Evening approached in the hamlet of Rowyn Port and the small village’s heroes found a comforting rest from their adventures in the west. Comforting, that is, for all save one.
Resting in her bed, Inylene’e found it easy for the dream world to take her. She was tired but comfortable in her new home, so it didn’t take long for the dreams to appear. As sleep took her, to Inylene’s surprise, she was visited by a friend she hadn’t seen in years. Still wearing the battle-worn armor of Avonian legionnaires, Inylene’e watched as Val moved toward her.
“Still getting your nose into things best left alone,” Val calmly stated in that familiar, judgmental tone.
She thought it strange how much she missed that tone, and him. She smiled. “Val! You should beware strolling into a woman’s dreams. You never know what you might find going on in them. Especially mine.”
She was teasing him as she always did, but like always, there was a keenly interested undertone to her flirtation. “Have you come out to play?”
“Play? I’m not here to play Fina. I’m here as a friend. One who knows you well enough to see when your path starts down a dangerous journey… One which will have a conclusion you will see as worse than death itself…” Inylene knew from Val’s expression that she was no longer talking to the mortal she once knew.
The playfulness she felt at his unexpected visit vanished. Inylene’e frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Motionless, Val’s voice seemed to emerge from his form than his lips. “In your self guided wisdom, you have overlooked so much… Much that cannot be ignored. For if ignored, could change the face of all who hold their faith above all. And of all the souls I know, you — you can fathom the pain such a thing could be…”
Inylene’e looked confused and sensed she may be losing the connection as the dream deepened and became more cryptic. “Please Val’tor! Help me understand! What have I overlooked? Is someone in pain? Does someone need my help? It’s the slaves of Ragonia, isn’t it. You’re telling me I’ve overlooked them too long?”
“You see yourself as the shaper of gods… But in your choices you neglected to consider beyond your own realm of faith. I come here to you as a friend. My choice here will call for some retaliation, but I am ready to take responsibility for that. I will do this one thing for Fina… But there will be a consequence if you say no… Or fail in my request.”
“For Fina?” Inylene’e was wary, alert. “In my faith I’ve done one thing, which was to give all elves a goddess they can love. Oh!” Understanding lit her eyes. Vanima was exceptionally displeased with her when she discovered what Fina had done. Empowering others to do the same with the gods as she had might have a very real impact on the gods. How upset might the gods be if they felt threatened by her? Would Vanima shield her from them? Vanima had accepted her as a priestess, maybe even respected her ingenuity and sheer gall, but the goddess might not feel she owed Inylene anything.
Now Inylene’e understood. The gods wanted to silence her because they were aware now what she might do. “Val, what is your request?” she asked.
There was a pause before Val’s voice continued. “The knowledge you possess, that knowledge that shapes the reality of the gods. You will never speak of it to anyone. You will never share through written word, this knowledge. Any attempt to keep this knowledge alive will be seen as a forfeit to our command by you. And then, then if you defy our wishes, you will be punished. The punishment being your ascendance to godhood.
“Our will must be stern so that it’s seriousness will be taken with the utmost respect. However, for this, I take it upon myself to take the true name from you. You will be free again of any who would seek to control you. Thus I take responsibility for this. I do this as a gesture to my friend.”
Inylene’e sank to her knees. “My name would no longer be used against me?” She thought rapidly, her mind spinning with the implications of what she might have done, the implications of the retaliation the gods might have taken — will take if went to the monastery to speak to the monks the way she had planned. Her heart leapt at the idea no one who knew her real name would be able to take advantage of her, though she wondered what cost Vanima might extract from Val’tor in exchange. And she thought about the long term cost of what changing what Vanima had done to her might do.
Right now, she considered her relationship with her changing goddess to be a good one. She’d accepted her punishment, believing that what she’d achieved had made her sacrifice worth it. In a sense, she shared the same fate as her goddess had. It might be a curse in a way, but it also was something that had in common with the goddess who’d accepted Inylene’e as one of her own. If Val’tor saved her, would her relationship with Vanima sour? Would Vanima think that Fina Blackwell had once again wriggled her way free to escape her fate, a fate the goddess herself had designed?
Inylene’e begged, Val’tor. “Please don’t. Thank you, thank you, but don’t do it! I don’t deserve to be free of Vanima’s chosen punishment, not until She decides, if ever. I understand what you are asking me to do, and I promise I will maintain my silence. I’ll ask the ones who know this secret to let it die and be buried forever. But instead of taking my pain and greatest fear away, I ask that you help my friends, or help me help my friends.
“I don’t ask for all their pains and fears to be taken away, only that you help them cope directly or through me. For Yondah and the monk that means being that person that gives the enslaved folk of Ragonia hope and the will to seek freedom. For Ryl that means helping him get control over the trauma’s of his past. For Elraien, that means allowing there to be a chance for someone else to fill the hole in her heart where once a dragon had been. For Al… Algorin… well Al. I don’t really know what his problem is. Frankly, he just worries me.
“But what I’m asking for is not to release me from what Vanima did to me. Instead, by your will or through me, help my friends?”
As Inylene lowered her eyes to the ground in reverence, hoping her request would be heard, she felt a familiar presence all about her. Peering up she saw the familiar visage of her goddess standing next to the image she saw as Val.
“I told you… She is mine. Body and soul her faith belongs to me.” The swirling image of Venima whispered.
“Goddess!” Inylene’e gasped. Already on her knees, she bent forward until her head touched the ground, hands outstretched. Her body shook with both jubilation and fear.
She wasn’t sure when she’d become so devoted. She just knew she never did things by half measures. For five years after the Great Healing, she’d begged Vanima to accept her. Then for years after, she’d traveled half the continent trying to share that faith with others, an act which had been part deception, part hope and part belief that Vanima could be what all the elves of the world needed.
When Vanima had punished her, the goddess had given her a true name, and Fina had needed to abandon use of her real name. She took the name of a servant maid spellbound to serve Vanima. Fina, or Inylene’e as she was known now, had always been a true servant to the goddess she followed. What the goddess told Val’tor now was the simple truth.
The image of Val’tor bows slightly and began to fade into the backdrop of Inylene’s dream, “She is yours… and I am but the mist.”
As the last remaining glimpse of Val’tor vanished, Inylene remained face to ground, waiting for some guidance, or at least a recognition for her loyalty. Then, as if her hopes had been answered, she felt the warm touch of a gentle hand on her shoulder, she could sense she was about to hear the words of her goddess give her enlightenment. Inylene’s brow furrowed as the soft yet very mannish voice addressed her, “Inylene? Inylene?!? Are you okay?!?”
The light blurred around her as in the distance of the light before her revealed a silhouette. The dark figure became more focused as she cleared the sleep from her eyes to see the young monk over her. The waking world was her reality now.
“I’m sorry to wake you but you seemed to be having a bad dream?”
Inylene’e sat up and looked around, one hand clutching the light cloth blanket covering her. It took a moment to remember the monk was staying in the spare bedroom next to her own. “Bad dream? No. Just a… gentle message, all things considered.”
She reached out with her free hand and grasped his upper arm. “We need to talk. Please sit.” Her bed had more than enough room, but she scooted anyway to give him room to sit on the edge and angle himself toward her.
Fenn could tell this was serious. Inylene’e had that same wrinkle on her forehead when she talked candidly about her situation a day ago when they met.
Sitting at the foot of her bed a part of him marveled at the way life could throw you a sling stone to the head sometimes. Just a few days ago, if someone were to tell him that he’d be having a conversation with the inspired one, and on her bed even, he could have laughed off such a notion.
But here he was. It was at this point the comfort level dropped a bit when Fenn realized that the blanket was really the only thing between him and a very naked Inylene’e. His eyes darted up to her forehead and there they remained as she spoke.
“What…what do you need to tell me?”
Usually, having an obviously very self-conscious and anxious young man in her presence actually soothed Inylene’s nerves. But now she had to take time to gather her composure, and when she was ready, she tried to speak as if she hadn’t just had gods visit in her dreams moments ago.
“I made a mistake, Fenn. The other day I told you what I had really been doing the last half dozen years or so, why I got in trouble for it, and the price I must pay for it. I also told you a secret. I revealed the Mystery of the relationship between gods and mortals. I was wrong to do that. The Mysteries are there for a reason, and to tear them aside for you is crime enough. What’s worse is I had intended to share that secret with others of your order in the misguided belief all could benefit from knowing.”
She scooted forward in the bed so she could clearly see his face in the dim, pre-dawn light. “I didn’t understand what the consequences might be. I’m so sorry! Please, please tell no one what I told you!”
There were only inches between them now. Inylene’s face was remorseful, her eyes desperate. This close to her it was impossible not to feel an irresistible tug of attraction. Her wide eyes were filled with such a desperate hope it made him feel like the most powerful man in the world. Her need seemed so honest it was both fascinating and arousing. He could sense she was frightened but didn’t know why.
Fenn lost his focus as Inylene seemed to melt before him. He had been taught to recognize these urges he felt. They were much more powerful than his teaching had given credited them. However, Fenn was well disciplined and used his training to focus on her words. And as he did, he found his urges being of concern. Just a day or so ago, this icon of his had revealed something about the relationship between mortals and gods that would only validate the teachings of his order. Yet now, for some reason, this strong, confident figure now trembled before him, asking the opposite of him. Keeping his stance neutral, Fenn extended his hand in comfort over hers.
“I will do as you instruct Inylene. I give you my word, I will not speak on this topic to anyone. If I am the last to keep this knowledge, then it will die with me.” Fenn showed a reassuring smile accompanied by a few comforting taps on her hand.
“Only if you feel the need to tell me, I would like to know the reason for such a… change in attitude?”
Inylene’e nodded. “I guess I owe you that much.” She took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Some people might use this knowledge like a weapon, to attempt to eventually shape the gods as they choose. I thought it could be for the better, but tonight I was reminded that this is not necessarily the case. Any god could ultimately be at risk from malicious or ignorant cults, creating a threat to all of us.”
She let the blanket fall away, then she curled up in his lap. It felt so good just to be able to talk to someone. This man believed in her, thought she was inspiring. She wanted to be in his arms.
Inylene’e rested her head against his chest. “One god knew that even so I might still be mischievous enough to tell the truth of the Mysteries, or I might be coerced into doing so, and that Vanima might not raise her hand to stop me. Val’tor visited me tonight. In life, he was one of my closest friends. It was he that awakened me to the dangers I would unleash. He made me swear to never speak, write, or otherwise ever reveal the secret to anyone again. In return, he would lift the punishment Vanima has exacted upon me for what I did to her. If I refused, he would visit on me a fate worse than death itself.”
Luckily for Fenn, Inylene spoke words of a topic he had great interest in. This made it easy to focus on her need to talk, and less on the position she put herself in. Having little to no experience when being with a woman, he closed his eyes and thought more about her need for comfort. Putting his arms around her, he did his best to make her feel safe, though that thought made him shake his head slightly at the absurdity of that. Then her last words hit him like a monastery bell!
“Wait! Death?!? What could be worse?”
Her fingers idly played with Fenn’s simple, unadorned collar. “When the old gods left, the Great Spirit of Erandor asked those of us who were part of the Healing ritual if they would ascend to take the place of the departed gods. You know I refused. I didn’t want that. I wanted to live my life! I just wanted to be me and to do that I need to be with people. Val had Neela, Sharn was always independent, and so were the others. They had the things they loved, be it light, magic, knowledge, or nature. But I love people. Living, real people. I can’t stand the thought of being alone, separated from this world and all I love forever. Goddess or not, I would suffer in way I can’t even imagine no longer being able to touch… No amount of power as a god could replace that for me.”
When she finished speaking, he realized he was looking into her eyes and saw a soulful loneliness there, a faint echo of what would be if Val’tor ever made good on his threat. Her lips pressed against his and then she was pulling him onto her as they sank into the bed.
“Thank you for your promise,” she told him softly. “I gave Val’tor my promise, as well, but begged him not to try to remove my curse.”
Fenn was too distracted by the epic level of information he had to process, before he realized the compromising position he was in.
Sitting up slowly as if to get in a better position, he took advantage of his freedom to slowly and gently put her blanket back over her. Like a caring parent he smiled at her and placed a single kiss on her forehead.
“I have as much respect for you as I do the universe. I ask now that you respect me and the vows that I have taken.” As he spoke at no time did he give the impression of being embarrassed, or uncomfortable. In fact, it was almost like he had been in this position before.
“I look forward to our friendship, Inylene of Rowyn Port.”
Making sure she seemed comfortable and tucked in, he turned and exited the room slowly with a last turn of his head to check on her safety. As the door shut, Inylene pondered, “What just happened?”