"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"
XXVIII. Confrontation <=== / ===> XXX. Passage Opened (coming on Friday, February 21 2003)
XXIX. Predator Revealed
Flashes lightened the dawning day over the top of the city walls. Shenaumac was rather happy that the lightning came from outside. He’d stationed himself near Mannannan’s lake, just in case the seagod noticed the battle. A flick of his hand, and a block of buildings would have collapsed into the lake, giving Mannannan a lot of repair work to do. Knowing him as well as Shenaumac did, half a day would have passed before Mannannan would have gone looking for the cause of the collapse.
Alas, there was no need for that. Although the first flashes had still been within the city limits, they had quickly moved outside, far enough away that nobody inside was likely to take note. Unless that person happened to know about Lonapal and Taurkémad seeking to take vengeance on Koultirsp.
“For my poor Tiger,” Shenaumac smiled. “I’m so touched.” At that time, Tiger was back in the god’s home, curled up on his blanket and sleeping the nap of the gorged. He’d still been grinning when he fell asleep, with nearly a whole eagle inside his now tiny stomach.
He was slowly drifting through the air towards the city walls, to perch himself on their battlements and watch the proceedings outside. Half an hour’s fighting, and the ferocity of the lightning bolts had barely waned. He supposed that an hour more would pass before either of the combatants fell, or all three of them weakened too much to continue their fight.
Well, he could wait that long. He cast a quick glance over to Decirius’ tower. It looked more foreboding than it had the previous day. Had Alyssa and Darawk distracted him enough? Judging by their little appearance at his home (his ribs started hurting again in memory), they should have proved irritating enough to the chief god.
On the other hand, Shenaumac was a bit irritated that Decirius hadn’t seen fit to call him in. After all, wasn’t the God of Sharpened Things supposed to be his loyal assistant? He grinned. “Loyal. That’s me.”
His grin suddenly vanished when a loud and booming noise washed over him, along with an explosion of orange light that seemed to penetrate all solid objects. He shook his head quickly, squinted at where the light had originated. A cloud rose into the sky, billowing up like a mushroom. Silence followed the boom, deafening after the loud noise.
“What have you done?” Shenaumac wondered – then gathered his wits and looked back into the city. Just to make sure he cast bolts of lightning at a few fountains in the city, evaporating their water, cracking the marble. Not quite the effect that he had had in mind for Mannannan, but it should suffice for the moment. As for the rest…
Decirius and Haguen couldn’t fail to notice this! If Darawk and Alyssa were still nearby, they’d surely follow it up.
“Better hurry,” he told himself and sped up to a blur, rushing towards the mushroom cloud rising.
His frown intensified when he saw the fires that were burning in the hills, consuming the grass and bushes that had been torn from their roots by an intense shockwave. A creek – not Mannannan’s green-speckled favorite – seemed to have vaporized, only a few drops of moisture remaining. The air was warm. It seemed to burn by itself, if that were possible.
Perhaps it was. Shenaumac had never paid that much attention to the details of the world. Physics had never been a favorite topic of his.
Neither did he care to learn more about it today. He had to find out what – or rather, who – had caused this explosion. And who had survived.
He nearly flew by one survivor. That one was in a burning field, entangled in the smoldering limbs of a pear tree – no more than a black, sooty figure, with flames dancing all over it. But then the figure cried in a cracking, husky voice, “Shenaumac… here… down here…”
The God of Sharpened Things stopped, stared in shock at the figure. “Pally?!”
“Yes,” Lonapal breathed. His hands started moving, trembling and shivering under the strain as he lifted a branch from his chest, tried – and failed – to raise his head. “Help me!”
Shenaumac raised an eyebrow, then eliminated the flames around Lonapal and landed. With a slight motion he made the pear tree’s husk vanish, then he knelt down next to the God of Light. “Did Koultirsp do this?”
Lonapal forced himself to look at the other god. His lips moved, cracked, blood exiting from the cracks as he tried to smile. “No… That was I… She… denied her deeds.”
“Did she?” Shenaumac asked while he gently lifted Lonapal’s upper body and held it so that he could look straight into the god’s eyes.
“Yes,” Lonapal answered, a trace of vengeful righteousness in his voice. “She dared… claim innocence!”
“Is Koultirsp dead? And Taurkémad, too?” the God of Sharpened Things asked.
Lonapal frowned. “I don’t know about… Taurkémad… She fell, that’s… when I launched the blast… But Koultirsp…” His eyes glazed over from distant joy. “She’s dead, I know that. Vengeance. For my eagle… For Tiger… For the dwarves…” His voice broke, blood bubbling up between his lips. Lonapal clawed with his hand at Shenaumac’s shoulder. “Help me, my friend, please! Bring… me back to my place, tell Decirius…” His head lolled back, his hand dropped, and the god focused all his strength on staying alive.
Shenaumac nodded slowly. “Deecee, right. Well,” he shrugged and smiled at the injured God of Light, “I’ll tell him that you went mad. You murdered Taurkémad and Koultirsp, then you died from your wounds.”
“What?” Lonapal asked, his eyes widening in disbelief.
“A pity, really,” Shenaumac continued casually. “I would have liked to learn that trick with the explosion. So devastating, I hadn’t thought you of all the gods could have done this. Shame that you died.”
“I’m… not dead!” Lonapal insisted, tried to roll himself out of Shenaumac’s grasp. His hands started to glow softly, sparkles rising from the fingertips as if he was trying to cast a bolt of lightning.
Shenaumac blinked, woke from his reverie and told the god in his arms, “Sorry, Pally, my mistake.” His fingers behind the god’s back changed, merged into a single, gleaming blade. With a swift motion he stuck the blade into Lonapal’s back, straight through the heart. The god spasmed. Shenaumac held him tightly. “See? Now you’re dead. And I don’t think Deecee is going to wonder where your energy has gone. Or who has taken it.”
He savored the moment, then leaned forward and pushed his other hand into the dead god’s chest, looking hard into the broken eyes. Energy sparkled, divine power flowed into Shenaumac’s hands, and he moaned in quick pleasure when he sucked all the strength from Lonapal into himself. “Thank you, Pally,” he whispered. “You’re feeding me even better than your eagle did my little Tiger.”
Shenaumac’s exhilaration faded quickly as he left the charred corpse and flew on to find the remains of the two goddesses. Yes, he had completely assimilated Lonapal’s powers. But he had expected them to be immediately available to him – he’d already prepared an explanation if another deity wondered about his new-found strength.
To his regret, the new powers were as weakened as Lonapal had been. Killing him, in fact, had nearly extinguished them. At least they still had their full potential, which was all that Shenaumac should care about. With rest, with practice, he would gain all the strength – but that would take time, and he didn’t want to wait any longer. He’d been the weakest of the gods for far too long.
He yearned to add Koultirsp’s and Taurkémad’s essence to his. Maybe the three gods together could give him enough satisfaction to last a few days.
All right, on the other hand, he thought, I won’t have to use any excuses. Deecee will think that it’s the sapients’ worship that enhances my strength.
He still wanted the other essences and increased his speed. He was approaching the origin of the blast. The mushroom cloud was around him, would have blinded him if he hadn’t altered his eyes to see through them. A little bit further, and there –
Yearning hit him like a wall when he saw the body of Koultirsp lying on the ground, twisted, mangled, torn. Shreds were all that remained of her physical appearance. But… how could he drain her powers, how –
“Oh, yes!” He halted his flight, spread out his arms. The essence was all around him, diffused into the air, dispersing ever further. “Come to me,” he whispered and drew the essence to him, as much as he could grasp. He felt as if he were pulling smoke, so wide and thin had the essence become.
It didn’t matter. He got it. Most of it, anyway.
Unfortunately, he realized, it was even more devastated that Lonapal’s had been and would take that much longer to become usable. I have to drain a god right after killing. That’s the only way to get a decent charge out of it. He determined to remember that if the chance would occur again. Or if he arranged for another opportunity.
For now, though, he had to find Taurkémad. Hopefully she was still alive so he could kill her…
He searched the area. In vain. There was no trace of the goddess. Had she been incinerated by the blast?
“Doubtful,” he muttered. Koultirsp had been at the center of the explosion, and there had been something left of her. Taurkémad must have been a bit further away, maybe as far away as Lonapal, and he had survived. “Where are you, Taurk?” he cried.
The only answer was the wind blowing in, starting to scatter the mushroom cloud.
Shenaumac shook his head. He would have to search for the goddess at a later time. Decirius would surely notice the explosion, and the God of Sharpened Things would rather be someplace else when Decirius came to investigate. He wasn’t strong enough yet to face the chief god.
Shenaumac smiled softly, then transported himself back to his home, to play with Tiger and look forward to what spoils the future would bring his way.
Look for Part XXX on Friday, February 21 2003!