The Shrine

The Verdant Plain. Clarissa hadn’t been here in a while, and she could remember why. Mile after mile of forest, it’s edges fading into lush fields of grass. That was all well and good for a while, but it was hardly exciting.

Worst of all, as the first island in the Gauntlet, it had far more spirits than the others. They created something of a culture on the islands, building small settlements where they could live the rest of eternity in relative peace. In theory it was nice, but it wasn’t so great to be a Mother around here. They were hated by the spirits. Understandably.

There weren’t many around the swamps anyways. The place had started developing a few hundred years ago, growing exponentially over time. Her sister claimed to have no knowledge of it’s development. Some whack job spirit with some strange hobbies. However it came to be, it was some spooky shit.

She was only here for Henry’s new Champion. Why did they still use such a strong word? Every wasted soul on this island was once a ‘Champion’. Most of them didn’t even come close to getting through, and this was only the first part of the Gauntlet. Imagine how disappointed the other mothers must have been, waiting all this time for a challenger just to have them all eaten by Analprincess before they can through part one.

This Champion was supposedly the same. Just an average guy. Worse, even. He didn’t have a single skill that would make him a good fit for the job. Not that his skills matter. Like the trillions before him, he wasn’t even a player in this game. This was between Henry and his mother’s. Everyone else could fuck right off.

Unfortunately, she had to protect this man, for now. If he died, they’d be back to square one. Again. Henry would run off to butt fuck no where in the least popular timeline ever and drag another Champ into the mix. Clarissa had seen it too many times.

So here she was, in this grim marsh, searching warily for her son’s friend. If she were lucky, Henry might be with him.

She was never that fortunate.

Instead of finding him stoic, ready to curry the favor of a Demi-God and with her son in tow, she found the new Champion running through the swamp, stumbling and panting. This guy was going to need a lot of help. Only a select few made it past this island, and they were all far more impressive than him.

Maybe she was judging him too harshly.

“Stop right there!” She roared, trying her best to sound angry. Bill turned to the voice, immediately backing away. Now that she could get a better look at him, she was even more disappointed. He was somewhat like her. Boring. Even for a human.

Average height, below average build, brown hair, blue eyes. Nothing special about him physically. Was there something about his personality?

Some of the better Champions got pretty far with just their charisma. Be it guts or charm, the ones that relied heavier on sentiment usually made it farther. She crossed her fingers hoping that this guy had at least one redeeming quality.

“Oh no! Hell no! You get the fuck away from me!” He began to run in the other direction. Clarissa’s hopes were dashed. Plain, and a dumb ass? Henry certainly wasn’t giving her much to work with. In Bill’s defense, the last experience he had with a woman involved himself, and another himself trying to fuck the hell out of real himself. It takes a minute to come back from that.

“Get back here! Are you serious?” She sighed, not moving a hoof to follow the frenzied man. Was this really worth it? Couldn’t she just wait for another Champion? She wasn’t going to chance her cushy Demi-God life on this guy.

A flick of her wrist brought him right back to her. He looked around, dazed and afraid, before bolting again. Another simple flourish.

“Please stop running. I’m here to help you,” She extended her hand disdainfully. Was she here to help him? It wasn’t too late to back out. No, she had to take action. Something had to give. If she had to go through another generation of this damn game, she was sure she would lose her mind. “I’m probably the only person who can.”

Bill stopped trying to run and took a moment to look at her. She was not him, that was for sure. His brows furrowed as his eyes fixed on her wings, docked at her sides.

“Are you… an angel?”

“Yeah. Sort of. I guess,” She was only an angel by looks, not an actual angel angel. They weren’t too fond of the Demi-Gods. Nobody was, really. “It’s not important right now.” He looked at her with one of those ‘what the fuck do you mean it’s not important, that seems kind of important to me’ looks.

“Wait, are those…?” His attention turned to her legs, furry and far from human.

“Forget about the legs. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

“What do you mean?” He asked, bewildered. How much was Henry hiding from this poor guy?

“Analprincess. Her shrine. Center of the island. Getting there and gaining her blessing.”

Huh?” It was clear that he had absolutely no clue what she was talking about. “Analprincess is the snake, right? I, well, one of me, that’s a long story, well, he kind of killed her…”

He sounded so uncomfortable. Like he was ashamed to have supposedly killed this islands most important deity, even though there’s no doubt she was trying to eat him at the time.

“For fuck’s sake, just how little do you know?” Clarissa groaned, her exasperation growing by the second. “You understand that Demi-Gods can’t die, right?”

He nodded, the dots connecting in his mind. He hadn’t known it per se, but it definitely made sense. Mostly he just didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the angel.

“Alright, so why are you trying to kill her? That’s how all the other dumb asses met their end. Even if you get rid of her a few times, she’ll be back and she’ll be pissed.”

The man continued nodding, but this was obviously new information to him.

“So, what exactly am I supposed to do?” Finally, a good question.

“Go to the shrine. It’s hidden at the center of the island, far down in the depths of the forest. She’ll be there.”

“Uh, okay, but what do I do. Like, how do I avoid getting eaten, or killed, or eaten, or, you know, killed?” She understood his concern. Every spirit here had been both eaten and killed and their responses were none too positive.

“Can’t help you there. She’ll have a task for you, that’s all I know.”

“Great. So you can tell me everything except for the thing that would actually help me.”

“Hey, fuck you man! Guess I should have just let you wander around until you got eaten! My bad for trying to help!” That seemed to get to him somewhat. At least he was an easy guy to guilt.

“Sorry. Can you at least show me the way?”

“Yeah, that way.” She pointed to where she estimated the shrine might be. Boy, would it suck if she was wrong. Unfortunately for this guy, she wasn’t a tour guide. She had her own business to attend to. Well, this was her business, too, but she had a little bit of side business on top of it that was more important at the moment.

Then the swamp was gone. She was back in the castle courtyard and glad to be so. It was much more civilized, it’s flora contained in shapely bushes and small flower patches. A statue of her late husband shot fountains of water out of his mouth in the middle of the courtyard. He looked so gallant, his head held high, his chest jutting forward to display his impressive musculature, donning a suit of armor whose real world equivalent had long since crumbled into dust. Much like the man himself.

She had never much cared for her husband, but the cold, dead stone made him far more agreeable. A spectacle and nothing more, without even a suggestion of the power he had once commanded. None of the sisters liked that power. He had boasted of being stronger than any creature, man, beast, or God. What they loathed the most about him was that he was telling the truth.

Clarissa scurried out of the courtyard, making sure not to be seen. She was supposed to be retrieving Henry, not planning treason. The place was labyrinthine. They didn’t want outsiders to find their way through here easily. Anybody who hadn’t lived in the castle for years would need a guide to find their way through the endless twists and turns of the corridors.

She understood the need for safety, but for fuck’s sake, it made getting around really difficult. Even if you knew where you were going, it took forever to get there. Not to mention the Null Bricks. As nice as this place looked, every brick in it was made to stop magic. All in and out traffic goes through the courtyard.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t her late husband that had made this place so unassailable. Defenses were unnecessary in his mind. The many widowed wives learned a thing or two from his hubris.

Brick, brick, brick, window, brick, brick, sconce, brick, brick, portrait, brick, window. On a first visit the place would definitely look pretty royal, but years of seeing it’s repetitive interior really wore her down. Even the gilded red carpet running down each hallway failed to brighten the bland mood. Every once in a while she thought of changing it, but the idea of redecorating the entire place made her want to fly right into the sun.

Finally reaching the North East Tower, she made quick work of the its many stairs. Her legs were designed for climbing, but she dearly hoped nobody was around. They made quite the clatter as they clopped against the solid flooring.

At the top of the tower, a large wooden door stood in front of her, telling her her journey was done. Until she had to leave, then she would do it all over again. God damn it. It was time to get a new recruit.

Swinging the door open, she peered around the room. Gods, Amber was a strange one.

Everything had to be black. The blankets, the sheets, the curtains. Clothes were strewn across the room and a record player sat on a scratched up dresser. She said she was an audiophile, but Clarissa figured she was just pretentious. She could play her music with anything in the universe, and yet she chose something from Earth that was out dated even among it’s populace.

Wait… There was one thing missing. Where was Amber?

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