Waking with Karla beside me is comforting and disturbing all at once. I cannot help sweeping her hair to one side and tugging the bedroll tight about her while I rise to prepare myself for today. I prepare myself early and stand alone with my back to the rekindled fire. Facing the dawn, I have much to consider today. The Twelve sent me down this road, for what reason? There is one lesson to learn? Or many lessons that form a greater whole? I find myself both joyous and sorrowful that they allowed Matsumo to return, troubled that only a day and already…
How can I judge what my lesson is? How can I know what the Twelve consider wrong in me, unworthy of being a paladin, without their words? Perhaps…is it possible the Twelve do not simply work directly through their clerics and paladins, their hands in the world? Am I meant to try to understand…by the Twelve, I am so confused! Perhaps what Matsumo saw in me, what Karla and perhaps handsome Roy see is where I should focus? Or my behavior that hinders carrying out their will?
But I was the greatest paladin alive! No one had done more in their name, or served them so devoutly, why were they not there to guide my path? I cannot stay standing with such turmoil, and it is time to be on the move again. The morning is uneventful, and it is well before noon when we reach a fork in the road. The caravan must part for my quest compels me down the other path, but I am anxious at their parting. Will there be an altercation without my watchful presence?
I take Karla’s hand and step aside as the caravan turns like a cumbersome whale to continue swimming the currents of trade, taking a moment to talk. As well as I can, at least, “I…this may seem forward, Karla, but there are…few whose company I desire. Past roads have made me short on friends.”
Karla smiles happily and produces something from one of her many pouches while chatting back, “I am glad, Miko, it has been good to talk with you on this bothersome journey. This earring will let you find me with a sending once every few days by saying my name aloud, and me to find you in return. Until we meet again?”
I am eager but hesitant…letting someone close like this is so foreign to me, especially as close as pillow-mates, but I cannot escape my sorrow of time and memories lost with my dead companions. I must not let such opportunities escape me again, especially if the Twelve wish me to learn true friendship! I take Karla’s offering and hold her hand firmly for a warm moment, “Thank you, Karla. Perhaps we can…catch up sometime…over tea?”
Karla’s warm smile brightens my heart as she returns my sentiment, “I’d like that.”
I can hardly believe what is happening as I suddenly lean forward and cup Karla’s cheek, kissing her firmly for a long moment before pulling away. The heat I feel cannot be from the sun. Am I insane?! Karla’s knowing smile and parting glance calms my agitation and bothers me all at once. By the Twelve, why must everything be so confusing? I am put to their heel as I put them to my own, alone again on the trail.
It is noon on this lonely road that I am suddenly aware of being watched. I can no longer sense evil as I once could, but my instincts have not forsaken me like the Twelve. If bandits, why down this road, not the one more likely to have caravans? I continue along in determination, taking provision on horseback to avoid stopping. This seems to do little good, as a screechy little voice breaks the near-silence, “Hey toots, heard you got a bad deal.”
I remember well the mannerisms of imps from past experience, and so look over my left shoulder and spot the small red devil. And why do they always choose the left shoulder to hover behind, anyway? I drew steel and to my dismay my mount was not battle trained, getting skittish with a drawn blade and the unnatural presence of this little abomination. “Be gone, fiend! I have no need of you and your vile games!”
The imp chortles and spins mid-air, aggravatingly beyond reach, “Right, and I’m Rich Burlew. Those gods you’ve been hanging with must have it out for you, babe, a quest on top of an atonement? That’s some serious behavior correction they’ve got going. Who knew doing your duty could get you such hard-time?”
I grit my teeth but cannot ignore this nuisance. How can I ignore the words that may have come from my own heart? I push back at the red devil, “I know well the silver tongue of your kind, creature, you know nothing of what you speak!”
“Qarr,” comes that voice again, keeping speed with me, “not creature, and you can can the self-righteous bogus already. You did your duty, go on missions, take on a nuisance and threat to the gate, fight the lich, kill a traitor, and keep Team Evil from getting what it wants. Oh, and die in the process even after your precious Good Gods stripped you of everything they gave you to make things worth it. How do they thank you? Mess with your well deserved resurrection and here you are, alone on the open road, told to ‘search your soul’ and ‘ponder your feelings.’ Bunch of crock those Twelve beasties are feeding you.”
Gall rises in my throat that this Qarr is not even an inch closer that I might silence it swiftly, but how can he speak my own thoughts so truly if they are only my thoughts? My anger makes me strike even though it is hopeless, verbally as sharp as my katana, “Get thee behind me, devil! I will hear no more of your blasphemy!”
The aggravating Qarr smirks and flits back, “Fine, little Miss Priss, I’ll leave in a moment. Besides, I’m already behind you. Before I go though, just think of what hypocrites your gods are, and the honest bargain I’m offering you. Power, paladin. The power to change the world to your liking and do more good than your gods let you. All it costs is one little soul, some screen time, and you to indiscriminately slaughter those who stand in the way of what you see as progress. You’re already two for three…just call me when you’re ready to say yes.”
The imp disappears in a puff of smoke, and I rage to heaven wordlessly. The imp must be lying, it must be! This quest is proof the Twelve care for me, they are trying to make me see folly. Right? Surely they only seek to make me a better person, to better bring their light to their children? Right?! How can the fault lie with me, when the Twelve leave me no choice and cut me off with no aid in the face of this Xykon and his…Team…Ev-il? With the Redcloak and his goblins and the wretched creature out of the light!
I cannot even sheathe my katana safely and must ride in trembling silence through the evening, left with the unbearable silence of my own mind. I manage to make camp and stow without injuring myself or my mount, but it seems little use. Sleep is fleeting.