Fate doesn't work that way

It started with three drunk gods, and one drowning mortal. It snowballed into a quest for destiny with bound gods, sky prisons, mazes of death, and far too many disasters.

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19. A Near-death experience

    The world around her was gone. She looked around. She was wearing a dress. A dress! She hated dresses! Or… she did now. She used to like them. In fact, this one was rather nice. It was a blue dress, that cut off just below her knees. She was wearing nice slippers too. And there were walls all around her. She could smell salt, and heard waves crashing. She was on a ship.

    “Lirai, darling!” Her mother’s voice! “Come, dear, let me get a look at you.”

    She turned, and there they were.

    Her mother was slim and beautiful, with smooth, rounded out hips that Lir had somehow failed to inherit. She used to wish she was as pretty as her mother. That was until she found herself living on the streets, alone.

    Her father was sturdily built, strong and powerful. He was smiling at her. It was a warm smile. Everything about him had been warm. Before the disaster.

    They were talking, but Lir could hear the approaching disaster. Metal bending and grinding. Wood shattering. She knew what happened next. She knew. She closed her eyes, shaking, but she couldn’t stop the terror that followed. The ship groaning. Screaming. Then the cold, cold water closed around her head.

    She was grabbing for something. Reaching for a board, trying to find a way to keep herself afloat. Trying to keep her head above the water. She couldn’t turn. Couldn’t see the ship sinking into oblivion. It didn’t matter. She heard it, and that was all that mattered. She closed her eyes, trying to force the vision from her head. Then a shadow fell over her. A giant hawk hovered in the air, shouting at her in a familiar voice.

    WAKE UP!

    Her eyes snapped open.

    The first thing she saw was that her left foot was entirely encased in stone. And right above her was the monster.

    Petranea didn’t really look like a spider. She had a lion-like body, with four humanoid arms. Her head, which had a cobra’s hood, was facing away from her. Her tail, which was tipped with pincers, lashed in the air, spraying a strange grey substance, which was hardening into stone around her ankle.

    She panicked. The monster was right over her! She jerked her hand upwards, and buried the knife in its chest.

    Petranea let out a whistling scream. That only encouraged Lir, and she dug the knife deeper into the monster’s chest, seeking the heart. After a few seconds, the monster stopped screaming, and flopped to the ground.

    Right on top of her.

    Since the monster was dead, Lir had no problem with making noise. “HELP!”

    In seconds, Jinea was at her side, pushing the creature’s body off of her. She reached down and helped Lir up, her expression concerned. “You okay?’

    “Yeah, I’m good,” Lir muttered, more irritated than scared. “Can we get this stone off my foot?”

    “Maybe?”

    Maybe?!” Lir demanded.

    Jinea smiled. “I’m just kidding. You’ve only had it on you for a minute at most, so it won’t have bonded to your skin yet. We’ll be able to pull it off easily.”

    “Well get it off!” Lir wasn’t really in the mood for jokes right now. She could still hear the screams echoing in her head, hear the snapping and groaning sounds of a dying ship. She’d nearly died. This wasn’t really a time to laugh about things, whatever Jinea thought.

    Jinea knelt next to her, and proceeded to carefully pry the stone casing off. She had to stop every once in a while to break pieces of it, but within another minute and a half the case was off. Lir let out a soft breath of relief as she was able to move her foot again.

    “Well, that’s one challenge down, and you haven’t been hurt yet,” Jinea remarked. “I’d say we’re doing all right!”

    “Not that you helped,” Lir said under her breath, dusting the last bit of stone from her shoes and ankles. She waited for Jinea to say something else, but heard nothing. Finally, she looked up to see Jinea looking at her.

    “What did you say?”

    “Not that you helped,” Lir said warily, standing up. Jinea was a goddess- who knew how far Lir could push her without getting vaporized? “You could have attacked Petranea while I was out. But you didn’t. If I hadn’t woken up, I would have died!”

    Jinea’s voice got very quiet. “Who woke you up?”

    Lir gritted her teeth. “You did. Sure, that was great, and I appreciate it. But why didn’t you kill the monster?! Why couldn’t you have just vaporized it or something? You’re supposed to be a goddess! Don’t you have, like, ultimate powers or something?”

    “Petranea had you in a dreamscape,” Jinea said softly, her voice never rising. “If I vaporized her, she would have dragged you down with her. And I couldn’t kill her before because if I did Tith would kill you on claims of ‘cheating’ or whatever. It has to be you that strikes the final blow. No, don’t look at me like that! It’s true. I might have been able to beat Petranea, but not Tith. Not on my own. He’s a true god, with much more experience than I have. Even with Nith at my side, it’s iffy. If Kanat was at full power, then maybe. But Tith is devious. You never know what he might come up with. So for your information, I did what I could to keep you from dying. I understand that frightened you, but if she’d been about to kill you, I would have helped. I had to get you out of that dreamscape first. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. You didn’t even fight it. You were in deep. I don’t understand…” she shook her head. “I’ve been in a dreamscape before. There’s always something… wrong about her scapes. They’re not perfect. Surely something was off?”

    “I don’t know,” Lir muttered. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”

    “What did she show you?”

    “The ship…” Lir said quietly. It all came back to her again. Screams, and breaking wood. Creaking metal. Cold water rushing around her, yanking her out to sea. That same water had saved her life, getting her far enough away from the ship that she wasn’t pulled down when it sank. The same water had washed a piece of wood in her direction, giving her something to cling to even as it drained the strength from her limbs. She had fought the water, desperate and helpless. And then the hawk that had appeared in the sky, wings spreading wide, and Jinea’s voice, screaming her into consciousness. “I saw the shipwreck that almost killed me. It would have killed me… if Kanat hadn’t saved him. I saw him. He was a hawk, but huge. Large enough to carry me. But… you spoke in his voice.”

    “That makes sense…” Jinea muttered. “I manifested in the form of something familiar. I couldn’t see your dreamscape, but I felt a god’s touch on it. I guessed it was a time in your life when Kanat made an appearance, so I took his form. I’m glad it worked.”

    “So what are dreamscapes anyways?” Lir asked.

    “Illusions. Kind of hallucinations,” Jinea shrugged. “You see things. Feel things. You can’t really die in a dreamscape, but when you’re trapped in one you kind of waste away. You die slowly, in whatever level of reality you’re in. The worst ones can make you believe you’ve died, which is basically the same thing. The best ones can adapt to your mind, evolving into what you expect, drawing on your memories. But they all have one thing in common. Like regular dreams, there’ll be a single detail that’s off or wrong. If you can find the detail and recognize it for what it is, you can escape from the dreamscape. I’ve done that before. It used to be a game between Kanat, Nith, and I to shape dreamscapes for each other, then try and find out the wrong detail, and escape. I’ve gotten good at slipping in and out of people’s dreams. That’s how I got into yours. So are you still mad?”

    Lir sighed. “Okay, okay, I’m… sorry?” She looked around. “So we killed Petranea? Where’s Tith? And what happens now?”

    Right on queue, the air in front of her rippled, and Tith appeared. “Congratulations, girl. I see you’ve landed yourself a sponsor.” He turned to study Jinea. “Hello, Jinea.”

    “Tith,” she smiled. “Good to see you again! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I assume life’s treating you well?”

    “As much as I’d love to converse, this girl’s trials are my current priority,” Tith responded. “We’ll have this conversation later. Perhaps when you find yourself in my dungeons, just like your arrogant friend Kanat.”

    “Kanat? In the dungeons?” Jinea laughed. “Pity to your ears. I’ve found captivity really sharpens his tongue. You can say what you wish about him, but he really does have some good comebacks on him.”

    “I’m sure that you will have many fascinating conversations,” Tith replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Jinea, I’ll deal with our little champion here.”

    “So how many of those trials are there, then?” Lir asked, crossing her arms. “I’ve passed what, one point five?”

    “The custom is three,” Tith replied smoothly. “But due to your situation, I find it more fitting to prove five. Depending on your success, trials will be added or detracted.”

    “So basically as many as it takes to kill me, or for you to run out of ideas?” Lir suggested. “Can we please get going with this?”

    Tith’s eyes narrowed. “Very well. It seems that you bested Petranea with ease. Therefore, a more wily opponent will be necessary. I have already chosen a fitting adversary. Hunt it down and destroy it, and you will be deemed worthy.”

    “Great. Name my opponent, so I can get this over with.”

    “Very well.”

    Lir had a sudden burst of dizziness as her shadow detached itself from her, rising up from the ground and forming itself into a human shape, which promptly vanished.

    “There’s your opponent. Track it down and kill it.” With that, Tith promptly vanished.

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