When the light cleared, Layak realized they stood in a room.
It wasn't overly large, barely twenty meters across. It had a circular form to it, bowing out in the middle, and then tapering off at the top. Through a circular hole in the ceiling Layak could see the world again, superimposed against a starry sky. The rest of the room was dimly lit, filled with vases, wall tapestries, and even a few piles of gold. It only took a passing glance at the art and style of the vases to make an educated guess.
All of the mortal pleasures and comforts from Aermoth's time. Even as God he couldn't escape a few sentimentalities.
Standing in the center of the room was a figure of no particular stature. He wasn't tall, muscular, or even sporting a full head of a hair. His eyes were pale brown, and he wore a simple traveler's cloak. He also wore a furious grimace.
Layak felt something invisible collide with her, throwing her backward. She landed in a heap, stars dancing in her vision. When she got a hold of herself, she saw Menno run forward. He had his gun out again. Of course he did.
"Vermin!" Aermoth cried out. "Pests! Insects! Be gone from my holy throne!"
Despite whatever omnipotent power Aermoth used to knock her down, he couldn't seem to land anything on Menno. Menno knocked over two large vases, shattering the ceramic on the dark stone floor. Then he wove around behind Aermoth, firing several more shots. For a moment, Aermoth seemed to forget about the rest of them.
A hand shot out and Layak took it. It was Dima. "Menno's going to get himself killed! You have to do something!"
Layak nodded. She went for her pack, but suddenly that flew off her arm and across the room. Aermoth wasn't even looking their way, but he had to know. He had to realize she brought the dagger. The same one he'd used to killer the Former One a short eternity ago.
Layak grunted, tearing off in the direction of her pack. All the while, she heard several loud bangs as Menno continued to lob useless shots at Aermoth. Did he never learn! And how much ammunition had he packed with him?
Her pack lay behind a pile of gold coins. Layak dove for it, but again the thing found flight, zipping into the air and across the room. Layak bolted up, feeling terror inside. If Aermoth could take the dagger…
It soared entirely past him and to the far end of the room. Layak sat for a moment, watching. Then she sprung up again. She did her best to remain small and silent, dodging past vases rather than knocking them over. And as she neared her pack, it again took flight. And once again, it landed nowhere near Aermoth.
Yes. He couldn't actually get at it. The blade was now his opposite. Once an ally when he was mortal, now its power was opposed to whatever energy he claimed as God. He could manipulate Layak's pack, and therefore the blade. But he couldn't ever come close to touching it.
The blade had to offer some protection. Maybe bringing it into this place was enough on its own. Aermoth still hadn't destroyed Menno. He leapt and bounded around the little God. Obviously trying to distract him so Layak could complete her task. He couldn't have known it wouldn't get him killed. And for that maybe it would be enough to try something else. But first Layak had to get that blade.
She abandoned all pretense of subtly. She smashed several vases, knocking over a shelf with engraved silver pieces. And once again the pack leapt into the air…
Into Dima's hands.
Dima yanked the dagger out the same time the pack flew into the air. Layak didn't bother tracking it. She made eye contact with Dima. Dima nodded. She flung the dagger through the air. Layak reached out, grabbing it, and winced as the blade sliced open her palm.
He skidded to a stop, a few scant meters from Aermoth. Layak flung the blade as hard as she could. Menno did better than she had. He threw aside his handgun, arm snaking up and plucking the dagger out of the air. Then with surprising speed, he spun around and threw at Aermoth.
The blade plunged through his chest. Aermoth paused, looking down at the blade. Confused.
"Just like before," he muttered. Then he collapsed.
Nearby, Menno collapsed as well, but remained on his knees. His eyes grew distant, his mouth hanging agape. A faint light began to glow around his figure.
The power had chosen a new God.
Dima rushed over to Layak, seizing her hand. "You're hurt. We need to put pressure on this."
She did. And then she raced across the room. "Menno! Menno, what's happening!"
Layak followed slowly behind. And began to think.
"It's…it's eternity," Menno gasped. His vacant eyes filled with light. "Beyonds, I can see everything. We're not the first."
And neither was the Former One, Layak suspected. Just how many mortals had come here to complete the cycle, murdering the previous God? She was certain Menno probably knew. The power or energy or whatever it was that made these people into Gods kept all sorts of memories attached to it. Probably including the necessity for a replacement to come along every so often.
So what function enabled that? The power Menno now held? Or perhaps the dagger? Knowing that it was time for Aermoth to step down, had it put her in place to find it? And then pass it to Menno so he could step up? And continue the cycle afresh?
Layak stood over Aermoth's corpse. She reached down, pulling the dagger free. Then she looked at Menno.
She couldn't guess who set this all in motion. Or how many times their world had ended because the power went to the current God's head. Just so another could repeat it again. It was a terrible system.
Layak walked over and stuck the blade through Menno's ribs. It fit snuggly, offering no resistance. He gasped and the glow faded from his eyes. Dima stared slack-jawed. Then she screamed.
Almost at once, Layak felt a thousand suns ignite inside of her. She groaned, but managed to keep standing.
Dima cradled Menno as he fell backwards. She looked at Layak, eyes streaked with tears. "You MONSTER!"
Yes. She was a monster. A traitor forever in Dima's eyes. They'd actually won and now Layak claimed the power for herself. Dima could only see it as the purest form of greed.
The suns cooled and information settled calmly in Layak's expanded view. She saw the six others who came before Aermoth. Saw each of them fall prey to the lusts of this power. Turn against the world for their delight and destruction. And so the power had acted through the channel of the dagger to replace them. Created a polar opposite not unlike magnetism that prevented God from even interacting with it. There was more to it—weavings and workings that probably made some sort of perverted sense.
Layak ignored them all.
With what abysmal understanding she had of the power at this stage, she directed it outward and propelled herself far, far away. There would be no more false Gods to rule this poor world. No more power for another mortal to claim. From this time forth, she would Renounce its cruelty.
Layak blinked open her eyes. She stood on an unending plane of crystal stretching into Eternity. Turning, she could see the faint outline of the world behind her. It wasn't far enough yet.
She turned and walked on. Forever.