Callindra strode forward, linking arms with Tryst. She wanted him by her side if she was facing some sort of formal introduction. Reaching back to touch Brightfang’s hilt for reassurance she stepped into the largest room she had ever seen. It would have swallowed the entire Cathedral in Arkasia and still left room on all sides. In the center a figure was sitting on a simple wooden chair surrounded by twining vines, butterflies and small animals of every description.
“Callindra Sol’Estin, Apprentice of the North Wind Style, Bearer of Brightfang, Wind Warrior and Bladespeaker.” A voice intoned as she passed the threshold.
“Tryst Te’Chern, Priest of the Ancient One, Wielder of the Scared Waters and Guardian of the Healing Light.”
“Vilhylm Greldiachanin, Master of Masks, Follower of the Carnival of Tricksters and Heir of the Great Caravan.”
“Cronos Torrantrach, Inheritor of the Eternal Flame, Student of the Master of Fire and Vessel of Vengeance.”
Callindra looked at her friends, the questions on her face mirroring theirs. Before any of them could make comment, another voice cut through the room.
“Welcome Champions, to my dining hall.” Jorda’s words were filled with inherent power, but it was the slow and certain strength of growing, living things. “The evil that you vanquished would have arrived here eventually regardless of what you might have done, but your swift and decisive actions have led us to victory.”
The Goddess turned and gestured toward long tables laden with food and drink, “Please join us in celebration.”
To Callindra’s horror, she could clearly see a blackened scar that cut from just behind Jorda’s right eye and disappeared into the simple white tunic she wore. It puckered the growing green color of her skin with a line of what looked like diseased tree bark. It seemed Gods could be wounded after all.
“Are you all right?” Callindra blurted without thinking,
“Dear child, thank you for your concern.” Jorda said with a beautiful smile, “I greet you and your companions. Tonight you may ask any boon of me. You have fought off those who would have destroyed my realm and I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“Give me the strength to dominate my enemies.” Cronos said without hesitation, almost as though he had been anticipating this.
“This obviously hasn’t been a problem for you youngster.” Said Jorda, “However I think I can assist you in protecting yourself.” She handed him a small token carved of wood with a smile. “Wear it and call upon me during battle.”
“I have been sent on a holy quest to find the wisdom to contact Gode The Elder.” Tryst said, “Please can you tell me how I can speak with him?”
“I have information that you will find valuable young Priest.” The Goddess said, “However, I have insight that will guide you also. If you will accept my guidance that is.”
“Of course I will accept your guidance Great Lady.” He said, bowing low.
“You aren’t even going to ask your Ancient One first?” Jorda asked, amusement tinging her words. “Very well then, look into my eyes young priest.”
Tryst looked into her face, his eyes uncertain. His mouth had a firm set to it though. “I will accept his judgement if he deems my actions to be improper.” He said.
“Ah, we need more like you.” Jorda said with a merry laugh, “Your irreverence is good for us.” A flash of green gold fire flashed between their eyes.
“All I wish is to be able to redeem myself.” Vilhylm said when Jorda turned to him. His voice was almost too soft for Callindra to hear.
“You have already done so, even if you refuse to acknowledge it.” Jorda replied, almost as softly, “I cannot give you forgiveness for those who died, but I can give you the strength to fight for the living.”
“I no longer wish to fight.” He said, his eyes downcast.
“But we need warriors.” Jorda insisted, putting a finger under his chin and raising his face to look into hers. “You have seen things far beyond what most mortals have, but there is more strength in you than know. I will give you something that you can use to help your friends, or create a powerful weapon to strike at the heart of evil.”
She drew a small, very sharp knife from a sheath at her belt and bent gracefully, cutting into the bark like skin of her thigh. Carefully, she cut a square of it away and pried off a perfect piece of wood. She placed it in Vilhylm’s trembling hands and placed a kiss on his forehead. The wound closed swiftly, new bark beginning to grow over it, but her leg still oozed fluid that looked more like sap than blood.
“Please just bless me and my friends.” Said Callindra, looking Jorda in her eyes, “We brought the evil here, it was only natural we would assist in eradicating it.”
“Your humility is a credit to your nature Callindra.” Jorda said, “However I think you would do well to address the other parts of yourself. Being a warrior does not mean you aren’t a woman. In spite of what the folk you have grown up around may have caused you to believe, being a woman does not indicate weakness.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Callindra demanded, forgetting herself.
“It means that if you can’t accept who you are and insist on acting recklessly in order to prove your worth you are probably going to get hurt a lot and probably die.” Jorda said, “I will give you something to perhaps keep you alive until you manage to learn to value yourself as your companions do.”
She reached out a hand and plucked a strand of her own hair from her head and wove it deftly into a small tiara. It started to sprout tiny Brightstar flowers that perfumed the air with their delicate scent. Before Callindra could back away Jorda placed it on her head and the vine grew into her hair. Not wanting to insult the Goddess, she left it there even though it made her feel like a fool.
“I know you are here to ask a question of me and I have no satisfactory answer for you.” Jorda said, her voice grave. “All I have is yet another quest, if you’re up to it.”
“You mean you don’t know why Gode isn’t responding to the prayers of his priests?” Tryst said, staring at her in disbelief.
“My father has… faded from our sight.” Jorda said, sounding tired. “His influence over the world is waning and the forces that bind his brother are weakening. I think you may all have felt the influence of that in this world.”
“You mean the green… glowing things?” Callindra asked, “The things we’ve been calling Abyssal Spawn?”
“Yes. Those are the servants of Gode’s brother Onde, the ancient God of Destruction.” Jorda confirmed, “They are not of this world. Their goal is to destroy this world and everything in it. If they aren’t stopped they will achieve their goal. This world needs defenders, and if those defenders aren’t determined it will fall.”
Callindra felt her breath catch in her throat at this simple declaration. The implication that she was one of those with the power to defy the forces that sought to bring an end to the world that she loved was too much for her to take in. It was all too much.
“What in the hells are you talking about?” Cronos demanded harshly, “Look, we were hired to go to the ruins of Lin Lamorak and speak with the Druids there. When we got there, all that was left was the Dryad Tyreen. She told us to come here and this was supposed to be the end of that trek,”
“You have earned your reward many times over Cronos and no one would question your integrity if you brought back the information you have gained thus far.” Said the Goddess, smoothing stray locks of hair away from her face that blew in a capricious breeze. “I am asking you to go above and beyond what you had initially agreed to do, and I fear I can offer little in the way of reward.”
“I don’t want a reward.” Callindra said, “I just don’t see how you expect me to do anything against a God.”
“I can give you this.” Jorda took a pendant from around her neck and handed it to Tryst. A small hand, the size of an infant’s hung from it. “This is my piece of the mold that formed the original human. Each one of Gode’s children was charged with one of them and each of us kept ours safe in their own way. I fear most of them are scattered and lost, however this one has the unique property that it can point out the closest one of its brothers.”
Tryst took it reverently, and when it touched his palm it spun gently, pointing roughly north. “I cannot accept this.” He said softly.
“But if you find them all and assemble them, we will be able to re-establish communication with Gode.” Jorda said, “If you truly wish to accomplish the mission you were assigned then this is the only way.”
“I want to help you Tryst, I really do.” Callindra said, “But I can’t just abandon Glarian. Before I go off on some crazy quest I have to go and find him. He needs me.”
Jorda looked at her, as if unsure exactly how she should respond. Finally she gestured to the room, “Why don’t we stop all this serious talk and enjoy the wonderful food and entertainment that has been prepared in your honor? You do not need to make any decisions right now.”
In spite of being nearly certain that the Goddess was withholding something from her, Callindra was drawn into the fantastic scene before her. The elves who were here weren’t the battle hardened soldiers she had met so far. Beautiful women in flowing gowns that seemed finer than spider silk. Equally gorgeous men in tailored, fitted suits and boots with high heels that clicked on the floor.
Both sexes had their pale hair braided in intricate patterns that made her eyes swim. Delicate clips shaped like insects, birds and leaves wrought in gold, silver and platinum held the braids in place. Jewels shone in place of eyes and drops of dew. The language they spoke was fluid and made Callindra feel as though her words sounded like a handful of nails being dropped down a sheet of metal.
Even though their Goddess had spoken to thank Callindra and her friends, most of the Elves seemed to hold themselves aloof from the humans. She didn’t hold it against them though, after all she and her friends had brought the evil into their home. The fact that they’d banished it didn’t wipe out their involvement.
The food wasn’t what she had expected either. Rather than just vegetables, the tables were laden with thinly sliced, barely seared venison, whole rabbits stuffed with wild onions and slow roasted, skewers with spit roasted birds, pastries filled with only gods knew what baked to a golden brown.
It all smelled so delicious that her misgivings gave way to her appetite. She sat with her friends, and they all ate and drank, letting go of their fears and inhibitions. Even if all here didn’t trust them or appreciate their efforts they were together and they had won. That wasn’t everything that she needed but it was enough for now.