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Subject: Time to another short story rss

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The forum as been so quietly that I think is time to another short.
This time something with SoL...

It was a large room with walls of stone. Long time ago tapestries and furniture would fill it, now just the cold stone wall lies around. The followers had made some crude improvements: the small window as been shut, so as the outer door. The inner door has been repaired with some fabric and wood, giving some privacy. They also build some furniture, a bed, a desk, a bench and an old iron fireplace someone found in the houses nearby.
All the commodities a high priestess could ask so far from home. A lot better than the sisters have and she didn't want to think the followers in the tents outside, in the cloister.
An oil lamp was burning in the middle of the table, an old oil lamp was beside it, but she rarely turns it on, just for writing. The oil lamp would be enough to her, while in there. The rest of the day was passed in the other rooms of the abbey, were most of the windows haven't been shut, even most of them don't have glass. The nave main roof as fallen, but most of the side transepts s and most of the room’s roofs and walls resist. Sisters have mounted a security perimeter and fortified the High Priest quarters.
Nothing to fear, the High Priest crusade has been planned very carefully, this abbey as been scouted by SoL best troops before a so high rank person could camp here. The high priestess winter camp was the longest 2 months of her life. In her heart she wants to push her quest forward, but she was too far from SoL territories to move in the winter with her army of sisters and followers. The old father knows it and plans it right. The crusade as to stop here in sacred ground and wait for spring. In the process, people would regain forces. This old abbey would do it perfectly. Most of the construction was functional, the old novice rooms were comfortable for SoL standards, and even the camp on the cloister was perfectly protected from frozen winds, and the drainage system keep the soil dry.
A few raids grant some extras and even some food. They were deep inside Marauders territory, but winter keep them inside their city, only leaving to hunt occasionally, as the SoL do.
No doubt Marauders would send a patrol to keep an eye on SoL. High Priestess is counting with that. A few weeks before a few Marauders had make quite a mess in a small church; she has lost a few followers, a lot less that she estimated that wouldn't get to the abbey. Even so, Marauders know they were here and probably in spring would gather an army to clear her and the crusade. It would be a blood bath unless the plan went right. The sisters would have to capture a rebel leader of one of the patrols, no doubt a very difficult task. First, the patrols leaders never come near the SoL camp, they send their scouts: ghosts would be a proper name that devils helpers could pass without notice to the followers and even the less experienced sisters. Once, one as passed a day on the roof. Sisters only found it because he just drop a letter mocking with then. Second, even if the patrol was found, capturing a rebel leader alive it's almost impossible, the other members of the patrol would protect him ferociously and followers aren't exactly disciplined, they would kill him if they could. The only chance is sisters find the marauders camp when the scouts are out and the other members are divided protecting the camp and the scouts escape route. That in the 4 months winter and a part of the spring would take. Half the time as pass, with no result and the B plan was no plan at all, it was just a pure confrontation, with no assurance that her people will win. Marauders aren't really that united and a call to arms could mean a huge army or a bunch of famine people fighting for the right to eat whatever they scavenge from enemy supplies. High priestess has seen both before. Nobody fight better than a person without anything to lose.
High priestess raises and walks to the meeting hall, where she will conduct the religious services. Maybe her prayers would be fulfilled today. A rather old priest was lecturing the old days when the high priestess from her sit see one of the sisters patrols come back.
A sister fully equipped was quite a sighting. SoL people didn't want to go back to dark ages as some say, SoL just prefer the ways of doing things and using things that can only be made by human hands, without the technology that have ruined the world. For that, the old ways have been study to exhaustion, techniques have been relearned. Sisters are part of that path. Their shine armour come in second to no other post-apocalyptic armour, the swords were based in samurai sword, a steel so many times bend that even to her is a secret and the shields, light and strong in a strange combination of steel, leather and bamboo could stop a bullet. The ultimate power it was the sister itself, in an uncommon mix of Orient and Occident culture, they become massive fighters with a will of steel, meditating to perfection. High priestess has with the blessing of the High priest to design these sisters. They are her daughters, her creation and her only hope. Maybe the only hope of SoL, at least as their dreamed it. The high priestess become unease as the sisters pass by, they are less than expected, only four sisters. The rest of the liturgy seemed the longest high priestess ever heard, but she couldn't simply abandon her place. When the final prays were made, she moved as fast as she could without losing the decorum her position dictates.
When she entered in the sisters rooms, she find most of the sisters reading themselves to battle. High priestess signals a sister that was on the patrol to follow her to her chamber.
- Good news. We find a marauder patrol arriving. We have been able to follow them and point the camp.
- In did, good news. And now?
- We are gathering a small group of elite sisters to assault the marauder camp by morning. When the lord show the first lights breaking the dark, as we will do to the infidels.
- Bring me the leader intact, it’s very important that no more harm than the needed be applied.
- Yes high priestess.
The night was coming fast, in winter days grow thinner. Just a few rays of light remain when the elite sisters leave the abbey. A long winter night await them. High priestess would not sleep well tonight, so many things in stake. High priestess returns to her bedroom and close the door. High priestess unpacks an old book and turn the oil lamp on. High priestess grabs a sheet of paper and an ink bottle. Finally she open a small wooden box and take an ink pen. High priestess tips the pen in the ink and start writing. If she is going to spend all night up waiting, it's better to put the diary to date. With a bit of luck, she would not have time to come back to it in the next days. The last entries were just a date and a simple phrase telling that wasn't anything to report. High priestess knew that would happen, the high priest also knew. It would take time to marauders run out of good troops and start sending recruits to train. They already should started sending the newbies by this time, or that was what the high priest planned in the last summer, then the high priestess agreed, now she was starting to lose the faith in the plan. It is the winter peak, were everybody would prefer be in the camps and do nothing, Marauders or SoL, all prefer a roof over the head with this weather. Even so, they still have to send patrols, with luck a bunch of new formed kids with a competent leader, to freeze watching SoL troops, with orders to do nothing besides be sure the crusade doesn't move or make a surprise attack to one of the Marauders cities. If that doesn't happen, surely marauders will try to fight them back as soon as the weather get better. A battle in spring wasn't a thing she wants, and such a battle could seriously compromise the crusade objective.
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Thanks for writing this really enjoy your stories. Joshua and I should be able to continue play testing after our exams in about 2 weeks time. Keep the stories coming
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Comarauthen wrote:
Thanks for writing this really enjoy your stories. Joshua and I should be able to continue play testing after our exams in about 2 weeks time. Keep the stories coming


Thanks for the support.
I will keep them coming, already doing some sketches with the two new factions.
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An hour later, there was nothing else to write in the diary, the high priestess look to her work, the symbols where a secret language know only by her SoL faction, if the crusade fails, high priest would send a few SoL spies to recover it. From the errors we learn. High priestess look again into the writings, a memory from her other life before the apocalypse cross her mind, a good mathematician could probably crack the diary in a few hours. Well, Marauders weren’t known for their maths, but if combine get the hands on that diary, well, maybe tomorrow would be compromising, for now it's just a very boring diary. High priestess closes the diary, clear the ink pen and store it. The shadows got darker as high priestess turn the oil lamp weaker. No need of light now high priestess wasn't writing. High priestess gains her position on the SoL ranks by being known as having ice in her veins. Nobody ever see fear our doubt in her face, neither love or compassion, since early ages when high priestess was just a small girl in the orphanage and the high priest was just a small suburban priest that give her a meaning for life, high priestess understand high priestess was a chosen, and as one, high priestess would do whatever the gods have planned for her. Since then, no feelings have been seen, even inside her, the battle for control is eternal.
In the dark, high priestess face keeps the calm image as the daylight face, but inside the doubts keep raising, this crusade as stretched her faith to the limits. Who was her to believe gods had chosen her, even the high priest never said people are less than tools in the hand of the creators. A tool, a simple tool. The long winter was starting to get to her, the delay in the plan, the doubts. High priestess is alone in the middle of a Marauders territory, surrounded by trustworthy people, but none she could really talk, to anyone she could confess, even her daughters would be very confused if they know the real objective of the crusade. The cross high priest put in her shoulders. If only she could get her hands on a Marauder leader. High priestess smiled inside her head, how ironic, the only persons she could discuss her mission are SoL enemies. The gods sure work in mysterious ways. If the other nights have been a test to her will, this one will be the ultimate one. If tomorrow her daughters return empty handed or worse, didn't return at all. Marauders are quite unpredictable. High priest plan count with that and high priestess agreed with it. Now, high priestess isn't so sure, but it's to late to fall back, if the capture of the rebel leader fail, in spring or even sooner if the weather permits, Marauders will attack, then, the best way is forward. How the crusade will survive in the wastelands after a battle against marauders, is a problem high priestess prohibit herself to think about. In the chambers of the cathedral, discussing the crusade with the high priest, it seem a good plan. Again, now it doesn't seem so good.
The time walked slowly that night. High priestess did everything high priestess could to get to morning faster, but nothing helped.
When the night fade away, High priestess knee herself in the remaining of the altar and star praying, always looking to the door, praying and waiting. The night was long gone when High priestess heard screams from the guards, the sisters have returned. High priestess raises herself and waited as a statue. Take no time to the doors open by the guards letting two sisters passing by carrying a very injured sister, High priestess could see the poor sister was hit by a direct explosion, no doubt Marauders take their share of small victories, if that sister is still alive, she will not survive to see nightfall. Another three sisters entered, two of them where rookies last night, with a few battles on them, mostly as backup troops, now their face shows no more easy nights, the ghosts of the fallen would make sure of that. Only time would say if learn to live with it, or die eaten from inside. It’s never easy the first time you get into a close combat with a real enemy troop and you know only one will survive. Finally a larger group entered, bringing a prisoner. High priestess almost smile, no doubt a leader, and a good one, High priestess could evaluate him rapidly, forties, all spend fighting, born a soldier, raised a leader, intelligent, High priestess could see he was inspecting every inch, counting enemies, searching for broken walls, an escape route, anything he could use in a near future.
High priestess noted other thing, the prisoner show no fear and accepted dead, even he escape, he already settle his tool with the maker, now was just wait for the reaper. High priestess didn't like that so much, a man with something to lose is far more easy to bend than a lose canon. But High priestess can't argue with gods, if the gods send this one, this one will do. The prisoner left through another door to sister’s quarters, where a cell and a special room were prepared. High priestess counted a few more sisters passes by and mentally remarked two sisters never entered, their bodies would lie in the improvised mortuary outside. More the one heavily wounded, the four wounded that will probably survive and a few with a new set of scars and bruises, the price was high but fair.
High priestess breath deep and left to prepare the funerals, High priestess usually attends the funerals but in this case, High priestess will conduct them. The prisoner can wait a day or two. He isn't going anywhere, besides; a couple of hours in the hands of one very special sister would make him tender. High priestess doesn’t like her, her methods are very questionable, and she likes too much torturing for a sister.
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This is awesome as usual, Rat! Thanks for keeping things going while I've been quiet lately.

Getting the family ready for a move from the US to the UK, and getting ready for the Kickstarter for Allegiance has taken up all my time.

I hope to get back to work on STA once I'm in the UK!
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I've been monitoring your developments, I'm building 'Quest for the Open Tavern'
Hopping to play it soon.

When you move to UK, you will be in my timezone, so we can work STA more actively.

I'm tuning a big event in the chronology of the STA to resolve an issue that bothers me from the beginning.
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As High priestess predicted, the wounded sister die in the afternoon, High priestess visit her before and pray together, in what people called a small miracle. The poor sister spends the last strengths to raise her voice in the last pray and gentle pass away in peace. High priestess couldn’t avoid feeling envy for her, she die in pain, covered with blood and even so, she was in perfect peace, she is going to meet the creators with her mission fulfilled, High priestess doubted when High priestess meet the creators that High priestess had fulfilled High priestess mission.
For the second day, High priestess conducted the mass, but this time, High priestess make it one of High priestess best lectures, ironically, the peace on the faces of the fallen give a peace to all. High priestess looked to the faces and finds in each one a new faith, High priestess ended with a collective pray and step down. When alone, High priestess drops the mask of confidence and prays for guidance.
High priestess waked early, skipped breakfast and went to see the prisoner.
The light in the room was dim; the small oil lamp was barely lit in a corner, giving an even spookier look to the room. High priestess know that was deliberated, the sister put it that way, making the shadows flicker and projecting the sister shadow a little bigger on the wall, nothing to obvious, so the prisoner mind trick him to think the sister was bigger and more threatening than she really was. The prisoner was sitting in a chair in the middle, whit the hands tied behind his back. He was been beaten all night. High priestess noted the smell; the poor men have thrown up and lose his intestines, no doubt provoked by the sister smiling near him. High priestess nods the sister and she leaves the room. The prisoner raise his head, looked for a brief instant to the High priestess, before violently turn his head with the slap High priestess give to him. When he raised his head again, a big bruise was near his right eye. The sister makes him suffer, but left no marks, High priestess wasn’t playing that game.
- You can kill me; I won’t turn anything to your kind.
- Oh, I believe you. Believe me; I know how stubborn Marauders can be.
- So, you just want to make me suffer for pleasure, freaks.
High priestess grabs a bamboo and hit the prisoner leg. He scream.
- You are sick people, monsters, you animals…
High priestess smiled, yes, God as send High priestess the perfect Marauder leader for the task.
When he finally stops yelling, High priestess get very near and look into his eyes.
- Right now I’m you best friend, to be honest; I’m your only friend.
Before he has time to respond, High priestess muffled his mouth with a rag, just in case he thinks in bite High priestess.
- Look, you look like a smart man, I’ve a problem and you are part of the solution. Do you understand? We need to talk and we don’t have much time.
He nodded affirmatively. High priestess removes the rag from his mouth.
- So you want do run from the freak house.
High priestess look surprised to the prisoner.
- Do you think I’m trying to run away to join a band of paupers that barely have food to live? No, I don’t want to leave; I just need another type of favour from your kind. But for now I’ve to go, keep in mind that if we play our cards well we can make history. Now I’ve to go.
- Aren’t you telling me your plan?
- No, we need to talk a lot about several things before I trust you with the plan.
High priestess turns around and left, leaving the rebel leader to his thoughts. High priestess was very happy with him, High priestess path had brought a lot of marauders Leaders and few were so indicated to the plan. Even the way he didn’t push an answer after High priestess through the bait was perfect. Now it’s all about leaving the prisoner thinking about it, in his free time, a thing he have a lot, High priestess only intends to visit him in a week.
High priestess mind drifted to other problem: now that High priestess have a rebel leader, she need to tune the plan to let him go in a way that he survives to reach Marauders and in a way the crusade doesn’t understand that High priestess as free him.
High priestess and the High priest had a few ideas, but now it’s the real thing.
Other matter was the date when the crusade resumes the walk, one week after letting the prisoner go, the crusade should depart. High priestess could easily keep the prisoner two weeks without the other members start to ask, after that some questions could pop out. A few months before high priest as predicted these problems and come with a very good solution: High priestess. For high priest, this solution was a big gamble, and he was betting high with a very poor hand. He was sending his second in a near suicide mission. High priestess wasn’t a fighter, even considering High priestess know how to take care of herself. High priestess was the perfect candidate to High priest position as ruler of chapter and for the moderated movement. They both know that, but, High priestess as the only one with the charisma, the command skills and the diplomacy this crusaded need. And, more important, High priestess was the only one that could come with a plan to make the rebel leader escape. No one else was as resourceful as High priestess, or at least, no one they can trust.
High priestess returns to the diary, writing every detail, every move, every word of the encounter. High priestess memory was as sharp as ever, but even so, High priestess keeps the diary updated, the next two weeks High priestess would use it to manage the relation with the prisoner, High priestess still have to gain his trust.
High priestess remembers high priest words: “There is only one person able to pull it off, and that person is you”. High priest was right about High priestess be the best one to do it, High priestess don’t have doubts about that.
High priest get herself busy for the next three days, one way to gain an extra time for the release and to plan it. The weather was getting better, the snow was going away an occasional rain appear with the warmer time.
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On the fourth day High priestess went to see the prisoner again. High priestess find him a lot worse, the sister was taking a bit too much liberty. Maybe time to check the guard duty and put her name on the long patrol list, giving a few days of rest to the rebel leader. The sister in charge of the patrols wasn't aware of the plan, but everybody knows her opinion about torture, so a request from High priestess would be taken without questions and with pleasure.
- Nice to see you, I've been enjoying your friend company. - The prisoner didn't lose his humour or sarcasm.
- She isn't my friend.
- Yeah, but you could order her to go easy, after all you are some type of god to these people.
- She isn't in my order, I have no control over her, I could give directions but only members of my order on my chapter obey me. Free joined are free to choose.
- So you don't control this madness?
- I control part of it.
- Witch part? Because that freak doesn't look like is being controlled except from the devil itself.
High priest lowers her eye browns, speaking in the devil was a big offense, but High priest needs to keep calm and gain the confidence of the prisoner.
- She belongs to a more fanatic order, an order opposite of mine. She and a few others just come to make my quest harder and to spy us.
- Problems in paradise? I wouldn’t guess.
- We are a complex organization, the fusion of several faiths in a single one bring a lot of internal struggles. Even inside some orders the chapters fight each other.
The rebel leader looked sadly to High priestess.
- Sometimes I think the nethers are more intelligent than us. We are doing a great job killing each other are while the nethers don’t even move a finger.
- Humans are killing each other since the dawn of times.
- And now we are in the verge of be wiped out of the face of the earth and even so we keep fighting, factions fighting each other and even inside the factions.
- Sad really, I didn’t realise marauders fight each other’s.
- Hunger strikes, for the power, or just because families doesn’t like each other, you choose.
- We fight mostly for power, rarely physical, but strange accidents are quite common. Poisoning, for an example, it’s quite common. Important member of some orders have slaves to taste food before they eat.
Rebel leader looked surprised.
- I didn’t know your faction make prisoners.
- As I said, we have several orders, with several types of methods.
The rebel leader keeps staring.
- No, my order doesn’t approve prisoners, not even the killing of non-believers, we are mainly a defensive order dedicated to defend and convert.
- Judging by my previous encounters, your order doesn't fit much on normal sol external politics.
- The fanatics would wipe us if they can, unfortunately we are also the best healers and smiths, and also we are quite a lot. Several minor peaceful orders joined us with after the betrayal.
- So your order can overrun the others?
- Old people and peace full ones aren’t the best fighters even if we want to do it. My order as a few special members capable of fight, like the sisters, the other orders, let’s call them associated orders, not even that. In an extreme case we can call an old order of converted heavy fighters, but we avoid call them, they aren’t well tolerated by others. They still use their old world armours and still carry guns, they fight with swords, but in extreme cases the guns still come out. We don’t approve it, but my order believes in regret and the great judge above to judge the souls. Beside that our strength is a bunch of people with sticks and lot of good will.
- So you have the numbers but not the muscle.
- You can resume it that way. Fanatics don’t live long, only a few survive to become even more fanatic or to grow some type of wisdom and start wondering. Whatever the path, fanatics get all the youth that just want revenge.
- Revenge?
- Revenge on the betrayal.
- What betrayal?
- It doesn't surprise me your ignorance about it, I even wonder if it ever happens...
Deep sounds cross the air, High priestess look a little surprised; it was the call for mass.
- Time fly by, time to go to my sisters to pray and organise the next steps. Tomorrow we will talk about the betrayal.
- I'm not going to go anywhere. Don't forget to give a word about that sister, a day or two without her would be great.
High priestess passes by the guards and went to the outside, time to walk around the camp see how the things are running. Latter High priestess pass by quartermaster a look to the patrol charts, as expect, the sadistic sister as manage to get of patrols quite often and last days she only get prisoner guard duty. Two words and the quarter master balanced the charts again; the sadistic sister would get at least two or three weeks of patrols. High priestess assures quarter master regular visits to check the charts and if anyone try to change it, to immediately speak to High priestess.
At night High priestess finally had the time to deep analyse the second talk with the prisoner. High priestess find herself liking to talk to another person freely, without being the High priestess of an important order, without the concealed enemies, just two humans that survived and now don't really know what to do. Others look to High priestess as a semi good of enlightenment that would take the chosen ones to the next era of mankind, for that simple man down there, High priestess is just another person with doubts trying to make the day. High priestess couldn't remember the last time High priestess as talked so freely, not even to the High priest.
Next day High priestess fight the will of visiting the prisoner, pressing would not be a good thing to do and a few start to be suspicious about the last visit, to long without results, at least without results High priestess could share, High priestess didn’t sort friends from foes yet but one thing its for sure, other orders have put people in this crusade to watch High priestess mission, some very openly, others, in darker ways.
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In the second day, when High priestess was wandering of visiting the prisoner or giving it more one day, a very upset sister ask for an private audience when High priestess was meeting with the elder sisters. High priestess accepted, while thinking that couldn’t be good. That sister as found something for sure that she can’t tell in front of the other sisters. A conspiracy? From other faction, or the conspiracy of High priestess, maybe the sister find High priestess plans and want to confront High priestess, either way, High priestess conduct the sister to High priestess bedroom, the only place where High priestess could have a private conversation. As soon as High priestess closed the door the sister begin talking.
- We have a big problem High priestess. That prisoner must be important.
- Why do you think that?
- The marauders become ghosts. No more a bunch of rookies guarding our moves, now we are talking about a large team of elite troops.
- Aren't you imagining things?
- No High priestess, we can see what they want us to see. They are moving around the camp studding us, I don't want to scare people but I count eight places being subtle clean to be sniper positions. I could see snow and mud oddly disposed, you can't see a single foot print, but I’m sure something passed there.
- Where did you see that things?
- The sniper positions are all around camp in half a mile. The trails near camp and I bet that at night the marauders scouts entered camp using our paths to conceal their tracks.
- Any idea of numbers?
- Two or three snipers, at least four scouts, by experience you could count with more four guys with explosives, two leaders and a few medics, but as I say, they are working as ghosts.
- Even so, and giving a fat number, twenty marauders aren't match for us.
- They probably would try a rescue operation and they could make quite a lot of damage if they do a surprise attack.
High priestess takes a time to think.
- Lets do the same thing; let’s go to that spots and leave something saying we are seeing you to.
- But we aren't.
- They don't know it and more important, that will slow them. I also will change a few things in our security and send some random patrols to avoid they have a solid assault plan.
- You are wise High priestess, but are that enough?
- I don't know, maybe it’s time I have another talk with our prisoner.
- It's time to make him talk, if marauders send such a team he must be important.
- Probably. Thanks sister, I will take counter measures to avoid the attack.
High priestess was radiant, a rebel leader is someone with some position in marauders hierarchy, but one that makes marauders send so many elite troops can only be one thing, a very important person. Or at least, a person very well connected.
High priestess would prefer talk to the prisoner, but the preparations to defend take the rest of the day. A group want to make a pre-emptive strike; another would prefer more patrols, very few take the High priestess suggestion of sending a sign to back off as a good solution. High priestess wasn't surprised; only with a few fights people would understand the power of the word, a few fights that people survive to fight another day.
In the end, High priestess manages to do a plan that keeps everyone happy.
Patrols would destroy the snipers nests, a few rocks well placed by the beast masters would break the line of sight making the snipers useless and in a way, will send the message. A small barricade of sharp sticks would be rise around the camp that would slow the scouts coming to the camp.
Also a larger area was clean around camp and more camp fires were built to give more light through the night. Finally all agree that a wood wall would be built to protect the outside camp.
High priestess agreed, but High priestess knew that most of them didn't add anything to the defence, if they ever be built; it would a commando style operation and not a full assault. With the right scouts, a small group could enter and leave with the prisoner unnoticed. And that could be just the last piece of the plan High priestess needed.
Was really late when finally High priestess entered in prisoner cell, the rebel leader was sleeping heavily. The light from the lamp was too weak to even bother him.
High priestess take a while observing the man, definitely was a man that as ready to meet the creator. Nobody could sleep so calm these days unless dead doesn't mean anything anymore.
High priestess could spend all night trying to figure how this man ghosts let him sleep, a rebel leader of his age must have ghosts, ghosts of the friends that die by his side without he could do anything, the ghosts of the people he killed with his own hands, the ghosts of the hungry children in the cold winter he could not feed. But time was a commodity High priestess had to spare weeks ago and now just slip away.
- Wake up prisoner, we have to talk.
After a few louder calls, he finally opens his eyes and sits on the middle of a pile of rags that make his bed.
- I was sleeping, new type of torture, sleep privation?
- No, strange visitors stalking the camp.
The rebel leader smiled, he knew perfectly well what High priestess means.
- So you know what’s happening, you are some important character in marauder hierarchy.
He laughs and look amused to High priestess. Years of self-control prevent High priestess to fall in rage against his provocation. High priestess was losing the power over him.
- No, I'm not important for Marauders hierarchy. I don't even think there is something you can call a hierarchy as you imagine, we are freeman, there are some rules and some organization, but we are far from your orders and yours spiritual leaders. I don't believe someone in the higher ranks would remember me.
- Nerveless we detected marks of marauders snooping around. And we just detect the marks, meaning someone is sending good troops to rescue you.
- Doubt it. More likely my brothers in arms just gatherer to come see me. I bet a few without permission of their rebel leader.
- So you have a bunch of friends ready to risk their lives to save yours.
- We do it every day; some have been serving with me since my first command.
- They are insane if the think they can rescue you.
- They are insane, it's just another day, after a few tours, and we just wait for the bullet with our name. When the time comes, you will die. Carpe diem.
The prisoner just moved his hands theatrically.
- Whatever this is, it's time to help me, I could use some more time to persuade you, but your friends could do something stupid in the next days.
- The High priestess of the might Soldiers of Light asking a favour to a poor rebel leader? If I get out of this mess, nobody will believe me.
- Do you know the big betrayal?
- You have already said that before, and I don't recall anything about it.
- Do you know why marauders and we fight each other?
- I suppose that’s because your people are fanatic religious that kills every one that doesn't follow your believes.
- Wrong. Because Marauders betrayed us. Combine paid and Marauders make a coward assault to unarmed sol people, in a blood bath.
Prisoner looked deep for a while, and then he nodded.
- Nobody can talk for all marauders, we have a lot of rotten apples in our basket, a few capable of attacking unarmed people, but paid from combine, impossible, neither combine would pay, or even talk with us, neither us would do it just because combine said. No it's impossible.
- So I think, but let me tell the full story.
- I really want to hear it.
- In the beginning of our formation, we didn't call us soldiers of light, but sons of the light. Several religions joined this new faith, bringing their own to the flow. Thing weren't easy, lots and lots of things as to be learned, understood and meditated. The written words had to be read and interpreted, first a few scholars joined to discuss, as the ranks grew, more and more people joined the meetings that defined the religion. Some want to achieve peace by talk, others more fanatic, by forced doctrine. Others just want to gather the souls, other defends a religious government, and everything you can imagine was discussed.
- Did it work in any way? Even combine with their technology and the same politic could not make it happen?
- No it didn't. So a hierarchy of delegates was formed, every congregation would elect a person, after that, the elected join forces with others that share their vision and elect between them another one, and so on until a large number of elected members would meet in a conclave to define the path. After that each one would come and tell the electors what to do. Each year we did a conclave. Until the betrayal.
The prisoner was wide awake and looks very interested. High priestess was in control again. Maybe High priestess could pull it, just maybe.
- One year when all members were reunited in the conclave, they were butchered. In a single night most of the wise and elder members of all religions were killed. Most of the religions chose their leaders to represent them and one day they wake up without leaders. That was a shock. As the few survivors arrived, they described the horrors committed, also described the attackers as marauders with heavy combine weapons. Some refer command cyborgs commanding the marauders from behind. Others even talk about combine troops fighting side by side with marauders.
- That’s impossible.
- What ever happened there wasn't pretty. Most of the survivors come from the Asiatic orders, they were warrior monks, and most of them middle aged, with some fitness. The fanatic also had a few survivors. Ours orders had no survivors; elder men don't run very quickly I'm afraid.
- So you blamed marauders and start chasing us.
- The fanatics raised in hierarchy quickly. After that we had to elect new leaders and we want revenge. Moderated people wouldn’t give us that. The peaceful one become moderated, the moderated fanatics and the fanatics become berserkers chasing everyone to revenge the fallen ones.
- Happens every time. Se good man walks to dead to revenge others. Nice piece of story, but what do you need me to do, go to each marauder and ask him if he know something about it?
- No, a strange thing happened a few years. My order high priest received a wood stick when he was ordered. The stick itself was great wood work, but with no real value, unless you know the secret chamber in it. Well, when the betrayal occurred, the stick was lost. And then a strange thing happened. The stick re-emerged in the hands of a fanatic leader. We notice it, but it takes quite a lot of work to recover it to our order without being noticed. As soon as we get it, we open it a small paper with a message was inside, “we have been betrayed by our own” and a location.
- So the fanatics massacred your leaders and the design SoL as their own image.
- That’s what we believe, but we need proves. Without them, we can’t change the tide inside the SoL.
- Can't see how I help or the Marauders can.
High priestess pointed in a direction.
- The conclave happened in a city about 150 miles in that direction.
Prisoner face went dark as blood flew from it.
- The wastelands, in the heart of the order creatures. You aren't talking about getting there.
- It's the only way. We need to get there, get whatever our high priest left and re write history. If we put the fanatics out, we can settle peace with marauders and combine, with peace between our factions; we can clean the remaining order monsters and start again.
- You know you will have to pass by the middle of our, let’s call it nation, then walk by no man land and finally enter in one of the worse order zones to do it.
- And that’s why I need you, I need someone to talk marauders of the fight and let us pass, and with a bit of luck, let us do the way back.
- So you want me to talk Marauders to open a corridor in our nation and look the other way while you pass an army right to our heart.
- Pretty much that.
- High priestess, you are totally nuts. Does anybody else know that plan?
- No, for the rest of the people we are on a crusade to recover as much of possible of relics from that betrayal.
Rebel leader look down and pass his hands through his hair.
- I suppose you have a plan to let me go without giving away your plan?
- I'm still working on it; I think your rescue party could help me a lot if you agree to help me.
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Rebel leader take a while, High priestess knew he was drawing a plan. The gods were definitely on High priestess side. He could tell otherwise, but High priestess could tell he wasn’t an ordinary rebel leader, High priestess already meet a few, and kill some too, to know.
- We need to pass a message to them, and they must know it is from me.
- Any idea how to do it?
- I have some, how about you take a few followers to one of the camps and make an inspirational speech.
- I’m not following.
Rebel leader smiled, of course High priestess wasn't following him, normally just a few closest brothers in arms could, and he bet at least one of them was out there trying to figure it out how to rescue him.
- Put it simple, we need to pass a message to my people, I can't go, and I don't believe you trust anybody else to pass a message this big, so it has to be you to go. If you put a single foot out of here without an escort, you will probably be captured or killed, in any case, that could end terrible, the only way is to get you out there with an escort and deliver the message. Of course you can drop a paper or something, but you are pushing the luck, something elaborated and you could blow your cover, something simple could be missed by my people, missing the objective, so the best way is deception, if you get to a spot and make an encouragement speech to your troops I can assure my people will hear it to.
- And that would benefit us how?
- Because you will tell what you learn about marauders in our torture sessions, a lot of information. Most of it true and in the middle of it, a message from me for my people, which yours couldn't understand. Quite easy, right?
- Quite... Now we just need the speech and the escape plan...
- And the path...
- The path?
- I believe I can convince Marauders to let you pass, but only by a path very well defined. You didn't think I would let you pass by the centre of ours camps, or visiting our strongholds, no my girl, you will be going by a path, and god save you if you get out of it, I will lead Marauders to butcher your crusade if you do it, I believe in you, but that is not valid for anybody else and even it was, now days, trust isn't a common commodity, not even inside our factions, less between them.
High priestess didn't like it, but High priestess knew he was right, High priestess was asking too much to be given freely and a path could be handy, since the crusade has been planned in very old maps, in these times, anything with more than 3 months could be deadly wrong. The 'girl' thing irritated High priestess a lot more, he was a few years younger than High priestess, but that single word make High priestess feel like a young girl getting a lecture from old man, and High priestess only felt that when talking to the high priest, and he was like a father to High priestess.
High priestess irritation didn't get outside, to many years of self-control, training the face to show only the emotions High priestess chooses to show.
- Do you have any idea about that path of yours?
- In a matter of fact, yes I have, you will travel to east till you find the highway, then go south, pass the big city and keep going and leave the highway to take the road to the refineries, there you pass the refineries and get to the port, the river is our border. From that point forward, I can only wish you well and a good hunt, every order thing you kill is less one that would try to kill me.
- The port? I was aiming the bridges!
- We demolish them a few years ago, we don't want to pass the river and the things don't like water, it reduced the order raids a lot, besides that, they are lousy water builders, their racks are quite easy to blow or pin out, a single man can stop an order raid while they are on the racks, it’s like fishing in a barrel, whit a gun.
- So the port as boats?
- Nope, you will have to improvise it, but you would have to do it anyway. And in the port you have better conditions than in the debris of the bridges.
- You aren't giving me good news; it would take us days to build anything that could pass the river.
- The use of the highway will cut the time you need to get to the river.
- That's true, but how you will manage to avoid marauder people to use the high way so we can pass.
- Oh, that easy, we don't use the high way, it's radiated.
- What? Are you sending us through a radiated road? Are you mad?
- Not enough radiated than a person can use it for a couple of days, most of the highway have quite normal values of radiation. The big city is other issue, but the highway passes far from the nukes impact, but I wouldn't camp there, radiation is quite high and sometimes it gets to the high way. But walking normally, you would take 3 to 5 hours to pass that zone.
- So if it’s so secure why don't marauders use it?
- Because we live here, we aren't crossing it once in a life, so we avoid it. You are crossing Marauders territory to get to order territory and back and you are afraid of radiation poison? Think a little, it's just a small dose you will get and then you would leave the area, we live here, every day we get a little and next year we still will be here taking that small dose. We never know from were, we have a few geyser counters, but we can’t analyse every piece of metal, every piece of fruit, everything that we find and collect. So we avoid the radiated areas we know, and pray when find something useful, sometimes we only discover it’s radiated too late.
- Ok, but are you sure about the radiation levels on the high way?
- Yes, but you must understand two things, the big city it’s out of limits, if you go there, even for a few hours, you will get radiation poison and no one could save you and don't take anything from the highway, the radiation could be low, but if take something along, you will end radiated. We learned that by the hard way.
- Ok, so avoid the city and don't touch in anything we find in the way. Besides that, don't leave the highway until the exit to the port.
- Right, and when passing by the city, don't camp, keep going a little more.
- Ok, so now we need to work the message to avoid that marauders make an attack that would not help us anyway.
- We? I will tell you a few lines that you would say; the speech is your playground.
- You wouldn't help me?
- Not even if I could, but there are things I'm not suit to is moralize speeches to the masses, even worse to sol people, my motivation speeches is more about shouting orders in the battlefield, sometimes with complementary words that I bet will make some of your sisters cover their ears.
- You under estimate the ears of my sisters...
- You under estimate my pub vocabulary.
- So, you will not help me at all.
- Well, I will give you a few lines you have to put in the speech that will guide my people, but in the speech itself, I won't help you.
- How much time we buy with this?
- Until I make a sign, I will tell you the phrase, but I don't say what is the sign, some assurance you know, after all I just give you a safe route, if you make an ambush and a quick exit you may pull it without us.
- I wouldn't do it.
- Why should I believe it? Because you tell you wouldn't, how many of your brothers and sister would lie to me?
- Fair, give me that lines, I would start writing the speech as soon as you give them to me.
The rebel leader writes them down in a few pieces of paper High priestess carry around, to take emergency notes with a pencil. High priestess still remember a silver roll pen had in the other life, now the ink pens are exactly that, ink and a pen. To take around, a pencil manually made had to work.
It was late night when High priestess ended the speech. High priestess would like to train it against a mirror, but no such commodity. High priestess mentally chose the expressions and the voices to each part of the speech, how to shout as loud as High priestess get the passages from the rebel leader without the crowd understand what was happening. A final review and High priestess went to bed; tomorrow High priestess will make the speech, no time to lose.
The morning comes as usual with the first rays of the sun. People gathered around to the first pray of the day. High priestess prays along while a young priest conducts it. He was so young, High priestess think.
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When the mass ended, High priestess walked to the altar.
- I want to visit the nest of the infidels, show them that the Soldiers of Light fear nothing, who will come with me pray in the ashes of our enemies?
Lots of faces look surprised; High priestess was counting with that. High priestess also counts with the fast run of the minions of the other orders. Most of the orders send people to keep an eye on High priestess. Most of these spies bring their own set of followers, followers that now run out to their masters to tell them about High priestess madness.
Half hour later, high priestess leave the abbey for the first time in weeks. At front the patrol that burned the Marauder camp the day before, then High priestess and all the elite sisters, killing a SoL High priestess would be a huge prize for any faction, even to some people inside the SoL.
High priestess could identify every order group by now and the way each leader place their body guards, trying to blend around with the rest of the people. By now everyone knows each other; some don't even try to hide their mission from each other’s. Anyway everyone come to see if High priestess finally became mad.
It take a while to get to the Marauders camp, the large crowd keep stopping and need to regroup. The winter had broken people to a mob. High priestess takes mental note that the first days of walk would be chaotic, taking twice the time to do the same mileage.
High priestess look to a boulder, getting on it would give any enemy a sure hit, but if High priestess keep herself in the crowd, the message could not pass.
So High priestess climbs the boulder with the help of the sisters.
High priestess didn't had the time to speak any word, a set of explosions cross the air, the eyes of High priestess turn to the abbey, columns of smoke arise. The eyes drop to the crowd, High priestess brain realise immediately, all elite troops where there, protecting High priestess or the spies, in the abbey, just a bunch of green troops and the common people.
High priestess jump from the boulder and star running to the abbey, most of the others follow as fast as they could.
- Bastard, the rebel leader tricks me to get away with the sisters. - High priestess thinks.
High priestess entered the abbey with a small group of sisters to find everything calm, High priestess grab the first person and ask what happened.
- Nothing, a few explosions nearby, but nothing hit the abbey and we didn't see anybody.
- Nobody?
- Nobody.
- Maybe the Marauders are testing the range. - said a sister.
- And spoil the surprise, no, Marauders know their weapons very well to do that type of tests - High priestess stated – And the prisoner?
The poor man look surprised.
- The explosions were outside, no one go see the prisoner.
High priestess move to the cell, but inside High priestess already knew the explosions were a diversion, the Marauders scouts free the rebel leader while the guards rush to the walls waiting for an attack.
As soon as High priestess put the foot in the room before the cell, the dead guard tell the same thing. When High priestess walk into the cell, a feel of relive cross every inch of high priestess. The prisoner was gone, but in the wall, in big letters was written “My way. The highway”.
- You lose him. - A voice accuses High priestess.
Turning around High priestess see the torturer sister. She had that look, emotion less face but of happiness.
High priestess was preparing to take the blow when by the corner High priestess see the quarter master. It was a long shot, but High priestess tries it anyway.
- Quarter master, who was supposed to be guarding the prisoner.
High priestess didn't need quarter master answer, the torturer sister face tell it for him.
- You called us to go with you.
- Did I? So, first you skip patrols, now guard duty... - High priestess had the upper hand and it's time to bleed that sister a little.
- I would be dead...
- So your life is more important than him? - High priestess knew it was, that sister would be a bishop or above in her true order, but to work as a spy, she has to keep low and work like a sister from a minor order and now she was in a delicate position, keep the mask and offend High priestess and the fallen guard or uncover herself, showing herself as the rat she is.
- Pardon High priestess - the torture sister prepares to leave.
- Latter we discuss your fault. - High priestess keeps watching the sister until she vanish by the door.
- Call all the ranks; we will have a meeting here.
- When?
- Already started. I will be giving orders as people come and go.
- But most of...
- Will come when able, meanwhile the ones that are here, will start preparations to raise camp as soon as possible.
- Raise camp? That would take a week.
- Tomorrow we leave. Start packing, send patrols hunting as much meat as they could find. Double rations tonight. The beast masters prepare the beasts.
- One day? We can't, to do it right we need at least 5 days.
- Tomorrow. We will march south to the road intersection, take the road to west, and then we press forward until we are clear.
- The roads? Would that be wise? They have settlements near the roads in the old cities.
- None with an army big enough, as we pass they would stay inside walls and inform the main army. While the army assembles and chases us, we may put a few miles between, and find a more suitable ground to fight if necessary.
- I'm not sure if we are faster than the Marauders army.
- We aren't, we just are one army, and Marauders are many armies coming from each settlement, which gives us some advantage. And Marauders Leaders would lose some time arguing ranks and orders from each other, here, I command. So God protect me.
- One day it's impossible.
- Make it possible.
- We need a miracle to get out of Marauders land with our heads over our shoulders.
- So pray for one while you pack, because, we will leave tomorrow. - High priestess look to the present, each one was judging the orders and what to do. High priestess had no doubts if they were in homeland a council would me marked and not even the high priest would save her. Madness would be the charge. Or something invented, just for the records. But they weren’t in SoL land and they know if High priestess falls, each one of them would have to fight each other for the command, or to support an even worse leader, in middle of Marauders lands.
High priestess start moving, first the beast masters, they should prepare the beasts am prepare them to leave. Then the priests, time to straight up the ranks, the last weeks hierarchy become lose, time to remember who call the shoots around here. The big ones could doubt, but never the middle man. Then, High priestess would l draw some ground rules about what should be left behind, travel fast mean only one thing, travel light. No extra rations or wood, no unnecessary tends, people can sleep outside now the weather is getting warmer, or at least under blanket or something. Time was running fast, and people weren't. High priestess orders where heavily discussed between people. Nobody confronted High priestess, but High priestess could hear the people complaining. And High priestess knows they were right.
Finally High priestess returned to her room. High priestess sits in the bench looking to the oil lamp. No more night writings... - High priestess think, the oil lamp will stay behind, as most of the things, High priestess had to be the example - High priestess would only take what High priestess can carry. - And High priestess starts packing.
An hour later, High priestess has a full backpack with everything High priestess couldn't spare. High priestess put the backpack and fell happy, it was quite light. High priestess would not carry rations or weapons beside the walking stick. Sisters would carry the armour, the shield and a weapon or two besides the backpack with theirs belongings. They are in shape, but they will be tired in two weeks of walk.
High priestess takes the next hours to supervise the raise of camp. When the sun went down, beast masters have driven carts to the centre of the camp and lined them. People start loading then. Beasts where loosely tied to poles near hay, a feast, best eaten than left behind. The food that couldn't be prepared as rations will follow the same way, eaten before the crusade leave, but only after the carts be filled. Some larger sacks were piled, not all beasts will pull carts, some will carry people and the sacks, and some will only have people, the vanguard of the crusade.
The night was long when High priestess returns for the last time to bed. From tomorrow forward, High priestess would sleep on the ground as everybody else. Most of the people were sleeping tonight as they will sleep from now on: a fabric passed from two or more carts or tied to a tree or a pole and people under it. Some will sleep under the carts, others under the sky, the beast masters usually do that, near the beasts, no one else does it, and the beasts would not allow it. It’s a strange link between man and beast. When a man born with the gift, the beast will obey, if he hasn't, they could kill him. A beast without a master does whatever it gives. Quite strange creatures. Soldiers of Light never spend much time trying to understand why the military did them that way, they just did.
The morning come with a dim light, the sky grey, remember that the winter wasn't gone yet.
High priestess reaches some food in the last fires still burning and sits near a cart. Most of the people were there doing the same. The things look badly packed, but packed; in an hour they will be back on the road.
High priestess eat slowly, giving time to people to eat well, meat from last day hunting and the meat that couldn’t be dried properly from previous hunts, so before rotten, was cooked to eat through this day, but wasn't easy to eat and march so High priestess give time for every one feed it be their last proper meal, even the marauder leader could keep the marauders a bay, for several of these souls, this will be their last meal. High priestess drinks a little more hot tea, asking her if the price wasn't so high.
The pots eventually become empty, washed and packed; High priestess rises put the backpack with the belongings, take the High priestess staff, and start walking. A group of sisters come to High priestess side to protect, as personal guard. The ranks, the priests, the followers start moving in order, for a non-military crowd, they walk much disciplined. High priestess pushed a little, highway was a bit far and High priestess wanted to get it with some light. The day itself wasn't helping; dark grey sky threatening rain wasn't a good sign. Four hours after High priestess give the sign to stop and rest. A quick meal and a small mass, food to the body and for the mind. No cooked food, just one fire was lighted to serve more hot tea. The herbs boiled give an extra energy and prevent muscle fatigue, but requires hot water. High priestess looked around: a small countryside road, long time ago a few farmers would live here, now they are gone, as their houses, burned or pillage by the marauders, never less a few tree have survived. High priestess could recognise a few, when the crusade returns; maybe they can pick a few apples. High priestess smiled, a bit over confident, counting with the return in four months. Returning, what a beautiful thought.
- So the gods be whit us. - ended the priest.
- They walk whit us. - The crowd says.
'I sure hope so', High priestess think while the mass disperse and the mob start moving again.
The sun was going down when the highway appear. High priestess calculates that they would have another hour of light before dark would force them to stop. They would get to the Highway in fifteen minutes, on the highway they could go to last light.
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