Father Amberdeen led Cameron and Aleister across the sanctuary to a small hallway. At the very end, they rounded the corner and entered a prayer room. A young woman in traveler’s garb sat inside, holding a lute in her lap. She was an attractive lady, with long flowing brown hair, brown eyes, and smooth skin. She was a Lamorian, but slimmer and possessing a lighter complexion than most.
“Sir Cameron,” the high priest began. “This is Lady Ardath. She will join you on your mission.”
“How do you do?” She asked.
She rose, extending her hand toward Cameron.
Cameron didn’t take it. He merely gave her a derisive look and turned to the high priest.
“You’re sending a bard with us?” He asked.
The woman lowered her hand and lifted her head in indignation.
“I’m not a bard, thank you very much,” she said. “I’m a highly honored priestess of Samidin.”
“I think he would’ve preferred the bard,” Aleister replied.
Cameron’s horrified expression confirmed Aleister’s statement. The Temple of Samidin worshipped the god of exploration. Unfortunately, their passion for exploration and discovery also produced a high level of worldly detachment – or apathy as its detractors often accused. Their refusal to take sides in any political, religious or military struggles earned them the resentment and enmity of their opponents. The temple of Alhaszi was one of those opponents.
Cameron turned enraged toward the high priest.
“Your Immanence!” he shouted. “How can you possibly allow a heathen to disgrace our temple with her horrid presence.”
“Hello, I’m right here,” she said.
“We must honor the orders of King Aldon,” the high priest replied. “Out of obedience to him, you will show the heathen respect and courtesy despite her revolting presence.”
“Hello, I’m still right here,” Ardath repeated.
“Very well,” Cameron concluded. “I suppose I can endure. At least she isn’t one of those heretical harbingers of chaos.”
“Nah, that’d be me!”
The speaker strode through the door on the opposite side of the room.
Aleister stared at him. He had never seen a Moravian before but knew he was looking at one now. Brayden had once described Moravians to him. He said, “a piece of string has nothing on a Moravian.” Aleister saw what he meant.
While the man was average in height, he was so skinny that he looked on death’s door and the limbs on his lithe body swayed in a seemingly incoherent fashion as he walked. Moravians were completely double jointed, in addition to being natural contortionists. The bizarre movements of his stride gave the impression of a poorly made marionette being dragged across a stage as opposed to a person walking.
The Moravian leaned against the wall, his grey eyes staring at the stunned face of Cameron.
“Droma’s the name,” he began. “I’d say the pleasure’s mine but I ain’t getting any pleasure from it and neither are you. So, what’s the point?”
“I told you to wait inside the chapel,” the high priest growled.
“You and your rules,” he said. “Like I care what you tell me to do.”
Cameron completely lost his cool.
“How dare you defile the sanctity of our temple?” He shrieked. “How dare you corrupt this bastion of sacredness with your vile existence!”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout that,” the other replied. “I kept my shoes on to insure its filth wouldn’t rub off on me.”
Ardath sat down, putting her fingers in her ears and staring at the floor with determination. Seeing this, Droma turned his attention to her.
“Don’t you worry, sweetums,” he said. “No one’s asking you to choose sides. That’s an oxy-moron, ain’t it? ‘Samidin’ and ‘choosin’ sides’ used in the same sentence?”
Aleister backed against a wall. For the first time in his life, he felt the overwhelming desire to pray. Please gods, he thought, don’t make me go on a mission with three of your followers.
“Enough,” the high priest’s voice interrupted the bickering. “This is pointless. We have bigger concerns right now than our feuding faiths. King Aldon sent messengers to all three temples. He believes only in working together can we defeat this threat. We must put aside our differences and hatred for the good of our gods.”
“The good of our gods?” Ardath repeated. She took her fingers from her ears. “I don’t understand. What’s happening?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the high priest answered. “King Aldon will explain everything to you. Brother Sema will take you to him. Wait here.”
The high priest strode away. A moment later, Brother Sema entered the room.
“Welcome to you all,” he said.
He spoke with a genuine enthusiasm, even smiling at Ardath. Aleister noticed, however, that he didn’t acknowledge Droma. Apparently his liberality didn’t extend to the Moravian. This wasn’t entirely surprising.
Droma wore a holy symbol denoting him as a priest of Xansees. The temples of Xansees and Alhaszi had been at war since the earliest recorded history. This was predictable for religions honoring the rival gods of Freedom and Order. The respective theocracies of Moravia and Lamoria had fought for almost as long; and, their followers, at least in Aleister’s mind, had devolved into complete childishness.
“If you’ll follow me,” Sema continued, “I’ll lead you to the palace.”
He turned and walked away. Ardath and Aleister started after him, stopping abruptly when they realized Cameron and Droma hadn’t followed.
“Are you coming?” Aleister asked.
“Sure, right after him,” Droma replied, gesturing at Cameron.
“Not a chance,” Cameron responded. “I’m not turning my back to you. You people have a nasty habit of putting daggers in them.”
“Nah, you’re just wantin’ me to turn mine to you,” Droma replied. “The moment your sword’s out, my head will roll across that floor.”
“How about this,” Aleister offered. “I’ll take the back. If one of you tries to hurt the other, I’ll kill all three of you!”
Ardath turned with a shocked expression.
“Why’re you killing me?” She asked.
Aleister gave her a nasty smile.
“As a priestess of Samidin, you should understand my dislike of choosing sides,” he said. “If I kill all of you, I don’t risk showing favoritism.”
Ardath glared at him. Flinging her hair over her shoulder in a haughty gesture, she gave a loud ‘humph’ and strode away. Cameron shot one last contemptuous look at Droma before following. Droma strode forward and stopped in front of Aleister.
“I think you and I are gonna to get alon’ just fine,” Droma said.
“I think you’ll be lucky if I let you live to see your next birthday,” Aleister replied.
Droma smiled, apparently approving of the remark. Turning, he followed the rest of the company. Droma smiled, apparently approving of the remark. Turning, he followed the rest of the company. Aleister trailed behind. As Sema led them into a large hall filled with elaborate decorations, Droma fell back to Aleister’s side.
“So, what’s a Mystasian doin’ helpin’ out King Aldon?” Droma asked.
“When Aldon needs help, he knows the real source of power,” Aleister replied. “It isn’t the gods.”