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‘Do you understand?’ Thunder boomed where no lightning dared to precede it. The bleak, grey landscape intermittently gave way to odd vignettes filled with torture or incomprehensible creatures, but Cahden Joudaar did his best to ignore this. He failed miserably. Flower petals as red as recently spilled blood caught his eye. ‘It is like blinking. Like breathing. I do it because I must.’

‘You are the Lifefather,’ Joudaar mused, ‘It stands to reason that you create life with ease.’ The hulking god nodded. Joudaar could not help but notice the sadness that enveloped the god.

‘But I am stranded here,’ Kronus rested his hand on his empty quiver. ‘And once a soul crosses the Veil another takes its place.’ All of a sudden they were in a forest clearing, surrounded by trees with tall, straight trunks. Wagons and makeshift shelters surrounded them. A girl was screaming and being comforted by a bloody-faced boy and his equally bloody father. Two grey shadows lingered next to a cat.

The scene vanished before Joudaar could fully process what was happening. He blinked furiously, ‘Couldn’t you just leave when a soul arrives?’ It felt decidedly odd to be having a conversation with a god, but Joudaar was still not convinced this wasn’t all a hallucination due to severe head trauma.

‘I tried,’ Kronus heaved a sigh as he leaned on his large axe. ‘I tried. Many times.’ He looked more like a weary warrior than a god. Defeated and exhausted both mentally and physically. His hair was more grey than blonde and his face was lined more by age than battle scars. ‘I believe you are all still reaping the rewards of the last attempt.’

Joudaar swatted at a small, red frog that had settled on his shoulder. He wondered what the god meant. ‘Rewards?’ Another frog had alighted on his person. Where the blazes are they coming from? He shook his foot in an attempt to dislodge the amphibian. ‘I wouldn’t call anything that has happened in the last eighty years a reward.’

‘Aye. You called it a calamity or disaster. Some called it the End, others the Desolation. Your kind has an interesting way with words.’

Joudaar jumped at the sound of a sharp intake of breath. It took him a moment to realise he had made the noise. ‘Eighty years ago Mount Sour erupted in ash and liquid fire,’ Joudaar thought back to the world that he had known. The constant rain and ash clouds that block out the sun immediately came to mind. He then thought of the strange weather patterns, but that was as far as he got. An explosion of sound and movement sent him tumbling backwards.

After regaining his senses, Joudaar noticed a creature made of muscle and teeth was bearing down on Kronus. It moved on six legs, each as thick as a tree trunk, with a surprising grace. The creature’s giant head swung back and forth hypnotically as it made a low rumbling noise.

What in the frozen hells is that? Joudaar regained his footing and slowly began looking around for a weapon. The rumbling turned into a slow hiss and culminated in a loud crack. It was accompanied by an acrid, black smoke that left Joudaar choking for breath. The creature was no longer in his sight. Teleportation? Joudaar was amazed that such a beast could master complex magic. Deafening cracks, like a hundred whips being used, overwhelmed his senses. Each was punctuated with smoke and the stench of death.

Taking a deep breath, Joudaar drew the rune for fire on his palm. He knew there was not source of fire nearby so he drew upon his considerable willpower and the very essence of his soul to bend aether to his will.

‘No!’ Thunder boomed as Kronus threw himself into action.

CW SY 2013