The Wedding of Estereal and Soltana

After centuries of living with their older brother, the gods had seen Estereal in many moods. They had seen him angry at the evil and deception of Athelstan and Othniel. They had seen him loving towards Soltana; and, if the truth be known, he had been known to display affection to all of his siblings, for Estereal was far from heartless. They´d even seen him frightened when Torodin had been kidnapped. But they´d never before seen him nervous.
"I don´t believe it," Torodin whispered as they watched Estereal pace back and forth. "Look at him -- he´s sweating."
Azkal swatted aside a rose hanging before his face and nodded. (Wajen had gotten quite carried away when she transformed her sacred grove for the wedding. Vines laden with massive red blooms trailed everywhere; it had been difficult for anyone to see much of anything until Torodin had surreptitiously clipped a few of the blossoms.)
"Indeed. One would think he prepared for a battle, not his wedding day."
Jvelto shook his head. "Who would ever have thought to see Estereal so humbled by a woman?"
Remiére grinned. "Me. That´s another bet you´ve lost to me, Sea Lord."
Torodin frowned at Jvelto. "Didn´t I warn you to stop making bets with him? What do you have to do for him this time?"
The sea god grimaced. "I agreed to freeze the North Sea."
"Whatever for?"
"Raaba loves ice skating," Remiére said with a lusty sigh. "You see, I conned Azkal into making these blades..."
"I get the picture," said Torodin. "And I can´t say I blame you. Soltana´s lovely daughter is certainly worth the effort. But don´t expect me to hide the two of you when Wajen finds out. You know what that´s going to do to her precious beaches. That woman is a terror when she´s angry."
"That is for certain," said Azkal, who´d once admitted (under the influence of a great deal of wine) that Wajen´s temper was the only thing he feared.
Remiére and Jvelto exchanged unconcerned looks. Torodin could always be persuaded to hide them if they brought a few sea nymphs along. The Shadowlord´s soft spot for lovely women was legendary.
"What is taking her so long?"
The five gods turned to Estereal, guiltily realizing that they were supposed to be keeping him company, not finding entertainment in his terror.
"We should comfort him," said Azkal uncertainly. "Torodin, say something nice."
Torodin frowned at the warrior god. He was dearly fond of Estereal, but he really hated to admit it, especially in front of witnesses. But he supposed he could make an exception on his brother´s wedding day. Reluctantly he stepped up to The One and patted him consolingly on his shoulder.
"Relax. You know how women are. Soltana wants to look her best for you. But with five women to help her -- goddesses, no less -- imagine all the dresses they´re making her try on, just to find the right one. And then changing their minds. But one thing you can be sure of -- no matter how long they make us wait, it will be worth it."
Estereal smiled. "You are right, brother. I should not be so impatient. I am sure my beloved is having a wonderful time..."

Meanwhile, back in her lovely crystal castle, Soltana wasn´t having quite the wonderful time that the waiting gods imagined.
She did indeed have many helpers to prepare for the wedding. Wajen helped, of course, and it was she who would conduct the wedding ceremony. And starry-eyed Raaba, Soltana´s first born and her maid of honor. The other bride´s maids were Soltana´s remaining daughters: There was fleet footed Briseis, Jvelto´s daughter; lusty Sharess, who was Torodin´s first child; Azkal´s temperamental daughter Zitkala; and Estereal´s second child, Ushas, who had a sunny if rather vague disposition. (Soltana had always been very affectionate to her brothers, who would miss this treatment after her marriage.)
The only male present was Natanael, Soltana and Estereal´s first born, who had agreed to drive the sun chariot that would bring the women to the sacred grove where the wedding would take place. As the women cheerfully draped one gown after another across his out-stretched arms, Natanael was beginning to suspect his Uncle Torodin´s motives for assigning him this task. Prophesying that his strong arms would be needed, indeed!

But, regardless of the motives behind it, Torodin´s prophecy proved to be deadly accurate. Ever jealous of their brother Estereal, the evil ones had been planning for some time to at the very least ruin the wedding and, if all went as planned, to deprive The One of his beloved bride.
The first sign of trouble happened just after Soltana had finally decided on a gown. She looked at the mirror, beaming with justifiable pride at the lovely way the rose-colored gown draped along her perfect figure.
"This is the one," she said to a hovering Wajen. "It´s perfect."
"Yes," said Wajen thoughtfully. "Except that bit of lace there. Here, let me stitch it for you." Though her powers could have fixed it easily, Wajen often made special things by hand -- she considered it a labor of love.
"Oh, praise be," said Natanael. "Can I put these others down now?"
"Yes, dear."
The god of redemption unceremoniously dumped the rejected gowns on the floor. Raaba looked aghast and scooped up the lovely garments. "Ooh, can I have these mother?"
"Yes, dear."
"Thank you." Raaba hastily sped off with the precious gifts.
Sharess smiled at Natanael and ruffled his long, white hair. "Your arms must be very tired. Would you like me to massage them for you?"
Natanael, who was a serious lad and still quite innocent of women, blushed fiercely. "No, thank you. I´m fine."
Sharess sighed and tossed back her fiery, red locks. "What a pity."
Everyone looked up in alarm to see Wajen sucking on her finger. Speedy Briseis held the train of Soltana´s gown away from the injured goddess.
"She stabbed herself with the needle," Briseis explained.
They were all amazed. Wajen had never made such a mistake before. How could this have happened?
"Oh dear," said Soltana. "Here, let me heal that."
But before Soltana could touch Wajen´s outstretched hand, a single drop of blood dripped from the goddess´s finger and to the crystal floor below.
It seemed unimportant, and no one moved to stop it. What they didn´t know, was that this seemingly minor mishap was part of the evil gods´ horrible plan. Athelstan had persuaded his son, Baltasar, the horrible winged god of misfortune who had been gotten upon a succubus, to cast a spell causing Wajen to prick herself upon a needle while stitching Soltana´s dress. It would have been a minor prank but for Othniel´s assistance. The god of disease and death had cast a terrible spell upon Wajen while she slept the night before.
As the drop of blood hit the crystal floor of Soltana´s palace, Othniel´s spell bore evil fruit. The assembled gods watched in horror as the blood began to hiss and bubble. Suddenly, up from the ruby red fluid sprang Othniel´s new creation -- the ultroloth. With a deafening screech, the vile spawn of evil snatched up the startled Soltana and flew away with her, crashing through the walls of the crystal palace.
Most of the gods present were stunned and busy dodging shards of glass. The only one quick enough to react was Briseis. Bravely, she latched on to her mother´s satin slipper and was pulled outside along with her mother, who had already been rendered unconscious by the creature´s poisonous breath - a gift from its creator.
Briseis slipped a magic dagger from her belt and managed to stab the creature. It roared in pain and bucked wildly. Unfortunately for Briseis, Baltasar´s aura of misfortune had been cast upon the creature, causing mishaps in its wake. Soltana´s slipper ripped, causing Briseis to plummet through the air.
The other gods, however, were not going to sit back and watch Soltana be carried away. Wajen, sadly, became gravely ill, thanks to the poison Othniel had placed upon the needle. Ushas and Sharess quickly rushed to her aid.
"Our powers are not helping her," Ushas said in fear. "We must get help, or she will die."
"That does it!" Zitkala, whose temper had always been a little volatile, began to glow with white energy. "I´m telling my father."
She abruptly turned into a bolt of lightning and zipped away, causing another hole in Soltana´s once beautiful palace.
This left Natanael alone to go after Soltana and Briseis. Determined not to fail his mother and half sister, he drew his Blade of Redemption, jumped into the sun chariot and flew off after them.
Natanael quickly spotted Briseis plummeting toward the ground. He dove the chariot, reaching her just in time to stop her from being impaled upon the jagged peak of Mount Vexus.
Briseis thanked him, but she pointed sadly at the monster just as it disappeared from view.
"Oh no! How will we ever find them?"
Natanael urged the fire horses on, but his heart sank as he was forced to choose a direction at random. How would they ever find his mother, and what would happen to her if they failed?

Back in the sacred grove, the waiting gods had become quickly bored. Jvelto, who hated inactivity more than anything, finally couldn´t stand it any longer. He walked over to the tables laden with food and drink. A golden bottle of wine caught his eye.
"This looks tasty," he said. "Let us have some while we wait." Without waiting for a response from the others, he popped the cork.
"A toast," he bellowed as he poured glasses for everyone. "To our brother Estereal, and the lovely Soltana. May their lives be blessed with joy."
"And many beautiful daughters," added Torodin.
Azkal paused to scowl at Torodin, but the others lifted their glasses and drank. Instantly they realized their mistake as the wine, poisoned by Othniel, burned down their throats like the acid from a black dragon. The warrior god threw his glass to the ground as his nephew and brothers fell to the ground, writhing in agony.
It was at this moment that Zitkala flashed into the clearing. "Soltana has been kidnapped!" she exclaimed. Then she gasped in alarm as she saw Remiére and the elder gods, choking in pain as if they were mere mortals.
"What happened?"
"Treachery!" Azkal exclaimed. "My daughter, you must hurry. Fetch the healing water from Wajen´s sacred spring. It will cure the others of their poison. I will go to confront the ones behind this."
Azkal vanished in a burst of flame. Zitkala raced to do his bidding and administered the holy spring water to the poisoned gods. She watched tensely, hoping that they would recover.

Meanwhile, Raaba returned from putting her new gowns away to find her mother´s palace a shambles, most of the gods missing, and Ushas and Sharess vainly trying to help a dying Wajen.
"What happened?" she asked.
Sharess, who resented Raaba for stealing Remiére´s heart, rolled her eyes at her cousin. "The party got out of hand," she snapped.
"Wajen has been poisoned. We cast healing upon her, but to no avail." Ushas sniffled. "I don´t know what to do."
Raaba, who was considered rather flighty by many of the gods, was often gifted with moments of great inspiration. Luckily for Wajen, this was one of them.
"Oghma!" she cried. "He is a scholar and one of Torodin´s favorite priests. The other day, Torodin and I were watching him research cures for various poisons. Torodin prophesied that Oghma´s knowledge would be of great value to the pantheon. I am certain he can help."
Sharess raised one delicate eyebrow. "So what were you doing spending so much time with my father?"
"Sharing knowledge," Raaba snapped. "Something you would have no use for, you little..."
"Ladies, please." Ushas stepped in between them. "We must help Wajen. Raaba, I can fly us on the rays of the rising sun. Can you take us to this priest?"
"Of course." Raaba glared at Sharess. "But someone should stay here to explain what happened in case any of our fathers come looking for our mother."
"Fine, I´ll stay," Sharess reluctantly agreed. "I have no use for mortals anyway."
"That´s not what I´ve heard."
Ushas, who was usually very patient, quickly snatched up Raaba and Wajen and flew off before another fight could ensue. As they flew, Raaba cast a spell to make them invisible to anyone except the young priest Oghma. Their dire circumstances would allow the elder gods to forgive them for interacting with a mortal just this once, but they couldn´t allow everyone to see them -- that just wasn´t done.
Oghma was an unassuming but extremely intelligent young priest who was very surprised when the goddesses burst in upon him. He naturally agreed to help, and began searching for a cure for the poison that afflicted Wajen.

Meanwhile, Natanael and Briseis had completely lost the trail of the monster that had carried off Soltana. They found themselves flying the sun chariot through a strange, misty realm devoid of sunlight or shadow. They had no idea where they were, how they could find Soltana, or how they could even get home.
Natanael sighed. Most beloved of the younger gods for his wisdom as well as his compassion, he was not too proud to admit when he needed help. And he and his half sister certainly needed help.
"Briseis, do you think you can send a message?"
The goddess of messengers gave him a wounded look. "Of course I can."
"I realize that our mother was not conscious when the monster carried her away. But isn´t there some way for you to reach her mind? Some way you can speak to her so that she can tell us where she is, and perhaps call us to her?"
Briseis smiled and kissed Natanael on the cheek. "You´re brilliant. I can do that. Give me some time -- I must concentrate."
Natanael stared at Briseis as she slipped into a trance. She was attractive enough, with dark hair and animated blue eyes, but compared to many of the goddesses, she was very plain. But Natanael found he admired this spirited, young woman for her bravery and selflessness. And maybe, he suddenly realized, his feelings went a bit beyond admiration?
Briseis opened her eyes, but they were unfocused. "Soltana is calling me. She is helpless, but very much alive and well." Briseis pointed. "Go that way."
Feeling much better about their chances of saving his mother, Natanael turned the chariot and spurred the horses onward. As the chariot raced onward, Briseis sent a magical message bird winging toward Wajen´s sacred grove. She had a feeling they might have need of their fathers´ help.

Part 2