A Wish for Hope
I have to say that I was as impressed by Honored Jelnaya going against these beings as I remembered my reduced mentality feeling about her. The limited space of the rooms of the mansion became tombs for those who tried to oppose her. Being able to better appraise her actions, I could tell that she took the fights seriously. She did not simply rush into battle without any regard for her life then slice her way to victory. I watched as she expertly identified her threats, then went through a precision routine of dealing with each. She did not neglect my presence with her, but directed me against threats as efficiently as her attacks. As I found myself able to end the life of one I was told to take on, I could not help but be impressed with the lady.
It was not just those who appeared as humans opposing us. Some did show special abilities with Honored Jelnaya needing to change attacks or defenses. Against some she started talking loud as if needing to drown out what they were saying. At times I found her to touch me and speak another blessing. Understanding that there was risk in what we were doing, I did my best to obey her orders when she gave them to me. I worked to quickly respond to certain signals. It disturbed me when some small wispy entities simply darted, although I was pleased to see daggers zip to end the threat of them escaping and possibly calling more to oppose us.
As she retrieved her daggers, she stopped as did I in hearing movement above us. We had not gone up, but had checked doors looking for a way down. I clearly remembered being kept in some cave. While Honored Jelnaya professed herself to be the champion of He-Who-Fights, she did not mindlessly rush off into combat. She simply looked at me upon hearing the noise, then indicated a stairwell.
There was a set of risers near the front of the house, but they were open. We had fought some demons in the grand foyer, but had not gone further than the top of the stairs in our battle. The voice of a man however came from an opening like a hallway, except that to enter one would step on risers bringing them to the next floor.
“Wait! Jelnaya, we can make a deal. Whatever you are being paid, I will add half again. I can even offer other benefits. You want a man? Men?”
“Hold it,” the lady said going to the stairwell to look up at the man. “You know who I am, but think I can be bought?”
“I understand mercenaries. Fully support someone working at what they do best and making money off it. Getting paid for doing nothing. Come on, can’t beat that.”
“One, I don’t do nothing. Boring. The one I work for took me on because he knew that. Second, okay, top my recent paycheck. A duchy. My duchy, completely mine to do with as I will. The king knows better than to mess with me. Four domains are under my control with one of them being a county with a church.”
“I have worlds under my control.”
I believe she stifled a laugh, and did not cough, before replying, “No, you don’t. If you did, we wouldn’t be talking. The evidence I have says that you really are not able to control the communities you do involve yourself with.”
“You’re lying! What evidence do you have for that?”
“They escaped. You had people escape. One thing led to another, and I am here.”
He did express a moment of confusion, but then said, “It still came down to them paying you, Jelnaya.”
I really was not looking at the man, and worried about Honored Jelnaya that did. She however showed no fear for her life. While her sword was in her hand, it was not in a readied position. I worried about her seeing her display distraction as if being be puzzled by what she saw, but then she gripped her weapon tightly as she spoke clearly as if feeling the man might not understand her.
“I am a divine champion of the god Fergush. You are going up against a god. You won’t win.”
“A god? These people have nothing to do with gods.”
“I am told there are no atheists on the front lines of battles, and my experience tends to support that. What you are doing to people has them doing all they can to pray.”
He thought for a moment, then said, “No. If they don’t convert, they die.”
“I told you people escaped. Well, guess what? They started praying or doing something to gain some divine recognition. You can’t buy me off, because my soul has already been sold and I am presently still very pleased with the deal I made.”
“Soul has been sold, huh? That is basically what we are doing as well.”
He died. He must have come down a number of risers, as Honored Jelnaya did not need to move up that many steps. Seeing her move, I gripped my weapon and prepared to follow her up. She however just made a quick dash up with me only turning into the stairwell before seeing the man fall after her blade went through his neck then out a side of his head.
I looked at the corpse that slid down the stairs, then said, “He wasn’t human. We made comments about that when we went through the experience, but I doubt we really believed our words were true”
Honored Jelnaya turned back from going up the risers while saying, “What they do to those who agree to their terms and succeed is not like what was done to you at all. It’s a path of corruption, and what there was of a divine spark, or proper body, really does not survive. In the end, it is eaten.”
“Uh, Honored Jelnaya, did you really sell your soul?”
“I really do not think of it like that, but I understood what the agreement with Fergush would demand. There is nothing unpleasant about the Halls of Fergush. I am really looking forward to going there – one day. In fact, I enjoy my association with Fergush now. He’s a friend, and I cannot think of a better eternity than spending it with a friend.”
My thoughts turned to the sermons I heard preached, although I brought to mind words from the various religious texts before our religious authorities simplified all the books in one. “Well, we preached against – no, well, yes. We have many gods too, but –“ Seeking to provide some good information, I leaned against a wall and closed my eyes. “We denied the truth of the divine. That is our problem. What we professed as being God was not true.”
“Are you sure? I know of single, all-powerful deities. Vulge has one controlling his reality. Aunt Neselle has an all-powerful Goddess in charge of her world.”
Fully confident of my answer, I opened my eyes and nodded while confiding, “I’m sure, Honored Jelnaya. I was lectured many times by the leaders of my church to assure that there was nothing proclaiming the truth of our gods, but only showing them as aspects of our rationalized single deity.”
“You have a world government?”
“One government, one god. It was a common sermon, and political slogan.”
The body language of the lady stated that she fully believed this could be the problem we would need to deal with as she asked, “And you?”
“What the church could not deny was our history. While I was working with commissions on new buildings and monuments, there was a mass of old artifacts stating the gods. Some I felt were false, but I also knew that the single God was merely a rationalized creation of men. Some gods I fully believed were real.”
“How about Unnorry?”
“Unnorry was the goddess of comfort. She was used in a multitude of sales pitches, and I had to admit had become almost a joke. Still, I had a good life, and I kept things associated with Unnorry in a desire to keep the comforts. The church allowed me to keep a number of the artifacts of Unnorry, as a religious hobby was more than acceptable to them. When Keleaf spoke of problems with her pregnancy, I told her to seek the blessing of Unnorry.” That confession troubled me, which caused me to again close my eyes. “I could not believe Keleaf found comfort in killing our child.”
Honored Jelnaya calmly said, “You are going to have to confront that.”
“No, Honored Jelnaya. I already have. I’m sorry, but whatever the gods set before me as atonement will be too little. I feel that I have been through worse than any punishment. I really don’t care what Unnorry says. I will do it.” I found some peace in making that statement, so opened my eyes and looked at Honored Jelnaya to assure that she understood I had a clear conscience as I added, “I will even do whatever is required to restore Keleaf. She must hurt even worse than me, and I want her know I do still accept her as my wife.”
Honored Jelnaya moved to place her hands over mine, then said, “We fight.”
“Yes, Honored Jelnaya, I will fight. Fergush might not be one of my gods, but I agree that you are a divine blessing to my life. I will support you.”
It surprised me to have her peck me on the cheek before saying, “Well, good. Now, however, we have people to rescue. Let’s go see what all is required to do that.”
We moved through a metal door with air-tight seals to see a set of steep risers going down to an enlarged chamber. Water seeped from the wall to provide a stream flowing through a fenced off cavern where people were packed. We moved up to the people hearing them cheer with the hope of being freed, although it took some time for Honored Jelnaya to silence them to the point where she could talk to them.
“Listen, we are going to free you.” Cheers again sounded with Honored Jelnaya needing to again wait for them to grow quiet. “The problem is that you are somewhere completely removed from where you were. While I understand a desire to find food, relieve yourselves, bathe, etc., you need to stay alert. If I signal for you to need to come back to go home, you had better do so or you could end up being left here.”
Of course they had to ask things about where they were and other questions. I thought about what my group would have done if someone had come claiming us. We had not considered that we were on another world. While we spoke of not recognizing where we were, the concept of being in an alternate reality had not been mentioned. I listened to the questions, and answered the best way I thought possible when one came to me.
“I have been where you are. Listen to Honored Jelnaya. When you get home, pray.”
That was asked by a number, and I waited for them to again go quiet before making a reply. “If you return home and don’t feel a need to pray then don’t feel bad when something else similar happens to you.”
One man felt the need to say, “It’s not like our God has ever helped us.”
Instead of answering him, I turned from the crowd to ask, “Honored Jelnaya, what are your plans?”
She replied, “I need to find portals, Esgalia. Not just the one to their world, but the one to where we need to go.”
“How about the one to my world?”
“I believe we will be shown that one when we are finished. Honestly, however, your people are on my world, so I will need a portal from there.”
Remembering what I heard, I had to ask, “Saving these people is meaningless.”
“Could be, Esgalia, but not to rescue them will be bad for us. I am a divine champion to Fergush. I have things I have to do. There are also things that a person just should do. Leaving those people here, especially leaving them in the hands of these monsters, will not be good for us.”
I had to agree with those words. My own association with a church caused me to remember certain teachings. As wrong as I felt our creation of a single God to be, I had to admit that most of the tenets were in line with what had been our core values through the ages. I found myself wondering at times if we were doing anything wrong. Did it matter that we no longer promoted the individual divinities, or would grouping them together under a single concept be accepted as long as we continued to obey the laws they demanded we follow? There was also the problem of returning to my world and having to deal with the central church and government who probably were not truly concerned with the loss of our community. Wondering at the future I would face, I considered what words I might use to help our authorities return our lives to normal.
I turned hearing a man say, “Just continue to protect the artifacts, Esgalia.”
He was a lean thing in a rather simple outfit, and I spoke wondering about what I saw and heard. “Unnorry is a lady.”
“I’m Eshatay, Esgalia. I’m the one that runs to Unnorry when I get really into trouble. She told me about you.”
Considering that I found the tales of Eshatay rather humorous, I had to admit, “You are one I did not think was real.”
“The fault in your world was occurring long before your time. However, you were trying to preserve our memories. You might not have thought me real, but you did not destroy the tales of me. Maybe you were not as dedicated as necessary, but you didn’t just destroy things like others in your position would do.”
“What do you want from me?”
“What if I said everything?”
I thought about Honored Jelnaya, then asked, “Will it save Keleaf, my wife?”
“I was the one directing you, Esgalia, so I saw what you went through for that lady. You cannot hold yourself responsible if she does not step up.”
“She killed our baby. She has to hurt.”
“She doesn’t need me, or Unnorry. She needs Pheridan.”
It took some thought to recall, “He’s fire.”
“He’s also forgiveness. Most cannot approach Unnorry unless they first pass through Pheridan.”
Thinking about what was said, I found myself having to ask, “I need to restore the gods, don’t I?”
“No. We recognize what you have been doing, Esgalia. Just work to do more. You’re not alone, Esgalia. Yes, it is getting bad. Still, you stepped up and found yourself here. You make it home, and I will see that it does not get bad for you. Unnorry is comfort, and you have put your focus on her.”
That concession was the major reason I kept to worshipping Unnorry, although knew to say, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. What I feared was you getting confused. All these worlds, and alternate belief systems, we wanted to assure you kept your focus.”
“KEEP MY FOCUS?”
I shivered with what I felt was anger. Eshatay however did not act scared or cowered. He hugged me. All my pain from the torture, the days of having my mind limited by the presence of a fox, all my worries from traveling with Honored Jelnaya faded from my form.
It was Vulge who brought my thoughts back to reality by asking, “Are you all right, Esgalia?”
After a moment of thinking, I had to admit, “I am fine. I believe I will survive this.”
“Don’t get cocky, Esgalia. Still, you see that Princess Jelnaya will keep you with her. Stay with her, and work with her, and you should get through. The boys worked well with me, so don’t worry about us.”
“She’s still a fighter and I am not.”
“She enjoys the fights, Esgalia. She won’t force them on you. I said work with her. You do that, you should be all right.”
They move on to the source of the problem.