The Snake and the Mirror

The Second Sunrise

 

For a week after the fall of Nidhoggr, the sun had seemed to shine each day. Across Europe, a shadow had been lifted, and even the night sky seemed brighter and more full of stars than it ever had before. The monsters fled, disorganized, back into their hollows and their lairs. As the fear of a world began to evaporate so did they, and where there had once been armies of giants, wyrms, and fierce beasts, they were reduced to packs or lone monstrosities hiding in the dark forests and old ruins. They met more people on the journey back to Rome than they had seen on the way there. News was beginning to spread as bold messengers staked new roads through the wilderness, as cities called out to find their fellows and the lines of humanity began to spread once more.

Prague, Vienna, Paris, Budapest, more and more cities, and scores more secluded enclaves reached out and found survivors, and all of them repeated the same story. A warrior from the Eternal City had marched with an army to the Bald Moutnain and defeated the Dragon of Yggdrassil. Even to the east, spreading on whispered words from Babylon, the story of the dragon’s defeat began to spread out across the world. As riders and messengers were sent south and west to Rome to learn the truth of this rumor, they learned more. They learned of a city guarded by wolves, commanding the two largest armies in Europe in the manner of ancient legions. They learned the truth behind the Primordials, those great dragons, the first of which had been banished from the world, and they learned the name of the Hero of the Brocken, the Slayer of Nidhoggr: Catarina Aldobrandini.

Two months had passed since the fall of Nidhoggr, and the legions were safely back in Rome, though General Hanne was already preparing the next exploratory mission to make contact with other cities across Europe.

With a relaxed sigh, Cat fell back on the long couch in the sitting room of the Aldobrandini estate.

“Long day?” Scheherazade asked from across the room, contentedly reading a thick tome in the seat of her armchair.

“More of the same,” Cat nodded. “All kinds of dignitaries and messengers to meet. Most of them think that Rome is just taking credit, but they still ask for me.”

“And what kind of responses does the Hero of Rome elicit?” Scheherazade smiled at her.

“Lots of ‘expecting someone taller’ comments,” Cat grumbled.

“Face it Cat, you’re pretty scrawny,” Rosa stepped into the room before flopping down onto the couch beside her.

“Am not!” Cat protested. “You’re just an Amazon! Besides, I’m the second tallest in the group!”

“Not for long,” Rosa smiled. “Torleif’s hitting a growth spurt, she’ll be a two meter scary Viking woman in no time.”

Cat couldn’t help but chuckle at the image as she sat up to lean against Rosa.

“Aaah,” Rosa let out a light happy sigh. “That’s nice right after training. Like a big girlfriend-shaped ice pack.”

Cat snorted and gave her a light shove. “Just part of being an ice mage. But does that mean you’re free for the day?”

“Yup.”

“Then let’s do something!”

“Fiiiine,” Rosa rolled her eyes but the smile never left her face. “What did you want to do, Cat?”

“Let’s grab the others and get lunch,” Cat offered.

“It’s like a two hour walk back to the city!” Rosa groaned.

“That’s what magic carpets are for,” Cat said before calling out into the manor. “Hey Alicia!”

“What’s up?” A few moments later Alicia came striding into the room. The young blonde woman had taken up the position of the steward of the Aldobrandini manor, a job for which Cat paid her handsomely. Being a national hero, with numerous obligations regarding public appearances, interviews, and diplomatic meetings came with perks.

“We’re getting lunch, Schehera’s giving us the ride.”

“Oh am I now?” Scheherazade asked teasingly. “Rather sure of yourself.”

“Can we pleeeease have the car, Schehera?” Cat said in her best pleading voice.

“Oh, alright fine. Have fun you three.”

“Woo!” Cat shouted. “I call front!”

“It’s a carpet…” Alicia said. “How can you even tell?”

“I just know,” Cat said proudly. “Come on!”

 

Twenty minutes later, the three of them touched down in Rome, the magic carpet vanishing as Cat, Rosa, and Alicia stepped onto the ground outside Megame’s shrine.

“Evening, you three,” They were met by the warm and teasing voice of Hachi, who was in her fox form waiting for them by the entrance.

“Hey Hachi,” Cat said. “Megame around?”

“She’s just inside,” The fox nodded. “Lunch time?”

“That’s right,” Rosa smiled. “Care to join us?”

“Quite alright, I have a date. You girls have fun,” With that, the fox darted into the low bushes and shrubs surrounding the shrine.

“The uh…the fox has a date?” Alicia asked nervously.

“Probably with Cade,” Rosa shrugged. “Ah well it’s fine, she stiffs on checks anyway.”

“Still getting used to the whole spirit thing, Alicia?” Cat asked.

“Slowly but surely,” Alicia said. “You keep pretty weird company, Cat.”

“They grow on you,” Cat said, leading the way into the shrine.

They found Megame outside the central shrine chatting with Gisela. The latter was in her ‘civilian disguise,’ notably with her hair done up and covered in a shawl with large thick sunglasses. She had managed to avoid staying out of the public eye, and not many had made the connection between a member of the ‘hero unit’ and the leader of the Battle of the Black Sun.

“Hey, Cat-chan,” Megame called, waving a hand as Gisela bowed her head in greeting.

“Hey you two,” Cat said. “We came ‘round for lunch, interested?”

“Sure,” Megame said.

“Very well,” Gisela said. “I wanted to speak to you anyway.”

“Oh?” Cat started leading the group away from the shrine. “What about?”

“Business,” Gisela said. “I believe Nicomede and Torleif were at the training fields; they should be involved as well.”

She didn’t say another word, letting the rest of them chat happily as they made their way through Rome. They got a small pile of sandwiches first so that they could enjoy lunch out on the field, making sure to get a few for the others they were meeting.

True to Giselas word, Torleif and Nicomede were on the training field. The champions of thunder were sparring, with Nicomede’s solid defense being challenged by Torleif peerless offense.

At the sight of the group, however, they soon broke off and came to meet them, eagerly accepting the offerings of food as the seven of them gathered round to have their impromptu picnic.

“So what business did you wanna talk about, Gisela?” Cat asked for a while when all of them were settled.

Gisela swallowed the last of her vegetarian sandwich before answering. “The only business we’re in, the dragon-slaying business.”

“Now you’re talking,” Rosa smiled. “I was wondering when we were going to hear about it.”

“Not sure I’m cut out for this kind of talk,” Alicia said. “I get sick with worry just hearing some of Cat’s stories.”

“Well, the fact of the matter is there are at least two more Primordials embodied and on the loose,” Gisela said. “Nidhoggr has been sealed away and from what Cat has told me Tiamat’s power is broken. But that leaves Apep and Typhon still on the loose. Egypt is still a wasteland that’s virtually uninhabitable.”

“And what’s Typhon up to?” Nicomede asked. He and Rosa were both Greek, where Typhon’s damage had been the most severe.

“Nothing good,” Gisela said. “From what I can tell, Typhon is trying to breach Hades’ realm. If he manages to get far enough, he can break the seals on Tartarus and release his siblings, the Titans.”

“But Titans aren’t Primordials, right?” Rosa asked. “They’re more like…proto-gods. They brought order, not chaos.”

“Maybe once,” Gisela said. “But from what limited sources I have on affairs in Hades’ realm, the Titans have been twisted by their imprisonment. They want to unmake the world of the Olympians, and worse yet Typhon is their brother by Gaia. If he frees them from their imprisonment, they will side with him immediately.”

“And Apep?” Megame asked.

“According to Nora, its goal is similar. It wants to control Duat and evict all the gods of Egypt who lived beneath the sun, but for the moment it is content being the Primordial-King of a dead Egypt.”

“Have we heard anything from the witches?” Cat asked. She hadn’t seen so much as a hint of Huldra since the battle.

“Nothing,” Gisela said. “I imagine after the metaphysical stunt they pulled they want to stay in hiding.”

“Well, we always knew we’d need a new plan for the other Primordials,” Rosa said.

“I have some ideas,” Gisela said. “Nothing assured yet, but a start.”

They spent the better part of the afternoon discussing the Primordials, things that could be done, and things that couldn’t. Torleif, for example, needed to be reminded several times that strength alone would not destroy them. All throughout the talks, however, Cat remained somewhat quiet, mostly listening in on the others as they spoke. They agreed that Nora would need to be involved in the defeat of Apep, but they were still discussing ideas to deal with Typhon as the sun began to set and the group departed. Nicomede and Megame went back to their homes (though Cat noted they went together). Torleif went off back to where she lived with Echo and Nora. Rosa, though she spent most days at Cat’s manor, had her own apartment to see to and left not long after them, while Alicia left early to get dinner started at the manor.

Ultimately only Gisela and Cat remained as they walked through the quieting streets of Rome on the long walk to the manor. Gisela had ditched her disguise with the darkening sky, letting her hair hang loose, familiar violet eyes catching the stars. Even with her newfound fame Cat preferred casual dress as well.

“Heh, one problem with taking the carpet, you gotta take the long way back,” Cat smiled. “Should’ve brought a bike.”

“Indeed,” Gisela said and after a pause spoke again. “…Catarina?”

“Yeah, Gisela?”

“You were very quiet today.”

“Mmm…I guess.”

“I believe I know why,” Gisela’s voice was quiet as they walked, the sound of their footsteps walking down the old cobbled street the loudest sound along them.

“O-oh?”

“It’s about your sword,” Gisela said. “It’s lost all of its potency, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah…” Cat said quietly. “None of Angel’s power is left in it. I mean…it’s still supernaturally tough and sharp…but it’s not an anti-Primordial weapon like it used to be.”

“So you’re beginning to wonder if you even have a place in this group anymore?”

“Yes, well…I mean, there’s that but there’s more to it than that as well.”

“Tell me.”

“I feel like…well this was kind of my battle, you know? Going after the Primordials just because we managed to beat one…barely…it feels a little presumptuous. I don’t know, maybe I sound crazy…”

“No, I understand,” Gisela said. “You made your journey, climbed your mountain, and slew your dragon. By all rights, your heroic journey is over.”

“Yeah…”

“Mmm, I agree to an extent. I have a feeling that no deed will quite match the destruction of Nidhoggr. That said, you are a hero, Cat. You might not be slaying dragons, but I think I know you well enough that you’ll never really ‘retire’ from hero work.”

“You think so?”

“Oh you’ll be helping people until the end, Catarina,” Gisela said. “Of that I have no doubt…you’re that kind of person.”

“Heh…I suppose I am. And Gisela?”

“Hmm?”

“When you do go back to Mexico to take on Tezcatlipoca, I’m going to be right there with you.”

At that, Gisela smiled, not a cruel or vicious one, but a slight honest smile. And for a moment Cat recognized the young terrified girl she’d seen in her past visions.

“But hey, maybe it’s for the best if I just focus on being a small-time hero,” Cat said. “Give some room for other people, you know?”

“The world is full of heroes,” Gisela said. “I’m sure we’ve only just started hearing their stories.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2018, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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