Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
A deluge poured over me, sweeping me off my feet. The water surged, battering me against several bodies, one of which felt like Thane. With how furious the water was, it was impossible to tell. Bubbles clouded my vision and popped in my nostrils. And, for the record, swimming in heavy robes sucked.
Eventually the water settled, scattering us across the ground like soggy, lumpy fish. Thane was off to my right, legs in the air as the temple steps dug into his shoulders. Many other cultists and priests lay in uncomfortable positions as well, some so wound up in their robes it was hard to tell heads from butts.
Coughing, I pushed myself off the ground, yanking at my sleeves as the wet fabric clung to my elbows. My staff was nowhere to be seen, but with my powers back, it would’ve been simple ornamentation so it was no great loss. The Apkalla was nowhere to be seen, either. I couldn’t see him or sense any aura, but with the massive energy levels radiating from Nanshe, I didn’t think I’d be able to sense Galamma even if he were still at the plaza.
Nanshe’s shoulders bobbed as she drew ragged breaths. Hunched over and dripping wet, she resembled a freshly-bathed cat, and her face looked just as pleased. Her eyes were practically miniature suns with how golden they’d become, undimmed from her outburst. At her sides, she flexed her hands, talons screeching as she scraped them together.
“Hey!” I shouted over the squealing. “Where’s your guppy?”
She slowly straightened her head, glaring at me through the ridges where her eyebrows would be. “I sent him to deal with Tamiyat. I can only pray that he and a legion of derketo are competent enough to return the prisoner to her cell.”
Signal fires lit in the back of my mind, but I ignored them for now. Flashing my teeth, I grinned as I approached her. “You’re not worried you’ll need his help? It is two versus one, after all.”
“Ah, a side of humor to this pile of dung.” She sniffed. “I have more than enough power to handle a pair of washed-up, half-dead—” Her voice caught on the phrase, and she tilted her head at me.
My grin widened. “Do continue.”
“Half...dead.” She rolled the phrase around her tongue, looking disgusted and displeased. “You reek of death, but you’re not the God of Death. How?”
“I was.” I couldn’t help the feeling of pride that washed over me, both at what I’d once been and how confused that made her. In my peripheral vision, I saw Thane flanking Nanshe on her blind side, but I kept my eyes steady. “Now? It’s complicated, but you can consider me one of the Gods of War.”
“Pathetic.” She flared her hands, crouching to pounce. “You’re not even strong enough to hold a dominion by yourself.”
Thane grabbed his scythe as it materialized by his side. As he raised it, Nanshe crouched and twirled, kicking up an arc of water that knocked him back. She spun on her heel, raising a vortex around her. Water slapped my feet, waves rippling as Nanshe poured more seawater onto the plaza. When the vortex reached twice my height, a wave surged out.
Even with my powers marginally restored, my body was never going to outrun that thing. Forearms crossed in front of me, I braced myself and took the wave head-on. It felt like getting an aggressive hug from a brick wall, and the force nearly knocked me off my feet. My vision swam with stars, and I coughed to get the salty taste out of my mouth.
Nanshe advanced as I was still picking myself up. “Is that really all you have?”
“Just getting warmed up.” I staggered, falling to a knee as I struggled to stand up. “You’ll see…”
I trailed off as I saw her. She’d dropped the vortex, or maybe used it up in that tidal wave, but she stood tall, head tentacles flared in a halo, hands channeling streams ready to lance forward at a moment’s notice. But it wasn’t the display of power that caught my eye. No, it was the fact that her skin was rapidly changing color. And not just that, but lighting up, too. Pulses of pale blue light raced down her tentacles and face, bands of burgundy and bronze trailing alternating between the bioluminescence.
“Neat trick.” I grinned. “You must be really popular at parties. Or the circus.”
A jet of water slammed into my chest but with half the force of the tidal wave. Although it rocked me back, I managed to keep my footing. And I could feel the tingle of my power in my veins. Not thawed enough to do any serious damage yet, but returning nevertheless. But if I could keep her annoyed and distracted long enough, I could probably work up something nasty, or give Thane a chance to get a strike in while her attention was elsewhere. Probably.
Speaking of the devil, he was taking his sweet-ass time about doing something. I took another blow from a water javelin across my cheek and had to quickly duck a third. The sudden movement made my ears feel inflated and my head swam. Nothing a little ambrosia couldn’t fix, if I’d had any. I giggled. If only I’d brought some with me. But silly me, avoiding Nebesa for as long as I had, how would I have thought to be remotely prepared for anything? Another chuckle escaped me right before a thick column of water slapped me across the face, knocking my head back and clacking my teeth together.
“What on earth are you laughing about?” Nanshe demanded. Another whip of water spiraled above her.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” I cackled. I couldn’t help myself. Not only was my vision going blurry again, I was practically giddy, which was very, very bad. She was barely damaging me, and yet all my recovered energy was going towards preventing damage and restoring what had occurred. Belatedly I realized that the tingling I’d felt was my body regenerating at an accelerated rate, and the mental fog and black rings in my peripherals meant I was exerting myself too much. But I had my powers back, if only in part, so that shouldn’t have been a problem. Right?
The world tilted. My nose crunched against the stone, my knees hammering into the hard ground as the whip snapped across my ankles. When had she struck? I hadn’t even heard the crack as the water went supersonic. And it had. My fractured ankles told me as much.
“Drop your avatar!” Thane shouted. His scythe flashed as he twirled around Nanshe, trying to carve through her protective vortex. She was still pulsing with that strange light, and several times Thane’s steps faltered in their dance of war. That light must have some mesmeric properties or something. So pretty.
Fog. Sparkles. Oil-spilled rainbows on the surface of seas. The fangs of hunger tearing at my abdomen. Sleepy, so sleepy. Nose pain. Hard to breathe. Avatar?
Excruciating torment spiked in my chest. The delirium cleared, revealing that strange priestess with the white face and funny expressions. Her eyes were pinched with worry, her fingers wrapped around the hilt of the dagger in my chest. Water had streaked through the powder on her face, revealing the telltale tan hue of a Paeden.
“Charax?” she whispered. Her breath puffed against me, and she was so close I thought we were hugging. But then the pain lanced across my chest again, and I remembered the dagger still embedded there.
Ah, she was trying to kill me.
I laughed. Even without being half delirious, it was still a funny thought. “Can’t kill a god,” I mumbled. My eyes rolled, my head tilted, the world swam.
She twisted the knife, and I gasped. “Drop the body, you idiot.”
“Drop...what?” I coughed blood and sagged against her. Ow.
“Eject!” Snarling, she yanked the blade out and stabbed me once, twice, thrice. The last strike pierced my solar plexus, and I retched on her white tunic, staining it yellow and red.
That hurt, gods damn it.
“Why, you…” I gasped. Or tried to, anyways. I wasn’t sure my tongue was quite obeying my commands. And my voice sounded congested. Oh, yeah, the broken nose bit.
One moment, she was before me, the next, she was on my back. My robes tightened as she yanked on them, arching my spine as she pulled my head back. Like a sacrificial animal, she raised her knife over me, ready to sink it into my neck. The blade dripped with salt water and blood, the gray, exposed metal glinting in the sunlight. As the point plunged down, my spirit recoiled and pushed backwards, fleeing my body.
The lifeless husk collapsed in her arms as the blade made contact. Gasping, she shot up and jerked back, flinging the knife away from her. What had once been my avatar crumbled to dust, dissolving into the water that had flooded the plaza.