Set during that breath of time between when Dondo dies and Cazaril's soul is about to be harvested. They're gods, after all. They can do that.

I am not a god, however, nor am I LMB, so I can't claim possession of the Chalion series. Darn it.


The gods' attention was everywhere, all at once. But that didn't mean that, occasionally, they had to have their attentions focused rather more narrowly.

The Bastard called the meeting. It may have been their long fascination with matter, or it may have been the sheer glut of human souls within each of them, but when they all became focused on one spot, all at once, each of the five deities took on a chosen human form. The Bastard wore the face of a jolly, fat old man, with a softness about his limbs and face that mimicked one long ago gelded. He greeted his holy Mother with a kiss. The green-clad woman she had chosen to be was round with child and stout of years, a mother many times over. The Father, who was no father to the Bastard but nevertheless treated him as family, was somber in the flowing black robes of one of his judges, eyes old, as they had been these past fifty years, and his long beard was grey. In this, his season, he was unusually radiant, a weighty presence that drew the eyes even of his fellow deities; he gave his wife and his wife's son a grave nod of greeting. The Bastard returned the nod. He awaited his half-Brother somewhat curiously. The Son liked to change his form often and did not disappoint, galloping into the meeting-place in the appearance of a chestnut centaur. At his sober Father's frown, the young man grinned and threw off his horse-half like a cloak, standing before them in old leathers, streaked with mud and hair windblown from the ride. This time his Mother frowned, and the Son, laughing, changed his garb to cleaner, though still plain, riding clothes. A sweet scent on the godly breeze heralded the Daughter as she wafted in opposite her brother. Her blue gown was multilayered, all light and airy, almost frothy and resembling nothing so much as a maid being born from the heaving sea foam. She greeted her Father with a kiss upon the cheek, her Mother with an embrace, and her Brother and Half-brother with a courtly curtsy.

"Why do you call us here, Bastard?" she asked, her voice light as bells.

Her Father raised a warning eyebrow and she bowed her head to him, deferentially. When it was his season, the elder god was always a bit territorial. He nodded to his wife's son to speak his piece.

Permission given, the Bastard tipped his head, indicating that the Family should look around the corner of perception. "You remember that little matter of Fonsa and the blessing of our illustrious Father?" he asked. His tone was only a little glib; he couldn't deny his nature, after all, but to insult the Father in the height of the Father's own season was courting more disaster than even the Bastard, god of all disasters, wanted to chance.

The Family peered down at the souls now in play, frozen in the moment-between-moments. "As you can see," the Bastard intoned, "your pawn has made his next move - a rather more daring move than I think any of us anticipated."

"Death magic," nodded the Son. "Daring indeed. Your man does not do anything by halves," he said to his Sister. A hint of jealousy was in his voice, and the Bastard was reminded that the man called Cazaril had once been devoted to the Son's order, before forsaking it for the service of other gods and the Daughter had caught him up for her needs. They'd come to an understanding over that, since then - one of the Daughter's maidens was to be placed at the Son's use in some sticky situation in the Wealding or somewhere such.

"And there we have the problem, you see," the Bastard called them back to the situation at hand. "My demon has already collected Dondo's soul. If we wish to keep Cazail in play, something must be done to keep his soul attached to his body, and not in the demon's buckets."

"It's your demon, dear," said his Mother, somewhat sardonically. "Can't you keep it leashed?"

The Bastard flapped his robe and little tornadoes swirled off, the dust devils leaping over to gleefully torment his Brother before being batted into oblivion by a divine hand. "God of disorder, Mother," the white-clad god reminded her. "Order is a bit difficult for me. And I can't force the demon to go against its nature. Two buckets, two souls. And I don't think we want Cazaril harvested just yet."

"Indeed," nodded the Father. "This man has the potential to go as far as needs be gone. It would be a pity to have to start from scratch. Again."

All the deities nodded at that. They may have been immortal, but they felt the passing of years just as the human souls that were their charges did. "This inside-out blessing has been loose in the world too long, my Husband," agreed the Mother. "The mothers of Chalion, Ibra, and the Princedoms are tired of birthing nothing but cannon-fodder."

"And I am weary of reaping so many too soon," agreed the Son. "Cazaril must be saved." A murmur of agreement swept the space.

"So now that we've agreed on that," drawled the Bastard, "How do you propose we do it? Death magic is impressive, but it's not what I'd call a preferred method for the potential of surviving the death."

"How many is he at, again?" asked the Son.

"He's already learned death of the flesh," murmured the Mother, "for all that the boy for whom he laid down his body isn't of the House of Chalion."

"Yet," insisted the Daughter. "And I thought we all agreed that the important part of it was the death."

"Yes, yes," said the Father, irritably, "but these humans, you know - always insisting on semantics."

"Keep him alive, then, and we can correct it."

The Son rolled his eyes. "You and your romantic notions," he teased his Sister.

She tossed her head, hair fluttering about her shoulders. "You're far more romantic than you'll admit, dear Brother," she said, primly. "And I fail to see how any of this answers the question of ensuring Cazaril's survival."

"He is yours, dear heart," reminded her Mother. "I should think that it would be easier for you to do something than any of the rest of us."

The girl shrugged, helplessly. "He's just so closed off right now! I haven't the slightest crack to sneak in through. The only one of us he's open to at the moment is you," she turned to the Bastard, "and that's because he's pleading for his own death at the hands of your demon. Not exactly conducive to a miracle of salvation. Mother, healing is your purview, have you any suggestions?"

Her Mother cocked an eye at her. "Prayer."

Her Father chimed in. "Hasn't that young Iselle been on her knees for three days? Her soul is so wide open that I'm sure even I could find a way in, and that young maid is as far from my natural domain as any soul can be. She'll be a perfect channel."

"I just hate invading her like that."

Her Brother twitched a lock of her hair impudently. "It's really for her benefit, you know. And she has been asking for it. You'll be answering her prayers!"

"She wants death, not a miracle of life!"

The Bastard rolled his eyes. "If she knew what her beloved secretary was doing at this moment, she'd be praying harder for him than she is for herself. Think of it as answering the prayers she ought to be praying and get on with it, dear Sister. My demon won't wait forever."

The girl in blue stretched her fingers, a habit learned from mortals that she quite enjoyed. "What do you think, Bastard? An encapsulation?"

His fat face bounced upwards into a smile, and he chuckled evilly. "Oh, my demon won't like that. Not one bit. Nor Dondo either, I shouldn't imagine. In other words, it's perfect. Go to, Sister dearest."

As the Daughter concentrated on her task, the Mother glanced at the Bastard sideways. "You know, your penchant for practical jokes is rather beyond me sometimes, love."

He bowed. "All part of my nature, Mother-my-heart."

The Daughter rolled her eyes. Her features were somewhat changed from a moment before; she looked uncannily like the Royesse. The Bastard gave a low wolf-whistle, and she blushed. "I rather like this form, thank you," she said, primly. "I think it shall do me well for some time."

The five gods looked around the corner of perception, spying on the unconscious Cazaril. The Father eyed his Daughter's work critically. "Well done," he said at last. "But mind your attention doesn't slip. His life is quite literally in your hands, dear one."

"So long as he bears the key to regaining your borrowed essence, Father," she promised him, solemnly, "I'll keep both eyes upon him day and night."

Five pairs of eyes regarded the man in question. "It's funny," said the Mother, at last, "that all our hopes should be pinned on this one man."

"Funny, yes," answered the Son. "But then, isn't that so often the case? We're lucky to have him."

"Aye," replied the Father. "It's too bad more people aren't open to us. Think of the miracles we could do in the world then."