Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 5

Kerberos had definitely done one seemingly impossible thing for the world: he had made believers out of every single breathing person on the face of the planet. It was hard to deny the existence of Hell when the guard hound was running rampant across every continent, burning the surface to ashes. Naturally, belief in the flip side of the spiritual coin was still quite varied, but everyone alive had a healthy respect for death.

Further reinforcing this was the greatest defense that mankind had against Kerberos. True holy water (water which had been honestly prayed over by a person of pure intentions, regardless of religious background) could offset the effects of Kerberos' hellfire. A large quality of really potent holy water, prayed over by a holy person, could even deflect the physical side of Kerberos. It took a lot to do that, and the water would corrode quickly if directly exposed, but the system worked, and kept cities like Ravenswing intact.

Ravenswing was built off a simple but ambitious concept. Place shrines on top of a ring of springs, and dedicate a task force of holy men to each shrine. Run aqueducts from those shrines down to the base of Ravenswing, tking care that only the last few hundred feet were safely underground. Where the aqueducts met, there was a vast vertical shaft that went straight up, with narrow vertical slits running up one side of the shaft. On the opposite side of the shaft was a long, thin building that tapered the further it got from the shaft, and ran nearly the entire height of the shaft.

The heat of the hellfire would be absorbed by the holy water as Kerberos approached the city. A 24 hour team would scramble to direct powerful golems to rotate the entire shaft and connected building around so that the vents would face the hound. When Kerberos actually hit the building, the holy water would have been superheated into steam, and rushed down the aqueducts and up the shaft, pouring out of the vents, creating a massive protective shield. Kerberos, being made up of thousands of unconnected chunks of brimstone, would simply part around the shield and rejoin in a few thousand feet or a few miles, depending on his speed.

This particular aspect of Kerberos was simultaneously a godsend and a curse. Kerberos could always be offset and defended against, given that you had sufficient holy water available: he literally couldn't touch you, and would go hunt down something else. However, this same disconnected aspect of Kerberos made him impossible to kill: he had no organic components, and any injury that was inflicted on him would heal within three and a half minutes, give or take a few seconds.

Despite Kerberos' cursed ability to heal, the simple facts of his existence and the apparent properties of true holy water made people a lot more inclined to visit the temple regularly, if just to pick up a vial of holy water. It seemed quite natural that the top of Ravenswing, and every other city like it, was dominated by a temple that was large enough to hold most of the population at once (though, admittedly, it was rare for even a quarter of the population to be there at once: the temple had to serve several different religions, and the followers tended to avoid each other when at the temple). Built into the temple were several monastic communities that got along surprisingly well, and it was to one of these communities that Alex and Ani walked.

Alex was vaguely surprised when they got to their destination. It was a group that followed what was called the Cold Iron religion: a practical, nonsense-less religion that had a discplined liturgy that rarely changed. It was a strong, enduring religion, and had been around longer than any historian could reckon. Alex had done a great deal of work in conjunction with the Cold Iron Missionaries.

"Ani, who are we dropping these relics off to?" asked Alex, pulling out his waistbook.

[A man named Father Granite.] replied Ani, speaking in her native tongue. Alex laugh a bit to himself at the annoyance in her voice: she must have forgotten that he could understand her, and had realized that he hadn't prompted her otherwise on the flight back to Ravenswing.

"Ah, that's too bad." Alex flipped his book open to a page containing a list of names and underlined one with his finger.

[Why, do you have a contact here?] asked Ani, her voiced suddenly very interested.

"Mm? I'm not sure, but I used to have a friend named Brother Oak who was stationed here. We corrosponded for several years, him answering my questions, and I answering his. Quite a beneficial arrangement." Alex watched his book carefully as a glowing red line traced itself away from the name he had underlined, broke into several segements, which then wrapped around several numbers at the bottom of the page. Alex took a mental note of the numbers and flipped forward several pages.

[If you have a contact here, we are in need of a paladin. Does you book tell you where he is?] Ani tried to lean over Alex's shoulder, but her bag wouldn't let her.

Alex paused as he deciphered what the numbers meant. The Cold Iron component of the Oracle network aid that Brother Oak was at one of the shrines not far from Ravenswing, but Cold Iron was notorious for being out-of-date, and Alex had trouble picturing Oak at a shrine. The man was a few years younger than Alex, what was he doing spending his time in a shrine? "The book might be telling me right, but I'm not sure." Alex told Ani. "My friend Brother Oak is a missionary based from his, but the book is saying he's at a refuge shrine to the west. Doesn't sound like him, he's more of the moving type."

[We'll pay him a visit.] Ani declared, straightening up. [A Cold Iron would be a tremendous asset to us.]

"Why, exactly?" asked Alex. "What exactly is the mission this time?"

[I'll explain it to you and your friend at the same time.] Stated Ani, opening the door to Father Granite's office. [I don't like to repeat myself.]

Alex sighed a bit, but nodded. Ani was very hard to persuade when she decided on something, and it soundly like she didn't want to repeat what she had just told Chase. Alex let his mind wander as Ani handed the bag over to Father Granite. He had only met Oak in person once, but unless he missed his guess, Oak wouldn't have changed much. He was quite dark skinned, and kept his face and head shaven, like the other members of the Cold Iron. Being a professional Missionary, Oak always wore sandals, cargo pants, and a sleeveless tunic with a hood. (Oak had ruined his vision when he was a young scholar, and kept the hood up over his eyes so they wouldn't be bothered by the sunlight.) The Cold Iron Missionaries also wore a surcoat of sorts, which was slit along the sides and belted down, to add another layer of protection and indentification.

Ani bowed her head slightly to Father Granite and turned back to face Alex, snapping him out of his musings. [What are you daydreaming about?] she asked, recognizing his otherwise unreadable expression.

"A bit about gear," Alex said as they walked out the door. "Is my Librarian gear going to be up to the job?"

Ani surveyed Alex's garb dispassionately. He wore the traditional boots and pants of a Librarian, and the normal thick-fabric short-sleeved shirt of a traveller. His Librarian's vest, which was filled with useful pockets on the inside, was padded protectively with spelled leather, as was his leather utility belt and leather braces. Alex was quite proud of his braces, because they had a formidable collection of keys studded into them, meaning that he could unlock a large number of fairly important doors simply by raising his arm at them.

[We'll find you upgrades as we travel.]

Alex spent the next several minutes trying to think of a way to express just how bad an idea he thought this was. The words never came, because after a few minutes Ani pointed out that Alex had precisely no funds at his disposal, and damned if she was going to foot his bill. He decided that economics like that simply couldn't be argued with.

They ended up eating in a place called The Roasted Sheep. It served exactly what the name implied, and was delicious after weeks and weeks of trail food. Alex was pretty ok with the usual magically compressed fare of the missions, but it felt good to eat something that actually had a flavor. Also, the place had moderately comfortable accommodations: individuall chairs that actually had a bit of padding, arranged around circular tables that were partially isolated by paper walls.

They were only halfway through the meal though when Chase appeared, with a young woman in tow. Or rather, she appeared with him in tow: he did not seem to want to come here. Nevertheless, the woman quickly spotted Ani and Alex sitting in a corner and approached them, with Chase scowling behind her.

"Hello, may I speak with you?" asked the woman, bowing quickly. Ani and Alex exchanged a wondering glance and eyed Chase, who shrugged in a fatalistic manner. "My name is Mallory, and I'm a friend of Chase. It appears that you have hired him for a mission?"

"Vhat ov it?" Asked Ani, eyeballing the girl. She was young, maybe early 20s, and wore clothes that associated her clothly with the attendants: knitted green sweater, knitted purple bracers, a heavy looking satchel.

"Please let me join your team!" the girl exclaimed, bowing deeply. Ani made a peculiar face and shot a look at Chase, who shrugged and sat down beside Alex.

"Vho... vho exactvly are you?" Ani asked, more than a little bit irritatedly.

"My name is Mallory, I'm a former comrade of Chase. I am also a strong Knitter, and have skill in organizing my creations into useful patterns." The girl straightened up, breatheless.

Ani snorted a bit. "That pitch vas terrible. Vhy vould I vant a Knitter on a mission team? Everyvone on my team can take care ov themselves, and serve two jobs. You vould only slow us down."

The girl opened her mouth in protest. "What! Knitters are useful, how can you say that! Besides, what second purpose can a Librarian like him have!" Mallory pointed one finger at Alex, who was trying to decide if he liked her spunk of if she was just an idiot for arguing with Ani.

Ani glared at the girl in earnest now. "Alex is a good Turn mage, a skill that many Librarians cultivate for the purpose of combat. I'm guessing you veren't in much combat vhen you were a comrade ov Chase's."

Alex turned away from the debate, towards Chase. Chase was gesturing towards Alex's food, asking for a bite, which Alex simply nodded to. Chase grinned his thanks, and pointed one finger at the nearest slice of meat- an instant later there was a two foot needle piercing extending from Chase's finger, piercing the meat at the thickest point.

Alex ate a bit more, nodding his head towards Mallory with a questioning look. Chase sighed a bit and explainined quietly. <She was a new recruit into Clear Skies, and I was giving her some training in the foothills when Kerberos hit the main base. We got back and there was nothing, so she's been following me around on and off ever since. She's really quite persistent.>

"Huh. What does she actually do, other than Knitting? I mean, wat was she in training for at Clear Skies?" Asked Alex, trying to picture following someone like Chase around for several years. That would take some serious dedication.

<Looks like Mal is about to tell our boss, even though she tries to avoid that part of herself these days. Just listen.> Chase leaned back and scratched his chin slowly with his hand.

"Look, I can be useful in combat! I... I have combat training as an Illusionist!" Mal scowled fiercely at Ani. "Can any of your crew do that?"

Ani paused, her irritation vanished like dust in a fire. "How good ov an Illusionist are you? Can you cast a hiding spell?"

"I... I'm good with hiding spells, but I'm kinda rusty with most everything else. But give me some practice time and I can pick it right back up!" Mal held out one hand and for a second a fireball danced in it.

Ani cast a long look at Alex. "She could be usevul to you most ov all, and possibly our Missionary, as an Illusionist. Hide you two so you can cast line-of-sight spells without imperiling yourselves overmuch..."

Alex nodded slowly. "It's a good tactic, I've used it before. You sure she's up to it? [You sure you won't strangle her?]"

Ani laughed a bit. [No, I'm not sure.] She turned to the girl and eyed her once more. "I vill let you come with us for two weeks. If you are useful in that time, I vill hire you. If not, I kick you off ov my ship."

Mal smiled widely and Chase groaned a bit. "Awesome. Where is your ship?"

"Chase can lead you to The Pale. I still want to eat my damn meal."

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Let's talk about naming and clothes real quick. I try and hide meanings in the character names, but don't go looking too far. Oak is oak just because it seemed to fit. So draw what you will from the names, but don't expect me to conform to what the name would *seem* to indicate.

In regards to clothing: I like it when characters change clothes (Ani and her crew will all change clothes regularly), but it does also make sense for some characters to only own one set of clothes, or all their clothes look about the same. Heck, I myself only where gray tshirts. I'm a living example of people appearing to never change their wardrobe. Anyhow, this is why some characters (such as Oak) get their clothes described, and others don't.