12. The dying god
I heard Ares pull his sword from the scabbard and in a swift movement engage two of the Semlis. They in turn reached out with their hands, unarmed it first seemed, until I saw that they were transforming their fingers into long, razor-sharp claws. That didn't stop Ares a second though. He had anticipated this I could tell and avoided their slashes with ease.
"Get out, Didi!" he called. "Take Xena and get the chaos out of here! Now!"
"Do it!" At the same time as the words left his mouth he split the two Semlis in half and they sort of melted down to the ground - where they started to reshape themselves again, regaining their form. Ares stepped on one of them and it stopped moving but the other one engaged again, and then Ares became covered by those creatures which attacked him from everywhere, slashing with their silver claws, ripping Ares' leather jacket and pants into shreds. His comparison to insects really seemed frightenly accurate now, large, silvery and very lethal insects. And all of them were attacking my love. For some reason no one made any move against me or against Xena, who was still clinging to me, now more out of fear than affection.
"You're not going anywhere!" I heard Chizay say, her voice dripping of ice as she came up to me and laid a hand with long, hard fingers upon my arm. I almost expected her fingers as well to turn into iron claws and pierce my skin. Meantime Ares wasn't relenting, he kept on hacking and slashing, slowly but steady liberating himself of the assault. The Semlis had managed to harm him in parts, but he had healed quickly, only small trickles of icorish blood escaping from his wounds and dripping down on the white marble floor, glittering like molten cupper in the soft light. Xena was looking from Chizay to Ares and then back again, and her green eyes were large with fear.
"Stop!" I called out. "Stop it all of you!"
"What?" the Anatolian goddess raised a hard-plucked brow in surprise.
"You heard me, Chizay! Stop your drones! And let's talk about this in a civilized manner instead."
After a few moments of status quo, while Ares terminated six or seven more of the Semlis with wide swings of his sword, Chizay gave an order to her beings and they retreated quickly from the combating Greek. Ares lowered his sword, he appeared unharmed again and he didn't even look sweaty, yet there were more than twenty Semlis lying lifeless on the floor around the war god, trampled and broken. His brown eyes looked at me with something between bemusement and consternation and a silent message telling me he could've taken them all. But that was not the point at the moment. Far from it.
"Chizay!" I addressed the Anatolian goddess. I know they were keen on rank and honorifics here but I didn't let that bother me. "Earlier I heard you say that you knew I have been spying upon you while you lured Xena into the presence of Ikaton with your little charade. Then you must also be aware of the fact that I know the reason for Xena - and us being here. So let's stop this nonsense right here and now and take me to your sick pantheon head instead!"
"Can you..." Chizay started. She sure looked surprised, I guess she had been picturing herself forcing me by the tip of the blade, perhaps with the help of her silver beings.
"Yes. Just take me there, and let's get down to business. Ares, Xena, you come along too!"
Ares looked a bit astounded that I had become the one who gave the orders, but he sheeted his sword with a grin and began to follow us out through the door to Xena's guest room and down a long hallway. I had thought those Semlis being totally soulless, like the legendary automatons of Hephaestos, but they seemed to have some rudimentary sense of self-preservation at least, because when Ares passed them they backed off hurriedly.
Ares and I exchanged some quick looks. 'Trust me' mine told and his eyes twinkled a bit. In an instant I knew he had understood, even if he was slightly at loss at my antics.
We were escorted under silence trough the palace, across the same kind of hallways and great rooms as I had seen in my scrying bowl earlier in the day. The palace did hold a refined and elegant beauty and under other circumstances I was positive I'd appreciated it more. The colourful art on the walls, the gold inlaid ornaments on window sills and doors, the ebony and ivory furniture and the large chandeliers hanging from the high, vaulted ceilings. And everywhere the amphorae with fresh flowers in wonderful colours and arrangements. Hand knit eastern style carpets covering the floors and dampening our steps. But now, naturally, I could hardly be bothered.
After several twists and turns I found myself seeing the darkened chamber with the ailing god in again. For real this time, and I could sense it in my whole being, the bad energies of illness and appalling magic at work here. The air inside this room was dampen and hot and lacked of oxygen and the only light came from two man-high iron burners holding chemical fire which blazed with sparkling, yellow flames. These burners were placed on each side of that large four poster bed with the resting god in.
Ikaton just laid there in his big bed, covered by silken and wool blankets and hides of exotic animals like striped zebras and tigers and spotted leopards. And close up he looked even more in peril, his aura fading, his chakras spinning slow and irregular - a true sign that he was nearing the terminal phase. The only visible sign of life was his torso heaving slowly as he was breathing. It felt almost impossible to believe that it was a once mighty god and head of a pantheon who laid there, his features sunken and his skin almost as white as the pillow he was resting his tired head on. His lids were closed and long but sparse stripes of snow white hair floated out over the pillow.
Beside him on a coach sat a pale woman in a turquoise gown and with auburn hair tied up with black and yellow pearls and gold-inlaid jade combs. She had been wetting Ikaton's dry lips with a small towel but when we entered the room she put the towel and the bowl of water aside and looked up.
"Chizay?" she said with a silent, almost whispering, but still accusatory voice. "Another of your games again?"
"Stuff it, auntie!" Chizay snapped. "These people here are Greeks who..."
The auburn-haired goddess rose, suddenly more vigorous as well as angered:
"I won't tolerate Greeks inside those walls, take them away with you again, you hateful bitch!"
"They are here escorting Narinda. The divine medic I told you earlier about. She's the only one who can help Ikaton now. And she's willing to do it for the sake of her best friend who..."
"Do you think I'm stupid or what? That man over there is Ares. He has probably come to finish what he started by killing my brothers! And your father, Chizay, or have you already forgotten that?"
I glanced at Ares at that moment, it looked almost as if he was laughing.
"No I have not. And perhaps I should ask him to kill you too, Liko. Or at least cut out your tongue!"
"How dare you..."
I stopped listening to the bickering Anatolians. Instead I approached the ill god in the bed, reaching out with my spirit to try to understand what was at work here, what was killing this deity. Yes, I could clearly sense it. There was some evilly deployed chaos magic surrounding Ikaton. A magic force which was drawing the poor man's spirit away from his body. Slowly but unyielding. If I looked in the right, fourth-dimensional angle I could perceive how Ikaton's life spirit was circling and spiraling up from his body like a thread of bluish white gold, surrounded by chilly smoke. Then it became pulled towards a place a bit above him where it disappeared down into the Other dimensions. There my eye-sight couldn't follow it if I didn't deploy special magic, and I refrained from that because I understood that I needed to be thrifty and careful with my powers if I should be able to stop this development and save Ikaton. I had after all never done anything like this before and I was quite certain that it would be the hardest thing I had ever done so far.
The essence of Ikaton wasn't being pulled towards the Hades though, far from it. Whoever had instigated the magic was planning to steal away this man's soul and dispose of it somewhere in the Neverunder wildlands where it wouldn't by any means ever be found again.
The Hades dimensions were familiar for immortals. Somewhere yonder there resided the pale and horrid god with the same name. He had been Zeus' old brother in arms during the Titan wars and later on he became appointed guardian of the dead mortal souls and the cycle of life, death and reincarnation. It was known territory, beaten tracks, and although the Hades was large, desolate and scary, most gods could navigate down there just using their divine powers and common sense. Crossing the Styx, the Acheron and the fields of Asphodel was doable if not exactly pleasant. But the Neverunder dimensions were endless and endless and once lost in those never-ending wastes it was almost impossible to get back again. The stories told that Zeus had made it. He had gone far down under, all the way to the Tartarus singularity to get his imprisoned brothers and sisters in arms out. But that was Zeus, he was splendid - one of a kind. But for most gods even thinking about the eternal spaces of Neverunder created vertigo bordering on madness. Naturally I was not venturing down there. Alas I needed to take control of Ikaton's spirit and haul it back again before it became too late.
I remembered Doc Amarylliou back in the Asklepios' academy. He had been a tall, gaunt man in a long, indigo robe and whitening hair and beard. A mortal one of few who had the ability for Soul Magic. And who could teach it as well. Usually these gifts come with immortality but every generation sees some rare mortals born with the ability to let their brain open up to the magic deep fields. It's even rarer than ordinary mortal healers or mages. Doctor of Medicine and Magic Amarylliou became the one who teached me and a few others the basics of Soul Magic and Deep Field Magic.
"You will probably never need to use this knowledge," he began by telling us the very first day of our classes with him. "I will be honest with you and confess this even before we start our training course. But it is valuable to know about these things, to know what is at work in this world and what may cause deceases of the soul and the spirit. Perhaps you immortals may use this knowledge someday," here he turned to me, Juturna and Saldon especially, "but that might be in a distant future when I'm not even around anymore. On that occasion I hope that still a fragment of what I told you remains in your memories."
After these words Amarylliou had started the education. He taught us how to sense each other's souls and showed how they could be worked upon. How you could see the anomalies in a sick soul and cure them using several abilities. We were shown how to deploy the strength of our own souls, forces like the kundalini, chakra wheels, spinal silver pillars and brain waves. Amarylliou had told about the dark and evil chaos magic that could harm the soul, injure it or even rip it from the physical body. He showed us the benevolent, orderly magic that could heal the wounds the chaos magic had inflicted, very much in the same way as ordinary healing worked. How frequencies of light and magic rays could work the same way as sanctified amino acids worked in physical healing.
Amarylliou teached us to locate and to dispose of chaos magic, what signs to look for when trying to find it. And he pressed the matter about the importance to not only cure the sick soul but also clean the surroundings of chaos magic, because otherwise it might often spill over and caused harm to the physical body. The same ways as you cleaned germs of your hands and medical tools to avoid infections. And he warned us to be careful around this kind of magic because handled the wrong way it could actually hit back at you, the healer, injure you as well. But there were also protective measures available. Precautions valuable to know when dealing which chaos magic, like shielding your own soul and those around. There were spells to be cast and charms to be used, figures and patterns of powers which provided with magic wavelengths to lock the bad energies out. These were the teachings I now tried to recall.
While I had been gauging the hazards the Anatolian goddesses had stopped squabbling and Ares had moved over to stand slightly behind Xena to guard her. She in turn was glancing at my love with mixed feelings; she still didn't trust him I could tell. At the same time she was dead scared of the Anatolians.
I turned to Chizay and Liko:
"I can do this. But I'm going to need concentration, so what you will have to do is to make sure this place remains undisturbed. I will also be in need of a lot of water during my work. For me as well as for the patient, because we are going to get really hot both of us. And - is it possible to open up a window?"
Chizay opened her mouth but Liko beat her to it:
"I'll make sure you'll have what you ask for, milady, just do what you can for father! I hope it is not too late." At that moment I saw that the auburn haired Anatolian had tears in her large onyx eyes. Her fine-looking face held an expression I had seen so many times before. The expression of the worried relative. Anxious that her loved one was not going to make it, and too afraid to really trust the medics. Xena had seen it too, and she seemed to relax a bit, feeling a bit safer in the familiarity of the situation, knowing that here was a goddess who was not going to raise her hand against those who had come to help.
Chizay on the other hand - she was still an unknown factor. That she held no real love for Ikaton was clear now, she was only in it to gain as much power as possible for herself and she was using the pantheon head's sickness to play the other gods against each other. I bet she hoped that while they quarreled Ikaton would pass away silently, and then planned to use his death against them as well. I pushed those thoughts away, I was here to save a life and I knew I could trust my dear Ares to keep an eye on both me and Xena while I was doing that.
I climbed up in the middle of the bed so I came to sit opposite of Ikaton's head and with a clear view over his disappearing soul. I knew he didn't have much time left now and that I had to act fast. I could hear the sounds of heavy curtains being drawn aside behind of me and a window opened up. The next second cool, fresh night air began to stream into the room and at once it became easier to both breathe and think clearly.
Now - I needed those special skills I have been taught to use so many years ago in the temple of Asklepios.
Now - I needed to remember clearly and exactly how to use them.
Now - I needed concentration.
Because what I planned to do was dangerous for myself as well as for the Anatolian god. I planned to use my own divine powers to drag his spirit and his soul back into the land of the living and return it to his physical body and then to close and seal the opening to the Neverunder. This was not regular healing, this went far beyond that. This was ultra-dimensional magic, a hard and dangerous discipline very few gods even dared to touch. If I wasn't careful enough I could become stuck in that whirlpool of dark magic as well and also be sucked in and spit out somewhere where no one would ever find me again. And Kalian would lose his mother at an early age...
I trust you Ares - ward me!
Doctor Amarylliou had told about the connections between the spirit, body and soul and the yonder dimensions, those only our spirit could travel trough. He told about the adventures of the souls, the strange places there were to see for those who had the ability and the courage to go there. And he also warned about the risks. As long as the spiritual body remained in contact with the physical body there was no real risk, you could always return to the physical dimensions and the body. But if that connection got cut off one way or another you were in most cases death or equally lost.
Amarylliou had taken us students on our first soul trips, first all together, and then we had become trusted to go in smaller groups and finally one by one. When we became more skilled he showed us how to enter the nearer soul dimensions, these which laid on this side of the Hades and which were more or less safe to travel in for everyone. But the Neverwhere dimensions weren't. So those we were told to avoid by all means. Mortals couldn't even enter them, gods could get lost in them.
Seating myself in the lotus position of grounding-concentration I began to focus on that spiraling soul and the point where it disappeared. I let my hands rest on my knees and then I reached down inside myself to find the kundalini force I knew was resting down there at the bottom of my spiritual belly cavity. A greenish glowing little salamander-looking thing was what I liked to think of it as. Because although it was a part of me it felt slightly alien. Alien in that sense that I barely knew it, hardly knew how it worked, what power it held, how it could be deployed. It was like a seldom-used muscle. A tendon never trained. And I hoped it wouldn't snap under the sudden pressure.
I reached - and plucked that salamander up and felt how it was stirring - and then slowly, at my tender command, began to slither up against my spine, touching each chakra on its way up, boosting it and making it spin slightly faster, both strengthening and grounding me. Ares had been talking about his red fighting spirit - this was something similar, although it was deployed to save lives, not taking them. In that sense we were different, Ares and I - and yet so alike, because we were both relentless fighters. None of us gave in even if the odds were bad.
I let the kundalini reach my crown chakra, the uppermost and most powerful of those energy centres. As it touched that part of my spiritual body I opened my Soul Gate in the middle of the crown chakra and let the spirit seep out. I was breathing unhurriedly now, felt my heart rate slow down to less than a beat per minute, my physical body was resting while my spiritual one was in full activity. Still I could feel how sweat formed tiny pearls on my forehead. Slowly the perception became different, it was as if the world was slowing down around me and became more detailed, more saturated and sharpened. I could see every strand of pelt on the hides covering Ikaton, I could see every pore in the man's haggard and insipid face and still I was able to close out sensory perceptions useless to me.
The trance held me in check while my spiritual force, for the time being coloured green just to differ it from Ikaton's blue, was reaching out and upwards to close in on that strange hole in space-time where Ikaton's essence was being sucked in. Slowly I drifted nearer; this was the most dangerous part of the whole process. I had to go as near as possible without slipping down in the hole myself, because then no one would be able to save neither me nor Ikaton.
Concentration - slowly slowly - nearer nearer. I used my third eye now and zoomed in as much as possible. Mentally closing in on the torn parts of reality. There I spotted jagged edges in the now-room, and from them scarlet gleaming cracks were spreading as if reality was dry mud beneath a baking sun. The edges were lethal-looking, like teeth of a predator - and at the same time oddly beckoning, as if they were tempting me, urging me to draw nearer. To check for myself what laid beyond. Adventures, endless possibilities, endless power of the kind that once had boosted Zeus. I could become - if I went there - almighty...
No! That was just an illusion. A trick. A fata morgana trying to fool my brain. I forced myself to not look at those edges and instead closing in on Ikaton's own disappearing energies. This close up they looked like a snaking three dimensional river flow. Watery and luminescent, cold and hot at the same time and glittering with thousands and thousands of little sparkles, like a summer brook reflecting the sun. And there was that sound, that moaning, tingling, jangling as if thousands and thousands of silver bells were chiming. The pain! I could nearly perceive it myself; felt it creeping down my spine and radiate out on my body, chilling it. And as a strange counterpoint a deep rumbling reverberation was coming from the yonder dimensions, almost like an enormous waterfall.
I forced those impressions away and let my own, green tendrils of energy wind themselves around the blue one of Ikaton. This was yet another precarious part, if I didn't do it well enough I could either snap my energies, and it would injure me badly or I could start becoming pulled down too together with the Anatolian god and I would have to disengage. And then I wasn't sure I would get a second chance. Therefore I concentrated solely on my green energy and Ikaton's blue, disregarding everything else. Finally I tied my green tendrils tight and hard around that blue stream like ribbons around a ponytail. When that was done I began to pull, to force Ikaton's spirit to stop being dragged into the hole to Neverunder.
First the pull on his spirit was hard, unrelenting. Then I began to perceive a slight release, as if my pulling was actually making a difference. But the change was so faint, so weak that I was far from sure it would be enough.