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Circle of Life (part 1)
Her name was Ixchel and she wanted the sky.
She had been there, long before Zeus, before Nut, before anything.
She had been crafted out of air and a bit of moon dust, led down to earth on a cradle of stars.
She had seen civilizations rise and fall, people change, seen the world end and begin again. She had seen humans be made by Prometheus, seen him bring fire to the world. She had seen Thoth educate the foolish humans, and knew she would never sink that low. She had watched as Cerridwen created music, bringing joy to the people, and wondered why they needed joy. And she had seen even her own race help the humans.
And then war had come, the War of the Gods, and she had lost, and that inane cat spirit, Bast, had subdued her at the bottom of a great chasm. She had watched civilization through the eyes of her sky, and had stored her energy
She had seen generations of elements survive through pure ignorance, too dim-witted to notice the monsters she commanded her sky to send after them.
And all this time, she had been only in a half-awake state, and the sky had been her telescope, reaching toward whatever she wanted to watch.
But she was waking.
And when she did, the humans would face her wrath.
The village was the end of the word.
The myth was that if you went beyond the village, you would drop straight into Xibalba.
And nobody wanted to go to Xibalba.
The town had been all but demolished in flames, stripped of all glory and happiness. Only a few wandered there, unaware of the dangers before them. There were no families, no pets, no joy at all in the town. Nothing to indicate this village was special.
Only one had lived there her whole life. She had been born there, or rather, appeared. When the great fire had ended, she stood there, a mere infant, covered in ash.
She had been born of the fire.
But as all people left the town, she had stayed. There was a presence there, a whisper in the middle of the night.
It told her wonderful things. Stories of great flaming columns and cities of fire, and brave people who could control flames.
It told her it knew her name.
And one night, exactly 13 years after the fire, it changed. It lured her toward it, coxing and pleading, demanding her to come, to learn her name, to do great things.
She entered a small burned-out building. The cold night wind whipped her long and matted hair around her face. And the Voice spoke.
Not in her head, but out loud. A fiery, crackling voice.
Child. I claim your soul. You are mine to guide for five years. Trust me. I will not hurt you. And you will be great. Your name is Chantico.
And a knife materialized out of the flames. It was gold, with a deep red ruby on the hilt. The scabbard around it was cloth, nothing special, but when she pulled out the knife, shadows danced across the blade to make it look as though it was on fire.
She strapped the knife to her old worn pants, and asked quickly in her mind,
--Who are you?
I am everything, yet nothing, ancient yet young, strong, yet weak. I live in you, and in everything. I am the world, and yet I am insignificant.
And for a moment, the fire took the shape of a giant feathered snake.
Go east. I will guide you. Go east and meet the other elements. Go east, Chantico, and change the fate of our world.
Helia woke suddenly to the whirling of wind. She tried to stand, but she was too late.
Nobody could help her. The wind would pick her up, throw her around and then dash her hard against the sand, instantly killing her.
She had seen it happen.
And now, just like the man whose death she had witnessed, she was surrounded by sand.
And the voice spoke.
It had had been in her head for weeks. Always quiet. Dormant.
She had told no one.
She knew the legend.
The last girl to hear voices had been banished. And the boy before that. She wasn’t stupid.
She couldn’t tell.
But this time the voice spoke clearly, through the blowing winds of the sandstorm.
Helia. Your soul is in my hands. I will care for it. Go north. Meet the other elements. Fire is on her way. You must go. And take this.
The sand before her feet rose to take the shape of a cord with a vial on it. It solidified in Helia’s hands.
The faded cloth strip on which the jar hung was light blue, and looked ancient. Inside the small glass vial were a few drops of a silvery blue liquid.
It will let you fly, young one. Inside the vial is an elixir Soha Betmer. Use it only in great need, for the effects of it on one who is not of the sky can be terrible.
The voice changed. It became serious, deeper.
Be warned though. Zeus, Ixchel, and Camalus want the sky. And they will stop at nothing to get it.
Something washed over Cedar. Something definitely not human.
It had tormented him for weeks, always when he was outside, always strongest when he climbed his favorite tree.
But he loved the outdoors. He couldn’t stop coming.
Then the voice overpowered him, and the voice was the tree, the tree the voice, the tree again. Leaves danced before his eyes, and a rainbow of wood stretched in front of him, and the tree became the voice again, and the voice the tree.
Cedar, you are mine. I can teach you.
Cedar tried to move, but vines bound him to the rough wood; the tree itself was biting into his back.
What, oh! Look, Freya, I chose this, I know what to do! Sorry about that, Cedar, I’m supposed to give you a gift.
There was a sound like fingers snapping, and all the trees in the grove rushed to meet him. He was falling, the tree was breaking, the world was ending, and he was alone, the voice was gone, and then his tree righted itself and the world was back to normal
Sorry… messed up, um… here’s your gift.
The leaves around him swirled into the shape of a sword, which solidified in his hands.
Go south. Fire and air are on their way. And I think you’re supposed to save the world.
Nothing could save him.
Everything blurring with lack of oxygen.
His lungs… filling with water
And then his lungs filled again with sweet air, but also with a strange tang of salt.
And the voice spoke.
It was deep, serious, and it radiated power.
You will learn with me. I will control your soul. You must be patient. Athens wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your power be. And here, a gift.
A trident appeared in Andreus’ hands, melded out of the lukewarm clear, Mediterranean water. He watched the ripples on it; they looked like the designs that the sun cast on the sandy ocean floor. Mesmerizing.
Go west. Fire, air, and water are going. Trust the shark. You must meet them, or disaster will occur. The world will end, everything will drain out of the land and the sea, and you and the other elements will be subjected to horrendous torture.
“Cheerful,” Andreus muttered, still unused to breathing underwater.
And the water took the shape of an older man, sitting in a chair of waves.
I trust you to believe, Andreus.
“Great. Always the last to know.” Andreus muttered, fuming, and he kicked off the ocean floor, heading west.
My bare feet pounded the hard packed dirt as I ran. I began to count my steps, for the ground stayed the same, and I needed some way to know that I was moving. One two, one two, one…
Nobody would talk to me as I ran, and I liked that. The world was so big, and I such a small part of it. And yet I was something.
Suddenly I was swept up and tossed through flames onto the ground again. Shaking off my dizziness, I looked around.
I was in a completely different place.
You needed transport over the Atlantic. And thank you for not struggling. I might have dropped you.
I kept running, as the dirt turned to gravel, the gravel to pavement, and the pavement into an asphalt road.
The voice guided me.
Back onto pavement, to gravel to dirt, to gravel, to pavement, to asphalt. Everything blended into one, and I was running, and, fireworks exploded behind my eyes, and the earth was spinning, and I…
I sat up. To my right was a road. To the left, a great body of water.
--Just let me rest!
You have already rested.
--No I didn’t. I was running. I was only on the ground for a second…
I hesitated. How long had I been oblivious to the world, the voice, to everything? Dizziness threatened to engulf me again, and I struggled on, my head spinning.
It seemed like forever before I stopped. Nothing, not even the voice could force me to go on, and I fell, unconscious, to the ground.
When I woke I was under a large tree. I felt all my strength return, as I stood up quickly, then crumpled again, as Kukulcan led me back to slumber.
“Do you think she’s okay?”
I woke again in a small room with a boy and a girl standing over me. I jumped up, and pulled out my knife, but the voice in my head spoke.
I kept the knife up, and stared at the boy and girl. I had seen them before. The knife dropped from my hand with a clatter, and I gave a cry of pain.
Burned into my flesh, a feathered snake had appeared.
Clouds nipped at my ankles as I flew.
I was weightless, a free being, as I soared unhindered through the clouds.
It was exhilarating.
--Why didn’t I have this before? I wondered, expecting no response.
You had no need of it.
--What? I needed it! Plenty of times. When we moved around, when someone was sick…
You did not need to flee before. Fate is many-layered, Helia. Nobody understands it, but we can try. It was fate that chose you for me, just as it is fate that in a moment I will give you a bow and arrows. Do not attempt to defy fate.
A silver bow appeared in my hands.
Fate, Helia. Said the voice.
--Oh, shut up! I replied. But I liked the bow.
I flew on, savoring every little detail of flying. My dreams of flight had been nothing compared to the actual thing.
A few hours later, I dropped onto a rooftop, the voice pounding in my head.
Helia. Get to the square. Now. Fire needs you. Now. If you do not go, we will be ruined.
I took flight again, but this time I stayed low over the houses, looking for the square.
There it was, a small diamond, with a speck at the center. It was a girl. Fire.
Nut was berating herself in my head.
Nut, you idiot, you should have moved her yourself, it’s obvious that Kukulcan would mess up, he always exaggerates tests, oh you beast…
I shut her out as I skimmed lower over the square.
--Can you move her?
Um… sorry. I can’t touch another element. Sorry, Helia!
--Can you at least get us a hotel room?
The room was large enough, but the bed nearly fell apart as I lowered fire onto it.
A boy named Cedar will come. Trust him. Let him in.
I nodded, my eyes already closing. I was exhausted, all the energy drained from my body, and I fell asleep.
I was wakened by a knock on the door. My head snapped up off my shoulder, and I looked at fire.
The door was knocked on again, and I opened it, the hinges squeaking in protest.
It was a boy.
I was about to tell him to go away, when I remembered Nut’s words. A boy named Cedar…
“Are you Cedar?” I blurted out.
“Yeah.” He looked thoroughly spooked.
“What’s the matter?”
“A…uh… a voice...”
“Are you earth?”
“I really don’t know…” his eyes were closing, and he walked over to the bed.
“Fire’s there! Don’t lie down!” I yelled.
Cedar looked down at the girl.
“Do you think she’s okay?”
The girl’s eyes snapped open and she jumped up.
“Are you—“ I began.
The girl was brandishing a knife.
Suddenly she let out a cry of pain and dropped the dagger.
Her wrist was smoldering.
I climbed slowly down the tree, wondering if each footfall was hurting it.
My life had changed.
How long until my parents realized I hadn’t come home? How long until they called the police?
I ran a finger over the blade I was holding. A thin line of blood appeared, standing out on my pale skin.
I picked up an empty milk carton somebody had dropped, and ran the sword through it.
It sliced the plastic as easily as if it were water.
“Wow,” I murmured.
And I was picked up in a whirlwind of twigs and leaves.
Time was nothing inside the tornado. I blinked once, and I was being dropped into the middle of a town I had never seen before.
“Ciod?” I had no idea where the Gaelic came from. I had never been taught the language.
Go into the hotel. I think the others are there.
I walked down the alley, fighting the urge to run. This was just like a horror movie.
The hotel loomed before him, three brick stories. I stepped into the doorway.
A pleasant light shone in the atrium. A woman smiled at me as I made his way to the stairs. One floor up. Two floors.
I knocked on the door. No one answered. I knocked again.
A girl opened the door. She stood there for a moment, just staring at me.
“Are you Cedar?” she asked quickly.
She motioned me in.
A wave hit me in the chest, and I stumbled back a step. Nothing had ever felt that powerful, not even the voice in my head.
“What’s the matter?” the girl asked, her blue eyes drooping with fatigue.
“A…uh… a voice…” I stuttered. I walked over to the bed.
“Are you earth?” the girl’s voice asked from the shadows in the corner.
“I really don’t know…” I was about to climb in, when the girl yelled, “Fire’s there! Don’t lie down!”
I looked down at the girl lying there.
“Do you think she’s okay?”
The girl woke. She stared at me for a moment, and her eyes, one purple, one blue, sent electric shocks through my body.
She jumped up, facing me.
She had a knife.
The shark nuzzling against my ankle nearly gave me a heart attack.
The second near-death experience in a day. How much longer could I get lucky?
I did what any logical person would do. I swam for my life.
Andreus. Trust the shark. Against all better judgment, I stopped. The shark didn’t kill me. I squeezed my eyes shut as it drew closer…
…And I was sitting on its rough leather like back, shooting through the ocean. Really, the only word I could think of was, “cool!”
It should have been hours before the shark stopped, but it seemed like only a few minutes. Something was out of place. I opened my mouth. The water wasn’t salty. So why was the shark there?
Your elemental force is channeling through him. However when you get off…
--Can you keep him alive?
Only this once. Next time you will have to do it.
I tentatively climbed down. The shark immediately sped forward, leaving a silvery current in his wake.
“Might as well see what’s here,” I muttered, and I climbed, dripping wet, onto the bank.
My wrist was smoking as if I had just dumped water on a small fire. I looked around for a water bucket, but seeing none I put my hand over it to smother the smoke.
Cedar strode across the room and ran a washcloth under the sink. He pressed it against my wrist, and a blissful feeling spread from the point of contact all over my body.
“Thank you,” I said quickly.
“No problem. Thanks for not spearing me.”
I smiled. “Who are you?”
Helia stepped out of the shadows. “Look, Tico-“ she began angrily
I narrowed my eyes. “And wh-“
“Don’t kill each other. Please. I’ve nearly been nearly killed twice today, Tico has, too, and whoever you are, I don’t doubt you’ve had a bad day as well. I’m tired, and I bet you are, too.”
I lay down and within moments I was asleep.
If I had known what would happen the next morning I would have never fallen asleep.
I woke up cramped and sore from sleeping in the chair.
There is a fourth coming. Nut warned. He will not accept your destiny so readily.
I massaged my eyes, wishing, that just once, something could be simple. Stupid thought. Cedar’s eyes slid open, glancing around the room as if to make sure where he was. “’Morning,” I whispered. “We’re still here.”
He sighed. He was as nervous about our task as I was.
Helia! Nut’s voice was loud and urgent. Water is about to turn back! Wake fire. Meet him at the river.
I relayed the information to Cedar, who bit his thumbnail looking worried. “Okay. I‘ll do it,” he said finally.
I only had to tap Tico gently on the shoulder to wake her up. Cedar told her the plan while I checked to make sure the hallway was empty.
We ran down the stars quickly, two at a time, out into the street, and through the open-air marketplace. We stopped at the river, glistening under the early morning sun.
There he was, Water. Standing at the edge of the river, dripping wet, with no idea where to go. He had shaggy blonde hair that fell into his eyes—one blue-green, one grey-green. Strange eyes. So much like my own—one dark blue, one blue-grey.
I shook myself back into the present. Water was leaving. We hurried to catch up with him.
Tell him who you are. Nut prompted.
“I’m Helia,” I explained. “This is Cedar and Tico. We’re the other elements.”
“Elements?” He pointed to me. “Air.” Then to Cedar and Tico. “Earth and fire.”
I nodded. “You’re water. You have to come with us.”
“No. I don’t want my life to go this way. I don’t believe in God. I don’t. I’m sorry, Helia. I can’t.”
I felt like a bullet had pierced my heart. Then Cedar spoke up.
“Water, we need you. We need four elements to save the gods, not just three. And it’s gods, not God. Ancient deities, not Christianity.” He sounded so sure of himself.
Water bit his lip. “I’ll go with you,” he began, “on one condition. I can drop out. At any time.”
Now it was our turn to reconsider. Finally, Tico whispered. “I’ll agree with that.”
Cedar nodded, and that left me. “Okay.” I finally said. “But you have to tell us you’re leaving. And what’s your name, anyway?”
“Andreus. Where are we going?”
Nobody spoke. We had no idea where we were going. Then Tico stepped forward.
“Across the sea.” She murmured, as if in a trance. “Across to North America. To visit to Oracle. Kukulkan is telling me.”
“How do we get to the ocean?” Cedar asked.
“Poseidon will guide us.” Andreus replied with absolute certainty.
He pointed, and we all turned to face west.
It was nearly nightfall when the children trudged over the last sand dune. They stood on the top, facing the extensive plane of sand behind them, all life whipped away by the cruel winds.
“And you’re sure that this’ll work?” the dark skinned girl asked.
“100 percent,” one of the boys replied. He scuffed the toe of his tattered and worn sneaker, making a crescent moon before him in the sand.
The second girl pulled her windbreaker tighter around her. “We better get going, if we want to use Andreus’s plan.”
The first boy frowned. “I told you a million times, Tico. I’m positive. This’ll take us right there!
The rain was driving down harder now. One of the boys knelt down and touched the sand with one finger. “Point us.” He whispered.
A spay of sand shot up over their heads and drifted over them toward the sea. “That way.” The boy said, standing up.
The second girl sniffed. “Well, I really don’t trust your plan Andreus, but I suppose it’s the best one we have.
They stepped closer to the ocean. Andreus threw up his hand and began to chant in a strange language.
The first girl knelt down and drew a small, feathered snake in the sand. She dusted her hands off, and stood up just as the wave reared before them.
It was magnificent, full of swirling colors and light. “Step in!” Andreus yelled over the rush of water.
They hesitated for a moment, and then stepped forward, submerging themselves completely in the wave.