Aphelion Issue 138, Volume 13
November 2009
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The Door of Renown

A Tale of the Mare Inebrium

By Jaimie L. Elliott

Act I - Arise You Bastard Sons and Daughters

- 1 -


There is a buzz of activity rarely seen in the Pantheon as various writers, deities, and assorted divinities scurry to and fro for reasons not immediately apparent to the reader. Two of divine origins, a short, gray Earth deity named Jehova and his human archangel Robert, huddle over a red-orange, oozing mass that appears to be fresh, wet clay.

I still have no clue why he picked this guy. (wipes his right hand on his seraphic robes and then frowns the resultant stain) The one version is based on a pretentious poem and the other on a prophet. Two very incompatible archetypes that happen to share the same name.

Apparently, the writer is a Longfellow admirer.

Personally, I hate that poem. And why add the Iroquois aspect? Why not just stick to Longfellow?

I suspect that relying solely on a 19th century poet for mythological veracity would be tenuous at best. By combining him with his Iroquois namesake, he has the warrior he needs with the apropos mythological credentials. Even still, my assessment is that there are more arguments against than for his creation. However, he is the writer. I more concerned about the resultant amalgam. This one may be insane, his memories unable to mesh. Remember what happened with their first attempt with Sosruko?

Only a writer could concoct something so perverse, so disrespectful.

The culpability cannot be solely attributed to him.

Are you still blaming me? I was trying to defend you!

We spoke on this matter before, Robert. We are new to the divine fellowship. There is a certain amount of… scrutiny given to newcomers.

You mean hazing.

For lack of a better term, yes. It would have only lasted a thousand years or so.

A thousand years!?!

Robert, we are immortal. You must adjust your perspective accordingly. As it is, you gave incentive to Namalas to escalate the situation. Now are we are faced with the prospect of the disparate warriors of Earth mythology combating to the death for the amusement of the gods. Warriors that we must create and then watch destroyed.

Whoa there! I certainly didn’t recommend this juvenile blood sport! Blame Thor and Zeus-- Who actually thought the idea a good one.

You are divine now, Robert. You must think of the universe as an extension of yourself. You are that butterfly, the one whose wings cause storms a thousand miles away. It is a lesson I had to learn tragically. (sighs deeply) I fear the consequences. I do not know how this will affect our plans to atone for my past experiments on Earth. (makes a placating motion with his hands) Enough. It is time.

A pure, blue light radiates from the mass of clay. Shafts of azure luminosity-- special effects worthy of Steven Spielberg himself-- pierce outward. Cue powerful symphony music by John Williams.

It’s alive! (looks abashed) Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Quickly, Robert! Use the hose!

Archangel Robert scrambles for the hose. With some fumbling, he focuses the jet of water at the reddish mass. Incrementally, a shape begins to form as the clay washes away. Sections of bronze skin emerge.

His face, Robert. Wash the clay from his face.

I thought I was aiming at… (turning crimson) Oh, that’s not his face. (mumbling) I thought his nose was a bit crooked.

Archangel Robert adjusts the angle. A head with dark hair appears. A handsome, fully-grown, and very wet male face is seen.

He is American Indian and not Asian Indian, right? He’s not Hindu?

That is correct.

Then why is his face blue?

The goddess of That-Which-Should-Be-Obvious-To-You materializes out of nowhere and proceeds to slap Archangel Robert smartly across the face. She disappears just as suddenly.

(rubs his cheek) Ow! What was that for?

He cannot breathe, Robert. That is why is face is blue.

Oh. (pause) Oh!

Do not fret. Clay is my specialty.

Jehova motions with his arm and draws forth the clay from the newborn hero’s mouth and nostrils. The hero inhales sharply, his first breath.

Enter from the right A.C. Namalas, the writer. He is a middle-aged human, dressed in blue jeans, loafers, a dress shirt, and a brown tweed sports jacket. He sports a neatly trimmed beard.

Ah! Here is the one I’ve been waiting for! (ignores Jehova and Archangel Robert; bends over and wipes reddish water from the hero’s face) Arise, Hiawatha! Welcome to the Pantheon!

Fade to black.

- 2 -

A battle of two souls raged within his mind, and as each half traded the metaphorical rabbit punches, low blows, and wild haymakers, his psyche dropped to its wobbly knees.

Most people let their mind unravel over time while waiting in that bleak, rain-drenched queue outside Club Insanity. He, on the other hand, never had a mind properly wound to begin with. He had cut in line right from his “birth”, past the flourishing arms of cooler-than-you bouncers, leaving wannabe madmen grumbling impatiently in his wake.

Noble Hiawatha! He was the child of the Algonquians, grandson of Nokomis, the woman who fell from the moon.

No, wait, he was of the Onondagas, their chief and later the chief of the Mohawks.

However, he was not their chief, since he lived on the shores of the Gitche Gumee, with his wife Minnehaha, who, in his great grief, died childless.

Yet he remembered the magical white bird, summoned by the snake-haired Atotarho, striking down his daughter, which, in his great grief, gave him impetus to unite the Iroquois.

He was… He was… He was two discordant songs played at the same time. He was both Coke and Pepsi on a hot desert cactus. He was bowling with a basketball from the thirty-yard line. He was two inches short of a tachyon. He was candy sprinkles and radial tires and a discarded, felt pipe cleaner, sung to the tune of ambient ecru.

He was slumped against the wall, oblivious of the antics of deities and writers, a dribble of saliva hanging from his bottom lip, his wampum belt loose over his shoulder, the eagle feathers of his headdress tangled and disarrayed.

A mumbling drawl sliced through Hiawatha’s fugue, his vision focusing on a dark figure looming over him. “Hey there, big guy,” said the stranger, a man with large, black hair and blue eyes. “Name’s Elvis. Elvis Presley. I’m the bartender here in the Pantheon, the god section of the Mare Inebrium. Can’t say I’m too happy about the goings on, but I just had to meet ya. See, I’m a big admirer of the American Indian. Matter of fact, I got me some Cherokee blood from my mama’s side.” He smiled a crooked, affable grin that flashed perfect white teeth.

“Uh,” groaned Hiawatha, vibrating a globule at the end of a tenuous strand of saliva.

Elvis frowned. “Say, Hiawatha… Do ya mind if I call ya Hi? I heard yer having a heap of trouble with that brain of yers.”


“I might have a way-- Gosh, I’m embarrassed to ’fess to this, but in my younger and more reckless days, I had- on occasion -partaken too much of the hooch.” He ran long fingers through his luxurious hair. “It kinda made me see double. See?”


“And it’s awful hard to drive when ya got two of everythin’ in front of ya. But there’s a little trick, see?”

The strand of spit snapped.

“All ya do,” whispered Elvis as he leaned closer, “is close one eye.”

Hiawatha stared at Elvis for a long while.

The bartender cleared his throat. “Well, it was a pleasure to meet ya. I hope yer, ah, feelin’ better. See ya later, alligator.” He patted the mythic hero on the shoulder and walked away.

Close one eye… Could it be that simple?

He jumped into that psychic rumble, amidst the echoes of warrior and orator, fist and tongue. He had to choose a side. Warrior or orator? Fist or tongue? Another spasm tore through his mind as the two halves clashed. He clasped his cranium within his powerful hands in an ineffectual attempt to assuage the torment. Warrior or orator? He tried speaking to his dichotomous souls, but the words failed him. Without Deganawida, the Great Prophet, he knew not the message. In his mind, he stood to the side, unable to adjudicate a peaceful resolution. Another seizure and his mind nearly spilled out like a broken piñata. His nose and ears began to bleed, his brain in its final throes.

A tremendous roar escaped from his lips that sliced through the godly hall. He raised his fists, literally and mentally, and crashed them to the ground. A mini-earthquake rumbled through his psyche and the Pantheon.

One part of his soul tumbled away into the dark recesses of his subconscious.

He realized himself hunched over on all fours, his breaths coming in short, harsh pants. His fists nestled within two small craters on the floor. His acute hearing noticed the absence of sound. He looked up and saw hundreds of eyes turned toward him.

From the crowd, A.C. Namalas approached him. The writer seemed disappointed. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be, eh Hiawatha? Well, no need to delay any further. Let’s get on with recycling you. All that work for naught.”

“I am… fine,” whispered the American Indian, wiping the blood from his face.

“I don’t think you are,” said A.C. Namalas.

“I am Hiawatha. My grandmother is Nokomis and my father Mudjekeewis. With my mittens minjekahwun I can shatter stone, with my moccasins I can step a mile. I can let loose ten arrows into the heavens before the first lands to the ground. I am Hiawatha and I am now well. The battle for my soul is over.”

The writer grinned. “Well good for you! Glad to have you around!”

“Here you go,” interrupted a creature that sent Hiawatha back to the precipice of insanity. It resembled an amorphous, six-legged ochre buffalo with three golden eyes and dagger-like teeth in a too-wide mouth. Numerous pseudopods waggled from its side. A companion monster, similar in form but smaller and silver, stood to its right. Between them was a man as pale as Elvis, powerfully built but at least two heads shorter than Hiawatha.

“What is this?” asked Namalas, his voice rising in irritation.

“Sosruko number two,” replied the silver monster. “This one is sane.”

“No, no, no!” shouted the writer. “He’s a midget! What is he, four feet tall?”

“You said he was the smallest of the Narts,” complained the ochre monster.

“The Narts are a race of giants! He’s the smallest of a race of giants!” Namalas threw his pen. “Now we’ll have to recycle this one as well.”

“We can’t keep abreast of your Earth mythologies,” grumbled the silver monster. Vast energies crackled in its multiple eyes. Hiawatha suddenly understood the two creatures to be gods themselves.

“What does recycle mean?” asked Sosruko number two. Everyone ignored him.

The mortal writer seemed oblivious to the danger of angering divinity. “I’m sorry, but we have to do this right. Recycle the hero and create Sosruko number three.”

“Whoa there,” drawled Elvis as he approached the group. “I don’t see any need to do any recyclin’.”

“What does recyclin’ mean?” persisted Sosruko number two.

“I’ll take him,” continued Elvis. “I could always use another hand ’round the bar.”

“Well, we can’t just call him Sosruko number two,” complained Namalas. “That will be too confusing.”

“Call him Soslan,” said Elvis. “Ain’t that another name fer him?”

Namalas arched an eyebrow. “You’ve been doing your research. Those velvet paintings don’t do you justice.”

Hiawatha knew nothing of velvet paintings, but he sensed that the comment was not a compliment.

“Alright, it’s settled then,” muttered Elvis as he escorted Soslan away.

“We will attempt fabricating Sosruko one last time,” said the ochre alien deity. “What measurements should we abide by?”

Namalas sighed. “Make him average human male height. Wait, how about a couple inches taller?”

Writer and gods went their separate ways, leaving Hiawatha standing alone. Adjusting his headdress, the grandson of Nokomis hero did not think that a bad thing.

- 3 -

The Pantheon defied description. Situated on the second floor of the Mare Inebrium (the spaceport alehouse that not only defied description, but also seemed to redefine the definition when your back was turned), the hall of the Gods seemed both finite and immeasurable. The place occupied its own paradoxical niche of space-time, allowing it to coexist within the three dimensional limitations of a mortal establishment. The lack of ceiling receded into a dark ebon void, yet despite lack of lights above, an otherworldly illumination lit the various areas to various degrees, from the seraphic, floating tables for the lords of heaven to the midnight corner seats set aside for nether gods.

Writers and deities of every shape and form packed the never-ending hall. Excitement permeated the Pantheon. As Hiawatha weaved his way through the crowd, he became aware of the appraising stares. One emerald humanoid goddess even squeezed his upper arm as he passed by, as if she measured the strength beneath his bronze skin. He desired to find an egress, but his hunter instincts realized that the throng did not part for him at random. He found himself herded toward a certain area of the Pantheon, a place he later learned from the talking horse to be the dance floor commandeered for this special event.

He staggered out into an opening where dozens of others awaited their fate, just like him. The gods and writers encircled them.

The earth heroes came in all manners of colors and sizes. Some stood pale, like the moon, while others had skin more akin to night. He saw brown, olive, yellow, red, and even blue skin tones. A couple towered over him, twenty feet tall, veritable titans. He espied a small number of women. Some draped what he would come to know as steel armor over their bodies. Others, like him, wore very little at all. Most carried weapons, from the familiar bow to odd, hollowed out sticks that threw out fire and pellets of lead. Although they came in great variety, they shared one thing: a quiet, tense mix of fear and boredom.

Like thunder, a voice cut through the air. “I grow impatient!” rumbled a large, bearded, muscular hero who wore a lion skin over his broad shoulders. “By the Furies, what is our fate to be? Where are the battles to be fought and the enemies to be crushed?” He slammed his club on the floor, knocking those nearby off their feet. The act made Hiawatha’s earlier smashing of his fists seem pathetic in comparison.

He appears even stronger than Kwasind, thought the awed Hiawatha, who saw not a man, but a force of nature, strength personified. For the first time in his short life, trepidation stirred his heart.

“Patience, Heracles,” said a stout human god dressed in a toga. He turned to a purple three-headed alien deity on his left and said with a toothy grin, “He’s my boy.”

“Technically, he’s only a facsimile of your son,” said A.C. Namalas as he squeezed through the crowd, ignoring the scowl of Zeus. “All the earth heroes present are recreations of myths, legends, and folklores. And to answer your questions, mighty Heracles, we only await the last couple heroes, who at this very moment are being fashioned in their legendary ways.”

“We will not stand for this!” interrupted another human god dressed in a lavish silk robe as he pushed his way through to confront the writer. Behind him, a contingent of similarly dressed gods followed. “You have gone too far!”

The writer frowned. “Is it the selection of heroes, Shangdi? It’s not my fault your Confucian scholars destroyed so much of your mythological writings. Even so, I thought we came up with an excellent selection. Some cultures don’t have any representation at all.”

“That is not the issue!” seethed the Jade Emperor. “You are using the same rock for Sun Wukong as was used for Sosruko!”

“Query: Elucidate issue with Sun Wukong’s manufacturing process,” burbled a deity best described as a big, orange eyeball.

“Do you not know how Sosruko was created?” asked Shangdi.

“Affirmative,” replied the eyeball. “The human male sheep manager Sajemuquo Zartyzh witnessed the human female maternal trope Setenaya without her artificial coverings as she doused her epidermis in the river. His reflexive reaction to the scene was to issue forth procreative fluid that impacted nearby silicon-based material--”

“That same semen-covered rock you’re using for Sun Wukong!”

The eyeball blinked. “Repeat: Elucidate issue with Sun Wukong’s manufacturing process.”

“Ah, was it truly necessary to use that same rock?” interrupted Namalas as storm clouds began to form around Shangdi.

“I cannot fathom illogical human thinking,” replied the alien god.

“You’re gods, for crying out loud!” said the writer. “Couldn’t you have materialized another rock? Using the same one from Sosruko is very, uhm, unsanitary, not to mention disrespectful.”

“This entire concept is disrespectful!” roared Shangdi. “You’ve taken our religions and made a game out of it!”

“Well, I for *hiccup* one would like to shee how it turnsh out,” slurred a large, red-haired god who held a massive war hammer in one hand and a large stein of ale in the other. “Unlesh the *hiccup* Chineshe are shcared of battle.”

“Why don’t you bend over for your father’s eight-legged horse, Thor?” said a sneering, black-faced Chinese god.

What ensued was a raucous bedlam of even worse insults and waving fists as the Chinese and Norse deities squared off, who were soon joined in likewise fashion by their respective heroes. A lightning bolt and a fireball shot up into the air. The entire situation threatened to unravel into a divine melee.


The hall went silent as the Reever loomed above them all. Even the gods deferred to the power of the enigmatic immortal native of the planet Bethdish.

“You’re right,” said Shangdi after a pause. “It is enough. We’re following the Hindus and the other gods who left before us. It is our shame we did not do so earlier.” The crowd parted as the Chinese gods walked up to a nondescript door. The Jade Emperor turned a handle and the heroes issued a collective gasp as a vision of mountains, clouds, and a brilliant sun appeared. A pang ripped through Hiawatha as the plain, worn wood closed upon the visage of Earth, a world that claimed him even though he had never set upon it.

“Ahem,” said Namalas. “That was certainly awkward. Well, some you just can’t please.” He glanced around. “Everyone is so tall. Is there a chair or something I can stand on so that I’m not-- whoa!” Thor grasped him by the scruff of his jacket and lifted him high in the air. He dangled like a limp scarecrow. “Uh, could you turn me toward our erstwhile heroes? Yes, that’s good. Thank you very much, Thor. So! Uhm, here we are!” He cleared his throat. “You heroes have been selected from the myriad Earth mythologies and legends. You are the ultimate warriors, the ones born for battle! To provide evidence of your prowess and the nobility of the human spirit, we’ve decided to put forth an exhibition for the non-Earth gods.”

“Some have doubted our prowess?” asked the hero Cuchulainn in a cold, dangerous voice. His powerful hand gripped the mighty spear Gae Bolg. A murmur rose amongst the assembled warriors.

“Consider this a demonstration,” replied Namalas. “Consider it an opportunity to showcase your abilities to the universe.”

“Kicksh shum ash!” hollered Thor with great enthusiasm, his arms pumping the air, forgetting he held the writer aloft. After a few seconds of lashing the mortal about, the Norse god realized he still gripped Namalas. “Shorry,” he slurred.

“Uhhh,” moaned the writer, his face a curios mix of red and green. “Uh.” He gulped. “Okay. Let’s continue, shall we?” He attempted to straighten his jacket, a futile effort considering it acted more as a harness to keep him airborne. “Alright. Let us discuss the best way to demonstrate the might of earthen heroes. We have decided that that mechanism shall be a tournament of battle. One fight every earth week between two combatants. A hero cannot fight again until all the others have fought, which will begin the next round. The tournament shall last until there is one hero remaining.”

“And what does that hero receive as a prize?” growled Heracles.

“Why, what every hero desires,” said Namalas. “Eternal fame and glory!”

That is not what every hero desires, thought Hiawatha, his mind still fixated on mountains and clouds.

“Now for some ground rules,” continued the writer. “You are free to wander the Pantheon. However, you may not leave its premises, which includes using the portals to other worlds or through the front entrance. You’ll find a barrier -- a most unpleasant barrier -- that prevents you from succeeding. The only door you may use, when the time is appropriate, is the Door of Renown, which will take the heroes to their respective battleground. Since the Pantheon is quite expansive and not limited to the four dimensions, this should give even the most nomadic of you ample room. Second, there shall be no fighting outside the scheduled matches. Those that disregard these rules shall be eliminated from the tournament.”

“Recycled!” shouted Soslan from behind the bar.

Namalas cleared his throat. “Anyway, feel free to mingle with gods, mortals, and each other. Also, the Pantheon is a bar, so please sample the fine refreshments. I personally recommend the Alpha Centari merlot. Remember that you represent your culture and Earth, so behave yourselves. Drunkenness will not excuse breaking of the rules. The universe is watching you.”

“What about the first match?” yelled a green alien god from within the crowd.

“Ah yes,” replied Namalas. “I had given it some thought. How about a test of archery?”

The man from the shores of the Gitche Gumee felt the cold lump form in his stomach.

“For the first match, we shall witness the primal power of Hiawatha versus the man who shot down the nine suns, Yi the Archer!” A.C. Namalas waited for the thunderous applause. He pursed his lips at the silence. “I believe a mix of forest and mountains will be a suitable battlefield. As soon as Thor lets me down, we can be--”


* * * * *

Once he passed through the Door of Renown, Hiawatha forgot himself. He locked his eagle eyes across the mountain-ringed valley on his foe. They both stood on opposite rises above the boulders and trees, the hot sun casting its disdain upon the desiccated earth. He remained as still as the rocks below, awaiting the horn to signal the slaughter. He did not care that his life hung in balance. He knew not of Yi the Archer, the hero who slew the nine sun birds to save mankind only to become an embittered tyrant upon the death of his wife. Reason and history meant nothing to the grandson of Nokomis. Hiawatha’s only thought was to murder the champion from China by any means possible.

A blaring sound cut through the stifling air. As quick as thought, Hiawatha drew his bow and let loose a jasper-tipped arrow. Few men could match his skill with a bow.

Yi the Archer not only matched him; he exceeded him.

While Hiawatha shot his arrows high, he never reached the sun. His arrows were chipped from stone while his opponent shot barbed metal broadheads. Yi’s arrow shattered his in mid-flight and Hiawatha just managed to spin in time as the sharp edge gashed his cheek. He rolled on the ground as a series of arrows missed him by centimeters.

He came to his feet and promptly stepped a mile away toward the far end of the valley. An impossibly high mountain cliff loomed above him as he sought shelter behind a mammoth boulder. He gathered his breath as trickles of blood ran down the side of his face.

Hiawatha contemplated his next move, squatting with his back on the rock, when some inner sense warned him to look up. The feathers of the arrow skimmed his chin and landed with a silky thunk between his thighs, a mere inch from his nether regions. He rolled into a crevice underneath the rock as another arrow fell in the spot where he had rested. He touched his nose just to make sure it remained unharmed. I have become the prey, he thought. What would the majestic stag do?

He then recalled the deerskin clothing he wore and thought that pretending to be a stag was, by a large margin, his stupidest idea in his brief existence.

The rain of arrows ceased, Yi’s ammunition not infinite. Hiawatha crawled out on his belly, as quiet as a snake, into a nearby copse of trees. He faced himself toward where he knew the Chinese archer awaited with the remainder of his arrows. He blew away a headdress feather that tickled his nose. Hiawatha tensed his body and he stepped forward to almost a mile. Even with that quick jaunt, a couple arrows zipped by, only his twisting acrobatics saving him from certain death. He tumbled behind a boulder out of sight, about twenty-five yards from his foe. He pictured the position of Yi, pulled back his fist, and punched stone with a booming blow.

Rocky shrapnel blasted forth and he heard the archer yelp in surprise.

A relatively short step was followed by even shorter bloody right hook to the cranium.

- 4 -

No other game in the entire multiverse has cut a swathe of suffering and destruction like Quantum Chess. No other game begot two pan-galactic wars, leaving a dozen home worlds as charred ruins. No other game -- not even the taboo sport of Kyathaninana-- inspires hushed whispers and authoritative, brutal, and knee-jerk overreaction by crazed mobs. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Pointed-Out-In-A-Lineup (his moniker satirized to appease the lawyers) is a spokesperson for Unicef by comparison.

Such an innocuous start for what became such a noxious diversion.

Computers had flexed their mathematical prowess and solved traditional chess in the late 20th century. The remaining deterministic games fell soon after. It all seemed unfair to the organics, being outthought by silicon and copper. Many of them hoisted the white flag. Indeed, the majority thought that accessible pornography, online stock trading, and sharing incriminating pictures with friends, relatives, and eager district attorneys a small price to pay for getting your ass kicked by a computer while playing a silly board game. Score one for the machines.

A stubborn few held to the old ways. They sought a means to outwit computers, and not with subjective, (in their opinion) trivial pursuits such as philosophy, art, poetry, and country rock music. They toiled decade after decade, endeavoring for a contest that was not deterministic, for which they would lose, and not random, for which at best they would draw. That seemed to leave precisely zero options.

In the year 2277, Bobbi Agatha Schoobs of Cleveland, Ohio of Earth created the ultimate opiate for organic insecurity. She invented a game that, at first glance, appeared as traditional chess, with your pawns, queens, and pieces that the youngsters call horsies. It differed, however, in that it relied upon the Uncertainty Principle. All pieces stayed in an undetermined state until you touched one, at which point entanglement occurred and the pieces revealed themselves. This happened between each move, so the placement might very well look completely different from one turn to the next. In essence, it was random, but something odd happened.

Certain individuals intuited beyond the randomness. They sensed that indeterminate piece as their rook and the other indeterminate piece as your king. Check and mate. No computer possessed that insight. A game arose for which a machine could not brute force compute its way to victory. Score one for the organics.

Yet life is never so simple. Quantum Chess seemed to play havoc with nearby quantum computers. There were even anecdotal accounts of games warping reality itself (note: this was never proven and most historians deride such reports as apocryphal). The more militaristic individuals seized upon the destructive nature of Quantum Chess to destabilize their enemies. Many innocent and not so innocent players found themselves arrested and executed as saboteurs. Finally, two spies posing as old men in the park compromised the fusion-geothermal grid of Kwil. See that blank space in the night sky? Yeah, that was Kwil. Score minus a billion for everyone.

The resultant war destroyed three civilizations, killed trillions, and inspired four made-for-television movies. Historians and gaming enthusiasts call this the Rational War.

The other war, the one known as the Irrational War, came about when Ms. Schoobs, at that point exiled to the third moon of Candare and not content to leave well enough alone, realized that the best players did not rely on intuition, but sheer will. She proved the game bent its results for a qualified minority. As an excuse for religion and despotism, nothing could be more apropos. All it took was an unimaginative leap between game and reality and a warped view that the universe owed you something. A number of cults arose. Most of them consolidated in a major theological movement under the New Khan, the boldest, evilest, and best dressed of the maniacal dictators to fashion a dogma for Quantum Chess.

The ensuing mess made the previous war quaint by comparison. The carnage, the sheer stupidity of supposed sentient beings to run amok over something as inane as a game, was said to have shocked Ms. Schoob. She died bemused.

The vast majority of places continue to outlaw Quantum Chess to this day. Even the freer fringes of the universe, like the City of Lights on Bethdish, frown upon the game.

“That is why,” said the Bluesman as he tuned his guitar, his blind, milky eyes stark against his dark skin, “Max would not like the fact that you fellas are playing here in the Mare Inebrium.”

“The Mare Inebrium doesn’t utilize quantum computers,” said a fifteen-foot long scorpion through his Fender translator. The synthetic voice sounded distracted as his gargantuan pincer hovered over the board. “Except perhaps the juke box.” With a deftness that belied his bulk, the D'rrish touched a fuzzy piece and it turned into a pawn. Immediately, the rest of the pieces revealed themselves.

“That’s some bad luck there, Kazsh-ak Tier,” chuckled Guiles Thornby in sham evil laughter as he absentmindedly fingered the hilt of his sword. “You put yourself in check.”

Kazsh-ak Tier’s stinger bobbed angrily as he growled. “Confound this game. Where did you obtain it, Thornby? As the Bluesman so noted, it’s illegal in most localities.”

“The Boss had me collect it,” replied Thornby. “What’s bizarre is he told me to go ahead and play a few games.”

“Well, I suppose Max can’t be that upset if the Boss is giving you the green light.” The Bluesman wiped his forehead with a napkin. “But it sure makes me nervous anyway.”

“Max is too distracted with other things,” said Kazsh-ak Tier. After waffling on a couple moves, he finally chose one to escape check. As soon as he let go, the pieces once again became indistinct. “There’s talk of the gods making trouble in the Pantheon. Even the Boss is concerned.”

“They’re gods,” said the Bluesman. “They do what they want.”

Thornby sniffed. “You think so? Have you ever read in a history book where a god ever actually did anything? In a mythology book, maybe, but you don’t see them on the front page of the Galactic Times.” He scratched his three-day old beard with a calloused hand. “If they’re so powerful, then why do they seem invisible instead of just doing what they want?”

“’Cause they can’t?” offered the blind man.

“It’s because there’s a certain line they’d better not cross. ’Cause if they do--”

“Then the universe gets involved,” finished Kazsh-ak Tier. “This is the basic tenant of godhood. The more powerful you are, the more restrictions you have. Space-time has a certain flair for balancing things out. And gods can be neutralized. The security field of the Mare Inebrium prevents them from using their powers outside the Pantheon. Hmm. Come to think of it, they might use quantum computers for that as well.”

Thornby rubbed his tired eyes. “There you go, making me lose my concentration, talking about gods and quantum computers and lines being crossed. Why don’t you play us a song, Blues?”

The talented musician, a telepath who fed on the emotions of those around him, replied, “There’s not enough sorrow today. Most everyone here in the bar is happy.” The Bluesman smiled. “And that I don’t mind.”

- 5 -

“So, what was it like?” asked Monster Slayer, the Navajo hero.

What was it like? A question that long ago grew tiresome, but Hiawatha did not begrudge the other heroes asking it. They had every reason to be informed. If anything, it gave him the chance to meet some of the others. He had talked to over a dozen of the heroes already.

“I… do not know myself,” replied Hiawatha. “It was not as though I could not think. Rather, my mind was an arrow in flight, seeking the heart of Yi. My only wish was to destroy him.” Hiawatha tossed a twig into the fire. “I was a cornhusk doll come alive, a plaything of some mischievous child.”

“Hmm,” pondered the oversized Glooscap, another American Indian. He said ‘hmm’ a lot. He towered twice their height and reminded Hiawatha of the prophet Deganawida due to tendency to think things thoroughly before speaking. Glooscap was wise. He was powerful. He was genial. He was annoying the hell out of all of them. The giant turned toward Monster Slayer. “You should stop drinking the white man’s poison.”

The Navajo shrugged. He missed a twin brother who never really existed and hunted for solace within the distillations of Elvis’ bar. “The white man would say fuck you.” He took another swig and tossed the empty bottle to the side where it clattered across the tile, his eyes glassed as he swayed in near stupor.

Hiawatha tired of the bickering. Seeking distraction, he scanned the Pantheon, the numerous campfires unleashing dancing ghosts across the floors and walls. They allowed the heroes to light fires and even provided a steady supply of wood. Somehow, it seemed appropriate. Most heroes sought commonality with their companions. There were the Islamic Riders of Central Asia who exchanged dark glances with the Christian Knights. The Africans formed a quarrelsome lot while the Chinese entertained themselves with the antics of Sun Wukong and Gesar. Heracles lorded over the Greco-Roman Faction, adopting the powerful Babylonian Gilgamesh into their fold as his friend and lover. Other tribes formed, dispersed, and reformed. And a few roamed alone, the most notable being Rostam, the legendary hero of Persia.

One of the loners approached them. Hiawatha did not recognize him, although the hero did not seem too distant a relation. “May I join you?” asked the stranger.

“What is your name?” asked Hiawatha.

“Popocatepetl,” he replied. “I am Chichimecan.”

“There is room at this fire,” said the giant. “Sit. I am Glooscap. He is Monster Slayer. He is-- ”

“Hiawatha,” finished Popocatepetl. “Everyone knows the victor of the first battle.” He turned to the man from the shores of the Gitche Gumee. “You fought well. He almost pinned your nut sack to the forest floor. Many warriors would have given up at that point.”

Hiawatha grunted. “Everyone says I fought well, but I do not know how they can say. It was only him and I in that long valley.”

“We all saw,” mumbled Monster Slayer. “You and him, but smaller, on the square things.”

The square things. Hiawatha recalled someone calling them televisions, the monstrous devices found all over the Pantheon. He grunted again.

“You must have hated each other,” said the Chichimecan. “You both had blood debt in your eyes.”

“I knew him not. And he not me.”

“Strange magic then,” said Popocatepetl. Hiawatha tensed, awaiting the inevitable query. “So… what was it like?”

Hiawatha sighed and threw another log into the fire.

* * * * *

Hiawatha ran his powerful hand across the surface of the bar and marveled at its cool, hard sheen. It seemed eternal, made from the wood of the Tree of Life. He said as much to Elvis who nodded in agreement.

“Y’sir,” drawled the musician turned god. “This bar’s nigh impervious to anythin’. After Agni burned three holes in the previous one, Max figured we needed somethin’ that could deal with the likes of gods-- and other assorted assholes.”

The American Indian enjoyed conversing with Elvis, this god who saved his sanity. A smidgeon of guilt always smoldered in the back of his mind that he bothered the busy bartender. “I should not be bothering you.”

“Nonsense, Hi,” said Elvis as he filled three drinks in quick succession. “Only part of the job’s servin’ drinks. A lot of it is gabbin’ with the customers. We’re amateur therapists.” He wiped his hands on his apron. “’sides, Sauce is gettin’ the hang of things. That boy’s a quick learner.” He turned to Soslan and shouted, “Hey Sauce Man, mosey these drinks o’er to the Oyerta gods at table seven, would ya? And careful of the fumes. And be more careful of the Oyertans.”

The diminutive, muscular Nart smiled and whisked away the drinks without spilling a drop. Hiawatha knew little of bartending but Soslan seemed a natural.

“Next match will be tomorrow,” said Hiawatha as a feather from his headdress hung forlorn over the bridge of his nose. Unlike the other remaining fifty-two heroes, he did not need to worry about his name called out.

“Namalas is about to announce the fighters now,” said Elvis.

“So soon?”

“Uh huh. Last time, the gods got their panties in a wad ’cause he didn’t give them enough time to place bets. So they told him they wanted a day’s notice.”

“It is all just a game, is it not?” Hiawatha flicked at discarded peanut shell and shirked back when the thing squealed. Miniature arms came out as it cursed at him in high-pitched nonsense. It danced around the bar top on little feet.

“Yeah,” said Elvis who did not hide his disgust with the tournament. He took a turn at flicking the peanut shell creature and connected with a loud thwack. It arced into the crowd of gods converging around the dance floor, its wail fading in the distance. “This is all wrong. No good gonna come out of it.”

“Deities and writers,” shouted Namalas, his voice cracking. “May I have your attention?” This time he brought a chair to stand upon. His glanced with mistrust at Thor who stood nearby. “We are about to announce the second match.” A hush fell over the crowd. Even the pompous Heracles remained quiet. “This week, we shall have a battle of females: Queen Trung of Vietnam versus Princess Saljan of the Turks! Please give our heroines a round of applause!” The crowd murmured and Hiawatha heard the odds discussed with alarming amorality.

“Ya know, if I wasn’t such a nice god, I’d zap that sumbitch,” said Elvis.

“You can do that?” asked Hiawatha.

“Nah, not my bag,” admitted Elvis. “Music’s my thing. It ain’t lightnin’ bolts nor the ground splittin’ in half, but it’s enough.” He paused. “Sometimes.”

Princess Saljan, the 5-to-1 favorite, would defeat Queen Trung atop her elephant in a battle on the open plain. Some gods took the sucker bet and lost quite a bit. Unlike Trung, however, none of them lost their life.

- 6 -

“Not so special any longer, eh Hiawatha?” said a chortling Monster Slayer. The Navajo was drunker and meaner than usual and targeted Hiawatha in this particular outburst. “You’re the only one-- the only one-- not the only one to have won a match now.”

“Perhaps that is so,” said Hiawatha.

“You know, if I had fought, er, whatshisname-- Yi! I would have-- would have-- wouldn’t have run around like a girl hiding behind rocks. I would have killed him with my zigzag lightning arrows. Brrrzat! Ker-pow! I am Monster Slayer!”

“Yes, you are Monster Slayer.”

“And you know why they call me, uhm, Monster Slayer? Because I slew monsters. I killed many monsters. I made the world safe for all the people of the world by killing monsters. You hear that, Goose-Crap? You hear that, Poppy-- Popocat-- Popocapee-- you fucking Ass-tec wannabe? You hear that?” He looked at his hand. “Hey Hiawatha, do you know why they call me Monster Slayer?”


“That’s right! Because I kill monsters.” He teetered on his feet. “Except old age. And sickness. And poverty. Because you can-- you can-- you can’t kill all evil. The world needs some evil. If no one ever died, the world gets too crowded. My brother, Born-for-Water, said… my brother--” Monster Slayer’s face contorted in despair. “My brother…” He choked back a sob before he fell forward hard. He lay with arms splayed. A snore rumbled out of his open mouth.

“I thought Elvis agreed not to provide him anymore of the white man’s poison,” said Glooscap as he placed a blanket over Monster Slayer’s inert form.

“He did,” said Hiawatha. “But the other gods keep gifting him with drinks. His antics amuse them.”

“He amuses me,” admitted Popocatepetl.

“He is not whole without his brother, Popo,” said Glooscap.

“Iztaccihuatl’s passing drove me to lie down beside her and await my own death,” said the Chichimecan. “And Hiawatha saw his Minnehaha die of sickness. Yet you do not see us carrying on. We all have had our tragedies and dark times.”

Hiawatha’s heart panged with the memory, even though he could not picture his wife’s face. Artificial memories did not supply an image, but the ache felt as authentic the floor beneath him. His hatred of the cursed writer reached a new zenith.

“Not the same,” said Glooscap.


“Not the same,” persisted the giant. “Your losses have been great. Your pains are real. Yet Iztaccihuatl and Minnehaha did not share your souls. For Monster Slayer, his brother Born-for-Water was his other half. There cannot be one without the other. Monster Slayer was the arm, his twin the mind that guided the arm.”

“You seem to know a great deal,” grumbled Hiawatha. The thought of a faceless Minnehaha both saddened and angered him. “You are saying my Minnehaha is less than his Born-for-Water. How do you know so much?”

“I listen.”

“Listen and talk. Talk, talk, talk.” He kicked a flaming log and it skittered across the floor, leaving a trail of sparks. “I tire of your talking.”

Popocatepetl laid a restraining hand upon his arm. “Easy.”

Hiawatha shook free. “No! No more talk. Not from him and not from you.” He wanted battle but his next turn would not come for months. He ached to meet the darkness and embrace it. He raged that he could not even chose the method of his death. He grabbed his ash bow and quiver and stormed away. Murderous intent gleaned in his eye.

* * * * *

The difference between hunting and assassination is the manner of the prey. He knew the distinction; he ignored it. Instead of trees, he maneuvered amongst bodies. Rather than hills, he relied on tables and chairs to hide. He avoided lights, skulking in shadows.

He spotted his quarry near the bar, the clichéd, tweed jacket standing out like a red flag. The simpering, oblivious A.C. Namalas, the ever-present haughtiness etched on his pale face, engaged in heated conversation with Jehova and the Archangel Robert. Elvis loomed nearby, pretending to mind his own business. This was the perfect moment. This was the time for retribution. Amidst the anonymity of hundreds conversing and drinking, arguing and reveling, he drew forth his bow and notched an arrow.

He calmed himself, his breathing even and heart steady. He drew the missile back. In slow motion, Jehova turned to him, the god’s expression oddly serene. He let loose the arrow. It flew true.

A flash of sparks followed by thunder. The wind knocked out of him as someone even more powerful tackled him. A scream. A world of chaos.

“Move aside, move aside!” bellowed the Reever. “No fighting amongst the heroes. Gilgamesh, release him.”

His nose bloodied, he glanced up while on his back and smiled.

“What were you thinking?” asked the Reever.

“I am Monster Slayer,” replied the Navajo. “I slay monsters. It is what I do.” He saw Hiawatha twenty paces to his right. He saw the guilt in his companion’s eyes, the culpability in thought if not in action.

Monster Slayer laughed.

End Act I

Act II - Find the Pieces

- 1 -


Archangel Robert stands before the massive, over-elaborate doors to the Pantheon room. Various symbols, faces, and miscellany are carved into the frame, creating a chaotic and uneven display. Bruce, the trim but lethal bouncer who bears a striking resemblance to a certain 1970’s martial arts star, blocks his path.

(holds out an upward palm) No unaccompanied minors.


No unaccompanied minors. You are a minor divinity. Your god must accompany you in order to enter the Pantheon. No exceptions.

Well that’s just silly… (pop and crackle of Bruce’s joints as he tightens his muscles) …but hey I’m not one to argue about rules. So only gods can enter alone?

And writers.

Ah! Well, there you go. I’m a writer. I wrote a paper titled Sociology Experiment. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It was quite the sensation on Earth.

(nods his head)

So that qualifies me as a writer, right?


Robert attempts to walk past and staggers back from a two-finger slap on his forehead. He clutches his face in his hands.

Ow! What was that for? I thought we established I’m a writer!

You are a writer. You are also a minor. No unaccompanied minors.

(rubs the red welt on his forehead) Goddammit! (cringes and glances around) Hope the boss didn’t hear that. (turns back to Bruce) So let me get this straight. Writers outrank minor divinities in the Pantheon?

No. Minors outrank writers. That is why you cannot enter. You are a minor divinity before you are a writer.


Enter from the left Jehova. The short, gray deity seems preoccupied. He glances up and takes in the situation.

Hello Robert. Hello Bruce.

Jehova, I’m glad to see you. Bruce won’t let me enter. Apparently, minor divinities can’t get in without their god accompanying them.

I can see the wisdom in that. Now Robert, don’t pout. It is unbecoming of my archangel. You must remember that the categories of minor divinities are nearly infinite. Many should never be left unsupervised or even created. Unfortunately, it is difficult to draw the line. Whose elemental or demon should be allowed? Whose avatar or flaming eye should not? If they made exceptions, then certain deities will take umbrage. It is an aspect of their difficult nature. Nevertheless, be not perturbed. I am here. Shall we enter now?

(again holds out an upward palm) No Earth gods allowed in the main floor of the Pantheon at this time.

What! (runs behind Jehova as Bruce glares at him) Don’t hit me. (Whispers to Jehova) Can you strike him down?

He can hear you Robert. And no, I cannot. First, the dampening field is in effect. Second, despite legendary accounts, it is not my preferred manner of dealing with situations. (eyes the door) Well, that explains the discord down below. I thought it curious as to why the Norse, Olympian, and other assorted Earth deities were raising Cain in the Boardroom. It seems we have been barred from the tournament.

The Boardroom?

Another themed area of the Mare Inebrium where the executive types congregate. I surmise that Max gathered the gods there so they would cause the least friction with other patrons, although I would be concerned of mixing deities with megalomaniac businessmen. Even depowered gods can be troublesome. (turns to Bruce) Is there an explanation as to why we cannot enter?

(shakes his head)

(rubs his chin) Something is amiss here, something larger than just a contest of heroes. This is troubling. Most troubling.

Pan to the ornate doorway. Slow zoom on the carving of a laughing maniacal face. Center on the darkness of the carving’s eye. Zoom in until screen goes to black.

- 2 -

“So why were the Earth gods sent away?”

Elvis finished cleaning the glass and placed it among the others. “The way I heard it, Hi, was that they didn’t want ’em messin’ ’round with the fights. Not that these non-Earth yahoos are anymore impartial, ’specially when they got themselves a wager on it.” Elvis shrugged and ran a hand through his thick hair. “Sounds fishy, if ya ask me.”

Hiawatha sipped his Shirley Temple. The diminutive, functional umbrella fascinated him. “You are a god of Earth, are you not?”

Elvis snorted. “Darn tootin’. But they ain’t got no one else to serve ’em drinks. Least, not the way I can. I got half a mind walkin’ out anyways after what they done to Monster Slayer.”

Hiawatha turned to the Navajo chained to a rock upon a high dais, poison from an unknown source dripping down upon him. An invisible force dome prevented anyone from getting close. It also blocked sound. Yet it did not hide the agony that Monster Slayer endured, his body twisting and contorting with each drop. Rage again swelled within the son of Nokomis. “I am angry at Jehova for protecting Namalas and setting up this situation.”

“Now don’t get all livid at the Lord. He’s one smart fella. If he hadn’t stopped that arrow, there’d been no way he could of kept ’em from killin’ Monster Slayer. And I reckon it wouldn’t have stopped the tournament anyways.”

“It is better to die than to suffer like that.”

Elvis nodded. “Can’t say I disagree with ya. That was the writer’s idea. Said if they weren’t gonna, ahem, recycle him, then they needed somethin’ to discourage the others from takin’ a shot. So he recommended this happy scene from Norse mythology, where Loki was punished fer killin’ Baldur.”

“Jehova saved him for what purpose? As capable as Monster Slayer is, there are others here far more powerful. He, like me, would have little hope of winning the tournament. Eventually, all but one of us will die. It is only a matter of time.”

“Ya gotta have faith.”

Hiawatha snapped the umbrella in half. “To have faith, one must believe in a god.”

“Believe in yerself.”

“But I am an imagined man. I am only as real as the clay that crafted me.”

Elvis stuck out a long finger at him. “Now listen here, buckaroo. I’ve been ’round fer a long time. Who says ya ain’t real? Sure, they made ya. Maybe they put false memories in yer noggin. So what? Ya got a soul. Ya got a mind. What happens from now on is yers, not theirs. Now stop feelin’ sorry fer yerself.”

Hiawatha had nothing further to say at that point. Still glum, he finished his drink and waved goodbye to Elvis.

The tension in the Pantheon was palpable. The gods and writers viewed the heroes with a certain apprehension, no longer seen as harmless pets but fanged serpents that could turn and strike their masters’ hand without warning. The situation amongst the heroes was worse. Many did not get along with each other. He heard rumblings of an all-out war whispered around the campfires. He did not understand the dynamics or the alliances. He did not see how his little tribe fit in. Therefore, he required answers from the most knowledgeable within the Pantheon.

The corral, stinking of horse and situated at the far end near the Celestial Loos, penned the mounts of the heroes. Hiawatha sought one in particular that stood by itself away from the others: Aranjal, the steed of Jangar Khan.

The cranky chestnut eyed him. “What do you want now?” snapped the horse.

“I see the others still have not accepted you,” said Hiawatha, a slight twinkle in his eye.

“They don’t like me because I can talk human.”

“That and they say you are arrogant and mean. Little Gray especially dislikes you.”

“Yeah, whatever, what does Sosruko’s pony know?” Aranjal snorted loudly. “I can speak horse as well. I hear what they say. Stupid beasts. At least with Queen Trung gone, that horrible elephant went with her.”

“I still wonder how they got the elephant through the Door of Renown,” mumbled Hiawatha.

“I said, what do you want? I’m not in the mood for exchanging pleasantries with a man with feathers on his head.”

Hiawatha chuckled. “Peace, my handsome friend. I only wish to understand why the heroes ready to fight amongst themselves.”

“You what?” Aranjal laughed. He laughed so hard he fell to his side, his hooves kicking spasmodically. “Ha ha ha! Oh the irony! Ha ha!”

The American Indian frowned. “Why are you laughing? Are you laughing at me?”

“Of course I’m laughing at you.” The horse got to his feet, still tittering. “It’s your fault, you know. You closed the wrong eye. Ha ha ha! Oh, make it stop, make it stop!”


“Ha ha ha. Give me a minute, will you? Heh heh.”

Aranjal eventually controlled himself. He shook his mane. “Okay. Phew. My sides hurt. Mr. I-Have-A-Split-Personality, don’t you remember anything about your Iroquois half? Anything at all?”

Hiawatha shook his head, just a tad dishonest. Only Deganawida he recalled with any regularity, and even the prophet was vague in his mind. He often dreamed snippets of his other life during sleep, although it made no sense to him. Since he had no images of the past, his mind created them, confusing things beyond comprehension. He once remembered Elvis as Deganawida and a bar stool as his daughter. “What should I know?” he asked.

“Nothing,” said Aranjal.

“You laughed a good long while, and now you say ‘nothing’?”

“I said something. It’s just that I said nothing.”

Hiawatha rubbed his face with his palms. He forced himself to remain cool even though the horse behaved like an ass. “So be it. Can we discuss what I came here for?”

“The discord amongst the heroes.”


“It’s all about history,” explained the horse. “You may think mythologies arise in these neat little packages, each one by its lonesome. The truth is that they quite complex. Sometimes they even reference other mythologies. They are religions, after all, and are reflective of the cultures they represent. Here, in the Pantheon, we have a long-standing grudge between the Islamic Riders of Central Asia with the Christian Knights from Europe. It’s a religious and territorial thing. But other hostilities exist and complicate matters. Manas, a Kyrgyz, hates the Chinese, so the Chinese turn to the Christians as an ally. The Africans are genial towards Islam due to Queen Amina, herself a Muslim. The Japanese do not get along with the Chinese. The North Seas Alliance, consisting of Beowulf, Cuchulainn, and others, have been wooed by the Christians’ Walter of Aquitaine and Ogier the Dane. They follow different gods but share a common geographical area. Rostam the Persian, who keeps to himself, sympathizes with the warriors of Central Asia, even though he’s a follower of Zoroastrianism.

“What you have is an immense powder keg, waiting for the spark to set it off. To complicate matters further, not everyone falls into the two camps. The Indians remain neutral. The Greco-Roman Faction threatens to war with all of them. Apparently, both the Christians and Muslims disapprove strongly with Heracles relationship with Gilgamesh. And of course, we have your underpowered band.”

“I am confused,” said Hiawatha, scratching his head. “Can you go through it again?”

“No. Go out there and figure it yourself. You were born to do it.” Aranjal snickered and turned away from him, his tail swishing back and forth.

“But I need to know--”


“Oh come on.”

“Neigh. Whinny. Neigh.”

“You know I can speak horse.”

Aranjal said something in horse.

“That was very crude and not very nice,” said Hiawatha.

This time Aranjal ignored him outright.

* * * * *

That week, Koroghlu the Azerbaijanian fell to Sudika-Mbambi of the Ambundu in a gory and brutal battle. Many thought Koroghlu might have won if he had but stayed on his immortal horse Kirat. Afterward, both the African heroes and the Islamic Riders of Central Asia came together to sing of the passing of the Blindson, the avenging warrior who hated the coming of firearms and the death of everything heroic because of them.

- 3 -

As it turned out, Hiawatha did not need to seek out the other heroes.

“Greetings,” said a paleface warrior dressed in the heavy plated armor. “I am Prince Marko of Serbia.” He carried a shield adorned with a white eagle, a cross of red quadrisecting the front. Hiawatha had not talked to him before, but he recognized him as affiliated with the Christian Knights.

“Welcome to our fire,” said Glooscap. “Please sit.”

Prince Marko smiled and bowed. “I must respectfully decline,” he said while twirling his mustache with a thumb and forefinger. “I’m here to invite all of you to a feast tonight so we may come to know each other. My group has much admiration for your warband, and we would be honored if you accepted.”

“We accept your invitation,” said Hiawatha, earning him a glare from Glooscap.

“Most excellent! Sir Elvis has been kind enough to reserve a table. We look forward to breaking bread with you.” The Serb bowed again and strode away to his own campfire.

“You speak for us all now?” asked Glooscap.

“I am going,” said Hiawatha. “You do not have to.”

“They will ask for an alliance. And it will force us to meet with the Muslims later. Otherwise, they will construe us as taking sides.”

“Yes, I realize that. I will not commit us to one or the other. All I am going to do is to listen.”

“We all need to be involved or not at all.”

Hiawatha implored the giant. “You must trust me. My instinct tells me this is the right trail to follow.”

Glooscap turned to the others. “Hmm. What do you others think? Popo? Lam-ang?”

“I think I wish I had a moustache,” replied Popocatepetl, rubbing his bare upper lip. “Oh, and I trust Hiawatha, too.”

Biag ni Lam-ang, the Filipino hero who recently joined their group, shrugged and picked at his teeth. “This is not straightforward like killing headhunters. I will go for the food, but I defer to the others.”

Glooscap studied the man from the shores of the Gitche Gumee. “As of late, you seem to care how people think. Explain.”

Hiawatha frowned, struggling to articulate his thoughts, and then realized he did not understand them himself. “I cannot explain.”

Glooscap sighed. “Then I will go as well,” he said. “We will all go.”

* * * * *

They sat around a large, round table. This amused the disconsolate Lancelot, although Hiawatha did not know why. Soslan served them, providing them with courses of victuals and spirits, including such New World dishes as squash and maize. Elvis even stopped by once to check on things. The musical god winked at Hiawatha before leaving to attend the bar.

The Christian Knights were the largest band and possibly the most powerful. Although the banquet was meant to be a meeting of equals, it felt anything but. Glooscap, who sat on Hiawatha’s left, leaned over and said in the tongue of beavers (a sub-dialect of common rodent), “They outnumber us nine to four. And they know it.”

“Yes,” agreed Hiawatha, relying on his ability to speak with animals. “Their arms are stronger, their blades are sharper. They are a formidable tribe. It is good that we are not allowed to fight each other outside the tournament. A war would be terrifying.”

“What is that chittering tongue you speak?” asked Roland from across the table, the Sauvignon Blanc sloshing about in the Frenchman’s glass.

“Just gibberish,” said Glooscap.

“Will you not share our wine?”

“I do not drink wine.”

“I drink, therefore I am… drunk,” said Popocatepetl as he hefted a large mug of ale. Lam-ang grinned and slapped Popo on the back, his own hand clenched around a turkey leg.

“And you, Hiawatha?” asked Roland.

The American Indian shook his head.

“You are wise to refrain from overindulgence,” said the mighty Ilya Muromets.

“Leave it to the Russian to ruin the mood,” grumbled Ogier the Dane. “All hail the doughty bogatyr.”

Ilya’s affable expression darkened. At the table, only Samson exceeded him in raw strength. David of Sasun perhaps equaled him. “I did not quite hear you, Ogier.”

“Be calm, Ilya,” said Prince Marko. “It is the drink talking. Ignore him.”

“No more squabbling. Let us welcome the GREAT TRIBE OF THE NEW WORLD!” shouted David of Sasun, his booming voice shattering a nearby bottle of wine. The Christian Knights, except the longhaired Samson, cheered and raised their drinks in honor. Roland blew his horn Olifant, the sound sharp and clarion.

“You called that loud, Roland?” teased Walter of Aquitane. “It’s but a whisper compared to David’s voice.”

“Blow it harder!” encouraged Ogier the Dane.

“Oh no,” said Roland. “Last time I blew that hard, I ruptured a vein in my forehead and died.”

Ogier stood up and thrust out his hips. “Here, you can practice blowing on this.”

“Oh! Oh! You did not just say that!” screamed Roland as he unsheathed his blade. “My sword Durendal shall cut you in twain!”

“’Tis but a child’s stick compared to Curtana!” roared Ogier the Dane, himself drawing his sword. The air rang with the clangs of two swords of equal quality. Prince Marko barely ducked a wild swing from Roland. Digenis Acritas and Walter of Aquitane clasped each other around the shoulders, tears rolling down their faces from laughing so hard.

Lancelot, sitting to Hiawatha’s right, whispered, “Ignore them. They are always play fighting. They are old friends, going back to their days under Charlemagne.”

“They seem much friendlier than Samson,” said Hiawatha.

“The ancient one finds our company uncomfortable,” said the Arthurian legend. “He is Jewish and of a time long before ours. He would better fit with Heracles and Gilgamesh, but he does not approve of their love for each other. Like me, he does not belong here.”

“I do not understand. Your appearance does not seem out of place with the others at the table.”

“I do not belong in the tournament,” said Lancelot, his face forlorn. “I am not a hero. I betrayed my king by having an affair with his wife, my queen. If any of King Arthur’s men should be present, it should be Gawain. A powerful knight, and a loyal one.”

“None of us has a choice being here,” said Hiawatha. “It is the writer’s fault.”

The mock fight became a contest of seeing whose sword could damage the wooden table the most. Elvis ran over, screaming bloody murder.

“Methinks the feast is over,” said Lancelot.

Hiawatha was not disappointed. He noticed, however, that the gods who watched did not seem as pleased.

* * * * *

As expected, the Islamic Riders of Central Asia approached their fire the next day, the beautiful and capable Princess Saljan leading the way. “Praise be to Allah,” she said in greeting.

Both Glooscap and Hiawatha rose to their feet. Popocatepetl, nursing a cataclysmic hangover, barely acknowledged their guests. He lay on his stomach and grunted.

Lam-ang, not much better off than Popo, opened a bloodshot eye and saw Princess Saljan. His mouth agape, he staggered to his feet only to stumble back inelegantly on his ass. “Hello,” he managed to stutter.

“Please sit,” said Glooscap. “Share our fire.”

Princess Saljan glanced to her companions. A silent agreement passed among them. They sat cross-legged on the tile floor opposite the Tribe of the New World. Princess Saljan sat in the middle, Manas and Alpamysh to her right, Hang Tauh and Sosruko on her left.

“We have not prepared for your coming,” said Hiawatha.

Sosruko smiled and produced a saba, a horse-hide container holding a liquid of some sort. “I’ve brought kumis.” Hiawatha stared at the muscular man from the Caucasus, marveling at his resemblance to Soslan. Sosruko looked identical to his earlier version, only larger.

Without thought, Hiawatha took the skin and drank from the spout. He coughed, the vile, milky beverage burning his throat. Glooscap grabbed the saba from his hands.

“Glooscap,” he sputtered, “it is--”

“--not the white man’s poison,” finished the giant. Glooscap took a deep draught. “Not bad. A bit sour.”

“I like the tall one,” said a grinning Alpamysh. Manas laughed and nodded his head in agreement.

“I saw your battle with Queen Trung,” said a googly eye Lam-ang. “You are a wonderful rider. So graceful. Like a flying fish gliding over the seas.”

“We are all excellent horsemen,” replied Princess Saljan. “Well, except our Malaysian friend Hang Tauh. But we do not tease him too much. He is an absolute terror with his kris.”

“Pfft!” said a dismissive Hang Tauh. “Who needs a horse when you’re fighting pirates on the open seas?”

Lam-ang laughed too hard. “Ha ha! Yes, that’s true! Isn’t that true, Princess?”

Popocatepetl sipped from the saba. His face turned green as he covered his mouth with his hand. Gagging, he scampered off to the shadows.

“You know why we’re here,” said Manas abruptly, ignoring the retching sounds of the Chichimecan. “The time has come to choose sides.”

“Manas,” warned Princess Saljan. “You are too direct. It is your attitude that drove the Chinese to ally with the blasphemers.”

The Kyrgyz spat. “A curse on the Kitai and their Monkey King. I don’t need a woman to tell me how to behave.”

“You are strong of arm, ‘Lion’ Manas,” said a deep voice behind Hiawatha, “but even you would be hard-pressed to conquer Sun Wukong.”

Hiawatha turned around a saw Rostam. The broad-shouldered Persian stared at him and the American Indian cowed under that intense gaze. “Do you mind if I share your fire?” asked the visitor.

“Rostam,” whispered Manas. All the Islamic Riders knew of the great hero. They held him in high esteem. “Please, sit--”

“It is not your fire to share, Manas,” said Rostam, his eyes still boring into Hiawatha.

“You are welcome here,” said the man from the shores of the Gitche Gumee.

Rostam smiled warmly and bowed. He took his place next to Hiawatha and then addressed the group. “So you talk of a war you could not win. You must be aware that the combined might of the Christians and the Chinese would be too strong.”

“We will crush them,” argued Manas. “With the Africans and the Japanese, we can prevail.”

“No, but even if you could, to what purpose? Would you want to wind up like Monster Slayer? We are but pawns of the gods. They will not allow us to wage war, to fight amongst each other.” The Persian shook his head. “So talk. But remember that it is nothing but talk.” He motioned to the saba next to Glooscap. “Pass the kumis, please.”

“If we do not talk of war, what shall we talk about?” asked Sosruko.

“Let us trade stories,” said Rostam. “Let me start…” So began the tale of the Shahnameh and his part in it. They heard of his seven labors, the endless wars, the service to his kings. They shed a tear when he recounted how he slew, in ignorance, his own son Sohrab. They listened in rapt attention, the baritone voice commanding yet gentle. Even the gods put aside their machinations for a while, absorbed by the tale of this hero from the distant planet called Earth.

- 4 -

Gods do everything on a grander scale. They create, they destroy, they manipulate the primordial at levels far beyond the ken of mere mortals. They possess the power to obliterate suns. They rouse the passions of trillions, their names called aloud as the fervent dispatch the unbelievers with righteous zeal.

Gods even sulk epically.

“You know, it’s just not fair,” said a downtrodden Thor, his large frame hunkered down in an oversized, leather chair. He still had crumbs of a fish taco in his thick red beard. “They kick us out and it was our idea. Well, okay, maybe not our idea, but it was our arguments over whose illegitimate son was tougher that gave the writer the idea.”

“Yeah,” agreed a sullen Zeus, absentmindedly fingering a mustard stain on his toga.

“You know what’s not fair?” said an inebriated Perun, his helmet with the horsetail plume skewed to the side. He slammed his glass on the mahogany table. “I have no heroes. None. That damn Jehova came along and stole away all my bogatyri. They were part of my pantheon long before Christianity came to Eastern Europe! Ilya Muromets should be representing me! Not him! Me!”

Soft jazz played in the background. The Boardroom, with its stylish furniture and a lingering smell of cigars, sat empty except for those three. The other Earth gods left frustrated. The executives, the ones who frequented the Boardroom and themselves minor deities amongst their employees and shareholders, found themselves overmatched by these cantankerous immortals. Even Trixie, the stoic waitress who had seen a thing or two in her time, avoided the area now.

“It’s just not fair,” repeated the Norse god.

“Yeah,” agreed Zeus.

“Damn thief,” lamented Perun.

“Have you ever met him before?” asked Thor.

“Jehova?” Perun pondered. “You know, I can’t remember. I don’t remember a lot from my earlier days.”

“I don’t either,” said the Greek god. “It’s like… a fog or something.”

“This tournament kind of reminds me of… Hel, I don’t know,” said Thor. “It’s just familiar.”

“Yeah!” said Zeus. “I know what you mean! Like we’ve done this before!”

“I remember being… gray,” said Perun.

“And shorter,” added Zeus.

Thor glanced at the mirror behind the bar. He saw, not himself, but someone from long ago. He shuddered. “It’s just not fair.”


“There should be a law,” said Perun, “against stealing someone else’s religion.”

They all sighed in unison.

- 5 -

Hiawatha and Glooscap did not always see eye-to-eye and it had nothing to do with the mismatch in height. Even wise men do not agree on all things. For the most part, they kept their disagreements civil. Usually.

“Why?” shouted an exasperated Hiawatha. The feathers on his headdress splayed out chaotically. “Why would you want to commit to anyone else’s cause? Why join a war that can never happen anyway?”

“If it does not matter, then why not?” yelled Glooscap, towering over Hiawatha. “Why not show solidarity against the palefaces, if only symbolically? Do you not remember how the white man took our lands? When the Muslims visited yesterday, they treated us as equals.”

Lam-ang and Popocatepetl stood to the side, their heads swiveling back and forth as if they watched a tennis match, the arguments the ball in play.

“It is all about hate with you. About past grievances that happened a thousand moons ago. You believe your way will make things better?”

“You are afraid. That is your problem!”

“It is not fear!” roared Hiawatha, his fist shaking in emphasis, flecks of spit spraying from his mouth. “Our time here is limited. I do not want to spend my remaining moments hating anyone. Do you not see how it plays into the gods’ hands? They enjoy our bickering!”

“Then let them be entertained. Let them see what true warriors feel.”

“I will not be a cornhusk doll anymore than I have to be!”

Glooscap whirled on Popocatepetl and Lam-Ang, startling them. “Popo, Lam-ang! Your thoughts?”

“Uhm,” said a hesitating Lam-ang. “I’d say let’s join forces with Princess-- er, the Islamic Riders. Maybe we could merge with their band.”

Popocatepetl shrugged. “I actually liked the Christians’ party better. I don’t like kumis.”

“That is not a good reason to join with the palefaces,” admonished Glooscap.

“Well, the white men did kill most of my people,” said the Chichimecan. “I guess if you think about it that way, then I’d say fuck their party. Just don’t make me drink more kumis.”

“Three to one,” said Glooscap, a smug expression on his face.

“You all,” said Hiawatha in a calm, dangerous voice, “do what pleases you. I will not be part of it.”

“Then you must leave,” said Glooscap.

“Hold on--,” said a protesting Popocatepetl. Lam-ang bit his fingernails, his face distraught.

Hiawatha held up his hand. Popo fell silent. Gathering his ash bow and quiver, the voice of Deganawida turned and departed the campfire.

* * * * *

Hiawatha walked with a hunter’s grace, his footfalls making nary a sound as he roamed the expansive Pantheon. He went from one quiet step to the next, echoing (or not echoing) the silence that followed him. Countless eyes pondered him as he walked past, many hostile, some sympathetic, and a good share curious and amused.

Everyone witnessed the argument, heard the reasons for and against joining the alliance with the Islamic Riders. The pro-Muslim groups disapproved of him since he chose to break with the others. The pro-Christians distrusted him because of his former associations. He wandered adrift and alone. He imagined some jilted malingerer leaping out of the shadows wishing to fight him for not wishing to fight. He angled toward the bar but stopped when he saw a large gathering of gods badgering both a beleaguered A.C. Namalas and Elvis.

By the Great Hare, what rabid wolves have both the writer and Elvis fleeing together?, thought Hiawatha. The idea scared him. He turned away.

It was to his great relief when Rama, the majestic, blue-skinned hero of the Ramayana, invited him over to their camp. He and Arjuna sat around their fire. Like Hiawatha, they stood steadfast in their neutrality. However, no one gave the Indians a hard time, even though their group numbered just three. Rama was a force on par with Heracles and Sun Wukong. Arjuna perhaps matched his skill, or came close. Unniyarcha, one of the few women heroes present, was rumored to be a formidable warrior in her own right. Fifty yards away, she practiced with a round shield on one arm and a strange weapon in the other, a steel whip of sorts, the flexible, twirling blade cutting intricate patterns in the air.

“Thank you for sharing your fire,” said Hiawatha.

“It looked like you could use a friend,” said Rama with a grin.

“I could use a friend,” agreed Hiawatha, his noble head nodding. He glanced toward Arjuna who seemed preoccupied in his own thoughts.

Noticing Hiawatha’s gaze, Arjuna rose with a sad smile. “I must walk. You are welcome at our fire. I apologize for not being a suitable host this day.” The unbeatable archer from the Mahabharata strode off to the shadows, leaving Hiawatha alone with Rama.

“Is he angry with me?” asked the grandson of Nokomis.

“No,” replied Rama. “He is to battle Lancelot in four days. His mind is on other things.”

“Ah. I had little time to think of my battle. It appears the writer is giving more advance notice with each fight.”

“Arjuna will lose,” said Rama matter-of-factly.

Hiawatha frowned. “I thought Arjuna skilled?”

“He is. He is my equal with his bow. However, he doubts himself, and I cannot help him. He does not understand why we are fighting.” Seeing his confusion, Rama continued, “Let me tell you some history. In the Mahabharata, before the final battle at Kurukshetra, Arjuna grew troubled with the thought of killing his cousins and former teachers. The entire war paused, waiting for Arjuna as he struggled with this moral dilemma. It was at that moment that Krishna revealed to him the Bhagavad Gita. In essence, Krishna stated our purpose in the universe, why Arjuna had to fight. You see, Krishna was also an avatar of Vishnu, one aspect of the Hindu Trinity.”

“What is an avatar?”

“It is when a god descends to a lower plane, such as earth. He takes the form of someone like Krishna.”

“So Krishna was Vishnu?”

“Yes and no. Consider an avatar a presence of the god. Krishna represented Vishnu but existed separately.”

“So he was like that Archangel Robert to his god Jehova?”

“No. Robert is a distinct being from Jehova.”

The conversation confused Hiawatha more than his past discussions with the petulant Aranjal. “I do not understand,” he said. “So if Krishna--”

“It really isn’t important to the story. Just consider them one and the same.”

“Oh,” said Hiawatha abashed. “Please continue.”

“Rama is also an avatar of Vishnu.”

“So… you are Vishnu as well?”


Hiawatha clenched his jaw and hit his thigh in frustration. “I just heard you say--”

“I am not Rama,” interrupted Rama. “I was created in the likeness of Rama. I was given a bow that looks like Kodanda. I know in my mind the various astras, including the ultimate missile the Brahmastra. I was given his name. But I am not him. Even if I were Rama, what could I tell Arjuna? What purpose does this tournament serve? There is no Bhagavad Gita revelation here.”

Hiawatha understood. “So Arjuna will lose.”

“Yes. It will be just Unniyarcha and I after tomorrow.”

The man who could step a mile watched her as she continued to spin and dance. “What is that weapon that she uses?”

“It is called an urumi. It is a type of flexible sword.”

“She is really good with it.”

“Yes. She even carved Arjuna and me on the wall.”

“Your names?”

“No, our images.” Rama pointed out to the distance.

Hiawatha’s eagle eyes spotted the carving. There, side-by-side, were the perfect profiles of both Arjuna and Rama.


“Yes, she is,” agreed Rama.

- 6 -

Troubled festered in his heart and tiring of answers from others, Hiawatha sought within himself. Therefore, he decided to forgo eating. He cobbled together a small wigwam in the Algonquian fashion, a dome structure with a frame of sticks and covered in birch bark. He went inside, sat down in the gloom, and began praying to anonymous gods.

Ten minutes later, Popocatepetl poked his head in. “Hey Hiawatha, what are you doing?”

Hiawatha opened his left eye. “Fasting.” He closed it.

“Oh. Well, we miss you at the fire. If you want to come back, you can. Lam-ang and I don’t care what Glooscap says.”

“Thank you, Popo.”

“How long have you been fasting?”

“Not long.”

The Chichimecan glanced around. “Nice place. It’s a bit small, though, don’t you think?”

“It is only meant for one person.”

“Ah, well that makes more sense. Can I get you something to eat?”

Hiawatha harrumphed. “I am fasting, Popo.”

“Oh, right. How about something to drink then?”



“Fasting requires solitude. I need to be alone.”

“I see.” Popocatepetl paused. “So I should--”

“Leave then, yes,” finished Hiawatha.

Over the next two hours, a couple gods, a lost, distracted writer from the Opex galaxy, and Popocatepetl (once again) disturbed his meditations. At this point, he debated tossing the wigwam into the fire.

“Greetings,” said a deep voice.

“What!” barked Hiawatha, his eyes snapping open.

Rostam grinned. “I notice you are in contemplation.”

“I am fasting,” said Hiawatha with a sigh, “but I fear it is not meant to be.”

“Because others keep interrupting you.”

Not wishing to offend the Persian, the American Indian shrugged.

“I will keep watch so others do not disturb you,” continued Rostam.

“The offer is generous, my friend, but this could be a long while. Last time, I fasted for seven days.”

“Hiawatha, do I have anything better to do?”

He could not argue with the logic. “If it is your wish then my thanks to you, Rostam.”

The hero of the Shahnameh nodded once. He then placed himself a few feet in front of the wigwam, his thick arms crossed. Popocatepetl, seeing the stern gaze of Rostam, suddenly veered away.

* * * * *

“You shall hear how Hiawatha
Prayed and fasted in the forest,
Not for greater skill in hunting,
Not for greater craft in fishing,
Not for triumphs in the battle,
And renown among the warriors,
But for profit of the people,
For advantage of the nations.”

- The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hours matured into days, and time lost meaning for him. His lips, dry and cracked, silently mumbled prayer after prayer. The sounds of the Pantheon hummed in the background. He let nothing distract him, not the noise, not the pangs of hunger. Exhaustion hung upon him as heavy as a bison hide, and still no one answered. He did not know whom he beseeched. Very likely, his words fell on deaf ears. Yet, he carried on. If necessary, he would die in the attempt.

On the fourth day, he heard something from the Pantheon he could not ignore. It broke his concentration, his hoarse whispers pausing. Too tired to feel angry, he bowed his head in defeat. A man’s voice, as exquisite as the musician Chibiabos, his most beloved friend, crooned out a sad, haunting song:

A water glass full of whiskey
And women that I never knew too well
Lord, the things I've seen and done
Most of which I'd be ashamed to tell

I don't know how it started
But that's what makes a man a man, I guess
Now I'm holdin' on to nothin'
Tryin' to forget the rest

I'm lookin' back on my life
To see if I can find the pieces
I know that some were stolen
And some just blew away
Well, I've found the bad parts
Found all the sad parts
But I guess I threw the best parts away
Lord away… away

Hiawatha raised his head. His eyes slowly opened and a barrier within him disintegrated. A torrent of memories rushed through his soul. He found himself on a plane of darkness, the song reverberating through void, and he was not alone.

“It is a beautiful song,” said a younger Hiawatha sitting on his right. This Hiawatha was bare-chested and muscular, a single feather tucked behind his right ear. He wore the mittens minjekahwun and the moccasins that stepped a mile.

“Yes, most beautiful,” said an older Hiawatha sitting on his left. A grand eagle feather headdress adorned his crown. Strapped over his shoulder was a belt of wampum, the white and purple beads revealing an intricate pattern. “He is coming,” he said.

The three of them turned their eyes to the distant void. Afar, a figure walked toward them, an American Indian of an unknown tribe. He was young with long black hair and wore garments of yellow and green.

“Mondamin,” said the younger Hiawatha.

“You can call us that,” said Mondamin, his voice a collection of voices, “although we are not really him. We are taking his form since you know of him.”

“We do not know you,” said all three Hiawathas in unison.

“No, not yet. Although this is our home, we are far away. Your prayers have given us a bridge through which we have contacted you. You must stop this struggle, Hiawatha. The gods have begun a chain of events that, if not aborted, could destroy the universe.”

“What must I do?” asked the middle Hiawatha.

“First, you must placate the heroes,” said multi-voiced Mondamin. “Then you must find a way to end the tournament.”


“We do not know. We will lend our support, if we can, but we cannot be present. But you must find a way.”

“I will do what I can,” said all three Hiawathas.

* * * * *

He staggered out of the wigwam faint with hunger, his eyes squinting in the relative brightness of the dark Pantheon. Rostam remained on guard. Popocatepetl and Lam-ang were also present, their faces creased with worry.

Rostam nodded at him. “You missed a real treat. Elvis sang ‘Pieces of My Life’ for us all.”

“He had all the women heroes swooning,” said Popocatepetl.

“Yes, he did,” said a bitter Lam-ang as he recalled Princess Saljan.

Hiawatha smiled weakly. “I heard.”

“We were trying to convince Rostam to let us pull you out of that hut,” said Popocatepetl.

“Especially when we heard you talking to yourself,” added Lam-ang.

“Fortunately, Rostam stood his ground,” said Hiawatha. “I owe you, my friend.”

The sound of a horn interrupted their conversation. The next fight loomed near. Normally, Hiawatha declined to watch the battles, but some inner instinct told him otherwise this time. “Let us go see on one of the boxes.”

His companions knew his usual inclinations. Lam-ang raised an eyebrow as he glanced to Popocatepetl. The Chichimecan shrugged.

While the gods liked to view the matches on the large screen near the dance floor, the heroes congregated around the bar with its numerous televisions. Each group found their own screen to watch.

The combatants faced each other on an expansive, crater-filled, black plain. A hundred yards separated Lancelot, shining beautiful on his prancing, armored horse, and Arjuna, no steed underneath him, his tired face and slumping shoulders making him seem small.

The horn blared again, signaling the start. Lancelot kicked his horse into a full gallop, his visor lowered, his shield raised high, his lance steady as though it glided through the air.

The Indian loosed arrow after arrow, although Hiawatha knew that the troubled Arjuna invoked no astras. If he had, this may have been a quick fight. Even Lancelot’s formidable skill would be overmatched by missiles that could reduce armies to ashes. Despite Arjuna’s handicap, the deadly barbs flew true. Lancelot weaved his horse through the barrage, but one found its mark and skewered his horse in its chest. The beast stumbled.

The knight, even in his plate armor, dropped his lance and rolled nimbly to the ground. In a fluid motion, he drew his sword. He charged forward, only thirty yards separating them. Arrows sliced through the air, but he either knocked them aside with his shield or swatted them down with his sword. Twenty yards. Ten yards. Five yards.

A loud thunk and Lancelot fell to his knees. An arrow protruded from his chest. With a serene smile, the champion of King Arthur, the flawed but noble knight, dropped to his knees and slumped to his side. His eyelids closed forever.

Hiawatha gaped. Could he have seen what he saw? He glanced to most skilled fighters among them: Cuchulainn, Achilles, Rostam, Momotaro, Sun Wukong, Hang Tauh. One after the other, their eyes affirmed what he just witnessed.

Lancelot did the impossible. He lost on purpose.

End Act II

Act III - Human Nature

- 1 -


Overhead shot of the main floor of the Pantheon, the area bustling with deities, writers, and heroes. There is the constant drone of concurrent conversations. Zoom back. The main area recedes as the camera ascends gradually, the sounds lessening to silence. Rise higher yet. Rise through wisps of clouds. Slow pivot to the left that shows, not sky or shadow, but a Balcony. As below in the main floor, the walls and ceiling recede to darkness. Jehova and Archangel Robert lean on the railing, viewing down upon the main area. The layout of the Balcony is oval like an indoor track. Although dark, a seraphic light effuses the area. There are a number of tall statues placed equidistant around the Balcony. Zoom in on Jehova and Archangel Robert.

(whistles while looking downward) Will you look at that. I feel like I’m a mile up. Where are we, by the way?

We are in the Balcony area, Robert. Max escorted us to the back stairs that bypass the main area to avoid breaking the edict. The heavenly types visit this particular section, although it is frequented rarely. There is no bar service. (hand motions around) In fact, we are alone at this very moment.

Who are these statues of?

Whom. They are the twelve gods of Bethdish. This is their world, after all, although they have been absent for some time. No one knows whereto they departed.

I suppose there’s a Basement representing the netherworlds?

Ah, you comprehend the logic of divinity. That is good. Indeed, there is the Basement, although you cannot see the main area from below.

Seems a bit unfair to the other type of gods.

The universe is not perfectly symmetrical, Robert. If it were, there would be no universe. Can you imagine if the amount of matter identical to the amount of antimatter? Or if all forces were equal? Besides, they store the wine and casks down in the Basement, so it is actually a more popular locale. The advantage of the Balcony is that it allows us to observe what is proceeding below. It is a poor substitute for being in the main area, as we cannot interact. However, it will allow me to confirm my suspicions.

Which are?

Let me first begin by apologizing to you.


Before, I had named you as an unwitting culprit in this dastardly enterprise. It turns out that the non-Earth gods formulated this arrangement from the start. Your actions would not have changed the outcome.

Why would they do such a thing?

I will answer your question with a question. What is special about the human species?


Do not be offended, but at first glance, the obvious observation would be: there is nothing special about humans. They are not so numerous, perhaps twenty billion throughout the universe. That would be a rounding error for the population of some species. They are not long-lived. They possess middling intelligence for a sentient life form.

I blame the Internet for lowering our IQs.

In addition, they are not gifted physically and rarely demonstrate psychic ability. Humans are prone to warring and belligerence, and as a nearly nascent species, have only been spacefarers for a couple thousand years.

Gee, you sure know how to make an angel feel insignificant.

And yet-- and yet-- there exists no species that has had more influence in as short a span as humans. Let us take the Mare Inebrium. You will not find an establishment with such varied clientele, with entities arriving from the seventeen corners of the universe. It is independent in every sense of the word, beholden to no single group. Even here, though, the sway of humans is staggering. For example, let us list some of the specialty rooms: the Boardroom, the Arabian Nights room, the Frontier room, the gentleman's club called Piper’s-- named after an early 20th century human writer, by the way…. all these pastiches originated on Earth. The number of human customers, as a percentage, far exceeds what it should be statistically. Moreover, the ratio of deities is even greater! At any given time, I would conjecture that twenty to thirty percent of the gods present in the Pantheon are Earth-based in origin. The influence is not restricted to the Mare Inebrium. Throughout the universe, Earth makes its culture felt in numerous ways. Even your religions are taking hold. Especially Buddhism, which seems to resonate with many non-humans.

(shrugs) Hey, what can I say? We get around.

On Earth, when we ran our so-called experiments, we were amazed at the quantity and diversity of the cultures and the religions. Planets, on average, possess forty-two distinct deities and a handful of cultures. Earth has hundreds of thousands of gods, if not more, and thousands of cultures. No other world comes close. You would think such a fractured planet could not sustain itself. Wrong! It thrives, despite the consequential frictions. No one can articulate why your species’ cultures are so ubiquitous. It is as though an army of human writers was scripting the universe, plotting events to be human-centric.

Ha ha! Imagine, tales of the Mare Inebrium, written by guys like A.C. Namalas!

Yes, I know, farcical to the extreme. I can think of but one thing that can even remotely explain it. Have you heard of a game called Quantum Chess?

Archangel Robert’s elbow slips on the railing. He catches himself before he tumbles over the side. He gulps as he looks with an ashen expression to the floor below.

Be careful, Robert. Remember your wings.

(still shaking) Yeah, I’ve heard of that wicked game. Who hasn’t?

As you probably realize, the vast majority of the great players were human, including, unfortunately, the Great Khan. Your species’ singular talent is its way of enforcing its will upon reality. Did you know that Thor, Zeus, Perun, and the other Earth gods were all colleagues of mine also involved in the experiment?

What? They don’t look anything like you. They look…

Human. Yes. Your species did that. Or the will of your species did that. I did not morph originally because I was aloof and mostly worked alone. I did not involve myself personally except that one time. Even so, I could not escape the grasp of humanity. Eventually, I became the God they wanted. Although I cannot prove this, I suspect these gods had existed beforehand. The difference now is they bequeathed their responsibilities to us or merged with us. Perhaps they still linger somewhere, much like the Bethdish gods, and we act as avatars for them.

So to tie back to what’s going on here… The non-Earth gods resent the influence of humanity. We are a stain seeping into everything. They set up this tournament to get back at us.

Bravo, Robert! The first act was to humiliate the Earth gods opposed to the idea. The second act, banning the Earth gods, embarrassed those that remained and to prevent them from interfering. It is the third act, however, that I fear will resonate beyond the Pantheon to the cosmos at large. They are determined to demonstrate the deleterious qualities of human nature. For the mortal realm, the impact will be indiscernible but substantial. Subconsciously-- the area in which gods operate-- a savage blow will be struck. When the collective human psyche strikes back, as it is apt to do, it will involve everyone and everything, both gods and mortals. It will be devastating to all. (glances down and spots a number of gods conversing with Elvis and A.C. Namalas) Ah, I see the gears in motion as we speak.

What can we do?

Nothing. It is in the hands of the heroes now. They must rise above their situation. It is but a slim hope. We can only observe and pray for an advantageous outcome.

(long pause) Jehova…?

Yes, Robert?

You said you involved yourself personally one time.

Yes. You see, I believed I was “winning” the game. We had long ago given up the pretense of it being an experiment. At that point, we were vying to make our religion dominant and I was pulling ahead. In my arrogance, I created different flavors of religion. My supposition was that one would rise above, a sort of best-of-breed approach. Imagine my chagrin when my religions warred with each other to no end. I went down to the planet to see first-hand why my strategy failed. (sighs and looks out into the distance) I came across a young human child, unkempt and sitting in front the ruins of her house. I do not know her ethnicity through the grime, but I saw her weeping as soldiers walked past, ignoring her plight. It was then I denounced our unethical behavior. I could no longer remain afar.

I’m sorry.

We are doing it again, with these heroes. We are making a game out of precious life. I fear the consequences. This time, I believe there will be a steep price to pay.

Fade to black.

- 2 -

Fasting and staying awake for four days left Hiawatha with a powerful need to eat and sleep. After gobbling a couple greasy cheeseburgers by way of Soslan, he collapsed snoring on his blanket. He slumbered for twenty hours at the camp of the Indians. If he dreamed, he did not remember. He awoke alone to silence, the fire down to hot coals.

The Pantheon was not normally a noiseless place.

He stretched and yawned. Rising on stiff muscles, he noticed the dance floor again the epicenter of drama. Gods, writers, and heroes gathered around. He heard a couple people shouting and breaking the quiet. He shook his head, wondering what transpired this time, and ambled over to where his former companions watched.

Popocatepetl’s grim demeanor startled him. Normally, the Chichimecan was good-natured and eager to please. It was easy to forget that his friend was a fierce warrior prince and the bravest of his people, leading them to victory in war even when the Aztecs abandoned them. “What is going on?” asked Hiawatha.

“Heracles and Sun Wukong are readying to stomp each other’s brains out,” whispered Popocatepetl. “Elvis thinks some of the gods put the Chinese up to it. The Monkey King has been teasing the Greek and it’s about to come to blows.”

Sun Wukong was a notorious troublemaker. Heracles was infamous for his short temper and berserker rage. These two should not inhabit the same planet, never mind the same room. Hiawatha glanced around at the voyeuristic gods who barely contained their glee. “I do not understand. Would not the gods punish them?”

“Punish them? Punish them? You have been asleep for too long,” mumbled Glooscap. “The gods have decreed that war is no longer verboten. Fights may occur outside the tournament.”

“That changes everything,” said Hiawatha.

“Duh,” said Lam-ang.

“Go ahead,” taunted Sun Wukong, his chin stuck forward, “hit me!” He wagged his tail provocatively in Heracles’ direction.

The son of Zeus did not need a second invitation. “As you wish, monkey.” With an evil grin, he unleashed a cataclysmic uppercut.

Sun Wukong was nigh invulnerable. He fought the combined armies of the Heavenly Kingdom and only Buddha’s involvement finally restrained him. However, he never dealt with anything, celestial or monstrous, with the raw power of the demigod of strength, a hero who once held up the Earth on his shoulders. Sun Wukong flew with the speed of a bullet into a six-pack of deities. They scattered like bowling pins. A.C. Namalas, a mere foot from the impact, squeaked and ran for cover. The other gods and writers backed away as well, some carrying the fallen. Only the heroes remained close to the action.

To Heracles’ credit, he hurt Sun Wukong. To Sun Wukong’s credit, he got back up.

“Ow,” said the Monkey King as he staggered to his feet and rubbed his jaw. He shook his head and blinked his eyes. Then, with practiced grace, he used one hand to unsheathe and lengthen the As-you-will Golden-banded Cudgel strapped to his back. The other pulled out some hairs from his body that he puffed away with a breath. Instantly, the hairs transformed into a dozen simulacra of himself. His other hero companions gathered around him: Gesar the cunning Tibetan, Chumong the Korean, Jangar Khan of the Mongols, and Bao Chu who stood twenty feet tall and dwarfed even Glooscap.

Heracles grabbed his powerful bow and notched an arrow. To his aid came the Greco-Roman Faction: Achilles the hero of the Iliad, Gilgamesh the ancient Babylonian, Aeneas the Roman, and Atalanta the princess associated with the Golden Apples.

“The numbers seem uneven,” said Princess Saljan with a hard smile. The Islamic Riders walked up and postured beside Heracles and his band.

The Christian Knights exchanged concerned looks. Their eyes smoldering with hatred, they placed themselves amongst the Chinese. Soon, the other groups followed suit, each choosing a side. Glooscap gave Hiawatha an uncertain glance before he walked over to the Islamic alliance. Popocatepetl and Lam-ang, with some reluctance, trailed behind. Only Hiawatha and the heroes of India remained nonaligned.

The Christians once held a decisive advantage over the Muslims, but the involvement of Heracles changed everything. This would be a war that would swallow them all. It was then that Hiawatha stepped forward. He did not go to the Muslims. He did not opt for the Christians. He strode right into the no man’s land between them.

Someone coughed politely. Hiawatha ignored him.

“I had a daughter,” he said to the assembled heroes. “She was a beautiful child.” He shut his eyes. “I do not recall her face though. That is the way of our memories. That is how the gods crafted you and me, each one of us here.” He reopened his eyes and tapped his head. “All I have is her essence but that does not diminish her. One day, the wicked Atotarho summoned a great white bird that struck her down.” He paused and sighed. “I held my daughter’s broken form in my arms. I saw the light within her flicker out as would a dying ember. No words can describe the anguish I felt. The way of my people was revenge, blood for blood. I was expected to take vengeance upon the magician. I could not. The endless moons of retribution had drained me. No longer could I accept the suffering these petty wars caused my people, so I exiled myself. I lived alone in the forest, only the trees and streams to share my grief, the squirrels and the blue jays mocking my lamentations.

“I abandoned life to waste away in those dark woods, but one day the prophet Deganawida, the Great Peacemaker, sought me out.” Hiawatha clasped his hands together. “He had a message, a message of unity. Our people, the Haudenosaunee, need not fight each other. We should not make ourselves weaker for our enemies, whom were many. His words rekindled the spark I thought left me. He, the prophet, and I, his voice, traveled from settlement to settlement, from tribe to tribe. The trail was not easy, a path of ramble and mist. Our message rebuffed time and again. Yet we persisted until the words reached our people’s hearts, the chiefs finally seeing wisdom. In the end, only Atotarho remained opposed. Yet even he could not deny the truth of the message and he relented. I combed the snakes out of his hair and welcomed into our fold my greatest enemy.”

Hiawatha held up his wampum belt showing five symbols of white on a field of purple. In the middle were a leaf and two squares on each side. All the symbols connected by a thin, horizontal line. “Our five tribes, united under one nation, the Iroquois Confederacy. We remembered we were brothers and sisters. We became unconquerable.” He swept his gaze across the heroes. “Are we not brothers and sisters, as well? Were we not born under this same roof, made by these same gods that seek our deaths? We cannot forget the memories that they gave us, but that does not make us enslaved to them. Ask yourself why you fight. Ask yourself what is our purpose. Do you even understand why you hate?” He paused, awaiting their reaction. “Do you?”

Heracles snarled. Before he answered, however, a baritone voice bellowed out, “I, Rostam, will join your tribe!”

“And the Indians will join your Confederacy,” announced Arjuna, Rama’s comforting hand upon his shoulder, Unniyarcha by his side.

A stunned silence clouded the Pantheon. After an eternity, Gesar nudged Sun Wukong and inclined his head. “Remember the ways of Buddha,” said the Tibetan, himself known for brazen acts.

The Monkey King clucked his tongue and then blew out a raspberry. He recalled his hairs into his body and shouldered his weapon. Bowing almost prostrate, he said, “My apologies to you, honorable Heracles. I was wrong to have provoked you with my shameful, barbaric behavior.”

“Coward,” replied Heracles, but the fight seemed to have evaporated from them all. The crowd disbanded, leaving the Tribe of the New World and the Indians alone on the dance floor.

“You did it,” said an amazed Lam-ang.

“He has won but a respite,” said Rostam, tempering their mood.

“And I have made a few enemies,” observed Hiawatha, the shadows of the surrounding gods hovering ominously.

We have made a few enemies,” corrected Glooscap. “Let us return to our fire.”

“We will accompany you,” said Rama.

- 3 -

Hiawatha dabbed at the bleeding, shallow gash in Glooscap’s cheek with a napkin. “I take that the negotiations were not a success.”

The giant shrugged. “You are a funny brave. No, they were not receptive. We should have sent Rostam.”

“You should have sent me!” boasted Lemminkainen, a Finnish hero from the Kalevala. The North Seas Alliance, long tired of his arrogance and lack of ability, stated with no uncertain terms that if the Finn ever returned to their camp, they would take his limbs and stuff him like a haggis. Hiawatha invited him to their group, much to the annoyance of the others. “I would have frightened them into obeying us,” continued the Finn.

“Hush Lemminkainen,” said Rostam. The Persian shook his head. “If you had sent me, there would have been a fight. Lion Manas is not the forgiving kind. They feel I have betrayed them.”

“It was not Manas’ blade that did this,” said Glooscap, “but Hang Tauh’s. He said it was their duty to obey the gods. He bestowed this gift as a warning.”

“If he had cut me--,” began Lemminkainen but quieted after a stern glance from Rostam. The Finn crossed his arms and scowled.

“At least they talked to you,” said Hiawatha as he tossed the red-stained napkin into the fire. “The Christians would not speak to me.”

“They are in a foul mood,” said Rama. “Samson departed their group after the death of Lancelot, his only friend amongst them. The Knights feel vulnerable, having now lost two.”

“Ouch. That’s a big loss for them,” said Popocatepetl. “I heard Samson’s as strong as Heracles.”

“He was their most powerful but no one is as physically strong as Heracles,” said Rama. “Not even the potent Jew who far exceeds everyone else.”

“We swim against the current,” said Hiawatha. “Most of the other tribes are friendlier, sympathetic even, but they will not abandon their allies. If we cannot persuade the Muslims or the Christians to forgo their blood feud, then the only path is to tip the balance to us. That might convince the other tribes to follow.”

“The Greek,” said Rama.

“Yes,” said Hiawatha. “I have sent word to his tribe, but they have not responded.” His stomach churned as he contemplated their situation. Although they achieved a tenuous peace, he knew it could not last, especially with the gods interfering, pushing the heroes to confrontation. He had not divulged to the others his experience during fasting. An inner voice told him to keep that a secret, that its knowledge would only destabilize events further.

“What do we do now?” asked Popocatepetl.

“The next thing I shall do,” said Hiawatha, “is go get a drink at the bar.”

* * * * *

Elvis was pissed. He ranted. He threw his dishcloth and slammed glasses on the bar top. He paced back and forth and let the universe know how displeased he was with it. “Who are they to tell me I gotta leave? I work here! I’ll kick those bozos out!” He projected his voice so the nearby gods heard him. “In fact, the next square that so much as suggests as such is gonna find his backside tattooed with my blue suede shoes!”

Hiawatha, along with Rostam and Lam-ang, kept silent on their stools as the god of music continued to spew forth vindictiveness. One did not interrupt a deity in fury, even one as gentle as Elvis.

Except, of course, if your name was Lemminkainen. “When you’re done screaming about like a woman, I’d like another beer,” said the Finn.

Elvis glared at him. Rostam and Lam-ang opened their eyes wide with incredulity.

“Perhaps you have had one too many,” suggested Hiawatha, attempting to diffuse the situation. “Return to the camp and see if Glooscap needs any help. Rostam and Lam-ang can keep watch over me.”

A grunt from Rostam squelched any dissent. Lemminkainen adjusted his belt and swaggered off.

“That boy’s gotta screw loose,” drawled Elvis as he leaned forward with his forearm on the bar.

“I do not know why we let the Finn stay with us,” said Rostam. He shook his head as he nursed a daiquiri, his massive hands dwarfing the glass.

“I like him,” said Hiawatha with a shrug. “He is but words. One does not take a chattering squirrel seriously.”

“He’ll not help us with the others,” said Lam-ang. “Sooner or later, he’s going to say something to the wrong person. His mouth is a war waiting to happen.”

Hiawatha stroked his chin. He knew Lam-ang to be right. “We will keep an eye on him,” he said with little conviction.

“Well, that nitwit’s right ’bout one thing,” said Elvis. “I shouldn’t be carryin’ on in front of you fellas.”

“The gods have requested you leave,” said Hiawatha.

“Yup. They tried askin’ nice, but it ain’t gonna happen. Even with the Reever washin’ his hands of this fiasco, they can’t make me skedaddle. I wasn’t kiddin’ when I said I work here. I take orders from the Boss, not them.”

“Why did they ask you to leave?”

“’Cause of you.”

Hiawatha frowned. “Say again?”

“They think I’m too friendly with ya.” Elvis ran a hand through his thick hair. “Ya got them real mad, interruptin’ their war ’n all. Yer a good egg, Hi. Ya watch yer back. Ya keep Rostam and yer boys close. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open too.”

“Ridding the world of me will not kill the dream of the Confederacy.”

“You are wrong,” said Rostam. “Only you, of all the heroes, have the farri to bring the heroes together.”

“Rama has the ability.”

“No. He is a king. Many of the heroes are kings. They do not need someone to lord over them. They need someone to unite them. As equals. You alone can do that, and the gods know this.”

Hiawatha slumped on his stool. “Then I fear we are doomed, friend Rostam. I cannot get through this impasse.” He reached for the Shirley Temple in front of him.

Lam-ang grabbed his wrist. “Elvis did not put that drink there.”

Elvis’ eyes narrowed. “He’s right. That drink came outta nowhere.” He picked up the glass and sniffed. “There’s somethin’ bad in it.”

“Poison,” said Rostam.

Elvis fumed. With surprising nimbleness, he hopped atop the bar. He raised the glass of poison and, relying on his powers as a god of music, carried his voice forth across the entire Pantheon. “Listen up, y’all. Listen carefully. This might be yer game. Y’all might be changin’ the rules whenever it suits ya. But murder’s murder, and if that happens, the Pantheon will shut down and yer game will end. The Mare Inebrium will not tolerate that kind of behavior. Y’all been warned.” He jumped down to the floor and motioned to Soslan. “Hey Sauce Man, take this and dispose of it, will ya? Treat as hazardous material.”

The diminutive Nart took the glass gingerly, holding it at arm’s length.

“Thanks bud.”

“Why don’t you shut down the game now?” asked Lam-ang.

“’Cause I don’t have that option,” mumbled Elvis, his eyes averted.

“They will heed your warning,” said Rostam. “It will buy us time, but they will find a way to strike.”

Elvis wiped the bar top with a rag. “Ya can count on it.”

* * * * *

They had a surprise guest when Hiawatha and company returned to camp. Kalevipoeg, the other titan, sat next to Lemminkainen. Like Bao Chu, the son of Kalev rose to a height of twenty feet. Even sitting, the Estonian was about eye level to Glooscap standing. Kalevipoeg slapped his knee as he and Lemminkainen reminisced about a smith named Ilmarinen and something called a Sampo, an item that was apparently very important but no one could actually describe.

“What is he doing here?” Hiawatha asked Glooscap. “Does he bear a message from the North Seas Alliance?”

“No,” responded Glooscap. “He is just visiting Lemminkainen. Apparently, as with you, he is actually fond of the Finn. And, like you, it is a mystery why.”

Hiawatha snorted. He then turned serious. “Listen, my friend. One of the gods attempted to poison me at the bar. We must be vigilant.”

“So that is why Elvis warned the gods to behave.”

“Yes. From now on, they will maneuver like wolves stalking a… What are you looking at?”

Hiawatha spun around. Aeneas, the Roman hero of the Aeneid, approached alone. Conversation stilled as the warrior neared, the nails in his heavy-soled caligae clacking against the tiles. He stopped before them and gave a Roman salute. “I bear a message from our group.” When no one responded, he continued, “We decline your invitation to join your Confederacy.”

“So Heracles wants to keep to himself, eh?” said Lemminkainen. “Maybe if Atalanta put out, he wouldn’t be so temperamental.”

Popocatepetl slapped the Finn on the back of the head.

The hard eyes of Aeneas bore into the hero of the Kalevala. “You presume too much if you believe that Heracles is our king. The decision was reached by majority after much discussion.” He nodded to the others. “I’m done here.” He turned to leave.

“Will you not be satisfied until we are all tearing out each other’s throats?” asked Glooscap, his voice weary, his expression even sadder.

Aeneas paused. Without turning, he said, “I know your motives. I understand them. I have no love for Achilles who bested me in battle and killed my friend Hector. Yet, we are sworn allies now, for this is not a time to be alone. I’ve seen the consequence of war, Glooscap, my city Troy destroyed over abandoned love. I realize the folly we pursue. And just so you know… I voted that we join your Confederacy.” No one stopped him this time as he walked away.

“And I thought Cuchulainn and Beowulf were killjoys,” rumbled Kalevipoeg, his voice like an avalanche.

- 4 -

“I challenge you to single combat.”

Hiawatha eyed the knight. “Prince Marko,” he said with exaggerated patience, “if I have refused five challengers already, why should I accept you as one now?”

The Serb clenched a gauntleted fist. “Because you are a man of honor! Because you would rather face another honorable warrior such as the doughty Prince Marko!”

Popocatepetl and Lam-ang began giggling. Rostam hushed them.

“No,” said Hiawatha. “I am sorry. I am a messenger of peace. I shall not contradict myself by fighting.”

“Your champion then,” said Prince Marko, pointing to Rostam. “I challenge him!”


“Is it that you fear me? Is that why you refuse my mighty challenge?”

Snickering and chortling noises escaped from Popocatepetl and Lam-ang. “Knock it off,” hissed Glooscap. The giant begged backing from Rostam but then rolled his eyes when the Persian also covered his mouth to stifle laughter.

“I am sorry,” said Hiawatha.

“Very well then,” said Prince Marko. “If cowardice is your response…” Gathering the tatters of his dignity, he strode away, his head held high.

“You two are worse than Lemminkainen,” mumbled Hiawatha.

“My apologies, doughty Hiawatha,” said Popocatepetl as he stood ramrod straight, his fingers twirling an imaginary mustache. “We are not worthy of the mighty challenge!”

Lam-ang collapsed to the floor, hiccupping and guffawing uncontrollably.

Hiawatha turned his back so they could only see his shoulders shaking with mirth.

“You should not encourage them,” said Glooscap.

“Stop nagging,” retorted a chuckling Rostam.

* * * * *

The occasional scuffle broke out, even within groups. Amongst the Japanese, the Unnamed Hero, the Ainu warrior of the Kutune Shirka, tired of his companions’ racist comments and bloodied the nose of Momotaro. Only the exquisite Tomoe Gozen interceding prevented Kintaro and Momotaro from reducing their small band further. In other areas, Beowulf clashed with Achilles over some dubious slight. A brief, dazzling display of sword and spear resulted before Atalanta pulled her Greek compatriot away. Heitsi-ebib, the Khoikhoi of the Africans, managed to yank down the pants of the Icelander Gunnar Hamundarson. The latter, his pants dangling around his ankles, chased the former around the Pantheon for two hours until Heitsi-ebib “died”, magically resurrecting a few minutes later to the applause and amusement of everyone. A number of wayward arrows, a bevy of anonymous rocks, and a slew of yo-mama jokes kept tensions high. However, despite the periodic skirmishes, the precipitous peace held amongst the three alliances, no side willing to commit fully and leaving themselves exposed.

Even Hiawatha suffered. He found his wampum belt torn apart one morning after awakening, the thousands of beads scattered everywhere. He spent hours gathering every single one.

Later that week, A.C. Namalas visited him. This surprised no one.

“Uh, Hiawatha,” said the writer. “Yes, uhm, how are you?”

The American Indian glanced over to the tortured form of Monster Slayer still writhing silent upon the dais. He said nothing. The Tribe of the New World and the Indians gathered behind him, their glares as dark as his.

“Well, you certainly have made things a bit awkward, ha ha,” said Namalas. He adjusted his tweed jacket. “Such a clever fellow. Listen, I’ll come to the point. There have some… edits… as requested by the gods. I may not support these changes but they are our patrons, so to speak. They wish to forgo the rule of a winner waiting until the next round to fight, so--”

“So you are their little puppet,” finished Lemminkainen.

“That’s not quite--” said Namalas.

“Yes, yes, a little puppet,” continued the Finn. “Little strings for your little weenie arms. Hopping around on your little weenie legs.” The other heroes started laughing. Popocatepetl beamed with fresh appreciation for their newest member.

“Hey now,” warned the writer.

Lemminkainen did a little dance, his arms held aloft. “Look at me, the puppet man. Gods say walk this way, so I walk this way. Gods say talk this way, so I talk this way. Gods say this is no longer your game, so go play another way.” He made a vulgar motion in front of his groin. The laughter and jeers grew louder. Even heroes from other groups joined in.

“Stop that! I am not a puppet!”

“A little puppet! A strings-attached puppet!”

“I’m warning you.”

Lemminkainen stopped the crude pantomime with his hand. With mock shock, he held up his palm and rasped, “The gods save me. I’ve been wounded. I got a sliver!”

“That’s it!” roared Namalas. “You think I have no control? Well, how about this, Lemminkainen? How about the next match between you and Heracles? How about right now, in fact? Let’s see who the puppet is!” The writer tromped-- almost fled-- away, his motions jerky, his face apoplectic.

So mad was he that he did not savor the burdening silence that followed the announcement of the death sentence.

* * * * *

“Lemminkainen,” said Hiawatha as he followed the two combatants to the Door. “You need not fight. You can resist their control over you. You have grown beyond the seed that they planted. You are not the same Lemminkainen born on the floors of the Pantheon.”

The Finn brushed away Hiawatha’s concerns. “I will prevail. Don’t worry, my weaker friend.”

Heracles gave Hiawatha a sidelong glance, his expression troubled.

“No farther,” said a scaly deity with a metallic voice, its hide a swirl of brass and magenta. A tentacle stretched out to block Hiawatha’s path.

He stared helplessly as Heracles followed Lemminkainen through the Door of Renown. He knew in his heart, that despite his words, Lemminkainen had not changed one iota since his conception. It was not in the hero of Kalevala’s nature.

He rushed back to the bar where the other heroes viewed the upcoming contest.

Heracles and Lemminkainen stood in a small enclosure, an area of twenty feet by twenty feet, held aloft in a void of infinity. Metal bars boxed them in.

“A cage,” said Rama, shaking his head. “Namalas wants no room for Lemminkainen to maneuver. This will be a summary execution.”

The horn blared. The Finn rushed in, his sword held high.

Hiawatha expected a quick, killing blow, but the Greek surprised him. Instead of striking down his inferior opponent, Heracles fended off the blows without counterattacking. The blade bounced harmlessly off the Nemean lion skin.

Hope simmered within Hiawatha.

Heracles pushed Lemminkainen away, just a simple tap, but the Finn flew across the cage, the wind knocked out of him. The Greek turned around, his colossal hands gripping the metal bars. With a roar, his muscles straining, the strongest of them tugged at the bars. Slowly, they began to bend.

“That’s impossible!” shouted A.C. Namalas amongst the crowd of gods. “That cage is made of reinforced adamantine!”

The gods had no answers for the writer. They could only watch in awe.

Heracles fully concentrated on the task. He did not see Lemminkainen rise. His back turned, he did not hear the approach of the Finn.

“No Lemminkainen!” pleaded Hiawatha to the television.

The Finn swung with all his strength at the back of Heracles’ head. The blade shattered into dozens of pieces.

The Greek turned, his face contorted with rage. He raised his fist.

Hiawatha turned away, unable to watch.

* * * * *

Heracles, his mood somber, approached Hiawatha. Gilgamesh, Achilles, Aeneas, and Atalanta flanked him. “We will join your Confederacy,” said the Greek. “I am a warrior, the son of Zeus. I know now we are not destined to be playthings.”

The grim, battle-hardened men of the North Seas Alliance followed next: Beowulf, Sigurd, Cuchulainn, Gunnar Hamundarson, Kalevipoeg, and Lacplesis. They honored the pariah Lemminkainen and pledged their arms to support the Confederacy.

The Japanese arrived with their heads bowed in respect: Kintaro, Tomoe Gozen, Momotaro, and the Unnamed Ainu Hero. They swore their allegiance for eternity.

The Africans danced and heaped praise upon the Confederacy: Sundiata, Sudika-Mbambi, Mwindo, Shango, Lianja, Queen Amina, and Heitsi-ebib. The Confederacy showed them that they themselves could stand united.

The Chinese shot off fireworks, the rascally Monkey King leading the way, his companions smiling yet dignified as they trialed behind.

Finally, after some encouragement from Rostam for the Islamic Riders and Samson for the Christian Knights, the last two groups set aside their feud. The Confederacy was complete.

Hiawatha pretended to celebrate with the others, but his heart knew different. They saved the universe as requested by the mystical beings from his spirit walk. The tournament would have no chance of continuing now. Yet, he realized a fact that the others did not, something that Elvis refused to give away earlier at the bar. Only the contest kept them alive. The gods had no use for them now.

Is this what it means to be alive? thought Hiawatha. To want to keep living?

He smiled. He slapped his powerful hands upon the backs of friends and acquaintances. After the celebrations, he spent some time by himself reweaving his wampum belt. Instead of five tribes, there were now ten. From left to right in columns, one square, two squares, three squares, one hollow diamond, three squares, two squares, one square. All connected by a thin line, all connected to the middle diamond representing the tenth tribe, the tribe of the heroes who died for the capriciousness of the gods.

It was a good belt. He placed it over his shoulder and eyed the darkness above.

And he despaired.

- 5 -

A.C. Namalas sat at the bar alone. Everyone treated him like a radioactive leper with halitosis. Even Elvis served him reluctantly, placing the parade of scotches down without comment.

The writer did not notice the man with the collarless, dark gray suit occupying a seat next to him.

“Hello,” said the stranger.

Namalas turned and glanced at the newcomer in gray, a man with short gray hair and gray eyes. “I bet your name is Gray,” he said.

“Professor Eustas Grey,” said the man with a smile.

Namalas chuckled at the theme without humor. “Of course it is.” He refocused on his scotch.

“You seem troubled,” said the professor.

“Yes, I am quite troubled,” said the writer, his lips tightening.

“Come now, it can’t be that bad.”

Namalas sighed. “I was writing a story. It was a great, heroic, epic story. I had it all outlined.” He shook his head and stroked his beard. “But the plot didn’t unfold as expected. Others got involved and changed it. And the characters… my characters… don’t get me started on the characters.”

“You know, a good story has a way of taking a life on its own. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just observe. You can’t control everything. Not even your own words.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway.” In one gulp, he finished his drink. “It’ll be over soon.”


The writer debated answering. He caressed the side of his empty glass. “I’m the one that came up with the idea of the tournament for the Earth heroes. That was my magnum opus. My legacy was to showcase the nobility of the human spirit to the universe. But my characters don’t want to participate anymore. And the gods, those obnoxious editors, insist on changing the theme all the time. I’m afraid it’s no longer salvageable.”

“Ah, so you’re the one,” said Grey.

Namalas furrowed his brows. “What does that mean?”

“I’ve been watching the tournament. I agree it has not been a success.”

“Thanks,” said the writer angrily. He rose to leave.

“But I believe there are steps you can take to salvage it.”

Namalas paused then sat back down. “Such as?”

Professor Grey placed a finger on his lips, as if in thought. “Well, I deem part of your problem is that you only thought of this as an exhibition of Earth heroes. Yet, as you so noted, it’s your story. You are, if not more so, a representative of human nature.”

“And you’re saying I failed.”

The professor nodded. “Like a character out of a Shakespearean tragedy.” He pointed to Monster Slayer. “What did that tell the gods? That you can be, as one my old friends would like to quip, a complete asshole?”

“He’s just a character,” said Namalas feebly.

“And the incident with Heracles and Lemminkainen. There was no sport in that. You were being cruel. Again.” Grey leaned forward. “That is why the heroes and gods have forsaken you. They do not see the noble art of warriors, but your petty actions as the writer.” The professor let his words sink in. “The first thing I would do is take Monster Slayer down from that dais. To acknowledge that you’re not so malicious.”

Namalas pondered. “Yes, but he’d still be a threat to me. I can’t have him wandering around, ready to pounce. Hey! Perhaps I could match him against Rama. Volleys of lightning arrows versus astras.” He grinned. “Maybe have the battle take place on the dance floor. Let them see the fight up close and personal. That might reawaken their interest.”

“Well, that’s not what I had in mind,” said Grey.

Rising tipsily and lost in his own world, Namalas shook the professor’s hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you. You’ve given me some wonderful ideas.” Adjusting his jacket, the writer stumbled off to beseech the gods for one last chance.

Elvis sidled over once Namalas was far enough away. He nodded at the professor. “Ya think Hi and the gang can get out of this jam?”

The professor drummed his fingers on the bar. “The odds are not good. Many of the gods gave up their attempt to humiliate the humans. However, those that have remained are the most spiteful of the lot. They will not shirk from committing mass herocide. In fact, I know that many are debating that right now. Only inertia has kept them from opting for the morbid choice.”

Elvis struggled with an inner dilemma and it showed on his face. “Ya know, the universe is saved at this point. Interferin’ might put everythin’ at risk again.”

Professor Eustas Grey steepled his fingers. “And abandon these heroes to such unworthy providence? They have sacrificed more than we could ever imagine. I could not in good conscience allow that, even if it means jeopardizing it all.”

Elvis grinned, his relief evident. “Y’sir, we see eye-to-eye on that.” He stroked his chin. “Say, can’t ya use that resurrection machine on the heroes? The one ya use on Thornby all the time?”

“I’m afraid not, my timeless companion. Almost paradoxically, the divine energies that created the heroes also inhibit the machine from resurrecting them. Perhaps, over time, if they could severe their links with the gods…” The professor sighed. “But there isn’t enough time for that. This is all very frustrating. Ceasing the torture of Monster Slayer was a little step, but that confounded writer still managed to undo it with his unethical slant.”

“Maybe it’s time fer the heroes to get heroic,” said Elvis.

“Perhaps,” said the professor. “But we’ll provide them a helping hand, if we can.”

“Yer the Boss,” drawled Elvis.

- 6 -

“You have been meditating quite a bit,” said Glooscap.

Hiawatha, sitting cross-legged, opened his eyes and stared balefully. A deep dysphoria stifled his soul but he did not reveal this. “Yes,” he replied.

“Are you troubled?”

Hiawatha held his tongue. He wanted to tell the giant that he sought the beings from his spirit walk, to find a way to keep them alive, only to wallow in silence as no one replied. “No,” he said instead.

“We need to determine our next actions,” insisted Glooscap. “What is our destiny as heroes?”

Do you really want me to tell you our destiny? seethed Hiawatha silently. He knew only two options: extinction by ending the tournament or extinction by warring against the gods. And how could they even strategize a war? He knew that to broach the topic would bring down swift, divine wrath. “You bark like a jackal,” snapped Hiawatha. “Leave me be.”

Before Glooscap could give a rejoinder, Lam-ang loped over to them. “It’s Monster Slayer,” said the Filipino. “They are releasing him from his punishment.”

Their argument pushed aside, they followed Lam-ang. True to his word, they saw Monster Slayer carried down from the dais by Rostam and Popocatepetl. A number of heroes gathered around, watching the scene.

“He is in very bad shape,” said Hiawatha as he squatted down, his hand touching Monster Slayer’s shoulder. “His mind is frayed like an old reed mat. He may never recover.”

Monster Slayer suddenly grasped Hiawatha’s arm. “Brother,” rasped the Navajo.

“I am here,” said Hiawatha.


“I am here,” repeated Hiawatha as he tenderly removed his friend’s clutching hand. “I am here.”

“So I understand he wants us to battle, right here in the dance floor,” said Rama. “The writer will be sorely disappointed.”

“You must fight,” said Hiawatha.

“What?” exclaimed Rostam.

“Our existence will last only as long as the tournament,” he said. He held up a hand before the others voiced their outrage. “I will explain the reasons why that is so. However, I need to know something first.” A feeble hope flickered in his mind. He nurtured it as a mother would her newborn. He looked up to Rama. “Can you and Arjuna reach Monster Slayer? Can you get past his insanity?”

The Indian frowned. “I do not know. What do you have in mind?”

“A miracle,” replied Hiawatha.

* * * * *

The day of the fight came and Monster Slayer seemed no better. He babbled incoherently, the words of Rama and Arjuna rolling over him like water on Teflon. The Navajo had spent weeks upon that dais, enduring an agony beyond the comprehension of mortal reckoning. Even heroes have their limits. The only positive was that Monster Slayer did not indulge in alcohol. Of course, he did not indulge in reality anymore either.

Hiawatha huddled with Glooscap, Lam-ang, Popocatepetl, and Rostam by the bar. “So we all know the plan?” he asked them.

“If you can call it a plan,” said Rostam. “It is not much of a plan.”

“I dunno,” said Lam-ang. “I can’t think of anything better myself.”

The horn sounded. “The battle is about to commence,” said Hiawatha. “I will go behind the bar. If events turn dangerous, you also hide behind there. It is indestructible and will provide you with cover. Remember, I must not be disturbed.”

“This is sounding better all the time,” mumbled Rostam.

Hiawatha hopped over the bar and nodded to Elvis. The god of music punched him playfully on the arm. “Are you ready, Elvis?” asked Hiawatha.

The bartender smiled. He tossed his apron on the bar. “Sauce Man, yer in charge.” He gave thumbs up to Hiawatha. “See ya on the other side.”

Hiawatha grinned. “It was nice to have met you.” He sat down on the floor and closed his eyes. He tried to find emptiness, but the sounds of the Pantheon battered his eardrums. The horn sounded again and this time a cheer went up from the assembled gods. The near proximity of the contest awoke something primal within them.

“Monster Slayer looks crazed,” he heard Lam-ang say. “Look at those lightning arrows fly.”

Anguish. Hopelessness. Hiawatha, his eyes still closed, knew that they failed even before he could begin.

- 7 -

A nasty mood, almost like a cold wind, swept through the Mare Inebrium. In the past few weeks, Guiles Thornby witnessed at least five fights and innumerable almost-fights. One party was always human, as if everyone else had turned adversarial. Even he, an adventurer who had traveled to other dimensions and crossed swords with dinosaurs, said, “How odd.” That was akin to a particle of light marveling at something zipping along much too fast.

The tension was not limited to the Mare Inebrium, or the City of Lights, or even the planet Bethdish. He read reports of riots and major skirmishes across the galaxies, a deep-rooted pimple that festered on the ass of the universe.

Then, as sudden as it emerged, the acrimony dissipated about a week ago. The cosmos settled back to calm and no one could explain it. Perhaps it was a virus or some bizarre background radiation. Some even blamed a lackluster season of movie releases.

However, he felt the rancor once again this morning. It came sharp and sudden, like stubbing a toe and just as annoying. “Damn, this is annoying,” he groused to the Bluesman.

“You’re annoyed?” asked the blind Bluesman. “At least you’re not a telepath. This is torture for folks like me. Everyone is so… irate.”

“I need something to divert my attention,” said Thornby, his leg vibrating nervously. If he were somewhere else, a place where he did not respect the management, he would probably get into a scrape just to release pent up anxiety.

“You still have that Quantum Chess game?” asked the Bluesman.

“Huh. Yeah, I do.” Thornby coughed. “But it’s really not a game for someone sight-impaired.”

“Teach me,” insisted the blind man. “I can learn.”


The telepath touched his head. “Through you. I can’t see the board, but I can get a sense of it through your mind.”

“Er, alright.” Thornby took out the case from his backpack and unfolded it to reveal the board. “I had forgotten about this. The Boss hasn’t pestered me about it.” He placed the pieces and hit the start button. The pieces became indistinct. “Okay, it’s just like an old-fashioned chess board. All you need to do is touch one of the men and everything is revealed.”

The Bluesman’s right hand skimmed the tabletop and stopped at the edge of the board. Slowly, he ran a forefinger along the border. His finger rose and hovered, for just a second, and as delicate as a leaf drifting down from an oak, he touched down…

…and reality


Behind the main bar, Larrye the bartender gapes at the ice-solid drink that was lava-hot just a blink ago.

In the Boardroom, Thor scares himself silly as his hammer that he was casually tossing end-over-end suddenly unleashes a lightning bolt that punches a smoking hole in the ceiling. He falls over backwards in his chair.

The jukebox stops the majestic whale song and instead plays Stairway to Heaven backwards, revealing the satanic verses.

Standing high above of the Pantheon in the balcony area, Jehova and his Archangel Robert stare agog as the eyes of the twelve statues of the Bethdish gods blaze with an emerald light. The eyes grow brighter, brighter…

“Hey,” said Thornby. “The pieces are still fuzzy. What did you do, Blues? I saw you touch one of them. Blues? Uhm, you okay, Blues?”

“Erk,” said the telepath.

“Grunt twice if something cataclysmic is about to happen.”

“Erk erk.”

Thornby sighed. He motioned to Max. “Hey Max! Code Armageddon!”

Max, the immortal bartender of the Mare Inebrium, cursed. He walked quickly over the end of the bar and rang the bell: clang clang clang. Grumbling customers rose from their seats and made an orderly exit.

The nice thing about the Mare Inebrium was that it was use to these things.

Cleaning up afterwards was still a bitch, though.

- 8 -

Maybe the quantum nature of the story wasn’t entangled until you read it. Maybe you, the reader, are to blame for what happens next.

It’s never the writer’s fault.

Is it?

* * * * *

Something cracked and Hiawatha’s spirit broke free. He found himself rising above his corporeal form, the world blurry and muddled. Behind him, Rama struggled to deflect the rain of lightning with his own arrows. In desperation, the hero of the Ramayana unleashed the Sammohana that stunned the Navajo. Rama bent over, panting, his body covered in sweat. Hiawatha saw his quiver low. If something did not change soon, Rama would be forced to kill or be killed. Monster Slayer, the formidable archer, would not lay dazed forever.

“We hear you, Hiawatha,” said a chorus of voices.

He glanced up and a saw a dozen pair of emerald eyes peering down. “About time,” he grumbled.

The voices laughed. “The conduit must go through you and through you the hope for the heroes.” Electricity crackled in their eyes. An arc formed, connecting all of them, increasing in intensity. The arc turned into a bolt that shot down into Hiawatha’s physical form, and then branched out across to Rama and Monster Slayer.

“Uh oh,” said the spirit of Hiawatha as everyone turned their attention to the bar.

* * * * *

A.C. Namalas almost percolated with giddiness. For the first time, the assembled gods appreciated his story. He saw the pernicious gleam in their eyes as enthusiasm, their wicked snarls as toothy grins. He did not hear their ovations as a call for blood. He believed this a restart of his epic, not the denouement of a horror story.

He jumped and nearly soiled himself when the emerald lightning arced from behind the bar, infusing both Monster Slayer and Rama. The Navajo’s eyes opened-- eyes once bloodshot and crazed, now tranquil with lucidity. Monster Slayer stood and raised his hand to Rama, as if in greeting. The Indian smiled in return, and in harmony, their lips recalled a mantra. An emerald aura encased them, steadily increasing in luminosity.

The pen torn from his fingers yet again. “It’s Hiawatha!” he screamed. “Behind the bar! Stop him! Kill him or he’ll ruin everything!”

The gods did nothing at first. Then they began to move, a sluggish surge, a wave in slow motion. Angry gods. Vengeful gods. Their sheer maliciousness staggered the writer and for the first time, he doubted the morality and wisdom of his actions.

Too late. Way too late.

* * * * *

The spirit of Hiawatha hovered above and he saw the gods push forward. Popocatepetl yelled for the heroes to retreat behind the bar. A number of gods attempted to interfere with Rama and Monster Slayer, but a green barrier prevented them. Their blows deflected impotently.

In the distance, the thunder of hooves rumbled through the Pantheon. Elvis, riding Aranjal, led Akkula, Rakhsh, Little Gray, Baychibare, and the other courageous mounts to safety. A stranger, a man dressed in a dark gray, collarless suit, opened the door to Earth. Horses and rider barreled through, followed by the man in gray who closed the door behind him.

Writers and deities, Elvis has left the building, mused Hiawatha.

Back at the bar, the gods neared his physical form. Bao Chu and Kalevipoeg, far too large to seek refuge with the others, exchanged glances. A wicked grin formed on their faces. Bao Chu punted a two-headed reptilian who smacked hard into the far wall. Kalevipoeg used his titanic fists to squash a seven-armed insect monstrosity.

The gods paused, stunned by the temerity of the heroes. They swarmed the giants.

Arjuna popped up, sending forth the Vayvayaastra. A hurricane gale of wind tossed a number of gods like rags. Sun Wukong shed some hairs and sent his duplicates into the fray. A shower of missiles flew as the heroes let loose with an assault of superhuman proportions. Samson, from behind the bar, threw a thunderous uppercut that caught an orange deity that looked like a hairy eyeball. It flew into void above. It did not return earthward. Heracles arched his brows, impressed.

Yet the heroes were outnumbered and underpowered. The gods struck back with the force of a celestial, nuclear bomb.

Only the unbreakable bar saved them from a total wipeout. Lam-ang, in the act of throwing a spear, was pierced by a beam of light. It left a cauterized, gaping hole in his chest. He collapsed lifeless. Princess Saljan knelt beside him, his head cradled in her lap. Rostam, in a rage, threw himself into the throng of deities, pushing them back, his sword cleaving a great swathe of destruction as the sea of godhood drowned him. Hiawatha wailed his grief to the heavens.

Aeneas and Atalanta fell. Glooscap tackled a god that almost reached Hiawatha with its claws, their bodies tumbling over the bar. Beowulf tore off the arms of a towering opponent before a column of flame consumed him. A couple of Sun Wukong’s duplicates disintegrated in a cloud of ash. Bao Chu finally succumbed, four gods climbing his back. Kalevipoeg roared and scattered a dozen before lighting up like a Christmas tree. He collapsed face-forward, tendrils of smoke escaping from his body. Roland, his horn in pieces by his side, lay silent next to his fallen comrade Ogier. Even Heracles grimaced in pain, his ribs damaged by a devastating blast of concussive force.

Casualties claimed other heroes. The number fallen exceeded the number standing by a large margin.

The horde of gods became unstoppable. They flowed toward the bar, the divine energy pulsing off them in waves. Hiawatha focused on Rama and Monster Slayer, their forms now illuminated with a brilliance that exceeded a star. He watched their lips mumbling the lengthy mantra.

Not enough time, despaired Hiawatha.

Arjuna, his face covered in blood, gathered what little strength remained and pulled his battered body up. Almost blind, he managed to unleash the Twashtar before unconsciousness finally claimed him.

The astra landed with a chaotic spray of light. It played havoc, the gods unable to distinguish friend from foe. For a few valuable seconds, the onslaught stalled.

Rama and Monster Slayer mouthed a final word in unison: Brahmastra. They glowed with the perfection of heaven. Like mirrors, Rama and Monster Slayer drew back their arrows at the same time.

Hiawatha’s soul rushed back to his body. “Get down!” he screamed, pulling Popocatepetl to the floor.

Rama and Monster Slayer released their missiles. The two Brahmastras streaked through the air, crashing like opposing tsunamis, a union of annihilation.

* * *
* * *
* * BOOM* *
* * *
* * *

* * * * *

A.C. Namalas poke his head out through the battered, unhinged doors of the Celestial Loos. He looked left. He looked right. The sheer destruction left even him at a loss of words.

Only the bar escaped damage. Where the dance floor once stood was now a one hundred foot blackened crater. Nothing else remained. The writer saw no gods, no heroes, no writers. He did not even see a seat to sit on.

Namalas shuffled out of the restroom, one of the doors crumbling to pieces. A great melancholy weighed upon him. It did not take a poet laureate to see the symbolism between the carnage and his story.

How could it have gone all wrong? Why did it end in violence?

He walked alone around the charred ruins, his head hung low. Resentment festered within him. “It ended in violence because I chose violent heroes,” he mumbled. “Yes, that’s what happened. If I chose other types of heroes…” He stopped, awestruck with a new thought. His face beamed. “Yes! I wanted to show the nobility of humanity, but that’s not what makes humanity special. I should have chosen the trickster heroes!” Already a new plot formed in his mind. “Let’s see. Instead of trial by combat, how about contests that test one’s cunning? We can craft the heroes just like we did-- ”

He neither heard nor saw a large, hairy, orange eyeball crashing back toward the floor from the dark recesses above. He did not even get a chance to raise a little umbrella, ala Wile E. Coyote.


End Act III


There was a BOOM.

And then there was a MOOB, which is a BOOM going backwards.

And finally there was a subtle **twinkling** of chimes in a gentle breeze, which is the sound of Time pausing. Time is patient, when it deigns to wait upon itself.

Hiawatha stood up, woozy, his mind adjusting as Time futzed around with the buttons on the remote control. He saw two scenes juxtaposed over each other: one where the Brahmastras froze in midair, their paths heading to omega, the bodies of the heroes and gods tangled and frozen in time; another where a black crater existed, everything but the bar obliterated, a fine dust hanging in the air.

He closed his right eye, saw only the crater, and then switched to his left to see only the moment of the Brahmastras.

“Smart fellow, that Elvis,” said a voice to his right. “All you have to do is close one eye.”

Hiawatha, his hand covering his right eye, swiveled and saw the man in gray. “What am I seeing?”

“The past and the future together,” said the stranger. “I am Professor Grey. I own the Mare Inebrium.”

“How do you do this?”

The professor shrugged. “Harness the explosions of a couple supernovas and one can accomplish quite a bit.”

“All that power, and yet you allowed this to happen.”

“I allowed this to happen here, which is an important distinction. You see, Hiawatha, I am not a god. I would have been hard-pressed if the tournament had occurred elsewhere. The gods chose the Pantheon because it was convenient for them, a gathering place that already existed. Even so, I wasn’t sure how it would all end.” Professor Grey cocked his head. “That was brilliant, what you did with the Brahmastras. But that’s what heroes do, don’t they? The impossible. They carry the world on their shoulders. They shoot the sun out of the sky. The go toe-to-toe with the lords of heaven and they bring forth maize to the people. We all underestimated you, even I. We forgot what it really means to craft a hero. It is not the strength of your bodies or the power of your weapons. It is your anima, your very soul.”

“I am very tired, Grey,” said Hiawatha, his open eye scanning the bodies of his friends, his brothers and sisters. “So very tired.”

“Then it’s time you rested.” Professor Grey walked over to a nondescript door. He turned the handle.

A vision of mountains, clouds, and a brilliant sun. The man in gray stood in the doorway, beckoning. “Earth is eager to receive you and the others, if you’re ready.”

Hiawatha drew in a sharp breath. He could almost taste the air, feel the dirt underneath his moccasins. For the first time, he imagined the faces of Minnehaha and his daughter, imagined their laughter carrying on the autumn breeze. Hope and happiness and a future he all believed bereft now engulfed him with their promises. He almost fell to his knees from the weight of it all.

He smiled. They were going to a place remembered but had never been.

They were going home.


© 2009 Jamie L. Elliot

Jaimie Elliott

A.C. Nama-- er, Jaimie Elliott lives somewhere North of Atlanta. When not being a project manager for IBM, he spends his time wrecking other people's universes. Jaimie has been published on Aphelion before, most recently with a story titled Walking the Cobblebones Walking the Cobble Bones in the September 2007 issue.

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