Chapter 4: Invitations
by Jeff Grubb
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Splitting a pantheon's responsibilities among a number of gods, great and small, is a question of splitting both responsibility and power. The elder gods of each pantheon wish to devolve minor and more mundane tasks to their less-powerful children, yet to accomplish these tasks the youngsters must have some level of divine power. However, too much of such power, and they might think for themselves. This, as far of the elders are concerned, would be a Bad Thing.

In short, the younger gods usually get only as much power as their elders think they can handle, as opposed to what they truly need. And they are not given one jot more.

-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power

The plane of Gwendolican is made of sea and coastline and not much else. The jade green waters of its eternal oceans churn against thin, involuted landforms. The southernmost continent was in the last few weeks of autumn, and its druids, within their menhir-fenced circles, pleaded with the Lords of Nature to keep the winter storms at bay long enough for them to complete the harvest.

At the center of the henge, a great bonfire had been lit, and from the bonfire's center rose a great ram-headed figure made of wicker. The last of the foul ramotaurs had been slain centuries before, but the spirit of the threat they once posed was preserved in these ceremonies like a fly in amber.

The flames crackled through the reed-bound frame of the man-goat, and the resin-soaked fabric within it flung a billowing pillar of smoke upward. The voices of the druids rose in a solemn, incanting timbre, imploring the kindness of the gods.

And on this occasion the gods answered. The swirling smoke coalesced, binding in on itself, creating a huge, towering form above the menhirs, the druids, and even the crackling man-goat effigy.

And from within the heart of the towering column, two brilliant orbs awoke -- the eyes of a god.

The druids had not anticipated this and, startled, increased their chanting. Voices strained in praise of their nature gods, imploring their aid in these final weeks.

And the god said unto them, "Blech!"

The druids stumbled, as if physically struck. Their voices faltered, and there was confusion in the ranks. Their leader, an Archdruid of the 23rd Rank, strode forward and held aloft the staff of St. Cleth "The god speaks!" he intoned.

"Blech!" repeated the figure in the smoking column.

The Archdruid of the 23rd Rank blinked and said, "What do you mean, most omnipotent one!"

"Just that," said the figure. "Blech. Feh. Meh."

The Archdruid blinked at the manifestation, and the figure continued. "I mean, this is all very good, as far as it goes. The fire. The wicker thingummy. Nice stonework. But the singing. Wow, you have to work on the singing."

The Archdruid scowled, but said, "Do our incantations not please?"

"If by incantations you mean, 'A bunch of guys all shifting from one off-key note to another', I guess it would do. But only if you have decent lyrics." The towering figure was quiet for a moment, as if thinking. "Let's see what we can do. I know, a round! You know what a round is, don't you?"

The Archdruid stammered, "Your omniscience, what do you mean . . ."

"Okay," said the flaming eyes. "Everybody split into two groups, to the right and left of the Big Guy. The group on the right, my right, I want you start the chant. And the group on my left, that's MY left, that's your right, I want you guys to come in on the third bar. Third bar, okay?"

The druids milled nervously.

"Okay, and if there are any altos, I want them in the front of the group. The front. Don't be shy. Good. Now, on my mark. Ah-one, ah-two, a you-know-what-to-doURRRK!"

The eyes in the swirling column were suddenly extinguished, leaving the druids in their circle staring slack-jawed at the sky. Several started chanting in a ragged syncopation, unsure if they should stop or not.

"What are you DOING?" snarled Leaves, pulling Jest away from the ceremony by his left ear.

"Leaves!" said Jest, smiling. "I was just looking for you!"

"Stay here," she hissed, and re-entered the stonehenge, raising her arms and dropping her voice several octaves.

The baleful eyes in the smoke column re-ignited, and if they had a more feminine appearance, none noticed. "Faithful followers!" thundered the god's voice.

All of the druids silenced themselves, and the Archdruid prostrated himself on the ground.

"You have done well!" said the voice. "You have resisted the temptations of change and kept loyal to the old ways. Your gods are pleased, and you will be rewarded with a great boon. Your harvest will complete in time."

With that, the eyes dimmed again, the smoke uncurled and just rose toward the stars. The Archdruid pulled himself off the ground, the druids smiled, and all congratulated each other.

Outside the henge, Jest started saying something, but Leaves grabbed him by the ear again and dragged him down to the nearby seashore. "What was THAT all about?"

"I came looking for you!" protested Jest, rubbing his sore ear.

"And this is how you find people?"

"It worked," said Jest, and immediately regretted saying it.

Leaves' full name was Leaves Come the Time of Falling, Child of Forests, Department of Season, Autumnal Division, and she was cranking herself up to a full and fine fury. The wind picked up around him as she spoke.

"Do you have any IDEA what you just did? I'm going to have to go to Arctic Wind and convince him to push back the first winter storms at least a week. The paperwork ALONE will keep me busy until Yule. And if you think I'm not going to mention this stunt . . ."

Jest managed to blurt out, "Whisper sent me."

Leaves stopped talking, but glared at him. If looks could kill, Jest would already be filling out the proper paperwork for a resurrection. "What does she want?" she said.

"Help," said Jest. "Your help. She sent me to you specifically. For your help. For us. With a party."

Leaves still glowered at him, but the corner of her mouth twitched. "A party?"

"A small get-together. Really sort of a repair party." Jest shifted uneasily from one foot to another and explained about Rust and the orichalcum and the Noplace Room. And how they needed to replace the door, at the very least.

And he tried hard to make it sound as if Leaves wasn't being invited just to cater the shindig.

When he finished, Leaves was no longer scowling, but she wasn't smiling yet. "The Noplace Room?" she asked.

"My name for it," said Jest. "Think of it as a place to get away from all the hurly burly of dealing with the elder gods."

"MMM-hhmmm," said Leaves, and it was clear that she wasn't listening to him. "Yes, such a place would be very . . . useful. Yes."

"Yes?"

"Count me in," said Leaves. "I will bring the munchies."

Jest was surprised by her quick turnaround. "I know this is short notice . . ."

Leaves smiled a nasty smile. "No worry. We harvest gods keep a personal stash of snacks squirreled away. Comes with the job. It's tolerated as long we don't get too greedy and most of the take gets passed up the chain of command. I've got some good stuff. Maybe some jellied crystals and a bit of space mead. Any dietary restrictions among our deities? Who's coming?"

Jest ticked off his fingers. "Me, Rust, and Whisper, You, Hammer, Sand . . ."

Leaves sniffed. "Sand never eats much anyway."

"Storm, and Tears," said Jest.

"Tears, eh?" said Leaves, and she smiled deeply, and Jest didn't want to know why. "Yes," she said, "I'm definitely there. I will have to fix some things at this end. Arctic owes me from that premature storm two seasons back. You run along, and say hello to Tears for me."

Jest smiled. "If there's anything else . . ."

"You can do for me? Yeah. Don't Ever Do anything like this again to me. EVER." The wind picked up around Jest as she spoke, and he grabbed onto his hat.

Jest nodded, waved, and warped space around him.

Leaves shook her head at the departed godling. "Whatta maroon," she said, and turned back to overseeing the passing of the seasons.


The sky of Juk wept for its Grand Matribishop. The rain was soft and warm, and it bathed the black-shrouded mobs lining the processional's path. Along the great central road, a single dark-hewn coach, pulled by a coal-black elephant, slowly lurched forward.

Standing among the gargoyles on the side of the cathedral, Jest regarded the somber nature of the ceremony. It made his palms itch.

"Don't even think it," said a voice behind him.

Jest turned and managed a smile. "Furthest thing from my mind," said the God of Pranks. "You noticed me fast."

Tears, Spawn of Sadness, Grand House of Emotions, stepped out from among the shadows. He was ashen and somber, which was his normal state. Behind him swirled the ghostly, liquid forms of his emotive shades. His glooms.

"I have been working all week through the memorial process to reach this state," said Tears. "You show up like a ray of sunshine. Of course I would notice."

"Yes," said Jest. "You are diligent. And it looks as if you've done a crackerjack job in all this. Not a dry eye in the house."

"Why are you here?"

"I guess you're too busy to come to a party."

Tears snorted. "A party? Don't be an idiot. I have more important things to do than engage in frivolities."

Jest let out a deep, theatrical sigh. "Of course you do. But it looks like your job is just about done, here, right? I mean they're taking the old bird off to the great crypt, and after today, everyone packs up the sackcloth and ashes. Have they given you your next gig yet?"

Tears said, "I'm too busy . . ."

"Oh, come on," said Jest. "I know how the deal works. You do all the groundwork, and then they send in Relief, or Reassurance, or Forgetfulness to patch it all up. It's a bind for someone like you."

Tear harrumphed. "Relief. She's a pain. I spent a month on the lingering death of King Hinterlands, and she spackled it over in two days."

"Indeed," said Jest, "and we both know you need some time off."

"I don't think . . ."

"Leaves will be there," said Jest.

Tears was silent for a moment, and Jest almost thought he could see the wheels spinning in his head. "Leaves knows I am going to be there?"

"Just came from her. She asked about you. Specifically."

Tears looked down at the pilgrimage at his feet. The great elephant was at the mortuary gates now. "The elders know I could use a breather."

"I always said you need to unclench a little," said Jest, but Tears was not listening.

"All right, I'll be there. When and where?"

Jest produced a slip of paper. "Here are the instructions. As soon as you're wrapped up here."

"Any purpose for this party?" asked Tears.

"Oh," said Jest, already fading from sight, "just a little housewarming. A little home repair."

Tears stood for a moment, alone on the edge of the cathedral, drinking in the mourning of the populace below him. The procession had passed and umbrellas were sprouting beneath him. In the distant part of the city, he could already feel Relief at work, unraveling his hard work and returning Juk to normal.

Tears cursed, gathered his glooms around him, and shimmered toward the final burial ceremony, bringing his gravitas with him.

In the shadows of the gargoyle figures, one shadow detached and paused a moment at the edge of the church, sniffing the air. Then it twisted space around itself and disappeared as well.

To be continued...


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