"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"
From here on, downloads will only be listed at the Downloads page!
"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
IV. An Empty Cave <=== / ===> VI. The Closing Gate
“Intriguing creatures,” the old man said and whistled softly.
Darawk nodded eagerly and prodded the pile of sand before him, motes of red scattered amidst the yellow grains. “Crimson divers,” he repeated the name. “They feed on even tinier creatures within the sand dunes of the hourglass-shaped desert. They are much like the crabs you find in water, yet they subsist in the arid environment of a desert. Fascinating. I have spent years studying their behavior.”
“Why did you not ask their creator?” The old man leaned back in his chair on the dais next to the plaza and folded his arms before his chest. “That would appear to be much easier.”
“Easier?” Darawk frowned. “The one responsible for the divers belongs to a different abode. I don’t even know whether it was just one creator or a group effort!” He shook his head and sighed. “Sad, isn’t it? That the abodes rarely communicate with each other. We are all gods, we rule the heavens and the midrealm as well as the mortal world, yet we do not talk to each other.”
The old man shrugged. “I have seen that you are right. In my travels I have seen many of the abodes, and not one truly knew of the other. A few names, a few events, not much more. They are all diverse, and much there is that they could learn from their differences. What, my good friend Darawk, do you think is the reason for the lack of communication?”
A wistful look came over the God of Knowledge’s face as Darawk looked out across the plaza, raising his gaze slowly to encompass the high buildings. “The fear of war,” he said softly. “We do not understand the others, and we don’t think they will appreciate much what we are doing.”
“Ah,” the old man nodded slowly. “I believe,” he said with a light smile, “that you have pierced the shell of your own minds. It is always the fear of the new and the fear of the different that propels aggression. I have seen it before.”
“You have?” Darawk perked up, looking with marvel at his interlocutor. “An outbreak of aggression? Among gods?”
The old man sighed, and his glance slid to the floor. “Yes, I have. Once. A very long time ago. A dreadful event it was. One I have no wish of ever seeing again. But, please,” he looked up again and forced the smile back onto his face, “let us talk of more cheerful affairs. It is such a rare occurrence for me to be able to talk to somebody.”
“That occurrence will grow rarer still,” a new voice interfered, and Darawk automatically frowned when he recognized it as belonging to Decirius.
The chief god was standing before their table, not having bothered with slowly approaching. Civility was not a habit he had grown accustomed to. The old man looked with a trace of concern at the new arrival, studying the pasty and still face of the chief god interestedly until his glance locked onto the black eyeballs. The old man sighed. “I take it that you do not appreciate my presence?”
“That,” Decirius said coldly, “is an understatement. This abode is closed. No embassies are allowed at this time, and much less unwanted visitors such as you. Haguen has told me that you do not belong to any abode.” He raised an eyebrow. “I also understand that you are looking for an abode to accept you. This one will not.”
Darawk had been listening to the words of his chief god with rising anger. Now he leaped up from his chair and confronted Decirius. “Why would you say that? We have never spoken about anything like this! You can’t just make a decision like that, not without…” His voice faded away, withering under the icy stare of Decirius.
“Are you quite done?” the God of Death and Justice asked.
“No, I’m not,” Darawk insisted, still fuming but weakened from the stare. “This man is alone and lost. He has much to offer to our abode, believe me. His knowledge and experience are fascinating, his thinking, it’s –“
“Darawk,” Decirius said, “sit down and be quiet.”
This time it was the old man who interrupted the God of Knowledge. “Please, my friend, don’t. This is about me, not you.” He rose as well, motioning for Darawk to sit down. Frowning, the other god did as he was asked, while the old man looked at Decirius. “I am sorry if I have given offense by entering your Eternal City. From the words of your guardian, Haguen, I assumed that I was free to spend sixty days here before having to leave. It is all I ask for at this point, the chance to speak. Is that so much to ask for?”
“Yes, it is.” Decirius stared at him unrelentingly, but where Darawk had melted away, the old man held firm. It did little to change Decirius’ grim mood. “As I said before, no visitors are allowed into the abode at this time. Therefore you will either leave, or be destroyed.”
“Destroyed?!” Darawk exclaimed, ready to leap up and join the conversation again. The chief god sent an angry glare his way, but it was the old man, quietly holding up his hand, that made Darawk stay in his seat.
The old man nodded slowly. “Destruction,” he said. “That is a serious threat you are making, Lord of Death. Very serious.” He shrugged. “At one point in my past it would have mattered to me. That point is past, though.”
“Would you rather be destroyed right here?” Decirius taunted him.
“It is worth the thought,” the old man smiled briefly, then shook his head. “Not particularly, no. If I am not welcome, I will leave. Since you say that no visitors are welcome at this time, perhaps you might tell me when that will change?”
Decirius squinted at him unpleasantly. Darawk couldn’t help but feel that with those last words, the old man had scored some kind of victory over the chief god. Which one exactly? What had Decirius meant when he said that no visitors were permitted now? Up to now, Darawk had assumed he knew all of the proceedings in the Eternal City – after all, it was his business to learn about things. Of this decision, though, he hadn’t known anything.
Neither did he have any idea why the abode would be closed off to other gods. And that, truth be told, didn’t suit him very well.
Slowly Decirius turned away from the old man and looked across the plaza. In the opening of one of the roads, Haguen stood at attention in his glittering cuirass. Decirius stood silent for a while, then he said without turning back, “Haguen gave you sixty days, did he not?”
“That he did.”
“And I assume you would return the very moment I allow an outsider to enter the abode again.”
“That I would.”
Decirius took a deep breath. “Then you shall have the sixty days, measured from the moment you stepped across the threshold of the Eternal City. Use them wisely. Talk to those who would answer, if you wish. Go where you please but do not try to enter my home. By the same token,” he turned around and focused his black eyes on the old man, “do not ask why this abode is closed. The same applies to you, Darawk. It is a matter that is of no concern to either of you. Am I understood?”
Darawk frowned at that. By his nature he was drawn to uncover any piece of knowledge he had not yet learned; having it forbidden only heightened his interest. Yet this was Decirius. The god who had always led the Eternal City. “I understand,” the God of Knowledge said slowly.
The old man remained silent, but acknowledged the words with a small nod.
“Good,” Decirius said. “If I find that either of you do not follow my commands, you shall be expulsed from this abode.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “Both of you.”
Before either of the other gods could speak up, Decirius vanished and reappeared next to Haguen, talking to the guardian in a low voice.
The old man sighed and returned to his seat, absentmindedly stroking his hand over the pile of sand. “It is the same everywhere, I suppose,” he mumbled.
“The same?!” Darawk exclaimed furiously. “He threatened to throw me out of the abode! My own lord! I cannot believe he just said that!”
A soft smile playing on his lips, the old man leaned back in his chair and raised his hands. “Dear friend, do not concern yourself with that threat. I believe he merely wants another pair of eyes to watch over me, and he believes that you would be most likely to stay at my side. Since I do not intend to disobey the commands of your lord, there is no reason for worry.”
“I’m not worrying about being banished!” Darawk said, and with a slight gesture made the sand disappear from the table between them, along with the crimson divers. “It’s that he threatened me; that’s what worries me. What is going on here?”
The old man leaned forward and raised his eyebrows. “Whatever it is, dear friend, it seems wise not to ask about that.”
“Yes,” Darawk said unhappily, staring across the plaza to Haguen. Decirius had disappeared again, presumably returned to his study, but the guardian god was still there, standing like a statue in the twilight of darktime. Why, Darawk wondered, had the guardian not been informed of Decirius’ new ruling? After all, he could have turned the old man away at the gate.
So Decirius had a secret, didn’t he? One that he didn’t want Darawk to find out about. “We’ll see about that,” he muttered.
The old man shrugged, giving no indication whether he knew what those words meant. He looked up towards the roofs of the Eternal City with a resigned mien. “Sixty days,” he sighed. “Sixty days.”