Decisions of Faith: Paved with Good Intentions by Ernesto I. Ramirez

It had been a trap since the beginning. She had felt it, but being among strangers she had not been sure they would have listened to her advice. Besides which, time being of the essence, they could spare no delay due to doubt.

Now standing in the midst of mountains of grain they were surrounded by creatures out of some nightmarish Ustalavic folktale, gaunt, skeletal men; their eyes burning with blue fire and their bodies shrouded in black cloth; armed with wicked scythes of clear keleshite design. A dark fog clouded the air and stole the sound from around them. The creatures’ numbers doubled their own.

Jordan found it ironic that she had to travel so far from Canterwell, alla the way to Absalom in order to confront her first undead, but as she drew her longsword she decided that she wouldn’t allow them to be her last.

*****

Jordan had been ecstatic when her father told her about the pilgrimage to the Starstone Cathedral, the second holiest place for her faith, just after the Cathedral of Sancta Iomedae in Vigil. But she wasn’t expecting to spend her time in Absalom, the fabled city at the center of the world, cloistered inside First Harbormaster Goodman Hugden’s residence. Jordan was bored and restless. Three days had passed since her arrival and yet she hadn’t being able to see anything beyond the port. Not that the port wasn’t impressive, it was absolutely marvelous. She had traveled often to Vellumis, but she had never seen so many and different ships from so many nations from all around Golarion; she could easily believe every banner in the Inner Sea had seen its way to Absalom’s harbor and possibly had at least one of their representatives anchored in port right at the moment.

She shouldn’t complain: Hugden Manor was a big place to explore with lots of antiques and trophies, each one with a story. The man was a Lord; though it was clear he despised the title and lived more spartanly than many others possessing equal money and resources. Still, what she really wanted was to explore the streets, to visit the Starstone Cathedral, the Iorum and every other place of note. The few stories she heard from the gossiping servants made her feel like a country girl as she stared through the widow; the busy and chaotic streets teasing her, inviting her to explore them. But she stayed, her father’s orders were clear: “Wait until I finish here,” and so she did.

Hugden and her father were old comrades in arms, and while she loved listening to their exploits and old tales, every time the young Andoren captain, Colston Maldris, arrived, the conversation moved behind closed doors.

There was something mysterious about Captain Maldris. He was a gentleman, a knight of some stature, and handsome too, but there was a lot more to the man. Schemes and power games, most likely, given the way her father intently kept her away from said conversations.

*****

Both her father and mister Hugden were already in the study when captain Maldris arrived. The young Eagle Knight bowed to her, before taking her hand and kissing it.

“Greetings priestess, you are a sight for sore eyes. I would love to stop and chat, but I am already late to my appointment. Could you do me a favor, dear?”

Jordan blushed at the captain’s unintended flattery, but smiled nonetheless, “I am but a mere initiate Captain…”

“Call me Colston, and I apologize… I wouldn’t know the difference, not after observing your piety,” said Maldris with a smile.

The girl’s smile and blush increased, “thank you Cap… I mean Colston. What can I do for you?”

The man offered her his arm, “Hugden and your father, while interesting, sometimes tire me. Why don’t you come to our little interview, I am sure you would make it a lot more enjoyable.”

Jordan smiled and took the captain’s arm, walking on clouds as he guided her to the study. Both Hugden and her father stopped talking and stood when they saw them entering. The displeasure in her father’s face was clear, but he said nothing. Jordan lowered her eyes; she knew as soon as they were alone she was due for a reprimand.

The awkward silence lasted only a few seconds, and then Hugden began talking once more. The captain sat in a divan and motioned Jordan to follow.

“Lastwall is neutral, you know it. I am willing to help you with any personal resources I have, but not here. You have grown blind Goodman; Absalom is a paradise of freedom compared to Westcrown or Egorian,” said Jordan’s father pointedly. Aerodus Fenix was no stranger to schemes, but he had expected Hugden to be above them by now.

“Yet, everything and everyone crosses through Absalom. We even dictate the weight and value of golden coin along the Inner Sea. Absalom is necessary for what you want old friend,” was Hugden’s reply.

“And Andoran would be more than happy to support both, your personal cause and that of Lastwall once we are better positioned,” intervened Colston Maldris.

But before her father was able to answer, a man, a bard was Jordan’s guess based on his attire, entered the room in a hurry.

Hugden stood, “What is the meaning of this?”

“Sir, my apologies… I was told captain Maldris was here.” He turned toward Maldris. “I was asked by the Society to recover a certain book of codes from Yargos Gill, the man from the Puddles you were interested in recruiting. But he has gone missing.”

Colston’s expression changed to one of worry as he stood. “We need to do something… yet your friends in the Society, they can’t know you work with us… they all have too many loyalties… sadly, I don’t have anyone at hand to help you.”

“Is the book that important?” asked Jordan.

“Not to us… but it has historical information regarding an ancient Taldorian invasion attempt,” said the Bard.

“Yet, Yargos is very important to the people in the Puddles, an educated man living among them for the mere purpose of helping them. That kind of men are scarce and valuable,” finished Colston.

Jordan stood, “I will help him.” She just wanted to help Colston and get his approval, and then she turned to see her father. He was angry, but he would not stop her. He had raised her to think for herself and to make the right decisions. Prohibiting her from going would be treating her like a child. He wouldn’t do that. “Go for your armor then, and Godspeed daughter.”

*****

The moment Jordan and the bard left the room, Aerodus Fenix’s eyes turned toward Colston Maldris. The look would have frozen an Osirian fire elemental, but the captain just tried to ignore it.

“This is the last time you play with my daughter, Colston. Your petty games are not my concern, but if something happens to her, I will make sure justice is rained down upon those responsible.” The Iomedian sword knight stood and swept from the room, leaving behind an awkward silence and two worried men.

*****

So here Jordan stood in one of Absalom’s granaries, surrounded by dreadful enemies, fighting beside people she hardly knew. Not the best odds. Nor the worst either. Her enemies where many, but they were clearly already dead.

Jordan prayed to her goddess and as the undead operatives charged toward then, she stood firm and pointed her sword to the heavens calling forth the power wielded by her goddess. “For victory, for the heart!”

And Iomedae answered her call. Her divine image reflected for a moment on the sword’s blade and then the sword shone as the sun. As the gaze of the goddess swept across the undead, they burst into flame and were soon no more than cinders.

Jordan smiled proudly, her faith was strong and her prayers were answered by the power of her goddess. The bard, Keldan Fendric, briefly checked that each was unwounded and then moved forward to scout further into the granary.

“All clear,” he called back.

Jordan knelt beside the ashes of one of the undead. She took up the monster’s ancient weapon, admiring its manufacture. This was to be her first trophy against the undead.

It was but a moment of respite. Yargos made noises to encourage them to hurry. The old man was right, time was of the essence and Absalom was still in danger. Jordan hefted the scythe and hurried along with the others.

Jordan was clear on her path; she would stop the ghost invasion and then take Yargos Gill to Colston. Maybe then he would offer to show her the rest of Absalom.

(featured in Wayfinder, Vol. 3)