Ven’thrith’s footfalls echoed in the halls despite the water cloaking all about them. He reveled in the bend of the physics his presence wrought and the confusion in his wake as they followed. Selkie lights and crystal lamps floated or thrust from the walls of the halls of the Outer Paths where the normal activities of the Temple occurred. White, grey, blue, green, brown, black, and subtle hues without names swirled and lurked in these worked barriers shot through with gold, silver. Occasionally some jewel would be set to relay some vital impulse to another point in the Net and then out into the surrounding city.
The door to one of the innermost sanctums rose before the group accompanying him. Flanking these were a samebito and a selkie, one male, one female. Both wore the silver and pearl armor of the guard. These were felt before they were seen visually and Ven’thrith allowed the mists of illusion to fall so that they too would be seen.
The vast sweeps of solid shell swung open for Ven’thrith and his party on his approach, startling the guards waiting outside them as much as those accompanying him. The doors knew him, remembered him, greeted him as an old friend. How many times had he passed through these doors when seeking out Mara when she mourned, or come to these chambers when the moon was just so and she needed that bit of insanity to get her through to the next cycle? He’d been with Mara when she had admired them at Seiryuu’s Palace o long ago when they had paused to take in the wonders of that Sea King’s city and tradesmen. The doors even still bore the slight purple blush that was only obtainable by the crafters when Seiryuu’s distant granddaughter kissed them to give the shade so prized. The color was rare as it was rare for Amehana of the Arashiryuu to make the trek to see that side of her kinship in those days. The door deepened the hue the nearer Justin came. Ven’thrith raised a brow and made a note to explore how this reaction might come about and what it might mean that they warmed to him.
All of these things flashed past in less than a breath, even as the honor guard laid sight on him.
“I’m sorry La- Lord Ven’thrith. They work—” The samebito guard that spoke seemed not to have had the post long. His voice squeaked. Or perhaps that was a result of Ven’thrith hirself. Most never did seem to know what to do or how to react to hir being seen sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes someplace in between. Perhaps it was even Justin’s presence as the spear pointed so quickly. He kept the male form firm. He was needed this way for now, he would not give in to the comfortable and be shi.
“I know. But their focus must now change. Leave this lad alone as well. He belongs to me. There will be no trouble.” Ven’thrith looked sternly at the pair of honor guards. The looked away, paling as they avoided locking gaze with him to avoid his gifts.
Kirsty whimpered in Justin’s arms, twitching, hands hooking like claws as she grasped whatever nightmare she now rode between the weft of the Tapestry.
He led his small party through those doors. A net swept over them as they each passed through, and he nodded imperceptibly as the fabric of Mara’s skirts brushed and searched. He kept his heart and mind open, or as open as he ever kept it to anyone including the Sea. Pearl, coral, and smoothed stone greeted them and twisted away as the atmosphere thickened and the incense curled in thick wisps from impossible containers. Seasilk and bead curtains for decoration and for covering the doorways into the innermost rooms swayed in the current. The one for Mara’s Throne, which led further through yet another passage to the Bed and Stone Box of Souls, beckoned and opened. Ven’thrith did not follow yet. The group around the silver seashell held his attention. As he expected Mara’s servants were gathered around the gazing bowl before the Middle Dias. If he was right then they were busy watching where the conscious piece of Kirsty was questing. Whites and blues swirled around the various merfolk representing the various aquatic races in their clergy garb. His lip curled.
Though they usually could not help it they certainly seemed like a pack of voyeurs to him. Perhaps they had discovered the treachery of one of their own and were working to find and detain her. He doubted it though. Each had their own agenda, and the jockeying for position within the ranks was an ages old problem. The High Priestess and her mate were the ones he felt the most trustworthy, and it was her scowl that was the deepest.
His eyelid throbbed and twitched. He would look soon enough, and then likely want to lock himself away from the child races for awhile.
Mara’s Presence began to coalesce upon her Dias. Her servants hadn’t felt her yet, so occupied were they with the visions of the bowl. He addressed the gathering swirl of essence and gestured at Justin bearing Kirsty, speaking gently, as if waking her. “Leannán, we have a problem.” Ven’thrith paused a moment before continuing. “Some good is coming of this mess that can help us part the Veil a moment though.” His Voice, now unfettered, rolled through the chamber with the same undeniable force of the moon’s pull.
It was Mara’s Voice that truly sent the Clergy fully into their bodies once more. “I am glad of that. I’ve found the shard of me that I sent to find her, but I see no way home yet. Justin has done well returning to me.”
Justin shuffled before the light and water that was taking her time forming into a body that he could relate to. Several of the men and women in robes shot him looks and curled their lips in disgust. Other glared at him as if their gaze could force him to fire. He certainly felt like jumping in a fire right now, or hanging himself from a tree to dry out and blow away in a passing breeze.
“You will cease.” Mara’s voice addressed her servants as she finally took form. Her features shifted and darted so that at any moment you gained an impression of all creatures of the sea. “Some of you have forgotten that those under his curse were once all mine, and that any of you are as vulnerable as a stolen child or an Avowed.
“He said to bring her. So I did.” Justin offered awkwardly at the introduction to his side of Ven’thrith’s elbow.
“You’ve done well.” She stepped to the side and gestured to where she landed on her Dais. “Lay her here please. There is so much Interference that you may need to give your blood, more if some has already been taken.” Her eyes swept over Justin, then she pulled a smirk to the Moon. “You move fast.”
“The effect of her purifications on his was still fresh. I thought it better to take him instead of taking the risk.” Ven’thrith answered her implication.
“I give no quarrel so long as he is shared.” A strange energy flared between the pair of deities, bristling fur or scale of everyone gathered and drawing bumps on the flesh of the octopids. Mostly placid, the energy coiled around each and the young Finman, visible as the smoke of arcane incenses. Even with the placidity there still existed a dangerous current with the tang of blood and steel.
Justin stuffed down his uneasiness just as he did when before the Ealdormen when they quarreled. He did as she bid, laying Kirsty down on the dias. He couldn’t quite bring himself to separate from her so he stayed kneeling with a hand on her shoulder. The scent of crushed seaweed and muffled fear flavored the water around her. Kirsty’s eyes darted and jumped under their thin lids and he wondered what she saw in whatever sort of swoon this was. “What is so special about her that I was sent to capture her? She’s just a girl.”
“We have similar goals and games for where these two must be. I can share. We already share.” Ven’thrith reminded, a small smile flitting like a silver fish across his lips.
The atmosphere broke. Mara nodded. Her feet padded softly to stand by Kirsty’s other shoulder and she looked down. Skirt hems lapped at her like waves on the shore, washing gently. Justin looked up at the deity when a slim hand descended on his shoulder. His breath caught at how young she looked. Mara’s eyes were still on Ven’thrith.
“Something will need done about Raechel. I believe her to be part of this. It was her name she cried before we brought her here.” Ven’thrith laid the morsel out carefully. Sharks bit, and Mara was, after all, the mother of them all.
“Do what you need. Nullify it. I will do what I must.” To the guards she spoke, her voice iron and steel. “I need Bethrise and Raechel. Bring them.”
Her guards hastened to obey, dipping obeisance before leaving. Justin noted that some of the robed figures still in the room seemed displeased that none were directed their way as well before the withdraw.
Ven’thrith nodded in reply to Mara and knelt down. “Marvelous, Justin. Keep contact with her.”
His hands passed over the small form as his eyes refocused. Either the room took on the glow of the moon or her own light reacted to the signs he made and the strands he pulled and straightened. Some snapped when he touched them. He listened to the tones as the sphere moved in this world, and some of the other worlds, the gentle trickling chimes and the great screeling wheels. Discordant tones pulled his attention back to the room itself. His eyes, now open to the cosmos and bearing them just as much as those of Mara or Hearne, fell on the stiff interplay between the guards, Justin, and Mara’s Bloodbearers.
He suppressed a sneer. Jealousy had wrought too much damage already. Yet, the child races never learned. Not that his kind did either.
The noises grew in volume again and the threads came back into focus. Behind all of this the heard the sounds of a loom, a spinning wheel, the carding of wool, the sharpening of shears. “Are you listening, Ladies? This will be touchy work.” Ven’thrith sighed and went back to reaching out for Kirsty and following the threads that branched off of her. The hands of the Weavers worked around him, unseen to the others, or at least he assumed them unseen. Whether they saw through the Bending that always swathed him and into that place beyond where they currently existed was not his concern. There were too many threads to slip through without leaving damage.
They could fend for themselves.
If a few more joined him in realizing that there were things even beyond his generation of Deities and beyond this particular creation was not his concern. His concern was the girl, her mother. For Mara. For her sister. The more strongly he wanted to do something for them, the more strongly his gender swung toward the male, for now.
The Weavers whispered to each other and to him. Hurry, it has to be done before they come back in here. You know how they are.
Defending their cosmic weaving had to have driven The Weavers more insane than the original moon deity was reputed to be. Theirs was not a job nor a fate that he wanted.
Finally Ven’thrith found that piece of consciousness and soul that he sought in time. She had been several people over several incarnations, sometimes even parts of people. Sifting through all of the various glowing mini stars and moons of those carrying hir DNA took up more time than he would have liked. Sometimes he felt the pull of the sea or the call of a still lake and he had to tear himself away from the lonely reaching arms as he sought through time for this single light. That would not be such a loud call if Hearn would spend more time with them instead of engaging in those hunts, he growled to the ancients. Or take them along. He held himself to one form, one self, painfully.
The ever changing hands patted and brushed him as they worked the loom, wove the pattern with the unknowing aid of each person and each thread. His hands closed around the version of Kirsty that he sought. Raw, unpolished. Her light flashed and slashed at the dark, not yet rounded and polished by lessons and life into a smoother orb for her current life.
Rough little pearl.
He inhaled, secured his grip on the time and phase he needed to keep his self within. Another set of eyes opened to look within the time her mind occupied. His world became less twining yarn, shadowy forms, dancing fingers, and more staccato flashes of intention. He pushed harder, slipped enough in that his opened eyes focused. The film-effect cleared and smoothed into something more normal as he increased the energy he used.
Ven’thrith watched her travails with a smile. Spunk and determination carried her through. His eyes narrowed jealously when the Cailleach’s Hound came in answer to the formerly lost Black Gate, but this he suppressed already knowing the role Taranis would play and had played in what was more recent for him. His head shook, remembering Taranis’ concurrent incarnation. This was fitting, and not an intrusion. It had been and thus would be, and he giggled internally as the Hound’s confusion over the connection he felt mounted. One day he would get to play with these threads more.
For now, he watched, detached. Patient. He had to watch for the Time, the Space, the Hole Between. At each of these internal proper capitalizations he sat and allowed the Power Ripples to spread and set the Web, the Tapestry to dance. He would not interfere with what was happening until he saw the perfect moment for the trick. She was still in the test even if something had influenced it beyond bounds that it logically should have taken.
Kirsty gave herself, flared into a blazing star to his eyes as she leapt with the intent to protect those that had been with her. The blood of his Ladies he could smell and feel activated, and for those in the room around her body the water twisted at it reacted to the blood just as that around her body in the time projection did. The rewriting was strong, demanding, insistent.
If only they could get enough of ones like her bred at once and deploy them on the map. Seeing the oceans forcibly reset and confusing the humans while undoing all of their damage to Mara and the seas would be a thing of beauty and likely the most massive confusion in centuries yet.
She leapt again after her attempt at knocking the falling debris into Raechel failed. The light flailed against the dark glow that came from the Tainted priestess riding the kraken. Not for the first time he wondered what would happen if this Taint finally found a way into Mara’s heart itself.
Here was the moment. His hands shot for the twisting and yowling ball of fur. Blue blazes met his eyes as she hissed, spit, and clawed in his hands in panic. Ven’thrith spoke a few words and pulled her through the hole, pulling Raechel through as well by the connected cords and slammed each into their own bodies as the Weavers finished with that part of their design. He was gratified when Kirsty jolted up and shook off Justin’s hand, her eyes starting wilding about the room while Mara sighed in relief. He sent her into real sleep quickly after a swift reassurance.
Better that she not hurt herself yet. There was plenty of time for that later on. Justin’s hand went back for Kirsty, and he nodded at the question in the boy’s eyes before locking eyes with Mara and sharing all that he had Seen, not only from this Viewing but from others as well. He held onto her essence with hir own, sliding physically and unable to hold the rough male form fully now that the immediate need had passed. In return Mara passed to him all the knowledge she was willing to share.
Ven’thrith had the impression that so far she was pleased with Kirsty’s performance, even if her testing was full of interference.
While the deities silently conferred, keeping the mortals out of whatever they were Speaking to each other, the High Priestess and Lore Keeper carefully inspected the Finman under Mara’s Hand. The gesture was not lost on her. This same gesture had been used with each of them at times, and she could remember the first time of feeling that hand on her own shoulder. How had he been able to penetrate so far though? He had been quite far in before Ven’thrith had collected the lad. Certain lines evoked the girl currently beneath the Moon’s spell, others reminded her of Etain, or the less often seen but always working for them Finnol. Was he of the Blood? Was that how he won into the Labyrinth?
Could he be the beginning of a cure for one of the plagues they fought?
Too many questions, and several other eyes that glared with distrust and envy. Was the Taint spreading?
The eyes of both Deities fell on her, captured her own eyes. She fought not to look Ven’thrith in the eye and failed. Galaxies spun and shook her core. The shifting waves of Mara’s were far less alien to her. What would they want when they spoke?