The curse of the eastern isle

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15 hours ago, JLH99 said:

Use demons gaze. If there's nothing weird, continue burning bodies.

Agreed.

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This is another long one. I will spare those who aren't interested and say now there are some notable things toward the end of the story but this is mostly a fighting scene.

This is end of chapter III, minus the epilogue. There are things I feel I need to improve on, but I'm getting there.

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It was that time again, to use your demonic powers. A tool you rarely used that you know would see more frequent use over the coming days.

 

You need a moment to steel your nerves. Just thinking back to Portar already makes you feel like the pain is rushing through your body.

 

You take a few steps forward and close your eyes, focusing on the world around you. Your blood begins to boil, the magic begins to awaken. It feels like an incurable sickness deep in the depths of your stomach. You grit your teeth, seething with pain, as the world around you bends and twists, distorting into that familiar image. Your vision grows hazy and distorted, your knees feel weak, and your body feels like it’s on fire, but you push through and allow the powers of your demonic blood to flow.

 

The pain forces your eyes shut. It’s agonizing, a pain that never got easier to handle, regardless of how many times you did this. After a few moments, There is a brief moment of relief from the pain, your body is numb for a mere quarter of a second. That small respite from the agony in your body is the sign, the demonic blood within you, and the spirit you harbour, is awakened.

 

You open your eyes, taking in the sight that the Demon’s Gaze offers you. It is like a different world. In this world, you only see the colour red, voices whisper, caressing your ear in a demonic tongue, and the air is warm and strong with the scent of blood. The raging fires in your veins die down. You still feel the burning in your blood, but it is a fraction of the pain you feel awakening it. 

 

You take in the energies around you. Dark magic is everywhere, overwhelming your senses. It is like a shroud of evil influence surrounds you. Although it is all around you, you can easily identify what created this magic. It is no different from taking the components of a machine and identifying how each one influences it overall, much like how these small pockets of dark magic form a mighty layer. You feel the magic from the portals, the magic from the mighty structure above you, and the remaining essence of the rider you had defeated.

 

To focus on the graveyard, and the foreign dark magic, you had to filter out the rest of the magic around you. While it was together, it muddled your mind as you tried to make sense of everything. It had to be filtered, forgotten, so that you could identify the lesser magics from the graveyard. You focus with all your energy, ignoring the pain as your blood flares up painfully. The seething pain almost drops you to your knees as your legs feel numb. It feels like lava is running through your veins as you push away the surrounding magic and concentrate on that one area.

 

“Franziska!” You feel yourself being held up by Lucina’s arms. You hadn’t noticed that you were beginning to grow weak.

 

Your head is pounding, your blood boiling, and you ache as much mentally as you do physically, but you succeed. The surrounding magic is ignored as you focus in on the graveyard. You feel the same holy power you could feel on the paladins, a welcoming feeling of warmth, but this felt...different. It was both holy magic and dark magic, this concentration of power wasn’t quite the same, like it had been twisted and warped into something darker.

 

Was it the magic of the paladins and the dark remains of the magic from the invasion forming together? Tricking your mind?

 

You tell as you focus the demonic power within you that the magical energy is small, a signature small enough to make you believe there is only one entity, or a handful of small, weaker minions. Something you could combat easily.

 

Feeling the fatigue from your expended power almost instantly, you reach into your satchel and grab the vigorous brew. You yank off the top and take a generous swig, feeling the effects almost instantly as your trembling muscles fill with strength. If there was going to be a fight, you wanted all the strength you could muster.

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Two uses of Vigourous brew have been used. Remaining uses:1/4

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“There’s only one.” You announce as you wipe the potions juice from your lips. “Or at the most, a dozen lower ranked demons.” Since you couldn't properly make out the diluted magic, you  could only tell the strength or identify the entity creating it. It was mostly your own judgement, but you had done this enough times to know you were accurate.

 

Lucina nods. She reaches for Ardent Nocturna and draws the silver greatsword. “We should be able to deal with this without the paladins, right?” Suddenly, the silver haired warrior grits her teeth, and as if she isn’t in control of her movement, puts a hand against her groin.

 

You catch the sight, but ignore it, it clearly wasn't a big issue if she wasn't going to take care of it while she had the chance. The two of you stood on the hillside overlooking the hamlet, there was nothing stopping her hiking up her dress and pissing right here on the ground. “The two of us should be able to handle it.” You agree. Hells, you could deal with it alone. But tonight had been full of surprises, and you expect this to be no different. “Paladin!” You point over to the apprentice guarding the archway and beckon him over. “Tell the head paladin she is not to let the civilians move until we return.”

 

The paladin, most likely confused that a mercenary is issuing him an order, simply tilts his head like a confused puppy. “You heard the woman, pup.” Lucina says with a commanding tone, almost mimicking Catia.

 

“But what’s the matter? Is there trouble?” The paladin draws his sword. He seems to be green, as far as the paladins you’ve met tonight go. He’s young faced, with clean hair that looks like it was straightened and sorted so raggedly that there was no doubt he had done hastily to look formal for his commander.

 

His eagerness is welcomed, but you cannot allow him to accompany you. You place your arms over the paladin’s and gently lower his sword. “This is nothing for you to be concerned about...unless we don’t come back.” You speak softly, as if you’re a mother speaking to her son. “Myself and Lucina can deal with this easily enough."

 

The paladin frowns. You had just rejected him, robbing him of his chance to prove himself. “Aye, ma’am. I will inform the head paladin."

 

As the paladin walks off to find Catia, you turn to Lucina and chuckle. It good to see that even in the face of ongoing evil, some can rise up to the challenge, or at the very least, believe they can. You decide to "borrow" the paladin's lantern from beside the archway. You needed something to see in this darkness, after all. It was of better use in your hands than his.

 

You go with Lucina, around the eastern wing of the church. The sides of the church are barren. There is only shadows and darkness on the hillside, with an old oak tree that lingers near the edge. Toward the back of the building, you see a stone wall that extends out toward the edge of the hill with a cast iron gate. That was the graveyard the paladin had mentioned. That was where you needed to be. You could feel your blood warming up as you sensed the diluted magic coming from the graveyard.

 

Headstones and tombs surround you, even stretching around behind the north wing of the church. The iron gate creaks with the wind. The familiar scent of death pollutes the air. This place felt no more welcoming now than it would have before all this. You look around, taking in what the lantern illuminates. There is a small clearing in the centre of the graveyard where no graves rest and a dead oak tree befitting of this place. This is where the hamlet below buried their deceased. You take in the sight with  a heavy heart; these souls will not have known true rest. The demonic forces will have tainted their rest and revived them to fight the people they once called friends. It is a sickening thought, one you don’t wish to linger on.

 

You move cautiously, deeper into the graveyard. Lucina stays as close as your own shadow. You  can hear her ragged breathing as she follows behind. You walk slowly, holding the lantern while your free hand twitches nervously over the hilt of your shortsword. There could be anything, anywhere, concealed by the diluted magic you sensed. You begin to feel a rising heat in your body. It’s as if your demonic blood is trying to warn you of imminent danger, but with gritted teeth, you ignore it.

 

The intensity of the burning grows. It is like a flame, rising in strength with each step you take, It grows worse, rising and rising. It feels like a premonition, your demonic blood was trying to warn you the only way it knew how. You ignore it, pushing on with Lucina. Suddenly...the pain stops. You don’t know why, one moment you felt a growing pain flowing through you, and the next it was gone. The air for a brief moment feels cold.

 

The air moves quickly, and then falls still almost instantly.

 

It happens in a heartbeat. You stare, wide-eyed, your heart beats through your chest, your legs tremble, a few hairs from your face is an axe, impaled into the stone. Somebody, or something had tried to split your head, but your reactions allowed you to dodge back the moment the weapon got near you.

 

The weapon dissipates into red energy and vanishes before your eyes, back to its wielder. You could feel it, burning the depths of your stomach with fear. Something was here, and it was looking for a fight.

 

You are hesitant. Fear overwhelms you from the strike, but you steady yourself and calm your racing heart. It is not your first time staring into the empty eyes of death. You lower your hand down to the hilt of your sword. You feel safe, as if you are protected, as you clutch the silver hilt. This shortsword protected you better than any shield ever could.

 

Turning the lantern toward the tree, you reveal a bulky humanoid figure in the lanterns light, lurking in the shadows. The figure standing beneath the tree bears the familiar armour of the paladins. Unlike those you fought on the bridge, those who had fallen only to be revived as simple thralls of the hells, this paladin was clearly something more. There was a power in him that flares up your blood, this is the source of what you could feel. The holy power that had fallen to corruption, this paladin was its vessel.  

 

His, or better to say, its face is hidden behind a steel helmet. There is a crack in the left side, revealing the figures eye staring straight toward you without even the slightest feeling of emotion. Down by his sides, two weapons rest; A magnificent sword that almost rivals the beauty of Lucina’s Ardent Nocturna, and an axe, simple and crude. That wasn't a paladin's weapon, that axe was magical, you can feel the diluted magic within it. Was it a spell? A holy spell tainted by the corruption?

 

Before you can react to its presence, the fallen paladin springs to life. It’s motionless stance erupts into a violent lunge as it brings both its axe and sword toward you with the intent to kill. The figure raises the sword in its hand, the blade resonates with the same aura that consumed the axe and prepares to cut you down.

 

Lucina dives in front of you, deflecting both weapons with Ardent Nocturna. The sword deflects both weapons, but the strength of the paladin is enough to push Lucina back. She urges you behind her, defending you like a shield. You both strike out toward for the paladin in unison, swords aiming for the paladin, but this man does holds two people off like they are nothing. His weapons are always in the right place, dodging attacks with precision before lashing out with murderous intent.

 

As your sword clashes with the paladin’s weapons, you struggle to break his defense. Despite the bulky armour, he moves quickly. There is no elegance in his attacks, only brutality as he brings down the axe and sword in a cross-motion. Lucina tries to counterattack after his strike, but he brushes off Ardent Nocturna, the mighty silver sword, with as much ease as he does reflecting your own strikes.

 

You force him back with a swipe of your shortsword. You hear a shrill shriek ringing in your ears. The air around you suddenly picks up. The harpies. The winged abominations swoop down to aid the paladin, forming a ring around you.

 

You and Lucina keep your weapons raising in front of you. You count eight harpies, with some still circling overhead. You can’t count the ones above you, the only way you know their presence is by the echoing flaps of their wings; They’ve grown more frantic, their shrieks fill the empty night air with violent shrills that echo across the forest. The paladin stands behind them, keeping his own weapons raised. You knew their plan just from their motions, they all stand ready to strike. They were going to attack as a group, the harpies would attempt to overpower you as the paladin took advantage of every opportunity his harpies would present him.

 

“Let me deal with him, Franziska.” Lucina says calmly. “You are better suited for the harpies. I can keep him busy.”

 

Lucina was right, your speed would help you avoid his strikes. Lucina could take his attacks and fight back harder. "Okay." You nod and turn your shortsword to the harpies surrounding you. Eight harpies, you deal with eight harpies.

 

Ignoring the battle between the two mighty warriors, you set about your own task of fending off the harpies. The only defense they have against you is their ability to fly off into the air, but they do not get the chance to use it. The harpies are no match for you. The ones who combat you with their razor-sharp claws are cut apart by the silver shortsword, and any that take to the sky are shot down before meeting a swift end with a cut of their throats.

 

You dispose of six of the harpies quickly. You only needed two bullets to deal with them at range. They tried to escape your range but your sword was faster than their wings. The remaining two harpies ignore their commander as Lucina gains the upper-hand in their skirmish. Her sword sparks as she clashes with the axe, attempting to overpower the paladin and disarm his weapon.

 

She didn't need you, meaning you could focus on the two remaining harpies. The mangled birds charge for you together. You defend with your shortsword and wait for the perfect opportunity to counter-attack, but the two harpies get the better of you. You mistime a strike, and as you thrust the shortsword, the second harpy attacks with its wing and sweeps at your feet with its talons, sweeping you off the ground and into the snow. 

 

The mangled birds try to claw at you while you lay there. You are disarmed from the shock of the harpy riposte, your sword falls to your sword. You reach for it as the birds move in to finish you.

 

WHACK! The harpy you fight with falls, beaten down by a weapon that was not your own. You can’t see your saviour as you quickly reach over to grab your sword. When you look back up, you see Catia already disposing of the remaining harpy with a strong blow to its head. “Franziska!” She quickly pulls you to your feet. “What’s going on!?”

 

You can’t see Lucina and the fallen paladin, but you can their weapons clashing in the shadows. The clashing of steel tells you their fight has moved around to the back of the church, out of sight from where you. "I can't explain now! Lucina needs us!" You clench your shortsword and sprint for the conflict.

 

The clashing of weapons and the crunching of snow falls silent. You feel your heart drop, you feel sick, that silence scared you more than anything. You had to get

 

Everything around you became a blur of colours, the air felt colder. One second you were standing with your shortsword raised, the next you were being launched through the air. Suddenly, you are overcome with pain, like a hammer had just been struck against your spine. You have stopped moving. You try to move but can’t. A foreign weight around your waist prevents you from moving.

 

Chains, wrapped around your body, constrict you. You look up to see long jagged branches like limbs in the night. The old oak tree. You were subdued by the fallen paladin, his spell launched you and forced a set of chains upon you to hold you to whatever you impacted with.

 

You wriggle and writhe, hoping to break free. The chains are too tight. The paladin turns his attention to the one person who he has not yet fought. Catia. She charged at the fallen paladin with her hammer high, ready to bring the weapon down. She was already charging, the fallen paladin would be too slow to react.

 

But, without resistance, without an attack, the fallen paladin defends himself by simply turning to face her.

 

The undead paladin revealed itself to Catia. Pale dead skin and dark unflinching eyes that break the paladin commanders resolve with just a mere gaze in her direction. Catia freezes with her hammer mid-swing. She gazes upon the undead with sorrowful eyes, as if she recognized the man, and felt the pain he had suffered.

 

“No…” The head paladin cannot bring herself to swing the hammer. It would’ve been a crushing blow, but she delays, the weapon in her hands shaking. “Antarus…” She says the name like she recognizes it. The name that falls from her lips has history, meaning to her. Those words stop her completely. Catia, the head paladin, falls silent.

 

This paladin had known Catia, and even in death it knew her weakness. It was the cruelest of tricks, but it was effective; immobilizing Catia almost instantly.

 

CLANG! The fallen paladin shows no mercy to the paladin who recognizes him. He thrusts the axe into Catia’s armour, the blow looks deadly, but the crumpling of steel lets you believe her armour took the brunt of that hit.

 

Catia recoils, letting out a faint groan. She drops her hammer. The fallen paladin hooks the axe around Catia’s leg and trips her to the floor. She lands with a painful thud. That sight forces you to shuffle beneath the chains again. It is more like a reflex, a twitching that grows into a violent shaking as you attempt to break the chains. No matter how hard you struggled, no matter how much your allies needed you, you cannot break the powerful spell restraining you.

 

He smiled, the undead. You couldn't see its face, but you knew he took some sick pleasure in this. He had known Catia, and it knew it had broken the strong minded paladin with its appearance alone. Catia lowers the hammer, a tear runs down her cheek, her lips quiver. The air fills with the quiet shaking of steel. “Antarus…” She lets the name fall from her quivering lips a second time.

 

The fallen paladin does not respond to his name. He takes the axe and raises it into the sky. Like an executioner looming over the criminal, the axe is raised high in his left arm, gleaming red against the moonlight like an unholy omen. He is about to bring it down with force and take the paladin's head clean off and you can do nothing but watch helplessly from your beneath the chains. 

 

But before the axe can fall and the fatal blow be dealt. Something from the shadows prevents him...

 

In an instant, with a thunderous warcry and a mighty sword in both hands. Lucina charges from darkness and brings Ardent Nocturna down onto the fallen paladin’s arm. The axe, along with the arm that wielded it, fall to the ground.

 

Everything grows silent for a moment. The fallen paladin does not scream in pain from the swords cut. From where you are, you can see the silver blade did not scorch his flesh. For the undead, or anything with demonic blood, silver burned with the heat of a thousand suns when it touched their flesh. That was the perfect opportunity to counter-attack, when their flesh was burned and the creature cannot help but recoil in pain and screech in agony, you delivered the killing blow with little resistance. But the fallen paladin did no such thing. Perhaps it was what remained of his former holy power that prevented the silver from harming him any more than a normal steel sword, but that meant that small window to attack could not be taken. The fallen paladin turns away from Catia and towards the girl who had just severed his arm.

 

Lucina readies Ardent Nocturna and moves slowly to the space between him and Catia. You want to do something, you shift violently again, trying with all your strength to break the chains that bind you, hoping that the loss of his arm would have lessened the dark magic within him. It’s no use, the chains only tighten as you struggle. Your weapons are down by your feet, a pistol and silver sword that call to you, but alas, it is a call you cannot heed.

 

The fallen paladin chuckles and stares back at Catia. A cloud of purple forms around her waist, the same chains that had bound you to the tree wrap themselves around Catia like a long metallic snake.

 

SCHWING! Lucina takes the brief window of opportunity to attack as the fallen paladin casts the chains on Catia. He dodges the greatswords thrust by merely shifting to her side. He attempts to follow up with the sword in his right hand. Lucina is able to dodge, but she finds herself too close to properly retaliate with the greatsword. She hops back and swipes upwards. The blade collides with 

 

They pause again, but only for a moment. In that moment however, you see Lucina grimace, like something has overwhelmed her. She grits her teeth and exhales, her white breath blows out in front of her. Something falls from beneath her skirt, drops like rain that melt into the snow. You couldn't believe it, but it was not surprising; The silver haired warrior, Lucina, was pissing herself.

 

Was it fear? Had she met something that made even her quiver? Or was it that the strenuous combat had finally weighed on her full bladder? It didn't matter what the answer was. Regardless, a torrent of golden water falls beneath her dress into the snow, yellowing the snow beneath her. 

 

The fallen paladin breaks their momentary stalemate. He takes the axe in his left hand and swings it sideways with all of his might at Lucina, missing the warriors neck and smashing the axe against the side of the church.

 

The clashing of steel continues. Lucina’s greatsword and the fallen paladins weapons collide again and again, their attacks growing quicker. You notice with each attack Lucina evades, she looks to be getting stronger, her eyes are glowing faintly red. It is like she gains strength with each attack, it’s almost inhuman that with each swing of the fallen paladins sword, Lucina is able to retaliate with almost twice the force. It is like she has gone berserk, flailing her weapon with no grace or strategy. She is a machine bent on killing the fallen paladin, each swing is accompanied by a violent grunt as she puts all of her strength into the swings. At one point she

 

She crashes to the floor beside the constricted paladin. Ardent Nocturna falls from her hands. A single harpy had broken from the ranks to flank Lucina, and had succeeded in stopping her. The warrior is thrown to the floor and is disarmed as her sword flies across the graveyard far from her reach.

 

It seems that fate favours the fallen paladin...for the moment.

 

As he moves in to finish her, the only girl unrestrained, his only resistance, he is caught off-guard by the most unexpected ambush. He thinks Lucina is down, and without a weapon she is easy prey. That was the mistake that made this so surprising.

 

Lucina, her eyes bright with a fiery anger, grabs the axe the paladin had dropped and charges for him without haste. The speed of her movement, the anger blaring in her eyes, it all catches the paladin who had the advantage by surprise. Lucina rises to her feet and with the axe in her left hand, she swings upwards like an uppercut. The sound of steel crumpling from the axes force fills the air. That powerful upperward swipe was executed with enough force to smash steel apart. The fallen paladin yells in agony and attempts to retaliate. Lucina does not allow him. She pulls the axe up and rives the helmet from his head, exposing the fallen paladins pale hellish flesh.

 

You see clearly he looks no different from a human. His flesh isn’t gnarled or twisted like a demons plaything. He was a human; his head was bald, his features strong and chiselled and his face as grim as a nightmare.

 

That does not stop Lucina however. His appearance, no matter how human he may remain, does not stop her brutal attack. She pulls the axe down and in a swift motion, brings her elbow up to strike the fallen paladins face. It is like a brick smashing against him. The paladins face can only move with the force of her elbow, giving Lucina the window she needed. She brings her hand back and swings the axe around, slicing the fallen paladins head clean off with a single blow.

 

The scene is gruesome, but after a taxing battle, it is Lucina who reigns victorious. The final blow was done with the swiftness of an assassin, but the brutality of a barbarian. Lucina had proven herself a formidable fighter this night, with your respect for the silver haired warrior reaching a new height as a result.

 

It’s over. The fallen paladin collapses to the ground and vanishes in a cloud of red smoke.

 

The chains that bind you to the tree vanish with him. You fall to the ground with a thud. You feel weaker. Those chains were wrapped tightly around your chest, just enough to prevent you from moving. Any tighter and they would choked the life from your body. Your back aches, as does you stomach, but you ignore it for the moment. You get back on your feet, grabbing your fallen weapons as you stand.

 

Lucina is still standing, holding herself up on her sword which is plunged into the dirt to keep her steady. Her face is red. She is panting, a bead of sweat falls from a lock of her silver hair. She looks helpless. Her legs are trembling, and after a moment, Lucina can’t keep herself propped up any longer. She falls to her knees. You urge yourself to rush over, but when you offer to help Lucina back up, she brushes away your hand. “J-just help me off my knees…” She says with a weary voice.

 

As you lift up Lucina, you notice the unmistakable scent of piss in the cold air. You had thought you could feel it as you rushed to Lucina’s aid, but now by her side, the smell is far stronger. You ignore the stench. You were used to it, and what did you expect? You saw the incident, you saw her water dribble from beneath her dress, it was not going to smell of fresh roses and sweet wine.

 

Besides, it is nothing compared to the stomach-turning stink that polluted the foul drain you relieved yourself in.  

 

The silver haired warrior is heavy. Your own fatigue makes it difficult to properly lift Lucina, but that doesn’t bother her. Once she is off her knees, Lucina falls back down, but she is still on her feet, squatting over the ground with her hands resting on the hilt of Ardent Nocturna.

 

“Thank you…” She says with an exhausted sigh.“Forgive me. That fight was far more strenuous than I expected.” Lucina doesn’t look up toward you. She focuses on the floor, breathing heavily as she recovers.

 

“That was one hell of a fight. Are you okay?” Your own voice is ragged, but you stifle it behind it a strong tone.

 

Lucina nods in response, clearly to weary to speak between her exhausted gasps for breath. She endured the battle well, but her effort showed. The beautiful dress that adorned Lucina’s armour was torn and nearly shredded. Through the tears you could see her flesh, but the most visually attracting part was around her legs. The cuts on Lucina’s dress revealed the sides of her thighs, and a clearer few of her black knickers. The one beautiful black and silver dress Lucina Lestant wore into combat was as revealing and tattered as a whores work dress.

 

You look down toward the ground, seeing a small trail of yellow snow that leads back to Lucina. She is squatting down, resting by your side without much care for the damage to her dress. It had been a heated fight, the silver haired warrior had pushed herself. As her sword clashed with the fallen paladin, her bladder must’ve begged for relief as Lucina pushed her body to its limits to keep up with the fallen paladin and unable to hold back the inevitable flood, Lucina chose to keep fighting.

 

Lucina does not look ashamed as drops of piss fall from her dress, yellowing the snow around her. It was not uncommon for fighters to soil themselves. There were times when you yourself had been forced to piss yourself in the heat of combat. Hells, you’d done a lot worse in your knickers when you were younger, arrogantly fighting bandits after a hearty breakfast and a flask or two of tea. It creeps up on you on you in combat like an assassins dagger to a nobles throat. There was nothing to be done, you couldn't dash to the privy or squat in the open to relieve yourself. You had to accept that you would flood your knickers as you fought to keep yourself alive.

 

It reminds you of something an old mentor at the Selkava always said “You’re not a fighter until you’ve pissed yourself.” He spoke those words like gospel, proudly sharing with the apprentices that you hadn’t known true combat until you had flooded your knickers. In an effort to break the awkward air, you share that anecdote with Lucina.

 

“You can wash knickers, you can wash a skirt, you can wash between your legs. You can’t wash away death.” She replies with an oddly stern tone, as if she is recalling those words like an unpleasant memory. “Help me to my feet, please.” She asks again. You pull Lucina up from the ground. “I will take care of my soiled garments once the night is done.”

 

“Catia?” You call to the head paladin. “We’re clear, there is nothing to worry about.” You look up toward the sky and notice the harpies have dispersed too. Without a commander, the remaining harpies would’ve fled. “That blow you took looked nasty. Are you okay?”

 

The head paladin nods, grimacing as she does. “My armour took most of it…” You can see just above her abdomen a large gash is cut into the steel plate. You sigh with relief knowing that it is nothing too concerning. Calling a blacksmith was better than calling a cleric.

 

“What in the hells was that thing?” Lucina runs her hand through her silver hair. “It was unlike the rest of the paladins we’ve been forced to fight.” Lucina had noticed also. The fallen paladin certainly distinguished himself from the other corrupted paladins. He wasn't a thrall, he was a commander. He didn't heed hell's call. He was hell's call.

 

You both look up at Catia, who is unaware you both are staring. You know she knows who that man is, and right now the only thing on your mind is trying to discern who he was. You’re about to ask her about the fallen paladin, but the sound of crunching snow stops you. Footsteps. Nymeria appears with three paladins. Her sword is drawn in anticipation of a fight. “Head paladin.” Nymeria lowers her weapon, frowning as she sees whatever conflict had emerged here was now over. “Holster your weapons, paladins!”

 

The head paladin does not greet Nymeria. She crosses her arms and stares up toward the steeples of the church looming overhead. “Nymeria,” Her voice is cold, hiding any fear or emotion she may was feeling. “You are to gather the injured and civilians and escort them to the town immediately.”

 

Nymeria, surprised by her commanders unexpected cold tone, nods. “Aye, Commander. But the bodies?”

 

“Myself, Dexter, and these two will handle the burning of the corpses. I will assume most of the oil is ready. We don't have to burn them all, just enough to make sure they are not a threat. Just get everybody on their feet and out of this church.” Once the paladins depart, She looks toward you with a grim expression. “I must talk with you, once our work up here is concluded.

 

End of Chapter III

 

There are currently no choices to make

 

Edited by JustClom

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Wow, this chapter has topped the others so far. The description of the fight was perfect, as was it's pacing. Damn fine job!

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The canceling of interactives has been partly rescinded. Mostly because I've had a struggle recently working on anything new, yet Eastern Isle I've worked on in my spare time.

Obligatory warning: This is a small Q&A part, so if you're here for lewdness it's not here, but it will be in a few sections.

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Chapter III: Epilogue

Silence. Silence is all there is on as you walk back toward the courtyard. The fallen paladin had been defeated, but something stirred within you. An anxious feeling that told you that was not the last you’d be seeing of him. Even the rider and its beast had left behind remains, darkened ashes after the corpse set itself ablaze, but the fallen paladin, he had vanished in fire, but left nothing behind. It's an unnerving thought, and one you can’t stray from.

 

The walk back to the courtyard is short, but it feels like an hour has passed. Lucina, in her torn and soiled dress, walks by your side, clutching Ardent Nocturna in her hands. Each step she takes is accompanied with an unpleasant squelching as her feet push against the soaked soles of her boots. Catia walks ahead, her shoulders slumped and her breathing ragged, like she stifling the urge to cry. You consider asking her about the paladin, but see that in her current state that wouldn't be advisable. The head paladin had just seen a ghost, you were certain of it. The way she stopped in her tracks upon gazing into his eyes.

 

Lucina's steps pull you from your thoughts. The squelching is as loud as her own breathing, but it doesn’t seem to bother Lucina in the slightest. She simply walks with her head high and her boots filled with piss. Only a few could look so majestic after an unfortunate accident, if it wasn't for the strong smell piss, you'd have never believed it happened.

 

Your eyes linger on the warrior. You finally had a moment to see how beautiful the silver haired Lucina truly was, or had been. Her beautiful looks were worn down by a warriors lifestyle. Her skin wasn’t soft, it didn’t glisten in the moonlight, thin scars were hidden, covered by her flowing silver hair, but there was still beauty behind that war-ravaged face. 

 

Catia walks ahead, her shoulders slumped and her breathing ragged, like she stifling the urge to cry. You consider asking her about the paladin, but see that in her current state that wouldn't be advisable. The head paladin had just seen a ghost, you were certain of it. The way she stopped in her tracks upon gazing into his eyes. You don't do that for a stranger. They must've fought alongside each other, but it must've gone deeper than that. She had fought the undead paladins with a stalwart resolve, except for him. What made him so special? What bond was so strong that it could break a person with just a stare.

 

Back in the courtyard, the work is finished. At least, most of it is. Catia declares that it will be enough and prepares the few paladins still standing to move out with the civilians. Dexter does the same with the clerics. As he walks around the clerics, his mouth in motion as he speaks, you notice the spear you had seen him fighting with clutched in his hand. It adds to his authority as he commands his clerics. The head cleric showed himself as a kind and warm man, but when the need arises he brought a certain ferocity to himself; something you could tell from his movements alone. 

 

You stand back with Lucina, and let the forces of the church deal with themselves. No more bodies could fit on the pyre, and anything from here had to be done by a follower of the church. They would douse the pyres and perform the spell for the holy fire. You had a breather for the moment. There are still bodies in the snow you notice, but there were more than enough on the pyre to ensure some feeling of safety. Anything else would be cut down by the paladins should they be reborn.

 

You are caught off guard by a sudden pain on your shoulders. You feel the weight of Lucina as she digs down on your shoulder, hissing with pain. "You are sure you are not injured?" You ask. The way she grimaced, even from the cold air, made you worry. "I'm sure Dexter or that Karlien will have something."

 

"It will wear off. It is not often I am pushed like that in combat." She reassures you with a sigh that forms a cloud from her lips. "For now, please, just let me get my breath." She falls quiet, breathing raggedly into your ear. Her breath is warm against your neck, like a small flame resting on your shoulder. It's not as fragile as Addilyn's breathing, even in her ragged breaths there is strength. "L-Let me stand on my own...I can't have you shouldering me everywhere."

 

A few minutes pass. The doors of the church open, and accompanied by the church forces, the civilians emerge. Drab grey faces, huddled together in tattered garbs, moving uneasily through the snow like a single entity. On all sides, they are flanked by the fighters of the church, who walk with their weapons held high. The sight is miserable, like criminals being lead to the gallows.

 

For some, that was surely how it felt, from safety, into certain death.

 

There are worried cries as they spot the masses of undead littering the snow, but they were used to it. That didn't make it any easier for them. You would've walked with a head filled with the thoughts of the end days if you were not hardened to such a sight. 

 

Amidst the sea of misery you spot Margo atop her android’s shoulders. A267 carries a sack of gun parts on her back as Margo tinkers with a pistol. The strange man Margo was talking with walks alongside them, carrying a sack that looks to be filled with scrap metal. Behind them, Nymeria follows, carrying Addilyn on her back again. The fiery-haired girl looks sound asleep.

 

You see off the townspeople, waiting until the last man descends the stairs before turning back to the courtyard, where Dexter stands before the corpses stacked on the pyre. In one hand, he holds the spear you had seen him fight with earlier, a tall golden weapon with majestic design; A church relic surely. And in the other, he holds out a small book encased in silver.

 

You watch with curiosity as the head cleric speaks in the holy tongue, speaking words you don’t understand. The spear in his hands begins to glow, bathing the courtyard in a golden, almost blinding, light. Forming on the tip of the spear as the cleric speaks, is a small fire, golden and pure. A glowing flame on this dark night. Dexter takes a few steps forward and places the tip of the spear on the pyre.

 

The small golden flame erupts from the spear, spreading around the pyre and the bodies laid down on it. You watch in amazement as the flames grow, the shadows dance and stretch around the high walls, the untouched stone shines as bright as the heavens. Dexter looks up toward the structure hovering over the ruins, bolted down by four large chains that pierced the steeples of the church. “It’s grown in power over the last few months. I had seen rifts along the roads, but that monstrosity above us is a far greater manifestation.” He looks back to Lucina and yourself, cast in the light of the fire. "We should stand watch while the fires burn, just to be safe."

 

There is no disagreement among you. With it settled, you rest down on a fallen chunk of stone, feeling the weight from your feet being lifted. You sigh and kick aside some snow. It felt good to be able to rest, to take the weight from your feet for a few moments.

 

You hear a pained grunt as Lucina bends down, grabbing onto her sword to keep herself steady. “I would say now is a good time to start explaining what is happening here then.” You hold back the urge to help her as Lucina's hand struggles to hold the sword. "I will not sit silently, idling by a fire when there are questions to be answered." Lucina sounds angry, she spits and stares down toward the ground.

 

"Calm yourself, Lucina." You reply to her with a stern tongue of your own. "We do need answers however, Dexter. Whatever you can provide."

 

Dexter nods. He turns back to the fire. "If you are, and forgive me my impolite tone, following the ridiculous notion of lifting this islands curse, then it's fair that you should be made aware of the events beforehand. I regret to say the church is not an innocent party in this affair.” He stands firmly with his arms crossed, white breath cascading from his lips. “You’ve done more than enough tonight to show we should put some trust in you.” The head cleric stands over the fire, watching with the spear in his hand. “I cannot guarantee anything of use. Unfortunately our church was caught in the crossfire of an even greater scheme executed by the paladins order in the capital. But I will do my best. Is there anything specific you wish to know?"

 

What do you wish to ask?

>The girl mentioned in the journal

 

>The Arcanum and Selkava’s arrival on the island

 

>The first few months during the curse

 

>Dexter or Catia

 

>The paladin in the graveyard

 

>Other

Edited by Clom

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I guess we could ask about The Arcanum and Selkava’s arrival. It hopefully will provide an explanation for many things. I'd also like to ask what things were like at the first few months of the curse.

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I really hope its not too late to hop into this. Its not often I want to contribute to things.

As for my vote, should it still matter, is what everyone above me has said.

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On 2/8/2018 at 10:18 PM, apples43 said:

I really hope its not too late to hop into this. Its not often I want to contribute to things.

As for my vote, should it still matter, is what everyone above me has said.

Is that a rogue Neo I see?

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“Then I guess it is right for us start in the simplest place.” The journal you found earlier had mentioned the Arcanum and Selkava. You hope that the head cleric can tell you more of the strange relationship the two held. “We know the Selkava and Arcanum came to the island. They had an alliance too, strangely. I don’t suppose when you mentioned the church isn’t an innocent party, they had something to do with it?"

 

Catia looks to Dexter, and before the head cleric can speak, chuckles. “It was the church that okay’d their visit to Oldengrad. Their alliance extended to the church too." Catia spits. "They stayed a night under our roof, lauding the fact they were granted complete freedom by our orders over our heads. They took advantage; prying through scriptures, texts, and letters between high ranking officials.” She grabs her hair and sweeps it back. "We should’ve refused them everything.”

 

Lucina leans in towards Catia. You hear an unpleasant squelching as her resting arms weigh down on her damp knickers. "Were they looking for anything in particular? Something specific?"

 

Catia shakes her head, as does Dexter. You began to notice both tended to react in unison, like they're both vying to tell the story. "They refused to tell us anything, they went about their business tearing apart our archives and personal belongings for their own reasons."

 

You lean forward, inching yourself closer to the warmth of the flames. The heat was welcomed by your cold hands. “Did either party divulge anything about their intentions?”

 

“They were here to investigate the dormant leyline that lies in the Northern mountain. Leyline examination, to understand more about the positive benefits of manipulating neutral magical, is what they told us. That leyline has been under the lock and key of the church for centuries.”

 

“Getting into bed with people is a good way to get those locks undone.” You retort with some sincerity in your words. Getting toward that leyline would've been a hassle had the Arcanum needed to resort to alternative methods “It must’ve been one hell of a speech to convince the church.” You reply.

 

“The Arcanum preached about the wonders of magic manipulation, something that could usher in an era in a manner similar to the age of steam. They claimed it could not be done without assistance from the church. Oldengrad's capital church is one of the largest in the realms. Beneath it is a vault where the relics and artifacts of past crusades and delves are kept. We had heard one of those relics was necessary for the study.”

 

"It was the capital church who shared this with us. It was too be a big step in repairing the relationship between our religion and The Arcanum. The church wanted transparency between the smaller churches on the island and our visitors.The Arcanum, however, did what they could to keep everything quiet. " Catia slams her hammer angrily into the snow. “Phinius Codwell, Tadok Marks, Luvven Ibrahvi. Those were the names of the officials who showed up on our doorstep. Are the names familiar with you?”

 

Lucina nods. “I’ve heard the names Codwell and Ibrahvi sung with praise in Vetalli, and spat on in Serkaine. Codwell and Ibrahvi took the reins of the Scholar Initiative when Eserith’s fighter’s guild was taken over by the Arcanum.” Lucina shrugs her shoulders. “A shame I would’ve liked to have seen the fighter’s guild for myself.”

 

The name Tadok Marks was the first you took attention too. Of course you did, he led the Selkava of the ruins, and was believed to be why they held their brutal reputation. His name was spoken in every fort from here to Balkana as a merciless leader. “The names are familiar, but most of my recent years were spent down south. They rarely stray from discussing crops down there.” You couldn’t even rest your head or use the outhouse without the echoes of farmers bragging of their crops in the summer. The conversations down south were dull and rarely full of intrigue.

 

Leaning back, you ponder a few things in your head. Magical knowledge was not something you considered yourself well versed in, but leylines and magical manipulation were staples of the Selkava's teachings. It was magic manipulation that had made such an order necessary in the first place. A dormant leyline was useless without something to control the flow of magic, and something to channel it. “That dormant leyline is merely neutral magical energy, for it to be activated, and used properly, they’d need a vessel of equal strength to allow the magic to be manipulated.”

 

“And a catalyst to corrupt the neutrality of it.” Lucina adds. “These relics; Would you be able to name any?” She asks. You nod in agreement with her question. “Or at the very least their uses?”

 

Dexter shakes his head with a frown on his lips. “Only the highest of our orders are allowed to know such information. I’m a head cleric, but in the grander scale of things, that means nothing. I was assigned to be the head of this church. And only this church." He looks mournfully towards the ruins. He was a head cleric of this church, but now it was nothing but ruin.

 

Thinking of the leyline, and ways it could be activated, you suddenly remember the journal Lucina had found earlier, the passage that spoke of the young girl. You grab the head clerics attention. “Dexter? When the Arcanum arrived here, was there a girl with them?”

 

The head cleric’s eyes widen in shock as if he already knows the answer. His shoulders slump and a weary sigh draws from his lips. “The girl without a tongue.” His eyes wander, first to the fires, and then to Catia, before settling back toward you. “She arrived with them, a small dark haired girl as pale as the snow. Though we did not see each other. She was kept under watch by the Selkava for the duration. We were not properly introduced until her return a month later.”

 

The air falls silent for a moment. “Her return?”

 

Dexter nods. “The girl, Iskra, returned to us a month later, after the rising of the undead. Though her mind was hazy, and she could not recall any of the events...She’s been helping us since, destroying the small shrines and idols that are collecting the corrupted energy in the air.”

 

“Iskra?” She was Zyl’Karoi’s champion. Iskra could...control dark powers unlike any other mage. The words flood back to you. “Iskra…”

 

The head cleric stares at you with surprise. Catia too, gazes at you like you're a horror. “You know the name?” Catia asks.

 

“Margo mentioned that name to us earlier.” Lucina answers. So she was listening to that conversation in the farmhouse. “And Andi was kind enough to explain the girls past.” She looks over to you and chuckles. “Having a leyline that needs a catalyst, and a mage that possesses an unholy amount of dark energy does not seem like coincidence, does it?”

 

You nod, echoes of the first kingdom's destruction in your mind. The story was not too different; The Arcanum prying into magics and causing a catastrophe that collapsed an entire kingdom. It would've been an exaggeration, had you not sat, burning the corpses beneath a large hellish structure. As for hearing the name Iskra, you feel saddened to hear the name with your own ears. It had upset Margo greatly, knowing that her friend could’ve been a prisoner to the Selkava of the ruins, a faction of monster slayers so brutal they made you look like a city guard in comparison. “That would explain how this curse broke through, but these relics the church possess, we need to know more about them. If they’ve tried to channel and control this energy only for it to be channeled into something like a gatekey or a dormant portal…Where is Iskra now?”

 

Dexter shakes his head. “She vanished yesterday, out onto the island. We’ve heard nothing from her since. I've been anticipating her return for some time." He pauses for a moment, rubbing the hairs on his chin. "She has been opening to cooperating with us, but many times she vanishes of her own accord."

 

"I see. Thank you, both of you. I think we have enough." The lack of a clear objective only made you fear the Arcanum was here with nefarious motivation, but Catia and Dexter had done well to clear up a few of the questions on your mind.

 

You hear shuffling, turning to your side you see Lucina scratching at the front of her dress with an irritated furrow of her brow. She sighs, knowing exactly why you are gazing at her. “It’s fine. Just an itch.” She waves off your stare. "So I guess we have a fine start. The Arcanum, in an alliance with both the church and the Selkava, fled off toward the capital church, heading toward a leyline of magical energy."

 

"And that they've been sticking their fingers into vessels of magic they shouldn't have." You could feel an itch yourself, but you hold yourself back from sticking a hand down your knickers. You mutter a curse, hoping it wasn’t a rash. “If it’s uncomfortable you should head back to the town, Lucina.”

 

“No.” Her reply is instant, as is the scowl on her face. “I would like to hear more.” Lucina sighs again and leans forward. “So the church may have had a hand in this. I guess the only way we’re learning anything conclusive is to travel to the capital ourselves.”

 

The head cleric interjects. "I believe they stayed at two more towns on their way to the capital. The settlement of Faerv's point to the far north, and the Vordara fortress before the mountains. We're unsure of the fates of the towns in the north. Or the capital itself."

 

The fire begins to fade. In the distance, you hear the sonorous calls of harpies. How many hours had passed since the church bell rang? Two? Three? The skies were still dark, but still it felt like morning. You yawn, stretching out your weary arms as you do. "I will ask a final one, if I may?" There is no objection from either Catia or Dexter.


One final question: What do you wish to ask about?

 

>The first few months during the curse

 

>About Dexter or Catia

 

>The paladin in the graveyard

 

>Other

Edited by Clom

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It's probably not going to be terribly useful, but I'd like to ask about the paladin in the graveyard.

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I'd like to ask for the quickest and safest known way to the next village. It would be wise to know that info, no?

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Ask more about the first months. We could get some very valuable information that way. It seems most important to learn as much about the curse as possible. Even if it won't be of much use right now. Who knows what the future will bring? Maybe some events in the future will look totally different if we know enough about the starting of the curse. That could help us make the right decision later.

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Posted (edited)

The paladin, the undead paladin out in the graveyard. You needed answers, mostly from Catia about the man who had attacked you. You had thought the undead paladins in waves tonight, but he was special. You ignore Dexter and instead look over to the head paladin. “Catia, out in the graveyard…”

 

“Another time, Franziska.” Her eyes lock on you like prey. Catia’s words are instantaneous, almost as if she had anticipated your question. She sounded defensive, and given her reaction back there, you couldn’t wholly blame her. “Please…” Behind that stern Serkainian accent, you almost hear a plea.

 

You nod. “Very well.” You look over to Dexter. “If we’re going to make plans to head for the capital, we could use some help understanding the area around Shadia forest. What’s the next town after Minevorska?"

 

Dexter lifts his shoulders. It’s a fair question. “You won't find a town north until the other side of Shadia forest. The next town over is Tyurem Gorod; It’s a mining town like our own, but…”

 

“It’s a prison town.” Catia intervenes with a voice that disagrees with Dexter. “We don’t just throw convicts into cells with nothing to do. On Oldengrad, convicts are sent to Tyurem Gorod.”

 

Lucina leans in, her curiousity clearly peaked. “That’s not a common sight on the mainland, not even in Serkaine. Do explain.”

 

“It was run by the sisters of human sin, a small church of reform here on Oldengrad. They believed criminals could gain absolution from labour.”

 

“Although most of them died before they gained their absolution.” Catia shrugs with little interest. “Maybe that was what the sisters idea of absolution, they were never ones for kindness, afterall.”

 

A prison town… The thought of such a place during this onslaught didn’t fill you with comfort. “So how far off is this prison town?" You ask.

 

“You will have to follow the merchants trail through Shadia forest. Once you are out of the trees, it is the first town, a ghastly looking place guarded by a wall of iron. It can’t be missed.”

 

Shadia forest, it looked large from the hillside, an unending labyrinth of trees that reached toward the distant hills. “Will the trek take long?”

 

“A day at most. There are a few stops, some farmsteads, and the old ranger cabin, all abandoned now. With the red moon, Shadia forest is neither traversable or inhabitable for most people. As well as the wolves, the moon has driven the Corvians into a frenzied bloodlust.”

 

You knew there’d come a time when the curse would not be your only problem. As well as demons and undead risen from the depths of the underworld, there was also the manner of the red moon and the powerful grasp it held over the beasts of the world. “After tonight, I’m sure myself, Lucina, and the others can handle a few beasts.”

 

Without announcement, Catia stands up, and without a word, heads toward the archway leading out onto the hill. She grabs her hammer, and passing one, a stray lantern from the ground.

 

“Where are you heading?” Dexter asks.

 

“Where do you think?” Catia doesn’t turn to acknowledge him.

 

Dexter sighs, rubbing his eyes with a weary hand. It makes you think they've done this routine before. “It cannot wait until you get back to town?”

 

“It cannot.” She speaks calmly, almost mocking the head cleric. “I am not going far, Dexter. You don’t need to worry about me.”

 

“I wouldn’t advise going out into the darkness alone.” Lucina turns herself around to face Catia, even if the paladin is not looking back. “We have already dealt with one thing lurking in the shadows tonight.”

 

Catia finally turns back, and her eyes are upon you. Her gaze is as stern as stone, but after a moment she begins to smirk. “There is no need to worry.” She beckons you over to her. “Franziska, do you mind coming with me?”

 

She wanted to talk to you about the paladin, that had to be the only reason. Unless, the paladin was weary about venturing alone beyond the light. No, Catia had shown that she didn’t scare so easily. “Sure, wouldn’t want you being pulled off with your knickers around your ankles.” You hop up to your feet and accompany Catia through the archway.

 

It’s eerie yet peaceful. There’s an air of fear out on the hill. Just an hour ago the paladin's clashed blades with an army of undead, but now it looked like the history had been washed away, non-existent. It's unsettling. Your eyes instinctively look towards the shadows on both sides of the church, a nervous hand grasping your silver swords hilt. It feels like you can still see him, the undead paladin, watching you from the shadows.

 

Catia stands still for a moment, basking in the cool night air. The air did not reek as much of burning corpses out here. You join her, looking down over the hamlet beneath you. It still looks as dead and quiet as the moment you’d arrived, though you see a few lights near the tavern. Slowly, the residents would be settling back in.

 

“I never imagined a paladin to be deceitful to her fellow clerics.” You jest, chuckling.  “Especially to Dexter of all people.”

 

As you speak, you notice Catia has undone the lower plates of her armour, long flowing white robes move softly in the night air. “Deceitful?” She furrows her brow.

 

It’s then you realize the paladin hadn’t just pulled you away for a friendly chat. You were the watchman while the paladin did her business, which was not a role you were begging for, but after tonight it was the least you could do for Catia. You shrug your shoulders and lean against the wall. “Nevermind…”

 

Catia undoes her chest plate too and chucks the armour into the snow. Even with a thick layer of the snow, the bulky breastplate hits the ground with a thud. She lets out a weary sigh, finally free of the heavy plates on her shoulders. You didn’t envy paladin armour, this being one of the many reasons why. You had heard tales the armour was heavy deliberately, a kind of symbolic punishment, bearing the weights of humanity upon their shoulders.

 

“You think too much.” Catia comments, noticing you’d fallen into dwelling in your thoughts. Without the breastplate, you could see Catia was certainly endowed around her chest. Breasts befitting of a princess, despite her short stature. "If you will excuse me, nature calls." She walks past you, humming a folk tune to herself, and heads behind one of the few barricades you had seen earlier.

 

All is silent for a moment, until you hear the sound of the paladin’s water hitting the snow, a soft but powerful splattering resonates in the air. Even now, hearing another girl making her water flared up your cheeks. “I must admit...this is not my preferred method of discussion.” You try to drown out the noises with conversation. Pray tell, you are only making water...

 

“It was the only way I would be able to speak to you privately. I did not think you would be so skittish about being around somebody relieve themselves.” Catia falls silent. The sound of her water grows stronger, and the paladin lets out a relieved sigh. “T-There are some things best kept from Dexter.”

 

“I guess Paladins and Clerics are not so transparent.”

 

“I would expect a woman who cavorts with demons to understand the value of secrets, especially ones that would be dangerous if others knew of them.”

 

You chuckle. “I jest. You have nothing to worry about, Catia.”

 

There is a break in the air, the quiet noise of wind. You can't help but smirk thinking of the old adage: Paladins fart just like the rest of us do. You shift forward toward the hills edge, hoping that the sound of the paladin's backside was not a prelude to...other things. As an extension of that old adage: They shit too, just like the rest of us.  

 

The splattering dies down, a few dribbles patter against the snow. “Hoo, that is better.” The head paladin exhales. You hear the shuffle of leggings. Catia re-emerges from the barricade where she relieved herself, tugging joyfully at her belt. “I can tell you about Rexhan...the paladin from the graveyard. Though, I cannot let Dexter hear about this.” There is a crack in her voice. Something different than her accent, it is like the voice of a girl who wants to cry, but knows she cannot.       

 

Catia looks out over the forest, she rests her hammer in the snow and squats down, surveying the land she was sworn to protect. You join her, standing alongside her and gazing out. if you ignored the blood red that tinged the sky, it was a beautiful night. The snow clouds had vanished, leaving the vast canvas of stars in their wake, and the surrounding forests were white with snow.

 

“Rexhan Antarus was one of the finest paladins this side of the Novrus’Ar. He was the head paladin for the Capital Church, a paladin unlike any other when it came to his devotion to the apostates. It was Antarus that told us we were to fully cooperate with the Arcanum.” Catia grits her teeth. “We…” Catia’s cheeks glow red, she looks almost like a child. “...were together during our time at the capital church, as more than just friends. The elders looked down on relationships between paladins, but that would not stop us from being together. He was a kind and caring man.”

 

That explained Catia’s hesitance in the graveyard, something that tugged at the strings of your heart thinking about it. She could not deal the killing blow to a man she loved, even if he was a twisted creature that was no longer the man she knew; Forbidden love.

 

“I can’t say I’m surprised. Love finds a way.” There had been fellow apprentices from your younger days, though the Selkava did not care for the relations between their apprentices, and any desires or longing for love were lost when those apprentices underwent their trials in the bloodied forests of Serkaine. “I suspect the news you were to cooperate did not settle well?”

 

Catia shakes her head, and that faint flutter of her hair says more than her words could. “He was as secretive as the rest of them, despite the order’s desire for transparency among its ranks. He would share nothing outside of the Arcanum or the order. Not even to me.”

 

“Did you know of Rexhan’s death?”

 

Catia shakes her head reluctantly. “No. That is why...in the graveyard…” For something so personal, Catia’s resolve was strong. “I saw a face I had not seen in months...a face I had hoped survived...but it seems I was mistaken, and the hells have claimed him…”

 

You weren’t going to pry, it was curiosity more than necessity that had you ask. The paladin has said enough. “Thank you, Catia.” You feel your jest about secrets may not have been in the best of taste. “I would not have asked had I expected it to be so personal. Most people would’ve hidden that kind of relationship from everybody.”

 

“Maybe it’s the need to offer you the transparency my superiors did not offer us. I know I said earlier they shared what they could, but I am skeptical that they shared everything. If we’re to best this curse, then best you know everything.” In that moment, Catia smiles, gleefully, unlike the sarcastic smirk you were familiar with. “I must admit when we found you in Portar, I had my doubts about you. There have been many coming through seeking the curses power as opposed to seeing it destroyed. After tonight, I have no doubts that you are here with good intentions. Selkava or not.”

 

In the aftermath of opening old wounds, Catia falls silent. You try to imagine what she could be thinking, but you’d never truly understand. A paladin she loved was wandering the island, an undead devoid of life and soul, a paladin she loved had tried to kill her, and now a paladin she loved...would have to fall. It makes you wonder about Catia herself and about her own past. You had the time, would it worth asking about the curious blonde-haired fighter beside you?

 

What do you wish to say?

 

> “I would not mind hearing a little about yourself, Catia.”

 

> “I think I’ve heard all I need to. We should be heading back.”

Edited by Clom

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> “I would not mind hearing a little about yourself, Catia.”

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“Well since we have some time, I wouldn’t mind hearing a little about yourself, Catia.”

 

You were too curious for your own good. It was becoming predictable. As if she had anticipated it, Catia chuckles at your request. “It would be unfitting to my vow for transparency if I did not share a little about myself, wouldn’t it? Very well; I grew up in Petrova, a small coastal town on the north side of the mountains. Since I was young, I had an urge to fight and a desire for something more than being a stable girl, and without any guilds on Oldengrad, I took to signing on with the Apostate’s church. They don’t care about who fights for the gods as long as they swear their oath.” She looks over to you with a smirk. “I know, not as interesting as you were expecting, was it?”

 

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting something more interesting.” You're unsure if you should laugh. You would make a comment about her forbidden relationship but at the moment, that seemed unsavoury. “Though I always suspected paladins can’t all be god worshiping warriors from birth. Much like the Selkava, even the holiest places have to get their stalwart defenders of the faith from somewhere, even if they're from the farms. You've never traveled, seen anywhere beyond Oldengrad?" You pry, eager to see if you can salvage something interesting.

 

Alas Caita shakes her head, frowning at the thought of travel. "I have only been where the church needs me, which has never been far from Minevorska or the capital church. Purging pagan rituals or tending to clerics who travel between the towns."

 

There was something...mildly interesting. "Purging rituals? I guess we are more alike than I expected. I can't say I've ever been a glorified envoy for a cleric however..." You remember a traders caravan you had escorted in the southern swamps of Eserith one time, but a buck-toothed alchemist peddling potentially stolen wares was not on the same scale as protecting a fellow helper of the church. "You will have to tell me about some of your journeys sometime."

 

You look to have peaked Catia's interest about yourself, maybe it was the way you looked when you reminisce. The paladin's smirk changes into a sincere smile, something that looked foreign to the Paladin. “Hmm, and you will have to tell me about yourself sometime. I am curious myself how a woman from the region of wine and merriment ended up in the cold harsh lands of the east.”

 

You shrug your shoulders humbly. “I'll warn you now: It’s not as interesting as you might think.” A fine lie, you were never humble about your upbringing; Escaping a plague only to find shelter with a group of monster hunters was nothing something that could be told with a humble tone. "However, if the taps in that dusty old tavern work, I will tell you over a drink. Paladin's can drink, right?" You ask with a devilish smile.

 

“We can, even if we couldn't I don't think the gods would bat an eye. I will hold you to that drink, once we are settled in the town. For now, we should head back.” Catia stares anxiously into the darkness, her hand reaching for her hammer. “We've talked long enough, and I do not trust the shadows.” She picks up her breastplate from the snow and beckons toward the courtyard.

 

Back in the courtyard the fires are dying. The holy spell cast by the head cleric leaves nothing of the undead but ash kindled atop charred wood. The stench of the pyres is stomach-turning, you pull the scarf back over your nose, but the brief exposure still curdles your stomach.

 

“There you both are.” Dexter is the first of the two to notice your return, he turns to you, clutching a small book in his hands. He greets you with relief, knowing the shadows have not claimed you. “That took...longer than I expected.”

 

“Sometimes nature’s call is more than just a flowing river, Dexter.” Catia looks over to the pyres and the dying flames dwindling around them. “We have burned enough. We should get down to the hamlet…” That look of hesitation flickers in her eyes. “As strong as Nymeria is, I do not enjoy giving her complete control of the Paladins for so long.”

 

Dexter nods in agreement. “I feel the same about Karlien.” He looks toward the pyres and back to Catia with a firm nod. “Very well. We do not have enough oil for them all, I think we’ve thinned their numbers sufficiently.” Something catches the head clerics attention as he stares toward the paladin  “Catia, your armour?”

 

“I needed it off… if only for a short while.” Catia rubs her shoulders, tensing as she does. “I’ve hardly slept without it, I think I’ve earned a moment to breath.”

 

“You’ve been pushing yourself too much recently. It would not hurt to let Nymeria take some of the work.”

 

“I could say the same of you and Karlien. But you’re like me, you’re too stubborn to let the second-in-command do the heavy lifting.” Catia tenses as it looks like she hits a sore spot on her shoulder. The head paladin winces. "Karlien can make herself useful by making something for the pain. It's like there's an anvil on my shoulders."

 

Dexter shakes his head, a smile on his face. “I am sure if you ask her nicely, she will gladly tend to you, once she is done getting the seriously injured to their feet.” He reaches down to a small leather sack full of what look to be books. “If I am as stubborn as you, then best we not leave Nymeria and Karlien in charge for too long.” He hoists the sack over his shoulder.

 

You depart the ruins, reminding yourself that this church was now a monument to the night hell came to Oldengrad. As you walk through the courtyard, Dexter turns back, looking up to the ruins for a final time. "I will look forward to the day we can rebuild." There is anticipation in his voice.

 

You can feel morning on the horizon, the dark night is fading, and in the distance you can see the sky growing brighter. You descend the staircase from the church and return to the town of Minevorska. The town feels more welcoming, more comfortable now that it is inhabited again. The bleak shadows of the streets are brought to life by lanterns swaying from their poles.  Families had taken to returning to their homes with comfort, Stone cottages along the path gleam with a warm golden glow as you spy shadows huddling around a warm. The miserable hamlet you had walked into, wrought with abandonment, has began to fade and in it's stead some semblance of a normal land returns.

 

You feel safer knowing the church has already begun securing the town. Their presence distorts an otherwise mundane sight, though a feeling of safety was more welcome than a feeling of coziness right now. They walk the streets, weapons at the ready. Even the injured are on their feet, scouting the surrounding areas for anything astray, patrols rush past, some patrolling near the gate as others stand watch near the houses. 


Catia pats the head cleric on his shoulder and tilts her head in the direction of a building near the back of the small town, swarming with activity. That must be the town hall, a temporary base for the Paladins and Clerics. You look over to the hall, spying a handful of clerics talking amongst themselves, as well as the sight of several of the townspeople huddled around the doorway. It would appear some people were not fond of cutting their strings from the paladins protection, nor did they settle for their homes as easily as some.

 

Both Catia and Dexter depart without word. Their new home was not as imposing or majestic, a mere small stone hall with a bell-tower unfitting to the those who kept the word of the gods. Still, it did not look to bother them. You grow curious about the rest of the town, other than the humble cottages there is also a smith near the town hall, though the lights, as well as the forge, are still out. You remember the man talking with Margo earlier, and struggle to rack your brain to remember if he was the town smith. Your attention turns to the tavern you passed earlier instead, somewhere that felt more familiar to you. In the light you can make out the sign hanging over the doorway. “The ore an’ ale…” You comment on the signpost, unsure how you feel about the name.

 

“Dexter told me that the tavern should be able to accommodate us. The owner is a kind man called Yura." Lucina looks down at her dress, looking more frustrated than mournful of its tattered state. "I need to get out of this soiled dress.” Soiled was not a fitting word for it, decimated would be more fitting. The rips and tears would prove more permanent than the piss stains soaking into it.

 

A cold breeze cascades between your legs. You'd forgotten after putting on a clean pair of clothes about your accident, but the breeze was a rude reminder. The air is numbing on your rough thighs, an unpleasant feeling that makes you cringe. "A warm bath, hells, even a cold one, or just a basin to splash water against myself..." You comment without care for Lucina, who is standing beside you. You'd like something to clean yourself up with. Anything. A pair of clean clothes weren’t worth much if you stayed soiled between your legs. “I should get myself sorted too.”

 

You look over toward the farm, you can see a glimpse of life in the windows. Looking up to the tower at the gate you see it’s empty. Alexandr must’ve gone home, you wouldn’t blame him after the night he’d had. It wouldn’t hurt to check on him and his family and to make sure your newfound ally had no long lasting injuries. Perhaps if you asked kindly he would offer you the use of his bath like he had Margo. But looking back to the tavern you remember you have a party of your own to check on, what was a leader if they didn’t care for their own? Addilyn had to be sedated and taken to bed, her fragile mind unable to escape the terror of the night. Margo had suffered some injuries, just as Alexandr had, though she claimed she would be fine the least you could do in appreciation for the clothes was check up on her.

 

You suppose a faucet and bowl would not be too punishing on your thighs should you decide to tend to your own party.

 

What do you wish to do?

 

>Head into the tavern

 

>Head toward the farm

 

>Head toward the town hall

 

>Other

Edited by Clom

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Let's check up on Addilyn, then head to the tavern.

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