By the time Kasita reached the Temple of Aei and Oe, the dust had settled. Chapton and Paladin, Wildflower and Narsifiette were still standing in shock.
Whatever had done this was gone. Kasita and Paladin traced its tracks: red boot-prints, straight to the river. The shape looked human, but each foot was a perfect 13 inches. A super-human meausrement — sure sign of a holy, or unholy, being.
There were two out-of-place eddys on the opposite bank, placed just like a pair of feet. Chapton flung a stone at the spot. Something dove in and began splashing back.
Wildflower leaped, caught the thrashing thing, and pulled it underwater. Vinnie hacked at it as soon as he could swim out.
With a few well-placed shots from Jethan, it went still.
Wildflower did not kill. But sometimes, it was better to be a pacifist somewhere else. For instance, the bridge a few hundred feet upriver.
Chapton and Paladin hauled the body out. The creature resembled a clown, except his — its — make-up had not even smudged in the river.
Paladin made sure it died in style.
“What is ze problem here? What ‘as ‘appened to zis person?” An elf with a notebook jumped down from the river boardwalk.
Paladin stood up. “We have the situation under control, madam. This person viciously attacked the temple of Aie and Oe, and caused a great deal of destruction. However, we were able to bring them to justice.
“I zee. Are they —” the reporter knelt down beside the body. Her face whitened. She stood up and stepped back. “I trust this was indeed vicious. Good day, Paladin.”
“Antón, find a boat so we can investigate the temple!”
As the elves negotiated for a rowboat, Vinnie dove back into the river. He had seen something glinting earlier, and — there!
When he surfaced, Narsifiette’s glaive was cold in his hand.
Narsifiette herself was still at the temple, shouting. “Stop whimpering and get a hold of yourself. You need to pull yourselves together if you a want to stop this monster!”
“I — I — I.” The boy she was yelling at was curled up nearly into a ball, sobbing. The other child had crept behind some rubble, and shook with every word Narsifiette said.
Jethan rushed the yelling woman away. They sat down with the boy, speaking slowly and patiently. Soon the other child came closer. Once both of them were feeling calmer, Wildflower demonstrated fire-eating. It was an excellent performance, calming rather than exciting; young eyes brightened a little.
When Paladin’s curly-haired horse joined them, the younger one showed the beginnings of a smile.
Once they were calmer, Kasita inspected the temple ruins. A neat half of the stones were still stained pink. The idol of Aei and Oe, though — which should have held pride of place in the inner sanctum — was gone.
Jethan sent up a prayer to Gat for the other children, buried under the rubble. A sense of tired kindness came back, as though the god of death was stretched thin.
Looking back at the surviving kids, they felt the loss more keenly. Kasita themself was only a child as well, by tiefling standards.
What did the things in the temples have against children?
Chapton looked away from the investigations, down towards the river.
The reporters had finally landed a boat on this side, and were climbing up. Chapton called out to the others.
The four heroes accompanied the children — proudly seated on Paladin’s horse — back to the right house. The parents laughed with relief, but they listened silently to the rest of the news. Perhaps they were crying with joy.
The pillar near the Temple of Esdore had been cracked. Jethan scanned for the nearest pillar to Aei and Oe’s temple.
Copper lattice-work ran up its side. It had been carrying lightning; scorch marks ran up and down the pillar.
Wildflower grew larger, and knocked on the door of the hut under the copper tower.
The ogre, Meth, emerged from his smithy. “Whadda you want? I ain’t not told you nothin'”
“We know you’ve got a shark-beast under here.” Wildflower stamped the cobbles. “Have you been making more?”
“How did you afford all the copper for that tower, anyway.”
“Alright, look, I might’ve made a few.” The ogre spread his hands. “I’ve got debts, okay.”
“What kind of debts?”
“There’s a beach, ’round near the mountain. They say it’s a wishing beach: you put in your wish, in a bottle, and if you’re lucky it comes to you. What they don’t tell you is, it’s a loan. Sometimes, messages come back, wishes from whatever lives down there, and you gotta do them, or — .” Meth grimaced. “There was that special order, too, started it all.”
“What special order?”
“Can’t say. It’s like, I might not survive if I —”
“Look, I’ve made lyres, in my time. I’ve made silver sing like a lark’s tongue, and this was the pinnacle of my art. Back before it started askin’ for shark-monsters. That’s all I can say, I swear.”
Paladin rested a hand on his sword. “Very well, mate. Don’t quit town.”
Wildflower nodded. “And whatever you do, stay out of politics. You hear me?”
“One more question.” Paladin held up Narsifiette’s glaive. “What do you make of this? Felt a bit funny when I picked it up.”
Meth ran his eyes over it. “I’ll need a closer look.”
“Don’t go anywhere with it.” Paladin, Wildflower, Chapton and Narsifiette closed in around the ogre before Paladin held out the weapon.
The ogre licked his lips. “This is a get-out-of-jail-free card, this. This could be my ticket outta the thumb of the thing down the beach. It’s big stuff, a cousin of the 12 Gods, you know. No easy way out, without somethin’ like this”
“I see. You’ll give that back right now.”
Meth sighed, released it, and slunk into his forge.
Narsifiette raised her eyebrows. “What’s going on with my glaive?”
“Felt like there were a couple of things in there, arguing. One wanted to stay, one wanted to go, or something. Not sure where it would go.” Vinnie shrugged. “Jethan’s the one who knows this stuff.”
Jethan peered over the glaive , checked it by sight, touch and subtler senses, and explained what they could.
It felt similar to Paladin’s sword, Dawnbreaker. Something divine, but somehow partial? Lesser?
A memory surfaced.
Mortals had two parts: souls, and bodies. Material, and spiritual. But gods didn’t live their lives in the physical world. Their souls animated ideas.
Gat had said gods could die, but of course they wouldn’t leave a corpse. Only an idea of power and greatness, nearly divine in its own right. Dawnbreaker was such a thing: the corpse of a god.
The glaive, though, was halved. Aei and Oe had been twins, and one of the twins was missing. The one here, in the glaive, was — had become — something terrible.
Paladin took it and handed it back to Narsifiette. “Be careful with that.”