Rise of the Runelords

A campaign for the Pathfinder roleplaying game.


Faith & Family

Oathday, 27th Neth — Fort Rannick

The clear water rippled and splashed, erupting with a billowing cloud of red that quickly grew to obscure the bottom of the fresh bucket. Thia squeezed and wrung the cloth, before returning once again to scrub at the bloodstained wall of the alcove behind the chapel’s altar.

This was not going to be an easy task. Thia had been at it for hours already, and the end was not yet in sight. She was sure there were more important things she could be working on, given the need to make the fort as habitable and defensible as possible for the next few days, while they decided on their next steps. Thia hadn’t been able to put the state of the chapel out of her mind, though. There seemed little point in preparing a place to rest when she knew sleep wouldn’t come. Between losing Nyx and the state of the chapel, sleep was the last thing on her mind.

With the help of the others, the bodies piled up at the altar had been moved to the infirmary and cells in the floors below. Both were now acting as makeshift morgues in the wake of the ogres’ devastation. There they would have to stay for now, until such time as it were possible to give them a decent burial - or as close as could be achieved, given the mutilated and desecrated state of many of the bodies found throughout the fort.

While that had gone a long way towards lessening the horror Thia had felt upon first entering the chapel, much more work would be required to mask the atrocities that had taken place here. Blood and viscera still coated the floors and walls, and the ceiling had not escaped unscathed either. Much of the vile offerings and dedications to Lamashtu had been removed, but the crudely daubed symbols scattered haphazardly over the walls remained - in particular, a large, crude image of a three-headed jackal, the symbol of Lamashtu, painted in blood directly behind the altar. This most vile insult was where Thia had started, and her efforts had so far removed about two-thirds of that disturbing image, although the stone remained discolored. It was likely that nothing short of magic would be able to eliminate all trace of what had transpired here, but in the meantime, Thia was determined to do the best she could with water and cloth.

Behind her, familiar light footsteps entered the room, followed shortly by two clunks of wood against wood. Thia paused in her scrubbing, dropping the cloth into the bucket next to her before turning.

Shalelu looked as tired and disheveled as Thia felt, with armour just as dirty as Thia knew her own to be. Despite this, the sight of her in this moment was like a candle in Thia’s darkness.

“We turned up a couple more buckets,” explained the elf. “I thought you’d probably have need of more water, and figured I could save you a trip.”

“Thanks, Shal,” said Thia gratefully, stretching and rubbing the ache in her shoulder.

“You haven’t stopped for a moment,” continued Shalelu, concerned. She gestured at a nearby pew, one of six that had been overturned - some were smashed to the point of being of little use other than firewood, but this one was relatively intact. “Help me with this, and sit with me for a moment. You can spare five minutes to rest.”

Thia thought briefly about protesting, but the look on Shalelu’s face made her relent. She moved to the other end of the pew, and the two rangers lifted and righted it, before each taking a seat. By the time she’d sat down, Thia belatedly realised that she wasn’t entirely sure whether she’d be able to stand up again.

“They took pleasure in this,” stated Thia quietly, looking around the room with a grim expression. “All this destruction and death, and for them it was entertainment.” She looked up at the remains of the symbol of Lamashtu, her disgust and anger clear on her face. “And in a chapel, too,” she added. “It makes me sick.”

“I had not realised your faith was this important to you,” said Shalelu.

“It isn’t. Or wasn’t, anyway,” replied Thia. She paused for a moment, considering, before frowning and shaking her head in confusion. “I’m not even sure any more,” she admitted. “If you’d asked me before, I would have said this was Elias’s faith, not mine. Whenever I visited a shrine, or spoke a few words of prayer, I always told myself it was out of respect for Elias. I miss him, and this was a way of feeling a bit closer to him, or something.”

Shalelu stayed quiet, waiting for Thia to continue.

“Seeing what had been done here though, I was furious - not just for Elias, but for myself. It’s bad enough that they trashed the shrine, but to see that,” Thia almost spat this last word, gesturing at Lamashtu’s symbol. “It’s so much worse. It’s personal. Faith or not, Erastil stands for things I can get behind - family, community, protecting one another. Lamashtu stands for things I can’t even fathom, and her followers have brought us nothing but loss - first Grim, now Nyx, not to mention the Black Arrows.”

“There are two sides to faith’s coin,” said Shalelu, slowly. “What you worship, and what you stand for. I understand your reasons for turning from your faith, but perhaps it wasn’t as lost as you believed. From what I have seen of you, Thia, what you stand for has never been in doubt. Perhaps the moment has come where you can pick that coin from the mud, and show both sides to the world once more.”

“Perhaps,” said Thia thoughtfully. A few seconds of introspective silence passed, before Thia shook herself and turned to focus on Shalelu. “Anyway, enough of my problems - how are things between you and Jakardros? I know there’s not been many opportunities since we got here, but have you managed to talk to him much yet?”

“A little,” replied Shalelu, “but I’ve found myself reluctant to push him on anything. I came here seeking answers for my own pain, but the man I’ve found has suffered too much himself. He’s lost everything, Thia - the Black Arrows are no more, Fort Rannick is drenched in their blood, and Kaven’s apparent betrayal of the order has bitten deep. I fear my presence here is likely serving as a fresh reminder of losing Seanthia, as well. It doesn’t feel right to confront him now; I’m not sure how much more he could endure.”

Thia nodded, understanding. “It’s reasonable for you to want answers, but I agree - perhaps now isn’t the best time. The present weighs too heavily, and dealing with the past may have to wait a little longer.”

“I fear also that he is attaching much to his hope that Commander Lamitar will be found alive,” continued Shalelu. “That seems an unlikely outcome, despite no sign of his remains here. He’s simply been gone too long - if he had evaded the ogres after the fall of Rannick, surely he would have made first for Turtleback, and we would have encountered him there when we arrived.”

“I suspect you’re right,” concurred Thia. “The ogres left none alive here, so I doubt that they would have taken the commander captive. If they encountered him, he is almost certainly slain. How will Jakardros react if we found proof of this?”

“His mood is dark already,” said Shalelu grimly, “and he blames himself. I dread to think what he would do if confronted with yet another loss.”

“You should go to him,” urged Thia. “If things are that bad, he shouldn’t be left alone to brood on that darkness. You’re likely the one person here who can bring some light back to him.”

“I worry that he will run from me again,” admitted Shalelu. “Just as he did when my mother died.”

“Shal, him running from you was a mistake,” said Thia. “You’re not someone I would run from in a crisis - you’re the person I would run towards.”

Shalelu looked up at Thia, and their gazes locked for a few silent seconds.

“He made a mistake, Shal,” continued Thia. “If you want to reconcile, if you want to resolve everything that happened after your mother’s death, you may have to meet him halfway for now. He’s been through so much in recent days that he probably has no idea what to do - you need to take the first steps, show him the way.”

Shalelu thought on that for a moment, then nodded, rising from her seat. “Thank you, Thia,” she said. “Your wisdom is appreciated.”

“You’re welcome,” said Thia. “Let me know if I can help in any way - I’m here for you if needed.”

Shalelu nodded again, and left the chapel. Thia sat quietly for a few minutes, then rose. Plucking the cloth from the bucket, she resumed cleaning the chapel’s walls.