The fortress floated miles above the ground amongst the clouds. The mortals couldn’t see it, but it was there. Vandria paced up and down the length of the great hall, occasionally pausing to look down through the clear hollow in the the centre of the floor that showed the world below. By concentrating she could look in detail at parts of the mortal world below as she did now. It could also be used to look at detail in the Crucible, but that was not her current concern. She looked up at the room, at the ring of eight empty seats. This plan was coming along. It would work, it had to work. Eight, eight was a good number for a pantheon right? She had wanted ten but eight was what they had and that was only after today’s success.
“Czodasarvas, he of the Golden Antlers, Guardian of the Sun, the Sky and the Stars!” rang out the clarion voice of Vir.
Vandria glanced up briefly to see the form of a tall dark haired man with antlers take one of the eight seats. She nodded a greeting before continuing her pacing. Czodasarvas did not say much at any time for which she was grateful, she needed a few more minutes to put her thoughts together. Mortals must have it so easy, not having so much to consider she thought. She had always been a planner, ready to put things into motion with a solution for any problem that could arise. Of course, that was before, when her husband had been alive. He had been so loud, so commanding, giving her the time she needed to think without being put on the spot. He had always valued her intellect and had spoken loudly and at length, always giving her the time to think. And then, when she had it all figured out, he would stand aside and she would say her piece. Times were good, she missed Jotan. But now she was the head of a pantheon. And not just of Drengfold, she was taking on the role of head Guardian of the Accord of nations! What was she thinking!
“Fate, in the guise of Faith, Mistress of Destiny and Outcomes and Borvok, Guardian of Bathing and Hot Springs!” rang out Vir’s voice as two more of her pantheon arrived at the table. Fate, currently in female form as Faith, appeared resplendent in a red corset and cape attire while Borvok was as always topless and oiled. They took their seats and Vandria composed herself, sitting at her own seat at the head of the table.
“I’m glad to see you made it, and in good health,” She greeted them.
Faith smiled and slouched back in her chair while Borvok chortled a little and lay at complete ease sideways in his chair. Formal as always those two.
Over the next fifteen minutes Aotahi arrived, serious and on ceremony moreso than any other present. Then Ashina prowled in, looking uncomfortable in the civilized setting. And finally Dis appeared, his face dour and unhappy at being on the mortal plane, taking his seat with dignity, yet still some disdain. Seven seats occupied, that meant she could call for the eighth to be present and recognised.
“Ezra, Newly appointed Guardian of Peace, Protection of Travellers and a voice for those that have none, please be present and recognised,” Cried Vandria.
Ezra sidled into the room from an antechamber quietly, looking a little uncomfortable and shy as he did, “Hel… Hello,” he mumbled as he shuffled forwards, “Pleased to meet you all.”
He shuffled up to his seat and looked to Vandria who nodded encouragement. He cleared his throat, “Thank you all for inviting me to this pantheon. I… I will do what I can to bring peace and protection to my people, er… to…to…to the mortals,” he stuttered, “ I hope between us we can end the suffering and see that everyone is looked after.” He seemed to gain strength as he spoke about his convictions. The Guardians nodded and Ezra took his seat as the eighth member of the pantheon of the Accord.
“And now to business,” stated Vandria, “ Second on the agenda, after Ezra’s welcome of course, is our recruitment drive. There are still many Guardians out there, fighting in their own way to the limit of the rules, but fewer than I hoped have chosen to join us. I am awaiting a response from the Delver Guardians as to their position, the Ilac Guardians are scattered and disorganised, with only Mars seeming to be acting to help, the Greater Guardians are refusing to get involved and the Castanni pantheon is weakening. I am hoping some of you have good news,” she finished hopefully.
Aotahi stood sombrely, “ I have news to bring, but I am afraid it is not good news. Rehua is dead. My sister has given her life to thwart the plans of Dasura and save many of the people of the Wastes. It was a noble sacrifice and I hope the blasphemers of the Wastes appreciate what she has done for them.”
The gathered Guardians bowed their heads and a murmur of praise and respect sounded around the room.
“Furthermore, Tumatuenga has drawn his last breath,” Aotahi seemed to age a decade in only moments as he spoke from the heart, his voice cracking slightly, “Gamayun has decreed that his time is done. The faith and spirit that supported him through the years, the proud warriors of Castann are dead and there is nothing left to support his domains. He has crossed the final bridge beyond the Crucible.”
There was a slow intake of breath and silence as this news set in, the final death of a Guardian.
“I still retain power, the hatred for demons and desire to slay their kind still burns strong across the Accord. Alongside myself, there is still Tawhaki, Humia-Tike, Maketutara and Uenuku. We may be greatly depleted in number and power, but there is still some life in Castann, it is not yet over.”
With this Aotahi took his seat once more.
There was a minute or so of silence before Vir’s voice boomed out once more from the chamber entrance, “Chiyala, The Razor-Feathered Red Kite, Guardian of Hunting and Concealment. Anaye, the Tarantula, Mother of Monsters and Protector of the Unloved. Tadia, the Coyote, Guardian of Trickery, Favours and Chaos. Tadia’s escort, Sal.”
“Thanks, is that all I get fucker,” came the voice of Tadia’s escort. Vir looked at him sternly for a moment and then chortled. Sal began laughing as well before they both looked up, saw eleven Guardians watching them and got themselves under control.
Chiyala shaking his head and Tadia smiling in a ‘that’s my boy’ sort of way, they approached the eight seated Guardians.
“Have you reached a decision on my offer?” asked Vandria.
“We have,” spoke Chiyala, “The Delver pantheon stands strong. We thank you for your offer and extend our offer of friendship and assistance to you. But we will not be joining you.”
“Sonnuti is dead and I almost followed him,” stated Tadia, “but we survived. The Delvers came through and we cannot abandon them.”
The seated eight looked at each other with consternation and confusion. Tadia grinned.
“A Shujin Samurai slew Sonnuti,” stated Tadia in a drawn out way, pleased that she was the first to get to tell them, “It stole his powers and then cut him up. We saved his soul, but his powers are gone.”
“Are you telling us the Shujin have declared war?” asked Fate, mildly alarmed.
Tadia went to reply but Anaye interjected, “We don’t know yet. This could be an act of war, or it could be a left over weapon from a war long ago. If that is the case we cannot afford a war over this, the mortals will suffer.”
The pantheon spoke for a few more minutes, indecisive as to whether this was an act of war or not.
“We must send a representative to speak to Umiko,” stated Ashina, “It is the only way to be sure.”
“That is a dangerous undertaking,” cautioned Chiyala, “I do not envy the one you send.”
“I’ll go,” said Ezra. The others turned to stare at him. “I’ll go,” he repeated uncomfortable with everyone staring at him. “I… I represent peace and safety for travellers and sort of a voice in… in a way. I’ll go.”
“You do not know the creature that you deal with,” Stated Aotahi, “There is lots you must know first.”
“No,” responded Ezra, “I don’t want to know. I stand for peace, I will speak for peace. I will not go in there with bias.”
Vandria nodded slowly, this might be a sensible plan after all. The members of the Delver pantheon took their leave, wishing luck and hopes of success on the remaining Guardians. The last trace of their passage was the voice of Sal, carried back from the atrium, “But I haven’t learned how to do that yet!” then a quickly fading cry of “Cunt!”
Half an hour passed and much discussion was had on the state of the Accord, the Crucible and of the different Guardians. They were just about to adjourn for a break when Vir’s voice rang out once again, “Aegiria, Guardian of fresh water, wells and springs. Daughter of Camenae and Mars. And Carmenta, Guardian of Prophecy, Daughter of Camenae and Mars.”
The two Guardians, young ladies both of them as Guardians go, entered the chamber boldly as would be expected of the daughters of Mars. They stood before the seated eight.
“It is a pleasure to see you here,” said Vandria with genuine warmth in her voice, “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
The two young Guardians looked at each other and Carmenta nodded to Aegiria, “We have come before you today, to ask for help.”
“Hard words for the daughters of Mars,” replied Vandria, “But we are here to help in any way we can.”
Aegiria took a breath and spoke, “We have been searching for our father. The mortals have elevated him to the rank of Archangel, giving him power he has never had before. Yet still we cannot find him and speak to him. He must be around, his power sits over the city of Ilac and indeed, the nation yet we can locate none of the other Guardians of our nation. We do not sense mother or our sisters, we fear they may be dead and we can find none of the other despite our searching. We implore you,” this said as Aegiria dropped to her knees, “Help us find dad. Or even any of the others of our pantheon.”
Czodasarvas and Ashina both stepped forward, pulling Aegiria to her feet, “You do not need to kneel before us Guardian of Ilac,” stated Ashina, “Stand proud as your father. If the others cannot be found, you are the future of the nation.”
Aegiria nodded, regaining her composure very quickly, “Will you help us?”
“Of course we will,” replied Ashina, looking to Vandria and getting a nod as she did so, “Have you found anything so far that can help us?”
“We have one lead. It’s… It is not ideal but we have located a source of Mestros power that might be a start,” said Aegiria, a little insecurity showing through again, “He is not the Guardian we would wish to deal with in this time but if there is nothing else…”
The eight looked around at each other before a surprising response came, “I will summon my followers to see if we can find him,” stated Fate, “It is not yet Ilac’s time to fall, she has a great part to play in the game. I believe finding Mestros is part of the great plan. I will put out a call to my followers to track down Mestros and get him to respond to us, find out what he knows and see if we can uncover what is going on in Ilac. We will find your father, I am sure of it.”
With those words from Fate, Aegiria seemed to fill with confidence, “Very well. Thank you.” Then she did something unseemly, she strode forward and hugged Fate. The woman in red stiffened slightly and then cautiously put her arm around the girl, looking to the others for help. A few smiles spread around the room at that.
“We will be in touch,” stated Vandria as the daughters of Mars left the room. This was a surprising day.
An hour later, the council reconvened.
“Now to the more in depth look at some of the individuals we may yet find and recruit,” Vandria read from her agenda. “Aligak of the Delvings is still in a slumber we can find no cure for. Any thoughts?”
There was a general shaking of heads. The Guardian of Weather, Earthquakes and Eclipses had been located recently, but his gigantic form slept in a slumber that none of them could awaken him from.
“Arbellia? Lucienne? Fashun? Any more leads?” queried Vandria.
“None,” stated Borvok, “They are not dead, we have found out that much. But we cannot find where they are trapped or hiding.”
Vandria frowned, she didn’t like the thought of not knowing where those powers might be.
“What of Clymenia and Mawganth?” Vandria asked.
Borvok grimaced, “Clymenia seems to be herself once more. She remains on the mortal plane, guarding a breach into the Crucible, one of the demon’s areas. Mawganth… Mawganth has passed on. It seems his power has been claimed by one of his children. The exiles are interacting with the Accord, at least one of them is. We do not know what they intend to do with the power, but we can assume they aren’t coming home with it.”
“The Inari being active is something we have no time or power to deal with right now,” stated Vandria, “Let’s see that we shut that down quickly.”
There was a general nod of agreement.
“Eternitas, Salacia, Providentia, Sacra, Sarog, Trivia, Sigyun? Anything?” Asked Vandria.
Silent as a whisper, with no announcement from Vir, there was suddenly another presence in the room.
“Ah, my name. Good to hear that there is concern for my well-being mother adopted,” came a silky voice as a young robed man appeared from the shadows at the side of the chamber.
Vandria stood in shock, her face twisting through a range of emotions from surprise, to relief, to anger and finally to joy. She ran across the room and threw her arms around Sigyun, squeezing him until his face started to change colour, “Your alive! How are.. when did…” she slapped him a resounding thwack that reverberated around the chamber, “Why am I only finding this out now!?”
He looked slightly stunned as he moved his hand to hold his face, “Mother you’ve grown stronger…” His voice trailed off, “But yes, erm, I was hiding for safety. I saw the battle, I saw how things were going and I thought that some of us should get out of there, to guide the mortals after the chaos and blood. I hid and made, er… new friends.”
“New friends?” Vandria queried looking as though she hadn’t yet decided whether to slap or hug this time.
“Crazy thing you see, the invaders aren’t all the same. Some of them are slaves from another conquered world who were brought here,” he said, talking quickly as he glanced nervously at his adopted mother, “I got the ear of one of them, a leader of one of their armies, and have been convincing him that he could make a life here alongside the mortals of this realm.”
Vandria seemed to make her decision as she took herself back to her chair, “Tell us more Sigyun.”
“Right, his name is Akal Blumasian, general of the Wolves of Wepawet, and he has kinda been listening to me and helping get things back on track,” stated Sigyun as he walked to the centre of the semi-circle of eight chairs, “I think he and others like him can help to get things back on track. To restore some semblance of order to the world.”
“Excellent,” stated Vandria, “We have heard the name and knew he was helping but were not sure why. Something about a Fae we were told and…”
“Well,” mumbled Sigyun, “The bit about the Fae is also sort of true, they did do some of the legwork. Also, Akal thinks i’m Wepawet, one of their gods from their own world so I sorta, need to keep that going…”
Vandria sighed, Guardian of Trickery, Deceit and Manipulation indeed. But she nodded, he had done well. “Its good to know you are alive and well and helping in your own way. Go, continue your aid as you do best and have my blessing. My son…”
Sigyun disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. Vandria smiled, one of her adopted sons yet lived, this was a joyous occasion.
Times were dark and severe. Much work was still to be done. But there was light and hope. She focused on these things and it carried her through the next few hours of planning and preparing how they could win back the Accord.