"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"
V. A Sentence Delivered <=== / ===> VII. Mortal Concerns
The village was quiet. If one listened closely, one could hear soft snoring from more than one of the huts, buildings that looked as if they had grown from the grassy ground. They hadn’t, of course, Lonapal knew. His fellow gods had created them along with the ground, given them a shape that they had felt pleasing. One that the villagers had taken to happily, the God of Light smiled.
He walked through the single road bisecting the circular settlement, towards the central plaza. The only source of light in darktime came from there, a ball of blue fire that hovered over the marble tiles. This was where the villagers worshipped the gods, every morning, every noon, and every evening. They were faithful and good, Lonapal knew. The villagers loved their existence, and they loved their gods.
As well they should. The gods loved them.
Well, Lonapal did.
Filled with a sense of mirth and belonging, he suddenly stopped when he saw somebody standing under the ball of fire, completely unconcerned that her head was doused by the blue flames.
“Alyssa?” Lonapal cried in surprise.
“Shhhh,” the goddess grinned and put a finger to her lips. “You don’t want to wake the locals, do you?”
He rolled his eyes exasperatedly. Alyssa was one goddess he never knew how to approach. The others, well, in the past millenia he had come to understand them rather well. Or at least, he thought he had. Alyssa, though, surprised him more often than she did what he expected her to do. Nonetheless he liked that about her. Much more than her brother Darawk who could always be counted on to dive like a hawk at any piece of knowledge and envelop that piece for next to an eternity until he knew everything there was to be learned.
“Come out of there, please,” Lonapal said and sat down on one of the stone benches arrayed around the plaza. He patted the bench next to him. Alyssa grinned, then she walked over, her hazel hair completely untouched by the blue fire.
“Come here often?” she whispered as she sat down next to Lonapal and let her arm droop over the back of the bench.
Lonapal took a deep breath. “As a matter of fact, I do. I like these people.”
“So do I. Fine creations.” Alyssa frowned, looking at one part of the village where a hut used to stand. Now a blackened skeleton of support struts remained, the remains of furniture an ashen white amidst the rubble of stones. “What happened there?”
The god sighed. “Koultirsp. What else? She claimed that the villagers hadn’t praised her enough during worship, and so she punished them.”
“Koultirsp,” Alyssa said sourly. “She’s one spoilsport. What did the villagers do?”
A smile crept onto Lonapal’s lips. “They decided not to worship Koultirsp for a whole day. Stubborn little folks, these are.”
Lonapal laughed, put his arm around her shoulders. The goddess leaned against him, her arm sneaking up to embrace his shoulders as well. “Could it be,” Alyssa grinned at him, “that your presence here has something to do with that?”
“Oh, absolutely not,” Lonapal said. “And neither does the fact that Koultirsp is currently pouting somewhere in the Eternal City because the rest of the huts haven’t gone up in flames as she’d wanted to.”
“You do spoil these villagers,” the goddess laughed.
“As do you,” Lonapal said and tickled her shoulder. Alyssa quickly moved away from him, darting a half-angry, half-amused look at him. Lonapal laughed again, then frowned and smiled, “You look like one of the villagers!”
Alyssa raised one of her thin, exquisite eyebrows. “Don’t I always? I dropped the elven look a long time ago, Lonapal. That is so… well, so much the last millenium.”
“No,” he chuckled. “I meant your clothes!”
“Oh?” She looked down at herself, wearing a simple, brown cotton dress that – of course – fitted her perfectly. A red belt was wound around her hips, riding rather high, with a simple oval buckle at the front. The simplicity only managed to enhance her beauty. “I wanted to be suitably dressed, that is all,” she waved the thought away, then reconsidered and asked coyly, “Did I succeed?”
Lonapal was about to answer when one of the doors near to the two of them opened a crack, and a pinkish face peered cautiously out at them. Graciously Lonapal leaned forward and smiled at the villager, giving her a slight wave. The woman’s face paled suddenly, and she fell to her knees, folding her hands quickly and murmuring a prayer.
The god’s face fell. “Oh, please…” he whispered.
Alyssa patted him on the shoulder, then got up and walked over to the villager, a serene light gradually starting to outline her frame. “Rise, woman,” she said gently.
The villager woman stayed on the floor, her eyes fastened to one of the tiles of the plaza.
Alyssa knelt down as well, reached out one hand to touch the villager’s arm. “I have told you to rise, have I not?”
“But… you are…”
“Yes, I am,” Alyssa confirmed and laughed heartily. “So you’d better obey, isn’t that right?”
Now the villager looked up, straight at the open and merry eyes of the goddess. “I…”
Alyssa softly stroked the woman’s arm. “There is a time for worship, and there is a time for rest. Darktime is meant for the latter, little one. Tell me, what is your name?”
“My…” The woman nearly choked on the words, entranced as she was by the look of her goddess’ face, so close to her own. “Caltraya,” she finally whispered.
Alyssa’s eyes brightened. “Caltraya,” she repeated. “That’s a pretty name. I like it. Now, Caltraya – may I call you Callie? Callie, go back to bed and sleep. Remember us at worship, will you?”
“Of course, of course, my lady!”
“Now go back, Callie.” Alyssa gave her a slight push, and the villager woman hurried back inside her hut. Slowly she closed the door, so she didn’t offend the goddess by slamming the wood in her face, but Caltraya still managed to do this very fast.
The goddess was still laughing lightly when she returned to the bench and Lonapal.
Lonapal shook his head. “You know that from now on she’ll insist that everybody addresses her as Callie, don’t you?”
“Well…” Alyssa shrugged. “That sounds pretty, too. As pretty as that girl is. Do you have any idea who made her?”
Oh, yes, only Alyssa could have asked something like that, Lonapal thought affectionately. He himself had never wondered about that, not that he could remember right now. And with a tinge of disappointment he had to shake his head and say, “I have no idea. Sorry.”
“Ah, whoever it was,” the goddess smiled and leaned back against him, “he or she did a good job. I like her.” She pulled his chin towards her. “Look out for her tomorrow, all right? Just in case Koultirsp tries something again?”
Lonapal nodded graciously. “You know that I would have done that without your plea.”
“So?” Alyssa grinned. “At least now I can pretend you do something for me.”
How, Lonapal wondered, gazing into those deep, brown eyes of her, could she ever consider herself the sister of Darawk? Oh, yes, Lonapal liked the God of Knowledge, as much as anyone could like somebody as singlemindedly devoted to garnering new information. But he was so meek, so boring, whereas Alyssa – she was bold and dashing, always after a new adventure, wherever she could find it. She was so vibrant, so alive! And yet she spent so much time with her brother…
Lonapal just didn’t understand. Maybe he should ask her?
Instead he wrapped his arms around her, enjoying how she pressed herself against him, and neither said a word.
Not until the ball of blue fire in the plaza suddenly changed its hue, turning golden for a moment, and then seemed to disgorge the familiar figure of Haguen. The guardian wasted no time with looking at his surroundings but marched straight towards the other two gods.
Both disentangled themselves quickly from each other. “What is the matter?” Lonapal asked quickly.
Haguen paused to nod an acknowledgement to Alyssa, then turned to the God of Light. “You are all required to return to the Eternal City now. Decirius has decreed that all the gods have to stay inside the city for the next sixty days. No visits to the midrealm or the mortal world are permitted.”
“Excuse me?” Alyssa shot up from the bench. “What in blazes is this about?! I am not going to stay cooped up in that marble cage for sixty days! And why should I?”
“Because Decirius has said you must,” Haguen said simply.
Lonapal rose and faced the guardian. “That is not sufficient. Surely Decirius has given a reason why this would be necessary?”
Unperturbed Haguen shook his head. “No, he hasn’t. Decirius is our lord, and it is within his powers to command us back to the city.”
“Oh, it’s that simple?” Alyssa shouted, barely noticing that her voice was loud enough to wake up every single villager. “Well, he can just forget about that. Go back to the city and tell Decirius that –“
Her voice was cut off when the fireball turned golden once again, and now the chief god himself emerged from the flames. “What,” his icy voice asked, “should Haguen tell me?”
His appearance might have cowed Darawk (Lonapal certainly thought so), but its only effect on Alyssa was that she pushed Haguen aside and strode right over to confront the chief god. “Just one thing, Decirius. Lighten up! Stop this charade, and tell me whatever possessed you to come up with this idiotic order!”
Decirius lowered his head slightly. “I am sorry if you think this little of me, Alyssa. I am aware how much this is an infringement on your freedom as a goddess, and it pains me having to curb those liberties. Nonetheless, it is necessary.”
“Oh, yes? And what makes that necessary?!”
“That, dear Alyssa,” Decirius said and raised one hand, “you will learn when it is time. As of now, my word is enough. And my word says…” His hand suddenly fell down, and instead of the village’s plaza, all of the gods were standing at the gate of the Eternal City, its barred valves only a few feet away. “My word says,” Decirius said coldly, “that you are to remain here for sixty days. That is all you need to know.”
Alyssa wildly looked about herself, then stepped forward to grab the lapels of Decirius robe and shout, “How dare you –“
His cold voice interrupted her, “I am the God of Justice, and I am your lord, Alyssa.” No sooner had he finished speaking that Decirius stood five feet away from the goddess, completely calm and unruffled by her outburst. The goddess’ hands were clasping empty air, and with a look of growing fury she glanced towards the chief god. “Alyssa,” Decirius continued, “I understand your outburst, and I forgive it. That is just. It is also just that noone is allowed to leave the Eternal City for sixty days. Please, do not try it. Haguen, lock down the gate and all the other exits. I want every path in and out of the Eternal City barred.” He gave each of the other gods – including Haguen – a hard look, then he nodded to himself. “That will be all,” Decirius said. And disappeared, off to his study.
Lonapal frowned. He felt odd. Like… No, he knew of no comparison that was apt to this situation. Somehow he wasn’t free to do all he pleased to do, and… he didn’t like it, as little as Alyssa did.
And, with some surprise, he realized that Haguen didn’t appreciate the order that much, either. The guardian composed his face into a mask of dutiful obeisance, but there was a tinge of disbelief and lack of understanding behind that façade. With a slight jerk to his motions he walked over to the gate, stroked each valve, his fingers leaving a slight sparkle behind. Lonapal could feel the sparkle resonate in himself, could feel the nature of the gate change to something impenetrable. And Haguen walked on, trailing his fingers over the wall next to the gate, clearly intent on making the circumference of the Eternal City, closing it as he had been told to.
Nothing like this had ever happened. Decirius, proving his superiority over them in this manner? No, it had never happened. It had been inconceivable.
And yet, it had just occurred. Lonapal shook his head, walked frowning away from the gate, back to his home. He half expected Alyssa to run after him, involve him in a conversation about this. As a matter of fact, he would have liked that. But she didn’t. Lonapal had to think about this alone, and perhaps that was the best way to do this.
Back in the midrealm, in the village, a woman stood frozen at the window of her hut, staring at the empty plaza and the ball of blue fire. Despite the loudness of Alyssa’s scream, none of the others had dared look out their windows. Only this woman had seen how three gods had been whisked away against their will by another god, a dark and ill-boding figure. And one of those deities had been kind to her.
Caltraya clasped a hand to her chest. “I… will worship you tomorrow, my lady Alyssa,” she whispered and wondered frantically what to make of the scene she had just witnessed.