The Door of Renown
A Tale of the Mare Inebrium
By Jaimie L. Elliott
Act I - Arise You Bastard Sons and Daughters
- 1 -
INTERIOR – MARE INEBRIUM: PANTHEON
There is a buzz of activity rarely seen in the
Pantheon as various writers, deities, and assorted divinities scurry to
and fro for reasons not immediately apparent to the reader. Two of
divine origins, a short, gray Earth deity named Jehova and his human
archangel Robert, huddle over a red-orange, oozing mass that appears to
be fresh, wet clay.
I still have no clue why he picked this guy. (wipes his right hand on
his seraphic robes and then frowns the resultant stain) The one version
is based on a pretentious poem and the other on a prophet. Two very
incompatible archetypes that happen to share the same name.
Apparently, the writer is a Longfellow admirer.
Personally, I hate that poem. And why add the Iroquois aspect? Why not
just stick to Longfellow?
I suspect that relying solely on a 19th century poet for mythological
veracity would be tenuous at best. By combining him with his Iroquois
namesake, he has the warrior he needs with the apropos mythological
credentials. Even still, my assessment is that there are more arguments
against than for his creation. However, he is the
writer. I more concerned about the resultant amalgam. This one may be
insane, his memories unable to mesh. Remember what happened with their
first attempt with Sosruko?
Only a writer could concoct something so perverse, so disrespectful.
The culpability cannot be solely attributed to him.
Are you still blaming me? I was trying to defend you!
We spoke on this matter before, Robert. We are new to the divine
fellowship. There is a certain amount of… scrutiny given to newcomers.
You mean hazing.
For lack of a better term, yes. It would have only lasted a thousand
years or so.
A thousand years!?!
Robert, we are immortal. You must adjust your perspective accordingly.
As it is, you gave incentive to Namalas to escalate the situation. Now
are we are faced with the prospect of the disparate warriors of Earth
mythology combating to the death for the amusement of the gods.
Warriors that we must create and then watch destroyed.
Whoa there! I certainly didn’t recommend this juvenile blood sport!
Blame Thor and Zeus-- Who actually thought the idea a good one.
You are divine now, Robert. You must think of the universe as an
extension of yourself. You are that butterfly, the one whose wings
cause storms a thousand miles away. It is a lesson I had to learn
tragically. (sighs deeply) I fear the consequences. I do not know how
this will affect our plans to atone for my past experiments on Earth.
(makes a placating motion with his hands) Enough. It is time.
A pure, blue light radiates from the mass of clay.
Shafts of azure luminosity-- special effects worthy of Steven Spielberg
himself-- pierce outward. Cue powerful symphony music by John Williams.
It’s alive! (looks abashed) Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Quickly, Robert! Use the hose!
scrambles for the hose. With some fumbling, he focuses the jet of water
at the reddish mass. Incrementally, a shape begins to form as the clay
washes away. Sections of bronze skin emerge.
His face, Robert. Wash the clay from his face.
I thought I was aiming at… (turning crimson) Oh, that’s not his face.
(mumbling) I thought his nose was a bit crooked.
adjusts the angle. A head with dark hair appears. A handsome,
fully-grown, and very wet male face is seen.
He is American Indian and not Asian Indian, right? He’s not Hindu?
That is correct.
Then why is his face blue?
The goddess of
That-Which-Should-Be-Obvious-To-You materializes out of nowhere and
proceeds to slap Archangel Robert smartly across the face. She
disappears just as suddenly.
(rubs his cheek) Ow! What was that for?
He cannot breathe, Robert. That is why is face is blue.
Oh. (pause) Oh!
Do not fret. Clay is my specialty.
with his arm and draws forth the clay from the newborn hero’s mouth and
nostrils. The hero inhales sharply, his first breath.
Enter from the
right A.C. Namalas, the writer. He is a middle-aged human, dressed in
blue jeans, loafers, a dress shirt, and a brown tweed sports jacket. He
sports a neatly trimmed beard.
Ah! Here is the one I’ve been waiting for! (ignores Jehova and
Archangel Robert; bends over and wipes reddish water from the hero’s
face) Arise, Hiawatha! Welcome to the Pantheon!
Fade to black.
- 2 -
A battle of two souls raged within his mind, and
as each half traded the metaphorical rabbit punches, low blows, and
wild haymakers, his psyche dropped to its wobbly knees.
Most people let their mind unravel over time while
waiting in that bleak, rain-drenched queue outside Club Insanity. He,
on the other hand, never had a mind properly wound to begin with. He
had cut in line right from his “birth”, past the flourishing arms of
cooler-than-you bouncers, leaving wannabe madmen grumbling impatiently
in his wake.
Noble Hiawatha! He was the child of the
Algonquians, grandson of Nokomis, the woman who fell from the moon.
No, wait, he was of the Onondagas, their chief and
later the chief of the Mohawks.
However, he was not their chief, since he lived on
the shores of the Gitche Gumee, with his wife Minnehaha, who, in his
great grief, died childless.
Yet he remembered the magical white bird, summoned
by the snake-haired Atotarho, striking down his daughter, which, in his
great grief, gave him impetus to unite the Iroquois.
He was… He was… He was two discordant songs played
at the same time. He was both Coke and Pepsi on a hot desert cactus. He
was bowling with a basketball from the thirty-yard line. He was two
inches short of a tachyon. He was candy sprinkles and radial tires and
a discarded, felt pipe cleaner, sung to the tune of ambient ecru.
He was slumped against the wall, oblivious of the
antics of deities and writers, a dribble of saliva hanging from his
bottom lip, his wampum belt loose over his shoulder, the eagle feathers
of his headdress tangled and disarrayed.
A mumbling drawl sliced through Hiawatha’s fugue,
his vision focusing on a dark figure looming over him. “Hey there, big
guy,” said the stranger, a man with large, black hair and blue eyes.
“Name’s Elvis. Elvis Presley. I’m the bartender here in the Pantheon,
the god section of the Mare Inebrium. Can’t say I’m too happy about the
goings on, but I just had to meet ya. See, I’m a big admirer of the
American Indian. Matter of fact, I got me some Cherokee blood from my
mama’s side.” He smiled a crooked, affable grin that flashed perfect
“Uh,” groaned Hiawatha, vibrating a globule at the
end of a tenuous strand of saliva.
Elvis frowned. “Say, Hiawatha… Do ya mind if I
call ya Hi? I heard yer having a heap of trouble with that brain of
“I might have a way-- Gosh, I’m embarrassed to
’fess to this, but in my younger and more reckless days, I had- on
occasion -partaken too much of the hooch.” He ran long fingers through
his luxurious hair. “It kinda made me see double. See?”
“And it’s awful hard to drive when ya got two of
everythin’ in front of ya. But there’s a little trick, see?”
The strand of spit snapped.
“All ya do,” whispered Elvis as he leaned closer,
“is close one eye.”
Hiawatha stared at Elvis for a long while.
The bartender cleared his throat. “Well, it was a
pleasure to meet ya. I hope yer, ah, feelin’ better. See ya later,
alligator.” He patted the mythic hero on the shoulder and walked away.
Close one eye… Could it be that simple?
He jumped into that psychic rumble, amidst the
echoes of warrior and orator, fist and tongue. He had to choose a side.
Warrior or orator? Fist or tongue? Another spasm tore through his mind
as the two halves clashed. He clasped his cranium within his powerful
hands in an ineffectual attempt to assuage the torment. Warrior or
orator? He tried speaking to his dichotomous souls, but the words
failed him. Without Deganawida, the Great Prophet, he knew not the
message. In his mind, he stood to the side, unable to adjudicate a
peaceful resolution. Another seizure and his mind nearly spilled out
like a broken piñata. His nose and ears began to bleed, his brain in
its final throes.
A tremendous roar escaped from his lips that
sliced through the godly hall. He raised his fists, literally and
mentally, and crashed them to the ground. A mini-earthquake rumbled
through his psyche and the Pantheon.
One part of his soul tumbled away into the dark
recesses of his subconscious.
He realized himself hunched over on all fours, his
breaths coming in short, harsh pants. His fists nestled within two
small craters on the floor. His acute hearing noticed the absence of
sound. He looked up and saw hundreds of eyes turned toward him.
From the crowd, A.C. Namalas approached him. The
writer seemed disappointed. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be, eh
Hiawatha? Well, no need to delay any further. Let’s get on with
recycling you. All that work for naught.”
“I am… fine,” whispered the American Indian,
wiping the blood from his face.
“I don’t think you are,” said A.C. Namalas.
“I am Hiawatha. My grandmother is Nokomis and my
father Mudjekeewis. With my mittens minjekahwun I
can shatter stone, with my moccasins I can step a mile. I can let loose
ten arrows into the heavens before the first lands to the ground. I am
Hiawatha and I am now well. The battle for my soul is over.”
The writer grinned. “Well good for you! Glad to
have you around!”
“Here you go,” interrupted a creature that sent
Hiawatha back to the precipice of insanity. It resembled an amorphous,
six-legged ochre buffalo with three golden eyes and dagger-like teeth
in a too-wide mouth. Numerous pseudopods waggled from its side. A
companion monster, similar in form but smaller and silver, stood to its
right. Between them was a man as pale as Elvis, powerfully built but at
least two heads shorter than Hiawatha.
“What is this?” asked Namalas, his voice rising in
“Sosruko number two,” replied the silver monster.
“This one is sane.”
“No, no, no!” shouted the writer. “He’s a midget!
What is he, four feet tall?”
“You said he was the smallest of the Narts,”
complained the ochre monster.
“The Narts are a race of giants! He’s the smallest
of a race of giants!” Namalas threw his pen. “Now
we’ll have to recycle this one as well.”
“We can’t keep abreast of your Earth mythologies,”
grumbled the silver monster. Vast energies crackled in its multiple
eyes. Hiawatha suddenly understood the two creatures to be gods
“What does recycle mean?” asked Sosruko number
two. Everyone ignored him.
The mortal writer seemed oblivious to the danger
of angering divinity. “I’m sorry, but we have to do this right. Recycle
the hero and create Sosruko number three.”
“Whoa there,” drawled Elvis as he approached the
group. “I don’t see any need to do any recyclin’.”
“What does recyclin’ mean?” persisted Sosruko
“I’ll take him,” continued Elvis. “I could always
use another hand ’round the bar.”
“Well, we can’t just call him Sosruko number two,”
complained Namalas. “That will be too confusing.”
“Call him Soslan,” said Elvis. “Ain’t that another
name fer him?”
Namalas arched an eyebrow. “You’ve been doing your
research. Those velvet paintings don’t do you justice.”
Hiawatha knew nothing of velvet paintings, but he
sensed that the comment was not a compliment.
“Alright, it’s settled then,” muttered Elvis as he
escorted Soslan away.
“We will attempt fabricating Sosruko one last
time,” said the ochre alien deity. “What measurements should we abide
Namalas sighed. “Make him average human male
height. Wait, how about a couple inches taller?”
Writer and gods went their separate ways, leaving
Hiawatha standing alone. Adjusting his headdress, the grandson of
Nokomis hero did not think that a bad thing.
- 3 -
The Pantheon defied description. Situated on the
second floor of the Mare Inebrium (the spaceport alehouse that not only
defied description, but also seemed to redefine the definition when
your back was turned), the hall of the Gods seemed both finite and
immeasurable. The place occupied its own paradoxical niche of
space-time, allowing it to coexist within the three dimensional
limitations of a mortal establishment. The lack of ceiling receded into
a dark ebon void, yet despite lack of lights above, an otherworldly
illumination lit the various areas to various degrees, from the
seraphic, floating tables for the lords of heaven to the midnight
corner seats set aside for nether gods.
Writers and deities of every shape and form packed
the never-ending hall. Excitement permeated the Pantheon. As Hiawatha
weaved his way through the crowd, he became aware of the appraising
stares. One emerald humanoid goddess even squeezed his upper arm as he
passed by, as if she measured the strength beneath his bronze skin. He
desired to find an egress, but his hunter instincts realized that the
throng did not part for him at random. He found himself herded toward a
certain area of the Pantheon, a place he later learned from the talking
horse to be the dance floor commandeered for this special event.
He staggered out into an opening where dozens of
others awaited their fate, just like him. The gods and writers
The earth heroes came in all manners of colors and
sizes. Some stood pale, like the moon, while others had skin more akin
to night. He saw brown, olive, yellow, red, and even blue skin tones. A
couple towered over him, twenty feet tall, veritable titans. He espied
a small number of women. Some draped what he would come to know as
steel armor over their bodies. Others, like him, wore very little at
all. Most carried weapons, from the familiar bow to odd, hollowed out
sticks that threw out fire and pellets of lead. Although they came in
great variety, they shared one thing: a quiet, tense mix of fear and
Like thunder, a voice cut through the air. “I grow
impatient!” rumbled a large, bearded, muscular hero who wore a lion
skin over his broad shoulders. “By the Furies, what is our fate to be?
Where are the battles to be fought and the enemies to be crushed?” He
slammed his club on the floor, knocking those nearby off their feet.
The act made Hiawatha’s earlier smashing of his fists seem pathetic in
He appears even stronger than Kwasind,
thought the awed Hiawatha, who saw not a man, but a force of nature,
strength personified. For the first time in his short life, trepidation
stirred his heart.
“Patience, Heracles,” said a stout human god
dressed in a toga. He turned to a purple three-headed alien deity on
his left and said with a toothy grin, “He’s my boy.”
“Technically, he’s only a facsimile of your son,”
said A.C. Namalas as he squeezed through the crowd, ignoring the scowl
of Zeus. “All the earth heroes present are recreations of myths,
legends, and folklores. And to answer your questions, mighty Heracles,
we only await the last couple heroes, who at this very moment are being
fashioned in their legendary ways.”
“We will not stand for this!” interrupted another
human god dressed in a lavish silk robe as he pushed his way through to
confront the writer. Behind him, a contingent of similarly dressed gods
followed. “You have gone too far!”
The writer frowned. “Is it the selection of
heroes, Shangdi? It’s not my fault your Confucian scholars destroyed so
much of your mythological writings. Even so, I thought we came up with
an excellent selection. Some cultures don’t have any representation at
“That is not the issue!” seethed the Jade Emperor.
“You are using the same rock for Sun Wukong as was used for Sosruko!”
“Query: Elucidate issue with Sun Wukong’s
manufacturing process,” burbled a deity best described as a big, orange
“Do you not know how Sosruko was created?” asked
“Affirmative,” replied the eyeball. “The human
male sheep manager Sajemuquo Zartyzh witnessed the human female
maternal trope Setenaya without her artificial coverings as she doused
her epidermis in the river. His reflexive reaction to the scene was to
issue forth procreative fluid that impacted nearby silicon-based
“That same semen-covered rock you’re using for Sun
The eyeball blinked. “Repeat: Elucidate issue with
Sun Wukong’s manufacturing process.”
“Ah, was it truly necessary to use that same
rock?” interrupted Namalas as storm clouds began to form around
“I cannot fathom illogical human thinking,”
replied the alien god.
“You’re gods, for crying out loud!” said the
writer. “Couldn’t you have materialized another rock? Using the same
one from Sosruko is very, uhm, unsanitary, not to mention
“This entire concept is disrespectful!” roared
Shangdi. “You’ve taken our religions and made a game out of it!”
“Well, I for *hiccup* one would like to shee how
it turnsh out,” slurred a large, red-haired god who held a massive war
hammer in one hand and a large stein of ale in the other. “Unlesh the
*hiccup* Chineshe are shcared of battle.”
“Why don’t you bend over for your father’s
eight-legged horse, Thor?” said a sneering, black-faced Chinese god.
What ensued was a raucous bedlam of even worse
insults and waving fists as the Chinese and Norse deities squared off,
who were soon joined in likewise fashion by their respective heroes. A
lightning bolt and a fireball shot up into the air. The entire
situation threatened to unravel into a divine melee.
The hall went silent as the Reever loomed above
them all. Even the gods deferred to the power of the enigmatic immortal
native of the planet Bethdish.
“You’re right,” said Shangdi after a pause. “It is
enough. We’re following the Hindus and the other gods who left before
us. It is our shame we did not do so earlier.” The crowd parted as the
Chinese gods walked up to a nondescript door. The Jade Emperor turned a
handle and the heroes issued a collective gasp as a vision of
mountains, clouds, and a brilliant sun appeared. A pang ripped through
Hiawatha as the plain, worn wood closed upon the visage of Earth, a
world that claimed him even though he had never set upon it.
“Ahem,” said Namalas. “That was certainly awkward.
Well, some you just can’t please.” He glanced around. “Everyone is so
tall. Is there a chair or something I can stand on so that I’m not--
whoa!” Thor grasped him by the scruff of his jacket and lifted him high
in the air. He dangled like a limp scarecrow. “Uh, could you turn me
toward our erstwhile heroes? Yes, that’s good. Thank you very much,
Thor. So! Uhm, here we are!” He cleared his throat. “You heroes have
been selected from the myriad Earth mythologies and legends. You are
the ultimate warriors, the ones born for battle! To provide evidence of
your prowess and the nobility of the human spirit, we’ve decided to put
forth an exhibition for the non-Earth gods.”
“Some have doubted our prowess?” asked the hero
Cuchulainn in a cold, dangerous voice. His powerful hand gripped the
mighty spear Gae Bolg. A murmur rose amongst the
“Consider this a demonstration,” replied Namalas.
“Consider it an opportunity to showcase your abilities to the
“Kicksh shum ash!” hollered Thor with great
enthusiasm, his arms pumping the air, forgetting he held the writer
aloft. After a few seconds of lashing the mortal about, the Norse god
realized he still gripped Namalas. “Shorry,” he slurred.
“Uhhh,” moaned the writer, his face a curios mix
of red and green. “Uh.” He gulped. “Okay. Let’s continue, shall we?” He
attempted to straighten his jacket, a futile effort considering it
acted more as a harness to keep him airborne. “Alright. Let us discuss
the best way to demonstrate the might of earthen heroes. We have
decided that that mechanism shall be a tournament of battle. One fight
every earth week between two combatants. A hero cannot fight again
until all the others have fought, which will begin the next round. The
tournament shall last until there is one hero remaining.”
“And what does that hero receive as a prize?”
“Why, what every hero desires,” said Namalas.
“Eternal fame and glory!”
That is not what every hero desires,
thought Hiawatha, his mind still fixated on mountains and clouds.
“Now for some ground rules,” continued the writer.
“You are free to wander the Pantheon. However, you may not leave its
premises, which includes using the portals to other worlds or through
the front entrance. You’ll find a barrier -- a most unpleasant barrier
-- that prevents you from succeeding. The only door you may use, when
the time is appropriate, is the Door of Renown, which will take the
heroes to their respective battleground. Since the Pantheon is quite
expansive and not limited to the four dimensions, this should give even
the most nomadic of you ample room. Second, there shall be no fighting
outside the scheduled matches. Those that disregard these rules shall
be eliminated from the tournament.”
“Recycled!” shouted Soslan from behind the bar.
Namalas cleared his throat. “Anyway, feel free to
mingle with gods, mortals, and each other. Also, the Pantheon is
a bar, so please sample the fine refreshments. I personally recommend
the Alpha Centari merlot. Remember that you represent your culture and
Earth, so behave yourselves. Drunkenness will not excuse breaking of
the rules. The universe is watching you.”
“What about the first match?” yelled a green alien
god from within the crowd.
“Ah yes,” replied Namalas. “I had given it some
thought. How about a test of archery?”
The man from the shores of the Gitche Gumee felt
the cold lump form in his stomach.
“For the first match, we shall witness the primal
power of Hiawatha versus the man who shot down the nine suns, Yi the
Archer!” A.C. Namalas waited for the thunderous applause. He pursed his
lips at the silence. “I believe a mix of forest and mountains will be a
suitable battlefield. As soon as Thor lets me down, we can be--”
* * * * *
Once he passed through the Door of Renown,
Hiawatha forgot himself. He locked his eagle eyes across the
mountain-ringed valley on his foe. They both stood on opposite rises
above the boulders and trees, the hot sun casting its disdain upon the
desiccated earth. He remained as still as the rocks below, awaiting the
horn to signal the slaughter. He did not care that his life hung in
balance. He knew not of Yi the Archer, the hero who slew the nine sun
birds to save mankind only to become an embittered tyrant upon the
death of his wife. Reason and history meant nothing to the grandson of
Nokomis. Hiawatha’s only thought was to murder the champion from China
by any means possible.
A blaring sound cut through the stifling air. As
quick as thought, Hiawatha drew his bow and let loose a jasper-tipped
arrow. Few men could match his skill with a bow.
Yi the Archer not only matched him; he exceeded
While Hiawatha shot his arrows high, he never
reached the sun. His arrows were chipped from stone while his opponent
shot barbed metal broadheads. Yi’s arrow shattered his in mid-flight
and Hiawatha just managed to spin in time as the sharp edge gashed his
cheek. He rolled on the ground as a series of arrows missed him by
He came to his feet and promptly stepped a mile
away toward the far end of the valley. An impossibly high mountain
cliff loomed above him as he sought shelter behind a mammoth boulder.
He gathered his breath as trickles of blood ran down the side of his
Hiawatha contemplated his next move, squatting
with his back on the rock, when some inner sense warned him to look up.
The feathers of the arrow skimmed his chin and landed with a silky
thunk between his thighs, a mere inch from his nether regions. He
rolled into a crevice underneath the rock as another arrow fell in the
spot where he had rested. He touched his nose just to make sure it
remained unharmed. I have become the prey, he
thought. What would the majestic stag do?
He then recalled the deerskin clothing he wore and
thought that pretending to be a stag was, by a large margin, his
stupidest idea in his brief existence.
The rain of arrows ceased, Yi’s ammunition not
infinite. Hiawatha crawled out on his belly, as quiet as a snake, into
a nearby copse of trees. He faced himself toward where he knew the
Chinese archer awaited with the remainder of his arrows. He blew away a
headdress feather that tickled his nose. Hiawatha tensed his body and
he stepped forward to almost a mile. Even with that
quick jaunt, a couple arrows zipped by, only his twisting acrobatics
saving him from certain death. He tumbled behind a boulder out of
sight, about twenty-five yards from his foe. He pictured the position
of Yi, pulled back his fist, and punched stone with a booming blow.
Rocky shrapnel blasted forth and he heard the
archer yelp in surprise.
A relatively short step was followed by even
shorter bloody right hook to the cranium.
- 4 -
No other game in the entire multiverse has cut a
swathe of suffering and destruction like Quantum Chess. No other game
begot two pan-galactic wars, leaving a dozen home worlds as charred
ruins. No other game -- not even the taboo sport of Kyathaninana--
inspires hushed whispers and authoritative, brutal, and knee-jerk
overreaction by crazed mobs. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Pointed-Out-In-A-Lineup
(his moniker satirized to appease the lawyers) is a spokesperson for
Unicef by comparison.
Such an innocuous start for what became such a
Computers had flexed their mathematical prowess
and solved traditional chess in the late 20th century. The remaining
deterministic games fell soon after. It all seemed unfair to the
organics, being outthought by silicon and copper. Many of them hoisted
the white flag. Indeed, the majority thought that accessible
pornography, online stock trading, and sharing incriminating pictures
with friends, relatives, and eager district attorneys a small price to
pay for getting your ass kicked by a computer while playing a silly
board game. Score one for the machines.
A stubborn few held to the old ways. They sought a
means to outwit computers, and not with subjective, (in their opinion)
trivial pursuits such as philosophy, art, poetry, and country rock
music. They toiled decade after decade, endeavoring for a contest that
was not deterministic, for which they would lose, and not random, for
which at best they would draw. That seemed to leave precisely zero
In the year 2277, Bobbi Agatha Schoobs of
Cleveland, Ohio of Earth created the ultimate opiate for organic
insecurity. She invented a game that, at first glance, appeared as
traditional chess, with your pawns, queens, and pieces that the
youngsters call horsies. It differed, however, in that it relied upon
the Uncertainty Principle. All pieces stayed in an undetermined state
until you touched one, at which point entanglement occurred and the
pieces revealed themselves. This happened between each move, so the
placement might very well look completely different from one turn to
the next. In essence, it was random, but something odd happened.
Certain individuals intuited beyond the
randomness. They sensed that indeterminate piece as their rook and the
other indeterminate piece as your king. Check and mate. No computer
possessed that insight. A game arose for which a machine could not
brute force compute its way to victory. Score one for the organics.
Yet life is never so simple. Quantum Chess seemed
to play havoc with nearby quantum computers. There were even anecdotal
accounts of games warping reality itself (note: this was never proven
and most historians deride such reports as apocryphal). The more
militaristic individuals seized upon the destructive nature of Quantum
Chess to destabilize their enemies. Many innocent and not so innocent
players found themselves arrested and executed as saboteurs. Finally,
two spies posing as old men in the park compromised the
fusion-geothermal grid of Kwil. See that blank space in the night sky?
Yeah, that was Kwil. Score minus a billion for
The resultant war destroyed three civilizations,
killed trillions, and inspired four made-for-television movies.
Historians and gaming enthusiasts call this the Rational War.
The other war, the one known
as the Irrational War, came about when Ms. Schoobs, at that point
exiled to the third moon of Candare and not content to leave well
enough alone, realized that the best players did not rely on intuition,
but sheer will. She proved the game bent its results for a qualified
minority. As an excuse for religion and despotism, nothing could be
more apropos. All it took was an unimaginative leap between game and
reality and a warped view that the universe owed you something. A
number of cults arose. Most of them consolidated in a major theological
movement under the New Khan, the boldest, evilest, and best dressed of
the maniacal dictators to fashion a dogma for Quantum Chess.
The ensuing mess made the previous war quaint by
comparison. The carnage, the sheer stupidity of supposed sentient
beings to run amok over something as inane as a game, was said to have
shocked Ms. Schoob. She died bemused.
The vast majority of places continue to outlaw
Quantum Chess to this day. Even the freer fringes of the universe, like
the City of Lights on Bethdish, frown upon the game.
“That is why,” said the Bluesman as he tuned his
guitar, his blind, milky eyes stark against his dark skin, “Max would
not like the fact that you fellas are playing here in the Mare
“The Mare Inebrium doesn’t utilize quantum
computers,” said a fifteen-foot long scorpion through his Fender
translator. The synthetic voice sounded distracted as his gargantuan
pincer hovered over the board. “Except perhaps the juke box.” With a
deftness that belied his bulk, the D'rrish touched a fuzzy piece and it
turned into a pawn. Immediately, the rest of the pieces revealed
“That’s some bad luck there, Kazsh-ak Tier,”
chuckled Guiles Thornby in sham evil laughter as he absentmindedly
fingered the hilt of his sword. “You put yourself in check.”
Kazsh-ak Tier’s stinger bobbed angrily as he
growled. “Confound this game. Where did you obtain it, Thornby? As the
Bluesman so noted, it’s illegal in most localities.”
“The Boss had me collect it,” replied Thornby.
“What’s bizarre is he told me to go ahead and play a few games.”
“Well, I suppose Max can’t be that upset if the
Boss is giving you the green light.” The Bluesman wiped his forehead
with a napkin. “But it sure makes me nervous anyway.”
“Max is too distracted with other things,” said
Kazsh-ak Tier. After waffling on a couple moves, he finally chose one
to escape check. As soon as he let go, the pieces once again became
indistinct. “There’s talk of the gods making trouble in the Pantheon.
Even the Boss is concerned.”
“They’re gods,” said the Bluesman. “They do what
Thornby sniffed. “You think so? Have you ever read
in a history book where a god ever actually did anything? In a
mythology book, maybe, but you don’t see them on the front page of the
Galactic Times.” He scratched his three-day old beard with a calloused
hand. “If they’re so powerful, then why do they seem invisible instead
of just doing what they want?”
“’Cause they can’t?” offered the blind man.
“It’s because there’s a certain line they’d better
not cross. ’Cause if they do--”
“Then the universe gets involved,” finished
Kazsh-ak Tier. “This is the basic tenant of godhood. The more powerful
you are, the more restrictions you have. Space-time has a certain flair
for balancing things out. And gods can be
neutralized. The security field of the Mare Inebrium prevents them from
using their powers outside the Pantheon. Hmm. Come to think of it, they
might use quantum computers for that as well.”
Thornby rubbed his tired eyes. “There you go,
making me lose my concentration, talking about gods and quantum
computers and lines being crossed. Why don’t you play us a song,
The talented musician, a telepath who fed on the
emotions of those around him, replied, “There’s not enough sorrow
today. Most everyone here in the bar is happy.” The Bluesman smiled.
“And that I don’t mind.”
- 5 -
“So, what was it like?” asked Monster Slayer, the
What was it like? A question
that long ago grew tiresome, but Hiawatha did not begrudge the other
heroes asking it. They had every reason to be informed. If anything, it
gave him the chance to meet some of the others. He had talked to over a
dozen of the heroes already.
“I… do not know myself,” replied Hiawatha. “It was
not as though I could not think. Rather, my mind was an arrow in
flight, seeking the heart of Yi. My only wish was to destroy him.”
Hiawatha tossed a twig into the fire. “I was a cornhusk doll come
alive, a plaything of some mischievous child.”
“Hmm,” pondered the oversized Glooscap, another
American Indian. He said ‘hmm’ a lot. He towered twice their height and
reminded Hiawatha of the prophet Deganawida due to tendency to think
things thoroughly before speaking. Glooscap was wise. He was powerful.
He was genial. He was annoying the hell out of all of them. The giant
turned toward Monster Slayer. “You should stop drinking the white man’s
The Navajo shrugged. He missed a twin brother who
never really existed and hunted for solace within the distillations of
Elvis’ bar. “The white man would say fuck you.” He took another swig
and tossed the empty bottle to the side where it clattered across the
tile, his eyes glassed as he swayed in near stupor.
Hiawatha tired of the bickering. Seeking
distraction, he scanned the Pantheon, the numerous campfires unleashing
dancing ghosts across the floors and walls. They allowed the heroes to
light fires and even provided a steady supply of wood. Somehow, it
seemed appropriate. Most heroes sought commonality with their
companions. There were the Islamic Riders of Central Asia who exchanged
dark glances with the Christian Knights. The Africans formed a
quarrelsome lot while the Chinese entertained themselves with the
antics of Sun Wukong and Gesar. Heracles lorded over the Greco-Roman
Faction, adopting the powerful Babylonian Gilgamesh into their fold as
his friend and lover. Other tribes formed, dispersed, and reformed. And
a few roamed alone, the most notable being Rostam, the legendary hero
One of the loners approached them. Hiawatha did
not recognize him, although the hero did not seem too distant a
relation. “May I join you?” asked the stranger.
“What is your name?” asked Hiawatha.
“Popocatepetl,” he replied. “I am Chichimecan.”
“There is room at this fire,” said the giant.
“Sit. I am Glooscap. He is Monster Slayer. He is-- ”
“Hiawatha,” finished Popocatepetl. “Everyone knows
the victor of the first battle.” He turned to the man from the shores
of the Gitche Gumee. “You fought well. He almost pinned your nut sack
to the forest floor. Many warriors would have given up at that point.”
Hiawatha grunted. “Everyone says I fought well,
but I do not know how they can say. It was only him and I in that long
“We all saw,” mumbled Monster Slayer. “You and
him, but smaller, on the square things.”
The square things. Hiawatha recalled someone
calling them televisions, the monstrous devices found all over the
Pantheon. He grunted again.
“You must have hated each other,” said the
Chichimecan. “You both had blood debt in your eyes.”
“I knew him not. And he not me.”
“Strange magic then,” said Popocatepetl. Hiawatha
tensed, awaiting the inevitable query. “So… what was it like?”
Hiawatha sighed and threw another log into the
* * * * *
Hiawatha ran his powerful hand across the surface
of the bar and marveled at its cool, hard sheen. It seemed eternal,
made from the wood of the Tree of Life. He said as much to Elvis who
nodded in agreement.
“Y’sir,” drawled the musician turned god. “This
bar’s nigh impervious to anythin’. After Agni burned three holes in the
previous one, Max figured we needed somethin’ that could deal with the
likes of gods-- and other assorted assholes.”
The American Indian enjoyed conversing with Elvis,
this god who saved his sanity. A smidgeon of guilt always smoldered in
the back of his mind that he bothered the busy bartender. “I should not
be bothering you.”
“Nonsense, Hi,” said Elvis as he filled three
drinks in quick succession. “Only part of the job’s servin’ drinks. A
lot of it is gabbin’ with the customers. We’re amateur therapists.” He
wiped his hands on his apron. “’sides, Sauce is gettin’ the hang of
things. That boy’s a quick learner.” He turned to Soslan and shouted,
“Hey Sauce Man, mosey these drinks o’er to the Oyerta gods at table
seven, would ya? And careful of the fumes. And be more careful of the
The diminutive, muscular Nart smiled and whisked
away the drinks without spilling a drop. Hiawatha knew little of
bartending but Soslan seemed a natural.
“Next match will be tomorrow,” said Hiawatha as a
feather from his headdress hung forlorn over the bridge of his nose.
Unlike the other remaining fifty-two heroes, he did not need to worry
about his name called out.
“Namalas is about to announce the fighters now,”
“Uh huh. Last time, the gods got their panties in
a wad ’cause he didn’t give them enough time to place bets. So they
told him they wanted a day’s notice.”
“It is all just a game, is it not?” Hiawatha
flicked at discarded peanut shell and shirked back when the thing
squealed. Miniature arms came out as it cursed at him in high-pitched
nonsense. It danced around the bar top on little feet.
“Yeah,” said Elvis who did not hide his disgust
with the tournament. He took a turn at flicking the peanut shell
creature and connected with a loud thwack. It arced into the crowd of
gods converging around the dance floor, its wail fading in the
distance. “This is all wrong. No good gonna come out of it.”
“Deities and writers,” shouted Namalas, his voice
cracking. “May I have your attention?” This time he brought a chair to
stand upon. His glanced with mistrust at Thor who stood nearby. “We are
about to announce the second match.” A hush fell over the crowd. Even
the pompous Heracles remained quiet. “This week, we shall have a battle
of females: Queen Trung of Vietnam versus Princess Saljan of the Turks!
Please give our heroines a round of applause!” The crowd murmured and
Hiawatha heard the odds discussed with alarming amorality.
“Ya know, if I wasn’t such a nice god, I’d zap
that sumbitch,” said Elvis.
“You can do that?” asked Hiawatha.
“Nah, not my bag,” admitted Elvis. “Music’s my
thing. It ain’t lightnin’ bolts nor the ground splittin’ in half, but
it’s enough.” He paused. “Sometimes.”
Princess Saljan, the 5-to-1 favorite, would defeat
Queen Trung atop her elephant in a battle on the open plain. Some gods
took the sucker bet and lost quite a bit. Unlike Trung, however, none
of them lost their life.
- 6 -
“Not so special any longer, eh Hiawatha?” said a
chortling Monster Slayer. The Navajo was drunker and meaner than usual
and targeted Hiawatha in this particular outburst. “You’re the only
one-- the only one-- not the only one to have won a
“Perhaps that is so,” said Hiawatha.
“You know, if I had fought, er, whatshisname-- Yi!
I would have-- would have-- wouldn’t have run around like a girl hiding
behind rocks. I would have killed him with my zigzag lightning arrows.
Brrrzat! Ker-pow! I am Monster Slayer!”
“Yes, you are Monster Slayer.”
“And you know why they call me, uhm, Monster
Slayer? Because I slew monsters. I killed many monsters. I made the
world safe for all the people of the world by killing monsters. You
hear that, Goose-Crap? You hear that, Poppy-- Popocat-- Popocapee-- you
fucking Ass-tec wannabe? You hear that?” He looked at his hand. “Hey
Hiawatha, do you know why they call me Monster Slayer?”
“That’s right! Because I kill monsters.” He
teetered on his feet. “Except old age. And sickness. And poverty.
Because you can-- you can-- you can’t kill all evil. The world needs
some evil. If no one ever died, the world gets too crowded. My brother,
Born-for-Water, said… my brother--” Monster Slayer’s face contorted in
despair. “My brother…” He choked back a sob before he fell forward
hard. He lay with arms splayed. A snore rumbled out of his open mouth.
“I thought Elvis agreed not to provide him anymore
of the white man’s poison,” said Glooscap as he placed a blanket over
Monster Slayer’s inert form.
“He did,” said Hiawatha. “But the other gods keep
gifting him with drinks. His antics amuse them.”
“He amuses me,” admitted Popocatepetl.
“He is not whole without his brother, Popo,” said
“Iztaccihuatl’s passing drove me to lie down
beside her and await my own death,” said the Chichimecan. “And Hiawatha
saw his Minnehaha die of sickness. Yet you do not see us carrying on.
We all have had our tragedies and dark times.”
Hiawatha’s heart panged with the memory, even
though he could not picture his wife’s face. Artificial memories did
not supply an image, but the ache felt as authentic the floor beneath
him. His hatred of the cursed writer reached a new zenith.
“Not the same,” said Glooscap.
“Not the same,” persisted the giant. “Your losses
have been great. Your pains are real. Yet Iztaccihuatl and Minnehaha
did not share your souls. For Monster Slayer, his brother
Born-for-Water was his other half. There cannot be one without the
other. Monster Slayer was the arm, his twin the mind that guided the
“You seem to know a great deal,” grumbled
Hiawatha. The thought of a faceless Minnehaha both saddened and angered
him. “You are saying my Minnehaha is less than his Born-for-Water. How
do you know so much?”
“Listen and talk. Talk, talk,
talk.” He kicked a flaming log and it skittered across the floor,
leaving a trail of sparks. “I tire of your talking.”
Popocatepetl laid a restraining hand upon his arm.
Hiawatha shook free. “No! No more talk. Not from
him and not from you.” He wanted battle but his next turn would not
come for months. He ached to meet the darkness and embrace it. He raged
that he could not even chose the method of his death. He grabbed his
ash bow and quiver and stormed away. Murderous intent gleaned in his
* * * * *
The difference between hunting and assassination
is the manner of the prey. He knew the distinction; he ignored it.
Instead of trees, he maneuvered amongst bodies. Rather than hills, he
relied on tables and chairs to hide. He avoided lights, skulking in
He spotted his quarry near the bar, the clichéd,
tweed jacket standing out like a red flag. The simpering, oblivious
A.C. Namalas, the ever-present haughtiness etched on his pale face,
engaged in heated conversation with Jehova and the Archangel Robert.
Elvis loomed nearby, pretending to mind his own business. This was the
perfect moment. This was the time for retribution. Amidst the anonymity
of hundreds conversing and drinking, arguing and reveling, he drew
forth his bow and notched an arrow.
He calmed himself, his breathing even and heart
steady. He drew the missile back. In slow motion, Jehova turned to him,
the god’s expression oddly serene. He let loose the arrow. It flew
A flash of sparks followed by thunder. The wind
knocked out of him as someone even more powerful tackled him. A scream.
A world of chaos.
“Move aside, move aside!” bellowed the Reever. “No
fighting amongst the heroes. Gilgamesh, release him.”
His nose bloodied, he glanced up while on his back
“What were you thinking?” asked the Reever.
“I am Monster Slayer,” replied the Navajo. “I slay
monsters. It is what I do.” He saw Hiawatha twenty paces to his right.
He saw the guilt in his companion’s eyes, the culpability in thought if
not in action.
Monster Slayer laughed.
End Act I
Act II - Find the Pieces
- 1 -
INTERIOR – MARE INEBRIUM: OUTSIDE THE DOOR TO THE
Archangel Robert stands before the massive,
over-elaborate doors to the Pantheon room. Various symbols, faces, and
miscellany are carved into the frame, creating a chaotic and uneven
display. Bruce, the trim but lethal bouncer who bears a striking
resemblance to a certain 1970’s martial arts star, blocks his path.
(holds out an upward palm) No unaccompanied minors.
No unaccompanied minors. You are a minor divinity. Your god must
accompany you in order to enter the Pantheon. No exceptions.
Well that’s just silly… (pop and crackle of Bruce’s joints as he
tightens his muscles) …but hey I’m not one to argue about rules. So
only gods can enter alone?
Ah! Well, there you go. I’m a writer. I wrote a paper titled Sociology
Experiment. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It was quite the sensation on
(nods his head)
So that qualifies me as a writer, right?
to walk past and staggers back from a two-finger slap on his forehead.
He clutches his face in his hands.
Ow! What was that for? I thought we established I’m a writer!
You are a writer. You are also a minor. No unaccompanied minors.
(rubs the red welt on his forehead) Goddammit! (cringes and glances
around) Hope the boss didn’t hear that. (turns back to Bruce) So let me
get this straight. Writers outrank minor divinities in the Pantheon?
No. Minors outrank writers. That is why you cannot enter. You are a
minor divinity before you are a writer.
Enter from the left Jehova. The short, gray deity
seems preoccupied. He glances up and takes in the situation.
Hello Robert. Hello Bruce.
Jehova, I’m glad to see you. Bruce won’t let me enter. Apparently,
minor divinities can’t get in without their god accompanying them.
I can see the wisdom in that. Now Robert, don’t pout. It is unbecoming
of my archangel. You must remember that the categories of minor
divinities are nearly infinite. Many should never be left unsupervised
or even created. Unfortunately, it is difficult to draw the line. Whose
elemental or demon should be allowed? Whose avatar or flaming eye
should not? If they made exceptions, then certain deities will take
umbrage. It is an aspect of their difficult nature. Nevertheless, be
not perturbed. I am here. Shall we enter now?
(again holds out an upward palm) No Earth gods allowed in the main
floor of the Pantheon at this time.
What! (runs behind Jehova as Bruce glares at him) Don’t hit me.
(Whispers to Jehova) Can you strike him down?
He can hear you Robert. And no, I cannot. First, the dampening field is
in effect. Second, despite legendary accounts, it is not my preferred
manner of dealing with situations. (eyes the door) Well, that explains
the discord down below. I thought it curious as to why the Norse,
Olympian, and other assorted Earth deities were raising Cain in the
Boardroom. It seems we have been barred from the tournament.
Another themed area of the Mare Inebrium where the executive types
congregate. I surmise that Max gathered the gods there so they would
cause the least friction with other patrons, although I would be
concerned of mixing deities with megalomaniac businessmen. Even
depowered gods can be troublesome. (turns to Bruce) Is there an
explanation as to why we cannot enter?
(shakes his head)
(rubs his chin) Something is amiss here, something larger than just a
contest of heroes. This is troubling. Most troubling.
Pan to the ornate doorway. Slow zoom on the
carving of a laughing maniacal face. Center on the darkness of the
carving’s eye. Zoom in until screen goes to black.
- 2 -
“So why were the Earth gods sent away?”
Elvis finished cleaning the glass and placed it
among the others. “The way I heard it, Hi, was that they didn’t want
’em messin’ ’round with the fights. Not that these non-Earth yahoos are
anymore impartial, ’specially when they got themselves a wager on it.”
Elvis shrugged and ran a hand through his thick hair. “Sounds fishy, if
ya ask me.”
Hiawatha sipped his Shirley Temple. The
diminutive, functional umbrella fascinated him. “You are a god of
Earth, are you not?”
Elvis snorted. “Darn tootin’. But they ain’t got
no one else to serve ’em drinks. Least, not the way I can. I got half a
mind walkin’ out anyways after what they done to Monster Slayer.”
Hiawatha turned to the Navajo chained to a rock
upon a high dais, poison from an unknown source dripping down upon him.
An invisible force dome prevented anyone from getting close. It also
blocked sound. Yet it did not hide the agony that Monster Slayer
endured, his body twisting and contorting with each drop. Rage again
swelled within the son of Nokomis. “I am angry at Jehova for protecting
Namalas and setting up this situation.”
“Now don’t get all livid at the Lord. He’s one
smart fella. If he hadn’t stopped that arrow, there’d been no way he
could of kept ’em from killin’ Monster Slayer. And I reckon it wouldn’t
have stopped the tournament anyways.”
“It is better to die than to suffer like that.”
Elvis nodded. “Can’t say I disagree with ya. That
was the writer’s idea. Said if they weren’t gonna, ahem, recycle
him, then they needed somethin’ to discourage the others from
takin’ a shot. So he recommended this happy scene from Norse mythology,
where Loki was punished fer killin’ Baldur.”
“Jehova saved him for what purpose? As capable as
Monster Slayer is, there are others here far more powerful. He, like
me, would have little hope of winning the tournament. Eventually, all
but one of us will die. It is only a matter of time.”
“Ya gotta have faith.”
Hiawatha snapped the umbrella in half. “To have
faith, one must believe in a god.”
“Believe in yerself.”
“But I am an imagined man. I am only as real as
the clay that crafted me.”
Elvis stuck out a long finger at him. “Now listen
here, buckaroo. I’ve been ’round fer a long time. Who says ya ain’t
real? Sure, they made ya. Maybe they put false memories in yer noggin.
So what? Ya got a soul. Ya got a mind. What happens from now on is
yers, not theirs. Now stop feelin’ sorry fer yerself.”
Hiawatha had nothing further to say at that point.
Still glum, he finished his drink and waved goodbye to Elvis.
The tension in the Pantheon was palpable. The gods
and writers viewed the heroes with a certain apprehension, no longer
seen as harmless pets but fanged serpents that could turn and strike
their masters’ hand without warning. The situation amongst the heroes
was worse. Many did not get along with each other. He heard rumblings
of an all-out war whispered around the campfires. He did not understand
the dynamics or the alliances. He did not see how his little tribe fit
in. Therefore, he required answers from the most knowledgeable within
The corral, stinking of horse and situated at the
far end near the Celestial Loos, penned the mounts of the heroes.
Hiawatha sought one in particular that stood by itself away from the
others: Aranjal, the steed of Jangar Khan.
The cranky chestnut eyed him. “What do you want
now?” snapped the horse.
“I see the others still have not accepted you,”
said Hiawatha, a slight twinkle in his eye.
“They don’t like me because I can talk human.”
“That and they say you are arrogant and mean.
Little Gray especially dislikes you.”
“Yeah, whatever, what does Sosruko’s pony know?”
Aranjal snorted loudly. “I can speak horse as well. I hear what they
say. Stupid beasts. At least with Queen Trung gone, that horrible
elephant went with her.”
“I still wonder how they got the elephant through
the Door of Renown,” mumbled Hiawatha.
“I said, what do you want? I’m not in the mood for
exchanging pleasantries with a man with feathers on his head.”
Hiawatha chuckled. “Peace, my handsome friend. I
only wish to understand why the heroes ready to fight amongst
“You what?” Aranjal laughed. He laughed so hard he
fell to his side, his hooves kicking spasmodically. “Ha ha ha! Oh the
irony! Ha ha!”
The American Indian frowned. “Why are you
laughing? Are you laughing at me?”
“Of course I’m laughing at you.” The horse got to
his feet, still tittering. “It’s your fault, you know. You closed the
wrong eye. Ha ha ha! Oh, make it stop, make it stop!”
“Ha ha ha. Give me a minute, will you? Heh heh.”
Aranjal eventually controlled himself. He shook
his mane. “Okay. Phew. My sides hurt. Mr. I-Have-A-Split-Personality,
don’t you remember anything about your Iroquois half? Anything at all?”
Hiawatha shook his head, just a tad dishonest.
Only Deganawida he recalled with any regularity, and even the prophet
was vague in his mind. He often dreamed snippets of his other life
during sleep, although it made no sense to him. Since he had no images
of the past, his mind created them, confusing things beyond
comprehension. He once remembered Elvis as Deganawida and a bar stool
as his daughter. “What should I know?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Aranjal.
“You laughed a good long while, and now you say
“I said something. It’s just
that I said nothing.”
Hiawatha rubbed his face with his palms. He forced
himself to remain cool even though the horse behaved like an ass. “So
be it. Can we discuss what I came here for?”
“The discord amongst the heroes.”
“It’s all about history,” explained the horse.
“You may think mythologies arise in these neat little packages, each
one by its lonesome. The truth is that they quite complex. Sometimes
they even reference other mythologies. They are religions, after all,
and are reflective of the cultures they represent. Here, in the
Pantheon, we have a long-standing grudge between the Islamic Riders of
Central Asia with the Christian Knights from Europe. It’s a religious
and territorial thing. But other hostilities exist and complicate
matters. Manas, a Kyrgyz, hates the Chinese, so the Chinese turn to the
Christians as an ally. The Africans are genial towards Islam due to
Queen Amina, herself a Muslim. The Japanese do not get along with the
Chinese. The North Seas Alliance, consisting of Beowulf, Cuchulainn,
and others, have been wooed by the Christians’ Walter of Aquitaine and
Ogier the Dane. They follow different gods but share a common
geographical area. Rostam the Persian, who keeps to himself,
sympathizes with the warriors of Central Asia, even though he’s a
follower of Zoroastrianism.
“What you have is an immense powder keg, waiting
for the spark to set it off. To complicate matters further, not
everyone falls into the two camps. The Indians remain neutral. The
Greco-Roman Faction threatens to war with all of them. Apparently, both
the Christians and Muslims disapprove strongly with Heracles
relationship with Gilgamesh. And of course, we have your underpowered
“I am confused,” said Hiawatha, scratching his
head. “Can you go through it again?”
“No. Go out there and figure it yourself. You were
born to do it.” Aranjal snickered and
turned away from him, his tail swishing back and forth.
“But I need to know--”
“Oh come on.”
“Neigh. Whinny. Neigh.”
“You know I can speak horse.”
Aranjal said something in horse.
“That was very crude and not very nice,” said
This time Aranjal ignored him outright.
* * * * *
That week, Koroghlu the Azerbaijanian fell to
Sudika-Mbambi of the Ambundu in a gory and brutal battle. Many thought
Koroghlu might have won if he had but stayed on his immortal horse
Kirat. Afterward, both the African heroes and the Islamic Riders of
Central Asia came together to sing of the passing of the Blindson,
the avenging warrior who hated the coming of firearms and the death of
everything heroic because of them.
- 3 -
As it turned out, Hiawatha did not need to seek
out the other heroes.
“Greetings,” said a paleface warrior dressed in
the heavy plated armor. “I am Prince Marko of Serbia.” He carried a
shield adorned with a white eagle, a cross of red quadrisecting the
front. Hiawatha had not talked to him before, but he recognized him as
affiliated with the Christian Knights.
“Welcome to our fire,” said Glooscap. “Please
Prince Marko smiled and bowed. “I must
respectfully decline,” he said while twirling his mustache with a thumb
and forefinger. “I’m here to invite all of you to a feast tonight so we
may come to know each other. My group has much admiration for your
warband, and we would be honored if you accepted.”
“We accept your invitation,” said Hiawatha,
earning him a glare from Glooscap.
“Most excellent! Sir Elvis has been kind enough to
reserve a table. We look forward to breaking bread with you.” The Serb
bowed again and strode away to his own campfire.
“You speak for us all now?” asked Glooscap.
“I am going,” said Hiawatha. “You do not have to.”
“They will ask for an alliance. And it will force
us to meet with the Muslims later. Otherwise, they will construe us as
“Yes, I realize that. I will not commit us to one
or the other. All I am going to do is to listen.”
“We all need to be involved or not at all.”
Hiawatha implored the giant. “You must trust me.
My instinct tells me this is the right trail to follow.”
Glooscap turned to the others. “Hmm. What do you
others think? Popo? Lam-ang?”
“I think I wish I had a moustache,” replied
Popocatepetl, rubbing his bare upper lip. “Oh, and I trust Hiawatha,
Biag ni Lam-ang, the Filipino hero who recently
joined their group, shrugged and picked at his teeth. “This is not
straightforward like killing headhunters. I will go for the food, but I
defer to the others.”
Glooscap studied the man from the shores of the
Gitche Gumee. “As of late, you seem to care how people think. Explain.”
Hiawatha frowned, struggling to articulate his
thoughts, and then realized he did not understand them himself. “I
Glooscap sighed. “Then I will go as well,” he
said. “We will all go.”
* * * * *
They sat around a large, round table. This amused
the disconsolate Lancelot, although Hiawatha did not know why. Soslan
served them, providing them with courses of victuals and spirits,
including such New World dishes as squash and maize. Elvis even stopped
by once to check on things. The musical god winked at Hiawatha before
leaving to attend the bar.
The Christian Knights were the largest band and
possibly the most powerful. Although the banquet was meant to be a
meeting of equals, it felt anything but. Glooscap, who sat on
Hiawatha’s left, leaned over and said in the tongue of beavers (a
sub-dialect of common rodent), “They outnumber us nine to four. And
they know it.”
“Yes,” agreed Hiawatha, relying on his ability to
speak with animals. “Their arms are stronger, their blades are sharper.
They are a formidable tribe. It is good that we are not allowed to
fight each other outside the tournament. A war would be terrifying.”
“What is that chittering tongue you speak?” asked
Roland from across the table, the Sauvignon Blanc sloshing about in the
“Just gibberish,” said Glooscap.
“Will you not share our wine?”
“I do not drink wine.”
“I drink, therefore I am… drunk,” said
Popocatepetl as he hefted a large mug of ale. Lam-ang grinned and
slapped Popo on the back, his own hand clenched around a turkey leg.
“And you, Hiawatha?” asked Roland.
The American Indian shook his head.
“You are wise to refrain from overindulgence,”
said the mighty Ilya Muromets.
“Leave it to the Russian to ruin the mood,”
grumbled Ogier the Dane. “All hail the doughty bogatyr.”
Ilya’s affable expression darkened. At the table,
only Samson exceeded him in raw strength. David of Sasun perhaps
equaled him. “I did not quite hear you, Ogier.”
“Be calm, Ilya,” said Prince Marko. “It is the
drink talking. Ignore him.”
“No more squabbling. Let us welcome the GREAT
TRIBE OF THE NEW WORLD!” shouted David of Sasun, his booming voice
shattering a nearby bottle of wine. The Christian Knights, except the
longhaired Samson, cheered and raised their drinks in honor. Roland
blew his horn Olifant, the sound sharp and clarion.
“You called that loud, Roland?” teased Walter of
Aquitane. “It’s but a whisper compared to David’s voice.”
“Blow it harder!” encouraged Ogier the Dane.
“Oh no,” said Roland. “Last time I blew that hard,
I ruptured a vein in my forehead and died.”
Ogier stood up and thrust out his hips. “Here, you
can practice blowing on this.”
“Oh! Oh! You did not just say that!” screamed
Roland as he unsheathed his blade. “My sword Durendal
shall cut you in twain!”
“’Tis but a child’s stick compared to Curtana!”
roared Ogier the Dane, himself drawing his sword. The air rang with the
clangs of two swords of equal quality. Prince Marko barely ducked a
wild swing from Roland. Digenis Acritas and Walter of Aquitane clasped
each other around the shoulders, tears rolling down their faces from
laughing so hard.
Lancelot, sitting to Hiawatha’s right, whispered,
“Ignore them. They are always play fighting. They are old friends,
going back to their days under Charlemagne.”
“They seem much friendlier than Samson,” said
“The ancient one finds our company uncomfortable,”
said the Arthurian legend. “He is Jewish and of a time long before
ours. He would better fit with Heracles and Gilgamesh, but he does not
approve of their love for each other. Like me, he does not belong
“I do not understand. Your appearance does not
seem out of place with the others at the table.”
“I do not belong in the tournament,”
said Lancelot, his face forlorn. “I am not a hero. I betrayed my king
by having an affair with his wife, my queen. If any of King Arthur’s
men should be present, it should be Gawain. A powerful knight, and a
“None of us has a choice being here,” said
Hiawatha. “It is the writer’s fault.”
The mock fight became a contest of seeing whose
sword could damage the wooden table the most. Elvis ran over, screaming
“Methinks the feast is over,” said Lancelot.
Hiawatha was not disappointed. He noticed,
however, that the gods who watched did not seem as pleased.
* * * * *
As expected, the Islamic Riders of Central Asia
approached their fire the next day, the beautiful and capable Princess
Saljan leading the way. “Praise be to Allah,” she said in greeting.
Both Glooscap and Hiawatha rose to their feet.
Popocatepetl, nursing a cataclysmic hangover, barely acknowledged their
guests. He lay on his stomach and grunted.
Lam-ang, not much better off than Popo, opened a
bloodshot eye and saw Princess Saljan. His mouth agape, he staggered to
his feet only to stumble back inelegantly on his ass. “Hello,” he
managed to stutter.
“Please sit,” said Glooscap. “Share our fire.”
Princess Saljan glanced to her companions. A
silent agreement passed among them. They sat cross-legged on the tile
floor opposite the Tribe of the New World. Princess Saljan sat in the
middle, Manas and Alpamysh to her right, Hang Tauh and Sosruko on her
“We have not prepared for your coming,” said
Sosruko smiled and produced a saba,
a horse-hide container holding a liquid of some sort. “I’ve brought kumis.”
Hiawatha stared at the muscular man from the Caucasus, marveling at his
resemblance to Soslan. Sosruko looked identical to his earlier version,
Without thought, Hiawatha took the skin and drank
from the spout. He coughed, the vile, milky beverage burning his
throat. Glooscap grabbed the saba from his hands.
“Glooscap,” he sputtered, “it is--”
“--not the white man’s
poison,” finished the giant. Glooscap took a deep draught. “Not bad. A
“I like the tall one,” said a grinning Alpamysh.
Manas laughed and nodded his head in agreement.
“I saw your battle with Queen Trung,” said a
googly eye Lam-ang. “You are a wonderful rider. So graceful. Like a
flying fish gliding over the seas.”
“We are all excellent horsemen,” replied Princess
Saljan. “Well, except our Malaysian friend Hang Tauh. But we do not
tease him too much. He is an absolute terror with his kris.”
“Pfft!” said a dismissive Hang Tauh. “Who needs a
horse when you’re fighting pirates on the open seas?”
Lam-ang laughed too hard. “Ha ha! Yes, that’s
true! Isn’t that true, Princess?”
Popocatepetl sipped from the saba. His face turned
green as he covered his mouth with his hand. Gagging, he scampered off
to the shadows.
“You know why we’re here,” said Manas abruptly,
ignoring the retching sounds of the Chichimecan. “The time has come to
“Manas,” warned Princess Saljan. “You are too
direct. It is your attitude that drove the Chinese to ally with the
The Kyrgyz spat. “A curse on the Kitai
and their Monkey King. I don’t need a woman to tell me how to behave.”
“You are strong of arm, ‘Lion’ Manas,” said a deep
voice behind Hiawatha, “but even you would be hard-pressed to conquer
Hiawatha turned around a saw Rostam. The
broad-shouldered Persian stared at him and the American Indian cowed
under that intense gaze. “Do you mind if I share your fire?” asked the
“Rostam,” whispered Manas. All the Islamic Riders
knew of the great hero. They held him in high esteem. “Please, sit--”
“It is not your fire to share, Manas,” said
Rostam, his eyes still boring into Hiawatha.
“You are welcome here,” said the man from the
shores of the Gitche Gumee.
Rostam smiled warmly and bowed. He took his place
next to Hiawatha and then addressed the group. “So you talk of a war
you could not win. You must be aware that the combined might of the
Christians and the Chinese would be too strong.”
“We will crush them,” argued Manas. “With the
Africans and the Japanese, we can prevail.”
“No, but even if you could, to what purpose? Would
you want to wind up like Monster Slayer? We are but pawns of the gods.
They will not allow us to wage war, to fight amongst each other.” The
Persian shook his head. “So talk. But remember that it is nothing but
talk.” He motioned to the saba next to Glooscap. “Pass the kumis,
“If we do not talk of war, what shall we talk
about?” asked Sosruko.
“Let us trade stories,” said Rostam. “Let me
start…” So began the tale of the Shahnameh and his
part in it. They heard of his seven labors, the endless wars, the
service to his kings. They shed a tear when he recounted how he slew,
in ignorance, his own son Sohrab. They listened in rapt attention, the
baritone voice commanding yet gentle. Even the gods put aside their
machinations for a while, absorbed by the tale of this hero from the
distant planet called Earth.
- 4 -
Gods do everything on a grander scale. They
create, they destroy, they manipulate the primordial at levels far
beyond the ken of mere mortals. They possess the power to obliterate
suns. They rouse the passions of trillions, their names called aloud as
the fervent dispatch the unbelievers with righteous zeal.
Gods even sulk epically.
“You know, it’s just not fair,” said a downtrodden
Thor, his large frame hunkered down in an oversized, leather chair. He
still had crumbs of a fish taco in his thick red beard. “They kick us
out and it was our idea. Well, okay, maybe not our idea, but it was our
arguments over whose illegitimate son was tougher that gave the writer
“Yeah,” agreed a sullen Zeus, absentmindedly
fingering a mustard stain on his toga.
“You know what’s not fair?” said an inebriated
Perun, his helmet with the horsetail plume skewed to the side. He
slammed his glass on the mahogany table. “I have no heroes. None. That
damn Jehova came along and stole away all my bogatyri.
They were part of my pantheon long before Christianity came to Eastern
Europe! Ilya Muromets should be representing me! Not him! Me!”
Soft jazz played in the background. The Boardroom,
with its stylish furniture and a lingering smell of cigars, sat empty
except for those three. The other Earth gods left frustrated. The
executives, the ones who frequented the Boardroom and themselves minor
deities amongst their employees and shareholders, found themselves
overmatched by these cantankerous immortals. Even Trixie, the stoic
waitress who had seen a thing or two in her time, avoided the area now.
“It’s just not fair,” repeated the Norse god.
“Yeah,” agreed Zeus.
“Damn thief,” lamented Perun.
“Have you ever met him before?” asked Thor.
“Jehova?” Perun pondered. “You know, I can’t
remember. I don’t remember a lot from my earlier days.”
“I don’t either,” said the Greek god. “It’s like…
a fog or something.”
“This tournament kind of reminds me of… Hel, I
don’t know,” said Thor. “It’s just familiar.”
“Yeah!” said Zeus. “I know what you mean! Like
we’ve done this before!”
“I remember being… gray,” said Perun.
“And shorter,” added Zeus.
Thor glanced at the mirror behind the bar. He saw,
not himself, but someone from long ago. He shuddered. “It’s just not
“There should be a law,” said Perun, “against
stealing someone else’s religion.”
They all sighed in unison.
- 5 -
Hiawatha and Glooscap did not always see
eye-to-eye and it had nothing to do with the mismatch in height. Even
wise men do not agree on all things. For the most part, they kept their
disagreements civil. Usually.
“Why?” shouted an exasperated Hiawatha. The
feathers on his headdress splayed out chaotically. “Why would you want
to commit to anyone else’s cause? Why join a war that can never happen
“If it does not matter, then why not?” yelled
Glooscap, towering over Hiawatha. “Why not show solidarity against the
palefaces, if only symbolically? Do you not remember how the white man
took our lands? When the Muslims visited yesterday, they treated us as
Lam-ang and Popocatepetl stood to the side, their
heads swiveling back and forth as if they watched a tennis match, the
arguments the ball in play.
“It is all about hate with you. About past
grievances that happened a thousand moons ago. You believe your way
will make things better?”
“You are afraid. That is your problem!”
“It is not fear!” roared Hiawatha, his fist
shaking in emphasis, flecks of spit spraying from his mouth. “Our time
here is limited. I do not want to spend my remaining moments hating
anyone. Do you not see how it plays into the gods’ hands? They enjoy
“Then let them be entertained. Let them see what
true warriors feel.”
“I will not be a cornhusk doll anymore than I have
Glooscap whirled on Popocatepetl and Lam-Ang,
startling them. “Popo, Lam-ang! Your thoughts?”
“Uhm,” said a hesitating Lam-ang. “I’d say let’s
join forces with Princess-- er, the Islamic Riders. Maybe we could
merge with their band.”
Popocatepetl shrugged. “I actually liked the
Christians’ party better. I don’t like kumis.”
“That is not a good reason to join with the
palefaces,” admonished Glooscap.
“Well, the white men did kill most of my people,”
said the Chichimecan. “I guess if you think about it that way, then I’d
say fuck their party. Just don’t make me drink more kumis.”
“Three to one,” said Glooscap, a smug expression
on his face.
“You all,” said Hiawatha in a calm, dangerous
voice, “do what pleases you. I will not be part of it.”
“Then you must leave,” said Glooscap.
“Hold on--,” said a protesting Popocatepetl.
Lam-ang bit his fingernails, his face distraught.
Hiawatha held up his hand. Popo fell silent.
Gathering his ash bow and quiver, the voice of Deganawida turned and
departed the campfire.
* * * * *
Hiawatha walked with a hunter’s grace, his
footfalls making nary a sound as he roamed the expansive Pantheon. He
went from one quiet step to the next, echoing (or not echoing) the
silence that followed him. Countless eyes pondered him as he walked
past, many hostile, some sympathetic, and a good share curious and
Everyone witnessed the argument, heard the reasons
for and against joining the alliance with the Islamic Riders. The
pro-Muslim groups disapproved of him since he chose to break with the
others. The pro-Christians distrusted him because of his former
associations. He wandered adrift and alone. He imagined some jilted
malingerer leaping out of the shadows wishing to fight him for not
wishing to fight. He angled toward the bar but stopped when he saw a
large gathering of gods badgering both a beleaguered A.C. Namalas and
By the Great Hare, what rabid wolves have
both the writer and
Elvis fleeing together?, thought Hiawatha. The idea scared
him. He turned away.
It was to his great relief when Rama, the
majestic, blue-skinned hero of the Ramayana,
invited him over to their camp. He and Arjuna sat around their fire.
Like Hiawatha, they stood steadfast in their neutrality. However, no
one gave the Indians a hard time, even though their group numbered just
three. Rama was a force on par with Heracles and Sun Wukong. Arjuna
perhaps matched his skill, or came close. Unniyarcha, one of the few
women heroes present, was rumored to be a formidable warrior in her own
right. Fifty yards away, she practiced with a round shield on one arm
and a strange weapon in the other, a steel whip of sorts, the flexible,
twirling blade cutting intricate patterns in the air.
“Thank you for sharing your fire,” said Hiawatha.
“It looked like you could use a friend,” said Rama
with a grin.
“I could use a friend,” agreed Hiawatha, his noble
head nodding. He glanced toward Arjuna who seemed preoccupied in his
Noticing Hiawatha’s gaze, Arjuna rose with a sad
smile. “I must walk. You are welcome at our fire. I apologize for not
being a suitable host this day.” The unbeatable archer from the Mahabharata
strode off to the shadows, leaving Hiawatha alone with Rama.
“Is he angry with me?” asked the grandson of
“No,” replied Rama. “He is to battle Lancelot in
four days. His mind is on other things.”
“Ah. I had little time to think of my battle. It
appears the writer is giving more advance notice with each fight.”
“Arjuna will lose,” said Rama matter-of-factly.
Hiawatha frowned. “I thought Arjuna skilled?”
“He is. He is my equal with his bow. However, he
doubts himself, and I cannot help him. He does not understand why we
are fighting.” Seeing his confusion, Rama continued, “Let me tell you
some history. In the Mahabharata, before the final battle at
Kurukshetra, Arjuna grew troubled with the thought of killing his
cousins and former teachers. The entire war paused, waiting for Arjuna
as he struggled with this moral dilemma. It was at that moment that
Krishna revealed to him the Bhagavad Gita. In
essence, Krishna stated our purpose in the universe, why Arjuna had to
fight. You see, Krishna was also an avatar of Vishnu, one aspect of the
“What is an avatar?”
“It is when a god descends to a lower plane, such
as earth. He takes the form of someone like Krishna.”
“So Krishna was Vishnu?”
“Yes and no. Consider an avatar a presence of the
god. Krishna represented Vishnu but existed separately.”
“So he was like that Archangel Robert to his god
“No. Robert is a distinct being from Jehova.”
The conversation confused Hiawatha more than his
past discussions with the petulant Aranjal. “I do not understand,” he
said. “So if Krishna--”
“It really isn’t important to the story. Just
consider them one and the same.”
“Oh,” said Hiawatha abashed. “Please continue.”
“Rama is also an avatar of Vishnu.”
“So… you are Vishnu as well?”
Hiawatha clenched his jaw and hit his thigh in
frustration. “I just heard you say--”
“I am not Rama,” interrupted Rama. “I was created
in the likeness of Rama. I was given a bow that looks like Kodanda.
I know in my mind the various astras, including the
ultimate missile the Brahmastra. I was given his
name. But I am not him. Even if I were Rama, what could I tell Arjuna?
What purpose does this tournament serve? There is no Bhagavad Gita
Hiawatha understood. “So Arjuna will lose.”
“Yes. It will be just Unniyarcha and I after
The man who could step a mile watched her as she
continued to spin and dance. “What is that weapon that she uses?”
“It is called an urumi. It is
a type of flexible sword.”
“She is really good with it.”
“Yes. She even carved Arjuna and me on the wall.”
“No, our images.” Rama pointed out to the
Hiawatha’s eagle eyes spotted the carving. There,
side-by-side, were the perfect profiles of both Arjuna and Rama.
“Yes, she is,” agreed Rama.
- 6 -
Troubled festered in his heart and tiring of
answers from others, Hiawatha sought within himself. Therefore, he
decided to forgo eating. He cobbled together a small wigwam in the
Algonquian fashion, a dome structure with a frame of sticks and covered
in birch bark. He went inside, sat down in the gloom, and began praying
to anonymous gods.
Ten minutes later, Popocatepetl poked his head in.
“Hey Hiawatha, what are you doing?”
Hiawatha opened his left eye. “Fasting.” He closed
“Oh. Well, we miss you at the fire. If you want to
come back, you can. Lam-ang and I don’t care what Glooscap says.”
“Thank you, Popo.”
“How long have you been fasting?”
The Chichimecan glanced around. “Nice place. It’s
a bit small, though, don’t you think?”
“It is only meant for one person.”
“Ah, well that makes more sense. Can I get you
something to eat?”
Hiawatha harrumphed. “I am fasting,
“Oh, right. How about something to drink then?”
“Fasting requires solitude. I need to be alone.”
“I see.” Popocatepetl paused. “So I should--”
“Leave then, yes,” finished Hiawatha.
Over the next two hours, a couple gods, a lost,
distracted writer from the Opex galaxy, and Popocatepetl (once again)
disturbed his meditations. At this point, he debated tossing the wigwam
into the fire.
“Greetings,” said a deep voice.
“What!” barked Hiawatha, his eyes snapping open.
Rostam grinned. “I notice you are in
“I am fasting,” said Hiawatha with a sigh, “but I
fear it is not meant to be.”
“Because others keep interrupting you.”
Not wishing to offend the Persian, the American
“I will keep watch so others do not disturb you,”
“The offer is generous, my friend, but this could
be a long while. Last time, I fasted for seven days.”
“Hiawatha, do I have anything better to do?”
He could not argue with the logic. “If it is your
wish then my thanks to you, Rostam.”
The hero of the Shahnameh nodded once. He then
placed himself a few feet in front of the wigwam, his thick arms
crossed. Popocatepetl, seeing the stern gaze of Rostam, suddenly veered
* * * * *
“You shall hear how Hiawatha
- The Song of Hiawatha, Henry
Prayed and fasted in the forest,
Not for greater skill in hunting,
Not for greater craft in fishing,
Not for triumphs in the battle,
And renown among the warriors,
But for profit of the people,
For advantage of the nations.”
Hours matured into days, and time lost meaning
for him. His lips, dry and cracked, silently mumbled prayer after
prayer. The sounds of the Pantheon hummed in the background. He let
nothing distract him, not the noise, not the pangs of hunger.
Exhaustion hung upon him as heavy as a bison hide, and still no one
answered. He did not know whom he beseeched. Very likely, his words
fell on deaf ears. Yet, he carried on. If necessary, he would die in
On the fourth day, he heard something from the
Pantheon he could not ignore. It broke his concentration, his hoarse
whispers pausing. Too tired to feel angry, he bowed his head in defeat.
A man’s voice, as exquisite as the musician Chibiabos,
his most beloved friend, crooned out a sad, haunting song:
A water glass full of whiskey
And women that I never knew too well
Lord, the things I've seen and done
Most of which I'd be ashamed to tell
I don't know how it started
But that's what makes a man a man, I guess
Now I'm holdin' on to nothin'
Tryin' to forget the rest
I'm lookin' back on my life
To see if I can find the pieces
I know that some were stolen
And some just blew away
Well, I've found the bad parts
Found all the sad parts
But I guess I threw the best parts away
Lord away… away
Hiawatha raised his head. His eyes slowly opened
and a barrier within him disintegrated. A torrent of memories rushed
through his soul. He found himself on a plane of darkness, the song
reverberating through void, and he was not alone.
“It is a beautiful song,” said a younger
Hiawatha sitting on his right. This Hiawatha was bare-chested and
muscular, a single feather tucked behind his right ear. He wore the
mittens minjekahwun and the moccasins that stepped a mile.
“Yes, most beautiful,” said an older Hiawatha
sitting on his left. A grand eagle feather headdress adorned his crown.
Strapped over his shoulder was a belt of wampum, the white and purple
beads revealing an intricate pattern. “He is coming,” he said.
The three of them turned their eyes to the
distant void. Afar, a figure walked toward them, an American Indian of
an unknown tribe. He was young with long black hair and wore garments
of yellow and green.
“Mondamin,” said the younger Hiawatha.
“You can call us that,” said Mondamin, his voice
a collection of voices, “although we are not really him. We are taking
his form since you know of him.”
“We do not know you,” said all three Hiawathas
“No, not yet. Although this is our home, we are
far away. Your prayers have given us a bridge through which we have
contacted you. You must stop this struggle, Hiawatha. The gods have
begun a chain of events that, if not aborted, could destroy the
“What must I do?” asked the middle Hiawatha.
“First, you must placate the heroes,” said
multi-voiced Mondamin. “Then you must find a way to end the
“We do not know. We will lend our support, if we
can, but we cannot be present. But you must find a way.”
“I will do what I can,” said all three
* * * * *
He staggered out of the wigwam faint with
hunger, his eyes squinting in the relative brightness of the dark
Pantheon. Rostam remained on guard. Popocatepetl and Lam-ang were also
present, their faces creased with worry.
Rostam nodded at him. “You missed a real treat.
Elvis sang ‘Pieces of My Life’ for us all.”
“He had all the women heroes swooning,” said
“Yes, he did,” said a bitter Lam-ang as he
recalled Princess Saljan.
Hiawatha smiled weakly. “I heard.”
“We were trying to convince Rostam to let us
pull you out of that hut,” said Popocatepetl.
“Especially when we heard you talking to
yourself,” added Lam-ang.
“Fortunately, Rostam stood his ground,” said
Hiawatha. “I owe you, my friend.”
The sound of a horn interrupted their
conversation. The next fight loomed near. Normally, Hiawatha declined
to watch the battles, but some inner instinct told him otherwise this
time. “Let us go see on one of the boxes.”
His companions knew his usual inclinations.
Lam-ang raised an eyebrow as he glanced to Popocatepetl. The
While the gods liked to view the matches on the
large screen near the dance floor, the heroes congregated around the
bar with its numerous televisions. Each group found their own screen to
The combatants faced each other on an expansive,
crater-filled, black plain. A hundred yards separated Lancelot, shining
beautiful on his prancing, armored horse, and Arjuna, no steed
underneath him, his tired face and slumping shoulders making him seem
The horn blared again, signaling the start.
Lancelot kicked his horse into a full gallop, his visor lowered, his
shield raised high, his lance steady as though it glided through the
The Indian loosed arrow after arrow, although
Hiawatha knew that the troubled Arjuna invoked no astras. If he had,
this may have been a quick fight. Even Lancelot’s formidable skill
would be overmatched by missiles that could reduce armies to ashes.
Despite Arjuna’s handicap, the deadly barbs flew true. Lancelot weaved
his horse through the barrage, but one found its mark and skewered his
horse in its chest. The beast stumbled.
The knight, even in his plate armor, dropped his
lance and rolled nimbly to the ground. In a fluid motion, he drew his
sword. He charged forward, only thirty yards separating them. Arrows
sliced through the air, but he either knocked them aside with his
shield or swatted them down with his sword. Twenty yards. Ten yards.
A loud thunk and Lancelot fell to his knees. An
arrow protruded from his chest. With a serene smile, the champion of
King Arthur, the flawed but noble knight, dropped to his knees and
slumped to his side. His eyelids closed forever.
Hiawatha gaped. Could he have seen what he saw?
He glanced to most skilled fighters among them: Cuchulainn, Achilles,
Rostam, Momotaro, Sun Wukong, Hang Tauh. One after the other, their
eyes affirmed what he just witnessed.
Lancelot did the impossible. He lost on purpose.
End Act II
Act III - Human Nature
- 1 -
INTERIOR – MARE INEBRIUM: PANTHEON: BALCONY AREA
Overhead shot of the main floor of the Pantheon,
the area bustling with deities, writers, and heroes. There is the
constant drone of concurrent conversations. Zoom back. The main area
recedes as the camera ascends gradually, the sounds lessening to
silence. Rise higher yet. Rise through wisps of clouds. Slow pivot to
the left that shows, not sky or shadow, but a Balcony. As below in the
main floor, the walls and ceiling recede to darkness. Jehova and
Archangel Robert lean on the railing, viewing down upon the main area.
The layout of the Balcony is oval like an indoor track. Although dark,
a seraphic light effuses the area. There are a number of tall statues
placed equidistant around the Balcony. Zoom in on Jehova and Archangel
(whistles while looking downward) Will you look at that. I feel like
I’m a mile up. Where are we, by the way?
We are in the Balcony area, Robert. Max escorted us to the back stairs
that bypass the main area to avoid breaking the edict. The heavenly
types visit this particular section, although it is frequented rarely.
There is no bar service. (hand motions around) In fact, we are alone at
this very moment.
Who are these statues of?
Whom. They are the twelve gods of Bethdish. This is their world, after
all, although they have been absent for some time. No one knows whereto
I suppose there’s a Basement representing the netherworlds?
Ah, you comprehend the logic of divinity. That is good. Indeed, there
is the Basement, although you cannot see the main area from below.
Seems a bit unfair to the other type of gods.
The universe is not perfectly symmetrical, Robert. If it were, there
would be no universe. Can you imagine if the amount of matter identical
to the amount of antimatter? Or if all forces were equal? Besides, they
store the wine and casks down in the Basement, so it is actually a more
popular locale. The advantage of the Balcony is that it allows us to
observe what is proceeding below. It is a poor substitute for being in
the main area, as we cannot interact. However, it will allow me to
confirm my suspicions.
Let me first begin by apologizing to you.
Before, I had named you as an unwitting culprit in this dastardly
enterprise. It turns out that the non-Earth gods formulated this
arrangement from the start. Your actions would not have changed the
Why would they do such a thing?
I will answer your question with a question. What is special about the
Do not be offended, but at first glance, the obvious observation would
be: there is nothing special about humans. They are not so numerous,
perhaps twenty billion throughout the universe. That would be a
rounding error for the population of some species. They are not
long-lived. They possess middling intelligence for a sentient life
I blame the Internet for lowering our IQs.
In addition, they are not gifted physically and rarely demonstrate
psychic ability. Humans are prone to warring and belligerence, and as a
nearly nascent species, have only been spacefarers for a couple
Gee, you sure know how to make an angel feel insignificant.
And yet-- and yet-- there exists no species that
has had more influence in as short a span as humans. Let us take the
Mare Inebrium. You will not find an establishment with such varied
clientele, with entities arriving from the seventeen corners of the
universe. It is independent in every sense of the word, beholden to no
single group. Even here, though, the sway of humans is staggering. For
example, let us list some of the specialty rooms: the Boardroom, the
Arabian Nights room, the Frontier room, the gentleman's club called
Piper’s-- named after an early 20th century
human writer, by the way…. all these pastiches originated on Earth. The
number of human customers, as a percentage, far exceeds what it should
be statistically. Moreover, the ratio of deities is even greater! At
any given time, I would conjecture that twenty to thirty percent of the
gods present in the Pantheon are Earth-based in origin. The influence
is not restricted to the Mare Inebrium. Throughout the universe, Earth
makes its culture felt in numerous ways. Even your religions are taking
hold. Especially Buddhism, which seems to resonate with many
(shrugs) Hey, what can I say? We get around.
On Earth, when we ran our so-called experiments, we were amazed at the
quantity and diversity of the cultures and the religions. Planets, on
average, possess forty-two distinct deities and a handful of cultures.
Earth has hundreds of thousands of gods, if not
more, and thousands of cultures. No other world comes close. You would
think such a fractured planet could not sustain itself. Wrong! It
thrives, despite the consequential frictions. No one can articulate why
your species’ cultures are so ubiquitous. It is as though an army of
human writers was scripting the universe, plotting events to be
Ha ha! Imagine, tales of the Mare Inebrium, written by guys like A.C.
Yes, I know, farcical to the extreme. I can think of but one thing that
can even remotely explain it. Have you heard of a game called Quantum
Robert’s elbow slips on the railing. He catches himself before he
tumbles over the side. He gulps as he looks with an ashen expression to
the floor below.
Be careful, Robert. Remember your wings.
(still shaking) Yeah, I’ve heard of that wicked game. Who hasn’t?
As you probably realize, the vast majority of the great players were
human, including, unfortunately, the Great Khan. Your species’ singular
talent is its way of enforcing its will upon reality. Did you know that
Thor, Zeus, Perun, and the other Earth gods were all colleagues of mine
also involved in the experiment?
What? They don’t look anything like you. They look…
Human. Yes. Your species did that. Or the will of
your species did that. I did not morph originally because I was aloof
and mostly worked alone. I did not involve myself personally except
that one time. Even so, I could not escape the grasp of humanity.
Eventually, I became the God they wanted. Although I cannot prove this,
I suspect these gods had existed beforehand. The difference now is they
bequeathed their responsibilities to us or merged with us. Perhaps they
still linger somewhere, much like the Bethdish gods, and we act as
avatars for them.
So to tie back to what’s going on here… The non-Earth gods resent the
influence of humanity. We are a stain seeping into everything. They set
up this tournament to get back at us.
Bravo, Robert! The first act was to humiliate the Earth gods opposed to
the idea. The second act, banning the Earth gods, embarrassed those
that remained and to prevent them from interfering. It is the third
act, however, that I fear will resonate beyond the Pantheon to the
cosmos at large. They are determined to demonstrate the deleterious
qualities of human nature. For the mortal realm, the impact will be
indiscernible but substantial. Subconsciously-- the area in which gods
operate-- a savage blow will be struck. When the collective human
psyche strikes back, as it is apt to do, it will involve everyone and
everything, both gods and mortals. It will be devastating to all.
(glances down and spots a number of gods conversing with Elvis and A.C.
Namalas) Ah, I see the gears in motion as we speak.
What can we do?
Nothing. It is in the hands of the heroes now. They must rise above
their situation. It is but a slim hope. We can only observe and pray
for an advantageous outcome.
(long pause) Jehova…?
You said you involved yourself personally one time.
Yes. You see, I believed I was “winning” the game. We had long ago
given up the pretense of it being an experiment. At that point, we were
vying to make our religion dominant and I was pulling ahead. In my
arrogance, I created different flavors of religion. My supposition was
that one would rise above, a sort of best-of-breed approach. Imagine my
chagrin when my religions warred with each other to no end. I went down
to the planet to see first-hand why my strategy failed. (sighs and
looks out into the distance) I came across a young human child, unkempt
and sitting in front the ruins of her house. I do not know her
ethnicity through the grime, but I saw her weeping as soldiers walked
past, ignoring her plight. It was then I denounced our unethical
behavior. I could no longer remain afar.
We are doing it again, with these heroes. We are making a game out of
precious life. I fear the consequences. This time, I believe there will
be a steep price to pay.
Fade to black.
- 2 -
Fasting and staying awake for four days left
Hiawatha with a powerful need to eat and sleep. After gobbling a couple
greasy cheeseburgers by way of Soslan, he collapsed snoring on his
blanket. He slumbered for twenty hours at the camp of the Indians. If
he dreamed, he did not remember. He awoke alone to silence, the fire
down to hot coals.
The Pantheon was not normally a noiseless place.
He stretched and yawned. Rising on stiff
muscles, he noticed the dance floor again the epicenter of drama. Gods,
writers, and heroes gathered around. He heard a couple people shouting
and breaking the quiet. He shook his head, wondering what transpired
this time, and ambled over to where his former companions watched.
Popocatepetl’s grim demeanor startled him.
Normally, the Chichimecan was good-natured and eager to please. It was
easy to forget that his friend was a fierce warrior prince and the
bravest of his people, leading them to victory in war even when the
Aztecs abandoned them. “What is going on?” asked Hiawatha.
“Heracles and Sun Wukong are readying to stomp
each other’s brains out,” whispered Popocatepetl. “Elvis thinks some of
the gods put the Chinese up to it. The Monkey King has been teasing the
Greek and it’s about to come to blows.”
Sun Wukong was a notorious troublemaker.
Heracles was infamous for his short temper and berserker rage. These
two should not inhabit the same planet, never mind the same room.
Hiawatha glanced around at the voyeuristic gods who barely contained
their glee. “I do not understand. Would not the gods punish them?”
“Punish them? Punish them? You have been asleep
for too long,” mumbled Glooscap. “The gods have decreed that war is no
longer verboten. Fights may occur outside the tournament.”
“That changes everything,” said Hiawatha.
“Duh,” said Lam-ang.
“Go ahead,” taunted Sun Wukong, his chin stuck
forward, “hit me!” He wagged his tail provocatively in Heracles’
The son of Zeus did not need a second
invitation. “As you wish, monkey.” With an evil grin, he unleashed a
Sun Wukong was nigh invulnerable. He fought the
combined armies of the Heavenly Kingdom and only Buddha’s involvement
finally restrained him. However, he never dealt with anything,
celestial or monstrous, with the raw power of the demigod of strength,
a hero who once held up the Earth on his shoulders. Sun Wukong flew
with the speed of a bullet into a six-pack of deities. They scattered
like bowling pins. A.C. Namalas, a mere foot from the impact, squeaked
and ran for cover. The other gods and writers backed away as well, some
carrying the fallen. Only the heroes remained close to the action.
To Heracles’ credit, he hurt Sun Wukong. To Sun
Wukong’s credit, he got back up.
“Ow,” said the Monkey King as he staggered to
his feet and rubbed his jaw. He shook his head and blinked his eyes.
Then, with practiced grace, he used one hand to unsheathe and lengthen
the As-you-will Golden-banded Cudgel strapped to
his back. The other pulled out some hairs from his body that he puffed
away with a breath. Instantly, the hairs transformed into a dozen
simulacra of himself. His other hero companions gathered around him:
Gesar the cunning Tibetan, Chumong the Korean, Jangar Khan of the
Mongols, and Bao Chu who stood twenty feet tall and dwarfed even
Heracles grabbed his powerful bow and notched an
arrow. To his aid came the Greco-Roman Faction: Achilles the hero of
the Iliad, Gilgamesh the ancient Babylonian, Aeneas the Roman, and
Atalanta the princess associated with the Golden Apples.
“The numbers seem uneven,” said Princess Saljan
with a hard smile. The Islamic Riders walked up and postured beside
Heracles and his band.
The Christian Knights exchanged concerned looks.
Their eyes smoldering with hatred, they placed themselves amongst the
Chinese. Soon, the other groups followed suit, each choosing a side.
Glooscap gave Hiawatha an uncertain glance before he walked over to the
Islamic alliance. Popocatepetl and Lam-ang, with some reluctance,
trailed behind. Only Hiawatha and the heroes of India remained
The Christians once held a decisive advantage
over the Muslims, but the involvement of Heracles changed everything.
This would be a war that would swallow them all. It was then that
Hiawatha stepped forward. He did not go to the Muslims. He did not opt
for the Christians. He strode right into the no man’s land between
Someone coughed politely. Hiawatha ignored him.
“I had a daughter,” he said to the assembled
heroes. “She was a beautiful child.” He shut his eyes. “I do not recall
her face though. That is the way of our memories. That is how the gods
crafted you and me, each one of us here.” He reopened his eyes and
tapped his head. “All I have is her essence but that does not diminish
her. One day, the wicked Atotarho summoned a great white bird that
struck her down.” He paused and sighed. “I held my daughter’s broken
form in my arms. I saw the light within her flicker out as would a
dying ember. No words can describe the anguish I felt. The way of my
people was revenge, blood for blood. I was expected to take vengeance
upon the magician. I could not. The endless moons of retribution had
drained me. No longer could I accept the suffering these petty wars
caused my people, so I exiled myself. I lived alone in the forest, only
the trees and streams to share my grief, the squirrels and the blue
jays mocking my lamentations.
“I abandoned life to waste away in those dark
woods, but one day the prophet Deganawida, the Great Peacemaker, sought
me out.” Hiawatha clasped his hands together. “He had a message, a
message of unity. Our people, the Haudenosaunee,
need not fight each other. We should not make ourselves weaker for our
enemies, whom were many. His words rekindled the spark I thought left
me. He, the prophet, and I, his voice, traveled from settlement to
settlement, from tribe to tribe. The trail was not easy, a path of
ramble and mist. Our message rebuffed time and again. Yet we persisted
until the words reached our people’s hearts, the chiefs finally seeing
wisdom. In the end, only Atotarho remained opposed. Yet even he could
not deny the truth of the message and he relented. I combed the snakes
out of his hair and welcomed into our fold my greatest enemy.”
Hiawatha held up his wampum belt showing five
symbols of white on a field of purple. In the middle were a leaf and
two squares on each side. All the symbols connected by a thin,
horizontal line. “Our five tribes, united under one nation, the
Iroquois Confederacy. We remembered we were brothers and sisters. We
became unconquerable.” He swept his gaze across the heroes. “Are we not
brothers and sisters, as well? Were we not born under this same roof,
made by these same gods that seek our deaths? We cannot forget the
memories that they gave us, but that does not make us enslaved to them.
Ask yourself why you fight. Ask yourself what is our purpose. Do you
even understand why you hate?” He paused, awaiting their reaction. “Do
Heracles snarled. Before he answered, however, a
baritone voice bellowed out, “I, Rostam, will join your tribe!”
“And the Indians will join your Confederacy,”
announced Arjuna, Rama’s comforting hand upon his shoulder, Unniyarcha
by his side.
A stunned silence clouded the Pantheon. After an
eternity, Gesar nudged Sun Wukong and inclined his head. “Remember the
ways of Buddha,” said the Tibetan, himself known for brazen acts.
The Monkey King clucked his tongue and then blew
out a raspberry. He recalled his hairs into his body and shouldered his
weapon. Bowing almost prostrate, he said, “My apologies to you,
honorable Heracles. I was wrong to have provoked you with my shameful,
“Coward,” replied Heracles, but the fight seemed
to have evaporated from them all. The crowd disbanded, leaving the
Tribe of the New World and the Indians alone on the dance floor.
“You did it,” said an amazed Lam-ang.
“He has won but a respite,” said Rostam,
tempering their mood.
“And I have made a few enemies,” observed
Hiawatha, the shadows of the surrounding gods hovering ominously.
“We have made a few enemies,”
corrected Glooscap. “Let us return to our fire.”
“We will accompany you,” said Rama.
- 3 -
Hiawatha dabbed at the bleeding, shallow gash in
Glooscap’s cheek with a napkin. “I take that the negotiations were not
The giant shrugged. “You are a funny brave. No,
they were not receptive. We should have sent Rostam.”
“You should have sent me!” boasted Lemminkainen,
a Finnish hero from the Kalevala. The North Seas
Alliance, long tired of his arrogance and lack of ability, stated with
no uncertain terms that if the Finn ever returned to their camp, they
would take his limbs and stuff him like a haggis. Hiawatha invited him
to their group, much to the annoyance of the others. “I would have
frightened them into obeying us,” continued the Finn.
“Hush Lemminkainen,” said Rostam. The Persian
shook his head. “If you had sent me, there would have been a fight.
Lion Manas is not the forgiving kind. They feel I have betrayed them.”
“It was not Manas’ blade that did this,” said
Glooscap, “but Hang Tauh’s. He said it was their duty to obey the gods.
He bestowed this gift as a warning.”
“If he had cut me--,” began Lemminkainen but
quieted after a stern glance from Rostam. The Finn crossed his arms and
“At least they talked to you,” said Hiawatha as
he tossed the red-stained napkin into the fire. “The Christians would
not speak to me.”
“They are in a foul mood,” said Rama. “Samson
departed their group after the death of Lancelot, his only friend
amongst them. The Knights feel vulnerable, having now lost two.”
“Ouch. That’s a big loss for them,” said
Popocatepetl. “I heard Samson’s as strong as Heracles.”
“He was their most powerful but no one is as
physically strong as Heracles,” said Rama. “Not even the potent Jew who
far exceeds everyone else.”
“We swim against the current,” said Hiawatha.
“Most of the other tribes are friendlier, sympathetic even, but they
will not abandon their allies. If we cannot persuade the Muslims or the
Christians to forgo their blood feud, then the only path is to tip the
balance to us. That might convince the other tribes to follow.”
“The Greek,” said Rama.
“Yes,” said Hiawatha. “I have sent word to his
tribe, but they have not responded.” His stomach churned as he
contemplated their situation. Although they achieved a tenuous peace,
he knew it could not last, especially with the gods interfering,
pushing the heroes to confrontation. He had not divulged to the others
his experience during fasting. An inner voice told him to keep that a
secret, that its knowledge would only destabilize events further.
“What do we do now?” asked Popocatepetl.
“The next thing I shall do,” said Hiawatha, “is
go get a drink at the bar.”
* * * * *
Elvis was pissed. He ranted.
He threw his dishcloth and slammed glasses on the bar top. He paced
back and forth and let the universe know how displeased he was with it.
“Who are they to tell me I gotta leave? I work
here! I’ll kick those bozos out!” He projected his
voice so the nearby gods heard him. “In fact, the next square that so
much as suggests as such is gonna find his backside tattooed with my
blue suede shoes!”
Hiawatha, along with Rostam and Lam-ang, kept
silent on their stools as the god of music continued to spew forth
vindictiveness. One did not interrupt a deity in fury, even one as
gentle as Elvis.
Except, of course, if your name was
Lemminkainen. “When you’re done screaming about like a woman, I’d like
another beer,” said the Finn.
Elvis glared at him. Rostam and Lam-ang opened
their eyes wide with incredulity.
“Perhaps you have had one too many,” suggested
Hiawatha, attempting to diffuse the situation. “Return to the camp and
see if Glooscap needs any help. Rostam and Lam-ang can keep watch over
A grunt from Rostam squelched any dissent.
Lemminkainen adjusted his belt and swaggered off.
“That boy’s gotta screw loose,” drawled Elvis as
he leaned forward with his forearm on the bar.
“I do not know why we let the Finn stay with
us,” said Rostam. He shook his head as he nursed a daiquiri, his
massive hands dwarfing the glass.
“I like him,” said Hiawatha with a shrug. “He is
but words. One does not take a chattering squirrel seriously.”
“He’ll not help us with the others,” said
Lam-ang. “Sooner or later, he’s going to say something to the wrong
person. His mouth is a war waiting to happen.”
Hiawatha stroked his chin. He knew Lam-ang to be
right. “We will keep an eye on him,” he said with little conviction.
“Well, that nitwit’s right ’bout one thing,”
said Elvis. “I shouldn’t be carryin’ on in front of you fellas.”
“The gods have requested you leave,” said
“Yup. They tried askin’ nice, but it ain’t
gonna happen. Even with the Reever washin’ his hands of this fiasco,
they can’t make me skedaddle. I wasn’t kiddin’ when I said I work here.
I take orders from the Boss, not them.”
“Why did they ask you to leave?”
“’Cause of you.”
Hiawatha frowned. “Say again?”
“They think I’m too friendly with ya.” Elvis ran
a hand through his thick hair. “Ya got them real mad, interruptin’
their war ’n all. Yer a good egg, Hi. Ya watch yer back. Ya keep Rostam
and yer boys close. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open too.”
“Ridding the world of me will not kill the dream
of the Confederacy.”
“You are wrong,” said Rostam. “Only you, of all
the heroes, have the farri to bring the heroes
“Rama has the ability.”
“No. He is a king. Many of the heroes are kings.
They do not need someone to lord over them. They need someone to unite
them. As equals. You alone can do that, and the gods know this.”
Hiawatha slumped on his stool. “Then I fear we
are doomed, friend Rostam. I cannot get through this impasse.” He
reached for the Shirley Temple in front of him.
Lam-ang grabbed his wrist. “Elvis did not put
that drink there.”
Elvis’ eyes narrowed. “He’s right. That drink
came outta nowhere.” He picked up the glass and sniffed. “There’s
somethin’ bad in it.”
“Poison,” said Rostam.
Elvis fumed. With surprising nimbleness, he
hopped atop the bar. He raised the glass of poison and, relying on his
powers as a god of music, carried his voice forth across the entire
Pantheon. “Listen up, y’all. Listen carefully. This might be yer game.
Y’all might be changin’ the rules whenever it suits ya. But murder’s
murder, and if that happens, the Pantheon will shut down and yer game
will end. The Mare Inebrium will not tolerate that kind of behavior.
Y’all been warned.” He jumped down to the floor and motioned to Soslan.
“Hey Sauce Man, take this and dispose of it, will ya? Treat as
The diminutive Nart took the glass gingerly,
holding it at arm’s length.
“Why don’t you shut down the game now?” asked
“’Cause I don’t have that
option,” mumbled Elvis, his eyes averted.
“They will heed your warning,” said Rostam. “It
will buy us time, but they will find a way to strike.”
Elvis wiped the bar top with a rag. “Ya can
count on it.”
* * * * *
They had a surprise guest when Hiawatha and
company returned to camp. Kalevipoeg, the other titan, sat next to
Lemminkainen. Like Bao Chu, the son of Kalev rose
to a height of twenty feet. Even sitting, the Estonian was about eye
level to Glooscap standing. Kalevipoeg slapped his knee as he and
Lemminkainen reminisced about a smith named Ilmarinen and something
called a Sampo, an item that was apparently very
important but no one could actually describe.
“What is he doing here?” Hiawatha asked
Glooscap. “Does he bear a message from the North Seas Alliance?”
“No,” responded Glooscap. “He is just visiting
Lemminkainen. Apparently, as with you, he is actually fond of the Finn.
And, like you, it is a mystery why.”
Hiawatha snorted. He then turned serious.
“Listen, my friend. One of the gods attempted to poison me at the bar.
We must be vigilant.”
“So that is why Elvis warned the gods to
“Yes. From now on, they will maneuver like
wolves stalking a… What are you looking at?”
Hiawatha spun around. Aeneas, the Roman hero of
the Aeneid, approached alone. Conversation stilled
as the warrior neared, the nails in his heavy-soled caligae
clacking against the tiles. He stopped before them and gave a Roman
salute. “I bear a message from our group.” When no one responded, he
continued, “We decline your invitation to join your Confederacy.”
“So Heracles wants to keep to himself, eh?” said
Lemminkainen. “Maybe if Atalanta put out, he wouldn’t be so
Popocatepetl slapped the Finn on the back of the
The hard eyes of Aeneas bore into the hero of
the Kalevala. “You presume too much if you believe that Heracles is our
king. The decision was reached by majority after much discussion.” He
nodded to the others. “I’m done here.” He turned to leave.
“Will you not be satisfied until we are all
tearing out each other’s throats?” asked Glooscap, his voice weary, his
expression even sadder.
Aeneas paused. Without turning, he said, “I know
your motives. I understand them. I have no love for Achilles who bested
me in battle and killed my friend Hector. Yet, we are sworn allies now,
for this is not a time to be alone. I’ve seen the consequence of war,
Glooscap, my city Troy destroyed over abandoned love. I realize the
folly we pursue. And just so you know… I voted that
we join your Confederacy.” No one stopped him this time as he walked
“And I thought Cuchulainn and Beowulf were
killjoys,” rumbled Kalevipoeg, his voice like an avalanche.
- 4 -
“I challenge you to single combat.”
Hiawatha eyed the knight. “Prince Marko,” he
said with exaggerated patience, “if I have refused five challengers
already, why should I accept you as one now?”
The Serb clenched a gauntleted fist. “Because
you are a man of honor! Because you would rather face another honorable
warrior such as the doughty Prince Marko!”
Popocatepetl and Lam-ang began giggling. Rostam
“No,” said Hiawatha. “I am sorry. I am a
messenger of peace. I shall not contradict myself by fighting.”
“Your champion then,” said Prince Marko,
pointing to Rostam. “I challenge him!”
“Is it that you fear me? Is that why you refuse
my mighty challenge?”
Snickering and chortling noises escaped from
Popocatepetl and Lam-ang. “Knock it off,” hissed Glooscap. The giant
begged backing from Rostam but then rolled his eyes when the Persian
also covered his mouth to stifle laughter.
“I am sorry,” said Hiawatha.
“Very well then,” said Prince Marko. “If
cowardice is your response…” Gathering the tatters of his dignity, he
strode away, his head held high.
“You two are worse than Lemminkainen,” mumbled
“My apologies, doughty Hiawatha,” said
Popocatepetl as he stood ramrod straight, his fingers twirling an
imaginary mustache. “We are not worthy of the mighty challenge!”
Lam-ang collapsed to the floor, hiccupping and
Hiawatha turned his back so they could only see
his shoulders shaking with mirth.
“You should not encourage them,” said Glooscap.
“Stop nagging,” retorted a chuckling Rostam.
* * * * *
The occasional scuffle broke out, even within
groups. Amongst the Japanese, the Unnamed Hero, the Ainu warrior of the
Kutune Shirka, tired of his
companions’ racist comments and bloodied the nose of Momotaro. Only the
exquisite Tomoe Gozen interceding prevented Kintaro and Momotaro from
reducing their small band further. In other areas, Beowulf clashed with
Achilles over some dubious slight. A brief, dazzling display of sword
and spear resulted before Atalanta pulled her Greek compatriot away.
Heitsi-ebib, the Khoikhoi of the Africans, managed to yank down the
pants of the Icelander Gunnar Hamundarson. The latter, his pants
dangling around his ankles, chased the former around the Pantheon for
two hours until Heitsi-ebib “died”, magically resurrecting a few
minutes later to the applause and amusement of everyone. A number of
wayward arrows, a bevy of anonymous rocks, and a slew of yo-mama jokes
kept tensions high. However, despite the periodic skirmishes, the
precipitous peace held amongst the three alliances, no side willing to
commit fully and leaving themselves exposed.
Even Hiawatha suffered. He found his wampum belt
torn apart one morning after awakening, the thousands of beads
scattered everywhere. He spent hours gathering every single one.
Later that week, A.C. Namalas visited him. This
surprised no one.
“Uh, Hiawatha,” said the writer. “Yes, uhm, how
The American Indian glanced over to the tortured
form of Monster Slayer still writhing silent upon the dais. He said
nothing. The Tribe of the New World and the Indians gathered behind
him, their glares as dark as his.
“Well, you certainly have made things a bit
awkward, ha ha,” said Namalas. He adjusted his tweed jacket. “Such a
clever fellow. Listen, I’ll come to the point. There have some… edits…
as requested by the gods. I may not support these changes but they are
our patrons, so to speak. They wish to forgo the rule of a winner
waiting until the next round to fight, so--”
“So you are their little puppet,” finished
“That’s not quite--” said Namalas.
“Yes, yes, a little puppet,” continued the Finn.
“Little strings for your little weenie arms. Hopping around on your
little weenie legs.” The other heroes started laughing. Popocatepetl
beamed with fresh appreciation for their newest member.
“Hey now,” warned the writer.
Lemminkainen did a little dance, his arms held
aloft. “Look at me, the puppet man. Gods say walk this way, so I walk
this way. Gods say talk this way, so I talk this way. Gods say this is
no longer your game, so go play another way.” He made a vulgar motion
in front of his groin. The laughter and jeers grew louder. Even heroes
from other groups joined in.
“Stop that! I am not a puppet!”
“A little puppet! A strings-attached puppet!”
“I’m warning you.”
Lemminkainen stopped the crude pantomime with
his hand. With mock shock, he held up his palm and rasped, “The gods
save me. I’ve been wounded. I got a sliver!”
“That’s it!” roared Namalas. “You think I have
no control? Well, how about this, Lemminkainen? How about the next
match between you and Heracles? How about right now, in fact? Let’s see
who the puppet is!” The writer tromped-- almost fled-- away, his
motions jerky, his face apoplectic.
So mad was he that he did not savor the
burdening silence that followed the announcement of the death sentence.
* * * * *
“Lemminkainen,” said Hiawatha as he followed the
two combatants to the Door. “You need not fight. You can resist their
control over you. You have grown beyond the seed that they planted. You
are not the same Lemminkainen born on the floors of the Pantheon.”
The Finn brushed away Hiawatha’s concerns. “I
will prevail. Don’t worry, my weaker friend.”
Heracles gave Hiawatha a sidelong glance, his
“No farther,” said a scaly deity with a metallic
voice, its hide a swirl of brass and magenta. A tentacle stretched out
to block Hiawatha’s path.
He stared helplessly as Heracles followed
Lemminkainen through the Door of Renown. He knew in his heart, that
despite his words, Lemminkainen had not changed one iota since his
conception. It was not in the hero of Kalevala’s nature.
He rushed back to the bar where the other heroes
viewed the upcoming contest.
Heracles and Lemminkainen stood in a small
enclosure, an area of twenty feet by twenty feet, held aloft in a void
of infinity. Metal bars boxed them in.
“A cage,” said Rama, shaking his head. “Namalas
wants no room for Lemminkainen to maneuver. This will be a summary
The horn blared. The Finn rushed in, his sword
Hiawatha expected a quick, killing blow, but the
Greek surprised him. Instead of striking down his inferior opponent,
Heracles fended off the blows without counterattacking. The blade
bounced harmlessly off the Nemean lion skin.
Hope simmered within Hiawatha.
Heracles pushed Lemminkainen away, just a simple
tap, but the Finn flew across the cage, the wind knocked out of him.
The Greek turned around, his colossal hands gripping the metal bars.
With a roar, his muscles straining, the strongest of them tugged at the
bars. Slowly, they began to bend.
“That’s impossible!” shouted A.C. Namalas
amongst the crowd of gods. “That cage is made of reinforced
The gods had no answers for the writer. They
could only watch in awe.
Heracles fully concentrated on the task. He did
not see Lemminkainen rise. His back turned, he did not hear the
approach of the Finn.
“No Lemminkainen!” pleaded Hiawatha to the
The Finn swung with all his strength at the back
of Heracles’ head. The blade shattered into dozens of pieces.
The Greek turned, his face contorted with rage.
He raised his fist.
Hiawatha turned away, unable to watch.
* * * * *
Heracles, his mood somber, approached Hiawatha.
Gilgamesh, Achilles, Aeneas, and Atalanta flanked him. “We will join
your Confederacy,” said the Greek. “I am a warrior, the son of Zeus. I
know now we are not destined to be playthings.”
The grim, battle-hardened men of the North Seas
Alliance followed next: Beowulf, Sigurd, Cuchulainn, Gunnar
Hamundarson, Kalevipoeg, and Lacplesis. They honored the pariah
Lemminkainen and pledged their arms to support the Confederacy.
The Japanese arrived with their heads bowed in
respect: Kintaro, Tomoe Gozen, Momotaro, and the Unnamed Ainu Hero.
They swore their allegiance for eternity.
The Africans danced and heaped praise upon the
Confederacy: Sundiata, Sudika-Mbambi, Mwindo, Shango, Lianja, Queen
Amina, and Heitsi-ebib. The Confederacy showed them that they
themselves could stand united.
The Chinese shot off fireworks, the rascally
Monkey King leading the way, his companions smiling yet dignified as
they trialed behind.
Finally, after some encouragement from Rostam
for the Islamic Riders and Samson for the Christian Knights, the last
two groups set aside their feud. The Confederacy was complete.
Hiawatha pretended to celebrate with the others,
but his heart knew different. They saved the universe as requested by
the mystical beings from his spirit walk. The tournament would have no
chance of continuing now. Yet, he realized a fact that the others did
not, something that Elvis refused to give away earlier at the bar. Only
the contest kept them alive. The gods had no use for them
Is this what it means to be alive?
thought Hiawatha. To want to keep living?
He smiled. He slapped his powerful hands upon
the backs of friends and acquaintances. After the celebrations, he
spent some time by himself reweaving his wampum belt. Instead of five
tribes, there were now ten. From left to right in columns, one square,
two squares, three squares, one hollow diamond, three squares, two
squares, one square. All connected by a thin line, all connected to the
middle diamond representing the tenth tribe, the tribe of the heroes
who died for the capriciousness of the gods.
It was a good belt. He placed it over his
shoulder and eyed the darkness above.
And he despaired.
- 5 -
A.C. Namalas sat at the bar alone. Everyone
treated him like a radioactive leper with halitosis. Even Elvis served
him reluctantly, placing the parade of scotches down without comment.
The writer did not notice the man with the
collarless, dark gray suit occupying a seat next to him.
“Hello,” said the stranger.
Namalas turned and glanced at the newcomer in
gray, a man with short gray hair and gray eyes. “I bet your name is
Gray,” he said.
“Professor Eustas Grey,” said the man with a
Namalas chuckled at the theme without humor. “Of
course it is.” He refocused on his scotch.
“You seem troubled,” said the professor.
“Yes, I am quite troubled,” said the writer, his
“Come now, it can’t be that bad.”
Namalas sighed. “I was writing a story. It was a
great, heroic, epic story. I had it all outlined.” He shook his head
and stroked his beard. “But the plot didn’t unfold as expected. Others
got involved and changed it. And the characters… my characters… don’t
get me started on the characters.”
“You know, a good story has a way of taking a
life on its own. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just observe. You
can’t control everything. Not even your own words.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway.” In one gulp, he
finished his drink. “It’ll be over soon.”
The writer debated answering. He caressed the
side of his empty glass. “I’m the one that came up
with the idea of the tournament for the Earth heroes. That was my
magnum opus. My legacy was to showcase the nobility of the human spirit
to the universe. But my characters don’t want to participate anymore.
And the gods, those obnoxious editors, insist on changing the theme all
the time. I’m afraid it’s no longer salvageable.”
“Ah, so you’re the one,” said Grey.
Namalas furrowed his brows. “What does that
“I’ve been watching the tournament. I agree it
has not been a success.”
“Thanks,” said the writer angrily. He rose to
“But I believe there are steps you can take to
Namalas paused then sat back down. “Such as?”
Professor Grey placed a finger on his lips, as
if in thought. “Well, I deem part of your problem is that you only
thought of this as an exhibition of Earth heroes. Yet, as you so noted,
it’s your story. You are, if not more so, a
representative of human nature.”
“And you’re saying I failed.”
The professor nodded. “Like a character out of a
Shakespearean tragedy.” He pointed to Monster Slayer. “What did that
tell the gods? That you can be, as one my old friends would like to
quip, a complete asshole?”
“He’s just a character,” said Namalas feebly.
“And the incident with Heracles and
Lemminkainen. There was no sport in that. You were being cruel. Again.”
Grey leaned forward. “That is why the heroes and gods have forsaken
you. They do not see the noble art of warriors, but your petty actions
as the writer.” The professor let his words sink in. “The first thing I
would do is take Monster Slayer down from that dais. To acknowledge
that you’re not so malicious.”
Namalas pondered. “Yes, but he’d still be a
threat to me. I can’t have him wandering around, ready to pounce. Hey!
Perhaps I could match him against Rama. Volleys of lightning arrows
versus astras.” He grinned. “Maybe have the battle take place on the
dance floor. Let them see the fight up close and personal. That might
reawaken their interest.”
“Well, that’s not what I had in mind,” said
Rising tipsily and lost in his own world,
Namalas shook the professor’s hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you.
You’ve given me some wonderful ideas.” Adjusting his jacket, the writer
stumbled off to beseech the gods for one last chance.
Elvis sidled over once Namalas was far enough
away. He nodded at the professor. “Ya think Hi and the gang can get out
of this jam?”
The professor drummed his fingers on the bar.
“The odds are not good. Many of the gods gave up their attempt to
humiliate the humans. However, those that have remained are the most
spiteful of the lot. They will not shirk from committing mass herocide.
In fact, I know that many are debating that right now. Only inertia has
kept them from opting for the morbid choice.”
Elvis struggled with an inner dilemma and it
showed on his face. “Ya know, the universe is saved at this point.
Interferin’ might put everythin’ at risk again.”
Professor Eustas Grey steepled his fingers. “And
abandon these heroes to such unworthy providence? They have sacrificed
more than we could ever imagine. I could not in good conscience allow
that, even if it means jeopardizing it all.”
Elvis grinned, his relief evident. “Y’sir, we
see eye-to-eye on that.” He stroked his chin. “Say, can’t ya use that
resurrection machine on the heroes? The one ya use on Thornby all the
“I’m afraid not, my timeless companion. Almost
paradoxically, the divine energies that created the heroes also inhibit
the machine from resurrecting them. Perhaps, over time, if they could
severe their links with the gods…” The professor sighed. “But there
isn’t enough time for that. This is all very frustrating. Ceasing the
torture of Monster Slayer was a little step, but that confounded writer
still managed to undo it with his unethical slant.”
“Maybe it’s time fer the heroes to get heroic,”
“Perhaps,” said the professor. “But we’ll
provide them a helping hand, if we can.”
“Yer the Boss,” drawled Elvis.
- 6 -
“You have been meditating quite a bit,” said
Hiawatha, sitting cross-legged, opened his eyes
and stared balefully. A deep dysphoria stifled his soul but he did not
reveal this. “Yes,” he replied.
“Are you troubled?”
Hiawatha held his tongue. He wanted to tell the
giant that he sought the beings from his spirit walk, to find a way to
keep them alive, only to wallow in silence as no one replied. “No,” he
“We need to determine our next actions,”
insisted Glooscap. “What is our destiny as heroes?”
Do you really want me to tell you our
destiny? seethed Hiawatha silently. He knew only two options:
extinction by ending the tournament or extinction by warring against
the gods. And how could they even strategize a war? He knew that to
broach the topic would bring down swift, divine wrath. “You bark like a
jackal,” snapped Hiawatha. “Leave me be.”
Before Glooscap could give a rejoinder, Lam-ang
loped over to them. “It’s Monster Slayer,” said the Filipino. “They are
releasing him from his punishment.”
Their argument pushed aside, they followed
Lam-ang. True to his word, they saw Monster Slayer carried down from
the dais by Rostam and Popocatepetl. A number of heroes gathered
around, watching the scene.
“He is in very bad shape,” said Hiawatha as he
squatted down, his hand touching Monster Slayer’s shoulder. “His mind
is frayed like an old reed mat. He may never recover.”
Monster Slayer suddenly grasped Hiawatha’s arm.
“Brother,” rasped the Navajo.
“I am here,” said Hiawatha.
“I am here,” repeated Hiawatha as he tenderly
removed his friend’s clutching hand. “I am here.”
“So I understand he wants us to battle, right
here in the dance floor,” said Rama. “The writer will be sorely
“You must fight,” said Hiawatha.
“What?” exclaimed Rostam.
“Our existence will last only as long as the
tournament,” he said. He held up a hand before the others voiced their
outrage. “I will explain the reasons why that is so. However, I need to
know something first.” A feeble hope flickered in his mind. He nurtured
it as a mother would her newborn. He looked up to Rama. “Can you and
Arjuna reach Monster Slayer? Can you get past his insanity?”
The Indian frowned. “I do not know. What do you
have in mind?”
“A miracle,” replied Hiawatha.
* * * * *
The day of the fight came and Monster Slayer
seemed no better. He babbled incoherently, the words of Rama and Arjuna
rolling over him like water on Teflon. The Navajo had spent weeks upon
that dais, enduring an agony beyond the comprehension of mortal
reckoning. Even heroes have their limits. The only positive was that
Monster Slayer did not indulge in alcohol. Of course, he did not
indulge in reality anymore either.
Hiawatha huddled with Glooscap, Lam-ang,
Popocatepetl, and Rostam by the bar. “So we all know the plan?” he
“If you can call it a plan,” said Rostam. “It is
not much of a plan.”
“I dunno,” said Lam-ang. “I can’t think of
anything better myself.”
The horn sounded. “The battle is about to
commence,” said Hiawatha. “I will go behind the bar. If events turn
dangerous, you also hide behind there. It is indestructible and will
provide you with cover. Remember, I must not be disturbed.”
“This is sounding better all the time,” mumbled
Hiawatha hopped over the bar and nodded to
Elvis. The god of music punched him playfully on the arm. “Are you
ready, Elvis?” asked Hiawatha.
The bartender smiled. He tossed his apron on the
bar. “Sauce Man, yer in charge.” He gave thumbs up to Hiawatha. “See ya
on the other side.”
Hiawatha grinned. “It was nice to have met you.”
He sat down on the floor and closed his eyes. He tried to find
emptiness, but the sounds of the Pantheon battered his eardrums. The
horn sounded again and this time a cheer went up from the assembled
gods. The near proximity of the contest awoke something primal within
“Monster Slayer looks crazed,” he heard Lam-ang
say. “Look at those lightning arrows fly.”
Anguish. Hopelessness. Hiawatha, his eyes still
closed, knew that they failed even before he could begin.
- 7 -
A nasty mood, almost like a cold wind, swept
through the Mare Inebrium. In the past few weeks, Guiles Thornby
witnessed at least five fights and innumerable almost-fights. One party
was always human, as if everyone else had turned adversarial. Even he,
an adventurer who had traveled to other dimensions and crossed swords
with dinosaurs, said, “How odd.” That was akin to a particle of light
marveling at something zipping along much too fast.
The tension was not limited to the Mare
Inebrium, or the City of Lights, or even the planet Bethdish. He read
reports of riots and major skirmishes across the galaxies, a
deep-rooted pimple that festered on the ass of the universe.
Then, as sudden as it emerged, the acrimony
dissipated about a week ago. The cosmos settled back to calm and no one
could explain it. Perhaps it was a virus or some bizarre background
radiation. Some even blamed a lackluster season of movie releases.
However, he felt the rancor once again this
morning. It came sharp and sudden, like stubbing a toe and just as
annoying. “Damn, this is annoying,” he groused to the Bluesman.
“You’re annoyed?” asked the blind Bluesman. “At
least you’re not a telepath. This is torture for folks like me.
Everyone is so… irate.”
“I need something to divert my attention,” said
Thornby, his leg vibrating nervously. If he were somewhere else, a
place where he did not respect the management, he would probably get
into a scrape just to release pent up anxiety.
“You still have that Quantum Chess game?” asked
“Huh. Yeah, I do.” Thornby coughed. “But it’s
really not a game for someone sight-impaired.”
“Teach me,” insisted the blind man. “I can
The telepath touched his head. “Through you. I
can’t see the board, but I can get a sense of it through your mind.”
“Er, alright.” Thornby took out the case from
his backpack and unfolded it to reveal the board. “I had forgotten
about this. The Boss hasn’t pestered me about it.” He placed the pieces
and hit the start button. The pieces became indistinct. “Okay, it’s
just like an old-fashioned chess board. All you need to do is touch one
of the men and everything is revealed.”
The Bluesman’s right hand skimmed the tabletop
and stopped at the edge of the board. Slowly, he ran a forefinger along
the border. His finger rose and hovered, for just a second, and as
delicate as a leaf drifting down from an oak, he touched down…
Behind the main bar, Larrye the bartender gapes at
the ice-solid drink that was lava-hot just a blink ago.
In the Boardroom, Thor scares himself
silly as his hammer that he was casually tossing end-over-end suddenly
unleashes a lightning bolt that punches a smoking hole in the ceiling.
He falls over backwards in his chair.
The jukebox stops the majestic whale
song and instead plays Stairway to Heaven backwards,
revealing the satanic verses.
Standing high above of the Pantheon in the
balcony area, Jehova and his Archangel Robert stare agog as the eyes of
the twelve statues of the Bethdish gods blaze with an emerald light.
The eyes grow brighter, brighter…
“Hey,” said Thornby. “The pieces are still
fuzzy. What did you do, Blues? I saw you touch one of them. Blues? Uhm,
you okay, Blues?”
“Erk,” said the telepath.
“Grunt twice if something cataclysmic is about
Thornby sighed. He motioned to Max. “Hey Max!
Max, the immortal bartender of the Mare
Inebrium, cursed. He walked quickly over the end of the bar and rang
the bell: clang clang clang. Grumbling customers
rose from their seats and made an orderly exit.
The nice thing about the Mare Inebrium was that
it was use to these things.
Cleaning up afterwards was still a bitch,
- 8 -
Maybe the quantum nature of the story wasn’t
entangled until you read it. Maybe you, the reader, are to blame for
what happens next.
It’s never the writer’s fault.
* * * * *
Something cracked and Hiawatha’s spirit broke
free. He found himself rising above his corporeal form, the world
blurry and muddled. Behind him, Rama struggled to deflect the rain of
lightning with his own arrows. In desperation, the hero of the Ramayana
unleashed the Sammohana that stunned the Navajo.
Rama bent over, panting, his body covered in sweat. Hiawatha saw his
quiver low. If something did not change soon, Rama would be forced to
kill or be killed. Monster Slayer, the formidable archer, would not lay
“We hear you, Hiawatha,” said a chorus of
He glanced up and a saw a dozen pair of emerald
eyes peering down. “About time,” he grumbled.
The voices laughed. “The conduit must go through
you and through you the hope for the heroes.” Electricity crackled in
their eyes. An arc formed, connecting all of them, increasing in
intensity. The arc turned into a bolt that shot down into Hiawatha’s
physical form, and then branched out across to Rama and Monster Slayer.
“Uh oh,” said the spirit of Hiawatha as everyone
turned their attention to the bar.
* * * * *
A.C. Namalas almost percolated with giddiness.
For the first time, the assembled gods appreciated his story. He saw
the pernicious gleam in their eyes as enthusiasm, their wicked snarls
as toothy grins. He did not hear their ovations as a call for blood. He
believed this a restart of his epic, not the denouement of a horror
He jumped and nearly soiled himself when the
emerald lightning arced from behind the bar, infusing both Monster
Slayer and Rama. The Navajo’s eyes opened-- eyes once bloodshot and
crazed, now tranquil with lucidity. Monster Slayer stood and raised his
hand to Rama, as if in greeting. The Indian smiled in return, and in
harmony, their lips recalled a mantra. An emerald aura encased them,
steadily increasing in luminosity.
The pen torn from his fingers yet again. “It’s
Hiawatha!” he screamed. “Behind the bar! Stop him! Kill him or he’ll
The gods did nothing at first. Then they began
to move, a sluggish surge, a wave in slow motion. Angry gods. Vengeful
gods. Their sheer maliciousness staggered the writer and for the first
time, he doubted the morality and wisdom of his actions.
Too late. Way too late.
* * * * *
The spirit of Hiawatha hovered above and he saw
the gods push forward. Popocatepetl yelled for the heroes to retreat
behind the bar. A number of gods attempted to interfere with Rama and
Monster Slayer, but a green barrier prevented them. Their blows
In the distance, the thunder of hooves rumbled
through the Pantheon. Elvis, riding Aranjal, led Akkula, Rakhsh, Little
Gray, Baychibare, and the other courageous mounts to safety. A
stranger, a man dressed in a dark gray, collarless suit, opened the
door to Earth. Horses and rider barreled through, followed by the man
in gray who closed the door behind him.
Writers and deities, Elvis has left
the building, mused Hiawatha.
Back at the bar, the gods neared his physical
form. Bao Chu and Kalevipoeg, far too large to seek refuge with the
others, exchanged glances. A wicked grin formed on their faces. Bao Chu
punted a two-headed reptilian who smacked hard into the far wall.
Kalevipoeg used his titanic fists to squash a seven-armed insect
The gods paused, stunned by the temerity of the
heroes. They swarmed the giants.
Arjuna popped up, sending forth the Vayvayaastra.
A hurricane gale of wind tossed a number of gods like rags. Sun Wukong
shed some hairs and sent his duplicates into the fray. A shower of
missiles flew as the heroes let loose with an assault of superhuman
proportions. Samson, from behind the bar, threw a thunderous uppercut
that caught an orange deity that looked like a hairy eyeball. It flew
into void above. It did not return earthward. Heracles arched his
Yet the heroes were outnumbered and
underpowered. The gods struck back with the force of a celestial,
Only the unbreakable bar saved them from a total
wipeout. Lam-ang, in the act of throwing a spear, was pierced by a beam
of light. It left a cauterized, gaping hole in his chest. He collapsed
lifeless. Princess Saljan knelt beside him, his head cradled in her
lap. Rostam, in a rage, threw himself into the throng of deities,
pushing them back, his sword cleaving a great swathe of destruction as
the sea of godhood drowned him. Hiawatha wailed his grief to the
Aeneas and Atalanta fell. Glooscap tackled a god
that almost reached Hiawatha with its claws, their bodies tumbling over
the bar. Beowulf tore off the arms of a towering opponent before a
column of flame consumed him. A couple of Sun Wukong’s duplicates
disintegrated in a cloud of ash. Bao Chu finally succumbed, four gods
climbing his back. Kalevipoeg roared and scattered a dozen before
lighting up like a Christmas tree. He collapsed face-forward, tendrils
of smoke escaping from his body. Roland, his horn in pieces by his
side, lay silent next to his fallen comrade Ogier. Even Heracles
grimaced in pain, his ribs damaged by a devastating blast of concussive
Casualties claimed other heroes. The number
fallen exceeded the number standing by a large margin.
The horde of gods became unstoppable. They
flowed toward the bar, the divine energy pulsing off them in waves.
Hiawatha focused on Rama and Monster Slayer, their forms now
illuminated with a brilliance that exceeded a star. He watched their
lips mumbling the lengthy mantra.
Not enough time, despaired
Arjuna, his face covered in blood, gathered what
little strength remained and pulled his battered body up. Almost blind,
he managed to unleash the Twashtar before
unconsciousness finally claimed him.
The astra landed with a chaotic spray of light.
It played havoc, the gods unable to distinguish friend from foe. For a
few valuable seconds, the onslaught stalled.
Rama and Monster Slayer mouthed a final word in
unison: Brahmastra. They glowed
with the perfection of heaven. Like mirrors, Rama and Monster Slayer
drew back their arrows at the same time.
Hiawatha’s soul rushed back to his body. “Get
down!” he screamed, pulling Popocatepetl to the floor.
Rama and Monster Slayer released their missiles.
The two Brahmastras streaked through the air, crashing like opposing
tsunamis, a union of annihilation.
* * *
* * BOOM* *
* * *
* * *
* * * * *
A.C. Namalas poke his head out through the
battered, unhinged doors of the Celestial Loos. He looked left. He
looked right. The sheer destruction left even him at a loss of words.
Only the bar escaped damage. Where the dance
floor once stood was now a one hundred foot blackened crater. Nothing
else remained. The writer saw no gods, no heroes, no writers. He did
not even see a seat to sit on.
Namalas shuffled out of the restroom, one of the
doors crumbling to pieces. A great melancholy weighed upon him. It did
not take a poet laureate to see the symbolism between the carnage and
How could it have gone all wrong? Why did it end
He walked alone around the charred ruins, his
head hung low. Resentment festered within him. “It ended in violence
because I chose violent heroes,” he mumbled. “Yes, that’s what
happened. If I chose other types of heroes…” He stopped, awestruck with
a new thought. His face beamed. “Yes! I wanted to show the nobility of
humanity, but that’s not what makes humanity special. I should have
chosen the trickster heroes!” Already a new plot formed in his mind.
“Let’s see. Instead of trial by combat, how about contests that test
one’s cunning? We can craft the heroes just like we did-- ”
He neither heard nor saw a large, hairy, orange
eyeball crashing back toward the floor from the dark recesses above. He
did not even get a chance to raise a little umbrella, ala Wile E.
End Act III
There was a BOOM.
And then there was a MOOB,
which is a BOOM going
And finally there was a subtle **twinkling**
of chimes in a gentle breeze, which is the sound of Time pausing. Time
is patient, when it deigns to wait upon itself.
Hiawatha stood up, woozy, his mind adjusting as
Time futzed around with the buttons on the remote control. He saw two
scenes juxtaposed over each other: one where the Brahmastras froze in
midair, their paths heading to omega, the bodies of the heroes and gods
tangled and frozen in time; another where a black crater existed,
everything but the bar obliterated, a fine dust hanging in the air.
He closed his right eye, saw only the crater,
and then switched to his left to see only the moment of the
“Smart fellow, that Elvis,” said a voice to his
right. “All you have to do is close one eye.”
Hiawatha, his hand covering his right eye,
swiveled and saw the man in gray. “What am I seeing?”
“The past and the future
together,” said the stranger. “I am Professor Grey. I own the Mare
“How do you do this?”
The professor shrugged. “Harness the explosions
of a couple supernovas and one can accomplish quite a bit.”
“All that power, and yet you allowed this to
“I allowed this to happen here,
which is an important distinction. You see, Hiawatha, I am not a god. I
would have been hard-pressed if the tournament had occurred elsewhere.
The gods chose the Pantheon because it was convenient for them, a
gathering place that already existed. Even so, I wasn’t sure how it
would all end.” Professor Grey cocked his head. “That was brilliant,
what you did with the Brahmastras. But that’s what heroes do, don’t
they? The impossible. They carry the world on their shoulders. They
shoot the sun out of the sky. The go toe-to-toe with the lords of
heaven and they bring forth maize to the people. We all underestimated
you, even I. We forgot what it really means to craft a hero. It is not
the strength of your bodies or the power of your weapons. It is your
anima, your very soul.”
“I am very tired, Grey,” said Hiawatha, his open
eye scanning the bodies of his friends, his brothers and sisters. “So
“Then it’s time you rested.” Professor Grey
walked over to a nondescript door. He turned the handle.
A vision of mountains, clouds, and a brilliant
sun. The man in gray stood in the doorway, beckoning. “Earth is eager
to receive you and the others, if you’re ready.”
Hiawatha drew in a sharp breath. He could almost
taste the air, feel the dirt underneath his moccasins. For the first
time, he imagined the faces of Minnehaha and his daughter, imagined
their laughter carrying on the autumn breeze. Hope and happiness and a
future he all believed bereft now engulfed him with their promises. He
almost fell to his knees from the weight of it all.
He smiled. They were going to a place remembered
but had never been.
They were going home.
© 2009 Jamie L. Elliot
A.C. Nama-- er, Jaimie Elliott lives somewhere
North of Atlanta. When not being a project manager for IBM, he spends
his time wrecking other people's universes. Jaimie has been published
on Aphelion before, most recently with a story titled Walking the
Walking the Cobble Bones in the September 2007 issue.
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