I made sure to wake up and take care of my morning prayers early, since I’d signed up to attend the sermon about giving sermons at the temple. Of all the silly obligations… it seems even the Church is fraught with bureaucracy here in Catiline. No matter—I’d slog through whatever I needed to in order to continue doing the work of Signus.
I was on my way out of the embassy when I heard something of a ruckus going on outside. It woke the rest of the group up (except for Corlin, who appeared to once again have visited the library), and we all went out to investigate the source of the commotion. We followed a crowd of people running to and fleeing from a large fountain. There was a hooded figure and a burly panthera standing atop the fountain, the former seemingly channeling some kind of spell on the latter. I didn’t think whatever display was going on concerned me, so I made my way through the crowd, realizing I was on a schedule. However curious I was, Signus came first!
Of course, as soon as I was nearing the edge of the crowd, the hooded figure announced that he would be forcing the panthera to kill one of his friends. I didn’t know the lad, but I didn’t want to see anyone get hurt. Paxism is more than merely avoiding violence—St. Hashim teaches us that preventing violence, even to the detriment of one’s own well-being, is the ultimate pursuit. I pushed my way toward the fountain, through the pack of onlookers. I tried not to be too judgmental or disgusted by their intense interest in the spectacle of the crime about to be committed, but it was difficult.
Arriving closer to the fountain, I manage to clear enough of the crowd to gain a full view of the fountain. To my horror, I saw that the panthera was holding Sern up by the neck. He seemed to be struggling internally, as I saw tears streaming down his face as I pushed closer through the crush of people. I couldn’t get close enough—there were still rows and rows of onlookers blocking my way when I saw the panthera thrust his arm through Sern’s chest and crush it into slime. I forced my way through the taller people still blocking my way but found myself stopped in place by a row of hooded men bearing large shields. I was helpless as the panthera pulled his arm out of the hole in Sern’s chest and the body fell unceremoniously into the fountain. I thought the horrendous display was over when the hooded figure on the fountain announced: “Let this be a lesson to all! Do not betray the Will of the Emperor!”
But I was wrong. Without warning the panthera pulled a dagger from his waist and, crying out, presumably in resistance, plunged it into his chest. He collapsed atop Sern.
The men with the shields in front of me charged forward, pushing the crowd back. I was only tossed aside, and as soon as I was back on my feet I ran over to the panthera—if I couldn’t save Sern, perhaps I could still do something for this poor lad.
When I reached him, I found him still alive, but rapidly losing blood. The dagger was still in his chest and I knew there could be no healing done if that remained the case, so I quickly retrieved a needle and thread from my pack and carefully slid out the dagger. I worked hard to sew up his wound, but the fur that covered his body made this particularly difficult. At some point, Connor had made his way to the scene of the crime and offered me a vial of tranquilizer. I took it, pouring the stuff into the dagger wound, and asked Connor if he could shave off some of the fur surrounding it. He did so rather skillfully and I had a much better time stitching him up.
I heard a voice nearby ask someone to stand aside. If they were talking to me, I’m glad they didn’t press the issue, as I still had a lot to do. Once the wound was closed, I abandoned medical healing and filled him with the light of Signus. If I’d had more time, I might have been able to save him, but he’d lost so much blood, and he looked to be bruised all over his body—he seemed to have sustained far more damage than merely what the dagger had caused. As I charged up another heal, he gasped and fell still. When the light from my hands wouldn’t enter his body, I knew I’d failed.
I’m sure he probably hadn’t been Signi in his lifetime, but I gave him a final blessing all the same. At some point Jenny had made her way here as well, and two guards. They helped me up and asked me to back away from the bodies. We were asked if we knew either of the victims, and we answered regarding Sern. They gave us there condolences, and said we had to leave the market district until the investigation was complete.
Losing someone I’d set out to save wasn’t a new experience. It hasn’t gotten any easier, but being completely helpless as Sern died felt even worse. I’m sure if I hadn’t ignored the demonstration initially, I’d have been able to get closer, faster, been there to stop the panthera’s unwilling grasp or to distract the man who made him do it… Signus, be with me.
Jenny didn’t stick around long. She headed back to the embassy almost immediately. None of us had gotten to know Sern very well, but I’m sure she was just as upset, if not more, as I was. It’s hard enough watching anybody die, but Jenny was just a lass, probably totally innocent to violence on that scale. If only we’d all been so lucky.
Perla, too, seemed to have been deeply affected by what had happened. Apparently the guards perceived her distress as potential hidden knowledge about the crime, and wanted her to go to a place called the Coroneum to get her mind probed. Why anyone would mistake womanly emotion for actual information is beyond me, but I didn’t say anything lest I upset her further. She wanted me to accompany her, after all, which I thought was a little sweet.
It was while we were walking there that I realize my robes and hands were covered in the panthera lad’s blood. I didn’t really think about the legality of what I did next (which, in hindsight, was a terrible lack of foresight, in this place), because my plainclothes were already stained with blood that would never come out, and I was feeling a little frantic in the necessity to get my robes—the only thing covering up those other stains—clean. I spied a small stream of water carved into the stone street, and dashed for it, splashing myself liberally until I could see no trace of blood on me. My hands were still sticky. I didn’t want to think about it, but it plagued my thoughts all the way to the Coroneum. Signus, be with me.
We had to take a carriage to the Coroneum, as it was about a mile outside of town. Once inside, we were greeted by an earth archon woman, who lead us through a confusing set of corridors into a room with another lass, this time a frost archon, meditating. I hung back while she and Perla talked about what Perla’s issue was. Apparently she wasn’t just upset by the events—she was seeing a pair of eyes, periodically. I was briefly concerned that my exorcism hadn’t been completely successful if she was having hallucinations now, but convinced myself that it was just her emotions overtaking her logical processes. That’s probably what Corlin would’ve said. Nothing demonic. Surely.
I heard the lass ask Perla to prick herself with a dagger and allow a drop of blood into one of the water basins on the sides of the room. My suspicion was aroused—I had assumed that this thing would be a strictly magical matter, but I know of no schools of arcane magic that require blood in their rituals. Granted, my knowledge on that topic is limited, but the blood thing seemed a little too dark for me, all the same.
As Perla made her way to one of the basins, the lass turned to me to give me a quick rundown of the process. My fears were dispelled. It was an Ethalistic ritual. Not dangerous to anyone, just a waste of time. I tuned out, nodding occasionally but not saying anything. I could humor Perla and this kooky mystic for a while as long as neither asked me to participate.
After the ritual, the archon told Perla that her issue was trauma (which I could have told her, if she’d have asked me…), and that she would send a list of ingredients to the embassy for Perla to collect if she wanted to memory targeted and dealt with. All right. At least that gave me some time to convince Perla not to waste any effort or cael on this mumbo jumbo. As we left I offered to take her to the Signi temple to have some priests pray over her, but she dismissed my offer, saying that she’d rather try the Ethalistic remedy. Well, she wouldn’t let me help her spiritually, so I offered her two cael. I’d noticed that she’d tipped the charioteer that had gotten us to the Coroneum, and that her money purse was a little thin. If she was really going to go for some crackpot medicine, she’d need some money for the ingredients.
Perla wanted to walk back to town. I did not. Recommending that she visit the Signi temple reminded me that I had completely missed the sermon about giving sermons. I took the chariot back to town and made my way as quickly as possible to the temple, where I found Brother Macentyre. He didn’t seem to remember me, nor was he upset that I’d missed my appointment. No matter—he said he’d send word to the embassy the next time the sermon was being offered.
Grateful that the day’s tragedy had not entirely barred me from preaching in this city, I settled down in an unoccupied pew to pray for a while. Foremost, I prayed for the deliverance of Sern’s soul. I know that he hadn’t been a believer, but he hadn’t dismissed me the only time I’d talked to him about Signi, so I had hope that perhaps he’d come into the Light in his final days. I had no knowledge of the panthera’s beliefs, but I prayed for him as well. I prayed for Perla and Jenny, too—they both seemed to have been deeply affected by the events of the day, and I asked that Signus comfort them in their sorrow and fear. I prayed for Connor and Corlin as an afterthought: Connor was too tough for Sern’s death to have affected him too much, and of course Corlin hadn’t even been around to witness it. I prayed that eventually the two of them would see the truth about Signus and come into the Light.
On my way back to the embassy, I ran into Connor, who said he needed help reading a book about mammoths. I wasn’t sure why he needed my help or why he was researching mammoths, but I didn’t have anything else to do so I went with him to the library.
He had me paw through a book called “Tiberian Jungle Mammoths.” By Signus, I couldn’t understand a damn word. Luckily, I didn’t have to admit to my deficiency, as Connor said he’d gotten something out of the book he was reading. I was happy for him, but I was still curious as to why he needed to know anything about mammoths. He said that he wanted to fight one in the coliseum.
Of all the irresponsible ventures! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. I expressed my disapproval, but he seemed determined to throw away his life—he even tried to convince me to heal him from the audience while he fought. I refused, of course, reasoning that if I didn’t want him to hurt himself, I certainly wasn’t going to help him do it. In his continuing attempts to convince me, he asked me to come watch one of these animal fights just to see how safe it is. Once again I told him that I couldn’t: willingly partaking in spectacles of violence is wildly against everything I stand for as a Paxist minister. He was disappointed, but I had to remain steadfast. I could afford hurting him emotionally if it meant I could prevent him from hurting himself any other way.
The two of us returned to the embassy. Once inside, Connor immediately began to question Perla about whether or not fighting a mammoth in the arena is a good idea. Fortunately she agreed with me, and Connor huffed off to talk to Jenny about it. Needing a break from conflict and excitement, I sat down to read from the book of Silas, who speaks at length about the necessity of a stoic mind in restraining the passions of the body. Connor could stand to learn some stoicism.
I read until the evening, ate some of the pork stew Perla had made the night before, and said my evening prayers before lying down to sleep. I prayed especially hard for Connor’s powers of reason. Signus knows that lad needs some sense.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by Connor. He was holding an obviously unconscious Jenny, saying that she’d swallowed some tranquilizer. I jolted into consciousness. I asked how long ago she’d taken it, and Connor said he didn’t know—maybe four or five hours? I took her from him and carried her into the bathroom, setting her down on her side next to the bath. I stuck my fingers down her throat in an attempt to make her throw up, which worked. Much to my horror her vomit seemed to be mostly blood and tissue, and she didn’t stir. I turned her on her back and tried to perform CPR. When this also proved ineffective, I picked her up again and we all went outside to find someone who could show us to the hospital. We found a guard who lead us to a small hospital, seemingly the only place open at this time of night. Once inside, a few nurses swarmed me and Jenny and told me to set her down on a gurney. After I’d done so, they asked us to wait outside. I wanted to stay behind and do whatever I could to help, but they told me that I wouldn’t be necessary. I caved and went outside with Connor and Perla.
While we sat outside, I prayed silently for Jenny’s life. I didn’t think I could handle it if yet another person died on me today—especially if it were anyone in our little group. The others were silent as well, and I wondered if they were also praying. I suppose it couldn’t hurt, even if their prayers fell on empty air.
Eventually the nurse came outside to tell us that there was nothing they could do at the moment, except for a rather dangerous method that they don’t normally use. Bottled lightning, apparently, can arouse people from very deep sleeps, but kills them one in four times. We all agreed that it was better to risk it than to let her die slowly while we waited for the morning. Back inside, they bared Jenny’s back and brought out this little bottle filled with yellow sparks. As the nurse held the vial close to her, I readied myself to shield her with the light of Signus should anything go awry. The nurse popped the cork, and a bolt of lightning leapt out of the bottle and struck her back. She groaned, but seemed to be alive, so I relaxed. Unfortunately, she didn’t awaken, so we were forced to stay the rest of the night at the hospital.
When morning came, Jenny still hadn’t woken up. The nurses told us that if we found an alchemist who could make an antidote, that they could administer it to her. Willing to try anything and everything, we split up to find one.
At the Imperial Apothecary, I had to wait in line for an hour to get to one of the alchemists, and then the lad had the gall to take a fifteen minute break for lunch as soon as I was next in line. Once he’d come back I gave him the tranquilizer sample Connor had given me, and he said that I’d have to wait until tomorrow for the research to be completed. I didn’t have the money to expedite the process, so I left, hoping that either Connor or Perla had found someone more effective.
After another hour or so, Perla and Connor were both back, and Connor had a vial of pink liquid that he claimed was an antidote! There was some kerfuffle about whether or not it had to be ingested or injected, but eventually we were able to give it to her appropriately. The nurses told us that we had to wait, but I was hopeful. I couldn’t believe that Jenny would still die after all we’d done to save her.
We went out and got breakfast, and by the time we returned, the nurse told us that Jenny’s condition had improved, and all we had to do was wake her up. They waved some smelling salt in front of her face and she finally came to. Praise Signus! Finally, something positive in what has been a rather hellish few days.
We returned in relative silence to the embassy. I was happy that Jenny had survived the ordeal, but I was disturbed about what had caused her to do such a thing to herself. I was afraid that she’d taken Sern’s death far harder than I’d thought.
Corlin had returned from the library, and with him there were six people I’d never seen before, all doing some kind of household chores. He told us that they were the Leminster convicts that were to serve out their sentence assisting the embassy. I was quite eager to hear that they’d be staying with us—I always loved having the opportunity to talk to people who’d lost their way in life. In my experience, criminals, if they can be convinced, turn to their faith with more zeal than any others.
Some of them seemed to be engaged in making dinner, so I took the chance to slip into conversation with them by giving them the remaining pork that I’d bought from that hobbit the other day. I didn’t beat around the bush, asking them right out what they had been arrested for. The wood elf lass and the two human siblings (or at least I assumed they were siblings) didn’t seem interested in talking about it, which I could understand. There was an old perindel man with a cane, however, and he answered that he had been rigging bets at the coliseum. I was about to launch into a sermon on the evils of gambling, but Jenny chose that moment to interject by asking the names of everyone.
Well, I certainly felt a little rude for not doing that myself.
The wood elf lass was named Shaelith, and the two humans were siblings after all, named Darion and Daliah Garret. The perindel who had admitted his crime was named Leonard Masters, although he liked to be called “Old Len.” Finally, there was a Rothan man who looked about my age sitting at the dining room table with Corlin. His name was Vineet Hugo. I’d seen a high elf lad puttering about earlier, but he seemed to be elsewhere at the moment. Jenny, again seeking names, went off to find him, leaving me alone to talk to those in the kitchen.
Realizing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere by prying into their past, I flipped open my Bible and began to read the passage from the book of Noledzar that discusses how obeying earthly laws allows one to more effectively worship Signus. As soon as I mentioned the Angel’s name, though, I heard a distinct groan from Vineet. I could have ignored him, but I didn’t want to alienate any of these potential converts, so I asked him if he had a problem with Signus. He told me that he was a Torist—I shouldn’t have been surprised; I’ve found that Torists are often the most resistant to the ideas of other faiths.
Speaking of Torists, as soon as the name of To’ar entered the arena, Connor began to prattle on about Torism to the people in the kitchen. Daliah told him forcefully to back off, and that she knew what she believed in. I agreed wholeheartedly, shooing Connor out of the kitchen, and continued to talk to them about Signus. I flipped to a later part of the Bible, and began to read a passage from Sermons about the importance of repentance. I’d read that particular chapter in some of the rural congregations in northern Leminster, and there was a certain part where I liked to pause, because the people would usually be moved to shout “Praise Signus!” in their inspiration. Out of habit, I paused there as I usually did, and to my surprise I actually heard someone intone “Praise Signus!” in the appropriate spot.
I turned around quickly, to see the high elf wave from the kitchen doorway, and walk away. I thought that perhaps I’d only have to work on five of these criminals, if one of them was already Signi. Maybe he’d even help me!
Before I could go on, Jenny beseeched me to preach at a different time. After a few minutes of discussion I realized I was outnumbered, so I agreed to only preach between the hours of noon and one, although I managed to negotiate a ten-minute grace period. I didn’t press the matter further. Father Marcellus used to tell me that I ought not to speak unless I spoke in the name of Signus. In hindsight, I don’t think he liked me very much.
I noticed that most of the criminals had at this point said something about how much better community service was than prison. Thinking perhaps they had been subjected to horrible conditions, I asked them what the jails in Catiline were like. They described the place that they had been staying: one-person cells connected by partially penetrable walls so that they could talk to each other, various activities to choose from during “free time,” and two full meals plus snacks throughout the day. I couldn’t believe that any criminal would complain about that kind of treatment from the nation that convicted him! Between doing backbreaking labor eighteen hours a day at Grimstone
and nearly starving to death in the Block
, this Catilinian prison sounded positively luxuriant. I made the mistake of saying so out loud, and the conversation immediately halted, and everyone in the room gave me a strange, scrutinizing look. In my sudden anxiety I made the sinful decision to lie in order to escape the situation. I pretended that I heard Corlin calling for me and I dashed upstairs, ducking inside his room to hide.
Jenny followed me. I made a “ssh” motion at Corlin, but he didn’t seem to get it, as he was very easily conned out of his room by some other lie Jenny made up. She slipped inside after he left, effectively cornering me by locking the door behind her. After some tense back-and-forth between the two of us, during which I was probably more verbally aggressive than I should have been (Signus forgive me), I was forced to admit to her that I had indeed been to prison. She also tried to get me to tell her why I’d been in jail, but that was certainly a road I wasn’t ready to go down with anyone in this group yet. If ever. I left the room forcibly, returning downstairs.
Jenny followed me again, and sat down across from me at the dining table. As Shaelith rang the bell for dinner, Jenny mouthed wordlessly at me that she “won’t tell anyone.” I didn’t believe her then, and I’m still not sure I believe her. She’s a good lass, but a little slippery.
We ate, Jenny and Connor making conversation with some of the convicts. I listened carefully to anything they said about their crimes, hoping to specialize my sermon for tomorrow. I returned to my room afterward and made sure to extend my evening prayers appropriately. Once again I prayed for the souls of Sern and the panthera, but I added a prayer for Jenny’s happiness and health, and a prayer for the conversion of the convicts I was to be living with for the next few days. As an afterthought I prayed, too, for myself, and my ability to keep my own secrets better.
I had just settled in to sleep when Jenny knocked and came in, asking if she could sleep in my room tonight. I resisted at first, because I was certain she just wanted to grill me more about what I’d let slip earlier. Although I suspect that was part of her reasoning, she told me that, because of the events of the past couple of days, she didn’t want to be alone. Despite my other concerns, my guilt and compassion overcame me, and I had to agree, offering her my bed. I slept on the floor.