Caladwen was burning.
Uthielle and Lahk watched from a nearby peak as the volcano crater the city had been built in, freed from its druidic restraint by the birth of a new god, began to erupt. It happened as though in slow motion, molten fire creeping over the woods and crops and buildings as people desperately fled… but as slow as the magma moved, many of the figures moved slower still. Lahk smiled as his hand squeezed the shoulder of the elf woman who, as was proper, knelt beside him.
Uthielle thought she would feel sick, but she felt nothing for the city that had abandoned her… nothing but contempt and a sense of happiness that it was gone. She felt freed, like there were no bonds on her any longer, and the entire world was, at last, opened before her as the high priestess of the god who would soon rule this land.
Lahk had not bothered to try to rescue his own army from the occupation of the city. Either they were corrupt enough to plot to kill their former high priest, or they were incompetent enough to let it happen under their very noses, and either way he had no desire for worshipers of that quality. He could always build a new church… there was power to be had in joining him. He had more soldiers elsewhere as well, and to recoup his losses…
Lahk hefted the black wings in his hand and began to rip feathers from them by the fistful, scattering them across the mountaintop until it was littered with demons being born, Incubi and Succubi stretching their limbs free of the awkward transformation. When the wings were bare he dropped them to the ground, and they too began to shift and change until a naked man stood where once they had lain, as his brother and sister demons flew in vast clouds around the frosted peak.
“Who do you serve?” Lahk’s voice was a growl as he spoke, minor harmonics that made Uthielle shiver boiling in the noise.
“Hail the Lord of Suffering,” the one standing directly before them said.
“Hail Lord Lahk!” the demons, male and female, roared in unison, their voices shaking the mountain. “Hail Lord Lahk!”
“Hail Lord Lahk!”
“Hail Lord Lahk!”
Shevarn desperately struggled to stop Dorn’s bleeding as he wept. This entire thing had been a disaster. Somehow, that demonic bitch had managed to unknowingly drag them into her schemes. The wizard has to suspect that she had been Dorn’s source in the rebellion, and he shuddered to think what that… thing… had done to his mind. Even if he didn’t bleed out here, he may never recover.
A tremble rocked the air, and the wizard looked despairingly out his balcony and towards the shimmering form of the veil, multi-colored cracking appearing in it where the light from the untamed lands were now shining through. The ancient ward was on the verge of collapse just as Silas was, and when one fell so would the other… and the world would be at the mercy of forces it could not hope to combat once again.
“May the gods help us…” he whispered as he looked at the pale curtain of mist, “because I’m all out of ideas.”
The stream of fleeing prisoners faded into the distance as the walls of Blackwand quickly vanished behind them. They walked at an easy pace that nevertheless ate up ground quickly, putting as much distance between them and the foul prison as possible as they drew on endurance and speed from the earth or their god. Alassiel led the way, staring out at the beautiful but terrible lands underneath the flickering sky of chaos above. It colored the lush land a thousand hues at once, and she wanted to cry with the wonder of the tempest tossed landscape, whipped by the savage winds and storms that were a part of her now.
They walked in silence for many hours, until at last they were too tired to go any further. Beneath an ancient oak tree they slept, their backs against the bark, Liriel pressed between the two lovers like a child. When Liam at last awoke, Alassiel was no longer with him but instead standing on the ridge, staring out at the sun as it rose to the east.
“It’s beautiful,” he said as he moved to join her.
The two lovers stood quietly, watching, until Alassiel at last spoke. “She was my mother.”
“Sirae?” Liam asked. “I know.”
Alassiel sputtered. “You knew?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know, but I figured. Probably most people did.” Liam looked at the druid in a sidelong glance. “How many elves have you ever met with red hair?”
Silence stretched between them for long minutes as Alassiel cried and Liam pretended not to notice. “Just us,” she managed to choke out. She stood there quietly, trying to bring her tears under control as she wept for the goddess she had loved, and the mother she had never known. Birds began to sing their morning songs, the cheerful notes filling the air until Alassiel had to smile at the earth itself seeking to cheer her up. At last, she spoke again. “I decided you were right.” As he opened his mouth to speak, she interrupted, “and don’t say that you usually are.”
Liam laughed. “I was going to say,” he said, “about what?”
“About that I need to be someone I’m proud to be. And someone she’d be proud of.”
Liam pressed his side against her, grabbing her hand and gripping it firmly as he softly, but insistently, pulled the goddess to the ground and into his arms. “Ah yeah, that one.” The ground was cold beneath him, but the prince couldn’t make himself care when he was with her.
“Lissa… I’m not sure I can be that woman again, Liam. She died a long time ago, when she gave up hope. I was never Athuum, just an animal who was called that in between being kicked. Alassiel died seeking revenge she did not need.” The Archdruid sighed, her scarlet mane veiling her face. “I will answer to those names, but they are no longer mine.”
Liam smiled at her even as he squeezed his much abused lover against his side. “So what do you want to be called now?” The question sounded sarcastic even to his own ears, but he trusted the elf to pick up on his sincerity.
She did not disappoint. “Alassiel,” she said before turning back to him and smiling. “If I recall, Alassiel Le’lorinel carries two meanings: Revenge… and loyalty. And if I proved myself unworthy of the first, perhaps I can do a better job the second time around.”
Liam kissed her then, pressing himself firmly against her lips and not breaking away until they were both gasping for air. “I think that…” he panted, “is an excellent plan.”
They lay there that morning beneath the shifting sky while the exhausted druid initiate slept, enjoying each other’s company as long parted lovers should. Meanwhile, several weeks march to the west, the shimmering curtain of the Veil waited in the distance.
To be concluded in Book III: Goddess