His cheeks were gaunt, and his formerly radiant countenance had darkened, reduced nearly to that of a mortal man. Still, his brow was resolute, and his eyes, Corellon noted, were not those of a defeated god. The elf-deity moved as though to steady Lathander, but was waved off by a gesture.
Marthammor cursed under his breath. “It seems dusk has fallen on the Morninglord. There are some who believe you dead.”
“And I’m sure that they would be disappointed to learn otherwise.” Lathander reached the grotto floor and steadied himself against a pillar.
“I’m not sure I’d blame them,” replied Marthammor darkly. The dwarf stood and, turning back to the balcony, muttered to Corellon, “I’m fair sure we shouldn’t be here.”
Corellon narrowed his eyes. “Why three?”
Lathander smiled. “Because three have come. I would happily have said five, or a hundred, but as it is…”
Marthammor started in alarm. “You told others? How many did you summon?”
“Everyone, of course. Anyone who would listen.”
“Steady, dwarf,” soothed Corellon, “Did you not see? The missives were,” he gestured absently, “prudently enchanted. Only those who would answer the summons — and that, peacefully — would perceive its contents.”
Marthammor snorted. “It is a reckless thing to charm heaven. Seems most of the Pantheon wishes you dead.”
“It is possible,” said Corellon, “that there are those who heard the summons and simply declined to answer. Their absence does not prove their opposition.“ The lord of elves turned his green eyes to the Morninglord. “Nor, I might add, does our presence assure our cooperation.”
“Why in Dwarfhome did you bring us here, Lathander?”
Lathander straightened against the pillar as much as he could, wincing under his own weight. “I brought you here because I need you to trust me. Wait!” Lathander’s voice was suddenly commanding as Marthammor began to turn away. “I know the Pantheon doesn’t trust me, I understand that. I would never have returned if it wasn’t important. I couldn’t risk warning Torm openly, but all of Toril is in danger.“
“How can anyone trust you after the Dawn Cataclysm? After Murdane?” Marthammor asked. “Anything you do, and anyone who works with you, will come under suspicion of treason.”
Lathander closed his eyes. “It was never supposed to happen that way. Shar, or her agents—“
“I was wondering how long it would take to name your scapegoats.” Marthammor barked. “Even if she spoiled your plans, it was you that set them in motion. You, and you alone.”
Corellon spoke: “The Exarch of Moradin speaks wisely, if a trifle impassioned. You must understand our position, Lathander. Your ambition was your undoing.”
“I was not the only one to suffer,” said Lathander gravely.
“True enough,” noted Corellon. “Murdane’s death was a tragedy. Whatever ill words may be spoken of you,” Corellon gave Marthammor a significant look, “We are not here to ascertain your guilt, but to understand your return. You tried to reshape Celestia in your image. More than a milennia after, you disappeared during the Time of Troubles, presumed dead. Your domain was neglected for years, and we were forced to appoint Amaunator during the Spellplague. You returned during the Second Sundering not a decade ago, only to disappear again when, ostensibly, he refused to relinquish your seat.”
“Is it any wonder we all thought you dead, laddie?” Marthammor chimed in.
Lathander smiled ruefully. “Thanks to Ao, I’m not far off.”
Marthammor’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
Corellon’s eyes widened, suddenly understanding. “The Risen Sun…”
The ailing god slid wearily to the base of the pillar, unable to support himself any longer. Corellon knelt gravely on the smooth, white stone, looking on Lathander with astonishment.
“Yes,” answered Lathander meekly. “You see, Marthammor, the gods did not always need mortalkind. Ao, may he ever be praised, saw fit to install an economy of faith to counterbalance the so-called ‘tyranny of heaven’…”
“I know all that,” grouched Marthammor. “The only way we can die of natural cause is to be deprived of worshippers — but you’re not. The name of the Morninglord is praised in temples across Faerûn.” The dwarf-god spoke as if this was a travesty.
“No,” answered Corellon, faintly, “It isn’t. Lathander’s temples stand. The Dawnbringers perform their rites, but,” he looked back to the weakened god, “You have been absent for too long.”
“I fear that I have,” said Lathander. “Amaunator has taken my place in more ways than one. My worshippers speak my name, but they pray, in truth, to Amaunator. The Netherese Sun God has supplanted the Lord of the Dawn.” Lathander spoke the words with bitter disdain. “They are beginning to suppose that I must have merely been the reincarnation of Amaunator — that we are one and the same, if you can credit it. The Risen Sun heresy is being preached openly, even now.”
“You have my pity,” said Corellon as he stood solemnly to his feet, “but I fear that it is all I can offer.”
“Ha!” Marthammor barked a laugh. “You’re climbing the wrong hillock if you entreat our help in defiance of Ao!”
Lathander fixed them with a steady gaze. “I am dying.” He let the silence linger. “I have begun the long, slow process of god-death. Without my domain, I cannot hope to correct that fatal heresy, and without the full support of the Pantheon, I cannot hope to regain my seat. Do not think I am so foolish or desperate as to mistake myself for anything but a lost cause.”
Corellon furrowed his brow, thoughtfully examining Lathander’s physiognomy. “You speak truthfully,” he said at last. “Your purpose must be grave indeed to drive you here, for, in spite of your inevitable doom, you have risked this visit to Lunia.”
Marthammor fumed, advancing on Corellon and thrusting a stout finger at Lathander’s haggard form. “He’s playing you for a fool, elf! God of the Dawn my arse! The only thing rising here is my impatience. I don’t know what he’s about, and I don’t care. And if you have any brains about you, you shouldn’t either!”
Corellon’s brows raised in amusement. “Shall I take it your curiosity has been sufficiently satisfied, then — having learned nothing at all of Lathander’s intentions, declared or otherwise?” He laid a slender hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. “Stillness, Exarch, and we shall judge his testimony between ourselves. Now,” he turned back to Lathander, “It seems you had better proceed.”