Chapter 37: Puppets and Masters

I came to with a jolt of energy. 

What happened next felt surreal. Difficult to explain. My hands were in motion, swords swinging. Despite my lack of consciousness, my body had not stopped fighting. My limbs moved of their own accord. I felt Excalibur directing spells with my lips, while Aliastulus moved both swords to defend against Loki’s attacks.

Holy fuck balls.

Loki retreated. But Abigail was in the mix too. Her daggers had become swords. Rather than interrupt the battle by taking control of the Liam Machine, I let the two swords work. 

And I considered my options.

The longer this fight lasted, the more likely help would arrive. I could not keep this up forever. I needed to win. Or at least disable Abby and Loki long enough to claim the nexus. 

If I lost here, this node would be gone forever. 

I came up with an idea. A terrible idea. One that would either work or get me very killed. But I needed to look for the right moment to take back control of my body. On an instinctual level, I knew I could do this simply by willing it. Aliastulus would allow it, but only because she was reunited with Excalibur. 

The hunters were gone. Soot and ash where they’d been firing their arrows. Aiden lay on the ground, not far off. I could not tell if he was breathing.

Abigail fought against me with her blades, while Loki threw spell after spell. Aliastulus held Abigail at bay, while Excalibur countered the trickster god. 

Loki threw a ball of dark energy at my face. At the same time, a void appeared behind me. My body leapt straight up, on flows of air and landed atop the base of the statue—a round disk, no more than 2 meters in diameter. Above me the conjoining streams of ether met, forming the nexus. 

You must act soon, my host, said a deep voice in my head, or the trick-some one will prevail.

Below me, Abigail cast a fly spell. Loki began dual-casting. There would not be a better window to take back my body. 

I’d read about the spell I was about to perform decades ago. Only as a theory. My attempts to duplicate this feat had repeatedly failed. It turned out, Zeus had been quite proficient at it. And though he’d used this spell as Merlin, he’d not battled directly as Caderyn and hadn’t needed it. So, he’d never taught it to me.

Pulling in ether and wyther, I reached my mind into the shadow dimension and pulled primordial energy—scientists call it dark matter—into our world. And I spoke the words of the spell. I gave the matter substance and shape with my will. 

Abigail surged through the air, swords flashing at my face and torso. A void appeared beneath Loki, shaped like a disk. It rose, lifting him into the air. At the same time, white flames spread out from his hands. A fire so hot, the ground melted at his feet. The air crackled around him.

I let Aliastulus take the lead with my arms. The swords deflected both attacks from Abigail, but Aliastulus knew my intent well-enough not to advance. She slashed at Abigail who danced away and lunged back. Faster and stronger. 

Loki’s disk brought him closer. White-hot fire condensed into a sphere in his hands. He was almost even with me. I did not recognize his spells, but my time was almost up. 

Primordial energy was invisible to the eye. Neither Abigail nor Loki saw as I shaped it and fed the mass both ether and wyther, and gave the bulk energy an ethereal pattern. Forming the pattern I wished into my mind, I chiseled the object down to match my own height. 

I tied off the flow of energies inside the construct. And gave the statue life. A second me appeared behind Loki. I felt the simulacrum like a third appendage.

Loki lifted his arms to hurl the sphere at me. My simulacrum dove, wrapping its arms around Loki’s waist. Both toppled off to ground. The disk exploded. Dark energy sliced out in all directions. I covered my face with my arms. 

Wyther clashed with the power of the nexus. A concussive force slammed into me. But it hit Abigail too. We both fell. I stayed atop the disk. Abigail slammed into the ground 5 meters below. And lay still. 

Loki wrestled with my simulacrum. And Abigail was out of the fight. 

I began to cast the bonding spell.

The nexus hummed. The statue vibrated. 

I pulled ether and wyther, as Zeus had in the vision. It felt natural. And right. I fed the flow of energy into the nexus. I spoke the words.

“No!” Loki screamed.

I felt ether and wyther surge into him. The trickster god cast a storm of wyther reinforced with ether. Luminescent spheres of dark energy ripped through my simulacrum. The construct erupted into primordial mass and disintegrated. 

I continued my spell. Ether flowed into me through a conduit of wyther. My very essence sang with power. I gave up my ethereal pattern, fusing myself with the flow of ether. In return, the nexus gave itself to me. A handshake at first. Then an embrace.

Loki turned, aiming the spheres at me. They rippled on the air. I felt their trajectory as if they crawled across my skin. Like slow moving bugs on the back of my hand.

I swatted them from the air. Just a thought. Loki’s spell unraveled. 

And the bond was complete. 

I felt every crevice of the castle and crevasse of the island. The trees and flowers, each leaf and pedal, were suddenly in my mind. I could count the molecules of water in the koi pond. 

Loki stood. He reached for ether and wyther.

I denied him.

Energy fizzled on his fingertips.

Vestiges of his power hung in the air. I felt attachments to the trickster god. Bonds, I realized. Hundreds, maybe thousands of bonds. But I only cared about the one. Like strings attached from master to puppet, bonds of primordial energy clung to Aiden.

He still breathed shallow breaths. Red poured from his fingers, spilling onto my island. 

I felt anger. More intense than anything I’d ever felt. 

I ripped the strings from Loki. He screamed, dropping to the ground on hands and knees. I felt the matter and energy comprising his being. I knew in that moment, I could unmake his ethereal pattern and undo Loki. I could unmake the trickster god. Destroy his very existence. No rebirth. No next life. I could reduce him to nothingness.

But that would be too big of a mercy.

One by one, I stripped away his bonds. Agony poured out of him. He arched his back in a wordless scream. 

Enough, child. A voice said in my mind. Excalibur. I’d forgotten about the swords. 

Jesus. He was right. What was I doing? This wasn’t me.

I let Loki fall to the ground. 

Once more, I opened the way to the shadow plane and brought into existence primordial energy. I shaped it into a cage, lacing spells into the bars. I brought up minerals from the island, solidifying the cage. This construct would be impregnable by anything short of a nuclear blast. Anyone inside the cell would be incapable of drawing ether or wyther. I shoved Loki into the center of it, built a pillar and placed him atop the platform, fusing the cage and column into one piece.

I flew to Aiden and closed his wound, feeding vigor into both his body and ethereal pattern. Seconds later, his blue eyes flickered open and met my gaze.

He blinked several times in confusion. 

“Are you all right?” I asked, knowing he was physically fine. 

“What the …?” he asked. “How are you here? Wait. No. We need to get out of here. Loki. Abigail—”

“It’s over,” I said. And I knew without looking. “Abigail is gone. So are her nymphs and hunters.” 

“And Loki,” he said, looking around as if the trickster god would appear and turn Aiden into a puppet once more. 

“You are free,” I told him, looking to the top of the pillar. 

Aiden’s gaze followed mine.

“How did …,” he said, eyes widening. “Oh my god. The bond. With Loki. It’s gone. How the fuck is this possible?”

“We have a lot to discuss.” I stood, offering him my hand. “I’ve bonded with the nexus. Finally, I hold the power to challenge the gods.” 

He looked at my hand for several seconds, comprehension slowly lighting in his eyes. Then Aiden clasped my wrist, and I helped him to his feet.

For once, his shit-eating grin mirrored my own. 

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