a tale from the Aspect Wars Θ
The two had been walking and talking for some time away from Memphis and Ptah had been manipulating their path until they had come to what appeared to be a forest along the edge of the Desert. “That is the Great Forest. A manifestation of all of the World’s greatest forested regions, jungles, rainforests, and other planted regions. We are expected there. As they approached the Great Forest, the smell of immense age wafted from the Forest. The air of the Desert was dry, crisp with a light metallic taste, the forest’s scent was cooler, mustier, like an old closet filled with woolen sweaters, still but not unpleasant.
As they grew closer, the size of the immense trees became more apparent, from a distance they appeared to be the size of a strong man, but when they were closer, it was clear they were much, much larger. It would take twenty men, arm to arm to encircle even the smallest of these trees. The trees vanished into the sky and covered the sun allowing only the tiniest spots of light to reach the ground. Great eagles were also seen flying in the canopy, each, incredibly large, some the size of a small airplane.
As they left the Desert behind and moved deeper into the forest, the sense of age only increased and they walked until they had come to an area that seemed older, the trees more bent, great spider webs were woven through the canopy, whispering their secrets, waving in an unfelt breeze.
“Welcome, weary travelers to my land,” said a great voice from apparently nowhere. Lumumba looked around but could see no one speaking, and the voice seemed to come from everywhere.
“Look up, my son,” Ptah had already found an immense stump to sit on and was pointing skyward.
Lumumba looked up and was surprised to see the largest spider he had ever seen dangling just a few feet from his head. It was the size of truck and its eight eyes, burned with intelligence. Lumumba could feel its will pressing down upon him, a physical presence, making the air thick and his movement slow. He wanted to move his hand to invoke his Ka, but he simply could not move his fingers at all.
“So this is the savior, the protector of mankind, the one we have been waiting for nearly a thousand years? He certainly does not look like much to me. As a matter of fact, I think he is an arachnophobe to boot.” The great spider moved with an alarming agility for something so large, and swung itself down to land in front of Lumumba. Its eight eyes never lost their intensity, as the spider made its way around him, viewing him from all sides. “I thought he would be taller.”
“You say that about all the heroes, Anansi. I am a respectable four feet tall and it has not held me back any,” Ptah responds with a jocular tint to his tone. This eases Lumumba’s fear of the giant spider plucking his clothing and his new staff with its glistening razor sharp pedipalps.
“Yes, boy, that glistening substance is venom; enough in each bite to slay a thousand men. A single touch from me and you would be dead before you knew it. No, I am not a spider. I resemble one, but a spider my size could not exist where you come from. Consider me the iconic representation of what all spiders imagine themselves to be, awe-inspiring, powerful, killing machines. And no, I am not reading your mind, your face says everything.”
“And let’s not forget humble and full of grace.”
“You scare the boy in your way and I scare him in mine, Ptah.”
“Did your master tell you about me, Horus-ka?” hissed Anansi as it waved its forelegs around Lumumba.
It was hard for Lumumba to listen to Anansi’s voice, it caused him to want to run away and never stop, so filled with menace, its very presence confounded his concentration. Lumumba watched as he began to sense the weaving of the threads of magic. “Yes, sir, he did mention you in passing when he talked about well known deities of the African continent. He said, you were a known liar and scoundrel. And that if I were to meet you in person, to not trust a single thing you said to me unless you swore on your ancestors first.”
“He said what?” roared Anansi, his huge forelegs waving faster around Lumumba, his body tense and hair all over his form stood erect and crackled with what appeared to be electrical energy. “A liar, and a scoundrel, not to be trusted, eh? Did he tell you that I stole the moon and the stars for man, did he tell you that I liberated all of the stories of the world for humanity, so that you would have something to do around your fires for the last fifteen thousand years? Did he tell you that without me, you would not have fire, since the gods wanted to keep it for themselves?”
The air in the clearing was still as Lumumba considered his answer. Lying to deities was almost always the wrong thing to do, since most could tell when you were. But Ptah did mention that diplomacy when discussing them was always the best choice since gods were known to be a bit thin-skinned, sensitive about their exploits and capricious in the response to how they are seen by humans. Lumumba decided to go with candor. He hoped Ptah would step in before anything bad happened.
“Yes, sir, he did tell me some of those things. He said that you stole the stars but spilled them on your way out of heaven so they scattered throughout the sky. He mentioned that you borrowed the sun because you lost your way coming out of the underworld and forgot to put it back when you were done. He also mentioned that you did liberate all of the stories of the world, but you did it so that you would have people pay you to hear them. On your way to the market, it was said that the stories fell into the river from the calabash you carried them in and were lost, found by beggars and fishwives who used them to get money from people. On the matter of fire, he mentioned that you did steal fire for us, but only because you took pity on us one day when we were freezing and you did not have a warm place to stay having been kicked out of Heaven again and so you gave us fire, so you could be warm.” Lumumba had begun to regret his decision as he felt the energy of Anansi building in front of him, its claws waving closer and closer to his body. He dared not move since the claws were sweeping all around him front to back, faster and faster.
Ptah snickered and turned away from Anansi, taking a sip of water to hide his laughter.
“So he did, did he? Anansi whispered. A deep breath followed with Anansi sounding just a little bit contrite. “Well, so that the truth be known, he has not lied. Not once. All of those things are as you say. I am a selfish deity who happens to benefit others while I am trying to benefit myself. As I have done now. He is ready, Ptah.” Anansi stopped waving his claws over Lumumba and backed away.
“I call you Horus-Ka, the spirit of Horus. Your next answer will determine the fate of men and gods. When confronted by evil, do you use the force of arms or the strength of will to resolve the problem?”
Horus-Ka looked to Ptah but his face was stony and unresponsive. “Sir, –”
“I am Anansi, The Weaver of Fate, Teller of Tales, Trickster of the Gods, Defender of Man, I am no man. Call me as I am, Kwaku Anansi,” interrupted Anansi with enough force to nearly knock Horus-Ka from his feet.
“Forgive me Kwaku Anasi, Ptah, Father to the Gods, I have been taught when confronting evil that force of arms is almost never the only solution to a problem, and that truly winning the battle relies on a keen eye, a strong mind, a full heart, a ready wit and a forceful will. I will only use force of weapons when no other avenue presents itself. This I pledge to you, my masters.” As Horus-Ka completed his statement, two circles of fire formed with a bridge of flame connecting them.
The circle around Horus-Ka was filled and surrounded with a variety of cartouches each flickering in multi-colored flame, the second circle about ten meters away was much larger and opened to a vista similar to the Great Forest Horus-Ka had seen earlier in the day with one vital difference. A giant creature seeming to be comprised of earth tore through the Forest and approached the barriers that kept the Forest and the Real World separate. If the scale were to be believed, this creature stood over a thousand feet tall, towering over the redwoods of the Great Forest. Giant Eagles and tiny men sitting on those eagles seemed to be engaging the creature unsuccessfully. One tower had already fallen and when three of them were toppled, the creature would be able to cross into the world of Men.
“That is your first great task, Horus-Ka. You must protect the world of Men. It is too close to the boundary for any of us to be of any help to you. Your gifts and your training will need to be enough. Know that the people you see there are denizens of the Spirit World, when they die, they fall from the cycle of life, never to return. They need you to stop this creature. If it pierces the boundary, it will cause a massive earthquake wiping out the Atlantic coast of Africa, South America and parts of the North American continent.”
“Who could have done this, how is this even possible? Ptah, you said that the Compact prevented magic like this from even working in the world of Men?
“These creatures do not obey the Compact and have begun their assault on our world. They have begun a battle which will pit all of the Spirit Realms and the World of Men against each other, and when the White Host, the Cold Gods and Demon of Babylon have exhausted themselves, they will destroy the victors. This opening volley will liberate the Demon and you cannot allow that. If she is freed too soon, things will not be in place. Ptah, what of your brothers and sisters?”
“They are hidden in the world of Men with no memory of who they are, it is their only chance of survival and the only chance there will be some gods left when this Scourge is done. We are the last, and Horus-Ka, son of man and gods, you must be our weapon. Otherwise we have none. As a man, you may go places even gods fear to tread. Now go, we shall buy your freedom with our lives, if it comes to that.”
The clearing was suddenly lit from the distance as beams of cold white light streaked through the trees and illuminated the webbing of the clearing. Screams of agony and rage are heard in the distance.
“I do not think they like the decorating I left for them. It is so hard to find venom laced webbing these days.” Anansi turned to Ptah. Make ready my brother, my traps will not hold them long.” Anansi leapt into the trees, and skittered across a web work hidden in the canopy. “Horus-Ka, the weavings of fate upon you are strong, I wove them myself. But you were given a thread of Fate before I met you. That fate I could not change. Be strong and in your darkest hour know that Fate is your ally, even if you cannot believe it at the time. Farewell, son and spirit of Horus.”
Ptah turned to Horus-Ka and took a necklace from his bag. It held an icon of a disk with the Eye of Ra upon it. “When I am gone, you will be unable to return here without this talisman. Only Ra will remain behind to protect the Spirit World because he is safe within his chariot of fire. All of the souls here will depend on you once we are gone. Now go. Make us proud.
“Is that it? No ideas, no clues how to defeat the thousand foot tall colossus? ”
“If heroism were easy, everyone would do it.” Ptah’s armored hand snatches a spiny arrow from the air, mere inches from Horus-Ka’s face. “I am confident you will do what is necessary. Go.” And with that Ptah pushes Horus-Ka into the second circle of flame and into his destiny.
“And now I go to mine. Anansi save some for me.”
“There are plenty to go around, my brother. You know I could not undo what Fate had given him.”
“I know, but you gave him a chance to save the world first.”
The number of lights in the forest increased and the number of eyes those lights came from doubled. And doubled again; and again. Soon the forest was lit and there was no darkness. Ptah and Anansi held the portal open until Horus-Ka arrived. Then the portal closed and was sealed, unable to be opened again. After that moment, no one without the Eye of Ra would be able to enter or leave the spirit realm. This would not help Ptah, who armored with a mighty staff whose head of Anubis, slew any that it touched instantly, a magnificent flaming helm which shot forth beams of the light of Ra, incinerating all it shown upon, whose thews allowed him to strike each hexapedal creature and slay them with a single blow and mighty Anansi, whose webs, fangs, claws, and venom destroyed dozens of these creatures a second, and it was still not enough. Both of these beings were soon overwhelmed and the number of their enemy soon exceeded their ability to slay them, formidable though they both were.
But they were not trying to win. They simply needed to buy some time. This was not the real battle. The real battle was being fought in the heart of a boy they rescued twenty years ago against a monstrosity of stone and magic. Anansi projected a blast of venom and hurled a star from the sky upon a cluster of the enemy. His venom seared their stony flesh and the star destroyed then by the dozens. But after a day and a night, he had begun to tire. Standing upon a mound of the dead, he and Ptah were surrounded and exhausted.
The six legged creatures fell back for the first time in two days. A man-like creature strode forward, lit by the light of glowing sigils. He had two winged serpents flying over his shoulders. His body was gnarled and bent, but glowed with boundless power. He wore an elaborate headdress and metallic bracers on his arms and feet. His face was covered but the area of the headdress where his face might be was illuminated with a pale light which showed the face in shadow, a long aquiline nose and a cruel sharp jawline. His voice was liquid menace and if a human were listening he would have heard a language thought dead, the tongue of the Mayan Olmecs. “Never send a dog to do a man’s job.” The two serpents turned toward Ptah and Anansi and opened their mouths. A sound like the rattling of a thousand bones of the dead being ground to dust, slowly, agonizingly streamed toward the two gods.
Anansi, reached heavenward again and pulled another star from the firmament. The star streaked toward the forest. Exhausted by this final effort, Anansi fell still holding the star only with his will alone.
Ptah’s helm shown again with Ra’s Light but it weakened and guttered. Ptah moved the last few steps toward Anansi and he could hear the star’s imminent arrival. The Great Forest was lit from above as the star grew in the night sky. The remaining hexapeds turned their eyes skyward and the Olmec directed his will upon Ptah and Anansi. And then, Ptah’s light went out and a star incinerated the Forest.
Anansi, Ptah and Horus-Ka are all characters who appear in The Aspect War – Chapter 5: The Spirit Army. You can read the entire tale at the link.
The painting (which happened independently of my story, I just thought it was amazing and parallel this scene amazingly well) was created by a young polish artist who goes by the name Cinoslaw. At the link you will find other really incredible artwork as well. He retains all copyrights to his work.