Sern’s ashes were delivered to the embassy yesterday morning. I put the urn next to a potted plant on a shelf in the main room, which I thought was about as tasteful as I could manage, given the circumstances. I had expected that arrival—I did not expect to stroll into the embassy shortly thereafter, however.
We all expressed our relief that he had survived the explosion back at Port Cael, but we were curious why and how he’d found us again. As he was telling his story, though, Jenny made it clear that she absolutely needed to talk to me alone. Of course I was suspicious—ever since I’d let it slip to her that I’d been to prison, she’s taken every opportunity to remind me of her knowledge, as well as her capacity for keeping that knowledge secret.
I followed her into a meeting room, prepared to deflect any requests for further information. I was quite surprised to find out that she wasn’t attempting to pry any deeper, but only offering me a gift. It was a lovely Paxist cross backed by a sunrise, surely more striking than what I currently wore. I replaced my old necklace immediately. I was moved, of course—I certainly didn’t feel like I deserved anything from her, especially since I’d been assuming the worst of her for the past few days. Perhaps I ought to be more trusting.
After what felt to me like a rather awkward thank-you, we returned to the main room, where Connor was talking with great pride about the “resurrection” of Racha. Apparently word travels quickly and far in Catiline, as Javik had heard about our most recent escapade and was in as much wonder as we all were about the war hero’s return. I still had my suspicions—no necromantic magic, indeed! What other kind of black practice could allow a dead woman to return to life? Even as… whole as she claimed to be, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t still some taint of death on her.
Javik passed around a bounty booklet that he’d picked up on his way here. Mercenary work was sinful beyond measure, of course, but I knew my friends well enough by now to realize that they would do many things for pay that I would never consider. So I wasn’t surprised when they agreed to go after an art thief wanted for 500 cael. Sure, it was a sizable sum, but why would any of us need that kind of money, especially while we’re staying at the embassy? I didn’t press the matter: they could do what they pleased while we were here, as long they stayed safe and didn’t get the embassy into trouble.
At some point during this conversation, Connor took note of the necklace Jenny had given me. For some reason, it seemed to upset him that Jenny had given me a gift. He insisted that there was no reason for her to have done so, and that I was already wearing plenty of nice jewelry, citing the ring I had miraculously received before we left Leminster. In the moment, I was baffled by why my adornment was any concern of his, but later it occurred to me that perhaps the ring I thought had been a gift from Signus himself was actually a gift from Connor. I felt a bit sheepish at the idea—the lad had been trying to gauge my opinion about the ring for a while now, and I’d completely skimmed over it. I’ll have to remember to thank him for it when I get the chance, even if it’s a little belated.
After that somewhat confusing and awkward conversation, Corlin arrived to remind us that we had a meeting with the High General of the Catilinian Army today at noon. He wouldn’t be able to attend, he said, because of some other important meetings that he’d scheduled for himself. I scolded him for not leaving this time slot open, but now I think I was a bit too rash. The lad had been handling all the more formal aspects of running an embassy, after all, so I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.
Javik, hearing all of this, asked if he could attend the meeting with us. Since we had two plus-ones available to us, we all (sans-Corlin) headed out together for the royal armory, arriving about an hour early.
The extra time turned out to have been rather necessary, as there was a long line to get through before we could even inform anyone that we were here to see the General. Even after all that, we still had to wait until our time arrived. I’m really becoming quite sick of all this bureaucratic nonsense. I couldn’t wait to be back in Leminster, that’s for sure. Or anywhere else.
While we were in line, Jenny was still trying to convince me that taking bounties from the government was a good idea. She brought to my attention a reward posted for bringing to justice a thief who had been stealing tithe from the Signi temple. I simply couldn’t allow a crime of that degree to continue if I could have any say in it, and since the rest of the group was so willing, I had to agree that this was a job we probably ought to take.
Once we’d made it through the line we were hustled into a waiting room. I sat down on a bench and was immediately flanked by Jenny and Connor. Apparently Connor took issue with Jenny bringing a bounty to my attention, and started up a similar argument to the one they’d had earlier. I couldn’t understand this newfound popularity—Connor seemed averse to any contact Jenny was having with me, and saw fit to suggest that she and I were having some kind of unsavory relationship. The implication was most unsettling to me, not to mention quite untrue, and in my fervor to disprove such a claim I evacuated my place between the two of them and scurried over to another bench to sit alone. Luckily we were called in to the general’s office not too long after, so I didn’t have to remain in that uncomfortable situation. I hope they’ve all forgotten about that by now.
There was a stuffed mammoth in the general’s office. I hoped Connor could remain focused on our purpose there. Sure enough, though, the first thing out of his mouth was to ask the general if he’d killed that mammoth. High General Marcus Septimus, a strapping earth archon lad, didn’t tolerate the distraction, and proceeded immediately into our business.
It became clear very quickly that we had absolutely nothing to offer Catiline in return for military assistance. I had assumed that Jenny had a plan of some kind, but she was just as unprepared for it as I was. Corlin probably would’ve known what to do. As it happened, I made a rather serious gaffe when addressing the general for the first time, and decided to remain quiet for the rest of the meeting, since he seemed… violently angry.
The only thing that saved us was Connor bringing up the possible existence of the Black Axe. The general immediately became interested in fighting off the hroggar once he realized that the Black Axe could be acquired for the Catilinian military. I was disturbed by this revelation—if anyone could defeat the hroggar, it was Catiline, but the idea of such a powerful nation with access to a weapon of that magnitude terrified me.
But, this was our best bet for Leminster’s survival, so I held my tongue. Jenny had mentioned that Leminster was concerned that Caeloth was preparing a crusade, so the general decided that he would send an envoy to Caeloth so the two nations could coordinate their first strikes before the hroggar were prepared. I also wasn’t a fan of encouraging the Werosan regime of Caeloth to pursue a holy war, but once again I kept my mouth shut. Perhaps it was cowardly of me, but I’m certain that Signus would guide the king to reason if he would listen. Whether or not he would have the wisdom to listen is another thing entirely.
All in all, it seemed to be going rather well for us until the general decided that he was going to appoint us to organize a task force. I wanted to ask what he hoped to accomplish by creating a military task force composed of a group of ambassadors, but, again, I didn’t say anything. Finally, he told us that before he went through with any of this, he wanted to “test us in battle,” and that we were to show up at the coliseum at noon to fight a series of matches against some of his men. This was one moment I couldn’t stay silent. I said—I thought rather firmly—that my religion prevented me from participating in a spectacle of violence. Much to my displeasure, he told me quite plainly that he didn’t respect my beliefs and that I had to show up if I cared at all about the fate of Leminster.
It was at that moment that I began to think about returning to the monastery. But more on that later—before I could really begin to think through that possibility, Connor was on about the mammoth again. The general brought him to an empty corner of the office and drew a sword. He told the lad that he would tell him how he managed to kill the stuffed mammoth if Connor could land a blow on him before he could knock Connor down.
Needless to say, Connor could not best the leader of the most powerful military in the world.
As soon as we were dismissed, I got out of that office as fast as I could. We made it back to the embassy by 1:00, which of course meant that I’d missed my only opportunity to preach to the convicts. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I wasn’t already having a rather awful day, but regrettably I took out my frustrations on Jenny, who I saw as the reason my preaching opportunities were so limited. I feel very bad about it now, and I still haven’t apologized to her. I have a lot of apologizing to do, really.
After stewing over lunch and bitterly agreeing to go to the coliseum tomorrow, I headed up to my room to pray a little bit. I needed to figure out where I was, spiritually. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that no one in the party respected my beliefs when it was even a minor inconvenience to them. This whole coliseum thing was a perfect example: as long as I prayed quietly and went to church alone and didn’t talk to them about their sins, they were fine with me. But if I didn’t want to accompany them in a stunt that was fundamentally against everything I stood for, suddenly they couldn’t understand my convictions and thought they were significantly less important than ensuring we had a place on some military task force. I recalled the thought that had occurred to me during the meeting with the general, that I might be better off at a monastery. I know I’m technically not allowed at Darden Abbey anymore, but perhaps enough time had passed and Father Marcellus had forgiven me. Perhaps he wouldn’t think of me as an “embarrassment” anymore.
I tried to keep all of that bitterness out of the letter I wrote to him. I stressed my continued sobriety and my commitment to nonviolence, deciding not to mention the necromancer we’d had to deal with a few days ago. I don’t think the abbot would fully understand the complexities of traveling with an adventuring group.
When the letter was finished, I headed down to the mail slot outside the embassy. Jenny was there too, also sending a letter. This would’ve been a perfect time to atone for my earlier anger, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it at the time, especially since I still had leaving the group on my mind.
I remembered that she and Connor had wanted to spar with each other in preparation for their fight tomorrow, so I followed them out. At the time I justified it by telling myself that the two had had their disagreements in the past and I wanted to be there if things got too heated, but in light of what happened the next day I’m beginning to think that I was looking for some stress relief. Not a terribly healthy option, but I know what I’m about.
As I watched the fights unfold between Jenny, Connor, and Javik, I found myself engrossed in the action. I was reminded why the spectacle of violence is so sinful: it inevitably leads one to crave violence. I thought, for a moment, that I wanted to get into the ring with one of them, but I tried to push it from my mind.
Connor seemed to sense that thinking in me. When he had finished his fight with Jenny, he asked me if I wanted to get my “fists dirty.” I had to tell him no, of course, but I wondered if I could take Connor in a fight, without weapons or magic. Again, these were not healthy thoughts to dwell upon, for either my soul or my ego. Being here at all contradicted a lot of what I’d written to Father Marcellus about my progress, but I suppose this was another detail I could omit if necessary.
As I prayed that night, I made the decision, contrary to what I’d told the others earlier, not to show up at the “proving.” I wasn’t really concerned with whether or not I earned the respect of the uppity general. If I wanted any chance of being accepted at the monastery again, I had to get back on the path of nonviolence, and there was no way I could accomplish that if I willingly went into a public fight. I left early in the morning to spend the day at the Signi temple, and I prayed for my friends’ success against whatever opponents they faced, as well as absolution for their souls.
Unfortunately, they all seemed to know exactly where I was, and they hunted me down to harass me. They attempted to guilt me into going in the same way that the general did, but I knew that he was far too interested in the Black Axe to call off his attack just because one of us didn’t participate in his little show of brutality. When they asked me to step outside for a minute just to talk, I did so. It wasn’t an unreasonable request, and I didn’t want to alienate them completely. They dropped the guilt stuff and told me how angry the general would be if I disobeyed him. I wasn’t worried about that—he couldn’t do anything to me as long as I stayed in the temple. That would’ve been a fine excuse in Caeloth, but Javik informed me that churches were not considered sanctuaries in Catiline, and that the general had complete authority over me while I was staying anywhere in the nation. That certainly didn’t seem right to me, but I had no defense against it. Reluctantly, I agreed to go with them. I remained silent the whole way there. I was running through all the prayers I knew; my soul was in great agitation already, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hold it together at the coliseum, especially with a crowd cheering us on.
Once we got there, the general gave us a brief rundown of how it would go. None of the matches were to-the-death, which was somewhat comforting, but only the barest amount. To introduce the fights, the general himself was to give the crowds a “show.” I turned around, not wanting to participate in whatever sin he was about to enact. Apparently they were releasing a band of orcs into the arena with him, and he was going to take them down by himself. I heard a quick series of slashes and shouts and thuds, and then a roar of the crowd. I was frightened—I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to handle that enthusiasm. I decided that the best way to handle it was to not participate at all: I could sit down and read my Bible and tune everything out.
That worked rather well for the first fight. I read aloud one of my favorite chapters from Sermons, and although no one probably heard me, at least it kept my focus away from the violence. The only issue was that a few of the others had gotten knocked out of the fight without my healing. I didn’t want us to lose, so for the next fight I kept my Bible at my side, only kneeling down to watch the action, in case I was needed.
I was. This fight was a little rougher than the last, but we pulled through. I was so far impressed with my self-control. The voice of the crowd was powerful, but I was confident that my faith was stronger. I determined that for the final match I wouldn’t need to try any meditation tactics, I could fight alongside my friends as I usually did.
Unfortunately, the final match didn’t go according to plan. We were rushed back into the arena by a guard after being healed, with the general nowhere to be found. I didn’t think much of this, but the announcer told the crowd that there had been a change, and that the next fight would be to-the-death. At first I was terrified, and then I was angry—I was certain that the general was behind this madness. Out of the other side of the coliseum a massive beast came crashing toward us. Before we can react to anything that happened, a familiar blue force field encompassed the arena and silenced the voice of the crowd. While I was still gazing up at it, wondering how Exe could have had anything to do with this, I spied the general in the announcer’s box, yelling at people and looking about as frightened as I felt. My anger immediately dissolved and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to avoid giving the voyeurs and gamblers and addicts the show that they wanted, if I wanted to preserve my life and the lives of my friends.
As the massive creature charged for us, I saw Connor sit down and begin to meditate. What conviction! I was impressed with his faith, but distraught with his lack of foresight. I didn’t want to interrupt whatever he was trying to do, but I had to push him out of the path of the beast, lest he be crushed beneath its feet. After Connor was safe, I made some loud noises to distract the thing, at which point it charged at me instead. Not really thinking about what I was doing, I leapt upwards, grabbing onto the large frill that protected the creature’s face. This seemed to work well—it stumbled around confused and distracted for a bit, allowing my friends to attack it more effectively. He shook me off eventually, but I decided to do it again so they could get more hits in. The next time I leapt up, I ended up clinging to one of its horns, and wasn’t as effective as a distraction. So, on my way down, I slugged it in the eye. That was even more effective than merely clinging to it, so I prepared to make the maneuver again once the beast recovered. When he charged at me again, I readied myself to leap on top of its frill again, but I wasn’t quick enough that time and got punted halfway across the arena.
I was pretty badly hurt, but I managed to struggle to my feet. So far I had invoked the light of Signus the second anyone sustained any injuries, but now healing was far from my mind. Perhaps it was a combination of the adrenaline from my injuries and the recent frustration of my soul, but my immediate goal, then, was to do harm. After I got myself to my feet, I saw everyone else shatter the protective frill of the beast through their combined effort. It looked significantly more vulnerable without its natural armor, so I charged back into the fray. Javik had its attention at the moment, but as I approached it scrambled to keep both of us in its view and swung its horned snout at me. With no frill left to leap on, I threw a punch to counter the force of its attack—much to my surprise, my fist completely deflected the blow, and the beast reared back several feet in obvious pain. The others ran after it, taking advantage of its momentary confusion to get in a few more powerful hits. I could see that it was slowing down and bleeding heavily, so I wound up another punch and clocked it in the face. I felt some of its facial bones crack under the force, and it stumbled backwards helplessly and collapsed, dead.
The victory felt fantastic. I was barely aware of my own injuries. There was a moment of stillness, then the blue barrier that had closed around the arena vanished, and the roar of applause flooded the coliseum. While I was basking in the accolades, Jenny came up from behind me and held my right arm aloft. Not really thinking, I lifted up my left arm as well, enjoying the cheering of the crowd immensely, despite myself.
We were taken to the infirmary at the royal armory where the general apologized profusely for his utterly inept handling of the event. Once the intoxication of the battle with the Terrahorn (the name of which I found out now) had worn off, I realized that I had hurt my hand pretty badly and that it probably needed to be attended to. Once the nurses had finished up with Connor and Javik, one of them bandaged up my hand. I began to feel very guilty: it had been ages since I’d fought so hard I actually damaged myself. It seems that I was right to have been concerned about my self-control –even more than before, I was certain that returning to the monastery was the best thing for me. I couldn’t be seduced by Raio if I was protected from his influence.
Tonight, we sleep in the infirmary. During my evening prayers, I asked that Signus speak with Father Marcellus on my behalf.