He took a deep breath.
And then another one.
Samuel continued to empty and fill his lungs until his hands stopped shaking.
Today was the last day.
The day that their city would be saved, or set for ruin. The council had chosen him to be the one to deliver the message.
Samuel wrapped his coat tighter around him and firmly shoved the door open with one hand, the other occupied with holding a rolled-up scroll bound with warm red wax. The warm light from the rising sun cast his shadow behind him, as if he was a hero about to set off on his journey.
The grueling trail to the shrine was covered with snow, and the downpour of snow kept getting in Samuel's eyes, making it near-impossible to see the road in front of him. The only way he was able to tell which way he was slowly trudging through the snow was by following the wide, empty space that was free of the crowded trees typically found in the forest.
Perhaps she didn't want to be contacted; that was why she had sent this snowstorm to stop him, even though she must have known of the predicament that the city was facing.
What felt like hours later, as Samuel was wishing again that he had brought a lamp, the constant battering of the hands covering his face suddenly ceased. The crunch of the snow beneath his boots gradually stopped. It became quiet.
It was still dark outside, the rays from the sun only just peeking over the treetops, unable to penetrate through the dark canopy itself. There was not a chirp from a bird nor a rustle from the wind in the trees to be heard.
A stone slab surrounded by a large stone arch entered Samuel's view. Two torches to either side of the slab were lit, keeping the stone table warm and dry against the freezing wilderness. Laying ahead of the shrine was a cave, a faint orange glow visible.
Finally — after so many weeks of fruitless visits, she was finally here.
Even though he was overwhelmed with relief, Samuel could not help but feel a twinge of frustration at the goddess for waiting until the last day to show up.
He stepped closer to the mouth of the cave.
"Who goes there?" The voice beyond the cave was authoritative but neutral. "Halt and state your origin and purpose."
Samuel closed his eyes and knelt reverently in without moving further in. "O powerful goddess, my name is Samuel, and I come to you from the city of Shope. I beg of you to hear my plea."
"Thank you, my lady."
The interior of the circular cavern was warm. A fire in the centre crackled, its shadows along the walls dancing merrily. There was little else in the room aside from its sole occupant sitting cross-legged against the wall, who had clearly been manipulating some string with her hands and now held a complex web in front of her. She stared at Samuel expectantly.
Her prickling gaze was too much for Samuel and he looked away. In his peripheral vision, he noticed that the woman had returned to tightening and weaving the string with her fingers.
"So, Samuel, what did you want me to do?"
"My name is Casia. Use it as you please."
"...Goddess, the city of Shope is under a terrible plight. I humbly ask for your assistance so that the people in the city will live."
A profound sigh came from the goddess. "What is it this time? Another blight, perhaps? Or have the rats eaten all the grain? Or is it plague — ugh, please don't let it be plagues. I hate plagues, they're so annoying to get rid of. No one ever cleans things properly and the instant I cure you all, someone gets infected again the next day," she grumbled.
"...I beg your pardon?"
"Never mind. So what is it?" she repeated, sounding impatient.
"R-right, yes. My sincerest apologies, my lady," Samuel said hurriedly. "The problem is that the city of Shope is being threatened with utter annihilation."
The goddess tapped her foot against the ground. "That's not the problem," she said slowly, like she was a junior school teacher explaining something to one of her very dim students. "I would like you to tell me exactly what is happening, why it's happening, and what you want me to do."
"How forgiving you are, my lady." The goddess's eye twitched. "Our supply lines are cut off and we are under lockdown. No one can leave or come in. One of your sisters has threatened mass destruction of our unworthy human settlement, so we would humbly ask for your assistance to diffuse the situation."
Samuel noted with more than a little satisfaction as he bowed that this was the first time in his visit that the goddess looked truly surprised.