- Jul 21, 2006
Chapter 49: Blessing of the Old Ones
Arcane beeps break the silence of the royal bedroom to their own strange rhythm, accompanied by the occasional hiss of ancient machinery. The Old One artefact sits unfolded upon a table to one side of the queen's huge bed, illuminating the secluded room with its magical runes. Spread across every other available surface are arcane scrolls liberated from the Sisterhood library, along with an array of more mundane remedies of all sorts.
In the middle of all this lay the queen herself, pale and unmoving but for shallow breaths. One arm is free from the silk sheet covering her body and on this arm she wears part of the High Age artefact like a bulky, metallic sleeve.
At Lyssa's side stands the diminutive Coatopoxt, carefully dripping honeyed water into the queen's mouth. Hardly sustenance for such a great queen, but devouring a small herd of capybara is not an option for the comatose patient.
“Are you going to do it, mistress?” the halfling asks, speaking softly so as not to disturb the queen – or anger her patron.
Azu the Younger looks up from the parchment she is studying. It's nothing more than a hastily scribbled list of herbs and mushrooms from the Swamp of Death, with little to no explanation of their properties, but at this point she is willing to look anywhere for help.
“There must be another way,” Azu insists, resisting the urge to throw the old parchment across the room.
“The chief priestess will be expecting to talk to the queen when she arrives.”
Azu winces at this “helpful reminder”. “Let me worry about the priestess. Our duty is to the queen.”
Coatopoxt carefully dabs the queen's parched lips, then turns to her companion with a worried expression: “The chief priestess is the head of the Sisterhood. That gives her authority over us...”
“As long as the queen lives, Tanya wouldn't dare...” Azu pauses, unbidden images of all the punishments the priestess could visit upon them if she so chose. As a Sister of the Sisterhood it is true she is beholden to the chief priestess, but...
Azu shakes her head: “It's complicated.”
“You're hoping the chief priestess's respect for the queen will protect you. But the queen is unconscious.”
“If she is unconscious, she might still wake. If she is dead...” Azu cannot bring herself to finish the sentence, both for the heresy of speaking of a queen dying and her fear of what that would lead to. “We can't risk it. In her current state, the queen would be much too weak.”
Leaving the useless scroll behind, Azu drags her chair closer to the humming artefact. Her face is bathed in its soft glow as she scans the runes and dizzying light displays. “There has to be something... maybe if we try scrying again, the results might give us a clue.”
Muttering a prayer to merciful Serena, Azu pushes the rune associated with the serpent goddess. As expected the runes shift and rearrange themselves. Even to someone as knowledgeable as herself, the magical glyphs are hard to understand. But perhaps this time she will hit upon the Sacred Sequence.
Regardless, Azu tilts her head to the heavens to plead for the guidance of Wendala, the watchful spirit of the sky. Then she reaches out to touch the corresponding rune – and breathes a sigh of relief when it is clear the gods are pleased and the artefact whirs into action.
The sleeve around Lyssa's arm lights up and hums with a mystical, throbbing sound. In response, the glyphs conjured by the artefact disappear into a swirling maelstrom of magical energy before Azu's eyes. All she can do is wait with baited breath.
After what seems like an eternity the pulsating vortex breaks apart, releasing its energy into runes and lines of light. Azu gasps – and not just because it is working. She cannot completely comprehend the meaning behind the gods' message, but one thing she knows: Green light means “good”.
“I can't believe it. How can anyone be in such good condition after so long without fresh air and proper sustenance!”
Her Miyan apprentice squeezes past the tables and stools laden with poultices and stares, enraptured, at the divine verdict: “Truly Her Highness is blessed by the gods!”
Eyeing an opportunity to both save the queen and her own skin, Azu turns to her companion and declares eagerly: “Coatopoxt, ready the Breath of Shaekal!”
* * *
She is lying in her bed. Her body is heavy and unmoving. Upon bedsheets of silk that ripple and rushes like the Amaxon River.
The bedsheets are the Amaxon. She is Amazon Island itself, floating in the current. Ganaina is her crown, heavy on her head.
She sees all. Little by little at first, then all of Lustria becomes clear to her.
The mighty temple-city of Tlanxla, standing proud, always out of her grasp. Beyond it lies Gwangee Valley as a whirling dream-mass: Memories of days spent feasting with its ruler, Parthenia. The imposing presence of their great war-beasts. The sting of betrayal.
Her eyes spin in her head, without a care for physical limitations and refusing to respectfully stay in their sockets. A rotating cavalcade of agony: Her friend Calypso's last moments, a scene she did not witness yet now recalls with brutal clarity. Always just out of sight: little Quihuatzin begging for her favour, but as usual it is too late and fire consumes her.
And below her: Nothing. A gaping void. The end of her line. The faces of her daughters, eyes closed, fading away forever. She tries to reach out, but the land itself turns to dust in her hands. Amazonia slipping through her fingers.
Yes, she sees all. All her failures. Everything ends with her and she has failed.
Suddenly the universe grips her, cosmic fingers digging deep into her flesh, holding her chest in a vice. She ascends, being hauled upwards to Rigg's realm. Then a violent reversal, the force of which surely snaps her spine! For an eternity caught within the tiniest of instants she hovers in the nothingness... then she is slammed into the ground with overwhelming force.
Existence itself folds upon the impact, crumpling around her, enveloping her. Smaller and smaller she is crushed until reality is so compressed it turns itself inside out. Her confines expand exponentially and she swells along with them, growing larger and larger until...
She is spit out of the cocoon cradling her, thrust out and into an all-encompassing flash of light that blinds her. As her vision slowly returns, her perception is torn between dream and reality. Yes, the walls are covered in a veneer of surreality, but still they feel familiar somehow.
Lyssa looks around. Her eyes politely remain in her unmoving head. At her bedside stands a small woman, bags under her eyes from lack of sleep. To her chest she clutches an ancient sceptre, its glowing runes slowly fading now.
“Quihuatzin...?” the queen exhales hoarsely, barely able to form the syllables.
“Your Highness,” a seemingly disembodied voice says softly. “This is Coatopoxt. She helped save your life.”
Life? Lyssa thinks, mind reeling in confusion. With a heavy sigh she closes her eyes, suddenly overwhelmingly exhausted. The faint outline of Shaekal's glowing rune is seared into her mind's eye as her consciousness also fades.
* * *
“D-does anyone else know?” Tanya says softly. From a fair distance away she and Azu the Younger are watching the queen, snoring softly while Coatopoxt busies herself checking all the equipment.
Azu shakes her head: “I haven't even sent word to my mother. If the nobles catch wind of it I worry what they might do. Not to mention, Inanna would have already broken down the door if she knew.”
Yup, Azu the Elder is still in Xahutec
“Would it not be b-best to reassure everyone?” Tanya counters. “Surely everything would calm down if everyone knew the queen is fine?”
“Her Highness is still... recovering,” Azu explains – again. She understands the chief priestess's hurry, but prefers to be a bit more careful. Especially when they don't really know what state the queen is in.
“But she can still perform the ritual, right?”
Azu hesitates, then nods: “We'll figure out a way to make it work.”
Realizing there's no avoiding it, the chancellor motions for her companion to approach the sleeping monarch.
Tanya clutches her chest in anticipation as she watches Azu gently nudge Lyssa, whispering for her to wake up.
Slowly, the queen stirs. She blinks in confusion, her eyes flitting around the room before finally settling on the women before her.
“Where is Quihuatzin?” Lyssa asks, her voice trembling.
“She's... not with us at the moment,” Azu says diplomatically before giving Tanya a meaningful look.
“Right, right...” Lyssa looks away, pausing to think. For a while it seems she has completely spaced out, but eventually her attention returns to her visitor.
“Wait... you're not Harmothoe...” The queen's eyes linger on the chief priestess's plaque hanging around Tanya's neck, then snap up to glare angrily at the poor woman. “What's going on here??”
“Your Highness... Chief Priestess Harmothoe has been dead for over a d-decade!” Tanya blurts out. Desperation rises in her voice when she realizes this will not be as easy as just letting the queen wake up.
“Dead...” Lyssa's confused rage abates, pausing as if tasting the word in her mouth. She shakes her head, ever so slightly – the most she has moved since waking up. “Right, of course. Of course. Just like Calypso... and...”
The queen's brow furrows as if trying hard to recall something. Instead she gives up, her expression vulnerable when she asks: “And... my daughters...?”
“Your daughters are doing well, Your Highness.” Azu explains slowly and clearly. “You have been in torpor for some time. Everything is fine, but we need you.”
“Then there's still time...?” Lyssa mutters to herself.
“Time to do what, Your Highness?”
Instead of answering, the queen suddenly gasps: “The vanguard!”
She makes to sit upright but can barely lift her head, groaning helplessly.
“Your Highness, please! You still need time to recover!” Azu rushes to her side and gently but firmly pushes her back down. “The Tlanxla expedition is over. You are back in Ganaina.”
Tanya wrings her hands, resisting the urge to speak the truth and tell the queen that they had failed to conquer the temple-city. Choosing her words carefully, she tries to put a positive spin on it: “You returned with much plunder and many sacrifices, Your Highness. Perhaps we should use them celebrate your recovery in Rigg's name?”
Lyssa seems not to hear, instead looking around aimless and asks: “Where did the halfling go...?”
“Oh I'm sure she's around here somewhere,” Tanya says, impatience starting to creep into her voice. “So, as I was trying to say...”
Suddenly Lyssa's head snaps up to look straight at the chief priestess. For a moment her gaze is clear and strong when she declares firmly: “No. We must celebrate all the gods.”
Azu and Tanya exchange worried glances, but then bow in unison: “As you command, Your Highness.”
Pretty sure Option 2 is a localization error, but it does sound on-brand for Lyssa.