Dear Brother Calen,
I feel that the tale I am about to tell is one that you – or, perhaps, your brother to put it more accurately – is all too familiar with, though you may have heard dozens or hundreds like it in your studies.
We are in Carpathia, and they are a proud and hardworking people – a bit like the Bitori in that regard – but where we are not generally antagonistic to outsiders, they see the church and any foreigners who come bearing its belief as slime.
We had just left a small village, having little hope of offering aid with their were bear problems, and are only a few days away from the very welcoming and friendly to foreign trade (being, as it were, on the Silk Road as well as being the chokepoint which separates the Empire and Carpathia) border town that gave me high hopes for this land and its people.
Instead, I found the next town on par with Bloodeye for obstinate and pig-headed folk. Worst of all is their priests… well, their want-to-be-priests. How we got into conflict with that ‘holy’ man is a winding tale.
You see, upon arriving in Pogost Vel, we learned quickly that children had been murdered. A Cossack apparently came into town, beheaded three children, and was prepared to kill more but for the actions of a man called Yuri. Most startling was that the Cossack was reported to have a divine aura – such as you had when blessing us – which doesn’t fit his actions. How could a holy man behead innocent children?
The plot thickened when we learned from the parents, well, the father as the mother was inconsolable with grief, broken and splintered in ways that no spell could ease, that the child had not been raised. While I know the people here don’t believe as we do, they believe along similar lines and in the same gods, if they overemphasize the importance of saints. Surely the child should be alive, for this happened yesterday afternoon.
Being very convinced that the matter bore investigation, we tried to seek out an audience with the high priest, only to find a barrier. Smriti could not talk her way past him due to her gender, Ian could not reason with the man, and my gifts will only take me so far without resorting to violence against a holy man, which never feels like good even when it tempts me to do it.
We were discouraged, but the mayor’s bodyguard – an Aegyptian man – encouraged us, for to his thinking, only an outsider could affect change in the stalemate between wishing to do good and not wishing to attack divine will given flesh in the form of the clergy.
Stymied, we repaired to the inn to talk over our plan after offering Eul’s skills to heal the man so he could perhaps explain the matter. However, upon trying to enter the men’s room, we set off a symbol on the floor which we did not recognize but which was clearly mystical.
We went to Smriti’s room and thought to take council there, but the more I thought about it, the madder I got, and the more I planned to storm off and demand an audience. As we proceeded through the common room for me to enact my plan, I handed Smriti the flaming katana for effect, and the bodyguard made mention that it looked like Smriti planned to kill the clergy.
Suddenly, I felt that Smriti was plotting against me, and may have been using us to enact a terrible revenge on this town and place. The thought had crossed my mind, after all, but we talked and ultimately it was everyone else trying to calm me down from claiming revenge – I wouldn’t have killed the priest but I would have given him quite a headache when he woke up, really.
Anyway, as we talked to the bodyguard and a few other town folks, there was definite encouragement on the part of the bodyguard to leave town before things got worse – what had we invested?
I don’t recall my exact speech, but I roused the morale of the group to investigate in a land hostile to us, without the authority or papers to wipe our own ass, and against a confusing and upsetting situation. You know. The USUAL.
There was a point where the bodyguard asked if Smriti could kill me and I explained that I’ve run the scenario and yes, usually if my companions betray me, I die first, though I do tend to take one or two with me before I go. So Smriti, spear with Continual Flame upon it in one hand, flaming katana in the other, tried to approach the temple. However, the bodyguard tried to stop Smriti and made some menacing comment about myself and Ian. Smriti then stood as tall as her short frame could make her and with the fury of a regent who had learned of a betrayal by a friend, swore to the man that if anyone tried to harm us, she would see him dead, and then we learned it was not a man at all, for horns appeared.
Ian identified him as a demon, but this was the top cop in the town – I keep referring to him as bodyguard but he is truly closer to a constable in duties, I suppose. Ian and I snapped out of the wicked suggestion he was an old and trusted ally and Ian attacked him with again a simple spell to no great effect. Smriti didn’t swing at the man, and I wasn’t eager to close on him after the very recent flaying I had at the hands of a werebear. Smriti closed, and the man disappeared, with Ian explained a teleport spell. When next he appeared, he made a similarly spell effect cause some of us to run away, which Eul and Smriti began to do at great speed.
Seeing myself and Ian separated from the others and near the church, we tried to warn them by pounding on the door and making a great noise – ultimately, the fight was close, as I couldn’t respond to the swings, but seeing his cover about to be revealed, he disappeared once more.
The young, stupid priest made the next few minutes a minor hell, and Ian (having crashed through a window to try to escape the idiocy) didn’t help try to convince him we needed sanctuary when the old priest came down and offered us sanctuary even though we were heathens.
It was at this point that the lamp decided to spit out Kumori, horse and all, in this holy space.
That’s another tale, though.