The moon rose over the Taihang Mountains, and the dead murmured contentedly in their graves. Mulan walked among them, listening to their stories. When she heard the soft hiss of blooming flowers, she stopped and turned. “Hello my friend.”
“Mulan,” Persephone said, stepping out of the trees. “I am glad to see you.”
“As I am glad to see you.” Mulan embraced her friend, and together they sat, listening to the night birds call to one another. “Hades has reopened the gates of the underworld?” Mulan asked, after several moments.
“Then he believes the threat is ended?”
“Isn’t it?” Persephone inhaled deeply, as if tasting the air. “I can no longer smell that creature’s taint on the wind. What of your own lands?”
“Better than they were. The corrupted jade has been…cleansed. And Cthulhu’s madness has faded from the minds of the other gods…” Mulan paused. Persephone was smiling. “What?”
“Other gods,” Persephone repeated. She plucked a white flower from one of the grave markers and held it up. “The mantle of divinity rests more easily on your shoulders these days.” The flower sprouted thorny tendrils of green that coiled lovingly about her wrist.
Mulan studied her hands. Still calloused, despite her ascension. Perhaps they always would be. “I have…come to terms with it. With myself.”
“That is good to hear.” Persephone looked at her. “Will you go to Olympus?”
“I will not be welcome there for some time, I think,” Persephone said, leaning back. “Even so, I am curious as to the new arrival.”
“Tiamat,” Mulan said. The wind had carried her name across China. The saviour of the world, whose return had seen the banishment of Cthulhu. She did not know what to make of the dragon. Nor did the other members of her pantheon, come to that. Some thought her a potential ally, others thought her as dangerous as Cthulhu. “What do you make of her?”
“She is powerful I know that much.”
“She is the one who cleansed China of the jade.”
“She did the same for the rest of the world as well – and more than just the world. Asgard has been restored and Yggdrasill. It is as if none of it ever happened.”
“You must find that a relief.” Mulan paused. The dead had fallen silent – as if awaiting something. She glanced at Persephone, and saw that the other goddess had stiffened in alarm. “What is it?”
“Do you hear that?”
Mulan did. A faint, irregular creaking that grew louder with every passing moment. Suddenly, a raucous chorus of blackbirds burst from the trees and rose into the night sky. Then, a heavy, awkward shape erupted into view at the edge of the graveyard.
“Is that -?” Mulan began, staring at the apparition.
“Baba Yaga,” Persephone growled, rising to her feet.
“The very same,” came a familiar voice from behind them. They whirled to find the old witch crouched amid the grave markers, surrounded by a bevy of floating skulls. As they watched, she uprooted another and set it to hang in the air beside its fellows. “Don’t mind me. Just collecting on old debt.”
“What are you doing here, witch?” Persephone demanded.
“As I said, collecting on a debt. I am owed many favours, by many beings, alive and dead, mortal and divine.” Baba Yaga’s gaze fixed on them. “Come to think of it, don’t you two still owe me favours?”
“We paid our debt to you,” Mulan said. Her hand fell to her sword hilt. The old witch was dangerous, though in ways she did not quite understand. Even fierce Guan-Yu stepped lightly around Baba Yaga.
“Much good as it did us,” Persephone said.
Baba Yaga chuckled. “You have a complaint about my services, Queen of the Underworld?”
Persephone glared at her. “Your prophecy was wrong. The dark sea was thrown back – Cthulhu was defeated! But not by anything we did.”
Baba Yaga cackled. “And what makes you think I was referring to him, the great blubbery nightmare? Oh he was bad, to be sure – a doom that might have eaten the world. But he wasn’t the one I was worried about. Nor was he the one I warned you of.”
“What?” Mulan glanced at Persephone. “We thought -”
“Is it my business what you thought?” Baba Yaga gestured and the skulls danced in the air about her for a moment, before resolutely swooping off towards her chicken-legged hut. “You think Cthulhu was the sea? Ha! If that was so, why would the waters have bound him? No, the sea has swallowed him up – and it threatens to do the same to all of us as well.”
“What sea?” Persephone asked.
“The sea, girl. The first sea, that filled the abyss – the sea that birthed this world and all that walks or crawls upon it.” Baba Yaga leered at them. “The sea that she rose from, before any other, the Glistening One, in all her glory.”
Persephone grimaced. “Stop spouting cryptic nonsense and put it plainly for once in your misbegotten existence.”
“Tiamat,” Mulan said, softly. “She is talking about Tiamat.”
Olorun stood amid a garden of wilting greenery, studying the distant mountain and the immense ziggurat at its summit. The shadow of the newborn mountain shrouded much of Olympus and many of its gardens were suffering as a result. It was a small matter – the gardens could be reawakened at a touch from one or more of the gods now gathered in Olympus. But it irked him nonetheless.
He heard someone step onto the balcony behind him. “Looking at the stars, Olorun?” Yemoja asked. Olorun turned.
“As if I could see them with that thing in the way,” he said. Tiamat’s mountain blocked the moon and the stars as well as the sun. Yemoja frowned.
“I asked the rivers about her. Our new neighbour.”
Olorun paused. “And what did they say?”
Olorun’s eyes narrowed. “They did not know of her?” If Tiamat were as old as she claimed, it seemed impossible that the rivers would not know something.
“No.” Yemoja looked away. “They refused to speak of her.”
Olorun was momentarily taken aback. “I have never known the rivers to refuse you anything,” he said, choosing his words with care.
“They never have – until now.” She looked past him, at Tiamat’s temple. “They are afraid, Olorun. And they are not the only ones.”
“Have they arrived then?”
“Some. Not all. But some. Come. They are waiting in the meeting chamber.”
When they arrived in the meeting chamber, an argument was already in progress. Heimdallr, representative for the Aesir, sat with his arms crossed and a stoic expression on his face as Sobek, crocodile-headed god of the Nile, loomed over him. “And I say you are a fool, Aesir,” Sobek growled. “She is no benefactress, but a predator circling us.”
“The Aesir have no complaint against this new goddess,” Heimdallr said. “She has restored Asgard to its former glory. Whether she intended to do so or not is of no importance. The deed was done and the Allfather has decreed we treat it as the gift it was.”
Sobek snarled wordlessly and turned as Olorun and Yemoja entered the chamber. “Surely you must see sense,” he said. “Tiamat cannot be trusted.”
“Set evidently disagreed,” Zeus put in, from where he sat. “It was by his cunning that she was awakened, after all.”
Sobek grunted. “Set is a vainglorious fool, and he always has been. That he thought it best to awaken this creature is a sure sign that it will have dire consequences for us all.”
“Whatever his intentions, the deed has been done,” Olorun said, as he took his place at the head of the table. He looked at the gathered gods – representatives from all of the major pantheons. Fewer than he’d hoped, but more than he’d expected – especially after recent events. Enough, perhaps, to achieve some form of consensus on the matter facing them. Though, given what he’d seen to date, perhaps that was a vain hope. “The question is, what is to be done about it?”
“I am all for knocking that oversized rock pile down,” Zeus said, grinning fiercely. “Can’t have it casting its shadow over Olympus forever, after all.” He looked at Hera, but she did not return his smile.
“I believe Tiamat has earned a moment’s grace, at least,” she said. Zeus’ smile became a scowl and he looked away. Olorun knew that like their leaders, the Olympians were divided on the matter. So were most of the other pantheons.
“As does Odin,” Heimdallr said. Asgard’s restoration had gone a long way towards garnering Tiamat allies among the Aesir, Olorun judged. Or, if not allies then peaceful neighbours, at least.
“She is dangerous,” Sobek said. “More dangerous than any being we have ever faced. Better to destroy her now, before she destroys us.”
“And is that Horus’ opinion – or yours, Master of the Nile?” Hera asked.
Sobek bowed his head. “I speak for Horus in this – and the rest. The Egyptian pantheon stands united in this, if nothing else.”
“All save Set, of course,” Olorun said, stroking his chin. “Where is he, by the way?”
Sobek scratched at his neck with a talon. “Vanished. Horus barely managed to escape the collapse of Tiamat’s temple. We assume Set and his cronies must have done so as well.”
“Loki has yet to return to Asgard,” Heimdallr put in. “I have sought for any sign of him, but he has gone to ground – possibly in one of the other realms.” He shrugged. “Perhaps Bellona and the others are with him.”
“They must be found,” Ares spoke up, startling everyone present. The god of war had spoken little since his return to Olympus. “They may know something of this creature – some knowledge that could be of use to us in the future.”
Olorun gave him a sharp look. Ares spoke as if he were already planning for the worst. Then, given his nature, perhaps that was to be expected. Olorun took some comfort in that. He’d had his doubts about Ares when Hera had first suggested eliciting his aid. But the war-god had more than proven his mettle in the struggle against Cthulhu.
“Set and the others are not important,” Chaac rumbled. The Maya god of the storm rose from his seat. “Tiamat is all that should concern us. Kukulkan advises patience and wariness – I say let us see what she plans before we make any rash decisions.”
Olorun’s eyes scanned the assembled gods. Most were nodding in agreement with Chaac. Others, from their expressions, seemed to prefer Zeus’ suggestion. He paused as his gaze came to rest on the noble features of Arthur, king of a forgotten kingdom and defender of Avalon. During Cthulhu’s rampage, Arthur and Merlin had done what they could to defend the innocent souls of the Celtic lands – a heroic, if doomed effort.
Olorun thought of Mulan – another newly-ascended mortal – and felt a flicker of sympathy for the tribulations Arthur had undergone. He’d had his own dragon to fight – one that was still abroad in the world, despite the best efforts of Hera and the others. He cleared his throat. “What do you think, Arthur?”
Arthur was silent for a moment. Then, his hands found the sheathed form of Excalibur laying on the table before him and he said, “Dragons lie. They poison the very air with their untruths. Though their scales shine, they are things of darkness.” He met Olorun’s gaze squarely. “I think you would be a fool to trust such a creature, whatever it claims.”
Olorun sat back. The pantheons were, as he’d expected, divided on the matter. “The truth is we know nothing about her,” he said, after several moments. “She is older than most of you, and unknown to me. If she is a friend, that is unfortunate. If she is an enemy, that is dangerous. So we must learn all we can, however we can.” He paused, considering his next words carefully. “That is why I have already sent several of our number to seek out those who might possess some knowledge of her, even as I take a more direct approach.”
“What do you mean?” Hera asked.
Olorun rose. “She invited us to visit her. So that is what I am going to do.”