“It is rare that we gather like this. Even the elusive dragon gods have decided to attend this council,” a horse-headed giant announces. He sits atop a throne of blades while letting his steely gaze scan his surroundings. “I ask that we keep this brief. What is the business that requires the attendance of every god of Windemere?”
The open amphitheater sits in the center of Ambervale and acts as the council chamber of the gods. It has been unused for most of its existence. Yet today it houses more gods than it has seen in centuries. Winged behemoths of glistening scales sit just outside the stone structure to gaze in at the smaller gods. Some of the gods sit upon unique thrones made from their most treasured materials. Others remain standing in mild annoyance and resentment at this interruption of their lives.
Standing alone in the middle of the amphitheater is the pristine form of Zaria. The goddess of purity is clothed in an elegant gown of ivory. The only color in her clothing is a belt of blue ivy that shifts and twists around her waist. A deep sigh from a dragon god sends a harsh wind that whips her hair into her face. She gracefully fixes her hair without letting the slightest hint of emotion pierce her face.
A decaying figure clothed in gray caster robes stands from his throne of skulls to read from a scroll. He hacks up a cloud of dust until everyone is quiet. “We are in attendance to decide the fate of the goddess Zaria. She is one of the strongest of our ranks and has done much for Windemere. Hence, we consult each other to decide what should be done by her breaking of the law of influence.”
“Thank you, Lorvis. How do you plead, my good lady?” the horse-headed god politely asks.
“I plead not guilty, powerful Ram. I did not interfere in any way that would have altered the fates of the mortals involved. If I did then it was unintentional, which all of us are guilty of from time to time,” Zaria calmly declares. The murmur from the other gods causes her to let her irritation get the best of her. “Need I remind all of you that I helped write the law of influence? It was designed to prevent intentional intrusion and not to punish accidental interference. Things happen that even we cannot predict. All of us have existed long enough to know this.”
Her gaze does not falter as she raises her head to stare directly at Ram. The war god manages to keep his smile at the corner of his mouth instead of letting it consume his face. Only a few gods notice the change of expression and follow his example. The other gods continue talking amongst themselves wearing a manner of expressions. Though, Zaria notes that most of the gods appear to be annoyed by this pointless meeting.
“I am well aware of the law and its history. Need I remind you that I was involved in its creation as well,” Ram counters sternly. “Yet, your actions were anything, but unintentional. You knowingly lead the mortal girl to this mortal boy with the intent for her to save his life. We are also aware that you spoke with him as he was dying and used your connection with him to keep him alive. It is not your role to choose who lives and dies.”
A screechy voice from the crowd screams, “You go beyond your power and do the job of others!”
“I do nothing of the sort,” Zaria snaps. She lets her voice rise above the outburst of noise from the angry crowd of gods. “My job is to protect everything that is pure. The boy is pure of spirit and I kept his spirit alive. There was less than a five percent chance that keeping his spirit alive would also keep his body alive. I had no idea that he could instinctually use the connection to hold onto life. My intent was to allow the boy to pass on peacefully. As for the girl, I used proper protocol for interacting with a mortal by giving her a feeling instead of outright telling her. That is the way that we work and it did not guarantee that she would reach him in time. Again, I state that I did not break the law.”
Ram rises to his feet, shaking the world with his thundering stomp. He calmly waits for everyone to be quiet. “Your pleas do not fall on deaf ears and dead hearts. We all have the utmost respect for you, dear Zaria. That is why we hold council instead of handing out the traditional punishment. It pains all of us to put you through this.”
“Not me,” mutters a leather-clad goddess with whip-like fingers. A roar of laughter breaks the seriousness of the council. Only Zaria, Ram, and one other god refuse to join in the laughter. It is this other god who finally speaks, his mere presence causing all noise to stop.
“My apologies for arriving so late,” says the ebony-haired man with a melodic voice. “I make no excuse, but I am here to speak on the matter at hand.”
“You are granted permission, Lord Gabriel,” Ram says, giving the man a small bow. “Yet, I think we all know that you would gladly see Zaria sealed away. The disdain and malice you two have for each other is well recorded throughout our history. Bards have made careers off writing songs about the ill will that the two of you bear toward each other.”
Gabriel stands next to Zaria and gently takes her hand in his. She looks slightly disgusted as he gives her hand a small kiss and winks at her. A dark cloud begins to form over the amphitheater until Gabriel lets go of her hand. The Hell God grins as he looks up at a furious blue-skinned goddess standing atop a broken pillar. He waves her angry stare away before putting his attention back on Ram and the rest of the council.
“On the contrary, I would be very upset if we were to lose her. She is one of the few of us who has decided to put away her personal feelings and help me with what must be done. So, I honor our partnership by coming to her defense. This goddess has done nothing wrong,” Gabriel declares, his voice booming like thunder. “Her actions were made for the benefit of us all and she chose to save the life of an essential mortal. It is something that many of us would do when faced with such a decision.”
“This nonsense again? Your fear is unjustified. What you are preparing for will not affect us. The threat that he once posed to us is no longer above our heads since he can never invade Ambervale again,” Ram declares to a loud chorus of agreement. “If he becomes a threat to our existence once more then you are to blame. It was you who chose to become a god before killing that monster. You could have killed him before the law of influence was above your head. We would have thought no less of you for delaying your ascension in order to remove him from Windemere. Instead, you let your thirst for power put you in a position where you could not destroy your enemy. Thanks to your mistake, he has continued to live and thrive in the shadows beyond our home. So, we have made sure to ward our home from his presence. He is now a mortal concern and should be left as one.”
The crowd erupts in noise that is a mess of insults, threats, and declarations of power. A short song from Gabriel briefly steals their voices, so that he can speak without interruption. He slowly watches the other gods for any sign of an attack, but none of them appear willing to take such a risk.
Confident that they will listen, Gabriel calmly continues, “That is what you said all those centuries ago and this mortal man almost destroyed the pantheons with his power. I will freely admit that it was my inexperience and youthful ways that lead to him surviving. The touch of godhood was sweet and I took it without thinking of the problems that I left behind. Yet, I am still able to do something. My job is to bestow destiny upon the good and the evil. I have chosen the good that will combat this ancient evil. This is not something that I can do alone, but every time I have asked for help, I am refused and mocked by all. That is all except a handful . . . and only one of this handful has promised to put her existence on the line. Our dear Zaria has been my greatest ally in this and her actions mirror what I would have done. It is because of this that I have put aside my personal opinions of her and come to her defense.”
Silence covers the audience when Lorvis yawns, filling the amphitheater with a decaying stench. “As usual, you talk more of yourself than of the real issue. Please make your defense quick and to the point. I am getting bored.”
“I agree with the necrocasting god. We have little patience for your rambling about events of the past,” an amber-cloaked god announces, laying his hands on his lap. All eyes lock on this stoic god who scans the amphitheater as if memorizing every detail. “I should point out that you are wrong in your assumption, Hell Lord. We all hold you and Zaria in great respect and do not mock your actions, but you are asking us to commit to a path of action that could result in us being sealed. Many of us do not feel that this single being is worth the risk that you would be asking of us. Look around yourself, Lord Gabriel. The calling of council is proof that anyone who joins you in this endeavor will run the risk of breaking our only law. As god of knowledge and wisdom, I personally cannot bring myself to join you because I see that your actions are reckless and, at times, unwise. Still, as a god who was once mortal, I can understand what drives you to such actions.”
“What are you saying, Gar?” Ram asks, impressed by the knowledge god.
Gabriel interrupts the younger god, ignoring the mild look of displeasure he receives. “I believe he is stating that there are times where the rules must be bent. I do not ask that any of you to join me. All I ask is that you not throw blind justice at those who give me aid. Luke Callindor is important to our future and Zaria did as much as she could to save him. I will point out that she could have broken the rule entirely instead of bending it. I will also point out that my worry is something that most of you cannot understand. Most of you were born gods and know little of mortal life, but I know that many of us were once mortal. I thank the always-logical Gar for reminding all of us of this fact. There are emotions that linger after rising above the mortal life.” Gabriel pauses to look around the sea of gods around him. “I sense that I am merely rambling at this point.”
“You are!” half of the council exclaims.
“At least, we are an amusing lot,” Gabriel says wryly, chuckling loud enough to bring the nearest gods to their knees. “My point will be made now. Zaria should not be punished because she was merely aiding me. I have allowed her to act with the level of freedom that was originally only mine to have. It is temporary and will be taken away once the threat has been removed. This is the deal that I offer to all of you who help me. If you punish Zaria then it will require that you punish me alongside her. And we all know that punishing me is an unhealthy activity. Now, what is your verdict, council?” He confidently locks eyes with the silent Zaria.
“I truly hate owing that bastard, but I guess he is useful as an ally when you really need him,” Zaria thinks to herself.
“I will take that as a compliment, my dear. Besides, I owe you for saving the young warrior,” Gabriel replies through telepathy.
“I despise you, Gabriel,” she thinks back.
Ram rises from his throne a final time, a warhammer appearing in his hand. “We find the goddess of purity free to exist. It is not entirely because of you, Lord Gabriel. Upon further contemplation and private words with Gar, we have decided that this is allowed under her path. The youth will protect the pure and it is her job to keep the pure alive. So, it was in her best interest to keep him alive. Also, her actions did not guarantee success. The law of influence allows for us to take actions that guide, but do not guarantee success. This is our final verdict. If we meet again over this then it will be to seal both of you away. For our own amusement, we will seal Gabriel and Zaria together. This council is now closed. Good day to everyone.”
One by one the gods vanish from the amphitheater. Great beasts rise into the sky while others sink into the ground on their thrones. Uli of the elven gods makes sure to leap into the middle of the amphitheater to congratulate Zaria. The armored goddess hugs Zaria before transforming into a wave of leaves that is blown away on a sudden breeze. Zaria and Gabriel remain in the amphitheater until they are alone. The final verdict continues to sink in, as they make sure not to look at each other.
Zaria finally breaks the silence by asking, “What do you think of them giving us such freedom?”
“I believe it is a step in the right direction. Although, I would rather not have my fate so closely tied to your actions. Sadly, desperate times call for strange bedfellows, such as the purest of beings working with the darkest. I might have to cook up a bard to sing of our alliance,” Gabriel says with a charming smile. “Now, I have urgent personal business to attend to. My wife did not seem happy with my actions. I should comfort her before she plans her revenge. I wish you a good day and hope that we will grow closer during this time.”
Both gods disappear at the same time as the air around Ambervale begins to clear of spell smoke and the island returns to its bright glory.