From the Ashes (to Ashes)

The two young men walked out from the shadows.  They were dressed in long, rich robes, each with a hood covering their faces.  Turning ahead, the two dropped back the hoods revealing the two identical faces, the shaggy blonde hair looking as if they both desperately needing a haircut.

“Good evening, my name is Westley Grimm,” he said, doing his very best Alfred Hitchcock voice.  “And this is my brother, Nigel.”

“Hey,” Nigel said, saluting to the camera.

“Welcome to the first ever Brothers Geek Stories of the Myth,” Westley said.

“Today’s myth takes us to the British isles, to the golden city… Camelot.  And our title is…

From the Ashes (to Ashes)”

 

Westley stepped in front of his brother and said, “Camelot, five years prior, was spanning across the land of Britain under the rule of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  Prosperity covered the land.  People were happy.  Arthur was beloved and his friendship with his magical father figure, Merlin, was strengthening.  Everything was going perfectly well.”

“Dude… lots of exposition goin’ on here, bro.  Let’s get moving,” said Nigel.

“Exposition is an important part of the plot, Nigel,” said Westley.  “Leave me alone.”

“Whatever,” snidely snapped Nigel.

“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Westley said, glaring toward Nigel who shrugged, “The country of England was in a golden age… but that would not last.”

“Oh…” said Nigel, sarcastically, “What happened next.”

Westley snarled toward Nigel, but the smart-aleck comments were not going to prevent the young geek from continuing to weave his tale.

“I’m glad you asked, bro.  Merlin was becoming too arrogant, too cocky.  He was taking risks with the world of magic that were not worth the dangers.”

“He certainly was no Dr. Strange,” said Nigel.

“Or Dr. Fate either,” continued Westley.  “Merlin opened a portal… a portal to the Underworld and the Roman God of the Underworld, Pluto stepped through.”
“Not Hades?” asked Nigel.

“Nope.  Pluto,” said Westley.

“Why?”

“It’s just Pluto…ok?  Geez, Nigel.  You’re not helping here.”

“Sorry,” Nigel said, but it was clear that he was having a good time twisting the figurative knife in his brother.  “Go on.”

“Pluto brought the power of the Underworld into the Golden City, but the knights and King Arthur held him off.  However, Pluto had more up his sleeve.”

“Pluto had long sleeves?” Nigel asked, stifling a snicker..

“It’s a figure of speech, jerk.”

“I think the name calling is unnecessary,” Nigel snipped.

“Pluto had some help.  He knew that a Pantheon of Death gods would be unstoppable and he had just the crew in mind.  He bopped around the world…”

“Bopped?” interrupted Nigel.  “Pluto bopped?”

“Pluto bopped around the world,” continued Westley, ignoring the latest snarky remark, “heading first to Egypt where he brought Osiris into the mix.  He found himself in Scandinavia at the gates of the afterlife to see the female death goddess, Hel.”

“Don’t you mean Hela?” asked Nigel.

“This is not the Marvel Comics version from the Thor comics.  This is the real version of the myth.”

“ ‘Real’ version,” laughed Nigel.

“Then, after Hel,” Westley said, emphasizing the name, “Pluto traveled to Central America where he brought in the Aztec god of lightning and death, Xolotl.”

“Did you pronounce that correctly, bro?”

“Yes, I did,” said Westley confidently.  “You pronounce it ‘sho lo till’… read a book once, Nigel.  Following Xolotl, Pluto snagged the voodoo dark god Baron La Croix and finally, the fallen angel, Lucifer.”

“Lucifer?  You mean…”

“Yup.  That Lucifer.”

“Oooooh, that is quite the lineup,” said Nigel.

“The Death Gods came down on Camelot like a hammer, a blitzkrieg of evil that collapsed the golden city, crushing the noble Knights of the Round Table beneath its massive might of muscle.”

“Alliteration,” said Nigel.  “Nice.”

“King Arthur was driven from the land and Merlin was sent spiraling into the depth of the void.  Once the opposition was gone, the Death God Pantheon forced the Britons to kneel before them.  The Golden City was clearly tainted with the darkness of their evil.”

“Gold. No. More,” said Nigel.

“This is where our story begins,” said Westley.

“It’s just starting now?”

“Yes, just now….”

“Are we going away now?” asked Nigel.

“We’ll be around,” Westley said, smiling the smile of an unreliable narrator.  “They call us the chorus.”
“I ain’t singing, bro,” said Nigel.

“And we are all very grateful for that,” Westley quipped.

“Burned!”

“The chorus means we are like the narrators of the story,” Westley retorted.
“Our story moves to Norway where our heroic but deposed king is in search of an ally.”

“Who?” asked Nigel.

“You’ll see,” Westley said., turning away with a hand wave gesture.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Arthur battled through the elements, wind and snow berating the true king of England as he struggled with each step.  The snow madding within the blonde beard of Arthur.  He had not shaved since the fall of Camelot and the beard was dangling halfway down his torso.  The sweat froze to his forehead and he desperately hoped that this was the correct place.  He had been searching for someone…anyone to help him return to reclaim his throne.  It was not just about the throne though.  Arthur had night terrors thinking about the pain and the suffering his loyal subjects were currently surviving.  The typical night for the once and future king did not involve many hours of sleep.

Seeing the cave through the snow ahead of him, King Arthur pushed himself through the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm him.  This current quest was nearing its end.  Arthur prayed to his lord that this trek would end with a success, unlike most of the last five years.

Staggering through the cave entrance, Arthur’s body gave way, collapsing to the cold ground.  The slow breathing of Arthur signified that he had reached the end of his journey.  A moment of failure flashed across his mind’s eye when he realized that a shadowy figure stood, towering over his fallen frame.

“Aye, who doth cross the barrier of mine secluded home?” the man said, reaching down and easily snatching Arthur up onto his fur-covered shoulder.

 

Westley and Nigel stepped from the shadows as the mighty figure carried Arthur like a sack of potatoes over his brawny shoulder..

“Who was that?” asked Nigel.

“You haven’t guessed, my dear brother?”

“Would I ask you if I had?” Nigel barked.

“We are in the home of the epic Scandinavian hero known as Beowulf.”

“Cool!” said Nigel, following the massive man hauling the fallen king deeper into the darkness of the cavern.

 

A few hours later, Arthur started to slowly stir, the feeling of warmth a surprising sensation.  Sitting up suddenly, Arthur realized that the fire that warmed the cave and dried his frozen face had been carefully built before him.  The glow from the campfire felt wonderful upon his chilled body and he almost found himself lost in the fantasy of the warm glow.

“Why are you here, stranger?”

Arthur sprung to his feet, reaching for his sword Excalibur, only to realize that it did not reside in his scabbard.

“Ye be looking for this?” Beowulf said, holding the iconic blade before him.  Arthur tentatively stared at the sword, calculating how he could retrieve the blade without engaging this titanic hero.  Beowulf did not wait for Arthur to do anything as he flipped the sword down toward the ground at Arthur’s feet.  The blade’s tip buried itself into the ground, the handle pointed at its owner.  Had the moment not been such an uncertain one, Arthur would have laughed.  The first time Arthur saw Excalibur, it was buried in a stone and only he could pull it free.  That signified that he was the future king of England.

Arthur did not pull it out of the cavern’s floor yet.  He did not want to appear as a threat to this dominant Scandanavian that waited for him to grab the sword.

“I am here to ask for your aid, sir,” said Arthur, holding both hands in the air.  “I am not here for a fight.”

“And whom do you think you are, little man?” Beowulf laughed.

“I am Arthur Pendragon, the once and future king of England,” said Arthur.  The words clearly had an effect on the heroic Beowulf, the unexpected news of this stranger’s identity froze the hero.

“Pendragon?  You are Arthur Pendragon?” stuttered Beowulf.  “And what exactly are you doing standing before me, Arthur Pendragon?”

“I am looking for a hero.  Someone who will help me reclaim the throne of England and bring this Pantheon of Doom to its knees.  I have been looking for you for years.  I knew that only you, the mighty Beowulf, could help me save my people.”

“You have wasted your time then, Arthur Pendragon.  I have no reason to aid you in tilting at this windmill.  The death gods of Camelot is not a battle that can be won,” he said.  “I am not a fool.”

Arthur had been preparing for this moment for several years.  As he was searching for Beowulf, Arthur was preparing for how to handle a rejection from this arrogant man.

“I thought you were the hero who showed no fear of the demonic Grendal, a monstrous creature that was feared by all, and the creature’s vicious mother.  In a situation that should have been a no-win situation, you fought to the end and slayed each of those monsters.  Little did I know that this was nothing more than a tall tale… a myth.”

“What?” Beowulf began shaking with anger.  “You dare to doubt my sincerity?  You question the epicness of my battle?”

“With the evidence presented me, what else am I do?  The man who I thought was a warrior of the most legendary stature is afraid to challenge the Pantheon of Doom.  I apologize for wasting your time, but you must excuse me because I must find someone real to help me with my challenge.  I need a legitimate warrior.”

With a reddened face, Beowulf ripped Excalibur from the ground and thrust it at Arthur.

“Here, take your blade, your majesty.  You have found your warrior!  Let us return to the land of your birth and I will show you that the hype is not misleading.”

Arthur smiled.  His manipulation had worked.  He had his ally.  But the nagging concern still grew inside his head… was this enough?

 

As the new alliance departed from the cave, the Grimm boys reappeared from the shadows.

“You know what Westley,” said Nigel, “I just don’t think that King Arthur and Beowulf, no matter how awesome that team-up would be, have enough power to take on six death gods.  I mean… it never works in God of War.”

“You’re terrible at that game,” said Westley.

“Come on!”

“You are not wrong though, Nigel.  Beowulf and Arthur are certainly facing what seems to be a suicide mission by themselves.  The thing is….they will not be on their own.”

“Ooooh, cool segue,” said Nigel.

 

Camelot.  It seemed as if the sun never shone on the once and former Golden City. The shine was officially off the rose.  The men and women of Camelot trudged through their days in a haze of suffering and depression.  They all feared to think for even a moment of the dawning a new day in Camelot, worrying that a stray prayer might find the ear of the wrong god.  Life in Camelot was not the same and the fears of the populace was that it never would be again.

The architect of this angst, Pluto, found himself bored.  He spent every day in deep reflection over his choices.  He was always isolated as the ruler of the Underworld.  Even the lovely Persephone’s presence was hardly a counter-balance to his despair.  He knew she only married him because he gave her no choice.  And the six months when she returned to the earth was as painful a time as the god could imagine.  He had hoped replacing the Underworld with somewhere on the earth’s surface would do wonders for his countenance. He realized the folly of his enterprise.  Now, five years later he felt as alone as ever.

Pluto would find his way to the location of his greatest victory every day.  The chamber of Merlin.  Five years prior, Pluto, along with the Pantheon he had constructed vanquished the wizard into the depth of the void, essentially killing the magic user.

“Ah Merlin,” monologued Pluto, “if I had this to do again, I would keep you around.  Surely you would have realized the error of your resistance and taken up your rightful place at my hand.  Together, no one would ever challenge my power.”

Though there were no current challenges to the Pantheon, combining six death gods did not make for the most trustworthy of alliances.  Pluto had to keep a close eye on his allies because you never knew when one of the death gods might desire more than what they had already gained.  Baron La Croix was a known trickster and the story of Lucifer’s fall was based around his desire to rule Heaven.  Would being one of six be enough for these gods?  So far there had not been an issue, but Pluto could almost guarantee that the status quo would not last forever.  Sooner or later he would have to deal with an uprising among the Pantheon.  When that happened, a wizard with the power of Merlin, subservient and loyal, would have been extremely welcome.

“Ah, why do I lament what has gone before?” asked Hades.  “There will never be a return from the darkness for you, Merlin.  I must look forward instead of constantly looking back.  I will prove my worth to my brother, once and for all.”

Pluto’s brother, Jupiter (aka Zeus) ruled the Olympians from atop Mount Olympus and had always looked to Pluto with scorn.  Even with the fall of Camelot, Jupiter was unimpressed.  At some point, in Pluto’s perfect world, he would see his brother cowering at his feet in defeat.  Planning was underway.

Pluto turned away, looking once more back at the chamber of Merlin.

“Ah, what could have been,” he lamented once again.

As the death god departed, the darkness filled the room.  A few moments after the tyrant left the room, the darkness was broken with the glimmer of a golden glow, spreading in the center of the room.  As soon as it started, the fiery glow was gone.

 

“What was that?” asked Nigel.

“That is our deus ex machina for the story,” replied Westley.

“That’s just lazy writing,” said Nigel.

“You know, I can relate to Pluto.  He is just a lonely man with a pain in the butt brother.  I know how he feels.”

“Ha ha ha.  Now you’re a comedian,” snipped Nigel.

 

Outside the walls of Camelot, Arthur and Beowulf approached cautiously.  Even with the bravado of Beowulf and the power of Excalibur, the pair knew the odds of what they were preparing to attempt.  A full frontal assault on Camelot, the home of six death gods was not a plan that encouraged a long life.  Still, Arthur knew they had no other option.  The time was ripe.

“Warriors, if I may make a suggestion,” the voice said coming from behind the two comrades, startling them.  They both drew their swords and turned to face the visage of the person who had managed to sneak up on them.

It was Hel, Norse goddess of the Underworld.

Beowulf’s face revealed his conflict.  He knew Hel had been involved in the Pantheon of Doom, but he had not hoped to come face to face with her so soon.  He lowered his sword and bowed to her.

“Get up, Beowulf,” said Arthur nervously.  He envisioned the loss of his only ally and a quick defeat.

“Rise, noble warrior,” said Hel.  “You need not bow to me, though I do appreciate the respect.  Lower your weapon Arthur of Pendragon.  I am not a threat to you.”

“Why are you here?” asked Arthur, keeping Excalibur at the ready.

“I have determined that Pluto’s days are numbered.  He plans on mounting an assault on Olympus and his brother Jupiter.  This is not something that I signed up for.  Expanding to Camelot was one thing, but all out war with other gods was not what I wanted.  My duty is to see that the warriors have their proper afterlife, whether it be in Valhalla or within my own realm.  I do not desire the power Pluto does.”

“What does this mean?” asked Arthur.

“I am here to help,” she said, the sly smile sent a chill down the spine of both heroes.

 

With one of the death gods at their back, Arthur and Beowulf told themselves, in stark contrast to the goosebumps that were rising on their skin, that they had swung the pendulum of fate back to their side.  Could Hel sway other members of the Pantheon of Doom to their behalf?  Were there others who could turn from Pluto and aid Arthur in saving Camelot from the grip of evil?  What cost would have to be paid?

Hel lead the two heroes through a recently built, hidden tunnel that lead into the heart of the city.  Hel said that this tunnel was built in secret to prepare for the eventuality of having to bring Pluto down.

Still unconvinced, Arthur whispered to Beowulf,”Can we trust her?”

Before the heroic Beowulf could respond, the three of them stepped from the tunnel to see the other five death gods encircling them.  A trap.

“That’s a no, I guess,” said Arthur.

Beowulf spun around to look at the Norse Death Goddess.  Hel stood behind them with a Cheshire cat grin on her frightening face, the betrayal obvious to all.

“My apologies, boys, but you cannot be allowed to wreck our new home.  A war with the gods will bring epic tales of warriors and heroes fallen, and nothing makes me more excited than a good story,” Hel said, barely excusing her traitorous turn.  She did not care what they thought.  She only cared for what was best for her.  Arthur cursed himself silently for trusting this woman.  Beowulf looked as if the dagger had been driven through his chest.

“So,” said Pluto, “the little bird has returned to the nest.  It is a shame that you need to be snuffed out.”

“How did you know?” asked Beowulf.

“Fool.  We are gods.  We are omnipotent.  We know the thoughts and desires of the weak humans,” said Pluto.

“Hel did nothing but bring us face to face with those we must defeat, so I thank you.  You have facilitated the battle that was predestined,” Arthur said.

“Have at thee!” exclaimed Beowulf, prepared to go down fighting in an epic encounter to be spoken by children and storytellers for ages.

 

Behind them in the tunnel, the Brothers Geek stood, Nigel with his mouth a gape.

“How are they going to get out of this?” Nigel asked, completely enthralled by the events unfolding before him.

“Do you remember that deus ex machina I mentioned earlier?” said Westley, ominously.

 

In the distance, the glow from the chamber of Merlin increased, blazing like a sun rising from the morning horizon. The light was so bright that the assembled death gods had to cover their eyes.  Strangely, Arthur had no trouble staring at the fireball.  The fireball shot into the air, crashing through the confines of Merlin’s home and into the air over the sky of Camelot.

“By Odin’s Beard!” exclaimed Beowulf, unable to understand the fireworks that were showing in front of his eyes.

The fireball arrived overhead of the confrontation and seemed to veer directly south, picking up velocity as it plummeted toward the ground.  The death gods scattered from the incoming projectile, but Arthur stood confidentially, and did not give ground.  Despite not being possible, it was as if he knew what was about to happen.

The fireball crashed into the ground, scattering the flames in an explosion of energy and light.  Standing in the site of the crash was a lone figure, draped in a dark blue cloak and a pointed hat covering his long white hair.

“Merlin!” Arthur said, overjoyed at the resurrection of his friend and mentor.

The flames encircled Merlin at his feet, and the fires began to rise from the ground.  The flames began to take shape into a corporal form, a form of a bird.

“By Odin’s beard,” a dumbfounded Beowulf uttered again, “a phoenix!”

The bird of life, the bird that rises from the ashes of death, a phoenix was here, and it flew around Merlin as they, magician and the bird, were one.

“Attack!” screamed Arthur as he and Beowulf launched themselves into the battle, a renewed vigor in their hearts.  Suddenly the suicide mission did not seem so impossible.  As Beowulf engaged the battle with Osiris, the flames exploding from the beak of the phoenix, and the magic bolts from the wizard, Arthur approached Pluto with Excalibur drawn and at the ready.

“You should wait for your more powerful allies, little man,” said Pluto, still taunting Arthur, “because you are still just human and I am a God!”

“You’re not my God, Pluto!” Arthur exclaimed, clashing the blade of Excalibur across the hide of the God of the Underworld.  Arthur surprised himself with how brutal, how bloodthirsty he felt.  Pluto had usurped the throne of Camelot and brought the city of gold to the brink of ruin.  The rage swelled within his breast and he pounded away at Pluto with a might unseen by human history.  Pluto’s allies were being driven back by the bravery of Beowulf and the unexpected amalgam of Merlin and phoenix.  The Pantheon had begun to retreat.  Baron LaCroix was the first to depart, not being known for his courage.  Xotlol found his lightning to be no match for the reborn flames of the phoenix and he quickly opened a portal to escape back to his Aztec world.  Lucifer, as well, was more of a manipulator than a fighter and he realized quickly that the tides had turned.

“I will always have my place in the hearts of man,” Lucifer thought to himself as he slipped away.

Hel was already gone.  She deserted the sinking ship just after LaCroix had.  She knew when it was worth a fight and when a losing battle was due.

Osiris had succumb to the blows of Beowulf and used his last bit of energy to escape the dimension.

Leaving only Pluto.

King Arthur pounded away on the god with his fabled sword, blow after blow taking its toll.  Pluto was down on the ground, cowering beneath the onslaught of the once and future king of England.  Arthur continued to pummel the god.  Beowulf placed his hand upon the shoulder of his comrade.

“It is over, friend Pendragon.”

Arthur placed the tip of Excalibur at the throat of Pluto.  The intensity in the eyes of Arthur told everyone that he was ready to pass judgement on the tyrant.  Pluto glared at Arthur in defiance.  King Arthur eased back on the sword, stepping back to take a moment.

“I will not kill you,” said Arthur, “despite you fully deserving it.  This is done.  Your coup is finally over.”

A bright flash blazed beside Arthur and a dominating and positively regal presence appeared before him.

“Jupiter,” mumbled Pluto, the venom in the word obvious to everyone.

“Arthur Pendragon,” said Jupiter, “Thank you for sparing the life of my wayward brother.  I know it is not easy considering how much trouble he has caused for you and your kingdom.  I have come to ask you to release him into my custody.  I promise that he shall never bother you again.”

“Thank you, your majesty.  I would appreciate that.”

“Come brother,” said Jupiter, “We shall have words.”

Jupiter and Pluto disappeared into nothingness.

Arthur looked around at the end of the battle and he took a deep breath.  It was finally over.  Now came the hard part of bringing Camelot back to its heyday.

 

“I have to give it to you bro,” said Nigel.  “That was pretty cool.”

“Thanks,” Westley said surprised.

“I sure didn’t expect it,” Nigel laughed.

“Jerk.”

“What happened next?”

“King Arthur reclaimed the throne of England and the people began to live their lives once again.  It took time, but Camelot would thrive once again.  And Jupiter was good to his word and Pluto was never seen on earth again.”

“Awesometacular,” said Nigel.

“Thank you for the premiere edition of The Brothers Geek Stories of the Myths.  For Nigel, I am Westley Grimm…good night.”

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