What began as a group of five was down to but one, scared, disciple. Cian watched as Taranis, still half-naked from the waist up, and Esus, inhabiting a female Garda, communed quietly, eyes closed, hands linked. The Thunderer and the Lord, two parts of a trio, and one god more than Cian anticipated meeting when he woke up that morning.
He shivered as a gust of cold air wrapped around them. “Is this going to take long?” he asked them.
Esus glared at him, but the Thunderer smiled back more warmly. “Have faith, disciple. We have almost found the third host. The winds are whispering to me, guiding us. The powers that bind me to my brothers are growing stronger.”
They returned to their silent meditation, and Cian collapsed to his bum, sitting cross-legged on the road. He had a sneaking suspicion that there wouldn’t be any traffic coming this way. “I think I’m in way over my head,” he whispered to himself. He wasn’t sure if the gods could hear him. Esus’s disdain, worn in perpetuity upon his host’s face, gave nothing away about the Lord’s thoughts. “I need help. I need to get out of this.”
The winds themselves seemed to listen and, in turn, respond. “Abominations, both.” The words sent a chill down Cian’s spine, boring through his nervous system. “I can see the truth of them. Foreign invaders.”
“You’re not their brother,” he replied. The god’s name rippled through his head. “You’re not Teatates.”
The wind laughed. “The god is trapped, like all the others. A sacrifice is required. A host. A vessel. Only the true gods are welcome in this land. The Veil is designed to keep all others out.”
He tried to stand, but his legs were held still by some invisible force. He choked out a syllable, and Esus’ eyes snapped open again. “What are you doing?” the god asked. Cian’s eyes bulged as his face turned red. Esus released Taranis’s hands and pointed to the disciple. “Something is wrong.”
The Thunderer turned to his disciple, his last disciple. Without a word, he clapped his hands together with enough force to blast the air in every direction. Cian rolled over, gasping for breath. The gods had no chance to ask what had happened, when the town dissolved around them. Fresh woods grew sprouted through the earth. The trio were surrounded, trapped by trees and a growing crowd that seemed to step from the air itself.
Esus’s eyes fell to the ground. “A summoning circle,” he noted.
“Do not taint the air with your words,” a woman cried. She stood out from the rest of the crowd, weighed down by heavy trinkets, branded by old symbols for protection, for strength, for power, symbols from the old ways and some from the new. Her eyes were solid black, her hair chopped to her scalp, her skin dirty and, in parts, covered with blood.
Cian recognised her voice. “You tried to kill me,” he shouted at her.
Taranis grunted at Cian, raising his fists for a fight. “Do not make conversation with her. She is a witch.” He turned his attention to his brother. “There is a suitable host here. Teatates must enter the drowned body. No other will do. Find the host. I’ll hold off the witch.”
“Alone?” The Lord shook his head.
“I am the Thunderer. I am your warrior, my Lord.” His voice deepened with each word as sparks began to dance along his knuckles. He looked to Cian. “Stay safe, disciple. This will not be pretty.” With that, he launched himself into the air. The witch barely had time to respond when he came crashing down upon her.
Esus grabbed Cian, wrapping him in a golden light. “The light will fade with time, but it will keep you protected. Leave the fighting to us.” The Garda had had a warm face, and for the briefest moment it came through the Lord’s influence. Cian approved of the god’s choice in host. As swiftly as Taranis had thrown himself into battle, the Lord’s disdain returned, and his feet carried him across the forest floor.
Taranis’s blows landed against the witch, but did little to her. Whatever power she possessed, it was enough to rival the god. She slashed at the air, and blood trickled from Taranis’s chest. He roared, shaking the trees all around them. Their whole fight continued in that manner, with Esus darting around them. The Lord pinned the witch’s accomplices to the trees, silver light tying them in place several feet from the ground. With each person Esus struck, the witch’s cuts were less effective, and Taranis’s blows more painful.
Cian may not have fully understood the powers at play all around him, but one thing was clear: of all their captors, only the witch had any power. The others were like him, ordinary humans. He wondered if she, too, had been ordinary before all of this.
“Brother,” Esus called out. “I need a storm.” He held a man in the air by the back of his neck, the last of the witch’s accomplices. The Thunderer smirked, and loosed a scream so feral and untamed that the heavens erupted. Rain ploughed against Cian’s skin like bullets, and the forest floor began to become soggy and waterlogged in a matter of seconds.
Esus waited a couple of minutes before forcing the man’s face to the earth, buried in muddy water. It felt like a lifetime before the body exploded with light, and Esus let him loose.
Slowly, he stood up, and smiled. He was taller and broader than Taranis’s host. “My Lord. Brother. Thank you. The Protector is here.”
The witch collapsed to her knees when she saw him, and she finally took note of her companions, trapped by silver light. It robbed her of her link to them. She was nothing but a common witch now, facing a completed trio of foreign gods. “This can’t be.”
“But it is,” Esus told her. “Denounce your former faith. Vow your services to us.” The witch spat at her. Teatates made to hit her, but Esus stopped him. “Taranis. Do your job. The human refuses to join us, and so she will suffer for it.”
The Thunderer nodded, eyes glowing white hot. He raised his right hand to the sky; without a word or gesture from him, a bolt of lightning ripped through his storm. The complete ferocity of the black cloud above poured to the ground, tearing through the witch. There was nothing left of her, or the clouds, after that. Her scream went unheard against the wrath of the god.
“That’s it, then,” Cian mumbled. “The trio is here.” He fell to one knee, and they assembled in front of him.
“The true war begins, now,” Esus told him. As if on cue, the sky began to turn black. Darkness spread across it, more like ink in is consistency than a cloud, and the gods huddled together. “I only hope we are not too late.”