"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
IX. A Dwarven Mystery <=== / ===> XI. Playing Mortal
Alyssa was pacing up and down the granite top of the stairs, her steps falling hard and fast. She was still wearing the villager’s clothes she had two days ago, Lonapal noted with concern when he walked up the slightly rising ramp to the oval plaza, adorned with statues of all the gods, arrayed in a star formation.
The old man was sitting at the foot of the granite stairs, absentmindedly tapping his walking stock in rhythm with Alyssa’s footsteps. The building behind both of them was a meeting place the gods had favored a few millenia ago, with benches to lie on and consume some delicacies from the mortal world while talking, and listening to Taurkémad or Decirius singing. Lonapal remembered that he had always been amazed at Decirius’ love for song, particularly the cheerful, jaunty ones.
Over time, though, they had drifted to other places, like Mannannan’s miniature ocean or Haguen’s watchhouse. Lonapal wasn’t sure when he had been on this oval plaza the last time. It must have been a very long time ago.
Yet the sight seemed very familiar. Seven of the benches had been moved onto the plaza, along with some of the tables. Two paintings hung in midair, their colorful displays a strangely comforting sight to Lonapal’s eyes. On one of the benches, Mannannan sat, wearing a skintight blue suit that perfectly blended into his elven-style blue skin. He watched his own statue, showing him holding a pool of water in his hand, and right now, the stone had turned to real water, churning and turning inside the statue’s hands. Apparently absorbed by this sight, he paid no attention to Haguen sitting on the next bench, before a table laden with fruit from the mortal world. Haguen’s cuirass was on the ground, while its owner heartily bit into a slice of melon.
Very familiar, and Lonapal would have gladly joined Haguen in his feast. There were a few faces missing, most conspicuously that of Decirius. He was quite happy that Koultirsp was nowhere in sight – she most certainly had not forgotten her anger at him because of the midrealm villagers. Darawk’s absence was unsurprising; he probably had found some trivial detail that he needed to investigate thoroughly. But where was Shenaumac? He used to be always close whenever the other gods gathered, trying to join in the conversation every now and then – even though his remarks usually didn’t warrant any attention, of course. That he was not here, in this strange circumstance, was troubling to Lonapal.
So was the fact that neither Taurkémad nor Maidoyú were in the plaza, either. When he had sensed this gathering, he had hoped that Taurkémad would be here, to grace them with a song or two.
“Hello, Lonapal,” Haguen greeted him with a wave of his hand – holding the green shell of his melon.
Lonapal smiled and shook his head at the sorry sight. “Haguen,” he acknowledged him and strolled towards one of the free benches. “Can you spare any of those fruits?”
“Why, certainly,” the guardian god nodded and moved half the contents of his table to one close to Lonapal. The God of Light gladly pulled the table to him and looked it over for a fruit that particular appealed to his fancy.
Before he could finish taking stock, Alyssa’s voice bit through the air, “There you are, Lonapal! Where have you been the past two days? Moping, or what?”
“I beg your pardon?” Lonapal looked up and found that Alyssa was suddenly standing before him, glaring angrily at him.
“Save the begging for another time,” Alyssa rolled her eyes. “Now explain yourself. Please.” The last word was an afterthought, obviously.
Well, Lonapal appreciated that she thought of that word at all, and shrugged. “I have been thinking. With all that has happened, I felt it was necessary. Did I miss something?”
Alyssa opened her mouth to say something scathing and furious, but Haguen interjected, “Maidoyú and Taurkémad have escaped. Decirius thinks they’re in the mortal world.”
Lonapal stared at the guardian god – and suddenly realized that he didn’t look happy at all. He had only seemed so at first sight, digging into his food as he was. Yet now Lonapal noticed the creases of worry in his face, that his eyes were drooping. “If that is the case,” the God of Light asked slowly, “why are you here? Has Decirius not ordered you to fetch the two of them, as you have brought Alyssa and me back to the Eternal City.”
“Exactly!” Alyssa said and pointed over her shoulder to the central statue of Decirius. “He’s charged Shenaumac with that task. Shenaumac! The little twerp is the only one who has been allowed to leave the Eternal City. Poor Haguen had to open a gateway for Shenaumac to pass through, and then close it, rather than go himself.”
“It was Decirius’ choice, and it is my duty to obey,” Haguen said in a low voice.
“It is your duty,” Alyssa said forcefully, “to guard the gate and our city. Including its inhabitants. Decirius is ignoring that duty!”
Haguen shrugged. Lonapal could tell that the shrug did not come easily. “He is our lord, and the lord’s will be done. It does not become me to question his decisions.”
“Well, I for one find it very becoming,” Alyssa hissed. “You could do with some backbone, Haguen. You should be the one asking why the gate is locked. Why you are sitting here and stuffing your stomach full of fruit instead of standing at the gate – or looking for our fellow goddesses.” She whirled about, darted a glance at Mannannan who twitched his pointy ears slightly. At the stairs, the old man slowly got to his feet, leaning on his stick and watching the discourse with great interest. “We have to do something!” Alyssa shouted. “Are we gods or are we creatures of the midrealm?! We have a will of our own, and mine tells me that I want to leave this town.”
Haguen reached out for an apple – and froze in astonishment when Alyssa slapped the apple away from him. “Stop that! You can eat later on, all right? It’s not like you need to eat.”
“No,” Haguen said and rose from the bench, towering over the smaller goddess, “I do not have to. But I want to. Are you trying to curtail my freedom of will?”
If he had thought to intimidate her, he failed miserably. Instants later, Alyssa grew to twice the guardian god’s size, folded her arms before her chest and said in a booming voice, “If I am, it is only for your best. Don’t try to use my own words against me. Now sit back down, and let’s talk about what –“
“No.” Haguen quickly matched Alyssa’s size, so he could look her straight in the eyes. Below them, Lonapal moved the tables and benches aside with Mannannan’s help. If they were to continue to grow, they might wind up breaking something. Lonapal shared a quick glance with the God of the Sea, but Mannannan only raised his arms and rolled his eyes.
Moments later their fears proved right, when both Alyssa and Haguen doubled their size again, this time enough that their legs threatened to smash two of the statues. What were they trying to achieve? Lonapal wondered and listened in amazement to the next exchange of angry words that kept revolving about Alyssa’s need to do something and Haguen’s desire to eat.
So meaningless! So ridiculous!
Near the stairs, the old man was watching silently, his face a still mask. Lonapal had heard about him, of course, only a short while after the stranger had arrived at the Eternal City, but he hadn’t spoken to him. Right now, he felt embarrassed that this man was witnessing this spat between Haguen and Alyssa. No foreign god should ever see this!
Not to mention that Lonapal himself didn’t want to see this.
Before the two gods could grow again, he put a cheerful face on and shouted, “How about a game, everyone? Let us play charades!”
“What?!” both Alyssa and Haguen boomed down from their enormous height. Alyssa alone continued, “That isn’t going to solve anything!”
Haguen asked distractedly, “And what are charades?”
Lonapal smiled at Alyssa who didn’t look too knowledgeable either. “It is a game that the villagers of the midrealm enjoy. One person makes gestures that indicate parts of words, and the others have to guess which is the true meaning of each of the gestures and the complete word or phrase. The villagers are quite apt at this, and they often play it in the evening, before darktime.”
Alyssa shook her head, slowly shrinking to her normal size. “You mean Callie’s people?
“That is true,” Lonapal nodded eagerly. Yes! She was forgetting about her anger! Joy shot through him, anticipating that they all would be smiling in a few moments, laughing at the antics of one of them trying to gesture some obscure word. Just like the villagers! “The game will be fun,” he assured her, also looking around at the others.
“A game,” Alyssa echoed, her lips drawn tight. “Lonapal, I’m not in the mood for games.”
“How uncommon,” Haguen guffawed, still at his enormous size.
The goddess craned her head back to look up at the guardian god, clearly unimpressed. “Once you quit playing, I might talk to you again. Hope for that moment, Haguen. And there’s my statue. Pray to it, that might help. Old man,” Alyssa fired a glance over towards the stairs, “accompany me, please. I want to go look for my brother. He’s liable to be better company than any of you.”
With that she strolled off, not looking around to see if the old man followed her.
Slowly, shaking his head, the stranger did just that, leaning heavily on his walking stick with every step.
The remaining three gods watched them leave. Mannannan patted Haguen’s calf, currently as tall as the entire God of the Sea. “Do charades sound fine to you, my overgrown friend? At this size, you could eat fruit trees and not be sated, after all.”
Lonapal’s heart sank. Mannannan only wanted to lighten the situation, he was sure, but Lonapal also had a better view of the guardian god’s face. “I have to inspect the walls,” Haguen said, already stalking off – in the opposite direction of Alyssa. He didn’t bother to reduce his height, not even when he realized that the road he wanted to take did not fit his broad shoulders. Regardless he walked on, tearing deep gashes into the stone walls and raining debris onto the ground.
Mannannan frowned and shook his head. “He does not take this well, does he?”
“No, he does not,” Lonapal agreed. He made a gesture with his hand, sweeping the debris up and merging it back into the buildings. “It has only been two days. What will this city look like after the sixty that Decirius has decreed?”