Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
That wasn’t entirely surprising, but it was a shock that they’d moved so quickly. With Malia injured and me handling Hasda’s Trial, though, we had a moving front and no war gods monitoring it. So it made sense that the feast would be postponed until I could deal with this resurgence. Before following after the Oracle, I opened a portal for Hasda to Maas Taeful so he could rest and wash himself in the springs.
The atmosphere of Nebesa was somber as Phemonoe and I made our way through the city. Cliques of satyrs sulked in doorways, minotaurs smiled briefly before resuming their mouthy frowns, and even the harpies overhead shrieked but infrequently. Dryads which would normally be a flurry of foliage moved as if their leaves floated on motionless ponds. The minor gods we passed were a bit more cheerful, but even they couldn’t muster enough festive spirit to overcome the subdued atmosphere that had fallen over our celestial realm.
I found it hard to try cheering them up with the High Oracle walking beside me. Not that I minded her company, but rather that she served as a constant reminder of the strange event that had happened last time we met. I hadn’t had time to discuss it with Malia, much less work through the implications of what had occurred. And now there was the added complication of a mere mortal opening her own pathways to the maas.
She caught me looking again and gave me a strained smile. “Is there something on my face?”
I coughed. “That, ah, silver portal. That was yours?”
“Yes.” She stared down the rode, her robes swishing and her chains clinking. “I’m well aware of how unusual my new abilities are.”
“Abilities? Plural?” If that portal was from our meeting with the Spinster, what else had that eldritch goddess given her?
“I thought you could see the change, the way you kept drilling me with that look.” She laughed, confidence failing to mask the undercurrent of unease. “My outdated vision was my last. The scrying pool is clouded to me in the most mundane way.”
I must have stopped because the crowd parted around me, leaving me on an island. A shiver jostled my spine, and not from the cool of Nebesa. An Oracle could lose her ability to scry? A High Oracle, no less. I frowned. But she wouldn’t count that as an additional ability, if it were truly lost to her.
“What else changed?” I asked.
“The mortal realm is lost to me, but…” She looked down at her folded hands and shrugged. With the graying sky and the dour mood around us, it brought the years on heavily. When she looked up, her eyes flashed with fleeting fear before the mask reasserted itself. “I can see the eddies of the gods.”
I blinked. Well, that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I went to fold my arms, stopped, and put myself in motion again. Catching her elbow, I half-dragged her along, scowling at the questions which floated up around us. With my glower firmly in place, the celestial denizens wisely kept their distance.
“Who knows?” I whispered, eyes tracing the most direct route to Seppo’s temple.
“Only you and Seppo,” she gasped. Although she stumbled over her hem, she caught herself and struggled to match my pace. “To the others, I’ve simply lost my vision and can now travel across Nebesa at will.”
“Any other secret abilities?”
“The way you’re tugging, hopefully the ability to regrow my limbs.”
“Sorry.” I released her arm but kept close, sheltering her in my shadow. Yes, it was conspicuous, but despite her assurances I didn’t know how far the news had traveled yet, or to whom. She’d be safe from most of the major deities, but a scheming minor god looking to advance their station could find any number of ways attempted manipulation. Phemonoe could hold her own, but no reason to put her in that position.
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked about Malia yet,” Phemonoe said as we rounded a corner.
“She’s fine.” And she was, if a bit grumpy. I felt her annoyance through our bond, on the lower right of my back. Roughly the vicinity of her temple. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the reason Nebesa felt so reserved was hiding from her cabin fever. She chafed at being forced to remain stationary, although she was already channeling that energy into various schemes.
“Are you?” She gave me a sideways look.
I sighed. “It’s been a long, chaotic Trial, and the rafters are coming down around my ears.”
She smiled. “I know that feeling.” With a gasp, she jerked upright, slamming into me. Her eyes glazed over, and a shroud of darkness formed a sphere around us. Mouth agape, she panted for air and blindly squeezed my arm. Then the shadowy bubble burst, her eyes cleared, and she straightened.
No one around us gave any indication that something had happened.
Fingers still clamped on my arm, she clutched on for support as her legs sagged. She gave me a worried look. “We should hurry.”
Without a word, I scooped her up and strode through the streets. Crowds parted before me, but not quickly enough, and as we cleared another busy road a pair of centaurs galloped next to me. They made obeisance and offered their assistance, so I sent them ahead to make sure I had an unobstructed path to Seppo’s temple.
“A vision?” I asked. My stride lengthened with each step, until I was nearly overtaking the chestnut centaurs who raced ahead.
She nodded into my chest. “This is embarrassing.”
“Don’t be.” I shifted her weight as we reached the steps of Seppo’s temple. Arms locked, I pounded up the steps.
Her voice was small. “I’ve never been scared by a vision before.”
That gave me pause. I glanced down at her, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “You want to talk about it?”
She shook her head. “I…might need your help. To talk to the spirits of the Oracles before me.”
I blinked. Discerning a vision was a delicate task, but to be so unsure as to consult the souls in Peklo? That must have been one hell of a vision.
Curling tighter, she tapped my chest. “Please. Don’t tell anyone I’ve seen this. It’s…it’s nothing like I’ve ever witnessed before.”
Coming from the mortal who’d braved the astral plane and seen an eldritch deity without passing out, that chilled me.
I stumped up the rest of the stairs in silence. A prophecy of doom from, not one, but two elder goddesses. An unflagging Arbiter who failed to assess a Trial. And now this. An Oracle losing her powers, only to receive a vision so terrifying she wanted to talk to the dead. I shook my head as I reached the top of the steps.
So many things going wrong, and that didn’t even consider the Paeden mess. The Spartan guards gave me a quizzical look but said nothing, pulling the doors open with practiced and professional ease. I thumped across the threshold into the cloudy expanse beyond.
Inside, Seppo plowed through the clouds in his habitual pacing. His bronze exoskeleton sighed and hissed, pipes sliding along with his paces. Off to the side stood a handful of the Seated gods, arranged in an arc that let them converse with Seppo and each other without obstructing the latter’s war path.
Azoria, arrayed in white and blue robes, was no surprise, since much wisdom would be needed in this meeting, but Tarrha was, her dark hair floofy today. Usually the Goddess of Beauty didn’t bother herself with the affairs of war, and without Malia I’d have to figure out her angle on my own. Synnefo, now fully occupying the Office of Weather, was also present, looking skinny in Zephyrus’ robes. The harvest goddess, Vrixia, stood next to him, a pining look on her face as she stared off into the horizon. Although her simple brown robes looked out of place next to the finery of the others, it complimented her nicely. She was probably wishing she could be with Resef, who wasn’t in attendance for whatever reason.
I frowned as I glanced over their faces. Kydon wasn’t here, either. Neither was Thane, for that matter. Phaeus rarely left his forge, and Loutro was unnecessary without a feast to prepare, but I’d have expected Thane at least to have crawled back from whatever excursion he’d been up to.
Seppo grunted an acknowledgement of my arrival, but it wasn’t until he saw Phemonoe in my arms that he came to a stop. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine.” I plodded into the room. “Just had a bit of a fainting spell on the way over.”
He hummed and stroked his chin. Waving his other hand, he shaped a portion of the clouds into a long, low couch and gestured for me to set her down. “Well wishes for your health, High Oracle.”
I squinted at the formality, but at least he hadn’t stripped her of her title. Which meant he hadn’t told the others yet. Phemonoe picked up on the unspoken statement as well and smiled her thanks as I lowered her onto the cushion.
Seppo sighed, more weary than agitated, and settled back into his pacing. “Well, now that you’re here, we can begin.”
Something heavy slammed against the throne room doors.