The day passed, and down the road they went. At times, Dren would heal, but more often, he would watch. For young or old, minor injuries, serious wounds: the not once did the Paladin they were following fail to stop. The woman treated every and all with immediate efficiency, moving on the moment her work was done. At times, people would offer coin, or food, or goods. Some even tried to barter services. Still, despite the mangled armor and gear the Paladin wore, these were always turned down with grace.
It was only when the sun was finally beginning to dip towards late afternoon, that they deemed their work done.
“I thank you for the help, Dren.” She said, bowing her head. “Many of the Churches I’ve seen since my arrival no longer send out their Priests. It is a very good thing, to find others willing to help.”
“It was no trouble.” Dren replied. “We were both happy to do some good. Weren’t we, Tuth?”
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, at the man’s ever-so-serious nod.
“Ah, so Tuth was the name.”The Paladin turned to him, as well, offering another nod in his direction. “I thank you, as well.”
“Are you new to the City, Miss… Paladin?” He finished, awkwardly. “I just realized, I don’t know your name.”
“Ha!” She stopped, letting out a bark of laughter.
“I’m sorry?” Dren asked in surprise, as she laughed aloud. “Was it something I said?”
“Of all the things to call me, you chose that...” She regained composure, still chuckling. “Apologies, I never properly introduced myself to either of you, did I? Here you’ve both been, helping me.” Offering a hand in Dren’s direction, she continued in an offical manner. “My name is Paladin Thorolund, of the order of Light. Issued by the Seal of the Holy Bishop Thease, who resides up the Northern Lands, beyond the sea.” Smiling, she dropped the formal tone. “Or, I was, before I became an Adventurer. You can call me Talia.”
“It’s our pleasure to meet you, Talia.” Dren smiled. “I’m Dren Kaldrake, of the Farstrider Guil… Trade Company.” He corrected. “Still getting used to that. This man beside me is Tuth Redknife.”
“I see, Redknife and… Kaldrake, you said? Is that any relation to the noble house?”
“Yes, but no longer.” Dren replied. “One of many sons. Thus, the healing.”
“Ah, I’m sorry.” Talia apologised. “I often forget, the sons have it far worse than the daughters. As they say, at least most of the daughters get a choice.”
“Indeed.” Dren smiled. “But, willingly joining the Church or not, I doubt even half of them have your talent. Working alone, I’ve only seen one other heal with such effectiveness.”
“Truly? You flatter me.”
“No, not at all! Those hymns especially. No one taught anything close to them when I was at the monastery. Are those from a school on the Northern Continent?” Dren asked. “They were remarkably efficient.”
“At this point, I doubt there’s anything left of the Northern Continent by now to teach, but… yes. They’re… something like that, I suppose. That was where I was learned them.” Talia looked away for a moment. Across the street, a damaged building was creaking. Strain, audibly signalling the structure was unable to withstand its own weight for much longer. “When I crossed the ocean, I hoped to find this land was faring better, but perhaps the problems here are just as terrible in their own way.”
“Well, the entire continent has been fighting a drought for some time, now. Which has lead to all sorts of terrible trouble. The Emperor recently sent back a proclamation to open the Royal treasury and issue the Mages of the City to focus their efforts on growing crops, but they can only do so much.”
“The granaries have emptied, I take it?”
“Something close to that, I imagine. I’d rather not know, if I’m being honest. Not as many supply caravans are coming through, these days.” Dren replied. “How long ago did you arrive?”
“Not long.” Talia answered. “It’s only been a few weeks since the boat made dock at one of the ports. The journey here, to the City of the Emperor, was most of that.”
“Only a few days here in the city, then? The last Caravan can in at the start of the week.” Dren nodded. “I’m sorry you’ve found this place in such a state.”
“I should have expected as much. Trouble is everywhere, at this point.” Talia waved away the concern. “The Northern Continent is all but gone up in flames. From what I’ve heard, the Southern Continent would be a true mess if not for the Emperor’s presence. I suppose there wasn’t any reason to expect the Old Country to be any different.”
“Where have you been staying?” Dren asked. “Stable as things have been, it’s not exactly safe at night these days.”
“For honorable affiliates of the Clergy, former or otherwise, the Church of Light provides adequate… lodging… hold on.” Talia stopped, as if listening to something. Slowly she turned her head.
“Is something wrong?” Dren asked.
“Yes.” Carefully reaching under her arm, Talia freed her helmet and put it back on. “There’s movement.”
“I don’t feel anything. Do you, Tuth?” Dren asked.
The man shook his head, looking about for a possible cause.
“How often do these… earthquakes… how often do they happen?” Talia asked, stepping away from the nearest building, motioning for them to do the same.
“Recently, they’re common enough. Used to only be a few, once or twice a year at most, but the past several months have had a couple a week.” Dren answered, turning about to look for signs of danger. “Usually they get the bells ringing before…” He stopped, as the distant note of a bell tower began to ring. Several more began to join it, each closer than the last.
“Have either of you seen combat?” Talia asked, quietly.
“What? Combat?” Dren asked, surprised. “Some, for me. Quite a bit, for Tuth. Why?”
“Good.” Talia nodded, drawing out her weapon. “I advise you get ready.” She warned, before murmuring several rapid verses. Quickly, her helmet and armor began to take on the glow of an Aura.
All around them now, the sounds of metal tones filled the air. Not simple notes of warning, but rapid and disorganized paces. The type of which, were accompanied by panicked arms, pulling ropes as desperately as they could.
Around the street, people stopped and looked to the sky. Stepping out of buildings, or looking out windows. Wagons stopped, as Ro’ snorted loudly, or let panicked kicks lift up dust, as they thrashed against their reins.
“Two earthquakes in one day?” Dren turned to Tuth. “Have you ever heard of that?”
Tuth shook his head.
“It’s here.” Talia announced.
Upon her statement, Dren felt it. The slow shake, moving beneath his boots. Small, then building, growing more and more violent.
Then, it was upon them.
Unlike the first, it violent. Not a simple shifting of the earth and stone, but a trampling thunder, raging under their feet. While the seconds passed, the earth seemed to pulse, rocking sensation increasing in violence until Dren couldn’t so much as hope to stand.
“Light!” Dren shouted, as he fell heavily to the ground, attempts to catch himself all but completely fruitless. “This is a bad one!”
Beneath their feet, the sand and stone of the street began to throw itself upward, so terrible that even the nimble Tuth was sent stumbling for balance. Between them, Talia, steadied herself with a shout.
“By the coils of of scale, we seek refuge among the stone.” The familiar crackle of Faith shattered down through the ground, as she drew her weapon, to slam the metal heavily into the street with both hands. “Let them try to break us. Let them fail.” Two short lines, but the hymn took effect immediately as the ground beneath their feet solidified with the glow of Faith magic. Though very much still under the effects of the quake, all around them, the street was shaking far more violently.
“What kind of miracle is this?” Dren asked, as he fought to his feet, pulling free his own weapon.
“Later! Get ready!” Talia shouted back, metal mace in her hands beginning to glow, gathering power. Beside them, a building gave in, crumbling with a horrible groan. Several bricks of stone smashed down, landing uncomfortably close by with heavy impacts.
“Ready for what?” Dren shouted back, fumbling with his own weapon, as Tuth set a hand on the longest dagger in his collection. The quake was settling, but the damage was growing. Dren could see fissures reaching out along the street. Long and jagged splits, swallowing stone and market stalls whole, as people fled from their path.
“Ready for what comes after!” Talia shouted, ripping her weapon free from the ground.
Just in time, it seemed to Dren, as a fissure opened up before them:
And something climbed out of it.