"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"
X. A Marble Cage <=== / ===> XII. A Divine Puzzle
But then the day had come, and she had followed the trail of the clawed feet. Mostly, anyway. Well, for a while. A short while – granted! There had been that flock of gargoyles in the vicinity, and she had wanted to fly with them. Unfortunately they were of the dark gray variety and didn’t take kindly to those not of their flock. Especially if the other one was a light gray, dappled with white spots on the wings. Maidoyú still regretted that she hadn’t changed her appearance in time – she did know about the darks, after all.
Anyway, the encounter hadn’t been much fun, and she had fled as quickly as she could. No, not fled. That wasn’t what a goddess did, ever. She… Well, she hadn’t really wanted to play with those gargoyles, anyway, and so she had left. Right, that was it. Much better.
It had been close to darktime when she had returned to that spot, to take another look at the trail. By that time, the wind – and probably that flock – had erased most of the footprints. A few tracks remained, and Maidoyú had followed those tracks until the darkness made it impossible to see the light impressions in the mud anymore.
And she hadn’t been that keen anymore to find out which creature had left those tracks. Some other god somewhere must have had a burst of creativity, that was all. Nothing important. So, there now was a beast that had feet like her own, except with claws. Fine. Nothing special. Absolutely.
Miffed she had found herself a nice spot to spend during darktime, a bowl-shaped impression in the rocky ground where she had rolled up her gargoyle body into a ball. For a while she had lain there, waiting, hoping for something to happen.
Nothing had occurred.
Halfway through darktime she had unfolded herself, looked around and found that a dormant volcano was nearby. A chance for fun! So she had tried to make the volcano erupt, but something had stopped her from succeeding. The mountain had stayed quiet, and she had received the impression of displeasure from somewhere. Some other god. Some other spoilsport.
Probably not from her own abode – unless Decirius had lifted that foolish barrier by that time.
She hadn’t cared. Maidoyú had returned to her rolled up position, then had decided to try that mortal game they called sleep. It had been less than fulfilling, to shut down one’s mind for a number of hours without anything happening.
When morning came she had started tracking the odd footprints again, determined to find that creature and make it pay for all the boringness she had encountered thus far. Being mortal had been so enjoyable before, the myriad of times that she had tried it earlier.
And now the sun was riding high in the sky, near its apex. Maidoyú had resumed her bipedal form again, now that the sulphuric air had given way to a fresh breeze from a nearby ocean, carrying with it the sweet scent of Mannannan’s realm. It was still warm, plastering her green dress to her body. At least that felt different, although it surely wasn’t enough to break through her boredom. She was floating over the ground, now covered with lichen and other minor plantlife. The creature’s trail was almost impossible to see, and to be frank, Maidoyú didn’t bother with following it with her eyes anymore. There were other ways, through her divine nature. That’s how she could find it after every time the spoor broke off for some reason she didn’t know. But she’d find out, that she would.
She was through with playing mortal. She was a goddess, after all.
Dammit, she hated it when she sounded like Mannannan.
Right before her, a flying dragon – one of the small varieties, no larger than her arm – darted down from the sky, swooping over the ground and snatching up a squeaking two-headed lizard creature. “Enjoy your meal,” Maidoyú muttered sarcastically, floating aside to make way for the dragon.
Why did so many of these creatures have to feed on other living creatures? It was so… so… mortal! Right, that was it. It was the way of the mortals, and she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. No, she was through, and she would never have any fun with that anymore. Definitely not.
Where was that creature? Claws on its feet, and the feet so much like her own. What had looked so intriguing before now only raised anger. How dared anybody create something like that? It was an abomination! Maidoyú wouldn’t have wanted claws on her feet, that was for sure.
Oh, yes, she would take a good look at that thing, and then she would make it feel what it meant to displease a goddess like this. Because that’s what she was. A goddess. “Sounds good, doesn’t it? I am a goddess,” she whispered to herself, stopped to spread her arms and survey all the land below her, barren as it was. (Barren, she repeated in her mind. There was green here, and not just her dress. Why did she then think this was barren, when the rocky, volcanic landscape of the past days had seemed so comfortable?) “Behold your goddess!” she shouted.
There was no answer. Not even a dragon’s roar in response.
Maidoyú’s euphoria was dampened considerably. What good was it to proclaim yourself a goddess if there was noone around to hear it? Not much, she conceded frustratedly.
So, where was that creature? There was the trail, right beneath her, the footprints for once clearly visible in the ground, twigs broken off from a thorny bush. Then the prints… Maidoyú took a deep breath in more frustration. The prints stopped again. That creature was so –
Suddenly something slammed into her back, whirling her through the air. Maidoyú flayed her arms around, trying in vain to find purchase in the empty air – and then pain shot through her shoulder when something sharp tore into her flesh, along with a vile stink that made her head reel even more than the contortions in the air did.
She howled in agony, flesh torn from her shoulder, pain suffusing her. Claws appeared before her eyes, glinting in the sunlight for just a heartbeat before sinking into her face, gouging out her eyes and launching a new wave of pain.
Terrified Maidoyú wheeled about, her arms lashing out blindly with all her might. She barely felt her hands connect with something warm, stopped at the last moment and held on to the something, squeezing it in her fingers until it turned soft and squishy.
The claws, the fangs in her back vanished. An awful noise hung in the air, something that sounded like a scream, and much like the noise Haguen made when eating a mango.
She was afraid, and she didn’t care, and she had to pound the something in the air before her. It was no longer held aloft by itself, only by Maidoyú’s will, but that was more than enough to let her slash it to ribbons with her hands, hands that now sported foot-long claws of their own, wet from a warm liquid that sprayed all over her.
A long time passed before Maidoyú halted her assault, still dizzy from the pain burning through her. The pain. She didn’t have to feel it, she was a goddess. Nervously shaking her head she healed her body, removed the claws from her hands, and finally had eyes again to see at what was before her.
It wasn’t much. Floating before her, barely held together by her might, was something that had once called two arms and two legs its own, as well as a pair of wings, a stocky torso, and a head. She could tell the general shape from what she had instinctively contained in her fury, the number of limbs. Details were impossible to tell, for there was only a mess of flesh and greenish blood.
She had killed this creature. Sent it off to the midrealm.
And… Realization hit her like a tornado. This was the creature she had been looking for. It had to be. There were the claws she had felt in her face, and it had been right where the spoor had stopped. It had also had the shape she had assumed, a shape like her own.
Feeling drained she saw that the creature’s head was almost untouched, hovering over the mess that had once been its body. Scales covered the slightly elongated skull, interlocking dark scales. Horns grew from its back, a spiral pattern running up their length. The face jutted out from the skull, focusing on the snout with fangs still open in a final scream, Maidoyú’s own red blood glinting on the white fangs. But the eyes… the eyes looked truly like her own. As if they had once held the glimmer of sentience. More than any of the creatures of the mortal world could lay claim to – except for the emperor dragons, the only sentient beings outside of the divine abodes and the midrealm.
The creature had known it was alive. And it had known that it was dying. The pain in its eyes spoke longer volumes than the snout frozen in an agonized scream.
Maidoyú shrieked, let the mess of flesh fall back to the ground and whisked herself away to a place on the other side of the mortal world, appearing right in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by water that washed the green blood off her body.
Read on in Part XII!