A chain reaction erupted throughout the desecrated temple. The death of Jared, something so long in coming that it had altered the balance of reality in the space he inhabited, caused havoc in the aether. I reached for healing but power exploded out of me in great torrents, battling the outward explosion of foulness that erupted from Jared’s broken form.
On the dais, where the great smoke monster had rose as tall as my frost giant friend, Alfred, a change was taking place. Vile magicks that had built layer upon layer over the intervening eons began to unravel.
A vortex rose from Jared’s body, a maelstrom of fetid power, corrupt beyond anything I had witnessed. More foul even than the tainted flowering vines that was the source of the blight. The connection to the Abyss in that case had corrupted an entire region. Here, in this valley, the contagion had been limited to the inside of this once hallowed hall.
Not unlike the bastion that was once the Hallowed Fortress. This place had housed a deity both ancient and tired. So weak in fact from the raising of the mountains and the purging of the evil from what was to become the Tranquil Valley, that it stood no chance when Jared arrived with his necromancy and his wiles.
He and I were connected, through the long march of time. I saw that in the last moments of his shredded spirit. He had loved me once, or the Merric that had brought about the destruction of the Nine and Sixty. In his eyes we were different chapters in the same book. That was the seed that would not die within him. That spark that was available for a daughter to coerce, to manipulate, and grow.
And the love of that broken man spoke to me, triggered a thought so absurd that it could only be divine.
I reached out with my missing hand, the one that did not truly exist any longer, and grasped the dying spark that had been the last vestiges of Jared the Black’s humanity.
Don’t ask me how I knew to do this, nor exactly what I did, but I could feel the last thrumming of that mote and I pulled it from the decaying vortex and without pausing to question my own sanity, plunged my nonexistent fist into Ingrid’s chest.
The mote, that final vestige of light and hope burst from my fist and I fell back, blinded by the conflagration that mushroomed around me. White fire roared from Ingrid’s body and to my horror, the flesh was consumed along with all her worldly possessions. Between one heartbeat and the next my hope of bringing the girl back was both a failure and a success; only in a way I had no ability to imagine.
Before me stood Ingrid, as sure as the parchment you hold in your hands, Father Mulcahy. But it was not her at the same time. The spirit that rose from the ash of her body grew larger and brighter until all of us turned away, shielding our eyes from the terrible glory. I could feel the radiance against my exposed flesh, feel as my skin reddened and burned.
Then the light was gone and I opened my eyes, blinking away the blur to find a child upon the altar. Jared was gone, Ingrid was gone, and the spirit had coelsced here into this naked babe. I stepped forward and the child’s eyes focused on my own, showing a level of intelligence I had only seen in wizards or gods.
“Who are you?” I asked.
A scream spun me around and I looked toward the dais. Aoibhell ran across the great hall, Brindle at her heels, crying out a string of unintelligible words, weeping and wailing. Brindle howled as he paced her, a mournful cry that made me think of finding home after a lifetime of adventure. Funny that.
I turned, following their trajectory and saw a small form falling from the highest point of the room, down toward the dais where the shadow monster and Eronel had been moments before. The being wailed as it fell, a fearful sound of lost hope and shorn love.
Aoibhell dove forward, snatching the babe out of the air, and tumbled, rolling with the child against her chest. Brindle with on them in a beat, stopping Aoibhell’s tumble and snuffling at the child.
A gasp brought me around to find Lilith standing atop the cleansed altar, sheathing the assassin blades she had been using to slay the priests that coward in the shadows. I watched in amazement as she knelt and reached out toward the child on the altar. By her nakedness I could see that it was a girl with eyes as green as spring leaves. It cooed, unaware of Aoibhell and the wailing child.
Lilith knelt on that altar and reached out with one hand. The girl child burbled and smiled, small bubbles of spittle popping from her pursed lips.
The child reached out and grasped Lilith’s extended finger, holding it in one tiny fist and both of them let out a sigh of contentment. It gave me a funny feeling, the sight of the two of them. There was a connection there as primal as any I have witnessed and I knew in that instant that Lilith had been forever transformed.
The smoke monster was gone. Eronel was gone. The priests, the undead, even the bodies of the brigands, all purged from the temple. And in their stead, two babes, a boy and a girl remained, as helpless as any infant. They were elvish, Liz informed me, or proto-elvish if Aoibhell was to be believed. These were of her people, her legacy, her mythology.
And in that instant I knew these children from my studies. They were the Basket Twins. I know you have read of them Father, ancient elvish gods, the only elvish deities I’ve ever seen an accounting of. Their myths were so old that only the generic moniker and their race was known. If they had individual names, I knew nothing of them.
The temple gleamed now, with the purging of the taint and I could feel the sanctification upon the place.
Then applause rang out and I spun to find three standing upon the sweeping stair: Semaunzilla (may she always find joy in my work), Mother Crone and Kithri. Oh, my heart, my deepest and most abiding affection, it was she of the honeyed bread and at her feet sat a basket which I had grown familiar with.
“Well done,” Mother Crone called. “You have done what even your mother failed at, boy.”
We gathered at the stair, all of us that remained and stood before the gods who had guided us, a thousand questions waiting to be answered, and likely ignored.
“Adeline and her people gather in the courtyard above,” Kithri said. “You have done well, Merric.”
“We have lost too many,” I said, my voice more bitter than I had planned. “I am sick of death.”
Semaunzilla (may she guide my grief) stood forth and spoke. “Death is but one facet of this life, young dry lander. You know this. Have heart. ”
And with that we were escorted out of the temple. I should’ve been awed by the way the ruin had been rebuilt. How the glory of this place had been restored by the powers greater than my understanding.
But all I could think about was Ingrid’s mischievous smile, and how she had overcome far more darkness than I have ever had to deal with.
I do not understand the sequence of events that brought forth the elvish gods, but I mean to ask my questions.