Ancient stones shifted – parted – crumbled. Set stepped through the newly made gap, into the silent expanse beyond. He sighed in satisfaction. In the months since the corruption of the World Tree, Set had led his allies on a hunt for a weapon mighty enough to defeat the Great Dreamer. Now, at long last, it was within their grasp. “This is it,” he said, turning to his companions. “We have found it. On the shores of the Erythraean Sea, as I promised.”
“And just in time,” Loki said, joining him. He looked around, eyes narrowed. “I expected something more grand, given what this place used to be.”
“Even the tallest mountain crumbles,” Thanatos intoned as he followed them in, accompanied by Discordia and Bellona. “And the grandest temples all come to ruin. Even one as grand as this.”
“So long as it holds the key to victory, I don’t care what state it’s in,” Bellona growled, shoving the Hand of Death aside. “Where is it, Set? Where is this weapon you promised me?”
“Close at hand. Discordia – light, please.”
Discordia flung up her hands, and writhing lights spattered across the nearby stones, illuminating the space in its entirety. It was a large, vaulted chamber though it had long since succumbed to tectonic pressures. Fallen pillars and broken statues crowded together in the light. At the centre of the chamber was an immense pool of dark, stagnant water.
Discordia smirked. “This place is uglier than I imagined. How long has it been since anyone has worshipped here?”
“Longer than mortal memory,” Set said, as he started towards the great pool. “It is – was – the first temple, built by men. Carved into the place where land, sky and sea met. When the world shifted millennia ago, it was buried and forgotten by all but a few.”
“And you think it holds the answer to our current difficulties,” Loki said, impatiently as he hurried after Set. “Yes, yes, we all know why we’re here, Usurper. To fight chaos, one must use chaos. The question is…will she even hear us?” He gestured to the pool. “And will that thing even work for us? You said we needed a celestial light to pierce the darkness of the abyss – that’s why we needed Zeus and his lightning…”
Set rounded on him. “Luckily for us all, I made allowances for your failure to convince him of the rightness of our cause.” He leaned close to Loki, causing the other god to step back. “There is more than one god who wields such power.”
Bellona interposed her sword, breaking the two gods apart. “Then you’d best tell us your plan, eh?” she said, studying Set with a cold gaze. “Before I decide to take my chances and face Cthulhu on my own.”
“Because that went so well last time,” Discordia murmured. Bellona ignored her.
“The plan, Usurper,” she repeated.
Set gestured to the pool. “These waters are a doorway to the depths of the great sea that feeds the World Tree…”
“The Ginnungagap,” Loki said, softly. Set nodded.
“Those who built this place knew it as the Abyss – the primordial void, from whence all of existence sprang. And it is in this void that our deliverer now sleeps, as she has slept for millennia. She alone possesses the might to bind Cthulhu once more. Without her intercession, the madness of the Great Dreamer will swallow us all.”
“And what is this deliverer of yours called?” Bellona demanded.
Set was about to answer when a sudden rumble shook the temple to its crumbling foundations. He and the others turned as a searing light erupted from the aperture they’d made in the rock. As the light faded, a winged form hurtled into the temple.
Horus, son of Osiris, arrowed towards Set, spear extended before him. “At last, Usurper – you are mine!”
The stars were screaming. Olorun tried to shut out their voices, but it was impossible. He was one with them, with the very fabric of the universe. What the universe felt, so too did Olorun – and right now, all he felt was pain. The pain of dying stars…the pain of a universe unravelling beneath the weight of the Great Dreamer’s madness.
It was that pain that had been gnawing at him ever since he’d descended to this plane, muddying his thoughts and making his emotions brittle. He saw it clearly for the first time since he had claimed the throne of Olympus. Cthulhu was always going to rise. If Persephone had not precipitated it, it would have been another – Set, maybe, or even Tsukuyomi.
What had been set in motion so long ago, with the war of the pantheons and all that followed, could not have been stopped. He’d hoped to repair the damage Hades, Jormungandr and others had done to the skein of reality, but the cracks in existence ran too deep for anyone to fix. They would only widen, and reality itself would splinter.
But he could save something of the world; enough, perhaps, to start anew. That was the hope he held to his breast as Cthulhu’s monstrous form squeezed itself through the walls of Olympus with protean malice. Zeus and the others fought, trying to drive their common foe back, but their power was as nothing to the creature.
He saw Zeus hurl lightning bolt after lightning bolt full into the writhing features of Cthulhu and though the beast flinched, it did not retreat. He saw Athena, Anhur and Heimdallr attack with spear and axe, saw Argus hurl a broken pillar, saw Nike and Rama strike from on high and Baron Samedi toss two skulls into the air, their sockets burning with energy. Gods from half a dozen pantheons struck as one.
Olorun watched it all, but did not join them. Could not. Not without ruining their only chance at victory. Hera was speaking to him, shouting at him, but he could not answer her – could not explain to her this last, desperate gamble. His mind was elsewhere. The stars were falling, but they could still be of aid to him. He drew on their dwindling power and added it to his own. He could feel his strength returning, but slowly. If only the others could hold out for a bit longer, he might be able to save them all.
He reached up, grasping for more of the light, drawing the embers of a dying universe into himself. The death of each star tore at him, but he pressed on. Around him, the battle for Olympus continued. He saw the broken form of Argus slam through a pillar and vanish beneath falling rubble. He saw the crumpled, smouldering forms of Anhur and Nike laying forgotten on the floor. He saw Rama topple, clutching at his face. Saw Heimdallr stagger away, tearing at his own eyes, his ears bleeding. Saw Zeus and Hera standing side by side, united at last, hurling their power against the looming form of the Great Dreamer.
The last stars fell, and Olorun snatched at their flickering essences desperately. He could feel his form rippling with cosmic energies. He closed his eyes, readying himself for what was to come – a task only he could accomplish. It was why he was here. He had come to fix what was broken, and what was Cthulhu but the rot at the core of everything?
There was only one way to defeat such a pestilence – a cleansing fire, great enough to rekindle the stars and the sun. The world would end, but worlds had ended before. He would ensure that what came after was free of Cthulhu’s taint.
When he opened his eyes, all was silent. The battle was done. Olympus burned. The gods lay scattered like children’s toys. Even the mightiest of them had fallen before Cthulhu, though not without a fight. The creature’s flesh bubbled and sloughed from its form as it entered the main hall of Olympus, shoving aside pillars in its heedless advance.
As Olorun watched, its wounds repaired themselves. Its gaze fell upon him and its tendrils quivered with alien mirth. Something that might have been its voice thundered through him, but he ignored it, even as he ignored the uncertainty that gnawed at him. There was only one path to victory, one way to fix everything…if he but had the strength.
To save everything, he must first destroy it.
“Now we come to it,” Olorun rumbled. The light flared within him, and his form began to change – stretching, swelling, rising, until he was a match for the monstrosity before him. Olympus fell away as Olorun rose higher and higher, stretching his hands towards the broken sky. “This moment is why I left the stars – this moment, and no other. I will pull down the heavens upon you, and end your madness once and for all.”
At his boast, Cthulhu laughed again – a thunderous keening like no sound Olorun had ever heard. The beast lurched towards him, wings spread and eyes burning with madness. Olorun braced himself, and met his foe, god to god.
Set twisted away from Horus’ charge, narrowly avoiding the hawk-god’s spear. “As punctual as ever, boy,” he growled as he sprang onto a broken pillar. For weeks, Horus and Ra had dogged his trail. Set had done his best to avoid meeting his nephew in battle until the proper moment, but it had been difficult. Now, at last, he could dispose of the boy. But that was a pleasure best saved for afterwards. He had more important matters to attend to.
Horus banked, great wings stirring the musty air of the temple. Thanatos and Discordia swept to intercept him, as he’d known they would, and Set turned to face the second of their pursuers – for where Horus was, Ra would not be far behind. It was Ra whose power Set required. Ra, who bore the celestial light – the very thing needed to pierce the darkness of the abyss. To awaken she who slept there.
Ra emerged from the aperture, a corona of flame crackling about him. He gestured and coruscating flames roared up around Bellona and the others, driving them back. The Sun God did not speak as he entered the temple, but his eyes blazed with an all-consuming wrath. It seemed Ra had become infected by the same battle-madness that gripped Horus.
Good. That would make things easier.
Set glanced at Bellona, as she braced herself against the flames. “You and Loki manoeuvre Ra as close to the pool as possible. I will do the rest.”
Bellona nodded briskly and lunged through the flames. As Ra readied himself to meet her, Loki appeared behind him, daggers raised. The Sun God whirled at the last moment and Loki was forced to retreat as a wash of flame nearly engulfed him. Bellona closed in, and Ra turned to face her. Set prowled through the shadows, waiting for his moment.
Uneasiness gripped him. Once done, what he planned could not be undone. But it was the only way to defeat the Great Dreamer. He knew this, even as he had known that Osiris’ throne rightfully belonged to him. There was only one path forward, and only he had the foresight to take it.
Set heard a cry and turned to see Discordia crash against the wall of the temple. Horus roared like a berserker and drove Thanatos back, nearly knocking him from the air. Set turned away, trusting that the Hand of Death could handle his nephew. Bellona gave a shout and Set saw that between them, his allies had finally managed to lead Ra towards the pool. The Sun God hovered above the water within a pillar of light.
It was time.
He stoked the fires of his rage – of his hatred for the old order, the order set in place by Ra and those like him – and sprang towards his prey Distracted by Loki, Ra never saw him coming. Set plunged into the light, biting back a scream as it seared his flesh. His weapon connected, the blade plunging into Ra’s chest and emerging from his back. Ra screamed in pain and the light redoubled in brilliance. It washed across the walls and floor, erasing the shadows and blinding the combatants.
Ra fell. Set leapt away at the last moment and landed at the edge of the pool even as Ra, still wreathed in flames, struck the black waters and vanished in a gout of steam. Set heard Horus cry out somewhere behind him, but he paid his nephew no mind.
Instead, he peered down into the pool, watching as the fiery shape of Ra dwindled in the darkness, falling away across a vast, impossible distance. In the flickering light, Set saw a suggestion of movement. A sinuous, serpentine motion. As of something stirring in the deep.
Set stumbled back as the shape rose, gaining speed with every passing moment. He could hear the thrum of great wings, the rattle of scales. The sound grew deafening, and the temple began to shudder. Blocks of stone fell and the floor split.
“We did it,” Set shouted, as the temple collapsed around him. “Tiamat wakes!”
She looked down upon the world. Her world. Though others might claim it as theirs, might boast of how they had built it from the bodies of giants or shaped it from the light of stars, only she knew the truth. The world had been made from her blood and bone and it responded to her as a child might, to the voice of a parent.
Her gaze sharpened, fixed on two forms, locked in battle. One, a god of the heavens. The other, a monster of the lowest abysses. The world shuddered beneath them as they grappled, not just physically but spiritually as well. Order and Chaos. Each wanted the world to bow to their whim, never realising that without one the other could not be. The old argument, never to be settled. She considered leaving them to it, just to see which of them prevailed in the end.
But the world was in pain, and that she could not allow. The stars were but embers, the sun a faded echo, the heavens gone red. The world convulsed beneath the weight of chaos, crumbling. Its destruction was not her will, and so she moved to prevent it.
Tiamat spread her wings. Where her shadow fell, the seas rose – all of the seas. Even the primordial waters of the abyss surged up at her whim. They rose higher and higher, swirling about the roots of the World Tree to snuff the burning stars. As the waters washed over the lands, the combatants at last noticed her presence. They turned as one.
The azure energies of creation surged at her whim, and she began to remake the world as fast as it crumbled. At her cry, the waters rose and the life-giving energies became as chains, lashing about the monster of the abyss. It was an intruder, and one not fit to walk her world. Therefore, it would be punished. It had destroyed one world. Thus it was only fitting it be imprisoned by the birth of a new one. It screamed hatefully as it was pulled under and cast back into the prison that had been made for it. It would trouble her world no more, or until such time as she allowed the stars to become right.
Tiamat turned her attentions to its opponent. The god of the heavens shrank before her might, his power exhausted by the struggle. She caught him in one gentle claw, curious. He was not a god of her blood, but she recognized his divinity nonetheless.
In another time, he might have been a worthy match for her. But now he was much diminished and weak, like all of the other little gods who had sprung up after she had begun her slumber. And like them, he was of no concern at all. Satisfied, she cast him aside, letting the waters of new creation take him where they would. She had other matters to attend to.
The world called out for the touch of its mother, and she would reshape it into something stronger. Something better.
And she would never leave it again.