"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"
XXIII. The Eagle's Flight <=== / ===> XXV. Interrogation
XXIV. Council of Shadows
“First of the Five,” a voice from nowhere said, “your plan is not working as you promised.”
Decirius nodded slightly, a gesture that none of his interlocutors could detect. He was standing in a realm of shadows, one that not even his own power could quite perceive. In the recesses of his mind, he knew that he was standing within the confines of his own home, the realm that he had created inside the Eternal City. From outside it looked like a mighty tower, a building taller than all the others. Inside there seemed to be only a single room, its walls lost within impenetrable darkness. All that existed there was shrouded, invisible to each of Decirius’ lower gods who visited. Normally Decirius knew every single item there, and he could navigate the darkness easily.
Now, though, he was as lost as the minor gods. All he could see was black. Shadows seemed to dance within the dark zone, outlines that might represent actual beings, yet none could be clearly seen. But there were four deities present, four others to whom he was no more than one of those twinkling, unclear shadows.
He said, “There have been changes, yet the goal will still be reached, Second of the Five.”
“I am not sure of that,” Second answered. “Lógrims noticed your scheme.”
Another voice, belonging to Fourth, said, “He was defeated by your underlings, First. The other abodes will mark that, even if they don’t take note of the sapients appearing in the mortal world.”
Second picked up the comment, “They cannot fail to realize that under-gods have bested Lógrims. The dragon god will start to wail about this to others in a short while.”
“True,” Decirius admitted. “Yet he is too hurt now to do so. Do not forget, the other abodes rarely take heed of what occurs outside their boundaries. They are too concerned with their own business of creating animals and plants.”
The shadows milled about in the darkness, coalescing, separating, never enough that a clear picture could be detected.
From what seemed to be behind Decirius, Third of the Five said, “You have said so before, First. But the sapients have not disturbed any dragons, have they? Why then did Lógrims the dragon-god notice them?”
“The other abodes are not as ignorant as you claimed,” Fifth of the Five added.
Second chimed in, “What about the measures you wanted to take? The measures to distract the abodes?”
“Ah, yes,” Decirius sighed. “The primary measure, in fact, were my under-gods who defeated Lógrims.”
Cries of surprise and anger rolled through the darkness. The shadowy dance intensified for a moment, then Second of the Five shouted, “You have defeated all of us, then! How dare you choose under-gods like those! They raised a clarion call for the other abodes, to see what we are doing and eradicate us – before we obtain the promised power!”
“Yes!” Third yelled. “Where is that power? So many sapients loosened on the mortal world, yet they don’t produce any new strength. How are we to stand against the other abodes when they attack us?”
The other voices agreed, shifting in strength and clarity as much as the shadows in the world of darkness.
Decirius cleared his throat. The noise had no effect on the fury of the shadows. “Silence!” he thundered. “I have told you that it would take time before we receive the new power! The sapients have to spawn first, they have to grow their numbers. With every new life’s spark added, a new flame of worship is lit before our feet, and it will add fuel to our powers.”
“Old words, First of the Five,” Third clamored. “We have no fuel now, and the abodes will attack!”
Decirius raised his hands and charged lightning into the darkness. The trembling beams dissipated within moments, never reaching any target, but their fiery remains danced for long moments within the shadows, trailing light through the darkness. “The abodes do not know anything. My under-gods have fought Lógrims, but that will not reveal our plan.”
He was a bit surprised to find that the cacophony subsided, and Decirius pressed on with his statement, “They are concerned with the villagers, the least of our creations. For all the time I’ve known Darawk and Alyssa, the villagers were the primary interest. That is what they care about, and that is what the other abodes will see. Now they have defeated Lógrims, and in a short while, you are correct, the other abodes will start looking for my under-gods.”
He paused briefly. None of the other deities commented. “They will only see the villagers, the ones whom Darawk and Alyssa defend. Since my abode – as yours are, as well – are closed, the two of them will be perceived as outcasts.”
“You mean,” Fourth of the Five said thoughtfully, “that the other abodes will blame only them? But they’re likely to place some of the blame on our shoulders as well.”
“Yet not all of the blame,” Second added. A shadow became more pronounced in the rough direction from where Second’s voice was coming. “Perhaps the other abodes will be sufficiently distracted by First’s under-gods that they don’t realize the full extent of the plan. After all, they did defeat Lógrims. The under-gods might be able to hold off the other abodes for a while.”
“Hold off the abodes?” Fifth interrupted angrily. “They are under-gods, remember? They don’t have half the power of a single one of us! How could they defend themselves against the onslaught of a full abode?”
“They did against Lógrims,” Second retorted.
“The dragon-god represents only a small abode!”
Second snorted. “He still commands the power of an abode. To best him, to outwit him, that means these under-gods may have some more tricks ready. Is that so, First of the Five?”
Decirius smiled. The council was starting to follow his lead again, finally. “I have great faith in their abilities. That is why I chose them.”
“Good,” Second answered, mollified. “We should still hurry our efforts to grow the numbers of sapients. The midrealm villagers don’t provide enough power to fuel more than a few under-gods so we can safely sacrifice them. But there have to be more dwarves and harsnetts, First! Their worship must strengthen us!”
Decirius was ready to answer when Third of the Five interjected, “What about the Ancient? Your under-gods have forgotten about him, but we don’t know whose side he will take. The Ancient needs to be eliminated.”
Again the voices grew cacophonic, interspersing hacked-off syllables, losing themselves in the twirls of the shadows.
Calmly, Decirius nodded and said, “Yes, Third, I know. I also know that you have never bothered to eliminate him. Yet you are his offspring, aren’t you? Why did you not act upon that when you had the opportunity? And why did neither of the others?” No clear answer came, and Decirius went on, “Because the Ancient is meaningless. He has lost most of what he once had. What is left is of no concern to us. He might run to the other abodes, but I have taken a measure to prevent him from that.” He smiled. “That choice of mine is at least as reliable as Darawk and Alyssa are. Self-serving as that under-god may be, he will always do what is best for himself.”
“Are you sure about that?” Third of the Five asked. His voice was slightly crackling, the memory of the Ancient’s connection to him biting the god.
“Yes, I am.” Decirius turned to where Third’s voice came from. He sent another lightning in that direction, the energy limning the outline of one shadow, then several others in quick succession. One of them was Third’s actual form. “Continue as you have thus far, and don’t concern yourself with the matters to which I have pledged myself. The Ancient will not interfere, and our plan will unfold as I have promised you.”
He sent more lightning around him, highlighting the other shadows in the darkness around him.
“The Five are set to reach the place we deserve. We shall rule – a world of sapients who worship our abodes! That is what we are destined to become, and that we will achieve. I promised you before, and again I pledge this. The Five will succeed!”
He raised his fist, made it glow from within, enough to pierce the shadows and make it visible to the other chief gods. “The Five will rule!” he shouted.
“We shall rule!” the others chimed in.
Satisfied, Decirius nodded – and left the discussion.
He didn’t actually change place. The darkness was still around him, yet the shadows of the other gods were gone, and he knew exactly where he was in his home. He also knew that somebody else was him, somebody that he had expected.
“Did they agree?” the other god, his assistant in the great scheme, asked.
“With some difficulties, yes,” Decirius said. “The old man?”
The other god smiled. “No problems there, Deecee. He doesn’t even dream of going to any other abode. I guess he thinks you’ll accept him into our abode.”
Decirius crooked his head. “Really? I wouldn’t have thought he’s serious about this.”
“He’s taken a name for himself,” the other god said. “Now he calls himself Olmawi.”
“Olmawi?” Decirius brightened the darkness, walked over to his desk and sat down behind it. “That is a surprise. Maybe the old man – Olmawi – can actually prove worthwhile.”
The other god stepped towards the desk and rested his hands on the top of the table. “So he might not be meaningless?”
Decirius’ head jerked up, his eyes took a quick study of the god before him. “You listened in on our conversation?!”
The other god shrugged. “You were pretty loud.”
“What have you learned?” Decirius asked dangerously.
“Perhaps enough, perhaps not,” the other god answered. “But didn’t you say I am as reliable as Darawk and Alyssa? At least as far as a ‘self-serving’ god can be?”
Decirius rose from his chair, facing the other deity. “Remember your place. I am your chief god, and it is I who decides what you may know.”
The other god smiled darkly. “Of course, Deecee. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Leave now and take care of your business!”
“Most certainly,” Shenaumac, the God of Sharpened Things, agreed. “There is much to do.”