There was a strange hollow feeling in Ranet's stomach as he made the month's full moon devotions on the sacred hill above his village. The dark sensation had been growing for months and much as he told himself it was just anxiety because of the increasingly onerous demands for tribute from the Arissi city states he didn't really believe it. There was a heaviness in the air that said it was more and when he had spoken with the hearth keeper and chief about it he had learned that the other magic users in the village sensed it too.
Tonight, however, it was worse than ever and he found himself stammering as he mouthed the ritual phrases and poured out honey wine on to the altar of white stone for his patron goddess.
As he struggled through the last prayer the gnawing hollowness contracted painfully into a cold leaden ball of panic he could not explain. It was replaced seconds later by an equally inexplicable icy determination.
He swallowed convulsively and shook his head to clear it. The emotions clearly weren't his own but both his natural senses and a whispered spell revealed no other humans in range to affect him.
If it wasn't another human then it had to be his patron but what could discomfort a goddess so? Unwillingly he turned his eyes to the sky and stared at the full moon.
What he saw provoked another surge of anxiety, this time all his own. There were two moons in the sky. Enled's silver chariot and another to the east of it, much smaller than the true moon but growing larger by the second as if it was rushing towards the world. He barely had time to encompass what he seeing before the moon suddenly lurched unnaturally in the sky, leaping back eastwards and blocking his view of the interloper.
A moment later he heard his goddess scream in his mind and the moon cracked and pieces of it shattered off. He didn't have time to form a coherent reaction before his world went black.
Pain stabbed through Ranet as someone shook him gently. His head was on fire and he could smell the sharp scent of vomit he was sure was his own. He groaned and tried to push their hand away but they were undeterred.
"Ranet, I'm sorry. I know it hurts but you have to wake up!" Whoever was shaking him sounded like she was in much pain as he was. He couldn't place her voice but it sounded familiar. "Ranet! Please wake up!"
Ranet didn't want to open his eyes but it seemed she wouldn't leave him alone until he did so he opened them hesitantly then gasped as the sight of the burning sky reminded him what he'd seen. He tried to sit up but his stomach rebelled at the sudden movement and he retched, depositing what little was left in his stomach into the tattered silver skirts of the one who'd awoken him.
Ranet's gasped in a breath as his retching finally stopped and he regained enough control to look up into the pained eyes of his goddess Enled. There was blood matted in her silver hair and leaking from cuts in her shimmering skin. He scrambled to his knees, breathing deeply to suppress the nausea but as he went to prostrate himself she stopped him with a gentle hand and a shake of her head.
"No need to apologise, my priest, and we haven't got time for ceremony. I only wish that having one of my priests vomiting on me was the worst thing that had happened to me today. You have to get your people to high ground - the sea is coming. Otreiyat is doing his best to slow it, but he can't stop it."
The moon had shattered? The sea god couldn't control the sea? He had dozens of questions but what came out of his mouth encompassed them all. "What?"
"The gods can effect the wind but they cannot stop it," Enled said. It was a common saying, a platitude when unfair things happened, but he got the point. He climbed cautiously to his feet, wishing the headache would abate so he could think straight.
"How long do we have?" he asked.
"I Do not know," she said. "We're running right at the edge of our power just to keep this world liveable after this. But it should be enough if you-" She collapsed in a heap at his feet.
Ranet stared at the unconscious goddess. Should he leave her there? Would the other gods come for her if he did. From what she had said they were all busy trying to deal with whatever had happened. Would she recover on her own if they didn't. He hesitated for a long moment then scooped her into his arms. He doubted that hearth keeper Dabret would be able to remedy the ills of an injured goddess but he wouldn't leave a human in that state so he certainly couldn't leave his goddess. And her presence - even unconscious - was more likely to make people listen to him when he told them that they had to flee.
She was surprisingly light and he shifted her weight in his arms and began racing towards the village to raise the alarm.
The path down the precipitous slope of the sacred hill was winding and overgrown since it was seldom used outside of festivals except by himself. So it was difficult picking his way down with Enled in his arms since he couldn't exactly tip her unceremoniously over his shoulder so he could use at least one of his hands to help him scramble. That would be disrespectful, wouldn't it? The again she'd said the sea was coming and ordered him to hurry. Who knew how long he had. He couldn't waste time.
"Forgive me, Holy Enled," he whispered and shifted her weight as gently as possible over his shoulder before continuing his half run half slide down the hill using his free hand to steady himself.
At the base of the hill he paused long enough to shift her back into his arms and ran towards the gate tower in the palisade.
The dozen families who made up the village were already awake when he reached the huts where they nestled not far from the beach. They were gathered in front of the great hut staring at the sky and babbling nervously at each other.
"Oi! We have to leave!" he shouted, but such was the confusion that no one heard him. He swore under his breath and then whispered a spell to enhance his voice. In his arms Enled stirred slightly and made a whimpering sound. "Sorry," he whispered before looking towards his neighbours. "We have to leave!" he thundered. There was a moment of stunned silence then people turned to look at him. He held Enled's limp form out towards them. "Holy Enled says that the sea in coming and we need to get to high ground."
Dabret strode towards him and laid a hand on Enled's forehead. "The destruction of her chariot must have injured her," she said softly. "I'm not sure what we can do for a goddess or if she even needs our help but I will have a look once we get to safety. We'd best make for Denya's Rise like we do when the ground shakes." She turned back to the other villagers and began giving terse orders to collect whatever supplies they could easily carry and move out as fast as they could. “Bring one of the litters we use for the elders for Holy Enled.”
"Oi! What are you doing?" Mareg, the new chief, elbowed aside several of the villagers as they scattered to obey Dabret's orders. "We do not abandon the village without my permission."
Dabret glared at him and then gestured to the others to keep going before turning back to him.
"Our permission," she said bluntly. "But in an emergency it only needs one of us. You know that." She shook her head and sighed. "I really Do not have time to deal with your insecurity right now. Or are you doubting Ranet's word about Holy Enled's warning? Or perhaps her word?" She turned away from him to help Srala tie her baby to her back. The younger woman was weeping as she fumbled with the straps. Ranat's stomach contracted painfully and he looked towards the shore - two of the fishing canoes were gone. No wonder Srala was weeping. Dabret finished helping her with the straps and squeezed her shoulder. "Don't grieve yet. Pray they make it to shelter instead." She pushed Srala towards the gate where the other villagers were already fleeing.
Mareg meanwhile made inarticulate sounds and opened and closed his mouth a few times. “How dare you!” he spluttered finally.
Dabret scowled at him. “How did you persuade people that you were generous?” she asked. “You're such a petulant child – I doubt they'll be fooled again at the next Spring feast – presuming we're still alive.” She looked around and gave a relieved smile as she saw the rest of the villagers were already some distance beyond the gate. “We'd best get moving as well, or we will be.” She cocked her head at Mareg. “You're welcome to stay here if you insist.” She helped Ranet lower Enled onto one of the spare litters then grabbed one end. “Let's go!”
As they reached the gate Ranet looked back and saw Mareg following them slowly. His breath caught as behind Mareg he saw a huge wall of water on the horizon.
“Run!” he shouted. Mareg looked back and finally began racing towards the gate.