"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"
XVII. The Village Green <=== / ===> XIX. The Power of Prayer
“Open up!” Taurkémad yelled and banged her fists against the gate of the Eternal City. “Haguen, where are you? Move your bum feet and let me in!”
She kicked the gate, but it didn’t budge. The wood glowed in darktime. It had never done so before, and unwillingly Taurkémad had to admit that Maidoyú had spoken the truth. The Eternal City was shut down. She hadn’t been able to go straight to her home. A force tasting of Haguen had repelled and deposited her before the gate.
“Open up!” she repeated, angry and frustrated. It had been a very long time since her body had last hurt as it did now. She couldn’t remove the pain. Taking a different form didn’t solve the problem, either. The pain was in her self, and now she wanted to get back to her own bed, lie down and try to forget that Maidoyú – Maidoyú! – had defeated her so easily.
The gate still didn’t move. Taurkémad twisted her fingers and sent a bright orange light up, flaring into a golden shower along with thunderous noise. That should wake Haguen up. Where was he anyway? Didn’t he stick around the gate at darktime, too? Most of the time, anyway.
She rubbed her side. The pain receded for a moment, but the instant she let go of the side, it returned at full strength. How could Maidoyú have hurt her like that? The insignificant little goddess who had been little better than a pest?
Finally a noise came from behind the gate. Taurkémad stretched her body, tried to appear undisturbed. When the gate slowly opened and Haguen peered through the slit, his halberd ready, she realized that her attempts were in vain.
“What happened to you?” the guardian god asked with raised eyebrows.
“Nothing,” Taurkémad muttered. “Step aside, all right?”
Haguen pulled the gate back wide enough for her to pass through. “You were gone for several days. Much has changed here, you –“
“I know!” Taurkémad shouted, slipped by the god and started for her home.
She had taken a few steps only when Decirius appeared before her. “Have you found the dwarves?” he asked calmly.
Taurkémad shuddered, remembering how awful the little beings now were. “Yes, I have. Can I –“
“Are they fine?” Decirius continued.
Her eyes widened, her breath quickened. “They’re –“ she started angrily, then cut herself off. “They’re fine. You were right. Leave them in the mortal world, that’s the thing.”
Decirius nodded, then looked over her shoulder and ordered Haguen to close the gate again. The goddess stared at the chief god. Should she tell him about the dwarves? After all, Decirius had taken charge of them.
No, she decided quickly. If Decirius had taken care of them rather than merely charge, none of this would have happened. The dwarves would still be her little ones, still in their cave, and she would never have been hurt by Maidoyú. “If there isn’t anything more, I’ll be going,” Taurkémad said.
The chief god studied her with his darktime eyes for a moment – only to vanish suddenly.
Taurkémad frowned. “He could have said something,” she muttered.
“Our lord has much to think about these days,” Haguen noted. “You’re hurting, Taurk. Please, let me take you home.”
“I can walk!” Taurkémad protested.
“Then I will accompany you,” the guardian stated and waved his hand ahead.
Unwillingly, she muttered, “Whatever.”
Haguen had stayed with her throughout the night. In the morning he had conjured up a meal for her, a selection of jungle fruits. She had stared at the fruits as if they were obscenities. Too fresh were the memories of the jungle where she had seen her dwarves. No, the dwarves. They weren’t hers anymore.
The guardian god had seemed to sense her discomfort, so he’d replaced the fruits with steaming vegetables from a different climate, and with a sigh Taurkémad had eaten them. Then Haguen had spoken to her a bit, about insignificant little things like the burning sun or the system of winds on the mortal world.
She’d claimed to be very tired. Haguen had understood immediately and left, probably for his post at the gate. He was like that, after all. He wouldn’t open the gate, but he’d have to stand close to it during the day.
Taurkémad had looked about her home. There had been all the creations of the dwarves, the statues, the friezes, the small, symbolic carvings. At one point she had loved them so much that she had taken them from the cave to look at them every day. Now, though, she had not been able to bear watching them.
So she’d mustered her strength – strange that she had so little left – and turned them into slag, melting them on the spot, then throwing them out of her home onto the street before it. Without them her house looked empty. Taurkémad decided that she liked it that way, then she settled down in a corner, staring at the emptiness.
After a while she became aware of a presence outside. Another god was near the trash, and he wouldn’t go away. She tried to ignore the god, focused her stare, then launched a lightning bolt at the nearest wall. The tiny sparks coming from her fingers only disheartened her more. She closed her eyes for a moment, then got up and walked to the entrance.
The first thing she saw outside was a small orange creature climbing the pile of slag. A… a cat? Yes, that was the name. The race lived only in the midrealm, a constant source of prey and confusion. She had never paid them much heed, but what was one doing here? More than that, why was it on her slag?
“Hello, Kemad!” Shenaumac greeted her.
Taurkémad blinked. She’d forgotten about the god’s presence for a moment. “What are you doing here?” she muttered.
The God of Sharpened Things smiled. “I heard you were back. You’re redecorating your place?”
“Oh, come on, Kemad, I was only trying to start a conversation.” Shenaumac rolled his eyes, while his arms grew longer and picked the cat from the pile it was sniffing. “Can Tiger and I come inside?”
Taurkémad’s grip on the door tightened. “No. I want to be alone.”
The cat struggled against the god’s hands for a while, before it relented and started making a soft noise. Shenaumac looked down at it, shrugged and stroked its head gently. “Tiger, Tiger, you’re a selfish one, aren’t you?” he whispered.
Taurkémad frowned. “It follows your lead, that’s all, Shen.”
The god raised his head a bit and smiled. “You’re right. He’s a good student, aren’t you, Tiger? Yes, you are, believe me.”
“He?” Taurkémad asked bitterly. “You’re growing too attached to the animal.”
“Perhaps I am,” Shenaumac shrugged. “Well, we all have our pets. You take care of them, and they’ll give you joy in return.”
“Until somebody takes the pet away.”
Shenaumac frowned. “Yes,” he said after a moment, “Tirspie tried that a few days ago. She didn’t like Tiger one bit, the spoilsport. Sometimes I wonder if she’s taken every creature in the universe as her pet, or if she minds somebody else having fun.”
Taurkémad didn’t answer. The cat raised its chin, and Shenaumac obliged it by scratching under its head. “I guess it’s the latter. Before the gate was closed, Tirspie destroyed a couple of the villagers’ houses in the midrealm. You know, she probably did that just because Lonapal’s taken a liking to them. Can’t have anyone be having fun while Tirspie is feeling miserable.”
“She always feels miserable.”
He smiled. “Yes, she does, doesn’t she? Tirspie should get a pet of her own, instead of tampering with other gods’ pets.”
Taurkémad’s gaze suddenly intensified, shifting from the god’s face to the cat nestled in his arms. She didn’t say anything, but her mind was starting to run through thoughts in quick succession.
Suddenly she stepped back and smashed the door shut. The noise echoed through the street, rousing the cat from its near-slumber.
Shenaumac grinned, hoisted the cat on both hands and touched its nose, watching its eyes with glee. “Who’s following whose lead, Tiger? We’re on our own road to greatness, aren’t we?”
The cat mewed uncomfortably.
“All right, Tiger,” Shenaumac relented and let the cat back on the ground to roam the slag again. “Enjoy yourself!”