Ch. 12 - How Not to Be a Hero

A waiter brought their breakfast over. Roger had opted for something like oatmeal, but unlike other oatmeal dishes he had eaten, this one caused him to turn red in the face and sweat profusely. Hannah got something that looked like some kind of tart, and she too was sweating all over. Ari ate her breakfast daintily without looking the least bit uncomfortable.

They were soon joined by Hil and Father Miha, and the two of them sat down with the group. “Good morning,” the abbot said, “How are you all?”

“Ari tried to beat up that girl over there,” Hannah blurted out.

“Really?” The abbot glanced over at Shurre-Na. “Why?”

“I have my reasons,” Ari said, “Namely, I found out that she was the magician that tried to blow up Roger.”

“Was that really the only reason?” Roger asked.

Ari gave him a long sideways look, “Yes.”

“So that girl over there was one of the people who attacked the abbey?” the abbot thought out loud, “And she tried to stop us.” Father Miha mused for a moment, “Now she’s here.”

“What of it?” Hil asked, stuffing some fried mushrooms into his mouth.

“We should leave. Now,” the abbot said, “I was suspicious before, but I feel that this is too much of a coincidence. If we are going to defend the other shrines we have to make sure we get to them before this girl and her compatriots do.”

“When you say ‘now’…” Hannah said, lifting another bite of food to her mouth.

“I mean instantly,” Father Miha said grimly.

“I was afraid of that,” Hannah sighed, putting her fork back down.

The five of them exited town, heading south at a quick trot. After a couple of minutes, Roger remembered how to handle the gait, but not before his back side took quite a beating.

“This is called the Pilgrim Road,” Father Miha explained from the front of the column, “Following it, you can reach each of our gods’ primary shrines. The first one we’ll come to will be the Temple of Une, next will be Kar’s Chapel, and the last is the Shrine to Rei. Do I need to explain anything about these deities to you?”

“I know them well enough,” Hil said. Ari shook her head silently. Roger was confused but didn’t want to admit it.

“I don’t know anything about these gods,” Hannah said.

“Right, so,” the abbot started without any preamble, “Une is a goddess who values the earth. I don’t mean dirt, or things that live in dirt. I’m talking rocks, caves, mountains, and the like. She’s extremely quiet, and hasn’t communed with anyone in recent memory. Or in any memory. Nobody seems to know the last time anything has heard from her, but as long as the shrine remains, her priests are imbued with power.

“Next is Kar. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied much about Kar, as he’s never really interested me. I know there is a lot of information about him and his exploits that can be found if you dig around in the right archive, though.

“The last shrine on the route is to Rei. Rei is a goddess that values bravery and determination. Like Oir, she actively communes with her followers, granting them strength. Rei tends to grant powers that improve martial prowess and from the priests of Rei come some of our greatest heroes.”

“Got it,” Hannah said.

“Each of these deities grants us power and guidance, and have played important roles in building up the kingdom we know today,” the abbot said, “But I’m afraid that is at risk.”

“Oh?” Roger asked.

“The destruction of the Shrine of Oir’s Chosen, the fact that the magician girl is traveling in the same direction that we are, it leads me to fear someone is trying to sever our connection to the gods.”

“Why would someone want to do that?” Ari asked.

“I can’t say for certain, but wherever there is power, someone will want to oppose it. I can think of several possible agents that could benefit from destabilizing our kingdom,” the abbot said, frowning, “Regardless, we must hurry on to the Temple of Une.”

They kept up the brisk pace, and the road rolled by under the horses’ hooves as they kicked up small puffs of dust with each footfall. The road took them across the valley floor and up toward the foothills that lay before another mountain range. Beyond the foothills, the road ran through a cleft between two large peaks and into the distance.

“How far until we reach the Temple?” Roger asked when they stopped to rest the horses. They drank from a shaded stream that ran along the side of the road and munched on the grass that grew along its bank.

“It should be at the mouth of the canyon,” Father Miha replied.

“Ah, ok.” That was still pretty far off.

The group pushed on until late evening painted the whole world in a rusty hue, and long shadows stretched out along one side of the road, projecting giant riders that ran along beside them. They stopped as darkness fell, and set up camp next to the road, beneath the spreading branches of ancient trees.

“We must be prepared to defend the shrine, once we arrive,” the abbot said as they settled in for the evening.

“Shouldn’t we send someone for help?” Ari asked.

“Who would we send?” the abbot replied.

“Why not Hrothgar? He’d be safer going somewhere else.”

“Does he know how to get anywhere? Does he know anyone that would want to listen to him?”

“I can safely say that he does not,” Roger interjected.

“Yeah, I’m in the same situation,” Hannah said, “Sorry to be so useless.”

“Then I’ll go,” Ari said.

“And get scooped up by your pursuers before you could reach help, and Hil is our strongest fighter. I don’t think we can send him away.”

A cry sounded overhead, breaking the silence. Looking up through the tree branches the party saw a ruddy orange light illuminating the clouds above.

“Keep your heads down,” Hil warned, “Dragons have good eyes, but even they can’t see through tree branches in the dark.”

“It seems we may have just missed being detected,” the abbot said, “But we must hurry to the Temple as soon as possible in the morning. Everyone should sleep now.”

They roused themselves in the early morning. Dew hung thickly on everything around them. In the early Autumn air, their breaths created small puffs that were only just visible. The mood was somber, and after a quick breakfast they mounted up without exchanging many words. Hannah said something with an air of levity, but her joke just hung dead in the cool morning.

Roger missed the banter. He had grown accustomed to Hannah constantly telling off beat jokes, and Hil’s deep chuckles that were always willing to laugh with her. He even missed Ari’s “witty” remarks, despite their main purpose being to flay him. The silence felt wrong. This group of people wasn’t supposed to interact in this way.

Passing over the plains, they reached the foothills by midmorning. The land rose slowly but steadily, and the scenery transitioned from rolling fields to pine and fir forest. The fresh scent of their needles filled the air, and small breezes brought the sound of rattling limbs. Beside the path they followed, the stream had grown to a creek, babbling along in its bed. That, along with the two repeating beats of Gallant’s trotting, lulled Roger into a trance. Despite the tension, he was almost able to enjoy a peaceful environment.

“Look here,” Hil said, pointing down at a muddy part of the road.

“Goblin tracks. Lots of goblin tracks,” the abbot said with a grim expression. “It looks like my suspicions are holding true. We must continue.”

At midday they decided to skip lunch, and instead elected to eat some of the preserved food that they carried. Roger sat munching on hard cheese and smoked meat, wondering how the day was going to end when Hannah pulled up her red horse beside Gallant.

“Maybe you should put this on,” she said handing the kettle helmet she had scavenged to him. She was already wearing the other one.

“Right now? I don’t feel like it’s very dangerous here,” Roger said.

“When things start to be dangerous, who’s to say if you’ll have time to put it on?” Hannah smiled, “Besides, it looks like rain. You’ll want to keep your head dry.”

Roger obliged and set the helmet onto his head. He had adjusted the liner earlier, so it sat snugly against his head, and he could see out from beneath the broad rim easily. He clasped the buckle on the chin strap, and looked up at Hannah. “How do I look?”

“Kind of like a kid in a shiny bicycle helmet,” she said, chuckling.

Roger frowned. “I was hoping I would look a bit more deadly or something. Oh well. I suppose nothing else about this world has been what I expected,” he shrugged.

“You look less likely to be made dead, if that’s any consolation.”

“I guess that’s some kind of silver lining.”

Roger heard a plink on his helmet, and looked up into the sky to see that the grey clouds had begun to release a very slow, light drizzle of rain on their heads. The rain grew steadily stronger as they wound deeper and deeper into the hills, and before long Roger was wishing he had picked up a coat somewhere. The sturdy wool construction of his tunic repelled much of the water, and it ran down his body in rivulets. Regardless, he was soon feeling quite wet and chilled. The forest air became even more fragrant in the rain, and there was a brisk edge to it that nipped at his nose.

Coming around a bend in the path they were suddenly confronted by the Temple of Une. It looked rather like a fortress, tucked up against the cliff face, with a curtain wall extended out around an inner courtyard. The main structure was built directly against the cliff, and its towers rose up toward the grey sky. The gate stood gaping open, hanging limply on its hinges, and the rainy gloom cast shadows across what lay beyond.

“That’s more than a little ominous,” Hannah said. Roger responded by glaring at her. Truth be told he had a feeling of dread growing in his bowels. Hannah’s comments didn’t help it.

They dismounted and tied their horses in a thicket near the gate. Passing through, they entered the courtyard, the high wall encircling them. Inside there were no lights, but they could see well enough to see that the lumps lying still on the ground were the corpses of fallen priests and goblins. The ground was soft with their spilled blood.

They crossed the courtyard and dismounted before the temple’s arched double doors. These had been forced open, and leaned at unnatural angles away from the hinges’ settings.

“Be careful, everyone. We don’t know what we’ll find inside,” Father Miha warned.

Roger gulped loudly, checking the chin strap on his kettle hat. Hannah slipped her buckler into her fist, and drew her sword from its sheath. Hil strung his bow and nocked an arrow. The five of them passed through the doors with the abbot in the fore. Ari and Hannah flanked him on either side, and Hil came slightly behind. Roger brought up the rear.

The roof of the temple arched up and away from them as they entered a room with a high vaulted ceiling. It was dark inside, but some of the meager sunlight that did penetrate was directed toward a raised dais at the other side of the large room. The platform was a few steps higher than the floor, and in its center there was an altar, shattered into several pieces.

Shurre-Na stood beside the broken altar.

“I had a feeling you would show up here,” she said with a slight flip of her head.

“Do you realize what you’ve done here?” the abbot asked sternly.

“Of course.”

The answer hung in the cold wet air. The silent seconds stretched by, and Roger felt the weight growing in his chest. “You killed all these people?” Roger interjected.

“Yes,” Shurre-Na replied, glancing at the bodies on the ground.

“That’s… This is horrible!” Roger cried, anxiety and fear twisting his gut into a ball of nausea.

Shurre-Na projected an air of indifference, but her eyes remained on the ground.

“You didn’t hesitate when your friends killed the mercenaries I hired,” she deflected.

“That was different. We had to defend ourselves.”

“You had to defend yourselves,” she repeated slowly, a strange smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, “You had to defend yourselves from me.”

Shurre-Na pulled herself upright, her back perfectly straight and rage in her eyes. “I was born in the lands to the West,” she claimed defiantly, “Descended from a line that can trace itself directly back to the ancients.” Pride glistened on her face, “Once, we were a mighty people. We had kingdoms that would put your petty wealth to shame!

“Then came you. You came with your rabble and your gods. You people and your gods have reviled us, persecuted us, used us, tried to convince us that we are nothing.

“But no longer. Now we will defend ourselves. Now we have a way to defeat your gods, and pay you back for the years of suffering.” She set herself with a grim determination.

“Is that all true?” Roger asked Ari.

“Eeeeeeeh… more or less,” Ari replied, unashamed. She stepped past Father Miha, addressing Shurre-Na. “Your little rampage ends here,” she said, “I knew I should have beat you senseless before.”

“Now’s your chance,” Shurre-Na taunted, her fey smile spreading into a menacing grin.

Ari accepted the bait, and rushed forward. Shurre-Na began to breathe out the same silent words that Roger had seen her use when she had thrown him into the trees. The ground beneath Ari’s feet shuddered.

Suddenly the abbot was at Ari’s side, throwing his weight hard into her. She recoiled from the impact, falling off balance and rolling several feet away. At the same instant, the ground beneath the abbot’s feet launched outward. Roger’s ears popped as the shock wave passed through him, and he raised his hands to protect his eyes from the shards of stone that scattered throughout the room.

The abbot’s body twirled limply away before it slammed against a wall. His head slumped slack to one side as he tipped over. Blood ran down his face, painting his white beard red.

“No way,” Ari said, struggling to get to her feet under her so she could run to the abbot.

Shurre-Na raised her hand toward the ceiling. “Do you still think you can take me? You might need to be another three inches taller.”

She dropped her hand and the ceiling above them shuddered. The dragon dropped into the room from above, its bulk slithering down through the breach it had just made. It coiled up next to Shurre-Na, tense and ready to strike.

Ari stumbled toward the abbot’s corpse, but Hannah dashed forward and grabbed her by the hand. “No time for that now!” she said, dragging Ari back toward the door. Hil and Roger waited just long enough for the girls to reach them before also turning and running for the door.

Shurre-Na absentmindedly flicked her wrist and the dragon launched itself toward them. They made it out the door and dove to one side as the dragon’s maw chased along behind them. It reached full extension, glowering at them with its golden eye before gathering itself up to strike again.

“Keep moving!” Hil shouted.

They fled toward the gate in the wall. The rain had stopped, but the sky continued to churn darkly. Occasional lightning bolts raced away into the distance, flashing sharp shadows against the ground and walls. The dragon came slinking silently out of the temple door behind them.

Hil stopped abruptly, making a quick decision. “I’m going to try to draw it off. You three escape.” He spun around, swiftly releasing an arrow toward the dragon. It flew wildly, missing the mark, but forced the dragon to recoil. In that moment, he dashed toward the stairs that led to the top of the wall.

The dragon started to move again, and Hil loosed another arrow toward it. A threat to force the beast to move more carefully. Hil reached the stairs, and began to mount them, loosing arrows as often as he could. The dragon shifted, no longer pursuing Ari, Hannah, and Roger, but instead focusing its attention on Hil.

“Idiots,” Ari said, a tortured expression on her face. She grabbed a spear from a fallen goblin, and yanked a heater shaped shield off the arm of a dead priest. “You’re all idiots!” With that she charged toward the dragon, her skirts torn and whipping wildly behind her.

Roger looked dumbfounded at Hannah, an irrational fear that she might suddenly fly away filling his mind. She gave him an apologetic look. “We have a job to do too, it seems,” Hannah said pointing toward the temple door. Illuminated by flashes of lightning, Shurre-Na surveyed the area with an air of concerned concentration.

“Do we really have to do that?” Roger asked.

“If we want Ari and Hil to live, we do.”

Roger tried to run his fingers through his hair, but was stopped by his kettle hat. “Oh man. Oh man!” He was starting to panic.

“Yup, this totally sucks,” Hannah said, “But doing nothing and running away will suck more than trying to protect our friends!” She walked resolutely forward back toward the temple, her sword held low and to the side.

“Dammit. DAMMIT!” Roger clutched his little knife in both hands, and dashed to catch up with her. They managed to get to within about ten yards of Shurre-Na before she turned her attention on them.

“What should I be doing?” Roger asked.

Hannah paused for half a beat, considering, “Avoid dying. I’ll take care of her myself.”

“Really?”

“I’m a professional angel of death. There’s no way she could harm me that I don’t know of already,” she said, with a wink.

With that she pushed Roger away, using the push to propel backwards. The air popped with a small flash in the newly created space between them, a small shockwave rippling through the air, ruffling Hannah’s hair and clothes.

Hannah sighed, “She’s a sneaky turd.” With that, she turned to face her opponent, covering the distance between them quickly, her weight held low. Shurre-Na responded, her eyes fixed on Hannah, her mouth moving quickly and silently. More small explosions popped in mid air. Hannah seemed to always know when they were coming, and slipped out of each of them just as they happened.

Out across the courtyard, Roger saw Hil, halfway up the stairs to the battlements, pelting arrows down on the dragon. His body moved to a deadly rhythm. Over and over he repeated the pattern: nock, draw, settle, release, move. The constant motion and constant threat of heavy arrows kept the dragon off balance and at bay, but he couldn’t seem to harm it. The dragon would often move swiftly to get out of the way, or the arrows would glance harmlessly off from its scaled hide. Hil aimed for its face, attempting to land hits on its eyes or nose, but the dragon was being especially careful to protect those areas.

Before long, Hannah was only a few feet from Shurre-Na. Shurre-Na tried another blast to deter her, and Hannah lunged forward, buckler in front of her, sword raised to strike. A trace of panic rippled over Shurre-Na’s face, and stepping back, she turned toward Roger. Her lips moved again, her eyes locked with his.

“Crap!” Hannah shouted. Pivoting deftly, she whipped her left arm around, hurling the buckler toward Roger’s face.

His body responded before his shocked mind could, flinching out of the way as the dome of metal careened toward him. At that exact instant the air that Roger had just vacated burst into a small ball of fire. Fast, hot winds blew out, pushing against his body. The buckler was caught in the explosion, and it flipped high into the air, tumbling away into the darkness.

Hannah reached toward Shurre-Na, her now empty left hand outstretched. Shurre-Na slipped back, maintaining distance, and trying to probe for an opportunity. Hannah’s sword struck forward. Shurre-Na had been expecting that and, setting herself, stepped into the blow, catching Hannah’s arm. Continuing forward, she raised the other hand behind Hannah’s arm, using her whole strength, weight and the rotation of her body to torque Hannah’s sword arm away from her body. Hannah responded by raising her  left hand up to the pommel of the sword and attempting to thrust it back on line while stepping to put her weight back behind the blade. Shurre-Na blocked the step with her foot however, and Hannah was thrown to the ground, her blade clattering beside her.

Luckily for Hannah, Shurre-Na didn’t have a blade of her own, and–as quick as a snake,–Hannah shot her feet out, entangling Shurre-Na’s legs, bringing both girls to the ground.

The dragon roared.

Hil stood at the top of the ramparts, weight forward, his bow continuing to unleash arrow after arrow. The dragon had turned its attention away, however. Ari stood on the ground, the kite shield set in front of her, and the spear held above her head with the point forward. The dragon crouched before her, its legs, back and neck coiled, ready to strike out. Its head was directed toward Ari, murderous intent obvious on its face.

The spring released, the dragon struck faster than the eye could follow. Ari’s arm shot forward, the spear flying into the roof of the dragon’s mouth, its lower jaw caught by the thick wood of the shield. The two of them quivered against each other for a split second, the dragon trying to close its jaws against the pain of the spear point being slowly driven into its skull. The wood of the shield creaked.

Ultimately the pain of the spear point won out, and the dragon pulled back. Ari wrenched hard, bringing the spear back to the same overhead position, now dripping wet with dark dragon blood. At that same instant one of Hil’s arrows glanced off one of the dragon’s brows, and it brought its attention back to bear on him.

Shurre-Na let out a shriek in frustration, and, turning back toward her, Roger saw that Hannah had her face down toward the dirt in a headlock. She struggled fiercely but in vain. Hannah’s grasp was as steely as her eyes, and after the scream she moved a hand to gag Shurre-Na as well as hold her. Tears running down her face, Shurre-Na surrendered, slumping in Hannah’s arms. Hannah did not loosen her grip, but she didn’t move to dislocate Shurre-Na’s joints or harm her in any other way.

Roger looked back to the dragon. One of Hil’s arrows had finally struck true. Its shaft stuck out from an eye socket, and blood ran down the beast’s face, dripping to the ground. Ari was working this to her advantage, constantly backpedalling into the dragon’s blind spot. The dragon spun round and round, trying to keep Ari and Hil in its sight at the same time. It glanced over toward where Hannah held Shurre-Na to the ground.

The attitude of the dragon changed. Instead of the murderous energy from before, it seemed now to struggle like a cornered beast. Its motions became more reckless, and it fought its way toward Shurre-Na. Ari followed, pressing it hard. She drove her spear into cracks in its scaly armor until it was covered in many small bloody spots.

Once the dragon was near enough, it lunged toward Hannah, jaws outstretched.

“Crap!” Hannah cursed again, diving away, leaving Shurre-Na behind on the ground. The dragon moved to cover its master with its massive body.

“Out of the way,” Ari growled, pushing past Hannah as she dashed back toward the dragon’s blind spot. Hil continued to launch arrows toward the dragon’s face, forcing it to keep its good eye turned away and closed.

The dragon spun around above Shurre-Na, lashing out with claws and fangs to keep itself between Ari and its master. Ari continued to press to its blind side, becoming bolder, striking toward its neck.

The dragon ducked its head away away from another of Hil’s arrows, and Ari took the chance to strike. The dragon’s claws raked down toward her, but she covered herself with the shield, stretching the spear toward the dragon’s clavicle. It point struck true, slipped down to the edge of the hard scales, and caught in a crease. Ari drove forward, leaning into the thrust while the dragon’s claws pushed down on her shield.

With a crunch and a shower of splinters, the shield broke. Ari was pushed to the side by the dragon, and she left the spear sticking out of its neck. Blood flowed freely down the shaft, pooling on the ground, and the dragon reeled in pain. Ari rolled away as the beast thrashed, its roars and movements growing weaker. Soon, it collapsed to the ground, its breath rattling out of its huge ribcage. The twitching stopped and all was still.

A flash of lightning illuminated the courtyard in stark light. The dragon lay there in a pool of its own blood. Shurre-Na sat in the dirt next to it, stunned. Hannah stood, breathing hard,  her face and hands covered in scrapes and bruises. Ari’s clothes were shredded, and the wind blew her skirts out behind her, her hair a banner. She reflexively clasped the strap of the broken shield, a small piece of wood still dangling from its end. A streak of blood ran from her shoulder where the dragon’s claws had managed to reach around her defenses.

Roger was curled up low to the ground. His knife was on the ground beside him, and his hands held the brim of his helmet in a white knuckled grip. Tears streamed down his face and out his nose. He didn’t know when he had started crying.

Shurre-Na screamed. It was a high pitched, thin sound, full of grief and without any strength behind it. She scrambled across the ground and fell on the dragon’s corpse, sobbing.

“Eye for an eye,” Roger whispered to himself. He didn’t know what the local equivalent proverb would be.


Ari moved to apprehend Shurre-Na, but the dark haired girl scurried away, tears running down her face.

“I won’t let you,” she said, her voice shuddering. Her lips moved swiftly as she backed away, and a fraction of a second later Roger felt the now familiar feeling of differential air pressure moving over him. A sharp crack echoed across the courtyard, and Roger watched in horror as the main temple structure started to tumble apart, sliding toward them.

Ari’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and she took a step back, watching the building accelerate as it fell to pieces. Hannah was the first to start moving, and as she ran past Roger she grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to his feet.

“Come on, you turd!” she shouted at him.

They shot desperately toward the gate in the wall as the building behind them continued to topple toward them. Stones fell to earth all around, embedding themselves in the soft turf, or skipping away off some paver. A deafening ping rang in Rogers ears as something heavy bounced off his helmet. The metal hat swayed on its leather suspension, absorbing the force.

They reached the gate and dashed through, diving to one side once they cleared the wall. Roger hunkered up against the wall, and he felt it quiver as the collapsing building pressed against it. Debris shot out of the gate past them, each a deadly missile, and smaller pieces rained from above. They hugged the wall as closely as they could, and it shielded them from most of it. Still, a couple large tile shingles and bricks landed much closer than was comfortable.

After many long seconds the cacophony of the collapsing temple quieted, and they dared to peek back into the courtyard. The temple lay in a heap, its ceilings and spires collapsed down to the ground. Only the strongest parts of the main building’s walls remained standing, and those were surrounded by the clutter of what fell from above.

As they watched, a small pocket exploded out of the pile. Shurre-Na emerged, unharmed by the falling building. She stood with her head bowed and both her hands clasped to her chest. Roger watched with his heart in his throat. True, she had tried to murder him and the only friends he had ever known, but her face, the sound she had made, when she realized that her dragon had died filled him with pity. He didn’t know what kind of life had led her to the place that she was at, but he had a hard time believing that she was evil or heartless.

A wind picked up around Shurre-Na, causing her clothes to rustle against her slight frame, and the next thing he knew, she had rocketed into the air, gliding in a graceful arc over the far wall. Roger’s mouth gaped open as he watched her clear the twenty foot high stone barrier. He had not been expecting that.

“The abbot,” Hil said, his voice breaking.

“What about him,” Ari said coarsely.

“Yeah,” Roger agreed, coming back to the moment, “We should go check on him.”

Ari glared at him, “He’s obviously dead. And now there’s a temple’s worth of stone on top of him. That’s a better tomb than most people get.”

“But we don’t know for sure…” Roger objected.

“Yes, we do know,” Hannah interrupted, “He’s super dead.”

“Oh.”

Ari stomped off toward the horses, leaving Roger staring despairingly at the pile of rubble that had once been the Temple of Une. How could the abbot be dead? He had mentored Roger, had given Roger the chance to be someone when nobody else believed he could. Now he was dead? Roger didn’t want to believe it.

Roger was interrupted from his revery when a small person holding a candle up next to her head stepped up beside him. She wore a hood that was too big for her, so it came up over her chin and drowned her face.

“I guess it’s really gone,” she said, “I had felt that it must be, but I had to check to be sure.” She smiled a relieved little smile.

“Une?” Roger asked.

“Oh,” she turned to Roger, “Hello again.”

“Where did you come from? Why are you here?”

“I came from where I was, and I’m here because someone destroyed my shrine,” Une replied. She sighed contently, “Thank goodness.”

“This is your shrine?” Roger asked, slow on the uptake, “You told us you were named after the goddess, not that you were the goddess.”

“Technically my response to the question was, ‘something like that,’” Une said.

Ari glanced up at her, “And you’re happy that your shrine has been destroyed?”

Une turned to her. “I wasn’t always so standoffish with my followers,” she said, “There was a time when I would commune and come visit the temple fairly often. But then…” She trailed off, scowling.

“But then my high priest said he wanted a momento, a relic,” Une continued, “I was stupid and said that I would provide anything that was in my power. Do you know what that freak asked for?”

Roger couldn’t guess, and shook his head.

She held up her left arm, and the long, wide sleeve slipped back. “My hand,” Une said, her face a picture of incredulity.

“As in, he wanted to marry you?” Hannah asked.

“No. He literally took my hand. Kept it above his fireplace until he died, and then he was buried with it.” Une shook her head. “I don’t commune with people anymore, and I’m glad the temple is gone. These followers aren’t the kind that anyone would want.”

“Well, that’s just horrifying,” Roger said.

“I know, right?” Une said, “Who can I thank for getting rid of that thing for me?”

“None of us,” Ari said ruefully, “We were trying to stop it.”

“Oh, well. I guess I’ll be going then,” Une said. She walked down the path away from the temple, her candle glowing in the dim overcast light.

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