|Voidbringer Book 1: Death
Author: Rose Zemlya PM
Book 1 of a three-book story about death, duty, and the Voidbringers. COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy - Chapters: 6 - Words: 49,106 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 08-02-08 - Published: 03-04-08 - Status: Complete - id: 2484195
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
UPDATED JANURARY 2009 (see bold below)
I'm not dead! Below is what I've accomplished to date on one of three originals currently in progress for me (none of which are posted anywhere for two reasons: 1) I suck, and 2) I can't guarantee continued production of any of them and that always seems vaguely unfair). I'm posting it up primarily to prove I'm not dead, and because I know some of you read and liked the short story My Brothers - from which this story eventually grew (it's still up on ff . net, I believe).
My Brothers is set in the Diablo II universe, which is where the original Galen and Anubis existed as level 80-something characters. This was many, many years ago now. Since that time the character grew in their own ways and, unable to understand 75 percent of the Diablo cannon, we decided to remove them entirely and port them over to their own story, in their own world (which, ironically, we're now using as a campaign setting for a D&D game - if, through some extraordinary coincidence, some of my players are reading this, three things: 1) 99.9 of this story is NOT common knowledge, so don't try to pull that particular trick out of your sleeve; 2) Just because they did it in the story doesn't necessarily mean the rules are going to allow that at the table; and 3) No, you may NOT kill Galen and Anubis if you somehow make it to Qirast.)
Also, yes there was a Galen and Anubis in The Last New Yorker, and yes they were adapted from these characters.
The name "Qirast" (obviously one of the last pieces of the Diablo II universe we need to weed out...we're not particularly apt at naming things...in case "Anubis" and "Faust" didn't clue you in to that) is not final and subject to change once we actually find something we like.
Having completed the first draft of book 1 in its entirety, as part of the editing process I made some changes to the parts that you may have already read (1-16). Although there are no chapters, I've also decided to divvy the sections up differently, so that each "chapter" on fictionpress is shorter (about 10 pages instead of 20 ish) – what this means is that parts 1-16 (originally one fictionpress "chapter") is now two fictionpress chapters.
The remainder of the book has been added as well (told you I was weak of will!). Book 1: Death is now complete.
Book 2: Deceit is now in progress. The first chuks are posted here: http : / / www. fictionpress. com /s /2625687 / 1/ Voidbringer_Book_2_Deceit (remove the spaces - or go to my profile and select it from there).
As always, thanks for your patience and continuing to read! :)
Writer/Co-Creator: Rose Zemlya
Editor/Co-Creator: KA Harchak
The Wastes were no place for anything but rocks and sand, let alone an inexperienced traveller completely unprepared for the desert. And yet, one had appeared on the horizon, visible only because of Galen's vantage point in the high gate tower. He shielded his eyes and squinted into the sun, not quite believing what he saw – it didn't go away when he blinked. Staggering forward in the long shadow of Zabrahk's fang, almost lost in the heat waves, was a tiny figure, stumbling forward on foot.
The stranger was in trouble. He knew that as certainly as he knew his own name, though how or why escaped him. The form was still too far away to really even tell what it was, but he was suddenly overcome by the strangest impulse to go, that instant; to just drop everything and run out to help.
He almost did. For a brief, frantic moment, he completely forgot about the storm building in the east, though the wind was already picking up sand and throwing it carelessly around. As he turned for the trap door, however, his eyes fell on the angry wall of dust rapidly approaching the desert town and the urge was buried under a sudden, horrifying realization: he'd been so focussed on the troubled figure he hadn't even closed up his tower yet.
He swore quietly and rushed around the little stone room, slamming and fastening shutters as tight as he could against the wind, plugging the gaps with bolts of cloth kept for precisely that purpose. He tucked himself against the hot stone in the corner of the tower and threw a blanket over himself to help against the sand that was even now seeping in.
The wind screamed through the cracks in his tower, hot and angry; it tore at the shutters, making them rattle like cheap sabres in shoddy scabbards; it pushed sand through even the most miniscule cracks and left it to pile up beneath the windows, or tumble down around his cover. For two hours he could hear nothing but the storm, the unhappy creaking of his tower, and his own ragged breathing, hot and stifling beneath the blanket.
He thought about the little black spot on the horizon and chafed mentally. The impulse hadn't left. The stranger needed help; he was hurt, or sick, or dying, Galen didn't know. The certainty wasn't that specific. How long had he been on watch, anyway? Was his shift even over yet?
Did it matter?
It didn't, and that perplexed him. The urgency of the nonsensical desire to help was acute and alarming. The thought of actually staying to finish his shift before rushing out to help the Gods knew who do Gods knew what was almost physically painful. He tried to rationalize it, but couldn't. The more he thought about it, the more he felt he needed to go, and he was unable to think about anything else.
The storm let up as suddenly as it had arrived, as was the norm. Sensing the abating wind, Galen threw the cover off himself, sending a fan of sand into the air. He didn't bother opening the windows, but instead took two steps towards the trap door and wrenched it open. The need to find the traveller was pressing and he gave up attempting to deny it. The sooner he dealt with it, the sooner he could put it to rest.
He scrambled down the ladder and jumped the last two rungs. A door to his left creaked open and Toth stuck his head out.
"Galen?" He said. "Where are you—?"
"Tell the Captain to take it out of my pay!" Galen responded, and was gone around the corner and into the stables. The horse-hand was just emerging from one of the stalls and Galen stopped him, pressing his canteen into the boy's hand. "Go," he said. "Fill this, quickly. Yours too. Bring them both back to me."
"Go!" Galen said, and shoved him towards the door. The boy tripped, almost fell, then ran unsteadily out the doors toward the water pump. Galen turned around and headed for the back of the stables, seizing a saddle and tack and turning back toward the mounts. He worked almost blindly, hastily tying the gear onto his horse as he struggled to keep his focus in the centre of the growing urgency that all but consumed him. His heart was clenched in fear. What if he was already too late?
The boy returned as he was mounting the horse and held up both canteens to him, still slick with water.
"Thanks," he managed, grabbing them and fastening them tightly to his waist.
"But what are you doing, Galen?" The boy demanded, looking more than a little startled. Galen gave him a helpless expression as he fastened his head cloth around his face.
"I don't know," he responded, and urged the horse out of the stall and past the boy.
He burst out of the stables and into the harsh light of the all-too-clear sky, whipping past the citizens of Haven as they slowly began to dig themselves out after the storm. Some of them moved as though to wave at him, caught the expression on his face, and stopped awkwardly, halfway. He was almost relieved when he finally got free of the gates, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust behind him as he urged the horse on in the direction he'd last seen the strange figure.
He was an idiot. The figure had been at least 45 minutes of riding away, if not more, and he wasn't prepared for it; it was mid-afternoon and the sun was merciless; he was still dressed for tower-duty, not riding hell-for-leather across the desert; and he'd left his sabre in the tower, and was now weaponless if he came across a Zabran patrol.
Mistakes, he rebuked himself. Mistakes that are going to get you killed. But he didn't turn around.
He was dizzy by the time he allowed his flagging horse to stop. This was the spot; the figure was somewhere close by, he was sure of it. He dismounted clumsily and braced himself against the horse's heaving flanks to drink deeply from his canteen. He'd have a stitch in his side, but at least he wasn't dizzy anymore. He let the canteen fall back to his hip and wiped his mouth with his arm, surveying the sandy expanse before him for some sign of the traveller.
"Hello?" He called, and tilted his head to the side to wait for an answer. None came. "Are you all right, stranger? I'm here to help." Still no response. He frowned and refastened the black cloth across his face. Should have brought a shovel…
He started walking, heading east and sharply eyeing the shifting dunes for anything out of place even though he knew the endeavour was hopeless. The storm had swept over this area too, and completely obliterated any signs of the traveller's passing – and probably the traveller along with them. Even now the winds continued to shift the dunes, rolling the sand along in chkling waves, revealing rocks or bones or other relics, only to bury them again. If it weren't for the menacing cut of Zabrahk's Fang against the sky, Galen would have been lost, even with ten years of desert experience behind him. But he pressed on, unable to shake the desperate need to locate the traveller.
Just as he was beginning to grow dizzy again, something caught his eye. Half-suspecting it was the heat playing tricks on him, he turned towards it and approached, confirming its nature just before the wind covered it up again. It was a piece of black material, freed momentarily from the sand and flicking back and forth in the wind. He gasped and ran towards the spot where he'd seen it, dropping to his knees and digging beneath the sand with his hands.
He hit something large and solid and refocused his digging efforts there, first revealing an arm, then a shoulder, and then a torso, laying on its front.
"Hey!" He cried, working hastily to free the figure from the shifting sands. "Hey, can you hear me?" It was a man judging by the shoulders, wearing a heavy black cloak. "Come on, talk to me," he said. He grabbed the man's shoulders and rolled him over. "We need to get you back to—!" He interrupted himself with a startled oath and jumped to his feet, staggering back and away from the man as though scalded. The traveller's face was hidden behind a dark mask in the shape of a jackal's visage, wise and unforgiving. Galen's knees buckled but he barely noticed as he fell to the sand, unable to fight off a sudden and unwelcome inrush of memories.
Alive, is he alive?!
The question wasn't his, but it snapped him back into focus. He crawled forward again and pressed his fingers against the traveller's neck, feeling for a pulse. It took him a moment to find it, it was so weak, but it was there.
"All right," he told himself, avoiding the stern gaze of the jackal. "Found him. He's alive. Good…I guess." He grunted as he leaned over the stranger and tore a chunk of his cloak off, then soaked it in water from the canteen. "Now to keep him that way." He couldn't take the stranger's mask off – that was forbidden – which meant this would have to do for hydration. He gingerly tipped the chin of the mask upwards and blindly pressed the sopping cloth into the traveller's mouth, pressing the mask over it to make sure it would stay in place. Then he turned and set two fingers to his lips, whistling sharply. He finished off the rest of the canteen himself and watched as his horse approached. It occurred to him he hadn't brought any water for the horse. There was no way the poor beast was going to be able to carry them both in the state it was in. He bit back a groan and tried not to think about the long walk back as he lifted the stranger into the saddle and did his best to secure him there. He was heavy, but Galen suspected most of it was the breastplate he wore. The traveller had a slight build, and long, thin fingers, blistered now in the heat. Momentarily struck by pity, Galen pulled his gloves off and fastened them over the stranger's hands instead. His own would suffer for it, but the gesture felt right somehow.
He took the horse's reins and began the long trek home.
He staggered and would have fallen had Toth not been there to catch him.
"What in the Hells possessed you?" The large man demanded angrily, wary concern in his eyes. "You left your shift; you left your sword…!" Galen shook his head helplessly.
"Don't know," he croaked, his throat raw. The second canteen had run out a long time ago. "I had to go get him. He would have…would have…no!" He lurched forward suddenly, as two well-meaning guardsmen pulled the stranger down from the horse and one made as though to remove his mask. "No!" Galen cried again, staggering alarmingly. Toth grabbed him and forced him to be still.
"Galen, he's going to die if we don't get some water into him. We've got to take the mask—"
"No, he'll die! You can't…he can't reveal his face to the world, he'll die. He'll die if you—"
"Sun-drunk," muttered the second guard. "Take it off Falir."
"No!" Galen shouted and tore free of Toth's grip again, mustering enough strength to shove Falir away from the traveller. "I mean it! I'm not…it's not the sun-stroke talking…." His knees buckled and he collapsed across the stranger's legs, which, he couldn't help but admit, didn't help his case much. The three guards exchanged a glance above his head. "Please," he managed hoarsely. "I…he's a priest. It's part of…you can't take his mask off." Falir threw his hands up into the air.
"Then how are we supposed to get water into him?!" He demanded. "Or see how he's breathing?" But Galen's voice had given out at last and he could do nothing but stay where he was, half-draped over the stranger's body. He was dizzy and nauseous and was afraid he was going to pass out. Falir scowled.
"Idiot!" He snarled, shaking his head and turning away. "Leave his mask, then. Take him to the temple. Kleer can—" But Galen was shaking his head vigorously, even though doing so made him feel like he was going to fall off the earth. Falir paused in the act of walking away and glowered. "What in the name of the Holy Triumvirates is your complaint now?!"
"Hells, Falir," said Toth, blinking in surprise. "I think the 'priest' is from the same place as Galen. He won't take healing either." Falir dragged his hand down his face in a gesture of intense irritation.
"So you take off with no warning, right after a sandstorm, without so much as a weapon, to go drag this miserable carcass out of the dunes after they'd claimed him, dragged him back here on a half-dead horse in the mid-day sun, and all so you can let him die here on the road?" His expression was incredulous. "I don't believe this. Take them to the temple and tell Kleer no healing and if either of them dies, good riddance!" He threw his hands up into the air again and stormed off.
"So who is he?" Kleer asked, drawing his pipe from his mouth and turning his good eye on Galen. The thin, red smoke made odd patterns in the air as he gestured. "I thought you were the only fool in this world who wouldn't take healing when offered." Galen met his gaze and shrugged wordlessly, pulling his blanket further up around himself against the sharp chill of the night air. The goblin's yellow lips pulled back to reveal yellower teeth, filed to a point, and he stuck the pipe back into his mouth with a harrumph. "You're a terrible liar, boy," he said. "You've been staring at him since they brought you in. Why?" Galen shrugged again, uncomfortably, and rolled over on his cot to face the wall instead of the stranger, no longer wishing to meet the cleric's unnerving stare. He heard Kleer bite down hard on the pipe. The goblin's wooden chair creaked as he pushed himself to his feet, and Galen sighed bitterly. The familiar sound of limping footsteps approached from around the back of his cot, hard and heavy, until Kleer was close enough to shove his furious face so near to Galen's that the latter pulled back in surprise.
"You think I don't know what he is?" The goblin hissed, good eye narrowed and threatening. His ears trembled with anger. "I know a Priest of Death, when I see one, boy." Galen blanched and for a moment couldn't speak. Kleer put his pipe back between his teeth and continued to glare expectantly at him.
"I don't know what—," he tried, but Kleer interrupted him savagely.
"Don't lie to me, boy!" He snapped. "I've been on that God forsaken continent. I've seen what lives in those swamps! And I've seen what shouldn't but does." He bit down hard on his pipe and his scowl deepened. "And so have you, I know it. Toth tells me you knew the stranger was a priest, and I've been instructed not to remove his mask, which, as I understand it, is according to you. Those aren't the words of a man who doesn't know what I'm talking about." He shifted his pipe to the other side of his mouth and bit down hard again. Galen stared at him in shock as the goblin turned around and began to limp back towards his chair, leaving a trail of crimson smoke in his wake. The dark-haired guardsman twisted on the cot to keep him in sight.
"How do…how do you know about…!" Kleer paused in his trek and raised a gnarled, bony finger to point at the large, ugly scar over his dead eye.
"Where do you think I got this?" He demanded shortly. "Hmm? Why do you think I limp like I do? You think I was born like this?" Galen frowned.
"I thought it was a Zabran—"
"Bah!" Said Kleer, and stumped away again. "I let everyone believe it to be so, because I couldn't have made them believe the truth. I had no witnesses. I left them for dead in that miserable mire twenty years ago. Besides," he added, a sly quirk to his lips, "prejudice is an easy thing to capitalize on. They'll pay you twice if you match their loves, but thrice if you match their hates." He adjusted his chair and dropped himself down into it, settling his frame and crossing his thin arms over his gut. He pulled his pipe from his mouth once more and gestured with it, his smirk taking on a hard edge. "But it's not me and how I know about them that I want to discuss right now. How is it you know about the comings and goings of Death priests?" Galen cast his eyes downward and turned his face back towards the stranger, lying on the cot beside him. For a moment, they were both still save for the rise and fall of their chests. Something long dead and buried thumped painfully in Galen's breast.
"I can't say," he responded finally, his voice so soft Kleer had to twitch his ears to catch it.
"Why not?" The cleric demanded, gaze intent. Galen frowned.
"It's not permitted," he said shortly. "Why does it matter?"
"Permitted by who?" Kleer demanded, ignoring the question. He jerked his head to the side to indicate the unconscious priest. "By them?" Galen shook his head. "Then by who?" But Galen narrowed his eyes and shook his head again. For a long moment the only sound in the room was the priest's heavy breathing, and Kleer's teeth on his pipe. Finally the goblin lowered his voice to a deep, gravally tone; whether he meant to be cajoling or threatening, Galen didn't know.
"Why has he come, boy?" The goblin asked, never removing his gaze.
"I don't know," Galen responded, still staring at the priest. "I don't…I don't know." Kleer narrowed his eyes and scoffed.
"I thought I told you," he noted darkly, "you're a terrible liar."
The priest woke at sunset. He sat bolt upright in his cot with a gasp, gloved hands flying to his face to confirm that his mask and hood were still in place. Galen froze in the act of throwing off his blanket and stared, startled by the unexpected movement. He held his breath, terrified suddenly that the priest would look his way.
But the next instant a tremor ran through the priest's body and he fell limply back onto the cot, the exertion of the moment overcoming him.
Galen didn't move again until he was sure the stranger was unconscious.
Over the next three days the priest fell in and out of consciousness, slowly working his way back from the brink of death under Kleer's careful ministration. Though the goblin tried to speak with him, the priest either knew no common, or else made a good show of pretending not to.
Galen pulled his headpiece off the hook by the door and tried not to think about it. It had taken him years to finally shake the rumours and gossip mongering that had plagued his footsteps from the day he'd arrived in Haven with nothing but the clothes he wore. The arrival of the strange priest had set the whole town talking again, and they were resurrecting old questions that Galen still didn't want to answer.
He pressed the light helm over his curls and drew the black cloth across his face, fastening it tightly, then gave the kitchen a cursory glance to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Falir, still bitter about Galen's unexpected abandonment of his post three days prior, was not of a mind to give him much of a break, no matter what Kleer might say. He had the midday shift today, but he would take it without complaining. It was a suitable punishment, and he'd understood there would be consequences when he'd left to rescue the priest…though he was more and more wishing he hadn't.
He picked up his sabre and turned towards the door but froze, eyes wide in surprise. As though his thoughts had summoned the man, the stranger stood in his doorway, silhouetted by the bright sun outside the small house. He cast a long shadow in, and Galen was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the fact that the priest was taller than him.
"There are no relics here," he said, and the words didn't come easy to him. It had been ten years since he'd spoken the language that now tumbled haltingly from his lips. The words felt sharp and unfamiliar in his mouth. "I don't know what you seek but you won't find it in Haven. These people aren't tomb robbers."
"I'm not here for relics." The voice remained half-hidden behind the jackal's face, dry and muffled. His words were slow and carefully chosen. "I'm here for a prodigal son of Qirast." A bead of sweat trickled uncomfortably down Galen's back.
"There are none here who wish to be found," he responded stiffly and moved to shove past the priest. "I'm going to be late to my post." The priest shifted to bar his path.
"I'm here for the prodigal son of Voidbringer," he clarified. His voice was soft and quiet, and Galen froze in his tracks, the sound of the name seizing his heart with a sudden, wild fear.
"There is no one here of that name," he said, but couldn't raise his voice above a whisper. He started forward again, meaning to push his way past and out into the sun, but the priest's arm flew in front of him and blocked his path. The cold mask moved closer and he could hear the priest's still-laboured breathing beneath it.
"You can hide your face behind that cloth," he said. "You can bury your past in these thrice forsaken sands, and lock your identity behind a guardsman's uniform. But you cannot deny yourself." The face tipped close enough that he could feel the cool metal against the exposed flesh on the side of his face. "I know your eyes, Galen Voidbringer. No man or woman was yet born with eyes as blue as yours."
"I'm going to be late for my shift," Galen said again, and before the priest could respond the frantic peal of the alarm bell shattered the relative calm of the afternoon. Startled, the priest turned to look and Galen took the opportunity to push past him at last and run toward his post.
Never, in all his life, had he been happy about a Zabran attack until now.
Although it was another two days before Galen saw the priest again, the stranger had disturbed him thoroughly enough that he may as well have been everywhere the guardsman was. He strove to keep himself occupied, to distract himself from thoughts of the man behind the jackal mask and everything he represented, but guard duty was often long and boring, with nothing to do but watch the shifting sands for any tell tale signs of attack. Even with a partner on the wall more often than not you found yourself with plenty of time to think. He was sure he had thoroughly annoyed Toth with aimless, idle chatter on their last shift – a marked departure from his usual demeanour – out of desperation to keep himself from thinking about the priest or reliving things he'd worked so hard to forget.
But it was night, now, and he was alone in his house. Toth was probably at the tavern with the rest of the guardsmen, drinking away their pay. The smith who owned the forge on the bottom floor was gone for two months on a trip to visit his family. The house was silent except for the wind outside, which whipped the open shutters on the main floor back and forth, arhythmically slamming them into the wall. He considered going down to shut them, but was unable to marshal the will to move from his bed.
He wanted to sleep. He hadn't slept since the priest had visited him and it was weighing on him now. His eyes burned and his limbs felt heavy and sluggish, but he couldn't get his mind to settle down. Over and over again it returned to the priest and his words. He had come for Galen. For Galen specifically. But why? What did he want?
To kill him? Had it come to that at last?
He wrapped his arms around his middle and rolled over to face the wall instead of the ceiling, closing his eyes and willing himself to sleep.
Why wasn't he already dead, then? The priest had had an opportunity the other day. He could have done something then. Galen had been off-balance and unprepared. How long had the priest stood in the doorway, while Galen's back had been turned? It didn't make any sense.
And besides: you didn't chase the dead down to kill them again. Whatever punishment they would have given him for the rebellion had been met – exceeded – when he'd exiled himself. Why go to the trouble? It wasn't like he could ever go back. He wasn't a threat to them anymore, if he had ever been at all.
The cold from the open shutters had finally begun to seep upstairs. Galen shivered and once more considered going down to shut the noisy things. It would be hard enough to sleep with his mind torn in so many directions, never mind with the constant beating of wood on – abruptly his thoughts derailed and he caught his breath.
He'd closed the shutters when he left for his shift that afternoon in case of another sandstorm. He hadn't opened them when he got home and had, in fact, ensured that the lock on both the door and the shutters were fastened tight.
So why were they now—
He had the barest of warnings – nothing more than the whisper of cloth against cloth, almost lost beneath the sound of the wind – but it was enough. Weariness gone in a sudden burst of adrenaline, he threw himself from the bed and onto the floor. A bolt of silver glinted in the moonlit room as a small knife sliced through the air above him and embedded itself in his mattress. Galen wasted no time, scrambling to his feet in a rush, but neither did his would-be-assassin. No sooner had the guardsman gained his footing then he was forced to duck beneath the slash of a shortsword wielded by a lean, black-cloaked figure. The figure held a dagger in his left hand, and brought it up to meet Galen as the larger man dodged. The guardsman hissed and twisted, sacrificing his bare arm to the blade's edge to spare his chest, and carrying himself to his assailant's flank. He took the opportunity to grab the man's cloak and use it to hurl the stranger into the wall.
The instant the cloth was pulled from his grip by the man's momentum he turned and bolted for the door to the room. His sabre was downstairs with his mail; he had to get it or he wouldn't stand a chance.
He didn't make it far. He was on the second stair from the top when he felt his attacker slam into his back, sending him lurching forward, tumbling awkwardly down the stairs. He managed to keep his feet, but crashed backward into the wall at the bottom hard enough to knock the wind from his body. The assassin flew down the stairs after him, pausing only a moment to shed his cloak at the top. Tight black leathers framed a lithe masculine form. Galen managed to get a hand up and caught the man's wrist as he plunged his dagger downward at the guardsman's head. The man had a cruel, smooth face, twisted in an expression of irritation and anger. A serpent tattoo snaked its way up the man's neck and over the back of his bald head – a Zabran assassin, then, but why after a lowly guardsman?
Unable to break the larger man's grip on his wrist, the assassin moved to bring his shortsword up viciously at Galen's exposed side; moving with a speed that belied his bulk, the dark-haired guardsman drove his free fist into the assassin's gut with all the strength he could muster. The blow was not as hard as he would have liked, given the lack of room and the fact that he was pressed up against a wall, but it was enough to cause the assassin to gasp, and threw his aim off. The sword hit the stone wall beside Galen and skidded off to the side. Before the man could recover his balance Galen drove his head down and cracked it against the smaller man's skull, then shoved him, momentarily dazed, back onto the stairs.
He turned again and sprinted for the pile of chainmail and leather thrown haphazardly on the table, all but diving at it and tearing the scabbard and belt from within the pile, holding them up triumphantly, but his heart sank suddenly.
The scabbard was empty.
The assassin laughed as he pulled himself up from the stairs. "I didn't think you'd be awake but I took precautions," he said. "There's no weapon for you here." And he lunged again, wicked steel blades at the ready. Galen back peddled but realized he wasn't going to be fast enough to avoid the attack – his last gamble had failed him and he didn't think he'd get another chance.
But at that moment he heard crashing from the direction of the forge, where the door was, and then someone shouted: "Galen! Catch!" It was the priest, hurling something at him from the doorway. The sudden intrusion distracted the assassin long enough to give Galen time to lunge out of his way at the last second. He raised a hand as he went, catching the object – which he recognized as a Bag of Holding. Some part of him screamed that it might be a trap, but if he had another choice he couldn't see it. He plunged his hand into the Bag and his fist closed around something smooth and cool and familiar.
He tore the enormous object free of the magical sack as the assassin corrected his trajectory for one last lunge. Galen's mind reeled at the weapon he'd pulled loose – it was a maul of exquisite craftsmanship and quality; the grip was achingly familiar in his hand, and it was deliciously heavy. For a moment, he teetered dangerously on the edge of being overwhelmed by memories, but the imminent threat of the assassin forced him into the present. Shutting his mind to the massive mace and where it had come from, he moved instinctively, spreading his feet wide and taking the maul in both hands. He moved forward into the assassin's lunge and swung the weapon upwards. The impact threw the attacker into the air, a stunned, slack-jawed expression on his face, and Galen swung it again as he hit the ground, this time bringing the maul down in a brutal, over-hand arc, slamming it into the man's chest, and crushing everything within it. A convulsion wracked the assassin's ruined frame, and then he was still.
Galen stood over the would-be assassin's body for a long time, leaning his weight on the ornate weapon and panting heavily. The immediate crisis was over, and now he was struggling to come to terms with everything that had just happened. Precious little of it made sense and he was unable to focus on one question at a time, or even any at all beneath the sudden influx of memory brought on by the relic from his past he now clutched in his hands.
The maul had been a gift from his father, more than ten years previous – it was a family heirloom, handed down through a long line of sons, awarded upon taking the sacred oaths that bound not only the Order, but all of Qirast together. That day had been one of the proudest in Galen's life, and the relic had been his constant companion until he'd left. He'd wielded it on behalf of the Order, and against it. He'd worn it on training, in war, even at home sometimes. He'd worn it at his wedding; a small, private affair attended only by his brothers and sisters and a few of their closest friends. It had been a tense time, and a large gathering would have attracted unwanted attention, but neither of them had cared. With two exceptions, everyone who mattered had been there.
He'd been wearing it, too, the night she died – the only time it had ever failed him.
The maul was more than just a weapon; it was a symbol – a symbol for too many things to name, but all of them he'd left behind – or thought he had. That it had been returned to him, here, so far from Qirast, unsettled him deeply.
Behind him, the priest leaned down and retrieved his Bag of Holding, which clanked and rattled heavily; the sound seemed out of sync with the bag's size. The priest crossed the room slowly and set it down on the table, opening the mouth and peering in, taking stock of its contents. Apparently satisfied, he closed it loosely and turned to watch Galen in silence – waiting, considering.
Galen sensed his gaze but avoided it, tightening his grip convulsively on his mace and prompting a sudden stab of pain from his arm as his muscles flexed. It was a bad cut – bleeding profusely – and for a moment he focused his attention on it, letting the pain overwhelm his senses; the cut was a physical, tangible thing, and he used it to ground himself. When he finally raised his eyes from the maul and the blood and looked at the priest, his blue eyes were unhappy.
"Who are you?" He asked quietly.
"I can't tell you that," the priest responded flatly. "You know that. If I told you…if I named myself out here…well, we'd both be lost then. I can't bring you back if I'm dead too." Galen straightened suddenly, and his eyes went wide.
"Bring me back?!" Of everything he'd expected, this wasn't it. "What?" The priest shifted his weight and hesitated – if Galen didn't know better, he would have assumed the man was unsure about how to proceed. The jackal's face turned toward the dead man on the floor, and the priest tightened his grip on the Bag as though to gather it up and leave.
"This is a bad time," he said. "And I have no idea how to explain myself. I think I should—," but Galen had narrowed his eyes.
"No," he said and frowned. "Explain it now. What do you want from me? Why are you here?" The priest hesitated with his hand on the Bag of Holding, and averted his gaze. The jackal's face turned down to stare at his gloved hand, curled into a fist around the soft leather of the magical sack. After a moment he raised his eyes to the wall opposite them, and then finally turned back to Galen.
"I've been sent to bring you back," he said simply. "I don't know why and I don't know by who, so don't ask me. All I know, all I've known for the last six months, was that I had to find you and I have to take you home." Galen stared stupidly at him.
"What?" He managed. The priest made a frustrated noise and lifted his Bag.
"No," he said. "I told you. This isn't the right time and I don't have the right—"
"You can't," Galen said bluntly, the stunned expression never leaving his face. He hadn't even heard the priest's denial.
"Pardon?" the priest asked, raising his face again.
"You can't take me back," Galen clarified; something in his expression had turned urgent, almost desperate. He was shaking his head slowly. "I left Qirast. I left of my own volition. I turned my back on—I'm dead to you, to Qirast. If I was to go back…I mean, I'd be torn to shreds before I made it three feet. I'm no better than them, now." He gestured widely, as though to take in the entirety of Haven, and perhaps beyond. "No. You can't. You can't take me back." He was sure of it. He'd felt the protections lift the moment Qirast had dropped out of sight, lost behind the horizon behind the boat. He could still remember that moment as clear as though it had been yesterday. There was no way to go back.
The priest, however, disagreed.
"Galen," he said seriously, "that's what I do. Why else would I have left? Why else would I have crossed over, if not to bring someone back from the dead?" Galen stared at him blankly, then dragged his hand through his dark curls, opened his mouth to say something, and shut it again. He hadn't considered that. He hadn't thought…when he'd left he'd been sure, sure, that it was forever. He'd never hoped, never dreamed he'd ever be able to go back.
At his hesitation, something in the priest's demeanour flagged almost imperceptibly.
"Is it such a horrible thought?" He asked softly. "Coming home?" Galen's head snapped up again, and his eyes reflected a myriad of emotions, ranging from defiance to confusion, but still he said nothing, unsure of his own feelings on the subject. The priest stiffened again and made a sharp, disgusted noise that was so familiar Galen actually drew up in surprise; before he could dig through his buried memories to place the sound, however, the priest had gathered up his Bag and turned away.
"Forget it," he said irritably. "I will seek you out later, after I've had more time to put my thoughts in order. Things aren't as clear as they were before I left."
"Wait," Galen said.
"No," the priest responded flatly and continued toward the door.
"Wait!" Galen said more forcefully, and the priest sighed heavily, but paused before the exit. The guardsman frowned. "You haven't told me what you want from me." The priest cast a glance over his shoulder and Galen was unable to hold the jackal's gaze. There was a pause.
"Once upon a time you were a Paladin," the priest said quietly. "Whatever happened back then doesn't change your vows to Amen, and—"
The word was like a bolt, charging through his body. The rest of the priest's sentence was lost in a sudden, vivid image of hair the colour of fire, and a strong, lovely face, covered in blood; the pretty mouth open and calling out; all night she called. All night. No answer came, and as the sun rose, she'd—he cut the memory off violently, and rounded on the priest.
"Amen!" He cried, and, taken aback, the stranger recoiled beneath the guardsman's sudden fury. "Do not speak to me of Amen! Amen is a liar and anyone who follows him a fool!" The priest stiffened at the blasphemy, and drew himself up.
"Watch your tongue," he snapped rebukingly, but Galen was not to be deterred, consumed by a rage he thought he'd buried along with the rest of his memories of what had once been his life.
"You watch yours!" He bellowed, clenching his fists. "This isn't Qirast, Priest! It's Haven! You're in the middle of the god forsaken Wastes. You hold no power here. You or the thrice-damned gods. Now what do you want?" The priest glared at him – he couldn't see it through the mask, but he could feel it – and moved at once back over to the table. He dropped the Bag of Holding unceremoniously on the table and pulled angrily at the drawstrings. He all but tore the Bag open and plunged a trembling hand into it. When he withdrew his arm, the silver moonlight glinted off the edges of white mask, carved out of wood and metal, and fashioned into the shape of a grim skull. He set the mask on the table and pushed it toward Galen; the guardsman stared at it as it slid across the smooth wood and scraped to a stop in front of him. His mouth went dry as he fixed his eyes on the macabre countenance and frozen grimace. The colour drained from his face.
"What is this?" He whispered, staggering back from the table as though afraid. "Why did you bring this to me? Why are you doing this?"
"Qirast needs you, Galen," the priest said, pulling the Bag shut and once more gathering it to him. "I don't…I don't know why or how, but it does."
"No." The guardsman shook his head and tore his eyes away from the mask. "No it doesn't." The priest shifted his weight.
"Galen—," he started to sigh.
"No!" Galen snarled, and snatched up the mask, hurling it back on the ground at the priest's feet. "I tried already. I tried to help it and look where it got me." Again, the memory of red hair and the smell of blood. He gestured angrily and glared fiercely at the priest. "Qirast can hang for all I care!"
"Galen!" The priest cried, scandalized. "How can you say that?!" He bent down to retrieve the mask, but Galen covered the distance between them in two long steps and grabbed the front of his robes, wrenching him upright. The priest went rigid in alarm and his hands shot up to grab the guardsman's wrists.
"I will never wear that mask again," Galen hissed, venom in his voice. "Do you understand me? It means nothing to me. Nothing." For a moment the priest said nothing; then, slowly, his grip on Galen's wrists loosened, and the larger man heard him exhale softly.
"Oh," the priest breathed. "Oh Zasi…all this time I thought it was Farah, but—." The name cut through Galen like a knife. Once more the colour drained from his face, and his rage turned cold and hard within him.
"Get out," he said, soft but furious. "Get out now."
"Galen—" the priest tried, but Galen tightened his grip on the man's robes and all but threw him towards the door.
"OUT!" The priest hesitated for a moment, then huffed in annoyance, turned abruptly and left.
Galen stood where he was for a long time after the priest had gone, staring at his hands, his maul, the blood on his arm – anything but the mask still on the floor – until finally his rage burned itself out. He pulled one of the wooden chairs from the table and sank bonelessly into it, staring bleakly at the corpse on the floor beside him, then set his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands.
He remained there until dawn.