"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"
VIII. The Tiny and the Divine <=== / ===> X. A Marble Cage
Furiously the hydra’s many jaws snapped at Taurkémad, parts of her dress hanging slashed from its fangs. The goddess held the creature back with her hands, exasperatedly looking at the ground for what she had been trying to inspect when the hydra had shot from its nearby hiding place. Taurkémad had grown three more arms, each of her slender hands on one of the hydra’s snouts, effortlessly keeping it at bay.
One of its heads reared back, reddish eyes glaring in uncomprehending anger at the tiny morsel of food before it – a morsel that it could not reach, whichever way its heads tried to snake around, find a place where there wasn’t a hand already waiting for it. The hydra screamed.
Taurkémad shouted in frustration, “What are you complaining about? I haven’t hurt you, have I? Now let me look at this, will you?”
The hydra wasn’t in the mood to comply – amongst other things because it couldn’t understand the words -, and its heads continued their onslaught, its own frustration rising.
Taurkémad fought down her urge to just slay the creature and be done with it. It would have been easy, of course. Sniff out the spark of life, send the hydra on to the midrealm and whatever Decirius would want to do with it then. But she didn’t enjoy doing that. There was a reason why creatures were sent to the mortal world, why they had been made mortal in the first place. It was a precious gift, life was. It should never be willfully taken, by anyone, for any reason.
And that reason for life was a good one. She had never delved too deeply into that philosophy, but she knew it was very sound and important. So very much she had never felt she needed a precise explanation.
Taurkémad frowned, subconsciously continuing to fend off the hydra. Why had she never asked for that reason? Decirius had to know. She could have asked him at any time in the past millenia, yet she had never done so. Was it because of his ill-boding nature, his moodiness? No, certainly not, she chuckled – only adding to the hydra’s confusion. There had been plenty of occasions when she had bothered the chief god with something he deemed unimportant. Just like this incident about the dwarves. But the question of why there was a mortal world, and why the creatures of this place had to die sooner or later – it never had seemed important enough to even consider. Not even in her own mind.
Come to think of it, she still didn’t want to ponder it. Life. Death. Topics that did not concern a god. Perhaps Darawk, but that one was interested in the silliest of things.
One hydra head made it through her defenses, bit its sharp fangs deep into her right leg. Or rather, its fangs tried to. All they managed to do was shred her dress even further, exposing the long stretch of her tanned leg which somehow proved impenetrable to the teeth.
Taurkémad looked down at herself. Her dress had been turned into a rag, barely hanging onto her body. Most of it was in the hydra’s jaws. She shook her head, reached out with two of her hands – both instantly formed – to grasp one of the massive reptilian skulls and looked deeply into the red, maddened eyes. “I am sorry for what I am about to do. You will feel a bit disoriented, but that will be all your trouble. There’ll be a new place for you to hide. And don’t worry, I won’t send you to Decirius.”
The creature howled through its jaw locked tight in Taurkémad’s grip. The head that had failed to bite into her leg was shaking itself, snapping its jaws emptily at the air as if checking if it still worked. The others were futilely trying to break through the defense of the many-handed goddess.
Then Taurkémad smiled softly and nodded at the creature. That same instant, a soft glow formed around the hydra, seeping into the creature’s lizard hide – and it was gone. Hundreds of miles away, in a forest clearing, the same glow appeared, slowly dimming and leaving behind a hydra that nearly tied its heads into a knot trying to understand what had just happened.
Finally alone, the goddess folded her arms before her chest, then annoyedly looked down at the folds of arms before her (and along her sides and her back). She sighed, shook her head, and most of the arms save for the traditional two vanished. The same moment a new dress, resplendently decorated with gold embroidery on a soft, velvet green, appeared on her body. The shreds of her previous clothes fell to the ground, joining the other remainders.
Taurkémad smiled, created a mirror out of the air to look at herself. “Not bad,” she said, as she took a few steps sideways to observe how the velvety cloth underlined her movements. She also liked how it looked in front of the backdrop, the lush tropical forest surrounding her.
The dwarves’ tunnel from their cave had exited some seventy miles to the east of here, at the foot of a mountain. If they had chosen a slightly different angle, they would have continued digging for a good while longer. As it was, they had come out to a place of breathtaking beauty, full of plants and animals. A constant cacophony was in the air, birdsong rivaled by the deep screams of dragons and so many other creatures. Flitters, the tiny rainbow-colored creatures, rushed about through the air, beating their wings fast and urgently, blurring together into a maelstrom of colors.
The poor little dwarves must have been stunned when they saw this, after their long existance in their cave. It couldn’t be called austere anymore, not after how the dwarves had enhanced it with their artwork, but compared to this realm of light and life, the caves were dark and dull.
She wondered how long the dwarves had stayed at the mouth of the tunnel, staring in amazement – and perhaps fear – at their new surrounding. The mountain, she thought, must have given them a bit of support, something rocky and familiar nearby.
There had been the remains of a campfire, wood felled by their gadnú axes. They had spent darktime there, probably exhausted from their long digging. Perhaps more than one darktime – there were the remains of quite a lot of plants and animals scattered around the campsite. As much as that sight had revolted her, she understood only too well how the dwarves must have felt, how they had needed to see all these wonders around them up close. And, yes, look at their insides, too, apparently.
And consume them.
Taurkémad shuddered. She knew that was the way of the mortal world, to kill something and eat it, be it an animal or a plant. To take life, to sustain one’s own. To a degree, the same was true of the midrealm. There, of course, the kill immediately was given a new, living form somewhere else. There was little pain involved, and Taurkémad could almost accept the midrealm way of hunting. Almost.
Be that as it may, this was the mortal world, and her little dwarves had to live.
She sighed. At least following their tracks had been easy. Very easy, in fact. The dwarves had cut a deep gash into the rainforest with their gadnú axes, tearing down mammoth trees (the remains of which would feed generations of other creatures, she assuaged her concerns) in the process.
The trail had led here, to a rockier place. A small hill rose next to her, at its bottom the cave where the hydra had been hidden. Only a few of the giant trees grew here, most of the vegetation small bushes, with a small stream peacefully running through the green ground. A stony lip ran along the creek’s edge, overgrown with moss. It was probably the closest the dwarves could feel to home, with this much stone and relatively little plant life around.
But what had they been doing here?
Taurkémad knelt down and reached out for the object that drawn her interest before the hydra had appeared. It was a stone, small and sharp. Not natural, obviously. It was vaguely oval, and the top half of it looked as if it had been cut off by an axe, trying to form an edge.
Why would the dwarves need stone edges? They had their axes, had they not? Nothing could withstand the gadnú – the rocks in their midrealm caverns were proof enough of that. But there were more stones on the ground, looking much like the one she was holding. Some were bigger, some smaller, and all showed signs that an axe had been trying to work it. Trying to create a sharp edge, one that could cut. Some remainders of wooden logs were scattered around here, too.
She frowned. If she didn’t know better, she would think that the dwarves had been attempting to build new axes for themselves, from the materials that this place offered.
Why would they do that? There was absolutely no reason. And, she shuddered again, if they were to rely on stone axes rather than gadnú, what were their chances in this world? How could they possibly survive the assault of a hydra? They weren’t gods, they were only mortals now!
Taurkémad dropped the stone and looked around. There wasn’t a trace of the axes. The dwarves hadn’t dropped them. Good. So they hadn’t ignored that line of defense. Why, why, why?
She shook her head. She had to find the dwarves and guide them back to their safe caverns in the midrealm. Then she could also get all the answers she needed.
First, though, she had to resume the trail. It wasn’t as easy as before – no clear gap cut into the treeline, no nothing. Taurkémad looked at the mossy edge of the creek. There were footprints in the moss. Of course! Why work hard and cut down trees when you could just walk along the edge?
Triumphantly she followed the trail, whistling a tune to herself that sounded a bit like the songs of the birds in the rain forest. Two flitters shot by her, barely avoiding her face, the little creatures eagerly racing for a flowering plant in the middle of the river. Taurkémad spent a moment watching as the flitters settled on the plant, each in a separate bud of orange flower, to suck it dry of nectar.
Then she whistled and walked on, looking occasionally at the mossy ground before her lest she lose the tracks. At some point, she suddenly halted and stared at the prints before her. Had the dwarves doubled back?
No, they hadn’t. Their footprints would have to be reversed in that case.
Still, what she saw was not possible. There were only four dwarves, each bearing a gadnú axe.
But there were the footprints of eight dwarves in the moss before her, and four of those pairs of feet were markedly smaller and more slender than the others. Whatever could that mean? she wondered, pushed out her jaw and floated up to follow the trail faster than her legs could.
She would find her little dwarves, and then those four fellows had a lot of explaining to do!