Chapter 97

Chapter 97

Imra, Daughter of the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma

In the Sacred worship tree of the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma, a glowing orb of spirit and magic flew above the Forest God's divine body, bathing the ground below with light as it continued a slow, methodical pace.

As Imra kneeled before it, awaiting the inevitable command of the power before her, she believed her skin could feel the pressure of its gaze as it passed her by. Like a heavy wind, or the weight of an invisible rain within her mind. How could it be, that so much strength had ever been gathered into such a minute physical form?

Imra truly found no answer, beyond that of a god's own will.

Still, seated here not ten paces from its magestic scales of crystal, her thoughts raced. Moving quickly in sprints that would not end: unable to settled themselves into a manner of reliable action.

Was the god pleased?

Certainly it seemed content, but she'd wronged it in perhaps the greatest of ways.

Had it truly forgiven her transgression- or was it simply still testing her? Waiting patiently for her to prove unworthy of its blessings?

Imra couldn't know.

"Hisss..." A quiet sound, like thunder on the horizon beyond the trees. It ushered out, filling the Sacred tree with echoes upon echoes as the Forest God coiled itself, rising with blue scales catching in the lit torches as it raised neck and head to stare about the room.

Atop the great Shrine's highest altar, the God's servant of flame responded in turn, motions changing to a slow halt as it levitated with wisps of white to cast strange shadows.

"Young Elf." The spectre of fire spoke in a careful tone. "Your Chief and Elders... Why are they not here? Did you fail to summon them? Or... do they intend to disresepect?"

"No!" Imra panicked, bowing her head towards the wooden floor. "No, Great one. The Elders and the Chief have promised their arrival. They will be here soon! Please believe me: No disrespect is meant."

"Good... Good." The orb bobbed slightly, as if nodding. "The Forest God is understanding, but he does not wish to be kept waiting much longer."

"I understand, oh great one."

"Good..." With that reply, it was as if Imra had been released: invisible pressure lifting and floating off as the wisp of flame glided with it, illuminating another portion of the shrine.

As the shadows took her within once more, Imra let out a careful sigh, silently counting her blessings.

The God and its servant seemed appeased for the moment. Content to hold back their anger and wrath for a greater reason. Truth be told though, Imra had to agree with the spirit of flame: The Elders, the Chief- they should have been here long ago.

Waiting here, alone with the Forest God, Imra felt far from her place among the tribe. This was no place for someone of her status.

As the hair on her neck began to prickle, looking up, Imra realized with horror that the serpent's eyes were staring at her once more. From the edge of her vision, she could sense the deep blue as it rested on her shoulders. Eyes like gems, holding within their depths the faintest hint of green and murky black; each that spiraled about the longer it held her.

The eyes of a Divine Beast.

The gaze of a legend.

What had those eyes witnessed? What ancient secrets did they hold within? Of battles, of glory, of loss?

All her life she had been taught of the power held by the great creatures- by any of the forest's legends, certainly: but above all she had been taught of the Forest's Guardian.

The last true God of their people.

The Forest's Guardian. The great keeper between the world below and the sky above: a being of violence and death- but also great power. Unlike the cursed blood of her people's enemies, its gifts were not stolen- but earned.

Earned on those ancient battlefields of legend, laying waste to all who opposed its rage.

For Imra to grow and learn of such things was a natural part of her life within the tribe. For decades, Imra had been conditioned. Her body had been trained, her mind had been honed like the edge of a glass blade, and her spirit conditioned for the role of First offering, but to witness such a creature first hand was something else entirely.

The radiance of its power, the pressure of its gaze, the beauty of its form. Imra found herself wholy unprepared, and yet somehow a small portion of her mind found excuse. A tiny voice that defended with the thought that perhaps, a small part of this was not such much her own fault- but simply that the god had chosen a new form.

Truth be told, never in her heart of hearts had Imra ever imagined such a body as "this."

No longer was the Forest's deity in the form of a bird of night, with wings that shattered wind, and feathers that no arrow or blow could pierce. No longer was it a massive beast that stood rival to the great trees of the forest. For the first time in her tribe's history, since the breaking of the clans and the lost legends of long ago: The God had come to take on a different body.

It had taken the form of a Basilisk. A hidden beast of the depths: vibrant with strength- yet appearing so fragile it might be made of glass.

"You have bold eyes, Young Elf."

With a start, Imra realized her gaze had shifted. Not only shifted- but also held far too long, as the spirit of flame settled beside her once more. Still try as she might to pull away from the serpent's sight, it seemed only to draw her in- further and further. Down into a well of power beyond her wildest dreams.

Only as the sound of footsteps and voices came about, and the Forest God turned its own gaze elsewhere, did Imra finally break free to return to her bow with a grateful gasp of air. She had been holding her breath, and not even known.

"Oh Great Forest God! I beg that you forgive us for our late arrival! I beseech you for mercy!"

The voice shouted out as the first to enter the shrine rushed forward with a bowing flourish, landing in a deep and graceful kneel directly before the altar.

Imra lifted her sight (if only barely) just in time to see Chief Vulre take his place before her- casually bowing low before the raised altar. His hands came up, raising to the ceiling followed by half a dozen others in the dark robes of the Eldest how stopped short to kneel as an audience behind him.

"I beg forgiveness for our warrior Imra as well! I have only just heard of her unforgivably transgression!" Vulre shouted, pulling free the black glass of his dagger to the light, as Imra bringing her eyes down in both terror and shame. To her back, she could feel the pressure as those many Elders behind him shifted faces to stare in her direction- each undoubtedly with wise smiles, brought of cruel years. "Shall you only utter the word, I will have her offered to you as tribute! I shall plunge the knife and perform the deed myself!"

He turned on her so quickly, Imra had only time to gasp as the hand wrapped about her throat, and the blade rested on her chest.

Imra had fought in many battles as a Tribe warrior, but in that moment her fear was all too real. To die in combat was how any would wish, but ended at the hands of her own kin? The shame! Her memory would be stained for generations to come.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE ELVEN CHIEF!

The spirit of the Forest god did not shout, so much as it boomed, voice and words echoing throughout the hollow trunk of the Shrine room. So powerful, it seemed to shake Imra's bones.

IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE TO SAY WHAT CAN BE FORGIVEN.

Imra's breath caught again, eyes unable to keep from the dark tint of the blade waiting in Vulre's hand.

ONLY GOD HAS SUCH A RIGHT, AND YOU WOULD BE WISE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THIS.

"Great one, I-" Vulre tried to speak, only to have his words snuffed out beneath the pressure of the serpent's gaze.

The Forest God has found it in his heart to hold forgiveness for such a loyal subject, if only just. This warrior has already been pardoned for her crime.

As Imra let out the air in her lungs as Vulre's hand release her, allowing her body to settle back to the floor with a crash. But, even as she sucked in air- Imra could make out several others doing much the same: Elders gasping with surprise.

She could not blame them. It was nothing short of a miracle, the likes of which that Imra would never be worthy.

As bringer of the First offering, her blood was planned to grease the wheels of the Ritual surely as the other sacrifices the tribe would prepare. That she returned from the coveted beginning of the Ritual alive was already unusual enough- but to be spared for such an offense as touching a God?

Imra's life was forfeit.

Bow your head, foolish Chief.

Eyes wide with surprise, Vulre dropped the knife to the floor and knelt: further to the wooden floor of the shrine than Imra had ever seen. He placed his forehead to the wood itself.

"Oh great one, I do as you command."

The gasps from those elders behind her turned to hisses. Whispers among their own went with looks exchanged, and words were traded beyond even Imra's trained ear. The quiet noise of those who had lived far too long, and knew far too much.

Finally one rose above the rest to speak.

"Oh great God of the Forest!" Spreading apart their arms, Imra saw the pure white hair of the elder from beneath the shadow of their hooded cloak break free to the barest glimpse of light. A sign of great age, long since passing from the pure black of youth. Compared to Imra herself, over even the chief- whose own head was mingled with silver, the elder's own was like the moon: Ancient beyond measure. "Let us honor your kindness! Let us bring you forth a feast! Our finest wine! Our most precious fruits! Let the coming night be spent in celebration!"

Ah, yes...

The spirit seemed to lift, careful and gliding, as it flew up above the scene, resting over the blue serpent body of the God a rising sun.

The God gladly welcomes this. Let it be so.

Though Imra could not be sure from where she knelt, she was all but certain a cruel smile curled along the lips of the hooded elder as they bowed.