Pantheon I – Transfiguration

When the remnant tumbled through the portal back into their native world, they did so in terror, so that they had neither the  courage nor presence of mind to start the lengthy process that would manually seal the tear in reality. This also meant that the Ayune, the Guardian and object of their terror,  followed them through.

The portal opened onto the snow-covered peak of Mount Ahrtis where the clouds held congress and decided upon the seasons. It had been three years now and they had forgotten. One of them died instantly from the shock of the cold and another fell down paralysed. The leader went straight to the edge of the flat peak where a natural wear on the rock would help him slide his huge frame a few metres lower. Anything to get away from the cold.  And the Guardian. In the battle that had ensued at the other side of the portal, he has lost his source of magic, the Amulet of Khronus. This would have been the perfect place to call forth lightning, for it was not an element of the world from which they escaped.

His soldiers followed. He had already begun his slide when the roar of the arriving Ayune pierced through the howling mountain-top winds, immediately accompanied by the screams of his men. He swivelled his avian head and caught a glimpse of flashing teeth, lashing tentacles and flightless wings upon three metres of muscles and bones before he slid completely out of view. He was far from a coward, but he had the prize of their quest and therefore his life was indispensable. He had a higher duty to his Emperor, Asu-Raneh.

By the time Ayune -drenched in the blood of the scores he had already slain in the Cavern of Everlast – realized it had lost its psychic bond to the object it had guarded for centuries the commander had shifted his concealment spell on the hide which swaddled his quarry. Its senses latched onto the fleeing commander storeys below it and gave a cry of frustration from its terrible mouth, blasting hot air into the cold and causing instant mist. It moved swiftly through the phalanx of men who defiantly blocked its path and made for the incline the commander had used in escaping. It was a being of heat and fire, from the universe of Ar. The thick snow melted rapidly under its searing claws and heated breath. It slipped on rapidly melting water at the precipice and hurtled forward and downwards uncontrollably, barely missing the descending commander before its tumbling descent was suddenly halted by jutting rock from the cliff face.

**

The three appeared over the top of the sand dune, running. Their limbs went forth powerfully, defying the heavy desert winds and granting them excellent speed. Their preened bodies were slick with sweat and dust that was foreign to the simmering desert that was bathed by the red light of the Sun. Their defiance of nature’s woes was evident in their audacity; wearing fitted suits of brushed steel mined from the fallen stars. The weight of each suit was equal to the weight of the wearer, though they ran on as if they had on garments of sheet cotton. Fresh battering adorned the suit. Despite their less than inspiring encounter with the Guardian, these were no mere mortals. They didn’t even stop when they got to the top of the sand dunes. No time to take in the view of the sprawling structure in the far distance.

The Palace guards were, of course, the first to espy the running figures as their dark forms streaked down the sands in the simmering desert heat. Their alert telescopic eyes identified the dark armour of the runners, and a messenger was sent with great urgency to notify the king. One gate-keeper wondered why only three returned now whereas twenty and four had departed from the palace three cycles before.

The three Sakuteri soon bridged the distance and reached the gate before coming to a brisk halt. The custom was not forgotten. The leader first handed his payload to the one directly behind him and solemnly removed his heavy armour first. His dark chest glistened with sweat underneath, sweat which ran into what seemed like heat injuries caused by the closeness of the iron to his body in the intense desert heat. As he removed his intricately patterned gauntlet, he did it carefully so as not to trouble the long freshly scabbed gash that ran from his biceps to just before the forearm where the length of the magnificently embossed metal glove ended. Whatever has caused the gash had also caused noticeable damage to the gauntlet as a deep scratch could be seen as though continuing the flesh wound along the gauntlet. He lifted his helmet to reveal his avian head, heavily slick with sweat. His hard beady eyes stared coldly at the laser wall in front of him and his great black beak open slightly, savouring the rush of dusty desert wind into his mouth. The thin laser defence, backed by powerful Ma-jeek, would detect all who passed through it with malevolent magic. The punishment was Death by the scorching of the Beak. A fatal process which was so gruesome, hardened rebels wept like hatchlings and begged for crucifixion instead.

He stood naked before the wall of laser light that went from one edge of the small pedestrian gate to the other, save for a sheer covering of grey sheet cotton that went around his middle. He recovered the bundle from his comrade as they too finished undressed themselves. It was wrapped in what seemed like dried Asconian flesh. Six guards were gathered at the other side, large hands on swords of super-dense cohrure  steel, one could never be too sure when it came to the Sakuteri. The commander passed through the thin wall of laser without much ceremony with his payload. His two soldiers followed suit.

The Palace stood in the distance, a kilometre-long monstrosity wrought of Bronze ore. Every inch of the curvy edifice was covered with ancient runes. The Palace, housing hundreds of chambers had been constructed by Arkenat II using the labour of the captured Hissenian slaves; compelling their greatest magicians to make esoteric wards for its protection. It was also rumoured that the god-king buried the magicians underneath the palace moments after the spells were perfected to make the secret absolute. This was in the time of the Air Wars when tempers were short and Asconian life was worthless.

They passed by the big royal air transports of Emperor Asu-Raneh III of the Ruscan empire of the world of Asco. Palace workers stole glances at their leathery skin and hurried off to continue their tasks. Laxity was not tolerated within the palace walls. When they approached the mighty ornate doors of the palace, they paused, raised their powerful beaks to the heavens and softly intoned the Salutation of Kings according to custom, their solemn voices a perfect mimicry of the midnight warbler.

He who beholds the Sun; He who chastens the moon

May they that spite you be burned with water

May they who love you behold your presence

The thick doors swung open noiselessly, revealing an extravagant hall pulsing with light from no discernable source. The guards stepped aside for the almost nude group as they walked in reverently. The Hall of Eternity was chilly despite the blazing red sun outside. Its blistering heat had no purchase there. Pillars of upward flowing water were visible everywhere interspersed with sculpted columns, powered by the blood of the slain magicians. The hall was filled with the sound of rushing water colliding with the rune-engraved ceiling. The opulence did not distract the three people who moved quickly and meaningfully.

Emperor Asu-Raneh III watched them approach, his hard black eyes on the bundle the leader bore. His upper beak was coated with a veneer of pure gold so that it reflected the ambient lighting brilliantly and gave him a semi-divine quality. Between his eyes rested the symbol of his Lordship; a thumb-sized piece of Injurin diamond of the highest quality of which the song griots sang odes and composed complicated ululations. It was supposedly bestowed on the progenitor A’Eyahkum Vnais Natrahk (The One Who Came Before The Egg)  by some extinct personal deity. Within the diamond was preserved forever, a pinch of blue sand that pulsed with the deity’s essence. His royal apparel lacquered with lapis lazuli glimmered in the light of the hall. He stood expectantly in a manner that was nothing less than majestic while the visitors reached the pool of burning silver which surrounded his throne. Beyond the pool of Silver on either side of the emperor were two granite statues of his ancestors. The commander glanced at the two statues briefly. The other two Sakuteri fell to their knees in reverence, while the leader did so with his arms outstretched, presenting the bundle.

“King of kings, He to whom the kings of Asco  pay tribute, May the Ruscan Empire resonate eternally with the glory of thy rule”, he began, “Your servants have sought out the hidden things  for three cycles in search of the Elixir of Alaklet, Purveyor of light and Bestower of immortality. Twenty and one of us have been lost to this odyssey, but only the pleasure and goal of our Lord the King is supreme. Behold the object your fathers sought but did not find. Now, your Imperial Majesty shall be exalted to godhood, for the gods have deemed you fit to swell their ranks. The glory is yours”

He laid the bundle on the artfully patterned floor and unwrapped it to reveal an ovoid object that was mostly featureless. It was twice the size of a Yakhu’s egg, appeared to be made of fine gold and was much heavier than it appeared. At the top was a circular groove. The area within the circumference of the groove was raised slightly above the surface of the object. It gave the impression of being depressible. The Elixir of Immortality was rumoured to be contained within its hollows.

Emperor Asu-Raneh III cooed to show his barely restrained pleasure, his oversized pupils contracted into tiny points as his telescopic sight examined the object closely. He walked down the solid gold steps that led from this Throne and over the boiling moat to the cool metal floor and stood before his minion. He solemnly reached for the vessel in the Commander’s hand.

It all happened in the dividing of a second…

The two soldiers on either side of the commander suddenly stood and, before their Emperor could employ his quick reflexes, buried their fists into his thick neck. This effectively dislodged his windpipe, making his beady eyes pop.  With the same motion, their other hands reached into their now wide-open beaks and drew out regurgitated shu’al daggers, the favoured weapon of defectors. These quickly replaced their fists in the emperor’s neck. No sound was made. Perfect.

His corpse fell backwards unto the steps.

By now, the statues on either side of the pool had come to life, their dark grey colour giving way to life –like hues, their cold hearts beating once more to protect their scion, but the commander was unfazed. No sooner had the statue on the left come to life than did the Commander launch it into the pool of silver by way of a powerful flying kick. The other two soldiers were not so lucky. The first soldier to reach the other statue didn’t push it hard enough with his kick, so the thing lashed out with its spear and impaled him. The other soldiers finished the task with another flying kick and succeeded in throwing it into the moat. It was the timing that mattered. Even the granite bodyguards were not immune to a fiery annihilation by the magic of the tainted waterfalls.

The commander still held on tightly unto the prize he had erstwhile presented to his Emperor.

Now, your Imperial Majesty shall be exalted to godhood…he knew for a fact that the elixir would only work its magic on anointed rulers. He was not a king. Yet.

He reached for the fallen king, while his subordinate stood at attention nearby, dug a talon into the Emperor’s skull and pried the inset diamond from between his milky vacant eyes. He ascended the steps, jumping over the Emperor’s body and sat on the throne while he set the diamond between his eyes. The sand within glowed. He was a soldier of the highest quality, as the previous emperor had been. It was his ilk that was worthy of Lordship.

The giant door opened and the palace guards halted in surprise at the scene playing out before them.

The commander raised the artefact and pressed the top knob with his thumb. The object burst into flames. Panic made his hands tremble, but he held on tightly, determined to lose an arm if necessary. The flames engulfed his arm but it was cold and didn’t seem to hurt him. Was it a test? In a few more moments, instead of the “egg”, he held a vial of transparent glass. The blue liquid could be seen inside. The commander opened his beak, threw his head back and downed the liquid.

Agony.

His scream reverberated within the hall supernaturally, causing the palace to tremble slightly. A beam of light shot forth from his ovoid eyes and his facial orifices. Immediately a sense of perfection dawned on him. Everything seemed clearer and more understandable. He could suddenly understand the fear and confusion the observing palace guards were facing and the pain his subordinate was feeling as the glory of his transfiguration consumed the fool. Ah. Power. The pain was gone now, and in its place was an infinite awareness. He could feel his very being transfigured into what he could only describe as “solid light”. The words came out of his mouth involuntarily and his voice filled the hall, light yet authoritative and reeking exceedingly of divinity.

“I am Ra, and I am your god!”

Then something unexpected happened.

He vanished in a vision of blinding light and rumbling noise.

***************************************************

Next installment comes up on monday 🙂