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part one.

The Pantheon

Deep in the heart of the temple on the alleged sanctuary-planet, wrapped in darkness and silence and every other immaterial blanket under which monsters are said to lurk, the Chairman of the Council of the Original Fairies lit a candle in his mind.

‘Just the three of us tonight,’ he spared the thought. ‘The elegant lady and I. Who will you choose this time?’

It was a rhetorical question. Where there was a choice, the monsters always came for him.

Tsi had long since learned that taking the time to breathe a little strength into his candle was worth every second, and it had now become a part of his routine. He could feel Lorraine at the very edge of his mind, silent but present, while he drew upon every good feeling, every happy memory, and every ounce of love and decency he could find. Recent ones were scant, so Tsi mentally projected himself back to the place where he had always been happiest: his private home in the Pamir Mountains, on the border between Tajikistan and China. In his mind’s eye he could see the snow-capped slopes looming over the curving valleys, taste the fresh bite of the cleanest air this or any world had to offer and feel, beneath his very feet, the raw power of the untamed earth; and it was here that he lit his candle. Here, in the place where he called home, he would anchor the light that would help him fight the darkness.

The Council of Originals had banded together to face the unknown danger which had first threatened them several years ago, drawing resources from the depths of history and the farthest reaches of the universe. In the interlude, they had learned almost nothing about their opponent. It was an ancient creature of indeterminate power which lived in the bowels of the Earth, with command over words of all kind: the written, spoken and thought. It sensed and was attracted to magic, which is why the original fairies were in such vast danger – their near-omnipotence made them stand out like beacons in a starless night. Unable to defend themselves in such close proximity, they retreated and scattered across the galaxies, choosing to fight from afar with the use of trance states. While in trances, the originals’ magical abilities were enhanced and their psychic networks spread further, so they could mentally engage the monster while physically maintaining a safe distance. Even with this security, it was too dangerous to engage the creature alone. Tonight was Tsi and Lorraine’s turn.

He held his candle close, as strong and tall as his goodwill would allow that night, and extended his psychic reach to the Earth. The monster was waiting for him.

Of course it was. It knew that he was their leader, the taunt thread which precariously pulled together the accident waiting to happen; it knew that without him, the threat to itself was diminished. And it knew that with every encounter, Tsi limped away a little smaller, weaker, and more distressed with life.

It began as usual. Tsi talked to it, as he always did; he told it of his life, of the other originals, and of the people of Earth. He told it stories of the thousands he had met in his time as an emergency relief worker, he reiterated some of the prayers he received and even spoke to it of the lives of the Shamanites. As always, it was impossible to know whether the creature was even listening, or whether it simply lurked silently at the border of his mind in a predatory search for a way in. This was part of the routine, too. If the story of one life could turn apathy to empathy, Tsi would tell a thousand stories to avoid a single battle. While he talked, drawing the creature’s undivided attention as he always did without effort, the touch of Lorraine’s mind weakened until she was almost beyond his reach. He kept it occupied while she tried to find a back entrance to the beast’s subconscious. She didn’t find one. No one ever did. Predictably, their routine continued as usual: Tsi talked until Lorraine tired of her fruitless search and, hoping that this time would be different to the hundreds of times before, launched a rear attack in an attempt to take it by surprise. The surprise failed, it rose to meet her, and Tsi was forced to join the fray to save her from the concentrated power of its full attention.

How could one fight a being with no physical presence? Tsi had never been one of the more magically talented deities, and psychic battles were the hardest kind. The mind battled at the speed of thought, not the speed of action; in the amount of time it took for a person to picture the shape of a square when asked to, Tsi was forced to fend off the creature’s first blow. A good offence was not always the best defence in a psychic battle, since the creature could slip between the teeth of his attack and enter his mind. They wrested against each other’s mental walls for a moment while Lorraine locked in on the creature from behind, attempting to batter her way past its defences. Lorraine had always better at psychic attacks than he, and the creature always focused its attention more on him than the other deities. In one, quick, sharp attack, she succeeded in breaking through its outer layer of defences. While the monster withdrew somewhat from Tsi’s front to rally its defence, he was able to thrust his own mind forward in a less precise but certainly effective brute attack. Neither fairy paused to celebrate their victory. This was routine, too.

What was not routine was what followed.

On every previous occasion when the deities had broken down the creature’s outer defences, it had fortified the inner ones and shoved them back out again before pursuing a more aggressive attack against their minds. That did not happen. This time, the creature withdrew deeper inside itself, leaving its mind bare and unprotected. The fairies hesitated. Had time and persistence finally worn it down? Tsi sent Lorraine a message telling her to wait and paused at the edge of the creature’s mind, uncertain how to proceed. It could be a trap… but what kind of person trapped someone by allowing them into their mind and then not allowing them out? The mind didn’t work that way. It couldn’t. Tsi checked his metaphorical candle, letting the warm glow strengthen him after the first battle, before diving forcefully into the ancient creature’s mind.

It seemed to go on forever. Tsi kept the link with Lorraine open but diminished it slightly, focusing all his energy on scanning the creature’s mind. It was like nothing he had ever seen, and nowhere he had ever been before: dark and endless, with swirling concepts and words which couldn’t be said to closely resemble thoughts. He had never been inside the mind of an ancient creature before. It was as alien from a fairy’s mind as a fox’s was from a beetle’s, and the majority of what Tsi saw he didn’t understand. The unfamiliarity caused him to falter, and that was when the demon struck.

With Lorraine hovering uselessly at the edge, and nowhere for Tsi to retreat to, his mind was left open to the full, concentrated power of his opponent’s. He never stood a chance. The creature drove into his mind with such force that he was expelled from its one and thrown so deeply back inside himself that the connection with Lorraine was fully severed. His candle extinguished. The creature was inside his head. His defences were stripped, his person laid bare; any attempt to rebuild his defences or re-ignite the flame of hope was extinguished almost before it had begun. Tsi retained enough consciousness to realise that he had seconds left before the ancient creature had full control of his mind – and his body, sat peaceably in the heart of the pantheon. In just a few seconds, it would have access not only to its own power but also to his, and it would be able to step through the gateway into Shaman.

Seconds. Tsi made a snap decision.

Drawing his consciousness together and pulled back into his physical body just enough to be able to feel the cool marble beneath him. The move was sudden enough to buy him some time – perhaps a minute, if he was lucky – so he didn’t waste any. Ignoring the numb feeling in his limbs (he must have been sat here for hours – it felt like minutes), he slapped his hand against the floor and focused all his energy on sending out one, clear, strong message. Through his closed eyelids a flashing red light penetrated, and a screaming siren shattered the silence all across the temple. Evacuate. Tsi gave them forty seconds. It was all he could afford.

The creature had followed him through into his body and was battering against the last ounce of consciousness he had left. Tsi ignored it and focused on his divinity, not wasting a thought on hoping that twenty seconds was along enough to do what he had to do. No spells. No precision. Just fire.

Five seconds left. With no time to waver, wonder or fear, Tsi did the only thing he could do to eradicate the ancient creature’s chances of setting foot in Shaman: he self-detonated. The pantheon and everything in it, including the Chairman of the Council of Originals, exploded in a brilliant white burst, stronger and taller than any candle.

    • part two. -
    • part three. -
    • part four. -
    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -

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