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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17. First Challenge

“Lir!” The words came to her through a fog of sleep. “Lir, wake up! They’re coming!”

    Her eyes snapped open, to see Jinea’s face above hers. “Get up!” she insisted. “You’ve got to be awake and ready.”

    Lir sat up, stretching and yawning. She took a few moments to look around, wondering how long she’d slept for. The last thing she remembered before sleeping was the soft, gentle way Jinea had told her story. Then sleep, and dark nightmares that dragged her under with twisted, clawing hands.

    “Are you good?” Jinea asked.

    Lir nodded. “Yeah. Thanks for waking me up.”

    “No problem. I’m going to have to go invisible soon. You can’t acknowledge that you know I’m here. You can’t say anything. You’re supposed to be alone.”

    “Should I be scared?”

    “No. Show them a little confidence. That’ll throw them off. They’re expecting you to be scared, after all. See you soon.” With that, the goddess vanished, as if she’d never been there.

    Lin slipped off the bed, sitting cross legged on the floor. She tried to steady her breathing. She knew they’d be coming to get her. She had to remind herself that she had help. She was not alone.

    Her thoughts wandered back to Kanat, her demon. Or was he really a demon? After everything that was happening to her, she couldn’t be sure of anything. Was he really a god? He seemed so… ordinary. Then again, so did Jinea. So what did it all mean? And why hadn’t he reappeared yet? Were they not far enough apart?

    The door opened, and three golems stood there. The one in the front, who’d guided her here, studied her with those cold eyes they all had. “Get up.”

    She stood.

    “Come.”

    She managed to refrain from glancing around the room for Jinea as she approached the golems. The two others abruptly grabbed her arms, forcing them behind her back. She let out a sharp cry, and felt the third binding her hands behind her back.

A little warning would have been nice, Jinea! She thought, irritated.

The lead golem finished binding her, and stepped in front of her again.

“Walk,” he ordered.

“Did you really have to bind my hands?!” she demanded.

“Walk,” he simply repeated.

She rolled her eyes, and started forwards, the three falling into position around her. She considered asking them where they were going, but they didn’t seem to have the intelligence to answer those kind of questions. So she walked in silence, heart racing.

The ropes, of course, were no problem. She could untie just about any knots at this point. The real problem would be the fact that the only weapon she had was a little knife. She had her fists too, but things here were different. Nothing she had would do her much good if she was fighting creatures with skin made of stone.

Eventually, she found herself back in the main hall. The golems guided her towards a raised platform, where Tith was already waiting.

As she stepped up onto the platform, she noted a large circle engraved in the floor. Tith stood at one edge, and the golem stopped her at the other. She took a deep breath, and looked him in the eyes.

“Are you ready?” he said simply.

She nodded. Remembering Jinea’s advice to act confident, she flicked the now untied rope free of her hands, and tossed it at Tith’s feet. “I think this is yours?”

He said nothing, studying the rope with raised eyebrows. Then he held out his hand, halfway across the circle. There was a moment of silence, than a ball of flame materialized in his palm.

“Take it,” he ordered her.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“At the heart of the fire lies your first trial. Take it, and prove yourself worthy.”

“Are you kidding me? That’ll burn my hand off!” she protested.

“Do it, or you forfeit, and will be executed.”

She gritted her teeth, reaching towards the fire. Should she do it gradually, or all at once? What would be better?

Deciding it would be best to get it over with, she stuck her hand entirely into the fire.

Pain burst in her hand for a few seconds before, surprisingly, a wonderful cooling sensation spread through her hand and up her wrist.

Jinea, she thought. She found something small and hard at the center, and she grabbed it.

Tith met her eyes. “Well done.”

The world around her exploded into flames.

    She let out a sharp yelp, ready to run. Before she could, a soft voice spoke in her head. Don’t panic. Step into the circle.

    Mind blanking, she did what she was told, and took a step forwards. Instantly, the flames died, and she was left standing in darkness. She let out a soft breath, though after that monster had attacked her and Kanat in the dark, she wasn’t too excited for more blackness.

    She wasn’t alone for long. She felt like gust of air, and then Jinea appeared beside her.

    “You didn’t panic,” Jinea remarked. “Good. You’re going to have to keep a cool head if you want to survive.”

    “Yeah,” Lir agreed, trying not to sound rattled. “Yeah, cool head. That’s me. So what happens now?”

    Jinea took a deep breath. “I’m holding the darkness around us for right now. As soon as I let it drop, you and me are on our own until we solve these trials. Nith ought to show up, but if she’s coming then she’s late. And so far no sign of any smoke…” she sighed. “Are you ready for this?”

    Lir nodded. “Yeah, totally.”

    “You have a weapon?”

    Lir bent over, pulling her knife out of a sheath on the side of her leg. “Will this do?”

    Jinea sighed. “A knife?”

    “I had two guns. Lost them in limbo.”

    “I see. That’ll have to do. But you’ll have to be fast and clever.”

    “I can do that.”

    “You’re sure?” Jinea actually sounded concerned. Lir hadn’t had anyone speak to her that way in a long time.

    “Yeah, I’m sure,” Lir forced herself to smile. “I lived on the streets for years. I can fight this one out. Besides, I have a goddess on my side. Maybe two. What could go wrong?”

    Jinea sighed. “Please don’t say that. Whenever mortals say that, something always goes wrong. But okay. Here we go.”

    The darkness around them vanished.

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