Haradeth stretched as dawn light began to filter through the great dome over the Sylvani’s hidden city. Some trick of Anitoria’s kept the clear glass from being too clear, gradually brightening with the sunlight to allow more light to come through. The bed he was sleeping in was the most comfortable one he’d ever rested in. According to Lorathor, it actually pockets of air that filled a thin membrane and perfectly adjusted themselves to provide optimal support for the being sleeping in them. Although it was designed for the Sylvani’s unique physiology, it had no problem adapted to Haradeth’s comfort.
I hope the others are half as comfortable as this, Haradeth thought as he climbed out of bed, feeling a stab of guilt. The resistance was holed up in the ruins of an ancient city, in bedroll that rested on slabs of stone left by a civilization that had vanished when Haradeth’s mother’s mother was a young Lesser Goddess. Of course they weren’t comfortable. I should be out there with them, Haradeth thought, shaking the sleep out of his head. His long, dark hair hung around his face. His mother was still healing from the terrible injury the Alohym had dealt her forest. What right did he have to sleep in comfort?
“You know why you’re here,” Haradeth said to the empty room. The resistance had hoped sending a Godling could help awe the Sylvani into lending their aid. Lorathor had agreed, and that had settled it for the rest of the leadership. Unfortunately, it had been a waste of time. They’d traveled halfway across the continent, only to be told by the strange goddess of light that governed the Sylvani that no help would be coming. Not only that she wouldn’t, but she couldn’t. She was a glorified goddess of dance trying to do the work of an entire pantheon.
Lorathor had been furious when he’d stalked off to rest, but Haradeth had felt more sympathy. He tried to imagine his mother, the small goddess of a single forest, trying to take responsibility for all the nine seas as well as the fate of humanity. It would be an unthinkably monumental task. Anitoria was a being of light bound to these buildings, cut off from her brethren. She’s as alone as you are, Haradeth realized with a start. As far as anyone knew, Lathariel had been the last living goddess on the planet. With her fate uncertain, Haradeth could easily be the last of the lesser gods. It’s becoming a recurring nightmare, he realized with discomfort. Anitoria was last of the Sylvani’s light gods. Tythel was the last dragon. Haradeth could be the last of the –
“No,” he said aloud, again breaking the silence. “My mother will not die.”
“Glad to hear your optimism,” Lorathor said, sliding through the door that opened just as Haradeth finished the sentence. “I agree with it, but still, glad to hear you hold it.”
Haradeth gave the Sylvani a wan smile. “Have your people not invented the concept of knocking?”
“You lived in a forest,” Lorathor countered. “I figured you were used to beings barging in on you at all hours.”
“Mice and sparrows are different,” Haradeth said. He was glad to see the Sylvani was joking again. Last night he had been tacturin. “How are you today?”
“Aside from learning I’m as native to this world as the flathing Alohym? Aside from learning my goddess is naught more than an advanced control lattice for a Skitter? I’m feeling phenomenal, thank you for asking.” The bitterness was back in Lorathor’s voice now, so thick it threatened to drip across the floor. “We wasted our time here. I think I’ve wasted my life here. We should go to where we can actually do some good.”
Haradeth wanted to agree. Desperately. Getting back to the resistance would feel like he was being proactive again. Getting back to the resistance would mean getting back to his mother. He hated himself as he shook his head. “Not yet. I don’t think we should give up.”
Lorathor frowned. “I’m sorry, my diaphragms seem to be clogged. I could have sworn I heard you say you wanted to stay.”
“You heard correctly,” Haradeth said, settling back into a seat. The air bladders under him rose to meet the motion, molding perfectly under him. Lorathor walked over to the other chair and sat on it, scowling openly.
“Haradeth. I understand not wanting to go back empty handed, but right now we have absolutely no reason to believe Anitoria can assist us.” Lorathor spread his hands helplessly. “Our cause would be better served if we went back to do something useful.”
“What more difference would two more soldiers make,” Haradeth asked, “against the might of an empire from beyond this world?”
“You dismiss us as ‘two more soldiers?’” Lorathor said, scoffing. “With what we’ve accomplished, you think so little of us?”
“Hardly.” Haradeth shook his head to emphasize the point. “But I’m not talking about the might of the Alohym.”
Lorathor’s face contorted into a frown. “My people won’t help, Haradeth. We have lived a lie for millennia. Even if Anitoria confesses to all of the Sylvani the truth of her deception, it won’t matter.”
“Do you truly believe that?” Haradeth asked, his voice low. “Or are you simply angry?”
Lorathor leapt to his feet. “Angry? Angry? I’m far beyond angry, you arrogant little-” Lorathor caught the insult before it left his lips and took a deep breath. “Haradeth, imagine your mother confessed to you she was not truly a goddess. That she was a lumcaster with some minor tricks she used to fool you into being worshiped. That, on top of that, there were no such things as humans. That they were all poorly shaved apes she had putting on a pantomime for you.”
“Most humans I know are fairly well shaved apes,” Haradeth said, holding up a hand to forestall Lorathor’s explosive reaction to the joke. “I understand your anger. Light, I thought my mother was immortal. Do not think I’m unsympathetic. But the fact that your people came here so long ago, from another world…why do you think they did, Lorathor?”
“A great cosmic joke?” Lorathor responded bitterly.
“I doubt it. Think, my friend. What would be so terrible to drive a people to flee their entire world? What would drive people to cross the void between stars, not as conquerors, but as refugees seeking a new home?”
“You think it was the Alohym,” Lorathor said, raising an eyebrow in thought. “I….don’t see how that changes anything, even assuming it’s true. Anoritia still said she would not aid us.”
“I don’t think she sees the full picture yet,” Haradeth said. “Something she said last night, something that stuck with me. ‘I was to run only when absolutely needed, and pass the important parts of the Sylvani culture and history down through organic, memetic methods, and prepare for the Alohym’s arrival on this world.’ The Alohym have arrived. She must have made some preparations. Perhaps this…catastrophic failure, this Eylohir, has hidden it from her. We can help her find it.”
Lorathor pursed his lips. “Fine. For now. But we cannot waste too much time, Haradeth. This is a fools errand, but I’ll let you play it out.”
“That’s all I can ask.” Haradeth said, bowing his head respectfully. “Now…who would we talk to who might know where we could find those preparations, if it’s hidden from Anoritia?”
Lorathor thought for a moment, then slowly nodded his head. “I might know exactly who can help us. I just hope she’s feeling agreeable.”
It was Haradeth’s turn to frown. “Agreeable?”
“You wanted her help, Haradeth. Remember that.” Lorathor’s grin had a nasty bend to it that Haradeth misliked. “Come on. Let us go meet the Tarnished One.”