((Okay, so this got away from me in a massive way. hS, feel free to cut some of this out of your final doc collection if you think my characters would end up dominating too much of the event. I can just post my overall story separately on my dreamwidth. And Iximaz, I hope you don't mind me describing the audience at a Kord concert. Hyenas live in matriarchal societies, so I think any god who is either bio-female or god-aspect-female would have been able to sway Alfajiri. Kord and the Ellimist were the only gods he could listen to without derailing the plot. But I can change anything about that scene you feel is inaccurate; just let me know.))
((Let's see if this all fits in one post . . .))
Alfajiri padded around the corner. “Laquisha, we have a problem . . .”
“Okay, Alfa, I know you’re literally a hyena, but you still shouldn’t just walk into girls’ dorm rooms. That is a no-kay thing in human society!”
“Sorry,” he muttered, “but Anne and Numbuh 3721 and I went to the cafeteria like we had planned, and we overheard that there’s a bunch of kids who have started calling themselves gods.”
“Uh. Wow.” Laquisha got up from where she had been laying on the floor. She and Wilma had been working on wanted posters of Ilcharheen to plaster around Headquarters. “My kneejerk thought would be to call that a prank, but . . . it’s hard to picture Ilcharheen going along with something like that, huh?”
“Right.” Alfajiri let his head droop, eyebrows furrowed. “That, plus the fact that the gods are putting on magical concerts.”
A snap cracked through the room. Wilma let the destroyed marker drop to the now-ruined poster and wiped her inky hand on her shorts. “Well,” she said, standing up. “Well, well, well,” and she tilted her head back and forth each time as she said it.
Laquisha huffed. “Wilma, please, this is not the time. This is serious!”
“Oh, I think this is the perfect time!” snapped Wilma. Her constant t-shirt—showing a targeting reticle hovering over paired eighth notes—was on full display. “This is exactly what I’ve been warning you idiots about. Music is evil!”
“I think she’s right, Laquisha! After we found out about the concerts, we went to spy on one that the time guy was putting on. And after it was over, Anne and Numbuh 3721 didn’t even want to help find Ilcharheen any more! They were kind of babbling about how time is too precious to lose, and they had to go live in the moment, and they wouldn’t even listen to me. They just wandered off without me!”
Wilma was nodding sagely. “Yes, obviously, music is corrupting. This is old news. The question is, how do we stop these so-called gods from polluting HQ?”
“This is way beyond, guys,” Laquisha said. “We need to go tell Miss MacKinnon . . .”
“Wrong.” Wilma gazed smugly at her fingernails.
“. . . and find Mollie and Ollie, they can get Vania and Doc on board to help us . . .”
“Can’t trust them.” Wilma dropped the smug act and glared hard at Laquisha. “Can’t trust anyone. You understand that?” She poked her classmate hard a few times, right in the collarbone. “This is mind control. We don’t know who’s been affected!”
Laquisha frowned. “We can’t handle a problem like this on our own. There have to be some people unaffected. Alfa is fine!”
“Yep, I’m still me,” said Alfajiri, “other than being very sad because I miss my best friend and I don’t know what’s happened to her.” He groaned.
The animosity between the girls swiftly faded, and they looked at each other. Laquisha said, “All right, let’s compromise. Let’s hit up the next concert any of these ‘gods’ are performing. If it’s Ilcharheen, we can try to nab her once the show ends and try to find out what’s going on. If not, we’ll watch the adults around us and look for ones who aren’t being affected. Then they can alert the Flowers to do something about this.”
Wilma had groaned at the idea of attending a concert, but she didn’t argue.
Wilma was soon groaning again, hands clutched over her ears as Kord’s musical performance filled the auditorium. In the seats around her and her classmates, fistfights were breaking out left and right. Wilma was grateful for all the cheering and yelling, as it made it easier for her to keep the actual music from entering her mind.
“This is pointless!” she yelled to her right. Alfajiri was next to her, with Laquisha on his other side. “That tiger thing definitely isn’t Ilcharheen, and all the people here are idiots hurting themselves over music! Let’s just go!”
Alfajiri, with his sensitive predator ears, rapidly nodded his head. Laquisha just stared forward, however.
“Laquisha? Let’s go!” Alfajiri nudged her arm with his muzzle.
“You know what?” Laquisha said, barely loud enough for the others to hear.
“I can do . . .” She took a deep breath. “ANYTHING! I can do exactly ANYTHING! Anything I want! I don’t have to always be the responsible one! I’m not obligated to resolve disputes between my classmates all the time! And when I grow up, I can be WHATEVER I WANT! WHOOOOO!” She stretched her arms up, fists balled like Superman’s when he flies, and charged straight out of the auditorium.
Her classmates stared at her empty seat for a moment. Then Wilma squacked, “Holy crap, after her!” They charged down the aisle, Alfajiri easily slipping through agents’ legs. Wilma, however, was having to duck between fighting agents, and took a fist right above her jaw before she could make it through.
Once out the auditorium doors, Alfajiri and Wilma tried to follow after Laquisha, but Wilma soon had to lean against the generic wall, holding the right side of her head. Alfa gave up the chase and nuzzled her leg. “You okay, Wilma?”
“I just . . . damn, that hurt!” Eyes closed, she rested her forehead gently against the wall, feeling a sheet of paper attached there, waiting for the pounding ache in her head to fade. Eventually, she opened her eyes, and jumped back when she saw sand pouring right in front of her.
“What is this?” she wondered. Distracted from the pain, she ran a finger over the hourglass image. It still felt like paper, but the sand in the hourglass was very clearly flowing from the top to the bottom.
Then she read the poster.
“Wait a minute, ‘Tash.’ That’s that god from Narnia Ilcharheen believes in, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yep!” Alfajiri leaped up in excitement. “Tash the Inexorable! Ilcharheen says he’s pretty cool!”
“And he’s one of the gods doing concerts? No, there’s no way that’s a coincidence. That has to be Ilcharheen, right?”
Alfajiri gasped and his pupils dilated to a hilarious degree. “Of course, yeah!”
Wilma tapped a finger on the poster again. “Tash—ugh! I mean, Ilcharheen is doing a concert later today. Small Auditorium. All right.” She narrowed her eyes and said quietly, “Okay, ‘Tash.’ Let’s find out just how inexorable you and your music really are.” She paused. “Alfajiri, what does ‘inexorable’ mean?”
Hunkered down near the back wall of the Small Auditorium, Alfajiri and Wilma witnessed both Tash’s concert, as well as the confrontation that followed between her, the Ellimist, and two humans. (At least, it appeared to only be two humans to them; they were too far away to hear the different inflections between Julian and Estrid.)
And when Tash erupted upwards into a massive specter, they hunkered down even lower.
Alfajiri was trembling. “What do we do, Wilma? This is so bad! Ilcharheen isn’t acting like herself at all! How will we turn her back?”
Wilma stared at the colossal monster. Saving Ilcharheen was pretty far from her mind, at this point—not that she could tell Alfajiri that. “I’m. Uh. Thinking.” She traced a hand lightly over the anti-music symbol on her shirt. We turn the diamonds back into coal. Finally, she said, “I have an idea. Once we can sneak out of here, we need to find an RC no one’s using. And I need to do some research.”
1 . . .
“Welp, gosh, here I am, a desert-dwelling carnivore that feasts on carrion, very thematically appropriate to any sand-themed death gods from desert nations.” Alfajiri paced back and forth in a corridor that contained the former RCs of the Wrecked Music Department. “It’s such a shame there aren’t any such gods around right now, since I totally know the best desert in the multiverse, and I was about to visit! Sure would be nice to bring a desert god along with meeeee . . .” He trailed off, and peeked inside the nearby RC whose door was ajar. “I don’t think this is working, Wilma!”
“It has too!” Wilma whispered sharply. She was hiding behind a pile of termite-ruined wood that had once been a bunk bed and storage chest. Aside from the immovable console, the rest of the RC was empty and strangely dim, considering there was no light source to begin with. “The Ironic Overpower is supposed to—oh wait, I think we are doing it wrong. Start saying you don’t want anyone to come with you. That should make it work!”
Alfajiri sighed. “Ilcharheen could be anywhere right now . . .”
“We have to keep trying! It’s not like she’s just going to pop up unexpectedly without any input from us!”
“Thou hast called me into an abandoned response center for some strange reason, Wilma Harrison. Here I am. What hast thou to say?”
Wilma sputtered and spun around. There was Tash, indeed. “Hey, Ilcharheen, long time no see! You’re looking . . . real . . . different! In those clothes! How have you been?”
“I am no longer Ilcharheen. Ilcharheen is ended.” She shuffled a bit though, because . . . that wasn’t quite right, was it? Ilcharheen’s story wouldn’t end for a long time . . . yet how could that be, if Tash was here now, and Tash was Inevitable?
“Ilcharheen, please . . .” whined Alfajiri, padding into the room. “We miss you, and we want you to come back!”
Tash flung out her arms, dress swishing around her knees. “Ilcharheen is no more!” she cried, and her hands trembled, because it suddenly didn’t sound true. What was happening?
“Stick to the plan!” Wilma hissed at Alfajiri. To Tash, she said, “Never mind about that! We heard you were into deserts, and we searched the PPC’s records for the best desert there is! Burning hot in the day, freezing cold at night, spiny plants and venomous animals everywhere, and hardly any precipitation. We thought you’d like to visit?”
“Why . . . yes, it sounds excellent.”
“Good, good! I already entered the coordinates, just need to open ‘er up . . .” Wilma backed up towards the wall, leading Tash forwards while pinning Alfajiri in place with a look over Tash’s shoulder. “Here we are, I’ll just hit this button here, and . . . voila!”
The limited practice consoles the students used in school and for the Sprouts opened portals like an anode tv, starting as a point in the center and expanding outwards. But the WMD agents who once used this one had apparently programmed a joke into theirs, as it opened with a string of piano notes, with the generator filling in as the shapes of individual piano keys from top to bottom. Wilma gritted her teeth against the unexpected sound.
“Very well.” Tash stepped closer to the blue glow. Wilma watched her expectantly, not blinking. She heard Alfajiri’s feet moving behind her.
Tash stopped just shy of the portal and frowned. “This is—” But Alfajiri’s shoulder slamming into her back cut her off, and she disappeared into the portal.
Wilma slammed her hand down on the button again, and the portal closed in the same piano keys-style as before. “Yes!” she roared, jumping up and down and pumping her fists in the air. “One down, eleven to go!”
Alfajiri cocked his head. “Wait what? What are you doing? Open the portal back up!”
Wilma froze in mid-hand pump. “Oh. Uh. Slight change to the plan? We’re just going to leave her there for a while, let the Tash parts go away on their own. In the meantime, let’s work on catching the other gods, okay? We’ll check on Ilcharheen again once we get rid of the rest.”
An extremely low-pitched grunt began rolling out of Alfajiri’s throat, as he slowly padded closer to Wilma.
“Whoa, what is that noise? That’s creepy, don’t make that noise at me!”
“You lied,” fumed the hyena cub. “You’re supposed to be helping Ilcharheen! But you’re just trying to lock her out of HQ so she can’t sing any more, huh?”
Wilma scowled. “Well, duh. Hello?” She pointed to her shirt. “This is exactly the kind of thing Mom trained me for. Silence the noise! Turn the hype into hope! Music turns everyone into mindless zombies who can’t think for themselves. You saw it yourself at those concerts!”
“I still have to help my friend!” Alfajiri snarled and leaped forwards.
Wilma screamed, shutting her eyes and wincing against the wall. But all that happened was the sound of a button being smacked, and a lilting piano chord as the portal reopened. Then she screamed again as a tug on her shoe sent her toppling to the floor, and she was dragged across the RC towards the portal. She tried to warn Alfajiri. “Don’t go in there! It’s dangerous!”
But then they were through the portal, on spongy, shifting soil. Trees towered multiple stories over their heads, all twisted into sharp edges and wavering slightly as their trunks and roots continued to spiral and knot before the kids’ eyes. The air reeked of pollens, saps and oils, and everything was wet and hot and slimy like a rainforest. Massive insects wandered endlessly across every visible surface, with a spider the size of a pickup truck hovering a dozen yards away in a massive web, waiting for the insect life to wander too close.
Alfajiri narrowed his eyes at Wilma as she stood up. “This is Tash’s Country?”
“No, that was a lie, too,” Wilma said as she waved hand-sized gnats away from her face. “This is some fantasy forest that’s getting mutated by a magic weapon, so everything is growing out of control. I figured surrounding Ilcharheen with life energy would weaken her Tash powers.”
“Ah, but life and death art connected.” Tash emerged from behind a tree, filth flies swarming around her, though not touching her. “Thou cannot have one without the other. Behold!” She pointed to a tree behind the children.
They looked, and saw a tree just behind the open portal. It was producing fruit at an impossible rate, the flowers swelling into full-bodied green fruits in moments before bursting into juice and dying right on the branch. The ground beneath was littered with sludge, which beetles, ants and flies were greedily swarming over.
“Yes,” Tash continued, “there art much death here. I thank thee for bringing me here.” She made a clawing motion with her outstretched hand and drew it towards her. The sludge began sliding across the floor, prompting Alfajiri and Wilma to scramble across the heaving ground to avoid getting smeared with it.
The sludge rose up to meet Tash, and began coating her body. “And I feel the magic of this forest as well.” Debris began to drift from every direction: feathers and fur and bones, shed skin and dried out exoskeletons, and particles of dirt from untold numbers of previous plants and animals and fungi. “My power grows beyond the reach of the Lion, at last!” All the detritus collected over her, growing into a shifting shell that expanded, more and more, increasing her height. “No longer must I take only the rightful prizes I am allowed! Thou two shall be my first true prey.” She was massive now, towering over them like she had appeared after her concert, but solid rather than smoke. She took a step forward, heavy foot sinking deep into the roiling ground. She boomed out, “Now Tash is the one who declares the end! And all must end!” She reached a massive, fly-swarmed hand for her former classmates, who were both backpedaling towards the portal, eyes locked on Tash.
So that only Tash saw Ananke step out of the glow. And even through her veil, Tash could see the woman was crying. “Yes, Tash, all must end. Even you.” She whispered, but Tash heard her clearly. “I’ll miss you.”
And then Tash was not. Ilcharheen, dozens of feet in the air, began to fall.
Even as she fell, her mind was on the being that had been part of her just a moment ago. “Tash!?” she called out, frantically twisting about, looking for some sign of the deity she had worshipped all her life. “Tash, come back! Tash, help me!”
Then her head landed on an exposed tree root, and everything went dark.
Ilcharheen had no awareness of her friends dragging her out of the twisted forest, through the generic corridors, into the Medical Department. Her mind was lost in a quiet, dark fog, gently bobbing about with no ability to move or see. “Tash,” she tried to say, but the sound of her own voice was muted, shadowy, almost underwater. But she tried again. “Tash. Wasn’t I good enough? Haven’t I been loyal? Why? Why did you take your power away from me?”
“That power was not for you,” a deep voice rumbled. It wasn’t muted at all, but rang clear and strong in Ilcharheen’s ears&mdashif, indeed, it was her ears doing the listening at all.
“Where are you?” She tried to turn, to roll over, but it was like she was dreaming, and couldn’t get herself to move properly. “Please, Tash, come to me! Help me!”
“You’re all right now,” said the voice, and something brushed against Ilcharheen. Immediately, she felt stronger, and reached to grab the furry . . . no, not fur, feathers, of course it was feathers! The feathers of Tash the Inexorable!
She snuggled into the feathers, buried her face in the fluff, and felt so much more secure. “Thank you, Tash.” Her voice was even more muffled now, drifting further from herself than before. “I knew you wouldn’t really abandon me.”
“Never in this world, nor the next.” The owner of the voice wrapped a great arm around Ilcharheen, and she was surprised to discover that Tash’s clawlike bird hands were quite warm and gentle. Her consciousness began to drift . . .
She never quite heard the deep voice say, “Yes, sleep now, Daughter of Eve. You deserve a long rest.”
((Just to explain that forest near the end: that's Krosa from Magic: the Gathering, during a period when a magic-enhancing device called the Mirari was pumping magic straight into the forest floor, leading to Consequences for the life there. I know it's kind of a weird curveball to throw into the RP, but it seemed like a logical train of thought for Wilma to take in trying to negate a death god's power, and Mirari-infected Krosa is just about the most "lively" place I know of in fiction.))
—doctorlit, only now realizing how hilarious it might have been if someone had selected the Ironic Overpower as one of the gods