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Mixed Blessings

Chapter Text

Dave Strider was used to getting left out of things at the temple. Whenever the other attendants would run off to town, he was left behind to tend to the idols of the two deities he served. If they were drinking, he was limited to water, forbidden both from drink and from the temptation it would bring on its heels. The games of the other attendants could only include him if there was a low risk of damaging his body or scarring him in any way. Kisses were forbidden, as was any physical contact beyond glancing touches, or an occasional lift out of the baths by a priest when the marble proved to be too slick to grip.

His body was to be as pure as the temples he tended, saved only for the gods he served.

The separation was thorough, sleeping sequestered off in a separate cloister from the other attendants and priests, wearing different clothes. Daily bathing was something he’d simply grown up accustomed to, wrapped in clean cloth and having to sit back and wait, listening as the priests and priestesses said blessings over his head and wafted incense. God, he hated that part, it always burnt his eyes and lingered on his tongue.

If he couldn’t simply wander and bathe every few days like the other children had been able to, Dave felt that they could at least be bothered to say their prayers faster. He felt like a plucked chicken half the time, sitting and waiting as they loomed around him.

Despite being a ward of the temple raised to be devoted, Dave himself held no interest in their proposed end game. He’d never volunteered for this, after all. In fact, his delivery had been a surprise, arriving nearly a full month earlier than his family had been hoping and planning for, his mother struck with labor pains in the heart of the city. Through sheer luck, a physician had not been far off, helping with his delivery and after care of his mother for free, using the experience as an example to those he was teaching. His bright red eyes were seen as sign of a natural blessing as much as the perfect timing of his early birth. No doubt he had the influence of a God as a newborn.

Following tradition, in early spring all the infants were brought to the main temple for blessings. Health, wisdom, purity of heart. All the essential things to grow up as well as their parents had. Blessings done, babies lain in a line for easy access by the priests and priestesses, the time to choose guardians had arrived. While children could grow up and eventually choose another God to serve, a childhood guardian was chosen to help them through the tough years of their youth and offer guidance.

In turn, each child was picked up and held out to observe every statue in a line, each representing one of the major deities they worshiped, hoping to see some recognition. Most children would smile or squirm, or reach when their time came. Many times the deity chosen would be the patron deity of their family, continuing to protect them throughout the generations.

Dave didn’t react at all when his time came to be lifted and walked down the line. Thinking it was an accident, or that he’d not been paying attention as infants were prone to do, the priests did the walk numerous times to try coaxing any kind of reaction. He had reached towards nobody and bawled his head off instead, trying to get away from all of the serious stone faces and the iron grip beneath his tender arms. The infant had howled and screeched till his tiny face turned purple, distressed and miserable, unaware of the vexations he was responsible for.

He never did choose a deity.

Two very different beings chose him instead.

While the attendants fussed, arguing that the other children would grow tired before being able to try choosing because of him, trying to decide who to temporarily assign to him, two of the statues fell from opposite sides of the room.

The God of Wind and Luck, and the God of Fire and Virility had spoken their words by collapsing from their stands as if on command, face first, angled towards the baby as if reaching out. Dave was carried along as they went to investigate, the men working to lift the heavy objects upwards and back onto their pedestals, amazed that no damage had been spotted. Not a single chip or scratch on either.

 Quietly at first, then louder, Dave began to giggle as each statue was righted, squirming, reaching with his chubby fingers to try grasping and touching the God of Wind. A cool breeze fluffed his hair back and made him laugh so hard they feared he’d be ill, pink gums showing from his night uncontrollable smile.

A warm patch of air greeted them at the second statue, sunlight shining brighter overhead, making the infants hair shine like gold. The giggling had settled then, leaving him looking drowsy and happily exhausted. With both statues righted, he had promptly fallen asleep, leaving those who held them to sit and wonder just what they were supposed to do. Nothing had ever occurred like this before, that they could figure out, and it was dramatic enough that is absolutely could not be ignored.

It had taken very little convincing to have his mother forfeit his custody to the temple priests in the face of the miracle, comforted by the fact that the child would grow to do the work of the gods themselves.  For not only had he been chosen in public, the two who had reacted were said to be fussy. The God of wind was a horrid prankster, giving and taking luck as he saw fit, playing with people and the weather. The God of fire was sensual and severe, stalking the battlefields of man as often as people claimed to have seen his image while in the throes of passion.

The sleeping child had no idea just what wildcards had decided to play with his life.

---

He was seventeen years old now, and envious to no end of his peers. Some of them had girlfriends and boyfriends in the city, and would tell him about their exploits, teasing him endlessly. A few of them were even fooling around within their own group, pawing at each other when the priests had their backs turned for too long or there was a moment alone.

It usually devolved into the pair forgetting anyone else was around, leaving Dave all kinds of uncomfortable. There was no relief for him to be seen, after all. He wasn’t allowed to kiss, or really even be touched. Touching himself when the ache became painful was just as forbidden if not worse, though he dare not see the actual extent in person. Somehow he had a feeling the priests would just know what he’d done, merely see his face branded as impure.

If they didn’t know, the gods surely would.

Or at least, that’s what he told himself daily to try staying in line. It was for a greater good. He was chosen for a reason. He was pure, and chaste, and did as he was told. The suffering he felt as he aged and was made to refrain from simple pleasures of the flesh would be worth it in the end.

Didn’t damn well make his mood any brighter. Today, everyone his age had snuck off to town to wander the markets, looking for trouble to get into as much as the new sights and smells they’d likely find. This left him time and solitude to scrub his icons, and the annoyance induced energy to do it with plenty left to spare. The bucket and scrubber needed carrying, the stone being splashed before he fell on it, rubbing and scrubbing and scratching to get every crevice clean. It didn’t matter that his sleeves were soaked, his pants covered in suds. None of it mattered except getting the tiny, stubborn granules of dirt off the wind gods legs, knowing the fire god would take even more time. His feet were always dirtiest, a sign of walking through the battles he was said to stalk.

 “Stupid, lousy..  Oh, Dave can’t kiss anyone, let’s be sure to do so as often as possible near him! Hey, Dave, want a sip of this wine? Oh, right, you can’t! Want to sleep in our room so we can all stay up late talking about the head priest’ new haircut? Oh, whoops! We were going to skip lessons and go to the edge of the city, sneak out the walls for the afternoon! OOPS, DAVE CAN’T COME, HE’S TOO BUSY KISSING THE PRIESTS’ POMPOUS ASS.”

He’d begun talking quietly, he was certain, but by the time he finally dropped the brush and went to rub at his head, it had erupted into yells of rage.

“….I’m tired of this. I’m almost a man already, yet I’ve done less than most children in my time. All to serve some.. some. Worthless hunks of rock!” The brush was aimed at the fire god, bouncing off his knee without doing any harm. The bucket was overturned at the wind gods feet, leaving him empty handed to pace and rant to himself, mumbling between the occasional yell.

This meltdown had been a lot of years coming. No amount of praying for patience would have pushed it off a moment longer. He was done.

“You know, you really shouldn’t do that, now everything’s all soapy.”

“It’ll rinse off, just give me a moment! Now is not the time to worry about a stupid statue! I want someone to worry about ME. To ask what -I- want to do, how -I- feel for once! Instead of keeping me like a box of sweets wrapped up for two things who’ll never see me!” He was certain he’d have to apologize for the improper behavior afterwards, make up for it somehow.

For now, it just felt amazing to get it off his chest.

“What do you want, then? Y’know, aside from serving a god and a hot headed creep.”

A hot headed creep? Dave frowned to himself and turned to look over his shoulder to find the source, wondering who would be speaking such heresy in the temple itself. Maybe someone who prayed to the opposition of the god of fire?

The man was grinning and wiggling his fingers in a cheeky wave, tanned cheeks flushed and healthy. His hair was dark as night and messy, sticking straight up and out in organized cowlicks, the wiry swirls and whorls directed into an appealing pattern by nature itself. Everything about him was plain. He was an average height and muscular build with broad shoulders, plain cuts of clothing from his shirt to his sandals all tinted different shades of blue.

What was truly spectacular, distracting enough to leave Dave staring, were his eyes. There was just no looking away from them, bright as summer skies and nearly glowing with mirth and mischief, crinkling gently at the sides from his wide grin.

“….Hello? Dave? Uh. You still there?”

Oh, right, yes. That was a hand sweeping across his field of vision to get his attention back, another hand lifting his chin up to make him focus. It was amazing how soft his fingers were, how gently the touch. There was no way to resist it. Dave looked up into the smiling face and found himself smiling back, face warm despite a cool breeze that was moving his hair out of order .

Whoever this man was, he liked him a good deal already.

“Uh.. Yes. Yes, I’m still here, sorry. What is it?”

The waving hand was touching him now as well, stroking along his face in slow, barely there motions that were almost making him feel faint. It was the most intimate thing he’d ever experienced in his life, and he prayed as hard as he could muster to the god of wind and luck that it would last forever and never stop.

“I wanted to say that I was surprised by how big you’ve gotten already. Last time I saw you properly, you were a baby..”

A baby? Had he met him as a child? Is that how he knew his name? Everything was fuzzy in his mind and didn’t matter, thoughts falling like water over rocks, leaving him swaying under this strange man’s touch. All he could really do was smile dreamily and nod into his palm, stay awake for the petting he was receiving.

“Well, all the same. Do me a favor and pucker up, okay? This’ll just take a second.”

Wait, what?

Pucker up?

“Nnn…” he manages to get out, making no move to escape. The call of temptation was too strong, heart racing in his chest, breathing hitching as he felt the strangely cool breath of the dark haired man closing in on his face.

“Egbert, if you do that, it’ll be the last kiss you ever get! Drop the kid, and back away slowly.”

“Oh for crying out loud, I was jus-“

“Cheating by stacking the odds in your favor? Yeah, I know.”

“Not at all! I was just planning t-“

“Cheat. The rules are we appear to him at the same time so he can choose fairly, not solo you treacherous bag of slime.” The voice is coming from somewhere else in the room, decidedly masculine, and from the sound of it quite pissed off. There’s heat near Dave’s back, though none of it is threatening in the slightest. It feels like a good friend has come to his aide.

“Well,” said Egbert, “you’re here now, right? So we can just have him choose while you’re here and be done with it!”

“After you’ve compromised him like this?”

“It’s just a friendly touch, Dirk, really now. “

“John, I’m not in the mood for your tricks. Let him go. We’ll try again when we PLANNED to, and not a moment sooner. I’ll not have you cheat your way to victory.”

John pulls back from Dave’s face with a sour look, put out, a spoiled child used to getting his way being denied for the first time. As whatever comfort and calm that had surrounded him began to fade, the horror began to set in, damp sleeves swinging as he jerks back a few steps and looks around to get his groundings again.

The other voice was from a man with hair as blonde as gold, face tanned from sun exposure, delicate scars ranging over his body, feet dark and stained from travel. His clothing is also plain cut, light up top, darker near the bottom to mask his legs, draw attention away from the staining most like. He’s turned in just such a way that his eyes can’t be seen clearly, and for some reason that’s frustrating Dave to no end.

He wanted to see his face.

He NEEDED to see Dirk’s face.

Surely, it would be a perfect face to behold, if he’d just..

“We’ve been here too long as it is already, Dirk, I’ll call it even. We retreat now, and then come back when you first said we would, okay? Look, see? This is me being nice, you ass.”

“Flattery gets you everywhere, you should know that by now.”

“Dave? We’ll be back soon, okay? Try not to get into too much trouble while we’re gone. Wait for us!”

“Will you stop talking to him, John, you’re making this worse!”

“I am not.”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

Two grown men, beautiful to behold, were arguing like children in front of his eyes. Dave frowned and raised the heels of his hands to rub, hoping to clear his vision and his mind, stopping only when rainbows of spots danced in front of him.

The men had fled as though they were merely wisps of smoke to begin with, leaving no trace but a warm breeze in their wake.

“…..I think.. I think that’s enough cleaning for today.”

Chapter Text

“I know what I saw.”

“You know what you THINK you saw.”

“Then you tell me,” Dave said angrily, “just how two fully grown men disappear instantly without a trace left behind!”

Though young, Rose was already a highly skilled priestess, rising through the ranks from the day she was promoted. Soon enough, she would be considered qualified to be a speaker for the Gods, and a leader for many religious rites. She hoped to travel the countryside then, recording all she could find in a massive tome, wanting to learn of peoples beliefs and practices far from her home.

Nearly a week had passed since the mysterious happening in front of the temples, and only now did Dave trust himself to talk about what had happened. Especially considering one of the strangers had nearly kissed him, wrecking everything he’d been prepping a lifetime for in the blink of an eye.

They sat back to back near one of the fountains, Dave holding a ball of wool as Rose worked it into what would likely be a scarf. He never did keep his throat covered, and now there would be no excuses left. It could also likely double as a birthday present in the coming months if she wasn’t there to deliver it in person for any number of reasons.

“All I’m saying is facts, Dave. You said when he touched your face, you felt relaxed, right?”

“It was more than that..”

“Try explaining to me what you mean, then. Be detailed.”

“It was like.. I knew him really well, and trusted him. When he smiled, I just wanted to smile back, and sway with him, and let him kiss me and kiss him back.”

She frowned and tugged at the wool so it bounced in his lap, getting a surplus to her side as he worked another row. “Best be quiet about that last bit even when you’re with me, lest we’re overheard. The last trouble you need is one of the priests thinking you’re trying to go back on their teachings willfully.”

“It wasn’t willful, though! As soon as he let go, I was horrified and stepped back and away from him, and the desire left. The other man saved me.”

“The blonde one, you mean?”

“Yes, the blonde one.”

“What did his face look like? Do you think they were just friends, or brothers?”

“…I think they were gods.”

She made a scoffing noise, leaning back heavier against him without warning till he folded at the core and sputtered, dropping the wool to brace his hands on the ground and try pushing back. Rose would not be budged from her comfortable new space, lifting the needles up in front of her eyes to continue to a new line.

“Dave, if they were gods, you wouldn’t have walked away so easily.”

“What do you mean? There are stories of people meeting gods and surviving unscathed.”

“Yes. Most of them involve a god stepping in to take something they want, act on their own behalf or take a lover. If a god wants you, Dave, for any reason, you can be quite certain that you won’t be simply walking away unchanged. A god would have simply kissed you straight out, if not more.”

She was dislodged at last, shifting her position to rest her legs to the side, hoping to give the illusion that it had been a purposeful shift. He hadn’t shoved her off by force, oh no, not she. Rose had chosen that exact moment to move, obviously.

“Not to mention that gods don’t take interest in humans aside from entertainment, usually. We’re toys compared to them, mere mortals.”

“You can lay off the high and mighty line, but I see your point.” Huffing, he picked up the ball of wool and dusted it off, rewinding a portion that had slipped aside before doling out a portion for her to work with. She could never leave the needles alone for long. “What would you explain it all as, then.”

“Personally, I’d say a man decided to seduce a beautiful temple dweller and put something on his hands to lull you stupid. Like a drug, maybe.”

“….If I pretended to not see the world in his eyes, see them disappear after a moment, or hear how they spoke? I’d consider it. Rose, he wasn’t much older than me, but he said the last time he saw me I was a baby. He knew my name!”

“Well. When you put it that way.”

Dave rose ever so readily to his knees before propelling backwards, going boneless atop her back, folding Rose firmly in half. No fucks were given as she squawked and flailed at him, trying to make him get off with more undignified sounds than she’d be warrant to admit to.

“What do you MEAN when I put it that way?! I’ve never put it any other way! What was the big revelation for?”

“Ghhhggh, Dave, I don’t care what anyone says, you are the furthest thing from a flower I’ve ever experienced. Now get off me, you cow!” With a burst of strength, Rose rolled herself and sent them both to the ground, huffing in annoyance. “If they were gods, then that was the single strangest occurrence to take place in this temple in hundreds of years. If they were merely men, they got away with risking your purity. Do you need a guard?”

“No, I don’t need a damn guard, I can take care of myself!”

---

A full three months had passed since the mysterious strangers had visited him in the temple, leaving him with ailments he’d never suffered before in his life. There were more of those horrid erections in the mornings and afternoons, rising anywhere from the bath to his bed to the middle of his lessons. The priests said they were simply something that happened with age and that he shouldn’t concern himself too much, that continuing to ignore them was truly his only option. Will them away with the myths and stories they preached, mathematics, history and song.

Willing away an erection with song was like trying to preach to wolves while covered in raw meat. It was not going to be happening any time soon.

Dave suffered from dreams now that were intense and strange. In some, he kissed the dark haired man in the temple instead of pulling away. The kisses had led to the wind itself pulling his clothes away, winding up flat on his back with his legs tight around that lovely tan waist. Those were shorter, but intense enough to wake him up to a chill breeze biting at his damp flesh.

His other dreams were longer and more intense, the blonde man holding him close and guiding him, teaching him. If fact were the same as dreams, Dave now had an idea of some of the things he liked. He ached for lips on his throat and rough hands at his wrists, bites to his thigh and the scratch of stubble. There was never a time he didn’t wake up flushed and relaxed, dick twitching against his thigh from its recent release.

The priests merely told him to cleanse his thoughts to prevent such happenings, viewing them as signs of wavering faith. He needed to remain pure in body, and staying pure in mind and heart would make that so much easier. Dave idly wondered what they would say if he told them just how graphic the dreams were becoming.

The last ailment Dave had gained was a guard who meant well enough, assigned to him for safety after Rose blabbed to the priests that two strange men had been seen trying to court their well-tended flower. It didn’t take all that much work to ditch him, but it was definitely a hiccup in his otherwise smooth routine of tending  to his duties and getting a single moment to himself for breathing.

Today, for example, he’d been forced to crawl through a window outside of the kitchens, wanting to eat his meal in peace. The bread and cheese and apples tasted ten times better without that lug breathing down his damn neck, surrounded by the last green that summer would offer as autumn began to arrive.  It gave him fresh air and clouds overhead, and plenty of time to think.

“…Wait for them, huh. I’ve done plenty of waiting and all I’m getting is teased. I hardly think this is fair,” he mused as he laid the cheese atop the bread and took a large bite. The bread was probably soft this morning, but had begun to turn dry as the day wore on and robbed it of its moisture. It wasn’t even the good kind of dry that would taste good with soup, oh no. Dave’s luck had saddled him with the type of stale bread that turned gritty and grainy on his tongue, all but ruining the desire to eat more. At least he still had his apples, right?

Well, he thought he still had his apples. They were nowhere to be seen now, no matter how much he looked around himself or shook out his robes.

“Are you kidding me? What did they do, walk away?”

“Would it be bad if I said yes? Or would it be easier on your flimsy mind to say that they flew?”

Dave had just been lifting his robes up to search in their folds when an impossible to forget voice spoke into his right ear, chilled and soft. Lurching, Dave took a swing in its direction and turned to get a look at him, growling under his breath when nothing was there.

“Oooh, testy, testy! You’re kinda cute when you’re mad, haha! I think I like that as much as that dreamy look you get.” The voice chuckled into his other ear, leaving Dave to swing again at the phantom, twirling in place to try spotting him.

The turning and twisting finally led him to run face first into something solid and warm, far taller than himself. He knew the profile far better from seeing it in person, but the fact that seeing him head on was as pleasant as in his dreams only made it better. The way the sun caught on his hair and skin, the stubble, the glint to those orange eyes.

The dreams.. His face reddened slightly as he remembered them in more vivid detail, wondering if those teeth really felt as good as he imagined, or if his lips were as warm. Dirk was dressed the same as last time, dark pants and a perfectly white shirt, barefoot. This time, however, his thick upper arms were decorated with golden bands, as was his neck. His forearms were wrapped in dark cloth, wound around his fingers in the perfect offset to the pale blue fabric he held clutched in his fist.

Dave stepped backwards a few paces as he came back to his senses, observing as the fabric Dirk held began to expand into an intricate top layer of a shirt, its owner appearing first as a swirling smoke, then as flesh. Blue eyed and swathed in various shades of blue, Egbert was also bedecked in some precious metals for the first time in the forms of forearm bracers and a few overlapping chains. There seemed to be similar chains around both ankles, draping down onto his bare feet that remained a good foot off the ground.

Okay. So they were gods.

“Why are you two back?! Do you have any idea the trouble you’ve caused me? The discomfort and distrust? I didn’t have any of this before you two showed up!” Dave had taken another few steps back, not trusting himself to be that physically close after what had nearly happened last time, and what had happened inside his own mind after that. “What do you even want?”

“You,” supplied Egbert.

“Why, then?” That hadn’t been nearly specific enough.  Not to erase what he’d been going through. “Why do you want me?”

“Well,” he started as he dropped to his feet, pausing to shake loose from Dirk’s grasp, “I find you insanely attractive for one. You seem witty, if not a bit of a brat, and clever. I like that you’re sneaky, too.”

“You would, you snake. Even I appreciate those things, but for different reasons. You care about it to further your own mischief, I care about it to further a warrior.”

“Whoa, hold on, back up a few pages here. Warrior? Me? Yeah, no, sorry, wrong person. The most I’ve learned is from some sparring, but I’m not a warrior. I’ve been raised in a temple, remember? Purity, devotion to tending.. uh. Tending your statues and temples, education. For crying out loud, after you started taking hold in my mind, the priests told me to will away the stiffness between my legs with song! WITH SONG!”

Egbert snorted loudly, clapping a hand up over his mouth after crooked teeth came into view, doubling forward at the waist to release a strong guffaw. Dirk grinned in amusement, but didn’t go so far as to laugh.

“Did it work, Dave? The singing, I mean,” he asked.

“Do you honestly believe I sang my erection a lullaby?”

John howled and lifted off the ground a few inches to avoid falling over, curling into a ball to hold his stomach as he wheezed and laughed.

“John, you’ll make yourself sick,” Dirk mused. He was watching his movements closely, bright eyes narrowed. It seemed he was already tiring of the other gods antics, or at least his antics as far as they concerned Dave.

“I don’t..! I don’t… care! Ahhahahahahahahahaha!”

“Look. I’m gonna be really blunt here, okay? You,” Dave pointed at John, “started this whole mess. After they found out someone almost kissed me, I got put on high alert. I’ve got a guard that might be coming after me any time!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about a single guard, Dave. If he happens along, we can take care of him just fine.” John had finally started to slow down on his laughter, shifting to cup his chin in his palms as though he were laying on his stomach instead of hanging suspended.

Dave was getting annoyed by this entire affair far faster than he thought possible. If they had that much interest in him, it would be best to be candid and open, right? The idea of incurring the wrath of not one, but two gods did occur to him.. but it was a risk he was willing to take.

“Look. I want straight answers, now. Okay? None of your godly agenda bullshit, none of your jokes, and none of your vagueness. Tell me what you want from me! I’m technically serving both of you, I think the least you owe me is an explanation.” He unfolded his arms to point at Dirk’s face, startling him slightly. When was the last time anyone had dared to point at him so? “Why are you hounding my dreams? Why were you saying I interested you as a warrior, when I’m the furthest thing from a warrior there is?”

“Wow, Dirk, he’s got quite a temper. No wonder he’s right up your alley.”

“Right up his alley for what!”

“A lover, put simply.” Dirk maintained his monotone and calm demeanor as Dave sputtered. “I wish to keep you by my side, or within easy access in a safe comfortable place as a lover. I wish to see your inner potential unlocked. I wish to teach you the finer points of bravery and warfare, and have you fight in my name.”

“…What about you?” Dave asked of John, face flaming.

“Me? Oh, I want a piece of you as well.” John was never one to pull punches, straight forward and blunt. Who had time to worry about tone, anyway? “I want you as a lover, either with me at all times or somewhere I can get to you when I want. Otherwise, I want to see your potential unlocked because it may be of some use to me. We could cause quite a lot of mischief together.”

Dave felt as faint as he felt hot under the collar, panic and anxiety tugging at his stomach till it growled in distress. Two gods were wanting to unlock some hidden potential he had, one wanting him to become a warrior while the other wanted to start trouble. Two gods wanted him sexually, and were standing before him making a damn good case by doing nothing.

Desire.

Was that what this entire thing was? Desire? He knew the feel of their mouths from his dreams, their touches, the weight and heat of their bodies. He’d imagined what being taken felt like and had found it to be pleasant to sit and think about, despite the discomfort that came with it. It was terrifying, wanting something so badly yet knowing nothing about it but brief flashes he saw while asleep.

They seemed quite serious now, John settling flat footed on the ground and stretching, grinning as broadly as Dirk’s own smile was restrained and tight. Complete opposites of the spectrum, both vying for the same thing.

“What do you want me to do, fall into your arms at the same time and say “Take me now”? I’ve no experience in this! How can you ask me to say yes or no? Do I even get an option to say no? Or has this all been decided?” Dave was starting to feel trapped and panicked. Did he run? Would they follow him? Of course they would, they were gods, there would be no escape. Something had to happen.

“Actually, you’re still a little young for most of our wants so far. You’re a bit scrawny to be a warrior yet, little man.” Dirk said it kindly enough, though the playful insult was blatant. There was no pulling punches. “We don’t expect you to just settle down with one of us permanently just yet.” As he spoke, he turned his head to nod at John, shifting his gaze quickly back to Dave to try catching his reaction.

John reached into both of his own sleeves as though he were chilled and crossing his arms, rummaging around for a moment before he pulled out the two apples Dave had lost just a few minutes earlier.

“You’re a thief!” he cried.

“Hey, now! I’m giving it back, aren’t I? I’m not a thief,” John sniffed.

“Actually, you can be quite a thief, but that’s not the point right now is it.”

John glared at Dirk and threw one of the apples at his face, knowing it would be easily caught in time. Not only did the god catch it, but he proceeded to toss it about like a toy as he waited for John to speak up, rolling his hand to gesture for him to get a move on.

“Well,” John began, “you already serve the both of us. We normally don’t mind sharing things, but you’re.. You’re a bit of a special case, to say the least. For now, we were hoping to do a sort of trial run.”

“A trial run? What does that even mean?” asked Dave.

“I mean a trial run in the sense that we both want you to say yes to us, but can’t make you choose permanently yet. We’d like to take turns showing you what each of us have to offer, in the hopes that when you’re older you may choose one over the other forever,” John said.

“Once you pick one of us, it would mean that the one not chosen loses a devoted follower, and thus some of their influence. For us, it’s not just a valued sex partner situation and your future, it’s also us taking bets with our own power,” supplied Dirk. “For now, we want you to help us pick who will try to woo you first. This will let us go in turns, and avoid overloading you.”

“And keep you from overtaking him entirely, Dirk, you cheat when it’s anything physical. Unfair advantage, oh God of the Cock,” John said with a smirk.

“I’m a god of both, thanks, but it’s also to keep you from cheating in your own way. Bending humans to your will to further your pranks and tricks? Sound familiar?”

“Will you both shut up?!”

Dirk and John looked over towards the yell, not really sure why Dave’s dander was up to begin with.

“You want me to choose between you to see who tries to woo me first? How self-centered can you be?” Stupid question, considering they were gods. Of course they were self-centered. Rose was right in the idea that he wouldn’t be walking away from this unscathed. “…How do I choose. Choosing will make you leave for now, right?” He needed time to himself to think.

“Pick an apple, Dave. Whichever apple you pick is a sign of you accepting a gift, and a sign you accept our advances.” Dirk was quiet as he spoke, holding the fruit up again.

John mimicked him, smiling in encouragement. “Just pick, Dave!”

Just, pick.

Right. Like it was really that simple.

Chapter Text

“Just choose, Dave.”

On the one hand, he could choose Dirk. It would give him an excuse to touch the heated planes of his body that he’d felt beneath his clothi-. It would give him an excuse to touch those wonderful pink li-. He would run his fingers through that striking hai-. He could roll over and lift his robes, let him rut between his thighs until he screamed and his toes curled, rough hands holding his arms over his head, heavy voice murmuri-.

No, Dirk wasn’t happening. That had huge risk written all over it. Dave couldn’t risk being alone with him even if he had saved him from John before, if only because of the dreams he’d been experiencing ever since.  While Dirk had proven that he could rescue him from John’s advances and control, who was to say that his own nature as a god of virility wouldn’t get in the way?

Dave had a nasty feeling that even if he were to never be touched, he’d wind up on the ground writhing and seeking release in a manner he really couldn’t be allowed to.

….Or could he. Dave felt spectacularly stupid for a moment as he caught up with the situation, rubbing at his face. Maybe getting the two faces out of his sight would help him actually focus.

He was saving himself for the Gods he served after all. If they  said it was fine to no longer be a virgin, that made it safe, right? They were trying to court him now, that meant they were interested in him in sexually as far as Dave could assume from what Rose had said and their general attitudes. The virgin status had been maintained solely for them.

This wasn’t as simple as choosing a date, this was choosing who he would lay with in the future.

Frowning dully, he looked at them as objectively as he could. When a god gives you a fair choice, you had best take their offer one way or another. This was a lot of control and leverage they were giving him.

John seemed to be manipulative at the very least, trying to cheat to win from the start. The stories told about him paint him as playful and in some ways childish, cheating and stealing and taking what he wanted as often as he gave generously and freely to deserving and undeserving alike. He was the embodiment of the winds of chance, a masculine lady luck, and there was no predicting him.

Take away the possible snub in his personality, he was actually quite bearable, cheerful and handsome. Dark skin resting on sturdy bones in a muscular frame, hair in thick dark tufts, impish grin. The eyes could prove to be a problem. Looking in them too long made the world fall away and the sky open up, showing a place where everything was good and relaxing and wonderful.

Maybe that’s what John saw all the time? Considering he controlled the odds, surprises would be rare for him. As a god, he had very little to lose, if anything at all. It might be nice to feel the weight lift off his shoulders for once, happy and floaty as he had been in his grasp. Not a single worry in his head.

Were Dirk’s eyes as hypnotic? What would he see within those orange hues, battlefields and blood? Would he hear the call of the drums in his head leading him to fight, to claim victory? Or maybe it would be the complete opposite and he would see through the eyes of a god of virility, seeing the lustful side of life. If it was lust he was after, he had a pretty damn good idea already from those dreams. Where else would he ever have such thoughts?

Certainly not the priests or the priestesses, telling him to sing away his embarrassing stiffness, to steer clear of the others as they began to learn more about those things, to stay in the temple and tend to his gods instead. A holy vessel.

Dave wondered how they’d feel to know that after so many years, their precious vessel was being fought over by two gods acting like children.

“Dave? Have you chosen?” Dirk asked, trying to rouse him into action.

“Of course he has, Dirk, he’s just having trouble figuring out how to break the news to you that he’ll be coming with me first.” John was cocky and confident about this fact, lifting off the ground a few inches on a soft breeze before drifting to curl around Dave’s back like a serpent. “Right? I’ll be sure to spoil you rotten..”

“John,” Dirk said in a warning tone, glaring till he dropped back to his feet with a pout.

“You’re really no fun, geeze.. I’m trying to speed this up! It’s a simple choice!”

“No, it’s not. It’s a pretty big one, especially for a human.”

“Humans are so simple, though, it’s yes or no all the time!”

“Or both,” Dave mumbled quietly.

“….Excuse me?” John turned to try seeing Dave’s face, wanting to make sure the sound he’d heard had really been his voice.

Dave reached out with both of his hands, snatching John and Dirk’s apples from their outstretched palms, holding them as if they were made of solid gold.

“How can you honestly expect me to choose who I’d want to be alone with at any given time? I don’t trust myself alone with just one of you, and you seem to keep each other in line. I pick both of you,” he said once more. “Court me together. I’ll.. I guess I’ll make a final decision later, once I’ve seen more of both of you. But I refuse to see only one of you at a time.”

“This is highly unorthodox, but,” Dirk began before getting cut off by John.

“This is a terrible idea, is what it is! Utter bullshit! Do you honestly expect me to be able to show you how great I am to be around with.. with THIS looming over me?” Enraged, John shot up an extra few feet, laying his hands on Dirk’s shoulders and shaking him to unsteadiness, stopping only when he was swatted at like a particularly annoying gnat. “There’s no way I can show you the most fun with him lurking anywhere near me. He sucks all the fun out of the room.”

“As I was saying before the fool’s interruption,” Dirk said as he glared pointedly at John, “are you certain this is what you want? You’ve already taken both of our gifts and said you wish us both to court you at once. Can you handle the force of our affections? We have no choice now but to compete, and I worry about humans in the crossfire of competing gods.”

Dave frowned and looked at the apples he held to avoid meeting either of their eyes.

“What would your competing entail? Me in the center of a battlefield? You two throwing magic around, causing the temples to fall?”

“Oh, nothing like that. Bit much for a lover, to destroy a city. I just mean.. well.” Dirk trailed off as he tried to think on how best to phrase it. John spoke first and offered his take on it.

“We’ll both be doing our best to get you to yield to us at the same time, and won’t be showing ourselves to your priests until you choose for sure. To appear for every little reason would be all kind of boring and trivial and frankly just a huge drag. Why get’m all worked up, if one of us won’t be turning back up for a long time?”

“Well,” Dave murmured, licking his lips. “I’ve chosen both of you for the time being. What does that mean for now? What does your courtship entail? I’ve never been courted before.” Was it bad to be so teasing now? There was just so much curiosity in him, and not nearly enough answers.

Dirk finally seemed interested in moving before John could, repositioning to stand behind  Dave, hands reaching out to smooth down his sides before cupping his hips.

“We’re not going to progress too terribly far, as it stands.. but we can go as far as we’re able to.”

When Dave shifted uncomfortably in his grip, nervous, unused to being held, Dirk slid one hand from his side inwards towards his lower belly. At the same time, he curled around his back and lowered his head towards his neck, laying a few light kisses to the flesh. Dave shivered violently and squirmed again, making both gods laugh, John’s devolving into more of a hissing sound as he approached from the front.

Dave was soon caged from both sides, Dirk kissing at the right side of his neck while he held his side and stomach from behind, John pressing against his front as he ran light touches up Dave’s arm and kissed at the left side of his neck.

“A..ah..” It was a plaintive sound, but nothing negative, nowhere near telling them to stop. Actually, Dave was wondering how to ask for more. There were so many things happening at once, he had no idea what to do with his hands, with his mouth, with his body. Were it not for Dirk’s hands holding him steady and his chest against his back, John’s body propping him from the front, he likely would have fallen to the ground in a faint.

“Lose your words, kid?” Was Dirk’s voice always that husky? It sounded like gravel in his ear, perfectly in tune with the thundering of his heart and the wet noises John was making against his flesh with his lips. “Need us to help you find them?”

“I wonder if we broke his mouth,” John offered. “If not his brain, then surely his mouth. We’re on even footing again now, mind letting me be the one to check that out?”

Dazed as he was, Dave never would have guessed he’d have the gall not only to accept his first kiss while in such a predicament, but to take more of his own volition. When John grasped his chin to lift it up good and proper, pressing their lips together, Dave had thrown both arms up and around his shoulders to yank him closer. Startled but amused by the turn of events, John allowed it and went with his lead.

It was messy and wet, sliding, clicked teeth and soft cursing, all layered on a deep seated wanting. How much of this was the gods influences? Was John guiding his mind? Or was Dirk guiding every aroused inch of his body to act on its own? Dave was light headed, blinking hard a few times when he finally tried to pull away, tipping his head all the way back to stare up at the sky and pant.

His first kiss was with a god.

If only he could tell the other attendants who’d made fun of him before.

For his second kiss, the gods switched their positions up so that John was the one holding Dave’s waist from behind as the main support and Dirk was clasping at his shoulder and face. It was less messy this time, far more focused as Dirk was the one in control. Dave was not to be leading for this experience, though he tried a few times to rush headlong as he had with John.

There was so much to experience, and so very little time. He’d barely snuck away for lunch, after all. Being gone too long was not an option. Not with these two, not yet. One kiss in and Dave was already wondering how John’s mouth would feel low against his stomach. Further? No, no he didn’t dare to imagine that.

Their lips parted and rejoined several times, tender, sweet, practiced from Dirk’s influence. Steadily however, Dirk began to deepen the movements in time with the slow tipping back of Dave’s head, eventually running the tip of his tongue along nervous lips in hopes of coaxing them apart. No sooner did Dave whine softly and yield, Dirk sighed and slipped his tongue in to explore.

Dave’s eyes opened wide and he shuddered harder, sagging until John murmured quiet words of praise and lifted him back upwards to the flats of his feet. His hands were hanging limp at his sides now, overwhelmed, trying his best to kiss back into Dirk’s mouth when the idea seemed doable to him. Namely, when he was conscious enough of his own body to react at all further than breathing.

He tasted sweet as candy at some moments, warmer than John’s lips had been though not nearly as soft. Other times it was this odd smoky, ashy taste that reminded him of the charred offerings they had him help with. Dirk’s tongue roamed his mouth like a predator, touching the backs of his teeth before running a stripe down the top of his own tongue. Dave swallowed when he felt John nip lightly at the soft place where his shoulder and throat connected, making Dirk hum in approval. The entire affair was, close as Dave could assume, horribly erotic.

Both of them were excellent. Dirk was a firm guiding hand who knew what to offer and how to offer it until he was gasping and arching his back, calculating and efficient. John was calmer and more playful, skipping around the edges and making every moment a surprise that could be nice, or amazing.

How was he supposed to choose between that?

“Dave?”

Was it John talking? Dirk was still busy working his mouth over, there was no way it was him. Yet, it didn’t sound much like John either, much lower than his pitch. There was no forgetting either of their voices, with how often Dave heard them in his dreams.

“Dave! Are you there? Where did that boy get off to now..”

Before Dave could look around or question the approaching voice further Dirk was pulling away quickly, leaving a peck to his lips, a touch to his cheek. John kissed beneath his ear and released Dave’s waist to leave him standing under his own power, the speed of the change making him wobble in place and throw his arms out to avoid falling.

“Dave, there you are! I was looking everywhere for you, you pest. Why did you come out this far from the temple? You know the priests prefer you to stay within the walls!”

It was his guard lumbering over the hill towards him, towards only him. The gods were nowhere to be seen, vanished in an instant to avoid detection, leaving him standing like a fool with a red face and a horrid erection trying to nudge the front of his robes.

 “Were you eating your lunch out here? I hope you ate more than apples, I know you love them but a growing lad needs more than fruit in his diet, Dave.” The guard himself was broad and likely strong as he looked, though he had no interest in testing that theory.

Dave’s head was still swimming from the rush. It had been too fast, too sudden, far too soon. He could still taste both of them, smell the cold breeze and the ash, feel the warm press of two bodies against his own. His pulse was flooding his ears, making it hard to hear.

“…Dave, are you okay? You look red as a beet, boy!”

What Dave had meant to say as a retort was something along the lines of “I’m fine”. He made it as far as “I’mfah-“ before his eyes rolled back and his knees buckled, pitching him backwards to the ground. The guard, fearing for his ward’s health and fearing his own punishment for allowing him to get ni this condition, bent down and scooped Dave up securely into his arms. Lowering his head, he turned and charged back towards the main temple, shouting along the way for help.

John sighed and picked up one of the abandoned apples, taking a large bite before rubbing his mouth to clean up the dribbles of juice that tried to trail down his face.

“You sure you don’t want to just settle this between the two of us? I don’t think he can handle it. Look, he fainted! From a kiss!”

“From his first kiss, his first deep kiss, and two immortals pressing against him,” Dirk corrected.

“So? We’re seducing him, Dirk, I don’t know how else to go about seducing someone.”

“I think he can handle it,” said Dirk as he stooped to pick up the other apple. “He was doing quite well for so many changes and surprises, until that oaf interfered. We need to play this quite carefully, for his sake. Besides, he won’t always be this way.”

John snorted, biting too deeply until he hit the core, spitting the offending piece out with a frown. The remainder of the apple was tossed away when it proved to no longer be appetizing.

“Yes, I know he won’t always be this way, Dirk. But when will it change? It’s not like there’s a set date or anything. No levers to pull, no traps to spring. It just… happens. Like when flowers grow.”

“Why John, I never thought you were a poet. Comparing the boy to a flower? How sentimental!” Teasing, Dirk tossed his apple John’s way, not wanting to keep it for himself. The new snack proved a tastier option and was quickly being devoured by the messy haired man. “I’m quite serious, though. I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest if we carry on as we are. Did you sense him reacting more towards either of us in particular?”

John pondered and wiped his face a second time, hands sticky. “Mn… No. No, not really. He seemed to be accepting of both of us pretty much evenly.”

Dirk’s face hardened, but he gave a nod.

“…Dirk, what do we do if he doesn’t choose? Do we pick for him?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. There are many variables at work here, but if we stick to the plan, things will come to fruition.”

John didn’t seem convinced. Frowning, he lifted off his feet and curled over Dirk’s shoulder, resting his midsection atop the joint so he could hang like a ragdoll.

“When do we go back to continue, then? I don’t want to show up at the damn temple, and I don’t know how long he can avoid that guard on his own. Want me to intervene and make this easier? Make the guard find a shiny and fall off a cliff?”

“No. No interferences, John. We’ll sort this out. For now, we need to let Dave rest. We’ll try going back at night next time.”

John sighed and rested his chin in his hands, elbows resting out in the middle of the air free of support.

“You are so boring, I don’t even know how you can stand to be around yourself.”

This whole Seduce The Human thing was taking so much more time than he thought it would! How stupid.

Chapter Text

It was so easy to forget how fragile humans were, so soft compared to themselves. Where John and Dirk were immortal, unchanging, hardened by time until their beautiful appearances looked sharp about the eyes, Dave was yielding and pleasant. He thrilled at the new experiences and sensations he had been forbidden from previously, and proved to be an excellent pupil in the carnal arts, limited though their lessons were. If the two gods were the flames, Dave was the most excellent tinder between them.

They still hadn’t made a move to take him yet. Though the desire and interest was there, there had simply not been an opportunity yet.

After his fainting incident, Dave had been put onto a new regiment. His diet was supplemented with more of the food used during offerings to the gods he served, trying to add something to his wispy frame. An experiment involving him getting more sunlight wound up in his back being covered in sunburns and the head priest throwing a fit. John did far better at soothing his burnt flesh than the extra additives to his bath water, the excess oils being massaged into the injured sites. Then again, though, wasn’t the work of a god always better than that of man?

He was restricted further on the grounds, limited only to the main halls and his private quarters, confident that keeping him reigned in would improve his health. The last thing they needed was to have him become tainted or corrupted, plagued by ill health. Weakness would not do him any good with how important of a job he had. He was to worship the gods and answer their calls should the time properly arrive.

If only they knew that each night, the cause of his fatigue was quite the opposite. It was not him worshiping the gods, but being worshiped. They answered his calls each night. When they did not arrive together, it would usually be John who came first, able to slip away from his duties far easier. Dirk would creep into the pile wherever there was room, sometimes having to resort to pinching or grabbing John by the neck to make him share. Luck was a greedy thing sometimes.

It shifted position now and then, usually Dave being in the center of the two of them in one way or another. Dirk enjoyed keeping Dave’s back plastered against his chest, while John gave him attention from the front with his hands and mouth or while he ground himself him on his own and felt every inch of his torso twist and strain. John enjoyed pinning Dave down by the shoulders or the wrists, letting him squirm and thrash and writhe whenever he bit and mouthed at the junction of neck and shoulder.

Sometimes they went after each other and Dave watched or tentatively joined in from the side, if they had caught each other’s eyes too often during their time off in the world. He’d been scandalized at first, of course, seeing them reach and stretch, bend and clasp as they struggled for dominance. John gave in half the time, if that’s what he wanted. The rest of the time he put up one hell of a fight and made sure Dirk didn’t forget who was in charge that time.

Dave learned the most during those times of observation, head clearer than when he was drowning in sensation on his own. He learned what a penis other than his own looked like, and began to develop preferences for their appearance. John’s, for instance, just seemed like a larger version of his own in terms of length and girth. Dirk’s wasn’t as long, but was much wider, and seemed to be the source of much happy cursing from John whenever it was pressed against his lips or ground against his body.

They did not couple in front of Dave, however. Their demonstrations were varied, always leaving his blood pumping and his heart racing, innocent perspective leaving him scandalized. He was a hands on participant, allowed to trace his hands wherever he wished. Though they did not couple with each other in his presence, nor with him at all. They hinted instead, tantalizing murmurs and nudges of their hips, tracing fingers along sensitive skin and muscle, leaving him crying out.

Praise the gods!

Praise wind and virility!

-----

“Rose, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep waking up at dawn.”

“Dave, if you’re seeking permission to be a lazy bum and sleep in, I’m afraid I cannot grant you that. It’s beyond my ability to do more than meddle and step in now and then. If I overstep my bounds before my final rituals, I’ll never be granted the right to travel and practice properly,” she said pleasantly from her spot on the wells edge.

Dave was washing his face and drinking a few handfuls, only to spit half of them onto the ground at his feet. His throat ached and his face was flushed as usual, though the gummy texture on his tongue from the dry mouth John tended to cause if he wasn’t being careful with his breezes was by far the worst sensation of his day.

“I’m not asking to be a lazy bum, and you know as well as I do that you already travel and practice!”

“While you’re at it, try raising your voice a bit, Dave. I think someone may have failed to hear you properly on the other islands,” she hissed as she narrowed her violet eyes. “Besides, what else would you call it besides being lazy? You don’t do anything else, hardly. You bathe and are tended to, you eat fine foods, you pray and meditate, you receive your lessons and instructions, and go to bed early! Your days are far easier than even the head priests!”

Dave looked from the bucket to the damp spot of ground that he’d been spitting upon, then back up to Rose’s face. She’d pulled her hood back to take in the sunlight, taking advantage of the spot of warm weather and clear skies while she could, nearly white hair ruffling around her chin and beneath her ears.

“It’s not how it looks,” he started slowly. “It’s… Oh forget it, you wouldn’t even understand if I tried to tell you.”

“Understand what? That a taste of the finer things in life suddenly made you a layabout?”

“I’m not. Lazy. I’m barely getting any sleep at night!”

“Why? Are you still plagued by your dreams of gods trying to fawn over a mortal man?”

“It is not dreams that I am tormented by, Rose. Far from dreams.” He leaned closed, hushing his voice as much as he could. “It is dreams made flesh that I am tormented by, Rose, and insatiable lust. They tease and torment me, yet never truly slake my thirst. They delight in my torment, and it pleases them to see me writhe. Yet.. I enjoy it. Every second I spend at their sides, I would never replace. I care for them both too much.”

Rose blinked slowly as he rambled, then raised a hand, pressing it against his forehead and neck in search of fever behind the blush that colored his face. Finding none, she refolded her hands into her voluminous sleeves and appraised him frankly.

“Dreams made flesh, and insatiable lust.. Are they merely waking dreams, the like of which you complained to me before? Hallucinations? Or could it be some other foul tempter is at work, trying to lead you astray.” Her eyes flared with alarm, her power bubbling up darkly beneath her calm exterior. “Dave, tell me. When you say dreams made flesh, you can’t possibly mean..?”

“I’m telling the truth, Rose, they’ve come to me in secret. Nightly, for a time now, and as such I barely sleep. They adore me and spoil me and teach me things, all while showering me with praise. I’ve never known anything like it.. I’ve never looked at a man the way that I look at the two of them, and even then it’s only THEM.” Dave took a breath, trying to get out the last of his words before Rose could interrupt. “Were I looking at a mortal man, I would see nothing. No interest, no curiosity, merely an annoyance. When I look upon the two of them I can feel only love and inner peace! The likes of which I’ve never felt outside of their temple before. That deep, inner calm!”

Not to even mention the fires they ignited.

Rose bit back what looked like several arguments at once, face scrunched as though she’d bitten a particularly sour apple, long fingers rubbing at her temples as she thought. She needed to process this, and give the best advice she could offer considering this was a delicate situation. Should anything happen to Dave to negate his status as a virgin at the hands of anyone but the gods, nothing but bad could possibly befall their temple home.

“These… These gods that visit you. Tell me what they’re like. Not what they look like, their personalities.”

“Well, John i-“

“John?”

“The God of Wind and Luck. John. He’s… sneaky. Tricky. He’s the one who attempted to kiss me, when this started. He enjoys games a lot, but likes to show on both ends of the spectrums he presents. Sometimes he’s loud and domineering. Other times, he’s quiet and soft and loving. Still other times he’s a mixture of all of them! Coming on sweet as honey, then gritting his teeth and bearing down on anything in his path like a gale storm.”

Rose frowned deeper the moment Dave said “sneaky”, but continued to listen to his description. That did sound similar to the stories and fables that surrounded that particular god, though in a personified form. There was no way to attune the follies and foibles of a god at work without some form of middle ground that would make it understandable. The down side of that theory, however, was that just about anyone could impersonate the stories and pull a fast one on an, admittedly, very naïve temple boy.

“What of the other one, then. Your other demon that plagues you.”

“Dirk is not a demon. You know,” he paused and frowned at her, “ if you’re doubting any of my claims so far, then I don’t even see why I’m bothering to do this.. But despite everything he’s taught me and shown me, and his.. sometimes intimidating appearance? I think I like him the same way I like you.”

“Excuse you.”

“No! No, no, not like that. Just.. He’s very familiar, for some reason.”

Rose cocked her head to the side before rubbing the back of her neck, shivering and pulling her hands back into her sleeves after a chill breeze swept by. Dave didn’t seem affected by it in the slightest, and drew up another bucket of water to sip more pleasantly from now that he was no longer burdened with glue like saliva.

“Can you explain what you mean by familiar? Like someone you’ve seen before, aside from the statue? Something you’ve experienced prior?” The idea of a past life situation made her face light up with glee and she swung her legs childishly as she waited for him to go on. Oh, if it were a past life memory she could get her books and scrolls, and her charcoals, and her ink and brush mayhaps. Oh, and her crystals and herbs! Her BIG crystal would likely work, the one imported fro-

“No, not quite like that. Just.. familiar. Seeing him for the first time was thrilling, but not in the same way as John. If I look at him for too long, I’m aroused and want to be sated. Yet, there’s more. He’s the one who breaks things off at a reasonable enough time so I can manage SOME sleep. He’s the one who holds me until I stop shivering, and gives me something to curl against, or wraps around me like a great starfish to a rock. His eyes, too..”

Dave was knocked out of his reverie by the sound of the bucket hitting the top lever too hard and toppling over the joint, splashing water outward before beginning its tumble downwards into the depths. Unaided by a mid-bar, Dave towed the bucket back up along the side of the well, skidding and bumping awkwardly.

“You sound like a village girl sighing about her beau.”

“I may as well be one.”

“Dave.. Is there any certain way to know they’re gods? I worry you’re being deceived. Why would gods come to you in secret? Why would they take their time to take such good care of you? You’re not a pet. You’re a tool. If it’s truly them, do not mistake their affections for love in the sense that we know it. The affairs of gods are many and tumultuous, and for a mortal to stand in the center would be foolish at best.” She had heard enough of this conversation, and was standing up to take her leave.

Dave was stubborn, to put it lightly. Far more stubborn than one would think possible when simply looking at him, especially when he realized he was basically being called a fool.

“I appreciate your help, Rose, and I appreciate you. But to be frank, until you know what I know, and have seen what I’ve seen, there is little to nothing you could say to me that would have much impact on the situation! They are not demons, they are not imposters. John might be a trickster, but Dirk trusts him and that’s good enough for me!”

“What is it good enough for YOU if this Dirk character feels he’s okay?! If they’re in on it together, you’re only going to end up hurt in the end!”

“Because I love them!” He was shaking now, angry and unable to put his feelings and thoughts into words. He had never felt frustration like this before, in this inability to communicate. Dave felt no fatigue, however, no tiring effects from his stress. Merely a solid affirmation in his chest, warm and confident, paired with another chill breeze at his back. “I trust them. They’re not going to hurt me, not after all the care and time they take to avoid seeing me harmed!”

The way his eyes flared and flashed, bright as fire in his rage, made Rose stop short another lashing of her tongue. For whatever reason, in that moment she felt fear. Not enough to worry for her life or safety, but enough to give her pause and leave her wondering what had truly happened. She raised her hands in front of her, palms out, to show she meant no harm. Asking Dave to calm himself.

“Settle. It was a mistake to speak that way of the situation. I see that now. That does not, however, change my worry for you. No matter the situation, I will always worry for you and wish the best. You’re my friend, Dave, and that has a much higher precedence than merely being my ward.”

Before her eyes, Dave sagged in exhaustion and nodded, eyes losing their bright edge. The feeling of danger and dread fled as if it had never existed in the first place, leaving only a wispy, pale temple dweller who looked like he could use a solid night of sleep.

“..I apologize. I shouldn’t have yelled like that, especially at a friend. I’m just really tired, and a lot is happening to me that I never before thought possible. It’s a good deal to take in so suddenly, if my attempts to explain were any indication.”

“How about this. We forget the argument ever happened by writing it off as the voice of fatigue and worry, and I try to step in to let you sleep in a few hours tonight.”

“I thought you said that couldn’t be done? Something about being lazy?”

“You’re remembering things best left forgotten, Dave, and I’m not responsible this time for it at all. I’m not going to ask so much as cause a diversion and then request you not be woken for a time.”

“A diversion.”

“Yes, of the flashy bangy variety, if I feel up to it and the gods favor my endeavors. Should be quite a hoot, if it’s executed properly, with little traces left when you wake up on your own in the afternoon.” She smiled softly when his tired face lit up. “Just don’t get too used to it, you spoiled brat.”

-----

“You know,” John said as he hovered near Dirk’s shoulders, looking out over a fiery scene of the sun setting against a great city, “the longer we keep this up, the harder it will be.”

“We agreed we were going to wait to take him, you know that.”

“That’s not all I mean, Dirk.”

“………….”

“Don’t even try to deny it! How are you going to handle all this if it explodes in your face?”

Dirk shot him a glare hard enough that John dipped downwards a few inches to curl around his back, hugging at him, wincing. Gods they may both be, but some could be fiercer even than the cruel deal of luck when the proper mood struck.

“It won’t explode in my face. The proper time will come and we’ll take him if he so wishes, though I’ve a feeling it won’t be long at all.”

“You and your feelings. Seriously, why not clue me in sometime instead of letting me sort him out on my own? I don’t get to cheat like you. Not all of us have what you have with Dave.”

Dirk frowned and shook his head. “That would be a betrayal of trust, I’m sure. Besides, it’s not cheating, his heart may be open and inviting, but his inner heart is as hard to reach into as my own.”

“Guess that’s just one of those things, huh.”

“Things?” He hated it sometimes when John was vague. When the time was right, it was a wonderful asset, but now it was merely annoying. “What kind of thing?”

“You know, one of those family things!”

Rolling his eyes, Dirk reared a hand back and swatted at John’s hindquarters, making him yelp and shoot up higher into the air with a series of curses.

“Ooooh.. OOOH! You stubborn ass! You cretin! Just you wait. Your luck is just going to be AWFUL for the next few days!”

“I make my OWN luck, John, so curse me away all you like. It’ll roll off me like water.”

-----

The night was a strange one, cold as ice outside with swells of icy gusts as winter began to move in, yet Dave’s cloister was unseasonably warm with only the smallest fire. Unbeknownst to anyone at the temple, they were the only area being affected by the onslaught of chill. The town below remained firmly in autumns end, and almost entirely free of wind.

Far better to keep the monks interested in keeping warm more than investigating outside, and better to mask Dave’s cries should he grow even louder this time. Considering what John and Dirk were banking on, that was an increasingly probable outcome to their night.

They were also late in arriving, for starters, leaving Dave awake with only his thoughts and anxieties. He trusted his instinct and his feelings about Dirk and John, felt firmly that they were all in the right as far as all of this went. He didn’t regret their courting, or their lessons, and would never replace the feeling of their lips and the gentleness of their hands when he knew that just below was the power to alter destinies and destroy worlds.

The anxiety was the lingering doubt. What if they WERE fakes, some demons from far away who could mimic? John had entranced him once. Was all this a lie?

No. No, he knew in his heart it was real. He didn’t recall feeling any of the enchantment since that time, and every glance into his eyes since then had shown only brilliant blue and adoration mingled with curiosity and lust.

It was real. He was of sound mind, and they were the gods that he had chosen as a baby. They were his guardians as much as his friends.

They would be his lovers, Dave had finally decided. The both of them.

As long as the choice had been his, to eventually choose one of them, they had come to him in a pair. Nightly they both held him, and nightly they continued to be as even as the day he’d chosen them. There was never any way he could choose. From how content they seemed to be lately to share his affections, to how little they had spoken of it lately, it seemed they at least suspected it.

Maybe even encouraged it.

So, this was it. The big moment when he would finally learn it all, and lose the status of temple virgin. No more jokes at his expense, no more special wards and captivity on the grounds. He would be the lover of two gods, and maybe get a little more freedom because of it.

It was a once in a lifetime occurrence, the losing of this status, and Dave wanted it to go just right. Maybe he could one up the duo and surprise them somehow, startle them, bring it up before either of them lay a hand on him. He didn’t want it to be a hasty decision made in the fog of lust, something that could be denied due to his impaired mental condition.

No, he had thought on it long and hard. Dave wanted them both, and tonight was the night, given that he’d get extra time to sleep in from Rose. The only question was.. how to do it properly.

Laying in the nude while waiting made him flush and waver, rushing to slip his under robe back on. Rehearsed lines, trying to sound non-chalant, instead sounded stupid and childish to his ears. If it was silly to him, a god would find it ludicrous. What if they laughed at him..? Would he have the heart to learn all they had to teach if his own resolve shattered at a mere titter?

Not likely.

When the awaited duo finally appeared, John forming from the breeze and Dirk stepping from the flame, they were greeted by a very flustered looking human and a perfectly spotless room. The bed had even been made, blankets and coverings tucked into the edges, clothing put away, sandals lined up by his hanging over robe on a wall peg.

“Good evening, Dave. Have you slept well?” Dirk asked with a smile. John giggled and lifted upwards a few inches, watching as Dave shot upright to address them both. “Or did you keep yourself awake once more? You look a bit flushed about the fa-“

“I want both of you.”

“….Pardon?” John’s head swiveled so fast in his direction that Dave feared his neck would snap, while Dirk merely widened his eyes in surprise. He’d managed to catch them off guard by being as blunt as he could, unpracticed and unprepared. A true virgin seemed to be the only thing that could startle two gods as jaded as they.

“I’ve made my choice: not choosing. I picked both of you as a baby for a reason, so why would I choose between you now?”

“Do go on. I’d like to know more about what you’re saying,” John said as he settled both feet on the ground, crossing his arms as he stood beside Dirk expectantly. Dave flushed deeper and mumbled, hands clenching into fists at his sides as he shook, fighting himself for calm. He had their attention now, it was the best he could do to keep that trend up.

“I love both of you too much to choose only one, and so far everything has been shared from the beginning anyway. I’ve been with both of you about the same amount, and enjoy things about you individually. So.. If you want me to still choose between you, I have to decline. Because I can’t choose between two people I love. But I decided.. that if I’ve been kept pure for you, that it would be to you two that I’d offer myself up.” He paused and frowned slightly, worried. “Is that, uh. Breaking any rules or anything? If it is I can.. wait longer I guess. There’s usually some kind of sign with these things, according to the books.”

It wasn’t as if he was as certain as he proclaimed to be. After all, this was the first time he’d actually propositioned two higher beings for a roll in the hay. Gods, that sounded so lewd to put it that way! Lewd and wonderful and.. dare he say, exciting.

“Would me pinning you to the ground and ripping the clothes off that lovely body of yours count as a holy sign, because there’ll be some divinity involved there I’m sure. Not as much pomp and circumstance, likely, but definitely some divinity.”

“John, will you shut up and at least act civilized for ten seconds? Do us both the service, especially Dave.”

“What am I supposed to do? Ask if he wants a little bit of heaven in him and just shov-“

“JOHN.”

“WHAT, WHY ARE WE YELLING?”

Dirk rubbed the bridge of his nose as if asking for patience, unable to pray to anyone for it. Dave was giggling nervously, arms still stiff at his sides, body shivering with nerves as he awaited his answer. It was Dirk that stepped forward first to hold him close, calming his shivering and shaking by keeping him pressed against his body. One of his large hands smoothed down Dave’s back in even strokes, petting a frightened animal.

“Are you certain this is what you want, little lamb? To offer your nape to the wolves that stalk you in the night so readily? We’ve given you no peace for quite some time, I’d say the least we offer you is a final decision in the matter.”

Dave nodded slowly, his mind still made up. The calming gestures and comforting, soft tone of Dirk’s voice lulled him and steeled his resolve even further. “Yes, I’m certain. I.. I’d like both of you.”

“At the same time? Adventurous little bugger isn’t he. Wonder where he gets that from?” John smirked broadly as Dirk glared over Dave’s head, dark and dangerous. Daring him to toy with his temper further, to ruin this evening that Dave had apparently been waiting for. That he knew he himself had been awaiting for some time.

The fact that Dave wished to lay with him of his own free will meant that his apprehensions had been unfounded and fortune smiled upon him. Literally, actually, considering John was still grinning like a fool who just dodged a hangman’s noose about a foot away. Dirk nodded slowly, urging him to step forward as well. They’d sort out how things went soon enough.

He wanted Dave first, though he knew that John would pester and pry and be a pest about it. Honestly, it was likely for the best, for his first to be someone who wasn’t as experienced as he. After all, he was the god women and men alike prayed to at night for their bedroom affairs, just as he was prayed to during the day for help upon the battlefields as blood was shed. John was better suited for a first. He himself was better suited for a lasting impression, a longer session afterwards if Dave felt up to it after a bit of intervention and meddling following a rest.

If nothing else, he could prep and assist from the sides, keep him distracted as his body adjusted to the invasions and possible pain or panic. For a virgin to wish to take such drastic steps was actually quite common, considering he had no idea precisely what to expect.

Yes, that decided it. John would go first, so he could help from the sides, maybe pester John once Dave was worked up into a lather and they’d gotten a pattern of their own worked out. Throw a wrench into the delicate works and then repair it, make it interesting. Make it feel even better. Maybe John might even be affected by his machinations and improvisation and give him a better time, less focused on the usual prospects of getting off and getting his partner off quickly before his fickle mind changed to other things. Make him focus on Dave as much as he did during their sessions rolling around on his wide bed in a squirming pile.

Dirk held Dave in place as John pressed close, stealing a kiss from Dirk first as if asking permission. Was he certain he wanted Dave second? Now was the only chance Dirk would be allowed to change his mind. No sign, no hesitation, no pauses.

Right, then.

John lowered, bending at the waist ever so slightly to align better with Dave’s face, lifting his chin with his fingertips before swooping downwards for a kiss. It was soft at first, gentle, almost timid. Cautious. This was one hell of a gift he was receiving, a living, pure offering with as sweet a soul as anything he’d ever seen. Even though he was a mortal, he was having quite the effect on John’s focus.

Part of this was Dirk’s fault, however, reaching out his powers and strengths into the room, letting the mood flow properly and uninhibited. Dave’s arms snaked up around John’s neck and tugged him down further into the kiss as it grew more hungry. John followed the urging and growled low in his chest, pleased on a feral level as he feasted on the soft mouth that tempted him so sweetly, hands roaming up and down his sides several times before gripping at the white under robes and tugging at them.

It would take separation and a few moments to remove the robes properly, having him either step out of them as the fabric was smoothed over his narrow shoulders and hips or lifting them up over his head and throwing it free. Too long, too much of a hassle. Dave winced in the kiss as John tugged hard at the cloth once more in opposite directions, forming a bit enough rip that his hands could reach and wander.

Dirk removed the extra fabric and dropped it at the bedside, broad palms joining in with John’s as they felt along Dave’s torso and thighs, smooth and warm and soft. Yielding. Flushed for them. The erection he was already sporting was as good a sign as any that things were going well so far and he was truly interested. It was a lovely sight, really. Barely any influence given, and already John more than had his hands full of eager young blonde, moonlight against a sun baked background.

With little steering, John went backwards until the back of his knees collided with the frame of Dave’s bed, turning to shove Dave beneath him instead. There were no complaints. In fact, it was quite the opposite once John settled atop him, Dave lifting his legs to curl them instinctively around his hips in an effort to hold him close. He may not know precisely what to expect, but their rolling about had taught him things that he knew for a fact felt good. Knowing their penchant for pleasure, it wouldn’t be long until they were back at that same precipice.

“Ah.. ahhh…” Dave grunted when more of John’s weight settled on him, pushing at his shoulders to keep him in place before he dipped his hips to rut against Dave’s erection. Dirk smoothly settled onto the bed beside Dave, reaching out to stroke at his hair and his hip, his narrow leg as it struggled to stay wrapped around John once he began to move with more purpose. The first hints of moans and grunts had quite the effect on John, fueling his drive.

He wanted to hear more of those sounds, and to taste the words on his lips as he cried out for him. No longer him alone, he understood. That was actually fine with him now. He was willing to share this tribute, this human. His Dave. Their Dave, he and Dirk’s. The Dave who had shivered at a single kiss and touch, overwhelmed. The Dave who now writhed and moaned for their touch, trying to lure them in as surely as a fish was drawn to a fine bait.

He was beautiful, eyes glazed and bright.

Shining.

Dirk stared quietly as John and Dave thrashed at each other, locked at the hips and mouth. They were fighting for dominance, and Dave wasn’t backing down to just let everything wash over him. His eyes were like fire, shifting in the dimness, blazing brighter whenever something pleased him. Fanned by John’s soft breezes and attitude.

Dave was waking up inside.

Dirk frowned to himself, wondering if he should have just taken him first and let him accept John naturally afterwards instead of reaching out his power to help him start on a good note. It hadn’t hit him the same as John, face reddened and dick hard as steel. Dave had fed on it, absorbed it and made it his own. Used it.

He was too young to wake up properly, too inexperienced. What if he was never meant to properly wake up? Had Dirk overstepped some cosmic boundaries by doing this? He would be far more wary of repercussions were he not so distracted by the growing noise and excitement he was witnessing.

John had begun to shuffle out of his robes and wraps, leaving on his bangles to jingle and lay on his skin. There was simply no separating him from his trinkets, his love for gold and shiny objects and riches won both fairly and not. Dave thrilled at the sight, eager to twist and touch, pressing his lips and hands alike to the bare patches of flesh along his arms and chest, biting once or twice when the mood struck. John accepted it instead of getting annoyed, swept up in the moment.

When at last they were bare to each other, he bore down a few times with purpose, aligning their dicks in just such a way as to rub them together from hilt to head. How best to go about it, though? A dry entry would not do in any situation, experienced or not. They didn’t exactly have anything to aid in this.. Frowning, he turned his eyes to look at Dirk, gesturing downwards with them after contact had been made.

‘Help.’

Well. Maybe a bit of intervention here would still be okay, not viewed as something utterly negative. It was for Dave’s comfort and his own peace of mind, refusing to let him get injured. If John was looking that desperate already, they had best be quick about it. Though, he would have to do it himself this time. Grin widening into a predatory smirk, Dirk stayed settled in his relaxed position, head resting against his hand as he brought his other to his mouth to wet his fingers thoroughly. He teased the air with the damp digits afterwards, imitating what must be done.

If John wanted first and got to have that honor, he could damn well work for it and do the proper steps. They weren’t unpleasant for either party, far as he was concerned. In fact, he quite liked this part himself. Something about the dexterity of moistened fingers probing and stretching and prodding the sensitive parts was just as intense as actual coupling to him in its own way. More personal, slower, far more detailed.

Also extremely helpful if one wished to progress further with the physicality.

John grimaced at him, obviously annoyed at not getting extra help and being shouldered with the work. By this point, it almost was work. Dave was so eager to stay latched onto him and as close to his hips as possible, that it took a decent amount of effort to pry him off and make him lay still with his legs spread. Dirk deserved to be in on this, even if it was still only off to his side. There was more for his hands to do that way.

As John kissed sweetly at Dave’s mouth, Dirk stroked along his stomach and the insides of his thighs, soothing the shiver that was barely settled into place. Emboldened and aroused or not, Dave was still in the dark about precisely what was happening. All he knew was that it felt amazing, would feel even better, and would drop his protected cherub status to something more normal.

John pulled his lips away from Dave’s and settled onto his elbow, stroking the soft skin where Dave’s thigh joined his hip as he whined. Dirk took over from there to soothe and distract him, kissing at Dave’s cheek until he turned his head to look, then smooching the edge of his mouth tenderly a few times before moving on to cover his lips fully. He teased and tasted them before pushing against his lips with his tongue, seeking access, trying to get between them. When Dave finally got the point, he gladly allowed him inside, too deeply when he gasped and began to squirm in discomfort.

John, the fool, had dampened his fingers and gone straight for the prize instead of teasing and playing with their little lamb to pique his interests and appetites. Dirk wanted to throttle him for breaking the calm enough for Dave to open his eyes and look blearily around him, looking past Dirk’s gaze to try seeing what was happening down between his legs.

He stopped his attempts when Dirk reached down and smacked John’s head sharply before gripping at his dick, beginning to stroke it firmly in an effort to get the focus back on the good feelings like they usually did. Pleasure bloomed in his mind and stomach and Dave closed his eyes as he relaxed and went back to focusing his attentions on the kissing they were doing. The spare glancing touches of John’s damp fingers beginning to feel less threatening and far more arousing when paired with Dirk’s steady grip. When the teasing touches turned to a gentle probe, the ground fell out from beneath him and everything went warm and red.

The two gods were building up a rhythm now, Dirk moving his hand along Dave’s dick in time with John’s probing fingers as they entered and withdrew steadily, stretching and reaching. One finger had quickly gone on to two, then to three as Dave began to shiver and shake once more in anticipation of things to come. When John finally withdrew his nimble fingers, Dave’s breath was coming in deep heaves and sighs, chest rising and falling sharply.

Dirk continued to pump him, though slower now, making him rock his hips to get the same amount of contact and friction. Making him work for it, just as he was making him work to keep up with the hot tongue that was ravaging the inside of his mouth, flicking along the flat plane a few times before suckling. Dirk’s onslaught lessened when John crawled between Dave’s thighs and began to handle himself, hand sliding along his length a few times to ready himself before spitting into his palm and slicking a few more times.

Couldn’t hurt to be a little more prepared. Dirk would be helping, yes, but if he could help it.. John didn’t want to have to rely on him for anything with this, after the initial oversight. Let him help because he felt like it and wanted to participate equally, not because it was needed.

Sighing to himself, frosted air cooling Dave’s throat till the fine hairs stood up, John lifted Dave’s hips upward into a better angle and pressed the head of his dick firmly between his cheeks until he was resting at his entrance. With Dave ready and raring to go, and Dirk kissing at his mouth and playing with his dick to keep him calm, the time was finally right to take his tribute.

Ever so carefully, ever so slowly, John pushed his hips forwards and began to sink properly into place. It was different somehow from anything he’d ever experienced before, and he wondered how much of it had to do with Dave being a holy virgin tribute, or how much influence Dirk was exerting over the situation from his position on the bed.  His flesh was warm and quivering, sweat slicked already as John gripped at his thigh to tuck it up into a better position for the consummation.  

Dave was warm. Warm as summer’s heat, vibrant as dancing flame. There was no sense of the usual strain a mortal body had upon accepting a god within its boundaries, only the shuffles and hiccupped breaths of someone accepting a new burden. A quick glance up showed John that Dirk had stopped kissing Dave’s mouth and was settled on moving his hand in deeper strokes instead as he gasped short breaths and rolled his head.

“You’re doing so well. So well. Just a little more. You’re almost there. Just a little bit more, okay? You’re doing so well.”

Why wasn’t he saying any of those comforting things like Dirk was? They seemed to be helping Dave stay calm, the more he spoke the less tense Dave became until sliding deeper was easier and easier to do. John was in to the hilt before he could properly get out the words that he wanted to say, eyes practically glowing blue as he looked downwards, stunted breezes kicking up here and there to ruffle everyone’s hair.

“Beautiful boy. Lovely thing. Mine. Ours. You’ve done so well. So very, very well..” There was so much more to say, so many things that were tempting to get out. But not now, nor here. Not to a mortal. Some things were simply better left unsaid. “Now just try to breathe deep and stay relaxed.”

Thanks to Dirk’s ministrations and thoughtful gestures, Dave’s erection had barely flagged. There were no tears like some of the others he had bedded in the past, no talking. Just hypnotic red eyes looking up at him from beneath half closed lids and flaxen bangs, parted lips slowly twisting into a smile.

It only took a murmured “I love you” from the little human to make John start moving suddenly, pressing his hips even closer to reach deep as he could manage before withdrawing a few inches at a time. Giving a moment or two for Dave to grow accustomed before plunging back in.

“Agh!” It wasn’t a cry of pain, but of pleasure. It was a solid invasion, far different from his lover’s initial breach with its maddening slowness and awkward stretching and burning sensations. This was forceful, sliding along sensitive patches of flesh without hesitation before pausing, withdrawing, and repeating the entire thing to compound the sensation. It was overwhelming, and already Dave never wanted him to stop.

Greedy to hear more of his cries, John built up a rhythm, pushing inwards and up to slip deeper and hit different places within Dave’s body until his toes curled sharply and his back arched. Dirk withdrew his hand once they settled into something more natural, no longer needing to keep him distracted. John could make certain he got off, using his winds to reach and clasp and touch wherever he wished when his hands were occupied elsewhere.

Their coupling was like a pair of snakes, coiling tightly into a knot where their bodies joined, thrashing and rocking and hissing breaths. The temperature was erratic, dropping to chill breezes before kicking up into temperate climes that rushed and rattled the inside of Dave’s cloister. The fire was extinguished, leaving them in darkness save for the embers faint glowing in the hearth. With how fiercely Dave was drawing John in, beginning to lift and rock his hips on his own to meet John’s increasingly rough thrusts, Dirk was not thinking there would be an advisable second round as harsh as he needed it himself.

His logic was as follows: their courting had occurred in a pile, why shouldn’t their love making? He could get Dave to himself later, once Dave and John finished their tumultuous first time.

The room was alight with the sounds of flesh slapping together, grunts and groans, moaning and cries from human and god alike. Dirk was satisfied as he watched the pair rut and roll about, his job and status well maintained as the throes of passion swept them along, though it did nothing to soothe his body. A firm stroke of the ego was far different from a firm tug of the cock, after all.

John didn’t seem to mind at all when he felt hands at his own hips, gripping firmly beneath the damp grasp of Dave’s crossed ankles. He knew Dirk’s touch after so long, knew his intent as certainly as he was breathing in the sweet, salted scent of a -very- satisfied mortal. It didn’t take long for John to be crying out as well, Dirk taking him hard enough to stutter the thrusts he was delivering to Dave at this point.

So had their romance been an awkward pile of flesh and murmured affection, so was their sex a louder version of the same.

-----

“DAVE. Dave? Dave, are you awake? I apologize for not coming to wake you sooner, but there has been an incident! Rose has gone rogue and fled the temple after an act of vandalism. We believe she was also behind the witchcraft which practically froze our courtyard solid last night.”

The voice of the head priest was falling onto deaf ears from the doorway as the older man entered and rubbed his hands together. It was perfectly warm inside the room, a comfortable temperature akin to summer breezes prompting him to remove the thick shawl he had swaddled himself into.

“Dave? If you knew anything about her plans, anything at all, I wish to have an explana…tio..n..”

It was obvious what had happened, though likely not the whole story. There were signs of love making, flushed flesh and spilled seed on the bed and his stomach, bruises on his thighs. Bite marks and hickeys littered his torso and legs, leaving him awash in as thorough an afterglow as any man had ever known. He lay sprawled on his side, knees bent, arms outstretched in the same position he had crashed into last night while Dirk and John held him tenderly and whispered to him

His lovers were nowhere to be found, as were any traces that said lovers had been of an unearthly plane. The priest saw only a young man, a former holy virgin, covered in the remains of a night of rough sex with gods only knew who or what.

The repercussions of the prior night would not reach Dave until that afternoon, dragged from sleep to the temples central courtyard before priest, priestess, and acolyte alike. There would be no lovers, no friendly gods to step in and aide him, to back up his story. There would be nobody to stand at his side in defense of his actions, or to save him from their judgment and his fate.

The gods were fighting their own problems off on the astral plane, standing side by side as they were given their own judgments from the higher powers.

Chapter Text

Dave was terrified, though he did his absolute best not to alert everyone to the weakness. From a deep, restful sleep, he had been dragged upright and dressed roughly without explanation once the head priest had left and sent in others to deal with him. He’d not wanted to sully his hands by touching something he deemed as so un-pure. His wrists had been bound tightly together with leather cord behind his back, close enough to his spine that it made his shoulders ache and his fingers tingle.

He’d never been treated this roughly before in his life. As recently as the previous day, Dave had been the perfumed and gently tended offering to the heavens. A holy vessel, virginity intact for the gods he served within their temples, anointed after his baths and fed only the finest food, sequestered away like a treasure.

His onlookers now let him know in no uncertain terms that they knew what had happened as he was led to the main temple with its long row of statues, throwing objects and words at him. Water seemed to be a favorite at the moment, as food was usually too precious to waste, and the chill that still clung in the air ensured that he was shivering and his teeth chattering as he was brought to a stop.

“Whore!” shouted voices.

“Harlot!”

“Liar!”

“Defiler!”

“HERESY!”

The words rained down on his shoulders, though nobody touched him now.

“Tainted!”

“Take him away! Take him away!”

“BEGONE!”

Dave’s head hung for another moment before he slowly looked upwards from beneath his damp bangs, cautious while seeking the face of the head priest. The man who had made certain he got the best treatment, who personally had cared for him and nurtured his growth over the years. The man who had been like family when he himself had none.

Though his face looked pinched, strained, he looked calm. Raising both hands in silence, the man called for order from his peers and followers, needing to think. Questions would have to be answered, after all, and the shivering boy before them was the only one who could tell the truth. Or at least so he hoped. Given the magnitude of his trespasses, the truth may be harder to obtain than once thought.

“Dave. You were found in a state that suggests intercourse has taken place, and that you were a participant. Is this true?”

“Yes.”

The shouts rallied around him once more, swirling. The voices made his ears ache, and the terrified tears from others made his heart hurt. Aside from rage, his actions were inspiring the fear of wrath and vengeance from above onto every resident. Should anything go wrong here, it was now to be his fault. Again, the head priest called for order by raising his hand.

“Who was the other party that you engaged with.”

“There were two of the-“ His words were cut off by the cries of the scandalized before he raised his voice to continue, frustrated and freezing, unwilling to be spoken over. “There were two of them! My gods came to me, and I chose to lay with them as their rightful prize! The gods have claimed their boon!”

What should have been a cause for celebration drew out only more shrieks and wails, the unbelieving temple dwellers miserable. Obviously, he had been fooled. Had the gods walked among them, surely they would have known. Gods do not operate in secret, especially when it came to simply taking a lover.

“Dave, your claim is highly improbable.”

“But, I-“

“For one, you are claiming that not one but two gods arrived at our temple to deflower you in the dead of night, and left no signs. No proof. They were secretive.”

“Yes, well th-“

“You claim they SHARED you. Two gods, jealous and possessive creatures of habit, sharing. This is unheard of in the case of a lover being taken, and all but impossible when it comes to offerings being shared.”

“I know, but they we-“

“Not only that, but you couldn’t have been properly claimed, as you’re still alive and standing here.”

“….What?”

Dave’s blood ran cold as the words began to sink in, looking around at nodding faces before looking upwards once more. Still alive? Was he supposed to die when he was claimed? What would be the purpose of that?

“Dave, you serve a trickster god and a god of sex and warfare. The trickster would have likely taken you away with him to do his bidding, or played with you and left you elsewhere as a joke. The god of passion would have pillaged your body and left you broken. More likely, if they had actually liked you and were capable of the sharing you claim, they would simply have taken your spirit with them.”

“….Why do you think they would do that?”

“Because you’re not a woman. You cannot bear offspring for them, or further their reaches on this world. At best, you were to have been a toy for them if they ever arrived and sought you out for pleasures of a mortal body. We anticipated you would either disappear one day in their service, or we would discover you dead from old age or from your soul being taken to the other plane.”

He felt as if he were going to vomit, legs gone weak and shaky and without his arms to even hug himself to hold on to his bearings. He just needed to stay calm. Stay calm and not fall over, and not get sick all over his own feet like he could already feel his innards trying to accomplish.

“They’re not like that, though. They.. They came to me, and told me to choose who I wanted to serve forever. They spoke to me so sweetly, and treated me like a treasure. If they were not to do that, why wouldn’t you have told me? Why leave me in the dark?”

“What child would want to hear that, Dave? That the gods they serve would only take, and never love?” The logic was stark and obvious in this new light, but Dave still wouldn’t turn his face to look at it clearly. “Dave, even as a child you were fixated on the two gods you used to serve.”

Used to?

“You would clean their spaces and tend to them as you would family. As you grew older, you went through a period of being shy of where their stone eyes looked! You’d speak to them when you slept, telling them of your day and how well you had cleaned for them or learned their stories and songs. That you looked forward to meeting them and being their offering.”

Then had come his period right before the gods had arrived, where he was coming of age in a position that forced him to go without things everyone else had casually obtained in their experiences. A time of resentment and anger for his job, for his duty, for his apparent destiny and special status. Had he known what lay ahead in such a short time, maybe there would have been less of a rush to lose that status.

“Tell us the true names of who you copulated with, Dave. We need to see that they too are punished for their crimes in due time.”

“Wait, punished. Crimes? What are you talking about? I’ve done nothing wrong! I chose to lay with the gods I serve, and no others! They came to me and I chose both of them, you need to believe me. Please, take how I was found as proof!”

Was it the fear that was making his voice rise so much higher than normal? The terror? Punishment. First he’d been told they had expected his death, and now he was being told that he would be punished like a common criminal for doing his duty. What could he do, however, aside from tell the truth and hope they listened? It wasn’t as if he were able to show proof aside from his ravaged body and his words anyway.

It was then that Dave realized his lovers would not be arriving to help him argue his innocence. He wondered vaguely if they would ever even come back for him now that he knew more about what they may have been planning. Rose had been right all along..

No. He loved them, even now, and had made his choice willingly. They may never return, but they had done no ill to him. He’d enjoyed himself and learned and loved, and there would never be regret for that.

 “If you wish to punish others, you will need to summon my gods, for they were the ones who deflowered me last night.”

The head priest finally began to look annoyed, angry by Dave’s refusal.

“Dave, tell me. Tell us. Who was it. Who were you with, our lives could all be at stake! We do not have time to deal with a spoiled child playing games!”

“John and Dirk.”

“Good, that’s a start, we need t-“

“The god of wind and luck, and the god o-“

“DAVE.”

“YES, SIR. You’ll need to summon my lovers if you wish them to love and tell.”

The slap to his face was hard enough that it made his ears ring, staggering him unexpectedly to the side as he tried to balance with arms that just weren’t there. It was worse than during the touch sparring sessions that they exercised him with, the gentle slaps and shoves to avoid injuring him. The blood on his lip was bitter and most definitely his own as it cooled rapidly on contact with the air, cloying when he licked it clear.

The priest was rubbing his hand to soothe away the sting. Dave wished he’d torn his flesh and made a lasting impression on the man as he then immediately turned to sink his hands into a blessed font to cleanse them of the impurity he embodied in their eyes.

“…Dave. Was it willing. Did they.. Did someone come to you and force you to do this? Were you harmed? Maybe you’re saying it was the gods because at the time you truly thought they were, and you didn’t want to get in trouble? Was that it?”

There was a chance this could be a way out. If he recanted his story and said he had been forced, or lied to, there may be a chance that he would be let off with a lessened punishment. Just shift the blame, and he could possibly be free to go back to a somewhat normal life. Maybe his punishment would simply to be banished from the temple instead of anything else.

That would be lying. It would also be so off the mark from the wonderful things that had happened that it made him sick to think of. There was nothing in the love and affection and gentle touches he had happily agreed to partake in that said anything as negative as an attack or manipulation. Dave couldn’t bear to do it. With a steeling breath, Dave straightened up and spoke in a clear, even voice.

“No, sir. My lovers are two gods, and they were who I was with last night. You’ll need to summon them if you wish to speak to them. It was my idea, and my choice. No man nor demon swayed can change my mind on that fact.”

“….Take him away. He will not be dealt with outside where the faithful can see him. Treat him as a criminal, for surely his crimes are not just against his peers but the gods themselves. Spare him nothing.”

Dave’s breath escaped in a lot hiss of relief as he was approached once more. This was it. At least whatever they had in store would finally happen.

-----

“I will not be responsible for anything that you’ve done. You’re on your own for this, and you already knew what to expect! If he wakes up, we will have quite the mess to clean up. More precisely, you will.”

“Maryam, please. Listen! It was never our intention to wake him early, believe me! I thought we had time on our hands to play with before he even began to develop that much. It.. It was if he was feeding off of us.” John’s voice had an edge of a whine to it, never liking to have to explain his actions to anyone. Even to the elder gods. It could always be worse, though, he thought.  He could be having to stand before Alpha or Omega.

Maryam was the tallest goddess they had, skin stark white and softly luminescent like the moon itself. She wore long jade robes with a sweeping neckline, onyx jewelry and crystals. The horned woman crossed her arms and frowned, shaking her head at John and Dirk. She sighed sadly.

“I suppose I should explain. I’m not mad. I’m truly not. I’m just… disappointed by your lack of judgment when you obviously know better. If it were a few years from now, it would have been absolutely fine to have him wake up. He would have matured properly. But now the damage is done.” She arched a well groomed eyebrow. “You do realize you’ve likely stunted his growth, yes? We’ll have to hope a smaller body can sustain the amount of energy that would flow through him after. Do you even understand the strain he will need to go through? Fire is a heavy burden to bear. A larger body would have suited him better.”

Dirk shook his head and crossed his arms until she gave a withering look at his manners regarding the situation, not amused. They went back to his sides.

“He’ll manage it, if it comes to that. Dave’s stubborn as a mule, and can already hold his own against John.”

“And inside John, too, as it turns out.” The blue eyed god added with a wicked smirk, lifting up into the air to dodge the all too expected punch aimed at his ribs. There was plenty of room to flit about and dodge once you got off the mortal plane, after all. So long as he dodged the horns of the elder gods, he should be fine.

Dirk made to move as though he wished to pick up his faltering train of thought, but found himself cut off once more by the Dolorosa herself.

“Of course he can. As your child, it should be expected of him, even if he were half awake. John is hardly a threat with his pants down.” It was when he was in full prankster mode that he was a problem, evading even the most steadfast of plans with ease.

“Can we not refer to him as that..?” Dirk winced visibly and raised his hands, trying to tamper down the verbal identifier like a flame. It was true, he’d sired Dave by answering the call of the faithful. A woman wished for children but her husband had proven impotent. Dirk had stepped during a night

“What, your child? He is of your blood, though.”

“She’s got a point, Dirk. What’s the term.. uh.. Walks like a duck, converses like a duck?”

“Talks like a duck, dear.”

“Ducks quack, they don’t talk, that’s so stupid! Why not just say-“

“If you don’t mind my interrupting your fascinating  conversation about ducks, I don’t care if he’s mine! I’m not a father to Dave, and I do not intend to be. He had a father, and he chose to give him up to the temple when John and I stepped in. If anyone wants me to point out some kind of symbolism, I’d claim to be just a guardian. I’d much rather just be his lover, as would John. Right?”

John drifted over to where he felt safest before dropping down to his feet, nodding.

“Well, of course. You and I already fool around a good deal and I enjoy myself. If you were to add Dave into the mix, it’d be damn near perfect.”

“Because you enjoy the sex?” inquired Mayram. “You’re a god, John, you could take that from nearly anyone without issue. Not just Dave.”

“….Well. Not gonna lie, that’s a pretty big chunk of it. The rest is the same reason as Dirk, though. Because I care about him. I’d rather focus on those two than any others. …There’s just something about him.”

“Were he awake and in control of his flames, you two would indeed be able to set each other off more. All three of you, actually. Wind fans flames higher, and fire can symbolize everything from passion and virility to warfare and strength in battle. The little mortal could yet become the perfect compliment. If he’s allowed to awaken at all, now.”

“ALLOWED to awaken? But nobody sai-“

“Dirk, he’s a growing liability now. He’s stunted because of you two, already seeking energy to feed himself with to awaken, and he’s tasted some mighty potent energies already. If he attains the powers over an element as unpredictable and powerful as fire and he’s not able to control it, we would be handing him the path of destruction on a silver platter! Were he born a god, fire would be simple for him, like breathing. It would run through his very blood! But as he is..” she trailed off and shook her head, obviously concerned. “It is not my decision to make. The other elder gods are to decide what is to be done about him. As well as the two of you.”

If she were still able to sit in with the group to help sway decisions, they already knew she would be the fore runner of their defense. As it was, she chose to stay back from them, tending to poor unfortunates in the memory of her fallen son. The scandal had rocked the immortal plane for thousands of years, but had left an apparent lasting impression on humans below. Not a single temple remained for The Signless, yet everyone still spoke in whispers about compassion and mercy. His death had made him the subject of legend outside of the relationship of god and human, leaving his teachings within everyone’s minds.

“And if he’s to be exterminated..?” inquired Dirk. Should they decide Dave is too large of a risk to bet on, he would be willing to fight for him. John sobered and looked over to the Dolorosa, waiting for an answer.

“…..If he’s to be exterminated, then it is beyond our control. We will simply await another to be born from your blood, Dirk, and see if they have the potential that Dave was born with. As it is, we need to get you to them now so that they can begin to mete out their decisions regarding this entire debacle, lest actions below run beyond our control.”

John’s back straightened as, on cue, a rift appeared beside them. It was from a thin line, as if someone had slipped a blade into the air and cut it cleanly to show the darkness beyond it, black tendrils reaching out like smoke to beckon them inwards. The Dolorosa reached out and widened the gap to neatly fit her horns through before calling for them to follow.

The space for them to stand was lit from below, a clean circle to offset the defendants from their judges who rested on seats around them. Ampora had slid down in his chair and was watching an orb of water dance around his hand, keeping track of his oceans, plotting tidal waves and hurricanes. Ships to sink so that he might rob them of their treasure. His split side robes were a mockup of a human emperors, stained to a regal shade to compliment the golden laurels twining just below his horns. Why he admired human fashions so much, nobody could guess. Blame seemed to be pinned on the gained treasures from sunken ships that had piqued his interest.

Pyrope was weaving back and forth restlessly, cackling aloud in an alarmingly good impression of a fork sliding about on a sheet of clean glass. The turquois skirts of her outfit mingled with the sheer red that swathed her chest and upper arms, free of jewelry save for a set of ear rings that depicted an unmeasured set of scales. The first eye contact with Dirk and John earned them a shrill shriek and the gesture of a thumb across her throat. In her views of justice, everyone was guilty until proven innocent unless she had seen otherwise. Justice was swift, but far from blind.

Makara was calmly seated, legs crossed, skeletal marked fingers tapping out a rhythm on the side of his throne. The tattoos were intricate and would have been something to marvel at were they not the very thing that made him so terrifying to behold, tracing up his arms into the dark purple and black sleeves of his wrappings, tracing every toe before it disappeared into his pants. Compared to the other gods and their airy outfits, his was utilitarian and sparse. The dark ink wove up his throat and surrounded his face, the perfect image of bone and tooth freed of its burden of flesh. Death was silent.

Megido was seated on the floor in front of her throne, amused, reading from a book that was large enough that it had to rest over both of her legs. Her long hair trailed down to the floor in coils and braids and waves, threatening to tangle within the scarlet wrappings that hugged her figure comfortably.  Now and then she would giggle and turn the page, watching the text shine from behind with the scenes it described. The past was in her hands, clearly mapped out, with the future steadily being added to the tome with every second that passed. Ageless, time was her domain.

“…Where are the others?” asked Maryam, confused. “This is a high matter to discuss! We’re seeking your judgments over whether another may soon walk amongst us, and not everyone could be bothered to arrive?!”

“Wwell, -I- came wwhen summoned, so don’t carp at me about it. Evveryone else said somefin about it not bein’ their department.” Ampora snorted and glared from behind his hand. “Amateurs. This ain’t my department either, but here I am. Evveryone else’s involved directly, if I’m understandin’ right.”

“Your understanding is completely wrong, Ampora, but that’s beyond the point. You’re not needed yet, but you will be.” Pyrope quieted down, though her stalking did not cease as John and Dirk moved to stand flat footed in the center of the lit circle. “Isn’t that right, Megido?”

“Oh, yes, most definitely. He’ll be needed in the future, or at least his cooperation will be.”

“That’s about all he’d ever be needed for,” muttered John, rolling his eyes. As a god of wind, he had little dealings with the god of the oceans other than to harass him and wreck his perfect crests of waves like a bad haircut when he could get away with it.

“WWATCH YOUR FUCKIN MOUTH YOU LITTLE BRAT! I wwon’t be forgettin’ you an your sass!”

“He’s right. He won’t,” murmured Megido quietly as she turned the next page and went back to smiling broadly.

Pyrope chose to ignore her and her prophetic mutterings, trusting in her own intuition and sense. So far, her sense was pointing to the two directly in front of her.

“Megido is here because she’s always here. Ever since the beginning, she’s been here. Ampora will, likely, be needed in the future. Makara… is here for you two. Possibly for the human.”

“Mortal.”

“They’re the same thing, Megido, be quiet!” Pyrope hissed over her shoulder.

“Human’s don’t change, so I thought mortal was better” she said.

As ever, time was ignored for a moment as Pyrope drew closer to the lit circle and bared her sharp teeth.

“You two are guilty of tampering with a vessel that would have been used to house the embodiment of fire when he was of age.”

“He was of age enough to ask for our company when we came to him, how were we to know any different?! I saw no sign around his neck, no writing on the wall!” shouted Dirk. This woman was trying to be intimidating and as much as it was working, he would not be pushed around. Sort of. Kind of. He cringed when she leaned her head back and shrieked another laugh.

“You ASK, you fools! You ask! Check with Megido, at the very least, to make sure you don’t ruin anything if you know he’s of a god or goddesses bloodline! For crying out loud, Dirk, he’s your SON. Did you really think that he wouldn’t turn out to be someone important?! Gods and goddesses don’t just run around planting their seeds everywhere to have them be duds now do they?”

It really -was- that simple. Even John looked like his stomach had dropped at the realization. They’d just been so caught up in the little blonde that everything had become Dave, Dave, DAVE… not ‘this is a temporary status, do not feed after midnight’.

“Then we’re guilty. But I’m not going to stop seeing him,” said Dirk. When nudged gently, John said the same and stiffened his back before lifting off his feet. “We’ll just do our best to not let him near anything that would feed him further.”

“It’s pretty late for that, boys,” said Megido as she turned another page. Oh, a war! She loved wars. It was so fascinating to watch how humans could spend thousands of years building something only to knock it down viciously and get even more mad about it. They were truly the children in this hierarchy. “After all, Dave may be meeting Makara face to face soon.”

“LIKE HELL HE WILL!” John tried to flit forward from the ring toward the tattooed figure on his throne, but Dirk held him back by his trouser leg. “He’s young! He’s safe! He’s-“

“He’s been transported to a torture room, and will soon be shipped out with other criminals to try winning back a bit of honor. I wish humans would learn how to employ abstract thought properly already, it’s getting boring watching them repeat themselves. Honor this, honor that.” Disgusted, Megido closed her book and tucked it beneath her arm as she stood upright, only to open it again once she’d lain crossways over the seat of her throne. Stupid or not, they were still fascinating to watch.

John fell flat to his feet, staggering Dirk against him because of the sudden drop. They looked panicked, mouths opening and closing wordlessly, trying to figure out precisely what to say to ask for permission to leave. How to object. He was alive, if Makara’s continued silent presence was any indication, but it was no comfort. Dirk was the first to react, trying to head back the way they’d entered the rift from.

“Dave’s got to be terrified.. He must be in pain, if he’s already there. We need to get him out!”

“You’ll do no such thing. It’s your punishment.” Pyrope placed her hands on her hips, fingers tapping impatiently a few times. “Dave is to pay for your trespasses already, and your punishment is to let it happen. You’ll watch, and not react. You may speak to him after, once he has been shipped out. Beyond that, your interference is to be kept to a bare minimum.”

“He’s still a mortal, Pyrope. He may die if we don’t help him!” Dirk reasoned, pleading with his eyes. “We’ve disturbed things on our own, he was an innocent, and still is. Why should he pay such a high price on our behalf?”

“Because how is a god to punish another god aside from taking something he loves? We need Dave, if he can still be used. If he can survive the trials the humans place him under without too much heavenly assistance, then he may yet survive our trial as well and shed his mortality to assume fire. Megido? The book.”

Gleeful, the scarlet clad figure hopped upright in her chair and opened her book wide, lifting and manipulating it so it was opened to the newest pages, reading as the words appeared until they met up with the current time. Glowing, the page became as a mirror, reflecting the terror on Dirk and John’s faces before showing the same emotion in a set of watery red eyes.

Blood ran from his lips and sweat from his brow, though he did not beg.

Dirk and John were doing plenty of that as they watched, not allowed to leave the rift, not allowed to erase what had already occurred. They could only watch and wait until the humans were done with their fragile mortal lover.

When Dave finally began to scream, it truly felt like a fitting punishment.

Chapter Text

Originally, those who had been told to deliver punishment onto the defiant prisoner were only going to brand Dave in some way for his treachery, torture him till he repented and beat him senseless before sending him to work somewhere to atone for his sins.

The priests had wanted more, had wanted honor restored, and the blight to be removed from their temple home. The punishment would have to be more.. symbolic to appease their desire. More fitting.

More permanent.

More dangerous.

The men who were administering his punishment were used to breaking people, criminals, slaves. For all intents and purposes, Dave now fit that label to a tee, his home giving him up as a betrayer as everything short of a sacrifice. He needed to earn back honor for them. Not for himself. There was no saving someone as damaged as he was now. Their building of operations near the docks was multipurpose, used to store the unfortunate before shattering their spirits and doling them out for a fee.

Dave had been stripped to an undercloth, tied so he faced a wall, wrists crossed over his head, legs spread wide to bare as much flesh as possible to the lash of a whip. He'd been so determined not to give them the satisfaction of yelling, so ready to fight it. The first lash that lay into him failed to break the skin, but still made him yelp in surprise, unaware of just -how- badly it was going to feel until then.

The second hit criscrossed the first, drawing blood. Each lash afterward laid a successive pattern of deep, bloody etched into his back and thighs and arms. If tended to properly, they would wind up healing into pillowy pink scar tissue before hardening. They let him know in no uncertain terms that he would bear these marks for the rest of his life, and bear their pain.

"Repent, and I may stop sooner."

"NO."

"Have you no shame?" his tormenter asked as the whip lashed again, making Dave hiss. "Beg me. Beg for mercy. Beg me to drop to your knees and ask the gods forgiveness for lying about them. Tell me -names-."

Dave stayed silent, bracing himself for another strike that was sure to come, shaking his head as hard as he dared before lowering it. His chin came to rest on his sweat soaked chest, nauseated, room spinning. Who knew pain could make it feel as if you were in some other world? Some place where only bad things happened?

"You stubborn mule.. you've nobody to blame for this but yourself!" he yelled, bringing the whip down another time, this time against the flesh of his lower back. Everyone was at risk now, not just the temple proper, and Dave seemed to not care in the slightest.

To avoid giving them the screams and begging they wanted, Dave had grit his teeth hard enough to make his gums bleed, jaw aching, tears streaking down his face as his knees began to give out. When the lashing stopped, he was breathing raggedly, hanging entirely by his wrists. Unable to find the strength in his legs to stand upright on his own with how painful his body was right now.

It was a blessing when they cut him down and let him fall to the floor, even if it made his wounds more likely to make him ill. It was relief from standing, from stretching the tears in his flesh further open, from feeling dizzy as his brain tried to come back from the whiteout levels of agony he'd been through.

The pain got worse when he was picked up and moved roughly to another section of the complex, forearms strapped down, hands and wrists hanging over the far edge uninhibited. Was he to lose his hands? Were they going to remove them, leave him a cripple to fend for himself? Or would they let him bleed out slowly..?

Dave's pulse quickened as he looked upwards at his torturer, mouthing the word "Mercy" but refusing to speak it. Please, stop the pain. Stop hurting him. He would not repent, would not beg, but surely even this man wouldn't ruin someone so young without remorse.

Right..?

Wrong.

Dave was able to keep his hands. He was also able to watch as a set of shackles were brought over and tested against his thin wrists, testing to be sure they would fit and could attach to each other from the center as desired.

He was also allowed to watch the cuffs get placed into a burning fire grate, heated till they were far too hot to touch. Not red hot. They wished him to keep his hands. This would leave one hell of a scar, however, permanent. The marks of a criminal. The torturer prodded them occasionally with a firepoker before moving to get himself some protective gloves.

They meant to burn him.

Crying out in alarm, Dave tried to writhe and twist in his bonds, wanting to hit the floor, to crawl backwards, to kick loose. His awkward position held him fast, however, and all he could do was gibber quietly.

"Have you any last words?"

"Don't do this.."

"Any words I want to hear, I mean."

"Please, please, don't do this! I've done nothing wrong! You must believe me, PLEASE. I wouldn't lie about something like this, wouldn't put anyone in danger. Please. Please, give me time and I can prove it, I only need time!"

Dave would do everything he could to prevent this from happening. Everything but lie about people who had never wronged him.

"Last chance," the torturer said aloud as he drew the metal from the flame, touching it gingerly with the smithy gloves to be certain it could stand that level of heat without harming himself. "Recall your words. Give me something to send to your former keepers, to soothe their minds. To soothe the city before you're sent afar."

There was nothing he could do to turn it back. Even if he broke his streak of truth, he was always to be branded a criminal of the highest degree. He was to be sent away.

Adrenaline running high, Dave reared his head back and spit, lobbing a bloody wad of spit against his torturer's shoe.

"Send them that. With my regards."

Humans were not meant to make the sounds Dave made, high pitched and cracking, throat raw.

The air was scented with burning flesh as the manacles were clipped shut. Buckets of cool water were dumped over them then to cool them, the cuffs releasing heady puffs of steam, thick and white before the hissing came to a halt.

Dave had passed out before they'd cooled, fingers seizing and twitching in response to what his mind could no longer comprehend. He lay at an awkward angle now, arms outstretched, legs tangled beneath himself, head slung to the side near his elbows.

Duty done, the torturer calmly removed his gloves and tossed them aside, tending to some of his tools lest they grow rusted or dull. He would need to have some things oiled later, blades sharpened, stone scrubbed clean of the shed blood. Dave had still not awakened. Sighing, the man called for a subordinate.

"Clean him up so that he'll be capable of walking. Drug him. Set him to the southern ships, bound for the island. They've already instructions for what to do with him after."

He would pity the boy now, for a time, looking on as he was unbound and dragged away like a broken doll. It would be mighty hard to fight properly with wrists that damaged, he assumed.

-----

"YOU WILL LET US GO TO HIM, THIS CANNOT BE ALLOWED! He's a mortal! Future fire holder or not, he will DIE like this!" Dirk was furious, teeth clenched. He wanted to kill them all. Rip them from their thrones where they sat stone faced or amused. The manner of their deaths was already so clear in his mind, so.. understanding.

For Pyrope, he'd remove her head from her body. Leave that sharks grin in place as if there were a joke she didn't understand, wipe the look of superiority from her. She never understood, especially in these matters, that she could be wrong.

She snickered shrilly and waved her hand, dismissing him. She would admit, he'd put up one hell of a fight for her. Would be interesting. But hardly worth killing another god over. Especially one so useful. John was also useful, though he was pushing his own storehouse of luck by kicking up so much breeze.

Megido lost her place in her book and pouted slightly, looking away from it to them with ruddy red eyes.

"Aw, it was just getting good!"

"Will you shut up you pompous bitch?" John wasn't one to hold back words, especially when his temper could stand no more. He stood beside Dirk and kicked his wind higher, eyes flashing, sizing everyone up as they began to glower at him like a particularly annoying mosquito.

Maybe they'd stand a chance fighting together.

Before they could be beaten like small dogs, Maryam stepped between them and grabbed both Dirk and John by the back of the shirts to tug them towards herself. At her touch, they felt a touch calmer, less frantic, soothed like a child hit with a security blanket. The winds still raged, but closed to the small group like a barrier, less like an outwards attack.

"Surely the punishment has been fulfilled now..? They've watched Dave's torture, and will not directly help him until he has been shipped. Yes?" There had to be a way to fix things, to undo some of the damage. At least to maybe prevent more in the future from occuring. After the cuffs had been placed, there was no way she could ignore this little human.

His near death was so similar to her own Signless that it had erased any possibility of her not interfering.

Megido curled protectively over her book, watching the writing appear with a serious face before breaking out into a wicked grin of amusement. She ignored Pyrope's prompting for an opinion, as did the others. Ampora stood and left, complaining about John drying out his gills and making them itch. Makara crossed his legs and slouched down, silently watching.

"I wish to extend on the punishment a tad. As I said before, Dave needs to survive his trials to stand a chance of surviving OURS. You will not be saving him on this journey of his any more than bare minimum. Feel free to assist with food and water, but do -not- get in the way of the trials."

"Can we at least soothe his wounds?"

"No, you may not soothe him. Dirk, you and John are forbidden from fixing the human's body in any manner beyond offering sustenance. Even that's too much, but it should at least keep you from being too huge of pests. Do you understand me? Heal him, and I'll personally redo the damage while you watch."

At the pained, angry stares she received as a reply, Pyrope rolled her eyes and raised her hand towards the portal space they'd entered through. At her will, the portal expanded and grew bright, signaling a return to the realm the lower gods were usually able to walk, making a dismissive shooing gesture for the three of them to leave. They were no better than pests now, an annoyance.

"I'll be watching you, so don't try to do anything the mortal may regret. Like you already have done."

It took effort for Maryam to drag two enraged gods away, lugging at them with her full strength to keep them in check, trying her hardest to continue pacifying them until they were back on the lower plane. Once free of the elder gods presence, she let them loose and stepped back shortly before John unleashed a blade of wind that cut the stark ends of her hairdo, spiking up to as high an altitude as he could handle to get away from everything. Frail wisps of strands fell to the ground, and she glowered up at him in response.

It would grow back without issue, but goodness. Did he have to strike so close?

Dirk was brooding, keeping his anger as inward as it could go despite the fire in his eyes raging. They had held him back, distracted him while his lover was hurt because of them. His own flesh and blood. Had forbidden him, like some monsters on high, from interfering.

The only thing that prevented him from trying to fight them all was the sheer balance it would destroy. Mortals needed all of them in order to function properly. The elder gods had learned they truly were lucky with the death of Signless, though even that left the world forever changed.

To lose all the elder gods at once, if he were even capable of such a feat, would be nigh impossible to recover from.

He began to pace like a caged animal, unsure if he should flit to Dave's side right away, or let him rest. Give him time to recover, or give him the comfort only a warm embrace and a firm grip would offer him. How could he even apologize for this? How could either of them fix this?

The fear the little human would hate both of them was almost paralyzing. He wished John would come down from his refuge above so they could discuss a plan together, be prepared to visit him. Maybe gather more information about his future journey.

"Maryam, I cannot forgive this. They've gone too far.. Power hungry fools, the lot of them. Ah.. Forgive me, my lady. Not you. You're not like those... those -animals-. Those VERMIN. Dave.. Dolorosa, they've ensured his doom, what are we to do? Please.. Please, there must be some way around this, some way to cheat them. I wish to thumb my nose at fate, turn a blind eye towards Megido and her book, Pyrope and her predictions."

The pacing grew more erratic, eyes dark. The deep, reddish black stains on his feet seemed to redden and grow fresher. Blood would be spilled, and soon, if this mood of his did not die down. Wars were on the horizon, if only to sate his thirst for vengance he could not have. Armies of puppets would fight for him instead over causes as foolish as love or which country had the most money.

Fools, the lot of them.

Maryam raised her hand, shooshing softly and trying to pat his back. By the third soft touch, Dirk began to slow to a stop, bowing his head as she talked quietly to him. Calming him as the perfect mother.

"Be still, Dirk. There is a way, I'm almost certain, it will just take time. I have been watching as long as you've been courting this human, albeit not as strictly as I should have. There may have been ways to prevent this catastrophy. For now, all we can hope to do is work ahead of them."

"How? How can we work ahead of them? I hold no foresight, and if John did then he wouldn't need to cheat so often!"

He fully earned the heavy smack to the back of his head that John provided, reaching back only to grab his wrist and shake him. No complaint, no yelling when they were both already tense over the same thing.

Maryam smiled and shook her head, speaking sweetly as if to two large, stupid children.

"Oh, dears. Just because you lack foresight doesn't mean others are the same. There's been one around Dave himself that had the gift. She just doesn't know what to do with it." She paused and looked down at her jade nails, beautiful and well maintained as the rest of her. "I may accidentally decide to accept her into my temples as an oracle, should she wish to expand her gift. She needs only regain her focus from her current... ah.. predicament."

"Predicament?" John asked, seizing on the hint for all it was worth. Rose. She had to be talking about the female who was Dave's friend, former caretaker. She had gifts from the temple that he could sense, though at the time they were weak. "What predicament. What needs to happen for this girl to become an oracle. Would she help us? Would she help Dave?"

"Help and more, if we can get her back to the light. Knowledge is an important thing, but without guidance, a pure thirst for it can become deadly and dangerous. Tainted. Wrong. It would do us far better to have an oracle on our side that wasn't so enraptured by her own voice or godly status, but she would need to be capable of thinking properly," Maryam sniffed. "I will try to talk to her, to buy time. Should I require assistance, John, I will call on your wind and aid. It is hard to say how difficult it may be to get her to see reason. She will want to help Dave, I'm certain, once she can see clearly again."

-----

When next Dave woke, it was to thirst and pain, soreness along his burning flesh and in his empty mouth. It ached to move his fingers, the burn still sounding out alarms down to his bones. He felt as if we would vomit, were there anything left to bring up. He'd not eaten since the night he had given up his virginity, and the hunger was becoming a gnawing thing, not something he was experienced at all with.

He was on his side, curled into a loose fetal position as he regarded his hands, took notice of his shaking fingers, his pale palms. Gone were his soft, comfortable temple robes. He'd been dressed in a roughspun tunic of sorts instead, as well as pants, sandals wrapped around his foot and halfway up his calf. He missed his own, worn in and comfortable instead of fisherman wraps.

Others sat nearby, grown men of varying shapes and sizes, a few surly looking women all dressed the same as himself. While some were speaking amongst themselves, others lay curled up in pain like himself. Along a back wall he saw people as young as himself, most in tears, all chained in a row by the ankles.

It was only when an unchained man opened a door of the room that Dave realized he was on a boat for the first time of his life.

"Wake up you miserable lot! We've very nearly arrived."

Arrived? Arrived where?

Dave closed his eyes, tried to ignore the searing in his wrists, and willed himself to go back to sleep. Surely this had to be a dream. If he only wished hard enough and slept fast, he would wake up in Dirk and John's arms once more. Just as he always did.

He hissed when a boot tagged him in the hip, forcing him to roll onto his stomach and whine softly in pain.

"Up and at'm blondie. You'll be getting outfitted soon as we dock."

Dave had the sinking feeling this man was not talking about a new cloak.

Chapter Text

He'd never held a shield in his life, nor a sword. They were heavy in his hands, making his wrists ache and sear, all but useless with the clunky chunks of metal and wood. A fight for survival and honor, they said this would be, not a fight just to lift the tools he would need. As he wavered, still reeling from blood loss and pain in general shock, he was also outfitted with a few other things. A bag with a small amount of food, a skin of fresh water, a length of rope, and a list of directions for him to follow were also set at his feet.

“Might be heavy, but it's more than you deserve. Be thankful for it.”

They had no idea how thankful he was for even a chance, misleading as it was.

This island was, apparently, the end of the line for most of these people. A fearsome beast lay towards the center of a nearby set of caverns, demanding sacrifice and food. The innocents who had been crying were the sacrifices to be offered. The criminals were to be entertaining food to play with.

Dave was to infiltrate the monsters space, steal one of its belongings, and leave to travel onwards to another perilous task. Only in this way, dead or alive, would he remove the wrath he had surely aimed at the others with his supposed misdeeds.

The belonging he was to steal was in fact a token about as large as his palm, bronze and etched with the creatures symbol, studded with emeralds. It would be the fare for entry to another location south of the current island. Getting there was his own problem, as the boat dropping off the prisoners and tributes would be leaving shortly afterward. There were to be no survivors expected from the groups.

Including Dave.

A man, scarred and aggressive, stared him down as he tried to balance the bag over one shoulder, wanting to be in less pain over time. He'd wanted the supplies, the sword and shield. Surely if he were armed, he could fight off the beast that was already being heard in the distance. It had smelled fresh food, and was bellowing fierce cries from its cavernous home, demanding them.

Several of the sacrifices dropped to their knees and began to plead for mercy from the people who had brought them to this forsaken place, promising them the world. Illicit acts, marriage, money, they didn't care what was taken so long as they could be returned home in one piece instead of left in this godforsaken place.

Prayers would go unanswered here.

Dave gripped his equipment as tightly as he could, eyes stinging with tears brought about by pain and his own fear, lifted his chin. He wanted this man to make his day. What the fuck else could go wrong? His eyes blazed with rage, and for a moment seemed to spark a glow like dulling embers.

The challenger stepped hurriedly back and away without another word, leaving Dave satisfied but confused as they were all guided towards the entrance of the caverns. Guided was a nice way of saying dragged, prodded, and threatened. One sacrifice was slain by the ships captain, throat slit when she tried to fight back, shrilly screaming and damning him with a curse to his line. He would have been surprised and shocked by that, had he not been so busy retching and looking away from the blood.

Seeing his own was one thing. Seeing a woman spray from the neck for no reason other than a man growing irritated with her not wanting to hurry to death at a monsters hands was another.

At the mouth of the cavern, everyone was divided into two lines at random, sent in four at a time in intervals. It would disperse them instead of leaving the lengthy line and no element of surprise for the beast, give them time to separate if they so chose to, or find their way out of some alternate opening that may not even exist. No matter where they went, the beast was sure to follow.

“You!” yelled a man, gesturing to Dave before pointing squarely at the end of the line. “Get over there and wait. Rest the shield till you move, then get it up off the ground. Won't do you any damn good guarding your toes when you're trying to walk. At least guard your head, make it worth the time.” The last group that would be going into the caverns shoulder to shoulder, and he was stuck in it.

Many were resigned to this fate, their footsteps shaking but even as they prayed aloud and walked into the darkness. Others fought but were shoved forward or to the ground, beaten until they bled: an easy attractant for the creature. Both the smell and the color. Still others were full of bravado, such as the leering man who had eyed Dave's allotments, swaggering in while calling for the creature to try to find them and do its worst. That it was probably nothing, that it could be beaten one handed.

Screams, ragged and piercing had begun to break out from deep within the caverns as the unsuspecting were captured along with the foolhearty. They had spread out and canvased the labyrinthine structure from the sound of it, running in the darkness from the sounds of bellowing rage.

Dave had heard a similar tone from a bull trapped in a field far away from passerby once before, near the temple. It guarded the farmland it lived in, keeping others from his cows and grass and space on the hill, though when the trespasser was actually already beyond his fence, he would behave the same way as the beast was sounding. It would snort and bellow, stamp its feet and paw at the ground before racing around to scratch and hit and skewer things with its strong horns.

He'd seen it knock itself unconscious against a tree once, lost in rage.

When the last group was set to march, only three entered, Dave lagging behind and stepping backwards with huge eyes as he dragged the sword and shield along with him. A solid body stopped his creeping, hands slapping the raw wounds on his back until they began to bleed again into his shirt.

“Where do you think YOU'RE going?” Dave lurched forward before turning his head to look at him, wary, exhausted, debating. The crew had formed a semi-circle to herd him inside as they'd been instructed to on the mainland, not letting him get a breath to escape. “In with you. Pray for forgiveness with your dying breath, that we all may be spared.”

Maybe being gored by a nightmarish monster would be preferable after all.

Setting his jaw, Dave tensed his arms and drew the shield a short distance off the ground, the sword clanking quietly against the backside as he shuffled forward into the gloom.

- - - - -

“I don't know how long I can just wait for him, Maryam. Are you certain you can't heal him now? That creature will eat him alive!” John was pushing at her shoulders from the upper plane, feet braced against the air as he shoved to get some traction.

Like an ever patient mother, Maryam ignored him, occasionally twisting her torso to make him slip and slide away from her towards the ground. He eventually stopped pushing and settled for whining sadly, trying to sad puppy eyes his way into getting what he wanted.

Dirk had slipped into a pattern of pacing irritably, waiting.

“He's not going to just lay down and rest on his own. He's like me. Likely, there won't be any rest until he's collapsing or already captured. Healing him right before that stupid bull makes him his dinner would be counter productive.” Dirk paused, thinking something over. “Would it work if I just went and socked him?”

“No! It most certainly would not!”

“Dirk, you lay a single grimy hand on him and I swear to you I'll be sure the nearest breeze blows sand up your ass!” John surged forward in front of Maryam, fists up. Dirk was aware the threat was not empty. After all, he'd already threatened to ruin his luck more than once, it would make sense for it all to catch up to him at once.

“It would be helpful, but not helpful. It could work. The elder gods wouldn't be able to complain, right? I'd be harming him, not helping him. Neither of us would be healing him, she would be. I'd just knock him out, and she'd heal him, and we could comfort him before he set off again.”

Even if it wasn't the best option, it was indeed a direct way to thwart the elder gods decisions. Knock him out, tend to him, hold him when he awakens. He'd never knew what happened.

“You can't possibly be serious, can you?” Maryam said, narrowing her eyes. “A hit from either of you? You'd kill him! He's not awake, and needs to remain thus. Any contact with godlike energy could feed him, I'm not even certain I should be performing any healing! He's a severe liability, could rampage if he wakes up too early. I said so before you spoke to the others, remember?”

If they weren't damned one way, they were damned another.

“I'm confident he can handle fire when his time comes. I've... just got a feeling.” Dirk murmured, looking down at his hands. Currently, he held that title, though his command of the flames wasn't literal. It was a figurative flame, the flicker of passionate inner fire. Dave would be the destructive kind when he shed his mortality. “He's a strong mind, and much self control. He could have given in at any time, blamed us, changed his story. I almost prayed he would, to spare him that torment. But he didn't.”

That fragile body had willingly gone through hell for the sake of his own morals. Most gods wouldn't do the same, he felt. He and John knew to call their battles, to stay and fight to the end or to pull back at the right times. The elder gods would likely feel that taking damage was below them and would flee like dogs with their tails between their legs.

Maryam had crossed her arms as if in thought, chewing at her lip.

“Dirk, there's something we need to discuss, long before you decide to go sucker punch your heir. Remember how Pyrope was saying “if” they allow him to awaken, as I had? How he's a liability now?”

He frowned, nodding. “How could I forget? That's kind of the main problem right now.”

“He is a liability in more ways than one. I have a growing feeling that they don't care if he awakens or not. He's enamored with you now, and John as well.”

“....And? Romance between gods isn't something new, Maryam. Relationships in general aren't. True, they're not always exclusive,” he admitted, acknowledging that he and John were never monogamous prior to this sparking interest in Dave, “but they're there. Look at Signless, you were practically his mother.”

“Which is why, I think, he was killed. We were so close.. He had so much power, and ability to grow into. He could pacify people, and his teachings were able to make others hold themselves responsible for their actions. With him alive, and his teachings taking hold as he grew stronger... we wouldn't have been needed forever.”

Gods would have been replaced, forgotten. Time would still pass, as would life and death, but others would be considered more trivial. John looked to Dirk before speaking aloud, “Pyrope.”

“Precisely,” Maryam continued. “We would hardly need a goddess of justice if there was peace. She was protecting her own status, I feel, by telling others that they would lose their own. She was the only seer who would speak the future, so the other elders trusted her.”

Megido had read her book with a sad face, but made no effort to change anything. She watched times passage, and kept the pages flowing, guiding fate along its path without a hitch. Just being alive kept her job running. So too was it her place to not interrupt the killing of her son.

“Years later, younger gods began to spring up, to be made. We all became stronger. More depended on. Prayed to by a terrified, desperate world full of fools.” Her smile was sad. “Even if we were no longer needed, we would have all survived, I'm sure. We would not be as easily abandoned as we flick humans away into the void ourselves. They would remember us, and talk and pray out of habit and comfort.”

“You were talking about Dave before, Maryam, about why he may not be allowed to awaken. Why? How would fire replace any of them, or threaten them? I'm already in charge of fire, I'd be able to keep him in control as he learned the destructive manners. John can keep aiming luck at him until he gets his training wheels off. We can ask Ampora to be on fire duty, he'd be excited. It'd be like the old disasters, and he could rise up and put out the flames of cities and be worshipped by humans other than fishermen.”

John huffed an annoyed snort at the last part of the plan, none too pleased with the elder god. He wished he'd sassed him even more when the chance had arisen. How often would he get chances to get under his gills like that?

“What he's saying is true, Maryam. We would feed each other, and grow more stable in our abilities. We could be quite strong. Why would they not want him to wake up?”

“Because of you, Dirk.”

“....Me?”

“Wait, wait, wait, go back a second. What?” John landed squarely on his feet and stared. “How does that justify anything?”

“If you lose the mantle of fire to a successor, you would gain a new aspect that you're already known for. You would be gaining the power from those who worship you for it, instead of just having your name called and remembered. You and John would pose a threat to them, with an extremely destructive little fledgling in tow.”

- - - - -

It had been a flash of red and bronze from around a corner that took the first of his group mates, a low light supplied by pale blue mushrooms in the loamy soil amongst the sturdier walls of the caverns. Fluttering. Snorting. Rage and bellowing echoing from the walls.

There were no more screams that he could hear. Of all those who had come before them, none seemed to remain alive or conscious enough to yell or beg or cry aloud. Maybe they were still out there somewhere, not even so far away, huddled in fear as he was. Were it not for the scent of blood, of sweat, of something rotten? He would have held out hope some of them had somehow escaped.

Then he'd actually seen the... the thing himself.

What even was it, how could he describe it?

The beast wasn't as massive as he once thought it would be, under eight feet tall with massive horns that spread out from its body like a bull. Its legs definitely looked like the animal it seemed to take after, but the upper body was a mans. Or a fairy's, with the bright wings that had been propelling him forwards like a shot whenever he lurched forwards. The creature was a rage filled mishmash of creatures to Dave's wary eye, wielding what appeared to be a long spike of metal. His eyes were keen, his ears pointed, his bare chest marked with the insignia that matched the one upon the paper. His trinket that was awaiting Dave's theft in the center of this hellhole would bear the same crest.

It hadn't taken much more incentive than that to make Dave fall back from the remaining two men and go another way, ducking below his shield and crouching down with it atop his back like a turtle. It was painful this way, bag pressed and jostling, knees raw, knuckles scraped as he continued to hold the sword in hand. Capable of using it properly or not, he was not so foolish as to abandon even a single piece of what he'd been given.

If he could get out of here, maybe he could just find a way to leave. Head to another island, forget everyone else, live in peace. Surely John and Dirk could find him wherever he went, they'd never had trouble with it before. So long as nobody was keeping an eye out for him, Dave could likely travel as far as he wished and be forgotten.

He could be happy..

Another two screams further off made him drop down further into his makeshift shell and scuttle awkwardly forwards, seeking a copse or some other shelter he could duck into. He needed time to think. He needed to rest, and let the bleeding on his back stop, replenish the lost fluids from the torture. Any stolen moment was precious, when the bull was now looking only for him.

- - - - -

She was forgetting what was up, and what was down. Direction, day, night, white, black. Time. Nothing held any meaning any longer. The void was the only truth, and even it was a lie. Rose's dreams had been sweeping her away with growing rapidity, offering insight to where she was to be going with growing intensity. None of it was proving to be as thorough as the actual experience itself was turning out to be.

For weeks the dream had been the same. She would see herself leaving the temple suddenly, heading away from the city and villages and towns, deep into the woods towards marshland. Despite aching feet and bleeding scratches from low lying plants, she would run onwards, ignoring the rising sun and swarming insects clouding above their water and mud. Only when her lungs burnt for air would she stop, taking no food or water unless she nearly fell to the ground. Bodily pain meant nothing to her when there was so much at stake. There was no fear of the unknown.

Rose had wondered over the fact that the dream never seemed to change, always leaving Dave's side and rushing off into the woods, seeking her prize. Fleeing the temple had indeed been the only way to get to it.

To what?

A font of forbidden knowledge bubbling upwards from the ground, a parting gift from a god of creation she was sure. If not a god, then a demon who cared far more for humanity than a god or goddess ever could. Within its dark, bubbling depths whispered knowledge that was not meant to be known.

She had drank of it until her stomach ached and her head swam, black water, sweet as honey to the taste. Her fingers and lips were stained with it as deeply as if kohl had touched them, her clothes ruined. It looked as if she'd been doused with liquid ash. Stomach distended from the sudden gluttony, Rose had lain on her side near the springs source, thankful for the moss and soft ferns that cushioned her.

Her last coherent thought was that she would gladly beat a king with a rock if it meant she could have access to a hot drawn bath, and everything had gone dark.

Her mind exploded and was born again over and over, a sooty phoenix rising from the ashes only to burn once more. Truths and lies intermingled until they meant the same thing, borders useless, worthless. Cast it aside, it made sense, it was false. Cherish it, for it was truth.

Life, death, the very reaches of the universe itself were hers to explore. The birth of their world, of the gods and goddesses. The could see everything from the beginning to the end, without filtering. She could feel her hair growing, her heart beating. Knew how many more times it would beat until it stopped.

The short number was alarming, but she could do nothing about it.

Eyes open, lips parted, Rose lay prone to the forces that roiled within her.

When she came to herself, briefly as if in a dream, she was confused to see a road beneath her now bare feet. She was walking, though to where she did not know, and she felt so ill.. So very ill. Her head throbbed and sweat coursed from her brow, slipping down a back gone deathly pale, tinged with gray. Only when she touched it did she realize it was as though she were sweating oil, and the world spun black once more. This had to be a dream, or a nightmare. Nothing cradled her fall, just as everything lifted her to her feet, sending her body to a new location as her mind was swept back into the swirling smog of too little and too much.

Chapter Text

Sometimes he crawled, other times he rested. The way through the beasts cavern was a treacherous one, after all. The monster was enraged that it was being shorted a meal, it had counted a certain number of humans, and now one was missing. Sneaking around his caverns like he owned the place, touching things, leaving behind his filth.

“I'll find you soon enough, human. May keep you alive longer than the others. Hold you over a flame and cook you alive. Peel your flesh from your bones as you watch, then eat it slowly” it ranted, stalking back and forth through the rocky paths. Occasionally, it paused to poke at a body with its lance, making certain the numbers added up. That the missing one wasn't hiding beneath one of the fallen, seeking his own escape.

Dave was not set on escaping back the way he'd come. Oh, the thought had popped up now and then, had even edged him further towards the entrance than he'd thought possible after the attacks began. Logic had stopped him. The captain and crew may still be outside, or they may not be. Was it worth the gamble to go the wrong way, only to have to double back again? Or was it best to do as he'd been told, follow the expected path into the bowels of the caverns to the bulls sleeping place and beyond to his next point?

Seeing the creature walk right by him, snorting in frustration, answered his question. Crouched low to the ground, still and silent, Dave went unnoticed. As did several rodents hurrying towards the fresh kills to feast on leftovers before they would eventually be taken away into the depths. So long as he was quiet, moved slowly, and didn't rise to his feet, he was able to continue unmolested by anything other than gripping terror and the pain from his slowly scabbing wounds.

The beast, it would seem, was not a perfect hunter of its environment. It was not born here, bred for stalking the low light and cramped corners. It would explain why the tips of its horns were broken from hitting the walls, the tips of those deadly wings ragged from brushing against stone instead of open air. He couldn't smell his prey in the thick air and the stench of iron and mildew, could only see what he was looking for: enemies on two legs.

In his slow, pained turtle shell, Dave was safe.

For now.

There was yet a way to go, unknown spaces to explore, and the token yet to get as he contended with the raging, confused monster hunting him down.

“Human! Can you hear me? Quake in fear. I've slain hundreds like you since being placed here, thousands as soft and edible as you. Their bones decorate my home, their skulls my cups.” He clenched his fist and struck the edge of a tunnel not far away, dislodging pebbles all around that clattered and clanged along the floor near Dave's legs as he continued to wind and crawl. “You will not leave here! You think to see her, don't you? You don't deserve to see her, when even I am unable to! You were given to -me- to consume, to -me- to destroy. YOU WILL NOT HAVE YOUR WAY.”

Another punch, more falling pebbles. Dave froze solid as a few hit his shield, giving off a different tone of sound. Frantic, he crawled away from the source and froze near some larger rocks not much further ahead before he heard the buzzing, the scraping of hooves, clatter of broken horns.

No human was discovered, no trace he could make out in the damned low light. If he were outside in the sun, he wouldn't be having this problem. This mortal would already be dead, wouldn't be able to do anything to him, to take from him, to taunt him and leave. He bellowed his rage, stabbed into the rock with his lance, then tugged it out and walked away towards the entrance to the cave. Maybe he'd missed him somehow there. He needed to stab the bodies some more, make certain the little rat wasn't hiding in their bloody remains even now, move them down to his eating area to prepare them. After all, it would be some time before his next shipment of food was delivered. He had to make it last.

“You can't hide forever.. I will have you yet you pest. You will bleed upon my lance. I'm sure your blood tastes like a fine wine,” he grunted in the loamy darkness, faint lighting catching the underside of his wild face.

Dave had to stop crawling, dizzy, shaking, nauseated from fear and exposure with his wounds. The temperature was colder as he went down, soothing to his fevered flesh but hardly a comfort to the rest of his body spread out on the rock. He wanted to sleep, close his eyes and slip under to comforting darkness. If he was found while asleep, surely the lance wouldn't hurt. The screams of the others had died out instantly when he'd caught up with them, speared their bodies like fish from a stream. Maybe it would be easier.

Resting flat on his front, Dave stretched his legs and arms out, starfished, then went rigid again. He rubbed his sore elbows and knees, sure they were bruised to hell and back by now, likely bleeding. The only upside of terror was the adrenaline that kept him focused only on the absolutely important things, the things that would keep him alive. He rested his cheek on the rock and muck below him, sighing quietly.

The hair at his nape stood up when he heard the dragging. Wet, heavy, fabric ripping whenever it caught on something. He dared not move to see the source, having a feeling it would come to him soon enough. A hand touched his side, dragged from his hip up to his outstretched arms where he lay flattened out, cold and unfeeling. The man who'd once thought to take his shield was being dragged by with another, shishkebabed on the lance like shreds of meat.

When his head lolled, dead eyed to stare at him in the dimness, it took work not to shriek. To stay conscious. This was far too much.. but the bodies spelled which direction he needed to go, creeping after the bull as he took his meal down further, coiling around to the center of the caves.

- - - - - -

The carcasses were salted like sides of beef, preserved for later. The bull rationed its food, showing it had intelligence. In fact, it seemed highly intelligent. Organized. Its sleeping space was actually less of a cold cavern and more of an impromptu home much like the ones surrounding the temple. Dave saw echoes of his own cloister in the arrangement of bed and tables, a carefully positioned fire that let the smoke rise up the curled edges of stone through a natural chimney or sorts.

No. Not natural. Made. Carved from the stone itself like the setting of his bed, the table, the shelves that held odds and ends. Bits of bones that seemed to have been carved, pretty stones, shells. Jewelery, gold, coins and other precious things lay in a pile beside his bed, leftovers from the bodies he was given. Everything there had once decorated sacrifices, Dave assumed.

He refused to enter the living space while the bull was awake and tending to his grisly task. For one, it was nauseating and he felt he'd get ill should he watch the butchering process. For another, he needed to rest. Most importantly, however, it was actually bright enough to see decently due to the fire paired with the low lights the cavern provided by nature. Too risky.

As the hours passed, however, his strength waned. He lay flat once more beneath the shield, shied away from the living areas light and flickering warmth, close to the corner as he could manage. Dave let his eyes flutter closed in hesitant sleep, breathing deep and forcefully quiet.

- - - - -

She was avoided on the roads, given a massive breadth when the path could afford it, face sickly pale. Black oily residue dribbled from her lips like ink, staining her teeth when she grinned or spoke. Her words made no sense. She was sharing a body, sharing a mind, and was rarely in more than a spectators position. Not everyone avoided her, however, seeking to offer help. After all, if this blonde vagabond was merely ill, she may need help.

A man in rough spun farmers garb stopped his wagon and hopped out to ask after her while his wife and child warily watched from the back.

“Miss? Miss. Do you need any assistance? A ride, mayhaps? I'm no healer, but we have water and a bit of food we may be able to spare, should you need it.”

Rose stopped walking, wavering side to side unsteadily with her arms flat at her sides. Lilac rings stood around dilated pupils, hollows beneath her eyes almost black. Bruised. A ride? Water? Food? What would she need, when she already had everything coursing through her veins? She opened her mouth to laugh, more dark fluid dribbling from her lips.

The man stopped approaching her, raising his hands before his chest before stepping backwards. The child began to cry, terrified of the strangeness, not sure what to think of it. Humans weren't supposed to bleed black, to spit up things of that color. She suddenly looked threatening, crazed instead of ill. The woman begins to say a prayer, holding her child closer to her chest as Rose began to gargle a chuckle.

Pulse.

Maybe it was the holy words, familiar to her, feeling like a lifetime ago despite being such a short span. Maybe it was the crying child. Maybe, most likely, it was just time for it to begin happening as the promises she'd believed began to come true.

Pulse.

It started from her stomach and worked its way outward to her limbs, burning at her hands and feet like a flame.

Pulse.

She felt powerful. Every fingertip was buzzing, guiding her, she need only to let it flow out. She stretched out her hand and pointed it towards the man and his wagon, gray teeth showing as he willed the power outwards from her core. They'd be absorbed. They'd be charred. They would disappear in a spray that would paint atop the ashes she felt she'd become. It would be glorious..

Pulse.

Miss.

She threw her hand downwards at the last moment, the power in her arm slamming down at her own feet with the force of a battering ram. Rose felt herself lift, her eyes burning before she screamed, launched up and back a good ten feet before she crumpled to the ground like a broken doll. The wagon rolled away, the riders in a panic as they urged the horse as fast as it could go, not daring to look back.

They missed Rose rolling carefully to her hands and knees, vomiting ink, covering her mouth to keep even more from coming out. She didn't want to know the source, or how much was there. Surely she'd lost the amount she'd originally drank, gallons more. She'd dreamed of getting access to the knowledge this substance contained, and had gotten it in spades. Now it was just a matter of sorting it. Of keeping the ingrained tutor at bay as it worked within her, teasing out information and milking it for all it was worth without losing herself any further.

It could keep her from speaking, from seeing, from moving. But it would not rule her entirely. Her inner spark would never go so easily, not when everything she'd wanted was finally there for the taking. Trying to ignore the fact her skin was steadily turning darker and darker, nearly the pitch that she'd been expelling increasingly as the inner war continued.

Before long, she was back up and walking, though to where she did not know. Fatigue, hunger, thirst. These were not a factor in her travels any longer, though she wondered how long her body could keep it up without replenishment.

All that Rose was aware of before she dipped under and out of sight once more was that she was walking East.

- - - - -

Loud snores woke Dave from his sleep, echoing, piercing through his fevered brain. He was freezing, teeth trying to chatter before he made himself bite at his cheeks instead, body stiff and aching. There was no doubt about him ripping barely formed scabs as he rose back up onto raw knees and elbows, bruising fully formed, skin sensitive. Everything ached, everything was tired, and he wasn't interested in figuring out why he wobbled so badly just to lay up. He already knew.

Everything was catching up to him now. At least, from what he could tell, his threat was unconscious.

Prime time to rob him blind, so long as the token was in easy view and his body held up under the strain. Straightening his back was hell, moving the shield to his arm instead of his back after so long left him exhausted, wishing he had the time to get after the bit of food and water he'd been given. He didn't dare try to sate himself now, though.

There would be no stopping till the job was done.

Ever so slowly, Dave walked into the open, lured by the snoring and promise of easier footsteps. The lance was near the few untouched remains, a hand, some spare bones, hair and ripped clothes spattering the damp expanse of the stone table. Far from the monsters hand, should he awaken, a comforting thought.

The token was not easily seen on any of the carved shelves, nor atop the pile of treasures near the bulls side. It may lay further down, buried in coins and glimmer and shine, but there was no time to risk the clattering noise that may accompany a sudden deluge of wealth from a single misplaced hand or foot. Far too dangerous. Dave had just crouched down to try looking ground level for another chance, when he heard a voice and stilled.

“.....Don't.. uh.. Don't touch that..”

He held his breath and listened. Neither of his hands were currently touching anything, nor was he particularly in view of the heavy head that still lay flat with its horns out to either side. The voice was creaky, stammering, hesitant. A complete switch from the booming, angrily dominant voice Dave had heard taunting him through the tunnels.

What didn't he want him to touch? Who in his dreams was taking something?

“I'll need it.. t..o... leave..”

Maybe he could risk it. It was foolish, dangerous. But maybe.. Licking his lips, Dave spoke in a barely there whisper.

“Where did you put it? I only want to be sure you have it.”

To his surprise, the beast replied, a whine catching his words. He dared to step closer, trying to see its face at last. Surprisingly, he looked quite human in the face and upper body, the lower being more bull-like, hooved, heavy. Dave thought he saw a tail peeping out to the side, but he wasn't certain. His jaw was firm and squared, neck thick and powerful as his shoulders and arms, the fragile bronze wings almost out of place. His hair was cut in a way Dave had never seen before, shaved close on either side of his skull, black streaked with bright red in patches and stripes where it grew long and combed straight out.

“I put it... uh.. I put it somewhere safe..... Can't take... it..”

Considering the bull left gold and jewels scattered in a careless pile out in the open, maybe there was another hiding space for things it considered precious. Priceless. Dave stepped even closer, right up near its head, to continue whispering. Just a little more, and he may be able to leave.

“They might take it.. Tell me how to guard it. Where is it now..?”

He had to be careful, too much and the monster would rouse and regain full consciousness. Dave's eyes flickered as he grew ready to flee at a moments notice, appraising the tunnel opposite from his entry point as a possible exit. A back door, mayhaps? Or maybe simply a route to a disposal area of some point, a garbage site. Somewhere that he could get away to that wouldn't lead back towards the front entrance, so he could find a way to douse the flames in the makeshift fireplace and scale the sheer edges of the wall to the opening. Maybe a vent in the rock further back that kept the air fresh and clear.

“Nnngh...” Hooves scraped at the bedding, scratching along the stone where it came into contact, body too long to be entirely comfortable. Not being able to lay on his sides must be torture, horns restrictive to his movements, wings aching. He'd suffocate if he slept with his face flat into his bedding, unable to turn his head or brace up with his bull-like lower limbs.

The monster lifted one of his long, heavy arms and pointed to the fire itself, then curled his finger to the side. Immediately, Dave padded over to the hearth and looked around, beginning to pat at the stone to the left as indicated, the floor, the wall along the outside of the fire. It was only when he stepped back and looked into the flames directly did he spot what was being talked about. Dave spotted what looked like a tile on the inside of the hearth, along the heated wall. A spare piece of stone that had been removed and then replaced like a cap.

The fire was low now, but the stone was still retaining much heat. It would burn his hands badly should he remove the capstone, and who knew how warm the treasure would be? Would it even be worth it? Was it the token? Deciding he had no time to waste on figuring out precisely what was so important to the bull that he would hide it away, Dave drew up his sword and wedged it into the tiny crack of the stone to wiggle at the cap.

It popped loose with relative ease, falling out into the fire with a soft thunk, a crackle. The bull slept on, breathing deep and uninterrupted, though Dave was left with another problem. The stone had made enough noise just by being freed. To reach and rummage blindly with the sword would be asking for trouble. What if something fragile was within? Something of a different texture of metal? Whatever sounds that could be created were enough to leave him paranoid and worried, trying to lean and move and stare to get an idea of what was in the dark space.

The glimmer of dark metal paired with a worrying snort from the bull was enough to make him spring into action, flexing his fingers repeatedly into fists as he prepared. If he could grab it, he could toss it into his shirt till it cooled, douse it with water and flee. Maybe douse it then grab it without making his skin blister and cook. Removing his bag, Dave sat it and the shield down on the ground, sword across the top till he could get the water skin open. This would need to be quick, should it hiss, he couldn't hold back.

Water in his left hand, Dave hurriedly doused into the dark space inside the wall and scooped his right hand in, fingers curling around the slick edges of what felt like a large coin with rough patches and sharp bits before snaking back out. As expected, the water had bubbled and hissed as it contacted the rock, had still burnt his fingers. Dave threw the coin into his open bag with a dull thunk instead of trying to balance it another way, smiling in satisfaction as the design came into view. The token was bronze, bigger than his hand, and perfectly round. It held the crude image of bulls horns on a circle, emeralds, a few other markings. Scooping the bag and the sword up once more.

On his makeshift bed, the bull snorted and started to halfway sit up, complaining in a language Dave couldn't understand before he clunked heavily back down. Far too close. Far, far too close. Leaving his water behind, Dave worked on picking the shield up with his right arm, wanting to get on with moving to find his escape. Elated with his victory and the few minutes without being burdened by the weight, Dave was unprepared to hold it with one arm alone, sucking in a breath of air when he dropped it. A reflexive cry of “Ah!” escaped his lips before he could slap his hands over his mouth, eyes clenched shut, shaking. Please, no. No.

The room had gone completely silent, both occupants waiting. Listening. Holding their breaths, daring the other to make the first move. Dave opened his eyes and turned his head slowly, looking towards the bed, choking when he met blazing yellow and bronze. The beast roared and began to lurch upright, while Dave turned and ran blindly with his bag and sword down the unexplored tunnel, clanking with his few supplies hitting the stolen token. Stealth was long gone, and speed was not his best option, injuries and fatigue slowing him considerably.

Hooves skidded along the ground behind him, snorted and whuffled air mixing with the buzzing of those awful bronze wings, though his path seemed direct instead of veering. Now that he could see Dave properly, the monster was wasting no time with a weapon, affording him less and less space as the strides caught up with him. Like a rodent, he scrambled around a sharp corner, ducking when he heard the wheeze of straining air and beating wings behind him, just barely missing a collision with a fist as large as a ham. The wall was struck instead, sending pebbles raining from the ceiling.

The air was getting fresher Dave thought as he wove and ran, steadily heading back upwards in slow inclines. When the bull would lunge, he would do his best to dodge, shrieking at the too close grabs. More than once, he skidded and hit the ground, scrambling back up to keep moving, knees bleeding heavily from the abuse of the raw stone and impact. There was to be no escaping the bronze wings propelled speed forward in the end. With another loud buzz, the bull boosted his speed and grappled Dave against the wall of the tunnel with a swipe to the side, grasping around his waist, putting pressure on his raw back till he shrieked.

As Dave struggled, the bull grinned and lifted him up a good half foot, sniffing at him before licking the side of his face.

“There you are, you tasty little thing. Thought you could hide from me..? I already told you you wouldn't be able to run forever, and I was -right-. I knew I'd counted right when you were all walked in!”

The bull was satisfied as he spoke aloud and praised himself, squeezing Dave's torso like a toy as he kicked and struggled to breathe. Dave swung his sword as best he could with limited air and cut at the monsters forearm, slashed towards his face. The cuts seemed to sting the beast, but he ignored them, chose to laugh instead. It was like a stinging insect being crushed by a large rock, stabbing at the stone for all he was worth no matter how futile.

He loosened his grip and squeezed tighter in a pulsing motion a few times, watching Dave gasp and yell and fight. Playing with him.

“Let's get a good look at you before we go back and I stoke up the fires. Mn.. Not much meat on you. What a waste.” Frowning slightly, he gripped either side of his head, forcing it up so he could see Dave's face, look at his eyes. “I've always hated eyes like yours. Like you see right through me. Looking down on me.. Always the god eyes that do that. You a god? No. Not a god.” Another squeeze, another yell and swats of the sword as his grip became weaker and weaker.

“You work for them, you puny little thing? Send them a message for me when I kill you and send back your soul. Tell them they will regret sending me away like a common animal. They will regret stepping on us all, someday.”

The squeezing grew more intense then, solid, intent on not stopping until his chest was shattered and his lungs popped. This was the end. There was no way out. The gods weren't coming to his rescue, weren't there to do as he'd been taught. As alone as he'd been during his travesty of a trial, during his torture, Dave was going to die alone in a cavern at the hands of an abomination.

He was alone.

But he would not die so easily.

As he heard and felt the crackling sounds get less and less, felt his body getting numb, Dave let his head fall forward to stare into the bulls eyes. He saw satisfaction, gloating. Then horror. The crackling stopped sounding out, and his breath was no longer stalled, numb body feeling increasingly warm. Alive. Powerful. Angry. The sword that had slipped to the very tips of Dave's fingers was gripped anew as he reared his arm back and swung downwards towards the bull's face, teeth gritting before his mouth opened in a soundless scream. There was no air left to yell with, no way to draw it without pain.

The blade hit home as it had before, but with a far better effect. He wondered if the blaze surrounding the metal was a hallucination, the last dregs of his consciousness trying to hold on to his hope for a miracle. The sizzling of flesh, the hit of smoke, the flash of light were all real however. As were the shrieks of pain from the monster, the rush of the ground up to strike his back.

Dave stared in wonder at the sword in his hand as the fire shone bright around it, around his hand and arm without burning or heat, bright as a sun. It weighed nothing to him. It was beautiful, perfect, light as a feather. Just as fast it was gone and hitting the ground a heavy chunk of metal, the bull hitting his ass on the ground directly afterward as he clasped his burnt and bleeding face.

No time. No air. No thought.

While he could, Dave lifted himself up and scrambled on all fours down the tunnel. He followed hope and prayer, wheezing, spots exploding in front of his eyes till at last there came the sound of the waves. Within minutes he was dragging himself upright to get over a small stone barrier to reach the soft sand and promises of ocean, fresh air and salt. The bull was remaining in his retreat, staggering and hitting things, roaring in pained rage that he couldn't see. That the gods had blinded him but left him to suffer longer. That the little mortal would regret leaving him alive if it was the last thing he ever did.

When Dave could no longer stand, it was into a strong set of arms that he fell. Groggy, barely clinging to consciousness as the adrenaline began to wear off, he looked up into bright orange eyes. A second set of hands lifted his legs, dark and cool to the touch, comforting. Familiar. He was certain he was dead when the night turned to day beside him, a tall, unfamiliar woman shining like the moon. She smiled kindly at him and displayed sharp teeth.

“It's alright, Dave. You're safe now. You've done so well,” she crooned. He thought that the voice was familiar, down to his marrow. The voice of a mother. He finally passed out, knowing he was in the safest hands he knew.

Maryam watched as John and Dirk held him gently, moving his battered, broken body as far away from the tunnels as possible. John kept his weight lifted with soft breezes, but neither of the gods wanted to take their hands off of him.

It was going to be a long night of healing and hoping, waiting. Watching. She made a mental note to promise both of them that she would never tell another being how hard they'd cried when they finally got to hold their fragile human again. 

Chapter Text

Dave took a lot of labor to set right. Instead of free-floating for very long, John and Dirk held him aloft as Maryam began to use her own abilities to swaddle him like an infant in a gauzy substance. If there had been access to a more suitable liquid, more time to prepare, she would have preferred to float him in a restorative substance. Something closer to being once more in the womb, the ultimate relaxation a human being could experience, the perfect feeling of safety. The swathing of a tending goddess would have to make do.

While he slept, Maryam worked from the outside in, sealing skin and gashes and mending bruises before trying to re-weave muscle and re-set bone. Organs took even longer, body pushed to its limits from stress and contact and torture.

“They're so fragile,” she murmured when she took a break to let herself and Dave rest, not wanting him to absorb too much from her. He needed healing, not energy to feed from. An awakened, unprepared fledgling in this condition would be terrible to have to deal with and would only complicate matters with the other gods even further. “Like glass.”

“Not like glass,” John said quietly. “Glass isn't alive, if it breaks nobody cares. Make more, use the broken pieces to repair and reform it again. If a flower dies it can be replaced, but that same exact flower can't be there again.”

Maryam studied his face, the usually joyful and ornery god subdued and tense as he watched the fever in the little humans brow slowly fade away. It was no longer pinched with pain and suffering, the fine lines already etched for as long as the memory would likely last, and should have offered the watchers some relief. It did not. Every line was a mark of guilt for them, of not being fast enough, good enough, strong enough.

Gods don't allow themselves guilt, usually. Never for humans. Maryam was already a sort of outcast for her deep regret over the death of Signless, holding herself partly responsible for his downfall. For not stopping his reaching so intensely to the human world, for not stopping his descent into human emotion and problems. But these deep looks turning blue and orange eyes to dark, stony stares were barely above mortal in their concern.

She was only glad that Dave had been strong enough to survive at all, uncertain what would have happened in the event of his death. Two gods on a rampage, heaven, hell, and all between shuddering under their combined wrath.

Dirk paced, deep in thought when he wasn't staring deeply into Dave's face. John sat crosslegged by Dave's side, occasionally reaching out to stroke the side of his face or smooth back his hair as he slept. Every breath in and out was a small victory.

“I think he was trying to feed when I was healing him, but the need to be repaired was too strong for him to ignore subconsciously. Now that he's out of danger, I need to be cautious, or I'd just risk awakening him, or angering the other elders for too much interference,” Maryam said quietly. “We need to discuss your next moves as well. They said you were to keep your interference to a bare minimum, and the most just keep him in food and water. I thin-”

“A bare minimum, but what does that entail? What is a bare minimum to an elder god?” Dirk asked, slowing his pacing down. “I know we can give him food and water, but what else? What can we do to help him, keep him from going through this much alone again? I cannot imagine we'd be capable of sitting and watching if Dave gets injured badly, unable to do more than -maybe- drag his limp body from the jaws of the damned.”

“I know I won't be able to,” John murmured. “Once was enough. I've never felt like this before. Just... Helpless. Like I can't do anything worthwhile, and for something so simple as a human. Any act is upon eggshells, fearing making things worse for him. If not from outside forces, then from a plane above us that even we cannot protect him from.”

Dirk didn't need his divine tie ins to know that by now, they were both helplessly in love with the little creature, and it was creating a massive liability for them all.

“I believe they simply mean your divine natures, or anything that could not happen due to one of his peers. Humans are like ants to a point, they will often help one another when faced with impossible tasks, even if the bonds are forged only for a desire to survive. Instinct makes them either scramble and kill one another in panic to try being the one survivor, or draws them together to aid them all,” said Maryam. It was a fair enough guess as to precisely what they'd meant, as the stricter guidelines had been glanced over rather loosely.

It was a tactic of Pyrope's to say half truths and then go after someone for breaking the rules she hadn't explained to their fullest, citing that it was the victims fault for not asking for clarification. Megido always muttered “You have to read the fine print before you sign, stupid,” but nobody really understood what the significance of that meant.

“Our divine natures,” mused Dirk, glowering. “What use is godhood if we're unable to help one human?”

“... Why not set it aside?” John asked. “Hide it somehow. Bind it. Keep it down till we're able to fight by his side.”

“She said we're not to interfere-”

“Not to interfere, I know. But she meant as gods, I believe. Divine intervention. Think about it, Dirk, she doesn't think humans are capable of anything! What if we were the same?” he insisted.

“There's no such thing as what you're saying, it's not as if we can just pretend to be mortals, John. Godhood doesn't simply disappear!” Dirk argued.

“But it can be withheld,” Maryam said quietly. They both looked up at her incredulously, glancing to the sleeping Dave once more before returning their gaze to her gently glowing face. “Not for long. But it can be done.. They bound Signless before the attack in such a way, as he bound himself whenever he would go among the mortals to speak. He never wanted to loom over those he spoke to.. One could not preach and teach compassion and equality when there is fear in their eyes.”

How else could one kill a god but if mortality was instilled in them? It was a thrillingly terrifying concept, making one's self vulnerable to the forces and wills of others. Foreign to them. To think that they could end up as broken as Dave had been, and unable to heal themselves or simply flit away. It was stupid, terrible.. yet perfect. Human trials needed humans. Hesitant, John poked his foot into the forbidden waters and swirled it around for information.

“How long are we speaking of. At what risks?”

“A few hours at least. A few days at most, depending on the strength of the binders will. If you fight it, it would remain a low amount.. if you did so willingly, it would be stronger.” She raised a glowing white arm to display her wrist, cuffing around it like a bracelet with her thumb and forefinger. “The binding would appear as a black band at your wrist, and would disintegrate as time wore it down. You could watch it lessen, and know that when it's gone so too would be the limits.”

Something didn't sit quite right with Dirk, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “Why would you know of this so well? What purpose would it even serve?”

“As I said, Signless used to bind himself when he preached. Apparently, the humans knew a crude method of this magic on their own and respected him when he appeared with them on his flesh. It's old.. Very old. As old as Alpha and Omega themselves, I would say, when they first split into two from the beginning of the worlds. It's how to deal with prisoners, enemies.. But severely frowned upon.”

To take away someone's immortality and stunt their powers, leaving them so fragile and open? Of course it would be frowned on, it was a slow death sentence this curse of mortality. Signless doing it willingly to himself was looking more and more of an astounding feat of trust, laying himself in the hands of strangers who so easily could have ended his life.

“Would it work, though. For this situation?” Dirk asked. “Would you be able to do it, or help us to do it if we were both willing to go through with the process?”

“Would we be allowed to help Dave then, without Pyrope and the others raining hell down onto our heads?” John urged, beginning to float with a hint of his usual eagerness. 

Maryam frowned and held both hands up then, asking them to slow down and calm themselves and their thinking. This was a large, foolish thing to rush into headlong.

“I would be involved in this as well, should you choose to go through with it, you know. I would be responsible if anything happens with you. I would be opening the world of death and deceit to you, and leaving you at risk not just to the world but to the elder gods. I'm telling you now, I'm sorry, that I don't wish to do this with you unless I absolutely must.”

“Then even you are against us?” asked John, eyes full of sorrow as he sank back down to the ground, all the float leaving his body.

“Against you only in logic. Would it be worth it knock two gods from their pedestals in the face of the enemy? ..Or would it be better for two gods to try self restraint as they raise up a demi-god to stand against those who would oppose them?”

At their blank looks, she licked her lips and continued.

“Dirk. They fear you rising in status if Dave succeeds. Dave is a target already. John, you would be a target if the idea of you being the third side of success. You're all interlinked, should he awaken and prove successful at surviving, and stand to rise higher. Do you wish to stand and become that powerful force they fear, or do you wish to drop down to the level of a mortal to comfort Dave before his trials even are concluded?”

Always the calm negotiator, telling the children the logic they were surrounded in and blind to, the eternal mother. The recognition dawned in their eyes and she had to shake her head and smile, proud of their foolish selves. They were so young, by comparison. Even as Gods, they were children by comparison. Youth and power and headstrong ideas.

“John,” Dirk said as he turned to crouch beside him, hands clasped in front of his knees, “what do you think of this. We stay with Dave and help only when we must, as they decreed. We feed him.. try to wake him up along his journey. Teach him as he goes instead of letting it happen all at once and overwhelm him.” He lifted his chin as his eyes hardened. “Then we rise against any who rise against us.”

“Are you talking of starting a war, Dirk?”

“If that's what it takes to end this all. I would hope it wouldn't come to this, but nothing can remain as it is. Many of the others seem content with their stations, and want to keep on as they have been. We need to work together as a group to keep the forces that be in line for the world below, not act as tyrants to each other.”

John sighed and lifted a few inches before stretching out, moving so he could stretch out beside Dave's makeshift cocoon and sling an arm over where his waist would probably be. He looked tired again, not even his breezes wafting around him now, lest he stir Dave from the much needed sleep.

“We're bringing him into so much hell. It may have been better that we never came to him at all, Dirk. Even if he makes it, will he be happy?”

Dirk rubbed the back of his neck with his gloved hand. “There's not much to be done about that now, is there John. We brought this to him. It's our job now to try making him ready to stand under the burden, and walk beside him. Do you want to leave him to his fate and walk away now? It's an option.”

“A really shitty option that you better not mention again.”

His lips twitched into a grin and he nodded. “At least we're still in agreement about that. I'm not going anywhere away from him. Or you.”

John gave a subdued, buck toothed grin and opened his mouth to say something back, but was cut off by a soft cough from Maryam.

“If you two would kindly go flirt off to the side, I've got some inner injuries to check on. Try seeing what needs to be done next with him and work out your plans and plots. Remember, though. I will need help at some point dealing with the oracle, especially with how our path is heading now,” she said as she shooed John away from the cocoon.

- - - - -

There was no pain, and his body was warm. The rise and fall of his chest didn't ache or burn or leave him feeling ill, and there was no burn or ache of his hands. He was floating. Dreaming. Adrift in the temple baths with the scent of herbs and sweet oils, muscles humming as he was tended to and dried. Cool air flickered through his hair to dry him, making him less drowsy, cranky. Why interrupt such a nice warm bath with cold air?

“Shut the door, I'm not done yet!” he croaked.

“Oh, you're most certainly done, Dave. I'm not sure we can get you to cook any longer safely,” came a masculine voice from the dark beyond his eyelids. “Besides, it's time to eat if you can manage it.”

Any possible complaints died out beneath the savage roar from his stomach and the waft of what he thought was fish and wafting smoke, creaking his eyes open to sniff out the source. Who would bring food into the bath house? He was greeted by two eager sets of eyes, bright blue and burnt orange, less than a foot in front of him. Startled, he jerked backwards, afraid someone was going to bring him harm.

“Ngghhh!”

“Dave, you're really awake!” John said loudly, surging forwards to hug him around the shoulders when he tried to burrow back into the freshly opened cocoon, grip cool to the touch as ever on his skin. Dirk reached out to warmly stroke along his legs, smile all but breaking his usually calm face.

“How do you feel?”

“Did you sleep well? Do you feel better? Oh, man, we were so worried about you! Do you want to get up yet? We got you some fish, and Dirk cooked them. Well. I helped. I haven't had to eat since I froze, so I don't really remember the in and out of how it gets from raw food to cooked food that tastes good. Should I go ge-” John was stalled at the end of his rampage of words by a thump tot he back of his head from Dirk.

“Why not just smother him, John, it will go far faster,” Dirk said as he tugged the eager wind god off the still stunned Dave. Ever so gently, he tugged him into an upright position.

Dave was pleased to find his head didn't throb and he didn't get unpleasantly dizzy as he was lurched upright. What he did do, however, was cry. Tears of relief at first, though once both gods drew close enough to try hugging him once more, they became angry tears for the betrayal he'd felt. Rage. Abandonment.

“Where WERE you?! Where were you when I needed you most!” he yelled, rearing his fist back to hit their shoulders, their chests, anything he could manage to reach. “Not a word! Not a single word! You left! You were... you were never coming back. You were gone and never coming back. And I went through.. Through HELL! I hurt!” His words became garbled from mucus and the clenching of his throat, tears still wetting his eyes and blurring the red glow of his eyes. “I th-thought I was going to die, but I did this alone! All me! Where were YOU?! Watching me somewhere and laughing?!”

Dirk and John flinched at his words, and were stunned for it. They, gods, had just trembled from the hit of a mortal. Not from pain, but from sheer intensity. Here was the rage and sadness of betrayal by a loved one, and they were floored by the strength of it. Their lover was not some fragile human. The shell was mortal, but inside raged an inferno of a god waiting to break out.

“No, Dave. Never laughing. Panicking. Worrying. Terrified, and wanting to get back to help you,” Dirk said. “We were held up with the elder gods. Those who are older than ourselves, stronger. They... were not pleased with our actions regarding you. Still aren't.”

“If we were able to, we would have come to your side and rained hell down upon all their heads. All of them. But we have rules that we broke.. and our punishment was to watch yours unfold,” murmured John, looking away. He didn't want to think about it. Human suffering usually made him snicker, considering it was always his 50/50 chance that made it happen or not. But when it was someone he knew and cared for? It lost its appeal entirely.

Dave's face paled considerably.

“You.. you saw all that. All of it?”

“Every horrible moment from the time they caught you to the time we were able to scoop you up out here,” assured John.

“Out here..?” Out where. Where was here? Oh. Right. The bulls caverns.. He frowned and stared into the darkness, almost thinking he could make out distressed sounds of rage in the depths over the too merry crackle of the fire. “That bull. He sounded like he had such a blood feud with the gods. He asked if I was one for a moment.”

“Sort of.”

“John, shut up.”

“John, dear, keep your mouth closed.”

Dave could have pursued the topic, but chose to leave it be for now. He already had a big enough problem to deal with without adding anything to do with divinity and himself just this very second.

“What was he so mad at the gods about? Would you know?” he asked.

Maryam was the one who answered, eyebrows drawn. “He was one who was cast out for crimes.”

“Cast out..? Of what? Godhood?”

“Humanity. They were humans, once. All of the beasts of this region were once humans,” she said. “The bull was planning to lead a revolt against heaven. He was trying to raise an army, and would have been able to sway enough of the faithful to his cause to lessen the strength the gods held. They could have thrown off a terrible balance.. so he was cast out of his human form and into that of a beast.”

She went on to explain that the next place that he was supposed to go was home to another of the cast outs, Serket. She had been full of pride in herself and her abilities, and challenged the gods themselves with her talents. When it was shown that somehow she was on par with the skills of a god by wit, wile, and manipulation, she was cast out to rid them of her threat. Her last skill had been weaving, so she was doomed to the form of a great spider who thirsted for the blood of man.

John felt a slight pang during that conversation, and busied himself with floating for a while, fussing with Dave's hair as he began to slowly calm down. While not close, he had befriended Serket for a time, steering luck her way more often than he likely should have. She was loud and headstrong, fascinating to watch as she self destructed herself and others to try clawing her way forwards, certain things were going the correct way. He'd wanted to see how far she could go if given opportunity, and thus felt at least partially responsible for how she had ended up. If she'd had the capabilities of becoming a demi-god, she would have been a fearsome one.

“So, I'm supposed to take the token I took from a bull monster who wanted to kill me.. and take it to a spider monster?” he asked. “Why would she want that stupid thing?”

“She had a soft spot for the bull, when he was a human,” Maryam said. “She enjoyed when he rose up and began to fight and challenge people, taking on the gods themselves as she would a short time later because he felt he'd win.”

Humans, Dave decided, were absolutely insane. He'd no idea people like that existed, had been taught that people like that were sent to hell after death, or killed, or used as sacrifices. Not that they were turned to monstrous beasts while still alive. Then again, Dave had a feeling that the education he was given in the temple was mighty doctored in its own right. Even Rose often sought knowledge from the surrounding city and countryside to bolster her own natural abilities. He vaguely wondered where she was now.

“Don't worry, Dave. It should be easier from here on out,” Dirk promised, offering a grin when Dave looked up at him. He gestured for John to grab the fish, starting to speak again as he bobbed off through the air to grasp the makeshift roasting stick holding the treat. “You're not handling this alone any more. We're going to help you as much as we can manage while keeping a low profile.”

Dave frowned automatically. “What does that mean? Helping when it's convenient?” Were they planning to run so soon? Wanting to leave already? He wasn't sure he could handle going through pain and suffering like that again so soon, physically or mentally.

“Nope,” said John, thrusting freshly cooked fish under Dave's nose till he wised up and took the stick from him. “We're going with you, and we'll do our damnedest to make sure you never get hurt again.”

- - - - -

Now that he was no longer on deaths door or needing to rush to survive, Dave took his time eating the fish. He sucked the meat from its bones and licked his fingers clean of the juice and residue afterward, washing it all down with fresh water till his head span from his body trying to absorb it all at once. Calories flooded his bloodstream, leaving him drunk.

It took time before he relaxed enough around John and Dirk to let them hold him close, and at least another hour before he relaxed in their grip as he used to. After another glance over by Maryam and well wishes from her and the promise she would be in touch with the gods when they were required, the three were left alone on the lonely little beach between locations of their mission objectives.

“We'll get a bit of a late start, I think. Dave, I know that you slept earlier while Maryam healed you, but would you care to sleep more before we leave? To go to the next place,” Dirk clarified as soon as he saw the tension enter Dave's face.

“Yeah. I think I could stand another nap after that meal. I never knew how tiring it was just to eat and drink. I feel like a child at nap time,” he admitted with a soft yawn. He was finally feeling safe at last around the familiar faces and temperatures, John's soft breezes and cool fingertips, Dirk's heated gaze and touches.

Neither of them had tried to flirt with him, or even tried to kiss him since he'd woken to find them both watching him like hawks. No pressure to get back exactly how they had been. They waited till he lifted his red eyed gaze and beckoned them into it, giving only the pressure they got in the form of sweet pecks to the lips and forehead before he settled into a spot between the two of them to prop up and rest for another few hours.

Dirk and John remained awake, talking softly over Dave's head as he sagged against Dirk's side, legs splayed till they tangled with John's in lazy knots. The full morning would greet them with new problems and challenges to overcome on the way to Serket's den and beyond. Namely in how they were even going to manage getting Dave across such a large expanse of water without instantly getting everyone involved.

Nothing could ever be simple.  

Chapter Text

“He weighs next to nothing, it would be simple!”

“How would it be simple. Blow him across the water like a stone?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“...With no way of stopping himself or protecting himself against things that might get in his way?”

“Ye-!... No. Oh. Wow, no. Definitely not.”

“Precisely.”

“Can't I just carry him, then? We both could. One poof, simple, next island.”

“John, the next island he apparently needs to get to is at least a few miles away. That's nothing for us. We could be there instantly. We all could.. if we weren't trying to do as little intrusion as possible. We need to do this with how a human would do it,” Dirk said. “Think human.”

The obvious sound of displeasure was impossible to mask, even if John had attempted. Likely, he didn't. He was a god, why would he want to think like a human unless it was to sort out what made Dave squirm during a kiss?

“Why should we? We can just.. throw him, and I'd be sure to catch him with the breeze!” John said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Simple. Really. Air cushioning, and he'd just drop down. We could catch him bare handed if needs be!”

“How realistic is that for a human, John. What kind of a breeze could lift a human?”

“MINE you unbelievable ass! Do you forget who I am?! The wind is MINE to control! Are you suggesting I can't control it properly enough to protect Dave?” John yelled, temper flaring. A heated wind swirled, threatening a tornado on the very spot. It faltered to a bare whirlwind as Dirk smacked the back of his head roughly, Dave stirring from the sound and the disruptions around him, hair fluffed and messy with dust.

“Natural breeze, John. Not guided by a god. Soothe yourself, you've already woken Dave up. A natural breeze will not lift and throw a human multiple miles and let him go unharmed. Someone would notice, someone would know.”

John puffed his cheeks out, face reddening in frustration as he watched the blonde slowly sit upright and rub his face. He wasn't embarrassed about exploding so strongly less than a foot away from him. He hadn't forgotten Dave was right there in the heat of the moment. Nope. Not at all. This was totally Dirk's fault for provoking him. Yep. Entirely his fault. Trying to regain his lost ego footing, John lifted up off the ground and swooped a few feet upwards before spinning in a circle back, bending his spine till his feet were in the air and his head and arms were near Dave's torso.

“Dave? Settle something for us,” he asked, ignoring how disoriented and sleepy the red eyes still were. “Would anyone notice something like that, do you think? A single human drifting from island to island on air. Really, now, you mortals barely notice what's right in front of you, much less each other. I've done a good deal of things in public and not a single one of you so much as looked at me.”

Dave very much had a feeling that it was impossible to ignore the blue eyed god as if he were a common mortal, but didn't bother to mention it.

“I don't know much about what others would notice, but I'm fairly sure that I'd spot that and wonder what was causing it,” he said, drawing his knees up to his chest to rest his chin on it. Dirk scooted to his side and threaded an arm familiarly around his waist, wanting to keep him close. After all he'd been through, there was a lot of gap to bridge. Not to be outdone, John threaded his arm around his other side as he slowly began to sink back down to the ground. The fabric felt strange, moved stiffly, still grimy from Dave's injuries and trials in the caverns. He made a mental note to get him new clothes soon.

Dave didn't pull away, though he wasn't entirely relaxed just yet. So much had happened in such a short amount of time, their touches felt almost foreign. He'd been punished for them, severely, and half expected the flesh of his back to begin bleeding under the gentle pressure as it had under the whip. He looked to his wrists, bound in their wrap of metal, and gently touched the hooks that had previously bound them together. His body bore the scars, though the burn and ache itself was long gone. The flesh looked like melted wax, eerily smooth by comparison to the rest of his flesh, tinged pink.

Seeing him stare, Dirk reached up to grip his right arm, gently tracing over the flesh that rested at the bottom of the cuff with his long fingers. He didn't address it aloud. Didn't want to make him focus on it any longer than he had to, or remember it. Just a gentle reassurance that it would never feel like that again.

“See, John? I told you so. What about... swimming. How far can humans who aren't weighed down with armor swim, Dave?” Dirk asked. He was used to soldiers trying to make emergency retreats or quick attacks, trying to reach departing ships from the shore to avoid being left behind in the hell they'd created with their fellow mortals.

Distracted, Dave watched his hand move instead of precisely what he was touching. Contact. Familiar contact, warm and welcoming. He'd craved it once the trial had started, desired it the entire time he was crawling through the caves. Warm, comforting, fluttering heat. His left wrist soon was chilled by John's fingers rubbing and stretching along and below the metal cuff. If he couldn't do something first, he'd mimic until he was at -least- on even footing.

“I'm not sure. Not for miles, though. I think it changes from person to person,” he said after a long pause, growing more and more distracted by the two gods. They each had a wrist and were rubbing at it, while their other hands were crossed behind his back to hold him tightly in a dual hug. “I can't swim, really. Just in the bit of water I had access to.. but I don't know how to swim.”

“I shouldn't be this surprised, really. Those stuffy priests and priestesses were so convinced you were made of glass, they had no idea you were made of honed metal,” Dirk murmured as he drew Dave's arm towards his mouth to kiss his displayed palm. “Though then again maybe it's because they knew how delightful you look when you're damp.”

Dave glowered, lids already starting to grow heavy as he leaned back into waiting arms to better watch his palm get worked over by soft lips. His voice was quiet, barely a murmur as he spoke again.

“How would you know how I look when I'm damp..? The most you've seen is when you would come visit me in the night together and give me no rest.” The fire would burn bright and the wind would blow around them all, and he would be riddled with heat and cold as he lost track of his body in the pleasure the two gods offered him.

“Dave, I thought we were fairly clear before. We've been keeping tabs on you for years,” John said with a snort as he lifted Dave's left arm and began kissing down his arm to the inside of his elbow, flicking his tongue out over the tender skin to taste him. “A highlight of my routine was sweeping by when I could to watch you bathe.” Which was true. Sometimes he even got to see him alone, Dirk caught up elsewhere for a few precious moments as the little blonde was tended to in the fresh water. It was no coincidence that the breezes around the city and temple always kicked up after the blonde was dried and dressed.

Old fires were being kindled low in Dave's stomach, and he found his thoughts wandering as far as the gentle mouths were beginning to. It felt so long ago since they were last together. So very long.. yet it had been less than a week since his world changed forever. A handful of days since he'd felt those mouths upon him, hands between his legs, liquid trailing down his thighs. He groaned when Dirk began to mimic John's pace, skipping the arm to kiss his shoulder and throat. The kisses gave way to teasing nips and nibbles, making him squirm in place as he leaned back against the support.

The skin of his back felt different now, crisscrossed and streaked with thicker portions on the soft expanse under the gods' fingers. He was marked now. Nothing could be done to erase the trauma he'd experienced due to their colossal lack of forethought, to erase the kiss of the whip that had drank of his blood.. but the burden could be lightened.

Nearly thinking as one, Dirk and John moved towards each other to sweep over Dave entirely, cocooning his body between their own. John kissed at his cheek, his temple, his nose. Finally, he kissed at his lips directly, teasingly.

“Can't throw you. Can't have you swim.. We'll have to find some way of moving you safely. You're a treasure to us, Dave.” If only he knew how much of a treasure. He was a golden, perfumed toy to the both of them. He was their future. He was so very much in so very little space that it was mind boggling. Two gods were bowing to a mortal to keep him pleased.

Not that they'd ever put it into words like that. That was just masturbatory really, until he woke up and left his mortality behind like a distant memory. Once he joined their ranks, this would be much easier to talk about. Even footing. Waking him up would take time, and a good deal of energy from sources such as themselves. Thankfully for Dave, the process of preparing to wake him was going to be quite pleasant. Any exposure to divine energy was enough to strengthen his own, and offering to let him leech from two fantastic sources while enjoying himself was a win/win.

With luck, his waking would be pleasant. Calm. Not traumatic. Just like coming home.

Or coming in general, with the way things were going.

Dirk was sliding his hand back around Dave's side to stop holding him as upright, trying to gently press him backwards to the ground that he'd slept on earlier between them as John withdrew his own hand and focused on his arm and neck and face once more.

Dave didn't complain, really. If anything, he was groaning softly and arching his back, arms reaching up to curl around Dirk's neck in an attempt to keep him close. No leaving. Not any more. No more leaving. He was done with leaving and being left behind, wanted to make up for the seemingly endless amount of time he'd spent convinced he was going to remain alone. Hungry for the contact he'd slowly become spoiled to in the limited time with the gods, Dave opened his mouth in offering when Dirk suddenly took to his mouth with his own, wanting to drink them both in.

John had gotten to be the focus for Dave's first time, less experienced than a god who focused on lust as one of his elements. He was a good first time for their little human, good to learn with, good to struggle against and try to fight for dominance with as his blood tried to awaken in the middle. Dirk hoped they'd get to see his eyes shine again, some of the inner fire spark. He'd most definitely gained some strength on his own.

Maybe he'd be able to stand them both someday, when his body was hungrier, less fragile.

John seemed happy enough to switch positions and get out of the way as Dirk smoothed his wrapped right hand down Dave's side, cupped his hip, then splayed down his narrow leg. Once he hit his knee, he switched directions and stroked up beneath his tunic to the top edge of his pants, dipping his finger below the fabric to stroke and tease at the skin at the same time he swept his tongue against Dave's.

He reached out, trying to find the little spark he could feel pulsing, focusing on it once it was located. Pulsing like a heartbeat, weak but refusing to stop, Dave's aura was already greedily reaching out towards Dirk's to leech from him. It was fed freely, and fiercely as Dirk deepened the kiss and made Dave moan aloud into his mouth, more than happy to tinge their interaction with some of his abilities.

The mantle of fire may pass to Dave someday if things worked out correctly, but the gift of lust would always be his to control. John picked up the hints of it and swooped behind Dirk to kiss at his back as he reached to stroke along Dave's other leg, making him squirm. He was only human after all and so easy to arouse, within minutes he was erect and straining against the fabric of his pants. Dirk was pleased to wrestle him out of them, as well as his shirt, curling protectively over his exposed body. Nope. Nobody else but he and John were allowed to see this. It was far too precious.

There was a brief worry about the ground, the debris, the sand. It was soft enough to lay on, but with how things were going it might spell more than a little discomfort for Dave in the very near future. More discomfort at their hands was not an option. John sighed and complained in a teasing way about how useless both of them were before the light excited breezes kicked up and lifted their little group off the ground by a good three inches. John released Dirk's waist and drifted upwards from them, moving to retrieve the cocoon that had served as Dave's saving grace to put it to a rather unconventional use. When their makeshift bedding was in place, John dropped them without warning to its welcoming softness, and happily pounced onto Dirk's back once more like an eager pet.

Their combined weight made Dave lose his air in a solid whoosh, regaining it in a sharp gasp as the fully clothed Dirk was forced against his sensitive length by gravity and inertia being returned so suddenly. Enjoying the reaction, Dirk began to recreate it purposefully, gently rocking his hips downwards towards Dave's to get him to make even more of those breathy noises and whines. He saw a flash of gold and tanned skin from the corner of his eye as John reached a hand over to grasp Dave's knee, pulling it gently to the side till he got the hint and parted his legs all the way, cushioning the god between his thighs and crossing his ankles around his other side.

Their learned rhythm was easier to pick up than it had been at first, bodies hungry, drawn together like magnets. John moved in a softly jingling circle around the two of them as they began to writhe and match one another as needed, tugging off Dirk's shirt and guiding Dave's lost hands from his neck to his chest and shoulders. He smirked when he saw him grip and touch, then begin to immediately scratch and dig at the shoulders. The marks wouldn't last, would fade extremely fast. It was cute how he tried to make something lasting with such a fragile body, determined, not in the least put off by how impossible it was to actually do. Admirable, and perfectly in line for the heir to flame.

He and Dirk were so alike it was laughable. Dave was a petite version of Dirk in attitude and stubbornness as Dave actually began to struggle and force his hips upwards and forwards against Dirk's bare body, trying to direct him where he wanted to be touched. How hard, how fast, how quickly. Dave bit at his lips and scratched at his shoulders, moans turning to whimpers as he grew desperate.

It was so intense now! What was it that had changed? Dave couldn't wrap his mind around why everything was suddenly so much brighter, so much hotter. Dirk smelled musky and warm, muscle twitching beneath heated flesh as he pressed downward with his hips and arms, keeping Dave firmly caged in. Did gods have heartbeats? What was that pulse he felt running through his body the longer he was held? Had it been like this all the other times? Dave could no longer be sure. Actually, he stopped being capable of much thought in general when he felt the god shift above him and reach between their bodies, lining their lengths up and holding them together with as gentle pressure as he could manage before trying to lead their thrusts again. Trying to reign him in and lead.

John had removed his clothes as they worked together, Dave crying out now and then when something felt particularly good, though the jewelery stayed on. There would have to be a damn good reason for him to ever remove the trappings he so enjoyed. As he watched the two golden heads bend low against each other he found himself wondering how both of them would look adorned in nearly as much as he himself wore. More than the simple arm bands that Dirk allowed himself above his gloves.

He wanted to see Dave in gold and rubies to match his eyes, spilling down over his hair to lap at his brow like a cool tongue. He wanted to see clasps like his own around the slender throat so they'd match, the ugly metal cuffs around his wrists exchanged for something more attractive. Dirk would look splendid with a little more shine as well, but managing to convince him to wear anything gaudy was an exercise in futility. He had too much spirit and pride.

“Ah... Ahh..!” Dave cried aloud, breaking the kiss to get more air as he tried to force his hips to move, needing more contact than the light grip and timed thrusts offered him. What Dave was absolutely convinced he needed before he lost his mind was fast and hard, hot and solid. If only Dirk would hurry up and help him finish instead of teasing him..!

“There, there,” cooed the god, lifting his head up to get a better view of his mortal's face. “Let's have a look at you. Come now, open your eyes,” he urged. John sat up on his elbow to properly see, grin spreading infectiously wide as they both spotted a good sign. Dave's eyes had begun to shine bright again, though not quite bright enough yet to glow. They were quickly approaching that point the longer he was teased, desperation and frustration beginning to fuel him as much as lust.

“Such a lovely color,” murmured John as he lay back down and leaned to touch Dave's face, tipping his gaze towards himself. Easy kissing distance as Dirk drew his body back from the natural cradle and rose to his knees, wetting his fingertips thoroughly. What started as swallowing complaints and cursing turned to swallowing moans and shaky mewls as Dave was prepared thoroughly. John became the best thing to latch on to as he was stretched and wet for ease of motion, more than willing to teach and guide and remind him of things to do as he waited for the fire god to continue his torment.

John curled Dave's fingers into his hand and guided him towards his chest as he had with Dirk's, wanting to remind him of the feeling of his body as he greedily explored and tasted and teased the pink corners of the humans lips. His humans. Maybe Dirk's too. Maybe. Sort of. The warm fingers were guided further down smooth flesh, down through crisp dark hair till they were wrapped around his base in a firm grip. John mumbled that so long as he didn't rip it off, he could do whatever he wanted.

When Dirk bowed his back suddenly and began to prod at his entrance after a few minutes of work, it was worth the sudden jerk to his dick just to be this close to Dave's face. To his eyes. Finally they had begun to light up properly, glowing a faint red. They were rubies. They were fire. They were molten lava threatening to catch them both aflame as his arching and stretching and reaching took on a more noticeable level of strength with each passing moment.

Dirk would thrust, Dave would cry out and move his hand along John's length in a sharp rhythm, then the mood would strike him harshly and he would suddenly begin to fight for control. Did he want to top? No. He did not. He didn't really seem to want to change position at all, not to stop. What Dave did seem to want was a struggle. If Dirk guided a certain speed, Dave wanted faster or slower. If he went right, Dave wanted left and would struggle to get treated how he wanted. When Dirk held him at the shoulders to pin him down, Dave fought to rise upwards. The sound of panting, of damp flesh slapping flesh was echoing and lewd to an extreme, and John found himself hoping someone heard.

It was glorious. John eventually retreated from Dave's hand to finish himself off without as much risk, wanting to watch the action from another view. Namely from the view that let him take in the sweat slicked rise of Dirk's ass rocking steadily as he penetrated Dave, toes clenching hard as his ankles crossed across the flat of his lower back.

Dave would burst as soon as Dirk touched him. There was no way to deny he was that close, that needy and desperate, yet he refused to ask. His throaty cries and groans were all reactions, grunts and gasping and grinding out their names. When Dirk changed positions and lifted Dave at the hips, drawing him up to bounce against his lap as he settled onto his folded knees, a mental damn broke. Refusing to do so while being tortured, Dave began to beg, crying out for release as something sensitive and wonderful within his body was roughly rubbed.

Not missing a beat, John rose up on his knees behind Dave's back and rested his chin on his shoulder, murmuring sweetly in his ear as he threw his hand forward to cup his throbbing dick for him, giving it a few quick pumps. Barely two thrusts, and Dave was spilling white over his hand, unable to make a sound as he gasped and panted with his eyes clenched shut. He shuddered and grew still when John withdrew his hand to casually lick his fingers clean.

“Did you break him, Dirk?” John asked aloud, turning his head to the side to try seeing Dave's face. He caught only dim glowing like low fire embers as he struggled to catch his breath, trying to keep the spark alive.. before fading out as the red was hidden from view behind pale lashes and lids. Too much too fast, but he'd not regret a second of it. “He just barely got better, and now he's out cold again! Humans are too fragile. Can he really handle fire?”

Dirk withdrew himself gently and moved to a crouch, keeping Dave stable as he rose up and walked to the water to rinse both of them off, heating the space around himself like a bath. John went further out into the water, flicking droplets up with the breeze and letting them fall on himself like chilled rain.

“He'll handle it. He handled me, and he handled you even before this all happened. Dave'll make it. He's.. just tired for now.” Had a long day, then went right back into the arms of two very eager lovers, only to exhaust himself once more “We'll let him sleep it off while we try to sort out what to do to get him to the island.”

John finished his brief washing as Dirk carried Dave out of the water and back to the soft cocoon, tucking him into its folds to dry without too much direct air or light exposure. He'd burn to a crisp with that fair skin if left out too long. He drifted towards Dirk when he'd stepped away from the bedding, curling around his chest and holding on around his neck, kissing at his lips. John still hadn't gotten off, and there was surely plenty of time for a quickie while Dave slept before business could be settled.

“We can do this later, Dirk.. Kiss me.”

“What else do humans do to travel normally.”

“Dirk..”

“Swimming is out. I don't suppose animals would help.”

“Dirk, damn it.”

“..... What could it-”

“Dirk, I swear, kiss me.”

“John.”

“If this isn't about you shoving your tongue in my mouth, I'm not interested in hearing it right now.”

“John, I know what we need,” Dirk started, but found himself being cut off by a very insistent wind god digging his nails into his back hard enough to nearly draw blood. He wanted attention, and he wanted it now.

“If you tell me, can I get a bit of you before we secure whatever you've come up with?”

“....We need a boat.”

“A boat? Oh. Wow, I thought it was going to be something difficult!” laughed John as he surged the air forwards, dragging Dirk back into the water with him. They were lucky the splashing and random waterspouts didn't wake Dave from his much needed nap.

Chapter Text

“You're telling me,” Dave said quietly, “that you expect me to believe a boat just appeared here while I slept.”

“Precisely,” Dirk said, arms settled behind his back. It was hard to resist raising his hands up to rub beneath his shirt at the bite marks John had given him, the scratches along his ribs and sides that stung from the salt water residue they kept being touched with. His clothes were just now starting to dry, doused with water, and threatening to give away the location and severity of the red lines. Dave didn't need to see those, even if he was fully aware of what often happened between them. It was just common courtesy, even if there was a chance the red lines could be seen where the water was still present.

“A little fishing boat, oars and sail and all. Just suddenly drifts ashore with nobody on board.”

“Exactly,” Dirk clarified once more as he coughed and looked to John, distracted for a moment by the long tail at the back of his outfit flipping through the air as he darted excitedly around the boat. He had scratches on his ankles and upper arms, his hair was wild, fabric of his clothes still damp. It had taken a quick bout between them and some glances of their powers to convince the owners of the vessel to surrender it in the first place.

Namely by intimidation and the threat of capsizing the entire thing before throwing the individuals over the edge. Dirk enjoyed himself, got a decent scrap in before hurling the innocent parties off into the waves that John hadn't already blown overboard. At least, until he had to convince John to offer them good fortune and some breezes to be sure they were able to reach their port once more minus one mode of transport. That had gotten messy, waterspouts and boiling heat clashing along the tops of the waves as they fought one another until one of the men had drowned, flailing in terror to get away as fast as possible until he'd exhausted himself. The remaining crew clung to each other and stared, horrified, afraid to move.

“There's only three now,” John had said with a somber face. “Three is far luckier than four. They'll be fine now.”

Dave was pulling his pants all the way up and walking through the sand in bare feet, reaching out to plant his toes against the wood and push at it till it skated backwards a little in the silt. John pushed it right back into place on the dryer sand to keep it from wanting to drift backwards should the tide rise.

“It's..” Dave mumbled.

“Perfect?” asked John. “Breath taking? Absolutely glorious?”

“Stolen,” he finished lamely, foot sinking back down into the sand as he righted himself properly. “I don't believe you for a second that this thing just drifted up, and you're morons if you think me stupid enough to believe it with the condition you're both in. Seriously now, where'd you get this from?”

John's face fell once he realized that Dave wasn't going to follow along with their words. He'd grown such an ability to cop an attitude now and then compared to how he used to be, timid and shy and anxious only to please. He'd never change their treasure, though. The attitude was actually quite precious considering he as of yet had very little to back his words up with beyond hot air, an even more precious when he remembered how it had been forged.

“We borrowed it,” said Dirk. It was sort of truthful. They did indeed plan to return it to the harbor if they remembered, and would set it adrift with a bit of breeze and luck if they didn't. Were it not returned to the owners, it would seek someone else in need instead. “A boat was needed to get you to the next site, and so long as we're careful about it we can keep hopping through loopholes and stretching them as we see fit until we can call this finished.”

“When will it be finished, though?” Dave said as he went to go fetch his shirt, not wanting to let his newly healed skin burn to a crisp in the sun. “What will I even earn? Honor? Forgiveness for something that obviously wasn't a crime? You said you couldn't help me or you'd get in trouble.. but why help at all? Why don't we just leave?”

“Where would you go, if we left?” John asked suddenly, darting over on a quick breeze like a serpent swimming in calm waters to hover in front of his face. His curiosity truly knew no bounds. “If we dropped this entire fiasco and you could remain a normal human, where would you want to be?”

Dave stared at him strangely, suspicious again even as Dirk raised his hand to his face and sighed. John. John, John, -JOHN-. Why his mouth didn't seem to be connected to his brain, he would never know. Before he could ask, Dirk raised his hand to shush him.

“Just answer the question, Dave. I'll try explaining what loudmouth here was chattering about after. Would you choose to go back to the temple, or the city you lived near?”

“No!” Dave all but cried, shaking his head. “Maybe once upon a time. Maybe before this happened, I'd have wanted to go back to normal. Back to before.. But not now. I want to be as far away from that place as I can. Let them think I'm dead and they're safe from your supposed wrath.”

“Far away as possible, huh..? How far we talking?” John wheedled, pushing for more answers. For someone so trapped, so contained, how far did his dreams truly extend?

“I want to see where the sun sets, and where it rises each day. I want to find the source of the waters, the sea itself, and drink from it. I want to reach the place that the world meets the sky so I can run my hands through the divide,” he rattled off immediately, eyes starting to lighten. Steadily, as he grew more passionate, they began to softly glow red. The little embers were growing stronger. “I'd dress how I wanted, ate what I wished, and.. And I'd learn how to fight. I'd get messy, and climb things, and explore everything I could find. I want to meet who hangs the stars and the moon, and re-arrange the patterns.”

“Lofty ambitions for a mortal, wouldn't you think?” Dirk asked curiously, wanting to see a reaction. He got one as he watched the glow fade almost instantly, Dave's shoulders slumping self consciously.

“Well.. Yeah. But aren't dreams supposed to be bigger than life could ever be?”

Both gods grew quiet for a moment in thought, looking at one another in surprise. It was such a simple thought, yet neither of them had ever really looked at it that way. As gods, they were free to do many things that mortals couldn't even comprehend. They didn't have to worry about age, and unless outside influences were involved, they didn't need to worry about death. Yet when did any of them dream beyond their means?

Not often, if ever. The two of them had never desired something out of their reach, as they could simply reach out and take it. Except for Dave, and even that fragile dream had been rushed and greedy. It wasn't as simplistically beautiful as a mortals wishes to know what was around him, blissful in the unknown. Dirk found himself grinning.

“Would you be happy if I promised you that we'd be sure to have every single one of those things happen?” John asked, drifting to hug onto Dave's shoulders, nuzzling at his cheek affectionately.

“Really? Those things are possible?” The glow was coming back as he grinned, excited and filled with growing hope at the idea of seeing such improbable things with the two of them. Being near them made things safe, would keep him from harm in his mind. When they were away the bad things seemed to happen more often.

“Entirely, with a bit of work. We just need to get you to the end of your trials.. and then one more,” Dirk said as he lowered his arms to hang at his sides and began to walk over. “Call it a reward for seeing with new eyes.”

“...New eyes?” A metaphor?

“Dave, I'm not sure how to tell you this. So I'm going to ask questions instead,” he continued. “When you were with John and I a few days ago, did you feel any different?” At the immediate reddening of his face and widening of his eyes, he decided to clarify. “Aside from the sex. Did you feel.. stronger? Warmer? More alert, or anything of that nature?”

With John directly in his face, murmuring about how cute he looked when he flushed, it was hard to focus very well. It took nearly a minute before Dave could think back properly and try to place his memories in order, all too happy to skip the memories of the cave, the torture, the trial and its terror as one dark bubble. Yes, back to the warmth and the happiness and the skipping fire, the glory in revelry and breaking the rules. Finally feeling whole.

“I did. Well, I think I did at least. I wanted to flip him over, if I recall. I wanted to.. well. Make it happen how I wanted, after a while. Everything was so warm.. Was it you who turned the fire up, Dirk?” he asked, eyes continuing to flicker brighter as he was caught up in the memory. “Everything was so beautiful. It was crystal clear, crisp, brightly colored. I could feel every inch of skin on both of you, could smell and taste things I didn't know I even wanted.”

“You almost managed to flip me, you little blighter. Struggled and strained, started baring fangs you didn't even have before you got greedy for me,” John snickered. It was so much fun to tease his human, so easy to get responses out of him. He shifted in mid-air and kissed at the starkly reddening ear until he was pushed at by the smaller hands, rising up a good dozen feet with a cheery laugh before circling back to stand beside Dirk.

“I built the fire up at first, yes. Then you did, Dave. We... kind of inadvertently made things much more complex for you, without realizing it. For this, I apologize. Deeply. I'd not thought we'd have to have this discussion with you for many years,” Dirk sighed. “It's not as if it's easy to just walk up to a human and say, “Oh, by the way, you're going to become a god.” you see? It just doesn't work that way normally.”

Dave would likely not have looked at him any stranger unless he had sprouted multiple chattering heads from his groin. His mouth opened and closed several times as he tried to work out what order of randomized sounds to make in order to get answers to his confusion, though he remained quite mute. He'd heard stories like this in his education, murmurings. But the person usually knew ahead of time, or died. Had gifts and abilities. Were heroes.

“I think you're mistaken,” he finally said. “If that's what you're trying to suggest. I... No. I don't have anything like that. Not like the stories.”

“You did something just today that I believe would make you reconsider your own words,” Dirk gently insisted, watching Dave closer as he began to shift anxiously from foot to foot in the sand. “Right before you came out and we caught you up to help you, if we're correct. There was a sense about you, Dave. A reaching. You've been reaching for us ever since we began to court you. Have you not felt that?”

As he spoke, he gestured to his own chest and then outwards to symbolize the reach coming from within that he himself felt in response. John sagely nodded and did the same gesture. Dave raised his hand to his own chest and clenched his fist shut, shaking his head slowly.

“No, I don't.”

Lies. John raised his hand to get the wind active, letting it whirl sharply around Dave's feet before lifting him up with it. It passed the degree of normal air, offering out his will, his very essence trailing up and around his body to tempt and soothe him. The stirring grew harder, reaching, clawing till Dave finally let go to the urge. Eyes still shining, he took it all in, sighing after the first few seconds.

It was... soothing. It felt right. So absolutely, perfectly right. His body was lighter, colors were growing more vivid, the sounds of the waves growing more and more distant despite him not moving. His chest was on fire, raw flame beneath his ribs trying to sneak out to the freedom of the world and the potent energy it was being offered. Dave panicked when he felt his heart race, then stutter as his vision started to blur.

It wasn't feeling good, now. It hurt. It was as if he were starving, grabbing at everything he could get just to shove into his mouth to get rid of the burning ache. His body was tense, muscles clenching till his very bones throbbed, skin feeling far too tight. Heaviness began at his feet and worked up to his head, weighing him further and further down into the buoyancy that John's wind offered. Wrong. This felt wrong. Terribly wrong.. but absolutely delicious.

“STOP!” he shouted loudly, giving a hard thrash, forcing his eyes to focus forwards as he threw his arms out towards the grinning god with his raised hand. For a brief moment, he saw fire in a wide arc from his own hands, deep red and flickering yellow orange, hints of blue. It was like looking at a vaporous opal, shining and iridescent. Not the slightest bit hot to his own body aside from the backlash of warm air from the breeze. Within seconds of his outburst, the breeze had died and he hit the sand without any other buffering, panting heavily.

“Maybe, uh... Maybe that wasn't the brightest idea. Oops?” John laughed nervously as he walked to the fallen blonde, offering his hand down. “I'm sorry. I didn't think that would really happen.. Wow, though. You're gonna be pretty feisty, huh!”

“Of course he will be, he's got a lot of potential,” Dirk said. Pretty feisty. Pah. He was his son, damn it. He'd be more than feisty, and Dirk found himself hoping that his bloodline would prove to be some well controlled hell spawn as opposed to a timid flicker in the breeze. From Dave's attitude under the influence of being exposed to potent energy sources, it was a safe enough bet that his hopes would prove to be true. They just needed to keep tending their flower and feeding him, teaching him as he grew.

It took time before Dave finally grabbed John's hand to get a lift up, though he firmly refused to talk about what had just happened now that his pulse and his mind had calmed down considerably. Nope. Not ready for that yet. Quite enough surprises and shocks and bullshit for the day, thank you both very fucking much. Dirk and John continued trying to ask for confirmation, trying to soothe him, offer advice as they paced around him and alternately talked to each other in a light banter. Any attempt towards Dave himself was cut off with a sharp groan, or point blank ignoring as he collected his bag and took inventory, trying to sort out where he needed to go next with his hard earned stolen token. Path selected, more or less, Dave neatly hopped onto the boat and held up his list, clearing his throat.

“Okay. So. I'm supposed to finish the list, and then... other stuff will happen, apparently. But this list. We have the boat we needed now, but how far is it, and where am I going? I'm supposed to give the token to some spider monster but it doesn't say where I'm looking for her. Is this... a god thing? Maybe a temple that houses relics?” Dave asked hopefully, considering she wanted a precious coin from the bull for her own uses.

“Where are -we- going,” corrected John as he hiked a thumb at Dirk to get on board. This was his territory, damn it, and the surly orange eyes were only going to prove distracting if they kept staring at him every so often. “It's a few miles.... uh.. hm. Let me see..”

“South,” said Dirk as he stepped into the boat and sat down at the bow, resting back on his elbows leisurely. Dave was poking around everything that wasn't nailed down by now, the simple sail that was tied down, the oars, the barrels that had held the sailors light supplies for an afternoon of fishing. Without a second thought, he tucked in to the apples, the sweet fruit crunching noisily as he sat down in the center of the boat's body.

“Right. South. Exactly what I was about to say. Thanks for interrupting, you ass.”

“Any time, John. Any time.”

John took a moment to re-orient himself to the directions as he unfurled the sail and set it up to welcome his wind before rising up to hover a good ten feet behind the boat, calling and directing the breeze in their area to propel the boat forwards gently. With a grating sound, the boat dislodged from the shore and bobbed out towards deeper waters, John drifting forwards to turn them around and set their course whenever they went off direction. Dirk lay back to take rest, fingers dangling over the edge of the boat to catch stray drops of water. Dave watched where they were going with a wary eye, unsure which blurry shape in the distance was to be the next obstacle.

- - - - - - - - -

It was firmly sunset by the time they arrived on the island, thick trees and bushes as far as the eye could see beyond the dull glare of the sandy shore. The boat was yanked a good deal up from the water by the two gods, Dave more than happy to sit still for the impromptu ride. It offered him more time to stare, to squint and try to let his eyes adjust. He could see no paths, no sign of other boats. No smoke from fires.

The only sound that greeted them aside from the hush of the water lapping at the beach was distant bird calls and the soft scratching of leaves and undergrowth. Dave stared unsteadily at the vast unknown, hands settled protectively over his bag and the precious token inside. It wasn't as if he could just go back and get a second one from the bull, after all.

Dirk was looking at the island just as warily, splaying his stained toes out on the ground to get a better footing. His senses were kicking into overdrive, survival mode from the battlefields. He wished he could easily see in the dark, that he didn't have to rely on his flames to see, but knew it was better than nothing. With his fire he could be a torch for the other two, and provide them with their own light. John was just as blind as Dave in this setting, wind of no use in close lying trees and calm underbrush.

“Is this it?” John asked as he squinted and stared, flitting up into the air to try getting a view from overhead, returning minutes later when he is dismayed to see only light filtering against dark leaves and skeletal branches. “Does anyone even live here? Or is it another of those stupid underground things. Dirk, are we lost? Dirk. Dirk, did we go to the wrong island? It's the wrong island, isn't it. I told you it was south, did we go south? Why didn't you make me go the right way?”

“This is it, John. We just need to go searching for who Dave needs to give this coin to.” Dirk asked as he approached the woods edge, looking for a branch of a decent size. It would serve as a useful focus for a torch for the little group, even if the fire never touched it properly.

“And if it's not?” asked John as he dropped to the ground, glowering at the dirt and sand as he walked to the edge of the treeline. Nope, no flying in there. No major destruction unless he had to, surely, to cover their trails.. not to mention he actually didn't like thoughtless violence like that unless it seemed to feel like a good time for it. There were no humans here. Only animals. Nobody to be amazed by his powers, to worship him for continued benevolence. Nothing to impress or keep in line.

“Then we'll come back and try another island afterward,” Dave said evenly, eyes drawn immediately to the spark of light that Dirk was calling forth to hold around the end of the stick. It was warm and orange, perfectly controlled in delicate spurts, a soft blue deep in its core visible now and then where it settled near the wood. It looked like a rain drop, as if it had weight near its base.

Dirk hummed in agreement and urged the fire higher, pointing to John. “You and Dave clear paths. If that means pushing branches and pushing aside vines, so be it. John, try not to cause too much destruction. Dave.. you're small. Try ducking and weaving ahead if you feel safe enough, try to see if you spot anywhere for that token to go. Maybe it's meant to fit into a statue for all we know.”

“Hey, this isn't a field of battle, Dirk. You don't get to suddenly start barking orders at everyone you know,” John grumbled as he puffed out his cheeks and stepped forward to start bending back leaves and low bushes out of the way of the approaching fire.

Dirk rolled his eyes. “You can complain to me later on if we don't turn the island into a battlefield. By all means, John, feel free to complain heartily.”

- - - - - -

John and Dirk could have likely kept going all night, but even with the earlier healing and nap, Dave needed to stop and rest. It had been multiple hours of hard work with little reward to offer. There were signs of stone work, carvings, ruined buildings covered in thick spiderwebs and dirt and scattered plant life, but no fire pits or footprints. No signs of humans, and so far, no caverns to get to. No mountains to climb. Just miles and miles of thick, healthy brush and animals. Lots of spiders as well, actually. Spiderwebs were a common sight, and Dirk made certain to go over their resting spot three times with John to clear it of little clear baby spiders and fist sized white monsters with fangs and soft fluff.

The stick with its dollop of thick fire served as their camp light, Dirk sticking it into the ground before letting Dave know it was safe to rest. He'd expected the mortal to use his bag as a pillow, curl it beneath his head. Yet again, though, he was surprised by his actions. Dave held the bag with its precious token tightly against his abdomen and curled his legs up beneath it to guard it, chin pressed solid atop his arms. There was nothing beneath his head but soil and leaves, till John dropped down next to him and scooted him around like a toy, propping the side of his skull against his own thigh so the soft blonde hair was in easier reach of his hand.

“Just rest easy, Dave. We've got you, okay? If you sleep too long, we'll wake you up so we can keep going on this wild goose chase for whoever wanted a coin from a bull monster. Thrilling stuff,” John snorted softly. It was actually work. Hard work that he wasn't used to. He couldn't just blow the island apart, or leave to go freely drift around in the skies when he felt claustrophobic from the press of leaves and branches. Nor could he leave Dave's side and not pull his weight along with the other God. Not without drawing Pyrope down upon them and starting whatever kind of fight or trouble that was already ahead of them far too early.

Thankfully for them both, Dave was tired enough that he merely grunted and shuffled in place before growing still and giving in to the fatigue. The most damage he'd sustained after his rescue had actually been caused by the gods themselves after Maryam had left, and a few insect bites and scratches. No spider bites, everyone taking more than their fair share of care to be mindful.

“Dirk. Seriously, is this the right island? It feels like there's nobody here for us to even find.. Is Serket even here? How would you even hide a big spider. How big are we talking?” John's mind clicked and whirred as he tried to picture what she might look like now that she was no longer human. How big of a spider was needed to eat a humans flesh? It wasn't as if she'd been a giant as a mortal, unless you counted her ego.

“This is the right island, John, will you be quiet? You're coming off as mighty anxious. Same as you did when Maryam spoke of her.. Do you need to step back from this if it becomes a fight?” Dirk asked quietly. “I don't want to rely on you and trust you, only to have you turn around and not be able to do your job.”

“My job?”

“Protecting Dave, John. We're in this together until he awakens at the very least. If you want to run away and forfeit your claim on him.. I'd rather know now.”

“Forfeit my claim? Dirk, what are you going on about?”

Dirk would normally have rolled his eyes, but for once they were firmly focused on the wind gods face. He was deathly calm and serious. Wind was fickle, notorious for changing his mind as the luck shifted. This entire business was going against his very core nature, and if that meant Dirk needed to double his affections to catch a fall from a sudden lack of interest or a failure, then he'd rather know ahead of time. Cover all loose ends.

“I'm asking you if you plan to be capable of killing someone you cared for as a mortal if she decides to try killing Dave as a monster and cannot be reasoned with.”

“....And if she can?”

“Then by all means, do it. But I'm serious. If you feel you might have any sudden changes of heart or sincerity, let me know the risk so I can have you leave and wait by the boat. I'm sure we can handle it alone if we have to.”

“Why are you trying to push me away?” John asked. “I've told you repeatedly, I'm in this for the long haul. I'm not going anywhere, and you'd have to fight me to -make- me go! I don't want to kill Serket if I don't have to, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't either!”

“I won't be unless she tries to do anything incorrigible to Dave.”

“I'd also like it if you just pulled your head out of your ass for ten minutes. We've had this same conversation multiple times now, Dirk. Even after we decided to share him! When is it going to stop? What hoops do I need to jump through to prove I'm not going to be so fickle with something so precious?” John fumed, trying not to yell enough to wake Dave up from his nap against the side of his lap.

“When you show you've learned something since what happened with Jake.”

“I-... Why would you bring that up. That was so -long- ago! Really now, ancient history, Dirk? Now of all times?”

“Yes. Ancient history that I seem to remember quite well, and wonder if you learned from it or not.”

John bit his lip and looked off to the side for a moment.

“....Yes. I've learned, for what it's worth. I don't even know why you brought that up, that's hardly the same scale as any of this and you know it. Not even in the same universe of problems as what we're coping with right now. But nothing like that will happen with Dave. I'll be certain of it.”

Dirk crawled closer to John's side, resting against his shoulder, kissing his cheek, his temple, his throat. He bit his shoulder gently, teasing him. Trying to lighten the mood.

“I'm glad. I think I'll stop asking you that, actually.”

“Asking what?” said John. “If I'm going to break his heart? Abandon him? Abandon you both?”

“Something like that. I was also thinking of letting sleeping dogs lay, and trying to forget the past instead of holding it.” Dirk smirked and wrapped his left arm around John's waist, gripping his hip low enough that he could nearly touch Dave's hair with his fingertips if he stretched the digits out.

“It'd do me good, let alone you. Do you realize how annoying it is to have the most grudge holding god be the literal god of war? There is no dropping things if you're not wanting them dropped! You never let your guard down!” John laughed, then suddenly swatted at his right hip. “Will you stop that?”

“Stop what?” Dirk said as he squeezed his left again.

“Tickling me! …. Uh. Actually, how are you doing that?”

“I'm not tickling you,” Dirk breathed as he looked around suddenly, only now aware of the change in sounds around them: dead silence. Jerking away from John's side, Dirk looked between them in time to make out a massive white point tipped in blue poking greedily at John's hip. It shot forward to latch onto his waist and squeeze tight before he instinctively disappeared in a puff of air to escape the grip, the fire god leaping back a few feet to ground himself.

Dave thumped his head on the ground and grumbled, opening his eyes and looking around to find the proper face to loudly complain at.

“Hey, what gives? Is it time to go find this spider thing...? You could've woken me up a little gentler, don't you think?” Dave croaked as he adjusted his bag to keep it from spilling as he rose to his knees.

John reappeared when Dave looked up towards the creature and screamed, leaving Dirk to shout his name and run forward in the hopes of grabbing him from the thick carpet of fist sized spiders that had reappeared from the brush in a sheet, leaving him too afraid to move. Dirk was hesitating now. They couldn't heal him if he was bitten, and they were likely listening to Serket. What if they were poisonous? Would they bite? He'd worry about the massive one.. but for other reasons.

Attached to the spiders body and spindled legs was the upper body of a woman, hair thick and curled and long down her back and over the fronts of her shoulders. Her skin was actually lovely to look at, the same blend of pearly white and snowy blue as the spider legs were, eyes yellowish and dotted with eight perfect pupils. When she smiled, it was to show delicately pointed fangs before flicking her hair back over her shoulder, placing her hands on her hips and rolling her shoulders back confidently.

“Well, well, well... Hello, John. Are you here to bring another lucky streak at last? Or are you offering me dinner first as an apology.”

Chapter Text

This was not going how they had been hoping at all.

“He's not for eating!” John shouted aloud to the massive spider creature before them, trying to ignore the strangled noises coming from Dave as he knelt beneath the writhing carpet of fist sized arachnids. They couldn't risk getting closer and upsetting Serket, making her turn on them. Just play it easy.. “... Uh. You were talking about him, right?”

“Should I be? Actually, all three of you look pretty tasty,” she said as her smirk widened. “I've got a feeling he wouldn't play nicely,” she said as she pointed at Dirk. More trouble than he was worth, most likely. “Would give me indigestion. But the mortal looks sweet as candy..”

He couldn't help himself but play along.

“What about me? Am I not a good treat?”

“John, this is hardly the time to be flirting, will you PLEASE try to focus?!” Dirk hissed, inching forward a short distance toward the spider sheet that covered Dave, pausing when the massive spider creature lifted two of her legs and tapped at the ground to make the individuals frenzy faster. “Dave, be strong. Stay awake, stay still, stay quiet. We'll get this sorted out,” he promised.

Dave was not appreciating this entire ordeal one bit. He was terrified, he was quite done, and he was in a situation that left him once more in the hands of others. Wait to be saved. Wait to be helped. Do as you're told. Wait for the monster mother and your lover to stop flirting so they can carry on. Do this. Don't do that. Tense, jaw tightening, he gave a soft grunt to show he was listening.

“Mn.. I suppose you'd be good for a snack,” she conceded as she maneuvered backwards and slightly to the side. A moment later, she leaned her humanoid torso forward until her hair fell forward over her shoulders again, her bangs over her multifaceted eyes. “Though, then agaiiiiiiiin,” she said as she drew out the word like a thread of thought, “you'd likely be quite bitter.”

“Bitter! Since when?” John said as he lifted up a few more inches. “I've not a bitter bone in my body!”

“HAH. You're bitterness embodied! You're a sower of seeds that turn out to be rocks! Liar, false promiser!” She said with a hiss, delicate fangs bared. The spiders below her had slowed considerably during her rage and reared back their forelegs, baring their own fangs.

“I never lie, though!” he said, lying through his teeth. Dirk rolled his eyes, obviously annoyed. Anyone who claimed to be absolute in anything was either a liar, or absolutely stupid. Foolish and immature seemed to fit his bill more correctly, however. At least in Dirk's opinion. “Name one time when I did.”

“When you said I would always have luck in my favor? When you said I had talent? When you said I was the best?” she said with malice. “I had talent! I -was- the best! The absolute best! I had luck on my side, always wound up on top! Then you just.. abandoned me!”

“That's how luck works, though, Serket. It's kind of beyond my control,” John said with a shrug. “It comes and goes.”

“It comes and goes according to YOUR desires. You control it!” she said. “It's your entire department, your ability, your toy! You told me I had more luck than anyone else because I was special!”

Dirk grimaced, not liking how the conversation was turning. Maybe he could just burn them all off...? Coat Dave in flame and hope he survived in tact, or tapped into it prematurely to try controlling it of his own will as he had in the cavern of the minotaur? No. No, he couldn't, that would be over the top involvement. Dave needed to do this. They needed to try calming the storm of her wrath so he would have an easier time.

Think, Dirk. Think. Think.

John was turning away from Dave and flitting like a moth, trying to lure her away from him. Trying to keep her wrath aimed at him instead of at the mortal that could be so easily injured, and not so easily repaired. Serket was taking the bait and turning her massive body around, the pointed tips of her legs stabbing at the ground for balance as she drew up the front appendages aggressively.

“You came to me because I was special, and because I deserved it more and was more talented than everyone else, and then you suddenly changed your mind apparently. Right when I needed you!”

“Serket, listen to yourself! If you were really the best ever, why would you need luck?!” he said, not seeing every point to her rage at all. Not seeing any point of it, honestly. “If everything was that cut and dry, you would have been completely capable of anything! Taking over the world even. Luck wouldn't be needed at all, so I don't see what you're so mad about.”

“Because with luck at my side, I might not have ended up like THIS, you idiot!” she cried, lunging forward to try grabbing him, snarling when he flit out of reach. “You abandoned me as soon as things went bad!”

“Serket, come on, it's not as if we were joined at the hip or anything,” John said as he raised his hands, eyebrows creasing. “You're a human. Well. You were. Gods and humans don't really mix. I told you that before, right?”

Playing with humans did sometimes have its setbacks. Serket was a prime example of what happened if you played with them for too long, or if you got attached when you shouldn't. Having children now and then was common practice between gods and humans. The human world needed the occasional links, needed demi-gods and heroes of legend to rise and help them, to remind them of their importance and rarity and power. But to simply play with them, experiment with them? This was pushing a rarely touched point of guilt for the wind god.

No matter how her personality was set by nature, she may not have gone as far as she had if he hadn't gotten himself actively involved. She may have simply lived and died as a singularly driven, if selfish, human being instead of a monsters extended lifespan.

“Don't mix? DON'T MIX?!” she cried, lunging again and again as John darted about, sometimes disappearing from view. “Humans and gods don't mix? Then why are you traveling with one?!” Serket said as she pointed behind her to the barely visible form of Dave. “Why does a human have two gods escorting him around? Why did you bring him here to where I live? It was to spite me, wasn't it. Just admit it, you did this completely on purpose just to rub it in my face. I don't see -him- being turned into a monster! What does he have that I don't? Nothing. He has nothing that I don't. Even like this I'm better than him.”

Dirk's eyes flickered dangerously as he stepped forward, casually stepping on one of the spiders and crushing it beneath his heel with a wet crunch. The swarm remained in its general position on Dave, having not been given directions other than to stay on their target. Others nearby on the ground, however, began to swarm the fallen member of their group and the attacker, trying to climb up his legs and clothes, biting at his flesh once Serket hissed in rage.

A single spider, and she knew it. Knew it as closely and as surely as a mother would know its children. She also knew she couldn't catch John, nor fare well against Dirk.. yet had figured out why neither of them were attacking her or simply wiping out her spiders. At least perfunctory reasoning. There seemed to be things they could and couldn't do, and she was intent to see just how much of her way she could manage to get.

“I wouldn't do that, if I were you.. A god can shake off their venom like a tickle. Humans, though, tend to absorb it,” she said with a smirk, folding a hand beneath her chin, holding her opposite elbow with a blue tinted palm. “It wouldn't be fast, either. Oh, no. Not their bite. Their venom is slow and painful unless enough of them bite. I wonder how many I could tell to bite him? How many would it take to kill someone so small in seconds? Minutes? Hours..? How many bites to make him linger a few weeks and perish? Swell and strain and suffer as his innards steadily come outward?”

Oh, this was fun. Seeing the look on their faces, scent and see the look on the mortals face beneath its living blanket. Knowing nobody could touch her. She was once more the best, if only in her own element. She was in control, on top, a very good position to have. Anyone who wanted something would have to bargain with her now.. and they had a very expensive bargaining piece on the table already.

“Leave him be,” Dirk warned, trying to work out on the fly how much he could fight if they ended this now and brought the elder gods down around their ears too pre-maturely.

“You don't frighten me,” Serket cooed, face giving the slightest of twitches when he stepped on another spider and killed it. “John has already ensured my fate. I fear nothing from him any longer. I don't fear you either, fire god. Something is holding you back.. something important. Something you're not that willing to mention. You're not interesting anymore.”

She was doing the opposite of what they had hoped, looming closer till she was settled almost on top of Dave, looking down at him like a true predator. Sizing him up. Yes.. surely his flesh would taste sweet. Odds are his looks were the main reason they were wanting t- no. No. Wait, his eyes. Those eyes.. Those angry, sunset eyes glaring at her in silence, tears staining the edges, were not natural. They were fiery. They were glowing. And they were angry.

Best act fast before anything else happened. Best keep up the dominant stance, and keep her face up. Take him out, or bargain hard, luck or not. She'd make her own luck. Maybe he didn't know the differences..

“You, there. Human.. You're not under any guard on my island aside from your gods. You're in my territory now. Let's make the best of this. Do you want to die?” she said, bending her legs enough to reach forward with her hand, stroking her long fingers gently beneath his chin. The spiders parted enough for her to see them cling futilely to his hair before tumbling down and off his body to the ground. He wasn't flinching anymore. She had to act quicker. “Beg. Beg me to take mercy on you. To not mar you, or keep you from being a whore to the fickle minds of higher beings. Beg me not to eat you.. Go on. Beg.”

“Serket!” Dirk barked, striding forward to lay hand on the nearest leg, curling his fingers closed around it and giving a sharp tug till she lifted it awkwardly to look downwards at him. “He's business with you, will you stop this nonsense? Your anger is for John, not for myself, and not for Dave. Leave him be.”

Serket got no further words out before Dave mumbled irritably, “I can handle this..”

“... Dave, come now. We're trying to help you, this is obviously out of your league,” Dirk said. He was protective, obviously so, and unashamed of it. They'd failed him once, gotten him hurt, left him to the wayside when they could have offered him help and protection. He was precious to them. Dave meant so much already, and was going to mean so much more in the near future. “For the sake of the heavens, just stay still and let us handle this until it's safer. Okay?”

“Don't tell me what to do.”

“....Dave, come on, we're helping you.”

“Stop,” Dave said simply as he lowered his chin to stare at the ground, willing his thoughts to try clearing. Trying to make them slow. Why was everything suddenly so.. annoying. Frustrating. Why was this happening in the first place, it was so STUPID.

Dirk kept his grip on Serket's leg, but frowned in Dave's direction, watching the faintly glowing eyes before they lowered. It was the stress. Another near death experience, this time at full health. Prolonged stress and strain.. This could either be wonderful, or terrible news. Was he going to wake up? Could they even handle him waking up right now? Could anyone?

“Dave, come on, listen to us!” John said as he rose up directly above him. “You're young and fragile, and you don't seem to understand what's going on. I understand, it's a human thing. You think you're so big, but you're just not, okay? We know better, so jus-”

Perfect bait.

“Are you going to let them talk to you like that, Dave?” She had a name now, a focus. Maybe she could bargain better once she got more of her feet into the situation. Use his inexperience and rashness against them both, bring someone towards her side more directly. Use that as a weapon. Add more to her hand, and turn the tables against luck itself. “You seem to know what you're doing.”

“Serket, shut up!” John yelled. “He doesn't know any bette-”

“Stop telling me what I do and don't know!” Dave shouted suddenly, a few spiders shuffling anxiously, abandoning the space atop his head as their bodies began to heat up, scared for their lives by instinct. His thoughts were racing, mouth dry, pupils small as pinpoints as he panted in air as fast as he could swallow it down. His ribs hurt, his back, his arms. The tiny pricks of the spiders crawling around him, their tickles were increasingly annoying. Agitating.

Everything was annoying. Terrible. Horrible. Overwhelming his thoughts.

Dirk felt a stirring in the air, the aggression. Energy. Familiarity tenfold as the flames woke, calling him, challenging him. Torn between leaving to investigate, and leaving to tame whatever was rising to the fore. He slowly released Serket's leg and raised his hands, cautious ready. If Dave needed to be put down, or even just knocked out, it would have to be fast an accurate.

Let them argue. Let him clean up his sons mess.

“Sounds like you've run another human around in circles, and he's mad,” Serket chided, wanting to offset the pang of nervousness at the unknown with an air of complete and utter calm. So she didn't quite know what he was now, or what was happening for sure. So she wasn't sure if he was a bigger threat than a bargaining chip. Who cared? Always make people think you know the best, because surely, that is the saving grace in any situation.

Always be in charge if you're the one with all the answers.

John ignored her words for the moment, immediately moving to stand opposite of Dirk, readying his wind.

“Dirk.. Dirk. Do we? Is this right? Is it now? There's not anything else we need, right? What if-”

“John, no what if's. There's no time for this right now,” Dirk said slowly and patiently, eyes starting to light up in response to Dave's increased movement and visible agitation. More and more spiders were beginning to flee from the visible strands of heat rising from Dave's head and shoulders. Serket chose to ignore it, and continued to push buttons. She wanted a reaction, and damn it all, she would get one somehow.

“You've told off gods, and for what? For them to treat you like a problem? My home isn't near anywhere, it must have taken quite a trip.. What are you even hoping to achieve here from me, someone who survived the wrath of gods, when your babysitters won't even cut your leash?”

Too much stress, fanning the fires of aggression that, judging from Dave's face, he couldn't even place. It seemed to have almost come from nowhere, a tiny spark igniting the entire mountain of kindling, energy he could never comprehend in its entirety flooding forwards. All of it angry, intense. Now. Now. NOW. NOW. It was like a total flood of aggression through his veins. How dare they?

( How dare they what...? )

Why did they all think they could treat him this way?! Like some victim!

( They were just doing their best.. )

Make them stop. Teach them he was strong enough to survive this without them. He could handle this. He was fine. He was going to show them all what was flooding through him, how powerful he was feeling right now. How strong he could be.. Stronger than he knew he could be before. It felt amazing, almost arousing.

( But.... )

The spiders caught fire suddenly as Dave released a sheet of flame from the top of his head to his toes, fleeing in a scuttling storm, crawling over the backs of the slower ones to get away. The unfortunate simply popped, twitching. The lucky lacked a leg or two but managed to make it away in mostly one piece to the safety of the forest beyond, far away from the human shaped bonfire that was starting to slowly stand up.

He felt so alive. Had the night always been so bright? So easy to see in? This was like flying with his feet on the ground, comforting warmth and lightness. Happiness behind the aggression and upset. Dirk and John were nearest.. Dave would deal with them after. For now, he pointed to Serket, and spoke his peace calmly.

“Tell me where to go from here. I brought your stupid coin, from the bull.”

“.... You what?”

“The coin. The stupid, worthless, ugly coin he was treasuring so much. I have it.”

“His token? How did you get Nitram's token?”

“Blinded him when he tried to eat me, and left with it,” he said, unable to fight down the grin on his face. Yes. That was right. He'd blinded him on his own. A monster had tried to eat him, broken and weakened and defenseless, and Dave had managed to blind him and escape all on his own. No help from the gods. Nobody fighting his battles for him.

He didn't need help.

He didn't need anyone.

“Why do you look so happy?!” Serket exploded with a hiss, swatting at him with her forelegs, wincing and stepping back when the delicate surface was burnt. No touching this one. Thread wouldn't stick to fire. Nitram.. Nitram.. The only man she actively admired in her human life, the only man she'd ever actively admire for his deeds instead of what he'd been born with. He'd worked his ass off to accomplish the things he'd done, had proven himself worthy of her affections. Strong enough for them. And now this.. this -human- was grinning about blinding him.

“It's... hah. Ahaha. No. No, never mind. Really. But I'm supposed to give it to you, they said. The idiots on the boat. You wanted a coin from a bull for some stupid reason, and then I'm supposed to go somewhere else,” he said as the grin gave way to a stifled case of the giggles, his hand raising to cup at his mouth as he took a singing step forwards. Grass caught flame and withered in his presence, the very edges of his clothing beginning to smoke where he wasn't controlling the heat at all.

Then again, really, what of this was he controlling? How much of this was him, and how much was the fire licking up in his mind?

“You're out of your damned mind, I'm giving you nothing. You're going to give me my coin, and then you'll leave this place empty handed!” Serket said as she backed up further, trying to size up a point to strike. In reality, he wouldn't be leaving here. A few bites should do it. She'd be scalded, surely, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. If Nitram could be blinded by the likes of him, there was nothing left to do but take the danger out. Nobody else was able to handle it, and she'd be damned if she was going to let him leave with her treasure to find the witches.

He was too quick. When had he even moved? One moment she was steadily watching the flickering flames gliding over his skin, licking along the edges of those unsettlingly bright eyes, and the next he'd.. blurred. Disappeared entirely, his restrained laughter distorting for a moment before picking up directly to her left.

She felt the burn before she registered his new location, a burning grip seized to the side of her second leg, strong enough somehow to stay rooted when she instinctively tried to shove him off and back away from the danger. He laughed, she screeched in rage and pain, and they began to tumble awkwardly as the giant spider rolled to the side to try scraping him off by force. Against trees, against the ground, flailed through the air, Dave's grip wouldn't let up.

Dave just kept laughing, the flames burning higher and higher as his inner anger grew. Why couldn't he stop laughing? This was terrible! She could have just given him the treasure so he could leave, but no. Everyone had to hassle him, threaten him, tease and torment him. And all he could do was laugh at this world that made less and less sense as his cares slipped away.

The fire was startling, but comforting in a strange way. Warm, flickering like a heartbeat, making him lose more and more touch with his body the longer they were visible. Every strike from the spider, from the whipping around against obstacles just made him want to make them larger out of spite. Burn it all away. Burn as much as the laughter was burning and aching at his ribs and stomach, fire from his lungs and stomach.

“Dirk. DIRK, call it back!” John shouted, hesitant to react. Wind would fan the flames higher and cause more damage to the island, to the spiders, to Serket herself. She didn't deserve this. He couldn't touch either of them right now for fear of making everything explode. “Call back the flames, it may make it stop.”

It. Not him. Dave wasn't doing this. He couldn't be. Waking up wouldn't change someone's personality, that he could assume. Dave was timid, gentle behind the sassy attitude. He wasn't this strong.. Fire was.

“What do you think I'm trying to do?” Dirk shouted as he ran forwards into the midst, bare feet gripping at soil for traction as he bent and sprang upwards atop the white and blue body, steering towards the leg being so badly damaged by the laughing inferno. If he could settle on top of Serket's back, he should be able to reach down and swat Dave down. Get his attention. Knock him out. If he was closer, maybe the flames would listen to him.

They weren't responsive to his whims, too caught up in the young, impressionable, easily manipulated new master to take orders from the seasoned veteran with the iron grip. Why listen to him and stay in place when there was someone willing to let it run free and do as it pleased with a body to boot?

Dirk had no guard against the burning now, no natural aptitude against it, and he found himself wishing he'd worn thicker wrappings on his arms this day as they already began to steam and smoke within the flame. Serket was still struggling, making the situation worse than it already was, a rodeo instead of a rescue operation.

“Be STILL, Serket, let me help you! Dave. Stop this. DAVE,” he bellowed towards the whipping tongues of red and orange, the soft blue center crackling around Dave's clothes and hair. “Come to your senses! Are you truly only this?! Is this what you were born to do? Become a mindless pawn?! ANSWER ME.”

Dave let go without warning after Dirk yelled, riding the momentum of Serket's flailing so he could soar off a ways, hitting the ground in a roll. Dirk gave chase, leaving John to sort out what to do with the spider now that the attack was over, thankful when he heard him begging her to stay still so he could cool the site and try to help her. If nothing else, it would keep her from blindly following after them in an attempt to put an end to Dave.

When he slowly rose up unsteadily to his feet, flames low along his pale skin, barely moving in the soft breezes that ran between them, the giggling had died down to silence. The eerie grin, however, remained.

“Dave.. Just breathe, and come here. Things are changing rapidly, and I'm sure it's confusing, but you need to just stay calm. It's dangerous if you don't know how to control it, just.. Breathe,” Dirk begged quietly as he stalked forwards, burnt palms raised up in display. He wouldn't do anything to him, the pose said. Dirk hoped beyond hope that it didn't signal the truth: I'm not sure what I -can- do to you right now.

“Come here, to me. We can leave, now. We'll figure out what to do about the elder gods. You don't need to do any of this, we need to rethink our strategy. Everything is different. Just stay calm, an-”

“I don't -need- to do anything, Dirk,” Dave said quietly, mouth barely seeming to move from its manic grin. He raised his arms in front of himself, stiffly, then swung them out to the side in a snapping motion, allowing the flames to surge upwards sharply. Once more, he was a bonfire. “I'm doing what I -want- to do now!”

“You can do whatever you want once you calm down and talk to me, this is foolish,” Dirk said as he continued to inch forwards towards the radiant heat. “You need to trust me. Dave, I know you're strong. You've shown that.. Be stronger, and be in control. It takes so much to be in control.”

“..Mn.. I think I just realized something,” Dave said after a moment of apparent consideration, watching Dirk get closer and closer to the source of his heat. “I think I'm done talking to you now.”

- - - - -

“Water. Water. I'm a god of wind and luck, damn it, not the god of gardening!” John said irritably as he stalked off for the shore line, planning to hold aloft a deal of water and tote it back to treat Serket's burn. If he had his way, he'd just as soon go off and wrangle a storm cloud to douse the area, but that brought other risks.

Was it safe to get Dave wet right now? Would that do more harm than good? If Dirk needed to keep his footing, mud wouldn't help at all. Direct delivery of cool sea water would have to do to help the spider, and maybe win him some favor. Maybe, once calm, she would be willing to speak with John himself about their next location, and how she tied into all of this mess with the bull's coin. Luck was coming her way now that everything had gone wrong and there was nothing left to lose.

He knelt with a soft clink as his jewelery ran up against itself, diverting a portion of water from the whole with sharp winds and holding it aloft. The sudden blasting sound with its accompanying chorus of heated air, debris from snapped limbs and heated embers that surged from behind him was enough to make John drop the water to the sand and stagger backwards into the ocean, too surprised to remember to float for a moment.

“Dirk? DIRK?! Dave! Serket!” John shouted as he jumped up into the air, soaring towards what he assumed was the source judging from the smoke, diving down into the thick of it in the hopes of dispersing the smog to get a clearer look with the help of some soft breezes. So long as they were gentle, it shouldn't fan flames too strongly, it should be safe for him to get his bearings with.

The sight of two blonde's fighting on the ground should have been enough to make his blood run cold, but it was the sight of Dave with his hands around Dirk's throat, trying to beat his head into the ground that made him waver and feel ill.

“....Dave...?”

Chapter Text

“If you could just stop walking.. Yes. Yes, you. I know you can hear me, can you just stop moving?!”

Maryam's patience was growing quite thin with this mortal. Was she this willful normally? Or was she simply more controlled by this dark power than first assumed? Maybe it was a young human female thing, and she was just out of touch. She was used to more.. traditional girls. Mothers, children who played with their dolls, babies, pregnant women, girls seeking to marry. Not rogue priestesses who make pacts with the unknown for knowledge.

If anyone in particular was involved in this debacle, she would have appeared to this girl long before hand to diminish the amount of clean up she would take. There was no way she could act as a priestess in one of her temples in this condition, no matter how desperate they were. With the darkness in the way, none of her prayers would be loud enough for Maryam to hear.

Rose's skin was dark gray and smooth as silk to a disturbing degree. It's as if she didn't have pores, smooth as a fired doll, eyes softly glowing a pale white. She'd seen her before, with the lilac irises and the quirked smile, the strength that radiated from her heart despite none of it being aimed towards worshiping her overtly feminine natures. There was no denying her natural talents.

After all, look at what she was managing to survive now. The only question was how much of her own mind was still in tact, and how much could be regained?

“Oh for all of the.. STOP, I say! I..” Oh, harsh words. Harsh enough she nearly flinched. “I command you to stop!”

Not even the slightest pause in the wobbling motion of the disheveled human.

“Rose, will you stop your moving for a split second! You are in the presence of a being far superior to you, you are in the presence of something far more powerful than you! As a goddess that directly deals with your entire gender, you could at least do me the honor of stopping for a split second. There is something of grave importance that I need your cooperation on,” she said.

Finally, Rose stopped, bare feet coated in mud and dirt skidding a little on the smoothed pebbles before she rested heavily. Then, fluid, she turned. It was hard to explain, but she turned.. wrong. She looked off, not just in appearance. Her moves were awkward, strained, either eerily smooth or jerky and stiff as though her joints pained her. Even the cant of her head was enough to make the goddess grimace, suppressing a shudder.

“You can hear me then? Good. Yes, this is a very good thing,” she said softly. The sight of the thick oily substance running from the corner of her darkened lips as the mortal smiled made her skin crawl, not a huge fan of unclean things.

This human smelled wrong, looked wrong, moved wrong. Was she even speaking to Rose any longer? Had she come too late? Maryam had stayed back from her for a time to see where her wanderings were leading her, amazed to see she was already heading towards one of her distant temples via the most roundabout route she'd ever seen anyone take.

Maybe it was because she rarely stayed on the actual paths, veering wildly off of them whenever the mood seemed to strike her, sending her steps into the wooded path. It explained why she was so filthy, hair wild. Disturbed, disheveled.. yet strangely beautiful. She was dangerous now as a poisonous serpent, yet even they could be handled if done so in just the right way. Just need her purified enough to act in her temple..

“Rose. You are still Rose, yes? If not, who are you?”

The reply came not from the lips that were gurgling half sounds, broken glass against metal and mud, inhuman.. but from within her own mind.

-Yes? What is it? I'm a bit busy here, if you hadn't noticed, and if it's all the same I was hoping we could handle the whole mystic mumbo jumbo goddess steward errand later. I've no idea how long this is going to last, and I want to get as much of it as possible without losing control.-

The voice had to have been hers. There was no way that Maryam could ever imagine a voice so candid and snarky coming from herself naturally, imagination or none. Its tone was sweet, but there was no softness to it. More annoyance. Of -course- she was doing important things right then. Please go away, Goddess, this human has places to go and people to see without you interrupting her out of the blue this way.

“If this is you in control,” Maryam said as she gestured towards the wrongness that consumed her, “then I'm terrified to see what you not in control is like.”

-You should have seen me in the temple, then, before I left. I wasn't in control at all. I was just following the path of my profession blindly, straying now and then in search of more.. but always going back to the bright path. I could see from beginning to end, and knew it was so simple.-

“If it was so simple, then why are you like this now?” Maryam asked. Rose seemed bright, why would she get involved in something so dark? Dangerous? What if this little experiment had killed her, or wiped her mind away entirely? Then again, those with nothing to lose could sacrifice more without worry or regret.

-Because I knew there was more, and I wanted it. This was a way I'd heard to get everything I'd hoped for, as far as information. It's eerie. As if I have the chance to know everything, or at least get a feeling for it.. It's too much, yet not enough because I don't understand all of it. So I'm letting it lead for now while I sort it out. We're heading somewhere important.-

“Are you headed to my temple? It's this direction, in a way, and it's a place you're desperately needed at. You. Not this.. darkness,” she breathed.

Rose looked contemplative for a time, or at least her body did, mouth thinning to a small line. Slowly, it spread to a grin, baring stained teeth as she leaked a bit more of her inky substance from between her lips. When next she “spoke”, however, it was solemn. Accepting.

-Why. I'm headed to the place I'll be dying, I believe. This should prove to be interesting.-

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“We'll just start intervening,” Pyrope said as she leaned against her throne, glancing upwards to the looming depths of the skies for lack of a ceiling. “If they've gone this far, disobeyed this much, obviously they can handle it. The human is already mostly awake now, so another promise broken.”

“Howw do ya mean? Just go dowwn'n attack? Wwhat good wwould that do aside from make us go dowwn and do some labor because those guppies couldn't pick up their owwn messes,” Ampora muttered sourly from his throne, sulking and leaning against one side. War sounded entertaining. Wiping out all the younger gods sounded excellent. But so did relaxing and controlling his oceans instead of dealing with two pains in the ass and a fiery monster who could barely control himself.

Megido was the first to speak, cutting Pyrope off smoothly and raising her hand to be broader without taking her eyes off her ever changing book.

“You'll be needed soon enough, Ampora. Threats to your waters.”

“Pardon me? I think I might'a misheard you. Threats? To my wwaters?” he said, stunned. Who could even accurately threaten his waters? Who wandered them aside from fish, and humans, an- “... It's John, isn't it. That lousy air wwalker's gone and done this for the last time! Alwways movin' my storms and shakin' my wwaters around as he pleases!”

As Ampora went off on a seething rant and shot up to his feet, Megido continued to speak as though he were still silent.

“Makara will also be active soon, though to where is still up in the air. Oh, wow. May be a close cut.”

She lifted her eyes to look around before settling them onto Makara's throne, seeing the last of his marked body slowly slipping away without a single trace of sound. If only the sea god was that considerate to her ears, raging and ranting before he finally left in a huff an flurry of brightly colored material.

Pyrope uncrossed her arms and strode forwards, standing over Megido to try peering into her book. Automatically, it was tucked away from her prying eyes against her chest, an impish grin meeting her instead.

“And myself, Megido? Aren't I supposed to go around then to act? I can feel it. I know I need to be down there righting their wrongs and making an example of the idiots, and getting them out of our collective hair. Right?” she asked with a wide flash of teeth. She seemed so thrilled, it almost dampened Megido's spirits.

Almost. Instead, her grin became a smirk with lidded eyes, lids batting a few times playfully.

“I'd say your feelings are wrong. Maybe practice a bit, or lurk in some courts. Maybe some fellows may even get beheaded and brighten your mood. Or hung. You like hanging, don't you?”

Megido was even more accurate than she herself was in these things, glimpses of the future and the past being nothing more than passing instances for her. It was as if she existed beyond time itself, merely dipping a hand in now and then as she pleased to keep connected. There was no sense in arguing.

“... Keep me informed if I miss anything. A few hangings should definitely improve my mood. Maybe even polish my skills for the human,” she said with a shrill laugh.

“Right skills, wrong target,” Megido sighed softly as she turned the page again to watch the glowing words form.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dirk was struggling to keep air in his lungs, to stay conscious. Gods could lose consciousness, could even be “killed”, though not permanently unless through the proper methods. With the fire out of his control now and Dave wilder, stronger than he'd imagined, the proper methods might very well wind up taking an accidental back seat to sheer rage and force.

Dave was laughing somehow as he tried to shake Dirk, hoping to crack his head against the ground to knock him out. Maybe break his neck. Maybe just disorient him till he could see stars, lose focus on the threat surrounding him enough to let the beast have his way. He was ugly like this, face twisted beneath the veil of fire, eyes wild. He was glorious, the very image of someone caught in blood lust, a poignant thing that Dirk had witnessed and experienced countless times on the fields he wandered.

It was beautiful in a sick way, but far from the last image he wanted to see before death.

John. John had to see this, had to come soon. Was that him? The faint rustle and flash of color just out of his view? He could sense him nearby, feel his power through the swath of heat, but that wasn't as focused as it could be. Dirk was growing distracted by the flashes of light on the back of his eyelids, the thickness of his own tongue in his mouth, the creeping feeling of slim fingers digging into his flesh. Everything was growing dark.

Why wasn't he able to dislodge Dave? He was larger, older, arguably stronger in multiple ways. Was it rage alone, or merely fire itself? In containment, it could do amazing things, running loose it could become a wildfire. This was the worst possible situation, and he tried to croak for John as he attempted to flip Dave. He didn't want to choke him, didn't want to injure him too badly. He wasn't immortal yet, still delicate when it came to life and death.

Then his head had connected to the ground with a sickening crack and Dave began to laugh louder. He felt heat at the back of his head, saw the world blurring, and threw caution to the wind. It had to end. If Dave got loose like this, he'd run off and challenge whatever he felt like, whether his body could handle it or not.

Dirk could only pray he'd forgive him. Closing his eyes to ignore how dim everything had gone, the up and down motion of his lover, his son beating his head into the dirt like a ragdoll, he reared back his right hand and slapped at where he assumed his face would be. The sound of struck flesh was sickening, made his guilt rise, but it at least seemed to stun Dave a bit, loosen his grip ever so slightly.

The muscles of his neck tried to stand out and force his airway open to get at least a gasp inward, nauseated by how sweet fresh air tasted and how fast it was taken away from his again as Dave snarled and curled his burning fingers tight as a cinch again. A slap didn't quite do the job. Maybe another, and harder. He doubted John would strike him with more than air to keep him at bay out of the same fears.

Forgive him. Please, forgive him for what was to happen. Once more, Dirk reared his hand back and struck at Dave's face, the slap at least three times harder than before. The stun seemed to be rather complete once he opened his eyes again, Dave tottering in shock before reaching up to hold his face. Precisely what Dirk needed. Gasping more air, dizzy, Dirk aimed a fist downwards towards the pit of Dave's flat stomach in the heart of the flames and struck.

Dave hiccupped for air once, mouth flapping like a fish out of water, before he toppled over onto his side in a limp heap. The flames sparked higher, then went low and blue before finally puffing out. His clothes were singed as badly as Dirk's were now, smoking, flesh pink or burnt or charred in some parts. It was a wonder his hair was untouched, barely frizzed on the bottom edges. It was over, for now. The rush of power returning to his own chest was signal that fire had slunk back along to its current master, satisfied with the play it had managed.

John rushed over then, looking cautiously at Dave before turning his attention to Dirk and crouching downwards, touching the weals on his throat as he gasped harsh breaths. Finally, he sank back and closed his eyes again, trying to relax. John kept a wary eye on Dave.

“What was that? Are you even okay?”

“We need to hurry this damned trip up, and get to the next location. It's.. It's not safe anymore. Moving too fast. Too strong,” Dirk said as he continued to pant. “If.. If we finish this trip, we can.. I don't know. We can take him aside somewhere and teach him more. Intensive studies. Prepare him somehow as fast as possible before this bigger battle starts.”

John nodded, understanding. He pulled away from Dirk to go get Dave, sitting down solidly so he could tug him forwards onto his lap and stroke at his hair. Maybe some kind of comfort if he was dreaming somewhere deep inside. There was no way he'd be able to control something that strong instantly if they were attacked. Dirk struggled to even keep track of him when they were alone.

“John.. Go to Serket. Find out where to go next, and make sure she's okay. We don't need another fiasco like this, or anything permanent like Nitram. Mend your ties, and let us be gone with him as soon as possible.”

“I'm not sure how happy she'll be to see me, really. She was already rather angry, even before she got burnt. Maybe she can at least realize she's partly responsible for this entire explosion, and the literal burn was a reaction of that. I'll see what can be done. You just.. rest and keep an eye on him. Tie him if you have to,” he said. “Just be here when I come back, yeah?”

Dirk gave a wry grin.

“No promises.”

Chapter Text

How a blank sphere smaller than a fist could be considered a treasure worth risking a life for, John still wasn't certain. The gods had loaded Dave back onto the boat and continued to watch him closely as they left behind the island of spiders, Dirk recovering while laying on his stomach. Now and then, he'd reach an arm out to stroke at the moving crests of the waves, alternating between a simple touch and steaming sputters from the heat he'd directed to his palm.

John was propelling them once more, urging the vessel forwards on the waves and clouds away from overhead. They wouldn't be needing rain right now. When Dave would eventually wake, hopefully in full control of himself this time, he'd be coping with some notable burns and trauma. Likely a terribly sore stomach as well. The last thing they needed to do was have him waking up shivering in the rain. Or getting sick while he was still mortal. It was a miracle he didn't catch cold or worse, considering how sheltered a life he'd been living in the temple.

Maybe bits of Maryam's healing had remained as a gift. Stupid thought, considering she was only truly able to help to a certain extent, solving her own problems.

“John,” Dirk murmured from the floor of the boat, “try to keep it steadier. We're starting to rise and fall on the water instead of bob, soon enough we'll be slamming down. I'd like to avoid biting off my tongue, if you don't mind, and the boat isn't immortal either.”

“What are you talking about? I'm keeping it smooth!” John insisted. “I've been KEEPING it smooth since we set sail in this stupid thing, I've not stopped.”

“John.”

“Do you think I'd be so irresponsible? If he was awake, I'm sure Dave would love a rougher ride.”

“John.”

“IF I was letting the ride be rough and not doing my job. Which I've been doing, so your idea is falser than pyrite in a money changers purse.”

“John, stand on the boat for a second.”

Huffing irritably, John dropped down onto the boat.. and promptly lifted back up again to avoid falling off backwards in the choppy water.

“Right. Duly noted. Let me see if I can flatten these down a bit..”

“Flatten the waves? John, low profile. May you can just lift the boat,” Dirk suggested.

“Why yes, Dirk!” chirped John, resting on his side midair, gathering up the tail of the back of his shirt to gesture flippantly with it. “A flying boat is so much more camouflaged than simply tampering with some waves. I'll get right on that.”

“The water isn't your domain.”

“Please, I'm not tampering with the ACTUAL water. I'm tampering with the leftovers. The waves are leftovers, and I'd just be smoothing us a path like a tunnel. Wouldn't that be a far smoother ride? We may even go faster,” John urged as he righted himself and rubbed his palms together to prepare the breeze.

Dirk slowly pushed up onto his knees and went to scoot beside Dave, resting his palm on the youths chest before turning his gaze towards John, orange eyes squinting slightly against the glint of gold that always hung around his neck.

“John, we do need to hurry, but surely we're not that far off, correct? Just lift the boat a few feet and we can drop down if anyone is spotted.”

“Where's your sense of adventure? Wouldn't it be something to be within a wave instead of atop it for once? A personal bubble of air under the water,” John mused as he began to push his power outwards, smoothing the water below and before the boat with a solid stream of air, leaving it flat and glass like for the boat to glide easily over. The waves parted for them, forced backwards in a rush of white foam as they proceeded at an advanced clip.

Dirk looked wary as the rising waves eventually rose higher even than John's head in their trimmed down path, encircling them overhead like a tube in some cases. It was really something to see, foam and water speckled with bubbles, clear as crystal in wide ribbons that just barely skated along the edges of the wood. The silence beneath the water was a low hum, echoing their breathing back towards them.

“I wonder how long we can stay under as long as I keep the air circulating?” John murmured aloud, gently tipping their boat downwards to sate his growing curiosity, swinging his arms to twist the wind tighter around them to secure against the growing pressure of the water.

Dirk breathed out slowly, tense. This was stupid. Absolutely stupid... yet.. It was also beautiful. In the depth they were taken to, he could spy the ghostly outlines of fish in the distance, silhouetted against the sky. Below their comparatively tiny vessel, dark shapes sounded a crackling, haunting melody back and forth across the unknown distance.

It was to this distorted watery tunnel that Dave finally awoke, breath a sharp intake from pain and surprise. Where was he? Was everyone okay? Two sets of worried eyes snapped towards him, Dirk's narrowed to try sensing any negative changes, John's trying to see if they needed to head upwards immediately. The thick fingers at his chest were clenched in his shirt, making him tip his head towards Dirk with a frown.

“...Where are we?”

“Right on track,” John said as they continued to quickly whoosh through the water in their safe bubble. “Well. Below track. But still on track.”

“We've left the island already? What about the object Serket had?” Dave asked with a waver to his voice, trying to push upwards by his elbows before giving up and letting himself sink downwards once more when he found that Dirk's hand was more of a blocking force than previously thought. So much strength in the lightest of touches. It was amazing to know that those same wrapped digits could be gentle enough to cup his cheek or powerful enough to knock a massive beast to its knees.

“We got it,” answered Dirk, gesturing for John to toss the orb over, displaying its snowy surface to Dave as proof. “We've no idea what exactly it is, or what it does, but it seems to have been worth risking her life over.”

After a long pause of Dave staring avidly at the orb, Dirk spoke again.

“Dave. How much of what happened on the island do you remember?”

“.... I remember you slapping me last. After that, everything's dark.”

“After that, you were falling unconscious, so that's at least something. So you were aware of everything around you?” he pried.

“Yes and no,” Dave admitted. “I was aware. I knew what was happening, but it didn't seem like I needed to stop. It was almost like a dream.”

“Can you try to explain what you mean?” John queried from the back of the boat, concerned about both of them after having seen the end of their interaction. “You seemed awfully upset.”

“You don't know the half of it, John,” Dirk grumbled as he rubbed at his throat for a moment with his empty hand, tossing the sphere up and down a few times before stuffing it into his own pocket securely. They'd gone through hell to get this stupid thing, it was not going to be misplaced.

It took Dave a few minutes to gather his thoughts, starting and stopping several times in the process of finding the appropriate words. They weren't pleasant to say, and he wanted to find a way that didn't come across as too harsh.

“Well. It just feels like everyone's using me sometimes. Everyone's out to get me. People I've never met want to kill me for no more reason than I'm poking into their business and trying to steal from them to regain honor and prepare for some kind of invasion by gods older than you. It's like.. if neither of you ever bothered me, I might still be at home.”

Guilt weighed heavily on both of the gods once more, and they exchanged glances but nothing more. The bridge was crossed, burnt, and left far far in the distance already. No turning back.

“Since there's not much to be done with that but apologies which will never be quite enough, I can only return to what happened most recently. Do you remember the fire?” prompted Dirk, leaning closer to him to tug gently at his singed clothing, his burnt hair. He didn't trust himself to touch the burnt portions of his skin for fear of them being too tender, or easier damaged than the rest. “Do you remember controlling it at all, or when it actually came to you?”

“.. Not precisely. I remember feeling angrier and angrier, then like I had more power than before. More ability. Like I didn't need anyone to save me anymore. I was going to.. to just finish everything, and save myself, and get out of there so she'd stop SNEERING at me like she was better than me somehow,” recounted Dave, jaw tensing, pools of red flickering from the remembered rage.

“Calm yourself, Dave,” Dirk warned. He'd put him down once, and now knew the best way to do so. Knew more or less what the little mortal was capable of after initially switching to the control of the flames. “I don't want you to lose yourself so quickly. Especially here.”

Dave glowered even though he understood Dirk's words, knowing they were facts and simply not wanting to listen to him. A spoiled child being denied his plaything. His irritation did not seem to have abated during his spell of unconsciousness. If anything it seemed to be bubbling right below the surface, ready to spring up at any time. A short fuse on a full keg of oil.

“I was going to ask about that. What do you mean by “under track”, John?”

“Well,” John began, “I mean precisely that. We're going the right direction, just.. well. Under the path we'd take normally. We're under the water right now, headed to the last stop.”

“But how will you know when we get there?” Dave asked, worried. What if they managed to miss the island? What if they went underneath it altogether? Or sailed off the edge of the world into that darkness of the night sky? They could be burned by the sun, if that were to happen, lost forever gods or no gods.

“Oh, I'm sure we'll figure it out!” John gaily chirped, giving his brightest grin. Of course they'd figure it out, it was just sailing, gosh. Everyone was such worrywarts. It was as if they forgot that luck was literally on their side and panicked over nothing, tempting the luck to waver to prove their fear to be founded.

“Can we just go back up? It's darker down here, and I'm worried we'll drown. I've had enough time not seeing the sky in my life, and enough time in the dark in the last few days. I can't appreciate it right now,” clarified Dave, shifting quickly towards the center of the boat when the large, dark mass of a rogue fish attempted to break through the wind barrier and was bounced away forcefully to a safe distance. “I'd like to see what's coming instead of being surprised by it like this! Who knows what lurks in the ocean? There are krakens down there!”

John pouted, but when Dirk brought up his support on the matter he finally began to trail their bubble towards the surface to oblige them and put a silence to their complaints. It was easier to give up in this case than argue for his own childlike enjoyment and curiosity. Slowly, the boat began to crest towards the surface, out into choppy waters and a quickly darkening sky.

Dave frowned and looked around now that they were properly over the water despite it being rougher than he'd expected, angry crests of the waves trying to spill over inside the boat only to be buffered back by John's forced wind.“Is it going to rain? I wonder if we can spot land before we get soaked.”

The loud, ungainly snort that John gave him was enough to stop a tidal wave of questions in their tracks. Of course they wouldn't get soaked. Between the three of them was a natural source of heat and a natural wind buffer that was going to keep water away from them anyway. They'd just come up from below the surface of the ocean itself, was a little rain going to suddenly stop them? Unlikely.

Rain was the least of their problems.

The water was growing choppier, and the wind was growing harder to control against the onslaught. A steady rain was beginning to fall from a massive cloud that seemed to swirl above them like a cyclone, crashing the boat side to side like a floppy toy in the hands of a child. John struggled to keep them dry and afloat at first, then gave up and decided they could dry off later so long as they and the boat were safe. He allowed the boat to begin rising and falling from the tall crests, trying to break their fall just enough to avoid having them bucked into the churning waters or crushed beneath the rush of water.

The sea was angry, delighting in the cries of the mortal and the disgruntled upset of two gods out of their element. So, too, did its keeper.

“It'd be easier if you'd just givve up and sink. Feed my wwavves. Make amends for helpin' yourself to wwhat's not yours.” Ampora had rushed as quickly as he could to find them, searching his oceans to find the intrusion, only to see the tampering first hand. “Gotta hand it to Meg. She's awwful handy, if ya listen to her close enough.”

John clenched his jaw, but continued to try circulating enough air to break their falls as the water began to rock them harder, the wood of the stern beginning to creak unsteadily. The sail snapped off at the mast and went flying, lost to the darkness. Dirk dragged Dave between his knees, holding him around the waist and forcing his head down with his chin. If they needed to escape suddenly, it would be far easier to have a hand on Dave ahead of time than blindly flailing about in a panic trying to find him by touch alone.

“Ampora, we've got nothing with you right now, let us go. It was a harmless bit of fun!” John argued, exertion and the split of focus popping sweat up on his brow beneath the spatterings of rain. His hair slicked down over his forehead and threatened to run into his eyes as he looked ahead of them. Ampora himself was standing casually on a crest of water, a mobile platform bearing his weight, all pomp circumstance and flowing purple cloth like some kind of mortal emperor instead of a gray skinned elder god.

“Fun? I'll showw ya fun, John. You don't evven knoww the MEANIN' of the wword fun yet!” he shouted through the gale, twisting his arms to the side before starting to raise them up. The water followed its masters command till it rose higher than the mast had been, higher than the temple. Dave had to crane his head back to see the shivering peaks of the water that had parted around them.

“Ampora. AMPORA, DON'T!” John shouted, stopping the by now feeble attempt to keep the ship together to drop to his knees behind Dirk and shove the air circle around the boat as tightly as possible, bracing for what he already knew would happen.

“IF YOU DON'T WWANNA PLAY WWITH THOSE YOU ALREADY CHALLENGED, YOU'D BEST KEEP YOUR LEGS ON DRY LAND, WWIND WWALKER!”

The waves came down with terrible force, a rushing like thunder that only grew louder as it drew closer. The wind from John was enough to buffer the crash that forced the boat down a good forty feet into the dark depths, but was not capable of being sustained from the shock of impact and intensive pressure from the churning undercurrents that whipped around them under Ampora's directions from above.

Bubbles exploded from Dave's mouth as he screamed on instinct, then tried to gasp back in from the shock of cold and pressure. His ears ached, feeling like they'd explode, and a taste of blood began to well in his throat. Dirk looked towards where he assumed John was in the flurry of bubbles, trying to gesture that he was leaving. It was an emergency that couldn't be avoided at this point.

Mortals weren't made for things like this, and John knew where they'd be going. They would meet up later surely. By the time Dave began to choke on the sea water, Dirk was already trying to cover his mouth and nose to keep whatever air he had left safely inside, prevent more water from getting in. He focused as hard as he could on somewhere warm, dry. Safe. Somewhere that was private enough for them to get him calmed down and try again with the next goal. After all, he still had the sphere from Serket on him. Should be simple enough.

In a flare of heat and light, Dirk and Dave vanished from the water. In a surge of bubbles, John rocketed himself back towards the surface, uninhibited by worry for others safety. If Ampora wanted to be this way, then he would fight. His clothing weighed him down, weighty, and the breeze would not come to him as easily as it would were he in the open air. Bubbles could only give him so much, and his reach to the surface couldn't facilitate the exchange he'd require for anything of power to be built up.

He barely broke surface and gasped before he was being dragged down further, squeezed around the torso as if massive hands were trying to squeeze the juice from a lemon from the bottom up. His arms were pulled to his sides and forced downward, chin up. Ampora lowered himself from his leering spot down below the waters surface about ten feet away from where John was struggling to jettison upwards and away, trying to summon enough of the air to him to continue breathing as he was yanked deeper into the depths.

When Ampora spoke, uninhibited by the water and pressure, in fact welcomed by it, John's feet were plastered in the sandy floor of the ocean section they'd been crossing.

“Wwell, wwind wwalker. I guess the game's done early.. Pity. Guess you wwere all talk once someone took ya outta your element. Wwhat wwas the point a that? Wwhy've you suddenly taken a shine to the ocean? I'll let you in on a little secret, John,” he whispered clear as day through the brine of the deep.

John fought to keep conscious, breathing what little air he could filter from around him instead of bothering to waste his time trying to reply. His head was aching, vision blurring into one solid shade of purple to match the robes that were starting to swirl behind Ampora's head. Was it swirling? Maybe it was just his vision. He couldn't tell any longer, didn't care. Couldn't bring himself to care. Forgot how.

“The ocean don't take wwell to those wwho can't handle it. It's got a temper as wwide as itself, and can sense wwhen some wweaklin' tries to givve it orders. Fuck wwith it again, and it wwon't let you end so easily next time.”

It was a chilling smile that urged on the last push, making John's vision go red and his mind blank to the world.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When next John tasted fresh air, it was night, and he was aware he was warm. He was naked. He was disoriented. He was dry.

He hated dying, it was such a headache to come back from. Especially when he was certain he was needed elsewhere.

“John. You're getting faster at coming back, but it's still not appreciated that you let it happen anyway. You're a god with a death wish. Stop acting like a mortal teenager for once, and try to consider how concerned others are for you! I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm not angry really. After all, you keep coming back. I suppose I'm just disappointed that in a life as long as yours, you can't bring yourself to learn lessons you should have learned ages ago.”

John smiled slightly and turned his head towards the sound.

“Hello to you too, Maryam.”

Chapter Text

Nearly drowning had proved to be a new, and unexpected terror for Dave. He'd not seen the source of the water clearly, that he could recall. Though, the entire incident was a bit fuzzy when compared to the sharp memory of water creeping into his lungs and his body feeling like it was on fire from lack of air. He'd seen purple clothing, and gray skin. Finned ears.. The voice had sounded so angry, so offended by their very presence.

It was strange to think that even gods were able to offend other gods as surely as a rag clad street urchin trespassing in a grand estate during a party. The strata system seemed to exist no matter who or what you were. Maybe even animals had this sense of elitist integrity somewhere in its structure.

The sea water tasted bitter in his mouth as he coughed it back out, Dirk hammering at his back with a flat hand while he lay spread across the gods knees to help urge it out of his lungs with percussion. It helped, made it easier to regain his air faster and reduce the actual amount of gagging he performed before he was comfortable. The thwacking of the damp wrapped hand slowed to a gentle patting motion, then a comforting rub as he wheezed softly.

“What WAS that? Wh-” Dave got out before he gagged again, letting loose a belch of trapped air before spitting the traces of saltwater out after it had escaped. Spittle still hung from his lips as he turned his face towards the gods face, eyes intense. “Where's John? … Where are WE?”

The latter part of the question was easier to try wrapping his head around after he actually noticed how different everything looked. Unfamiliar. For one, there was the nearly black sand that made Dave feel as if he were falling into the night sky from where he lay. There was so much sand here, with low croppings of wiry weeds in patchy clumps of dirt here and there. The handles of weapons, rusted and worn from time and sun, stuck out here and there. Broken ends of spears. Chunks of armor, broken pottery, a shattered wagon wheel. The leavings of intense battle, dotting the sandy landscape like daisies in a springtime meadow.

It was warmer here than the places he'd been to before, warmer than the temple, but not unpleasantly so. There may be some source of water nearby, or another reason for the refreshing breezes that skated softly glinting grains of the black sand from the tops of the dunes down to the shifting valleys between them in a graceful sheet.

“A field I've walked,” Dirk said casually, gesturing over towards a dune in the distance as it began to spill its uppermost ridge down in a shimmery veil. It was as if clouds, or mist were twisting in the furls freely as smoke bending its shape to suit the forms of some unseen dreamers imagination.

“Some field,” said Dave, finally pushing up from Dirk's lap to sit cross legged supported by his own strength. “Those are swords. Aren't they? And that over there is a shield..”

“And beyond it lies helmets, and below them the remains of barrels and jars.”

“And below that?”

“Corpses turning steadily to ash and bone.”

Dave's blood ran cold enough to remind him how damp he actually was, clothes and hair clinging to his skin. Instead of asking after an obviously unavailable towel, he simply nudged Dirk's thigh with his hand and gestured to his problem as a request for aid. He wished John was here to speed the process of dry off up, forcing the heat Dirk could produce into his breeze till his hair was fluffy and soft.

Even though Dirk's fire wouldn't burn him, careful and controlled as he was with the low blue flames rising from his palms, it still felt more like being systematically cooked and left slightly soggy in the seams and hems instead of becoming truly dry. Beggars couldn't be choosers, however, and he sat off to the side to finger comb his hair as Dirk stood and forced his own dampness off far easier by simply letting fire dance over his skin to evaporate the liquid.

If only it were that easy.

“Think I'll be able to do that trick someday?”

“Dave, if you don't learn how to do something as simple as that, it would either be because you're a moron or you're dead,” drawled Dirk as he flipped his hair back, rubbing it till it stood in the style he enjoyed most. “You asked earlier where John was. Would you still like to know?”

“Well, yeah. Of course I want to know, I love him too. Did he go ahead of us? Or is he still near the water?” Dave asked, unsure how far they'd even traveled. Asking too many general questions rather than trying to be specific seemed to be a waste of time. Many answers to the questions he was dying to ask would most likely be written off with the simple adage of “he's a god, that's why”.

Was he at risk? Would he be safe? He could just blip away too, right? Dirk had done it with the two of them minutes ago, it couldn't be THAT hard to do under duress. Right?

“I'm not certain where he is right now, honestly. He knows the last objective, so odds are he'll be meeting us there. Maryam may have summoned his help as we were warned, or he could still be fighting with Ampora.”

“Ampora.. The person in purple, right?”

“The elder god in purple. He's fiercely protective of his waters.. to a point where it's almost laughable, really,” Dirk mused. “He's so temperamental, and the waters reflect that in their sudden moods and changes. Half the time he just focuses on human garbage and their clothing instead of manning his post, the other half of the time he pushes the water too much. Floods, storms, monsoons, droughts from lack of yearly flooding.. All him. So much riding on the shoulders of a man who wants to play more than do his job.”

“You don't have room to talk, you know. Dropping by so often to flirt with me before this started, then sticking by me once we were reunited,” Dave pointed out, picking up a hand full of the black sand before letting it slowly trickle down to the ground like an hourglass.

Dirk lifted his brows toward him. “You'd think that. But then again, he's an elder god. His actions and influences direct so much... Mine don't, really. People still get aroused without me nearby to enjoy sex and producing children, still will fight and wage war. They can still use fire to cook and warm themselves or kill others. I'm a symbol and a guide by comparison these days. He's one of the few of us who actually NEEDS to do his job, and he's too focused elsewhere to do it, obsessed with mortal junk.”

As an afterthought, Dirk looked to Dave and said, “No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Don't get me wrong. The ocean will still be itself and do as it pleases with or without gods to guide it, but every so often there needs to be some chaos thrown in. Disasters. The raising of tides and floods, and the gradual formation of new islands or higher cliffsides. Not to mention humans need to be kept in control by those disasters, or your population would skyrocket to horrendous proportions. Starvation would run rampant as crops failed to feed the horde.”

“There isn't a god of death? Or a goddess?” Dave asked, surprised. “I heard in the myths about the dark figure coming to reap the souls, to lead them across the river. Was that just a myth?”

Dirk smiled at him. “Myth is often based in at least some truth, somewhere. In this case, there is indeed a god. But he doesn't just go around killing people at random. He's told who to collect, who is already dying, who needs to be guided by his touch into the underworld.”

The sudden stream of information was interesting to Dave. Especially when he considered that he'd need to know these things, if everything turned out for the better. Information about the god of death? Yes, please.

“So he has someone telling him who to collect? Is it another elder god..? The one that's been having it out for the three of us? Is there any way to deflect him?” Knowing how to not die during all this would be handy, if he could get Dirk to tell him. “I don't need to worry about him once I ascend, right?”

“Wrong, actually. Gods, even elder gods die. They can be killed, though it is extremely difficult and typically it's a group decision that's been approved. A word gets sent in to okay the cutting of their fate short, unless they ask for it themselves.”

“.... Cutting their fate short? That's just the same as saying it's okay to kill them, right?”

“Oh, no. I'm being extremely literal,” Dirk said. “Everyone has a strand of fate. When it's cut, it means death for the soul it represents. Be they mortals or gods. The only two without strands are Alpha and Omega.”

“Who are Alpha and Omega? Elder gods?”

“The first gods. Those who created our world, our rules, our laws. They were the ones who created the elder gods. From them, they created gods like John and myself. From us, humans.”

“And from you and humans, people like me,” Dave said with a sudden smirk.

“Ah... Yes. That too. But the order hasn't changed in the slightest. Alpha was the one who did the most creating, the positive things. She and her twin gave every living thing its traits both good and bad. While she's created everything and tended to it so lovingly, Omega is the one who waits far off in the distance for the day when we have all run our course. He's the destroyer.”

Dirk paused in his talking, turning to look back at Dave as sat wide eyed in the sand.

“They don't have proper myths about creation?”

“No. We're taught that the gods are all the same, and that we came from you. Not some Alpha and Omega, that I recall. No great beginning and ending so much as a general one.”

“I'd no idea your people were so stunted still, but I deeply appreciate the gesture. It's flattering to think that you all view us as the creators of everything.”

Dave leaned back on his palms and let out a long suffering sigh before changing the subject as subtly as he could.

“So. You were going to teach me more about this fire stuff, right?”

Ah, yes, that's right. Subtlety wasn't one of his strongest suits to begin with. It was lucky that Dirk had the same sentiments, and flashed a smile usually only seen when he and John were flirting with him in his room. It made Dave melt slightly even then, and relax automatically.

“I'm not sure if you can handle it when it comes. Not yet, based on what happened. But if you can learn to control it instead of giving in and letting it run wild? I think you'll do well. Your will needs to be stronger, when it comes to an element like fire. With something so destructive, you can't simply let it do what it wants most of the time. If you do.. you need to be capable of stopping it afterward and putting it away or you and your loved ones will get burnt.”

“... Yeah. I kind of saw that. I'm glad you're immortal, and I'm glad John is too. But I was so -mad- at Serket that I still don't care that she got burnt.”

“Mm, immortals can still die.”

“Yeah, when their fates are cut short, you just told me.”

“Well, cut fates are permanent deaths. We can still physically die. It just means that we can come back as many times as we want, or heal,” Dirk said as he dropped into a crouch before settling to his ass. These lessons would need to be taught up close and personal, so Dirk could keep in closer control of it or feel if it decided to shift again. Dave was waking up so quickly, it was difficult and dangerous to assume anything any longer.

“... Have you died, then?”

“Oh, yes, many times when I was younger, right after I froze into my immortality. Sometimes for foolish reasons, other times for things that I thought were important at the time. Usually just the general negligence. I thought the world revolved around me, and had a bit of a teenaged power trip phase. A few wars didn't really need to be fought.”

“You had a teenaged power trip phase.”

“Until you've held the life of thousands in your hands and heard the call to battle, Dave, you'll never understand what a rush it is. I was a young god. I was suddenly immortal. I could do as I pleased, float, catch people on fire if they truly upset me. I could sleep with whomever I wished. It was new and amazing and an absolute head rush.” While Dave was beginning to think that didn't sound so bad, and was being viewed as a fond memory, Dirk stared at him evenly. “In short, I was an absolute moron, and I'm hoping you'll walk as far away from my early footsteps as possible.”

“I honestly believe that's the most parental thing anyone has ever said to me, and that's saying something considering the priests used to check beneath my bedding for monsters.”

“Dave, if there were ever truly monsters beneath your bed, John and I would have killed them and left their corpse for you as a gift,” Dirk said seriously.

“I know. I always knew..”

“You say that now, bu-”

“No. Really. When I finally got to meet the two of you, I was starting to lose hope you even existed, much less if I'd ever get to meet you for real. When I was younger, though? I worshiped the ground you supposedly walked on. Blind faith at its best. You two were my heroes, my favorite stories, my favorite idea of guardians.”

It was a dark, dusty hand that touched the damp hem of Dave's clothing fondly, stroking him.

“I'm glad you waited. I know John is, too, even if his way of showing it is a little... unorthodox.”

Dave shook his head. John was his own creature, and very different from the similarities that Dirk and himself shared. No fire or battle or intensity, no blood bond, but something new and exciting. This must be what it was like to have a crush on someone. It suddenly was making more and more sense why the others his age at the temple behaved the way they did as they were getting older, if this was what they felt near someone they were falling in love with.

“But. The fire,” Dirk said, hand warming till the hem he touched began to put off steam but not smoke, fire skating close enough to Dave's skin to try making his flesh sting. He was pleased that Dave didn't try to push him away, and instead focused those vivid red eyes downwards at the source. “Try to reach for it. Draw it closer to you.”

Dave had no sooner started calling for the flame when it raced up his arm, startling him as it rushed for his face.

“AH!”

“Dave! Dave. Focus on it. It's not going to hurt you, it's your friend. Draw it where YOU want it, you're the one in control here. Not the flames.”

Wincing sharply, Dave tilted his head cautiously away from the fire and whined under his breath, unwilling to settle too near to the luminous flickering for long. He wasn't angry this time, not swept up in a cloud of rage and nonsense. Thus, he was far more cautious with where everything went, and what could cause him injury. Even now, some of the flickering was searing at his skin, distracting him with the fear of scarring and of heating up the metal bands around his wrists again.

“Stop being scared, you're not going to die. It's just fire. You were engulfed in it earlier. You're its next master. Tell it what to do, and let it come to you. Call it. Make it your friend.. I know you can do this, Dave.”

The sharp tone to Dirk's voice both unnerved Dave and annoyed him, making the flame flicker higher for a bare moment before it traced back down his arm, forming an almost orderly line. The color kept ranging from red to orange to yellow, then down to a deep blue as he began to breathe slowly in and out of his nose, frustrated that he couldn't make it listen perfectly.

Two minds were trying to control it at once: its current master, and its future master. The current master wasn't sure how much control to drop, and the future master was uncertain how much he could handle, keeping the flame weak but warm. So much uncertainty, power or none, was dampening the flickers.

Dirk pulled the fire back when Dave sighed tiredly and closed his eyes, dropping the connection. His hand remained in place, and after a minute or so, he tensed his fingers once more and called forth the fire.

“Again.”

“Again? Let me rest!”

“I did. Call it again.”

“But..”

“We'll stay here all day and night if we have to, but I'm not taking us to the next location until you can at least not attempt to murder me should the fire shift to you again in the near future. It's going to change over permanently after all. I want you to be ready, and I'm not going to risk you any longer. Even to yourself.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

John had taken time to get changed into fresh clothing as Maryam continued to speak to him about her worries and concerns about his most recent death. As his jewelery and most favorite of outfits was lost to the waters till he could get them back or replace them, he had to go for a more basic set of clothes for the time being. He felt naked without his cuffs, his ear rings, his necklaces. All the trappings of his experience and travel and wealth.

Luck no longer looked rich. Though.. then again, even Luck failed once in a while.

Garbed in dark woven sandals, dark blue pants that ended mid-shin, and a blue wrap of a top that matched the color of his eyes as it wound around behind his neck like a halter to hang loose till the golden colored belt at his waist. John idly wondered if he could get Maryam to elongate the back of the shirt to mimic the long tail his other outfit had on it, or if there was any more of the golden material to band his arms with, or his forearms at the very least. Something for his own comfort, considering he'd not seen his own bare wrists in a few decades at least.

He walked as she spoke, unused to her temples compared to his own. John's temples and monuments were airy and heavily decorated, painted with brightly colored mosaics and filled with the sweet scent of perfumed incense and smoky scents of burnt offerings and meat that he'd occasionally drop by to partake of before they were too badly singed or before they were able to actually be burnt. Nobody tended to count what was in those baskets too closely, and they were all meant for him anyway.

By contrast, Maryam's temple was soothing. Calming. It made him feel safe and relaxed by simply hearing the padding of his feet against the pale walls. Was that marble? Or sandstone? The rocks the walls were made of were so pale and glittered faintly from the reflecting of light from outside and from the torches and massive pillar candles. The paintings and mosaics were all in soft shades as well, depicting flowers and newborn babies in their swaddling cloths, women heavy with child. Elements of springtime and softness in the form of rich flowers and thriving plants were everywhere he could see, each pedestal holding draping leaves, the innermost temple adorned with a simple image of her covered in climbing ivy. The feet of the statue were clean and clear, and the space before them laden with offerings of eggs and flowers, fruits and seeds, wheat and bread.

“I suppose it is to be expected of you, John, flaunting around and causing problems for yourself even in this dangerous of a time. Though, if I recall, your last death was for something similar. Taunting and fighting and baiting, if I recall?”

“Yes, yes, I remember. That was a long time ago, though, geeze, stop living in the past Maryam!”

“It's my -job- to live in the past, as well as the future. You'd remember that if you knew what's good for you. But you don't, so I have to keep reminding you.”

“You're quite the mother hen, Maryam,” John said cooly as they finally emerged from the front of her temple to look off into the forest of the distance, the softness of the clouds. A cool breeze struck John fully in the face and he sighed, welcoming it back to its rightful master and home.

“Is that meant to be a joke? Seriously, John? Mother hen?” Maryam asked indignantly, the luminescence of her skin kicking up as she grew more upset. “You've not changed since you were a child! At least back then you had the excuse. You do know how lucky you are that I'm helping you, right? That I'm sticking my neck out for you?”

“And what a lovely neck it is,” John said as he lifted up off the ground uneasily, wobbling as he got used to bearing the breeze once more. It always took a bit of work to make it mind properly upon a sudden return, since it was just as playful as himself. Just when someone thinks they've truly mastered wind, it changes its course.

“I'm going to pretend you didn't say that.. You're lucky, you know. Not only did you come back quickly this time, but you coming back whatsoever is at the most perfect time possible,” she said with a swish of fabric from her robes as she walked closer to him and hugged around his waist fondly. Her arms were like a vice long before John could even think of escaping, forcing him to hover in place and patiently listen until she felt like letting him go.

“Why's my coming back at the most perfect time possible aside from the fact that I came back alive at all and am thankful for it?”

“I'm calling in my part of the deal for healing Dave and helping you, John. I need help with Dave's friend, and I've no idea what to do. She's been staggering this way for quite some time, and is still tainted. Still impure. There's no way she'd be able to act as -anything- within my temple, let alone as the backup we've been hoping for.”

“Alright. How far away is she, and how long do we have till she's needed?”

“I can answer the second question first: I'm not positive when she'll be needed, but I've a feeling she'll be settled in time if we're careful. To the first question, she's right over that clearing and heading this way.”

John frowned and squinted his eyes to look into the distance of the road, shaking his head till his hair trickled into his eyes.

“Maryam, I don't see anyone, are you certain she's there?”

“She's not on the path, John. She's coming through the underbrush. I've no idea why, but she seems to want the straightest possible path, whether it be through mud or cart trails. If it's the straightest way, she'll take paths. If not.. Well.”

The staggering, filthy figure in the distance was rather self explanatory with her wild hair and intensified aura, the tracks of inky black visible even from the distance she was at all down her front in wide tracks.

“...Maryam, what is it exactly that you're wanting me to even -do- with her?”

“I'm wary of touching her, to be honest. She feels.. tainted. Something is most definitely wrong. She needs to be purified properly. Even if it means darkening my springs or my well, she needs to be purified if she's to act in my temple and be of use. I'm hoping you can bind her with your wind while I do so, or even just pick her up if she starts to fight?” she said, grip still like iron bands around his body, signaling that she would not be taking no for an answer any time soon.

“... You just want me to pick her up so she can be. What. Washed? Purified?”

“Yes. I'd like to cleanse her of whatever it is she's ingested. I need her pure for the temple work she needs to accomplish.”

“Maryam, you're literally giving me permission to hold a woman as she's being bathed. To be purified. I'm sensing a bit of backwards logic here, if you look at my track record..”

The grip tightened sharply, as if threatening to squeeze the air from his very lungs, making John whine and wriggle in agitation as he tried to float away with force. Breeze kicked at her robes and the wrapping cloth that covered her glowing frame, though the elder goddess took it in stride and held tight. John was simply a bird struggling for the open sky that he'd not be getting so easily.

“Don't toy with me, John, you know exactly what I mean! I need help with this, and you'll not be getting away without doing so. Dave is with dirk, he can wait a little bit longer for you to arrive. Does he even know you died? He doesn't, does he? You're not even planning to tell him, I bet, unless you absolutely had to!”

Slowly, the struggling ceased as John stared at the approaching woman, the way her eyes didn't match. The single bright eye, with the other a pale lilac, both focused solely on the temple she was approaching.

“What will happen after I help you purify her?” he asked. “Am I free to go?”

“Of course you'll be free to go. So long as something else doesn't happen.”

“Maryam.”

“John, I don't know for certain what will happen after she's begun the purification. I promise you can return to Dirk and Dave once everything here is safe. I promise. But this is just as important, whether you believe me or not. I -need- you. I need your help.”

“I'm... but.”

“Please.”

“... I don't know if I'm really the purifying type, Maryam, it's not really in my description of abilities.”

“Because you don't choose to explore that side of your abilities, you stubborn ass!” It was rare for Maryam to curse, showing just how truly frustrated she was becoming. How desperate. “Wind can be just as purifying as water, don't you see? Just as purifying as flame or fresh soil. Not to even mention that we need all the luck we can get right now. PLEASE. Just help me purify her, and we can be a step closer to this foolish battle beginning and ending on a pleasant note instead of dragging out something awful.”

Slowly, John lost the will the fight and allowed himself to sink into her arms willingly, giving a curt nod.

“I'll help. I promise. If only to return to the others before something begins without warning. Let me go, I won't run... Let her come now.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Far off in the distance, beyond the shambling figure of Rose, far beyond the black sands of the desert where two blondes danced with fire, stood three figures with four voices. They spoke quietly for the most part over a low cauldron that bubbled fiercely, stirring it every so often.

“Do you think they're coming yet?”

“Oh, obviously, they should be here soon.”

“Don't think tho. They're obviouthly going to fail.”

“They'll be late, but in one group unleth I'm mithtaken.”

“Which one of them is telling the truth this time..?”

“Asked as if I had a clue.”

“Should we make tea and wait for them?”

“It'll be cold before they arrive, at the rate they're traveling. Betht to jutht wait and thee.”

“Jutht tea? Rude, make them food too, they thould arrive with empty thtomachth. Jutht like true freeloaderth.”

“...I'd put a wait on the tea. We'll just brew some once they arrive with the sphere.”

“Oh, thure, lithten to her.”

“NEVER lithten to her, the only lieth!”

“Will you two at least decide which one tells the truth and which one lies instead of switching back and forth like that? You're giving me a headache!!”

“They're just trying to liven up the party, give them a break. Let's just sit and wait a while. Maybe we can play a game in the meantime. Who has the cards?”

“I do!”

“I don't!”

“....... Do they, or do they not? Oh, wow, that was a tricky one. Let me save you from getting a headache as well. We'll use mine.”

If only their night of peaceful calmness could be shared by the gods. Likely, they'd have a much better time of things.

Chapter Text

Whether it was a holy act or not, this bath, John couldn't rightly say. For one, he was fairly certain he'd never heard this much cursing and speaking in tongues from someone over simply being held above a blessed pool. For another, he was also quite sure that humans weren't meant to be that particular shade of gray, nor that they had any form of spitting capabilities.

Was this black bile poisonous? Was it going to leave its tainted effects on the building itself? As he kept the wind cycling around Rose's body, whipping up her pale hair, spreading around viscous droplets as they fell from her open mouth. Her voice rose and fell in waves, half common tongue, half garbled sounding screeches and hollers. Curses fell like rain.

“Maryam,” he asked as he struggled to keep her still, “are you CERTAIN she's a human? A mortal? I've never had a mortal resist my breezes so fiercely, rage or not, and that even includes Dave at one point. Did Dirk have any other children? Did anyone else?”

His faint idea for a family tree of some sort was quickly dismissed in his mind, as he realized that likely there would be far too many sub-branches to count. There was a physical similarity between Dirk and Rose, however. Somewhere in the face.

“Not currently, aside from Dave, are there any heirs of concern or note. Maybe it's from an extended line, though. Maybe she just has innate gifts,” Maryam said as she knelt by the waters edge, pouring in oils and herbs, bits of polished gems and powders. Anything that would cleanse and purify while keeping her temple safe.

“Is this.... whatever the hell this is. Is this going to ruin your temple in any way? Are you sure we couldn't just purify her outside somewhere instead?”

“John, there's a lesson to be learned here.. One, that even if we purified her outside, the taint would still remain upon the world for quite some time to come. Nature takes time to purify things on its own, but it still gets done.” She should know, considering as a maternal goddess she had a good link to such matters of renewal and rebirth. “For another lesson, it's that this is my own temple, and I'm quite certain it can be made to withstand things such as this. If a holy pool can't handle a blessing, then it's not worth keeping in one piece anyway.”

“You act as if the temple will fall, Maryam. Are you about ready for me to get her into the water? It's going to be quite a splash, but I don't really know how long I can keep her lifted if she keeps fighting me like this! It's like she's able to sense right where the wind is weakest, so I have to keep shifting it around as fast as she discovers an opening.”

“It very well may, John. Come. Lower her down so we can begin.”

“Just... drop her?”

“If I meant drop her, I'd tell you to drop her, now wouldn't I? Lower her down gently into the water.”

“Her clothes are going to get wet. Should I get rid of them?” he asked out of habit, flashing a playful grin, which crumpled under the weight of Maryam's stern glare. “...Ah... Though, I suppose they're already ruined and need a good wash or replacement. Ahaha.. haha.. ha. Ahem. Right. Lowering her now.”

Gently as could be in comparison to the vicious struggle of limbs and curses, fury and unearthly chatter, John lowered his captive's writhing body into the temples waters. Maryam lowered her head in prayer, urging the cleansing to happen correctly, trying to supply strength. They may need to do this multiple times, depending on how corrupted Rose was, for the pool would be useless past a certain point.

Rose was having none of this 'going peacefully' business, and began to shriek louder in common than the eerie voices that seemed to come somehow from beyond her own body.

“STOP! Stop, leave me alone you awful THINGS! Do you know what I'm even doing?! I understand everything! I have infinite knowledge, I can tap power I didn't know was even possi-” she was interrupted by water entering her mouth, spitting out a stream of inky water in an enraged sputter before continuing. “You can't DO this to me! I'm doing things perfectly, you're going to wreck it!”

John was having second thoughts about dunking this woman in and out of the water like a piece of pissed off laundry, especially when she was actually managing to speak clearly for once. Well. Mostly clearly, at least, so long as you ignored the shouts from beyond that echoed around the complex like a maelstrom.

“Is anything she's saying legitimate? Would leaving her be do anything bad?”

Maryam hissed at him, irritated beyond all relief already from the strain this was taking out of her own body. The water in the pool was already turning to stain faster than she'd imagined possible, as if every pore of Rose's body were leaking the fluid like sweat. Her usually gentle glow was harsh and bright, lighting up the room. The darkness stayed away from the water nearest to her, dispelled in waves from where it had attached any time Maryam's power ebbed outwards.

“She needs to serve in the temple for this endgame to even -work-. One cannot serve properly in a temple until they've been purified!”

John grunted and strained, sending a spray of water up against the surrounding walls as a rogue bit of wind blasted through the waters choppy surface. Was it getting thicker? The pool almost looked like it was turning to sludge in some places..

“This isn't working, Maryam, what's your backup plan?!” he yelled, amazed that such a short time had gone by before the structure was already becoming used up. Everything had its limits.. What HAD she done to herself?

“You can't take it, not until I remember everything!” Rose screamed, back arching as she continued to fight through John's wind so accurately that his misses were becoming more frequent. The pale, lovely walls of Maryam's temple were becoming stained and defiled. “I NEED this! You can't take it! I'm better with it, I'm more prepared with it, let me serve! I'm to DIE! I'm to die! Leave me with it!”

John barked a harsh call of 'MARYAM?!” in question to the newest cries before leaning back to try dragging Rose upwards a foot above the pool. She was to die? Were they supposed to kill her? He wasn't certain he wanted to take part in this any longer, without understanding more of what was happening. For once, he couldn't just blindly allow himself to follow logic that he didn't have in control, especially with a mortal life on the line.

Rose had cared for Dave, kept him safe, helped to educate him as he grew in the temple. Kept his thoughts pure. She had inadvertently served Dirk and John himself nearly as much as Dave had, despite not being one of their direct worshipers. He owed her better than death.

“Dunk her!” shouted Maryam, thrusting her hands down into the water once Rose's body had left it entirely. The sludge that had collected rippled, gelatinous, and attempted to rise to the challenge of overtaking her light, slithering up her arms like snakes. Reaching for her, wanting to yank her in. As if she were a stone statue, however, there was no movement aside from her breath in reaction to the invading touches. The swaths of jade green cloth wound 'round her body were growing darker, yanking, tugging.. then suddenly repelling as the light poured forth from her body like a fountain.

The white light turned the same shade of green as her clothing, the green of spring, of soft moss, of newly unfurled leaves. It swelled out from her arms and hands in a pulsing sphere, racing beneath the gelatinous mass of darkness and debris like a bubble, stretching it thin. Rose's falling form was what punctured it properly, splatters of sludge flying out to spatter against the walls and floor, John's body and Maryam's straining form. A final gesture of rage as Rose submerged entirely inside the welcoming light.

The darkness in the pool began to bubble and froth like foam in a boiling pot, excess that needed simply to be scooped out. Leftover pond scum devoid even of its own essence once it reached such a state of weakness. When Rose bobbed to the surface, her skin was growing pale again in patches, though her eyes remained closed. Her lips were still dark, darker than the stripes of black that stained down her cheeks and chin from the drainage drying during her travels. Even damp and limp in the center of the brilliant water, she looked wild. Strange. Maybe that would fade when she dried off and began talking sensically.

Would she ever be quite the same, though? John certainly had never seen her look like, nor act like this at all in the years he'd seen her near Dave in the temple. Was it all the fault of the sludge, or was it something she kept inside all the while, only to be brought out while under the influence of that bile?

John staggered back and swiped a sharp breeze over himself to get rid of the parting gift, dismayed to see the stain it was trying to leave on his new clothing. He'd have to ask Maryam for a spare to adjust how he wished, or for help cleaning this one off properly to avoid looking like he just climbed out of a garbage pit.

“Maryam?” John asked, remembering suddenly how still she had been before, turning to look at her. Still dripping with the remnants of the work, she was finally standing. With no care for her clothing, or apparently herself, the proud goddess stood straight upright and carefully stepped down into the pool. Gently, the eternal mother, she slipped her left hand beneath Rose's upper back, and her right forearm below her knees before lifting her up from the water. Her glow was weaker now, skin ashy instead of luminous as the full winters moon, though it still gently shone against the darker tone of Rose's skin.

Maryam clasped Rose against her own breast and lowered her head to press her full lips to the damp forehead, and a kiss to each of her cheeks. A fourth kiss was placed to the tip of her upturned nose. The fifth found its home upon her slightly parted lips, and locked into place.

Rose convulsed after a minute, and gagged up into the kiss that was being given, back arching and head trying to loll away as Maryam began to force her light to increase. The writhing became more intense, and John was surprised to see the goddess swaying from the effort of containing the struggling mortal as she... what was she even doing? It looked as if the greenish light from Maryam's body was tracing into Rose's mouth, down her throat.. He yelped in surprise when the kiss suddenly stopped moments later, hopping up into the air to hover curiously as Rose turned her head to cough harshly to the side.

Dark liquid spattered on the stone floor, though once it fell it failed to repeat the eerie reaching it had done in the pool earlier. Rose's lips remained black as pitch with the stain. So too now were stained Maryam's lips, with a hint of green.

“... Maryam, what's going on? First she said something about dying, and then you had me drop her and now you're sucking face with her while she's mostly unconscious and I'm.. Alright, I'm more than a little confused. Care to explain it slowly for the stupid fellow here in the back?” John said with a soft cough, floating over to her right shoulder to peer down at Rose's pale face as she panted in her sleep.

“She just needs rest, for now. Likely another purification or two before she's fully ready.. The darkness runs deeper than I thought it could. She has amazing self control to have kept anything of herself instead of succumbing to it.”

She'd said she needed it for some reason. Maybe it was just a crutch. Maybe they'd needed to listen to her, and let her try to serve in the holy temple with the darkness lurking inside her body somehow.

“John? Thank you for the help. Truly. The first cleansing will always be the absolute worst regardless of who it is, but I'd no idea she was this far gone already. It's a miracle she made it here at all.”

“What did she mean she was going to die here? Maryam, last I checked, you don't deal with sacrifices,” John muttered. “Unless desperate times call for desperate measures...?”

“No, no. No sacrifices here. I may deal with blood to a point, but it's only to bring new life. Not end it.. That's Makara's department, you know that. I was worried I'd need to call in a favor from Jane if the shock proved too much.”

“Jane?” John said, attention perked. He drifted out of Maryam's way as she stepped out of the pool of water at last, and began to walk deeper into the temple. It was sparse here, plain aside from the soothing decorations, but the chambers where temple keepers once dwelt still survived. No doubt now that there was at last a new resident, it would be spruced up in due time.

Maryam bent her knees to lower Rose gently down to the ground, keeping her body propped upright with the arm upon her upper back, curling her fingers securely beneath the armpit for extra support. Without warning, she began undressing the young woman, ridding her of the travel and trauma ruined clothing to avoid her catching chill most likely. John stared in shock for a moment, before deciding to be respectful and turning upside down to drift a few feet away and turn around, sighing.

She looked a bit like Dave. A bit, around the edges. Enough to make him keep wondering about a possible familial link merged by Dirk sowing wild oats in the line of duty some years back. She looked like Dave.. but not enough to capture his interest in the same way. There was only one petite blonde he wanted to see in the nude lately. Right now, even, if he were calmer and there wasn't so much on the line.

Maybe soon.

Oh. Right, he'd died recently, hadn't he? After he heard another rustle, dry cloth this time, John was certain enough that Rose was covered with something and it was good form to turn around once more. It was a thin blanket on an old bed, but he had no doubt Maryam would keep her perfectly safe and comfortable as time went by and she recovered.

“If this was truly all you needed from me, Maryam, I believe there are two blondes I need to catch up with and bold faced lie to.”

“About the death?”

“Yeaaaaaaah,” he said, extending the word as long as he exhaled. “Well. I haven't exactly had time to explain the whole 'I can die and come back in most cases to the point where I've made an art of it' thing to him.” John shrugged, then chuckled. “Ah. Mortals. So innocent, am I right?”

After a slight glance to Rose, Maryam lifted an eyebrow to him, clearly asking, 'Are you serious?' She shook her head finally, and gave him a wry grin, walking nearer to him to hug him tight around the chest, minding her horns as she nuzzled at his cheek and planted a kiss.

“Yes, yes, go and explain yourself if you must. I'm able to handle things from here on out, but I'll be certain to contact you should the need arise. There's only one place he needs to go now, correct?”

“As far as I know? Yes. Can that change at any time? Also yes. Does that mean anyone will ever tell me anything? Probably not, but I can hope. We know that Pyrope is going to attack, eventually.. I know that Ampora just killed me, so I'm gonna go with my gut instinct and say he's not on our side either. Makara worries me, because he's a wildcard of the highest degree. Megido...? Not sure. I've no idea who all will be against us or with us right now, and all we can do is prepare to the best of our abilities.”

For someone who prided himself on being so carefree and flighty, this was an enormous amount of responsibility and pressure. John just wanted things to go back to how they were. But with the added bonus of getting to sleep with Dirk and Dave whenever he damn well pleased instead of having to sneak around. Maybe Dirk and he could help found a temple for Dave, with himself and Dirk as guardian deities in the same complex, get him the notoriety and respect a fledgling god needs to bolster themselves.

Anything to get rid of this tension and strain and pressure and worry, and replace it with happy times once more. John was looking forwards to taking Dave flying without worrying about sudden attacks from elder gods.. or sudden attacks from Dave's own uncontrolled element.

As Maryam went to settle on the foot of the bed she'd lain Rose upon, she waved John off with her hand.

“Send them both my best, and good luck to all three of you. I've a feeling that you're all going to need it.. but I certainly hope that things go better.” At John's momentary look of strained uncertainty, she offered him a dark lipped grin, and the comforting words only a mother could offer. “You'll be fine, John. Just prepare best you can. Teach them what only the wind can do.”

- - - - - - - - - -

By the time John had taken off from the temple and tentatively reappeared where he sensed Dirk and Dave, only one was still awake in the chill of the black sand desert night. Dave, exhausted, was sprawled out across Dirk's legs in front of a cheerily crackling fire with his cheek smooshed against a broad knee. His feet were loosely crossed at the ankle, and both arms were stretched out in different directions, reaching. John sat next to Dirk and picked up one of Dave's limp hands, rubbing gently at the fingers till they gripped at him strongly. Dirk accepted his arrival without surprise, used to the sudden comings and goings of non-mortals.

“It's about time you showed up, John. You very nearly had me worried. Dave's fine, by the way. No harm from the water, just shaken up. We talked a good deal, and I started teaching him to properly use the flame. Can you believe he was afraid of it at first, despite being the one to call it?” He sounded like a proud parent, and the idea that this was a literal thing was so amusing to John that he found himself snickering.

“Considering how badly his wrists were burnt before? Yes, I can understand that. And I'm a bit sad you weren't worried, Dirk, considering I died and all. But don't worry, it worked out quite well. I helped Maryam with her oracle problem.”

Dirk turned his head fast enough that his neck let out a loud crack of protest and Dave grunted on his lap before shifting to rest more on his hip in the bowl of Dirk's lap.

“You died? How this time? Drowning, or did the coward stab you or something?”

“Mm, drowning. Forced water into my lungs and I expired fairly fast. Didn't hurt much once I fought down the panic and remembered that I'd come back.”

Dirk smiled fondly at him before leaning nearer, planting a kiss against his temple. “It's hard to completely forget the fear of death, isn't it. I'm sure even the elder gods feel it, once in a great while. I'm fairly certain Signless felt it, even though he was cursing so much. I'm glad our fates are still in tact, however, so you could come back to us.”

“.. I wonder how long they'll be in tact, though,” John mused. “And what are we to do about Dave's? I want to know how long his thread is, how much time he has left as a mortal. I don't want it to be cut short before he can ascend. Is that even an option? Would Pyrope be able to pull favors in that situation?”

Dirk was quiet for a moment, thinking strategies. She could, realistically, arrange to have his thread cut short before he became immortal. Maybe there was a way to gain favor with the keeper of fates.

“I'm not entirely for or against that theory right now, but as long as we keep it in mind, we may be able to see something about it. Sooner rather than later. John, after we get Dave to the next place, either one or all of us need to hurry along to put a good word in for him with the keeper. Anything that will buy time and block Makara from taking him.”

- - - - - - - - -

“You shoulda seen it! Showwed that wwind wwalker wwhat's wwhat!”

“Yes, Ampora, I believe you said that already. You can stop telling us the glory tale of you killing a bound immortal half your age,” drawled Pyrope, returned to her chair from a long day visiting trials around the world. So many guilty parties, so many punishments to mete out. Everyone was guilty until proven innocent, and lucky for her, most of them were never proven innocent. So many humans were so content to have a strawman take the fall instead of prosecuting nobody that something happened each day. The best 'trials' were actually parents questioning their children about their various activities. Oh how the little ones would SQUIRM! But listening to Ampora's failing attempts at battle stories was vexing as the years went by.

He seemed put off, flaring his fins till they stood sharp and bright at the sides of his head. “If you wwere THERE, you wwould understand how important it wwas! The lout wwas messin' wwith my ocean! Flattenin' the wwavves out simple as ya please!” Taking him down had been the reason for his wonderful mood, for the calmness of the seas in reaction, and for the lovely set golden cuffs, collar and necklaces he wore. There was no way he'd let such lovely trophies sink into the depths unclaimed. Oh, he could hardly wait to run into him again while wearing them, just to see his face!

Pyrope groaned and rubbed at the space between her eyes in frustration. “You killed him. Yes. Good for you. Fantastic. He's alive again somewhere now. Are you going to hunt him down again, or is this enough for now?”

“”Wwell, I'll hunt dowwn the wwind wwalke-”

“John.”

“Wwhat?”

“His name is John, damn it, will you stop calling him 'w-wind w-walker'?”

“I said 'wwind wwalker', not 'ww-wwind ww-wwalker'. Pay attention next time, maybe,” Ampora said with another sulk, adjusting his robe.

“I'm demanding that you never call him either of those ever again. Ever. Again. I'm getting sea sick just listening to you talk!” she cried, reaching up to tug at her own horns. “Megido!” she shouted. “Doesn't it bother you too?”

Megido peeped out from behind her throne, having been laying on the floor with her book, and offered an overly intense smile.

“Oh, hardly. Not half as much as it did years ago, and nowhere as much as it will bother me a decade from now! Let the 'wwwwoo's' continue, they're kind of soothing when I read parts of the ocean's story.”

Ampora's fins settled, before flaring once more for an entirely different reason as he heard Megido's comments, running a hand through his dark hair before approaching, leaning against her throne with one arm so more of the rich purple fabric of his outlandish clothes could be seen. His taste in human fashion was still something of a mystery to the gods, but at least most of his bangles were actually pleasant to look at this time. At least John had good taste.

“Hey, Meg. I'vve got a question for ya.”

“No.”

“No wwhat? I wwas just askin' a simple question!”

Megido sighed and let her book close with a soft thump, and propped herself straighter up on her elbows before looking up at him, eyes bright beneath the dark mass of her curling hair.

“Alright. Ask your question, and I'll give a different answer. I'll even explain it for you!” she said brightly, lowering her eyelids to make the grin less piercing, more flirtatious.

Egged on, Ampora flared his fins as broadly as they could go, showy, trying to attract attention.

“I was just thinkin'. You're a lovvely lady, an' you appreciate the finer things in life. I'd be glad ta showw ya some'a the nicer places I knoww in my oceans. You're alwways cooped up in here readin' your book. Wwhy not experience some a the best personally with a guide?”

Megido's flirtatious smile remained in place, and she traced a circle on the ground with her fingertip as if she were considering his offer deeply.

“First off, I'm touched. Not exactly certain where, but I'm touched. Second off, no. Third off, if you don't understand no, I can detail your eventual death in explicit detail if you'd prefer. It's quite a doozy,” she said, grin broadening till her teeth looked sharp and feral.

Ampora's fins lay flat by the sides of his head for a moment, before flaring halfheartedly again, thick brows giving a suggestive wriggle.

“Is that a maybe, then?”

Pyrope's sighed groan resonated around the room, thick as a blanket, before Megido turned away from him to continue watching her book write itself. She wanted to check in with three people in particular, to see if the tea that would arrive perfectly on time would be as good as she hoped it would be.

Chapter Text

When Dave next woke, still tired and stiff from the workload of understanding his link with his future element and the fact that Dirk didn't exactly have the softest lap in existence, it was to recognize that John had returned at some point. John was resting his cheek on Dirk's shoulder and allowing him in turn to lean against the dark, glossy strands of his hair.

Dave hadn't seen either of the gods truly sleep before. Never at the same time. One would sometimes rest beside him, but usually they'd remain awake and talk to each other softly once he himself had gone to bed. Sometimes it would be snippets of conversation he knew nothing about, people and places he'd never heard of. Other times it was reminiscing on earlier times they'd seen him, or things that had happened that day. Plans for the next day. Catching up with small talk about the things they did for their duties.

John would sometimes tell Dirk about the mountains he'd whisked through for the day, guiding rainstorms against the wind buffer of the crest till they built up and caused a good, healthy rain for the farmers that needed it. He flooded the natural reservoirs and rivers through the canyons and kicked up dust storms on the mesas. The plains bent their grasses beneath him like sheets of water, and wild game scrambled to keep up with him as he raced along.

Dirk would describe the battles he walked, the warriors he visited to offer courage to. He visited active wars, skirmishes between families, villages fighting against those that owned the land they worked. Anyone who had a warriors spirit and a need for courage, Dirk would arrive to light their fire. So, too, did he sometimes appear at the funeral pyres of fallen warriors. A mere hint that he had appeared would spread word that the man had gained his favor in life, and that his family was blessed. It was a bit of a sneaky trick accidentally, considering that he would usually start being worshiped by the remaining family members whenever they spoke the fallen mans name.

They would speak of times in a past that Dave doubted even the scrolls in the temple properly remembered. Generations untold. Nowadays, it chilled Dave's blood when he understood someday he'd likely be having those conversations with the both of them. Talking back on this time of travel and trauma, his time in the temple long after the walls of his former home had crumbled to dust.

It was so quiet out here in the black sands, and chilly. He wished that he could hear their voices softly crisscrossing over his head instead of the rustle of unguided breezes whipping grains of sand off into the distance. Ghostly, dim howls to radiate the feeling of vast emptiness around them. He understood why so many battles were fought out here. If this wasn't your home or something you were used to, the noises and strangeness at night would be horribly intimidating.

Reaching up, Dave touched at John's new clothes, wondering where they'd come from. Had he stopped somewhere before arriving to change? It was clean and fresh, and Dave had a moment of jealousy over that when it was compared to his own ruined clothing. He wanted to properly wash, maybe. Clean the sweat and soot from his hair, from his body and feel refreshed. The whole feeling of not having the world on his shoulders and the threat of death around every turn would be wonderful as well, actually.

The movement was enough to make John open an eye and look down at him with a smile. He raised a dark hand to stroke Dave's hair back from his eyes affectionately, before retracting his hand long enough to gesture for quiet to avoid waking Dirk. Dave got the message and smiled wearily at him, rubbing sleep from his eyes before reaching his hand out to curl into John's waistband again to ease his mind. He couldn't up and disappear so easily if Dave were holding on to him, right?

“Sorry I took a while,” John whispered. “I was needed by Maryam for a while, so I couldn't come right along. Rose was posing some problems, an-”

“Rose? Is she okay?” Dave asked suddenly, not minding his volume in the slightest. John hissed as if in panic and slapped a hand over Dave's mouth to muzzle him as he gestured for quiet again.

“Yes! Yes, by all means, she's going to be just fine,” he murmured. “There was just a hiccup that I was taking care of for her and Maryam. She needed to get well, and now she's on the road to recovery thanks to me.”

Dave licked at his palm till John removed his hand, drying it off against Dirk's leg, flashing him a smirk. Okay, he'd have to get payback for that sometime.

“Is it possible to at least know how she's doing now, aside from well? Has she asked of me? Can I see her soon?” Dave jabbered. “She's not been injured, has she?”

“No, no, she's fine! We'll see about you getting together soon. Once she's all better,” John said. It was only a slight fib. She was going to take a bit of time to go through this cleansing as fast as possible to be of use in the temple, and to their cause. How could he even explain such an extensive purging of spiritual residue to Dave? No, no. Best to keep it simple, and let him know he'll see her eventually.

Dirk stirred from all the noise at last, and flicked his amber eyes from John to Dave, as if to be certain the warmth and weight he sensed was truly coming from who he suspected it was coming from. His awkward little group was reunited at last. … His family. Yes, that was a strange word, but it was rather appropriate. Dave was literally his family, and so long as John was interested in the both of them as much as they were in him, so too would be John.

“What's all better, now?”

“It's like I told you last night, where I was. Helping Rose,” John replied, touching at Dave's fingers on his clothing gently.

“Ah, right. Yes, she'll be better soon enough from what I was told. And if Maryam is there watching her and tending her, you know she'll wind up better than ever.”

Dirk stretched his arms up over his head and stuck out his chest, yawning softly before beginning to crouch and stand. Dave was sent to the dark sand below rather unceremoniously, squawking unpleasantly before he pushed to sit all the way upright as well. He'd slept enough and the others were preparing to move out, so there was really no sense left in trying to sleep further alone.

“We've still got this last location to get to and be done with it. Then, we can go on the offensive, I believe,” Dirk said with an air of authority. “You took to the lessons very well, Dave. I think if you keep doing practices and drills, and push yourself and your confidence.. you'll be able to handle fire more accurately when it begins to switch over to you.”

John looked up at the blondes as they stretched before hovering a few feet up off the ground, straightening, then simply hovering higher. Why bother getting that sand even more on his clothing and skin than he already had? He was in high spirits now that things were progressing. One final location, then they only had to focus on the other gods and goddesses. John wondered how many of them would even prove to be a problem, considering Maryam was now on their side. How many of the Elder Gods would oppose them? How many of their friends, their acquaintances would rise against them in the coming days? The coming weeks?

“Let's get some food in you, Dave. You're not immortal yet and there's some quick rule breaking from here on out to get you to where we need you to be. The boat's gone and there's no time to hunt a new one, nor any point,” John said as he drifted forward a few feet, then did a quick backhanded spin to hover impishly upside down. “For that matter, I could use a bite to eat as well.”

“You don't need to eat, I thought,” Dave said. Not refusing, just curious as to the sudden change. Which was true?

“Well. No, I don't -need- to eat. None of us do. Doesn't mean I can't still like it a lot.”

- - - - - - - - - - -

When Rose woke, it was to soft rebounds of light on pale walls, a horrible headache, and a sour taste in her mouth. It felt like she'd been fighting the flu for weeks, or like she'd danced with the plague and gotten awake free. She noticed she'd been wrapped in a soft, orange swath of a night gown, the fabric flowing and softer even than the robes she'd worn beneath her covering. She ran her fingers over it, wishing there were more than what lay over her body. Wishing she could have an entire bed made of it in many colors, so she could roll around in splendid comfort as she knit.

Where were her knitting needles? She had such an itch to work on something to still her hands and while the time away as she recovered from what was making her ill.

“Ah, you're awake,” said a feminine voice from behind her, making Rose startle and instantly tug the bedding up. That wasn't a familiar voice. The owner didn't seem familiar either, though she found herself wishing she was. Maryam made quite the positive impression with her graceful walk into view, the soft glowing of her pale skin, the striking features and the long, sharp horns. Her smile left Rose's stomach pleasantly warm instead of irritated, and she found her grip on the cloth relaxing so she could more comfortably rest on her elbows.

“So I am.”

“I'd not recommend eating anything just yet, but water would likely help,” the woman said. Was she a woman? A demon?

Goddess, a voice whispered.

“Water would be great,” Rose said. “What should I call you?”

“Oh! Right, yes. Maryam. We met before, Rose, but odds are it'll take a bit of time to remember if you do at all. What's the last clear thought you had,” the elder goddess assured her as she moved towards a pitcher, deciding to just bring the entire thing for now. It would be quite the dirty trick, but.. if it were a means to an end, then so be it. She presented the heavy pitcher to Rose once she sat all the way upright, urging her to have her fill.

The first drink was soothing to Rose's parched throat, the first cool rain to a dry season desert. It filled her mouth, then overflowed rather un-daintily from the corners as she took a deeper dreg than anticipated. Deeper than she knew she'd need at first before the thirst actually began. When had she last drank or eaten? The water hit her stomach and made it satisfied.

About five minutes later, it made her horribly ill, ridding her of more of the thick, black bile that had hijacked her body to drag her to this very place. Maryam helped tie back her hair and clean the mess as her system tried to cleanse itself entirely, promising her it was no trouble, that she'd feel well soon. She dabbed her forehead with a cool, wet cloth, and wiped her mouth before excusing herself to refill the pitcher and bless the water. She'd need to see what foods she'd be able to mix this into, once Rose felt well enough to start eating on her own.

Playing dirty was a necessity when time was of the essence. She'd apologize later and help make her some lovely clothes, surely. That might help to heal the broken trust when Maryam eventually told her what had happened.

- - - - - - - - - -

The tea was freshly lain on the table, still steaming, by the time the trio made their way inside the cavern. The trip had taken a bit of guesswork considering the two gods had not set foot on this final island within memory. At least, as far as they could recall. Without a clear enough image in their minds, the sudden flickering in and out as they traveled quickly along to different islands, different beaches they recalled.

There had been several hours of John harping that he could simply fly there, then step back to retrieve them, but Dirk said that they'd get it the next try. No, the next try. No, the next try.

So long as there was food at first, Dave didn't mind the flashing and brief pauses as Dirk and John squabbled harmlessly. When the food ran dry, however, so too did Dave's patience. John had finally gone ahead to locate the island in a burst of wind when the short blonde yelled irritably for them to stop acting like nattering old hens and stop wasting time they didn't have. Being yelled at by a mortal no older than a damned child was.. startling, really.

The island was calm, quiet, and quite small, with a plain cavern leading in a few feet to a rounded door. Beyond the door, after Dirk opened it with a steady hand, lay a well lit room with a set table with the steaming cups of tea. Three on their side of the table, one for each. Four on the other, in different colored cups. A green, a bright blue, and two mustard yellow tea cups sat on matching saucers before simple wooden chairs.

Nobody dared to move once they realized none of the lights were from fire

“See? I told you they'd be here on time!” said a feminine voice, happy and loud. “The tea should still be hot.”

“Lucky gueth,” hissed a more masculine voice, before it slurred in a slightly higher pitch a second time. “Are you theriouth? Of courth it wath a lucky gueth, we were watching them, that'th about ath lucky ath you get: knowing ahead of time. You can't lothe.”

“Hoo hoo hoo! It's stacking the deck, but I'm not above a bit of cheating if it's mostly someone else doing the cheating!” laughed a fourth separate voice. It was distinct enough that Dirk and John both raised their brows in surprise.

“.... Jane?” asked Dirk, extending an arm out in front of Dave to guard him, prepared to knock him back towards the door if needs be. “What's a goddess doing in a cavern of witches? Are you working with Pyrope?”

John hopped up off the ground and drifted to the table to investigate the tea as the exchange was going on. Smelled good enough, though..

“Got any sugar?”

“Not thweet enough, wind walker?” hissed the higher voice, before a deeper one mimicked it perfectly. “He can't thtomach anything that'th not rich apparently. True thpoiled thoul.”

John glowered and narrowed his eyes, sinking down to hang off the edge of the table he was nearest to, trying to pick out where the voice's owner was.

“If you know me so well, stop lurking and come closer. The light's lovely: completely unnatural and eerie. Like your apparent personality.”

Jane was giggling as she finally came forwards, though it was more of a booming guffaw that was just feminine enough to be considered adorable. Her dark hair curled around her face and the back of her neck in shiny waves, mirroring back some of the pale blue cloth her shoulders and chest were swathed in. Compared to many of the goddesses, Jane tended to dress in an alternating manner, sometimes appearing in gauzy dresses, other times in masculine fare. Today she wore sandals strapped up to the center of her calf, settling a few inches below scuffed leather breeches and the swoop of her top.

For a goddess of life, she was extremely mellow. Maybe it was because her powers were actually rarely used, and she hadn't grown conceited as the decades piled up.

The others who followed her suit and stepped forward weren't of the heavenly order, but they contained power all their own. The first in view was a woman with nearly paper white skin, pale enough that the shadows of her veins could be seen pulsing beneath it from the bit of skin visible at the back of her hands and her thin legs. The shock of bright green eyes beneath waves of long black hair reminded Dave of a cat peeking out from beneath a bed. When he hesitantly smiled up at her, for the woman was taller than he even across the tables distance, she returned the sentiment. Her hair hid the sleeves of her shirt aside from the lowest points, blending in to her long skirt. What looked like white fluffy tufts of... something, were sticking up out of the top of her head.

Dave wasn't certain what they were, and wasn't really certain he wanted to ask and find out. Especially after the other two voices were finally put to an owner.

He had one red eye and one blue, with a third settled right in the center of his forehead, split near down the center in perfect opposites. There was no pupil in any of them, and in the uppermost eye, no sclera could be detected in the sea of faintly glowing primary colors. His skin was a dark gray, visible nails sharp and black as pitch, gaunt frame covered in a simple green robe. Four sharp horns atop of his were startlingly similar to the elder gods, though they were far smaller in size.

Surely his most startling feature aside from his eyes were his sharp double fangs, and the deep yellow tongue that was split terribly high up the part. This was the cause of his major speech difficulties.

“Wow, I actually expected you not to thtate. That'll teach me,” he drawled messily, the blue portions of the eyes flaring as the red grew dimmer. After a moment, the red crackled and flared, forcing the blue down. He seemed to cock his head to the side to get the two sides of the tongue to work together more appropriately to his needs. “Well, I never expected it. I gueth that meanth I win again.”

Was the cause of -their- major difficulties. There was no way for John, Dirk, nor definitely Dave to explain just how this single body was mingled together so thoroughly inside to manage not only two distinctly different minds.. but how to make them so unpleasantly argumentative against themselves.

The ghostly pale woman snorted, and gestured to him.

“Sollux. Captor. Stop that, you'll start setting fire to things again at this rate.”

“Jade, thtop treating uth like children when Thollux ith jutht a mitherable prick.”

Dave winced and instinctively raised his arms up as the hair at the back of his neck stood up, the red and blue eyes struggling to be active at the same time. The man had gone quiet, though his mouth was moving terribly fast, the split halves of the tongue moving independently of each other in the inner argument.

Jade, as her name had turned out to be, didn't let it continue on for very long. When a solid minute of tense silence had passed, she glanced to Jane as if seeking her opinion on the matter, before grasping his shirt to drag him straighter. When the eyes crackled again, she raised her milky hand and brought it down sharply against one of his cheeks, before striking the other with the back edge of her palm on the returning motion.

It took four hits before she finally stopped, Jane ignoring the entire situation, Jade sitting in front of her green cup eagerly to check her tea. The yellow tongued man sulked angrily and seemed to be cursing her beneath his breath.

“Not that I'm dying to interrupt you,” Dave said as he stepped forward to do so, trying to force Dirk's over protective hand down out of his way, “but I was sent here to deliver a treasure? A sphere?”

“Yes, we've been waiting for that,” Jade said with a bright smile, raising her left hand to make a grabby gesture towards him. “Well. I and Sollux and Captor have,” she clarified.

“I've been wanting it too, but I'd rather not touch it,” Jane said, walking around the edge of the table towards John to finally just hug him and attempt to relax the tension in the room. She and Jade were used to Sollux and Captor's moods and antics, but guests..? Not so much. Especially not fellows who had been through as much as these three had. Best to make nice for the guests.

John was content with the hug, floating her up with him till her toes barely touched the ground and she set to laughing loudly again. Dirk didn't seem amused in the slightest, eyes hard and weary from strain. Dave took advantage of the comfort he offered, but shuffled forwards a few feet to get a better view, shoulders back to try looking confident.

“Why not touch it?” Dave asked. “Is something bad about it? It's just a white ball.”

“It's the future. It's the past. It's the present. It's possible outcomes. It's the right path, the wrong path, and the path that no longer exists,” Jane said in a serious voice once she got John to put her down again. She patted her hair back into place, fixed a few of the curls as John's breezes pushed them out of position, deciding to test how far he could push the new people.

“It's dangerous because nobody should know that much,” Jade added. “We already know that, Sollux, Captor and I. They're mage's, I'm a witch. We've similar powers, different specialties. Together, we can keep up the strength to see the future fairly accurately within a set amount of time. Our window is wider than most. But it's still simply a window.” Once more, she made a grabby gesture for the sphere in question. “That sphere in the hands of someone who knew how to use it would be like opening a massive tunnel through a mountain that only you could see.”

“.. Why are we supposed to give it to you, then. This was the last place I was supposed to go, to get forgiveness. This thing we've been walking around with is so dangerous, but. Why would Serket even have had it?”

“She could use it. To a point. Her abilities were able to forcefully tap into it, cheat it into working if her luck was with her.”

John winced guiltily and wound up misfiring a blast of air, sending it up Sollux and Captor's robe instead of Jade's, making him yelp in a hollow manner, echoing the same voice and reaction twice. It left him surprised and staring at his hands, amazed. Likely, it was the first time they'd agreed enough to manage that.

“But, even so. I'm just supposed to.. what. Give it to you three and walk away a cleansed man? Or are you supposed to cleanse me or something?” Dave asked, eyebrows drawn. What else was supposed to happen? Was this really it? Deliver a dangerous item like some kind of unpaid sailor and then go off to fight gods for the right to survive? “Or.. Or give me a gift in return? Some kind of power or ability for surviving this?”

Jade blinked at him before staring at the ceiling of the cavern in thought, bright eyes moving occasionally from side to side, before she shrugged and looked a him again.

“Not that I know of. You didn't do anything that needs to be cleansed or forgiven, and even if you did, who would I be to do anything about it? You didn't cross me or my rules, you just have something I need.”

“... I don't even get help? I went through torture and terror and pain to deliver an oversized marble?”

“An oversized marble that could be unspeakably dangerous in the wrong hands,” Jade said quickly. “Like if Jane's mentor got hold of it on her own, or made Jade give it to her. But she's not gonna touch it.”

Dave looked absolutely crest fallen, mouth agape. He looked lost. Hollowed out. Wrecked. I really had been for nothing. Absolutely nothing. But he didn't collapse inward or fall apart. Nor did he explode with rage. Instead, to John and Dirk's surprise, he simply closed his mouth and nodded as he lowered his chin towards his chest. Swallowing it down. Saving it for later. He'd need that rage for another point, most likely in the very near future.

“...Uhm.. If it makes it any better, you're doing something very important by giving it to us,” she said, trying to word it into a more positive way than 'we appreciate you' while getting what she wanted. “We've got no interest in misusing it. In fact, we'd rather destroy the stupid thing. What use would witches with our abilities be if that thing exists?”

“What would happen if Pyrope caught hold of it?” Dirk suddenly said, heckles raising. “If she could tap into its abilities, she'd use it to find anything she could use as proof against her enemies. Proof of crimes that didn't even happen yet.. Nobody would be able to oppose her decisions, if she could see it possibly happening.”

“Yes, something like that, I suppose,” Jane said. “If anyone who likes power got it and could use it, it would be terribly dangerous. If my mentor got it, she'd likely use it to break her bonds early or unleash all kinds of problems. If a mortal got it, it would also have a chance of being terrible for all involved.”

John frowned and looked at Dirk as his face went starkly pale and he nodded. How many wars would be unfairly won? How many battles fought without a warriors heart, without honor, or true meaning behind it? How many murders for crimes that hadn't even been committed?”

Dirk would lose many of his followers, standing no longer for battle and strength. He'd lose fire to Dave, and would stand only for fertility and sex. His strength would diminish, as would his status. Danger would be everywhere.

“Are you really going to destroy it?” Dave demanded of Jade, sounding more alert than he had moments before. “I'll do it myself if this is a lie. I've had enough of being lied to already to last several life times.”

“He has, you know,” John agreed in a sagely voice, so saccharine and foolishly out of place that it brought the ghost of a smirk to the youth's face.

“Yes, we know, and we will! We already see the future enough, why would we want maybe when we could have a closer window of YES!” Jade yelled, thumping her hands on the table impatiently before reaching again towards Dirk and Dave.

“Jutht give her the thtupid thing before we go inthane!” Sollux (Captor?) cried in his strangely hollow tone of agreement.

Jane drew away when the sphere came into view at last, hands behind her back, steadfastly refusing to go anywhere near it. The horned man failed to go near it as well, showing no desire. Odds are, aside from the future, he saw enough in his own bifurcated mind to keep him quite entertained.

Jade held it aloft gently in both hands, balancing it.

“Huh. It's lighter than I thought it would be.. So small, and yet so dangerous. I wonder if we can get a good chunk out of this, or split it in half well enough before he gets here?”

Dave frowned at her.

“He?”

“The other side of my coin,” Jane said with a faint grin. “The man who works most often with my mentor, despite being an elder god in fantastic standing, while I remain a lesser god. His name is Makara.”

Chapter Text

Time was beginning to run low. Not for her by any means, oh no. 'Cursed' with immortality, she was the keeper of fates, each strand of her hair standing for someone's entire life. When it was time to end it, the strand would fall out and then be cut. Other times, the strand could be forcibly removed if she were feeling spiteful. Still others were honest accidents, tangles caught on the walls of her enclosure as she moved around between water and her dry spaces.

Who could blame her for a few mishaps? She carried a worlds worth of hair, and it showed, the masses of it fanning out behind and above her with every step she took. In her normal life, it would have been braided, tended to daily, washed and conditioned with sweet scented soaps and oils. It would have been brushed by many hands and decorated instead of growing wild and unkempt. There was only so much time she could devote to sitting with her shell comb straightening it out on her own, after all. Even kept in this one place with so little to do, she could grow bored.

It was different when she was an empress, of course. So different, a country bowing before her whims, subjects throwing themselves at her feet in terror. Not many had considered that a woman could be so deadly.. Ahh, fond memories. Her cold lips curled upwards at the edges as she tipped her mirror, painting on her favorite shade of lip stain delicately. Nothing but the best would do for her. Not just because she was an empress and deserved nothing but the best, oh no. Mostly it was the water. Being semi-aquatic as a necessity could be terribly vexing when it came to keeping her makeup perfect.

One painted, she parted the lovely lips to show long, thin teeth. Nightmares from the deepest oceans come to life, hidden in the guise of a lovely woman.

Lovely as always, sounded a soothing voice in her head. Her smile faded back to normal, hiding the trap that lay beneath her surface just enough. Though, to expect anything less of Her Imperious Condescension would be foolish of me.

“Terribly so. Makara, I'm surprised you came early. I've several others for you to collect as usual. There's an entire chunk that's due to come out, and I've had enough of glaring at another few hundred. I'm quite certain if I can live without it, they could live without it as well,” she joked, turning from her mirror to take in the god.

Why fear death when he was her dearest friend? He was one of the few who saw her with any regularity, and over the countless years they had become downright cordial with each other. He did the reaping, she did the organizing. It wasn't too horrid of a trade, all things considered. At least she got to stay alive and was given the respect of a few people.

I'm afraid I cannot collect early today, Peixes. I've come about another matter, one of great importance. I need you to locate a particular strand for me.

“A single strand in all this,” she snorted, reaching up to run her fingers through her voluminous hair. “Is it an immortal, or a mortal? At least tell me what I'm looking for aside from just a name. Mortals recycle the same titles so many times, unimaginative fools..”

This is where things get interesting, Makara sent as he walked calmly among the woman's posessions, dragging his marked fingers along the surfaces as if he were checking for dust or foreign matter that might have managed to build up. Not distastefully by any means. He may become immortal. I'd like to see how long his strand is, to see how it's progressing, or if it's attempting to change in any way.

“The name?”

Dave. His lineage can be traced back to one of the younger gods, Dirk, and a woman in the hilled village near a base temple. He is next in line to inherit fire, and has likely shown sparks of it already.

That made it easier to find. First, she located Dirk's strand, solid and strong as if it were connected to her skull by metal and heat. The energy it radiated was intense, but the signal was very distinct, letting her trace it to another. Children never tend to spring up too far from a powerful parent..

“Ah.”

Dave's strand was pulled aside from the rest of her mass of hair, forwards into view. It was radiating energy in its own way, strange and swirling, surrounded but not pulsing it outward from the center just yet. As a result of the strain it was under, the hair itself had developed a split, weakening. The rest of the strand appeared quite strong, but the split itself was worrisome and terribly short. Just enough strain in the right places would cut it all short.

“My, my, my. Close to wasted potential. Should I snip this and be done with it...? I do so hate when they're indecisive,” she cooed, pursing her lying lips into a sweet pucker.

No need, Peixes. That simply means my work will likely be done for me quite soon. If you don't mind, however, I do have another request of you.

Peixes sat more upright and stretched, tossing her mound of heavy hair back over her shoulders so it could all sort itself back into order. While she didn't reach for him with her hands, she did with the lengthy tangle of white tentacles that made up a good portion of her lower body, curling them around the gods legs and waist to try urging him forwards.

It didn't take much to lure him closer considering he was already quite near and put up absolutely no resistance, lanky body all but gliding up against her shapely frame. His detailed tattoos and markings were soon covered by her hands and the prehensile flickerings of the white tentacles she bore, turned ages ago to half of the beast she looked to as a personal crest at the beginning of her captivity.

Even with the addition of, essentially, a kraken.. she was alluring. Willing to listen to his whispers as if attuned to them. Cooperative and challenging with the strands of her hair as they worked together. She was technically his employee, his responsibility. He kept her fed, kept her in trinkets that Ampora would occasionally locate in his travels beneath the waves on patrol, kept her in company when he wasn't busy.

Makara also dealt with her rancorous temperament, her violence, the sting of her words and her cruel deeds. He had to deal with her managing to have someone under her wing despite being unable to leave her enclosure. Crocker was a liability, even if she were useful in her own right, but that would not be for him to deal with for many years. If at all, considering that she was actually pulling away from Peixes on her own power as of late.

If it wasn't love or hate, it was definitely an interesting combination of the two emotions that Makara felt for the woman who was pressing alluringly close to his chest. She was cool to the touch, pliant under his fingers, almost sweet.. till he felt the sting at his neck of those sharp trappers teeth sinking home. Yes, this was indeed complicated.

- - - - - - - - - -

“If Makara is coming here,” Dirk said sternly, “then we'll be taking our leave now.” He put a protective hand at the base of Dave's spine in preparation to move him away. John hovered behind the shorter blonde and rested his hands on either one of his shoulders, kneading at the tense muscles he found there to try easing the strain within them at least a little bit. Some sort of comfort.

Jane frowned and crossed her arms over her chest impatiently. Jade, still distracted by the white orb, barely looked up. Captor and Sollux were paying rapt attention based on the flickering between red and blue, looking between the trio expectantly.

“Well? Are you going to go ahead and run away like thithieth? We've got important thingth to be doing.”

“Yeth, like buffing our nailth while we wait for more people to eventually thow up. If death wath coming here to thtart thomething, I'd probably make mythelf thcarth too.”

“Does death only happen when this Makara fellow is around?” Dave asked. “Or does it happen if he's there or not? Because if it's only when he's nearby, as the resident mortal I'd rather leave. Yeah, that actually sounds like a really good idea.”

“Why not blatht him with thome fire?” Sollux asked with a smirk wide enough to show his awkward teeth, raising one hand to waggle his fingers suggestively.

“... COULD I do that?” Dave asked, tipping his head back to stare up at John. Maybe he could fight. Or show he was lively enough.

“Oh, yes, you could shoot fire at him,” John said with a fond look, lifting one hand to ruffle his hair gently. “But I'd not recommend it. Isn't there some kind of saying about not biting the hand that feeds you? Alter it to not burn the being that could end your life with a thought.”

“Why would you even try to burn him?” Dirk asked, then thought for a moment. “Would an elder god even burn, actually? It'd be handy to figure out just how much damage I could do to Pyrope if she tried anything.”

“You mean me,” Dave interrupted, frowning. “I'm inheriting the flame soon. I'm hoping it'll be before we do this battle we're apparently needing to do. I'd like to display how thankful I am for all the interference and problems I've gone through.”

Jane looked up as if listening to something, then looked down and shook her head.

“If you're planning to flee, it should be now. Prepare yourselves Makara is speaking with Peixes now I believe, so he's actually quite near our current location. I do at least hope that you'll visit more often in the future, John.”

It took a mere second for him to drift closer, giving her a fond hug. “I will.”

“Have you been in contact with Jake?”

“...Not lately. Is he well?” John said quietly, not risking a glance over his shoulder. He didn't want to see what look Dirk's face held. Didn't want to explain to Dave about past flings and fights when he still hadn't even told his young lover about his recent death and regeneration. This was quite a new world for him yet. Nothing could be explained all in one go.

Jane smiled then. “Oh, quite well I think. He's not in contact directly, doesn't seek anyone out. Same as expected. But I've spotted him in our practices with far sight. I believe he's with one of the elder goddesses, tending to the beasts and following hunters.”

“Anything to keep his distance, huh,” Dirk muttered. Dave wasn't able to tell if it was a hurt sound or one of anger.

“It's safer. Hope is an ability that could easily prove dangerous for the elder gods. It's easier to stay away from home for him and off to himself than risk ruin from the others. Even I remember what happened to Vantas, and I'd rather Jake stay as far away from that fate as possible,” Jane said, touching John's cheek in a soothing pat before pushing him back towards his group. “Off with you, now, or you'll be running risk of over staying your purpose. You made your delivery and your slate is now clean, Dave. Use it well.”

“Believe me,” he said as he gave a bow, “I will.”

- - - - - - - - - -

Megido sat with her knees spread, her book balanced atop either kneecap, one long finger tracing along ahead of the words that appeared. She already knew what the words would be, more or less, but it was still fun to pace herself. It made her patient, letting it be read only as fast as she could read instead of letting her eyes skip ahead of her. She'd napped earlier and wanted to catch up on what she'd lost.

Well. Alright, not napped per say. Elder gods had no need for sleep, but she'd chosen to rest her eyes for a time as a passive way of missing out on the drama that was unfolding in the throne room. Pyrope was furious that nobody was answering her call to assemble, even now, and Megido had more important things to think about than hearing her chatter ringing in her ears.

Like if it would be breezy in the room tomorrow or not, or when it would be next that she could play cards with John. When it would be time for her to meet Dave face to face instead of just reading about him over and over, and possibly show him the history of fire as she'd shown it to Dirk years ago. The quick view within the book into the past that was allowed the younger gods as an education tool if they desired or required it.

She wondered when Maryam would be comfortable coming back on her own, so she could ask after a new outfit, having grown quite tired of her current style. Megido missed the conversations they'd have. This entire mess was only further proving her understanding that war was pointlessly boring, and only doubly so when gods were involved instead of humans. At least humans claimed innocence by stupidity. Gods didn't have that luxury and had to rely on bad decisions and pig pigheadedness alone.

The younger gods were choosing to stick to their own, quietly rooting for Dirk and John to succeed in keeping Dave alive as a successor. They'd never heard of younger gods going against the elders, and while they wouldn't be caught raising a sword against them on their own unless their hand was forced, neither would they allow themselves to be used as pawns in this situation so readily.

The elder gods for the most part either felt the situation wasn't nearly important enough to tear them away from their work, or they too were secretly rooting for the under dogs. Ampora was willing to fight with her. Makara wasn't able to be found, but he too was likely working with Pyrope. There was also, according to what she'd heard, assistance coming from another elder goddess: the rarely seen Leijon, goddess of beasts.

She was feral by most accounts, twice as vicious since the death of Vantas. They'd been lovers, friends.. it was no surprise she was even harder to locate than usual. Megido was curious to read what lies had been told or strings pulled in order to get her cooperation. Breaking her own pace, she lifted her gray finger and chewed at her lip while she worked it out, confirming the hazy thought that was solidifying as the words slid into place.

“..Huh. I don't know why I'm surprised. Leijon must care about Jake's welfare a good deal, then, to work with Pyrope.”

Keeping new hope alive by working with the enemy. How very like a mother. Maryam may forgive her yet.

- - - - - - - - - -

Pyrope hated the forest. Hated how thick the under brush was, how little there was to do here. There was no justice in the animal kingdom, only strength and cunning and a good deal of luck. Everything was naturally balanced. The feeling of being un-needed made her feel sick to her stomach, and sent her red eyes narrowing considerably. She'd need to spend a good amount of time in a corrupt city to balance out the feelings this entire fiasco was raising in her senses.

She'd also be spending considerable time in a nice heated bath with all this mud and debris she was feeling slide into her hair and against the skin of her legs and feet. Being unfamiliar with the area, and not able to see very far ahead with all the foliage in the way, appearing directly where she needed to be was basically impossible. That, and the fact that Leijon was the only goddess who was able to hide her precise location from others, preventing the other option of appearing at her side by tracing her energy patterns.

Like a shadow, the huntress was somewhere out there. Hiding in wait. No.. Not hiding. Beasts, even the queen of beasts, didn't hide. She stalked. She followed. Leijon was likely crouched somewhere not far away, watching every step that Pyrope took in her territory, listening to every animal that scampered away from her sounds.

Like a beautiful monster, she could strike at any time.. but there was at least the comfort that she'd not. Hopefully. Leijon's agreement to assist with the mortal and the defectors was likely linked with Jake lurking about with her protection.

“You may be under Leijon's guard, Jake, but you'll not last long if you keep pointing arrows at your elders,” Pyrope said suddenly, loudly, turning to look behind herself. It took a moment for her to actually track down the source of power she'd felt, the familiar surge that signaled hope. She felt it among the humans every so often when she was trying to work.. It made her so happy to crush that feeling beneath her heel once she was done with them.

It took the god a moment to lower the bow and dispel it back into his arm guard, the leather flashing as if made of metal for a bare moment before it went dim again. Even if he'd let that arrow fly, there was no way to know how much damage it would have done. Leijon wouldn't have been pleased to have him sticking his neck out so recklessly.

“Point noted, madame, but if I might say? I was having a right awful time trying to keep an eye on you as it was. Was nearly certain for a moment that you were a rogue hunter gone astray,” he lied through his teeth, trying to give a charming smile.

He was indeed handsome in his own right, eyes as green as the leaves that surrounded him set into the dark tan of his skin, looking a bit of a spectacle now that she was focused on him what with the trappings of his godhood. There was an arm band of gold and emeralds, with a collar around his throat to match, with delicate wings holding the largest stone securely in place. Both hands were covered with carefully wrapped white bands, and his feet in simple sandals from the human villages. His clothes were nothing terribly formal, a simple white wrap that hung from one shoulder to mid-thigh that was belted into place with a deep green cloth that slipped down further behind him to hang in place.

Nothing too flashy. Simple. Understated. Almost elegant. Or, in reality, more like he just took what fit comfortably on his wide frame and went with it, adding shiny things that took his fancy over time in a sort of color based theme. Still, unplanned, it suited him very well.

For a lesser god, at least.

“Me? A hunter?” Pyrope demanded, breaking into a loud peal of shrill laughter that startled a group of birds from the branches above them both into harried flight. “I'm on the hunt for some fools about your age. I'm also hunting for Leijon. I suppose she's told you of the work she plans to do for me soon, yes?”

Jake shuffled in place before leaning against his tree, looking down at the ground to trace the tracks of a wandering lizard. The animals were better to him than this stress. He didn't like the elder gods. Leijon didn't seem so much a goddess as a mother figure. A sibling. She cared for him, guided him, taught him other skills in the hopes that he could gain a second aspect and eventually gain his own powers without fear of the other elders rising against him as they had Vantas.

“She mentioned having something to do soon,” he finally admitted. She'd been vague, agitated, going so far as asking him for space so she could wander around with less to focus on. His instructions were the usual: keep an eye on rogue hunters who got too close to the sanctuary, guard the pregnant females that were close to giving birth and keep a general eye out for danger. If fires started, put them out. If humans honestly became lost and had no ill intent, guide them back out from afar.

Same old comforting thing he'd been doing for years.

“Did she mention me at all, or where she might be? I need to speak to her about this 'thing'. I need to pass on his name, specifically,” she said with another giggle that proved loud enough to make Jake's ears ring unpleasantly. “You'd know by now I can't track her, or I'd already have finished this business. Unless.. You're wanting to help as well?”

It was tempting. If he blindly followed an elder goddess and her requests, he could gain favor with her. He wouldn't need to be terrified of being struck down for little more than what he'd been born to keep an eye on and encourage.

But not tempting enough.

“I'm not sure where Leijon's taken off to at the moment,” Jake said as he lifted his eyes back upwards towards her. “She said she needed some time to herself, and I understood. She's somewhere off in the woods possibly. Or she could be on an entirely different continent. She could be napping near the oceans edge. Are you certain there are no sunny patches in the thrones of the elder gods, or a warm fire side that she might have stumbled upon?” he rambled. Fierce and mighty warrior she might be, but there was always a portion of her that retained a distinct feline tendency when it came to so called creature comforts.

“Shut up,” Pyrope said when she'd had enough of his chattering mouth, rubbing at her temples with her fingertips. “That will do. I'll keep looking for her for a time, but if I can't spot her before you, send her to Megido or myself. She'd do well to check in with me before we strike.”

Was it another assassination? No. Of course it was. But why would she be calling in favors with Leijon when surely others were easier to locate and talk into doing the dirty work.

“... May I ask what's happening? Or. Is that an elder god only thing? I'd not want to overstep bounds,” he said with a higher pitch from nerves, rushing a breath to keep chattering. It was truly the one habit that Leijon and all the training and practice in the world wasn't able to break. “It's just that if it's something strong enough to make Leijon get involved, after..... I. Er. It's just that. There are many others that wouldn't feel so-. It's just. I mean. Oh, goodness, I'm just trying to sort out what's.. happening.”

Pyrope didn't snap at him this time, just glared at him until he managed to silence himself, before holding a finger to her black lips to whisper a curt 'shh' at him. He was a lesser god, and should know his place around those who were above him.

“If you're so interested, his name is Dave and he's a mortal that's managed to turn two gods against us. He's dangerous, and is in line to become an immortal. He could run a rampage. He needs to be taken down, and possibly with the others as well if they rise too strongly against our final decision.”

“Who would rise against the elder gods?” Jake asked of her, damning his own curiosity even as the words fell from his lips like lead weight.

“Oh, just a couple of nobodies. You might be familiar with them, actually,” she said, spreading a sharks grin even as she searched her mind to locate the image of the throne room. May as well give the god what he wanted. Sort of. “Two gods named Dirk? And John...? They're helping the mortal quite intimately,” she said, stepping back a few more paces in the mud till she felt the solidity of marble beneath her heel and the warmth of the nearby hearth against her back. “Send Leijon if you spot her. I'm heading to get business underway.”

Jake's head snapped upwards at the names, eyes widening slightly. Dirk? John? Why would they be doing anything together? With a mortal no less, and one so dangerous as this Dave?

“Pyrope, wait! What do-... Damn it all,” he hissed angrily as she seemed to draw further and further away from him, till at last there was nothing left. Damn that ability of theirs. Jake lacked it for the most part, his own powers limited to what he could see at a distance. His only abilities that were considered godly were limited to Hope, and apparently you don't need to travel fast or many places at once to spread it. Not that he'd actually been doing much, if any, work for his trademark.

He turned to look back towards the sanctuary he and Leijon called home, and chewed at his lip with his large teeth, thick brows furrowed.

“... This doesn't bode well. Does it.. I wonder how far I'd be able to get out of the woods if I start walking now. Maybe.. Maybe I could ask another for transportation. I wonder if I could contact Roxy. She'd be able to help out. Maybe eve help me apologize to Leijon for skipping out on my duties for a while. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Turning his back on the sanctuary, Jake summoned forth his bow and held it tightly before he headed off at a fast clip, disappearing and reappearing every twenty to thirty feet at various points of the trees and underbrush, trying to cover ground quickly. There was heat growing in his chest, and a horrid sense of urgency.

He was being called somehow. Somewhere. Maybe, at the very least, he was being wanted. Jake could only hope he'd arrive wherever he truly needed to be in enough time.

Chapter Text

Heat and haze would normally be billowing with thick black smoke through the building by now, bringing the sweat to his brow and the hammer to his hand in order to answer the eternal call of the metal. The finished piece was hiding within the molten hot liquids he would pour, dredged up from the earth by his own hands. How far would he need to hammer a piece of metal, folding it over and over, until it would reveal the edge it wanted to have? The edge it needed?

His hands were massive, scarred at the knuckles with thick callous, scored grooves cutting down like channels forced through rock. When he walked, his hooves caused thunder.

Or it would, if his furnace were at full fire.

“I have already attempted to explain this to you,” Zahhak rumbled, front right hoof pawing at the ground. Nervous? No. No, not entirely. Were it anyone but he, with the goddess of beasts standing before him, nervousness and fear would be expected. But not Zahhak. Why would he fear a friend? “I am unable to get the fires stoked high enough to attain the degree of weaponry that you are demanding. The fires are in turmoil, and no matter what I offer it in fuel, it is refusing to cooperate with me.”

Leijon narrowed her olive colored eyes, suspicious. Flicking her tail, the woman bent her knees slightly and darted forwards to peer into the forge itself, wanting to see for herself if it was true. She wound up seeing the low heart of the forge for only a brief second before a dark hank of centaur tail thwacked her smartly in the face. Zahhak shuffled in place before casually wheeling around, his arms crossed over his broad chest.

“I would appreciate it if you would possibly do me the honor of explaining why you demand this item be attended to right -now- as opposed to any other time when the forge would be more balanced?”

“You are one of very few who is able to get away with something like that,” she sniffed, raising a clawed hand to delicately flick her own wild hair out of her face and back over her shoulder. “As for why I need this now instead of later.. I'm concerned.”

Zahhak raised an eyebrow and stepped closer, reaching a familiar hand out to stroke the goddess' head, rubbing the thick base of one of her horns to urge her to continue without asking aloud. Such familiar motions after so long.

“There is battle brewing, Zahhak. Your fires are faltering because a shift is about to happen, and it will either succeed or fail. The fire gods heir is in transition. There's no balance any longer,” she said, words tinged with a faint hiss, a curve of her words much akin to a speech impediment. Maybe it was the feline fangs that was the cause, or something she did automatically from millenia of conversing with the wilds.

So his forge was going downhill due to an issue with gods and a mortal.. How droll. Sighing and shaking his head, he sauntered past her with another light flick of his tail in her direction, accidentally nudging her with his flank.

“I'm worried, about if the forge goes cold. I have managed to keep this flame going since the forge was first conceived, I cannot imagine it simply going out. Especially over something so trivial. You will need to wait until I can get the right temperature before I can do any work on your blades, Leijon. I could just as easily shatter your claws if I attempted to do anything but the proper execution.”

That wouldn't do. Leijon had been using the same claws for as long as she could remember, only changing them as the prey demanded it be changed. Adapting was easier than refusing to move. It was a fact that many of the other elder gods failed to notice, seated in the other realm on their thrones all day like untouchable beings.

Leijon viewed the world as the humans did. She lived in the seasons, and saw the hunting grounds change. The animals began changing their birthing patterns to more or less young, longer gestation periods to give them a fighting chance. Weather changed, habitats changed. The coming of humans and the expansion of their settlements changed how animals reacted as well, their sizes and shapes and colors.

Nothing was constant, and often it moved so fast that remaining among the beasts was the only way to keep track of them properly, to help when their numbers dwindled or surged out of control. Humans looked to her and her protege for help with the hunt, seeking signs of what game was plentiful or not. Usually, at least. Most humans didn't care what was plentiful or not. The ones that did, however, managed to help her in her labors of keeping everything in harmony.

“Can you sharpen them for me at least, and repair the joints? Or does that require a good deal of heat as well.” Her claws were attached to her hands with gloves, extending her reach far beyond what she could normally slash and shred with her bare hands, arming her with a literal handful of swords.

“It would require heat, but I may be able to manage that with this lower temperature,” he affirmed, a hoof raising to stamp at the ground as he thought, eyebrows creasing as he considered the order. The joints would need tightened, the metal a quick treatment and straightening, and the edges filed down to the needle sharpness she preferred. “Won't it be easy for you to kill prey without your chosen weapon, though? You're skilled with or without.”

“I don't count the other elders to be unarmed,” Leijon hissed, dropping down into a crouch to wander around the centaur's work space, sniffing occasionally at things that caught her eye, touching textures of metal and wood that looked most appealing. “I'm choosing no side. I will tell either I work with them. But I choose no sides.. I'm protecting something worth far more than any prey.”

Blood would be spilled should her territory be encroached upon, and not a minute before.

“I'm surprised you do not just all upon the fire god to heat things for you,” Zahhak mused as he walked to his tools, taking out several to place them in easier reach before approaching the fire and anvil with a hammer. “You're his elder.”

“I dislike leaving my home, and this entire mess is partially his fault as it is. He will deal with me soon enough.”

Simple view said, the goddess sprung from the ground up onto the centaur's back, rustling around till she was astride him like a rider. Anyone else would have been bucked off, trampled, thrown against the wall and maimed. But not she. Not the goddess of beasts.. Who else could be a beasts most trusted friend? Zahhak sighed and paused in his work for a moment, tilting his head back to offer Leijon what she wanted.

“Please. No flowers this time, Leijon.”

“No promises.”

Hopefully this time it wouldn't take her an hour to place all the braids she wanted to, as it had the last visit she paid him.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Rose, I must insist you stop this very moment, you're still recovering!” Maryam fussed, trying to shoo her off the altar that she'd tidied up earlier in preparation for her prayers. She still had faint traces of the darkness she'd consumed within her. Not dangerous amounts any longer, maybe even an amount the vivacious mortal could handle if there were such a concept. But it was foreign all the same and felt wrong to the goddess.

Rose slowly stretched and sat upright on the slab, crossing her legs with a soft huff, staring at Maryam with her impatient lilac eyes.

“It doesn't matter if I'm recovering or not, I've already told you this, correct? I'm where I need to be, and I'm well enough to move around, we're working on limited time here.”

There was such impatience to her words, such intensity, that Maryam caught herself wondering why this woman wasn't an elder goddess and she herself a mortal. She'd certainly be able to act the part. How much of that had been born as she grew and developed naturally? How much had come from her brief possession?

“Yes, yes. I'm well informed on your situation. But I do believe you're overestimating the deadliness of what's to come. All I need you to do is act in my temple, not -die- in it. This isn't a place of death. If you were destined to death, you'd not be in a temple that celebrates birth and new life!”

Rose kept the ruthless look on her face as she stood upright on the floor, dusting herself off delicately.

“Precisely. Now. See? I'm off the altar. Let's... hm. How about we eat something together,” she offered.

Maryam wrinkled her nose a bit.

“Rose, I'm immortal. I don't need to eat, you already know that.”

“Just because you don't -need- something doesn't mean you can't enjoy and savor it. Besides.. I'd like the company, and I need to get my strength up. This is going to be difficult.”

Maryam couldn't fathom what was going to be so difficult about praying in her temple now that the darkness had been removed from her body. Was it so hard for a woman so trained in the divines to pray alone? Maybe she had a special method she used.

“Yes, Rose. Whatever you'd like.”

“Excellent.”

- - - - -

The fire was active, reaching, burning. It hurt, curling around Dave's heart till he could barely breathe, barely think. It wasn't the exciting hum running through his veins, the feeling of power, or ability. It was pain. Suffering. The panic was setting in as he felt the fire beginning at his wrists again. Red hot cuffs embracing him, melting his flesh anew down to the bone.

“FIGHT IT,” shouted a voice.

Was it his own? Was it one of the gods?

Dave could barely breathe, barely think. Everything was so dark.

It hurt.

He was so scared.

“Help!” he shouted aloud, trying to move away from the burning, dismayed to feel it following him.

“FIGHT IT!” the voice screamed again, deeper this time, ringing in his ears.

He couldn't breathe, fire filling his lungs, his stomach. His blood was boiling. Everything was so wrong.

“FIGHT! DAVE, FIGHT IT! YOU'RE STRONGER! DAVE!”

Dave blacked out.

- - - - -

“Are your hands okay?” Dirk asked John, watching the god tend to his red palms with icy cold air, fingers splayed wide to accept as much soothing as possible. It would be better if there were some water around. He could make ice that way, or snow. Coat his hands in a slick of it till the burn left him.

“Yes, yes. I didn't know he could get THAT hot to the touch however,” John assured him, crossing his legs midair as he continued to let the wind rush along its controlled path. “Much as I knew you could be warm during sex when you really let loose, but I'd no idea you could become such a volcano.”

Dirk glowered at him before pacing over to Dave, curled up asleep in the center of a circle of charred soil. The trees had been easier to put out than first expected, since once the mortal was unconscious the flame returned to his control once more. He never realized how helpless he felt without it. How vulnerable. He may actually have to reduce himself to using some kind of shield on the battlefields now if there was fire involved. There would be no way for him to remain immune to it, and it was hardly awe inspiring to a warrior to see a god get his clothing burnt off with no way to properly stop it.

“That's because I can control it better than he can. Maybe Pyrope is right.. Would we be able to take him out if this gets worse? If he suddenly stops having a safeguard? When he's spent his energy, it's as if he goes out like a snuffed candle instead of replenishing himself. As an immortal.. I don't want to think of it. Only Ampora would be able to control him.”

“Or Makara.”

“Don't talk about Makara to me, John.”

“ …. fi.....ghting't..”

Dave was recovering faster this time, red eyes already cracked open to stare off at the blackened remnants of grass and the greenery that lay beyond it. Though panting and dazed, Dave was obviously growing resilient far faster than anticipated, pushing himself up within minutes instead of being cradled gently and lifted like a fragile toy.

“Fighting it... fighting it,” he continued to mumble, checking the cold cuffs at his wrists before he held the sides of his head. “Fighting what.”

“The fire,” John said, halting the breeze he was manipulating so he could drift nearer to Dave. “It came to you but failed to settle.”

“... But I wasn't upset. Why would it come if I wasn't upset?”

Dirk shrugged.

“It's trying to come to its heir, remember? Maybe the time for you to awaken is so close that it's trying to move in and settle without you even being aware of it. You need to be prepared at any time to assume control of it and bend it to your whims instead of letting it run rampant.”

He'd not let the flames run rampant so much as be yanked along for the brief, vicious ride as they used him like a proving ground. At least it had left him externally unharmed.. but the fire had obviously been quite painful to experience.

“Maybe it senses something we don't,” offered John, settling onto his back so he could rest his throbbing hands on his stomach. “Dirk? Can you feel anything now that it's back? Is Pyrope coming...?” He could send out his sense of luck, but then again: elder gods didn't so much rely on luck as brute force and aggression.

“No. I wish I knew,” he admitted, fussing with the wraps at his hands as he waited for Dave to stand up on his own. They'd left with the warning of Makara's arrival breathing behind them, and flashed in and out of place through mountains, plains, deserts. They were trying to find somewhere that the fewest number of mortals would be sacrificed during the clash. Trying to find a venue that would limit how much damage Ampora could do if he were to get as involved as they believed. Looking for somewhere that wouldn't be ruined forever by uncontrollable flame if the worst case scenario came to be.

When the flame had shifted to Dave spontaneously, Dirk had stopped their rapid fire travels, taking it as a possible sign that this was the right place. This was where the fire felt most needed. The realization that it was a former battleground he'd walked many times in the past was not lost on him either, the ground soaked with the residue of lost generations. It was far from the sea, and flat save for the gentle swells of rolling hills, here and there a bleached set of bones poking from the dirt, edges gnawed clean by wildlife over time.

This was better than he could have hoped for.

At last, Dave staggered upright, struggling to maintain his balance till the color had returned to his cheeks. He looked punch drunk until his alertness increased, though he steadfastly didn't ask about John's reddened hands. It was obvious, the gods weren't speaking about it either, and it seemed best to take it in stride.

“... Dirk. Is there any way to coax the fire to me faster? When I'm prepared for it, I have an easier time controlling it. Well. Easier time controlling it than if it plans to repeat what happened earlier.. It was as if I were being burnt at a stake. I could -smell- myself burning, Dirk. Could feel my flesh giving way.” His eyes took on a fierce look despite the fatigue. “You said I was strong enough to handle it. I want to handle it -now-. If I'm to take charge of this element from you, I'll do it on my own damn terms, not wait off to the side like a damsel in distress wringing my hands, waiting for it to return from the war.”

“You're not an immortal yet, Dave. Even if you get it and control it, it wouldn't last properly. We need to trigger your awakening if you want to try that, but I'm assuming it will happen on its own when your body can handle it better.”

He WAS small. So much smaller than he might have been if he and John hadn't interfered with him.

“Well. Why not keep triggering it, the same way it was at first?” he asked, crossing his arms. “You two woke it up in the first place, right? By feeding it? Why not just feed it intensely and hope it wakes up properly?”

Would it hurt to become immortal? Maybe it would just feel.. right. He'd be comfortable in his own skin, warm, sure of himself. Confident in his abilities and choices, and the world around him at large.

John smirked. “Dave, I know we're fantastic, but now's not really the time for sex.”

He faltered. “Is that the only way to …. ?” he started before Dirk cut him off.

“No, it's not the only way. John's just being an idiot. We could try.. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt the situation,” he mused, ceasing the fiddling with his hand wraps entirely, lost in thought. “If nothing else, it might give you enough strength to survive its next switch and a fight. You'd not be going in alone at any rate.”

“Well obviously,” Dave said, planting his hands on his hips. He had more life to his eyes, more bite to his words. The meek temple boy was already a thing of the past, and the gods wondered how much of this was their influence versus what would have come naturally. How much was from trauma and stress making him change and expand or die in the trials. “How would it be fed, then? I'm for it, I want to do it. I can handle this.”

“We'd simply need to keep in close contact with you, and try channeling our energy around you. You're such a little sponge, your body should try to soak it up instinctively. After a bit of that, we'll see how you handle fire transitioning to you permanently.” At least, that's as far as Dirk could imagine it. Sex had awoken him a little at first, but fire had begun to reach outward and struggle for dominance only once Dave felt threatened. Not really something he wanted to have him repeat..

“..So that's it? I'll just suddenly become immortal?” he asked, head tipping to the side. “How do we know I'm not immortal already?”

John gestured with his right hand, surging wind up beneath Dave to drag him a few feet off the ground, rustling his clothing and hair, sending a chill up his spine.

“I could always drop you from high in the sky and see if you survive. If you come back, you're immortal. If not... Well, let's just say I'd not recommend the quick god test, and assume that you would most definitely be aware if you were immortal.”

As if Dave were a toy, Dirk plucked him away from John's breezes and tugged him backwards before dropping heavily into a sit with the boy on his lap, resting his chin atop his blonde head. John pouted at his fun being shortened before he drifted over and dropped as well, kneeling across from the matched set with an impish grin. He was quick to wrap into the hugging motion, chin on Dave's shoulder, arms around his narrow back, legs tangled between the matched sets before him.

Though Dirk and John were just holding him close, Dave could sense a difference. He felt as warm as if he were in his cloister with the fires blazing again, or soaking in a warm bath. There was alertness, the feeling of strength and drawing things nearer to himself paired with a wonderful sense of feeling sleepy. Relaxed.

Safe.

At least the feeling of safety between the two gods hadn't changed through this entire mess. In their grasp, he could recall the very beginning, the flirting and soft touches. The murmurs in the dark. Dave felt his hair stir and attempt to lift without the sense of a breeze, prompting him to open his eyes into drowsy slits.

Hazy throbs of blue and orange were visible if he looked just right, pulsing gentle as a wave over his head in a halo. It had to be from John and Dirk. There could be no other source in nature that could create something that so perfectly matched the shades of their eyes, the colors Dave saw in his mind whenever he slept soundly.

The colors that filled his senses when they made love.

Soothed by the touches of the gods, Dave sighed out a breath and tried to focus on taking it all in. It was as it the colors had temperatures as well, easily matching those of the corresponding gods. The orange was heated and soothing, reaching to Dave's core, stroking and touching whatever it could reach. It was arousing, yet not threatening or invasive however. It was familiar and tantalizing, leaving him wanting more. John's made Dave feel like he was ten feet tall, floating on a breeze with money to spare. He felt important. Talented. Cherished. Spoiled rotten. It was a playful, mischievous feeling so intense that Dave was positive his face must be twisted into a mirror image of John's grin.

As the sandwiched mortal reveled in the energy his lovers were sending out to him, feeding him with to try helping, Dave ever so slowly began to add a faint red hue to the blend of colors on the breeze.

- - - - - - - - - -

Attempting to track Leijon down had proven unsuccessful, and the feral goddess hadn't appeared in the throne room as Pyrope had hoped. Ampora could be summoned with a single wave of her hand, should she want him to fight. Makara was fulfilled his own deeds. Maryam was a traitor. This left..

“Megido,” Pyrope started, stepping forwards towards the throne bearing a sight of curled horns and long, curled tresses over one of its thick arms. “I was going to ask if you would reconsider helping out in this little endeavor.”

The goddess in question didn't move, save for the slow crinkle of a turned page and the gradual appearance of feet over the opposite side of the throne that were crossed nonchalantly at the ankle.

Pyrope continued to stalk forwards before flashing her sharks smile over the back of the chair.

“I just wanted to ask a few direct questions. It wouldn't hurt to answer a fellow elder, right?”

Megido placed her hand flat on her current page before lifting her eyes, making certain to catch Pyropes directly.

“I'll tell you the only answers you'll be needing right now, Pyrope, if it will get you to stop bothering me with this foolishness. You are going to win.”

Right as Pyrope began to shriek a shrill laugh, Megido's smirk became vicious.

“You will also lose. Quite badly. Will it be worth your pride and foolishness? Or does blindness sound fair to vanity?”

The smile faded from Pyrope's face as she stalked to the front of Megido's throne, growling aggressively under her breath.

“What do you mean I'll win and lose? If I win, of course it's worth it! This isn't vanity, it's principle!”

“Principle of what!” Megido shouted, going so far as to drop her book to the side to stand without it, looking upwards towards Pyrope. They were only separated by a few inches, yet their eyes failed to directly meet. Her upper lip was lifted in a feral snarl, not backing down, every bit the ram that her horns resembled. “Principle of foolishness and misplaced ideals! Do you even remember your entire point for this?! For Vantas?!”

“Vantas was JUSTICE! He was making us unneeded! What is a world without gods? Did you simply want to become replaceable?!” Pyrope hollered, surprised by Megido's aggression. Normally, she was soft spoken and sarcastic. Flippant. This was a rarely seen face. “Besides, what's done is done, and his replacements lack of actions has already proven that we can maintain balance like this. Everything is being messed up, and we need to fix it before it ruins everything forever.”

“You're scared.”

“..... You take that back right this instant.”

“You're afraid of not being needed.”

“Shut up.”

“You're afraid of a mere BOY! A mortal no less!”

“I said shut up!” Pyrope shouted louder, taking a step back as Megido continued to advance, eyes bright and aggressive. This could go terribly. She was the keeper of the book, time incarnate. Already, Pyrope could feel her surroundings growing slower, body sluggish. How much time were they losing? How much was shifting? Would she arrive too late?

“You're afraid of things changing, of power shifting! All because of doubt and confusion and the simple worry of disappearing,” Megido spat, halting her advancement.

Pyrope couldn't move. She stood frozen, staring, seeing but uncomprehending of how far things were going around her as the goddess turned and crouched to retrieve her book. Long, curled hair fanned out as the goddess sat down on the floor and rolled to lay on her stomach, cracking the pages open. Once the words began to fill the pages again, light tracing wildly as the story continued, Pyrope finally felt things return to normality.

“There is no threat of discord except where blindness brews,” the goddess murmured as traces of her lapse into rage faded from her face, gray finger tracing the golden light as she skimmed the pages, hunting for her last place so she could get back to reading.

She didn't need to look up to know that Pyrope had disappeared.

Chapter Text

The winds of change are hard to sense in some ways, subtle and flowing. In many others, however, they can just as easily smack you in the face with chunks of debris from some far flung storm that has little, if anything, to do with you.

From the conflict of the two younger gods and their as yet mortal lover, to the creatures within Leijon's regions becoming restless and increasingly agitated, to the fires growing dim and listless within the forge of the mighty centaur, to the elder goddess of justice becoming more hellbent upon the destruction of this sense of impending change to the agitation of those around her. Everything, linked just the same.

For someone like Jake, wearing the mantle of a fallen elder, wind and change and chance once wasn't something so strange. Yet, now, it was foreign to him. He felt the pull, the urgency as he faded in and out of view as far as a bow shot each time, trying to race along what felt like a predetermined path. This was a familiar route he was going. He was going somewhere familiar to do good things, to spread hope, to be useful.

Suddenly, Jake stopped and looked straight up at the sky, then down at the ground in confusion. His forehead was misted with a light sheen of sweat. Even Gods could get tired, and this phasing malarkey was exhausting for him when it was so many times over a large expanse. This couldn't be right, what he was feeling.

Two. Two places needed him. Two places very, very far apart were needing him at the same time. The same urgency. The same level of belief. Which one did he respond to first...? The stronger one? The nearest one? Yes the nearest one. He'd get that taken care of quick enough, or so he hoped, and then hurry to the other. Maybe he could get into contact with Roxy if he needed transportation quicker. She really was the best goddess to contact in an emergency, distances little more than inches in leagues for her.

The one furthest away felt to be of dire import, but it had time. An hourglass had begun in his mind, trickles of sand trailing downwards into a bottomless pit. If all the sand ran out, hope had failed.

Why hadn't he just stayed in Leijon's hunting grounds, heavens above, this was turning out to be so stressful. Sighing, Jake lowered his stance and steered his course towards the nearest need, blinking in and out of sight quickly as he could manage in hopes of arriving faster. Pondering why something as sorely needed as Hope wasn't able to appear instantaneously wherever he was needed as he assumed someone should be able to.

- - - - -

“Rose. … Rose, what are you doing. I thought we agreed that you only need to pray in my temple,” Maryam was saying slowly as she approached the busy looking mortal. There was color in her cheeks and determination in her clear eyes as she moved things about on the altar. Flowers. Fresh water. Incense, a type she preferred personally that hung sweet and comforting in the air. Feathers. Soil. Moss. Fresh food neatly arranged on a platter. A clean, crisp cloth swathed at an angle pooling down like water till it met the steely edge of a displayed knife.

It wasn't dull, a normal ceremonial object. This one was sharp, dangerous. It made her antsy just to look at. An object like that didn't belong in her temple.

“This isn't right. You're doing the correct rites but.. Rose, tell me what you're planning, some of these items have nothing to do with my temple at all.” One item. The knife. Why was the knife there.

“A back up plan. Assurance, if nothing else,” was all she'd say as she paced back and forth to adjust the items again. Changing angles. Stacking the apples just so, making them catch the light. All that needed to be done now was to change, to light the candles, and wait for the right moment.

She was nervous. Terrified, actually, though she worked hard not to show it on the surface. Her obsessive actions were to buy time, to stop the shaking of her hands and the racing of her heart. Everything had to happen just so. Just right. There weren't going to be any do overs in this situation.. Either this gamble would work and the dark knowledge she'd communed with would be right, or something would go wrong and they would both be lost.

Dave had better appreciate all this stress and trouble she was going through on his behalf. Especially if it didn't work out just so. She wondered briefly if ghosts would be capable of thunking gods on the head or not as she straightened up and began to disrobe, pausing only to calmly ask Maryam if it were possible to make some quick adjustments to the attire she'd need to wear for the prayers or not.

Soon. Soon. Soon.

- - - - -

“Jake. Will you make it in time, or not? She's making this very interesting, isn't she,” a soft voice tutted at a lit page, gray finger stroking along the lines as they filled. Megido could see it now, clear as daybreak after a long winters night. The dark skinned god flitting along like a hummingbird, blind, flailing wildly to fulfill duties even he doesn't fully understand. So much potential in him. So many abilities, that Vantas had only begun to tap before he was killed and the mantle was passed on.

Pyrope had reason to be scared. This was going to alter absolutely everything for them all if it worked according to plan. Justice was worth little in the path of hope. The words of a single doubter could be lost in a sea of belief, as easily as a ship could sink. So many changes, so many alterations. New worlds, new words. New waves of humans. New lesser deities to fill the ranks of belief and needs.

How exciting! Maybe someday, even time would become derelict and without importance, and she could relax and read her book forever instead of being so busy all the time. Not that anyone even really knew that she was, though, aside from brief slips when her influence hiccuped as she came and left somewhere. A certain sense of deja vu. Small blunders, thankfully, and hardly of enough import to make anyone notice them as more than a brief oddity. Humans tended to find them amusing more than anything, or worried for their sanity instead of suspecting anything is amiss.

When Megido worked, it was with everything around her very still, frozen. It made it far easier to fix things that were incorrect. Occasionally, mortals would wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time. A string of fate wouldn't be cut if they died, and an imbalance would be in place. Selections sometimes were made on battlefields, her dark fingers moving spears and swords mere inches from vital organs and arteries.

Many of the wounds would wind up being fatal of course within a few days, weeks, years. But at least it wouldn't be an instantaneous death. Life was so imperfect. She sometimes wondered why she bothered at all with any of it, acting like any of the gods really had anything like real control over anything. Their abilities, their immortality, their very outlooks were so... small. Incomplete. None of it really mattered in the long run.

The only two certainties already existed, and everything beyond them were superfluous. Entertainment. Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, were the only things that were absolute fact. Everything began with Calliope. Everything would end with Caliborn. Simple.

Entertainment was really the only word to describe it. Megido was a goddess without equal, moving as she pleased forwards and backwards and sideways in ways even the others weren't aware of. Altering only as she saw fit.. and otherwise, observing. Watching. Seeing how things happened, and if they really were as she knew they would be.

Occasionally, even someone who can see everything is wrong. Things change outside of control, altering plans and preparations on the fly. Surprises were rare.. Maybe that's why she was so interested to see what would become of Dave. Of Rose. Of Jake and his finally coming into his own. None of this was supposed to happen, none of the words written in advance. Only floating threads of maybe and perhaps as the paths laid themselves down directly before being tread upon.

Maybe she'd kiss Jake's forehead later once everything was done, a reward for a good job. Time might not even stop for it to happen. After all, she'd not be able to reach if he didn't lean down for her.

- - - - -

“Dave... Dave, wake up,” Dirk murmured quietly. Time had passed. How much, he wasn't certain, but long enough for him to feel a distinct change. Fire was wavering again, though this time the drawing away wasn't nearly as harsh as before. No sudden rushing away to the newly opened vessel, flame rushing to open air in hopes of starting a forest aflame.

It was a curious pulse now, a heartbeat in his chest that was not his own, far too warm. Uncomfortable. Hesitant, as if asking permission to reach out and explore. Was it Dave's heartbeat he was feeling? The faint throb and pulse like a bird compared to his own comforting thrum was unsettling the longer he focused on it.

Quick enough, Dave stirred and looked around to orient himself before seeking orange eyes with his own, staring. He felt something too, the ruby hues glinting, sparking, trying to glow. Maybe it would work this time. Only one way to find out, all things considered. How was he supposed to do this, still settled between Dirk and a slowly waking John, when it was willing? Was there something he needed to do? Say? Where was he supposed to-

The thoughts were cut short as Dirk answered with his lips, dipping his head sharply to kiss Dave deeply, fiery with intent. Fierce. Without pause or hesitation, the kiss deepened, Dirk's tongue searching between Dave's lips, tracing his teeth and every surface he could find. It was an attack as much as anything, challenging the heir, opening a direct connection.

“Careful, you'll singe my dick,” was all John muttered, showing no sign of wishing to move from his protective position aside from a short flare of breeze as a warning, hoping to avoid being burnt. The temperatures of the two blondes before him were rising sharply, warming his cheeks with the radiant heat, lifting tufts of his hair till they danced.

Dave was fighting back, coaxed out of his stun to return the kiss without question, thrilling as his heart raced wildly. It was exciting. Natural. Dirk kissing him was natural as could be, as if this war of the mouths was something that was scheduled to happen precisely at this moment without question. The taste was intoxicating, the heat alluring as it overtook his senses. Even when the heat grew painful, gripping his throat, his very heart in what surely was liquid fire, the only thought thrumming through his mind was to fight.

Fight. Fight. FIGHT.

When the heat became too much for Dirk to bear, unable to protect against it or find solace in its embrace as he normally did, he pulled back without warning. Just as suddenly as it started, they were apart, Dirk trying to look into Dave's eyes as he pulled away from the embrace and stood upright. He and John needed to be ready to fight, if needs be. Had to knock Dave out if he was going to let the fire run wild again.

Still seated, dizzy, Dave was reeling. The sand beneath him was steaming, releasing bits of trapped moisture. He wondered if he really tried, if he'd be able to produce a jet from some deeply buried oasis. A geyser. A volcano. Could he melt everything below after it caught on fire...? Fall into the world and out the other side, fall away into the night where not even the gods could save him.

Power coursing through his body, to every finger and toe. His eyes were molten, disappearing from view briefly as he stood up, burning his hand prints into the ground. John was glad he'd let go long before this temperature was reached, and even gladder Dirk had never grown this heated during sex. Likely, that wouldn't feel too pleasant in the long run. Dirk himself was making mental notes on how to get Dave to regulate himself naturally soon as possible.

The heat could be useful sometimes, burning enemies, heating things at a whim. He'd used his own mastery of the flame to start and tame fires, to heat swords and cauterize wounds for warriors who had earned his favor. He heated pools and bedding for lovers of his own and others. Dave would find his own uses for it in time, surely, as long as he actually learned to not burn his surroundings first.

Containment would be first. Expending and directing would be second.

“...Well? How do you feel?” John asked, lifting off the ground as it began to smoke, seeking safety for himself. If Dirk seemed to be in need, he'd do his best to shield him as well before trying to take Dave down. “Any different? More alert?”

“... Warmer.”

“Well, obviously,” John chirped briskly. “You're kind of standing in the middle of a bonfire there, I'd be concerned if you weren't warmer. Cold blooded little lizard or something.”

“John,” Dirk muttered, his tone warning. Now wasn't the time for jokes and play.

“What? Aren't they cold blooded? Always having to lay in the sun and bask to survive?”

“John.”

“I always wondered what would happen if humans were that way. If anyone were in charge of the sun itself, they'd get constant strength from worship from all the little things trying to keep themselves alive and warm and happy.”

“John.”

“What! Dirk, think about it! Lizard men!”

“He wants you to shut up and focus so I don't accidentally destroy a chunk of the world or something,” Dave said evenly, watching the flames that were beginning to lick around his toes with growing interest. At least his clothes weren't smoking this time, though the metal bands at his wrists were starting to heat up in a way that made his skin itch. “Though, I'd enjoy seeing lizard men. Wonder what they'd look like and act like..”

Dirk crossed his arms cautiously over his chest to avoid fussing anxiously with the wrappings on his hands. “You're talking calmly for someone who's amused as an infant over the fact he'd normally be in horrendous pain. I know it's strange and new and interesting, but you can spend all the time you want holding your hand in hot coals at another time. Right now, you need to focus on bottling it down.”

“Why should I bottle it down? Someone's trying to kill me. Someone very strong and very old wants me dead. If anything, you should be teaching me how to get bigger with it. Stronger flames. More heat. I need to know how to attack and how to defend with this. Teach me to fight,” Dave said simply, his face ruthless. After having been raised a pampered pacifist, perfumed and tended as a precious jewel before being thrown to the snapping, steely jaws of the harsher parts of the world without regret. Garbage. Tarnished and without worth in their eyes.

“Later. Right now, you need to learn to control the fire and lower your temperature. Bottle it, like a cork in wine. If you keep expending energy, you'll just run out faster. If you can keep it in check, you can use it when you need to keep someone from snapping your neck for example,” Dirk said as he took a step away from the growing ring of scalded undergrowth. “You can't fight if you don't have the strength to even stand.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dave said, louder, nearly a shout. “I can fight. Look at me! You've had this, you can feel it. I can handle it, teach me. Tell me how to do it. I want to know it all!”

Dirk barked a response, out of patience. John's inability to focus for too terribly long was bad enough without having to teach an impatient pupil far too advanced techniques when he was standing there spending energy as if it were limitless. “Dave. You're not a god yet, damn it. Even if fire stays within you, you're not immortal. Your body is...”

“My body is what.”

“.... Small.”

“You're very small, Dave,” John chirped as if there were any room for misunderstanding, glad he wasn't touching the ground as Dave shot him an irritated look. “Hey now, hey now! I'm not trying to say anything bad by it. It just means that you're now able to hold as much yet. Y'know?”

“Yes,” Dirk said eagerly, thankful that for once John was absolutely on topic. “It's the same as before. Remember you passed out last time? And fire fled? There was no more energy for him, you'd used up all your tinder so there was nothing left to feed it with, right?”

“... Right. Yes, I remember.”

The fire was reacting to his emotions again, already that much in tune with him. When the fight and frustration seemed to dim, so too did the waves of heat flaring from his skin, the amount of steam slowing down considerably from below his feet.

“There.. Yes, that's right. That calm you feel, the release of pressure in your chest? That's what you're aiming for. Slow your heart,” Dirk urged, taking a cautious step forwards while trying to appear as confident as possible. “It will tamper the flames with it.”

In this way, with coaxing and praise, Dave was finally able to be touched again without burning his lovers. He was far more anxious with strength behind him, faster to react, haughty compared to his usual decisive methods. Neither god held it against him. As a mortal, attaining so much so fast was surely a head rush. Especially something so powerful to begin with.

Dave cooed softly as steady hands stroked down his sides and arms, guiding him, keeping him settled. Getting him back to himself again and grounding him there with their words. This time at least, his mind held.

“Is this good enough?” he asked eventually, grateful that he'd managed to not pass out this time or cause serious injury to anyone around him. “Is it... Is it going to stay this time, do you think? Am I managing it?” The unasked question was: am I going to be immortal now, or soon, or did I somehow mess up and all of this has been pointless?

“.... I'm not sure,” Dirk said quietly. “Your guess is as good as mine. If not, we'll just try again at the first opportunity and keep giving you what we can. Does anything else feel different though, now that you've calmed once again?”

“I can see clearer.. I never knew that I wasn't seeing that well before.”

That got John interested, zipping upside down to hang in front of Dave's face, eyes wide as he crossed his legs and rested his hands on his knees.

“You weren't able to see before? Were you going blind?”

“No, I. How do I explain.. Things were too bright for me sometimes, when I went outside. Dim light made it hard to see details. It was difficult to read the prayers sometimes.”

John's face nearly split in half from his smile. “So, were you not able to see Dirk or me the same as you do now? Attractive, aren't we.”

“Yes, you damn peacock, you're both glorious! Are you happy now?” Dave squawked, flapping a hand at him. So much for staying on topic.

Dirk was mollified, and John looked pleased with himself as he shifted around once more to rest on his back atop a soft breeze, eyes slipping shut.

“Well. Obviously we are. Thank you for finally noticing that properly, I suppose.” Dave was already rolling his eyes. “But maybe that's just something common for children of Dirk's lineage. You do have a lovely set, mortal or not.. but I like them best when they shine for us.”

Dave shook himself and scooted away from the coddling, wanting to stay focused on what lay ahead.

“Is it safe to try teaching me anything though? Even.. I don't know, some kind of defense? Is it the same as normal fighting? Or are there tricks, to employ the flames?”

“Tricks?” Dirk asked, tipping his head back to look at the sky. “I don't think there are many tricks, really. Techniques that would make things simpler for you, perhaps. I could teach you defense definitely. How to sense the length of the flames you offshoot. How to form a sword if needs be, or dazzle your enemies with shots of steam and sparks.”

“Can you teach him how to die?” asked a feminine voice, purring before it raised into a shrieking cackle of a laugh, raising the hair at the men's napes as though they'd been stung. “That would be a fantastic help, really. Would make this a lot simpler, and make it easier to forgive your trespasses.”

Pyrope was keeping her distance for now, having stepped to their field atop the nearest hill, leaning forwards atop the head of her cane with both hands to peer downwards at them. John's gentle breezes spiked the wind in the area once he was startled, more than ready to knock the goddess back. Pure aggression wasn't in his nature or abilities if luck wasn't warranting it. At the moment, for some reason, luck was hard to focus on.

“Not on your wondrously extended life, Pyrope. You're too late as it is,” Dirk called to her. He was unarmed, he realized. No sword or shield to his name. Nothing on hand. No element to call on. Fire was still settled firmly in Dave, trying to nestle deeply and embed itself within a heart too small and mortal to normally contain it.

“He's still alive, I'm in plenty of time!” she called back, before growing quiet and squinting her eyes. “...What have you done. What have you DONE! DIRK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE. TAKE YOUR FIRE BACK THIS INSTANT OR SO HELP ME I'LL-”

“It's out of my hands, Pyrope. My heir has inherited the flame, and has kept his head. He's not blasted a hole clear through to one of Ampora's oceans or struck the stars from the sky. The heavens still stand unchanged, and Omega has not drawn down from the sky to devour the world in a cascade of nothingness. Time is simply progressing as it would normally.”

Pyrope was incensed. She'd come... what. Seconds too late? Minutes? Hours? How long had Megido been talking to her? Time had felt strange around them, most definitely, but there was no possible way to confront the goddess over something in her field.

No. Not like this. She'd not be replaced. If the human became a god, the heir taking the mantle in its entirety and continuing to keep his sanity, Dirk would rise up atop the triad that he and John provided. Change would sweep in. Everything was going to change..

She was scared. Scared, and terribly, terribly angry. Her sharp, decorated nails flashed as her hands twisted two ways at once atop her cane, the heel of one hand slipping down the side to reach its lower half, the entire palm of the other gripping tight at the head and twisting. The staff fell to two equally lengthed pieces, then to four in total as a connective line appeared between the sections. Dirk had often wondered where the design for such a weapon came from, and how to implement something similar in a fight of his own instead of simply relying on the flails and swords he normally had access to.

Pyrope disappeared from sight as she began to let out a yell, an obvious motion of attack impending. But from where? Which way? John rose higher, keeping an eye out with his hands raised, palms outward. Prepared for a stroke of sharp edged wind to buy time. Maybe he'd get lucky and spot... what. A sword, magically lying in the field, covered in rust? A stick? What use would either of those things be? Rusted metal was worthless, as useful as a simple stick against an enraged elder goddess.

Dirk stuck close to Dave, stance the same as when he had access to fire, as if he could still burn someone at will. It was all he really knew for unarmed fighting: his element about his fists.

“Dave.. Stick close,” he hissed, thankful that Dave wasn't trying to rush away and act foolishly, or call the woman out directly in any way. “Try to send fire back. Quickly, dislodge it! Send it back!”

“I can't, I don't know how!” Dave shouted, raising his forearms before himself in a guarding stance as if they were going to be boxing. Maybe it could deflect some of the damage from the pieces of the cane if he were careful? Was it flammable?

“Cast is out same as you fought it before, refuse it access. Deny it. Fight it, Dave,” Dirk said with rising anxiety in his voice. Pyrope could appear anywhere, at any time, to deliver the blow. John was twisting and turning above them, prepared to unleash a tornado at the first sign of a threat to his family. … That's what they were now, weren't they. A family.

“I don't know how to do that Dirk, it.. It feels different from before!”

“FIGHT IT!” the god bellowed, clenching his fists. Was that her? He sensed something, a shift. A signal of arrival. Track it. Try to track it. It was so much harder without fire, why was everything so much harder to do if he was supposed to be gaining anything? Fire was definitely in Dave now, not him. Where was the change?

“I DON'T KNOW HOW!” Dave cried out, throwing his arms down and turning around to face Dirk's body. Dirk had been turning around as well to keep track of the brief flashes and sensations of where Pyrope most likely was. John's eyes narrowed as he looked downwards, aiming his hands.

“Dirk, Dave, MOVE!” the raven haired god yelled, not wanting to risk whipping the breeze in a bad direction. Pyrope's weapon was mobile loose. Could whip around and cause serious damage if it were loose or hit incorrectly. Could just as easily kill what he was trying to protect, Dave's still mortal body too fragile to risk at the current distance.

“DAVE!” Dirk wanted him away, far away, flat out on the ground even, anywhere but where this sense was heading. Where was the portal going to open?

“WH-”

It was both ends of the staff that found blood, the sharp end piercing near his heart once it broke through rib. The decorative head, sharp and pointed with the familiar dragon designs, tasted blood from the soft portions of his stomach. The staff was flammable, apparently, beginning to smolder and deform even as the goddess held it tight. Any bit of pressure was useful for her needs, pressing up into his vital organs. Their removal would only make the injuries worse and increase the bleeding. Success. The mortal wouldn't be capable of surviving that.

She'd not escaped unscathed in the attack of flame rushing outwards, the fire rising protectively from Dave's body and striking out like a serpent from the wounds themselves. Straight from his heart, striking at both of her eyes with its sizzling fangs. It surely wouldn't be permanent. She would heal in time, especially the sooner she returned to her throne to rest. Pyrope was confident that she'd not need sight to finish what she came to do, now that the mortal was wounded gravely. Mere minutes, and he'd be gone. John, she could track by feel. Dirk didn't have the flames back yet, easy pickings.

Or, at least she had hoped he would be.

Time seemed to move fast then. Far too fast to be normal, there was no way anyone could move that fast. Certainly not a lesser god. A fist found itself connecting with Pyrope's cheek from one side, even as a sharp blade of wind swooped along her back, slicing at the skin surely as a sword at close range. The fist, Dirk's, reared back before striking again. And a third time. The goddess tasted blood, iron and salt in her mouth, unfamiliar after so long in her position of unquestioned authority.

After all, who would stand against justice itself? Justice was always in the right.

So fast. How was Dirk so fast without teleporting? He wasn't phasing in and out, spreading energy for her to feel his path by He was simply becoming untraceable. It was like fighting Leijon, Pyrope assumed as she staggered backwards in reaction. The remnants of her weapon fell from her hands, her bleeding back finding the ground when her feet were swept out from beneath her by another sharp strike of wind.

John, she could track. She knew where he was, what he was doing. She knew it was his breeze that was keeping her from touching the ground now, keeping her from shifting away from them to recover and strike again. Keeping her there, at the scene of her actions.

There was shouting. Both of them, enraged, shouting. Screaming. Sobbing. Some gods they were, crying over a mortal being slain by a goddess as if it were something new. Weak. Both of them, weaklings. Justice had been served, and there was no reason to be fussing so much over it.

They were asking her why, as the wind tightened around her like a hand, squeezing uncomfortably tight. There was, briefly, the same fear. Would she actually be killed briefly by one of these... these CHILDREN? The shame of it all!

“Dave. Dave, hold on. Just keep awake. Come on, fight it, kiddo. Fight it. Keep... Dave. Dave, just keep your eyes open.”

Dirk was babbling to him, it sounded like, pleading above the unpleasant gurgling, choking noises mortals tended to make when they were bleeding out from severe wounds to sensitive places. Such delicate problems they could be.

John was torn between screaming and cursing at her, twisting his binding wind to painful levels before loosening them just enough to keep her alive. It was pointless, really. He'd never hear her scream or beg, or even complain really. She'd accomplished her goal. The mortal was dead, the mantle would not be passed on, and now everything was going to remain the same as it always had been. Vantas had signaled change and was removed simply enough. Now, so too had Dave.

New voices. Some familiar. Others.. not so much. Where was Makara? He was supposed to be here by now, surely, to collect.

“Oh, merciful Alpha, I.. Here. Hold him up for a moment. Gently now, gently.”

It sounded male. It wasn't any of the elders. …. Jake? The unfulfilled hope?

“Wow, Rosie wasn't kiddin' about this, was she? No mind. Hurry now.”

A woman. Who was it. The voice wasn't familiar to Pyrope's ears at all.

“You're not taking him,” Dirk grated out. “Not even you, Jake, put him down. Just. Stop touching him. Everyone needs to stop touching him. Leave. Everyone needs to leave, and to leave Dave alone. Stop making him hurt.”

“.... Dirkie, he can't feel anything anymore. I promise. We'll be right back. You won't even realize we were gone.”

“No. You're not touching him. I... John. I'll carry him. We're coming with you. That's fine, right? You can move all of us.”

“Oh please. Dirkie, who you think you're talking to?” the feminine voice said with a soft laugh, an awkward clearing of the throat. This wasn't a time to be laughing.

Pyrope grunted sharply as another squeeze was doled out, her complaints remaining on aggravated frustration for the time being. Her eyes would heal soon enough, and then these two would pay for their trespasses against her.

“What about her?” John asked flatly, without emotion. No bubbliness no rage. No sorrow. Nothing but the distant wind and the scent of rain on the horizon. This field was likely going to be flooded by nightfall.

“Bring'er. Rosie said she was important still,” the woman said. “C'mon now. Everyone in. Watch yer head. That's right, everyone in. Wipe your feet, please, tryn'ta keep down on cleanin' up more than I gotta.”

“Where are we even going, Jake. This had better be good, to make us move him..” Dirk said, his voice echoing as if he'd just stepped inside a cavern barely a meter in front of where Pyrope was being held.

“Well,” he said softly. “... We're going to where hope can actually spread its wings and be of some damned use, instead of staying back and running its current course.”

“Explain.”

“We're going to do a bit of fate changin',” the woman said with another gay laugh. Time felt like it was going the proper speed now. Not too fast. Not too slow. It had caught up with itself properly enough. Pyrope only hoped that it would remain steady, wherever this process of the living and dead was headed.

Chapter Text

Keeping a single strand of hair protected had cost him blood, flesh, and several fang marks through his bone tattoos. The fragile strand of fate that belonged to Dave was due to snap, just as Aradia had mentioned. As he'd seen with his own eyes. It had taken so much time, so much effort holding his loathsome beloved to convince her to keep a single strand of her hair bound and protected with a bit of wax so as not to lose the fallen half in the masses of other fates.

Dave's life had ended, the hair destroyed.. but that was not meant to be his end. At least, not as it was originally written to be. So much work was being put into keeping this single mortal alive long enough to take over a position, far more energy and personal expense than he'd used since taking his own title.

Makara found himself wondering if it would be worth it in the end, as he'd been told. The whispers from above, the words and writings from Megido, the feeling in his stomach. Would this be worth it, saving the human. Wouldn't it be better, more entertaining, to reap the souls of the gods instead..? Let the station of fire fall to nobody, then gently clasp everyone as they fell, taking them in.

The humans would never know any better, really. His beloved would never grow bald, she would always bear their fates, their beginnings and ends in the lengthy coils of her hair, her un-aging body always cradling them. Humans didn't need gods. Were he not there to collect, he knew, the souls would eventually find their way back into the wheel. He was merely a shepherd, and would remain so even after death as fate whispered to him.

Until Omega rose to overtake Alpha, he would guide the dead on their journey.

Except for this moment, apparently. His guiding involved a bit of finding first, hunting where the soul had swept off to in its panic with the underworld barred from him, to get it back in place when time came. Hope was playing as many tricks as void was to pull this off. They at least deserved the chance to cheat the system. Makara felt he'd be angry about all this.. if it really was anything more than a job for him.

Now then. Where was that little soul hiding, and how best to track it without drawing attention to himself?

- - - - - - - - - - -

The cool emptiness of Roxy's void, the space she manipulated at will and spent next to all of her time in, was in stark contrast to the windswept space of blood and anger they'd just left. It was like a funeral procession, Dirk silent with the bloody rag doll body of his lover clasped to his chest, John bringing along their captive with a serious look to his face that was rarely seen. Roxy led the way and made small talk with Jake.

They weren't attached to the boy personally, had no reasons to be sad. But they knew to respect those who were grieving.

“Jake,” Dirk said quietly as they walked along, feet coming into contact with ground that he could not see. “... This place we're headed. You said it's where hope could spread its wings. What are you planning to do?”

“Well. I'm hoping to help facilitate him coming back to life, of course. I arrived just in time to hear that wish, and to get a taste of the strength behind it. I feel the burn in my chest, Dirk. I've got to at least -try- to use these damned powers I was born with before throwing my hands up, right?”

“Wouldn't it have been easier to answer the call of hope, I don't know, -before- he was murdered in front of us? BEFORE he felt so much pain and suffering and fear?” Dirk asked, voice raising in agitation. He grew quiet when he heard John softly murmur his name. Rage wouldn't bring him back, and the past couldn't be undone by any of them.

“I was hoping I'd been in time, I felt a burst of hope from here too. But.. For some reason, I felt I needed to go to the nearest one first,” Jake said with an apologetic shrug in the dimness. “I think it's fate. I just wish there'd been a way to keep his fate from being painful and from making everyone suffer.”

“Fate. Hah. Now you sound like Megido,” Dirk muttered, shifting his arms to cradle Dave closer to his chest, keeping his chin down against the thin collarbones so his still form was smaller than before. “I don't think what happened was fate. If it was fate for him to somehow survive this, then fate's cruel to just make him suffer more.”

“If he wasn't meant to survive at all, I doubt I'd have felt any pull from him. You need to remember, Dirk. I deal with hope. Not with fate, or life.. Those are out of my jurisdiction.”

“Then how do you plan to bring any of this about?” John demanded haughtily, though there was no breeze present to show it. Everything seemed to disperse in this void except for the space beneath their feet that stood as the ground. “Hope kind of missed the mark. He's dead already.”

Jake sighed and peered over his shoulder towards the wind god.

“I know. But hope can still do a lot, especially when there's a good deal riding on it. You're a god and you've never heard of miracles?”

Miracles often weren't their doing, but human belief. Strength of their own actions rather than divinity. Occasionally, someone stepped in directly and performed a gifted act. Dirk was familiar with keeping wounded warriors strong, with carrying bodies home for proper burial rites, for fighting alongside those who felt the true greatness within themselves. John, for his hand in luck, was cruel. It kept coming so long as it was entertaining for him, then just as quickly was likely to fade.

Serket had experienced that more acutely than anyone.

“I'll believe in this miracle when I see it.”

“Humans have come back from death before, you know,” Jake pointed out.

“Yes. Humans have. Not usually descendants of gods, nor descendants with so much riding on their shoulders. As well, isn't Jane needed for that..? It's been how long since she did a raising.. They're so rare, I can't even remember the last time,” John mused. “It's hard on her, and there's so much tangling with fate and weighed options. So much power is needed.”

“Power's needed,” Roxy chirped as she hopped ahead a few paces, gesturing as though she were opening a door before stepping aside, the void giving way to a wavering patch of grass ahead of them. Reality in heat waves. “Just as much as hope, luck, and sheer force'a will. Dont'cha think so, Dirky? C'mon now, everybody out, mind your step and keep movin' forward.”

“Sheer force of will? Roxy, this isn't a fucking recipe,” Dirk snapped as the group shuffled forward. His ears rang, tinny and hollow sounding for a moment before the pressure of the new surrounding air pressed sharply into place. Everything sounded muddied, as though he were underwater.

“Everything's a recipe if you want it to be, y'know. No need to be bitchy if ya didn't know that.”

Dirk had been about ready to snap back at her again, temper flaring despite the lack of flames, when Roxy suddenly let out a high pitched giddy noise and bounded forward to hug someone.

“Rosie! Maryam! See? Told'ja we'd be right back. It was... what. Ten minutes? Twenty?” she asked, tightening her arms around Maryam's neck and shoulders to lift herself up slightly from the ground till the hug was returned firmly. The goddess' considerable height made it a bit of a feat.

Maryam, despite the strain clear on her face, looked more pleased than concerned for once. Many of those that she was friendly with, her family, were around her once more where she could keep a personal eye on them. She finally raised one gray hand to press below Roxy's thighs to scoop her up, the other stabilizing against her lower back like a child. Rose drifted near her side with a few slow paces, lavender eyes appraising Dirk and John closely. She made a distressed sound at the sight of Dave, and turned her head to look away.

“..We need to clean him up. Don't you think? That.. All that blood, it won't be good for him to see when he comes back. He'd think he was still injured.” The urge to tend to him, to keep him safe, was the same now as it had been when she was simply tending him as another member of the temple.

Maryam was quick to shake her head, turning quick enough to nearly dislodge Roxy from her grip.

“No. We need to keep him as is for the most part, for when we try to help Jane. Blood holds great power whether it's within a body or outside of it, and every bit of it would be helpful.

“Then it's as I figured,” Rose mused softly, dodging a follow up question by walking straight over to John and his captive. Pyrope listened to the approaching footsteps and bared her teeth, sharp and intimidating despite her current lack of movement.

“Go ahead and bring the mortal back. Do it a hundred times, if Jane can manage it. See if I care! I've killed him once, I'll kill him again. A thousand times he'll die by my hand if it means keeping him dead and letting the flames stay with the one who needs to be wieldi- OOF!”

John had been stewing as Pyrope spoke, unsure why he was even letting her get words out at all before he squeezed her sharply in warning. Enough of that. No more threats when enough damage had already been done. “Shut up, you. Be still for a time. You're only alive right now because we don't want to have to hunt you down again after you revive elsewhere.”

He would pay for this insolence. Oh, yes, this was too much injustice to bear alone. The cocky wind god, a mere child, speaking out against an elder goddess in such a way. She was only taken down by these two lesser beings because she had been blinded. Any other time, in a fair fight, they would have been reduced to ashes.

Maybe she'd keep them in cages. Keep them alive and in one place, take a page from their books. Torment them till they were just about to die, then halt so they could heal themselves. Then repeat.. It would be fair comparison to what they were doing to her now, right? If only for the damage to her dignity and ego, they deserved a harsh punishment. Death would be too simple for two such as they.

“Roxy. Do you need to collect Jane?” John asked instead, leaving Rose to stand and stare at the goddess in her wind bonds, the mottling of burns against the backdrop of gray skin. “Or will she arrive on her own? I've got no idea how a goddess of life is invoked. Jake? Do you have to do it?”

“Nope! I'll go get'r though, so don't worry John,” Roxy said as she hopped away from Maryam's grasp, pacing backwards a few paces to a space in the grass that had grown wavering and dark toned. She placed a hand across her waist and bowed, grinning impishly up at the group from beneath her curled bangs. “I'll be back in a flash.”

From behind her, the portal opened, and in an instant she was gone from view as if she had never existed at all.

Jake stood awkwardly off to the side of the hubub, watching Dirk and John closely. Fondly. Why did it have to be in these circumstances that they had all met up again? Why had they all fallen apart anyway, and over something so foolish. It wasn't unusual for gods and goddesses to have multiple lovers, after all. Maybe it had been because, originally, he and Dirk were sticking together so closely instead of sharing themselves with others. Hadn't they..?

Had they been monogamous? The topic had never really come up, far as he could remember. Actually, once Jake got to thinking about it, a good number of things had never really come up. Conversation topics weren't varied. A lot of the relationship had been physical, or sexual, or just keeping company. But talking didn't happen much.

When John had shown up and swept him off his feet, quite literally, it had nearly all been physical. Fighting, tussling, testings of strength mixed in with lewd interludes and then spans of time where they didn't see each other even once. Jake chalked it up to being another part of the life of gods that he just needed to learn about, being so newly born himself by comparison. So much to learn, so much to do, and so much time to do it in now that a limited life span wouldn't stand in his way.

“....ke. Jake? Are you even listening? We need a bit of help for when Jane arrives,” Rose was saying, straight backed and expecting a prompt reply. Quite a mortal indeed to speak so fearlessly to a god she'd only just met earlier the same day. He snapped back to attention and stared down at her, brows lifting.

“Yes? Sorry. What needs done now?”

“Well, we need to get him laid out in a way that might be easier for her to work. We need to get your power involved as well. That.. The hope thing. How does that even work?” she asked. Always seeking answers, seeking knowledge. Her time with the potent taint had gifted her knowledge, but not always insight into the finer happenings of the things she'd touched on while wandering. Hope was far too fluid of a concept for her to nail down with logic.

“The hope thing. Well.. It's. Hrm, how do I explain,” he faltered, striding past her as Maryam gestured them all inside the temple proper. Putting Dave onto the altar would surely be of use. She could try diverting some of her own strength to the raising that way, if there was any way to be involved. The taboos had already been broken to pieces today; involvement was a certainty. “It's... It's where the strength in your heart, your soul, your very being acts like a wish. It makes things happen. You take the entire force of your existence and throw it towards your goal. I take the hope of others and try to do that. I amplify it, and guide the hope towards a goal to try influencing change.”

“...So you alter the world because people will it..?”

“No, no. Well. Yes? Sort of..? I.. I'm not sure how to word it properly. I've not really done much with my abilities before. My predecessor was eliminated in a similar way to Dave due to his use of his powers, but he was a fully fledged god. An elder god no less. I can't even begin to compare to that level of prowess and usefulness, but if everything works out here today, I can at least try to help influence the chances in our favor.”

“Luck is -my- department, Jake,” John called out. There was no rage or malice to his voice, no threat. Just a gentle reminder.

“Oh, I know. Luck is your power. My power is to nudge fate in one direction or the other.. Sort of like a swinging lantern in a breeze. One side or the other, a decision will be nudged from the leveled center. It just comes down to how strong that will is.. I'm quite certain that with..” he grew quiet, taking count on his fingers. “... Six gods and goddesses, and a very determined mortal all pushing for the same goal of Dave returning to life, it may be enough to raise him properly.”

“..As a mortal? Or as a god? My flames have not returned to me, Jake, they're showing no interest in my call. Will he be raised back as he was, on the cusp? Or will the decision be taken from our hands entirely?” Dirk seemed quite concerned about that option. Dave had gone through so much hardship, so many trials, all to try going forward with inheriting something he perhaps wasn't even ready to control on his own yet. To die, then come back starting at square one would be devastating. If the flame was lost for good, it would be mourned even further. “If he's mortal, with nothing to inherit..”

“Quiet, now. That's what we're hoping against.. remember?”

Dave was lain out on Maryam's altar with care despite how messy it quickly became. His head lolled till it was propped up on a roll of cloth, blood running along the flat surface as it settled once he finally stopped being moved. His hands were placed over his abdomen, loose wristed, and a cloth was lain over his torso to cover the messy wound site. Were it not for the blood on his face, his tousled, dirty hair, the grayish tint to his flesh, it would look as if he were merely sleeping.

Shirking temple duties for the sake of a peaceful nap in a holy place, watched over by guardians prepared to kill for his sake.

Maryam and Rose quietly moved about preparing the altar properly as they could from memory. There were many portions of overlapping between Maryam's own domain and Jane's abilities, so many themes in line with each other, that a good deal of the same flowers and herbs could be used to honor her work and time. They stuck with pale, pastel colors for the blossoms, light scents, fresh plants. Anything to symbolize new beginnings and healthy life.

Every little bit helped, right?

Dirk, having nothing to focus on while they bustled about, simply stood guard by John's side, now and then reaching out to stroke back Dave's hair from his face. Even messy against the dulled complexion, the stark blonde reminded him of pale feathers on small birds. He looked too fragile right now, with none of his ego and attitude to prop up that slender skeleton and give it the sense of a giant.

“Will it work, Jake. Tell me this will work.”

John propped up a smile.

“Dirk, I can tell you it'll work. Somehow, we'll get him back.. If he stays a mortal, then so be it. We'll just have to make his lifespan the best it can possibly be, and hunt down his next incarnation even earlier to keep track of him.”

“Yeah,” he finally relented, though his bright eyes didn't look away from the pale tufts below his fingers. “Yeah.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

“No.”

“Janey, really, we need to go an-”

“It can't be done. The fate already was severed, right? That means the strand is broken. He's good as lost!” Jane shouted, temper flaring. Asking the impossible of her, and so plainly too! Sollux and Captor were flashing back and forth every so often, soft pulses of red and blue announcing who was currently listening in on the conversation. Jane? Pissed off? Oh, yes, please say there will be snacks involved. Being an audience to temper tantrums of the gods was half the fun of having them come and visit their abode. Otherwise, there was only Jade and the occasional wanderer to argue with directly. Watching someone ELSE metaphorically explode made the day all the sweeter for a shit stirrer like themselves.

Roxy rested her fists on her own hips and frowned.

“Janey. Listen ta me, alright? At least show up. I know it sounds impossible but we've got an ace up our sleeves!”

“What ace do you have up your sleeve that you're willing to tell me about here, Roxy? Because far as I can tell, there's not much use in trying to raise a dead mortal whose strand is already severed. Why, it's probably lodged in Peixes' comb right now. I don't deal with Makara unless I absolutely have to anymore! I don't revive, I RENEW. Regenerate! I bring back life where there was none, like changed seasons or crap like that, no-”

“Jake said it'd work somehow.”

“...Well, that's Jake, I-”

“And Dirk. And John.”

“...I...”

“And me. And Maryam, too.”

“..Maryam said that she's getting involved too?”

“Yep. Also, we've got Pyrope, tho she's mostly just bein' surly and upset. Tho, if I got blinded and knocked around by two pissed off young gods, I'd prolly be pissy too. We also have Rosie.”

“... 'Rosie'? Am I supposed to know her?”

“Mm? Ah, nah. Never met her, honey, don't worry about it,” the blonde said dismissively as she lifted her right hand and waved the topic off entirely. “Her name's Rose, tho, not Rosie. I just like givin' nicknames, y'know? Makes everyone a friend, if I call'm a nickname and don't get told off. I like friends. As many as I can have. Friends make immortality a lot easier to handle, don'tcha think? Instead of bein' alone and upset most'a the time like a lot of the elder gods, you'd be surrounded by friends and people that loved ya.”

Jane was quiet for a moment as her temper cooled itself, bright blue eyes narrowing in thought before she looked off to the side. Jade stared back, having been blatantly watching, before she looked away too slowly. Nope. Not touching that topic with a ten foot pole. Sollux and Captor seemed to have lost interest once the yelling stopped. Talking about feelings gave them a wicked case of the Nopes.

“So,” Roxy continued as if she'd never gone quiet in the first place, extending her right hand out with the palm up, “will you come now? We need you somethin' fierce right now, Janey, I already promised Dirk and John that I'd come back with ya fast as I could and they're just.. waiting. I'd rather have you there and them havin' at least a chance to be back in a happy group around someone they love rather than leaving them there around the body of someone they care for. Hope's better than nothin' right?”

Jane looked doubtfully at Roxy's hand, then beyond her to the wavering darkness of the void she was opening up in preparation for the travel they would do. Could do.

“... I can't promise anything, Roxy. If I can't raise him, I can't raise him. When fate's cut properly, there's very little I can do t-”

“Shhhhhhhhhh. Shh, shh. Hope is better than nothin'. Come on, Janey, we need to get moving.. Okay?”

Hesitantly, still full of doubt, Jane lay her hand in Roxy's palm before sliding forward to grip at her fingers securely. She had enough time to squawk in surprise when the ground fell out from beneath the two of them and the void rose up above their heads to claim them.

“... WELL. That wath interethting,” Captor hissed, brows lifting.

“Interethting if you like embarathing narrativeth about feelingth and friendthip, at leatht.”

“Well, thath what I meant, obviouthly.”

Jade rolled her eyes and stepped to the now flat point of the floor that Jade and Roxy had been talking upon mere moments before. It was undisturbed in its entirety, without so much as even dust being out of place. Jane had been walking all over the floor lately, yet she never left footprints.. If she walked outside, her footprints were more similar to small patches of clover springing into being from unused seed lost in the soil. She brought life everywhere she went, yet said she couldn't restore life except in specific circumstances.

“Is it because of Makara, do you think? The life and death balance thing. If she revives everyone who dies for different reasons, then Makara would have nothing to do and humans would falter. But there's obviously been times she's raised people from the dead. Who makes that call?”

“Peixeth.”

“Peixeth,” Captor agreed. “That woman holdth fate in her tentacleth, I'm pretty thure that if anyone changeth anything, it'd be hurt.”

“Maybe both of them,” Jade offered. “She holds fate, but I don't know entirely to what degree. Could she fake an ending? Change her mind? What force is keeping her honest when she holds so much power?”

Captor and Sollux shrugged a shoulder each in tandem and sighed, leaning to tip the chair they were seated in back onto the hind legs, wavering unsteadily.

“Not really our problem till the dethideth it'th our turnth to go.”

“That won't be never, surely,” Jade agreed. “Obviously. But we've been around so long already, it's kind of refreshing to see things we don't already know.. Maybe we should check the orb, though.”

“No.”

“No way.”

“Oh come on! I wanna see Peixes up close. Maybe we could spy a bit and get a better idea of how the system works. If nothing else, we could use it to our benefit with customers!”

“Yeth, Peixeth, pleathe tell uth in detail about how long thith perthon hath to live, and tell me how to let them down lightly.”

She growled, cutting green eyes narrowing. “No.. so we can have our predictions have an air of truth about them from an outside source. Everyone knows to some degree about fate being strands. We know about them being hair, and we can forsee an individual through a fairly wide window of time. If we add a bit of detail that nobody else knows about, not even ourselves, I'm sure others would heed the warnings better. Besides.. Even if we can't tell which strand is which, I'm pretty sure it'd be useful to know if she suddenly starts getting bald patches. It'd prolly be signs of plague somewhere in the world, right? Spying is useful. A huge part of our business is information, so..”

“Tho, thplit the thtupid marble, that thingth giving me a headache and you already promithed. Why didn't you hack it apart like you thaid you were going to already? It wath a thtupid rithk to leave it out with Jane thtill around, Peixeth could've thenthed it and tried to make her move it.”

“.... You're right. Yes. Yes, it needs to go. ….. AFTER we know the raising was successful.”

“We can tell it'th going to go well already, right? With a bit of focuth it'd go well, he'd be walking around and doing mortal thingth again.”

“Or he'd be on hith back between two big children mathquerading ath godth thcreaming and making a futh.”

“A futh? Oh pleathe, when he was here before John and Dirk couldn't thtop touching hith thoulderth like he'd dithappear!”

“Well. He kinda did dithappear,” Captor countered to Sollux. The bantering grew more intent before Jade went off to get some more tea leaves ready. She had the feeling this was going to be a long night, before AND after the mages shut up.

- - - - - - - - -

Jake had taken his place at the head of the altar once Roxy had appeared with Jane in tow, weather worn brown hands resting beside the boys narrow shoulders. He dare not touch his flesh, his blood. Not directly. Who knew what would happen once Jane really let loose and tried to gather the lost forces back together? She still swore up and down that she couldn't guarantee anything, likely to keep all those in attendance at bay if something went wrong or failed to materialize.

Maryam had been instructed to stand beside Jane herself, as their elements were so similarly based. They needed to try harmonizing, in a sense, in order to make use of the altar and temple despite it being Jane doing the work. Life and birth aside, this was a project of second chances and new beginnings from an old source. Recycling, perhaps, if that weren't too far of a stretch.

John was floating to Dave's right side, keeping close between Jane and Jake, ready to shove as much strength into his luck abilities as possible. A single fragment of sand could still shift an hourglass enough to make a difference, and if he could be that tiny piece of sand for Dave, then all the better.

Dirk had to keep his hands clenched at his sides to avoid reaching out to hold Dave's hand, to touch his face, to try shoving some of himself forward by force into the boys missing spirit in order to help revive him. Without the sear of the flames, Dirk had only his fighting prowess and skills on the battlefield to fall back on. Both of which were useless at this point.

He startled terribly and looked to his side when he felt a hand slip around his wrist, chilled, slim fingers squeezing at the joint. Rose had decided to settle beside him during the ritual, unable to assist at this juncture as far as she was letting on. Her will would be directed, same as everyone else while she waited for some unspoken cue. Maybe acting as moral support would be useful to both of them..?

Wordlessly, Dirk found himself loosening his fist so he could clasp the mortal's hand properly enough for a hold without the risk of bringing her harm. They were so fragile. Both of them, so fragile. Why were humans made of glass when their wills were so massive?

Roxy dug her fingers into Dirk's other fist to seek out his fingers, having strength to match his in this case, giving him no alternative option but to hold her hand as well. Damn it all, he was going to be supported. More importantly, he was going to be held back enough to avoid any rash moves. Even without a fire in his soul, Dirk could still be an impulsive bastard when the mood struck him and he was certain he was in the right.

“Ready to roll, Janey?” Roxy asked, smiling, trying to be sunny to fight off the feeling of impending doom and strain that was suffocating the temple. Such a naturally purified place had never felt so.. murky before. Cloying.

“Yes. Ready as I'll ever be.. Dirk, John. You remember what I said. Don't touch him. I don't care if Makara comes and slaps Dave in the face, do not. Touch him. Don't touch him at all till I say the word, do you understand?”

Dirk nodded in resignation. John nodded as well, though more eagerly, the breezes kicking up in the room as his excitement and anticipation grew. Pyrope was blessedly quiet for the time being, deciding to listen to the process. Jane didn't seem to be much of a threat, considering she couldn't overthrow Makara and was apparently hesitant to even give that appearance accidentally. Justice against her, bordering on revenge territory for the others, would not be as harsh. More of a slap on the wrist really if anything were to happen at all.

There would be so much cleanup to be done after she got her sight back.

She felt a dulling of the breeze against her cheek for a moment before a wall of air was hammered against her head without warning. A sharp pulse of power had gone from the altar in a solid blast, ice cold fading to a point of intense heat against her already sensitive flesh and horns. The raising must have started in earnest.

Then, she'd heard a blast that left her disoriented and dizzy, head throbbing, ears ringing. A human was screaming, high in pitch. The Rose mortal. Everything sounded like a blur, heat and cold alternating against her skin, and what she felt as a possible strobe effect.

Light?

Was she.. feeling light?? How was that possible? Was this hope at work, or just the overload of wishes and donated power flying around?

More screaming, though more like directed yelling. The breeze was squeezing Pyrope tight, as if she needed anything else to tether her down while this display was happening. There was too much power in such a small point of focus to make her feel comfortable, much less while she was bound. No way to get away or guard herself from these massive forces swirling over her head and around their bodies? No, thank you.

How much energy even WAS there right now?

Gods and goddesses, a mortal, an elder goddess, all focused around bringing a single body back from death.

“HE MOVED,” Roxy yelled suddenly, excitedly. The whirring and humming, the throb of lights lessened. From a hurricane, the forces that were ripping at the temple diminished to a harsh storm. That which had been exerted could not simply be sapped back in like a sponge. The powers of several very different gods and goddesses lay in the open air for easy access and use should they be required. It would take work and focus to will them back to their proper spaces and elements, back into the world from which they were gleaned to begin with.

Rose was having trouble hearing, was clutching at both sides of her head as if she had a splitting headache, Dirk holding her around the shoulders in concern with shaking hands. John was pale and standing on solid ground, fatigued, stretched terribly thin. Gamblers the world over would be hating him for weeks. Roxy's bright pink eyes were dulled, though at the moment everything looked dull compared to the four that seemed to be directly connected.

Dave's slender fingers were twitching on their own across his abdomen, gripping at the fabric of his clothes that had grown stiff with his own blood. The gaping wound in his chest was sealing into a scar before their very eyes by blue and jade green lights, led by shimmering gold. Jake wasn't relenting his focus till everything was completed. At any step of the way, something could go wrong. He had to be sure Dave was alive again before risking a break in concentration.

He needed this to go right, his first true use of Hope.

It had to go right.

When Dave began breathing, first in a sharp wheeze of a gasp, then slowly and regularly, Jane finally lowered her hands and shuddered out a sigh. Maryam had broken a sweat, but seemed otherwise unaffected compared to everyone in the group around the bloody altar. Jake was brimming with energy, hesitant as he finally let down his force, but seemed close to falling over. He was so young to be doing such big jobs.

What a job it had been, though. For some reason, getting Dave's heart beating again had taken so much effort. So much strain for something so small. Was it like this every time something was brought back from death? Was it just because he was so close to becoming an immortal..? Maybe there was a scale on force required to bring back something with different levels of power, and the tiny human had put up such a fuss because he'd died in possession of fire.

“That.. That wasn't right. Not normal,” Jane muttered to herself, tired eyes looking up at the scarred rise and fall of the chest in front of her. His cheeks were flushed, his lips were pink and full of life again. Blood circulated through his body and even the beds of his toenails were well colored and pink once more.

Rose's hands were lowering and she wavered, causing Dirk to crouch to guide her to the floor in a sit instead of letting her stumble. She was so off balance from the sound, the force. There were traces of red at her ears.. Damage to the eardrums, likely.

WHY were humans made of glass.

“Not right,” Jane said again, bracing a hand against Dave's thigh as she crawled up onto the altar with him, kneeling above his waist to get a better look at his face. She reached up to tug one of his eyelids up, wanting to see his pupils. She hissed in displeasure and immediately let go, jerking out of the way once Dave opened his eyes on his own and looked around slowly.

Gray.

The red of his eyes was gone, the vibrancy, the light. Flat, empty gray resided in their place. Stone. Immobile and blank, not the gray of a coming storm.

“Jane.. Jane, what's wrong with his eyes,” John asked immediately, concern making his tone border on hysteria. “Jane, why aren't they red. Jane. JANE. Jane, he's alive, he's.. He's getting up, why are his eyes.. Dave?”

Dirk left Rose's side to investigate as well, needing to see for himself. Not red..? No, they had similar eyes, maybe they were just dull. Tired. After all, he'd been dead for a while. They just needed time to get to how they usually were, surely. He placed his hands on the altar and leaned in curiously as Dave slowly, silently propped himself upright and began to examine himself.

He touched at his bloodstained, ripped clothing. He touched at his face, his mussed hair, his eyes and nose and lips. He traced at the new scars, pressing with the soft pads of his fingers as if making sure the skin wouldn't break and give way like a wasps nest.

“...Dave?” John asked again. “Dave. Hey. You can hear, right?” The question was followed by a whistle, checking just in case. He frowned when, immediately following the whistle, Dave turned his head to finally look at him.

“Wrong. Not right,” Jane said again, sounding miserable. She looked ashamed, slightly nauseated. “Came back wrong. Never should have done this. Stupid idea, stupid, stupid, STUPID idea!”

“Jane.. what did you do to him?” Dirk softly asked, not given much comfort by the scared look on John's face the longer he looked their lover in the face, turning to focus on Jane instead as she slipped off him to stand on the ground once more.

“I didn't do ANYTHING to him except bring him back to life. I brought his body back to life. His body is wide awake and healthy and will probably live another sixty years if he watches himself. Quite old for a human.”

“His immortality is.. voided then,” Dirk said as if to confirm. Jane shook her head.

“I've got no idea about his immortality. Like I said, I brought Dave's body back. Where Dave is, I've got no idea. But his body is back and functional as it ever was. That's.. That's got to be why it was so hard to raise him,” she whispered. “I. I tried to bring him back in one go, like my last one. But it was like something was stuck. Jammed somewhere. It was like tugging on something being sucked down by the vacuum of the ocean or a great storm, only to have it break in half in your hands. I got half of it.”

“Dave's right there, thou-” Dirk started, but John shook his head and cut him off.

“No. No, I get it. Dirk, Dave's alive again. I think his soul's still gone off somewhere.. because his fate was severed. Makara may have it already.”

Dirk shuddered and took a step back, looking at Dave uncertainly. This wasn't his Dave. This was a shell. A house waiting for its owner to come back and bring it truly to life. This was a puppet, no matter how promising and attractive and familiar. A doll.

It was also essentially a crime against nature.

“..He can't stay like this,” Dirk whispered. “What do we do? Do. Do we kill him? Is there any way to get everything back into order? Maybe we can barter with Makara, we can't just leave him like this. Not like some.. Some THING.”

Maryam looked crushed, but moved past everyone else to scoop Dave up like a child, holding him close. She told Roxy to get Rose in a similar way, and to head deeper into the temple where the living quarters were still set up. Rose needed tending for her ears, and Dave needed to be cleaned up now that it was safe to do so. Business as usual while they sorted out what to do next.

Pyrope, however, was not going to be letting this be done in peace. At Dirk's pronouncement of the idea to barter with Makara, one of her faithful elder gods, she had begun to let out her shrill laughter. It echoed, grating, nails on a chalkboard. It dug like glass in her eye, the maliciousness, the gall and ego it took to enjoy someones misfortune so thoroughly in her temple.

Her home.

“HAH! Ahahahahahahahaha! Are you SERIOUS? Makara, barter with a lesser god over a soul? HAH! Alpha would likely come back before that happened. For Makara to give up the soul of a mortal I killed personally..? Ahahahaha, no, no, PLEASE. Do go on, tell me more, I want to hear more of this stellar plan where OBVIOUSLY nothing could possibly so wrong!” Pyrope crowed.

Maryam sniffed slightly, trying to keep her temper in check. It wouldn't do to outright attack Pyrope in a holy place. Especially one that already needed a proper cleaning, much less with teal blood getting everywhere, only to have her come back to life again. At nearly full strength, no less.

Patience, Maryam.

Patience. It's a virtue that's useful to have.

“Bring her along too. Maybe we can find something for her to eat so she'll be quiet for a while. I've got a headache already.”

“Dinner and a show? Ahahahahaha, I almost wish I could see!” Pyrope sneered as John's wind lifted her a few inches off the ground, wavering as they headed further into the complex of the matronly goddess.

Why had she ever been worried..? This was just getting more and more funny the longer it dragged on, for her. Surely whatever came next would be the cherry on top of the cake.

Chapter Text

Washing Dave was terribly easy, considering he just sat there and let himself be moved without hesitation as water coursed over him from above. Dirk had to tell him to close his eyes to keep them safe from the dirty water that came from his hair, the suds from the tallow soap, or else the flat grayness would just remain open without signs of discomfort as they were flooded with irritants. Pain didn't seem to register with him, words barely registering as it was without some form of direction. John helped dry him, diverting his focus from the un-struggling Pyrope long enough to offer soft, warm winds that ruffled his pale hair up and reddened his cheeks.

He almost looked normal now, dressed in clean clothes and sitting against the wall. Almost. At least until you noticed the limp way his head tipped, how his hands curled loosely at his sides like a doll.

Rose reacted miserably as her ears were tended gently, nauseated and irritable from the pain and sudden changes. Kanaya kept forgetting she couldn't hear properly, the injury so fresh, and had to keep reminding herself to rely on touches and gestures instead of words for now. She'd rub along the mortal's arms gently to soothe her, her back, her neck. The pallid, shapely cheekbones littered with kisses of praise when the cleansing was done.

All they could do now was wait and hope for the best as time healed the wounds.

Jane was helping Maryam keep Rose calm, while Jake was keeping Dirk and John company. Awkward as it was. With so much happening since they'd been reunited, there hadn't been much time to dwell on the past thankfully. Now, with Dave unresponsive and not really himself, they were left with time on their hands, waiting for some ind of an idea to hit about how to proceed.

John, despite the connection to the breeze around Pyrope, seemed distracted and listless. Nowhere near his normal self. Jake couldn't help but reach up to touch his face, stroke the hair back from his eyes and offer a hopeful smile before removing his hand.

“Hey. Things are going to work out one way or another, right? After all, I'm still here. Hope's at work, even if it's taking a while. Try to keep being lucky, maybe it'll help. Winds of fate and all that.”

He hated how stiff his words felt, sweet and not nearly as intense as he wanted. Putting things into words was a bit of a struggle for him even at the best of times, meanings getting twisted around and intentions getting lost. Maybe that's why everything wound up how it had..

It seemed to do the trick, though, as John offered a faint smile in response, nodding.

“Yeah. ...Yeah, you're right. I feel like I've used up all my available luck, though. I pity any humans gambling right now hoping that I or Lady Luck would be able to offer them anything more than a stiff bit of piss to the breeze,” he said with a snort.

This was improvement. John was talking a little more like himself, and Dirk was right there without having that hurt look in his eyes that made his chest tight. Maybe things could almost be like they used to be, back before all the trouble and misunderstandings. It was Dirk that moved the conversation that direction, needing the distraction from Dave's awkward looking sitting and flattened expression.

“You know, you don't have to walk on eggshells, Jake. We're not humans. Concepts like jealousy and frustration.. I like to think we can get over them easier. Especially considering it's been so long without even seeing you.”

The words were like magic, releasing tension in John's chest so words started to spill out as well.

“Thank fuck! Do you know how long I've been waiting to really hear that and know you meant it? That's one hell of an elephant to have in the room. A big pink one. With speckles and dots and stripes in all the colors.”

“John,” Jake said, trying to get a word in.

“Maybe it was even dancing or something. Seriously, first I'm worried you still held a grudge because I took your boyfriend and now it's suddenly okay and WHOOSH!”

“John.”

“This is such a relief. Jaaaaaaaaake,” he whined, “I've missed you a lot! You were so cute when you were young, and all excited and hopeful and just. Well, you're still cute now, don't get me wrong, you haven't aged a day. Kind of surprised all that time with Leijon hasn't made you some kind of a wild chil-”

“JOHN,” Jake barked out, loud enough that even Dirk startled briefly, looking at him in surprise. He'd been fairly soft spoken when they were involved, at least in as much as when they were just in one-another's company. He reached out to settle his fingertips on John's mouth, holding them there till he drifted up off the ground to escape the touch. “Shhhhh. There. It's okay. I know you don't have to worry about suffocating, but if only for my sanity: breathe. Slowly.”

“.. I'm just glad to see you again. Without it being really awkward like I thought it would be,” the god finally mumbled once he'd gotten himself reined in.

“Well. Of course it wouldn't be awkward, right?” Jake laughed, resting his hands on his own hips, chin up. “After all, I'm a god. Same as you. We're above that sort of stuff.”

“.. Mostly,” Dirk said. “I think the biggest reason everything is okay right now is because so much time has passed. I was never mad at you. I was mad at John for being a thieving little brat, but we've obviously gotten past that.” The way his voice grew quiet made it obvious that he was looking towards Dave then, even without Jake having to turn his head for confirmation.

“I think it's more like you had someone fix the problem for you.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Roxy was talking to Rose as Maryam carefully applied a wrapping around her head to guard the damaged sites so they wouldn't lose any of the benefits of the treatment she had just given. It also, hopefully, would buffer sound if her hearing suddenly started to return as she healed so there wouldn't be more pain and discomfort. Her words weren't getting through, obviously, but with her expressions and gestures added in, Rose seemed to be able to get the message clear enough. If she was uncertain what was being said, she'd ask for confirmation and get it easy enough.

Mostly though, between the nausea and discomfort and disorientation, Rose was more than happy to just let Roxy chatter at her and touch her arms and shoulders and face like a mother fawning over a child.

Maryam tucked the bandages beneath the back edges of Rose's hair, adjusting till it fit nearly like a wide headband, tying the ends off in a bow to one side. It didn't make it look very different really.. but perhaps it would still be good to do something nice.

“Aaaaand there,” she said softly as she withdrew her hands, gripping at her right elbow to balance her hand just below her lips. “Hm. Roxy, what do you think. Too much?”

“What's too much,” she asked, pausing in the middle of regaling a dizzy but apparently interested Rose in tales of the void she happily inhabited to look up. “Oh! A bow! Lookie there, Rosie, you look so pretty now. Good choice.”

Maryam flushed a soft jade color, pleasure evident from the compliment. Even elder goddesses enjoyed praise, after all.

“I'm glad you agree. With everything that's happened, it couldn't hurt to do something simple like that.”

“Sure thing. Ah, I wish we had some other stuff! M'sure they never woulda let her paint up her face or wear many special things at that temple.” Roxy smiled and touched Rose's leg suddenly, startling her from her own thoughts for a moment before she grinned back. “Could make it a real girls night in! Er. Plus a couple of doofuses and Davey.”

“Nice to see you don't consider Dave a doofus.” Such a strange way of talking Roxy had, bright and colorful and excited as opposed to her own reserved shadowy way of speaking. Elegant. Clipped. Serious by comparison. Borrowing the terms now and then, hearing them in her own voice without the odd drawl brought on by Roxy's speech patterns, was distractingly silly.

“Oh. I do. Just not right now,” Roxy said simply. “He's not really himself right now, so I can't really call him a doofus, y'know? I'll call him that when he's back to wrappin' Dirk and John around his finger. ...Hm. Gonna have to watch Jakey pretty close, or else he might get wound up too.

“Roxy!” Maryam hissed, though she was trying her hardest not to laugh. “Hush now with that.”

“Maryam? Roxy?” came Rose's voice, at first too loud then too quiet. It was hard for her to sort out what volume she was actually speaking at without the level of feedback she was used to hearing. “Could I eat something and maybe rest somewhere for a while? I keep feeling like I'm on waves or about to fall, even though I'm sitting still.”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” Maryam paused after she replied before moving to where Rose could see her to reply aloud again and nod, heart melting when the human smiled at her in thanks. .. Her human, really. There was no denying it now. Rose was a mortal for many people, but she would only be HER human.

“When I rest, could I ask to have Dave beside me?”

“Well. Sure, I don't see why not. Surely having him lay down and rest with someone familiar could do no harm. Wish we'd asked Jane a little more about the situation before she demanded some privacy.” She needed it after the stress and strain of the raising, the unforseen events and the lively vegetable she had brought about by her own hands. Nobody had the heart to disturb her just yet. Maryam gave another nod and smile when Rose asked for clarification, and the smile she got in return made the choice seem even more obvious to her.

“Roxy, we should see if we can get some food into Dave as well. Do you mind getting one of them to bring him along..? I'm sure there's some way to get him to eat. He follows orders fairly well, right?”

- - - - - - - - - -

Dave ate without seeming to taste what was placed in his mouth, motions mechanical when directed and floppy when ignored to the point where he'd nearly make a mess of himself from not fully closing his mouth. He seemed serene when resting afterwards, however, Rose curled protectively around his back and burying her face in his hair to sleep as well. Maybe the dizziness would have lessened after some rest.

The gods and goddesses were left to their own devices outside the front of the temple then, talking among themselves in their varying degrees of upset. Pyrope, at long last, was not being held by John's binding breezes. Good behavior and her choice to stay mostly silent was the main reasoning behind the decision in the first place, though the main reasoning was that she may eventually be spoken to like a fellow divine being instead of as a criminal.

Dave was not the first to be struck a raw deal by someone being petty or misguided, and he would not be the last. Thus far, however, he was the first mortal to be struck down and survive in such a protracted way. Fate was having a field day with him, and Pyrope was intrinsically linked to that fate, having unleashed it with her own gray fingers. She was still of use.. though nobody could quite tell how just yet. If it were of her own free will somehow, perhaps that use would be even stronger.

John was actually being held for once, Dirk sitting with his back against the soft, weather worn stone of the temple, balancing his lover on his upper thighs as he curled himself as small as he could. Dirk rubbed slow circles against the broad back, trailed his fingertips along the warm spine, trying to be as comforting as possible. It was the best he could do considering he wished he was being held as well.

He got his wish as Jake, who had been standing and leaning against the temple face, suddenly sat down beside him and tugged the combined lump of former lovers against him.

Roxy smiled at the look that crossed Dirk's face, glad that he was finally getting a bit of peace. She'd just have to get her own hugs in when things were settled one way or another, either with Dave's death or return to normal. For now, her friend needed a type of closeness she wasn't able to provide.

“They look like children themselves, don't they,” Maryam said softly.

“They ARE children,” Pyrope said irritatedly, reaching cautiously with her toes as she walked to avoid bumping into anything. Being without sight and guide was a new experience for her, as was the lack of her fellows offering to help her at least find where easily tripped over items were. Unable to sort out where to perch, and too annoyed to hunt further, the goddess plopped down on a patch of earth that she'd felt thoroughly with her feet and tramped down.

“Yes,” Maryam agreed, “they are. Which is why it makes this entire situation all the more heartbreaking to see.” She narrowed her eyes when Pyrope snorted loudly at the ham handed insinuation. “You're justice incarnate, how can you have no sympathy for this? You caused this!”

“I did no such thing. I struck down a human who was going to upset a very important balance, and he died. YOU all brought him back. Turn the finger on yourselves. My involvement, had I not been dragged along, would have ended directly after slaying him.”

She had a point. Maryam couldn't picture a moment that Pyrope would have remained in their company any longer without force.

“... Why do you have no empathy for anyone but yourself,” Maryam finally asked in all but a whisper. Roxy touched her back but went no further. The pangs she felt when speaking of the last hope she lost was too painful to comfort properly. “You have no foresight, how are you to know if he would have truly made such things come to pass! Surely Megido would have brought it up!”

“I HAVE NO NEED FOR SIGHT, WHEN IT COMES TO JUSTICE. Justice has always been blind. Now it literally is, at least for the time being. You're too caught up in your feelings, Maryam. Distance yourself from them so you can do your duties properly, and we can avoid repeated instances for a third time.”

“.... She DID say something, didn't she.”

“Who said something?”

“Megido!” Maryam shouted, aggressive side surging to the forefront. She couldn't detach from her empathy, not anymore. She did when Signless was killed. She did when Dave was being tortured in the first place, believing it was truly her place as an elder goddess to stand by and offer comfort instead of adding to the risk of an all our war breaking out. She'd stood by and let another suffer, let other gods she viewed nearly as close as her own children suffer under the assurance that it was a point. That there was obviously punishment to be had for stepping out of line, only to find it was for more selfish, paranoid reasons than she ever could have assumed. “I refuse to believe that she DIDN'T say something! She said something to you before... before Signless. She said something now too, didn't she.”

Pyrope looked bothered for a moment, face twisting in frustration. Being spoken to without respect was not something she enjoyed, especially from someone who was on the same level as herself. Since when did Maryam become so passionate and outspoken about things that really were none of her damned business?

“Yes. She said I would win the battle, but lose the war. I suppose it came to pass already, right? I won the battle and killed the human. He was.. kind of brought back. That means in the long run, I lost. How auspicious.”

“And if she were speaking even further in the future, what then. What would your justice have to say if you were truly the one on the wrong side of the scale, goddess or not, because you lack that true insight.”

“That wouldn't happen, because justice is clear cut black and white. Yes, or no. Guilty, and innocent. I killed for a damned good reason: keeping our position and keeping the balance in check! Cut, call it, end of story.”

“What about another view, then?” Roxy interrupted, earning a startled look from Maryam and a soft growl from Pyrope. Lesser goddess stepping into a conversation between her elders? How rude. “Tormentin' and killing a boy fer bein' born, for posing a supposed threat to humans payin' you tribute? Sounds mighty dark from that view.”

“Know your place,” Pyrope sniffed. “I don't need to focus on any other view. My word is law when it comes to justice, it's something you wouldn't understand.”

“I understand right and wrong, when I wanna,” Roxy cheekily replied, lips turning into a smirk. “Which ain't always all the time. But from where I'm standing, you're in the wrong. What kind of balance are you preservin' if justice itself is unbalanced? Not one I'd want part in.”

“Keep it up, Roxy,” the elder goddess growled, working on getting unsteadily to her feet. Blinded or not, she could still surely do some damage. “You'll lose any hope of remaining part of the pantheon. You'll be ruined. Who cares about worshiping the unknown?”

“Oh, lotsa people, actually. Especially since it's not so much the unknown, but the lack of knowing itself. Mystery of the void, yadda yadda. Pyrope, you were obviously around when I got my abilities, an' you don't even know that? Tsk tsk.”

A flush of teal rose to Pyrope's cheeks, whether from temper or embarrassment it was hard to tell, fingers curling into tight fists at her sides till the joints cracked.

“This is what I was trying to fight. This seed of... of disruption. Of imbalance. Roxy, you're useful and viable even if you'll never be among the elder gods and goddesses, but don't try my patience. You can be replaced.”

“By who? Rosie? Pffft, nah..” Roxy crossed her arms and smiled, eyes soft. “She's got a gift, but it's none of mine. Mysteries of the void ain't her thing. She's more'a the type to dive into that void an' sniff out everything that's hidin' in it that she could find. You'd be waitin' quite a while to replace me.” Lifting her palms to the height of her shoulders then, she shook her head side to side. “That, and I'm not challengin' ya. Just pointing out some grievances, y'know? There's no balance being thrown off by communication.”

“You don't need communication to do your job, especially not when your 'communication' involves questioning my judgments and siding with another elder goddess.”

“She didn't side with me! She was saying your current views are flawed. … And I agree. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm quite certain I'm not alone in thinking that,” Maryam pointed out. “John and Dirk have said their peace on your views, as have I. … As had Signless.”

“Oh, I did side with you though,” Roxy interrupted, grinning at Maryam's startled look. “You're the most level headed one'a the group that I've seen. You do your job, you help people, you offer your gifts to humans even without demandin' tribute at all your temples. I heard a rumor that when women're 'bout to pop their babies out, they cry 'Mother'. I'm not so sure they're callin' for their own. They might as well be callin' for YOU, Maryam.”

Though flattered, Maryam set to biting her lips with her sharp, pointed teeth as Pyrope's growls of frustration grew louder.

“If you're wanting this to become a complete war between the gods, keep talking. It will quickly become Elders versus new gods, and I'm quite certain I know which way the hammer is going to fall!”

“... Didn't Megido say you'd win the battle, but lose the war?” Maryam asked softly. Pyrope went silent, gray face going pale.

“I.. That was a figure of speech. I want to maintain the balance between gods and humans. To do that, we need to stop the in fighting and stick to the system that's worked all this time, or risk the humans suddenly not needing us as much. We'd cease to be, at that rate.”

“Mhmm. Whatever ya say,” Roxy said, hands dropping to her hips as she looked unimpressed at the fierce goddess with the sharp horns and tongue. “I'm gonna go check on John and Dirky, then make sure the kiddos don't need anything.”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

“.... Did you hear that?” Dirk murmured softly against John's ear, the bundle of bowed heads shuffling slightly. They'd stayed silent as the goddesses 'spoke' among themselves, and even now they refused to get involved. “It might not be quite the change expected, but.. What do you think about that possibility? Supporting Maryam instead of just trying to break the entire system?”

“She's been nothing but good to me,” Jake chimed in quietly. “I've no idea how anyone else will feel abou that. Leijon is happiest when nobody bothers her territory or disturbs the animals. Maryam poses no threat to either of those, so she may not care much either way.”

John snorted, shifting in Dirk's lap.

“Ampora would likely flap and flail and rant and rave and splash his oceans about. Pyrope values him and occasionally lets him get away with murder, as long as she feels the sinking of a ship is justified and I don't intervene with luck or wind.”

“Megido.. Well. Megido is her own being, I don't think she's really on anyone's side but her own.” Dirk shook his head, trying to get rid of the ache that was wanting to throb in his temples. “And Makara..”

“Makara does as he pleases. Where he pleases when he pleases,” John finished automatically without missing a beat. “He's the same as Megido: there's no true side, only himself.... well. So long as you don't add in Peixes to the mix. I guess he kind of stands with her AND Megido. Just not so much in a 'stand and fight for what's right' way. More of an arrangement of circumstance or convenience, maybe?”

It was hard to paint a clear picture of the skeletal tattooed god with the hollow eyes and mute smile, let alone attribute him specifically truly to anyone but himself. He and Megido were irreplaceable, holding threads of the world together that would still exist even if humans stopped believing in them entirely. Life, death, past and future would continue to march onward even if they were merely shadowy memories.

“...Makara,” Jake murmured under his breath, thinking.

“What of him?” Dirk asked.

“... What if we ask him for help,” Jake said, startling back hard enough to smack his head against the temple when John and Dirk turned to look at him simultaneously.

“Are you out of your fucking MIND?” Dirk hissed. “You don't just walk up to death and ask him to help! We already messed with his boon enough by bringing Dave BACK!”

John was quick to jump right after Dirk's words, hands clenching tight at Jake's shoulders to shake him.

“Seriously, I know you're hope and all, but hope doesn't always stave off death! I'm already running low on luck, there's no way I've got enough left over to combat Pyrope being so agitated so close to us, to hope Dave doesn't get WORSE, AND to stave off Makara!”

“Well. If we asked for his help, we wouldn't need luck, would we? Besides, the deed is already done. A goddess of life brought him back. It just... went wrong. Sort of.” He grinned sheepishly, green eyes bright beneath furrowed brows. “Wouldn't... wouldn't he be the one to ask?”

“No, Jane would, I assume. She's the one that really brought him back with us, she's the one that first recognized something was wrong. Where even IS she? All she kept saying was it was wrong, and that the entire thing was stupid before going off. There has to be more to this entire situation than that.”

“Well,” Jake said, “now might be a good time to ask her.”

He gestured with his right hand at the patch of bright aqua blue that was coming into view from his peripheral vision, the goddess' face pale and haggard. Sick looking. Seems some privacy had not rid her of the nauseated feeling of a failed raising, nor given her peace. She marched up to the seated group and straightened her fatigued self as much as she felt like, not bothering to care about appearances before speaking.

“So. I think... I think there might be a way to fix this. Two, actually.”

“Two?” John asked. “Okay. Which two. Which one. Which one's easier.”

“Well. We could kill him, and try again,” she said. “Would be the simplest thing to do, but there's no guarantee at all that it'll work or even go as 'well' as this attempt went.”

John looked sick and shook his head. Not Dave. Not again. No more dying for Dave, thank you. Dirk cleared his thickened throat.

“The other?”

“I confer with Peixes about his fate and strike a bargain if she wants.”

Jake jumped into the conversation before anyone could stop him, eagerly wanting to offer what he felt was a winning idea.

“What if we asked Makara for help? Isn't he your opposite in these matters?”

“Well.. Normally, Peixes would be. She holds the fate strands.”

“Yes, but.. Theoretically, Dave's alive now. Makara is the collector and guide of souls. And... that's what's missing.”

Jane pondered for a moment, rubbing her face tiredly.

“.... Three options, then. Makara could be brought into this. But I don't know what to expect out of him. He's... He's interesting to work with,” she said softly. “There's a chance he'd be quite angry that I interfered at all.” After another moment of ponderous silence, Jane gave a wavering smile and held her hands up together in front of his chest, anxiety on her face clear. Life has a tendency to fear death becoming angry. “Will you help me argue the case? To show I didn't just do this raising out of the goodness of my heart, but that is was also equally YOUR faults and your forces trying to help?”

Roxy, finally near enough to the seated group to hear what was happening, sprung forward to hug tightly onto the unsuspecting Jane, making her squeal. “Ah! That'd be perfect, s'just like I was just sayin'! We could show it wasn't a justified death, an' then he'd HAVE to see how much hope went into trying to bring Davey back!”

Jane, Roxy, and Jake all turned their attention towards John and Dirk. After all, the mortal was their lover and their responsibility anymore. Their final word would be what strung the advancement.

“What do you think. .. Go for it? We've already dealt with an elder goddess being after our skin. The worst we could think of has already come to pass. What is there to lose,” Dirk asked, lowering his chin to whisper softly to John. The other man blew out a cold breath of air, sparking an anxious little dust tornado into life behind Jane and Roxy.

“There's a lot to lose, realistically. But. Let's do it.”

Chapter Text

What truly was “justice” anymore. What is Justice in the face of those who call it injustice. What is a god or goddess in the face of those who clamor for peace, convinced they can handle the forces of the universe without the source. Justice would always be there, whether with or without the conduit in place, just as life would go on unaided and unguided.

 

The status of gods and goddesses were in flux, and had been for quite some time. Pyrope had been trying her best to avoid coming to terms with that for a number of decades, comforted by the fact that they were still being called upon and invoked by mortals. Even if they weren't required for the force to exist, their value was still secured in the hearts of those who prayed to them and begged their guidance.

 

Was SOME importance as good as ALL of the importance? Or would there be any way to made the mortals quake with fear and become reliant on them again?

 

Reliant on her again.

 

The original fear of Dave becoming the heir of Fire so young had truly been that he would be uncontrollable. Destructive. Violent. There was no risk of that anymore, hollow shell that he was, and hopefully even if they managed to return him to some form of functionality it would have struck the fear of death into him solidly enough that the flames would be somewhat meek compared to their usual ferocity.

 

The secondary, nagging fear of change and becoming obsolete had been coincidentally quelled at the same time: two birds with one stone, as it were. Yet that settled fear had raised new ghosts of regret and worry in their wake. Panic. Anxiety. HAD she done the right thing as she felt was due? Obviously Dirk and John had to be punished for putting so much at risk. They should have kept it in that damned pants for a few more years, and most of this would not have been an issue. But beyond that.. was she overstepping her bounds and bending the very thing she was meant to control and guard? To dispense?

 

Groaning low in her throat, Pyrope tipped her head back to thunk against the wall she leaned against, arms gripping at her knees in frustration. It was dark now for her, endless void and night with not even the stars and moon to offer solace or guidance. There wasn't even a guarantee she'd have paid attention to their guidance when she COULD have seen them.

 

“What's wrong?” Maryam asked from somewhere to her left, taking notice of her tone. Even now, she ever was the motherly disposition. Even now.. after all she'd done.

 

“Not even the stars could guide me, could they,” Pyrope snorted, raising her left hand to scrub at her forehead and her hair, the base of her horns. “Would I look to them seeking answers only to scorn them? 'I'm a goddess, I don't need the advice of stars, look how fantastic I am on my own. I am justice, justice incarnate doesn't need guidance.' …. Right?”

 

There was silence, and for a moment she worried Maryam wouldn't respond at all or would only vaguely murmur something to be polite and bother responding at all.

 

“...Yes. Mostly. Though, you'd have said it a little differently, I believe. As is, it sounds more like something that Serket would have said.”

 

“Hah! You're right, I was wondering why that felt so similar to say.” Pyrope paused, grimaced, and turned to face the voice more fully. Best face dread head on, even if you couldn't see it coming. “When did I start to sound like that, though?”

 

“When did you start sounding like Serket, or when did you lose sight of what you truly stand for?”

 

“..Er.. Both, I suppose.” Were they really that different?

 

“Your ego kicked into overdrive when you started to lose sight of what was important. You lost sight of what was important when you decided that my son deserved to die,” Maryam replied curtly, tone colder than Pyrope had ever recalled it being before.

 

“He wasn't your so-”

 

“He had a name. I would prefer you use it.”

 

“...Signless. Signless wasn't your son.”

 

“...I know he wasn't. But that doesn't erase the feeling or the bond,” Maryam finished in a whisper. “... Didn't you notice that was when everything really started to change among all of us? Even the lesser gods and goddesses reacted.”

 

“Well, yeah,” Pyrope said, one brow raised in confusion. “Of course there was change. He started preaching to all the humans and giving them their own strengths and valors, why would they need any of us if they gained that? It wasn't his place to be giving away something so powerful.”

 

“Don't you see, even now?! Even after all that's happened!”

 

“Well, no, not currently. Kind of blind here.”

 

Maryam hissed at her, be it in rage or frustration Pyrope could only vaguely guess.

 

“Figure of speech! Figure! Of! Speech! Signless didn't give them anything that they didn't have before, same as any of us!” she ground out, words growing louder. Pyrope stiffened, sensing an attack, and went so far as to flinch when she felt the cold hands of the other goddess stroke at the sides of her face before cupping her cheeks. “We were born of elements that had never previously existed, yes, but they are no longer our toys alone. We share them with the humans, with the mortals, with all living things. We guide them. We do not control their every move or whim. We haven't ever, really. The only ones who truly guide any of us are Alpha and Omega, and even that is far beyond our realm of touching as immortals. The beginning, the end.. How could we ever be the same forces as something that was already there?”

 

Pyrope slowly closed and opened her eyes a few times as she felt the thumbs stroke along her cheekbones softly, lovingly. Worriedly. Trying to impart some kind of knowledge to her that she'd said many ways before, albeit never this tenderly. Never with this much force behind it, even when Signless had been taken from her side. There was no difference, eyes open or shut.

 

No escape from what she heard, from her own thoughts. Her heart was thundering in her ears, tense, adding extra intensity to what Maryam said, ringing true with everything that had been shouted at her before time and again. Even earlier the same day. She could smell flowers from the goddess, the scent of spring, gentle breezes from being near John. Something warm and comforting.. Food. For the humans, likely, they would definitely still need to eat. And something... something else.

 

Something distinct enough that, just by the scent, she could picture Maryam's face clearly in her mind. What was it? She sniffed intently, trying to track exactly what the smell was coming from.

“....Pyrope, are you taking in anything I'm saying at all, or are you pretending to be a dog.”

 

“No. No, I'm just.. I smell something. I smell you. I smell food, and other things, but I smell something else.. I'm listening, really. It's just. I don't know, this is sharper somehow. It's like I'm really seeing you. Or at least the you I remember by sight.”

 

“You're not really making any sense, are you changing the subject?” The thumbs pressed a little tighter to the sides of her face, making Pyrope wince.

 

“No! No, no, just. Don't worry about it, I'll figure that out. I've got time. It's just confusing me. Was it always there and I just didn't notice it? How much was I ignoring all this time, or just passing by because I was focused on everything else?”

 

Maryam started to make a frustrated noise again, assuming she was just changing the subject after all instead of realizing what an epiphany the strange smell actually was.

 

There was so much more to the world than sight. Without distractions, what would other conversations be like? What would conversing with Megido be like without her subtle body language to pick up on? … No, there were more smells. Oh, there were so many more smells.

 

“You're annoyed,” Pyrope guessed. It.. it -felt- right, that guess. It wasn't strong like she felt anger would be like.

 

“No, I'm not.”

 

The scent changed, bitter as lemons, directly from Maryam. Pungent.

 

“Augh, you -are-. Or you were! Are you lying?! Is that what this is?”

 

“What are you going on about now!”

 

Spice, cinnamon and burnt down flames of fires, ash and darkness and cold.

 

“.... Angry?”

 

“No, but I'm getting there in quite the hurry!”

 

Pyrope shut her mouth and listened, held her breath, damaged eyes wide from habit. Trying to pick up changes in her voice, or anything that would be giving her that hint, that feeling. Nothing. Hesitantly, she exhaled and breathed in anew from her nose, overwhelmed by the flux.

 

Need to sort. Need to sort this out. Too many. Too many smells, too intense. She was picking up the confusing smell that bluntly said 'Maryam' to her minds eye, what she could only assume were scents related to how she was feeling.. or was it just a coincidence? Were her guesses wrong? There were wisps from the other rooms, and the overpowering smell of darkness, and of the empty husk lying next to it.

 

“Wait, no. Stop. Just. I need time. Time to myself, please? I can't think like this,” she finally admitted, desperate to do anything that would secure her a bit of time on her own without the influx of smells coming from all angles. Maybe there was a way to plug her nostrils for a time, and experiment slowly with what was incoming, or. Or some way to limit it. Control it.

 

“Did you just say 'please' or am I hallucinating.”

 

“I said please. Please. Really, please, I'll do anything, I need a bit of time to sort this out. I can't even explain this, it's amazing but terrifying but..” She paused and furrowed her brow, snuffling. The closer smells were more intense. It smelled like sunshine, grassy fields. “...Are you happy?”

 

Instead of answering, Maryam lowered her hands from their resting spots at the goddess' cheeks and gripped her wrists to raise her hands towards her own face. Guiding Pyrope's fingertips, she made sure she felt the curve of her lips, the rise in her cheekbones, the faint squint of her eyes.

 

“..You ARE happy.”

 

“Very, yes.”

 

“Why are you so happy that I'm overwhelmed??”

 

“I'm not happy you're overwhelmed. I'm happy you're admitting it and taking time to collect yourself instead of attacking it like a threat to your dominance!”

 

“... I'm happy, too.”

 

- - - - - - - - - -

 

Nowhere. The soul was nowhere to be found. Not in the temple with its many statues, two of which that currently were tied to stand securely as they refused to do so on their own. Not in the village beyond. Not with the bull, not with the island of spiders mourning their mistress and seeking to revive her by spinning tight their soothing webs over her many scorched limbs.

 

It wasn't with the witches in their little shack. Nor off at the forge where Leijon and Zahhak bonded, seeking comfort and solace during times of strife, going over strategies and plans of defense and attack. For the brute that he was, Zahhak was much better suited for secondary assaults and forging his weaponry. Leijon would always be the lead in battles.

 

There were pathways to follow, though. Oh, many pathways. Not always were they easy to see, but just as sturdy, they were there. Strings of fate rested with Peixes. But strings still bound everyone together. It would be easy to take the string from his lips and use it to track the soul directly.. but the risks were too high. A single sound could call Omega. And nobody wanted that. Megido never mentioned any of that from her book, so there was definitely much more time to go before the ushering of the end of times.

 

A bit of old fashioned pathway hunting would have to do. After all, with Dave, it would be simple: he'd actually not been many places in his short lifetime that left an impact on him. Nor had he been around many beings. John and Dirk were one thing to track, hunting them down and seeing if the soul was somewhere with them.

 

Unlikely, though. If they had the soul, they would have already tried to replant it like the harried fools they were.

 

Maryam? Unlikely. Same results. Pyrope..? No, she ended his life, she'd not want that anywhere nearby in case he was resurrected.

 

That left only..

 

- - - - - - - -

 

“Rosie, you alright? You can rest as long as you need, y'know, there's no rush,” Roxy soothed, moving to sit at Rose's bedside when she noticed that the girl had sat stark upright as if awakened by a nightmare.

“Nightmare. Dream. I... Vision? I don't know, I don't know,” she said breathlessly, assuming Roxy had been asking about why she was awake. She didn't glance towards the goddess' face to look at a response. “Time is moving fast. I thought it was late, but.. No, it's right on time. Everything is right on time. I was early. It was late. It's..”

 

Roxy reached over to grip Rose's upper arms, wanting to look her in the face so they could at least communicate properly.

 

“Rose. What are you talking about? What is it? You're.. You're not making much sense.”

 

Most of the conversation wasn't making much sense, but thanks to how much emotion Roxy's features tended to betray, the message got across fine enough.

 

“I can't explain well, but.. It's why I'm here. Why any of us are here, and not somewhere else. I needed to be here. It brought me here, when I learned. When I drank of it.. I understand now. I understand what to do!”

 

Though she was still making no sense, Roxy was almost alarmed by how excited Rose seemed, bright and beaming with a healthy flush to her cheeks. She bit at her bottom lip when Rose leaned over and got loose enough to hug her tight, nudging a kiss to Roxy's cheek.

 

“It's okay. Everything is going to be alright. That's all you need to worry about.”

 

Rose wobbled when she shot up from the bed and nearly fell, saved by Roxy balancing her, trying to chase after the mortal as she took off like a shot for the front of the temple. The altar space she'd been so focused on and drawn to before, still properly decked out and decorated, still prepared for use.

 

“Rose. Rose, what are you doing?” she asked, knowing there would be no response. The mortal scurried to the altar and crawled atop it before settling into a kneel, reaching forward to hunt for something she was missing.

 

“Rose. Maryam, what's she doing? Is this something you guys were.. Rose, no, put that down! This temple isn't FOR that!” Roxy shouted, focus again on the blonde figure before her, now with a blade in hand. She was gripping it as if ready for combat, though the tip was pointed towards herself, braced with the palm of her other hand.

 

Maryam left Pyrope's side when Roxy screamed, approaching at an angle so she could get where Rose could see her. No sudden movements. Hands up, she tried to make her words a bit exaggerated, wanting the words to get across.

“Rose..? Rose, what is this about? Put that down, Rose, you're not well.”

 

“No, I'm well! I'm better than well, I could die twice and still be well!”

 

Maryam glanced to Roxy, who moved into position behind Rose by a few feet, ready to respond. Be that by tackling her into the void, or just wrenching the blade from her hand.

 

“You're not making any sense.”

 

“I am! You don't understand, Maryam, it all makes sense now! This is what I needed to do. THIS is what I couldn't do before! I can fix -all- of this.”

 

“Rose, I do-”

 

“Dave's with me,” she finally said, smiling calmly, wanting to show them the excited nature wasn't simply hysteria. “I'm going to be okay. Trust me, please. This is going to work.”

 

Pyrope had just staggered upright and made it to where the commotion was when Maryam shrieked. There were many other sounds then, so many smells. Dirk. John. … Jake. She was pretty sure that one was Jake, it reminded her of Signless and Leijon at the same time. Roxy. Rose. There was a metallic smell, distinctly blood. Something dark.. something old, and ancient mixed with the blood.

 

As well, solid and quite suddenly before her, was Makara. She grunted and stumbled back slightly when the impact jarred her enough, baring her teeth. He was looking at her, right? No, he was probably focused ahead of himself at the cacophony of noises.

 

Ah. Arrived a bit late, I see. Pity. A good deal of trouble this would have saved everyone if she'd not figured it out.

 

....Not figured what out.”

 

Where that pesky missing soul was hiding: somewhere safe. Where safer than with someone he'd known his entire life as practically a sister?

 

What. Why not somewhere I WASN'T at?!”

 

Maryam would have cut you down in an instant, if you'd tried to kill her new love. After all , Makara added with a ghostly hint of laughter, you have a record of breaking things she cares for. Quite roughly, I might add. It was safe there. … but I'm not certain how she knew to release it herself. Perhaps something to do with all that darkness spilling from her chest.

 

- - - - - - -

 

Maryam couldn't understand. They'd purified, and purified, and all of the darkness had fled. It had been GONE. There was nothing but Rose left after all their work, all their effort. None of that taint that had dragged her here to the temple, nothing left of what was apparently still hidden in her core all along. She clawed at her own face and gripped at the sides of her head, not able to get her legs to move.

 

It was like Signless all over again, but worse: by her own hand.

 

Maryam, be quiet, look! LOOK! What's that coming out of the oil?!” Roxy cried, darting over to grab the elder goddess before she damaged herself or simply fell to damaging everything around her in her state of shock and upset. Dirk was the one who lifted Rose up slightly, propping her against his arm and shaking free the knife whose hilt she still had her fingers curled around solid as stone. John was floating, trying to see what Roxy was so loud about in the darkness, squinting.

 

I can't.. Roxy what are you seeing, it all looks like squid ink from this angle.”

 

No, not there, -there-, to your left. What's that bubble? It's moving! Is it alive? What came out? If something controlled her to make her do this, I'm going to grind it into the dirt with my heel! Grab it before it can get away!”

 

“Be careful with it,” Maryam cried despite her current grief, reaching a long arm past Roxy's shoulders in a beckoning way towards John as he hovered closer and closer to the black goo to search it. “We worked so hard to purify her of it, and yet it still -exists-. Somehow, some way, it still exists! It must be potent evil!”

 

Potent yes, evil no, offered Makara. Remnants of knowledge as old as the gods themselves, if not older than our creation. Knowledge and bits and pieces of scattered memories and thoughts, entities from the great battle between Alpha and Omega. I am admittedly surprised that it was Omega's influence that clung so tightly to her, tentacles and darkness of the furthest ring. I'd have pegged her fo-

 

“Found it!” crowed John triumphantly, surging his hands into the moving bubble that he suspected was the one Roxy was speaking about. The ooze was slick as oil, cloying, sticky. He could feel it inspecting his flesh with micro-movements that the naked eye could not detect, seeking access. Seeking permission that it already knew the god would not permit. Yet, deeper.. Deep in its core, there was something warm. Soft..

 

“Agh!”

 

Aggressive when provoked as well. The gentle warmth turned to seething heat, scalding at his fingertips till he was forced to withdraw from the suddenly boiling ooze. The darkness was cooking, withdrawing from the object it was protecting as it grew hotter and hotter, the very edges turning from black to a pure, bleached white.

 

The object was bright and shining, a crystalline structure about the size of his fist that flickered like a live flame was trying to overtake it. A heartbeat. With every pulse, it twitched and tried to hover upwards from the pool of liquid that was quickly becoming bleached, tracking backwards towards Rose's chest and its still oozing wound.

 

Dirk startled when Rose suddenly gasped hard and opened her eyes wide, pupils milky, then gasped hard again. The trace of white in the oil slick of her blood had hit her chest at last and, apparently, began to enter. She looked like a fish out of water, lost vital fluids retracing back towards her body, drawn by the force of her will.

 

Huh. Fascinating. Which one of you spawned her? Makara asked curiously, shifting his gaze from Dirk to Roxy. She looked similar to both of them, there had to be a connection.

 

Spawned? Uh.. Well. That's a pretty ugly way'a puttin' it, but. I guess I did? I mean, she's mine after all, so.”

 

Congratulations. It's a goddess, he continued in his monotone, clapping listlessly a few times in a row to mimic glee. A tricky one to boot. I've no idea if she purposefully kept Omega's influence alive instead of allowing it to convert to Alpha's only to keep that soul hidden from us, or if Omega's dregs were simply using her. Whatever the course, the die has been cast: We've a new lesser goddess beneath Alpha's flag.

 

“That’s.. Wow,” Jake said with a soft whistle. “I didn’t cause this, not even hope could do this much. I think. I don’t know. This was all her strength.”

 

“I.. What. WHAT?” Pyrope shouted. Her nose had kept her quite distracted, and the presence of the soul was hardly helping things now. “Goddess under Alpha's flag? That's -my- flag. Who.. What does she stand for. Do you know that at least?” Anxiety was clawing at the back of her head again. Dave was the only thing that stood for change that she was aware of, where had Rose come into that mix?

 

Makara grinned to himself, and moved to place his hands onto Pyrope's shoulders, wanting to keep her still. Dirk was smoothing the hair away from Rose's pale, sweat soaked brow as she gasped and recovered, Roxy and Maryam crowding around. John was keeping a close eye on the hovering soul, trying to figure out how to wrangle it before it could either escape or cause harm to anyone else with its seething heat. The first death was always the hardest. She would remember this for the rest of time.

 

Calm yourself. She is a goddess in name and title only, I believe. Alpha's influence and flag, and Roxy's blood in her veins tainted by human blood from the father that helped create her. She has access to old knowledge, contact with the beginning and end in ways that normally only Megido has been able to and even then through her tome. This girl can be an ally: she is what they refer to as a Seer. Or at least potentially. She's inexperienced and young.

 

“...A seer.” Pyrope almost wanted to laugh at the mentioning of sight in relation to ancient knowledge, when she had so recently lost her own. Yet.. perhaps that would be of use after all, if raised and trained properly. Without her sight, Pyrope was finding that she was having more and more use of her other senses, and with a high accuracy already. “Tell me more.”

 

Slowly, Rose's eyes regained their pale purple hue and she started to look around purposefully. She looked nauseated, terrified. Amazed that her proclamation had worked. It hadn't lied to her. That dark, viscous fluid had told her the truth after all. She had survived, and now she was safe and.. she remembered. She remembered so much that her head was spinning, eyes beginning to water as she looked up towards the tense faces of Maryam and Roxy.

 

“Rose. If I didn't care for you so much, and you weren't so freshly revived, I would smack you,” Maryam snuffled, her threat coming with a soft laugh of resignation. No matter how frustrated or upset, she would never be able to raise a hand to her little mortal. Former mortal. Her... lover. That was actually possible now, what a gift!

 

“What? I can't hear you.”

 

“.... You can't hear still? Rosie, c'mon, let's unwrap your head, maybe that'll help,” Roxy offered, reaching already to wrangle the wrapping from between the strands and sections of her hair, the bandaging standing out stark against the raw silk color she was brushing her knuckles against.

 

It made no difference. Even with her ears uncovered, Rose wasn't able to hear, propping herself upright with a concerned look. She swished her hands near her ears, clapped a few times, snapped her fingers. Nothing. Dirk slipped away from her side to help John circle the soul in a hope to corner it, and to give Maryam and Roxy more room to help Rose in.

 

“Move slowly,” John urged. “It's.. sentient, I think. Any time I get close, it starts to hover and bob around again. It's too hot to touch, and I'm not sure if I can lasso it with air. Heat tends to disrupt wind as much as sudden cold can, and this thing is an angry little inferno.”

 

“That's fire's influence. Dave's inherited it, remember?” Dirk wondered briefly if his own soul had looked like a firestruck ruby just a few years ago. What would it look like now? Aged tatters from the battlefield? Sharpened steel of blades, tinges of blood and rust around the edges? Or would it be like a dead centered diamond now that his core of flame had been wrenched loose from his heart? It suited Dave beautifully, though he still missed its influence.

 

“Well yeah, but still,” he said. “We need to find a way to get things back where they're supposed to be. I don't want Dave to be a husk anymore. He needs to get back to himself now that things are... calmer.” Safer was still yet to be seen, but things were definitely calmer even with Rose newly raising herself. Lively times were ahead.

 

“I agree. Let's.. try herding it, perhaps? It bobs and moves when you approach. Dave's in the other room. Maybe if we get the soul close enough to him, it will recognize where it came from and enter its shell again on its own,” Dirk offered, spreading his arms wide. Even if he were burnt, it wouldn't matter. He was a god of the battlefields, damage was second nature to him. Not to mention that if it helped Dave.. it was worth a thousand deaths.

 

“Herding. Dirk, this is a fiery soul not a damned wayward ram.”

 

“Might as well be, with how fond of headbutting things Dave seems. Stubborn little bastard.”

 

“Yeah.. Yeah, he is. Which is making me worry about this thing just going wild if it gets near to him. What if it doesn't just go home? Shouldn't we be asking Makara how to go about putting it back?”

 

“How hard can it be? There are some humans who put death masks on their dead, identical to how they were in life, so the soul knows which husk was theirs in case they need it at any point again.”

 

“That's... That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard, you're making that up!” John cried, swooping higher suddenly before being forced to lower his stance again after it caused the soul to threateningly raise higher.

 

“I'm not,” Dirk said confidently as he moved forwards, thankful to see the bright object flare and flash as if in recognition before heading directly away from them. “Here, quick, take that side so it heads towards the other room. We need to make sure the blankets are out of the way, too, I've got no idea if it'll catch fire to them if it touches them to reach Dave.”

 

“I think I’ll just let you two handle this,” Jake said from the side as they gently steered the soul along. “He knows you two best, after all, next to Rose. I think it’d be better for him to come back to familiar faces.”

 

“If it might wind up setting half the temple ablaze, how is it possibly safe to let a molten wad of fire and living essence try to enter something with the physical strengths of a strip of chicken meat.”

 

“... Just keep herding.”

 

No blankets caught fire as the orb grew apparently more excited, bobbing and rotating in the air as it approached Dave, flickering like mad, though the smell of heat and a distinct singe did indeed appear after a time. No burning flesh when it rolled against his chest, no smoke. There was a flash instead, a harsh flare from the soul before it sank out of sight, the vitality it represented becoming immediately apparently in Dave's deadpan eyes.

 

Again, they turned a vibrant red and his cheeks took on a healthy looking flush as he pushed upright on the bed, touching his face with his hands before looking down at them. Dirk and John kept themselves between him and the door, still protective of the unknown. They had lost so much already, had so many random events happen, there was no way they'd let anything else harm their lover.

 

“..Dave?” John ventured, drifting a little closer and waving, smiling his crooked smile. “Hey. Dave. You feel better now?”

 

Dave turned his face to look at him, studying his features, watching how high the wind god hovered in place. He remained silent for the time being, taking in everything he saw.

 

“....Dave??” he asked again, floating even closer. “Remember me? Wind and all that?” John added with an almost nervous laugh. Had they messed up somehow? “Hey, maybe this'll ring a bell! Remember when I'd do this all the time?” he asked as he raised both of his hands to send a playful burst of air to ruffle the blonde strands of hair that he wanted to bury his face in.

 

Dirk barely registered the flash before he heard the thud and crackle of John hitting the wall, front of his shirt ablaze and skin already bubbling from heat. Dave had a hand up, still flickering with the same harsh fire and heat that the soul had represented visibly minutes before, fresh from the assault.

 

“John! Dave, what the hell? You know John, you know me! If you're startled, fine, but for all that is holy you need to be careful with that fire. You know that!”

 

Dave was standing up, heated hands setting the blankets ablaze at last, the room steadily filling with smoke, darkening around those vibrant ruby eyes.

 

“I know you. I know who we were.. just as I know who I now am. Neither of you are needed now, thank you for your efforts in regaining what I had lost.” He smiled, a cold looking thing despite the heat, making him look demented. Dirk was helping John back up and backing away towards the door as Dave suddenly began to approach. The stone scorched and cracked beneath his narrow, bare feet.

 

“Needed? What.. Fire? You're the flame, aren't you. Dave's in control of you already, you're not mine any longer, you're his, we've established this.”

 

“You have. All of you have. I'm aware he can control me.. and he will. When I'm done.”

 

“Done with what!” Dirk shouted, exasperated, angered at his inability to simply regain his former element.

 

“Cleansing the unworthy, obviously. All shall be reborn from fire, I believe the human term is.. For something to begin, something must end. Nobody's ever stated just how much needs to end. Personally. I prefer a clean slate,” he said with that same smile, raising his hands again, fire slicking down his arms in blue as if it were chasing freshly poured fuel. “I'd recommend running, if you don't want to be cleansed.. there's a lot of work to do.”

 

Chapter Text

“I don't give a damn about the temple,” Maryam was shouting as soon as the smoke and flames became easier to detect, the sickening thud identified as John hitting the wall. “Temples are just structures that can be rebuilt, new life will spring from its ashes. Trust me, birth is my territory as much as new sprigs of nature are Leijon's for keeping all the wild game fed and safe. Just get everyone out of here!

Rose was able to walk, but was still at a bit of a loss for her equilibrium and needed support. Roxy was able to lift her up alone, but Jake was more than ready to hook an arm around one of her sides to help the goddess frog march the youngster out that way instead.

“I can get everyone farther away if needs be, but I wanna stay here for now. There's gotta be somethin' we can do to help, even if it's just puttin' out fires before they spread.”

“John and Dirk are in with Dave, correct?” Jake asked, looking back over his shoulder to make sure the others were following. Pyrope was being led by the arm by Maryam so she wouldn't trip as they ran, and Makara was slowly following after, his gangly form blocking out bits of the intense heat and light like a shadow.

“Yes, for better or worse,” confirmed Maryam, letting Pyrope go to wander as she wished now that they didn't need to hurry anymore. The goddess sat down into a crouch and scrubbed furiously at her nose to try clearing it of the smoke, snuffling and coughing. It was cloying and coated everything she was trying to actually detect, nearly making her gag, eyes watering.

“I don't understand,” she continued, looking worriedly towards the plume of thick smoke. “They told me this had happened before, when Dave first started to inherit the flame. He wasn't strong enough to handle it, and it wound up controlling him. How did it happen again? I can't imagine it's Dave doing all this, and Dirk doesn't have access to the fire any longer..”

Easy enough. I presume they placed the soul back themselves instead of asking assistance, since neither of them came to me. A gods soul being placed in a husk. What a flash that would bring, suddenly being able to act on the outside world again after being contained.

“... Then how do we get it to stop flashin'? That's the problem right now. Do we gotta get Davey to wake up, or..?”

“I could kill him again. That worked pretty well the first time, if I do say so myself,” Pyrope offered.

Jake snorted. “If being blinded is working out pretty well, then, you're right. Besides, I don't know if that's even possible. Jane broke all kinds of taboos bringing him back.. I've got no idea how that even worked, isn't his fate severed?”

It had diverged long ago in preparation for this event. I've had it taken care of, however. If he is to be put down somehow, it will be permanent and I will be collecting before next dawn. If not, it should mend itself as permanently as any of your fates. … Though, I admit, I wonder how much it stung to suddenly have Rose revive out of nowhere.

“Stung?”

Well. Yes. Her curse is to bear the fates of all life as the strands of her hair. Any time one dies, it falls out or is cut. Sometimes, she gets angry and pulls at her hair on purpose. That makes way for miraculous survivals in times of strife when I see fit to correct them, or for fair balance in disasters. Between John and Ampora's destructive natures alone, bending the storms and seas to their wills, there is more than enough spontaneous disasters to patch up her temper tantrums. The strands of gods and goddesses are much stronger considering they just tend to revive over and over. When a new one is created, it burns like fire or strikes like electricity and brings her quite the surprise.

“....So do you want me to kill him again, or.”

“NO,” shouted three voices at once.

“Where did Jane go?” Jake suddenly asked. “I know she went to get to space, but..”

“She prolly noped the hell out of here soon as she cleared her head,” Roxy sighed. “Not that I can blame her.”

“... Apples,” Rose quietly said.

“Rosie?”

“...Apples,” she said again.

Roxy furrowed her brows.

“Rosie, if you're hungry, I'm sorry to say you're gonna have to wait a bit. 'Specially if you're wantin' apples, I'm pretty sure any that were in the temple're more than half baked already.”

“APPLES,” she said a third time, turning to grab at the front of Roxy's shirt, tugging at it insistently. “APPLES!”

“Maryam, can you just. Help me for a sec here, I think she needs to sit down or somethin', she's not makin' any sense,” Roxy begged, grappling the frantic Rose's grasping hands, trying to overpower her. “Eaaaasy now, girly, easy, just sit dow- hey, you're gonna rip it!”

“Rose..” Worried, Maryam swept over and settled her hands around Rose's hips, gripping and pulling upwards slightly to lift her, succeeding in breaking her attention from Roxy and shifting it towards herself.

“Maryam. Maryam, please, I need to talk to Dirk and John. It's important.”

“You can talk with them when they're not at risk of being cooked, dear, things are.. not very good right now,” she said as she gently shook her head in a no.

“No, I need to talk to them NOW. It's useless if it's later, it needs to be now! It's about Dave!”

“Is that why you kept shouting apples? I.. can't say I understand, but. If it'll help the situation..”

“I'll try to wrangle one of them at least and bring them out to you,” Jake promised, knowing better than to ask Makara, who seemed more amused by the destruction than was prudent. “Just be ready to move back if needs be, yes? It's already getting quite hot out here in the open air. Not looking forward to how warm it must be inside..”

The ceiling caved and crumbled at the back of the building, allowing a new spiral of fire to escape, reaching for the lush trees beyond.

- - - - - - -

“Why am -I- the one getting smacked around like a bee in a storm when it comes to the flame!” John complained, sparking up his breeze despite their fanning the flames to keep the air clear enough for he and Dirk to breathe. Dave didn't seem bothered in the slightest as he continued to approach. “It's not like the scar'll be permanent, but still! Dirk, is part of that still your temper about the past rubbed off? Because we already talked about the Jake thing, and I thought-”

“No, it's not my temper rubbed off, fire is volatile on its own,” he contended. Dave was walking slowly forwards, turning his feet to make it more of a circling motion, knowing he couldn't manage to corner either one of them alone. Best to avoid being the one cornered, swat the flies that buzzed in his face and head off to do his business before settling. If they survived a good old fashioned cleansing, then they'd be allowed to continue doing so. Perhaps they'd even get to learn what it meant to be dominated thoroughly.

Business first. Play later.

“By all means, keep feeding me. The air is divine,” Dave purred, leaning forwards and making a scooping gesture with both hands, raising them upwards to guide the fire that was already live on the ground into a higher pitch. It raced along the fresh oxygen John brought with him, flaring bright, ensnaring him and his control till he dropped it. Without the air current, the fire's strength died down.

Dirk was rubbing his hands together, thinking. A weapon. A staff maybe? No, metal would be heated too fast and wood would burn. A blade. Yes, a blade would work, he could use the blunt side and protect his hands from the heat with the guard and his wrappings. Would that make things worse, though?

“We don't want you, or Dave, to die. We've gone through too much to have you fucking over everything that's been done, and this is just one more slap in the face. If I have to knock you out myself, I'll do it.”

“Good luck with that. Really.”

A blade. Long enough to reach, short enough to control. Not a curved one, no, he'd put too much force behind it and.. was Dave immortal now?

“...Wait. Fire. That means Dave's body can handle the fire now. Is he immortal? Are you immortal now?” Dirk shouted, still picturing a blade to form.

Dave grinned and cocked his head.

“Most likely. This is far more control of the element than was possible before, and I feel no fatigue..”

“...John, we need to kill him.”

John glared, rearing a hand back and delivering a sound smack to the side of Dirk's face, hissing from the sting to his hand before having to lunge away to avoid falling stone from above. The roof was giving out, the temple and its grounds becoming unstable from the flames and heat, and from his own winds not long before.

“We just said we were not wanting him dead, I refuse! Just knock him out like before, it'll work! We can.. We can leash him, like the backup plan from a time ago, till Dave is back in control of himself. Till he's tame. Remember that plan? That was a good plan!”

“I'm not your fucking dog, John.”

“Oh, stuff it, I wasn't even talking to YOU.”

Dirk grimaced and rubbed the side of his face, mind running wild. Gotta think. Gotta think.. Not kill. Knock him out. Decent reach and a blunt edge, then, perhaps a sword with the blade reversed. He could swing that, right? Just a simple switch.. No, no, just a normal sword and blade, he'd turn it. Maybe smack Dave in the temple with the broad side.

His stomach fell. Why was it always like this? Even when others weren't interfering, something was still going wrong. Everything was out of balance. Was it because they'd acted so soon, like Pyrope said? Gone after Dave and courted him, bedded him, when he was still too young to fully cope with everything? If this was the fate they were doomed to repeat, Dirk was half tempted to throw himself at the mercy of Omega if only to make it stop.

Dave deserved better than either he or John could ever give and it was a constant plague of guilt on his senses.

The sound of arguing brought Dirk back to his senses, focusing fickle power without the usual heat of the flame to guide his work as he formed a simple blade in his mind. Placing his palms together, Dirk curled his fingers and pulled his hands slowly apart, willing the shape to form properly, solidly enough to hold. The finished blade was simple, understated, black sheathe and wrap beneath a blade that was sharp and sturdy. To mortals, it would be a tool of destruction and power, nigh impossible to break. Against a god..? Eh. He'd have to hope it stood up to the test.

“I'd never call Dave a dog, and that's that!”

“You just did, essentially.”

“Do you know how frustrating it is to have you acting as someone you really aren't?? Okay. You're Fire. Dave is Dave. Dave is a precious button, and you're a burning sore on my ass. Clear enough separation for you?”

“It would be, if we weren't the same person now.”

John ground his teeth in annoyance. This was like arguing with a child!

“You know precisely what I mean! You are, but you aren't!”

“But we are.”

Annoyed beyond belief, John unleashed a short tornado around himself, wind whipping the surrounding flames higher and breaking another portion of the ceiling away to bare the sky to the three of them.

“You. Are not. The person. I care about. YOU. ARE. SOMETHING. I HAVE TO COPE WITH. SOLELY BECAUSE I LOVE THE LITTLE BASTARD YOU'RE MEANT TO BE MELDED WITH!”

Fed by the air and the open spaces, Dave's face looked blissful as once again the flames licked down the skin of his arms, tickled the underside of his chin. Something about his expression was familiar.. Ah. That was it. This was the same face Dave made whenever he'd get bold during sex and try to take control of the situation himself. Domination fed by something inside himself that existed even before the flame had been passed.

The lithe figure walked boldly into the face of the wind instead of fleeing from it, reaching out his arms as if for a hug, palms out towards the breeze to feel it mesh through his fingers and sluice along the length of his body. It was being heated by the fire, tainted a bit by the smoke, yet was still refreshing..

“It wouldn't be so bad, you know.. You'd likely survive the cleansing easily enough. Otherwise, you're a god. You'd regenerate, or just revive again, correct? I've seen you do it before, when Dirk held my flame. Reckless deaths aplenty, for a reckless fool. ...How about it. One good burn to purge the bad, and you'd wake up in time for everything to begin once more. Bad dream over.” Dave grinned, childish. “Wouldn't that be better? Waking up to a pleasant dream that lasts eternity, instead of fighting it? It would be easier than doing what you're doing currently, at least.”

Easy. Simple. It WOULD be easier.. Just let it happen, stop worrying about everyone and everything else, and just wake up when the nightmare was done to have Dirk and Dave in his arms. So simple..

“... I can't. I play it easy enough already as a god, it's in my nature. I can't let that happen this time, if only because I don't know if Dave would be able to forgive himself for doing this, and I won't let you cause more problems.”

The reaching hands paused, and lowered down to Dave's sides again.

“You're certain, then. Not just going to let me do as I must?” he asked, nearly sounding sad. It was similar enough to Dave's true voice that it made John's stomach ache.

“We're BOTH certain that this is going to stop here and now, with no further talk of you purging or cleansing ANYTHING!” shouted Dirk, gripping tight at the formed blade's handle before giving in to instinct and charging. His stance lowered quickly with the short distance, and his first strike was made with the sharpened point of the sword in a jabbing motion, sweeping to the side with the blade itself to try separating the two further than the few steps they were distanced already. There was no space in here to fight as it was, bu with a hope.. perhaps they could widen the field.

“John! The walls!”

In a stupor, John looked towards Dirk, mouth slightly agape.

“What? Walls?”

“Drop them any way you can. Everyone outside is clear or a least aware of what's happening enough to get out of the way, drop the walls!” he shouted again before repeating his movements to herd Dave backwards. The jab had been dodged easily, as he'd anticipated, and the following swing had managed to separate John from Dave by a scant few feet. The repetition seemed to anger the young man, the ground charring around his feet as he was forced to dodge backwards and to the sides, unable to properly block or parry without anything in hand. A third swipe of the blade sang through the air, Dirk following it with hard eyes and a stony face.

John surged his winds stronger and higher, ignoring the heat they fed and the sparks that clung to the bits of stone and cloth that were becoming immolated. It took effort, strain that he normally didn't have to exert when walking the breezes and sending storms. This was akin to back when he was quite young, challenging mountains, hoping to see them bow through his own wishes. It was amazing anyone had let him grow to his current self with what a little monster he was as a child. Yet, with a groan of effort and a solid popping sound, John managed to get the walls to crackle further, and finally, to slide apart and yield to fall towards the ground and out towards the forest.

Maryam in the distance made a concerned noise, and Roxy shouted something about leveling the place with fireworks. Jake's voice was calling their names, unable to see them properly through the smoke and fire as it soared into the open space, assaulting the brush and trees that were in range till they began to smolder and spread the tiny tails of fire.

The sky was becoming orange from the hell flower that was opening beneath its dark wings, John's wind sending the sparks far and wide, setting large portions of the forest ablaze. Dirk would have to apologize to Jake for the forest fire thing when there was time and energy and focus to spare. No. Not to Jake, Jake was ever the hopeful assistant to the one that actually kept the forests straight. Leijon was who he'd have to get down on his knees and apologize to for this mess, but letting the fire spread was the only way he'd have enough room to actually reach him and-!

“THIS ENDS NOW, DAVE!” Dirk barked in a voice usually reserved for the battlefield, halting his repeated swipes and jabs to turn the blade to the blunted side as he made for a more direct attack.

Light on his feet, Dave dodged the first strike and dropped to his knees to avoid the second, the third strike sending sparks across the back of his hand when he pushed back again mere inches from the blades tip skidding across stone flooring. He kept having to back up, lithe body bending and sending sparks wherever he touched for balance, hopping, rolling, barely missing the sting of the blunted steel.

“Striking at your lover, what a cad!” the young man said, nearly out of breath already, physical form unused to such needed speed.

“Setting a fucking temple on fire and threatening a good deal of garbage that Dave wouldn't really do, what an ass!” Dirk countered, slamming the swords edge down between Dave's knees and looming forwards into his face aggressively. There would be no yielding from either side, the two winding up nearly nose to nose.

Dave was the one who broke the standoff, chin lifting to catch Dirk's mouth in an open kiss, burning hot and stinging. His teeth grabbed hold of Dirk's lower lip before he could get away quick enough, biting hard enough to draw blood when the god was finally able to yank back. Dave laughed, mouth bloodied at the lips as though stained with makeup, scrabbling back as Dirk regained his sword, holding his face angrily.

“You...!”

“Dirk,” John called, still sending out sharp gusts to widen the fighting area and keep them from getting cornered, wanting to make sure there was nowhere for Dave to hide. The fires were growing, but he wasn't focused on that anymore. Something sharp and glinting had caught his eye, dark shape darting to and fro in his vision, approaching the barriers of his winds and breaking through as if they were nothing. “Dirk!”

“WHAT.” John, he had no time to be arguing right now. Shouting, Dirk raised his sword and went to strike again, blood singing in his ears. His heart was a drum beat in his head, grip strong, aim sure. He felt like he could win any battle placed ahead of him.

Dave was knocked from a standing position cleanly to his side by what Dirk first took for a shadow, the sounds of multiple sharpened pieces of metal swiping at the air in warning once it was forced to jump back from the super heated surface of his body.

Leijon was already circling soon as she stood up, weapons held tight with her curled fists, eyes blazing with a rage as potent as the inferno that was steadily destroying the habitat of creatures she was to protect. The failure of Maryam's temple was of no concern. But the forest? Oh. Oh, this was personal.

“Leijon, please, we can handle this,” Dirk shouted, readily stalking towards Dave until the goddess hissed in rage his direction, making him freeze in place. Very few things in this world could make a god feel cold fear as a human, yet the goddess of beasts was one.

“Obviously, you can't,” she said simply. “How long were you planning on letting this destroy the forest before taking it out?”

“We're just trying to knock him out, we don't want to have to chase him down if he revives somewhere else!” Dirk said. “He's dangerous right now.”

“Knock him out..? No. I don't care if I have to hunt him down again, knocking him out isn't going to make this stop. Kill the source of the fire, the nearest flames should go down and be easier to control,” she said, claws singing as she lunged and swiped at Dave, moving out of range of a sharp blast of fire. “Make John stop fanning the damned fire, this shouldn't take me long. Respect your elders!”

Leijon was faster than Dirk, deadlier, angrier. She kept striking, dodging, rebounding free of flashes and flares from Dave. Anything to keep her prey on the move. Ever the cat to a mouse, Leijon seemed interested on wearing him down with intensity before she'd strike a fatal blow. She also seemed far less amused by not being obeyed than Dirk originally assumed, blocking a strike he attempted to land in Dave's direction and all but throwing him away by the sword like a child's toy.

The message was clear: don't interfere.

Tense, refusing to drop his blade, Dirk ran for John, signaling for him to drop the use of the winds as Leijon commanded. John ceased his breezes except for a small circle around himself to keep free of smoke and irritants personally, watching the fight continue in a tight exchange from a distance.

“What does she even expect us to do, now? Watch and wait till SHE kills him?” John asked. “I'm getting pretty fucking tired of being yelled at and told what to do!”

“You're going to be fairly angry then, because I'm here to tell you what to do too,” Jake said as he jogged over, thankful the two people he needed to talk to weren't busy for the time being. John moaned as if being gutted, flashing some wind at Jake to make him stumble, spite filling him.

“John, knock it off. What do you need to tell him to do? We're kind of dealing with.. well. Two problems, now. Maybe we can ask Maryam.. No. Roxy? Would void work against an elder goddess? Would Pyrope feel like trying to call her off?” Dirk asked, pacing as he talked, trying to work around the problem with mobility as much as logic, unable to stand still. How could he, with the sound of battle so close, his pulse hammering, knowing that this wasn't the right path?

“Actually, it's both of you. Rose is kicking up a horrid fuss and demanding to speak to both of you.”

“Jake, we don't have time t-”

“No, you do. Now. Leijon showed up when she did for a reason, I'm sure of it. Rose says it's about Dave and it's extremely important!”

John grit his teeth and glanced at Dirk, still gripping his blade and nursing a bloodied gash on his lip, then back towards Dave and Leijon in their tight circle dance of fire and slicing claws, sparks and snarling.

“Let's hurry up and hear this all important message, then, so we can get on with it.”

- - - - - - - - - -

It took Rose a firm minute of angrily shouted demands to get everyone around her to be quiet and listen, the arrival of Dirk, Jake, and John throwing everyone into questions and advice of their own. Maryam worried about the temple having injured anyone, if Dave would be okay. Pyrope was miserable from the smoke and cursing that Leijon should just get on with it and stop playing with her food, no longer human or not. Makara was terribly amused, occasionally looking around as if watching something out of view or gauging the weather, the entire display no more than a stage production for him. Roxy was trying to keep Rose calm, but couldn't help throwing her offer of tackling Leijon into the void and dealing with whatever the goddess had to offer at a point thousands of miles away from their current position of existence.

“Will you PLEASE all shut up! I see your mouths moving!” Rose hissed, hands raised to draw attention to herself. “Dirk. John. You need to hear this most of all, there's only one way to fix all this.”

“We're waiting to hear it,” John said, making sure she could see him, trying to make his face earnest. “In case you haven't noticed, Leijon is keeping Dave busy. For now. But...”

“Busy is short term for 'she's going to kill him merrily', can we please hurry this up?” Dirk said with a grimace, face in his hands.

“Apples,” Rose said simply.

“... Apples,” Dirk said, looking up at her. “Apples?”

“She's been shouting that for a while now, and said it was the only way to fix everything, and that she had to tell you about it,” Maryam explained. Pyrope snorted, part laugh, part attempt to clear her sinuses.

“Apples,” Dirk said again blankly. John looked at Rose with the same confusion.

“What, should we GET apples?”

“Yes,” she said. “You should.”

“Get apples and.. bean him in the face with them? Bean Leijon? Because, be my guest, throw apples at her. I'll watch,” the windy god said haughtily as he folded and crossed his legs, elbows at his knees, hair licking upwards from the breeze.

“Rose, we don't understand,” Dirk said. “Can you explain a little... clearer,” he asked hesitantly.

“Tell us better,” John clarified, blunt as ever.

“You need to give Dave apples. That's really all there is to it,” Rose insisted, not bothered by their distressed faces. One of the nice things about not hearing them was missing the whine that was no doubt permeating their tones. Faces would do just fine.

“WHAT apples!” Dirk said, turning to the side to throw his sword down at the ground hard enough to stick in place, the hilt slowly fading away to return to his body with the blade once he'd turned back. Maryam made a displeased noise when he gripped Rose's upper arms desperately, giving her a jostle.

“Do we need to somehow fuck off and FIND apples? What KIND. WHERE. What do we even do after we've given them to him! I'd give the skin from my own hide for this to end, and for everything to be calm and okay, but if apples are all we need then by Alpha we'll get the damned apples, just PLEASE..”

Jake reached out to pat Dirk's back solemnly, surprised when the god flinched and immediately withdrew his hands. It wasn't like him to have outbursts like this, or to get startled so easily. The trials had reached deeper than he'd likely anticipated, same as they had with John.

“I'm sorry,” he croaked. “Just. … Rose. Tell me which apples to get.”

Rose's brows drew together, concerned.

“Dirk.. You already have them,” she said. “Both of you do.”

John raised an eyebrow and uncurled his body, drifting nearer.

“Not to call you a liar, Rose, but I'm fairly sure I'd know if I were smuggling apples. My clothing doesn't leave that much to the imagination as far as stowaway fruits.”

“You have them. Really. You've given them to him before, after all,” Rose said. “When you were trying to woo him.”

“I.. How did you know about that?” John asked. “Those were normal apples though, ones he was eating. We don't have any of those around now.. Do we need to find some and then give them to him?”

Rose shook her head before gesturing to both gods to urge them forwards. When they were in range, she reached out and touched both their chests, just above their hearts.

“You have them, still. They were a symbol before, they're a symbol now.”

“... Our hearts..? Dave had them the first time we saw him as a baby, there's no way to give them any further,” Dirk said softly, shaking his head. This wasn't an option, Rose, try again.

That just might work, Makara said from the side, finally looking away from the spectacle in front of him. Offering your hearts in a more literal sense. Cementing a bond. It would matter, though, if you were strong enough to handle it.. This link would prove beneficial, if you were all capable of containing it.

John dropped to his feet to walk over to Makara, leaving floating behind. Time was too short, he needed to be direct.

“Do it, then. Both of us. Show us how to, if you wont. How do we offer our hearts.”

Rose had pierced her own earlier to further this cause. Surely, for the one they loved, they could do the same. They were immortal already, after all. If he needed to offer his still beating heart.. then so be it.

Makara touched Pyropes shoulder to let her know he was stepping away, brushing past John so as to bump his shoulder mid-stride. He was an elder god, after all, and one to be feared. Even if one were brave enough to speak in such a way to him in the first place.. it didn't matter. A bit of a hierarchy had to remain in place. Dirk turned from Rose and closed the gap with the elder god, soon standing shoulder to shoulder with John before him.

This is far simpler than moving a soul. In effect, it's simply taking a small piece. I do wonder if Peixes will forgive me for causing three strands of her hair to become fused in such an odd position.. but that is neither here nor there, he said simply, raising his gangly hands with their overly long looking fingers etched in ink. The chilly tips of his fingers pressed in the same places Rose had touched, making them both yearn for that warmth to return. Makara's touch was too similar to the icy feeling that overtook them whenever they died, the brief moment before they revived elsewhere.

How much do you care for each other, the two of you.

John looked over to Dirk, catching his eye, and looked down briefly.

“.. More than I realized, at the start of this. You were meant to be more of a repetitive fling, considering you're a damn good lay. But then Dave turned up, and.. I've started to notice I can't just picture me and Dave alone anymore. Every time I try to picture that, I imagine you right by our sides.”

Are you able to picture the two of you being together, without Dave?

“...No. Not happily, at least. We're a good match for once in a while, but with Dave involved, we match up much better. He's a perfect balance.”

Your very element is actually a balance, John. It's interesting you pass that wording along to one such as Dave. Dirk, what of you, Makara probed. John felt his chest warming, and tipped his gaze down to watch the elder god's fingers cautiously, trying to sort out where the warmth was coming from.

“There are times I'm still angry, or annoyed. Because our personalities clash a good deal. … In some of the best ways, really. John's able to get me out of my head and rile me up as much as Dave can, even if it's for a fight. We're old. Rage doesn't last forever.”

He was surprised to feel a cool set of fingers curl around his own, and was quick to return the gesture.

“Before you ask, though, I can't imagine us being nearly as happy alone as we would be with Dave. Nor can I see me being alone with Dave. I'd be happy, but there would be a spontaneity that only John can offer missing for him.”

So it must be the both of you with Dave.

“Yes,” they said in unison.

Then together you are bound, the two to your third, to remain in balance. This balance will serve a purpose far greater than you can judge from where you are now. Don't accept this if you feel you'll regret it.

Dirk looked to John, then back over his shoulder towards Dave and Leijon. There were fewer spurts of flame than before as he grew exhausted, injuries beginning to accumulate the longer he was made to dance from the touch of her bladed claws. The only thought he had in his mind was to hurry this along so the fight could stop, so they could get THEIR Dave back safe and sound. So they could hold him close and never have to let him go.

John, being of similar mind, nodded intently in his absence.

“We accept. We get it. Really. Please, just let this happen, there's no TIME!” he hissed, leaning into the warming touch of the formerly cold fingers.

Dirk felt a burn similar to when the flame first started passing to Dave flickering familiarly from behind his heart before trying to envelope it and push outwards. No. It was being pulled along outwards by Makara, his pointed fingers directing the heat until it eventually reached the outside. The light that emerged was small, about the size of his fist, and a pale orange. It felt different even to look at when compared to the soul they had dealt with earlier, coaxing it back to its host. John's, after Dirk glanced over, was a sapphire blue.

“Is... What is that,” John asked. It was beautiful and comforting, and, really, he wanted to touch it. This was larger than his other treasures that he wore, and the distinct urge to never let it go away was there.

It's what you'll be giving to your third. The both of you. Here's hoping that it's accepted, and fought off or ignored. It was surprising that Dirk's was.. plain looking now. Then again, the flame was long since gone and his other aspects were still in flux. There was no time for it to become beautiful once more.

Without waitng or asking, Dirk reached up and grasped at the orange light, feeling its warmth as he tensed his fingers around it in a gentle squeeze. Yes, this was about the size of an apple to start with.. and with a bit of thought, the light shifted to just that. A pale orange tinted apple soon rested on his hand, glinting and shimmering from beneath its brief surface. John held a blue skinned apple as well, after a brief bit of copycatting.

Dirk frowned at the fake fruit, then looked over towards the fight once more. Flames were dancing in the background as the forest continued to burn, though Dave no longer lit new fires. He was bloodied and scrambling, lurching one way then another, becoming more and more the mouse to Leijon. His body just wasn't used to the demands the fire made of it yet. It could withstand heat and torture, could likely keep sending out heat and fire till he had to regenerate somewhere else. But there was no chance when Leijon kept attacking with such ferocity.

Dave had never learned the secrets of lengthy battles, and without him even at the helm, the flame was doing what fire did best: surge wildly till the fuel was depleted.

“Roxy. I'll help you placate Leijon later. I need you to get her into the void for a few minutes so we can try this,” Dirk said. “I'm not sure how you'll be able to get hold of her without being slashed, though. Maybe if we attack from behind..” Battle tactics of humans were all well and good, even for fighting gods, but Leijon was a bit of a special case. She didn't fight like a warrior. She was a predator.

With another loud snorted snuffle, Pyrope was the one to pipe up an idea.

“I can do it. If someone guides me, I can get through to her. Even if it's just long enough to knock her legs out from under her into that void.”

“I'll guide you, and if needs be, I'll get involved as well. Leijon's too much like a beast once she gets going, there needs to be a way to get her to recognize moments of pause,” Maryam promised, linking hands with Pyrope. If the other goddess was willing to take a step forward in giving a chance for real justice to occur, then surely she could help as well.

“Jake?” Rose said suddenly, drawing his green eyes over her direction after a brief startle. “There's something you need to do as well.”

“Uh. What more could I need to do? Backup? Do you need help with something?” he guessed. He'd already directed the hope earlier and caused good and bad things to happen. Right?

“I need you here with me. Watching. Listening to what I can't. I need you to do what you did earlier, but to act as a conduit. Direct the hope, feel it, guide it from afar.”

“.. From afar? Why not hands on?” he asked. “Ah. Too many cooks in the kitchen?”

Rose could only make out half of what was being said, but was able to tell that, at least, Jake was starting to get the right idea.

“Jake, you're in charge of hope regardless of forcefully directing it or not. Simply having you nearby should increase our chances right now, since luck hasn't seemed to quite be as active lately.” No surprise, given how distracted John had been. The duties of every god and goddess involved had been shirked either entirely or at least ignored for the time being, much to their own deficit. “After all, can't you still feel it?”

“I do,” he admitted after an uncomfortable moment. “I'd thought we'd used it all up earlier. That we'd reached a plateau, or some kind of limit. Maybe it was just because the goal had been reached, sort of.”

“That's the fun of being human,” Rose said with a smirk. “Unlike gods, we don't know better than to keep hoping, even when all hope is last. Even if I'm not human anymore, I still think like one. Maybe, deep down. A lot of you do too. Elder gods might be different, but... Isn't the thought that something better is on the horizon, in itself, hope? It's bottomless. The only change is, now and then, it's easier to feel.”

Jake stared at her as if some great puzzle in his mind had been solved. Even Pyrope turned her face their way, listening intently. Maryam smiled softly, already knowing the feeling well.

“.. Was that what Signless was going on about?” Pyrope asked. “When he said that even without him, hope would live on? Was that all he was trying to say? Not some.. some deep message or truth, just. That?”

“Yes,” Maryam said. “That was his message. That was the basis of everything he believed and taught.. and what still remains even though Jake has taken that mantle upon his shoulders.”

“Yeah. Maryam? Lead on, let's get this going. Dirk, John? Don't drop your oranges and.. whatever you're holding. A giant blueberry?? Roxy, get ahead of us and get ready.”

With a quick salute for her own amusement, Roxy gave a quick “Aye!” and darted off into a quickly opened void. Seemed best to avoid trying to circle Leijon, and instead suddenly appear without warning.

Jake stayed back with Rose, having her move a few feet to avoid a shower of angry sparks that kicked up from the active breeze, not wanting to risk any singes when they could be cut out entirely. Maryam gripped Pyrope's upper arm to guide her, though her pace had to quicken a great deal as Pyrope began to hurry towards a run, trusting her guide to keep her from trip hazards. Leijon's scent was easily distinguishable now that she'd picked up on it, even with the smoke and ash, but there wasn't nearly as much comfort or security when it came to the things spread all over the ground that smelled far too similar.

Everyone was moving at once, and it left Dirk and John their opportunity. Silent, cradling the warm spheres in their palms, the gods turned in tandem to walk quickly towards the fallen temple once more, Makara not so much as bidding them farewell.

- - - - - - -


“Leijon!”

Dave perked his head up briefly when he heard the shouted name, recognizing the voice. Pyrope. The cause of his problems, and yet the cause of the most recent developments in his life. The shout distracted Leijon long enough for him to stand and shuffle back a few paces, further than the goddess had allowed him to get since their fight began. Further than her claw range, at least. He had enough nicks and cuts all over his body already, thank you, no need for more. Just needed to get enough strength together for a strike, maybe singe the ends of her fluff and hair off. Or even just streak her face with fire. That would do pretty well, considering how many times she'd scratched him so far. Never deep enough to kill or disable. Just enough to hurt.

But, the goddess wasn't stopping. Nor was she alone, Maryam at her side, leading her. It would be a wonderful thing if the blast of fire could hit Pyrope as well. Unfortunate if Maryam was hit, but, that was life. Yet.. Dave didn't get a chance. Things happened far too fast for him to even properly react.

One moment, Leijon was turning to talk to the goddesses. The next, she was dodging a strike from the blinded woman and rearing her hand back to retaliate harshly. Just as she'd begun to swing her arm outward to let the flash of steel taste immortal blood once more, Maryam delivered a solid punch. Not a slap, not a shove. A punch, hard enough that it used all the added force of their size difference to throw the vicious goddess back.. before she was gone.

Just. Gone.

One moment she was headed towards Dave in her stagger, the next she was gone, with only a brief yawning maw of darkness to show for it. Leijon had been swallowed up by shadows. What in the world..? No. No time to focus on that, he needed t-

“Dave,” John called out from behind Maryam and Pyrope, swerving around them with Dirk at his side. “Dave. Listen. Before you fight, or burn, or run or.. Or anything. Listen.”

“To what,” Dave demanded, hands raising in warning. An empty threat at the moment, considering he needed a brief rest before he could focus the fire enough to combat what was likely going to be anoher physical encounter.

“To our offer,” Dirk said.

“...Offer. Like your offer earlier?” he spat. “I've had quite enough offers from you, Dirk.”

“No. Not from earlier. … From when we first came to you,” John countered, holding the strange colored ball in his hands up into view. ...No. That wasn't a ball, it wasn't round enough. Was that.. Was that an apple? A blue apple? A brief glance to Dirk's uplifted hands showed he possessed an orange one.

Disgusting.

Yet.. something about them was fascinating. Maybe just a touch. To satisfy his curiosity. The way they were being held, they were important.

“Go on,” Dave said cautiously, hands still raised. He needed a rest. Just for a minute or so, just long enough to get this body to recharge itself.

“We offered you apples before, just like this, right?” Dirk was calmer sounding than earlier, despite his swollen bottom lip, the blood beginning to dry into a crust from where he'd been bitten. “When we asked you to choose between us. When we were so certain only one of us could ever possess you, instead of the possibility of all three of us being so good together.”

“Back before we realized how fantastic all three of us are when there's nothing keeping us apart, and how absolutely shit it is when we don't get to share you. Or be shared,” John added on, recalling vividly when Dave first started trying to fight for dominance in bed, thrilling them both with the feeling of such a normally frail mortal body taking on the edge of ferocity. “We're offering them again. But... differently.”

Dave frowned, eyes narrowed before he slowly lowered his hands. If this was just an attack in disguise, it was a good one. The bait was strange looking, but compelling. It was as if he could hear the desire to touch the apples singing in his ears, in his blood, in every fiber of his being.

No. No, that wasn't him. That wasn't anything from the fire. That was Dave.

Every inch of the body was coming alive beyond the control of the flame, waking. Yearning. There would be no resisting.

“No. No, no, no, keep those away from me,” he shouted, voice upset and backed into a corner. Both hands were beginning to lift again. If the attempts to force them back down, to resist, was any indication, then Rose's information was correct.

Apples. Apples were so important.

“Dave, these are the last apples we'll ever give you. The last ones you'll ever need,” Dirk soothed, trying to sound sincere as possible, hope surging in his chest when he saw the signs of resistance. Yes, Dave, come on. Fight it. FIGHT.

“We're offering you our hearts here, Dave. Real as anything, as any treasure we could ever hope to give you. It's the only gift we have that could ever come close to what you deserve,” John said, feeling the same swell in his heart as the pale hands started to reach for the fruits they each held. “Please. … I love you.”

“WE love you,” Dirk corrected. “We love you. We don't deserve you. We're hoping you'll give us the honor of loving you anyway.”

“Forever now,” John said, sounding excited. “You're immortal. The bad days are gone, we have eternity ahead of us.”

“Marriage doesn't exist for gods, there's no 'till death do us part'. This is the closest we can do to that vow.” Dirk looked over towards John and grinned, reaching for his hand again and grasping it tight.

“Dave. Don't choose between us. Choose us both,” they said in unison.

Dave himself had begun to make desperate noises as his body continued to move, struggling to break the hold. Fire was supposed to be the strongest force in this body, the former human barely able to control him. Flame was unstoppable, unable to be extinquished! If he burnt out, he would simply rise again, a phoenix!

When his hands touched the apples, he screamed, voice high and startled.

Defeated.

The lights surged upwards in a triangle as the apples disintegrated back into their original forms. Pale orange streaking with magenta and red, passion and war and blood intermingled. Blue, with its streaks of white like chilled breaths of breeze and clouds, strokes of silver fickle as John's gifts of luck. The third, steady and bright, rose from Dave's chest when the screams gave out. Strong, controlled, the third pillar was red as Dave's eyes, streaked with orange and yellow of the fire he possessed.

No longer was he to be owned, downtrodden, or possessed beyond himself.

No longer.

From here on out, Dave was to be shared.

Chapter Text

“Oh, I understand purrfectly well what happened by now. You and efurrybody else has gone on and on about it,” Leijon said offhandedly. She was settled on the ground with a sharpening stone, honing the edges of her bladed claws to a razor's edge. “Doesn't mean that I have to furgive you quickly.”

“Even though it wasn't really my fault,” Dave muttered. “Besides, it's not like -I- punched you. Or even landed any hits!” He paused in his labors to wipe sweat from his brow, the heat affecting him a bit. Forges were more difficult to heat and work than he'd anticipated. “It's been over a year since then, give me a break.”

“No breaks. The metal will start to slag,” Zahhak snapped, hammer falling repeatedly at the other anvil, almost without effort.

“I could just reheat the metal, th-”

“I said it before, I'll it again. No fire wielding on the metal!” Zahhak curtly replied. “There's no guarantee of how hot the metal is unless I've seen it in my forge, and I'll not have you churning out half quality weaponry from my shop. Get practice in your own time for heating metal. Not in my space.”

The sound of a hoof pawing at the ground told Dave that, yes, there was no arguing on that point. Same as every other time he tried to argue it. For the last year, he had been spending most of his days at the centaur's forge, keeping the heart hot and thriving any time it even hinted at wanting to go cold. If not forging weapons, he was fetching and delivering, or trying his hand at delicate things like the links of chains that the centaur's strong hands were not able to deal with. If not working for Zahhak, Dave was working with Leijon to make up for the unplanned burning of the forest by doing controlled burns in spaces that really needed it.

The labor had been helpful to his formerly pampered body, thin arms and legs growing stronger, arms gaining a bit of definition. It made the permanent markings that adorned them stand out nicely, he thought. Dirk's insignia, the hollowed half of a heart and its remnants, was emblazoned with brightly pigmented ink upon his right shoulder while the left was reserved for the bright blue of John's wind symbol. There was no need to decorate his flesh with fire or his own insignia.. John and Dirk were bearing that in their own ways.

Actually, that wasn't quite true. Dave proudly wore his insignia in other ways. John gifted him with jewelry fairly often, the gold and platinum matching his hair and freckled skin, making his blazing eyes even brighter. John had even pierced his ears for him, so he could wear precious stones there as well, usually rubies, but occasionally topaz or sapphire. Lately, he'd even added emeralds to the mix, usually to tease Jake when he'd come to lounge with them.

Not that much lounging happened whenever Jake entered their fold, but it was still the right term, he assumed.

The most gaudy object was one he'd created on his own, a jagged crown of red obsidian that he occasionally kept just as hot as when it was formed, considering it didn't hurt him at all on contact. There was no fear of fire any longer, no worries of being burnt. The anxiety was all but gone.. Knowing that even if you died, you'd just come back and try again tended to do that. There was not much left to fear when the ultimate end was removed as a threat.

Dave kept the hammer falling on the orange-red heated metal rod even as he heard the click of hooves coming up behind him. Why stop just to be observed, when stopping got you yelled at? Yeah, no, easier to just keep on keeping on, mind focused on the litany that he'd slowly started to develop in his mind. It was based on the prayers he'd been taught as a child, hymns for his deities.

Seemed kind of silly, given his status now.

“... Hm. Better. Not good,” Zahhak clarified after Dave slowed and grinned happily. “But better. That should be a good enough stopping point for now, you got it fairly worked down for me. It was a good help. Tomorrow, I'll have you do some more smelting and some ingot forming for me.”

Handing over the hammer to the waiting centaur, Dave headed past Leijon to reach a small bucket of water kept for personal use, leaning back so he could dribble some on his face and neck and hair. It was quick to steam off once he focused and raised his body temperature, and thankfully it took the sweat and other impurities away with it when he did so.

“Leijon, is there anything else you need from me for now..? Or, uh..”

He'd apologized. Roxy had apologized, and been apologized to for a nasty scratch that had run from her face to her lower abdomen. Maryam had apologized and taken a return punch, wearing her black eye with pride as she carried on business as usual. Pyrope hadn't so much apologized as cackled over the situation and asked if Leijon would actually hit a blind goddess.

Unsurprisingly, she did, then called her wrath complete. But apology or not, there was still a part of him that was cautious around the goddess.

Leijon stopped her sharpening motions to grin at him, her rounded face and high cheekbones lending her a youthful appearance. Deceivingly innocent.

“You're free to go for now, Dave, I don't need any more burns done till next week. It'll take at least that long to get the creatures moved without their numbers falling too far.”

“Ah, yes. I'll keep in touch then,” he said, getting himself in order. There was some business he needed to attend to today, after all.

“Bullshit. Jake will keep in touch, you mean, considering that's who's been getting touched so much lately,” she said simply, going back to her task as she spoke. “I'm far from blind. You three have your claws in my disciple, yes?”

“... He hasn't complained, that I know of,” Dave said. Whelp, that was out in the open now. “Nothing's serious, though. It's casual, and we enjoy spoiling him.”

“Good. He needs spoiling, and it seems to make him happy to not be tied down and controlled during it. Fewer risks.” Leijon lifted a clawed hand to point towards Dave, deadly serious. “You harm him, or any of your trio harm him, I'll be coming for your blood once more.”

“Yes'm,” he replied automatically, only relaxing when the goddess finally lowered her hand. Shit, he was going to be late now. Had to hurry, had to hurry!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Do you think he just forgot, or..?” asked John, lying flat on his stomach in midair, the breeze whipping his hair up at the edges, making the cowlicks fluff to and fro. “It's not like him to be late. Especially for something like -this-. It's been coming for ages now.”

“He didn't forget,” Dirk insisted. “He's still working the forge, right? They're probably working him for every ounce of sweat they can get. Besides, it's not like we need to be prompt for this. An appearance of gods is an appearance of gods.”

John huffed, spiking a breeze off towards Dirk, catching the bottom edge of his cape and sending it up over his head gracelessly.

“Hey! Knock it off, you already know I hate this thing!”

“Then why wear it? It's not like someone's forcing you to wear the new outfit.”

With Dave properly wielding fire, Dirk had ascended higher as well. No longer a deity of three elements, the two he was guiding became stronger to fill the gap. The clothes of a warrior graced his body whenever he walked the fields now, complete with a chest plate and cape, basic armor at key joints, even boots. None of it lessened the blood on his hands, or removed the stains upon his feet beneath it all, but it gave him a far more authoritative appearance instead of being so easily mistaken for a fellow warrior in the heat of battle.

“I'm taking it off as soon as we get this over with. I don't like wearing this entire get up. You know that. It's just for the appearance..”

“Ahh. Yeah, best to get away from the association with fire now. Since you're wanting to elevate your actual powers, though, does that mean you should go ahead and whip your dick out as well?” John asked, then followed it up with a wolfish grin. “I'd be glad to help get it ready to go, if you want.”

Dirk glowered at him. “Even if I don't have myself exposed, the symbology is the same. People wanting fertility would be seeking me as well as Maryam. If anything else, appearing more like a warrior just makes the sex symbol stronger. Virility and all that. Can't fight in wars that easily unless you're virile, right?”

“Humans and their symbology are so strange. I don't get what's so sexual about a bunch of men sweating and hitting each other. … Okay, wait, maybe I do.”

“Precisely. Now, really, can you help me adjust this stupid thing? It feels like the armor is riding up in the back more than usual, I can't wait to just get back into my old clothes,” Dirk hissed, trying to reach the center of his back. Sighing, John drifted closer and undid some of the ties, tugging it down before tying the binds tight once more.

“You are such a brat, treating me like some spouse.”

“Are you not?”

“Well. I mean, yeah, I am.”

“Who helped you when your hair got tangled in your necklace last..?”

“...you.”

“Precisely. Is it all in order, now? It feels better. I don't want it to ride back up.”

“Oh, it's likely to ride back up soon enough. Mostly because I'm not going to be following you around. Try not to squirm, or you'll wind up with that as your permanent image,” John chided as he drifted a short distance away to sulk and wait.

“What, like you and your cowlicks in every statue?”

“HAH. I'll have you know, my hair is this way on PURPOSE, and it is GLORIOUS.”

“John? Dirk? Is Dave back yet, or not?”

John rolled to his back and hung playfully, the air forming a ball for him to toy with in his hands.

“Jake, if Dave was back by now, we'd have already left. You seem to be... dressed the exact same.”

Shy, Jake crossed his arms to cover the bare portion of his chest awkwardly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The clean, soft white swatch of cloth covered his hips and trailed from one shoulder down to the dark green wrap at his waist. His legs were exposed save for strapped sandals at his feet, with the same going for his arms aside from a few more decorative bangles and thin leather forearm coverings. John drifted nearer to toy with the un-closed circle of gold around his throat, making him relax a bit.

“Well.. There's already plenty of representation of me in the past, since Signless. But. This is how I appear anyway. I'd rather just show them what they'd be offering prayers to, so they don't forget to use their hope themselves as much as hoping for a deity to fix their problems,” he explained. “I want to be recognized if I'm called, but able to blend in if things would be better off being handled with only a little boost instead of guidance.”

Dirk smiled at him, eyes fond. “.. You've been practicing a lot lately, huh. Who's been coaxing you along?”

“Pyrope, actually. Rose, too. They've formed quite an interesting balance together as it is, viewing the future and weighing the options out. It's comforting to work against. If I'm unsure whether to intervene or not, I discuss it with the two of them and they help me make my own conclusions unless there's a huge disaster involved.”

“Only disaster I can think of off the top of my head is Ampora,” John snorted from the side.

“And you.”

“EXCUSE YOU?” he demanded, shooting upright. “I am not a disaster!”

“Your winds cause them, time and again.”

“My wind does as it pleases, I just kind of. Move it now and then. Give it a poke.”

“Mhmm. Your luck is fickle as well. Enough good luck in a row, and people take horribly stupid risks.”

“I can't be held accountable for that, what people do with it is their own stupid business,” John complained. Dirk put a hand up to cover his mouth before he entered into a 'humans are stupid' tirade, much to Jake's thanks.

“Speaking of Rose, though, is she coming? Or will she be going ahead with Maryam?” Dirk asked.

“I believe they'll be arriving separately from us. Er.. How long is this supposed to take, again?”

“Not too long, Jake. We just need to show up, let them admire us, say some mystic sounding mumbo jumbo while letting them know we'll not forget their cruel treatment of Dave but we'll forgive, let Dave throw in his own threats if he feels like it.. Grab a handful of offerings, and call it a day.”

John got his mouth loose, rant averted.

“It won't take too long to inspire artists and imprint in peoples minds. How else do you think monuments get made that look so similar to us all?”

Jake admitted he hadn't really given it too much thought, having been quite busy with just keeping himself from re-living the fate of his predecessor, and was explaining as such when Dave finally flashed near to them. He'd adopted the flash step from Dirk, and had proven to be a quick study. No surprises from his descendant as far as aptitude.

“I'm late, I know, I'm sorry,” Dave said immediately, “but there was just no getting free sooner.”

“You're on time, don't worry. We were waiting for you,” Dirk said, smirking at how fast John pounced the small blonde, hugging him tight. Every time he returned it was like this. Verification that he was really coming home, that he was safe, that the trials and tribulations had finally passed.

“AUGH, what are you, a cat?!” Dave cried, wobbling and falling back, a sharp breeze lifting them back up before the ground could rise up to strike them. “Nnnnno, don't mess up my hair, don't mess up my hair, I JUST got it to rest this way!”

“Perfectly messy, yes,” John agreed, fluffing the blonde strands carefully around what he knew was a far too heated crown.

“Oh no. No. No, no, no, knock that off right now.” Dirk left Jake's side to go snag hold of his men before they could get even more distracted. Rough housing with those two tended to lead to power struggles, and power struggles with them tended to lead to shed layers and sex. Just fanning the flame. There was plenty of time for that later if the mood struck, but for now there was business to attend to.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The temple of Rose and Dave's origins had gone through very few changes since they both left. There was nobody living in Dave's quarters now, the space set aside for storage as nobody else had been chosen by two deities since. The stones were still swept and scrubbed, the statues cleaned and consecrated daily, offerings from the previous days burnt and disposed of in the garden as fertilizer.

There were new faces among the old, small children of varying ages and genders racing this way and that during the day to attend to chores or lessons, scripture and scribe practice. Some were even chasing chickens freshly escaped from their pens, needing to keep them away from the statue area.

The head priest was there with the other elders, waiting, though for what they did not know. A simple dream, or premonition, had preordained this day as auspicious. Offerings and incense were laid out with fresh flowers, the petals littering the ground in soft mounds. They hoped for a sighting of one of their gods.

What they got was a pantheon.

From nowhere stepped a tall, tanned, blonde figure wearing the regalia of an officer, a sword in one hand. Beside him stood a dark skinned man with messy black hair and piercing blue eyes, the breeze in the courtyard whipping the flower petals around playfully. A few seconds later, another dark skinned man strode in from nowhere, green eyes flashing far too vividly to be mortal.

“By the gods..” whispered numerous priests and nuns, making the signs of their personal deities in shock.

“Yes? We are gods.” John couldn't be strictly serious for more than a scant stretch at a time, really. It took effort for Jake not to crack too much of a grin.

“To what do we owe this honor, my lords! We've answered your call. We tend your temples, your rites, your holy sites. We honor everything related to your ways and hold it at the utmost importance in our hearts and minds, in the hopes that we may receive your blessings after death,” the head priest said solemnly.

Dirk glowered and lifted his sword, pointing it at the stunned group who immediately cowered, settling on their knees in fear of his wrath. “Except for someone we care for, at least. Your wrongs nearly set back the gods many years. Possibly millenia. Nearly set ME back many years! You could have robbed me of my descendant, my HEIR, and my rite of ascension. And for what.”

“I...! M'lord, who do you speak of? We've done no wrongs! We are but simple holy men, trying to serve you, please, tell us what we have done!” the priest cried, hands lifted as if wanting to be filled, thirsting for the missing knowledge.

Jake stepped to the side a pace or two before reaching out, resting his warm hand on Dave's warmer shoulder, gripping it for reassurance. After all, this was his first time 'home' since ascending. No. This was the first time he'd set foot in the temple since his punishment began. There was no way this was going to be easy for him, and a quick glance at Dave's tense features and the faint heated glow at his wrists was enough of a confirmation for him.

No coddling. He could be held and comforted later, if needs be. By all of them. For now, though, this needed to be done and said and dragged out into the light.

There were sounds of surprise at the familiar face, soft words of awe at the changes in his appearance.

“Those eyes.. There's. … You?”

Dave stayed quiet for a moment, controlling his breathing, before lifting his chin and striding forwards. Put on a stern face. They have no power anymore. This was no longer the home he once knew and loved.

“Yes, me, though it was a terribly roundabout way to happen. .. Not just me, either,” he said without explaining further in detail. Maryam and Rose would be turning up soon, after all. “There is much you need to know, as I know. You cast out a son of a god, and he is far from happy.”

He lifted his hands to show the manacles he still wore, the scarred tissue beneath from where they had burnt him. Of his own will, Dave heated the metal till it glowed orange-red as if freshly pulled from the forge against his flesh, no longer able to be affected by the heat. The others present could feel it, flaring, threatening.

Dangerous.

You're the reason this happened to me. These scars? They're not going away. Not even with cowering and begging and prayers,” Dave snapped automatically when they began to grovel. “You see these chains? I could take them off now, if I chose.. I don't want to. The scars are remaining, I want them to remain too, so I can look at them and remember they're broken for a reason. I should give you all the same treatment, the berating, the burning. Right on your rotten FACES, where you can't hide it!”

Though Dirk and John tensed, Jake clenching his fists, nobody interfered. They did, however, glance up when Pyrope, Maryam, and Rose strode into view. Rose looked at both her sides with a knowing smile and gestured for quiet. The gathered holy men blanched even further at the sight of more deities, and a crowd was slowly beginning to gather outside the courtyard as the younger generations heard the shouting and felt the call of their patrons.

.. I won't, though. I don't want people to look at your faces for my legacy,” he said with a thick voice. “I want people to look at -my- face for my legacy. Dirk no longer bears the triple mantle. I hold his fire. I also hold the wind, though I do not control it.”

What.. what do you wish, then,” the head priest said hurriedly, trying to get his words out before Dave could possibly change his mind. “Portraits? H-how would you want your likeness captured?”

Statues. Just like the statues of my lovers I tended for so many years. The gods have changed in many ways, even more being added, and the best way to capture that would be to alter the first vessel worshipers are exposed to. Right?”

There was immediately a ruckus from the gathered crowd, the elders being spoken over as children ran forwards unafraid of the undying beings before them. Some were THEIR deities, faces and figures that visited in their dreams from the time they were infants. Others were deities they had prayed to over the years, or at least learned of. Pyrope sniffed at the air intently, trying to focus on the huge shift in scents and moods.

Dave lowered his arms and stifled the glow of the manacles, anger going down quick as it had flared. These children had not earned his wrath or foul memories. Rose made her way to him and touched the back of his shoulder for comfort, understanding. Even if what was gained was beautiful, what had been lost was powerful in its own right.

The children slowly approached their deities, digging in their pockets for scraps of snacks, for scrolls, for papers, anything they had for offerings. Those who had nothing settled to their knees and offered prayers instead.

Two curious girls approached Dave and Rose, eyes wide. They couldn't have been more than ten or twelve, baby teeth missing, hair in the awkward stage between raucously kinked curls and wavy, skin the color of burnt toast. Twins by their eyes. They shared a glance between themselves cautiously before looking up once more.

... What are you gods of?” the braver one asked, the shyer holding her sister's arm in a tight grip.

Fire,” Rose supplied when Dave remained quiet, awkward after his earlier powerful outburst. “And I tend to clarity and insight. A seer. I work with Megido for guidance, and with Pyrope, balancing her.” Though from here it appeared the goddess needed more than balance, uncertain what to do with the mob of tiny worshipers at her feet. “We're the youngest now.”

The twins talked among themselves again in whispers, glancing up at Rose and Dave every few seconds before coming to an agreement. The shy twin spoke up this time, breathless.

Do you have many followers yet..?” This question seemed mostly steered towards Dave. “We heard what you told the elders. You didn't burn them. We've been taught what happened to you here.. and you didn't burn them.”

That was enough talking for her apparently, as her voice failed and she went mute, tugging her sister's sleeve insistently for help.

Can we be your followers? We already have patron deities, but..! But, you're NEW. Maybe we would have been chosen by one of you if you were older!” The outburst was pure and sweet and honest, not demanding. There was a spark to the elder's eyes that Dave felt a stirring towards, the desire to stoke and protect. That spark needed to kindle a fire all its own and run with it. What would this girl be capable of when grown?”

Who were your deities?” Dave asked, already knowing in his heart.

Dirk,” the elder said. She turned to wrap her open arm around her sister's shoulders in a loose hug. “Hers is Megido. But. Can we be your followers? We'll make statues and drawings, and burn incense and. And. And put all the best flowers out for you!”

It was a very strong case for a determined child and the gesture did not go ignored. Dave glanced to Rose, who seemed just as touched, and nodded at them.

Yes. Of course! You can be the very first!”

- - - - - - - - -

Megido ran her fingertips down the coarse pages of her thick tome, familiar and yet always exciting to read as the present turned to the past with every passing second, new pages waiting to be filled appearing all the time. Reality was being written, tended, minded. Recorded for nobody else to see save for her deep eyes and, eventually, Omega.

That was still quite a way off however. Alpha would have enjoyed the book far more, her green eyes caring, green whorls on her cheeks so out of place in the world that she had created. The finished product rarely matched the muse, after all.

Dave and Rose had been given statues at the temple of their origin, and their placement wishes had been honored. Rose resided beside Maryam and Pyrope, while Dave stood between Dirk and John. Old statues had been honorably torn down and replaced with new versions to celebrate such a grand appearance.

It had been the start of a new holy day, a day of new beginnings and peaceful endings. Songs and stories were written of it, and of the daily affairs and loves of these new deities in the strongly woven world that myth and legend had originally not been inhabited by. Tales were told of the love between Rose and Maryam, spring and summer rising with them, the seeds being guided through the harsh winter knowing they would blossom anew the next year. Of Pyrope and Rose standing against the wrongs and injustices of the world, meting out judgement where needed and teaching others more of how to handle such matters themselves without giving in to the temptation to simply assume they were always right.

Soft songs spoke of hope lying with the wind and fire, molded by a warriors hands. Paintings told Dave's story as plainly as the solid metal at his statues wrists, and his young follower grew telling tales directly supplied by the god himself to enraptured audiences, her sister supplying the art.

She sighed and closed her book for a moment, stretching. Well. That was one set ascended to godhood and an entire hiccup in the established order of things. Job well done even with the hiccups here and there.

Time to start planning for the next ones.