And that is how I met the Bishop Edmund Cirila, Warden of the Northern Kingdoms, Hand of the One True God, Voice of the High Church in the Far Spire Protectorate.
Captain Kershaw stood when he entered, turning to face the man, her arms crossed upon her chest and listened to him rave about outrage and impudence until he drew his first breath. That took a very long time. She tried to jump in at that point, but he cut her off, continuing his tirade, shifting to respect and vengeance. Honestly it was like listening to a very drunk temple guard discussing politics with one of the temple virgins back home. But eventually, by some cosmic force, he paused, breathing like a bellows, his face puce and his brow furrowed. I think he had run out of words to use that did not involve swearing so he was trying to reload.
Now Captain Kershaw was a woman with less limitations to her vocabulary, and no compunction about sharing her expansive knowledge of various languages. As she returned a volley to the good bishop, I recognized some of the words she used as variants on the ones I had picked up from the three talking heads; two in the original Abyssal. Bishop Cirila had heard them as well and his face grew even more livid, if you can imagine. I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel.
By the end of her retort she had lowered her tone so that the people in the village would have to strain to hear her from inside the keep. At a more civilized volume she suggested that he could politely state his business or vacate the premises post haste. Preferably the latter. The or else was heavy handed enough that even the dear self-righteous bishop could not misunderstand the gist of her words.
And for the better part of a minute they glared at one another, calming in stages until with a slow shuddering breath, Bishop Cirila mastered his emotions and folded his hands in front of him, nodding to Captain Kershaw.
“I beg your pardon,” he began again, deliberately avoiding looking in my direction. “I have lost loyal men in the last day, and as you can imagine, I am quite upset.”
Kershaw didn’t mention that Commander Aston had most likely collapsed with a ruptured heart , a stroke, or any of a dozen ailments that boiled down to him dying of shock. I remained baffled as to what had happened, honestly, and why it seemed to have something to do with me.
And as soon as that thought entered my head, Cirila snapped his head around and glared at me. Could he read my very thoughts?
“That abomination cannot be allowed to exist,” he said through gritted teeth. “I have heard the report of what happened to my men, and interviewed several of my most trust-worthy personally.” He shuddered and raised his hand, crooking a bony finger at me. “This spawn of the nine hells mocks our very order. By assuming the visage of our greatest prophet, he ridicules the true faith.”
“This boy looks like your prophet?” Kershaw asked, caught off guard by the comment. Instead of outrage, suddenly the room was filled with confusion and wonder. She swiveled her head to look at me for a moment then back to face the Bishop. “I knew this boy as a babe in arms,” she said, shrugging. “While he has certainly grown since then, I can assure you he’s always had that chin, that nose, and those piercing eyes.”
“Doppleganger,” Cirila spat. “Demon most foul.” He shuddered again, attempting to keep his tone civil, though his words played around the room like a burning ember, scorching anyone who heard them. I felt for a moment that I was being physically attacked. That’s when I noticed his eyes. There was a fire there that went beyond madness. He himself was possessed of a rage so intense he must surely be consumed by it. “He is here to destroy us all,” Cirila spat, his voice rising again. “He will bring down the One True God and put upon his throne the corpses of a long dead pantheon.”
I thought I should say something at this point, I mean, sure, let the grown-ups have their vitriol and shameful behavior, but this was getting personal. I stood and the good bishop twitched, his fingers moving in a warding gesture and a slash of light spread across the room, drawing a line between him and me. Funny thing was, I recognized the spell. He had put up a barrier against evil, a protection to keep his soul from being tainted or consumed. If only that had not proven far too late.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed. The man was actually scared of me, and I had excellent reason to believe that he was drawing his power from a tainted source. It is possible, I learned in that moment, for a cleric of one order to understand the power of another. This bishop, sanctimonious and shrill, harnessed an ancient authority, one that predated the nine and sixty kingdoms. And I knew the name of this most ancient power and it filled me with dread.
For you see, there were three secrets buried within me by the elvish sorceress I had freed from the brain abomination. Three bits of knowledge that I could not access until the time was right. The first had dealt with the true name of the patron of Wizard Tim, the psi-flayer Illitharad. Now, this second nugget blossomed in my mind, whispering a more ancient name, one I am loathe to write down at this time. I will just note that I have met this ancient of ancients briefly at the battle with the demons I wrote of before. This so-called bishop Cirila was a holy man of an ancient order. One which overthrew the entire pantheon of gods worshipped across the nine and sixty kingdoms. This cowardly bully boy drew his strength from the Man in White.
The revelation must have caused me to blanch, because Cirila shouted in glee. “See, he shrinks back from power of the One True God.”
He was half right, of course.
If only I could reach the power of Kithri I would have ended this man where he stood.
“And you take the visage of the great prophet Merric, the first of our order?” he asked, finding renewed energy when I further recoiled at his words. “You may have tricked the weaker men in my command,” he raved, “but you are nothing compared to the true Merric. You are a charlatan possessed of a greater evil. One that must be purged from the face of the world.”
And as I watched, stunned by the series of revelations and the sound of puzzle pieces falling into place, he drew back and called down a column of fire.