Rarely did any junior cleric climb the steps of that stone spire, even rarer so with an invitation in hand. But the paper swan in Frederick’s hands had granted him permission to climb the hallowed tower so prominent in their church, and the feeling was intense. His eyes took in the carvings on the walls of the circling staircase, exquisitely detailed images of his church’s unique beliefs. The church, though one mostly focused on Arcline, also gave a great importance to her “sister,” the goddess Inunkuru.
She was a beautiful spirit, a Iomadi in appearance just like her sister. Intensely beautiful, said to be the most gorgeous of the Nine, but Inunkuru was mistress over some unsightly concepts – tyranny, vanity, greed. Whereas Arcline taught people to be loving and kind to others, Inunkuru taught people to seek their own benefits or even to control others. Frederick failed to understand why a church of Arcline, especially one that routinely did so much good in the world, would even acknowledge Inunkuru. Her grinning visage, detailed and lovely as it was on its own, looked so out of place inside the hallowed spire.
“Dozing off already?” Nienna said.
Frederick had almost forgotten that his companions were invited too. Nienna patted him in the back as if to say that it was fine for him to be enthused as he was.
“Just taken in by the carvings,” Frederick replied. “It’s my first time coming up here.”
“I understand,” She said, “My order’s temple has a courtyard garden that only Adepts are allowed into. I have always had vivid daydreams of what sort of plants the master keeps there.”
“I would not know the feeling,” Exarse said from behind the two of them, “I come from the main hive of my race. We are even allowed to go visit the Queen. These obstructions are mildly confusing.”
“Do you use your privilege of seeing the Queen often?” Frederick said. He turned his head over his shoulder enough to see some of Exarse from the corner of his eye.
“I would not waste her time unless it was important.” Exarse said.
“Our religious leaders have no such luck,” Nienna said.
“What I understand even less is why Nienna and I were summoned by your patriarch.” Exarse said, his face for once mildly dour in expression, “Neither of us is a member of this order.”
“I am an honorary member, actually,” Nienna said. “The church of Arcline trains no Paladins of its own.”
“Exarse, you might as well be considered an honorary member yourself,” Frederick said, “You’ve been here almost a year now and you have rendered services to us.”
Exarse blinked once and his expression became ever so slightly quizzical. “Is it really that easy?”
* * *
At the top of the spire was a large room with a large number of straw mats laid on the floor. The roof bore an exquisite painting depicting the layout of the heavens. The second skies like disks of blue and white smoke covering the world, the forlorn void in a purple and red flash outside, dozens of stars glimmering within. Frederick felt he could stare forever at the portrait. The smell of incense pervaded the room, faintly like cinnamon, with pink and white trails of smoke dancing in the mild breeze from the tall triangular openings in the stone walls.
In the center of the room was a tall human, tall enough that Frederick could tell even as the man sat with his legs crossed and his back to him, that he was staring at somebody at least a foot taller than him. An ornate robe lay folded beside him, and he was dressed in a tunic. He faced the outside world, staring the largest of the triangular openings on the walls. This one touched the floor, like a threshold without a door, a threshold leading to the sky.
The man could have been pushed off it, if any person with enough malice caught him unawares. Yet even with the loud footsteps of Frederick and his companions, the man remained in peace. Not knowing what to do, Frederick merely waited to be addressed. He was oft told never to disturb clerics in meditation. If he recalled correctly, the high priest’s name was Oligby. He could not remember the man’s full title, however, so he hoped that bit of trivia would not surface.
Nienna elbowed Frederick lightly to get his attention, then began to bend down to the ground. Of course, how could he have forgotten something that important? Frederick hastily knelt as well. The two bent forward so that their foreheads touched the cold floor, which they then kissed. This was a hallowed site, and bowing was a sign of respect. The two of them then stood anew and grabbed Exarse by his shoulders, grinning with mischief. They would make him kneel in reverence whether he liked it or–
“Let go of the poor thing.”
Oligby had spoken, his voice disarmingly gentle. An expression of shock across their faces, Nienna and Frederick released a struggling Exarse, who looked for once wide-eyed, red at them. He stood a step away as though he expected them to try again.
“He does not have any obligations to powers but those his own, he does not have to bow to our goddesses,” The high priest continued, beginning to stand. His thin arms and legs seemed to struggle to raise him, but neither Frederick nor Nienna made a move to help him. Both were unused to meeting a high priest, a true religious leader if any were, and their adherence to proper custom paralyzed them. Oligby struggled trying to stand and turn to face them, and groaned during the attempt.
Walking past the two of them, Exarse extended his arcanist’s cane for the priest to take, to help him to stand. The priest turned slightly around and gladly accepted the Dromidae’s help, taking the cane. It was a stunning sight – Exarse didn’t like touching people or people touching his things, and indeed he began wiping his cane when the high priest had stood and returned it to him. But that it was he who offered help and not the cleric and the paladin was almost absurd.
Nienna and Frederick stood even stiffer, feeling lower than dirt. The moment could not have been any more awkward to them, and indeed it only furthered their paralysis and disconnect. The two moved a step closer to each other.
“I would offer you an embrace, but I know how Dromidae are about cleanliness. My name is Idu Oligby.” Oligby said to Exarse.
“Exarse Gaul. No such thing is necessary.” Exarse said. His antennae unfurled slightly, bending towards Oligby.
High Priest Oligby’s eyes lit up, and he clapped his hands together. “Yes, the young Dromidae wizard. Please, sit.”
Exarse bowed his head in acknowledgment and returned to the line made by Nienne and Frederick, who were petrified in the background of this strange scene. The High Priest stood before the two of them, at first staring hard at them but then spreading his arms out, beaming like father home from a long trip. He was bald and his cheeks were wrinkled and sagged slightly, but that seemed to make his smile all the more potent.
“Aren’t you going to hug me, Nienna Braschi and Frederick Alois?”
In seemingly an instant, the two of them practically threw themselves into the man’s arms, and felt his weak hold around their shoulders and necks. Oligby patted their backs heartily and they patted his quite carefully, but over his shoulders and behind his back the two servants of the gods were staring at each other with wide eyes and sweating faces.
When they separated, the high priest was still smiling. He never seemed to cease to smile. He held them at arms length and looked down. He was even somewhat taller than Nienna. “Frederick, you may not have grown in stature since you first came here, but you’ve grown a lot kinder. I can see that in your eyes. Our lady has had great influence in you.”
“Please, gather some mats and sit down. I have something I want to discuss with you.”
* * *
Soon after they were seated, the trio was told to wait for a fourth, Canon Lisvarde. Frederick had seen her around the temple a few times. She was quite well-known as the only person in the temple to hold the rank of Canon, and one who had never failed to complete an exorcism. When she walked up the stairs, Oligby and Exarse greeted her quite casually, while Nienna and Frederick bowed their heads. Aside from a few lines under her eyes she would have seemed a young and vivacious woman, with pale curly hair, gentle eyes and red lips. Like Frederick, she was a Iomadi, but her tail was beneath her cassock for some reason. Frederick patted his own tail, wondering how she kept it in there like that. Even Nienna’s cassock had a place for her tail.
“Afternoon,” She greeted them, and sat beside Oligby. Like he, she was all smiles.
“Ah, Lisvarde, now we can begin. I’m sure you all know each other. Lisvarde never forgets a name or face, and nobody could ever forget hers!” Oligby said. He and Lisvarde shared a quick chuckle.
“Yes, I know them,” She replied, “Frederick Alois, a junior cleric who’s earned his robe but not his collar; Nienna Braschi, a Paladin on a seemingly never-ending pilgrimage,” She stared between Frederick and Nienna, her teasing words causing the Paladin’s face to turn light light pink, “And Exarse Gaul, who’s request for our locked collection is being denied as we speak.”
Exarse seemed to almost to grumble.
“I’m sure you’ll get at least a look at one of the books sometime,” Lisvarde said, “Persevere.”
“If I may ask, could I be given the reason as to why I was summoned?” Frederick asked, hands clamping tight on his knees.
“You don’t have to be formal, Frederick,” Lisvarde said, “If we’ve called you here, it’s as a brother of the church, not as a junior cleric. This hall is greatly protected by hierarchy, but once you’re here, there’s no need for it.”
Her own voice was very soft and moving as well. Frederick wondered if his own voice would sound like this some day, once he became more in tune with the essence of the goddess and the powers he has been invested with. Lisvarde was a Canon, the closest one can get to a greater Spirit Power as a servant. Even High Priest Oligby, a senior cleric, was not a Canon.
“But we have indeed been summoned here for a reason,” Nienna said. “I only arrived here today to visit Frederick. And Exarse.” She added hastily, as though to less openly admit the reason for her pilgrimage. “But I too was summoned.”
“I knew you were coming,” Lisvarde said, “I know a Sikara who knows a Muikara.”
Oligby laughed again. “Indeed. We both knew you were here. In truth, we have a task for Frederick that we thought the two of you would have helped him with, even if we excluded you from it. So we thought it best to assume that and go forward.”
Frederick’s heart was alight, and he nearly jumped forward off his knees. A task from the Canon and the High Priest?
“What sort of pilgrimage must I undertake?” Frederick asked, “I will most certainly do it.”
Lisvarde waved him down. “Relax, Frederick. Unfortunately, it is no simple pilgrimage.”
Oligby cleared his throat. Frederick thought he was getting ready to deliver a speech, so he remained poised and attentive. “We regularly send brothers and sisters to the villages to heal people whom nature is giving no chance. The land’s laws do not allow us to heal everyone for free, but we can do that much. Recently, one of our brothers met with a woman who had heard of you, Frederick. She knew your mother, apparently.”
“Someone from Chiko?” Frederick asked. He rarely heard any more from his home town, not since his parents passed away. He felt a touch of sorrow hearing of such connections again. His parents had practically begged him to take the investiture once it had been given to him. He was not there to see them become ill and die.
“Yes,” Lisvarde replied, “She had heard you’d become a cleric, and subsequently of the little affair between you, Exarse and that Ashura you exorcised.”
Oligby’s mouth stretched into a grin. That was not one of Frederick’s most fond memories of adventure.
“It was Exarse who killed it,” Nienna said, “At least in the version I heard.”
“Yes, Frederick is not to blame for that.” Exarse said, “I killed the monster. It did not deserve a second chance and did not deserve an exorcism. It deserved the ball of fire I forced into its throat.”
Lisvarde and Oligby broke out into laughter again.
“No, no, we’re not punishing anybody for that,” Oligby said.
“Frankly, we could hardly care.” Lisvarde said.
“Yes, that’s not the point.” Oligby said, “It’s just that you seem to have picked up a bit of popularity at Chiko for your exploits. Little Frederick having taken down a spirit. So this woman has a request for you as a fellow she can trust. Her husband left a year ago. He was troubled with debts and personal demons. She knew nothing of this until it caught back up to him and her. This man left, then, presumably to take care of his business. She was alright the first few months, even the first half a year. Now she is ill, and she wants her husband by her side.”
“Normally, the temple does not become involved in this sort of thing.” Lisvarde said, “What if the man was assassinated? What if it’s a criminal organization you’re dealing with? We do not send clerics to do what the Royal Order could. We don’t send clerics to shed the blood of people. However, I felt this request could help you to grow a little more.”
Frederick nodded his acceptance, receiving a small colored scroll from the Canon. He opened it to a small map of Emderuer, the nation wherein their temple and the village of Chiko were located. But he felt skeptical. This was indeed something that the temple did not have to do and it he could scarcely fathom how it would help him to grow in any way. It would have been better for him to grow spiritually by remaining in the temple and earning his collar. That was the next step for a junior cleric.
“If I may ask, Canon,” Nienna interrupted, “Someone such as yourself would more easily be able to complete this task. You are probably twice as powerful as Frederick or I. I understand the woman asked for Frederick, but if you were there, wouldn’t it had been easier to take on the task yourself?”
“Are you protecting Frederick?” Lisvarde asked, still smiling. Nienna seemed to choke.
“Lisvarde was not there. The message was given to her by another of our clerics, and she saw fit to give it to you.” Oligby said. “Lisvarde cannot leave the temple grounds often. Things would be quite simpler if she could, but she cannot.”
Lisvarde nodded. Still smiling, she pulled back one of the long sleeves of her cassock, to show a number of strange lines across her arm, all of which seemed to meet at a mark on her wrist. At times trails of visible essence would whip out half-visibly from the marks. Frederick could sense a ghastly, choking essence emanating from them. Just from looking at them he felt unsettled – how did Lisvarde stand them every day? How strong was she?
“You won’t understand it, but I can’t leave the temple grounds. At least not without some rather thorough preparations, and appropriate company.” Lisvarde said. She seemed comfortable with the scrutiny of her arm, and did not roll her sleeve back up.
Nienna lunged into another round of protests, this time making more emotional gestures with her hands and face. “But this is different from an exorcism or even fighting a spirit, we don’t know what–”
Frederick put his arm on Nienna’s shoulder to quiet her, before she offended anyone. “You’ll be there with me, so there’s no need to question it further, right?” He smiled, taking a tip from Oligby’s book on how to disarm flaring tempers, “I’m going to take this request and I want you to join me.”
Nienna breathed out, face looking a bit over-warm. “Of course.” She set her hand down on Frederick’s.
“If this is some customary way of asking for travel companions, please do not touch my hand.” Exarse warned.
The two divine servants retracted their hands from one another and glared at Exarse.
“Before you go, there’s something important you should have, Frederick.” Lisvarde said.
Oligby raised the robe he had set down beside him since they had walked into the hall for the first time. Beneath it was a strange implement, a steel handle with silver lining, ending in a blunt blue head with gold ornamenting. It was a mace – Frederick was being offered a weapon. The High Priest gently gave the weapon to Lisvarde, who herself presented it to Frederick, bowing her head but staring up at him.
“Clerics should not shed blood with weapons. Nienna may do as she pleases with her sword, but to you, I implore you to choose this mace over any blade.” Oligby said. “It was created by Lisvarde herself for you. It is quite powerful.”
Nienna’s face had turned pale and even Exarse seemed befuddled. Frederick bowed his head to Lisvarde in turn, and he accepted the weapon into his own hands. But he did not know whether to thank her or curse her for the gift and what it seemed to mean for the journey he had just accepted.
* * *
Only one real thing to introduce here.
Arcline’s Merciful Weapon Level 3+
This weapon is incapable of bloodshed.
Level 3 +1: 680 GP
Level 8 +2: 3,400 GP
Level 13 +3: 17,000 GP
Level 18 +4: 85,000 GP
Level 23 +5: 425,000 GP
Level 28 +6: 2,125,000 GP
Weapon: Mace, Staff, Unarmed
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls.
Critical: +1d6 damage per plus.
Property: This weapon cannot reduce an enemy below 1 HP. If you would deal damage to an enemy that would reduce that enemy below 1 HP, with a power that has the Weapon keyword using this weapon, the enemy remains at 1 HP.
Property: You have a +2 item bonus to Diplomacy checks.
Power (Daily): Free Action after you’ve dealt damage to an enemy. If you bloodied that enemy, it becomes Dazed (save ends). This improves to Stunned (save ends) at 13th level.
Frederick got a level 13 version if you’re wondering, since Lisvarde is around that level. Yes, I made stats for most of these people, mostly from a bit of a boredom.