The Faithful Cleric
Dusk held to the plains between Narvaal and Lam Berel. The sun caressed it, lingered and warmed it for as long as it could, but it couldn’t hold forever. When it finally gave to the dark clouds growing on the horizon, it was quickly snatched away, overtaken by that coming darkness. Thunder rumbled far across the expanse, bounding back off the mountains to the two disciples of Terra and their guide. The Itchyoman, “known” as Bubbles, lead Madam Volum and her Lady Naomei to the port city.
When Madam Volum gave the Itchyoman the news, it looked absolutely displeased. Its “words” were even less pleasant, but the Madam was quick to shut it up. It writhed on the ground under the chains she wrought, all while Naomei could only watch.
She was not as... pure as her Madam. She did not mind the idea of finding some form of convenience in their pilgrimage across Palridian, even if it was on beasts Terra deemed unworthy of being on the same level as them, the true chosen, Her children of clay. There had to be a lesser tier; that’s what separated Faun from their bestial kin.
However, Naomei never voiced this opinion, this belief that went against the doctrine. At least, not in front of her Madam. Better for her health. So they set off on foot once the Itchyoman had... repented enough.
Lady Naomei, however, had a secret.
The want for convenience was not the secret she carried, nor was it the resentment she had towards her Madam for continuing to push as much as she did. They were not going to reach Lam Berel any time soon. Astra’s winds wouldn’t even give them enough lift to make it before the sun truly fell, nor even when it rose... but again, who was she to undermine her Madam. Naomei would remain silent, and only silently voice her opinion, weaved through the Itchyoman’s.
They reached the crossroads. The Itchyoman grunted and gagged as Madam Volum held up her hand, clawing at the chains around its neck. This made Madam Volum cock her head, a look of pure puzzlement tracing itself onto her face.
“I’m sorry? You don’t want respite?” Madam Volum mused. She lowered her hand, folding it with the other before her once more. They were always before her, as if ready to unclasp and welcome any into her arms... or, as Naomei truly knew, to strike down any that may get in her way. Madam Volum sighed, which made the Lady tense and watch after her. She sauntered beyond the crossroad’s signs, little more than a pole with six, crudely carved arrows with their destinations hammered into it, but there was a modest patch of grass between it. She took four steps into it then took a right into the soft, green field, and the ground gently started to glow before her. It started out as a simple dot, but flourished as it spanned, seven arm’s length wide and nine across. She eased her heels off in the grass and stepped onto it. “Come, my Lady.”
“Y-yes, ma’am,” Naomei sputtered out, and quickly joined her Madam, still watching her even as she knelt. She waited for her Madam to bow her head, and listened for the soft chants, Terra’s hymns. They were written, and sung, in the Old Tongue, always the Old Tongue. It was a crude language that only seemed to have any sophistication or even softness when it was singing for the glory of Terra and the Divine Mothers, even more when sung by the Madam. Her voice may have crackled and chipped away over the years, but it all seemed to fade away and return to its innocent youth whenever she sang.
Though Naomei could have listened to her sing for hours, days, she had to join. She grimaced as her tongue stumbled over the Old Words. Even after all this time, it never managed to wrap around them. Not as well as her Madam’s had, at least. They felt so... large in her mouth, so obtrusive, almost pervasive in their need to both come out while ram down her throat. The Old Words always made her throat so sore, raw from how they scraped at it. She used to gag, but clenching her thumb in her palm alleviated that, a trick she learned from Madam Lledrob.
Her singing was interrupted, though, as the Itchyoman sat on the light, as well. Its very essence seemed to stain the pure light, changing it from its soft green to a putrid gray wherever it touched, and it still had the nerve to keep grumbling. It should be thankful for the gifts Terra gave it, for this chance to prove its worth to the Earth Mothers –at least, that’s what Naomei thought Madam Volum believed.
“Is this really necessary?” It croaked out, still coughing, rasping as it dug at those chains. “What good is it to pray when no one is listening?”
“Your Dark Ones may not listen, Itchyoman,” Madam Volum said, not missing a beat as she continued to sing the hymns in between, “but the Divine Mothers are. Always.”
The Itchyoman scoffed. A feeling Lady Naomei agreed with a little too much. After all, where were They when her sister decided to head to Carapai instead of to Zephyria? Where were They when she returned pregnant from one of the denizens of the sea, or was able to conceive or give birth to it at all? Where were They when her sister’s life spiraled out of control and ran off to join the Hallowed, leaving her to look after her son... and where were They when she was forced to treat him in the ways the Divine Mothers demanded for any that were unpure!
Surely, They could have shown mercy for one such as him. He was so loving, loyal, meek... yet cursed to forever be a monster, an abomination, a freak.
But these thoughts shall forever remain locked away. If not for her sister’s son, then for her own sake... However, this was still not the secret she kept, the one that is even more damning than blaspheming, than being a heretic. And so she sung her hymns, allowed the Words to ravage her throat once again.
Tears welled in her eyes, and, unlike Madam Volum, she looked up to the sky. Lightning forked through the encroaching clouds. Their booms did not dare touch their songs, did not dare to allow a strong wind to blow over and dull them in any way. Their beauty shall be heard for miles, and raise the mood of any that may come or go, sending them along with the warmth of the Divine in their chest.
Madam Volum finished with a heavy sigh, and stood from the light. She donned her heels again, and returned to the path, waiting for Lady Naomei and the Itchyoman. The light vanished as the Dark One’s progeny stepped off it, and Madam Volum remained in place until he was twelve steps ahead, keeping that spacing. Naomei remained by her side, nursing her flask of water. She gently squeezed its soft, pink skin, making it gush water into her mouth-
Madam Volum pushed on the back of her head. The force made stars dance before her eyes, burning brighter than the lightning above, lost in a flash as she was forced to lean over. Her Madam hit her with a flat palm on her gut, and the water that she just drank, and the water that ran down her chin, both wet it instead of her robes.
“You never did learn restraint, did you?” Madam Volum said. There was no malice to be heard in her voice. Instead, there was a touch of mirth, brevity, almost coyness to them, everything her strike wasn’t.
“I... I’m sorry, ma’am,” Naomei croaked out, and reached into her robes, retreiving a soft, red kerchief. She dabbed at her chin, at her mouth, cleaning them, and only when they were did Madam Volum remove her palm from her middle, allowed her to stand upright. She saw the Itchyoman was still looking forward, but it wasn’t by choice. The chains around his neck made sure of that. “So... what are we going to do with it once we find our lost lamb?”
Madam Volum sighed. “The same we’ll do to the lamb. Both of them are corrupted.” She laid her hand on Naomei’s shoulder, giving her a soft smile. “I know you have hope that the lamb can be saved, but that ahead is the Dark One’s child. It threatened the very livelihood of the Divine’s flock, and thus must be purged.”
“But Oli... the lamb? You will let me try... won’t you? Ma’am?”
“I wish I could say. However, from the sounds of it, he is already too far gone.” Madam Volum sighed, and reached for Lady Naomei’s hands. She squeezed them, firm yet still soft, giving her a softer, sadder smile. “I am sorry, but it is the Divine’s way.”
Naomei gulped, holding back the growl in her throat as she gently lifted her hands from Madam Volum. Not too quick, nor too slow. Just enough to give her robes a bit of a swish, just like Madam Volum’s, her hands clasped before her again.
“But we don’t know for certain...” Naomei found the courage to say. “Please, ma’am. He is... was my charge.”
“Then he shall be your responsibility.”
Lady Naomei shuddered with how she said that. She knew all too well what it meant, but the truth of the matter was she wasn’t going to let her sister’s son pay for her mistakes... for her failures. If need be, she would give herself to save him, to allow him to live happy, to know that she, and his mother, truly loved him, no matter what.
That was the secret she held, and it would not be such for much longer. Any that threatened him were to be purged, even if that meant Madam Volum. When that day comes, where would the Divine Mothers be then... Lightning flashed in the sky again, illuminating the sandstone walls and the small camps outside of Lam Berel. It wouldn’t be that long; if tomorrow was the day, if tomorrow would be her reunion and her Test, then let it be done.