Brensh found herself walking on the side path out of town.
It wasn’t that she wanted to go that way, not really. Her mentor proper was still on a mission to the south, dealing with an infestation of blighted warriors that were harassing another border city.
Aer’s guild was first pick in dealing with the worst of the blight, or at least, it normally was. Without the majority of their hard hitters (the border was going through troubles across it, though none as severe as Scoured Reach’s burnt watchtower) there wasn’t a mentor to be found for her.
Not unless she wanted to give Lyn another try. The way she moved… that fluidity of form.
No hesitation in killing. No hesitation in maiming.
The complete and utter lack of emotion in her face. Flat, placid across her grey skin.
Brensh didn’t know if she was up to ask her for training. Not after that mission, when she’d slipped away from the party to let her debrief.
Was that what the ending path for the war god looked like?
There was a shrine next to town. It’d been around since before the Blight, and since before the gods had left. Towered in the distance, a spire of jutting white marble. Three fingers, pointing up into the sky.
Across the palm of the great hand, a spring burst forward.
She didn’t have to worry about traffic on that road. A few houses, temple paced, sat straddling the road.
Everyone who needed to use the shrine lived close to it.
Everyone except Brensh. And now, perhaps, Lyn.
But she doubted it. Why would Lyn need guidance?
The shadows drifted in front of the sun; hidden behind the grasping fingers, pointed at the heavens in a silent reprisal. A prayer that someone might return and lift the buried arm into the heavens.
But it just provided a shade for Brensh as she slipped forward.
There were no proper robes for this shrine. The ones closer to the capital, burgeoning city that it was, clung to ideas of poise and grace, as if adhering to uniform and policy might bring back the wargod’s touch upon the land, quicken the blood and strengthen the heart.
But here, the robes were worn by choice, and there was no admonition from the priest as she climbed marble stairs up the palm of the hand and knelt before the spring.
Water diverted nimbly down two cut paths. The runes, ancient tongue that none knew the origin of (except perhaps Dan, wizards were strange that way) kept the water pure and clean despite the source.
An easy way for the priests and warriors to survive the journey, even long after the area had been Blighted.
“Brensh,” a priest acknowledged her.
“Raimy,” Brensh nodded back at him.
“I heard your mission went well,” Raimy lied.
Brensh smiled. “Nobody died.”
In that regard, it had gone well. There was no god to move the war church’s dead into the afterlife.
Much like the blighted, they needed to be destroyed on death, lest they rise again unnaturally.
“Nobody that didn’t deserve it,” Brensh corrected.
Raimy looked down at the spring. Water flowed heavily or the carved abscess. No hint of rot from such a wound, but the blades still hung underneath of the flowing water.
Rust caked their forms, licked at their edges. Dented pieces of metal, rot had taken their forms.
“Which blade do you want to take today?” Raimy asked.
Brensh bit her lip and stared down at them, before pointing at a gladius. The older priest (scars criss crossed his face, somehow making him look older, though there was no way he was older than the nearby town) knelt down, and slipped his thin wrist into the water, dragging the blade up by the hilt.
Then he presented her with the blade.
“The equipment is where it always is,” Raimy said. Brensh bowed politely and swept away from the spring.
Then she found the equipment and went about the impossible task of restoring the blade. Maybe, if more people joined, she might see one of the blades in proper shape.
But for now, she chipped away at rust and rot, and started at the mottled metal below. The trickle of water down ornate carved steps was all the music she needed or wanted.
There was a sort of reward in that itself.
And she pondered the guild she worked in.
Dan wasn’t in the guild that day.
Instead, he was, without any coordination, on almost the exact opposite side of town from Brensh. Not even Lyn had followed him there.
It was his blasting spot. A plateau towering above the wiregrass, carved stone untouched by centuries of wind. It’d been a pickle to get up at first, since he’d had to test which handholds had gone bad and which ones hadn’t, but that’d been an issue a year ago.
Now it just had the best sights in fifty miles. To his east, the line of Scoured Reach, mottled and rippling out from the Sheriff’s office.
The west, unbroken terrain and landscape. Watch towers dotted the mess every dozen miles or so, understaffed, under populated.
They were pushing this decade, and they’d cut the Blight back far enough that in a few years, the routing armies of the king would set up the next layer for habitation.
Maybe Aer would move their guild then. Dan didn’t know or care.
But up on the plateau, his magic worked flawlessly. Ornate runes and equations danced in his head as he opened up books. Not a sound other than the whistling of wind. Not a concern for what people around him thought, or precaution to take to prevent anyone from wandering off with a wizard’s work.
Just the steady thump of his heart, a jar of ink, and the blood he combined it with. He painted like a master, long winding sweeps up and down pages. This was a special book; a spell he’d been working on in his spare time for years. One day, it’d even be finished. A grand thesis of the magic he’d scraped together from his explorations of the old world.
This was why he stuck around the guild. There was a whole world out there, buried under rotting death and decay.
And if he went with the right party, and cast his spells right, and did the right things, he could be the first college graduate to see sights that had been lost years ago.
Grand libraries sunk under the ground to prevent the infection from taking home. The lost resting place of the grey priests, the lost secrets of mage colleges long ago.
When there’d been a civilization under those plains, instead of the death they’d decided to leave it to.
Another swipe of ink in a looping numeral, another whistle of the wind. He set the book down, weighted it so the page could dry, and pulled out his more practical combat tome, and went back to copying the spells he’d used with Lyn. It took a lot of his blood, but there was no point in not being prepared.
He’d learned that lesson when he’d left home.
They were still looking for him.
The other part of staying in the guild.
From this spot, he could spot the watch post they’d gone to in the distance. If he hadn’t known it was burned himself, he’d’ve never been able to pick it out.
The god-ways were quiet and devoid of static. He knew, from witnessing himself the blasts and spikes made of the walls of that realm, that once it had been loud and bright. A flurry of people shouting and screeching into the void, and the gods laboring in their great palaces in the beyond searching out the most earnest and needed to keep the world intact.
But now, to Matt, they were quiet, and devoid of static. The same way they’d been since he’d become an Evoker.
Not a touch in the air, not a drifting murmur.
Just the steady thrum of the sleeping god of magic. His mind trailed off far into the distance, until it met another solemn figure. They exchanged messages. There was no point in doing much else.
The Capital was fine. The King’s daughter was looking for suitors. A festival was being held for successes at the border.
The Border needed support. An attack claimed a border post. Send guards.
We’re sending an investigator as well. Keep the matter quiet. Are dragons suspected?
Dragons are not suspected.
Good luck with your deputy.
Matt hesitated for a moment in the passage and looked off into the distance. Far off shimmered the afterlives of man. Glinting in their citadel.
A danger to someone who assumed one day they’d get there.
Matt wasn’t so naive.
Then the great god-ways returned to their quiet, and Matt drew himself out of them. He relaxed his grip on his symbol, let it thump against the wood of his desk.
Tanie looked up. “You’re back already? Any luck?”
“They got my message,” Matt said, tiredly. He ran a hand across his forehead. He needed a drink.
“And?” Tanie asked. Her talons clicked along her desk. Feathered tail twitched, long, languid.
“Can you do me a favor?” Matt asked. “Head up the first makeshift patrol around that area. Take whoever you need or want, just make sure nothing sneaks into town.”
“Do you still have the bombs?”
Matt smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Fill out the right form for them, and I’ll look the other way. Blighted deserve the quickest passage to the beyond.”