The Wanderer poked his head from the silver portal. The magical rains had not fallen in quite some time. To be sure, there was still plenty of water deep within the catacombs; there were other portals, after all. But this tunnel had been home to him, his father, and his children for as long as he could remember. Why had the liquid manna ceased to flow?
He crawled out upon the Great White Valley. It was barren and dry. And bright, so bright. The brilliance made his heart pound, deep within his armor. This was the land of the Gods. One only dared to traverse here under the sweet cover of darkness. But darkness was for hiding, and hiding was for ignorance. He was not making this suicidal journey to be willfully blind; he was here to know.
The ground was cold and unforgiving beneath his feet as he scrabbled up the ivory wall. He tasted dryness and grit, and a chill set over him.
Where had They gone?
His brothers had made the pilgrimage before him. Only one had ever returned, cracked and broken, his limbs smashed and jagged. He had warned the Wanderer, with his last, gasping breath, that the Gods were cruel. They were Titans, walking mountains, who guarded their land of plenty with a petty jealousy, bringing down crushing death on all those who dared to cross it. The Wanderer had been content to lay within his cavern, to feed upon the delicious rains that fell from above. But the rains had stopped.
It was his fault, he knew. He had tried to be good, he had tried to be true. He had followed all the rituals, said all the prayers. He had shown his loyalty and his love. But somehow, he was unworthy. Somehow, he must have failed. They had judged him undeserving of the rain, and he would learn why.
The rustling patter of tiny feet echoed across the ground, and it froze him in his tracks. Were there others here? Children - perhaps even nephews and nieces of the brothers who had never returned? He would find them. He would find, embrace them, and bring them home. The thought ignited a sense of pride within him. They would not find their uncle cowering in fear. He scurried around the corner, calling out a greeting. Then he stopped, his heart sinking.
They were not his family, merely a squad of Simples. Dwarves. They liked to travel in packs. They ran from here to there, careless of what danger they courted. He had met their types before.
"Hey, you," he said. They did not turn his way. He looked to the left and to the right, but saw no one. He moved to block their path. "Hey, I'm talking to you."
"Light," they said in unison, pointing to a spot of luminescence above. "Light, light, light, light, light."
"What happened here?" the Wanderer asked. "Where have the Gods gone? Why did they leave us?"
"Light, light, light," the Simples chanted. They rerouted their passage around him, and continued on their way. His jaw dropped in shock. How could they be here, in the home of the Gods, and yet worship something else?
"Don't you fools understand?" he shouted as they scampered off. "We're all alone now. I'm alone."
Their mantra echoed, fading in the distance. He sunk his head.
"I don't want to be alone."
He looked about him. This was no heaven. He could smell no food, only dust. He would return to his family, to the dank of his caverns. They would find a new tunnel, with new Gods to worship. They would have to fight, kill, and possibly die to overtake the supplicants already living there, but so what? It was the way things were, the way they had always been. It was life.
The dry wind brought a sound of thunder. The ground shook. In the blurry radiance, the faint echo of the Simples cadence turn to screams.
Joy and terror washed over him in waves. The rhythm of the earthquakes grew stronger, the thunder louder. He knew he should run, should scamper back to the safety of the portal. But he knew that if he did, he would hate himself until the day he died. He had come to see the Gods, and he would.
The Avatar loomed into view from above. She tilted her head back, opened her mouth, and screamed. The roar deafened him as he emptied his bowels, his refuse running down his legs. She was terrible, and beautiful, her head crowned by a flowing mane of gold. She swung out her massive leg, and colossal, inescapable darkness hammered down from the sky. As it ground his brain into mush, the last thought to cross it was one of elation. Perhaps the old Gods had deserted him, but here were new ones.
His children would have rain.