For the next week the whole city was in an uproar over the events at Storm and Lorelei’s wedding. The month of Chesrei came to an end and Kisrei (which Storm still thought of as December) started with a bang as people argued endlessly over what had happened in the Temple District.
Two gods appearing at once had only happened a handful of times since the creation of Gaia. With that one event, Zered had secured its place in history for all time.
But for two of the gods to be united – on anything – was practically unheard of. Adrammelech and Ashima had done just that though. They’d been united about wanting Storm and his companions dead. They’d been united claiming someone named Niran was their servant and they were united about wanting some unknown bloodstone gem returned them. For the two gods to be united on three different subjects was beyond impossible and yet, they had been.
Everything that was known about the gods had suddenly been thrown into question. No one knew what to make of it.
Storm, Lorelei, Ralt, Durin, Thomas, and Krista knew what the bloodstone was and what it could do, but they’d wisely kept that part to themselves. There was no point in prompting any more would-be conquers to go out looking for the blasted thing. They had enough problems as it was.
The city folk were also all astir about Storm and Lorelei arguing with the gods, even insulting them. Everyone knew you didn’t argue with the gods. You just didn’t. Even if they weren’t your god, if they showed up and demanded something from you, you gave it to them. You did whatever they told you, especially if you wanted to live. The gods had an unfortunate tendency to slaughter anyone who so much as gave them a dirty look.
Storm and Lorelei not only argued with them, they got away with it. They lived to tell the tale. That simple fact shook the ground under everyone’s faith as surely as if an earthquake had struck.
But the thing that turned the buzz around town into an uproar and a feeding frenzy was the Servant Nimbus being given to seven of them at once, and hurling Adrammelech and Ashima away as if they were shot from a catapult. If, as Durin said before the wedding, the pot was already boiling, now it was shooting a geyser of scalding steam a thousand feet straight up in the air.
The six companions, plus Aram, were now viewed with awe and not a little bit of fear whenever they went out. The council dropped the warrant for Krista’s arrest so fast it would have been comical in any other situation. Apparently the gods didn’t like having their chosen Servants arrested, and had been known to make their wrath felt in a variety of very unpleasant ways. No one knew what the Lord of Light would do to someone who arrested one of his chosen Servants and the council didn’t want to find out either. In fact, they didn’t want any part of any of it.
Draven had, for once, exercised his authority without consulting the council and ordered the watch patrols doubled, with orders to arrest anyone who was stirring up sectarian trouble. Normally the council stayed out of religious disputes and let the chips fall where they may, but the current situation was unprecedented and Draven wasn’t taking any chances on a fight getting out of hand and turning into a general rebellion. The patrols were harsh in their determinations of who was causing trouble and unrelenting about imprisoning those they thought were guilty. The city dungeons were quickly filled to overflowing.
The only part of Zered the patrols stayed out of was the Temple District, and Gerald had brought word that Draven’s fondest wish was that the Temples would fight it out among themselves until they were all dead. He’d also told Gerald his absence from the council chambers for the next few months would be greatly appreciated.
“He wasn’t really asking,” Gerald concluded grimly when he told them about it.
In the Temple of Light, Aram, already the local High Priest for the Lord of Light, had become a major celebrity in the faith. Lower priests had used their magic to communicate the news to other far-flung temples across Gaia. There were reports streaming in that his name was now being bandied about as a possible successor to the current Pontifex Maximus, or “greatest priest” in Gaia’s newest faith. Aram was appropriately humbled and awe struck by his sudden elevation in popularity and possible future promotion.
In view of all that happened to him as the result of just being around them, Storm and his companions gave Aram an expanded version of their previous adventures, with a strong emphasis on the bloodstone gem Adrammelech and Ashima were so intent on recovering. Out of courtesy to Gerald, they also let him sit in on the discussions too, bringing him up to date as well.
In the end, they invited both men to join their Army of Light and both accepted enthusiastically. The fact they’d be expected to answer to Storm didn’t seem to bother either of them in the least.
They were sitting in Sodan’s – now Krista’s – second story study overlooking the central courtyard. It was the same room where Storm first met with the elderly man before taking the job of leading his caravan to Robling.
Aram shrugged unconcernedly at the prospect of taking orders from Storm. “It’s no different than taking orders from the city council about what laws have to be obeyed here in town,” he said, waving it off casually.
“But you’re a high noble now,” Thomas injected, seemingly immune to Aram’s new stature as well as his own. “Shouldn’t you be the one giving orders?” Krista was snuggled up next to him the same as Lorelei was to Storm. A diamond engagement ring glittered on her hand.
Aram was gentle with him. “All seven of us were honored with a Servant Nimbus because of Storm,” he reminded him, “so I wouldn’t even be a high noble if it weren’t for him. I’d say that gives him the right to give orders.”
Gerald nodded sagely. “Well reasoned,” he agreed.
“Yeah? So whats your excuse for taking orders then?” Thomas retorted.
The elderly wizard’s eyebrows climbed until they threatened to disappear in his thinning hairline. “He’s from Elder Earth,” he exclaimed. “If I follow his orders he answers my questions about it. I’ve got thousands of questions about it! Thousands! He’s a treasure trove of information. I’d cut off my right arm if he wanted me to.” He paused to cast a stricken glance at Storm. “I hope he doesn’t,” Storm shook his head with a silent laugh, and Gerald continued, “but I would if that’s what it took. Have you ever heard of telephones? He was telling me about them yesterday. They’re incredible!”
A chorus of protests drowned him out before he could go on. Everyone knew how hard it was to get the old man to stop once he warmed up to a subject. Storm laughed along with the rest of them but he thought Gerald had earned it. The more he was around the elderly wizard the less he thought of him as a wizard and the more he saw him as an over-eager professor. His questions never seemed to stop.
He glanced out the window. Speaking of stopping . . .
“It’s getting late,” he interrupted, inclining his head at the lengthening shadows outside. “We need to get Aram and Gerald back home.”
In the intervening days since the battle they’d learned it wasn’t wise for any of them to venture outside alone; they’d be mobbed. The first time it happened Storm had casually remarked it was like watching people surround The Beatles when they came to town, then he’d been forced to spend half the day explaining what he meant.
Everyone got up.
“Krista and I have things to do around here,” Thomas said. “So we’ll let you guys escort them home.” It was an understatement. Meredith had made so many changes to the estate and Sodan’s company the two of them were hip deep in work trying to fix the giant mess she’d created. It wasn’t just the changes she’d made, it extended to other events that cascaded from those changes. They were quickly discovering that putting the metaphorical genie back in the bottle was harder than letting him out. The time they’d spent relaxing with the others were stolen hours, now they had to get back to it.
Despite the time of year there was still a lingering warmth in the air as they rode out of the stables. It would get crisp and frosty later on but for now the late afternoon was almost like summer.
Their horses clip-clopped through the cobblestone streets, alone at first in the wealthy part of town where Krista’s estate was located, then weaving through increasing traffic as they made their way across the city. The market district was crowded as always, with the same riot of colors and profusion of sounds and smells Storm had noted previously.
Gerald, never one to pass up an opportunity to quiz Storm about his home, launched into another whirlwind of questions the moment they rode out. “You said some of those ‘telephones’ weren’t stationary,” he began as if they’d never stopped talking about them, “but that some of them could be carried with you.”
Storm sighed, resigned to being pestered once again by Gerald’s inexhaustible questions.
“Mobile phones,” he nodded. “They were still pretty new in 1988 when I left but I’m sure they’ve gotten smaller and better since then.” He’d managed to explain Earth’s dating system to them without going into the why’s and wherefores of how it started.
Gerald threw one question after another at him but the others listened intently as well. Storm was talking about Elder Earth after all, a subject of intense interest to all of them. Each of them added their own question from time to time, but for the most part they were content to let Gerald be the inquisitor.
Storm made a point though of heading off Aram whenever he tried to ask something. He was uneasy about the kind of questions a priest might ask and was doing everything he could to avoid them. As much as he liked the man, he felt a surge of relief when they finally dropped him off at the Temple of Light.
The sun was touching the horizon as they left the Temple District. Ralt took advantage of the break in the conversation to jump in with a question of his own before Gerald could monopolize the conversation again. “You once mentioned someone called Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “Who is that?”
Storm laughed. Gerald’s questions inevitably took him deep into technical areas he didn’t have the expertise to answer, but watching Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes had been one of his favorite past times. He launched into a lengthy discussion of the famous detective. He was so busy talking and the others were paying such close attention to what he was saying none of them noticed a sudden brilliant flare in the skies over the Temple District behind them.
The pillar of fire that split the skies over the Temple of Ashima didn’t go unnoticed by the other temples though. Pillars of fire and columns of smoke were the normal way the gods signaled their presence in the mortal realms. They didn’t often appear in the flesh. Instead they just sent their voices speaking out of the fire or smoke to command their faithful or demand a sacrifice.
Aram and his chief assistance, Brother Barmus, stopped in their tracks when they saw the sudden radiance in the sky. They stared at each other in surprise then made a mad dash for the top of the walls around the Temple of Light. They peered over the top and found themselves looking at a twisting, roaring column of fire lighting the darkening evening. It was directly over the Temple of Ashima. Other priests were pouring out of the Temple to see what was going on as well. Shouts could be distantly heard from other Temples around the great plaza.
“This can’t be a coincidence,” Barmus gasped.
“It’s not,” Aram agreed. “He and Adrammelech have declared war on Storm and they’re not going to let it go.” He shook his head with worry. The gods couldn’t trespass on each other’s Temples so he felt safe from direct action by Ashima or Adrammelech, but they could order their followers to attack them. “Go to my office and get the gate key,” he ordered.
Barmus did a double take. It was the second time in a week Aram wanted the gates shut after decades of no one ever wanting them shut. His brown eyes crinkled with concern. “They’ll see it as a sign of war.” He indicated the other Temples around them.
“I think we’re past the point of worrying what they think,” Aram told him shortly, watching the column of fire. A burst of intuition flooded over him. “The Lord of Light says ‘Ashima is after Storm and his friends, but he’ll use us to get to them if he has to.’ Close the gates, Brother. Hurry!”
Barmus recognized the look on Aram’s face as that of one who had received a sign or sight from their god. It was all he needed to know. He took off at a dead run.
Aram’s office at the rear of the Temple was where the only gate key was kept in a drawer in his desk. The great chains that were locked to hold the gates open as a sign of peace to the other Temples had to be unlocked before the heavy gates could be closed and barred.
He slapped the shoulders of other priests as he barreled past them toward Arm’s office. “Meet me at the gate,” he gasped quickly to each. The massive gates were too heavy for anything less than three men to move them.
“Why? What’s going on?” They’d seen the glow in the darkening sky and many had accurately guessed what it meant, but they couldn’t see the connection between that and his urging.
“Father Aram has ordered them closed,” he said. “Hurry before we’re invaded!”