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Archive for the ‘Dear Father Mulcahy’ Category

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Six

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need. Problem usually lies with the fact you don’t know you need what you’ve been gifted. It’s a universal problem I’m sure you are familiar with. Like when Brother Durham wouldn’t let me go into the village that time because he’s a jerk, and Sister Edna instead decided to teach me the Seventh Way. That ended up better than going into town with the other acolytes. Especially when young Borden was beaten by the angry villagers. I still don’t have any idea what their beef was with him. Not like he was snatching kids to be sacrificed or anything. Right?

But I digress. We made our way across the valley the next morning displaying enough force that the two small patrols of orcs we saw ran the other direction. We were making good time. Alfred was carrying his sword on his hip, and the chest of thread in his arms. Everyone was weighed down with weapons, packs and bedrolls. Jasper carried the small treasure chest that Thomas would have carried, eschewing any help from myself or Alfred. And Alfred could’ve carried it with one hand.

The day was bright and sunny, which meant the temperature plummeted since there was no cloud cover to keep in what little heat the sun was generating. The orcs were already struggling with the bright light, and the cold wasn’t helping. Our little band managed fairly well, but I could tell after an hour that there was too much orc activity for us to head to the woods yet. I had a quick chat with Just Jacob and he angled the troop northward a quarter turn to head toward the dragon’s shelter instead. I was surprised that she hadn’t made a show during the battle, but maybe licking her wounds (and her pride) was all she could muster with such large forces in play. I just know I wanted to get someplace out of the open, with strong wall to my back and a defensible position over all.

The closer we got to the actual lair, the worse the land became. Granted it was all frozen over, but there were slag pits, trenches filled with bubbling acid and signs of local monstrosities such as those horrifying acid spitting jumping spiders. They have taken my top spot in the the world is a atrocious place category, edging out the leeches by a wide margin.

Turns out the dragon, Cassandra did not live in a cave as I had imagined. Instead she lived in the ruins surrounding the tower where we’d seen Bob. The canyon opened during the great cataclysm eons ago, and the great city that had once filled this land, was sundered. The spires that had reached far into the sky had toppled, or been buried as the canyon opened. Most of the lair was a warren of ruins deep in the ground, with a few openings in the canyon and only one on the top of the eastern most cliff. To get to Bob we would have to cut through the dragon’s domain proper, and it was fraught with all sorts of traps and nests of nasty things that cohabitated with the dragon.

The brigands had never actually been inside the ruins, and I can’t say that I blamed them. Cassandra would meet them in a common square a little way into the valley where she had ample space for her great wings, and she could keep an eye on the area around her.

There was a bell that could be rung when one of her many servants needed her attention, but again, none of them wanted to go anywhere near there. In the end, we came to a crossroads and had to make a decision. To get to Bob, I would need to go through the ruins. I could try it on my own without the blessing of Cassandra which may be a better situation, unless she caught me. On the other hand she was sorely wounded and likely was not in the mood for any company. I may be able to trip along without her caring I existed. Especially since once I got to Bob I couldn’t leave with him without going back through the buried ruined city once more.

No matter which I chose, the brigands were turning south at that point and heading to the glade. They were close enough to the dragon’s immediate environs that the orcs would leave them alone. Alfred wanted to accompany me, but Just Jacob said the places he could fit were directly accessible to the dragon. If he went, the odds of me slipping through unnoticed was a resounding zero.

If only I could fly. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing. Then I could just sail upward and land on the tower’s peak, grab dear Bob and fly back home. Fanciful dream, I know.

I made up my mind over a last meal with the brigands. They would go south without me, and Alfred would go with me. We would ring Cassandra’s doorbell and parley with her. Alfred was good at that, and I had spoken to her previously. Hopefully between the two we could have a civil conversation without resorting to fisticuffs.

We waited until the brigands were an hour away, giving them ample room before the dragon showed up, in case she was cranky, then we made our way to her front porch. It had been a courtyard for a grand palace once, the cobblestones in near perfect condition. The palace this courtyard once fronted had fallen to only the barest of ruins, those portions that were above ground. A goodly portion remained intact buried deep within the canyon’s walls. It is here we found a wooden post with a bell no larger than my two fists together. It could not make a very loud sound, but then, how often did Cassandra, a vile black dragon with hate in her heart, really get civilized visitors?

Only one way to find out. Alfred stood back, the chest of thread on the ground at his feet, and his weapon sheathed. I walked across the cobbles and rang the bell, three clear strokes.

I expected to see Cassandra come stalking out of the gigantic half palace before me, her great black form a shadow among the ruins. I expected to see her rise before me, her wings a backdrop to the horrible splendor of the dragon I had once met. That is what we ultimately wanted here. What we got, however, was beyond even my weirdest expectations.

 

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Turns out, despite their overall tendency to evil and their brutish attitudes, ice giants love, love, love to do needlepoint. I kid you not. I sure didn’t believe Alfred when he told me, but I had seen the shirt he wore under his leather armor when I healed him. It was definitely a thing of beauty and something that he counted dear. It was one of the last pieces his father had done before Baithor sent him out to die. Not surprising, it was Alfred’s most prize possession, even more so than his sword. He’d lost his shield and wanted to go back to the battle field where he’d lost it when we crossed the valley once more. I told him I’d accompany him if he liked, and he just nodded. I don’t think the hulking man knew how to deal with kindness. Definite trust issues there.

The treasure chest that contained all the spools of thread was to be a wedding dowry from Baithor to the Jarl of Great Stone Fist holding — the bride price for his daughter Glenda. The colors were extremely rare and the gathering of them had taken Baithor the cost of a dozen raiding seasons and the lives of more warriors than Alfred could guess to. One trip alone went into the southlands to bring back a shade of red that no one in his lands had seen before, or likely ever again. The insect the natives of the southlands used to create that particular dye were only prevalent one year out of seven. Alfred knows that much of the clan’s true wealth in looted gems and weapons had gone on that journey. Watching seven great ships leave port fully laden only to have them return with nothing more than a box a child could carry filled with this new and exotic dye.

It seemed so farfetched to me, but who was I to call him a liar? The world is full of strange lands, exotic creatures and headstrong fools who would sacrifice even the long term well-being of their people for short term gratification.   Apparently Glenda was homely and small, but well connected and an alliance by marriage would’ve sealed Baithor’s rise in power to the third most powerful ruler of their people. Alfred giving away the thread had been the final straw for his people who had sacrificed so much over the years for Baithor’s greed.

With Baithor dead and the thread gone, those who survived would limp home with nothing to show for this little diversion. Internal warring among the strong would cause the holding to slide further down the pecking order, further bankrupting those who remain at Icewrack. If not for the proximity to ample raiding prospects, it would collapse. But he had confidence that his friend, Gunderson would rise among those who would claim the holdfast, but the purging would be bloody and the rise a long one, with no guarantee that they would ever return to the glory of Alfred’s grandsire’s time.

By choice, and by his actions, Alfred was now an outcast from his people. He had no real hope of returning to anything but humiliation, squander and likely a dishonorable death.

This thing about honor keeps coming up with the warrior races I’ve encountered. Is it not honorable to be true to one’s word? Is it not honorable to defend the weak and use your strength for the greater good? These cultures where “might makes right” rise and fall in great bloody catastrophes. I have read about them in the histories, heard the stories, and so far, met those who follow those precepts blithely. To be fair, I have found examples in those cultures (well, the hobs and goblins) that prove that they are not all cut from the same cloth. How much of our true understanding and historical treatise on other cultures are more based on prejudice and fear? Alfred seems like a good man, even if he is three times my height. He’s not going to be one for sneaking around, but he’s handy in a fight.

Speaking of fight, if we wanted to avoid one, we had to cross that valley once more before the orcs started to return. Of course, there was always the hope that they would all be killed pursuing the giants, but I’m not that naïve. We all agreed to pack up our possessions, take the meat that was now frozen, and make our way back down into the valley before camping for the night. It put us at a slight risk of roving orc bands but would get us across the valley that much sooner once we set of at sunrise.

The journey back down the mountain was eventful only in the fact that one of the brigands fell on the ice and would’ve bounced the short way down the cliff if Alfred had not made a great leaping catch. Oh, young Jasper was only bruised, as was Alfred, but the sudden stop, or the bouncing on the way to the bottom, would’ve turned Jasper to jelly. It was quite a spectacular sight. After that, the brigands began to warm up to Alfred. It’s so much nicer when your travelling companions get along, let me tell you.

Which begs the question, Father Mulcahy. Have you done much travel? Or were you born in the monastery. I know it’s a silly question, but not one I’ve ever asked of you. I don’t want to think I’ve been telling you things you learned long ago in your youth. Oh, I know my explaining my worldly observations shows you the extent of my growth and my own methodology for viewing the world. I realize that insight alone will allow you to discern the state of my mind.

Besides, I was anxious to get to Bob. I know I’ve been distracted by the giants, orcs and even the brigands, but I know my true mission.

And lo and behold, after the sun had set and the cook fire burned low, Alfred and I were on watch. The brigands slept the contented sleep of well-fed, secure individuals. I wasn’t truly sure I’d ever sleep soundly again. Regardless, after the moon was high in the sky, and we were thinking about the next shift waking up, Bob began to sing. At this distance, he was as clear as if he sat next to me. His voice filled me with joy. But Alfred, being who he was, I thought he would cringe at the song, the way I’d seen so many others do. To my surprise, he stood, angling his head toward the tower above and sang along, his booming baritone a solid undertone to Bob’s tenor. I believe Bob must’ve heard Alfred for he faltered for a breath, then picked up again, the two of them in harmony. It brought tears to my eyes. You should’ve heard it, Father. Tears of joy are rare in these days, but there they were. I am blessed to have experienced that one time event. Because, the world sucks in some amazing ways and we don’t always get what we want.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

For orcs, this crew had an amazing amount of gold and silver. Alfred laughed and laughed when Scarlet showed him a handful. It was from the giant’s stash, the one they had given us as part of the parley. Just Jacob checked around and each of the brigands had looted similar money, so much so, that they couldn’t realistically carry it all. In the end we agreed to keep ten gold coins each, and bury the rest under one of the more distinct trees in the glade. If it was there when they returned, it would be wonderful, but they could not risk being so heavily weighed down. The iron, boot shods, shield rims, swords, and armor would all be removed from the glade as to not offend the dryad who protected it. That would wait for another day, however. Today they wanted to return to the camp at the top of the cliff, gather their personal possessions and contemplate the next move.

We made it back to the switchback trail and wended our way upward. The broken chest was where we expected it to be, with wooden slats scattered about. I could’ve repaired the chest with my mending powers if the orcs hadn’t smashed it to bits. I guess they were looking for hidden compartments or something.

I had to check with Alfred at that point, and no, there were no hidden compartments. That would have been a waste if we lost something really cool. What was surprising was that by the time we got to the top of the trail, the camp topside had not been touched. Apparently the orcs were not sure if the place was defended or not. At least that was Just Jacob’s supposition. The other chest remained hidden behind some stones and the bedrolls and such were as we left them.

They got the fire going again and set a watch rotation, debating on their next move. It would be nightfall before they could get back to the glade and no one wanted to travel the battlefield at night. Knowing our luck, it would be filled with skeletal and zombified orcs.

One surprise for me was the white dragon cloak that had been part of the reparations for Baithor’s inelegant end to our parley. It was folded neatly and tucked under my bedroll. I did not recall doing it, but when I looked around I could’ve swore Scarlet was hiding a smile.

I stood and unfurled the cloak. It was huge, made for a giant who topped even Alfred by a head. It would more likely make a tent than a cloak for me, but it was soft and supple. Alfred told me it would keep me warm on even the coldest nights and hide me from all but the most observant eyes when I was moving in snow and ice. If I held still, only magic could discern my position in the same environs. Of course, in a place normally devoid of the purity of snow, it would more likely cause me to stand out. Regardless, it was a treasure that I was very thankful to have. Even if I could make half a dozen cloaks out of it.

“This is from one dragon?” I asked Alfred once I had it folded small enough to lay over my legs when I sat away from the fire. He was not comfortable sitting to close, preferring the cold. It was definitely magical since it took nearly no space and kept me toasty warm, despite the frigid temperatures. Quite handy that.

“One dragon, aye,” he assured me. “An ancient and revered wyrm my people named Inamorata for she was the spirit of the ice, and ice is what we love above all things. She embodied the heart of it to our people.” There was bitterness in his voice, and a hint of shame. “Baithor slew her, or so he claims, during an expedition when he was young. He left the holdfast with twenty of the my grandsire’s best warriors and returned alone with her hide. Her treasure was never recovered, nor were the bodies of the other warriors. That deed earned Baithor irrefutable rule of the holdings at Icewrack. My father died shortly thereafter, but Baithor kept me as his own, having no children of his own.”

He was not happy about his relationship to this Baithor cretin and yet, no happier that he was dead.

“Who will rule Icewrack after his death?” I asked when he grew silent.

“Not I,” he said, holding his head up. “It took four of the strongest warriors to subdue me and shear my beard,” he ran a hand over the stubble on his chin. “If I was deemed a youth still, I could not claim the holdfast and it would fall to the high king to appoint a new Jarl.” He grew silent again, but I let him stew. “Madoc was chief among those who sheared my beard, and it was he who I loved most among my people.” His face was hard but his eyes were clear. “He is right, I know now that I have seen the far country. But it does not make the taste of it any sweeter.”

“What is this far country?” I asked, not wanting to assume too much on his mythology and beliefs.

“The place beyond,” he began, puzzled. “The strongest warriors, those of keenest minds and stoutest heart go to the far country to battle amongst the heroes of all time. It is a great honor to be chosen by the winged maidens. It is a great and terrible honor,” he trailed off. “You called me back from that place, friend. You allowed me to see the visceral reality of death and brought me a second chance to live this life. I want to thank you for that gift.”

This time there were tears in his eyes, and he did not dash them away as many of us would. Tears were not things of shame in his culture, he later explained. A man must experience all emotions to rule others, for how would he understand the plight of his people, their joys and their suffering if he did not also experience those things.

He is quite insightful, this hulking brute of a man. Like Just Jacob and myself, Alfred was barely a man in the eyes of his people. And now, he chose to stay, to delay the orcs so he people could make their way home. This was the honor his truest friends gave to him to spare him the humiliation he would face otherwise.

So many lead ugly, harsh lives. Codes and rituals can cut as well as guide. something for me to remember. But that cloak was very, very warm.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

We later learned that one hundred and seventy three orcs fell in the battle of the dryad grove. Clarisse counted, which was cool of her. But I get ahead of myself.

I bowled through the orcs at giant boy’s left flank and was able to connect with him, which he acknowledged with a nod and a very thankful look. Of course, the rest of the orcs began to surround us. There were so many in the glade by that point, they had to take turns to attack us. Oh, sure, there were a few thrown spears, but I managed to deflect them with my shield. Big Boy was not so lucky and took one in his off arm. I was so not going to heal him again if he couldn’t do better than that.

“So we die together,” he said at last, his first words to me since the parley.

I didn’t look his way, but killed an orc instead. “Sorry if I was a jerk during that,” I said before swinging my shield in a flat arc, bashing into two different orcs, giving myself a few second reprieve as the next group of idiots were deciding whose turn it was to advance on us. “I was poisoned at the time.”

He only grunted, smashing three orcs with his sword, heads and limbs flying in a spray of blood and tissue. Battle is not pretty and when you get that kind of stuff in your hair, it’s a real mess to get out. I won’t relive the smell here, nor the overwhelming din of dying orcs. Let’s just say it’s terrifying in its cacophony.

I had a moment to glance up and see that more orcs were joining those around us, and some of them had bows. Things were looking bad for us.

“Why are there so many attacking us?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

“We have fled the field,” the giant shouted, swinging like a wild thing. “I am the last.”

That was not exactly the type of news I wanted to hear. But face it, it’s not like I was surprised. This is how things went around me. I never ask what’s the worst that can happen because the world always tries to one-up itself.

“Not good,” I shouted in an attempt to be heard over the din.

“It’s a good day to die,” he returned.

I blocked an orc stroke, and turned to wack him on the elbow (off hand). “No dying,” I shouted. “I worked too hard to keep you alive.”

He looked at me, shocked for a moment, but my tap had barely gotten his attention. He was one tough cookie. His look of bewilderment fell away to mirth and he began laughing, great tree-shaking guffaws that brought accumulated snow from the trees and sent the orcs skittering back a few steps.

“I like you,” he roared and ran into the midst of the orcs. Those near me looked on in shock for a moment. I killed three of them, which settled the game. They turned to me with blades raised, and uvulas flailing.

I cricked my neck to the left, relieving the stress of holding up that shield, and waved the nearest orcs to me with my shield. Maybe it was a good day to die after all.

Which, if I had done, you would not be reading this journal, so there you have it.

I killed two more and took a couple of painful blows on my legs just below my shield range when the two orcs to my exposed right fell back, clutching crossbow bolts in their throats. I want to say they were more shocked than I was, with the wood and steel shoved through their tender parts, but I bet it was a close contest. Just Jacob and the other brigands came screaming into the battle and the tide was turned.

Afterward, when I had depleted my ability to heal anyone, we looted the orcs for anything and everything we could carry and made our way back to the far side of the valley. The orcs had been mostly defeated, with the Gouged Eye clan retreating before the battle was finished. Just Jacob speculated they were just as happy to see a much reduced Blood Stump tribe in the region and went home to reposition themselves in the swampland to the north.

The main body of the Bloody Stump’s pursued the giants southward into the acid bogs and fens which was just fine with all of us. If they returned, and if the gods were as fickle as I anticipated, they would. If they returned, we’d deal with them at that time. As it was, the brigands wanted to recover whatever they could from their previous camp, if anything remained, and move shop to the east side of the valley, between the protection of the wooded glade and the caves the dragon preferred.

No one questioned the giant being with me. Turns out his name is Alfred and he was the first nephew of Baithor the drowned. Alfred did not make any move to return to his people, and we did not push. The brigands were used to secret histories and privacy. People shared their stories when they worked up enough courage. Besides, now that I had a moment to collect my thoughts and really study young Alfred, I realized that his beard had been shorn from him. There were likely those who were angered by his parley with us and had cast him out, but I would not assume anything aloud. I was content that the others had returned in the nick of time.

Speaking of time. Remember how I was lost in that Celestial rift in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist. Yeah, dryad glades had a similar affect on time. The brigands had spent three days mourning and burying young Thomas, then another two just recovering from their wounds before returning to this world to assist me.

The funny thing was, I was in there not even an hour before the dryad kicked me to the curb, and two weeks had elapsed in this world in that time. Anyone who travelled between planes on purpose would have no way to keep up. It was all so chaotic. But it did explain why the battlefield was in the state it was.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I was just picking myself up from the shrubbery, rubbing my chest (which did nothing but appease my hurt feelings as I was wearing plate mail), when the orcs returned with their friends. When I say friends, I mean like fifty crazy, spittle slinging, sword waving, uvula wagging, psychonauts. It’s days like this I wonder why I ever left the monastery.

I settled my shield on my right arm, hefted my mace in my left and considered my options. First thing, the orcs saw the giants and half of them slowed their charge, while a goodly portion got all excited and increased their headlong rush into battle.

This was going to be painful. I’m not the front line battle guy. I’m the witty and debonair support staff. I heal and add interesting blessings and such while someone brawny stands toe to toe with the ravening hoards. Yeah, okay, evidence points to the contrary (on several points) but I just want it noted for the record in the off-chance I die before I complete my quest.

Which reminded me, now that I was mostly over my anger with the deities, I should add something more to this experience than just healing others. I was multi-talented. I said a quick prayer, waved my holy symbol around and settled a blessing down upon the giant and myself. He glanced at me, truly seeing me for the first time since I’d saved his life. The look of confusion was priceless, but the frothing hoard presented a more immediate distraction than his sudden realization that he wasn’t dead, nor dying.

My mind is a wondrous and tricksy place, as you may recall. It was in that moment, with a cabal of lunatics seconds away from engaging the two of us in combat, when I realized what was different about the youth (you know, despite the gut wound and the blood stains). His beard had been longer during the parley. Why had he but his bears?

Then the first orcs reached us. Actually, most of them ran right past me. I guess the combination of me being in the shrubbery behind some trees, and my white armor blended in with the snow on the ground, most of the blighters never even noticed me. They showed a particular fury toward the giant, though. He raised his eyebrows which disappeared into the ragged mop of his hairline, and hefted his sword, moving to stand beside the tree, guarding his left flank. By his stance, I could tell he was used to having a second weapon, but at the moment there was nothing at hand.

If he hadn’t been an ass and kicked me into the weeds, I could’ve given him one of the curved orc blades that littered the ground from the previous encounter, but that was not going to happen at this juncture. Fifty orcs. The number made my head hurt. I drew a deep breath and prepared to join the fray. The thought of calling a sanctuary dweomer did flit across my mind, but I knew I would never forgive myself if they cut that giant boy into ribbons. I was not inclined to perform that level of healing on him again, not after he booted me halfway across the glade.

Tactically, I had an advantage and was proud to exploit it. With the ring of steel on steel, the giant’s war cry and the ululation of the orcs, none of them notice me come up from behind them. Tactical advantage for the win. I killed four of them with a methodical administration of the mace and shield before any of them even knew I was there. They were shocked, likely expecting to only find more orcs behind them. I risked a glance toward the giant and was pleased to see him cutting orcs down like a farmer taking a scythe to wheat. Still fifty is a large number.

I killed two more orcs before any of them got turned around enough to engage me properly and I’m not ashamed about that. The only good orc is a dead orc, or so I’ve come to believe. Sure, I’d have said the same thing about the hobs a year ago, but today, right now, I’d take the hobs in any numbers I could get them. They had no love for orcs either.

The thin about a giant three times my height, you expect great things from that much leverage, torque and muscle mass. And I was not disappointed, but even the shoddiest fighter will land a blow from time to time, and these orcs were battle hardened veterans. I couldn’t count the number of dead or dying orcs in front of the giant, but some had slipped behind him, and things were looking bleak. The tide was turning against us based on sheer numbers.

If I was near him I could protect his back. On the other hand, he’d have probably stepped on me. As it was, he had his back to the tree, and was fending off attackers on both flanks and from the front. Now that the orcs realized I was there, I had an uncomfortable number of them turning to me, seeing a chance at easier pickings. Besides, I had all that shiny armor (as one orc shouted out) and a nifty mace that they could loot. Their priorities were in the right place, at least. Kill the enemy, loot his body, celebrate the victory, in that order.

I punched that guy in the throat. Jerk. But the others had already begun to size me up to see if the armor would fit one of them, and they pressed their attack. Suddenly I found myself hard pressed by a dozen orcs, including the flaming skull guy. Him I called out, saying something rather unforgiving about his mother, and generally taunting him for a coward. Remember how I said orcs were bullies. Several of the orcs took the time to jump in and deride flaming skull orc for being a milquetoast loser.

May I just say, I would have never thought in a billion years that I would hear the word milquetoast come out of the mouth of an orc. The mind boggles.

While the orcs were distracted, I dodged to the side, bashing the nearest orc with my shield, knocking another down with my mace and ran for the giant. It was a long shot, honestly. I had to cover two rods of distance with orcs at my back, plow through several sword wielding uglies at his left flank and get to him before he fell to the accumulating blows. Of course, that just meant we’d be together when the rest of the orcs got to us.

Yep, sure enough, another mass of the buggers had started flooding into the glade. Good thing I’m an optimist.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I knelt next to the giant youth and realized, despite his size, he looked to be younger than I am. The fuzz on his cheeks could barely be considered a beard. He had his weapon still, a short sword nearly as long as I was tall. His breathing was shallow and his eyelids fluttered. He was near to death and the orcs would return any moment with reinforcements. I was angry at the loss of Thomas and annoyed at the giants for complicating things, but I could not allow this youth to die. I guess I’m just weak.

The spear was going to be tricky to extract. Imagine if someone stabbed you in the stomach with a garden trowel, that was the rough scale I was dealing with. Gut wounds are nasty and this youth was not long for the world unless I could be very precise. I took off my mail gloves and tucked them into my belt, hooked my mace next to them and lay my shield on the ground at my feet. I wanted to be ready if the orcs showed up.

Then I began to pray. Yes, I had been angry enough at the gods to nearly disavow them. Frankly, I would have cross words with Kithri if/when I saw her again. As for Semaunzilla (may she forgive my lack of calm and objectivity) I just have to assume that she ignored my tantrum and went about her business as usual. Honestly, I was willing to bet she had more frustration with me than I her. After all it has been more than two years since her people were captured by the frogs and I have not freed them yet. We’ll discuss debt and obligation at another time. I’d given my word to Liz and I was bound to fulfill that promise.

Was that why she appeared angry with me when we split up? She told me to go get Bob. I agreed. Why would that make her angry? The multi-colored, braided band she’d thrown to the ground at our parting was a clue that I could not decipher. I guess sometimes Brother Durham is correct, Father. Especially when he said I’m too dense to remember to breathe sometimes. I’m sure Liz had been clear in her communication, but I’ll be pickled if I understood what happened. Maybe Bob would know.

My examination finished, I cast two small heals on the giant to stabilize him. He still had color in his cheeks, but his lips were losing their normal blue pallor and were trending toward grey. I took that as a bad sign and threw caution to the wind.

I called the divine for all I was worth, and carefully worked the spear from his abdomen. Couple things to note. Giants bleed the same color as you and me. Not sure how he came by that pallid white and blue complexion with that much red blood in him, but then, not much of it was still in him.

Blood sprayed me, blinding me for a moment, so I thrust my hands into his open wound and staunched the bleeding artery. He thrashed weakly, poor boy, but I found the bleeder and cauterized it with the divine will of Kithri. Then I gently filled his abdomen with the light of my gods, pulling my hands from the wound inch by inch, sealing and healing as I went. When I finished, I fell to the ground beside the giant, exhausted and shaking. He was a big boy. There was a lot more muscle and tissue to bind, more blood to replace and honestly, more intricate organs to deal with. I had no idea giants had two stomachs. And don’t get me started on the length of intestines I had to repair. Writing this makes me want to throw up a little, but you cannot imagine the smell. I’m very glad it was as cold as it was. Even so, I may never get that stench out of my memory. My hands washed just fine. Beyond the different physiological aspects, I had never tried to repair so much damage on such a large scale. Perhaps I had overdone it with trying to bring Thomas back to life or maybe I was on the edge of my abilities with this stripling. Whatever the issue, my limbs felt like jelly and my chest hurt with each breath. It was almost like I’d run one length of the canyon after another, all the time having stones chucked at me.

After a breather I did the one thing I am positive I excel at. While the youth slept for a bit, recovering from the trauma, I used that very first bit of divine I had ever learned and repaired the youth’s clothing. Animal hide armor was simple, and the embroidered shirt underneath came together very nicely. Also explained the case of thread we had received as payment. The ice giants had an eye for color and intricate needle work. I would not have guessed that.

I debated leaving the giant to his own fate at that point, but orcs could slay him as he slumbered and that would most definitely wreck all my delicate work.

So I stood back, put my mail gloves back on and nudged the giant in the foot. He didn’t rise, so I tried a second time. The third time I kicked him with my armored boots as hard as I could and he grumbled a bit, shifting his foot away and rolling onto his side.

Was I ever this hard to wake up? Granted, he’d been nearly killed and the divine used to heal him would take its toll on him. Sleep is what he needed. But I wanted to get him on his way back to his people before the orcs returned in greater number.

I kicked him once more, this time in the shin, and he sat bolt upright, staring around wildly, grasping for his sword. I stepped back, ready to dodge around a tree. He looked at me, his eyes slightly unfocused and he started screaming and grabbed his stomach. I grimaced. Had I put everything back together correctly?

I debated on running, but couldn’t abandon him. Instead I crept toward him, speaking in soothing tones, hands up to as to look as non-threatening as possible. Once I was close to him, I reached out and touched his foot, attempting to calm him with my divine will. He stopped screaming, which was good. But he kicked me in the chest, sending me sprawling back. Some days it doesn’t pay to rescue people.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

What can I say about orcs? They are loathsome creatures who should all be killed with fire. Lots and lots of fire. Remember how much I hated gorgewings? Remember how I railed against leeches and spiders and rats? Yeah, take all of them, add in a dash of the funk from troglydytes for a special kick and that gives you one tenth the yuck factor on orcs.

To be fair, they likely bathed when they weren’t at war, and they did have a lot of very interesting piercings and tattoos. On the other hand they were vile, evil monsters who took no prisoners (usually), loved to torture their victims before they killed them and were bullies. I know, being a bully may not be the worst of the list of reasons I revile them, but they beat down their own. That was intolerable.

So, BOOM, I’m back in the real world, freezing my tuckus off when I found myself dropped in front of six large, tatted and angry orcs. They were a good rod from me and running full tilt in my direction, curved blades held high and war cries echoing across the coppice.

Orcs range in height from just below my shoulder, to a full head taller than me, and I’m tall. I wanted to point this out because the six that ran at me included the shortest orc I’d ever seen and the tallest. The funny thing is when you drop a man my size directly in their path, they take notice. Three scrambled to a stop, one jooked left around a tree, one fell over his feet, smashing headfirst into the snow and the last actually did a sort of pirouette before landing on his knees within easy reach of my mace.

I had fallen to one knee, with my shield on my shoulder and the mace on my belt when I appeared. By the time the orcs reacted, I had my hand on my mace, and was twisting to bring the shield around in front of me. The luck of the one orc landing on his knees directly in front of me could not be overlooked. I stood quickly, bringing my mace upward in a vicious swing, catching the startled orc squarely below the chin. The force of the blow snapped his head back with such force that it shattered the bones in his neck and he crumpled to the ground without as much as a gurgle.

I thought that they had followed us into the woods, but I guess the time differential was a little off. I darted left to engage the one who had fallen, kicking him in the face with my sturdy, mail covered boots. The force of my kick flipped him twice before he crumpled back to the ground and did not move.

By this time, the three who had managed a stuttering stop without embarrassing themselves rushed me. I caught one blade on my shield, swept to the right, positioning myself with one orc blocking another and smashed my mace forward. The hapless orc shield was not prepared with the strength of my blow and stumbled back into his fellow, giving me an opportunity to swipe my shield at the first and bring my mace around to shatter the elbow of his sword arm. Not to be deterred, this fine specimen lunged forward and tried to bite me. I know, previously I said that orcs did not bite like trogs. Make a note that I was incorrect in that regard. They had smaller mouths and their teeth were not as large and shredding as the trogs were, but this one had two great tusks which he tried to sink into my forearm. Luckily for me, I was wearing plate mail. He broke one of his tusks clean off. Dented my armor, though, which raised my ire. It was new and magical and white and I did not appreciate orc snot and drool on it. So I hit him in the face with my mace.

Then there were three. Two in front, and one that had disappeared around a tree and was likely coming around my flank because they are crafty that way. The two in front of me, however, had recovered from their collision and came at me, one to a side. See, that I respected. Those idiots who came at you one at a time in some macho show of bravery and skill were always the ones you killed first. Just because they were easier one at a time. Having the two of them charge me at once was actually a challenge. After the frustration I had been experiencing and the way other orcs had killed Thomas, I was ready to do some dancing.

Yes, I got a little cocky. But, you have got to give me credit. I had killed three of them before they could really put up any sort of fight. It was only fair that I should get a little banged up in the process. Wouldn’t be a fight if I didn’t.

Getting stabbed in the arse by an orc that did not come up to my chest, that was just galling. He stabbed me with small dagger which slipped between the plates of my armor. Granted, the armor is fairly thick, so only a third of the blade could bite into flesh. Hurt like the dickens. And luckily it was a short blade. I spun in his direction, snapping the blade off in the armor, buffeting aside a weak attack by one of the orcs in front of me, and plowing the back stabber into the ground, my mace turning his unarmored skull into jelly. The last two bolted. Which is funny because one of them was the largest orc I’d ever seen. He was wider than I was in my armor, and he was bare-chested with piercings in his nipples and a tattoo of a flaming skull on his chest. He looked very imposing. He also had a tattoo of a second flaming skull on his back, which I got to see briefly as he ran like a rabbit.

It all happened so quickly the adrenaline hadn’t really had a chance to kick in. I would have the shakes soon enough, and my backside was throbbing. That’s when I heard the moan. I spun around, preparing to have at it with another orc or two. But there was no orc behind me. Rather it was the young giant scout who had given us parley the day before. He lay on the ground under one of the great Spruce trees, a spear in his gut and sword slashes across his arms and chest. Blood frothed from his mouth and he was trying to say something.

This is what the orcs were after, and likely the ones who ran would bring back friends. Just what I needed.

Then the giant began to shake, blood pouring from his abdomen. He coughed once, spraying the snow scarlet and slumped back, unmoving. I really hated that.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The golden light flared for a moment longer, stinging our eyes, then faded slowly. By the time we could see again, the glad had been transformed. There was no snow on the ground here, no sounds of battle in the distance. Here was another example of a pocket plane where the world was different from my own.

The beauty who stood before us looked to be no older than Clarisse, but her eyes told the tale of an immortal life.

“Why do you come to this glade?” she asked, her voice like a summer breeze. Very hard to hear, but soft and sweet.

I thought to stand, to answer this being, but Just Jacob rose ahead of me and answered.

“We come to bury this child,” he said, motioning toward young Thomas who lay on the sward before me. “We seek a place to return him to the mother, away from the pain of the world.”

The dryad eyed him for a moment, her golden orbed gaze unsettling in its intensity.

“You are not worthy,” she said, turning from Just Jacob. “You are defiled.”

“I’ll speak for him,” I said, rising to my feet, but she laughed and turned.

Each of the brigands stood and claimed right of kinship and purity, but each was rebuffed. It wasn’t until Scarlet rose to her feet that the dryad stopped her burbling laughter.

Scarlet strode forward, out of the circle of others and toward the dryad, who fell back a step, as if the young woman’s aura was too much for her to bear.

“You will stand aside and allow us to bury my brother here,” she said, her voice tight. “It is not for you to judge his worth. That is the domain of the gods.”

The dryad studied her for a moment, her lips pursed, a glint of anger in her eyes.

“Who are you, child, to demand anything from this glade?”

Scarlet took a deep breath, settling the anger that was ever so visible in her. “Please,” she said, meekly. “He is only a small thing.”

The others began to whisper amongst themselves, but I kept my eye on Scarlet. She did not slide her gaze to the side, but kept her eyes facing the dryad, her demeanor strong. My dearest Kithri, this young woman had grit.

“I know who you are,” the dryad whispered. “I see how you prey upon the tiny monstrosities of this ruined land. I also know you have shown kindness and compassion. How do you reconcile these opposites?”

Scarlet smiled then, a vision like the rising of the sun. “Does not the mother bear kill to defend her cubs?”

This earned her a polite nod.

“Does not the mighty eagle snatch what prey he needs from those small creatures too slow to avoid his gaze?”

Again, a nod.

“We do not pillage, nor do we waste. We take our small pittance from those who would wreak devastation upon the world. We are select in our plunder and do no more harm than the eagle or the bear.”

She was good. I admired the chutzpah she displayed under the scrutiny of the dryad’s stern gaze.

“And, this child,” she said, her voice growing weak for the first time. “This child loved the trees and the loam, the fresh turned soil and all growing things. How could we not return his remains to the green mother so that he would nourish her as she had once nourished him?”

Then it dawned on me. These were Fey children. I looked around me, truly seeing them for the first time. The signs were subtle, the lilt in the voice, the upturned ear, the glittering eyes. I glanced at Just Jacob and he nodded once.

“They are children of the green mother,” he said at my open mouthed stare. “Each a foundling, abandoned for their half-breed nature.”

Then it finally clicked. Human parent, Fey parent, child of neither world.

“And you took them in?” I asked Just Jacob.

“Nay,” he said, smiling. “Bruce took them in. He was the better man. He rescued each of these children and brought them to me and my wife to raise, a brood of waifs with no place in the world.”

The dryad watched him, listening.

“Bruce was a ranger, you see,” Just Jacob continued. “He preserved the lands of this valley before the dragon came. He had safeguarded this hidden reserve from the corruption that overwhelms this land.”

Suddenly the valley deep within these canyon walls took on more reverence. This was indeed holy land, and the orcs and giants warred upon it, shredding the earth, smashing the trees, tainting the very soil.

“I will grant this in Bruce’s memory,” the dryad said, breaking the silence. “He was a kind man. I mourn at his loss.”

No one had mentioned Bruce’s passing, but I had no idea what powers a dryad may have over the land that surrounded her domain.

“But you,” she said to me. “you are the fool.”

Heat flushed over my neck and face. “Fool?” I asked.

“Reaver,” she continued. “Breaker of worlds. You who released the man in white. You who wields the cursed rod. Who seeks the broken way. You who braves the past in order to preserve the future.”

She was talking about my dream quest. Each word she said echoing in my mind, a bombastic indictment of my murky road ahead.

“You may not stay here,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “The others may stay and bury their kin in my glade. But not until you have departed.”

“What of me?” Just Jacob asked, his tone frustrated. “I am not Fey.”

The dryad stepped closer to him, laying a delicate hand along his beard roughened cheek. “No, but you dared to love a Fey,” she said, smiling. “And her love grants you privilege.”

“She is dead,” he answered bitterly, turning away.

The dryad placed her hand on the back of his head and laughed. “One such as she never truly dies,” she said. “Not if one such as you continues to love her.”

“Go,” she whispered and just like that I stood in the coppice of trees, ankle deep in snow, facing half a dozen raging orcs. Lucky me.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

We wended our way to the bottom of the valley. The paths were steep and the snow unrelenting, but we found ourselves at the bottom at last without incident. The snow was half way to my knees in the open, which would prove a problem for burying young Thomas. But in true form, Clarisse spotted the right place before the rest of us. Across the valley, directly beneath the tower where Bob was held captive, stood an enormous tree. The fact it was half a league across an open battle field didn’t seem to concern anyone in particular.

We weren’t stupid, but we were likely lucky. The battle ebbed and flowed, as is their wont. The valley was wide and the armies dispersed. We crossed frozen earth, churned with the passing of giants and scored with the detritus of battle. We gave wide berth to one spot where dozens of mangled orcs sprouted from the frozen mud, their deaths a matter of malevolent magicks.  The dark energy there made me nauseous and forced Clarisse to whimper in fear. The giants were no amateurs at war, that is for sure. We saw evidence of their prowess as we skirted one hill to find another field of dead orcs, their bodies crushed by thrown chunks of stone and ice. The giants required no siege engines in their campaigns.

Once we were surprised by a group of routed orcs, their leaders dead and their eyes on finding shelter. Half of them had thrown down their weapons in their haste to escape the ferocity of the giants. We slew a dozen or more, but most fled, attempting to flow around us as if we were the stone and they the rushing stream. It was not glorious battle by any means. Rote actions, muscle memory and emotionless actions, as if batting aside an irksome fly. We were on a mission and the bother of the orcs was not to be accepted.

We did hide at one point when the battle flowed toward us, the giants in one skirmish losing, being brought down by ballista fire from the orcs, and overwhelming numbers. While the orcs had to have lost twenty or more in the exchange, the six giants they felled — obviously not veterans — weakened that portion of the line, allowing the orcs to rush forward, like a swarm of acid spiders over a dying mount. From where Bob viewed the valley, it had to look just like that. I wondered at his state of mind.

The sun moved across the sky, though it was shrouded behind clouds. We witnessed two more giants fall once the orcs got beyond the embankments, and for the first time I considered the fact the giants may not win. Granted, some had retreated with their mounts, being unable to use them in a tactical extraction, but it appeared to me that they may have need of their mounted troops to sway the final tide of battle.

More than half way to the tree we came upon those orcs that had fallen in the onslaught that breached the giant line. Having witnessed battle previously on this scale I was only slightly shocked at the carnage. The brigands, more highway robbers than murderers, had never seen death on this scale. Clarisse grew very quiet and young Seth began to vomit at the state of the smashed and broken bodies. Just Jacob led him onward once he could stand.

I relished the cold and the snow in that moment. The stink of death is horrific, the stench of a recent battle foul beyond words. While our crew wound through the clumps of sundered flesh that had once been sentient, if awful, being, I risked a small hillock, rising above the general miasma of the valley. The way we had come looked impossible. How had we made it through all that and not been slaughtered? It was as if we were protected somehow.

I looked upward toward Bob’s tower, a flash of hope in my heart. The light there had not rekindled. I swallowed, guilt churning in my gut. Bob had leant me part of his power, channeled the light he had somehow been endowed with and I fear my lack of faith may have flowed back through that conduit and hurt him somehow. I had no experience with the sharing of power, nor the ramifications thereof. I took a deep breath, eschewing the path behind us and strode back down toward the others who were huddled beneath the edges of a grove of ancient boughs. The tree we sought was at the very heart of the coppice, a colossus among titans.

The ground here was softer and the snow fell away after only a rod or so into the shadow of the canopy. The quiet of the falling snow was a ruckus compared to the near breathless silence of the trees. This was holy ground. Not that of a church or temple, but place to worship nature. I would imagine a great order of druids ruled here once, or perhaps still did. I definitely had the foreboding that we were being watched from the instant we lost sight of the sky above.

And why not an order of druids. This land had been part of the greater nine and sixty kingdoms. Their cultures may have fallen and risen a thousand times since the great city perished in fire. Some powers of good (or at no worse neutral) may have been rekindled here. I just hoped they saw us as pilgrims and not someone to sacrifice. The trees moved their branches above us, from what I dearly hoped was wind.

I opened my mouth to ask Just Jacob if he was familiar with these woods, but no words came out. Instead I coughed once, amazed by the dryness of my throat. The others seemed to realize their plight at the same instant as weapons came up and choked coughs rang out from the others. Scarlet pulled her waterskin from her belt and took a long pull, coughing again and managing a single word.

“Dryads,” before we were overwhelmed in a golden light so powerful, we each fell to our knees.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The fighting started before first light and the din was unnerving. Twice the orcs rushed the switchbacks only to be rebuffed by the brigands. The decision among the others was to wait until full light, with the sun overhead if possible, to take Thomas down to be buried. I sat on the edge of the fire, eating a bowl of stew and listening to the others talk. Clarisse, in particular, was upset that we had left Bruce and the others on the other side of the cave, unburied.

Just Jacob agreed that it was a shame, but that the lives of all of them outweighed the risk it would have taken to retrieve their bodies. He promised that if they survived this, they would take the long way around the pass and bury the others. He left out the part “if they remained”. The world is full of wild things that would not leave a fallen one unmolested.

None of them spoke to me, but they all cast furtive glances my way when they thought my attention was elsewhere. As you may recall, I do have excellent peripheral vision and can see things around corners, or so Cook always complained. Especially when it came to baking things. She could not sneak anything passed me, no matter the diversion.

Thinking of Cook brought a smile to my face and the others took that as a sign that my madness had waned. With a full belly and the light of the morning, the despair I had nearly drowned in the previous night had begun to fade somewhat. Granted, I am only human. I, like other, am prone to fits of pique. The journaling helped as well. Scarlet is very observant for one so young. Well, youth is a matter of perspective. She had seen fully seventeen summers and more battle than many ancient crones. She had earned my respect and I told her so. Her smile was tentative, but sweet. I thought for a moment she would ask something, but in the end she turned away, brushing a lock of hair over one ear and letting her smile bloom in full. She was very pretty when she smiled.

But worship and the like was not on my mind in that moment. Okay, fine, it crossed my mind, but without a moment to stop and visit. More an intellectual acknowledgement of the possibilities in the world, nothing more.

The morning meandered with the onset of new snow which once more muffled the world. The cries and cacophony of death cries from the battle below were not able to overwhelm the quiet prayers of those around me. It was the latter that brought me to tears. The words were earnest, the need great and the deities they called upon, perpetrators of vengeance and retribution. Their anger shocked me, though I am not sure why. These children had seen so much in their short lives; been treated to an existence of servitude and pain. Still it stirred rekindled a tiny spark within me. There is a need in me to rescue and protect. I understand that about myself. But my faith had been shaken so severely I was unsure I could say the things I knew I should say.

I once heard Sister Agnes tell one of the temple virgins to “fake it until you make it.” I had always assumed she meant the exaltation that came with worship, but now I realized, for the first time, that she meant something much deeper and much harder.

She meant faith. Oh, sure, the act of worship can be pleasurable when done correctly, but it is the underlying meaning that brought true release. I knew the words I wanted to share, and the ways such things can provide comfort to one in need. I could give that to these children — give them a chance of hope, an outlet for their grief that did not invite in the vile and the wicked.

I stood then, drawing all their attention and held my hands out to two of them. They looked at Just Jacob who nodded once and my hands were suddenly filled with others. Then, at my bidding, they each grasped the hand of another until we were all connected.

I tried to say the words I had heard a thousand times when I had been hurt or scared. I wanted to relieve their pain with the ease of a whisper. But the night was still dark in my mind and the words felt hollow. I could not fake it and truly sway these children away from the path of anger and reprisal.

Instead I spoke of the pain of loss. These broken souls did not want to hear about the beauty of the afterlife, and the joy we should feel not that Thomas was on his way to paradise. They wanted a voice for their anger, they wanted a voice for their hurt. So I spoke of despair but I also spoke of hope. I spoke of dark days when even the light of a summer sun could not burn away the gloom. I told them how life isn’t fair and how good people suffered. But I also told them of the kindness of strangers and the charity of those who loved beyond their pain. Life does not follow the fairytales we are told at bedtime, it is much harsher than one can imagine and much more beautiful than our dreams.

Clarisse was the first to weep. Surprisingly Just Jacob was second and the others followed in short order. They did not wail like babies with thrashing and such. Instead it was a gentler release. The grief bled out of them through their tears. I could see it, Father. Each teardrop flashed for a moment, the dark overcome with light — as if their anguish was being replaced with grace. I know of no other words to explain it.

Scarlet was last of them all and she did not weep as such. She stood watch while the others had their moment, her shoulders back, her chin high. I watched her as her breathing grew a little ragged and her eyes glinted as if with unshed tears.

We sat there, hand in hand, for no more than a handful of breaths after that, then they dispersed. The whole area felt lighter in that moment. I know it was an illusion in the end, but belief is a potent power.

We had come to an alignment of spirits, a moment where we all needed the same things. I bent to pick up young Thomas and turned to the trail. The others followed one by one, weapons ready and a firm resolve in their faces. Scarlet came last, her crossbow aimed out toward the valley below, ready to protect those she saw as family. I glanced back at her once, catching her eye and she nodded. There was confidence in that gaze, resolve and determination. And you know something, Father? I believe that was the balm I needed. I was still angry at the gods, and at myself for failing this child. But there were others to watch over and preserve. I had an obligation to temper my righteous indignation and channel that energy into good. She may not realize just what that gaze meant to me, but in my heart, I know it was the light of responsibility which shattered the childish anger that had overwhelmed me.