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A Bump in the Night

The Starry Rift

A being that might once have been called Astema in dread whispers in another realm, shrieked silently in pain. Only its empty mistress could have forced it to advance into such holy pain. It ducked its head further, trying vainly to protect it from the softly falling mist of blessed water. Filled with hate and anger and fear, it reached another massive reptilian paw and pulled itself up another two meters, though distance meant far less than Will and Intent in that Place. Squirming it's monstrous bulk in the burning darkness of the narrow tube, it may have whimpered in pain. Its mistress may have been correct that the constant fall of Water-of-Life would not destroy it, but the pain lead it close to rebellion. Close but not close enough to overcome the piercing fear of, nor the horrible longing for, the Lady of the Void. It reached another paw and slid further into the mortal world.

The elderly woman slept with the stillness of the aged and content. Her long, white hair, normally braided and controlled, spread on the white cotton of the large soft pillows and spilled onto the gold brocade of her spread, framing hands that almost seemed to pray even in sleep. These last few years a soft golden light often hovered over her face when she slept, though she did not know it. But this night the light fled and the gathering shadows almost seemed to yearn toward the bed in hunger.

With the setting of the Mother, only the wan light of the smaller moon remained to define the dark shadows and keep them at bay. But the Child was ever impatient and rushed even then toward the jagged horizon of the Eastern Rim to the west. Shadow that was perhaps something more strengthened and stretched, even in that holy place.

With a groan like a dying beast, the Rampart of Air shivered. Like a startled child, the priestess shook awake. Jerking upright in bed, she spoke a word of power and shadows fled. The soft light of a dawn or a sunset surrounded her and turned the shadows near her soft and normal. Yet those that clung to dark oak wainscoting and the cheery rose-patterned wall still held more substance than they should and she felt a thrill of uneasiness that such could gather in the Temple of Man. A wolf's howl, so unnatural in Harborton, seemed to echo her shiver.

The Archpriestess Tecumsrah was not an tremulous acolyte, however, and she gestured and spoke words of faith unshaken. The room became empty save for the light and the woman and a sense of urgency. Pausing only to grab her staff of office, she flung open the bedroom door, clad still in wild, white hair, white cotton gown and rosy aurora of Faith. A scream beat at her; ugly, raw and mortal.

She ran down the stairs, still graceful and quick even after seven decades. Passing hurriedly through the Temple of Air, she began to hear fighting. She heard the roar of a raging dwarf and then an ululating warcry of the Outer-elven that was cut off with a dreadful finality. Grabbing the marble balustrade in her speed, she spun onto the stairs leading down to the Palm of Earth. She was already exerting her will, composing a paean to Ra that protected and aided her people.

A great hissing, like a thousand boiling kettles, stirred the hair on her neck with a pattern of alien words that meant ill to all things mortal and good. Her stomach cramped with an unexpected, familiar pain, but she did not slow. With one hand sliding down the marble balustrade and the other holding aloft the now glowing Staff of Ra, she quickly scanned the rich ground of the Palm as she descended. On the bottom step, she froze in shock. Even the dire warnings she had heard had not prepared her for the impact of what she saw. Paling to white, her knees weakened and her head spun with dizziness.

The Orb of Heaven, the great globe of Ra-blessed stone, twice the height of a man, had been rolled away from atop the Well of Souls. A trail of slime, viscous and putrid, led from the Well and down the stairs leading into the Temple of Earth. None save Ra himself or a god made mortal, could have moved that Orb. The desperate shrieking of a halfling in mortal agony brought her wits back, but now she feared in truth.

The angry, hateful hissing grew nearer, and the halfling subsided to unheard sobbing, crumpled and crippled somewhere below. The Lady of the Sun knelt, facing the east. She had no time nor hope for half measures. Leaving the glaringly bright staff upright before her, humming with a dangerous, righteous anger, she spread her arms and leaned back, eyes closed as if bathing in a noonday sun. She chanted the rare, immortal words of Ra's Promise, giving ten years of her life that He would come. The hideous, snarling voice strove to stifle, smother her, even as the snake-like, horned head raised above the stairs to gape with glistening, venom dripping fangs.

A massive, coiling darkness in the stairwell gathered itself to strike with supernatural speed and strength. It's eyes slit against the hideous glare of the foolish mortal's stick, it sought her, trying to see. A cold empty urge lashed it, driving it to escape with its precious, powerful treasure, to ignore the woman and flee back to the Void. But the creature was servant and not slave, and it desired to give pain and kill this puny thing. Then the woman/god stood and it was too late.

She/He towered somehow far above mortal size, yet her/His head did not reach the Ramparts of Air only five meters above. The dark creature squealed in anger and fright when it felt the power grow impossible before him. It struck, completely unable to miss. Ra stepped into the coils of the serpent and sought its heart. One great, wicked claw scored a line of molten blood on the bird's cheek and the fallen wyrm gloated, knowing it had killed. It's leprous satisfaction vanished as hands sought it's throat; hands whose heat softened steel. Thrashing wildly, silencing the sobbing, huddled halfling with an unknowing, spasmodic jerk of its great spiked tail, the vile thing fought the god's grip. It could speak no more words of power and was limited to this bloated, scaled avatar. It became frantic. Drawing itself above ground fully it wrestled the god into the air, but could not break His burning grip. It's vision narrowed and clouded as Ra's strength separated its mind from its heart. Desperately, the foul thing sought for something to harm the god, to break His grip. Anything!

Like a cold, smug lump of malevolence, the thing he had stolen, swallowed whole below, drew Astema's attention to itself with unstated promise. Its mistress had forbid the creature to touch the relic with power, but that promise fled beneath burning hands. Astema touched the thing with a tendril of will and was gripped more fiercely than even by the God Ra.

Ra staggered back, impassive bird's head curious but unfearing. The once-dragon turned and, burning with a strange black flame that echoed Ra's own, dropped bonelessly into the Well of Souls, not even trying to slow its fall.

Silence fell, save for the burble of the Spring of Life and the whispering wind in the Guardian Trees. With an odd warble in His throat, the avatar looked at His Orb and then looked through the world to where the sun, His House, did ride. There came an unbearable flash that cast shadows for leagues and the old woman sprawled senseless on the Palm of the World. The Orb of Ra once again sealed the Well of Souls.

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