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Ralph Nicholls

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Legend of Legend: a disallusioned knight seeks the Truth
By Ralph Nicholls
Friday, November 03, 2006

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Ralph Nicholls
· Fighting the Good Fight
· Saddle Sore
· And the Rains They Came A-Tumbling Down
· A Trail Grown Cold
· The Death of Bertram Hildegarde
· Exploring Ruins
· Return of the Justiciar
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Sir Tobius Arliss Diantes is a paladin. He left his home early in life to go out and make his own fortune and gain to himself glory. But his God, the Mogen David, had other plans for the self-centered and self-righteous chevalier. Diantes is destined to expose the hypocrisies and false teachings, sternly enforced and strictly adhered to by the Church of the Mogen David. Diantes; otherwise known as the Justiciar, a derogatory designation hoisted off on him by his fellow squires at seminary, has been anointed to be one of his God's prophecized witnesses in a world that abandoned Him and sought to vanquish the Fallen One without the Deity's guidance and aid. This is an excerpt of an epic length story depicting a holy warrior's journey to redemption; his own and his world's

As Diantes rides towards the battlefield, filled with a whirl of emotion, he sees a lone figure standing on the far ridge, watching him. As Diantes focuses in on him, he can tell only one thing, his height and clothing matches the 'Sons of Zodo' long written off as being only a myth, yet having always been told to be the closest to Taal Zodo... For the Justiciar it had been a long tiring and worrisome day. As the occupants of the war camp rejoiced in their victory against the Enemy, and built up memorial funereal pyres for their honored dead, Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes warred with the anger, resentment and bitterness towards his God, which threatened to consume him, body and soul. Wherefore had the Mogen brought about that astonishing physical transformation in Diantes, if not to prepare him, to engage the Enemy, one-on-one, in personal combat. And yet; when the hour of his preparedness arrived, he'd been consigned to doing nothing more then sitting a borrowed destrier while holding his country's banner. He couldn't help feeling that he'd been; somehow,publicly humiliated and betrayed by the God he served since his youth. The gall of bitterness threatened to make him vomit. He was leaning over the leeward side of his borrowed warhorse, when he spied the solitary figure standing atop a ridge on a hill, opposite the spot where his horse stood. Night was not afar off, and patches of fog had begun to fill the low spots on the battlefield, which was rank with the stench of dead warriors of various races and stained with their spilled blood and ichors. At first, the Justiciar doubted his sight, for as yet tears blurred his vision; and though he felt the impulse to reach up and frustratedly wipe them away, his hands were covered with his heavy mailed gauntlets, preventing him from doing so. At first sight his blood turned to iced water in his veins. But he was not truly afraid; he told himself, it was a gut-level response to having encountered the unknown. He'd been startled, that was all. Was this the Zodo, come back to renege upon his own surrender? Had he returned to kill every man, woman, and stripling in the camp with his foul sorceries and even fouler necromancies? Or what was this lone apparition one of the fabled avatars of that fell fiend. He ; or she, appeared to be (from that distance Diantes couldn't discern whether he faced a male or a female), a Son of Zodo. Under the tutelage of Sir Horatio Pembrook he'd learned many things, including how to recognize a servant of the Enemy, Taal Zodo, by the unholy taint they exuded.. Of the many and sundry sorts in the Fallen One's servitude, the Sons of Zodo were rumored to be the ones the evil Guardian held closest to the source of His true strength and power. A Son of Zodo was an adversary suited for only the very strongest, most devout followers-in-arms of the great Mogen David. All at once Diantes' heart shriveled somewhat within him and he very much doubted he was; after all, prepared to have to fight such an one. But then he became angry at what he wrongly perceived as cowardice within him. Whether this one be Zodo, himself or one of his fierce some avatars, he no longer cared. He'd boasted to his God of being prepared to go out and seek the Enemy and kill him. And suddenly it seemed as though the Enemy had come seeking him out, instead. Fear and loathing could no more touch his heart with the onset of this realization. Having decided to do battle with this foe, whomever; or whatever it might be, the Justiclar began to asess his strengths; and his weaknesses, in comparison to those he presumed to be possessed by this latest adversary. Certainly, this one would possess magic spells. And most probably arcane magic-using devices. Would the Fallen One have lifted the magic-nullifying field that he'd place over the field of conflict? Well, even if he had, Diantes possessed the holy sword Ithalmar, the Redeemer. Any hostile magic spell-like effect that entered into the Sword of Redemption's field of influence would be negated, upon the instant. In additon, Diantes had his suit of Black Dragonscale armour, a source of protection that could turn all but the most inimically ensorcelled blades, or spearheads or something of the like. And then Diantes had his jewelled and rune-enscried bardiche, itself capable of casting the divine magic spell Shroud of Burning Blood upon whomever; or whatever it struck, as well as electrocuting the enemy with a burst of lightning-like energy, if in fact the magic-dampening field had been raised. Reassured by his own considerable strength and that of his armour and weapons, Diantes then sat himself rigidly erect in the saddle and spurred his charger towards the solitary enemy. The whole of his asessment of his battle-readiness had taken no more than but a handful of heartbeats. Thusly encouraged, no more the slightest bit afraid of engaging the enemy, the Justiclar spurred the enormous roan gelding into a quick trot and then a canter and finally a full gallop towards the ridge upon the which the Enemy stood. Waiting; patiently waiting, it seemed. As Diantes drew nearer unto the lone figure that stood upon the ridge top, a strong confusion descended upon him. For here stood not only a Son of Zodo, but one of the legendary Xenolytes, unless he was very much mistaken, one of Zodo earliest creations in the world of Mythus. A sort of forerunner of the present day Rubes. While the ranks of the Rubes were made up of mainly Humans; and humanoid races, the Xenolytes were said to how come from "beyond the stars" As was the case with this individual, most Xenolytes were extremely tall by Mythian standards, standing all of nine foot tall, at the shoulders. They were also; according to various dusty and moldy old tomes written the whole known world over is having been extraordinarily gifted and powerful magic-user-psionicists, who in times of conflict required only the barest minimal amount of food and drink and very little; if any sleep for days at a time. They were thus said to have been an ideal subject to turn into fighting; and killing, machines. To make matters the worse, this Xenolyte was apparently armed with a fabled Staff of Seperation, an extremely powerful magickal artefact. A Staff of Separation was recorded as having the power to open a rift in the very fabric of time and space and sending anyone touched by it to another place, an Elsewhere. If anyone had ever returned from this Elsewhere, no one had ever spoken; or even written about it. Even sitting atop the back of the medium-sized draft horse, the Justiciar found the Xenolyte to be disturbingly tall. And the fact that the being had skin like stone and was virtually featureless, so that a man, an adversary could not discern the slightly bit of the creatures frame of mind. If the Xenolyte had a soul what man could know it,.... Well the thing had spoken to him, in its toneless sepulchral voice, and this in and of itself seemed to demand some kind of reciprocation on Diantes' part. He sat himself once again straight up in the saddle, unconsciously stood in his mount's stirrups so as to give the alien being the impression he was even somewhat taller than his seat upon the horse's back made him appear to be. He cocked his head slightly to one side and dipped his head down ever so slightly. Never for even a second removing his worrisome eyes from the Xenolyte. "Yes,...You speak arightly. I am that one called Diantes. And i am a knight errant. But i am also a Paladin of the Mogen David. What wilt thou of me?" The xenolyte's eyes seem to trace him, as if reading into his very soul. As he seemingly peered through him a very cold breeze seems to momentarily envelope him, causing Diantes' hairs to stand on end. The xenolyte spoke with harshly emotionless tones, "A paladin.... such a strong title for one who has forsaken his patron god. Do you believe that the Mogen David still holds you in that high esteem? Especially after you have forsaken his name for your own pitiless pride?" He sighed, "It appears you are one without faith. Many who never even see their God have more faith then you seem to bear. You seem too dependent on what you see, and lack the foresight to know what is not seen. Tell me, Diantes, who won the battle that took place here? Was it the common people seeking freedom from extermination? Or was it the Fallen Lord Zodo, wielding his army using the body of Taal the benevolent?" Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes frowned deeply at the Son of Zodo's seemingly mocking pronouncement. It took every ounce of self-control he could muster, not to immediately uncouch his ensorcelled bardiche and ram it through the Xenolyte's body Unconsciously he ground his upper teeth down upon the lower in suppressed fury. "What know thee of faith, Soulless One, that thou wouldst deride me of my lack of it?" he growled softly in over weaning menace. "It takes so little faith to be another's soulless puppet. All of my days, to th' best of my ability and strength, have i walked in th' light of my God. My every waking hour hast been filled with naught but doing His will, meting out His justice in defense of the weak and oppressed, the beleaguered and down-trodden. I l-lost my family,...father, mother, sisters and brother, all (!), whilst out was out an' about visiting that justice upon His enemies, learning the way of the Paladin. Never once didst i ever take me task, lightly." The Justiciar stretched, uncomfortable in the high pommeled saddle, once again. Metal squeaked in protest as he closed his heavily mailed hands about his mount's reins. Hunching over the thick muscular neck of the roan gelding, so as to bring his face closer to the featureless visage of the Xenolyte. "You, monster, accuse me of forsaking Him; do ye now,....Well, t'was Him who forsook me in the hour that was to be my greatest triumph over that One whose foul and unholy minions des-destroyed my home! Murdered my entire family! An' hast laid waste to almost th' whole of th' world, killing thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions in a madman's attempt to purge th' world of the forces of life thet He himself is most filled with,..... Everything,...everything thet is most loathsome in life He created, else caused to come inta this life, this world, unbidden!! And at th' last when i; and through me th' forces of Good, are finally,...finally given th' strength and th' tool to smite th' Enemy and run of our horses hooves over Him and His hellish armies, i am told, nay commanded, to sit a horse and sit idly by an' allow this monster, this murderer of husbands, wives, children and kinsmen all to turn 'round and ride away from th' field of battle, unmolested!?" In sorrow anger, resentment and sheer frustration, Diantes dropped his mount's reins his armour clad musclar legs gripping the roan's sides tightly and slowly raises his muscular, mailed arms over his head and cries out at the top of his lungs, and continues to cry out until he is all but breathless. The Xenolyte, unperturbed, stands impassively by, taking in the Justiclar every expression, every gesture. Yet he himself; if indeed the Xenolyte enjoyed a gender, moved not at all. After a seeming eternity Diantes lowered his arms again to his sides, realizing that had the Xenolyte been of a mind to smite him from atop the roan, there'd have been nothing to prevent its having done so. Quietly; still struggling to draw breath into his tortured lungs, the Justiclar turned to the Xenolyte, again. "An' so,...thou wish to know who won th' victory thet this day hast wrought,....It were nae Us,...It were Him, damn His blasted soul; if he hast one, to the putrid Pits of Xodad,....Hadst i nae been so weak, left out of the battleplans against th' Enemy and hadst i nae hadst meh arms been tied by a beaureaucrat's misguidance an',.... and a bunch of shat-in-trousers republicans,...An' hadst nae mine own God not turned aside His shoulder at th' hour of our victory, it'd have been Taal Zodo's carcasse, thet got carried off this blood-soaked field." Having spoken, then, all his heart, venting all his wrath and bitterness; having spewed forth the whole of his cup of resentment; which he'd never dared even voice aloud in his head, Diantes fell silent for a time,...only the crickets and the night winds giving voice to the night. Unbeknownst to him, Diantes had delivered the last part of his speech cradling his muscular barrelled chest in his heavily mailed hands, rocking slowly, back and forth in the saddle, his powerful shoulders shuddering as he quietly sobbed, great swelling tears of anguish rolling unchecked down his face, beneath the greathelm which sat upon his head. Throughout it all, the Xenolyte neither said, nor did, anything. When the Justiclar spoke again his voice was only barely audible, and hoarse from weeping. "I know of nae Taal the' Benevolent, of th' whom ye speak,...." The Xenolyte stands, undisturbed and unmoved by your show of emotion. He shakes his head, "Are you such of a fool to think that Mogen has forsaken you? Why if that were true you would be dead now." He sighs, "It be true that my race is the creation of Zodo. Created to be his perfect warriors, with the ability to excel at anything we set our minds to do. Of course no one cared to notice that we were also created with souls, and are not mere puppets, but are masters of our own decisions. Just most seem to follow the path of their creator. Though the just Errant Knights of old never believed any xenolyte when one would profess that he was not a follower of the Fallen. Instead they sought to fulfill their own ideas of justice, claiming it in the name of Mogen David, even though he never warranted it." He glares deeply at Diantes, "Instead of praising Mogen for your safety and his guidance, you instead curse Him. And why, because He did not lead you to lay your sword through the chest of the dark god. Not once did you consider that there might be a good reason to it. Not once did you think that Mogen knew what He was doing. Instead you cursed Him, and claimed that you will slay the dark god without Him. But instead of forsaking and killing you, He is giving you another chance. A chance to understand His logic, His wisdom, and His plan. He sent you commanding you to oversee the completion of the sacred sword of Legend, not to slay the dark god. And if you know your history then you know slaying him does not stop him." He smiled, "And you do know Taal the Benevolent." The Justiciar started at the Xenolyte's pronouncement. He only hoped; fervently, that his armor hid his physical reaction from the seemingly all-seeing eyes of the alien being. He could not hide the visceral response, he knew. Diantes was rather ashamed to admit it, even to himself, but he did not know the Histories. He knew how to recognize the Enemy in all his myriad forms and how to counter the weapons they used and what they were reported to be capable of, and even how best to quickly and unyieldingly slay them. But the Histories were one thing he'd never been taught by his master, the High Paladin, Horatio Pembrook. Or if he had been taught, he'd not heeded this portion of his studies. Of what use was knowing the past to a knight errant. What mattered; he'd always believed, was the future that the knights of realm helped create for the people under their protection, by laying the Enemy's servants low. He'd found the preachings and the teachings of his vaunted master to be distressingly abstract, and he'd often begrudged the old paladin the time he'd lent him his ear those many, many pre-dawn hours spent listening to Lord Pembrooks' prattlings-on about the true spirit of the Mogen, and what it meant to give true service unto Him. Especially in the days, weeks and months following the massacre of his beloved family. It was not quite two years after that, that Lord Pembrook fell in mortal combat with a Tarresque, one of the fiercest and indomitable land creatures ever to terrorize the people of Mythus. The Tarresque were no more; however; leastways not in the known world. They'd been hunted down and slaughtered to extinction, or so it was universally thought, much in the way those great and terrible wyrms, the Dragon, which though decidedly still existent, had also been whittled down to a precious few. Most had disappeared altogether from the Empire of Chalcedon, the Republic of Capere and the island-nation of Eleusia. The Xenolyte raises an eyebrow, "Your silence disturbs me, Diantes. Could it be that you; who serves the god of law and history, do not even know a smidgen of the history of this world? If so, then you are on a crash course to failure, my friend.." He sighs, "Taal Zodo has been on this world three times before. And three times before some fool wielding Legend slew him...... or at least they thought they did. Only one man alive knows the secret to lay to rest this beast, but no one ever listened to him." He smirks, "Care to hear my story, Errant Knight? Care to hear of how the sword came to be; and how Mythus lost its war against Zodo?" Diantes nodded his head wearily, in quiet ascent. Perhaps if he'd paid closer attention to his master, the High Paladin, Horatio Pembrook and his other professors when he was away at seminary, he could have saved himself this crisis of faith he was suffering, now; and that the Xenolyte could obviously sense in him, somehow or other. But the alien being seemed not to take notice of the gesture. So, the Justiciar reached up and unlatched his greathelm and pulled it off. And hung it on the pommel of his war saddle,,, which like the roan gelding itself was "borrowed" goods, his own still being under repair, back at the camp. "Aye,...I’ll hear ye out, for now. Tell me all that ye knows an' care ta divulge. You have my complete and undivided attention, now. Say on, ole Son of Zodo. Tell me how the legendary Legend was crafted, an' how the world was all but lost to the Fallen One,...perhaps in the knowing' there might as yet come ta me some means of bring about that villain’s fall. Or at the least, I’ll know what to tell the' commandante of the camp, now that the Shard is already in her hands,..." The Xenolyte nods, and takes a breath, reading himself for a long tale, "Then keep your ears open, Diantes, and I shall tell my tale." He waves his staff around, "The world wasn't always as you see it. The continent of Capere was much larger, and far from the other landmasses. The Chalcedon, the empire, Talusia.... they were all part of one landmass as well. A great and glorious empire resided there founded by the teaching and principles of Mogen David. One of it's nobles , and the holy emperor's trusted friend was no other than Taal the Benevolent. A stalwart priest and high paladin, and benevolent son of a god, he always sacrificed for others, living in the streets o allow the unfortunate his home. A young elf boy, with a certain deformity having extremely long ears also was friends with Taal as they quested together to end the terror of the elf's evil grandfather. That elf is Tannhauser Nadir, the now high elf. It happened so long ago, but I remember it like yesterday. Tannhauser and Taal had just returned from a distant land after slaying Tann's grandfather, the Necromancer. The emperor, Maelstrom, planned a wedding for Taal with his only daughter. Taal and this girl had grown very close you see, and Maelstrom could think of no better honor than to offer his daughter to Taal. Tannhauser was there with him. Father Zama was to wed them. I ; unfortunately, could not attend as I was preventing the demise of Mythus's future, or so I hoped. On that fateful day, an arrow meant to kill Taal was intercepted when his soon to be wife leaped from the alter to move Taal out of the way, but got the arrow and lost her life. Taal was so devastated. You see, the guards quickly caught the assassin, and forced the information from him. He told that Taal's father wanted Taal dead because of his jealousy of Taal's popularity. Taal crumbled as he felt he lost everything. His own father tried to do him in and took his only love due to pitiless greed. but Taal's father was a god, and there's no way Taal could stand up to him. Tannhauser tried to offer condolences, Maelstrom was outraged, but Taal disappeared through the crowd. He sought the legendary Oracle of Morgoth, said to be able to grant any wish. He wished to eliminate greed, and the Oracle released the spirit of Zodo, god of power, into him, and forever bound him to the oath to destroy greed. Thus Taal Zodo came to be." He paused to let the information sink in before continuing and to wait for questions, if any... The Justiciar shook his head ruefully. What the Xenolyte imparted to him was an astonishing tale of wonderment, intrigue and bespoke a great mystery. But it was entirely too much for Diantes to assimilate all in one hearing. The questions that sprang to mind were myriad. Diantes knew of a fallen empire of the which the three now-existing three island nations were only a small portion. But he'd never hear the tale of Taal the Benevolent, the High Priest-High Paladin having long since fallen into disfavor with the Knights of the Hydra, a royal order of knighthood believed by few to have been said to have pre-dated the Breaking. No self-respecting theologian today believed such a fantastic tale. And the Church of the Mogen David looked upon all such teachings as heretical. The Mogen they insisted would have never allowed such a catastrophe to visit His people, for the sake of one disillusioned priest. And He'd certainly have never allowed the world; let alone two worlds, to be torn asunder by the act of one upstart godling. As a man grown to maturity and being something of a free thinker, as well, the Justiciar did not believe in such fantastical nonsense. But had he been hard-pressed to tell whatever convinced him to become a Paladin's squire at the raw age of seven years old, he'd have had to have admitted it had been the tales told by his great-grandsire. A man whom the family all had held to be utterly senile, if not hopelessly insane. But as with royalty, said to have been predicated by the Holy Parthenon of Mythus, the aristocracy tolerated all but the most violent of forms of insanities, so the venerable old man had not been put away in an asylum. Diantes now believed that much of the history of the world, as told to him at the feet of the old man, had been naught but old faerie tales. But now here was a Son of Zodo; albeit a self-proclaimed free moral agency, claiming that the tales of Mythus' present-day geography owed its formation to the subject of a couple of those same "faerie tales". It was all a bit overwhelming. "If what thou sayest be true ,...then who be this evil god that sired this Taal, who, for the sake of his own selfishness brought such travesty as the Zodo into the world, an' wherefore was nae he punished for his own transgressions, and not th' whole of th' world? I know of only three Gods, and in addition the four lesser gods, the Four Winds, whom the Druids alone do worship with any degree of seriousness. Taal Zodo is a devil and a fiend. And whence came He the Church of the Mogen claims nae to know, save only that through him was all things vile an' wicked brought into the world. Why the Mogen continues in toleration of that wicked one, i cannae pretend to know,...The Mogen is said to be all-knowing, wise beyond the wisdom of the wisest of men, and benevolent even unto the most unworthy,....But if this be true ,..." Diantes did not finish the thought, as the Xenolyte's revelations left him in a state of utter confusion. "Who then of the three Gods sired this monster Taal, who thou dost call "Benevolent'?" the Justiciar nearly spat out the word in derision. "Why was nae he cast down, rather than the whole world made to suffer. Who was this Oracle that he could grant wishes that wouldst bring ruin even unto the house of the Gods?" The Xenolyte nods, "Your disbelief is well justified, Diantes. So much time has happened since the Third War and the Breaking, that many have come to forgotten what had happened, with the truth being mingled in with myths and legends. The Church of Mogen and Zama's holy cathedral itself has written off it's validity, in order to preserve the holy name and keep the faith. Though some say that this all could be the work of Zodo, wishing to cause a disbelief in his origins so that he may further his dark plans." He smiles, "The sire; as you put it, is none other than ARCHELUS, the god of time. Only Mogen David realizes that Archelus is responsible, but it takes a council of gods to override a god. Knowing that this would happen in advance of it's happening, the Mogen David had bestowed Taal's future wife with a great mission to be carried out before her own demise. A creation of a holy sword that would be a beacon of light and hope and would save mankind.. The day before the wedding Lea, the soon to be bride, took the sword to Mogen David, and he sealed it upon his holy summit. It was five years until Tannhauser, and a paladin came before Mogen looking for answers, and Mogen directed them to the sword. The sword chose Tannhauser for his purity, but Tannhauser refused, saying that his own emotional tie with Taal would cause failure. So; instead, Mogen found the paladin worthy and surrendered Legend to this paladin named Ardatha, though the Church referred him as Saint Ardatha. The Church and the rest of Mythus regards Saint Ardatha as a hero, believing that he was the first to defeat the Fallen Lord. But in reality, Saint Ardatha condemned us all, by wrongfully wielding Legend, and slaying the Fallen Lord with it. Tannhauser tried to warn Ardatha, that Legend was meant to free Taal from the Dark Lord then slay the dark one, but Ardatha refused his advice, saying that he was too attached to Taal, and said that slaying him would end them both." He sighed, "The Oracle is no person, nor does it exist any longer. The Oracle was more of a prison designed at Mythus's beginning to keep the Fallen Lord at bay. Taal was not the first to use its power, but he was the last as his wish is what broke the Oracle and freed Zodo. Though Taal's wish was not evil, wishing for the end of Greed, it's implications were used for evil as the destruction of all greed bearing life." Diantes groaned deeply within his heart and his spirit echoed him back again. If what the Xenolyte spoke with such utter conviction be true , then much of the questions that had both haunted; and driven him throughout his long years as a Knight Errant, were being answered by this self-proclaimed creation of Taal Zodo, here and now. Not all his questions, but most of them. And his worst fears were being brought to light. Would he thenceforth be any the less a true Paladin, because these mysteries were being disclosed? Equally important, were the words of the Xenolyte to be believed, or was the alien being merely trying to trick him into asking even more questions. Questions it was not mete for any holy warrior to set worth before his God? Regardless, the Justiciar had to ask the questions, had to the know the truth, the absolute plain unvarnished truth, else he believed he could not carry on. The "truth" as the Xenolyte was laying it forth was unbelievable, the implications earth-shatteringly inconceivable. It flew directly in the face of almost absolutely everything the Justiciar had believed beforehand. "Knowest thou what ye sayest!? If thou dost tell it aright, then is made the whole of the world's religious structure made out ta be a lie. The Elves above all hold the Archelus in highest esteem and exalt His Name from suns up ta sunsdown. They hold Him the Father of the Gods, an' hold Him above reproach,....An' thou sayest He be the cause of the advent of all that be wrong and evil and wicked in the world? Wherefore? Wherefore create a race of peoples, many races of many peoples, if one wants only to destroy them? Methought the Gods well above all such mortal pettiness. An' thou sayest they are nae!?" The Xenolyte nods, "Your feelings on this matter are very well understood. After all you have lived your life under the teachings of so-called priests of Mogen, who undoubtedly taught everything but Mogen's word. After the Breaking and the disappearance of Maelstrom and Father Zama, after the collapse of Asteria, the Church of Mogen had very well been perverted by the dark hands of Zodo, through his own priest and the right hand man of the Chalcedon Emperor, High Priest Sataar." The Xenolyte sighs, "I don't hold Archelus at fault, and neither does Mogen. Zodo is the one at fault.... and we are at fault for bringing him here. Zodo was able to corrupt Archelus, even the slightest, before Archelus sealed him away in the Oracle. It was over time did the seed that Zodo planted grow in Archelus, perverting him into nothing more than a jealous and greed-filled god. Of course should Zodo be purged from this world, it is possible to restore Archelus from the dreaded mark..." Throughout the Xenolyte's narrative Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes shook his head slowly. It was all just too much for a battle-weary warrior like himself to wrap his befuddled mind around in one sitting. How much of this; if any was to be believed,...? The ability of Taal Zodo's servants to confuse the minds of their enemy was legendary, after all. Then Diantes' fatigued mind latched onto a statement that the alien being had made. "Ye said 'we', Hound of Zodo, what didst or dost thou mean by this? Ye said 'We are at fault for bringing Him, here.' Who is this 'we' ya speak of? An' where else might 'we' have brought Him so as nae to have visited His wickedness upon Mythus? Mayhap, i have gotten it wrong, all along, and my mission is ta seek out an' destroy this High Priest Sataar of the whom ye spoke,...That is if anything you've told me to be believed. An' i am nae convinced that any of it, is,....Or know ye nae that ye are the "enemy"!? The Xenolyte growls, "Be it not the teachings of the lord Mogen not to judge just on appearances? Or is this also a philosophy that the Holy Church has erased out of it's teachings? Aye I be a Xenolyte, a race created by the dark lord. But does my mere creation make me an instant enemy? Or is it your fears that turn you against me. Your own lacking of faith." He sighs, "Why if that be the case, then Lady Sarafel be the enemy. So, too, would the High Elf Tannhauser, and the Capacitator, Lord Grentzen! Each have had Zodo's mark upon them. If I had truly been the enemy do you really think you would be standing here now, and not lying on the ground as a blob of flesh, with it's muscles torn asunder and thy very bones ground to dust? Perhaps you should look within to find who be thy enemy, and not just merely on the surface. That had also once been a teaching of Zama's cathedral. One that seems now long forgotten. Aye, Sataar, my cousin, he be an enemy. A hopeless servant of the fallen lord. But Zodo is still the central enemy, the main figure. And by we, I mean those of my race. And no, we had no choice of where we fell." Diantes did not much like this Xenolyte; he made the Justiciar feel as if practically he'd ever been taught at seminary had been a lie. And his God not a true God; at all, by a hopeless pawn in a fiend's bid for total conquest of the world upon the which he, Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes had had the great misfortune to have been born. Even the vaunted "Father of the Gods"; it appeared, seemed to have been helpless to prevent the devastation’s visiting the world; now known as Mythus, to the tremendous extent that it had. Only a miracle, a silver piece thin miracle had prevented the world's being totally annihilated. How could one not be expected to suffer a crisis of faith in the face of such revelation!? After all didn't being a God, mean that one was infallible? indefatigueable? without fault or blemish? That's what he'd been pains-takingly taught those many years ago while in-seminary. And; in addition he'd be remonstrated not to question the Church's belief system; or canon upon which it was based, ever. To question; he'd been taught; oft-times with a scourge, was to show a definitive lack of faith; not in oneself, but in the Gods; which was tantamount to heresy. And people got burned at the stake for such rank criminality. Diantes started suddenly. His blood ran cold as hyperborean water through his veins, sending a graveyard chill rushing up his broad muscular back from the base of his spine. And his innards churned tumultuously. The Justiciar's own entire family had been executed in that selfsame manner. But only after that they had each been brutally drawn and quartered and tossed upon a communal funereal pyre,.... The thought brought Diantes up short. What if his family had been executed by the Church!? What if the family's manservant; the sole survivor of the attack on the Diantes household had borne false witness, of the circumstances behind his family's horrendous demise? What if the manservant had had been a doppelganger? The answer was out there; somewhere; of course, and the Justiciar was determined, now, more than ever that it behooved him to go out and find it. "I shall take my leave of thee, now, Xenolyte. I know nae whether thy words be truth or nae. But it now nae longer seems ta matter. I intend ta go forth an' find out for myself, the truth of the matter. I hadst thought ta have ye come wif me back to the camp, where I’d hoped to have ye answer a battery of questions, while held under a clergyman's spell. But i have since decided that i trust them nae more than i trust thee. I go, now to seek out an' find another whom I do trust. Whether ye choose ta follow after me; or surrender to those in the camp, or even go thy way is for you; an' you alone, ta decide. I have ta go an' find someone; someone as lost as i, an' together we shalt go an' seek out the truth, regardless of where’re it might take us. If ye throw in thy lot wif us, thou hast mine word as a Knight Errant that nae harm shalt come to thee from mine own hands, nor word from my mouth." The xenolyte pondered Diantes'words intently, before calmly speaking, "You speak of the cast-out priest, who now wonders Mogen's Isle in search of his answers. Going to him may also bring you to Mogen, which is Mogen's will. Please then, allow me to follow you, and to take you to the Chalcedon, whereas you will surely learn the true answers to the questions that plague you. Though you have many of reason not to trust me, please allow me to swear my own life, as a fellow knight errant unto Mogen, that no harm should befall thee from my hands, and should the hounds of Zodo follow thee, my life will be used to stop them." He pauses a moment as if he was offering a short prayer, "I am called de'Carte, and am a Mage Errant to the Lord Mogen. May I accompany you?" Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes was in the process of placing the fullhelm back atop his head, when the Xenolyte's words caught him up short. So taken aback was he, that the Justiciar nearly dropped the helm and toppled from his borrowed mount's back. " Ta which cast-out priest are ye referring', mage?! Who wonders the Mogen's Isle? Ye say that i should go ta this place for ta see him. But there be only one priest that I’m knowing' an' he's a bloody High Priest. A Monsignor, one of the highest ranking officials in the Church,....For him ta have been excommunicated from the Church would require an' act of high treason on his part, an act of heresy, even,...Why Octavius Demarcos Benvolio is one of these most devoutly pious clergyman I’ve ever met! Suren but ye needs must be mistaking' me for an other. The cleric I knowst is above reproach, for a mortal. No one with whom we two adventured ever hadst one word to say against him. An' nae one we ever encountered suffered injury from him, save in extremis. He carries nae weapon. And abhors violence and confrontation to a fault Nae,...thou canst nae be referring ta that one---" Suddenly, Diantes seemed to remember himself; and to whom ,or what, he was speaking. The thought mollified him, somewhat. After all, he didn't truly trust to this one's words, yet. Perhaps this tale of a defrocked priest was just another in a long line of things take warranted Diantes own personal investigation. His and Benevaar Brindlehair's,...The Forest Dwarf was a one possessed of an incredible talent for ferreting things out. "Alright,...alright, Xenolyte. We shalt go to the Mogen's Isle We shalt go an' see whatever there is ta see,...You, and I,' the Golden Bear, Benevaar Brindlehair. Ahhh, but first thou needs must swear an oath of fealty, on this,..." reaching back over the bulk of his powerful shoulder, the Justiciar unsheathed the great magical sword strapped onto the center of his broad muscular back " The Sword of Redemption,...It is an holy artifact attuned to the Mogen David, forged; or so the legends go on the Forge of the Gods, on Mount Arcadia in the Outer Planes of Celestia. Swear an oath; if ye dares, that thou wilt visit nae harm onto myself; or any others whom i name unto thee as allies, an' thou mayst escort me; an' they, to the Empire of Chalcedon. There we shalt go an' see this defrocked priest of thine. An we shalt see th' Mogen, too, an' He will it, though methinks He has nae want to see me,....Swear the oath, first, because it mayst be that the Mogen wilt find thee for ta be false, an' we needs take this nae further,...." de'Carte nodded and said, "Ah yes, the sacred Sword that the great Mogen first passed down to Guillotine during the Ascian Wars. Legend's predecessor. Surely only a being true to his word and his heart could stand Mogen's judgment whilst grasping the blade of such a sacred Sword." And that he did. The xenolyte knelt on one knee and grasped the blade tightly with his hand, so that his blood runs down it and chants, "I, de'Carte, Mage Errant of Mogen, do hereby make this sacred communion with the Judgment of Mogen, swearing my fidelity to his paladin, and those who befriend him; wielding my skills only in assistance of the follower of the most just Mogen David." He sighed as he stood up, "Going to the empire will only land you in greater trouble. Instead we should head to the Chalcedon itself, where Mogen's sacred peak and that dreaded tower both stand. There you will find that there is truth in my words, for there you will find your high priest, who was indeed cast out by those who have tainted the holy church." He smiles, "So we seek the dwarf? Then let us tarry not, for time grows short and the dark hand is after us." The last several days of Sir Tobius Arliss Diantes' life had been filled to overflowing with upsets and upheavals. He'd been the recipient of faith-shaking revelations and answers to lifelong questions, that only threatened to deluge the nobleman with an avalanche of new questions. He'd thought he'd seen; and heard everything, but nothing could prepare him for the shock he received when the Xenolyte fell upon its knees and gripped the pearlescent blade of the Sword of Redemption in both its unlined hands. He blanched; but otherwise held himself perfectly rigid, unmoving as he watched the alien's black-ish blood; or whatever passed for blood in the extraterrestrial race of being known as the Xenolytes welled up out of the deep clear cuts in the creature's featureless flesh,... Diantes gasped loudly and trembled with anticipation for the Mogen's wrath to fall upon His enemy's creation. He expected a Bolt of Glory to crash down upon the Xenolyte, the Hound of Zodo searing it until nothing remained but smoking ash. Or if not a Bolt of Glory, then a pillar of flame; or somesuch,...He hardly expected the same kind of rapture that fell upon him in the warcamp to also fall upon a servant of the Enemy,... But then the Xenolyte had proclaimed itself independent of Zodo's influence; a free-thinking, self-actuating being, like as most any mortal being. A being upon whom the immeasurable gift of will free had been bestowed,... Diantes realized then, that he had allowed the Xenolyte's inscrutable, featureless visage to motivate him to pass judgment of the strange alien, before the Xenolyte had even been given the opportunity to show itself hostile towards him. He was instantaneously inundated with a wave of guilt and shame,... He'd allowed his zeal for bring down the enemies of the Mogen; and the Mogen's people to blind him to the obvious fact that if the Xenolyte actually intended to visit harm upon him,; like as not, the Mogen would have send Diantes' deva-guardian to warn him not to engage in any kind of intercourse with the Xenolyte,... "The, uh,...the Mogen hast found ye ta be true of heart,...." he said hoarsely. He watched in astonishment as the Xenolyte's blood was first drawn into the blade of Ithalmar; and then transformed into reddish blood like as Diantes' own More startling still was the fact that facial features appeared upon the Xenolyte's no longer featureless face,...! "As His faithful servant, i can do nae less,...I offer unto thee my profoundest apology for my over weaning suspicion and distrust,....both of ye,...and of the Mogen, Himself,...Ye hath my word as a Knight Errant and Paladin of the Mogen David, that I shalt do ever’ thing in my power to safeguard and protect ye from all such zealots like as myself,...To this end it wouldst nae behoove us to return to the warcamp. Rather,...we shalt sally forth to go in search of the Golden Bear,...An' when we hath found him; be he dead or living, we shalt set sail for the Chalcedon and hie ourselves to the Mogen Seat,...I wouldst hear more of the Taal and the Zodo,' how be-it we mayst part the former from the latter" The Xenolyte nodded, "Apology is; of course, accepted. Please, from henceforth, I beg thee to refer to me as de'Carte." He smiled, "We must make haste upon finding your friend. Zodo's dark hand moves quickly now, I can feel it. It is slowly stringing a chord of discord amongst the hearts of these people, and soon the madness will cover the land, like a dark cloud blocking the sunlight. Our hope is to find your friend and make haste to see the great Mogen David. Thus; travel by ship may be too costly, and if I may, I shall take us to His sacred mount. We shall discuss more of Taal and Zodo after we have found your friend and began the preparations for the coming of the Great One." Sir Tobius Arliss Diantes nodded ascent. "Aye,...yes; you're right; of course. We needs must leave, now,...Finding my friend, Benevaar Brindlehair wilt nae be an easy matter. Belike he does nae even realize the battle hast ended. He might hath been wounded, like as I was,...Nae telling how far that indomitable Dwarf couldst hath gotten is so long a time, as i didst tarry in the camp. Curious how that thrusting my halberd’s blade into the Fallen Ones' side dost nae seem a matter of so great an import, anymore. Albeit i must warn thee, Master de'Carte,...The Golden Bear wilt naemore trust thee than didst I, 'ere thou didst swear thine oath on the Mogen's sword. In truth he wilt trust thee even less, as he is wary of magic-users, Outsiders and otherwise. For ye see, he was accursed with the Adolfite plague. In the heat of battle he undergoes a change,...." de'Carte nods, "Aye, I'll be wary. And take not much thought in your wound to the Fallen Lord. He has most likely healed from it, with not even a scar to tell its tale. And I do believe everyone knows that sad fact." He performed a arcane chant, and began to float slightly above the ground, with a cloud of dust bellowing beneath his feet, "Shall we begin our search then?" Diantes started, marveling at the Xenolyte's arcane method of locomotion. He was glad of the greathelm which visor hid his face from the Xenolyte's seemingly all-seeing eyes. "How fortuitous it is that ye canst move thyself about so. I truly didst nae cherish the thought of returning to the warcamp for an other mount, an' though I shouldst hath been glad to share the back of my horse with thee, war saddles wert nae designed to accommodate more than the one rider,... An' we havenae the time to tarry, anymore, if the situation is one hundredth as dire as thou seemest to think it be,...I only hopest thou canst keep apace of a galloping steed. We're for the battlefields away to the north and west. Benevaar wouldst hath made trek for the nearest city or encampment nae occupied by the Adversary. It mayst well be that he thinketh Aleut has fallen to the Enemy. An' he mightest be he thinks me for dead,..." De’Carte laughs, "Oh worry not, for I can surely keep up. Let us just make haste, and pray that upon finding this friend that he doesn't attempt an all out attack at the flying stranger. " He smiles but his smile soon disappears while they cross the field.... Being an expert equestrian; with a well-trained mount, Diantes turned his borrowed warhorse about by applying just the slightest of pressure to the roan gelding's right flank and the faintest tugging upon the reins. True to his word, the Xenolyte fell in alongside the cantering horse. With night closing in the Justiciar didn't want to risk having his borrowed warhorse step into a hole and breaking a leg, so he refrained from goading the animal; already made quite nervous by the proximity the Hound of Zodo, into a full out gallop, even though he feared the Xenolyte was correct in its assumption that they had precious little time to waste. Diantes realized he had only a vague remembrance of where he'd last seen the stalwart Forest Dwarf. They'd tried to stay in close proximity to each other. But it'd been impossible to remain so as the enemy had fallen upon their company with wave after wave of flanking soldiery, both infantrymen and archers felldrake riders and ballistae carried about the battlefield in two-wheeled horse drawn carts. When the felldrake's fear auras scattered the Caperean troops and the Chalcedonian contingent and nigh unto a fifth of Diantes fellow countryman had fallen to orcs, devilkin, and fouler creatures, Diantes had eventually lost sight of the mighty dwarven warrior, and soon after fell to a goblin-ish snarepit and subsequent ambush by short spear, axe and shortwsord-wielding hobgoblins. His own faithful warhorse hadn't stood an iota of a fighting chance. And having once been deprived of a suitable mount, it wasn't long before Diantes, who had never trained as a foot soldier, was ambushed by a Half Ogre which had dealt a devastating blow to the side of his head. Had it not been for the greathelm he was wearing at the time of the attack, the monster would have handily crushed his skull. This had been his last lucid thought until the healer's cart had come upon him. Now, as he gazed upon the fallen; allies and enemy alike, for the field had yet to be picked clean by scavengers and the bodies removed for burial; or a more pragmatic cremation on a communal funereal pyre, it all began to come back to him,.... Impatiently, he shook the emerging memory away. There was simply no way he could expect to stay atop his borrowed mount, if he allowed such traumatic reverie to steal his attention away from the business at hand. Now and again as they traveled Diantes caught the glitter of metallic objects lying upon the ground in the moonlight, often still clutched in the hands of the men and creatures who'd died wielding them; or wearing, them,.... The stench of the already decaying bodies made the Justiciar's eyes water. And then there were the swarms of gnats and black flies,....One could scarcely avoid all of them,... de'Carte remains alongside Diantes, moving across the ground at high speeds through means of his arcane magic. He grimaced at the sight of the dead, wondering to himself how long it would be until the fallen lord raised them for his armies. He sighs, "It was indeed a gruesome battle... unfortunately I have seen worse... and I know worse is still to come..." Sir. Tobius Arliss Diantes frowned thoughtfully inside his borrowed greathelm. He little doubted the Xenolyte's words, for in just the shorty forty odd years that he'd lived, as a Human, he'd seen enough battles to fill any Commoner's lifetime. He could think of no soldier who hadn't in all the days that Taal Zodo had walked the world. Which the Justiclar was certain long pre-dated any surviving recorded history. One of the few things concerning Mythus' history that Diantes could recall his venerable History professors telling he and his fellow seminarians about, was the fact that Mythus had suffered through nae less than three "breakings"; a time of tremendous turmoil, relating to both the world's geo-political; as well as its topographic structure. Little remained from the time of one of these "breakings" to the next. The one thing that had remained constant was Taal Zodo and his bid for total world domination; and the Church of Mogen David's unfailing effort to stop Him,...Untold millions had suffered and died during the course of Taal Zodo seemingly eternal campaign. And like the Xenolyte, Diantes was certain that many more would. Until Taal Zodo, Himself was finally put down. The world had waited millennia for the birth of the man destined to playing a pivotal; if not decisive role, in bringing about the fiend's demise,... Every squire or knight that Diantes had ever met in his entire life had expostulated that he; or she might be the one. But Diantes would never have believed that they believed it with more faith, fervency and certainty than did he. From a very early age he received dreams and visions that could only have been sent to him from the court of the Mogen, he believed. Dreams and visions of himself, wielding the fabled Sword of Redemption, leading a glorious expedition against the Zodo. He'd even known, as a boy where this final confrontation against Taal Zodo was to take place,... Now, after a lifetime of fighting and killing and putting the enemy to the sword; or rather halberd’s point, in the Mogen's name, he'd been given cause to seriously doubt that those boyhood dreams and visions still held any validity, at all. The one tangible piece of evidence that he hadn't become entirely deluded was that he did; in fact, hold possession over Ithalmar the Redeemer, the Sword of Redemption. But he'd never once wielded it; or any sword, in battle. This had been a proviso of his coming to receive his paladinhood. When he reluctantly approached his master, Sir Horatio had told him that it was a holy edict handed down from the Mogen, Himself; that to prove he was worthy to wield the Sword against the Zodo, he must refrain from ever so much as train with a wooden sparring sword, relying wholly and completely upon the Mogen to engender Diantes with the necessary skill when the time came. He had suffered tremendous ridicule and humiliation at the hands of first his fellow squires and then his fellow knights and then his fellow paladins. Many times over he'd cried himself to sleep both as a boy and then later as a man, and many more times he'd cried out in frustration and wondered aloud why he even bothered to keep to his vows to adhere to the Mogen's holy edict. And finally his humiliation of having to sit a horse and hold his peace, and watch, mute as a lamb before its slaughterer, as his sworn enemy, the slayer of uncounted millions had plucked the shard of the Legend, Ithalmar's successor out of his side and handed it to the High Elf woman and turned and rode away from the field of battle completely unmolested,... Exactly what victory had been won for Aleut, that day? What had the Army of the Freefolk won for themselves that could even come close to paying for all the blood spilled and lives lost in their seemingly futile struggle against the hated Zodo. Other than a momentary cessation of hostilities. It was to the Justiciar now as it was to him, then; an ice cold slap in the face with a cruelly spiked metal gauntlet,... Diantes unconsciously tightened his grip on the reins of his borrowed destrier and the grip of his muscular legs upon the animal's flanks. Misinterpreting this as a signal to reduce its speed the horse nickered quizzically to its rider. In acknowledgement of his unthinking behavior, Diantes loosened his grip and gave a minute flick to the reins, telling the warhorse to pick up its pace , again. They had much ground to cover until they reached the village the Justiciar believed the stalwart Forest Dwarf would had made his way for, and Time itself seemed to be against the lot of them. ------------------------------------------ Benevaar Brindlehair curled his powerful fingers about the beer stein and sipped morosely at his watered-down dwarven stout. It had come as a bit of a shock to him to have discovered that the Battle of Aleut had ended while he'd had as yet afield. There'd been very few survivors, he'd been told and most of those who had survived had been picked up in medics' carts and ferried off to the army's field camp to rest and recuperate. There was but a slim chance that his Human friend, the paladin Sir.Tobius Diantes had survived this battle Given the dire straits the Human had been in when the Forest Dwarf had held him in his sight, it was extremely improbable that the paladin still lived. Far less so than that Benevaar himself yet lived. They'd tried very hard to stay together, but the sheer numbers of the enemies that had fallen in upon them; and the absolute ferocity with the which they'd fought had enviably separated the two of them. And they were never given the leeway needed to effect a re-grouping. The cavalry's charge was foiled because the enemy had planted hidden troopers in the ground upon the field the battle was to have taken place. The battle itself had spread wilder, farther, more fiercely and faster than any of the army's tacticians had anticipated. In fact, the battle was almost entirely un-coordinated from the sound of the bugler's signal for the fighting to commence. That brave soul had perished while the final note of his sounding had as yet hung upon the crisp morning air. -------------------------------------------------------- de'Carte sighed, "It is no mystery why the Aleutians feel they had won here. They managed to prevent Zodo from destroying them and taking over Aleut... even for a day. Perhaps their lack of desire to engage him in combat steams more so from the perverted teaching of the Zodo-controlled Church of Mogen David..." He shook his head, "Mythians are too afraid. They all believe that they cannot survive against him, so making a deal with Zodo is the only sensible option. After all, Taal Zodo caused the breaking.. what chance is there to be had.... Little do they realize that was the Third Breaking... and that the breaking only came because of perversions...." He turned to Diantes, "Tell me; were you ever taught about the Breakings, and the previous wars against Taal Zodo?" The Xenolyte's query took the Justiciar aback. Had the alien been reading his mind? Hadn't he just been thinking about the "Breakings" Mythus had undergone,...? But as for the perversions the creature spoke of. Of these Diantes hadn't any precognition, whatsoever. "Thy words, Master de'Carte are paramount to heresy. The Church has hung people from the gibbet and burned them at the stake for speaking less treasonously than are you, now. But thou mayst have noticed that I am nae so intolerant as they. Speak on; prithee. It mayst be thou canst uncover some of the Church's greater mysteries for a man who's never been without questions." The Xenolyte smiled, "Very well. But let me warn you, what I will tell you may anger you some, as it seems to go completely against the teachings of the church." He took a deep breath, "The Church of Mogen David wasn't founded until Emperor Maelstrom came to the throne of Asteria. He appointed his friend, who had traveled with him to Mogen's Peak, and received the Laws of Guilotine, from which the original church doctrine was based upon. The man was gifted with great foreseeing powers, just as Maelstrom was, and both were gifted with immortality. The man, Zama Lightbringer, became the High Priest of the Church of Mogen David, and built the great Zama Cathedral, to be the Church’s centerpoint, right alongside the holy Crystal Mountains. Maelstrom changed the title of High Priest to 'Zama' and though holy ordinance appointed the Zama as potentate of the Church. But the one thing that made this church so different, was that it did not regard it's deity, Mogen David, as a god. Instead, Zama and Maelstrom both insisted that Mogen David be regarded as the guardian of law and history, and that somehow he answers to someone even higher than him. That whole idea persisted, even as other sects of the church rose and made the change from guardian to god. Zama's Church of Mogen David, was more of a church to promote lawfulness, awareness of history, and awareness of moral deeds, as well as the heart of Asteria's Holy Errant Knights, a group of the highest ranking paladins, brought together by Maelstrom to serve the people, keep up the teachings of the church, and save all Mythians from the evil of Zodo.... and last but not least... save Taal, Maelstrom's closest friend...... and brother. Maelstrom retrieved the sacred sword that you carry now for that very purpose, and commandeered the Errant Knights as its head. However by the time of the first great war... the sword was lost.... and I had thought it was still lost... until I met you." He continued, "The Church survived the first two wars, and the first two Breakings, even though the rest of Mythus seemed to change. And while the Church survived... so did Asteria. But by the time of the Third Breaking something terrible happened. Maelstrom and Zama were missing, and presumed dead. A man resembling and calling himself Guilotine took Asteria's throne after a long and terrible war, and with him he brought in a new high priest for the Church. And thus is when the Church... and Asteria... fell to corruption...." Diantes groaned, heavily. That there were, indeed, corruptive elements within the hierarchy of the Church really came as no great surprise to him. But that this corruption supposedly reached even unto the highest echelons of the theocracy was absolutely untenable! And the fact that a Hound of Zodo knew so much about this corruption made matters much the worse in the Justiciar's eyes,... Not that Diantes took the Xenolyte entirely at its word, even after its foreswearing upon the Sword of Redemption,....If the Mogen David was not infallible; as the Justiciar now believed He wasn't, then it very highly conceivable that the Xenolyte had used some arcane method to somehow hide its true intent away from Ithalmar. And the thought that he himself could yet be greatly deceived, made the paladin hold his trust in reserve. Still, even as a boy he himself had seen ample evidence of corruption in the teachings of the Church. Little; and not so little, discrepancies in the teachings,...departings away from the original writings in the Book of the Mogen,...many of the earliest recorded miracles were even back then beginning to be dismissed by those who lectured about them as being little more than exaggerations of the truth, if not artist interpretations of those who'd first recorded them,.... Diantes had pledged his entire life; and immortal soul to those teachings, and it bothered him no end that a lifetime's worth of belief can all have been based upon lies,....It bothered him infinitesimally more to think how many countless millions of Mythians who had also given themselves over to these lies and half truths and might be that very day rotting away for eternity, tortured continually by devils and demons, daemons and demodands in the realm of the Vapid Vatanua because these had believed these same lies. "H-how, canst He hath allowed, ta happen, Master de-Carte,...!?!" de'Carte turned towards Diante's and his look became very serious, "Are you certain that you are ready Diantes? Are you certain you are ready for the truth?" He stopped, and removed from his robes a very ancient looking tome. As he held it out a strange glow radiated from it, and the light parted the clouds finding its way to the book. de'Carte smiled, "This here is the sacred Book of Truth. It is the first recorded book, passed down to holy father Zama from the Mogen David, transcribed within the celestial halls of Precipitation Peak. This here is the book that the original Church was founded upon. This right here is the truth, given from the mouth of Mogen. It tells all things.... why He cannot prevent Zodo's perversions, and many other things that the Church now declares to be blasphemy and traitorous. Many things in here that condemns the current Church. If you are truly ready for the truth..... then I shall give you no other. After all, I am a Mage Errant to the Mogen David... regardless of what your thoughts; or fears, of me may be." The Justiciar brought his borrowed warhorse to so abrupt a halt that the perturbed animal actually turned its noble head and whickered at him. The paladin suppressed a sudden urge to buffet the creature between its ears. Diantes had always; all his life, been a staunch believer in the infallibility of the Mogen David and it troubled him deeply, that the Mogen wasn't this all-mighty, all-powerful deity, after all. Every since that fateful hour when Lady Sarafel rode out alone onto that truce field outside of Aleut to parley with the Adversary and received into her the shard of the relic-sword Legend, Diantes hadn't quite known what his proper place was anymore. He'd always seen himself of the role of the Mogen's avatar on Mythus,...His avenging angel, so to speak,...and, now,...well, he was just another of any number of questing knight errants, no one special, at all. Which caused the Justiciar to look back anew and ponder, again, the reason his entire family had been slain by those who bore the insignia of the Taal Zodo. He opened his mouth to give a reply to the Xenolyte but found to his utter mortification that a huge lump had risen inexplicably into his throat, betraying him. Tears of anguish spilled unbidden from his eyes and trickled down his stubbled cheeks beneath his greathelm. "It be nae you, Master de'Carte,...but rather learning that one's God is nae God, after all. But say on; what you have to say interests me, most,...An' regardless of what you think of me; an' I, you,...I will know the truth, whatever that might be,..." de'Carte nodded, "The Mogen David is a guardian, a defender of the laws and a recorder of history. He is responsible for passing the Great One's laws to us here in Mythus. Zodo, who occupies Taal, is himself the Great One's adversary, the opposite of good, the embodiment of greed. Brought forth to be the mold for all life, turned into the great thief of all life." He smiled grimly, "While you were misled into believing that Mogen was infallible, you were following our closest link to the Great One, the Forger of Legend, and the Forger of the very sword you carry. You wish to know your role? Perhaps it is found here..." He opened the book, and flipped to a page that he proceeds to read, "Behold, in a time when all have turned from me, I shall send forth Mogen to pass on the two great Swords. He will ready Mythus in my stead, as I prepare for the battle. One will break Zodo, the other will imprison him, and then peace shall blossom." --------------------------------------------------------- Meanwhile, back in Greth Hollow, the well-known adventurer and mystic, Alera Tai'var, had arrived in town. After some recent strange encounters with all manner of races, she had come to this seemingly calm town. She was in transit, really. She had no particular goal though. She was in-between quests at the moment. Without a job, being Alera was a dull thing to be. She received stares, as usual, as she tied her grey Clydesdale up for the night. "I will see you in the morning, friend," she whispered to Greysoul before walking around to the front. When she strolled in to the center room, she immediately realized how much wealthier she appeared compared to everyone else in the room. With her fine blue trench like jacket with grey wings across the front entrance. Under it was a simple lighter glue-grey tunic with a bit of ornate design to it as well. A full grey sash complimented the ornate designs. Across her forehead was a small blue-green pendant gem that symbolized her level of talent in the arts. The smooth, traveling material was obviously expensive. She was sure, however, that no one would rob her. Not Alera. She was too well-known as a powerful woman to attempt to rob. That is, unless someone had a death wish. The blonde-haired beauty of a art practitioner, her traveling sac slung over one shoulder. The brown leather was a strong contrast to her beautiful blues gray’s, but it did not change her overall attractiveness. She brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear as she leaned to the barkeep. "I need a room. You have one available?" "Always, Madame, for someone of your... caliber," the barkeep responded curtly. "Wonderful. I'm sure this will cover it. If there is change left, I'd like a bottle please. If its not too much trouble, that is," she said. Look at him! she thought. Anything for the coin. As should all businesses be. She slid a valuable coin across the bar to him. She let her grey-gloved hand slide off the coin slowly for effect. She watched his eye twinkle. He gave her the bottle quickly. A good enough selection. She took the key offered to her, and went upstairs. She came down only moments later. It was to be a lonely day today. None of her old friends lived anywhere near here. Perhaps she could do some... wait... What is wrong with that man there? she thought. He reeked of negative emotional energies. It showed too. He was sitting in the corner, fist clenched tightly around his mug handle. Perhaps he could use a bit of company? She knew she did. It had been a while since she had solved someone else's problem. There might be something she could do to help the poor one out. Alera approached the table and knocked on the wood next to him. "Anyone sitting there?" she inquired, pointing to the chair next to him with the open end of her bottle. Benevaar Brindlehair was working on his umpteenth mug of watered-down, non-dwarven stout, trying in vain to fall into a drunken stupor, when he noticed an abrupt change of the ambience in the common room of the tavern-inn. An expectant lull had fallen over the regular crowd of pseudo-merrymakers,...Their merriment was a shaky-legged facade, at best, Benevaar knew,.... Its proximity to the field on the which the Battle of Aleut had taken place had taken a heavy toll upon the sleepy little hamlet. Many of her leading citizens had perished in the battle, many more had lost their homes and their crops and their livestock to marauding evil humanoids and Human mercenaries. Only a small handfuls of the homes and public establishments remained standing. The tavern-inn had been spared as this was one of the few places the intruders had spared; and this only because this is where they'd spent their ill-gotten gains and came to relax after a hard days work killing the townspeople and the soldiery of the neighbor Aleut and its allies. Greth Hollow was much too small to have warranted the Enemy's attention, otherwise. As much as Benevaar noted that the volume of the conversations had fallen off considerably, it was the change in venue that he noticed the most. The speakers used far less vulgarity and spoke as if their very words were being weighed and judged. In short, they spoke as if gentry had entered the tavern; or perhaps a lesser member of royalty, even. Having spent some time in the capital city of the Empire of the Chalcedon in the company of the paladin Sir. Tobius Diantes; and others, Benevaar knew the experience, well. So a noble had deigned to come and visit war torn Capere; eh,... Benevaar sat up straighter in his chair. There was little he could do; was felt inclined to do about his unkempt and dirty appearance. And if the newcomer found his odor offensive, to any appreciable degree, she could bloody well find a seat, elsewhere’s. "There’s, now, milady. Jus' gimme a moment ta remove my things, heah. I’d keep 'em up in me room, but there’s been thieving aplenty since that great bloody battle visited hereabouts. I’d be sure an' keep a close watch on me sash pouch were I ye. an' I nae let anyone stand too nearly, either. Most of these poor bastards lost everything as they 'ad,...An' whilst they're probably law-abiding folks, usually, many of 'em 'ave turned to cutpursin' and burglarizin' in their desperation. "Ah'd nae be taking nae walks down nae dark alleys; day or night, if fen I was ye, either....'Specially dressed as finely as ye're,..." "Worry not, sorrowful one. I can quite handle myself. I'm sure one or two of the people here could say a thing or two about me." She grinned at the shorter man, effected by his drink. She rubbed her fingers together, feeling the conductivity of raw magical energies. No one could see it with their eyes. Only those with an acute sense to magic could even tell it was there. She dropped her hand, her rather wide-sleeved harm following suit to her side as she took a seat atop the backrest of the chair, her feet where one would sit. She popped open the bottle, took a swig, and gasped for air. Not nearly as light as she thought it would be. In fact, it was very much so on the harsh side. "I'll tell ya one thing, stranger..." She said. "Drinking that won't make ya forget anything. But this should..." she said, sliding the bottle to the center of the table, but leaving her traveling-gloved hand on the top of the bottle. "I've seen many like you, though. And I warn ya. Doing this usually makes it worse. I hate to be sounding like a mother an all, but it is true . I've seen it. But drink up if you so wish it. If you pass out, I'll get ya to a room." Benevaar groaned inwardly and allowed himself a loud, lengthy belch. So typical of a non-Dwarf to mistake studiousness for a lack of sobriety. Benevaar Brindlehair wasn't intoxicated. In fact he was nowhere near to being so,...But if she in the least thought him a drunkard, then he was determined not to disallude of the fact. Besides; it was sooo much easier to spy upon one's surroundings and observe the unguarded interactions of other people when they thought one was inebriated. While; in fact if one was brave enough to have leaned in close enough to look past Benevaar's long, greasy scraggly hair and up beneath his carefully furrowed brows ( as true drunkards always seemed to be in a constant state of bewilderment), they just might have stood a chance of discerning the fact that the wily Dwarf wasn't as nearly into his cups as he might have otherwise seemed. In fact his hooded golden amber eyes were un-dilated. And the odor of wheat barley, hops and brewer's yeast was heavier on his clothes and armor than upon his breath. Benevaar sat up even straighter; as the furniture was not built to comfortable accommodate a Dwarf-sized person, anyways, allowing himself to lurch about unsteadily a bit, to better couch the notion of his drunkenness in her mind, then raised for the proffered bottle, his hand wavering about a bit, as if he was not entirely able to focus his attention upon receiving the bottle into it. Belatedly, he remembered the greatsword he'd placed on the opposing chair out of sight of any who hadn't seen him carefully place it there. The sword slid off the chair and fell to the rough-hewn pine floor with a loud thud and metallic rattling noise. The tip of the sword's blade; and quite a bit more, stuck out from beneath the greasy, heavily-stained tablecloth. The light of the tavern's candelabrae reflected off the mirror-like blade casting prismatic lights onto the paneled walls, and the rafter supports, and the ceiling. Despite the warning he'd given the newcomer to look to her belongings lest she be robbed of them, Benevaar made no immediate attempt to pick up the fallen greatsword. This he did as a kind of test to see if he could; at least, trust this person not to try and murder him in public with witnesses all around. She could either take up the magnificently crafted weapon and attempt to run him through with it. take up the Dykhast steel greatsword and lay it atop the table so he wouldn't "accidentally" knock it off the chair onto the floor, again; or she could ask why he wasn't picking it up, himself,... The test was pretty straight forward. but not so transparent that the subject of it would be alienated by the tester. Of course there was a minimal risk of Benevaar's suffer some degree of injury or other; he might even be slain if the subject proved too skilled a combatant for the Forest Dwarf to defend against. But it was a risk the Golden Bear felt secure enough in his own fighting prowess to undertake. Alera ignored the great sword entirely. She barely even looked at it. She looked at Brindlehair strangely. What was he looking at? Was he so drunk that he "felt" for her? She hoped not. A mystic of her caliber certainly wouldn't feel good about her name being smeared around with rumors of her being a whore on the side. Any tale could be twisted, even if she never did the hitting on. She learned that quite a while back in a village she got kicked out of. It was a simple mistake of bullying. A bunch of 13 year olds were picking on a ten year old girl in quite the violent manner. She sent them off afraid with a show of magic that couldn't even do any sort of damage. It was just enough to intimidate them. The next day, she was kicked out after being accused of attempting to slaughter them with all kinds of magic’s. "Are you going to take the bottle or not?" she said swiftly, still wondering why he was looking at her like that. Her gloved hand pushed some hair behind her ear. "Is there something on my face?" ----------------------------------------------------- Diantes listened to the Xenolyte's words with only half an ear. Though he'd intimated to the alien that he wished nothing more than to somehow get at the truth; and believed within his heart that he; in fact, did, it troubled him mightily to hear the Hound of Zodo systematically tear down his entire belief structure in that disquieting monotone drone of a voice of his. And he'd just about succeeded in shutting this voice out; completely, when he'd heard something that set his very ears to buzzing, "Behold; in a tyme when all have turned from Me, I shall send forth Mogen to pass on the two great swords. He will ready Mythus in My stead, as I prepare for the battle. One will break Zodo; the other will imprison him; and then peace shall blossom.",.... The Justiciar suddenly reached up and wrenched the greathelm from off his head so quickly that he almost succeeded in tearing his ears off the sides of his face. His sapphire blue eyes shone brilliantly, because in removing his helm he'd hurt himself. Yet the self-inflicted pain would not stay him from asking the question his heart fair begged be asked. "So then, which of these am I; he who is destined to break Zodo; or the one destined to imprison him? How then, shall Zodo be broken? And where, imprisoned? And for how long a time?" The Xenolyte raised an eyebrow at Diantes' sudden reaction. Of all the things he had dutifully relayed to this paladin, nothing had struck such a chord within him. de'Carte soon began to doubt that Diantes really was interested in discovering the truth and that instead all he wanted to hear was why should he believe and how will he be able to bring about Zodo's end. de'Carte shook his head and gently put away the holy book. Walking over to Diantes he exclaimed, "Legend is the sword crafted to seal away the evil.... however..." He points to Diantes’ sword, "The Redeemer is the Sword that separates the demon from the man, and redeems the lost soul. Without the separation, Legend cannot fulfill it's intended purpose. The length of Zodo's entrapment is meant to last for all eternity, as there is no real way to kill the Fallen Lord. However.... how long the entrapment lasts really depends on mankind himself." ----------------------------------------------------- Benevaar Brindlehair did not allow the gleaming Dykhast steel greatword to lie upon the floor for too long a time; he didn't want to split anyone's skull(s) in the tavern he didn't absolutely have to. He'd rented a private room and had spent far too much of his precious gold on food and drink (mostly drink) to get himself tossed out on his ear, now. He let just enough time pass to safely allow the newcomer; who'd yet to favor the Forest Dwarf with any kind of name, whatsoever, to do; or not, whatever it was she was going to do about the sword's falling off the chair; which had fallen onto the floor. It was obviously too large a weapon for Benevaar to even have wielded two-handed. She had to have known that the forest Dwarf must have gone to great lengths to transport it, here. The sheer brightness of the blade, and the way it reflected the light of the candelabrae would have told somewhat with a perceptive eye that the sword's blade was probably sharp enough to have split a hair from her head; or the Dwarf's, for that matter. Benevaar sat up straight in his chair and then stretched until the tips of his hobnailed boots just barely touched the rough-hewn floor. The floor boards made an indignant noise as the Dwarf pushed the chair. Then with an adroitness that belied his body's great mass, he bent over and took up the greatsword and carefully laid it atop the table. Then he stooped over again; and after rummaging about for a few seconds drew out a gleaming, small ornately gemstone-studded Dykhast steel buckler and laid it, too, atop the table beside the greatsword. "Beautiful; are they nae,...?" He asked. And when he spoke it was with a knowing twinkle in his golden-amber eyes and a nostalgic catch in his voice. ----------------------------------------------------- Tobius Diantes, who had been blessed with psychic sensitivities from the moment of his birthing, noted an immediate change to the Xenolyte, Master de'Carte's demeanor. He'd have wagered his birthright to the House of Diantes that the self-avowed Knight Errant of the Mogen David would have met his enthusiasm with a jubilation matched only by his own. Instead the Xenolyte came across to him as being deeply saddened; and even more disappointed. "You are a puzzle to me, Master de'Carte." Diantes announced. Years of commanding men on strange and foreign battlefields had robbed him of his ability; and desire, to show even a little diplomacy. He'd learned the hard way that these foreign emissaries respected men of true action, far and away more than they did anyone with an artful tongue. The Enemy, Taal Zodo was notorious for His own artful speech. No, it was far more productive; especially in the time of war, to slap the flat of one's sword blade; or in Diantes’ case, the flat of his halberd blade up against the side of the head of whomever's attention one wished to gain; and perhaps, apologize for one's rudeness, later,... "You profess to be in the service of the Mogen; a point I shall nae argue with you, here,... , and yet when you see the physical evidence of prophecy soon to be realized you are unhappy. I should think that as one created to be a slave and tormented with the taste of the freedom enjoyed by others, that you; of all people, should be glad of living in an era when you might truly see the Enemy cast down, broken, and finally, imprisoned.---I suppose now, that it be past time for me to lie down the halberd an' take up the Sword. Wilt thou instruct me in swordplay, or is it that another is destined to fill the role of Weaponsmaster? Come, Master de'Carte,...make your heart to be gay. I am nae so unskilled in general weapons use as all that,....When the time comes for me to wield the Redeemer against Zodo you shall nae find me wanting,...."  

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