As they drew closer to the dome, Haradth could begin to make out what was inside. There were buildings in there, small versions of the towers that rose from the depths of the sinkhole. More of the strange animals, too. He could see a few creatures that he now knew were the natural form of the Sylvani, peering through the glass and waving their tentacles. As Haradeth watched, their skin rippled in a rapid display of colors. There seemed to be some kind of pattern in the shimmering of their skin, but Haradeth couldn’t pinpoint it. “They seem agitated,” he commented to Lorathor.
“They are.” Lorathor frowned. “They’re yelling at me for bringing an outsider here, especially now.”
“I can’t hear them,” Haradeth said with a frown.
“They aren’t yelling in words. We don’t speak amongst ourselves. We shimmer. If you knew how badly they’re cursing me right now…” Lorathor sighed. “They’re even angry I’m still in this form.”
“Should you shift?” Haradeth asked with sudden concern.
“No. I was going to shift back eventually. They need to be reminded of…well, of what’s here.”
“I don’t understand, Lorathor. Any of this.”
“I know.” Lorathor gave him a sad smile. “But you will.”
When they reached the end, a doorway opened in the glass. There hadn’t been any break before, Haradeth was sure of it. Two of the Sylvani levelled what looked like arcwands at them, but made of that same woven metal that seemed to be what constructed everything out here. “Lorathor. You’ve gone too far this time,” one of them said.
“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said, ducking his head in a very human bow. “Last time you said that, She agreed with me.”
Shaaythi shimmered dark, rippling patterns of blue and purple and black. “You cannot speak of Her with an outsider!” she shrieked.
“Yet you are speaking aloud for his benefit,” Lorathor mentioned, “and speaking of Her yourself.”
“Only because you brought her up!” Shaaythi wrung her tentacles together and turned her eyes towards Haradeth. “Forgive me, human. Lorathor has gone outside of his remit, but it is hardly your fault. You are not expected to know our customs.”
Haradeth bowed towards the Elder. “No apologies needed. And you need not apologize for being incorrect about my race. I’m only half Human. My mother was Lathariel.”
Shaaythi turned her eyes back towards Lorathor, and her colors were now mixes of reds and golds, making her skin look like it was aflame. “What are you planning here, Lorathor?”
“She will want to speak to him,” Lorathor said calmly.
“You presume to know what she wants?” Shaaythi snapped.
“You presume the same,” Lorathor said simply.
Shaaythi glanced around at the others, and motioned for them to lower their arcwands. Haradeth let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “Son of Lathariel. You are welcome among our people. It has been some time since we had a guest, but we will do our best to accommodate you.”
“Thank you,” Haradeth said simply, not sure what else to do.
“Unfortunately, Lorathor has made promises he cannot keep. She does not speak to outsiders.”
“Who is She?” Haradeth asked.
Shaaythi shuddered. “She is…she is to us what your mother is to humans, in a way. Our goddess. She Who Is Born of Light.”
Haradeth nodded slowly. “I understand why she would not ordinarily speak to me,” he said, “but these are hardly ordinary times. You live apart, but you share the world with us. The Alohym-”
As soon as he said the name, every Sylvani save Lorathor began to shimmer in the red and gold colors Haradeth now associated with anger. “They should not be spoken of!” Shaaythi said. “Such things are forbidden.”
If she had told Haradeth that she was going to sacrifice him on an altar, he couldn’t have been more shocked. “Shouldn’t be spoken of?” He asked. “They invade our world! They have conquered the humans! They are slaying the gods and the dragons! And you want us not to speak of them?”
“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said gently, “perhaps we should ask Her if she’ll speak to Haradeth.
“I…” Shaaythi hung her head. “It’s not permitted.”
“Not even to ask?” Haradeth asked.
“Not even to ask.”
Haradeth fought the urge to grind his teeth. Has Lorathor taken me all this way for nothing? He glanced sideways at the Sylvani. If Lorathor was fazed or surprised by this turn of events, it certainly wasn’t showing on his face.
“Very well,” Lorathor said before Haradeth could start the argument again. “I assume we can still grant the normal rules of hospitality?”
Shaaythi glared at Lorathor. “For your guest, yes. You, Lorathor, have violated ancient laws by-”
Lorathor interrupted her with a quick snap of his voice. “Her name, Haradeth, is Anotira. She is the Luminous One, our goddess, and she guides us from-”
“What are you doing!?” Shaaythi shrieked, raising her strangely beautiful Arcwand again.
“-within the walls of our Domes, where she is absolute and-”
“Silence or I will cut you down!” Shaaythi said, and Lorathor clamped his mouth shut. “Lorathor. Explain yourself.”
“Haradeth is our guest. Per our laws, that makes him a temporary citizen, does it not? And the laws against sharing information about our origins are very clear – we must not do so with a human, or an Underfolk, or a Dragon. We can only do so with citizens of our realm. And we cannot talk about it outside the dome.” Lorathor beamed at her. “Haradeth is not purely of any of those races, he is a guest and therefore a citizen, and we are within the dome.”
Shaaythi looked ready to faint. “You…you pervert the spirit of the law in favor of the letter of it! Lorathor, what happened to you? Did you live among the humans so long you have forgotten our people?”
“Oh, no, I have not forgotten them,” Lorathor said firmly. “But, unlike the rest of you, I remember Anotira’s first commandment. “Do nothing that prevents the growth of the other races.” We have our magics, our devices hidden here in this city that we have kept secret. Meanwhile, humans have welcomed us into their cities, into their homes, into the courts. That they have not always been perfect, no. They have been fearful, and reactionary, and brutal – but ultimately, they have been good. We need to help them!.”
“That is not for you to decide,” Shaaythi said.
“No, it is for Anotira to decide. And as a citizen who is neither human, nor underfolk, nor dragon, underneath the dome, he has the right to petit-”
“Silence!” Shaaythi snapped, “I am revok-”
“I wish to petition Anotira!” Haradeth shouted, before Shaaythi could kick him out. By the way Lorathor nodded, that had been important. “Under your laws, I have that right, do I not?”
Shaaythi swayed in shock. “It isn’t…it isn’t…”
Then someone began to laugh. A voice that was everywhere and nowhere, that came from the dome above them, the trees beside them, the buildings. It was a warm sound, but it was also terrifying. Even gods were manifest as physical beings. Haradeth looked around wildly for the source of the laughter.
“You were outplayed, Elder Shaaythi,” said a voice. There was a shimmer of light in the air in front of Haradeth, and suddenly there was a being there. She appeared almost humanoid, but made of light. Haradeth could see through her to Shaaythi. Her form was a bright blue, and Haradeth hastily bowed.
As he rose from the bow, her form flickered, tiny motes of white light replacing here for the barest of instant before reforming. But that wasn’t what set Haradeth’s heart pounding in sudden fear, nor did it cause his mouth to dry up in swelling terror.
No, both of those were because, whatever this Anotira was, she gave off no signs of life to his senses.
“Elders of the Sylvani,” Anotira said, “one has requested my audience. His input is unothodox, but accepted. Leave us. We have much to discuss.”
The Sylvani bowed and began to go, and Anotira raised a finger. “Not you, Lorathor. You got the boy into this much trouble. It falls on you to get him out of it.”
Lorathor nodded graciously, and Anotira beckoned Haradeth closer. “Come, godling. I’m certain you have queries.”
Feet leaden with fear, Haradeth followed the woman made of light without a trace of life in her form.
Her form shimmered into motes of white light again for an instant, and Haradeth wondered if Lorathor had brought him all this way just to die.