No one answered the call. Camon glanced around again and shouted, “Is there any clergy here? A vicar? An acolyte? A deacon? Anybody?” He turned and looked at Ratana, who was now on her knees, heaving in pain and agonizing as the corruption continued to work its course. He grabbed her hand and placed a stone he removed from his pocket, and he wrapped her fingers around it. Holding her hand in his while she held the stone, he chanted a guttural prayer, and Ratana gripped the stone with white knuckles, so much so the veins in her hands and wrist were throbbing with each beat of her heart.
“What did you do?” Achara asked,
“I bound her life to mine. It won’t stop the spread, but it may give her more time. We’ve got to get her to the chapel or church, wherever it is,” he implored with urgency. Camon looked around and saw two men standing in the crowd next to a cart. He ordered the men over and instructed them to bring the cart. They did as he said. Camon picked up Ratana and lay her in the back of the cart, and ordered the men to take her to the church. The men didn’t know where it was, but Ratana’s mother did. She led the way as they hurriedly moved toward the north avenue away from the plaza. The crowd parted as they rushed through.
They passed the keep and then turned down an alley behind it. At the end of the alley was a small chapel, a single floor with a simple marking of a hand holding a torch on the front doors. Camon pushed on the doors, “Locked! Shades!”
At that, some Imperial soldiers emerged from the rear of the keep and came running towards them. Camon ordered them to open the chapel, but they refused and instead issued a warning, “Without a proper clergy to attend to the parishioners, no one is to enter there.”
The expression on Camon’s face said everything, “Fools, can’t you see that unless she gets the clergy’s attention, then she will die? Wake them!”
The soldiers looked at each other, “But sir, there is no clergy. We haven’t had a priest in months – not even a vicar, acolyte, or even a missionary. We’ve only recently been granted parish status, and the cathedral at Rahtneua has had a hard time finding anyone willing to come to the edge of civilization to minister.”
The exasperation on Camon’s face grew even greater, “Do you not even have a chaplain?”
“No, we’re only a small company here of 100 men. The Church doesn’t usually provide a chaplain for anything less than a legion.”
“Fine then. I’ll do it myself,” he said, growing impatient with the soldiers. The soldiers moved to stop him, but he dropped his cloak and reached for his sword. The soldiers instantly recognized the sword and stopped dead in their tracks. Camon balanced himself, then threw a kick with his heel at the doors, which shuddered on the blow’s weight. He did it again, and this time and the doors cracked. He then finished the job with one final kick, and they burst open. He picked up Ratana and brought her into the chapel. It was dark in the small room. The only light coming in was from the door that was opened.
Camon brought Ratana to the chapel’s front, and there was a large table sitting in front of a raised platform. The table was inscribed with a circle with seven, even sections radiating from a circle center like spokes on a wheel. Each section was colored and had a stone sitting in the section. Camon laid Ratana on the platform in front of the table.
The soldiers came in behind him and warned, “Sir, what you are doing is blasphemous. Only those with a commission can use those relics.”
Camon turned and glared at the men, “Do you see a priest or anyone else with a commission around here? If I don’t, she dies, and that is on you.” He then turned his back to them and focused on the table. He placed his hands palms down on the table and began to chant guttural prayers that resonated and grew in volume. At that, the stones on the table began to glow as did the inscribed circle. Runes became visible on the table. Camon started to arrange the stones sliding them to different positions within the circle, each changing the color of the stone and the intensity of the glow. He looked at Ratana intently. Her eyes were beginning to roll back into her head, “Shades! She’s not got much longer!”
He grabbed her hand and removed the stone and he threw it to the ground, then apologized, “I’m sorry, but this will hurt.” He then placed her hand in the middle of the circle. The light from the table began to crawl up her arm like a vine growing up a wall. She started to whimper, then with each inch, the whimpers became screams, which grew louder and louder. She started writhing in pain. The light engulfed her face and crept down her body finally until it reached her leg, where the corruption had made it just past her knee. The light stopped there and started pulsing, with each pulse gaining intensity, but the light didn’t move.
“Shades! It’s not strong enough!” Camon shouted in desperation. He jammed his hand in his pocket and pulled out another set of stones and slammed them on the table. He grabbed a red one, then gritted his teeth and started to hum, letting the power build. He then touched the stone to Ratana’s hand at the center of the table, and more light of greater intensity shot through her body. The light went from bright white to a crimson color, then back to white and then back to crimson, and it finally started to move down her leg fighting back the corruption. All the while, Camon howled while Ratana screamed as the light crept past her knee, down her shin, then finally down her foot to her toes. Ratana was now wholly glowing. Camon let out one final cry then ripped his hand from Ratana’s, then hers from the table. Ratana collapsed to the floor motionless, and the table then stopped glowing and fell dark as it was before.
Camon himself collapsed, taking a moment to regain his composure then went to Ratana’s side. He examined her leg, face, arms, and eyes, “Bless the Light!” he announced. A round of applause broke out from a crowd that had gathered around in and outside the chapel.
It was not a moment later until the crowd parted, and a troop of Imperial soldiers came in the chapel along with the constable. This time, he was dressed suited for a royal banquet with his office’s Imperial uniform, but he especially trimmed it in gold and wore the same fur cloak he had worn the night before. The troop of ten were heavily armed this time with full armor, girted with swords, and carrying shields and spears.
He started, “You again, ‘Mister Man’ causing trouble in my hold. I think this little game has gone on quite long enough. Tell me who you are and why you are in my chapel, or I’ll have you arrested for disturbing the peace, blasphemy, and any other crime I can think of.”
Camon paid him no attention, picking up his stones and putting them back in his pocket. He moved the stones on the table back to their original positions, and he straightened up the general appearance of the relics at the front of the chapel as they had fallen into disarray.
“I’m talking to you!” the constable shouted, but Camon paid no attention to him again.
He finally spoke, but not to the constable. Instead, he looked at Achara, “Didn’t we just leave this circus?” A chuckle murmured through the crowd.
“Silence! All of you!” the constable shouted. Camon went back around to Ratana, who was still lying on the floor by the table. She hadn’t stirred or hardly moved, but her color returned, and her breathing had stabilized.
At that, more footsteps were thudding down the alley, then two men came in behind the constable and his troop. They went around them. One of the men was older with curly gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He was finely dressed in neat, earth-toned clothing but not opulently. The younger man was much the same in his dress but had blond hair and light blue eyes.
“Brewmaster Somchai and young Rune,” the constable greeted. But they merely glanced at the constable and nodded and rushed to Ratana.
They both looked at Camon and down at Ratana. “How is she,” Rune asked.
Camon looked intently at her, “The corruptions gone, but she’s in a coma right now. I wish I had better news for you than that.”
“You did your best,” Somchai said to reassure him. “Can we move her?”
“Yes, but make sure she stays comfortable,” Camon said.
“I’ll fetch a litter,” Rune said as he got up to leave.
The constable ordered a soldier to stop him, “Not so fast.”
“What?” Rune said with a confused look on his face.
“You’re complicit in this man’s crimes, the whole of you,” the constable said, pointing at Camon.
“What crimes?” Rune asked. “This man just saved Ratana’s life for the second time in less than a day!”
Camon stood as well. Some of the soldiers moved forward and held spears to Camon. Somchai stood up and stood by Rune and back the young man away, then looked at the constable, “Sukhon, stop this nonsense. This is ridiculous…”
“Ridiculous? If the rumors are true about what people are saying about that man, then you know as well as I do that he’s an outlaw that needs to be brought to justice. And look at this place – he’s desecrated this chapel and touched the relics with his unholy hands. If there were Inquisitors here, they would have his head!”
Somchai collected himself and held up his hands, “I know the rumors, but as constable, you can see that he’s done nothing but try to defend and help people. He did what nobody else could do. And had there been a priest here, I don’t think he’d have needed to ‘desecrate’ this place. This is one of those times when you have to set aside the letter of the law and see the bigger picture here.”
“Don’t lecture me in law. You’re no one of status! You make beer for a living!” the constable shouted at Somchai.
Somchai started to lose his composure with the constable, “What is this about? Is it personal? Did he offend you and your status by doing what you could not? You may claim to serve a law, but I can say that this man serves the Light!”
“I don’t want to have to arrest you and your family, but defending this man makes you and your whole family an accomplice to this man’s lawlessness. You run the risk of ruining your good name and losing your standing and your business,” the constable threatened.
“Come to your senses, Sukhon…”
“Men, arrest them all.” The soldiers moved forward. Camon put his hand on his blade’s hilt and started walking toward them, but Somchai and Rune backpedaled against a wall. The soldiers then stopped their advance and took a defensive stance as Camon casually approached. As he came, they too began to backpedal. They pointed their spears at him, but Camon didn’t draw his weapon. He merely took slow steps. The crowd looked in horror, then in amusement as the Imperials backed up with the constable behind them. Eventually, they backed out of the chapel and into the alley with Camon still weaponless staring them down. He then turned to Somchai and his family and gestured them to exit the chapel as he stood in the alley. The onlookers formed a line behind Camon. Somchai and Rune had constructed a makeshift stretcher with some materials they found in the alley and chapel and were carrying Ratana behind Camon. Camon then started to walk forward again. One by one, the soldiers dropped their spears and held their hands up and let Camon and his followers pass by.
However, the constable continued walking backward, giving up ground as Camon led the procession of onlookers towards the constable who was now tripping over himself, trying to stay ahead of them. He then fell on the ground and started to crabwalk as Camon progressed and was right on top of him. He stared at Camon in fear, who looked at him with an expressionless face. He then stepped closer and touched the hilt of his blade, and started to growl. The constable’s mouth fell open, gasping, then he began to scream. Camon stooped over, got in the constable’s face, then stopped his growl, smirked, and then said, “Boo.” The onlookers laughed at the display. Camon then stood up and walked by him while the onlookers, Somchai, and his family followed.
Somchai and Rune took the lead with Ratana on the stretcher and went back to their home as Achara and Camon followed. Their home was in the southwest quarter of the town. It was a fine, two-story stone home with a large courtyard in the back. The house was decorated with tapestries and paintings with oak furniture imported from the forests of the south. Camon and Achara were welcomed in and served a flask of ale from the Brewmaster’s personal collection.
Achara looked around the home while she sipped her drink, taking in the paintings and tapestries. They were landscapes of faraway places and creatures from stories she heard as a girl. After perusing the home, Somchai came in with Rune, “Apologies for avoiding a formal introduction earlier. I realize it was a bit chaotic back there.”
“No need,” Camon said. “My name is Camon, and this is Achara.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” said Somchai, “As you gathered, I’m Somchai, and this is my son-in-law, Rune, Ratana’s husband of 2 years now.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but we need to skip past the pleasantries,” Camon said, “I couldn’t talk about it back there with all the people around, but it’s of grave importance that you listen to what I’m about to tell you.”
“Go on,” Somchai said.
“That beast that attacked Ratana last night was after something. What, I don’t know. But whatever it was, Ratana had or has. Achara and I have been tracking the beast since long before the last few months up from the Pass through Rahtneua. It stayed away from people and populations and even avoided Achara and I. We made no effort to conceal ourselves from it, but it hid from us the entire time, and the first time we saw it was last night.
Moreover, the nature of the beast – it was a demon. Rumors have been flying that it’s some random brute or wayward monster that crept down from the mountains into the village, but this one was not that at all. It was sent with a purpose, a mission, but what I don’t know. This morning, we tried to locate Ratana when we found her in the square with your wife. I’m sorry, I’ve missed her name.”
“Lamai,” Somchai supplied.
“We were wanting to try and get to the bottom of this thing by talking to Ratana and learning anything we could from her, but the corruption took to her and infected her. The poison that corrupted her was strong – incredibly strong – and it worked its way faster than I’ve ever seen corruption infect someone before. The spell I used on her in the chapel was a regiment that priests use to remove corruption, and usually, it works without even a wink from the patient. In Ratana’s case though, it didn’t work. Even the most potent priest magic was unable to undo the corruption.
In desperation, I used one of my stones – a passion stone – to amplify the priest’s effect. Mixing magic like that can be dangerous and can have unforeseen consequences, but I didn’t know what else to do. It worked, but it put Ratana into a coma from which I’m afraid she won’t awaken without Healers’ skill beyond my ability. And we need her to be conscious so we can figure out why the demon chose her of all people.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Rune inquired.
“Ratana needs to get to the Healers at the Ministry of Healers in Rahtneua as soon as humanly possible.”
“We have a mule train being prepped. It leaves in three days with a shipment. She can travel with them,” Somchai said.
“Any way you can have it ready sooner?” Camon asked.
“Yes. I’ll see to it,” Somchai said.
“And one more thing,” Camon said, “Speak of this to no one. To ensure Ratana’s safety, I will need to travel with you. But the fewer people who know that I’m with you, the better off you are.”
“Why is that?” Rune asked.
“The constable was right. I am a wanted man. I am an outlaw by the laws of the Empire.”
“I don’t understand,” Somchai said.
“He’s a Paladin,” Achara said.