Half-Elf Priest of Deä, worshiper of the Death Goddess through Sacred Combat
He waited behind iron bars with sweat trickling down his neck, and soaking the doublet that lay under his armor. Beyond, the hall of the Senate Chamber was lit in a warm wash of amber, and the strong smell of incense drifted through the cinnamon colored lattice of rusted metal. There, on the stone benches built more than five thousand years before, the Comitia Centuriata sat and waited to pass their judgement.
“Bring him forward.” Tribune Nihilist Greenleaf said in his wizened, breaking tone.
The gate groaned as heavy chains strained taut, and slowly, it lifted. Karn walked slowly down the short, dark tunnel, and then stepped onto the main floor. The Senate Chamber was a great domed building. It’s large, round floor was set in heavy granite rocks alchemically dyed the twin shades of crimson and black that the Republic sometimes turned Empire had used as their standards for the past five thousand years, and longer, if legend was to be believed. Surrounding the central pillar to which Karn made his way, a half moon of tiered stone benches rose in three sections; the three Noble Houses of the Centuriata. Above the crowd, a celestial firmament was spinning in darkness, stars twinkling and comets moving through the magical illusion cast on the fameous ceiling by Moranth, the great elvish sorcerer more than a millennia before.
Karn stood in front of the central pillar, and faced the tribune. From his high seat, a stone chair that more resembled a throne, and sometimes was, Nihilist spoke.
“Karn Goodchild, you are bound by your oath as a citizen, and by the laws of your God to the service of the legia until such a time as you are released. Yet you stand before this council requesting a termination of your services, is that correct?” He turned is wrinkled face from the parchment in his hands towards Karn. At nearly eight hundred years old, Nihilist’ face resembled a grape that had been left too long in the sun, and beady, black eyes peered past his long, crooked nose. He was perhaps the only elf in the history of the race to achieve such offensive physical characteristics.
“Yes, tribune.” Karn said.
As a half elf, Karn possessed the youthful characteristics of his fey heritage, but also the tone, lean muscle that came from the blood of Dimasi. His eyes were a pale grey, and his dirty blond hair hung slicked back in waves, a sunlit river of black water. Nihilist seemed to be searching him, and what soul he possessed.
“And I assume you have a good reason for this?” He said, swinging his head from side to side.
“He does,” said Darrus Elderwood, a tall, handsome elf is long, cream colored robes. Behind him, another gnarled old fey was seated near the pillar with knotted hands. The skull of an ogre sat atop his ancient head like a helm.
“And you are?” Nihilist asked.
“Come now, we all know who he is.” Jorah interrupted. One of the co-consols in the chamber, the light skinned, fair haired Jorah sat his own lesser throne like he had been draped over it.
“Humph, we must stand on tradition, young Blackroot.” Nihilist flicked his gaze back to Darrus. “You are?”
Darrus smiled beneath his cream and crimson garb.
“I am Darrus Bluesprout, of clan Bluesprout, of the House of Blackroot, war priest of Deä. Worshiper in the Order of the Long Night.”
“And your position?” He cackled.
Darius smiled. “We have no ranking among the faithful other than Age.”
“Humph” Nihilist grimaced.
“I freely admit, I was surprised when the council called us here, it is not often that war priests are kept on by trick of procedure.” Darius said.
“Gods,” Jorah sat up, “It wound’t yield us any advantage if we did keep him anyway.” Impatience bled from the words.
“He has vowed to protect the Emperor, the senate, and the people of Yllénänder. Karn Goodchild, is it not true that, upon leading the Ashinian army to victory against the orcs in the Evendark, you left the field of battle to return here to Val Nova?”
“That is true,” said Karn. “I was sent my by the order to lead allied forces in the conquest of the Evendark, and after succeeding in my task, I was sent by the same order back here to seek release from you fine ladies and gentlemen.” Unlike human and dwarvish cultures, there was very little to no divide between the sexes in Yllénänder. Only the blood of Dimasi and the blood of the Eldar ranked each other.
Nihilist frowned, but Jorah was smiling. From the center of the stone benches, a young Blackroot stood to speak.
“And how does that strike you as a man of faith, master Goodchild; leaving your army? This is, after all, a religious matter.”
Karn only sighed. The three parties present were chosen in time immemorial from among the noblest families in Yllénänder. On the right of the chamber, House Greenleaf presided, although only ten or twenty of the 100 senators were actually from House Greenleaf itself. Like all three named parties, most members were merely subservient to the ruling House.
On the right, the only human noble House to exist outside of human lands was seated. House Goodchild was one of legend. The only house to oppose the rule of some ancient king across the sea, Kerek Goodchild was said to launch a rebellion in the lands today called Gathering, and, after losing his crown, he fled with his family across the sea called Adriasí by the elves. In those ancient days, elven kingdoms were not yet subject to the Val Nova, and there was no Yllénänder. In that fertile, wild country, Goodchild found their own place among the fairer race. Generations later, the intermarriage between the human and elven Houses had sprouted a complex governing force that, while elvish dominate, included some human control.
Blackroot, by far the most populace of the noble houses, sat to the left; another elven House, forever ensuring fey rule in the Yllénänder senate.
This was the incestuous, conniving, back stabbing nest of vipers that Karn had to navigate through to gain his freedom; a freedom that he was sure meant nothing to anyone, and was being used as a political hostage.
“Ours is the the worship of Deä,” Karn said, finally. “The Goddess of the Long Night, and the master of all things. War Priests of Deä serve at the pleasure of the death god, and in the blood omens I read in the viscera of my fallen enemies, my offering was deemed inadequate by the lady, so a gathering was convened, and it was decided that now is my time to take on my long walk.”
“Which is our orders right.” continued Darrus.
“Not, I think, before the contract is filled.” The young Blackroot replied, smiling.
“The Evendark is all but conquered,” Karn said. “The orcs have fled deeper into the wilds, scratching a pitiful living among the rocks of the Dragons Teeth. Besides, If the Goddess of the Long Night wishes me to leave my home and make my offerings in the lands of my fathers, it would do neither you, nor your armies, any good to defy her. Hers is the fire.”
“So you say,” Nihilist spat the words, though his eyes found his ally Blackroot. “There are few enough who worship at your alter, and those that do carry the pestilence among them.”
“Those are not priests of Deä.” Darrus softened his features, but the elderly elf behind him seemed to shrink into himself with a cold, even rage.
Karn lifted a bladed hand to calm his brother in the order.
“The Plague Priests of Ammon worship the decay and rot that death brings. Disease, famine, and murder are their agents, not ours. They claim faith to the Long Night, but they are not of Deä. Not as we are.”
“Then what are they? How do you differ?” Another Blackroot asked from the bench.
Karn rolled his eyes. It was a common enough mistake in the capital, and rumor was that in human lands, the worshipers of death were confused with plague priests all the time. But Karn’s order, the War Priests of Deä, used combat as their agent of worship. While plague priests might bring any manner of dying to their offerings, sometimes carrying disease, or destroying farms and fields to allow hunger and famine to do their good work, the priests of Deä believed that death regarded their own offerings in higher praise. Risking ones own life was truly as bold as the death offering itself, and each priest sought a worthy way of dying, as they had but one death to give. While Deä would drink the blood of all the departed, those who awaited the Long Night saw violence in sacred combat as the pinnacle of the death offering.
“You know how they differ, Comedus, sit down.” Jorah said, standing. “This is a waste of time, if the boy wishes to leave, let him go, he won’t be of any-“
“It is not that I wish to leave, it is that I am compelled to.” Karen said.
“Very well, then let us put it to a vote.” Jorah said, turning to face the assembly. “Karn is correct, the Evendark will be ours, and if a War Priest of Deä wishes to fulfill his obligations, what right do we have to detain him?”
Nihilist leaned back in his chair. “The priest is bound to us until such a time as we deem the war won, why are you so instant on his dismissal, Jorah?”
“Because,”said Darrus before the co-consul could reply, “we are servants of the only God that needs worship.” A darkness seemed to settle on the chamber, and even the smear of starlight cast in its magic above faded, like a shadow passing the across the sun.
“The Sand.” Karn said abruptly, diffusing whatever was growing between Nihilist and Darrus. The old man grimaced.
“The Sand is for criminals, deserters and gladiators, not for those of noble blood.” He said.
“Then try him as a criminal,” said Darrus. “If you believe his request illegal, place him at the mercy of the Goddess of All Things.”
“He is a son of Goodchild and-”
“And,” Karn interrupted, “as a half blood, I cannot inherit my fathers titles, his lands, or his wealth.”
“Your blood still runs noble, Goodchild. I will not send you to the arena.”
“A trial then,” said Karn. “I request trial by combat.”
“This is not a place for-”
“Do you deny this man his right?” Came the rakish voice of the elder priest, and a hush descended on the chamber. All eyes fell upon him, with his ogre skull cap and his black robes. His elvish grace had seen him through seven hundred and twelve winters, and the blood offerings he has made to the Goddess in those years could drown the sun in crimson fury. An aged priest of the death god commanded no higher respect.
“The Sand is for the wicked, the criminal, the gladiator. The Sand is a spectacle.” Nihilist licked his dry lips.
“The Sand,” the old priest leaned forward, eyes fixed on the tribunes, “is a cathedral of slaughter. A blood soaked arena built as a monument to the Long Night. The Sand, to my order, is as holy as a battleground.” He cast his gaze about the room. “Give the boy his trial. Give him his oath.”
Quiet fell like snow. When no one spoke, the co-consul cut through it.
“The number?” Jorah asked.
“I leave that to the tribune, and whatever he deem appropriate.” Karn smiled and spread his hands.
Nihilist’ eyes burned like brands into the old priest. Trial by combat was allowed of any man or elf, but nobility were only allowed sacred and sanctioned duels. While Karn Goodchild was of both human and elvish noble blood, as a half-elf, he was noble in name only, and the law would not recognize his right to inherit. Normally, Nihilist would have welcomed a trial in The Sand. The great arena claimed hundreds of criminals and gladiators every year. But Karn was a war priest, and a war priest was loved by death.
The aged tribune cast a glance across the chamber at the Goodchild bench, and Rodrick Goodchild, only smiled back. Nihilist had hoped to provoke a vote from the old leader, to sow dissent among the Goodchild House, but the priest had outmaneuvered him. The gods did not favor him this day, but it didn’t matter. Either the boy would die in The Sand, or he would leave Yllénänder, perhaps forever. Nothing gained, but nothing lost.
“Very well,” he said, finally. “The price of freedom from your oath is five.”
“I accept.” Karn smiled.
“And then five again for your god.” Nihilist said, grinning.
Karn Goodchild found someplace deep inside the ancient tribune, and again, shade crossed over the chamber.
“Agreed.” He said coldly.
“Very well. The Sand.”
The stone shook with the violence of the stampede. In the tunnels bellow the coliseum, red dust fell from the arched ceilings and cast long shafts of pale light from the beaming staff held by the mistress. In the darkness, beyond the pool of brilliance, only the fiery outline of the door shone atop a hundred foot ramp. The door out of the dungeon. The door that opened onto The Sand.
“Half the nobility have come,” the mistress said, brushing Karn with the fragrant, chopped leaves of the rye olive tree. The demands of elvish gods interested Karn little, but the Goddess of All Things was not a jealous deity, and she did not begrudge them their traditions. Gladiators and criminals alike were granted the rite before stepping onto The Sand, consecrated thusly, they may be given leave enter Elysium upon their death.
Deä, doubles, only smiled, and awaited her ruined sacrifice.
“The people love a show of violence, and why shouldn’t they?” Karn said for something to say. He was clothed in the vestments of his order, a cream colored long coat, lined with dyed leather the color of blood, and peeled open at the top button to show a triangular slash of crimson. Bellow, his light cotton doublet was topped with chainmail, and thick leather gloves wrapped his hands.
Karn was skilled with all manner of weapons, his bare hands included, but today he chose to strap a warhammer to his back, and a longsword at his side, each etched with the starburst display that was his houses sigil; the Black Star of Goodchild.
“They love it when the patricians fight, maybe.” The mistress said sweetly as she completed her ritual cleansing. “Do you have any money, my lord?”
“Is this a robbery?” Karn smiled.
“You go to your death. Do you wish my sisters to wash your body and burn it on a pyre of godswood? Do you want the slaughter of a stag to pay your passage though the gate?”
Karn shook his head. He had no need of the elvish rite.
“My death is my offering to the Goddess. I need nothing for the flesh I leave behind.”
The mistress bowed low.
“Do you wish for anything else, my lord?”
“I wish for courage.” Karn said, “and for the strength to give offering to the Lord of the Long Night, be that with the souls of my enemies, or with my own.”
“That I cannot give,” she said, smiling, and plucking her staff from the ground, the mistress retreated, deeper into the maze of tunnels bellow the colosseum, carrying the light with her. Above him, the drums of attendees continued to roll, and the stone continued to quake.
“Mistress of the Long Night, Goddess of All Things,” He whispered, as he grasped the hilt of the mighty hammer. “Reap what you sow.”
Karn ascended the ramp, and as the light of day came blasting in like fire when the great doors were thrown open, above him, the dark wings of death did cast shade over his eyes, to better guide his killing hand.
The colosseum, built two hundred years before of blood and rock, of iron and of godswood timber, seated eighty thousand souls, and as the sun sank low on the horizon, as many elves and sons of man filled her stone benches. Arch upon arch, The Sand was pulled into the shape of an egg at the heart of the ancient city, like the center of a snakes eye, and it gleamed with the violence and rage that the elves traded like currency, and the blood of the Dimasi raged with.
The colosseum. The most recent blood pit to sit atop the city center, built and rebuilt since time immemorial, first for the execution of the guilty, and in more modern times, for the entertainment of the plebs. Here, the bones of the dead were left to bleach in the sun, and the stampede of animals, and of war, the rot of decay the the blast of magic ground them into a fine power that now crunched beneath Karn’s feet. The dead, the offered, the taken; all swallowed by Deä. All shattered and still.
When the battle was done, the mages would wash clean all flesh and blood with fire and magic, and leave only fresh bone to add to the powder.
The sky was piled high with stacked clouds crumpled in from the Andasí, and the suns eye was reaching its peak when stepping out from beneath the archway of the under tunnels, Karn first saw the thieves. Five men. Four were the blood of Dimasi, and one was of elvish descent. In Yllénänder, most of the criminals were human, and the jails reflected this fact. Their elvish cousins were less prone to the temptations of flesh and conscious, at least outside of their sorted politics.
“You are the first then?” Karn said, placing the head of the warhammer in the bone dust, and kneeling, he began to rinse his hands in it.
“You’re the war priest,” said the elf. The fey was dressed in a leather jerkin and had two long knives stuck into a red sash around his waist. Looking up from his hands, Karn stared him in the eyes.
The four humans were less well equipped; they wore lathers at best, quilted fabric at worst. Two had short swords of badly beaten steel, one had a spiked mace with a handle half the size that it should have been, and the last held only a wood tipped spear. They could have been the same person with their uniformly dirty, smeared faces. Faces that paled to ugliness against the thousands who possessed elvish grace and lined the arena.
They stomped loudly, the crowed, and louder again. A crescendo of blood frenzied excitement; the living legacy of elvish and Dimasi blood that sang for violence as the cock crows at dawn. Pounding, shaking the ground, like the celestial drums of war thundering above. All until the match began, that is. Until Karn stood and grasped his weapon.
A hush seemed to fall upon the whole city, like spell cast.
“One man?” Said a human theif. “One man between us and getting out of here?”
“Take him,” said another, and they charged. All four of the humans, at a full sprint, spraying powdered bone in their wake as they crossed the space between themselves and Karn.
“Death does not ask,” he whispered, and lifted the hammer with both hands, crouching slightly, “death demands.”
The thieves entered the killing circle; the shade around Karn that Deä cast with her dark wings.
Knife she whispered to him.
The first man lunged almost drunkenly, bad footing on the loose sand. Karn stepped backwards, and with the movement, the hammer shifted forward, and the spike atop the heavy block skewered the man through the heart. Like summer rain, a warm spray of crimson splashed Karn across face. The war priest twisted, and the wound flowered open as the man screamed, and then the other three were on him.
Karn kicked low, and a booted foot shattered one of the short swords kneecaps, before he spun, dodging the steel thrust from the other and, rolling across the back of the first, sent the warhammer crashing into the seconds skull. With no helm, the skull cracked like a mellon, and a fountain of blood and brain exploded from the fissure. Karn jerked his arms back, and the man with the shattered knee took the butt of the weapons pommel in the face with an audible crack, and fell to the ground.
He ducked, and the half mace flew over his head.
Faster death said to him in her battle speak.
He dropped the warhammer, and grasping the dagger in the mans own belt, drawing it up his belly in a crimson trail. His cries deafening, he dropped the mace, clutching at the wet snakes of his own intestines as they spilled out of his groin. He sank to his knees, terror and blood smeared over his face. Karn kicked the warhammer into the air in a mist of bone, caught it, and sent the flat end into his jaw, shattering his features and sending another gout of blood across the pearl white sand.
The fight took less than ten seconds.
His cream doublet speckled the same color as the inner lining that was peeled open at his throat, the war priest turned to face the final thief.
On his knees, the elf kind was praying softly to himself.
“Death does not follow,” Karn said, moving towards him, “death commands.”
As he got closer, the elf looked up at him, and smiled.
“Death does not waver,” he said. “Death is determined.”
Karn slid his longsword from its sheath, the steel gleaming like midday sun stippled on calm water. Moving cooly behind the kneeling elf, Karn placed the tip of the blade between his shoulder and neck, and grasping the hilt with both hands, finished the prayer:
“Death does not seek,” he said. “Death waits.”
He plunged the steel into the chest cavity, and in a gushing froth of crimson, the last thief died on the powdered floor of the arena.
As Karn lifted his eyes, another five men were stepping out from the arches and into the light.
The next five were deserters.
Ex-legia, the pride of the Republic turned Empire of Yllénänder. The martial discipline of the elves married with the bloodlust of the Dimasi, of man and his famous fighting line, now lost to time across the sea. The mightiest fighting force in the world, chained to the petty squabbles of Yllénänder’s ruling families, of the senate, and of the waring elvish tribes in the south and the east. These we’re not amateurs, and in times of war, desertion meant death in the field and an unmarked grave. In times of peace, however, one could earn redemtion on The Sand.
The Brute, the Spear, two Centurions, and the Swordsman.
The Brute charged, and the Spear went wide; the two Centurions fanned out after the Brute, and the Swordsman circled.
Karn killed the Brute with his second swing. The larger man ducked the first, and was about to knock Karn over, but he had seen it coming, and sidestepped, spinning the warhammer over his head and slamming it into the back larger elf’s neck. It snapped with the force of the blow, and his jaw exploded out the font of his face.
The Centurions were on him next, while the Spear flanked with with the Swordsman. The Centurions carried their short blades, and their own lorica plated armor. Well protected and well armed, they closed in fast. The legia, likely veterans from the Evendark campaign, were not wanting for training. One stabbed low, the other high; Karn spun his warhammer and knocked both aside, but they took the perry and reversed angles. He twisted the hammer again, the flat weight deflecting the higher blade, the reinforced pommel the other. They drove him back thusly. Thrust thrust, parry parry, Karn giving up ground with every attack. Diving, he tossed the hammer at one of them, forcing the elf to step back, before closing the gap between himself and the other. Locking his feet, the Centurion had nowhere to go, and even the short blade was useless inside his own personal space.
Not so to a war priest. Not to a Priest of Deä.
Karn gnarled his hands with the centurion, and twisting, snapped his wrists. The soldier grunted, and before his comrade could move in, he reversed the sword and threw his weight into it, cutting up and slicing the blade into the soft pallet bellow the mans chin. Down cascaded a curtain of red ruin, and his hands were soaked in his offering. Grasping the wet hilt, Karn pulled the blade free just in time to parry a thrust from the other Centurion, the clash throwing a red mist from the wet steel, and he smashed a bent elbow into the mans nose with the followthrough, breaking it.
The Spear and the Swordsman decided to join in the sacred rite.
Karn was trading parries and thrusts with the Centurion when they came at him. He saw the dodge in the Centurions movements, and rocked his own head aside just in time for the spear to thrust past it from behind. To this left, the Swordsman, with his long, well oiled blade, made a move to drive it through his gut. Karn fell backwards, knocking the Spear to the ground with a grunt, so that he was laying on his back on top of the elf, and in the same motion, the War Priest brought the short sword crashing down on the middle of the shaft, cracking the spear in two. With his left foot, he pushed the advancing Centurion back with a kick to the chest, and, as the elf attempted to drive the longsword through Karn’s heart, he tossed the broken spearpoint up and out, skewering the Swordman’s throat, the shaft piercing straight through and exiting the opposite side.
The Spear, now unarmed, had pulled a dagger from his thigh, and Karn knew instantly he was about to be stabbed. He twisted on his back, and the Spear sank the knife into his left shoulder.
The elf twisted the blade, and Karn heard it scrape the bone.
Is it your time? His goddess whispered, the deep shade of her wings flickering through the pain that washed over him like waves swallowing a drowning man. Eight you have given; the price is ten. Ten, or your own life.
The Centurion stood over him, and unlike the thieves, he knew a blind stab could kill the Spear. The thieves might not have cared about their allies, each man being for himself, but even deserters shared a bond with the other soldiers, and the bond of the legia ran deeper even than their abandonment of its laws. No, this man would go in easy, find a soft point, and bleed Karn dry.
The war priest feigned shock, and when the Centurion brought his short sword down near his throat, he threw his legs above him, used his momentum to roll over the Spears head, flattening him into the sand even as the roll carved a savage hole in Karn’s shoulder when rose to his feet.
The move, ripping more muscle, threw a river of blood down Karn’s arm, and, standing, he jerked his head back just in time to avoid the full brunt of the short swords swing.
The Spear was on his feet as well, and turing, he met the edge of the longsword as Karn drew it from its scabbard and swung it cooly across his throat in the same motion. Flecks of blood and skin sprayed, and the elf fell noiselessly, revealing the Centurion behind him, now stopped dead in his tracks.
Not today, death said into his ear. Not yet.
Blood slicked down his face, and Karn realized that the short sword had grazed his forehead, opening a red gash like wine over his eye. Over the blood soaked sand, the last Centurion tightened his grip on his sword.
Karn smiled, and threw himself into the fight.
The jade water of the Adriasí caught the amber rays of Gideion, the elvish god of war for which their sun was named. Like hammered silver and iron, the surface of the water was stippled with hot pools of molten fire, and in the early morning light, the waves drown out the noise of the dock, even as work picked up for the day.
SLining jetties and piers, swollen, four masted ships hung low in the water, a legacy of the trade empire the Dimasi had built, and when their political systems collapsed, the elves had maintained and coopted as their own. From Gathering to Yllénänder, and away south to Akai and the Bronze Sea, elvish ships carried spices and textiles, fire water and wine, and even bonded souls between races and nations, and at the end of long, winding pier, Karn waited in his cream colored vestments, his weapons, and a simple sack of a few personal goods, ready to cross the Adriasí, and into the fields of his forefathers.
The showing on The Sand had been less impressive than many of the nobles had hoped, and even though the games were usually held at regular inters, there were typically several dozen competitons, never a single showing. It was the paradoxical nature of the games that the better the combatants, the shorter, less dramatic the violence tended to be. Usually, low criminals or failed soldiers made up the bulk of the gladiatorial stock. Very seldom, skilled legia sentenced to The Sand, or well paid to dispatch criminals.
More seldom still were War Priests of Deä.
Karn sat on a wooden rail, and as the sea gently lapped around him and gulls cried out the coming day, Jorah approached.
“Rare,” he said, leaning against a support column opposite Karn. “Rare that one man pays ten.” Jorah was dressed in a soft, cotton tunic dyed Imperial crimson, with a wide, black belt clasped high across his waist. In Yllénänder high fashion, he traded boots for reinforced sandals, and was certainly more comfortable in the heavy, warm sea air than Karn was in his armor and his leathers.
“Rare,” Karn shrugged, “that a War Priest of Deä fights on The Sand.”
“Still.” Jorah crossed his arms. For a long moment, the duo sat in silence. The Windward creaked and groaned in her berth behind them. She was taking on a cargo of honey and wine to be sold in the sprawling markets of Chanceway, and the captain, being a religious man, had granted Karn passage and boarding free of charge. Merchants sailing and selling through Yllénänder’s trade sphere were reliable methods of transport for the faithful of many religious orders, but with tempests being thrown from the south and riding the spine of the Adriasí north nearly year round, none were more welcome than followers of the death god.
“I wanted to apologize.” Jorah continued. “Nihilist didn’t give a damn if you stayed with the army or left your contract, he knows, like the rest of us, that the Evendark campaign is over.”
“Then he must also know that the entire war was a sham to begin with,” Karn looked out to sea, to the rising sun of Gidion. Jorah rolled his eyes to meet him.
“Does that matter to you?”
“Why would it?” Karn shrugged, turning to face him. “I am a servant of death. Wars are fought for many reasons; for land, for power, for wealth, and for glory. The Blackroots trying to keep imperial gold from bolstering Greenleaf farming initiatives by slaughtering orcs in the Evendark, well, it’s bad politics maybe; but it still feeds the slaughter.”
Jorah nodded tersely. There was little point arguing with anyone in the capitol on this point, let alone a War Priest.
“He just.” Jorah grasped for the words. “He was using you to-”
“He was hoping for a technicality. He was hoping to call my uncle Rodricks competence into question in using me to lead the army. He was hoping to provoke a vote to eliminate his majority lead in the senate, and send more of his creatures back to their farms and seaside villas.” Karn smiled lopsidedly. “He was practicing Yllénänder politics as usual.”
“He still want’s you here.” Jorah rocked his head to the side. “Still values your ability.”
“What he values is my blood. Most of my brothers and sisters in the order are full blooded; man or elf. I don’t have to tell you what my blood means to the politician.”
“You can still have a life here.”
“I cannot inherit.”
“That doesn’t keep you from your offerings.”
“And that was once enough,” Karn stood cracking his back. “But no longer. I ‘m sick and tired of this city, Jorah. Of these politics. The senators and the nobility on both sides of the bloodline are rotten. They scheme and they prey upon eachother as carrion birds, and all the wile the glittering gem of Val Nova Yllénänder is diminished for it. This city, Jorah. This city is dying. How long until these children trying to rule it deliver the killing blow?”
“Thank you for your confidence.” Jonah smiled, and Karn did the same.
“You know I mean no offense.” He said.
“You’re a good man, Jorah. And maybe one day that goodness will cut through the corruption and the blood deep rivalries in the senate. But…”
“But not anytime soon, I know. The Emperor-”
“The Emperor is a straw fey,” Karn threw his hands up. “He is young and he is incompetent. His puppet masters in the senate and the legia run the Empire into the ground while they fight amongst themselves for scraps of the corpse.” Karn places his hands on the wooden rail, and watched across the water as as a skiff unfurled its sheet, the small crew was doing it’s best to untie an errant knot that had failed to come loose. “Gods forbid a day when a real enemy decides to come to Val Nova.”
“Don’t be dramatic, Karn,” Jorah fell beside him. “Yllénänder has the most powerful army and navy in the world.”
“No, Yllénänder has twenty or thirty pieces of the most powerful army and navy in the world, all of which spend their time almost exclusively fighting the other parts.” He turned to Jorah. “You’re Empire is sick, my friend.”
“Sickness in politics usually leads to slaughter. I would think you would like that.”
“Once. Maybe. But I am weary of war. It’s time Deä tested me alone, not my ability to churn souls, but my place in those souls. I need to find out who I am, Jorah. I need to find something outside of the slaughter.”
They both sat there as the sun rose higher, and the skiff wheeled about as her crew kept working.
“Is this a crisis of faith?” Jorah asked finally.
“It is a crisis of self.” Karn replied, and behind him, the massive copper bell tolled three times aboard The Windward. “I will continue my good work for the Goddess, but I have to know what else I am here for. Unlike the gods you kneel before, mine does not begrudge me a self. I am not bound to her service alone, and she asks nothing of me, but demands all.” Karn sighed, he was suddenly aware of how long this had been in coming, and most of what came out of his mouth was for him, he knew.
“I’m a half elf who has spent nearly forty years in the study of combat. Nothing else. I have to figure out what else there is for me, Jorah. I’m not like you, I didn’t find passion in my youth.”
“As I remember,” Jorah countered, “we both found passion at the college, in the arms of senators daughters, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes, and then you caught the disease of governance.” Karn smiled.
“It’s not a disease, Karn, Gods.”
“It is here,” he said. “It is in this city.”
Across the water, the little skiff had finally loosed its sails, and as the high wind filled the cupped sheet, the prow sank into the water and shot north towards the gaping mouth of the harbor, and out to the angry Adriasí.
Jorah turned towards his friend, leaning on the rail, and looked over him.
“This modern fashion,” he said, touching the red slash on his opened coat, “I don’t understand it.”
“And yours,” Karn swatted his hand away, “comes out of legend.”
“At least it’s practical,” Jorah said.
“Not in war.”
“This isn’t a war.”
Jorah sighed, and extended his hand.
“I won’t fight you, but I will miss you, my friend.”
Karn grasped his friends forearm, and they embraced.
“And I you.”
Hefting his lather bag, Karn turned to ascend the gangway, and even then, sailors were climbing the masts to unfurl the sails and push off from the pier. Reaching the top, he spared his old friend one backwards glance, saying:
“I leave this city, this Empire, and this rot to you, Jorah. I have my own death to seek.” Stepping under the opened sails, Jorah did not hear his friend whisper,
“You’ve already found yours.”