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Day 71

Lanternon2 Sep 4th, 2016 1,246 Never
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  1. Day 71
  2.  
  3. “People don't really take into account that most of them have variations.”
  4.  
  5. I stir where I stand, annoyed by the words, or by my mind comprehending the words.
  6.  
  7. “Take the cat-eared tatzelwyrm, which are clever, if amazingly indolent.”
  8.  
  9. I open an eye to stare at the other three.  For some reason they've all gathered in this room.  And now they're talking about monsters.  I was aware that they'd entered, but it didn't seem to matter.
  10.  
  11. “The lindworm is probably the most interesting.  They only take husbands from the buried dead and cemeteries, like ghouls.  You can tell one from an ordinary wyrm by the bifurcated end of their tails.”
  12. “Bifurcate both ends,” I grumble.  My voice is bleary, as though I'd only recently awoken.  “Save everyone the trouble.”
  13. There's a polite, if uncomfortable chuckle from the deepest voice.  Otho.  He claps his hands together and says “Well, that's our paladin for you.”
  14.  
  15. It's a strange feeling.  It's not that my senses are returning to me – they'd never left.  It's more that I was only vaguely aware of them.  That should improve with time.  Rather, it should improve when I'm more able to focus.  I'd not known that litanies required so much concentration to maintain, or skill to use.
  16.  
  17. ---
  18.  
  19. “Four are the shields that guard against darkness, and five are the blades that we bring to bear.
  20.  
  21. The enemy comes to us at all hours.  It seeks us out on the battlefield and at home.  It preys upon us when we are unarmed and unable to fight back.  It is a cowardly foe that destroys us when we are alone.  By this Litany, we chosen are granted the gift to stand vigil throughout the night and when-else we would be unable to do battle, thus depriving monsters of this cowardly advantage.”
  22.  
  23. ---
  24.  
  25. “You with us again,” Rodrick calls over to me.
  26. “Never left.”
  27. “It's weird seeing you just standing there.”
  28. I don't have anything to say about that.  I guess I'd be worried if I saw him doing it.  As I regain enough focus to look around the apartment room, my eyes catch on the schedule sitting on the bedstand.
  29. “It's not as weird as when you were pacing, though.”
  30. Today is yet more tours of Caithness, as well as a fifth meeting with representatives from parliament. Apparently they saved the ones who actually want peace for the last day, for some reason.  From a distance it's looked like some sort of hazing, having Otho run a gauntlet of blustering, pig-headed morons.  
  31.  
  32. It feels strange not being able to go for my walks in the morning.  I state as much.
  33. “I'm sure if you asked, they could send someone to accompany you,” Otho answers.
  34. It still feels odd that I need someone to accompany me anywhere.  I'm not helpless, and what's more they know as much.  I'd say that they're hiding something, but I sincerely doubt there are any military secrets just laying around the neighborhood roads.
  35.  
  36. “You ready for the last day, then, Victor?”
  37. I look at the mage.  He keeps asking me questions as though he cares.  It's like he wants to maintain some feigned image of friendship for whatever reason, in spite of the well and obvious fact that I want nothing to do with the race traitor.  “Yes,” I answer as flatly as possible.
  38. “Penny for your thoughts.”
  39. How many monsters exist because of you – because you were weak or shortsighted enough to be responsible for their creation?  I don't voice that thought.  “I don't know what to think.  I feel too separated from people to really get to know the place.”
  40. “You can always watch the television.”
  41. “And hear lies from actors.  I want to talk to the people here.”
  42. He hums and purses his lips, as though somehow thoughtful.  If he actually did think on my words at all, he apparently doesn't think of anything useful to say.  
  43.  
  44. It's five minutes of silence before our phone rings, and Otho idly lifts it to his ear.  “All right then,” is all he says.  He sets the phone back down on its cradle and says “Our escorts are on their way up.”  
  45. I open the case with my armor and set myself to putting it on, glaring at Rodrick as I do.  “Hey, I thought you were up,” he says defensively.  I can't blame him; I haven't gone into what any of the words can do.  No paladin has.  That the monsters don't know what we can do is one of our few strengths and many defenses.  
  46.  
  47. I finish up shortly after the knock comes at the door.  The men are, as always, suited, mostly silent, and entirely too courteous.  They move all at the same time, even if it isn't in the same direction or the same way.  Synchronized in a dozen small maneuvers, like one person in too many bodies.  I admire the training.  We follow the trail of them, standing stock still like goalposts going from our room to the black cars.  Rodrick joins Jacobs in the backseat of the second car, and I'm grateful to not be around him.
  48.  
  49. Otho's quiet in the car.  He's quiet almost all the time outside of the room; perhaps it's the atmosphere or for diplomatic purposes.  Either way, everyone else has taken to the same practice.  It makes the three hour lesson of what not to say seem less necessary, but at the same time it makes it less likely that we'll accidentally make asses of ourselves.  
  50.  
  51. I gaze out the window at the country beyond.  The cars look like ours, but subtly off.  They're made with their metals, drawn up from their mines or mages, and built at their shops, with their designs.  They might mimic ours, but they're not true copies.  The buildings that pass by are brick or stone, almost to the last.  The buildings are all square, so many possess columns for some reason.  The roads are long, and long yards stretch between the houses.  The idea that they don't need to worry about space seemed so odd on the first day I was here.  It was on the second that I realized that it was because they aren't in a walled city, but a walled country.  All the nation is their backyard.  Men could walk from city to city, across the countryside, without ever fearing being taken.  Young men and women walk along sidewalks, and I know that they've never seen a monster in their lives.
  52.  
  53. The drive lasts for long minutes before we reach one of the larger, white column buildings.  A bronze statue stands before it, holding a plate before her.  Some mythological figure, I recall, 'balancing the world.'  The disc, then, was seen as literal, and the figure genuinely worshiped.  We step out of the car, up the white stone steps, and around the base of her statue as she gazes lovingly down at those whom she holds.
  54.  
  55. The interior is so much more spartan, more empty than the outside would suggest.  The walls are bare, devoid of any art.  No murals adorn the walls, and no statues watch over us.  It is like the halls of the paladin orders, in a way.  Even the similarities are hard to argue, though.  The walls match the ceiling, which matches the floors.  What doors we see are identical to the others.  They even seem to match the wood of the sole figure sitting behind a desk; a woman with a tightly held bun and a dress suit, who speaks to one of the guards accompanying us.  He turns back and offers “this way” without it seeming like an offer.
  56.  
  57. We come to the door quickly, and Rodrick and I take our positions at the door with Otho's nod.  The mage, meanwhile, joins his companion with the politics.  I'd be envious if, after four days of hearing snippets of what goes on behind these doors, I didn't know for a fact that they were pointless and inane.  Most mages are the clever sorts; I imagine this is a far worse punishment for him than anything I could think of.
  58.  
  59. Long hours pass, broken only by the occasional piece of conversation with Rodrick.  “How's that elf doing?  Have you ever seen a Kikimora?  Have you heard from Ember lately?  Hey, do they really call them 'hugirls'?”  They're always spaced out by at least ten minutes, so rather than a barrage it's more like a light trickle of questions.
  60. I finally suggest “You should come visit Min sometime.”
  61. “What, like on vacation?”
  62. “Yeah.”  He fixes me with an incredulous stare.  “It's not that bad, when you get to know it.”
  63. “Maybe if you have one of those around your neck.”  He emphasizes “those” with an exaggerated glance at my shield.  
  64. “You don't need one of these to be safe.”  I turn to stare straight across the hallway as I consider what I just said.  “Just come around the new moon.”
  65. “Yeah, sure.  I don't care to be ogled by monsters for my vacation.”  
  66.  
  67. Am I ogled by them?  The thought crosses my mind as the conversation dies, or at least pauses again.  I try not to frown at the wall across from me, but odds are that I'm failing.  I don't see them do it, but what about when my back is turned?  I end the train of thought as both useless and disturbing.  I really have gotten used to them, though.  I'm suggesting that men go to Min of their own free will.  How strange is the mind, that I can spend so much time walking amongst monsters that I stop thinking about them.
  68.  
  69. Long minutes pass before he adds “It might be nice to follow you around on patrol, though.”
  70. “I doubt it.  The only interesting patrol I go on is during the full moon.”
  71. He pauses for a moment before saying “I'm fine with boring.”  We share a small chuckle, and the next two hours pass in silence.
  72.  
  73. When the door finally opens, the various politicians and singular mage are all wearing wide, pleased smiles and talking happily about the food in Caithness.  “Steak and cheese,” Otho booms out.  “I'm afraid my heart would never forgive me for that.”
  74. The men laugh, and Rodrick and I take positions at the outside of the handful of men accompanying Otho back toward the entrance of the building.  “We'll continue this when we get there, of course,” notes the most politician-looking fellow in the group.  The balding man continues, but the seven-or-so fellows are too embroiled in conversation for me to make out what it is that he's talking about.  We make our way back down the stairs, beyond the presence of the old goddess.
  75.  
  76. The drive is a long one, but not unpleasant.  Dozens of clay terraces are overrun with vines as we make our way through the brick district of the city.  The first time I came here I noted to Jacobs how the only materials I'd seen were glass, wood, and stone.  He went off on a rant about how Caithness never imported materials, and so couldn't draw upon the works of elves or dwarves or the like.  How the three materials were essentially all they had to work with.  On the one hand, I appreciate the self-sufficiency.  On the other, I've seen the cities of Megalos, and seeing this so soon afterward is somehow saddening.  The buildings fall away, and for a moment I think that we're heading toward the city wall, forgetting once again the carefree lives of these people.  I think to myself that it's worth the uniform homes, to rest as easily as they do.
  77.  
  78. We file out of the cars toward the park, where a prominent trail leads inward from a wrought iron gate.  The trail curves slightly, but the canopy of trees limits how far in we can see.  The politicians wander slowly forward, meaning that the entire group travels at a snail's pace.  “I'm glad that we could settle on the specifics,” Otho begins, continuing some earlier conversation.  “We all agree on the broad terms.  It's just a matter of reminding our two countries that we, as they ought, don't worry ourselves over the little things.”
  79. We pass into a clearing as the trees and their shade both abruptly end.  The memorial itself seems to be a half-dozen grey stone walls and plints in a massive circle, with paths leading further inward.
  80. The oldest of the Caith politicians hums in agreement.  “Of course, the people will always have their concerns, and they'll want their representatives to be as paranoid as they.  Still, you're not without allies on this side of the wall.”
  81.  
  82. “Otho?  Do you have a moment?”  The slightly obese man with a ruddy complexion and a ruddier tie asks, glancing toward me.  
  83. Otho beams and leans in toward me, “Victor, give us some time, won't you?”
  84. “Of course, sir.  Where would you like me?”
  85. “Just wander around, Victor.  Study the monuments.”
  86. I glance around, noting the number of guards peering out from around monuments or statuary.  “Very well, then.  I'll be a call away, sir.”  He nods absently, as though it went without saying.  On second thought, I'm sure he's heard the same a hundred times before.  I dip my head and step away from the group.  The standing stones are all terribly important, and I'm sure a historian would find them fascinating, but to me they're simply lists of names and dates.  I wander off, as much to get a sense of the terrain as to satisfy the growing sense of boredom that has built over this entire mission.
  87.  
  88. Around one final row of plinths is a massive scene in bronze, depicting dozens of paladins of Caithness fighting against a horde of monsters.  These ones, however, have no visible human traits – they're massive spiders, or vultures, or serpents, only.  The victors cry out as their slay the things en masse, winning against the rising wave of enemies with each section of the combat.  One of them with a sword is piercing a massive spider as it rears up, another is skewering a mutated giant rat with a spear, yet others cry out as some shapeless horror batters against their shields.
  89.  
  90. I take my time, slowly circling the monument.  My teeth as pressed tightly together as I do, and I can't say why.  My senses sharpen and breath quickens as I look at it, as though I were preparing for a fight.  I don't think that it's the monsters as they're portrayed, though I do think that it's careless to forget that their main weapon, at least these days, is lust.  That bothers me, but not enough to explain the knot slowly forming in my gut.  I pass by the image of a man who, with a grimace of determination is hacking the foot-long mandibles off of some massive insect.  He isn't bothering me.   None of them are individually bothering me.  It's not the scene itself – if anything, the removal of the human element from the foe feels as though it dulls the true horror of the battle.  How can men hope to battle these things if we don't prepare ourselves for what they truly are?
  91.  
  92. I continue to slowly circle the monument, held by my own inability to figure out why I wish I was anywhere else.  It's not distasteful, at least to anyone who would set foot on Caith soil to look at it.  The armor of the paladins is slightly diminished, but only to better see the individuals underneath.  Some artistic striving left the majority of the men either grimacing or yelling, but I could accept that in the brawl portrayed.  They possess no shields of saint Rylan, but the monument seems to predate them, so that's not an issue.
  93.  
  94. I finish the loop, starting to feel myself relax, before the tension returns at once.  This time, though, I recognize what it is that causes this feeling.  It's the soldier with his sword piercing the massive spider.  It's him.  He's dry.  The thing doesn't bleed.  None of them do, but for this one man, that fact is so troubling that I'd rather demolish this entire construct than look at it.  For a few seconds I think I feel insulted, but that's not it.  It's just wrong, and it's so wrong that it feels like an incredible disservice to everyone involved.  
  95.  
  96. “Amazing, isn't it?”  I turn to see Rodrick, staring at the same thing I am.
  97.  
  98. “Tomorrow can't come fast enough.”
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