For a moment, they were flying. Down and down and down, past the ramshackle stack of buildings, past the broken crane, past the two Hemkirish, down the side of the mesa covered in more buildings and walkways.
They hit the top of the plummeting elevator, hard.
Cherrein was still screaming.
They were still falling, the side of the mesa a blur of wood and steel and stone.
Yerik grabbed the edge of the elevator’s roof and flipped, twisting to land inside the rickety box. Cherrein didn’t even notice them, still screaming, hands still locked around the control winch.
Yerik grabbed the Felinian, wrapping their arms around the car’s torso. And then they pushed, leaned back. For a moment, Cherrein continued to cling to the winch, but Yerik’s weight was too much. Together, they tumbled backwards out of the elevator.
Beside them, the box continued its plunge down and down and down, rope and pieces of the crane straggling in its wake.
Cherrein was still screaming, and now she was clawing at Yerik’s arms. Red blood welled in the thin cuts and Yerik hissed at the pain.
“Be calm!” they yelled.
But the Felinian was deaf with panic, clawing and kicking.
Fewer and fewer buildings in the blur that was the side of the mesa. The cloud line was rapidly approaching.
Yerik did not want to meet the things that lived down there.
Arms still locked around the cat, they stretched out their fingers, touching the silver bracelet on their left wrist. They whispered a name. Their name. Their old name, their creation name. A name not spoken since Desdedeira fell.
The bracelet hummed.
Their skin tingled and wings exploded from their back, tearing through their shirt. Massive, graceful, sublime wings of golden fur and azure feathers and crackling platinum lightning erupted from their skin, spreading wide, catching the blue-purple light of the infinite sky.
A single snap of the fur and feathers and the air cracked, split by hundreds of tiny bolts of silvery lightning.
Another beat and another beat lifted them up and up and up. Merchants and tourists and artisans gaped at them from the dilapidated buildings hanging from the side of the mesa, pointing, crying, cheering.
Cherrein had stopped screaming.
Yerik tilted their head back, aiming for the hard stone surface of the mesa. High above, they could see the two Hemkirish and their Cervithian companion, and, way up on the roof of the last building, Rueppelli staring down at them. The fox wasn’t staring in amazement or awe or even anger, though.
No. His lips were pulled back and his eyes rolled in a put-upon Gods, why is this happening to me? expression.
Maybe that was why the Elders had paired Yerik with the Foxin. Good-natured, handsome, charming, quick-fingered, and narcissistic enough not to be awed by an angeliki.
Another beat of their wings and the air cracked again, dozens and dozens of needle-thin streaks of lightning cutting through the sky.
More people were lining up along the edge of the mesa and peering out through windows.
Yerik continued to climb until they were above the last building where Rueppelli waited. A few meters away, by the far edge of the roof, stood a Neanderthal. A chisel-shaped scar sliced across her cheek, recent enough to still be dark pink and crusty.
“I hope you’re good at landing on all fours,” Yerik said and released their hold on Cherrein.
The cat squeaked in alarm, her limbs flailing for an instant before she righted herself and alighted with a soft thud right next to Rueppelli. A quick gasp for breath and Cherrein took off at a dead run, traversing the roof and leaping past the Neanderthal — no doubt making for the Crossroads.
Yerik tipped their chin towards the rear of the roof.
“Well, yes, I know she’s there.” Rueppelli crossed his arms, looking deeply insulted. “I’ll take care of her. You go take care of … that.” The fox waved a hand towards the Cervithian and the two Hemkirish. “And then you’re going to buy me a glass of Oscirian brandy and explain everything.”
Yerik didn’t answer. Instead, wings beating slowly, they descended down past the buildings until they were even once again with the edge of the mesa. There were so many people crowded in the windows and on the walkways and in the elevators and even on the cranes that wood and steel creaked ominously.
Yerik paused, waiting. The Hemkirish were growling, flat teeth grinding.
The Cervithian simply stared at them, the tip of her broken antler a dull white.
She spoke their name. Their creation name. The name that Desdedeira had formed of nothingness to give them life.
The lightning that burns the sky with silver fire.
Yerik floated back, wings gently rippling, and reached into their belt.
They pulled out the broken piece of the bust, the stone curls of hair humming under their fingers, and held it up.
The Cervithian’s eyes widened.
The two Hemkirish growled more loudly.
The deer shrugged the bag from her back and held it out to one of the Hemkirish. He took it gently, hugging it close, protective.
The Cervithian stepped forward and dropped over the edge of the mesa. Some in the crowd screamed in shock, others in terror. A few cheered.
And then her wings erupted from her back, fur and feathers shading from darkest scarlet along the top arch to palest orange along the lowest tips. A snap, and a wave of light spread out from her body, momentarily painting the people and buildings in dark red.
Yerik slipped back further, away from the Great Bazaar, and she came to rest in front of him.
She tilted her head, wings gently rising and falling. “That is the form that you chose?”
“It was easy to make. And you, Sahirasalanathala?”
Sahirasalanathala. The scarlet light of the dawn of creation.
She shrugged. “I liked the antlers. And I did not have the strength for anything more complicated.”
“No. You did not. None of us did. We spent every bit of strength that we had to crush Desdedeira. To turn a Goddess into a chunk of rock. Billions of our siblings died to stop her. So why are you now trying to resurrect her?”
Yerik arched an eyebrow. “Then retract your wings and fall. There’s ground down there somewhere. Or maybe the things that live in the cliff below the clouds will eat you.”
She laughed. She laughed long and hard, her head tilted back, her chest heaving. “Oh, Yerikkalathlanianthalsassa. All these hundreds of thousands of millennia and you haven’t tried, have you?”
“We are of Desdedeira. We are her creation. Only she can kill us. And I want to die. And the only way to die is to resurrect the Hollow One herself.” She held out her hand. “Now give me the stone.”
Yerik tightened their jaw. “No.”
She shook her head. Red light formed in her hands, lengthening into fearsome, two-headed spears. “I can’t kill you. But I can make you hurt just as much as me.”
She dove at him, shrieking.
“Trying to sneak up behind me is completely pointless.” Rueppelli balanced on the lip of the roof, clawed toes digging into the stone. He kept one eye on his partner — who, apparently, wasn’t a boring Human at all, but something much more interesting — and one eye on the two Hemkirish in the street below.
He used his ears to track the Neanderthal.
She had been making her way across the roof, not very quietly. Or at least not too quietly for him to hear the scuff of her feet against the stone.
She stopped now.
“I do not object to fighting you. I am, after all, quite clever and very quick. But there are others who take priority. Would you, perhaps, be willing to wait for a few moments? Just until I have them taken care of. Then I’m all yours.”
“You speak of the Key Hunters.”
That got his full attention.
Rueppelli turned. In response, she darted a glance towards the two Hemkirish and gestured shortly with one hand.
“That’s what we call them. Those who want to resurrect the Hollow One. Desdedeira, whose hunger would consume the limitless worlds of creation.”
“She would be eating for a long time.”
The Neanderthal scowled at him. An instant later, her eyes widened and she threw herself flat against the roof, yelling “Get down!”
He got down.
A sheet of platinum lightning rolled through the air, hundreds of bolts packed so tightly together that they might have been a single burst of electricity. Every strand of fur on his body stood on end and his eyeballs felt hot. On and on the lightning rolled, across the Great Bazaar of Repet-Yark, and on into the sky beyond. A wave of scarlet light followed, so intense that he could see it through his eyelids. He was fairly certain that his bones had been stained and burned by that red light.
Then the thunder came.
His ears curled tight, desperate to blot out the sound. The building shook below him and for one frantic, dreadful moment, he thought that this was how he would die: collateral damage in a grudge match between two fallen angeliki.
How very not clever and not charming.
His skulk would be utterly mortified.
The silvery and scarlet lights faded and Rueppelli dared to open his eyes. The building was still standing, but the roof was covered in cracks. The air was dusty, and, when he looked to the right, it was to find a large gap where another building had once stood, right along the edge of the mesa.
He looked around, blinking.
There were other gaps, more dust clouds where the more ramshackle, shoddy structures had fallen before the lightning and light and thunder.
That thunder had probably faded by now, but he couldn’t tell. His ears were still pounding.
Staying low on all fours, he scampered across the roof. Pebbles and bits of stone came loose in his paws. He skidded to a halt beside the Neanderthal. She was still pressed down low, but she had lifted her head. The cut on her cheek had reopened and there were fresh wounds on the top of her skull and on her shoulders and back.
“We need to move,” he enunciated very carefully.
She blinked and nodded. Stumbling to her feet, the Neanderthal turned and made for the back edge. Fortunately, the gap of the alley was narrow and it was only a short jump —
The air crackled.
“Down!” Rueppelli yelled.
Another sheet of lightning. He felt the tips of his ears and tail singe. The needle-thin knives tucked into the back of his vest vibrated and jumped. Then the searing reddish light, now mixed with burning orange. And the awful thunder, digging into his bones, into his marrow, into his brain.
He dared to crack open one eye and look back.
The Cervithian (whatever her name really was) had her arms and legs locked around Yerik (whatever their name really was) from behind. Magnificent wings beat madly, cutting and slapping, sending out erratic bursts of lightning and thunder and red light and orange light and even pink. Rueppelli’s eyes hurt to look at those lights. The two angeliki tumbled and swerved through the air, one moment almost too far away to see, the next veering towards the Bazaar, spiraling over the buildings and the Crossroads in a lethal, majestic gyre.
More buildings collapsed, crumbling, filling the blue-purple sky with clouds of rock and metal and glass dust and burning paper. In the alleys below, he could see panicked crowds making for the Crossroads. They clogged every passageway, every path, every alley; even the ledges of buildings; a few braved the rooftops, apparently hoping to reach that small open space in the center of the Bazaar before they were incinerated by lightning or burned by waves of scarlet light.
Any worldwalkers would be able to escape, assuming they reached the Crossroads. They could slip onto any one of those one hundred and twenty pathways between worlds and run.
But that left everyone else. The multitude of merchants and artisans and tourists and residents of the Great Bazaar who were not walkers, who could not Walk themselves, and who would be trapped ….
Rueppelli grabbed the edge of the building and leaned over, searching the crowd.
“The Key Hunters!” he yelled. “The Hemkirish! Do you see them? We need —”
The Neanderthal grabbed his arm and pointed.
The idiots had barely moved. They were still near the far end of the mesa, watching the battle between their companion — or maybe Mistress — and Yerik.
And one of them was still holding that bag, that oddly bulging bag that could only contain one thing.
Thunder rumbled high overhead and the roof creaked beneath his feet.
Rueppelli tugged at his vest. “Come along, my dear. We have a Goddess to steal.”
[End Part Three. Part Four, the conclusion to our story, appears here.]
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]