Hi everyone! We’re going to give you a fairly short, fairly dark story today, leading up to a more whimsical, yet longer tale in the next week or so. This one tells the tale of Alduin, a paladin who has lost his faith and fallen from grace. It’s a dreary tale set in a dreary part of Tellest, and it has some tragedy for being such a quickly told piece. Either way, I hope you enjoy it, and are loving this new year as much as I am! Cheers!
A cold zephyr stoked the flames that danced upon the candle wicks. Like a whisper, it swept through the building, sneaking up the stone steps on either side of the wide hall.
The heavy oak door was thrust open for a moment, allowing the unexpected visitor to pass through. Greaves and boots rattled against the hard, frigid floor in hushed tones. The man was careful to mute his movements with slow and steady steps.
Alduin gently placed his hand against the door, pressing until he heard the telling click. With only the meager light from the candles and chandeliers high above, the building somehow seemed more dismal.
His eyes rose, past the line of pews, and he gazed upon the effigy that stood at the rear of the temple. Animus, the god of life, held a glass disc in his hands. The brotherhood had taken to calling it the Lens of Truth, but Alduin knew better. It was just an extra bit of flair that an overzealous sculptor had added to a commissioned piece.
Sighing, the weary man lifted the helmet from his head. As that breath escaped his lips, it turned into steam before evaporating into the air. He placed the helm upon the pommel of his sword, still in its scabbard on his belt.
With his vision still on that back wall, he peered out the window behind the statue. Grey clouds kept the sun from casting down its warmth, yet the persistent snow let a drear haze press against the glass. That blank canvas halted there, leaving the temple to its shadows.
Alduin turned to face the stone steps in the corner of the building. As he passed by the rows of candles there, the snow on his fur cloak sparkled in protest. He had already seen them though, and swept them off his shoulder.
The steps led into a spiraling staircase, all encased within the dark stone. With narrowed eyes, he began his steady ascent. More of those deeply colored wooden pews had been constructed on the second floor. They sat angled toward Animus, as did a matching set on the opposite side. He slid between two rows, his path deliberate and his pace quick.
As he reached the rear of the temple, Alduin heard steps resonating from down below. He narrowed his eyes and remained focused ahead. He shifted a standing candelabrum to the side. A stone pillar jutted from the wall behind it, each brick tightly packed against each other.
He reached for his belt, producing a short knife, a subtle scrape humming into the air. That blade was pressed against the masonry, casting one large stone aside.
Though the muted lights from the candles couldn’t pierce that dark shroud, the inside of the pillar seemed to glow. There, at the center of the hollow, was a single red feather. Alduin reached inside, his fingers curing beneath the magnificent plume.
“I had thought it too cold to see one offering prayers,” a stranger behind him spoke.
The visitor stared ahead at his prize, barely reacting to the sound. “I offer no prayer, brother monk,” he griped. “For there is no one who would hear it.”
“Ahh, the Fallen One has returned.”
Alduin turned then, pulling a pouch from his belt. He used no discretion as he placed the roc’s feather in the small leather satchel. Finally, he looked up, noticing the monk of his former order.
Clothed in flowing brown robes, the man’s weathered features managed to blend beneath the shadows. His short, silvery hair was more visible, though not so striking as his dark eyebrows that furled at the sight of the dissident.
“I did not recognize your voice, Edgar,” Alduin mocked. “It’s become weaker over this past year.”
“The cold will do that,” the monk conceded. “But once the thaw comes, I will find my strength again. As you did. Animus works in wonderful ways.”
“You know as well as I that I am no longer a champion of that cause.”
Edgar nodded. “That may be, but he has not forgotten you.”
Stepping forward, Alduin scowled at his former friend. “I know what I saw. When I fell beneath the floe, there was nothing. Your Animus is a lie. After this life, there is only darkness. And I won’t let the frost take Iona without a fight.”
“I can’t let you leave with the feather,” Edgar insisted. “There will be others that will need it.”
“They can have what remains,” Alduin snarled.
The old monk stood straight after hearing that comment. He shook his head, his vision falling upon the floor. “What happened to you? What happened to the paladin we knew? You used to uphold these laws. You used to stand for justice. What happened?”
With fierce eyes, Alduin stared ahead. “I fell,” he spat.
Lifting his chin, the weathered warrior started forward. Edgar held his ground, swallowing hard as his old friend advanced.
The heel of a hand landed against an armored chest. A hefty thwack resonated into the temple, and the paladin was just barely aware that he had been pressed backward. His countenance became even more frightening then as his eyes widened. He dropped his shoulder and charged forth.
Both men struggled against the angled pews then. Their contest of strength cracked wood and bruised flesh, and each felt the momentum of the battle toss and turn. It was naught but a series of blurs, yet Alduin saw one thing clearly. Edgar’s fingers wrapped around the leather pouch, and he tugged it from the warrior’s belt.
With no hesitation, the helmet flew from the pommel on Alduin’s hip. It struck the monk in his jaw, spinning him around and away.
Crashing against the railing that overlooked the floor below, the monk shook his head, blinking his eyes furiously.
A cacophonous crack alerted both men to the consequences of their scuffle. The railing snapped, and Edgar teetered backward.
Alduin leapt ahead, reaching for his former companion.
He only managed to retrieve his pouch once more. Edgar tipped over, and a stunted scream was all that remained of him.
Stepping forward, the paladin looked down at the rows of pews. The monk lay strewn across one of those wooden benches. While the man lay broken, the pew stood strong.
Alduin sighed, but looked at his prize. The pouch remained undamaged, barely a new crease upon it. He shrugged and turned back toward the stone staircase.
As he proceeded on, he took more care to look at his surroundings. He traced each intricacy of the stone with his fingers. He breathed deeply when his boots made their muted thuds against the last step. The aroma of the incense seemed more powerful then. When he passed the candles on each side, he held his hand atop one of the wicks, snuffing out the flame.
Several more steps carried him to the door. He steadied his hand against the sturdy frame.
“Goodbye,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be coming back this way again.”
When he pushed the door open, he was surprised to see that the sunlight was piercing through the clouds. It scattered across the snow, leaving the man temporarily blinded.
Alduin turned then, guarding his eyes with his hand. Looking back into the temple, he curled his fingers into a fist, steadying it against his chest.
The sunlight shone through the rear window of the building. There, it was amplified by Animus’ Lens of Truth. It radiated out upon the pews, leaving a halo around the lifeless body of the monk.
The leather pouch slipped from the paladin’s fingers. He stared ahead for only a moment longer before his head bowed.
Alduin fell to his knees.