The Mistress of Rats

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They approached the shiny disk of the portal, and Yu found himself just staring at it, completely lost. He asked Sayewa, "Should we hold hands? Perform a faery ritual?"

"I have seen your 'ritual dance' once, luckily, from a safe distance. I may doubt some of the faery tenets, but I will not profane the Faith by asking you to do it again. So. Don't do it again. Ever!" Sayewa snorted and pointed. "Look at the disk."

What do you think I have been---

He squinted, blinded by the glare, and noticed that the light was not uniform.

It was a shifting field of pinpoint sources, five of each of the five types. Within each grouping, four of them moved in a slow if random fashion and the last light dashed about in the same erratic manner, only much faster.

No, it is not completely random.

The uncertain lights darted more often in his direction, while the slower ones gravitated towards Sayewa. He thought maybe the lights that favored him were a transfiguration of qi, so he reached and pushed one of them. It obeyed his will, moving gingerly the way he wanted it to. Experimentally, he pushed at one of Sayewa's, and all he could do was make it sway from side to side.

"I hope that the Celestial's design is as transparent as it seems," Yu muttered.

"They are in seclusion, not imprisoned. There is no call for traps." The faery was as much an authority on the subject as he was, but she sounded far more assertive than he felt.

Yu weighed in: "We are supplicants, not offenders."

Sayewa swallowed and leaned towards the portal in concentration.

Yu felt her move the four elements around until they'd formed squares, then balancing and rotating each one to her satisfaction. The arrangement was simple, but he'd never been able to do what Sayewa had just done. Once her bit was done, however, he nudged his wee lights in the middle of each elemental square almost effortlessly. The challenge was holding them in place.

The background shine went out and slim beams of light connected the central dots forming a large pentagon. Swirling gray mist billowed beyond the shining sigil.

"Keep it steady," Sayewa whispered anxiously, her head nearly touching his. Another flight of petals took off from her hair, and he blew them out of his face.

"It's been millennia since anyone had seen a Celestial. Ancestors, Sayewa, we are about to meet one! How's that possible? How?" he mumbled.

The faery did take his hand then. "Together, Yu."

They stepped over the bottom beam and through the portal.

Through one of the dozens of portals, apparently.

The walls on the other side looked like a honeycomb of gateways, only it was rats that swarmed all over the walls instead of bees; some of them were at least as large as him. Yu and Sayewa teetered at the exit from theirs at a dizzying height above the black floor.

The middle of each portal afforded a clear view inside the cavern temples similar to the one they came from, or the idols' circles in the thickets of the heartwoods. The picture clouded out and turned to solid black towards the portals' sides.

Dreading what he was about to see, Yu looked away from the walls. The Mistress of Rats, the Mother of Sorrow was a presence rather than a shape.

The Celestial took her time studying Sayewa and Yu before lifting them off their perch. She let them float down to the floor, while she solidified into a white rat roughly the size of a horse. A long vest and a skirt of shimmering cloth gowned her long body, both sewn with so many jewels that they could have doubled as armour.

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