Slain in Ailech, without Blemish
rating: +20+x

“Neit son of Indu, and his two wives, Badb and Nemain, truly, Were slain in Ailech, without blemish, By Neptur of the Fomorians”

Nemain grunted, yanking her axe from the giant’s skull, and relished in the thick spray of hot grey blood. She felt her rage wane, her bloodlust sated, for now. This, she thought, must be the greatest feeling in the world. As the pounding in her ears subsided, she took in the scene of carnage around her.

The Fomorians had invaded, spewing forth from the frothing depths as an angry horde. She looked on at the army she had raised to stop them, mortal women and men in simple armour, standing side by side against the tide. They were dying in droves, unable to withstand the giant’s onslaught, but they were dying damn well, and her heart swelled with pride at the sheer insanity of their last stand. Rubbing the drying blood out of her face and up into her increasingly matted grey hair, she began to make her way once more to where the frenzy was thickest.

Ahead, she saw a hulking colossus, horrible to behold. It had the body of a man, although stretched unnaturally, with too short legs and too long arms. Its head was that of a goat, and in its long, matted hair and beard was weaved the skulls of its victims, some yellowed with age and stained with blood. It carried with it a great stone, encrusted with barnacles and seagrass, which it smashed with gleeful laughter into the warriors around it, reducing brave men and women to a thin paste.

Nemain stepped forward, feeling the thunderous beating beneath her skin increase in intensity as the Riastrid pulsed through her. Leaping through the throng, axe raised, she tried desperately to come up with a worthy sounding challenge to the goliath. Would it know the one she had used before her duel with Cu? Did bards sing stories to undersea goat-men? Better to be safe than sorry. She cleared her throat, then announced her presence;

“Name yourself, beast, that I might know who to toast when I drink from your skull.”

The creature paused its savage onslaught, turning to her. It opened its cavernous mouth to speak, and the stench of salt brine and rotten fish filled the air, turning the stomachs of several warriors.

“Ah, finally, one of the Tuatha-de-Danann. Know this, I am Neptur of deepest Fomor, marshal of the depths, doom of all Ireland. I shall enjoy squishing you.”

“Then I am Nemain, one of the Sisters Three. I am the rage that dwells in the hearts of men, the madness of battle, and the crippling fear of death.”

She hefted her axe as the beleaguered warriors around her cheered, drowning out the noise of battle for a moment with their eagerness to see their bloodied goddess avenge their brethren. Amongst her fellow gods, Nemain had never been afraid to get down in the mud with the rank and file, and oh, how they loved her for it.

“Flee whilst you still can.”

With that, the giant began, deceptively fast for his size. His body shifted and morphed as he bounded towards her, muscle flowing like a crashing wave. She sprang forward to meet him, darting left to avoid the heft of the stone obelisk and scoring a glancing cut on the giant’s leg.

Rolling forward from the momentum, Nemain spun round. A circle of warriors had gathered around the two, giving her space to manoeuvre around the giant’s colossal weapon. Closer now, she could see the giant’s body shimmering, rippling with his movement, as if he were made from the very sea itself. She would have to be careful.

Around her, the battle frothed and churned. If the giant wanted to face her with the tides of the sea, she mused, she would face it with a tide of her own. In her mind's eye, she stepped into the frothing current of the Riastrad, the rage of battle that all true warriors felt.

Her muscled frame tensing with adrenaline, Nemain circled the Fomorian, who eyed her with an increased wariness. They both struck, Nemain dodging once again around the giant. She knew a single blow might kill her in an instant. Leaping forward and grabbing onto one of the giant’s dangling braids, she swung around his massive bulk, planting both feet firmly on a skull as she did so. Using the momentum, she raised her axe, cleaving through the side of Neptur’s head, severing an ear and a knotted horn. The beast howled with pain, grey blood showering Nemain as she jumped from his shoulder.

Her smirk was quickly wiped from her face as Neptur shifted further, his torso twisting unnaturally until he was facing her, his body reversed at the waist. His heavy club swung upwards, dragging along the ground, and this time, falling through the air, she could not dodge.

As the stone crushed into her, the first thing she would have felt was each of her ribs shattering. The second thing she would have felt was those shards piercing her insides, as she was sent flying straight up through the air by the savage uppercut of a blow. She did not feel these things. Her rage was too great, as she sank more of herself into her domain, into the battle around her. Warriors from the circle began to twist and bulge, falling prey to the goddess’s terrible Riastrad as it flowed through their shared connection. These affected few threw themselves at Neptur, who cried out as his legs and ankles were shredded by the maddened warriors' onslaught, and he began to crush them underfoot.

As he was doing so, he failed to look up, and see Nemain fall from the sky like a terrible comet. In an instant, the giant was cut in twain from head to waist, collapsing in a pile of flesh and steaming blood. In the midst of the corpse, Nemain lay, body broken and twisted, as her rage faded from her body. A warrior approached the fallen goddess.

“Lady Nemain, oh gods. A healer, now!”

“I’m fine.” Nemain spat from cracked teeth and bloodied lips. “Let me just-”

She began to choke on her blood, her shredded insides giving way to the damage from the giant’s terrible blow.

“Let me just take a moment. To myself.”

She never gave it back.

Nemain awoke on a bed of moss. She sat up with a start, and winced, but the pain she expected never came. Examining herself, she found no evidence of her grievous wounds. Never one to dwell, she began to examine her surroundings. She was in her sacred grove, the place where her most favoured followers would lay offerings to her in the form of trophies of war, and of scars taken in battle, that she might bless them in strife to come.
Everything was the same: the trees, ancient and strong; the dolmen altar, moss covered, which she sat upon.

Reaching into the hollow of one of the larger trees, she found her clothes, and quickly got dressed. It was then that she noticed the sky. No clouds, no sun or moon. The sky was covered by a thick layer of grey smoky fog. Meaning to investigate further, she squeezed between the trees that served as an entrance to her grove and stopped suddenly.

Beyond the trees, pale blue water lapped at the ground. Her grove was no longer in the forests of Ballygawley Lough, but in the midst of a vast ocean, surrounded on all sides by a thick mist. A thick, musky smell assaulted her nostrils, and she realised with a start that the mist was a cloud of incense.

Over the course of the next hour or so, Nemain determined a few things.
Firstly, her grove was not an island, but was floating in the sea, and she could swim directly under it. It was, in fact, propelling itself forward via an unknown force.

Secondly, she was not, she assumed, in Ireland, as the sea she found herself floating in was freshwater, and while she dived fairly deep, she could not find a seabed.

Thirdly, she was incredibly bored. She’d begun singing to herself to pass the time. She was already on her tenth rendition of ‘This is fucking dull’ which, ironically, was starting to get a little dull itself.

Just as she was considering swimming ahead, she spotted a flickering light in the distance. Emerging out of the fog was a peculiar structure, what appeared to be two worn and eroded statues of a four-armed figure, one stacked on top of the other and held in place by thick ropes. Atop it was the source of the light, a bronze brazier with a roaring flame contained within.

“What in the-”

In the distance now, countless more lights emerged out of the fog, some at the same level as Nemain, others impossibly high up, like stars. Odd structures began to jut out of the mist at strange angles, reminiscent of the gnarled and ancient oaks of Ballygawley in the darkening months of the year. These structures were slowly revealed as great towers, ramshackle and irregular, seemingly constructed from a variety of differing styles of building stacked on top of each other and secured precariously. Between these spires, which filled the skyline, pendulous rope bridges swung, with several indistinct figures stepping between them. The source of the lights was a series of braziers, each one with a thick plume of smoke rising from them, seemingly the source of the incense laden mist.

At sea level, there was what appeared to be a sort of dockyard, constructed from recycled wood and rope. Now, Nemain could make out figures, of a variety of shapes and sizes. Several appeared to be like herself, identical to humans in the majority of ways. Fewer were humanlike, but with distinctly non-human features: many arms, a series of eyes, a multitude of heads. Fewer still, figures alien to her, a large one with the head of a great beast, with mighty tusks and a long tentacular appendage protruding from its face. Another, a ball of light, encompassed by two discs which rotated, bearing inscriptions in an unrecognisable tongue. The figures (and the ball, through some sorcery presumably) began to hoist ropes, as pulleys and machines creaked into life. Preparing for a fight, Nemain grabbed her axe, never far from her side, and stood ready to receive these invaders.

One of them, a larger woman with dark skin, holding a clay tablet, noticed this. She held a hand up to the war goddess in greeting, before bowing deeply. Nemain, interpreting this as a gesture of peace, took a moment to take her in, noting her attractive figure. Nothing wrong with noticing, she thought. She then shouted out.

“Hallo there, stranger. I am Nemain, of the Tuatha-de-Danann, hailing from Ballygawley Lough in Ireland. Pray tell, what strange lands are these?”

The woman with the tablet, to her surprise, answered fluently in her own tongue, if lightly touched by a slight accent that Nemain could not place.

“Hail, Nemain of Ireland. You find yourself in Ten-Thousand Spires. May we lift you and your vessel onto the docks?”

Nemain nodded, seeing no other option. Great hooks suspended from the pulleys and ropes around the dock descended, latching into the bottom of her grove, and began to gently pull it from the water. As it rose over the dock, Nemain leaped off with a flourish. It was good to be on solid ground again. Dockworkers, strange looking as they were, set to work immediately, utilising the surprisingly complex system to manoeuvre the grove to a wide trough, constructed out of wood, where it was gently placed.

The woman approached Nemain. Closer now, Nemain took her in fully. A pair of thin spectacles rested on her chest, hanging from a thin cord. She wore a strange dress, foreign to her, made from an awfully soft-looking material she had not seen before. Braided in her thick black hair were several gold and silver bands, with engravings in some foreign script. Her hands looked soft, without calluses that would suggest a labourer’s profession, but were stained with layers of dried clay.

The woman cleared her throat, and Nemain realised with a start that she had not been as stealthy in her examination as she thought. Battling the embarrassed flush that fought for prominence on her face, she stammered out a greeting.

“Er, Hi.”

The woman, thankfully, took it in her stride.

“Hi. I am Ninimma, of Babylon. I help to manage new arrivals to our home. I’m sure you have many questions, and I am prepared to answer them, but perhaps should we do so inside, with a warm beverage? Something spiced?”

Nemain nodded enthusiastically. That sounded wonderful. They made their way over to a small hut further into the docks. Inside was a comfortable looking room. A plethora of pillows of varying patterns, colours and sizes were scattered around a simple low table. Laid on the table was a small pouch, a teapot with two earthern cups, and a locked metal box. Ninimma made her way around the room before seating herself opposite the door. She picked up the pot, and poured a hot, red liquid from it, the smell of fresh berries and cinnamon wafting through the room. Nemain stood awkwardly, not used to the lowness of the table.

“Here, your drink. We have a lot to discuss, but, well, you may want to be sitting down.”

“I'm what?!”

The new arrival had risen to her feet, incredulous, scattering pillows across the room. Ninimma found herself grateful she had left her axe at the door. War deities were often, well, unpredictable.

“My condolences.”

She continued, repeating herself. The truth of the scenario they had found themselves in often took a while to settle for new arrivals.

“This is the afterlife for divine beings such as ourselves. Everyone here was once a god, goddess, or something similar.”

Nemain began to pace around the room, running a hand through her thick mass of grey hair. Ninimma postulated to herself that the hair had likely never so much as touched a brush before.

“How- I don’t?”

She spun around to face Ninimma.

“How can a god die? Isn’t that, like, impossible?” She gesticulated wildly. “I’ve literally died, and returned! I shouldn’t be able to die! I'm not a mortal, I'm the physical incarnation of madness and frenzy!”

“Well, sadly, that is not the full picture. A god can die in two known ways. One, when a god is no longer worshipped by any mortals, they pass on, arriving here. Two, a god truly dies when their physical incarnation is killed in what we call a ‘satisfying ending’. I take it that you experienced the latter?”

“Well, yes, but I wouldn’t exactly describe dying at the hands of some giant a fucking SATISFIYING ENDING!”

Ninimma winced. They really had to get round to changing the wording on that. The goddess, with a cry of rage, hurled the mug she had been holding against the wall, spraying the cushions with the remains of the berry tea. She seemed to have gotten larger somehow, her musculature bulging in a not entirely displeasing manner.

“Again, I am truly sorry for your loss. But, we’ve all been through the same. Everyone here is like you. And we’re here to help you through this.”

“Oh, really? How did you die then? Was it a satisfying fucking ending? Did you get to go out in a blaze of fucking glory?!”

“No. The last of my followers died out, and their children had no interest in their parents' gods. I was consigned to history, and faded away. I have been here for fifty or so years.”

In an instant, Nemain's rage faded, her face suddenly struck with a look of intense guilt. Ninimma thought it looked quite odd on a face so covered with scars. Taking a moment to settle herself with a deep breath, she spoke again.

“Apologies for that… outburst. I did not mean to imply your death was not as, say, distressing as mine. But when I say we have all been through this, I mean it.”

Nemain flopped down onto the pile of cushions, her chest swelling with short, panicky breaths.

“Sorry. Sorry. Sometimes I just… I find my emotions welling up inside and I can’t keep a lid on it and - I’ve been told its a symptom of my domain, y’see, I’m a-”

“Nemain, goddess of Ireland, incarnation of battlerage, terror and madness. Often described as one of a trio of sisters, known as the Morrigan?”

Ninimma looked up from the clay tablet she had been reading off, the text on it already fading to a blank slate. Nemain was staring at her, mouth agape.

“How did you know that?”

“I am, or rather, was, a goddess of scribes and recordkeepers. I have recorded many tales of the other beings here, and am blessed with the ability to recall them all.” She tapped at her clay tablet with her stylus. “A fae spirit arrived here around thirty-five years ago. They supplied me, for a steep price, with a great many tales of the deities of Ireland, yours amongst them. Like I said, I do understand you.”

Ninimma reached for the pot, from which she poured a fresh cup of tea.

“Let’s take a minute to relax, and then we can press onto more official business. Why don't you tell me about your home.”

Nemain sipped from her cup. She wasn’t sure what kind of berries these were, but they were absolutely delicious. Food apparently was of minimal issue in Ten-Thousand Spires, and was handled by a variety of agricultural deities.

“Now that we’re settled, let’s get back to some pressing topics. Nothing as distressing, thankfully, but important nevertheless.”

Ninimma scratched away at her strange magical tablet, and then turned it to face Nemain.

“Now, firstly, let’s get you someplace to stay. It is city policy to repossess the places of worship that divine beings arrive upon, as they are necessary for expanding the city and making sure that everyone can be cared for. Unfortunately, your grove is on the smaller side of things, and doesn’t contain many materials of use.”

Nemain began to start, before Ninimma raised a hand, then continued.

“Nevertheless, I am judging it to be of aesthetic and cultural value. It will be installed in one of our parks, and I assure you it will not be torn down for materials. Many forest spirits and deities require natural life to survive, and the city provides for all its people. We’re in this together.”

Ninimma reached into the metal box, counting out piles of grey coins, before placing them into the pouch.

“This is how much you will receive for your grove, as well as rights to visit it whenever you please, although it will remain public property. The city has also assigned you a place of residence. All of your other possessions-” Ninimma warily eyed the axe leaning against the doorframe. “-are yours to keep. You will be contacted in the coming weeks about what sort of work you’d like to undertake. For deities of a physical domain, such as yourself, I often recommend either construction, navy or peacekeeping.”

“What does the navy do? Look for gods who don’t float their way here?”

“Partly that, partly working on the docks. They also protect the city from any enemies that may seek to attack it.”

“Enemies? I thought we were all in this together?”

“Yes, we are. Some arrivals choose not to cooperate with the city and its folk, and spend their time causing trouble. There’s a handful of floating colonies of dissidents out there. Consider yourself lucky you found your way here first. But, don’t worry about that for now. Take this time to settle in. I will act as your guide for your first few months here, and your new home is close to mine, so feel free to seek me out for any aid you require. That wraps up most of our official business, so shall we walk to your new home?”

Nemain nodded. She really just wanted to lie down and sleep for quite a while. Dying had turned out to be a real downer.

Waving to the dockworkers as she left, Nemain and Ninimma entered one of the towers. From the inside, she could see how strange it was. It had seemingly been fashioned from the temples that beings arrived on, and constructed haphazardly together to form a soaring tower that scraped at the clouds themselves. The large braziers hung on every corner, burning away. Ninimma informed her that certain objects, for unknown reasons, refilled themselves, mainly things like incense, holy water and other materials used in rite and ceremony. Many Deities apparently find such things delectable, and so incense was burned citywide, and holy waters distributed through a system of pipes and guttering.

Emerging from the tower, the pair began to cross a series of shoddy looking rope bridges, Ninimma with practised certainty and Nemain with a huntswomen’s grace. Along the way, Ninimma pointed out a variety of styles of building and the gods that occupied them. Ten-Thousand Spires, she learnt, was loosely organised into districts based on various religions, and the towers built from the holy places of those religions.

They passed through several Sumerian towers, built from carved mud brick sections of ancient ziggurats, and greeted Gallu; surprisingly friendly demons who stood tall and rake thin, and who bowed deeply to Ninimma whenever they crossed paths. They descended onto the ground floor of the city, and strolled through several meticulously kept gardens and forests, where an arrayed mass of spirits frolicked and wandered. Ninimma had called them 'Yolkeye', but Nemain could not see any egg-eyed creatures. Maybe eggs looked different outside of Ireland? A great feathered lizard soared ahead, its long body twisting between the tops of several green-tiled pyramids that lay above swampland, and were connected by bridges. The sound of hoots and hollering came from the courtyards of Mandirs, as animal-like humanoids within challenged each other to various feats of skill and strength, laughing and celebrating all the while. Nemain made a note to return here once she’d gotten her bearings to let off a little steam, scratching a notch into her belt so she would remember. As she idly ran her fingers along the many other notches on the strip of leather, recalling fond memories, Ninimma turned to her.

“We’ve arrived. Welcome to Mezquita.”

Ahead of her was a wide building. What looked to be a large and ornate complex was positioned around a central building that looked younger somehow than the rest of the place. Colourful arches ran throughout, alternating between white and orange. Nemain had never seen a building so unique before. In the distance, a medium-sized bell tower stood, dwarfed by the surrounding ones that the city had built.

“What kind of being lived here?”

Ninimma shook her head.

“Mezquita is actually two holy places combined. A people built the great complex you see before you, with the coloured arches, on land that they had conquered. Later, the original inhabitants returned, and decided to convert this place to practise their own religion. This is why we use it as a place for new residents to stay, to reinforce the idea that we are all working as one in this realm. As for who lived here, we do not know what happened to them. Both of these religions only recognised one single deity, and they aren't amongst us.”

Nemain shook her head, dismissing the ridiculous notion. How could one deity handle all domains? You couldn’t have one being as the goddess of war and peace!

“You’ll be staying in the bell tower. It’s an interesting space. I think you’ll appreciate it.”

Entering the tower, Nemain was surprised to see no stairs, but instead a system of ropes that the resident had to climb to reach the rooms at the top.
“A previous resident, a monkey god, converted it into this. They missed the sensation of climbing and leaping from trees, and we hadn’t got round to changing it back, but I think you’ll be okay with this?”

Nemain tested the ropes, and found them sturdy.

“Yeah. This might be fun.”

“I’ll be back later, but I’ll leave you to get settled.”

Ninimma turned and walked out the door. Nemain watched her leave. A minute later, she snapped herself out of her daydreaming, and began to climb the ropes up to the room at the top of the tower. A dome took up most of the space, but several hammocks were tied up above it, and a small platform installed on one side of the room with a table and stove. It was simple, nothing lavish, but pleasant. Given time, it could be quite relaxing. Nemain took a deep breath. Where she usually found a core of writhing madness and rage, she found herself strangely at peace. Her wars of the past behind her. For now. Exhaling, she took in the space around her.

“This’ll do. This’ll do just fine.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License