Lightning ripped the sky wide and cast long shadows over Olympus. Rain fell in torrential sheets and newborn rivers ran through the gardens of the gods. Olorun watched the skies weep and wondered if Tiamat were behind it. The likelihood was strong. Shaking the heavens was common indicator of divine annoyance, after all.
Then, Tiamat had much to be annoyed about. Had she not been attacked in her own home by gods she had welcomed as guests? Olorun thumped a fist against the balustrade of the portico and bowed his head.
“It’s getting worse,” Hera said. She stood behind him, her shawl wrapped tight about her. “Even Zeus at his most wrathful could not make it storm with such ferocity.” She paused. “Do not tell him that I said that. He is quite sensitive about such things.”
Olorun smiled and lifted his head. “I would not dream of it.” He glanced at her. “Has the Baron returned yet? I would hear what the gods of the dead have to say about our neighbour.” He had asked Samedi, along with several others, to investigate Tiamat’s origins – mostly to ascertain the veracity of her claims. He’d hoped that the gods of the dead might know something of her, for their memories stretched further and deeper than most.
Hera frowned. “He has not, though knowing Samedi, he will show up at the most inopportune time.” She joined him on the portico. Olorun sensed the looming, watchful presence of Argus somewhere behind them. “What do you make of this King Gilgamesh?”
“Troublesome,” Olorun said. Gilgamesh had made himself at home in Olympus, and many of the gods had welcomed him. In truth, it was hard not to like him – he was gregarious and good-humoured. Friendly, if a touch arrogant.
Hera laughed. “My thoughts exactly.”
“Zeus seems taken with him.”
“Yes, well, he’s always had terrible taste.”
“Present company excepted, of course,” Olorun said. “I will say that many seem to share his opinion of the newcomer. And he is doing his best to convince them of the rightness of his cause.” In the days since his arrival, Gilgamesh had visited representatives from several pantheons – and the number of those who counted themselves as his allies was growing.
“A cause you do not seem eager to embrace,” Hera said.
“Should I be? Gilgamesh, however right his cause may be, provoked one who might have been a friend to us.” Olorun gestured to the distant temple-palace. “Now the heavens rage and the rivers flood their banks – a sure sign that Tiamat is enraged.” He paused. “She will move against us soon. I hope that we will be ready to meet her.” He had left the defensive preparations in the hands of Ares and Athena – a choice he hoped he would not have cause to regret.
Hera was silent for several moments. Then, “Do you fear her?”
Olorun considered the question. “No. But I am not yet strong enough to match her, should she decide we are her foes.” He looked down at his hands. “And were I to call upon my full might to face her, as I did with Cthulhu, I fear this world would not survive.”
“You are wise, my lord,” someone said, before Hera could reply. The voice came out of nowhere – or seemed to, at least. In truth, Olorun had been aware of the eavesdropper for some time. While his senses had been somewhat muted by the weight of the world, they were still good enough to see through such magics as the ones Morgan Le Fay employed.
Olorun turned towards her, pinpointing her location despite the sorcerous camouflage that draped her. “And you are most adept at weaving illusions, Morgan Le Fay. I must commend you, even as I wonder why you are here.”
Scowling, Morgan dropped her illusory veil, revealing herself and the sword that floated behind her. “Why did you not speak earlier?”
“I hoped you might give me some indication as to your purpose.” Olorun faced her. “I ask again – why are you here?”
“I wished to speak to you, my lord. To convince you not to set yourself against one who has done so much for this world and its peoples.”
“And who are you to convince us of anything?” Hera asked. “Merlin has spoken of you to me, enchantress. He says you caused much trouble for he and Arthur. How you came to be here I cannot fathom, but I doubt he would be pleased to find you here.”
Morgan smiled widely. “Indeed, he is not. But that is to be expected, given that it is Merlin I came to warn you about.” She looked at Olorun. “He has given you counsel of late, has he not? He’s warned you of Tiamat’s intentions – perhaps attempted to persuade you to move against her?”
Olorun frowned. Merlin had come to him not long after Gilgamesh’s arrival, proposing that very thing. He suspected that the sorcerer had come to some private accord with Gilgamesh. “You have been spying on us.”
Morgan laughed. “No, but I am familiar with his ways.”
“As I am familiar with yours, traitress!”
A wash of sorcerous fire sent Morgan sprawling to the floor of the portico. Olorun turned to see Merlin hurrying towards them. “I knew you had not gone far,” he growled. “Away from them, witch!” He gestured, summoning another ball of sorcerous fire.
Olorun gestured, snuffing the flame even as it left Merlin’s hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Hera waving Argus back before he could intervene. “We do not require aid, Merlin,” he said. “Morgan and I were simply talking.”
“She cannot be trusted,” Merlin said. If he was at all perturbed by Olorun’s casual dismissal of his spell, he gave no sign. “She is deceit incarnate – a temptress and a liar…”
“There are some who might say the same of you,” Morgan said. The sword hovering over her shoulder twitched like the stinger of a scorpion’s tail. She looked at Hera, who watched the confrontation with a shrewd expression on her face. “Who was it who told you how to defeat Jormungandr, oh queen of Olympus? Was it the one who sent the monster to ravage your lands in the first place, perchance?”
“A mistake,” Merlin said, glancing at the Queen of Olympus. “One I have done my best to atone for, as Hera can attest.”
Morgan laughed. “What you call atonement, I call opportunism. You seek to ingratiate yourself here, even as you did at Camelot – but that didn’t work out so well for our people, did it, Merlin?”
Merlin paused, a pained expression on his face. “I have only ever done what I thought best,” he said, softly. “And all I have done was for the benefit of Camelot and its people.” Olorun read volumes in those words. He glanced at Hera, and saw that she too had heard what was left unsaid. Of late, both Arthur and Merlin had been more aggressive – more forceful. It was as if the war against Cthulhu had awoken something in them. Something fierce. Something dangerous.
“And how does taking their king benefit them?” Morgan shook her head. “You have never cared about Camelot, Merlin – not truly. You care only for the perfect kingdom that exists in your head. You tried to beat our land into a shape pleasing to you, and when you failed, you fled here, hoping to start fresh.”
Merlin stared at her in silence, and Olorun found himself wondering how much of what Morgan had said was true. Whether Merlin’s aggressiveness was as much desperation as anything. Regardless, it was a problem for later. He gestured sharply. “Enough. Come to the point, Morgan.”
The enchantress turned her sly gaze on him. “I have made it already, my lord. You cannot trust Merlin – or Arthur, who is Merlin’s puppet. And it is they who counsel you to join forces with Gilgamesh. Ask yourself why – what do they have to gain by pitting you against Tiamat?”
“The world,” Gilgamesh said, causing Morgan to whirl about. He leaned casually against the entrance to the portico, studying her with a keen eye. Arthur stood behind him, a neutral expression on his face. But his hand was on his sword.
Gilgamesh stroked his beard as he continued, “As the sea seeks to devour the land, so too will she seek to make this world her own. She cannot help herself. It is not in her nature to share, nor is it in ours – but her time has passed and ours has only just begun.”
“What has passed once may come around again,” Morgan said. Gilgamesh nodded.
“And then it passes once more. That is the way of things. But that is not how Tiamat prefers it. That is why she was bound before, so that the world might grow and change without fear of her mad whims.”
“You have no proof of that,” Morgan said. “She has done much for this world, and you repay her with accusation and assault.”
“If a man cannot trust his gods, who can he trust?” Gilgamesh said. “The cycle was set in place millennia ago. All things bow to it. All things save Tiamat. For all that she claims to have the best interests of this world at heart, she is only interested in her own pleasure.” He looked at Olorun. “She sees the world as a toy – and she will break it the moment it ceases to amuse her. You know I speak truth, my lord.”
“The world, the cycle, was already broken – by him,” Morgan said, pointing an accusing finger at Merlin, whose face tightened in dismay. “Who is to say she is not the one to repair it?”
“Me,” Gilgamesh said, turning back to her. “I say it. As I say that I will be the one to send her back to her dreamless slumber. Because someone must, before she cracks the world asunder in her inevitable anger.” His hand fell to the hilt of his sword. “I will save this world, whatever the cost. I am Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and this I have sworn.”
Morgan bared her teeth in a mirthless smile. Her eyes found Arthur’s. “He is as arrogant as you, Arthur. You are a good match for one another.”
Olorun watched them, weighing their words and the intent behind them. He laughed softly, and found all eyes drawn to him. “I have heard these arguments before,” he said. “Not the same words, perhaps, but the same meaning – change versus stagnation, order and chaos. Stability and uncertainty. Two sides of the same coin.” He looked up, wishing he could see the stars – wishing, in his heart of hearts, that he could return to them.
But he could not. Not while the world was endangered by the desires of god and man alike. His hands clenched. “Tiamat…might have been a friend to us, even as she is a friend to the world. But not now. I left the stars in order to keep the gods from destroying the very thing they sought to claim. And I stand against Tiamat for the same reason.”
Gilgamesh smiled, but before he could speak, Olorun went on. “But I am no friend to you either, King Gilgamesh – allies, yes, but not friends. You have dragged me into a war for what I believe to be your own convenience, and we will settle accounts when it is done.”
In the silence that followed, Morgan was the first to speak. “I am disappointed – but not surprised. Nor, I think, will Tiamat be surprised. I leave you to your uneasy alliance, King of Olympus. I would wish you luck, but…well.” She smiled, shrugged, and gestured. The sword that hovered at her shoulder spun in a slow circle, carving a hole in the world. When it had finished, she stepped through it, vanishing from sight.
Olorun turned to Hera. “I want to speak to both Ares and Athena – now.”
Morgan stepped through the hole carved by her sword into an immense, pillared hall in Tiamat’s palace-temple. Thick curtains of greenery hung between the pillars, blocking off all sight of the storm outside. The vines stirred slightly as she appeared and she realized that her arrival had not gone unnoticed. She smiled.
Almost instantly, she detected the presence of a great shape – predatory, and yet magnificent – stalking among the forest of pillars that lined the chamber before her. She heard the crackle of magics and looked up.
“And who might you be?” Tiamat said, her voice like the crash of waves upon the shore. Glittering talons gently tapped the floor to either side of Morgan, blocking off her path of escape. A long, fanlike tail swayed through the air, and where it passed, motes of light danced on the air. “A spy?”
“An ally,” Morgan said, lifting her chin. She met Tiamat’s gaze without flinching. This being was mighty, true, but she had dealt with creatures more powerful than herself more than once. “But one who comes with a price.”
“A price?” Tiamat chuckled. “You seek to bargain with me?” Despite her seeming amusement, Morgan could hear the warning in Tiamat’s words. “Name yourself then – and your price as well.
“I am Morgan Le Fay.” She bowed her head. “And what I ask is only a little thing, oh mighty one. A mere scrap of a boon, easily granted and forgotten, I am sure. But if I have offended you in the asking, well, I shall depart and never return.”
Tiamat lowered her head, so that her gaze was level with Morgan’s. “And if I grant this tiny boon? What will I get in return?”
“As I said – an ally. One who will serve your interests as if they were her own.”
“I have allies in abundance,” Tiamat said. “Even now, they scour the world, seeking others who might be inclined to aid me. What need do I have for you?”
Morgan smiled. “Surely you can answer that question for yourself, great one.” She spread her arms. “But I will humor you, if you wish. The gods are not your only foes – even now, Merlin of Camelot whispers poison into the ear of Arthur, his king. Arthur, who came to this world to slay one dragon and, having failed, turns his sights to another.”
Tiamat stretched up to her full height, and peered down her snout at Morgan. “And why should one as ancient as I fear a mere king?”
“Do you not fear Gilgamesh? Is he not a mere king?”
Tiamat was silent for a moment. Then, “Choose your words with more care in the future, woman. I am Tiamat. I fear nothing.” She bent her head towards Morgan, her eyes glinting with amusement. “But come…you have not yet told me your price. What is it you wish of me?”
Morgan bowed. “There is no need to discuss it now, my lady. There will time enough, in due course. Instead, let us concentrate on what I can do for you – and what I have already done.” She gestured in the direction of Olympus. “There is much mistrust among the gods. Some of it my doing – some of it their own. But in the face of a common threat…” She trailed off. Tiamat reared back.
“They will put aside old grudges and unite against me. Yes, I know. And I have already decided how best to deal with it.”
“Oh?” Morgan asked, startled.
Tiamat gestured, and the air wavered like water. An image formed – the sea, Morgan thought. The storm that had been building since Gilgamesh’s attack lashed at the waters, stirring them into a vast whirlpool. “The sea is beautiful is it not, child?” Tiamat purred. “Like me, it is both creator and destroyer. It can give birth to legions – or swallow them up.”
Tiamat gestured again, and Morgan felt the tug of ancient magics – far mightier than anything she or Merlin had ever employed – and it frightened her, though she was careful not to show it. “What are you doing?”
“Something I should have done from the beginning.” Tiamat bared her fangs in a smile that was as cold as the ocean’s depths. The storm’s fury increased. The whirlpool rose up in a swirling typhoon, growing larger with every passing second. Immense waves pounded the shore, growing higher and higher. It was as if the sea were preparing to engulf the land.
“I am going to wash this land clean.”