Krisroe looked towards the west and saw that sunset was almost upon him. His mind had been wandering and he had lost track of the time. Shelterless for the third night running, he quickly looked around and found a small rock outcrop. “This will have to do.” He did not have time to find a more suitable location to spend the night. Yet another night exposed to the elements.
Kris sat on the smoothest of the rocks and began making camp for the night. He looked around to gauge his location in the wilderness. He could not infer how far from his destination he was, perhaps another day or two. Krisroe desperately sought the advice of his mentor Arminius, in the city of where he learned all that he knew of the priestly ways. Looking up into the darkening sky, the lack of cloud cover led him to believe it would again be cold. To try and stay warm in his exposed shelter, he pulled together a few smaller rocks into a circle to make a fire pit. Upon moving the third or fourth stone, he uncovered a small serpent that hissed at him before slithering away. “Enough of this, Set! I have chosen my path with the righteous god, Mitra. Be gone with you!”
As the Priest continued to prepare for the night, his mind raced with images of a young woman chained atop an altar, screaming, crying. Before her, a hooded man cloaked in shadow kneeling next to a stone serpent, muttering a prayer in an unknown tongue. In his hands, lay a jewel encrusted dagger he slowly gripped and rose above the girl’s head…
Kris’ mind flashed back to reality, where he was now shrouded in darkness. “Mitra! Please forgive me; my faith weakens unbeknownst to me. I seek your wisdom in Tarantia, but fear I may fall into the temptations of Set before I am able to reach you. I know not if my journey will take me to your temple, or to this altar of Set to sacrifice the innocent woman. My mind takes me both towards and away from you and this altar simultaneously – how can this be?”
After a restless night of sleep, Kris awoke to sounds of birds chirping in the distance, the sun slowly warming the earth around him. The embers before him smoked ever so slightly, granting little heat. The Priest added more wood and soon enough, the fire was gently cracking. With his hands outstretched, warmth came once again to the Priest. He wished he wasn’t so distracted so he could be aware of his surroundings, and find a proper shelter. Perhaps soon enough, after seeking the guidance from Arminius, his wise friend and mentor.
Kris wanted to get moving again before Set’s minions sensed him being awake and poisoned his mind. A few uneventful hours later, Kris found a felled tree in the shade with a few unattended belonging of a traveler. This seemed to be a good place to rest for a while; maybe even find conversation or better yet a companion for his journey. As he rested, a wizened old man approached from the trees, limping along with a walking stick.
“Good day sir! Kris exclaimed.” The stranger only stared, before giving a very slight nod. Kris tried once more to engage the man – “I travel to Tarantia – do you know how much further it is?”
“Another two days journey by this road. What seek ye in Tarantia?”
“Guidance from my old mentor, Arminius – a great Priest of Mitra at the temples.” At this, the old man took in breath sharply and held it, obviously distracted by the name of Arminius. Realizing this, he stuttered “Ar…Arminius you say? I don’t…know the name….myself…but Tarantia”, said the stranger pulling himself together, “yes I can show you the way to Tarantia if you desire. I am headed that way too, as long as you don’t mind having an old man slow you down.”
“A good companion would do me well as I have been distracted lately, the reason for my journey to Tarantia. My name is Krisroe of the Wild Lands of Zelata. What shall I call you, good sir?”
“I am Maelcolm of Khemi, from far away in the . Let us be going towards Tarantia for I also have business there I must tend to before too long.”
“Glad to make your acquaintance Maelcolm of Khemi! Let us make way for Tarantia!”
Soon after they were on the road, the two travelers walked in near silence, apart from the thoughts of Maelcolm. “Oh wise Set – if not for your foresight in leading me to this Priest Krisroe, he may have reached Arminius before I could slay the old fool. With my aching back slowing Kris down, I shall now ponder the best way to slay Arminius unbeknownst to this Priest! He shall not receive the guidance that will prevent him from joining your worthy cause! He will be a follower of Set soon enough!”
After the sun set and rose twice more, the two weary travelers approached Tarantia. Krisroe continued to be plagued by visions of torture, despair, and death. Maelcolm continued to mutter the incantations to create these visions, without Krisroe’s knowledge.
As the great gates of Tarantia drew closer, Kris’ eyes began to open in amazement. This view never ceased to amaze him, despite living in this great city for over 10 years while reading the great manuscripts in the temples. He became more and more ecstatic with each passing step at the thought of seeing his old friend and mentor Arminius once again. Soon he would have answers to his growing troubles; this knowledge rejuvenated Kris’ strength. Maelcolm could sense this new found vigor growing in Kris and knew that his poisonous visions would no longer have an effect on Kris as they drew nearer to the great city. At least while Arminius breathed life.
Maelcolm had been devising his plan to slay Arminius over the past two days now that Krisroe accompanied him and he had developed a suitable plan to kill the old Priest. Most importantly, with this plan, he retained apparent innocence with Krisroe. Without this, there was no turning him into a follower of Set.
As the temple grew closer and closer, Maelcolm began speaking an incantation under his breath. Upon completion, his old walking stick suddenly transformed into a large serpent that bit quickly snapped its jaws around his throat. Since the serpent was under his control, no damage was done, but to the innocent eye, this large serpent was crushing his trachea and draining the life from the old man. Maelcolm collapsed to the ground as the serpent began to encircle him with large muscular coils. Krisroe gasped at the sight of this and began smiting the serpent with spells to no avail.
Krisroe sensed Set’s evil presence nearby and realized this was a last stand to prevent Kris from entering the great temple before him. The Priest began spell weaving a powerful hex to kill the serpent once and for all, but as the spell grew in strength, Kris began to lose control and the spell back fired onto himself! Kris now lay on the ground unconscious by his own hand.
There was a great crowd in the temple square that ran to their aid, or away in fear. Several men tried to pull the serpent off of Maelcolm, while several others tended to Kris. Arminius, who had been praying in the temple, came out to see what the commotion was. As he pushed his way through to the middle of the circle of onlookers, the serpent suddenly lashed out unseen and struck Arminius in the throat, this time not holding back as he did for his master of Khemi. Maelcolm continued his charade of being bitten by a snake by grabbing his throat in theatrical pain. Arminius, on the other hand, genuinely gasped for air.
As Krisroe began to gain consciousness, he witnessed the last gasps at life by his old friend Arminius. Too weak and disoriented to take meaningful action, Krisroe watched as the last glint of life left Arminius’ eyes. By the time he was able to rise, the serpent had been detained by the onlookers. Krisroe drew a small dagger from his belt and repeatedly stabbed the serpent until its wriggling coils finally fell limp.
Krisroe looked down at his companion, Maelcolm, on the ground and didn’t know whether he should aid him or kill him. He had witnessed the old man’s staff transform into the serpent that had killed Arminius, but didn’t know if he had caused it and this was now an act to provide grounds for his innocence, or if he was a genuine victim as well who was strong enough to survive the devastating bite of the vile serpent.
Kris would meditate upon these thoughts again later, but for now he conjured a healing spell to aid the old man’s healing. Simultaneously, he began to plan his journey into Stygia to get revenge upon the old God for killing the great Arminius! He was unknowingly falling right into Maelcolm’s plot to send the priest into Stygia, and he would be doing so willingly!
Krisroe barely slept a wink that night after the day’s events. His mind was troubled at what had happened – still unsure if they were the doings of Maelcolm, or if the old man was truly another victim of Set’s attack on Arminius. Once the sun came up over the horizon, Kris rose to his feet and began to prepare his journey towards revenge. Maelcolm, who had greed to assist in the plot of revenge, followed him in silence sensing that Krisroe was wary of him now; the old man did not want to deter the young priest from his revenge as it would lead him towards Set! Maelcolm would maintain his façade of innocence until the time was right.
As the two left the great gates of Tarantia behind them, the young priest took the easterly road, not the southern road towards Stygia, the . After some time Maelcolm tested the waters by inquiring as to their destination. Krisroe sharply replied “The Sanctum of the Burning Souls. Not only do I want to seek my vengeance in Stygia, but also any outpost that shows favor to Set. I shall rid the world of this evil force that took the life of my great friend. I first will begin with the ruins in the Wild Lands, my home.”
Maelcolm again followed in silence, but this time, he did not need to weave an intricate plan of deception. No charade would be required in the Sanctum – perhaps only Mitra himself could oppose the evil’s contained within.
[Several days later…]
Maelcolm could sense the rage brewing in Krisroe as the Sanctum came into sight, but did nothing to hinder the festering inside from growing. As Krisroe’s blood boiled, the crimson statues marking the entrance grew ever closer, blood flowing from their mouths. When the two reached the entrance, Krisroe halted suddenly and turned toward his wizened companion. “I am no fool - I know you had a hand in the slaying of Arminius. I let you accompany me this far only for safe passage into the Sanctum. Now it is time for you to die for what you did!”