"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"
XVIII. A Goddess Defeated <=== / ===> XX. The Cat's Pawn (coming on Friday, August 2 2002)
“At least the villagers are still there,” Darawk muttered and leaned on the walking stick he had made, an identical copy of the one the old man was using.
Alyssa sat down on a rock. “The dwarves and the harsnetts are gone from the midrealm, off into the mortal world. Does that make any sense to you, brother of mine?”
While Darawk breathed deeply and looked up at the sky, the old man said, “You have already come up with one explanation, my friends. The worship of specific gods. For the dwarves, you considered Decirius and Taurkémad. Is there a god especially fond of the harsnetts?”
“Shenaumac,” Darawk shrugged. “He is the God of Sharpened Things in our abode, and – please don’t ask why he chose that. Shenaumac doesn’t have much power, so he had to settle for that. He’s making the best of it, I suppose. He gave the harsnetts their claws – sharpened things, you know? – so that they could hunt.”
“He likes hunting,” Alyssa muttered.
The God of Knowledge nodded. “He’s good at hunting so I’m not surprised he likes it, dear sister. The question is who let the harsnetts go to the mortal world? Our little godling couldn’t protect them down there, after all.”
“No,” Alyssa agreed with a smile.
The old man was watching them with interest, enjoying the exchange of ideas. Yet there was a different noise that suddenly caught his attention, a noise much like the wind, but heavier. Much heavier.
“Besides,” the goddess said, “Shenaumac never gets along with anyone. Least of all Decirius.”
The noise grew louder. The old man swiveled his head about, studying the sky.
Darawk said, “Most of the time, you’re right. But Decirius also cares about the harsnetts. They pray to him first of all, then the chief gods of a few other abodes, and only afterwards to Shenaumac.” He frowned. “Isn’t it interesting how Decirius managed to edge out other chief gods?”
There was a dark speck in the sky. The old man focused his eyes on it, sharpening his vision. Wings. Wide wings, gently flapping. It wasn’t a bird, it was something else. A memory surged in his mind.
“Our abode has taken the most interest in sapients,” Alyssa noted. “The others care more about animals and plants, or about the shapes of rocks and rivers.”
The frown on Darawk’s forehead deepened. He opened his mouth to answer, but the old man interrupted him, “I think it might be prudent to take cover.”
“Excuse me?” Darawk blinked.
The old man pointed at the sky. Sharpened vision was no longer necessary to see the wings coursing the sky, a large, golden body between them, stretching into a thin tail on the one end, and a massive head on the other. Dark red eyes glistened in the skull, angrily directed at the three gods on the ground.
“Lógrims?” Alyssa raised her eyebrows. “Old man, he’s a god of dragons. I don’t think he cares much about sapients, nor that we have run from our own abode.”
“Unless,” Darawk said, “you have a history with him, my friend.”
The old man shook his head and started walking away from the approaching dragon god. “That history doesn’t concern the present. But I know Lógrims as well as his temper. We should –“
Their conversation had eaten up precious time, enough to let the dragon come into range. Lógrims opened his jaws, launching a wide stream of fire towards the ground.
The manlings hadn’t been of any help to Caltraya. They hadn’t spoken to the gods recently, either, but they weren’t worried one bit. “Well,” one of them had told her, “you can’t speak to everyone at the same time. It would be nice, I’m sure. Goodness, I’d love that! That would be fun! On the other hand, it’s also fun if you speak to only one person at a time, at least sometimes, so the gods probably do that, and therefore –“ Caltraya had stopped listening at that point, while the manling droned on and on. Around him, everybody else was talking as well, as if they never stopped.
Which probably was true.
Caltraya hadn’t enjoyed their company very much. She needed time to think. Time and thinking both were commodities that the manlings didn’t put any stock in, obviously. So she had resumed her walking, this time without any goal in mind.
Returning to her village still seemed a bad idea. Her faith hadn’t been restored. Quite the contrary. She was starting to worry about the gods! About the good lady Alyssa in particular. Could it be that Decirius had meant her harm?
Why should she worry? The gods were gods, after all! They were eternal!
Caltraya was walking along the edge of a forest, several miles away from the burrows of the manlings. Birds were singing. A few were flying overhead, quickly darting between the trees, occasionally scooting out over the meadows stretching onward from the forest.
A loud noise intruded on her ponderings.
It came from across the next hill, she realized. She turned her head – and felt her heart skip a beat. A dragon coursed in the sky, sending its fiery breath towards the ground. A dragon!
She had been fried by a dragon a long time ago, feeling the fiery breath tear her apart. For almost a week she had been gone, her mind drifting in nothingness, only feeling the pain. Then she had reappeared, hale and sound, to walk back to the village. But she remembered the pain.
She ought to get away from the dragon. It was so close, lumbering over the meadows, blocking out the sun with its giant body. The forest… She had to get to the forest.
Then lightning flashed up from the ground, beyond the next hill, streaking towards the dragon, impacting on its wing. The dragon screamed, sending another wave of flame down.
Where had the lightning come from? And how had it been caused?
Curiosity fought with fear in her heart. She pounded her fists against her legs, yearning to run away. But she couldn’t. Lightning meant gods. Gods like the good lady.
She had to find out if the gods were still there!
“Why are you attacking us?!” Darawk screamed, running across the field of grass.
Lógrims didn’t bother with answering. Unless the flames jetting down counted.
Darawk was hurting from one that had seared his leg. He had reset the limb so he could run again, but the pain persisted. It took so much strength to keep the leg from limping! A scholarly god shouldn’t have to worry about anything like that.
“Run faster, brother!” Alyssa yelled, firing lightning from two arms she had grown in her back.
The old man barely matched their pace. He was breathing hard, as if he were truly old.
Darawk wished that he could have just whisked the three of them away, to the mortal world perhaps. Lógrims might not be able to follow them. Empty wishes! The god of dragons was keeping them in this place, by a powerful field surrounding them.
The three gods were no match for him, Darawk knew. Lógrims ruled an abode of one deity alone, himself. He had all the power of his small abode, didn’t share it with any other god. And that power was now turned on them.
“We didn’t do anything to you!” he yelled.
Lógrims belched a ball of fire straight at the God of Knowledge. Darawk dived aside, rolling over the meadows. He lost his bearings for a moment, scrambled to his feet, looking first for the god of dragons, then his companions. The first look was sufficient to make him leap aside again, since Lógrims was streaking towards him. “Your creatures infest the mortal world!” the dragon’s booming voice rushed over the meadows as if it were a gust of stormwind. “You will pay for that!”
Darawk fought against the wind, but he was buffeted back, landing on his back. The dragon came closer, ready to fire another jet of flame.
Darawk raised his hands, sent off lightning. Its energy dissipated on Lógrims’ snout, making the god of dragons laugh. “You will pay!”
Caltraya sank to her knees in sudden fright when she had crested the hill. At first she had taken the three people in the meadow beyond for villagers like herself. Then she had seen how one of them fired lightning at the dragon, and she realized that they were gods.
Gods. Fighting for their lives.
The next instant she had recognized the woman among them as the good lady Alyssa. Her precious Alyssa. Caltraya gaped at the scene. One of the gods was separated from the others, stumbling down a hillside. The dragon flew towards him, ready to destroy him.
She saw Alyssa stop her flight and turn around. The separated god must be very important to her, Caltraya thought. Alyssa sent lightning at the dragon. She only succeeded in drawing its attention.
Caltraya clasped her hand around her throat when she saw the large dragon swoop over to point its snout at Alyssa. The flames were ready to come.
“No!” Caltraya screamed, then bowed her head, unable to watch anymore, and she prayed for her good lady with all her might.
Alyssa didn’t think when she saw her brother attacked by Lógrims. Darawk was already injured, he couldn’t outrun the dragon god. She raised her arms, sparked off lightning, and screamed, “Over here, you coward! Take on someone who can still fight!”
“Foolish goddess!” Lógrims snarled. “Infestor! Violator! You will pay!”
Her lightning hadn’t damaged him at all. The first volleys she’d scored on him had at least torn gashes into his wings, but now Alyssa’s strength was starting to wane. Run, Darawk! she thought, hoping that her brother would come to his senses and get some distance between the dragon and himself.
She fired another bolt of lightning. Lógrims trembled under the impact, shaking his head wildly. Surprised that there is something left in me, she groaned. The bolt couldn’t have hurt him.
Alyssa stood her ground, her arms raised for a last shot, while she prepared for the dragon god’s fire. Maybe she could withstand the jet for a while. Long enough that Darawk could escape. A lone goddess against Lógrims. Brother, you ought to write a nice book about this.
The flames came.
Fiery red engulfed her, seared the clothes off her body, tore at her skin, flames dancing on her hair.
And that was it.
Alyssa blinked incredulously. Her gaze shot down, looking at the fire around her naked body. The fire hurt, but it didn’t injure her. She felt strong, stronger than she had moments before. Power was running into her, power enough to…
She launched a bolt of lightning. It burned through the sky, towards Lógrims’ left wing – and it blew straight through the wing. The dragon howled, dropped dozens of yards, cradling its wing to its body. Then it stretched the wing again, strained to flap it in the air, keep itself afloat.
The goddess wasted no time wondering about this miracle. There was more power inside her, and she put it to good use. A second bolt of lightning crashed through Lógrims’ right wing, at the shoulder, tearing off muscles and blood.
Lógrims howled and howled and howled.
He fell from the sky, but before hitting the ground, the god of dragons vanished, beaten.
“You…” the old man panted, next to Alyssa. “You are… surprisingly powerful!”
Instead of answering she looked across the meadow to where her brother had been. Darawk hadn’t run, the fool. Instead he had been crouching on the grass, his hands raised for firing bolts of his own, as meaningless as they were. “Idiot,” she muttered affectionately. “As if you could have saved me.”
She waved towards him. “Come on over here, brother. It’s over!”
On the meadow, Darawk slowly got to his feet, shook his head – then appeared next to her. “I cannot believe that you bested Lógrims, sister, although I’m not complaining.”
“Sure you’re not,” Alyssa grinned. They embraced, pressed tightly against each other.
After a while the old man coughed politely, and the two distentangled themselves. “We are not alone,” he said and nodded to a hill several hundred yards away from them.
A woman was kneeling there, a villager, her head bowed forward, her body swaying slightly in prayer.
Alyssa breathed deeply. “Callie.”
“You know her?” Darawk asked.
She nodded, then said gently, “She saved us, brother. Her prayer fueled me.”
Darawk gaped at her. She understood his confusion, felt it herself. One villager’s prayer, dedicated to only one god rather than the entire abode, had strengthened her enough to stand up to Lógrims.
How much power could the prayer of an entire race bring? One that was growing in the mortal world and that dedicated itself to only one god, like Decirius?