Hello there, friends of Tellest! We’re coming down to the last few stories that we’re aiming to tell for this year. There may some surprises down the road toward Christmas, but for the most part, we’re trying to get a collection of tales ready for a big collection that’ll release this Fall/Winter. With that in mind, I’ve got another story for you, which begins today.
The last time we saw Conrad the Blessed, he had done some remarkable things to the benefit of Randall Hart. He brought the knight out of a terrible coma (much to his chagrin), and has since seen some celebration. Still, life in Atalatha after the countless battles that have breached their walls has been… unstable. Conrad is weary, and would rather not have to pick up the pieces of other people’s adventures. He might soon find out that it’s better to keep your wishes to yourself.
Today we’re unveiling the first part of the new story, Blessings and Curses on Tellest.com – I hope you enjoy it!
Blessings and Curses
Even from the darkened corners of the tavern, he could see the crowd was growing rambunctious. While all of Atalatha’s drinking holes were known for their fair shares of spontaneous violence, Conrad frequented the Bravado because he could sip ale in relative peace. That was not to be the case that night.
Weeks before, Blacklehn had attacked the city, and they had failed. The prisons were filled, and the duke had made his intentions clear: They were not executing soldiers who had surrendered. Rather, one of Atalatha’s premier wizards had magically branded the Blacklehnians. Purple bands circled their wrists, leaving them to stand out in any crowd.
So it was that night at the Bravado. A violet strip circled the wrist of the man that sat at the bar. When he reached for his ale, he did little to disguise his markings.
Most people around him gave a wide berth. The soldier seemed bred for fighting, his muscles stacked upon each other in a way that made other tavern-goers gaze in awe.
“He’s a son of Nerot,” Conrad heard whispered beside him.
“The god of war?” another man returned. “Nerot would never allow his son to be captured. It’s too shameful.”
“Unless it was intended. What if he was meant to end up with a purple band on his wrist just so he could get behind the walls of Atalatha and wreak havoc?”
The second man scoffed. “A likely story.”
“Fine then. What say you we put a friendly wager on it? He’s been coming in here nigh on a fortnight. How’s he making the money to earn his keep? My guess is he’s waiting until some poor, miserable fool stumbles out of here at night, and then he pounces on him.”
“A lad like that works the coliseum for sure,” his friend argued.
“Then put some coin on the table! When I’m right, you’ll be buying my mead for a month.”
Conrad smirked as he listened to them prattle on. Stories like that would persist on until the end of time, and he was happy for the respite, however brief it was. Truly, it was a boon to be able to hear of some adventurous tales, for all he endured was the sight of the injured and dying. It was becoming all too common those days. With his healing touch, it seemed he was destined to patch up those who had fallen to battle. He wouldn’t ever be a part of one – or an adventure. After a fretful sigh he raised his mug and downed the rest of his frothy drink.
Many patrons had come and gone, but Conrad still nursed one last drink. The Blacklehnian fellow remained at the bar as well, and if the cleric watching had to guess, he would have thought the prisoner was keeping the Bravado in business.
Finally, that large man stood, nearly tipping the cushioned stool to the floor. For the first time, Conrad was able to see the man more clearly. Long dark hair hung down past his shoulders, just catching the flicker of the tavern’s lantern light. Distant eyes peered at the mug which sat empty on the counter, and as the bartender snatched that cup, the Blacklehnian looked at him almost pleadingly. The man behind the bar paid him no heed, so the captive spun away. Before he faced the door, he met the stare of the cleric in the dark corner.
Conrad felt the piercing strength of that glare. He remained focused on the imposing man, in awe at his size but sensing something else there as well. The Blacklehnian scoffed, a snarl framed by a thick beard and mustache. As he continued toward the door, Conrad noticed one more peculiar aspect of his appearance: A series of tattoos were strewn across his right arm, disappearing beneath a black vest. Intricately crafted faces stared at the cleric, though the Blacklehnian was focused on the door. Then, at once, they were gone, disappearing into the street, along with the large captive.
Slapping down the last of his drink and a silver coin beside it, Conrad rose and made his way to the exit. He was halfway across the room before the door shut.
Out on the main road, the cleric was surprised by how barren the city was. A glance toward the tower in the center of the city alerted him to the late hour of night. A half-filled fiery orb meant it was half past one. “Too afraid to tell him it was last call, eh, Phinius?”
There would be time to reflect later, he reasoned. Though only a moment had passed, the large fellow had vanished. The street was not altogether empty, however. The two patrons who had wagered against the Blacklehnian’s position and whereabouts snuck from the darkness of an alley across the street. They hadn’t noticed Conrad, too concerned with something else. And the cleric was sure he knew what it was.
He pursued them, as quiet as their shadows, to the north. Though he had been in Atalatha for some time, he had been more familiar with the main roads than side alleys and dark corners. Before long, the men were out of sight, their footsteps leading the way in some arbitrary direction.
Conrad’s shoulders slumped, and he braced himself against the stone wall of a derelict building. A disappointed yawn snuck to him, and he shook his head. As he was turning back toward familiar roads, though, he heard the sounds of a struggle. Incoherent protests transformed into shouts and screams. A loud thud and an even louder crash echoed out. Bowing his head, the cleric continued his pursuit.
After rounding a few corners, the sounds of violence ceased, and Conrad wondered if he would find the men at all. He nearly passed by the alley where the two patrons from the Bravado lay bruised and battered on the ground and raced down that lane, falling to his knees beside the men, who rasped for breath and moaned in agony. The alley, where only the faint starlight provided any illumination, disguised their injuries. Conrad diagnosed the men’s wounds on instinct: a broken nose, a dislocated shoulder, and some battered ribs. The prisoner from Blacklehn was strong indeed.
Conrad scowled then, for he realized the captive was nowhere to be seen. He set to work, placing his hand above the nearest man’s body. The cleric’s palm radiated with healing light, brighter than any beacon that could be seen from that location. The groaning and the labored breathing ceased, but certain injuries would persist until they could find a medic. He noticed the one farther fellow still clung to a small dagger. The silver was stained crimson as well. They hadn’t just followed the Blacklehnian; they had attacked him.
“This is about what you fools deserve,” he whispered.
As he finished speaking, he noticed the alley had grown even darker. When he cast a glance down the end of the lane, he saw the towering Blacklehnian there. Though he held a tremendous hunk of stone beneath one arm, it was his bright green eyes Conrad fixated on.
“Be gone, you fool,” he said, in spite of the trepidation he felt building inside of him. “Can’t you see the damage has been done?”
If the Blacklehnian was concerned with that request, it didn’t show. He began forward, lifting the debris above his head. “Blood must be bought with blood,” his deep voice resonated. “Stand aside or stand in my way. It makes no difference.”
Conrad reached down and plucked the dagger from the man’s grasp, brandishing it in a trembling hand. “Stay back. I’m warning you!”
The Blacklehnian drew closer, and the healer saw the stone he held was a hunk of remnants from a nearby derelict building. A myriad of wounds also separated his flesh. Another dagger still remained in his waist.
“Last chance,” Conrad bade.
He didn’t wait, heaving the blade end over end as the lumbering warrior began his throw. Against all odds, and surprising even Conrad, the dagger plunged into the man’s throat. He lurched backward, dropping the stone with an echoing thump. As he clutched the hilt of the dagger, Conrad reached out. It was all in vain, though, for the Blacklehnian ripped the blade from his neck, a vigorous burst of blood spilling from the injury. He growled as he cast his gaze upon his newest aggressor.
His eyes fluttered then, and he collapsed to the ground.
Before him, Conrad blew out a sigh of relief and leaned back upon a wobbly arm. He only allowed himself a moment of respite, however. The Blacklehnian’s life force pooled beneath him, and hesitation would mean his death.
The cleric moved with haste, hovering above the hulking brute. Though he was a tremendous force to be reckoned with, he was also not the one who had initiated the fight, as best Conrad understood. The damage was much more extensive to him—and not only due to the severity of that final attack. Cuts and slashes he endured beforehand were spread across his body. Steadying himself, Conrad set his hands above the large man, summoning that holy light once more.
Sweat poured from the healer’s brow, his body shaking as he set to work on the task. One by one, the cuts closed, leaving little scars in their place. Finally, even that deadly puncture in his throat mended. Conrad’s face had gone pale, and he tipped forward, leaning on the Blacklehnian with one hand.
Though the man was tended to, Conrad felt how fragile his life force was. He sat back and took a deep breath. “Worry not, stranger,” he said. “I will pull the darkness from you and release it into the world. Tellest will cleanse it, and you’ll be no worse for wear.” He dragged his forearm across his brow, wiping the perspiration away. Exhaling sharply, he set to work again.
The light returned to Conrad’s hand, and he closed his eyes while he rejuvenated the injured fellow. For a moment, the cleric fluttered near unconsciousness, his body swaying in the light breeze that travelled down the alleyway. A newfound strength came to him, though, when he felt the Blacklehnian’s inner wounds mending.
Color returned to the man’s skin, and his body relaxed. Something else changed, though – something lost to the cleric’s closed eyes. The captured soldier’s tattoos faded from his body, until they appeared as nothing but long forgotten scars.
Conrad felt a sudden sting in the palm of his hand. Before he realized it, that prodding agony circulated through his body. He gasped in shock and opened his eyes. To his surprise, his veins were visible even in that darkness. Pronounced and throbbing, those vessels were black as night and travelled all the way up his arm.
A firm grip caught his wrist, and he looked at the fallen Blacklehnian. “What have you done?” the hulking captive asked. “It was my curse to bear.”
Weak and weary, the man succumbed to his fatigue again. His eyelids remained open, and an emerald tincture faded from those orbs. The cleric couldn’t focus on that queer sight for long, as the pain thrummed through his body with every beat of his heart.
A groan to his side alerted him to another problem. The patrons from the Bravado were stirring, the closest sitting up. With a hand on his head, he uttered a profanity while he squeezed a tear through tightly shut eyes. When he blinked away that humming pain, though, he knew he wouldn’t be permitted to focus on it for long.
“Hey, what are you doing there?” he spat. “Are you helping that bastard from Blacklehn?”
Conrad hesitated for only a moment. “Aye, and if I hadn’t tended to you, you wouldn’t be standing right now.”
“That monster tried to kill us.”
“Which is no worse than what you tried to do to him.” Even as he spoke, the drunk approached with his fingers clenched into fists. Conrad leaned back, reaching for the discarded dagger. With no such luck apprehending it as the man drew near, he made one more impassioned plea. “Stop!” He thrust out his hand and was surprised when a dark energy seeped from his palm, shooting out from him like a bolt of fire stripped of flame and replaced with only smoke. Only a dark purple haze gave it any other context, and even that was only visible for a moment before it struck the drunk. He flew back several feet, unconscious once more before he even struck the ground.
Beleaguered, Conrad hung his head. Setting a rhythm to his breathing, he blinked away his fatigue and found himself staring at his hand once more. The clouded darkness that flowed through his veins diminished, and he felt the stinging in his body subsiding.
“Well, I was looking for a change of pace,” Conrad said. He reached down for the fallen Blacklehnian. “Come on. Let’s get you somewhere safer than here.”