Nin had been steeping herbs for the Lady when the messenger burst into their chambers, nearly passing out as he leaned against the door and panted, “Lady, a blight–” He had no sooner finished his next word before the priestess had grabbed her staff and was toward the door, beckoning for Nin to follow.
The carriage ride to New Town was somber and silent. Nin was certain this blight could have little do with the raging gods, but the look on the Lady’s face made her know she thought otherwise. And yet, the images the messenger described to them along the way were like nothing she could imagine.
When they arrived, the coach stopped the horses just outside of town, refusing to step foot inside. Nin gathered her courage as she stepped out after the priestess, but nothing could have steeled her heart enough to not make the town terrifying.
Dozens were standing about, just standing as if they had frozen in place going about their daily deeds. Their faces, however! Their heads were rolled sideways, hung against their shoulders or down the chest, some even rolled straight back. Their mouths hung open, small trickles of drool dripping down their lips, their chins; and their eyes were opened wide, staring into nothingness.
“Lady,” Nin whispered, “how much more of this?”
The lady shook her head and kept walking. “Too much, I’m afraid…” A few moments longer, deeper into the undead air. “I’ve never seen anything like this before–”
A stroke of movement to the right caused both of them to turn, the Lady thrusting out her staff in a defensive stance. She inched forward, swinging her rod around to clear the air of unseen foes.
She began chanting, calling forth the beast responsible to show itself, as she had when Undine had imbued the sea, when Sylph had emblazoned the wind, when Gnome had plagued the earth.
“Relinquish thyself,” Lady Levoir said, “from the hold of these here. I expel thee!”
The eyes of the nearest man sprung to life, a bright magenta filling his eyes as his arms widened, his head lifted, as purple lightning enthroned him, eating away at his flesh until only the bolt remained. Spread out like a cross, the lightning drew itself inwards until the shape of a pink crane emerged from the purple glow. It stood twice as tall as either of them, with a wingspan to match.
The Lady was already chanting, Nin pulling at the knots of a cord the Lady had tied earlier, and with each knot undone, a great light surrounded the priestess as the ritual enacted over hours was recreated in minutes.
The crane cawed–a deafening sound that almost shattered Nin’s concentration as she untied the second-to-last knot–and then pushed from the ground, flying straight towards them. Her chanting unbroken, the priestess braced herself and acted in an instant, twirling her staff and spinning around just as the crane got close, entwining its long neck around her rod and slamming it against the ground.
Tendrils of magenta lightning sparked from its feathers, threatening to reach up towards her, but just as soon the last word was spoken and the last knot untied, and the crane froze in place. The lighting pulled itself back into the bird, which then began to collapse into itself further and further until with a final roll of thunder it vanished entirely.
Almost as soon, the people around them began to awake, but Lady Levoir had no intent to comfort them and was already headed back toward the carriage.
“Lady Levoir!” Nin called after her, trying to keep up.
“There’s no time, Nin,” she said, almost unheard as the distance between them grew greater. “I know what he’s after now. I know what this is all about.”
* * *
Lady Levoir slammed the tome on the table, a cloud of dust erupting from underneath it. “This is it,” she said to Nin, “the Book of the Eightfold Star.”
Nin stared at the book, but didn’t look any less confused than she had been in carriage. Leliana smiled. “It’s a philosophical work a few centuries old, but it’s written in enough detail that anyone insane enough to try to do what it says….” She shook her head.
Nin’s lip wiggled in her familiar tell of hesitation, then she said, “Lady, I still don’t understand.”
The priestess smiled. “Neither did I, not till I saw the crane today–it was the God of the Mind.”
“Yes, Nin, the Mind god. At the advent of the sciences, he was very well-worshipped, but has since been mostly forgotten. He’s one of the four root gods, the gods of Mind, Body, Heart, and Soul.”
Nin’s eyed widened suddenly. “And with the four elements, there’s eight of them!”
Leliana nodded and took a seat, opening the book to a page where two squares were inscribed within a circle, their corners creating a star.
“The work describes a world where these eight deities, fundamental components of the universe, do not exist. The images are garish and for the most part fantastical, but toward the end the author speaks of a possible way to create such a world, first by banishing the gods, and then by drawing them into a single vessel.”
“A vessel?” Nin asked, again looking confused.
“Yes, a mortal. And the moment the eight gods are invoked he will instantly become immortal–becoming a new god, the new anchor of the entire universe itself.”
Nin was silent. Lady Levoir could see the trepidation growing in the girl’s eyes as she slowly put all the pieces together, slowly saw the big picture they had for weeks been building, all unknown to every part of it they played.
“How do we stop it?”
“We bind the gods–for surely, the others will come as well–and then we find the one responsible.”
Nin nodded. “I’ll gather the herbs then.”
“Very good, Nin, very good.”
* * *
The town was much as the other had been when they’d arrived–seemingly deserted but full of more fear than Nin imagined she could manage–but instead of the townspeople still and silent, stuck in a stupor, they were fighting violently with one another–and no matter how great an injury one seemed to acquire, it kept on fighting till it could fight no more–till it was but blood on the ground.
Nin felt sick and wished the Lady’s chanting would end–but as soon as it did, the man nearest charged closer, until at least his flesh was torn apart in a cascade of red–Nin felt bile in her throat–and in its place was left a massive bear.
The beast roared back and once more began charging. Nin screamed, but the Lady was unaffected and simply began sparring with the beast, yelling for Nin to begin with the knots. So the girl did, running as far from the fray as she could while still being able to hear her cues.
The first knot was untied and a glimmer began around the Lady. The bear swung a giant claw toward the priestess, but she ducked under it and rolled to the side, pivoting on her staff until she had flipped herself back onto her feet, never losing a word.
The second knot came undone, and the two after that, and as the battle raged further, Nin shut her eyes and just listened, unable to watch.
The binding continued, Nin folding deeper into herself and the small space she’d found between two buildings until–two knots before the binding would be complete–the Lady stopped chanting.
Fear of the unthinkable overtook Nin and forced her eyes to open, forced her out of her hiding spot. The relief of seeing the priestess, however, could do nothing to qualm the new stress of seeing her pinned beneath the bear, her staff the only thing keeping the creature from coming down on top of her.
“Lady!” Nin yelled, knowing a response would break the spell, but unable to hold it in.
The bear looked her way, but looked back too soon to allow the priestess any time to act. It pressed its weight further down atop her, the staff beginning to bow under the strain of its weight. The bear roared–throwing its head around in a circle and swinging its jaws around to bite into her–
Lady Levoir screamed, twisting her staff around until it pierced the bear’s hide, and then thrusting the rod overhead, catapulting the bear off her.
But by then it was too late: The binding, so near to completion, so similar to a banishing but for the last two knots, was broken–and with the god’s flesh pierced, the last ingredient to a binding, fate was sealed. The bear’s form slowly shook and trembled, then at once it erupted outwards until the entire smoke cloud had faded into the air.
But the blood remained, and the god had been banished. Now only two remained.
* * *
Count Evehr grinned at the ursine statue before him. With the binding of Mind, he was certain–and remained so–that the priestess knew his angle, knew he had found the Book of the Eightfold Star and was following the rituals outlined therein.
Other priests and priestesses could banish with ease, but binding took far greater skill–and only Lady Levoir, he believed, possessed nearly enough. Her slip in banishing Body was just that–a slip. And if she should remain, he knew Heart and Soul would surely be bound before being banished.
So simply, she had to go.
He had studied the Book for ages, and although it instructed invocation only at the culmination of all eight deities, his own calculations predicted the possibility of safely doing so at only four.
And with the bear bound, he now had four.
Count Evehr laughed loudly as he threw his head back, spreading his arms to his small statuary–they would serve him, they would serve him well.