Nopalxochitl’s handiwork was most evident in the Temple district. The once soaring towers of the Temple of Lathander had been leveled, as though a great hand scythed through the stone. Smoking rubble choked the streets and it was clear no attempt had been made to clear it. Corpses were intermixed with the rubble everywhere Oren looked. He could understand why no one had organized people to dig; the magnitude of the task daunted him. Simply picking his way over the mountains of wreckage was all that his heart could take.
The shell of the Order building still stood, but everything those walls had once contained was gone, destroyed utterly by a heat so intense that Oren could barely imagine it. Metal and stone had fused into a glassy crust that glistened with rainbow colors, like oil floating over water.
Oren circled the building, searching for any sign of life, but found nothing. Sighing, he decided to leave and find something productive to do when a smoldering wall abruptly cracked in two. Oren dived out of the way of the shower of embers and the piled rubble beneath him gave way, dumping him into a pit. Something heavy landed on his back, trapping him. His vision went gray, but he struggled to remain conscious and won. Then he heard voices.
“I told you to hold onto it, you great lummox!”
“Sorry, Bryandt, my hands slipped.”
“That’s SIR Bryandt to you!”
“Steady, friend, there’s no need for that. I’m tired. We all are.” There was a short pause.
“Yes, you are right. I beg your pardon most humbly, Sir Padraic, my words were spoken in haste. I trust you will bear me no ill will?”
“Nah. I think if we move this beam here, next, we might be able to clear the stairs.”
“Hey!” Oren croaked, then burst into a fit of coughing while the weight bore down even more heavily on his spine. “HEY!!” There were some scuffling noises above and small pebbles pelted him.
“Well, would you look at that. We haven’t seen a living soul all day, and here we’ve managed to bury someone.”
“Don’t be a pig, Padraic, dig the man out. Here, I’ll brace you.” More scuffling followed, along with a few more showers of pebbles, and a hideous face thrust itself into Oren’s view. Oren gasped in horror.
“Soon have you out of there,” the face grunted, and then Oren felt the weight lift free of his spine. He hauled himself forward with his arms and sat up a bit gingerly. The half-orc that had rescued him dropped an enormous wooden beam back onto the pile of rubble.
“Thank you,” Oren said. “Who are you people? What are you doing here?”
The half-orc chuckled. “I could very easily ask you the same question, no? I am Sir Padraic Laren, a Knight of the Most Hol—“
“YOU are a paladin?!” Oren squeaked again. Sir Padraic rolled his eyes. “I-I am sorry, such a question is beneath me. My name is Oren Falscar, and I too am a paladin of the Order.”
Padriac smiled slightly. “Pleased to meet you, young man. The loud gentleman up there is Sir Bryandt Halfirth. The two of us, along with Sir Ryan Trawl and Sir Jessed Tolst of the faith of Lathander, are the only survivors here.”
“Sir Ryan? Sir Ryan is alive?” Oren breathed.
“Well, approximately. He’s in a bad way, but the old man is pretty hard to kill. He’ll pull through. Probably.”
Oren began scrambling up the pile of rubble. Sir Bryandt grabbed his arm and hauled him the last few feet. “Please, I need to speak with Sir Ryan right away.” Sir Bryandt shrugged and gestured for Oren to follow. They threaded their way through the wreckage to a small tower where, in better days, the Order had stored training equipment. A pile of hobgoblin corpses stood near the narrow stone doorway leading inside, communicating clearly where the surviving Order members had made their stand.
“It’s us, Jessed!” Padraic bellowed as they approached, and there was a metallic rustle inside as someone in armor relaxed subtly. Oren ducked through the door to find a slender, gold-skinned young man with a elven cast to his features sitting beside a makeshift pallet. Oren recognized the symbol of Lathander on the young man’s chest and nodded a greeting, but his attention was riveted on the occupant of the pallet.
“Is he . . . ?” Oren asked.
“Not dead . . . yet,” Sir Ryan whispered, “Which is not to say they didn’t make a good try of it. You seemed to have survived.” The sentence was phrased as a statement, but Oren knew the older paladin was really asking: How did you survive?
“Yes sir. What of Geron and Thule? Are they . . .”
Sir Ryan frowned and shifted his weight a little, bringing his head up off the pillow. “Should you not be the one telling me that? You were assigned to scout with them, were you not?”
“Yes, sir. We found evidence to indicate that the Sythillisian’s were massing their forces, so they returned to the city to report. You mean, they never arrived? You were not warned?”
Sir Ryan stared at him. Then, with excruciating care, the elder paladin said, “And you did not return with them?”
Oren recoiled a bit from the intensity of Sir Ryan’s stare. “No, sir. We weren’t certain what they were planning, sir, so I volunteered to stay behind and . . .”
“You . . . abandoned your brothers?” Sir Bryandt demanded.
“No!” Oren protested. “It was nothing like that. We truly didn’t think it was anything serious, we just wanted to make sure the Order was informed . . .”
Sir Bryandt grabbed the front of Oren’s armor in a powerful grip. “Nothing serious?! Nothing SERIOUS?! Your brothers are likely lying dead in a ditch somewhere, all for nothing! If you had stayed with them as you were ORDERED to do, ONE of you might have made it here and prevented the deaths of THIRTY-EIGHT PALADINS and NINETY-FIVE TRAINEES!!”
“Bryandt!” Sir Ryan snapped. “Let him go.” Sir Bryandt’s jaw clenched and he breathed heavily through his nose for several moments. Then he hurled Oren against the wall and turned away, gripping his sword-belt so hard the heavy leather creaked.
“Seventeen of those trainees were only five years old,” Sir Bryandt hissed. “I saw one of them pick up a kitchen knife to fight a hobgoblin and get cut in two for his trouble! That five year old child was more of a paladin than you’ll ever be!” He whirled and stormed out of the room.
Sir Padraic grimaced. “I’d better go after him and make sure he doesn’t try to kill himself. Again. We can’t afford to lose him now.” The half-orc hurried away.
Oren leaned against the wall, stunned. He turned his horrified gaze on Sir Ryan, but the elder paladin only looked away and sighed. Sir Jessed fidgeted awkwardly. He opened his mouth to say something, then bowed his head and covered his face with his hands.
“I . . . I’m sorry . . .” Oren whispered.
“Just go,” Sir Ryan said, sighing tiredly.
“What?” Oren said, dumbfounded.
“Go! Treacherous or stupid, it doesn’t matter; you’ve failed us all. I haven’t the heart to face a court-martial now, not with so many dead to mourn already. Go. Don’t let me see you again.”
“But . . .” Oren said. Then he stood up and bowed. “Yes, sir.”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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- In Color
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- Cold Bood: Shopping
- Cold Blood: Sheen's New Job
- Cold Blood: Session 8
- Psionics Game: Sessions 14 & 15
- Cold Blood: Session 7
- Psionics Game: Council
- Psionics Game: Oren at the Order
- Psionics Game: The Thayvians Consult
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- Tin Man (third episode)
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- "Smart" vs. "Hard-working"
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