PLUMMETING FROM GRACE
With his accustomed care, borne of many a day’s and night’s work of painstaking detail, Jayden Wordwright brushed away the last bits of detritus from within the ancient carved ruins. He retrieved his “journal” and began to record the new section of writing he had just deciphered. He laughed to himself as he wrote, remembering the difficulty he had trying to get these distant cousins of Cirin to understand his need for such “impermanent” tools for the writing of their histories. They believed that the story of their lives and families must be recorded into their houses, their streets, into the very living rocks and stones that made up their city. Jayden admired their obvious devotion to the written word and explained that his method of recording their histories was really no different then their method of knotting cord belts for temporary storage of newly acquired knowledge.
But they knew nothing of paper and pen! Cirin’s Inkpot! What could a good cleric of the Learned Lady do in such a predicament. Jayden fell back on the rudimentary wilderness training he received during his 1st year in Cirin’s service. Scouting along the local marshes he found a thick, woody reed growing in abundance there that, when rolled out and left to dry, formed a decent kind of crude papyrus. Also growing in the marshes he found a plant, similar to indigo, that when mixed with mineral oil and other compounds yielded a satisfactory ink.
Jayden carved small twigs into styli and was able to show local craftsmen how to fashion sheets of the parchment, in stacks of 50 or so, into his precious journals and how to produce his ink in sufficient quantities to keep him supplied for years to come.
The people were eager to please him and serve his strange needs and requests and Jayden knew that it was not due to his charming disposition nor his sparkling wit. It was because he had become, even in his short time among them, a favorite of The Duchess, who Jayden later learned was named Almeira, she who speaks for “She Who Writes”. During the several months Jayden had spent here, the Duchess had requested his presence many times for tea and lively discussions of their respective cultures and the gods they both served. When they had become comfortable with each other’s company, Jayden explained to her his theory of how some of his people’s ancestors had most likely traveled west centuries ago and come to this beautiful land and settled here. They build the original city upon whose ruins this present city was built. When the great evil came and enslaved the people here, the knowledge of Cirin became corrupted and probably suppressed by the occupying forces.
After winning their freedom they were able to restore their former religion and it reoccurred in the form of “She Who Writes” and the recording of their histories into immovable surfaces. Jayden explained this was probably a response to the likely destruction of their libraries by the forces of their domination and a desire to never allow their precious documents to ever again be so easily eradicated. Jayden would pace about Almeira’s drawing room as he explained his theories, his hands folded behind his back as if lecturing to a class of new acolytes. But he was careful to never let any tone of condescension or superiority creep into his voice. And Almeira would listen carefully and quietly, sipping her herbal tea and occasionally making a comment or to ask him to clarify a point.
And when he had finished, Almeira gathered herself and launched into her own theory. She thought it just as likely that Jayden’s ancestors had traveled east from these lands, possibly to flee the dark forces that had overcome the great city, and ultimately settled in the Crescent Lands. It was their worship of “She Who Writes” that had become “corrupted” into worship of Cirin. Jayden bristled at the very thought that his faith was somehow wrong or imperfect! He felt the blood rising hot in his veins and met the Duchess’ asking gaze with a stern look. After a few seconds of this, a small smile played at the corner of Almeira’s sensual mouth. It quickly spread into a full grin and a playful laugh. At this Jayden too began to laugh. They both laughed for a minute or two and as Jayden wiped a tear from his eye he admitted that neither hypothesis could ever be satisfactorily proven. They both “agreed to disagree” on this point.
Finished with his musings Jayden returned to the latest entries in his journal. This entire courtyard that he had been working on for weeks covered the lifetimes of at least five generations of the same family. Incredible! And not just the things most people would think of as the “highlights” of a life either. Things like births, marriages and deaths were to be expected, but the details here staggered the mind! The minutiae of their daily lives was here: daily meals, routine conversations of the most mundane variety, their very dreams and aspirations and hopes for their children and the future of their people. “She Who Writes” figured prominently in their thoughts, as was reflected in their carvings. Not for the first time Jayden thought of his own religion and, in comparison to these people’s faith, had found it wanting.
It was one thing to gather together the written word, a sacred task Jayden was happy to dedicate his life and fortunes to, but these people were not waiting for the words to fall into their laps to be stored away like squirrels hording acorns in the fall! Jayden had always been viewed as mildly heretical in that he believed that the quality of writing acquired was as important as the quantity. Certainly all writing was holy. It was just, to Jayden’s way of thinking, some were more holy than others. He longed to learn from what he gathered in his travels, not just accumulate documents to be filed away and forgetten in a dusty athenaeum. The Emirikelites he knew had a saying that Jayden had always believed made sense: “Knowledge is power, and ultimate knowledge is ultimate power”.
Several days later, as Jayden was about to begin working on a small walkway leading from the courtyard he had just finished recording to the main street, he heard someone yelling to him from a distance. It was Neelis, the young disciple of Almeira’s whom she assigned to assist Jayden. “Master Jayden! Master Jayden” he gasped as he rushed up to him, out of breath. “There are strangers entering the city! They wear symbols about their necks such as the one you display” he gushed excitedly. This last surprised Jayden, who brushed the dirt from his hands, straightened his tunic and said to Neelis “Lead me to these travellers, if you will”.
Jayden entered the main courtyard near the gate the strangers had arrived though and though they were a large and motley assortment, he recognized the leader of the expedition at once. “Nutar, is that you, you soggy, moldy old tome! I thought to never see your sorry carcass again in this lifetime” he exclaimed in a loud, but joy-filled voice. “Jayden, you are out here amongst these primitives, after all” bellowed back Nutar as he grasped Jayden by the arms and enfolded him in a warm embrace. “When that hobbit, what’s his name, Amarin? Or is it Alarmist? Something like that anyway. When he arrived at the Temple in Aereolus with his story of this city he was almost thrown out on his sorry ass, but the prelate had him scanned by our best mages, and it appeared he was in earnest. An expedition was organized to see this city for ourselves and to assist you in bringing these heathens and heretics back into the fold of Cirin” Nutar said.
Jayden thought of Alarin and wondered that he had been able to make it back to the Crescent Lands to report the discovery of “Cirin’s Lost Tribe“, as he had come to think of these people. There is an old saying amongst Cirinites, “Cirin protects the Old, the Young and the Paperless” and it appears to ring true.
(Author’s Note: For a Cirinite to call someone “paperless”, it not only refers to their possible stupidity, but also their probable lower-income status). To think he was able to make it back there, through all of the travails Jayden remembered from his journey west, was nothing short of miraculous. To Nutar, Jayden asked “How were you able to get such a large force out here in so short a period of time! I mean…Cirin’s Cramping Hand! Did you fly the whole way!” Jayden asked incredulously. Nutar laughed at that, a deep and rumbling sound.
“Almost, my friend, almost”, he said, “but perhaps the next, best thing to it. Your little friend was able to describe this city and it’s location sufficiently enough that an Emirikelite mage, hired for the occasion, was able to teleport us here. To shorten the trip, we first used the key vial pool that, I believe, you used. From there Kevis brought us the rest of the way. We appeared but a mile outside the city limits.” A tall human stepped up from behind Nutar and extended a hand towards Jayden. Three tattooed circles adorned his right cheek. “I am the aforementioned Kevis, humble servitor of Emirikel, at your service, sir” he spoke in a warm, contralto voice.
“Yes! Yes, of course. Were are my manners! Kevis here is going to be important helping us here, at least until we can get a proper temple and school up and running. I’m sure that you’ve made a fine beginning here, Jayden, but the prelate has granted me unique authority in this situation to help bring these lost brethren back to their proper obeisance to the Great Lady”. Jayden was shaken by this, but he tried to hide this from his outward expression. “Nutar, might I speak in private with you. I’m staying nearby, come. Neelis, please see to the needs of our guests, will you”. With that, Jayden escorted Nutar to what he was using as his office / sleeping quarters.
“You really must try this incredible aperitif the locals make” said Jayden as he decanted two glasses of the fragrant liquid and handed one to his visitor. Nutar took an experimental sniff, then a tentative sip. A surprised look spread across his face as he took a more thorough drink. “Great Lady, but that’s smooth! What is it”? “They call it ‘Ngioll’dem’ in their language. It translates into Common as, roughly, ‘Joyful Liquid’” explained Jayden. “They make a grain and fruit mash which they place in stone casks. They then hang the casks from piers in the surrounding lakes for years, rotating them from time to time. When the finally bring them to the surface, this is the result! Smoother than any Elven wine I’ve ever enjoyed.” “Once the Galintheites learn of this, to say nothing of the Tarimites, we’ll have to beat them away with staves” said Nutar, smiling ever so slightly at the thought of beating a Galintheite or Tarimite with a stave.
Jayden showed Nutar to a seat and took another opposite him. “May I offer you a bit of hard won wisdom here, Nutar?”, began Jayden tentatively. With a nod and an expansive wave of his gloved hand, Nutar bid him to continue. “These people are true children of the Great Lady, of that I have little doubt, but over the course of generations they have strayed from true path to one that is best described as a paralell one. In their isolation they developed their own dogmas, their own myths and ways of worship, but surely the Learned One hears their devotions and loves them as her true followers. I’m quite confident that, in time, their deviations from scriptures can be corrected, but it will take a soft voice and a kind heart! These are a proud and industrious people, eager to meet new friends, but quick to respond to perceived enemies. Above all it will demand patience and time!” With this Jayden silently stared into his glass.
“Gone all native on me have you now?” smirked a derisive Nutar. “This is exactly what the prelate feared would happen. And that’s why he sent me here to see that it is stopped immediately. I love you like my own brother, Jayden, but …. you’re weak! You know it and I know it! That’s why when we both finished training you went scuttling off to Admin and I went on to the Advanced Special Paladic Intelligence Corp (AKA: A.S.P.I.C.). These people have been going astray for far too long as it is. They need a strong hand to lead them back to the right path and the Great Lady’s ways. This hand right here” Nutar said looking at his extended right hand, almost as if seeing it for the first time. He brought it in closer to his face for a better look and said “and in the exercising of that strength,
these lost sheep will find nothing of ‘soft’ nor ‘kind’, of that I can assure you.”
A cold shiver ran the length of Jayden’s spine. Nutar had always been devout, even to the point of fanaticism, but this was more than Jayden could take. He jumped to his feet and yelled at Nutar. “So this is what the proud followers of Cirin have come to, is it?” he sneared. “Are we now Gessarites or, worse yet, Ver’lites? Sweep into a village with an army. Kill all the adults males. What’s next, Nutar? A little rapine mayhaps? That’ll sure teach them the true path, eh what! These aren’t the simple farmers and peasants that I’m sure you’ve already mistaken them for, Nutar. They’ve survived against foes darker and more strange than anything this side of the Aerolus UnderCity! They won’t stand for being lectured to by strangers claiming to know the only “True Path”.
Again Nutar’s face contorted with disgust at the mention of the natives and he dismissed them with a quick wave. “They’ll have no choice. We’re here now and that’s not going to change! We are but the first, the first of many expeditions, pilgrimages and holy crusades to these heathen lands. We’ve been cocooned in our little nests for far too long back East. It’s high time we make Cirin’s name worshipped out here in the West. Worshipped and feared!” “Nutar, please wait! There must be another way, someway to ease these people into true belief, short of force of arms”, pleaded an exasperated Jayden, hearing the tinge of desperation edging into his voice. “At least let me speak to the Duchess, their god’s high priestess. Let me try to prepare her for the…new realities of her situation. Let us retire for the night and in the morning I’ll ask for an audience. Once I’ve spoken to her I’ll bring you in for a formal presentation.” With this Jayden escorted Nutar to the quarters set aside for him and then returned to his for a restless night of little or no sleep.
Early the next day Jayden arose and dressed. He made his way to the great audience chamber of the Duchess and was surprised to find her already there as if awaiting his arrival. “Please sit Master Jayden and break your fast with me” said Almeira with her accustomed civility and graciousness as she poured him a cup of his favorite herbal blend. “Thank you my lady you are, as always, a generous host” said Jayden as he took his normal seat opposite Almeira. “I fear that we shall need to forego our usual morning banter to discuss more serious issues. Yes, the arrival of your countrymen has certainly complicated matters here significantly haven’t they? Please come with me. There is something you need to see at once” Almeira left the chamber with Jayden trailing in her wake. After traveling down several corridors they came to a room Jayden had not seen before. The Duchess waved to one of the guards there and he opened the chamber’s door as they arrived at the entrance.
As Jayden entered the chamber he realized that it was much cooler in there than the rest of the palace complex he had been allowed to explore. There were many low tables in there. On several of the closest tables there were shrouded figures that could only be bodies. Several other people stood silently in one corner of the room, as if waiting for the Duchess to begin the proceedings. She led Jayden to a particular table and removed the sheet covering the body there to reveal it to be….Kevis! Jayden jumped back as if struck by lightning. Kevis’ dead eyes stared straight through Jayden with a look of complete surprise, perhaps tinged with just a subtle hint of annoyance. Almeira turned to Jayden and her voice now held a new edge of steel to it. “This one thought he was untouchable. He felt that the powers his temple taught him gave him the right to use others as he saw fit, especially women who struck his fancy. We saw this right off and that’s were Mariola came in.” said Almeira as she gestured to one of the robed figures. This person stepped into the light, removed their hood to reveal…one of the most beautiful women Jayden had ever seen. As she moved sensuously towards Jayden, he could feel his body responding to her of its own accord. Mariola spoke then, her voice both silken and husky simultaneously. “He was easy to fool, his contempt for women and the thoughts of what he would do to me clouded his perceptions. Once in the throes of passion he never even noticed my blade until I had it half way through his neck” she demured casually, as if talking about a tough day at the market.
Almeira moved to an adjacent table and removed the shroud there to reveal Nutar, his face fixed with a look of utter horror and resolute despair. “This was the worst of this sorry lot your people chose to send to us, I’m afraid” her voice trailing off into a sad exhalation. “The images we took from is mind were truly disturbing. He wished to rule over us, using your god’s teachings and dogmas as cudgels, to beat us with like stray curs being brought to heel. He would have brought among us such evil as has not been seen here since we liberated ourselves from the yoke of Irem”. Almeira gestured broadly around the room. “The rest of these bodies are of men and women from your people’s tribe. Each of them had the ‘Sent’lar Tre’darl’, roughly translated as the ‘Soul Stain’ in your tongue. Their presence amongst us could not be tolerated, as their sickness would have spread quickly and destroyed my kind. The ones left in your group are those of a ‘clean soul’, free from the disease that festered in these wretches.
They are now asleep in their quarters. You Jayden must tell them of these proceedings and inform them that they must return to their lands at once. You will find more than ample provisions awaiting you in the main courtyard for your journey home”. With this Almeira left the room. Jayden attempted to follow her, but two large guards prevented his attempted pursuit.
Jayden returned to the surviving member of Cirin’s ill fated sojourn to the West and quickly roused them to explain the situation. A fast moving and virulent sickness had struck down a large portion of their comrades, including Nutar, Kevis and most of their troop’s leaders. Jayden turned to a grizzled noncom and ask him his name. “I am Jutmos, sergeant at arms, Master” he stammered with a quaver of fear in his voice. “Yes, well Jutmos I grant you a field promotion to Lieutenant. Organize the men to be ready for immediate travel, as we leave for Aereolus within the hour”. Jayden, saying nothing further, turned and fled the room to see to his own travel plans.
After inspecting the supplies granted him by the Duchess, Jayden had indeed thought them to be generous, given the circumstances. These provisions would surely see his party well fed on their journey back to the Key Vial pool Jayden had himself used to begin his travels out West. Jayden had found an unused key vial among Nutar’s personal effects. Just as the sullen band was to depart, Neelis came up to Jayden to inform him that the Duchess wished to see him one last time before he departed. Jayden found her in her private audience chamber, staring out the window at his assembled group. “Your people erred in their first attempt to treat with mine”, she began without preamble, “and that was, indeed, unfortunate for us all. No parties, large or small, moving under force of arms from your lands will be tolerated here. Long, long before any such expedition would reach here, they will be set upon and eradicated like the plague that they truly represent. This is the message you must bring back to your leaders Jayden” she said with a melancholy voice, borne of a heavy heart.
“But also have your people know that we are always willing to welcome the curious, the knowledge seekers, those who travel the lands to learn from those they find and to teach those in need of enlightenment. These ones my people are always ready to welcome into their homes and hearts. I shall miss you Jayden and our many discussions. If more of your people are as wise as you, we may yet be able to come together as equals, one day”. Seeing there was no more to say, Jayden turned on his heels and left her company and her city without a backwards glance. The journey was arduous indeed, but the party did succeed in arriving, more or less intact, back at the pool which Jayden activated immediately.
Upon arrival at the main Cirinite temple Jayden informed his superiors of what had occurred out West. He told them of the great sickness that killed his people so quickly. Of how the people took it as a bad omen and how they had refused to allow any more large bands of travelers from the Crescent Lands into their domain. Small parties of acolytes or historians may, someday, be allowed back, but not for the foreseeable future. His superiors seemed unhappy with these tidings, but also they seemed strangely distracted as well. He inquired about this to his immediate supervisor. “It’s to be expected, Jayden, what with all the rumors and heresies spreading out amongst the peoples of the Crescent Lands nowadays. Stories of strange death cults wandering the land and old rivalries amongst the gods leading to a new God’s War are but some of the tales making the rounds in every tavern and inn along the Aereolus Road. We may need you to be part of a group to meet with our Clovisite and Eheralite counterparts to form a united front to deal with this new chaos.”
One week later the Sword fell to earth and changed everything forever.