Note: Because parts of this passage were starving for pronouns, I decided to go ahead and use the word 'she' to describe Velestever. This is only because Smirimis views that deity as female.
'Tis a brave master
Let it have scope
Follow it utterly
Hope beyond hope
(Souls above doubt
Such 'twill reward-
They shall return
More than they were
And ever ascending)
Velestever's sanctuaries kept their doors open for any who needed shelter in the night- the poor, outlaws, thieves, even clerics of the god who had found themselves on hard times.
Or the losing side of a rebellion.
Smirimis turned on her pallet, listening to the soft breathing of those around her. She didn't know how many of the Holdings had survived, and she wasn't sure how to find out. Her failure to protect her people stung, but there was no way to ignore it at this time of the night.
Unless she escaped it, and fell asleep.
In the dream, Smirimis was walking across a gray land. Dust rose from her footsteps, hovering in the still air. A few strands of yellow grass stuck from the tops of dunes, and a yellow moon hung in the sky. Stars hung around it, far fewer than she could believe.
"Where is this place?" she asked no one. Even to open her mouth sucked moisture away, and she thought she would die of thirst before she crossed the next ridge.
Dust and gray sand began to slide down towards her as she climbed, and she began to wonder why the desert-place didn't want her to go farther. Suddenly someone appeared on the top of the dune, and as she drew closer the moonlight illuminated the face of her god.
Velestever's robes, traditionally crimson velvet, were now the same dry gray as the rest of the landscape. Gold embroidery covered the robe cuffs in a floral pattern, so out of place here. The spear Lehvos was held in Velestever's right hand, and the left carried a long iron greatsword. Smirimis recognized the Mutilator, Lothorel's divine weapon.
A tear slipped down Velestever's face and she pointed Lehvos over the ridge. Smirimis looked down onto the twisted body of a goddess. Lothorel's gold robes simmered in the dust, her face was to the ground, her right hand was pressed against her side. Blood leaked over her fingers. Her left hand was nearly concealed under her body, but Smirimis saw with unnatural clarity that the ring and index fingers were missing.
She turned again to Velestever. The Mutilator was bloodless, and Lehvos' blade shone with light, clean. Her god had not caused this.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"I fear my sibling is preparing another strike."
She had never heard her deity's voice before; it was soft, sexless, easily heard.
"Your...sibling?" she looked down at Lothorel.
"She tried to protect me."
"But who attacked you? Who is your other sibling? The Lord of Justice?"
"No...another." Velestever shifted, more tears falling. "Our final battle is beginning. I am gathering my army to me even now...and It is calling Its."
There were shapes now, more human figures appearing in the desert. One was a tall young man, carrying a gold lion-headed bow and a set of silver scales. He knelt beside Lothorel's body and cried out in grief.
"My little sister was dear to both of us," Velestever said.
The other figures wore the drab brown and green vestments of her god. Velestever's clerics, called here by the same force that had no doubt called Smirimis. Did she speak so familiarly to all of them?
Now more than just her brethren appeared, people in robes of green, white, pink, blue appeared; faces covered with matted hair, dark heads completely shaved, men and women with silver hair in long braids. Several in saffron robes appeared beside her, and she saw others who were clerics of Lothorel and the Lord of Justice.
"My people," Velestever said. "I need you."
"If there is any way we can serve you, My Lord (My Lady, others murmured) we will do it."
"I need-" then Velestever explained what she needed, not in words, but with a powerful emotion and vision, combined as a wordless tune. Combined, and combination was exactly what the god- what the Power- required. She was asking Smirimis and her companions to offer their souls, their very selves to her. As strength, she explained. She needed their power as well as her own, because even the might of the Noble Power wasn't enough to combat the Evil.
"I will take care of her," the Lord of Justice said, lifting Lothorel's body.
"Good," Velestever replied. "Then you need to find the rest of you-" the other gods, whom the Evil Power hadn't slain and who weren't avatars of the Light or Dark- "And stay together. Tend your people if you must, but It will come- and do not try to fight. She aims to devour Aracia, but for you to go in the face of such destruction would cause your annihilation."
The Lord bowed. "I understand," he said, but his voice cracked.
Velestever- the Light One, the Noble Power and her clerics- closed their eyes- she sighed- and where there had been thousands there was only one. More tears hung in the Power's eyes, but she held them back as she nodded the Lord of Justice away.
When he was gone, Velestever dropped the Mutilator and grasped her side, where blood was beginning to flow, staining the gray robes black.
The tewitt was more than a little nervous. It flapped from one corner to another of the tent, made five complete circuits over the pallets, then came down to huddle in a ball.
It seemed exactly like and ordinary bird.
Irok regarded the tewitt, chin upon knees, dark hair tied back. Every once in a while he tried to run a hand through it, old habit, and was stymied by one of Amandine's ribbons.
The bird watched Irok. Irok watched the bird. He took out a handful of red, blue, and green Dihnin beads, and scattered them between them. The bird took a green one in its beak.
The green beads were bad fortune. Irok frowned. Was the bird expressing its own opinion, or prophesying doom? Maybe it just liked green. Or didn't like red and blue. Irok set out a yellow, black, and white bead, but the bird ignored each of them. He held out a purple bead, so precious that he didn't dare even set it on the ground, but the bird didn't touch it.
Just a bird. Just a bird, he repeated to himself. Although he couldn't help but doubt it. Aside from its obvious intelligence, he knew tewitts didn't come from the Hold.
Earlier that day, Irok had shown Laurio the three holy plaques he carried with him, portraits of the gods of Aracia. The bird had hung around them. It shied away from the portrait of Lothorel, and seemed nervous when Velestever was shown. The Lord of Justice had no effect whatsoever.
"What's up?" Amandine Mejhr asked from her pallet.
"I'm puzzling," Irok replied.
"Ah." Amandine sat up and crouched beside him, arranging her split blue skirt. The bird clicked its beak at her, and she smiled faintly.
"Mariano," she said.
The bird flew to her and landed on her outstretched arm. Irok jumped when it began to tear at her sleeves.
"I'll get it-"
"Wait." she shoved the tewitt off and pulled out a bracelet- it appeared to be made of a pearly material. It seemed waxy, too.
"Alicorn," Irok said.
The bird tapped the bracelet with its beak. The fast hammering sounded strange, almost like the language of the Dihnin. Irok closed his eyes and pretended to he could hear it.
Can you guess who I am? it asked.
"No," he said. Amandine looked at him strangely.
I am the Herald.
"And what are you Heralding?"
The end of-
Hello, Herald . The voice began softly, then grew loud, unbearably loud, as if it came from the entire world. Irok and Amandine were thrown together by a force that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Matta wailed, and Laurio cried out.
Are you looking for the Avatar? That's not her horn, I'm afraid. And, alas, this entire planet does not hold what I am looking for. But, alas for it, it is MINE
Everything went Dark.