Welcome to Chapter 4.2 for Doen!
It appears that Zachary has had a major about-face in his view of the world... this may end up poorly or could result in the creation of the greatest crusader the empire has seen in ages. Contributing Readers will have to vote on the direction (ie: who the narrative focuses on next) of the story. Here are the options:
1) Rust expresses his concerns about Zachary with Narissa.
2) Zeke sits watch and cares for Jasper as he comes around and the two discuss their 'relationship'.
3) Dillan takes Zeke to the side and gives him a complete and total verbal thrashing and demands that the fox make up for his cowardice to the party.
4) Haldyn commends Jasper for his bravery, and then the two have a discussion on the best way to proceed to Zion.
5) Taggart visits Zachary as the rabbit recovers and finds out that he has some work ahead of him if he wishes to halt the fallen priest's rapidly developing nihilistic view of faith.
6) Taggart and Haldyn begin making plans to get the group from their current position to Zion with minimal future issues.
Readers may spend 1 of their contributed character's willpower to get a double-vote for one of the plot lines that involve their character (doubling the power of their vote). As usual, votes are due this Thursday by midnight (2/23).
Zion - Light of the New Moon, Part 2
The Path Diverges
This post is going to focus on Rust and Zachary as they each explore their impression of the Doenian Priesthood, how each feels the clergy members have let the people down, and where the party will go from this point. Unfortunately it appears that neither Jasper's nor Zeke's Contributing Readers voted, so that's -1 willpower for Jasper, -1 Willpower for Zeke, and -2 Favor for Doen... ouch!
Zachary regained consciousness at some point, having passed out without even noticing it. As his eyes slowly opened they were still bathed in total blackness; he couldn't see a thing. The rabbit realized by the bumps and rumbling that he was in a wagon. He heard movement off to his right and called out, "Who's there?"
"Relax." he recognized Lord Rust's voice immediately.
"Rust?" Zachary spoke, not bothering to raise his head from the pillow; he didn't know if he was capable physically of doing it but he at least lacked the will.
"You gave everyone a pretty big scare when Dillan returned with you over his shoulder." the echidna spoke, and the rabbit recoiled for a moment when he felt a cool compress laid against his forehead.
"Yea..." Zachary let out a sigh, "He brought me out of the crevice, didn't he?"
"He also brought the staff.... both halves of it." Although Rust's voice was level, the rabbit was still able to hear what sounded like a hint of judgment in his tone.
"We have another Divine Shield now." Zachary defended his choice, "The staff doesn't matter anymore."
"It still mattered, Zachary!" Rust objected, slowly removing the compress from the rabbit's forehead, "It was a Divine Shield!" and, after remaining quiet for several seconds, the ecidna spoke about what Zachary realized was REALLY on his mind, "...you used it in that ritual... didn't you?"
"Yes." he didn't feel the least ashamed of his choice.
"The Priests of Doen have never uttered even a single syllable--"
"I'm not a Priest of Doen anymore." the rabbit interrupted the echidna.
"Oh?" Rust questioned quizzically, "And when, pray tell, did they excommunicate you?"
Zachary responded, blinking his eyes several times as he felt the echidna start massaging his temples. The blackness was slowly going away, replaced by a dark, hazy gray. "I quit." he stated flatly.
His caretaker chuckled, "Oh? And here I thought the clergy didn't just up and let people leave."
"I'm out in the Wild Lands already..." Zachary pointed out, blinking a few more times as vague shapes began to appear in his vision admidst the fog, "It's not much harder to take the next step."
"Enacting a profane ritual and breaking a holy relic?" the echidna's smirk was non distinct amidst the rabbit's vision, but still identifiable.
"It seemed a little flashier than writing a book in protest and losing a hand." the rabbit would have felt bad about speaking the words at one point, but, he realized as he looked up into the still-blurry, stunned expression of the echidna that there were only so many limits to his dwindling empathy. Rust's resulting chuckle brought a faint smile to Zachary's lips.
"Welcome to the real world, Zach." Rust's chuckle turned into a belly laugh and he gave the rabbit a rough slap on the shoulder, "You're gonna make one hell of a priest now that your eyes are open."
"Light blinds when you spend your life in the darkness." the rabbit quoted Brother Bronderson's book.
Rust, face much clearer, smiled down at Zach, "How many times DID you read through that damn thing?"
"Nine." the rabbit responded, "Three chapters short of ten."
Rust returned the compress to the bowl next to the cot, "Going to finish the last three when you get back?"
Zach shook his head slowly, "I'm not going back, Rust."
"Is that so?" the echidna smirked, wringing out the cloth, "Not going to be the great savior then?"
"Oh, we're going to Zion, just like I planned..." the rabbit stated clearly.
"And then?" Rust questioned.
"When we're done at Zion, we return to Doen." Zach explained, just as straight-forward.
"Didn't you say you're not going back?"
"Not to the temple." the rabbit acknowledged, "But to Doen, yes. The people there need help."
"And you're ready to fight the temple?" Rust countered.
"The temple exists to help people..." Zach pointed out,"if they are still truly serving Tah'aveen then they will not interfere."
"And if they do?" the echidna pressed, slowly standing, wiping his paw off on his robe, "Then what?"
"Then they aren't true priests." the rabbit responded.
Rust shook his head "That way of looking at things won't be very popular." he brushed his fingers across his iron hammer-hand.
"Popular or not," Zach breathed, gazing up at the ceiling of the carriage, "Tah'aveen won't let pretenders get away with it... if they try to stop me from doing Her will then I have no qualms with calling to the Goddess again." Rust didn't respond at that, and Zach didn't need to glance at the echidna to tell that he was uncomfortable with the way the discussion was going. The rabbit was not about to let the issue rest, "Will you help me?" he added.
"...help you?" Rust faltered.
"If the pretenders in the temple attempt to stop me, will you help me liberate Doen?" it was a simple request in Zachary's mind, but he also knew just how much weight it carried, "You tried words once..."
"There are any number of quotes I could say at this point--" the echidna spoke.
"Yes or no?"
Rust was quiet for many long moments before he moved to the door, "I'll need some time to think about it."
"Of course." Zach acknowledged, pulling the enormous furred pelt he was using as a blanket closer around him, "No important decision should be made half-heartedly."
"For now, just rest, Zach." Rust said in parting, and he left.
"Those in power are usually the most insecure." the rabbit announced to the empty carriage, "The more they have the more they have to lose."
"Right thing is thing worth fighting for." guttural, almost feral words came from nowhere, but Zachary could hear them as clear as day.
Zach smiled, closing his eyes, "You'll help me, won't you?"
Though it was nothing physical, the rabbit could feel an almost ethereal embrace from the pelt surrounding him, "You are strong. You will lead and we will follow."
"Good." Zach spoke quietly, snuggling comfortably amidst the welcome furs, "From the moment we met You knew this would happen... didn't you?"
"Enaral smell many things... but not future." the voice spoke.
"You would have killed my friends." the rabbit spoke, "I couldn't let you do that."
"Yes." the voice acknowledged, "I not follow if you not strong... and you strong."
"Then you will join me in the road ahead?" Zach questioned.
"Yes... we have same path." the growling voice acknowledged.
"Good. First, we get to Zion... and then, we will make this world right again."
"You will kill Followers of the Moon to do this?" the voice of the Enaral chieftain questioned him. A hazy shape slowly began to manifest beside his cot, the hulking, two-legged son of a priest that had been dubbed heretical.
"No..." Zach replied, "No true follower of Tah'aveen has anything to fear... but the pretenders... they will meet their judgment and be sent screaming to the Eternal Flame."
"Father was true follower. He would be happy with you." the ghostly visage of the slain Enaral gazed down at him-- the rabbit could see it even through his closed eyes.
"I don't seek approval..." Zach replied, "I want to make things right."
"And my people will be free of curse?"
"I will not stop until all of their misdeeds are undone." Zach vowed.
"I not trust many words... but I trust yours." the hazy figure became slightly more distinct.
"You should." the priest nodded, "I have no doubt you'll be beside me the whole time."
"I be with you whole time." the ghostly figure acknowledged, and slowly faded away into nothing, "We hunt together."
A faint predatory glint appeared in the rabbit's eye and a resolute smirk appeared on his muzzle, "Tah'aveen have mercy on our prey... She knows that we won't."