Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Fifty-five

Chapter Fifty-five
The Forgotten Priest

Bree frowned. It was blistering hot out with not even the slightest of breezes and they were standing around in a graveyard, talking.

Ugh! If there was one thing she could change about the people of Katapesh – other than their greediness, forked-tongues and – well… One of the things she would change about the people of Katapesh was their love of long, repetitive, boring conversations. Where else on Golarion did it take ten minutes and thirty different ways of beating around the bush before handing over a key?

“About twenty years ago, Kelmarane’s priests of Sarenrae fell under the sway of something… foul from the Great Beyond. The creature took control of the high priest and eventually turned the people of Kelmarane to madness,” Almah continued.

Bree sighed and looked around the graveyard again. It was located on a cliffside overlooking the fields west of Kelmarane. The view was breathtaking – or would have been if the fields were anything other than hard-packed dirt. Columned arches marked the boundaries of the graveyard and red gravestones covered the whole of it in neat circles.

In the center was a marvelous statue of the Goddess Sarenrae upon a ten foot tall pedestal. Her arms were raised to the heavens and Bree could imagine her face was triumphant. Joyful. In the statues shadow were five prominent gravestones, each with a life-sized statue of a holy warrior above it. They were weathered and extremely old.

Sweat dripped down Bree’s face in rivulets. Froth and foam! Was it ever hot! Why was this taking so long?

“Soldiers of the Pactmasters pacified the town and left it in ruin, but they were never able to root out the evil, and instead locked it in the crypt beneath the village church.”

Almah was certainly dragging this out longer than normal. That woman was driving her crazy! Still, Almah had agreed to let them keep the town and to put the rest of her funds into the rebuilding effort, which meant she wasn’t all bad.

“Now, after all these years, that evil must have waned, and you should be able to defeat it once and for all.”

Plus, Almah was putting an awful lot of faith in them. Handing over this special key thing must be hard on her. She must trust them. Or trust them to get the job done, at least.

“I’ve been provided with the interdict key that will get you through the seal. With the final defeat of the fiend within, Kelmarane will truly be free.”

Almah reached out and – Finally! Miraculously! – handed it over to Santon. It looked like a circular disk with a handle on one side and a series of grooves and needles on the other.

Yes! They were finally getting out of this blasted heat! Bree nearly swooned with joy.

“Thank you, Princess, for the trust that you place in us,” Santon said seriously. “We will defeat this beast and free Kelmarane on your behalf.”

Almah nodded. “My thanks. To all of you.”

Bree turned and stalked towards the ruined church without a word. Propriety be damned! She was long past the point of caring.

The outer walls of the church all seemed to be standing although there were no doors upon the entryways and no glass in any of the windows. Bree frowned. The place looked so forlorn. Would she ever find any holy sights unblemished in this country? She entered through the nearest empty doorway and then paused. Her frown deepened. She sighed and drew Tempest. A familiar tingle ran through her arm as the mould crept its way up to her elbow. Her body cooled. The heat no longer bothered her. Her surroundings still did.

Kelestair entered behind her, followed closely by Santon.

All of the interior walls were demolished and gutted. Skeletons littered the floor. About a dozen were wearing the red-chitin armour of the Pactmaster Guard, but the rest appeared to be clerics of Sarenrae or common townsfolk. Ash and fire mared the walls and ceiling. Signs of violence and battle were everywhere.

“May the light of the Dawnflower shine upon this place once more,” Kelestair prayed softly.

“There.” Santon pointed at the far back corner of the church. “I see a stairwell.”

Bree nodded and followed Santon across the room, careful not to step upon the bones of the fallen. “Lead the way.”

The stairs were cast in a shadowy, red glow. It was eerie. Ominous, almost. They crept down the short, curving stairwell one by one. Bree gasped when she reached the bottom.

It led to a small hallway, no more than fifteen feet long, and ended in a heavily barred door. It had a prominent metal disk upon its surface which was covered in a red, glowing series of irregular grooves and holes. Before the door stood a dark-skinned man with thick black hair. He was middle-aged and handsome, but wore threadbare, red robes covered in soot. The holy symbol of Sarenrae was draped around his neck.

The man looked up at them kindly. He seemed surprised to see them.

“How..?” Bree mumbled.

“Welcome…” the man said slowly.

“Well,” said Santon, “You’re a lucky old man, aren’t you?”

Kelestair readied his mace. “This is not a man.”

The cleric turned to face Kelestair. His facial features melted away in an instant, leaving behind a hideous skeletal face. Deep gouges appeared in his holy symbol.

Bree shrieked. Santon roared. Kelestair didn’t seem surprised.

“Welcome to my church!” the skeleton cleric cackled. “Your souls will feed the greatest heroes of Kelmarane!” He lurched forward with unholy speed, swinging his filthy looking claws at Santon.

Santon backed up and threw his broadsword up in front of him awkwardly. There wasn’t much room in this hallway. Bree moved forward, but Kelestair pushed her gently out of the way. He spoke angrily at the undead creature before them.

“Face me, you unholy abomination! You blight upon the land!”

The creature paused briefly in his assault on Santon and turned to Kelestair. Santon dashed backwards and Kelestair pushed past him, switching places.

“You, who twisted the word of the Dawnflower!”

The cleric shrieked in wordless anger and leapt at Kelestair.

Kelesteir spoke loudly in his gravelly voice, pronouncing his arcane words with precision. The creature clawed and scratched at him, but, though he didn’t move, Kelestair swatted the clerics claws off course enough to keep himself safe.

“Pliyestell vassex nihil!” Kelesteir finished. He reached out his hand and touched the walking corpse upon its forehead. A burst of grey energy poured from his hand into the creature. It wailed in pain and tried to shrink from Kelesteir’s grasp, but could not escape. Still, the energy flowed forth.

With a burst and a strange sucking sound the energy left Kelesteir’s hand and plunged itself deeper into the skeleton. It stilled for a moment and then howled once more before exploding in a cloud of ash and bone.

Bree threw her arms up over her head, shielding her eyes. She held her breath, but ran out before the remains of the corpse had settled. She gasped for air, but then choked and began to cough. It tasted so foul!

Kelesteir lowered his hand.

Santon clapped him soundly on the back. “Well done, Kel.”

“I have had much experience dealing with undead.”

Bree’s coughing subsided. “I didn’t know you could channel the divine power of Sarenrae,” she croaked.

The corner’s of Kelesteir’s mouth turned up slightly at the edges. “I regret that I cannot.”

Bree frowned. “I thought only holy energy could destroy the dead so effectively.”

“As I said, I have interacted with them much in the past. And, though the undead, if well controlled, can have their…” he paused, searching for the right word. “Uses, I thought it prudent to learn to destroy them as well. It took much study, but I have found it a useful spell.”

Uses? What possible uses could an undead have that he wouldn’t want to destroy them? Bree shrugged.

Kelesteir’s lips returned to a thin line. “Come. Insert the interdict key into the metal plate.”

Santon nodded. “I’m bored of this place already.”

Bree frowned. Now wasn’t the time for levity. Something from the Great Beyond lurked behind these doors. Something evil. Was is a demon of the Abyss? A devil from Hell? A daemon from Abbadon? Bree tightened her grip on Tempest.

Softly, she prayed. Grant me your luck, my Lord. I’m going to need it…

A calm washed over her. A sudden sense of certainty. Of confidence. Of faith.

Whatever lurked behind this door, they could face it. They could do this. Together.

Bree smiled grimly. Cayden’s will be done.

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