[When Love Dies] Chapter 3 Part 1

Various Gods and Goddesses have walked the Earth since the beginning of time, helping to shape the future of mankind under the direction of the First God. Then the First is called away to settle a problem on the other side of the universe. When They return in their latest incarnation – a woman going by the name of Tamara – she finds that things on Earth have changed – and not for the better.

Now Trust is dying, Love is growing weaker every day, and it’s up to Tamara to find out why before it’s too late.

On top of that, a couple new Gods have popped up. While this isn’t usually a problem, these two threaten Tamara’s authority with their growing strength, and one of them doesn’t share Tamara’s “live and let live” philosophy.

The other…well, let’s just say, that one presents a different problem.

I wasn’t sure what woke me up, but when I opened my eyes, sunlight was filtering in through the closed blinds — and I wasn’t alone. I felt the mattress dip as someone climbed into bed behind me. I rolled over.

A little boy with tousled brown hair was sitting cross legged next to me. As I watched, he began to change. The lines of his face softened as his hair lengthened, turning a light blonde. There are few gods who can change appearance and gender so easily, and only one who ever took on the form of a child.

I grabbed Dreams and pulled the blankets over our heads, snuggling them close. Dreams giggled and squirmed around, catching me in the stomach with his — no, her — elbow. I poked her side. “Settle down, wiggle worm.”

Another giggle, and skinny arms snaked around my neck, hugging me tight. An image of a child on Christmas Day flittered through my mind. I smiled. “I know you’re excited, but you have pointy elbows and I have a soft stomach.”

This time, the image was of a bouquet of flowers. I pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “You don’t need to apologize, silly.” I felt her changing shape again. The long hair I had felt against the back of my hands disappeared, the presence in my arms changing slightly. I checked — Dreams was a boy again. I dropped another kiss on his forehead. “What are you doing here?”

He shivered and withdrew his arms from around my neck, covering my eyes with his hands.

Across the back of my eyelids, I saw Lizzy as she used to be — long black hair tangling around her feet as she danced in a field of flowers. Behind her, Chris and a frail-looking woman with blond hair were approaching, smiling as they walked hand in hand.

As I watched, more of the gods appeared. The children ran to join Lizzy in the field, while the adults began spreading blankets, talking and laughing amongst themselves.

I frowned. “Dreams, sweetheart.” Dreams appeared next to me in the vision. Here, Dream was in their natural state — a formless void I only recognized by the feel of their essence. “I get that you’re trying to tell me something, but—” And then I saw it.

Something moving against the bright colors of the flowers, heading straight for Lizzy. A snake? I can’t see it, but bite marks appear on both of Lizzy’s legs. I don’t understand. Why isn’t she reacting? She just keeps dancing.

Whatever bit her is moving away. The path it carves through the flowers is bigger now — did it feed off of her? The bite marks aren’t bleeding, but a black line starts spreading from the wound like a spiderweb.

Lizzy stumbles, a look of confusion and then panic on her face as her legs give out beneath her. Chris cries out, running to his daughter. The blond woman follows, and they both kneel at Lizzy’s side. Bite marks soon appear on their forearms, the woman collapsing backwards into the flowers.

The children keep dancing, the adults keep laughing. At one point, I see Joy among the others, but she’s frowning down at the grass. At first, I thought she saw the danger approaching and would cry out a warning to the others, but then she turns and I see that it’s too late. A bite mark stands out on her pale skin, the dark lines just starting to appear.

I jerked upright in bed, breathing hard. Dreams watched me silently. I scrubbed my hands across my face, shivering as an image of glowing red eyes under a bed filtered through my mind. I closed my eyes, Telling him I was scared too would only make his fear worse. Telling him there was nothing to be afraid of would be a lie, and that’s something I won’t do. So I said nothing. A moment later, I felt him leave.

I felt bad that I couldn’t ease his fear, but my mind was already racing, picking apart the vision.

A creature in the grass, I couldn’t push away the idea of it being a snake. It would make sense — a snake in the grass, a hidden threat. But…

The creature hadn’t been hidden — the grass had parted around it, I should’ve been able to see it, but there was nothing there. Either Dreams didn’t know what the danger was, or didn’t know how to express it.

The monster under the bed — fear of the unknown.

Well that answered that. I let myself fall back onto the pillows. Sleep was out of the question, but I didn’t feel like getting out of bed either. The image of the black marks beginning to spread across Joy’s legs wouldn’t let me just lay there, though.

I kicked off the blankets, rushing through a shower — no time for a bath this time. Not if I wanted to track down Insight before Patience got home.

I was in the middle of picking out something to wear when I realized I had forgotten to ask Dreams who else knew about this…whatever. Dammit.

I grabbed the first shirt I saw in the closet and a pair of jeans out of the dresser. Insight and Dreams were practically connected at the hip anyway. Asking her to pass on a message would be easy enough.

I slipped on a pair of sandals and stepped out into my garden. The trees sang me a welcome, calling me to them. I smiled, reaching up to wrap my hand around one of the lower branches. Almost instantly, I could feel the network of roots reaching out beneath the dirt. I sent my awareness flowing through the web of life, looking for the one person who might be able to help.

It took a while, but I finally found her. She was settling down for a nap under a bridge.

There weren’t any other life forces near her, so I gave the tree a loving pat and teleported to the riverside.

“It’s about time you showed up,” Insight grumbled. As usual, she had taken the appearance of an older woman. Her grey hair was mostly hidden under a hair scarf, but there was no hiding those beady brown eyes. She squinted at me. “‘Tamara,’ huh? I’m Abigail, but nobody ever calls me that anymore.” She pat the empty spot next to her.

“What do they call you then?” I asked, taking the offered seat.

“‘Mad Gab’.” The conspiratorial grin melted away with a sigh. She reached out, taking one of my hands in hers. “You know I can’t give you the answers you’re looking for,” she told me. “I’ll help the best I can, of course, but—”

“But the answer must come from myself.” I squeezed her hand. “I know, Abigail.”

“Then let’s get this over with.”

I took a deep breath. The important thing when talking to Insight is asking the right questions. “What would act like a cancer in a god?”

“What does cancer do?”

“It depends. Sometimes it eats away at the body, sometimes it grows out of control, like rot on a tree, and sometimes it’s like an intolerance.”  

“An intolerance?”

I grimaced. “The cells aren’t supposed to be there; they’re not a normal part of the human body. It’s like they’re an invasive fish. They come in and they start eating the good cells until all that is left is themselves.”

“What happens to the cancer cells when the body realizes that they don’t belong?”

“The body rejects them.”

“So…” Insight leaned forward. “Something is taking away the cells that make up a god and is replacing them with something that doesn’t belong, and their body is rejecting them?”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“Have they tried shedding their human form?”

“I don’t know, and they’re too weak to try it now.”

“So something is sapping their power, too?”

“I think it’s a side effect of the cancer, but I don’t even know,” I admitted.

“Let’s treat it as a symptom, and see where it goes. What usually saps our power?”

“Using it too much, being around a conflicting power, going too long without recharging.” I shrugged. “There’s a lot of things that can drain your power if you aren’t careful.”

“But we can usually recharge. What would stop us from recharging?”

“Being around a conflicting power.”

“So let’s start from there. Who was the first one affected?”

“Kindness.”

“And what would be a power that conflicts with her own?”

“Rudeness?”

Abigail shot me a look. “What does Kindness do?”

That was easy. “She gives.”

“So what is the opposite of giving?”

“Keeping?”

“And if you keep stuff, you are being…?”

“Selfish?”

Abigail paused. “Close,” she said finally. “If you’re being selfish, you are being…?”

“A pain in my ass? Ow!” I rubbed the back of my head. “You didn’t have to hit me.”

“Then pay attention,” she snapped. “What is another word for being selfish?”

“Being greedy?”

Abigail leaned back against the bridge support. “Finally.” Digging in her pocket, she pulled out a wrinkled business card and handed it to me.

“‘Slate Lakoni, for all your IT needs’? What does this have to do with—”

“Just go see him. Oh, and here—” She lurched to her feet, shuffling over to her shopping cart. She dug around in it for a minute, then came back with a folded piece of paper. “Show him this.” She shoved it in my hands before returning to her spot against the bridge support.

I opened it up. It was a sketch — a really good one, too — of a woman. She had a Mediterranean look about her — Curly dark hair, dark eyes, full lips and cheekbones so sharp you could probably cut diamonds with them.

“She’s very pretty, but—”

“Go talk to him.” And with that, the goddess of insight pulled a hat out of nowhere, tugged it down over her face and — for all appearances — fell asleep.

I resisted the urge to send a crackle of energy at her. It would make me feel a little better, but that’s all it would do and, frankly, it wasn’t worth it. I tucked the picture and card away in my pocket and teleported back to my garden.

Patience wasn’t home yet, but I was sure I could find something to do until she returned.

Dammit, I had forgot to talk to Abigail about Dreams.

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