What has come before: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

~~~ Meine, Priest of Isonia ~~~

I lie face down on the warm mountain rock, the heat of the dying day radiating from the rough stone and soaking into my cheek, a small blessing. My breath comes in ragged gasps, and has been since I fell here twenty minutes ago. I feel exhausted, defeated, and scared beyond comprehension yet unable to press on any further. All the focal points of my existence – my home, my master, and my faith – have been shaken to the point of near collapse, struck down by Isonia’s fiery temper. Lord Tereil has fallen, and the unnatural sorrow that now fills him nearly drove me to suicide, so compelling was its song. But I ran, and though I am not proud of abandoning my master, I am alive, and perhaps one day I will be able to help redeem his immortal soul.

My arms scream in protest as I brace them beneath my prone form, pushing myself to my knees. Hot red blood flows lazily down my forearms from the stinging cuts that lace my elbows, products of earlier falls. I should clean and dress the lacerations, but the only bandages I could make are from my robes, and they are torn and filthy. With morbid fascination I watch the ruby stream trickle from my flesh to the ruddy brown rock, seeping into tiny crevices without leaving so much as a stain. I shake my head violently and tear my eyes from the grim spectacle, groaning aloud as I haul myself shakily to my feet.

The sun has sunk below the mountains, giving way to the pale specter of the moon and a soft shimmering blanket of stars. Gazing up at the heavens I feel a peace wash over my tired soul, dispelling the last vestiges of Tereil’s sorrow, calming my frayed nerves. I still ache, but the pain doesn’t seem as acute; the magic of the night sky has always captivated me, and comforted me. I could stand here forever, but I know I must move on; I have no food, no water, and no shelter; I cannot survive for long in these mountains, I need to find people who will take me in.

Though the way is treacherous, I slowly pick a path through the rocky terrain, stumbling often, but thankfully falling seldom. Now and then the lonely howl of a dire wolf breaks the silence of the night, sending shivers down my spine, and setting my hairs on end. Encountering such a beast would be fatal, unarmed as I am; I can only hope that one does not catch my scent.

Ahead of me the makeshift path I had been following ends abruptly in a steep incline of rock, which seems to level out thirty feet above. The gentle light of the moon illuminates the wall, revealing it’s porous nature. Before becoming a priest of Isonia I was a common gutter rat, and compared to the surfaces I scaled then, this does not appear difficult. My hands and feet find grips and I easily slink up the cliff, the only sign that I have not climbed in fifteen years is the aching protest from my unused muscles.

As I surmount the rock barrier my breath catches in my throat, and I nearly tumble backwards in surprise. Perched on a boulder not far away sits a woman clad in a simple white dress. Being careful to move very slowly I pull myself up to the plateau, dropping to my knees a few feet from the lip. My eyes are locked on the vision of loveliness as she combs her hands through her hair, working out a few wet tangles, moving towards perfection. Something about her visage compels me, forces my breath to catch in my throat, and makes me gape in wonder; her beauty seems otherworldly and strange, but wonderful.

Before I consciously realize it I have crossed half the distance from my perch to her boulder. The elven woman, for at this distance her pointed ears are easily apparent, turns to face me, her expression unreadable. The maiden’s face is lit up by the radiant moon, her eyes like soft pools of brilliance, and my heart skips a beat as I gaze upon her. Falling to my knees at her feet, words tumble from my mouth unbidden, “M’lady, be you a Goddess or an Angel, I am at your mercy.”

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