The Tournament 04: The Trialbymadam_noe©
copyright Nora Quick 2012.
As always, I welcome comments and feedback!
Time was not the same between the two planes. Morrigan sighed, knowing that what passed for her as mere months was going on two and a half years on her champion's Earth. Time was inconsequential to immortals but Keelin had been abandoned for too long and she'd barely survived three challenges. The first was in violation of the agreement of the tournament, so Morrigan's intervention was arguably justified, but intervention itself was a violation. Hence her trial here, where Morrigan's fate and possibly the fate of all worlds would be decided.
Since that first debated fight Keelin had faced the Norse champion in open, if odd, combat. Just as Morrigan began to fear her conviction and Keelin was ambushed, the Japanese champion had intervened and killed the Aztec champion, saving her. It was another clear violation of the rules and if the Shinto gods weren't held responsible and Morrigan was she would see to it the tournament was declared forfeit, a fate none of them wanted.
Their worlds were tied, and if Earth perished, Morrigan's world was not long behind. Long ago they had figured out how to cross the planes into the human world and discovered this connection. There they kept their immortality but gained powers, and with enough human worshippers their powers became almost omnipotent. Together in groupings human called pantheons they were, and those years had been glorious if chaotic with thousands of pantheons carving out territory.
When they had fallen out of favor and the humans had embraced a self-proclaimed one god, a great father, and the gateway between their planes was closing. All the pantheons had fought to claim eight seats at the first tournament and an accord was struck.
They would conserve power and let the humans run their course. It was plain to see that eventually humans would fall from the path of oneness with nature and destroy themselves. They'd done themselves in already but there were enough survivors for a lingering death, but it meant a chance to save both their worlds with the tournament.
It was the twilight of humanity and the eight pantheons had enough magic to send one god of each clan to Earth with limited power to select and train a champion. The champions would fight to the death and the winner would have enough faith to open the gateway. The winning pantheon gained the right to reform the Earth as they saw fit.
Gods weren't inherently good or evil, but the Aztecs dreamed of an entire planet in the model of the kingdom they'd once ruled, a world where the sun shone on the humans only through countless death. The Shinto dreamed of a world tied up in formality and honor. As a goddess who dealt with war, blood, and procreation, Morrigan knew that was too lofty a goal for humans. Despite all their powers on Earth humans would always retain free will, and there would always be a degree of war, darkness, and depravity. It was up to just gods to help them balance it with wisdom, at, poetry, and love.
Morrigan might be a goddess of death but she shivered thinking how close she'd come to losing Keelin to the Aztec champion. She had the specific task of choosing who would die in battle, helping set into motion the fate and determine the winners and losers. It was one of her services to humans and just a job, not a source of glee as it was for others. She was a goddess of balance, and humans needed that most of all.
She'd tried everything she could to escape her cell but it hadn't worked. Taking on her crone form gained no sympathy in a world where there was no disease, death, or pain, and her young maiden form was seductive but paled in comparison to the plentiful fertility goddesses traipsing around. Her cell was escape-proof and guarded well.
Morrigan had enough of a connection to send aides to Keelin, in dreams, or through ravens, her animal to call. Thankfully through a dream she'd saved Keelin from the Aztec champion, setting into motion the conflict where Tanaka saved her champion and killed Carlos. Still, physically bound she felt helpless, and no other feeling angered her quite so much. She couldn't even reach Neit, couldn't see if he was on their plane or Earth, but she could tell he was avoiding their champion.
They'd never gotten along, despite the human tales of their adventures long ago (and blessedly, in her mind) forgotten. He was a war god who brought on conflict, who drove it on. It was a way to purge darkness and vent frustrations for the humans, but Morrigan's job was cleanup. Neit provoked and she was to one who had to decide just how many died, and who they'd be. Balance, however distasteful.
Her cell was comfortable by any standards. It was ten by ten with a bed made from Earth wood, canopied and a bit lacy for her taste, but made to make any female immortal comfortable. Artemis had once spent three months in here after a bender of epic proportions, and her crude graffiti still adorned the wall by the bookcase and desk.
There was a slim window looking out onto their green world and the mists growing close. As Earth died the mists grew closer and closer until they all lived on a large island. Gods in apartment complexes...it made her laugh bitterly.
A scrape sounded in the hall and she knew it was not the time for a meal, too early for supper and just an hour past breakfast. The door opened slowly after all twelve charmed locks turned. When the three-foot thick stone door swung open Anbay and Haukim stood there, dressed in their formal robes. On Earth the justice gods favored visages that jibed with the human perception and there the twins looked old and stately, perfect for judges. Here they kept their normal forms which made them look like teenagers playing dress up.
"It's time," Haukim said with seriousness.
"I like what you've done with your hair, Anbay, it must have taken hours." Morrigan said coolly, smoothing her own pantsuit.
Touching her pile of hair held up with thin gold wire and flowers Anbay giggled. She would have made a good human, Morrigan thought. Pretty, delicate, seemingly inconsequential, but her mind was sharp and missed nothing, and her soul hungered for justice. Morrigan had lucked out but getting herself a pair of defenders assigned, but the process would be slow.
Shamash was presiding, the big daddy of anally-retentive deities. Unlike Zeus or others he had no other focus, his entire mission in life was justice, and he tended to play by the books. Her entire argument was not reason, but passion. Luckily for her sitting in judgment like a human jury of old were three gods and goddesses of love, and three of war. None had been very close friends at any time, but that was the point.
She followed her defenders through the bright marble hallway until they emerged in the great hall. Everyone was there in the forms they loved best, in the adornments of station here on their world, mostly shining young and beautiful. Human values over millennia had leaked into their culture and aesthetics mattered. Morrigan thought about her younger version once more and discarded the urge to change. She liked this "mother" form, still beautiful with an "earthy" sensuality, but it projected maturity. The perceived follies of youth would only work against her, she thought with a sigh.
The panel of jury was made up by fellow immortals with no ties to her clan nor those who'd adopted the Chinese humans. Of them her only friend was Baron Samedi, another death god who joined her for weekly poker games. With him were Aphrodite, Saturn, Quetzalcoatl, Shur, and Sirona. Sirona was a distant cousin of hers, but not one she knew any better than most others.
Shamash called for order and Themis strode forward dressed in a human business suit. She called forth the vision for all and they watched it play out. Morrigan's champion Keelin looked skinny and worn as she arrived at a human grouping. She contracted for work, ordered a meal, and then was approached by Li Boa-Zhi, the Chinese champion. When they spoke it was clear Keelin did not know what she was, and then he attacked. He drove her behind the bar as the humans around panicked and Morrigan materialized. She saved Keelin, stole the bar's money, brought her champion outside, and then Morrigan had been called back and placed in the cell.
"As you can see, Morrigan did not kill Li, nor did she do anything but interrupt the challenge and help her champion to escape," Anbay said without any trace of giggles.
"Do you contend her actions were outside the rules of challenge?" Shamash asked in a deep voice, stroking his beard.
"We contend that the actions of Li Bao-Zhi were outside the rules of challenge," Haukim said as he rose from the table were he sat with the defendant.
"The rules are iron-clad. Any champion over the age of twenty-five may challenge another in combat to the death," the judge reminded them all.
The justice gods whispered to one another and Haukim nodded, resuming his seat, leaving the floor to Anbay. Morrigan watched it all and glanced over the jury. All seemed eager except for Aphrodite, who toyed with her hair and sighed wistfully at nothing in particular.
"We contend that the actions of Li were outside the rules," Anbay stated strongly.
"We saw what happened. He challenged her. Not with aplomb, but this is not so strange. Themis?"
She rose from her seat beside his bench. "Yes?"
"Show the challenge with Stellan."
Once more the opened a window for them all and they watched as the Norse champion tried to kill Keelin with a crossbow. She ducked, they fought, and she stabbed him. When it ended Morrigan had to force herself not to smile with maternal pride.
"Anbay, twice she has been challenged without formal warning, and only once did Morrigan interrupt the fight. In fact Li was killed by the champion Mencia who challenged him without warning. That fight was ruled fair."
"Should it have been?" Anbay asked, her dark eyes moving to the pantheon of the Chinese gods in the front row of the stands, Morrigan's accusers.
Kuan Ti was the only one who met her gaze and didn't stare daggers at Morrigan. A god of many things, revenge was his love. A god of death himself he'd been present at many poker games and Morrigan knew he was the one most likely to accept real justice.
"Themis, I call upon you to recite the rules for our jury and those who may not be aware of them."
Once more the blond goddess rose and strode forward. "Only the eight champions may fight. Champions will be selected by their entire pantheon, and trained by a god or goddess of war or combat. No god or goddess may interfere with a challenge. A challenge can only be issued by champions aged twenty-five human years or older. Any weapon but firearms may be used. No other humans may be involved or given insight to the tournament. No cabals may be formed by any god or goddess."
Anbay nodded. Still she faced the Chinese pantheon, though she angled herself to Kuan Ti, having picked up on his consideration. "Mencia involved the human with Li Bao-Zhi."
"And he killed her! She is no threat!" Huitzilopochtli stood and shouted from the stands. His cousin Quetzalcoatl in the jury seats looked uncomfortable as they murmured.
Shamash banged his rod, calling for order. "The fight between Mencia and Li is not the issue! The issue is the interference of Morrigan in the challenge between Keelin and Li!" He had to bang his heavy rod three more times before those on the floor quieted but the stands were still in chaos.
Some enterprising god of thunder let the illusion of such roll out which silenced the throng. Shamash thanked whoever it was and turned back to Anbay. "Morrigan interfered with a challenge. Your only course is to prove the challenge was not valid. Have you any evidence to that point?"
Morrigan's heart hammered. In their trials the jury would weigh evidence and testimony and influence the judge, but in the end only he decided her fate and that of Keelin. For a moment Anbay looked to her and Haukim, considering.
Suddenly Quetzalcoatl stood. "I must remove myself from the jury, Shamash. There is some truth here. Should the actions of our champion be called into question I must not weigh in on any matter. In fact I suggest Saturn and Aphrodite should not rest on the jury either for they too have champions."
Chaos swarmed over them all again as Saturn rose to argue with the Aztec god and Aphrodite, for the first time in her life, tried to meld into chair and go unnoticed.
Once more Shamash banged his rod and stood, his voice booming out. "Recess! I will decide in one hour how the jury placement will be. Morrigan will be returned to her cell!"
Haukim helped her up, waving off the lesser gods chosen to be soldiers of the court. "What is she doing?" Morrigan asked as she watched Anbay grab Themis.
"I will join you in the chamber, we must talk. Come, they will find us." He hustled her out and they returned down the hallway to the palatial cell. Inside food awaited them and she took a seat on the bed as he arranged three chairs and knocked on the door asking for seven more.
Guards brought them in along with more food as Morrigan watched, puzzled. "What is going on?"
"Anbay and I have been reviewing your case carefully. We have a piece of information that can be likened to a human nuclear bomb. Just as those bombs are still killing their world long after explosion, this information would destroy the tournament if it came to light."
She felt a chill. If the tournament were abandoned the two worlds would die. No immortal had ever tested their ability to live without a world, and she didn't relish the thought of trying.
The door opened again and Anbay and Themis led in quite the procession. Ares and his near-double Mars strode in, a sullen looking Tyr behind, equally morose Chu-Jung with Huitzilopochtli, then Sekhmet, and finally Hachiman.
"If you would all take a seat, Themis will show us something important."
They sat carefully with Tyr and Chu-Jung in a second row. Hachiman and Huitzilopochtli were kept separate and the rest in the middle, leaving Haukim and Anbay between Morrigan and the others.
Themis, still with the temporary power of visions gifted to her by others born with it, called up the fight where Hachiman's champion interrupted the fight between Mencia and Keelin. All watched, rapt, but it wasn't until Tanaka walked to Keelin, stared at her then spoke and let her go that they all saw it. When the vision faded the silence was so compete they could have been a tableau on some bizarre human painting.
At last Haukim rose. "You all saw the eyes of Tanaka. So all know whose eyes those really were." As one bodies twisted until all stared struck dumb by Hachiman. He smoothed his hand over his bald head and returned their gazes levelly, lastly meeting Morrigan's.
Holding it for a long moment he turned to Huitzilopochtli. "Your champion was something sick and twisted. He preyed on the innocent. There was no honor to it and he had to be stopped. We all know what he planned for her champion."
Huitzilopochtli lunged but it was Tyr and Chu-Jung who held him back. Hachiman rose, unperturbed and faced him. "Above all there must be honor."
"You broke the rules!" Mars raged.
"So did Morrigan!" Ares snapped.
"So now what?" Sekhmet asked, standing as well. "If Shamash learns of this the tournament is forfeit."
"And we will all die," Anbay said, her voice very soft, though it stopped them all.
Themis cleared her throat. "This means that almost all the challenges that have occurred are compromised. Should any of this come to light..."
"You can stop this," Haukim charged at Chu-Jung. "If you and your clan tell Shamash that you have decided that Morrigan did not break the rules, and you," he nearly shouted, turning to Hachiman, "promise us all that you will never take over your champions body again, it stops here." Now he looked at all of them. "We keep this here, this never leaves this room. The remaining champions fight as they should, the tournament continues and our worlds can be saved."
Conversations broke out between many of them, but Morrigan stood up. "That's not right! There's more! Why do you think I let my champion wander without ever seeing me for ten years of the Earth? Someone blocked me. Someone interfered with my champion. It could not be one of us alone, it was a cabal! Two or more of you conspired!" Themis grabbed her arm and stopped her charge into the group.
"No, Morrigan," Anbay said sadly. "You can find her now. It stops here. No one blocks Morrigan. No one invades the body of their champion. No one talks about any of this."
"No!" Morrigan nearly sobbed. "I've lost ten years. My champion is not ready!"
"Then we shall agree that two more years shall pass with no challenges to your champion, will that suffice?" Sekhment asked them all.
Morrigan raged inside. The Aztecs had made their champion a monster. The Japanese had clearly cheated. Someone had done the most damage to her, and it wasn't right. Never had she more wished for Esus, the one clan member she trusted to put things right. Not the nice guy of later human imaginings he would relish the punishment of whoever had blocked her. But agreeing to this meant she could never tell him.
"Do not let petty sentiment destroy the chance to save our word," Sekhment whispered to her as if reading her thoughts.
Morrigan squeezed her eyes and forced herself to calm. Two years to train Keelin. It would be have to be enough. And when Keelin won and her clan rose to power once more, Morrigan would find the one who had blocked her and turn him or her inside out for eternity. At last she nodded.
"Swear it!" Themis ordered them all.
Haukim produced a cup of wine, Ares a knife. One by one they all slit their fingers and bled into the chalice. Anbay invoked the bond of silence ad agreement and one by one they took a sip.
It was bitter on her tongue, but Morrigan forced it down. She was doing this for freedom, for Keelin, for the world. She who had presided over ancient wars, she who had once helped twenty-two men drive off her island the most powerful empire among humans at the time. In two years she could do it, she would shape Keelin to her fate. The gift she'd given her centuries ago would come to full fruition.
"Now, Chun-Jung, you must tell Shamash the matter is withdrawn. No one else may interfere."
"What about me?" Huitzilopochtli asked. "Hachiman, you killed my champion!"
"It stays here!" Sekhment fairly roared.
The offending god looked contrite. "I will yield my right to train Tanaka. Bishamonten shall take my place. When the tournament is settled you and I may meet again."
"And if your clan wins?" Huitzilopochtli spat out.
"Honor will be seen to, on that I swear. Morrigan, what I did, I did for your champion." The look he gave her told her he knew what had kept her from Keelin. But that knowledge stayed in the room.
Softly she smiled and gave him a slight nod.
"It is agreed. I will accompany Chu-Jung," Themis said.
Chu-Jung soberly regarded her."I cannot withdraw our petition alone."
"You need two to withdraw," Haukim said.
Morrigan nodded. "Kuan Ti, he will aid you." All eyes swung to her and she knew they were wondering about those poker games.
"I will collect him," Anbay said.
With it set they filed out, leaving Morrigan in her cell. She couldn't eat, only sat at the window and stared out, waiting. Two hours of their time later she was summoned and once more her defenders walked her to the grand hall. There the crowd was gone, only the jury and Shamash stood, Themis and the two Chinese gods with her.
"Do you, Kuan Ti and Chu-Jung, officially withdraw your petition against Morrigan of the Tuatha Clan?"