Shade seats herself on the table and swings her feet slowly. žPayne has been much on my mind of late. And what with Moonfall, and poor Feysal÷Ó
žYou donŪt know Payne?Ó
Shade shakes her head and thinks back. She says, 'It began in Vetallun÷ during the last war. Iridine was closed, held by Cinera and occupied. The harbor was blockaded.'
Shade smiles slightly as she says, 'For all the news we could get, it seemed Vetallun was the only spot of freedom left to the Republic.'
ShadeŪs eyes darken as she remembers. 'We had landed in Blackvine when we stole the ship to escape Cullaiden. Blackvine then, was worse than wreckage, the fires were still burning. Cineran forces were torching it even as we landed.'
žWe had to fight our way from Blackvine to Vetallun, through the encamped Cineran army.Ó
ShadeŪs eyes grow distant. 'In those days, we spent most of our nights in the grasslands between Vetallun and Blackvine, hunting Cineran soldiers who were foolish enough to stray. Vetallun itself was under daily threat of attack.'
Shade smiles slightly. 'The villagers were not unfriendly as they are now. They were grateful for anyone who could wield any weapon and who would fight Cineran soldiers.'
'The mayor of Vetallun had, in his fears for the town, summoned the Soldiers Of Ereal, a renegade and fanatic sect of Ereal worshippers.'
'They were led by Junia Gracious, of ... revered memory.Ó ShadeŪs lip curls slightly, žOf whom the less I say, the better. She founded the sect in honor of Ereal, who struck her down for falsehood.'
Shade's eyes glitter oddly. žJunia had claimed that the High Priest of Ereal had gotten her with child.'
Shade shrugs. 'He denied it, of course.Ó
'Junia begged Ereal to strike her down if she lied.Ó Shade pauses for an instant, her eyes unreadable. žLightning struck from a clear sky, leaving her a cripple with withered legs.'
'In her amazement and awe at ErealŪs prompt response, Junia founded the sect, holding them to the most strict interpretations of Ereal's worship.'
'To their credit, the Soldiers of Ereal were mighty fighters... truly to be feared. And they hated utterly and completely any hint of heresy and any deviation from the word of Ereal.'
Shade tips her head a moment and considers, žAlthough, given that Cinera is utterly devoted to the worship of Ereal÷ it makes ME uneasy about the Soldiers of Ereal÷Ó
'But, the mayor was desperate, as I can understand.Ó
Shade shrugs, žThey answered the mayor, saying they would fight in exchange for a grant of land to build a fort. They built the damned fort and we saw no help from them in fighting Cinera.'
Shade counts off on her fingers, setting the scene. 'So... in Vetallun we had us, escapees from Cineran slavery, the Soldiers of Ereal, Legio I, villagers, and the Cineran army.'
Shade smiles but her eyes are grave. 'As if we did not have enough chaos, the Moon Gods appeared and many, many people saw them... '
'Helia, Aera, Invex, Lucifal... and of course, Ravan.'
'And I mean... appeared. They stood in plain sight, and no one could doubt what they were; voices sang, shadows moved, walls talked, water flowed from nothing, stones flowered.Ó
'The Moon gods were not in a good mood; they resented Ereal, they resented being usurped. Most of all, they wanted people to know they existed, and
they wanted someone, anyone who dared to champion them. They wanted people, ordinary people to stand up and say they existed, that they were not past and gone as the priests of Ereal claimed.'
'They, of course, promised to reward those who dared.'
Shade looks at her hands a moment. She takes a breath and shakes her hair back.
'Now, among those who saw the gods appear÷ was a priest, Vetros. He took the whole thing hard, he was a faithful member of Ereal's flock. And he had the healing gift.'
'He could rest his hands on you and your wounds melted away.'
Shade's eyes soften as she speaks of the priest. žHe was a kind man, gentle and decent and honest.'
žSince he had seen the moon gods with his own eyes, and heard them with his own ears, he went to the nearest spiritual authority, which sadly, was Junia and her wretched Soldiers of Ereal.'
'He only wanted to understand what this all meant, and to help form a reasonable way to deal with the appearance of beings he had never realized existed.'
Shade looks grim. 'She had him hung on the beams.'
Shade folds her hands in her lap. 'And now things get messy.'
She pauses before saying, 'Ravan appeared.'
žHe said that if two would come forward and become his champions... he would let Vetros live.'
'It caused a tremendous flurry...'
'But two men stepped forward saying they would give themselves to Ravan in order that Vetros might live.'
'Payne was one.'
ÓYou must understand about Payne. He was an ordinary man, pretty decent. Not much of a fighter.'
'Lantar hated him, and Livia usually acted as his bodyguard.'
Shade smiles sadly, 'Payne wasn't known for his deep thinking. But he had been healed by Vetros and he thought it a bad thing that someone die for being honest.'
'Ravan kept his word, and freed Vetros from his halls. Vetros lived and we hid him in my inn room in the Perry.'
Shade looks thoughtful. žRavan÷Ó
'Ravan is the god of death and war.'
Shade pauses a moment, her eyes dark and regretful. 'And sadly, these days he's out of his mind.'
'Payne, being a simple man, could not... adjust to being that close to a god... especially not a mad one'
Shade's eyes darken with compassion. 'Gods... are just that, gods. ' Shade shakes her head. 'Mortals aren't meant... to have to deal with gods, much less have one being insane inside our minds.'
Shade sighs softly, her eyes grave.
'Payne fell apart when he realized that the price of championing Ravan was his life÷ or rather, his death.'
'You could cut off his head, and it grew back. You could stab him to the heart and the wound left no trace.'
'He sat there in the Old Goat, and jammed a gladius into his own gut over and over, and made a horrid little laughing sound every time he did it.'
Shade mimes stabbing herself with a gladius, 'Look! no blood!' *stab* 'wanna see?' *stab*
Shade wraps her arms around herself and shudders. She pulls herself together after a moment.
žTo save himself÷ he embraced the madness...and became a willing party to all Ravan's plans and schemes.'
'The gray moon, Ravan's moon, Payne set that in the sky. He was behind kidnapping the recruits and burning them alive. He aided Gideon every step of the way. He enticed and nearly destroyed Tivarrus, He deluded Reysa into betraying the Library÷Ó
Shade falls silent.
'He's quite mad...and quite dangerous÷ and his goal is to make Ravan supreme.'
Shade looks at her hands a moment. 'He's not dead.'
žWe saw him during the eclipse.Ó
'We'll see him with Moonfall.'
Shade clasps her hands in her lap and shakes her head sadly.