Category Archives: Apostasy

An Evening Of Choices

“You are naive,” he hissed.

The sounds echoed off the sweating walls of the alley.

“What can we do? What is your plan?” Zoar fumed.

Gilbred’s pacing revealed enough.

“All you knew was from orders given. Why don’t you forge your own path? We’re in danger, and I’ll take all the help I can get.”

Gilbred rounded on her with a pointed finger, “You don’t know if you’re any safer with them. I know what they offer.” His eyes drifted away for a moment.

“They offer us food, shelter, possibly even hope. You gave up nothing coming out here; I gave up everything.” Zoar turned to the stairs. She watched the mouth of the dark alley where Gilbred lingered.

The door creaked upstairs and Greggor appeared next to her. Zoar continued to watch him. His head whipped up seeing Greggor standing with her. She could see the decision in his narrowed eyes. He took two long strides and was out of sight. Zoar took a deep breath fighting the heaviness and went back upstairs. Greggor joined her a few minutes later.

The festivities returned after a short time. Zoar’s own feelings were dull. She was still excited by what she could learn from these people; but she was still distracted by her loyalty to Gilbred.

***

“So please tell us everything,” one large man blurted. His excitement spread throughout the room as everyone quieted to listen.

Slight discomfort edged in on Zoar as she collected her thoughts.

“I do not know where to start,” she said taking a sip of her wine. Zoar explained the first encounters she had with the Man. She was forced to retell the story with painstaking detail. If she did not the group would groan with dissatisfaction and request more. They whooped praises when she described how the Man had appeared to her. And when she had been protected against the High Priestess.

“Now let me ask you this,” Zoar interjected just as her story ended. “Who is this Man of Light?”

The room went quiet, several looked to Greggor who had been quiet the whole time.

A smile spread on his face, “Why do you look to me? You know as well as I do, tell the girl she deserves answers.”

“He is,” a little girl sitting between her father’s legs looked around for the words, “our hope.” Her father patted her on the head with a smile.

“Your hope?” Zoar asked, the word was foreign to her.
Another person piped up, “Do you not know of hope?”
A brief wave of embarrassment swept over her. She shook her head.
Greggor spoke out, “Hope is looking forward to what we can’t see, but we know.”
“I don’t understand,” Zoar said.
He mulled it over a little more this time. “It’s like tomorrow, we hope for it. We know that if the Light wills it we will see another day. So we live our life in hope of tomorrow.”
Some around the room nodded, other just smiled at her.
“How do you mean the Man of Light is our hope?”
“He comes and goes when his wisdom sees fit, and yet we trust in him even when we cannot see or feel him. He gave us all a promise, and that is our hope. That he will make good on his promise.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Let me ask you a question, why did you follow him?”
Zoar had avoided asking herself that question. She went back to the times he came to her, to her decisions, and what drove her to them. “Freedom.”
“Exactly!” Greggor burst with excitement. “You see, it is that you hope for freedom and you felt he offered it. Am I incorrect in this assumption?”
It was true Zoar realized, “No, that is correct.” A sudden wave of emotions hit her. A promise had been made, of a way out of the bondage of the tribe. And it had been made good. She felt like she was floating, she couldn’t pin down any more words. Why would anyone make a pact with her? Where emotions of awe had filled her vulnerability began to creep in. He had no right to obligate her this way.
“Forgive me if I cannot grab a hold of your hope like you have. The Man has been gone since I left my tribe, that’s the only reason I came with you Greggor. I wanted to find him and get answers” Zoar stood up and grabbed her spear. “Your hospitality,” she said to Greggor, “has been unwarranted.”
Everyone sat in silence as she left the small upper room.
***
Zoar navigated the grimy walls and shady nooks of the city back to the small tavern room. Gilbred’s possessions were gone. She sat down on a rickety stool in the corner and starred off with a blank expression. What now? A plan had to be organized. She tracked her steps to where she was now, refocusing.
Several hours later Zoar’s head bobbed as she fought the heaviness in her eyes. A loud crack startled her into a crouched position spear ready. Someone had slammed into the door sending a nail from the dilapidated door jam ringing across the floor. Loud swearing came from the other side of the door as a thud sounded and the door knob turned. It giggled but the door wouldn’t open. With another loud snap half the door jam bust off as the bartender came crashing through the doorway.
“Damned door jam,” he muttered now inspecting the damages.
He was startled when he noticed Zoar in the room.
“What are you doing here Rajani,” he spat out. “Your owner left, he didn’t pay for another night so you best find some other hole to stay tonight.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
The bartender laughed, “I don’t know what business you had here, but he was obviously finished.” His eyes went wide for a moment, hands wringing out a towel, “And I was serious about you leaving.”
Zoar stepped around him never taking her eyes off of him. She nearly tripped over the large bucket of water in the hallway. She wasted no time leaving the muttering man to his business.
It was cold tonight. The Miasma drew closer, bolstered by a fog that had rolled in. The Miasma hung just outside of reach, a thick fog that was unaffected by wind or passerby. Yet it shifted on its own accord, leaning against anything within its grasp. There wasn’t a time Zoar remembered being able to see more than a handful of strides in front of her.
On the street again, only worse off than before. Alone and confused she wandered. Drawing her firs close to fend off the cold’s bite Zoar leaned against an alley wall. It was packed with garbage and debris as was most of the city. But, tonight trash would have to do. Before settling into something like rest she fortified herself within the heavily laden alley. It helped keep her warm and facing the side street, but it smelled like the inside of a stomach.
***
Something demanded urgency on the edge of consciousness. It was surely a dream. It hissed again. This time it wouldn’t be lulled back.
Familiar accents ripped Zoar from her half sleep. The voices were right on her, there was another though. The darkness slowly revealed the presence of those speaking. Three men stood at the mouth of the alley, another two facing her but looking at the last figure standing. All Rajini except the one being interrogated. It was the Rajini Blood Scouts. The person they questioned violently stood only a few feet from her.
“Where is she?”
“I told you I must’ve been mistaken, I thought you meant someone else,” the man frantically reasoned.
“You have lead us astray before, I will give you one more chance where is the High Priestess?”
“I, I don’t, ack!” The leader stepped forward and kicked the man’s knee, then punched his spear into his chest sending him backwards against where Zoar was hidden.
The other Rajini stepped forward and they both pierced the man’s chest with their long spear heads. The man whimpered and coughed. A scream left his throat as the two warriors drained the life from his body up the shaft of their spears and into themselves.
Satisfied they turned and whispered orders to the other three and were gone. Heart pounding, Zoar pushed the body off of her niche and took a closer look. The man’s face was sunken and withered but it was clear who it was. An especially quiet man from the evening dinner. Surely a friend of Greggor, probably the one who had lead the Blood Scouts away the first time.
A lurch doubled Zoar over as she wretched on the cobbled ground. Blood was on her hands, blood she didn’t ask for but blood none the less. Should she go back with them, resuming her role as their leader, or were they here to exact justice for the death of the last High Priestess? In a town this size, especially with so little defense or surveillance they would continue to kill until they found her or a new trail. A thought made her freeze, Gilbred or Greggor dead in the alley. Fear and remorse filled her.
She would have to warn them.
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Day 9: Greggor the Watcher

“Why are you taking us here, again?” Gilbred asked, he had made it clear he was thoroughly displeased with where his life was heading.

“Acting ignorant doesn’t suite you Gilbred,” he had already asked that question, but was unhappy with his answer.

“And what is your name anyways?” Gilbred asked, trying at every turn find some ought against him.

“Greggor, the Watcher.”

Zoar walked next to Gilbred, and behind Greggor who lead the way. They had left the inn they were staying at under Greggor’s council. He was made aware, by whatever connections he had, that the city was harboring spies that had just arrived behind the two of them. A Clelite and a Piramin. They asked around about any recent visitors with their description, thankfully those they asked were in league with Greggor and lead them off the trail.

Passing through the hewn stone buildings the changes came quickly; beggars and the afflicted seemed to populate the streets, most of which acknowledging Greggor’s presence.

“Why do you associate with such a lot?” Gilbred grunted under his breath.

“You tell me, is there no room in your father’s house for these?” Gilbred looked like a bull flaring its nostrils.

He must not be used to being scrutinized, least of all by an equal.

They hurried through the maze of sweating buildings and grimy cobble streets. They approached what appeared to be a dead end alley, two sunken men squatting near the end of the debris. A twinkle lit their eyes when they saw Greggor round the corner and in the time it took to reach them, they had scooted and wheeled the towering debris in such a way that a door was visible behind all of it.

Zoar couldn’t help holding her spear close, but Gilrbed’s knuckles were white as bone wrapped around the handle of his sword in its hilt. Between frustration, nerves and something that must be personal conviction perspiration was trailing down his dark brow and the short brown hair around his face was dampened. The bristles on his face seemed to stand on end, he brushed them and scratched them; uncomfortable by the sensation of not having a clean shaven face.

They let the three of them pass and murmured a greeting to Greggor.

“Grace be with you brothers,” Greggor greeted enthusiastically as they entered the dimly lit stairway.

Zoar snapped around as she heard the clatter of the door being sealed up by the two men. The cramped staircase opened to a small upper room that appeared to not have any other entrances. It was packed with a variety of people. All classes and tribes sat together, some in more vibrant generous clothes, others who clung to their faded and worn clothing. They all suffered from the small space and heat they were generating, sweat dripping from everyone there.

Greggor gave another warm greeting, “Grace be with you brothers and sisters!”

They returned in kind, tired faces yet they carried something else inside, was it love or light or something altogether? Zoar and Gilbred stood at the top of the stairs, as there were no there places to stand other than the center of the room where Greggor stood.

“Do you recall the visions our lord gave myself? It brings me great joy to share with you in this, after weeks of waiting at the tavern they have arrived!” The crowd struggled to stifle its excitement, after an immediate outburst shushing spread throughout.

“What are your names?” One cried out.

“And your tribes?” Another let loose.

They were both taken aback, unsure of these people and the unexpected events. A mild insecurity manifested, Zoar hadn’t been able to bath since before the Reckoning was complete, and they had both been traveling without proper supplies.

Gilbred answered, “I am Gilbred once a Judge of the Remnant, and she is Zoar next in line as High Priestess of the Rajini.”

A hush came over the room, then an outburst greater than the first. It was startling, clapping and rejoicing overcame them. Greggor too was clapping with glistening eyes; then hushed the room again.

“And who are you?” a rush of boldness filled Zoar.

This time the group waited for Greggor to answer.

He turned around to introduce the group, “We are the humble Renders, those who’s hearts were pierced by the Risen King.”

“Who is the Risen King?” just as she finished the question Gilbred turned and strode down the stairs.

The room was quiet, “Where are you going?” she asked.

No answer or hesitation came, so she followed behind him trying to stop him. The door was unblocked and he stepped through just ahead of her.

“Wait,” she hissed, stopping him just outside of arms reach. “What are you doing?”

“Leaving, you should to… rather, do what you want it makes no difference to me.”

“Why? What happened all of the sudden for you to bolt?”

Gilbred wheeled around on her, “You do not know anything, those in there are are heretics, in league with the Creature!” he pointed forcefully behind her towards the upper room.

“In what way?” doubt pervaded her confidence, who to trust?

“The Risen King! He was a false prophet who reigned during the Common era. He was believed to be Sendiil Himself living along side us as a man! Heresy! But,” he sneered, “Sendiil is infinite, He cannot die, and the Risen King is yet to rise. So where is their evidence? there is none!”

“But what about the man of light? The one who told me to free you before I fled?” desperation was starting to trickle in, there was no denying a connection had formed between the two despite its volatility.

“I don’t know! I can’t explain it… I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Where would you go? What would you do if you just left?” Zoar asked.

The truth was, neither had any other ideas. The plan had been to simply move forward thus far. Gilbred had no home, and neither did Zoar. Orphans.

Actual: 1008

Goal: 1667


Day 8: Cold Soup

The next morning came far to quickly for either. The first restful night of sleep had taken Zoar, wether she wanted it or not. The discomfort and insecurity of the drastic change her life had taken were still lingering. Doubt and fear made sure to not stay gone for too long.

Gilbred was awake when she woke, the frustration from last night’s events hadn’t fully left his countenance.

“I’m going to run some errands today, but I need you to stay here,” GIlbred walked to the door.

“How long are you going to be gone?” Zoar was bothered that she had to stay put like a puppy.

“I don’t know, I will try and check in before noon. I’ve never been to this Cleland city, so it may take me a little longer than it normally would.”Very well, if I do not see you come nightfall I will flee the city; assuming something has happened to you,” she scratched at her back, the meager room had given her mean itch.

Zoar was left alone, in her windowless prison only to wait for a strange man she had met days earlier to hopefully return with unspecific supplies. She flopped back angry with her situation, only to smack her head on the eroding wooden floor.

***

There was a sudden thrashing; Zoar ripped the pelts off and grabbed her spear startled and confused she faced the door. Gilbred burst through the door and spun around to secure it closed.

“What is it?!” Zoar asked frantically, preparing to face whatever it was in combat.

“They’ve found us, they’ve found you!” his voice was angry and biting.

There wasn’t anything in the room sturdy to block the door, and regret crept in with the realization that their room had no windows. Gilbred fought to keep the door shut from the immense force on the other side. A rushing wind filled the room and the door burst into splinters consuming Gilbred. Through the dust shadows poured in and the High Priestess leapt through the darkness. Zoar’s body responded in kind, leaping through the air spear ready to run her through.

Sweat poured off Zoar’s shaking body. A moment passed before it was clear that it was a dream that had startled her awake. A swift breeze blew in the stuffy room as Gilbred stepped through the door. Zoar went for her spear instinctively and leapt to her feet startling him.

“It’s just me,” he said closing the door behind himself.

He carried a pack stuffed full of supplies, and tossed it on the floor between them. His attention was turned to the candle that threatened to go out at any moment. While he replaced it, Zoar looked the bag over.

“What hour is it?” she asked, sitting down on a small stool.

“Nearly dark, I was worried you would have anticipated my going missing and left. It seems you slept all day instead,” he leaned down to the bag and pulled its leather flap open. “I got you a change of clothes, some supplies for our travels, and this,” he gestured to the mace at his hip. “I must say I do prefer a good broadsword, but I was running low on money and the smith wouldn’t budge on his price.”

“What’s our plan now?” hopefully he had time to think of something, she was a complete foreigner here without any idea of what to do next.

He paused, “I have no idea. I haven’t had any time to consider that,I was a Judge not a tactician.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ve been appointed by Sendiil to be His right hand of judgement, when a community under the Remnant’s authority needed assistance whether moral or judicial a Judge would be sent.”

“Why are you no longer a Judge?”

She hit a nerve, “I have to assume that I wronged Sendiil, and it was my punishment. A sin unatoned,” a moment of shame covered his face just before he redirected the conversation.

“I don’t think it’s safe here for us, you specifically. Though you seem to be different, which is yet undecided in itself, you’re people are still the animals they’re known for. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes for you-“

“Do not see me as a human just as yourself?” her transparency stumped him for a moment.

“Well-“

“What does your god think of me?” she pushed forward.

“You are fallen, there’s been no atonement for your wickedness,” he concluded.

“So why is it you continue to watch after me? Do you think you will atone somehow through penance?”

Her raw emotions were starting to get some air. Without a moment to think, only time to act there has been no chance to be honest with herself.

“I can’t explain it… I simply know what has been revealed to me,” she waited for him to elaborate, her dark eyes boring into him; for once she had the advantage.

“The Psalmanir says, ‘I am Light, even shadows are illuminated to me’. You are not the only person who has had some kind of encounter with this man of light. I do not believe in chance, and I have never before heard of this apparition. Though, I am wary, the Creature tends to parade as light; he is the Deceiver.”

“So you think there’s some connection between me and the other person who saw the man? You think this Sendiil has appeared to us?”

“I do not know that, nor would I make any claim that He would be so greatly humbled to walk amongst His creations. Why He would choose to appear to you would only deepen His mystery to me. But, I am hungry and I would assume you are as well having not eaten anything all day. Let’s go and get something to eat.

The festivities from last night had not been matched tonight. There were only a handful sitting in the great room and none carried any kind of mirth on their faces. The bartender was as professional as he could muster taking their orders. Zoar and Gilbred turned to find a seat when they were surprised by the first booth from the bar. The man charming man with the hat sat by himself with a book and a grin, fingering the two stones from earlier.

Zoar tensed knowing there was no avoiding a confrontation from Gilbred.

As he stepped towards the booth the man spoke, “Have a seat friend, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Gilbred stopped in his tracks, “Have you been following us?”

“No, I knew you would be here. I tend to be early with these things, but that’s better than late; that would be rude,” he looked at Zoar and winked. “Sit sit, you’re making me antsy.”

They both sat, Gilbred more apprehensive than herself.

“Why is it you desecrate Sendiil’s tools?” he asked in disgust gesturing to the two stones on the table, “Using them for bar games and gambling!?

“I don’t feel I was given a full opportunity to explain my original statement,” he digressed. “I’ve seen you before.”

“What do you mean? And what does that have to do with what you said?” Gilbred was annoyed.

“Why do you think Truth and Revelation are concealed for only the Priests?” Zoar was having a difficult time making the connections the man was making.

“Who are you to question the authority of the Remnant?!” Gilbred was getting flustered.

“You see, the one you serve is very different from the one I serve. Though the Psalmanir describes the leaders as being ‘anointed’ for their position, that’s not to say that He cannot bestow His generosity on anyone He chooses.”

“Your words are rich coming from a gambling man, I suppose you are a holy man as well,” Gilbred quipped.

“Ah and we have come full circle haven’t we, you are so easy to anticipate. You are casting judgement yet you are no longer one. Do you not see the irony here?” Gilbred started to interrupt but was cut off, “I’ve seen you before I saw you. I knew you would be here, unfortunately it took two nights of waiting to actually watch you come through the doors, like I said early.”

“Are you saying Sendiil gave you a vision?” his tone was on the edge of insulted by the thought.

“That’s precisely what I’m saying, I’m glad you’ve joined the conversation. I know the gambler, the wicked man of the world or whatever it is you think of me; I’m glad He sees things a little different. Do you wish to have me prove it?”

“And do what,” Gilbred asked with a mocking tone, “cast the stones?”

“What else would we do?”

Gilbred was forced into another challenge. Zoar watched as a man who was never to be challenged, now being tested and questioned. Imagine how the High Priestess would’ve reacted had she ever been questioned; the thought was pushed from her mind quickly.

“Very well, Sendiil will honor my heart. I seek the truth, regardless of what you seek,” Gilbred stood and pulled another long table against their booth table.

“Would you like to do the honors?” the man asked with a smile.

Gilbred snatched the stones with his gloved hand, took a moment of silence with his eyes closed then cast the stones down the length of the table. They skittered and slid nearing the edge. They both slowed just as they rested on the corner of the table top, Zoar and Gilbred both holding their breath in suspense.

The black stone leaned and slipped off the table with a clatter.

“Do not move,” Gilbred ordered.

He carefully leaned under the table without bumping it to see where the black stone had landed. He came up with a sober expression. Zoar did the same, peeking beneath to see that the stone had landed in such a way that it had double backed towards the three.

“What does it mean?” Zoar whispered.

“It means I have spoken the truth young one.”

The bartender arrived with their meals, “The foods cold,” he said sliding the bowls over to them and sloshing some of their contents on the table.

Actual:1703

Goal:1667


Day 7: Stones

The trek had lasted a day longer than either had expected. They stopped every few hours when they encountered tracks left by their pursuers. It was estimated there were at least twenty warriors, the largest Zoar had seen travel together. If they had slaughtered an entire village, they had taken a blood oath to finish their mission; she feared that would be her demise.

When they reached the city it dwarfed the little village they had come from. Easily the largest thing Zoar had seen except for the mountains. There had been a few occasions where the tribe had navigated within sight of a city, but they tended to stay clear of others except when they had a need.

The city’s buildings were several stories tall and formed with wood and bland gray stone. Windows were shut up and few stood in doorways or wandered the streets. The city was unwelcoming.

“We need to get you a change of clothes first, you stand out like a poisonous snake here,” Zoar acknowledged his double meaning.

“How do we do that? Don’t your people barter and trade, we have nothing of use,” she put an edge on her tone.

“I do, you’re people stripped me of everything but my clothes and money,” slight amazement at the tribes priorities.

“All is not lost.”

They travelled through the damp streets, eyes from every alley and door frame watching the unusual pair with a hunger. Zoar kept her spear in hand and ready, were any unusual person to decide to become mortally wounded today.

An old woman careened from an alleyway in front of them, Gilbred could barely place his hand on her shoulder causing her to whip around with a scowl.

“Old woman-”

“What is it,” she blurted out clearly impatient.

Gilbred was taken aback for a moment, then returned with a softer approach, “We are in need of a warm bed and some food.”

“Ah,” she said eyeing Zoar. “Running off with one of them are yeh?”

Their expressions were identical disgust.

“I am a Judge of the Remnant,” his softness was gone.

“You don’t look like any Judge I’ve seen. Whatever you think you are it makes no difference to me, there be a tavern not too far from here.”

The old woman gave them directions with a scowl and hurried away. The inn was exactly where she had guided them; a murky building but glowing with light and mirth inside, something they had yet to encounter since their arrival.

The two entered unnoticed. The tavern was deceivingly large once inside, it opened up further back than could be seen from outside. It was filled with men and a few women all circled around tables or in booths. The boisterous company, which were the primary bunch, hid those more aloof in their booths tucked away with ale or woman, uninterested in any gambling or storytelling.
Zoar looked around unsure, it was not completely unlike the festivities within her tribe, though those always seemed malicious in nature. If you get enough people together they stop differing so much from one another.

There was a large group of men huddled around table playing some sort of dice game, and a group of misfits at a table mumbling bar songs. Zoar was on guard as they pressed to the back of the tavern towards the bartender. Almost overnight, she was one of countless now she’s the minority.

Gilbred squeeze between two large men to speak with the bartender. Zoar listened hard to catch what was being said.

“I need a place to sleep, possibly a few nights,” Gilbred said.

The bartender gave them a shameless speculative look, “What business do yeh have bringing one of them here?” He motioned.towards her with a thrusting finger.

“Our business is our own, we’re not here for trouble, we just want to put some coin in your pocket and stay out of the way,” he leaned in and whispered something she couldn’t hear.

“She looks to be the one armed,” he smirked.

There was a silent battle going on. Eye’s locked each waiting for a tell from the other. A moment later money won.

“Well, I happen to have an extra room. Not one I fill often, its mostly home to undesirables who need a bed,” a grin that made Zoar’s stomach turn spread on his face.

“How much?” Gilbred asked.

“A silver.”

Gilbred resisted the outburst, “That’s not an option, especially not for the runt of the rooms. I’ve got twelve copper burning a hole in my purse, and that’s it,” he reached into the black folds of his shirt and slid his hand across the bar, leaving the copper in front of the bartender.

With a grunt the man took the coins and threw a thumb behind himself, “It’s down the hall on the end. Enjoy.”

They left the bartender without another word heading down the narrow hall. The door swung open popping and clicking and stopping with a start. It opened into a dilapidated room, there were no windows, a sunken creaking floor with missing boards, and a large sack bursting with soiled straw. This room hadn’t seen a cleaner since it was furnished, maybe before.

“I claim the floor,” Zoar said quickly.

“Sendiil protect me from any infirmity or disease,” Gilbred said under his breath.

Zoar removed her large pack, separating her tent from the rest.

“I have pelts if unless you want to wake up with a rash in the morning sleeping on that,” she didn’t need to motion to the makeshift bed.

“That would be fine.”

They set up beds that seemed infinitely more appealing than the disfigured lump in the corner.

Gilbred turned to Zoar, “I’m going to get some food, are you staying here or coming with?”

“I have no money to barter for food,” Zoar said refolding her pack.

He stood there a moment, then said, “Until I can sort out all of this, you’re my responsibility.”

She didn’t want to be someone’s responsibility, she had taken care of herself since her first sign of becoming a woman; as had all of her tribe when they came of age. But, eating was more appealing than fighting for pride’s sake, tonight.

The main hall had died down only slightly. It was less populated, but the group that was the noisiest still remained, throwing things on the table with a clatter then bursting out with noise at the results. Gilbred ordered their meals from the bartender, and they sat in a booth waiting for it to arrive.

Uninterested in conversation, they both watched the game. Zoar noticed every few minutes Gilbred would lean trying to get a better view of the table with little luck. The bartender arrived and deposited two bowls of brown soup and a chunk of bread and returned to his post to grimace generally. Gilbred’s attention was forced to the painful ache in his stomach and began shoveling spoonfuls of food into his mouth. Zoar followed in suite, and had she not been hungry she would’ve acknowledged more so the unusual feeling of eating a meal. The last of their travels had been through muddy country with little to feed off of, and the city was lifeless; all but the unpleasant inhabitants.

Zoar’s stomach stretched and burned. She had never been so ravenous, and eaten so carelessly. Her shrunken stomach rarely saw food, and she had to resist the urge to vomit. There was no way the first sustenance was going to be wasted.

Another cheer burst out. The ringleader corraled them like cattle, captivating and herding them as they played whatever it was they played. He had a wide brimmed hat in one gloved hand and pointed with his other. He wore charisma like his long coat, a charming grin peered from under his lightly bearded face. Though he was probably the same age as Gilbred, probably ten years older than herself, she could see how they could be appealing. There was something to be noticed though, he wore a blade on his belt. A shining silver hilt could be seen when he leaned forward in the slit of his coat.

Gilbred had finished his meal and was watching the man again. Every time he reached for and picked up the skittering pieces his eyes narrowed. Then after another toss, the man retrieved them and held them open handed in victory.

Two stones sat there, a opalescent one and one darker than night; it appeared to capture the light within itself like a void. He cast them across the table again and Gilbred stood from his chair and strode to the table. His hand slapped down on the table around the two stones. The room went silent.

“Where did you get these?” Gilbred demanded.

“Friend, we’re simply having a little bit of sport here. If you would like to join simply say so,” the man smiled and extended his hand for the stones.

“Do you have any understanding of what these are?”

“Sure, cheap entertainment for the guests here. How about this, you can toss the next round.”

Now what? Zoar watched in shock, waiting for Gilbred to make his next move. Surrounded and between drunk men and their fun, for no other reason than to ruin it, it seemed. The group started to grow restless and for a second it seemed Gilbred could be in serious danger.

The gambler stepped over to Gilbred and leaned in to whisper below the growing chatter of the disgruntled company.

“You ought to sit back down, before you do something I can’t fix,” his warning was clear and without misinterpreting.

Gilbred’s hand loosened, clearly realizing the situation he had put himself in. The man retrieved his stones and faced the group.

“This gentleman is unaware of the ways of our humble city, a traveler passing through. Let’s not fault him for his honest ignorance, shall we?” the company’s fervor subsided and redirected to the game at hand.

The man gave him a wink and was back entertaining. Gilbred was clearly flustered. Pent anger showed through his occupied expression as he snatched the remains of bred from next to his bowl and left down the hall. Zoar didn’t linger long, feeling entirely out of place and followed to their room.

Gilbred sat with a single candle lit lighting a scroll in front of his eyes. Tired and uneasy in her stomach, Zoar decided sleep was a more viable option than exploring what just happened. Though, there was fear that he may bring about more danger before their time together was finished.

And hour later sleep started creeping in, and the candle was blown out.

Actual: 1783

Goal: 1667

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 6: Consequences

Sleep evaded both Zoar and Gilbred. The Miasma revealed the early glow of morning and sealed the reality that sleep wasn’t coming. Zoar lifted herself from the niche of debris and dead foliage; Gilbred had been sitting cross legged for some hours now at the entrance of the cove. Setting up the tent would’ve been a beacon for anyone trying to find them, and Zoar wasn’t interested in sharing the space.

“I’ve seen two scouts this morning,” Gilbred stated at the sound of her rustling.

Urgency restored a level of cognition; she had fled the scene of the High Priestess’ murder and aided a captive, scouts were already scanning the area.

“When?”

“An hour ago, and about fifteen minutes ago.”

“They send them out in waves,” she explained, “it allows the area to be covered with much more care rather than sending out only one. There will be at least one more passing by within a half hour, we only have a brief window.”

She stood and shook the sleep off her body and checked her pack, making sure everything was secure. Gilbred stepped just outside the cover of the fallen vegetation to stretch.

“Was the second scout closer or further away than the first?”

“He was closer.”

“The next one will be on top of us, then they’ll reach the end of the patrol and double back further from us. Which way were they headed?” her pack was strapped to her small, yet sturdy frame and she stood next to Gilbred who took no notice.

“East.”

A thought struck Zoar, east is the nearest town; if they think we’re hiding there they’ll tear the place apart.

“We have to beat them there,” Zoar urged stepping in past Gilbred and checking the barren hills.

“There’s no way we’re going east! They’ll be waiting for us, we need to head west while we have the opportunity,” Gilbred burst.

Zoar turned, a rigid expression coupled with her words, “If they kill all the villagers there because they think we’re hiding there, than it’s on your head.”

He didn’t know what he was dealing with, what the tribe was capable of. His jaw locked and he looked away for a moment.

“We have no weapons, nothing, and it’s unlikely whoever the villagers are will be able to offer much aid once we get there,” frustration seeping through his clenched teeth.

“I will not let them be murdered on my behalf.”

“From the savage! Why now, what gave you the lift to turn from savage to saint?”

The words stung. The truth was she didn’t know. Had it really been the fear of the familiars and their wickedness, or the prompting of the man.

“I told you, I didn’t think this up. It was that man, he saved us. Now all I’m trying to do is hold up my end of the bargain,” transparency flickered for a moment before the defensive facade returned. “So you can come with me, or leave and spit on the one who you owe your freedom.”

Prides boiled. Neither willing to show any kindness to the other.

“Fine, I will go with you. But, after we resolve whatever awaits us at the village, I am free of your debt,” Gilbred walked past Zoar again, starting to head east.

“Do you want it in blood?” she asked, hand hovering over her spear head.

Gilbred turned looking down his nose with disgust, “Only the unblemished can make blood oaths, your word is all I need.”

Zoar settled herself behind Gilbred, watching every slope and plateau as it came into view; listening even more carefully for what she couldn’t see outside of the Miasma. They both agreed there would be no conversation, but silence would be much safer, and preferred. She noticed he made a considerable more amount of noise than she did. Her teeth gritted every time he snapped a branch or rustled through bushes.

***

They watched the entire trip, behind and in front. Wary of someone gaining on them, or those they pursued doubling back before the village. Zoar had been hopeful that perhaps the tribe’s structure had crumbled just enough that retrieving her was a lesser concern.

Her hopes were dashed as they approached the small village. It was clear immediately that it wasn’t just scouts. The tribe had sent at least one entire branch of warriors in pursuit; and who knew if there would be more following. The village was intact, but the inhabitants were not. After checking a few houses, it was clear that they hadn’t expected them. An ambush from several different sides. Most of the dead were withered and shrunken at tables or in beds, quite possibly having been killed some time during the night. The tribe did pride themselves in being able to adapt quickly, to have the entire tribe ready to migrate within an hour. So the strike force being so quick was not surprising.

“We need to be careful, they may have left a scout behind to watch the area, in case we were in hiding,” Gilbred whispered, Zoar nodded.

They continued to check houses and buildings for any survivors. There were none. Gilbred stumbled on the tucked form of a small girl just outside her bed, eyes watering her pushed past Zoar and left the building.

She followed him out as he stood upright again, “I will pray daily for Sendiil’s judgement on these savages.”

Zoar felt slighted by the comment, despite feeling the same repulsion for what had played out here. She could feel him equate her to their actions, it was the way most all outsiders portrayed her people; not without reason though.

After they had exhausted their attempts to find hope, they stopped searching for survivors and instead gathered any supplies they could carry; the next establishment was a city several days travel from there.

***

The trip had been quiet, for them both. Since seeing the village slaughtered neither Zoar nor Gilbred were social. They kept to themselves and only communicated when necessary.

They had no trouble staying off the main roads and still keeping themselves en route. Knowing the land was practically a hereditary trait in Zoar’s tribe. Being a nomadic people, she had been taught the lay of the land, and how to read the signs when lost to recover her trek.

Gilbred didn’t soften towards her. When they did talk, it seemed to take everything in his being to not lash out at her or vomit. Neither of which, furthered Zoar’s security in her decision. There was no contact with the man of light, nor any dreams of him when she did sleep. She had to admit, her company had improved a bit from the High Priestess who tried to kill her,  to Gilbred who probably wanted to.

“What is it you do, you wear unusual clothes,” Zoar asked, breaking the silence of several hours past.

A quiet scoff came form ahead, “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Have I not proven my unpredictability when it comes to assumptions made?” Zoar was frustrated she had asked now.

“I was a Judge.”

“A what?”

“Do you know of the Remnant?” he asked glancing over at her.

“I was a person who enforced the Hand of Sendiil-“

“Was?” Zoar interrupted.

“It’s difficult to explain, I have been… stripped of my title,” there was hesitation in his voice as he explained.

Goal: 1667

Actual: 1233

 


Day 5: An Uneasy Defense

Zoar woke with a start, the night’s events returning to her in an instant. The Reckoning completed, the celebration, and the hopelessness of defeat. Then the dream. Was it wishful thinking that brought her a sliver of hope through her sleep? But there was more to it than hope, there was a mission. There is one dear to me, take him and flee.
Preparation would begin immediately, a Devout stationed outside her tent would’ve heard her rustling and would require her to accompany them to the High Priestess’ tent. Zoar reassembled herself, making sure she was somewhat tidy and secured.

“Lady Zoar-”

“I am ready,” she stepped through just as the Devout beckoned.

They arrived at the High Priestess’ tent, the Devout dismissed himself as he pulled the entrance open for her.

The tent was much larger than her own; decorated with bones and pelts, human and animal. Feathers hung from the ceiling and a fire smoldered in the center in front of an enormous pile of animal skins. The High Priestess sat in front of the fire, her usual appearance, visage hidden by her mane of wild hair. One amber eye pierced her darkness, it watched Zoar enter with unwavering ferocity.

“Young priestess, today must be a day you have dreamed of since you knew of your Reckoning,” she sat motionless, the subtle glow of embers on her ebony skin and hair.

Zoar said nothing, but stood a comfortable distance from her; were there any comfort when in her presence. An eerie silence leaned against Zoar as she noticed all outside sounds were gone.

“You are quiet, have been since the beginning of the trails. Tell me,” her fingers twitched over the fire, “why did you lie to me?”

Zoar hadn’t expected the question. This was an entirely different High Priestess than at the celebration. Had she been putting up a facade?

“No you wouldn’t say would you… it makes no difference to me,” something caught Zoar’s eye, a brief glint next to the High Priestess.

Growing uneasy Zoar spoke out, “I was unsure of what I had seen,” a weak answer but the only thing she could muster.

A grim smile pulled the High Priestess’ face taught. You are to do nothing priestess, her head cocked to the side in response. Sweat began to accumulate on Zoar’s palms.

“Vald has spoken to me little one,” her wiry frame became more bizarre with subtle twitches and fidgets. “She is displeased. Displeased with you I regret to say.”

A mock display of sympathy played on her half hidden face. Her feet spread and her back arched slightly.

“You have been found lacking, and… I will continue my reign as High Priestess.”

Zoar’s heart leapt, excitement was replaced immediately with suspicion. She watched her, and her body language didn’t reveal anything hopeful. You said you were faithful, she thought.

Suddenly the High Priestess pounced over the dying fire with a dagger in one hand. Zoar could only cover herself with her arms before they would collide. But no collision occurred, The High Priestess was jerked midair backwards spinning, and landed on her back pinned to her bedding.

Zoar watched as her devil clawed at her tearing at the High Priestess, but where there should be wounds there were none. Shrieking from both her and the shade continued as it pulled on her frame, in an instant it appeared as though her soul was being torn from her body and devoured. Thick foam coughed out of her mouth and she went still.

Petrified, she stood in horror as the monster turned to her.

She has fallen out of grace with our Master, I now extend to you my services.

Fear gripped her, “Wh- what’s to say I don’t end up like her?”

She was weak, we have been watching you and the Master is indeed pleased.

Running wouldn’t be an option, and there was nothing she could do to defend herself from such a creature. Something crept in, the reminder of why she feared the Reckoning to begin with. Becoming ruled by wickedness like the High Priestess and those in her tribe.

We could accomplish things you would never have dreamed of, craft a new terrain for this world that was built upon your standard.

“No,” Zoar said quietly, her heart pounding in preparation for the assault.

There is no other option child, I simply provided undeserved courtesy.

The evil burst towards her, slamming into her with shocking force. The air was knocked from her lungs as she hit the ground. Dirt and embers scraped her back as she was pulled towards the corpse of the High Priestess. Zoar tried to fight but couldn’t free herself, tried to scream but couldn’t get air in her lungs. The devil pinned her and opened its mouth that was bigger than her face and howled. The feeling of death washed over her as it cocked back for a fatal strike.

Then the darkness in the room was gone. The howl stopped inside the evil’s throat. Death receded as hope filled its place inside Zoar. Her unseen shackles loosened, raising her head she could see a light through the devil’s transparent body. The man had come back for her. He stepped forward inflicting excruciating pain on her captor, its body eroded underneath his presence releasing her and destroying the devil.

Zoar gasped in air one mouthful at a time blinking as white edged into her vision. She blinked it away, seeing the man pull back the tent entrance and stepping outside. She looked over at the High Priestess one last time, arms and legs burned where she had been held and her gaunt face sunken and gaping. Looking down at her own wrists there were no blackened scars or burns. She pulled herself to follow the man when she noticed her shoulder wound didn’t ail her any longer. The festering wound was gone and her shoulder unblemished.

Her eyes adjusted to the outside like, and to her surprise, the man was now missing again. Something else was shocking, everyone as far as she could see, was collapsed on the ground. I will put them into a deep sleep, she thought. Down in front of the tent was the stone altar, on each side Devouts were collapsed. Upon it laid a man dressed in black, gagged and strapped to the stone surface; a dagger sat next to him surely awaiting her to sacrifice him.

She rushed down looking at him still shocked at what had happened. His skin was pale white and brown long hair matted his deadpan face. He was breathing but unconscious. Should she free him? She wondered, while everyone else was incapacitated. Then it returned to her, I will break your chains… then you will go and do the same; take him and flee. The pieces fell together suddenly.

The straps snapped releasing tension as she sliced them with the dagger. The man was still unconscious, but who knew how much time the man of light had given her? Adrenaline racing, Zoar charged past tents and over bodies towards her small tent. In a matter of a few moments after she arrived her spear was in hand, an animal skin full of water, and her tent and belongings were bundled atop her back and she charged back towards the man on the altar.

She opened her skin and poured water on his, sending him sputtering upward swinging and disoriented.

“Quiet, quiet,” Zoar hissed.

The man rounded on her ready to fight from a sitting position.

“I said-”

“Where am I?! And who are you?!” his strange accent bellowed.

Zoar thrust the end of her spear into his face, “I said be quiet!” she whispered as loudly as she could. “I’m here to free you, we have to leave immediately.”

He saw the urgency in her face, for whatever reason he had to trust her because the alternative hadn’t been so appealing.

They maneuvered over the unconscious as quickly as possible, and Zoar noticed she saw none of the devils that possessed her people as they fled. Once out of the tribe’s settlement they slowed to catch their breath.

“Who- are- you?” the man asked between breaths.

“My- name is- Zoar.”

“What happened- back there?” he stood straight and leaned back stretching with a grimace.

“I don’t know really, how did you get there?” Zoar pulled her pack off and sat on it wiping sweat from her brow.

The man rounded on her with new found anger, “You savages ambushed me last night, I managed to kill one before they got their hands on me,” his eyes cast out as he recalled the events.

“I didn’t ambush you,” insult flared in her voice.

“Regardless,” he scoffed, “my sword is gone, armor, all of it.”

He turned his back to Zoar venting is frustration in private. They sat in silence for a few moments as they both gathered their bearings.

“If they are to wake soon, they will find her dead and you missing. A search party will be sent in all directions,” dread edged in her voice.

“Find who dead?” interest was struck anew.

Zoar’s eyes wandered away, “the High Priestess.”

The High Priestess? How did you manage that? I’ve only heard stories of her wickedness.”

I didn’t kill her, it was her familiar. It turned on her for some reason, I think she disobeyed it; tried to kill me after I was next to-”

“Next to what?” he interrogated.

Her eyes lifted to meet his, “I was supposed to be the next High Priestess.”

The shock made her regret saying anything. The man’s mouth gaped, and he didn’t seem to be someone who let himself gape often.

“Where are we going anyway?” she tried to redirect the conversation.

“We? I am thankful to Sendiil for His providence, but we are not going anywhere,” he turned and took a few steps trying to perceive anything through the thick Miasma.

“I wasn’t alone, someone told me to save you,” Zoar wanted to hold up her end of the bargain to the man of light.

“What do you mean you weren’t alone?”

“A man, dressed all in bright light showed me, he told me about you, told me to flee with you. Now you want to leave?”

Something registered inside the man, “What do you mean a man dressed in light?”

“I mean a man dressed in light, there’s no other way of explaining it,” she was back in the advantage.

“And this man told you to free me?” she nodded.

The man walked away and squatted, he ran his hands through his hair obviously thinking. She watched him, hoping his mind had been changed.

“So what is your name?” she asked breaking the silence.

His head came up, “Gilbred.”

Goal: 1667

Actual: 1803

 


Day 4: The Awakening

The High Priestess pulled herself off the altar slowly. Zoar ignored the sneering shade hovering over her quivering body, its wicked grin bloodthirsty as it starred at the girls. The High Priestess stood hunched with her hair covering her face still, she walked around dragging her nails on the stone surface. She thrust her chin upward taking in a deep breath as if smelling a delicious meal.

“We are pleased you decided to remain obedient to the Reckoning, unlike the other,” she picked at her teeth, projecting the obscene thought that she may not have just killed the girl.

The Devouts began chanting louder, “You have reached the final trial, and it is under my personal inspection that the heir to Vald’s throne will be revealed.”

Zoar determined herself to stay calm, her heart resisting the command as it beat frantically in her chest. She was trying to avoid looking at the dark one over the High Priestess, but couldn’t seem to avoid it without completely facing away from her.

“You know what it is, that which gives you the right to rule, the Seer’s Sight,” she hissed now circling the girls.

“I will ask you simply tonight, do you hear those who speak for our Queen? Do you see them?” she let out a wicked laugh that pierced the winds and chanting for a moment. “They truly are beautiful you know? Pure and glorified in Her.”

They said nothing but kept their eyes averted.

“I do not wish to keep the Ceremony of Anointing any longer, so,” the High Priestess lingered in front of the girl furthest Zoar, “Do you see them?”

A quiet, “No.”

The shade hissed and lashed out inches from the girls face, no reaction.

Again. Again, again the same response. Then she stood in front of the girl just before Zoar.

“Have you been graced with seeing their many faces?” The High Priestess’ voice a shuddering whisper as she leaned in nearly touching the other girl.

The girl hesitated, “I- I have High Priestess.”

The High Priestess froze for half a second, she lies, “LIAR!” she screeched.

Before Zoar had registered what happened next, the High Priestess pierced the girl in the gut then pushed her to the ground. She was now standing square with Zoar, dagger dripping blood in her right hand.

“And you? Do you see our Grace’s messengers?”

Zoar hesitated, “I, do not High Priestess,” her expression was somber as they made eye contact.

The High Priestess started to stand up straight, she lies priestess.

She leaned back down into Zoar’s face, “You lie little one, to what end do you lie?”

The devil hovering over the High Priestess let out a shivering screech, the others over each Devout in the room returned in kind. Zoar stayed silent, eyes cast down.

“It is irrelevant. Leave us!”she screamed at the other girls who promptly left the tent. “We will work out any issues you have later, now  we celebrate!”

She grabbed Zoar’s arm and pulled her towards the entrance of the tent, “You will lead us into our reign over Fray,” she whispered just before thrusting her out of the tent.

The light blinded Zoar, and the eruption of sound from those waiting outside nearly deafened her. She could feel the High Priestess raise their hands into the air as the masses grew louder. As her sight returned to her she could see the faces of hundreds of people, looking to her like a pack of wild animals looking for an alpha for the pride. Suddenly the only feeling that remained in her blood drained face was the desire to flee their hungry eyes.

“The eyes of this child have been opened by Vald, how faithful is our Queen?!” the crowd roared again. “Prepare the celebration, the Anointing will be tomorrow at sunrise!”

Zoar felt herself growing numb. A nightmare that couldn’t be escaped was unfolding in front of her. Her fate was sealing.

She would’ve collapsed had the High Priestess not been holding her. She had never wanted this, never asked to become the woman who was next to her. The shear proximity to her was detestable to Zoar. There hadn’t been a moment to consider what was right or wrong, but a moral compass was present, and it was clear on what end sat the High Priestess. Not where Zoar wanted to be.

Yet, her plan had unraveled. Somehow the evil she so feared knew her deceit and there was no fleeing the hundreds of eyes that gaped at her now, or ever.

***

 Zoar was a vapor, resting over her own body. Distant as if watching every moment from the outside, she was vacant of emotion, only a dull ache of awe remained. The reality of how things had turned so poorly.

The feast had begun. The Velna didn’t often eat, the only general exception was during a celebration or some festivities. It was something that made the tribe so notorious; they could simply draw out the life and feast on it. There was no need to kill for other than sport and sacrifice to their goddess. Direct contact could allow one to leech the life out of their victim. This is why it was easy to track the tribe’s course, or any rogues, because they left behind a barren wasteland of death and decay. Once the land they occupied had been thoroughly stripped they would move on.

Tonight they ate. In preparation for the Reckoning to conclude, they had capture what they could of the outside inhabitants. Wild gazelle from the plains, rabbits, lizards, birds, some still alive. Zoar sat next to the High Priestess at an elevated table behind the stone altar. The altar grew ever more interesting as the night went on. A nod would suffice for the evening when someone spoke to her, while her vacant eyes were tracing every detail of the stone and carvings. It sat completely solid, a trapezoid of etched white stone, stained with what blood would not wash with water. The imagery along the sides depicted the eyes being opened of women, and them going forth claiming the land as their throne under their goddess.

When the altar had given up it’s every niche and crevice, Zoar conceded to stare out into the thick Miasma. It hid any scenery still left in the dying sunlight, as well as the people who devoured and danced in the distance.  One of the signs of the times, a world crying out. But there was nothing Zoar could do, she would be crying out if there was any hope left in her heart. She looked down at the food without a single desire inside her to enjoy the flavors and nuances of eating.

You must eat. That voice returned, the only thing that hadn’t abandoned her. She was surprised. There is no reason to eat, she thought. Perhaps she would wither away, or throw herself upon the angular corners of  the alter she; her eyes returned to it. Though falling on the spear in her tent would be a quicker death. You must eat.

The voice would’ve annoyed her, but being purged of emotion tonight, she simply obeyed the voice. She bit off a chunk of cold meat and chewed it. The High Priestess leaned over and spoke to her, but nothing sunk in.

The thoughts of actually being the next High Priestess wandered in. The fright of having one of those devils hover over her like most in the tribe, of becoming wicked and unpredictable feared by all and loved by none, the thought of working in the ways of Vald all caused the taste of bile to fill her mouth.

***

Reprieve did finally come. Zoar’s feet reached the outside of her small tent, probably for the last time before she resided in the tent of the High Priestess. She collapsed on her small pile of pelts. With tears in her eyes she cried out in silence to die in her sleep, she couldn’t take her own life, but asked for a cowards way out. With all that was within her she pleaded, pleaded not knowing if there was anyone who listened, pleaded with the man of light, even pleaded with Vald if she were out there. She pleaded until sleep took her.

***

Vivid dreams painted a landscape. A withered hand, charred and painted in ash, she knew to be the High Priestess’, washed over the land. Beneath it the Miasma swallowed up the whole of Fray, the land wasted away. Then there was another hand, the withered one was cast away from the earth and in its place Zoar’s hand trailed against the earth. Life sprung from the death, trees and flowers, wildlife returned, men and women pulled their decaying bodies off the ground and were restored.

I have a plan for you, the voice echoed.

“But, I am undone,” hopelessness permeated her response.

I am the Finisher, and I have more for you.

Zoar was silent, she could only listen to the voice’s melodic dialogue.

I will break your chains… then you will go and do the same.

The overwhelming sensation of emotion and tears flooded her subconscious. She felt herself being unbound, her chains being broken, the locks sundered.

I will put them into a deep sleep. I am Faithful. There is one you are to take with you. One who is dear to me. Take him and flee.

“Where do I go?”

You must head east, to the center of the land.

“Who are you?”

I am myself.

The presence left. In it’s place a falling sensation overtook her, sky billowed past her as she neared Fray’s surface.

Just as she connected she jerked out of sleep. Sitting upright, Zoar could only think of one thing to do; praise the one who is himself, the man clothed in light. Hope was restored, dread cast off like shackles relieved of her. Tears stained her dirty cheeks as she quietly praised the one who freed her.

There was more though, she was not yet free of those around her. I am Faithful, she remembered.

Goal: 1667

Actual: 1694