Waking, part 11
Disclaimers in "part 0"
Zo'ok cozied around him in a familiar blue, obeying an impulse of its own. Or, more likely, from Bruce. Damn him.
SON OF MARS!
Again the piercing voices of his gods, pitched in unison against him. He refused to raise his head.
SON OF MARS, WHY DO YOU ABANDON YOUR TRUEFORM?
J'onn frowned, realizing belatedly that he wore his beetle-browed shape. When had he shifted? Sometime in the middle of that cacophony of human misery, funneled directly into his mind by these same gods. They could not understand that they'd only further proven his point.
SON OF MARS! they trumpeted again, their rage at his sacrilege palpable, rising up from the very rocks beneath his body.
ENOUGH! a new voice interceded, torching across the oppressive presence in his mind and sending it hissing back. YOU WOULD KILL YOUR LAST CHILD?
h'ronmeer, a whisper trickled. my double, the half of my whole and the whole of my half. this wayward child - you claim him?
Something was lifting him, soothing away the defensive Manhunter guise, calling forth his trueform again. The touch burned, and yet...
S'luvanzi, _we_ claim him. The reprimand was evident, and the name triggered memories from youth. S'luvanzi, god of water, life, healing. As revered as its opposite was feared, the rare blessing of water on an arid planet.
ahhhhhh. It was the sound of water sinking into the sand, relief in a sigh. A new touch across his blistered flesh took away the pain, although he found he still couldn't raise his eyes. he marks our unity that you could soothe where I would scorch. it is we as you say, brother.
A caress brushed wonderingly across his cheek. he wastes? J'onn did not remember the tears it touched.
He opened his mouth before he realized the folly of trying to form words in the thin atmosphere. Human habits. He would have to - No, he protested weakly. Not waste. Honor.
blasphemer! rites of foreign gods!
No, he protested again, his head dropping to the sand, his mind at a loss to communicate with this wakened creature of myth. Had he been gone from Mars so long that he forgot-
STOP! H'romeer ordered, and the dance of its flame heated J'onn's flesh. He has also danced in flames.
J'onn felt the collective recoil from this announcement, dimly recalling the purification of double sacrilege. They were the clarifying rituals of adepts of the highest orders, those purged of taboo to commune with the gods. Gods that had been silent all his life - save for the tower of flame shielding him now.
S'luvani, join with me, H'ronmeer urged, and J'onn knew it had done so when he felt the fire flood sweep through him, tangling through every cell with agonizing fury.
the great voice! this fragment! An inchoate howl tore from his body - not his sound, but that of the joined god which curled protectively around what it found in him, wrenched by a renewed sense of loss.
the last... The Last... THE LAST! The mantra grew in intensity as it was picked up by the other gods, swept into a frenzied grief that only the presence of the gods within him prevented J'onn from being sacrificed to it.
Under this torrent, though, a smaller voice rose. But he woke us.
The sudden mental silence left J'onn reeling, would have dropped him to the ground if he were not already half collapsed. A hum began, snatches of conversation too intensely _felt_ to be understood. Then the small voice again. See me, child of Mars.
J'onn opened his eyes with an effort, uncertain when he had closed them. An impish face regarded him curiously from the sand. You dared to stand before us all and distract us from our purpose. Why?
J'onn struggled for clarity of mind. They are not Mars.
The sand swirled in puzzlement. But we woke and found the great voice forgotten.
Not forgotten. They are not -
So you said. But when we withdrew, they showed desire for the great voice. They must relearn.
D'infad, J'onn suddenly recognized, prompting a shiver of delight from the face in the sand. Then he felt more grains of sand, pulling together, rising under him to push him upright, brushing across his body with only the slightest hint of friction.
Our child! the face announced gleefully.
And echo resonated through the rocks at J'onn's back. OUR CHILD? He felt a curious probe of his mind.
T'jorsham, it is our child! The sand was practically laughing, sliding over the surface of the rocks around him.
Again J'onn was caught in a mental whirl as the gods of new learning and old wisdom joined through him, their constant cycle of erosion and rebuilding tearing at his sense of self. REMEMBERING! D'infad's/T'jorsham's joint voice rang out, and now the clamor of the gods was unbearable, shrieking demandingly through his mind.
A still point, a tiny flicker of light a thousand times more delicate than the Martian gods could comprehend. It was buffeted by the torrent of thought threatening to fuse J'onn's very cells, but it would not go out. It sat there, a sacred trust.
His mind wrapped around the little light, less to protect it - because he could not - than to draw comfort from it. He still dared not risk opening a return link, but he gathered the warmth of his emotion under his fear and confusion and pain and let it feed this tiny spark for a moment, acknowledging, Bruce.
The tangle of gods still beat at his consciousness and he could feel his body shutting down little by little. He ignored it, already in some ways beyond consciousness, what energy he possessed directed only toward this spark from his lover, toward this touch of home.
Then he felt it - the great voice! Or rather, the ghost of it, the souls of ancestors stirred to rise in collective, embracing him, fortifying him, drawing forth an ache at his long isolation. The great voice! The shared mind of an entire people, generations of knowledge, of experience, of love, of wonder - history never written because it was always there in memory. In the great voice, no one died. Within the great voice, something of the mind still lived - no longer distinct or individual, but present nonetheless. As it was now in the exact feeling of the love of his wife and child and mother and father, not truly them, but the spirit of their lives in the great voice.
It was only a whisper, but feeling it allowed him to straighten his body, once again bowed under the gods' power. He raised his chin and rose to his feet, defying the tempest that roiled through him. His hands balled into fists at his sides, and in the core of his being, the great voice rallied, stretching through him. He opened his mouth, and this time sound did issue forth, finding purchase in the thin air to echo through the canyon: "I.... AM!"
The sound forced the gods back, reducing them to awed whispers. the great voice... the great voice...
There was the feeling of flame around him again. Ours, H'ronmeer asserted, daring the others to disagree.
I will remember and name you, J'onn projected, his strength of purpose supported by the great voice now fused with his. I will tell you of what happened as you slept - but you must listen to me.
They still held the earth in thrall, he knew, but they opened a space around him, settling down like eager children to a promise of sweets. He could look upon their forms in the shadows, could meet their minds rather than beg for forbearance. A deep risk, he knew, for if they could not be made to believe, to understand - the great voice reminded him of others who would defy the gods, their shuddering fates cementing old faith, ironically teaching the lesson so well that the gods had been lulled into slumber by the unthinkability of disobedience. So lulled they could not be wakened in Mars deepest hour of need. He would not allow them to assuage their guilt - and he understood now that it was guilt and remorse - by destroying another world.