The Cull Sow Queen
I love only pigs.
I lust only for their lives,
The way they live.
I want to breed like them in the mud,
Shrieking, glad and free.
My rump up.
I want to wean all my children that I love so much,
Right at the same time,
A teat for each.
I want to revel in what people waste.
I want to eat their shit and believe it all a glorious victory.
While they make their wars,
While they kill themselves.
While I live.
It took a few moments before Eff realized Vanuva was not speaking to him.
Eff paused, listening to Vanuva’s voice in the cavern. It could have echoed, but it did not. It might have throbbed and cried out to him, begged him to stop, to leave her to rest and be dead. To finally leave her alone. But then, as Eff looked at the red blade hovering over his black boot, and he saw his green smile, and he saw the delicate carvings of entwined fire spirits in that hall above his head, all in that soiled metal blade… The best way to describe Vanuva’s disembodied voice came to him. It was a prayer. She was everywhere at once, in everything. In him.
“If you want me to save you, sweet-meat, take you back with me to the dark side of life… baby, I’m here.” Eff opened his arms, waited. Smirked.
Nothing more. Just his own voice drifting away, in echo. There were worktables at the end of the hall. At first, Eff hadn’t seen them. Old instinct, he put his back up against the rock wall, ready to defend himself or flee. Eff had many moments like this, when he forgot he had become a god, that he was no longer just a man with everything to lose.
As he eased arms back down, the strange creatures also lost interest. He noticed their little claws or paws or whatever those were, they never stopped moving. Picking up a gem, glinting at it, then placing it in one pile or other. They were sorting them by size or by color. The entire hall filled with gentle clicking noises. He looked down there again, attempting to look less nervous this time. After a few moments of peering into near dark, Eff let out an anxious breath. No guards.
“But then, that in itself…” Eff twisted his grin into a frown, “Yayup… it’s just a might suspicious.”
“You’re being a fool!”
OUR WORK IS YET INCOMPLETE.
Eff cringed at the other divine voices in his head. Eff the Prime, was always so critical of him. And Eff the Sublime really did enjoy constantly yelling.
And so Eff the Man spoke again and told them, “Fine. No more fooling around…” and then Eff paused at how funny that was for him, the God of Foolishness to say. Wisely, however, he chose not to take the easy joke when the rest of the trinity seemed so unhappy already.
Instead, Eff decided he must approach this as a god should. He straightened the scraps of his ripped harness, or leather shirt—he still wasn’t completely sure what he was wearing, then strode right down the middle of the place as if it were already his domain. The jade tattoos, always so fiery over his dark skin, cooled in the peculiar sallow light of the underworld. As Eff looked down at his own arms, he realized he was swinging them like a schoolboy. A schoolboy out for a gay walk through the underworld, hunting for a pig-themed warrior queen and dodging a lethal fire goddess if he could help it? Eff pinned arms to his sides and sighed unhappily at himself. Gripped his sword anew.
The way the creatures went on with their work with this big person wandering among them, and he couldn’t remember what goddess Hichristy’s minions were properly called now, it all reminded him of something… pigeons. Or, squirrels. All these little things wanted to do was work, to fiddle around. He sensed that as long as he left them alone, they were happy to keep on avoiding him.
“Vanuva? Where are you?” Eff’s own boot steps were louder than what the fuzzy brown prospectors were doing. Gems clicked softly as they were placed on the tables, or set into baskets, “You could have passed on, Queen Vanuva, but you didn’t. Maybe you want to be miserable. Maybe you hate too many things to be ready to leave the world of life, yet.” Eff strutted a few more steps, bounced the red sword easily in his expert grip. “Why don’t you just admit to that? Come down here, if you can, and save us both the headache. And then I can pull you back into your old body. I’d be glad to yank those pretty little chains again.”
No, Vanuva wasn’t answering him. And he supposed she couldn’t come down to where he was. Another thing, perhaps she didn’t realize her master would be there at the bottom of Pavilon, listening to her prayers. In the way that no one prays to their god in a desperate situation and then really expects to look up and see him standing right there, divinity in the flesh, smirking back.
Eff kicked over a little stone, then rolled it around beneath his boot. “Come to think of it, Vanuva, when was the last time you really prayed to me in that lovely, desperate, breathy voice of yours? You were always so angry, ready to murder. But you needed me to push you over the edge. If you can, just… just call out and we can end this painful limbo…” Eff decided to stalk around one interesting table in particular, and its poor denizen bowed his head lower and lower, making Eff feel like he’d become a vulture. Nothing but black diamonds in the baskets that this creature had piled up.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen one of those before. Actual black diamonds? Where are those going?” Eff didn’t realize he had actually started chatting with one of these fuzzy brown things until it flinched and looked back at him. For some reason, Eff hadn’t noticed before… it was a rabbit. Well, a little one. It was prodding the gem around with little paws.
Its mud-colored eyes expanded with fear at this big person having noticed him at all. Or, her. Eff couldn’t be sure. It flicked its paws twice, then buried its head between. The ears were able to flop over the eyes in this position, so it could no longer see him. Eff watched it sit there, eyes covered, shuddering at him.
“An ashbunny.” Eff recalled. Then, he turned around and looked at the table behind him, across the way. “Cinder foxes.” Several strange tales of small rodents hopping at the speed of… a hop… stealing flames before people could make fire in the woods, or snatching burnt cinders in their teeth to spread other fires to punish the unworthy… all goddess Hichristy’s doing.
He stopped to watch a trio of creatures, a cinderfox and two ash bunnies, pulling a cart to dole out more baskets of gems. More trolleys, on pulleys and chains, hauled the sorted precious stones up, up, up, to the top of the dome to be poured out, clinking prettily, and stored someplace way up there.
The whole place was a workhouse. Eff tried to imagine it, the fire goddess Hichristy looking down from some balcony up there, to see all her minions scuttling off to do her bidding. She shouting commands whenever it wasn’t done right. Or, was Hichristy the type of goddess to shout? Eff conceded he hadn’t met her yet. So perhaps instead she smiled and waved at them. Some kindly, yet magnanimous sovereign.
“Which also means Hichristy is a passive aggressive… purple-haired liar…” Eff muttered.
There also looked to be burnraccoons and hestian hedgehogs… Eff just pinched the bridge of his nose and went on looking for Vanuva.
He noticed the entry points in the place. Doors, a way out to other caverns, perhaps stairs. This couldn’t be all of Pavilon. Eff looked up and saw the many stories of red arches above him. Those had to be more than decoration. Stories above the elaborate stone screen of carved fire spirits was some kind of residence, surely.
“I mean, where else would the magnanimous dictator get dressed, and then sashay down from?”
So that was where Vanuva was. And Eff thought he spied stairs, through the elaborate carved grate of lunging, coiled red bodies reaching and catching one another. But it was not clear, in the impossibly fanciful artwork, where the gate or door was, to even get on those stairs.
After fielding so many, many tables of sickeningly adorable creatures playing with sparkling gems, craning his neck at the disturbingly frivolous and useless architecture above, the man in the ripped clothes and scary tattoos at last had enough. Well, he suspected it would come to this anyway. But perhaps, somewhere inside of him, he still believed he wasn’t up to it. He’d wanted to avoid it.
“You are only being tested.”
YOU WILL NOT FAIL US.
“Aww… thanks, guys.”
An echo of two divine beings shouting at him to shut his mouth and get with it made Eff suddenly cringe and grip one of his ears, though.
“Hichristy! This is your first and only warning.” Eff called out to her, waited to make sure his voice was clear, loud and easily heard. Then, he continued, “Where the hell are you? I demand you bring Vanuva to me!”
Being so ignored, and watching the creatures go on working peacefully was somehow a deeper blow. Eff’s eyes began to sting. He hadn’t expected that painful surge of emotion. It was like the water god Panthalassar all over again, drowning him because he could.
Eff stared at an ash bunny, seething, until it wasn’t a cuddly creature any more. It was a lump of ignorance. A pile of judgement. Ridicule incarnate set there by another rival god, and it was in his way. Eff stalked up to the little rabbit, breathed through his teeth. He kicked it off its seat. Then he kicked the stone seat over. And he used his sword to sweep the gems off the table in a spray of color and clamor.
The ash bunny tried to scramble away, but Eff cornered it, between the overturned stone bench and the table that he now hauled over when it tried to leap away. “Hichristy! Are you treating me like a slave?” Eff watched the animal cower. No answer from the fire goddess. “You are still treating me like a slave when I am a man? A man so much better than you, you slob! Answer me! Address me properly!” Eff’s voice again echoed, into nothing.
“It is what it is!”
DO AS YOU MUST.
“You owe them nothing.”
YOU? WE. US!
Eff almost screamed it, “I am a man, the only man–chosen to become a god!”
And the longsword came down.
Eff’s eyes didn’t really pass over the crushed body of the thing, its side rent open. The head and sweet ears cast back in its small, final, painful throe.
They all squealed and scampered everywhere. Eff flinched. How close they sounded, to pigs. A sound he knew well, always attendant his Vanuva, her pigs… Eff needed her. He needed her with him and to yank the chain again, make the bitch he trained bark at the world, maul it and make it lay prone, obedient to his will, again, “Where is she? Tell me and I’ll spare you. Where is your mistress?” They refused to answer him. Of course the rodentia of the world could not speak to tell him. Eff ignored that reasoning in his mind, that he was doing this for his own vicious purposes, not because of the fast excuse he’d just given.
Fury, arousing, passionate heat throbbed at his fingertips. Somewhere, outside of himself, only a moment ago, it had made sense. His true reason for doing this… Let it come, then. Let the consequences come, whatever they must be. Eff staggered around, half in a dream. The Sublime, who always barked like a dog in his ears, the raucous was now deafening. The black, blackest dog wanted to chase. He wanted to tear with searing green teeth. He wanted to bite. In his mind, Eff let go the bloodied scruff of its neck.
Eff was on the tables, swinging his long barbed sword, taking off heads. He slipped in blood on the way back down, falling down to the ground, but he was up again, racing after them. He went under tables. He used the sword to slow down the trolleys that were escaping with more victims clambering inside, with the gems. Hot sparks between the metal of his blade and the pulleys, wedged together and screeching at each other. Eff stabbed frightened creatures in the first trolley at once.
And then he stabbed five. He made it into a game and skewered victims in prime numbers. It was terrible, he knew that, but The Prime loved it, he wanted more of it, and so Eff indulged in the rush of that feeling instead. So much easier…
The small animals were escaping through the double doors at the back. Eff had seen those earlier, and was sure those led deeper into the caverns. And Vanuva’s voice had been coming from above. So those were just some quarters for the pitiful slaves, or a store room. Eff snarled and raised his sword, sprinted after. The roar of two wild beings sailed with his own voice, made the cavern quake like thunder. Made the creatures trip over themselves, roll belly-up, so ripe for the culling…
White. A wall. Lightning? Suddenly, it all flashed in front of him. Eff fell to the ground. He was falling as they were falling, Eff sensed that too. In that pristine moment of recognition, or of conscience, that all the white must be intentional, an equivocation, Eff was able to scramble to his feet and retreat just far enough, even while the other powers shouted at him to go on fighting—but this was the reason why The Prime and The Sublime had recruited him into their triad, for his human instincts—and that humility, that knack for mortality, kept all three inside the triune god steps away from being incinerated.
A more ancient being had arrived to the fight, with a skill for annihilation.
Another wash of white fire. Eff turned back, only to find he had been encircled.
She answered him with what scarcely looked like a claw of yellow, against the blinding white, the fiery talons of an eagle slashing across the fire ring to rip him apart.
“Give us the shell…”
THE SHELL OF ARA’KHAN!
Eff slammed his palm on the ground, placing his divine rune there. A symbol of his divinity that transcended time and place, through which anything of him, belonging to him, might be called. If only summoning up certain piggy-themed women he wanted could be so easy…
Yellow flame raced on the back of red as another protective energy engulfed the body of the man lying on the ground. Eff was soon able to watch, through a crystalline helmet that multiplied the scene many times in a kaleidoscope of rose hues, the yellow-orange claw of flame dissipate as it passed over him, failing to make him dead.
It took far more heat than that to burn a red diamond, one inscribed with powerful, exotic runes, and least of all a man-god crouching in armor made of red diamond. Eff caught his breath and looked down at himself. Mistake, that. He was far too dazzling to look at, at that angle. The many points of light trapped and refracted through the giant cut gem Eff was wearing started to make him feel ill.
Eff raised his sword to fight properly. Another claw of flame, now muted to orange, battered him again. The heat could not really affect him, but the force of the blaze pushed him over. When it was done, though he knew he shouldn’t and it was the worst possible time, perhaps in all his immortal lives to do so, Eff started laughing.
“Now is certainly not the time!”
STOP THAT. YOU ANNOY EVEN US!
“…Sorry.” Then loud enough for the other god to hear, “Hichristy! There is nothing you can do to end me or turn me back. I will only go when I have Vanuva. Return her to me!”
A ruby firestorm, and he was able to see this vibrantly through the transparent red armor, raced around him and engulfed him totally. With his own eyes, Eff realized it might not be possible, but with the aid of the armor, he was able to see coils of fire, like coils of a snake, pressing in on him as they snapped and sizzled. Hichristy wasn’t going to take his word for it. Eff struggled to hold on to the sword made of the very same—it was heavy enough, but something he could carry and trudge to the bottom of Pavilon with, unlike the armor. Weapon snob as Eff knew he was, the Shell of Ara’Khan was only good for one thing, fated for one thing. Dealing with fire goddess Hichristy was it. On a real battlefield, he might as well be stifling to death in a sparkling, man-shaped casket.
The fiery snaked stopped squeezing him. Eff was impressed that the sound of rushing hot flame gave it the ability to hiss, like a real snake. But that didn’t die down for long. As soon as Eff took a step forward to do anything in this fight, another fiery snake, more vividly red than the last, swept around him, and he could actually see small tendrils of flame slipping over the seams of the armor—or what Hichristy would suppose to be seams. Most man-made clothing, armor, objects, had seams or joints of some kind. But the Shell of Ara’Khan was made from a near-mythical red diamond brought before a king that hated a certain fire goddess and wanted to be free of her meddling in his affairs. He was willing to pay any price for it and set only the best artisans and armorsmiths to the task of this singular freedom. Not one spark of flame was able to find its way inside, and Eff watched the powerful inscriptions almost swallow the heat. They glowed, quite brightly, but then it all faded away. It sent a thrilling sensation through him, as if he and the suit of armor were now stronger for it. Eff hadn’t yet tested whether he needed air to breathe, as a man-god… and he cussed softly to himself about that now, much the way one does after forgetting to shut the window or leaving one’s keys at home. Eff was a funny millennia-old, yet youngish, roguish thing.
But when Eff sucked in a much needed breath, he felt it rush through thin vents at the corners of his mouth and behind his jaw. There were openings at the back of the helmet for air to come in. These were covered over by the ventail. A quick, self-conscious tug of that piece, covering his mouth, reassured Eff that it couldn’t just be pulled down. It was fixed in place. A true shell. Good.
Very good, indeed. And it would have been nice to have another made like this. Maybe in that black diamond… but the ventail and visor should be able to slide up completely, if he was going to do a second one to match what King Ara’Khan’s version. But what would be the point of that? Black diamond armor… it was the difficulty in burning a red diamond with rare inscriptions that ate away heat, that made the Shell of Ara’Khan useful. Having black diamond armor would just be expensive, and indulgent. …Right?
Eff stopped himself from being fascinated by his own armor and focused on the creature in front of him. Or, around him… when he at last found the source of all this vengeful fireworks, he saw that Hichristy was waiting above him.
And Hichristy was glaring right back, waiting to be noticed. Eff staggered away a few steps, so that his neck was more comfortable, not craned all the way back. Hichristy raised a hand, fingers freshly ignited with flame in warning.
But Eff was only getting into a better position. He lowered his sword, a little, to make that clear. And nother thing, far less distracting now, Eff had been looking up her skirt.
“Shame I had to move…”
Hichristy was on one knee, crouched inside a large golden hoop and also holding it above her head with one hand. Limbs coiled so elegantly, she looked almost precisely like a mural Eff had seen once, in one of her temples that he passed through. At the time, he thought, perhaps, depicting the fire goddess encircled in a chakram, a ring-blade, was just a symbol. Sometimes she was a warrior goddess, at others, a fertility goddess, something like that. And Eff expected to later see her surrounded by other things in other paintings or carvings, like white lotuses or stars, or pieces of little melted chocolate on an offering table during the holidays… Eff was amused by it, the little efforts people were making to have her seem powerful, potent in all aspects of life. And a chakram… nobody uses those in battle anymore, come on. But then, Eff hadn’t much time to spend in big cities or Hichristy’s temples as he was on a mission to get down south-west, as fast as possible, and fetch Vanuva out of Hichristy’s actual clutches. Now, Eff grumbled to himself. Apparently, Hichristy’s ability to travel within a ring of untouchable blade, weapon and shield at once if she wanted it to be, and knew what she was doing with it—and Eff was getting a strange inkling, that Hichristy did—travel-by-chakram was a real feature of this goddess, in addition to her constantly blasting enemies with white-hot fire. Suddenly, Hichristy staying chief goddess in this part of the world, since practically the beginning of time, was starting to make sense.
Hichristy looked down on him with a very youthful, almost childlike face. Her skin was not as dark brown as his own, but her face was very bright somehow. It was hard to look at for that reason, too. Well, no, there was a woman present in those brilliant, too youthful features. A real woman with all the heat and expectation he was used to seeing in most higher class women. (Or really, weren’t all women capable of that same ‘don’t make me come up there’ look?) Yes, that was present. But Hichristy also looked very young. Eternally young… yes, of course she would, if it was within her power to. Obviously. Why was it so truly hard to explain, so easy to become lost in her features? Or, was the better way to describe it… as gentleness? Eff’s mind reeled and he saw, thought nothing except for that word, that feeling… gentleness. Why did that shock him? Eff decided that it must be because gentleness was something he had not truly seen, in a another god, in a very long time. He checked again. Yes, it was there. At the edge of her eyes. At the edges of her mouth. Warmed by the purple-gold hair that framed her face and fell in abundance, carefully woven locks of it, all over her shoulders, past her hips. Not a features of hers was wrankled in deep rancor, jaded over millennia. Her mouth, her eyes, were somewhat relaxed. Wreathed in hope that things, even this fight between them, might take a turn for the better. And that Hichristy was still waiting on him now, yes, that proved it. She possessed gentleness.
And Hichristy was small. You couldn’t be very tall to fold yourself even within a person-sized chakram like that. Eff was onto admiring her sort-of-sheer white top, criss-crossed over her breasts, bare midriff, and her fly-away shorts before Hichristy finally put a stop to all that, “Do you have the right to speak to me? No.”
“Wait. I’m trying to—”
“And do you have the right to look upon me, Eff?”
“Look here, I only—”
“No. Have you even the right to wear the Shell of Ara’Khan, to insult me in that way—as if you are a dog the same size as I, in this fight?”
“Well, right now, you are kind of acting like a bitch—”
Eff did a strange double-cringe at what Hichristy shouted at him and what, no doubt, other godlike powers were also shouting at him in his head, at the same time. He paused, to hold the side of his helmet and catch his breath.
“How dare you!”
“Your little minions weren’t showing me the proper respect. I know what it looks like. Some gods do it with weapons in your face. Others do it with passive aggressive foolishness.”
“We will deal with your crimes against life itself, oh we will… but I must focus on that later. Right now, I am astounded at your gall. That you would even trespass into this sacred place asking for a person that you have no right to, that you’ve never had any right to or real connection with. I found Vanuva when she was a girl, I brought her up, bestowed upon the blessed virgin maiden my graces, and she returned them to me alone, became the holiest Fire Knight—”
“Wow. That sounded, whether you wanted it to or not… pretty, uh… sort of dirty.”
“Eff! What are you anyway, you half man? You defiler! You’re not a god, you are a monster! Acting like you own human beings, commanding them about like slaves, and worse… like dogs on leashes, and then you starve them, you kick them, then unleash them desperate for revenge on their brothers and sisters… I know you, I and my priests have looked you up, sir. Foolishness… no one can be a god of… of that! What is that, even?” What you do, Eff, is deface, precisely, what is righteous and good about existence itself!”
“Oh, come off it. I’ve seen many gods like you before. ‘Do good, worship me. Let me bestow upon your virgin shoulders my graces…’ It’s all to get mortals to do what you want, to mold the world the way you want it. Put sparkly stars in the sky, turn their souls into gems, whatever foolish crud is going on around here… And why? Because it feels good, Hichristy. You’re getting off on being good, just the same as I’m getting high on my revenge. It’s the same damned thing. So don’t act like you’re better, you can’t be better,” and when she tried to shout over him again, “And what is it with you gods in the east… you act like you’re the only ones that even exist. Well here is some news—no god is better than any other god! What do you need, proof? You sent one of your own Fire Knights to destroy Vanuva, and now you want her back—now, who’s yanking the chain? Of course Vanuva chose to die rather than serve you again, of course, when you asked her to forgive and begin again, she lied to you and just lay there and died on the battlefield, anything to get out of serving the eternal, the omniscient, the oppressively good and perfect, vain queen.”
“Or maybe Vanuva was trying to kill herself rather than put up with serving you anymore! I was trying to save her…”
“Then why isn’t Vanuva some polished crystal, busy burning off her sins among the other stars? I did read that correctly in your temple scrolls, didn’t I? The stars in the sky, some kind of… purgatory.” He waited, “So, why isn’t Vanuva up there? Why is she instead locked up in one of your rooms upstairs?”
“It’s because of what you did to her… you did something to her soul, you put runes on it, or some vile curse!”
“Wrong. You haven’t even tried to let Vanuva go on and repent, have you? Because you want her intact, a toy, a tool for you to use, just like I do. That’s what gods do, Hichristy, we use mortals. There is nothing else for us to do with them. I was once one, I should know. And I’m being used by one right now. Half god, half man… or anyway, I’m one-third man… it’s the way of things. We gods are the masters of the house. Men are just the rats or cats, running around in it…”
“She obviously hates you, Eff! Vanuva loves me.”
“Hichristy, I’d like to point out that Vanuva has been serving me since her time in the jungle, for almost a decade, and she never did try to off herself until you got back involved a few days ago.”
Eff roared back, in all three of his voices. Far worse. The force of it pushed Hichristy’s long violet dreaded tresses back, made her turn her head out of the vile wind.
She returned to him confident, with heat, “Eff the Prime, Eff the Sublime and Eff the Man. I hope that all of you hiding inside of that pink, walking princess casket can hear me.”
Eff checked at that jab against him. Mainly because he hadn’t realized until this moment that it was true.
“If you really want to fight over Vanuva and settle this, I will give you that fight. But the mortal with you, however long his memories are that you’ve gifted to him, he does not understand his full powers. And he does not know even know how to enter into a fight and not be distracted by sex.”
This put Eff’s mind back to blank for a moment. Seeing her mouth say that, hearing her lips make those words when he thought she was the chaste one. And this was the precise opposite of the time for that. Eff had to blink, take a breath, not let her prove her point so easily with him, right then.
Hichristy looked down on him, “You are disgusting. No wonder you told her to live like a pig. It’s what you do. But that is fine by me, Eff. I’m happy to make you die like a pig.” Hichristy put the flat of her hand on the side of the hovering chakram blade and pushed it the way one gestures to open a curtain. It caused the large weapon to revolve a little, as she took a step to come out from under it and stand with the top arc of the blade at her back. The balls of her feet were balanced well on the bottom arc and she thrust her chest, slowly, with confidence.
“No matter what you think, Hichristy, I cannot penetrate your physical properties with the power in my suit.”
Hichristy, this time, did not fly into offense. She raised a magenta-colored eyebrow and waited for him to catch his own mistake.
“I mean to say—” Eff tried again with new vehemence meant to cast away his embarrassment, “Your powers cannot penetrate!”
“I thought you and your power were penetrating me.”
“Because of the physical properties of my suit, I mean! Fire cannot burn diamond so easily, you know. Especially not red diamond. And a runed red diamond at that!”
Hichristy’s tone sank low, husky, “I know that.” Eff was caught up, but she was expressing real disapproval that she couldn’t just burn him dead where he stood.
“Well then…” Eff tried to keep his voice in check. He spread his feet and firmly gripped the sword in his right hand, “We are at an impasse. You also have fighting experience, as I do. So you know we need to come to an agreement. Bring me Vanuva, and then we can talk.”
“I see…” Hichristy smiled, raised up on a toe, and gave her chakram another idle spin. Eff was horrified that she was able to take a step, sort of walk easily behind it, and manage to have the blade revolve fully around herself without causing any harm. She treated the thing more like a pet she knew well and was fully fond of, rather than a weapon that could cut her and everyone else, at all times. “Dearest Eff… did you choose to find that rare armor and wear it for me in the hopes that you wouldn’t actually have to fight me in the end? And here I thought you believed you were some warrior. I actually felt threatened by you.”
“You were?” Eff heard himself say that. It sounded stupidly hopeful. How was she doing this to him?
“Now, though, and it’s nice we’ve had a chance to talk. This is the first time I’ve been so close to the Shell of Ara’Khan and able to study it. You can’t really do that in the heat of a battle. But I can see that there is, indeed, a way to get fire under that mask. I have to send it in from behind, don’t I? At an angle.”
“So strike me down, and I won’t be able to. Go on, Eff.” Hichisty sat down to cross her brown legs and swing playfully on the chakram, back and forth, while she held on to it from up above, like some real child’s toy. That should not have been physically possible, but some unseen energy was buoying it up. Eff’s mind raced with all that he did not understand about her, and this situation. He tried to reach back into eons of memories that were not his own, from the incarnations before him. But he did not know what to look for, and nothing provided an immediate answer to this. Why was this one goddess different than all the others that generations of Eff had dueled with and put down?
“I just want Vanuva. You don’t need her, but I do. I know you can understand that, Hichristy. You have other Fire Knights. There is only one Vanuva, one Cull Sow Queen that I created with my powers, who I am eternally bonded with, whose soul I put my mark on.” Eff set his teeth, not wanting to spell it out for her, “Vanuva is my greatest… weapon. And my friend.”
“She’s your henchwoman.” Hichristy rolled her eyes.
“Yes, that.” Eff exhaled, relieved. “Yeah that ‘friend’ thing… it felt a little too real, you know? Friends with a mortal, ugh. Weird. Forgot there was a word for it, when a god recruits a special someone to do their bidding, and then they do such a good job of it, over time–”
“Well, you’re not getting her.” Hichristy cut him off. Then she smirked, and it was worse than Eff’s own cock-sure grin that he’d flashed Hichristy, and her minions, many times that evening. Next, Hichristy pointed elegantly through the golden hoop. Again, not slicing herself open the way Eff badly wished she would, many, many times, “…And there’s the door.”
It became so quiet in the cavern that the sound of the black underwater river could be heard, lapping against the gray beach just beyond the great archway into Pavilon. It glowed, oddly, in the unnatural light beneath the world. The noise at the thin line of beach they could both just scarcely see from where they stood became louder, the natural lunging of water over land more ardent. This was the water god Panthalassar listening in on them, ready for it too.
“Your brother thinks this is going to be a three-way fight, Hichristy.”
Hichristy got up, carefully. Her eyes darted from the black pool of water, rising, rising when there was no tide. And she looked from the water, and back to Eff. Confusion gave way to fear. Finally she appeared afraid.
“What did you say to him? Oh, you are a true fool if you think you have won his allegiance in any measure. Panthalassar only thinks of himself, always!” she almost whined, “And he can’t want anything to do with Vanuva…”
“Enough is enough, Hichristy. You sent an assassin after Vanuva. And when you didn’t kill her, you made her want to die…”
“She was already dead on her feet, because of what you were doing to her! I sent her justice. I offered her mercy and salvation…”
“Look, here. This isn’t hard and it isn’t complicated, Hichristy. Vanuva’s just a jilted woman, a queen, that I got my hands on. You should know, you made her that way—pissed off. So I’m sure she had—has! Every right to be, and as they say, hell hath no fury… Please, let me walk out of here with her now, so Vanuva can get back to having her angry life. Why does it have to be a perfect life? It can be an angry life. Plenty of people get angry. Plenty of people decide to fight back, rather than sit at home and pretend nothing’s wrong. And I have a feeling Panthalassar would like me to leave here too, with no more harm done to this realm.”
“He can’t! I won’t let either of you… Panthalassar! What can you want from any of this? The matter is not between us. I have always, always been good to you, my brother. This is between me and this green, religion-wrecking fool.”
Eff finally lost his patience with the whole thing. He raised his sword. While Hichristy was distracted looking at her brother’s work, black water beginning to seep in and flood the floor, wash the blood away… When she turned to Eff again, eyes wide, soft lips caught in an ‘O’ ready to tell him another thing about himself,
PLEASE US, BITCH!
And Eff threw all his strength into that first swing. It would change his fate.