Stoyan woke up surrounded by pristine walls and a faint trickle of light flittering in through the window. A gentle breeze danced in the partially pulled curtains as the playful sound of children echoed in from outside. But the surreal scene did nothing to ease the throbbing pain in his jaw. His thoughts raced through his last recounted memories – Aaron and his father, the discovery of Lan, succumbing to the pain of battle. He reached up and touched his jaw tenderly and discovered a fresh new scar left to him by Lan. A smile brushed across his lips as he struggled to sit up in his bed.
The padding of feet nearby snapped him to his senses as he took in his surroundings for the first time. There were a few beds around him and he immediately saw Veth and Cyrxx. He watched them momentarily as emotion welled inside, and, as he did so, Cyrxx stirred. Stoyan calmly waited for Veth to stir as well, trying to will it with his eyes, but nothing happened.
In a far corner of the room was a section cut off from their beds. A sheet was pulled across the wall cutting it off from the rest of the room. Before he could offer it another though, a young female Dwarf broke into the room, followed quickly by two more, a large woman in clerical vestments and a bearded man clad in the armor of the city guard, the scales of Fareen etched into the medallion of the clasp on his breastplate.
“Thank Pelor, you’re awake,” started the bearded man.
The mention of the god filled Stoyan’s head with a haunting voice; “…he casts a long shadow.”
The large had woman headed over to the curtained area and pulled it back, revealing Alaiya. She was already sitting up and trying to get out of bed. With great care, the Cleric helped her over to a chair near Stoyan, Veth, and Cyrxx.
“You were all beat up pretty good,” continued the man, before he interrupted himself with a cough. “Ah, lest I forget my manners. My name is Jae Kalvier, Captain of the Guard. This,” and he gestured to the large woman, “is Beatrice Tabenik, the Cleric who oversaw your condition.” Beatrice bowed, her robes fluttering about her. On her robes was the brightly embroidered symbol of Pelor, a golden sun.
“And I’m Ginly. Ginly Ironfoot, Clerical Apprentice!” offered the young Dwarf. She extended her hand out to Alaiya who shook it awkwardly. Stoyan and Cyrxx followed suit. Pleased, she retreated back to her spot behind Beatrice, who smiled in amusement.
“Ginly, dear, could you go help the others with their salves, I’m afraid we’re a tad short now, and they could use your…expertise.” Beatrice voice was soft and kind, and Ginly received the request with an even greater smile, as she nodded eagerly, bowed, and left. Beatrice turned back to the Captain. “You may continue, Jae.”
The Captain smiled as he stifled a laugh. “As I said, you lot were in some pretty bad shape. Nothing too bad though, as Beatrice here got you healed right up.” The Cleric bowed in response to the praise. “Should let you know, too, that we tracked the one who did this, but she escaped once she was beyond the city walls.”
“Why didn’t you track her?” demanded Stoyan.
“Aye, we did boy, we tracked her as far as we could. A few hours beyond the wall, but that’s where she disappeared. Vanished. Couldn’t find a track or a clue after that. She was heading in the direction of Berathion, down in Gimlora, but I’m afraid that’s all we know. And before you start, yes, we sent word.” Jae looked at Stoyan who kept his mouth shut.
“We should thank you lot though. We finally have a face to go on. We’ve been searching for her for some time – about three years. There have been some shady things happening here, and we don’t quite appreciate the unruly taking advantage. Oh, yea,” and he tossed a coin purse into the lap of Stoyan, “this is for you guys.”
Stoyan opened the purse and his jaw went slack. He looked back up to Jae, his eyes wide with amazement. “There’s gotta be, three hundred gold in here –”
“Closer to five.”
“This can’t all be for Lan, can it?”
“Ahh, so that’s her name, is it?” Jae took out a piece of paper and scribbled the notes down. “Good to know. And yeah, it is. As I said, we’ve been tracking her a long time. And now you’ve given us a name and a face. Fair trade I’d say.”
Stoyan looked to everyone, but when his eyes fell on Veth, still lying in bed, a knot rose in his stomach. Beatrice knew what he was thinking and spoke to his thoughts. “There was more to his condition than we thought. We believed everyone had been poisoned with the same compound. However, Veth did not recover at the same rate and actually started getting worse as the days passed. When we reexamined him, we discovered a second poison in his veins, a subtler one that had been masked by the first poison.” She paused and gathered her strength for what she had to say next. “We can’t help him, not with what we have here. Everything we tried has failed.” She reached into her robe and pulled out a piece of paper, crumpled and stained. “He came out of unconsciousness briefly – the man is clearly strong, both spiritually and physically – and he managed to write this.”
She handed the note to Stoyan, who read it quickly. The only words written on it were “Durian” and “Gimlora”.
“Durian?” inquired Stoyan, as he gazed perplexingly at Beatrice. “Why would we leave a note for the High Priest of Pelor? Why would he want me to seek out that –,” Stoyan held his tongue, suddenly mindful of who he was talking to. Gathering his thoughts and a bit of diplomacy, the Paladin of Tempus continued. “Why would he mention Durian of Pelor and not his own High Priestess, Veranda. Surely the High Priestess would know more about one of her own than another god’s?”
Beatrice stared, her gaze suddenly cold and angry. “I cannot answer for your friend, Paladin. But I can say that Pelor’s light can penetrate even the deepest darkness. If there is hope for him, then Pelor might be his only salvation. It seems some know the roles the gods play.” There was a gracious venom in her last words and Stoyan had to fight the temptation to rise to the challenge.
“Very well. Veth was always wise in the manner of the gods and their reasons and I will trust his judgment in this as well.” With a low bow to Beatrice, Stoyan thanked the lady and turned back to Jae. “We appreciate your help, Captain, but we will be off on the morrow.”
Jae returned the gesture with a nod and started backing toward the door. “Understood. We’ll leave you to your planning then. But, before you go, swing by the barracks. We have some weapons or armor that has been confiscated over the years gathering dust. Might find something that you lot could use. Not great stuff, mind you, but there might be something for you in there.” With a last second bow, Jae escorted Beatrice out of the room.
As the door was about to close, a quick thought entered Stoyan’s mind. “What about the boy? Where is he? Is he alive?”
Jae looked at Stoyan and the others, bewilderment in his eyes. “A boy? All we found were you lot, and I’d be hard pressed to call that Gnome a boy.” Jae bowed one last time as he closed the door.
The room was silent for a bit before Stoyan turned to Alaiya and Cyrxx. “Why would they keep Aaron a secret?” Stoyan’s fists clenched and his knuckles began turning white.
“Maybe, that’s why,” voiced Cyrxx, poking the man’s hands. “I’m not sure I’d want you talking to a boy if you get that angry about not talking to him.”
Stoyan quickly released his hands as he shook the blood back into the fingers. After a moment he turned to his two companions. “I can’t demand that you come, I can only ask.” The two magick–users barely glanced at each other.
“Winn was my mother, too, Stoyan. If this Lan had something to do with her death, I’m in.” Alaiya had an air of confidence about her that caught Stoyan off–guard, but he was happy for her words.
“And Gregor insists on watching over the young ones!” Cyrxx gave a slight chuckle as his skull rose off a nearby table and floated to his side. “Can’t disappoint the man or he’ll throw me in the fire.” Small puffs of smoke began to rise out of Gregor’s bony jaw, showing his anger. “You see? He’s insistent!”
Stoyan smiled briefly, happy to have the familiar around him for his next journey. Berathion would be full of nostalgia for him and he could use the comfort of friends for a sense of balance. “Very well. Use the rest of the day to visit the barracks and see what Jae has. I think it’d be a good idea to pick up some salves and ointments and resupply. I can’t say how long we’ll be gone, but we head out with daybreak.”
The sun rose late on the nineteenth day of the fourth month of the year. The spring rains swelled off the coast to the east with the promise of a good crop and the clouds gloomed threateningly overhead. Stoyan, Alaiya, and Cyrxx hurried out of Fareen amidst the morning bustle of the city, barely noticed by those more concerned with their work. As they worked their way in silence toward the western gate, Stoyan felt compelled to detour to the barracks where Veth was being tended to. He did not enter the building, but stood outside, gazing solemnly at the entrance. With his cloak pulled around his shoulders to fend off the wind, he closed his eyes and said a quiet prayer for the man he considered more of a father than a mentor. Then he uttered an oath of retribution upon the head of Lan for what she did as the fury of Tempus coursed through his blood. As was the custom, only the god’s ears received the oath.
The journey south was uneventful, save for the occasional merchant insisting on making a sale on the road. The group made camp away from others on the road, constantly remaining cautious even in the safety behind the wall. Near the end of the third day, Alaiya spotted a plume of smoke rising beyond the crest of a hill to the northwest, something she was not expecting in the land outside the city.
“It is nothing more than a farmer’s home,” assured Stoyan when she suggested they investigate. “Likely his wife preparing dinner, or rotating his crops to maintain his fields.” Stoyan had been focused on this trip, setting a brisk pace with a singular focus in mind. He hid behind the accommodation of Alaiya’s propensity to avoid speaking with strangers to push the group to near exhaustion on their way to Gimlora. But that was nothing compared to losing one of the few people he genuinely cared about.
Before midday on the fourth day, the companions reached the border guards of Gimlora. The checkpoint was set across the Elyse, the northernmost river that ran from the Kaliois. The entire bridge consisted of the checkpoint, and the Paladins took note and record of who entered and left their land. The main camp was stationed on the southern side of the bridge where riders could be seen delivering missives. In the distance, a patrol could be seen making their way back from the north. It was a small, but effective establishment, full of order and discipline. Stoyan could not help but smile as he and the others passed through. He exchanged slight nods with the Paladins as they took note of the three companions and their intentions to travel to Berathion, the central hub and heart of Gimlora. When asked for their reason, Stoyan simply replied, “Divine guidance.”
The guard smiled and ushered them on, sending them off with a blessing of Pelor. The mention of the god’s name set the hairs on Stoyan’s neck on end.
Alaiya could not see much different between the land within the borders of Gimlora and that around Fareen. The low grasslands ebbed and flowed like the waves of the Elien Sea, stretching endlessly on to the foot of the Kaliois. Catching the wind sweeping down from the mountains in its bristles, the hushed whispers of the grain could be heard. Soft hills rolled throughout the landscape, adding to the undulating effect of the terrain, mesmerizing as its subtle beauty enchanted the eyes. The occasional heartwood rose from the waves, a sentinel striving to leave the confines of the land. On appearance alone, the similarities were endless. It was the atmosphere, however, the essence of the land that caught Alaiya’s attention. There was a tranquility that seemed to envelope her now, a peace that she had not felt before.
The traffic on the roads lessened over the next day and few merchants tried to hawk their wares upon them unsolicited. The companions were more relaxed, and Alaiya noticed that those they passed seemed calmer and more at ease than those they had seen earlier in their journey. As they continued further south, the Kaliois encroached closer and closer to the road, and the grasslands faded into a more wooded environ. The rugged pines known to inhabit the mountains replaced the heartwood and condensed the closer to Berathion they got. Underneath the cover of pines, the day was cooler and the nights warmer than the grasslands, adding to the relaxed serenity. Even merchants seemed less worried about the rigors of travel, some leaving their carts alone as they socialized with one another during the evenings.
It was at the end of the fifth day that Alaiya and the others passed a peculiar sight – a merchantless cart and no other camps around. “Why does no one seem concerned about their belongings?” Alaiya asked, looking back up the road as she unfurled her bedroll. “The merchant does not care if he is robbed?”
Stoyan chuckled at her naivety. “Not within Gimlora. No one would be foolish enough to tempt the fate of the gods or the judgment of the Paladins. Most who have their heads, wish to keep them.” A sly, knowing smile, pursed his lips as he set upon cooking some game. “Besides, the merchant up the road was likely already asleep or was looking for dinner.” The scent of cooking meat wafted through the air.
Cyrxx hummed to himself as Gregor bobbed aimlessly about, the magical glow of his eyes shedding light about the camp. As Stoyan and Alaiya chatted, Cyrxx found himself looking through the woods to the north, an unsettling feeling rising within the pit of his stomach. “Something is brewing, Gregor –“.
The surge of magick hit Cyrxx so hard that he was knocked back and ended up tripping over his pack. Alaiya felt it too and stood, her attention pulled directly north, back up the road they had traveled from. “What was that?”
Stoyan cut a chuck of meat from the spit and popped it into his mouth. “What was what?” he asked Alaiya quizzically.
A sudden flash of green light illuminated the woods to the north, directly up the road. The light faded as they stood, transfixed by the sight they had just seen. Stoyan looked on, chewing on the last of his chunk of meat, when Alaiya let out another gasp. She raised her arms defensively against an unknown force before taking a few steps forward. Cyrxx came and stood by her side.
“You feel that, the power?” The light within Gregor grew more intense as another flash erupted in the north. This time a bright red light danced off the needles of the pines to the north before dying into the black of night. “This is…We must…” Cyrxx started north before the voice of Stoyan stopped him.
“What is going on? What were those lights?” Stoyan had unsheathed his sword, but held his ground.
“It’s magick. Though not like anything I have seen before.” Alaiya’s voice carried a hint of awe as she spoke. “And Cyrxx is right. Those lights were from the north from where that merchant’s chart was. He might be in trouble.”
A third wave billowed past the mages before a yellow flash overtook the darkness. Cyrxx and Alaiya started north before Stoyan realized what was happening. “Bah! All this magick is trouble!” Stoyan shuffled back to the fire and cut off another chunk of meat before kicking sand over the embers. Grabbing a potion from his pack he ran after the others. “Having my meal ruined by such nonsense. Just stay on guard.”
They walked back up the road, cautious of the unknown. When they reached the cart, they immediately noticed traces of green and red flame, flickering on numerous surfaces – the branches of trees, the road, and even the cart itself. A slight breeze caused some papers strewn about to flutter in the air and wares dangling haphazardly from their fastenings rattled. Someone or something had been rifling through the cart.
“There is magick here, small and residual and fading.” Alaiya’s curiosity was piqued as she examined the cart. On both sides she found shards of broken glass on the ground among numerous footprints. “It looks like there was a confrontation here…” Alaiya tried to follow the footsteps, working out the series of events that took place when she noticed a smaller set nearly covered by the larger prints. Placing her foot next to it, she knew immediately who was involved. “…Humans and a Gnome.”
Stoyan picked up a piece of parchment that was lying on the ground. He tried to read the paper, but found it difficult, the words appearing as convoluted gibberish to his eyes. “What do you think this is?” he asked as he handed it off to Alaiya. Cyrxx picked up a paper as well and began skimming it.
Alaiya took the paper and read over it carefully, recognizing the arcane symbols easily from her time in the tower. “These are words of magick. But, they are not spells as far as I…Wait, Cyrxx, are these for potions?”
“An Artificer wrote these, not unlike our spells, but close enough.” Cyrxx slipped a few papers into his robe just before another blast of energy rippled through the air, causing them to brace themselves against the side of the cart. Alaiya’s and Cyrxx’s eyes met and they shared a moment of understanding that only mages would fully comprehend. “To the northwe–“ A fourth brilliant flash illuminated the forest, this time purple light breaking through the darkness. “They’re being chased,” Cyrxx continued as she looked at Stoyan.
“What are you waiting for then?” urged the Paladin as he started off into the woods. “Isn’t that a good enough invitation for ya?”
They hadn’t gone more than fifty paces when another surge of energy rushed over them. A blue flash of light erupted to their right, more west, and closer to them than the blue light had been.
“Circling back! They’re circling back,” exclaimed Cyrxx. He paused for a bit and analyzed the apparent path. “Due west. We might be able to find them if we go west.”
Pushing through the darkened pine forest, the companions tread west, forgoing caution for timeliness. They heard some shouts to their left and Stoyan took the lead. Reaching a small clearing, Stoyan and the others happened upon four men, merchants by their clothes, standing around a tree, looking up to the branches, shouting obscenities at a male Gnome perched on a branch.
“What do we have here?” Stoyan stepped forward, sword still in hand.
The men turned, surprised by the voice behind them. The Gnome, too, peered away from the men to Stoyan, standing proud before them. “Help me! Help! They’re trying to kill me!”
Stoyan turned up and took in the sight of the Gnome. He was wearing patchy clothing, and his blond hair was matted to his head with sweat. The ends of his sleeves were singed and he was covered in mud.
One of the men stepped forward, motioning to two of the others. “Hail there, Paladin. What may we humble merchants do for one of the god’s chosen?” As he spoke, two of the men circled north, their eyes moving from Stoyan to Cyrxx and back.
“We saw some flashes of light not far from our camp and were investigating.” Stoyan eyed the two approaching men carefully, keeping himself between them and the others.
“Ah, yes,” replied the man, “we saw them too. Bit to the north of here they were. Now, don’t let us detract you from your investigation.” He gave a curt, low bow.
“No, don’t listen! They were trying to kidnap me! When they attacked, I threw those potions. Burned them good, too! I caused the flashes, me! You have to help me!”
Stoyan, looked at the man, who simply shook his head. “He speaks the truth; we are trying to capture him. But that is because this Gnome is a thief. We returned to our cart after hunting for some meat and found him rifling through our merchandise. We confronted him and he ran.”
“Lies!” screamed the Gnome.
Stoyan took stock of the situation as the two men inched closer. “What do you two think you’re doing?” he inquired.
The first man, obviously the one in charge, answered for them. “You find yourself in the presence of a Gnome, sir Paladin. We have little trust for Gnomes, given the circumstances. How do you know this one isn’t a thief as well?”
“I have known this one for a long time. I trust him and you would be wise to leave him alone. And for the one in the tree, let him be as well.”
The man shot a look full of malice at Stoyan before regaining his composure. “Are you sure you are from around here, Paladin? We see to it to bring justice to this Gnome, as the law of the land dictates we should. And it would be wise for you to be off on your way, chasing lights.”
“Then you should take him to Berathion for sentencing.” A smile crossed Stoyan’s face briefly. “Unless you do not honor the law of the land.”
“We honor it in our own way, Paladin!” Alaiya screamed suddenly as a fifth man grabbed her from the shadows. With that, the two men leapt forward, making a grab for Cyrxx, but Stoyan intervened. He swung wide, setting them back on their heels, as they regrouped and tried to make another move.
Cyrxx, meanwhile, unleashed a spell at the men by the tree, striking the quieter of the two. He groaned and slumped to the ground, much to the joy of the Gnome above. Behind him, Alaiya kicked and screamed, her words muffled by the hand over her mouth. Cyrxx smiled at the surprise in store for the man.
Stoyan slashed again at the two men as they circled around him. The tip of his blade caught the front one and he saw black leather armor beneath the merchant clothes. “Who are these guys?” he though as he parried another blow.
Alaiya was at Cyrxx’s side quick enough and he pointed to the man flanking Stoyan. “They seem susceptible to magick. Might be something that Gnome tossed on them. Shall we help the big guy out, Allie?”
She smiled at his pet name for her and sent forth a spell that struck the man in the back of the head. He is body contorted as he fell to the ground, the impact of the blast flinging him through the air like a rag doll. She yelped in surprise at the power of the spell.
“Yup, maybe a little too much.” Cyrxx chortled as Gregor sent a barrage of missiles at the last man beneath the tree, striking him all over his torso. The leader groaned and fell flat on his face, smoke smoldering up from the singed clothing. “Must be strong stuff in those potions. Gregor took nearly everything off that.”
Stoyan was still fending off the last man when a spell volleyed over him, striking his assailant squarely in the chest. As the last man fell, the Gnome in the tree climbed down, beaming. “Well done, well done. Thank you so much for helping me. The name’s Eli– “
The Gnome vanished into thin air, the darkness seeming to have plucked him away. The companions stood staring where the Gnome had been, when Alaiya sent out a small orb of energy. The orb dissipated into thin air and the darkness shimmered.
“Magick?” she said, more to herself than to anyone else. She sent another, stronger orb to the same area and the shimmer happened again. But this time the darkness peeled away long enough to reveal two Gnomes, the one from before and a woman. Alaiya sent a third orb, this one stronger than the last, and upon impact, the darkness shattered. The female had the male by the collar of his shirt and he had been gagged. As the darkness fell away his eyes grew wide and pleading as he squirmed.
Stoyan charged in, blade at the ready, and as he struck out at the woman, she, and her captive, vanished. “What the…?”
Alaiya concentrated, searching for the magick that concealed the female magick user. She turned to her left and fired another orb of energy. The darkness shimmered again and fell away as Cyrxx followed with a spell of his own. Red darts of energy struck the woman on the right side of her body and she grimaced in pain before vanishing.
“She’s trying to get away. Stoyan, behind you.”
Alaiya’s warning was too late as a blade manifested out of the darkness and found the shoulder of the Paladin. He dropped to his knee and spun, his blade slashing through the air, the blade catching the female across the thigh. She wailed in pain, and then vanished.
Stoyan stood, constantly moving in a circle, sword at the ready, but there was an eerie, prolonged wait. As he turned about, he saw something shimmer behind Alaiya, who was deep in focus. Before he could muster a warning, a blade struck out from the darkness and plunged deep into her robes. She fell to her knees as Stoyan ran forward, but he was too far. Another blade thrust out from nothingness cutting through cloth and flesh. Alaiya opened her mouth to scream, but no words came out. As she fell, a massive blast of magick erupted over the darkness, shattering the protective mist. Stoyan risked a glance to see an enraged Cyrxx, skull and all, seething, eyes crazed with power.
Stoyan did not waste the opportunity as his blade found its mark, piercing the chest of the female Gnome. As she hit the ground, the robe covering her left forearm was pulled back, revealing an all too familiar tattoo.
“Can you heal her?” Stoyan’s voice was wrought with worry as he gazed upon Alaiya’s prone body. “I should have fallen – it should have been me. Why did I let Alaiya get hurt? I need to protect them, to keep them all safe.” His hands moved nervously about his face as he watched the Gnome inspect Alaiya.
“She isn’t too bad off, not something I don’t have anything for.” The Gnome reached into one of his many pouches that adorned his tunic and pulled out a vial of milky liquid.
As the Gnome uncorked the vial, Stoyan’s fears took over. He knew nothing about this Gnome they had saved, and less about the vial. “What’s that?” he inquired, trying to mask the suspicion that coated his words.
The Gnome held up the vial in response. “This? Oh, it’s nothing more than sheep’s milk.”
Stoyan’s stomach turned at the thought. “And that’s supposed to help? Milk?”
The Gnome gave a little laugh. “Milk? You silly Human, the milk’s for me! This,” and the Gnome produced another vial, a deep crimson liquid that moved like syrup as he held it up, “is for her.” He threw back his head and chugged the cloudy liquid before wiping his face with his sleeve. Then he removed the stopper from the red vial and brought Alaiya’s head into his lap. Tilting her head back, he gently and delicately poured the red vial into her mouth, being sure to not spill a drop. “There, that should do it. She’ll be fine within an hour.” Then the Gnome crinkled his nose as a whiff of the red odor pierced his nostrils. “Whew that stuff’s strong.”
Stoyan, in an unsuccessful effort to lighten the mood with a bit of humor, responded with the only thing he could think of. “That’s what all the ladies say.”
The Gnome gave him a cautious and bewildered look as he reached out to scoop Alaiya into his arms.
“No, I can do that for you…” Stoyan took a step forward closing the distance between himself and Alaiya. The Gnome hastened her body over his shoulder.
“Nope. That’s, uh, quite alright. I can handle her. Just, you…just stay over there and leave her to me. You and your…muscles can stay way over there.”
Stoyan took a step back, startled at the brashness of the Gnome and the insinuations he put forth. Cyrxx followed, snickering at the large Paladin as he passed, and hurried to catch up to the Gnome.
“Name’s Cyrxx. Cyrxx Kwikk. And this here,” he offered, pointing to the floating, glowing skull over his shoulder, “is Gregor. He goes everywhere with me. Very smart, he is.”
The Gnome smiled and adjusted Alaiya on his shoulder. He was taller than Cyrxx, but not by much. “Pleasure is mine, Cyrxx Kwikk. You can call me Elias, as my parents did. Elias Burrow.”
The city of Berathion teemed with people. As the companions entered the eastern part of the city, they immediately felt more at peace than they had at any point in their journey south. Temples, synagogues, churches – every place of worship imaginable – lined the roads leading into the main part of the city. Clerics and scribes dressed in fine clothes roamed the streets speaking to any who would listen. Clusters of Paladins milled about their respective deity’s place of worship, conversing with folk or tending to assignments. Through the streets marched a small company of Paladins, men and women all of different gods, keeping a watchful eye on the ongoing activities. The group followed Stoyan through the city, but Alaiya grew uncomfortable as the eyes of its inhabitants following their every move.
“Stoyan, why is everyone looking at us?”
Alaiya’s voice was hushed, not wanting to be heard. The newness of Berathion tested her resolve and she was starting to get anxious.
Stoyan, as expected, was lost in his own thoughts as memories of his past flowed back to him. The first time he set foot within the walls – the training sessions with the Master Paladins, the journey of self-finding. It was only when Alaiya tugged at his arm did he snap free from his daydream.
“Stoyan, why is everyone looking at us. It’s…unsettling.”
Stoyan smiled as he put his arm reassuringly around the Sorceress. “Well, there’s a few reasons. First, we tend to not see many Gnomes in the city, seeing how far from Nosatral we are. Second, the presence of magick users is a rare sight. Gimlora, being the central hub of divinity, has never relied on magick like the other lands. With the absence of a Tower, mages are not a common sight. Lastly, to see a Paladin, such as myself, in the presence of mages is bound to raise a few eyebrows.”
The response did little to waylay Alaiya’s fears, but Cyrxx and Elias seemed to understand. They continued to followed Stoyan through side streets and alleys until they came to an inn called the ‘Prancing Stallion’. “Here we are. This is a reputable place. Clean sheets, clean food, clean wo-,” he stopped himself and blushed slightly. Collecting himself with a small cough, he continued. “Should be manageable for you, also, at two silvers a night for a room.”
“And where would you be staying, if not with us?” asked Elias. There was a curious twinkle in the Gnome’s eyes that Stoyan found amusing.
“Barracks. Don’t want to spend money if I don’t have to. Can’t get you all in, else I would. And I thank you for your help, Artificer. It is nice to see good people in the land. If you choose to stay, there should also be some room for your cart out back if you prefer your own comforts over that of the inn.”
Elias nodded in understanding as Stoyan turned back to Cyrxx and Alaiya. “I’ll meet you back here in half an hour. We’ll head to the temple of Pelor and see if we can track down Durian. Use the time to wash up and relax.” With a hurried bow, he turned and left down the street.
“Well, no point in standing around outside,” chimed Elias, as he and the others walked inside.
The square was surrounded on all sides by temples dedicated to various gods. People bustled about running errands and preaching about the benefits of following their god or goddess. As the foursome made their way toward the temple of Pelor they noticed a cluster of people gathering nearby. They seemed to be drawn to a middle-aged man in the thoroughfare, speaking with great clarity and insightfulness. His words were not condescending, but rather enlightening and encouraging.
“…and the gods speak to us each in their own way. If you find comfort in Sehanine or Avandra or Erathus, so be it. My heart belongs to Pelor, and his Light shines on in me. But it is not my place to speak on the other gods. They design their own plans for those who chose to follow them. It is my wish, however, that we all can share a common purpose, as mortals, to better our world. Let not the choice of our god or goddess divide us, but let them give us strength to unite.” He paused as some murmurs and cheers broke in the crowd before returning a humble smile. “May the Light, bless you.”
As the crowd began to break, Stoyan noticed the man wore robes of white, covered by a red garb. He carried a wooden walking stick with a simple brass head and his garments were surprisingly average. Aside from a ring on his right index finger, he looked like nothing more than a common man. Then, Stoyan saw the small fastening above his left breast – a symbol of a golden sun, denoting his association with the temple of Pelor.
“What luck!” Stoyan exclaimed. “That’s Orcen Valingard. He’s is the assistant to Durian, the High Priest of Pelor.”
As Orcen wrapped up speaking to a few individuals, he turned his back to the square and headed into the temple of Pelor. The group followed up the steps and through the large temple doors. Inside, the building rose to greet the heavens, coming to an apex in a massive glass structure atop the building. Light reflected off hundreds of mirrors at the top, shedding light into every imaginable spot in the temple. The entrance way was open, with clergy scurrying about, darting between doorways and columns, some with their faces buried in scrolls and books, while others carried on intimate conversations with others. Massive statues were carved into the columns – Paladins and clergy both – supporting one another to seemingly hold up the weight of the light above. The group they spied Orcen speaking with several Clerics of Pelor and quietly and respectfully waiting for a moment. When the last of the Clerics had left, Orcen turned to the group and bowed.
“It is not often that we have the honor of a Paladin of Tempus through these doors.” The words caught Stoyan slightly off-guard, but Orcen quickly diffused the situation. “You and your friends are welcome to visit.” Orcen bowed deeply, almost reverently, to Stoyan, who returned the bow.
“Thank you, sir.” Stoyan took some time struggling over the awkwardness of his next request. “This will sound rather odd, to be here, asking you this, given who…” Stoyan realized he was rambling on and quickly got back on subject. “…it is not for ourselves that we ask…”
Orcen smiled softly and prompted Stoyan along. “What is it that we of Pelor may do for you, Paladin of Tempus?”
Stoyan took a small, hesitant step forward, hoping to convey the seriousness of the situation. “In Fareen, my friends and I were attacked. The attacker used a poison during the fight, and it was only through the diligence of the city guard and Cleric Beatrice that we were saved.”
Orcen’s face beamed at the mention of one of his former Clerics. “That is reassuring to hear. I am pleased to hear that Beatrice is well and putting her gifts to use. I was always worried that her desire to mother children would win out over her desire to help those in need. Perhaps she can and will do both.” The man, catching himself reminiscing about his former student, quickly bowed. “I am sorry for my lapse into old memories. But, if you’ll pardon my obviousness, you seem well healed. What has brought you to Berathion then, Paladin?”
A lump rose in Stoyan’s throat, predeceasing the painful words he was about to utter. “One of our friends, a Cleric of Sehanine, Veth Grassier, who had raised me from when I was a young boy, well, he has not recovered. It seems there was a second poison that he had been infected with, and it was being masked by the first. The healers, they did not have the capabilities or the resources in Fareen to cure this other poison.
“I am sorry to hear of your circumstance, Paladin, and I sincerely apologize for their shortcomings,” offered Orcen, giving another short bow.
Stoyan quickly intervened. “No, there is nothing at all to apologize for.” Stoyan knew that if it had not been for Beatrice it was likely that none of them would have survived. “While we were recovering from the poison Veth woke briefly. He was fighting delirium according to Beatrice and sought to write a note. Given paper and ink, he managed two words before he passed out.” Stoyan handed over the crumpled paper he had been given. “The name of Pelor’s High Priest and this land.”
Orcen looked over the paper and nodded, his right hand slowly rising to his chin and tapping it as he thought. After a moment, he addressed the group. “Yes, I believe I understand what you are asking. Of course, Durian can be difficult. In fact,” Orcen stopped, blushing slightly as he swallowed his words. “Well, perhaps it is best if I do not continue.”
“I understand,” was Stoyan’s reply as a small smirk touched the corner of his lips. He knew the High Priest, Durian Feivord, was well know throughout Gimlora for his ‘forceful’ manner and diligence to the Light of Pelor and his teachings. He had been High Priest for forty years, governing the masses through both the Calm and the Reckoning. He had survived the trials brought upon the land of Gimlora by both the Blood King, Brienalas, and the Horde. He was also a man who had grown accustomed to never being told, “No”.
Orcen thought a moment more, obviously weighing options. Before long, though, he shrugged his shoulders and handed back Veth’s note. “Well, there must be something I can free up in his schedule. Let me see what I can do. Meanwhile, if you could just wait a moment longer, I’ll be back briefly.” With another bow, Orcen quickly left between one of the many sets of pillars and disappeared into the temple.
Not much time had passed before he had returned with a smile on his face, obviously pleased with himself. “The High Priest can see you now.” Orcen lead the companions through the temple and to a large office.
As the companions stepped into the office behind Orcen, they were struck by the magnificence of the interior. A large tapestry, white with streaks of red cloth embroidered throughout, hung from the opposing wall. A large, golden sun, the revered symbol of Pelor, adorned the middle of the tapestry and shone as if polished metal. Beneath this sat a large desk, made of sturdy oak, varnished into a rich dark brown. Engraved upon each of the corner pieces was a miniature sun, painted gold and shining against the deep hue of the wood. Behind the desk sat an old man, huddled over countless papers.
Orcen gave a small cough and the elderly man glanced up, obviously perturbed. “May I present –,” and Orcen paused slightly before whispering to Stoyan, “I’m terribly sorry, but I never caught your names.”
Stoyan relayed their names as Orcen announced them all individually, each companion bowing in turn before the High Priest. After the formalities, Orcen left the group to take his place to Durian’s right.
“Well, what is it?” was the impatient question that followed from the old man’s lips.
Stoyan stepped forward, bowing as low as he could without falling on his face. “High Priest, no amount of thanks can thank you enough for seeing us.” Stoyan thought he heard a small scoff but paid it no heed as he retold the High Priest the story he had relayed to Orcen earlier. He embellished the work of Beatrice and their condition, knowing he had to earn the favor of the High Priest if he was to gain his assistance.
When Stoyan had finished, the High Priest leaned forward, his chin resting on his cupped hands. “So, you say this friend of yours, this ‘father figure’, this Cleric of Sehanine, is unwell, and you thought to seek out the glory of Pelor, to come here, for help?”
Stoyan bit his tongue. He knew he would have to play to the ego of the High Priest, but he was unaware that he would have to best the man’s own compliments. Taking a deep breath, he answered, “Yes, High Priest. Our friend mentioned your name specifically, and so we thought that you would be able to help.”
“Oh, really? And tell me, Stoyan, Paladin of Tempus,” and the words seethed out between the High Priest’s teeth, “why we, of Pelor’s Light, should choose to help someone who has chosen a lesser god? And a Paladin of Tempus makes such a request?” The mocking tone was not lost on Stoyan or the others.
Stoyan fought back every urge to lash out and defend his god, resolving to suffer the mockery of this man to no end for the sake of Veth. “As Pelor is the god of healing, we came here in the purest of interest to save our friend. Pelor helps all those in need, and Veth needs your help.”
Durian slammed down his fists on his desk and rose to his full height. Even though age had taken old of his spine, he still stood taller than Stoyan and emanated an aura of power. “How dare you preach to me about what Pelor chooses to do or not. This is my church and I am His chosen. Do not wallow away to me the doctrine which I uphold every day I breathe!” His anger showed as his tone sharpened. He grabbed a staff behind his chair which immediately began to radiate a fiery white light and began moving around his desk.
Stoyan began fumbling for words, knowing he needed to choose them carefully. “I do not mean to do such a thing, High Priest. I only mean to ask for help for a man who has raised me when I was a young boy. The healers in Fareen, they did not have the ability or resources to help and encouraged us to –.”
There was an otherworldly anger in the eyes of Durian as he strode forward. “You mean to tell me, to my face, that my healers, my Clerics, who worship and praise the name of Pelor, are incompetent? Do you say, Paladin of Tempus, that the children of Pelor are not skilled enough to help your poor ‘father’?” He stood directly in front of Stoyan now, his face mere inches from the Paladin’s. “Do you mean to inform me, to tell me, that my Clerics, those who follow the Light, the chosen of Pelor, the god of healing, are not good enough to heal a poor, pathetic Cleric of Sehanine?” He leaned in closer, his eyes burrowing deep into Stoyan’s, the utter displeasure of what was being said radiating off him like heat from a stone. Stoyan was forced to lean back, the infuriation so clearly written for him to see.
“No, that is not what I meant, High Priest. I don’t –.”
“Don’t what?” scolded Durian, cutting him off before he could continue. “Don’t think you and your god, Tempus,” he said with a spat, “are worthy of standing here, in my halls, in the Light of my great temple, asking for my help?”
Suddenly the High Priest was pulled back slightly to his left. Everyone stared at Alaiya as she stood, face scrunched in a knot, her small hands wrapped around Durian’s forearm.
“How dare you touch me! Do you think you are my equal?” raged the High Priest, venom coating every word uttered from his lips as he spun on Alaiya. Lowering himself to her level, his eyes burned into hers. She held, defiant and nervous. “Do you think you are better than me, the chosen representative of Pelor on this plane? Filth like you is not worthy to –.”
The sound of the inside of Alaiya’s palm slapping the side of the High Priest’s face echoed for eternity. In the moment that followed, nothing stirred. Time, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. Then Durian took a small step back and lifted himself back up with the aid of his staff, his face twisting in both anger and disbelief. “OUT!” he ordered, his voice deafening. “Get them out of here, now! I never want to see them pollute the house of Pelor again!” He swung around, his robes bustling in the fury of his demeanor, fury written into the lines of his face as clear as day.
Orcen hurried from behind the desk to the others. “Please, follow me,” he whispered as he passed and opened the door, ushering the group out. As they exited, Stoyan looked over his shoulder and saw the High Priest standing as still as a statue, his back to the door. The light on his staff glowed with such godly brilliance that Stoyan had to immediately turn away. “There goes our one hope,” he said quietly to himself, a mixture of anger and disappointment. With a slump of his shoulders, he followed the others out of the room.
Orcen did not lead them directly outside but instead to a side chamber. He shut the door as Elias and Cyrxx came through, who were busily recounting the encounter, hands quickly gesturing. As the door closed, he faced the group, his eyes settling on each person, though lingering particularly long on Alaiya. His face was stoic, his expression serious. Then, a small smirk followed a slight chuckle as his face belied the humor of the situation. “Oh, how long I have wished for someone, anyone, to do that. Thank you, Miss Kavii, for allowing me the pleasure of witnessing that,” he said with a small bow. “It is not something that I will soon forget.”
Alaiya managed a small nod before ducking her head into her chest, a light blush spreading over her cheeks at the praise.
“However,” began Stoyan, and he gave Alaiya a hard, unsavory stare of his own, “there is no way Durian, or any of the healers of Pelor, will ever help us now.” He turned fully on Alaiya now, his comments meant directed at her though spoken to Orcen. “And that was why we were here, wasn’t it? To discover a way to help Veth? Even if it meant dealing with the High Priest.”
Alaiya gave no response, only burrowing her head deeper into her chest.
“Well, the High Priest certainly won’t help now,” interjected Orcen, “but perhaps there is something I can do. I know of a man who may be able to aid you yet.” This caught Stoyan’s attention and gave Alaiya a slight reprieve. “Where are you staying tonight?”
“The Dancing Stallion,” replied Stoyan.
“Perhaps it is best if I arrange for you to meet there. This is not a man who enjoys dealing with the gods.”
“Smart man, smart man,” chimed Cyrxx, happy to hear someone else shared his view. “Never know what those gods will bring about.”
Orcen gave him a glance, but kept whatever thoughts he had to himself. “I will arrange to have him meet you by the inn in the morning.” Turning back to Stoyan, “I am sorry, but that is all I am able to do.”
“No, please, you have done us no disservice. I…We are eternally grateful. You have given us a chance to help our fath-…our friend, and your continued assistance is unexpected, but very welcome. And I am sorry for any trouble that we may have caused for you between yourself and the High Priest.” Stoyan bowed solemnly to Orcen and held it there as a sign of great admiration and respect.
“Really, it was no trouble,” said Orcen, deflecting the praise. “Now, I think it is time I followed up on the High Priest’s request. If you will please follow me.” Orcen lead the group back outside the temple, apologized once more, and returned to his duties inside.
“Well, that was quite an adventure!” Elias had a big grin on his face as they began walking back to the inn. “I think I shall quite enjoy your company.”