Staggering to his feet, Channing Kearnan approached, bleeding from a wound in his head. Iezecele reached out to heal his wound, but the leader of the Church waived him off. He pressed a handkerchief to the wound, attempting to staunch it. “Save your strength, Master Willworker. There are those who will need it more than I.” He immediately left them, calling to his aides, directing them to provide support to those who needed it most.
Iezecele exhausted his strength and all of his Will in the remainder of the day. As the Cosettean soldiers rushed to clear the debris, he joined dozens of his fellow Willworkers. Together, they gathered the wounded which allowed the Willworkers to channel their healing elemental energies.
Tired from their relief efforts, the four returned to the Basilica, finding an invitation from Channing Kearnan to join him for a late meal. They were led past the common hall where tired acolytes ate a silent meal, still stunned by the events of the day. The Channing looked over papers as he ate the same meager meal as his followers. “I fear the unthinkable has happened.”
Iezecle leaned back in his chair. “An earthquake?” He knew the angle that the Channing was working, but he was too tired to deal with the high priest’s holy prophecy indoctrination.
Wanting to lighten the mood,Lucinde joked, " Val returned something to its proper owner?" Her muscles ached. It was hard for her to lift the food to her mouth. She didn’t want to hear Iezecele spar with the Channing’s beliefs.
“That would be the sign of the apocalypse,” Iezecele wryly responded.
Channing Kearnan read their faces. If Marmo had returned, they would all believe the truth of the Prophecy soon enough. " I know that you have just returned from Har’Thelen, but I would like to engage you travel north to investigate the northern border of Cendrillion."
Lucinde looked from her meal. “You want us to go to where they don’t like Willworkers?”
Iezecele waved a dismissing hand, “It should be easy enough to borrow a cassock and travel as a wandering chapin.”
Channing Kearnan nodded in agreement, “Good, then the mission will be to see what happenend in Cendrillion. Along the way, though, I would like to receive reports on the conditions of the Isle as you travel. How the people have responded to this” , he paused, “earthquake,” . The Channing wanted to say “arrival,” but deferred to Iezecele’s description. " I suggest that you journey first to Sorrell, then to Mistral, before arriving at the coast."
“We’ll take half our pay up front,” Val finally spoke. “It’ll be useful in loosening mouths.” He saw Lucinde throw him a questioning glance. “What? There’s only three things that open people up, money, sex or alcohol. If we want information, we’ll need to have at least one of those.”
Lucinde pulled apart a biscuit and sopped up some gravy, shaking her head at the Kantoran. “Or, we could just ask an honest person.” The two traded a confused glance. He was confused with her open faith in people and she was confused with his persistent distrust.
The next day the group gathered to begin their journey. They were each given a satchel, filled with their pay and healing potions. Lucinde was surprised when Gaspar was given an equal satchel. ‘Hey Val,’ Lucinde sent through her ring, ‘did Gaspar get a contract too?’
Val shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t know,’ he returned. He looked to Gaspar and asked through his ring, ‘Hey, Gaspar, you finally getting paid for all your work for the Church?’
Unused to the power of the ring, Gaspar reflexively spoke aloud, “The Channing felt that I should have my own money to aid in the mission.”
Remembering when the power of the ring was new to him, Val tapped his fingers to his temple. He sent through the ring, ‘I thought you were finally getting a sense of your self worth, apart from the Church.’
Gaspar shook his head, ‘The Channing felt that I should get some experience. Remember, I was raised by the Church. I’ve never had to pay for anything.’
‘Never paid for anything? That’s the life,’ Val dreamily teased through the ring.
Seriousness overcame Gaspar’s face, ‘Given the choice, I would rather have my parent’s back.’
Val closed his eyes, ‘Heavens, Gaspar, that’s a downer. You’ve got to learn to recognize the tone of the scene.’
A hard week of travel passed. The road was taking twice as long to travel as it should have. They group found the roads upturned. Large rocks jutted upwards in places. Pits opened up in other places. Along the way, they spoke of the powers of their rings. “Mine allows me to extend my Will longer. with it, I can cast more spells,” Iezecele shared.
“I can heal myself a bit with mine. How about yours, Val?” Lucinde added.
“My ring allows me to turn invisible,” Val answered.
“Sure makes bath houses more enjoyable.” The rogue joked.
Val smiled, “Nothing. How about.” He stopped, mid question to Gaspar, abruptly thrown to the side of the wagon. He looked up from the wagon bed and saw that Lucinde and Gaspar had been thrown from their horses.
Iezecele was doing his best to steady the horses harnessed to the wagon. “An aftershock,” the Willworker explained, “the earth is settling back from the violence last week.”
After three weeks of travel over rough roads and diminishing aftershocks, the group finally arrived at Sorrell. Even at a distance, they could see that the upheaval had a greater effect here. There was a tent city sprawling along the northern edge of the city. There was scaffolding along the walls as well as the Cosetteans worked to repair cracks and fallen stones.
The road took them to the gates of Sorrell, Val took the chance to speak to a soldier. “What’s with all of those tents? Cendrillions?”
“Cendrillions,” the guard nodded derisively. “They tell us that we keep them under their thumb and they want nothing to do with us. Look at them now, first sign of trouble and they’re practically begging for our help.”
Val nodded agreeably, “Well, that’s Cendrillion, right?”
“They’re not getting in, though, not until we know what happened up there.” The guard took off his helmet and wiped his brow. “I’m damn glad my shift at the northern gate is over.”
Knowing that guard had been in contact with the Cendrillion refugees, he pressed for information. “What are they saying is happening up there?”
The guard replaced his helmet. “Sandstorms, rent rifts in the ground, things like that. A bunch of those people told me that there was no house standing left in their village.”
Val took a gold coin from his pouch and smoothly pressed it into the guard’s hand. “Thanks for your service, soldier. Try to take it easy. Buy yourself a drink. If you’ve got a girl, buy her some flowers.” The guard nodded, smiling, and ushered the group into Sorrell.
They found rooms at the Inn of the Last Pikeman. Val quickly made friends with the wealthier patrons drinking in the inn. He weaved a tale. He told them that he worked for Stevenson Mercantile sent from Beaufort to reestablish supply lines. They all agreed that the weather made travel in Cendrillion dangerous. Dust storms clouded the skies and hid the treacherous roads. Some towns had been wholly destroyed. Merchants of Jeweler’s row felt that their world was ending as nothing of value was coming out of Cendrillion. Listening in on conversations, he heard them laughing over the dark rumors coming out the refugees. They scoffed out of tales of people dragged away in the dark. Strange footprints pressed in the ground. Nightmares walking amidst the storms. While Val outwardly laughed with them, he inwardly cringed, knowing from Karg, that those rumors were coming.
The next night Val wove the same tale in the tent city outside of Sorrell’s northern walls. He was sent from a merchant company. The tone changed, though. Instead of pushing the Cendrillions to reopen supply lines, he was now sent to see what aid the company could give to its northern friends. He saw that every refugee was dusted the same color with ash and earth. Scarves and torn cloth hung around everyone’s necks, worn to protect themselves from the dust storms. He heard all kinds of stories, detailing when “it” happened. They spoke of no stone left standing on another stone. Some just sat, still stunned by the violence of the event. A few grumbled, claiming that Willworkers must be responsible for this new disaster.
Along the outskirts of the tent city, Val noticed an older woman bent, intently staring at the ground as she wandered. As he approached, Val noticed that she stopped at every stone, closely examining it. “Looking for footprints?” he whispered. Val remembered the twisted hounds they had faced outside of Har’thelen. They had only left their prints on stones. The old woman reacted in terror. She held out her hand trying to ward away Val’s words. He continued in a softer voice, “I have seen them too.”
The woman started crying, “I saw the prints.” She sobbed, “They took my David. I woke up one morning and he was gone! All that was there, in the place that he was sleeping, was one of his little shoes”, she absently touched the pouch at her waist. She was racked with sorrow, “I searched and searched. I couldn’t find him. All I found were footprints burned in the stone.” Val pressed, hoping to find out how close the hounds may be. " We lived between Mistral and Immol, " she said, pointing in a direction towards Cendrillion, “but there’s no town there now. It’s only hell.”
The next day the group passed into Cendrillion. To Gaspar’s disdain, Val played the Church acolyte with precision. ‘If only you were speaking from your heart,’ the warrior sadly commented. The Cendrillion soldier told the group that they were insane to travel into the lingering storm. Val thanked the guard and blessed him, smirking at Gaspar as they rode out of border guard’s sight.
They slowly journeyed to Mistral. Lucinde noted how the land distantly reminded her of her home in Bergamoth. Where the rocks had been weathered smooth and the rents filled with rain and grass, here the rocks were still sharp, the rents broken and deep. They noticed that the people of Mistral had placed new posts in the gaps of the wooded wall. Inside, overcrowded was too light a term. The people were pressed on top of one another. “By the Creator,” Gaspar said as they pushed their way through the streets, “what can we do to help these people?”
Lucinde saw where Gaspar was coming from, there was no way that the city, little more than a large town in Cosette, had enough to provide for all of these people. It pained her, but they had to press on. “The Channing contracted us to investigate the coast. We’ve got to do that.”
“There’s nothing we can do, Gaspar.” Iezecele noted the obvious. “Focus on what we can do.”
Val could see the distress on the acolyte’s face. “The faster we send word to the Channing, the faster he’ll be able to sway the people who can offer these people real aid. That’s how we’ll help.”
All of the group did their best to keep their ears and eyes open. Amongst the haggard refugees, some spoke their thanks of a Councilman Stone. How he had opened the gates of Mistral to the refugees, allowing them to access to the safety of the city. Others, locals mainly, cursed him for doing the same. Lucinde spoke with a guard and learned that the Council had sent a squad of guards to the Cliffs of Arnaud. He and his friends were all anxious to hear back from them. “More than that I hope that since the storm is slowing, I’ll finally be able to get a night’s sleep.”
Lucinde was puzzled by the guard’s statement, the winds hadn’t been that loud as they had traveled to Mistral. That night, they were woken by a strange sound. Noise like the sound of thousands of wings taking flight. Val was reminded of the ocean of ravens they rode beneath outside of Kermis. He imagined what he was hearing is what it would sound like if all of those quietly perched ravens had suddenly all taken flight at once.
“Verite’ help us,” Gaspar prayed.
Val looked at the acolyte, “I hate to tell you. We are Verite’s help.”