When Shadows Fall Online - Bruce Blake

Prologue

It rained fire the day the Small Gods fled.

Balls of flame fell from the sky, shattering homes and skulls alike, burning gardens and turning forests to ash, setting alight both farmers’ fields and farmers’ lives with disregard. Much later, it would be said the Goddess banished them for their wicked ways, but on that day, the Small Gods were naught but men and women afraid for their lives. In the eyes of history and legend, the width of the line between banishment and flight is thin.

***

“Watch out!” the priestess Rak’bana shouted, ducking behind Love—one of the granite Pillars of Life.

A ball of flame hammered into the earth with a spray of dirt and the stench of burnt grass. She covered her head, waiting for the ground to cease shaking before she peeked out from behind her arm to find her twin brother. Ine’vesi peered back at her from around the corner of the next column in the row of nine—Trust.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

The crackle of flames all but kept his voice from her ears, but they were well enough connected she knew what he’d ask without needing to hear. She nodded in response and he crept out from behind the column, the roll of parchment in his hand.

“Time is short, Vesi,” she said. “The Goddess is angry.”

Ine’vesi made no effort to hide the sneer upon his lips as he hurried across the ruined garden to her side. Before he opened his mouth to spill out the blaspheme imprinted on his brow, she raised her hand and gestured with her fingers. A thick stream of water the height of five men rose from the river and flowed across the air. It splashed into the newly lit fire with a hiss of doused flames and white steam billowing toward the sky. Another ball of fire crashed into the top edge of the nearest wall, sending chunks of stone tumbling to the ground. The twin siblings ducked their heads.

“We have to go,” she urged.

“Out of the city.” Ine’vesi brandished the roll of parchment. “Once we have inscribed the scroll, it will not be safe here. The wrong hands will find it.”

A fiery ball crashed into the base of a towering pine, its flames leaping up the trunk, spreading through its branches, jumping to the next tree like a playful squirrel, then skipping to the next. Rak’bana raised her hand again, intending to call the river and extinguish the fire to save her garden, but Ine’vesi caught her by the wrist.

“Let it burn, Bana. Let it be a testament to the unjust wrath of a jealous Goddess.”

The priestess’ eyes widened and she shook her head, unable to comprehend why he’d speak such blasphemous words. She pulled her hand free of his grip and faltered back a step toward the river.

“You are a priest, Vesi. You know as well as I that we have brought this on ourselves. Righteous anger falls from the sky, not jealousy. The Goddess gives what is deserved.”

“The—”

Another ball slammed into the pine. The great tree leaned with a creak of wood, bending slowly at first, then the trunk split with a crack louder than thunder, and the tree that had grown in the courtyard for a dozen hundred seasons toppled, spilling flame across the dry grass. The fire raced toward the siblings, fueled by a swirling fireball, then another. A third pelted the ground, the closest yet, and the impact threw Ine’vesi into his sister, his momentum carrying them both into the river.

The frigid water clung to Rak’bana as she clutched her brother, and the red rage of the Goddess’ flames shone through the shimmering river. She understood that, if they surfaced, the fire would hunt them mercilessly, never giving up until the blaze consumed them. Deserving of the Goddess’ wrath or not, the priestess could not let that happen before they’d completed their task.

She held Ine’vesi tight to her chest and swirled her free hand, manipulating the water around them to increase the river’s current. It bore them away from the garden, away from the courtyard, but the red and orange glow above them brightened and the water grew warmer, heated by the anger of the Goddess. Worry burned in Rak’bana’s chest along with her held breath—if they didn’t leave their warning, this would all happen again. They’d both seen it in their dreams.

The water shivered around them as the Pillars of Life toppled, thumping to the ground. Ine’vesi jerked in her grasp, fighting the current and the heat,