Caught Between Worlds
Amethyst - Fraying at the Edges
—flashing images and sensations. Music: driving and discordant. Raucous laughter and cheers from an adoring crowd. The sweet heat of wine on the lips and down the chin. The clatter of chips scattered across a felt table. Heart pounding in the ears, dancing pressed tight against another figure. The slick of sweat on soft, bare flesh—
Amethyst awoke with a gasp. Her head pounded, the images still burning behind her eyes and the sensations lingering on her skin. What happened last night? Where was she? The opulent bedroom was a mess of scattered sheets, discarded glasses, half-eaten fruit. Her memory began to lurch into gear. They had survived the murder play. There was a big party. Then that Lucretia power had kissed her…and…
She looked down. She was wearing the tattered remnant of her costume, which was too revealing when it was whole. Her hands shook as she grabbed a sheet. Was that movement from the other side of the bed?
Not remembering, and not wanting to know, she fled.
Amethyst walked into Kiri’s temple anxiously looking from side to side. She did not see Osric anywhere, but then that would have been too easy. The previous afternoon, when he had come with the Grey Wyrm, he had hardly looked at her. Had he been at the party the previous night? Seen what had happened? She didn’t know. Though the hangover was long gone, her head still pounded. She felt like she was fraying at the edges, the person she knew she was unraveling like so much cheap twine. He has always seemed to be such a steady figure. She just wanted to talk with him.
Moving through the lush botanicals of the temple’s narthex, she nodded at several brown and green robed acolytes. With a start, she realized that one of the young women looked familiar. It was sole survivor of the Wendigo curse from Old Town, the one that Osric had cured and then returned, some nobleman’s daughter. The one that had later turned up during Amethyst’s First Lesson training with Osric at that orphanage, fawning all over him like some sort of Twilight fangirl. What was her name? Charity? She was tending some of the greenery under the watchful eye of one of the older monks.
Amethyst sped up and passed through to the Sanctuary. There she looked at the stone statue of Kiri standing in her garden, searching her face for answers. It seemed so long since she had talked with her enthusiastic, often befuddling, but ultimately comforting Power. But similar to her other visits, no answers came directly from the statue.
She went to one of the brothers, an older man she recognized from a previous visit. His name was Brother Arden.
“Yes child, what can I do for you?”
“I am looking for Osric, have you seen him?”
“No child, I have not. But, I can go look throughout the grounds. He sometimes likes to meditate in the deeper gardens, or in the Grove of Enlightenment. Would you like to wait for him?”
“Hmm, okay, I guess,” she replied.
“Excellent!” His wrinkled face turned into a series of horizontal lines when he smiled. “I will lead you to his chambers.”
Amethyst was somewhat taken aback by this. She realized that Osric must live someplace, that only made sense, and she supposed it would be here in the temple. Brother Arden led her down a series of corridors, into one that was lined with wooden doors, like a monastery. He knocked at one of the doors and it creaked open a crack.
“Brother Osric?” he asked. There was no reply. It seemed the door was simply unlocked.
“How strange!” Brother Arden said, his face containing an odd smile. “It seems he’s left his chambers open. Well, please wait inside while I look for him, there’s no reason to stand in this drafty old hallway.
Amethyst opened her mouth to protest, but the short brother had already disappeared down the hallway and around the corner. She was left standing at the portal to Osric’s room. This seemed remarkably indecorous, but an inviting light could be glanced through the doorway. Surely, she had been invited to go inside. Part of her screamed in her mind that this was an invasion of privacy, was quite rude, and was definitely not the British thing to do. Another part, one seemingly left over from that previous night, said ‘when will you get a chance to snoop like this again? Let’s find out more about him.’ She was having trouble ignoring it.
So she opened the door.
It was modestly sized, what she expected a monk’s cell to be: one room with an adjoined space for dealing with personal hygiene. Or like a dorm room, she realized, though the freshman dorms at UM didn’t have their own bathrooms. She had expected the paladin’s room to be, well, austere? Simple? She realized she didn’t know quite what to expect. While Osric did not have many possessions, they weren’t exactly what she would call Spartan. There was a large heavy antique wardrobe against one wall, all dark wood, ornate carvings, and spirals. A bed sat in one corner, simple, but with a thick quilt that seems to be made from an old tapestry, all crimson and emerald. A writing desk covered in papers dominated the other side of the room, next to it a bookshelf containing a number of texts and some niknaks. A small window contained a miniature greenhouse: dozens of small plants in tiny pots enclosed in a glass top.
She drifted over to the wardrobe, and ran at hand down the ornate wood. There was a strange symbol engraved in it, that of a predatory bird grasping a series of rings. She wondered if this was an heirloom or some item looted from a conquest. Did paladins even loot things? Again, she couldn’t resist that newly devious part of her mind, and pulled the door open to peek inside. The well-maintained and oiled hinges made no dramatic creek as she was expecting. Inside were a series of simple linen tunics and pants in green, white, and gold: the colors his Totem Bloom, the Sunstem. Dominating the center of the wardrobe was a brilliant suit of armor, seemingly made of gold, with emeralds, white enamel, and filigree woven into flowers and leaves. It looked like something from a Mardi Gras parade. No wonder she never seen him in it. It just didn’t seem to be his type.
Her eyes shifted over to their writing desk, which was covered in papers, charcoal pencils, and crumpled up scraps. Her eyes just happened upon the letter at the top of the writing area. It seemed very formal, written on heavy vellum, with lots of illumination and curvy script. She quickly read some of the lines at the top.
To our wayward son, Osric Tanelorn:It seems that Osric was working on a reply, on a scroll right next to the letter:
Consider this a formal reprimand from the High Counsel regarding your unprecedented third period of Contrition, completed four months ago. Atonement spells are costly, and those resources could have been expended helping other initiatives or building additional facilities. Know that our august self, Arch-Vedic Wayhoole, did not believe that a third attempt to redeem you was a good expenditure of resources. You have many supporters in Cillimar, however, and their petitions swayed enough of the Counsel members. Two things we feel should be noted: first, this time the Counsel vote was extremely close, and second, that to claim supporters in that Dark-tainted nest is to me a sign of how you Fell in the first place—
Most honored Arch-Vedic Wayhoole:The neat, orderly writing changed there to a jagged slash that ripped the paper. There are a number of crumpled pages around this one. Fascinated, Amethyst can’t stop herself from unfolding one:
I know that I am blessed to receive Kiri’s mercy, for it is infinite in its goodness. She has seen fit to soften the hearts of those on the Counsel and for that I am thankful. I respect that your heart has remained closed, as over the years I have learned that it is apparently composed of chipped flint and blackened ice, linked to your rotting soul via—
Dear Arch-Vedic Wayhoole:And another, perhaps the first draft, which ended very quickly:
I thank you on behalf of all the Dark-tainted nesters that dwell here in Cillimar. Know that I value your opinion. In fact, I value it just below that of the lowliest pick-pocket, for at least they—
Dear Arch-Fattic A-Hole—She snickered, and found another letter, also half completed. Though this was to someone else:
Dear Bryson:Moving that revealed a leather-bound book of some sort. Now oblivious to her surroundings, she opened it to find it was a sketchbook of sorts. The first pages contained a number of half-started sketches of a young woman with wavy long hair, done in a style that indicated limited natural talent but meticulous attention to detail and infinite patience to correct and adjust. She suddenly realized they were of that Charity girl, and a surge of irrational jealously bloomed. She turned the next page angrily. Who did she think she was, anyway? Coming in to—
I understand you are angry, but know that every time I have increased the allowance I pay you the money has never gone to Mourva or the children, but rather into the winepot. You may threaten me all you like, but I promised Mother that I would always help you and that sometimes means hard decisions for the both of us—
The full page drawing, tinted with color, was her. Amethyst. Her head and shoulders, smiling her tight smile. The pages after that were all her. Sitting at a café table. Looking up at the statue of Kiri in the Sanctuary. Tying a bandage on a small child from the orphanage. She didn’t know what to think. She had started to turn the next page, which seemed to be of another figure with long blonde hair, when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.
Jumping, her face burning crimson and heart in her throat, she spun around. But it was only Brother Arden, smiling his half-smile at her.
“I’m sorry child,” he said in a friendly tone, “but I cannot find Osric anywhere. He must be out on personal business.”
She gulped in some air, trying to calm herself. “Oh, ok. That’s…I can come back. I just have this big event tonight at the mayor’s…”
“I’m sure he would like to help. He’s very helpful, our brother Osric. Quite the unique feature here in Cillimar.”
“Do you know the average time of posting in Cillimar for a paladin?” he asked. “I can primarily speak of those in Kiri’s service, though since we are one of the largest Light powers in this Dark city I have met others here seeking allies. It’s 16 months. Beyond that, they tend to get themselves in trouble when faced with the constant need to compromise or—depending on who you ask—betray their ‘principles.’ But Osric was born here and seems to have unbreakable ties. As such, he has been engaged in this dance of compromise longer than any I have ever seen. The entirety of his 20 years as a paladin.”
Amethyst’s jaw dropped a bit at this as she did some math. Was he really that old?!
Arden saw this and his eyes twinkled. “I remember when he first came here. His father had fallen behind on some payments to one gang or another. They had arrived to extract the payment in property. When his father resisted, they took the balance in flesh, with interest. As his mother and younger brother watched, their father was able to defeat one assailant, but the other murdered him, painfully. The killer laughed as the 8-year-old Osric broke away from his mother’s grasp, grabbed a fireplace poker, and swung it at him. Just before impact, it blazed with power and the Smite slammed home. Gasping, the man struck back but his blade was turned aside by the force of the boy’s righteous fury.
“His mother brought her child into the temple that day, bleeding from knife wounds. He never left us after that. There are many ways for the Power-Touched to gain their abilities. But they say a paladin need not know that he is a paladin. He only need know what must be done.”
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