An old woman, bent over with age, but still strong enough to carry knapsack of peaches across her back walked a dusty road. Dirt and oil encrusted her fingernails, giving a veneer to her status as an old, widowed crone. She glared down the road at the small mansion that was being uncovered and refurbished. Inhuman, alien eyes were drawn to a quite strange sight on the fine and bright morning.

The buzz of the essence engine revved higher as the little airplane trundled down the (mostly) flat runway. Built on a similar frame as a World War II fighter plane, it had only a single propeller, two main wings and tail rudders. It was actually made of painted canvas and lightweight metal frame, with the fore and aft edge of the wings being an alloyed jadesteel. It finally built up enough speed after six hundred feet and then lifted up and off the ground.

Yachu shaded his eyes as he stared suspiciously at the small skyship of unusual design. He had dropped in to visit his old recruit at her Manse to find the main building mostly repaired and a construction crew making a road that lead down to the main path. Then he had to go and ask what she was working on now that it had been a couple of years since she had come to live among the people of Lookshy.

Which led to him walking over to a large shed or workshop that had housed this contraption.

The airplane buzzed back overhead from a dive, then pulled up into a steep climb as it rolled on its axis. It leveled off and then rumbled off to the south. Ten minutes later it came back and then landed the same way it took off.

Sheila slid back the canopy as the propellers sputtered out and the plane came to a halt right next to the shed. "Not too impressive compared to an Assault-class Skyship, I take it?"

"It's loud and can only fit one person," the heroic mortal said in a long suffering voice. "No weapons and can't hover. It seems quite limited."

"It's a semi-replica of an antique that I could cobble together in a week or two. The, um, cutting edge variety is a bit more impressive. I've got some ideas on how to make a turbine thruster, but getting the essence flows just right is tricky. The really fast ones can fly faster and higher than I personally can." She gave him a shrug. "This is more an economical and simple device to show off concepts."

The gray haired legionnaire gave her an incredulous look. "You can fly from Lookshy to Denendsor in less than an hour. And they were faster?"

"Or larger. The technology scales up quite a bit. To the point where you can fit hundreds of people in one."

Yachu gave the little airplane a look as if he did not believe it.

"How is the Denendsor Occupation going?"

"They are looking at changing the designation to Denendsor Province or Denendsor Satrapy. And it goes very well. Nexus, Great Forks and Sijan all sent people for their treaty negotiated part of the profits. You can almost hear The Realm screaming in frustration." The old soldier could not hide his glee at that. "I'm thinking of retiring there next year. I just need to pay to get a house restored and my muster out should just about cover that."

"We'll have to do a housewarming party." With a shake of her head, she gestured for him to follow her to the main building. "It always comes down to money, doesn't it? I've got to figure out how to keep paying for this Manse, though I understand the General Staff is going to transfer me back to The Aviary to refurbish some more of the First Age equipment that they were not able to repair," Sheila said as she pulled off her leather jacket. It made her stand out as that sort of jacket was fairly uncommon in this reality. "Chuzei Regua is still picking at books trying to find something to help, but I may have to invent some sort of Wyld Skyship and then brave total chaos."

"I see. And there may be something in some lost Solar ruin or one of their Tombs, but those are to keep them appeased so they don't become very powerful undead." That caused a shudder in the old man.

"So I just have to search most of Creation and brave the worst of horror. That should work out well," she replied with a quirky grin.

Even her keen eyes did not spot the rust-iron fingernails on the old woman selling peaches to the workers a half mile down the road.

At the knock on her office's door in The Aviary, the young demigoddess called out, "Enter." Her fingers were dancing across a holographic interface on an Artifact Intelligence system that was assisting her in the tedious calculations of artifact design.

"That looks like an interesting warstrider design," her new assistant said, a middle aged sorcerer named Leng-Wu that was fairly skilled as a shugan-junai of Lookshy. He had just transferred over from the Second Field Force.

"Just some tinkering. It would require a lot of resources to make. I have been trying to convince the General Staff to look at throwing more resources into mining jade. The magic materials are always in chronically short supply." Sheila huffed in frustration at that. It was like making tanks out of silver and gold. With the extensive electronics being hand crafted in platinum as clockwork circuits. Very annoying.

Luckily, she knew a lot of pure technology and techniques from her own world, which helped with working around some limitations.

"I was just told that the city is going on high watch. There is a strange black haze forming over Lookshy," her assistant said carefully. "And this morning, before dawn, The Key and the Shield and the Spear in the heavens were wandering." Leng-Wu looked very disturbed at the omens.

Sheila frowned at that, standing up. "Let's go outside and take a look."

They found a small parapet on the side of The Aviary, Lookshy's main Cathedral-Forge up in the Old City. The young demigoddess shaded her hands as she studied the sky. The oily looking smoke would have been right at home in the pollution-laden skies of her home reality above New York or Los Angeles. But it was the brightly colored Kingfishers that caught her notice.

"Leng-Wu, the omens actually are as bad as you and the other sorcerers thought. Something wicked this way comes..." Ichor burned in her body as she tapped into a seldom used power of her amulet, amplifying her intellect and knowledge by at least a fifth again. "A Second Circle Demon will be here soon." The wheeling birds overhead were circling The Aviary... No, not The Aviary, but her location.

"Are you sure? I had suspected something, but why would a demon gain by attacking Lookshy itself? It is folly that any Second Circle would hope to inflict much damage before being sent back to Malfeas," the sorcerer-technician said as he spoke in confusion.

"Iyutha, The Vitriolic Dragon, is not someone that even Lookshy can fully ignore. We may even have a traitor, but her focus is here, upon this parapet-" she was saying before she caught the poisoned dagger in Leng-Wu's hand before it could cut her back. "I am sorry, Leng."

"It should have been me! Not some outsider, abandoned to Fate," the middle-aged man said. It should have been perfect! The silent whispers had promised that no one would know. That he would be raised up in rank within the Skyguard.

The oily haze overhead thickened into dark, hazy green clouds. Emerald lightning crackled across the morning sky even as a soft rain began to fall, hissing as it struck stone and jade armor. Cries of pain rose up as unwary workers ran for cover as vitriolic acid washed down in benign-looking horror.

"The Vitriolic Dragon has her claws in your soul, Leng-Wu. She has turned you traitor to all you hold dear." The young demigoddess looked on in shock as the sorcerer tried to force the dagger forward, then when that failed he tried to swipe left or right.

"Die!" screamed Leng-Wu as he tried to fitfully reach for something in his jacket.

Sheila then punched him in the stomach hard, nearly folding him in half as his feet left the ground. His puke splattered over her pristine uniform even as he was lost to the conscious world. A ring upon her finger summoned her blue jade warstrider.

Darkness now enshrouded Lookshy even as an old crone watched from the gates to the Old City. Horrible, shrieking roars echoed among the overcast sky as strange dragons made tendrils of swirling, inky-oil clouds roared and circled the Old City.

Essence cannons built into Lookshy Manse's armor shrieked out concussive blasts into the air, even as their dragonblood or godblooded operators cursed the vitriolic rain that was leaking in any small crack or gap to burn the unwary who let it touch them.

Iyutha, a Second Circle Demon, stalked the Old City among the throng of panicked citizens and soldiers that bustled towards any protection. None noticed that the acid rain failed to burn or scar her as her children battled overhead.

The Radeken, The Madling Hellstorms, wheeled overhead as they spat vitriolic acid upon any unwary soul as they took over the skies of Lookshy. Emerald lightning cracked down from the smoggy black sky, striking The Aviary and Lookshy Manse to score their jade armor.

One of the Madlings swooped down and spat acid at a warstrider and then pulled back up into the sky. When the blue warstrider leaped into the air and smashed its spear into its churning gut, it could only let out a pained roar of surprise. The warstrider then stood on the air as if it were as solid a rock, spinning its spear so fast it looked like an invisible propeller before it snapped to a halt with it pointed at the nearest demon.

The other Radeken broke off from their attack on Lookshy to circle around Sheila in her warstrider in a huge, two hundred foot wheel in the sky.

In the Malfean dialect of Old Realm, the demons spoke, "Tear-destroy for mother-father." "Melt it down for hurting one of us." "It must die for the pain it inflicted."

"Radeken, where is your mother? You are nothing to me except an annoyance to distract me from Iyutha," Sheila called out boldly.

One of them spat a lightning bolt that streaked unerringly at the huge, armored figure. A blue gauntlet of jade snatched it out of the air and obliterated the dangerous First Circle Demon that had sent it by returning the attack with uncanny accuracy, leaving only a smudge of oily smoke behind.

The massive steel spear glowed with a dim red-gold radiance, even as the warstrider blurred behind another Radeken, spearing it through the heart with inimical and deadly wounds that could kill even the most powerful of foes if used correctly.

The Radeken exploded in a frenzy of attacks as the roiling mass of clouds tried to pounce on the impertinent (to their perspective) godblood. Below them Iyutha watched warily from an overhang that she was sharing with a terrified family. Her rust-iron nail clacked on the edge of the pillar as the warstrider cut down another Madling Hellstorm with great speed and skill.

Then one of the storm dragons exploded, as a beam of pure concussive force slammed into it with great power. Tien Yu stood upon the tallest parapet of Lookshy Manse as her black-jade dragon armor seemed to shift and shrink even as she glared at the interlopers. Demons! In her city!

Tu Yu was behind her, gnashing his teeth as he realized that this was not the sort of fight he was geared towards.

Down on the ground in the Old City, Iyutha was found out by the most mundane of things.

"See, haichei? She doesn't burn under the acid rain," a young boy called out as he pointed at the shape-changed Vitriolic Dragon.

The dragonblooded nodded. "Capture her for questioning-" he was called out to his squad.

He was cut off by Iyutha moving over and snatching him up by his neck. "Your interference... is futile," the ancient-seeming crone said even as she crushed the hapless dragonblood's neck. His soldiers tried to stab the insane woman, even as the flesh started to melt off of her form, bubbling up to her true, titanic dragon form that seemed like it had been crammed inside a too-small human body.

The dragon, now larger than most small homes roared in fury at the interfering fools that had interrupted her plan.

"Tien Yu! There she is," Sheila shouted from inside her refurbished warstrider as it pointed down at the wyrm. Not much of the corrosive acid was getting in thanks to her addition of rubber seals and transparent visor in the helmet.

Essence cannons from the static defenses continued to roar in crackling fury at the Madling Hellstorms as they flew through the air spitting lightning, vitriol and gusts of hurricane force air. A lance of blue light hit one from Tien Yu's whirring black jade dragon gauntlet, vaporizing another of the hellish wyrms. The city-goddess swore silently. This was stealing months of Lookshy's future.

"Materialize compressive essence cannon," a young voice called out at her side as the very young Athene appeared at her side. Glowing lines of essence traced a fifteen foot magitech anti-material rifle out of black jade and moonsilver. "Charging." Spinning motors and generators embedded into the rifle arced to life, glowing with sunlit radiance.

"This is new," Tien Yu said even as she hoisted the rifle up with a small grunt. It seemed setup like most essence cannons. Pull the trigger-

The sun seemed to illuminate the sky under the oppressive clouds in a long beam that vaporized another of Iyutha's brood. Tien Yu released the trigger with a click. She had felt extra years being added to Lookshy's Fate. That should be impossible.

Iyutha roared, he enraged voice so mighty that it shook the Old City of Lookshy hard enough for the puddles of vitriol to splash upward. One black-iron claw smashed into the ground, while the other grasped into the air, causing a tornado to spin out of the center of the oily cloud cover. The armored ground of the main parade grounds shook under the fury of cold-iron dust that scoured anything so foolish as to stand in its way.

Janequin would be immortalized with the death of her murderer. The chaos magnet had been useful to throw Iyutha's enemies off balance so that the Vitriolic Dragon could then manipulate things to her advantage. It was also a bad precedent to let it lay that a mortal (even a godblood) could kill a Second Circle Demon with impudence.

A swipe of its claws sent an interfering ruby-red warstrider staggering back down to one knee even as the magitech cyber gunzosha commandos harried its flank. The dragon spat a torrent of glowing green vitriolic acid at two of them, melting them.

The tornado was tearing across the walls of the pyramid that made up Lookshy Manse with a suddenness that surprised Tien Yu and Athene. The armored goddess of Lookshy snatched up the child to use her own body and armor to weather the attack when the whirlwind was stopped.

The massive gauntlets of the blue-jade warstrider were gripping the wind as if pushing against the wall. "I need a container that can be closed," Sheila shouted out.

Athene had wiggled out of Tien Yu's grasp, crafting a temporary vial and lid. "Here." Why was glowing light coming from within Sheila's armored helmet?

Then the tornado was compressed and pushed into the vial, causing Iyutha to scream out a roar of rage at her attack being taken away. Stolen! The dragon leaped into a gallop, iridescent wings showing blasphemous markings that could drive the weak insane. Several soldiers danced out of her way and clutched hands over their eyes.

With a flick, the vial was reopened and the whirlwind was released. Then the armor collapsed in a crumpled heap as Sheila's physical body finally sublimated into pure ichor.

Tien Yu felt the ground shift as more and more essence flowed like a flash flood down the dragonlines. Athene was hopping up and and down as she waved her arms through the waves of essence, giggling happily.

"Um?" Sheila said as she looked around incorporeally. With a flick of her wrist, she directed her new tornado against Iyutha, further enraging the dragon.

The Vitriolic Dragon snarled as it leaped, only to see the immaterial girl flicker out of the attack range of her claws and teeth. The whine of the mechanisms within Tien Yu's armor was the demon's only warning as a gout of yellow and orange flame was spat out to scorch her steel scales. Scales that glowed red-hot under the onslaught even as the essence-crafted flesh under the armor hissed and sizzled in agonizing pain.

A new warstrider, carved out of silver and shining steel and strangely alive, appeared as it landed on the back of the dragon. It moved with flickers of inhuman grace and agility, even as its glowing blue-green eyes seemed to see every feint and trick.

"Another insect!" Iyutha roared in frustration. "Your mother will hate you, your father will despise you-"

"Are you trying to tell me something I don't know, or are you promising what you will interfere with?" the newly ascended goddess asked. "Because if you are, you really suck at this." Her punch smacked the dragon's head up with the sound of a snapping whip.

"You are no godblooded!" the dragon finally realized as it shook the daze out of her head cautiously.

"As of about forty seconds ago, no. You may call me Shelinaria, Goddess of Excellence and Battle," the huge, fifteen foot tall figure said as she grabbed both wings at their first joint even as she acrobatically lashed out with both booted feet to bone-crushing effect.

The wings snapped under the attack as Iyutha scrambled across the pyramid of Lookshy Manse. Her terrifying, tooth-filled snout lifted into the air. "Kill my enemies!"

The oldest of her children whirled around an essence cannon blast while dodging the tornado. Malicious delight bloomed in its eyes. "No." Each of the remaining dragonlings had sensed the same weakness, echoing their eldest sibling.

The demon-mother that hated all that loved and all that nurtured screamed in rage at her betrayal, incapable in understanding that she had done this to herself. Essence bursts from Tien Yu's armor and the massive spear of Shelinaria glowed with crimson gold to smash her physical body.

Iyutha shed her physical form, becoming nothing more than pure, weakened essence. She had heard (but never thought it would happen to her) that if you cried out surrender that your captor would spare you for oaths of binding and servitude. So the pain as Shelinaria's spear flickered to strike her down before she could surrender as reality hiccuped for just a moment... this was the last pain that Iyutha, Vitriolic Dragon and Messenger Soul of that Which Wears Down the Mountain, ever felt.

"Storm is bad," Athene called out worriedly as acid lashed from the oily clouds in the sky as she dematerialized again.

"Oh, right." Shelinaria glared at the clouds as she seized control of them as though they were an errant child, and sent them back out of the city of hover over a depression of rocks up the coast that had been rumored to be haunted. The silver and steel armor sublimated off of her, leaving the glowing haired eternal teen behind in a plain black uniform.

The last of the Radeken howled into the dawning light and rushed away to the far south. The devastation that was revealed in the bright light was saddening, but Lookshy Manse and the Aviary's armor had taken the brunt.

Only a dozen casualties had been inflicted, and most were healed as Shelinaria watched over.

Tien Yu's armor had collapsed from its most powerful and expanded form as she watched over the aftermath. She sighed softly as she realized that her enemies among Yu Shan were going to attempt to paint this in the worst light, but demons being in her city was definitely something that the gods were allowed to interfere with, as it was not a normal mortal affair. The city-goddess studied the glowing-haired goddess in front of her, gauging her strength as now slightly higher than her own. "Apotheosis, but under your own power," she breathed out softly.

Athene whirled around immaterially, seeming quite giddy at being involved in such a powerful battle.

"That is what it means to be a Scion, heir to the gods of my world," Shelinaria admitted as she finished healing anyone that she could that was within her sight.

"Shall you come to Yu-Shan then, to take your place among the gods?" Tien Yu asked curiously in her low almost-whisper.

"I really need to get back and I finally have the power to do so." The new goddess made a shimmering portal appear that seemed to twist in a manner that bent reality. "Maybe I will come back and visit."

"Fare thee well then and until later," the Goddess of Lookshy called out.

Sheila stepped through even as the immaterial form of Athene slipped in behind her to take advantage of her 'mother's' innate powers over time-

Time shattered as inviolate laws of essence physics were smashed with an alien, other power. For two weeks, the aftershock of the portal traveled forward and backward from this locus all across two thousand miles as the reality of Creation changed and conformed. It now adjusted to something that had not existed ever since the concept of non-linear time had lost. Lost since the Primordials had been bound in defeat. Only prophecy and destiny had been allowed to bypass that rule of Creation metaphysics.

Thousands of years in the past, a portal in the ancient First Age appeared as two supernatural entities tried to traverse to that time.

Athene clung to Shelinaria as they pushed down a swirling tunnel of blue time energy.

"Is this normal?" the child-goddess asked.

"No," the daughter of Paellas Athena said. She should have thought a little more thoroughly before trusting her new power in the strange reality she had ended up within. It appeared time travel did not function like she expected. She pushed harder with her ichor, deeper into the past.

With a snap, they rebounded from the origin of a stable Creation and out into the near future of their time.

Fractures in creation shattered outwards as-

-a dragonblood king faced against armies of the dead as he ruled on the Blessed Isle-

-a solar stalked across the land to where Third Circle Demons were attempting to crack the imprisonment of their Yozi masters with rituals to debase their oaths-

-a lunar hunted the Wyld edges of Creation, trying to forestall an invasion by a Rakshaza with her face-

Hundreds of individual epic stories of the Exalted played out for over two centuries as the Exalted fought through a cascade of failure of Creation to adjust to the shock of time travel intruding upon its rules. Each Exalted found themselves in a strange, personal reality with only normal mortals, gods and spirits under the threat of destruction from some alien threat.

Part 10: Out of Time and Misplaced

"Wake up," Athene called out, shaking her comatose mother on the ground. "Whatever you just did, don't do it again."

Shelinaria groaned as she rolled over. "I'm trying to decide if I just screwed up, didn't get enough information or failed to adjust the portal properly for when you jumped in. And I thought you were going to stay with your mother Tien Yu?"

"I wanted to stay with you. It was an impulse." The young, dusky-skinned goddess-child was looking around. Her simple gossamer dress spun around her as she moved. "What is that?"

Shelinaria looked up to take in the view. "Crater. Over five miles wide and its not old." Her hand was on the hot, melted ground that glowed putrid colors. The winds swirled around her even as she picked up her child-goddess Athene. Deep fissures had been blasted far into the ground in the crater as she looked around.

"What could do this?" the precocious child asked.

"Who is more important. This is Lookshy." The horror in Shelinaria's voice was overpowering as she looked over the edge of the Yanaze River. She could only tell by the land around the city as the mount was gone.

"Lookshy is dead. Home," Athene said in shock. "Mother!"

Shelinaria grabbed the tiny child to hold her close, feeling very uncomfortable. "This is a future."

The winds picked up, lifting them into the air. They rose high into the sky as supernally keen eyes took in the vista. The sun and sky was eclipsed above, blocked by oily black clouds that trailed up from volcanic the peak of the center of the Realm. As they watched, a shadow twirled around the black column of smoke as it battled what appeared to be a mote of sunlight.

The dragon roared in triumph, then swallowed the guttering spark of sunlight.

And the Unconquered Sun...

...was defeated.

Shelinaria stared in shock at that, even as a huge image appeared, towering over Creation. Her red hair was quite striking and her features were known throughout creation as she had ruled its heart for centuries by her personal power.

"People of Creation, I am your Empress. The Usurpation of Yu-Shan is now ended and the Shadow Primortium is now declared. Gods and mortals, your new lord and master will rule benevolently under the Ebon Dragon in Yu-Shan. New oaths will be forged for all gods and spirits, so that they may know their place for all eternity-" the visage of the Scarlet Empress said, declaring the doom of mortals and gods in a droning tone.

"It is time to leave," Shelinaria declared.

"How? Where?" Athene demanded.

Essence pooled towards the newest goddess in the ruins of Lookshy as she rocketed off at a blistering pace, far far faster than sound itself as she streaked off to the East Pole of Wood.

Athene was distracted, holding out her hands to scream out a cry of delight. The tempo of time was altered and pushed faster as the mother and daughter rushed down the river, leaving a wake that was hundreds of feet tall behind them.

Shadows spread from the new, dark and vitriolic center of Creation as Gaia started to reshape herself to more closely match her reforming Dragon Soul. It's poison was seeping through Creation across the dragonlines, changing forever the element known as Earth into the truly vile poison and acidic Vitriol. The ground trembled even as the black clouds rumbled and roiled.

"Hold on, Athene," Shelinaria ordered to her daughter. Screaming winds then lifted them off waters and into the tumultuous skies.

The woods were quietly taking over things in less than forty minutes of fleeing from the now-corrupted heart of Creation. Shelinaria was having to weave and flit between massive branches and tree limbs, even over a mile above the ground.

Athene did not feel very safe as her mother did not slow down as she charted a path right through the Element of Wood, as all she could see was a blur to all sides. She clutched tighter as mist started to confuse the path. And then Creation gave way to chaos and disorder of the Wyld.

Shelinaria narrowed her eyes angrily as she slowed down slightly. "Fair Folk, massing for war."

"I want to leave. Fix it! Fix it now!" The younger goddess was just about set to throw a real temper tantrum.

"I think it needs fixing-" Shelinaria started to say.

"Halt, Fiends of Stagnant Creation! I, the Lord of the Silver Mist have been drawn here by the power of this moment! That all eyes will be drawn-" the Fey lord intoned with great feeling and vigor.

"That's quite irrational to try to ensnare me into your power," Shelinaria interrupted as she punched a hole into the nebulous nature of the Wyld with her powers over time.

"Aieeeee! How dare you scour us with the temporal winds, primordial monster!" the Fey shouted in alarm as he retreated.

The two goddesses were already disappearing into the time gate and disappearing.

"Did it work?" Athene asked as she pulled her head out of the crook of her blonde mother's arm.

"We do appear to be in a formless Wyld in the correct... time, loosely as it can be described." Shelinaria narrowed her eyes carefully. She hummed to herself for a few moments, a non-melody. "Time and its intrinsic nature extends somehow beyond Creation, deep into the Wyld. Warped, changed, different but it is still there. That means time and its components are defined by something intrinsic to Creation itself," the young goddess said more to herself than for her daughter. From the Primordials in their version of Tartarus? At least it had been different enough or far enough she hadn't broken anything again.

Athene sniffled. "I didn't like that."

"It was not very good. We need to get back to Creation now." Shelinaria awkwardly patted Athene on her head.

They were not in any huge hurry, so Shelinaria flew at a more leisurely rate. She had the unusual (for her) experience of a child climbing over her, settling on her neck to 'sit' on her while she flew along.

"Be a dragon," Athene declared.

"I can't turn into a dragon. And why would I want to turn into a lazy, hoarding reptile?" her mother countered.

"What can you turn into then?" the child goddess demanded.

"A normal person? Or, I suppose I could do some things like wings like angels. And with a bit of work, I might be able to turn into an owl," she explained as she started to dodge through the boughs of the East Pole of Wood.

"Home!" Athene squealed happily.

"Athene, it appears we have been gone awhile. Seven years, to be precise. It's now the Realm Year 764."

"I'm eight!"

"In one way, I suppose. Subjectively, only about sixteen months-"

"Momma!" Athene suddenly exclaimed suddenly in worry. "Tien Yu might think we aren't coming back!"

"She's immortal, so I don't think she's given up on us quite so quickly," the flying goddess noted in a dry tone.

"But its so long! But pretty short for her? Hmm," the dusky-skinned child said in contemplation.

"I need to move faster, um, dear one? Hold on tightly."

Everything turned into a blur as Athene squealed out in joy.

The wood-aspected dragonblooded officer Gao watched the slow progress through the gate of another caravan. There was no patrol due to leave here for at least two hours, and the scouts had not shown any important visitors to be coming in through the West Gate. Her chuzei [1] had taken off for a quick lunch meeting.

So the pair of figures that alighted on the ground thirty feet away from her soldiers as they checked for contraband was abrupt and surprising. "Halt- Sheila? Revered Athene?"

"Sorry for our abrupt arrival, Chozei Gao. Congratulations for your promotion, by the way," Shelinaria said with a soft smile.

"Where have you been?" her old friend asked.

"It's only been about two hours for us. And seven years for you-"

"Not doing that again. Bounced out of time and Creation," Athene declared with a frustrated, scrunched up face.

"-and I really need to speak to Tien Yu as soon as possible," Shelinaria explained while trying to not lose her patience.

Gao just shook her head. "Tien Yu claimed that you had ascended with your own power. And that little Athene had disappeared with you. But unfortunately she has departed recently and did the courtesy of letting me know she was leaving. Tien Yu's honor was quite great to depart through my station."

"Ahhh," Athene said in a disappointed tone, a cute pout on her face.

"Then it appears I must seek her elsewhere. We shall have to catch up later and you can tell me about all of your adventures," Shelinaria said to her old friend with a smile.

"Oooh! I know! I'll show you the fast way to Yu-Shan," Athene said as she hopped to the ground and started running off at a hyperactive, blurring speed.

Shelinaria was only a moment behind her. The grasslands on the south shore of the massive river spun beneath their feet as fast as hunting birds could dive.

In a very short order, they reached the semi-secluded gateway to Yu-Shan. Athene was already pushing some of her essence into the doorway to the opening.

The perfectly polished gold figures of its guardians arose from their resting position, moving to intercept them.

"You are under arrest for flagrant disregard of summons and inciting illegal worship, along with a sundry of other crimes," the celestial lion said just inside the gates to Yu-Shan. He and his nine companions were standing ready for battle.

Shelinaria blinked twice. "Excuse me? In my personal reference of time, I've only been a goddess for about half a day and have not enticed anyone to worship me."

"Ignorance is no excuse," the guardian of Yu-Shan said in a brisk tone.

She looked down to her daughter. "Are you okay with making it to Tien Yu's home? And let her know what's going on?"

Athene nodded, her nearly white hair bobbing around her cherubic face. "I'll be fine."

"As I am being arrested, may I inquire as to where I will be held, child of Venus?" Shelinaria asked the celestial lion.

It blinked, liquid gold eyelids showing its surprise. "I am directed to accompany you to a facility that can hold you or to be your personal warden if you can not be held. If I may ask, young goddess, how strong are you?"

"Well, I can lift a decent sized ship. Maybe about seven thousand oxen or so?" She really wished that they used a rather more standard measurement system.

"Seven thousand oxen? Armulf, please bind her hands in the old set of manacles, the ones that are slightly tarnished," the leader of the guards said.

Orichalcium cuffs were attached, only showing the smallest of acid scorches on the surface.

"Now please try to break free," the guardian ordered.

"As long as it is clear that I am not trying to escape, but just following your instructions." At his nod (as good as most other god's solemn and sworn oaths) she flexed. They deformed just a bit, then with a great effort on her part, snapped apart.

"Do the rest of you concur? There is no standard prison that can hold the prisoner, so we must accompany her, to keep her under... house arrest," the leader of the celestial lions said to the others.

The other nine lions nodded their heads in agreement.

"Well, I was going to Tien Yu's abode here, to get caught up on the seven years I missed out on. May we go there so I can find out about these unfounded accusations?"

The young goddess led the way as she worked to break the rest of the manacles off her wrists. An hour later (and terribly slow by Shelinaria's reckoning) they arrived after travelling down the splendid roads to the nice district where Tien Yu kept her home.

"Momma! She's here," Athene shouted out and then ducked back inside.

Tien Yu frowned as she stepped outside, fully armed and armored. Her black super-heavy plate armor was polished to a glinting shine, the glowing moonsilver sigils standing out in stark contrast. "Bon-Hor, have you come to arrest me also?" There was a hint of challenge.

"I am keeping Sheila-"

"Shelinaria, now," the young goddess said testily.

"-the prisoner under my control. I have discovered that if we wanted to keep her arrested, we will need to craft a prison just for her.

"I have sent to Ventressi-Merdo as Satrap of the East that Shelinaria has arrived and is coming to the summons of the Department of Celestial Concerns as soon as she heard of its existence. So we must head to the Bureau of Heaven, I am afraid," Tien Yu declared in a very solid matter. "It was declared that she must present herself immediately or be forfeit all of her quintessence and ambrosia."

"I had not realize that such a missive had been given out, as I sent a messenger to relay that Shelinaria has been found." The celestial lion frowned, looking quite upset.

"And if I do not appear before that august body before the messenger arrives?" Shelinaria asked carefully.

"The fine will be levied. And the messenger should be almost to the Bureau of Heaven." The lion bowed his head. "I apologize, I should have realized that the situation was being set up in that way."

"Well, if I get there first there's no problem, right? I just have to bring you all along-"

"ZOOOMIE!" Athene shouted. She held up her hands to picked up.

Shelinaria picked up her daughter and set the girl on her shoulders. "-there is no problem, correct?"

"You would have to be faster than the wind, but you are essentially correct," Bon-Hor admitted. "I would consent to being carried by your magics there if you can cast the teleportation spell quickly."

"She is more of the sort that just travels... quickly, old friend," Tien Yu said carefully. "But I'm sure she can carry all of us there."

The Greek goddess had Tien Yu hold on while she picked up the celestial lion carefully by his neck and shoulders. The Goddess of the Seventh Legion held on tightly and pointed towards the massive edifice that housed the growing Bureau of Heaven's golden spires.

Bon-Hor roared, but it was whipped away by speed he had never seen before. In just a few minutes, they were all being deposited just in front of huge, golden doors as the leader of its contingent of celestial lions looked on in surprise.

The young, alien goddess bowed to them. "Pardon, but I was just informed that I must present myself to the Department of Celestial Concerns as soon as possible, else I will be at risk of being held in contempt of the court, which is not my intention. Would you be so kind as to guide me?" The young (glowing-haired) blonde was slipping carefully into the social stratum of Yu-Shan, though she had a few rough edges.

Bon-Hor conversed with the guards and they were allowed to enter, leaving them to be guided into a large audience chamber.

Ryzala, Lady of Bureaucracy and Paperwork, frowned from where she was grilling one of the more important gods in Yu-Shan about his duties in the Bureau of Seasons. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I was directed to present myself immediately to this august body, lest I be found in contempt of your authority. I do apologize, but after losing seven years of time and passing through the Wyld, I have arrived," Shelinaria explained carefully.

The female goddess that was essentially in charge of Yu-Shan blinked. She was supposed to be informed as quickly as the discrete messenger could get there. "You are Sheila Henderson, lately of Lookshy?"

"Now known as Shelinaria, goddess of Battle and Excellence." Sheila bowed her head slightly.

The door flew open as a silver skinned messenger god appeared, blinking in shock as he saw Bon-Hor and the other gods. He started shaking.

"Geltwym, welcome. You seemed to have arrived quite quickly here after not telling me that she and I were summoned here to the Bureau," the celestial lion rumbled out in response.

"Just an oversight on my part, great defender of the peace," the lying god said quickly. "I was just carrying a private missive here. But I would rather not intrude on your important matters."

Ryzala smiled a tight grin that boded poorly for him. Her pristine, gilded robes rustled like several scrolls, even if they were of perfect silk as she tilted her head to the side slightly. Her other four arms were continually scribing out paperwork. "You can wait in my private chamber, Geltwyn. But now on to the matters at hand. There have been serious charges brought up that you are setting up a cult among the soldiers of Lookshy and the Seventh Legion. How do you plead?"

Ichor was burning in the young goddesses' veins. "I would humbly submit to this department that I have not taken any actions to create such a thing as a cult of worship. If any mortal does worship me, they do it of their own free will as Lookshy allows to the dictate of their conscience," the girl with the glowing hair explained.

The entire (and quite full) court made hububbing noises as they started talking among themselves.

"You made mention that this was your first time that you were aware of our summons? We are not normally given to being so blatantly ignored," the goddess in charge said with a carefully controlled sneer.

"While it has been seven years for yourself since I reached apotheosis, I am afraid I have mislaid those seven years of time. I have only subjectively been aware of about one day's time passing, even while traveling into the Wyld on my first major attempt to get home." Shelinaria was still being diffident and polite.

"And I don't suppose you have a witness? No, never mind. We find you in contempt-"

"Summons make allowances for the person knowing and coming as quickly as possible." Tien Yu suddenly smiled, a nasty mean look as she glared at Ryzala. "After all, Shelinaria has proven to be faster than even messengers at times. She has been properly obedient to a foreign court that she happens to fall under."

"Are you sure you want to stake your reputation, goddess of war, upon such flimsy evidence?" The acting head of the Bureau of Heaven asked, a soft smile upon her face.

"I would, revered head of the Department of Celestial Concerns," the dusky-skinned goddess of the Seventh Legion said firmly.

"Then I find you to be in contempt of this department also-"

"And how did you come to find this and what evidence do you bring against me, Ryzala," Shelinaria said bluntly, eliciting a shock from the hundreds of celestial gods present.

"Order! I find you both to be in contempt here as you have not brought any evidence to bear that proves you did not act flagrantly against the dictates of The Commission of Abstract Matters and Celestial Concerns!"

"Point of order, lady," Shelinaria interrupted again with a small bow of her head, "but should you not demand that I bring that evidence before you before stating I have not brought said evidence to bear?"

Ryzala may as well have frozen solid and with no movement for a long minute. "The point... is acknowledged. Bring forth your witness before this commission finds you guilty."

"That's me!" Athene shouted out. "I went with mommy through her portal and we have only been gone for about a day!"

That got a laugh from all of the gods and goddesses present, with even Ryzala cracking a small smile.

"And who is your 'mommy'?" Ryzala asked in deceptive innocence.

"Mommy Shelinaria and momma Tien Yu," the very young child goddess declared.

"Yet you were born a full goddess. How do you explain that? I know your intelligence is higher than that, child, so do not think to lie to me and this commission!" The head of the bureau was leaking a bit of happiness at the girl falling into her trap.

"I believe it is because she is not from this reality and their... existence is slightly different. Her gods were not created by their primordials," Athene said carefully, dropping the demeanor of childishness for the moment.

"Oh? Shelinaria?" Ryzala asked carefully.

Time to see if she could get a little benefit of the doubt mojo going on. "Yes, that is technically true. My grandfather overthrew his father, the primordial Titan Kronos, founding the kingdom of the gods after imprisoning them in Tartarus. My understanding is that we are not quite identical in scope or power, but are more closely related than the gods of Yu-Shan to your Primordials." This was a very bad thing to have to bring up, but lying could be worse. She let her legend well up in power and with a moment of insight, to mirror the skill of her opponent. She was suddenly quite crafty and manipulative in social deceit.

"She's a primordial!?" squeaked out a cherubic, short god sitting at the long table, falling back off his bench.

"Only if a primordial was also half-mortal," the goddess of the Dodekatheon as she smiled winsomely, almost demanding that she be given the benefit of doubt. "I was a demigoddess, which is really not the same thing as a godblooded, but is still half-mortal."

The leader of the court frowned, even as Tien Yu slightly shook her head.

"I have brought forth a witness that has stated, to the best of her knowledge and as truth, that when we traveled, we lost seven years of time and that it has only been subjectively about a day, honored head of the court." Shelinaria was glad she was not prone to sweating right now.

"She is a young child, less than a decade old. We must teach her to not show deceit in such important matters. She will also be held in contempt of this hearing with a fine equally as stern," Ryzala said with a hard, almost evil smile upon her face.

"Then I can do nothing more than publicly state this court as lying blatantly, is flagrantly biased and of sniveling connivance. It exists here to twist the laws of Yu-Shan to Ryzala the Liar's benefit as she tries to steal from the Unconquered Sun and myself," the young goddess called out as her mind churned through all possible laws that were appropriate.

There was a single gasp from the whole audience and then silence. A needle could have been heard drop, even in this crowded room.

Tien Yu and Bon-Hor stared at her in horror, thinking she had thrown herself into the pit of insanity.

"You dare accuse me? While you are being held in contempt of court?" Ryzala shouted, slamming her six palms down upon the table in front of her throne-like chair. It sounds like a huge stack of books hitting the table.

"Of course. Truth has fled from your presence, as your stink of lies offends it," Shelinaria shot back.

"You have insulted my honor and position here in Yu-Shan, interloping barbarian!" the head of the Bureau of Heaven shouted out in a near scream.

"Well, you do not seem to have any honor and your position seems more inherited than earned-" the young goddess continued to insult, only to finally be interrupted.

"How dare you? I will have satisfaction paid with your blood," Ryzala almost screamed out.

"I accept your challenge. Single combat with weapons and powers," Shelinaria said as the other goddess finally made the mistake she could exploit and even then if she reacted smartly, she could recover.

Shouting erupted from the crowd of gods, even as Tien Yu started breathing in a carefully controlled manner. It had been a cunning, dangerous trick.

She had goaded the other goddess into a challenge of honor and combat.

"I accept your terms. Prepare your champion," Ryzala said in a seething tone, enraged beyond all reason.

And then Shelinaria smiled.

Chejop Kejak waited impatiently, although to those watching he looked like the personification of peace and tranquility.

A blue-skinned lesser god nodded in a haughty manner. "Pardon me, mysterious visitor, Shogun Ryzala-"

"Take me to her now," the ancient Sidereal declared as she stood up.

"Ah, she is currently tied up-"

"Now. I am through waiting. You have, again, not actually informed her of my presence, even after I specifically wrote you instructions. For your lack of follow through and incapability of following simple directives, I am sure she will have you doing another census in the Verdant Apartments. By yourself." The ancient Sidereal leader had no time to waste on people that could not follow directions. He could do a census in one of the worst housing districts in heaven. He might even survive the experience.

"Again-!? I apologize, honored one, let me escort you to the shogun's office."

Chejop did not let the bureaucracy impede him, as his deft use of a few charms bypassed days of work to get to the most powerful non-Incarna goddess in Yu-Shan.

And a very irate one, by the six arms that were writing and signing decrees in a flurry as she talked to one of her subordinates.

"Director of the Department of Celestial Concerns, Lady of Bureaucracy and Paperwork Ryzala, I have arrived," the ancient Sidereal called out formally.

Ryzala looked surprised for just a second as her hands stopped their flurry of motions. "Master Kejak, I am surprised to see you. It is not the annual meeting of the heads-"

"Why are you enmeshed in the fate of the Interloper goddess? Your Fate has become snarled and clouded, almost as badly as Looksky and Tien Yu's destiny," the most powerful Exalt in existence asked in a serious, thunderous tone. It had been absolute bedlam as the Fate Spiders had almost gone crazy dealing with the larger snarls that were cropping up.

Ryzala blinked, then narrowed her ink-black eyes. "I can handle a goddess that has only recently reached her apotheosis. The interloper will pay in blood for humiliating me in front of my commission and department."

"Are you sure? After all, she defeated Tachi-Kun in a straight out combat spar? As a mere half-mortal 'demigoddess' godblooded. And according to a trusted source, she is probably quite a bit more powerful now." Damn the god of secrets only known to one and himself for not telling of her weaknesses. Nara-O was disturbed and even more cryptic than usual.

The goddess of paperwork frowned at him. "I thought he claimed he just underestimated her? Of course, he says that every time he spars with Tien Yu." Six hands clenched tightly in anger. She had that blasted goddess, her new daughter and her whole group at her whim. How could it have changed from her perfect path?

"One of my agents was watching from the crowd that day. It was a splendid fight in which Tachi-Kun, god of war of the Central Domain lost in such a manner to only lose a slight bit of honor. To an unknown godblooded." Chejop gave her a very flat look. "A ticket to your duel has been sold to the Maiden of Endings."

Ryzala blanched, then regained her composure. "So she has come to see the end of this upstart goddess."

"She is almost certainly going to be there to see the end of one goddess, that is true. But she usually only stirs from the Great Game for more... interesting matters. She had even been winning this week."

"This is an honor duel. You could not be thinking of interfering," the goddess of bureaucracy asked in a bland tone.

"How you equip your champion is not interfering. It is merely prudence and forethought."

"You are thinking I should pick a champion?" Ryzala seemed quite surprised at that.

"Ryzala, she is a god of warfare that defeated one of the major gods of war in creation as a 'demigoddess' and two Second Circle demons. Unless you want to be utterly humiliated and have your judgement overturned in a public manner, you had better consider matters closely." The ancient Sidereal glared at her and waited until she nodded.

Perhaps he could salvage this matter. If only she would let him.

The Crimson Temple Amphitheater of Combat (dedicated to Mars, of course) was more than full, something that had not happened in decades. Saturn sat up in the overlooking box, watching things impassively from behind her veils.

Chejop Kejak walked in to be just another 'attendant' that basked in her rare presence. The other, sycophant gods were almost fawning over the powerful goddess.

"Chejop, sit beside me," Saturn said.

"Hopefully not in my seat, sister," the deep, powerful voice of Mars asked with a hint of a smile.

"Maiden of War, I had not realized you were going to be present," the old Sidereal said calmly.

Mars raised an eyebrow at that. "Ah, right. I don't have to buy a ticket to my own temple. You should have considered that possibility."

"And I had thought you too caught up in the game, taking advantage of Saturn's presence here," the cagey old mortal said.

"Luna is considering a quite complicated move and the Unconquered Son was happy to grant an exception of a turn for a minor penalty," Mars explained as she removed her silver and red helmet. "Seems like quite the spectacle.

Chejop was not even surprised when the other three maidens entered in a moment. The scantily clad Venus was being gregarious and waving her hand to emphasize her points, while Mercury just nodded at her comment. Jupiter merely followed in silently. All five maidens! The only way this could be worse is if Luna and the Unconquered Sun had come along.

"The betting is quite fast and furious, eh Mercury?" Venus suddenly exclaimed. She flopped into a chair in an untidy (but quite sexy) sprawl. "Don't you feel the love in the air?"

The old man frowned ever so slightly. Love? There were an awful lot of gods and spirits here. Ticket sales had been brisk and had overwhelmed the office. "Love of entertainment, perhaps," he said cautiously.

"Denesandor is well represented today, as is Lookshy," Jupiter noted blandly.

Chejop nodded. "Ah, I had not realized she was so popular in that city not of her own." All five maidens... When was the last time this had happened?

A perfect fanfare rang out from hidden horns as Ryzala entered from the victor's entrance opposite the ruling booth. Shelinaria entered from underneath the challener's banner, as she had less counts of wins and not in any true duels.

Ryzala was wearing her silver and jade green armor, her six hands at rest behind her back. Her eyes were taking in the thousands of lowly gods that must have paid a pretty penny for their seats. She only half paid attention to the master of ceremonies until the point came to declare if the insult could be apologized and a peaceable resolution negotiated.

"The only satisfaction can be born through combat," the goddess of bureaucracy intoned formally.

"Declare your champions or that you stand here under your own banner of combat," the Huna-Mi, the god of the Herald of War, called out.

"I call upon Tachi-Kun, God of Central Combat, to take my honor up upon this field of battle and to carry enlightenment unto the barbarian that has invaded creation," Ryzalla the goddess of bureaucracy declared.

He appeared with the roar of a dragon and a burst of flame the eight feet tall and covered in starmetal, super-heavy plate armored form appeared, showers of sparks falling theatrically.

Shelinaria watched on politely. "I shall champion myself," the glowing-haired goddess proclaimed clearly.

"Then, by the power vested in me by the grace, power and wisdom of The Unconquered Sun, fight!"

Chejop Kejak narrowed his eyes in concentration. Their postures were perfect. Tachi-Kun knows that to cross swords with his opponent was to court a greater failure than in centuries. This was no spar match for points of honor

Tachi-Kun and Shelinaria both charged in, covering the ground almost instantly. His massive sword burst into flame as he slammed his sword home against her much smaller sword. It vibrated heavily even as the fire blasted straight into her face. The native war god frowned at that. She had dodged that last time.

But that was because normal fire was not much of a hinderance any more to her. Her armor glowed ever so slightly, but Shelinaria herself was totally unharmed. Her riposte drew first blood, the tip cutting his neck in the gap of his armor. The cheers of crowd erupted loudly.

"Defensively minded," Mars noted aloud to the goddesses. "I wonder how immune to fire she really is?"

Chejop Kejak narrowed his eyes. "Defense does not win a battle," he stated forcefully.

Venus raised one exquisite eyebrow at that declaration. That was very... emphatic.

The scarlet armored war goddess was just as surprised as her sister. "A balance is always required."

Tachi-Kun had decided to try and overpower her with his strength, hammering down with his massive grimcleaver. Shelinaria was deflecting it to the sand next to her. Left, right then right again. The native war god narrowed his furious eyes, carefully husbanding his strength for a grueling fight.

For five minutes, the crowd roared and shouted as the two gods struck back and forth, lightning quick and with impossible strength.

"It appears it is time for more than brute beating on each other," Shelinaria noted as she disengaged just a moment.

"Trickery will not avail anything but showing that you are a unfair, craven coward," Tachi-Kun said dismissively.

"And that, Central God of War, is probably why you lose. There may be rules to war, but it should never be fair." She was floating backwards as she suddenly faded from sight.

Tachi-Kun blinked in surprise. Then he made a snorting noise. "That was foolish. Almost all gods can sense the unseen." He narrowed his eyes behind his visor, feeling out for the essence of living beings. Two, moving to either side not even trying to hide well. Treachery as another person joined the battle?

Light footprints were appearing in the soft sand, but Terrible Mountain Cutter lashed out, once against each of the invisible girls. The clank of metal on metal was gratifying as he forced both to appear.

"Well played," they both said in a voice that hinted at grudging respect. They both then lashed out in tandem, the black sword in her hands aiming to spill his essence upon the sands of challenge. His sword blocked one attack, but the other opened cuts on his arm.

The main war god of the Realm frowned under his helm. They were both real? Perhaps something shaped into existence? "A crude clone will be unveiled shortly."

"I'm afraid it is nothing quite so simple," Shelinaria stated from both mouths. "We are both one and many. A veritable army of one." She had to grin at that statement. Of course, she was not going to mention the most glaring weakness of this power. As long as there was more than one of her, she had to split her concentration between each different action and she was almost unable to use any new power or boon.

"That would be a useful charm to learn or create," Tachi-Kun admitted even as he tried to use his massive size against the much shorter goddess to smash her utterly.

That was the signal for a new stage of battle, one of brute power and pure skill, as the crowd cheered each blow.

Chejop Kejak frowned, as this felt too simple. "For being so cunning, she is being rather direct." Oh how he wished that he dared to empower himself to know what was actually going on. But that could cause a mistrial or worse. Or even worse, insult the Maidens here with his presumption.

"That is a secret," Jupiter said as she studied the brutal fight.

That was not comforting to the ancient sidereal.

Three of the sisters all turned to stare at Jupiter. Venus narrowed her eyes. "She's going to hold it against us that we aren't seeing it. Damn secrets."

Mercury just had a cherubic smile. "Now now, I'm sure she'll just want a favor in the Great Game."

"That's worse," the lush goddess said as she continued lounge even as she leaned against Mars.

Mars just sighed at their antics.

The crowd roared even louder as Tachi-Kun finally struck a lethal blow to one of his foes, causing her to melt away as if she were made of fog under a scalding sun. His angry, burning eyes turned to Shelinaria. "Now you will fall."

"No, Tachi-Kun. This day is not yours," Shelinaria said as her blue-green eyes glared back at him, glowing ominously.

"I am the champion of heaven, protector against malicious gods of other realms. Fate burns within me and I will destroy you!" he roared as he charged forward. Suddenly, he actually overmatched her in skill and intensity.

The ancient sidereal smiled thinly, mirrored by Ryzala, Lady of Bureaucracy and Paperwork, Shogun of the Department of Celestial Concerns.

Shelinaria found herself desperately fending off attacks, even as more and more blows seemed to find gaps in her defense. Leg, arms and several gashes in her torso showed his deadliness of his grimcleaver. She pulled back ten feet. Narrowing her eyes, she asked, "Would you grant mercy to your defeated foe?"

"No! You are an abomination and will be purged from Yu-Shan and Creation," Tachi-Kun snarled out, infuriated and the throes of his role as Champion of Yu-Shan and Ryzala. With that he roared and charged, slamming down in a perfect Avalanche Sundering Death From Above.

The roar from the crowd was deafening, angry and ugly as the goddess fell limply to the ground from the great rent in her shoulder.

The leader of the Bronze Faction noted out of the corner of his eyes that Saturn nor Mars had moved to proclaim the victor. Chejop Kejak was stoic in his anger at the ancient magics that kept people from interfering during the duels, because they also interfered with knowing what was going on inside the arena floor.

The slain form of the young goddess wafted away like a dream as Tachi-Kun realized he had been tricked. "There were three," he realized belatedly. Two to be obvious, and the final one that worked to keep itself from his senses. It was a bitter medicine to swallow, to realize he had been tricked.

The sound of two massive, metal shod booted greaves hitting the sand with a heavy thud silenced the crowd.

"Damn you," Tachi-Kun raged in a loud, anguished voice as he spun back around.

Massive silver and steel finished swirling around the now visible form of Shelinaria as she donned her colossus armor, having it create a massive grandclaive for her own hands. "I will offer you what you refused me, mercy. Surrender, Tachi-Kun, and I will not slay thee." He should be overextended and unable to perfectly defend himself finally. She was actually quite equal in size to him now.

She was trying to scare him into giving up? She must be weaker than she was trying to appear. "You foolishly overestimate your intelligence if you think size will intimidate me, alien goddess. I spit upon your mercy and shall stand my ground. It is your essence that will be spilled upon this holy ground."

With that he roared as she charged forward, his grimcleaver lit up with the purity of his fury and purpose. He never realized his mistake, as he had impugned on something unforgivable, the goddess's intelligence.

Her massive, fifteen foot tall armored figure spun with her perfect grace to smash in a much, much stronger blow, actually staggering the shorter eight foot figure in super-heavy dragonplate armor back down to one knee.

"Then no mercy it is," Shelinaria proclaimed even as she surged forward, the faux-grandclaive in her grip glowing a baleful red as it smashed through his defenses in a move that was so perfect that even Mars narrowed her eyes at it.

Tachi-Kun stared at the massive sword that had been driven through his chest with ten feet of its length. He tried to take a breath, but his essence was already fleeing this life. His form melted into its ephemera, starting to be slowly drawn to his shrine temple in the Imperial City back in Creation.

That was halted as one massive gauntlet took hold of his insubstantial form. Shelinaria let her colossus armor fade away, even as she continued to hold the tatters of her opponents soul. "Mars, patron maiden of war, I beseech your judgement. Should I grant Tachi-Kun the mercy he refused me, to let him be reborn in his temple? Or should I slay him as he would slay myself? Or finally, should I demand oaths to forestall his animosity?"

The scarlet armored goddess stared down at her, angry at being put on the spot. But it was a political measure and modestly cunning also. Her scarlet eyes were shadowed deep under her helm as she thought furiously. Finally she smiled as she stood up, decision made. "He gave no mercy and championed the status quo. Grant no mercy."

Ryzala and Chejop Kejak felt their stomachs drop heavily. That was a blatant signal of Mar's displeasure with Ryzala and her department.

Venus whistled appreciatively. "Is that why you are here, sister Saturn?"

Mercury gave her sister a look of 'no duh'. "This is a major ending and the start of a whole new political landscape. And the death of major god of war..."

The sound of a sword ending the final ember of life of Tachi-Kun was shocking, leaving the amphitheater full of lesser gods in absolute silence.

Ryzala stood still as she realized her plans were ruined and her authority now tainted. It would take a long time and much resources to recoup from this. With a snarl, it dawned on her that the malcontents within the Terrestrial Bureau would grow very bold indeed. All from a minor push of paperwork. All because of a fool's pride! Damn that Tach-Kun!

She suddenly had a chill, as she remembered a time when this sort of 'mistake' came through the bureaucracy. Usually when some of the more cunning Solars were using them in a proxy battles. And that was a chilling thought that made her angry.

Shelinaria met the most powerful non-Incarnae's angry eyes unflinchingly. She then nodded her head, turned and then walked off. Once she was out of sight and into the long entry hall she stopped and leaned her back against the cool, red-flecked stone wall. Her stomach was a knot of worry, as hard and heavy as iron.

That had been beyond horrible. She had not intended Tachi-Kun's death, as that would make revenge minded enemies that she had no desire to create.

It appears she had underestimated what Mars would do. And the elder goddess's anger had been palpable.

"Mommy!" Athene was not quite ballistic in speeds, but only just. Her arms wrapped around the alien goddess's neck tightly.

Tien Yu nodded to herself, her ancient eyes studying the young woman. "Your first killing outside of battle?"

Shelinaria nodded slowly.

"Let us depart for my home. Friends and family do soothe the troubled soul," the dusky-skinned goddess stated as she put a gauntlet of obsidian metal upon her shoulder comfortingly.

Back in the stadium where all the lesser gods and elemental spirits were clamoring and gossiping, Chejop Kejak was staring blankly at the packed sand. He had no time to waste, but must take the time to think of something. This was dire and may affect all Sidereals.

This would require contacting major conventions. At least twenty-five people to create a new convention, dealing with the unprecedented situation! They had integrated themselves into Yu-Shan for so long that changes of this magnitude were... dangerous.

Chejop nodded to himself, then almost started in surprise as he realized Saturn was standing up to leave.

For just a second, he considered that, but put the matter of her waiting to witness the ending as merely watching the crowd. She could be rather inscrutable at times. Chejop Kejak stood up himself as he marshalled his thoughts to rally the might of the Bronze Faction. They needed to engineer a plan to deal with this uncertain future.

Stepping out of the shadows between two lesser gods of northern ice, a cloaked figure wearing a silver mask appeared to be looking in the direction of the exit.

Then with a fleetness that belied his many centuries of age, The Emissary stood up. Finally, after centuries of work, the first step in destroying Ryzala had fallen.