THEY WERE TALKING- IT seemed that any discovery of any note was always followed with endless discussion among the priestesses. Maeriel hadn't been the only person to have the dream, but they all seemed to feel he was an expert of sorts, and most also agreed that he wasn't doing anything important enough to stop them from interrupting him. He was getting tired of describing that dream.

Maeriel had just gotten used to the sensation of hearing Cecial's voice, when she'd abruptly stopped talking to him. Coupled with the dreams, and the new actions being taken by the priests of Polchti, Maeriel could only assume that Cecial no longer needed his help.

It was a shame that he'd never had the chance to preach, or to really do much of anything to help Cecial's cause, but at least they'd won. Maeriel was getting kind of tired of Shirber anyway, and he looked forward to a chance to get back home, and more importantly, away from Hesimre.

His bags were already packed on the morning he decided to leave. He didn't have many possessions, and he didn't have any clothes, so he'd helped himself to the many white robes that the temple seemed to have an endless supply of. He also knew that the journey home might be expensive, and with no money of his own, Maeriel had assumed that the priestesses wouldn't miss a few of the finer furnishings of his room. He hadn't taken anything from the temple itself, and his crime couldn't have been that much. After all, they'd been willing to give these things to him when they'd thought he'd stay with them.

Maeriel opened a side door to slip into a street, and was startled to find a man waiting, his arm raised as if he was ready to knock on the door. It was Dummy.

IT SEEMED THAT ERLIMBE had made much larger changes than Lepduiot or Resvir could ever hope for. She'd also brought about those changes far faster than Lepduiot could ever hope for, and Resvir never hesitated to praise her. He also seemed to disbelieve that she could so easily have influenced the princess, and often asked Lepduiot to repeat the story of how they'd come to meet each other, as if he was missing an important detail. Of course, he was, but Lepduiot wasn't quite ready to share.

One evening, they sat about. It was one of those few nights without a party or a feast in the palace, and neither one knew what they should do with their time. Lepduiot knew she had no excuse to continue to hide her identity from Resvir, and while she was resigned to tell him, she kept arguing with herself, trying to think of a reason not to tell the truth. Finally, she began to speak in the hopes that once she began, she couldn't scare herself into keeping the secret any longer.

"I know you wonder why I was so easily able to gain Princess Erlimbe's confidence," Lepduiot began. Resvir looked up at her, seeming to sense that she was going to share something very important, and very private. Lepduiot took a deep breath, sighed, and then took another deep breath before she spoke again. "I have a secret that I shared with her- it's one that you don't know."

"What is it?" Resvir asked.

How could she best say this? She didn't want to say anything right away, if she spoke too suddenly, Resvir wouldn't believe her. However, she didn't want to meander around the point either. Lepduiot thought about her answer almost too long, before she said. "We had some things in common. We both took dramatic actions to escape unwanted marriages- she openly opposed her parents, and I dressed as a man and ran away. You see, I'm really a woman."

Resvir didn't look surprised. Instead, he said, "I'd expected as much. Don't worry, Cecial didn't tell me your secret, she only hinted that there was something strange about you. It took me a while to figure it out, but Cecial's urging caused me to notice some things that other men would usually overlook."

Lepduiot wasn't sure how to react. Should she be shocked and outraged that Cecial had been willing to give away her secret, or relived that she didn't have to prove herself to Resvir the same way she'd had to for Erlimbe. Lepduiot avoided the topic all together and said, "You said that women could gain a lot of power if they become a priestess of Cecial. I think I'd like to do something like that."

Lepduiot had considered this many times before concluding that any way she could live without hiding her gender or having to submit to silly laws men made was a good way to live. She sighed with relief when Resvir smiled at her and said, "I expected that much as well. The arrangements are already made, I was simply waiting for you to say something."

AFTER GERIORJ HAD SHARED what he'd seen with the others, the prophets and the dreamers had begun to share their dreams as well. None of them were as detailed as what Geriorj remembered, and he was the only one who had dreamed he'd actually been there. Many concluded that Geriorj's dream had been true, and he really had fought against Therisk.

Of course, what he'd seen caused a controversy. Just as Geriorj had predicted, many people refused to believe that Polchti had left the world. Others, believing Polchti had been defeated, left the worship. Even a few priests left.

Very few, such as Geriorj and Stordit, believed what had happened, but continued living their lives. Stordit claimed that Polchti was probably just waiting to gather his strength before returning to the world and defeating Cecial and Davrik once and for all. Geriorj suspected that Polchti was gone forever, but after all that he'd been through, he needed some measure of peace, and the way he most easily found peace was by serving in the temple.

When Geriorj prayed, he liked to think that Polchti still heard him, wherever the god may have been.

WHEN THERISK SAW MAERIEL at the door he'd just been about to knock on, he was too surprised to even shout, although he did open his mouth in a way that suggested he was going to talk. Maeriel cried out, however. "Dummy!"

Therisk was going to complain that Dummy was not his name, and he tried to speak again, but once again, he could say nothing. Maeriel asked, "Dummy, what's wrong?" Therisk was unable to answer. He didn't even bother argue about his name, but gestured to his throat to try and show Maeriel that he couldn't speak.

"You're mute again!" Maeriel cried in alarm, and Therisk nodded furiously. "It's the voices, isn't it?" Maeriel asked. "You began to speak right after Cecial gave you the ability to hear her voice. Now, neither of us can hear her, and you can't speak without her."

The murmuring had stopped that morning. Therisk hadn't tried to speak since then until he'd reached the temple, and he'd assumed that the loss of murmuring had to do with the fact that he couldn't clearly hear Cecial speak to him anyway. What Maeriel said, however, had to be true.

"Don't worry," Maeriel promised Therisk, leading him away from the temple. "We're going home, and we can forget everything that happened here. You don't need to talk, anyway." His words were probably meant to be comforting, but they didn't help Therisk much. At least going home seemed like a nice idea.

WARM IN THE LOVING embrace of Polchti, Qerklirk flew through the night sky. They passed hundreds of worlds filled with people who sought out the help of the wiser beings of above, but they never seemed like the right place to stop.

They neared another world, and the sound of people's prayers flooded the sky around Qerklirk and Polchti. "I'm afraid and confused; if anyone's up there, please help me . . . . Don't let my grandmother die. Just let them find a cure . . . . . Be with me in my hour of need."

The prayers were simple and moving. Qerklirk heard a hundred in one second, and quickly concluded that the world below was a dark, unhappy place. As if reading his mind, Polchti said, "It sounds as if they are in need of a little bit of hope. I think we can give it to them."

Qerklirk agreed, and together, the descended to the world below.