After a long pause, Cassiel gets up and fetches a pair of small steel cups and a btole of some dark liqueur. He pours them both a glass and sipping it slowly He begins to tell his tale, voice growing stronger with every word.
Some time ago, my brothers and I were called upon to provide support to our King’s army. We marched out in all our glory, from the High Axe of Krom to the newest of acolytes. We marched from our Bastion Temple to the east, heads held high, singing to the Glory of War and to…..Krom. Many goodly folk flocked to our banners, our numbers swelled. I found myself again in the company of The Radiant Guard, a valiant group of hardy adventurers I had traveled with in my younger days before taking up the mantle of Forge Warden and the duty of training new generations of the faithful.
For nearly a week the land trembled with our advance, it was a time of great bravado and boasts of deeds to be done. One and all we would honor our Lord of Battle in the war to come and drive back the forces of S’peranza the wretched Wizard King of Voi. We would turn the tide in favor of our rightful King Ogni.
I never had the chance, the bastard spell casters ambushed us, catching us as the sun was high a day or so from the battlefield. Explosions and destruction were all about us, I stood with my chosen and the Radiant Guard near the vanguard of our forces. The last thing I recall of that time was an actinic violet light washing over us brighter than the sun…then darkness….
Suddenly, it was night, a foreign star speckled sky over head barely glimpsed through the gargantuan boughs of mighty pines. Of the Radiant Guard only three of my friends were there and only a dozen of my acolytes.
I fell to my knees immediately shaken by not only the disorientation of our transport but from the awful feeling of Kroms gauntlet removed from its rightful place around my soul, leaving me bare to this strange unforgiving land.
I lost two acolytes that first night to the horrors of this land. After that it was a losing battle of attrition, bereft of all but the faintest measure of our Lords gifts we struggled, fought and died. At the end of the first month there were only six of us left, my three hardy friends of the Radiant guard and my two toughest acolytes, though at that point they had proven themselves more than acolytes and I inducted them into the Brotherhood, a sad induction it was. On a cold rainy night over the corpse of one of our own, the area around us strewn with what I would call Hobgoblins. Ferocious fighters and worthy opponents.
It was not long after that when we ran out of land. In the distance at night we could see the signs of habitation. With hope at last we built a sturdy barge and took to the water, yes, and just another mistake in a long line of mistakes since coming to this land. The creatures of the water are just as unforgiving as those of the land. Saved only by a sudden storm that pushed our blood drenched raft south before we capsized and washed up on the shore of a heathen shrine.
The inhabitants of which were strange, but welcoming. They took us in and gave us respite despite being unable to communicate. We had lost track of time in the wilds of the land, and in the quiet of the Shrine time became nonexistent.
We regained our health and strength. With those we became restless. Unable to reconcile our defeat at the hands of such a cowardly wizard and our exile into this horrid land of spirits and strange gods. All but bereft of the light of our lord. Unable to communicate fully with the Monks, unable to tell where we were or even when. We eventually deiced to strike out on our own to find more civilization and somehow figure out what to do next.
We did not make it even a whole day away from the Shrine when we were set upon by creatures out of nightmare. Then there were three of us. I was gravely wounded and without aid I would have died, alone in this horrible land, frightened that I would never see the halls of Krom, that I would never sit beside His holy forge.
My friends dragged me all but dead into a wood walled village. We were tended to but with obvious disdain. We were after all, foreigners. My wounds both physical and spiritual were grievous. My surviving companions of the Radiant Guard at my urging left the village to range ahead and look for signs of civilization and hopefully answers to our questions.
They never returned.
I was put up in an empty cottage on the east side of the village. During my convalescence I was tended to by various villagers and even once one of their so called Priests came to see me. I refused his barbaric healing spells. I would rely on my own grit and tenacity to make it through as well as my limited healing skills.
Forsaken and alone I carried on. Before long I was able to move about the village, ragged and treated like a stray dog. In a state of benign neglect, I crept about unable to understand these strange people and their even stranger ways. The fire of Krom so distant here, leaving me cold.
Soon unable to stand it anymore, one dark night I gathered my remaining things and struck out east, back towards the Shrine. I had barely gone a hundred yards from the village wall when I was set upon by Gaki, not just any Gaki but the corrupted remains of my last two Axe Brothers.
With righteous vengeance and furious anger I destroyed them, with tears in my eyes at the injustice of it all.
It was then I felt it, a gentle pulse in my soul as I wandered into this clearing. I took it as a sign, though before long it felt like I was a man dying of thirst in a desert who sees the waters of a quenching oasis only to reach and find a mirage. Cool refreshing waters turned to choking sands.
I built my cabin, my garden and became self-sufficient. No longer would I live on the scraps of the villagers. Through determination and will power, even so far from Krom, I rebuilt myself stronger. I prowled these lands purposefully searching for combat, striving somehow to reach Krom but finding nothing but emptiness….a finely honed blade in the darkness.
Here he pauses, and smiles for the first time
Well maybe not emptiness. I found my wife or maybe she found me. But that is another story, suffice it to say that she and I connected regardless of the language barrier. Though with her patient teachings I did learn their language, and eventually gained a better understanding of their outlandish ways.
She would sneak out of the village at every chance she could, even risking the dangers of the night to be with me. Not to mention the dangers of her kin folk and the village itself should they find out what she was up to. She was a fiery tenacious woman, totally at odds with the mewling, sheep-like villagers. I was as happy as I had ever been….for a time.
When she began to show the first signs of her pregnancy, we decided to reveal our marriage to her father, that officious prick. He and his brothers grew enraged and I let them chase me out of town, rather than slay them all.
For months they would not let me see her, even began barring the gates so I could not enter. No one would speak to me, until a bright summer afternoon. Her older brother appeared to inform me that she had died in child birth. No doubt of neglect, I should have taken his scrawny head then and there but I did not. I ran for the village. They had gathered in what numbers they had to stop me. They could not! In my utter grief I threw them aside like sickly stalks of wheat, I rushed to her house only to find it empty. They had taken her to the village shrine for internment.
The heavy stone doors of that forsaken place stopped me then, I battered on them until my fists where raw, fingers broken. In the end they would not even let me see her, they would not let me say good bye and the heathen bastards would not even allow me to consign her body to the righteous flames. Instead she was left to rot….
He chokes up fully at this point and stops talking for a while, his features wracked with unforgotten pain.
After that I existed in a fugue state, simply existing here in my cottage. Going to the aid of travelers set upon by the creatures of this land, or the village itself despite the horror they had inflicted upon me and mine.
I would go down to the shrine on occasion to help the brothers with their stone work, being a stone mason back in my home land I showed them the proper way to quarry and dress stones.
Here I have been ever since, time has become meaningless to me. I do not even know how old I am anymore, though I was in my late thirties when we came here I know decades have passed but I do not feel very much older…. He shrugs.
Thus was my life day in and day out until a few weeks ago. I was awoken by the sound of my wife calling for me. Admittedly I was enraged and grabbing up my axe I rushed out into the clearing to strike down whatever despicable creature would dare to profane my wife’s memory.
There in the center of the clearing, just beyond the radishes, was my wife, or at least the image of her smiling, beckoning me towards her waiting arms. Tamping down the fires of my rage, having played this idiot game before with similar creatures, I pretended to be entranced and stumbled along towards her.
When I made it to the center of the clearing, she stopped and smiled at me, her likeness so perfect, and her demeanor so exact! I was stunned and that’s when the fire in the sky came roaring down upon me and I felt once more the strong grasp of Krom armoring my soul, filling me, having been so empty for so long I gasped and was struck unconscious.
When I woke, I knew something had changed, I knew that Krom had not forsaken me after all. I felt different but still unsettled and unknowing exactly what I should do.
I have spent many days wondering what it all meant. Should I strike out in the direction that the light appeared, or perhaps in the direction where the ghost of my lost wife appeared? What was Krom trying to tell me? Why did he send me a sign, and why so vague? What did he want with me? I even considered traveling back to the shrine, to ask the goodly monks there to do a divination, to do what I had always refused to do, reach out to the crazy gods of this place for help, or at least a hint. Until that night I had felt resigned to die as an old, a lonely curiosity, lost in a land that does not understand me. Cut off from my God, my friends haveing long since died, and there being no way I can make the trip home alone, and what would be left when I got there anyways? I have been lost but now I am apparently found…by you. A mighty Favored of Krom, I cannot help but believe the Lord of Battle has brought us together for a real reason.