To Face the Ugly Deed
It was strange how comfortable one could find unusual situations. The god of the church let us know that any protection from the previous sanctification of the place would not be restored for us. I felt it was rude, although also gave us liberties. Worried about demons, and a concern for something else, had me settle into a rather disturbing position with the intent not to sleep. Having been active for a rather long time, my body stated its fatigue. I found it adjusting to find some comfort, and my eyes shot open realizing I had been dozing.
I smiled seeing the horses trying to pull at their tethers, and while my position again felt uncomfortable I spoke instead of adjusting my place. “That’s grass out there.” Seeing the heads of the animals turn to me, I explained. “Grass. I could also bring you to some water. For the rest of your lives, grass and water. No meat. No cooked vegetables. No wine, beer, whiskey. Grass and water.”
I believed one of the animals tried to say more, but all I understood was, “Kill.”
“I doubt you have that hope. You see, we are taking out the ones that made you that promise. Further, it is our knowledge of what you had to do to become a horse that has us believe we should not even allow you to live as a horse.”
The heads of the horses turned as Nebard said, “Those of my community who took horses actually wanted the meat to help them survive the winter. We were going to kill you, so you would have never been given the opportunity to kill anyone. The only reason you are alive right now is that we are considering the possibility that your souls might be redeemed.”
I felt a need to stress a point. “Not your bodies. Not your lives, but your souls. What we are learning however is that you never gave a damn for your souls. However, I have seen people stop and think again over their lives when faced with the issue of their eternity. You are being given that chance.”
More than just the one animal attempted to make sounds, but realizing they were not finding their vocal chords to work in a manner allowing them to speak I decided to make things clear. I told Nebard to open the doors to the building. As he moved off, I released tethers while explaining things to the animals.
“You can go out there and eat grass and drink water. While you are doing that, think about living your days as a horse. You can attack me. We can settle things between us right now, and you can then face your eternity. Honestly, I would not like either option, but you are in the situation you are in and have to make a decision.”
Maybe they would have attacked, but just decided in seeing Nebard walk back that if they did drop me they would still have to face the men. The way one stepped to me then worked a bow had me feel that the animals would be thinking over their situation. As they headed outside, I heard Nebard ask a question.
“Do you think they could be changed into actual horses?”
“So your people could eat them?” I smiled seeing a disgusted expression cross his features, then gave another vague answer. “It would all depend on Quafrey.”
“She doesn’t like them.”
“If she told you to kill them, kill them. You do not hesitate, you do not challenge what a god tells you. That goes without question for Quafrey, but it is best if you have that attitude with any other deity. Onathia might be opposed to Fergush, but if she comes to me I respect her.”
“Quafrey is telling me that might not apply to all the gods in our pantheon. Still, she tells me to listen to you.”
“Yes, but I am telling you that I keep my own advice. If Fergush tells me something, I will do it. I also will respect Onathia, Quafrey, and any other deity I encounter. If one of the deities of your world comes to me, you better be quick to let me know what Quafrey says, as I will otherwise be respectful of what that other god says.”
As Nebard turned to look at the horses as they grazed, Makinor said, “You rode the animals, Nebard. If you however do not feel you could trust them around the ladies or children in your community, kill them.”
“If they could be changed into horses, so that they could not be recognized as any other type of creature, I might be willing to let them live.”
I really did not like what I heard, but chose my words not wanting to lose the respect of Nebard’s goddess. “Explain that to Quafrey. In my opinion, allowing them to live is already a decision to allow them to live. I do not dangle the possibility of hope to someone and then deny them that decision when they make it. That is cruel and evil, two things I will not tolerate. Fergush might be He-Who-Fights, but he is a really nice person. I am proud of being able to serve the god. Keep that same attitude to your goddess, Nebard. Explain yourself to her, and abide by her decision. Also, abide by your own decisions. If you are not going to allow the horses to live then kill them.”
I saw tears come to his eyes as he managed to say, “I am going to have to love them.”
It was Makinor that asked, “Why is that so hard? They are people just like you could have been.”
“And Quafrey tells me that I could have to love even worse things.”
“All things, although you have to love some things more than others. If another man moves on Eashae, your love for your wife exceeds your love of him. If an army moves on your city, your love of your friends and family exceeds your love of those foreigners. If there is any challenge to your goddess, your love of her exceeds all others. It is not that you do not love other things, but you stay true to yourself. Do not ever allow yourself to stop loving yourself.”
Nebard wiped his eyes while saying, “Quafrey says to listen to you as well.”
“Well, good, as I am a fellow champion of a goddess of love. Jelnaya might be wonderful lady, and with the experience for this other-world stuff, but she is a champion of He-Who-Fights.” While I was considering whether to make a comment, Makinor asked, “Jelnaya, you had your moment with the horses, so what now?”
I looked about, then answered, “Well, the demons have not returned, but I think we should make a point with our horses. Let’s eat giving our mounts time to eat as well, then put the saddles back on them and ride around checking out the setting. I want an idea of just how many communities had access to this temple, or the number of demons that had access to people. I also want those horses to accept their lives as domesticated animals.”
“I’ll cook, Jelnaya. I know you’re not a good cook.”
That was not something I would argue about, so calmly replied, “That’s how I cook, Makinor. I will kill something, then trade the meat for something already cooked.”
“So, what did you kill?”
“I am hoping rabbit or raccoon, but it might be badger.”
I had set some traps. The signs were that animals had burrowed out homes, but knowing demons were about I put a little more care into my construction. The men followed as I checked my traps, and were glad to see rabbits, although another carcass had them looking to me in a mysterious fashion.
Makinor asked, “You expect me to cook a skunk?”
I mumbled things about the delicate natures of those associated with love goddesses while I quickly skinned the carcass. It surprised me that the horrible smell had not been released, although the prospect of catching a demon did have me make the trap rather deadly. I had my sharp knife cut wide to assure our nostrils were not overcome with the odor from a split musk gland, then handed the carcass to Makinor letting him know I would be taking a bath.
The man was bragging on his cooking when I came back from the deep pool. He spoke of not knowing skunk could taste so good, but with the spices he used I felt it tasted basically the same as the rabbits. I let him know things about skinning animals. I smiled hearing Nebard make comments, even suggestions, as it showed parts of his actual personality. I finished the meal complimenting the cook, although letting the men know it was time to get back to work.
Seeing the horses come on over without needing to be yelled at or threatened, I let them know what we were doing. I had hoped they would understand that I recognized there were minds in their equestrian bodies. While they were unable to handle any real conversation, I still found myself equating the horses more to being like my Grandfather Terish’s centaur and not a normal animal.
Makinor agreed with me about finding it to be a positive sign that one route had warnings and symbols of protection. Finding only indications of destruction or neglect along the other routes, we turned the horses back to the one path that showed the local people resisting. I did turn to warn my companions about things, but realizing that they were divine champions I simply signaled my mount to advance past the signs.
The first thing I saw moving around a curve was a building appearing to be dedicated to a deity. It appeared built of wood, although with fresh paint. I saw people riding toward us as a man dressed in what I assumed was religious garb stepped out of the building.
I dismounted to curtsey to the one I assumed was priest, then ask, “Keir, your symbols are not those of the icons we found desecrated back along the road.”
“Keir? I do not recognize the term. I am Honored Cameron, and this is a sanctuary dedicated to Pordarrish who will not tolerate anything evil.”
“I apologize for the term, and for saying that ‘honored’ is usually a title reserved for me and my associates. We are divine champions of gods from other worlds seeking to end a spreading evil. Not just death, but the corruption of souls has been traced to that once hallowed grounds. Wanting to truly eradicate this scourge, we seek any knowledge of the source and not just other agents.”
A man in fashionable clothes rode up, dismounted, then asked, “Honored Cameron, do you have a problem?”
The priest looked to me, then confided, “We do not like talking about that time.”
Makinor said, “Then we will not tell you our stories, but any of your own that you would like to relate we would be more than welcome to hear.”
The man said, “There is something wrong with your horses.”
“Then we can start there. Did you realize there was a problem with the temple before or after your own people found themselves as wolves or horses?”
“When strange wolves began raiding our village and we were sold horses of that type.”
I had to ask, “How long ago was that? From the growth along certain old routes, I am assuming three to five years.”
“Closer to five.”
It was Nebard that asked, “Five years with demons just down the road?”
The priest replied, “Five years of us finding Pordarrish worth our worship.”
Makinor asked, “If we cleanse the temple of demons, would Pordarrish want the grounds, or would he expect the unconcerned deity to step back up and reclaim it?”
“What’s it to you?”
I had to interject, “Yes, Makinor, what’s it to you?”
The Champion of Onathia replied, “He was close to rude, Jelnaya. Thought I would check on how divine beings usually acted on this world.”
The priest replied, “Should you truly cleanse the ground, it would need to lie fallow for a number of years before anything is done.”
Nebard asked, “You would kill the horses?”
The man said, “They are not horses.”
“We are riding them as horses. They are eating grass as horses. They have no other option than to be horses. We have killed those that call themselves Privileged. We have killed horses. Jelnaya has killed wolves. I have been claimed by a goddess of love. Makinor also holds a place next to a goddess of love from another world than mine. I was told by my goddess that I would need to love these horses, should they submit themselves to lives of being horses. While they might not be horses, can you give me any other fate for them besides being horses or being dead?”
A number of men who stood behind the one in the better clothes spoke of their belief that the horses should be dead. I felt all three of us divine champions waited for someone to speak of another option. In a way, the priest did, although it was a response I expected from him considered what he had said of his god.
“It would require more than acting as horses, but being good.”
I had to draw my sword before asking, “Okay, so are you telling me that they are evil?”
Suddenly the entire area lit up in a brilliant white light. The man that stepped from the door of the church appeared elderly even as his physique showed strength. He had long white hair although a beard cut close to the face. The robe was covered by silvery pieces of armor. In his hand he held a fancy spear. All those of this world in the area knelt, although I continued to stand waiting for his decision concerning the horses.
“Stay your hand, Jelnaya. You and your companions are trying to do the right thing, I accept that. Those that are horses will live or die according to their decisions, just as all will. They are beyond restoration. The same is true of you.” The spear point went before Nebard. “You have taken a wife, and must love her.”
The Champion of Quafrey replied, “I do love her.”
The spear point came back, but the man reached with his other hand into his robes to pull out a number of documents and photographs. I watched as they decayed with a wind scattering the dust of their remains. The spear point then returned to before Nebard.
The god said, “You tell your wife that her past is no more. If she is to gain eternity, it is to be with your goddess. If she is to claim children, they are the ones she bears you. Her old life is gone just as these horses have no other choice to but live or die as animals.”
Nebard asked, “Could you make them animals? What they are is an aberration.”
“They are not mine to do with. Still, yes, that is something to consider. Animals do breed, and this is a malignancy that does not need to spread. Talk to you goddess about that.”
Makinor asked, “Is our need to go into your Hell? While cleansing such a place is something to brag about, surely that is not our answer.”
“No. The source of this evil is not Hell. Hell only supplied the power. The corruption is however not from this world. Find the demons and follow them. Just do not follow them into Hell. It would be best for all of you not to allow your souls to gain the taint of that place.”
And our group works on where they should go.