Even after the collapse of the Temple of Destruction, Atera had held up reasonably well in the battles against the sura. The residential district was largely decimated and the business districts looked more like refugee camps than shops, but the Temple of Fire still stood tall and he could already see the signs of rebuilding.
In the temple's battered outer walls, Saha could read the stories of the barrages that must've seemed endless at the time.
That was how it had seemed in Eloth, until suddenly, it ended. The realms were divided, and the superior sura were no more.
And so were the gods.
If the gods were still here, they would certainly be aiding with the reconstruction of the cities, with reinforcing the barriers, with shaping the planet to help them recover. They would know the best path forward.
But the gods were no longer here, and Saha wasn't sure what to feel except overwhelmed.
The temple gates were thrown open now. In the past year when the sura breached the city, most of the city's population retreated to the temple or the magic guild, but with the residential district still in reconstruction, a large crowd remained in the temple. There was no point in keeping the gates closed, and people milled in and out regularly.
He felt a bit lost. It was one thing to find and track a single target, but finding one in such a crowd…
Saha headed deeper into the temple where he thought there was a higher chance. The magicians who saw him would straighten and little and give a small bow. It felt strange. Just two years ago he had merely been the "son of a famous family", but now he was priest and the holder of the title "#1 Magician". The eyes that followed him held a certain reverence now, as if he was beyond an ordinary human.
He wondered if it was always like this, or if in the absence of gods, the humans had deified their own.
From the corner of his eye, he spotted a young girl with pink-red hair, surrounded by books about magic theory. She was only 7, and he wondered how much of it she understood. Based on her look of extreme concentration and deep frown, he could guess it was almost zero.
"Ah, Brilith," he said. The child jolted and scrambled to her feet to give a small bow. It was a little much, Saha thought. "Do you know where your mother is?"
Immediately, she shook her head.
"Where did you see her last?"
Brilith's frown deepened. "I'm not sure," she said quietly.
Saha blinked. "When did you see her last?"
Even quieter, "A few days ago. Maybe a week."
It was Saha's turn to frown. "That's quite a long time, isn't it?"
Seeing his frown, Brilith suddenly perked up. "Umm, she's just busy, that's all!" Brilith said quickly. "Since you're important, I'm sure she'll see you once she knows! If you talk to one of the temple magicians, I'm sure they can tell her."
Saha sighed. He didn't want to meddle in affairs that had nothing to do with him, but he had half a mind to talk to Jibril about this. Still, internal family business was hardly his business, especially when there was plenty more that was his business to deal with. "I see. In that case, thank you." With a wave, he left the child behind with her pile of books.
A temple magician was easy enough to find, and they lead him to a meeting room deeper within the temple. Jibril stood in the middle of it with several other people, standing as tall and sure as she had before calamities that befell Willarv during the Cataclysm.
"--magicians from Rindhallow will have to return tomorrow, so have the remaining creation magicians focus on the residential districts for now."
The temple magician knocked on the opened door to draw Jibril's attention. She turned her head just enough to let the temple magician know that he had her attention.
"Saha On would like to speak to you," the temple magician said.
Saha stepped into view. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"No, I'm just finishing up," Jibril said, turning back to the others in the room. She nodded once towards them. "That will be all, if any of them have complaints, tell them I've specifically requested it be done so."
The others shuffled from the room and Saha entered. He shut the door behind them.
"Can't imagine you have much free time on your hands," Jibril said. "What brings you to Atera?"
Where to start, Saha wondered. "They'll be voting on the head of the magician's union soon."
"Yes, and I'm sure you'll be voted in. Congratulations on achieving first rank."
"I...don't agree," Saha said.
Jibril lifted a brow. "Don't agree with what?"
He struggled for a moment to determine what to say next. "I was hoping to propose you to head the magician's union."
A silence followed. "You know I would never leave Atera."
"I understand your responsibilities towards the city," Saha said. "I admire it. That's why, I think you're the most suited to be head of the magician's union. You must have felt it, Jibril. With the gods gone, the ones the people look to the most are the ones who were closest to them. To the magicians. To lead the magicians would be the same as leading the direction of the world. You would still be leading Atera, I just hope that you can lead Willarv as well."
Jibril sighed. "The one to lead the magicians...isn't it natural that the first ranked magician do so?"
"I don't believe those rankings," Saha said. "You must think it strange as well. In both divine affinity and battle capabilities I cannot match you."
"Not at all," Jibril said. "With the gods gone from this world, the ability of a magician to keep a barrier is more important than it ever has been. My barriers and control of the city's defense systems pale in comparison to yours."
"Maybe so, but your divine affinity speaks for itself," Saha insisted. "I can't do anything about the rankings, but we can choose who leads the magician's union. The one to lead the magicians should be one that is more impressive, someone that--"
"Can more easily be viewed as a god?" Jibril said, wan half-smile on her face.
"That's...not what I meant," Saha choked out.
"And yet, that is what it is. What it will be." She narrowed her eyes and Saha felt like her stare went straight through him. "Perhaps what it already is."
Saha could say nothing. Jibril continued. "The supposed difference in our abilities is entirely within your eyes. The general public and magicians will not push for me, nor do I have any intention of seeking the position."
"But...why? I don't understand," Saha said. He took a step towards Jibril. "You've been a priest for longer than I have! You're much more suited--"
"I'm not suited," Jibril said, raising her voice for the first time. "In the first place, I have no interest in leading the magicians. My only concern is protecting Atera, and with the situation as it is, I cannot leave the city."
"The superior sura have already gone. Once the cities have recovered, chaos will be organizing Willarv with the resources we have! Don't you understand? There's already no one else we can rely on--not the gods...not even other planets." Saha stopped as the weight of it hit him all over again. They were adrift like a lifeboat on the vast sea of space, and there was no such thing as rescue. The lifeboat was their world now.
"You are the one who understand that best," Jibril said, something like a smile on her face. "Have more faith in yourself, Saha On. Time and compassion will be needed in the coming age, and I lack both."
Saha frowned. "The life of a pureblood is shorter than a quarter, but that hardly matters in this situation. And...it's impossible for someone who loves a city this much to claim they are lacking."
Jibril laughed, just once. It was like a cold gust of wind on a desolate plain. "I don't expect you to understand me, but since you can't, you'll just have to take my word for it."
Faith. Belief. He had devoted his faith to the gods, and where were they now? Saha watched Jibril turn away, focus already shifting to the next task at hand.
The planet had turned to him, and he had tried to turn to Jibril. Round and round it went as they cast out, desperate for a direction. He didn't know where their lifeboat should drift, but it seemed that he would have to be the guide.