Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I had seen something like this with Tim once before.  As I opened the box, it expanded to become a wardrobe wide enough for four men to enter side by side, and deep enough for a large caravan wagon with an eight horse team.  I know because that is what stood in the room.

“Oh, my mistake,” Tim said and strode forward.  He ran his hands along the magical door frame looking for a handle or button when all eight horses lifted their tails and dropped piles of excrement larger than my head; each.

“I’m not cleaning that up,” Lilith said, holding her nose.

Tim slowly turned his head to her.  She stuck her tongue out at him and stuck her thumb onto her nose and wiggled her fingers.  “Can’t make me anymore.”

Tim’s shoulders seemed to slump just a fraction and Lilith grinned broadly.  “It builds character,” she said and turned to Beatrice, asking her something about her hair.

The pause was barely enough to be discernible to any who were watching closely, like myself.  But the others did not seem to recognize anything was amiss.  Tim turned away from Lilith and Beatrice and held his hands up, his mind obviously on the two women.  He made a series of gestures, mumbling something that sounded like “you’ve got to know when to fold ’em”.  The room folded in on itself and returned to a box the size of my fist.  He picked that one up and handed me a different one.  “Here, I am heartily sorry.”

I waited until he was back where he had stood and I opened the second box.  Inside was a room of the exact same proportions, but the room was sparsely filled.  On a professional dummy stood my armor.  I had left it in the wagon when I took off to find Liz and Blargle.  I was very relieved to see it cleaned and mounted for display.  On the wall on the left side hung two spears with blue feathers hanging from leather cords.  One was Liz’s from when we first met, and the second was the one I had liberated from the frogs in Liz’s village.  It was the one where somehow a wizard’s staff had been melded with the broken vorpal blade.  I had thought these lost.

“Put on the armor,” Tim suggested, waving me into the room.

“I can’t,” I argued.  “It interferes with my channeling of the green divine.”

All conversation stopped and I looked back over my shoulder to see every single person around staring at me.  Alfred, Calladil and Lilith were mildly curious, but Rufus, Tim, and Beatrice looked as if they had swallowed a live will o’the wisp like I saw in my early time in the swamp.

“Would you mind saying that again?” Beatrice asked, sweetly.

So I faced the lot of them and repeated myself.  “This armor is dedicated to the Paladin Order of Kithri’s Fist.  When I channel her divine I feel and see it as white energy.”

Rufus gawped at me, blinking.  Tim crooked his littlest finger into his left ear and shook it around vigorously, not unlike what he’d been doing previously with the teleportation pipe.

Beatrice smiled broadly, took three great strides toward me, turned, throwing one arm over my shoulder, and escorted me out of the dimensional room.  “Walk with me,” she said, waving her free arm as if she were sweeping aside curtains.  “Please elaborate on the colors of your power.”

Dear gods in the firmament.  I talked with the three wizards for two straight hours as they quizzed me on just what I assumed to be the truth, questioning my observations and checking how I looked under various forms of magical sight.

In the end, they were each stumped.  Beatrice had a theory, Rufus two puns, and Tim claimed to suddenly have a headache.

Here are Rufus’s puns.  “Of course the power is green, you’re a rookie caster.”  and “Wizards rule, clerics drool.”  They were both groan worthy, but Alfred chuckled.  I think he was just being kind to the surly wizard.

“So you see,” I continued once we were all up to speed.  “With Kithri captured by the talking spiders, I have no way of waking her.  And with Liz and Blargle captured by the blighted men, I think they are in the most danger.  Kithri is being taken to The Green Lady.”  I paused.  Beatrice did not disappoint.

“The Green Lady?” she asked.  “Is she aligned to that green power you’ve been describing?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I countered. “I believe the green power is aligned to Semaunzilla (may she protect Liz in captivity).

Beatrice, Rufus and Tim put their heads together and talked amongst themselves.

I sat down on a crenel next to Lilith and drank from my water skin.  Then, after wiping my mouth on my sleeve, I cleared my throat and began explaining how we may be seen as casters or clerics, wizards or sorcerers; but in the game it all comes down to seeing and manipulating power, either with or without fancy somatic gestures, rituals, and even material components as needed.

I didn’t really care who recognized me or who put out a warrant for my inappropriate death of a black dragon.  I had a certain way to weave the skeins, blanket it over an individual, and change the overall symmetry and flow of the world.

It took Calladil, bless him, to break up the kaffeeklatsch and remind us that we had friends, lovers and allies in danger.  I can’t begin to tell you how stupid I felt.  For a moment, I was the focal of some of the strongest minds I know, and I was holding my own.  There for a moment I had a kinship, a camaraderie with intellectuals that far exceeded anything I’d had growing up.  I loved that feeling.  But Calladil was right.

“Therefore,” I jumped back to the original subject.  “I can’t wear Kithri’s armor if I can’t channel Kithri’s power.  It blocks the green, which I’m just now getting a handle on. ”

“Fighting the blighted men will require you to engage your martial skills more than your intellectual pursuits,” Beatrice said, finally.  “If our friends are not already dead, they are not being treated with kindness.  How about we make a decision and move on?”

Then it was my turn to gawp.  She was the one with the history lessons and the excuses.

“Right then,” I said.  “I’ll wear the armor since I’ll be fighting a bunch, but my magical aspects will be dramatically curtailed.”

They took a final moment to exchange news and gossip while I donned my armor and then Tim showed me how to fold up the room and place it in my pack next to this journal.

When I had my gear ready, with my mace slung at my belt, and my staff spear in my left hand, I pulled out my maps and set to planning how we were going to assault the blighted men.  Won’t that be fun?

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Wizard Tim sat puffing on a long stemmed clay pipe, the milky white smoke a halo around his extravagantly red wizard’s hat.   He mumbled around the stem, attempting to look at the ember in the bowl.  As I stood there, dumbstruck, he pulled the pipe from between his teeth and examined it.  He didn’t look over at me, just retrieved a silver reamer from his sleeve, tapped the glowing dottle from the pipe and began to vigorously ram around inside the bowl.

A sweet voice spoke from my left.  “You’ll damage it if you aren’t careful.”  I turned to see the cute young halfling who had previously shared our adventures.  I just didn’t know which personality was dominate at the moment; Sparkle or Lilith.  She sat on top of one of the seven remaining merlons, her feet on a large pack stuffed in the crenel closest to Tim.  She wore her trademark purple leather boots, her twin blades and a new set of leather armor that sported a few silver studs along the sleeves.  At least this suit was dark green.  The first time I had seen her, her armor was bright green snake skin that practically glowed in the dark.  This set of armor looked like it may possibly allow here to hide a bit easier.

“How?” I asked, thinking to run back down the half a staircase.

Tim did not look up, but the halfling lass did, giving me a cherub’s grin and a little wave.  “Hello,” she said.

I waved back.  “Um, hi.  Lilith?”

She nodded and smacked Tim on the back of his head.  “If you break the bowl we won’t be able to use it again, Patience.”

Tim hunched his shoulder and continued to ream out the pipe bowl, scattering ash at his feet.  But his movements were a little less frenetic.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

Lilith shrugged.  “Bored, mostly.  I only came on this trip because you were going to be here.”  She blushed at that, but did not look away.

I smiled, considering my exit strategy.  “Well, I’m happy to see you.  Just an unexpected surprise.”

She snorted.  “I bet.”

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you here?”  I mean, seriously.  Tim had all but said he would kill me on sight due to the bounty from the Order of Nightshade.  I gripped my mace and thought the best way to tackle him before he could throw one of those spherical exploding balls of fire at me.

Lilith rolled her eyes and pointed to Tim.  “Ask him.  It was his idea.”

Tim glanced over at me as he slipped the pipe into his robe; the metallic rod he slid back into his sleeve.  Then he stood, straightened his hat, and turned to face me, his hands tucked into his robes.

“We teleported here,” he said, as if it were obvious.

Lilith coughed into her fist and I distinctly heard the words, “show off.”  Tim did not seem to notice, instead he just stood there, watching me, his nose twitching from time to time.

“Funny meeting you here,” I said, desperate to break the silence.

Tim just pursed his lips and wriggled his mustache.

“Oh for the love of Pete,” Lilith said.

“Who is Pete?” Tim asked, feigning interest.  Then he stepped aside.  “Ah, they are here.”

Directly to my left a ball of light appeared and two figures emerged onto the top of the tower: Calladil, the mercenary, and a tall red head beauty that I thought I recognized, but could not place.

“What about the others?” Tim asked, looking at the newcomer.

“They are in place,” she replied, grinning at me.  “You never cease to amaze me, boy.”  She turned and strode toward me, her bright red locks bobbing with each step.  When I looked at her, dumbfounded she laughed and hugged me.  “Beatrice, you ninny.  I’ve been freed of my curse thanks to you.”  Then she threw her arms around me and hugged me.  “You know I could feel everything you did to Johann, right?”  She squeezed my back side and stepped back, her laughter a raucous bray of mirth.

Oh.  See Father Mulcahy, the last time I’d seen her she’d been a mole on her sister’s face.  Wizards deal with such strange things.

“And your sister?” I asked.

She winked at me.  “She sends her love,” she said, then stepped to Tim, her arms out for a hug.

Tim unwound and held out a hand, awkwardly taking hers in his own.  “Took you long enough,” he grumbled.  I won’t swear to it, but I think he looked both shy and annoyed.  Was it possible that Wizard Tim fancied the elusive Beatrice?

She laughed.  “I had to get past that cranky dryad we left back in the valley,” she said, turning to me and winking.  “Her pregnancy is making her a bit shy around visitors.”

“And old friends,” a gruff voice boomed from my right.  I spun to see Alfred leaning against the tower with Rufus Weasel Gnome on his shoulder.  “Sorry we are late,” Rufus said with a grin as Alfred lowered him to the roof top.  “We had to stop and see Bob before coming here.”

Now I was more than a little baffled.

“How did you all find me?” I asked.

Tim rolled his eyes.  “Open you pack.”

I slid it off my shoulders and opened the top, glancing up at him for further instructions.  “Feel around in the bottom.”

I did as instructed and came out with the red stone he had used to communicate with me.  “How?” I asked, spinning to look at them all one at a time.  “I tossed this into the swamp.

The wizards laughed and Lilith punched Tim in the thigh.  She walked over to me, and took my hand.  “Tim is not the most open and honest fellow we all know,”

— the others all grunted in assent —

“but he does do a few things very well.”

“Besides the hats, you mean?” Calladil asked.

“And the beer?” Alfred added.

Lilith sighed and squeezed my hand.  “You fed the stone blood when you were exiled,” she said.

I didn’t want to go into my time in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist so I didn’t try to correct her about the whole exile thing.

“It’s tuned to you now and forever.

They all nodded as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“And they each have one of my tokens,” Tim said.  “Now that we are all here, we must get a few things straight.”

The rest groaned, but Tim ignored them.  “Just Jacob and the frogs have held the Hallowed Fortress since you left against a siege of gnolls.  My own keep has been besieged as well.  Bob remains there for business of his own, but suffice it to say you have caused quite a stir in the hobgoblin community.”  He shook his head at me, but I sensed more than saw the grin beneath his shaggy beard.  “Far Spire has beaten back one attack, as you well know,” he nodded at me, “and the attacks at the other points seem to have sapped their march along the western road.”

“Now if we only knew what they were after,” Rufus said.  “Though my money is something you’ve done, boy.”

I grew dizzy spinning to see them all and finally just sat down.  I was exhausted and all this was overwhelming.

“Give him the thing,” Lilith said, waving her hand at Tim.

Tim looked at her, perturbed and handed me a small box.  “Take that over to the side of the tower and open it,” he advised.  Everyone else scooted away, giving me half the remaining tower top to myself.  I looked at them once more, catching a friendly nod from Lilith, and opened the box.

No matter how crazy they are, Wizards can do the darndest things.

 

Jetpack, Twitter and the land of missing cross posts

Last night my Word Press site coughed and told me I was not connected to Twitter any longer.  I had to go reconfigure and reconnect three times, but in the end, after deleting several broken copies of the connection, I was able to get a clean link.  Then this morning my Cleric Journal did not cross post.

Imagine my delight on discovering this.  Technology is such a boon, I’m always surprised how annoying it can be.  I’m old enough to remember a world before email, before the web, before photo copiers.

The web, computers, word processors, email and chat features have definitely made my life as a writer significantly different then when I wrote my first novel at the age of fourteen on a manual typewriter.

We are such creative and innovative primates that it is honestly amusing when things don’t work, especially in context of where we’ve come in just my lifetime.

So, thanks for the jetpack, future world, I don’t know how I’ve survived without it.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Spiders are fast.  I never realized how fast until I began chasing one through the swamp.  It jumped from tree to tree, carrying Kithri in three legs while making speed on the other four.   I lost sight of the beast almost immediately, but Kithri, now that was another matter.  She stood out in my mind like a beacon of white in a world of green tinted hues.

I couldn’t follow the beast in a straight line, so I went from shallow water to dry land as frequently as possible.  Twice I had to nearly swim, which was difficult while trying to keep my pack dry.

The spider had not tried to kill me, and had not killed Kithri.  It had captured Kithri and taken her away, referencing The Green Lady.  Perhaps she was heading someplace The Green Lady resided.  All I could do was do my best.

The first three hours came and went and I had to stop and rest.  Sleep was an enemy now.  I grabbed a bit of shut eye and woke a few hours later groggy and worse perhaps than if I’d managed somehow to stay awake.  I searched for Liz and found her again, thanks be to Semaunzilla (may she help me sort out this pantheon mess).  Kithri was still on the move heading into the large blank area in Bob’s map.  Liz was not moving at the moment, but she was not doing as well as she had been previously.  My next actions would be critical to the quest in all likelihood but there really was no option in my mind.  I noted on my map approximately where Kithri had stopped and pushed on toward where Liz was being held.  If Kithri moved beyond the range of my green sight, then I would head to the spot on the map and look to pick up her trail.  I just had to rely on the fact she was a deity to keep her safe.  I mean, I don’t recall The Green Lady being a blood thirsty sort, so perhaps the spider was really just taking Kithri for a visit.   Whatever lies we tell ourselves to keep moving, eh?

Before I started off again, I decided that Liz’s physical state had deteriorated enough that I wanted to try healing her from a distance like I’d done the spider.  Of course, I was within walking distance of the spider.   I couldn’t even see Liz.  I strained to flow the green toward her but realized fairly quickly that her condition hadn’t changed.  Still I thought it was worth a try.  I ate a bit to regain my strength and contemplated the spider’s words.  She said Liz had been captured by the blighted men.  While I could speculate on what that meant, I knew that it wouldn’t matter until I was confronting them.

I pushed myself over the next few hours making better than expected progress.  I was moving toward Liz at an oblique angle which improved my position quite a bit.  Made me consider where Liz had gone, and where the blighted men had captured her.  I ate a few mouthfuls and drank more water before dozing for a bit, then was up and moving again with nearly no sense of relief.  They were on the move when I looked, but Liz did not appear to be any worse for the wear this time.

By my next rest I had gained quite a bit of ground, which was lifting my spirits.  I wasn’t close enough to see those who had my friends captured yet.  I pushed harder, covering more distance when the ground was dry, which, thankfully, was occurring more and more in this portion of the swamp.

The lack of sleep did indeed catch up to me part way through the day.  I was stumbling around, nearly incoherent when I realized I was dangerously close to one of those giant man-eating plants this swamp is home to.  The moving vines had nearly lulled me into a coma before I staggered backward, out of its grasp.   Nearly being eaten by the verge was a problem, so I searched around for a place to sleep.

Surprisingly the ground here rose even higher and I found myself in a small ruin.  It looked like perhaps it had been a large inn at some point, gauging by the layout of the stone structures that remained.  All the wood had rotted away years ago and the thing was home to mice, voles, spiders and snakes.  All of the normal variety, or so it seemed to me.  I made my way into a more intact room with three walls and a partial ceiling and curled up to sleep.  The mice were not a bother.  I liked the furry little things in any case.  Their scampering and squeaking lulled me to sleep, or rather didn’t prevent my exhausted mind from losing grip on reality.  When I woke I found I had been unmolested.  While the mice had gone about their lives, they had not been confronted by any of the predators in the area.

I splashed a bit of water over my neck, scrubbed my face and drained the first of two water skins, replacing the empty in my pack for filling later.  Then I broke off a good size hung of cheese and nibbled on it while I studied the maps Bob had given me.  I made notations of where the deep water was, the dry lands, and these ruins.  He’d do a better job of filling in the details, but I did note a few highlights.  You see, Liz had not moved in the time I slept.  I believe they had reached their destinations and I wanted to be of sound mind and body when I assaulted the place.

I left a crust of bread and a chunk of cheese for the mice, packed up and left the ruined inn.  Two hours distance was my best calculation.  Two hours nearly due east at this point, going deeper into the heart of the blighted swamp.  Blighted men, blighted swamp.  No coincidence there.

There were creatures in the region around me.  Wild things that did not like strangers.  As I’d never really utilized the green sight before, I had no clear way of knowing for sure, but I anticipated I saw orcs and goblins, some form of undead and more ruins.  I was surprised that the ruins showed up on my green vision as various shades of red and black, as if their very presence pained the earth.

But in the depths of that was Liz, my friend and my heart.  Time to stride into the teeth of Hades and free her (and hopefully Blargle) before turning to find Kithri once more.

I climbed a hillock following the remnants of an ancient road and stopped at a ruined way-tower.  When it had been whole and sound, it would have stood nearly three rods high.  While a portion of it had collapsed, exposing the stairs upward, I found if I was careful, I could climb nearly half way up on the exposed stones and get a better vantage point.   I clambered over broken stones, using the clinging vines to maintain my balance as I reached the pinnacle it had to offer.  Before me a great ruin spread east and north, the bones of ancient stone buildings rising in a sea of brackish water.

Somewhere in the heart of that was the glowing pulse of Liz’s heart.  I sat on the edge of the broken tower and watched the area below me, realizing what a watery maze this place was, and how difficult it would be to explore.

I wished for a bit more height and studied the ruined stairs a small leap from my present position.  I considered the risk and leapt across, dislodging a few stones, but otherwise finding solid support.  I climbed to the top of the tower, through the remains of a wooden trap door, stepping over the rusted iron bands that lay across the top most steps.  Once I reached the landing, I stopped dead in my tracks.

The top of the tower was not unoccupied after all.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Okay, first the good news.  I now have enough spider silk to repair pretty much everything on this continent.  Bad news is, I’m still mostly not a fan of fighting spiders, especially the big ones that can talk.  Didn’t know my original views on spiders could have gotten worse, but there you have it.

So, I didn’t wait for the spider to regain control of its body fully, I smashed it as hard as I could with my very incredible mace.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love this mace?  Even more so that I know a bit about its history, who wielded it and so forth.  Frankly, it has magic that makes it easier to hit your target and to do significantly more harm to your target when you land a blow.

I can’t be sure, but I’m wondering if the green sight may have helped as well.  That first blow staggered the creature, breaking chitin and damaging one or more eyes on that side.  Staggered is not killed.  It leapt into the air, seriously, like over my head and would have landed directly on top of Kithri if I hadn’t had the divine grace the sight afforded me.  Instead, I stepped back with my right foot, pivoting as I moved, and caught the thing a crushing blow, knocking it sideways.  I smashed three of its legs with that blow, which was not enough to make it fall over.  Still, it lurched drunkenly when it rose.  I can’t imagine having eight legs, but when they are something you are accustomed to, losing one or more has got to create a cognitive disconnect.

Then the strangest thing happened.  It backed away from me, waving its two front legs, and began to cry.

There is a point when the surreal becomes the sublime.  I stood, breath like a bellows, ready to rush forward and finish the beast.  The part that stopped me was when it literally fell onto its belly and asked for protection from The Green Lady.  I stopped in my tracks, lowering my mace and softened my face, perplexed and curious.  Analise had mentioned this ancient deity when she first met me.  I recalled this deity represented a group who cherished the wild lands, the natural beauty of the world, and the creatures who lived in them.

I thought back over the events at hand and wondered how I had misinterpreted the situation.  In my green sight I could see this vibrant creature with swaths of red pain radiating from where I had struck it and I realized it had not struck me even a minor blow.

I stepped back, standing in front of Kithri and slung my mace on my belt.  That was the moment for the beast to lunge at me, bite me and sting me, do what spiders do when they take down their prey.  Instead it cowered back, its mandibles clacking as it whimpered in pain.

Once it was out of my reach, it turned its back to me and prayed.  Honest to goodness, prayed to The Green Lady, imploring her for guidance and protection, and an end to her suffering.

“I’m sorry,” I said, sitting down in front of Kithri.  “I thought you were attacking my…” I paused.  “One of my gods,” I finished, pointing to Kithri and feeling ludicrous.

It scrabbled a half turn, directing its undamaged set of eyes in my direction.  “Why do you not kill me?” it asked.  “You are man.”

And the lessons I had learned with the hobs and the goblins came crashing down on me like an anvil.  Assumptions are not always accurate.  Our biases make us fearful.  Waiting until I had been stung by this creature would have been foolish, but my experiences stated that spiders attack prey.  I was prey.  But maybe, at least in this case, I was wrong.  My head hurt.

“I thought you were attacking me,” I replied.  “I have been attacked by your kind before.”

If you can believe it, the thing snorted.  “We all look alike to you.”

What could I say.  All spiders did look alike to me.  My instincts were to crush them if I could, or kill them with fire if I had no other means of dispatching them.

I tentatively reached out with the green divine and felt its life force like the peace of the reflecting pond at the monastery, but as deep as the oceans that I have read about but have yet to see.

“I apologize for attacking you,” I said, realizing that I had struck the first blow.

It scuttled around a bit more, bringing all its bulbous eyes into view,  highlighting more of the damage I had delivered.  “You do not want to kill me?”

I shook my head.  Honestly I didn’t want to kill anything I didn’t have to.  Okay, maybe gorge-wings, but now that I’ve figured a way to co-exist with them via the green divine, maybe my stance on them would soften.

“I reacted out of fear,” I said, folding my hands on my lap.  “Many spiders have tried to kill me in my lifetime.  They have killed some of my friends.”

The spider did not move again, but watched me, shuddering with the pain which glowed brightly in my enhanced sight.

“I understand that your limited life experience has burdened your beliefs,” it replied.  “You are ignorant and do not understand enough of the world to know better.”

Harsh, but truthful.

“May I heal you?” I asked.

It scrambled back three strides, poised to bolt.  “You would lull me with pretty words and kill me when I let you approach.”

It had a good point.  “I don’t think I need to touch you to heal you,” I said.  “Just hold still for a moment and I will see if I can lesson your pain.”

It shuddered for two full breaths then clacked its mandibles twice.

“Does that mean yes?” I asked.

It clacked its mandibles twice again.  “Yes,” it said.

I studied the way the pain radiated out from the first blow I had landed.  There were pieces of its chitin that I had smashed on the left side of its head and two of its eyes on that side had been ruptured.  I concentrated, letting the vitality of the green flow into me, filling me with life and used it to daub at the great swath of red that wreathed the creatures head.  It gasped, scuttling back two more steps, but then froze.  The red was dissipating.  My heart pounded in my chest and my muscles tensed.  This was so much harder than healing with Kithri’s brand of divine.  Is this why Liz healed so little?  I had to make amends.

“Is that helping?” I asked.

The beast clacked its mandibles twice so I continued.  I grew exhausted before I could heal it completely, but I managed to repair its eyes and face, as well as two of the three legs I’d smashed.  When I collapsed forward onto my hands with my head swimming from the exertion and my breath coming in gasps, the creature rose onto its seven good legs and gave me a salute.

“Perhaps we have learned something this day,” it said to me, bowing.  “I have learned that not all men are murderers.”

I glanced up, thinking I had found a new level of enlightenment, a new way to see the world.  What I didn’t count on was the web that the beast shot from its abdomen., pinning me to the ground.

“The Green Lady will be pleased,” it said as it scrambled around me and began to wrap Kithri in a cocoon of silk.

“Wait,” I cried out.  “I healed you.  I thought it was a misunderstanding.”

“Yes,” the creature said.  “That is why I leave you alive.  We are not all barbarians.”

And with that it hoisted Kithri into the tree and scrambled out of sight.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Hot today. So much so, I was wishing for a bit of that weather we had when the wall between here and the plane of ice had been opened.  I had my nifty white dragon hide cloak, so I was not worried about the cold, but the heat and humidity were unbearable.  I explored around my general area, hoping to find signs of Blargle or Liz, but had no luck.   I had to be smarter.  Why hadn’t they taken the packs?  Had they truly gone down the well?  I hated not knowing.

Okay, facts.  Two dead gnolls in the tunnel and several more made it up through to the keep.  But why?  If they were hunting us, why go into the tunnel?  Well, gnolls seem to be creatures of chaos, so perhaps they cannot control their baser urges when it comes to murder and destruction.

Neither Liz nor Blargle had not come back to the island, so if they had gone down the well, they had not come out to see where I was.  What if Blargle was ambushed opening the door, been over run, killing two gnolls and giving chase to the other three.  What about Liz?  Had she gone into the tunnel at all?  Analise certainly saw no evidence of her being there.  So, they split up.  Liz, instead of drawing the gnolls back to me and Kithri had led them away.  Did that mean she lay somewhere, wounded?

Of course, what a king size fool I have been.  I reached inside my belt pouch and took out the broken braid that I had once given her, the cord where we had bound ourselves to one another, before I broke covenant.  We had twined our spirits in this braid and it connected us even though I had failed her then.  Oh, I wove her a new braid, that error I rectified.  I did not bring this out to dwell on past failings.  Instead I held it in my right hand with my holy symbol to Semaunzilla (may she hear my plea) in my left and quested out with my mind, pulling the green divine in and sending it outward in a great arc, out into the swamp, searching for my love.

I’ll not boor you with the hours I searched, standing on the bank of that great bog.  The day slipped from heat to shadow before I got my first spark.  And barely a spark it was.  Oh what a fool I had been.  I just hoped I was not too late.

Kithri nearly did me in, once again.  Perhaps this was the fates teaching me that I had depended on her for far too long, and now I literally carried her as a burden.  I left the wagon stashed in the wild far off the road and left the horse where he could drink from the flowing river (not the swamp water) and have access to grass and shade.  I spoke with him, this tamed beast, and thanked him for his service.  I asked that he remain here for when I returned, but told him I understood if he felt his obligation had been fulfilled and he desired to roam wild once more.  He whickered at me, pushing me with his great nose as if telling me to get on with my duty.

I pulled Kithri onto my right shoulder once more, keeping my left free for my mace.  I had my pack with my personal affects, and added two skins of wine, and all the food I could carry.  The cord I had knotted in the loop that held my holy symbol to Semaunzilla (may she guide my search) as it was too small to tie around my wrist.

Then I pointed my nose eastward and trudged into the bog.  Nothing like crotch deep stagnant water to make a guy feel comfortable and secure.  Using the green sight helped assuage some of my trepidation, but you know, bitey things live in swamps.  I think the mosquitoes are perhaps the worst thing after leeches, and gorge-wings.  Okay, they are not even in the top five, but they are an annoyance that I need to figure out.  I can’t seem to make them leave me alone like I was able to with the others.  Maybe they are just too evil.

I didn’t stop to rest, just used the green sight to avoid very large predators and try and stay where I was only waist deep in the muck.  Any deeper and I’d be drowning Kithri.  We rested after full dark, just a few minutes to drink a bit of water and eat a nibble.  Then we were off again.  I knew where the spark that represented Liz was, but somehow it wasn’t getting any closer.  Okay, so I was tired.  What I realized was that she had been captured by someone or something and I was on their trail.  I did spend a bit of time fantasizing how I could’ve turned that wagon into a raft.  There was enough water in this portion of the swamp that I would need one soon enough.  After midnight with the humidity high and the sky overcast, I had to rest again.  This time I found a larger spot of land where I could lay Kithri down and see to my growing bites and abrasions.  I had this salve that Liz had given me a while back that when applied to bites took out the itching and the sting.  It was a lovely unguent, but unfortunately I was running out.

I had also not taken fatigue into play.  I was startled awake by the sound of chittering and rose to find myself facing a spider the size of the horse.  Gods, I hated spiders.  I cast around quickly, saw that Kithri was at my feet and that there were no other spiders, then I raised my mace to do battle with this monstrosity.

It was old and hoary, its hide thick and leathery, its bulbous eyes glowing with a light that was not a reflection of the moon as it was hidden in the clouds.  She hissed and spat just beyond the range of my swing so I thought to lunge forward but was hesitant as it hung from a thread that it could use to scamper away from me.

“Blight and bother,” I said aloud.  “You are a vile beasty.”

“So’s your mother,” the spider said in a hissing voice.  “This may be my only chance to talk to you, so shut up and listen.”

I clapped my mouth shut, what in the nine and sixty was this?

“Liz is wounded badly, and I am in no great shakes.  We were captured by blighted men who mean to take us to their lair where they will use us as bait to lure you to be sacrificed to their god.”

I looked at the spider.  “Blargle?”

The spider nodded, which was strange since it had no neck.  Instead it bowed at the middle, a little bob that made it look even more menacing.

“I can’t hold this creature much longer,” she continued.  “It was hunting the blighted men, taking three that I counted before I was able to beguile it.”

“Great.  What should I do?”

“Come rescue us, idiot,” the spider rasped, its voice strained beyond the normal capacity.  Of course, I’d never met a talking spider before, so the fact this one had that capability was a bit unnerving.

“That’s my plan,” I said, perhaps a bit petulantly.  Of course, I was facing one of the largest spiders I’d ever seen, and I didn’t have my awesome spear like the last time I faced one of the larger ones.

“Okay, I have to let go of this one’s mind,” it rasped.  “It’s too taxing and I think the guards are getting nervous.  It had two companions that continue to stalk us.”

“Wait, what?”  I stepped back, away from the thing.  “What do I do with this one?”

“Seriously?  Kill it.”

Then it spasmed like it had been shaken.  I took a breath and really wished I had the armor I left in the wagon.  The spider dropped to the ground, reared up and hissed at me.  I understood the word “dinner” before I swung my mace at it.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Ninety

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

When I got near the spot where I could cross the bog to retrieve my gear I checked with the green sight to see if there was anyone about.  A few gorge-wings showed up a goodly distance away, but other than that, the place was safe.  I left the wagon, tethered the horse without unhitching him, and waded through the bog to recover my gear.  It only took a few moments.  Now I had a conundrum.  Go find Liz and Blargle, or head out on my own, hoping that Liz can find me and ditch Blargle.  Or, do I trust that Blargle is a decent sort who would not resort to political pressure and attempt to kill me.  Decisions, decisions.

Frankly,  I was so torn, I moved the wagon as far off the road as I could, around past the hidden tunnel toward where I assumed the well under inn came out.  Once I was fairly confident we couldn’t be seen from the road, I broke out the journal and caught up with the last few days.  I normally like to write each day so the events are fresh in my mind, but I think I’ve done those days justice.  It was good to hold the quill in my hand again; a delight to hear the scratching of the quill on my good parchment paper; a sheer pleasure to cast the sand upon the page to prevent smearing and close each day that I had missed.  I am beginning to think I may have a small obsession with this journal.  I know, you’re thinking I’m a little off my game.  But I know how important the histories were that I read at the monastery, and the things I’m discovering that were half truths, bigoted and rascist screeds and just factually inaccurate.  When I complete this quest, I want a record of how I accomplished it, who helped or hindered me, and what future generations should be taking from my experiences.  My quest is a vital one, but is by no means the only one in the wide world.  There is too much wrong out here for me to handle it alone.

The journaling took me the better part of the day, so I ate a late lunch and studied Bob’s maps.  He had told me to go Far Spire.  That was a point of fact.  But what had he intended I do once I got here?  Liz had said we would sell the horses along with everything else and head eastward into the swamp.  But with Kithri now a concern, all those pesky gnolls hunting us, and that pompous Bishop Cirila, I was torn.  I needed to find my way to the great ruined city, but it was further than I had first imagined.  I’m not sure what those villagers and Sister Vera had thought I meant when I said I was going to the vast city in the swamp, probably the one where we encountered the troglodytes, or maybe the dragon ruins.  In either case, those were dangerous, sure.  But they were outlying cities, leagues and days from my final goal.

I thought about the civilized areas of this land, contemplating how the western edge along the sea had not been cursed the way the rest of the land had been.  Was that a coincidence, or was there a greater power at play here?  I would love to find an ancient map of the nine and sixty before the first Merric murdered the great emperor.

Now that I thought about it, how had the world not been totally covered in the blight that consumed the nine and sixty?  Somehow, just shy of the western trade road, the carnage had ceased.  I would want to talk with Bob about that, and Liz when I found her again.  What traits of the western lands kept them safe?  Or was it magic or divine power that I have not discerned.  Oh, I think the great university at Skyfell may have had some ability to affect the spreading of the curse, but that is purely conjecture.  Puzzles within puzzles.

And speaking of puzzles, two other pieces became clear to me as I read though my last journal entries.  Sometimes I get so caught up in exciting or extraordinary events that I forget to document the quieter moments, the subtle discoveries.

Here’s one to contemplate.  Captain Kershaw, as a young girl, came upon me in a clearing where a lizard folk shaman battled with giant spiders.  He carried me in his arms along with three shrunken lizard folk skulls that spoke in tongues.  Those were the three skulls that Wizard Tim had when we first met.  They were the ones who implied I was the Fool of the prophecy.  Where had Tim come upon those shrunken heads?

How much of a coincidence was it that I found Liz and how much a part of my life she would become?  The old lizard folk shaman had given me my holy symbol for Semaunzilla (may she enlighten her more slow-witted follower).  Is that why, growing up, I confused that with Sister Edna’s worship of Yolanda?  Just how tied was I too these beautiful people?

What if Kithri here?  Why had she come to me when I was so near to death?  She claimed to be allied with Yolanda, which I assumed to worship by default along with my lizard mistress.  But when Kithri fell at my feet, and my divine power was stymied, it was due to drawing it from her, not from Yolanda.  Puzzles within puzzles.

I needed to understand what happened in the bowels of that volcanic island before it exploded.  She had been teasing it out of my memory before she collapsed.  That was the key to her recovery and likely more answers to my burning questions.

But the last time I tried to delve into those memories, I had collapsed.  I could not afford to do that alone, with Kithri incapacitated.  It put us at too much risk.

Oh for the days when my biggest concern was leeches, and my path was as clear as my next step forward.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Eighty Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Of all that is holy.  I stood upright, staring around, looking for the good wizard but did not see him.

“Hello?” I asked aloud.  Sebastian looked at me askance, as did the horse.

“Don’t talk out loud, fool,” Wizard Tim chastised me.  “We have a hatbox full of trouble with your name on it.”

The man did have a fondness for hats; large, colorful, beribboned and feathered chapeaus.  The last time I had seen him, he and Rufus weasel gnome were escorting Leviathus back to Skyfell to be dealt with by the university regents.

“What sort of trouble?” I asked.

“Rufus has been stripped of his Order of Nightshade First class for participating in the demise of one Cassandra the Black, Dragon Extraordinaire and benefactor of the High Reclamation Council.  He has fled Skyfell with a handful of others, including your mercenary friend Calladil and the twins Beatrice and Johann.”

I was bemused.  “The dragon was evil,” I said as if it weren’t obvious.

Tim laughed at that.  “Evil is in the eye of the beholder.  The Order of Nightshade considered her a ranking member in high standard and with her demise, they believe that their voting block on the council has been weakened.  They have put an order of azimuth against Rufus, poor chap.  He and his allies are under a to-be-killed edict.”

Sebastian was nearly as perplexed as I was, but mainly because he could only hear my side of the conversation.  “Thank you,” I said to him, smiling and nodding.  “I’ve got this from here.”

He made a dubious face and backed away.  “Whatever you say.”  Then he was jogging back toward Far Spire.

“Was that the young man who had my calling stone?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Fine fellow out of Far Spire by the name of Sebastian.”

“Tall fellow, looks like he’s been through a tannery, but amiable and loyal to Captain Kershaw?”

How does this wizard know everyone?  It is a puzzle.  “Yes, that’s the one.”

“Good man.”

I scratched my head and loosed the brake, allowing the horse to begin moving down the road once more.

“I’m moving again, in case you care.”

“Careful, don’t over steer the horse or you will flip that wagon.”

I didn’t even ask how he knew I was in a wagon.  I just assumed Sebastian had told him.

“While I feel for Rufus and his compatriots, I’m sure they can handle themselves.”

“No, no, no,” Tim chanted.  “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  They were on their way to Far Spire in hopes of catching up to you.  They’ve opted for exile instead of hanging.  Oh, also, don’t call yourself wizard.  They have rescinded your Order of Nightshade Second Class.”

I would like to tell you how devastated I was, but I couldn’t be chuffed about it.  “I’ll learn to live with my disappointment,” I replied, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice.

The horse was mainly self-guided.  The road was even and the slope not too dangerous.  I did hold onto the reins, but I let him have his head.  We were another third of the way down to the river before Tim spoke again.

“I know you don’t know the pain your words cause,” he said, emotion clear in his voice.  “When you saved me, I carried a debt to you that I had no hope of repaying.  You were not a peer, not someone I could treat as an equal.  The Order of Nightshade, even a second class, put you on a similar elevation as myself.  It meant I could consider you an equal.” He paused and blew his nose like an animal braying.  “I have grown quite fond of you.”

I looked at the stone, trying to determine just what had come over the ornery and contemptuous wizard.

“Are you saying you can’t like me if I’m not a wizard?” I asked.

“Worse,” he said.  “I’m now obligated by the rules and strictures of the university to hunt you down.”

Now I was getting angry.  “Wait, what?  You would hunt me down after everything we’ve been through together.  All those times you nearly got me killed?  That time you sent a back of rabid kobolds to capture me with a scroll of sleep?  Where in there did you come to like me?”

“When you were granted the Order of Nightshade, Second Class.  Weren’t you listening?”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose, thinking how completely and utterly demented wizards were.  The more I thought of it, the more I wondered if it had to do with civilization as a whole.  Maybe I should turn around and let the world come to an end.  A good cleansing may just be what the gods ordained.

“You are an idiot,” I said.

“There is no call to be insulting.  I gave you the courtesy of warning you before I interceded.”

I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to remain calm.  “Do me a favor,” I said.  I wanted to tell him where he could stuff his hatbox, but thought instead of another recourse.  “When you get back to your tower, please make sure that you spend some quality time with your apprentices.   I believe you gave me your word that you would look after those left behind there.  Or are you no longer a man of your word?”

He spluttered.  “Of course, I’m a man of my word.  Why do you think I’m obligated to hunt you down.  I pledged my cooperation to the Order of Nightshade.  They demand loyalty above all else.”

“They sound like a cadre of pompous windbags,” I growled.  “Go to your tower, which is really MY tower and see that everyone there is taken care of.  If you managed to fulfill your duties there, we can consider ourselves shut of each other.”

There was another long pause before Tim spoke next.  “There is no call to be rude,” he said, his tone now full of hurt.  “I was doing you the courtesy of a warning.  I am not the only wizard out in the wide world.  Other in the order are obligated to hunt you down as well.”

“What of Leviathus?” I asked, suddenly concerned.

“Well, about that.”  He took a deep breath.  “As you have been stripped, you no longer are seen as a wizard in the eyes of the university.  Any allegations or charges against Leviathus have been dropped as a matter of decorum.”

I growled again.  Stupid, meddling wizards.  “Fine.  Surely you and Rufus both still qualify as wizards with or without the Order of Nightshade.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, finding his footing once more.  “We have many orders to our name.”

“Do any of them think the Order of Nightshade is full of dragon dung?”

He laughed then.  “Actually, now that you mention it.  The Court of Relics and the Court of Antiquity both have a higher standing in the council.”

“Good, then you and Rufus should both be okay without the love of the Order of Nightshade.”

“Alas,” he said, “without a public spectacle, none of the orders will countermand any of the others for fear of being ganged up on.  It’s the only politic way to survive the council.”

“So, Leviathus who hates me has a sanctioned license to kill me and Rufus?”

“Oh, no.  Leviathus was never in the order of Nightshade.  He was much too pure for the likes of us.  He prefers his own brand of nefarious malcontents the Order of Starlight, who are not happy with us at all.”

Blah, blah, politics.  I was getting a headache.  “Look,” I said, trying for patience.  “I need to find Liz and Blargle, is there anything here of value for me other than an obtuse warning that you may help kill me at some point?”

“Blargle?” he asked, aghast.  “She’s a menace.  I think they gave her an Order of Nightshade second class just so she’d go out into the field and leave the university alone.  She has very thin credentials.”

“Great.  Does that mean she’ll try and kill me?”

“Most definitely.  She won’t want to be exiled from the order.  If she gets kicked out she’ll have to return to the university.”

Remind me to never go to Skyfell, Father Mulcahy.  It is full of madness.

We were nearly to the bottom of the hill and I could see where the river bank wound around toward the door.  Passed that, about a quarter league beyond, should be where the well comes out.  There has to be a cave there somewhere.  I took the wagon off the road and around the cliff wall where Far Spire stood.

“Timoteus,” I began, hoping his full name would get his attention.  “Can you track me through this gem?”

He thought for a moment.  “Yes, why?”

“Take care of the folks at the tower, ” I said and stood.  I drew back and threw that scrying stone out into the swamp as far as I could.

Now to find a place to park the wagon so I can go retrieve my armor.  Some days it didn’t pay to have allies.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Eighty Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Sebastian sent word an hour later.  Analise and Millie from the Broken Cudgel Inn had gone down the lizard folk tunnel to take a gander and see if Blargle and Liz were inside the door.  They would report back as soon as they could.  In the meantime I was barred from reentering the village.  Those poor folks had gone through quite enough, thank you very much.  That was Kershaw.  Seems that our tenuous relationship didn’t extend as far as putting my needs in front of that of her people.  Well, maybe I was being petulant.  I was tired, cold and hungry.  So, as I was to wait, I broke into the food stores, ate my fill and lay down in the wagon to catch a bit of shut eye.  It was glorious.

Kershaw left soon after and I woke to see the two guardsmen from this morning peering over the wagon.  One of them was leaning over, stretching his hand out to try and flip back the edge of the cloak I had Kithri wrapped in.  I reached over and slapped his hand, which caused him to draw it back and nearly fall when he lost his footing from where he was standing on one of the wheel spokes.  His partner caught him, laughing and the two of them wandered into town, exchanging coins as they went.  I sat up to find Sebastian coming down the road toward me, carrying two packs: mine and Liz’s.

Analise reported that there was blood on the door on the inside and two dead gnolls in the tunnel.  There was no evidence of either Liz nor Blargle, but the packs had been left there.  I took them, combing through them and took out three largest gems: yellow, white and a deep red for the largest of the three.  I handed them to Sebastian, imploring him to use whatever he could get for them to help the villagers rebuild.  I also said to keep the money from the weapons and armor we had brought to see that the families of the guardsmen were taken care of.

He blinked at me in astonishment and dropped the stones into his pockets.  Well, the smaller of the two.  The largest wouldn’t fit and he had to carry it in his hand.  It looked awkward the way he was trying to conceal it against his body, half tucking it and his fist into his armpit.  He was definitely uncomfortable and a little baffled by my generosity.

Analise approached me and said the blood they saw was definitely from Blargle and the gnolls.  They saw no sign that Liz had even made it into the tunnel.  Not that she couldn’t have done, but there was nothing she could divine with her magical abilities.  Mille backed up her version of the story and I was heartbroken.  Where had they both gone?  They said the stores under the inn had been broken into, and that it appeared that several gnolls had made it up the tunnel to the keep, explaining how the pair of off-duty guardsmen inside the mess hall had been killed.  The gnolls could’ve smashed through the food stores, but Millie thought the act had been deliberate, not random destruction.

This cleared something up for Sebastian.  Captain Kershaw had assumed that several gnolls had come through the open gates when the civilians were moving into the keep, but perhaps now they would change that tale.  The gnolls that had made it into the keep had been killed, and with those outside the tunnel also dead.  They would just have to assume their secret tunnels had been secured.  They should keep a guard in the tunnel nonetheless.  Sebastian nodded when I suggested it.

I asked if the gate over the well had been tampered with and neither Analise nor Millie could recall.  Which gave me my best hope of finding the others.  They probably escaped down through the well and went in search of me.  What a surprise they were in for when all they found on that tiny island was my armor.

I thanked them, added our packs to the wagon, hugged all three of them, and set off down the road at an easy walk, giving the horse a chance to feel comfortable with the wagon in tow.  The grade downward made me wish for Bob who could’ve told me the exact rise per distance and the safest speed to take the wagon, but I just let the horse set his own pace.

I was anxious to get back down to the lowlands.  I know what an emotional state I had been in when Liz and Blargle hadn’t returned, I did not want to contemplate how they would react when they couldn’t find me.  Made me think I should’ve stayed put.  Hindsight is an interesting teacher.

The horse was warming to the hill by the time we were about a quarter of the way down the road to the river.  I was happy to be riding in the wagon again, even though it handled differently now that it wasn’t weighed down by all that extra armor and weapons we’d sold to the keep.   I could definitely make better time on the road with the wagon, but with Bishop Cirila in Blackstone Landing, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in that direction.

I was lost in thought when I heard an echoing “halloo”.  I looked back and saw that Sebastian was running after me, holding the red gemstone in his fist.  I stopped the wagon, pulling the brake to secure the wheels and stood, watching as Sebastian ran toward me.  Now that I was no longer moving, he caught up fairly quickly.  By the time he got to the wagon, winded and blowing, he held up the stone with one arm, and leaned against the wagon with the other.

“He wants to speak with you,” Sebastian said,  which made no sense in the world.

“He who?” I asked.

He shook his fist holding the gem.  “Take this,” he said, his breath settling down.  “Just take it.”

I reached over and took the gem from him, thinking back to where I’d seen it before.  It was very familiar.  I clutched it in my hand, staring at the way it suddenly pulsed and heard a voice in my head.

“Damn it, Cleric.  Where are you?”  It was Wizard Tim and he sounded terrified.

Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Eighty Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Taking the road up to Far Spire was no easy feat.  Kithri may be small, but I’d not slept and the weight of her after my adrenaline crash nearly did me in.  It was two full hours after sunrise by the time I was high enough to make out the top of the keep.  It remained intact from my vantage so that did not prepare me for what had happened since we’d left.  What was it, three days since we’d entered under cover of night in the company of the Hand troops.  I don’t think I really got a very good look at the village in any case.  And while I had heard that one of the caravan warehouses had burned, the sight I saw once I topped the ridge surprised me.

Fully one third of the village lay in ruin.  Villagers were walking through the wreckage, sifting for any valuable that they could recover, or perhaps searching for loved ones.  The gate of the keep was open and the guard that paced the ramparts were in full gear.  This wasn’t a light day of staring over the road in boredom.  Far Spire was a bee hive of activity that indicated it had survived a raid.

When I cut from the road toward the village, three men with halberds and chain shirts approached me, demanding I state my business.  They wore the colors of Captain Kershaw’s troops which was a relief.  Of course, the good Bishop and his bully boys running northward like they were being chased by ghosts should’ve clued me in.

I sat Kithri down on the road, making sure she was not bounced around too harshly, and stood to speak to the three men.  They were nervous, but saw I was no threat.  In the end I asked to speak with Sebastian or Captain Kershaw and that garnered me a few curious looks.  One of the three took off at a run and I sat down, resting my legs and holding Kithri’s head in my lap.  I stroked her hair while I waited, marveling at the way her skin glowed with health even though she hadn’t eaten in days and days — nor drunk a drop in the same.  If that had been me, I would be dead already.

It took nearly a half an hour for anything to happen.  The two guardsmen had gone back to watching the road, but I knew full well they were watching me.  I wanted to present myself as non-threatening as possible and I seemed to have accomplished it.  As their fellow returned with Sebastian, they stood a little straighter, but did not appear concerned.

Sebastian on the other hand took one look at me, threw his hands up in the air and spun to talk with the guardsmen.  The two who had waited were sent back to their post and the third, who had already sprinted in the rain soaked morning to fetch the wily warrior was tasked to run back once more and fetch something or someone else.

Imagine my surprise when he walked over to the two men on watch and ignored me as if I were a beggar covered in sores.  We waited a full hour before the guardsman returned, this time with a wagon, or old horse, several crates and boxes, and a frowning Captain Kershaw.

I stood then, resting Kithri down gently and waited.

“Why are you here?” Kershaw asked, her face tight.  “Where are the others?”

And that was a blow I had not expected.  The shock on my face caught her off guard as well and her tone softened.  I explained what had happened and my theory on Blargle and Liz and how I’d assumed they were trapped back inside the tunnel.  Kershaw called Sebastian over and sent him off on an errand.  Then she helped me get Kithri loaded in the wagon.  The crates and barrels contained arrows for Liz, salted meet, hard tack, some fresh vegetables and one barrel of wine.  “Not our best,” she assured me.

Turns out that after we left to go down the tunnel, the rider had returned from Blackstone Landing.  He reported that the governor had recalled the Hand of the One True God to help protect his small port city which had been suffering from a spate of piracy.  Bishop Cirila and Captain Kershaw had gotten into an argument.  He had offered to remain behind with a token force, take control of the garrison and send his own troops back.

Kershaw informed him they he was not welcome, and that without confirmation of his usurpation of her command, he had better move back to Blackstone.  They had almost come to blows.  Her troop only numbered thirty-five with some locals who were more of an emergency militia swelling that to just over sixty.  The Hand had nearly that number but all of their men were seasoned veterans.  And, unfortunately there were Hand sympathizers in the village and depending how the confrontation went, may have backed the good bishop.

But the decision was taken from her when the gnolls attacked. Over one hundred gnolls attacked the village, killing and burning.  She was surprised we hadn’t heard the commotion from where we were, but when I explained the situation she only nodded.

The Hand troops were the first hit, which likely saved the village.  They occupied most of the gnolls, only allowing a handful to slip into the village and start burning.  They lost seventeen civilians and nine of her guard.  The Hand lost ten.

Overall a success.  Not that those who had lost out would be cheering anytime soon.  The good Bishop grudgingly left, stating that if his presence was not wanted, that perhaps they could tend to the next gnoll attack without his support.  He was very angry.

But he was already livid that we had left without his intervention.  He had no idea how that had been accomplished, but he said he would warn his archbishop Cavanaugh in Blackstone Landing, and perhaps all the way up to Cardinal Heath on Black Spire Island, the regional headquarters of the Hand of the One True God.  He accused her of being in league with demons and that he was see to it that she was dealt with.

Honestly I think his beef with Captain Kershaw was as much a fact that she was a woman than anything else.  She ran a fine command, was liked by her troops, had a key sense of how to keep the village under control without an iron fist.  All in all, I think she would be seen as a competent leader deserving of praise.

Made me like Cirila that much less, which I didn’t think was possible.  The man thought his brand of law was all that mattered, and even though he was purported to be on the side of good, I had my doubts.  I guess it takes all kinds to keep the world balanced enough so that it didn’t fall off that turtle’s back.