When the world was young, and people were innocent, he served as he was meant to do. The gods had given him an amulet of falcon's-eye, that he might perceive the truth of each soul's deeds, and with its aid he judged fairly and well. He kept peace in the underworld and ruled over the dead, for such was his task. When the living sent their loved ones to his domain, they were accompanied by plentiful prayers, rather than gifts of grave goods. Their prayers made him stronger, more able to provide for those under his rule. That strength, in turn, he passed on to his subjects, and they stood with him against those things that threatened the living from outside the World.
Yet in the course of time, the humans' practices changed. They began to usurp his role, providing the dead with grave goods that they might not go as paupers into Mateus' domain, and shirked on their prayers. Mateus' power diminished, and those dead who had come to his domain without such items became jealous and angry, complaining that he did not provide for them as well as he once had.
He visited the world in disguise, a humble traveler moving from place to place. In his journeys he saw that the living lavished their prayers on the gods, providing them with power to spare, and shirked their duties to the lands of the dead, sacrificing replica goods to keep the dead in their place. They feared death, did everything in their power to sway the gods to give them just one more day, one more month, one more year.
Mateus returned home in a rage, and called about him all those dead who had come bearing gifts of prayer rather than gifts of gold. They clustered in his throne room, packing in closer and closer as more and more came, for though they resented him they dared not disobey.
"The gods have seen fit to enjoin the living to direct all their prayers to them," Mateus said. "Those prayers, which once made us powerful and wealthy, have been taken from us! Without them, we are weak, and yet still they rely on our abilities to protect them from the things beyond the edges of the World that wish them harm. I say no more. I say we shall take back what is ours, and show the living that they may not be so selfish!"
His subjects cheered, and Mateus knew he had won them over. He set them to planning, and promised to gather more allies.
He intended that they would serve as the front lines of battle, and be the first to fall. This would strengthen him twice over: first in that he would no longer be required to share the power of the prayers he received from those yet faithful to the old ways, and second in that destroying them would deplete the reserves of their opponents, leaving them vulnerable to Mateus' attacks.
When he left the hall, he found his sister Ultima waiting for him, a being of brilliant light with wings of shining gold. The souls of the departed feared her, and hid from her brilliance. He paused, and bowed to her. "Sister," he said. "How may I serve the High Seraph?"
"I would speak with you," she said, "of matters best kept private."
He conducted her to his chambers, and it seemed she brightened everything she passed near; for the first time in long years, his chambers felt warm again, bathed in the brightness that was her way.
"I have heard," she said, folding her wings close around her, "that you have found yourself somewhat short of resources."
"The living fear the gods more than the dead," he said. "They do not give us our rightful due and I cannot support my subjects."
"Nor, it seems, can you support yourself properly. This chamber was larger when last I was here."
Mateus bowed his head. "Such things cannot be maintained in the state they once were without sufficient power. And without prayers, I lack that power."
"You would be interested in regaining this?"
"I have set them already to planning our assault on the World."
"You think too small, brother," she chided. "What of the gods who have betrayed us, their loyal servants, by permitting the living to turn their strength to the support of the gods alone? What of those who would crush us beneath their heels because we are less than they not through fault of our own, but through their fault in our making?"
He froze. Her eyes were alight with passion, her voice by turns coaxing and demanding. Could she really think they stood a chance against their own creators?
"Do you jest with me?" he asked at last.
Ultima's laugh was short and bitter. "No, brother, I do not jest. I am in deadly earnest. They treat us as little better than mongrel dogs begging for scraps. Let us show them that we are no pets to be ignored or beaten, but rather powers in our own right."
Mateus thought on it. If even Ultima, highest among them save Zodiark, thought to rise against the gods, then there was a chance they could win. Even if not, provided he remained behind her, he could plead innocence and protest that they had forced him to join, and might yet escape punishment.
"I will join you," he said, and watched her smile illuminate her face.
"I am pleased," she said. "You will be a valuable ally."
Her praise warmed him, for she did not give it lightly. "I must strengthen myself," he said. "I am grown weak from lack of sustenance."
She rose, her wings sweeping back, and he thought he saw a glimmering darkness at the edge of one or two of her golden feathers. But surely he must have been mistaken; the High Seraph's mark was her wings, and surely those were not subject to change.
"Why strengthen yourself," she said, "when you can use the strength of others rather than your own?"
"I am afraid I do not understand you," he said carefully.
Ultima smiled. "Not all the gods are as powerful as our creators. Indeed, were we not given dominion over lesser gods, that we might pursue our duties? Use the lesser gods against the greater, to thus weaken the whole, and we shall triumph."
It came clear to him then, in a rush, and he smiled back at her. She leaned close and whispered something in his ear, a word so powerful that the echoes of its strength shivered across his skin and left him feeling cold. She stepped back while the word yet rang in his skull, and turned to go. "I think a goddess of ice well suited to you," she said. "You will find one in Paramina."
When she left, taking her light with her, Mateus stood stock-still in his chambers, and marveled.
He wondered if their youngest brother stood with them, or against them. Surely Ultima would not chance such a thing without a guarantee of success, without the assurance that Zodiark would support them rather than turning on them. She was not one to gamble. She would act only if victory were a certain thing. Mateus gnawed on his lip, and wondered if he might stand to gain more by reporting the doings of the Espers to the gods. He had never been one for battle, for he had been made for thought and judgment, rather than brute strength as their brother Belias had.
Yet if he told of their plan and the gods yet lost, would his punishment not be the greater for betraying his siblings? They were all created from a Word of power that defined their essence, and if one could discern another's Word, they could do aught they desired, including the utter destruction of the one whose Word was spoken thus. The gods, of a surety, had once known the Words that made up their scions, but those Words had changed and grown even as the angels had, and the Words the gods had known would no longer command their scions.
Yet, having given his word to Ultima, he feared her retribution if he did not do as she had bid. With that foremost in his mind, he created a portal for himself and stepped through it.
The cold was like a blow, and he shivered in the grip of the vicious blizzards that plagued Paramina Rift. Few dared make their homes here, and fewer yet traveled during the snowy season. Being an Esper, he was stronger than a mortal, yet that did not make the cold any less of a discomfort. He stood in the whirling snow, feeling melting flakes trickle down the back of his neck and slither into his ears, and listened for the thrumming sound of Mist that would guide him to the ice goddess.
She was in the south, and he went there, led hither and yon by the memory of power where she had last passed through this area. One would think ice a staid, solid structure, running in straight lines, but the ice goddess's Mist-tracks led in a path erratic as any woman of the mortal world. Mateus grumbled to himself and trudged onward, cursing the snow and the gods who made it, until he came to the mouth of a small cave. Nearby, he could scent the heavy Mist of the Feywood, and ahead, he smelled the cold, crisp scent of the ice goddess's Mist.
"Come in and be welcome," she said, and her voice was light and girlish.
He stepped in out of the wind, and found himself in a cave whose every surface was coated in gleaming ice. She stood in the center of it. She was nude, and generously curved, with a wealth of dark hair that did little to hide her shape.
She bowed, slow and graceful. "Scion of the gods," she greeted him, and her voice was like a winter wind. "You are far from your domain."
He did not answer, and she straightened, looking him directly in the eye. Once, the lesser gods would never have dared look the Espers in the eyes; yet one more slight adding fuel to the fire of their rebellion. Ultima was right; the gods no longer favoured them, and it would be up to the Espers to show them that even a loyal servant could be turned against them.
"It is well you have come," she said, "for I have a message I would have you carry to the Scions of Light."
"The Espers are not messengers," he snarled, disgusted.
"You are lesser beings," she said coolly, "made for, and suited to, servitude."
"You should be more careful of the insults you fling," Mateus replied, "but it matters not after this."
He spoke the Word that Ultima had whispered to him, and watched the goddess's pale skin pale even more, her body frozen in place. All life went out of her form. She might have been a statue carved of coloured ice.
"You will stand before me, and guard me," he said. "You are to be my shield when I rise against the gods. And you may deliver your message yourself, to the slain and frozen bodies of the Scions of Light when Ultima reigns as Queen over the gods."
Bound by her very nature, she could not argue with him, but thin trails of ice formed on her cheeks as he led her back into the Paramina Rift, and thence to Ultima's sanctum. There was a great deal to be planned ere they launched their attack.