The next day, Camon woke first before the sun was up and made breakfast for everyone. They had bought some eggs, bread, fruit, and meat from the market the day before. They ate breakfast, and after everyone was ready, Camon and Rune moved Ratana onto a litter. Along with Achara and Lamai, they walked out of the apartment, down a flight of stairs and out onto the narrow street that ran by their building. Camon and Rune led the way through the maze of streets until they emerged onto a broad avenue that went up the hill from the lower city into the upper city. Not much was stirring, as it was still just before dawn with the first hint of the morning appearing in the eastern sky. The party carried Ratana up the street until they got to the gates of the upper city.
A small crowd of people had gathered outside the gate as they had not yet opened. The crowd consisted of numerous people with various ailments, some on litters, and some on crutches. An Inquisitor came to the gate and unlocked it and opened it inward towards the upper city. The crowd went through the gate and worked their way up the hill further into the upper city. Once they made it to the top of the hill with the cathedral, they went to a building opposite the cathedral across the courtyard. It already had a long line of people forming outside the door.
“That’s where we’re going,” Camon said. “The Ministry of Healers.” Camon, Rune, Achara, and Lamai got at the back of the line with Ratana on the litter. The line inched slowly forward as two men at the door looked at each patient admitted into the facility. They wore the priests’ long, white robes with the same heavy medallion, but instead wore a red stole. “Those are the Healers,” Camon said.
When it was their turn to be admitted, the Healers looked at Ratana. Rune handed one of the Healers the bill that had been given to him by the Inquisitor. The Healer raised his eyebrows as he read the statement, “So she is the victim of the rumors coming out of the North. Bring her in at once,” they commanded. Camon and Rune entered through the door where they Healers were standing. At that, the Healers gestured for an acolyte who ran over to them. “Take them up to the upper ward suite, then fetch the abbot and give him this,” The Healer told the boy giving the acolyte the bill.
They followed the acolyte up several flights of stairs and then down a dark hallway to a doorway. The acolyte opened the door to a room with several windows with the shades opened facing the east that let in the morning light. A bed, a washing station, a small table, and a few chairs furnished the room. Camon and Rune brought in Ratana and carefully transferred her from the litter to the bed. The acolyte then left them and ran off down the darkened hallway.
Lamai closed the door, “It seems like they were expecting us.”
“Yes,” Camon said. “Word of the attack beat us here. Even though we made excellent time, those traveling by coach or horseback no doubt could deliver the news.”
“The abbot, though?” Lamai asked with a concerned look on her face. “If they’re bringing in the abbot, she must be in serious condition.”
“Or maybe just a high-profile case,” reassured Achara. “They want her well so they can ask her about the incident.”
A few minutes later, the acolyte returned with a man dressed like the rest of the Healers; only his stole was trimmed in gold. As he came in, Camon bowed his head to the abbot and held out his right hand palm up, “Greetings, your grace.”
The abbot touched Camon’s hand and smiled. “A proper greeting of the priestly order. It’s not often that I see this from a layman. May the blessings of the Light be with you.” The abbot walked over to Ratana’s side and looked at her carefully, “How long has she been like this?”
“Since the day after the holiday,” Rune answered.
“Tell me,” the abbot said, “you are?”
“I’m Rune, her husband,” he said. Rune pointed to Lamai, “And this is Lamai, her mother. And these others are colleagues that helped us with our journey here, Camon and Achara.”
“You’ve come so far,” the abbot said. “I’ll try to make sure that your trip was not in vain. Tell me, young Rune, what happened?”
Lamai interjected, “The beast chased Ratana in Neuasut. The beast chased her up a monument before the one rumored to be a Paladin slew the creature. The beast must’ve barely scratched her because we didn’t find any visible injury. The next day, she woke up with an infection on her leg that was quickly spreading. So I went into town to look for help. That’s when the Paladin acted. He took her to our local chapel and performed a ritual with the priest’s stones there. It wasn’t working, so he pulled out another stone he was carrying, and he used that on her. The corruption responded to that, but after the corruption was gone, she collapsed and hasn’t woken since then. The Paladin suggested we bring her here, so we did.”
“Interesting. What color was the stone he used?” the abbot asked.
“I think it was red,” Lamai answered.
“I’m not familiar with that one in the Paladin arts, but we’ll see what it did to her,” the abbot said. He signaled to the acolyte that ran out of the room again. He returned a few moments later with a large table with seven stones and a circle divided into seven parts. The acolyte wheeled the table over next to Ratana’s bed and arranged the stones into their respective places on the circle. The abbot looked at Ratana and then moved the stones on the table. He then placed her hand on the table and started chanting in a low guttural tone. He waved his right hand over Ratana, starting at her feet palm down with his finger’s occasional twitch. He slowed as he approached her head and held his hand there for a moment. He then moved stones on the table slightly and started moving his hand around her head, adjusting the stones ever so slightly as he did. He continued this for a few minutes before he closed his hand and stopped the humming.
“Incredible,” he said.
“How so?” asked Lamai.
“The fact that she’s not….” the abbot paused. “That’s she’s not gone. That what’s incredible. She had corruption that was beyond what should have been reversible. Whatever the Paladin did, it saved her from the corruption, but adding an eighth and unknown stone to a priest’s ritual is dangerous. It’s probably what put her in this coma. But you’re blessed. The effect is fairly benign. Her state is similar to when priests will induce a coma on someone. Her mind is very active, but it can’t interact with the world because the magic has bound it. Usually, this effect wears off in time, but fortunate for you, it’s easy to remove too. I’ll have one of my experts come in and perform that ritual.” The abbot then left with the acolyte.
“I hope he’s not just trying to give us false hope,” Lamai commented.
“He started with a general check, but then focused on her mind,” Camon noted. “I don’t think he was telling us anything false.”
“How do you know that,” Lamai asked.
“The way he used the stones. The stones represent one of the seven priestly virtues, including integrity, truth, purity, mercy, love, humility, and health. The circle on the table helps shape the priest’s magic. Each ritual has some component of each of the seven virtues. On the circle on the table, there are seven sections. Each stone corresponds to a section. The outer edge is neutral, while closer to the center is intense. Moving the stones on the table gives channeling of magic more or less of one of the virtues. He focused on the health and truth, which corresponds to the health of the mind.”
“Are the stones themselves magic?” Lamai asked.
“Sort of,” Camon answered. “They are responsive to magic. The user characterizes magic itself. The stones and the table act as channeling devices, which help shape the magic, giving it precision and filtering out unwanted inputs.”
“So what about your red stone,” Lamai asked.
“The Paladins use a different set of virtues, but the stones serve a similar purpose, but aren’t bound to a table and don’t have to be used as a set. Before the Second Reformation, the priests were more like the Paladins. However, after the Reformation, the Church revised the priestly arts to require that the patient and the user be present at a table with stones. This helped give them more control over actual users themselves. My stone was from the virtue of passion, which has an amplifying effect on other rituals. However, sometimes it amplifies everything – the good and bad effects. It amplified the priestly purification ritual, but the side effect was the coma.”
“So why couldn’t you just undo the side effects with priestly magic?” Lamai asked.
“It was beyond my skill,” he answered. “Given that I mixed Paladin magic with priestly magic, I wasn’t sure if attempting to undo what I did would help her or make it worse. The Healers here are much more skilled than I am in this area, which is why I said bring her here.”
He paused for a moment and then said, “Ratana will wake up in a few minutes. I think it would be best if she woke up with you two here and us not around. She’s going to be confused and have lots of questions. Do fill her in on anything. I have some business in town to take care of, so Achara and I will be back in a few hours after you’ve been able to spend some time with her, alone.”
Camon then left the room, and Achara followed him. A few moments later, another priest came in. The priest was tall and lanky with black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He came in without a word and went right over to the table and looked at Ratana. He arranged the stones on the table, slightly changing the abbot’s configuration, and he put Ratana’s hand on the table. He started chanting in guttural tones with some slight inflections in his voice. The table began to glow visibly, but just barely. He then laid his hand on Ratana’s forehead, and the table started to pulse subtly. He kept his hand on her forehead, and Ratana’s eyelids began to move, then her fingertips, then her lips as if she was speaking. Her hand turned slightly left and right a few times, then her eyes burst open as she gasped. The priest removed his hand from her forehead and her hand from the table, which stopped pulsing.
“Welcome back, my child,” the priest said as he stepped back and gestured for Rune and Lamai to come to her side. Lamai and Rune rushed to her side, and each hugged her. They were both smiling broadly, and Ratana smiled back at them.
“I’m sure you have a million questions,” Lamai said with elation.
Ratana looked around at her surroundings and the priest, “Where am I? Why can’t I move?”
“You’ll need to rest for a while,” the priest said. “Your strength will return in time. I’ll let you be.” The priest left.
Rune looked at her affectionately, “You’re in Rahtneua, but the best thing is you’re safe.”
“How long have I been out?” she asked.
“Almost two months. We left two days after the holiday to come here,” Rune said.
“Where’s Dad?” she asked.
“Your brothers and father are on their way down from Neuasut. They had to finish shutting down the brewery for the season when we left,” Lamai explained.
“What happened?” Ratana asked.
Rune recounted the abrupt departure from Neuasut and the journey in the back of the cargo wagon.
“And what happened to the…man?”
Rune looked at Ratana and sighed, “There’s something you need to know about him. He is a Paladin, and according to the priest, his actions saved you from the corruption, and it’s a good thing it was him. Had it been a priest, you’d never had made it.”
“Made it where?” Ratana asked.
“Made it as in you’d been overtaken by corruption, a fate from what I hear is worse than death,” Lamai said.
“Another thing,” Rune said. “The Paladin that saved you. He is the one that suggested we bring you here. It’s better that you make no mention of the fact that you know who or what he is.”
“Why?” Ratana asked.
“Well, being a Paladin is illegal in the Empire according to the Church’s dogma,” Rune explained. “Also, there’s something else you should know.”
“Yes,” she inquired.