shane Lutz
"Great, more darkness," Shelby muttered as they walked through the cragged hole in the wall.
Josh, in his weakened and unconscious state, had let the orb of light that he had created from auric energy go out, leaving them shrouded in palpable black. He was still pretty feeble, his arm wrapped around Shelby's shoulder for support. They both know he wouldn't be able to create another light, so they had to improvise.
Beating the dimming flashlight, Shelby cursed at it. It sputtered, making a grinding sound, and then returned to its normal luminosity. Luckily, Thoth hadn't left them totally unprepared. After Josh had been knocked out, she had discovered a backpack, stocked with a small supply of food and water, a first-aid kid – which she gladly used on him – and a flashlight.
The corridor opened up behind the broken wall, revealing a giant room whose walls and ceiling weren't in sight. The darkness was thicker in here, almost tangible, spreading out far beyond them. The rank odor of spoiled wine and raw meat filled their nostrils as they journeyed farther and farther onward.
Whispers, like insects buzzing, scratched the silence around them. Josh said that they were probably chattering ghosts, awakened by their sudden presence. He sounded worried thought, Shelby thought, like he was trying to convince himself rather than her.
"Can you make out what they're saying?" She asked him. It just sounded like mindless scratches in the air to her.
He swallowed nervously. "Yeah, some of it. They're talking about some Awakening…something was put asleep here and…" He shook his head, revealing no more.
Suddenly, there was the grinding sound of stone ahead of them and a shattering supernova of light erupted, searing the rods and cones of the two teenagers' eyes. They squinted against the stark radiance but couldn't see anything. Two dark shadows were silhouetted against it, looking like two heroes who had just returned from the gloomy Underworld back into the surface world, the sun's rays shining behind them. But these were not heroes and there was no sun to give them hope down here.
As their eyes adjusted to the abrupt light, Josh saw who the figures were. One was a beautiful woman who bore the raven hair, olive-toned skin, and defined features of the people from India. She wore a lot of red, gold, and blue jewelry and a belt of human skulls hung from her waist, framing a skirt of tiny gold rings clasped to one another. The harsh light behind her sputtered, and the image of a blue skinned, four-armed, bloodthirsty goddess flickered before returning to the woman in front of him.
The other figure in front of him had the body of a beautiful woman, dressed in the attire of an Egyptian princess, but the head belonged to a female lion, golden-furred with glinting red eyes and a maw lined with sharp, elongated dagger-teeth. She let out a low growl, snarling at the young warrior and sorcerer standing not far from them.
"Who are they?" Shelby murmured in awe. Being a warrior in the Brotherhood of the Snake, a secret society devoted to keeping the realm of myth and magic hidden from the modern world, she had seen many monsters, beasts, gods, and she had never seen anything like these two women who stood before her now. They radiated pure, raw, uncanny power. She knew that they were both gods, Golden Bloods, and that if they wanted to kill her and drink her crimson blood right then and there, they could – and probably would – in a second.
"Kali and Sekhmet," Josh whispered, his words almost inaudible, shaking with fear.
"Who are they?" She asked, not taking her eyes off the goddesses who remained standing, doing nothing.
"They were the Destroyers," he said in reply, shuddering. "They were the gods' weapons against humans. Sekhmet is known as the Eye of Ra, because she is the warrior of the sun god. She was sent a long time ago to Earth to punish mankind, but in her bloodlust, almost wiped out the entire human race. She was only stopped when the Ichor poured wine across a battlefield and she, thinking it was blood, drank it until she fell asleep. The myth doesn't tell what happens to her after that."
"They stuck her here, that's what," Shelby muttered. "What about Kali?"
At the sound of her name, the goddesses head snapped up to glare down at them, her eyes turning into flames. The two terrified teenagers took a step back slowly and attentively.
"She was called the Black One. She was a murderous, all-powerful, destructive, bloodthirsty goddess. Sacrifices were made to appease her and all feared her, even the gods. Apparently they trapped her too."
"Yes, mortals," Kali hissed, smiling menacingly. "And now you have released us."
Shelby shouted something in protest, but her words were lost in the eruption of light that was released by both Kali and Sekhmet. Their images were swallowed in an explosion of flame and brightness, giving off incredible heat. Josh and Shelby stumbled backward, shielding their eyes from the light. The chamber shook, chunks of the walls and ceiling broke off, crumbling to the ground around them. There was a deep, grinding roar that resonated from deep below them, and a foreboding fissure cracked through the floor to their left, a massive chunk of rock sliding into its abyss.
The light that the Destroyers had created died, returning the room to darkness.
When they opened their eyes, the goddesses were gone, leaving only burned rock where they had stood. Josh's aura blazed briefly, filling the room with soft, golden light, and then a dancing orb came into existence in his palm. He took a wary step forward, and then walked slowly up the few stone steps to the podium where the Golden Bloods had stood.
"What are you doing?" Shelby called after him, but he ignored her. She sighed heavily and then quickly caught up to him.
"We released them," He said slowly.
"Not intentionally, Josh," she said, resting her hand on his shoulder. It was obvious that he felt incredible guilt. "It wasn't our fault."
"Shelby, you don't understand," he replied sharply, turning to look her in the eye. "Kali and Sekhmet are unbelievably powerful and destructive. They were imprisoned for a very good reason, and trust me, I bet it wasn't easy. They can only destroy and obliterate. They feast on flesh and drink the blood of those who are caught in their wake of terror. And we just released them on the world."
She bit her lip. He was right. It had been their fault. But wait, what was the point of their mission? Weren't they sent there by the Brotherhood? Why? They had defeated Delphyne, but was that it? What exactly was their mission and had they completed it?
Before Shelby could disclose her thoughts to Josh, he called her over to where he had wandered off to while she was contemplating. She trotted forward and looked at what he was so intently staring at. She raised an eyebrow at it, wondering why it was so important.
It was a statue that came up to her waist in the depiction of a baboon sitting, with a tablet and pen in his hand, resting on his legs, a sun disk on his head.
"And why do we find the creepy statue of a monkey doodling so fascinating?" Shelby asked him.
"Because," he explained, "this isn't just a statue. It's a Symbol of Power."
Josh sighed. "A Symbol of Power. They belong to the gods. Not only are they a reserve for pure energy, but they also act as gates."
"Gates to what?"
"Gates to whoever the Symbol of Power belongs to."
"And who does this freaky little statue belong to?" She asked, leaning forward to get a better look at the monkey. There was no name, no little inscription. She snorted. You'd think the gods would sign their ugly little sculptures.
"That's the weird thing," Josh said, thinking. "The sun disk could belong to a dozen gods, and so could the tablet and pen. But I can only think of one god the baboon is associated with, but…no, it wouldn't be him." He remained silent for a few moments, and then shook his head. "So I have no idea who this Symbol of Power connects back to."
"Well, let's find out, shall we?" Shelby said. She reached forward, and before a very frantic Josh could stop her, she placed her hand on the forehead of the monkey. The statue glowed for a brief moment, and then…
…they were back in the library.
Shelby got up quickly from where they had dropped on the cold floor, coughing as clouds of dust that had settled in the ancient room centuries ago swirled within her lungs. Josh rubbed his spine as he rose, knowing an ugly bruise would form where she had fallen – quite hard, actually – on him.
"What are we doing here?" Shelby asked, glancing around her. "There's no one here but…" She stopped suddenly, eyes wide as a sudden thought dawned on her. She turned to Josh. "The baboon. It's a symbol of…"
"Thoth," he replied, nodding his head.
They both turned around, glancing at the giant desk set at the very heart of the library. The Ichor glanced up at them, ibis-eyes filled with intelligence, staring at them intently. He rose from his three-legged stool, brushed himself off and walked around the desk. He approached them, arms spread wide.
"Children! You made it back in one piece!" He said gleefully.
Even though she could've easily defended herself, Josh stood in front of Shelby protectively. He raised his hand, which had begun to glow gold, bronze sparks and tendrils of energy weaving between his fingers and up to his elbow.
"You set us up," he growled.
Thoth lowered his arms, putting his hands behind his back. "Now, now, let's not go making rash accusations…"
"We almost got killed!"
His beak twitched. "Yes, well, maybe there were a few gray areas, but the important part is that you completed your mission! Kali and Sekhmet have been released and – for the first time in eons – will walk in the World of Man once again! That is splendid!"
"That was your plan all along, wasn't it?" Shelby shot back, her words laced with venom. "Delphyne couldn't be touched by the gods, which is why she was placed there to keep any of the Golden Bloods from releasing the Destroyers. She was the good guy, and you tricked us into killing her so we'd release Sekhmet and Kali," she said, suddenly seeing all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Thoth laughed sinisterly. "The humani have ruled this planet for far too long. It is time that the Gods of Old, the Golden Bloods, the Ichor, the Elder Race, reclaim this earth. What you did was just a small, yet important, piece in achieving that goal."
"We want nothing to do with your crazy plot for world domination!" Josh spat. "The Brotherhood will stop you," he added sharply.
Thoth chuckled. "Stop me? Foolish mortal, most of the gods in the Brotherhood are with me! You don't think I did this all by myself, do you? Think about it: for the past few months, old, almost primeval, creatures have been awakened. Apophis, Ammut, Nidhogg, Fenrir, Typhon, ever Jormungand, the World Serpent! Why? Because they have been called forth as weapons in the coming war. Those of the gods who side with us will rule a new era. Those who don't…well, let's just say the humani won't be enough to satisfy such ravenous beasts."
"You're a monster," Shelby hissed.
"I'm a god," he snapped back, "And if anyone is the monster, it is you humans. You have destroyed this world! If not for us gods, you would've dissolved into chaos long ago! You are the ones who should be sentenced to extinction…and, in time, you will."
"We'll stop you," Josh said through clenched teeth, suddenly realizing that his jaw hurt. "The Brotherhood of the Snake will mass its entire force against you."
If the god could smile, he did right then, a glint of insanity and malice sparkling in his coal black eyes.
"Oh, we're counting on it."
Before Josh could respond, Shelby pushed around him, pulling out her twins sais. They glittered ominously in the pale light of the library, their ancient and equally arcane engravings beginning to hiss and crackle, their black lines and slashes fueling an exotic mix of cold and warmth up through her body. She immediately noticed Thoth wilt minutely at the sight of the knives. He was obviously afraid of them and what they could do. For a moment, Shelby hesitated; the Golden Blood could tell her so much about them. Athena had proudly bestowed them upon her without as much as an explanation to their history. No one either wouldn't tell her or simply didn't know. Here was a god who did, and was she sure she'd be able to use them against him?
"Put your toys away, girl," Thoth hissed, his voice shaking as he tried to mask his fear. "Someone could get hurt."
"Like you?" Shelby asked, making a quick step forward, bringing herself only feet away from him. With eyes that were trained like a predator's, she saw the Golden Blood start: the sign of prey fearing its death.
"You do not know what you wield," he said sternly.
"No, maybe not," she admitted. "But I know what they can do. I killed an entire clan of Vetala and even the great Vampire Elder, Camazotz."
Thoth huffed. "Impossible. The Bat God cannot be killed. That was the curse set upon him for his actions."
Shelby paused for another moment. She had known that the vampire creature had lived for a long time – impossibly long – but she had not known what had made him that way, what had twisted his body and even his humanity, what had been given to him. By who? The Brotherhood? That seemed scarily more likely than not. But why? What did he do that was so horrible?
The god laughed at her confusion. "Camazotz is an interesting…entity. Do not pity him for what he experienced. It was not some bad-luck-curse he acquired at birth; no, it was cast upon him by the Great Elders in the Age of the Gods." He chuckled again. "And you, Shelby Sparks, fell for it!"
Blood rushed to her face. She could feel her cheeks growing hot and turning red and wondered what Josh was thinking. He probably had no idea what was going on. The mission she had gone on had been top secret, very hush-hush. How had Thoth known about it? Were there more of his allies deeper in the councils of the Brotherhood of the Snake?
Gritting her teeth, Shelby made a split-section decision. Clutching the hilts of her sais with white knuckles, she lunged.
Thoth had only a second to let out a squawk of surprise and terror before she plunged the burning and freezing blades into his stomach and up through his chest, the blades scraping against ribs. They began to glow with yellow light that beamed from the god's wound. The library began to shake, and Josh yanked her away from the Elder.
The Golden Blood had spread his arms to each side and lifted his head, looking through the circular window impossibly high above them. His whole body had begun to glow now, and as Josh and Shelby scurried out of the room, they could feel the intense heat that rolled off him.
They had only seconds to smash through the giant, double-doors before the entire library, in a supernova of fire and light, exploded.
The two teenagers stood in the courtyard under a red umbrella as the rain pounded down upon it. The tears from heaven seemed to only further the gray atmosphere that had enveloped them since they had returned.
The Brotherhood's base seemed almost deserted. By now, news of their mission and Thoth's betrayal had spread. Many of the warriors and gods and other members had disappeared, afraid that their cover would be blown. It was shocking how many spies had infiltrated the largest and most obscured secret society ever to exist. It was even more terrifying to wonder how many remained.
"I was thinking, Josh," Shelby said, inching closer to him for the warmth. It was cold outside, but they both loved the rain and thunderstorms so they stayed where they were. "The gods knew about our mission…all of them."
"Yeah," he replied quietly, "I've been contemplating the exact same thing." He turned to look at her. "And I know what you're thinking, but I don't have an answer."
She nodded, but spoke her thought anyway. "Our mentors had to have known. Athena, Hekate, and others. I'm just worried how far the deceit has spread into the Brotherhood."
They remained silent for a while, listening to the heavy raindrops collapse on the umbrella and the booming thunder as shards of lightning split open the black sky, considering what this meant for the future. Raw energy floated through the air and it felt good to just relax in something, no matter how the world around it did, never changed.
"He's not really dead," Shelby said flatly.
Josh looked at her curiously. "Who? Thoth? Shelby, we watched him blow up. Not only himself, but the entire library. I think he was killed. Your sais have some incredible power, you know. They're poison to all the Ichors."
She shook her head. "No. I've killed a lot of gods, Elders, Golden Bloods – whatever you wanna call them – before. They usually make a giant spectacle, but not like that. That was different. It was more like his body was taken, but his soul…I don't know…"
"Survived?" He suggested.
"Yeah," she agreed. "Or taken."
Stillness echoed between them as they contemplated the words and prospects. It was terrifying to consider, but impossible to overlook. It had to be taken care of, and they had a dark inkling that they were the only ones who could do it.
"We have a lot of work to do, ya' know," Josh said, breaking the stillness between them.
"Yeah, I know."
"We'll have to hunt down as many monsters as we can. Who knows how many they released? Dozens? Hundreds? We'll have to find them all."
Shelby sighed. "Story of my life." She looked up into Josh's face and smiled before her expression turned stern again. "I just don't know who I can trust now. Anyone could be an enemy. Anything could be out to destroy the world."
Josh let out a soft chuckle, intertwining his fingers with hers and squeezing her hand reassuringly. "You can trust me, Shelby."
"Good, because I don't know if I can do this alone for much longer."
And then, the two teenagers, warrior and sorcerer, stood beneath the crying clouds, dropping the umbrella, and just stayed there as raindrops crashed from above, thunder shook the sky, winds lashed out against them, and lightning threatened to shatter the atmosphere. For once, Shelby Sparks was happy to have someone – especially someone like Josh Newman – to rely on.
She had been carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders for as long as she could remember, and it felt good to finally share the burden.