Lillabeth peered down at the earth far below. "Why is it all white like that?"
"It's covered with snow, Lillabeth."
"Like that snow we saw back in Lattash last spring?"
"I'd almost forgotten that you were there with the rest of us," Balacenia admitted. Then she pointed on ahead. "That's Mount Shrak there. The rest of the family should be there by now. I'd say that you should listen, but don't say very much. They're likely to say things about Aracia that you won't like, but just keep your feelings to yourself. The whole purpose of this meeting is to come up with a way to keep Aracia from hurting you."
"She wouldn't do that!" Lillabeth protested.
"I wouldn't be too sure, Lillabeth. Aracia's mind isn't working the way it's supposed to right now. That's what this meeting's all about. If we don't get her mind to working right, we could lose her."
Balacenia began their descent, and they came down just outside the entrance to Dahlaine's cave. She was just a bit out of practice, but things seemed to be returning to normal.
The two of them went on inside, and they soon reached the part of the cave Dahlaine used for living quarters.
"Did you have any problems?" Veltan asked.
"I don't have problems, Uncle," Balacenia teased him. "You should know that by now. Tori's men were guarding the doors, but I went into Lillabeth's room through the ceiling. Then we came out the same way. It'll probably be three or four days before anybody in the temple discovers that Lillabeth isn't there anymore."
"Let's get on with this," Dahlaine said. "Veltan told us that you've discovered that one of sister Aracia's priests is a disguised servant of the Vlagh."
"Priestess, Uncle," Balacenia corrected. "I can't be sure just how she managed to persuade Fat Bersla and the others that women can be priests just like men can. She might have used that odor you encountered in Tonthakan, but that's not really important. She's got your sister completely under her control now, and she's doing her best to drive Aracia into killing Lillabeth here."
"She can't do that!" Dahlaine exclaimed.
"Not since I grabbed Lillabeth and brought her here, she can't," Balacenia reminded him. "Our problem now is how we are going to deal with that smelly bug."
"Kill it," Yaltar, the childish form of Vash, said bluntly.
"Didn't you tell him that we're not permitted to do that, Uncle Veltan?" Balacenia asked.
"I didn't get into too many details," Veltan admitted.
"We could always send for Longbow," Eleria said. "He kills bugs all the time."
"Or maybe Ox," Dahlaine's Dreamer Ashad said.
Then there came a glow of light out of the passage that led to the outside of Mount Shrak, and Ara was there. "What seems to be the problem, children?" she asked.
"One of the bug people has stolen the Beloved's big sister," Eleria replied. "We'd like to get her back, but we don't know exactly how."
"Which one of you discovered that?" Ara asked.
"It was Big-Me," Eleria replied. "You know how clever Big-Me can be."
Ara frowned slightly. "Who's she talking about?"
"That would be me," Balacenia said. "She's had a peculiar way of talking ever since she started playing with the dolphins. There's a woman called Alcevan down in Aracia's temple who pretends that she's a priestess. I overheard her talking with Aracia and she was letting out that peculiar odor the servants of the Vlagh use to confuse people. She's come very close to persuading Aracia that when Enalla takes charge in the East, she'll usurp the temple and the priesthood and make everybody in Aracia's Domain worship her. Aracia accepted that absurdity, and she was getting very close to murdering Lillabeth here as a way to destroy Enalla. Just to be safe, I snatched Lillabeth and brought her here."
Ara's face went cold. "Aracia should know that she's not permitted to kill anything."
"I'm sure that she knows that," Dahlaine said, "but we've seen this sort of thing before. Once one of the bug-people unleashes that odor, people lose their grip on reality. We've been trying to come up with an answer, but we haven't gotten very far yet. We're working on it, though. We'd be more than happy if you can give us a solution."
Ara squinted at him. "First off, you can't send Lillabeth back to that silly temple. She's too innocent to protect herself, but Enalla can. I'll help her a bit, and she'll look exactly like Lillabeth. Then, when Aracia commands her to die, Enalla can block that command with no trouble and—we can all hope—she'll prevent Aracia from going too far. If she goes over the forbidden line, she'll cease to exist."
"Die, you mean?" Ashad asked.
"Not exactly. She just won't be there anymore. She'll simply vanish."
"That's the last thing we want," Dahlaine said. "Aracia's never really been very stable. She's obsessed with her divinity, and sooner or later she's almost certain to step over that forbidden line. I think it's altogether possible that we'll lose her, no matter what we do. Then we'll have to replace her."
"Make a new person, you mean?" Ashad asked.
"Maybe. We'll see."
Balacenia saw the perfect answer standing right there, but she was fairly sure she'd have trouble convincing Dahlaine, so she kept it to herself for now.
THE DREAM OF OMAGO
Ara was humming softly to herself as she prepared a breakfast for the Trogites who were manning Gunda's fort at the head of Long-Pass. The weather had turned bitterly cold, but Ara's kitchen was pleasantly warm. The Trogite army cooks used stoves made of iron, but that didn't suit Ara one little bit. Iron stoves didn't produce constant temperatures, and constant temperature was the key to good cooking. She'd tried one of the iron stoves when she and Omago had first reached Gunda's fort, and the results had been disastrous. Omago was almost immediately aware of her dissatisfaction, and he had built her a stove much like the one back in their kitchen near Veltan's house, and Ara had always been more comfortable with a stove made of fired bricks. Her ovens were exactly where they were supposed to be. Different foods needed different heats, and Ara had always depended on distance from the fire to precisely control the heat in each oven. The Trogite army cooks could prepare large amounts of food, but quite a bit of it was overcooked—almost burned—and much of it was still half-raw. The Trogite soldiers were very brave, so they didn't complain when half of their food was partially burned and the other half was not even very warm.