An Empty Confessional (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

Takimaru

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Tessa managed a most convenient story of an excuse for Cael's presence, which the man had little issues believing from the looks of it. "Hah, oohhh? So an orphan, then. Well, aren't you a damn saint for letting 'im stay here! Hard enough getting by on your own, these days... huh."

"And it doesn't look like you got too much in the way of cash," added the thug with another glance around, almost as if to assure Tessa that nothing in her chapel was really worth stealing. "Good for you, then."

The redhead's parting wish was taken with a grin from the ruffian, and though she may have had all of the silent killing intent in the world, that along would not reach his senses. Oblivious to her hatred, he took his leave as smug as ever.

A glance over towards Barrin would show Tessa that the vagrant appeared asleep... though, if he was, it was in a light manner, lacking the usual signs of a deeper slumber, such as snoring. He could have very well been awake, feigning sleep so as to avoid the scrutiny of someone who was so obviously a mercenary.

Cael furrowed his brow slightly at his mother's outburst, giving a pouty look when she told him to stay put. Ayna hastily followed Tessa into the room for more privacy. Her look couldn't get any more distressed, and so she listened, for at least the first few parts of the explanation. "I knew it! I can't... I never believed that something like this would happen to normal people like us! You are a good woman, but I fear that you can do little to save us from this situation," she began to rant. "I'm really tempted to sleep somewhere else tonight, so that they won't find us, and yet... going outside right now seems far worse!"

She took a moment to catch her breath. "Very well. We will stay for another night or two, but I... don't want to leave this town without my husband. It's been too long without him already. If only men like those never existed in the first place..." The woman paused as her stomach growled. "I apologize. I just need to rest and think this over a while."


When the door opened, Cael looked at the two of them with genuine concern in his eyes. He wasn't so young as to miss when something was wrong.

"That man... he was a bad guy, wasn't he?" he asked. "Aren't there any knights that can help us?"
 

Hafnium

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Re: An Empty Confessional (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

Tessa subconsciously rubbed her left temple as Ayna spoke. Her head throbbed with frustration, not aimed at the woman she was speaking to but the situation in general. She didn't believe that Ayna and Cael finding another place to sleep was a good choice but then she didn't necessarily believe that them remaining in the church was a good choice either, nor that fleeing town would be a good choice. In truth, it felt more like she was trying to determine the least dangerous of many potential beasts and hoping that Erion would stop whichever she chose short of catching and devouring them.

She couldn't leave them to fend on their own though. No, she knew all too well what Trinaldo and his men would do to Ayna if she was caught. She could only imagine what Cael would go through, but she could reach into her own past experiences and feel every lash and violation awaiting in Ayna's future if the innocent woman fell into those monsters' hands. Yet, she also couldn't stop the woman from making whatever choice she would, whether it be to leave the church or to refuse to flee the city, even if the nun believed she should abandon her husband to his fate. "I understand," she replied finally, and in her attempts to do just that remembering long passed glimmers of hope that her own husband would come to her and whisk her out of a slaver's bed. "It's probably wise to to take some of this breathing room and consider what move to make next. I promise you though, I will do everything in my power to help you and Cael remain safe." She didn't push the subject any further for the time being, in no small part because she was fatigued by it as well. The nun was ready to retreat to her room and take up her pipe.

A distraction arose when she opened the door, however, in the form of Cael. The poor child was innocent and without the age or experience to understand the trial he was undergoing or why it was him suffering through it. After a few seconds of contemplation, Tessa crouched in front of the boy, placing a hand on his shoulder in the hopes that it might comfort him. It was strange to look at him so closely. With his features and red hair, he could've been the child of her and her husband if their couplings had proven more fruitful. She sighed and shook the thought from her mind as she searched for words that might offer him some comfort. Perhaps something from the treatises which the former chapel cleric had hoarded.

"He is misguided," she patiently answered. "In Saint Garvey's treatise on the teachings of Erion it's written that humankind was cursed with duality. The demons of the void and their king are naturally beings of darkness and evil and Erion and his servants are naturally beings of light and good, but we humans have both darkness and light inside of us and no natural leaning toward one or the other. Any of us have the ability to be good or evil or anything in-between. This is why we must strive hard to be good and worthy of Erion's light. Men like him... they have fallen to temptation and wicked desires, but that doesn't mean he is evil beyond redemption. But it does mean that we must protect ourselves from him," in this case, Tessa's message of tolerance was mostly for the boy. Given half a chance, she'd have redeemed the mercenary's wickedness by leaving his corpse in the back lot next to her former father-in-law.

"I'm afraid I know of no nearby knights who might dispense justice on him and his allies, but do not fret. We are all capable of being Erion's knights. Right now that means we must be good, we must be patient, and we must do what is necessary to remain safe inside these chapel walls until we devise a plan. My plan is to go out tonight and search for a knight who might aid us in our plight," she offered with a small reassuring smile. "Tell me, Cael. Would you like to join me in my study and hear a few more stories about the fatebender Isthos in order to pass the time? He is the perfect embodiment of a knight of Erion and knowing his tales might help you when you obtain knighthood."
 

Takimaru

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"Huh. So... how much does it take for him to become good?" asked Cael. "I think I get it, though. Sometimes when my mom talks to me for long enough and tells me how I'm being a bad boy, I change my mind and I get good, because I don't like being talked to so meanly. But that's a lot of talking! I wonder if that man would need to be talked to for hours and hours before he isn't such a bad guy," he pondered aloud. "But does it really work for everybody? My mom told me that some men are just bad because they've been bad for too long and forgot how to be good."

The child nodded firmly in response to her suggestion. "Okay. Was he the best? I want to be a good knight. Actually I want to be the best, so if he was the best, then I want to be just like that."

"I'm kinda hungry though..." he soon added as he looked down to his stomach, which rumbled in complaint. It reminded Tessa that despite her visit to the tavern, even she hadn't the chance to order anything from there. "My mom told me that dad can't send money anymore, so it's harder for us to eat. I know it's usually an adult thing to do, but... how can I help you get some money?"
 

Hafnium

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Your mother is right. For some men, the best thing they will ever do with their lives is to die and provide food for ravens and worms. Tessa avoided speaking her inner feelings aloud. She wasn't that terrible with children, no matter how her past experiences had left her feeling about the redemption of men. "That is for Erion to decide. All we can do is to have patience with those who've strayed from the path, and shield ourselves from them if needed. That is what we do now by hiding away from them until we can sort things out."

The young boy's question brought a smile to Tessa's lips as she considered it. What an unintentionally philosophical question. "Hm, tell me, Cael, what do you feel it means to be the best?" Her question came with a small grin. Where moments prior he had reminded her of the son she was never able to have, now he reminded her of one of her numerous younger brothers, all in their rush to be the best at something. "Is it being the smartest?" The nun gently put her finger to his forehead. "Perhaps the strongest?" Her finger re-positioned itself at the boy's upper arm. "The fastest?" His foot. "Or... is it here?" It lightly tapped against his chest, over his heart. "Is being the best about courage and perseverance? That's what I think being the best is."

Her hand resettled on the boy's shoulder. "I don't know if he was the strongest, the fastest, or even the smartest, but Isthos was certainly the most persevering. His trials numbered over a hundred, with each victory replaced by another obstacle, but he never yielded. He did what was right, even when that wasn't what was easy. His is the level of perseverance to which we should all aspire," she earnestly concluded.

When the boy made his hunger known, however, she would quickly let her intended lesson drop. The poor child and his mother had probably not had much since the morning they'd arrived. Tessa herself wasn't doing much better, though a lingering sense of nausea was doing much to mask her hunger. She'd not had any ballweed in four days and, while the hustle and bustle had kept her mind off of it whenever she was away from her room and the lockbox, her body was no longer content to stay completely silent on the matter. Perhaps later that night she might....

No. No, she physically shook the thought out of her head. She had a duty to the two in her care, and the risk of being under the effects of her self-prescribed sleeping medication if and when Trinaldo's men found them was still far more of a discomfort than her body's growing protests. It was time to once again distract herself. "Don't worry yourself about it," she would reassure after a long pause. "All I need you to do is to be good for your mother while I go to the market. What's your favorite sweet? I'll see if I can't find it while I'm there," Tessa tousled the boy's hair.
 

Takimaru

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Luckily for Tessa, only her filtered thoughts would find their way out from between her lips, gifting the youth with words of wisdom and tolerance, rather than the hatred her former tormentors had apparently worked so hard to cultivate within the nun herself.

When she asked her question, Cael would reply with a pause, a moment of thought.
"The best?" he asked in reply, his widened eyes curiously following her finger as if it were glowing brightly.

His brow furrowed as he initially tried to make sense of Tessa's message. Perhaps it could only go so far. After all, a child like him couldn't have understood the level of hardship that the cleric herself had gone through. His had not tasted failure on the most massive of scales.

Then, he answered her question, or tried his best to. "I um, it... it means you always win when other people lose, right? Like, that's what a hero is? Other people stop or get beat but they keep going... I think. But that's cause they don't lose, right?"

He looked surprised when the woman elaborated on the qualities of this supposed 'hero'. No, Isthos was not exceptional in any of such traits. More often than not, his paths were wrought with failure--a lesson that many adults, like Tessa, perhaps knew quite well. But would Cael get at least a little of it?

"So he wasn't even that good? He just kept trying? And he's a hero of Erion?" He beamed. "My mom says I can be really stubborn. So I guess I can do that too." The child looked quite sure of himself.

When Tessa asked him of his favorite treat, he had an immediate answer prepared for her, and his eyes lit up with glee. "Fertian tarts!" he cried. It was a relatively common treat in southern Elynsor, which couldn't have been a surprise given that he was likely a native of the region.

Ayna made sure to drag Cael out of sight when Tessa opened the door, be it the front or rear, to make her trip to the market.


~~~~~


The stalls at Cerawal's central market were more numerous that day, for whatever reason, in spite of the constant search from Trinaldo's men. The various mercenaries could be seen out in force, verbally harassing some of the traveling merchants. The easiest targets were often the ones who were very obviously from out of town. A mask seller and potions peddler were amongst the victims of such browbeating--and that was just on one side of the large outdoor market. But Tessa was on the lookout for something edible, and so she would find her place amongst the sellers of fruits, pastries, grain, and other such goods. Tessa counted 15 gold in her tip from the confessional. Urstan was certainly well paid for what he did. She could live a day or two off of a single coin, if she spent it right.

A short, stout old woman had prepared Fertian tarts amongst many other desserts in her selection. Half a dozen tarts, each small enough to fit right into Cael's hand, were 1 gold. A reasonable price, and although the coin could take her much further than that, it might be worth the bit of sweet relief for the young boy.

"Hoh, have a sweet tooth do we? I've no complaints here," chimed the peddler, motioning with her hand over to some of the other delicious looking pastries she had for sale. "There are also these pillyrhine pies, and haversneth strudels of the Brevnian tradition--" She was cut off as a large, random hand shamelessly grabbed one of the strudels, casually lifting it up to the mouth of its owner. Said owner of the hand was a mercenary, helping himself to a free treat.

"Oh, sir!" cried the old woman. "I'm glad you find it delicious enough to eat so quickly, but won't you pay for that? They are only two for one gold. A mere coin and you can have another!"

The man, almost as large as Urstan but clearly someone else, merely stared at the lady as he continued to munch.
 

Hafnium

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"Fertian tarts? Very well, I'll be back with some soon, so be good and be safe." the nun assured the child with a gentle smile. Afterward, she would gather her coins and leave through the back door. She chose to remain in her habit, assuming that it would be safer for that time of day. She was hopeful that wearing the countenance of a cleric of Erion in the daylight would grant her some protection from the snooping mercenaries, even in such a pagan place.

Attempting to deflect their attention seemed to prove wise, as Trinaldo's offered reward apparently had them highly motivated and practically tearing apart the town. She had no intention of allowing them to wring anything from her even if they did approach her, but it was still best to go under the radar if she could, even if their treatment of the merchants did leave a bad taste in Tessa's mouth. Not that she'd have ever entrusted her own safety to the town guard regardless, but it was shocking to see just how ineffectual they were in preventing such wide scale harassment. To think that a banker who survived on the suffering of the weakest had such power. It made her blood boil.

All the more reason to try to get Ayna and Cael out of the city as quickly as possible. Though with the current level of mercenary activity and the way they were actively harassing the merchants, even hiding the mother and her child in a cart and trying to slip it past the gates probably wouldn't be safe for a few more days. Beyond that, Tessa would need to find either a righteous person or a stupid one to do the work when the time was right, because there was no way she'd be able to come up with enough coins to counter the reward Trinaldo was offering.

All that together meant that she needed to shop for several day's worth of food. While normally such a number of coins would've meant her shopping for legumes or maybe even some meat and then the usual quantity of vegetables and grain, any amount of cooking at the church would draw attention. Plus she needed options which would keep for a few days without a larder.

With that in mind, she decided that fruit, vegetables, and bread were probably her best options for now. Bread was relatively cheap while vegetables and fruit were a bit pricier, but all three were ready to eat with minimal preparation. If she kept her budget down to six or seven coins, she might even still have enough left over to convince a merchant caravan unaware of Trinaldo's reward to take two people a few miles out of town.

As fate would have it, however, she would find the sweets she was looking for first. The price made her wince, but she would keep her word for Cael, especially if the sugary bribe was enough to make him less of a handful. Tessa eyed the selection, even as the peddler went into her sales pitch, glancing over it for the requested tarts. Before she could make her purchase, however, the mercenary would interrupt by snatching up a pastry and beginning to eat it. It seemed harassing the merchants wasn't enough, now they were plainly stealing from them, and that had Tessa grinding her teeth.

She wanted to chastise him, as a cleric of Erion rightly ought to chastise a thief who was likely being paid as well as Urstan, but she couldn't afford to draw too much attention from someone who was likely one of Trinaldo's mercenaries. The safety of Ayna and Cael were more important than her righteous anger, and she had long ago become skilled in swallowing her rage and her words. What she could do, however, was to ensure that the old woman was paid for her troubles.

"I will give you the coin if you'll give me the other strudel, and I'll pay you another coin for fertian tarts." The nun would produce two coins from her purse and offer them to the woman. "My sweet tooth wasn't quite so insatiable, but Erion doubtless put this opportunity in front of me for a reason. Perhaps I'll come across another sufferer with an uncontrollable pastry craving." She couldn't help but make a quip at the man's expense, nor the chance to inform him that she'd take the second strudel and donate it to someone else rather than offering it to him. Even if she wanted to avoid drawing his ire, the opportunity was too therapeutic to pass up.
 

Takimaru

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The man finished chewing his dessert, his expression gradually drooping, only to turn an eye to Tessa. He raised a brow at her unexpected act of charity, and shook his head with the beginning breath of a chuckle, though it never quite turned into an actual laugh. "Hah. A cleric of Erion, huh... so, what, yer payin' fer me now? Do ye 'e'en know wot kind ov man oi am?"

He would allow a brief silence to pass, unless the nun made it a point to interject, before continuing. "If ye buy one fer me, ye might joost end oop havin' ta buy one fer e'ery sellsword here. An' dere are a lot ov us, damn. Business is good," explained the stranger. "We don't need yer money here. Ye moight be from de north, but dat doesn't matter out here. Erion doesn't gife a fook about wot goes on in Cerawal, oi'd say dat's obvious enoof." Producing a grip of coins from his pocket, he allowed them to trickle like sand onto the woman's stand until a small pile had formed, as if to show his wealth. "Dis. Dis is de god dat rules here."

"I'm tellin' ye now, yer too damn kind--er just naive--fer a place like dis. Peeple here don't deserve shit--dey gotta take it. Better leafe while ye can. 'Specially seeing as yer a woman... ye know we're near da souddern border, roight? De slafe trade is strong in deese parts. Cleric er not, dere are fates worse den death awehitin' someone loik you if ye stick yer nose in da wrong business," said the mercenary firmly. He proceeded to walk away without another word, perhaps feeling that he had served Tessa up a hard dose of reality.

"T... thank you..." the old woman said awkwardly as he began to walk off, failing to elicit any kind of response from the dismissive merc. She then looked to Tessa and shrugged. "I guess you can have the tarts and the strudel. I suppose I should pass your kindness along now, even if his didn't seem... sincere." She didn't hesitate to scoop the pile into her own purse, but did so with an awkward smile in response to the somewhat bittersweet moment.




Out of the corner of her eye, near the main road, Tessa spotted a familiar face--it was Trinaldo, surrounded by a sizable posse of his men as per usual. He did not look particularly pleased, given that his men were not showing their most competent side during this search.

Naturally, most of the citizens knew better than to get in his way... save for one. There was a man who intentionally stumbled into Trinaldo's path. His clothes, of fairly nice make, were covered in dirt and visibly worn, as if he had just been dragged behind a horse. There were bruises upon his face, and a crooked line of dried blood trailing from his hairline to his cheek.

"Please, good sir! Have you any coin to spare? My name is Yethan, a traveling merchant. I was robbed by bandits on the road, but only barely managed to escape here. I only need enough to get a ride back north, and I'll be sure to remember your kindness!"

Trinaldo looked at him flatly. The banker had a way of being frightening enough when he was in a good or patronizing mood, but it was clear that this was not one of his better days. He rolled his eyes and put forth an ironic grin, though his fist remained clenched at his side.

"Hahahaha... aaaaah, man. Now we've got a new beggar in town, huh? Say, 'Yethan', if that even is your real name. Do you even know how many fuckin' people here owe me money?"

His question earned him a confused look from the merchant, but he continued nonetheless. "You give a handout, and suddenly everyone's reaching at you, begging for more! It's almost like everyone here is a low-life, irresponsible PIECE OF SHIT who doesn't keep their word, and I'm the only one who bothers to pay back what is owed! How fuckin' hard is that, huh? Why don't you go ahead and tell me!"

Yethan could produce no answer. Trinaldo then proceeded to walk straight forward, as if through him, but the tattered one lightly grabbed his coat. In response, the banker struck him across the face, and pointed to a nearby alley. Three of his six bodyguards quickly grabbed the hapless merchant and seemed to be escorting him in the direction that Trinaldo had ordered.