Book VI Chapter 2: Voice of the Gods
A circular metal plate embedded in the ground swung open, letting Nefirian and his viadante companion out into the thick of the Wilds.
All manner of alien life flourished around them; plants with long and curling striped vines that snatched passing songbirds out of the air to crush them, tall, thin trees with leaves like flakes of diamond that set the blue grass aflame with shimmering light, and all manner of creeping moss and faintly-glowing mushrooms and wild, tangled rose bushes, their flowers' petals gleaming like silver and gold and crystal.
The viadante took in the sights with her black, blinking eyes, adjusting to the sudden surge of light. Creatures moved around them on all sides, just barely out of sight, but her keen ears picked them up, surveying their distance and size with the sound waves that bounced through the grove; an homage to the small, fluttering creatures her kind had sprung from.
"If you ever have a need to come out here without me, fly," Nef said, slipping his hands into his pockets as they walked through the ethereal woodland, listening to the gentle tinkle and chime of the crystal leaves as they shook in the wind. "The Wilds are beautiful-- but they can very easily become a beautiful hell, even for a creature such as yourself, Firona."
"I have never seen so much light in my life," she breathed, still blinking her large eyes. "I prefer my hells dark and cold, although it is lovely."
Nefirian had little to say to that; he would be perfectly happy never to visit Hel again, after his first trip.
Theold Viadante lordhad teleported him there in nothing more than a costume kilt, leaving the little Chapter in freezing discomfort while he met with the goddess.
It had been an eye-opening experience-- as much from the sheer cold of the place as from what he had learned that evening.
He was far too happy to be back home in Chimre, and far too happy to be practically unguarded in this place by comparison, especially after the crush of the crowds in Laps'ballroom.
Especially after crossing paths with Kelan on his home turf. Between that and the meddlingCourtesans... he had come too far to fail now, in the final days before his magnum opus was revealed.
"I do hope your master is right about this," he sighed. "I have a fondness for the lion, but I can't imagine him as a great magician of any sort, I'm afraid."
"Dietrich was one of the most magically talented of all of the Elysianavatars," Firona assured him. "Vocainoften sent him to study underMaenaherself, and he used his spells to speak for the gods both inValenthand in therealm of dreams, as well as to frighten and weaken the Elysians' foes and enchant their crafts."
Carefully, the pair made their way down a crumbling wall of natural stone and around a small pond nearby, jewel-hued fish leaping from the water to somersault in midair, their scales flashing with color.
Butterflies with wings that had been cut from the night sky flitted about in enormous swarms around them, some alighting upon their hair and shoulders and noses.
Odd birds sat in the crystal trees above, swooping down to spear the fish out of the air with long, sharp beaks before tearing hungrily into them, eyeing the passing travellers warily all the while.
Nefirian caught sight of a smallgigofleupaksshuffling past in the distance and smiled faintly, leading Firona through a hallway of trees curving overhead, their branches heavy with fruits that looked suspiciously like metal-skinned melons.
Serpents of all types wriggled between them to feast upon the fruits, tiny rodents who had come to do the same, and even one another.
Just ahead, the natural tunnel came to an end, leading into a clearing that had been trodden flat by great paws hundreds of years ago.
Nefirian and Firona gazed up at the soft, white form of Dietrich, who sleepily stared back at them with watery blue eyes.
A hint of recognition seemed to flicker through them, and he rose to sit.
"It has been quite some time since you've come here, Dreamer, and you seem to travel with curious company today. What's the occasion?" He eyed the viadante again.
"I have been instructed by Chira to seek your counsel," Nef explained.
He hadn't expected the lion-god's explosive reaction.
"Chira! What manner of jest do you play at?! I had pegged you as a better sort than this! Chira is long-dead, and besides, what would YOU know of her? The gods are gone!"
Firona looked on as Nefirian stepped closer to the angry lion, his face flawlessly calm, his eyes strangely luminescent.
For a few moments, the glade fell unnervingly silent, Chapter and Beast-God locking eyes as though preparing themselves for some fearsome battle just moments from being realized.
She saw the little Aeneski grit his teeth behind his lips, his temple twitching slightly, and suddenly understood what was happening just as the lion lowered his head, his fury melting away like wet snow.
"... To your eyes, she is daar mir'k leu'pak," Dietrich whispered, "as all gods' appearances must shift into something familiar to those who gaze upon them. But... that is Chira. She is alive. Vastly weakened, but alive-- the work of Artemio's children, no doubt." He gestured with his head towards Firona. "But what of the others?"
"Chira is the sole survivor of the Elysians' final destiny," she said smoothly. "She has lived on in Hel since the wolves were driven out of Aensdoun."
Her words seemed to sadden the great lion somewhat, but he rose his head once more, determination plain upon his face now.
"Before everything fell apart, I served two Gods; Vocain, Champion of the Gods as well as my companion and creator, and Maena, Lady of Enchantment and twin sister of Chira herself, and I sorely miss both of them. For millennia, the Gods have been dead, and my purpose has crumbled to dust; I was the voice of the Gods themselves, and those who heard me knew their will, and through them, the will of Valenth.
"With them gone, I tried taking on a few tribes of tolfae, and successfully taught them the Hidden Arts, but once they went their separate ways, I was left with nothing to live for," Dietrich rumbled. "I have festered here in this place ever since, forgotten by my peers, even forgotten by my own former mate until very recently, when she asked something of me I could not provide..."
"Aqk," Nef breathed, wondering sadly if he should tell the lion what had befallen her.
Dietrich nodded. "Together, we created the griffins, who I cared for and taught along with the fae under my watch, until they decided to travel on to what became known as Liasse. But that is of little importance... for now," he said. "Dreamer, if Chira yet lives, then so, too, does my purpose. I beg of you-- if you are to serve as her hand, allow me to become your voice. I will teach you what I know, both of the ancient days as well as the many secrets of the Reverie you must not yet understand, as such a young and new creature."
Firona and Nefirian exchanged looks.
"I could certainly use your help and guidance, Dietrich, if you would grant me the honor. If you'd like, we can make preparations for--"
With a yelp of shock, Nef leapt several feet backwards.
The great white lion was gone as though he had never been at all, leaving a burly man dressed in robes of every color standing calmly in his place.
Tiny bifocals balanced neatly atop his regal nose, his hair a mess of platinum white fluff accented by a single long lock that perfectly resembled a lion's tail.
"I am ready to move on and begin the next phase of my endless life, Dreamer," Dietrich announced, his voice rumbling in his broad chest.
"Please; let us travel to your city. I would like to dine on your food, walk your streets, and discuss what we shall do... away from this place."
Next Chapter: Book VI Chapter III
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