Father Rychar stood at his pulpit, the Book of Order open before him, preaching the last sermon on Haroz that Adlis wanted to hear.
“With powers unnatural, they Twisted Tassendile to suit their perverted vision. From arcane texts they summoned forces that wreaked havoc upon Haroz. A great oppression was brought upon Embin's followers, and they were made slaves to the ones who used magic. 'Wherever is thy god?' the magickers sneered, and the people cried 'He has abandoned us!' So it was that Embin heard the cries of His people and looked down upon us. He saw the sorceries they were using, and saw the Corruption of Vashiil in their hearts, and thus He was repulsed.”
Stay calm, stay calm, Adlis thought, her hands unconsciously gripping her dress. The edges of her mouth twitched as she struggled to keep her expression neutral. Nobody knows. He's just preaching. Stay calm!
Father Rychar continued to read, completely unaware of the discomfort he was causing her. “So it was that a great flash came, and the Ordermaker was amongst us once more. Though His followers now were many, He spoke to no one. Even His closest disciples, He shunned. For a day and a night He stood atop the Thricebuilt Tower and looked across Tassendile. Upon the rising of the sun, spake he finally to the waiting masses below. 'How has this come to be?' He asked. 'Did I not inscribe my laws into the ground itself? Did I free you from Vashiil only to be retaken?'“
“Heathens,” the Kashni sitting next to Adlis grumbled. “To the Pit with them.”
Adlis gulped, but kept her eyes focused on the priest.
“'Our Lord, have mercy!' cried the people. Embin asked them, 'Who has done this to you?' The people began to argue, each wanting to place the blame on the one who had wronged them most. Embin grew displeased, for they were like the squabblings of children. In time they named for Him the head of the sorcerous order, D'yargo. Embin came down from the tower and commanded to be brought His chain, which was hanging in the Pure Tabernacle, which stands no longer. 'I shall set you free once again,' He told his people, 'but no more shall I come before you.' And thus He mounted His horse and rode out from Embraus.”
Father Rychar paused just long enough to turn one of the thick yellow pages of his Book. It was probably almost as old as Embin himself, though Adlis couldn't bring herself to care at the moment.
“Embin rode for many days and many nights alone. He stopped not to eat nor sleep, and by His power His horse could continue to run. He came to the manse of D'yargo and struck down its gate with His chain. The sorcerer awaited our Organizer, for by magic he had seen Him coming. He taunted Embin, 'Behold the virgin god! I have for thee a whore.' for envy of Embin’s virtuousness had made his heart bitter. Not a word, Embin said in reply. D'yargo raised his hand to cast a spell, but Embin swung His chain. There came a flash from the sky like lightning, and by it D'yargo was blinded.
“'Cursed forevermore shall be your name,' said Embin. 'When my people fall upon times of strife, they shall shout your name.' And thus it was that the sorcerer’s name was branded into the hearts of the people, and shall forever be known as a curse. D'yargo was not yet defeated, though. He called upon his malevolent forces, and through them was again able to see. A thousand terrible curses he uttered, and nightmares rained from the sky. Now it was that Embin saw the true perversion of magic. Weakened though He was by D'yargo's chaos, He swung His chain and struck the sorcerer down.
“D'yargo was not dead, nor could he die. Too far had he strayed from the path of order, and death was beyond his reach. He begged Embin for pity, but He had none to give to the one who had corrupted His world a second time. With His chain He flayed the skin from D'yargo's face and bound him in a casket of brimstone and thorns. This, He carried on his back to the Forbidden Gate and cast D'yargo into the Graylands where Vashiil reins. To His people He said, 'Gather every witch and every wizard. Bring me their books and wands and their staffs.' And so it was, for with D'yargo's defeat they had all lost much of their power. Embin bound them all as He had their master and cast them into the land of chaos and disorder.”
“Praise be,” more than one person in the congregation chorused. Adlis shivered. What would happen if they... no, don't think about that. There was no point in frightening herself further.
“Embin called His five,” Rychar preached on. if Adlis was right, he didn't have much more to read. “And to them He said, 'Seek Me not again. Thou shalt not see Me again till thy dying day.' Then after bidding them goodbye, Embin ventured alone into the Graylands. He struck down a mountain with His chain, and in the ruins He dug a great tomb. In there He placed the caskets of the witches and warlocks, who yet lived within and would live on forever in darkness and shadow. Their books, their staffs, and their wands He sealed away as well, for the powers they contained would be unleashed if they were destroyed. His work complete, Embin sat outside for a day. 'This I shall call the Tomb of Tash Maggvar,' said He, for no word known to mortal man could have described what lay inside. 'Those who have Twisted this world have been put inside it, and any who seek out these powers shall follow them. Look! There is still much room, for I gaze upon them as I do Vashiil, and will grant them no mercy.' From there He ascended once more, and the second coming was complete.”
With a soft grunt, Father Rychar closed the Book of Order. It thumped closed loudly enough to be heard in the back of the sanctuary. Adlis breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over, and now all she had to do was wait until he was finished with the sermon, let the church empty, and go speak to him. Father Rychar went on for a while longer, explaining what he had just read even though Adlis thought it was pretty self-explanatory.
This may actually work out in my favor, she thought, a spark of hope rising up inside her. I'll tell him what happened, and he'll feel sorry for me. He'll know this isn't my fault, and he'll pray for Embin to heal me instead of turning me in!
“And with that, my children,” Father Rychar said, as if on cue, “let us pray.”
Adlis' heart was beating so fast that she could barely stay in her seat. She forced herself to bow her head and close her eyes, though. Just a few more minutes, and these Embin-cursed ears would be gone forever.
“Amen,” the priest concluded, and smiled at his congregation. “Be free and walk in order, my children. You are dismissed.”
And just like that, all at once the cozy peace that had fallen over the congregation was swept away. The sanctuary went into a frenzy as everyone got to their feet and tried to get to the doors first. It only took a few seconds before the aisles were as clogged as a drain after an autumn storm, and Adlis had no choice but to sit tight, head down, while the church emptied out.
It only took a few minutes, but in the anticipation of what she was planning to do, to Adlis it felt like she sat there for years. She half expected Kulgan to grab her by the shoulder at any second, yelling at her for being a stupid, brainless puff again. He didn't, though. Where was he, she wondered? She honestly would have expected his tracking skills to lead him to her before the service had ever ended. Either she had done a better job throwing him off her trail than she'd thought, or he didn't know the city as much as he claimed he did.
Finally, she looked up to find herself alone in the church. The difference was striking. With the pews empty and the choir loft silent, it almost felt like she was sitting in a vast, brightly lit cave. The only other person in the sanctuary was Father Rychar—and he was looking right at her.
“My child,” he said, his voice echoing a little in the massive room, “I was worried you would not come.”
Adlis' heart leaped into her throat. “You- You know me?” she asked meekly.
The old priest chuckled. “I saw you today on market street, child. I could see the desire in your eyes. You have something you need, don't you?”
Adlis' ears turned red with embarrassment under her hat, but she nodded.
“Come,” said Rychar, turning away from the pulpit and making for a door at the side of the room. “Let us speak in private.”
Adlis got to her feet, her legs trembling as she made her way to the front of the church. This was it. No turning back now. She would either walk out of this church with her ears fixed, or not at all.
He'll do it, she told herself, steeling her nerves as she approached the friendly old man. He'll understand, and he'll do it.
Father Rychar opened the door and ushered her into the back room. It was dimly lit in here, and contained a few tables and chairs, plus some shelves that held various items used in church rituals. Rychar closed the door behind them, and motioned for her to sit down. She did, and he sat across from her, smiling like a grandfather to his granddaughter.
“Now, child, what is it that you need?”
Suddenly, Adlis felt very self-conscious. Her hand drifted toward her hat, intending to whip it off and reveal herself then and there, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead, she took a deep breath and faced the priest.
“Something has... happened to me, Father,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “Something terrible, and I need your help to undo it.”
“Ah, it is not my help that you need, but Embin's,” Rychar said with a knowing gleam in his eye.
Adlis bobbed her head. “Of course, Father. I just... I don't know if I have the courage to say what it is.”
Rychar gently placed his hand on top of Adlis'. “I know it must be terrible indeed for you not to have approached me in the street as that mother did. Just know that there is nothing that Embin will not forgive you for.”
Don’t be so sure about that, she thought.
Out loud, she said, “It began just over a month ago, I think. I was kidnapped, and...”
She spent the next few minutes telling Father Rychar the same story she had told to Kulgan. The priest nodded sadly with every sentence, and Adlis could tell his sympathy was heartfelt. She left out the parts about the magic for now, though. She also didn't mention who it was that had brought her here. If things didn't go the way she hoped, she didn't want to incriminate Kulgan as well. Embin knew, his punishment would be even worse than hers.
“I am so sorry to hear all of this, my child,” Rychar said once she had finished. “You have been through much, and I admire how your faith has remained intact through it all. But you have not yet told me what it is that you need from me. Whatever it is, I will be more than happy to assist you.”
This was it. The moment she'd been dreading. “They... They did something to me while I was at the brothel, Father,” she said. “I don't know how to best say it. I would rather not say it at all, if I could, but...”
“You need not fear judgement from me nor Embin, my daughter.” Rychar gave her hand a squeeze and an encouraging smile.
“Do you promise, Father?”
“On my honor as a priest of the Ordermaker Embin, you have my word.”
Adlis took a deep breath. “All right. All right. All right...”
Without giving herself time to think about it, she reached up and removed her hat. Her ears were snow white with fear. Rychar arched an eyebrow, uncomprehending—and then they turned red with humiliation.
“Holy Embin above,” he whispered, leaning back in his chair. All the sympathy in his eyes was suddenly gone, replaced with horror. Immediately, he made Embin’s Chain around his heart.
Tears pricked Adlis' eyes, and her ears turned blue. “Father, please!” she sobbed. “I didn't do this to myself. I'm not a witch! I came to you so you could make them go away.”
“I... I...” For once, Rychar seemed lost for words. “M- My child, this is not what I expected.”
“But you can still help me, can't you, Father?”
Slowly, the old priest shook his head. “No, my child, I'm afraid I can not.”
Adlis' heart plummeted into her stomach. “You can't?”
“No. My dear, please understand, I can work miracles but this is beyond my jurisdiction. I can do nothing.”
Despite herself, Adlis dared to feel another glimmer of hope. “If you can't help me, then somebody must be able to. You said it's not in your jurisdiction.”
Rychar was still eyeing her ears as if they might leap from her head and attack him. “There are different branches of the church. My place is to teach and to heal. Others feed the poor and build shelters for the homeless.”
“And there's a branch that handles things like... like this?” she pointed at her ears. “Whose jurisdiction is that?”
Father Rychar sat still for a long minute without saying anything. Finally, with a sigh, he got to his feet.
“I will send him a message,” he said, “and bring him here.”
Adlis' ears whitened again. “He'll help me, right? He won't...” Her voice trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
Rychar patted her shoulder. “You have nothing to worry about, my child.”
He left the room, going back out into the sanctuary and leaving Adlis alone. Chills crawled up and down her back, but she made herself sit still. Father Rychar was a good man. She could trust him. A few minutes later, he returned and closed the door behind him.
“He is on his way, my child,” he said with a smile.
Adlis paused. That smile looked more forced now than it had before.
No, trust him, she told herself. You knew this wasn't going to happen without a little bit of trust.
“Would you like some tea?” Rychar asked, bustling across the room to where a small stove sat.
“Yes, thank you,” she answered, watching him. “This man you contacted... will he be here soon?”
“In just a few minutes, he assured me,” the old priest said. He didn't look at her, focusing with a strange intensity on the kettle in front of him. “Please, just... sit tight until he arrives.”
Adlis looked at him. His movements were more jerky than they were before, and he seemed determined to look everywhere except at her. Slowly, she rose from her chair.
“You're acting nervous, Father,” she said.
“Nervous? Nonsense! I'm an old man, and it has been a long day. I think I shall quite enjoy a good night's sleep once this is all finished.”
His words rang as hollow as two pipes struck against each other. Adlis' ears turned even whiter.
“You told them,” she whispered. “The Ministry of the Purge. You told them about me.”
There was a crash as Father Rychar dropped the kettle, spilling its tea all over the floor. He still didn't turn around, but he looked down at his feet in shame.
“I'm sorry, my child. I truly am. But I had no choice!”
Adlis began to back toward the door. “I can't believe it. I trusted you!”
“This is the right thing,” he insisted guiltily, finally turning around. “Magic and sorcery... this is all under their jurisdiction.”
“They're going to kill me!” she accused him. She reached the door, and fumbled for the knob behind her back.
“They can help you, my child!” Rychar said. “They are the only ones who can!”
“You lied to me!” Adlis screamed, her ears turning yellow in rage for just a second. She spun around, throwing the door open and bolting through it...
Straight into the arms of Brother Gestaul.
“Hello again, child,” he said with a massive grin.
NEXT TIME: Okay, nobody panic! We barely know Gestaul. Maybe he’s a really nice guy. Maybe he just wants to… I dunno, give her a puppy or something. A puppy he will then take back and eat. Slowly and painfully. While she watches. Puppies are nice.