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The Younger Gods Book Four of The Dreamers
By David Eddings Leigh Eddings
WARNER ASPECT Copyright © 2006 David and Leigh Eddings
All right reserved.
Chapter One It was well past midnight, and Zelana was standing alone on the balcony of what big brother Dahlaine called his "War Chamber." It seemed to Zelana that those fancy names had always been one of Dahlaine's failings. For some reason he seemed to feel a need to give almost everything some kind of stupendous title. If he'd spend as much time solving a problem as he usually spent coming up with a name for it, things might go a bit smoother for him.
Right now, however, Zelana was trying to swallow some very peculiar events. It seemed that they had a mysterious helper who could pull miracles out of her hat-or sleeve-without any kind of warning at all.
Down in baby brother Veltan's Domain, Longbow had been plagued with a series of very peculiar dreams which were being rammed into his mind by an entity he always called "our unknown friend," despite the fact that he'd told Zelana and the others that he recognized the voice-but he couldn't quite attach a name to the speaker. Zelana knew that Longbow's mind was too sharp to start getting fuzzy about something that important, so it was quite obvious that "unknown friend" had been tampering with him in ways Zelana could noteven begin to comprehend.
There was one thing that was abundantly clear, however. Not only could "unknown friend" erase memories, she could also break-or just ignore-some very important rules. Zelana and her family were not permitted to kill things. "Unknown friend," however, had manipulated the members of the Trogite Church with her "sea of gold" and lured them into a confrontation with the Creatures of the Wasteland. Then, when the two enemy forces were locked in what would almost certainly have turned out to be a war of mutual extinction, "unknown friend" had obliterated them all with an enormous wall of water that she'd pulled up from about six miles down below the face of the earth.
It seemed that their friend had powers that Zelana could not even imagine, although she was almost positive that their friend was using the Dreamers to assist her.
The more Zelana thought about it, the more certain she became that Eleria's flood and Yaltar's twin volcanos had also originated in the mind and imagination of "unknown friend."
The involvement of the Dreamers had been confirmed when the children's shared vision had mentioned "a fire unlike any fire we have ever seen," which had produced the blue inferno that had obliterated what had almost certainly been an entire hatch of the Vlagh.
That, of course, brought Aracia's idiotic attempt to conceal Lillabeth's Dream right out into the open. Aracia had always been obsessed with her own divinity, but now-probably because of the overdone adoration of those assorted indolents who had identified themselves as her clergy-Aracia's mind had begun to slip, and she seemed to be convinced that she was now the most important creature in the entire universe. Her absurd attempt to conceal Lillabeth's Dream had been a clear indication that sister Aracia's mind was starting to come apart.
The more that Zelana thought about it, though, the more she remembered that Aracia had always been more than a little unwilling to go to sleep and relinquish her Domain to Enalla. It seemed that deep down, Zelana's sister hated Enalla. The length of their sleep-cycle made change inevitable. Zelana ruefully recalled the time in the distant past when she'd awakened to find her Domain covered with ice that must have been at least two miles deep. It had taken Dahlaine weeks to explain that to Zelana's satisfaction. He'd assured her that the inevitable thaw had already begun, but it had been almost five centuries before the ice was gone, and Zelana's Domain didn't look at all the way it had when she'd drifted off to sleep. Perhaps even more disturbing had been the fact that the creatures she'd come to know in her previous cycle were all gone, and strange new animals had arrived to replace them. Dahlaine had used the term "extinction," and that had chilled Zelana all the way down to her bones. She'd had almost no contact with Aracia during that particular cycle, but she was almost positive that her sister had somehow twisted things around in her mind so that she could blame Enalla for those eons of ice and the disappearance of almost all of the creatures that had been present in her Domain when she'd gone to sleep.
Something like that was the sort of thing Aracia would do.
Zelana was growing more and more weary now, and she'd be more than willing to hand the responsibilities of the Domain of the West to Balacenia-the adult version of Eleria-but she was almost positive that Aracia wouldn't see things that way at all, and her priesthood was probably in a state of near-panic by now. Whether they liked it or not, Aracia would go to sleep very soon, and Enalla would replace her. Zelana had caught a few hints from Eleria that Enalla-the real version of Lillabeth-had some plans that Aracia's priests wouldn't like very much at all.
"It might almost be worth staying awake long enough to watch," she murmured to herself. "Almost," she added, "but not quite." As closely as she could determine, "sleep-time" was no more than a few months away. She'd long since decided that the pink grotto on the Isle of Thurn would be the place where she'd sleep this time. The pink dolphins would sing her to sleep, and she might even have dreams of her own this time-dreams of a Land of Dhrall without a Vlagh, and a land where her friends did not grow old and pass away, and where she could sing and write poetry, and where it was always spring and the flowers never wilted. Now that might be the best of dreams.
"I thought I could feel your presence here, dear sister," Dahlaine said as he joined Zelana on the balcony over the "lumpy map" of his Domain. "You seem to be troubled. What's bothering you so much?"
"Aracia, of course," Zelana replied. "I think her mind is slipping even more than it was when she tried to conceal Lillabeth's Dream. I wish that there was some way that we could put her to sleep a few months early this time. Then we could all concentrate on the Vlagh and stop worrying about our sister."
"It probably would make things a lot easier."
"What is it about Aracia that makes her start to go to pieces at the end of every cycle?" Zelana demanded. "I was thinking back, and as closely as I can remember, Aracia's never once gone off to sleep without fighting it every step of the way. Why does she do that?"
Dahlaine shrugged. "Inferiority, most likely. When you include our alternates, there are eight of us altogether, and as closely as I've been able to determine, our alternates trade off authority in the same way that we do. That suggests that Aracia's the dominant one for only twenty-five thousand years. Then she has to wait for a hundred and seventy-five eons for dominance to return. For some reason, she just can't stand that. She yearns to be at the center of the entire universe. If I remember correctly-and I usually do-the last time she was dominant, she literally wallowed in her position. Of course there weren't any developed humans around back then, so she was the only one around who could adore her, but as I remember, her self-adoration was more than a little extreme."
Zelana smiled. "Maybe you and I should join Veltan when our next waking cycle rolls around. I'm sure he was just trying to make a joke of it-we all know how much Veltan enjoys jokes-but he told me on one occasion that he might just go back and camp out on the moon when Aracia's next cycle of dominance comes along, and I think he was about half-serious when he said it."
"That's our baby brother for you. Any time responsibility comes along, Veltan runs away." Dahlaine scratched his cheek. "It probably wouldn't have made much difference in eons past, but there are humans in our various Domains now. I don't know about you, dear sister, but I will not permit Aracia to run roughshod over the people of my Domain."
"You almost sound like you're thinking about declaring war on our sister."
"I'd hardly call it a war, Zelana. Aracia's people are supposed to spend every waking moment adoring her, so they wouldn't pose much of a threat."
"You're putting our sister in the same category as holy-but crazy-Azakan of the Atazak Nation of your own Domain, big brother," Zelana said. Then she frowned. "There are quite a few similarities, though, aren't there?"
"Except that Aracia actually has the power to make things happen. Poor Azakan spent most of his time ordering the earth and sky to obey him, but I don't think they paid very much attention. Aracia, however, has a certain amount of power, so she can make things happen if she feels the need."
"Maybe so, but none of us are permitted to use that power if killing things is going to be involved. If Aracia steps over that line, she'll probably vanish right then and there," Zelana suggested. "And if Aracia vanishes, will we still be here? There's a linkage between the four of us, Dahlaine, and if one of us ceases to exist, isn't it quite possible that we'll all just vanish?"
"You're starting to give me a headache, Zelana."
"At least it's still there to ache, mighty brother."
"I think we've had one stroke of good luck, Zelana. Your pirate chief has persuaded Commander Narasan not to just pack up and go home. We're going to need forts in Long-Pass, and when someone says 'forts,' he's usually talking about Trogites. Did you have anything to do with Sorgan's little scheme?"
"No, big brother. As closely as I can determine, Hook-Beak came up with that all by himself. Of course, the likelihood that he'll be able to swindle a lot of gold out of Aracia probably played a large part in his decision, but right up beside his greed is his friendship for Narasan. He'll keep Aracia so flustered that she probably won't even remember that Narasan exists. He'll go on down to Aracia's absurdly overdone temple and persuade our none too bright sister that he'll be more than happy to defend her-if she'll give him enough gold."
"What's he going to defend her against?" Dahlaine asked. "The servants of the Vlagh will be coming down Long-Pass, so they won't be anywhere near Aracia's temple."
Zelana smiled. "If I know Sorgan-and I do-he'll come up with ways to keep Aracia-and her clergy-so terrified that they won't even think about sending anybody up Long-Pass to pester Narasan while he's building forts."
It wasn't much later when the door to Dahlaine's map room opened slightly, and Eleria looked in. "Ah, there you are, Beloved," she said to Zelana. "We should have guessed that you'd be in here conferring with dear old Grey-Beard."
"Mind your manners, Eleria," Zelana chided her Dreamer.
"I'm sorry, Old Grey-Beard," Eleria said with one of her mischievous grins. "We've been looking for you and the Beloved for hours now."
"We?" Dahlaine asked curiously.
"Big-Me and I. Mother wants us to talk with you."
"Mother?" Zelana asked, feeling suddenly baffled.
"We all have a mother, you know, Beloved. Big-Me can explain it much better than I can, I'm sure." Then Eleria came on inside the large room, and immediately behind her was an extremely beautiful lady.
Dahlaine gasped. "What are you doing, Balacenia?" he demanded. "You're not supposed to be awake yet."
"Grow up, Dahlaine," the lady replied. "Your little game almost tore the world apart. We've had a lot of trouble smoothing things over, and we're not even supposed to be awake yet."
Zelana was staring at the lady. "Are you really-" She almost choked at that point.
"Yes, Beloved, I am your alternate. Our Domain is still under your control, however. I promise that I won't tamper-unless Mother tells me-us-to." She put her hand on Eleria's shoulder. "This can be terribly confusing sometimes. This is Little-Me. You know her as Eleria, which is sort of all right, I suppose. She makes me laugh quite often, and laughter's good for the soul-or so I've been told. There is something I've been curious about, though. Where in the world did she come up with her hugs and kisses ploy? She has poor Vash so confused that he doesn't know exactly what to do."
Zelana suddenly smiled. "The idea came to Eleria back in the pink grotto when she was very, very young. She can kiss a pink dolphin into submission in no time at all." Then she looked rather closely at Balacenia, her alternate. "The resemblances are definitely there, Balacenia. You are, in fact, a grown-up version of Eleria the Dreamer. How is it that the two of you can both be in the same place at the same time?"
"It's just a little complex, Beloved. Actually, we're not here at the same time. Actually, I'm not even really here. I'm still sound asleep, and what we're all seeing right now is my Dream."
"That's not possible!" Dahlaine protested.
"Why-and how-am I here, then?" Balacenia demanded. "Your little game was very clever, Dahlaine, but it got away from you almost right at the beginning. You thought that you could step around us with your 'infant' hoax, but it started to come apart when Eleria had her first Dream. That was the one when she saw the very beginning of this world. Then, a little later in the Land of Maag she had a variety of Dream that you didn't even anticipate. She had what we call a 'warning dream,' and it was that Dream that saved Longbow and his friends from the intentions of the Maag called Kajak. You might not have been aware of what that Dream suggested to us. Dreams can be warnings as well as predictions."
"That did startle me just a bit," Dahlaine admitted. "I'd sort of believed that I might have some control over the Dreams, but the children keep slipping around me."
"Actually, it's Mother who's guiding the Dreamers. She picked up your little game, and she's doing things with it that you couldn't even imagine."
"Mother?" Dahlaine sounded startled. "We don't have a mother."
"Where did we come from, then?" Balacenia demanded.
"You'll really like her, Dahlaine," Eleria said. "She can do all kinds of fun things. She was the one who took me down under the sea so that I could pick up my pink pearl. That's what started all this, remember?"
"She's the mother of the whole universe, Dahlaine," Balacenia added, "and she's more than a little peeved with you right now. The outlanders are all right, I suppose, but Mother was-and still is-dealing with it in her own way."
"That will do, Balacenia," a melodious voice came through the open doorway. "Why don't you let me deal with this?" Then a misty sort of form that seemed to be pure light came through the open doorway. "What were you thinking of when you hired all those outlanders to come here and fight this war for you, Dahlaine?"
Excerpted from The Younger Gods by David Eddings Leigh Eddings Copyright © 2006 by David and Leigh Eddings. Excerpted by permission.
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