In the sea, perfection is all around us. In the sea, we are cushioned from the vagaries of chance and mutation and all of those countless catastrophes that regularly rock the surface world. There are creatures in the sea that are so perfect that they have not changed in hundreds of millions of years. Sharks remain a perfect predator, largely unchanged over the course of time that dwarfs any civilization’s lifespan. Their behavior does not change. Their diet does not change. They continue, eternal, and beautiful.
Mind you. They can still be hunted. Perfection is situational. I lost my eye learning that.
My name is Nachtka Wai; Night upon the Water. I was born in the eighth era of Atlantis, under the first rule of Ku-Thule. I was trained as a Godwhisperer because of my unnaturally talented eye for the flow of divinity and power. My greatest rival was- Well. His name is lost, now. Consumed by the god who possessed him. Our style and our philosophy were as different as night and day. He believed that Godwhispering was a science, and he followed his heart in all matters. I believed it was an art, and I applied it rigorously and ruthlessly towards my goals.
Survival. Survival above all. Survival in the face of Gods. Survival in the face of Men.
If you wonder which of us was the wiser, well- I am not the one whose name cannot be spoken aloud, am I?
My story began when our ruling Gods left. We had many ruling Gods in those days. We brought them with us when we were banished into this underwater realm, according to the stories. When their greed grew, they abandoned us. They wormed through the holes between worlds. And they brought disaster upon themselves, for the world of Men has guardians. There are tigers pacing the night in that world.
The tiger is a fearsome beast, for many reasons. They are powerful, each limb ending in blades that can tear through scale and meat ruthlessly. They are immensely muscular, patient, and cunning. But the most terrible part of them is their hides. We know plenty of camouflage below the sea. Imitation. Mixing with the colors around you, becoming unseen. The Shark’s white belly and gray back, mirroring sky and seabed. But the tiger is a beast of ferocious color. Bright orange, snow white, and midnight black. A riot of color and stripes. Something like that should not be able to go hidden. And yet, it does. They are unnoticed until they are bolting out of the darkness.
You may believe I am speaking of Bastet, the goddess.
I am not.
My encounters with humans came about as a result of a hunting expedition. A god fled through from the world of humans into Atlantis, seeking sanctuary, or perhaps a place to die. Its heart had been torn out and left in the snow, and it died in the sea. Its power remained in the human world, worshipped by a group of human laborers. I wandered out into the world. And the memories return to me—
The human stared up at me, holding its axe, its mouth bloody. It was breathing hard, staring up at me with a look of mild terror on its flat, beady-eyed face, its heavy brow comically long, its body hairy and nauseatingly soft. The smell of the creature lingered in the air, a musk that turned my stomach. Emaciated, stomach swollen. The corpse of its fellow, limbs stripped, bones steaming in the air. I sneered down at it.
The mark of sapience was to understand that self-knowledge made the body sacred. Sapience demanded you respect the body of the fallen. These humans aped that. But the moment that their stomachs growled, they could fall so far. They would sooner devour the flesh of one another than starve, and this man could have survived without such profane actions, had he tried. But the fear of death consumed him to the point where he violated the body of a friend.
They were less than beasts. Beasts did not pretend to be civilized. Beasts did not insult civilization with their actions.
It was, I think, at that moment that I realized that they could not be allowed to survive. We could never share a world with such things.
The creature lunged at me. I tore the blade of the axe from the haft with one sweep of my head, my bill cleanly slicing through the wooden handle. It fell back, cringing, its eyes wide. I glared down at it. “You wish to taste the flesh of men? I shall show you a feast.”
Another of the qualities of humans that is difficult to become used to, a sign of their innate inferiority, is their inability to see divinity. It took me some time to realize this, that they could not recognize a god by the glow of its divinity. They were missing the sense they needed most to make sense of the world. Thus, their foolish beliefs in technology, in science, never understanding the critical difference that divinity made. They could see the effects- that one pair of boots would rot and fall apart quickly, while another would last a hundred years if well cared for. That one sword and another could become worlds different through the story that grew around it. But they didn’t understand. They were blind.
I realized this when I found the god’s heart. Lying in the snow, unnoticed, uncared for by the humans. They were feeding off of its power, becoming monsters from their legends thanks to its presence, but they did not realize it was there. I took it, and hid it. Studied its power. Used my understanding in a way that they simply could not.
The human’s lives were short. They were born, they lived, they bred, they died, so quickly they were barely there. I didn’t remember the name of a single one of the humans, and they never took umbrage to it. They realized how petty they were. How meaningless. And so, I led the cult, out of amusement more than anything.
Outsiders would occasionally arrive. They would be consumed, or converted. I did not bother to learn their names. Those who were truly strong, blessed, became converts. They were kept lucid by the power of the heart, keeping them from devolving into madness. And in that way, I spent the better part of a century. Watching them. Becoming convinced of my superiority.
Until he came.
“This doesn’t have to go any further,” said the young man. Dark hair, tanned skin, his stance noble and upright. In him, there was a sense of power- Not much, nothing compared to a godwhisperer of my strength, but more than I had seen in any human before. He was a font of power. For a human.
“Indeed? What is my motivation?” I asked, smiling. “It was impressive that you managed to defeat so many of the Wendigo. Though not without price.” I nodded my head at the second human, whose arm was bundled with gauze, a length of cloth around the stump. We stood in the snow. It was a long way from civilization, and of the three surviving humans, one was badly injured. “Perhaps I will let you go. Perhaps not. It would be amusing to see if you wound up butchering your friend there, out of sheer bestial hunger. Your kind are so vulnerable to your needs.”
“Whatever you are, demon, fairy, undead-”
“I am none of those things,” I said, my eyes narrowed. “I am one of the Atlanteans. We were the rulers of this world, once. We will be again.”
I lunged forward, bill slashing sideways.
My bill is fortified. The half dozen or so pearls I implanted under the surface of the skin each contains a god, one that I blessed with my own not-insubstantial power. Artistically arranged, they reinforced its strength, its speed, its edge, its resilience. I had shattered steel with it. I had cut through gods with it. It was a rare Godwhisperer who could make a pact with so many gods at once. It made me a force of nature.
And so it came as a terrible shock when the third human caught the bill on the back of his fist. Bags of powder sown into the gloves caught the tip of my bill, tearing open, iron dust sprinkling onto the ground. He held up his other hand, clenched into a fist, and smiled. “I guess it’s my way, then.”
He was, indeed, a mortal. His circulatory system glowed faintly with some divine substance he had ingested, but it was weak, the blood of something almost insubstantial. I tested him, slashing forward, and he dodged and weaved around my blows.
I had close to a millennium to master my art. Decades to become acclimatized to fighting on the surface of this land, learning how to use my native skills in an acrobatic style. Enclosing my enemy in a rapidly contracting circle of sharp edges. I demonstrated this to the human. The bill circled around him, hemming him in, and then darting forward for the throat.
He caught the blade on the back of one hand, and in the other hand, a blade flashed out and up. It was a dead thing, obsidian, jagged. The last thing I saw with that eye was that it was dead. Not merely empty of divine power; it was a sink for it, an empty endless maw that consumed divinity. It slashed a broad, deep notch in my cheek, and took out my eye. I felt the gods seeded in the pearls die, wailing in anguish. And half the world went away.
I stumbled back. My soul ached from that sudden loss. The human flipped the knife in his grip, and approached, arm already moving as I stumbled back.
“Randall!” The warm man grabbed the other. “We don’t have time for this!” His eyes met ours. “We are leaving. We are going to recommend this place be bombed. You and your followers are best off leaving this place as soon as you can. Find somewhere safe. And do not devour the flesh of men anymore, or we will know. And next time, I may not be inclined to stop my brother.”
I stepped back. Blood trailed down my cheek. The human, Randall, watched me as I ran, his hand still closed into a fist.
It was not his weapons that had bested me. It was not surprise, or experience. I do not think I could have even blamed it on his desire to protect, for I felt sure he would be as fearsome alone, or even more so without his brother to stop him. He was not more adept with gods, most certainly.
He was a freak. Indistinguishable from his kind. No outward sign of any difference from the rest of humanity. No clue that he was divinely empowered. He was simply something at the far end of the bell curve of what humans could be.
I am near the peak of what my kind are capable of. As a whole, we are far superior to humans. But that man was beyond me. A freak of nature. Not the kind of thing that I could stand up to. And so I ran, and returned to the pool. And there, she met me.
She was a Goddess. One of humanity’s goddesses. She waited for me with arms crossed, and she was Lost. I did not know the details of it, but I could see it in her. The way her divinity had been twisted, malformed, by the lack of worship. Her worshippers had all died. Her legs clacked together softly, her thorax twitching slightly as she watched me. Her exoskeleton shimmered and blended in with the snow, a shade of absolutely pure white. And on the back of her abdomen was the marking, a great blue hourglass that stood out like winter ice.
“Come crawling back, lover?” she cooed, her eight brilliant red eyes flashing with amusement. She swept her pitch-black hair back out of her face, a flirtatious gesture that was nauseating in its humanity. “You look like you have been badly wounded. Come here, darling.” She reaches out, and held a shining needle, silk hanging from it. I stood stoically as she sewed the wound shut, her hands gentle, even tender.
In a proper God, the essence spreads like a circulatory system. Fractal, branching, balanced, reflecting the life they mirror. In a Lost God, the essence twists. It reflects how they have been changed, and what they were changed into. The way they were broken. The Keeper of the Feast, whose heart was hidden in the pack I’d carried with me, was a rotted piece of meat, fibrous and tough. The God of Dreams, Ku-Thule, was a fractal pattern, repeating the same shapes no matter how closely or loosely you examined it. In this ancient spider goddess, the essence was frozen into a perfect geometric pattern. Hexagon within hexagon within hexagon, precise.
Far more disgusting, in its own way, than any amount of chaos or rot.
She was the one who had opened this path for me.
“And what did you think of the humans?” she asked, her eyes merry.
“They are a scourge. A poison. Evil.”
“They frightened you, didn’t they?” She smiled broadly, teeth shining in the night. They were black as midnight, her white tongue visible between the crevices of each perfect, interlocking tooth. She trailed her fingers through the air. “They got into your heart, and showed you what they were capable of, and it terrified you, didn’t it?” Her legs clattered together in obvious amusement. “I knew you would see it. I knew you would understand. You know what has to be done, don’t you?”
I stared down at the ground. “They cannot be allowed to live. We must wipe them out. Scourge them from the face of the universe.”
“Of course,” cooed the spider, sweeping her fingers through the air. “That’s right.” The water drew aside like a curtain, revealing the way back home. I nodded sharply to her, and stepped through, back into my world.
We would need to take this world. We would need to invade it. To cleanse the humans from its surface. To take back what was ours. If we did not, some day- someday soon- they would surely come for us. They would come, and the freaks and the tigers among them would eat us whole. The soothing salt water of home washed through my wound, and the pain began to drain away. I glared at my bill. Centuries of work on those gods- and that blade had killed them. Another unpleasant surprise the humans had given me.
It would be far from the last.
Looking back, I believe the thing that started it was the crossover. Something, in the year 1968 on the planet Earth, struck a terrible blow to the fabric of reality, the thing that kept our worlds apart. Four submarines disappeared in that year from Earth, three of them arriving in our world. None aboard survived, their bodies torn apart by the violent passage from their world to ours. The other God Whisperers, my old rival foremost among them, returned them to the world of the humans, and believed that was the end of it.
For the next thirty-five years, I planned. The others would not consent to my plans. They were happy to simply remain where they were. But the world was not content to leave us to our world.
One morning, Atlanteans were found murdered. The only reason we could tell it was a murder was because of the blood hanging in the water. The bodies were gone. Six Atlanteans, ranging in age from mere decades to millenia, all living together in one of the outer strands. Gone in one night, leaving only far more blood than six Atlanteans could afford to lose.
It went on like that for nine years. Nine years of attacks every few months, before we finally caught one of the intruders. They had slipped through without the Keeper of Gates being aware, and I still did not know how, which terrified me. My rival and I stared at the brutish body, studying its matted fur. It had been caught by nearly a dozen Atlanteans, one of the citizens’ patrols, and killed at the cost of several lives.
“That…” I said, frowning as I studied the creature.”That should not be here.”
“Do you recognize it?” asked my rival, an eyebrow raised. If I knew then what I know now, that Ku-Thule had possessed him, was gradually taking him over- Well, perhaps the world would be very different.
“Yes,” I said, studying the white-furred creature. Small. That was curious. It had killed here, but not fed. Anyone who knew anything of Wendigo knew how strange that was. They were ruled by their hungers. Even the ones balanced by the Heart of the Keeper, now locked safely within the temple, were hard-pressed to refuse food. Perhaps there had been more than one Wendigo, and this one had not been given the opportunity to feed. It would explain why it had been found. Why it had been killed. But that raised further questions.
“The Keeper of Gates felt something, but diffuse. Difficult to follow. More of a feeling than anything else.” He rubbed his forehead. “The humans are behind this.”
So overjoyed was I to have a voice supporting me in this, I did not consider why my rival’s views had changed so. “Yes. We need to do something.”
“We need to prepare Ku-kaili-moku-polemo.”
Crisis shows us which of our virtues are true, and which are merely a product of convenience, quickly discarded in wartime. That is the true vileness of humanity, that they make us vile in facing them. If we did not take every advantage, fight them in every way that we could, then our light would disappear from this world. And so I made a deal.
Yam Hamawet has always been a facet of the oceans. When the first protozoa formed, she existed. It was only with the rise of sapience that she began to interfere. It was the spider that allowed me to meet with her, to form the contract with her. To break through the shell that my predecessors had built between her and Atlantis.
The corpses of those who died, in exchange for soldiers that could destroy humans. It was not a true desecration, she argued to me. They were dead already, this merely ensured that they could continue to defend their home even after their death. Not a desecration. And oh, how I would have loved to believe that. Watching those dark, grease-stained corpses march forward in perfect rows, I would have loved for my heart to be filled with a patriotic fervor, to swell with pride, to feel as though my dead countrymen were rising up to protect their homeland once more, to win us a place in the sun. But they were just corpses, animated by a malign stillborn ocean desperate for adopted children. I knew that if we were not cautious, we would join those corpses, held in stasis forever, locked away in her depths, smothered children in the arms of a desperate adoptive mother.
Over the course of those too-brief forty years, I was only able to recreate one pearl. I placed it in my eye, returning my sight, redoubling it, making my vision all the more perfect. With that eye, I could see the fractures in the world, the places where it had been broken by misuse, where gods and monsters and other things had shattered the barrier protecting Atlantis. The one that had been made to keep us separate from the world.
I often wondered about that. Had we been driven out, or had we fled? Which side of the door had the lock been on? Not that it mattered.
I saw the lines as they began to appear. Over the course of nearly a week, space and time had fractured around the place where it would arrive. When the disturbance finally revealed itself, I could have laughed. The fourth submarine, the last one that had disappeared decades ago, finally reappeared. This one’s crew was not dead on arrival. My Ateroleum Fiends fixed that, slaughtered them, wiped them out almost to a man. They were unprepared, dropped into a place where they had no idea how to fight.
And yet, one of them survived nonetheless, showing that terrible human defiance. Another freak. I did not bother to learn his name. He was large, unnaturally so for a human. But his resilience aside, he was nothing compared to that human who had taken my eye. Defiant, violent, powerful, but he had not been able to fight off more than one of the thralls. I barely remember my conversations with him. He was furious at the death of his crew.
It occurred to me how curious it was. That he had been pulled out of time, into his own future. That the death of his fellows aboard that ship were because of the deaths of my countrymen, whose deaths might well have been the consequence of what had happened to the ship. I hoped to execute him, to keep him from ever returning to his people. I was certain, now, that he was the cause of this war, that it was him that would eventually lead the humans to discover us, and make their attacks on us. It was foolish of me, but I’d hoped that we could keep this war from ever happening, or at least ensure that our attacks came as a surprise.
The power of his crossing over through time and between worlds was visible in him. An etching of divinity across his skin. I suspected it was why he had not died with the others when his heart had been pierced. I knew his body had to return, to keep the future flowing as it had. This provided an opportunity, and a grave risk. If he were to die, here, never returning to his home, it could change the flow of fate. The only way to accomplish that was through a ritual. One that I set up. The blade of a god wielded by an innocent, enhanced by the power and will of every godwhisperer in the city.
Of course, it failed.
Of course, he escaped.
Of course, my rival’s experiment, his new goddess, his daughter, fled.
Ku-Thule and I sat across from one another. The dreaming god’s manifestation watched me silently. My rival slept in his quarters. My rival spent much of his time sleeping, now.
“We find ourselves at cross purposes, Nachtka Wai,” said Ku-Thule, cool, calm, collected. “It need not be so. I was your god, once.”
“You abandoned us.”
“Because you lost hope, Nachtka Wai. You gave up on the future. You gave up on me. How can a god remain to watch over a people who do not believe in him?”
“Refused to expand! Refused to change! Refused to grow! Your kind were happy being in stasis! You chose Yam Hamawet!”
The room shook momentarily, the spaces between worlds shivering as the Dead Ocean reached out. She did not break through, but it was close. A god of dreams, and a priest of Yam Hamawet… A terrible invitation to disaster. I stood stiffly, waiting to see if more would happen. After a moment, the wound in the world the name had made, the fractured point, healed. After a minute or two, I felt comfortable enough to speak again. “We are taking great risks. All of this damage to the fabric… Atlantis could be destroyed.”
“Good,” said Ku-Thule, his eyes narrowed. “This place was never anything more than a refuge. A place where your kind fled to hide away. You left the world, confident in your supremacy, and the humans have left you far behind.” Ku-Thule chuckled. “Why do you think that I left this place?”
“That is a question I’ve pondered many times,” I said, leaning back, studying Ku-Thule. “You died. Bastet killed you. Killed your entire pantheon. And I know that what she kills does not return.” I stared for a moment as Ku-Thule’s arms crossed, mouth-tentacles shivering and shaking in a gesture of amusement.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and in some strange aeons, well…”
“Yes. I heard you make that claim before. I know that the worship of Ku-Thule has continued among the humans, growing more potent over time. They have become quite enamored with the god, though they know very little about it. You have claimed that you are a fraction of Ku-Thule’s power, escaped. That is why you do not remember everything. Why you are weakened.”
“It only occurs to me that… Well. Perhaps the god that was Ku-Thule did die. Perhaps what is before me is nothing more than a story. Stories written by a human, stories meant to scintillate and excite. Nothing more than a fiction.” I let the words hang in the air like a blade, my eyes on the god’s mouth. I didn’t dare look at his essence, didn’t dare open my eyes to his divinity. If he was a charlatan, it would have no effect. If he was the true thing… Ku-Thule grew in all that reflected him, infecting it. He would core me, hollow me out and wear me like a suit, as he had my rival.
“An interesting idea,” said Ku-Thule. “Care to test it?”
“Not today,” I said. “You have recovered the idol?”
“Yes. There was some difficulty at first- A servitor of Yam Hamawet attacked my men.”
“How curious,” I said. “They can be found in some of the dark corners of the earth, and they are often rogue in such places. I hope your men survived?”
“All dead. We returned their bodies. You are free to use them to make more of your Ateroleum Fiends. When life gives us lemons…”
“What on earth are lemons?” I asked, an eyebrow raised.
“When something unfortunate happens, you must find the benefit in it,” said Ku-Thule, in apparent non-sequitur. “We have retrieved the idol. My power burgeons. My worship expands. Unfortunately, we still have the issue of Ku-kaili-moku-polemo.”
“This obsession of yours is unbecoming. Are you sure it is not a consequence of the old man? He was always… willful. It would be unfortunate if he were to subvert you.”
“Oh, I can hear the eagerness in your voice. Your friend is gone, Nachtka Wai. He will never return. No, my desires are far more pragmatic. She will unify the people. The marriage will make both of us more powerful. We will make a world where dreams come true.” He chuckled. “Come now. What could you possibly fear?”
The next day, after the incident, we met again. Ku-Thule was in a fervor, pacing the walls, snarling at the temple god. The great goddess of the temple was a diffuse creature, a feeling more than a distinct entity. I could feel it cringing, as though expecting to be beaten. It was frightened. Even so, it should not have betrayed us. It should not have been able to betray us.
“Strange. Strange human. He told me to stop, and I… stopped. Only for a moment, but it was strange.” Ku-Thule’s leftmost tentacle twitched, spasming randomly, an eyelid flicking, his expression ferociously intense.
“Strange also I didn’t see him entering. He did not appear in the same place as you?”
“No. The Ocean intervened.”
“The Dead Ocean?”
“No,” said Ku-Thule.
“Oh.” I frowned. “If she is taking sides-”
“She did little else. She led him here, but I do not suspect that she intended him to come to her. It was a consequence… Though of Ku-kaili-moku-polemo, Thalassa, or the human, I am not sure.”
“Nonetheless, we were able to detect where she would enter.” I tapped the pearl in my eye socket, smiling. “We will bring them back. We will take them.”
“Not the human. Leave him behind. He is more trouble than he is worth. Just… leave him there, where he will be unable to make a difference. Bastet is locked away, trapped within Hell. And the only human who can truly oppose us is soon going to be within our grasp.”
“You’ve found him?” I asked, incredulous.
“Tasted his dreams. He covets victory. He is obsessed with finding a way into Atlantis. He will naturally be drawn to Ku-kaili-moku-polemo. When they are together, and when that human is away from them… We seize them. Take them in one fell swoop. Prepare our invasion. With Ku-kaili-moku-polemo enhancing my legitimacy, and her power added to the Keeper of Gates, we will be able to open gateways into the weakest parts of the human world. Decapitate their centers of power, crush them in one fell swoop. Without their leaders, their hierarchies will fall to chaos. They will prove easy prey. ”
“Provided the humans do not have any surprises in store for us.”
“Still?” asked Ku-Thule, rolling his eyes. “Still you are traumatized by the beating one human inflicted on you? He is dead. He died in ignominy and shame. His name cursed by those who knew him, and he bore no children. Your freak died. He was a once-in-a-millennium phenomenon. We will not see his like again.”
Oh, hopes and dreams. Ku-Thule is so good at playing to them. I wanted so much to believe that the humans were no longer a threat, that we had them at our mercy. I went through with the ritual, aiding Ku-Thule in his obsession. I was not there to aid him. I had no interest in that. Because I had sensed something coming.
It was an aimless feeling. The fractures phased in and out of reality, forming and then healing, as though not certain where they would finally manifest. It was bewildering; They were appearing in multiple places at once, at least three of them.
The first opened several dozen miles outside of the temple, out in the city. Panic ensued, and confused reports. Claims of a monster dwarfing the city. Panic, I was sure. It had to be. Just a reaction to the tension.
The second opened on the outskirts of the city, where Thalassa sometimes dwelt.
The third one, by far the largest, opened inside the temple itself.
That should have been impossible. With Ku captured, with the Keeper of Gates fortifying our portals, nothing should have been able to cut through into the temple itself. The force was equal to one of the legendary Horsemen, or the Sisters, some being of truly mythic power. I went with a score of my Fiends to investigate. And I saw him.
The faith in him flared like a nova, so bright it was almost blinding. The blades at either side of him were dull by comparison, no gods animating them. There might be, someday, though. They had the potential. But the power I sensed was in him.
One of the Fiends lunged at him. Cut him. The glow faded for a moment, and I saw something else, at his hip.
It was the bundle of rat tails. It writhed, and the power within it seemed eager. Hungry. It flashed for a moment, and then his power flared again.
When you live long enough, everything begins to remind you of things you have seen before. You begin to lose track of the subtle differences. You categorize objects and make generalizations. When you live even longer than that- far longer than a human- then the reverse happens. I had fought countless times. Over the years, I had perfectly learned every blow, every strike, every style one could use with a sword. I recognized each and every one when I saw them repeated. I could read teachers and students by the way they imitated each other. Track the grand history of great warriors and teachers as easily as one might track a genealogy by noting who shared a nose.
One of those two wooden blades came up, beaming with divinity. It had not yet developed a personality, but the divinity within was burgeoning with power, all coming from that human. He was like a sun, pouring heat and light and energy out into the world. And right now, his focus was entirely on the two blades. The Fiend’s weapon shattered. The second wooden sword flickered out, and sliced the Fiend in half.
In that gathering cloud of ink, I could see the outline of brilliant golden power, the faith the young man had. I knew that I had seen that sequence once before. The blows that the human freak had used on me.
I turned and fled. I had survived that encounter by the skin of my teeth. There was no mercy left to be had, now.
More reports were coming in from gods and citizens. A tremendous serpent, cutting rapidly through the city. Everything was falling apart. I arrived in the center of the temple, ready to flee with the remaining few hundred Fiends.
Ku-Thule was waiting for me, a smile on his face. Numerous followers behind him. The four prisoners in the cage. I didn’t spare them a second glance. “We must leave. Now. The human is here, and-”
“Nearly spent. You worry too much, Nachtka Wai.”
“Others are coming. Powerful beings. We have been outmaneuvered. We must-”
“Everything has gone according to my plan,” chuckled Ku-Thule. “Did you think I ever wanted a whole realm? Something pure and perfect, like your little home?” He grinned. “All of that power, all that emotion, all of that raw fury, being channeled together. Atlantis is cracking. And when it cracks, all of its citizens shall cry out in despair, to the only god that will listen to them. I will fashion this world into a dream. And from there, we shall invade. Have a little faith in your leader, Nachtka Wai-”
The door irised open. The human stood there, breathing heavily, and the glow was gone. All of that faith, that power, fading like the sun at dusk. But I knew it was still there, and that it would blaze again.
“The human. Be careful, he is-
“Spent. Spent all his effort carving through a few of your forces. He is in out of his depth. He is going to die, here, tonight. Waste all of his effort. Disappointing everyone.”
“Be careful,” I whispered to Ku-Thule.
“Do not worry. I intend to play his own insecurities against him.” He turned towards the human, grinning. My eyes were fixed on the bundle of rat tails in the freak’s hand.
“This doesn’t have to get any uglier, Ku-Thule.”
“Oh, please, devour it. Be consumed by Nergal. Bring back a creature who would be my natural ally, so easy to manipulate. Break my stalemate with Nachtka Wai. You cannot hold that power, Horace. You are nothing like your Uncle Randall.”
“You’ll lose everything.”
The rat tails pulsed. And he choked. The ceiling collapsed, a serpent’s tongue the size of a tower thrusting into the room, snapping at the cage, shattering it in a single ferocious blow. My thralls leapt at the tongue, trying to attack the invading creature, to little avail. It was all falling apart in a matter of seconds. But the human was still weak.
He was the lynchpin. I had to kill him. He was weak, now, weakened by his failure, by his uncertainty. I lunged towards him, bill-first. Not so powerful after all. Not so protected. Not so immune to the vagaries of chance and misfortune. I was better than this freak. I went for his heart.
The hand caught me with a lazy backswing as she descended from above, landing in front of me. I was flung to the side by the sheer force of the blow, sending me twirling through the water, end over end.
“Horace,” said Bastet, Goddess of Protection, the Deicide of my pantheon, the Savior and the Killer, dressed in her fullest panoply, most assuredly no longer in Hell, “can we have swordfish tonight?”