The ritual continued. Gifne sat in place as she had for the past day, eyes closed, silently repeating the mantra in her mind, communing with the Green, with the Will of the World, with nature itself. Finally, to her satisfaction, she felt nature respond.
All about her the world became green, lush, filled with light. The sandy ground grew dark with moisture, became thick loam, from which sprouted grass, brush, and bramble. Under the half-elf druid’s encouragement, desert plants sprung from the ground around a newly pooling oasis, their leaves reaching toward the diamond-blue sky.
Gifne opened her glowing green eyes and was pleased with what she saw. Where once there was only dry dunes now stood a lush grove surrounding an oasis vital to her employers, the nation of Rahadoum. The potential for life in this place had always been here. All it needed was a little push so it could flower and grow.
She closed her eyes and thanked the Green for its bounty. This was another successful day in a series of successes. If her work continued unimpeded, Rahadoum would have many years before it had to worry about encroachment from the desert once more.
Illustration by Igor Grechanyi.
For more information on the philosophies of the Age of Lost Omens, including both the Green Faith and the Laws of Mortality, check out Lost Omens: Gods & Magic!
With her eyes still closed, Gifne folded her hands and began a new ritual, communing with nature, casting her mind from her body, seeking the next location to continue her work, to re-channel the desert, keep it flowing and healthy, yet maintaining a balance with its human neighbors.
“Are you… you’re not praying, are you?”
Gifne opened her eyes but didn’t get up from her cross-legged position. Jhelana Mandu, captain of the Pure Legion, had been assigned as her bodyguard and guide when she’d first arrived in Rahadoum’s capital, Azir, the Godless Port. The woman was tough, curious, and charming. Over the past few months they’d each saved one another a score of times, changing what was once a professional relationship into a friendship forged in fire and steel. Yet Jhelana’s question represented the rot in the garden.
“Not praying,” the half-elf answered, struggling to keep sarcasm from her voice. Luckily her friend’s Rahadoumi accent was different enough from her Taldan tones to hide the nuance. “I was communing.”
“Communing?” Jhelana asked, eyebrow raised. “With what?”
“Why ask questions to which you already know the answer?” said Gifne, no longer bothering to hide her exasperated sigh. “With nature, with the Green. With life itself, as I’ve told you before.”
“Sounds an awful lot like a deity,” said Jhelana, patting her sword. “Which I’m sworn to put a stop to.”
Gifne laughed to hide her annoyance. She pointed at where the green grass now poked up through the sand at Jhelana’s feet. “Are those blades of grass a god? Is that palm tree? That spit-lizard on the rocks or those flowers by the pool? No. That’s life itself and it’s never wrong to worship life.”
Jhelana moved her hand away from her sword. Gifne had seen her wield it several times since they’d begun travelling together and didn’t envy any who found themselves facing the Legionnaire. “You shouldn’t worship anything,” Jhelana said. “The Pure Legion believes in people. In ideas, as the Laws of Mortality dictate. Not in powers who rule from some golden castle in the clouds.”
Gifne shook her head. How could she explain to the Legionnaire, dear friend though she was, about the will of the green world, the very life force of Golarion? It shone through them all: rock, tree, and water. Even Jhelana Mandu; her more brightly than most.
“I used nature’s magic to heal your wounds when we were set upon by those gnoll reavers last month,” Gifne said.
“You didn’t question where it came from then.”
“I was barely conscious,” said Jhelana. “Plus I trusted you when you said your healing came from no god.”
Gifne raised an eyebrow. “So now you don’t trust me?”
Jhelana shrugged, looking uncertain—very unlike her usual self-assured demeanor. “A troubling thought occurred as I watched you work on this latest encroachment of the desert.”
The sun still shone bright in the sky, its heat bringing dappled sweat to Gifne’s brow. “And that is?”
After departing Azir, Gifne and the captain had traveled east alongside the Winding Way river, making their way through most of central Rahadoum. Gifne could use its vibrant waters to aid her ritual and also, the pair never need worry about dying of thirst. Far off along the eastern horizon, Gifne could see the tall peaks of the Napsune Mountains where stood the fabled Shepherd’s Rock, citadel of the Pure Legion.
Jhelana stared at where the desert had once been, where the lush oasis now stood. “You commune with nature, but what if it’s nature’s will that the desert consume Rahadoum? Would you abandon us, leave my country to choke and die, a forgotten ruin in the desert?”
The wind blew around them, causing newly sprouted leaves to rustle gently, making a susurrus of the long grass. Jhelana’s question pierced through Gifne’s defenses as easily as the captain pierced an opponent with her blade. Was she doing the right thing, here? Or was she upsetting the balance? Gifne looked at the life around her. She stared at the desert, its dunes now several hundred yards away.
“It’s hard to know what nature wants,” said Gifne slowly. “These are things you will need to accept. Balance is never easy, but it’s worth it. I cannot believe the desert would destroy your nation. Elsewise, my rituals wouldn’t work. A balance can be achieved between your people and the desert. I have to believe that.”
“When I was a child, this didn’t happen!” Jhelana said. “The desert might grow slightly in the dry season, a few hundred yards at most, but when the rains came, the grasses retook it. The movement was slow, there was balance. Only now…”
Gifne stared at her friend in shock. The Legionnaire never spoke of her childhood, never told much of herself at all, really. “What’s happening now?”
“The desert is like a glutton who can never be sated,” said Jhelana, and Gifne heard the fear in her voice. “The rains slow its progress, but it keeps growing by miles every season. Nothing about this is natural. Nothing!”
Gifne refrained from telling her friend that trying to determine what was natural on Golarion was often a futile exercise. In its earliest days her own faith, druids of four factions had warred over whose philosophy best represented nature. Only by intercession of nature itself did they learn to work in balance together as the Green Faith. Even now there were schisms and disagreements, but at least none could claim to be the only true path.
“I believe you, my friend,” the druid said. “And I promise two things. You will never have to compromise your beliefs with me. I worship nature.”
Jhelana nodded. “Your second promise?”
“This I swear, Jhelana Mandu,” said Gifne, slicing open a palm with a clawed thumb and letting it bleed on the thick brown soil. “If the source of the growing desert is unnatural, we will put a stop to it, you and I.”
Jhelana stared at Gifne’s bleeding hand in surprise. Then, quicker than thought, she too cut her sword-calloused palm with a dagger and grasped the druid’s hand. Gifne smiled.
“We must keep to the Winding Way, for now, but soon we will come to this Eternal Oasis. I would very much like to see that, if we’re able.”
“Why?” Jhelana asked. “It’s said those who go in don’t come out. Besides, it’s one of the few places in Rahadoum that doesn’t need your help.”
“That’s just it,” said Gifne. “If there is indeed an unbalance, something strange happening in Rahadoum, it may be we can find the answers in this Eternal Oasis.”
Gifne watched the uncertainty in Jhelana’s face give way to determination. The captain nodded and the two began to make their way back to the Winding Way to find the next place to push back the desert.
All around them, as the wind blew through the new grass and rippled the oasis pond, the desert waited.
About the Author
Patrick Hurley has had fiction published in Galaxy’s Edge, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, Abyss & Apex, New Myths, Arcanist, Aurealis, Frozen Wavelets, The Overcast, and The Drabblecast. He is a 2017 graduate of the Taos Toolbox Writer's Workshop. In 2018, he was a finalist for the Baen Fantasy Award. Patrick lives in Seattle and is a member of SFWA and the Dreamcrashers. He still can’t quite believe he has to good fortune to also be an editor at Paizo.
About the Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.