“A new goddess for Dal!” The warlord of Mel whistled in appreciation. “That’s bold.”
“It will do the job,” the warlord of Sav answered. He watched a wave splash onto the shore. “Mel will need to confirm it. Do you think you can arrange that?”
The other man looked confused. “What do you mean, ‘confirm’?”
Another wave splashed in front of them. “The priestesses of Sav have just announced their ‘discovery’. If the priestesses of Mel do the same, then Dal has to either go along with the story or stand against two other goddesses.”
“And we can exploit either outcome.” He paused. “Mel’s night was just a few nights ago. It would be better if both of our clans announced this before Dal’s night.” The other nodded in agreement.
Another wave splashed upon the shore. The warlord of Mel smiled. “Perhaps my priestess will see the value in sharing now something she kept to herself on Mel’s night. Yes, I think she could be persuaded of that.”
A small bird dove into the water and quickly emerged, a large fish twitching in its beak. They watched it fly away.
“I am confident of your ability to persuade,” the warlord of Sav answered.
I am too, the warlord of Mel said to himself, gazing up at Sav.
* * *
Ala looked about nervously as they approached the council house. More than once she mistook the long afternoon shadows for people passing by, watching. Usaygo took her hand reassuringly.
“Do not fret,” Usaygo said calmly. “You were summoned. You’re allowed to be here.” They reached the door, knocked once, and entered. S’ilu sat alone at the table.
“Please enter,” she addressed both of them. “We have much to discuss.”
* * *
Elish’s eyes darted from side to side, taking in their surroundings. She squeezed Rufi’s hand harder. Rufi stifled a yelp of pain.
Dr. Benjamin Richardson spoke quietly as he led them down the hallway. “Yeah, I know it’s all strange to you. It looks like you’ve never even been in a building before. I hope we can help you get home someday, once you can tell us where that is.” They arrived at an elevator and he pushed a button.
A moment later, a ding and a sudden opening in the wall startled Elish and Rufi. Dr. Richardson stepped into the box beyond, pulling them along, as their eyes grew wide. This strange new world was full of surprises, Elish thought as the doors closed and the box began to move.
The doctor continued his monologue. “Captain McPherson knows somebody who knows somebody. We’ll take care of you, don’t worry. Can’t have you roaming the streets any more than roaming the sea, y’know. Dr. Abrams will help you. She was part of the team that worked with that wolf-boy a few years back, and he’s adapted and is in school now. Melanie and her husband are great people. They’ve got a daughter about your age, too.” He smiled at Elish.
Elish and Rufi listened to doc-tor-rich-ard-son talk. “I think I heard another doc-tor”, Rufi whispered. Elish shuddered. “I hope he doesn’t stick sharp things in us too.”
The box jolted to a stop. Another ding and the magical doors opened. Elish peered into the space that swallowed the doors as Dr. Richardson guided them toward another hallway. “Careful,” he said, “when they close on you it hurts.”
They stopped at a door — a regular door, Elish was relieved to see, and not another moving-box door. Dr. Richardson knocked, and a moment later Dr. Abrams welcomed them in. Elish gazed at the tall, dark-haired woman with the soothing voice.
“Welcome,” she said. “I’m Dr. Abrams. You can call me” — she pointed to herself — “Mel”.
Elish met Rufi’s gaze as they both cried in shock.
Dr. Richardson looked at Melanie and shrugged. “It looks like you’ve got your hands full.”
“I hope someday,” she replied, “to find out what that was about.”
* * *
Sav stood high in the night sky when Usaygo and Ala reached the shore.
“I still don’t understand,” Ala whispered. “Even if this is a new goddess, why would she want me? And how are we supposed to reach her anyway when she doesn’t move like the others? When is Kir’s night, anyway?”
“Kir is a young goddess, not yet settled into a pattern,” Usaygo answered. “Sav says she came from Dal and so did you. She wants you. You will figure each other out in time. Sav will help you.”
Kir stood in the eastern sky in her usual place. This is a very unusual goddess, Ala thought. If she’s young, shouldn’t she be running around wild, more like Mel?
Usaygo offered her the pipe. “Breathe deeply, and let Kir speak to you.” Ala obeyed.
They stood in silence. Sav continued to climb, but their gazes were fixed on the newcomer. As she stared, Ala felt her vision blurring and her mind wandering. She saw three spheres in a swirling field. The largest one spat out a fourth and pushed it away. The others floated toward the large one, and all four moved in a dizzying dance. The others seemed to bang into the large one, which pushed them back.
Now the large one grew dimmer while the smallest one grew brighter. The dance changed; the large one backed away.
S’ilu stood behind a tree, watching Usaygo whisper in Ala’s ear, Ala lost in the trance. S’ilu smiled and slipped away.
Sav was sinking in the west when Ala’s head cleared. She saw Usaygo standing next to her — had she stayed with her all this time? Usaygo met her gaze and smiled.
“Kir has chosen well,” Usaygo said. “Come, K’ala, we must share the good news.”
* * *
K’ala smelled the fresh sap from the thatch as she and Usaygo entered the council house. How had they built this in just half a ten-day, she wondered? Usaygo pulled the shades away from the high-set windows and sunlight glimmered on the table.
“It’s a fitting council room,” K’ala said. “All we need is a council.”
Usaygo smiled. “We came here now because your first applicant is on her way. A Dal woman, but not a priestess. Dal didn’t want her, but Kir sees value where Dal does not.” Usaygo placed a reassuring hand on K’ala’s shoulder.
“Priestesses always came from within the clan before now,” K’ala protested. “How does this work? We’re recruiting?”
“We provide opportunity,” Usaygo answered. “Word is getting out, and people come on their own. You will have a full council in no time.”
“I’ll need it,” K’ala said. “And a warlord. Because surely D’ara will come for my family soon.”
“You focus on Kir, and others will take care of D’ara. Don’t worry.”
Usaygo was right. By Dal’s night K’ala would have several priestesses and a warlord.
* * *
D’ara was raving against the newcomer and the traitor-priestess Ala, as usual. Efa looked around the council table with its three empty seats. They all looked uncomfortable, but nobody was speaking up. Again. Efa cleared her throat.
“D’ara,” Efa said firmly, “Sav and Mel both say that this new goddess is from Dal. We need to find out if that’s true. You need to focus on that tonight.”
“I need to focus on bringing our traitors” — D’ara gestured at the empty seats — “before Dal for judgement!” And there we go, Efa thought as D’ara continued, off on another distracting rant.
The others must see that their leader was breaking down. But no one spoke. Efa would have to act herself to save them all.
She felt for the bundle of special herbs beneath her robe, and mentally reviewed, again, the preparation of the pipe.
* * *
Elish, Rufi, and Melanie sat at the table in the Abrams home. “Again,” Melanie said. She pointed to herself and they both said “Lanie”. “Good. And now this.” She pointed to the bowl in the center of the table. “Fruit”, Elish said.
“Good, Elish.” Elish nodded when she heard her name. “Want fruit?” Melanie pushed the bowl toward her.
Peter sat in a stuffed chair across the room, watching the vid box on the table. “I don’t know how you have the patience,” he said to his wife. All three of them looked at him.
Elish and Rufi had seen this vid box a few times. Tonight it showed another person speaking — well, just the person’s head, and neither of them could figure out where the rest of the person was. The box was too small! As they watched, the head disappeared and the screen was filled with a closeup of the newcomer. Elish and Rufi raced across the room.
“Odd,” Melanie said to Peter. “They haven’t reacted that strongly to the vid before.”
Elish sat on the floor, face pressed to the screen. It showed more detail than she could see when looking into the sky. How could this box show them the newcomer so clearly? Especially when we’re not outside?
Unlike the other sisters, the newcomer was smooth and a uniform gray. Well, almost uniform — were those lines on her surface? They almost looked like seams.
A voice was narrating. “…geo-stationary orbit over the western sea. We’re speaking now with Dr. Leslie Dawkins, chief scientist on the communications team. Dr. Dawkins, what progress have you made in understanding their transmissions?”
On the screen, the newcomer had been replaced with talking people. Elish turned to Peter, silently begging to know how the newcomer was in the vid box and then gone again. Peter shrugged, reached past her, and turned the device off.
* * *
End of Part 2