Everyone talks about the dangers of when the Gods battle. The true danger is when they work toward a common goal.
-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power
By the time Jest returned with Storm and Sand, the others had arrived. The trio entered and immediately Rust bellowed at them.
"Careful!" shouted the god of entropy. "Don't spread the dust around any more than you have to!"
Jest and Sand levitated slightly above the already churned remains of the door, while Storm took two purposeful steps into the dust, then smiled an apology and lifted off effortlessly. Sand sniffed and swirled a wind around the Storm God's boots. The lighter dust from the Cascading Planes blew off to the edges of the circular room, leaving a small dark tornado of metal flakes.
Sand floated there, quite aware that everyone was looking at her, and made the flakes dance before her eyes. She lazily traced her slender fingers in the air.
Jest fought a momentary pang of jealousy.
"Interesting," said Sand, and her eyes glowed in divine splendor. "It feels like few other things. It has a heaviness. Not of mass, but of the soul."
"Could be why it's so potent against gods," said Whisper.
"There was a desert on a distant plane," continued Sand. "A battlefield where gods and monsters contended for control of the universe. I was there once, while still in training. This dust feels like that place."
"The battlefield was called Loss by the gods," said Whisper. "The mortal survivors call it the Place of the Gods' Bones."
"The big question is," said Rust, impatiently, "can you work with it?"
Sand gave the godling a withering smile and said, "Do you doubt my power, dear boy?"
Rust just grumbled and moved toward the food table Leaves had set up. Jest noted that Hammer was already orbiting the broad-shouldered godling like a moon swirling around its primary. Most of the rest of the group drifted away from Sand as well, but the Lady of the Desert found the orichalcum dust to be more engrossing than any attention.
Leaves had set up the munchies table just inside of the shattered doorway. Tears was hanging over her shoulder, pretending to be interested in her patter.
"Hummingbird pate and pita? Check. Candied cyclops eyes? Check. Jellied mindcrystals? Yes, this should do. Keg of spacemead? Not the best vintage, of course, but it will do. Curried monkey brains as a dip. I hope I brought enough carrots and broccoli. Oh." She said the last with the same tone as the rest of her checklist.
"Problem, Leaves?" said Tears, leaping into the pause in her patter.
"Hmm," said Leaves frowning and tapping her heart-shaped lips with a curled finger.
"Miss something?" said Jest, snatching a carrot and plunging it into a monkey's skull. The monkey gurgled as he did so.
"Dragonhearts," she said. "I must have forgotten the dragonhearts."
"I can get them for you," said Tears, too quickly for Jest's taste.
"Would you be a dear?" said Leaves.
Rust bridled. "I think that now we're all here, we should get started."
"It will only take a moment," said Leaves, turning to the godling of sadness. "If you could just pop out." She favored him with a smile that would turn a frost giant into a hot tub.
"I'll be gone only a moment," said Tears, his face brightening. Jest could only imagine the long-ignored muscles called into play to manage that smile. And before Rust could protest further, Tears moved over the threshold (careful not to disturb Sand or the remaining dust) and was gone.
Rust's face darkened. "You really shouldn't have sent him . . . "
Leaves laid a hand on Rust's shoulder. "It's only for a moment. It's not like I sent him to imitate another god."
"My cue to move on," said Jest brightly, grabbing a handful of sliced golden apples and turning to Hammer. Her face was as dark and brooding as Rust's.
"She is SO mean," said Hammer softly in a voice like a bronze bell.
"I'm missing something?" said Jest, moving her slightly away from the discussion between Rust and Leaves.
"She dropped him, you know. Broke his heart."
"Maybe it was good for him," said Jest, between bites of golden apple. "You know, practice. He IS the god of sadness."
"So he hangs about her, and she treats him like dirt," sniffed Hammer. "You'd never see me mooning over someone so . . . unworthy."
Jest coughed loudly. Hammer scowled at him and he managed a breathy, "Choked on a slice," and turned away, weaving his way toward the pile of sofas about a quarter-way around the room.
Apparently, Jest realized, he had stressed the unfurnished nature of the potential clubhouse, since everyone had bought furniture, all of it secondhand, and most of it was sofas. There were divans, ottomans, chesterfields, davenports, loveseats, fainting couches, chaise longues, settees, and several things that looked like they were designed for centaurs. Whisper and Storm were rearranging them. Or rather, Storm was rearranging, and Whisper was pointing out where everything should go.
"Put the bowback chair first, then the overstuffed divan, then the rattan lawn chair," said Whisper. Storm for his part grumbled and sweated, then stood up.
"Hang on," said the storm god, suddenly standing up and looking around.
"Don't want to move any more furniture?" said Jest, settling himself up on a director's chair.
"Something's here," said Storm.
Jest rose immediately, memories of the metallic bouncer still in his mind.
Whisper stood very quietly, then said, "I sense nothing."
Storm looked into the darkness as the room curved away from the entrance. "Huh. Neither do I. Now. Maybe it was just something coming off Sand." He cocked a head toward where Sand was still suspended, examining the orichalcum and deciding which parts were of the door and which parts were the guardian.
"Probably," said Jest. "Still, it wouldn't hurt to get a little more light in here."
"Done," said Whisper, producing an unplugged floor lamp and presenting it to Storm. The storm god muttered something Jest did not catch and touched the bulb. The lamp flickered to life and he headed to the far side of the area.
Rust nudged Jest's shoulder. He had successfully evaded Hammer, who was now examining the remaining hinges on the doorframe. The large god still looked worried, and, with a head-nod, convinced Jest to follow him to the huge pillar that turned the circular space of the room into a donut.
"Storm thinks something else is going on here," said Jest quietly.
"I try never to use the word 'Storm' and 'thinks' in the same sentence," said Rust. "But Sparky may be right. Put your hands on the inner wall. No so high! I don't want the others see you do it."
Jest pressed a palm against the surface. "It's humming," he said.
"Which means what?" said Rust.
"It doesn't know the words?" Jest gave a tired smile. "Is it machinery?"
"Dunno," said Rust. "It rises and falls, just like music."
"Some other protection, then," said Jest.
"Maybe," said Rust, "but let's ask that question AFTER we repair the door."
Jest pressed his palm against the inner wall surface and scowled. An unsolved mystery could end the NoPlace Room before it had begun.
"After we repair the door," Jest repeated.
Tears stumbled back into the room, his pants smoking, streaks of charcoal along his cheeks. He walked over to Leaves, and in a semi-bow, presented an open steel chest. Something red still pulsed within.
"Dragonhearts, my lady," said Tears.
Leaves looked mildly stricken. "Oh. These are reds. I needed whites. No, no, you did the best you could."
Tears looked at her, slack-jawed.
"If we are all here, FINALLY," boomed Rust, "maybe we can get started?"
"I am almost done with my part," said Sand, drifting down. She pointed to the larger of two dark piles. "That was your door."
"Good," said Rust, and for the first time turned to Hammer. "What next?"
Hammer beamed like a newly minted coin. "We need a media to suspend the particles in."
"Knew that," said Rust. "Tears?"
"Hmmm?" said Tears, looking at the spurned dragonhearts. "Oh, yes." He set the box down and raised his palms, summoning his glooms. The thick, viscous ghosts swirled up behind him and spread through the room.
One of them passed through Jest, and immediately he was struck with regret. Sadness that his elder gods would never realize his vital contribution to the worlds -- that he would spend forever ignored by them. The regret swelled and deepened and suddenly Jest, master of pranks, was crying.
The gloom took his tears and mixed it with its own, growing thicker and less intangible with each moment that passed.
Jest looked at the others, embarrassed, but they were in similar states. Blood red tears streamed down from Rust's eyes, and burning ones from Hammer. Whisper turned away from the others, and Tears let his emotions flow, though no gloom seemed attendant on him.
And with a wave, all the tears and the glooms flew into the pile of orichalcum dust that Sand had gathered. Under the hands of the glooms it formed a dark doughy mass.
Hammer strode up to the mass and held up a hand, her palm glowing blue.
"I need the bonds strengthened. Rust and Storm?"
"You up to this?" asked Rust.
"Just try to keep up," said Storm with a sneer.
Both godlings unleashed their power on the swirling mass of gooey metal. Storm provided the raw power, the lightning surrounding him and dancing off his fingertips. Rust shaped the power and removed impediments in the bolt's flight, causing the energy to move to the exact right point.
Rust had spent hours intimately involved with the door and knew were every molecule was. And with Storm's power, he set each in its place.
And Hammer drilled it home, reassembling a jigsaw puzzle that had not only been turned to dust, but scattered afterward among other dust and grime.
The mass of metal was glowing and elongating at Hammer's touch now, forming out a pair of great rectangular oblongs. The runes and carvings on the door began to emerge, as fierce and terrible as they once were.
"Now we need to set it in the frame," said Hammer, her voice sounding like a foundry.
Jest moved forward, and with him Whisper, Tears, and Leaves. They shouldered the floating doors back into place, and rested them in the frame. Then they held them there as Hammer moved meticulously around the door, re-setting its hinges and setting a locking mechanism in the center.
Hammer waved off Rust and Storm. The energy surging in the room diminished at once, and the door, radiating like a molten volcano, hung in its frame, cooling and returning to its dark form.
"Not bad," said Jest. "Now the question is can we get out again?"
Rust opened his mouth to defend Hammer's workmanship, but was interrupted by a cry of pain in the back of the room.
Sand appeared, gripping another female godling by her triangular ear and frog-marching her forward.
"Let go!" hissed the newcomer.
"Trespasser," said Sand, pushing her toward the others.
"I knew I sensed something," said Storm.
"Lord of Cats," said Jest.
"Lady of Felines," said Whisper. "Scion of Lions, Kindred of the Carnivores, Great House of the Beasts. Child of Stealth and Hidden Eyes."
The Lord of Cats straightened the hair over her ear like a kitten grooming itself. "You don't have to be so RUDE," she spat at Sand, who dismissed her with a haughty sniff.
"What are you doing here?" asked Rust.
Cats tugged at her sweater. "I was invited."
All eyes turned to Jest. Wide-eyed, the God of Pranks shrugged.
"On Juk," said Cats. "On the side of the great cathedral."
"He was talking to ME," said Tears.
"I don't think he was clear," said Cats, pulling herself to her full height, which was about half a head shorter than Sands. "And I never turned down an invitation, intended or not. Particularly to things our elders shouldn't know about."
"Just freaking great," said Storm. "What do we do with her?"
"More importantly," said Whisper, "how many other people did we 'inadvertently' invite? And how many did THIS one invite?"
The question was answered with a ringing knock on the door.
"Oh," said the Lord of Cats. "A few."
To be continued...
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