Chapter Forty-Seven To Be One with the Goddess
Together they flew on, rushing back past the village as thunder rumbled through the sky. In the distance behind them, a bolt of lightning struck out, crackling down upon the land like the terrible anger of the Demon God. Loracaz dared not turn back, afraid of what he might see if he did. Long before the lights of Jzifélan came into sight, the Zeah dragon curled through the sky towards them, its serpentine body carrying two elves. It eyed Z’Lé warily, but made no move against him.
“I have heard your call,” Jza said to Loracaz as he joined them in their flight. “How can I serve the champion of legend?”
“Métius is trying to manifest His true form in the mountains,” the prince told him. “We have to prepare to send Him back to the Abyss once and for all.”
“Then you are ready to join all of our powers,” Jza said, as though he were grinning beneath his whiskers. “At last!”
Loracaz didn’t ask him what he meant, but covered the distance back to the palace as quickly as his wings could carry him. As the dragons landed around him on the platform, the midnight bells began to toll in each of the temples. The prince turned back and stared at the darkness in the distance, terrified at the way the lightning struck the land in bursts as bright as day. There was a cacophony of thunder as Sir Tikaj helped General Elezar get Zarrek down from his saddle.
“How was he hurt?” Vénes asked as he walked over to them when he saw the unconscious body of the younger prince.
“His dragon was killed by Métius,” Elezar explained, and the Demon God went after him as well.”
“Can he be healed?” Shu-Giri asked, gazing down at the boy.
Vénes looked back at him. “I can try…”
“Is that wise?” Elezar asked, though he didn’t explain what he meant.
Shu-Giri knelt down beside the boy and pulled back the makeshift bandage so he could inspect the wound. “Better to heal it now than deal with an infection later. This gash is filthy. I’ll help keep back the darkness as best I can.”
Loracaz watched as Vénes knelt across from his Rrandah, joining one hand with him and laying the other over the laceration on Zarrek’s head. The sorcerer summoned up the holy power of Kearr, white light glowing on his hand. As he spoke the words of the healing spell, Shu-Giri took slow, deep, even breaths, laying his free hand on Zarrek’s forehead as he began to chant. Blackness crackled up his arm, and he forced himself to keep chanting through the pain. The light and darkness met and twisted around one another across their joined hands until Vénes pulled away from the prince.
Zarrek roared out in pain. His eyes shot open and he sat up, looking around him for the source of his agony. “What did you do?!” he seethed, glaring at the sorcerer. He could see the black and white receding into his body as Shu-Giri let go of him.
“We saved your life,” Vénes told him, his voice just as biting as the prince’s; the spell had hurt him as well, and it made him unwilling to deal with Zarrek’s attitude. “I don’t think your precious general had any idea how bad your wound actually was.”
“I’d dealt with it,” the general said, frustrated that they didn’t appreciate his methods more.
“You kept him from bleeding to death, I grant you that,” Vénes told him.
“What kind of sorcerer are you?” Zarrek criticized him as he got to his feet, unsure of his footing at first, but managing well enough. “You never use white magic on someone who has access to the dark arts!”
“But you were fighting Métius out there. A gash like that would have developed an infection of the worst kind,” Vénes told him. “Our healing magic hurt you far less than that could.”
Zarrek felt the place where he had been hurt. It was was matted with dried blood, and still ached, tender under his touch. “You didn’t even finish healing it,” Zarrek complained.
“It was fortunate that I was able to do that much,” Vénes said, his frustration showing. “you have lent yourself far more to Métius than I’d originally thought.”
“What business is that of yours?”
“That’s enough, both of you!” Elezar interrupted them, stepping between Zarrek and the sorcerer. The he looked to Z’Lé, who crouched on the platform as several dragoons and squires rushed over to attend to his wounded leg. “What would you have us do, my liege?”
“Get yourself into the palace, Zarrek,” his father told him. “You’ve seen enough battle for now. I need you to live through this night.”
Zarrek was about to protest, but he saw the look in his father’s eyes. “What about you?”
“Your brother is going to call together the forces that will banish Métius,” Z’Lé replied. “While he does that, I’m going to delay Métius as long as I can.”
“Do not argue with me, Zarrek.”
“But…” Zarrek felt his breathing quicken as first realization, and then panic, set in. “What if you don’t come back, Father?”
Z’Lé let out a deep rumbling sound. “I will be back,” he told his son. “Even if it’s only for my final farewell, I swear to you that I will be back.”
Zarrek stared up at his father, feeling hot as his vision began to blur. He ran over to the black dragon and wrapped his arms around his neck, embracing him as tightly as he could. “Darrithi– k’have nats’lii!”
The dragon nodded and held his son close. “K’have nats’lii, keflay Zarrek.” Z’Lé’s eyes then turned to Loracaz. “My boy… I know that you will never believe me when I say this…” He paused, sighing at the way Loracaz glared at him. “I love you, son, even if you can never forgive me for what I’ve done.”
He waited a moment, giving Loracaz a chance to respond. When he understood that he would say nothing to him, he began to flap his wings, lifting his body into the air as he said, “You were born out of that love, Loracaz. Never forget that.”
Zarrek stepped back as his father began to fly, as did the men who’d just finished bandaging his leg. He wiped his face dry of the fearful tears he shed. He forced himself to focus on his father’s promise, his solemn words that he would be back, even if was only to say goodbye. When the black dragon was out of sight, he turned and ran from the platform, back into the palace, back to any place where he could be away from Loracaz and everyone else who hated his father, the most important person to him of all.
With the young prince and the king both gone, General Elezar gazed at the others for a moment and then, without saying anything, led Dettri to another area of the platform. He intended to care for his dragon’s wounds on his own, away from their discontent and criticism. Nobody argued for him to stay.
“What was your father saying about bringing together all of your forces?” Sir Tikaj asked Loracaz.
“There cannot possibly be another magical item,” Shu-Giri added.
“I’m not certain,” the prince replied. He looked to Jza for some hint as to what he should be doing.
“You have the wings,” the dragon noted, “and you have used the Window of Jenh’s Soul to protect both the palace and the temple. Métius cannot get through this barrier so long as it remains in effect.”
“Then what else am I to do?”
“Ask Jenh,” Jza told him. He grinned at the prince’s confused look. “Go to the temple and ask to speak with the goddess. Your k’haarana can do the ritual for you.”
“Liriel isn’t my…”
“Is that so?” Jza asked wryly. “Well then, this should be interesting. Climb on, noble hero; I will take you to her.”
Without any argument, Loracaz folded his wings and let their magic recede back into the pendant. He climbed onto the dragon’s back, joined by Vénes and his Rrandah. As Jza flew across the city to the Temple of Jenh, Sir Tikaj followed them with Vergrrith. They landed on the temple stairs as a pair of holy knights ran towards a demon that lurked in the shadows by the gates, and rushed inside before getting caught up in the chaos.
“The city isn’t safe right now, Your Highness,” Sir Tikaj told his prince. “Just focus on getting to Liriel as quickly as you can.”
Inside the temple, the main hall was teeming with the citizens of Jzifélan, as well as anyone else who could make it there from the villages beyond the capital city. When they saw that their prince had arrived, they clamored around him, begging to know what was going on outside. Tikaj did what he could to calm them and make a path for Prince Loracaz, but their distress was such that many of them didn’t listen to him. It took a sound from the dais, loud and firm, to get their attention.
“Be at peace, my people,” High Priest Yanve told them. “Let your beloved prince through.”
As the throng parted and made way for Loracaz, he gave Yanve a grateful looked and hurried up to he altar. “Good priest, I have need to see Liriel.”
High Priest Yanve ushered Loracaz to a more secluded area, away from any prying ears. “Have you not done enough with her?” he asked when they were alone.
“Please, Holy One; it’s only for the sake of banishing Métius that I must see her.”
“She has cloistered herself,” Yanve told him, his voice firm. “All she can do now is pray for the people of this land.”
“I beg of you, Yanve. I must speak with Jenh directly, and I need Liriel to link me to her.”
The high priest looked him over carefully, unsure for a moment whether to allow it. “I only hope that she will be able to,” he said at last, sighing wearily. “Come, Your Highness. I will take you to her, but you must promise that this will not be a repeat of what happened last night.”
“I swear it,” Loracaz promised him, though he was frustrated that the high priest would assume that he might do anything questionable at such a time.
They walked together into a hall behind the altar, then down to a door that led to a long stairway. Yanve took Loracaz to the one room that stood at the top and knocked gently on the door. A soft voice called out from inside, and the high priest replied back that he had the prince with him. Hardly a moment passed before the door flung open, and Liriel wrapped her arms tightly around her promised lover.
“Loracaz!” she cried, her voice trembling. “I’m so relieved to see you.”
He looked down into her blue eyes, just barely able to make them out through her veil. “Are you all right?” he asked, worried by the way the golden flecks in her irises sparkled with tears.
“I was so afraid,” she replied. “Please, come in.”
Liriel thanked Yanve for bringing him, then closed the door. The room in which Loracaz found himself was small and plain, lit by dozens of candles made from wax swirled with both yellow and green. Since there were nearly no furnishings, the candles sat on the floor, forcing them to walk carefully. In the middle of them was a low altar and several cushions on which she could kneel.
“Each candle is a prayer I’ve said,” Liriel told him, taking his arm and clinging to him tightly. She buried her face in his chest and whimpered, “Oh Loracaz…”
“I’m here,” he said, rubbing her shoulders to reassure her. He could feel her trembling beneath his touch. “Why are you so afraid?”
Shaking her head, Liriel didn’t answer him directly. “I’ve been in prayer with Jenh for hours. I didn’t even realize it until I heard the midnight bells tolling. Is everyone asleep out there?”
“Some of them,” he told her, sitting in front of her altar. “But many of them are too restless to get any sleep.”
“If only I could help them…”
“Is that not what your prayers are for?”
Liriel shook her head. “I have been praying for you, Loracaz. You’re all I can think about right now.”
Loracaz took her hand, urging her to sit in his lap. She gave in to him, seeming lost in some kind of despair.
“I need your prayers,” he told her, caressing the length of her ear, “but I also need you, Liriel.”
“Loracaz, we cannot…”
“I know, my love.” He laid a kiss on her veil where it covered her cheek. “Liriel… In order for me to rid Onsira of Métius, I must first commune with Jenh. Will you help me do that, my love?”
“Of course,” she replied, and then stood up. “Kneel before the altar.”
With a nod, Loracaz moved onto his knees, staring down at the ancient tome that she had set out on the altar. A brass bowl sat on one side of it, the sweet smoke of incense curling up from it. When he looked up, he saw Liriel with her hands clasped and her head bowed, the words of an old prayer coming from her lips. Golden-green light seeped out from her heart, wrapping around her until she was completely surrounded by a cocoon of Zeah. She slipped slowly downwards and reached out for the prince’s hands.
When their fingers met, clasping tightly together, Liriel’s form faded into the light, and a different silhouette emerged before him.
“At last you are ready,” a feminine voice said to him. When the light faded enough, he found a pairs of bright eyes, one yellow, the other green, staring at him.
“Beloved goddess…” he awed.
“Aye, dear hero,” Jenh replied, laying a hand on his cheek. A length of cloth, dyed the finest shades of yellow and green, was all that covered her body, wrapped around her in elegant swirls that seem to float just above her skin. She wasn’t particularly tall, considering that she was worshiped as the mother of Lorata, but she was beautiful and gentle, and reminded him of his sweet Liriel.
The room around him faded away, and he felt surrounded by a realm of light and magic, warm and safe. It was filled with all the power of each of theten elements that Jenh controlled, their magic flowing through and around him like a vast galactic ocean.
“Loracaz,” she intoned in a voice like an angel’s, echoing through the space around them, “I sent you to be born unto your mother for this very night. I could hear your father when he made his pact with the one who would extinguish all that I’ve made. As soon as your mother chose him, I knew that I had to send you to protect Onsira.”
“Why?” Loracaz begged to know. “Why even let her suffer like this, if you knew?”
Jenh shook her head. “I have protected my daughter, my dear Arialla, as best I could. Of all the royal children, I have loved her the most dearly, but I could not sway her heart. She was happy with him for so many years, Loracaz. You must believe that. I kept her from dying when your father gave her the gravium herbs, and I shall ensure that she finds love once again.”
“And my brother?”
“He is a son over whom I have no power,” Jenh told him. “Zarrek is a willful lad with his own path to follow. Do not worry about him, my precious hero. You’ve come here for something far greater than that.”
Loracaz nodded. “My dear goddess… Even as we speak, Métius is forcing his way into Onsira. I fought him as best I could, Jenh, but something even more terrifying came out of it.”
“I have seen your battles,” she informed him. “I see all that you do, Loracaz.”
“I have to force him back into the Abyss and seal him away.”
Jenh nodded, giving him a motherly smile. “And at last you have come to me.”
“How do I do it, though? What more do I still need?”
“The key is inside you, locked away.” Goddess Jenh laid a hand on the prince’s heart, feeling it beat beneath her other-worldly form. “You have such a glorious life-force, my hero. With it, you can defeat any evil.”
Jenh’s golden-green light wrapped in ribbons around Loracaz, seeping into him until he could no longer contain the power. Feeling as though his heart would burst, Loracaz gave himself completely over to the Zeah, and he felt his form dissolve into pure elemental power. The wind was first to rush through him, countless abilities coursing through his mind as Errarrak’s spirit merged with his.
After that came the mighty seas of Yaz’Zei, which calmed into Myrri’s gentler waters, both surrounding him with their power. Tezanth and his knowledge of the earth came next, Neemie’s plants growing rich in the soil that he gave her. The natural flow was for Fah’Iira and her animals to enter him next.
When Veniishu fell into his form, he felt the warmth of fire, which was tempered by the icy talents of Taas. He sparked with the electrifying lightning of Klintiv before the final elemental merged with him: the wise and all-knowing Intehverr, spirit of the intellect.
With all of them dwelling at once with his essence, Loracaz at last understood what true power was. He didn’t simply possess the power of each Zeah; he embodied them, living in perfect harmony with each element. He was Zeah incarnate.
“I love you,” she whispered, and he was not sure whether it was Jenh’s voice he heard, or Liriel’s. “Ransha’iirah, tiflor kentaya.”
“And I you,” he replied. “With all that I have become, Onsira shall be protected. I can feel it now, how to send Métius back to his Abyss.”
“Then go, my champion,” Jenh instructed him, laying his sword in his hands. “Go, and protect all that is good and true from the darkest of evils. You have my blessing Loracaz, my beloved hero!”
Loracaz bowed to the goddess, low and grate ful. Whe he stood, he focused on his pendant and spread his wings, which glowed with greater power than they had before. He rose up through the small chamber, passing through the walls as easily had he could pass through air, until he emerged outside of the temple.
It was still dark outside, some unspeakable hour after midnight, but his light shone bright with his magic. He could see the weary paladins and soldiers still battling in the city below, and the dragons flying through the skies above Jzifélan. All of them were fighting for one singular cause, the same cause that he himself was now ready to accomplish: ridding the land of the Lord of Nightmares, Destroyer of life and love and light.
He was ready to be the hero, the champion of Jenh, once again.