While Azkal and Jvelto were fighting, Torodin
had quickly sped off to Iloria. The Shadowlord was confident in his ability to
seduce a maiden, for he was exceedingly handsome and charming. But he had
watched Sapphira for some time now, and he knew that winning her heart would not
be easy, even for a god. It would be nearly impossible for a stranger to win her
heart in one day.
And so Torodin decided that a creative interpretation of Wajen´s rule was in order. Rather than assuming the form of just any mortal, Torodin chose that of one of Sapphira´s closest friends, a handsome young man of the Ilorian nobility named Lord Dominic. Before Torodin reached Iloria, when he would no longer be allowed to use his powers, he arranged for the real Lord Dominic to be lost in the dark and labyrinthian caverns beneath the mountains of Iloria. It would take many days for the unfortunate mortal to find his way out, leaving Torodin free to court Sapphira in his name.
Sapphira was delighted when her friend Dominic asked her to spend the day with him in the capital city. They went first to the magnificent art museum, where Torodin steered Sapphira to the erotic paintings and the statues of intertwined lovers. Sapphira was appreciative, but unmoved.
After an outdoor picnic by a beautiful lake, Torodin took Sapphira to the opera house. There they were treated to a tale of grand passion, and the entire audience was moved to tears as the heroine´s beautiful soprano paid tribute to her eternal love for the hero. Torodin smiled when a teary-eyed Sapphira leaned towards him as the curtains fell, but the gentle kiss on the cheek wasn´t what he´d been hoping for.
By now night was falling, and Torodin had little time left. He took Sapphira to a romantic restaurant, where they enjoyed wine and roast pheasant by candle light, while serenaded by a virtuoso violinist. Afterwards, Torodin pulled Sapphira into his arms and they danced the night away.
With only a few minutes left before midnight, Torodin led Sapphira onto the balcony. With the stars twinkling overhead, Torodin professed his love and kissed Sapphira. But she pulled away from his embrace.
"I´m sorry, Dominic. I do care for you, and your friendship is very important to me. But my heart belongs to another."
Torodin stared at her in amazement. In all the time the gods had watched Sapphira, she had never shown romantic feelings towards anyone.
"Who is it?" he asked jealously.
Sapphira blushed. "I´d rather not say. I have not yet admitted my feelings to him, and I fear..."
"You fear he will reject you? My dear Sapphira, only the greatest of fools would do so."
Jvelto was the next chosen to spend a day
trying to win Sapphira´s heart. The Oceanlord had used his day of waiting
to create a magical ship. The beautiful vessel was sleek and fast, and required
no crew to steer it. In the guise of a handsome sea captain named Jenkin, Jvelto
presented the magnificent vessel to Sapphira as a gift.
Sapphira was delighted with the present. She and Jvelto spent a beautiful, sunny day sailing on the crystal clear waters around Iloria. Jvelto was pleased by Sapphira´s daring and enthusiasm as she raced the boat at dangerously high speeds. But he realized sadly that her attention to steering the ship left no time for romance.
Jvelto was determined to make up for this when they stopped to lunch upon ale and oysters. He chose a secluded beach with soft, white sand. As they watched the cerulean blue waters lap gently onto the shore, Jvelto tried to put his arm around Sapphira. But she dodged the attempt and announced that she wanted to go for a swim.
Jvelto was quite disappointed until the uninhibited Sapphira shed her garments and waded into the water naked. He eagerly joined her. They cavorted like children until the sun began to set. But when Jvelto tried to kiss her, Sapphira said that she longed to sail by moonlight and swam back to the beach.
Jvelto unhappily watched Sapphira get dressed. But all was not lost, for sailing by moonlight was very romantic. Jvelto stood close beside Sapphira and told her stories of love on the high seas.
Finally, just before midnight, Jvelto kneeled before Sapphira and professed his great love.
"I am sorry," she said. "I have enjoyed our time together, and I will always treasure this magnificent ship. But my heart belongs to another."
Jvelto scowled. "Who is this man?"
"I can not say. I have not told him how I feel, for fear he will reject me."
"Reject you?" Jvelto scoffed. "Only a man with no spirit would do so."
Finally, it was Azkal´s turn. The Great
Warrior had not wasted his days o f waiting. Since no evil could set foot on the
island, Azkal had created a misunderstanding to enrage the normally peace-loving
merfolk who dwelled near Iloria. Azkal gave them the ability to walk on land at
will, but he didn´t stop there. He changed their form into monstrous
creatures, with greenish-black, scaly skin, big staring eyes. Azkal named these
terrible fish-men sahuagin, and encouraged them to plan a massive attack on
When the assault came, Azkal, in the guise of a soldier named Alexander, was there to defend Iloria. He battled heroically, and when their general was slain, Azkal took his place and led the warriors of Iloria to a rout of the sahuagin. (Unfortunately for mortals, some of the sahuagin escaped, to breed and populate the seas with their evil.)
After the battle, Sapphira herself came to congratulate this new hero. She was astonished when Azkal, rather than being exhausted from the battle, seized her in a hearty embrace and offered to take her hunting.
Sapphira accepted the invitation, for she enjoyed all forms of sport. Realizing that the battle had already used up much of his day, Azkal wasted no time in getting Sapphira alone in the beautiful jungles of Iloria.
Unlike his brothers, Azkal did not believe in wasting much time on courtship. This was not from any laziness on his part. Rather, Azkal´s preference for direct speaking and for strong-willed women had led him to conclude that love and passion did not require music or moonlight, but only simple honesty.
And so, after they had feasted upon a roast boar they had killed, Azkal took Sapphira´s hand and announced that he wanted to make love to her. He graphically related his prowess as a lover and described in detail everything he would do to bring her pleasure.
Sapphira briefly returned Azkal´s kiss, for she was quite aroused by his speech. But then she pulled away from his embrace.
"I am sorry," she said. "I share your desire. But my heart belongs to another."
Azkal leaped to his feet angrily. "Who?"
"I can not say. I have not yet spoken of my feelings to him."
"You can not think he will reject you," Azkal said bitterly. "Only a man with no fire in his veins would do so."
When the gods gathered again to observe their
favorite kingdom, Soltana and Wajen were privately amused at their brothers´
bitterness. Having seen into Sapphira´s heart, Soltana knew of her secret
feelings and had spoken of this to Wajen. The Great Mother had devised her plan
in hopes of teaching her brothers some much-needed humility.
Soltana and Wajen both watched in satisfaction as Sapphira, emboldened by the words of Torodin, Jvelto and Azkal, finally approached her beloved. He was a simple scribe named Cyril who worked in her father´s palace. When Sapphira professed her love, Cyril was overjoyed, for he had always loved the princess from afar. The two decided to be wed as soon as possible.
"Him!" Torodin, Jvelto and Azkal cried in unison.
"He´s not charming or handsome," Torodin complained.
Jvelto scowled. "He´s a bookworm. He has no zest for life."
"He is a weakling," Azkal spat. "No match for her. What can this mean?"
"It means," said Wajen sagely, "that you three just don´t understand women.
"Wajen is right," Soltana agreed. "Perhaps the three of you can learn something from watching these two young lovers. We leave you to it."
The sisters departed. Unfortunately, the only thing their brothers learned from watching Sapphira and Cyril was increasing bitterness and anger. Azkal and Jvelto complained loudly about Cyril´s lack of fitness for their beloved. Torodin, meanwhile, silently brooded.
"We must do something about this," he said at last.
Jvelto looked at Torodin. He was reminded how much Torodin resembled their brother Othniel.
"What can we do?" asked the Oceanlord. "Sapphira has made her choice."
"She has made an error in judgment," Torodin said testily. "One which we are honor-bound to correct."
"You mean to kill Cyril," Azkal concluded.
Jvelto looked at Torodin uneasily. Since his century of slavery to the Soultaker, Torodin had come to resemble Othniel in more than just appearance. These dark moods of his were not to Jvelto´s liking.
But they didn´t bother Azkal. The Great Warrior stood and drew his sword. "Very good. I will fly to Iloria and chop off his head."
Torodin rolled his eyes. "I believe something more subtle is called for. Our sisters would not approve of this."
Azkal scowled. "Your century of slavery has affected your judgment, brother. I will not stand for treachery."
Jvelto stepped between his brothers before a fight could ensue. "And I will not stand for bloodshed between us. Control yourselves, brothers. Surely we can find a mutually agreeable way to rid ourselves of this troublesome mortal."
Together, the three gods devised a devious plan. Azkal and Torodin combined their powers to create a magical ring. On the morning of the wedding, Torodin sent his son Siwili to deliver the ring to Cyril, claiming it was a gift from Sapphira.
Cyril put on the beautiful ring. Immediately, he became strong, powerful and invulnerable to all harm - or so he believed. When one of Jvelto´s sea serpents arrived to threaten Sapphira even as she walked down the aisle toward Cyril, the groom rushed forward to defend his beloved. He realized too late that the ring gave him no real powers, as the sea serpent crushed him in its massive jaws.
The three gods´ pleasure in the success of their plan was short-lived. They watched in horror as Sapphira, devastated by Cyril´s death, ended her life with her own dagger.
Soltana and Wajen rejoined their brothers just in time to witness this terrible event. Enraged, Wajen summoned a terrible storm and assaulted her brothers with its savage fury.
The three gods desperately defended themselves. Some time passed before Wajen was able to hear Soltana´s pleas over the violent winds.
"Sister, please. Look to the island."
Wajen calmed the storm, and all the gods stared in astonishment. Iloria was sinking.
Weeping, Soltana turned to her brothers. "You committed an act of great evil, and the spell that created Iloria is unraveling. You have destroyed it."
"We will save the people," Jvelto declared.
The gods prepared to do just that. But then, Estereal arrived in a flash of light. He blocked their way, scowling in anger at his siblings.
"You can not save them. I forbid it."
"But my love," Soltana protested, "they are innocent mortals. We can not let them perish."
"You must. You have given them too many advantages - they could never live peacefully among ordinary humans. I will not permit the rest of the world to suffer because of your mistakes. As for the kingdom of Iloria, not even I can save it. You have broken the law, shattering the covenant that created Iloria by bringing evil to its shores - evil of your own design. I urge you, my brothers, think of what your lust for a mortal woman has caused."
Torodin, peering over Estereal´s shoulder, saw that the the valleys of Iloria had completely submerged. "Yes, Estereal, but..."
Estereal scowled at him. "Silence! This is not something you can make right with witty remarks and charming entreaties. I will ask Harmonia to create a poem - a ballad that mortals will pass on from generation to generation, so that they will always remember your disgrace. Your worshipers once thought you perfect, but no more. From now on they will realize that even the gods have faults. You will find it more difficult to recruit priests. In the past nearly a quarter of the mortals served us, for they all longed to honor our glory. But in the future, priests will be few. As punishment for the covenant you have broken, I forbid you to call more than one mortal in a thousand into your service."
Jvelto glanced towards Iloria and realized that the plains of Iloria had sunk beneath the sea. "Estereal, my brother, surely..."
"I am not finished," Estereal said, scowling at the Oceanlord. "You all must understand the gravity of your crimes. You are gods. Our parents raised you to be dignified, proud, strong and righteous. And yet you have behaved like mortal children, thinking only of your own pleasure and using mortals like toys. Even you, Soltana my beloved - I know that you meant no harm. But it is wrong to shower too many gifts and abilities upon mortals simply because it pleases us. The people of Iloria were not far below the gods in strength and power, and that is not right. It violates the covenant our parents established when they created these mortals, to give them gifts that approach the divine."
Soltana´s eyes widened as she saw the mountains of Iloria beginning to sink. "My beloved, I am sorry. But..."
"Beloved, please. There is much more you must hear. You, Wajen, you are supposed to be the wisest of us. Yet look what you have caused. Of all of you, the blame for this tragedy rests most heavily upon your shoulders. You sought to teach our brothers humility, but never gave a thought to the consequences. I will admit that Torodin, Jvelto and Azkal are often cocky, arrogant and willful."
The three gods frowned at Estereal, but wisely said nothing.
"But they are gods, and have the right to be so. Arrogance is not a sin, Wajen, much as it may annoy you. You have the right to lecture our brothers, and offer them council. But it was wrong of you to deceive them so. And Soltana, my love, I am ashamed that you knew of Wajen´s lie and said nothing."
Soltana hung her head, tears trickling from her eyes. She knew that dishonesty, especially between gods, was a great sin in her husband´s eyes.
"I am ashamed of all of you," Estereal went on. "Of all the sins that we gods can commit, selfishness is the least excusable. And you have indeed been selfish, in amusing yourself with Iloria with no thought to the consequences. You must understand that even a god can die, for he who lives only for himself is truly dead to others."
Only the very tips of the mountaintops now remained above the sea. Most of the mortals were swimming around, trying to stay afloat as long as they could. Seeing this, Azkal pointed.
"Estereal, brother, look -"
"Stop interrupting me," Estereal said angrily. "You must understand what I am telling you, for everything depends on it. The mortals are more valuable than you seem to understand. I know that you care for many of them, and that you love some of them, especially your priests. But you forget one thing - while the mortals´ lives are brief, their souls continue forever, even those that we do not choose to gather to us when they are released from the flesh. The soul of every mortal is of inestimable value, for the souls of kings and cobblers were cast from the same mold. Mortals may die, but their souls are immortal and imperishable, and each one given freely to us is indeed the only treasure of worth. While do you think that Othniel seeks constantly to steal them, and greedily gathers the souls of the unfaithful? He understands their value. It grieves me that my own allies and beloved siblings can not."
Sadly, the gods realized that Estereal was right. They were terribly ashamed of their selfishness an vanity. Soltana could not control her grief.
"Estereal, please. Can´t we save even one of them?"
"You´d better hurry," said Torodin, pointing. Iloria was completely submerged now. "I don´t think they can tread water much longer."
Jvelto nodded. "And some of them are getting eaten by sharks."
The One relented in the face of his wife´s tears. He flew to Iloria and rescued the wise King Adalwen. Since Adalwen could not live among ordinary mortals, Estereal made him the god of kings and rulers.
By the time Estereal returned to his shame-faced siblings, Iloria had sunk to the bottom of the sea. He turned to them with a frown.
"This is a terrible thing you have done," he told them. "And you must be punished for it. If I could, I would make you live among mortals as one of them, for then you would understand how precious they are, despite their weaknesses.
"But I can not leave you so vulnerable to our enemies. Instead, I must devise other punishments. In the future, I forbid any of you to grant special abilities or powers of any kind to any mortals other than your priests. I also forbid you to make new gods - that shall be my province alone.
"Finally, I have a special task for each of you. Soltana, my beloved, in honor of the innocent princess who died, I ask you to create a beautiful gem called the sapphire. You will create thousands of these gems, each one unique, and hide them deep inside the mountains of the world. Torodin, I fear that mortals will learn of Iloria and seek out the powerful magics you so foolishly created. You will devise terrible traps and magical perils around the sunken island, so that greedy mortals will perish in their quest for this place. Jvelto, you will aid him by creating new and dangerous monsters to guard the lost kingdom. Azkal, you will create a new kingdom of merfolk to replace the one you sacrificed. You will give them magical weapons, and teach them the ways of war. Fill their hearts with jealousy, so that they will protect themselves and attack any who come near Iloria. Finally, Wajen, since this terrible plan was your idea, I give you a task that will be loathsome to you. You will poison the plants growing on the lost kingdom, so that they will spread disease and death among any mortals who should manage to reach Iloria.
"I hope that as you complete these tasks, you will think about the terrible thing you have done. May you never make such a mistake again."