Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
The talk was extremely informative, although we spent more time catching up on other matters than we did strategic planning. My lips throbbed, and if I hadn’t recovered so much of my strength I would’ve sworn I’d be nursing a pulled back for the next week. As it was, I had a spring in my step as I trotted across my temple for the last time. My cheeks were practically bursting, I was smiling so hard. Not even the stupid roof leak, which had returned in my absence, could dampen my good spirits. This was the final time I would be walking these rotting halls, and it felt good to be moving again.
Once I’d said my goodbyes to the old dump and finished the invocation for the next retiree, I would rejoin Malia and Hasda in Nebesa to begin preparing for Hasda’s trials. Malia had hinted at some trouble with the Paden pantheon during our talk and she wanted Hasda at the head of her...er, our army. But he had three trials ahead of him, which would be determined by Seppo. The lad wouldn’t be fit to be a heroic leader until he’d accomplished some heroic tasks. Malia had worked out a deal with Seppo to make the trials manageable for a mortal, but her definition of “achievable” and the realistic limitations of the non-divine didn’t always align.
When Seppo released the details of the first trial, I’d scout ahead to ensure that Malia wasn’t secretly sabotaging everything or pushing Hasda further than he was capable. While she was supposedly preparing her champion for the war to come, this was Malia we were talking about. Sometimes she lost the trees in the forest, tying too many threads to something that should have been a simple event. She wouldn’t set Hasda up for failure, but she’d expect him to accomplish more than just the trials while also completing them.
Shaking my head, I approached my throne. While Malia went ahead to Maas Telos to warn the armory of my arrival, I had weapons of my own to collect from home. Stone grated as I lifted the seat, exposing the helmet, plate armor, and arming sword I’d hidden beneath. None of it was divine, but then, it wasn’t for me. The small voice in the back of my head whispered how I’d always known, deep down, that I’d never really escaped the grip of war and, despite my protests, I had thought that Hasda would one day follow in my footsteps. Granted, he was a few decades behind in his swordplay, but with me as his master, he would quickly catch up.
The armor was nothing to sing epics about. Simple steel, dull from years of disuse, made up the chest- and shoulderplates, and the helmet was unadorned save for a simple etching around the eyes and faceplate, its plumage long since rotted away. I’d have the armory at Maas Telos replume it, but with Carthian blue instead of Spartan red. Hasda was my warrior too, after all.
The sword, a practical tool with a basic crossguard and a rounded hilt that resembled an unstamped coin, would need touching up as well, but the smiths enjoyed their work and it would give me a chance to catch up on the new technologies of warfare. Maybe I could put in an order with Phaeus, the divine blacksmith, for a demigod-grade blade. Hasda would need something more durable than mortal steel once he tasted ambrosia. My blessing would strengthen and empower him, but not that much.
And Phaeus did good work. The best, in fact. I frowned. But maybe Hasda would prefer the bow for its familiarity, or the spear for its reach and versatility. Only time and training would tell, so perhaps I would wait on that order.
Hasda’s new outfit collected, I slid the seat back down with a grunt and puffed at the carving of the demonic pegasus. Okay, maybe I wasn’t as up to speed as I’d thought. I was capable of far more physical exertion than recent times, but I still had centuries of rust to shake off. Raising Hasda had helped kick-start the process, but I hadn't really been pushing myself for that. As I heaved off the throne and bent down to bag the armor and sword, I felt the magic of the temple brushing up against me. The energy felt filthy, like I’d stepped on slimy algae coating a river rock, and flowed in distinct tendrils from each pillar of the temple to my shoulders. Leaving my bag behind, I walked to the center of the floor, gathering the fronds of energy in my hands.
When I reached the midpoint, I sagged beneath a great weight. The silence was cloying, and the temple seemed to sense my lack of divine inertia and push against my efforts. The old place was as lonely as I’d been, and it was reluctant to see me go. I smiled fondly, lines of energy like reins leading to the temple supports.
“Farewell, old friend. It seems fate, in the form of a conniving winged gorgon, has conspired to keep us apart for now.”
As I spoke, I wove my fingers through the magical threads, finding the pieces of my spirit that had flaked off, teasing them out, collecting them back into my aura. The more of myself I recovered, the taller I stood, the more powerful I felt. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d lost, and how quickly it had gone.
“While I may leave, another will take my place. How soon, I can’t say, but in the eyes of immortal stone? It will be soon enough.”
The tendons tightened as I progressed, resisting my efforts to reclaim the slivers of my soul. The pediment whined in protest, dust fluttering from the crevices.
“I know, it won’t be the same without my company, but I’m not the first god to pass beneath your roof and I certainly won’t be the last. Plus, the lad has already gone. You can’t possibly that just me, wasting away on my stupid old seat, would be good enough for you. I’d do nothing more than mope and complain and kick about, waiting to vanish forever. And then what?”
The floor groaned, obviously dissatisfied with my answer. Chains rattled as the braziers swung back and forth in an unseen wind. In my hands, the tendrils tightened to cables, threatening to snap at any moment.
“Fine. I’ll make you a deal.” I grunted as the magic tugged at me from a dozen angles. “If no gods seek to retire beneath your mantle by the time the lad’s journey is done, I’ll return and establish this as my primary abode. I’ll be an invested deity again, with Symbols of Office and everything. It might be a bit out of the way for mortals to bring sacrifices, but then I never really cared for those. Charred beef smells a lot worse than you’d think.”
The strands of energy were as taut as harp strings. More dust sifted from the ceiling, and the ground shook for good measure.
“Do we have a deal?”
All the lines snapped at once. I staggered from the sudden release of tension, nearly pitching onto the floor. The stones of the temple settled, the foundation creaking in a familiar, comforting way. While the temple magic still felt as grimy as ever, it had lost its abrasive edge. Finally appeased, the temple slunk into a contented rest.
“Good. I’ll be back when the weather turns favorable.” Maybe not quite that fast, but I think the inanimate stone got the idea.
The invocation finished, I gathered my sack and bid the temple goodbye. Outside, the morning wind blew the musky scent of the charred forest across the temple grounds, and wispy clouds blurred the sky. I felt whole again, more energized than I’d been in as long as I could remember, which wasn’t much to speak of given the gaps in my retirement memory. But all those ground-down edges, fully restored, added up, and I carried my weight and complete aura like a real god again.
Power buzzed at my fingertips. When I lifted my hand to draw the portal, I opened it of my own strength, without needing to augment my abilities with the finicky, now-damaged forest magic. Though the orange light of the portal edge was pale, it glowed in a stable oval and snapped firmly into place. No wavering, no shaking, no threatening to collapse halfway through the journey and leave my legs unattached from my torso. I had to admit, being an active deity again felt amazing, and I had missed it.
Now it was time to find out how much Nebesa had missed me.