"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"
XII. A Divine Puzzle <=== / ===> XIV. A Chink in the Armor
She could not recall how long she had been racing across the mortal world. She had been in an ocean, then she had flown over it, the sun drying her body. A sandy beach had appeared beneath her, a giant turtle burying its eggs. She had turned herself into a turtle as well, tried to cozy up to the mother animal. But it had been so slow, getting closer, and the other creature had ignored her gradual approach.
Then she had given up, returned to her ordinary form and run across the beach, trying to find another distraction. Something! Anything! Don’t think about it, she had told herself.
It hadn’t worked. The beach had been so empty, and her mind only conjured up sights of the man-like winged creature that had attacked her. The one that she had destroyed. Killed. Sent back to the midrealm where it came from.
No! That didn’t happen! she had screamed to herself, then she had taken flight and rushed onwards, as far away from the beach as she could.
Who was she? A goddess, yes. But what kind of a goddess destroyed life? Koultirsp never thought twice about it, yet she wasn’t Koultirsp. She was different, she was… She didn’t know.
A jungle was beneath her, a river crossing through it, its waves covered with leaves from the trees. Small creatures climbed over the leaves. Ants, she surmised as she dropped down to the river and alighted on its watery surface. “Who am I, really?” she wondered. “My name is Maidoyú, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. Is that the purpose they talk about?”
She scooped up a leaf from the surface and sent it spinning towards solid ground. The ants on top scurried about in confusion, but once they touched down, they quickly left their vessel. “Have fun, little ones!” Maidoyú cheered. “See, I can help! I am not a taker of life! That isn’t…” She hunched her shoulders forward. “That isn’t my purpose,” she muttered.
Then what was? What was it that she did?
She marveled at the fact that this had never occurred to her. The river’s water seeped into her clothes, and she rose an inch higher. There was nothing that made her be someone. Really, who was she? A goddess who spent her days in empty search of fun? That was nobody. That was anybody. All she could say about herself was, “I have killed.”
That wasn’t what she wanted to be. Why had she never chosen anything? Why had she never pointed at something and said, “That is like me, I will take care of it. I will nourish it, I will guide it.” Why had it never seemed important?
And, did it now?
She looked about herself. There was the jungle, teeming with life. Plants, animals, all filled with their own purposes. The ants were seeking their way back to their hive. A leopard was stalking prey. A flower just blossomed. Was any of that important to Maidoyú? Important enough that she wanted to make it her purpose?
“No,” she muttered bitterly. The creatures were nice, she liked them, but they did not matter much to her. Not enough to fill a god’s existence with. There had to be something else, something that was for her alone.
Maidoyú lifted herself into the air, rose over the treeline and wondered where she would go. There were a few birds in sight. A swarm of parrots rushed over the trees, to an unseen destination. She watched them amusedly, until they were gone, and behind them –
Suddenly she dropped down into the top of a tree, scaring small creatures into panicked flight. They were almost as scared as she was herself. There had been somebody in the sky! A figure much like her own, with two legs and two arms. Flying, without any wings.
But one from another abode, or from her own? Somebody sent to recapture her? Haguen?!
“No,” she reasoned after a moment. The figure had not worn a cuirass, and its shape was unlike that of tall, broad Haguen. Really much like her own – which meant that it could be a goddess. Alyssa? Taurkémad? Or Koultirsp?
If it was Koultirsp, then Maidoyú had better get as far away as possible. That goddess was permanently in a bad mood, and Maidoyú had never liked her, anyway. Alyssa? No, there was no way Decirius would entrust her with anything. Taurkémad? That was more likely, but not much better.
Taurkémad had always berated her on finding a purpose, as if there was nothing better to do! Do something worthwhile, in a million variations on the theme. So boring, so…
“But I want a purpose, don’t I?” she asked herself, amazed at the new idea. It might be good to talk to someone about this. At least Taurkémad might understand a little. Maybe she wouldn’t force Maidoyú straight back to the Eternal City and talk to her a bit before.
The goddess hesitated. She didn’t want to be locked up. On the other hand, she had found the mortal world less pleasant than before.
Before she quite realized that her thinking was done, she was flying again, rushing towards where she had last seen the other deity.
Taurkémad shook her head sadly. Before her was a small clearing in the forest, with the remains of bushes hacked to pieces on the ground. Berries had been scattered about and now were quickly devoured or gathered by small rodents. “Oh, my little dwarvies, what have you done here?” the goddess wondered. “Eating berries? In the cave you had all the food you could ever desire! I took care of that, don’t you remember?”
But saddest of all was the tree at the edge of the clearing. It was a giant of a tree, twelve feet wide at ground level. Its bark was hewn off in rough strokes, as if the tree should have been felled, but the blades had not been strong enough to carve out more than a few chips. “Stone axes,” Taurkémad muttered. “You have the gadnú, why don’t you use it? With your good axes, you would have cut through the tree in a scant hour.”
They must have left the axes for some reason. Yet she had not found a trace of the gadnú, only the strangely doubled set of footprints. How could there have been eight sets when there were only four dwarves in the whole world?
“Taurkémad, I’m… I’m here. And you can take me back, all right? Just… not now, please!”
The goddess jerked her head up, swiveled it around to her back – and saw little Maidoyú hovering in the air behind her, a humble and pleading expression on her face, along with the reddish tint of embarrassment. “What are you doing here?” Taurkémad muttered. “Look, child, I don’t have time to waste with you. My dwarves need me.”
Maidoyú blinked. “You’re not here to take me back?”
“Why would I? You’re free to waste your existence as you please. Now go back to being a gargoyle or whatever you want to be right now!” Taurkémad waved her off, returned her head to its normal position and started to follow the dwarven trail once more.
Unfortunately Maidoyú stayed right behind her. “You mean you don’t know? You really don’t?”
Groaning, Taurkémad stopped to face the other goddess. “And what is it that I don’t know? Be fast about it.”
“Well,” Maidoyú shrugged, then took a quick step forward. “Decirius has ordered the abode shut down for sixty days! Nobody is allowed to leave, or to be outside. Except for me! I went out right before, and I hid from him, so he wouldn’t find me, and he didn’t, and so I thought that you were sent to fetch me back, but you weren’t, and –“ She abruptly leaped forward to wrap her arms around the very surprised Taurkémad. “I’ve killed somebody! I’ve killed! I didn’t want to but he attacked me, and –“
Stiffly Taurkémad brushed Maidoyú from her. “Slowly, girl!” she shouted and held the arms of the other goddess well away from herself. “Whom have you killed? And how? You’re not strong enough to harm anyone of our abode, or was it a foreign god?”
Tears crept into Maidoyú’s eyes when she said, “It wasn’t a god, but… It was a he, I’m sure of it, and I killed him, I –“
Taurkémad hurled her violently up into the air, spinning her several times, before the other goddess righted herself and hovered in the air confusedly. Taurkémad flew up to her and held out her hand. “I hope you’re calm now, girl. Start from the beginning. You did not kill a god, right?” Maidoyú shook her head sullenly. “Good. But, since you cannot kill in the midrealm, that leaves only the mortal world. Little one, there are no sapient souls here, no he or she, only the animals. And you don’t want to start such a ruckus over slaying an animal, right?”
“But you say that we shouldn’t,” Maidoyú muttered.
“That’s right,” Taurkémad groaned. “That’s still no reason to act like a dragon pup that can’t find its mother! Look, the animal is now in the midrealm, and it’s feeling a lot better. Animal souls don’t change much when they’re sent back. If it had been a sapient soul, that’s different. But there are none of those here, right?”
Maidoyú bit her lip.
“Right?” Taurkémad repeated.
Shyly, Maidoyú asked, “Well, aren’t you looking for the dwarves here in the mortal world?”
The other goddess abruptly dropped a few feet and had to get her bearings again before rising back to her old position. “My dwarvies?” she yelled. “You didn’t kill one of my dwarvies?”
“No, no, no!” Maidoyú hurried to say. “It wasn’t a dwarf, I’m sure of it! He was bigger than me, and he had wings, like leather, and there were horns on his head, and fangs, and –“
Taurkémad held up her hand, grimacing. “That’s enough, girl, be quiet.” To her surprise – and relief – Maidoyú did stop speaking. “That sounds like one of Shenaumac’s playthings. The harsnetts or whatever he calls them. But they’re supposed to be in the midrealm, too. Like my dwarves. Are you sure that you killed the harsnett in the mortal world, not in the midrealm?”
“Of course I’m sure!” Maidoyú hollered. “I was being a gargoyle when I saw the footsteps of the – the harsnett. I followed, then he attacked, and I… killed him.” Her fury waned quickly. “I don’t want to kill, Taurkémad, really I don’t, but it happened, and I… Yes, I’m quiet.” The last words were spoken demurely, after a very clear look from the other goddess silenced her.
Taurkémad drifted a couple of feet away, to gaze down at the jungle. Her dwarves had left the midrealm, and so had the harsnetts. Neither had been supposed to. At least the harsnetts were better equipped to deal with the mortal world, and honestly she didn’t care much about them. Nonetheless this was much of a coincidence. Add to that the odd tale about Decirius locking down the abode, and things were decidedly odd. Did that have something to do with her dwarves? Perhaps Decirius had known the dwarves were leaving the caves? Perhaps he was behind the four new pairs of feet?
“Come with me, girl,” Taurkémad muttered and headed back down towards the trail. “We’re going to find my dwarves now, and hopefully some answers. I hate being kept in the dark around here.”