The rain, like an old friend too rarely seen, had been much anticipated when it arrived in Dargon. In the spring, the rain cleansed the city. It knocked down the clouds of dust that haunted the streets and sprang out of nowhere to throw grit in the eyes of even the most humble priest. It raised verdant and, in time, bountiful fields and gardens from land left barren by long winter snows. And it rinsed the rubbish and sewage that had accumulated in Dargon’s gutters and alleys out into the river and sea. So welcomed had been this spring rain that the storm had lingered in Dargon for well nigh a fortnight. But did it have to be so bloody damp?
So thought Courtney, the Euilamon of the goddess Araminia, as she and her companion trod the puddle-strewn cobbles of Layman Street.
“How are your feet, Palmer?”
Her companion, a fellow Euilamon, grinned and looked down at his mud-stained toes through the soaked leather thongs of his sandals. “Actually, I think I’m faring better in my sandals than you in those boots, your grace! And besides, I like to feel the mud between my toes!” he said as he did a squishy little dance in the middle of the muddy street.
Courtney sashayed away from any danger of being splashed, and the two companions walked on; one preoccupied with reliving a youth that should have been long past, the other lost in thought.
“Do you think the gods might be angry with us, Palmer?”
Interrupted, the chief minister of the blind god Risheera cocked his head to one side before smiling at the woman who accompanied him. Her tied-back hair made her appear more like a young schoolteacher than a senior priest. “Have you done something to incur the anger of the All Creator, Courtney?”
“No, I just have this feeling … like something is going to happen. I can’t describe it.”
Her companion wasn’t in a mood to be serious. “Something happen? Like what? The end of the world?”
“Well, no. Nothing that drastic. I hope.”
Her wooden response had the desired effect; Palmer faced her, his expression turning from frivolous to serious.
“Now you’re working *my* congregation! Risheera has taught me to heed such portents. It could be that there is a reason for the feelings you are having. Perhaps Araminia knows something you and I don’t.”
Courtney nodded. “But Palmer, this foreboding hardly seems appropriate for the goddess of healing and good fortune. What could it mean?”
“I don’t know, but I think you’d best listen to your heart, and double your prayers at temple this morning!”
As quickly as it had departed, Palmer’s exuberance returned. His ephemeral moods weren’t quite in keeping with the temperament of his grim patron, Risheera Omenbringer, but Courtney admired him for it. She let him continue to lead her through Dargon’s confused streets toward Temple Street and their respective houses of worship. Meanwhile, she concentrated on what her vague sense of premonition might imply; but however lengthy, her walk to the Temple of Araminia brought her no closer to an answer.
Although his monk’s cowl kept the rain from his face, the weight of his rain-soaked woolen robe weighed Coryndon down as he puttered. As a young acolyte, he was charged with the care of the Sailors’ Shrine that occupied a small green patch just north of the city’s docks. But the never-ending rain had dampened his enthusiasm for the task, and he had delayed walking down to the shrine until late in the afternoon. Upon arriving at the little greensward that housed the shrine, he had been further dismayed at the amount of leaves, branches, and bracken that the storm had brought down. However, he had worked into the early evening cleaning up the mess, for the upkeep of the Sailors’ Shrine was a solemn task. Although few sailors would admit it, they needed what reassurance and comfort could be provided by faith in the gods’ favor. Because of this, the Sailors’ Shrine was one of the most-frequented shrines in the city, even though the only formal observances held there were occasional ship launchings and the seasonal blessings of the fishing fleet.
Now, however, the shrine had been cleaned up and looked as tidy as it could under the circumstances. Furthermore, although the Firil evening was chilling in his damp robe, the young acolyte could look out over the open ocean to the west and see breaks in the clouds that had smothered Dargon for over a sennight. The evening sky was boldly painted in umber, indigo, and sable, and Coryndon paused to watch as the horizon cleared, silently appreciating the All Creator’s craft to the extent of his own humble abilities.
Finally, Coryndon heard the faint ringing of the third bell of evening tolling from the tower of Dargon Keep on the far side of the Coldwell. Moments later, it was echoed more loudly on the near side of the river by the bell atop the Harbormaster’s Building. His reverie broken, Coryndon turned from the evening spectacle and made his way back toward the priory on Temple Street.
As he left the greensward and set foot on the cobbled street, he was met by a sailor who was walking determinedly up the small rise to the shrine. Coryndon had often made the acquaintance of sailors who frequented the shrine, although he did not recognize the man walking toward him. Furthermore, although most tended to keep to themselves rather than acknowledge their superstitions, this man took Coryndon by surprise by directly approaching and hailing him.
The man seemed embarrassed for a moment by his own audacity, and paused briefly before his words came out in a rush. “Priest, have you seen the light?”
Coryndon, not sure how to respond, ventured a tentative “Uh … no?”
“Well, I have something you need to see. There’s a light in the sky!” While Coryndon tried to follow the man’s speech, the sailor was pointing toward the sky. Seeing the confused expression on the priest’s face, the sailor looked up. “Oh! That squirmin’ cedar is in the way; come down here!”
The sailor led the way down the street back toward the infrequently-used northernmost dock. As they approached the dock, Coryndon could see more of the clearing night sky, including a great ball of a star followed by a long milky trail like a smeared blot of white ink that the scribes used in their illuminations. Although Coryndon was no student of the positions of the stars, he had never seen anything like this in his life. Although it wasn’t half as large as Dargon’s moon, Nochturon, it was nearly as bright, and lit not only a portion of the sky, but gave the docks the semblance of an ominous silvery daylight.
“Well, priest? Do you know what that is?” Coryndon could hear the anxiety in the sailor’s voice clearly now. He knew that something this noticeable would certainly cause concern among the sailors, whose superstitions ran deep, and whose lives depended on the reliable and predictable positions of the landmarks in the sky.
Coryndon wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Neither his schooling nor his experience provided any insight into the cause of this visitation. He knew that the sailor was seeking reassurance from him, but Coryndon was only a young acolyte, and had never found himself in such a position before. Yet this sailor would not be alone in seeking an explanation; he would return to his friends and pass along the priest’s words, and those words would be carried further still. He had a responsibility to give as reassuring an answer as possible.
Seeing the priest in thought, the sailor had waited patiently, but the expression of urgency and inquiry never left his face. Finally the priest of the shrine spoke.
“I do not know what it is, sailor, but I don’t think any ill can come of it. It just seems to hang there.”
The sailor seemed skeptical. “Could it not be an omen of the All Creator’s displeasure? We sail for Armand on the fourth bell’s tide, and I must know whether this thing,” gesturing skyward, “bodes ill fortune.”
Coryndon responded immediately. “I think not, sailor. Or if so, it must bode ill for the whole of Dargon, not for your small vessel. I should think that the wisest thing you could do would be to set sail as you have planned, without regard for this manifestation.”
The sailor thought for a while before thanking the priest and walking back down Commercial Street toward the docks, but not without several looks over his shoulder at the radiant object that had suddenly taken up residence in the normally placid and predictable nighttime sky.
For himself, Coryndon stood on the pier for a few moments, staring at his own shadow cast by the silvery star. He hoped that his words had calmed the sailor, and that the sailor’s calm would help keep others from panic. But the man had sparked doubt in Coryndon’s own heart, and with a silent look and plea sent to the nearby shrine, he turned away and headed back to the priory to bring the matter to the attention of his Euilamon.
Courtney took a deep breath before raising the iron knocker. It was rare for the chief priest of one of the All Creator’s gods to feel anxious, but tonight there surely was cause. The whole town was abuzz over the strange star in the night sky, and pandemonium was taking place on Temple Street, which had become a gathering point for those who feared the wrath of the gods. Her own clergy looked to her for answers, but she had none, and had elected not to share with them the vague sense of foreboding which had visited her of late.
But these were not the cause of her immediate concern. She had been summoned — summoned! — to a meeting of all the Euilamon of every deity in the Creator’s Pantheon, at the home of the only person in Dargon to whom she might defer in spiritual matters: the Euilamon of the All Creator himself.
Such meetings were exceedingly rare. The various temples were run independently by each Euilamon, and most interaction between them occurred at the lower levels of the clergy. The Euilamon were headstrong and accustomed to exercising unquestioned authority. They were the ultimate embodiment of their gods in Dargon, and didn’t tend to interact with one another very much. Like the mythical group of rodents known as a Rat-King, bound inescapably together through the accidental knotting of their tails, a meeting of all the Euilamon had very little likelihood of running smoothly.
Even on the rare occasion where meetings between the Euilamon took place, they usually had been held at the priory of the All Creator on Temple Street. It was a little intimidating to have the council summoned to the private residence of the All Creator’s Euilamon, but it had ostensibly been done to avoid the turmoil on Temple Street, and Courtney was glad to escape that chaos.
A young man in a simple tunic opened the door and bowed to Courtney. While he led her through the house to the room where the meeting was to be held, she wondered whether he was an acolyte or merely a servant. His clothing was plain and unobtrusive, as befitted both roles. Was there, after all, really much of a difference between those who served a divine lord and those who served an earthly lord?
Arriving at the meeting room, she stopped at the threshold to appraise the chamber and the people assembled there. The room was broad but dark, surrounded by shelves full of books, scrolls, ledgers, and ornaments of religious meaning to those who worshipped the All Creator. Opposite the doorway was a large bay window, flanked by smaller bordering windows of stained glass depicting the myths of the Creator’s Pantheon. Glass in itself was a precious rarity in Dargon, either as artistic stained glass or in clear sheets large enough for such a window, and it would be a marvel when seen during the day. Courtney appreciated the sensitivities of a mind which spent such large sums on something to elevate the spirit and encourage philosophical thought. The room itself was dominated by a large, heavy table. Courtney concluded that this room served its owner as study, chap el, council room, and, probably all too often, as dining room.
That owner sat in a heavy, straight-backed wooden chair at the head of the table, his back to the bay window. As the Euilamon of the All Creator, Jarett was the father figure of the Creator’s Pantheon, and even the headstrong Euilamon of the other gods listened to his counsel. His mentorship was paternalistic, but also sometimes as inscrutable and unpredictable as only a father could be. However, at the moment Jarett seemed to be quietly and politely listening as others spoke. He silently acknowledged Courtney’s arrival, and returned his attention to the speaker.
Courtney, meanwhile, circumnavigated the room to find herself an open chair next to Palmer, one of the few Euilamon whom she considered a friend, rather than a rival. As she sat, he leaned toward her conspiratorially.
“It seems there is only one topic of conversation tonight. Jarett hasn’t even called the meeting to order, but I don’t think he needs to; the wandering star is still the topic of every conversation.”
“Has he said anything yet?” Jarett could usually be expected to express a strong opinion in most instances.
“No. I think he’s letting the group give voice to their fears.”
Courtney turned to Jarett. He was listening to Tasia, the plain-looking Euilamon of Randiriel, as she described the scene in her temple. Courtney studied the Euilamon who spoke for the most powerful of the gods a moment before turning back to her companion. “I don’t think he has any more idea what that thing is than any of us.”
Palmer nodded slightly. “Possibly not. So, what now of the omens you had this morning, your grace?”
That didn’t make Courtney feel any better. “I just don’t know. My feelings may well have heralded the arrival of this wandering star, but it still doesn’t tell us what it means!”
Quan, the Euilamon of Sbeppo, seated on the other side of Courtney, had overheard, and chimed in. “Your grace, I have two hundred people in my temple, demanding to know exactly that: what this light in the sky means!”
Tasia turned to them from her conversation with Jarett. It seemed the separate conversations were coalescing around them. “There are crowds in all the temples, and most of the open squares and marketplaces. The crowds on Temple Street have gained voices. We must pray to our gods to reveal their intentions to us. But whether we know the truth ourselves or not, we must tell the people what we can to reassure them.”
The rest of the group seemed to assent, and several looked toward Jarett in anticipation of his counsel. He sighed heavily, allowing the rest of the group to accede to his authority before speaking.
“I fear I have no more information than you do. However, if anything like this has happened in the past, we shall find record of it in our archives. I have already set six scribes to scour my temple’s archives for any knowledge of something like this ever happening before. I suggest we each do the same. And knowing the breadth of the archives of Sbeppo, patron of scribes, I would treble that number for you, your grace,” indicating the man next to Courtney, who nodded ingratiatingly. Addressing the room as a whole, he continued. “We shall meet here to discuss our results at dawn. Come the morn, we must share what insight we have with the people, and I shall have to advise Lord Clifton.”
“And what are we to tell the crowds which gather outside our temples now?” demanded the Euilamon of Randiriel.
“For now, little more than the truth: the wandering star appears to signify no immediate peril, and we are looking through our records to see if anything like this has ever happened before. And meanwhile, I shall be praying to the All Creator for an indication as to the meaning of this mysterious light in our sky.”
“As will we all.”
By the time Coryndon returned to the Sailors’ Shrine, the fifth bell of evening had rung: midnight. Only his familiarity with the greensward enabled him to walk among the trees and rocks of the little park without tripping and falling, for he had often come to the shrine at night to meditate. Beyond the actual shrine and the spruce and cedar grove where it resided, the land fell away to the sea in a crash of lichen-covered granite boulders and kelp. The shrine was built upon a headland which served to protect the port from the open ocean, so while the lee of the rocky outcropping was calm and quiet, the seaward side was wild and washed by a monstrous surf.
The pale light of the new star continued to give the semblance of an eerie silvery twilight to the rock-strewn shore, enabling Coryndon to scramble down the hillside to the crashing surf which was his favorite place to sit and think. Using a dry cloak he had taken from the priory, he made himself comfortable on his favorite rock.
Looking up, Coryndon noticed that the star had moved considerably away from where he had seen it earlier in the night. It seemed odd to him that it hadn’t moved forward, as if the smudge which trailed it were a tail, but sideways. Worse yet, he thought it had moved in a somewhat different direction than the rest of the stars around it. What could it be?
His tired gaze returned to the pounding nighttime surf, which had always facilitated his meditation. As he stared at the endlessly churning ocean, he mentally replayed his trip to the priory. All of Temple Street had been awash with a rising tide of people, and Coryndon had waded through that tide to reach the Temple of the All Creator. Recognized by his priest’s cowl, he had been set upon by anxious citizens and tossed about in the crowd. Finally, he had cast himself on that shore where waves of people, finally coming into contact with the priests of the temple, crested and withdrew. He had quickly recounted his story to the priest who seemed in charge, and learned that his Euilamon had summoned a rare meeting of all the Euilamon of the Creator’s Pantheon to determine what the light in the sky signified.
After that, Coryndon had fought his way out of the confusion of Temple Street and returned exhausted to the quiet solitude of the Sailors’ Shrine, where he could study the wandering star and where the endless power of the surf and the tides encouraged contemplation of the limitless power of the gods of the Creator’s Pantheon and the insignificance of man.
Coryndon’s tired eyes stared at the open ocean, seeing little ripples on top of bigger waves on top of bigger waves still, moving in concert with wind and current. Waves, some as small as an ant, some as big as a temple, piled atop one another and all struggling to move in different directions. What kind of beings could create something so complex and so powerful and so large and so eternal as the ocean, and also create the ageless strength of the granite stones which had opposed it for aeons beyond measure?
The susurration of the surf seemed to Coryndon to have murmured the answer since time immemorial: the same beings who could cast a wondrous sparkling light in the sky.
Despite his fatigued body, Coryndon’s mind continued onward: but what might the light signify? What might it mean to mankind, whose frail tenancy of the land could be measured in little more than two score lifetimes? What reason might the gods have to create such a display as that which traversed the sky so spectacularly? A premonition of disaster? Another war? A plague? A curse? The celebration of a victory? A marriage? A death? A birth?
Courtney returned to the home of the All Creator’s Euilamon shortly before dawn. At the door, she was met by a different page, who led her to the same meeting room. As she entered, Jarett broke off his conversation with the other two Euilamon in the room to address her. “Euilamon, have your scribes found anything in the archives of the temple of Araminia which might give us guidance?”
Courtney echoed the words Brother Pewdar had spoken to her less than a springtime night bell earlier. “What records we have do not depict such an event in history’s memory, and are insufficient to explain this visitation.”
Jarett nodded thoughtfully as Courtney took her same place at the council table and waited for the others to arrive. She took the opportunity to observe the room more thoroughly, beginning with the stained glass windows which flanked the clear center bay window like a triptych. The left pane contained scenes depicting the All Creator’s fashioning of the heavens, the oceans, and the land, and Da’athra’a and Randiriel’s command of the armies. The right pane depicted Thyerin’s stewardship, and the liaison between Sevelin and Courtney’s patron, Araminia.
The other three sides of the room were bordered by shelves full of books and ledgers. At higher levels, the shelves contained various religious artifacts. Just as each of the other gods had their own domains, the All Creator was the patron of creation, and the shelves contained artifacts which reflected this: richly decorated pottery and ceramics, illuminations, calligraphy, paintings, and small sculptures, as well as the tools for creating them.
As each Euilamon from the different temples arrived, they were asked the same question in turn: whether their efforts had uncovered any record of a similar visitation. And all had responded similarly. Even Quan, whose patron was the god of scribes, shuffled his feet as he reported.
“Your grace, my scribes have found descriptions of stars that streak across the sky in moments, and the so-called curtain lights that can often be seen in the north, both of which offer mixed portents. But nowhere have we found any mention of anything like this tailed light that hovers in the sky and moves like the moon. Nor have I discovered any other knowledge about what this might be, nor what it might mean.”
When the assembly was complete, Jarett addressed the leaders of his religion in Dargon.
“You have heard one another’s reports. For my own temple, our research has yielded nothing to share with you.” The room fell silent. Courtney felt the gravity of their situation weighing on her; Lord Clifton and all of Dargon looked to them for spiritual insight and practical guidance, and this was a true mystery that even they, the very representatives of the gods in Dargon, could not explain.
Apparently the Euilamon of Randiriel felt the same tension, for she spoke up with emotion in her voice. “But surely we can tell the people that we have had converse with our gods, and that they have reassured us that the wandering star is no herald of catastrophe?”
Jarett smiled as he turned to Tasia. “Perhaps, but I have something more to share with you. As I indicated last night, after setting my scribes to search the archives of my temple, I spent the remainder of the night in prayer. Even as I prayed, one of my acolytes was also in private prayer, and claims to have been visited by a vision. He came to me a short while ago; his name is Coryndon,” he motioned to the entry. “He speaks with modesty, but I am convinced of the veracity of his tale.”
At that, the doorway admitted a sight. The young man was blond and fair, but no more so than any other lad might be, Courtney thought. He wore a sodden monk’s robe and his eyes wore the heavy signs of having been awake all night. His feet were bare and both they and the hem of his robe were dirty with juniper and spruce needles.
The boy’s anxiousness and humility were obvious as he made several short, nervous bows to each of the Euilamon, while Jarett beckoned him to the front of the room. There, before the fabulous glass window, at the prompting of the Euilamon of the All Creator who stood at his shoulder, Coryndon began his tale.
“If it please your graces, I have tended the Sailors’ Shrine two years come Melrin, and sometimes I sit by the ocean there and pray. Last night, after I saw the gods’ work in the sky, I went there and prayed for guidance. I mean no blasphemy by it, your graces, but in the darkness, the surf spoke to me in a voice like the ocean itself.”
Courtney looked about the room to see the other Euilamon listening intently to the boy’s story. In the boy, Courtney could clearly see something: was it lunacy, or rapture? Surely one wouldn’t return the same after a visitation by the All Creator.
The boy had stopped, staring silently at the ground. Jarett, at the boy’s side, had to prompt him to continue. “What did the voice say, Coryndon?”
Still looking at the floor, “Forgive me what I say, your grace, but the voice said that the gods, even the All Creator, sometimes live and die like us, or wax and wane like the moon, and that the only thing that goes on without interruption is the world itself.”
Jarett nodded and reassured the boy. “That’s true, acolyte. While the Stevenics claim their prophet Cephas lives forever, we are taught that the gods of the All Creator come and go, or change their manifestations from time to time. What you speak is no blasphemy. Sometimes it may seem to us that a new god has been born, yet after consecrating a new temple we discover that such a god was worshipped in aeons past. It may seem to us that a god may abandon us, and his temple be orphaned, only for him to reappear decades or centuries later. For what are our lives but the briefest moments to the gods, who oversee eternity?”
Courtney was convinced that the boy believed what he was recounting, but she was eager for a more complete answer. She leaned forward and tried to gently prompt the young man to continue. “And what did the voice say about the star in the sky, Coryndon?”
At this, the boy looked at Courtney, who despite all her years of compassion and empathy could not have put a name to what his expression held. “It said that the star was the birth of a new god. A god of contests and gambling, and brother to your grace’s patron, Araminia.”
Under that gaze, Courtney felt a lump growing in her throat. She coughed before responding, “Araminia has always been loved as the goddess of healing, for there is such desperate need for those arts. But few now remember that Araminia is also the goddess of good fortune and luck. If this new god takes contests as his domain, then I, as Araminia’s representative, will welcome him.”
Jarett smiled and nodded before asking the boy to continue. “Coryndon, did the voice tell you the name of this new god we shall welcome to the world?”
The boy looked down at the floor again. “It did. I was told he is to be named ‘Adanico’.”
Jarett patted the boy on the back. “Well, it would seem we have a new temple to consecrate, and news to share! And,” making sure he had the boy’s attention, “a new Euilamon to induct!”
At this, the boy’s expression took on the flush of surprise and panic. “Surely you don’t mean me, your grace!”
Jarett beamed like a father. “Ah. Just so, your grace.”