Tiamat climbed onto the summit of her great temple and watched as the storm of her making battered Olympus. Great waves lapped at the foothills and torrential rains flooded the home of the gods. But it was not enough.
Already, she could feel the storm’s fury beginning to abate. She was not the only one with some influence over the elements. The gods of Olympus had combined their efforts to disperse the storm. She hissed in annoyance. It was too much to hope that they might have learned their lesson. More stringent methods of discipline were required.
She looked down as three others joined her on the roof. Neith smiled sadly as she took in Tiamat’s expression. “It is even as you predicted, Persephone. They seek to calm the storm. To defy our mother.”
“Not all of them,” Persephone said, quickly. “Some, but not all.”
“Does it matter?” the third of the trio, Morgan Le Fay, said, in mild tones. “They have not expelled Tiamat’s enemies from Olympus. Therefore, Olympus is our enemy.”
Persephone turned. “We do not have to be enemies.”
“Zeus has already cast his gauntlet,” Neith said, gently. “For better or worse, the gods of Olympus have made their choice.” The goddess of fate seemed neither surprised nor particularly pleased with the state of affairs, Tiamat thought. Unlike Morgan, who saw opportunity in the chaos, Neith’s eye was on the bigger picture. For her, this was all but prelude for what was to come.
“Not all of them. Some might yet see sense, if we but wait -” Persephone began. But Tiamat cut her off with a low growl. She looked down at Persephone.
“No. No more waiting. Neith is right, child. The die has been cast. Let fate take its course, for good or ill. Olympus must be taught the folly of standing against me – and they must be taught now, before Gilgamesh infects others with his foolishness. Before they come against me as Marduk and his ilk did, in ancient times.”
Tiamat reared to her full height and spread her shimmering wings wide. “The Olympians wish to face me? I shall show them I am not to be trifled with. I will fall upon them as the hawk seizes the mouse and I shall devour them!”
“Or you could teach them a more lasting lesson,” Persephone said, loudly.
Tiamat paused her wings spread; her head tilted. “Speak your mind, child,” she invited, after a moment’s contemplation.
“It is Zeus who is Gilgamesh’s strongest ally. For now, at least. But remove Zeus, and you remove any influence he might exert on the other gods. Without Zeus, Gilgamesh will have no one to speak for him.”
“What of Merlin?” Morgan began. Persephone rounded on her.
“From what you have claimed, sorceress, Merlin plays his own game. And in any event, he has no influence on the gods. They will no more take his counsel than they would my own. But Zeus – Zeus still has some standing. Not as much as he once did, perhaps, but enough to make things difficult. Humble him, and the other gods will think twice about supporting Gilgamesh.”
“How would you suggest I deal with him?” Tiamat asked.
Persephone gestured to the raging waters of the storm. “Zeus has many enemies, my lady. There are more than a few who long for the chance to destroy him – and many more besides who deserve the opportunity. Show the gods that your ranks do not solely consist of the ambitious -” Here she tossed a meaningful glance at Morgan, whose eyes narrowed in annoyance, before continuing. “- but of the wronged and deserving as well. Show them that you are not a monster, but a queen – and a just queen at that.”
Tiamat hesitated. She glanced in the direction of Olympus. “And how might I do that?” she asked again, more softly this time. Every fibre of her being demanded she fling herself at her enemies, fangs and talons bared. To rend and burn and smash, until she stood alone – triumphant. That had always been her way.
But times had changed. The old ways would not serve here. To try and batter her opponents into submission single-handed would only see her humbled once more – or worse. No, if the world was to be set right, she must set aside her own desires and act as queen.
Persephone took a breath. “Let him drown in the sins of his past. As I said, Zeus has many enemies. I know of two such you could rally to your cause with ease. Persecuted. Maligned. Forgotten. Much as you were at the beginning of all things.”
Tiamat studied the young goddess for long moments. Then, she leaned close.
Lightning arced down towards the domed roof of Olympus. The crackling bolt stopped – bent – flashed away, to strike a distant mountaintop. From a covered portico some distance below, Gilgamesh watched in no little awe as Zeus and his companions deflected the worst of the storm.
There were four of them, altogether – one positioned at each cardinal direction. Zeus to the north, Susano the south, Ao Kung the west, and Chaac the east. Together the four gods of the storm and the rain pitted their wills against that of Tiamat – and, as far as Gilgamesh could tell, they were prevailing, if somewhat more slowly than he liked to see.
Singly, none of them would have been a match for her storm. But together, they were almost her equal. Steadily, the storm’s strength lessened. Soon, Olympus might even stop flooding. “Inspiring, isn’t it?” he said, looking at his companion. Bellona grunted and ran her hand through her short, shaggy hair.
“Necessity makes for strange bedfellows,” she said.
“You would know,” Gilgamesh retorted. He smiled at her expression. “I am teasing.”
Bellona punched him in the arm. “I did what I did to stop Cthulhu,” she protested. “If I knew then what I know now, I might have tried to come up with a different strategy. One that didn’t involve trusting a duplicitous cur like Set.” She watched as Zeus deflected another bolt of lightning. “She hasn’t attacked yet.”
“She will,” Gilgamesh said, confidently. “She cannot resist the direct approach. She will attack Olympus herself, because to do otherwise might imply that she fears the gods.”
“She has good reason to do so,” Bellona said. “Your gods imprisoned her once. Surely we can do so again.”
“Perhaps. But it is best to make no assumptions. When she attacks, we will have all the proof we require to convince the gods of the rightness of our cause.” Gilgamesh stroked his beard and turned to his companion. “But on to other matters – you were telling me of the others like me: Arthur, Hercules and this new one…Mulan, was it? They were all mortal once, were they not?”
Bellona shook her head. “Hercules was a demigod like yourself, but was elevated by my pantheon for his heroism. Arthur and Mulan were mere mortals though, before their ascension.” She paused, a thoughtful look on her face. “How they did so is still something of a mystery – whether it was the faith of their people, their deeds or some combination is unknown.”
“Perhaps I should speak with Arthur again.” Gilgamesh tugged on his beard, considering this information. Immortality – divinity – was something he strongly desired. The gods of his people had promised it to him, if he but defeated Tiamat. But it seemed there were other routes – easier ones, perhaps – to that which he sought. Why wage a war he did not have to? In truth, he had little grudge against Tiamat. She was a monster, true – but this world was full of monsters. She was tyrant; but had he not been a tyrant, in his youth? He had learned better and so might Tiamat, if given the opportunity.
Gilgamesh sighed. That was the crux of it. Tiamat was not the type to learn from her mistakes. She was too old for that, too powerful. One might as well try and teach the sea not to drown the land. If she was not bound, there was no telling the sort of chaos she would wreak – the harm she might do – in her efforts to claim dominion over the world.
So, he would humble her as the gods had commanded, and receive his reward gladly. But even so, a small mote of doubt persisted – after all, Marduk and the other Babylonian gods had betrayed Tiamat…and they might well do the same to Gilgamesh, for whom they had little affection. That they needed him now was no guarantee that they would follow through with their end of the bargain, especially given their past conflicts. The gods were nothing if not capricious, and only a fool trusted them fully.
His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword as he considered again how he had found himself here. Summoned from the netherworld into a world that was much changed, given a divine task by the very gods who had sent him into unwitting exile, and now seeking the aid of other, unfamiliar gods to fight an enemy whose anger he could not help but sympathize with. Oh Enkidu, what would you say, to see the foolishness of my predicament, he thought, sadly. His friend was gone, down into the lands of the dead, and there he would remain for so long as the gods decreed.
A fate Gilgamesh was determined not to share – whatever the cost.
The wind turned suddenly and he raised a hand to protect his face from a shift in the stinging rain. Bellona, as was her wont, ignored it. “They are getting the upper-hand, I think,” he said. “Soon, this storm will be no more than a drizzle.”
Instead of replying, Bellona peered towards the distant shape of Tiamat’s temple, as if trying to force their enemy to appear through sheer will. “Where is she?” she said again.
Gilgamesh smiled and shook his head. “Patience, my friend. We will have our hands full soon enough, I think.”
Tiamat dove down, down – to the very bottom of the sea. The surging waters grew calm in her wake, soothed by her presence. That calm rippled outwards with every beat of her powerful wings. On the surface, a storm raged. But below, all was placid.
At last, Tiamat’s claws touched bottom, sending up slow plumes of silt. Before her, the mouth of a vast lava tube stretched across the sea-bed. The interior of the rocky conduit was murky and shadowed. Even so, Tiamat knew that something – someone – lurked within. She heard the clank of an unseen chain.
“Come out, child,” Tiamat crooned. “I would see your face.” But there was no response, save the rattle of a chain. Then, a sudden inhalation and a whoosh of water as a fierce riptide raced out of the tube and hammered at her with the force of a hundred storms. It surged about her, forming a whirlpool. Tiamat grunted, impressed by the power on display. Any other might have been hurled away by the raging waters. She flexed her wings, disrupting the waters. “You are strong. That is good.”
“What do you want?” a soft, childlike voice asked. Tiamat turned to see a horrific shape floating behind her – a child, a girl from beneath whose flowing dress emerged a quartet of monstrous dog-headed tentacles. The cherubic features were twisted into an expression of malice so profound that even Tiamat was momentarily taken aback.
“Scylla,” she began. Persephone had told her the child’s name – both their names. Tiamat had seen at once why the goddess had recommended them. More, hearing of the cruelties they had endured, she was determined to free them.
“You are not welcome here,” the child hissed. Her dog-heads stirred, tongues lolling, mad eyes gleaming with barely restrained kill-frenzy. Tiamat turned and spread her crackling wings through the waters, causing them to boil and froth about her. “Leave. Do not disturb her. We have had enough of gods and goddesses.”
“Your compassion does you credit, Scylla. Even in your madness, you have not forgotten your sister. But rest easy, I mean neither her nor you any harm.” Tiamat extended a clawed talon. “On the contrary, child, I am here to help you both.”
“Help…us?” asked a voice, from the mouth of the cave. The frothing waters stilled. “No one can help us. We are cursed…cursed…”
“Yes,” Tiamat said. “By Zeus.”
“Zeus.” The voice had become a full-throated snarl. The waters began to grow agitated once more. In the dark of the cave, something moved. Coming closer. “I hate him.”
“We hate him,” Scylla added, her dog-heads growling in excitement.
Tiamat leaned forward her eyes gleaming. “As well you should. He has hurt you. And for that, he should be punished, don’t you think?”
A small form stepped out of the cave, one leg manacled to a heavy, barnacle encrusted chain. A child – a girl – much like Scylla, save that one arm was hidden beneath a tattered cloak. But she was no child, not really. Not anymore. Or, rather, she was a child only the mother of monsters could love.
Charybdis looked up at Tiamat, her innocent features twisted into an expression of predatory glee. “Yes,” she said, smiling fiercely. “Oh yes.”