The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 4: Faith

"Here is your order." The bartender served a drink to a young man.

"Thanks," the young man's eyes were still examining his surroundings, full of curiosity and life.

"New to Eversweep?" the usual question the bartender asked to every customer.

"Yes. And I'm heading to Zeal," the young man had his answer prepared before the next question from the bartender.

"So, where do you come from then?" the bartender didn't care about the replies, he had to ask these old and boring questions. It almost became some sort of ritual speech after serving a drink to someone that he didn't know.

"From..."

"Tell me that you are the one!" A loud voice interrupted the young man's reply.

He quickly turned his head to see if someone was talking to him. All he saw was a robust and vigorous man yelling at an elder, covered in a black cloak. An elder, as he believed so, because of his frailty compared to the man before him.

The bartender sighed, "He's at it again."

Other customers in the bar seemed to know that man as well, since they didn't pay much attention to this dispute. The young man was left pretty confused, looking at the bartender for answers.

"That paladin has been in this town for three days now, all he does is cause trouble for us. With his size, he certainly has enough breath to quarrel with others." the bartender explained with some sarcasm. "Now he would harass some old man. Well, as long as he pays the repair cost..."

But the young man felt rather uneasy about the situation, maybe that little faith in justice had not completely vanished from him yet. He might have wanted to help that old man but being a young apprentice of magic with a relatively weak body, he wouldn't stand a chance against an aggressor full of muscle.

"How do you know that he's a paladin?" he tried to resume the conversation. "He's dressed just like us."

"Wait a moment, you'll see it yourself soon." the bartender replied carelessly.

Before the young man could have asked more, the bar was filled with light for the blink of an eye and he heard a huge sound of metal clanking. He quickly looked at the direction of the quarrel. He noticed the paladin was in a full set of glaring armor with a huge two-handed mace leaning over his cowered opponent.

"See what I mean now? He has to bring out his first-rate armor on every occasion, showing off like that. If it was not for the Curse, he would wear it even in the restroom." It appeared the bartender didn't like all of his customers.

However, the blinding glory could not last too long, the armor disappeared quite soon after being brought out, and the paladin was in his usual clothes again. But it didn't stop him from yelling, "The insanity of those people in the city must have been your doing, you wicked old outcast! I, as my faith in the absolute justice commands me to, have to wipe out all evil from the land of Estiah!"

But the paladin failed to realize that his glorious and impressive speech interested no one but himself. Or maybe the young man too, since it was the first time he heard it. And of course, the old man showed no reaction and slowly moved toward the door, leaving the paladin bragging about his past victories and greatness.

"What insanity?" the curiosity of the youth might be a gift but also a dangerous thing.

The bartender lowered his voice, perhaps he didn't want the paladin to turn to him, "Listen, young traveler, the town is not very safe lately, move on as soon as you can if you don't want to get yourself into any trouble..."

"But I'm used to dangers- I've seen a lot of these kinds of quarrels," the young man apparently didn't want to be treated as child.

"I'm not talking about the paladin over there, everybody can tell he's as harmless as a hamster. However, there have been some strange cases happening in Eversweep, it is not that unusual to see dead men laying on the streets nowadays, as we all know the Shadow Beings are still lurking somewhere in Estiah, they would probably hunt humans when they get hungry. But after witnessing those guys myself, I can tell you this was neither human nor beasts' work, it is something new and dark. Someone seemed to try some sort of ritual or experiment, but what are the benefits of transforming people into... mindless and crazy creatures? I can't even tell what methods or tools were used to put a human in that state... Sorry, please excuse me for one moment."

The bartender's face turned pale as he rushed to the restroom, some images from his memories must have made him ill. The young traveler showed little shock, as he was probably not able to imagine things he had never seen before. The most inhuman doing he would qualify with his experience was likely killing off wild animals for food; though usually he would lose his appetite after seeing too much blood.

As the bartender returned, the earlier commotion had calmed down already. Now drunk and sleeping on the table, the paladin had lost much of his intensity. The bartender was right, he was totally harmless and there was no need to intervene.

The young man turned his attention to the bartender again, "What do you think about these mad men? Are the Shadow Beings the ones to blame?"

"Do you have faith?" the bartender might want to change the topic as he probably didn't want to recall the deranged scenes.

"Faith? No... I don't really believe in the Old Gods, although I do have dreams. Becoming the best wizard of all time, such is my aim."

"Good." the bartender was relieved that he managed to make the young man forget about the previous discussion. "But isn't it hard to train when you don't have something to believe in? You know, people need to make up some imaginary beings or truth to relieve themselves from the suffering."

"Yes, but I'm pursuing something real... Well, I know it is kind of arrogant for a young apprentice to say that he will be the best, but I know it is something doable, I don't need to invent some gods in order to fill my emptiness- especially when I don't say prayers to the Old Gods at all."

The bartender didn't see arrogance in the young one before him; he was just witnessing a youth full of hope and aspiration.

"Do you think the culprit had faith within him when he carried out the doings too?" the young man somehow recalled the conversation of a while ago.

"OK, no more talking about these unhappy incidents, otherwise I won't be able to have nice dreams tonight."

Disappointed, the young man left the bar with his questions unanswered.

In that cold and empty street under a silver moon, he felt someone, maybe something dark watching him. As he looked around and found nothing, he laughed, "Maybe I shouldn't listen to unpleasant stories late at night."

* * *

As the mind of the young man vaguely returned to the present, he knew the end was near. He never had faith in any gods, so he couldn't pray for salvation or redemption. It was only a matter of time before he broke down, physically and mentally.

Then, he felt something, something that could only be described as a bright source of light in his head. As he reached toward the light, his senses dulled, and so did the pain. It looked as if this light was taking away his grasp on reality, but it did not matter. It had to stop, and that seemed the fastest way. Perhaps the only way. He forced his soul toward that light, welcomed it, and embraced it.

All his suffering did end.

The rain had stopped, and the air was full of the humidity of a tropical dawn. Under an old tree, a young wizard stood up and stretched. He took the black cloak that had been lying next to him and wrapped it around his shoulders.

"Finally." With a small grin on his face, he resumed his journey. A journey that started a very long time ago.