Chapter 1: Rejected Proposal
At the border of time and space, the gods had been summoned to cast their vote on a simple question: "should the human race be extinguished?"
And right when the poll seemed to have reached the irreversible point of no return, a voice had risen from the crowd. It didn't belong to any pantheon, yet it had gathered deities that looked upon him and stood still with immovable confidence. That stranger, apparently, showed his disapproval, but most gods laughed at him.
Everyone, except for some relevant figures.
Indeed, a woman with a golden dress adorned with feathers asked him: "Only a fool would waste his voice in this situation. Do you have anything else to add?"
And at that point the mysterious god had smiled - or better, grinned - as if he weren't subject to the sacred laws that were in force in that place of universal judgement. He had mentioned that there was neither challenge nor fair justice in that decision.
"What should we do, then?" snickered sardonically a red and deformed creature, of semblance so cruel that it instilled terror in every bystander. "Send the humans a letter to hear about their stance?"
No stance, the stranger had answered: only cowards acted with words, and that was the reason why all the gods gathered there were hiding behind a vote on paper. Immediately billions of furious glances fell on him.
Whilst, he had continued, only strength can try the brave and decide who has the right to act on their own destiny.
Something that roamed among deities as a legend amidst legends: the opportunity for men to challenge god, change their fate and break prophecies, miracles, and any blind faith that would inevitably lead to their downfall. There, in the arena that had been built who knows how long ago for that exact purpose - the Valhalla - the Ragnarok would have taken place.
The major gods had consented to that challenge with the superiority that indeed is fit for a superior being, but the one who smiled the most was the snake who'd sneaked an insidious worm in the gods' mind: doubt. He was granted permission to challenge ten gods with the ten human beings he believed to be worthy. The condition satisfied him, so he vanished along with his nameless clique, letting all the hate that was being projected at him slide on his skin.
The impossible had been made possible: postponing the extinction of mankind at the hand of that pathetic power play.
But at that point, crawling in the hallways to the darkest corners that not even light could reach, the mysterious god widened his gruesome smile in the room he'd just entered. There, he found his allies: "So, let's plan how this tournament will go!"
Sometime later, the time had come to confront flesh and blood with heaven's justice. In the arena there was a withdrawn agitation, more similar to the buzzing of billions of insects than to the roar that had often shaken much smaller stadiums in the human realm.
Gods and humans, angels and monsters, myths and legends quivered on the stands without any idea of what to expect. Even clairvoyants, prophets and fortune-tellers gazed at an uncertain future, despite their plans of cheating on the bets. Who threw tantrums because their seat was too close to that of an ancient foe, who asked yet another time if the contestants had been announced, and then the most nervous spectators of all: the organizer gods.
Hidden away from that unknowing confusion, sat upon three thrones that formed a triangle above the arena, the managers of that event expressed clashing feelings.
Ptah, as the goddess of creation, was secretly satisfied with having brought to life something so great and celebratory. Nevertheless, a mask of tension had laid on her face for various hours, so evident that she was forced to avoid being filmed by the cameras.
She wore a vest made of golden scales that resembled wings on her dark skin, crossed by white tattoos that went up to her beautiful, frowned face.
On another throne, Baal was surprised by how much his smile was widening, stretching from ear to ear, deforming him completely and paying homage to his newly found demonic nature. He’d crossed his legs, and with anticipation he tapped his long claws on the throne, scratching it from time to time and making tremendous screeches. His head was as large as a ball, but thinned around his pointy, devilish ears.
Lastly the most bizarre of the organizers, still concealed from the cameras, floated on their seat. It was Chaos, a shapeless entity resembling a vortex of stirring light and shadow, smokey and weightless. But, in its incomprehensible and ineffable nature, it was possible to catch a glimpse of life, right at the center of its body, as in the singularity of a black hole: patience.
Chaos was waiting and he would have waited without fidgeting, talking, or ever expressing himself about the battle. After all, he’d been the first, the supreme disorder origin of all, the calm of the endless abyss. At the foot of his throne were all the gods that came after him: Gaea, born soon after, and his children Erebus and Nyx.
The goddess Nyx looked up to her father, letting out an indignant puff when she went back to carelessly looking at the arena. Her brother Erebus tapped on her shoulder, expressing curiosity without saying anything.
"It's about dad!" muttered the goddess of the night, draped with various veils that decorated her body as pale as the moon, and inside which the constellations moved.
"I got that, you know?" sighed the god of darkness, exasperated by his sister's scarce communication skills. He only showed his bare, dark chest, because the rest of his body, face included, was wrapped in a cape with a hood darker than anything that had ever existed from the dawn of time.
"He stands there without doing anything! He doesn't even cheer for the other gods, as if he didn't care about anyone…" was Nyx's annoyed response.
"Oh, come on! Of course he cares about all of us: who, if not the creator of everything, should care about the life of gods?" Erebus answered back.
"Being impartial is exciting." Gaea, the primordial goddess of the Earth, intervened in their debate.
The most ancient goddess wore a soft cape apparently made of mud, with a shawl, on which flowers continuously bloomed, wrapped under her hair the color of every plant in the world.
"I learnt at my expense that cheering for your children only leads to deadly despair when you see them perish. Staying impartial and not choosing a side, however, can lead to a surprise that is neither positive nor negative."
"A father or mother can really pretend not to care about their children?!" exclaimed upset Nyx, horrified by her aunt's words.
"You misunderstood my words, dear" smiled the Earth, lovingly.
"Chaos doesn't have anything or anyone at heart, simply because it does not have a heart. Whatever happens, even the annihilation of all the gods, wouldn't graze it a bit… it could be considered the worst fan ever."
No one could expect it or foresee it when it happened, but a hoarse croak from the speakers all over the arena announced the beginning of something never seen before.
"Ladies and gentlemen, gods and goddesses of every plane and every world…"
Two creatures inside a cabin carved in the seat rows had embraced their weapons, the microphones with which they would have chronicled the most awaited event in history.
"Finally, we announce the beginning… of the end!"
Those words were cryptic, confused, and unexpected; nevertheless, a roar exploded in every corner of the stadium: no god and no human cared about what would be said, because they’d come there exclusively to witness the decisive fights for their race. The presenters of the event were two beings most different from one another: the first looked like an old man wrapped in a candid tunic, the second had horrendous features of a donkey demon with a peacock tail and a blood-red shirt.
"What will happen between these walls? The destruction of humanity…" seriously suggested St. Peter, chancellor of Heaven.
"...or the overthrow of the gods?!" laughed coarsely Adramelech, chancellor of Hell.
"I'm sure no one here is ready for this slaughter" the saint dramatically commented.
"Nonetheless we have to ask: are you ready?!" the demon screamed, whipping the air with his tongue.
A second roar soared up in the sky. It was the voice of millennia and millennia of human and divine generations answering the call.
"Good, good" Adramelech put himself back together, satisfied. "Then, let's begin: I'd say your wait should be repaid with an opening fight deserving of this name."
"Remember this will be the first of ten bouts, featuring humans and deities of every era and place…"
While these voices echoed everywhere an ear - be it divine or human - could hear them, someone destined to be the first contestant advanced in a hallway.
An elegant, green cloak wrapped his body, in complete clash with a golden collar full of spikes, like that of a bull. The chest was protected by a scaled armor, golden on the surface, but made of stone underneath.
The most eye-catching detail of his presence was a pair of horns, long and bent backwards, that poked from a skein of hair more similar to the bristly hair of an animal.
In spite of his monstrous appearance, along with his height of more than seven feet, that being walked with graceful poise and a glance too worried to belong to a god.
During his approach, a Sumer servant was making sure that his armor was flawless, even though he trembled every time he touched him.
"My lord, is the armor of your liking?" he asked with supreme reverence.
The beast nodded, looking him in the eye for a short moment.
"Still with your pride and your obtuse love for mankind, Enkidu?" inquired a goddess that appeared from the shadows, smiling mellifluously.
Of blonde hair, she was covered up to the breasts by a long dress made of intertwined silver strings, that anyway left her graces bare. Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love and fertility, kept her mischievous smile, not catching any change in the beast man's expression.
The servant, however, had started trembling so violently that he couldn't kneel.
"What, human? Won't you kneel before your goddess?" Ishtar's voice ringed out again, warm and welcoming, in complete contrast with her eyes that, like embers, burned through the man.
The esquire looked at the floor, not being able to do anything other than quiver and sweat. The terror was so oppressive that he felt his soul being ripped out of his body with every passing second.
-I must… kneel… I must… kneel!- Something was wrong, he got that immediately.
His legs wouldn't budge and panic was stealing away every remaining glimpse of his sanity.
-I can't.- He surrendered to his fate when the first tears started leaking from his eyes.
"It's not an obtuse love."
Like a roll of thunder, the beast broke the tension-filled silence in that dark hallway.
By simply putting his gigantic finger on the man's nape, he pushed him down to the floor, making him sit on his knees.
The goddess wrinkled her nose, annoyed that a prey had gotten away from her perverse machinations.
"A part of me is and will always be forever tied to humans, whom I love with all my essence." The god created in image and likeness of humans called Enkidu put a hand at the center of his chest, expressing that reality of his with serenity and almost reverence.
That being said, he moved a step forward, leaving the slave behind and even surpassing the goddess without a glance. She hesitated to open her mouth, astonished by the immense size of the creature that had been by her side. Then, building back courage and composure, sure of her position, she went back to taunting him with a falsely innocent smile.
"You know he won't be there to watch you, right? No one told him you would participate in the fights, and as always he prefers taking care of his own business rather than those of the mortals."
Enkidu let those words slip on himself, walking forward towards the end of the tunnel.
"It makes sense, I imagined he would act like this."
He narrowed his eyes as he emerged in the sunlight.
-After all no one, man or god, would be able to face the people he betrayed… that's why I took it upon me!-
"The first contestant on the gods' side is something rare, fierce, and incomprehensible!" Adramelech was yelling, admiring with everyone the opening of a giant door at the base of the arena.
"He has the ferocity of an animal, the bravery of a warrior, and the pride of a god! Created in image and likeness of the greatest of heroes… two-thirds god and one-third human… the second most famous warrior of all the kingdoms ever born between the Tigers and the Euphrates..."
St. Peter pointed at the entrance of the first constants as the crowd cheered.
"Enkidu, the divine punishment of Uruk!"
The monstrous god stepped first on the fighting ground, casting a mastodonic shadow thanks to his superhuman size.