Orange sunlight crept into the room, and the night began its retreat. Frederick Alois laid his back against the frame of his bed, his ears twitching and his tail swaying gently. He closed his eyes and his hand twitched along the floor like a spider. Under the bed, his fingers felt a familiar texture – a bundle of cloth. He dipped his hand into a bag decorated with crude brush strokes and took it, laying it down on his lap. Up and down, the subtle movement of his wrist and hand shook the wooden, beaded necklace inside the bag. The beads made light rustling sounds in rhythm with his voice as he began to pray.
He had yet to don his priestly robe or correct his early-morning appearance in any way. The morning chant was more important. On the floor, dressed only in his undershirt and short pants, his long black hair sticking out every which way, Frederick smiled brightly as he chanted. A warm sensation from the surroundings caressed him, drawn by the sound of his prayers. The cold breeze from outside, the scented candles of his room, the sound of the cicadas, all these sensations dulled.
He could feel the embrace of the kind, motherly goddess Spirit Arcline wrapping her arms tightly around him. Frederick focused on this feeling. He could almost feel the weight of the goddess as though she were leaning on him from behind, arms wrapped around his shoulders. Everything but this sensation was driven from his mind. The morning aches from tossing about in his sleep, the dazedness of awakening, all left him for the duration of his prayer.
When the final verse was done, he felt his voice linger in the air for a moment.
Frederick staggered to his feet, once again full of earthly sensation. His tail straightened out, before relaxing anew. His body made him stretch his arms and yawn, leaning slightly on the bed. Outside the open window, the world was painted a subtle orange and black, and he could see the sky and surrounding trees reflected on the temple’s large pond. The shrine on the other side of the pond was silent. It was indeed quite early.
From beneath the bed, Frederick drew out and donned his robes, along with a pair of longer pants and his shoes. His clerical garb consisted of a long white and blue robe, the sleeves of which went down to his wrists, which was tied with a simple cloth belt around the waist. The robe was light and somewhat airy, but stayed out of the way. He withdrew his holy symbol from the chanting bag and placed it around his neck. The bag he flattened, rolled up and used to tie his hair into a ponytail.
Nobody would awaken for a few more hours. Frederick would go watch the Pekor bugs in the grass, until then.
* * *
The Cardinal Light Temple was one of the largest in Emderuer. The temple itself was a monolithic structure, a stiff stone curve next to large pond in a hilly forest. It had been meant to be functional when it was constructed, not impressive or beautiful, but the surrounding nature was anything but ordinary. Except for the front plain, which had been cleared for a field of grass upon which the clerics exercised, and the back garden and western pond, the temple area was covered by trees, with thick trunks and proud crowns. In the fall, there would be a sea of yellow and red leaves all around.
The first few apprentices charged out of the temple to the front plain, running ahead of their old master with wooden quarterstaves in hand. Some were already exchanging quick enthusiastic raps at each other with the tips of their weapons. Frederick watched from atop a small hill nearby, lying on his stomach, his head supported by his hands. The apprentices wore what Frederick now considered to be undergarments. They were still earning their robes out in the cold.
He heard something drop beside him, but paid it no attention. Already he could see it in his mind as it happened every day. The feminine creature in a purple cloak, with that eerily flawless face, the odd strawberry-red hair and pale eyes, the ribbon-like antennae. Exarse Gaul, the Dromidae Wizard, had dropped by wondering what Frederick was doing. Despite having been told the same for the past few months, he insisted there must have been another motive.
“I’m just loafing around, I have nothing to do.” Frederick would say.
“That is unnatural. Nature is constantly moving even while it sleeps.” Exarse replied. This was the first time. Since then, he had come up with more creative ways to rephrase that.
But this time, Exarse was quiet. Maybe he had given up the question.
“Why are you out here?” Frederick said. “Read all of the library already?”
Unfazed by the teasing, Exarse shook his head. “My requests for the locked collections are pending.”
“Your requests for the locked collections will be pending forever.” Frederick replied, looking sidelong at Exarse.
“Then I will wait forever.”
Laughing, Frederick turned around, to lie on his back. Exarse’s face was still, neutral, controlled. He showed not a frown nor a smile. His eyes were always open enough that he seemed neither aware nor asleep. Frederick thought he would never understand the Dromidae. There was quiet, for enough a time to hear the loud banging of the apprentices’ staves against one another, and the sharp cracks as the staves hit bare skin. The only weapon they would train seriously with would be the staff, which would serve as both exercise and their introduction to physical pain and exhaustion, two sensations they had to know intimately to be able to treat and heal. Unlike Paladins, who trained to partake in combat, the apprentices would learn to fight as physical exercise and a disciplinary regiment.
Exarse watched them closely, following the movements. He twitched when the boys hit each other in the ribs and stomach with the staves, or when they would clash and shove each other back. He had not been here last season, when the last few apprentices were either discharged or promoted. This was his first time seeing the fighting drills. “Did you have to do that?” He asked, so softly. His voice, like all of him, was very effeminate. Frederick wasn’t one to talk, given that he too was slightly elvish a man, but Exarse seemed like he was only male by admittance.
Frederick sat up, arms behind his head, stretching out his legs. “All clerics train this way. Physical effort is important to discipline.” He said, reciting what his old masters had said, and what the master below was probably telling his apprentices.
“I don’t follow,” Exarse said, putting one gloved finger over his lips, a false ruby gloss on them, “What about their magic?”
Scratching his ears, Frederick blew out a sigh. Of course Exarse wouldn’t understand! Not only was he a Dromidae, physically effeminate and weaker than a Iomadi like Frederick in spite both of them having the same human appearance, he was also an arcanist. Exarse read books on magic and learned it like mathematics or history, he only needed discipline insofar as it helped him concentrate on a book.
“Well, they learn that too, but a priest must know all of himself. Not just his mind. I’ve seen you do sports before, you have a pretty good kick. Bet you don’t think so, though. You’re too absorbed by your own mind.” Frederick said, trying to get Exarse to follow along with what he had been taught during his own time taking bruises at the end of a staff.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’m any good. My legs ache whenever I play with the apprentices.” Exarse said.
“But you have a good kick. See?” Frederick smiled, “You don’t know your body. Wizards only know their minds because it’s all that matters to them. It’s all they really need. To perform miracles, you must have the discipline to know all of yourself.”
“I will respectfully disagree.” Exarse replied, his antennae drooping slightly. Frederick laughed. Respectfully disagree all you want, Exarse. The Dromidae always had to win as far as knowledge was concerned.
Feeling like one last silly remark before heading in for breakfast, Frederick said, “So what did you do as an apprentice, Exarse? Was it just books, or did you learn to kick small objects and just won’t admit it?”
With the same impassive tone he always used, Exarse replied, “I learned a wide variety of spells by reading their theory and by being physically and emotionally tortured with them. I was never kicked, however.”
* * *
Behind the temple, there were a few square yards of grey tiles surrounded by green grass. This space was enclosed by the small hills and forest trees, with exotic fruit trees and shrubs belonging to the temple interspersed within them. The effect was a rather odd stretch of forest, with trees from seemingly all over the world, many acres of which the clerics could wander undisturbed. This was the back garden, a calm place where training and activity of a whole different sort were undertaken.
Meals were always served in the back garden except for ceremonies, which were held in the temple. There were tables where brown flatbreads, large green leaves bearing dollops of white rice, a myriad of root and leaf vegetables and bowls of hot lentil soup were arrayed for anyone to pick from. Fruits and nectar were the quickest refreshments to go, so Frederick and Exarse had wooden cups of cold tea accompanying their food instead.
The apprentices, including some from before, were the ones who had prepared the tables. Frederick made sure to thank them before going on his way.
“Is this also part of knowing themselves?” Exarse asked.
“Humility is important.” Frederick replied. “But mostly they do the busy-work to give a breather for people who are researching or meditating, or performing more specialized tasks.”
“Ah. So humility is important, but pecking order is universal.”
Federick felt slightly irritated by that comment. The two of them left the gray tiles and tables behind and walked a short distance towards the tree line.
Frederick had in mind a great place to eat, that he was sure the Dromidae Wizard had never seen before. Exarse, however, stopped on the edge of the forest, and sat down on a rock. Frederick stared at him with a blank face. “I wanted to show you that tree I was telling you about.” He said.
Without looking up from his food Exarse replied. “I’ll follow you later. I can’t bring myself to eat under the trees like that. It feels filthy.” His antennae twitched lightly, the tips hovering about an inch from his food.
Was he inspecting it with those things? Frederick vanished into the forest after an exasperated sigh. And eating on a rock isn’t filthy? He would never understand Dromidae, or perhaps it was just Exarse – it was hard to imagine an entire people behaving like he did.
Frederick, a bowl of rice and lentil soup in one hand, a flatbread with a cup of tea balanced on the other, traversed the broad roots of the trees into the very green forest. A light breeze whistled by. He kept his eyes out for the tree and when he spotted its glistening blue leaves from afar, made a dash for it. If he had to carry his food instead of eating it for any greater amount of time, he would lose all will.
As he came closer to the tree he could see its majestic glistening trunk, as though carved out of many mirrors. But there was more to the scene atop the hill. He spotted somebody near the tree and nearly dropped his food with surprise. He was sure some of his soup had spilled. But he was too ecstatic to confirm.
The girl– no, the woman, was meditating in front of the Spirit Tree. Her back was to him, but Frederick just knew. By the red and gold color of her cassock, the long brown hair, the straight canine ears and the bushy tail swinging back and forth, and the sheathed sword laid beside her, Frederick knew it was Nienna. In his excitement, he disregarded that she was at peace, and hurried to her side, up the small hill to the spirit tree. Its crystal silver trunk and blue leaves glimmered in the sunlight.
Frederick kept running up until he was upon the woman. But in an instant, Nienna swept around, catching Frederick’s leg in her hands and sweeping him off his feet. His food flew in every other direction, and he landed face-up and dazed, his robe covered in tea but thankfully not in soup. Nienna gasped and turned over to him, wiping rice off his face. “I’m so sorry Frederick! I just, I had no idea, that you were; are you alright, are–?”
Frederick put a finger to her lips and smiled. “Could you teach me how you do that?”
Almost lying on top of him, supported on knees and a hand, Nienna covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. Nienna was a Setah, and though her appearance mirrored the Iomadi’s combination of humanoid bodies and faces with some slight features of an animal, Setah were wolves, while Iomadi were foxes. Moreso, Setah were actual spirits, while Iomadi were not. Nienna’s fangs, ears and tail were thanks to the blood of legendary werewolves. Frederick’s were thanks to mom and dad.
“I will teach you, but only if you promise to let me knock you down again whenever I want.” She replied, flicking a finger at his nose. She seemed quite relaxed now, at home in the pounced position she had over Frederick.
“You can already do it, so it’s not much of a promise on my part.” Frederick replied.
Nienna rose, offering Frederick a hand. The two of them sat side by side with their backs against the spirit tree, feeling its essence reverberate like a strange liquid inside a glass container. Nienna swept back the hair covering one of her eyes. Both were brown, but the covered eye had an outline around the pupil. Staring at the tree, Frederick wondered what she could see in it that he could not, with that eye.
“How long ago did this tree erupt?” She asked.
“It was a few days ago. I saw it.”
Nienna quickly turned her attention back to him. “You did? That’s amazing Frederick! What was it like?”
Frederick dipped his head, remembering the moment again and what he felt just before the tree erupted, glowing with newfound essence to become a spirit tree. Nienna seemed taken aback slightly by his reaction.
He tried to smile a little for her, he had not meant to upset her. “It was a Nwako, probably injured in a territorial duel. When it turned to dust, the wind swept it into the tree. I heard it roar before the tree erupted.”
“I’m sorry,” She said, removing her gloves and putting her hand on his shoulder. “I did not know. I had only heard stories of how spirit trees are born. That spirits go into them willingly.”
“It would not let me heal it.” Frederick said, “That last roar it made just swept right through me. It felt miserable to hear.”
An awkward silence built between them, Nienna stroking Frederick’s shoulder with her ungloved hand, Frederick timing his breathing. Finally, he lay a hand on her shoulder as well and tried to turn the conversation to a more cheerful subject than the mournful spirit tree. “So, why are you back?” He asked, then realized just how he had worded it. “Ah, I mean, well. It’s quite pleasant to have you back–”
“I understood what you said before.” Nienna said. Her jovial interruption calmed the jolts going through Frederick’s stomach. It was hard to offend Nienna but quite possible, and he had done so before.
“I thought it would be at least the autumn again before I saw you back.” Frederick said.
Nienna rested her head against his shoulder, quieting him instantly. “I may be a dog, but I’m not on a leash.” She said. The comment was so bizarre Frederick knew not how to reply to it. She wore an impish expression, so it must have been a joke, but it was the sort that if another had said it to her, they would likely have made her ears and tail stand on end.
“I took a pilgrimage, Frederick, and I’d like it if you could come with me.” She said. One of her arms snaked around to the back of Frederick’s head and caught him unawares, forcing him down until his lips met Nienna’s. There was a moment of calm warmth, a steady stillness between them like they were a sculpture. They shared breath, heads at a slight angle, before parting. The parting was somewhat awkward. Though their orders were not celibate, the two always seemed very unprepared for their mutual affection.
Thankfully, a pair of antennae coming up the hill, and the head they were attached to, soon brought them something else to pay attention to but each other. Exarse seemed to ignore the rather comfortable position of Nienna’s head on Frederick’s chest, and instead presented them with an oregami bird, runic writing dotting the whole of its surfae.
“I still don’t know why they always expect me to be near you. Now they’re sending me your correspondence.” Exarse said.
* * *
Sorry if this part was too long or boring. But I needed to introduce the characters, some of their personality and their relationship, as well as some of the world they inhabit. This part is less mysterious or intriguing than the beginning part too. Again, if you hate it, sorry. Here’s your stats.
Carrier Pigeon Level 3
A strange origami bird that can come and go in an instant delivers your message.
Infused Item 136 gp
Power (Daily): Ritual Action. You cast the “Sending” (PHB) ritual. You have a -5 penalty to your Arcana check with it when cast from this item.
Japa Bag Level 1
An enchanted bag for prayers, which holds the cleric’s holy symbol, even reciting a short phrase can make one feel blissful.
Wondrous Item 360 gp
Special: Only Clerics or Paladins can make use of this item.
Property: During a short rest, whenever you or any ally within 5 squares of you spends a healing surge, he or she regains additional hit points equal 1 + the enhancement bonus of your holy symbol.
Monastic Weapon Training
Prerequisite: Wis 13, Str 13, proficiency with the mace and quarterstaff.
Benefit: You treat the unarmed attack, mace and quarterstaff as +3 proficiency weapons. In addition, you have a +2 bonus to damage rolls with the unarmed attack, mace or quarterstaff when using Encounter or Daily powers with the Weapon keyword.
Monastic Defense Training
Prerequisite: Wis 13
Benefit: When wearing cloth armor or no armor, you have a +1 bonus to AC.
Defensive Staff Fighting
Prerequisite: Wis 13, proficiency with the quarterstaff
Benefit: You gain a +1 bonus to AC while wielding a quarterstaff as a Weapon, but if you use this bonus, you do not kill enemies you reduce to 0 HP with attacks from your quarterstaff. You can choose whether to apply or stop applying this bonus as a minor action on your turn.
Flavorwise, keep in mind that Eden monasteries don’t train Monks, they train Clerics, which are basically the closest Eden gets to a Monk in the flavor sense.