Legend of Camelot
Legend of Camelot was an event in SMITE made to celebrate the introduction of the new Arthurian pantheon and two new gods, King Arthur and Merlin (who also happens to be the 100th god). This event began on January 7, 2019 and ended on April 30, 2019.
Description[edit | edit source]
Lords and Ladies, welcome to the Legend of Camelot Event!
Buying any 3 Legend of Camelot Bundles will grant you an Exclusive Tyr skin reward. Purchasing all 5 Bundles will grant you an Unlimited Merlin skin as the final reward.
Buying your FIRST Legend of Camelot Bundle grants you the player titles, King and Queen, and a one time use 30% off coupon towards your second Legend of Camelot Bundle.
Buying your THIRD Bundle will grant an additional one time use 30% off coupon towards fourth Bundle purchase. Each patch will release a new Bundle with 4 Exclusive items!
After the event the Unlimited Merlin skin will be available to buy directly from the store for 3,300 gems, but will not come with any of the other Legend of Camelot content.
Legend of Camelot Cosmetic Items[edit | edit source]
These are the items that are available during the event. Each bundle costs 900 Gems to unlock. Bundles are sold at a 16% discount (750 ) during the patch that they were released. The one time use coupon can reduce this by an extra 30% (525 on sale, 630 on full price), and this coupon can be gained twice.
Unlocks[edit | edit source]
|God Skin||January 7, 2019||A skin for Discordia. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|God Skin||January 7, 2019||A skin for Athena. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Ward Skin||January 7, 2019||A ward skin.|
|Recall Skin||January 7, 2019||A recall skin.|
|Knight of Mordred|
|God Skin||February 11, 2019||A skin for Achilles. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Lady of the Lake|
|God Skin||February 11, 2019||A skin for Freya. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Global Emote||February 11, 2019||A global emote.|
|Death Mark||February 11, 2019||A death mark.|
|God Skin||February 21, 2019||A skin for Cupid. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|God Skin||February 21, 2019||A skin for Bellona. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Avatar||February 21, 2019||An avatar.|
|Fountain Skin||February 21, 2019||A fountain skin.|
|God Skin||March 5, 2019||A skin for Ne Zha. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|God Skin||March 5, 2019||A skin for Ah Puch. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Loading Frame||March 5, 2019||A loading frame.|
|Loading Screen||March 5, 2019||A loading screen background.|
|God Skin||March 22, 2019||A skin for Anhur. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|God Skin||March 22, 2019||A skin for Agni. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|Music Theme||March 22, 2019||A music theme.|
|Knights of the Round Table|
|Pedestal||March 22, 2019||A pedestal.|
Collection bonus[edit | edit source]
|God Skin||February 21, 2019||A skin for Tyr granted for unlocking 3 bundles. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
|God Skin||March 22, 2019||An unlimited skin for Merlin granted for unlocking all 5 bundles. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.|
Quests[edit | edit source]
There will be 10 quests in total, 2 quests per cosmetics bundle release. Completing a quest will grant 20 . For every time a new bundle is released, the last 2 quests will be deactivated. Players can earn a total of 200 throught the event.
|Arthurian Quest 1|
|Arthurian Quest 2|
|Arthurian Quest 3|
|Arthurian Quest 4|
|Arthurian Quest 5|
|Arthurian Quest 6|
|Arthurian Quest 7|
|Arthurian Quest 8|
|Arthurian Quest 9|
|Arthurian Quest 10|
Lore[edit | edit source]
Chapter 1[edit | edit source]
How many deaths can burden a man's soul, before it is undone?
How much blood can be upon his hands, before he can hold nothing, and no one, ever again?
I commit these words now, as I stand upon the threshold of an unknown future, as the truest record possible from the mind of an imperfect man. Listen not to the songs and bard's tales that would leave you rapt with the image of a joyful king who wielded the blade that brought peace and destroyed all evil. Listen instead to the words of a man, not a king, nor a hero, nor a saviour, but just a man who has brought about the loss of everything he has ever held dear.
My name is Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther, and I am the downfall of Camelot.
The days of my birth, of my youth, were ones of blood and fire, of suffering and terror. It is well enough that I was molded by these things, for they would be all that I would ever know.
I became a man in the shadow of my father the King, Uther Pendragon, lord and warden of Camelot. I watched as he devoted his life to bringing order to a land riven by war and division, from the challengers who hungered for his throne to the barbarian hordes that flooded in uncounted from across the seas. I watched and I trained, preparing for the day when I would do the same.
If I had been born in another time, in another place, would I have been a different man? A philosopher? An artisan? A priest? Do such questions even matter? I was born into war, and so I became a warrior.
I was little more than a boy when battle took my father from us, when his great Mage swore himself to me, and he laid the crown upon my head. From that day Merlin never left my side. I draw breath to speak these words only because of him.
You wish to know of the sword. Vaunted Excalibur. Are the legends true, you wonder? Was it forged from a star fallen from the heavens? Was it I who hauled it from a stone, when any other who attempted to failed? Wherever the truth of it lies, what is truly of import is that by that blade was Camelot saved, and in so doing doomed.
Youth has blurred much of those early days, where the noble houses were brought beneath my banner or rendered desolate for their rebellion. Where together we crusaded out, riding down against the shield walls of the foreign marauders and crushing them like the braying beasts that they were. When all you know is war, battles have a way of flowing together, yet there are moments of triumph that crystalize in the mind, as though trapped in amber.
An entire army before me, kneeling in submission.
Merlin flashing his brilliant smile, his face a crimson mask of blood.
The head of a Saxon chieftain, crested in mail and twisting horns, rolling from his shoulders into earth made a quagmire by bloodshed.
These, for all their pain, for all of their horror, were the halcyon days of my life. Camelot was united, with my own successor born behind the safety of her walls. The advance of the hordes had been halted, broken, their warbands poised to be hurled back into the sea from whence they had first appeared. If only I had appreciated such times then, unknowing of the darkness that awaited just over the horizon.
Know that when I speak of the myriad peoples and creeds called Saxons as barbarians, it is from neither arrogance nor spite. One gains an intimacy with a foe when he spends his life dedicated to their destruction. He learns their rituals, their customs, what rallies them to the utmost of their strength and what sends them fleeing from the field in fear. I had spent my life transforming myself into that which the Saxons most fear, the King who had sent thousands of their kin into darkness, wielder of a magic blade so steeped in Saxon blood that it could never be made clean of it.
And in their fear, their desperation, their weakness, the hordes turned to darkness, to ancient secrets and forbidden places that they could neither control nor understand. It was by their hand that the greatest evil imaginable was awakened, but as I contemplate it I wonder, is it they who are to blame, or is it I?
For all the time that I have known him, Merlin was a man who has existed simultaneously within two realms: one of reality, and one of dreams. I cannot count the victories his visions have won, the times where catastrophe was averted by the pain he suffered while the rest of us slept. I trusted him with my life, without question or hesitation, and what he saw, I believed.
For weeks on end Merlin would awake screaming. He would be found by my patrols far from his tent, outside our camp in the hills or deep within the woods quaking, sheened in sweat, and babbling in a tongue none could understand save the urgency with which he spoke it. In time he would make sense, breathlessly pleading of doors unlocking, of secrets meant never to be known, and a single word repeated over and over.
Upon hearing of it, there were many of my warriors who thought this to be an omen of triumph. I was their king, Arthur Pendragon, and the sigil of the mythic beast was writ large upon our shields, our banners, and our hearts. Surely the vision of such a creature meant our inevitable conquest of the Saxons, of hurling them into the sea never to return to plague us. But I could see in my friend's eyes that whatever he had seen, it was not a harbinger of victory.
It was an inferno, unleashed by fools to burn beyond control, until all was in ruins.
I do not remember much of the battle, what was to be the final battle against the Saxons after we had forced their backs to the sea. Only images remain in my mind, sensations. The crunch of clashing shields and shivering spears. The cries of dying men underfoot. The sound of chanting, in the tongue I had only heard from Merlin in his dreams. The spray of salt water, and the cold of a shadow cast over the entire world.
The dragon defied comprehension. There is no other thing I have seen to compare its size to, nor any army to whom I can compare its violence. It seemed indifferent to who it slayed, obeying no master, leaving as many Saxons dead as it did my own warriors. Such was the chaos it sowed that for a few fleeting moments we all joined as men to oppose it, though in the end it did nothing to forestall it.
I remembered waking beneath the crushing embrace of mangled plate and cold flesh. From a mound of my slain brethren I freed myself, finding Merlin and looking east, to see all that I had sought to protect in flames.
As fair Camelot was swallowed in fire around me, I led what remained of my knights into battle against the dragon. Merlin implored me to stall the creature, as he hurried into his vaults to seek out the lore he had long told me was forbidden even to himself. My heart cried out, begging me to find my wife and child and ensure their safety, but duty rooted me in place before the beast. I was the warden of all Camelot, and my oaths demanded I protect all her people, not just those who bore my name. What ruin might have been avoided then, if I had.
Combat against the dragon was a nightmare made real. I watched my champions, men who had torn trees loose from the ground and slain dozens of foes single-handed upon the battlefield torn asunder, broken or boiled away by the monster's foul poisons. I fought on through the screaming, horrid scene, Excalibur a blur as she cut and slashed, willing to fight until the last. I placed my faith in Merlin to deliver us all, I just had to buy him enough time to do so.
When my wizard emerged at last, I heard once more the uncanny, stilted tongue of his dreams and the Saxon war priests. Power radiated from Merlin, great crackling bands of eye-aching silver that burnt the earth black around him. The dragon roared, chained by Merlin's power that surged up and dragged the beast thrashing down into the earth. The ground heaved and quaked in the dragon's throes, the tremors tearing out across Camelot even after it had disappeared.
It was quiet, then. I stood beside Merlin, my last knights broken, leaning upon Excalibur to keep to my feet. The devastation that surrounded me was more than I could fathom, the loss of life appalling. I did not yet know that numbered among the fallen in the flames lay Guinevere, my Queen and the keeper of my heart.
I asked Merlin, when the terrible silence that had descended became too much to bear, what he had done.
“I could not destroy it,” Merlin rasped, near death from the effort of the spell he had conjured. “I could only send it away, to another place far from here.”
For one year I went about my shattered kingdom, driving out the last roving bands of the Saxons and doing what I could to haul my people back from the ashes. Lawlessness and despair had infected my lands in the wake of the cataclysm, and if only I had known had deeply it had rooted itself, I would have rode for home.
I had entrusted my son, Mordred, to the safety of Camelot's walls, as much as we had rebuilt them. There were few bastions left in my realm then, but of them all the seat of my throne was the strongest. But no walls, no matter their height or strength, could protect from a blackness that stained one's heart.
My knights and I had freed a chain of villages from the tyranny of a bandit lord when I received word of what my son had done. The news reached me that I had been overthrown, and that Mordred sat upon the throne of Camelot. And what was more, that he sought not to rule over my people, but finish the terrible work that the dragon had begun.
And so we made speed for home, to see for myself the madness that had taken hold of my blood, and what I would have to do to stop him.
I can almost see you now, imagining a duel upon some sun-kissed glen, where a noble king stood resolute against a dark usurper. The very image of good versus evil. But that is not what transpired. There is no song sung about a father, bleeding in the mud and rain, as he killed his only son.
I have spoken of my memory failing. I suppose this is the consequence of the warrior's life, for not all of the scars we bear can be seen with the eye. Yet for all that I have forgotten, I remember that day with perfect clarity, though for all my heart I wish I did not.
Mordred had grown into a man while I had been out on campaign, and the sight of him sent a tremor through my heart. He had all of the best from my Queen and I, my strength and will, joined with her wit and vision. He should have been a philosopher king, garbed in the robes and laurels of the ancient ones who once lived amongst us, a maker of laws and consensuses to be adored by all our people.
Mordred the Just. Mordred the Wise.
He stood before me, the rain lashing down against his dark plate, sluicing from the blade of the sword drawn at his side.
“My son,” I said, refusing to bring Excalibur from her sheath. “Mordred, what have you done?”
“You were gone, for most of my life,” he answered, his eyes downcast, his voice low but soft. “But those times you were here with me, I etched every word you said into memory. As though they had come down from heaven.”
“You told me once, that I could never lose a game that I did not choose to play. I say to you then, if you came across a child, dying and screaming from an affliction, with no hope to ever be made well, what would you do? I would smother that child, and bear the sin of such an act upon my own soul, because I know that would be not madness, but mercy.”
“This is no game,” I said. “And this is no rhetorical exercise. Tell me what you have done.”
“The dragon will return,” said Mordred, his eyes still cast to the ground. “He will come and there is nothing that can stand against it. We are presented then with a choice, are we not father? Shall we enter oblivion on our own terms, or those of a monster?”
“Mordred,” I made to embrace him, but he raised his sword between us.
“It is no choice at all. If our King lacks the courage to do so, then I will be that shepherd for us all. I will be the one to lead our brothers and sisters, as we walk hand in hand into extinction.”
“Turn back from this path, while you still can,” I pleaded. “We can protect them.”
“Is that what you said to mother?” He looks at me then, with her eyes, and I am almost undone. “That is what she believed, and where is she now? We will all join her, soon enough. Will you help me, father?”
“Mordred, please,” I ask one last time, feeling Exaclibur's weight at my side. “Do not make me do this.”
“I am not making you do anything, father. None will make this choice save you, and it will be only you who will take its weight upon your soul.”
Ask any man what makes a king, and they will speak of crowns, of riches, of titles. I cannot blame them for this, because there is little else they see. It is only those who rule who know that what makes a king is duty. An oath, and a debt to see the lives of his people kept safe and made better by his rule. That he must sacrifice anything, even that which he loves most, to preserve the kingdom. And though it broke my heart, that day I drew my sword, and did what a king must.
The songs say that it was Excalibur in my hand that took Mordred's life, but like so much else that is told of that day, it was not. The moment I could not convince him to stand beside me, to hope, I killed my only son. And may that failure follow me to the end of my days.
When it was over, I took him in my arms and held him until he was gone. Then I picked him up and carried him home. He lies in the crypts beneath Camelot now, at rest beside his mother.
The years that followed the death of my son were ones of rebuilding, of reclaiming the lands and the souls of my people from all of the darkness that had consumed them. Camelot became my only goal, with each man, woman and child dwelling within her my family and their prosperity my crusade. They would know a kind and dutiful king, generous and beneficent to the crowds, never witness to the melancholy within me. I devoted every part of myself to them, though in honesty I admit my motives were far from selfless. I was desperate to atone, to burn away the sins of my past as a crucible cleanses the impurities from gold, so that one day I might hope to know peace.
Merlin became similarly devoted, turning inward in isolation for solace as I sought it amongst the realm. Weeks, months would pass without sight of him, so consumed he was by his texts and ancient lore. I would glimpse him briefly, readying for great journeys beyond the kingdom, though in search of what he would not say, and that he could only go alone.
The kingdom began to restore itself. Peace remained a fleeting thing, with the tide still bearing disparate warbands of Saxons coming from across the seas to raid. The battles were short, though, for I rode in the vanguard of every charge, breaking every shield wall, leaving none alive. This was not vengeance, for one cannot repay a debt for something that is beyond value. No, my fury was spent in penance for what I had allowed the Saxons to unleash upon my people.
In time, the ranks of my knights were replenished, and armies levied in times of need to protect our frontier. Perhaps my wizard had been waiting for this, before he began to speak to me of Avalon.
Merlin's tower was the tallest structure in Camelot, soaring up high enough to rake the rainclouds as they drifted across the sky. And yet its greatest treasures were not stored at its peak, but rather deep below the earth.
I followed Merlin down the spiral leading to his vaults, my plate clicking against the ancient stone steps. My breath feathered out in front of me, even though the winter was still long away. There was much to the mage's ways that few outside his ilk could understand, and I had long since made peace with such things, placing my trust in my oldest friend.
“Nearly there,” Merlin said, his words echoing bizarrely from the walls. “Just a little further down.”
We finally came to the entrance to his vault. I frowned upon seeing it, a simple door made of mouldering timber. Sensing my thoughts, Merlin offered me a sly grin, and made an intricate gesture before the door with his hands.
A deep thunk sent a tremor through the ground up my boots, and I spun, my hand moving to the grip of Excalibur, as the wall behind me unfolded. The very stone changed, turning liquid like molten silver to form a long, shadowed tunnel.
“One can never be too careful with his secrets,” said Merlin as he entered the tunnel.
I looked back at the timbre door behind us. “What happens if you open that door?”
“That door?” Merlin looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, you'd rather not know, trust me. Now come.”
Merlin snapped his fingers, wreathing his hand in fire that illuminated the passageway. We walked for what felt like hours, our path winding and branching and twisting until I lost all sense of direction, yet Merlin led by heart.
“How much longer?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Merlin smiled. “We are here.”
I looked around, suddenly finding myself not within the dark tunnel but a great vaulted chamber. The walls were filled with tomes, scrolls and parchments, with exotic totems and bizarre items occupying plinths and tables scattered across the room. At its centre was a simple stone altar, with my sigil etched into it.
“Ah,” said Merlin, seeing what had occupied my attention. He stepped aside, following a pace behind as I came to stand before the altar.
“Of all the things I have found in my travels,” said Merlin as he gestured to the altar. “This bears the most power.”
“What is it?” I asked. I ran a hand over the dusty stone in a soft rasp of plate, feeling a power that I could sense yet not define.
“It is…difficult to describe,” replied Merlin, an answer he often resorted to with me. “Think of it as a doorway.”
“A door to where?”
“To Avalon,” Merlin met my gaze. “The realm of gods and monsters. I have seen it in my dreams. I believe that the dragon originated from this place, and that is the only reason why I was able to banish it there.”
Merlin's voice grew sombre. “It has filled my dreams again. I believe that whatever power I used to supress the creature is now gone, and that it is free to wreak havoc once again.”
I turned to him. “If that is so, we owe this land a debt for what we have done.”
Merlin nodded. “I figured you would think as much. I must warn you, though. I do not know what awaits us should we travel there, and I can offer you no guarantee that once there, we will be able to ever return home again.”
I looked back to the altar, the resolve becoming steel within my heart. “If that is our fate, then let it be so. Open the door, Merlin. I have a dragon to slay.”
Chapter 2[edit | edit source]
He didn't know what to expect, when he stepped through the door. So he prepared himself for anything.
He felt cold, and heat, then a sickening dislocation, as though he were being pulled in every direction at once. Every one of his senses railed at the sheer wrongness of it, of the frenzied perception that he was being peeled apart into dust and cast to some unseen wind.
All of this he experienced in the time it takes a heart to give a single beat. Then he was through to the other side.
Arthur blinked, his body of burnished plate laid over scarred muscle locked tense into a warrior's crouch. The tension clung to him as his eyes refocused, and he saw the faces staring back at him.
The first was a golden being with the body of a man and the face of an eagle. He hung in the air, standing above the ground with the light and warmth of the noonday sun rolling off of him like a haze. Next to him was a brutish creature, head and shoulders above its companions with a body made of stone, like some impossible living statue. Its massive hands were bunched into fists, its feet set wide in anticipation of violence.
Between these two incredible entities stood a woman, though like her companions she was clearly something far beyond human. The same radiance that exuded from the others was present within her as well, along with the confident, regal bearing of one with both the power and the vision to rule. Arthur had heard a voice, in the moment before he had stepped through the portal, which he now recognised must have been hers.
It took a moment for Arthur to realize he was still holding her hand, and he released her as he stepped down from a rough stone altar identical to the one within Merlin's sanctum, with his wizard arriving behind him a moment later.
Arthur did not know how it was that they could understand each other, but words passed and a hurried rapport was established. Arthur quickly adopted the posture of the benevolent king, with a winning smile and an easy, assured bearing at odds with the unknown world confronting him. The time for dialogue was cut short, however, as the earth was darkened by the shadow of the beast.
Seeing the eyes of his new companions craning up toward the sky, Arthur turned, his gaze locking to the being that had dwelt within his mind every moment since the night Camelot was lost in flame. The great dragon was here, in this new realm of Avalon, with no other goal than destruction in whatever cold, black void passed for its heart.
Excalibur blazed in the king's grasp, just as desperate as the one who wielded her to drown her blade in the monster's blood. A roar erupted from Arthur's throat as he charged. Here and now, vengeance would be his, denied to him for too long. So long as a single breath remained within Arthur, this beast would never be allowed live to defile another land.
The single word stopped him cold. Arthur skidded to a halt, looking back over his shoulder.
“Something is different, lord,” Merlin's eyes pulsed with silver light as he glared up at the approaching dragon. “Now is not the time for battle.”
“Different?” asked the radiant woman who had called herself Hera. “Different how?”
“The creature is changed from the desolation of Camelot,” said Merlin. “There is some new vitality, a raw power smouldering within the beast beyond what it once possessed.”
It took the entirety of Arthur's will to keep from resuming his charge, every fiber of his being screaming to attack. Yet he knew to place his faith in Merlin's sight, as well as his own. The dragon was indeed different from the memory that had been indelibly etched into his mind, somehow even more powerful than it had been before. Pragmatism asserted itself in Arthur's mind. There were too many unknowns in Avalon, too many questions unanswered, to tear off in a blind assault. The current moment called for caution, to marshal knowledge and formulate a path of attack from there.
“If we do not fight,” the eagle-face man—Ra, he had called himself—said, “then we must take flight from here. And what of Thor?”
Thor. The name struck Arthur's mind like a bell. He had heard it before, bellowed from the lips of the Saxon hordes upon the killing fields. Did these beings make allies of those who sought his kingdom's—his peoples'—downfall?
“We go back and find him,” said Hera, in a tone that brooked no disagreement.
“Thor has fought and bled to reach this far with us, we will not leave him behind.”
Arthur fought to calm the churning of his thoughts, to silence the questions and doubts threatening to take hold of his mind. It felt as though even the ground beneath his feet was uncertain, poised to dissolve to quicksand any moment. He shared a glance with Merlin, catching the barely perceptible changes in his mage's face that had always given him council. He trusted in Merlin, and in that moment, he decided to place his trust in these strangers as well.
“We will do as you say,” Arthur looked back at Hera with a short nod of agreement. “But what of the beast? I hardly think it shall simply sit back and allow us free passage.”
“Leave that to me,” said Ra. Arthur felt a rising heat prickle at his face as the glow surrounding the bird-faced man began to intensify. “Seek out Thor and make haste back to the beach, and whatever you do, do not look back upon me.”
“We go, now,” said Hera. She gestured to the immense stone man to follow. “Argus, with me.”
The giant moved the moment the command left her lips, plodding obediently to her side. Arthur and Merlin shared a glance, and then followed after them as they struck off quickly toward the coast.
Bearing down upon the lake, Jormungandr caught sight of the fleeing gods. More had joined their number, familiar creatures that roused a sick glee in his mind. His memories summoned a razed land, the throne of her king in flames, and the satisfying snap of shattered armour beneath his rage. Jormungandr remembered the furious joy of that night, and sought to close the circle he had started then.
The world serpent tilted his immense fanged head in pursuit. Their destruction would be a simple enough thing, and then on to other works, to a world that cried out for cleansing. A rumbling hiss passed through his maw as sudden stabs of heat stung at his face, and Jormungandr rounded back upon the lake to see the lone figure of Ra floating before the altar at its centre.
“See me!” Ra shouted, hurling bolts of searing sunfire from his staff at the world serpent. The attacks did not penetrate Jormungandr's hide, failing to do anything more than blacken small patches of his scales, but the sun god did succeed in drawing the creature to darken the ground over him with his horrific presence.
“I see you,” rumbled Jormungandr, noxious venom bubbling at the corners of his maw. “Though I see little worth looking upon.”
Ra unleashed another barrage, speckling the dragon's face with scorched dots. He continued to fire volley after volley, keeping the serpent's attention focused squarely upon him, as he gathered his power deep within himself.
“Do whatever your dignity requires of you, little thing,” said Jormungandr. “The star you claim dominion over burned long before your time, and it shall burn long after you are but dust.”
“See me, creature!” Ra's beak flexed in an approximation of a grin as he gathered the core of a caged sun from within himself, barely containing it. “For I am the last thing you ever will.”
Light exploded out from Ra in a blinding flash. The lake surrounding the altar boiled away to steam in an instant. Jormungandr reeled, a howl tearing across the sky as the world was bleached from the world serpent's sight.
Arthur kept running as the world was drowned in light. Intense, searing heat boiled at his back and the world around him grew overwhelmingly bright, as though the sun itself had fallen down to the earth. His eyes stung with the glare reflecting around him, and he kept his vision focused on the ground in the stark shadow of Hera's stone giant to spare himself the worst of it.
“Don't look back!” Hera cried as they hurried between the trees, their shadows bizarre and elongated in the wake of Ra's unleashed power.
The roar that came next was nearly enough to send them flying. It ripped through the air with the fury of a hurricane's gale, lashing against them as hard as a hammer blow. Trees were torn loose from their roots and sent smashing against the trunks of their fellows, filling the air with twisting branches and spinning veils of whipping leaves.
Arthur looked up, seeing the enormous thrashing head of the evil dragon rear back impossibly high into the sky. The sheer scale of the beast defied all comprehension, for it surely scratched at the heavens with its crown of twisted horns. How could it have changed so much since that night at Camelot? What power existed here in Avalon to grant it such a boon?
The trees began to thin, finally parting to reveal the cliffside overlooking the coast and the sea beyond. The evidence of Thor's battle against the world serpent was clear for all to see. Half of the cliff was destroyed, as though it had been cleaved by an immense axe, reduced to a mound of pulverized rubble that formed a rough slope down to the beach. Patches of sand were fused into shattered puddles of glass from the touch of lightning, or congealed into gritty sludge by the serpent's toxins.
The group came to a halt at its edge, looking out as the tide softly crashed. Hera scanned the beach, her eyes darting as she urgently searched. Her hand shot out, pointing down onto the beach. “There!”
Following after Hera, the group negotiated down the steep rubble incline, half stepping and half sliding, bits of shattered rock scattering and streaming down around them. Swiftly they reached the bottom, skidding to a stop in a plume of sand and dust. That was when Arthur glimpsed what Hera had seen, and hurried after her toward it.
They arrived at the still form, half buried in the sand. Amidst all of the destruction it would have been simple to overlook, but for the web of broken glass that corkscrewed out from it in a shattered mandala of sand flash-fused by lightning's kiss. Through the film of melted sand and clinging black venom, Hera glimpsed the rune-etched armour of her companion and kindred god.
“Thor,” Hera rushed beside the body, sweeping away the sand and poison sludge from his body. She rolled him onto his back, her fingers going to his throat to seek out a pulse. Hera felt the Norse god's heart beating, faintly but there. “He still lives!”
“Not for long.”
A shining silver blade appeared at Thor's throat. Hera looked up, seeing Arthur standing over them, his mythic blade poised to deliver a killing strike.
“The Saxon God of Thunder,” Arthur said, his voice low and sharp with bitterness. “The name I have heard upon the lips of the barbarous hordes who butcher my people and raze their villages. The name their warbands whoop in celebration as they carry the children of Camelot away into slavery. Stand aside, Hera, honour demands a reckoning, here and now.”
Hera stood, moving to place herself between Arthur and Thor. “Not all that has been done in the name of the gods was by our will,” she said. “Mortals will always cry out for intercession from the divine, to lend them their strength for acts of good and of ill. That does not mean we always answer. Trust that the pantheons look upon their entreaties, and bestow their power only in the service of justice.”
“I have seen many deeds done in the name of this god, Queen Hera,” snapped Arthur, “and I lack the generosity of perspective to call any of them justice.”
Now is not the time.
Arthur flinched. After all of the years they had fought together, no matter how many times they had communed in such a way, Arthur had never gotten used to Merlin speaking within his mind.
We are in a strange land, my King, sent Merlin. More than anything now, we need allies here. Remember the true foe, the dragon, and we will never triumph against it alone.
You would have our dead lay beneath the earth unavenged, Arthur thought, knowing Merlin could hear him, while I stand here able to cut the thread of the one their murderers worship?
I would have you see sense, Merlin replied. Petty feuding is beneath you, and it will not bring back what has been taken from us. The debt is not his to be paid. Do not lay the crimes of the hordes at this being's feet, it will gain us nothing.
Arthur hesitated, the tip of Excalibur lingering at the stricken god's throat for a moment longer, before he pulled it away. “So be it. For now.”
Hera looked between Arthur and Merlin, before motioning to Argus. The giant stomped forward, stooping down to lift Thor up and carry him in his arms.
“We have your friend,” said Merlin, eager to dispel the tension of the past moments and focus their minds on escape. “Now what?”
Hera looked out across the water, her eyes wide as he pointed toward the tide. “Look!”
The rest followed her gaze, turning around with surprise to see Ra's solar barge anchored in the shallows of the beach. Confusion was writ large upon their faces, as much on Hera and Argus as with Arthur and Merlin. The resplendent vessel was somehow completely untouched, despite Hera having seen it smashed into splinters by the tumult of Jormunghandr's awakening.
“I told you she would be back,” Arthur spun, seeing Ra behind them. The sun god's feet dragged against the ground as he leaned upon his staff to keep himself upright, pale and drained from the incredible effort he had expended to blind the world serpent. Merlin came forward, looping Ra's arm around his shoulders to support him.
“Let's get aboard, now,” said Hera, gazing up at the distant thrashing form of Jormunghandr, his howls still ripping across the clouds. She glimpsed the waters churning around him, the ripples of a stone dropping into a pond magnified a thousand fold. “We don't have much time.”
They waded out into the sea, hastily climbing aboard the solar barge. Argus lifted Thor's comatose body up above the surface, waiting beside the hull submerged to his wrists until Arthur and Merlin had boarded and were able to drag the God of Thunder onto the deck. The others went to the opposite railing, leaning to provide counterweight as the giant hauled himself up to avoid capsizing the ship with his weight.
“Hurry Ra!” Hera pleaded, watching as a rising wall of seawater rolled and crashed closer and closer to the coastline. The master of the Egyptian pantheon struggled to the prow of the solar barge, clashing his staff down against the deck and sinking to one knee.
Light flooded the sails of the barge, billowing them out until they snapped taught in a phantom wind. The vessel broke from the coastline, cutting through the increasingly turbulent waters to put distance between them and Jormunghandr.
The first of the waves reached them, lifting the ship up before gravity brought them flying back down. Hera and her companions seized any hold within reach, riding out the disorienting onslaught as the waters grew only more chaotic.
Arthur looked back from where he crouched on the main deck, seeing waves high as mountains closing to a stone's throw from them. He looked to Merlin. “Whatever you can do, help him.”
Merlin nodded, moving quickly toward the bow and bracing against the heavy veils of seawater spraying across the deck. The wizard arrived at Ra's side, the sun god visibly struggling to keep the solar barge moving in his weakened state.
“Keep at it, my friend,” Merlin grinned, laying a hand upon Ra's shoulder. “Help is at hand.”
The wizard closed his eyes, focusing a measure of his power and channelling it into Ra. The barge bucked and rolled beneath them, her timbre bones groaning under the wrenching torments of the roiling sea.
Merlin felt cold ripple across his flesh as the shadow of an enormous wave soared up behind them. The rear of the barge lifted, tilting the prow down into the depths as the apex of the wave lost momentum, curling forward and crashing down ahead of the barge and sealing them away within a cage of churning water.
Together now, he whispered between their minds. Merlin put all of the chaos of the external world, the boiling tide and creaking ship, the cries of alarm and spray of saltwater, all from his mind. He looked inward, into the silent tranquillity within himself, and willed his strength out and into Ra.
New light flooded out across the sails, illuminating the barge like a lantern within the collapsing prison of falling water. The barge shot forward, cutting through the wall of the tsunami like a golden arrow. It slashed over the surface of the sea, quickly outrunning the immense waves and carrying the gods out into calmer waters.
As the ship finally ceased to shiver and groan, Merlin lifted his hand from Ra, rising to his feet and taking an unsteady step back. The wizard snorted, cuffing at his face to stem the blood trickling from his nose.
“My thanks,” said Ra, shakily returning to his full height, his feet resting a pace above the deck. “I will be able to bear us onward from here.”
“Well done my friend,” Arthur clapped Merlin upon the shoulder. He looked to Hera. “What do we do now? Where do we go?”
“I will tell you,” answered Hera. “We are going home.”
After all of the chaos and tumult she had witnessed over the course of her odyssey, all the ruins and suffering of both man and god alike, seeing the majesty of Mount Olympus, and her palace untouched and shining at its peak, nearly brought the Queen of the Gods to tears. As they ascended its slopes, she thought of the Hera that had left its walls, compared to who she was now. Would any within the palace even recognize who she was now? She hadn't had the time to contemplate such thoughts before now. The sheltered Queen she had once been was gone forever, and the one who was returning now bore the strength to defend creation from the desolation the world serpent sought to bring. All that mattered now was finding how.
The gates of the palace slowly opened before them, groaning on immense hinges. Two lines of golden-armoured warriors marched out, their spears and shields gleaming in the sunlight as they flanked Hera and her companions. The Queen flicked her gaze at Argus, watching the giant look upon the warriors he had once fought beside, before Hera had transformed him.
The captain of the guard clashed the butt of his spear against the ground, and the honor guard went to one knee in perfect unison. Attendants and servants flocked around Hera, laden with robes, wash basins and perfumed oils. Hera waved them away, instead commanding them to bear Thor to the care of her apothecaries while gesturing for the other gods to follow her into the palace.
The seat of power for the Olympic pantheon was just as Hera had remembered it. Soft light filled the lofty chambers from lamps and braziers, every surface polished to a mirror sheen in preparation for her inevitable return. She led her companions to the throne room, closing the great bronze doors behind her.
Arthur and Merlin wandered about the gilded chamber, their eyes never ceasing to find artistry and treasure beyond anything they had ever seen with each new glance. Hera indulged them their curiosity, the old habits of a sovereign vaunting their prized collection not completely driven from her.
“Now then,” said Hera after Arthur and Merlin had made their third circuit of the chamber. “To the matter at hand. We have many questions, Arthur, and now we—”
A commotion from beyond drew Hera's attention as the doors were flung open with a booming crash that echoed across the throne room. The light of the setting sun flooded the gilded chamber in crimson, framing the lone figure standing at the threshold in shadow.
“Who is that?” asked Arthur, Excalibur ready in his grasp.
“Send word,” said Odin with the last of his strength. “Rally the pantheons, Queen Hera, or all shall be lost.”
Chapter 3[edit | edit source]
“Where is my son?”
Odin lurched through the palace gates upon Mount Olympus. He was haggard, his flesh and armour singed and his eye a weary bloodshot orb. The palace guard parted to grant him entry, for even in his weakened state they showed deference to the master of an entire divine pantheon as he arrived at Hera's home.
Ra and Hera rushed to Odin's side. The Norse king looked on the verge of collapse, somehow even worse than when she had last walked his shattered kingdom during her long odyssey. Something terrible had happened, a fate that had transcended and eclipsed the destruction sown by Hel and Fenrir, and Hera knew it could have one source.
“Asgard is lost,” Odin rasped, allowing the other gods to keep him upright as he limped into the palace. “The World Serpent has come. Jormungandr. He has taken Asgard, my realm, my people, for himself. After all that we had endured, as broken as those battles had left us, we could do nothing to stop him.” Odin raised his head, scanning the throne room for a familiar face. “Where is my son? Where is Thor?”
Hera moved in front of Odin, her arms extended to gently hold his shoulders and keep him from collapse. “He is here, within my palace. Come with me, and I will take you to him.”
Motioning for Argus and her guards to follow, Hera guided Odin out of the antechamber of the palace and down a gilded passageway toward where his son lay, fighting for his life to withstand the poisons afflicting him from his battle with Jormungandr.
Merlin glanced at Arthur, seeing the fury barely kept in check by his friend. They had both heard the name Odin uttered countless times, cried out in battle, pleading for intercession, and bellowed to witness deeds of massacre and spoil. All from the tongues of their enemy, the Saxon hordes.
“He is not our enemy, lord,” Merlin counselled. He needed Arthur focused, now more than ever. They were not in Camelot anymore, and reality in Avalon was far removed from the world they once knew. They would adapt, or they would die here with their oaths unfulfilled.
Arthur shot Merlin a hard glance, his hand straying to where Excalibur hung at his waist, before clenching it into a fist. Teeth gritted, Arthur stormed from the antechamber, back out onto the courtyard of the palace. Merlin made no effort to follow him, knowing that what his king needed now was solitude and meditation. The stunning vistas revealed atop this mountain would offer fertile ground for that.
“The blood of your king runs hot,” said Ra, moving to stand beside Merlin as they found themselves the only two souls left remaining in the chamber. Merlin regarded the impossible being that was speaking with him, a shining gold half-man, half-bird who levitated above the ground and could command the sun. He allowed a short laugh to escape his lips, accepting with a shake of his head that there was so much to this world that remained a mystery to him.
“We have a history with those who the Saxons offered their worship to,” Merlin nodded toward where Odin had gone. “And blood is very much a part of it.”
“I commend you then,” Ra dipped his head slowly, “for seeing the wider picture. That we are all facing the same darkness here, and that nothing will bring it about with more swiftness than division.”
“Agreed,” Merlin nodded. The feuds and vendettas of the past must be forgotten here. “We are both strangers to each others homes, Ra. Tell me of this place, of Avalon, and I will tell you of my own home.”
The two spoke, each of them relating the histories of their own worlds, and the winding paths of victory, discovery and tragedy that had led them both to stand beside one another upon Olympus' peak. Merlin spoke of Camelot, of Arthur and those who had come before him. He described their kingdom's fall, of the dragon, and of Mordred. Ra told the history of the pantheons, their myriad of wars and rivalries, leading to the moment when Zeus, the King of the Gods and husband to Hera, was struck down by the plots of Hel and Hades.
Merlin took in every word Ra said, carefully peeling apart the layers of every revelation for anything he might have use for. The dialogue was highly stimulating to Merlin, even strangely so, dredging up images and memories from deep within himself, like sparks flickering from inside a smouldering hearth.
“And then,” Ra continued, “With Zeus fallen, the gathering darkness was finally let loose upon creation, with Ragnarok.”
Merlin staggered. His equilibrium vanished, carried away from him on a queasy tide of vertigo. He struck out an arm to steady himself, grabbing hold of a marble pillar as he sank to one knee. His fingers crawled with lightning, marring the flawless stone with jagged blackened streaks.
“What is it?” Ra hurried to Merlin's side. The Egyptian deity elevated his radiance, bathing the mage in a restorative glow to seek out any wound and speed its healing. But it had not been harm that had brought Merlin low.
It was memory.
“I remember something,” Merlin whispered. Ra knelt, tilting his head to listen.
“Something,” Merlin repeated. “Something, something…” He floundered about within his own mind, feebly trying to grasp the image while it coiled away from him like smoke. The harder he sought to contain it, the more swiftly it bled into nothing but shadow and echoes.
There was something about Ra. The proximity to the power emanating from his presence, and the knowledge that he conferred of this new world, had dredged something up from the depths of Merlin's subconscious, something long forgotten but bearing inconceivable importance. He looked into the avian face of his companion, seeing revelation in every fibre of his being. It was as though he, and all his kind, were a conduit for the very nature of this reality.
“What is it?” asked Ra, seeing the import of the wizard's thoughts writ large upon his face.
“I must speak with each of you,” said Merlin, fire blazing in his eyes. “I must speak with you all.”
Merlin stood before Hera as she sat upon the throne of Olympus. No other soul shared the space with them. Her guardians and retainers had been sent away, and even Argus had been commanded to stand outside the door as a sentinel to bar any other from entering. The air was cool and still, yet still the building tension between the two caused the faintest prickle of sweat to break across the wizard's brow.
“Are you certain you wish to embark down this path?” Hera leaned back, the very image of the imperious ruler looming down from her seat of power.
“I am,” answered Merlin, refusing to be cowed.
“It is no small thing to have me as an enemy, traveller,” Hera warned, her fingers gently turning her sceptre. “One does not become Queen of the Gods through defeat.”
Merlin gave a slow nod, committed to standing his ground. “I will take my chances.”
Hera offered a demure nod, flashing her teeth in a wolfish grin. “So be it. Let us set the board then. The game is Petteia.”
Hera produced a small square board of intricately carved hardwood, its surface inlaid with pearl and gold and divided into a grid of smaller squares, eight by eight. She set the board between them, placing a small glass bead to fill the rows on either end of the board. Hera explained the game, the careful positioning and maneuver of the beads across the grid, how to flank and blockade an opponent's beads, and the conditions one must meet in order to achieve victory.
The first games of Petteia between the two were far from competitive. Hera's strategies were aggressive, yet precise, and flawless in their execution in a way that displayed the countless games she had played in order to attain mastery of it. Merlin took the games in stride, learning from each defeat and considering how the previous match had unfolded as the beads were reset. He never made the same mistake twice, and slowly but surely as the day went on he offered more resistance with each passing game before conceding.
“I thank you for indulging me in this, my Queen,” said Merlin. “I hoped that you would not find this to be an improper use of your attention, considering current events.”
“This is far from wasted time,” Hera replied without looking up, placing a bead to complete a blockade surrounding one of Merlin's and plucking it from the board. “Games of strategy hone the mind, and allow our thoughts to seize upon those that might lead us to victory. Such thoughts are needed now.”
Merlin nodded. He looked down, analysing the possible moves available to him. Hera had been cunning this round, carefully guiding him into committing to a nearly identical strategy that he had two matches ago, with the inevitable result of leading him right into the jaws of another trap. He touched a bead, lifting it from the board, and then set it back down. He had to react differently, otherwise he would simply repeat—
—tides of fire, tearing across the screaming skies. No air to breathe, no air to breathe. Lightning and black cloud, framing the coiling form of the Destroyer, as big as the world. I cannot get out. The ground crumbles away to dust, the seas boiling to mist, all vanishing before me. Everything to nothing. Everything to nothi—
The mage gasped for breath. His eyes refocused from the blur of stinging tears, and he found himself lying on the cool stone floor of the throne room. Hera had risen from the Petteia board, coming around to Merlin's side. They both knelt in the immense shadow of Argus, who had thrown the doors open and charged inside after the clamour.
“Hnng,” Merlin brought a hand to his temple, trying to stem the throbbing pain that threatened to split his skull. “What happened to me?”
“You collapsed,” replied Hera, looking up and gesturing for Argus to be calm. She looked back to Merlin, narrowing her eyes to study the mage. “You fell to the ground, speaking a tongue I have never heard. Then you screamed, as though you were in flames.”
Merlin cuffed the beginnings of a nosebleed from his upper lip. There was something to this place. The more he experienced of Avalon, and the beings within it, the more his mind summoned images he could not remember. He flailed within his mind to keep hold of them, his blood going cold as he remembered a silhouette, framed within the fires of a world coming undone.
“Jormungandr,” Merlin breathed.
“What?” Hera leaned closer. “What of him?”
“The Saxon god that fought him, I must see him. Take me to Thor, now.”
It is often said, across many times and peoples, that there is no pain deeper than a father who outlives his son. Such pain has ravaged mankind across its history, as war takes the young from life. How many fathers would give everything, even their own lives, to see the events that stole their son before they happened, and prevent it from occurring? If they had only known, what lengths would they stop at to keep their children safe?
Within the walls of Hera's palace, sitting beside his anguished son, Odin bore that pain, yet his was even deeper. For he had foreseen this. He knew that such a fate was coming for Thor, and had since before the God of Thunder was born.
Odin watched Thor as he writhed in silent agony. Hera's doctors and healers had utilized every method at their disposal to scour the World Serpent's foul poisons from him, peeling the hardened patches that covered his skin like tar and cleansing each wound with unguents and restorative potions. Hera and Ra themselves had extended their gifts, doing what they could to flush the toxins that curdled his blood and wracked his organs.
It was a rare thing for a god to feel powerless, and yet that is where Odin found himself. Everyone had done all they could for Thor. What happened next would be up to the God of Thunder, he would need to make it out on his own.
“You can come in,” said Odin. He had noticed the presence of Hera and the new mage at the door for some time. “It is your palace, after all.”
Hera gave a thin smile as they entered. “May I present Merlin of Camelot to you Odin, lord of Asgard.”
Merlin gave a short bow, and Odin offered a dry grunt in reply. After a nod from Hera, Merlin took another step toward where Thor lay. “Does he show sign of improvement?”
“He mends,” replied Odin. “We are made of stern stuff, Merlin of Camelot. Thor is healing, the only question is if he will heal faster than the Serpent's poison can kill him.”
Hera looked at Merlin.
“The poison of the World Serpent,” the mage said again. “Did you keep any of it after you had removed it from him?”
Hera looked to her apothecaries, giving them a small nod. One hurried to a side chamber, returning a few moments later holding a small crystal flask. She offered it to Hera, backing away after the goddess had taken it. Holding it aloft, Hera saw Merlin's eyes lock to the measure of dark, viscous ooze within.
“This is the key,” the wizard murmured. “I stand upon the precipice of great knowledge, of a bond between that monster and I. To gain it, I must expose myself to something from him, to awaken what lies locked away in my mind.”
“You see what this has done to him,” Odin laid a hand upon Thor's shoulder. “And yet you wish to take it into yourself?”
“Only a small amount,” Merlin answered. He glanced at Hera, seeing her incredulous look. “Trust me.”
Everyone turned, seeing Arthur standing in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. “My wizard knows what he is doing. Even if his words sound like those of an imbecile.”
Merlin grinned. “My thanks as always for your unwavering support, my liege.” He accepted the flask from Hera, looking upon its contents carefully. “I only ask of you that no matter what I do, no matter what you hear, do not touch me.”
Merlin walked to a clear corner of the room, and sat down cross-legged with his back against the wall. Slowly he undid the stopper of the flask, tilting it until the poison within hung tenuously at the opening. He looked to Arthur, seeing the subtle nod of trust given by him, and allowed a single drop to fall onto his palm.
The agony was immediate. Merlin's flesh sizzled as the toxins ate into the palm of his hand. He watched the poison slip beneath the skin, spreading out up his arm in a black web of corrupted blood. In his life he had trained himself to divorce his mind from the pain of the flesh, and it took every ounce of his concentration to do it here.
The suffering was worth enduring though, for Merlin had been right. Contact with Jormungandr's poison had torn the veil separating Merlin from his lost memories. He saw the same vision of ruin and devastation that he had before, only now he could glimpse it fully.
They had tried to defeat the Destroyer. They had tried to save Everything. But they had failed.
Every being of light had answered the call, from every land and realm. They came as fire and ice, the stars and the moon, the earth and the crashing sea, but none possessed the strength to overcome their enemy. The power within him was too great, and they could only look on helpless as he did what he was meant to do, and purge creation.
Everything collapsed. At the last moment, the final being took the light that was bleeding out from his fellows as they vanished into ash, closing it around himself as all was engulfed in darkness.
Then there was Nothing. Nothing but him, and so he became Everything.
He did not know how long he slept. There was pain, when the light encompassing him fled into his body, and he found himself in the verdant hills of a new world. The Destroyer was nowhere to be seen, and all was peaceful and still. Everything was young, laden with potential just waiting to unfold in an endless epoch of possibilities.
He would travel this new world, and do what he could to bestow his light upon it. To shape it into one that would withstand any darkness, like the one he had failed to prevent, just as those that had come before him had failed. He drew air into his lungs, and began to walk.
Merlin opened his eyes. He looked down to his hand, seeing that any trace of the poison was now gone.
“Ragnarok has happened before.”
Merlin's words stunned those gathered in Hera's throne room into silence. He found it had the greatest impact upon Hera and Odin, those who Ragnarok had taken the most from. They were the guiding hands of their pantheons, who worked in miracles and plagues. They could alter the course of the heavens and command the men and beasts of the earth. They had overcome every cataclysm, yet Ragnarok brought them to the brink. They could not conceive that such a thing could have ever come to pass before.
“No,” said the Queen of the Gods. “No, that is not possible.”
“He is deluded,” Odin rumbled, spitting upon the ground. “How could you even claim to know such a thing?”
“Because the last time it happened,” said Merlin softly, “I was there.”
Merlin told them all of his memory. He told them that there had been a world before this one, and one before that, and on back into the dawn of eternity. The world they knew was simply the one that existed now. Then he told them of the cataclysm.
“Think of a wood,” said Merlin. “Over time, decades, centuries even, trees will fall, they will rot, accrue and layer until they choke the ground with their decay. And then, with a single spark, all of that accumulation of the past is swept away, burnt to ash by an inferno. The ash feeds the soil and the forest springs anew from its foundation, vibrant and green, and destined to share the same fate as the forest it supplanted, and every other that has come before.”
“You mean to say that Ragnarok, this apocalypse, is a cycle?” Hera said slowly. “That it is meant to cleanse all of creation and render it anew?”
“At the cost of our destruction, yes.”
“Then how do we stop it?” said Arthur, ever the pragmatist. “I am not a log. This fate may have befallen generations in the past, these other worlds, but it shall not be the end of me.”
With the sharp rasp of steel tasting air, Arthur drew Excalibur, levelling the point of the shining blade at Merlin not in hostility, but honour. “You survived, my brother. That is proof that all else can as well.”
Merlin nodded. “At first, when we saw him here in Avalon, I could not make sense of his greater power. For a time I thought it could have been a result of this place. That this very realm amplifies all things somehow, and in a fashion that is so. But with the World Serpent, what was so different and had granted him such a boon, Ragnarok is the key. He did not possess it when Camelot burned. Its ruinous energy flooded into where we cast him down, and thus imbued with it, Jormungandr cannot be stopped.”
“Then it was our doing,” said Hera. “When we tore the energies from Hades and sent it into the earth, we granted Jormungandr this power. We are the architects of our doom.”
“Not any more than we,” said Merlin. “It was I who cast the serpent there to rid him from Camelot. The blood that has been spilt is upon all our hands, and so we will cleanse them together.”
“Then what do we do?” asked Ra.
“With it, he cannot be stopped,” Merlin repeated, giving Arthur a nod. “But if I can find a way to separate the two, to rip the energy out of the creature, your blade can do its work. With the right incantation, we can weaken it.”
“No, brother.” Arthur stared deep into Merlin's eyes, his conviction adamantine. “Not weaken. Kill. We kill it, brother.”
“If such a thing is even possible,” replied Merlin, “then we shall each of us do what we must.”
Chapter 4[edit | edit source]
What does it mean, to destroy? To purge, remove, and unmake that which once existed, that which once lived and breathed? What does it mean to be destroyed, to have one’s existence taken and reduced to ash and echo, left to scatter upon the winds of time? And what of creation, then?
The meaning changes with the speaker, I suppose. To me, destruction and creation are entwined, one an inseparable reflection of the other. Both are necessary, and must be kept in perfect balance, of all is lost. Therefore I embark upon my destined course, bringing forth the destruction of which has been corrupted so that new, pure creation might rise in its wake.
I have been called countless names down the flow of time. The Storm, Oblivion, the Leviathan Destroyer or The Ender of Days, each epoch denoting my rise with their own quaint poetry. Many in this cycle know me as Jormungandr, the World Serpent, and I lets out the destruction of the gods with joy.
I was rendered into being at the great dawn, when time first began and all of creation took shape. Where before all was chaos, formless disorder and infinite, unending entropy, I emerged. I met no all-powerful creator, of master who taught me of the grand cycle of order. How this cycle came to pass, or how I became bound intrinsically to my role within it as it’s custodian and agent, I cannot say. Quickly I determined to waste no time pondering the relevance of such things. I exist, just as the cycle exists, and so I play my part to preserve all against the resurgence of entropy.
Night and day reflects my purpose amidst creation. Darkness and cold, the banishment of light so that the new day’s dawn may rise and grant its warmth to all. I am the bringer of such a night. And the gods, they are who I am tasked to banish.
Each cycle they take new shape, though they rarely stray from manifesting as the most overt and pedestrian of avatars. Fire, water, lighting, earth, wisdom and death, these divine creatures lay claim to fundamental elements of creation, as though they were their source rather than parasites wielding a paltry fraction of their power. They coalesce from the desires of mortal beings, and assert the mantle of domination over all.
It never takes long before they have twisted creation in their own image, their manifold sins writ large upon the world. They are a plague masquerading as an omnipotent master, their ignorance eclipsed only by their arrogance. Consumed with avarice they scratch and claw out their little fiefdoms, warring against each other and leaving those in their thrall — and creation itself - to pay the cost. If left unchecked, if unopposed, their ambitions will only grown larger and more destructive, swollen like tumours where the only end is the annihilation of all.
I have seen this before. I have risen and seen their works, the scars they have touted into the living world. The first cycle they nearly suffered, coming to the very brink of returning all life and order to the blinding horror of chaos. In the final moment I destroyed them, and have awoken to repeat that act time and again. Their cries no longer reach my heart, as I burn them all away to nothing. When I have finished the cleansing, there is peace, leaving only the mortal beings behind to inhabit the earth. It is with them that I sympathize.
I break their chains, knowing that in time they will forge them again, elevating new pantheons to prostrate themselves before. It is the nature of mortals to be enslaved, to reject freedom for safety, autonomy for peace. They tend to their cycle as I tend mine, and though their weakness grieves me, it is not my province to intervene until I wake again.
But am I also a slave, bound to the rhythm of the great cycle as I am? Perhaps it could be seen as such after a fashion, to those who are ignorant of its importance. Do the stars feel shackled to their lot, burning and blazing to grant their pockets of light amongst the endless dark? Or do they find the true fulfilment in such a vital task, and take up their charge with vigour and devotion? I count myself amongst the latter.
These things that call themselves gods, the inevitable result of mortals’ need to be ruled, are beings of unsustainable power. Even asleep I feel them, a persistent throb against my mind. They can never be saved, never satisfied always craving more. When their power grows too great, to the point where they are able to reknit the fabric of the universe and the existence of creation itself is threatened, the throb becomes thunder, and I am roused from my slumber to see to their end.
It always ends the same way. The gods reject their allotted fate, posturing and threatotheir great strength. They fight me, for a time. In some epochs, this last a single day, whereas another of them took ten thousand years before the fate of the gods became clear. Soon enough they realize they cannot win, and then they begin to beg. They try to bargain, to show me all the blessings that they have granted, the books to their worshippers and their great works. They betray one another, promising to deliver thier kindred to me, thinking that this will save them. I am not here to save them. I am here to save everything else.
Do not listen, mortals, to their pathetic cries of injustice when I come for them. Each generation believes their pain to be uniques, a calamity never before known and never to be repeated, but they are blind. There is no one to blame but themselves. They, just as all the others before them, have sounded the clarion call for thier own extinction.
And extinct they became. No matter their strength, their will or their power, no matter what forces of nature they claimed mastery over, in the end all were rendered silent by my hand. I was perfect, relentless in persist of their obliteration, and I never failed.
Until I did.
The last time I awoke, when the end of the previous generation had come, I saw to the perpetuation of the cycle just as I had all the other. I was single-minded. Efficient. Thorough. But something unexpected happened, something new. For the first time, one of the gods whose destruction was my life’s mandate survived. Through his great cunning he was able to escape me, hiding away in his power so that I returned to my slumber, mind at peace, believing my task to be done. A moment’s inattention, and all is poised to collapse.
A single fragment of the last epoch remains, buried like a splinter into the delicate balance of universal order. He is the greatest threat to ever stand before the future of sacred existence. And worst of all, this creature believes that his defiance of the salvation I bring to be just.
Even now he gathers the divinities of this generation to himself. I can feel them crowding around each other, their power and ache in the meat of my mind. I have maintained a cold indifference in my task thus far, executing my role with swift force but never hatred, but that veneer is fading in light of my failure.
I feel hatred toward this being. He is blind and ignorant, or he would not raise a hand to stop me. He knows nothing beyond the selfish preservation of his own existence, and unwittingly balances it against the death of all that could ever be. Each breath he draws inches the universe closer to chaos. This cannot come to pass. It will not come to pass.
When the dealing time for this generation began I awoke to his power like a lance of fire behind my eyes. Mortals thronged about me, this god’s enemies in one of their endless, meaningless wars. I cared not for their little games of blood, the realization of my work left undone spiralling into rage.
I tore row into his fortress of stone and iron, casting aside the mortal armies that fearfully stood between us. I unleashed my fury, and rendered them to ash and echo. Another god stood with him, a blade bearer of considerable power, but my eyes could only find the mage.
For a second time, the inconceivable occured. Once more my execution of the sacred cycle was frustrated. A foul incantation bubbled from the god’s lips, and all became darkness for me.
He should not have been able to subdue me. The patent power within him was a wellspring eons in the building. I should have anticipated such a thing, and I cursed my rage for blinding me to the threat. He had imprisoned me sighing the center of the earth, left to dwell within its molten core, screaming without sound.
The curse was diabolical in its simplicity, the chains it wound about me was adamant I’d. Then I felt a new power, cast down from above, and my chains were broken.
I have said before that these god’s are committed to their own destruction, even if they are unaware of it. It was by the ha d of other gods that this boon of power was sent to me, the key to my freedom and the renewal of my task. The energy they called Ragnarok that flows through me has elevated beyond what even I believed was possible. With it, even the eldest god cannot hope to defeat me. I will destroy him, and all the divine creatures that throng this generation, and then, only then, I will know peace.
Each time I awaken, I cast my eyes up towards my only companions. The stars above have shifted in their celestial dance, just as they have each time before, some growing brighter, others growing colder. In the earliest times I watched them turning above me, and contemplated the brethren powers enforcing the cycle upon them, just as I do here. Like the nature of my birth, I have Long dismisses such fruitless thoughts. Much would have to change to witness them, if they even exist at all. And the cost of that would be far too great.
Instead I focus my mind upon the task at hand, and the place I now occupy. A familiar land stretches out before me, cold but not without beauty. I see the mark of divinity upon it, everywhere I see. There are vast cities and monuments, hallmarks of a grand civilisation, all reduced to a ruined husk by the gods’ lacking stewardship. I can feel the heat rise from mortals, taken from life in numbers beyound counting.
Those who walk this epoch call this place Asgard now, the dominion of one of the higher pantheons, or such is said here, I have stood before two of their deities, and found both of them wanting.
The first of them, the young upstart, I dispatched easily enough when I first freed myself from the earth’s core. For all his bluster and posturing, he fell as all his predecessors had. I still sense his life force, though, clinging to a slender thread of existence. He and his companions aligned themselves with the eldest god, and took flight from me. It is no matter, I will Ensure that none of them are overlooked.
The second, the elder king of Asgard, was a broken thing even before I warn Ed in the land he claims to be his. The Allfather, he called himself defiantly, as though this will earn anything but my spite. Whatever cataclysm he and his ilk had wrought left him in no position to oppose me, and like the other gods of this generation; he chose escape over meeting his end with acceptance.
I allowed him to flee. To crush this Odin would have been simple, yet he still is of use to me. Surely he has gone to the seats of power of the other pantheons, desperate to gather allies and return in force to commit to a final conflict. Having them deliver themselves all in one place makes the task of their an annihilation all the easier.
I set the stage here, for what will be our battleground. Does the eldest god remember it , I wonder? Or have the eons faded his memory of this place, the site where I erased his entire generation? I feel it fitting that the blood is to be shed here, to close the circle on my only failure and vindicate myself before chaos takes root and overwhelms us.
It is the nature of mortal men to be fearful. Their lives, even in the greatest metropolises of this epoch, are shrouded in hardship, want and superstition. Most live in abject terror of the gods, even those they devote themselves to. If they only knew the power they wielded. If only they know that they were the wells gods drank from , the only source of all their strength.
I move over Asgard, tearing down any mark of the divine. I come to a temple, taking the root from its crumbling walls to purge the sacred ground within, when I pause.
A throng of terrified humanity huddled within. They scream at my presence, throwing themselves to thier knees before the likenesses of their gods and shrieking entreaties for deliverance from me. A pillar teeters, snapping from its foundations to cast a crushing shadow over them.
They stop screaming, looking up to see the pillar in my hand. The mortals gain a semblance of stunned calm as I discard the tiny column of stone, looking up at me.
“No,” I say, as gently as I can knowing their frailty. “You have nothing to fear from me. I have come to deliver you from bondage, from the tyranny of false idols. For today you shall know freedom, and I am the one who will give it to you.”
A ragged knot of armoured men raise their spears, placing themselves before me and a bronze statue of their Allfather. Twin fears war within them, it is plain to see. But who do they fear more? The gods they have known all their lives, or the Worlds Serpent they stands before them?
“Will you still fight in their name?” I ask. I lean back, displaying no aggression as I look upon their ruined city. “Where is you Allfather now, and who would you give your lives in sacrifice for? Look around. He has abandoned you. You have suffered war, and catastrophe. Who amongst you have not lost parents, lovers, children, and all for what? Nothing more than the petty squabbles of power-hungry monsters.”
I lower my head back down near the temple. The mortals back away, but less than before. “There is another way, my children.”
“We,” the bravest of them stammers, “W-we would worship you, now?”
I am careful to keep the peer from my face. “No,” I answer slowly, calmly despite my sudden spike of anger at the thought. “I am not one of them, I am no parasite, leeching off your adoration to sustain myself. I am the remaker, come to restore the sacred balance that the gods have thrown into chaos. No longer will you live in fear of their sudden and flippant rages. No longer will you be forced to sacrifice all that would grant your lives joy so that they might gorge. No longer will you suffer the plagued and the tempest of their feuds, left to count your dead and rebuild your shattered cities in the aftermath. They have taken more from you than they could ever give. Turn away from the gods and your lives will belong to you, and you alone, to do with as you choose.”
Those with the advantage of time could perhaps deign me a liar for those words. They could accuse me of promising humanity a future free from gods and their pantheons, when I know full well that they will simply create new ones in their stead. Perhaps, from this perspective, that is correct. But not wholly.
I am not speaking to the mortals who will create the new gods. I am speaking to these people. The first generation of their epoch to live free of divinity, in a golden age of enlightened liberty. The day will inevitably come, as it does, that their descendants will drag their species back into bondage. There will be a war, or a plague or some other manner of catastrophe that sends them reeling for answers, for meaning, for a guiding hand to save them. But when that day comes, these blessed few will be dust on the winds of time, passing from life after living the glory known only by free men.
“Turn away from the gods, Asgard,” I say again. “And become free.”
Hushed conversations ripple over the crowd. Heated debate breaks out in pockets, spilling over them all. There is a newfound excitement to their sprits, the discovery of a possibility never before conceived. The oldest amongst them protest, the elders and priests in their thick robes rattling their canes and symbols of office, clinging to the past while the rest of their kin see the light. It is quickly clear which side has prevailed.
The flatter of steel echoes through the temple as the guards cast down their spears. They look up at me, meeting my gaze with bravery, and tear the sigil of the Allfather’s pantheon from their chests. The people join together with them, understanding glittering in their eyes, and the do not kneel. My heart swells with joy.
I see that joy reflected in the people as they take to the streets, proclaiming freedom from life beneath the boot of the gods. They call their fellows out of hiding, assuring them that I mean them no harm, but liberation. A true golden age beckons to them, and all they have to do is reach out and take it.
I shall endeavour to keep them safe, when the gods return to challenge me. They deserve to savour their newfound freedom long beyond this momentous day.
The future occupies my kids as I reshape this land, forming it into a place without warring gods to despoil it. The mortal people of Asgard have ceased to look upon me in terror, now that they have realised my true nature. There remain some who resist, decrying me as a betrayer, and warning of divine retribution to those who have turned from the favour of the gods. I make no effort to silence these isolated few, I do not have to. The enlightened do it in my place.
As a stone falls into still water, what I have begun in Asgard shall echo across this world. No pantheon will find safety from the revelations I bring, and as the eyes of humanity turn away from them, the gods shall begin to hunger. Without worship, their strength will wither and fade, and before long they will die.
This is by design. I know that this will force a confrontation, and that is what I desire. Let them come in their multitudes, and may desperation granting them wings to speed them before me. It will make it all the simpler then for me to render judgement. Just as it has every time before, and will I go the future.
Ragnarok's power is raw, and with it I have wrought wonders, changing and altering ghe natural world to return it to the purity of what it once was. The legacy of the gods, their haughty monuments and wasteful adornments awash in gold and gems, will be swept away from the physical realm in parallel to their legacy vanishing from the hearts of their former worshippers. I cast my gaze toward a great mountain, where I feel the insistent itch of them gathering, mars helping their strength to defy what is inevitable.
I can almost feel the eldest god looking back at me. Surely he too feels the weight of our reckoning, eons in the making. I shall feel no greater fulfilment than when I have crushed him to nothing between my jaws.
Until they arrive, I have much to do. The determination of this epoch will be one Long remembered, where I will redeem myself for my past failure and reasser the sacred balance of the universe once more. I will achieve my purpose in creation, and when the last of their number falls, I will build a throne for the coronation of the divinity I will later return to destroy.
There will be order. There will be peace. I will go back to my slumber victorious, with chaos kept once more from the gates of life. A new world awaits, and I as always, shall shepherd it into being
Chapter 5[edit | edit source]
Arthur knelt in the quiet of pre-dawn morning, the crosspiece of Excalibur pressed firmly against his brow. The winds at the peak of Mount Olympus whistled, gently tugging at his armor as he meditated in the courtyard of the palace. He had spent much of his time here since they first arrived, keeping his body limber with exercise and sword drill or sharpening his focus in solitude. The King awaited the coming dawn, hoping that it would bring the day they were ready to slay the dragon.
A soft glow spilled out over the polished marble of the courtyard, warming Arthur’s back. His eyes opened, looking up to see the sun had yet to rise over the horizon.
“Ra,” said Arthur, hearing no footsteps as the Egyptian floated a pace behind him.
“Greetings, Arthur,” he answered.
“What news?” Arthur asked. “Is Merlin finally ready?”
“I have not seen him since he secluded himself,” replied Ra.
Arthur frowned. “Then why are you here?” He heard Ra shift slightly behind him.
“There have been developments,” said Ra carefully. “I was asked to wait here with you, by the Queen.”
With a rasp of armor plate, Arthur rose smoothly to his feet. “What developments?” He asked, turning to face Ra. “What has changed?”
Ra hesitated. “Thor is awake.”
Arthur bristled. He caught himself, remembering the wisdom in Merlin’s words, the necessity of unity and allies in Avalon, yet a lifetime’s worth of spilled blood was not so easily shaken from his mind.
“You believe I will pose a problem?”
The Sun God’s eyes flicked for an instant to the shining blade of Excalibur. “Tensions are high, my King. An enemy lies before us unlike any we have ever faced. We must all of us direct our energy along the same path, if we are to survive the coming days.”
Excalibur sang, cutting the air as Arthur spun it before raising the sword to his face, crosspiece against his lips. “I swear upon this blade, Ra, that I will sow no discord amongst us. You have my oath on this. Until our battle is won, I shall seek no quarrel with the Saxon gods.”
“And after the battle?” Ra tilted his head. “Will your past with their worshippers allow any other course besides bloodshed?”
Arthur lowered Excalibur, sliding it back into the scabbard at his hip. “That will remain to be seen.”
Hera stepped through the doorway into the chamber. Attendants and healers parted before her as she hurried to the bed, a relieved smile upon her face. Argus plodded behind her, forcing himself to stay at his mistress’ side despite his eagerness.
“Thor!” Hera stopped beside the bed, laying a hand upon the God of Thunder’s arm.
“Hail, Queen of the Gods,” Thor said softly. He slowly propped himself up on an elbow, grinning thinly back at Hera. His flesh was still pale, but far from the bloodless, ashen hue it had been when first they arrived on Olympus. It seemed that the worst of Jormungandr’s poison had run its course in his body, only lingering in patches of faint black webs of darkened veins.
“How do you feel?” asked Hera.
“Like I was eaten by a frost giant and thrown up halfway through,” Thor chuckled then winced. Only then did he look up and see the face of Odin looking down at him.
“Father,” said Thor. “What are—”
“Asgard is fallen,” said Odin. “The World Serpent, he has taken it.”
Thor blinked. He looked to Hera, vigor flowing back into his gaze. “Then why are we sitting here?”
“We are marshaling our resources,” answered Hera. “Unless we can pry the power of Ragnarok loose from the World Serpent, we cannot hope to defeat him. Merlin is the key to our achieving that, even now he is searching for the answer.”
“Merlin?” Thor looked at Hera. “Who in the hell is—”
The God of Thunder groaned, his eyes screwed shut in pain.
“Be careful,” Hera chided. “The poison is diminished but some still lingers in your blood. Until you are rid of it you will be weakened.”
“No,” said Odin. He flexed his hand, slowly clenching and unclenching his fist. “Not just him. I feel it too. Something is happening in Asgard. We need to act now, while we still can.”
Thor shook off the pain, slowly swinging his legs to the edge of the bed until he was sitting upright. “I will fight.”
“Are you certain?” asked Hera. “You were standing on death’s door only hours ago.”
Thor glanced around the chamber. “Well, this doesn’t look like Valhalla, so until I find myself there, I will fight. When do we leave?”
Everyone turned at the voice, looking to the figure standing in the doorway. Merlin leaned against the entrance, haggard but with triumph beaming in his eyes.
Hera stepped towards the wizard. “You have it?”
He nodded. “I have the incantation. We go.”
Arthur ran a whetstone down the blade of Excalibur, honing the brilliant steel with each rasping pass. The sword was no ordinary weapon, unlike those of mundane make it never lost its edge. Regardless Arthur practiced the ritual, as both a display of respect to his blade and an act to center his mind on the cusp of battle.
The other gods had all gathered together in the courtyard, each left to their own thoughts as they prepared themselves for the coming conflict. Argus stomped about in a wide circle, swinging his massive stone fists at an army of imagined enemies, careful not to throw any punches too close to Hera as he orbited around her. Thor and Odin conversed quietly with each other, while Ra stared up at the sun, unblinking against the glare of the fiery orb as he held his staff aloft to soak in its power.
Merlin was the last to join them. The former exhaustion that had wracked his features was gone, replaced by a rejuvenated and focused aura as he buckled on the last pieces of his armor.
“Did you send word to the other pantheons?” Merlin asked Hera, glancing up to scan the sky. “This threatens us all.”
“I did,” replied the Queen of the Gods. “But if Odin is correct, we do not have time to wait for them to arrive. We have the strength assembled here, and we have your incantation, and we must make due with that. The time for us to act is now.”
“How will we get there?” asked Ra. “Even with portals it will take days, maybe weeks before we reach the outskirts of Asgard.”
“No, the journey will take only minutes,” said Odin. “For you shall walk the bifrost.”
Thor turned to Odin. “You mean to channel it here to Olympus? But we do not have the strength to summon the bridge.”
“You do not,” said the Allfather, “but I do. I will have to remain here to keep it from collapsing, but it will remain in place long enough to grant you passage so long as you hurry.”
“Father,” Thor stepped closer, laying a hand upon Odin’s shoulder. “In your weakened state, the power needed, it could kill you.”
“There is no other way to reach Asgard in time,” Odin replied. “I have just enough power within me to deliver you all, and if death is my fate to do so, then deliver you I shall.”
Odin looked Thor in the eyes, and the two Norse gods gripped wrist to wrist. “Now go. Defeat Jormungandr, my son, and end Ragnarok once and for all.”
“It will be done, Allfather,” Thor dipped his head.
The gods moved to the edge of the courtyard, passing beyond the gates of Mount Olympus to the grand marble steps that led down to the base of the mountain.
“The bridge will not be stable for long,” warned Odin. “Tarry and be lost.”
“That inspires confidence,” grumbled Arthur, who was quieted by a look from Merlin.
“We are ready,” said Hera, spinning her sceptre. “Summon the bifrost.”
Odin moved to the center of the group. He lifted his spear with both hands, feeling the tingle of static coursing along the weapon’s shaft. “Aesir and Midgard be bonded here,” chanted Odin. “Bifrost I summon thee, appear!”
With a booming clang Odin smashed the butt of his spear against the ground, sending cracks radiating through the marble in a disjointed spider’s web. The temperature plummeted to a frigid arctic chill, and motes of light began to gather and coalesce in the air before them.
The sparks multiplied, dancing and splitting and strobing all the colors of the spectrum. They grew to an intense, nearly blinding radiance, joining together into bars that connected to form a dazzling rainbow bridge.
“Go!” bellowed Odin, a thin trickle of blood slowly dripping from his nose.
The gods sprinted onto the bifrost. Arthur nearly stumbled as he stepped onto it. The rainbow bridge felt bizarre underfoot, springy and ethereal, as though he were walking on air.
“You are!” barked Merlin, reading the King’s thoughts. Arthur glanced down, seeing a dizzying drop through the glittering floor of multicolored light.
Arthur charged after the other gods, keeping his gaze up to fight off the sense of vertigo. He followed in Merlin’s wake, leaping and sidestepping to mirror his friend as portions of the bridge flickered and waned at random. Ra took the lead, dragging his staff behind him and flooding the bridge with a stripe of sunlight. Though it faded soon behind him, it formed a more stable ground for the gods to run across.
Odin sank to one knee, gripping his spear and pouring all his might into keeping the bifrost open. The gods appeared as tiny dots in the distance, shrinking over the horizon as they made speed to Asgard. He focused, glimpsing his kingdom at the end of the road. They were so close, he had to hold the bridge a little longer.
Whole sections of the bifrost began to blink to nothingness. Clouds of light like prismatic fireflies leapt together for a moment before scattering again. The gods’ feet sank deeper into the weakening bridge, threatening to break through to the thin air beneath.
“My father’s strength is waning,” Thor shouted. “Move faster, move much faster!”
A rocky landscape materialized just ahead of them, blanketed by snow. Thor recognized it at once, though it was somehow wholly different than what he remembered.
“Asgard!” Hera called. “Just a little farther!”
They had to leap to reach it, crossing the threshold between the bifrost and Asgard just as the rainbow bridge extinguished. The gods fell to their knees, exhausted, drawing in deep lungfuls of icy air.
“Thank you, Allfather,” Thor panted, looking back over his shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Good fortune be with you, my son,” rasped the Allfather, as his grasp finally slipped from his spear. The bridge vanished as the weapon clattered to the ground, and Odin collapsed.
“Asgard has changed,” said Hera, glancing around after their short respite. They found themselves standing upon the glassy surface of a frozen lake, the ice as hard as stone. All around them the world appeared different, somehow new, as though the land and mountains had been just rendered into being. The sky above them was radiant with an intense swirl of aurorae, as though the bifrost had been draped over the heavens.
“The landscape is almost primordial,” Ra observed. “How could this be so?”
“This is the World Serpent’s doing,” Thor hissed. “He seeks to remake this place in his own vile image no doubt.”
“No not his image,” murmured Merlin, as if lost in thought. He began to cross the lake, the others following behind him. “He seeks to transform the world, not into something new, but rather back into what it once was. Back to the age before gods walked the earth.”
“Jormungandr wishes to purge the world of divinity,” added Hera. “He will not stop until every last trace of us has been eradicated.”
“Then let us find the beast,” Arthur’s grip tightened around Excalibur, “so that we might disappoint him.”
“We don’t need to find him,” whispered Merlin, stopping at the base of a small mountain. Arthur frowned, only then feeling the growing tremor beneath his boots.
“He has found us.”
The mountain exploded. A vast cloud of spinning rock fragments the size of buildings leapt into the air, crashing down in an earth-shattering cacophony. The gods scattered, jumping and dodging the lethal stone rain. All moved to avoid the falling shards, save Merlin. He remained fixed, staring up at the gaping wound in the mountain, and the pair of glowering eyes staring back at him.
A massive boulder drowned Merlin in its shadow, hurtling down towards him. Without breaking his gaze the mage raised a hand. He made a fist and the boulder fractured, bursting into tiny stone chips that scattered harmlessly around him.
Jormungandr surged forward, his massive fanged maw emerging from the thick dust billowing into the sky. He reared up over Merlin, casting him and all the other gods in the thick darkness of his shadow.
“Welcome,” boomed Jormungandr, “the day of your annihilation has arrived.”
Merlin stood uncowed before the beast.
“This is the third time we meet, eldest god,” said the World Serpent. “There shall not be a fourth.”
“I remember you,” said Merlin. “I remember everything, now.”
“Then you know the purpose of the grand cycle,” said Jormungandr. “You understand the balance that is threatened, what is at stake. Will you then do what is right, and accept extinction? Or will you remain loyal only to yourself, and doom all?”
“I will do neither,” answered Merlin flatly. “I reject your cycle, your slavish devotion to the idea that balance can only be maintained through deicide. You succeeded in your task because none had the power to stop you. That is until now.”
Arthur stepped to Merlin’s side, drawing Excalibur in a single smooth motion.
“That blade…” Jormungandr trailed off. For the first time, the gods heard hesitation in the World Serpent’s voice.
“Did you ever wonder how I was able to hide my power from you, all those eons ago?” Merlin bared his teeth in a predatory grin. “I am not the only thing that survived the last turn of your great wheel. All the power of my kin, all that I could save in that last moment, was too much to take within myself. Even a god could not have withstood that. So like a diamond I crushed it into the physical realm, and when time began anew, I forged it into that blade.”
Arthur shot Merlin a glance, the shock of revelation clear upon his face. After all this time, he had never known the true nature of the blade he carried.
“I kept it hidden, locked away for so long, waiting for the day I would find the one who was worthy to wield it. The one slayer who had the power to use Excalibur, and strike you down when you returned.”
Jormungandr loosed a roar, sending a cyclone of snow and dust lashing over Merlin and the other gods. They stood their ground amidst the tempest, glaring back at the enraged dragon looming over them.
“Deceit,” Jormungandr spat. “Lies and trickery. You were always a creature of shadow and falsehood, eldest god. And even if your words are true, my power is too great. You might thank your fellows here for bestowing Ragnarok upon me, with it there is no force in creation that can stop the cycle from turning.”
“Perhaps,” Merlin admitted. “But what would fate hold, I wonder, if I should separate you from it?”
The other gods blinked, reeling for a moment at the sudden presence of Merlin’s mind within their own. You do not need to win, just buy me a few moments’ distraction. Arthur, protect me. Do not die.
Hera and Ra flooded their weapons with crackling webs of power. Argus bunched his fists. Thor popped the cartilage in his neck, rolling his shoulders as he hefted Mjolnir and Arthur brandished Excalibur.
As one the gods charged Jormungandr, leaving Merlin to chant and weave esoteric gestures, his eyes screwed tight in concentration. Jormungandr reared back with a draconic snarl, seeking to focus upon the mage but forced to divide his attention among the swarm of deities striking at him. Lighting flared, and the dragon’s head was wrenched to the side.
“Our wizard friend isn’t the only one who remembers you,” Thor taunted. “Shall we pick up where we last left off?”
Jormungandr bellowed with rage, sending out a viscous cloud of dark venom toward the God of Thunder. Thor held out Mjolnir, forming a ball of lightning around himself that burned the acidic sludge into foul-smelling smoke.
“Your turn, big guy!” Thor grinned as he shot higher into the sky. Jormungandr’s head dipped sharply as Argus crashed down atop his skull, driving down with thunderous blows from his fists. The World Serpent thrashed his immense head, seeking to dislodge the giant as Argus held fast to his crown of twisted horns.
Hera and Ra flitted about Jormungandr, loosing volleys of crackling energy and sunfire from their weapons. Hera spun, rolling just clear of Argus as he hurtled past her to the ground. She spared a glance to her champion, failing to see the dragon as he smashed her down to the ground.
Arthur gritted his teeth, tightening his hold around the wirebound grip of Excalibur until it creaked. “Hurry brother,” he hissed over his shoulder. “They are occupying the dragon but not for much longer. You need to ready your spell and cast it, now!”
“It would be ready if you ceased pestering me,” Merlin muttered distractedly. The mage went still, ceasing in his strange dance. His eyes snapped open, wreathed in silver fire. He spread his arms out at his sides, gathering the energy as it flowed down his body to blaze around his fists.
“When I tell you,” said Merlin, his eyes locked to Jormungandr, “make your move, and strike him down.”
“At last,” Arthur grinned. He looked back at Merlin. “Now?”
Merlin did not answer. More power pulsed around him, growing brighter until his face grew blurry and indistinct.
“Now?” Arthur asked again.
“NOW!” Merlin spoke with a voice that cratered the ground beneath his feet. He raised his arms, hurling the gathered power in a cracking smear toward the World Serpent.
Arthur charged. “Argus!” he bellowed, seeking out the stone giant amidst the labyrinth of shattered mountain. Hera’s champion appeared, running to meet Arthur.
“Get me in the air!” the King shouted, jumping at Argus. The giant seized hold of Arthur’s leg, spun him around once, and hurled him up into the air toward Jormungandr like a missile.
Arthur watched as Merlin’s spell struck the dragon, engulfing the beast in a cage of mercury light. Jormungandr thrashed as the energy sank down into him, and a wave of crimson snapped loose from his form, shrieking as it slashed upward until it disappeared into the heavens above.
Before his very eyes Arthur witnessed the creature shrink a fraction. Already he could notice the dragon was diminished, severed from the energies of Ragnarok. Merlin had done it. His incantation had worked.
He struck like a bolt of lighting, driving the tip of Excalibur deep into the gnarled hide of Jormungandr. The dragon’s head whipped back, howling his rage and agony up into the sky. Arthur gave all of his strength, driving his blade down to the hilt. He allowed his weight to drag him down, carving through scale, flesh and sinew, until the monster’s thrashing threw him to the ground.
The other gods came to Arthur’s aid, hurrying to his side as Jormungandr howled. The World Serpent continued to shrink, still massive but no longer the incredible size he had been before. Dark blood gushed from the wound in his heart, and with world shattering force, Jormungandr drove his face down into the earth, burrowing down until he vanished from sight.
“We follow him,” panted Arthur, struggling to his feet. “He isn’t dead, he needs to die.”
“Let him go,” said Merlin.
Arthur spun to face his wizard. “What? With him at our mercy? We can finish this! You of all people must crave to see this hated thing ended.”
“I have no hate for him,” Merlin shook his head. “He acted according to his nature, and did what he believed was necessary to preserve life. He knows now that he cannot prevail against us, that is victory enough.”
“What will he do now?” Asked Hera. “Without Ragnarok, without his cycle to tend?”
“That,” said Merlin, “will be for him to decide.”