CHAPTER 7: Giruvegan Enigma

Cut for those who can’t read too long. :P

The blow had been harder than he had expected. He shook his head to clear himself of the ringing in his head, and then breathed deeply. Just in time, he bent down to avoid the large claw that tried to swipe him. Moving with an almost drunken grace, he easily avoided the rest of the physical blows. The dragon was not behaving like how most dragons he had come to expect to attack. Normally they would attack with magic to weaken and gauge an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. This one did not. Instead, it had gone straight into attacking him physically, which would had been a foolish thing to do had he have his full weapons.

Which he did not.

Instead, he simply concentrated on avoiding the dragon’s attacks. At the back of his mind lay a thought that the Goddess would not be pleased to see the destruction of a forest she had loved for more than a few hundred years. Of course, she would be even more displeased by the notion that a mythical being had deigned to show up at her doorstep and more or less ravage her forest. He gave no thought to himself, especially since that was the least of his worries now. He had to find the chink in this dragon’s armor, or else he would definately be dead. Then again, he mused as he avoided another swing of the dragon’s claws and started running lightly along the dragon’s limb, perhaps that would not be such a bad thing after all.

“You know my name, Sir, what be yours?” he jumped to the dragon’s shoulder, and then up his neck, but had to abandon it halfway through as the dragon’s magical personal shield kicked in.

“Not for thee to know! But here’s a hint,” this dragon was more than a little narcissistic, “I be the God of Pudding!”

He raised an eyebrow at that, landing gracefully on a tree. The dragon took another swipe and him, but he had had enough. Raising his left hand, he stopped the claw with nary a sweat. His eyes were cold as they stared at the God. He did not like Gods much, thought they complicated life too much. More importantly, too many of them expressed an unhealthy interest in his sisters, and that was not something he would allow. Like most men, Zu was a bit of a chauvinist. More than that; he took the responsibilities that had been passed down to him with an almost obsessive determination.

His name is Zhilbar, master, the sprite informed him.

“Zhilbar! I hold thee! Stop thy attacks on this land! By the threads of the Moira, I bind thee! By Clotho’s thread I spin thee to my wishes! By Lachesis’ distaff I bind you to my service! By Atropos cut’s, Your service is mine! OBEY ME!” he shouted, his left hand easily pushing the claw (ten times his size) away and his right hand drawing a symbol in front of him.

The symbol he drew was one of binding of the Highest kind, but it was misleading; this was a bond to bind the other’s powers, and NOT to make them a slave against their will. Of course, those who did not know the difference would take it that they were slaves anyway; it made it easier to compel them by reason and love rather than hate and ignorance; he had lost count of the times that that small distinction had saved his life, and that of his sisters. The Dragon God fought mightily against the bonds, now truly calling his magical powers to his aid. Zu focused all his attention on the symbol to bind the God.

Just as the knot loosened, he felt another two tugging on it, tightening the noose. Two touches on his brow, gentle and loving. Each lent him additional strength even while they held the now truly angered God in place. With a prayer, he pulled the spell tight. The Dragon roared, and then went oddly silent. He heard his sister curse; that would have been the middle sister, the one who was more impulsive than he was. She added an extra binding to the spell; one of promise. That meant that whatever the dragon promised, he would have to obey. Almost instantly, he felt the knot loosen. It was taking up too much of her power for her to even attempt that spell while his was still incomplete!

“CELESTE!!!!” He heard the sweet melodic tones of his sister cry out, and almost immediately new strength poured into him.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The Dragon God screamed, as he was suddenly reduced to human form.

“Of all the Gods, I would have expected you to have more sense than to attack a Dragon Hunter who’s aligned with the Sister Clans, Zhilbar. And even more… Not to attack him on MY lands,” He dropped down to where the Temptress Goddess was berating the now dark-haired, almost elf-like God.

“HE ATTACKED MY CHILDREN!” the God shouted. “I DEMAND BLOOD PRICE!”

“That remains to be seen. As I have informed you before this, he’s under my protection, and therefore, immune. Also, I’m surprised you were foolish enough to get yourself bound to them… You needn’t be so hard on him just now, Naoko,” the Goddess was among the few who used her common name with fondness.

“Blame my crankiness, Lady,” she replied with utmost respect, “I was still sleeping when this happened, and he looked at me funny,” Naoko was standing next to her sister.
“Kishan… you too!”

Getting a scolding had never been such an enjoyable pleasure.

~~~~~

The evening ritual was a very calming time for the whole Priestesshood of Celeste, the Goddess of Death. It was simply all the Priestess gathering together in the evening to offer a hymn to the Lady and sitting in meditation for a little while; a time to take a much-needed break from the hecticness of life. In that moment, the room was totally silent and motionless. The Lady liked walking among her Daughters at that moment; she found it was easier to touch them and draw them to her. They were her only family, and she was terrified of losing them. Not their bodies, for life was transitory for mortals, but their souls. Losing that was painful, and every generation brought her some pain, but there was also relief, for they were often taken either into Paradise or back to Hades, to bathe in the Lethe river in preparation for another journey across the worlds; another time on the Wheel of Reincarnation, so to speak.

The two sisters were her special Charges, granted by Karma herself. The eldest (figuratively and ranking-speaking) two were her favorites now, and with good reason; both were not only good at what they did, but they guided the Alin’sa with such gentle but firm hands that she could focus her attentions on the inter-deity politics and assisting Karma, not to mention the many different duties and guises she held. With a smile, she bent over a new Priestess; one who had seen Death mirrored in life by going through Childbirth. The girl did not see, but rather felt the Goddess, and she sighed as the Goddess kissed her brow gently.

The Goddess then straightened up, looking around the Inner Sanctum. The Sanctum was full, filled to the brim with Priestesses and Acolytes. The many Novices were instead spread through the Worlds, undergoing apprenticeships under other Priestesses stationed elsewhere. In an essence, she realised that she had a female army that was both independent of her and yet devoted to her. Each of these girls were also warriors, and they should be; descended from the Amazons, they had inherited a strong sense of independence and duty. Each was a part of a whole, but essentially responsible for her own duty.

“I love thee,” she whispered, disappearing on the wind…

~~~~~

After the evening ritual, the two sisters took a walk around the temple. It actually stood atop a cliff, accessible by a secret road known only to selected villagers and to all the members of the Temple. The temple was also built partially into the cliff, which lent it a very impregnable air. The main reason for such a structure was twofold; besides defense, it also protected the Main Gateway between the Worlds that was always kept open, though guarded. This particular Gateway was located in one of the many caverns of the cliffs but was separate from the actual Temple.

The two sisters liked to walk around these areas, for it was easy to forget what they were in the annonymity of the crowd. They were dressed in the short Roman tunics that marked them as off-duty Priestesses. Both gowns were in sky blue, which matched Sukina’s eyes and Naoko’s slightly tanned skin. They were walking hand in hand, stopping to smell the flowers that grew in the temple’s gardens. The Sun was just about to set, and thus the world was being bathed in an almost gentle, caring orange glow. When they noted no one had seen them, the two girls slipped away to the edge of the cliffs high above the temple, where the Dragon God had been kept. Celeste was not one for being the one to gloat.

He was sleeping, but awoke once he heard them nearing. They were not being very quiet, but within the folds of the short tunics they did carry his lunch. They were generous; the food they brought were what he wanted, and the hot ones filled his stomach rather quickly. It did not take a genius to figure out that they probably did this often. The practiced ease and the way they relaxed around the area, he would have guessed that they were the most comfortable this area. He refrained from trying any mind tricks though; the fact that they were aligned to the Dragon Hunter and that they seemed to possess an unseen bond stayed his power. The brunette drew his attention the most though; he was attracted to the vibrant energy that pulsed around her. Her sister had a natural grace by the way she moved and the world responded to her kindness; the brunette’s was an energy arresting to whomever could see it. That was what had drawn his stare.

He ate the food in silence while the two sisters watched him. The younger girl, the blond one, began picking flowers, and once she had had enough, she began braiding them into a long flower chain. Once she had had a long enough chain, she pulled on her sister’s tunic (who was half-leaning against the large boulder) and her sister bent down graciously. She slipped the crown over her sister’s head and giggled, clapping her hands like a small child in delight. Her sister simply smiled indulgently, and then she turned to the dragon-Man and fixed him with a rigid stare.

“How did you know we were siblings?”

The Dragon-God-now-Man choked on a chicken leg. That was not only an unexpected question, but also a very silly one in his opinions. Why did these humans insist on complicating matters he would never know…

“Your hands. The ties that bind the three of you, thicker than blood, stronger than a spider’s web. If that doesn’t *crunch* give it away, then I don’t *chew chew swallow* what will,” he did not want to admit that he was hungry. The two girls looked at him in puzzlement.

“Spider’s web?”

He shrugged, finishing the last of his meal. It was a really delicious one, though he knew that he should not be so surprised by that. Cooks with a tie to the Goddess of the Harvest and the Queen of the Underworld tended to be more or less from a different world altogether. Their foods were delicious, with that hint of magic that most Gods and Goddess found delightful. He knew that this would definitely be one of his better (and perhaps last) meals, s he suspected the younger one of being from the deadly God Huntress clan. If what Celeste had said was right (and the Goddess was not known to tell lies) then the brunette would be from the Black Angel Huntress Clans; a relatively obscure but efficient clan.

The younger sister cleaned up quickly once he was done. All she really did was to shake out the cloth in which they had hid the foods in, and fold them neatly. The cloths disappeared among the tunics, and the girls bowed and left the dragon; besides the question, they had not spoken to him at all. He tested the magical bonds that held him; nothing seemed to stop him from leaving, but he was curious as well. They had beaten him, but did not release him; they had fed him, but did not command. He had no idea what they would do with him; his only thought was to destroy the man who had attacked his people and to own the dark-haired girl. He laid down to sleep; it was going to be a long night.

~~~~~

Dark had just fallen when he heard the sound of footsteps. It was the boy called Zu. He was bringing a change of clothes, mostly warm ones, Zhilbar noticed. “Get changed. You’ll be sleeping tonight in the Temple as a foundling,” Zu turned his back on the dragon. He seemed to be oddly complacent and trusting that Zhilbar would not escape; the Dragon God was curious about Celeste’s temple, which many of the Gods had heard of but few had seen. As though he knew, Zu spoke up as Zhilbar discarded his thin shorts for longer and more comfortable pants, “We’re not sleeping in the Temple proper… The girls will be sleeping there.”