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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 2

Our heroes versus the Church of Tal.

Chapter 2 - Inquisition

One of the most powerful forces during the period of the Dark was the Church of Tal. Its origins are thought to have been a union of two small sun-worshipping cults among the early Yotians, though the church itself, at its height, went out of its way to erase all traces of its humble beginnings. The church also went out of its way to erase all traces of magic and magicians during this period as well. While magic would survive and eventually triumph against such oppression, the same cannot be said for those most unfortunate of sorcerers who were brought before the inquisition of the Church of Tal.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

It's night in the walled-city of Alsoor, the perfect time to have a trial so those found guilty could be executed as the sky began to fill with light just before a dawn they would never see. The chamber Voska and Jodah are taken into is quite opulent as chambers go these days, with stone walls, internal fireplace and thick tapestries. However it is the numerous tongs and pokers heating up in the coals that most concerns Jodah.

While he's been allowed to walk free of any kind of restraints, Voska's wrists are bound in manacles that caused him intense pain as he tried to summon forth the power of the mountains when they were first put in place.

This is a church court, led by Primata Delphine, in the service of the Order of St. Zil. And the primata demands answers . The primata brings up their charges, and Voska tries to use his silver tongue to lie his way to freedom. Jodah's seen Voska talk his way out of situations before, but the primata doesn't seem to be swayed. Voska claims that the two of them had been traveling and went to investigate a strange flash they saw when they were under attack by fierce goblins. That's when he took a cups of hot coals and flung them outward at the goblins, and he can see how that could be mistaken as a mage casting fire in the ferocity of their timely rescue. With all that said, the primata thinks that Voska is too quick-witted to be trusted, and that quick wits is a trait useful for those who practice sorcery.

The questions are then turned upon Jodah, who isn't so fast at thought as his master, but he sticks to the story. They are simple travelers, not practitioners of magic. He tells her that they met each other on the road just a few weeks past, heading from Giva, when they saw the flash to investigate. The truth that he keeps to himself is that when their lands finally gave out, one of his brothers went to sea, another went exploring to the north, and his mother specifically called to Voska and asked him to take her third son on as his pupil to learn the ways of magic.

The answers are not enough, despite Jodah sticking to the story while Brother Tanar struck him after every answer wasn't believed. The scribe Michelle is asked to retrieve one of the pokers. It is brought dangerously close to Voska's face as he continues to deny both the practice of magic and any attempts at teaching magic to the boy. After his third denial the poker is then aimed at Jodah. There are no more questions. The poker is just slowly brought closer, inch by dangerous inch until Voska cries out for them to stop.

Jodah looked at Voska, and the lder man's shoulders were slumped in defeat.

"Do you have a statement to make?" said Primata Delphine, her eyebrows raised, the corners of her mouth tugged back in a false smile.

She repeats the question twice more, and Voska calls out to Jodah to show her.

"Show her?" said Jodah, blinking in disbelief. If the one sure way to condemn yourself was to cast a spell, asking him to cast a spell before these people was suicide. Did Voska suddenly want company on the marty's pyre?

Then Jodah realized what Voska was really asking, and he understood.

(Oh? Is is going to do some trick with the mirror to prove that the flash came from them but wasn't an act or sorcery?)

Jodah asks for a bit of space to perform a demonstration. Primata Delphine granted his request, but told the guards to stand ready, and asks the scribe to take careful notes.

Jodah waves his arms about and thinks about his manor lands. He imagines walking into his former home, and fells the power well up within. He grabs for the one spell he knows and closes his eyes, and hopes that Voska is doing the same.

A blinding light flashes and explodes.

When Jodah opens his eyes, the primata and all the guards are on the ground, while Voska runs towards the window while a blinded Brother Tanar tries to hold on. Voska crashes through the window and uses the other man to cushion his fall, and Jodah jumps after.

But just because they're free of the manor, doesn't mean they're free. Voska tells Jodah that he has to get out of here. He has to get out of there, not the both of them. Voska himself is going to go look for a blacksmith that isn't too caught up with the teachings of the church. Then if need be, he'll be the one to distract the guards so Jodah can escape. He made a promise to his mother that he'd look after him, and if that's what it takes, so be it.

Besides, traveling together will make it too easy to spot them.

Voska gives him further instructions to go to the port city of Ghed, which is three days to the southwest. To find a place called the Harp and Peacock. They'll meet up in five days, and if he isn't there by the sixth, then he's to go on without him. There are others trying to keep magic alive in these dark times. He's to search for them and continue his studies. He has the gift.

Time to run.

...After they go their separate ways...

The sky is getting brighter and the streets are slowly coming to life while all manner of thoughts run through Jodah's mind. Any minute now there will Alsoorian troops flooding the streets equipped with the descriptions of the shackled mage and his apprentice and they'll be caught. Or perhaps the Primata is going to take some time first to yell at Brother Tanar and his failure to maintain hold of the prisoner. Either way, he decides it's a good idea to shave his beard and mustache and steal some clothes.

Jodah kneels down and pulls out the mirror from his boot to take a look at the facial hair he's tried to hard to grow, but when he looks up he notices a pair of guards just within sight. One of them is casually munching on an apple, and neither look like they're on a search for dangerous criminals. In fact it sounds like they're discussing the weather. Jodah wonders if a search has even started... perhaps the sending guards to all the gates in the city's walls is all that's needed. With all the exits guarded, there's no need to search the city.

Jodah begins to slowly back away, but freezes in place and pretends to be looking at something when one of the guard takes notice. As soon as the guard's eyes pass him to continue surveying the area, Jodah turns and begins walking away as fast as he can.

As he flees, Jodah can't help but take one last look over his shoulder... and she spots the one guard toss his apple core to the ground, and both of them pick up their pikes and head in his direction.

 Jodah dives down the closest alley and sprints... directly into a wall and falls backward onto the cobblestones. No. Not a wall. A cowled figure wrapped in bandages. The same person that tripped him in the forest.

The Rag Man raises one hand, palm facing the entrance to the alley. With his other hand his raises just one finger to his lips to signal silence.

The guards walk on by, with Jodah unseen.

"Who are you?" Jodah said in a gravely whisper. He cleared his throat and asked again, "What are you? Can you help me get out of he city?"

The Rag Man doesn't speak, and instead points once more to the alley. Jodah makes his way to the alley entrance and spots the fishmonger's stall where he's loading clearly empty barrels onto a cart. Salted fish had to come from the port city of Ghed.

When Jodah turns around, he finds the Rag Man already gone. At the same time there's a loud crash in the back of the fishmonger's shop, and both husband and wife leave the cart unguarded. Jodah quickly makes his way to the cart and seals himself in.

Moments later the cart once again is loaded with barrels and the teamster gets going. At the gate, one of the guards inspects each barrel by knocking on them to listen for a hollow sound, but miraculously skips over his own. Then they're off towards Ghed.

* * *

First Stumble

Sooo... the Church of Tal who makes it their business to hunt down sorcerers, and comes equipped with shackles that bind a person from tapping mana from the land... they decide to just allow a suspected mage to demonstrate a spell?

I get that they wanted proof before condemning anyone, but really?

And Jodah understood the brilliant plan? Let's have Jodah condemn himself as well by casting a blinding light and then just run?

In other words:

"Voska, how are we going to get away from the powerful church zealots who make it their mission to kill magic practitioners and have done it for long enough that they are known and quite feared for this practice and come equipped with to neutralize magical ability?"

"My pupil, there is only one way. Ask them for permission to cast a spell. They are so careful about not letting any of their prisoners perform magic, that if you ask them it will throw them off and they will agree. Then get this... after you cast your spell...  which won't kill or cripple or do any kind of lasting or permanent damage to anyone nor free me from my magical bonds and will prove to them that you are corrupted by my sorcerers ways and are eligible for death... we run! The plan is so simple that it has to work!... Oh, and I'm going to imply all this with my words 'show her.'"

Something doesn't quite add up there.

If the Church of Tal is a major player in this story, I hope they come off as more competent than they did in this chapter. Otherwise, it'll feel like this whole story is a joke. If this is a one time thing and they're just bit players, it's easy enough to get past this and move on as long as future obstacles in our hero's way seems more legitimate.

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