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    The Fall of a Paladin: An Uneasy Reunion
    Posted on Thu, March 28, 2002 by Legate
    Man-of-the-Cranes writes "Part three of the series, advancing the tale of the hero Michael Torgrim and his ill-fated quest.

    Author: Man-of-the-Cranes



    The Fall of a Paladin
    Chapter Three: An Uneasy Reunion

    By: Man-of-the-Cranes (manofthecranes@hotmail.com)
    (Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.)

    This is dedicated to endless hours of rolling dice in my bedroom with Matthew Gillies, and the Brothers Pinder. This remains their tale and I, their mere thankless scribe.

    Chapter Three
    An Uneasy Reunion

    21st Goodmonth 579 CY
    The evening had been warm and the night sky clear to the stars as Michael Torgrim rode his horse south from Greyhawk City. But as he passed Two-Ford and turned towards the castle, it grew cooler and the air felt damp. He looked up towards the castle that was now his to govern, the castle where his companions whom he had not seen for over a year awaited his return, the castle he and Leeahn

    (the woman I love so dearly)

    now called home.

    Talonkeep.

    It loomed before him and above the town, dominating this junction of the Selintan River. A light summer fog swirled and eddied over the river. It gathered around the base of the hill and lapped against the castle walls like a grey tide so that Talonkeep appeared to sit in the clouds wreathed with ethereal walls of mist.

    The mist was also suprisingly thick in patches, Michael thought, as he was forced to slow to a trot shuddering in the clammy fog. As he entered the light of the watch lanterns that guarded the approach to the gatehouse at night his guards recognised him. Shouts and whistles rang out from the walls and towers of the gatehouse.

    "Sir Michael returns!" issued from the towers flanking the main gate and echoed back and forth along the battlements.

    Pulling his exhausted steed to a halt beneath the portcullis Michael was met by the captain of the night guard. A human woman named Alanis, tall and thick-limbed beneath her steel plate armour.

    "Well met and welcome home, Worthy Sir." Captain Alanis saluted Michael and handed his reins over to a pair of stablehands. The young boys began to lead Michael's horse away to the stables. Michael reached instinctively for the blade that should have been scabbarded with his saddle-bags, but his hands came away empty.

    Ignoring the frown his captain gave him, he removed his helmet and brushed a gloved hand across his short-cropped black hair.

    Acknowledging his captain's salute with a casual nod, he asked, "Is Seneschal Morgan available? I need to speak with him."

    "Of course Worthy Sir, he is being informed of your return as we speak. No doubt he will be on his way, but I shall send word to be sure."

    "Thank you captain. Ask him to meet with me in my study at his earliest convenience. Are my friends still here?"

    "They are. They have been given accommodations at the Sign of the St. Joseph with their companions, to await your return."

    Michael nodded, "I need to refresh myself and speak with Morgan before I meet with them. Have the Lady Leeahn meet me at my study also. Good night captain."

    Michael was already rushing away towards the inner keep and so he was unaware of the sad look that briefly crossed Captain Alanis' face.

    * * * * *

    Michael's study was warm and cosy, the light from the large fireplace in his lounge cast flickering shadows through the doorway. Several lanterns added to the rosy light in his close and austere quarters.

    A portrait of his mother and father glared down with stern looks from the wall above the desk. Two bookcases adorned the walls although these looked conspicuously empty. A few religious texts of Heironeous and historical treatises concerning the Free City of Verbobonc and the ancient Order of the Hart were all the reading material on offer.

    Michael had stripped out of his battle armour. Still dirty and battered from his recent quest the field plate had been taken away by Bud the large animated houseplant that acted as his personal servant. Bud would ensure it was cleaned, oiled and polished.

    Michael had washed and shaved. He had dressed in a pair of dark brown leather leggings with calf-high buckskin boots, he had donned a plain white cotton shirt opened at the collar to reveal the ever present lightning bolt symbol of Heironeous around his neck and he had buckled a plain longsword taken from the wall display around his waist.

    The knight sat in a high-backed leather chair, at his desk, fingering a plain silver ring with a single stone, in his palm when the knock at the door woke him from his reverie. Michael stood quickly and moved through into his meeting room.

    The room adjoined his study and was divided in two by a heavy curtain. The back and private half of the room was lined with the shelves that stored the reams of paperwork that cursed any Lord of Talonkeep; inventories, receipts, staff rosters, shift rosters, expenses, all too few revenues, the paperwork was truly endless.

    Beyond the curtain, a large wooden table occupied the room, lined with benches. The privacy of any meetings within the Lord's chamber was ensured by a lack of windows. The room was lit by lanterns mounted on the walls, and hidden peepholes allowed descrete scrutiny both to the outside of the building and into the waiting room where the knock had come from.

    "Enter."

    A tall and paunchy black man in chainmail entered the meeting room through the heavy steel door that seperated it from the waiting area.

    "Welcome home, Sir," said Seneschal Morgan. "It's good to see you."

    "You too my friend. Thank you. Sit down please." Michael stood to greet his seneschal.

    Morgan nodded his thanks, shrugged off his cloak, which was damp from the fog outside and adjusted the mace at his belt to allow him to sit more comfortably.

    "The Lady Leeahn informed me of your success in Furyondy. I trust everything went satisfactorily with the Lord-Mayor, Sir."

    "Everything went?satisfactorily. Yes." Michael answered, his eyes cast down at his hands. "How is Lady Leeahn?"

    Now it was Morgan's turn to avoid his Lord's gaze, "I am sorry to report, Sir, that Lady Leeahn received some very distressing news from her family. Her father passed over whilst you were away. He had been ill for some time, but the Lady Leeahn had been unaware. Apparently until your recent adventures in the Kingdom, her family had not known how to contact her. The priests say that the slow death had got into his chest and rotted his heart and lungs. Aurora has accompanied the Lady to the Royal Courts in Chendl to attend the funeral and services. They expect to return in a ten-day or so, Sir."

    Michael's head was in his hands, this would be the first time in how many years - four? five? - since Leeahn had been home. She had run away from her family to avoid marriage. He imagined the grief and the guilt that she must be feeling and knew that he should be sharing it with her - he felt the tears well up behind his eyes.

    Michael lifted his head, unashamed of his grief for Leeahn's sorrow.

    "I should have been here for her. Meet with me in the morning Morgan, I will pen her a letter and have it sent to her in Chendl. What other news? Have my troops managed to avoid slaughtering one another in my absence? For all the difference my being here makes."

    "Sir, since the players performance, your presence makes much more difference than you credit yourself with. Morale remains good here in the keep, and in town too. Even Acyfst is quiet lately."

    Michael smiled humourlessly, as he thought about Two-Fords resident druid.

    "That old hag would be happy only if I were to pull this keep and a half the town down and return the land to nature."

    Morgan smiled too.

    "Things are good sir. Better than they have been for some time now. Just minor concerns. Shortly after you left, Bowyer's Pawnshop in town was robbed. The thieves were sellswords up from the Wild Coast. They were apprehended in the Gnarley, three of them were put to the sword during the capture, and the others were transported to the city for trial. That was all the excitement we had until an ogre was spotted just out of town lurking around near the Moore's farm. But it was tracked by your patrols and chased back to the Welkwood. Your old companion Peripim Furfoot has bought a sizeable burrow in town and a large acreage of farmland. He expects to move his family here next month. The town are very excited, he got a very enviable price for his property. It seems the farmers are keen to have a strong priest of Sheela as their new neighbour. Captain Alanis already told you that your friends are lodging at the Sign of the St. Joseph. They arrived two nights ago and haven't left the keep yet. Although some of them have been making purchases ready for travel. They don?t appear to have a lot of funds between them. I have extended your hospitality towards them as regards accommodation and food, some basic travel goods and supplies but?I had to curtail the hospitality on ale, Sir. Things were getting a little rowdy in the 'Joseph. I wanted to avoid any unpleasantness or embarrassment between your friends and your men here, Sir."

    "It is never a good idea to tell Ponto the ale is free, and Bolan could always cause enough trouble even when sober. Thank you Morgan. Have they spoken at all about their journeys?"

    "Not at all, Sir. In fact they have kept themselves very much to themselves."

    "Good. I want you to gather all the men together tomorrow Morgan, at noon. All housestaff, all guards, all shifts and ranks. Also have messengers ready to take the news into Two-Ford. I will speak to them all in the main courtyard."

    "Very well Sir," Morgan said, his eyebrows raised. "Is anything wrong?"

    "Lord Thoric and Jehnna gave their lives in battle defeating the devil that had come after them Morgan. I am sorry."

    Michael stood and placed his hands on Morgan's shoulder. The loyal seneschal had been at his post even before the castles' completed construction eleven years ago, and he had served under the dwarf Lord Thoric for eight of those years.

    "I am sorry, my friend. But Lord-Mayor Gasgal has released Thoric's Lordship and installed me as his Governor-Knight. He has spoken with my superiors in the 'Hart and I am to remain in Greyhawk ostensibly on 'ambassadorial duties' and to serve Greyhawk in all local matters."

    It was a few moments before Morgan had rallied enough to trust his voice, his face looked haggard and pasty as if he was sick. He stood and unbuckled his mace.

    "I - I - that is sad news indeed. But Lord Thoric has died a proud warrior's death and I salute him. May he find the peace in death he never had in life."

    Morgan dropped to one knee, and laid his weapon at Michael's feet. His head still bowed, he spoke "I pledge loyalty to my new Lord. I will serve the Free City of Greyhawk, and Talonkeep through your commands my Lord. I will serve you loyally while I still draw breath into my body. This I swear before the almighty Invincible One, who is Lord of us all."

    Michael was a little taken aback, but he laid a hand on his seneschal's head lightly and thanked him genuinely. Then he extended a hand and pulled him back to his feet.

    "I mean it when I say thank you, Morgan. I mean to take my responsibility very seriously and not only serve this city-state the best way I know how, but also to make Thoric proud of us all. He was a very valiant warrior. I cannot do any of that without you at my side. You are more than my loyal seneschal, I count you among my friends and as such I value your advice and experience but also your companionship and company. Please don't feel the need to stand on ceremony with me or to marshal your words when we are in private."

    Michael smiled warmly as Morgan grew darker with humbled embarrassment. The two warriors stood before each other, a little awkwardly for a moment, then shook hands clasping each others forearms in the warriors embrace.

    "Now before the hour grows too late, I am eager to meet with my friends and see how they fare."

    "Of course my Lord. I will attend to your instructions directly," Morgan claimed his cloak from the peg on the wall before they both walked back out into the fog.

    As they parted to go their separate ways, Morgan paused and called out to his new Lord, "Oh, one more thing, sir."

    Michael stopped and turned.

    "My congratulations!"

    * * * * *

    The tavern that stood within the walls of Talonkeep was named At The Sign of the St. Joseph. The keep had changed very little since Scintilla Galahad's time, and this tavern was an example. It had been established almost before the keep's completion, and was named after the river boat that Galahad's company had used to travel much of the Flanaess. It was managed by a trio of retired adventurers and frequented by most of the castle guards and staff.

    Michael though didn't often have reason to visit the tavern and the sudden arrival of their Lord in the smoky and busy taproom caused many of the off-duty guardsmen to splutter into their beers. Whilst the dwarven guards glowered at Michael with their bristly eyebrows raised and beer foaming in their beards, many of the human guards leaped or staggered to their feet, performing clumsy salutes.

    The previous good-natured drunkenness lapsed into an uncomfortable awkwardness.Michael returned their salutes, "At ease gentlemen. I am merely here to ?"

    Michael spotted his friends watching his entrance from a darkened alcove hidden in shadows beneath the stairs.

    "At ease gentlemen." He finished, lamely.

    As Michael strode between the tables the men did their best to relax, the dwur still muttering about their Lord interrupting their off-duty speculation about tomorrow's unprecedented address. The news was already spreading quickly.

    Rushlight stood first.

    "Michael," Rushlight smiled and embraced the knight.

    The priest of Heironeous was tall, handsome and strong but Michael detected a hint of a shiver in his voice and sadness in his normally bright eyes. He wore his plate armour, and although he had clearly done his best to clean and polish it, the steel was bent badly out of place, split in several places and even missing parts. The lightning bolt symbol of the Invincible One was sadly faded and so twisted out of shape it was hard to identify.

    "It gladdens my heart to see you again, Father Rushlight." Michael respectfully greeted the priest.

    The two holy men held each others gaze for a moment. Michael felt uneasy, as if Rushlight wanted to tell him something, warn him perhaps.

    Then Michael felt a weight attach itself around his waist and was pulled down to his knees in a great hug by the doughty noniz, Snirthebevlin.

    "It's good to see you too, Bevlin, my old friend."

    Michael tried to pull back, to meet his little friends eyes but the noniz pulled him tighter, he felt dampness against his cheek, was Bevlin crying?

    Then he heard a faint whisper.

    "Oh Michael, you must help us. You must forgive us. We have done something so terrible?"

    Before the noniz could whisper anything more. Bolan's heavy hand fell upon his shoulder.

    "Hey Bev, save some paladin for the rest of us."

    Michael stood, looking curiously at Bevelin still as the barbarian took the noniz' hand.

    "Michael."

    "Bolan."

    The knight and the barbarian were similar heights, but Bolan still appeared to dwarf Michael. He was possibly a hundred pounds his heavier with meaty arms and a heavier gut, and swaddled in thick and dirty animal furs. His hair and beard were both jet black, thick, wild and unkempt.

    "Michael." Bolan said again.

    He held his gaze a moment longer, nodded, and then turned away.

    "Come on Bev, lets get our old friend a drink."

    He led the noniz over to the bar, Michael watched them walk through the taproom muttering to each other, and then turned back to the darkened booth.

    The hobniz Ponto sat at the back, carefully oiling his huge crossbow on the table. He didn't stand or even look up.

    "Ponto." Michael said, by way of greeting. "Since when did you start to smoke."

    He indicated the thick and foul smelling cigar hanging from the hobniz' mouth.

    "Since when did you care?" Ponto answered without so much as a glance.

    At least some things don't change, Michael thought, strangely reassured by Ponto's thinly veiled hostility. Rushlight ushered him into the booth and introduced him to the other two men.

    "Michael, this is Karyl Faller," Rushlight indicated the middle-aged bearded man whose chainmail was covered with a dirty and torn green robe, "and this is Travis of Ralishaz. Gentlemen, our host Sir Michael Torgrim, Knight of the Hart and Paladin of the Invincible One."

    Michael nodded at the two men, Karyl reached across the table to shake his hand, but the priest of Ralishaz whom Michael couldn't make out too well in the gloom seemed more interested in assisting Ponto.

    As Michael took his seat, Bolan and Bevelin returned with a large tray full of drinks.

    "I can't tell you all how good it is to see you after all of this time. I must apologise for Leeahn's absence she has just recently received some distressing news and has had to return home. I hope you can stay for a while, I don't know your plans, but she would love to see you all."

    Ponto grunted something and Michael thought he heard a chuckle from Travis, he scowled, darkly.

    "We really don?t know our plans ourselves yet, Michael," said Rushlight. "We are just pleased to finally be home."

    "And I'm pleased that you are all home. What happened out there?where was it you went?the darklands?"

    "We were successful in defeating the devil that threatened Thoric and Jehnna and the necromancer Malek. In the battle Malek's apprentice shattered a powerfully enchanted wizard's staff, the magic released itself in a tremendous explosion that claimed not only the devil but also Thoric and Jehnna." Rushlight explained.

    "Not to mention the poor bloody 'prentice himself." It was the first time Michael had heard the priest Travis speak, was that an olven accent?

    Michael nodded grimly, "but this all must have been some time ago. Were you unable to return home directly?"

    "The world we were in, Michael, is like this one only in its appearance. Magic is much harder to practise. It is a dark and wicked world where evil appears to rule, a wizard's magic is often perverted and twisted against him, and even my own divine magic was weakened. I don't believe the Invincible One could even hear or heed my prayers from within those dark shadows." Rushlight continued.

    "So how did you...?" Michael looked around at the grim faces. Bevelin couldn?t meet his gaze, he had shuffled closer to Bolan and appeared to be quietly sobbing. The big barbarian glared defiantly at Michael, and then turned his hostile gaze on Rushlight.

    "The necromancer realised that he owed us a debt of honour and after some lengthy research he was able to perform a dangerous ritual - with some assistance from?some of us - that released us and returned us home."

    Even Rushlight was looking down now, twisting his mug around and around in his grip clearly uncomfortable.

    Bolan was also fingering something at his belt and beneath his furs.

    Bevelin sobbed openly. Ponto furiously polished. Karyl was silent and staring into space. Travis was carefully watching Michael as if waiting for his reaction.

    The table had fallen silent and uncomfortable. It was clear that Michael wasn't being told everything. It was just as clear that he wasn't about to be told anytime soon. He cleared his throat and stood.

    "Well, I am pleased that you all are safe. You are of course welcome to stay, and I hope that you do. I have a busy day tomorrow, but if anyone wants me for anything," here Michael looked pointedly at Bevelin and Rushlight. "I will be in my rooms at the Lord's Tower in the inner keep.
    Any guard can direct you. But we shall meet again tomorrow. Well. Goodnight then."

    Feeling decidedly uneasy, Michael turned and made his way out of the taproom. It had not quite been the reunion he had hoped for or expected, his former companions had seemed almost as strangers, mere shadows of themselves. He had no clear idea what terrible ordeals they had been faced with, but he could see the horror in their eyes. At least Rushlight had retained his faith, it had kept him strong.

    Michael stepped back outside.

    The hour was late, nearly midnight. The fog was thick around Talonkeep, and it seemed as if the twin moons lent it a strange, pale glow that reminded Michael of the eerie white mists of the ethereal world.

    The keep was quiet, he knew his men would be patrolling the walls but they were invisible in this mist. Nothing moved through the fog, but as he made his way to his tower using the fountain just outside the tavern to orient himself, it seemed the fog itself was moving.

    Patches of it thickened into phantasmal creatures. By the time he had reached the inner tower that housed the castle smithy and armourer, Michael was seeing red eyes shine out from these amorphous, and imagined faces, and then vanish as smoothly as they'd appeared.

    "What is this?" Michael muttered, a little shaken despite himself.

    He unconsciously loosened his sword in its scabbard and felt for the reassuring weight of his holy symbol, playing with it on its chain.

    "It is a promise of things to come," a deep voice growled from behind him.

    Michael whirled around, his sword flashed into his hand, "Who's there? Show yourself."

    A huge threatening shape began to materialise from the fog.

    It was Bolan.

    "Bolan!" Michael cried, breathing a sigh of relief.

    The barbarian stood silent for a moment eyeing Michael's naked blade. Michael frowned again at his old companion's unusual behaviour - something was very wrong here - he sheathed his blade.

    "Bolan, old friend," he ignored the barbarian's wry smile. "Talk to me my friend. Something is clearly wrong. Tell me what is wrong, I beg you. I can see the sorrow in your eyes, and the state of Bevelin, for the love of...Bolan, let me help you."

    Bolan sneered and scratched at his beard glancing around as if he could see through this thick fog.

    "You cannot help me or the others. You have had it easy here Michael, since the Temple. Noble Michael Torgrim, Lord of the Manor, knight in shining armour. How could you ever begin to understand our nightmares, much less banish them? With your god?" He spat the word as if it had an unpleasant taste.

    "Now listen, Bolan. I understand that you have been through a terrible ordeal - lost companions and friends. But I don't understand your hostility towards me, and by the gods, I do not appreciate it. You and I fought side by side for a long time, we shed blood and tears together. I respect you and I want to help you, I don't want to argue with you, and I much less want to fight with you."

    Michael was alarmed to find that his voice had raised and he had taken several involuntary steps towards Bolan. They stood now almost chest to chest, wreathed in unholy fog, their eyes locked.

    Suddenly Bolan grasped Michael's shoulders and pulled him into a tight embrace. Michael thought he could feel the big man trembling beneath his furs.

    "You are right, Michael and I am sorry. It has been too long since we were shown hospitality by a host and I forget my manners." He released Michael from the bone aching hug.

    "We had to do terrible things Michael. Nothing can help that now, not even you," he said this with only a hint of sarcasm. "It is better that you do not know, simply because what is done is done. It cannot be changed or undone. I take full responsibility - may Ralishaz preserve me. Please never think ill of the others, especially Bev, the little fellow never?I mean, he would never?"

    Bolan's mouth tightened and his eyes hardened. "I take full responsibility."

    The barbarian met Michael's eyes, nodded and clapped him on the shoulder again.

    "Wish Leeahn well from me," he said and turned abruptly, vanishing into the thick fog.

    Michael stood there in the damp darkness for some time, an unmoving island of confusion and concern in the seas of moving mists, then he too turned and left.

    No one could see him coming, so it took some time to get the guards' attention and open the inner gatehouse.

    As he passed the gatehouse and headed for his tower the sounds of his guardsmen grew muffled behind him, and then died altogether as if they too had ceased to exist.

    * * * * *

    When Bolan left Michael he didn't make straight for the tavern but instead headed around the inner curtain wall towards the stables. The nagging ache in his skull was driving him demented, he had not meant to be so bear-headed towards Michael.

    True the paladin was as stiff and self-righteous as they came, and his holier-than-though morals could test anyone's patience, but he was right.

    They had fought together, shed blood, sweat and tears together, saved each others' lives countless times, and that did earn him respect.

    Michael was alright in Bolan's opinion?for a paladin.

    But the ache in his head, the unquenchable thirst of the thing was terrible. It screamed inside his skull until it consumed his thoughts.

    He knew that if he didn't feed it soon, it would take what it needed from him. What else could he do?

    Outside the stables, nestled against the inner curtain walls beyond the gatehouse were the castle animal pens. Chickens, pigs, sheep, a few cows, they were for the slaughter anyway, Bolan reasoned, and he would leave the meat.

    He climbed the low fence, and unseen in the thick fog approached a cow.

    The cow seemed to watch him suspiciously as he produced a dagger hidden at his belt.

    Feed feed feed me, it screamed in his head.

    The dagger looked an evil, unholy thing, and indeed it was. The blade was long and curved, forged of black steel with wicked red etched runes that hurt the eyes and the mind to look at.
    The hilt was bound with skin that Bolan preferred not to think about. Mounted in the pommel was a blood-red ruby, the crossguard had been fashioned into the ugly design of a vampire with bared fangs.

    The blade was intelligent, or at least it was a vessel that bound the intelligent spirit of some vile creature. A demon or a vampire, Bolan didn't understand it fully yet.

    He did know that he was cursed with it, he had killed with it, murdered an innocent with it in order to complete the ritual that had seen his friends safely home.

    Now it was bound irreversibly and unforgivingly to his soul. He couldn't be rid of it, and if he didn't feed it, on the blood of the living, it would feed on his very soul.

    Maybe my soul is damned anyway, he thought, as he thrust the steel deep into the cow's jugular.

    The cow screamed and defecated in its panicked death throes, but the blade bit deep, it sank swiftly to the hilt and the dying animals squalls were brief and muffled by the mists.

    Bolan stood and watched for almost ten minutes, unable not to hear the awful, suckling sounds like some obscene babe at its mother's teat, as the fang of the nosferatu drained and drank the beasts blood, absorbing it into the very steel.

    Eventually he pulled the dagger free and wiped it clean on the cow's damp fur.

    More more blood more need more, but the constant cries in his mind had receded into a dull ache.

    He could ignore them, for now.

    "Ralishaz preserve me." Bolan prayed as he walked back to join his friends in the tavern.

    * * * * *

    The fog now was thicker than ever. Bolan feared he would not even be able to find the tavern.

    But then there it was, he didn't remember coming around the curtain wall or passing the armourer's tower, but he must have because here he was.

    He looked up towards the creaking of the inn's wooden sign but he could barely see a foot in front of him. He felt along the wall until he found the door, fumbled with the latch and let himself into the taproom. The weather must have dampened everyone's spirits he thought, the bar was deserted and closed now for the night.

    (have I been gone that long?)

    He stood for a moment, a cold dread seeping into his weary limbs. By the time he had fastened the door the fog had invaded the taproom.

    By the time he had crossed the room and reached the foot of the stairs, the fog was ahead of him reaching its tendrils onto the upper hallways.

    "Let what will come, come." Bolan whispered the ancient prayer to Istus, Lady of Fate and with a resigned nature stomped heavily up the stairs.

    Ponto emerged in the hall at the top of the staircase, swinging his heavy crossbow easily to the sound of the footsteps.

    "Ponto, it's me."

    The hobniz raised his weapon to allow Bolan to pass, the honbinz studied his friend's grim look.

    "There's things in this mist Bolan. Karyl wants to see you, now."

    The door to their shared bunkroom was just down the hall, but as the two old comrades made their way through the swirling mists it seemed that the silent corridor was somehow too long.

    They made their way into the room. Rushlight suddenly appeared in the centre of the room, Bevelin stood close by him holding his hand.

    Karyl was merely a silhouette leaning on his staff and apparently floating in the mist.

    Travis could only be heard, a bodiless voice lost in urgent prayer.

    "You all know what this means?" Karyl said, his voice shaking.

    "It means that we were betrayed, Malek has played us for fools." Rushlight shouted angrily. The priest was scared.

    "Or that he failed," Bolan said quietly, resigned. "After everything that we did, he failed. We failed."

    Bevelin screamed, "No, we can't have! I won?t go back!"

    "We're damned." Ponto said, he turned to Rushlight. "You really think that your god wants us back on his world. We don?t deserve this world. Damned."

    The mists billowed then and finally swallowed them all.

    "
     
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