“Don’t,” Ajak commanded. “We don’t interfere with their wars.”
“This isn’t war. It’s genocide,” Druig turned on Phastos, “Their weapons have become too deadly. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea helping them advance, Phastos.”
“Technology is part of their evolutionary process, Druig. It’s not exactly something that I can stop,” Phastos replied.
“No, you can’t, but I can,” Druig interrupted.
Makkari put herself between Druig and Phastos. She knew he was hurting again. Starting to crack under the pressure of his power. “Stay strong,” she signed to him, trying to project as much of her own strength to him.
Thena stood watching her family argue as gunshots filled the air, each shot ringing in her ears as she felt something in her mind starting to shatter. She didn’t know what was happening, and she heard screaming. But it wasn’t just the humans in the distance. Someone else was screaming. Druig was holding Makkari back from attacking Ajak, tears in both their eyes. No. Makkari was between Druig and Phastos telling him to stay strong. Sersi sat on her knees, staring at the ground. No, Sersi stood near her watching their brothers argue. The ground quaked beneath them. But no one else felt it? Phastos was searching for a technological way to stop it. Where was she? Someone was dying. There were more screams. Here? Screams both places. And fire. Real? In the distance…no, right here. Beneath their feet. Why was Druig arguing with Ajak and Phastos. Didn’t he feel the quake? See the fire? It was too late.
“It’s too late,” Thena said.
“Thena?” Sersi turned and saw cosmic energy short circuiting around Thena’s face. Her eyes started flashing milky white and seemed focused on something not present.
“Everyone is going to die,” Thena summoned her spear as her eyes fully changed to a white gold color, without irises or pupils.
“Are you okay? Thena?” Sersi asked again, reaching out for her sister.
Makkari looked away from Druig, sensing the changed vibrations of Thena. She saw Thena draw her weapon and knew what would happen next. She rushed to Sersi just as Thena swung at her. Thena managed to slice Sersi’s shoulder, but Makkari had gotten her away just in time to prevent a more lethal strike. She gently put Sersi down and looked back at the warrior Eternal as she stabbed Phastos. Makkari gathered her speed and charged, grabbing Thena just as she raised her weapon to kill Druig who had gone to Phastos when he fell.
Makkari didn’t have a plan exactly, but she knew she needed to protect her family. Her Druig. She didn’t know what was wrong with Thena, but maybe if she got her far away, she could—she didn’t know what she could do. But if Makkari had Thena, Thena couldn’t hurt the others. Couldn’t hurt him. Maybe, she could find a way to knock Thena out, give Ajak time to heal whatever was wrong. Maybe…
Her legs gave out beneath her, and she was tumbling and rolling across the ground. Then she felt it. Fire in her stomach that was beginning to consume her whole body. She reached a hand towards the origin of the fire and found blood, seeping out of a wound there. It was deep. Thena had been too quick. She’d stabbed her. Must have done a lot of internal damage too because she was starting to lose feeling in her legs. She tried to get up, but her strength was fading, and her body refused to cooperate. Thena was standing. Was turning. Was going to hit her again. Her vision started getting fuzzy on the edges, and then Ajak was there. She couldn’t focus. Ajak was saying something, but the vibrations were unintelligible.
Thena attacked Ajak, and Ajak was able to deflect her for a moment before Thena stabbed her too. Gilgamesh stopped her from killing Ajak and kept her occupied.
Ajak healed her own stab wound before coming to Makkari’s side. She pulled the bleeding speedster into her arms as Kingo found them. He knelt by Makkari’s side and asked Ajak something she couldn’t make out. Ajak nodded at him, and he gripped her hand. She weakly smiled at Kingo as she searched the trees. Where was Druig?
Druig hadn’t felt the fracturing of Thena’s consciousness because the humans’ genocide was fracturing his own mental fortitude. He first realized something was wrong when Makkari darted away from him to rescue Sersi. Then, Thena stabbed Phastos, and Druig and Ajak went to him. Just a shoulder wound. No immediate danger. Makkari rushed Thena away before she could hit Druig, and he stared after her.
He tuned into her, to his Makkari. Felt her panic and then her pain as she was stabbed. It was bad. He could tell.
“Ajak, get to Makkari. I’ll help Phastos.” He could tell Phastos was hurt, but he’d live. Makkari needed Ajak now.
He didn’t know what was wrong with Thena. Why would she attack the rest of them? If Makkari didn’t make it, he wasn’t sure what he’d do. He wished it wasn’t so difficult to control Eternals. He felt useless. He couldn’t help Makkari when she was hurt. He couldn’t stop the genocide all around him. He couldn’t control Thena and make her stop hurting their family. What use were his powers if he couldn’t do anything with them.
He helped Phastos back onto his feet, but his attention was in the space where he felt Makkari’s consciousness. It was weakening. Why hadn’t Ajak healed her yet? She was searching. For him? I’m sorry Makkari. I can’t help you. Just hold on. He wished she could sense his thoughts.
“Druig? You alright? I’m the one bleeding, but somehow you’ve actually gotten paler,” Phastos called him back.
Druig nodded, ignoring the remark. “You good to walk?”
“I’m fine. Hurts like hell, but I’ll live.”
“Let’s follow the others.”
Gilgamesh and Ikaris each ran towards their partners, Ikaris to check on Sersi and Gil to try to stop Thena. Druig felt a twinge of jealousy as Kingo made it to Makkari first and was there to hold her hand while Ajak healed her. But she was okay, and that’s what mattered. A loud boom rang through the forest as Gil knocked Thena unconscious.
Druig breathed a sigh of relief as Makkari’s consciousness returned to its normal buzzing frequency. He came into the clearing and caught her smile of relief as her eyes found him. He nodded to Ajak who let him replace her on the ground as Makkari’s backrest as she went to check on Thena. Kingo squeezed Makkari’s hand one last time before checking in with Phastos and then Sersi, who came slowly into the clearing with Ikaris. Unnoticed by anyone else, Druig wrapped his arms around Makkari’s chest and closed his eyes, gently kissing the top of her head. He held her like that only for a moment before she tapped him for his attention.
“Help me up?” She signed.
He swung around in front of her in a crouch before offering his hand, and they stood together. She winced a little as newly healed organs protested the pressure of standing so soon. She steadied herself by clinging to Druig’s arm.
Ajak looked at her team, her children, and sighed sadly. She tapped into her cosmic energy to keep Thena in a sort of stassis until they were ready. Phastos and Sersi could wait to be healed. “Let’s bring her back to the pyramid.”
Gilgamesh scooped Thena into his arms, and they made their way back to the temple at the top of the pyramid in silence. Ajak stayed close to them to continue to shut down Thena’s body from healing the concussion Gil no doubt had given her. Ikaris supported Sersi while Sprite and Kingo walked a few paces behind. Phastos followed on his own, and Druig and Makkari took up the rear. Druig kept their path clear of any humans by nudging them to avoid the Eternals. He wanted to do so much more. He held Makkari tightly, drawing strength from her, but also as though imprinting the feel of her into his memory. Just in case.
He couldn’t keep this up. He felt them as they died. As they screamed in fear for their loved ones. As they dragged mothers into the street away from their crying children. He felt it all. The Spanish and the Aztecs. He died each time one of them died, was sickened by every cruel thought that passed through their minds as they killed. All because they’d been taught that other ways of life were savage, and that it was okay to hate their inferiors. That other humans could even be their inferiors because of their differences in the first place. Greed, hate, violence. He could stop it all. But he wasn’t allowed to interfere. He was about to break.
He held onto Makkari, though. He needed to be sure she’d be safe. He wanted to know why Thena snapped, whether she’d hurt Makkari or the others again. He had to stay strong.
They made it up the steps of the temple, and Gilgamesh laid Thena upon the altar. Makkari left Druig’s side to stand close to Thena, concern clear on her face. She rushed away for a second and arrived with a basin, jug of water, and a clean cloth. She poured the water and offered the cloth to Sersi, who began to mop sweat from Thena’s brow and smooth her hair. Makkari held Thena’s hand, hoping that when Thena woke up that she’d be the sister she’d known and loved for the past 6500 years. She looked up at Druig every now and then, knowing he would not venture further inside the room, but hoping to catch his eyes to let him know she was okay. But he kept staring at Thena. She was losing him.
Druig hated this room. Hated the altar where they’d laid Thena’s unconscious form. Another reminder of his uselessness. Another reminder that he wasn’t allowed to interfere. He refused to stand so close to where so much blood had been spilled in religious ritual. He was surrounded by the violence. Memories of violence radiating from the altar and the current violence as innocent lives were senselessly lost in the streets down below. They had seen human sacrifice in nearly every human culture. Some sanctioned by the state, some condemned but done anyway. Victims who claimed to be willing to be slain for some greater purpose, and victims who made no pretense of their willingness. Druig knew better—none of them were truly willing. Every one of them panicked in that final second before they died. But he couldn’t save them. Wasn’t allowed. So, he’d died with them.
Ajak looked over Thena, releasing her from her stasis to let her gradually come to on her own accord. Using her cosmic energy to scan her condition. Sersi removed the water basin from the altar and she and Makkari both stepped back to give room. “Mahd Wy’ry,” Ajak finally said.
They all stared at Ajak incredulously as she made her pronouncement. It felt like a death sentence. Druig looked down at the floor. That made sense. While Thena had always been a bit aloof, he knew that she loved her family. She and Gil were the only ones to have paid enough attention to notice his private relationship with Makkari and she had given them each sisterly advice over the centuries. She never would have attacked them in her right mind.
Ajak healed Sersi and Phastos now that she could do nothing more for Thena than to wait. Everyone watched Thena. They stood a long time in silence, processing what Ajak had said.
Sersi broke the silence, “I thought Mahd Wy’ry was a myth.”
Phastos shook his head sadly, “There is no cure…so, no one really talks about it.”
Lines of cosmic energy flashed around Thena’s face as she stirred. She woke with a gasp, eyes white at first, but quickly fading back to their normal steel grey. She looked around, confused. Hadn’t she just been in the forest?
“What happened?” she asked.
“Thena,” Ajak started cautiously, “You attacked everyone. Wounded Sersi. Phastos. You nearly killed Makkari.” Druig’s face twitched at that last part, but he kept his eyes down.
“I don’t remember,” Thena said, sitting up, sadness filling her voice. She hated the idea of hurting any of them.
“You have Mahd Wy’ry,” Ajak told her, her voice calm and maternal as she spoke. “Your mind is fracturing under the weight of your memories. All I can do is erase them so you can start over. I will have to inform Arishem and take you back to the ship where we have the technology to help you.”
Makkari frowned as she held her hand up in Thena’s name sign, “But she won’t be Thena anymore.” Makkari didn’t want to lose her sister.
Kingo stepped forward, angling himself slightly between Makkari and Thena protectively. “What if it happens again? She could’ve killed you. She could have killed all of us.”
Thena knew this. Didn’t want to hurt her family, but still, she was terrified of losing herself. “Please,” she begged softly, “Please I…I want to remember. I want to remember my life.”
“Thena, I love you, but listen to me,” Ajak said, her words kind and full of reassurance, “It’s not important if you remember or not. Your spirit will remain. You will always be Thena deep inside.”
Thena didn’t want to hurt them. Not gentle and compassionate Sersi who would prefer not to fight at all but would rather spend time among the humans. Not clever Phastos who only wanted to share his excitement over technological advances and was forever disappointed with how slow the humans were to accept his innovations. Not mischievous Makkari, her dear sister who always knew how to bring light and joy into everyone’s life. She didn’t want to forget them or any of the others, but maybe it would be worth it so that they could be safe.
“Trust me,” Ajak told her.
Yes, Thena almost agreed.
“Why should she trust you?” Druig snapped his eyes up from the ground. He was done. Done following orders that didn’t make any damn sense. He would not sacrifice Thena on this altar. Would not let her sacrifice herself. He was done sacrificing anyone for some greater purpose. “You’re asking her to let you erase who she is.”
“Druig, I know you’re upset, but…” Ajak tried to calm him down.
“Upset?” Druig interrupted with a shout. He was so far beyond upset. He’d been drowning every day since they arrived on this planet. From the first time he was told to stay his power, to not interfere. None of them knew. None of them could hear or feel what he could. Makkari understood best. Thena and Gil had paid attention and offered support. Sersi loved the people and had respect for Druig on that front. Phastos was too wrapped up in his machines to notice the pain Druig felt. Sprite and Kingo were too obsessed with Ikaris to care about him. And Ikaris tolerated him because Ajak said he must. But none of them experienced what he experienced, so none of them, not even Ajak, had the right to tell him what to do. Not anymore.
“We’ve trusted you for 7000 years and look where you’ve gotten us.” Druig kept his eyes on Ajak, continuing to avoid Makkari’s eyes. He knew he would not, could not stop. He could not look at her. She’d asked him to stay strong. He’d been strong for millennia. He felt like he was betraying her, but it was time to let the pieces fall. A tear, both for his betrayal of Makkari and for the humans down below, fell as he continued, “I’ve watched humans destroy each other, when I could stop it all in a heartbeat. Do you know what that does to someone after centuries?”
Druig looked around the room, accusing them all with his eyes, skirting past Makkari. “Could our mission have been a mistake? Are we really helping these people build a better world, huh?” He turned to look down the steps of the pyramid at the uneven war being waged below. Hate, fear, greed, anger. But also, obedience. Soldiers following orders. Some leader sitting safe, far away from the violence, not feeling the cost of their sacrifice of lives. Their human sacrifice on the steps of the pyramid. Just like Arishem.
Druig hadn’t looked at Makkari since they’d gotten Thena to the altar. Now, his back was turned to her, and there were too many vibrations in the air between the screams, the gunfire, the clash of swords and shields, and the tension vibrations of her family. She struggled to understand what he was saying. Druig, come back. Don’t leave me, she wanted to sign to him. Wanted him to look at her so she could. But he wouldn’t look, and she was frozen in place, a feeling she hated.
The vibrations settled as Druig took control of the Spanish and the Aztecs alike. They dropped their weapons and stood still. Druig had finally had enough, and he was going to leave her. Thena’s knife in her stomach had been less painful than this. She watched as Ikaris shoved Druig into the entrance wall, trying to shatter his concentration to no avail. She felt like her powers had gone numb on her and could not make sense of what anyone was saying. She just watched as her Druig turned away one final time and descended the stairs. She followed him with her awareness, feeling his vibrations move further and further from her. As he left, she could feel every human in Tenochtitlan turn to follow Druig away into the forest.
He was gone.
It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was beginning to set in South Dakota over Ajak’s farm five days after the failed Emergence. Thena sat on the porch looking out into the fields, gaze unfocused but calm and belonging wholly to her, her mind securely in the present. Smells of dinner being cooked by Ben wafted through the open kitchen window. The smell was spicy and reminded her of Gilgamesh. She smiled, knowing he’d have liked Ben and would be asking a dozen questions about his recipes. He’d have been happy for Phastos. A tear rolled down her face.
Druig found her on the porch and sat next to her. He said nothing, just sat, hands folded in his lap, looking out at the fields with her. They sat in silence for a long time, listening to clatters in the kitchen and Phastos panicking as Sprite told a story to Jack about the woman in Cyprus whom Kingo had tried to set up with Phastos when she was actually obsessed with Ikaris. He chuckled at the memory of human the Greeks had eventually worshipped as the goddess of love.
Finally, Thena wiped her tears and spoke, “Druig, I’ve been meaning to thank you. And also, to apologize.”
“What for?” Druig asked.
“500 years ago, I nearly took Makkari from you, and caused you both so much pain.” Thena answered, voice distant.
“That wasn’t you, Thena,” Druig assured her. It wasn’t. And the pain afterwards was his fault for leaving. “I forgave you that night. Makkari doesn’t blame you either.”
“But I can’t help but feel that if my mind hadn’t fractured that night that you wouldn’t have argued with Ajak. We wouldn’t have split apart,” she took a deep breath before adding, “Gilgamesh and Ajak would be here with us.”
“That’s not on you. You didn’t ask for Mahd Wy’ry. And I still would have left. I couldn’t take the suffering anymore. It had to end.”
“Did leaving help?”
“It took a while, but yeah, it helped. I let go of their minds once we were away from the city. Gave them a choice. I told them I’d protect them from violence, including retribution from their leaders. They could be part of a peaceful community away from those who would harm them, but they had to be willing to keep the peace. If they chose to leave, I took the memory away. They didn’t know me or any of the people who followed me. But I gave them the choice. And most chose to follow me. I didn’t control them except on occasion to keep the peace. And that was rare. Humans have such potential to be kind and loving and generous when they feel safe, and they have their needs met. I made sure they had all they could need and helped settle disputes through mediation.”
Thena nodded, thinking. “Maybe not all the others see it, but you seem like you’ve healed.”
“I have. Being able to use my power to actually help them build a better community helped soothe the damage to my soul—or whatever we have—Arishem’s rules had caused.”
Thena looked at him, eyes ever hard to read, “You erased memories though?”
“Only specific memories,” Druig explained quickly, knowing if anyone would disapprove of that use of his power it’d be her. “They did not remember me, and they could not tell anyone about who had gone with me or where to find us. And I gave them a choice. I protected my people from the outside world, and that meant making sure no one followed us who did not agree to live in peace. I did not force anyone to erase who they were.”
Thena surprised him with a small but rare smile, rarer still in the wake of Gil’s absence, “That’s why I wanted to thank you. You fought for me. I had just attacked Makkari, but you stood up to Ajak for me.”
“You wanted to remember. You made a choice,” he insisted.
“I was going to let her. Was going to make the sacrifice for everyone.”
“And I didn’t want you to be another sacrifice. When you love someone, you protect them. And sometimes that means picking a fight with perfect soldier boys and my own mother to let my sister have a chance to choose her own life.”
Thena’s eyes filled with tears again. “Gilgamesh said that. About why he stayed with me.”
“I know he did. He told me the same thing once when I asked about you two. He was right.” He rested a hand on hers. “I’m sorry. I miss him too.”
She fingered a necklace he hadn’t noticed her wearing before. It was a small teardrop shaped locket set with a piece of lapis lazuli, a stone used in much of the art of Babylon. The silver chain was long enough that unless she pulled it out, it sat naturally below the neckline of her dress. “I carry him with me.” She took a breath again. “I am glad you and Makkari did not lose each other. I’m also glad that you seem to have allowed the others to see your love for each other finally.”
Druig laughed, “We were never a secret. Just not quite as obvious as Sersi and Ikaris, and no one paid us any attention. You, Gil, and Sersi knew. Ajak might have as well, but she never said anything to either of us. But you and Gil were together longer than we were, and no one but Makkari and I knew until Tenochtitlan.”
“I regret that. We never had a chance to share our love with our family, and now he’s gone,” she explained before adding, “Don’t make the same mistake. Take every opportunity you can to show Makkari how much you love her. You both nearly died stopping the Emergence between Ikaris and the Deviant. Your time is not infinite in this world.”
“I don’t plan to. I can’t hold her still, but I can be the home she always comes back to, and I plan to hold her tight any time she allows me to.”
“Good. That is something I’ll miss. But I’m glad for you.”
Druig sat for a moment before saying, “Come with us.”
“Come with you?”
“It was Makkari’s idea. There are other Eternals out there who don’t know their true mission. More worlds being sacrificed to the Celestials. More people without a choice. We want to find them and tell them the truth.”
“Leave this planet?” Thena asked.
“Leaving can be healing after all. What’s holding you here?” Druig reminded gently.
Thena thought about it, holding the pendant hanging from her neck as she pulled the chain taut and ran the pendant side to side along the chain. “Yes. I will come with you.”
“Hey guys, come eat,” Phastos said, stepping onto the porch. He looked around and asked, “Where’s Makkari?”
“She went for a run. She’s been cooped up for a few days while her ribs healed, and her speed returned. She practically shot out the door this morning,” Druig replied as he stood. He offered his hand to Thena, “M’lady?”
Thena gracefully took his hand as she stood. Druig kissed her hand like she was a noble lady and offered his arm to his sister. She smiled again.
Halfway through the meal, Makkari rushed through the door, stopping just before crashing into the table where her whole family sat eating Ben’s cooking. There was an empty chair next to Druig with a place setting for her. He smiled at her as she arrived. “Beautiful Makkari,” He spoke with voice and sign, “you’re late.”
“Sorry. I had to run. It finally doesn’t hurt,” she signed back. Druig translated for Ben, Jack, and Karun. “What did I miss?”
“Thena’s coming with us,” Druig told her.
Makkari rushed at Thena and hugged her in an exclamation of joy.