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Heavenly Light is an event in SMITE made for the introduction of Yu Huang and Lancelot. It begins right after the conclusion of Dharmic Era's story. It began on March 22, 2022.

Description[]

Welcome to the Heavenly Light Event![]

There will be 4 chapters in this event spanning over 4 updates. Each chapter has a chest containing 5 Skins and a Cosmetic Bundle.

On release of a new chapter, there will be an initial discount. Once the next chapter releases, the discount will no longer be available.

You can either roll the chapter chest or directly purchase the skin you desire in the store.

Quests[]

Purchasing ANY item from a chapter will unlock that chapter's quests which reward Gems.

Unlimited Chapter Rewards[]

In order to obtain the unlimited chapter reward, you will have to unlock every item in that chapter.

Unlimited Collection Reward[]

Unlock all items from ALL 4 chapter chest to receive the Unlimited Izanami Skin!

Heavenly Light Cosmetic Items[]

These are the items that are available during the event. Items are bound to Chapter themed chests. Upon rolling the chest, the player will randomly receive one of the 5 items. The chests start with only 3 items, with more being gradually added per update up to 5 items per chest.

These are the chests currently available:

Unlocks[]

God Skins[]

Electro Dancer
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Shiva ElectroDancer Icon.png God Skin March 22, 2022 An exclusive skin for Shiva. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Master of Light
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Merlin MasterofLight Icon.png God Skin March 22, 2022 An exclusive skin for Merlin. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Flare Tech
Icon Type Release Date Description
T HouYi FlareTech Icon.png God Skin March 22, 2022 An exclusive skin for Hou Yi. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Siren Song
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Cliodhna SirenSong Icon.png God Skin April 5, 2022 An exclusive skin for Cliodhna. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Goose Chase
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Jormungandr GooseChase Icon.png God Skin April 5, 2022 An exclusive skin for Jormungandr. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Imperial Heaven Bundle[]

Emperor
Icon Type Release Date Description
Title Emperor.png Title April 5, 2022 An exclusive title.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Heavenly Light
Icon Type Release Date Description
Icon Frame HeavenlyLight.png Loading Frame April 5, 2022 An exclusive Loading Frame.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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God Skins[]

Honorable Machina
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Tyr HonorableMachina Icon.png God Skin April 19, 2022 An exclusive skin for Tyr. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Crocfather
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Sobek Crocfather Icon.png God Skin April 19, 2022 An exclusive skin for Sobek. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Shadow Bloom
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Persephone ShadowBloom Icon.png God Skin April 19, 2022 An exclusive skin for Persephone. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Demon Puncher
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Mercury DemonPuncher Icon.png God Skin May 3, 2022 An exclusive skin for Mercury. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Haunted Nightmare
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Chernobog HauntedNightmare Icon.png God Skin May 3, 2022 An exclusive skin for Chernobog. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Jade Empire Bundle[]

Demon Puncher
Icon Type Release Date Description
Avatar DemonPuncher.png Avatar May 3, 2022 An exclusive Avatar.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Haunted Nightmare
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Chernobog HauntedNightmare Icon.png Announcer Pack May 3, 2022 A custom Announcer pack.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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God Skins[]

Mystic Flare
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Pele MysticFlare Icon.png God Skin May 17, 2022 An exclusive skin for Pele. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Dark Apprentice
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Apollo DarkApprentice Icon.png God Skin May 17, 2022 An exclusive skin for Apollo. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Necro Alchemist
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Vulcan NecroAlchemist Icon.png God Skin May 17, 2022 An exclusive skin for Vulcan. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Afrofuture
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Olorun Afrofuture Icon.png God Skin May 31, 2022 An exclusive skin for Olorun. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Glaive Tech
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Cernunnos GlaiveTech Icon.png God Skin May 31, 2022 An exclusive skin for Cernunnos. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Valiant Hero Bundle[]

Heavenly Light
Icon Type Release Date Description
MusicTheme HeavenlyLight.png Music Theme May 31, 2022 An exclusive Music Theme.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Afrofutures
Icon Type Release Date Description
Recall Afrofutures.png Recall Skin May 31, 2022 An exclusive Recall Skin.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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God Skins[]

Oblivion Temptress
Icon Type Release Date Description
T DaJi OblivionTemptress Icon.png God Skin June 14, 2022 An exclusive skin for Da Ji. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Bone Shaker
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Cerberus BoneShaker Icon.png God Skin June 14, 2022 An exclusive skin for Cerberus. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Dark Angel
Icon Type Release Date Description
T AhMuzenCab DarkAngel Icon.png God Skin June 14, 2022 An exclusive skin for Ah Muzen Cab. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Bok Bok
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Horus BokBok Icon.png God Skin June 28, 2022 An exclusive skin for Horus. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Combo Breaker
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Terra ComboBreaker Icon.png God Skin June 28, 2022 An exclusive skin for Terra. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Chivalrous Hero Bundle[]

Bok Bok
Icon Type Release Date Description
Icon LoadingBG BokBok.png Loading Screen June 28, 2022 An exclusive Loading Screen.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Combo Breaker
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Terra ComboBreaker Icon.png Announcer Pack June 28, 2022 A custom Announcer pack.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Chapter Reward[]

Funny Bones
Icon Type Release Date Description
T BaronSamedi FunnyBones Icon.png God Skin March 22, 2022 An Unlimited skin for Baron Samedi. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Bionic Demon
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Gilgamesh BionicDemon Icon.png God Skin April 19, 2022 An Unlimited skin for Gilgamesh. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Aquatic Nightmare
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Ra AquaticNightmare Icon.png God Skin May 17, 2022 An Unlimited skin for Ra. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Gazing Archon
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Medusa GazingArchon Icon.png God Skin June 14, 2022 An Unlimited skin for Medusa. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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Collection Reward[]

Queen of Cards
Icon Type Release Date Description
T Izanami QueenofCards Icon.png God Skin March 22, 2022 An Unlimited skin for Izanami. It has custom animations and ability effects, and custom voicelines. Also comes with a Jump Stamp and a Recall Skin.
Discoveries
Story

Video

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List of quests[]

At least one item from a chapter has to be purchased to unlock that chapters quests. The player is able to earn 100 Gems per chapter by completing both quests.

Imperial
"A heavenly palace made of jade sits peacefully on a mountain peak."
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon1.png
Requirement
Play 2 Arena Matches.
Reward
50 Gems.png
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon1.png
Requirement
Get 60 Kills and Assists.
Reward
50 Gems.png

Jade Heaven
"There, the greatest of all emperors resides, over humans and gods alike."
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon2.png
Requirement
Deal 50,000 Player Damage.
Reward
50 Gems.png
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon2.png
Requirement
Earn 60,000 Gold.
Reward
50 Gems.png

Valiant Knight
"A valiant knight makes his way back to his king after a successful quest."
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon3.png
Requirement
Get 2 Wins of the Day!
Reward
50 Gems.png
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon3.png
Requirement
Get 50 Kills and Assists.
Reward
50 Gems.png

Chivalrous Knight
"In Camelot many cheer his name:"Sir Lancelot!" He has returned!"
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon4.png
Requirement
Play 2 Games.
Reward
50 Gems.png
HeavenlyLight TeaserIcon4.png
Requirement
Earn 50,000 Gold.
Reward
50 Gems.png

Lore[]

Chapter 1: Hungry Ghosts[]

HeavenlyLight LoreIcon1.png

A shriek rose like an arrow, splitting the silence of the forest. A putrid stench wafted along the night wind, causing green shoots to turn brown, and branches to sag. A lone deer fled, bounding quickly through the trees. Behind it, came the peddler.

The merchant ran, his rickety cart clattering on the dirt path behind him. A part of him knew it was foolish not to abandon it, but to do so would be to condemn himself to penury. Everything he owned, his livelihood, was in the cart. He could not leave it behind. So instead, he ran and prayed, knowing that neither would be enough.

Another shriek, closer this time. The path shuddered beneath his feet. He heard a tree crack, splinter and fall as his pursuer hurtled after him. The stink of it enveloped him, and he stumbled, gagging. He heard the crunch of a tree being uprooted, and then felt a gust of wind. He skidded to a stop, even as every instinct compelled him to keep going.

The broken husk of a poplar tree slammed down ahead of him, blocking the path. He staggered back, his cart overturning. The contents spilled everywhere, but he was no longer concerned with his livelihood. Again came the shriek, echoing out of the trees. The sound of it sent shivers of ice through his heart and he whirled, eyes wide.

The hungry ghost thundered along the path, hauling its wretched bulk along tree by tree. It was covered in spiny hair, with long, stringy limbs and it stank of nightsoil and refuse pits. Even with the moonlight dripping through the trees he could not make out much more of its shape than that, for which he was thankful. Yellow eyes blazed from within the thicket of reeking, matted hair. Teeth like broken tombstones smashed together greedily as it drew nearer.

He retreated, until his back pressed against the tree that now blocked the path. The smell of the apparition filled his mouth and nose, choking him. He sank down, retching. The thing loomed over him, its wide mouth stretching into an ugly smile as it reached down with one wide paw. He closed his eyes.

Then came the sound of steel clearing leather. “Step away from the mortal,” said a woman’s voice. “I will not ask twice.”

The merchant cracked an eye and saw a young woman, clad in red silk and silver armor, standing behind the ghost, her newly drawn sword extended in the beast’s direction. The creature turned, a look of bestial confusion in its eyes. “Mine,” it croaked in a voice like breaking bones.

“No,” the newcomer said. “Now return to whatever lonely grave vomited you up, or face my sword.” She took a quick, sliding step, and fell into a stance the peddler dimly remembered from his days serving in the army. Indeed, the woman herself seemed familiar, though he could not place her. Had he met her before? It seemed impossible, for surely he would remember the name of such a woman.

The apparition’s jaws fell open, expelling a cloud of fetid, fly-infested breath. The young woman took a step back as the flies swarmed about her, and the monster lunged, shadow-quick. The woman twisted aside with preternatural quickness, avoiding the taloned swipe. Her sword flashed like lightning as it danced across its ribs, bringing forth a spurt of rank ichor. It stumbled, off balance, eyes wide.

“I gave you a chance,” the woman said, as her sword slashed out. One of it’s hands plopped onto the path like a dead spider. It shrilled like a kettle on the boil and swung its remaining fist at her. Again, she easily avoided the blow. The merchant watched in fascination as his savior artfully cut the screeching gaki to pieces.

“She is quite magnificent, is she not?” a voice asked, from above. The merchant looked up in shock. A face almost as inhuman as that of the ghost looked down at him. It broke into a gleeful smile. “Boo!”

The merchant ran.

“That was unnecessary,” Mulan said, as she wrenched her sword free of the ghost’s shattered skull. “He was already frightened enough.”

Sun Wukong snorted derisively. “He should know better than to pass through a forest at night. Especially these days. A bit of a scare will teach him that lesson.” The Monkey King hopped down from his perch on the fallen tree, his cudgel bouncing against one muscular shoulder. “I don’t know why you bother, honestly. These mortals never learn."

“Some might say the same of you,” Mulan said, as she sheathed her sword. “Now, help me pick up.”

“I’m not touching that thing.”

Mulan sighed. “I don’t mean this creature. I mean the merchant’s supplies.”

Sun Wukong made a rude noise. “Let the mortal do it himself. We saved his life. That’s good deed enough.”

“I saved his life. You watched.”

“I would have intervened, if had you required my help.” He shrugged. “It was just a hungry ghost, after all. Any child could defeat one."

Mulan heaved the cart upright. “Why did you accompany me again?”

Sun Wukong chuckled. “I find you entertaining.”

Mulan shook her head and continued to refill the cart. Sun Wukong watched her for a moment then sighed and began to help. “This is boring and I hate it. You really do coddle them, don’t you?”

“I show compassion, if that’s what you mean,” she said.

“I hope you don’t expect me to pull the cart. I’m no oxen.”

“I wouldn’t dream of asking,” Mulan said, with a slight smile.

Later, as Sun Wukong hauled the cart down the bumpy forest path, Mulan said, “That was the third hungry ghost I’ve dispatched in as many days. It as if every night-thing in China has woken at once – and all of them in a bad mood.” She sat cross-legged atop the cart, her sword balanced across her knees.

“I’d be in a bad mood too if my guts were eternally aflame and I smelled like that,” Sun Wukong said. The cart clattered behind him as he raced along. At this rate, Mulan thought they might beat the peddler to the next village.

“I’m being serious – their numbers are on the increase. Every day there are more monsters to contend with, ghosts and otherwise. Something is going on.” She’d made the same argument before, to others in the Heavenly Court, but to little effect. Only Sun Wukong had agreed to join her in her search for answers. She still wasn’t entirely certain why.

Sun Wukong slid to a sudden stop, nearly dislodging Mulan from her seat. “You might be on to something.” He gestured with his cudgel. “Look!”

Through the trees, the flicker of dancing flames could be seen. Faint screams echoed on the wind, and the stink of death pervaded the forest’s edge. Mulan dropped to the ground, her eyes wide. She could feel the fear rising from the mortal inhabitants of the village, as well as the tug of their prayers and knew Sun Wukong could as well – were weak things, fearful entreaties, whispered in panic. But potent, nonetheless.

Sun Wukong let the cart fall. “My turn,” he said, and bounded away before she could stop him. Mulan shook her head. The Monkey King’s impulsiveness had gotten them both into trouble more than once since she’d started her quest. Sighing, she righted the cart and pulled it off the path, where she hoped it would be safe. Then, sword in hand, she raced after her companion. She reached the village in moments.

The village was large, and flames leapt from building to building. There were people everywhere, fleeing in all directions. Several loping, inhuman shapes pursued them. Mulan cut the apparition down with a flurry of blows and turned as something enormous and reeking of blood tore through the side of a hovel and lumbered towards her. No mere ghost this, but a true demon – a yaoguai, clad in chains and bloody skins. It swung a banded club towards her head, and she was forced to leap aside. The club slammed down on a nearby wellhead, pulverizing it.

“Heaven crumbles,” the demon roared. “We shall feast on the gods!” It raised its club and charged towards her. She sprang to meet it, but was interrupted by the sudden arrival of the Monkey King, who brought his cudgel down on the back of the demon’s head, flattening the beast. He flicked the ichor from his weapon and winked at her. “Fun, no?”

“No. How many of them are there?” Mulan asked. Instead of replying, he pointed. She whirled as a skeletal ghost sprang for her from a rooftop, and removed its grotesque head with a single blow. “Thank you,” she said, turning back to him. “How many?”

“Plenty for both of us,” Sun Wukong said. He spun his cudgel over his head and sent it whirling into an approaching knot of yaoguai, scattering the creatures in all directions. He leapt after it, but before he could reclaim the weapon, a ghost with bulging eyes and a swollen belly, leapt onto his back. It dug its fleshless claws into his fur, and he howled in surprise and pain.

Mulan raced to his aid, but before she could reach him the ghost released its hold and scuttled away, as if fearful of something. She saw others doing the same, retreating – not because of her, or Sun Wukong, but because of something else. Someone else.

That someone appeared at the far end of the street. He was a tall, burly god, hideous to look at, but somehow noble despite his appearance. He carried a bag in one hand, and a great brush-topped staff in the other. He shook the bag as he walked. “Come, come! Get in my bag, little ghosts! This place is not yours to haunt!”

“Zhong Kui,” Mulan said, in surprise. She had only ever seen the Demon Queller at a distance. Up close, it was easy to tell why he was feared by demons and ghosts alike.

Zhong Kui spotted her, and his ugly face split into a smile. “There you are, child! I am glad to see you. It seems you were right – something is amiss. The spirit realm is in uproar. The dead rise in revolt, and horror sweeps across the land. I – wait one moment, if you will.”

He slammed his great brush-staff down and a flare of sickly light washed over the fleeing ghosts and yaoguai. The howling spirits were swept up, as if caught in a whirling windstorm, and dragged screaming into Zhong Kui’s waiting bag. In moments, the only sound in the village was the crackle of fire, and the weeping of frightened mortals. The Demon Queller shook the bag in satisfaction. “There now. We can talk in peace.”

“About what?” Sun Wukong demanded, pugnaciously. Mulan suspected that he was angry that Zhong Kui had cut the fight short. Zhong Kui gave him an imperious look.

“I am talking to her not you, little monkey.”

Sun Wukong bared his teeth, but Mulan interposed herself before he could retort. “You said I was right. What’s going on, Demon Queller? What is happening?” She thought about what the demon had said, just before Sun Wukong had cudgeled its brains out.

Zhong Kui grimaced. “The balance between the heavens, the earth and the underworld has been thrown off. I do not know why, only that it has caused much trouble in the underworld. The hungry dead and worse now roam the world, freed by this tumult.” He looked around, frowning slightly. “The Heavenly Court is at odds, uncertain as to how best deal with the matter. But the King of Hell saw your efforts and decided that any action was better than inaction. So I will join you. Together, we might find the answer.”

“And if we do not?” Mulan asked, softly.

Zhong Kui shook his bag and laughed. “Then we will fill many bags with all the demons we can capture!”

Mulan hesitated. Any help was appreciated, but accepting the aid of the King of Hell – even freely offered aid – might well bring new difficulties. Sun Wukong nudged her. “That bag might come in handy. And if nothing else, he’s big enough that we can hide behind him.”

Zhong Kui snorted. “For shame. Are you as much a coward as Erlang Shen claims then, Monkey King?”

Sun Wukong’s nostrils flared. “That puffed up –”

“Enough,” Mulan said. She looked at Zhong Kui. “Very well. I am glad of all the help I can get, especially if it is as you say.” She looked around the village. “Unfortunately, I do not have the least idea where to start.”

Zhong Kui rubbed his big hands together. “Good thing for you I came along then. Because I think I know where all these unruly spirits are coming from.”

Sun Wukong slapped him on the shoulder. “Excellent! What are we waiting for?”

Mulan shook her head, exasperated. “Very well.” She sheathed her sword and looked at Zhong Kui. “Lead the way, Demon Queller. And quickly – for, whatever the cause of all of this might be, I fear we do not have much time to fix it.”

HeavenlyLight LoreIcon2.png

Chapter 2: The Relentless One[]

Mulan used the tip of her spear to brush aside a branch. Around her, a forest of dead trees rose from the tussocky earth. A miasmatic fog issued from the hundreds of holes that dotted the ground at odd intervals. Ancient burial markers rose from the ravaged ground like broken teeth and she could not help but recall another burial ground, in another land, where she had been forced to fight the wrathful dead at the behest of a mad witch.

Try as she might, she could not recall all of the circumstances of that encounter. Guan Yu had been there, she was certain, though he himself recalled no such adventure. And there had been someone else – another goddess, from another pantheon. Someone she’d thought of as a friend. But that was all. It was as if it had happened to a different Hua Mulan.

She pushed the thought aside and deftly avoided a fallen tree. All in all, it was an unpleasant sort of place – even for a god.

“It stinks,” Sun Wukong muttered, from the branches above her head. The Monkey King had taken to the trees in an attempt to scout ahead, but the fog made it difficult, even for him. Not that he seemed likely to admit it.

“It is the smell of ancient death,” Zhong Kui said, loudly. His words echoed through the stillness. Mulan frowned and turned to the Demon Queller. He followed in their wake, his demon bag in one hand and his great brush-tipped staff in the other.

“I thought the plan was to approach silently,” she admonished, softly. Zhong Kui frowned and gestured to the Monkey King.

“He talked first.”

“I muttered,” Sun Wukong said as he leapt to another branch. “You bellowed.”

“That’s still talking,” Zhong Kui growled, glaring up at the Monkey King. He shook his head and looked at Mulan. “Besides, I doubt it matters. The dead already know we’re here. Can’t you hear them whispering?”

Mulan paused. She could, in fact. Like all gods, she could hear the voices of the living and the dead with equal ease. But the dead rarely spoke. Here, their voices were raised in an incessant murmuration. So many, in fact, that she could not clearly make out what they were saying. It was a name, she thought. But no name she recognized – or wished to recognize. Something told her it was a name not meant for the ears of the living, mortal and immortal alike. She looked at Zhong Kui and he nodded brusquely.

“They speak the name of the first to be buried here, far below the mournful earth. They say it not in prayer, but in warning. So that all may know the danger which sleeps here.” He gave his bag a shake. “Something more dangerous than any demon I have ever stuffed in my bag.”

“Sounds like my kind of guy – or girl,” Sun Wukong said, as he dropped to the ground ahead of them. He tapped his broad shoulder with his cudgel, his gaze fixed on the landscape ahead. “Trees thin out up ahead. More of this stinking fog, though. I can barely make out the trail our quarry has so thoughtfully left us.” He looked back at them. “They were in a hurry, whoever they are. They smashed through the trees and anything else that got in front of them.”

Mulan gestured with her spear. “That only makes it easier to follow them, whoever they are. The question is, what do they hope to find in such a place as this?”

Zhong Kui strode past her. “I thought I had made that clear. They seek the one buried here. The great demon whom the Jade Emperor cast down so many centuries ago. It has remained bound in this place through every turn of the wheel – but now, someone seeks to awaken it. To release it from its bindings so that it might make war on its old foe once more. Or so the King of Hell fears.”

“Hard to imagine him scared of anything,” Sun Wukong said.

Zhong Kui shook his head and stepped over a fallen tree. “This demon is beyond any you or I have ever fought. It was strong enough to humble the Heavenly Court, and to cast the world in shadow. Freeing it would upset the very order of the world. The sun would dwindle to an ember, and the land would burn.”

“Then we must prevent that from happening,” Mulan said, as she followed the Demon Queller. “And the more quickly we do so, the better.”

They continued in silence, pressing on through the fog. The trees gave way to mounds of mossy soil and broken stones – the remnants of an ancient crater, she realized. She knew something of that long ago battle; how the Jade Emperor had cast down his foe from a mountaintop. Apparently, the demon had landed here, and been buried where it had fallen. The stories claimed that the creature had nearly destroyed the world in its madness. Even the gods had been unable to defeat it. She could not imagine who would be foolish enough – or mad enough – to attempt to release such a thing back into the world.

The Jade Emperor had his share of enemies, of course. There were those who bristled beneath any authority, however lenient. Could one of them be behind this? But to what end? The Jade Emperor had already defeated the demon once. Surely, he could do so again.

Her ruminations were interrupted by the faint sound of metal on stone. She paused, and Sun Wukong glanced at her. “You hear that? I think we found him, whoever he is.” He whirled his cudgel in excitement and bounded away in the direction of the sound before she could stop him. There was nothing for it but to follow him.

“Impetuous fool,” Zhong Kui growled as they raced after their companion.

“Impulsiveness can be useful on occasion – especially if the foe isn’t expecting it,” Mulan said. Sun Wukong was a powerful warrior, and there were few creatures that could give him a fight worth the name. Even those that could soon found themselves surprised by his ferocity. She hefted her spear and leapt over a broken boulder, only to slide to a stop as the clangour of weapons echoed suddenly out of the fog.

The mist thinned and Mulan saw Sun Wukong leap towards the heavily muscled, but curiously proportioned, shape of their quarry. The being had no difficulty blocking Sun Wukong’s blow and responding in kind with the great, single-bladed axe they carried. Sun Wukong was forced to leap backwards to avoid a blow that would have split him in two if it had connected.

Mulan moved to aid the Monkey King, thrusting her spear towards their foe. A massive hand, the color of jade, clamped down on the haft of the weapon, halting her thrust at the last possible moment. Mulan stared up at the helmeted head of her opponent, and saw that there was no face within. Instead, a monstrous countenance was spread across the warrior’s wide torso. A fanged maw split in a grin. “Excellent. He has sent his lackeys to do battle with me at last. For a moment, I feared he would be too cowardly to do even that.”

“Xing Tian,” Mulan said, in equal parts wonder and horror. She had never met the headless warrior herself, but she had heard plenty of tales of his relentless refusal to surrender to either death or the authority of the Heavenly Court.

“Yes,” he rumbled. “That is my name. And who are you, girl?”

“The one who will defeat you, oh Relentless One!” Mulan said. She released her hold on her spear, catching Xing Tian by surprise. A moment later, she’d drawn her sword and leapt for him. He caught her blow on the edge of his axe and flung her back.

“The one who will defeat you, oh Relentless One!” Mulan said. She released her hold on her spear, catching Xing Tian by surprise. A moment later, she’d drawn her sword and leapt for him. He caught her blow on the edge of his axe and flung her back.

She landed in a crouch, shoulder aching. Xing Tian was strong; stronger, perhaps, than any god she’d ever faced. “Very good, child,” the headless warrior growled approvingly. “You have spirit. Perhaps you might provide some challenge after all.” He paused, the eyes on his chest narrowing. “Still, I pity you who must fight even when you cannot win.”

“Save your pity for someone else, belly-face,” Sun Wukong shouted. His cudgel slammed down, splitting the earth at Xing Tian’s feet. Stinking fog spurted up as the two fiercely traded blows, cudgel against axe.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Mulan said, as Zhong Kui joined her. “Xing Tian is behind this? The ghosts, the demons? Why?”

“We will question him afterwards,” the Demon Queller said as he advanced towards the fray. “For now, we must subdue him!”

But before he could make good on his statement, Xing Tian’s face twisted up and an earth-shaking roar burst from his stomach-mouth. Both Sun Wukong and Zhong Kui were bowled over by the force of it, and the two gods were sent flying like leaves caught in a wind. Mulan held her ground, but only just. As the echo of his cry faded, she squared off with their opponent. Xing Tian studied her.

“I am surprised he did not come himself. I was assured that he would.”

“Who are you talking about?” Mulan asked. “What are you doing here? Why are you trying to free the thing that is buried in this forsaken place?” She shook her head. “In all the stories I have heard of you, you are spoken of as a warrior of courage and honor.”

“It is my honor that compels me to do this thing,” Xing Tian growled. He swiped the air with his axe and indicated a nearby hole. Mist billowed slowly from its depths, and she could see the crooked ghosts of the hungry dead crouched watchfully about its circumference. “It is for my honor that I have come to this sad place and hacked through these stinking stones. And yet I still do not have what I was promised. Still, he hides from me.”

“Who?”

“Who do you think, child? He who calls himself emperor. He is no more fit to occupy the throne than the one before him. Only my lord was worthy.” Xing Tian gestured to the heavens. “I waged war in his name. I still do. I always will, until I achieve victory.”

“Your lord is dead,” Zhong Kui growled as he rose awkwardly to his feet. “Your war was lost long ago. There is no honor in this, headless one.” He reached down and helped Sun Wukong up. “What you hope to do here will destroy the world.”

“Or save it,” Xing Tian said.

“Enough talk,” Sun Wukong said, as he lunged towards Xing Tian once more. Axe and cudgel came together with a thunderous crash. Zhong Kui raced to join the Monkey King, while Mulan moved between the combatants and the hole. If Xing Tian got past her companions, it would be up to her to stop him.

The earth trembled beneath her feet, and the ghosts began to wail in what she suspected was equal parts fear and anticipation. More of the foul mist geysered from the ruptured ground, as if some immense, unseen form were shifting restlessly beneath the earth. She ducked aside as Sun Wukong hurtled past her. He slammed into the rocks, scattering ghosts, and tumbled into a groaning heap. A moment later, the Demon Queller was flung into the dust at her feet, insensate.

“Children and fools,” Xing Tian panted, his torso-face twisted into an expression of what she could only call resignation. “Where is he? Why does he refuse to face me?”

Mulan paused. Something in his voice caught her attention – not anger, but frustration. “You – you truly thought he would be here, didn’t you?” she asked, keeping her sword low. “That’s why you’re doing this. You don’t actually want to free this evil. If you did, you would have done so already. You are trying to draw out the Jade Emperor…”

Xing Tian laughed hoarsely. “Yes. I was told this place had special meaning for him. That he would not risk the demon being freed. That he would have no choice but to intervene.” He pointed his axe at her. “Instead, he sent you.” The great shoulders shrugged, and there was a hint of what might have been sadness in his voice. “Then, perhaps it was foolish of me to expect him to show such courage…”

“Courage does not have a single face, relentless one,” a calm, gentle voice interjected. “I’d hoped that you might have learned that, in all these sad years of strife.”

Xing Tian turned with a low snarl of triumph. “There you are. Yu Huang."

Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor, spread his hands. “Here I am.” He had not come alone. Several other gods stood to either side of him – Hou Yi, with an arrow nocked and ready to loose; Erlang Shen, the Illustrious Sage, with his hound crouched at his feet, awaiting his command; the winged, youthful form of Jing Wei; and Guan Yu, the Saint of War himself and her mentor in the ways of godhood.

Jing Wei darted forward, wings thrumming. “Xing Tian, for the love you bore my father, I ask that you set your axe aside. Do not do this thing – please!"

Xing Tian hesitated. “It is in your father’s name that I do this. For his memory – the memory of a true emperor, one worthy of a warrior’s loyalty.” He turned so that his torso faced the Jade Emperor, leaving no doubt in Mulan’s mind who those words were intended for. He levelled his axe at the assembled gods. “The throne of heaven demands the strength of a true leader. One who is not afraid to wage war upon those who would break the earth.”

“Still your tongue, headless one,” Guan Yu growled. He fell silent as Yu Huang raised a hand.

“Xing Tian is free to speak,” he said, softly. “Indeed, I doubt any among us could stop him, if he believed that he was in the right.” He stepped forward, waving Guan Yu and the other gods back as he did so. “That is why I am here now. To see which of us is correct.” He raised a hand, and crooked a finger in a come hither gesture. “Come, relentless one – make your case to heaven, with all due fervour and righteousness.”

Xing Tian advanced with a roar, axe raised, and the Jade Emperor went to meet him.

Chapter 3 - Celestial Sovereign[]

Xing Tian charged, axe raised, his torso-face twisted into a roar of fury – and not a little triumph. Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor, met him with a frown. “I say again, there is no need for this, revered warrior. Whatever our differences, let us settle them with words – not steel.” But Xing Tian kept coming heedless of his opponent’s words.

Yu Huang sighed and gestured. An instant later, the air before him erupted into a volley of fiery missiles that streaked towards Xing Tian. Mulan flinched back as the missiles struck their target, one after the next. She hesitated, uncertain as to whether to go to Yu Huang’s aid. But when she looked at Guan Yu and the other gods who had accompanied their sovereign, she saw that they were relaxed; certain, perhaps, of their sovereign’s ability to deal with one headless warrior. Even Hou Yi had placed his arrow back into its quiver.

Guan Yu met her gaze and gave a slight shake of his head. A duel, then – and one not to be interfered with. Instead, she turned her attentions to her companions, Sun Wukong and Zhong Kui. Both had been felled by Xing Tian earlier, and were only now stirring. “What hit me?” the Monkey King growled, rubbing his head.

“Xing Tian,” Mulan said, offering him her hand.

“Oh, yeah. I remember now.” Sun Wukong clambered upright with her help. His eyes were fixed on the clash between Xing Tian and Yu Huang. “Looks like someone decided to shift his celestial fundament and pitch in.”

“Given that his arrival is all that kept Xing Tian from chopping us to pieces, it might behove you to show a bit more respect,” Zhong Kui grumbled, as he made his way towards them. He looked at Mulan. “Something is wrong here. Xing Tian is relentless – arrogant – but not mad. He would not seek to release the demon king unless he was certain that it was the right thing to do…”

She nodded. “It was a trap. Meant to draw the Jade Emperor out – but why? Xing Tian is powerful, but even he cannot defeat Yu Huang…can he?” Her gaze strayed back to the duel. Xing Tian was becoming enraged. The Jade Emperor refused to meet him in combat; rather, he simply retreated, avoiding his opponent’s attacks.

“Fight me Yu Huang,” Xing Tian bellowed, pursuing Yu Huang across the broken ground. “Are you a coward? Is that why you flee? You are no emperor – where is your courage? Fight me!”

“One might ask the same of you,” Yu Huang replied, taking several quick steps back, out of reach of his opponent. “What do you fear, Xing Tian? Why do you desire my defeat? What has prompted this unseemly display?”

“You are not worthy of the throne you occupy,” Xing Tian snarled. “That is why you will lose it!” He raised his axe and sprang. As he did so, the beads on the Jade Emperor’s headdress blazed with light and Yu Huang gestured sharply. Four flickering cinders streaked from his fingers, searing the air as they encircled Xing Tian. The cinders came together with a roar of flame, engulfing the headless warrior in a blinding conflagration. Yu Huang made a fist, and the fires swirled upwards, tossing Xing Tian like a leaf on a hot wind.

He struck the ground with an earth-shaking crash, and lay smoldering. But only for a moment. True to his title, the headless warrior struggled to his hands and knees, smoke rising from his battered frame. He fumbled blindly for the haft of his axe.

“Is that – is that the best you can do?” he croaked. “Your predecessor struck me harder than that, and he was a weakling.” He rose unsteadily to his feet. “As you are weak. Look around you, Yu Huang – look at the faces of your servants. They see you now for what you are, a pretender to the celestial glories you so cunningly claimed.” He spread his arms. “You cannot even defeat me – how can you hope to lead us through the dangers that await us in this new world you and the others created?”

Mulan frowned and looked at Zhong Kui. “What is he talking about?” she murmured. “The world is always as it has been.” Zhong Kui shook his head, clearly as at a loss as she was. Guan Yu, Jing Wei and the others seemed equally confused.

Xing Tian took in their bewilderment and gave a hoarse chuckle. “They do not remember,” he continued. “But I do, now. I know that the world burned for your weakness. It went mad. And you sat and did nothing. I know …and I am not alone. Others know.” He gripped his axe in both hands. “They know you are weak, and they will expose it to all of heaven. The story of your fall will echo through the pantheons…a warning to those like you, who claim honours they do not deserve.”

The Jade Emperor smiled sadly. “I claimed nothing, Relentless One. I was given all that I have, by our fellow gods. In time, they may well give it to another – for who can predict the course of heaven? Empires rise and fall, even divine ones. No mandate is eternal.” He sat on the ground, arranging his robes about him. “I was a child and then an immortal, and then a god. Now I am the emperor of gods. In time, I will be something else.” He looked at Xing Tian. “Tell me, Xing Tian: are you content as you are?” Yu Huang closed his eyes. “You could be so much more than what I see before me.”

Xing Tian gave a low growl and took a step towards his opponent. “What are you doing? Open your eyes, fool. This is a duel!”

The Jade Emperor nodded serenely. “Yes, but who is my opponent?”

“Me!”

Yu Huang did not open his eyes. “No. By your own words, you are but a blade, wielded by another. Do you find comfort in service, Xing Tian? Is that why you demand purpose of others, rather than finding it within yourself?”

“Enough of this. I will take your head now.” Xing Tian took another step towards the seated form of Yu Huang, his axe raised menacingly. Guan Yu raised his guan dao and Hou Yi reached for an arrow, but before either of them could do more, Erlang Shen stretched out his arm in a silent signal to subside. Mulan watched in wonderment as the gods stepped back, even as Xing Tian drew perilously close to the Jade Emperor’s person.

“We can’t just stand here,” Sun Wukong muttered. He made to leap towards Xing Tian, but Mulan caught him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him back.

“We can. We must trust in the Jade Emperor’s wisdom,” she said, though privately, she agreed with the Monkey King. Sitting with one’s eyes closed did not exactly seem a practical stratagem.

But as she watched, Yu Huang’s seated form rose slowly from the ground. Xing Tian stopped, perplexed by this new tactic. The Jade Emperor’s form was limned in silvery light, which pulsed and swelled, shaping itself into the outline of a coiled dragon. The dragon reared slowly, looking down at Xing Tian with eyes that flashed like lightning.

“What is this…?” Xing Tian asked, backing away. “Some new trick? It will not save you, Yu Huang. I will topple you – for the good of all!” He hunched forward, ready to strike. Mulan held her breath.

The Jade Emperor opened his eyes.

The dragon uncoiled and surged towards Xing Tian. It crashed into him and swooped upwards, carrying him in its maw. His axe clanged to the ground, forgotten. Mulan looked up and saw a second dragon, descending towards the first. The two serpentine forms met in mid-air, with an echoing thunderclap. Streamers of silver light radiated outwards across the sky as the limp, burning form of Xing Tian tumbled to the earth.

The headless warrior struck the ground with a dull boom – and did not rise again.

In the silence that followed, Mulan released the breath she’d been holding and took a hesitant step towards the fallen warrior. The Jade Emperor approached from the other side, his hands behind his back. “Is he -?” Mulan began.

“Dead? No. Merely unconscious. It would take more force than I am willing to bring to bear to put an end to Xing Tian. Even then, it would be no sure thing.” He sank to one knee, his hand hovering over Xing Tian’s broad back. “He will be angry, when he awakens. But perhaps not so angry that he will not listen to reason.”

“We should imprison him now – while we have the chance,” Sun Wukong said.

Yu Huang looked at him and smiled thinly. “And how well did that work with you, oh Great Sage, Equal of Heaven?”

Sun Wukong shrugged. “It’s not like I escaped,” he protested. He gave Xing Tian’s body a swift, surreptisious kick, yelped and hopped back, clutching his foot. “Even unconscious he’s as hard as stone!”

“Serves you right,” Mulan murmured, elbowing him in the ribs. She looked at Yu Huang. “I still don’t understand what he hoped to gain with this display. Surely he did not believe that he could actually defeat you?”

“Perhaps someone convinced him that it was necessary,” Jiang Wei said, sadly. She knelt beside the unconscious warrior. “Once he believes something, its impossible to convince him otherwise. My father used to say that he was as stubborn as a mountain.”

“Xing Tian was but a tool,” the Jade Emperor said, softly. “This was a test. Someone wished to know if my strength had waned. Or, perhaps simply whether I was paying attention or not.” His expression was remorseful as he examined the unconscious warrior. “Now they know. Only time will tell what they intend to do with that knowledge.”

“Who do you think it was?” Hou Yi asked. “Ao Kuang, perhaps? The Dragon King of the Eastern Seas has long chafed beneath your rule.” Jing Wei and several of the others nodded at this. Mulan thought it a likely possibility. Ao Kuang’s unhappiness was common knowledge, for he never failed to announce it to anyone who would listen.

“It could just as easily be someone from one of the other pantheons,” Guan Yu rumbled, stroking his beard. “They have long envied our prosperity.”

The Jade Emperor waved a hand dismissively. “Whoever they are, they will reveal themselves soon enough. Or not. Either way, it is best to make no assumptions.”

“What Xing Tian said – about the world…what did he mean?” Mulan asked. She hadn’t meant to voice the question aloud. Yu Huang looked at her, and for a moment, she feared she had overstepped. But instead of growing angry, the Jade Emperor rose slowly to his feet and folded his hands within his sleeves.

“The world is a story, with many beginnings and endings,” he said, after a moment. “It has been told forever, and each time it ends, it begins anew – each time a bit differently, sometimes inconsistently. Sometimes it does not go the way we might wish. But it is always the same story, at heart. And we all have our parts to play.” He looked down at Xing Tian. “Even the stubbornest soul has a place in the telling.”

“But –” Mulan began. The Jade Emperor gestured, and she fell silent.

“In past versions of the story, emperors and kings went into battle as eagerly as the warriors they led. And this resulted in much hardship for those caught in the middle of such conflicts. When I ascended to the throne of heaven, I resolved to be a different sort of leader. One who personally takes to the field only when there is no other option. That is my story.”

“Maybe it is time to change that,” Guan Yu said. Yu Huang smiled gently and nodded, as if in agreement. Mulan thought something passed between them in that moment. An acknowledgement of sorts, though about what, she could not say.

“Maybe,” Yu Huang said. “Or maybe the one who follows me will do so. Maybe that is why Xing Tian was here today – to force me into a new story. As I said before, none can predict the course of heaven, and it is a fool who tries. In the meantime, the throne of heaven is mine, and I will do as I think best.”

“And that is?” Erlang Shen asked, crossing his arms.

“I will wait. I will meditate, and gather my strength. For when the time comes, and our true foe reveals themselves, I must be ready.” The Jade Emperor bowed his head and turned away from his fellow gods.

“We must all be ready.”

Chapter 4: Worthy[]

Merlin stepped into the audience chamber and was, as ever, impressed with how well it reflected the thought processes of its builder. The space was utilitarian; practical. Nothing wasted, nothing out of place. Such was how many had described Camelot’s ruler – even Merlin himself, at times. There were worse things a king could be, Merlin knew.

That often meant pre-empting certain situations before they turned into full-blown problems. Merlin was happy to nudge the elbow of fate when he thought it was called for, but Arthur had made such interference into an art form, especially of late. Not just when it came to his fellow rulers, either.

“We’ll be caught in the middle, if he fails,” Arthur said. He ran a hand through his hair. “If your auguries are right, I mean,” he added, with a flash of boyish humor.

“And when have they ever been wrong?” Merlin said, fixing his former student with a stern eye. Arthur laughed and shook his head.

“I don’t doubt you or your visions, Merlin. I just wish they were a bit clearer is all. We could weather a clash of kingdoms easily enough. But…” He trailed off, shaking his head. Merlin nodded in understanding.

“A clash of pantheons, on the other hand, might well swallow us all up.”

Arthur sat back, a look of weariness on his face. His eyes fell to Excalibur and Merlin recalled the last time Arthur had wielded the blade against a member of one of the pantheons – Norse, in this instance – near Deira. Though Arthur was something close to a god himself these days, it had nonetheless been a taxing encounter. Merlin had almost been forced to intervene, however much it might have stung Arthur’s warrior-pride. But the king had won the day on his own power and forced his opponent, Tyr, from the field.

There was peace between Camelot and the Norse these days; an uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless. Arthur was loathe to endanger it. But the auguries had been clear – war was on the horizon, borne on night-black wings. Unless they stopped it.

“He will succeed, Arthur,” Merlin said, and hoped, despite his own forebodings, that he spoke the truth. “Lancelot does not know the meaning of failure.”

*

Some days later, and far to the north, Lancelot du Lac urged his horse through the snow and peered up at the mountains that rose wild above him. The wind bit fiercely at his exposed skin, and he pulled his cloak more tightly about him. It had taken nearly a week’s hard riding to reach the spot Merlin had described to him, but thus far he’d seen nothing of interest save snow and more snow.

He patted his horse’s neck, and felt the animal trembling. “Tired, are you?” he asked, softly. “Me too. Let’s take our ease, and wait to see whether there’s anything to this prophecy of Merlin’s.” He slid easily from the saddle and led the exhausted animal towards a nearby scattering of standing stones. The stones had knotwork markings carved into them – boundary markers, perhaps, denoting the frontier of some long-vanished kingdom. He paid them little mind as he gathered wood and lit a fire.

Lancelot saw to his horse first, and then made to feed himself. He was nearing the end of the provisions he’d brought. Soon, he’d have to forage if he wanted to keep himself fed. If he were lucky, something would happen before then. He stoked the fire, adding more sticks, feeling the old, familiar impatience stirring within him.

He hated waiting. He always had. He longed for action – not battle, necessarily. But he’d never turned away from a fight, and he didn’t intend to do so now. Not when so much was depending on him. He stirred the fire again, and stared into the flames. It reminded him of other fires, other battles. Dragon-fire and sorcery. He had faced warlocks and monsters by the dozens since he had come to Camelot, and worse besides.

None of it was enough. Bravery was not enough. That was what Merlin said. Camelot had brave men aplenty. Courage alone could not win a warrior a seat at the Round Table. To be a knight of the Round Table, a warrior must show that he possessed more than skill at arms, more than the ferocity to put enemies to flight.

“I must be more,” he murmured.

“I have always thought you more than enough,” a woman’s voice murmured. Startled, Lancelot leapt to his feet, his hand reaching for his sword. A familiar form sat across the fire from him. She had arrived so silently that he had not heard her approach. Then, it was said that none could see Morgan Le Fay, unless she wished it.

He sat back down. “Morgan. Might I ask why you’re here?”

“Can I not simply pay an old friend a visit?” Morgan asked, with a chuckle.

Lancelot frowned. “Forgive me, but we are not friends.”

She clucked her tongue, as if in disappointment. “Oh, come now Lancelot. If I were not your friend, I would not be here.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Merely that I am here to help you, of course.” Morgan reached out and ran her fingers through the fire, causing it to change color. “Merlin sent you to solve a problem. Don’t bother denying it; I know everything that goes on in Camelot.”

Lancelot nodded, knowing there was no use in denying it. “If you know why I am here, then you know better than to interfere with a knight of the Round Table.”

“Ah, but you are not of the Round Table yet, are you? Arthur keeps you at arm’s length, advised to do so, no doubt, by Merlin. Merlin does not think you are worthy to sit at his precious table – and he has convinced you of the same. So now how you are, engaged in another impossible quest. How many times will you risk your life before you see sense?”

Lancelot smiled gently. “I might ask you the same question, Morgan. How many times will you come to me with your pretty lies before you realize that I will not join you?”

Morgan stood. “Lies are but the shadow of truth. Merlin taught me that.” She gestured, and the flames rose up, forcing him back. She gestured in the direction of his steed, and the animal snorted in sudden fright. His horse tore itself loose from where he’d tethered it and galloped away, kicking at the air as if under attack.

“What have you done to my horse?” he demanded, taking a step towards her. Morgan gestured again, and the flames reached out as if to envelope him. Lancelot drew his sword and retreated. “Cease this madness, Morgan. I do not wish to fight you!”

“What if I give you no choice?” Morgan laughed, from the other side of the fire. “If I defeat you, will you finally listen to me?”

“You wouldn’t be the first to try,” Lancelot said, trying to keep a rein on his temper. Getting angry would solve nothing – indeed, he half-suspected that was Morgan’s aim. She was trying to provoke him into some rash action. But what?

“You will see sense soon enough,” she said. “Then you will call on me, Lancelot du Lac, and I will come with all due haste. Call my name, and I will show you that I can be a better friend to you than either Merlin or Arthur could ever hope to be, whatever you believe. That I promise you.” At her words, the flames lunged for him and he slashed out. They parted before his steel, revealing – nothing. Morgan was gone. The only trace of her presence was the faint echo of fading laughter.

Lancelot sighed and sheathed his sword. Morgan had made her interest in him plain from the start. She wanted his loyalty because Arthur had it – and, by extension, Merlin. She desired Camelot for herself, or so Merlin claimed. Lancelot wasn’t sure that she desired the kingdom itself, so much as she desired Merlin’s defeat. He’d asked her about it once, in his innocence. She had merely laughed and attempted to beguile him with her sorceries. He knew better than to bandy words with her now.

He started after his horse. He knew the animal hadn’t gone far. It was too well-trained for that. But there were wild beasts aplenty in these lands, and a lone horse would be seen as easy prey – even one bred for war. As he followed his steed’s trail, he wondered why Morgan had even bothered to send the animal running. Was it just an expression of her spiteful nature, or did she have some ulterior motive?

Lancelot was still pondering the matter when he found the animal. Morgan’s spell had driven the horse into a dense thicket of trees nearby, where it stood trembling. Lancelot made his way over to it and began to stroke its neck while murmuring soft encouragement. The animal grew calmer, but stamped the ground in warning. When he saw its nostrils flare, he realized that it smelled something. “What is it?” he murmured, reaching for his lance where it was strapped to his saddle. “What do you smell?”

The horse stamped the ground again, and whickered. Then, as if in reply, a great roar echoed from somewhere deeper in the trees. The horse reared, and Lancelot turned.

A bear lumbered suddenly into view, panting. Arrows jutted from its hide, and the tang of blood settled on the chill air. Its eyes fixed on Lancelot, and it reared, roaring in challenge. Thinking quickly, Lancelot swatted his horse on the flank. “Go! Give me room.” Without waiting to see if the animal would listen, he raised his lance and shouted to catch the bear’s attentions. “Here! Over here!”

The bear swung its shaggy head towards him and took a heavy step in his direction. Blood pattered the snow. He was amazed that the animal hadn’t yet succumbed to its wounds. Even as he thought it, the bear tried to rear again, but faltered and collapsed in a heap. Lancelot stared for a moment, then cautiously made his way to the bear’s side. It was still breathing, but only with difficulty. There were half a dozen arrows in the bear’s flesh, and they all shimmered with a strange light.

Setting his lance aside, he carefully extricated one of the arrows and examined it. It was cold to the touch – like ice. It shattered into shimmering fragments in his hands, and the fragments spun away on the wind. The bear moaned in obvious pain, and Lancelot felt a surge of pity for the beast. “Easy,” he said, reaching to pluck away another arrow.

“Step away from the beast.”

The voice was cold; calm. Like ice on stone. Lancelot turned to see a strange figure clad in a blue cloak and armor, with a bow and quiver strapped to his broad back. The newcomer ducked beneath a tree branch and brandished a pair of axes. “This quarry is mine, mortal. Find your own.”

Lancelot stared at the being before him. His eyes widened in sudden realization. “You are a god,” he said. It was not a question. The newcomer’s divinity beat against his senses like cold water.

“I am Ullr, and the bear is mine.” Ullr pointed one of his axes at Lancelot. “Now stand aside, mortal – or become my prey as well.”

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