At length, she said, quietly: “Here is my last question, though it is not for my sake.” One long draw of breath. Now, she had to remember all the details. “Far to the east,” she started, “there is an Empire called Actria. I am told that they have long been threatened by a cult of priests who live in a place called the City of the Bloodied Lady. Someone I met wished very fervently to know how the City of the Bloodied Lady might be overthrown, and the cult cast down. Can you tell me how that might be achieved?”
“Difficult. It is at a great distance, and my vision is unclear at such leagues of lands and oceans. And worse, the city of which you speak is encircled, round and round, with ramparts of magic, defended by eerie beasts and necromantic constructs.” A long pause elapsed, before the goddess said, “But we know of a way. East of Temask and south of Caithroth is the Sorokorathian Desert. At the heart of the sands are twelve ancient pyramids. Equidistant among the pyramids lies a hidden chamber. It is under a sandstone statue in the shape of a gryphon half-buried in sand. In this chamber is a spear. This spear was made from the backbones and teeth of a murdered god. It rattles and hisses with a desire for blood, and its powers are terrible. In times long past, the spear of the sands had an enmity for the dark spirits that rule in The City in the Grey Dry Woods, that which you called the place of the bloodied lady: and the dead-god spear would seek the destruction of that city, if it could. Any who carries that spear to the gates of the grey, dry city will certainly bring the occultists and priests to their knees.” Her changeful eyes glinted as she looked at Caewen. “But it is a terrible weapon to unleash upon the world. It was buried and forgotten for good reasons, for the bloodlust of the spear will not be sated with a few dozen deaths, or a few hundred. Still, you ask this for another. It is rare, but not unheard of for a questioner to ask for something on behalf of another.”
“I felt sorry for her.”
“Nonetheless, it is admirable to expend a question thus.”
“Does that mean I might get another question?”
A long flicker of a laugh. “No. When the fault is mine, another question may be permitted. When the decision is yours, however selfless, the decision remains yours.”
“Worth asking, though, I suppose.”
“Questions usually are.”
“So what now?”
The goddess indicated the far end of the cave with a stretched hand. “Now, you leave. We have spoken, and I have answered your questions, as is fit payment for the turning aside of eternalness. You will find an egress away and down there…” Her words were accompanied by another flick of her fingers in the general direction. “Down at the farthest end of my house. The path thereafter will lead you out of the maze, to the point on the hillside where those supplicants who walk the maze emerge.”
Caewen started to leave then stopped herself. A scatter of worried thoughts chased through her mind like a swirl of midges on a hot buzzing Summer’s day. “What if I fail? What if the threat to the moot comes to fruition? Will you interfere?”
“No. I cannot. I am forbid. But I will not be destroyed either, only those who attend will be killed, the earth burned and ruined. In time, a moot will reform, and in time, sorcerers, witches and wizards will gather here again. That is certain, for the attraction of Sorcery Tor is powerful. It might take years. “She shrugged. “But I am everlasting. I abide, while the day and night turns.”
“I suppose you do. Well, I guess I should say, thank you. And goodbye. I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again.”
She shook her head, and her eyes, at the moment changing from a brilliant blue to a dark, deep black, shone. “No. I do not foresee us meeting again.”
Caewen walked away from the goddess, and into the more shadowed reaches of the space. She had only her footsteps for company, yet felt strangely comforted and whole, as if she had found a piece of herself that had been missing since she was very young. She took a moment to examine this feeling, but could not quite fathom what it meant, so put it aside to consider later. Once she was past the rugs and tapestries, candles, cushions and low soft chairs, she felt a cold rustle of wind against her eyelids, chilling her cheeks and lips. It was dark ahead, and she could not see the way out. Stretching her fingers forward, she groped into the blackness and found, eventually, a wet cold stone surface. Feeling her way along, a narrow rift in the stone appeared, and she was able to squeeze herself into and through this narrow, twisting passage.
Sudden grey light met her eyes as she emerged into a dull square-walled enclosure that was open to the sky. Ahead of her was a single door, tall and wide, hinged on old rusty looking plates of metal. At the door, she tested it, and found that there was some give. Just before she pushed through, Caewen did glance back and found that the crevice in the rock was gone. Maybe it had healed itself over while she had been looking away. Maybe it was shrouded with illusion. Maybe it had never really been there at all. In any instance, there was no going back.
She gave the door a shove and emerged into an eye-squinting blaze of torchlight and night-fires.