XIV. Their own free will.
Bowing was not in the nature of either the Minister of Wishes or Punishments, but the weight of each god’s guilt in the face of Miho’s admonishments was considerable.
“Make your choice,” Mieke growled, itching – it seemed – for them to resist so she could justify a bloody approach to their mission.
“We…” Leon began, but Zyglavis finished for him.
“… have bowed enough,” he stated carefully, and continued more quickly when the Goddess of Canes Venatici sharply lifted her chin, “but…”
He stepped aside, leaving Leon alone before the throne room doors.
“But,” Zyglavis repeated, “you are right. Punishment is long overdue.”
With deliberate ceremony the doors swung inward, and hand in hand, fingers entwined, Miho and Mieke stepped past Leon and Zyglavis into the throne room.
The greeting the they received was less than gracious, with not a word uttered before a sphere of light, large enough to engulf both goddesses, came barrelling toward them.
“Not unexpected,” Miho dropped, raising her free hand.
Just her palm touched, and a tingle raced through her body as the King’s energy began to diminish, shrink until it was little more than a tiny golden pearl dancing over her fingers.
“Have you nothing to say?” Miho asked, her voice a surprisingly restrained whisper.
“Let me rip an answer from his throat,” Mieke snarled, more eager for carnage than Miho it appeared.
“Then he’d be dead, his suffering short,” Miho pointed out, closing her fist around the bright bead of power.
A few sparks.
It was gone.
“I cannot be killed,” the King proclaimed haughtily, then flickered his gaze to Leon and Zyglavis who had moved up to Miho’s right shoulder.
“What’s this?” the King sneered. “Mutiny?”
“I may be the Minister for Wishes,” Leon declared, “but of all those you have wronged in your existence, she most deserves retribution.”
“Do you truly believe she will not steal your stars also?” the King questioned, holding his ground, but when Zyglavis added his piece, there was far less certainty in the celestial monarch’s eyes.
“For my failure to protect her, to stand up for her, to rescue her,” Zyglavis began, “my very own betrayal – I would give her my stars is she requested them.”
“Outrageous!” the King exclaimed.
“But it will be your stars I’ll be taking, Morthwyl.”
All but Miho and Mieke seemed stunned at the pronouncement of this name.
None had heard it before, and yet instantly they knew Miho had spoken the true name of the King of the Heavens.
In shock and horror he stumbled back against his throne, eyes bulging – for her knew the implications.
All confidence fled.
Miho had him exactly where she wanted him.
“Miho!” Karno shouted, he and the other gods running to join Leon and Zyglavis.
“Leave it,” Leon commanded. “It’s over.”
“Yes, it is,” Miho agreed, stepping up to the King, whose attempts to flee were quashed by Mieke.
“Morthwyl,” she said, a hateful word, “give me your stars.”
There was absolutely no hesitation, and just like that, Miho’s tormentor surrendered his power, his immortality, his everything.
And Mieke no longer needed to keep him from running. His body slumped pathetically to the floor at Miho’s feet, all the shine, the luminescence of his presence void.
Slowly, Miho turned to the now sizeable crowd behind her – not just the zodiac gods, but others who now peered at her, flabbergasted – and smiled as she inhaled.
“Now what?” Scorpio asked, blunt as ever despite his mortality.
“Now, I banish this miserable creature to a mortal life on Earth,” Miho replied in a strong, clear voice, looking from god to god, “give you all back your stars, and leave the zodiac gods to govern the Heavens in a way – I hope – that will not necessitate my returning here again.”
“What?” Krioff blinked, and everyone else was just as stunned.
“You’re not going to take the King’s place?” Ichthys blurted, and Miho raised a brow.
“Would you like me to?” she queried, and it was clear Ichthys didn’t know how to answer that question without digging himself into a hole. “I never desired power for power’s sake,” she explained, and there was silence but for the deposed King’s whimpering, “only what I needed to exact my revenge, and prevent this malevolent wretch from causing further suffering.”
“But,” Teorus began, but the rest of his sentence failed when Miho swept her arm in a dramatic arch, starlight floating majestically from her fingertips and coming to rest within the eyes of those to whom they belonged.
Perhaps now – if they all worked together – they could overpower Miho and Mieke and hold them accountable for their act against the King, but the crowd merely parted as Miho stepped toward the exit, Mieke behind her dragging Morthwyl by the collar.
“Where will you go?” Zyglavis asked quietly when Miho reached him, and she paused to look him in the face.
“Away,” she responded, “but never truly far. So don’t fuck this up.”
That was all the goodbye anyone got. The Heavens fell quiet, still, the calm before a storm of insecurity perhaps, but at least freedom from tyranny.
In the wake of their triumph, Miho and Mieke laid together, their legs entangled. Blissfully Miho raked her fingers gently through Mieke’s hair, savouring the silky sensation and the softness of her lover’s breath against her breast.
“Think they’ll come looking for you?” Mieke wondered aloud, before kissing against one of Miho’s nipples.
“In the afterglow of victory, you want to talk about them?” Miho scoffed, but her indignation was exaggerated.
“I just want you to be safe, to be free,” Mieke grumbled, tilting her head back to look up into Miho’s face.
“I think we’ve made a pretty good argument for leaving us alone,” Miho smiled, bring her lips closer to Mieke’s, “but if they’re stupid enough to disturb the peace, I’ll destroy them all.”
XV. Made to kneel
Miho’s shadow cast a deep darkness across those at her feet. With their knuckles pressed to the glossy, marble floor outside the King’s throne room, Leon and Zyglavis found it impossible to rise, to move, to defy – though they had made their decision to stay loyal to the status quo.
Even though it was pointless.
“There was a time,” Miho said, eyes cast down at her brother, “I wanted to kill you, Leon.”
Her fingers slipped slowly through his hair, brushing his bangs up then tilting back his head so he could see her standing over him.
“A part of me still does,” she told him thinly, leaning down to whisper. “The ruination of a life, for the ruination of a life.”
“Miho, don’t,” Zyglavis barked, and her head snapped to him, her fingers curling in Leon’s hair and gripping tightly.
“Don’t what? Exact appropriate revenge upon the brother who handed me to a monster on a silver platter?” she growled, and it was echoed by Mieke snarling. “Do you know what he did to me, Zyglavis? How I held my heart so tightly bound because I didn’t want anyone to think for a second I used my power to steal away their free will for my own desire? That is what Leon did – snapped his fingers and had me sprawled, writhing beneath the furious thrust of the King and made me want it!”
Her exclamation was accompanied by the sudden rise of Leon’s body, and as if he was weightless, Miho flung him aside with such force his body cracked and imprint in the marble wall.
Before he could even let out a winded groan, other gods, including the enfeebled Karno, Krioff, Huedhaut and Scorpio came running down the wide hall in their direction. But they all slid to a swift halt when Mieke’s form bulked out into the celestial form of the Goddess of Canes Venatici, and snapped threatening jaws that barred their path.
“She will eat you,” Miho warned with a smirk. “Or at least chew you up and spit you out again; I don’t think she finds you any more tasteful than I do.”
“Miho,” Zyglavis entreated once more, redirecting her ire.
“He’s sitting in that throne room knowing full well what’s transpiring here,” she sniggered, glancing to the large doors behind Zyglavis’ back. “And he will leave you to languish at my mercy because he is a coward.”
It would have been the perfect moment for the King of the Heavens to burst onto the scene and prove Miho wrong – but he did not.
“Cling to that hatred you’ve developed for me, Zyglavis,” Miho began again, reaching for his cheek with her palm sizzling, “because…”
“Hate you?” he frowned, and it was not as a result of imminent pain. “What you’re doing is madness, but whether you believe me or not, I hate myself more for playing a part in what led you here.”
“Your self-deprecation is wasted on me,” she spat, enveloping him in flame and finally more formally announcing her presence to the King.
Zyglavis’ charred body cartwheeled through the immense doors, then skidded across the mirrored floor before slamming into a vacant throne.
The King stood beside it, and didn’t even look down at the smouldering body to his left. His pale eyes staring straight ahead and meeting Miho’s fierce gaze.
“That is quite enough,” the King’s voice rang out, and though his stance was strong, not a single soul missed the tremble in his voice.
“Oh?” Miho chuckled, stepping through the debris alone, while Mieke easily held any resistance at bay. “What now, my love? My greatest, deepest, desperate love? Enough? No no, not yet.”
As she cleared the crunching splinters of lacquered wood and crystal, the King began to gather his strength in blazing wafts of bright divine energy. It gathered from places older than anyone could remember, even the King himself had forgotten perhaps, but Miho seemed entirely unconcerned.
She stood, relaxed and waited.
“Majesty…” Zyglavis croaked, shakily raising himself up on one elbow, his uniform smoking, his skin charred. “Please… she…”
“She has NO power here!” the King roared in an absolutely unheard of display of raw public emotion.
“In one word, I will have all the power,” Miho whispered. “You will give me your stars as willingly as I once gave myself to you.”
“There is no such word,” the King growled. “And I will give you nothing but the end of your miserable existence,” he added arrogantly.
Though his voice had gathered some strength, there was still a kernel of doubt.
“Hmph,” Miho smirked, then admitted, “I nearly gave up. When I couldn’t find it buried anywhere in the Heavens, in no record or archive – then I realised you’d never have allowed it to be recorded.”
“Miho,” Zyglavis entreated once more, and in the split second her gaze shifted to him, the King launched a massive sphere of pulsating power at her.
For a second she was engulfed, muted by the potent luminosity, until tendrils of green flame wreathed in glittering, slithering, aqua shards broke through and revealed her unharmed at the centre.
“You knew if anyone ever discovered your true name,” she persisted unfazed, walking a slow, menacing path toward her target, “they could bring you to heel, and so I abandoned my fruitless quest to find it. Instead…”
“You have nothing!” he laughed, but Miho hadn’t quite finished her sentence.
“… I’m going to give you a new one.”
Any clamouring noise behind them died. All out in the corridor beyond Mieke, who still held back those who might defend the King, fell still and silent.
“Impossible,” the King gasped, readying another attack, greater fury building in his movements until Miho was but a few arms lengths before him.
“We shall see,” she smiled, eyes sparkling galaxies. “The former Goddess of Fate’s influence over what things are and will be, was the first thing I took – the power to re-write fate, after that.”
“It’s not…” the King actually stuttered, stepping backward.
“So I name you…”
All strained to listen, but only Miho and the King himself heard the name she whispered.
His eyes grew wide and the light around him shattered like glass then dimmed to nothing.
“Now give me your stars, you malodorous creature,” Miho hissed, pinching his chin harshly and pulling their faces close. “Then get on your knees and beg for your life.”
Tears touched the chalk of his cheeks, but with his true name on her tongue and in her mind, the King could not resist Miho’s command.
It was more of a slump that dropped him to the floor, shuddering and utterly pathetic in defeat.
“Please,” he murmured in a hoarse appeal, “spare me.”
Though he had done as she asked, Miho was still caught in the moment of receiving stars unlike any others she had stolen. Her senses expanded everywhere, every tiny little corner, and flooded her mind and heart with an almost overwhelming feeling of omnipotence.
“Spare you?” Miho parroted, her voice now carrying with it a dark reverberation. “No.”
As curt as the word itself, was the snapping of barbed, shadowy wires sprawling from Miho’s body and stringing the deposed tyrant up by wrists, neck and ankles.
A spectacle, a demonstration and a warning to any who might consider further overthrow.
“This era ends with you,” she snarled, biting the end off each word.
Then she tore him apart.
Whatever matter made up the former King of the Heavens was ripped asunder. Joints popped, bones broke, and blood sullied the regal décor of the throne room. Mushy piles of what could no longer be recognised as belonging to either man or god, hit the floor and quivered before melting into pools of silver that quickly evapourated.
Exhaling a slow breath, Miho closed her eyes – the moment had been such a long time coming, she wanted to savour it.
“Now what?” Scorpio called from beyond Mieke, the only one to raise his voice amid gods who still had their stars but were stuck dumb by what they had just witnessed.
“Mieke,” Miho dropped, and the huge dog returned to her human form before striding to take her love’s extended hand.
“What difference does it make to you,” Miho said, kissing the back of Mieke’s hand before drawing their bodies together, “if your puppet strings are pulled by a king, or a couple of queens?”
Staggering to his feet and clutching his slowly healing chest, Zyglavis peered at the entwined goddesses as they kissed – passionately, fearlessly.
“She really killed him?” Ichthys piped up, and Karno nodded slowly.
“Looks… like it,” he exhaled, sweeping his eyes to Leon whose head hung.
“What do we do?” a nervous god queried somewhere in the crowd.
“What do you do?” Miho laughed, her voice carrying to every ear in the Heavens. “You do exactly what you’re told, just as you always have.”
Grinning, Miho led her most loyal partner to the throne and sat, before the Goddess of Canes Venatici draped herself comfortably across a welcome lap.
“And,” Miho went on, sifting her fingers lazily through Mieke’s hair, “for you impotent zodiac gods, I have a whole host of ways for you to entertain me.”
“Can we have the King back now?” Ichthys whimpered. “Please?”
“Nope,” Miho snickered flippantly, lolling her head back, “but, little fishy, I guarantee that as each day passes you will wish for his return more and more.”
“And shame we control the wishes now,” Mieke added with a wide grin.
But it was Miho who had the final words.
“And the punishments.”
WHICH ENDING DID YOU LIKE BETTER?