Council of Thieves
War-priest of Iomedae
The dark lay heavily upon the city, shadow suffocating the light that struggled to escape past shuttered windows. Faint traces of light shifted the night’s unyielding darkness, shimmering off of a cobblestone road and the dilapidated buildings of Westcrown’s residential district. In the distance, a baby’s cry rose from its room; the high wail lonely and afraid. A direct reflection of how Aroden’s disappearance had affected them all.
Nisha stood alone in the alleyway, motionless save for the rare twitch of her tail. Eyes shut, she searched the darkness around her, elevating her other senses to read the ebb and flow of the night. They would come. They always came. A pointed ear twitched as the infant’s cry petered out of existence, soothed by someone who still cared. That mattered. Caring was a luxury many couldn’t afford any longer, not under Asmodeus’s rule. The God-Fiend’s beliefs had spread far and wide, even to this festering hole many still called home.
The strong subjegated the weak, and the weak surrendered into unwavering servitude.
They were tenets that Aroden would never abide by, and Nisha would carry out what he could not. Fingers flexed around the worn handle of her shield, the leather molded perfectly to fit the shape of her grip. They had been friends for a long time, from the days where Aroden had guided her steps, teaching her the import of protecting those who could not defend themselves. The Last of the First Human’s had committed his life to the task, living by example as he walked among them in his twelve guises… Those were the days she remembered with fondness, better days, but her prayers had gone unanswered for too long. His clergy and clerics rendered useless without his divine power.
Despite the years that had past, Nisha felt the same curl of horror as she recalled that panic filled day. Her fist curled and released repetitively over the handle of her shield as she allowed her mind to trace over the past. Over a day that changed the history of the world, a day she would never forget.
She awoke to the tolling bell, summoning the tenants of the church from their beds to kneel and begin their day in supplication. Rising with the rest of the clergy, Nisha knelt with a light heart as she began her prayers, requesting the guidance and support that Aroden always gave her, despite her race. Only this time he didn’t answered.
Her prayers grew more frantic as the hour wore on. She couldn’t feel his touch, his grace upon her soul. Falling forward, Nisha prostrated herself, her forehead pressed to the wooden floor as she repented for the temptation that assailed her. It had been years since she’d indulged, but the mere desire was a darkness upon her soul. A soul she now feared Aroden couldn’t accept.
A full three hours later, Nisha rose, shaken to the core of her being. Only then did she hear the wails in the rooms below her and the pound of feet in the halls. She’d emerged from her room, a shadow of her normal self, but clinging to a sliver of hope. Without Aroden, without his guidance, she was lost but she would speak to the high priest. He would show her the way to regain The Last Azlanti’s trust and she would be whole once more. Nisha had to believe that, nursing the flame of hope that would guide her through this darkness.
But Nisha wasn’t the only one who’d lost touch with her beloved god. The church was in chaos, clerics and priests rending their clothes and wailing, head bare of the tall hats they preferred. “Aroden has abandoned us!” Malicken sobbed, slumped against the wall. Crouching beside the plump, generally cleric, Nisha snapped her fingers to gain his attention.
“Malicken, What’s going on?” She asked urgently, thankful that her panic had subdued her temptation for now.
“Aroden…” He panted, tears swimming in his eyes. “He hasn’t answered our prayers…”
“But the prophecy!” Nisha reminded him insistently. “He’s to come here, to Cheliax!” The Starfall Doctrine had indeed spoken of this day approaching and storms had ravished Galorion for the past three weeks. It was only then that she realized that the winds had quieted, the rain no longer whipping against the stained glass windows. Slowly she stood and turned in a circle, a lead ball of dread settling in her stomach at the prostrate forms of Aroden’s worshipers. “No…” She whispered in horror. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He was coming here. To her city. Aroden would walk the world and she would seek him out and finally thank him in person. Knowing how childish it sounded, she’d never dared say it aloud but now…
Nisha’s mind stubbornly refused to process the implications of Aroden’s abandonment. Instead she pushed through the crowds that surrounded the high priest, the woman as calm as the eye of a hurricane. The flock surrounded her, chaos incarnate, begging her for direction and Nisha waited for her words, toeing the edge of panic that waited to engulf her.
Nisha yanked herself from her reverie, her eyes flashing open at the race of footsteps against stone. Steel whispered against leather as she drew her sword, tensing as her golden eyes searched the dark streets with the luminescence of a glowing lamp. Her tail curled as adrenaline trailed down her spine, a voice cutting through the night air.
“No! Please!” The panicked cry of a man fleeing death. Tensing, Nisha forced herself to wait, willing the man closer, to escape his fate for a few heartbeats more… Come to me…
Then she heard it, the wild scrape of claws upon stone, as harsh as flint against steel, too close for the man to survive. Growling in frustration, Nisha burst into action. Racing forward, her leather boots slipped on the smooth stones as she erupted from the alleyway. She slid, her sword hand brushing the street to steady herself as she twisted and changed directions. Sparks flashed in the night as her sword touched stone, illuminating a man falling with a Shadow Beast’s teeth buried deep in his shoulder.
Fear tinged in her stomach at the sheer size of the creature, which stood as high as a horse with the feral majesty of a carnivore. Cloaked in shadow, the beast was something born of nightmares, it’s very skin seeming to shift and curl in the darkness. With an inhuman roar she slammed her sword against her shield, the sound a crack of lightning in the night. Golden eyes flashed and Nisha’s lips drew back to bare sharp fangs as she challenged the beast for its prey. Releasing the man, the creature looked up at it’s contender with a baleful stare before lunging to meet her.
“Run!” Nisha commanded, praying to Iomedae that the man had enough strength to obey.
The Shadow Beast collided with her shield, it’s nails scraping sickeningly against the metal as it fought to get past her defenses. Her feet slid as it forced her back, it’s snarl drowning out her feral growl. Bringing her sword up from the side, she pierced it’s shadowy hide, blood running thick and black down her blade. The Beast howled but didn’t retreat. Enraged instead of intimidated, it rose on his back legs while it’s front claws and teeth ripped and tore at her shield. Shaken like a ragdoll, Nisha held tight. When forced to choose between a shield and a sword, she’d choose shield time and time again.
Her blade caught the gleam of her eyes as she stabbed again, driving the Beast off of her. Their tails twitched as they circled each other, hate mirrored in their eyes. “What are you waiting for?” Nisha whispered, her fangs throbbing with thirst. “Come to me!”
With a roar, he charged. Feinting left before lunging right, the oversized creature of the night pounced and with a sharp cry, Nisha tripped. His weight forced her over backwards and she dropped her sword to two-hand her shield. Endless hours of training kept her shield between her and the Beast, but her muscles screaming in protest as she held it’s weight off of her. Sharp rear claws ripped at the armor protecting her thighs and Nisha screamed as the metal split like tin. Protecting her face and chest with her shield, she strained to keep its gnashing teeth off of her jugular as she fought for her scroll box.
Aroden, please! Give me the strength! The words were a blasphemy to her new goddess, but Nisha couldn’t pause to feel guilt. The strength she desperately need didn’t come, her prayer unanswered as it always was and Nisha’s eyes fell closed as her mortality loomed above her. Hot, rancid breath curled past her shield and her lips twisted in disgust. She couldn’t die. Not here… Not to the servant of Asmodeus. Her honor wouldn’t allow it.
Fueling herself with rage instead of divine power, Nisha braced against the Shadow Beast with one hand, releasing with her right to seize her last scroll. The parchment unrolled, the letters glimmering reflectively in the dark, spelling out the words of power. Luce solis, virtus est! As she read each word it rose off the page, a shimmer of light forming a colorful ribbon that twisted and contorted in the air around her. Expellat tenebras in lucem et iter! The Beast tried to back away, a low hiss rising to a howl of rage but Nisha’s voice swelled with confidence, reverberating in the air as the magic began to take hold. An aurora surrounded them now, giving the Shadow Beast nowhere to hide and it slunk close to the ground, fear shining in the depths of his eyes. Da mihi voluntas libera est, ET SOL!
Sunlight burst around them like a silent explosion, stunning her and decimating the Shadow Beast. Throwing an arm over her eyes, Nisha rolled to the side as pain lanced her skull. The transition from darkvision to complete light had been blinding, but she staggered to her feet clumsily placing her shield between her and the dissipating howls of pain. Slowly she backed away, squinting against the light as her eyes slowly began to adjust until she stood at the edge of the dome of daylight. It was nearly a comical sight, brilliant light in the center that faded somewhat until it petered off sixty feet away… It almost looked like a portal to another world.
To her disappointment, Nisha didn’t see the Shadow Beast’s body, but by the sound it was hurt and running. Keep running. She thought bitterly. Run back to Hell and tell them Justice has a bite. Her golden eyes scanned the street for the injured man, but he was gone, as if he’d never been there.
“Ow…” She whispered, finally letting her shield drop. Agony finally set in now that her adrenaline slowed and Nisha groaned. Blood ran freely down her legs and her brow creased in pain she rarely showed, but there was no one to be strong for. Knees shaking, she leaned back against a ramshackle wall as she summoned her magic to heal herself. Golden light rose to her fingertips and Nisha cringed as she pressed her palm into her thigh. The familiar itching healing process began and she dipped her chin forward, suddenly exhausted.
She’d lived… and hopefully saved someone in the process.