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Walk the Straight Path Alone

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The journey to Sairenaica starts with clasped hands and jokes and several long pauses while Venadan does his best familiarize himself with Arruén's subtly-shifting face and especially his mouth. But as the road goes on, Arruén gets quieter and his face grows sickly pale. Venadan glances at him, concerned, and can almost see right through Arruén to the sky and fields beyond.

"I don't think I can go on like this," says Arruén. Venadan blinks and there's a crow hopping along the road beside him. It caws and flaps its way up to Venadan's shoulder.

They continue like that, for a while. Arruén preens at Venadan's hair, and Venadan grows silent, just enjoying Arruén's company. The road winds on, undeviating, leading straight to Sairenaica.

When the sun sets on the second day of traveling, Venadan reaches up to let the crow down. It's not there. There's still the ghost of pinprick claws on Venadan's shoulder, and he can hear the rustling of wings. Something runs through his hair again, grazing at Venadan's scalp. But he waves his hand through the air over his shoulder and nothing meets it.

Venadan sets up camp and sits down to pray. He tries to pray to Arruén, but he doesn't really know how. So he prays to Adiena instead, asking only for understanding.

Adiena is amused, but not unsympathetic.

"Did you think it would be easy?" she asks. "You walk the straight path to Sairenaica, and you expect the god of the crossroads to follow you all that way? Arruén's not as powerful as he thinks he is, not quite. Not yet."

Venadan doesn't say anything. He's had experience in keeping his mouth shut now, in not giving answers that will only make him seem naive.

"Even I am not so strong as to walk in the mortal world for hours at a time. Not without a vessel to walk through." Adiena leans down, and the fall of her hair brushes Venadan's forehead. He flinches, and Adiena smiles with a slash of white light in her shadowed face. "Give him time," she says. "Let him make some deals and store his strength. Perhaps in a year he'll be able to wander through Allauca with you."

"And until then?" asks Venadan.

"There's always the crossroads," says Adiena. "If you really can't wait."

When Venadan wakes the next morning, even the wisp of Arruén's presence is gone. He walks the rest of the way to Sairenaica alone.