Musing: Coercion

The paladin. The OG jerk of the Role Playing world.

Fanatics are fun!   I’ve always come to appreciate the concept of an influential organization in fiction.   One of the earliest fantasy works I did featured a cult leader as its antagonist.  Sure having a villian people love to hate is important but having a likable villian with a valid cause is better.

When I was introduced to the alignment system of D&D I thought of Lawful Good as well… good.   If you think about it though because of the definition of the alignment.   Lawful Good can also mean rigid, strict, and unforgiving.  Yes I know paladins probably aren’t skewering jaywalkers but it is an interesting  dynamic that a paragon of Justice can quickly become an inflexible jerk.

The typical ‘good guy’ in fantasy is more like Neutral Good as it gets along with almost every alignment.

Getting off track, but coercion is an amazing story telling tool.   You have a character that is good that goes evil, or an evil person that goes good.   The basis of the word.   Finding good motivation of these switches is hard.   But I love it.

The reason I bring up paladins is because they are frequently people that were ‘shown the light’ per-say and took on a life of Righteousness.  It’s also relevant to today’s story.   Enjoy.

Purity

Still.  Stay perfectly still.

Alai’s breathing was shallow and sporadic as she laid on the cold ground of the battlefield.   There was a sickening concoction of mud and cooled blood.   Both were thick and rancid but threatened to choke away her life with each breath.   There were dead men around her, friends and foes alike.

She was alive but her eyes had to be pressed shut to keep the icy winds of the plains splattering the sickening soup into her eyes.

She could hear footsteps.  It was men looking for survivors.  The men on the wrong side.

A tall figure clad in white armor with gold trim walked amongst the dead.   He used a simple pike to turn bodies, likely looking for officers or valuable documents.  They would find nothing of that on her.

There was at least peace of mind that if discovered they would grant her a swift death rather than inflict heinous acts upon her.   The Holy Order might have been a bunch of controlling twerps but they were no rapists or thieves.

There were men and women alike in their fine shells of armor.   She had heard their battle and death cries alike.

Too soon, it’s just one.

Alai pressed her eyes shut as the lone soldier passed.  He prodded a body next to her, turning it over and pawed at it for some time.   The gentle pluck of breaking string almost made Alai flinch, she did not.   The knight continued to kneel and muttered an incoherent prayer.   The words of the  Order were completely foreign to her.   Everything they said sounded like singing.

The harsh familiar words of her people filled her ears with tradition and strength.   If not for their superior armor and rigid tactics the Order wouldn’t stand a chance.

The man stood and moved on.  He showed no interest in Alai’s still body.  She had not showed a single sign of life and the steel coffins they wore dull their senses.  A warmth like sunlight warmed her fur covered feet.   The day was overcast, so the feeling was so odd.   The lone soldier was several paces away and in her field of vision, but a unearthly glow swelled near her.

Because of its sheer size Alai could see the glow in the corner of her eye.  A glowing sphere of light was sliding skyward.   As her eyes scanned the battle field afar, several other lights were doing the same.  It was a chorus of rising suns into the skies of the foggy battlefield.

Her distraction allowed three pairs of feet to draw close.   The heavy sound of plate made her heart sink.  This time it was not so fortunate.   There was a fourth man with the souldiers, touting a book of prayers and each dying man’s light was snuffed out by a huge executioner.   He stood a head taller than his fellows and had a Trident that served the unique purpose of ending a fallen man’s life quickly and painlessly.

Alai grit her teeth at their approach.  There were heavy steps then the telltale sound of the Trident entering the brain of one of her fallen kin.   This was an honorable practice, but it did not make it any easier to endure.   The four men lying near her drew their last breaths to give her this chance.

She tested her fingers; she had been still for long the phantom death felt real.  The stink of blood and filth stung her nose.  Even familiar with it, the sting of knowing whose guts she smelled.

The executioner drew close, and the unknown words were meant for her now.  She could feel the displacement of air as the trident was aimed over her head.  In seconds her brain would be splattered in the mud along with her brothers and sisters.

Paitence.   Focus.

She slowed her heartbeat and let time flow slowly.   It was the innate power of her people.   Time did not affect them normally.   She could feel time warping and crying out in protest as the knight started to lower his trident with merciful haste.

Alai let the sting of displaced wind begin to prick the skin beneath her coarse matted black hair before she rolled towards her dagger.   The knight was still locked in the disorientation of the time-slip when she sprung from the ground.   The foot of steel arched wildly through the air as the executioner watched helplessly as it drove deep into the paper thin gap between his helmet and shoulder armor.

The other two men started to draw their swords, but by this point Alai knew every standard weapon they carried.   She had already pulled their sacred daggers from their sides and drove blades into the chins of the opposite knight.  She thought it kind to at least not kill them with their own daggers.  Besides even with the power of the time-slip she could only gain momentum so fast.

Time returned to its normal flow and the clergy man looked at Alai like she was the devil herself.    She sighed, there were no innocents in this conflict.   If he brought more to kill her she would regret sparing him.

There was a blinding flash and searing light blurred her vision.  She dodged the knife from instinct, caught his arm and bent it backwards.   A snap echoed along with the clergyman’s wail.  She drove his own dagger into his unprotected heart.

She struggled to push away the fields of colorful blobs that filled her vision.  She was no stranger to their magic but she had never been actually hit by it.   A sensation of Nausea and Vertigo gripped her as she fell to her hands and knees to vomit.   She took shallow breaths until the only colorful blob in front of her was the remnants of her breakfast in the mud.

Alai stood and reclaimed her knife from the executioner’s neck.   He had fallen like a lumbered tree and was so massive she hardly had to stoop over to reclaim it.  They bled the same as any human that fought alongside her.  She cleaned off her dagger and put it back in its rightful place.

She had one more loose end to tie up before she died.   She had one more sheathe for her dagger.

Their vengeful ghosts could kill a healthy man by their presence alone.

Alai had seen the soul of a friend be torn from their body from just watching the release ritual.  For this reason the lone men that wandered the battlefield were infinitely more dangerous than a fully armored footman.

After every recorded battle against the order, they spread their ranks thin across the battle field ‘redeeming’ their dead and ‘converting’ those that surrendered.   There was a staggering number of converts amongst their army no matter how hated the order was.  Even officers amongst her own army served them now.

She tightened her hand around her dagger; its crude leather brought her comfort.  She had personally wrapped it.  She worked her way towards their camp.  Once amongst their tents she would effectively be invisible.  Sneak attacks were decidedly effective against them, they lacked instinct and cunning.

There were so few men amongst the tents it was hardly a challenge to avoid them.  She was well aware that what she was doing was suicide, but if she killed their commander the force that rolled over her unit would be forced to wait for new orders.   Also with them in one place for an extended period of time would allow a night attack to thin their numbers.

Alai came across the tent she was looking for.  The Order had the bad habit of using the same layout for every camp.  The officers tent had a wreath of pine hanging atop it .  The gentle rustle of the wind was her chance to end this quickly and clean.  There were two men posted in front of it.

She eased her way around and drew out her dagger and clenched it between her teeth.  She matched the waver of the win and uprooted the edge of the tent.   It was easy to slide in, the commander was at a fine desk writing.   He was an older gentleman, with snow white hair.   All of the order had colorless hair though.   It made them unnatural an ethereal by nature.

It didn’t matter.  They still bleed.

She stood in his shadow, silent as a dream and considered warping time so he would feel every agonizing moment, but she wanted them to know what she had done.   She wanted them to realize how helpless they were even in victory.  It only took one to unravel their whole machine.   This is why the order would ultimately lose.

“I understand your hatred,” the man said.   He spoke in her native tongue.  It confused her.   There was no way he should have been able to know she was there.

She brought her dagger to his throat threateningly, he had no way to save himself even if he knew she was there.  Crying out wouldn’t save him either.  Red blood trickled from the impact of the blade on his throat.

“Be at peace.   You will understand soon.” The man said again.

That was when she recognized him.   It was her blade-master.   It was the very man that had taught her how to use a dagger.   This was the very man that taught her how to bend time.  She hadn’t recognized him with snow colored hair and dull white eyes.   What had they done to make this patriot join them.

He closed his eyes.  He accepted death.   She gave it to him.

Blinding light poured out of the wound with blood.   It filled the room and left Alai in a sea of white.   She felt weightless.  The man she had killed vanished before her eyes.  She struggled to set her feet upon the ground but it simply wasn’t there.

She tried to breathe but couldn’t.   Her hands darted to her throat anticipating suffocation, but despite the lack of air.   She no longer needed it.  The light around her filled all the emptiness within her.   It removed the malice, the hatred, and the desire to avenge.   Her muscles relaxed and she stropped struggling against the weightlessness.   She let herself curl into a ball as the warmth of the light soothed her.

It ate away the filth, the blood, and every worry she could muster and left her clean.   Her eyes opened again, and felt the light fade.   Rather it flowed into her and left her feeling complete.   She uncurled and felt her bare feet touch the floor of the tent.

Everything had been taken from her.   She stood, naked as the day she was born. Her hair was undamaged by war and unstained by mud or blood.  It was clean, long and snow white.

The two guards entered.  One was holding a simple robe and offered it with a polite bow.

Alai had been with men before, but certainly would feel uncomfortable being nude around two strangers, two enemies no less.   Instead she smiled softly and accepted the robe.  He nodded and returned to his post with his partner.

She slipped the robe overhead, and it felt softer than any material she had touched.   She expected that it was an expensive silk but closer inspection it was merely cotton.

Alai turned and looked down.   There was no blood on the desk, nor the floor.  Was there supposed to be?  On the middle of the desk was her dagger, ivory hilt with a black stone set in the handle.   She picked it up and admired how it fit neatly in her hand.

It was through this dagger she would purify the hearts of those against the Order.  Death was only a release.   There was no pain waiting for the pure: only salvation.

“Through purity, salvation,” Alai said in the dulcet tones of the Order’s word.  Just speaking the words gave her strength.   He was right.  She understood now.  She understood everything.

As an aside, I’ve come to the decision to scrap the current prologue and it’s being demoted down to a Point of View Chapter.   I think in the long run the new one (that I’ll be posting sometime next week) does the story much more justice.

-Eric R. Jackson

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