A large, worn map sprawls out, covering the table. Much of it is unmarked sans for one area in particular. A myriad of colors divides the region into borders, with various names denoting cities and domains. Gilgamesh reaches out, stabbing a sharp nail into the aged parchment.
“What about here,” he asks.
Sirtir bleats, shakes her head then responds, ”It’s about two days travel Sir, and unfortunately-”
Sirtir reaches down, a red crayon clutched in between her fingers, and in two clean strokes, puts an “X” over the spot Gilgamesh had pointed out. He falls back into his seat and huffs.
“Seriously!? Another one? How many domains does she have? Actually, don’t answer that.”
He looks towards the map’s coast, where his kingdom was situated, a sizeable splotch of gold. A larger territory to their western border denoted the Orisha, and to the north-east, Babylon, a similarly sized kingdom to his own. He points out to all the territories to the east, which are all colored in the same sapphire blue and had a crudely drawn…
“What is that,” He asks. Gilgamesh squints and leans in. “Some sorta...horned snake?”
Sirtir pouts, her nose twitching with just the slightest hint of indignation, but she maintains her composure.
“It’s a dragon, Sir. We received word from our comrades that a dragoness from the East has been claiming much of the territory across Persia. She recently visited Babylon asking to form an alliance. They didn’t say what their answer was, but apparently, she was last seen headed towards Uruk. She could be here within the next few days. So maybe we should stay here until then?”
“That’s fine. The divinity from the Shedim has bought us a brief moment's rest. Was there anything else,”Gilgamesh asks.
“Nothing you want to hear,” Sirtir responds.
“It’s about Morrigan.”
Gilgamesh falls back into his chair. He’s about to close his eyes when the doors to the war room burst open and a messenger ruffles in. The courier almost stumbles over the gaudy, traditional, Mesopotamian robes that cluttered around his feet. The older god fidgets with his braided beard as he bows.
“What is it Isimud,”Gilgamesh asks with a huff.
The words tumble out of Isimud’s mouth as two different voices fight for the chance to speak.
“Would you just shut up and let me-”
“Well maybe if you gave me a chance to speak-”
“No, we talked about this, we’re supposed to take turns-”
“And it’s mine this time!”
“It is not, you senile codger!”
Gilgamesh pinches his brow and exhales. He has no idea how Enki put up with this guy.
“Spit it out already,” the king shouts as he slams a hand down on the table.
Isimud snaps to attention, his head spinning in fright, independently of his neck, revealing the second face on the back of his head. He bows, quickly, and starts to apologize profusely.
“Our sincerest apologies, my lord-”
“You don’t speak for both of us!”
Sirtir steps forward with a bounce and a bleat. Gilgamesh coughs and forces himself to avert his eyes, his face growing red, but quickly composes himself and looks back to Isimud as Sirtir speaks.
“Heya Mr.Mud! You had something you wanted to tell Sir,” Sirtir says and Isimud spins so that both faces can look at her.
“Ah, yes ma’am.”
“We have a visitor-”
“She’s an invader I tell you!”
“You say that about everyone! Will you just let me-”
“Oh fine, just get on with it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when the city is burning to the ground.”
“Your Highness, we have a visitor. She claims to be from a faraway kingdom and requests an audience with you.”
The Uruk king takes a long breath and shakes his head. This is happening much sooner than expected.
“That must be our Dragoness,” Gilgamesh says. He pushes himself to his feet and adjusts his thin vest before running a hand through his hair. “Take me to her.”
This long stretch of road never gets any easier to travel. It seems like no amount food, water, or good intention could make it any less bleak. When one roof gets patched up another falls through. Whether it be fields of dying crops or deformations among the young; the divinity shortage has hurt them most. Even before the mortals died out the Annunaki had it hard. So many of their followers converted and began worshipping others. Before long there wasn’t much divinity or orison left for the Annunaki. So it pains the young king to have to watch as his people starve while knowing someone like Morrigan has domain after domain to herself.
Olive skin stretches, almost tears, against itself as Gilgamesh tightens his grip. He grits his teeth and would have probably greeted their guest with a vicious look had Sirtir not been there. A soft wooly pat on the back and a reassuring smile calms him down.
At times like these, he doesn’t know if he should look proud for his people, or feel sorry for them. Would a smile inspire them or make him look ignorant to their plight?
Once they arrive at the front gate Gilgamesh opens it with the wave of his hand. Gilgamesh makes sure the stone parts at a snail’s pace to build anticipation in his visitor for they were about to meet the greatest king Midgard has ever known. Like always Gilgamesh makes sure to puff out his chest.
Standing before Gilgamesh and Sirtir is a girl not much younger than either of them. Unlike his dark skin or Sirtir’s tan skin, this woman’s flesh is a pale milky white. Her long hair is black as coal, and her eyes shine like gold. There’s something distinctly statuesque about her angular visage. From her shoulders to her legs, her body is an assortment of sharp edges. Though her features made it obvious Gilgamesh does spot the Asian influences in her outfit. He believes her little white tunic is called a gi, or something of the sort.
The girl’s most peculiar features are those she shares with the dragon. Six horns, split into two sets of three, extend out from the sides of her head. Her feet are segmented by three large sharp claws in the front, and her heel is raised by a forth. Lastly, is a large tail that while heavy looking sways with a grace that keeps it from touching the ground. Like her cheeks, and exposed shoulders, her tail is covered in a sapphire plating. Strapped to her side is a longsword in an odd looking sheath; it’s rocky and covered in holes.
The dragoness bows, as does Sirtir. Gilgamesh beats back the desire to tell his advisor off for bowing to a ruler other than himself. Gilgamesh lips part and…
“Hajimemashte,” The dragoness coos. “Watashi no namae wa Toyotama desu.”
Gilgamesh stares, mouth agape. Had this woman spoke to him in a foreign tongue in his kingdom? He looks over to gauge Sirtir’s reaction and finds her waving with a smile.
“Yoroshiku,” Sirtir greets back.
“Sirtir,” Gilgamesh coughs. He elbows her and when her attention falls on him, he nods towards the dragoness. Sirtir looks as though she’s just remembered something and takes a clump of wool from her wrist and offers it to the woman. As it comes in contact with her hands it begins to glow a faint gold.
“Korera ga anata no rikai ni yakudatsu koto o negatte imasu,” Sirtir says, motioning for the woman to place the wool atop her head.
Instead of taking the translator, the dragoness pushes it away.
“There’ll be no need for that,” the dragoness says in a language Gilgamesh can understand. “I expected my vernacular to be acceptable amongst the many other common Midgardian languages. That was presumptuous of me. It’s rude to enter another god’s domain and not speak in their preferred tongue.”
So why hadn’t she spoken his language from the start? Even Gilgamesh altered his tongue when traveling overseas, but this woman didn’t. It seems to him as though she had done that on purpose. As disrespectful as it was, he doesn’t press it.
Gilgamesh looks her in the eye as he speaks. “Apology Accepted…”
“Toyotama,” she finishes on his behalf. “But many know me as the Otohime.”
“Salutations Otohime.” He nods. “I’m king-”
“Gilgamesh,” Toyotama, the Otohime, cuts him off in an almost authoritative tone. After a quick look around she continues,“Your...reputation precedes you.”
Gilgamesh should glare at her. He should cast her away for speaking to him with such arrogance. It was one thing to speak another language on his land but another matter entirely to interrupt a king.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Otohime says, obstructing his angered thoughts. “ I’ll only enter your domain with your permission, your highness.”
Without a word Gilgamesh cranes his neck in the direction of his castle.
“Thank you.” Otohime walks past Gilgamesh and Sirtir. She comes to a stop and glances up, no doubt in the direction of his castle. It’s only a second later when Otohime turns her head, practically tilting it back to get a look at Gilgamesh. “Shall we begin negotiations? Perhaps over tea?”
Gilgamesh watches Otohime’s every movement. Not because she’s beautiful but because he still suspects she’s mocking him. Whenever he goes to speak, without fail, she sips from her teacup. Then, when she’s ready to speak she puts her cup down in such a way the porcelain clanks. A sound that grates on Gilgamesh’s nerve once they’ve rounded off the first hour of discussion.
Deciding it’s time to combat this woman’s habits, Gilgamesh flicks his wrist and demands,“Sirtir, tea.” Though all he gets from his advisor is a series of tiny, almost worrying bleats.
“Sir, we don’t have any tea.” Sirtir looks to Otohime and Gilgamesh’s eyes follow. “She brought that herself.” Sirtir leans in close to Gilgamesh and whispers,” She’s kinda intimidating…”
Clearing his throat, Gilgamesh attempts to get the ball rolling.
“S-so, you want an alliance, right?” Gilgamesh grins. “Did you bring an offer?” He shoots a quick, approval seeking, look at Sirtir. She just sighs and points back to Otohime.
Otohime’s answer doesn’t come immediately. No, she just sips her tea. This sip goes on for so long it’s starting to make Gilgamesh uncomfortable. When she finishes she brings her cup back down to on the matching china plate. The sharp clank makes Gilgamesh flinch.
Gilgamesh feels nervous and he hasn’t a single clue why. So to counter the churning of his stomach he starts laughing, chortling as loud as he can. “You jest! Earlier you spoke of my reputation. So you should know it’s imprudent to think Uruk needs any protection.” He drives his thumb to his chest. “Not when it has me, after all.”
Otohime chuckles before asking, “So you’re a one-man army?”
“Of course,” Gilgamesh replies.
“Well,” Otohime’s lips curl into a wry smile. A bit creepy, but still very, very sexy. “What if you face an army full of one man armies?”
The slurping noise of Otohime and her tea keeps the room from becoming dense with silence.
Gilgamesh scoffs then looks over at Sirtir. Alas, there’s nothing she can do besides offering a reassuring looking smile. “I’m confident in not only my capabilities. But my Sharur’s as well.”
Otohime peers beyond Gilgamesh, and when he looks over his shoulder he can see it’s on the map they worked on earlier. There all those little red check marks mock him. They should be tics categorizing a rival’s territory, but instead, they are like tallies that show how many victories she has over him.
“You can’t sense divinity can you,” Otohime asks, forcing Gilgamesh to focus.
Gilgamesh’s eyes widen and he fights the involuntary twitches throughout his face. What would even make her say that? It’s true, but she doesn’t have to say it like that.
“The downside to having a mortal parent,” Gilgamesh murmurs as though there were any upsides. Somehow one of his hands ends up brushing against the back of his neck. He peers up. “How did you know?”
“Well, it’s become apparent over the course of this conversation.” Otohime looks around the room. “Your kingdom’s divinity is being siphoned.”
“What!?” Gilgamesh stands up. No wonder the crops are dying, and buildings are giving out. Gilgamesh is working with even less power than he thought. But how? Since when?
“I offer my alliance in the form of protection.” Otohime takes one more sip of her tea, finishing it. “Psychopomps, The Demon Syndicate, The Phantom Queen. I’ll offer you security against anyone.” Her gaze narrows on him, and she’s tilting her head again. There’s a look in her eyes that make him feel as though there’s no answer he’d be able to give but ‘yes’.
Smacking his lips, Gilgamesh grunts, “There isn’t much we can offer, now.” He shakes his head. “So what could you even want?”
“Not much. Just your fealty.” The words hit Gilgamesh and he slumps back down into his seat. “My army needs to be able to fight at its fullest while in your domain.”
Gilgamesh doesn’t know what more to say, and given the look on Sirtir’s face, she doesn’t either. The two can only glance to one another, then look back to Otohime, before returning to one last mutual worrying gaze.
“Take a few days to think about it,” Otohime says as she stands up. “I know how this must look, but please understand that I’m only here to liberate the people of Uruk.”
Once again he’s at an abandoned pier, waiting for Ishtar. It’s different than the last one, but it’s shady all the same. The scattered trash, graffitied walls, and polluted water give offend Gilgamesh’s royal sensibilities, but for her, he’s happy to make these concessions.
They waste no time with formalities once she arrives. Ishtar walks up and starts emptying orison into his hand. Instead of watching the coins bounce into his palms he watches her. There are traces of blood in the fur around her collar. She smells like tobacco, but it’s clearly there to throw him off. Had she no magical means of hiding the scent? Though she’s as exquisite as always, the smell of a man lingering about her blonde hair does sour Gilgamesh’s view of her.
“Annnd One hundred! I’m pawsitive that should be enough to keep the lights on in Uruk for the rest of the month.”
Unlike usual, Gilgamesh doesn’t bother counting the orison. At this rate, it’ll be trading hands soon anyway. Gilgamesh squeezes the handful of glowing coins tight until they break down into nothing but a series of small flashing lights. The particles orbit his hand before pooling together in his wrist.
“1500 years,” Gilgamesh mutters. “1500 years and still with those incessant feline puns.”
“They’re funny,” Ishtar insists.
“They aren’t,” Gilgamesh retorts.
Ishtar shakes her head. “If you’re gonna be like this could you show some gratitude first?”
“For what? You’re just paying off your back taxes as any good Uruk citizen would,” Gilgamesh says in as sarcastic of a fashion as he can. He doesn’t want Ishtar to think he’s actually reverted back to his old ways.
“Uruk Citizen,” Ishtar whispers. She throws her arms behind her head and spins on her heel, pivoting away from Gilgamesh. “Please. Are you trying to make me gag?”
Gilgamesh hunches down behind Ishtar. He plops his hand atop her head, nestling his fingers between her twitching lion ears. “How’s this for gratitude?”
Of course, knowing Ishtar, Gilgamesh hops back in time to avoid having his throat clawed out. Ishtar lunges forward and grabs a hold of Gilgamesh’s arm. All at once he goes from standing over her to lying beneath her. She straddles his back and tightens her grip on his arms, locking him.
“That was even easier than usual,” Ishtar whispers into his ear. “What’s wrong, Gil? You’re not questioning your mortality again, are you?”
Gilgamesh, exhale and pats at her wrist so she’d let him go. Once he’s free he gets up, dusts himself off and walks over to one of those graffitied walls he hated.
“No, Ish. But I have been thinking,” Gilgamesh starts.
“Uh oh,” Ishtar says.
“Maybe it’s time for Uruk to merge with another kingdom. A kingdom with the means to take care of them.”
“That sucks,” Ishtar’s says and when Gilgamesh peers over she isn’t even looking at him. No, Ishtar’s gaze is on the dirty river before them. The wind rolls by and pushes her blonde hair along, causing it to graze her brown shoulders. “I’ve been workin’ pretty hard y’know. So I was hoping you’d have spiffed up the place by the time I got back.”
“That could be today, Ish.” Gilgamesh ends up looking away from her as well. “It might be easier to rule Uruk with you there. You were a princess, so your consultation would be invaluable. That, and I wouldn’t have to spend so much time worrying about you.”
When Gilgamesh turns back to look at Ishtar he finds her eyes are already on him.
“Let’s not do this,” Ishtar groans but doesn’t even attempt to look away. “Besides, I’m more useful to Uruk on my own.”
“ By doing what,” Gilgamesh shouts. “The least you could do is tell me.”
Gilgamesh starts closing the gap, fast. Once he reaches Ishtar, he grabs her wrist. At first, he’s caught off guard, because she always dodges around these attempts, but those thoughts give way to concern.
“I worry about all of my people. You included. Maybe if you gave me some peace of mind I wouldn’t be having such a hard time ruling.”
Ishtar’s focus falls away from Gilgamesh. She stares at the ground for maybe a second, maybe three, before she flips Gilgamesh onto his back again. This time she doesn’t pin him, allowing him to get up from the dirt at his leisure.
“So you’re gonna blame your poor leadership skills on me too,” Ishtar says. “Some things never change, huh Gil?”
“You know that’s not-” By the time Gilgamesh stands up, Ishtar’s raking her claws in the air before her. Much to Gilgamesh’s surprise, an invisible ripple appears, guided down by Ishtar’s nail. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Sometimes I wonder. Is any of this about what’s best for Uruk? Or what’s best for king Gilgamesh? Maybe you should try figuring out if those things are mutually exclusive.” Ishtar’s got one leg through her portal. “We’ll meet up when I have more Orison. Later.”
Ishtar leaves Gilgamesh alone there, somehow feeling like even less of a king than before.
When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk he turns over the orison to Sirtir. She watches him, no doubt wondering if he’s come to a decision concerning Otohime’s offer.
Gilgamesh stews in his throne unable to get his mind off Ishtar, his people and the looming threat that is The Phantom Queen. Gilgamesh can feel the armrest giving way to his grip.
“Sir, I know you’ve been feeling boxed in lately.” Sirtir’s soothing voice stops him. He looks over to find her with large slabs of solid clay in hand. Gilgamesh can’t believe it at first but recognizes that he needs the audience.
Sirtir, beaming, offers the stone document to her king. With a gentle smile, she addresses her king. “So I think it’s time we consult the tablets.”