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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20. Return of Nith

  

 Lir stared at the empty space where he’d been in disbelief. “What?!”

    “Um… apparently we’re chasing down a shadow?” Jinea remarked. “I think we’d best get going.”

    “But we don’t know where it went!” Lir protested. “It could be anywhere.”

    “Here’s the thing,” Jinea grinned. “It’s tied to you. Through a faint connection with your soul. So we’ll be able to find it, no problem. So if Nith would just hurry up and show up…”

    A column of light appeared next to her, searing the ground in a three foot circle. When the light faded, the black haired warrior girl stood there.

    “Ah Nith. Dramatic entrance, as usual,” Jinea grinned. “You’re just in time to track down a shadow with us.”

    “A shadow.” Nith raised her eyebrows. “This is going to be good, I can tell. How did you get yourself a shadow to fight?”

    “Tith,” Jinea shrugged. “Stole the girl’s shadow and set it loose. At least it won’t be able to leave the realm. That narrows our searching some. You mind turning into something this girl can ride?”

    Me? Why not you?”

    “Easy. You’re a soldier. You’re used to taking one for the team. You know all about sacrifices and all that stuff. So you’re going to give this girl a ride in a slightly better form. She’s our champion, remember?”

    Nith sighed. “Why do I always have to be the one…”

    “You let yourself get run through with a spear to make yourself into a martyr, and you won’t carry the girl on your back?!”
    “You always bring that up…” Nith groaned. “I did not let myself get run through! As I’ve said a hundred times, it was not intentional. I didn’t see the spear coming until it was stuck through my chest. Why would I want to die?”

    “You know why, Nith. Come on. You can transform into something cool, even. Kanat will owe you.”

    “I hate you,” Nith said under her breath. She took a deep breath, and dropped to one knee as she began to transform. Her limbs elongated then shortened. Her face stretched out, hardening into a beak. Her fingers curled into claws, and wings extended from her back. In seconds, she had become a pure black gryphon.

    Black?” Jinea groaned. “Come on, Nith. There is no such thing as a black gryphon! You’re going to stand out!”

    “Every time I do something with fur or feathers, it comes out the same color as my hair,” Nith grumbled. Her voice sounded strange coming from an eagle like beak. “I haven’t figured out how to switch it up yet.” She turned to look at Lir, who suppressed a shudder. She wasn’t too frightening as a human- she didn’t appear much older than Lir. But as a gryphon she had a certain predatory grace that Lir found incredibly intimidating.

    “Get on,” she ordered. “You’ll want to hold onto my feathers, because I’m not making you a saddle. Kanat would never let me hear the end of it.”

    Jinea burst in a bright light, and in her place was a white streaked mockingbird. Jinea laughed, her voice coming out as a bird’s chirp, and took to the sky.

    “Come on, Nith! Let’s go hunt us a shadow.”

    “Hold on,” Nith muttered. She crouched, muscles bunching up, then took to the sky with a powerful leap. Lir caught her breath, torn between terror and awe. What would it be like to be able to change forms like this? To fly through the skies as a majestic creature? It must be amazing. For the first time, Lir felt restricted as a human. Confined to one lesser form. That was how it must feel for Kanat. She started to feel sympathetic to him.

    “So, are you a full goddess?” She asked Nith, trying to start up a conversation.

    “No.”

    “You got promoted like Jinea?”

    “Yes.”

    Lir frowned. “You aren’t very talkative, are you?”

    “I’m thinking about how I can keep you alive. I shouldn’t be here, helping you. It’s Kanat’s fault he got into this mess in the first place. Jinea and I shouldn’t be bailing him out. But it’s not fair to leave you to die. So this once, I’m helping.”

    “Thank you.”

    “Don’t thank me. I’m doing this for my friends. Especially for Kanat. I owe him.”

    Lir fell silent. She could feel the hostility radiating from Nith. Or was it just indifference? Either way, it was clear the goddess didn’t want to talk.

    “I wouldn’t bother!” Jinea sang from her right. “Nith’s a terrible grouch. She’s all stiff and formal. It’s what comes from a year stuck as a military commander, I guess.”

    “A military commander?” Lir asked, interested.

    “Nith was promoted before I was. Her story is actually pretty interesting. If you can ever get her to talk, you should ask her about it.”

    “It’s not a story I like sharing,” Nith said under her breath. “Jinea can brag all she likes about her past, but some of us don’t like to share as much.”

    “She acts like it was the worst thing she ever was forced to endure,” Jinea grinned, dropping a birdish wink. Her smile looked wrong on a bird face.

    “Jinea, why don’t you brag some more about yourself?” Nith complained. “Or maybe talk about something useful for a change? For example, how we’re supposed to find a shadow?”

    “Oh that’s easy,” Jinea fluttered her wings in what might have been a shrug. “The shadow will be tied closely to her soul. Therefore, we just have to locate something that has the same soul as her. Then we’ll find her shadow.”

    “Tith really does like to get extravagant on his challenges, doesn’t he?”

    “Come on, it’ll be fun!”

    “Has it ever occurred to you that this might be a conveniently placed trap?”

    Jinea did her weird wing flutter shrug thing again. “You think everything is a trap.”

    “When am I wrong?” Nith countered.

    “Most of the time! Tith doesn’t even know you’re with us. Relax. This’ll be like the old days when we could still have fun.”

    “The old days were not fun, Jinea! The amount of crises we’ve gotten ourselves into… not to mention the mortals, monsters, other gods, evil things… thank goodness the world outgrew them. I’ve had enough of fighting to last an eternity, thank you very much!” Nith’s tone was full of irritation. “I keep getting pulled into everybody’s conflicts.”

    “That’s what you’re the goddess of, Nith,” Jinea pointed out. “Hopeless causes.”

    “I am not the goddess of hopeless causes. Disadvantaged causes, maybe, but not hopeless ones!”
    “You’re definitely the goddess of hopeless causes. Come on, you know Kanat would agree with me on this.”

    “Kanat agrees on anything that will annoy me,” Nith replied. “Now can we please focus on finding this girl’s shadow again? I really don’t want to get trapped in a jar for a few months again.”

    “A jar?” Lir interrupted, suddenly interested. “What happened?” It sounded like a good story. Maybe Jinea would tell her.

    True to expectations, Jinea let out a chirping laugh. “Oh, this is a good one. Nith got into this fight with Tith, you see, and somehow they ended up battling each other… It was supposed to be a private matter, but Tith likes humiliating her, so he trapped her in a jar and paraded it around for a few months. Or was it a few months? Time’s different when you’re a god.”

    “I hate this story,” Nith said under your breath.

    “You kind of hate everything,” Lir remarked. She had to admit, Nith’s irritated remarks were kind of funny. Was she really a friend of Jinea’s? It sounded like Nith hated her. Was that really how friendships worked? It was a strange way to interact with someone, but then again, Lir hadn’t had many friends for the past few years. Not since that shipwreck…

    Cracking wood. Screams. She shouldn’t have thought about it.

    “It was horrible,” Nith insisted. “Have you ever been trapped in a small confined space, unable to escape?”

    Lir shrugged. “Close enough… so what happened?”

    “Come on, Nith. You like this part better,” Jinea insisted.

    “Tell her,” Nith sighed.

    “Well, I snuck into Tith’s fortress in the middle of the night, and found the jar where he was keeping Nith. I got it open, and let her free. We escaped the fortress, leaving behind a whole ton of damage. But we left him a little… surprise in the jar.”

    “He’d check it every morning to make sure I hadn’t escaped,” Nith explained, catching Lir off guard. “So Kanat hid in the jar, and when Tith came, Kanat came bursting out of it and scared the living daylights out of Tith. It was hilarious.”

    “See, there you go, Nith has a sense of humor!” Jinea laughed. “The thing is, Tith might be an elder god, but he gets nervous when Nith and I are together.”

    “You mentioned some raid… what was that?” Lir asked. She had to admit, talking and hearing stories from these goddesses definitely helped her nerves.

    “Well, Tith brought a massive army rampaging through an area that was under Nith’s protection. That was a total slap in the face to her. It was a direct insult, so Nith and I responded in kind. We joined together, just the two of us, and got an army set up. We dug fortifications, trained soldiers, built traps. When Tith’s army showed up, intending to crush Nith’s area and laugh about it, they found themselves crushed by our little setup. Tith’s entire army turned tail and ran. We were laughing about that one for a long time. He hates it when we get the best of him. We make a good team when we work together. I’m the brains, she’s the brawn. You see, i’m good at being crafty, but Nith is a born leader. Together, we crush Tith with our strange mortal ways.”

    “He’s going to give this girl hell if he finds out both of us are helping her,” Nith warned.

    Lir shuddered at the thought. “He won’t just… outright kill me, will he?”

    “Doubt it,” Jinea replied, doing a loop in the air to come up to eye level with her. “He can’t. He already gave you a fighting chance. That means no outright killing, though I’m sure he’d love to. Don’t worry, we’ll find your shadow.” She turned to look at Nith. “Ready to go into limbo?”

    Nith sighed. “Let’s do it.”

    Before Lir could say wait!, they plunged into darkness again.

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