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- [+] SPOILER
- ------Day 525-------
A travelling songstrel plays a happy tune in the tavern. Peasants, merchants and a few knights dance and drink to the music. Despite herself, the priestess cannot allow the joy in the air to get to her. Being in New Garand again feels...uneasy. And in her situation, it is likely dangerous.
People at the Green Knight are celebrating the destruction of the King of Korne, the mighty ruler of the Ursan savages that plague the southeastern region of Varsilia, having Port Malan virtually under siege. Thanks to the efforts of The Dragonslayer and his companions, their force has been severely weakened across the land, and the inhabitants of the small coastal town can venture further out into the forest without fear of being mauled to death by the bearmen. It is a relief to know that Varannar has been freed of the influence of such a powerful and dangerous monster, and so, the news of his death were quite quick to spread like a raging wildfire across Varsilia and beyond.
She should be happy. The Ursans cause a great deal of deaths every year, and this was a mighty blow to their capacity to hurt innocent people. And yet, Hirge can only feel anger when hearing the name.
It feels like it has been ages ago that a young adventuring mage came to her camp, seeking refuge in the scorching sands of the Inori. The adventurer was quick with his words and quite plainspoken at the time, but even back then she could see a certain brightness of mind within him that was rare, even among those who dedicate their lives to the Arcane Arts. The young traveller could not have come at a worse time for Hirge, as she had just survived a devastating battle against an undead Legion. Expecting to find a Consecrated Camp among the Inori sands, they only found an army of rotting corpses awaiting them in the heart of the desert. They prevailed with great difficulty, and at great cost of life. For the young commander, retreat seemed inevitable.
And then, he ventured into the ruins of the Tolassians, with no potions, scrolls and minimal supplies, to reclaim a priest's holy symbol, enchanted with mighty magical powers, so that she could perform the ritual and Consecrate her camp, establishing a beacon of virtue among the vast and dead Inori.
Thelume the Wise had spoken in her dreams of a traveller with a fateful future whose steps she had to take, for Mankind itself could be at stake were he to fail his quest. All of the sudden, the strange aura of the man seemed all but natural. He was a chosen one of the Three, surely, and Hirge had vowed to assist him in his quest, whatever it may had been. That's why she was surprised to learn the young mage only wished to search for fame and riches, and to earn enough reputation to join the Wizard's Guild.
With time, it all came true. The fortune and reputation the young battlemage hoped to achieve were only a secondary goal when the true mission became apparent. Having learned of his ancestry and legacy, the descendant of Tremadan, Lord of Myros was tasked with stopping the Forsaken from bringing upon the world the ancient shadow of the Horrors once again. He dedicated himself to the collection of the shards of the Eye of Tol for months, and once it had been rebuilt, he set sail to the hellish place it pointed him at: the Ashen Cape, where the Forsaken were hidden from the world. He, Hirge, Grissenda and Adaon were likely the only humans to ever set foot in the Sunken Citadel, where the path to the Cape lied. And yet, only the Muud' Ari himself could enter the Ark of Lothasan.
He came out a different man. And a blinding light in the skies signaled his rebirth. Having saved Humanity, the small group celebrated. All seemed perfectly fine...until it all came crashing down.
Now, forgetting him was probably the best for the priestess.
- Lost in thoughts, your Highness? - A voice snaps Hirge out of her trance.
In her thoughtful state, she hadn't even noticed a cloaked figure sit in the table in front of her, his body and head alike completely covered, his face hidden by a veil of darkness. No one in the tavern gave him any mind, for he was disguised, but his voice gave him away the second Hirge focused her eyes on his gaze, staring at her through the hood over his head.
- Hello, Tomas.- She greets cordially.
- Hirge.- The Arcanist pulls back his hood ever so slightly. - It is...good to see you again. It's been a while, hasn't it?
- What do you want from me, Tomas? Have you come to insult me, to gloat of your newest kill?
- I have no need to gloat. And no. I came here to...see you.
- So you knew I'd be in New Garand.
- Word got to me through the Loreseekers, yes. Old Gebadi mentioned your name when I was in the Great Library doing reasearch.
- I see...
- So, what brings you to New Garand on this fine day?
- Bussiness, as you could expect. The temple needed my aid in dealing with certain matters, so I came here as soon as I could.
- All the way from Nivarian? Must've been some serious matters.
- Of course.
Silence. Piercing, uneasy, terrifying silence. Has it really been so long? Just a few months, yet it feels like a lifetime. Hirge can still remember the fateful day when she gave to her mother the news of Thorenheim's blasphemy, making him an enemy of the Holy Crown of Ilmara.
- Why are you really here?- Hirge questioned.
- Is it truly so hard to believe I wanted to see you again?
- Yes, Tomas. It is hard to believe.
- And why? Hirge, by the Powers, do you think I haven't missed you? I have. Grissenda and Adaon wished to see you too, but I could not risk coming here with the two of them, since someone could recognize us.
- And why do you care if someone sees who you are? You might get a free drink. And you know you'd get the local whores all over you...
The faint smile on the mage's face all but disappears. For a few seconds, he stares silently at his own hand, at the golden ring on his finger.
- What kind of man do you think I am, Hirge?
- The kind not to understand his own mistakes. Is she...- Hirge stops and thinks about the older woman, the warrior and friend that stood by their side when they were a team. -How is she?
- Perfectly fine. Her sister still tries to purge castle Storme of the Undead. The two of them are staying together.
- You're not with her? I figured you had...- She looks at the golden ring herself, unsure of what to feel. -...had made it official.
- We are young, and we have much to learn before we truly settle, I suppose. For now, we remain apart, and only venture together in search of monsters and treasure. After all, the kind of effort Eirenda needs to put into restoring the fortress and killing the restless dead needs a generous amount of funding. But yes, one day it'll be time for me to pack up and leave the Tower, to move to future Castle Mae'Ran. And yes, it is official now.
-I...I'm sorry, Tomas, but I can never forgive you for what happened. Not until you repent.
- I already told you I apologize. I was harsh. I should have been more cordial with you.
- No, Tomas. It's not your tone or your voice. I've heard much more grutesque language coming from people who meant well. No...I'm talking about your faith. You corrupted your soul, and are yet to repent in the eyes of the Three.
The sorcerer's gaze is unsettling. Disturbing, even. A rage burns deep within his eyes, and it truly terrifies Hirge. He could snap, smite Hirge with lighting in a split second before she can react.
- No, Hirge. You know where I stand. I will not go running to Nivarian to beg Queen Simarie for forgiveness. The Crown can make all the propaganda against me they wish to, but you know the people of every town there will stand with me, regardless of how many times the preachers accuse me of being tainted by the Witches.
- Are you not tainted, Tomas? I thought you'd be different. At last, I thought I had found a mage not corrupted by the powers of the Night. But of course, you had to prove me wrong.
- To Hell with the Night, Hirge. Damned be the Witches and their false promises. And damned be the Thr...
- Do not!- The young princess almost stands up, slamming her fist against the table, attracting the attention of the whole inn. -Do not say such blasphemy to me ever again!
She gets off her seat and heads towards the door. By this point, the whole crowd is staring at cloaked figure at the table, his face half covered, half revealed, and wondering if he is the one.
Before reaching for the door, Hirge stops.
-Do you still stand by it, Tomas Thorenheim?- She asked, her voice broken and defeated. -Do you still stand by your blasphemy against the Three?
The spellcaster stands tall, and pulls back his hood entirely.
-Every single word was from the heart. Let that be as clear as day.
With tears coming to her eyes, Hirge busts open the entrace and runs off through the streets, hoping to get away from the scene. Before anyone can ask, the sorcerer too slips away, to exit the city and teleport back to the magical frotress in the Jabal Hills.
Later that night, Hirge falls asleep in the Temple of the Three in New Garand, her consciousness heavy with regret.
How could things have ended up like this?
Adaon and Grissenda stash the goods in the iron chest inside the laboratory. At long last, it is done.
After months of training and preparation, one of the most dangerous monsters in the land has been defeated: the Undermother, Queen of the Mirmeks, is no more.
Having denied the Flame Prophet's help in dealing with the creature, the group decided to kill the renegade Mirmek. It was hard to justify such an action, as the being was a great help to the people of Fögas, but it had to be done: she was still a dangerous creature they could not rely on to not hurt anyone, even if living in isolation, and at the time, even with her help, the group feared the Undermother and her power. Today, that has changed. At long last, after having avoided her for the longest time, Tomas, Grissenda, Hirge e Adaon marched through the Cave where she dwelled and took her life. She was a more than worthy opponent, and made a few scars on the adventurers before she finally fell to her own injuries. Yet now, all that remains of her once overwhelming presence is a quite decent hide, that can serve as a piece of armor. For now, it will remain in the Tower, a testimony to the group's outstanding victory.
- She was a lot of work, no doubt.- Adaon grins as he sighs of relief. - But I guess her days were counted the second we came into the scene.
- We acted as a team, and won. - Grissenda pats the young rogue on the back. - And we have freed northen Varsilia of her influence. Now that the Mirmeks have no Queen, it will be a question of time until they are driven back into the caves, and the settlement by the Bluemist will prosper.
- True that. The second they build an inn in there, it will take off. Might be a few years before they have the manpower to really be considered a town, though.
- Another inn to hear rumours in? Sounds fantastic!
The four of them share a long laugh.
- Friends, I could not be prouder of us right now.- Tomas Thorenheim, the Muud' Ari battlemage, leader of the group, addresses his comrades. - We prevailed against a powerful enemy. Today, we scratch another name of the list of monsters plaguing Varannar!
- Yeah! - The scout cheers. - I could drink to that.
- Why, I'm glad you said that. You see, I figured the local inn at Jabal wouldn't have the kind of potency needed to celebrate this kind of achievement. - The wizard reaches into his magical Bag of Holding. - So I decided use the Gate to get to somewhere they would sell us a more worthy beverage.
Tomas pulls from the Bag a stack of bottles of well preserved Friguld Rum! Among the potent drinks, there are also a few Deepfrost Cognags and even some Whitetowers Specials. Clearly, this is a collection worth a few hundred gold coins.
-Oh. By the Three...- Hurge gasps.
-It's...- Tears of joy come to the rogue's eyes. -...It's beautiful.
- I don't know what to say.- Grissenda picks up some Rum, and swallows down a good quarter of the bottle. - So I shall let it speak for me!
- That's the spirit!- Adaon starts digging in, and Thorenheim soon follows behind, carefully selecting for himself the magical brandy he purchased in the small Thuramian town.
As they help themselves to it, Hirge remains motionless and mute. After a minute, the rest of the group cease their actions and look towards her.
-Hmm. Hirge?- Tomas speaks. - You don't have to drink if you don't want to.
- Yeah, totally fine by me.- Adaon adds. - More for good ol' me.
- The Clerics of the Three have their ways. We understand if you want to avoid...
- Ah!- Hirge interrupts her friends and grabs a cognag bottle. -To Hell with it!
In a blink of an eye, half the bottle is gone.
-Party in the Tower!- The assassin throws his arms in the air, and soon, the whole group joins him.
They spend quite a lovely day. At first, they sit around the Tower's lower floor, by the entrance, telling tales of their adventures and going over the good deeds they all did together. After a while, remembering the past seems boring, and Adaon picks his trusted Ion Recurve to start picking off giant spiders from the Tower's upper levels. At some point, an Iron Golem is summoned, and the mage challenges the team to fight it, one on one. It is Grissenda, of all people, who takes the challenge. Despite forgetting that the Nanocarbon Sword's energy attack is worthless against the construct, she continues to use it, and eventually, the Golem is defeated through sheer physical damage alone.
It has been a long time since the whole group truly celebrated like this. Their last party was in New Garand, once Tomas returned from his quest in the Ashen Cape. But that was months ago, and ever since, there has been much work to do around Varannar, taking out Manticores, Liches and Dragons all over the Kingdoms. It feels good to be able to sit back and get drunk on rum worth a small fortune, because it reminds them things have turned out alright. Against great odds, the heroes have prevailed and survived what the Isle has thrown at them.
The celebration carries on into the night, and only at the crack of dawn does the team decide to put an end to it. They spend the next day in the Tower, recovering both from their hard battle against the Undermother, the hours of drinking, singing and dancing after that and the severe hangover that followed it all.
In the middle of the night, the whole team is resting inside the Tower's single bedroom. More beds have been put in place to accomodate the whole party. Grissenda and Adaon sleep without a problem, yet Hirge is entirely awake, as she lies on her bed. For some reason, she is uncapable of sleeping at the moment. She rolls around, trying to get her eyes to stay shut, but it is beyond her. At some point, as she continues to switch positions in the bed, she takes a look at her three companions...only to find that Tomas' bed is empty.
The priestess figures that she isn't the only one uncapable of resting, and gets up. Careful not to make a sound, she searches her clothes through her belongings, buried beneath armor, weapons and magical trinkets. When she finds her clothes, she puts them on, and heads downstairs. As she descends the stone staircase, she sees a faint light coming from the floor below.
-Couldn't sleep either?- She questions as soon as she reaches the Tower's library.
Tomas, caught off guard, looks towards her confused before reacting to her presence. The mage sits at a wooden table in the corner of the room, reading a book with the help of a magical flame the lights up the whole library. A single bottle of Deepfrost Cognag stands in the table near him.
- Yes.- He finally responds. - Simply didn't have it in me. So I figured some reading could be used to pass the time.
- Do you mind if I join you?
- Go right ahead. Always a pleasure to share the wealth of knowledge I have in here.
Hirge moves her finger across the books laid out in one of the shelves, searching for something that picks her interests. The library has an extensive and quite comprehensive collection of topics from a variety of areas of study. Eventually, she does pick up a tome entitled "Annals of the Irux Rebellion".
- Huh.- Hirge noted. - Didn't we return this to the New Garand Town Hall?
- We did, yes. The original. A few months ago, I sent the Loreseekers 2000 coins to have a copy made for me.
- Knowledge is often expensive, isn' it? You know the ways of Varsilia...old Imperial lore, heritage and the like, it's all they talk about. Needless is to say, they are very protective of their knowledge. I only got to pay that price because I have a good reputation with the Kingdom.
It is true. Folks in the capital often stop whatever they are doing to greet the mage and inquire about his next adventures. Some of the townsfolk and villagers from all across Varsilia would go as far as to refer to Tomas as a living legend. From stopping the poisioning of the Wyverntail River to sparing the life of a young, dishonored wandering knight, all Thorenheim ever gets anymore from the people of the Kingdom is praise. If the Ilmaran Crown, or worse, Mercia were to try to obtain a copy of the tome Tomas has, Varsilia would likely charge a few tens of thousands of coins.
Hirge opens up the tome and begins examining its contents.
"Annals of the Irux Rebbellion
The Traitors who took arms against the Empire in the year 2940 were squashed a mere 5 years after the first few scouts of the Imperial Legion deserted, yet the Rebbellion of Ranger Helenne of Irux grew to be close to two thousand men strong at its peak, in the year 2942. For their unholy betrayal of the Empire, the oathbreakers, the scum that abandoned the Legion were fiercely punished in the battle of the Hechatian Plains, where a full 1000 rebels were killed and another 500 were taken captive. After the devastating defeat, Helenne and her fellow traitors wandered Southeastern Andoria for a few years before being found and executed.
There is no doubt to be had that Helenne and her band of traitorous cowards currently stand before the Court of the Eleven, being punished for eternity for their crimes, with the rest of the fools who stood against the Empire."
Hirge doesn't read through the whole of it, but she does focus of the most vital points of the narrative: the tome begins by telling the life story of Helenne of Irux, the Imperial Ranger who began the Rebbellion against the Empire after Legion officials alledgedly killed her lover under false accusations of theft and murder, without giving him a chance of defending himself in a proper trial. After the author gives his opinion, obviously siding with the Legion on the issue, the book remains fairly neutral and objective to the end, describing in detail how Helenne survived the initial persecution, avoiding Imperial authorities, and then explaining how she steadily increased the number of men in her ranks by recruiting village folk from rural, isolated areas, and then tells how she organized quite successful raids against Legion regiments all across the Western Coast of Andoria, all while moving the population of an entire town without being seen or heard. It is all quite impressive, and provides a great amount of knowledge about the Empire. Despite that, though, Hirge can only cringe when the last few pages rephrase what was said in the beggining about the eternal punishment of Helenne at the hands of the Eleven.
-You look uneasy.- Tomas breaks the priestess out of her reading. - Reading anything that disturbs you?
- Well, yes.
- The story of Helenne was one filled with blood and death until the very end. Is that what bothers you?
- No. It's...
Hirge hesitates, unsure of what to say. Tomas was a believer when they first met, and even joined Hirge a few times in praying to the Three. But as the young mage explored Varannar, talking to its inhabitants and inquiring priests all across the Kingdoms about the religion, his faith fainted.
- It's the Imperial Religion, isn't it?- The sorcerer questions.
- Hirge, there is no point to feeling sad or angry over dead belief systems that remain today through force of traditional momentum alone.
- I know, Tomas, but I can't help it. The Empire lasted for millenia, and only for a hundred years have we settled the Isle. I can't believe Mankind spent so long under the thumb of a false doctrine.
- I know exactly how you feel.- Thorenheim takes a sip of Cognag. -It's as if some things never truly change, despite appearing to.
Hirge nods for a second...before realizing just what he said.
- What?- She asks. -What did you say?
- Hirge...do you truly think there are only the two? The Three or the Eleven? Because there are not. The sons of Man have prayed, and continue to pray, to more gods than can be numbered.
- You mean the old cults? What significance to they have? They are nothing but ancient supersticions or folklore.
- Oh, the irony.- Tomas chuckles. - The irony in it all.
- In what?
- In what you say. It's quite amazing, this ability that humans have to see the truth, even proudly claim it, without realizing its implications.
- What do you mean?
The spellcaster leans back in his chair, looking thoughtfully into the ceiling, as if remembering something he saw, heard or read.
- The stories stretch back to the begginings, you know? The records of the old Empire are quite clear in fact, and do match with the more reliable information I found in the Ark of Lothasan: Humanity has been around for 21 thousand years, but only the last 4000 have been of any importance. What did we do for the majority of our existence? We remained hidden away, huddled inside caves and around small fires, fearful of the world that surrounded us. It was about more than explaining why the sun came up and sinked into the horizon every day, why the plants grew taller or why the dead did not breathe. It was about explaining giants shadows lurking around us, about explaining the strange howls and gutural sounds we heard at night, why blinding lighting struck from the skies and set fire to forests. So we called them "Gods" and "spirits" and "demons", we begged for them to spare us and prayed for salvation.
A long pause follows, as Hirge considers what has just been said. Could it be that Tomas is somehow mocking the Faith of the Three?
-And then came the Empire. The story of how it rose has been forgotten, sadly, but it was there nevertheless. A dinasty of Eleven men elevated some irrelevant tribe, they built it up over the generations, expanding it, empowering it, until it became the dominant force in their world, and united an entire continent under their rule. Humanity prospered. Our numbers rose, the land had been tamed. The world was quite simpler to understand when there were fewer things to fear. And so, the old Gods were forgotten, no longer feared, no longer respected, dismissed as spectres of times long past. But the Divine remained as a fundamental concept of the world,and with the Old gods overthrown, the void had to be filled. And who better to fill that void than the men who banished the old gods in the first place? And thus...The Imperial Cult. Plain and simple.
- W...What exaclty are you saying, Tomas?
- I am saying that being a "God" is not a fundamental force of an entity: it is merely a title we grant. We grant the titles of God to beings we either fear, or love.
- And you say that is the nature of the Three.
- Yet they are real. The entities these ancient cults worshipped, they were just embodiments of concepts that they did not fully grasp. Not like the Three, who exist and can be observed.
- And yet, the Eleven were also real, and also perfectly tangible in their form. What is the fundamental difference?
- They were just men, while the Three are gods?
- Hirge, Hirge...what did I tell you about what it means to be a God?
She cannot reply. It is not the first time the mage has questioned the Church, the Faith and the Three, but he never did so this directly.
- The Three are gods, right now. The Eleven were gods in the past, but not anymore. That is the difference: time. And as things always change, we can see the clear pattern repeating itself. Something or someone gets the title of God, until the knowledge and power of Mankind can rival it, at which point that something or someone has its title revoked, and granted to someone or something else. The Three, I'm affraid, are hust another step in the cycle.
- Th..that's not true!
- Is it not? You are the princess of Ilmara, Hirge. Have you ever seen Thelume in person?
- A benevolent entity, in theory, yet he does not engage with Evil directly. He chooses some to do his bidding. A being who is willing to fight Evil but does not do it is likely not able to fight it. And why is he not able to fight it?
Thorenheim takes another sip of the magical beverage.
- Because he is vulnerable. Like all of us. It lines up with what we know about Arbenos, who was actually hurt by a spell, if I recall correctly. That right there, Hirge, is why the Three are no different from the Eleven: they can be hurt, they can be broken. The second one of us humans fully understands them, the Three will have their days counted. It will be a question of time until they fall. And until then, we wait, we appease them, we do as they command, because we huddle around fires inside our homes, fearful of what we don't understand. See now? It all comes full circle...
As an instict, the sorcerer's left arm goes up to protect his head and his Mage Armor is activated, deflecting the blow that was about to be struck. Hirge, whomwas about to slap him across the face, feels a powerful shock go downnher spine, and then, she collapses.
- Ah!- She gasps in pain. -D...damn it...
- What in the hell, Hirge?!
- Damn...you, Tomas! - She gets up and takes a few steps back. -I...I know you are not a follower of the Three. I always respected that. And yet you stand here, mocking our lords and their legacy?
- You respected it, that's right. Because you were told to.
- Respecting other religions, or lack thereof, is a right granted by Thelume himself in the Book of the Moon. Thankfully, these are not ignorant and self absorved gods. The Wise one does indeed show himself to be a figure worth respecting. That is why I have no hate for the Three. Only for their followers.
- What!? You hate the Church? But...you helped us so much. You...you're a bloody hero to the clergy.
- Hirge, why do you think I helped you take the New Garand Temple from Andrys Storme's hands? You think it was because of my devotion, or my faith?
In truth, she never questioned it. At the time, her duty was to follow him, as instructed by Thelume himself, and his actions only reinforced the belief that she had to help him. But when they took the Temple, Thorenheim had already declared himself to be a non believer. So no, it could not have been his faith.
- Of course it wasn't. It was...something else.
- And what do you think it was?
- I don't know, Tomas. Part of me wants to believe you had it in your heart to do what was right, that you didn't simple wish for fame and glory.
- From the Church?! No. I did it because my duty binded me to do it. The Temple was virtually empty and served no practical purpose, other than for a few nobles to pray to Dead gods a couple of times a week. And now, it is a philosophy school, a center of healing and a much needed help to the common people of New Garand. I thought that if I had to let the Church have another temple in their hands for the people to benefit, it would be worth it. I did it in spite of the Church of the Three, not because of it.
- So...you had it in you to do the right thing. -Hirge lets out a small sogh of relief.
- Yes. Something those damned clergy lack.
And then, the princess' face goes red with anger.
- W...what did you say?
- Thank the Powers that Be that Thelume is at least honorable enough to understand his responsibility as a "God", or who knows the carnage it could have caused! Damned be those bishops and those priests, so blissfully unaware of their accountability, doing what is right because someone told them to. They do that because they were told, not because it is the fight thing to do. Ask yourself, Hirge: what if the Book of the Moon said that every man, woman and child that did not worship the Three was to be skinned alived, have their limbs cut out and then be drowned in boiling water? Would it be right? Because Nivaria, the oh so Compassionate said it was!?
- The Three would never allow such an abomination of justice within their doctrine!
- And thankfully they don't, because they are not dumb. They do not put themselves as all mighty rulers of Humanity, but as its undying protectors. Because as we all know, love is often a much more powerful force of coersion than fear...
- THAT is the true abomination of Justice, the true corruption. Hiding their lust for power behind a veil of Compassion, of Wisdom and of Strength. That, that right there, is when all forms of evil and good become entirely meaningless: when all it takes for something to be good or not is the say so of a mad king. And let it be clear, I speak not of the Three, because their motives are anyone's guess, and I should give them the benefit of doubt. I speak of the bloody Queen of Ilmara and the blasted Priests.
Hirge doesn't know what to say. Part of her wants punch him, but her body does not respond. And then, in the midst of her fury, she remembers those words...coming from the mouth of someone else.
- Hawk Eye...
- That Varannari Hunter that was brought to the Courts of the Hall of Wisdom. After he was declared guilty of his crimes and sentenced, he said something similar. But...how could it...? No...
- Hirge. I...
- By Arbenos, it was you! It was you, wasn't it!?
- WASN'T IT!?!
She is about to snap. Tomas' wand is across the table, out of reach, and she is too close. Even if he could reach it, he could fire against his companion. No. There must be a way.
- Yes. - He admits. - It was me.
- But...why? Why would you spread blasphemy among the Varannari?
At the mention of the word "blasphemy", the mage's fists close and electricity begins pumping throughout his body, as a physicsl manifestation of rage.
- It all started in Lamis. The Varannari community there lives in harmony with the rest of the Ilmarans. I learned quite a bit there, about the different religions of the people of Varannar. I was...fascinated with the folklore, the traditions of all the different clans. And after we killed the Void Lord, they trusted me enough to share their biggest secrets. Namely, how some of their men were recruited by the Witches. And so, I tried to help. I tried to convince the Varannari hunters who followed the witches to abandon that, to live an honest life with their clans or in the towns. I managed to get some of them to listen to me...
The Legion soldiers, tied by their wrists, stare intently at the sorcerer. His face is covered by both a hood and a mask, hiding his identity. After the interrogation, he managed to convince the Mercian warriors to give him critical information about the slave haul coming in from Freetown to Sydarun.
After getting what he wants, the spellcaster retreats to a safe distance where he cannot be heard by the soldiers. Around a campfire, three Varannari hunters give aid to escaping slaves, a Varannari young woman and a slightly older Mercian man, perhaps a minor thief. The crackling of the flames is the only thing disturbing the quiet night of the Nekhar Valley.
- We have what we need.- Tomas says to the hunters, as he pulls back his hood and gets his mask off.
- How is it looking, chief?- Hawk Eye, the oldest of the three Varannari, questions.
- The caravan will be carrying 10 slaves: 4 Varannari natives, 6 Mercians. Make no mistake, these are no criminals, they are citizens of Mercia who took a stand against someone with authority, and ended up biting more than they can chew.
- Political prisioners.
- Yes. The King, it seems, does not take it to kindly to being questioned. As for the enemy force, the caravan will be escorted by two Legion Decurions, one Ranger and an archer.
- If we take them by surprise, it could be done easily.
- So what's the plan?- Wolf Fang, the most skilled tracker of the group, asks the rest of his comrades.
- Ambush. In the Jabal Hills.- Thorenheim replies, showing his map and pointing his finger at it, moving it to show the path they must take. - We leave tomorrow at dawn. We'll be ahead of the caravan. We pass through the Mercian Graveyard in the Iron Valley and then reach south Jabal Hills. From there, we make our way south and lay traps in the way to Sydarun.
- And we'll be ready to take them out.
- That's right. Getting so many people out of Mercia unseen will be impossible through ordinary means. We will take them to the outskirts of Jabal. Then, I can teleport a couple of Varannari at a time to Fögas, where they can join their clans in the Elder Forest. The rest, I will take to Kingsbridge, where my friend will be waiting to help them.
- Sounds like a good plan, Tomas. We leave at dawn, then.
Their plan discussed, the sorcerer turns his attention to the Mercian man, as the Varannari woman in unconscious.
- What is your name?
- M...Markus.- He responds in a weakened voice, as the healer, Wind, treats his wounds and gives him a potion of healing. -You...you saved me.
- We did our job, sir.
- Wait a minute. I, I know you...you're Thorenheim, the Battlemage.
- Yes, that is me.
- Damn. I...I saw you fight in the Arena, you know? Saw you defeat Decurion Sargos. Man, that was quite a show.
- Indeed. So say...what got you into this, friend?
- This?- The man says, as he sips the potion to ease the pain from the beatings he has taken. - Saw more than someone wanted me to see. I was a Royal Scribe working at the castle. After I questioned some shady things happenning in the Palace, I was silenced.
- What kind of shady things?
- Heh. How about the two men I saw exiting the Royal chambers when the King was out handling bussiness in town? The Queen, it would seem, is not...
The whole group shares a laugh.
- Yes. Yes, that would be the word. Thank you for helping me out, adventurer. And much thanks to your friends as well. Heh. Who would've known? I was saved by a group of Varannari led by some adventuring mage.
- Fate has its irony, truly.- Thorenheim looks over the fish being cooked over the humble fire. - And do you know this girl?
- Ah, this poor lass...- The man looks saddened as he speaks of the incapacitated unconscious woman beside him. - None of the guards in the slave pits went easy on any of us, but she she had it worse. There was this guard that...liked her. And made sure to let it be known to her...against her will. Almost every god damned night I could hear her screaming one cell to the right of where I was. And I just...fucking stood there...
Markus looks ashamed, disgusted at himself for being unable to do anything about it.
- And now that guard is dead. Thanks to the four of you.- He looks up. - May the Three bless you, adventurers.
As soon as he says that, the Varannari men and the Mage chuckle among themselves.
- What is is?- Markus wonders.
- You see, Markus, these men here, my friends, would not want the blessing of the Three. Neither would I.
- Why not?
- I do not do what I do to honor the Three or their doctrine. Neither do my comrades here help me to honor the spirits or their ancestors. We do what we do because we have a duty to our fellow Man, Markus. That is the same duty you felt in you when you saw the injustice this woman endured. Empathy. Compassion. These are things for humans, not for gods, and damn them if they think they can claim the best of our nature to be their blessing, as if Good cannot possibly exist without them. They do not own the Good that exists within all of us, and we will not let them have it.
- I...I see. You bow to no masters then.
- No God will tell me what is right. That is for us to decide. It's our code to write.
- Heh. Fair enough.
- Now rest, Markus. Wind will heal most of your wounds, and then I'll take you to Kingsbridge. There, you can ask around for Grissenda Mae'Ran. She will help you start over in Varsilia.
- I'll be damned...A new chance? I figured I was lost.
- With your experience as a Royal Scribe, you would be a fine addition to the Royal Loreseekers. There is still plenty of opportunity for you.
- Yes. I see that now. I cannot thank you all enough.
- No need, friend. Now focus on your recovery.- Tomas points towards the potion in Markus' hand, telling him to finish it.
- Grissenda knows? Does Adaon know too then?
- Only you didn't know. I couldn't tell you. Because I knew this would happen.
- Then you should have kept your mouth shut...Damn it, Tomas, what have you done?
- What have I done!? - Offended, Tomas spits back. - I have spent the last months doing what the Priests of the Three should have been doing! But of course they didn't, because they were too busy screaming the "glory" of Arbenos, Nivaria and Thelume to the world! It was all done in secret, so as not to taint my reputation in Mercia, so I can still go there without fear and free more enslaved souls. I've shared with the Varannari the actual contents of your religious texts. I read the Book of the Moon, Hirge. The Three were once mortals. Only a fool could look at the verses and think otherwise! I don't know why the High Priests made it heresy, but it speaks volumes of Thelume's character that he doesn't do anything about it.
- Enough!- Hirge screams. -You insult the Threw, you blaspheme against their name? How dare you show such disrespect towards the gods?!
- DAMNED BE YOUR GODS, HIRGE! - Thorenheim's voice shakes to whole Tower. -Damn them! THEY were the ones that corrupted you!
And it snaps. The priestess' arms become engulfed in fire, and her eyes shine with anger. Shouting, she charges towards him.
By a blink, the sorcerer manages to dodge her attack and rolls across the table to reach his hand. Stepoing back, he fires a couple of spells in her direction, which hurt her a bit, but do not stop her. Stuck in a tight and closed space, the mage quickly summons an Iron Golem to defend him, which blocks a second chsrge from the princess. But as soon as Hirge notices its presence, she attacks the construct, hoping to destroy it.
As she lashes out against the creature, a fine, technological blade appears from behind her and wraps around her exposed neck.
-Do. Not. Move. - Grissenda's voice is shaken, but threatening.
Adaon, from the staircase, points his Ion Recurve at her. Looks like his companion woke up at just the right time. Tomas dismisses the Golem, seeing that Hirge is subdued. Breathing heavily and staring into the mage's eyes, a fire burns deep inside her gaze. But alas, the flames that surround her vanish, as the magic loses its effect.
-I've had it.- Tomas speaks exclaims. -I'm sick of it. Sick of burying my hate just to have your respect. It's not worth it. Leave. Get OUT of my Tower! NOW!
Grissenda removes her nanocarbon sword from Hirge's throat, and as soon as she does, the priestess runs down the staircase towards the Tower's exit, escaping into the Jabal Hills.
From the Tower's balcony, Tomas and his companions watch uneasily and filled with dread as their former team member fights her way across the spiders surrounding the hills, leaving a scorched trail behind her.
Alone, the mage gazes into the distance from the Tower's balcony. In the horizon, he can see the mighty Thyr Mountains rising above the land, and next to it, the lighs from Nivarian can clearly be seen. He stares into the city with thoughtful eyes, as a figure approaches him from behind.
- News spread fast across Varannar, Tomas. - Grissenda says. - Word already reached all the Isle about your new status.
- I see.
How could it have come to this? They soent a year together, battling the most dangerous monsters and people in the Isle. How could it have been shattered so easily, by just one disagreement?
How could it have come to this?
- I am now a criminal in the eyes of the Holy Crown of Ilmara, and the Church of the Three, for "the spreading of falsehoods about the doctrine of the Three".- He says to himself. - Damn it...How could this happen?
- Hirge is a princess, friend. Of course she could have you outcast quickly. Once she reached Nivarian, it was only a matter of time...
- Maybe if I...if I had been more calm. I let my hatred guide me...
- You spoke truly, Tomas. A thing very few would sacrifice so much over. I admire you for it, you know? I admire your honesty. And your courage, too. It takes bravery and honor to rival an entire Kingdom for what you believe. To be willing to make enemies for the truth.
- Thanks, Griss. I think I needed to hear that...- He sighs.
- And besides...- She gets closer. -...you are still loved across Ilmara, for the things you've done. The people will not turn their backs on you. If anything, they will resent the Queen for declaring you a criminal. You can never show you face in Nivarian again, but all the other towns, they'll welcome you with open arms.
- I'm not worried about that. I just...thought I could have done things differently. Maybe Hirge would still be here.
- You know...I liked Hirge too. She was a friend. That's why I never thought she'd sell you out like this...Which is why I now see your point. About how her faith blinds her to what's really important.
The warrior gives Tomas a tender hug.
- It's time to let go, Tomas.- She states. -You have to move on. We are still a team.
- Yeah...you're right. It's time to move on.
Tomas looks into the Tower, to the pile of armor, weapons and magical items stashed in the corner, once belonging to the Cleric.
- I'll get rid of it. All of it. Time to bury the past.
- Good. Are you OK?
- Yes. I'm fine. Thank you, Grissenda. Truly.
- No problem. Adaon is preparing dinner. We should go now.
- You go ahead. I'll just...stay here a couple of minutes.
She smiles, and leaves him to his thoughts.
The sorcerer feels like a weight has been liften off of him. He now look proudly into the night, and sees the lights coming from Nivarian's great Cathedral, where the Azure Throne lies.
- I will see you one day, Thelume, the Wise. I look forward to the day we'll meet. And hell, will I have some questions for you...
As a wise man once told me on Twitter:
The secret isn't knowing what you're doing. It's knowing who you are.
Last edited by Dark Mage Ascended on Mon Jan 14, 2019 8:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.