“I’m sorry,” Bree said through ragged breaths. “I didn’t mean to… well. I didn’t mean to be rude or imply that you were… Well, you know. Just because you’re – “
The man simply nodded. “Devil spawn.”
Bree frowned. They hadn’t spoken since they fled Kelmarane. Now, here they stood, panting at the river’s edge, near the Shrine of Nethys. Bree had been working up the nerve to apologize the whole trip and now that the time had come she was making a mess of it. If she hadn’t already been flushed from the run, she would have reddened in embarrassment.
“Well. I didn’t mean to say it out loud or anything. Oh, Froth and foam! That doesn’t make it sound any better!” Bree scowled, shook her head and then held her hand out to the man. “Let me start again. I’m Bree. I’m from Andoran, but have been traveling with a caravan from Katapesh who were hired to retake Kelmarane from the gnolls. We saw you escape from across the field and came right away to help but – Oh, tipped tankard! I’m rambling.”
Santon laughed merrily and clapped Bree on the back. “She’s not usually so pathetic,” he said. “I’m Santon Synger. Thanks for the help back there. You really saved my hide.”
The corner of the man’s lip curled up slightly into a smirk. “Your thanks are not necessary. I require no reward for doing a good deed.”
Bree frowned. The man was a saint and she had thought him evil. She was so embarrassed.
“I am called Kelestair. I am a Pathfinder from Cheliax.”
Bree’s frown deepened. Chelaxians were devil woshippers. The man caught her frown and nodded in understanding.
“I realize the impression my country of birth leaves upon others. Cheliax is a nation in the thrall of devils,” he paused and gestured to himself. “I myself am an example of where this can lead. Their taint suffused my mother’s very womb and – Well, you see the results. I have worked tirelessly to shed the sins of my country and my parentage. It is a daunting task. My looks cause many to doubt my sincerity.” He sighed in sadness.
“I’m sorry.” Gods, she felt so guilty! “I didn’t mean to – “
Kelestair shook his head. “No apologies needed, my lady. It is a burden I have grown accustomed to. It simply means I must work harder to find acceptance. My deeds must… overshadow my appearance.”
Santon smiled. “They have already, my friend. You saved us, which matters to me far more than who your mother begot you with or where you come from.”
Bree slapped Santon in the arm. “Cayden’s codpiece, Santon! Don’t be so crude.”
Santon laughed and Kelestair’s smirk widened slightly.
Bree blushed. “Oh, tipped tankard.” she said. She was messing everything up.
“You say you are here to liberate Kelmarane?” Kelestair asked.
Bree nodded. “Yes.”
“Then I fear I must impose myself upon you for a while yet. Not all of my comrades have escaped that hellhole.”
“There are more of you? More captives?”
“How many? Are they alright? How long have – “
“How did you come to be captive, Kel?” Santon asked, cutting off Bree’s questions.
“As I mentioned, I am a Pathfinder. Part of a group called the Lions of Senara, to be more specific. We numbered six, in all. One of our number, a chronicler named Felliped, managed to evade capture. He tried to save us but was captured in turn. They executed his girlfriend first. Elsbeth, was her name. Felliped escaped shortly thereafter, although I believe he is trapped somewhere within the town. He seemed rather unhinged last I saw him. I am worried for him.” Kelestair paused, lost in thought. He sighed. “They executed Marcus in the square shortly before I escaped. Rupren was eaten by the Dust Digger. It was his foot I used to bludgeon my gnoll captor senseless. The last of our number, the cleric, Oxvard, I imagine was eaten as well. He tried to flee through the beast’s hunting grounds.”
Bree shook her head. “The cleric lived. I saw him pass through the fields unharmed. Our fellows are staying at an old monastery in that direction. He’s found them by now, no doubt. He will be safe.”
“Oh? How lucky he is. What news.”
Santon nodded. “Aye. This other friend of yours, though. Felliped, was it? We’ll help you find him tomorrow.”
Santon nodded. “Yes. We were going to go to the ruined fort, north of Kelmarane, first. We’ve seen fires there the past few nights and believe that they are more gnolls allied with the Carrion King. But, if you are worried for your friend we can return to Kelmarane.”
Bree nodded. “The fort can wait.”
Kelestair shook his head. “No. Your strategy is sound. Kelmarane has been receiving reinforcements regularly from the north. It is best that we prevent their aid from reaching the town before making another move against it.”
Bree shook her head. “No! You’re friend needs our help.”
Kelestair nodded slowly. He looked torn. Hurt. “He might. But our aid will never reach him if we throw our lives away recklessly. It is best we are cautious.”
“But, what if we’re too late? What if – “
“Bree,” Santon said simply, cutting her off again. “That’s enough.”
“He will understand.” Kelestair said with a frown. “He… is my friend. He would not want me to throw my life away lightly.”
“But what if – “
This time it was Kelestair who cut her off. “It is a difficult decision to make. Do not make it harder on me.”
Bree frowned, though not as deeply as Kelestair. He looked so sad.
“There’s a shrine nearby we can stay at.” Santon said, changing the subject. “We’ve cleared it out already. It is a ruined temple to Nethys.”
“Nethys? The God of Magic?”
Bree and Santon nodded.
“Interesting. Though I myself am a devout follower of the Dawnflower, I find his interest in magic intriguing.”
Bree nearly choked. “You worship Sarenrae?”
Kelestair looked at her. His eyes caught her own. They were filled with sorrow, pain and disappointment. She had hurt his feelings.
“I do,” he said slowly. “She is the Goddess of redemption. Do you know another god who could save a monster, like myself?”
“I just didn’t – ” Bree blushed. “I didn’t know she was worshipped in Cheliax.”
“Come on.” Santon cut in with a smile. “It’s not far to the shrine.”
Kelestair nodded and followed Santon to the river’s edge.
“I worship Cayden Cailean,” Bree said to fill the silence. “Do you know of him?”
Kelestair nodded. “I am rather well read.”
“He is god of freedom and good deeds. Well, among other things, of course. He could have saved you, as well. I know he saved me.”
Kelestair turned to her. His red eyes locked with hers. “Some forms of bondage aren’t as tangible as the ones your god is used to removing.”
“Maybe you don’t need redeeming, Kelestair,” she replied. “Maybe the people who condemn you do.” People like her.
Kelestair smiled at her, in a sad sort of way.
Bree nodded slowly. “Sarenrae is a good choice.”
“She is my saviour, Bree. My salvation. She is not a choice.”