"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"
XXVI. The Rigors of New Life <=== / ===> XXVIII. Confrontation
“I shouldn’t have made you tireless,” Lonapal sighed. The eagle was perched on his arm, but its head was swerving around, gleefully scanning the sky for aanything to catch its fancy – and later to be caught by its claws. Regretfully, Lonapal brushed his free hand over his forehead. Nearly two days of endlessly roaming the small expanse of sky over the Eternal City, and now he wanted to rest for a little while, be in his own home, in his bed for a while and enjoy not having to move.
“Fly, my little one, fly!” he said and shook the eagle from his arm. Immediately the bird responded, flapped its wings and soared off. Lonapal smiled when the bird quickly curved around to fly past the god again, urging him to join it. “Not now, little one. I for one can tire. Fly! And don’t worry about Koultirsp. I’ve shielded you from her blasts. No other deity can harm you. Now fly!” He waved at the bird, and after a little while the creature understood. It cried disappointedly, then it left the god.
Lonapal hovered in the air. “I must find a name for you, little one. A name that fits your beauty. Majesty? Emperor? Or is that Empress?” He shook his head. He hadn’t quite decided on the eagle’s gender yet. Shenaumac had made his pet male, but Lonapal wasn’t quite so sure about his eagle. For one thing he had so long wanted Alyssa to fly with him, it seemed – well – wrong to have a male companion. Then again, he still held out hope that one day Alyssa would learn to enjoy the pleasures of the skies.
But there was still time for this, he decided as he dropped down towards the Eternal City. The ground felt marvelously solid, and for an instant, Lonapal enjoyed the feeling of having a floor under his feet. As much as he liked – and craved – flying, there was something relaxing about using one’s legs. Hadn’t they taken this shape for that very pleasure?
He smiled and started towards his home. He was quite taken with walking again, so much that it took him a while to notice that water was starting to rise around his feet. He only realized when he had to force his legs against the pressure of the water.
Lonapal stopped, looked down. He was standing in a small lake, waves running over its surface, blown by a wind he didn’t feel. A few fish were swimming through the waters, in sparkling colors. To his left, a column of water rose, its walls changing, coalescing into a more or less fixed shape, like a frieze. “Mannannan?” Lonapal blinked.
Ahead of him the seagod climbed out of the lake, to stand on its surface. “What?” he challenged.
“The lake, it wasn’t here before,” Lonapal said and scooped some water up in his hands. “Is there a… a reason for this?”
Mannannan grimaced. “Koultirsp tore down the buildings around here – and my fountains. Stupid goddess. Can’t contain her anger.” He shook his head. “I didn’t touch your place, if that’s why you’re asking. Don’t worry, it’s safe.”
“No, that’s not –“
“Then don’t distract me, hear?” Mannannan shot back. “Bad enough I don’t get to go to my oceans, but I’m going to have my water around me. Now get out!” Without waiting for a response, the seagod sank back into the water, his shape seemingly merging with the waters of the lake.
Lonapal shook his head sadly. Why did Mannannan have to be so edgy? He’d wanted to talk, no more. If the seagod had created a lake and needed to occupy himself in this way, that was his choice. Admittedly, Lonapal had nearly forgotten about their captivity. It must be terrible for Mannannan, he knew. How much time did that god spend in the Eternal City anyway, away from his beloved oceans in the mortal world?
He climbed out of the water, reconsidered and transported himself to his home. His legs were still soggy, water pooling around his feet in the middle of his house. Lonapal sighed, made the water disappear, then went to his bed to lie down and think.
A name for his eagle…
Darktime had fallen when a loud noise interrupted Lonapal’s musing. He hadn’t yet decided on what to do with the eagle, and now somebody was knocking on his door, rather forcefully.
The god shook his head, sighed, and opened the door while he got up and smoothed his hair. “Lonapal!” Taurkémad’s voice cried from the entrance hall.
He stopped in his tracks. She sounded concerned, worried. His regrets vanished as he quickly transported himself to the entrance hall – and was surprised to see no only the goddess but also Shenaumac. The God of Sharpened Things looked like his house had collapsed on top of him, his clothes ruffled and dirty, trails of debris and dust on his face. Not to mention the tears running down his cheeks.
“What happened?” Lonapal asked.
Taurkémad jutted her chin forward. “Tiger’s missing.”
“Have you –“ Shenaumac had to stop and swallow. His hands were quivering, aimlessly trailing over his upper body. “Have you seen Tiger? Please, Pally, tell me he’s here, and he’s all right!”
“No, I haven’t,” Lonapal snarled, overwhelmed by sudden worry.
Shenaumac’s head lolled forward, the tears coming harder. “Oh, no, I had been hoping he’d be… I’ve been searching for Tiger all day, everywhere, in the rubble, in Mannannan’s lake, and…”
“Koultirsp,” Taurkémad muttered. “She hates all pets.”
My eagle! Lonapal was glad that he didn’t voice his thought – it would have been so terribly only to think of his own pet when Shenaumac’s was missing. “Let’s find Tiger first, all right? Then we can…”
“Yes! Find Tiger!” Shenaumac cried, grabbed Taurkémad’s tunic, already halfway out the door. “We must hurry, if he’s hurt, if Tirspie has –“ His voice broke again, overcome by tears and fears.
Taurkémad shot a pleading glance at Lonapal, but there was no need for that. “I’m coming!” the God of Light announced and hurried to join the two other deities.
Together they had been searching almost all darktime. Light was starting to seep in around them, and there still had been no sign of Tiger. Nor, Lonapal had begun to notice, had he seen his eagle in the sky. The bird didn’t tire, and it couldn’t leave the Eternal City. Where was it? Maybe it had perched itself on a rooftop, to observe quietly the surroundings. It couldn’t see all that well in darktime, after all. He consoled himself with the idea, yet consolation was starting to wane along with the darkness around them. The brighter it got, the more his eagle should be flying again!
“Where else can he be?” Taurkémad frowned, one hand holding on tightly to Shenaumac’s.
Lonapal was glad that the God of Sharpened Things managed to keep himself together. He was badly shaken, his eyes were wild with worry, but he hadn’t rolled himself into a ball of worries. Not more than once or twice. What would Lonapal do if something had happened to his eagle? Would he take it as bravely as Shenaumac did?
He didn’t want to find out.
“I don’t know,” he answered Taurkémad’s question. “He can’t have left the City, can he?”
Taurkémad raised an eyebrow. “Cats have their own ways,” she sighed. For some strange reason she licked her arm quickly and brushed it over her hair, then stared at it as if she had never seen it before. “Forget it,” she muttered to herself. “Shenaumac, could Tiger have gotten through Haguen’s blockade?”
The God of Sharpened Things didn’t react right away. He was staring at the buildings around them, apparently looking through the walls, to see whether Tiger was anywhere inside, in vain hoping for a mouse to happen along. Then he shook himself, took a deep breath and wailed, “I don’t know! Tiger’s a smart cat, he – Oh, Taurk, you know how cats are, don’t you? And Haguen, he’s blocking us, the deities… I mean he –“
“It’s all right,” Taurkémad said softly and hugged Shenaumac. The god nearly collapsed into her arms, wrapping his own around her body tightly, burying his head in her shoulder. She darted a quick glance to Lonapal. “We can get a view outside, can’t we? You’re the flying one.”
“Yes, I am,” Lonapal asserted, already lifting himself off the ground and rising into the air.
Taurkémad smiled softly, held on to Shenaumac and raised both of them together, to follow the God of Light.
Lonapal concentrated, added his own brightness to the waxing daylight, surrounding himself with it and beaming it out like a cone of radiance. First he saw the walls of the Eternal City, as peaceful as ever, and then outside, there was the landscape that the gods had made. Mannannan’s river – the blue waters speckled with green – cut through the gently sloping hills. Grass moved in a soft breeze. Bushes topped a few of the hills, rocks peeked out from some others, a number of them covered with moss. There was a grove of pear trees – Lonapal had enjoyed the fruit so much he’d wanted some nearby -, and there were the cypresses that Mannannan had liked near his river.
Taurkémad’s voice was dire and taut. She’d grown a third hand, beside her regular numbers holding on to Shenaumac, and was pointing in the opposite direction of where Lonapal had been looking. Now he followed her pointing finger. Before he saw anything, cold ran through him, and he knew what he would see.
Blood drenched a hill, a red flow that had washed over the green grass. Feathers clung to the blood, large, majestic feathers that had once belonged to a mighty and beautiful bird. “My eagle…” Lonapal whispered, then his eyes took in the sight.
On top of the hill, the carcass of his eagle lay, butchered by giant claws and fangs. There was no need to wonder what kind of beast had done the deed, for the winged, feline creature was still there, its gargantuan head buried inside the cadaver, tearing strips of flesh from it.
Emptily Lonapal repeated, “My eagle…”
“Tiger!” Shenaumac yelled, broke free of Taurkémad’s hold and raced towards the wall.
Lonapal didn’t understand. There was no sign of Shenaumac’s tiny pet, there was only his own, murdered, slaughtered by this winged cat that –
“Koultirsp,” Taurkémad said bitterly. “She’s changed Tiger and used him to kill your eagle.”
“Tiger!” Shenaumac rushed through the air, vaulted over the wall and landed next to the winged cat. The other gods stared at this feat, disbelieving. The blockade had vanished? Shenaumac had just left the City!
Lonapal for one didn’t wait long. He followed his fellow god, not caring to wonder about Taurkémad. His vision was filled by the sight of his eagle – and the cat feeding on the bird. Anger welled up in him, he filled his hands with lightning, ready to destroy the murdering beast.
“Don’t,” Taurkémad was suddenly before him, her hands clasping shut around his. “It isn’t Tiger’s fault. Koultirsp made him do it. The cat is as much a victim as your eagle is.”
Lonapal didn’t want to hear, he wanted to shove Taurkémad aside, take his vengeance to the cat and – Over her shoulders, he saw Shenaumac collapse on the hill, staring at what had once been his pet Tiger, one arm stretched out, trying to reach the beast. Tears were running free over his cheeks, and Lonapal heard his sobbing.
Finally he lowered his hands. “Koultirsp,” he growled.
“Right,” Taurkémad said. “She altered Tiger like she did my little dwarvies.”
“I want to…” Lonapal had to stop, anger choking his throat. “I want to make her pay!”
Taurkémad’s eyes flared. “And I want to make her hurt.”
“Then let’s.” Lonapal couldn’t remember his voice sounding so harsh. It was a good sound, though.
The goddess nodded. “Let’s,” she agreed.
United in wrathfulness, the two gods went searching for Koultirsp and vengeance.
Tiger raised his head from his impromptu plate of meat and noticed his master cowering nearby. He was mystified how small his master was, but more than that he was concerned by the cowering and sobbing. Tiger grunted, walked over to his master and stubbed him playfully in the side.
“What?” Shenaumac muttered, immediately checked the sky for any nearby gods. None were there, and a smile started spreading on his face. “Oh, Tiger!” he cheered and slung his arms around the cat’s head. Tiger growled with relief that his master was coming to his senses – and then froze when he realized that the growl changed into a soft mewing, and he was shrinking, soon small enough to fit into his master’s hands.
Oh, well, it had been a nice experience while it lasted. Now he rubbed his head against the god’s chest, mewed petulantly. Time for some nice stroking.
“You deserve this,” Shenaumac whispered and obliged the cat with enjoyment. “You’re such a good kitty, Tiger! Yes, good boy, good boy!”
Tiger happily agreed. His stomach was rather full now, amply filled with tasty bird meat, and he was getting stroked.
“Well, of course, I was good, too,” Shenaumac continued. “There should be an award for acting, don’t you find? Best god in a dramatic performance… and best pet, too, obviously.” He casually changed his appearance back to the orderly standard, rubbed his nose with Tiger’s and gleefully waited for the lightning bolts in the distance, signifying the battle between Koultirsp and the vengeful (not to mention gullible) gods.