Preceded By: Orua, Session One, Part III: Decisions
Rowan had not worn armor in years. He had hardly given it a thought since he’d left the Lord’s army; but then, he’d had little reason to think about donning it at all. He’d crafted Delphine’s armor himself, years ago: flexible, light leather armor which allowed for her tail and even covered its base. He insisted she wear it when she went out hunting, because though their village rarely had problems with khaiborn, the things were like pests. It didn’t matter how well Lord Ryander defended his borders. Khaiborn would find a way in.
Rowan had never seen Garret wear his armor, and indeed, he didn’t know where or why the priest had obtained it. The scale mail, marked with the symbol of Alrhea on the right pauldron, looked out of place on the halfling, but though Garret rolled his shoulders and grumbled about the way it rubbed, he had certainly known how to don it, and he walked confidently in it. The halfing was always a little bit of a mystery, no matter how long Rowan had known him. Rowan had never seen him use a weapon, either, but Garret insisted he knew how to use his mace and crossbow.
Rowan’s own sword felt uncomfortable in his grip. He’d drawn it, though there were no threats visible. It made him feel safer to have it out, as though he would be less vulnerable to surprise, though of course that wasn’t true. Indeed, keeping it bare went against his training. Yet the longer he held it, the more comfortable his hand became. He felt that would matter soon.
Garret had no more holy water, and he had no silver with which to make more. They had decided to go to the home of Daranel Calldec, the town priest, to see if he kept any there. It was closer than the chapel — it was right next to Carnelia’s house, to the south — and so the risk of going there first seemed less to all of them. If they failed to find holy water there, well, they would make their way to the chapel.
To their right, the small pasture that held the village’s few shared horses was empty. Its wooden fence looked forlorn, to Rowan, like it wanted repairs, and like it had lost its purpose. He wondered if the horses had fled, or if they’d fallen asleep, too, and were simply inside the stable. What if they, like the humans, had stones in their forehead? He glanced at his sword, wondering how he would fight a horse with it.
Of course, it wasn’t the only weapon at his disposal. In the pockets of the jacket he’d thrown over his armor were a variety of useful objects he’d created over the years. His multitool wouldn’t be of too much use against anyone violent, but his flare lens would be. If the mechanism around it was turned in the right way, it channeled the ambient magical energy to send forth a bolt of flame. His heal pipe and his grease tube were more impressive: each drew directly from the elemental realm, Zhairon, though he hadn’t perfected them, and he had to repair them after a use or two.
Delphine reached the door first. He speedforme made her naturally quicker, but she was also the sort to walk confidently in front of them, anyway. She hesitated for a moment, waiting for Garret and Rowan to come up behind her on the path, then she knocked on the closed door.
Rowan didn’t laugh, but he almost thought he might. The juxtaposition of social consciousness with the situation at hand was almost humorous enough to lighten his mood. “Just open the door.”
“What if they think we’re here to hurt them?” Delphine asked. “If we just burst in and they’re expecting someone to attack them, they might hurt us without realizing it.”
“I guess,” Rowan said.
Delphine knocked again, but no answer came. She took a deep breath, drew one of the two short blades sheathed upon her hips, and pushed the door open, following it inside. Rowan and Garret kept close behind her. She froze when she had passed through the doorway, and Garret stepped around her, raising his shield and providing Rowan with another almost-humorous moment. He was less than half her height; Rowan didn’t know how Garret expected to protect Delphine.
Their fear of a threat, however, turned out to be unfounded. River Calldec lay, unmoving, upon the floor. Delphine ran to her, dropping her sword as she kneeled at the woman’s side. Rowan followed close behind, sword still in hand, should a hidden threat present itself. The Calldec’s home, like the Evergrass home, was a simple rectangle, but a wall divided it into two rooms: one for sleeping, and one for everything else. The bedroom door was ajar, and no sounds came from it, but that didn’t mean that Daranel wasn’t inside with a stone in his head.
“She’s dead,” Delphine said.
Rowan looked down. River’s gray hair surrounded her head like a halo of iron wires. Someone had placed her hands, fingers laced, over her stomach. She looked almost as if she had fallen peacefully asleep, though nobody Rowan knew slept in such a stately position. A circular holy symbol, the nine-pointed star that represented the Aurelian Ennead as a whole, rested upon her hands. The open wound on her forehead, where a stone had clearly been torn from it, ruined the illusion of sleep entirely.
“Daranel tried to save her,” Delphine said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “He failed, like I failed Carnelia.”
Rowan nearly objected. They didn’t know it was Daranel that had torn the stone from her head, though someone clearly had. “Perhaps.”
“That means he’s still alive,” Garret said hopefully. “And if he’s alive, maybe other people are. Maybe we can help them, and then can help us.”
Rowan thought of the bedroom door, and the fact that it stood halfway open. He glanced through it. From his angle, he could just see the edge of the bed, and the shadow of a form beneath its sheets. He felt the hope drain from him. “Perhaps.”
Rowan left them. He pushed the bedroom door open, and yes, there was Daranel, lying on his back in bed. Like River, he seemed as though he could almost be in a peaceful sleep, except that he lay unnaturally still, and his hands, like hers, were folded across his stomach, with a second holy symbol clutched between his fingers.
Rowan went to him. He heard the others follow. Garret wouldn’t be going anywhere stealthily, not in his clanking metal armor. Rowan didn’t need to check to know, but he did anyway. Daranel was not breathing. On his bedside table sat an empty glass vial, unmarked. Rowan picked it up and sniffed at it. He wrinkled his nose.
“Poison,” he said, as though there were one among them who hadn’t known.
Before the west-facing window of the bedroom stood a table, one which was a beautifully carved altar to the Aurelian Ennead. Rowan knew it well, for he’d made it himself, on Daranel’s commision. It stood austere and untouched by whatever had caused Rowan’s own altar to Saer to smolder and blacken, yet it hadn’t managed to protect the home at all.
“Oh, no,” Delphine said. She approached the foot of the bed, but froze there, mired with discomfort and indecision. “He… he tried to save her. He failed.”
She’d already spoken those words. Rowan turned his head away, keeping her visible only in the corner of his vision. He wondered if she even realized she was repeating herself. It didn’t matter either way. The pain in her voice came fresh as a newly-opened wound.
Garret approached the side of Daranel’s bed. He placed a hand on the man’s arm, murmuring a prayer too low for Rowan to hear. Rowan wondered what the point was. Alrhea could do nothing for Daranel now, nor for his wife. No god could, not even the Ennead. A powerful priest of Kaorsten or Keren could, perhaps, have convinced their deity to send the souls back to Aia — but perhaps they were better off travelling through Oht to experience Keren’s final judgement.
“We should check for holy water,” Rowan said, once Garret seemed to have finished. “We didn’t find Daranel in time, but perhaps others did. He was never given a stone. He woke, somehow, on his own. We have to hold out some hope there are others like him.”
Rowan didn’t feel any hope in his own words, but he said them anyway. Sometimes there wasn’t much point in expressing doubts when they wouldn’t be anything close to helpful. He opened the drawers in the table beneath Daranel’s altar. To his surprise, there were three vials within, though they were clearly not holy water.
Rowan lifted one to eye level, illuminating it with the sunlight coming through the window. The liquid was red and nearly, but not wholly, opaque. He unscrewed the lid and dipped a finger into the substance, then tasted it.
“Potions of healing,” he said.
“Well, it’s not what we’d hoped to find,” Delphine said. “But I won’t complain.”
Rowan slipped one vial into his pocket, then handed one each to his companions. “We should keep looking. It’s still possible there’s holy water.”
Together, they opened every drawer and cabinet in the house, but they found only food and a few coins. Rowan left the coins. He didn’t feel right, taking them, even though their owners would never have a chance to use them again. On Delphine’s lead, however, the three began loading edible food into a flour sack, which they set by the door, certain that the Calldecs would not begrudge them the sustenance.
“We’ll pick it up on the way back through,” Delphine said.
“Agreed,” Rowan said. Should they come across any sort of violence, none of them would want to be burdened by a bag of food.
“Do we just leave them?” Garret asked, as Rowan and Delphine passed through the door. “Shouldn’t we do something for them?”
Rowan and Delphine shared a glance. It didn’t always happen, but there were times when they could just meet eyes and know how the other would respond. Though halflings looked more like a human than an orose, Rowan had never shared that feeling with Garret. It was something that went beyond just reading Delphine’s facial features.
“We can’t bury them now,” Rowan said. “Or burn them. We have to see this through, first. Then we can hold a service for everyone we find.”
Garret’s discomfort showed plain upon his face and in his body language. His shield drooped downward, and he turned away, staring into the Calldec house. “Alright. When we’re through, we’ll come back. I promise.”