"I killed the gods,” Alsari said.
For a fraction of a second, I said nothing, gauging the lithomancer’s words for any hidden meanings or sarcasm. There was none.
“I’m going to need a bit more information,” I said, making a spectacular understatement. “I didn’t even think that gods were real, let alone… killable.”
Alsari turned back to the door to her room, still ajar. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
“You do, actually,” I said. “At least subconsciously. You keep dropping cryptic hints, but never elaborating. On some level, you want to tell me what happened.”
“What are you, a psychologist?” she said, but her heart wasn’t in the jibe. She closed the door and sighed again.
“Start with what gods are,” I suggested.
“What do you think they are?” she said.
“I...don’t really know,” I said. “Like I said, I never thought they existed, but there’s a fairly strong religious core among the human population of Archora. Monotheistic, attend church twice a week, say your prayers, you know. I’d heard of cults worshipping demons, and there are a few goblin and dwarvish tribes that still hold onto their old pantheons. But none of those gods ever seemed… tangible. There was never any divine intervention or sightings of holy beings. Just routine worshipping and propaganda. In my opinion, the Archoran gods have always been ideals rather than actual beings. You can’t kill an ideal.”
Alsari nodded, turning to face me. “There are a lot of worlds like that,” she said. “Where you hear about gods, but never have any proof of their existence. Maybe they exist. Maybe not. On some worlds, the concept of a god was never introduced. But on a few worlds, like Karadan, the gods walk among mortals. They interact with us, the Firstborn. They bless us, curse us, whatever they like. On Karadan, there were three gods, Taren, Farn, and Altan.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and I guessed the next part of her story was painful for her to remember. “They gave some of the lithomancers the power of prophecy.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You can tell the future?”
“But you knew an oracle.”
Alsari dipped her head. “Kiel,” she said, and I realized her eyes were rimmed with red. “She… I… I… cared about her. A lot.”
I stared at Alsari, struggling to place the emotion she was feeling, before finally realizing it was vulnerability. I tried to keep how startled I was from affecting my expression. Alsari had always been unshakeable and undaunted, as mentally invulnerable as the stone she controlled. I realized that when Karadan had been destroyed, Kiel must have died.
“You were talking about the gods and their oracles,” I prompted. This was by far the most Alsari had spoken about her past, and I didn’t want to let her stop.
The Stoneshaper took a calming breath before continuing. “Lithomancy was never meant for fighting,” she said. “I made it my weapon when I needed one. It’s traditionally used by seers for divining the future. But we’re getting off the subject.
“Most gods didn’t create their universes as legend would suggest, and they aren’t perfect, either. From what I’ve learned, it seems that they’re just powerful beings who’ve amassed a following. They’re not divine. They do what they want without anyone to answer to, ruling worlds that many falsely believe they created. They’re powerful beings, but not that powerful. That’s all you need to earn the title of godhood. Enough power.” Alsari spat out the last words like poison.
“So how did you kill them?” I asked. “And why?”
“I’m not going to talk about that,” she said, reopening her door and stepping through it. “With you or anyone else. That story died with my world.”
“Wait!” I objected, but the door swung shut. I sighed in disappointment. I’d gotten more information out of her than I’d expected to, but I was on the cusp of getting something really important, and there was still so much that Alsari hadn’t told me.
I walked away from Alsari’s door, mulling the information over in my head. It struck me that this much knowledge of the nature of gods would be heresy on most worlds and very hard to discover. Alsari must have pursued the information fanatically. A tiny smile touched my face at the irony of religiously seeking information on how to kill gods.
What could the gods have done to Alsari for her to want to kill them that badly? Badly enough that she would learn how to achieve it? The lithomancer had made it clear that she wasn’t willing to tell me. It was possible that I could eventually convince her to confide in me, but there was a much easier and more reliable option I could employ. I could use telepathy. I could try to sneak into Alsari’s mind and steal the information.
As soon as I thought of the idea, I almost dismissed it. Almost. The consequences of invading the Stoneshaper’s mind could be catastrophic. Our trust would almost certainly be irreparably damaged, and there might be a good reason that she was keeping her past hidden. The last time I’d entered her mind, I’d watched a world burn. I had no idea what she could be hiding. This was without mentioning what could happen to me. Alsari was dangerous. There was no way of knowing what she might do if she noticed my telepathic invasion. No, I would only resort to force if there were no other options and I truly needed the information. I couldn’t accept the consequences otherwise.
However, Alsari’s insight on gods wasn’t the only interesting thing that had happened in the last hour. I focused on the air in front of me, and an image of the symbol I had made before flickered to life in front of me. I grinned, and decided to try something more ambitious. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, Alsari stood before me. “Brilliant,” I muttered to myself, only it wasn’t really Alsari. I couldn’t quite place what was off about her. Maybe her hair was shorter, or her skin was a different shade, or she was taller. I wasn’t sure. The fact that I couldn’t tell what was wrong was itself the reason that it was wrong, I realized. I couldn’t visualize Alsari exactly as she was. There had to be some differences, however minute.
“You’re correct, Mr. Feltrix,” a voice from behind me agreed. “Considering how inexperienced your illusions are, that is quite brilliant.” I turned around and saw Regent Kyra Solar, her face unreadable, flanked by Eira, the electromancer I’d met when I first arrived at the Academy, and Quint.
“Regent Solar,” I said, not entirely sure what the proper greeting was. “What… brings you here?”
“You do,” she replied. “You and Alsari the Stoneshaper have an assignment.”
“What is it?” I asked, clueless as to what an assignment from the Eternian Academy might entail.
“In principal, it’s simple,” she said. “You and the Stoneshaper will go to a world called Alaran and bring back two elves named Taanyth and Laryn.”