Issue 7: By What Weapons Forged
In the beginning: Weapons were forged. Not of edges or bluntness. Rings, Necklaces, bracelets. Subdued power. Not to attract the corrupted. But to remind the faithful of their purpose. For the holy writ shined true within each pearl.—Myths of Elysium
I’ve always relied on others for guidance. My mind is filled with ghosts and failures. I must find my path or I will be consumed.—Gwen Murphy
The Highest walks along paths we can barely comprehend. Mom and Lorain had an adventure of their own before they joined us in the trials. Lorain insists she saw me moving towards Gwen. At the rate of slow drying molasses. Some tests are meant for others. No matter what we desire. I never got the memo. As Captain Cosmos says, “Ramming Speed!”—Sleeping in Starlight: Ruminations on the Past
Main Hall of The Golden Host
J’ino gawked at the mosaics arrayed around them.
The Jupiter Rising was eclipsed by the enormity of the room.
Lorain said, “That wall isn’t blank….” J’ino reached out. Her hand was an inch from the surface. She saw as the pieces formed. Anna, Eliza, and Gwen were surrounded by a giant forge. Lorain tugged on her sleeve. J’ino glanced over at Lanis’ outstretched finger. Her husband was trading blows with X’mil!
A shimmer of light rose from the bottom layers. The stone warmed their feet through their boots. A calm voice intoned, “Lady of Isles recognized.”
A brilliant white cube circled J’ino. “Mother of Change recorded.”
J’ino asked, “What does that title mean?” The cube hovered. Musical notes vibrated the walls. A symbol appeared. Three green rings. Each twinkled with a silver 5-pointed star. Lorain watched as the symbols rippled like waves. A voice called out, “Change of the Stars. The dawning of the World.” J’ino watched as a comatose Eliza floated towards the ground level. Covered in amber. Lorain watched the feedback from the mosaic.
Her body was finally whole.
I sucked in a breath and twitched. Surprised.
Mom pulled me to a sitting position. A cube landed on my head, “Arbiter.” I twitched as a thrill ran up my spine. It spread throughout my entire body. Bones hardened. Power flowed through my limbs. My head swam. I was back.
I rose. Floated a few inches off the ground. The familiar ache behind my eyes shocked me. I hadn’t felt that since the Amache gift left me. Mom’s hand was warm. I flexed my fingers around hers. I had full control. No longer walking on eggshells.
“Well, that part is different!”
Mom replied, “You always handled all of us with supreme care. Here? Now? I can sense the strength coursing through your hands. Finely tuned.”
Doc took my free hand. She grinned, “Your nervous system is expanded.”
I put an arm around each of them and pushed upward. Flight had returned to me.
J’ino prodded Eliza by poking her in the ribs.
“What was up with that symbol. The one within the green circles.”
Eliza replied, “You rise with the dawn.”
J’ino shook her head, “That sounds like a fortune cookie.”
Eliza titled her head. A hound listening to a silent call.
“This way.” One of the walls shifted. Pulled back into a triangular opening.
Eliza landed. The mosaic pieces around them shifted. Then formed into a viewscreen.
Gwen was running through a dark forest. Lorain rubbed her face, “It’s not your test.”
It was like moving through molasses.
I tried to call out to Gwen but my throat seized up. Anna stepped through a mass of pieces. Her voice flattened, “This part is meant for her alone. The Highest knows you pretty well though Golden Child.” She poked me in the chest. “He’s got you wrapped up tighter than a drum.” I wiggled my fingers. That taunt resistance was present throughout my whole body.
The cube made a trilling sound. Dark shapes darted through the trees after Gwen.
Mom said, “Those aren’t monsters.” Her aura deepened to a solid blue. She was grieving. I examined the shapes. My mouth fell open. It was Gwen’s doubts. Her perceived failures. I watched as the spindly memories wrapped around my sister’s waist. Pulling her deeper into the forest.
A battlefield of her own making.
Tendrils tightened against my wrists and feet.
Anna reached out. Her hand was warm on my shoulder. “Here. A few of your own words. Have faith.” The same threads held my mother in place. Lorain took a seat. Her legs were crossed. “Gwen will find it. Find the courage she needs”
Gwen ran. Chest heaving. Anna and her sister were gone. One minute they had been staring at the memory of the Forge. The next? A chill wind sucked them both away. Leaving her alone. Without protection. There was a gap in the treeline! She dashed forward. Only to catch herself on the brambles. The darkness below howled. She clutched at her crucifix. Anna had given it to her. Saying it had been Poppi’s. She tried to picture the old priest’s face.
His kindly features were clouded behind glass bars.
She was weak. The metal was slick. Her black and copper eyes locked onto the wraiths pursuing her. “Little lamb…”
She screamed, “I’m not her!” There. She had said it.
The voices rose, “Her? Which? Anna. The Teacher? J’ino? The Mother. Eliza? The Sister.”
Gwen bit her lip. The cold earth rushed up to meet her. The faces of her brothers were foremost in her mind. She was the broken link. She choked back a sob as the roots curled around her hair.
Anna winced as J’ino deflated.
The Typherian’s shoulders sagged under the guilt.
Once upon a time she had known that all-encompassing dark. That feeling of failing one’s children. Eliza shouted, “Don’t give up!” Her fingers brushed the surface of the viewscreen. Even as the threads pulled at her back. Through gritted teeth, Eliza strained. Even as blood leaked from her right eye with the effort. Anna took one step forward. Then another. Each brought her closer to the viewscreen.
Her footfalls were consumed by the threads. The Golden Child had figured it out.
They would fall or rise together. J’ino had the same reaction. She covered Eliza’s strained hand. Pressed her free palm to the frigid screen. Gwen’s pain radiated outward. Not the one of neglect. Crippling self-doubt ate away at all four of them. Lorain grimaced as the hot points bled through her spine. Dark bruises ran along Gwen’s back. “The Owls marks.”
Eliza snarled, “We cleansed her body. Now we have to help her reforge her soul.”
Black tears ran down Murphy’s cheeks. “I take the burden!”
J’ino snapped, “My children will never walk alone.”
Anna nodded, “I failed my children. I will not fail my student.”
J’ino pushed against the despair. “Not this time. I won’t let you eat yourself!”
Gwen awoke in a field of yellow daisies. The wraiths plucking at her mind abated. A man sat by a river. A common white bucket at his feet. He propped his straw hat up, “Hello miss!” She rose. Her unsteady gait carried her towards the docks.
The man patted the chair next to him, “Where do you need to be eh?”
His coveralls were a deep blue. White shirt pressed. An odd combination. His feet were bare. He indicated the river, “It's pretty calm today.” Gwen recoiled. There were faces in the water. Pallid flesh. Eyes glossed over. Accusing her. She gripped the man’s shirt. The man placed a hand over her’s. “You carry much under the surface.”
Gwen sagged, “I’m not as brave as my sister. Or nearly as smart as Anna and my mother.” The man said nothing. His hand remained steady. She continued, “O’rioh lost an arm because of….” Her throat tightened.
The fisherman replied, “The Owls are the mirror of those who watch from the heavens. A splintered mirror. You still have pieces stuck inside. Glassed slivers.”
Gwen’s jaw clenched. Her breathless reply, “My body wasn’t the only thing marked that day.” The fisherman bent his head. Threading the line through his hands. A flick of the wrist. Water splashed as the lure bobbed in the still waters.
Gwen brought her legs up to her chin. Wrapped her arms around herself.
The man’s sun-bronzed face studied the woman. “You carry chains. Yours and the ones placed on you by the Owls.” Gwen stared out at the waters. The faces whispered, “Weak.”
In her voice. Always her voice.
We fell through the mosaic.
The river to the left of us flowed. White foam upon the surface.
Two other cubes followed. One that same white. One was black and the final was a vibrant purple. I tapped the black one. It bobbed around my head. Mom said, “They are taking on forms we can understand.”
The other two cubes shimmered. Relaxed melodies carried. I couldn’t explain it. It just was. Other Thronebearers. I summoned my spear. Gabriel greeted the cubes. “Follow the river to its source.” The white sat on my head. Purple on my left shoulder. The black on my right. Metal faded. My spear receded into that place within my mind. Projected weaponry. Not the first of its kind. Hephaestus didn’t always forge weapons.
Purple sang in the language of Creation. //Before the Fall? Hephaestus crafted objects of great beauty. //
Obsidian cut in.
//Rings for the Eldest. Necklaces for the Mortals. Bracers for those Raised Above. For the ones called Demi of this age.//
“Noah brought these relics with him. To Eden.” The divine of the artifacts had bled into the various human lines of my home universe. My eyes widened. “They didn’t remain in the same form when they crossed from Elysium.”
How Athena ended up within the sword.
The river gurgled, “Closer now.”
Elysium’s true history. I clutched my head. Mom grated out, “How is it you can exist across all points of time?!” I peered upward. The other me was dressed in Egyptian armor. White flowing overcoat. My feet are bare. Golden shin guards to my thighs. My 2nd phase self replied, “Due to the shard I carry within me. Not only of my soul but that of….” She motioned skyward. Mom said quietly, “That is unsettling.”
Mid self retorted, “That’s not even half of it.” She took my hand.
Pressed an ankh into my right palm. Copper in color. Its weight shocked me.
She winked, “Made from the heart of a dying star. For the future. Keep it in that special place. You know what I speak of.” Her image faded. Doc strode towards the trees lining the river. She took one leaf. It was the color of gold. Silver ran through its veins. She pocketed it. I floated a few feet off the ground. To get an idea of my recovering power levels. Nothing held me back here. I pulled out my black backpack. The straps rose from the metaphysical beyond. “This is taking the form of something that won’t cause my brain to do a 360.”
Gabriel noted drily, “Indeed. Certain artifacts cause delirium. Even in one such as you. So we moderate them.”
I placed the ankh within the velvety material. The red toy ship lit up as the material brushed it. Multidimensional bag of holding. That was the only way my brain could codify it. Similar to Gulliver's orange bag. I lowered myself back to the ground. Mom eyed the backpack. Her eyes were troubled. No, calculating.
Like the material confirmed long held suspicions.
J’ino reached out to examine the bag. Not with her hands but with that part of her that could manipulate matter. To her senses, the bag was there yet not.
Active. Dormant. Active. Dormant.
It was both. No way for her to get a hook into the material. It phased back into Eliza as her daughter settled it back onto her shoulders. J’ino kneeled. The water rose to flow over her outstretched hand. “Mother of Change. Rise with the Dawn.”
She leaned back on the balls of her feet.
“….If I am the Dawn…..”
I blurted out, “Maybe dad is the Moon?”
She peered up at me. Uncertain. Then her arm shot out. A small sliver of obsidian glass was a mere inch from my arm. She paled. “Gwen needs us.” I grabbed both and shot off skyward. Mom’s heartbeat rose as we got closer. The river stilled as we landed. Gwen was near the edge. White hands gripped her arms and legs. Goaded her forward. A man with a fishing rod had one massive arm about her waist. His features were blurred. The silver hook ended in three perfect circles. The Highest himself was preventing Gwen from being dragged into the depths. The rod flicked outward. Three times. Each circle hit us in the chest.
The landscape darkened.
Old bone gleamed in the light of a dying red star.
The blemishes that the owls pressed upon Gwen’s soul.
Anna pressed a hand to the fisherman’s rod. Gwen was lost. Her soul was in turmoil. Vexed by demonic forces. Everything here was a forge. She realized after a few heartbeats. She didn’t have to follow Eliza and the others but felt compelled to do so. She wouldn’t leave anyone behind. She had done that once with her children. Never again. The old fisherman nodded. “You see the Path. Not one of the Thrones but….”
Anna replied, “Mortals. What Noah and the others attempted within Elysium. What Lucifer feared.” The man jerked his head. The weight bracers clamped down. Silver. Golden Crucifixes adorned each position. Like the hands of a clock.
Power flowed through Anna’s limbs. Is this what it felt like being Star?
She calmed her racing heart. The fisherman held out a lamp. “Find the source.”
Anna peered into the shadowed depths of Gwen’s beleaguered soul.
She grasped the lamp. It morphed into a luminous 9-pointed star.
Her feet crunched upon bone.
The stars above indicated that this was Earth.
Silent as a tomb.
Issue 6: Here
Issue 8: Here