What has come before: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

~~~ Meine, Priest of Isonia ~~~
Inside Syraph Keep, Moments Before

I lean against the stone wall of the prayer chamber, the cool surface comfortingly stable against my shaking hands, a bastion of simplicity anchoring me firmly to reality in the midst of utter chaos. My eyes meet those of Brother Zaphel, the middle-aged priest’s green-blue orbs wide in fear, his pupils dilated almost to their limit. I reach out an arm to the man, a gesture of friendship and comfort; the past few minutes have been nerve racking at best, and I think we could both benefit from the human contact. He grips my forearm tightly and limps to the wall, his left foot dragging behind him, the ankle obviously shattered. He bears the pain well enough, uncomplaining in his agony, and I respect his grit.

The dust has almost settled now, and the view of the destruction is terrible to behold. The entire chamber has been destroyed as if by an earthquake, but I know that a natural disaster was not the cause of the destruction, that would be too simple. No, Isonia has shown us her displeasure, although I think that is too light a word; the Goddess has shown us her hatred. Lord Tereil has most certainly been cast from the Order of Angels, and with him, us, his loyal followers.

“We have been forsaken,” Brother Zaphel states simply, mimicking my thoughts, the sorrow in his voice equaling that which I feel welling within my heart. “Forsaken… ” he trails off, his grip tightening on my forearm.

I want to say something to soothe him, but I have no words that will help, and even if I did, they would appear as meaningless as a lover’s tryst. The righteous ballads of Isonia that used to fill my soul have been replaced by chasms of sorrow, requiems of tears. I used to believe that my body was a living temple to my Goddess, but if that was the case, now it is a barren hovel, fit only for a beggar.

Instead, I nod to my fellow priest, my lips pressed firmly together, and let out a long sigh through my nostrils. My words, when they come, are terse, devoid of emotion. “So it appears.” I want to scream out, I want to flail about like a child deprived of his favorite toy, I want to rail against the unfairness of the world, and yet I bite my lip.

Brother Zaphel’s eyes speak volumes as he sighs and slides down the wall, pulling his knees up to his chin, favoring his smashed ankle. “What will we do, Meine?” He whispers, and I have to dip my head low to keep from missing the words. “She’s left us… completely. I can’t feel her, not even a little bit. I’ve given my life to serving her, and now……”, he trails off. I rest my hand on his shoulder, as he bites back a sob. Tears have never come easy to me; I think I cried them all long, long ago. “……and now I’m nothing. What good is a priest without a Goddess to serve?”

I shake my head slowly, another long sigh filling the dusty air. Unlike most clergy, I was not born into this faith, and only began worshipping the Lady of All as a teenager. Before then I had lived day-to-day on the streets of Syraph, a petty thief by necessity. “My friend,” I say my voice soft, “a priest is a living vessel of Isonia, yes, but he is also much more.” I speak as if I believe it, and perhaps I do, but the pain within my heart is still very real. “We are still the same men we were this morning, and yesterday morning, and last week, and last year. We still have it within our hearts to strive to better the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves, and that is something that can never be taken away from us, not by Isonia, or anyone else. We can still heal the sick, run soup kitchens for the poor, and comfort the bereaved; nothing is stopping us.”

I take a deep breath, clearing my throat and coughing slightly to clear the dust from my lungs. The streets had taught me the benefits of making the best of what life dealt me, a skill most priests lacked; being cloistered in a church for a lifetime was a fairly sheltered existence. “Come on, Zaphel, get up, we can do this,” I say, again offering the man my hand. “We should check on Lord Tereil at the very least.”

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