Gabriel awoke to the smell of mixed herbs and burning fur.
“Ah, nice of you to join me.” Lear sat on the ground, his own Dai’Sana in hand, carving dates into three separate fangs. “Your stones are in that pouch there.” He pointed towards a crimson pouch that lay on the ground near where he was sitting.
“How are you feeling?” The young man asked the old as he stood up, stretching his legs, before retrieving his stones and placing them in his own pouch.
“I’m sore, but I will survive.”
“I was worried last…how long did I sleep?”
“I went out to get my pack from the horses, and it was light again, so it is morning. It will take more than a few broken ribs to stop me. I’ve been through worse. What about you?”
“I’m sore too, but not too bad I think.” A thought occurred to Gabriel. “How will the Atwans reclaim these three? And do you know who they are?”
“One of their names was Stephen, but the other two, one was a young female, and the other was a boy about your age I think.”
“How can you tell?”
“Well, this one was definitely a female,” Lear pointed one of his feet at a burning corpse, “and the scraps of clothes this one had on were not made for an adult. As for the Atwans, if you are well enough to ride, you could go fetch them while I finish the Rites.”
“Ok.” Gabriel followed the twisting and turning cavern, until he reached the room the large pool was in. The only sign of the lizard they had slain the day before was the disturbed stones where the body had been dragged away. Trying hard not to think of what could have carried off such a large creature, Gabriel hurried past and soon found himself outside, the sun creeping up towards its zenith. Gabriel mounted his horse and pointed it back north and was underway. Just like traveling through the cave earlier, the path back to town was shorter than it had seemed the day before. Gabriel passed the first sentry who sent up a cheer as he was passed. Soon, Gabriel was being followed by a small throng of people all of them cheering and thanking him. Reaching the tavern, Gabriel dismounted, the stable boy running out and offering his thanks as well.
Cailin was waiting at the door as Gabriel arrived.
“Well met, young Master.” Cailin greeted him with a hug.
Gabriel wanted to wince, but held back, knowing that Lear’s injuries had been much worse.
“Where is Master Lear?”
“He was conducting the Rites when I left.” Gabriel pointed in the general direction of the cave, a small wisp of smoke could be seen coming from a hole in the hills. How fare the sick?”
“No one else has come down with the Plague, but two more have died.” Cailin hung his head, his tone solemn. "I feel, and I hope, that we are coming out of this."
“I am sure you are doing all you can. Any news on Father Meinos?”
“More of his robes were found, but no one has seen him yet.”
“They are still looking?”
“Of course. Get some food, I will gather the Atwans and we will go out to Lear.”
“There were three of them, and Lear killed them all.” Gabriel realized that he was upset by this fact.
“I’m sure you helped.” Cailin tried to empathize, but was unsure of Gabriel’s motives for the statement.
“I had to rely on him to save me.”
“Many people have.”
“But I am a Paladin too. I should not have to rely on anyone.”
“Three of those beasts is a tough task for even one experienced Paladin, let alone someone who has not grown into their sword yet.”
“Thank you Cailin, you are right. My pride is not something I should worry about. I will get that food now.”
Gabriel went inside the tavern and helped himself to a bowl of stew from the large pot that hung over the fireplace. He tore a chunk off of a large loaf of bread that sat on one of the nearby tables and proceeded to eat, listening to the feverish moaning of one of the sick men that occupied the establishments floor. The young Paladin looked over the floor and saw that both of the women that had been there the day before were gone, the floor now occupied by only the three men. Finished eating, Gabriel grabbed another chunk of bread as well as a piece of meat to bring to Lear and stuffed them into a sack he found resting on a nearby table. He then left the tavern and called to the stable boy to prepare his mount again. He gave the boy another coin as his horse was brought to him.
Cailin appeared from a nearby building, followed by four more Atwans. “These men will accompany you and return with the remains.” The High Atwan nodded towards his companions and then returned his gaze to Gabriel. “May the Star guide you and The One watch over you young Master.”
The four Atwans followed on foot as Gabriel led them silently toward the cave. Looking them over from astride his horse, Gabriel only recognized Brother Benedis.
“Benedis, I don’t know these Atwans, have I been that blind over the years?”
“No, Master Gabriel. When the Plague struck, Aericinth sent a man to each of the nearby Temples, ours and Garinth, which is east of here. Their Master is old and dying, so they could not spare a Paladin, but they sent a detachment of monks and some Atwans.”
“Didn’t he have an apprentice he could have sent?” Gabriel was beginning to feel like he was the only one that had taken up the mantle.
“He died last week apparently. Was thrown from his horse.”
Gabriel was beginning to feel like a man alone on an island.
One of the other Atwans spoke up, “Young Master, my name is Craig. What Cailin said is true, Master Petrov is gravely ill, and his apprentice, Terryl, was thrown from a horse. We have sent messages looking for a Paladin to take over the reins of the temple, for we have received word that the first trained has been killed as well.”
“Very well, when we return to our temple, I will make sure that the word gets out. Maybe Renault will hear the call.”
The five men travelled the remainder of the trip in silence and reached the cave as the final wisps of smoke were trailing into the sky from a nearby hilltop.