Chapter 2:


Mylo and the Summoned Hero

The last wisps of smoke billowed down from the censer. On the floor, the sweet, aromatic smoke had no shortage of options where to go next. Many small holes allowed air passage to other rooms of the palace. Directly below the censer lay the largest hole, but others radiated out from that center. Holes marked with drawings of dragons, of demon horns, of snake fangs, of spider legs. The smoke chose the center, but its tendrils toyed with the idea of going elsewhere.

Lydia Wode, high priestess in this place, stood ready with a fresh block of incense. This used to be a duty for graduate priestesses, but Lydia insisted on doing it. Cleaning the censer was boring, but for a few minutes a day it got her away from the mounds of paperwork. Hard to feel like a servant of the gods when you’re managing all day. Here, in a little room perched atop the green dome of the Jagai’s palace, the silence was punctuated by the flutter of birds, not paper. Here, no one disturbed Lydia with minor personnel matters they had the authority to handle themselves.

Squabbling echoed up from the staircase, Lydia flinched and tried to focus on the rhythm of wiping ash out of the censer’s tray. Into the chamber bumbled a pair of priests. The elder one looked grave as, well, the grave. He dragged the younger one into the room by his ear, though said younger priest was well into his thirties. The elder wore silk robes befitting his station, the younger preferred a simple wool habit and a sandwich board on which was scrawled the words: "The END is Nigh! Pray for salivation!"

The elder priest squawked at Lydia, "This little…clergyman is incorrigible! I tell him time and time that we do not doomsay, but he persists. I have run out of wits. You deal with him!"

Lydia sighed and pushed the incense block onto a pair of cleats, and it sank home with a little squish and a waft of pyrope flower.

"No. He is your responsibility."

The younger priest whispered a word of thanks, which carried in this echoey space. Incensed, the elder priest smacked him upside the head.

"Tell him!" He blustered at Lydia. "We do not go scaring the populace anymore."

So much for her peaceful moment. Lydia made a mental note to have words with the elder priest’s superior, but for now she just wanted the problem gone so he’d stop shouting. The incense ignited under Lydia’s fingers, and she blew the flame out before turning to face the priests.

With a tilted head, she asked, "‘Pray for salivation?’"

The young priest looked at his sandwich board and laughed. "Whoops. Clumsy me! That'll teach me to rush with the ink and brush."

"Spelling matters, but the message more so." Lydia’s voice was dark as her eyes, and the young priest trembled a little—partly intimidated, partly embarrassed by the direction his imagination took when she leaned over him. "On what portents do you claim the end approaches?"

"Uh…there have been reports of red rain and cattle dying in the Orenna province."

"Volcanic ash," Lydia said with the finality of a magistrate’s gavel. "We have reports of an small eruption in that region.

"Oh. Right. I see." The young priest sounded defeated.

Lydia nodded back to the censer, and saw that its door stood open. "That. Pay attention to that. It is the most sensitive, and most reliable of our detecting methods. If the world is to end, the smoke will tell us. Now, hand over your misleading, misspelled sign."

The young priest removed the sandwich board and placed it on the floor between them. He went to the stairs for a moment, he looked back mournfully. "I’ll just go back to sweeping the cafeteria then, shall I?"

The elder priest didn’t even thank Lydia, just swept out of the chamber.

Ungrateful twerp, Lydia thought, turning back to the censer.

She closed the little brass door and was deciding where to throw away the misspelled end-of-world sign when the smoke caught her eye. It swirled over the center hole and snaked north to a smaller opening. Though the air hung still, all the smoke chose this roundabout path to a hole marked with the sign of a sword.

Lydia considered this. Then, picking up the sandwich board, she thought: I’ll give it back. Looks like he’ll be needing it soon.

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