Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Union

“All who are shrouded in darkness can be shown the light.”
From the Prayer book of Solarth the Light Bringer.

The young priest stood and looked at himself in the mirror. Zender had expected the armor to weigh more or encumber his movement. Strong and light, it fit him like a second skin. Once the priestly robes were put on, it was hard to see he had any armor on at all. The shield strapped to his back was another story; Zender only hoped that he would be out of the temple before anyone saw him, before he had to face questions he wasn’t ready to answer. Satisfied with his appearance, Zender reached for the last object in the bag his father had left behind for him, a war hammer. Thrusting it through the loop on his belt, the cleric turned and left the room. The only sound in the temple was the woman that was still crying to herself. With dawn more than four hours away, the young priest slipped out of the temple and retrieved his horse from the stables.

The streets of Eystlundtowne were dead at this time of the morning. Yet Zender could smell fresh baked bread in the air so he wasn’t the only person going about his business. Zender didn’t like the idea of rushing out of the temple in the middle of the night but he could not risk being seen by Bishop Drent. The Bishop would be more than happy to keep him busy with other task; none of them would include helping that poor woman find her missing children. Zender believed that there were more important things to do than weeding the vegetable garden or scrubbing pots in the kitchen. He had been given a sign that there was a greater need for his talents. One that he could not ignore, he did have a younger brother after all. What if Rath had been one of the missing children? Shaking the thought from his head Zender continued on with his night ride. Zender was also sure that had anyone dared to take Rath, they would return him the next day, pleading with mother to keep him.

Zender found the sheriff’s office to be a regular hub of activity for it to be so early in the morning. There were men uniformed rushing in and out. Stepping down from his horse he tied it off outside and started to make his way into the building. Zender had been here several times before in the past with his father but that seemed to be a life time ago. Looking at the bench under the wanted posters, Zender smiled to himself. His fingers had found many splinters in that old bench. Zender then looked to the older man who spent most of his time barking out orders to others. When Zender saw the badge of office sewn on his shirt, he knew that was the man he needed to speak with.

“Hello sir, I am here to help, what can I do?” Zender asked him.

“Look kid, I don’t have time for games, get the hell out of here and don’t get any mud on your mothers dress on the way home.” Sheriff York told him.

“No, you do not understand. I am Zender, Cleric of Solarth and son of Windfall the bounty hunter. I heard there were some missing children and I wanted to come offer my services.” Zender was rather pleased with himself, he was sure this would change the tone of the conversation.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are; I don’t have time for this. Someone get this little shit out of here before I have him tossed in a cell.” He said as he turned away and went off in another direction. Zender was stunned and more than a bit angered by the rejection he felt. He was sure that he would be given something to do, something that would help. Turning away he started to leave only to pause at the wanted posters on the wall. Letting a slight smile crack his face he sat down on the old bench and pulled out his prayer book, Zender was determined to sit there until a use was found for him. As the sun started to brighten the window in front of him, he wondered if he was just wasting time.

“Why are you still here?” Zender looked up at the guardsman who was asking the question, placing a single finger in his prayer book to save his place he stood up.

“I found a hysterical woman in my temple last night; she lost both of her children. I am here to help in any way I can, I have to be able to face my god knowing I did all I could for her.”

“Look, old man York doesn’t have time to baby sit you. Hell, he told me that if you don’t get out of here I’m to toss you in a cell. If you really want to help, head over to the Dew Drop Inn. They are going to send out search parties from there to see if anyone can find anything. Go over there and join up with one of the parties if you really want to help.”

“That was all you had to tell me, may Solarth shine his light on you this day.” Zender returned his prayer book to the pouch on his belt and made his way out the door. Fetching his horse, he started to walk to the inn the guard mentioned. He knew where the inn was, it wasn’t that far away. It was also one of the larger ones in town. Zender was pleased with himself and enjoyed walking in the morning light. It felt good on his face, a true blessing he thought. As he approached the inn, he could see what looked to be a good twenty horses, all of them waiting for riders. After tying off his own mount he approached the inn and pushed his way inside past the few people who were standing near the door.

“Well, this is not what I expected.” Zender said to no one at all. The common room was filled with what he assumed were normal patrons. Sitting at the tables, eating and drinking ale. None of them in any uniform he recognized. Looking around the room Zender searched for just a place to sit. The only table with open seating had four other men sitting around it. As he drew closer to the table he paused when he saw the black robed figure sitting there with them. It wasn’t until he saw the man’s face did he continue to walk. While the robes were different than what Zender had seen him in before. He knew the man’s face; he had even spoken to him a time or two while buying herbs for simple healing poultices. Placing a hand over his Medallion of Solarth he pressed on towards the table. As he walked up behind the chair he looked at the gathered men and asked if anyone was sitting there? The black robed figure looked at Zender, raising a single eyebrow in his direction.

“Sit if you wish.” The black robed figure said while pointing at the chair. He then turned away, disinterested in the priest. Zender reached out and pulled the chair back from the table. As he did this, the man in the next chair leaned over and vomited on the floor, a rancid steam of eggs, ale and bile splashed on the floor. “See what I have to deal with priest.” The black robed figure said. As the man who puked tried to stand Zender reached out to help.

“Shuts up Loooooooomark.” The drunken man said as he struggled to stand with Zenders help. He then stuck out a hand to the priest, “Names Zackary, Zackary Red Beard, that there is my cousin William, the elf is Christos.” Zackary tried to sit back down in his chair and crashed to the floor. As Zender sat down in his own chair, looking around at the other laughing mercenaries he wondered just what it was that he had gotten himself into.


“Revenge is rooted in darkness, those who serve the light pray for justice.”
From the Prayer book of Solarth the Light Bringer

“Who is that?” Zender asked as loud as he dared. The group did its best to stay hidden, while watching the man in night black armor. The sudden and unexpected death of Christos that morning left the group overly cautious.

“Why are you asking me?” Lomark responded while mopping off his bald head. It was late in the season and the heat in the air was driving the wizard to the point of irritation. “If we had returned to town as I said, we wouldn’t be squatting here now. No, you insisted we push on, follow the trail. Now we sit in the bush like a brace of rabbits hiding from the wolf.”

“I am telling you, I can feel it. That man has something to do with the missing children. He has led us here and…”

“Yes, priest. He led us to a pack of hobgoblins. We are very fortunate indeed. It is too bad Christos is no longer with us to celebrate this joyous occasion.” Lomark said.

“I told you that was not my fault. There was nothing I could do for the poison. I did my best, could you have done better?” The priest asked the wizard.

“Perhaps.” Was all that the wizard said. The two then turned back to watch the armored figure barking out orders to the creatures on the ground. While he tried to concentrate on the forces ahead of him Zender could not shake the image in his mind, no matter how hard he tried. The giant spider that killed their former companion injected Christos with a poison that killed quickly. Far quicker than Zender had been able to deal with in the end. As he gripped the handle of his war hammer, Zender could feel his rage building inside. While he would never admit it to the quick witted wizard, he did feel it was his fault. It wasn’t until the man in black armor rode away did Zender put the thoughts behind him.

“We need to capture one of them, do you have anything?” Zender asked the wizard.

“I have a scroll that may be of use. We will have to move quickly though.”

“Zackary, you and William head to the other side of the trail, hit them from the right flank. We will come up from behind, wait for the signal.” Zender had become impressed with the mercenary. When sober he was brave, willing to do what it took to win a fight.

“What’s the signal?” he asked.

“Just watch for Lomark, you will know.” He told him before the two men moved off. The priest then turned to watch the wizard as he read over an assortment of scrolls that he pulled out of the interior of his black robes.

“You must shield me until I finish the casting, can you handle that priest?” Zender said nothing, only moving towards the group of Hobgoblins on the forest path. So quickly did he move, the wizard had to run to keep up. “Stop when I tell you to.” He said to the priest back. He wasn’t even sure that he was heard, he only hoped. With a half cocked smile he thought it would serve the self important priest well to get caught in the effects of this spell. “Now!” he said as he rolled out the needed scroll. As ordered the priest stopped off to the side and lifted his shield, ready for any attack to come. As Lomark spoke the language of magic written on the scroll the runes began to glow, consuming the paper they were printed on. As the scroll crumbled to ash, the wizard projected the effect towards the creatures, enveloping the area in a field of grease.

Zender watched as the cousins stepped out on to the path at the edge of the grease. They all watched with some amusement as the creatures struggled to move. “Don’t let any of them get away. I want to question the big one.”

“Where in da bloody hell are dey gonna go? Lookit da sorry bastards, dey can’t even move.” Zackary shouted back at the priest. Zender only pointed, some of the creatures had started to thrust their weapons in the ground, pulling their grease coated bodies out of the grease.

“Interesting.” The wizard remarked. “Next time I shall combine this with the use of flaming hands. Yes, that would be most effective. See how the grease clings to their bodies. Yes, this is very interesting.” Without taking an eye off the fighting that had started in front of him, the wizard reached into a pouch on his belt, pulling out a pinch of sand. Speaking the words of magic while dropping the sand in the air, three of the creatures who were still able to stand went down face first into the grease. A twisted smile crossed Lomarks face as he pulled dagger from the sleeve of his robes. Unlike some of their companions, these monsters would not see death coming.

Zender watched the fighting with satisfaction. His companions were taking care of the hobgoblins with ease as far as he could see. He stood at the edge of the grease patch and watched the supposed leader, the one who had been talking to the man in black armor. While it was the largest of the creatures and was having an easier time of moving, it wasn’t doing much better than his fellow hobgoblins. As the creature reached the edge of the grease it pulled itself free and stood up, facing the cleric with a roar. Holding his medallion of Solarth in one hand, the cleric pointed to the hobgoblin and said a single word, “die”. Using a prayer of command, Zender made the creature believe it was dead. As it fell to the ground the fighting came to a swift and sudden end.

“ZENDER” Zackary shouted across the path. “William’s hurt, get over here!” The priest forgot about the creature on the ground and took off at a run around the grease patch that was still covering the ground.

“What happened?” he asked as he found the warrior out cold on the ground. When no answer came he squatted down and rolled over the body. A deep gash crossed the warriors chest, blood was flowing at a rapid pace. As he laid his hands on the warriors chest he said “Solarth, giver of light and life, grant me this prayer of healing to save the life of this humble servant.” A gentle light formed around the hands of Zender which then spread to the chest of William. As the healing light faded Zender sat back to watch the big man. Watching the rise and fall of his chest as he was breathing. As his eyes started to open, a smile crossed the face of the cleric.

“Umm, hello.” William said while looking at the cleric.

“Be more careful William, I can only do that so many times a day. I want you to rest here for a bit until we are ready to go. Zackary will keep an eye on you ok?” The big man nodded his head and rolled over on the spot his blood and been pooling in moments before. He did this without a single care; such is the world of William the Dim. As Zender stood up again, he turned around to see the smiling face of Zackary Red Beard.

“Thank ye lad!” he said as he put his arms around the cleric.

“Don’t thank me; thank the good god who made this possible. We could have lost him today. Really, he should think about getting some better armor. I know he is a big man but running around in bits of leather will not help him.” Zender tried to push away from the warrior while talking but found his strength was lacking. Once Zackary let him go, Zender returned to Lomark searching the bodies of the creatures they had just killed. The magical grease that had once covered the ground was now gone. “Lomark, help me with this one.” Zender said as he pulled a rope from his pack. “I want to tie him to this tree so he can’t get away when he wakes up.” While the wizard protested having to do manual labor, he was interested in what the cleric had in mind for the creature. Once that was completed, they only had to wait for the creature to wake up.

Zender watched while Lomark continued to search the bodies of the fallen, ignoring how many times items were put into hidden pockets of the long black robes. The priest knew if the wizard found anything important, he would make it known, at some point anyway. Lomark was fond of holding back information until it served him best. He would even hold back the smallest of things until he could achieve the most use or profit from it. When Lomark unrolled a map that was in the pack of one of the creatures, Zender knew this was something he should see. As he was about to call out to the wizard, the hobgoblin roared.

“Untie! Now!” it shouted at Zender.

“I will let you go when you tell me what I want to know. Where are the children being held? What are they doing with them and who was that man?” The roar the beast let out continued on for some time. Zender watched as the beast continued to struggle with its bindings, his patients was starting to run thin. Lifting up his hammer he pressed it into the throat of the creature, once again asking his questions. “Where are the children being held? Who has them and what are they doing with them?” With each question he pushed just a little harder on the hammers long handle.

“Lord Morkyth will crush you!” The hobgoblin growled at the cleric, still trying to free his self from the ropes.

“Lord Morkyth, I assume that is the man in the black armor I saw you speaking with. Now, where are the children?” Zender asked.

“The little ones feed the beast. We give little ones to humans in black robes, smell like death. They feed the beast.” The creature gave Zender a toothy grin as it spoke, as if it enjoyed the idea of harming the children.

“What?” Zender asked in a state of shock. His mouth standing open he felt his blood run cold. Many long hours were spent in the temple, in study of not only his god but of all the gods. Priest of Orcus, corruptors of the living, priest of death and disease. Zender looked to his companion, for the first time in days the wizard had removed his hood from his head, if only to make it clear that he was now shaking his head at the priest. Zender could feel his grip on his hammer growing tighter.

“Hahaha, I bet beast enjoy little ones. They be tender, no fat. Good meat. Their blood is sweet, drink it like wine.” Hobgoblins have never been accused of having an over abundance of intelligence. Yet it could see the distress it was causing the priest as it spoke, it took joy in this. It never even knew the danger it was in.
“Where are they?” Zender shouted at the creature as he dropped his shield to the forest floor. “Tell me, NOW!” The hobgoblin just continued to laugh at the priest in white.

“Where they belong, in the belly of the beast.” The creatures laugh filled the air, making a flock of birds take flight from a nearby tree.

“Tell me!” He shouted again. Zender took his hammer into both hands while pacing back and forth in front of the creature. His fury building with every step he took. The hobgoblin looked on, thinking that he was causing the human pain with his words. The creature never learned how to tell the difference between a human in pain and a human who was angry. As Zender stopped in front of the creature again he asked one final time, “Where are they?”

“Dead!” was the last thing the hobgoblin ever said. It was in that moment that Zender felt his mind break. Lifting his hammer Zender took aim and started to swing. It was then that the hobgoblin saw his mistake. Assuming that this human in white was weak or like the others it had seen. Like the one who delivered the sleeping children many nights ago. As the war hammer connected to the hobgoblins head, all thoughts of anything went away. As the creatures head was crushed between the hammer and the tree, it had no thoughts at all.

“Interesting.” Lomark said to no one but himself. He tightly held on to the map he had behind his back. “Yes, very interesting.” Lomark wondered just who his new companion really was. He had seen him work before now, yet this was something different. This anger, this raw primal rage was something new, something the wizard had not seen coming. As he turned away from the carnage in front of him he wondered what else this priest was capable of and how it could be of use to him.

“Lomark, show me the map.” Zender said to the wizards back. Lomark turned and faced the cleric, watching as the cleric cleaned the brain matter from his weapon.

“Who are you? Do you know cleric?” The wizard asked while holding out the rolled map. “I know who I am; I know the nature of my being. So I ask you now Zender, who are you?”

“I am a servant of the god Solarth, anything else you want to know?” Lomark could hear the irritation in the voice of the cleric.

“Does he approve of his servant? Does your god know of the darkness inside of you?”

“Lomark, why don’t you let me worry about what my god does or doesn’t approve of? Now, I need an hour, keep an eye on the cousins, I don’t want them walking off without us.” The wizard only nodded his head and held is hands up. Once the wizard turned away Zender unrolled the map and started to move off into the forest, pretending to look at the map as he walked. Once he was sure he was well away from the prying eyes of the wizard he put the map away and continued on.

Once Zender was deep into the forest he stopped, looking around at the small dirt patch where nothing grew he nodded his head and dropped his shield and pack to the ground. The cleric then went about the task of gathering a small bundle of dead branches. Using the dead wood, the cleric started a small fire, nothing that would be seen from a distance. Once he was sure the fire would stay lit he pulled three things from his pack, a simple knife, a roll of bandages and a bottle of holy water. He first pulled the stopper from the bottle and used it to wash the blood and dirt from his hands. With that completed the cleric knelt down next to the fire, with the knife in his hand he began to pray in silence. It is unknown what the cleric was asking of his god as he drew the knife blade across the palm of his left hand. The blade was sharp and cut deep into the palm of the cleric. This was done without so much as a grimace or even a wince, as if this was a practice that the cleric had done before. He watched as his blood poured from his hand and held it over the fire.

“Solarth, father, giver of light and life. Forgive me for my transgression, know that your humble servant strives to stay in the path of the light and seeks your forgiveness for going astray.” With this said Zender placed his blood covered hand directly into the flame, watching as the flames engulfed his hand. As the flames fell away Zender set aside the knife and once more picked up the bottle of holy water, pouring what was left of the bottle over the palm of his cut hand. In this Zender received his answer from his god. While the cut was healed, what looked to be an old scar remained. A scar that he would carry with him for the remainder of his days.
Using water from his skin, he put out the rest of the fire and covered the ashes with dirt. With his mind at ease, Zender pulled out the map given to him by Lomark and went about studying it while walking back to his friends.


Judge a man not only on his actions but how he accepts the consequences of those actions. From the Prayer book of Solarth the Light Bringer

Hans of North Hembers sat on his bunk and looked around at the very few men who were left. When his eyes landed on Marcelo, the leader of the band, he felt nothing but disgust. It was he who had told Hans and the others about the job more than two months ago; solid coin to guard valuable cargo was what he had promised. Hans thought nothing of it at the time until they arrived in this gods-forsaken place. Trapped under ground, living by torchlight, fighting off whatever band of would be heroes or opportunists that would come along, keeping them away from the ‘cargo’. Hans spit on the ground in disgust, as if those crying children on the other side of the door had only been cargo. While Hans had done many things in his life that he wasn’t proud of, this was by far the worst of it all. At the same time, he wasn’t even sure he cared any more.

They were twenty men strong when they came down in this pit, now only six remained among the living. Marcelo freely gave any of his men who had killed over to the priest of Orcus. Men that at one time deserved better than to be given over to those monsters. Now Hans wasn’t so sure about that. The money there were paid was soaked in the blood of the innocent. As a fresh round of crying started on the other side of the door, Hans started to look forward to his fate. Being killed, sent to the abyss only to have his corpse spend the rest of eternity walking the halls of this hell hole. As Hans leaned back on his bunk he started to warm to the idea. ‘I could just lay here until it happens’ he thought to himself. ‘Wait for death to take me, it is what I deserve.’

“Hans!” Marcelo called out. “It is your turn to feed the brats. Shut them up would you.”

“Why should I? The priest take them away, we never see them again. We all know they are being killed.” As Hans shouted at his leader, he started to heat the water for the children’s oatmeal. It was the only thing they were allowed to feed them. “Are they supposed to be fat when they are fed to whatever dark beast they are hiding down there? How many are even left in there, do we even know?”

“Twelve, the priest came and took four more while you were sleeping this morning. Now shut your trap and do as you are told. We have maybe a week here tops left. We are going to walk out of here with a nice fat gold bonus.” Hans stood and looked at his leader, the fires of rage he had been feeling just a moment before started to turn cold in his chest. A numbing cold that would turn your hands and lips blue in an instant like the winters in the northern countries. Hans started to wonder if it was possible to suffer frost bite to your soul as he poured the dried oats into the vat of water. When he reached up to the mantle to pull down the bowls, he could still see his hand shaking from the chill he had inside.

“To the hells with all of us.” He said to no one at all. Reaching into his shirt he pulled out a flask. While he thought he might like to take a good long pull from the flask, it was better to give it to those who needed it the most. Dumping what was left of the contents into the bowls, mixing it into the pasty oatmeal. The bitter whisky didn’t do anything for the taste of the sludge the children were eating but it did help them sleep. ‘If I can give them nothing else, let it be a good night’s sleep. Fear will be back in the morning.’ He thought.

With the bowls filled, Hans took the keys off the wall next to the door that led to the room where the children were being held in cages. When he pushed the door open and light flooded the dark room all sounds stopped. Two large cages held them all, boys in one, girls in the other. They were all huddled together at the back wall of their respective cages; the brave ones who wouldn’t cower from their captors were taken first. Hans didn’t even look at them as he set the bowls on the floor in front of the cages; he knew there was nothing to fear from them.

Hans wasn’t much older than the caged boys when his father sent him off to live his own life. He had seen boys that age die in battle, wearing armor that didn’t fit while using weapons longer than their small arms should have had to hold. These boys had no chance to fight, these where the lambs who were being led to slaughter. The girls all looked the same to him. Stick thin and nothing like the women they would become in a few years time. After setting their bowls inside their cage it dawned on Hans that they would never become those women, women who would have children of their own. Marcelo told him they had a week at the most and then this job would be done. There wouldn’t be any children left to guard. As he pulled the door closed behind him he could hear their bare feet shuffling in the dark to get the bowls of food.

Hans returned the door and cell keys to the peg on the wall near the door. When he turned around he saw Marcelo staring at him. Hans tried to ignore him but something inside of him wouldn’t allow him to do so. Resting the palm of his hand on the pommel of his sword, Hans did the only thing he could think of at the time. He stared back at his leader.

“Yer pathetic you know that? What happened to you Hans, you are not the same man I met on those docks years ago? At one time I could count on you to do a job, now I am starting to wonder if I had too much faith in you. Two years Hans, two years I have been with you and look at you now. A sniveling little bitch suffering under the blood moon.”

“What happened to me?” Hans shouted back while looking around the room at the other men. None of them were watching. The only one that seemed to be doing anything at all was Geoff, who had his ear stuck to the door that lead to the hall outside. “We used to do good work, fight for a cause. Maybe not always on the right side but we fought as men. You always avoided taking jobs that would call on us to do things like this. Those priests are doing something vile to those children and we do nothing but stand here and watch it happen. Their blood is on your hands just as much as it is the priest. The moment you took their blood soaked gold, you damned us all. We might as well have killed them all ourselves.”

“Ummm I think there is someone out there, I can hear them.” Geoff said from near the door. Both Hans and Marcelo ignored the man.

“Blood washes off and the gold was too good to turn down. Do you think jobs for men like us just fall out of the sky, you arrogant little prick, who are you to question me?”

“I am not joking, there is someone out there. I can hear armor, voices.” Geoff scrambled away from the door, getting his armor and weapons. Hans and Marcelo were the only ones who ignored the warning.

“Geoff, there are two dozen kobolds down the hall, we would have heard something if they were attacked.” Marcelo said out of the corner of his mouth, never taking his eyes off Hans.

“Not to mention our former companions, isn’t that right Marcelo. How much gold where you paid for them, you son of a bitch? It is bad enough we are trapped down here you had to give our dead over to those priests. You have damned us all Marcelo, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We might as well slit our own throats and join the rest of the undead.”

“I can arrange that for you, happily.” Marcelo told him as he started to draw his long sword. Hans saw the movement in his eyes before it was made, dropping a step back from his leader to pick up the shield that was still lying on his bunk. It was when he turned back, weapon in hand did the unexpected happen. Everyone in the room heard the roar in the hall outside the door. Before this moment, if an enemy had breached the perimeter, the mercenaries would be summoned to deal with the problem. When the crash came, they all knew something had gone very wrong.

Both Hans and Marcelo watched as the door crashed into the room, the lock shattered, the hinges ripped from the wood. He looked at the two new men standing in the door way, one with fire red hair on his head and face. The other was bald as a baby with a grin on his clean face. It wasn’t until the two moved away from the door way did the mercenaries understand what had gone so wrong, why there had not been any warning to the trouble headed their way. When the two large men moved, they all understood. The reason was standing there like the specter of death, draped in black robes.

“Wizard!” Marcelo shouted far too late. Hans saw the small red ball of fire spring forth from the wizard’s hand, growing larger and brighter as it shot into the room. For one small moment he took solace in the fact that he would be warm when he died. As the fire ball exploded into the room, Hans and the rest of the mercenaries were knocked to the floor. While their bodies were smoking and burnt in places, everyone was still alive. Hans let out a sigh and got back to his feet, trying to prepare for the fight to come. “Hans guard that door at all cost, we can handle the three of them.” Marcelo told him.

“Yes, can’t let anything happen to the sheep.” Hans said under his breath. He watched as the two men who kicked in the door rushed in to engage his companions. When Hans saw the man in white robes rush into the room, holding a hammer and shield the light of understanding grew a little bit brighter. While Hans had never fought a cleric before, he had heard the horror stories from his friends. They all told him the same thing, the only thing worse than fighting a man defending his home is fighting a man who believes he has a divine right to oppose you.

Geoff was the first to fall. His body impaled on the sword of the large bald man, his face showed no emotion as he ripped the blade from the body. As Geoff fell to the floor, he just turned to attack someone else. Hans could not believe how quickly his companions were falling, even if he took some joy in seeing Marcelo writher on the ground, his body covered in some kind of green acid. As it clung to his body Hans assumed it was something the wizard did. As the man in white robes stepped over the prone body of Marcelo, who was now screaming at the top of his lungs, Hans readied himself to fight.

“Die!” the cleric said to Hans while pointing a finger towards him. Hans felt his knees start to buckle and the world started to go black. Shaking his head he resisted and stood up straight again, just in time to see the hammer about to strike his head. It was all he could do to get his shield up in time. Even if he saved his head for the moment, it was all he could do to keep the cleric off him. A flurry of white was all he could see as the cleric continued to press the attack, nearly pushing him back to the very door he was guarding. Hans knew in his heart that his end was coming, in a way he was almost thankful for it. Using his shield he pushed the cleric back with the last of his strength. Giving his self a little room to do what he needed to do.

“I yield!” he said to the cleric, dropping to his knees while tossing aside his weapon and shield. Hanging his head down, Hans waited for the killing blow to strike. Eager for it to come and send him off to the fate he deserved. When he opened his eyes he saw the booted feet in front of him but did not hear anything else. Looking passed the white robed figure he saw that his companions were dead. The two warriors were standing not far from the cleric; the wizard in black was searching through the bodies on the floor. Still waiting for the killing blow, Hans looked up to the face of the cleric.

“What is your name?” the cleric in white asked Hans.

“My name? Why do you need my name, just kill me and get this over with.” Hans said as he once again hung his head back down. When the ringing of steel sounded in the air, Hans was sure someone was going to kill him at last.

“Zackary, no. I will handle this. You two go help Lomark. Now, what is your name?”

“What game is this, just kill me already, it is no less than I deserve.” Hans told the cleric. As he stared up at the clerics face, he could see that he would be alive until he answered the questions. “Hans, Hans of North Hembers in the province of Arcadia.”

“Hello Hans, my name is Zender. The man in black is Lomark. Zackary Red Beard is the one who offered to kill you and the other man is his cousin William. Do you know where the children are being held, speak the truth?”

“There,” Hans said while pointing his thumb over his shoulder. “The key to both the door and the cages is on the wall behind me. What do you intend to do with me?” he asked the cleric.

“We could use a hand, another sword arm wouldn’t hurt.” Zender said.

“You can’t be serious.” Hans said to the cleric in disbelief.

“I am very serious, we need help, and I am offering you a chance at life. There is still a lot of evil in this place and we could use your help getting the children out.” Hans was in shock and could not answer. As the cleric stuck out his open hand to the mercenary Hans could only stare at it. “Take my hand Hans we really could use your help.” After what seemed to be an hour Hans reached out and took the hand of Zender. At first he resisted, unsure about standing up again. When he felt the strong pull, he placed one foot on the ground and pushed himself up. Unsure of what his future would hold, he stood up and faced the man in white.

“Just know that I will be watching you.” Zender told him in a soft voice while still holding his hand in a strong grip. “Cross me or my friends in any way, you will die by my hand. Help us with the children and we will go on from there, understood?” Hans couldn’t say anything he only nodded his head at the cleric. The only thing Hans understood in that moment was that he now owed Zender his life. As he turned to pick up his weapon, one random thought came to mind. ‘For however long that is.’ As he slid his father’s sword into its scabbard, he accepted just that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Calling

Thump, thump, thump the ball went down the stairs as the two brothers stood and watched. The younger of the two, Rathnel started to head down the stairs after it only to find himself pulled back by his older brother. The words of protest where on his lips but they fell short. Both sons’ knew the rule; never go down into the cellar alone. It was the one rule that their father had given them. Most of their rules came from their mother yet this was the only rule ever given to them by their father.

“Let me go! I have to get my ball back. If ma sees it down there I am gonna get in trouble again.”

“No! We are not allowed down there without one of them. You know that Rath.” The serious young man told his little brother. “Just tell ma it was an accident, she will get it for you later.”

“I can’t do that! The same thing happened yesterday, I know she is gonna tan my hide for this. She yelled at me the whole time about trying to find a reason to sneak around down there. Will you please get it for me? Ma won’t be back from the market for a while. I can see it from right here, if I can’t get it, you do it.” The youngster said while pointing down into the dark cellar.

“No!” Zender shouted at his brother. “Now go back outside before I tan your hide. If I don’t finish these lessons I will join you on the chopping block. Just leave me alone.”

“Please Zender!” he cried, as the tears had started to run down his face. Zender shook his head at his brother as he sat back down at the kitchen table to finish his lessons. When Zender picked his writing quill up, Rath started to wail. While the math lesson was easy to him, he could not concentrate on the numbers with his brother standing five feet away, crying at the top of his lungs. After a while the young man could only sigh to himself.

“Fine, I will get it for you. You better keep your mouth shut though, if ma finds out I was down there I will know it was you.” As soon as he agreed to retrieve the ball, the tears and screaming stopped. Zender wondered if Rath had just put on a show for him. Rathnel knew how much his brother hated hearing him cry. As he put the quill down again he went to the kitchen window to look out, seeing if he could see his mother returning from the market. “You go stand outside, if you see ma, you better holler out to me. I mean it Rath, if I get caught down there.” Zender shook his fist at his younger brother. While the two loved each other, Rath did all he could to avoid his older brothers temper. This meant he did everything his brother told him to do when he was told to do it. Zender watched as he brother ran out of the house and to the road that lead to the old farm house. When he was in the middle of the dusty road, Zender waved at him and turned towards the cellar steps.

This was only the second time the young man tempted fate by coming down these stairs. Much like his younger brother, he wanted to know what was down there. From the top of the stairs you could see the dried good his mother stored down below in the cool darkness. Bags of grain and flower were stacked up next to several water barrels. Zender counted the steps as he went down, thirteen was as far as he had ever gone. When he got to thirteen he could see most of the dark room. Strange objects lined the walls and a large cloth covered table stood in the center of the room. The first time he dared to brave the steps, he saw that table and something made him turn and run back up. Something about the sight of it made him uneasy.

This time, he could not stop at thirteen. Twenty steps down he went to the cellar floor, looking around the room he saw that his father had moved the table against the far wall. As he reached down to pick up his brothers ball he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Just a subtle flash like the sun shining on the water as it rippled. Standing up straight, ball in hand he looked to see what might have caused it. Stepping into the darkness, away from the light coming from above Zender could see the various weapons lining the wall. His father had amassed a large collection of weapons over the years, most of them he took from the people he hunted. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see more and more shapes standing out to him. He could now see the shelf along the wall. As he got closer he could see all the other items laid out, daggers of different sizes and shapes. In the center of the shelf was a small chest, there was a lock hanging from the hasp in front but it was unlocked. It was then that he saw it happen again.

Zender froze as a single pulse of light escaped from the edges of the chest, even with the lid closed light managed to escape and reflect off the weapons on the wall behind it. His first thought was to run as fast as he could, yet his feet would not move. His mind was screaming for him to run as he took another step forward towards the chest. As a third pulse of light came from the chest, Zender abandoned all hope of avoiding punishment and went to the chest. Sliding the lock off the hasp, he set it on the shelf next to a pair of metal stars. As he opened the lid, he saw what looked to be a few lose gems and a ring or two. In the center of it all was a round silver medallion; on it was the image of a dragon with its wings wrapped around what looked to be the sun. As he reached for it, it let out one last small pulse of light. That light filled his day and made him forget about any trouble he might be in. It filled him with warmth and as he slipped it into his pocket, he knew it was there for him. He only had to come down and find it.


Days went by and Zender kept the find in the cellar to himself. He knew what the symbols on the medallion were; he had seen them at the new temple in town. He just wanted to understand why? His father was away, working for a local merchant guarding his goods during transport. His mother wasn’t going to be much of a help as she did not care to discuss things of a spiritual nature with her children. Zender knew that while she was a good woman, deep inside she was bitter over the loss of her brother. He had died at a young age and then her father passed a few short months after that. Also, Zender knew better than to tell his mother that he had been in the cellar, let alone that he took something from there. He knew that there was only one place he was going to get answers to the questions he had: the temple of Solarth in Eystlundtowne.

One month after finding the medallion Zender and his family loaded up in the wagon to head into town. Zender rode in the back of the wagon, his legs hanging off the back, while his mother and brother sat together up front. He kept his hand on the medallion in the pocket of his trousers all the way to town. He held it so tight, he imagined the image of the dragon being imprinted on his palm. Not that he dared pull it out to look, he had to hold onto it until they reached town so he could go to the temple. His worst fear at that moment was his mother seeing him with it, taking it away. As the wagon came to a stop, he looked around at where they were. The two large K’s on the sign told him just where they were, Keller Kromwell’s shop. He was the merchant that Windfall was working for; part of his pay was food and seed to be given to his family for free. Zender knew he had to get away from his mother and brother. So he thought of the one thing she wouldn’t object to.

“Hey Ma! I am gonna run over to the Green’s store. Keller doesn’t carry books.” Before she could anything he was off at a run. Just before he rounded the corner of the next street he thought he heard her shout something about his father. Not that he cared about that. He had been waiting for this day ever since he came back up those twenty cellar steps. Nothing could stop him now; he swore his feet were no longer touching the ground as he sprinted through the streets. The temple was only a few more streets away; there he would find the answers he longed for. When the temple was in sight, he picked up the pace. Running through the crowded streets most people did not notice the odd looking boy, running with one hand in his pocket. Not until he ran headlong into another child with a stack of books as tall as his arms were long.

“Fool! Watch where you are going!” The man in red robes shouted at Zender. “You could have damaged my apprentice. Even worse, you could have damaged my books.” Zender kept his head down, not wanting to look into the face of the screaming man. He just scrambled to help the other child pick up the books. Zender looked at the other child as he handed him a stack of books. He was dressed in dark gray robes with a hood over his head. Darker still were the eyes that looked back at Zender. Zender felt bad and wanted to tell the boy he was sorry yet something kept him from speaking. Perhaps it was the single tear on the other child’s face but Zender couldn’t find the words. As he handed the boy the last of the books, the child in the gray robes looked down his nose and sneered as he turned away to follow after his master. After that Zender walked the rest of the way to the temple.

The temple of Solarth had only been open for a few years. While there had always been a temple of Solarth in that spot, it did not survive the fall of the order over a hundred years before. The few priest in the temple worked night and day to get the temple into living shape. Zender looked at the walls and could still see the scorch marks on the walls from when followers of Asmodeus burned it to the ground. Along with several priest that were still inside of the temple at the time. When the order first returned to claim the temple, many man hours were spent trying to restore the old building. While for the most part, it was finished yet it still needed a lot of work. The church only lacked the funds to have the work completed. As Zender entered the temple grounds he didn’t see anyone around. There were no priests working on the modest garden or white washing the walls. He just walked straight up the main path to the temple doors and let himself in.

Standing in the vestibule he looked side to side, there was still not a soul in sight. Shaking his head he moved into the main temple, he looked up at the door frame. He could see the doors that should be there in his mind but they were years from being placed. Walking down the center aisle Zender could see where the pews had once been. There were only a handful of them in the temple now. It would seem that the only thing in side of the temple that had been fully restored was the altar. Zender had his eyes locked on the altar; so much so that he never saw the robed figure that had entered the temple behind him. Zender pulled out the medallion when he reached the foot of the altar, holding it reverently in both hands as he went down to his knees. For the first time in his life, Zender opened up his heart and started to pray. With his eyes shut tight, he spoke to the good god Solarth, seeking answers to his questions.

Bishop Frost had been one of the first humans to join the Order of Solarth when it had first started to attract followers again, he was a massive man who had spent most of his life working as a mason. The leadership of the order knew this; they also knew the amount of work that would be needed to repair the temple in Eystlund. So they chose someone that at least had an idea about how to care for the building before they filled it with the faithful followers they were expecting to flock to them. While Frost believed that the temple foundation was sound, he still did not like the idea of people living in the temple yet. He was good with stone work but the walls of the temple were old, far older than he had ever seen. He had sent a dispatch to a local stone workers guild to have the walls inspected, when they could not set his mind at ease, he reached farther out to a dwarven mason he knew in Arcadia. He had been expecting him on this very day when he saw the strange young man enter the temple. While he had been witness to people coming into the temple to pray, never had he seen someone so young. What he witnessed next he never told another soul, it was something he took to his grave.

The Bishop was never a patient man before he took to the robe. He knew this deep inside and it was something he tried to work on but after close to an hour of watching the young man pray, he started to walk up the aisle. No more than three steps later he felt something pull on the back of his robe. Irritated the Bishop turned around to see who it was, yet there was no one there. It wasn’t until he turned back around did he understand why he was stalled. It was on this day, at this time that his god chose to speak to him. Gone was the boy he had seen enter the temple, in his place was a man. Armor covered this man, a robe of white covered the armor. A shield was strapped to his back and a war hammer hung from his hip. Frost could see the blood stains on the robes, some looked to be fresh, others to be very old. As the image of the man before him started to glow with a faint white light, Bishop Frost went down to one knee. His mind went back to the newly printed book he had been given only a few years before.

While Frost had never been too fond of reading, he knew the value of the book he had been given. From the time it hit his hands, he studied the volume cover to cover several times. It told of the core beliefs of their order, the story of creation and the history of the order. The teachings of their god and wisdom from the orders founding members, thousands of years before. When he came to Eystlund he had been given several copies to share with others like him. Who wanted to learn of the good god and all that he stands for. The passage that came to his mind as he saw the image before him was one he had enjoyed reading. It told of priest who had been given the right to take up arms in the name of the good god. Clerics who walked the land, fighting evil in any form it may take. Frost always wondered if he had been younger if he would have been given that privilege. Now he smiled to himself knowing that he had been chosen to guide those who had found their way to him. As the image of the armored man faded away, only the boy was left behind. As Frost got back to his feet, the boy did as well.

“Oh! I am sorry, I didn’t know anyone was here.” Zender said to him.

“That is quite alright young man. I am Bishop Frost, how may I help you?” He said as he started to walk forward.

“My name is Zender. I found this, well it kinda found me I guess.” He said as he held out the old medallion. The Bishop looked down at the medallion, then looked down at his own that was resting on his chest. His was only the blazing sun, it covered most of his holy symbol. The one the boy was holding out to him was quite different, it also looked to be much older. Frost knew of the significance of the silver dragon but the heads of the order did not want to promote that image. Yet it was still there in the text, things they dared not to change, only ignored.

“Where did you find this master Zender?” He asked.

“Well…” the child paused to look around, making sure they were alone. “I found it down in my root cellar. My father keeps a lot of stuff down there. Dangerous stuff that we are not supposed to go near. He just doesn’t want us to get hurt or anything.”

“How old are you boy?”

“I will be fourteen on the first day of Quintalas.”

“Tell me Zender, what do you think of the temple?”

“It will get better. I think… I think I am supposed to help you or something. I was up there a long time and I started to feel something. It felt like I belong here. Does that make any sense to you?”

“Yes Zender, it does. Come with me young man.” The Bishop turned on his heel and walked out of the main temple turning right once he was past where the doors should be. Zender had to run just to catch up with the Bishop. Zender followed him down a long hallway that seemed to slope down the farther it went. It emptied out into a large room. “This will be the temples dining room and kitchen when it is finished. There are only five of us here right now so there isn’t a need for it right away. The food we grow outside goes to the local families that cannot pay for what they need. It isn’t much but it is a start.” The Bishop then continued to walk through the large room and down a second hallway. Zender then saw what looked to be the only room inside the temple with a door on it. The Bishop opened the door and waved him in.

“This is my humble quarters. It is totally underground but it is away from the main walls of the temple. I can sleep here on the nights I work too late and not worry about the temple crashing down on top of me.” Zender watched the older man move around the room. First pulling a single book down from the only bookcase in the room. Next he opened a small chest, much like the one Zender found his medallion in. From it he pulled out a length of leather cord. “Hold the book and hand me the medallion you found.” Zender hesitated at first but did not feel any ill will from the man so he handed it over. Zender watched as he attached the leather cord to the medallion. “I do not know why it came to you today. I have always known that there was something missing from my life. I didn’t know what it was until a few years ago. Yet I see you, so young and bright, so I ask myself what could be missing from his life? Is that what made you come here, you found this trinket and knew you had to come?”

“Yes. I didn’t know where else to go with it. I didn’t know what it meant until I was at the altar. I couldn’t talk to my parents about it, they wouldn’t understand.”

“Some of the more romantic members of my order call what happened to you the Calling. When the good god first reached out and touched your soul, letting you know that you had a higher purpose in life. While I won’t argue against it, I am a simple man and I don’t think it is as complicated as all of that. Ahhh, there we go.” The Bishop held up the medallion by the leather cord for him to see. As he handed it back to Zender he said “Hang that around your neck, let it rest against your heart under your shirt. Keep it with you always. The book is the prayer book of Solarth. Some of it will be beyond your understanding but study it still. The god has something in mind for you young man. I am not sure what it is but there is no doubting it. Now, would you like me to come with you to speak with your parents? They might need some help in understanding this.”

Zender looked long and hard at Bishop Frost and nodded his head yes. As they were leaving the temple together the young man asked him a question. “Do you know how to defend yourself?” While the Bishop thought it was a funny question, when his laughter died down, he did start to worry. Later that night when he returned to his bed, just before sun up he was rather pleased with himself. It had gone better than he expected.


The booming knock at his door told Zender who it was on the other side. So hard was the knocking Zender thought the door was going to come off the hinges. “Just a moment, Windfall.” He called out as he set down his book. Zender took a moment to straighten his robes. He looked around his modest cell wishing he had time to get away or at least a window he could crawl out of. The visits Windfall made were never pleasant, he still did not understand why Zender had been living in the temple for the last two years. Zender did not understand why his father could not see that he was a man now. He didn’t know anyone that was eighteen years old and still living at home. As he opened the door to his cell he saw that his father was dressed in his night-blue armor and armed to the teeth. He also had a large bag slung over his shoulder. “You know the Bishop doesn’t like it when you come in here like that.”

“Son, Solarth won’t mind. Trust me on this. I don’t think that new Bishop of yours likes anything, I miss Frost.” Windfall swept into the room, setting the large bag on Zender’s bed. He could hear the sound of metal clashing around inside of it. Not that he was paying attention to it, he had not thought of his mentor in months. He tried not to think of him, it was the only way to keep his pain at bay. As Zender closed the door, he waited for the usual speech. “I have to leave.” This was new, he had never come to tell him this before. Zender was almost shocked. “I am taking your brother with me, it is time for him to learn. I want you to check in on your mother now and then. Something doesn’t feel right and I don’t like her being all alone out in that farm house.”

“What do you mean?” he asked his father. While he expected something like this, he knew something was wrong.

“Just promise me you will go visit her every couple of weeks? I might have to move her into the city.”

“Windfall, just tell me what it is!”

“I saw a man in full plate armor north of the city. It was black armor, something about him bothered me but I can’t put my finger on it. I have a lead on the one who did all those murders on Noroku so I really can’t follow up on it right now.”

“Father, this is the capital of Eystlund, you can’t throw a stick without hitting some fool in plate armor like we are about to go to war. Odds are he is here for the games next month. What is the in the bag father?”

“It is time for you to live up to your end of the deal. You made me a promise, you know what I am talking about. I let Solarth have you, now it is your turn.”

“Fine, tell me why first. I know about what grandfather did to you, I know why you have to hunt. Why put that on me though, I need to understand?”

“Zender, it isn’t about hunting. It is about doing something more with your life than sitting in this dark room, reading that book. I know you are meant for something more, I can feel it in my bones. So just try it, put on the armor. Take a walk about town, tell the sheriff you are my son and want to help. You are stronger than you look and I know I didn’t waste my time teaching you how to fight. Get out of the temple, do something worthwhile.”

“Father!” Zender could see the passion on his father’s face. He believed everything he was saying. “They need me here. There is still a lot of work to do on the temple. I should be here where I can do the most good.”

“Fine! Just make sure you check in on your mother. I hope one day you see what I am talking about Zender. The world is leaving you behind while you hide in these walls.” Zender tried to speak but the words failed him. He could only watch as his father opened the cell door and left the room. Part of him knew his father was right but he had to follow the direction of his leaders. Looking down at the bed he started to reach for the burlap bag just as the bells were ringing. It was time to start afternoon prayers. He had to make it there today, Bishop Drent liked to punish people who missed prayer sessions.

Zender did not like Bishop Drent, there was something about the man that set him on edge. While he had no proof, he thought the Bishop was dealing with some shady folks from outside of the city. He was always meeting people outside the temple grounds at all hours of the night. Zender didn’t like it at all. Yet the Bishop kept them busy enough that he did not have time to question anyone about it.

Two weeks after the visit by his father, Zender could not sleep. It was strangely warm that night and nothing he did helped. As he left his room he thought to spend the night in the stables. It was the one guilty pleasure the young cleric still treasured from his childhood. Only he never got that far. The sound of a woman crying drew his attention to the temple area. As he pulled the new doors open, that he had helped carve, he could see her in the first pew. Her entire body was shaking as she sobbed. He quickly moved down the aisle and kneeled down beside her. “My lady, what is wrong, how can I help you?” The woman looked over at him, her face streaked with tears.

“My children…” and the tears started anew. Zender pushed his body into the pew next to her, putting an arm around her seeking to give her comfort. While it took most of the night to get the words from her, he at last understood. Two days before the woman’s two children had gone missing. She went to the sheriff for help, he told her that they had children come up missing every day for a week, he couldn’t help her. She then came to the temple, seeking the guidance of Solarth in the form of Bishop Drent. He told her in no short order that her children were gone and she needed to move on. As the woman spoke and sobbed, Zender felt something break inside. He did not know if it was his heart or his mind but looking at the altar as she spoke, he knew what he had to do. He told the woman she was welcome to stay in the temple as long as she needed; giving her his minor blessing before he turned to go. He returned to his room and reached under his bed pulling out the large burlap bag his father had left behind.