Ruin was sparring with Akkora when Aesa finally returned.
At first he didn't notice; fighting the half-orc armsmistress took all his attention. She was easily as strong as he was, and every bit as skilled; speed was the only edge he had. And she fought like he did: all nerve and instinct and controlled fury, fast and aggressive. It was only after they'd stopped and were toweling off -- and that because he'd eventually worn her down by dodging nearly everything she threw at him -- that Akkora grunted and gestured with her chin: "Battle priest."
Ruin looked, and saw Aesa sparring with a lean human who was probably a paladin. Ruin didn't recognize him, but the look of surprise on his face was unmistakable, even from across the yard. He wasn't losing, exactly, but he obviously hadn't expected Aesa to fight him to a standstill, which she clearly had.
They were fighting with blunted steel weapons, instead of the wooden ones used for beginners: he with longsword and shield, and she with shield and scimitar.
"Was that your idea?" asked a voice at his elbow, and Ruin looked down to see Eva, the child they'd rescued from the priests of Vecna and brought with them to the temple, standing beside him.
She looked human, as long as you didn't pay too much attention to the disconcertingly golden glints in her tawny eyes: round-faced and blond-haired and sweet, her expression was one of innocent inquiry as she looked up at him.
Ruin said, "Was what my idea?" just as Akkora asked: "Who is this?"
"Oh, I'm Eva," said the girl, holding out her hand.
Akkora reached out, and Eva clasped her wrist; the half-orc looked surprised. "Good grip. I'm Akkora."
Eva let her go and said, "I just wanted to know if it was Ruin's idea for the elf-ish girl to talk to Grandfather and his nephew." She looked back up at Ruin. "Grandfather approved."
"Grandfather?" Baffled, Ruin looked from Eva to Aesa and back again, just in time to see Eva shrug.
"He's not really my grandfather," she admitted. "More like my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather. But he likes us to call him that. And it's so much easier to talk to him here -- they have a big, fancy room downstairs just for that."
It took Ruin a long moment to digest that. It took him another long moment to believe it. He'd heard that dragons were descended from the gods, but... Finally he said, "And... Grandfather... approved?"
"Yes!" Eva sounded excited. "Look at how well she's doing!" She was looking at Aesa now, and Aesa was definitely winning -- even if that was partly because the paladin couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the idea that he needed to be fighting harder to defeat her. "Grandfather approved, and the other one approved too." She glanced at Ruin. "Your grandfather."
"My... grandfather... approved." Ruin shook his head in disbelief. Corellon Larethian, she has to be talking about Corellon Larethian. Well... thank you, Grandfather, if you helped with this. Thinblood or not, she's still one of ours. And you too, Amun, I guess. He'd told her to pray to the gods, and evidently they'd answered.
He didn't know why he was surprised by that. The whole damned thing had been his idea. And it wasn't as if he'd never seen clerics call upon the powers of the gods, or even as if he'd never seen the gods answer.
Maybe it was just that they'd never bothered to answer him. Maybe it was just that, after everything he'd been through, he didn't expect the gods to step in and actually be some fucking use. No divine power had strengthened his arm when he needed it most.
Aesa slid past her opponent's guard and tapped him three times: thigh, arm, and shoulder. Then she stepped back as he lowered his blade and held up a hand. Then they were talking, and the human stepped forward to press his palm to hers. Ruin found that he was smiling.
Akkora tapped him hard on the shoulder. "You, Elf, are my friend."
He glanced up at her. "I'm glad." He didn't elaborate; he didn't have to. When he looked back, Aesa was halfway across the practice ground and coming directly towards him; her opponent was trailing along behind her.
"Praise Amun," she said, when she was close enough to speak without shouting. "Did you see that? It worked! It worked!" She threw her arms around him and kissed him firmly on the mouth, then turned back to her opponent before Ruin could respond. Before he could even realize that he needed to respond somehow.
Ruin caught a brief glimpse of Azrael, making his way along the walk at the far edge of the practice field. The young elf in the black robes was looking at them, mouth agape; then he straightened, rolled his eyes, and continued on. This is going to end up in his journal, Ruin thought absently.
Eva was saying, "See? I told you Grandfather liked you," and Ruin managed to nod as though this was all perfectly good and normal and exactly what any medium-sized child would say. Akkora had taken a step back and was regarding them all, bemused; half-orcs weren't known for their wits, but she seemed more than sharp enough to decipher this.
"Ruin, have you met Tarric?"
Ruin shook his head.
Aesa glanced between them and said, "Tarric, this is Ruin."
The human looked him over once, then nodded. "Anica said you were good people. And I see you've met Akkora already."
"Best match I've had in a while," Ruin admitted.
Akkora sniffed. "Bah. I didn't get near you."
"...And you have no idea how hard I worked to make sure that was the case," Ruin told her, and watched a brief smile quirk her lips.
"Come on," said Aesa, and slipped her arm into Ruin's. "You need to-- I need to-- you haven't even seen the chapel yet!"
He waved vaguely at the others and let her draw him away. Eva was saying something to Tarric that made him blink and draw back -- more surprised than alarmed, though -- and Akkora was grinning wide enough to show the near-tusks of her lower canines.
"It really is like fire and ice," Aesa was saying, as she pulled him around the corner. "I'm going to get a scimitar of my own. Maybe a magic scimitar! Or maybe the gods will bless it for me." She stopped, pulled him around and kissed him again. "It's going to be amazing," she said, and started off again, pulling him along behind her.
Ruin couldn't bring himself to resist; her enthusiasm was infectious.
Ahead of them, Geddy stepped out of a side-passage. He saw Ruin, grinned, and drew breath to say something. Then he focused on Aesa and his eyes widened. He pursed his lips, swallowing whatever he'd been about to say and possibly a rich bit of laughter as well, and stepped back out of sight. By the time they reached the intersection, he was gone.
Ruin didn't recognize this area; he hadn't walked these passages. Aesa pulled him along, to the top of a triple staircase: the widest bit, in the center, looked like a comfortable descent, but the stairs to his right were lower and closer together, sized for smaller feet, while those to his left were broad and deep. A god for all peoples, Ruin thought, and moved with Aesa down the stairs.
The doorway at the bottom was wide and high, large enough -- he thought -- for a dragon to pass through. The wooden doors were bound with iron, but they stood open and projected a sense of invitation. The room beyond was...
Row upon row of wooden pews marched towards the front, where a rectangular stone altar stood in the beam of light from a long channel that had been carved out to the edge of the hillside and covered with stained glass. Even with the glass out of sight and its light spread across the altar, Ruin could recognize the motif: it was a book, blazing where its depiction fell.
"What you told me felt right," Aesa said. "So I came down here, and I prayed, and they answered. They told me I could be what I wanted to be, that I would honor both of them." She turned and kissed him again. "Thank you."
"Bide? A moment?" said Ruin, because he had the feeling that they were about to reach a point where he would be very uncomfortable to have the gods looking on. "This is the heart of the monastery, the chapel of Amun."
Aesa nodded. "Can you feel Him? Or Corellon?"
Ruin shook his head. He didn't; he never had, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. "This is... not for me. For you, and I'm glad of it, but not for me."
She smiled, still holding onto his arm. "But you did this. You brought me here."
Ruin shook his head again. "That was your gods," he said. "It wasn't me."
Her smile faded, but she kissed him again. "If you say so. But I got the idea from you, and it worked, and I know what I was meant to do now and you were part of that."
Ruin straightened and looked around the chapel. It was buried deep in the hill, but even with the heavy clouds outside it seemed brightly lit. Whoever had carved the channels to the outer edge of the mountain-top had known what they were doing. "I hope you don't mind this," he called, to any gods that might be listening. "I hope you're getting whatever you want from me."
Outside the monastery, thunder rumbled across the sky. Even through the stained-glass windows and the carved stone passages, it sounded dangerously like someone chuckling.
Aesa said, "I'm not getting what I want from you. Not yet. Come on."
She took his hand and pulled him around behind the altar, then kissed him again as she tugged his shirt up.
"Here?" Ruin looked around. "Are you sure this isn't blasphemy?"
Aesa shook her head. "Not to Amun. To Amun, this is an offering." She grinned at him, looking slightly crazed but also more certain of herself than he'd ever seen her -- in, admittedly, the day-and-a-half of their acquaintance. "Think of it as the good kind of virgin sacrifice," she added, and tripped him onto his back on the stone.
Then she was on top of him, and leaning down to kiss him again, and it was nerve and instinct that took over. Whatever sort of divine madness this was, he wasn't going to fight it. If there was a price, he would pay it later -- and willingly.