3.10 The tribunal

The moment I went through the doors of the inn, I was greeted by a deafening cacophony of tavern noises. All the tables were taken and in one corner, merry men and women sang to the tunes of a long-necked lute, strummed at a fast pace — much to fast for drunk people to follow. Through the air wafted the smell of delicious roast and vegetable soup. At the counter, the fat cat from earlier had decided to settle down, keeping watch of the visitors with one eye. When it saw me, it greeted me with a short “Meow!” and turned its head towards the bartender. When he took note of me and where I came from, he immediately stopped pouring wine into the cups of the people sitting at the bar. Instead, he fixed his gaze on me as if I was some rare novelty. I steered towards him, without breaking eye contact.

“What will it be, lad?” He asked. He had a young face, but his dark blond hair was full of gray strands. Even his voice sounded old and hoarse.

“I need a cup for wine and”, I looked back at the door I came from. “And maybe some liqueur. Doesn’t matter what.”

Chink, chink, bom. When I turned back to face him, the man had already put the cups and a small bottle before me. “How long will they be staying?”

“I-I don’t know.”

Interesting. So the bartender did know of his otherworldly guests, but not the others in the room. I grabbed the cups and bottle and made my way back to the door, dwelling over what spells they could have cast to create such an illusion.

“Let me help you.” Sorrel’s soothing voice pulled me back into reality. I am pretty darn sure that his vocal charms were part of his practitioner specialty. I smiled at him as he opened the door to the terrace for me. He wanted to grab the bottle as well, but I dodged his move easily.

“It’s alright, I will survive.”

“You sure? You are speaking not only to our master but to all masters presently known to be alive.” He looked worried. “If they don’t feel like it, they might snap you out of existence.”

I looked up at him. “So how would you be able to prevent that?”

Stumped by this truth, Sorrel let me pass. I used this chance before he could find a witty answer, or, perhaps worse, charm me into staying inside.

The moment I entered the terrace, the noise from the inn immediately died down. I was again in the surreal bubble these gods, yes, gods, had erected here. I hadn’t been able to identify all of them, but the woman in the rainbow dress was none other than Nu, mother of all gods. Sitting beside her was Sorrel and Acacia’s master, Geb. And the one with falcon’s wings was Horus. The names of the others I hadn’t known back then. It didn’t really matter to me either. All deities were present right this very moment, questioning Violet. More than my own safety, I feared for Violet’s dear life. She was the one who saved me. The one who taught me how to wield a blade.

“…using a Retainer like some toy!” The pale man in green stood up in anger, smashing the shield he had been polishing with a loud thud on the table. The air around him buzzed slightly as if it was electrically charged.

Violet sat there, not saying anything, not even responding with an emotion. Even when she saw me, she did not react, though I like to believe I have seen a faint sign of a smile hush across her lips. I gave Violet her cup and liqueur before handing over the last cup to Nu, earning myself the questioning gaze of all the deities present except the old pair themselves who did not bother to hide their amusement. Irritated, I wanted to head over to Violet’s side when Geb grabbed my arm to keep me at his side. “Stay with us for now, my young boy”, he said, with a tipsy smile. Now it was Violet’s turn to angrily stand up, sending negative emotions to all.

“Now, now, dearest sister. It would do both you and this boy well if you sit down again.” The tea-drinking man spoke in a gentle, yet very condescending demeanor. “And you too, Seth. I am not keen on having my robes stained in blood tonight.” He faced the pale deity without opening his eyes. What’s wrong with that guy? Are you oh so mighty you needn’t look others in the eye?!

“Whatever.” Seth sat down again, looking sour and crossing his arms like a child who was told there was no more candy in the house. He mumbled to himself, before going all out again. “I mean look at this degeneracy,” he exclaimed, pointing at me. Wait, what?! I felt heavily insulted, almost feeling like drawing my blade, but Geb held on to me tightly.

“Well, why don’t we start at the very beginning then?” Geb said without letting me go. “I feel this little boy deserves a little bit of an update?”

“You mean ‘artifact’, not boy”, Seth said grumpily. Then he suddenly burst out laughing. “The irony of it all! Not only is she using this boy as a channel instead of using an artifact, no! She has not even stooped down from her mighty throne to learn human tongue! Look at us! Who was the one pleading for us all to understand humans?! Their mannerisms! But you! You really have become a true Ashuran! The ones you loathed the most!”

“Seth”, ‘Tea Man’ warned. “Hold your tongue or I will cut it.”

“Oh? So what then, is this some sort of family gathering”, I found myself boldly saying these words. To the gods. Let me tell you, I sometimes would like to punch young me for doing some very stupid things.

‘Tea Man’ glared at me. His eyes remained closed but I could feel very much he was annoyed by what I had said. Seth grinned. “At least ‘it’ has guts.”

“Are those really his words?” The warrior in golden armor stopped polishing her sword.

“What do you mean?” The pale god leaned forward.

“If he is nothing more than an artifact, should he be capable of having his own thoughts and feelings? Wouldn’t he just be mirroring Sekhmet’s sentiment?”

That hurt. Like, what? Why shouldn’t I have my own thoughts? It seemed I had spoken those words aloud. All heads turned to me.

“It seems your question has been easily answered, Nephthys.”

‘Tea Man’ stood up to take a closer look at me. As if I was some prized cattle, he grabbed my chin to scrutinize me closely. For the first time, he opened his eyes. And I was terrified. For what I expected to be a pair of eyes staring down at me, there was darkness. The longer I looked, the more it seemed to be that it wasn’t darkness at all. Spiraling seas of gray became clearer and clearer to me. It felt as if I was slowly losing myself in it. Just when I thought I myself was going to drown in the whorl, ‘Tea Man’ shut his eyes again.

“Hmm, it seems he is actually not a real artifact. While Sekhmet has indeed taken up quite a lot of space in this body, the boy’s soul is still fully intact.”

Violet sat there with a triumphant look in her eye. See, you idiots? What are you guys even talking about?

“Nevertheless, this is one dangerous situation. Nobody has ever used a human being like this before”, Nephthys said with a pondering look in her gaze. She seemed to be genuinely interested and held no malice at all.

“I do believe he can easily hold Sekhmet’s rage because he is a Retainer, am I right?” Horus played with his chin beard, lost in thought.

“While his eyes have turned golden due to sister’s influence, he does present with typical Retainer features. Ash-blonde hair, slightly tanned. Could be a natural bred child.”

“So are we really going to pull this through?” Seth spoke. Surprisingly, he sounded hesitant. Did I just imagine something, or did he really shoot a worried glance at Violet? The woman across him clutched her sword tightly. Her back was facing me, so I couldn’t see what she felt like, but it seemed to run along with the pale guy.

“We don’t have much choice,′ the old man said. “Only when the boy understands will we be able to break the bond.”

“What is going on?” I didn’t like where this was going. Deity or not, I was not going to give up without a fight. Violet, too, got up, ready to unsheathe her blade. Apparently, she has understood what shit was about to go down here. “Enough!” She had trouble speaking, but she spoke. Like she opened her mouth and used her goddamn voice. It sounded very much like how I imagined it to sound like. Or was it only because she was residing within me, like how these guys described. I was both angry and confused, waving my blade like the child I was around without really threatening anyone. My blood began to boil. How lovely would it be if they all drowned in a sea of blood! I could hear my heartbeat echoing in my ears. No, it was not only my heartbeat I heard. I began hearing their heartbeats as well. Yes. They, too, had hearts I could rip out. If I could only —

Geb covered my eyes with his hands and immediately the sensation was gone. “Now that was dangerous, dearest daughter Sekhmet. Do not make him fight your battles, even if he is a Retainer.”

“Retainer this, retainer that! What’s this supposed to mean? You guys keep implying stuff but don’t let the cat out of the bag!” I wrestled myself free from Geb’s hands.

“Well, if you stop resisting, we could show you the answers”, the old man said in a friendly voice.

It felt as if Violet wanted to scream ‘bullshit!’, but before she could try muttering another word, Horus and ‘Tea Man’ held her tightly in place, forcing her to sit down again. The lavishly dressed woman got up and cast a spell that made the chair grow vines and wrap itself around Violet. Geb moved towards her, dragging me by the collar. He chuckled slightly. “Actually, being her artifact will make things even easier for me.”

“What are you going to do?! What’s this supposed to mean?!” I was scared. I saw Violet equally struggling to break free. To top it all off, Seth also joined the fray. But unlike the others he just stood next to her, his hands glowing faintly as he touched her shoulder. Almost immediately, Violet stopped resisting.

“Hehe, you will soon see for yourself! Now my dear daughter, open your eyes wide for me…” He placed his hand on her forehead as if he wanted to check her temperature. “This is gonna hurt quite a bit.” He chuckled again. With that, he let the magic flow into her forehead. And that magic flowed through her eyes right into mine. They began to feel hot and my vision became blurry. My head started to feel as if it was overflowing with memories. It was so much that it began to hurt. I tried to shake away the feeling, but then the world around me turned black.

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