SIGN UP FOR THE JA PITTS NEWSLETTER
FOR UPCOMING EVENTS AND SPECIAL OFFERS

Archive for the ‘Dear Father Mulcahy’ Category

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Six

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Late in the night Scarlet came and pulled me to my feet. It was an act I did not want and a feat of which I would not have believed her capable. She is strong for one so petite. I had not been in my right mind for hours. The others had left me to my weeping, which suited us all. By the time Scarlet had led me up the trail to the remains of the cave, I found that they had laid the young boy there, furthest and most safest away from the fire which kept the rest alive. The snow had stopped for some reason, so we left a trail as we went. Finally she settled me in the entrance of the cave with a lantern and my pack — giving me orders to scratch in my book. Of course they had seen me writing this journal each night. Why was I surprised that someone with eyes like hers had seen the importance of this activity in my life.

So, I wrote the events as I remembered them, wishing I could find my way back to the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist where I could blissfully forget the dead child, and everything else in my life. Alas that was not to be my fate. The others went about their lives, most attempting to sleep while a few stoked the fires and kept watch. They would not be ambushed from above again. They learned from life.

And with that memories flooded into me, giving a face to my true pain. My first true love. Do you remember Meredith, father? She was a small child, three or four when she came to us. I had to have been no more than five summers myself; one of the kitchen ratlings who carried things and fetched to the cook’s demands. I had fallen in love with Meredith, with her shock of red hair and her smile that even forced Cook to show her teeth to us a time or two. Remember how she died? Perhaps not. After all, you ran the order. Your responsibilities were elsewhere. You were far too busy to be bothered by the likes of us wee ones.

Meredith’s death was not as sudden as a sword stroke, oh no. Hers was a lingering death brought on by the vagaries of nature who cared nothing for the grace of her light. Meredith had been struck down with a lingering illness that did not register with one as young as I. All I knew was Meredith was sweet and funny with a laugh that rang through the keep like the rising of the sun. To this day I can hear her squeal of delight when she tried to catch Cook’s old cat, Thomas. How she hunted that poor creature with her short stubby fingers and her echoing laughter which gave her away every time. But Thomas was a good cat and occasionally let Meredith catch him for just a moment. She loved how soft he was and I believe Thomas liked the attention.

But, as I said, Meredith grew sick one day a fever that contorted her body. The sisters took her from us and locked her away without a word. I followed them, eavesdropping until I could find where they had hidden her from her friends and from Thomas. The thrill of discovery and the hope of seeing the wonderful child again had me giddy as I snuck up the back stairs to the east tower where the surgeon worked and the healers, plied their trade.

They used leeches, Father Mulcahy — evil razor faced blood suckers of elfish origin. The so called healers were bleeding Meredith and chanting over her with burning censers. She writhed in pain, her small frame broken from the affects of Breakbone fever. They knew nothing of healing, the charlatans, even one as young as I could see the desperation in their faces. They practiced mythology and ignorance. They could have healed her with a simple prayer to remove the sickness as I have done in recent days, but they had no such connection to the divine.

She died, Father, screaming for Thomas to come and make the bad men stop hurting her. The cat came to her near the end, whether by design or happenstance, but they chased poor Thomas away with kicks and curses.   He came to me in the end, huddled where I was in a closet off the sick room. I have no idea how I was not discovered, but her cries and wails of anguish carved a wound in my spirit that has never truly healed.

Why had no one healed Meredith, I wonder, looking back from my position of smug adulthood. How is it that in a monastery full of true believers that none could be bothered to spend the short amount of time required to channel the divine and ease her pain?

That is the blackness that threatened to swallow me at the sight of the new dead child. I could hear the others from where I sat vigil near his corpse, out of the blowing snow. They wept and called his name, funny enough it also was Thomas. Just like the cat, I think Meredith would have chased after this boy, had they both lived.

The pain is too great, Father Mulcahy. The anguish too deep. How is this part of any divine plan? What had this child done to deserve the life that had brought him here, on this cliff side, indebted to a dragon and living the life of brigandry? Where is the justice? Where is the light?

Dawn is not far off. The others have decided to bury young Thomas in the valley below. I do not know how they plan to do such a thing with the ground frozen and the valley floor overrun with warring armies.   Perhaps it is of no value to know ahead of time, but better to take action. I would go with them, carrying the child if they would allow such a thing, and help put him into the ground. Then I would see about the next moment. We never saw Meredith again, Thomas nor I. Was she buried? Cast into the swamp? Burned on a pyre? At least I would see this child returned to the good earth. At least I would see to that.

For now, that is all I can comprehend.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Bob began to sing. I’m telling you, that dwarf had a set of lungs that would make the giants below jealous. Once the song reached us over the valley, those who were affected negatively stumbled, dropped their weapons to cover their ears, cowered in fear, vomited or in the case of one orc, threw himself off the cliff.

None of the orcs were immune. Three of the brigand children stayed on their feet, as did Just Jacob and myself.

I’d never fought orcs, and this wasn’t much of a fight. There were seventeen of the buggers to deal with and between the five of us, we killed eleven before they recovered enough to defend themselves. The remaining five backed against the cliff wall, weapons and shields out in a half circle. Just Jacob and I engaged them while the brigands dragged the dying and wounded away from the fight.

Having fought troglodytes, I can honestly say that orcs are way easier. First of all, they don’t smell anywhere as badly as trogs, and secondly, if you could disarm them, they had fewer chances to hurt you. Trogs liked to bite. Well, I assume the orcs would bite as a last resort, but we didn’t give them the opportunity.

The snow was falling hard by this time, muffling the sounds of the world. My breath roared like a bellows, yet the rest of the world faded. My entire being narrowed to the rote actions of combat. Strike and parry, dodge and block. By the time we were through, Just Jacob killed two orcs, I killed two and Clarisse killed one, having reloaded her crossbow for the finishing touch.

We were all breathing heavy, hands on knees and sucking in the frigid air when we noticed that Bob’s song had faded. I glanced over and he glowed brighter than his tower, the divine shining from him like a beacon fire. He stood as if surveying the outcome of our skirmish. I moved to where the flames cast the widest shadow against the cliff behind us and raised my shield and mace, casting an image of myself three times my normal size. It seemed to be enough for Bob, for shortly after his glow dimmed somewhat as he went inside his tower.

Funny thing was, I was suddenly filled with more energy than I had had in days if not weeks. Almost like he had somehow diverted a portion of his divine energy my way. With a shout and a leap, I set about healing the brigands that had gone down in the first moments of the fight. I was able to save all of them but one.

Oh, I tried, Father. I prayed to Kithri and to Semaunya (may she heed her acolyte’s plea more frequently) to no avail. It was the youngest of the lot, Father. The small but broad ginger boy who had carried their small chest of treasure when fleeing the cave. He had been no more than ten summers, damn the fates.

I could not understand what was happening. The logic of it all failed me. Suddenly an emotional void yawned before me, threatening to consume my very soul . I was exhausted and stretched too thin. I stood on an ecclesiastical precipice struggling to comprehend a world where this child could die.

What was the point of being a cleric if this was the fate of our children? How could the gods allow this? The answer, of course, was they would not. I was there, after all. I, a cleric of two Life deities. This was a test of my resolve, a moment of determination and fortitude. I was being tested and I would not fail.

I raised the boy in my arms, strode to the edge of the cliff and held his body above my head. Then I called down the divine. I opened myself to the great power of the universe and expanded my meager vessel to hold more power than I had ever attempted. Once my body had reached my normal capacity I kept drawing the power until I began to glow the way Bob did each night. Still I drew more, until the brigands fell back, shielding their faces, and the armies below stood out in stark relief. I pulled and I pulled channeling the power through me into the child — being a true conduit for greater powers. Powerful clerics had been known to raise the dead.   I’d read the liturgy. I’d heard the tales. This child would live if I was a worthy vessel.

I beg your forgiveness if this statement offends you, Father Mulcahy. I know I have never seen you raise the dead, not even Sister Edna whom we all loved. So do not take this as an affront to you or your divine affiliation. Truly I believed that I had been chosen for this task. How could I possibly fail?

Lightning fell from the heavens to strike the ground at my feet. The snow around me melted and ran from the cliff. After a time dead orcs began to smolder, all from the power of the divine. I was powerful, I was blessed, I was… lost.

In the end, Just Jacob came to me and took the boy from my hands. I do not know how he survived the outpouring of energy, but he did not falter. I don’t know how long I had called to the heavens. I do not know how long I wept. The boy remained dead. I was proven unworthy.

I fell to my knees, spent and bereft.   The gods had saved me from certain death on more than one occasion. They had given me boons and gifts. Yet they would not return life to this child. I had failed. Or, perhaps the gods had failed me.

The dying of the light reflected the sorrow in my spirit. For the first time since Sister Edna’s death, hope fled and the flame of my faith sputtered. In that instant, across the valley, a cry went up, like the breaking of a heart, and the glow of Bob’s tower winked out, casting the world into blackness.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

First of all, if the giants had come this way raiding, why were they carrying treasure? There was something else going on here. Now that I think about it, assembling a force this large to coincidentally leave their mountain fastness in time to come through the breach seemed highly unlikely. Were they heading someplace different when they left? Had this excursion into the planar rift been a lark on the part of Baithor? If the giants prevailed in the fighting, I may just ask them.

In the night the giants had spent considerable time retreating their war mounts. The huge wooly beasts with enormous ears, six legs and a tail on both ends of its body were strange enough, but the fact they could go in reverse as easily as they went in forward, was a sight to behold. This explained why fewer had died on the pass when we’d caught them off guard. Well, that and they are huge and incredibly hard to kill.

Also, the giants were not idiots. They had already suffered at the twists and turns of the swamp denizens, traps and naturally destructive landscape. It was inevitable that any strategist worth his salt would use the terrain to his advantage, which is what the giants had begun to do. Of course, the orcs were no strangers to this land, so they were not always surprised. But when you face a thirty-foot tall opponent who can hurl boulders further than you can throw a spear, you have some issues.

The battle sawed back and forth along an imaginary line that ran between our entrenchment and where Bob stood on his tower. It was as if he and I were judges in a colossal game of tug of war. The giants were outnumbered by quite a large factor, but they wreaked so much havoc that the orcs superior numbers did not appear to prove as overwhelming as I had first thought. Frankly, watching the battle below us, I’m am stunned at the success Liz had in our encounter, and the success that the brigands had here on the cliff. In open terrain the giants were a terror. No wonder the dragon fled.

My new allies had begun to realize just how overwhelming the army of ice giants were by the time the sun was fully set. The orcs retreated, having lost a full third of their force. Why they chose to fight during the day surprised Just Jacob. He had experience with orcs and they were definitely night fighters. Not that the sun was very bright. The cloud cover and snow had made for a very dim day, so perhaps that was close enough for them. They seemed to have some disadvantages, however. Just Jacob assured me that orcs were better in greater numbers and with the element of surprise.

“Like an ambuscade,” I asked, which only drew a small smile and a shrug of his shoulders.

Clarisse was able to count the command tents of the orcs and determined that not only were the Bloody Stump banners flying, but the Gouged Eye were also present. She saw no signs of the Rotted Toe, but Just Jacob said they were a fairly significant tribe and had no need to ally with the Bloody Stump.

It turns out the giants had fared significantly better, though their casualties were not light. Clarisse counted twenty seven giants laid out once the forces had parted. Perhaps a few would survive the night, but she reported their wounds looked pretty bad. Did I mention Clarisse had a spy glass? Yeah, was a surprise to me, too. I had been so impressed by her reports that I was lauding her vision as nearly divine. Now I understand the snickering and sideways glances from the others. Nothing like being the butt of a joke. I decided to let it go. They are children in a bad situation. They should have some fun, even if it was at my expense. I’m not angry or anything.

Anywho… the brigands had been hiding the spy glass and using it only when they thought I had no chance to see. But I caught them. An item like that was quite valuable, a rare tool used by sea captains and other military commanders. The delicate lenses and adjusting gyros were difficult to produce with any quality. After a bit of chagrin and heavy sighing, it turns out they had taken that from the dragon’s own hoard, a payment for services rendered and a tool to keep the pass protected. The fact it had been directly gifted to Clarisse was a bit of an issue among the brigands, though no one really fussed too much. Perhaps some minor jealousy.

The two armies set their pickets and set about tending their wounded and cooking. It was nearly civilized. I don’t think the giants had as easy a time as the orcs did in seeing at night. The camp of orcs had blazing fires to keep away the cold, but the giants had signal fires to see the enemy. Similar tools, different uses. Made me think of alternate uses to accepted items. Something to ponder on. Or maybe I was just too tired for logical thinking.

Once it was clear the battle had ceased, we could turn our attention to something truly important: the content of that second chest. That was something we all had a keen interest in. Turns out the box we retrieved was filled with seventeen hundred and sixty three bobbins, each wound with a different colored thread. It was baffling. The bobbins were smaller than my thumb nail and were collected in long tubes of wax, stacked row upon row in the chest.

Money and craft supplies — I would hazard a guess that the giants had been going to a parley of some ilk. But not with us. They had been going off to visit some other powerful individual or group. Likely a rival tribe. What they had hoped to garner from the filled bobbins we may never know. I can tell you the colors were like nothing I had ever seen, and with the icy land they hailed from, a stark contrast to the overwhelming white of their world.

We were just starting to speculate on the purpose of the colorful threads when Clarisse called out, firing her crossbow and drawing her sword.

Orcs spilled over the cliff behind us, having scaled the wall further north and making their way across the top of the canyon. By the time I had climbed to my feet, hefted my shield and pulled my mace, two of the brigands were down. Our end seemed fairly certain.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I cackled then, a high throated thing that scared me. Seems the poison had a tendency to cause madness. Wish someone would’ve told me. Of course, I was tapped out healing wise, so I needed more rest. Unfortunately I was not resting, I was leering over the berm at the giant below, drooling like an idiot.

Luckily Just Jacob is an honorable man. He pulled me aside and addressed the giant, discussing terms, conditions, etc. You’d be surprised how well versed in logic and diplomacy a brigand can be.

Seems the giants had finally come around to my original proposal and wanted to go home. Unfortunately, they were now being confronted with an orc army in the “big enough to be a bother” range of troops. What the young requested was for a truce where they could not be accosted from above by this band (the size of which they had no idea). Based on the casualties, the giants assumed a much larger and better armed and armored force. Just Jacob was quick witted enough not to dissuade them from their incorrect supposition.

Apparently the bit of shooting that Liz had done in the first encounter with Baithor had them convinced we were a troop of warriors including bowman, spearmen and general men-at-arms numbering in the dozens at least, with strategic advantage of terrain and cover. Liz would be proud, if I lived long enough to tell her. Just Jacob, being a brigand, after all, negotiated a price for the agreement and the giant accepted terms. Runners were dispatched and soon two stout chests were left on the trail for us to recover. The condition being that we could retrieve them after the giants had dealt with the orcs and retreated without our intervention. If, for any reason, we betrayed them, they would pound this cliff side with boulders until the whole thing collapsed. Painful and slow, but a real threat.

They also offered a prize for me, in recompense for Baithor’s betrayal. They lay a cloak of white dragon hide upon the treasure chests, one of Baithor’s many prizes. I was quite thrilled with that, as it would go nicely with my white armor. One cannot be too careful when accessorizing one’s wardrobe.

We slept in shifts, two guards awake and everyone else asleep. I managed a decently long rest finally and woke both delirious and somehow able to channel a bit of the old go-juice. The first thing I did was purge the poison from myself and Scarlet. Only seemed fair. That cleared my mind, mostly, and I was able to heal everyone, including myself. I was very happy to peel the bandages off my hands and arms. There would be some scarring, unfortunately, but nothing new for me. By the dawn we were back in fighting shape and uniquely poised to watch the battle that was about to unfold below us.

Well, not quite unique. Clarisse has very good eyes and she spotted Bob across the canyon, a tiny speck at the top of the tower across the way. He stood there watching the battle, I supposed. He faced in the direction of the valley, in any case. It didn’t dawn on me until later that he had felt the permutations in the divine, alerting him to another who worshiped the bread goddess, Kithri.

But that is an amount of speculation that does not bear up to exact evidence yet. It was Clarisse who came up with the theory. Once I was done healing everyone, and stopped using the divine, Bob went back into the tower. Later, when I summoned food and water, he came back out to stare across the canyon. Finally, just as the dawn was breaking upon the world I spent a bit of time in prayer to both Kithri and Semaunya (may she enjoy the battle below us and appreciate my aloof observation only, as she wills it). The prayer recharged me in both spirit and mind. The entire time I prayed, Clarisse noted that Bob knelt on the tower peak, likely in prayer himself.

Just Jacob slept last and hardest. His wounds had been near unto death by the time I had arrived just hours ago (time flies when you are battling and wounded), and he’d over taxed himself in the time since. The others agreed to allow him to sleep until he was awoken by the distant sounds of horns and the clash and screams of battle.

To describe the day as anything other than a combination of intense excitement, sheer terror and unbelievable boredom would do a disservice on the day. The giants were easy to see due to their size, but the orcs were ferocious. Twice they broke through the giant’s lines and once they made for this now sealed pass. Our advantage proved enough to beat them back, but they nearly made it to the treasure chests, which upset the brigands, as you can imagine. They sent a crew down to recover the chests but were caught in a hail of arrows when they tried for the first box. One of the died, and the rest made their way back enough for me to get to them and heal them.

We relocated our ambush to the next lower tier and fought off a few of the orcs. This portion of the giant line was weaker due to the bogs and fens that came up to the very edge of the cliff side. The giants were too large and sank into the watery depths when they strayed off solid ground. The orcs, being smaller, could cross the ground with less risk.

But, you know, risk is risk. hundreds of orcs fell in that initial onslaught, but the giants were bloodied. Near the end of the day, as the sun was slipping below the edge of the canyon, I led a second foray down to recover the cloak and one box of treasure. The second box had been damaged in the fighting. Seems one of the giants took personal affront that we would take the treasure without waiting for the outcome of the battle and threw a boulder our way. One chest was smashed, sending gold and silver coins skittering across the stone path. We’d recover what of that remained after the battle.

Not like we could’ve carried that chest on a run in any case. That much coin weights a lot. To our surprise, the second chest was much lighter. Of course, not everyone found the same things to be valuable. Once we opened the chest and saw what was inside, we understood that we had no true frame of reference with the giants.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

“How do we get there?” I called to Just Jacob, no longer caring if any in the canyon below realized we were there. I mean, they knew we killed a whole mess of them, right? Okay, the brigands killed most of them. I mainly fell on them. But I survived and they did not.

“Fly?” Scarlett called from her vantage point.

The others sniggered. Funny crowd.

“How do you know Bob, then?” I asked as Just Jacob broke away from the kids and crab-walked over to me.

“I have heard his song for nearly two years,” Just Jacob said. “Scarlett has grown immune, but the younger ones, and the newer, still have nightmares. His song brings their fears to the fore. True it lessons them over time, like a slow acting salve. But the time between first hearing the song and no longer cringing or weeping is unique to each individual.”

I studied him, confused. “You weep?”

“Do you not?” he asked me in return.

I sat back against the berm. Did I weep when I first heard his lament? I was fresh out of the planar rift that is the Strongold of Kithri’s Fist. Was I even aware of my emotions at that point? I know being in that sliver of one of the higher planes had dulled my senses to the point that only deep and violent wounding got through my addled mind.

I glanced at my hands, expecting to see scars and saw the dirty and pus stained bandages instead. The memory of slicing my hands open on the great, awkward spear I had carried sent a shiver through me and I crossed my bandaged hands on my chest. Where had that spear gone? I wonder if Liz or Tim knew.

“I did not weep,” I said, deciding finally. “I am sorry you suffer so.”

Just Jacob nodded and waved his hand, taking in the children. “These lot have much trauma in their short lives.”

We discussed brigandry and how that could affect the simpler demeanor’s of the youth, but Just Jacob assured me that their lives were far better than before he and Bruce had found them.

Before I could ask about Bruce, Scarlet’s crossbow sounded and a grunt from further below let us know she had hit her mark. We peered over the edge of the berm to see an ice giant crouched on the trail two switches down the line.

“Hold,” he bellowed. “I seek parley.”

Ah, I was familiar with this trick. “Don’t bother,” I said loud enough for the giant to hear. “Their cowardly and dishonorable leader Baithor does not respect parley. I should know, as I survived his most egregious and ill-timed assault on my person.”

The brigands hung on my words as Scarlet turned the crank on her crossbow and slid another bolt into the groove. “Shall I shoot him again, then?” she asked sweetly.

I wasn’t sure who she was asking in that moment, but he giant beat us to the punch.

“Peace, I beg of you,” he said, his voice deep and rumbling, but there was trepidation underlying the tenor. One I had not thought to hear from a being of his physical stature.

I sighed, knowing how very much getting shot with a crossbow felt.

“I’ll do this,” I said, struggling to my feet. “If they shoot me, shoot him and don’t stop shooting until you run out of bolts.”

The giant grunted below, but stood away from the side of the cliff, to the berm edge of the trail, giving Scarlet a clear shot. Luckily for us all, she witheld.

I walked to the edge of the switch, where I could face (so to speak) the giant and see whom I addressed. He raised a gem that glowed with a bright flickering light in shades of blue and white, like the sun reflecting on deep ice. He was a younger man, his beard to his sternum and few trophies on his belt. By his dress and weaponry I pegged him as a scout. Scarlet’s crossbow bolt shown from where it had punched through his chain mail and into his shoulder. It was a clean shot, and lucky. It could have very easily have glanced off the thick rings.

“What does the malevolent Baithor have to parley about?” I asked.

There was a pause. Then the giant straightened up and held his chin high. “Baithor showed much contempt and dishonor in attacking you,” he said, his voice strained. This admission was not to his liking. “Alas his ills may never be fully restituted as this foul hand has claimed him. Baithor’s bones will rot beneath this swamp, gnawed by spiders and rats.”

I glanced back at Just Jacob who shrugged. This was a harsh environment. How man of the giants had I seen slain already.

“Sucks for you,” I said, allowing a bit of my anger to seep into my words. It was not very charitable a thing to say, but being shot by a giant’s crossbow is not a pleasant thing. “What do you want?”

“Want?” the giant asked with a guffaw. “We want the very thing you warned Baithor to consider. We want to return to our home, lick our wounds and live our lives away from this foul place.”

“I thought you pursued the dragon?” I asked. This drew a shocked exchange of glances from the others and Just Jacob waved his hand at them, stifling any remark. Did they want the dragon killed? Did they work for her of their own volition? Or were they somehow tied to her with violence and fear?

“The dragon was Baithor’s prize,” the young giant spat. “May his bones feed the worms.”

“Not the rats?” I called down, with a laugh.

Just Jacob made a chopping motion with his hand and covered his mouth with the other. Okay, perhaps snark and sarcasm was not in order. I was feeling a tad reckless, I’ll have you know. I blame the poison that my body was battling.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

“Orcs,” Just Jacob breathed. “The Bloody Stump clan, unless I miss my mark.”

This puzzled me. I could see the vague impression of a flowing line of marching individuals, hundreds of them, but I could in no way tell their species, nor any of their tribal markings or banners.

“How is it possible you can know that?” I asked him.

“There are three tribes in the region,” he whispered, sliding back away from the edge of the canyon. “I’ve battled the troops of two of the clans: The Gouged Eye, and the Rotted Toe. Both are smaller in stature, not much more than goblins.” He shuddered. “Ratty things, frankly. Wiry and damned hard to kill. But small. That bunch out there has more discipline and more mass than any of the other orc clans I’ve dealt with.” He paused. “At least in combat.”

I watched him for further clarification, and when none came, raised myself up enough to look over the lip of the cliff wall once more. They were not silent by any means, but they were currently no indications that the giants had noticed them as of yet. The temperature was dropping faster than I was comfortable with now that both suns had set, and the roiling clouds had just begun unloading the fat, wet snowflakes onto the part of the world.

“And the dragon, Cassandra?” I asked. “Where does she play in all this?”

Just Jacob pulled my leg to force me to slide down next to him once more. The bandages on my hands and arms were filthy by this point and some of the blisters had begun to rupture. There was a smell of foulness that spoke of rot and decay. Not happy making, let me tell you. I needed more sleep, and I needed to heal before I took too much permanent damage.

“We can hold this trail,” Just Jacob answered. “But we cannot get to the dragon’s cave with the giant’s in the valley.”

I took a steadying breath, fighting through the pain and thinking of our options. We had food, fire, shelter — if crowded, and the luxury of higher ground with a narrow approach. Unless we took heavy casualties — which was a possibility if the giants made a concerted effort — we could hold this way indefinitely. This pass had been made useless by collapsing the caves. Once we were off this cliff side, there would be no reason for anyone to come up here again. Which is a shame. There should be some sort of memorial placed here to commemorate the valiant struggle of these children against an overwhelming force of ice giants. It was very inspirational, if a little one-sided in execution.

It took me a moment to realized that Just Jacob had been whispering to me. Unfortunately I did not understand a word he said as I was deep in thought. So I grunted a non-committal answer which seemed to satisfy him. Then he glanced at the moon then back to me. “It won’t be long now,” he said. I studied at him, trying to read his face in the shadows.

“Aye,” I replied.

He only nodded, holding a hand up, signaling me to wait.

I dozed there on the side of the berm, my body drinking in the quiet like a feverish man drinking water. I think Sister Edna has called them power naps. I woke with a start sometime later, blinking in the blackness to see Just Jacob huddled with several of the child brigands, arms around several of them as they hunkered down in the dark near the fire. They were obviously terrified about something. I thought to go to them, to help see what had frightened them so. Before I could move, Bob began singing his nightly lament. The children began to sob at his first word and I was reminded of the hobs and their response to the beautiful if haunting song.

And it sounded so very close. I climbed the berm once more, barely poking my head above the edge, and looked down into the valley. The giant camp remained as I’d seen it last. It did not appear that they knew of the other army yet. I do not see how that could be the case, unless there was some form of magic here.

The Orc army had come to a halt at the northern most entrance to the canyon below. Bob’s song filled the night with sweetness and pain. The power of it this close, bore directly into my heart and pulled out the shards of anguish and fear, loss and dread, that I harbored in my soul. It was both cathartic and agonizing. The nearness of it a harsher medicine than the song had been in previous nights.

I searched the night for the voice, seeking its source and was rewarded for my trouble. Across the canyon a light sprang up, actually many lights, as a tower on the eastern side of the canyon, directly opposite of our position, flared into the night.

The tower was surrounded by the ruins of a keep, that much was clear in the light of a thousand torches that lined the battlements. There stood shades in armor with swords and shields, protecting the ruins from the ravages of the world. At the very tippy-top of the tower a single white light shown into the night sky like a beacon. The light, brighter than any I had seen before, cast a shaft of white upward into the heavens.

The light glowed from a small figure highlighted against the blackness of the night. Bob stood on that tower, singing his lament, the light of the divine shining from his very being. How was that possible?

I watched, open mouthed as the light emanating from him pulsed, sending waves out across the canyon, down into the river valley that had carved it over the millennia. There the light highlighted the Ice giant army on the southern end of the valley, and the newly arrived orc army to the north.

Bob sang until he finished, and then the light, as the song, faded from the world once more.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The brigands had the advantage of terrain, size, and familiarity on their side in the battle, and it showed in ways beyond comprehension. Fully a third of the giant column was wounded or killed and more of their mounts suffered in the rout. It was a tale the hobs would appreciate when I returned to tell it to them. If I survived.

Scarlett crept down the trail toward me, keeping away from the edge until she got to me, then using rope and sheer will, helped drag me back onto level ground. She’s the one who warned me about the impending pustules. I do not think her words did them justice. To be fair, she ended up suffering only slightly less than I did, but she didn’t shy away. She risked not only her life, but her flesh to the poison plant just to insure I would survive. Later she said she had anticipated I could heal her and myself both. She was right, of course. Unfortunately I had expended all of my strength healing the others earlier in the day. So we suffered for a long night, barricaded on the trail.

One good thing that came out of the encounter was that most of the lads had grown up on farms and knew how to butcher animals. They set about rendering one of the large mounts into some bold but delicious roast which they promptly cooked over a fire. The weather was cold still, ice forming where water ran down the sides of the canyon. It was beautiful to look at, even if it made living more difficult. Of course, the cold was not my main concern.

We ate and rested. Simple fare, a modicum of shelter from the growing wind and a fire that helped keep the worst at bay. Just Jacob led a squad down the trail in to loot the fallen that remained on the first few turns of the trail. He posted Clarisse as lookout at the camp as she had the best eyes after Scarlet who was suffering with the blisters. The looting squad returned several times to dump their pilfering at the remains of their once home as the exit tunnel had not collapsed. Once the dust had settled we had a solid fifteen feet of passage to use. Not much, but enough to get out of the elements if need be. Once they looted each corpse, they set about with spears and rocks as levers to roll the massive bodies off the trail. Not all bounced into the canyon which meant they had to risk the next lower switchback to finish the dead. They ventured down seven switches before Just Jacob deemed it too dangerous to continue. The giants were camped at the base of the cliff wall, fires and tents springing up after dark. I wondered if they might send forth an emissary to parley? Not that they should be trusted. After all they had shot me. Yes, Liz said I had it coming for being arrogant, but it was still foul play.

I woke late in the night, startled by the hand on my shoulder. My hands and wrists had been bandaged up to my elbows and despite the throbbing pustules, I had managed to fall asleep. It was Clarisse, the young crossbow wielder. Her eyes were wide, and she held a finger against my lips, urging silence. I sat up, curious and saw Just Jacob waving me over to him, squatted behind a row of broken stone.

Clarisse motioned for me to stay low, which meant crawling, which meant more exceptional pain from the aggravated skin of my hands and arms. I started to grumble, but thought better of it when I caught the look on Clarisse’s face in the light of the campfire. Okay, something bad was going down.

I gritted my teeth and squirmed my way over to Just Jacob who grunted at me and motioned for me to look over into the canyon below by way of jerking his thumb in that general direction. More giants were pouring into the canyon from the south. Where originally they had numbered three hundred, this harsh landscape and encounters with the local flora and fauna had dramatically reduced their numbers.   That is, if the one-fifty to two-hundred we saw in the valley. We counted eighty camp fires so my guess could be off slightly. If they had three to a campfire, then I’d expect two-forty. But they had to bring in their own wood. The river valley that fell below us consisted mainly of bogs and sink holes.

As an aside, I want to note how surprised I was at the existence of this canyon. I’d been travelling over a mostly flat expanse of modest hills and swamp with bogs, fens, rivers, lakes and bayous. To find that this deep canyon should suddenly appear in the midst of it startled my imagination.

Once I had gained a good understanding of the growing giant build up, Just Jacob pointed directly north. For a long moment I could not see anything beyond terrain features. The river valley opened up northward, climbing gently to the level of the rest of the region. I judged the distance to be more than two leagues but in the light of the moon, I could not be sure. Far, in any case. I stared intently for a long time, beginning to wonder if Just Jacob had fallen asleep when I caught a glint of moonlight on metal. Metal, the metal of spears, the metal of armor, the metal of swords. That was an army on the move and they were marching straight toward the giant’s encampment.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The back door of the cave emptied onto a ledge no wider than I could jump — flat-footed — in armor. Scarlet knew this and dodged to the left as soon we emerged, the dust and debris masking our exit. The others were running along the thin path down into a wide canyon. It would have been nice if one of them had mentioned all this to me. You know, in hindsight. I did have the most spectacular moment where I was running as hard as I could over a debris strewn tunnel, my vision and breathing impaired by choking dust, only to find that my feet no longer pushed off from good solid stone and instead flailed feebly for the briefest of moments in open air.

I’m sure if any of the brigand children had witnessed my brief moment of flying that I would have appeared quite comical. As it was, I do not believe they had any inkling what had happened to me until Scarlet heard me scream. I did see her whip around just as the trail fell away above me and I plummeted to my certain death.

To be fair, there is the briefest of argument that I am exaggerating the situation for the sake of drama. I’ll leave that to your sensibilities, Father Mulcahy. I like to think I have a flair for good story telling.

The trail proved to be a switchback, the lower trail angling back and forth, cutting into the cliff face, all the way down to the river valley below. The point of trail near the cave’s back door had narrowed to the point I described earlier, but as it ran down the cliff it grew much wider — more a plaza — where several of us could walk abreast with ease.

In the end I decided this was a fortunate thing. Well, it truly depends on your point of view, as is always the case in the world. You see, my misfortune saved the lives of my new companions. But that is mere logistical extrapolation on my part.

As I plummeted to what I could only assume was a very sudden and jarring impact on the ravine below, I could barely miss the fact that the switchback beneath me was filled with a long line of ice giants riding on their mammoth beasts. While the immediate trail below me was a decent three or more rods lower than the mouth of the cave, the giant riding on his beast reduced my overall fall to less than a rod. I weigh a good thirteen stones and my trajectory was such that my impact to the giant’s head snapped his neck. This led to him collapsing sideways, falling from his mount and bouncing into the ravine. His now riderless mount reared in panick, slamming into the beast and rider behind it, causing all of them to follow the now dead giant over the side.

I remain astounded neither of the raging and stamping beasts landed a huge foot on my bruised and battered body before they plunged to their deaths. I rolled to the edge of the ravine, swinging my legs over and grasping at the vegetation. My momentum was impeded by the handful of verge I gripped with my right hand, which was not enough to prevent me from falling. The gnarled stump of a tree I managed to grab with my left proved sturdy enough to catch my full weight and arrest my downward progression.

As I looked down between my legs, I could see that the two giants and mounts that had gone over the cliff had spilled several others on the switch further below, sending them down even further to bounce and roll into the depths of the canyon. The cacophony was enormous: shrieking beasts, crashing stone, cursing giants and in the end the great splash of huge bodies impacting a winding river half a league below.

The quiet military precision of the giant’s upward climb devolved into pandemonium. Part of the trail below was destroyed, preventing half the troop from further below to climb any higher. Those on the upward side of the rock slide were confused and panicked as the brigands finally cottoned on to what was happening and began firing crossbows into their midst.

The giants were pinned down. They could not retreat and only those in the very front could rush forward into the spears of the brigands who had moved to the lowest point of the switch, prepared to meet the rampaging mounts. For beings of such immense power, experience and will, it was a route. I swung over the void, legs so high above the trail below that the giants could not reach me. Then one of the surviving giants noticed me and threw a boulder at me, finding me, I suppose, to be the easier target. The brigands could hold that pass with far less effort than it would take the giants to assault their position.

In the end eleven giants and their mounts were brought down. The rest below turned and headed back down the trail to the valley floor. The brigands sent stones down upon them as they retreated, killing and wounding many more. It has to be a victory on par with the lizard folk wiping out the frog army that had pursued me so recently.

I just wish I had been able to do anything other than hang there, helpless. At least I didn’t fall again. Of course, the gnarled plant that had saved my life produced a virulent form of poison that covered my arms and hands in blisters the size of your thumb. Trust me when I tell you, writing this journal entry was an exceptional bit of torture.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I ran from the infirmary to the main cavern, one step ahead of Just Jacob. My group healing had added a bit of color to his face, but he was on the wrong end of exhaustion. The fire in his eyes told me he would stay on his feet a while longer. But I was acutely aware of the frailties of the mortal body.

“Scarlet, collapse the entrance,” Just Jacob called as he strode into the room. “Quickly,” he admonished the young woman on watch.

“But what about Bruce?” she called, her gaze fixed forward. “He’s still out there with the others. We can’t just leave him.”

“Do as I say, Scarlet. You know what Bruce would want.”

The girl started to protest, but a movement at the entrance to the cave drew her attention. She fired her crossbow and a yipping echoed into the cave. The others emerged into the main cavern, weapons readied, if a little shaky.

Just Jacob waved them back. “Gather what supplies you can,” he said, drawing a sword I had not noticed he had donned. “Clarisse, lead them to the back door.” He glanced at the younger of the two girls. “You know the way. If we do not make it, take them to Cassandra. She will protect them.”

I found that to be odd. The evil dragon would protect these children? What a riddle that was.

The girl, Clarisse, nodded and began shepherding the others down another passage even though some of them were clearly half a decade older than she. They responded without question. Some of my hob warriors would not react as well, nor as quickly. They were obviously prepared to evacuate by the state of their gear. They each grabbed packs with bedrolls. A few grabbed sacks of food. One smallish boy, I’d guess around ten summers, picked up a small chest as wide as his shoulders. He did not complain, just hefted his burden and made for the back of the cave.

Scarlet hesitated for a brief moment then strode from her vantage point near the cave’s entrance to an alcove. The roof of the cave here was supported by thick timbers which were themselves supported by stout buttresses. In the alcove a lever stood out, obviously meant to be used to collapse the tunnel. Scarlet kicked at the lever as one of the dire wolves came snuffling up the tunnel toward the cave proper. Obviously it was wary after one of his pack mates had been shot by her crossbow. Caution is prudent.

Just Jacob and I both stepped forward, weapons ready. He had no shield, but stood in a stance that showed he was used to carrying one. The turned slightly, keeping the blade forward, preparing for the beast’s leap forward.

“Go with the others,” he growled at me, tensing his shoulders and bending ever so slightly at the knees. “Go to Bob,” he snapped. “He has need of you.”

Before I could reply the wolf lunged and Just Jacob slid to the side, narrowly avoiding the beasts gnashing teeth. He drove the point of the blade into the wide furry chest, eliciting a howl of pain and fury. The wolf snapped its head toward Just Jacob to bite the young warrior, but instead of finding exposed flesh, instead met the business end of my mace.

The noble and horrid creature crumpled to the floor with the sound of crunching bones. The beasts final, frigid breath congealing the splattered blood and brains into a frozen mass. We both stepped back, glancing at one another. The beasts that came through with the giants were deadlier than we were likely prepared for.

Just Jacob stared at me a moment then nodded once by way of thanks.

“Go with the others,” I said. “We will meet you. I am much stronger than you are in this moment.”

He glanced at his chest, brushing away the dusting of frost, imagining the distance between the wolfs bite and his fragile flesh. Then, his mind made up in an instant, turned and walked after the others. “Hurry Scarlet,” he called, not bothering to look back. There was a man of focus and determination.

The girl grunted as I hurried toward her. “Shoot the next thing that comes through there,” I motioned toward the cave entrance. “Let me have a go.”

She looked at me with a smug smile, and a raised eyebrow, as if to ask if I was addled, or just an ass. When I didn’t say anything else she kicked the lever thrice more. In that brief amount of time, a second wolf came nosing into the cave — his icy breath licking an icy trail along the closer wall, stripping the heat from around us. I stepped back, shield and mace raised, ready to engage the beast when it grew closer, gauging the range on its icy breath.

With a grunt, Scarlet’s final kick did its job. The buttresses fell inward across the passage into the cave, driving the wolf back a few pensive steps. Then the cross beam fell with an all mighty crash, driving dust into the air. Then stone ceiling began to crack with a great splintering sound.

Scarlet rushed past me, swatting my arm as she passed. “Run, fool,” she shouted, snatching up her crossbow and quiver of bolts in one hand, and a rucksack in her other.

We stumbled back coughing from the dust that rolled from the collapsed mouth of the cave, the wolf’s piteous howl cut short. The distance to the back door was not far in hindsight, though the choking dust threatened to overwhelm us before we emerged into open air.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

“This Rufus you speak of,” I began, turning to the girl. “Does he live near here?”

She looked to Just Jacob who nodded once, then she turned to me with a grim expression. “Rufus is neither he or she,” she began, as if explaining something to a small child. “Rufus is a…,” she paused, thinking. “I supposed you would say, Rufus is a tree.” She looked to Just Jacob for approval and he nodded at her, a wisp of a smile on his face.

“Tree Shepherd,” he said, quietly.

“Yes,” the girl said, brightly. “A tree shepherd, like Bruce.” Then her face fell and tears welled up in her eyes. “He knew Rufus the best, Bruce did. He collected us each and every one from the place where Rufus found us. Where our families left us to die.”

I had never heard of such. A tree shepherd? What on earth was a tree shepherd? Well, I guess the truth of the matter would be settled with a visit to this Rufus.

“Do you know where to find Rufus?” I asked, trying to be as polite as I could be. Closing the planar rift would be the highlight of my week. Well, that and getting Bob released. “And once we find him, do you honestly believe he will have the knowledge we seek?”

Just Jacob nodded once. “Yes, if we can find him, Rufus may very well know how to close that rift. But our immediate danger is more pressing.” He turned to look at me. “What if the giants find their way here? They have wolves. They can track their fallen. They are not ignorant fools. What’s to prevent them from smashing this cave around our ears?”

“Easy, I said. “We leave here together. I have a few things to attend to, but in the end we must find this Rufus and see what he can tell us about ridding ourselves of this icy scourge.”

There was a general assent in the room. They liked the inkling of a plan, however feeble.

“But first, I need to go speak with this Cassandra about my friend Bob…” a ripple ran through the brigands. I watched their reaction, a little stunned by the way they looked from one to another, each mouthing something to Just Jacob that I could not hear. “Do you know of Bob?” I asked, finally. Intrigued by the sudden shift in the room’s energy.

Just Jacob rose, shedding the attention of his charges. He had the gleam of a madman, the fervor of one who would sacrifice anything to achieve his goals.

“If Bob is your friend,” he stepped forward and grasped me by the shoulder. “We shall take you to him. I am sorry I did not put the pieces together sooner, my friend.”

I was quite taken aback. What are the odds this motley bunch knew Bob? The possibilities were rather sudden and coincidental. Did Just Jacob truly know Bob or was he jerking me around? Was I known to them somehow? What were the tales told during my exile? “While I am intrigued that you know of Bob,” I said, calmly. I believe we should clear up from the battle and see about diverting the giant’s attention elsewh4ere. Shall we prepare my little subterfuge before we lose the day?”

Just Jacob considered and looked to his charges once more. “Roll the bodies to Fred,” he suggested. “He will be delighted, and with us leaving, he will no longer have a steady diet of kobolds, orcs, and other fouler things.”

“We’re leaving?” one of the young men asked. What of the wounded?”

Just Jacob looked at me. “I am hoping that’s where our friend cleric comes in.” He turned to me, hands spread before him. “Can you heal them enough to get them on their feet?” he asked me, hope in his eyes.

I had not expended my full power for the moment. I could likely heal all of them a very little and a few of them a very lot. It all depended on the level of their wounds. “If they are not too sorely injured.”

One of the others showed me to the back of the cave, where the other wounded lay. Most had suffered some battle wound of one form or another. They had been raiding the Gnarled Tooth clan further to the east at the behest of Cassandra. She wanted to show the Gnarled Tooth orcs that she would not tolerate their ongoing incursions into her territory. It all seemed a little vague as to why favors were owed and what this band got from serving Cassandra, perhaps, beyond the initial preservation of their lives. I would need to dig further.

I cast a heal across the room, giving each of them, including Just Jacob, a modicum of healing. Several of them moaned, but one sat up immediately and a second called to one of the others to help her stand. Not a one of them were as old as I when I left the monastery. But they were apparently not a stranger to combat or wounding. Each bore scars of a nature that spoke of brutal treatment and hard living.

Two I spent a few moments extra, exploring their wounds with my divine sight, determining how best to heal them. These were grievously wounded. One young man would not likely live to see the next dawn, but I did my best with him. The second, a boy of around twelve summers, would lose the arm, more from gangrene than from the initial wound. Cleanliness was essential to avoid the spread of disease. This one was not so lucky. But he would live. That was something.

As I straightened from my healing and the others were helping the recently healed to stand and find their footing, the young woman on watch cried out and the howl of dire wolves echoed into the caves.