The New Divine Order
“This is a waste of time.” Miklos grumbled. “Why did we travel to Terra? You could have clipped my wings back on the Bright Moon.”
“Your time is mine to waste.” The Goddess Lux proclaimed. “The task of your punishment was given to me, and I will see it done.”
Miklos scowled, “you didn’t answer my question.” He followed her through the overgrowth, great trees and foliage pressing on every side. Mushrooms the size of houses, and even a scorpion the size of an elephant shuffled past, ignoring the two divinities. At least the ambient light produced by Lux seemed to keep the wildlife at bay. “Actually I’m curious about something else. I’ve never done anything to you and yours, why so eager to see me maimed that you volunteered for the task?”
“I have a special place in my heart for wayward sons.” Lux said, leaving the grass and dirt sun-bleached wherever she stepped.
“You still haven’t answered the question. Why here? You could have just clipped them in the city.”
“Your sins have weight Nicholas. I could have cut them in the city, but doing it that way would have lacked substance, lacked severity. Do you see, the scale must balance, the penance must match, even exceed the sin.” There was a heat in her voice, a hotness born of the fission of raw certainty.
“I don’t see how dragging me to the middle of nowhere changes anything.”
They come upon a clearing then. The grass was low, and had the air of being… maintained. Not trimmed as a garden, but simply walked upon each day. At the heart of the clearing was a stump, and before it knelt a woman. Her hair the black emptiness of absence. Her skin the pale clamor of death, so far gone that even her haphazard and forgotten make up could not make it appear truly alive. Her robes, mangled and torn from wear had once been the pale white of Thutmosian funeral garb.
For a moment he was confused, then Miklos, lord of lies, blood traitor, and malfeasance perpagator, realized who the woman was. And slowly, woodenly, he turned to Lux. Her luminescent face aglow in ecstasy.
“Now,” Lux cooed, “now we can begin.”
“You bitch.” He said, his voice betrayed him, wavering.
“I have been called worse by better men than you, Nicholas Thutson.” She declared, deliberately bastardizing his name and adding the Aesir patronymics so common on the Western Continents. “But the choice is still yours. Will you accept my, and my queens, punishment? Or shall you flee and throw yourself on the mercy of Xipe Totec? Or will you run and hope your brothers never find you?”
With a glare Miklos stepped past the goddess and into the clearing. Lux did not follow, merely waiting at the edge of the clearing.
“Mother,” he said, his voice still wavering, shaken slightly. She did not respond, her face lowered, eyes closed. Laying in the grace to her right was a sword. On her left a tea set.
“Mother,” he said again, his voice was under control now. Steady, commanding. She looked upward at him, with a soft smile. That was one of her gifts, kindness in even small ways. Even in this. She spared him the shame of noticing he was unsure, pretended not to hear him until he composed himself.
“It’s all right. I’m here. I don’t know what this woman told you,” he said, denying Lux the courtesy of an introduction though he doubted the barbarian noticed. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. She can’t make you. Just wait here a moment, she and I will conclude our business, and then we can talk. You don’t have to watch.”
“Miki,” she spoke, and her voice was heavy, decisive, with none of her usual stammering or fidgeting. Her shyness entirely replaced with a gravitas that anchored him to the ground and left him helpless. “I have watched you since you left the mountain perches. I watched you fly, and I watched your brothers and son give chase. I saw you soar across the nine worlds, your brothers a mere updraft behind you. I watched you seek shelter in the nest of my sister. I watched you hide beneath her wing and beg for her song of intercession. I watched you follow the sun through the forest. I know you are here. Stay with me a moment, my little Miki, and drink from cups, we must speak before you can begin.”
“I thought,” he said, kneeling across from his mother. A casual eye might believe she was entirely focused on the teapot, the cups, the pour… but he knew her well, and the act was done from mere rote, her attention was directed to him. “Nevermind, it isn’t important. You need to go home. Sarkan will forgive you, welcome you even. We know father made you…help him. This place isn’t good for you. You deserve better.”
“I murdered your father.” He flinched as she said it. “Even though he begged me… I did it. I cannot go home. That my children forgive me only makes my guilt worse. That they seek to emulate him horrifies me. Exile is my fate. You have chosen treason.”
“Sarkan deserved my little trick. It’s not even like I made him do it. I’ve never made anyone do a damn thing. It’s not my fault they blew it out of proportion.”
“Did my Valeska deserve it?”
“What about Valeska?” He asked, indignant.
“It would be wise, little Miki to think who stands behind you before you make me speak aloud what you wish to remain unsaid.” He looked into her eyes then, and realized that unlike the others she did not merely suspect, but knew to her bones what had actually transpired beneath that willow tree.
“What happens now?” He asked.
“What always happens my little Miki, a choice must be made. I have been asked to claim wergild for your misdeeds. But I will not force you. You will either ascend away, or you shall kneel over that stump and never know the sky again.”
There was no hesitation in him. “Let’s get this over with. Making a man’s mother mutilate him, you people are sick” He shot that last bit at Lux, knowing she could easily hear him. Gingerly he bent over the stump and raised a wing. His mother stood before him, and slowly drew her sword. Blood dripped down the curve.
“Why is your sword bleeding?” He asked, for the first time a sense of trepidation unsettling him.
“I am Karasu Azuma no Arechi, who mine husband called Rhea, and the Council called Rook,” she intoned, not speaking to him at all, but to universe, and fate. His feathers stood and his muscles tightened as he felt the grip of eldritch sorcery.
“*Nine* children I bore my lord. But in his most secret hall he asked a further boon of me. I told him I was his wife, and had sworn three oaths to the oni of old, three vows to his ancestors, and made three promises to the council, and I would do anything he asked of me. But when he spoke I faltered and the universe punished me. Nine times I refused him before I could bear no more. I drew my blade and gave him Nine holy wounds. Nine screams he made that haunt my dreams. Nine organs he bade me take. Nine hours I sat the vigil with his remains. Nine days I wept at his death throne. Nine weeks I walked into exile. Nine years I waited here for my youngest babe, Ninth of Nine. Behold the Ku Sosho Ken, the Nine-Wound Blade, forged in Nine days by Nine smiths. Three Oni from the distant west, who folded the blade Nine times on each of the Nine days. Three wise Rhino Smiths, who added Nine gems of power, each polished for Nine days. Three Forest keepers, who carved wood from the heart of Nine first trees, each aged Nine, Nine, and Nine years before harvest, and shaped over Nine days to make the hilt. It lusts for the blood of Thoth and his Nine-fold brood.”
“Fuck, mom, mom, you can stop chanting now, think about this, there’s a lot of voodoo in the air now, and anything that happens could get really bad.” Miklos said, magic and fate were heavy in the clearing now, clogging the air with power, and every time she said nine it felt like a great bell tolled, intoning it on the universe. But there was no reasoning with her, she was in fate’s grip now, wide eyed, and screaming every word across the heavens. Her hand shot forward, grasping his wing, but there was no gentleness, only iron.
“*Nine* and Nine feathers from the Ninthborn will I take. Nine and Nine will be his agonies. Nine and Nine times will he know the weight of his sins, Nine and Nine times will his blood flow. So. Mote. It. BE!” With a final scream the dripping blade swung, and Miklos screamed. Screamed as if she’d dipped him into molten metal. Like she’d shoved his genitals into the serrated mouth of a sharkman. Like he was dissolving molecule by molecule and every single cell was taking the time to report that he should be in un-paralleled agony before it disappeared. Like the person he loved more than any other took their last breathe to curse him. It was a pain in its purest form, against which all other agonies were only pale pretenders to the sublime anguish of the Nine-Wound Blade on his wing.
“One feather for dark deeds long thought!” His mother screamed.
“One?” He whimpered, “Please mother, that has to be enough, she’ll be satisfied with that, anyone would deem that enough. You can stop.”
The blade swung again.
“Three feathers for all his black wishes!”
“Five feathers for dragons born in lies!”
“Seven feathers for his brother’s wife who was innocent her crimes.”
“*Nine!* For his father and siblings who needed him most!”
He twitched on the stump, whimpering like a wretched peasant prostrating themselves.
“Raise your other wing.” His mother commanded. He raised his eye, trying to focus on her. His blood coated her arms, and splattered across her fest and chest. But there was no yield in her eyes, no give. She would wait forever for his wing to rise, no matter what he begged or pleaded. He could stop it. Crawl away. Flee. His mother and Lux wouldn’t stop him. But he couldn’t fly with one wing, and Kumo would not protect him from his brothers if he fled halfway through. His mother waited.
He raised the wing.
“One feather for she who loves him most!”
“Three feathers for the souls he will fail!”
“Five feathers for the queen who takes him into her court!”
“Seven feathers for the sky he forsakes!”
“*NINE!* For all that will be, for that of which I may not speak!”
For a time, he lay there. He wasn’t sure how long. His mother wiping the blood from his wings and back. Even Lux had strode over. It was the presence of the solar goddess the roused him. He certainly wasn’t going to let the witch that orchestrated this savagery watch his mother tend him like he was helpless… Especially when he was.
“Are we finished?” He asked, voice steady, pointedly not looking at his mother, who was covered head to toe in his blood.
“Hn,” Lux gave a cheery sort of hum. “I believe we are.”
“Good,” he tried to stretch his wings but they didn’t move, simply hung like dead weight on his back. He started to move but his legs wobbled, so he settled for standing. “It shouldn’t take the three of us long to get back to the Brightmoon.”
“I, I won’t, be going,” His mother stammered, her shyness and aversion to social conflict reasserting themselves now that her rage and the hand of fate had left her.
“We certainly aren’t going to leave you here in the middle of nowhere to live like some savage!” He snapped at her. “If you don’t want to go back to Sarkan that’s fine, but you’ll come back to the Brightmoon with me and that’s final.”
His mother did not look at him. “Could, could, you make sure, that, he gets back okay? He gets lost, sometimes, since he was a boy.”
“Of course,” Lux said, with more gentleness than Miklos thought she possessed.
“Don’t ignore me. Grab your tea set,” she could toss the sword into a bottomless pit for all he cared, he certainly didn’t want that vile weapon sitting in his home. “and lets go home. It’ll be all right. You’ll stay with me until I can arrange a husband for you.”
She did not pick up the tea set. She did pick up the sword, and a wave of nausea hit him as he watched it drink every bit of his blood it touched. “I, I’d, like you, to have, the, the teapot. You left everything when you left, and I, I’d like you to, have something.”
“Damnit mother, stop this game, grab the damn kettle and lets go. If you’re that against it I won’t force you into a marriage, but you watch, we’ll be on the Brightmoon less than a decade and you’ll have a line of suitors stretching across the plane. You’ll be begging me to give you to one of them.”
His mother bowed, and gave him a sad smile. “Goodbye little Miki.” Then she turned and walked away.
“Wait, mother!” He tried to move after her, but his legs, strained merely by standing, gave out and he fell to the ground.
“Damnation Lux go after her!” The goddess gave him a thoughtful look.
“No, I think she made up her mind. I will grab your teapot and cups though.”
“Damn the teapot! Go get my mother, its dangerous out there!”
“She’ll be fine.” Lux said, humming again. Carefully putting the teapot and cups into a bag.
“She isn’t some western barbarian, she’s the wife of Thoth! Mother of the Thutmose, a gentle and kind woman! You’re a god of justice! You can’t just leave her hair.”
“Justice isn’t always tyranny. Sometimes people get to make choices.”
He cursed her, called her every vile thing he knew, but Lux merely hummed her tune, and carried him back to the Brightmoon.