Faith and Failure


“Sister Solace, the fire mage interrogated the Rimelander with torture.”

“Ask me to hold you,” the woman with no skin pleaded, her eyes bright with tears, the one whole thing in the ruin of her face, and Solace could not say no.
“Hold me,” she said softly, a hitch in her voice.
The woman with no skin embraced her, her flesh cold and slick in the night air. Wherever she touched, the nerves cringed; a bone-deep ache, like the worst possible frostbite, drove nausea to Solace’ stomach and a scream from her mouth.
The woman with no skin moaned with happiness, and Solace passed out.
When she awoke, Sven was there, and the woman was gone. He pulled her close with a mailed hand, demanding something of Ignatius- to know what had happened? She collapsed back against him, her eyes almost closing again, when- “Lord Sven, there are more Coldhands in the woods, you’re needed by the bridge.”
Her uncle looked down at her, and she thought she saw concern in his eyes. “Go attend to your duties,” she said. “I’ll be alright.”

“Sister Solace, Luqa stabbed the Inquisitor and they need you.”


Father Inquisitor Asher sat almost crouched in the Ecumenical Council, a deep hood hiding their face.
“Are there any corroborating witnesses besides you to the miracle that lionized Rolf?”, said Sister Solace.
“I understand that a ritual was performed, but we have heard dark rumors regarding its origin,” said Friar Ignatius.
“Lionization is not a choice any one person can make, it is a truth that we as the Church recognize,” said the Eparch.
Asher thrust their head up suddenly, their eyes burning like coals in their sleepless face, and said nothing.


A disgruntled Rimelander is pinned to a tree by about three people, with more surrounding them.
They’re talking about nailing him to it, Solace realizes with sudden nauseating disgust, and she strides into the midst of the group, keeping her back straight and walking with practiced long, smooth strides.
She seizes the man from them and the Dunlander who usually won’t speak to her or make eye contact with her- Shanahan? is standing before her, blocking her path. “You need to speak to Lord Sven if you want to do that. These are his orders.” Revulsion curdles her stomach, and her mind is overtaken for a moment. This is not how prisoners of war should be treated.
Sven is her gentle uncle, who asks after her welfare at the slightest downward twitch of her lips and allows her to tease him mercilessly with twinkling eyes.
Sven is as merciless and cold as the North he was born into, jaded and hardened by two decades of endless battle, willing to spill blood like water to accomplish his goals.
She stares at Shanahan and wonders if she looks as foolish as she feels.
“I am the Prosecutor of the War in the Rimelands. I do not take orders from Lord Sven,” she says, trying to sound brusque, and Shanahan backs down with an uncertain face. She guesses that he’s not yet sure enough of the Throne’s hierarchy to call her bluff.
The warfare meeting is in moments, and Solfyre is saying something about needing to talk to the prisoner. The mage is impulsive and fiery as all her fellows are, but she has shown genuine kindness, and seems trustworthy. Solace almost pushes the man into her arms, designating her mentally as his caretaker.
“Make sure no one tortures him.”


“This city is full of sin. People flaunt their vices and guilt. You must make them fear you. That is your task,” the Grand Inquisitor said, his voice disdainful, almost bored.
Was it sinful or weak that she didn’t want to be feared? That she just wanted to help?

“Luqa stabbed the Inquisitor again.”
A vapid, high-pitched voice chanted in the back of her mind. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on-
Luqa stared at her, and he looked as numb as she felt. She pronounced his sentence, feeling the words roll over her, heavy and unstoppable, feeling as inevitable as Ramulthien.
He didn’t say anything.
Solace didn’t stop drinking until Asher found her puking behind the tavern.


Today she is an executioner, taking on the role of death incarnate, Captain Sinclair’s sword heavier than it should have been in her hands.
A huddle of folk surrounded Luqa, gathering around him as he walked to the bench that served as a block. They looked at her with wide eyes; sad, accusing, angry, resigned, questioning.
The sword slid in so easily, and she felt, with sickening clarity, the ceasing of breath and vibration in his body, the slight slump in his kneeling posture that signified the brain had stopped functioning. Life had fled, and with it any potential or growth or good or evil that Luqa would ever have created in the world.
At her hand.
She should have stayed. She should have buried him, prepared the body, given him that last tenderness, but she was lost, bile rising in her throat. Ignatius stepped forward, and she fled to him like a sinking ship to a lighthouse. “Please make sure he’s buried,” and the Friar nods.

Tonight, Solace doesn’t sleep, though she must leave with the Avalanche’s men at dawn.
Failures play in her head, the moments of weakness, the ignorance of the right path, the small derelictions to help those who needed it. She is arrogant, unwise, heedless where she should be knowledgeable and dismissive where she should be kind. She is a deeply flawed priest and person, but to desert her post would be a worse failure. She is here for a reason. She is here to keep trying.


The worst part of fighting ghouls was the smell. They stank of shit and decomposing flesh, but something else, too; a dusty, sour smell that got worse as their walking corpses aged, getting in your throat and making you cough and choke at the wrong moments, just as the undead nightmare in front of you lunged for your throat with its jagged teeth or swung its death-clutched weapon.
Sister Solace fought mechanically, unconscious of her burning muscles and faint pangs of hunger. The battle had begun before first light and the sun was now rising fast in the East, disadvantaging Sven’s men as it got in their eyes, but making no difference at all to the endless column of ghouls. The tug at her sleeve came as she hacked down a particularly small one, perhaps once a teenage girl. Its clothes were so filthy and torn she couldn’t tell what colors it had worn. Sister Solace knew what the summons was, and a prickling of bile rose momentarily before well-trained reflexes shoved it down. In war, you do what must be done.

Behind the frontlines, grievously injured men were sorted into two grisly piles. Those missing legs, sword-arms, or other crucial parts were taken to the battlefield infirmary; the rest were being placed in a square of space much too small for its current purpose. The veterans were stoic, some joking with clenched jaws and cold eyes; the greener men tended to beg or cry to be left as they were, to be allowed to rest and heal. But the ghouls would give none of them rest, and the battlefield needed bodies if they were to last even till sunrise.

The incense that she lit in its golden censor cloaked the reek of sweat and bloody vomit. It brought a fleeting note of cleanliness and hope to the gruesome scene as Sister Solace circled the men seven times, reciting the words of the Book of Dumal, the Warrior Saint.

I called on Mithriel to guide my hand in this baptism of fire and blood, grieving for those who would die in battle against me and under my command, even as I readied my men and rallied them against the enemy.

As she spoke, the men rose, new vigor in their limbs and the pained look gone from their eyes, though not the haunted terror. The wounds remained, but bleeding was staunched and moving did not cause hurt. On completing the ritual, they would once again be blessed and prepared to re-enter battle; such were the strains on their numbers that the ghouls put.

Sven entered from the battlefield like a hurricane, intercepting the group of no-longer limping men to shout orders and directions that they followed promptly as they watched their leader with adoring eyes. Her uncle passed her with quick, adrenaline-fueled strides, clapping a bloody mailed hand to her shoulder and leaving blunt, dripping red smudges on her white robe. Sister Solace caught his eyes for a moment, unable to read the expression in them, and wondered how she’d ever get the stains out.