Caleb Wagner Deseuls

House DeSeuls
Caleb DeSeuls was born to Joshua and Mirianda DeSeuls, the second child of an eventual nine. His older brother, Sandro, and his immediate younger brother, Craig, were always quick with a jeer or mean spirited comment, but the others…his brother Gelu and sister Aerin, twins, one more brother, Samuel, and the three youngest sisters, Neimi, Nadine, and Mia…all of they looked up to Caleb as a protector and a role model, especially when Sandro and Craig were getting out of hand. Caleb could be trusted to either calm them down or put them in their place.
At the young age of twelve years, Caleb took his walk down the sanctuary to his role as a paladin of Heironeous. While at the chapel monastery of Renais, he spent his hours learning, tucking everything that was taught to him into his mind, and treasuring it. Days turned to weeks, into months…and slowly, Caleb matured, in faith and stature. His skill with swords was only slightly above average, which was to say, Caleb was turning into a better fighter than most…he found out quickly that most ranged weapons did not suit him, unless he could put all of his arm into backing the missile’s flight. Therefore, while others practiced their bow craft, his own instructors set him with all manner of thrown weapons, hammers, spears, axes, and even the occasional shuriken, although those were a bit small for his taste. As for hand to hand, he preferred the reach of the pole arms to a simple blade. To him, they represented what he wished to be, himself…not all of the weapon was deadly, in fact, most of it was merely an extension of the wielder’s reach. But when it was needed, the blade was long, and the tip was sharp, and when the steel was brandished, the purpose was for the defense of the worthy.
Years turned…Caleb grew into a proud young man…proud in his faith, confident that he could walk the path of the righteous, and bursting with eagerness to spread his light where he could. Near his fifteenth birthday, the Chapel Master, Master Brosseau, called Caleb into his study.
“Caleb…Caleb DeSeuls…you know what is in a fortnight’s time, do you not?”
“Sir, I do.” Caleb ran a hand through his hair…left uncut, it was slightly past his ears now. “My coming of age ceremonies.”
"Yes…you're correct. We have decided that in one week, you will be allowed to return home to your family and celebrate with your family." Master Brosseau reached behind him to heft a long parcel as he spoke.
"I appreciate the kindness, sir. If you believe I am prepared for such a time off…when am I to return?"
"Psh…you're one of our favorite students, Caleb. Now, this is something you might recognize…take it. Look closely at it." Wish seeming ease, he threw the wrapped item, easily 8 feet long, in one hand from one end, and handed the other to Caleb, who took it with a quizzical look on his face. As he unwrapped it, his eyes widened.
"This…is my father's halberd! When…?"
"The week after you first joined, Joshua DeSeuls came here and asked me to hold onto this weapon until you were able to give it back to him. I told him that it would likely be years…he said that it was all right, that he hoped you found a use for it when the time came."
"I'm…humbled. Thank you, sir."
"Now, you have much to prepare for, don't you? You're dismissed."
Caleb walked back to his room, his heart light. It had, of course, been three years since he had seen his family, and he very much looked forward to it, even seeing Sandro and Craig, whom he hoped had improved their behavior and taken the spot he had left. Indeed, that was the very thing that had weighed most on his heart since he had taken his oath, the fact that he could no longer provide the guidance he once did to his younger siblings. The week went by quickly, filled with thoughts of his kin.

Days later, Caleb strode back into the town, smelling the air, which seemed almost familiar again, and listening to the sounds of the streets. They were, of course, vaguely different, the chaotic sound of haggling and arguments louder than he had remembered…then he laughed. It _had_ been years since he had experienced anything but the tranquil, meditative atmosphere of the Grand Chapel. He walked back to the manor, smiling and offering nods of greeting to as many people as he passed.
Outside the gates, it finally dawned on him that things _were_ different…in a slightly troubling way. Looking through the iron lattice, the house seemed to be in a state of disrepair. He brushed a strand of hair from his eyes and reached to open the gate.
"Hey! Hey, you, who're you?" A man, come from behind him suddenly, posed the question to him in a very stern, unforgiving manner. Caleb bowed.
"A pleasant morning to you, sir. I've returned to my home, my name is Caleb DeSeuls, and I have…" He didn't have time to finish before the man reached back and punched him solidly in the face, sending him reeling in surprise.
"…DeSeuls bastard. Get out of here. Never show your face again" The man, his sudden fury abated, walked off, leaving Caleb shocked. Standing there for a few moments, Caleb went inside, seeking an explanation.
He found one. Room after room had been left to rot and decay, rubbish and refuse everywhere. Noise could be heard from farther along, inside the house, from…his parent’s room. His steps quickened, both eager and alarmed at the state of the place. As he swung open the door, he stopped…cold. It was a madhouse in his parent’s room, alcohol and obviously illegal drugs being passed around, wanton intercourse without regard for any of the surroundings…there was a man in the corner, bleeding out with a knife in his stomach, and still, the revelers took no notice…barely registering Caleb, even. As his mind fought to absorb this…information, and it’s implications, a scream, from another room…he could dimly remember that the wing belonged to his siblings…pierced his thoughts. Slamming the door shut, he ran to check on the source of the sound.

What met his eyes darkened them from that day on. His sister…his youngest, precious sister, Mia…lay whimpering beneath the crush of a trio of unclad men, who were engaged in the process of forcing themselves into everything that her unwilling body could offer. Caleb’s grip tightened around his father’s halberd…his eyes narrowed…and that’s when Mia caught sight of him, mid whimper. Something that she had never seen before…Caleb’s eyes, angry, burning. She saw bloodlust in her older brother, just before his cloak, a pristine white, was thrown over her eyes.
Caleb chose to spare his sister the sight of what he was about to do…as the cloth settled over her body, he noticed that blood soaked into it, virgin blood…and elsewhere. As the three men turned to him, one still with a bloody dagger in his hand, Caleb strode forward, arms tightening as he spun his halberd in a tight arc, whirling it around his body like a quarterstaff, before sinking the singing blade through the arms and into the chest of the man with the dagger, at his sister’s head. The man let out a scream, cut short by Caleb’s gauntleted arm crushing his trachea as he took a step up the haft and powered his fist into the rapist’s throat. The two taking their pleasures from Mia’s lower half stopped and struggled to disengage themselves, but Caleb was bloodmad now. Wrenching the blade from the dead man’s chest, he thrust the point on the bottom end of the haft into the belly of the one who had chosen to sodomize his kin, piercing his body through. There wasn’t time for the man to groan, before Caleb spun and slammed the man’s head down into his plated knee that was rising to meet it, crushing flesh and bone beneath it. The third man scrambled for the door, making it there and wrenching it open. Caleb disagreed.
“It’s not over until you pay for your sins…and you have received me as a judge.” The man blinked, and all of a sudden, the berserker, Caleb, stood in front of him, speaking these words in a voice icier than death. “You…will never take another breath in this world.” The walking dead man shrunk back, to no avail…Caleb’s hand lanced out and caught his throat, slamming him against the wall…and forcing his naked, quivering body up the stones that composed it. As the man kicked feebly, Caleb continued speaking.
“I do not know the state of affairs here…I do not know what has happened. I do not know who is responsible…but I do know that you chose to violate my sister…you chose to commit such an atrocity…and now…YOU WILL DIE FOR IT!” Caleb’s fingers closed around the man’s neck tighter, harder, wrenching the breath and the life from him, before twisting his neck, breaking it with a sudden *snap*. As Caleb discarded the body, he walked back to the bed, gently putting his hand over the cloak as his rage abated. “Mia…Mia…It’s alright. Come on…Mia…I’m home. I’ll protect you.” Sobbing could be heard from beneath the garment, as Caleb sat down on the bed and gently rubbed her back through the cloth, speaking encouragingly. “Mia…I’m a paladin now…and I swore to defend you…if the Lord allows for me…I will heal you. If the Archpaladin wills…” Caleb could not hold back any longer, as tears started blurring his vision. “Oh, Mia, I’m so sorry for not being here to help you. I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me…please…I’m here, Mia, I’m here and I’ll stay here. Please…” Caleb could only feel the inordinate sense that the tears never made it down his cheeks. As he opened his eyes, he saw what would have been the teardrops, transformed to light and floating, in a thin stream, to the back of his hand, and leaving a golden glow over his cloak. It shook…and Mia lifted her head, no longer sobbing, but crying…her wounds healed, she clung to Caleb, as he hugged her back. “It’s okay…it’ll be alright…”

After some minutes and a change of clothing, Mia sat down with Caleb in the privacy of the room next to hers…the grisly sight of the massacre was a little much for a young girl like her to take in. She spoke intermittently between sniffles.
“Caleb…I’m so glad you’re back… *sniff* Craig and…and Sandro…they do bad things now…lots of them.”
“…but, then, where are the others? Where’s Gelu and Aerin, or Samuel, or…where are mother and father?”
“They…Sandro said they left on a trip to get us nice things, right after you left…and they haven’t come back…” That gave Caleb pause…had he been so instrumental in the family’s order? “And…Gelu and Aerin ran away, on the same day as…Nadine and Neimi and Samuel disappeared! It was a month ago…ever since mother and father went away, Sandro has been spending the money on parties and Craig is…always drunk and he hits things…people…he…” She started crying again, as Caleb wrapped his arms around her.
“Mia…you have to be brave. Today is my fifteenth birthday, remember? Everything is going to change today…you won’t have to worry anymore. I serve Heironeous…and he’ll take care of you, and me, and Gelu and Aerin and everybody, okay?”
“Sniff…okay…what are you going to-”
“It’s nothing…I’m going to deliver justice. That’s all you need to know. Who else is here, besides you, Sandro, and Craig?”
“It…it’s just us…are you going to k-”
“Mia.” He spoke sternly to her. “Gather up your belongings…and wait for me to come get you. We…won’t be coming back here. Ever.” Caleb stood up, and tousled Mia’s hair. “Trust me…I’ll make sure you’re safe. After we leave, I’ll take you to a happy place, and no one will hit you or abuse you again.”
“I promise.”
“What about Samuel and Neimi and Nadine…can we get them, too?”
“I’ll do my best.” Caleb turned, sighed, and looked up. “Don’t worry about me…but if I don’t come and get you after this…run away. Run to the Grand Chapel of Renais, if you can get there. It’s where I spent the last few years…and where I will take you when this is finished.” He lowered his head and walked out of the room.

The revelers had continued in their orgiastic party, just where Caleb had left them. As he opened the door, he gave a small prayer, asking for forgiveness for what he was about to do. Some few heads turned…smiles crept over the faces of some several men and women alike. Fresh meat, a new body to toy with…wrapped up in an iron binding…how exotic! Their minds did not comprehend the slaughter that Caleb began until far, far too late. A typhoon of destruction, Caleb’s blade tore through man after man, regardless of who fell under his weapon’s might. It was whole seconds before the screaming began…and Caleb’s armored form blocked the door, halberd crimson with blood. In the crush of people that panicked and attempted escape anyway, Caleb simply stepped backwards, through the doorway, and leveled the tip of the weapon at the midpoint. The skewering did not take long…half a dozen people were pierced before the momentum was halted, and Caleb crushed them under his boot as he kicked them off the weapon and strode over their bodies back into the room to address those who remained.
“Worms…I see naught but worms, filth in what was once a haven for purity and righteousness. Worms! Feasting on the corpse of the slain and dirtied name of DeSeuls. You have chosen the path of decadence…you have chosen to abandon every good sense given you. You’ve chosen to abandon any vestige of the path of the holy, and you’ve thrown yourself, gibbering madly…into the darkness and into evil. Not one of you shall survive this day…the Abyss will see your souls, for there is no salvation come. Only judgement. No mercy. Vengeance.”

Amid cries of “Please!”, “Stop!”, “Forgive me”, Caleb slew one after the other, ears closed to the pleas. As he landed one blow, he looked up and noticed he had accidentally saved the two best for last…Craig, and Sandro. Sandro was the nearest, blubbering on the floor in a pool of blood and liquor. Caleb walked the few steps it took to stand over him, and reaching down, picked him up by his collar.
“Brother…Caleb…it’s been a while! It’s so good to-”
“Sandro. You were of my blood…but you are not my brother. Where are my parents?”
“Erk…the others? I…don’t know, they left on some journey.” Caleb shook Sandro to his feet with his one hand, letting him regain his stance. Sandro looked ready to thank him and brush himself off, just before Caleb stabbed the tip of his halberd into the floor, pinning Sandro’s foot with the spear tip. Sandro shrieked in pain.
“Where are they, Sandro? I will not be lied to again. The fear in your eyes, the guilt…” Anger built once again behind his eyes, as his irises crackled into lightning. “The weight of their deaths weighs on your soul, Sandro! You are as black as midnight…murderer. Tell me where Samuel, Neimi, and Nadine are. You will find justice merciful.”
“I…agh! I didn’t do anything to them!” Caleb reached into his belt and withdrew a smaller axe. Loosing Sandro’s neck for a split second, he grabbed his wrist, slammed it against the wall, and followed with the axe, removing three fingers from his hand in an instant.

Caleb was suddenly wracked with agony, spewing the contents of his stomach as his eyes slammed back into their natural color. His grip on Sandro’s bleeding hand didn’t loosen, however.

“S…sandro…I will ask once more. What have you done with my sibli-”
“I sold them! I sold them, we ran out of money and I sold them into the city!”
“The slave markets in Grado! The markets…I’m sorry! I’m sorry…” Sandro started bawling as Caleb regained his feet and his halberd, eliciting another cry of pain from him.
“Then I will send your soul to where it belongs. Goodbye, Sandro. I had wished for better from you, and for you.”
“No! No, plea-” is as far as Sandro got before Caleb swept his head from his neck.

Caleb followed Craig’s tracks to the roof…even having escaped while he was busy with Sandro, his girth didn’t allow him to make it farther than the top of the steps before Caleb showed up at their base. Craig gurgled in fear at his brother’s countenance and scrambled away as Caleb ascended. Upon reaching the top, Craig was seen, trying to stand bravely with an axe, his stance not fit for fighting at all. As Caleb neared him, Craig struck out, only to be stopped midswing by Caleb’s hand on his own. Craig stepped back as Caleb wrenched the tool from his hand and slashed him across the face with the blunt hilt. “Craig…you filthy, sodden wastrel! I expected you, at least, to ask for forgiveness, but you would turn father’s *whack* axe *whack* against *whack* me!” *whack* Caleb took a step with each blow, driving Craig backwards to the edge. “I will offer you mercy…you will ride back with me to the Chapel, and there, you will face the judgement of those better equipped than I.” Craig sneered.
“Caleb…go fuck your shiny paladin horse.”
Caleb dropped the axe, clapped his hands together, and swung them into Craig’s face. His head snapped back with recoil and he fell from the building, but he was dead before he hit the ground.

Moments later on the roof, Caleb collapsed to his knees, weeping. “Heironeous…I have done wrong. I have discarded your virtues in my weakness…I am no better than those I have slain today. Archpaladin…judge me! Please…cast your gaze upon me as you see fit. I am your servant. I am ever your servant.” Standing weakly, Caleb left to collect Mia, his face anguished.


Master Brosseau knocked gently on the door, a tray of food in one hand. “Mia? Mia DeSeuls? Are you alright in there?” All he heard was a slight sniffle. He opened the door to see her kneeling on the floor, head bowed in front of the symbol of Heironeous. “Mia…I have someone you should see. I think she’ll help you feel better.” Mia looked up, tears in her eyes.
“It’s…it’s not Caleb?”
“No…we didn’t have a chance to speak with him, you know that. He’s…finding out what path he needs to take from here, by himself. No, I mistake myself. By his strength, and Heironeous’s. Our god has a plan for Caleb DeSeuls.”
“He said he doesn’t want to call himself that anymore…”
“He doesn’t?”
“Uh uh…he said that Sandro and Craig destroyed the honor the name had.”
“So, he’s just Caleb now?”
“Uh uh…he said that he couldn’t be DeSeuls anymore…but he wanted to remember it. He wanted me to call him just a soul now…so, I was…praying for his soul. He said, Caleb of the Souls. He wanted to call himself that.”
“…” Master Brosseau smiled. “Did he, now? Don't worry about Caleb, little angel. I’ll see him later, then…when he’s ready to understand, and to be, where Heironeous needs him.”

Part 2

“Hey, Orril…you gonna drink all that, or do I need to help you stumble your drunk ass out of here now?”
“Shut up. Just because I don’t suck it all down at once like some animal…”
“Watch yourself there…” the first man growled. “Don’t you get uppity on me, I’ll whoop your ass.”
“Feh…you couldn’t whoop a blind dog’s ass.” The man mumbled into his beer. The other didn’t hear him, as they sat in silence taking an occasional swig of their drinks. “…Wallace?”
“Whaddya suppose that new guy is about?”
Wallace took a drink before answering. “I think he’s a merc…down on his luck or somethin’.”
“Nah, that ain’t it. He was down here, yesterday. Ya know, still carrying all those crazy axes of his. Some guy wanted to pay him to off somebody, ya know? All he got was a punch in the teeth for it. He ain’t no sellsword…but he looks like somebody just lopped off his mom’s hands and slapped him in the face with ‘em.”
“Yeah…think his folks are still around? With a face like that, I’m thinkin’ no.”
“With a face like that, I’d be buried up to my cock in hot women. They always go all damn moony eyed over sad guys with long hair…makes me sick.” Another drink, and a pause. “I heard really interesting rumor about ‘im, though.”
“Well? Let’s hear it!”
“Well…supposedly…this guy’s a holy man…ya know…won’t drink, don’t fuck, always praying for should-I-do-this…”
“That kinda makes sense.”
“But here’s the juicy part…he ain’t got his holy man powers anymore. Just another guy with a big axe now.”
“What the hell? But ain’t you gotta do somethin-’”
“Somethin’ really bad, yeah. Like…” Wallace whispered conspiratorially. “Killin’ yer family.”
“Gor blighter, that’s what ya heard?”
“Yeah…iff’n we can talk to him a bit about it…who knows, maybe we can convince ‘im to get us to keep his secret for ‘im.”
“Heh heh…if ya don’t have the hair for it, moneys’ still warm yer dick for ya.”
“We better get somma the lads together…he’s still got those axes.” Suddenly, a firm hand clapped each man on the shoulder.

“Sounds like an interesting conversation, gentlemen…mind if I join in?” Caleb asked, his face a mask of indifference.
“Wha…erk. Actually, ah, we were just about to-”
“No, no, I insist. I’ll buy you both a drink.”
“…fine. Whatever you want.” Caleb flicked a few silver pieces onto the bar. As the beer was served, he turned toward the pair.
“So, what’s the word on the street, friends? Anyone interesting visiting the area?” That got no answer. “Anyone noteworthy? No one? …not even a kin slayer?”
Orril coughed. Wallace, fed up with the soft words, turned with a sneer. “Yeah, you. Now, since your hearing’s oh-so-sharp, I’ll not be needing to repeat myself so that you know how we’ll find ya while yer sleeping if ya don’t cough up some cash, will I?”
Caleb smiled. “My ears are actually quite poor…I hadn’t heard that. What I have heard, though, is that the justice of the Archpaladin is not reserved for the ones exalted as his ministers alone…even a simple man like me has the right to defend himself. So if you choose to assault me…then, in Heironeous’ name, I will strike you down. Just as I did my brothers, who had cast themselves into evil.” Caleb’s words resounded throughout the now silent tavern.
“But until that time comes, enjoy your drinks, gentlemen.” Caleb clapped them once more on the shoulder, genially, before he walked away. Orril had a small puddle forming under his stool, and Wallace…watched him leave the bar.
“…fuck me…how did he do that? How the hell to they always manage to…do that?”

A white clad, cloaked figure followed Caleb quietly out the door.

Caleb shook his head, leaving the tavern…was it to be like this everywhere he went? Someone…sooner, or later…there was always the pursuit of his deeds. Always without understanding for their circumstance, although Caleb had realized that the world did not afford you the time to give an explanation when you really wanted to. He sighed, sadly…he would have to leave this place as well, ever farther away from where he wanted to be the most…his heart yearned for the acceptance of Heironeous and admittance back into the Chapel, where everything was simple and pure. But the god's favor had been stripped away from him…and Caleb knew that he could not go back to a time when he didn't know the cruelties that fate and kin could deal. So he walked onward, repurchasing enough supplies for a week's worth of walking. He hoped there would be shelter along the road, or maybe a farmer's home who didn't mind him buying a meal and shelter in his barn…perhaps he could play as a shepherd or a watchman if he found someone in poor circumstances. His halberd still shone, but the weighted haft…it dragged his arm down. The conviction that had propelled him, that had supplied the vigor and the zeal to to the Lord's work…it had shattered and disappeared in a vapor. All he could manage was to train with his weapon, everyday…his muscles stayed fit, able to wield the heavy hafted polearm, but his heart refused to remain in it, no matter how much he promised himself to be Heironeous' champion even without the grace of the light.
Lost in his own thoughts, he did not see the whitecloaked figure until it rapped him on his backplate. He spun, ready for a confrontation with one of the likely vengeful tavern goers, and stopped cold when he saw the face beneath the hood.

"A…Aerin!? Archpaladin, is it really you?"
The figure laughed melodically. "It is, Caleb of the Souls. I'm very happy to see you…and equally happy to see that you've been conducting yourself so well, even with your oath broken and lying at your feet."
Caleb's face turned to a pained expression, but before he could open his mouth to respond, Aerin touched him lightly on the shoulder. "It's okay, brother…I know why you did it. And I forgive you." She smiled. "Mia is doing very well at Renais. Gelu and I have been traveling behind you these several months. You haven't let us down, Caleb…you're still our big brother, and you're still a good man."
Caleb found that he couldn't speak. Being choked up had a way of doing that to a person, and of making his eyes water, besides. Aerin looked at him fondly. "We should go…it's hardly seemly to carry on this topic in the middle of the street."
Nodding dumbly, Caleb followed her as she walked. She kept speaking to him as they headed in the direction he had been going. "Ever since about a week after you left Mia at the Grand Chapel, Gelu and I have been trailing you at Master Brosseau's behest. I've been watching your spiritual growth…and of course, Gelu wanted to pay particular attention to your martial conduct…" She rolled her eyes. "Typical Gelu. But he said that the way I saw you handle yourself in there is just about the same as you've carried yourself this entire time…he was very proud to be your brother." She smiled happily. " I heard him telling a drunk man that he had to subdue that, as much as he'd love to make him bleed, if you showed so much restraint in your trials, there was no way he could bring himself to strike a simple drunken oaf." She giggled.
As they neared their destination, Caleb finally spoke up. "I have a question, then. When did you and Gelu leave the house?"
Aerin smiled sadly. "Sandro caught the three he did all at the same time…rather, he gave them away to slavers, who did the catching themselves. They didn't have a chance to get away. Gelu, Mia, and myself were out at the temple district…" She shook her head. "Mia wouldn't leave without you coming back, to rescue her, she explained. So Gelu and I travelled as fast as we could to Renais to get you. Apparently, we passed each other in the night, though…by the time we got there, you were long gone. Gelu immediately started back to catch up, but they allowed me to scry for you…that was only a couple of days before you arrived home."
"Then…you saw…everything…"
"I nearly vomited when I saw how they were…when you went into Mia's room. I…couldn't stop crying, for her sake, and for what you must have gone through. Thank you for killing them…and for what you did for Mia. That's…her blood, still staining your cloak, isn't it?" Caleb looked at her, and nodded, slowly. She nodded back as she opened the door to a comfortable looking inn, the Pegasus Feathers.
Aerin collected herself and walked to the counter, smiling sweetly. "Hello! We're Caleb and Aerin DeSeuls. We're ready for our room."
"Oh ho! Such a handsome young fellow…lucky girl. If I were ten years younger, I'd have caught him first." The matron behind the counter smiled back and chattered away as she found their key. "So early in the day, too…we'll keep something warm for you two whenever you finally come down." Aerin grinned and turned to a very confused, slightly flustered Caleb.
"Come _on_, silly! This is going to take a while, but I promise, you'll like how it ends." Caleb blinked, looked at their hostess, who had a knowing smirk and a motherly blush all over her face, and bit his lip as he followed Aerin yet again, into a spacious suite. she locked the door behind him.
"That was so CUTE! You looked so embarrassed…now turn around, I have to change."
"You have to WHAT?"
"Change! It's hardly fitting to do this in a travelworn cloak and street clothes. I have everything prepared, too, just you wait."
Caleb did indeed turn around, with no small amount of consternation over whatever his sister intended. Some terse minutes passed, the silence only broken be the rustling of fabric and Caleb's eventual question. "What…did you tell that lady?"
"Oh? I told her out names, and that we needed a room to be along and undisturbed. I…might have implied that we were newlyweds…" She giggled again at the joke.
"You didn't. Tell me you…blast…"
"Okay, turn around."
"First tell me that you have clothes on, and that Mirianda…I mean, Mom, wouldn't mind seeing you in them."
"You'll have to find that out for yourself!"
"…you'd better not make me regret this…" Caleb looked around at her. To his relief and considerable surprise, she was dressed head to toe in clerical vestments, with two scrolls in her hand and a holy symbol of Heironeous dangling from straps on her shoulder.
She spoke quietly. "You really did set a good example for us, Caleb…"
Caleb blinked. "That was…this is a little unexpected." Aerin laughed.
"You'll find a wonderful woman someday, I promise. It certainly won't be me, though." Caleb blushed as his younger sister teased him. "I'm here with two scrolls…can you guess what they are?"
"We'll…go with Detect Evil, and then Wrathful Judgement."
Aerin smiled sadly. "You still find yourself unforgiveable? The Archpaladin does not…these are Atonement. And Quest. You are offered redemption in exchange for a tripartate geas."
A look of a starving man who has had a feast spread before him leapt into Caleb's eyes, as he slowly knelt. "A…a geas? You have but to name the tasks."
"First…commit yourself to the rescue of your three lost siblings. Second, find the light that you had, and lost…and show the world what we, as your siblings, already know about you. Show them your purity. You will, in time, come to understand the mind of Heironeous more. When you do…your third task is to return to the Grand Chapel of Renais." She paused. "Master Brosseau had a question for you…specifically worded. Before I use these scrolls. Will you swear never to lose control again, and to make sure you stay 'within limits', as you contest the evils off the world?"
Caleb looked at her strangely. "I won't lose control again, not like I did with Sandro." Aeriin nodded, but Caleb continued before she could speak. "But if the 'limits' prevent me from effectively fighting wrongs, and dispatching the blackhearted, like Sandro and Craig, who cannot be stopped without brutal force…then I'll find a way to continue the Invincible One's will…without his blessing, if I must."
Aerin stopped…and sighed. "He said you'd respond thusly. Whatever happens, Caleb, I trust you to do the right thing." She unrolled a scroll and closed her eyes, intoning. "Heironeous…in your sight, my brother has fallen. By offering a portion of my own soul, do I ask that you use it to wipe his clean, and restore its purity to the lustre and the dedication for you that it bore not long ago…"

Two hours later, Caleb left the inn, almost radiant with divine light. His brilliant blue eyes crackled with a renewed mandate of Heaven. "Now…onward to Grado…and the glory of the Archpaladin."

Jarret the Merchant was a cautious man, usually…he had made his way in the world modestly, making money slowly and surely rather than gamble on fortune like so many business rivals of his preferred to. Indeed, several of them were wealthy, very wealthy, and had worked far less time than he…but so many of them were little more than beggars that he preferred to stay safe. Fiora and Johanna, his daughters, relied on him completely since their mother died, and he didn't feel like letting his precious treasures down. This evening, though, had seen him on a dangerous road, one more traveled by theives than by honest folk. He'd heard that mustard spice was in high demand at his destination, though, and indeed, spice supply in general had been waning, ever since this rural street had taken on it's less than savory aspect. Buy low, sell high, and as spices were altogether cheap in Plainshire, Jarret saw this as the one real risk he would have to take to give his family the living he had always thought they deserved. Besides, a group of Heironean paladins, resplendent in their matching armor and each with a silver holy symbol that glinted in the torchlight from the brands they had brought, had seen fit to accompany them, which Jarret saw as an outstanding stroke of good luck. He could not ask for better…especially for Heironeans, as he shuddered in memory of some of the stories he had heard recently.
As they finally made camp, the light waning as the sun slipped behind the mountainous distance, his young Johanna called out, looking over the road ahead. "There somebody coming! He got a big axe, Daddy!" Jarret looked up from the tent peg he was securing, and followed the child's gaze to the approaching figure. After a few seconds, he did indeed the halberd at the man's back…looked like a warrior. _He_ certainly didn't have anything to fear from such a road, Jarret thought wryly. The light dimming, he tried to decide whether to ask the man for his company while Fiora prepared their evening meal, or if it would be better to leave him on his path…there was no telling if the man was good at heart, or whether he would put his family in jeopardy with an invitation. The paladins sat in a circle a small distance away, talking quietly among themselves. Eventually, he figured that even if he did mean harm, if politeness was shown, perhaps he would falter in harming his girls, at least, until the holy warriors could intervene.
"Friend! Come, it grows late and you must be weary from your travels." The man looked up, pulling the hood of a slightly dirty white cloak down from his face. Brilliant blue eyes, and long blonde hair shining golden in the sunset, were visible even at the length Jarret viewed them from. Behind him, Fiora gasped…apparently he had crossed her vision, too. With a quick glance to see his older daughter blushing and quickly turning back to finishing the food, Jarret walked forward to greet the man. "A very fine evening, sir, and one that sees us all favor. These roads are none too safe, and the more armed men we have in a group, the better! Come, sit, eat, and we will see the sun rise in peace!"
The man nodded, obviously grateful. "I thank you…it's been a long time since I was given such a welcome. If it's no strain on your supplies…?"
"No, not at all, we have plenty and to spare!" Jarret beamed…someone as soft spoken and as courteous as this man could certainly not be a vagabond, searching for horses to steal and caravans to loot. Fiora giggled at nothing behind them…he wasn't so sure about that, but he hoped the arrival would mind his manners, and his loins. "I'm known as Jarret, and this is my daughter, Fiora, and the other, my darling Johanna. She looks so much like her mother, it's hard to keep from kissing her!" He knelt, and called Johanna over, and she ran into his arms, as he swept her up and gave her a fatherly kiss on the cheek. "We have several fighting men from the Church of Heironeous over there, the heavens have blessed us this evening. And you are?"
He hesitated for a moment. "My…name is…Caleb." He said with some finality. "Formerly Caleb DeSeuls."
Instantly, the happiness Jarret had been feeling drained from his body, replaced by a growing fear. "Ah! I…I see. Well, we, ah, have dinner almost ready, so please, make yourself at home!" He took a step back and quickly hurried over to Fiora, as Caleb sat on a log at some length and began inspecting his polearm after the day's travels. "Fiora…don't get near that man!" He said in an urgent whisper. "No matter what, make sure someone is around you at all times!"
"Why is that, Father? He's very handsome…" She giggled again. "He has beautiful eyes…"
"He's Caleb of the Souls! They say he has a house full of gems with the screaming souls of his family that he's killed trapped inside, and everyone else he's murdered, that's where he gets that name!"
"Father? Are you sure?"
"Fiora…the orgies and the revelry at the DeSeuls mansion these past three years is legendary in and of itself…you don't think a man who travels alone, with a weapon like _that_…" He pointed discreetly to Caleb, sharpening the point of the spearhead, and swallowed nervously. "Of course a man like that would have no issues walking around here…even paladins go in groups here!" Looking to the campfire that the five had made, he saw that they had taken notice of Caleb as well, and felt instant relief. Of course they would be able to protect him and his kin. "Just…stay close, okay?" Fiora sighed as she started filling bowls with stew. Jarret took that as acceptance, and just to be sure, he started walking over to the group to ask them to keep their eyes open.
"Good sirs…I am thankful that you've consented to travel with us, but I would like to ask a favor from you, if I may be so bold?"
The five laughed. "Eh? What's this you're wanting? You want us to take your girl away from that guy? I'm sure one of us could keep her occupied ourselves!" They laughed again, and Jarret sighed. Of course some paladins would be courser in speech than others, and even still…it was obvious that the tongue was no mirror of the heart, if Caleb could speak so nobly and these fine men did not. He suddenly remembered what they had said, and spun on his heel, jaw dropping when he saw Fiora sitting very close by Caleb, holding a bowl of stew for him and staring at his face, as the felon did his best to eat from the bowl…suddenly, she laughed, and conversely, Jarret started sweating.
"Um…ah, no, I'll…I'll be right back, thank you!" He walked hastily over to the pair, overhearing Caleb asking if he may hold the bowl himself now, with Fiora giving an affirmative no, he was lucky to be holding the spoon and feeding himself. With a grimace, he strode up to them. "Fiora! What are you doing?"
"Oh, Father! I'm helping Caleb eat, it must be so difficult to do it in heavy armor like that!"
"Milady Fiora, I'm fine, sincerely. Although…something must be addressed." Caleb put the spoon back into the bowl, and shifted away from Fiora a little to make her father more comfortable…she had nearly put her legs over his and crept onto his lap at that point. "I am Caleb of the Souls, as you said…and there is truth in the tales you've heard…but only a grain." Allowing time for absoption, Caleb continued in a moment. "I was training in the Grand Chapel of Renais for those three years that the stories of the debauchery in my deceased father's house grew. I killed some of my siblings, yes." He watched Jarret's face pale once again. "I do not claim that I was right, or that my actions were as pure as they should have been in heaven's eyes…but the the ones that I destroyed were my two vile brothers and their equally decrepit friends. Their souls wail in the Abyss, not in any bauble of mine." Caleb shook his head.
"Ah…this is…" Jarret blinked. "This is a lot to take in…if it's true…then I'm sorry that I offended."
"My ears are not sharp, they never have been…but I hear what I need to. And no, I am not offended. Also…the purity of your daughters is safe. There is no need to worry about that. My main concern, though…" Caleb looked past the merchant, to the approaching five men, who had their weapons brandished and were talking in whispers as they stepped up.
Finally marching to where the two sat talking, the leader cleared his throat and spoke up. "You're that wretch, Caleb of the Souls, aren't you? We've been looking for you…return the DeSeuls Halberd and we'll make sure that it gets to where it belongs." Caleb's eyes flashed in the darkness, scanning their hearts through his patron's eyes. Their souls were as stained as Sandro's had been…possibly even more so. Looking back to the merchant, who had drawn back with his daughters, he shook his head and relinquished the weapon.
"Your business here is done, then, isn't it? Leave me in peace.''
"Well, no…it's not done. There's a bounty worth pursuing on your head…somebody is pretty damn angry with you. It wouldn't do to only have your halberd when we could have your head as well." The man spoke slowly, smiling. "Lads…kill him, the old man, and the child…we'll have some fun with the girl before we leave."
Caleb's hand barely moved from his belt, but there was a sudden whirling whoosh and then the leader stepped back, choking on the small axe embedded in his windpipe. As he fell back, Caleb stepped forward and swept up his halberd, which was standing partially in the ground and still very vertical, and thrust out to the one at his side, impaling him through an eye. The other three stepped back…then two ran up to flank him. Caleb didn't have his shield on hand, but the steel cored haft of his halberd served well enough to ward off the longsword that the first struck with, and he caught the second expertly on his shoulderguard and let it slide off harmlessly. Those were the only sounds of metal on metal the night heard. Caleb swiftly turned a counterattack, slamming his halberd through a man's shoulder and letting him drop wetly to the earth. The other faltered for a moment, then swung, missing widely. Caleb kicked downward, breaking the man's knee and letting him fall to the ground with a shriek of pain before Caleb opened his ribcage. Turning, he witnessed the forgotten third wrenching at the girl's dress, holding his own blade to her throat and leering tauntingly at the old man. Her aging father rushed toward her, with a look to fear, panic, and desperation easily readable on his face. The scoundrel turned, smirked cruelly, and stabbed the running man through the heart.
Caleb looked down at the sword through his chest, running beneath his armpit through his ribs…his features were contorted in pain, but not a sound crossed his lips. If he didn't finish this quickly, the steel in his heart would mean something, and everyone who wasn't violated would be dead…or maybe everyone would end up like that, anyway. Jarret lifted his head from his sprawling position where Caleb had knocked him away fro the deadly strike, watching as the true paladin grabbed and turned the fighter's wrist, then slammed his other hand onto the elbow with a snap. Another scream filled the air, as Caleb sprung at him, whipping the sword sheathed in his chest out and through the man's neck.
He stumbled then, knocking the dying man to the ground as he strove to right himself. His eyes glowed, and what seemed like luminescent tears ran down Caleb's face, over his shoulder, and beneath it. His breath steadied, and he righted himself, breathing softly. He walked back to Fiora, extending a hand to help her up. As the girl accepted it, he brushed her off carefully and did the same for her father, helping him as he regained his feet. "You should find another market, I think…at least, the organization that these men came from will know that you were here. In a few months, it will be safe for you again." He paused. "You're not hurt at all, I hope?"
"No, I'm not…thank you!" Caleb nodded as he turned to Fiora and bowed.
"It would have been pleasant to remain in your company a while longer, but we should both go our separate ways now. I wish you all the best of chance."
"Wait! I…I'm sorry for what I said…you're still a paladin, aren't you?" Caleb stopped at Jarret's words, not turning for some long seconds.
"Yes…undeserving as I am, I've been forgiven. Now go…there is no more that I can give you. You'll be safer without me in your midst." Caleb went to reclaim his halberd and his throwing axe, wiping both on the clothes of the dead and tossing several pouches to the three. "For your discomfort…husband the money wisely." Suddenly stooping, he lifted the symbols close to his face, then snapped one, letting the painted wood fall to the ground. "…defiled." Breaking the rest, he finally collected the renegade's swords and walked away, leaving but one.
The merchant and his daughters watched him go silently for a minute, then the man slowly walked up to the remaining sword, still red with the knight's lifeblood, and cleaned it off as he had seen Caleb do. Fiora opened the pouches, then closed them with a wide-eyed look on her face as her father came back and carefully put the blade into it's sheath. He shivered. "Five men…without a second thought…what would we have done if he were as the rumors said?" His daughter ignored his words, giggling to herself softly. "He really did have beautiful eyes."

Caleb woke beneath the roof of a kind farmer, with a considerable degree of pleasure, given the circumstances. The guest bed had been given to him, allowing for a repose more sound than he had experienced in several weeks. Of course at first the farmer, Reill, had only been willing to allow Caleb to stay in his barn for the night, and had been otherwise standoffish. This lasted until Caleb demonstrated his divine gifts by healing the man’s lamed horse, which changed the old man’s opinion of Caleb considerably. Now, as the paladin ate a hearty farming man’s breakfast, he discussed his next course of action with his host.
“How far is it to get to the city of Grado from here? Last I asked, I didn’t have far to go.” He speared an elusive slab of ham with his knife.
“Ah, lad, why’re ye goin’ tae Grado? It’s nary a day’s journey afoot, but thae estimate is far an oonarmored man, so Ah’ll be expectin’ ye tae be goin’ a mite more slow, indeed. Thar’s thae…and the place hae a reputation far a safe hav’n far the crim’nal elemant, an’ all sarts o’ the scraps o’ the world. Lawless place, aye, and th’ laws it has, those wi’ th’ influence and th’ silver can joost walk around, as sure as shootin’ a steer a‘ foive feet away.”
“Be that as it may…I still must go. Besides…I suppose I do have some influence in the underworld, even if it’s undeserved. Mostly.” Caleb smiled a little as he took a bite of biscuit.
“Oh? What wood thae be, lad? If ye dinnae mind sooch a qooestion”
Caleb hesitated a moment. “Stories of the heinous deeds of Caleb of the Souls have reached your ears, have they not?”
“Pshaa…course thae have, la…yer implyin’ thae yer Caleb o‘ tha-”
“They are very much rumors, and little truth. By this time, it would be a story mothers tell to make their children behave…if you’re naughty, Caleb of the Souls will find you.” He smiled again, sadly. “However, a few people know the truth…” He shrugged. “You could count yourself among them, if you wished.”
“Ach…well…” Reill scratched his head. “E’en wi’ a name like Caleb, ye’ll hae a rough time o’ it, gettin’ in thar wit‘ a name alone.”
“Hn…you’re right.” Caleb thought a moment. “Tell me…how many merchants with cheap gems travel by here?”
“O hoh! Tha’ thar’s soomthin’ Ah kin answer far ye. Rodrick came jest yest’rday, he may be able tae help ye. I dinnae know fer sure, he doosen’t show the things tae the likes ‘o me. He already knows what Ah’ll be buyin’, regular.”
“I see…thank you. Is there anything else I can do for you before I take my leave? I intend to catch up with this Rodrick before either of us comes within view of the city.”
“Ha! Nae, ye’ve been a terrific aid, tae be sure. Tell ye what, I know ae shor’cut thae’ll let ye clip offa good coople o’hours o’ yer time…ye may catch up wi’ Roddy yet! Go behin‘ th‘ house an follow thae deer trail until ae crosses the main road, then toorn east. Rodrick hae a cart an‘ cannae go o‘er sooch ae path, or thae’d be the way he‘d go.”

A few hours later, Caleb was pleased to find the path hadn’t led him in error…he’d closed the distance to Rodrick significantly, if the merchant in the horizon was said man. Hustling as best he could, Caleb had ample time to both thank and despise the training Brosseau had given him…all those months forcing him to run around fully armored weren’t pleasant to think about, but without them, this day would have been a lot worse. Finally, an exhausted Caleb hailed the cartman, who’d stopped to watch the spectacle of a heavy infantryman in a dead sprint. At least, as much of one that could seem to be mustered. “Sir! Sah, sir, hail, and well met!” As he got closer, he huffed “You wouldn’t happen to be the…man known as…Rodrick, would you?”
“Ah, so you’ve heard of me, eh? What can I do for you? Actually, hop on, we’ll talk as we ride, I’m burning daylight. You know, you made for a fine distraction for this bored wagon master, if I say so myself.” He quirked a grin.
“Yes…I was referred to you by Reill…he said you might have a few gems that I could buy.”
“Gems, you say…well, I might…what are you about, asking of them?”
“I was intending to use them to…” Caleb coughed surreptitiously. “Buy my way into Grado.”
“Hah! If you don’t have a permit or license, I don’t have enough gems to bribe as many guards as you’ll need. Don’t waste your time, best avoid the place, anyway.”
“I appreciate the advice…however, that not being an option, my plan wasn’t to bribe anybody at all…I was thinking along the lines of being slightly more intimidating than the average gate guard is used to.”
“Heh heh heh…you’re going to go all Caleb on them, then? Keep going, you’ve caught my interest. You do look the part, I’ll tell you what.”
“Thank you…” Caleb felt it was fine to let his identity slide for the time being. “So, back to the matter of buying gems.”
“Ah, I’ll make you a deal…I’ve got…5, no, 6 gems that could possibly be used for Trap the Soul. Buy the half dozen, and I’ll put some simple enchantments on them, no extra charge.”
“What sort of enchantments?:
“Well…I’ll cast Light on a few, Continual Flame on a few, and then we’ll top it all off with a Magic Mouth…how’s that sound?”
“Sounds good…but while we’re going on about ideas…I assume you’re a wizard?”
“A right decent one, too…helps against the local banditry and wild beasts. Didn’t take well to the cloistering. Everyone‘s always so stuffy and afraid you‘re somehow going through their precious books. So I took up the merchant business.”
“How many sound illusions do you have?”
“Well, let’s see…”

Two hours of haggling and enchanting later, Caleb bid Rodrick a very good day. As they were nearing the city, they’d both agreed that it was better to have Caleb seen walking alone rather than riding atop a cart…and they didn’t want any voices recognized. Command words had been exchanged, and advice given…as Caleb hopped off and unslung his halberd, Rodrick finally got around to asking “Why, I’ve got one more thing for you…what name do you go by?”
“Hm…well, it’s probably best that you call me Caleb of the Souls, isn’t it?”
“Hah! Good show, there…disguised to the very last. Very well, ‘Caleb’, I wish you the very best of luck…heaven knows you’ll need it.”
“Heaven gives me more than luck…you should have a chat with Reill when you come around this way again, he knows who I am, truly.”
“I’ll be sure to ask him…pleasant travels!”
“To you as well.” As Rodrick set up camp early, Caleb continued in the slightly waning light toward Grado. It was just before dusk when he strode close enough to count the guards.
“Four, hm? Alright…just one, then.” He assumed a very, very irritated look, took on a near diabolical scowl, and walked right up to the closed doors of the city gate, brushing aside hands that reached out to stop him. “HEY!” A gem under his shirt and armor winked into brightness, a commanded Continual Flame. “This door…it’s closed.”
The guards laughed, and a youthful looking one piped up with a rather sarcastic tone. “Well, yes, sir, it is. How about that?”
“I want it opened. Now.” He turned to face the four, as two more on top of the walls peered down to see what the issue was. The halberd that had been resting on his shoulder slammed into the ground as his feet, burying the blade into a rent in the cobblestones.
“Hah! Listed to this, boys…he wants in.” Laughter and scoffing ensued. “How about no. You’re not allowed inside without paperwork, or express permission from the Consulate…and we’ve received no word of exceptions for arrivals. Now leave off, you pewter plated tramp, you‘re annoying me, and the rest of my boys.”
“Paperwork…” Caleb whispered. “How…paltry a reason to lose it…” Then he grinned as he picked out an unlit gem on a cord. “Very well, very well…quantity is quality, after all…”
“Eh? What’s that you’re about? If that’s a kickback for us, you’ll have to come up with…”
“Oh, it’s for you…this one, in particular. See the small crack right here? That should still be strong enough to hold a weak soul like yours…let’s see…three more of you?” Caleb pulled the rest out, then tucked one of the lit ones back into his shirt. “Heh…that one’s full.”
“Full of what?” The guard, ever so slightly wary of the strange man swinging gems around, motioned to the others to get their pikes out as he put his at the ready. “I, uh…who are you, anyway? What‘s your name, vagrant?”
“Now, why would that be important? You’re headed for the sapphire, anyway…what do you care?” Caleb looked closely at one with several cracks in it. He waved it in front of his face a few times. It screamed in a nasally voice “Let me go! Please…let me go…I don’t want to stay here any longer, Caleb, let me go! Please! Mercy! Please!”
“Just shut the hell up!” Caleb tossed it against the ground and stomped on it with a steel shod boot. As the jewel shattered, an ear piercing shriek sounded, and then silence…until, of course, the four scrambled to jam their pikes in between them and Caleb. “You…you’re…” “He’s Caleb…” “Caleb of the Souls…” “Oh my God…”
“You shut up, too! All of you! Get over here, you whelp.” Caleb knocked the pikes aside with a sweep of a plated arm. One guard even dropped his, but didn’t dare pick it up as Caleb walked forward and grabbed the young man by the forehead. “Now…I only have four on me, so the ones up on the wall are safe…for today. If you have a wife, I’ll be sure to give her your love…I’m sure you know exactly what I mean when I say that.” He dangled the gem in front of the guard’s eyes while the other three watched, stunned. “Ash ther’ edan adou…” The gem flickered as Caleb’s grip tightened.
“Guys…help me…kill him…please, anything! Do anything!” The sergeant on duty, on the wall, looked down, having been watching the proceedings and fully aware of the peril he supposedly faced, with one of his charges apparently about to lose his soul to a madman. “Caleb of the Souls! The…the gates…you want into Grado?!”
“What I WISH for, old man, is peace…and you’ve irritated me to no end here, so I’m taking a few baubles for my own pleasure, then I’ll go through the damn gate when I please.” The young man was almost in tears now.
“I just got married, sir, I’ve got a family on the way!” Bawling. “For the love of the Laughing God, open the gate! Please, open it! Open it!” Another one on the ground started audibly shaking in his armor and livery. “Sir…just open it…please…I don’t want to be-”
“You all shut up and stop pissing yourselves! Open the gate!” The sergeant barked, and seconds later, the doors started creaking open.
Caleb scowled again. “Didn’t you hear me? I’m taking his essence for myself, whether you open it or not is for your own cowardly reasons.”
“Caleb! My guard’s a good man…but he’s too lively for his own good sometimes!” Caleb suddenly noted that the sergeant’s voice was shaking, too…he wondered why. “If I swear to you that you’ll never be bothered by any of the city guards during your stay here, I don’t care what your business is, will you let my man go?” Caleb considered this for a moment, then smiled evilly. “Done. You! Keep this little toy for yourself…if any of you so much as draw a blade on me, I’ll find you, and if you don’t have that gem on you for me to pop you into, I’ll make sure the one I do put you in is tormented for eternity…and then I’ll find the rest of you for good measure. Is that clear?”
“Yes…Yes sir! You’ll have a pleasant stay in Grado, I swear it!” Caleb tossed the gem to the guard, who was obviously frightened near to death.
“Good.” With a glare for good measure, he grabbed his halberd from the rocks and walked into the city, muttering about the “damn wastes of space not being worth a shat ruby…” Meanwhile, the sergeant hustled down the stairs to help pull his son, and the rest of his compatriots, into shape.

As soon as he was out of ear and eyeshot, Caleb grinned like a little boy who just found the hidden cache of sweet things his parents had hidden. “Heironeous be praised forever, that went well…far better than I dared hope for. Alright…slave guilds first…you won‘t be lost for too much longer, I promise.” Wiping off a bead of sweat that had formed, certainly from the heat, he started making plans to complete his tasks in the decadent city of Grado.

Caleb imagined himself fortuned as he walked, taking in the scope of the town of Grado. Growing up, he had wanted for very little. Never spoiled…but never in need. An ideal childhood, really, especially for one of his beliefs. But looking at the despondency around him as he strode through the alleys, he shook his head. He found himself passing out coppers as if they were mugs of water…he couldn’t help but to. Every single discarded child here looked like they hadn’t had a meal in a week, and it was all Caleb could do to not empty his purse. Indeed, full 20 gold pieces worth of copper and silver left his wallet, but the looks he received were so completely full of gratitude, it nearly made him weep.

Walking into the open lanes, he was almost run down by a horseman…no, a horse-child, who looked barely older than the poor souls he’d been passing just seconds before. Obviously irate, and stopping his horse clumsily, the overdressed and overfed child trotted back to Caleb, who was just about to walk off.

“You there, knave! You should be whipped for getting in my way! What’s your name, I’m going to have Papa send his whipping people after you!” The boy’s face was red, wailing in a nasally voice, and this startled the paladin for a moment…he’d not imagined that a near-miss was anything to get dizzy about. Maybe a bone breaking impact and fall, but…the manners, or lack thereof from this pompous young oaf irked Caleb rather thoroughly. He noted that none of the children were in sight…they’d scampered away, they knew better. By himself at the moment, Caleb shot a glare at the boy, who gave a start, clearly not used to being contested.

“My name is Caleb of the Souls, brat, and tell your father that he’s welcome to send whoever he deems expendable. As for you, _whelp_…the more intelligent of the beasts here is the one being ridden. If it weren’t for your mount compensating for your utter lack of skill, your neck would have broken on the cobblestones beneath you.” As he concluded his small tirade, he turned, having been unpleasantly reminded of the waste that so often populated the top of society, and having no time to spare for it. The boy ranted behind him, although as the anger faded to Caleb's ears, the lad was hit in the side with a clod of semi-dried dung from somewhere in the alleys. Whoever did it had long since disappeared into the labyrinthine passways, and the fuming child eventually had to ride off in anger and shame.

Some hours later, Caleb was walking down another alleyway, talking to himself loudly. Poor though his ears may have been, they were enough to catch the pursuit he’d acquired, and Caleb was leading them to a more private spot…he was sure they wouldn’t mind. “My oh my…it certainly didn’t take me long to make an enemy here. I wonder, are you in the employ of the child who was playing at being noble earlier today? If that’s what’s considered ‘noble’ in this area, then I feel that I must renounce my title and my name, and live among the destitute. They seem to be a great deal more noble than the ones who claim the name.” He turned to face no less than three cowled men some paces away, with another two approaching behind them. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

“We serve the boy’s father, Caleb. We are in the employ of him alone, and though his son is a pudding-bag, our master is worthy of our service. And it is by his request that you are taught a lesson today. He left the details to us.” The man sighed, then smiled and pulled away his headpiece, showing a brand of the sunburst of Pelor on his forehead. The others did the same, each revealing a different god…Saint Cuthbert, Kord, and two that Caleb had to think on for a small while but finally recognized them as Rao and Pholtus, gods of light and order, and reason and serenity, respectively, and both deities on very good terms with the Archpaladin.

Caleb smiled then, and lifted his gauntlet to show his own symbol. “It is a pity that you must keep yourself so hidden…I assume that your lord approves of your work?”

“As he does of yours, Caleb…DeSeuls. Don’t be surprised…we’re his Lordship’s personal escort, and he’s on very good terms with a certain Reginleif Brosseau. He was quite embarrassed that your first contact was through his son, but understand that the boy is a mere seven years old. Master Brosseau agreed to accept him into the Grand Chapel of Renais upon his eighth birthday, and our Lord is more than happy to offer him.” Caleb looked at the men quizzically…never in his most hopeful imagination could he have dreamed he’d find such an ally here! Just to be sure, he glanced at their souls, but as his eyes arced with electricity, the eyes of the five glimmered, then shone as well, although with varying light, dazzling motes of dancing light, or pure beams of energy issuing from them, save one in the back, who smiled and shrugged. “You see, Heironean? We walk the same path as you, save for our cleric.” At that, Caleb walked forward and shook hands with them all, laughing.

The boy, Rupert, obviously had issues with Caleb being brought to the mansion, but those were ignored as the paladin was brought through the house. He chastised himself for making assumptions based on a single encounter…this house was very much like his own, far less adorned than a normal upper class residence should look like. Enough to provoke a sense of nostalgia, at least. The Pelorian was leading him, the other four having departed as soon as they’d arrived on the grounds. There was not much talking, save for a comment here and there about a particular portrait or courtyard where children and young adults were seen practicing and playing, as suited their own devices. Soon he was brought to a pair of double doors and stopped there, with the joking reminder to be civil. He laughed, then left his halberd with the knight as befit custom and walked into the room.

Staring out through the window was an elderly man, affected by the years but not yet stooped with his age. Turning, Caleb saw his thoroughly grey hair and beard, both cut short and precise. He nodded. “So it’s Caleb DeSeuls…I’d been told you were headed this way. Interesting that I should get to meet such a figure in my own home.” He chuckled.

“Agreed, ser. If I may ask for your hospitality, the blessings of the Archpaladin travel with me.”

“You shall have my hospitality so long as you wish. However, I must request that no matter the irritation, you leave the chastisement of my son to me. There are many things left to teach him”

“Certainly, and I apologize if you disapprove of how I handled myself, by your son’s report. I know you are wise enough to discern the truth, as a sage and as the child’s father. “

“I’d like to think that. But I forget myself. I am known as Lord Adrian Adell, Marquess of Grado. By all rights, this is my city, but I have my hands full with staving off the constant threats aimed at me and my rule…while those perpetuating those rumors are the same ones causing them. No doubt you’ve heard that Grado has become a city of lawlessness, I’m sure. I was not the next lord by heredity, but by merit. However, the various counts and earls believed they would use me as a puppet ruler, and when I proved unwilling to allow them to continue their businesses, they began attacking, only occasionally with military.” He shrugged. “It’s no excuse allowing for what this city has become, but I haven’t seen a choice.”

Caleb nodded. “I offer what assistance I can, in this case. It might help you to have an operative that is not connected to your name, and I volunteer for any tasks you might have that would suit my abilities. However, I’d like to know…three of my siblings were brought here and sold, and I’m tracking them down. Do you know anything about that?”

“I do not, but if you were to inspect Count Yojo’s documents, he is the highest trafficker in slaves in the city. It’d be highly illegal, but then again, so is slavery. I feel that you would be perfectly justified. There is this…and the Count needs to be brought down. I’d rather not see him dead, but incriminating evidence there is plenty of. He brought me to his manse once, in one of his clique’s efforts to persuade me to kowtow to them, and although I could not take it with me, it was plainly visible. He cares little for inner security if his outer is tight enough, so…there is weakness.”

“I understand. If this is the case, I see little reason to waste time. Is there anything you could equip me with before I go?”

“We have two potions of Invisibility that we were preparing, but couldn’t use, essentially for the reasons you brought up…house connection. As long as you do this within the next day or so, Yojo’s intelligence network shouldn’t find you, especially with the guards and their silence after your acting the other day.” He smiled.

“You saw?”

“No, I heard. My own spies in the city are far more numerous and skilled than any of the upstarts…it’s why I’ve remained in ‘power’ this long. Hopefully long enough to see a change. Anyway, you are permitted to bear weapons in my presence. And Ethan, the Raoan, wished to spar with you, if you have some time.”

“When I have the time, I’ll meet him in your courtyard.” Caleb smiled and bowed, then headed toward the door. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me thus far, Lord Adrian. I’ll do my best to return the favor.” The two men nodded to each other, and Caleb left for his newest task.

Caleb took a moment, after waking, to test the chains and think back on how he’d arrived in this desolate place. The enchained skeleton across from him leered mockingly, and left Caleb wondering if he could smite through his feet, should it animate and attack. Until then, he sighed and licked his drying lips, waiting for something to happen, anything, that would give him an opportunity.

It had started well enough…Caleb had waited until shift change in the dead of night, quaffed one of the potions, and slipped inside. He stopped moving every time someone came in hearing or sight, and in this way worked his way through the building. Acquiring documents had been laughably easy, as well…indeed, as simple as Lord Adrian had suggested they would be. He’d put several beneath his armor, and folded quite a few to put under his codpiece, aware that if he were searched, that would be the last place they’d want to look. After doing this, he’d noted a slight hubbub near the front, and decided that finding a back exit would be preferable…at once good and bad luck. As he neared a door that seemed fruitful, the baying of a hound caught his ears just moments before the hound caught Caleb…and immediately Caleb learned the importance of lesser potions such as Hide from Animals, and Undead, for that matter. Grim faced and silent as he was caught by the guards, he was prepared for the worst until he noted them yelling about ‘A thief at the Treasury!’ He guessed that the door next to him was said treasury, and Archpaladin preserve him, the only immediate penalty he received was to be stripped of his halberd, axes, and gold, and thrown in the dungeons. They didn’t even bother to search him further, which was a relief, as he wasn’t sure that he could defend the documents from a thorough inspection.

His remembrances were interrupted by the sound of keys at the door. One of the less gruff guards had walked in and was setting a plate of food down…exquisite fare indeed, but it tended to make Caleb believe that his stay in these luxurious estates was going to be somewhat extended, and that didn’t suit him at all. He nodded to the man as best he could, then spoke up.

“Ser…I thank you for the meal, and your master is quite gracious to offer such hospitality to a common thief…but may I ask why?”

“Hah! A common thief outfitted in plate armor? Such a thing is ludicrous, but Master Yojo bid me set the plate right here, and view the food that you are denied the eve of your beheading. Master Yojo has gotten more careful of late, and…he also bid me search your body, just in case. It’s a task I will relish, you know…most armored footmen have quite muscular bodies. Pity that you have to die before I can explore it more thoroughly.”

Heironeous help him, but this man was a deviant…and shameless about it. He supposed it wouldn’t have mattered to him, but for the fact that he was apparently about to be the subject of his crude ‘affections’…but he shrugged. “Well, do what you will, then…actually, I have several of your master’s documents in my codpiece. I wonder, should you look there first?” Convenient.

The man’s eyes lit up. “Well, since you put it in such a way…I believe I might.” Loosening Caleb’s armor, which this man obviously had experience with, the guard lifted away the plate covering Caleb’s loins…and gave a start when he saw that he’d not been lied to. Caleb had one shot.

“Feast your eyes on the papers, wastrel…it’s the last sight you’ll have!” Glad his feet were unchained, Caleb kicked the man’s knee, causing him to wobble and fall to the ground from his stooped position. From there, the man clambered to get up, but before he could stand, the paladin’s foot glowed with sparks of electricity as the plated boot crashed into his temple, stifling all thought as it ended his life.

Caleb shuffled the keys over to his hands quickly, worried that the other guards had heard, and unlocked himself, retrieving the guard’s weapon and keeping the other potion, unfound in the search, in hand. He tucked his codpiece back into a pocket, too, no time to reaffix it…and hoped that his now unarmored groin wouldn’t be targeted for a…critical hit, so to speak, pantaloons would certainly not stop a blow very well. He ran back up the stairs, and gutted a guard who was indeed coming down to check on the commotion, the element of surprise not left to be wasted, as he continued onward. The documents rested mainly inside his gauntlet now, the same that held a longsword, and Caleb swore that he’d see them safely to Marquess Adell.

Rushing to the Treasury, Caleb found the rest of his equipment…the green glint of the family heirloom’s blade catching his eye as he opened the door. As he reaffixed and reequipped himself, he spotted a few bags of gems laying here and there, which he ignored. Reminding himself that -he- was the intruder, Caleb decided that Heironeous would especially frown on thievery (beyond the noble causes he was working for, anyway). And that’s when the guards spotted the slightly open treasury door again and burst in.

Caleb spun on his heel, ready to fight his way out, when he recognized one of the guards…the poor boy he’d terrified into submission at the gates! Upon catching sight of Caleb, the lad took a step back, struggling for words. Thinking quickly, Caleb dropped his voice an octave and methodically took up one of the gem bags. “So eager? I thought you enjoyed life more, boy. Or did you mean to give up your immortal soul so quickly?”

As the second guard leveled his pike, the first started to stammer. “Ca…ca, ca, khk… I-I-I’m SORRYYY!” To his partner’s utter confusion, the boy bolted for the door, running for his life. The instant the pikeman turned, Caleb leapt forward, slamming his halberd fatally into the guard’s side.

“Bad move to turn your back, and with a weapon out…and you’re in my way. Die quickly, and do not suffer.” Leaving the man to ooze blood on the once fine rug beneath his feet, Caleb took the bag of gems, and several more besides…there was no telling how many times he might have to do that. Quaffing the second Invisibility potion, Caleb ran for the door. He could hear the dogs being brought again, but he didn’t intend to stay long enough for them to find him this time. Several arrows were fired down the hall, but having no visible target, Caleb was soon out the doors and in the streets, where he lost himself in the alleys again until he could find an inn. He dared not show his face at Lord Adell’s estates so quickly after the heist…a seedy tavern would do for a night or two. He had enough copper on him to manage his own affairs for a good while. Stripping off his armor before entering, the rumpled clothing, and a slightly cracked moonstone along with a stern look to the barkeep kept his presence all but unnoticed as he took up lodging in the Grand Naga for the evening.

As far as seedy taverns went, Caleb found that he'd been, once again, blessedly fortunate. The word seedy, in fact, seemed to apply to carrots more than the Grand Naga. After cleaning and stowing his armor and the precious documents, the downstairs music coaxed the paladin to leave his quarters and listen to the song…rather, a spoken poem from a bard with a sharp goatee and a somber expression as he finished his verse.

"Yesterday, was that you? Looked just like you. Strange things my imagination might do…I take breath, reflect on what we've been through, or am I just going crazy 'cause I miss you?"

The crowd clapped quietly, as the performance had quieted the crowd in its entertainment. Caleb got a lot of thoughtful looks as he walked down and took a table, ordering some cider and a platter of stew. A buxom lass with far too low a neckline leaned forward generously to deliver it to his table, smiling cutely. Caleb forced a return smile out and included a few extra coppers as a tip, quirking his mouth as he turned to the food…look like a commoner, appearances are everything. Look like a commoner, appearances are…useless when you’re having your pocket picked! He swung around with a backfist, catching a young boy right on the neck. The thief stumbled back, clutching his throat and trying to fish out a dagger. Without pause, Caleb swung around his seat and grabbed the boy by the front of his shirt, and catching his wrist to prevent him from drawing. “You do that to the wrong person, boy, you’ll pay for it in blood. I should drop you from the city walls right now. Get out before I stop being merciful.” With a glare from Caleb, the boy loosed his hands and scurried away as soon as he was released, running full tilt out the door. Caleb turned back to his food, only to see a large man hovering over his seat.

Caleb had never heard a harsher, rougher voice in his life…it sounded like a grist mill with chunks of iron tossed in it. “Yer not gonna talk that way t’me boy, scrump…y’best be makin’ yer apologies right quick.” Leaning close in to an unperturbed paladin, he continued in a slightly quieter, even less desirable tone. “I’ll have yer purse, too, while I’m at it, yer not gonna be neednummmph!” The man was cut short as his eyes rolled back in his head and he bobbed once, then faceplanted on the table right next to Caleb’s food. Looking up to see the reason, he was somewhat surprised to find a small figure with a veiled hood behind the man. Stray brown hair and a close look at what could be seen of the person’s face betrayed her to be a girl…albeit one with a sap between her fingers and a dagger in her hand, snipping off the KO’d man’s coin purse.

“Wait…wait, girl!” Caleb gave a start, but the girl was already dancing back, to the great amusement of both barkeep and patrons. She gave Caleb a mock salute with the dagger now in her hand, just before she jumped backwards straight out the window. He had not yet been able to slide himself out of the seat completely, but he finished the motion, sighing slowly, stood up, and took his stew to a different table while someone else took care of moving the unlucky strongarm’s body. After a few minutes, he was forgotten by the crowd, sitting in silence…but the girl was not forgotten to him. He mused over her appearance and the chance of coincidence long after the bowl was empty. Finally, he went back up to his room, looked out the window to see if there were any clues as to her direction, and finding none, he left it open to allow the cool air to waft as he stripped down for bed, keeping one of his throwing axes beneath the pillow.

Harsh dreams followed, of sin and war, mostly. Caleb rowed a craft made of steel through a sea of villains, and his paddle was his family halberd, each new swing of the oar propelling him and soaking him and his vessel in crimson, and every time blood collected at the bottom of the boat, it sank just a little lower. Soon, he would be beneath the tide of enemies…already they were pricking his flesh with their steel…prick, one slight one on his ear…prick, another on his shoulder, prick…

“By all the Gods, you sleep heavily!” As Caleb gave a jolt and near cut his fingers jamming his hand beneath the pillow for his weapon, a figure stopped pricking his skin and pressed its blade beneath his elbow, in such a manner that he would not be able to employ his axe without driving his limb onto the weapon held there. Caleb paused, and took a breath.

“Who are you?” Well, it seemed the best way to start. A small, unknown person was straddling a sleeping paladin over his blanket and was amusing itself poking small holes in him until he woke…he decided that simple would do best.

“Who are -you-?” A soft voice answered in kind. “To be visiting both Marquess Adell and Lord Yojo, and under such auspicious occasion both times, too…hup!” Whatever she was expecting as an answer, it wasn’t Caleb jamming his arm down onto her knife…it was certainly a woman’s voice, and if it was a very feminine man, one could be forgiven the mistake…and swung his axe out anyway. Interestingly, the figure pulled her knife away before he could injure himself on it, and threw herself back to keep her own flesh whole, although she pulled herself straight up and locked out his axe arm with a deft maneuver. “Not the type for questions…something to hide? Dear me…”

“It’s official business, scoundrel, and you’ll have my tongue before you have an explanation. Not that I’ll allow you either.” With his free hand, Caleb grabbed the woman’s shoulder and crunched his forehead into her own. Producing the intended stun, Caleb blinked the stars out of his own eyes as he rolled, tossing himself and his assailant off the bed. A moment later, he had part of his sheet entangling her arms, and another part around her neck. “Your turn to relent to the Question, knave…who are you?”

The neck bind wasn’t tight enough that she couldn’t breathe or speak, but instead of doing either, she giggled and pulled away her hood and veil. “I’m Rachel Leilouch…and you’ve been stealing my freelance work, or helping me with it.” She held up the coin pouch from earlier, in the moonlight, Caleb could see her face, green eyes twinkling with mirth. “But just call me Rachel. And let me go.” Little chance of resisting -that- suggestion, given the next spot she planted an elbow. Between trying to keep himself decent and trying to keep himself upright, Caleb managed only to double over, gasping, as Rachel slipped away and back to the window. “Hee hee…that’ll be more difficult with you in armor. I’ll see you tomorrow!” This time she jumped to the window sill and started climbing upwards…not that Caleb was paying much mind. His head was still spinning.

“Darkness, what fears it by night or day, in the light of heaven…

In this darkness of mine, in this darkness of mine, can this be a gleam, a sliver without shade, to a minute’s dismay, to a moment’s dismay, I can’t share this today, I have no way.

In this darkness of mine, in this darkness of mine, can this be a ring of shelter this day, as the minutes away, as the moments away, come, let’s share this tiny ray, and sing…

Lala, lala, lalalala, la, trying for spring, and the winter’s thaw
Lala, lala, lalalala, la, try to sing, and we’ll sing, more, more…

Two lips of mine, in this moment of mine, can this be a scene of shameless array, to this mind, in this moment of mine, can this still be a clean and blameless way?

Lords bless us…”

Putting her lips to her flute, Rachel started playing, mostly to amuse herself in the quiet hours. The view from the roof of the tall towers of the Marquess was wonderful as always, the city dotted here and there in torchlight, some of it motionless, some of the lights bobbing. She had long learned the fastest way unnoticed to this vantage point, and it provided a pleasant retreat while she waited. The master bedroom was, in fact, just a small ways beneath her. While the windows and doors were kept barred at night, she had seen Lord Adell walk out to the balcony to enjoy her music more than once, without making any attempt to see where it was issuing from. She knew he knew, of her location, at least…she had found a pouch of waiting for her one day, addressed to ‘the performer’ and containing a ruby quite the size of a robin’s egg. She gave her quiet performances a great deal more often on the roof after that.

Tonight, though, she only wanted to think about the day…she had been planning to steal away into Yojo’s estates herself, and make off with the documents before he noticed, but…she had heard the clunk of platemail as a side door opened for no reason, and had watched Caleb in his random seeming search, watched as he got carted to the dungeons…and then she avoided the heightened guard and searched the document room anyway, only to discover that out of some luck, he’d already grabbed most of what she had intended on! This made things difficult…not only were said documents in the dungeon now, but they would doubtlessly come to the attention Yojo, who was certainly not fool enough to let them be stolen a second time. She was near ready to attack the dungeons herself when Caleb stormed up the stairs with blood on his blade and one of his boots. He nearly got himself caught again…she was unsure how he managed to make that bit of gruffness work in the treasury…but she’d followed him out and into the streets easily enough, he didn’t seem the most alert individual. The oaf in the Grand Naga had been purely for sport, and pricking Caleb awake, play. The morning would herald work again, but until then, she decided, she would relax. She took the flute from her lips and began to sing again

“Lala, lala, lalalala, la, we shall go, as the sun and wind
Lala, lala, lalalala, la, until we meet again, someday…”

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