"How?" Red-Beard asked.

"More imitation bugs." Sorgan chuckled. "Rabbit remembered what had happened to Jalkan and Adnari Estarg back in Veltan country. He spoke with Veltan about it, and now there are cobwebs that look like anchor ropes in every corridor leading back to the main temple, and every so often a spider that's about ten feet across skitters through the shadows. Squint-Eye and Gimpy described what happened to Jalkan and that Trogite Adnari several times, and then Veltan made several skeletons that were wearing scraps of what looked like the material of those priestly robes. The apprentice priests stopped paying attention to Alcevan about then. The notion of being dissolved and then slurped up by a ten-foot spider had terrified them to the point that nothing Alcevan offered even interested them one little bit. All those priests are bunched up by the south wall, and they won't go near any of those hallways."

Red-Beard laughed. "These hoaxes seem to be getting better and better," he noted. "Who's guarding the little girl, though?"

"Tori's got a hundred men stationed all around Lillabeth's room," Sorgan replied. "They're some of the biggest men in our whole army, and they've got some very ugly weapons. Nobody's going to get anywhere near that little girl, we'll see to that. Most of those priests aren't at all interested in Alcevan's scheme, though. They're all terribly disappointed by the food Squint-Eye and Gimpy are offering. They're used to eating very fancy food, and a steady diet of beans doesn't sit too well with them. Gimpy told them that they had a choice, but when he said, 'You can eat beans, or you can eat dirt,' it didn't go over very well."

THE PLEA OF ALCEVAN

Chapter One

Balacenia was floating in the air above the temple of Aracia to keep an eye on things. Since she would be the dominant god during the next cycle, Balacenia felt a certain responsibility, even though she wasn't supposed to wake up yet. Dahlaine's "grand plan" had in effect split each one of the younger gods right down the middle. From what she'd seen during several brief encounters with the other younger gods, their Dreamer alternates were pretty much the same as their real personalities. Eleria, however, seemed almost to be a total stranger. She definitely had her own personality, and it did not even remotely resemble Balacenia's. They were now so far apart that Balacenia was almost positive that they'd never be able to completely unite again. Balacenia sighed. "At least I'll have somebody to talk with when I'm lonesome."

Balacenia had some very serious doubts about Sorgan's declaration that Aracia had returned to sanity. Zelana's older sister had always been a towering egomaniac, totally convinced that she was the most important being in the entire universe. That, of course, had opened the door for a number of self-appointed "priests" who'd found their way to lives of luxury over the past several eons. They'd made lifelong careers of piling counterfeit adoration on Aracia, and she'd wiggled like a puppy and begged for more.

Over the countless centuries, Aracia's priests had spread the word that she'd really like to have a glorious temple built for her, and they'd managed to persuade the common citizens that it was their duty to construct it. Unfortunately, nobody had bothered to draw up an overall plan, so Aracia's "glorious temple" was a hodgepodge of corridors that didn't go anywhere, chambers without doorways, and extensive unroofed areas.

Aracia spent most—if not all—of her time in her throne room, so she had no real awareness of how ridiculous her glorious temple really was. It was a mile square, though, and the word "mile" seemed to thrill Aracia right down to her bones, and she sat contented in her glorious throne room on her glorious throne, accepting the glorious adoration of generation after generation of lazy priests.

Then, quite suddenly during Sorgan's imitation invasion hoax, Aracia had changed direction—to the horror of her priests. Her voice suddenly became steel-hard, and she commanded her priests to go out and do some honest work for a change.

"It just doesn't fit," Balacenia complained. She was catching a strong odor of tampering here, but she had no idea of who might be trying to change things.

Then her eye caught a flicker of movement outside the unstable east wall of Aracia's temple. Rabbit's "spider hoax" had terrified everybody in Aracia's Domain, and terrified people don't wander around alone—particularly not after the sun goes down.

Curious, Balacenia drifted lower and saw a small person wearing a priest robe scurrying along outside the rickety temple wall. "That almost has to be that self-appointed priestess called Alcevan," Balacenia murmured. "What's she up to now?"

Then she remembered Veltan's imitation spiders, and that explained just why Alcevan was staying outside the temple, and it also suggested that Alcevan desperately needed to talk with Aracia.

Then she thought of Tori's description of an unused corridor that just happened to have a crack in the wall where he'd been able to listen to what was happening without being seen. "I'd say that 'sneak around' time just got here," she murmured to herself.

She drifted down through the poorly constructed roof of Aracia's temple and settled in Tori's dusty corridor. She could even see Tori's footprints in the dust, and that made things very simple.

"Please don't leave us, dear one!" Balacenia heard Alcevan's peculiar-sounding voice coming through the crack Torl had found. There was a desperation in the voice, but also just a hint of insincerity.

"You're just wasting your time—and mine—Alcevan," Aracia's cold voice declared. "I have no choice. My cycle nears its end. I must sleep, and soon. I cannot remain awake when my cycle ends."

"You must try, dear one!" Alcevan's voice was almost shrill. "We do not know this Enalla creature, but I am almost positive that she'll abolish your church—or even worse, change it so that the people—and priests—of your Domain will worship her instead of you."

Balacenia caught a brief smell of a very peculiar odor. Then Aracia's attitude—and even her voice—changed. "I will not permit that! The church is mine!"

"Could you not delay her awakening, dear one?" Alcevan asked. "Surely you can stay with us for just a few more years."

Aracia, it seemed, even considered that. Then she spoke in an ominous tone. "Maybe I can at that," she said. "And I think I know of a way to keep Enalla from ever usurping this throne that is rightfully mine."

"And which way is that, dear one?" Alcevan asked, though it was obvious to Balacenia that the small priestess already knew.

David Eddings Books | Science Fiction Books | The Dreamers Series Books
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