Shadow of Hope 44

“The hierarchy of the Purification has yet to reveal itself,” Erellia responded, “Though I suspect their primary dealings are intertwined with one of the darker gods.  A reduction in arcane energies throughout the lands would certainly give more sway to those who wield the blessings of their deity.  Several encounters have been reported where priests have been seen among the ranks of the hunters, though whether that is coincidence or collaboration is uncertain.”

She fell silent for a moment in thought.  “The sheer potency of the hunters’ fanaticism is also quite disturbing.  Rarely have I ever seen such single minded determination.  Once an individual joins the Purification, they seem to lose something of themselves to the whole.”

Then more quietly she added, “Which is why no one has yet been able to successfully infiltrate their ranks.”

“Hmm.  Maybe it would be best to try and track them through the coin.  Its got to be coming from somewhere and normally leaves traces,” Marcus commented.

Shaking her head, Erellia resumed her more commanding tone, “But speculation about the Purification is not our concern presently.  If they await us in our chosen path, we will deal with them as is necessary, but we will not know what comes next in our journey until we reach Anquilla.  Eat.  Rest.  We ride at first light.”

Marcus nodded and sat down to eat with the rest of them, enjoying the food that Cheskith had made.  Once he is done, Marcus opened a few of the chests that they were using to store food and made some preparations, explaining to Haron as he did so.

“While I am not a chef, I have learned from a good many road and ships cooks.  Since we do not know how long the journey will be, I will teach you how to do two essential things.  With these, you can keep yourself fed and healthy.  I will cook other things and you should learn them, but these are the things you should learn above all else.  Make sourdough.  Make soup.”

“For breakfast we will have sourdough pancakes with butter and honey with mint tea.  We will also make some small buns that will be used for lunch along with cheese and dried meat and fruit for a light lunch since we seem to be traveling fast.  Tomorrow, I will explain soup and it’s uses.”

With this he packed away the things he had used, adding water to a pot with a tight lid and putting a large amount of dried beans to soak, making sure it wouldn’t leak.

Sending Haron off to bed, Marcus cast the mending spell on the crumbling parchment and used the last of his prestidigitation to cause the inks in the parchment to turn darker.  After trying that, Marcus studied and prayed for his spells before going to bed.

Kurn walked to the horses, though his course was to Zulian.  He approached within a few paces, kept his gaze aside and neutral, and folded his arms.  He didn’t immediately interrupt her attempts to distract herself, not for nearly half a minute.

“If the Purification is an immediate threat to us, and relevant, no slight to Erellia, but I’d put greater stake in details from a warrior.”

Zulian was brushing her mount pointedly as Kurn approached in the darkness.  With her horse between them, the petite half-Elf was all but covered by the size of the beast.  Her pale eyes flicked up to look at Kurn over the back of her horse as he addressed his concerns.  The brushing strokes slowed and the steed was none too pleased at the lapse of attention.  Stomping slightly and shaking its lengthy mane, the spirited equine got Zulian to continue her grooming although her heart was still not truly in the task.

“The complexities of that woman stymie me,” she said with a frustrating snort, “She has more knowledge than all of us combined, yet she refuses to yield it!  It is simply another form of ignorance as far as I am concerned.”

A few moments of silence passed before she continued.

“I do not mean to burden you with our feud,” Zulian said, “I just tire of her machinations and subtlety.  I just wish she would deal with me simply and directly.  Though I suppose to her, we will always be little more than children.”

“No burden; I know your frustration and to some extent share it, but I trust her, as do you,” Kurn said.

A pause to see if she would continue, then without irritation or poignancy, he reminded her of his question, “The Purification?”

Taking a breath to gather her thoughts, she said, “This group hunts arcane magic.  They seek to purge it from the land, claiming it befouls everything it touches.  I suspect there is a religious backing to their financial and forceful efforts, but we have yet to uncover that faith’s identity, not that we are actively trying to do so.  All races, ages and genders have signed on to their cause, and many of their foot soldiers bear a simple tattoo on the web of their hand between thumb and finger, a star, a moon, an arrow.”

“I don’t know of much else to say, save that we have crossed their paths several times before, and likely will again,” she concluded, glancing in the direction of the camp, “Considering the concentration of magic we possess.”

“The pyre,” Kurn mused, wondering why Erellia had chosen to obviously demonstrate significant arcane ability when such was not necessary, and to do so so publicly.

Kurn didn’t offer any bravado about how they’d have to fight through him to get to the mages; it was already understood such was his role in this.  He did pick up on Zulian’s multiple uses of plural subject.

“We being you and Erellia?” he prompted for clarification.  If Zulianand Erellia were part of a larger organization, that was worthwhile to know.

“And the rest of the c–“, she started to affirm, then, obviously covering, “Those she has recruited, Rôhn, myself, a few others along the way.  The point is, she tends to attract the Purification like a wisp in the swamps attracts the lost.  I am pretty sure she lit the pyre by reading from parchment though, not from drawing on her own reserves.”

“She hardly does that at all anymore,” Zulian said more quietly, looking at the camp.

Looking back at Kurn, she said, “What was it you needed again?”  She was clearly somewhat flustered, although the tone of her question has taken on an edge that he had begun to recognize.

“Details on our pursuers.”  Kurn held up a hand and gave a neutral wave aside, as if the matter was settled and he would not trouble her further.  “Which I now have.”

Kurn nodded subtly in what may have been respectful thanks for permitting him to disturb her and for the information she was willing to impart, then turned and walked back to the fire and the smells of warm food waiting.

Kurn strode back into camp, breaking out his messkit bowl from his gear and taking a healthy portion of stew and two pieces of hardbread. He adopted an open place to sit in the circle around the fire and used the bread to begin eating the stew.  There was a moment’s pause and pleasant surprise at the taste of the trail fare before he resumed eating as if time was too valuable a field commodity to waste with niceties — one chewed bite was quickly succeeded by another.

Only once his bowl was empty of stew and wiped clean with bread, and only half a piece of the bread yet remained in his hand, did Kurn ask, having stepped away from the group for several minutes, “What’s my watch?”


Shadow of Hope 45

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