'I'd say we got us a problem,' Caalador drawled. 'Ol' Krager, he don't know th' way on accounta he wuz too drunk t' pay attention when Zalasta wuz a-talkin' 'bout how t' git t' Cyrga, an' Scorpa's too crazy t' remember how he got thar.' His eyes narrowed, and he discarded the dialect. 'What about Cyzada?' he asked Xanetia.
She shuddered. 'It is not madness nor drunkenness which doth bar my way into the thought of Cyzada of Esos,' she replied in a voice filled with revulsion. 'Deeply hath he reached into the darkness that was Azash, and the creatures of the nether-world have possessed him so utterly that his thought is no longer human. His spells at first did in some measure control those horrid demons, but then he did summon Klæl, and in that act was all unloosed. Prithee, do not send me again into that seething chaos. He doth indeed know a route to Cyrga, but we could in no wise follow that path, for it doth lie through the realm of flame and darkness and unspeakable horror.'
'That more or less exhausts the possibilities of this place then, doesn't it?' They all turned quickly at the sound of the familiar voice. The Child Goddess sat demurely on a window-ledge holding her pipes in her hands.
'Is this wise, Divine One?' Bevier asked her. 'Won't our enemies sense your presence?'
'There's no one left here who can do that, Bevier,' she replied. 'Zalasta's gone. I just stopped by to tell you that Berit's received new instructions. He and Khalad are going to Vigayo, a village just on the other side of the Cynesgan border. As soon as you're ready, I'll take you there.'
'What good will that do?' Kalten asked.
'I need to get Xanetia close to the next messenger,' she replied. 'Cyrga's completely concealed – even from me. There's a key to that illusion, and that's what we have to find. Without that key, we could all grow old wandering around out in that wasteland and still not find the city.'
'I suppose you're right,' Sparhawk conceded. He looked directly at her. 'Can you arrange another meeting? We're getting close to the end of this, and I need to talk with the others – Vanion and Bergsten in particular, and probably with Betuana and Kring as well. We've got armies at our disposal, but they won't be much use if they're running off in three different directions or attacking Cyrga piecemeal. We've got a general idea of where the place is, and I'd like to put a ring of steel around it, but I don't want anybody to go blundering in there until we get Ehlana and Alean safely out.'
'You're going to get me in trouble, Sparhawk,' she said tartly. 'Do you have any idea of the kinds of promises I'll have to make to get permission for that kind of gathering? – and I'll have to keep all those promises too.'
'It's really very important, Aphrael.'
She stuck her tongue out at him, and then she wavered and vanished.
'Domi Tikume sent orders, your Reverence,' the shaved-headed Peloi advised Patriarch Bergsten when they met in the churchman's tent just outside the town of Pela in central Astel
. 'We're to provide whatever assistance we can.'
'Your Domi's a good man, friend Daiya,' the armored Patriarch replied.
'His orders stirred up a hornet's nest,' Daiya said wryly. 'The idea of an alliance with the Church Knights set off a theological debate that went on for days. Most people here in Astel believe that the Church Knights were born and raised in Hell. A fair number of the debaters are currently taking the matter up with God in person.'
'I gather that religious disputes among the Peloi are quite spirited.'
'Oh, yes,' Daiya agreed. 'The message from Archimandrite Monsel helped to quiet things, though. Peloi religious thought isn't really all that profound, your Reverence. We trust God and leave the theology to the churchmen. If the Archimandrite approves, that's good enough for us. If he's wrong, he's the one who'll burn in Hell for it.'
'How far is it from here to Cynestra?' Bergsten asked him.
'About a hundred and seventy-five leagues, your Reverence.'
'Three weeks,' Bergsten muttered sourly. 'Well, there's not much we can do about that, I suppose. We'll start out first thing in the morning. Tell your men to get some sleep, friend Daiya. It's probably going to be in short supply for the next month or so.'
'Bergsten.' The voice crooning his name was light and musical.
The Thalesian Patriarch sat up quickly, reaching for his axe.
'Oh, don't do that, Bergsten. I'm not going to hurt you.'
'Who's there?' he demanded, fumbling for his candle and his flint and steel.
'Here.' A small hand emerged from the darkness with a tongue of flame dancing on its palm.
Bergsten blinked. His midnight visitor was a little girl – Styric, he guessed. She was a beautiful child with long hair and large eyes as dark as night. Bergsten's hands started to tremble. 'You're Aphrael, aren't you?' he choked.
'Keen observation, your Grace. Sparhawk wants to see you.'
He drew back from this personage that standard Church doctrine told him did not – could not – exist.
'You're being silly, your Grace,' she told him. 'You know that I couldn't even be talking to you if I didn't have permission from your God, don't you? I can't even come near you without permission.'
'Well, theoretically,' he reluctantly conceded. 'You could be a demon, though, and the rules don't apply to them.'
'Do I look like a demon?'
'Appearance and reality are two different things,' he insisted.
She looked into his eyes and pronounced the true name of the Elene God, one of the most closely-kept secrets of the Church. 'A demon couldn't say that name, could it, your Grace?'
'Well, I suppose not.'
'We'll get along well, Bergsten,' she smiled, kissing him lightly on the cheek. 'Ortzel would have argued that point for weeks. Leave your axe here, please. Steel makes my flesh crawl.'
'Where are we going?'
'To meet with Sparhawk. I already told you that.'
'Is it far?'