Toltep walked slowly along the avenue, it would have been easier to swim along in the viaduct, but he had made it a point to not do the easy thing. All to often the easy path lead to ruin, and he had not survived so long by takig shortcuts, or the easy road. The market, what was above water, was abuzz with conversation. A large school of blood-crazed lurdi had been diverted into an ambush where the brave people had slaughtered the monsters. There was some worry, Toltep gathered, as a few had escaped.
Some of the eshal had noted him, making gestures of obeisance and respect. Accordingly, he made a gesture of blessing with the honorific, 'glory before the gods, brave people.' If even the least of their warriors had taken the idea to attack him, he would more than likely perish. Time had worn his skin dry, and large diffuse white spots had appeared on his hide. His normal sky blue skin, and black stripes seemed to be on the verge of being eaten by the dull spots of white. Even agitation, which usually turned him a roiling shade of orange and red failed to run through the white spots. Everyone though him immortal, but he knew that after all of these years, he might be the first cuada to die of old age.
He slipped into the viaduct, a few hundred meters from the Cuada temple and felt refreshed as the water seeped into his half-dried skin. He no longer held moisture the way the younglings did, and he would be peeling like a root-bulb in a few hours from his walk in the dry air. The gates of the temple were massive, a remnant of Tarrod's ancient past that they had occupied. Here they conducted the ceremonies of the Firstborn, and lead the leaders of the eshal from their impressive chambers. Concern gnawed at him, ships had come across the ocean bringing humans...humans again. He though he would never see one again, had prayed he would never see one again. He shook his diminutive head, today was a joyous occassion, a birthing day, and he wouldnt let that joy be tainted by the worry of humans, or the waverider heresy, or the whisper of the hellbenders.
Half a dozen cuada awaited him inside. Dour Julec with her green and yellow striped head, and Femnon the warrior who rode into battle astride one of the ranchowen, they were his children. All of the cuada were his children. He greeted them with the blessings of the Water Gods, clasping Femnon's shoulder with his wizened hand. There was nothing but reverence and awe in her wine dark eyes. If the years did not weigh so heavily upon him he would find her quite attractive, and her youthfulness invigorating. It didnt help that the warrior would consider it a great honor to lay with him in the gliding dance even if the dance never produced offspring.
"First among the first," Toilas, the youngest of the six greeted him, "The hopefuls await the blessings of the Water Gods." she said. He nodded and lead them down a half flooded corridor. The birthing chamber was near, where the females would come to discharge their eggs. The priestesses would minister to them, and chose out the strongest of the eggs, the best in shape and the most vigorous in activity. Those were taken to the Saining room, where they would be blessed, the others were taken away as a sacrifice to the gods. Toltep knew what became of those unblessed eggs, and for a moment, envied them.
The Saining chamber was dry, one of the few chambers that had not been penetrated by the tides. The structure had been built by human hands, and had sunk into the water when the rest of Tarrod had. Two-dozen stone pedastals lined the sides of the long chamber, each held an egg half the size of his head. He coudl see the growing youngling through the translucent shell, wiggling their long tails, still living in the blindess and ignorance of the animal mind. He walked along the rows, the women behind him muttering orisons of blessing and protection.
Of the 24 he selected eight, a large number. The others were taken away, until only the eight remained. He looked at them, six would be male, and two female. They would be strong and cunning, and he hoped wise as well. He gestured, and spoke the eldritch words of power, tendrils of essence streaming from his fingertips. The power flowed from him, taking hold of the unborn, and changing them. Altering their minds and accelerating the metabolic growth of their partially unformed bodies.He faltered, the essence snagged and pooled, but he corrected quickly. His hands trembled as the last of the spell was completed. Within half an hour the eggs would split open and the new-born cuada would rise from them, he would be there to see the next grouping of children born.
He leaned against one of the Saining pools, his breathing labored and his skin prickling dry. Toilas and Julec wordlessly began to give water to his skin with sponges harvested from beyond Tarrod's watery coast. "Eldest, I am concerned." Femnon said, "In the century that I have been honored to witness the Saining, never have I seen you falter. We are all concerned that you will return to the gods soon."
"Don't you know that we are immortal, Femnon?" he asked in his thin voice.
"We say we are immortal, but nothing lasts eternally." Julec said, freshing the water in her sponge from the unused saining pool. "Your step is troubled, and your skin shows the white spots. This is no illness or disease, otherwise the healers would have reversed it some time ago."
"This is true, mayhap we are not immortal, but so long in years that the short-lived brave people believe us to be immortal, just as they believe us to be the children of the gods and the first-born of all races." Femnon said, stroking the back of his head.
"You are wise beyond your years," he said, "But now is not the time for this conversation. It will not be long before the younglings escape the birthing egg. This is my pleasure and perhaps afterwards we can discuss other matters." He said with a note finality.
The eight eggs hatched, their occupants voraciously hungry. The seven attended to them for the better part of the afternoon before allowing the other priestesses and acolytes to take them away. Toltep was pleased that all eight had come through with no infirmity or malady from his almost botched spellcasting. The others had noticed, but why wouldnt they, even if they were not truely the firstborn of the gods they were still cunning and intelligent, and observant as well. They were his children and he would have accepted nothing less from them.