The Lowest Valleys
“Some of the world’s most powerful entities and nothing seems to get done,” Isis-Ra said, looking over the vast table they had made. On its surface of polished marble and inlaid lapis was a topographical map of Europe and the Mediterranean, all lands from Portugal to Britain to Babylon to Tunisia were there in semi-precious stone, examined and scrutinized by the great beings of three powerful pantheons, Zeus, Odin, and Isis-Ra with Freyja, Hera, and Athena as well.
“Powerful beings make for powerful indecisions,” Odin grinned, leaning on the ‘northern’ part of the table. His lone eye never rose to meet theirs, always seeming to track back to a mountain in Germany, where the Nidhoggr’s presence had been marked in swirling black and blue fog.
Three other parts of the map were similarly marked. Over Cairo, the land was black and twisted as something seemed to move beneath the stone. In Greece, fire bellowed from the mountains and hurled ash into the atmosphere over the table. In Babylon, something spread a black corruption across the land.
“Four dragons,” Zeus said. “Four monsters to be slain or thrown back beneath the earth.”
“And none of us with the power to do it alone,” Isis-Ra said.
Zeus scoffed. “I defeated Typhon once, I can do it again.”
“Even if that were true, Lightning-hurler,” Odin said, leaning on his spear. “None of us are in our prime anymore, and that would end but one problem. Typhon might be destroyed but I assure you that if Nidhoggr is not stopped, the Fimbulwinter will not end at my borders. Each of these dragons is a world-ending threat alone. All at once, they are hardly short of invincible.”
Zeus’ face grew stern as he looked down at his own lands. “They may be of the same essence but these creatures do not fight as one.”
“Agreed,” Isis-Ra nodded. “All of them have differences in their methods though their end result is the same. Apep seeks total dominion of the Underworld, twisting and binding the souls of the dead until it can unleash them all upon the earth and claim that for its kingdom as well.”
Odin nodded and turned to Zeus. “And you, Lord of Olympos. What does your monster want?”
“What it has always wanted,” Zeus folded his arms. “It is Gaia’s vengeance, the anger of the Earth given form. It would rip the gates off Tartarus and unleash its siblings, the Titans, back into the world.”
“The Titans were much like we Olympians once,” Hera said, reclining on her throne of cloud and marble nearby. “Powerful, glorious…but their long stay in Tartarus has twisted them until they became as vile as Typhon itself. They want nothing more than to tear down Olympos and the world with it.”
“Freyja’s told me about your wyrm,” Athena said, looking at the two Norse gods. “That it heralds the end of the world…seems almost tame by comparison.”
Odin looked at Athena. Since he had arrived, to most of them he had appeared almost like a doddering old man, more a trickster than the head of a pantheon. But when he looked at Athena, even the grey-eyed goddess of war was humbled by the power in his one-eyed gaze.
“Freyja has not seen Ragnarok,” Odin said. “She is wise in many things, but she does not understand it as I do.”
Odin tapped his spear across the floor and the table map shifted, focusing itself upon Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
“The breaking of Nidhoggr’s prison sets a chain of events in motion, a series of cataclysms each more terrible than the last.”
He waved his spear across the table, and a layer of ice began to spread, like glaciers caving their way across the landscape and crushing the old world beneath them.
“First will be the Fimbulwinter, the winter cold that will bring an end to all mortal resistance and civilization. Their end will not be at the claws and teeth of monsters, but at simply the death of the cold world around them. No food, no soil, no warmth or hope of spring. The mortals will die quietly, and they will be the lucky ones for it.”
“I hardly think theatrics are necessary, Lord of Songs,” Hera said. “We are gods. We have lived through cataclysms before.”
“Though I am pleased by your hospitality, allow me this rudeness, Queen of Argos,” Odin replied. “All of you have lived through hardship, all of you have seen disaster come and go. But none of you, Olympians, have ever died. Your kin quietly slumbered until being awoken again. My people suffered Ragnarok once and we were reborn. I have no intention of letting it happen again.”
“Let him speak,” Isis-Ra spoke next. “Though I will not deny your clear preference for drama…I have seen firsthand the pain of death when my beloved husband was taken from me. I would know what horrors could threaten all the gods of this world.”
“Thank you, Queen of the Sun,” Odin inclined his head. “The world serpent will lash and roil within the seas, creating calamitous waves that will sink islands and nations both. The ship of my forsaken blood-brother Loki will sail, carrying the spirits of the damned and the despised to do battle against my noble Einherjar.”
The waves of lapis roiled and churned upon the map of the world, a great serpent writhing within the depths.
“The skies will split open, and form this rend in the heavens, the sons of Muspell, the fire giants led by their king Surtr will come to the world, shattering the Bifrost with their coming.”
Tiny men moved across the frozen world. Though they were barely finger high to the gods, on the table they dwarfed mountains as they moved, great beings of fire and smoke, with swords that shone like stars surrounded by dancing lights resembling a shattered aurora borealis.
“They will join the frost giants led by Hrym, and the rest of Loki’s foul brood. And that is when the last battle shall begin.”
The stone sea of the table cracked as the serpent broke free, slithering onto the land, armies of giants crashed in all direction leaving destruction in their wake, and in the shadow cast by Odin over the table, the outline of a vast wolf stalked through the darkness.
“These are the horrors that Nidhoggr heralds. And should they join with the Titans, and with Apep’s legions of the dead, then there will be no world left to be saved,” Odin said. “Nidhoggr is the first wave, the ripple that will cascade into the tide of destruction. It needs to be stopped before all else.”
“And is stopping the dragon not what these mortals are trying to do?”
With a wave of his hand Zeus dismissed the illusion of Ragnarok across the table, letting it resettle back into its original form. “A legion of mortals, our champions among them, taking their battle to the dragon?”
“Indeed, they are,” Odin smiled. “Marvelous things, aren’t they?”
“I’m surprised you have faith in them,” Hera said. “Given the calamities you just described. The mortals seem little more than a footnote in your Twilight of the Gods that you’ve envisioned.”
“He’s picked this battle for the same reason I have,” Athena spoke up. “It’s as I always said, there are few greater monster slayers than mortals. They might not be gods, but they have a way of dragging conflicts down to their level,”
“Their level?” Zeus looked at her.
“The Primordials are bound to fate just as surely as anything else. And though they are chaos incarnate, they are bound to certain rules. Just as a God cannot bring their full wrath upon a mortal without due invitation, a Primordial cannot unleash its infinite store of destruction on them either. It would be bound, weakened, so long as no god joined the fray.”
“Clever minds think alike, as they say,” Odin gave Athena a glittering smile. “Though a Primordial, and nigh-indestructible to us, Nidhoggr is a dragon to mortals and can be fought as one.”
“Clever indeed,” Zeus smiled. “And so that is how we provide an edge, using them as proxies and giving them a portion of our powers, enough to give them strength without bringing about Nidhoggr’s divine strength.”
“I thought you knew, Father,” Athena looked at him curiously. “Why else did you make Nicomede your champion?”
Zeus waved it off. “A passing fancy, nothing more, though a serendipitous one it seems.”
Odin noticed that Hera took a long drink from a cup of what looked like wine, clearly irritated.
“So if Nidhoggr falls, and we all must hope it does at the hands of these mortals,” Zeus said. “Will we trust these mortals to deal with Apep and Typhon as well?”
“That can be the subject of later discussion,” Isis-Ra said. “No mortal can face Apep in the same way. At a fundamental level it must be defeated by Ra…but we can provide more guidance to the mortals on that matter.”
“Half the difficulty in defeating Nidhoggr was that it hadn’t been done before,” Odin said. “I’m sure the mortal champions with a little divine guidance can do the impossible again.”
“Hardly seems the meeting was necessary,” Zeus said. “If we’re to just leave it all in mortal hands.”
“That was never for us to decide,” Odin sighed. “That’s a matter for Fate to settle.”
“There is still one more matter before us,” Isis-Ra said. “The fourth shadow on our little world here.”
“Tiamat,” Freyja said. “The Primordial Sea…I’ve heard rumors that she’s taken hold in Babylon.”
“And just as many rumors that she’s about to be deposed there,” Hera said, looking down on the map. “If Ishtar is to be believed.”
“Ishtar doesn’t lie, but that doesn’t mean she’s always to be believed,” Athena said. “When Nidhoggr falls, and I have faith it will…we can turn our attention to Tiamat and see if others from that pantheon can be reached.”
“Tiamat should be a warning to us,” Isis-Ra said.
“A warning?” Zeus asked.
Isis-Ra held out one hand, creating an image of a royal barge bathed in light, rowing through unseen waters. In the other, a growing, pulsing, orb of darkness stood opposed. The barge sailed forward, its light dispelling the darkness, only for the darkness to reform once more. “Apep died and was reborn each night in battle with Ra…but Tiamat was slain by Marduk. Not trapped beneath a tree or mountain, not sent to slumber for eternity. Her corpse formed the earth we thought her forever destroyed.”
Athena frowned. Whereas the others spoke from experience, she had only second-hand accounts of these battles. Still, she was the first among them to grasp what Isis-Ra was saying. “If she has returned, then…”
Isis-Ra nodded her head. “If she has returned, it is only further proof that these Primordials cannot be permanently destroyed.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa