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Cathal was always among his people. He had rooms, lavishly decorated, at the temple, but he seldom went there. He always assumed that because he looked human, they expected him to be hindered by humans needs. He ate and drank with his people, but he did not need to eat. They offered him their guest rooms, and he lay in their beds with eyes closed, but he did not need to sleep. The prayers and offerings from his people sustained him and kept him strong. If he needed his energy restored from extended use of his powers, a few moments in any fire would regenerate him.
He sat on Jena’s porch, his hands wrapped in yarn. Jena sat across from him rolling the yarn into a ball. She was an elderly woman, white hair tied up in a bun, a shawl around her small shoulders. Jena was an only child, and had no children of her own. She had never married and had no family to take care of her in her old age. Her neighbors helped where they could. The wives cooked and cleaned for her, the men worked her small garden. She repaid their kindness for knitting socks, mittens and caps.
Cathal in his human form a was a large man, tall, broad shoulders, tanned, and very muscular. His long hair and shortly trimmed beard were the color of gold and his eyes a deep sapphire. Even though he was the god of fire, he was dressed in no more finery than the men who were weeding Jena’s garden.
“You ever intend to take a wife and raise a crop of demigods?” Jena asked as she rocked in her chair, rolling the yarn.
“One of these days, I suppose,” he flashed her a warm smile. Years ago when Jena had been a young beautiful woman she had tried to bed him. Several men had paraded their daughters in front of him, but he’d politely declined, even though many were stunningly beautiful. Cathal clearly stated he was married to his people, and one could not be more important than the many. He looked up from Jena to his temple. It sat on a tall plateau, visible from any home in the land. The Everfire could be seen in the spire, even on a clear sunny day.
The village was alive with activity. Women baking, men working fields, chopping wood. Among the village everything was shared equally. Children ran about playing. Dogs barking, cats sunning themselves, birds twittered from the trees, chickens, ducks, and geese could be heard. Sheep in the pasture, horses pulling plows, cows being milked. There was a scream from behind one of the nearby houses. Cathal had dropped the yarn, jumped over Jena’s porch rail, and ran to where the scream originated.
One of the girls carrying her milk pail from a barn was standing there screaming. Cathal looked at what she’d been wailing about. His people knew he was not omniscient. He did not know everything and could not forsee the future. He could not bring people back from the dead, but he could heal them. Laying on the ground was a man. He’d been chopping wood, he’d missed and the axe had buried itself in his leg. Blood was all over the ground and the man was unconscious. Cathal pulled the axe out and clamped his hands over the wound. A light, like fire, flickered from under his hands. He removed them. The man’s leg was perfectly healed, not even a scar remained. A crowd had gathered. The man sat up, only to see Cathal clutch his own chest and fall backwards. Cathal was caught by the men and women around him. His jaw was clenched, and he jerked spasmodically in their hands.
“My lord! What is wrong?” Asked a concerned man. Cathal’s body suddenly exploded into ash turning those nearest him black with it. There was a collective gasp from the crowd. All heads turned to the temple. The glow of the Everfire, which could be seen during the day or night, was gone. Shouts rang out about Cathal’s disappearance, and the missing Everfire. Men, women and children all stopped their tasks and began to walk up the stairs to the temple.
A priest, one of the acolytes was running down the steps towards them. His hood had fallen back, revealing the shaved head of a young man, no more than a boy. His face was frozen in horror. He was screaming and waving his arms, shouting.
“The Everfire’s been stolen!” He shouted to the people. “The Everfire’s been stolen!” He collapsed into the crowd.
“Who’s stolen it?” Asked one of the crowd.
“The High Priest Greco!” Then the boy fainted.
Suddenly a pillar of flame shot up in front of them. For a moment the crowd had thought it was Cathal come back to them, but when the pillar formed a man, it was not their beloved god. The man was thin, on the wrong side of fifty, and dressed in the red and gold robes of the high priests. His head was bald, and he wore a short graying black beard.
“Get him!” Shouted someone in the crowd. The crowd surged forwards but stopped suddenly when those nearest to Greco suddenly caught fire and turned to ash when Greco waved his hand.
“WORSHIP ME OR DIE!” Greco’s voice boomed at them. The crowd stood there, stunned, angry, and when Greco willed a few more of them to burst into flames, the crowd, fearful now, slowly lowered to their knees and bowed to him.
Cathal had felt pain before, only it was normally very muted. His entire body was alive with aches and pain. He opened his eyes and for a moment wondered if he’d opened them. He blinked, his eyes were open but he was not seeing anything, only darkness. He felt drained, and his limbs were heavy.. Cathal felt intoxicated and hungover at the same time. The last thing he remembered was after healing the woodcutter it felt like someone was ripping his heart from his chest.
Cathal sat up. All around him was a complete and utter blackness. There was no warmth, or cold, and upon trying to speak, apparently no air. Cathal’s body still breathed, a minor technicality of his being a god. Oh shit, he thought to himself. He could not feel ground beneath him and as he rose had to be standing on something. He jumped. Cathal did not feel any sensation of moving up or falling back down.. He was in the Saniya Realm. A realm between realms and outside of them. It was the playground of the gods, and they came here to get away from the Material Realm, the realm where man was forced to eek out his existence.
Like someone striking a match and lighting a candle the darkness was gone and glowing into view around him was a room befitting a castle or god. Priceless tapestries on the walls, the finest rugs on the floor, intricately carved and gilded furniture. Cathal rolled his eyes at the vulgar display.
“You don’t approve?” Asked Nix in a voice like gravel being raked. There was air in the room, or the illusion of air. Nix was not a god, he was a spirit, they were lesser gods, somewhere slightly below demigods. Belief makes a god, but it takes a lot. Spirits are men or creatures on their way to becoming gods. Nix at one time had been an animal. From the look of Nix now, Cathal assumed he was some type of bobcat. Nix was covered in brown spotted fur, with a cat like face and pointed tufted ears, but he had hands and feet like a man. He was dressed in the godly white silk robes, sandals, and a gold laurel wreath on his brow. Cathal was dressed like a man, in breeches, stiff boots, and an unbleached tunic. No regal robes, no crown, his only adornment a pendant around his neck with a flame carved into the red stone.
“What do you want, Nix?” Cathal asked. Nix had been no more troublesome than an angry insect to him.
“I wanted you to see me, to see what I’ve become,” Nix rose from the chair and flames rippled from his feet, across the body. Cathal surprisingly realized he’d backed away, raising his hands to shield his face from the heat. He had a pang of loss inside him, seeing the fire engulfing Nix, was like noticing something very special had been stolen from him. The room smelled like barbecued cat hair. Sizzling before him Cathal looked at –
Himself. It was almost a mirror image. There were a few differences. The doppelganger was darker skinned, and the hair was streaked with black. The eyes were all wrong. Cathal’s eyes were blue, the imposter’s eyes were a flickering yellow-orange as if a fire was burning within them. He could feel the power radiate from Nix and Cathal suddenly realized it was his power radiating from Nix.
“What have you done?” Cathal demanded.
“I have stolen your powers, you are not much more than a pathetic human,” Nix’s voice sounded like a deeper Cathal.
“You can’t hold the powers of a god, Nix, it’ll tear you apart. All I have to do is wait until Azrael comes to claim you,” Cathal dropped himself into a chair. With a wave of Nix’s hand, the chair disappeared and Cathal crashed to the floor.
“Azrael cannot come for me.”
“Don’t think that because you’ve the powers of a god the Angel of Death won’t come.” Cathal said picking himself up from the floor.
“Azrael is dead, Cathal. I murdered him,” Nix stated and a sword appeared in his hand. It looked like polished bone. Some may believe that Azrael swings a massive scythe, but he normally uses a sword and he’s not a skeleton in a black robe.
Oh shit, thought Cathal. He knew the repercussions of what Nix had done. He had to get out of the Saniya Realm and to his father. Timoceles would fix this mess that Nix created.
“My power will still tear you apart,” Cathal stated. “It will burn at you, until you are nothing but ash.” Nix gave a chuckle that made Cathal feel uneasy.
“I don’t think so,” Nix said, “I’m not the only one with your powers. They’re being… shared, so to speak.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done,” Cathal said firmly.
“I know exactly what I’ve done. I’ve gotten rid of the all powerful fire god. Be gone, pest,” Nix waved his hand and Cathal dropped from the sky.