After the Rites had been complete, Gabriel and Lear returned to the town, where news of another bout of the Plague had reached the townsfolk.  Garinth, the temple from which the other group of Atwans had come, was reporting a widespread outbreak and had requested that their contingent return at once.

Gabriel found himself speaking with Craig, Cailin, and Lear as the sun rose, shining in through the rooms lone window.

“Masters, we would greatly appreciate any help you could send.  We have plenty of Atwans, but with our own Master Boz sick, we are in no condition to hunt.”  Craig said, his eyes shifting between the three men.

Lear spoke up.  “Gabriel will go.  I need to return to my temple, as do Cailin and our monks.”

Gabriel recognized the tone and knew better than to argue about his fate, but decided on a different tactic.  “Who will take care of those that have yet to die here?’

Cailin answered the question.  “Four of our Atwans will stay behind and continue to watch this town, but with no new cases of the Plague in two days, we should be done soon.  There is only one man left alive with the plague.”

“Two,” Gabriel hung his head, regretting the outburst even before it was completely out.

Cailin reached out to place his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, but the young man shrugged it off.

“If I may,” Craig interjected.  “I understand.  One of our brothers came down with the Plague ten years ago and no one ever found him.  I am afraid that it is he who has come back this time.  I do not like the idea, but this must be The One’s will.  We have to trust in him to lead us in his path, and if it means we must suffer the loss of ones we love, then that is the way it must be.”

“Thank you for those words Craig.”  Lear nodded, dismissing the Atwan.  “Gabriel, I fear for the worst with Father Meinos, but soon, we will have the Plague at our door too.  I can spare a pair of priests down here for a few more days, but we are going to need all the help at home soon.  “Your pack has been stocked with food.  Accompany Craig back to Garinth and hurry home as soon as you can, I have a feeling we will need your services too.”

“Yes Master,”  Gabriel knew that at some point he was going to have to go his own way, but had not expected that time to come so soon.  “May the Star guide you and The One watch over you,” he intoned, trying to hide the fear in his voice.

“And you as well,” Cailin and Lear said in unison before leaving the room they occupied at the top of the stairs in the tavern.

“Are you ready for this young Master?”

“Honestly, no.”

Craig chuckled.  “I remember when I was about your age, and the disgust I had at what Atwans did, and then I watched as one of those creatures tore apart a mother who was trying to protect her child.”

“What happened?” Gabriel asked, his tone hushed.

“I had fifteen harvests behind me,” Craig’s eyes took on a far away look, “and I had gone home for my last meal before committing to being an Atwan.  It wasn’t even a Plague year, but one of those beasts came into town and happened to knock down my door.  I watched as my mother’s neck was broken.  She was protecting my brother and I from the werewolf.”

“I’m sorry, that is a terrible thing to have seen.”

“Boz came in a moment later and slit the creatures throat, but my mom was already dead.  I knew then what I needed to do.”

Gabriel hung his head, unsure of what to say other than to utter another apology.

“That was twelve harvests ago, and I have since burned twice that many corpses.  I hate every moment of it, but it is better than living with the knowledge that there are twenty four more of those foul beasts out there.”

“I understand.  And that helps.  Thank you for sharing that with me.  How far is Garinth?”  Gabriel was beginning to feel antsy, ready to be on the road.  The sooner he finished this task, the sooner he could be back in his own temple.

“It is about a days ride to the east.”

“Then let’s get going.  The sooner we get back, hopefully the fewer victims the Plague will have.”  Gabriel descended the stairs, Craig behind him. And found the last sick man sitting in his bed crying.

“In the chapel.  It is in the chapel.” The dying man kept repeating.

Benedis was attending to the man, and when Gabriel questioned him as to what the poor soul was talking about, he was unable to offer an answer.

“He has been this way for the last hour Master.  That’s all he will say.”

Gabriel shrugged and left the tavern, finding his horse saddled and waiting for him.  “Whats going on?”  The young Paladin asked the stable boy, placing another coin in the young boys hand.

“Master Lear said you would be out in a minute and to have your horse ready.”

“Thank you, where are the horses for the group from Garinth?”

“They did not come on horses Master.”

The one day ride took three days to march, and as they approached the town of Garinth, a young woman came running out to meet them.

“Turn back, they’re all dead!.”

“What do you mean?” Craig shouted at the woman, afraid of what she meant.

“The beasts came out from the forests and swept through the temple.  I think I am the only one who is not sick.”

Craig broke into a run, followed quickly by the other Atwans and the small group of monks that the temple had sent.

Gabriel stood silently, unsure of what to do, before finally riding into town.

He found Craig on the front steps of the temple, his head in his hands, crying.

The End

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