Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 17

[Dragonshire’s] main chapel looked like the perfect model of a center of worship, sitting on one of the highest hills in the town, with a roof elevated far above any of its neighbors. The clanging that came from within though was somewhat out of place.

“That sounds like a battle doesn’t it?” Tessa asked.

“I don’t know. Battle’s usually have less swearing,” Lisa said.

Tessa looked back to see that Lisa had called her staff to her hands and looked to be readying a spell. That was a fairly natural reaction for a healer and was likely thanks to Lost Alice’s influence. Tessa wondered if Pillowcase was to blame for her instinctive reaction of stepping in front of Lisa in order to be able to act as a shield for her.

“That would work better if we actually had a shield I suppose,” Pillowcase said internally.

“Bodies can act like shields, right?” Tessa said, chastising herself for forgetting once again that she wasn’t a tank. At least not at the moment. 

“If we get ourselves killed, Lisa’s going to murder us,” Pillowcase said, and Tessa was amused at the thought that in the [Fallen Kingdoms] that was a perfectly viable threat to make.

“Should we go in?” Tessa asked aloud.

“Probably not, but we’re going to anyways right?” Lisa said.

“True,” Tessa said and took the handle to the door with a steadying breath.

Inside the chapel, she found a scene that was about as far removed from a conventional prayer service as she could have imagined.

[Knights], or at least fighters clad in a battleship’s worth of plate armor, were gathered in the central chamber. In place of any sort of seating however, the main worship area was decorated with tall wooden stands as thick as Tessa’s outstretched hand was wide. In and among the forest of tree-stand-ins, the [Warriors] scurried for position, the larger group of them trying to flank what appeared to be a trio of defenders who were holding them off from a wooden post which was wrapped in colorful ribbons.

The steady stream of profanities were coming from the aggressors who, to Pillowcase’s trained eye, were having a beastly time reaching their quarry.

One subgroup of two tried to push in from the side of the rightmost defender. The defender was smaller than either of the combatants, but the axe she bore potentially outmassed all three of them. It was the sort of weapon which medieval scholars on Earth would have laughed themselves silly over if they saw it depicted in a game since even basic physics should have disallowed it from being used as a weapon. The trail of lightning that followed the axe as the defender swung it though suggested rather strongly that it was enchanted to the point where it could make basic physics go sit in a corner for a timeout should anything like mass and leverage try to object to the axe’s usefulness.

More profanity erupted as the lightning wreathed axe slammed into both of the attackers in its wide swing and sent them crashing like pinballs through the fake forest.

Tessa’s Fight-or-Flight reflex remained at rest despite the cacophony of blows and swears and after a moment she noticed why.

Rather than inciting the other attackers into a rage, the ‘tragic’ fate of the two who’d been blasted away by the axe provoked a round of good natured laughter at their expense. The tragedy of the terrible blows done to them was lessened as well by the fact that both of the attackers were on their feet a moment after they landed with no noticeable damage done to their armor or persons. 

“Training exercise?” Lisa asked on the private channel.

“Yep. And I’m going to guess these are all [Clerics] right?” Tessa asked.

“They seem to be,” Tessa said. “Pretty serious melee kits for a bunch of [Clerics] though.”

“I’m guessing that’s what the beta testers meant when they said the clergy for [Dragonshire] were a ‘militant order of nuns’. I figured they meant ‘the [Clerics] will join in battles that occur in the town’ though, not that the nuns were probably going to be the battle happening in the town most days!”

“Don’t look now, but I think we might be joining the battle,” Lisa said.

From across the room, a bellowing voice rang out over the din of the fray shouting “Hold Sisters! It looks like we have new visitors joining us today!”

With crisp precision, each of the platemail clad [Clerics] returned their weapons to a guarding position and held up a free hand to indicate that they’d heard the order to hold and were complying with it.

Tessa felt an all too familiar stab of social panic at the eyes of every steelclad woman in the room turned on her. 

So Pillowcase took the reins for a moment.

“Hail and well met,” Pillowcase said, feeling almost at home among a troop of martial combatants in the middle of their daily drills. “We’re sorry to interrupt. Please go on, if we’re not intruding.”

The words came easily to Pillowcase where they’d clogged up on one another in Tessa’s throat, and from her slightly displaced vantage point Tessa could see why. What had been a new and totally unfamiliar situation for a programmer from Earth was a scenario Pillowcase had encountered often enough that it held few surprises. Walking on familiar ground required far less courage or creativity and so provided the illusion that Pillowcase was the more confident and self assured of the two personas she could wear.

But Pillowcase had been almost completely silent during her heartfelt discussions with Lisa, and feeling back into those memories, Tessa could see how terrified and out of her element Pillowcase had been for the whole conversation. It was like she was back confessing her feelings to a girl for the first time when she saw how Pillowcase had viewed those moments. Moments when Tessa was unsure as well, but at least had the benefit of knowing a few of the steps of the dance she and Lisa were joining together in.

Self congratulatory or not, she still gave Pillowcase a mental fist bump at how much stronger they were together.

“Nonsense!” the tallest of the nuns said. “We get to practice all the time. New visitors are always a treat. Especially if you’re hear to join the fray?”

The last question was phrased so hopefully that Pillowcase felt terrible to disappoint the nun.

“At the moment, I’m a bit under-dressed I’m afraid,” Pillowcase said. Her words weren’t as stiff and formal as her former Consortium masters would have demanded – probably because she was able to draw from Tessa’s language skills too – and Pillowcase was glad for that. 

The farther she could distance herself from the Consortium the better. The last thing she wanted was people to make the mistake of thinking she wanted anything to do with her former tormenters other than to burn the whole organization to the ground.

“Ah, that’s not a problem,” the tall nun said. “We’ve got plenty of loaner gear. But I’ve been remiss. I’m supposed to welcome you to the [Chapel of Unbreakable Devotion], home of the [Sisters of Steel]. I’m Mother Graymourn and these are the [Sisters of Steel], at your service for all your spiritual needs.”

Mother Graymourn removed her helmet as she spoke and Pillowcase saw she had a head of close cropped gray hair to match her name. She was older as well though the glint of mischief in her eyes and the ease with which she swung the apparently unenchanted mace in her hands suggested she was as hale and hearty as a woman half her age.

“Lost Alice here and I are [Adventurers],” Pillowcase said. “We got in to [Dragonshire] last night along with a few others. You can call me Pillowcase.”

“And what brings you to the [Sisters of Steel], Lost Alice and Pillowcase?” Mother Graymourn asked. “Come to see if we have any quests for you to tackle?”

“It was your [Heart Fire] that brought us here, but if you’ve got any quests you could use a hand with, we’d be delighted to hear about those too,” Pillowcase said, her [Adventurer’s] heart quickening at the thought.

“The [Heart Fire]? Did someone die?” another nun asked. She took of her helm and placed it on the one of the shorter wooden poles, revealing her to be a woman of a similar age to Mother Graymourn, though with close cropped red hair rather than gray.

“Please say no,” Mother Graymourn said. “If someone has then I’ll owe Sister Acroghast here a dozen gold.”

“You’ve heard [Adventurers] arrived already I take it?” Pillowcase asked. “What are the odds that none of us need to use the [Heart Fire] before tomorrow morning?”

“I think Sister Hellgaze was offering one thousand to one odds on that,” Siser Acroghast said.

“I’m guessing no one took her up on that?” Lisa asked.

“You could be the first!” Mother Graymourn said.

“No thanks. I’ve met [Adventurers],” Lisa said. “I’m frankly surprised the bets still standing.”

“I am too,” Mother Graymourn said. “I lost the first round already!”

“I told you they’d last longer than ten minutes,” Sister Acroghast said.

Pillowcase could hold back the chuckle that escaped her lips.

“I see you’ve met [Adventurers] before too,” she said. “As far as we know, no one’s died yet, though to be fair, they might have respawned in the [Great Hall] if they did.”

“Well since I haven’t lost my money yet, I’ll take that as good news,” Mother Graymourn said. “But it does leave me puzzled why you’d want to see our [Heart Fire]. Not that I’m opposed you understand. The [Heart Fire] is only ours in the sense that we’ve taken responsibility for the [Chapel] here. It will always be a free resource to any who are brave enough to live here. Make sure you’re friends know that okay?”

“We will,” Pillowcase said. It was impractical at best to try to charge [Adventurers] for the use of a [Heart Fire] since there wasn’t a practical method of restricting access to it and general custom had them as freely available for people whose luck was poor enough to need one. Leaving the [Heart Fire] freely available to the community as a whole though was an encouraging sign, if not an entirely unexpected one in a place like [Dragonshire] which needed to be as welcoming as possible to promote the town’s regrowth.

“Let me show them where it is,” Sister Acroghast said. “You can get back to thrashing the rest of them in the mock battle.”

“Hey, this is all instructional,” Mother Graymourn said.

“Yes, we’re learning just how much of a sadist you can be,” Sister Acroghast said.

“You see the kind of respect I get?” Mother Graymourn  said, turning to Pillowcase. “Is it any wonder that it takes a few whacks with the old mace to maintain discipline?”

From Sister Acroghast’s eye roll, Pillowcase could see that none of the teasing between the two had a shred of seriousness behind it. She’d seen instructors who led the Consortium’s troops common troops and relief on a physical punishments to enforce discipline. They were universally less effective than the ones who could achieve the same results through pure force of personality, and under her cheerful demeanor, Mother Graymourn had the same unflappable calm the best of the Consortium’s instructors possessed. 

With a nod, and a cuff on Sister Acroghast’s shoulder, Mother Graymourn turned back to her troops and left her second in command to direct their guests into a corridor on the side of the room which ran parallel to the central room until it reach a small side room where the air grew strangely quite and serene, despite the battle that had resumed in the central chamber.

“We keep this area quiet for the sake of those who wish to use it for reflection, or who chose to speak with the departed,” Sister Acroghast said. “If we need anything, feel free to come back to the main room.”

“There is one thing,” Lisa said. “Do you have any private rooms nearby?”

“Yes, there are some prayer chambers on the other side of this room,” Sister Acroghast said. “They’re silenced as well, we suspect so that mourners could weep and wail without disturbing each other.”

“Thank you,” Lisa said.

“Why do we need that?” Tessa asked on their private line.

“Before you try to completely transform your body, I was thinking it would be a good idea to make sure you’re not suffering from any conditions that I can help you with. It turns out being a healer here is more than just having a few wound recovery spells.”

Tessa nodded in appreciation. Everything in this version of the [Fallen Kingdoms] seemed to be richer and more real, so it made sense that the skills the different classes had would be more comprehensive as well.

“So, what do you say, do you want to play doctor with me?” Lisa asked with mischief alight in her eyes.

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