Chapter Eight

Paris, France; June 29th, 2012

As her ethereal face left his sight, and the shock of her sudden departure subsided, Mainyu smiled pleasantly. She looked exactly like the last time he’d seen her.

Weakness overcame him and he slumped against the mortal woman beside him, searching his new residence for some sign of familiarity. He could find nothing that reminded him of the last time he’d walked the mortal realm. Human bones lined the walls in neat patterns and the hall was lined with torches as its only means of light.

Through the dimness, he’d seen her face, a mirror image from the last time they’d met; only this time, she was alive and well, if not a bit terrified. He’d so hoped that when he returned from his banishment, he would find her this way, as her sister had hoped to make her. He was glad that the High Priestess’s power had proven itself in the end. He was not, however, glad to see Shireen, alive but unconscious, as she took part in stealing his love away yet again.

Her face reminded him of his last day walking the mortal plane before his unfortunate banishment at the hands of Shireen.

***

He’d been hidden beneath the sand, waiting for his last spiteful blow to Ziba’s life to sink in. After this, she would have to finally realize that a life with him was her most prudent option. Before he knew of her intentions to be rid of him, he’d been foolish enough to think that it was her only option. When Bomani’s life had slipped through his vicious claws, Mainyu had never felt so fulfilled. By the end of three days time, when he felt her mournful period should come to a close, he would come to her in the night, assert the full extent of his feelings for her, again, and bring the young priestess back to his home in the netherworld, where they would live as man and wife. It never occurred to him that the mortals in that temple would take fate into their own hands. That his plans would never come to fruition.

He could feel it like a stab to his own heart when he sensed the life leave his mortal love. He’d greatly underestimated Shireen, and he’d learned since then that it was something he would never do again.

As he left to intercept her soul en route to his dwelling, he’d laughed, relishing in the stupidity of the humans. If they’d thought her worldly death would keep her from him, they’d been entirely wrong, but, again, he’d misinterpreted their intentions. The High Priestess, Shireen, had cast a spell from the Book of Eternity, a collection of writings that shouldn’t have ever been seen by a human. He’d played a part in its making, as well as the other Gods, and so the Book should have only been used by them. That Shireen had spoken a word from it was the blackest of blasphemy.

A mournful, inhuman snarl escaped him as he clutched at the chest of the earthly man he’d possessed. Pain was foreign to him, but he found that its elevating degrees were anything but friendly these past weeks. The physical agony he’d dealt with while his self-imposed abrasions healed was nothing in comparison to the absolute anguish that poisoned him, tearing through his veins like fire. His screams grew louder and louder, shaking the ground like the wrath of nature itself. He didn’t concern himself with a worry that if he screamed loud enough he would split the Earth in half, too selfish to look past his own suffering.

He spun once on the spot and erupted suddenly into a cloud of thick, black smoke. Blowing like hurricane winds, he shot toward the Temple of Tehran.

Shireen stood beside the stone altar still, staring down at her sister with tears flowing freely down her face. Her fingers clutched the knife that took Ziba’s life, but her free hand reached forward to push her sister’s eyelids over her flat, blue irises. Color was fast leaving Ziba’s cheeks, but her face was still the most beautiful in all of Persia. The more Shireen stared down at the face she’d grown up with, the more difficult it was becoming to tell herself that Ziba wasn’t sleeping.

One of the priests shrieked, pointing to the door as it dissolved under the black vapor closing in around them. “Shireen!”

Shireen tore her gaze away from the body on the slab to prepare for the attack she’d been anticipating. “Get away from the door!” she ordered, pulling the Book of Eternity into her arms and backing away from the altar.

The priests obeyed, collecting in a line before Shireen so they faced the impending threat.

“Take the hands of those beside you. If we die, we died saving one most dear to us,” Shireen announced, whimpering toward the end as her gaze unintentionally fell, once more, on the faithful departed.

The cloud that had once been Mainyu ate through the door before it materialized into a man they’d all become familiar with over the last few days. He stepped slowly toward them, muscles flexing under the weight of his rage. He wore a single, tattered, black robe, loosely tied over his human body but his bare feet crashed against the ground, dissolving the flooring in footprint-shaped burns. His once-crimson irises were black now, swallowing up the entirety of his eyes. The full force of their startlingly powerful gaze was set on Shireen.

“High Priestess,” he sneered, bowing deeply, mockingly.

As Mainyu straightened up, he outstretched his arm and darkness blocked out the sunrise behind the temple. A cold wind swept through the temple, all at once blowing out the torches that had illuminated the temple. Plunged into near complete the darkness, the humans gathered in the corner could see only by the grayish glow emanating from Mainyu’s skin.

“Do you realize what you have done?!” he snarled, shoving through the line assembled around Shireen.

“I have saved my sister from you!” she retorted, flipping through the pages in her arms until she found the page labeled with a bold, swirling Banishment. Mainyu’s hand struck her throat, lifting her from the ground as easily as if she weighed nothing at all. In her shock, Shireen dropped the book, but her fingers remained pinched on the corner of the page she’d been holding, tearing it noisily from the rest with a ghostly wail. 

She choked on the air trying to force itself into her lungs. Had the situation not been so dire, Mainyu would have laughed. As it was, however, he only smiled viciously. “You have taken away from me the only creature I have ever loved…”

“You cannot love,” Shireen gasped.

The grip around her throat tightened and Shireen grimaced, letting the page in her hand fall weightlessly to the floor below. “Hosrael,” she coughed, gesturing vaguely toward the fallen sheet as she kicked uselessly at Mainyu’s torso. His hand on her flesh was beginning to burn as it dissolved like everything else he touched. Unlike everything else, however, blood began to seep through the space between his fingers, down his arm, and to the floor. Helplessly, the noises coming from Shireen’s throat turned to gurgles as she drowned.

The man behind her dropped to the floor to retrieve the paper and fell back into step beside the other priests. “Angra Mainyu, you have no power here, no power over us, and no power over her. You have no power here,” he read.

As the other priests picked up the chanting, Shireen fell to the floor. Mainyu’s eyes fell on his hand as it became translucent. He swiped at Hosrael, in vain, causing the young man to jump and drop the paper, though he continued to lead them in the chant. Shireen clawed at her throat. Her efforts were futile as the burning didn’t subside and neither did the bleeding.

“I will kill you all!” Mainyu roared as he realized that he couldn’t physically threaten them. The temple shook on its foundation, sending bits of the ceiling falling around them.

With the last bit of strength left in her body, Shireen crawled to the paper lying just out of reach. A beam from the ceiling fell to the ground with a hollow roar, just across the backs of Shireen’s knees, pinning her to the floor.

Blood spewed from the once-glorious High Priestess’s mouth as she shrieked in pain, fisting the broken page from the book in her hand. The ceiling came down harder and faster as Mainyu screamed, “I will make you suffer for this, Shireen!”

Filled with a newfound determination, she unfolded the paper and coughed out the obstruction in her throat. Her eyes were growing dim, but she was just able to make out the words on the page before she murmured, over the rhythmic chanting of the priests, “Mainyu, I banish you from this world.”

With another snarl, Mainyu vanished into thin air as the temple collapsed around the priests standing in the temple.

***

Mainyu wasn’t about to let Ziba slip through his fingers again, he swore as the mortal beside him led him toward the exit, where he’d seen the girl in question escape with Shireen. This time, though, he knew he wouldn’t fail. He was the one with all the power now, which had been proven by the unconsciousness of the High Priestess when he came into being. He wouldn’t allow the witch to corrupt his plans, no matter what force had brought her into this world with Ziba.

“Mortal!” he roared, halting her as they stepped into the light.

Natalia stopped, knowing already that she and this meathead weren’t going to get along well. She cooperated, knowing nothing of the damage he was capable of and not wanting to find out. “Yes, sir?” she asked. Her head had whipped fully to the side before she felt the pain against her cheek. Her body crumpled to the floor.

“Damn it!” she yelled, looking around for what could have hit her.

Mainyu retracted the hand he’d struck her with. “You, vermin, will address me as My Lord. Understood?”

Natalia stared up at him for a long time, wishing she could show him who the vermin was here. She held her tongue, cautiously pulling herself to her feet. “Yes, My Lord,” she spat through clenched teeth.

“Good. Now, bring me to her, mortal, I wish to see my love,” he ordered, starting back into the light.

“My Lord!” she called, catching his arm and pulling him back in. Another strike to her face resounded through the tunnel.

“You are not permitted to touch,” he hissed as Natalia picked herself up off the floor. Her lip burned, swelling around where he’d hit her. She pressed her fingertips to her face, finding blood on her lower lip. She saw red, jumping up to throttle the man before her.

His hand reached, grabbing her neck with a crushing strength.

She kicked to no avail, trying to find the ground with her feet.

“I will not say it again, human, take me to her.”

Natalia fell to the floor in a heap. “But,” she coughed, “My Lord, you are still weak. We must perform the sacrifice before you walk out in the open.”

Mainyu chuckled to himself. “Leave the witch to me. I know exactly how to dispose of her.”

Helplessly, Natalia obliged, and began directing him to where she knew the group would have taken Claire. Mainyu smiled to himself, thinking of all the things he would do once he had his power back. Before anything else, he resolved, he would tear Shireen apart with his bare hands.

Oh, yes, he’d underestimated Shireen before. It wasn’t something he planned on doing again.

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