The air was cold, not that that made any difference to Destiny. She was slowly getting used to the cold as the Nexxiscontinued to grow within her. But now her friends were cold too, and none ofthem had been dressed for the occasion. Karma tried blowing on his fingers tokeep them warm, his breath turning white and floating away doing him no good atall. They were in a forest, the trees dusted with a layer of snow, weighingheavily on some more than others. A barren place, the wildlife had fled orhibernated when food got scarce. The pine trees were frost covered, the needlescoated in tiny diamonds sparkling in the setting sun.
Obayana’s fire ball haddisappeared, taking all warmth and comfort with it. The six Infinities huddledtogether wordlessly, trying to use one another’s body heat to stay warm. Theydidn’t get affected by weather like humans did, so while they could feel coldat least there was no threat of frostbite.
Demise looked around thedead forest around her, pouting and grumbling. “Didn’t know the Creator oftruth could lie, but suppose he has. I don’t see anyone besides us, and we haveno idea where we are.”
“Yes we do.” Luckquickly became aware of the blank looks he was receiving, again pointing offinto the distance at the tops of the hills. a great wall ran as far as the eyecould see both left and right. “We are in China, or just outside of it.”
“Awe common groupies, itisn’t a complete loss.” Again everyone turned to glare at Karma, his optimismwas crossing the line into intolerable. “We didn’t get to build a sandcastle,so now we get to go sight-seeing!”
Karma looped his armsthrough Destiny’s and Fortune’s, dragging them along behind him as he skippedcloser to the wall. Destiny reached for Chance and Fortune grabbed Demise wholatched onto Luck until they were a chain of Infinities walking alongside thewall. They walked for ages, over hilltops and through valleys, again and againjust to keep moving to try and stay warm. Truth be told the Great Wall of Chinawas beautiful, all icy and surrounded by snow covered trees. A winterwonderland. But they were all slightly disappointed, even Karma though he triedto hide it, that they had been led astray. Here they were freezing their buttsoff for no reason whatsoever.
The sun had set andstars were beginning to appear, shining brightly in the sky. The sky, Ziarre,The Divine Provenance. What would happen to the sky when its Creator was gone?Would the stars still twinkled, would the moon continue its cycle, would thesun still rise and set on schedule? Or would the Earth be plunged into endlessdarkness? If the planet fell out of orbit the humans would all die in seconds.Infinities would have to live only in Òrìsà. What was the point of an infinitelife if they couldn’t influence a human’s life? What would a Fate be withouther job?
“Is that smoke?” Demisegazed off into the distance, down in the valley. Their arms had still beenlinked, grateful for whatever form of warmth they could get.
Chance shook his head.“It’s too cold for a forest fire to start randomly. Probably just fog orsomething.”
Luck squinted his eyes,trying to make out what the small little square was. “No, it is most definitelysmoke. I didn’t know there were buildings so close to the Great Wall.”
They quickened theirpace, halfway between speed walking and jogging. Their arm chain broke now asthey moved, trying to regain feeling in their limbs. Indeed, there was abuilding, and it was smoke they had seen, coming out of a chimney, the promiseof warmth. It was a low building, long and stretched out. It resembled a singlestory motel more so than a ranch style home as far as shape went. Brightlycolored curtains covered the windows, preventing them from seeing inside.Composed of wood and stone the cute log cabin looked right at home in all thesnow.
Destiny stopped at thefront door, hesitating to knock. It was the middle of the night; they should atleast wait until morning. But her friends were shivering with cold, they hadn’tgrown accustomed to the constant freezing feeling, and they could all use somewarming up. She had a good idea who this place belonged too. Perhaps TheCompelling Annihilator had sent them to the right place after all, he justwanted them to work a little for their reward.
Before any of them hadtime to make a decision, the door opened. There in the doorway stood an oldChinese woman. She wore a beautiful traditional dress of red with gold inlaidflowers and big fluffy slippers. She was short and her back was bent over,making her come maybe up to Chance’s ribs. Long dark hair streaked with graywas tied up in a loose bun, a few stray hairs falling out here and there. Herface was friendly with a welcoming smile, but the excess skin drooped, causingso many wrinkles.
“Oh honey, it’s coldoutside. You all come in now.” Compassionate and concerned yet commanding, theperfect grandmother.
She led them through thethreshold and into the kitchen where she hustled over to a pot and beganboiling leaves for tea. The warmth hit them quickly, a welcomed hug. There wereseveral candles lit around the home, as well as a fireplace in nearly everyroom. So many sources of heat and they were grateful for every single one.
“It is a wee bit nippyoutside, thank you beautiful.” Karma winked as he accepted a steaming tea cup.
The woman sighed as shereminiscence the good old days. “Ziarre used to call me that a lot. Once I wasvery beautiful.”
Destiny remembered inone of her lessons the stories of Ajayla and Ziarre, how they could always seeeach other at their best. She wasn’t sure what to make out of it, but it was anice thought, to have someone really see you for all your faults and stillthink the world of you. Silence befell upon the group as they all sipped theirtea, none of them sure what to say to that. The only noise was Luck droppingsugar cubes in his cup before he deemed it suitable to drink.
Demise glanced around ather sister’s as she took a sip. “Isthis her? She doesn’t feel like a Creator to me.”
Humans had souls,Infinities had essences, and Creators had an atman. This woman certainly hadsomething, but it wasn’t the fierce power of an atman that Ziarre and Obayanahad. Hers was subtler, more tranquil, like Winchell.
“Yes, I’ve attendedTranquil day enough times to know. We need to stop stalling, the sooner we getrid of Ziarre the better.” Fortune’s voice rang out loud and clear, not even tryingto hide her bitterness.
Destiny bit her lip. Sheloved her eldest sister, but recently Fortune had begun to scar her a bit. Shewasn’t used to this side of her. Fortune had always been perfect at everything,and now she was starting to crack. Like the window. But still, the blonde’sbehavior was mildly terrifying.
“Oh my, you are all soskinny! I’ll make you food now honey.” She hustled over to the kitchen, pullingout various ingredients and spices.
“That’s really notnecessary ma’am, but thank you.” Chance offered her a small smile and sippedhis tea. None of them were hungry, they had just accepted the cups to bepolite. They probably couldn’t eat if they tried, they were getting moreanxious the closer they got to the end of this mission.
The woman frowned,disappointed that they had rejected her offer. A second later she was smilingagain, running around lighting candles and incense to make her guests feel athome. She was a mother at heart. “This is my sanctuary spa, I help you here, I giveyou what you need.”
By now there was nodoubt that this woman was Ajayla, the Creator of everything that grew.Considering The Luminary Virtuoso laid back water artist and The CompellingAnnihilator was a lonesome desert walker, they should have known to not expectthe typical stereotype. Yet when Destiny imagined meeting The TranquilSovereign she had expected some hippie nature chick from the 60’s. She had notexpected an old lady in a spa who didn’t radiate any power.
Kind and nurturing,reflecting her principle of family. This was how The Tranquil Sovereignpreferred things. Not to be respected out of fear like Obayana, butt to berespected out of love. Destiny couldn’t help but smile up at the Creator andwant to be closer to her. The way her sisters told the story, earth was youngerthan fire and water. So why did Winchell and Obayana look beautiful andyouthful while Ajayla took on a grandmother’s face?
Ajayla looked over herguests, clicking her tongue and shaking her head in disappointment. Demiseslumped her shoulders, hiding within herself. “What did I do wrong?”
Ajayla sighed and smiledslightly. “All you dears look so tired. Come, I do your nails and give youfacial and massage. Come come.”
Karma looked the mostoffended of them all, staring after the Creator with an open mouth as shedisappeared into the next room. “Well, I never. My face is perfect thank youvery much. So I know that wasn’t directed at me.”
Fortune rolled her eyesand shoved Karma’s shoulder gently. “She did say all of us, you included. Stopbeing in love with yourself for two seconds.”
Ajayla stuck her headaround the corner, wondering why her guests hadn’t moved. “Come come, follow mehoneys.”
Fortune stood up, anervous look on her face. “Umm… Miss Ajayla? We actually came here to ask forhelp with —”
“Oh I help you. Butfirst I help you face be pretty.” The Creator smiled big and walked off again.
Destiny stood up, readyto follow. She didn’t want to disappoint this Creator. Ziarre hadn’t measuredup to expectations, but that didn’t mean Fate had to be motherless. If theyplayed their cards right, there was a chance Ajayla would welcome them withopen arms. “Common guys, if we do what she wants then she is more likely to dowhat we want.”
They all followed then,albeit somewhat hesitantly. This was not part of the plan. This was justanother delay. The longer they waited the more the Nexxisgrew, the more insane Ziarre grew. The longer they waited, the more chance theentire dimension would fall apart.
The next room was lit bytons of small scented candles. A fountain in the corner gave a gentle waterflowing sound and soft music played from invisible speakers. Six massage tableswere already set up with lotions set to the side, three facing three, perfectlysymmetrical. Ajayla gestured for them to each choose a bed and lay down, getcomfortable. The Creator clapped her hands together six times, each time achestnut brown Abbaxa appeared, solidifying into six Rouhk’s.“You already met my wonderful Urania, she is such a nice girl. These some of myother Muses.”
“I’m Clio. Youmust be the newest Fate, Destiny right? Oh I’ve read so much about you in Mentor’snew book.” A smiling Muslim woman held out a hand to Destiny. Her hijab anddress were decorated in bright pink and yellow. Destiny gave her an unsuresmile and shook her head, wondering what could possibly be in that book, shehadn’t been in Ineôcâ long enough to do anything yet. Clio, Destiny had heardthat name before during one the lessons her sisters gave her. It took her asecond, but eventually she remembered that Clio was the Muse of history. Lilianawould probably love to meet her and show her around Old Stuff. Destiny mentallyquizzed herself as the others appeared and introduced themselves.
“Eratio.” A slightly chubby brunette Italian looking girl stepped up from behind Fortune, the Muse of love poetry.
“Polyhymnia.” She was Celtic, tall and slender like fortune but with fiery hair instead of blonde and a long silk green dress. The Muse of poetry took a place behind Chance, who greeted her with a smile.
“Calliope.” The Muse of epic poetry was a blonde French girl. She stood next to Karma and giggled as he shamelessly raked his eyes over her.
“Well, this might be a pleasant experience after all. I’ve had quite a knot on my back for a while, don’t be afraid to take your time.” Karma winked and took off his shirt, laying down on the massage table.
Fortune glared at him as she was pushed onto her own table by Eratio. “Focus, this isn’t why we are here.”
“Melpomene.” An Indian girl with big sad eyes and long silky hair fashioned into a side braid was partnered with Demise.
Demise sneered in response and refused to lay down, not being a fan of strangers hands all over her. “So I’m stuck with Miss tragedy eh? Brilliant, we will have a great time. Do you tell your sob story first, or shall I?”
Melpomene sniffled and started fiddling with her braid. “I- I don’t- please I’m just doing as Mother wishes…”
“Hush now,” The short Hispanic Muse with a brightly colored dress who had yet to be introduced sang. “Ignore her.”
“Euterpe!” Luck waved her over. “I call dibs on you. How’s the band doing sense I left?”
The Muse of music laughed as she started rubbing Luck’s shoulders. “We all miss our star, Passion especially. Despite my help he hasn’t been able to play sense you disappeared.”
All the girls looked young, late teens to early twenties at the most. But they were an ancient Concept, well known by the humans. They all smiled and got to work, running their practiced hands over shoulder blades and backs. Not once complaining, they were happy to help their mother. The muses were a large Concept, nine of them total. Destiny couldn’t even imagine growing up with eight others. That’s how it was most of the time, Concepts were large save a few like Fate and Coincidence.
“Is this reallynecessary?” Demise looked very uncomfortable with someone she didn’tknow touching her bare skin. Destiny and Fortune glanced worriedly to theirsister, hoping she wouldn’t start freaking out. Demise took a second to breathand assured them she would be fine.
Chance glanced uphalfway through the massage, figuring this would be a good time to try again.“Right, so Ajayla, we did come here for a reason —”
The Creator shushed himand began smearing some sort of green paste over his face. “Relax now, stresslater.”
The Muse working on Fortunetried to break the ice with a haiku, counting the syllables on her fingers. “Ireally love food. Being Italian is fun. Give me lots more food.”
All the muses groanedand Polyhymnia spoke up. “Oh not this again. You are the Muse of love poetry,but the only thing you love is food. Get yourself a man.”
“Or woman.” Clio added,“Whatever our sister prefers.”
Eratio made a face asshe pressed on Fortune’s back, clearly she wasn’t interested in relationships.“To quote Hamlet act three, scene three, line eighty-seven. No!”
Euterpe groaned andbegan smearing some sort of paste on Luck’s face. “You are so pretentious,quoting some old dead guy.”
Melpomene snorted. “Likeyou are any better, using the word pretentious is a bit pretentious.”
“Can you believe thatthey would dare insult the most well-known playwrights of all time by degradinghim to just some old dead guy?” Calliope looked flabbergasted and looked to Karmafor a reaction.
He didn’t disappoint, explaining in a rather passionate voice about said old dead guy. “Shakespeare is a genius! I would know, considering I was a lead in all his plays at least twice.”
Calliope smiled and passed Karma a bowel of candy as a treat. “See? That’s like saying Van Gogh was just some street painter.”
“To be fair,” Melpomene spoke up in a quiet voice, “he wasn’t recognized until after death.”
“And he ate yellow paint cuz he thought it would make him happy.” Demise snorted. “The guy was nuts, but I still prefer him to Mr “To be or not to be”.”
The massages werefinished and they were led to the next room, now all of them having similargreen faces and large fluffy white robes. Karma and Fortune looked right athome, enjoying being pampered like a princess. Demise looked like she was beingviolated but was slowly beginning to relax. Chance and Luck sat with theirbacks straight, looking tense but Destiny knew they were at ease, they just hadperfect posture.
“My beautiful Muses, daughters, you are dismissed. Leave us, please.” The girls filtered out as Ajayla took a seat across from them all in a large rocking chair and pulled out some earthy colored yarn to knit. It was unclear what exactly she was working on, it was far too large to be a scarf or sweater. Maybe she intended to make a blanket to cover the whole world, to tuck it into bed at the end of the day. “Business now, what do you need my help for?”
Fortune flashed hernormal charming smile, her voice like honey. “Miss Ajayla, we need some help.Please earth mother, it’s about our Creator, Ziarre.”
Ajayla sighed anddropped her knitting needles to her lap to rub her temples. She was old andtired and didn’t seem like she wanted to get involved with any drama. “What doyou need to know and why?”
Demise licked her lips,she was used to delivering bad news, as was in her job description. But the wayAjayla was looking at her, at all of them, made them all strive to notdisappoint her. She slumped her shoulders and spoke in her usual even, monotonevoice. “You probably already know this, but The Divine Provenance ain’t doingso hot.”
Luck shrugged and addedin, “Well some scientists say black holes are actually the hottest thing outthere…”
“Right…” Chance trailedoff, not seeing what that fun fact had to do with anything.
Karma rolled his eyes,they were getting nowhere with this. “Sky lady is going coco for cocoa puffs,and not in the good way.”
“I messed up. I didn’tfollow the rules, I disobeyed the natural order of things.” If one of them wasgoing down for this it would be Destiny, she wasn’t going to let her friendstake the fall for her.
But of course Fortunewould have none of that, it was her job to protect her little sister. “The restof us didn’t help any either, she was nuts before you came along. The morethings we did, the worse she got.”
“Bottom line is we needto know her original name. We would greatly appreciate you telling us if youhappen to know. The survival of all the dimensions relies on this information.”Luck laid it all out on the table.
“Unless there is a curefor her.” Chance added as a hopeful afterthought, holding on to his peacefulways.
“There isn’t one.”Fortune added too quickly and perhaps a little too defensively.
Ajayla narrowed her eyesat the blond Fate, practically tasting the resentment radiating from her. Shewas getting the same idea karma had, that Fortune wasn’t in this for the rightreasons. “Honey, one should not be so eager to dispose of their CreatorFortune, even in such dire circumstances. But you are correct, this issomething I have seen before and there is unfortunately no cure. You have donewell, visiting her often and calming her, but in doing so you have merelymanaged to prolong the inevitable.”
“So do you know her nameor not?” Luck was always straight to the point which was nice in certaincircumstances, but other times he could really use a lesson in empathy.
They were asking aCreator to give up another Creator when they had known each other from thebeginning of time. It wasn’t that easy, and Ajayla was obviously strugglingwith her decision. On one hand the world would be saved and her friend woulddie. On the other her friend survives but everything else is gone, just likethat. Poof. Ajayla sighed and looked away, trying to hide her watery eyes.“Easy decision, but so hard to do. Ziarre my friend, forgive me my love.”
They left soon after,Ajayla had given them all thick winter coats to protect against the cold. Butas soon as the front door closed behind them they all shed the coats and gavethem to Destiny, knowing she would need them more. The Crëwr Ice was growing evenfaster now, it was starting to appear through her skin. Nexxisworked from the inside out, so seeing her fingertips turn black with the thinblack ice that spider webbed up her arms was quite alarming. She was runningout of time. Turning into an Abbaxa wouldn’t help anymore, it was too late. The mostthat would happen was Destiny wouldn’t know how much it spread so when she wentback to her Rouhk it would already be completely frozen. The Fateshoved her hands into pockets before her friends could see and become worried.
They only stopped tolook back down to the valley below when they got to the top of the hill. TheTranquil Sovereign and her spa had disappeared, off to their next destinationto spread peace and relaxation. The only evidence she had ever been there wasthe last bit of smoke, quickly disappearing into the frozen air.
“Sunrise is prettytoday. Normally I avoid the sun at all costs, but today I like it.” Demisegazed to the East at the rising sun. It was like any other sunrise in winter,slowly making its way up into the sky. Long lines of sunlight hit the Earth,glinting off the fresh fallen snow and casting long shadows where objectsblocked its path. But there was something different about it as well. Each daywas a new opportunity, a new beginning, a new start. Today was going to be theday that brought an end to their mission, and end to the threat that loomedoverhead, and an end to one of the four great Creators.
Karma skipped ahead ofthe group and started running in circles around them. It was far too early inthe morning to have that much energy. Then he ran up to Fortune and picked herup easily, swinging her around as she giggled and swatted his arm in protest.“Common, we just found out The Divine Provenances’ true name! This calls forcelebration!” Then the pair were gone, disappearing mid-swing.
“Unfortunately I think Iknow where they ran off to.” Luck sighed, like it was the last place he wantedto go. He grabbed Demise’s outstretched hand and they disappeared a secondlater, leaving Destiny to stare at Chance expectantly.
The Fate bit her lip andeyed him quizzically before slowly reaching for his arm. “You going to fill mein? Where are we going?”
“Nah, a surprise is goodevery once in a while Des.” Chance chuckled and glanced to her hand, frowninginstantly.
Destiny immediatelynoticed her mistake. She hurriedly put her hand away, knowing it was too lateto pretend nothing had happened. she had to look away, she couldn’t handle theworried look he was shooting her.
“Let’s just go okay? Getthis over with as soon as possible.”
Apparently he understoodshe didn’t want to talk about it at the moment. Not that there was much to sayanyways. All laughter gone from his golden eyes he grabbed her waist and theytoo disappeared.