"Those two can be very useful," Balacenia agreed.
"I don't see what's wrong with Mount Shrak here," Dahlaine objected. "I can keep all the local people out of here."
"I'm sure you can, dear Dahlaine," Ara said, "but it's winter here and sort of gloomy. I've seen this Land of Dreams Vash and Balacenia created out of pure imagination, and it's probably the most beautiful place in the entire universe. We have an important decision to make, and beauty will make it nicer."
"I still don't see why it's necessary to go there," Dahlaine grumbled.
"I learned a long time ago that it's not wise to offend the lady who runs the kitchen," Omago said.
"I don't need food, Omago," Dahlaine replied. "Kitchens don't interest me, because I don't eat."
"You ought to try it sometime," Omago suggested. He frowned just a bit. "I suppose there might have been some obscure reason for that 'don't eat or sleep' rule, but I think it's out of date now."
"How do we get to this imitation place?" Dahlaine asked.
"Your Dreamer, Ashad—who's really Dakas—knows the way, big brother," Balacenia told him. "We had a meeting there a while back. There were several things we needed to agree about, so we all went to the Land of Dreams to make some necessary decisions."
They all went on out through the long tunnel to the cave-mouth that opened out onto the snow-covered grassland. Then each of the Dreamers—or younger gods—took his or her elder by the hand, and they all rose up into the chill winter sky.
Unlike the others, however, both of Balacenia's hands were full. She and Eleria could not merge as the others did, so she was obliged to carry both Zelana and her alternate. Balacenia was quite certain that Eleria was the only possible successor for Aracia, but she was fairly sure that Eleria would violently object. There had to be something that only Ara and Omago could offer Eleria that would make the little girl willing to accept divinity. "I think I'm going to have to work on that a bit," she murmured.
"I didn't quite catch that, dear," Zelana said.
"Just thinking out loud, Zelana. It's a habit I picked up back in the days before people existed."
"That was a very lonely time, as I recall," Zelana agreed. "I used to recite poetry to trees and sing songs to Mother Sea."
"Did she like your songs?"
"Some of them, yes. I could always tell which songs she liked, because she'd fill the sky with rainbows."
"And if she didn't like them?"
"Hailstorms, as I recall."
Balacenia winced. "Did you ever teach Eleria how to sing?"
Zelana nodded. "It was a mistake, though. Her voice is so beautiful that it'd fill Mother Sea's eyes with tears. It worked rather well if the weather had turned dry, though. Eleria can probably stir up a three-day rainstorm if we really need it. Is this Land of Dreams much farther away?"
"No," Balacenia replied. "It could be right here, if Vash and I wanted it to be. Vash is stirring up the aurora, though. Nobody argues with anybody else when the aurora's in bloom."
The younger gods gently lowered their elders down onto the Land of Dreams, and Balacenia saw that Vash had outdone himself in the creation of the current aurora. They usually sort of lingered along the horizon, but this one seemed to be rising up from meadows and mountains on all sides of the Dreamland, and the beauty almost took Balacenia's breath away.
"Tell me, Vash," Veltan said to the real version of Yaltar, "whatever possessed you and Balacenia to conjure up this beautiful place?"
"It was a long, long time ago, Uncle. There weren't any people—or animals, for that matter—and Balacenia and I were looking at twenty-five eons with nothing to do except maybe watch grass grow. After a few centuries of that, we really needed something else to look at. Balacenia had caught a brief glimpse of an aurora along the northern horizon, and then she and I drifted on up north—actually into the Domain of Dakas. I suppose you could say that we stole an aurora from Dakas and then planted it in a place that didn't really exist—except in our Dream, of course. We spent centuries here soaking in the beauty of our Dream. It made that empty cycle bearable."
"I'll concede that it's much, much prettier than the moon was when Mother Sea sent me there," Veltan admitted. "Of course the moon lied to me when she told me that Mother Sea was still angry with me for tampering with her color."
"You can't really trust the moon, Uncle," Vash said.
Dakas gently lowered Dahlaine onto the Land of Dreams, and old Grey-Beard, evidently still a bit irritated, glanced around. "We have something very important to attend to," he told them all, "and looking at the imaginary scenery here is just a waste of time."
"There's no great rush, Uncle," Dakas said. "Time doesn't really exist here. When Balacenia and Vash brought us here last summer, it seemed like we'd been here for months and months, but that was only a dream. When we woke up again, we were all back home and only one night had passed. We can take our time making our decision because time doesn't mean anything here. A century—or even an eon—can crawl past, and the world won't be a day older."
Omago and Ara were still caught up in the glory of the aurora, but Veltan, with a slightly worried look on his face, quietly approached them. "Just how are we going to create a god to replace sister Aracia?" he asked them.
"She's already here, Veltan," Omago replied. "All we have to do is persuade her to take up the position—if that's the right term."
Veltan looked around. "I don't see any unfamiliar faces," he said.
"Of course you don't, dear Veltan," Mother Ara said. "You've probably known her since she was a baby. You did visit Zelana in her grotto a few times after the children arrived, didn't you?"
"Well, yes, but—" Veltan stopped, and his eyes went wide as he stared at Eleria. "Are you saying that you're going to pile two Domains on poor Balacenia's shoulders?"
"We wouldn't do that, dear Veltan," Ara said. "Eleria and Balacenia were separated a long, long time ago." She paused briefly. "That's in baby-terms, of course. Eleria was too independent, and Balacenia enjoyed her company so much that she didn't put any restrictions on her. It could be, I suppose, that Mother Sea and Father Earth knew that Aracia would destroy herself eventually, so they made Eleria very special."
"Why is everybody always talking about me like that, Big-Me?" Eleria asked.