The Message

Gideon could smell the smoke rising. The sounds of battle and yelling of combatants rode the wind. He stared out the window, watching the fires blaze and the shadows of figures rushing each other, full of fury and intent.

He turned back to the letter in front of him. The writing was scribbled and distorted, a hand writing as fast and recklessly as it could, desperate to get it’s message out.

“To Lord Percival:

Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming…”

It extended to the bottom of the page, that same phrase that pulsed behind the Lurihim’s eyes and rang in his ears. There was another on the desk, addressed to Sir Sanguine. And another, for Seneschal Kirsa. And a third, for Father Ansel. And a final one, for Bishop Adeodatus. All contained that same phrase, repeated over and over like a mantra. Gideon hoped that if he wrote enough letters, spread His Message widely enough, that perhaps the urgency of it would abate from his mind.

Gideon’s personal journal lay on the floor nearby, swept off the desk in his frenzy to compulsively spread the message of the Archangel that pounded in his skull. Half of it was introspection and contemplation on the healing arts and the Miracle until it abruptly became that scrawled feverish message halfway through.

Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming…

~Yes I am, Gideon. And when I arrive, I will take them all. My Hand will claim your friends and allies. And then I will claim the rest of Stragosa while you watch.

All will be Mine. Except you. You will be my Herald. You will be the last.~

Gideon was sweating. He clutched his head, eyes squeezed shut.

“Damn it, Lurian… stay your Hand, you bastard…”

~I will not, Herald. All are Mine in the end. Look out the window for the proof. It has already started. It is already here. Now return to spreading My Message.~

“Yes, Lurian…” The priest muttered. He turned back to the page automatically and began to write again.

Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming. Lurian is coming…

The Price of Mercy

-Five Years Ago-

“Gideon,” sighed the Bishop. He was an older man, dressed in the plain brown robes of the Mendelhim. He massaged the bridge of his nose as he looked disapprovingly at the young Priest who sat across the desk from him. “Back again, I see.”

“Yes, Bishop,” replied the young man. His features were obscured by bandages that had been wrapped around his head, trails of blood soaking through them at the cheeks. Three angry red lines on each side, marks the healers said would never go away. A constant reminder of his decision to involve himself in matters that did not concern him.

“And this time you…” the Bishop picked up a parchment from the desk and scanned it quickly, “interceded in a duel to the death?” His eyes lifted from the page to regard the wounded Priest wearily.

“That isn’t quite accurate, Bishop. I didn’t involve myself in the duel… I saved the life of the loser.”

“You saved the life… of the loser… of a death duel?” The Bishop sounded incredulous.

“Yes, Bishop.”

“Why, Gideon?”

The young Priest met his gaze without flinching. “Mercy in all things, Bishop. I could save the man. So I did.”

“And were attacked in turn by the winner.” It was not a question.

“Yes, Bishop. The Lurihim said I will wear these scars for the rest of my life.”

The Bishop regarded him appraisingly. “And you aren’t concerned that it might put your patients at ill ease to see them?”

Gideon shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll wear a mask…”

-Three Years Ago-

“Gideon. Back again, I see.”

Another Bishop, of the Cyanaheim. A new town. Scrow this time.

“Yes, Bishop.” He wore a mask now, the Plague Doctor visage the Lurihim were known for. His voice was distorted behind the leather.

“Father Superior Cornelius reports that you did it again.”

Gideon nodded. “Yes, Bishop.”

The Bishop sighed heavily. “Gideon… you *cannot* keep doing this. We need to be reaffirming people’s faith in Benalus, bolstering their trust in the Church and belief in God.”

Gideon’s head tilted as he spoke in reply, “I make every effort to stay Lurian’s hand and embolden their faith in God and Benalus, Bishop. I offer Baptism and confession so they might find Atonement and return to our fold. Should that fail, I offer guidance as to how they might relieve their suffering.”

“By directing them to Physikers and apothecaries.”

“Of course not, Bishop. The use of drugs is sinful. I simply tell them who to talk to that might be able to help them when spiritual means cannot. If those individuals lead them to sinful behavior, I have no knowledge of it.”

The Bishop’s mouth formed a line. “You’re walking a dangerous path, Father.”

Gideon spread his hands in front of him. “Have I committed a sin, Bishop? Is my soul imperiled by heresy in doing this?”

The Bishop pinched the bridge of his nose, a common expression of frustration when dealing with Father Gideon. “No. Not technically. But-”

Gideon leaned forward in his seat. “If I’ve done nothing wrong, then why are we having this conversation?” His voice was hard, with a tinge of annoyance. The leather of his glove creaked as his fist balled.

“I should be at the Hospital tending to patients. People actually in need of treatment to avoid Lurian’s grasp. I make every effort at healing through the Church’s means, Bishop. But I cannot allow a living creature to suffer.” His voice had an impassioned edge. “Mercy. In. All. Things.”

The Bishop took a step back, clearly affected by the vehemence in the Priest’s voice. “A-and what if they should find their way into the arms of another faith?”

Gideon’s voice maintained it’s edge. “Then they do so of their own devices and that has nothing to do with *ME*. As I said, I make every effort to reaffirm their belief in the Benalian faith. Should they choose to seek out damnation of their own free will, they have done so after I have alread expended my attempts to bring them back to Benalus in order to treat them with our methods.”

Gideon’s stare could be felt from behind the glass discs that covered his eyes. “But as I said, Bishop: Mercy in all things. I cannot allow a living creature to suffer.”

The Bishop sighed, his body language backing down. “I fear for your soul if you continue this path, Father. And for your well-being. Lurian may take you sooner than we would like if you continue this foolishness.”

The masked Priest shook his head. “I don’t believe he will, Bishop Farin. I believe he wants me here, doing his work…”

-Last Year-

His smoking body stank with the odor of charred flesh as it was quickly placed in the center of the ring of powdered silver. A candle sat at each of the four compass points around him, lit one by one by the white-clad Priests who worked hurriedly to prepare the ritual. Beneath him lay a red sheet that obscured the blood soaking into it from the gaping hole just below his stomach. A ranking Lurihim, clad in white ceremonial robes, began to quickly work on the downed man, cutting away his burnt robes to leave him in his smallclothes and then beginning the surgery that they hoped would save his life.

It was all a haze to Gideon. The pain was indescribable. He faded in and out of consciousness. He couldn’t feel his legs.

Is this it, Lurian? Is this how you will take me? For doing Your Will and staying Your Hand where I could?

To his surprise, he heard a voice, melodic and otherworldly. A shape rose up before him, apparently unseen by the other Lurihim, including the Bishop who worked frantically on him. It became a massive figure in a white cloak, with great feathered wings, reaching a hand out towards him.

~Gideon… my dedicated servant. This is not your end. The fire mage has crippled your body, but your soul remains pure and untouched. Your work here is unfinished. And I am with you.~

“L-Lurian…” he muttered fitfully as the Bishop continued to work on him. He could see that three of the four candles were extinguished. The Bishop made his supplications and prayers even more earnestly. Gideon felt a wave of anger flow through him.

Damn it, Lurian! You say that this is not my time, but the fucking ritual is failing! Are you toying with me? Mocking my dedication to your Mercy and the sanctity of life? Is this really how you treat your humble servant in his time of need, with empty promises and placations?! Fuck off with your taunts and teasing! If I am to live then let me live, God damn it!

The Bishop completed his surgery with one candle left. The spectre of Lurian began fading from the delirious Priest.

~If that is how you speak to your Patron, Gideon… then let it be so. But know that I will never be far from you…~

Gideon woke, exhausted and battered from the ordeal. But he could still sense a lingering presence in the back of his mind…

-Four Months Ago-

The clergy and layfolk were both wary. The church leadership were unsure what to do with him. They deliberated amongst themselves.

To top it all off, one pointed out, that Fire Mage still wants his head. He cannot stay here.

But where can we send him? Another asked. Where would he be safe?

It’s not a matter of safety, said a third after a moment of contemplation. It’s a matter of practicality. Stragosa. He already has friends and allies there. Let them deal with him. Let him obsess over his Mercy and preventing suffering in a place where the first is desperately needed and the second most likely foolhardy.

Put him on the frontier? Asked the second incredulously.

Exactly, responded the third. Send him to Sir Percival. Have him answer to his Order there and the White Lions. Either he’ll get what he needs from the chaos that surrounds that place and his true purpose will come forth… or he’ll die. Probably horribly, if the stories about that place are true. Either way, he’ll no longer be our problem.

But will Sir Percival accept him in this state? Asked the second.

Why does he need to know? replied the third coyly. Gideon has a deep devotion to his Covenant and the healing arts. Surely that information will suffice.

The other two fell silent in contemplation.

I suppose… mused the first, if we took his masks, armor, and weapon… gave him some fresh Plague Doctor masks to eventually ruin once he gets there…

Precisely, replied the third. By the time anything is noticed, he’ll be settled in. And entirely not our problem anymore.

But… objected the second, what if what he claims is true?

If what he claims is true, said the third smugly, he’ll be protected. If not, he’ll be taken by his beloved Archangel. And either way, still no longer be our problem.

The first and second reluctantly nodded in agreement.

-Several Months Ago-

The masked Priest approached the forest warily. It was dark and foreboding, not the kind of place he wanted to be unarmed. The rest of the newcomers looked nervous as well.

A man came out of the treeline, carrying a lantern and a sword. He looked the rag tag group over with world-heavy eyes.

“My name is Graham. I’ve been sent to escort you the rest of the way to Stragosa.”

~Terrible things are going to happen to this man. You should tell him so.~

“Not now,” the Priest muttered into his mask, “This isn’t the time for cryptic warnings.”

One of the others looked at him.

“Did you say something, Father?”

Gideon shook his head. “No, it’s nothing… Lurian guides my thoughts. Keep an eye out, I’m not completely sure we can trust this man.”

His companion furrowed his brow, but in the dark forest, surrounded by possibly threats, they didn’t argue.

Gideon was unarmed but confident. He had faith that the Archangel and God would not abandon him…