Hey there! Sorry about not getting this up last week. It’s been a busy time, and it’s sure to get busier as I prepare for the wedding.
Enough rambling though. Once I go off on a tangent, it’s hard for me to stop, as many of you are sure to know! Instead, let’s get right to it. This is the third and final part of Blessings and Curses, where we see what Conrad plans to do with his new-found ability. Enjoy!
Blessings and Curses
Silence had returned to the rear of the temple, and the paladin remained in good health after some brief healing attention. Though Robert hadn’t spoken again, his inquisitive stares left Conrad uneasy indeed.
“You don’t remember anything before coming to the kitchen?” the cleric asked.
Robert shook his head but scanned the room as if searching for pieces of that puzzle. He blinked away his bewilderment and rubbed the back of his head.
“Perhaps it is for the best. It would only serve to confuse you more, I’m afraid. Can I get you anything? Something to drink?”
Waving away the offer, the paladin climbed to his feet. When he arrived there, the door to the western hall swung open. His father was there, a hefty tome cradled in the crook of his arm.
“Robert,” the priest said. “What are you still doing here?” He waved his own question away then. “Why do I even bother? You wouldn’t break your vow of silence but for something truly shocking.”
Both of the other men passed knowing glances to each other. Robert clapped his father on the shoulder and nodded to his friend before slipping through the open door, shutting it behind him.
“I have news of our friend’s curse,” Richard said. “There were a few that came close to what you described, but one is nearly perfect.” He slammed the tome down on the table and flipped it open to a dog-eared page. Richard prodded at an entry with his finger, a proud display of his triumph.
Conrad spun the book about and scanned the entry. “Kaikano’s vengeance?”
While the cleric read through the details of the curse, Richard took a step back and leaned against the wall, offering up a satisfied grin. “It’s a curse that’s particular to a remote tribe in the south seas, the Sadori. Apparently, Kaikano is one of the gods they worship, a great kraken who drags whole ships to the bottom of the ocean and into the underworld.
“The Sadori are a tribe of great hunters and fishermen,” Richard went on. “Apparently, when they would capture a squid or octopus, they would sacrifice it in the name of Kaikano, knowing he would be happy for the weak or foolish creature to be removed from the sea. The tribe eats the squid, but they use the ink in various rituals. One of these is Kaikano’s vengeance. It’s supposed to make the tribesmen better hunters… Power through pain and all that.
“But this man is from Blacklehn,” the priest continued. “He’s a long way from the south seas. If it wasn’t for those tattoos, I would discount that particular curse.”
Conrad moved to the sleeping captive. Sure enough, the man’s tattoos had resurfaced. The cleric felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Richard’s sympathetic gaze pointed his way.
“There’s more,” he said. “Turn the page.” As Conrad did what he was instructed, Richard continued to reveal his findings. “The Sadori medicine men and hunters knew Kaikano’s vengeance was not without its drawbacks. If a hunter underwent the ritual, he understood he could no longer depend on the medicine men for healing. The medicine men were not meant to endure Kaikano’s vengeance. If they healed the hunter – if they drew that darkness out of them – they would be forced to live with the curse as well.”
Conrad’s jaw locked and moisture made its way to the rims of his eyes.
“Your secret is safe with me, child,” Richard said.
“I hurt Robert,” the cleric confessed. “The only way to expel the pain is to release the dark energy. It seems no matter where I am, it travels to the next closest person. I only pray there will be no lasting effects.”
“My son seemed no worse for wear.”
“He spoke,” Conrad informed.
The priest let out an incredulous laugh. “I must admit, I’m glad to hear he hasn’t forgotten how.”
“You’re not angry? He broke his vow of silence.”
“My child, he takes that far too seriously. Most men of the clergy will invoke a silence during the day out of piety. My boy is a… He’s a rare case.” He shook his head. “Let’s return to talk of you. This curse… It seems it may not have taken you completely. As you said, Robert was hurt, but not so bad that I noticed. My suspicion is you healed him. Let’s be thankful you still can. And though you must endure your fair share of pain now, perhaps it is a boon you can now inflict it upon others. You are in the rare position to do even more good for this city.”
“I fear the darkness I release will lead to terror.”
“I have no doubt you’ll learn to disguise it well,” Richard returned.
* * * * *
His eyes opened, and the first thing he saw was the cracked ceiling. He felt the pain that persisted in his body. He tasted the lingering flavor of dried blood that coated the back of his throat.
The Blacklehnian shot up, his eyes wide. In the corner, another man stirred, yawning and blinking away his fatigue.
“Who are you?” the large captive said. “What am I doing here?”
Conrad stretched and groaned. “You couldn’t let me have these last few moments, could you?” he mumbled.
“You…” the captive soldier said. “You are the healer from the alley. I… I thought that was all a dream.”
“Afraid not. Everything happened just as you remembered. You left the Bravado, you got into a fight, we nearly killed each other, and then I took the darkness from you.”
The Blacklehnian squared his jaw and shook his head. “It was supposed to be me. I was the only one who should have to endure such agony.”
“Well, at least you’re not alone. You won’t even spend time with the other soldiers we captured.”
“War was never my desire. I’d sooner stay away from them than be reminded of the atrocities I’ve seen committed.” A deep sigh pressed from his lungs. “I should know who I share my curse with.”
The cleric extended his arm and shook hands with the hulking fellow. “They used to call me Conrad the Blessed. After what happened last night, who knows what they’ll call me.”
“I don’t know whether to loathe you or thank you, Conrad,” the Blacklehnian said. “I am Ruslan Ananto. You may have given me another chance to seek redemption.”
“And what is it you seek redemption for?”
Ruslan harrumphed and bowed his head. “I’ve heard of your kind. There are healers aplenty in Blacklehn, but only in Carthis do we have clerics who ask questions like that. I have committed foul deeds, and though they were not by my will, they were by my hand.”
“Kaikano’s vengeance,” Conrad said. “You did not ask for it, did you?”
The Blacklehnian’s eyebrows arched at the mention of the curse. “How do you know of Sadori rituals?”
“We have a vast library in Atalatha. Perhaps the greatest in Tellest. It’s more astounding that anyone should have found the answer in any of those tomes. But there are more studious minds here – ones that love to solve a mystery.
“You and I share a common bond, Ruslan. If you aren’t opposed to telling the tale, I’d be interested in finding out how an islander ended up fighting alongside Blacklehn and how he found himself enduring a curse against his will.”
Another bellowing sigh erupted from the hulking man like the tremble of a far off quake. “Very well,” he said. “My people have always been hunters. Not quite seafarers, but accustomed to the water in ways others could only dream. The Sadori are attuned to the sea, and it is known Kaikano grows angry. For decades, we’ve seen what disrespect is cast to the ocean. My family knew better than to tempt fate.
“Half a century ago, a sect of the Sadori left the islands. They landed upon Gandarst, a place equally famed for its hunters and not without worthy trophies. My mother was one of the Sadori who found her way there. She met one of the warriors of the southern wastes, and they began a family.
“Two brothers preceded me, each as violent and reckless as our father. But when I was born, they knew the beast had come. We traveled to Blacklehn to pledge fealty to the warlord king, Galen Fowler. My father promised him three great champions. As I grew older, though, I turned from the fighting and even the hunt. My father was ashamed of me. I was the biggest – the strongest – of his sons, and I had forsaken my birthright.”
“So your father afflicted you with Kaikano’s vengeance?”
“One day, while my father was hunting, my brothers and I were called to supper. Before the meal was finished, I was thrown to the floor. While my brothers held me down, my mother stood over me, dagger in hand.
“I don’t remember much of that day,” Ruslan said. “But when I woke, I had these awful tattoos – the blood of Kaikano – already bound to my flesh.”
“And you’ve never found a cure?”
“I haven’t really been afforded the time to look for one. Old Sadori scriptures speak of Kaikano’s brother, the volcano, but they too were lost to the sea. Kaikano does not want to see his blessings purged.
“Blacklehn has made good use of it too. A warrior that yearns for battle from his deepest inner being… It’s perfect for them – so long as there is a battle to be had.”
“Well, now you’re a guest of Atalatha. You’ll have to find a way to placate the darkness as best you can. These aren’t soldiers here. They’re laborers and merchants, citizens who wouldn’t be able to defend against you even if you didn’t have the blood of an angry god flowing through your veins.”
“When you find out how to suppress it, let me know.” A pronounced sigh shook even Ruslan’s large frame. “What are you going to do? You suffer the same fate as I, I’m afraid.”
“Perhaps, but not without direction,” Conrad replied. “If I must cast out the darkness, let it be toward someone deserving of the pain. There are people who are far worse than those two drunks that cornered you in that alley.”
The Blacklehnian hummed as he considered that truth.
“Come now,” Conrad said. “There’s no sense wasting this day any more than we have. Let’s get you off that cot and into the light.”
The cleric led Ruslan to the rear door and swept it open. Both men stepped outside, casting their gazes upon the rolling hills of the temple district.
“Did you mean what you said?” the hulking man asked.
Conrad arched an eyebrow. “About what?”
“Do you truly think you’ll be seeking out evildoers in the middle of the night? Are you thinking of taking justice into your own hands?”
“I don’t see any other choice.”
Ruslan squared his jaw and nodded. “You’ll need someone to watch your back.”
Though he was weary, Conrad allowed a grin to stretch across his face.