Words of Wisdom
Thrown into a struggle neither fully understand, and complicated by a mutual attraction they won’t acknowledge, the pair must race hundreds of miles before the sun rises on the equinox to head off a cataclysm that only Samara can stop. And that’s all assuming Darian can keep them both alive long enough to reach their goal. But between assassins, demons, fae, and the very land itself trying to kill them, the odds are not in their favor.
A group of children was gathered listening raptly to what could easily have been the oldest man I’d ever seen. Bent with age, knobby fingers gripped heavily on his staff. His leathery skin was wrinkled like a prune left out in the sun and all that was left of his hair was a few white wisps. He was dressed in red and green robes of fine draa with a blanket draped over his bowed shoulders.
My curiosity was piqued and anything was better than waiting around, agonizing over whether we’d made a ten day journey for nothing. “Let’s go listen,” I said to Autumn.
As we grew closer, I could see the old man stood with his back to a half circle of carved redwood statues of the Gods, facing a herd of children. Though he was bent with age his eyes were bright and clear as he spoke in Common with his musical Manu accent, “…Ten beings that would later become known as the Gods came together and created three distinct Realms: Acala, Eather, and Heaven.”
It was a story I’d heard countless times, yet I found myself listening mesmerized, drawn in by the man’s melodic voice. His ancient eyes twinkled as he continued. “Acala they created to be stable, and be governed by fixed rules. Eather they created to be malleable and fluid, but was attached to Acala to give it stability. At last they needed a place that could accommodate their vast and powerful forms. And so they created Heaven, which constantly shapes itself to their wishes and acts as a bulwark between the Gods and the other Realms, lest their powerful presence accidentally destroy that which they lovingly created.”
Faintly I realized that Autumn and the houseguards were as invested in the old man’s words as I was, which a distant part of my mind realized was a bit odd. My thoughts drifted back to Darian’s performance with his flute.
“Over countless eons they shaped and changed the realms,” the old man continued, “until at last they were happy with what they’d made. Upon our world, the Gods created an abundance of life, including humans and dragons. In Eather, they made the mercurial Fae, as well as the Elementals to help keep the forces of the Realms in balance. In Heaven, the Gods created the Devas, who could bear their powerful presence and act as their servants in all of the Realms.
“Eventually the Gods’ creations drew the attention of other beings similar to the Gods, yet different. These beings, the Rajasa, became envious of what the Gods had created. The Rajasa existed in an alien Realm known as Kardama, and it seems they were unable to create a place that could remain stable without their constant attention. They wished to use Acala and Eather as their canvas, but the Gods denied the Rajasa because their nature would corrupt the Realms with their chaotic presence. The Rajasa decided that, being similar to the Gods, they could simply take what they wanted. They opened a portal to come through with the creatures they had created. The Rajasa, however, had misjudged.”
The old man paused for effect, looking out at the sea of attentive faces hanging on his words, “The Gods fought back. They attacked the Rajasa, striking one of them down. The death of that titanic elder was enough to destroy Kardama. Many of the Rajasa’s creations chose to abandon them, becoming the beings you know as the Forsaken.”
“However, the God Rocana looked forward and realized there was no way to strike down the remaining Rajasa without destroying Acala and Eather with them, so they devised another plan. The God Varga constructed a new Realm, similar to Heaven, but in addition to protecting the other planes from the power of the Rajasa, it would act as a prison to contain them. This new Realm he named Hell.
“The Gods then offered the Rajasa a choice; exile to Hell, or destruction. The Rajasa, becoming aware for the first time that they could die, became afraid and surrendered. The Rajasa accepted their cage but chafed at it, waiting for the moment they could escape and enact vengeance on the Gods, and at last take for themselves the Realms they so coveted.”
Now a few of the children had fearful looks upon their faces. The old man’s smile returned, “But don’t worry, children. The Rajasas’ prison is flawless. It has held them for thousands of years. Now,” he said turning to the statues behind him, “let us pray.”
In the Empire, statues of the Gods were almost always carved from marble and tended to be at least twice the height of a man. The Manu statues were life-sized and carved from their sacred redwood. So finely wrought were they that I expected them to step down from their dais at any moment. The overall effect was a much more intimate portrayal of the Gods.
“Azava,” the old man said, lifting his voice to the statue standing resplendent with a trumpet in one hand and a sword in the other, “Lord of the sun. God of virtue, honor, freedom, and truth, we pray to you. We ask that you continue to light the path of the just.”
He turned to the next statue, which stood upon an anvil, and wielded a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other. “Vastuvit, the Great Maker, God of forging, crafting, and building, we pray to you. We ask that you guide our hands to create wonders worthy of your greatness.”
He turned to the statue of a woman in a flowing gown with a crescent moon upon her forehead, her arms outstretched, and said, “Ananda, Mistress of the moon, Goddess of love, healing, compassion, and pleasure, we pray to you. We ask that you soothe our pains, and open our hearts.”
He turned next to a form I recognized very well. “Tarka, Lord of dragons, God of knowledge, learning, and reason, we pray to you,” I noted with some annoyance he left magic off the list. “We ask that you open our minds to learning and leave us ever hungry for knowledge.” That was an invocation I’d never heard before. I rather liked it.
He turned to a figure seated with legs crossed and hands folded in his lap staring to the heavens. “Rocana, Lord of the stars, God of time, fate, and the night sky, we pray to you. We ask that you help us find peace and understand the great mystery.”
He turned next to what must have been a statue of Suravani, but she was as I’d never seen her depicted. Elegant antlers still graced her head but feathery wings stretched out from her back and one of her hands was that of an eagle’s claw while the other was that of a lion. She wore a long dress made of leaves while dainty cloven hooves poked out from underneath the bottom hem. The old man cleared his throat and spoke again. “Suravani, Mistress of Nature, Goddess of seasons, storms and all that walks, swims, flies, and grows, we pray to you. We ask that you help us walk in balance with all your creations.”
He turned to the statue of a man with a pan flute in one hand and a cup of wine in the other, bearing a look of joyous abandon. “Kavi, Master of journeys, God of wine, music, and roads, we pray to you. We ask that you keep our feet firmly and safely upon the long road.”
He turned to the image of a man with a scale in one hand a parchment in the other. “Varga, Lord of law, God of commerce, cities, walls, and gates, we pray to you. We ask that you guide us always toward order and prosperity.”
He turned toward the image of a woman clad in leathers wielding a flail in each hand. “Arati, Mistress of darkness, Goddess of suffering, redemption, growth, and death, we pray to you. We ask that you help us to always find the lesson inherent in suffering.”
He turned stiffly to the last statue. This one, too, differed substantially from the Zuran version who was usually clad in legion armor. Here he was dressed as one of the Rangers. “Irin, Lord of war, God of strength, conflict, and battle, we pray to you. We ask that you grant us the strength to defeat our enemies both within and without.”
The demon stared at me quizzically, head cocked to the side as if it didn’t understand the question. Well, “stared” might be the wrong word considering it had no eyes. Its humanoid head was featureless and smooth like polished marble, as if it were a statue waiting for a sculptor to come along and finish it. Its alabaster face held only lines of multicolored gemstones arranged in a “T” shape that flickered and glowed seemingly at its whim. The rest of the Yaviya, the lowest class of Hell’s denizens, was covered by a billowing cloak of purple fur that I assume was made from the skin of some other unfortunate demon.
“I do not understand,” the demon said in a vaguely feminine voice, despite having no mouth.
“Don’t insult my intelligence A’vish,” I replied carefully in the Infernal tongue. The choppy guttural language always felt ill suited for my mouth. “You’re being deliberately evasive. You either know, or you don’t know.”
“It is not my intention to give insult,” the Yaviya purred, “but I do not understand what you are asking. Perhaps if you rephrased the question?”
I stared down at the silvery-blue light of the summoning circle between us and took a deep breath to calm myself. The last thing I wanted to do was get sloppy when dealing with a demon, even one bound in a circle. I smoothed the front of my silk dress and brushed an errant red whisp of hair behind my ear. It was obvious my line of questioning made A’vish uncomfortable, but so bound, it couldn’t lie to me, only remain silent or try to dance around the question. I tried again, “Do you know which Anaviya was summoned by Shakkar?”
“There were many summoned by him.” Something about A’vish’s tone made me think the Yaviya was toying with me, but it was tough to tell with demons.
“Are you familiar with the first one he summoned? The one who aided him in his understanding of your kind?”
“I cannot say.”
“Because you don’t know or you’re not willing to tell me?”
The demon cocked its head to the side again.
“A’vish, which is it?”
“I cannot say.”
“Do…you…know?” I said gnawing on the heavy Infernal words.
“I cannot give you a more satisfactory answer to the question, mage.”
I relaxed my hands, which had balled themselves into fists, and rubbed the bridge of my nose. I had to change tactics. “Could you locate Shakkar’s first Anaviya?”
The gemstones in A’vish’s face started flickering in sequence. I’d noticed that behavior before when the demon was thinking very hard about something. “It is theoretically possible. But it will not help you.”
“And why is that?”
The stones flickered again. “I am certain you would long be dust, as would many of your decedents, before I was able to locate what you ask for,” A’vish said, flatly.
That took me aback. Most demons were boastful of their abilities. It was unusual for one to downplay them, and I happened to know from experience that A’vish was quite talented at locating things. “I thought you could find anything in Hell?”
A’vish hesitated. “I can.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
The Yaviya just stood in silence, the gems in its face lighting up from the far points inward.
“Come now, Hell’s not that large,” I said.
“The size of hell is constantly changing, based upon the will of the Rajasa–”
“You’re sidestepping again. Why would it take you so long to find Shakkar’s Anaviya?”
A’vish just remained silent, the gems on its empty face went dark. Something finally occurred to me. “You’ve been commanded to find him before haven’t you? And you weren’t able to, were you?”
The demon’s smooth face lit up in rapid succession. “Did you think you were the first human to summon me for this purpose?”
Actually, I kind of did. It was a bit bruising to the pride to realize I wasn’t quite a clevor as I thought. When I took a step back from the situation I realized I’d been naive. Doubtless, hundreds of mages over the years had tried exactly what I was doing. Oh well. What was one more soul-crushing dead end in a day? I had learned one thing, though I drew no solace from it. Apparently the Anivaya I was looking for was hard even for other demons to find.