Sunday, November 11, 2012


Peter was not a man of the cloth, at least from what you would guess by looking at him. Old far beyond his time, the young Norsemen was a recent convert to the Church, following his Fief’s wide swept conversion lead by their “benevolent” king. Olaf was many things, but kind was rarely one of them; he had issued commands throughout all of the North that all of his followers were to accept Jesus as their spiritual lord, or face the figurative fires of Hell, and the literal fires of Olaf’s wrath.
The conversion had little effect on Peter’s life, truth be told. He was still a soldier in the name of his Fief and King, he was still a mountain of corded muscle and tribal tattoos, face worn dry by the bitter winds of the northern seas. The only real difference was that he had more work now, as he was offered up by his King to the priesthood, as a token of goodwill.
Peter snorted at the very thought. Goodwill… Olaf was wise in sending Peter south, far from the beautiful peaks of his homeland. Peter’s father had been a strong rival of Olaf, been one of the last of the Fief lords to oppose him. He hadn’t surrendered in the face of Olaf’s larger armies, nor his exotic soldiers from the far-flung edges of the Christian world… he had stayed true to the way of the North, to remain as stalwart and strong as the mountains that bore them. A mere handful of Peter’s clan survived, and only due to the fact that the Christians were inclined to take captives.
Not as slaves mind you, though they had a fair share of those amidst their ranks, but as converts. Among the survivors had been Peter, a score of women and children, and Peter’s uncle Ulag. Olaf had offered Ulag the throne to the newly conquered Fief, on the condition that the region would convert to the new religion, and that they would pay large sums of tribute annually. A final, smaller note amidst the wheeling and dealing the weasels Olaf had sent as emissaries and his cowardly uncle had been to send Peter to the Church, to become a priest.
So here he was, clad in his traditional furs and leathers, strolling down the paved streets of Sankt Veit an der Glan, the home of his new patron and master, and of the church he would be serving. Peter did his best to console himself with the changes, though the wide eyed stares from the truly miniscule people surrounding him did little to ease his temper. Whereas he wore several layers of wolf pelts over a set of boiled leather armor, these doddering German fools wandered the streets in thin layers of wool and silk, their only armaments thin black sticks that seemed more for show than any real purpose.
Peter tightened his grip over the haft of his axe, the wide double-edged instrument fully covered by the aged bear pelt he wore as a cloak, his first kill as a man some ten winters earlier. His hand had yet to stray from his blade, something he merely shrugged off as a warrior’s instinct, choosing to ignore the small voice in his head telling him it was because he was afraid of all of this, of his new future as a man of God.
After asking for directions (as best he could, with what little German he actually knew) he was finally able to find his destination: Rabe an Basilika, loosely translated to be the Raven’s Basilica. Lovely name, Peter thought sardonically as he shoved his way through the crowd of dwarves meandering about the street, much to their consternation. Why these slovenly barbarians have to come up with such silly names is beyond me
While the rest of the city was crafted with thick slabs of stone and darkened wood, the looming figure of the Raven’s Basilica was one of dark iron and polished black marble, a high tower rising above the wooden roofs and columns of smoke that glinted faintly from the setting sun. Easily visible from the moment Peter had caught sight of the city, he had not even known what the building could have been, but upon learning that it was the home of the local clergy, he had let out a burst of deep laughter, so amused by the revelation. The very idea that the spirits would require such a luxurious home would be almost insulting back home, yet here in the so-called civilized lands, the Living God demanded tribute in such odd ways. What did he need such large buildings for?
Peter smiled as he drew closer to darkened building, shaking his head at the sheer audacity that these Christians showed; he had read their supposed holy texts, something that surprised many he encountered. Most assumed that since he was from the North, he was nothing but a ravaging marauder of men, more beast than human in the finer of arts. But Peter’s father had made certain he could read, so that should he ever find a need for it, he would have the proper skills readily at hand. He could distinctly remember reading in the texts how their prophet had warned against greed and opulence, insisting that if his followers wished to truly emulate him, they would divulge themselves of all worldly possessions and dedicate their lives to helping their fellow man, as God wished for them to do.
The gigantic structure before him was anything but humble, and absolutely reeked of wealth and power. Great metal doors, embossed with thousands of tiny birds in mid-flight, ascending to the heavens, stood before him, set into black marble walls and above marble steps. Twin gargoyles loomed overhead, both essentially gigantic Ravens carved with absolute care from a single piece of Obsidian. A slight layer of frost had already begun to settle over the doors as Peter pushed them open, the darkened skies above promising a cold night for any unfortunate enough to stay about to experience it.
The interior, a dark hall full of cold stone pews lined before a high crucifix set along the far wall, a morbid display of prolonged death, suffering and apparently salvation. Thick wax candles glimmered softly, a thousand glowing lights piercing the darkened cathedral, casting long, flickering shadows against the thick marble columns. A short line of robed monks, heads bowed in prayer, knelt before the tall relief of their Lord, their hushed prayers echoing along the high walls like the low buzz of marsh flies.
“A new convert, perhaps?” Came a low, grumbling voice from the shadows. Peter half drew his axe from beneath his cloak before a thin hand stopped him, resting along his forearm. “Ah, you must be Peter then?”
He merely grunted in acknowledgement, readjusting his axe and its sling beneath his furs, eyes locked on the arm that had snaked from the shadows, along with the man it was attached to. Obviously a man of the cloth if the numerous crosses sewn into his leather armor, though from the way he moved, as well as the strength he exhibited beneath his leather-clad hands, he was also clearly a warrior. Dark-dyed leather allowed him to blend into the shadows of the Basilica, the carefully stitched material covering every square inch of his body, hugging it like a mother would a child. While not as tall or broad as Peter, he was nowhere near as small as the insects praying to their false god, nor the dwarves wandering the streets of the barbarous city. His face was a mystery, trapped behind a full-mask wrapped about his head, a thick hooked beak drooping from his face in lieu of a mouth, a pair of glinting glass covers over his eyes acting as his only portal to the world outside his leather-bound bodice.
It was what plague-doctors wore, men and women who went to regions stricken with the Black Death, a horrid sickness that supposedly seeped into your very soul, corrupting you from within until your mortal flesh couldn’t handle the darkness within, bursting with a sour-smelling black ichor like an over-stuffed turkey. Odd that a priest would dress in such a fashion, but then again, all of the people in the South were odd to Peter.
“I had imagined you as a giant, but the reality is far greater than the idea!” The man crowed delightfully, slapping Peter playfully upon the shoulder, beckoning him to follow him into the darkness. The man disappeared through a darkened doorway that had so far remained hidden to Peter’s well trained eyes, another thing about this horrid structure he could add to the list of reasons it should be burnt down.
The hallway was narrow and lightless, a dim glow in the distance serving as their only guide. The man chattered on like a gull at low tide as they walked, speaking of the many adventures they would be sharing and of the lives they would save. Peter groaned internally at the very thought and cursed Olaf and his cowardly uncle once more… sending him to some distant church full of religious lunatics to become a healer for the damned! What a waste of his hard-earned skills and labors from years of military training. They’d probably ask him to even hand up his axe… what a thought!
The light at the end of the tunnel was from a large hearth, roaring flames instantly suffusing Peter with healthy warmth he had not even realized he’d lost. The room itself was circular in nature, with four smaller cubicles branching off to form small bedchambers that, while open to the center of the room and it’s hearth, were able to provide a notable amount of privacy for those lying down to rest. The walls between the bedchambers were lined with shelves, crammed full with tomes and scrolls, jars and artifacts. Several small globes hung from the high ceiling, all rev9olving slowly about the largest one along thin wires. Several small tables lay strewn about, artificer’s tools and books laid out haphazardly between them. Two other men stood in the room by the high flames, drinking deeply from simple wooden bowls. Both were dressed in the typical priestly vestments: flowing white robes decorated with red finery. One was older than most Peter had ever met a stooped vulture of a man that leaned heavily on a small cane. The other was a younger man, probably younger than Peter, and seemed to defer to the older priest as if he served him.
“You’re late.” The Vulture drawled, a thick accent almost making the butchered German completely useless.
The Raven bowed deeply, sweeping a thin cape that seemed to be connected to his elbows back dramatically, a long string of light, musical words filtering from his mask in a language Peter had never heard before. Great… he though miserably, am I going to have to learn yet ANOTHER one of these horrid tongues?
The younger man took the older’s elbow and helped him move to sit by the hearth, murmuring in the same lilting tones as the Raven in a way that seemed to calm the Vulture’s sudden spike in ire. The Raven continued speaking to Vulture, soothing tones mixed in with his garbled words as he handed him a wooden cup, pouring him a small measure of wine from a stoppered decanter. After a few slow sips, the Vulture once again turned his milky eyes onto Peter, a scowl gracing his thin lips.
“So he is to be your protector then? A heathen?” The Vulture spat, glaring at Peter as if he were some useless cow. “I suppose he could have his uses, but his Grace would still prefer it if you were to have a few Schweizergarde along with you as well; a measure of intellect can go much further than mere muscle can.”
“My dear Cardinal, I assure you he will be more than I truly need, and appreciate your concerns. I have only taken him in, as it were, due to his Grace’s wishes.” The Raven replied cheerfully, dropping to a nearby stool with a casualness not often displayed before such high-ranking officials. “I barely operate within the bounds of the Church, and while I know that is irksome to you, I would suggest you get used to the idea.”
The Cardinal scowled even further, heavy lines creasing his face as he set his cup down to the side with the deliberate movements of the old and infirmed. “If you choose to ignore our most gracious of offers once more, who am I to say anything over it? Always be aware that the offer stands, and that I could have three of our finest soldiers here within a fortnight to assist you in your… endeavors.”
“Rest assured, my endeavors will always be aligned with the goals of the Church and his Holiness. By your leave, I offer you a home for the evening before you wish to return to Italia; travel by night is rarely as safe as one would hope.”
The Cardinal waved away the suggestion with a disgusted face. “Bah, I will be fine. I’ve had enough of the cold North.” Turning a gimlet eye upon Peter, the elderly priest let out a dry wheeze. “How your kin survive in climes such as this is beyond my comprehension, especially without the grace of our Lord for so long. Truly, a miracle if ever there was one.”
Peter chose not to respond, merely staying silent as the two priests slowly made their way from the comfort of the hearth and into the darkened hall. Raven, reclining now along the low table with feet propped high upon an overturned cauldron, lolled his head to the side to look at peter through his rose-tinted lenses. “The Church has been hounding me for months to take on an apprentice, someone to aid me in my war against the darkness that has been consuming Europe these past few decades. They keep trying to foist onto me some of their own, someone that they can depend upon to report back to them about my actions and my methods. I have to thank the fates that you were sent to me at this time, to help me in my hour of need.”
“You can thank my treacherous family and their silver-tongued advisors…” Peter grumbled as he pushed Raven’s feet from the cauldron and dropped down upon it, snatching the cup that the Cardinal had left half-empty and taking the last swallow. “Blech, even the spirits of this land taste horrible.”
Raven chuckled, a low reverberating echo from within his hood. “It does take some getting used to, but we’ll have plenty of time for that later. Now that you’re here, we have some business to attend to.”
“Business?” Peter asked, already bored with the line of thought.
“Yes, we are needed in a small town due south of here, near the border of the Black Forest.” Raven said, rising to his feet with a practiced fluidity. “Relmut has been struck by the Plague it would seem, and we’re needed there as soon as can be.”

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