Kevin yelled Maïmoú’s name just as an air raid siren blared through the warehouse.
He was knocked off of his feet from the earthquake’s aftershocks. Glass from above shattered and knocked water out of the tanks. The floor, solid concrete, cracked around the heavier tanks.
“Kevin!” Viper hit the glass tank. “Kevin, what’s happening?”
He held his head, trying to get his answer. “M-Maïmoú?” he thought.
“Where are you?” she asked through his mind. It sounded like she was snarling through the words, ready to hit the closest thing next to her. “Shào…Shào…”
“I don’t know where I am. I’m in the center of W4, I think?”
“I know you’re up there!” Maïmoú snapped, voice echoing like she was running in and out of his ears. “I can sense you, you creature!”
The lights flickered, and an echo of confused cries carried through the building like the moans of the dead.
Viper sunk deeper into the tank, watching her world shake.
Kevin got up carefully so he didn’t fall over and palmed the glass. “I’m here. It’s okay.”
“Is this that thing that happens to you?” she asked. “The invisible person who hurts you?”
Kevin swallowed hard. “Yeah, but I’m here. It’s okay.”
“But it’s not.” She watched a piece of the ceiling fall near the stairs and winced when it crashed on the floor. “You’re going to get hurt. Can you see?”
“A little. Can you?”
“I can see in the dark, but Kala…” She turned back from where she’d swam. “I need to get back to her. She can’t see. She doesn’t know. S-she doesn’t…” Exasperated bubbles left the corners of her lips. “I need to find her.”
Kevin dug his nails into the glass, trying to get past the barrier keeping them apart. He didn’t doubt her abilities to swim back to Tokala in complete darkness, he just didn’t want her to leave where he couldn’t follow. He could see in the dark, but not as well as Nikki or Viper or most crossbreeds. He’d literally be in the dark, alone with Maïmoú’s rage.
And he, right now, didn’t want that, but he still said, “Go find her. I’ll…” He looked at the entrance he’d come through to chase her. An unstable walkway was teetering dangerously over it. He stepped back. “I’ll go back to my room. It’ll be safer there than being out in the open. I think that’s how earthquakes work.”
“What’s an earthquake?”
“I can’t be visible right now,” Maïmoú said, so close to his ear, it made him shiver. “I’m holding up parts of the building and I know, I know he’s near. He’s—Fuck, Shào, I’m here! Look at me! Look—”
She was gone from his mind.
Guards ran in and out of the foyer, yelling for their superiors to answer their earpieces and ignoring all the floating, frightened waterborne in need of help.
Kevin, shaking, gave Viper an affirming nod. “Go. It’ll be okay.”
“You’ll be okay?” she restated, and Kevin just nodded to hide the waver in his voice.
He waited until she swam out of view, which took a few seconds due to her constantly looking back at him. When she was gone, Kevin took a breath and turned to find his way back to safety. His eyes never left the ceiling. Dust was now mushrooming out with every shake.
Many of the waterborne had left the safety of their tanks in search of answers. The rules down here were thrown to the wayside since the guards were just as confused as they were. They were all grouped in comfort circles, asking questions and waddling in place.
“Maïmoú,” he said under his breath. “Maïmoú, what’s going on? What’re you doing? Are you okay?”
He felt bad, insinuating that she was the one to make the Asilo crumble, but who else could force nature to bend like this? Earthquakes didn’t happen that often in Raeleen, and how it timed with her sudden arrival. Why she was doing it, if she was okay, he needed these answers immediately. He doubted Maïmoú cared, if she was calling out the name of another Deity, her oldest friend turned enemy.
Now, every hall he turned into, every corner he slipped around, he was both looking for that long, blond hair of Maïmoú, and whatever this Shào person might’ve looked like. It didn’t help that every other person down here was floating in water suspension.
He came up to dead end after dead end. Some doors were too heavy for him to move on his own. Other entryways were barricaded by fallen debris. Sparks lit up abandoned floors as several other crossbreeds tried finding their way to safety. Some have him nasty looks, as if he was the reason this was happening. He was eighty percent sure it wasn’t.
“Maïmoú, where are you?” he asked aloud. He’d somehow run himself into the medical wards and, too afraid to backtrack, he forced himself through the sterile halls. There was a sense of death here, based on how much it smelled of blood and bleach. It made him sick as he wondered what guards did to waterborne in order for them to survive.
He stopped running. He had no idea where he was now. He was back where tanks made up most of the walls. One had completely broken in half and was spilling gallons of salty water across the grated floor. Light fixtures sunk deep into what little water was left in the tanks.
A cry. A whimper from a scared and lonely child. Someone had entered the room behind him.
Behind him, illuminated by a flickering hall light, stood a man carrying a baby. He was nothing but a black silhouette, but from his voice, his hunched-over appearance, and his worried whimpers, Kevin went to help him.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
The man looked up like a kicked puppy. He was a middle-aged man with no discernible ears or tails. Salt-and-pepper ponytail and unkempt beard, short in stature, with some kind of skin rash infecting his skin. Dark marks splotched his face and exposed forearms.
The little baby he was holding was none other than Alexi. It looked like she’d been bawling for over an hour. Her eyes were bloodshot as she hid into the man’s fancy shirt.
“Oh, thank All I found you,” the man said. He came in too close to Kevin. “I need you to take her. I can’t leave her here, but I can’t bring her with me.” He flinched from hearing something on the floor above them. Kevin heard nothing but the delayed sirens and constant rumbles.
“I can take her,” Kevin said, because how could he not? “But I don’t know where she needs to go. What tank did she come from?”
“She doesn’t need water right now, she—” He flinched again. “I can’t be here. I shouldn’t be here.”
“Do you want to stay with me?” Kevin asked. “I’m trying to find my way back to my room.”
“No,” he said sternly, and placed Alexi into his arms. He’d never held a baby before. She was so much clammier and colder than he’d imagined. “Just keep her in your arms. I’ll be back for her in an hour. Or less. I just need to…I-I need to find Sabah. I need to stop them from meeting.”
His ramblings were as incoherent and flighty as he was acting. He was wringing his hands together and shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Which is what it looked like, to Kevin. His eyes were never as good in the dark as they were in the light. He was glad he could see a bit in this lighting.
He hadn’t thought to look at the man’s feet, but the way he moved, talked, name-dropped fanciful names that should’ve meant nothing to him, made him look at this man a second time.
He was missing one leg. It ended at the knee and must’ve made standing difficult. So he wasn’t. Floating a few inches off the ground, this man was levitating in thin air while he tried holding a normal conversation with Kevin.
The man had turned when Kevin noticed this, but he still tried keeping his face composed. But Kevin’s heart, his poor heart that’d been through the hardest highs and lows these past few days, couldn’t stop beating. His mannerisms, the floating.
He quickly went through the names Maïmoú had once dropped on him. While he’d been told the names of all the Deities once, he’d memorized their names. They seemed strangely familiar, like the memory of a plague that’d swept away generations.
“You’re…Tsvetan,” Kevin guessed. “You’re the Deity in charge of the Earth.”
Tsvetan slowly, deliberately, lifted his head. The strands that came off of his ponytail stuck out and fell into his wide, crinkled eyes. Unblinking, not breathing, for why would a God pretend to be alive?
“She’s been in contact with you, then,” Tsvetan said, almost as a question but already knowing the answer.
The room rumbled again.
Kevin took a much-needed breath. “What’s going on here? Is this because of Maïmoú? Are you doing this?”
“I’m right, aren’t I?” Tsvetan asked instead. “She’s been in contact with both of you. She’s doing all this because of you.”
Kevin looked up to a broken pipe. Her voice sounded different, broken. “Maïmoú?”
“Get…away from him…”
Kevin winced. She sounded like she was holding up the weight of the world with her words. He almost had no choice but to listen, but he needed to save this child, his newfound friends.
The ground shifted beneath him and Tsvetan. Like a serpent slithering through the tiles, the ground beneath his feet broke apart, and he fell backwards into a dark chasm.
Kevin attempted to save himself by flapping his wings, but the hole was too large. His feet disconnected and he lost his center of gravity. The last thing he saw was Tvsetan grabbing his child back and watching Kevin fall.
When he slammed into the earth, back first to keep from losing teeth, he, strangely, didn’t hurt. The Gods must’ve pillowed his fall. His body was vibrating and he tasted metal in his mouth, but other than that, he was fine.
Then he tried to turn and screamed.
Pain radiated down his back through his twisted wing. It was stuck up, bent in a crooked way with some of the flight feathers permanently snapped. It’d take months, maybe even a year for them to grow back.
A year to fly properly again. A year to be free again.
He bit back his tears. Nothing else hurt except his back, but he was lying atop debris and twisted pipes and water, at least two inches of it.
Tsvetan looked down from the hole, checking if Kevin was still alive.
Kevin lifted up his head only to drop it back down. All he wanted to do was fall asleep and be done with this pain, as if giving up was even an option anymore.
It wasn’t. It couldn’t be.
Because, closer than ever, he felt Maïmoú’s presence growing near.
He regained focus. He’d fallen into a deeper part of the Asilo’s warehouses. None of the lights were on, but he still saw where he’d fallen.
Beasts. Giant, floating beasts swimming in tanks. He didn’t know what on earth they could’ve been. Finned, without arms or legs, with giant heads and tails that propelled them in water. Some were small, tiny creatures that swam in groups. Others were his size, colored grey with beady eyes. And others, the few he saw swimming deep down in the tanks, they were as big as houses. Large, teardrop-shaped animals so far away, they blended in with the water. Kevin only realized they were alive by how they—most of them—were watching the center of the room.
Floating amongst the gathering of beasts, the conductor to this cacophony, was Maïmoú. She’d had her back to him, but as soon as he fell, she turned, hair as if caught in her own water.
Darkness drenched her dress completely black. It was coming out of her mouth, nose, eyes. She’d given up wiping it away, accepting her own ruin.
Her head sagged backwards as if her neck had been snapped. She went to float towards him, but, as if chained to the floor, she was planted. The grit in her teeth mirrored the way the walls groaned around them, begging to fall.
“Maïmoú—” He moaned in pain. She was killing herself. If she were to hold the building up, all these floors, millions and millions of tons of pressure and concrete, piling onto her tiny figure…
She was sure to die.
Kevin’s heart dropped through his broken ribs. The raw, emotional hurt Maïmoú was showing broke her face into pieces. She held her shoulders with both hands, crossing them over her chest as if she herself was feeling Kevin’s pain. He wanted to say that it wasn’t her fault. To his knowledge, she was the one trying to stop this. She was the one trying to save them, but one slip-up in her plans had left her mortally devastated.
“Shào!” she screamed. “Fix him! Fix his wings, you have to!”
Kevin dragged himself along the floor. The glass tanks began to crack, frightening the magnificent animals. “Maïmoú, I’m alright!”
“Why!?” Maïmoú screamed at the room. “This isn’t fair! Even though I’m doing my best to save everyone, every single time, I’m punished! What am I doing wrong!?”
A pipe burst and spewed hot steam into the room.
“Why can’t I have one good thing happen to me? Why can’t I ever—I can sense you, you know!” she screamed at the ceiling. “I can feel all of you watching me!”
From the ceiling hole, Kevin saw Tsvetan disappear with Alexi.
“Fuck you, Tsvetan!” Maïmoú tried floating up to him, but the powers that be brought her down hard. She stumbled, blackness spilling out from her mouth. “You watched as my Hadiya and Hassan were murdered in front of me, you watched Shào die in my arms, you sat back and watched all seven billion of my humans get vaporized by your own hands!”
A demented laugh cracked through her pain. “You always said that humanity was the worst thing to happen to the world, but it’s always, always been you three! You don’t care about the world! You’re just weak, frightened cowards!”
A sudden crack grew up from the floor. Maïmoú was pointing at it.
“Maïmoú!” Kevin cried out. “Maïmoú, please, don’t do this! It’ll be okay!”
“Oh, I know, my Kevin. I’m not letting them get their way!” She pointed at the sky. “You want me to fail, but you forget that I am Maïmoú of Athens, Deity of humankind and the world’s biggest bastard, and I will not give up on what I deserve to have!”
Kevin kept calling out for her. It was all he could do. He pleaded to whoever was listening that he make it to Maïmoú and tell her that this wasn’t the way to fall. She was stronger than this, better than this. She didn’t deserve to mar herself with cruelty. She was just a kid.
Something cracked. Water rushed over his body. He saw Maïmoú through heated bubbles, Tsvetan, suddenly, reaching out and touching his soul. When his finger brushed Kevin’s body, his head filled with a drugged sleep. He could no longer keep his eyes open, and he fell.