I stared at the woman - Retheri - with incredulity, still stunned by her story. Not only had she revealed the existence of some god I had never heard of, she had destroyed all of my beliefs about this evil we were battling. This was the work of Arctura, it had to be! The so-called crossworlders were Arctura's Manifest, the all-devouring horde of evil! Not the slaves of some foreign god. She had to be lying. Unless...
Father of Fathers, almighty Akoraan, preserve us. The short, generic prayer was an act of desperation. If he could do anything - if he was even real - then surely he would answer me now.
My son. I jumped as I heard the voice within my head. It was deep and commanding, like the voices of a thousand generals as they ordered a charge. Yet at the same time, it was calm, almost weakly so. I do not have much time. I am bound in chains. You will find me at the peak of Mount Kainan. This place I knew very well - it was one of the holiest sites in the Pridean religion, the mountain that the god of storms, Kainan, made as a gift to Eicus, the crippled god of winter.
Is it - is it truly you?
Yes, Tariq. It is me. But I am weak now. I am in chains at the peak of Mount Kainan.
You already - Suddenly, I felt the other consciousness leave my mind. It was like having a massive amount of pressure within me suddenly release. ...Said that. Unsure what to do now, I turned to the others, who I realized had begun to stare at me as I conversed with the father of my gods. "Akoraan has spoken to me," I said. "He is weak; I'm going to help him."
Tailla looked confused; Ziyous and Retheri both looked at me with a sense of respect. Ziyous spoke. "Akoraan is the head of the Pridean Pantheon, is he not?"
"Yes, that is correct."
"And he contacted you?"
"Where is he?"
"He kept repeating, 'I am in chains at the peak of Mount Kainan.' I believe he needs help."
"Then by all means, you must go. He could prove to be a very powerful ally." Ziyous seemed quite excited to arrange an alliance with a god.
"Of course," I responded. "I will seek his assistance once he is freed."
"Very good. Meanwhile, we will press on into the void to fight the Gluttonous...er, Idenus," Ziyous said.
I then turned to Retheri. "I know the location of Mount Kainan," I said. "And I know that no mortal stands any chance of setting foot there by normal means. But you...you are no mortal. You must know the means by which I can reach the peak. I need your assistance, if we are to win this conflict."
She gazed into my eyes for a moment, intense emotion held just barely beneath the surface. "You want to destroy him," she said quietly. "You're going to kill Idenus. Aren't you?"
"If we cannot stop him...we will do what must be done to preserve this world's existence. Please, I need your help!"
Retheri stood still for a moment longer, then nodded almost imperceptibly. "I will grant you passage to Kainan's Peak," she said, "But be warned: you may expect no further assistance from me in this murder you are about to commit."
"Thank you," I said, slightly bowing my head. "Thank you, my lady Ardiina."
At my use of one of her most ancient names - other than her true name, of course - she appeared shocked for a moment before relaxing again. "You Prideans," she said, "and your damned idealism." We exchanged serious glances before she sighed and opened a portal. Just as I prepared to enter, she stopped me. "No. This is not your portal to reach the peak. This is the creature that will carry you to the summit."
With that, she picked up one of her spellbooks and flipped to the middle, running a finger down the page until she apparently found the line she had been seeking. She read off a long incantation, and as she finished the sentence, a great beast crawled through the portal and bowed before me. It had a wingspan easily the size of my body, and scales all over except for on its belly which was covered with a short brown layer of fur. "You may get on," she said. "The creature will take you to the place you seek."
"What did you do?" I asked, stunned beyond belief by this feat.
"I called upon the Gatekeepers, requesting that they allow this beast to enter our realm and carry out a mission."
"That's...amazing," I responded, not knowing what else to say.
A short while later, the beast touched down at the top of the mountain, and I dismounted. Almost immediately, the creature disappeared through another portal and I was alone, facing a man with a bull's horns growing through his skull and hair as black as night. The immensely muscular individual was almost six feet tall, and he was chained to the side of the nearest cliff by shackles attached to both feet and each of his hands. I instantly recognized him; this was Akoraan.
"Well done, my son," he said. "Use your shadow magic on the shackles. It can break the bond which holds me here." I did so straight away, and was rewarded when the cuffs shattered and fell uselessly to the ground. The effect was immediate: Akoraan was engulfed in a sphere of magical energy, before appearing again from within the lightning-colored sphere, now wearing a gleaming suit of armor and carrying his greatsword.
"Thank you, Tariq," he said. "Now, let us tend to my family. It is time that the Pridean gods walk the earth once more."
He raised the sword and plunged it into the ground beneath both our feet, which cracked open. Before my eyes, the other gods appeared. I nearly fainted when I realized that i was now standing at the feet of all ten of the gods traditionally worshiped by the Pridean people. Without a moment's hesitation, I drew my sword and thrust its blade into the earth, bowing low with both hands wrapped around the hilt of my weapon.
"Rise," Akoraan commanded, and I did so. "Now then," he said as he looked around the ring of his children and brethren, "Let us go to war."