Diane’s POV: Diane, the researcher that everyone loves to hate that is also a witch. She put the seal on Sora in B2.
Devin: Used to be Eric’s right-hand man; our crazy scientist, that got turned into a demon and shortly after absorbed into a husk, implanted one of the infected werewolf’s eyes into his body, wrapping it in the werewolf’s skin so it couldn’t transmit its infectious sight affix in B2 – C. 32.
Diane took a deep breath as she examined the strange golden city she found herself in. Her journey since Rangor’s disastrous experiment, and likely evisceration, had been strange. At first, she had been terrified, but that feeling had slowly faded as Devin’s erratic mannerisms eased.
It was clear that this horrific eye that her colleague had transplanted into the Wolfwere boy was dangerous, and it granted Devin weird powers; even when wrapped by the original owner’s skin, it still sent a surge of terror through her entire soul.
His mind and mannerisms had drastically evolved since the surgery. He no longer acted like an angry or scared teenager; now, he was a creature of knowledge, sight, and the occasional outbursts of insanity.
She took a deep breath as her head slowly studied the scene; Devin leaned against a golden pillar of a massive entrance arch; his single eye was closed as he breathed raggedly, palm pressed against his skin covered eye of insanity.
From what she’d seen from the air, the island was something out of a fairytale and seemed a perfect representation of Aztec architecture; a golden city in South America brought more than one legend to her mind.
They stood atop a large staircase that had taken them up to the city level. It was silent, and Diane hadn’t seen a single creature, insect, bird, or animal since landing, yet the place was in perfect order. Taking a moment to rub her legs, she groaned softly; her bones were more than a little sore with Devin’s insistence upon haste.
Devin is using me like a poor kid in a toy-store near Christmas, shopping with a stranger’s credit card without reservation! He has brought us to a rather fascinating place, though, a magically concealed island that hums with mystical energy. This would make an excellent book! I just need to avoid dying.
It had taken them seven hours to reach the place from Tennessee, a magically concealed island that Devin revealed with his new powers, thirty miles south of the Galapagos Islands. Quite impressive, but with the amount of money that Devin flaunted, her money, mixed with an exhaustive amount of spellcraft, it was less extraordinary. He’d been running her ragged, funds, nerves, and physical strength.
It wouldn’t have been possible to travel this fast, except Devin lead her to an experimental jet the U.S. military had in the area, and the spells it took to steal was the most significant drain on her body since a price to tap into the Magical Plane was to consume the caster’s stamina.
She’d be lying if she said she didn’t find an edge of elation from the journey. Devin brought a spur of excitement and mystery that she hadn’t had in decades, and the adventure had reawoken the heat she felt with the joy of discovery. In honesty, Devin scared her even more than Bathin; demons, she knew how to deal with, Devin, however, she didn’t have a clue.
She shifted her shoulder bag to a more comfortable position before closing her eyes and extended her magical senses. This island breathed power; the spells she could cast with the energy saturating the air alone sent a shiver down her spine. She’d almost fainted as they passed through the barrier; this was the perfect place for experimentation, millions of times more radiant than any lay-line she’d come across, and it seemed completely empty.
The massive clearing beside the sea was more than large enough to land the jet. They’d left the pilot on the plane, charmed to sleep to walk up the golden platform to the city.
Clearing her throat, Diane turned to the boy. “So, is this some island dedicated to one of the Aztec gods?”
After a few more seconds, Devin composed himself; his tone was neutral as he straightened to stare ahead at the gleaming golden city. “Huitzilopochtli, also known as El Rey Dorado … a vengeful and warful god; his family was devoured by his own mouth and the hands of the beings he incurring the wrath of. He hoarded many treasures and legendary artifacts, forcing his people to offer sacrifices to power several.”
“Interesting,” Diane hummed, “that translates as The Golden King … appropriate. Would I be overstepping my bounds by asking why we are here, and why we must hurry? Is it Bathin? Are his demons pursuing us?”
An arrogant smirk lit Devin’s cheeks as his head tilted to appraise her. “Bathin is a grain of sand in the universe; no, he is nothing, and he is much more concerned about Inari and Sora … with many other issues surrounding him. Sköll and Hati will be an issue for him in time. No, we have a much more titanic force pursuing us, and you’ve chosen to side with me, which means even in death, you are not safe.”
It took a moment for Diane to work through his statement, causing a shiver to drop down her spine. “What … do you mean—I’ve chosen to side with you? Death is not even an escape?”
Devin’s irritating grin scared her. “The things I learned from the human streets applies quite well with the grand picture of fate; hope euphoria can slow dance with society. You have no clue what’s happening behind the scenes, just the insight I’ve gained … it’s like I was forced to graduate college as a newly born babe … we’re going to walk.”
“Walk, where?” Diane asked, glancing around at the uniform city streets and thirteen massive pyramid temples rising high into the sky, each a different height, likely representing the Aztec levels of heaven.
Devin pointed at the tallest structure in the center of the city before casually walking that way. “The thirteenth heaven; our destination.”
Swallowing hard, Diane followed him; her mind slowly focused more on Devin as he talked, and their situation began to clear in her mind.
“So, Diane, how can you die for the throne you seek, when you don’t have the heart to die for your own ambition?”
“I … I’ve only looked out for myself … one decision that will change my life,” she muttered, looking back in the direction of the plane, but she continued walking. “I don’t know if I have much of a choice…”
“There’s always a choice. I followed orders and did everything I was supposed to. In many ways, that hasn’t changed, but my final destination is the place where the unknown is living and real … the seventh seal will need to be released.”
Diane swallowed at the revelation; she had stumbled into something much bigger than herself, but her blood was boiling for answers. The feelings she’d had long ago lost. “That’s where we’re going?”
“No, this is but the first chapter,” Devin chuckled. “Diane, I had a simple life … until that night, when we were captured; everything changed, and unknowingly, I unleashed hell upon my own head. That is why we are here. Stephanie is pursuing us. She’s a major player; luckily, it’s taking time for her to prepare herself since she’s pregnant and having to meet with several other monstrous figures. It gives us the necessary time to provide a lifeline.
“The game I’ve seen—universes get torn up, gang signs are thrown up; the enigma struck me when this eye was attached to me, and I hit the pavement and dashed, Diane. I saw her … the black snow is coming, and I must present gifts to her that’s equivalent to my sin. Luckily, my new eye grants me many insights … the many dreaded memories of disaster.
“We have a long journey ahead of us, and this is only the opening play. The insanity … the chaos and order of existence … the balance … imagine if you could see it all, and you wonder why I crack from time to time. Imagine if the first glance had you foaming at the mouth, but to survive, I must look at the insanity.
“We’re in a boundless cul-de-sac turf war with plenty of Cognac spread around, and immeasurable pain at our heels; the stress that claws at your mind like a starving rat in a sealed barrel, the only escape, a man’s stomach … it gets ugly. War across antiquity … we must adapt to the horror. Reality is violent with the alluring mask of peace … the sensitive and ignorant unknowingly crawl their heads into nooses, good intentions, every path leads to hell … it’s all madness—no peace treaties, just death to be pre-approved—bodies on top of bodies.
“I’m a victim of the violent stature of human nature, presented as a gift to the ever resentful, the omnipresent—the formless chain. When you enter this game—you better make sure your colors are correct, make sure your Factions are clear, or they’ll come to collect. Founders and Primordials could never get along. Allegiances are so delicate that a single movement is a promise they’ll bleed.
“Yet you must have a Faction to survive; so, I follow the rules, but that’s just like me. I grew up in the pack … it’s harsh, but reality always is, and the baggage I brought with me from my previous life causes problems for our future … I live inside the belly of the rough.”
Diane rubbed her arms as a chill ran down her spine. “You’re saying that you—you dragged me into a battle between Founders and Primordials? I don’t even know the significance of that statement.”
“You were chosen to be drawn into it since La fée Morgane took you in; where you ended up is another matter entirely,” he said with a knowing gleam in his eye.
She bit her lower lip; concern etched across her face. “You said we were being pursued by someone named Stephanie, right? W-what is she? Surely we can mount a proper defense.”
Devin was silent a moment as his features pacified. “She was born from Élivágar and raised in Ginnungagap. An aborigine of existence.”
“Norse Mythology? Those words … they’re used to describe the first Jötun in the Norse creation myth. She’s a primal being … a Primordial?”
“Diane, the unveiling of the first chapter requires much in this narrative. It requires sacrifice to open a path, ironic since we are in one of the bloodiest sacrificial realms in time. The number of humans, creatures, demi-gods, and gods that were offered are numberless to most.
“The merciless, murderous, ravaging savage that even now averaged more than a body a second awaits below. We are the Trojan Horse, and it’s only the beginning of our craftwork. There isn’t another way for us; the pain and suffering is a reward to the unforsaken.”
Diane’s fingernails dug into her palms as she slowed. “What … are we doing here? Pain, suffering? Those are not good words to describe the future…” He didn’t slow, making Diane pick up her pace again, glancing around the gleaming streets that suddenly seemed much more sinister.
“We’re going to meet the mad god.”
She glanced up at the towering temple ahead of them as they continued down the center path. At first glance, the golden city looked welcoming, a grand adventure; however, Devin’s words cast a dark tint to the spectacle.
We’re going to see Huitzilopochtli? Is that the mad god or something else? There must be something more to this place if it was one of the bloodiest places … ever. It’s hard to believe, but I have no evidence to discount it.
The Wolfwere fell silent as he lead her toward the shining steps, bright in the blazing sun overhead. The breeze blew back her unbound hair, and she found it odd that the rancid taste of her saliva caught her attention; it made her acutely aware of how dirty she felt, going without a shower for over thirty hours.
Things are not looking up … I have a feeling that I’m trapped with Devin at the moment … if he can really see everything, then how am I supposed to change my future? How many plots are at work? Well, I guess it’s either here or with Bathin, and at least I’ll get more novel material with the boy. What a mess … I just want to be remembered.
It had taken her walking through the streets, but even the foliage seemed to be made of gold. Despite their appearance, they weaved in the breeze and gave off strange, unfamiliar scents that gave her the impression of something fruity and earthen, and even the water flowing out of the water channels and fountains was a yellow color.
By the time they made it to the base of their destination, the city had become more than a little gaudy in her eyes. It took them a decent time to make it to the top of the primary pyramid; it was much taller than Diane anticipated, she had to take several breaks while Devin patiently waited, silently gazing around the ghost city.
The top of the stairs lead into a large dark room; the walls were riddled with strange designs that were completely unfamiliar to her. The moment they entered, the symbols began to glow a bright red, casting an eerie light across the interior.
Diane squinted, taking everything in. “Is that—is that an alter? Don’t tell me you plan to sacrifice me?” She gasped, feeling stupid for not even thinking about the possibility.
The undoubtedly golden altar was beautifully fashioned into the image of a hummingbird; however, the exquisitely constructed structure was stained with all manner of colorful liquids, still wet by their glossy appearance.
A sacrifice would be dropped down upon the long beak, and the creature would slowly die of blood loss as its vitality baptized the metal statue. Her mind swam with visions of the creatures that must have been offered up on this unholy artifact.
A soft chuckle left Devin’s throat before he groaned, grasping at his skin covered eye. Diane stepped back before he grunted, “No, Diane, you wouldn’t make a good sacrifice. You lack many qualifications for a high-tier offering … for one, no one would grieve your death.”
Diane’s lips became a line, but her fear of the boy held her tongue. Well, I never … that was probably the most insulting thing someone’s ever said to me!
After a few minutes, his sharp breaths slowed, body dripping sweat. He wiped the liquid away with a sigh of relief, and a bemused laugh left his throat. “I started like Australians, criminal-minded, was cast into hell, was torn apart, and built a city behind it. Wolf-like murderous methodology…”
He turned back to her, single eye wide with madness. “Diane, if you pass this point with me, you can never go home; you must face the possibility of dying alone because from this point on, I can never return, and if I turn back now, then forever I’ll burn. This is the point from which I can never retreat because if I turn back now, I will never see peace. From now on, it can never be the same as before because the person I was doesn’t exist anymore.”
Devin moved to the back wall, bit his thumb to draw blood, and smeared it across several glowing runes. A pulse began to oscillate inside her, causing the hair across her body to stiffen, and she coughed as saliva got caught in her throat.
“What will it be, Diane? I needed you up until this point, but you can still return to Bathin; he will eventually track you down.”
Breathing hard as the pressure suddenly hit her. This is real! How did it escalate so fast? What should I do? Bathin will find me … I’ll be forced to serve him … there’s no doubt about that, but what about Devin? I don’t know … it could be so much worse … Founders and Primordials…
A forced grin split her lips at the thought. “Founders and Primordials … I know so little about them … very well, Devin. Sacrifice is required for everything … ultimate knowledge with the potential of eternal suffering. What else is there to live for?”
Devin’s lips curved into a smirk. “Then let our story begin.”
Diane tensed as the oscillation intensified, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut. She didn’t know how long it lasted; the pulse had blanked all other thoughts in her mind. At some point, she was staring up at a golden sky.
Blinking, her sense of touch slowly returned; there was a low rumble that echoed around her, the origin just outside of her sight. After a moment, she saw blurred shapes dropping out of the sky. The sun was blinding her ability to identify them.
To say her muscles were sore would have been a disservice to her screaming nerves, but she fought past the pain to prop herself up. It took her several seconds to really understand where she’d found herself, and when she did, her throat went dry.
She was lying on the dirt of a massive golden arena, blood and bodies littered the dusty floor; blood soaked into the soil, staining nearly every inch of a field several times the size of a football stadium. Thankfully, the place she’d appeared was one of the few spots not drenched with liquid.
Turning her focus back to the sky, she watched thousands of spheres, bodies continually dropping out of them to hit the sand. The low hum came from tens of thousands of spectators in the towering stands, all bird-like as they watched the numberless displays of deathmatches, armies slaughtering each other, assassinations, and all manners of carnage.
Diane’s stomach turned as her sense of smell returned, and she quickly turned, heaving. After several seconds of hacking, she emptied her stomach, gasping, and spitting. Eyes wide, her irises raised to study the half disemboweled girl beside her, a sickly grin on the dead child’s face; it was so fresh, almost like she’d sit right back up and start laughing in her face.
“W-where—I didn’t…” her stomach heaved again, but there was nothing left; dry heaving off and on, it took her several minutes to get ahold of herself.
It wasn’t until she caught sight of Devin, walking toward her with a placid expression that she finally started to get ahold of her body and mind.
“D-Devin … what—what is this—this … hell?”
“The place where Huitzilopochtli collects all his offerings, willing and unwilling across thousands of universes and realms that still worship him. He’s been holding up in this hidden space for ages since angering many Factions.”
“W-what are…” Her jaw locked as an overwhelming force seemed to crush her; it was as if she were in the epicenter of a black hole, yet it didn’t kill her. She was being compressed by absolute power, but utterly unable to die, unable to scream.
The experience only lasted a second, but it might as well have been an eternity; Devin’s strange power encircled her, endless hands caressing her skin as the unearthly sound vibrated through her. She wasn’t sure which was worse, but at least she could now focus on what was happening in front of her, the being floating before them.
It was more feathers and metal-like bone than a creature, but it released a radiance that made Diane cry with horror and joy. It was the strangest sensation.
It’s bone encased black wings were decorated with blood red and deep green feathers, each one flecked with black stripes. The pointed spikes framing its two massive appendages were whiter than the brightest light and were matched by feathers so black that only the god’s eyes could match their color.
It wore an obsidian black skull for a crown with shimmering red liquid symbols painted into the bone; bright green feathers lodged into the forehead, each one a different color.
Her eyes moved down its puffed out chest, red and black feathers like daggers on its slim lower body. Its tail branching out into a reverse V-shape, and its body released a sinister crimson glow as it hovered in front of them.
Diane couldn’t help but stare at its razor-sharp, pitch-black beak and thin, void black eyes were only marred by a single red line that almost seemed like a scar. It’s vision penetrated through every atom of her being, but the slight shifts of the blue-scaled snake coiled around the god’s body quickly drew her attention.
The snake had a diamond-like head with flared horns branching out from the corners of its mouth and eyes. Thirteen feather-like fins were weaving along its head as the wind blew, and a glowing red gem embedded between its blue and black mixed eyes. Its deadly serrated spikes flowed down its spine, and they seemed to be moving back and forth.
“Huitzilopochtli, Xiuhcoatl,” Devin greeted with a leer. “This must be a shock.”
The god’s voice was like an earthquake striking her body; it was impossible to breathe. “What is this strange power coming from your eye … you are an abomination.”
“I think that’s left to opinion,” Devin said with a smug grin as he turned to stare up at the sky. “I think you have much more pressing issues than talking to me. Huitzilopochtli, you think you’re so clever, don’t you? Xiuhcoatl, you think you’re so smart … it’s so funny.”
Both Huitzilopochtli and Xiuhcoatl’s heads rose. “This is … how could she…”
A cold gust somehow cut past the waves of infinite power, and suddenly she was completely at ease; Devin’s uncomfortable protection was swept away from her like the grains of dust before a typhoon. Looking up, she watched the bright sky extinguish within moments, and another sharp gale brought flakes of what she could only describe as black snow.
“Abomination … what have you done?” Xiuhcoatl hissed, head swinging left and right. “How did I not see this coming?”
Huitzilopochtli’s tone was sad but resigned. “There’s no escape; we’ve been outplayed … why did the Herald of Sakura step in? Does this advance her agenda? Why now?”
Devin’s grin grew, showing his teeth as he laughed. “Gods … you call yourselves gods, yet you tremble at the sight of true power. I see it behind those near-impenetrable walls you hide behind as your world crumbles. Come with me to a place where only madmen boldly go, a world so dark, so cold, a world where only some will go but never return. Welcome to Ginnungagap.”
He licked his lips, opening his arms wide to look up at the now dark sky as black ice began shooting out of the ground, freezing everything around them. The sun was consumed by darkness, leaving nothing but the void.
All she could hear was the sound of cracking ice and feel the cold wind; she knew this atmosphere would have extinguished her existence had not some transcendent power wrapped her in their frigid, but protective hands.
A low, thunderous horn reverberated through the air, and several more horns joined the call, quaking the frozen floor underneath her and making her spirit shake.
“She’s coming,” Devin said, taking a reassuring breath as his smile faltered.
Huitzilopochtli uttered an unintelligible call, opening his mouth as a dull blue glow appeared in the heavens, as if moons in the sky, allowing her to see the faint outline of a colossal humanoid shape that seemed larger than a planet. She knew it was a vast distance away from them, but with her size, she could close the gap with only a few steps.
The response came with the mayhem of crunching crystals and shockwaves that shattered the black ice with the pressure of the cyclones the figure generated by just her movements, and the reverberations carried along it scattered the fragments like weapons, but an illuminant blue shell seemed to protect Devin and her.
The gods, however, were left to fend for themselves; a faint yellow light began to radiate from the bird’s feathers, but it flickered off and on as the giant neared, and the tempest increased.
The earth quaked with each step the titanous being took.
Diane’s legs gave out, even with the seismic activity dampened to a reasonable level. She knew she should have been ripped apart by the hail surrounding them.
The most lovely, lush, and soft-spoken voice cut past the windstorm; despite how soft it was, it felt like it carried with it a supernova. “I discarded that name long ago, Huitzilopochtli. I go by Stephanie now.”
The light vanished from the sky as the shadowing giant stood over them, and the storm ceased; her eyes lowered to fall upon a beyond beautiful woman, clearly pregnant. She released a faint blue glow that mirrored the tone of the moon-like planets before, and her skin was a deep blue.
Stephanie was at least as tall as her and wore a blue dress that fell just above her feet, showing perfectly manicured toes. Her hair was a silky black and hung down to her calves. It was pulled back, pointed ears piercing the locks that fell along her side.
Despite being pregnant, she didn’t appear puffy; her visible arms and face were elegantly chiseled. The whites of her eyes were a dull laminate blue with bright sapphire-like irises.
Xiuhcoatl’s head lowered on Huitzilopochtli’s shoulders, and Diane noticed several cuts were black blood could be seen upon the serpent’s scales. “Lady Ste…”
Stephanie’s cold eyes shifted to him, and a massive block of black ice shot up from the ground, encasing the gods before her vision went to Devin. The Wolfwere dropped to his knees, head lowered.
A curious smile curved Stephanie’s lips as she appraised the boy. “You are touched by The Herald of Sakura’s corrupt power; many would consider you a perversion to the natural order, Devin. However, you have done something for me no one has managed; using The Herald’s network to accomplish it was a simple task, but something she refused me.”
Diane watched the encounter passively, not willing to do the slightest thing to draw attention to herself. Huitzilopochtli truly felt like a god, but this, this was something transcendent, beyond even that, something unimaginable.
The Primordial walked around Devin, lips becoming a line. “However, you did harm someone precious to me. Normally, a creature as weak as yourself would not have the means to compensate for such an offense. What say you?”
“There are survivors, floating in darkness. They’re not alone; now, here they come, now hear, they come, now they will be received.”
He swallowed before continuing. “No one could outrun the creation, all reduced to rubble, and again, to ash, to the blinding, burning light. It’s no use to fight. There’s no one out there. All failed contact, no life disturbed. Existing everywhere and nowhere … a contradiction to all. A war is more than heard … louder than words.”
Diane’s heart burned; she wanted to rip it out of her chest as a black tear fell down Stephanie’s cheeks. She stood before the Wolfwere with a solemn expression. “That eye is quite the curse, yet you chose to look … to garner my pity.”
The Primordial was silent for an indefinite time, looking back into the darkness as she rubbed her stomach. Eyes downcast, she breathed a sigh before returning her sapphire irises to Devin, a soft smile returning to her delicate blue lips. “Pity you have. Use this gift wisely; there are many paths you may take, and this witch’s divided soul can change that destination in numerous ways.”
Stephanie licked her lower lip before drawing it into a line. “The chaos surrounding Sora has changed the strings of fate and thrown all plans into shambles. They traveled to the world with a shivering light inside it … the sound of a heartbeat. The limits of imagination are endless, Wolfwere; you understand that statement because of that eye. Do not let it consume you.”
Diane gasped as a chill surrounded her, and suddenly she was staring up at the golden ceiling of Huitzilopochtli’s temple. Devin sat beside her, still kneeling.
Bowing his head further, he whispered, “I will do what I must, Lady Stephanie.”
The witch’s breath caught as quakes cascaded down her spine. “I—I stood in the presence of—of…”
“Something transcendent,” Devin finished, getting to his feet before brushing himself off, “and it will not be the last time.”
Diane swallowed nervously, gazing down at her quivering hands. “Will it ever get better?”
“No, we both cannot stand in such a being’s true presence, much less a place of their conception without being protected.” Turning, Devin motioned to her. “On to the next chapter.”
She pressed her hand against her chest. This is … everything I wanted…
Nodding, she walked behind him, descending the stairs to return to their iron bird.
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