A Wish for Hope

Chapter Twenty-Three

Heard someone coming down a corridor mentioning being hungry.  Accepting I had work to do, I checked my weapons.  Pulling my sword while heading to the doorway, I spoke to assure the men heard certain words.

“I’m sorry you are seeing me like this.”

Nerbink stepped up while saying, “Honestly, Honored Duchess, I would be troubled if you weren’t acting as you are.  Not just obeying our gods, but working to stop this evil.”

Vulge said, “Do not doubt that I will again brag about you to those of Davelda, Princess.”

Maybe he would have said more, but Abreyon actually moved through the doorway ahead of me while declaring, “You are not alone, Honored Duchess.”

I will give him credit for starting the fight.  There were times I saw him and the other men fighting, so I have to say they did not falter in their mission.  I however kept moving, kept killing, and really did nothing to care about the men.  What I fought did not demand the drahaberd.  Like the Privileged, these had a core of being human.  Getting mortals to become corrupt was the desire of demons, and I attacked recognizing the success of malevolent forces even though I actually encountered none.  There was no special substance or aura that demanded the holy blades.  They also did not attack in groups requiring a weapon capable of mass slaughter.  I took to the fight with my sword, and did not stop to choose another weapon.

It troubled me, although did not surprise me, to find myself in another church.  I did not recognize the icons, but the furniture was not that of a home.  Those who took over the building did not try to make it livable, but sought to desecrate what had been used for holy purposes.  It was in seeing how certain pieces of artwork, including what had once been holy fonts and altars, had been abused that I recognized the building as being a church.

Pausing after a lengthy period of combat, I looked around to see myself in a large sanctuary.  A memory came to me of finding myself in such a place when going against the Privileged, and the thought troubled me.  I walked to the front filled with trash thinking to do something that was done in the previous sanctuary.  Seeing a bright light, then a lady with her body covered in protective pieces of armor step forward, I pleasantly ignored certain memories to return to combat.

She fought with a strange weapon that looked like two sickles placed at the ends of a short wooden pole.  I quickly noted the flash of highly polished blades, although the speed she acted gave me the most concern.  Luckily, I had wonderful reflexes.  I was also used to dealing with multiple opponents, multiple strange opponents, so challenging this lady and her weapons did not bother me.

Seeing her break the weapon apart to give her two sickles did not impress me.  When she tried to lock the blade of my sword in the curve of her weapons, I noticed a couple of things.  The first was that my enchanted blade did not harm the metal of the sickles.  The second was the clean, lovely appearance of the lady.  As I moved NeverRose to prevent it from being tied up, I noticed my counter not to cause harm.  Impressed with what I recognized about my opponent, I stepped back while sheathing my sword and pulling my drahaberd.

I could not separate the two blades of my divine weapon, but I had practiced my own tricks.  I had not been impressed with the drahaberd when I first saw such a weapon, and when given one I spent time figuring out how to make it effective.  In dealing with large numbers of opponents, it was a blessing, but I smiled feeling it was time that I put my skills to the test.  After a little sparring, I felt confident about trying my own stunt.  I went to one hand, used the opening where my other hand had been to catch a wrist of my opponent.  I did not try to overpower her, but only used my strength to redirect the sickle enough to give me my opening.  I spun the drahaberd at just the right time to have the small weapon I had some control over caught then thrown free.

Quickly moving to pick up the small weapon, I only blocked the remaining one she possessed with the drahaberd before making a comment.  “Surely you have other weapons.”

The lady looked at me with a puzzled expression, then said, “I am known for these.”

“What do you usually fight?”

I heard the footsteps of at least two of the men, so felt I knew what she referred to when she answered, “Fools like them.”

“They’re not fools, except maybe in their determination to stay with me.  Their devotion however has me continue to claim them.”

“They did fight.  My people didn’t.”  She pointed with the hand free of a weapon while saying, “The portal you want is right there at my altar.  My people listened to them instead of me.”

“I come from a place where I believe the same thing happened.”

“And like me, Samayer felt disgust in what happened and stepped back to allow the desecration.  She however had a husband that spoke of a solution.  It’s good to meet you, Jelnaya.  I am known as Tithony.”

I genuflected, then returned the hand weapon while saying, “The last deity whose temple I entered had left it.”

“My people might not have fought, but such is not my way.”  She pointed out through a broken window to say, “There is a grove over there where you can rest.”

Turning back to see the men, I then asked, “Goddess, should I worry about them?”

“Their hearts, no.  Their lives, if they cared about them they should not have come with you.”

“You did not summon any of your own champions.”

“Until now there was nothing to fight for.  I could kill, slaughter, but there would just be more.  You have renewed the hope for this land, and should you succeed to end the evil I will summon those to take up the battle here.”  I saw the divine lady curtsey to me while saying, “I have none like you, Jelnaya.”

If it would have been one of the gods of my own pantheon, I would have taken on the fight of challenging points in what was said.  I however would not get into a religious discussion with someone from a world I did not know.  Feeling the goddess should be allowed to do things in her own way, I decided to simply accept her graciousness.

After genuflecting again, I turned to say to the men, “Come on.  We have a place to rest.”

I saw the men genuflect, then they moved to follow me.  Coming to the door, I however found myself again troubled by memories of my previous mission against the Privileged.  As the men moved through the opening after me, I grabbed Esgalia and hugged him while making a confession.

“They became horses.  The Privileged did not just change people into animal-people, but into animals.  We rode horses that had once been men.  In the end they became truly animals.  I am not saying the same will happen to you.  Your story actually sounds like you deserve better, but I had to tell you.”

When I broke contact, he said, “Until now, I felt unable to challenge what had been done to me.  Let me say that I will try and not become an animal passively.”

“Yes.  If those horses would have challenged their fate, I would have killed them.  You, I will fight with.”

Abreyon said, “Then he should not fear.  However, Honored Duchess, could you please spend time telling us about the Privileged?  That knowledge might help us.”

Smiling with the knowledge of having covered a different topic with him, I replied, “If you will cook, I will talk.”

“No one brags on my cooking, Honored Duchess, but I will brag that you ate something I cooked.”

While there was more said concerning what supplies we had actually brought with us, the conversation became mute upon heading in the direction the goddess had pointed.  What had appeared as some overgrown brush parted from the actions of some rather masculine specimens.  While I appreciated the angels, I believe the men entered due to the female specimens tending a cauldron over a fire.  Seeing me look back out, one of the male angels let me know about the actions of the goddess.

“When you began moving through the church, Tithony had us come here and hack out the clearing.  How much she knew I cannot say, but the wood is fragrant and the pool is warm.”

One of the ladies said, “And the meat is fresh, as are the spices.  We however can only hope that you approve.”

Another female angel rose while saying, “Dear lady, you may have the grace of taking your bath first.”

“Oh, no,” I replied.  “Let the men go first.  If anyone needs to help with the food or other preparations, they need to be free to do so.”

Abreyon was quick to bow, then say, “Yes, as we decided that on the way over here.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya has more than proven her worth to us.  We men will gladly wait on her.”

Vulge said, “Well, the lads will.  I’m just here to assure they stay in line.”

The angels did not seemed disturbed by our own decisions about the ways certain things should be done.  As Nerbink and Abreyon took their baths, I checked my weapons, clothes, then went through certain rites to both Fergush and Samayer.  When signaled that it was time for my business in the water, I went to efficiently clean myself and prepare for the next period of combat.  Seeing me put my armor back on, the angels seemed disturbed.

One admitted, “We were told to grant you a large period of rest.”

I replied, “I might take you up on that should I pass back this way.  Some food, some rest, is all I am going to allow myself during a mission.  My deity is He-Who-Fights, and I consider the fight to have already started.  I will not fully rest until it has ended.”

“What about the men?”

“It would not bother me at all if they stayed here where it is safe."

“The men are very supportive of you.”

I looked at the angel wondering if she had a closer connection to the local goddess than I suspected even as I said, “I am not speaking against the men, but of my own conviction.”  Looking to the lady, I added, “Two of those men should fully understand my conviction.  One should know it, and better be here accepting who I am.  The fourth I might show some concern for, but I believe he would appreciate going ahead and getting this thing over with.”

Considering the matter settled, I rose and went to the fire.  While neither of the two young men had dressed for combat, I saw them tending to their weapons.  Vulge was looking over his armor pieces, and he was the one that got up speaking of taking his bath next.  I saw Esgalia huddled in a blanket appearing to shiver, and that disturbed me.  Previously when in the presence of those divine he had his memory improved.  Seeing him troubled had me look back to the fire.

I walked over to the large pot thinking it a strange thing to cook in.  While I had seen cauldrons used for cooking, it was usually for a grand occasion where a mass gathering of people would be coming.  Men did tend to eat more than the ladies, but to think my small group would eat so much did not seem proper.  Looking inside I saw that it was not filled very much at all, then studied the designs on the outside of the pot.

One of the female angels tending the food said, “There would be over a hundred normally eating here.”

I had to admit, “The designs are similar to those I saw in the temple.”

“There should be enough for you to eat, rest, then eat again.”

“I cannot say I will rest for so long, but I do want to say my thanks.”

“Tithony is a fighting spirit as well.  Your caution is understood, but what you are fighting is not deception.  It implies, but the fault of those who succumb is due to them deceiving themselves.”

I felt the weight of those words.  Sitting down, I found myself understanding the decision of Samayer.  I had not been called down to right a wrong, but to purge the land of those who set themselves to a path they should not have ever advanced down.  Wanting to know more, I raised the volume of my voice to assure all the men heard my next words.

“You seem to know about what we are facing.  How much can you say?”

I saw the expression from the lady.  Turning, I saw the other angels look at me and move in a manner that told me things.  Having spent time with my Grandfather Terish, who knew so much that simply the amount of information had once driven him insane, I had experience in dealing with those who knew more than was actually important.  The problem was not that I could not be given a lot of data, but whether I could comprehend the knowledge provided.  I looked at the lady who had been speaking, then told her what I expected.

“You better provide commentary to what I tell the men.”

And we check back in on things at the castle.