Gilgamesh charged through the surf, the roar of the sea loud in his ears. A geyser of water rose upwards to an impossible height, dragging much of the unfortunate fishing fleet – and their crews – with it. Mortals tumbled through the air as their vessels were crushed and broken by the force of the geyser. He could hear something below the screams and the crash of water – a high, thin sound – like the singing of a child.
As he puzzled over this, a gust of air rocked him as the Roman deity, Mercury, sped past, running across the very surface of the water. “I’ll catch the sailors, can you get them to shore?” he shouted, his words coming so quickly that they nearly blurred into one. Mercury was gone before Gilgamesh could reply, racing around the circumference of the geyser, snatching hapless mortals out of the air as he went. Those he caught, he deposited safely in the shallows near Gilgamesh before speeding back to rescue others.
Gilgamesh gestured towards the shore. “Go – see to your families,” he bellowed in his most authoritative voice – the voice of a king. “Get as far from the water as you can!” They went, faces tight with fear. He heard a shout and turned to see Mercury hurled towards shore by a sudden undulation of water.
A wave rose, and Gilgamesh met it with a sweep of his blade, parting the turbulent waters to reveal their attacker. She seemed to be no more than a child – a young girl. He hesitated, unprepared for the sight, though Bellona and the others had warned him. Her dark eyes fixed on him, and he was struck by the rage in them – the sheer, unadulterated hatred.
Was this the being responsible for the devastation that had swept the coasts since the dissipation of Tiamat’s storm? It seemed inconceivable. In the weeks following Zeus’ successful calming of the skies, a new threat had occupied the attentions of the Olympians and their allies. Savage attacks on dozens of coastal towns and island villages had drawn the gods’ eyes from Tiamat’s temple-palace to the lands of their worshippers.
Gilgamesh had faced monsters before – but this was no monster. Merely a child. He was a king and kings did not make war on children. He made to speak, to bid her surrender, and she flung back the ragged edge of her cloak to reveal a monstrous growth where her arm ought to have been. The growth pulsed, and Gilgamesh was nearly knocked backwards by a forceful exhalation of water. “I don’t know you,” the child – the monster – said. “You’re not an Olympian. But it doesn’t matter. If you stand with them, you’re my enemy too.”
Gilgamesh was driven steadily backwards by the stream of water. Dazed, he shook his head. He heard the splash of footsteps and only just manage to interpose his sword as a dagger sought his vitals. The girl leapt back at his riposte, a snarl of fury on her face. He raised his sword and made to pursue, but the water surged suddenly, separating them.
He turned as the broad form of Poseidon rose from the waves, trident in hand. “Leave her, boy. She is not yours to face. You are no Olympian, whatever Zeus might say.”
Gilgamesh was about to remark on Poseidon’s impertinence when he heard a crash from nearby. He turned and saw Bellona running up the buckling deck of a sinking ship as the second of their opponents rose over the shattered prow – another child, but this one more clearly monstrous. Scylla, they called this one. Serpentine dog-heads lunged out from under the child’s flowing dress and arrowed towards Bellona, snapping at her as she fended them off. The goddess fought to defend the hapless mortal crew, alongside Mulan and Arthur.
Yemoja and Susano were nearby, attempting to calm the raging waters stirred up by the two monsters before they smashed into the fishing village. As he watched, the first monster flung out her grotesque arm, causing the waters to rise in a frenzy. It was all the two gods could do to contain her power. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. “Where is Zeus?” he demanded, looking at Poseidon. “He should be here by now. These people belong to him, after all. They are his worshippers.”
“My brother picks his moments – he will strike only when he is certain of victory,” Poseidon said. “Charybdis will be chained once more, and Scylla with her. Both of them will be…where they belong.” There was something in his voice as he said it – regret, perhaps. Gilgamesh studied him.
He knew little of the two creatures they faced, save that they seemed to bear his ally a grudge – and that Tiamat had freed the one called Charybdis. The two creatures had gone on a rampage in the days since, flooding the land, toppling temples and ravaging towns.
He looked back at Charybdis. “What is she?”
“My daughter,” Poseidon said, softly. His expression was one of pain as he watched his child battle his fellow Olympians. “Zeus…punished her, for a mistake I made.” He looked at Gilgamesh. “That is who you have allied yourself with, King Gilgamesh. My brother is courageous, but also arrogant and spiteful.”
Gilgamesh made no reply. Poseidon moved into the water – not towards Charybdis, but rather towards Scylla. As he watched, the Olympian drove his trident into the water, and a wave swelled and smashed into the monster, carrying her away from Bellona and the others. She squalled in fury as Poseidon moved to engage her, his face an unreadable mask.
Bellona and the others splashed towards him. The goddess of war shook wet hair from her face. “I will have words with that old fool after this – Scylla was mine,” she groused.
“We are not here for them, but for the mortals,” Mulan said. “Better this fight had not happened at all.” She looked at Gilgamesh. “The fishermen?”
“Alive. The same cannot be said of their ships.”
Bellona shrugged. “They can build more ships.”
“And in the meantime, they starve,” Mulan said, flatly. “Their children starve. All because we chose this place to make a stand.”
Bellona rounded on her. “It is not we who started this…those two monsters have been preying on the towns and villages of the Ionian Sea for weeks now, ever since Tiamat freed them. If we had not intervened, who knows what they might have done.”
“And if Zeus had not cursed them, had not bound them, there would be no fight at all,” Mulan said, not flinching from the other goddess’ gaze. “It is all of one piece. You cannot take one from the other.” She looked towards the shore, and the flooded town. “Time and again the gods fight one another, and time and again, it is this world and the people who inhabit it that suffers the repercussions of our inability to simply talk to one another.”
Gilgamesh’s eyes strayed to where Arthur herded a group of discombobulated mortals to shore, using Excalibur to part the waves that threatened to drag them back out to sea. Merlin was nowhere to be seen, but that was not surprising. He had his own plans, that one.
“Suffering is part of war,” Bellona said. “Better a little suffering now than what they’ll endure at Tiamat’s claws. Isn’t that right, Gilgamesh?”
Mulan frowned. “Is it? Because she had done nothing until you attacked her.” She looked at Gilgamesh. Again, he felt a flicker of discomfort as her words struck home. Once, he had made his own people’s lives miserable with his unthinking arrogance. Was he doing the same now? He tried to push the thought aside, but it lingered like a bad smell.
“What would you have had me do?” he asked, meeting her gaze. “I am not in the habit of letting my enemies choose the battlefield.” Bellona nodded in agreement. She had counselled attacking swiftly, before Tiamat even realized Gilgamesh had returned. He’d seen the wisdom of it then, but now…
“There are other ways to wage war,” Mulan pressed. “Did you consider any of them?”
Gilgamesh paused. In truth, he was coming to wonder if he had not made a mistake. Perhaps he’d allowed his eagerness to guide him into a rash decision. He did not say so, of course. Instead, he started towards shore, still pondering the matter. If there was a different way, perhaps he was the one destined to find it.
“Come, let us see to the evacuation. Before any more of these mortals are harmed.”
Charybdis drew the waters up and lashed out at the gods moving towards her. They were trying to trap her. Mercury darted past her torrent and raced for her, a length of chain in his hands. Magic chain, she knew, forged especially to bind her.
She stepped back, skipping across the surface of the water as lightly as she once had at her father’s behest. Poseidon. He was here too, somewhere – watching. Just as he’d watched her in her imprisonment. Never speaking, never visiting. Just watching. As if he were ashamed of her, or maybe himself. Or maybe he’d just been making sure she stayed where she was, chained to the bottom of the ocean floor.
It didn’t matter anymore. She was free. Free to destroy the world that had been denied her by a god’s pronouncement. She would crush every boat and drown every mortal if that was what it took to make Zeus face her.
Mercury reached her a moment later, slowed somewhat by the weight of the chains. He swung them, and caught her arm – her normal arm. She cried out in pain as the magics sapped her strength. “Scylla – help me!”
Laughing, Scylla scythed through the roiling waters and one of her dog-heads snapped at Mercury, forcing him to release the chain and flee. Scylla took up position beside her, a mad grin stretched across her cherubic features. “This is so much fun,” she giggled. “So many playmates for us to bend and break!”
Charybdis winced as she untangled the chain and cast it away. “We are not doing this because it’s fun, Scylla – we are doing it to draw out Zeus. To punish him.” Every place and vessel they had attacked had held a shrine to Zeus, or been dedicated to his name. Every mortal sent fleeing had done so with a prayer to Zeus on their lips. She’d been certain it would draw him out. But so far, he was nowhere to be seen, and now the other Olympians had caught up with them. “Perhaps we should retreat and try again later…”
Scylla sneered. “Things are just getting good! Besides, if we make enough trouble for them, he’s certain to show up.” She giggled again as the other gods drew near. Some Charybdis recognized, others she did not. But all of them seemed intent on preventing she and Scylla from completing the destruction of the village.
Mercury skidded to a stop nearby. “If you want Zeus, he’ll be here directly…” He glanced up. Instinctively, Charybdis followed his gaze.
Lightning split the sky.
A thunderbolt struck the water and flung Charybdis one way and Scylla the other. Stunned, Charybdis looked up to see Zeus descending from on high, another crackling bolt held ready in his fist. He scowled down at her. “I thought you’d have learned your lesson last time, child. If you’d had any sense, you’d have stayed at the bottom of the sea where I put you. Both of you.”
Scylla recovered first. She shrieked wordlessly and leapt from the water. Zeus flung his thunderbolt and caught her full in the chest, knocking her back into the water. He dropped into the surf and reached for Scylla, hauling her up by the front of her dress. She lolled in his grip, stunned. He looked at Mercury. “The chain. Get it.”
Mercury hastened to obey. Zeus looked at Charybdis. She bared her teeth at him. “You wanted them to tire us out, didn’t you? Too cowardly to meet us in battle yourself. Maybe that’s why you’re not king anymore.”
Zeus smirked. “What I am or am not is not yet decided. But in this moment, you are my prisoner once again, daughter of Poseidon – and for the same reason. You made yourself an ally of my enemy, and that is never wise…is it, brother?”
Charybdis felt a presence behind her and turned. Her father stood behind her, his trident aimed at her throat. Zeus joined him. Poseidon gazed at her sorrowfully. “These mortals have done nothing to you, daughter. They are innocent. You cannot be allowed to harm them. I cannot allow it.”
“You – you cannot allow it?” she snarled, her monstrous limb swelling and pulsing as she rose to her feet, the water lapping at her. “I served you, father – I loved you – and you let Zeus make me this. I was as innocent as these mortals. Was I not as deserving of your protection?”
Poseidon stared at her. Then, slowly, he bowed his head. “I am sorry, my daughter. I am so sorry.” The tip of the trident wavered. Mercury was racing towards them, chains in hand. Charybdis bowed her head as well. Some part of her had known it would end this way. It was her fate to be betrayed and forgotten.
“Why do you apologize, brother? It is her foolishness which is to blame, not yours. Not this time.” Zeus reached out a hand for the chain, as Mercury drew near. He turned to greet the approaching god.
Poseidon whirled and drove the ferrule of his trident into Zeus’ midsection, doubling him over. At the same moment, the ocean heaved and Mercury was hurled into the air. A wave caught him and dragged him under.
Zeus staggered, a look of surprise on his face. Poseidon gestured, and another wave crashed down, flattening the former king of Olympus. “That won’t keep him down for long,” Poseidon said as he looked at his daughter. Charybdis stared at him in shock. He must have taken her surprise for hesitation, for he added, “I do not expect you to forgive me, child – but you must listen. Zeus will recover in a few moments and I cannot protect you from all of them. We must go. Now.”
Charybdis started to reply – stopped. Then, “Scylla too. We cannot leave her.”
Poseidon hesitated, but only for a moment. “Of course.” He stooped and picked up Scylla, cradling her against his chest. Moments later, they dove beneath the riotous waters and began to swim away, faster than any could follow.
“Where are we going, father?” Charybdis asked.
“The only place we can go, child. To seek sanctuary with the one who freed you.” Poseidon glanced at her.
“War is here, and I have chosen my side.”