Waken from what had felt an eternity trapped in a nightmare, the word reverberated in Rubin’s mind. As memories slipped from his grasp like smoke on a breeze only the unshakable terror and torment remained. Looking around, Rubin recognised the dingy room as one of The Valiant Retreat’s.
What am I doing here? He wondered. There was no sign of his travel companions, nor any others he might have expected to see here. Sunlight shone through the closed window, illuminating a smally folded page that he assumed was intended for him. Reaching out, Rubin took the note and unfoldeded it to examine it’s contents.
Welcome back Rubin,
I am sorry I couldn’t be there when you awoke but predicting the nature of the Malediction you’ve been afflicted by is beyond my skill. Telfor and Vahkragg left for Capital two nights ago. Pan will be awaiting your rousing at the Retreat, while I have taken the forest priestess as a guest. When you feel ready, come visit me but first you should visit Nella. She’ll want to hear about Verumalleus from you directly, as well as thank you for the package.
After he’d read through the note twice more, Rubin folded the page into a square small enough to fit into the palm of his hand and forming a fist around it, weaved the ether into flames to destroy it. Rubin hoped Pan had chosen to remain as characteristically distant as when he’d been awake. It was foolish to leave that note, if any of his companions had read it they’d have more than enough information to start asking uncomfortable questions.
What Rubin could not believe is that not one of his companions had informed the temple of Lady Verumalleus’ fall. He understood they felt pressed to deliver their report to the Earl and waiting for his recovery must have felt like a risk they couldn’t afford, but they definitely had time to let the church know of their crusader. Something felt off. Perhaps Pan would be willing to get over himself long enough to explain.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the door swung open and Pan entered, standing in the doorway.
“You are awake. Thought I felt your magic just now.”
“Very astute of you,” Rubin answered as he concealed the ash of the destroyed missive behind the bed, “I’m starving, how long was I out?”
“That makes sense, you were out for about half a week, I’ll ask Lily to make you up something. The others left a couple days ago, it’s just me and Zsófia still, we’re to meet up with them in Capital as soon as you’re able to travel.”
“I see. Other than being ravenously hungry, I strangely feel quite healthy. I may even be able to leave as soon as I’ve eaten but I would like to visit the Temple of Atyx first.”
A strange expresssion of discomfort crossed Pan’s face at the suggestion, catching Rubin’s interest.
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
Rubin narrowed his eyes at Pan, “Verumalleus’ mentor deserves to know that her student is dead. I had the impression that the Lady Crusader was someone important to you. She would want her master to know.”
Pan’s expression hardened to match Rubin’s own, the words hard clearly found their mark and the revenant was struggling to find the words to answer. Rather than wait for him to find them, Rubin climbed out of the bed. His legs shook under the effort to support him, suddenly expressing the toll of many days without using them or eating. Too proud to let the weakness show, Rubin drew strength from the ether as subtly as he could to support himself as he dressed himself. The door swung closed as Pan left, hopefully to speak to the lady he’d mentioned, Lily, about preparing food.
Rubin considered this exchange a minor victory, he seemed to have gotten through Pan’s objections by invoking his infatuation with Verumalleus. What’s more, he should be able to learn a bit more about why they had avoided the temple soon. He was lucky, he thought, that the others had left him alone with Pan and Zsófia. The revenant thought himself so clever, but wore his heart on his sleeve.
As he arrived downstairs, Pan was already waiting for him with a simple meal. While it hardly qualified as a meal, Rubin’s hunger overwhelmed his sensibilities and it was all he could do to maintain proper etiquette as he ate.
“You knew Veru through the temple here in Verwich, didn’t you?” Pan asked.
“That’s right, as a scholar of the Weatherford University we are encouraged to build a relationship with the Temples of The Pantheon. As the Lord of Illumination, Atyx most appealed to me, so I came to the Temple and Priestess Nella who mentored the Lady Crusader did the same for me. Though in a very different manner, of course.”
Pan nodded silently as Rubin spoke.
“Why do you ask?”
Pan hesitated for a moment before answering, “I’ve never really liked you. Mostly it’s that condescending attitude you’ve got about being from Weatherford, but really the reason is that I don’t trust you. You talk so much it’s obvious when you’re not saying something. But for whatever reason, Veru trusted you. And I trust her. My gut is telling me to just take you and Zsófia and leave Verwich as soon as you’re done eating, but you weren’t wrong about what you said before. Veru deserves to have her story told, she earned that. So I’m going to ignore my gut and trust her faith in you just this once. Hope I don’t regret it.”
“Well. That was… blunt.”
Somewhat shocked, Rubin actually did as he was told. Eating the rest of his meal in silence, the mood was somehow felt lighter despite the heaviness of the conversation and just as Rubin was about to finish eating Pan spoke once more.
“I am glad you’re not dead.”
Rubin laughed once dryly, “Me too… Thank you.”
Couldn’t find an artist credit for the Featured Image unfortunately.