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Divine Paladin Short Story

Mortal Fog

Destin runs into trouble on his voyage to a new land.

Will a demon-possessed fog consume him and his crew,

or will The Goddess's light show Destin the way?

Written By Chris Backofen

 

     Destin stared into the midday sun. Its warmth mimicked that of the Goddess’ presence, while its white-hot radiance imitated her majesty. The light was her most sacred gift; one they’d sworn to preserve however bleak the world became. This boat and crew testified both to that oath and to their deity’s immortal glory. Fifty-four meters stem to stern, fifty-six cannons, and a crew of five-hundred faithful. All blessed by The Goddess for their maiden voyage. The Resolute was a flagship beyond compare, leading a mission of utmost import.

 

     Destin turned his attention to the fog rolling over the churning sea. Just as the speakers foretold. With utmost reverence, Destin touched the face of The Goddess adorning his shoulder. It glowed assuringly. They were prepared. The fog - cursed though it might be - wouldn’t thwart their journey. Destin retrieved his baton from his belt and raised it to the heavens - to the Goddess. His eyes closed in prayer. Light poured from the heavens and coursed through Destin. Opening gleaming eyes, he beckoned the celestial light forward. The radiant beam cut through the dour fog, clearing a path for the ship. Beyond keeping the fog at bay, the crew trusted it to lead them safely through these treacherous waters. Where the light led, they would follow. As in all things, the Goddess would see them through. Destin was humbled and privileged to serve as the conduit of her grace.

 

     As the ship entered the corridor carved through the grim mist, Destin felt the prayers of the crew; praising the Goddess and wishing for good fortune this crossing. But through the mist, Destin sensed something sinister. Shadows moved through the roiling fog, subtle and distant but growing larger and drawing closer at an alarming rate. Though the fog was thick, the Eyes of the Goddess revealed the shadows for what they were - and they were hideous, each being an uneven mass of spewing tentacles haloing glowering red eyes the color of bloodlust. “Demons ahead!” Destin shouted. Destin gripped the railing with anticipation. None of the pages of the Great Codex described a demon of such colossal size, and he looked forward to inscribing the story of their victory himself. “Open fire!” At his command, two lances of white shot from the forward guns, piercing fog and demon both. The struck demon shook slightly before returning a thunder-like roar, undeterred and evidently enraged, judging by its flailing, now swinging limbs. More cannons rang out. The aft guns? Someone called from the deck: “Brace for impact!”

 

     There was a crash. The ship lurched, timber creaked with strain, and Destin relied on grip and grace to keep his perch on the foremast. A faint ringing and scent of ozone amidst the brine told him the ship’s wards had been struck a powerful blow. Spinning around, Destin saw a massive tendril - stretching out from the fog - recoiling from the hull. Behind you. The voice of the Goddess, vast and tranquil as the ocean but, in this moment, urgent. Destin turned to see a shadowy limb swinging toward him. He raised his buckler, letting the light of the Goddess flow through until a broadsword emanated from the golden disk. With a deft swing, it sliced through the oncoming tendril. The sundered segment of limb flew harmlessly past Destin and the mast, vanishing in chillsome smoke. As the root tentacle swung around for another attack, it caught the path-cutting light radiating from Destin’s baton; it withered, convulsed, and faded as shadow before light. Thank the Goddess. 

     The light would guide them out of the fog, if only they could keep the mist-lurkers at bay. But he could feel his connection to the Goddess weakening, as if dampened by that damned oppressive mist. Destin focused forward as the ship rocked again, and again. Behind him, screaming, shouting, the crashing of waves, cannon-fire, and strikes from umbral tentacles. Not much longer now, he hoped. He felt a sense of distress from his brethren on deck. New sounds: thunder cracking, and… the all-too-familiar growl of demons - too near to be the ones at sea. They must be on the ship! The ship swayed again, suddenly but without the telltale signs of impact. They were turning, straying out of the channel cast by the light, and into the fog bank. What’s happened at the helm? The light flickered as Destin’s concern for the crew - and their mission - competed for his attention on the task at hand. 

     Destin, you must - the Goddess’ voice faded, and the stream of light cast from the sky reduced to a trickle. Goddess?! No answer. Destin hesitated, unsure of what to do. Behind him shouts and crashing signaled pandemonium deck. He turned to survey the din, and found his fears confirmed: demons had boarded, swarming over the topdeck and rigging like a swarm of locusts as the faithful engaged them in battle.  The faithful engaged the hoard as the fog crept in.In the commotion, the crew was having trouble loading and firing the cannons, resorting to their radiant melee weapons to fend off the tendrils above deck while relying on wards to protect the increasingly battered - if not breaking - hull. There was no sign of the other ships, either. They wouldn’t survive long like this - they had to get through the fog! They had to right the ship’s course. Surveying the battle, Destin realized that duty fell to him.

     Praying for balance, Destin vaulted the nest’s rail, slid down the sloping foremast, and leapt to the deck below. The helm wasn’t far under normal circumstances: through this cabin, up a flight of stairs, and across the main deck. From there, he could set the ship back on course - back towards the light. He opened the cabin door to see a demon, blade slick with the ruddy blood of the faithful. Destin’s breath hitched in his lungs. Though he’d fought and slain these monsters in droves, She’d always been at his side. But now, without her strength… Destin remained rooted as the snarling demon drew closer. Where was the Goddess? In the history of the Order, had she ever abandoned one of her faithful? Racking his brain, he recalled a story Braver had shared with him as a child; how she’d fended the horde in the Forsaken Catacombs for three days and nights without food or water, sustained only by her faith and the light of the Goddess. No, She wouldn’t abandon Destin now. And he wouldn’t abandon her. Destin forced the fear from his mind, and focused on the Goddess. Finally, he felt it: a thin tether - barely perceptible - connecting them through the fog.

 

     My child! He felt her presence wash over him. He sensed her infinite relief. 

     My Goddess! 

     Slay the demon. Reach the helm. Save the ship! 

     Destin turned to face the approaching demon. It was nothing but a hideous obstacle, pitiful and powerless before the might of the Goddess. Destin raised his baton and buckler, letting the emanating light coalesce into twin blades. One caught the demon’s downward strike, while the other retaliated with lethal fury, rending head and arm from lifeless torso before swinging back to bludgeon the carcass out the way. 

     The Goddess’ voice again rang softly through his mind. The fog seeks to separate us; to bring about darkness and despair. But your faith will overcome this and all trials. I would not have chosen you otherwise. Fear not. Focus on your faith, and on Me. So long as you have faith, you have Me. So long as you have Me, you will never be alone.

 

     Destin knelt to genuflect. Thank you, Goddess. I understand. 

     Now go, Destin!

     At once!

     Destin made his way across the room, bounded up the stairs and passed through the open doorway to the main deck. Outside, demons and faithful engaged in mortal mayhem. Tentacles lashed the ship and the occasional cannonshot lanced white through encroaching grey mist. He’d have to cut his way through each iridescent black-bodied, red-eyed demon in his way.

     As the first turned to meet Destin, it was smashed in the face by a holy shield cast from the paladin’s buckler. The baton jabbed into the demon’s gut, and then erupted in light as a radiant blade formed, piercing the demon. Destin cleaved upwards, spun, and brought the blade down on another monster, swiftly smote. Destin felt a blade glance off the ward protecting his shoulder blade, and retaliated with a thrust through the grotesque being’s heartless chest. He kicked the body off his blade, and resumed his march towards the helm. 

     The next demon raised its blade to parry Destin’s lateral strike, the follow-up cross-slice, and a flurry of ensuing blows. Destin growled and reforged his weapons into a pair of maces, whose forceful blows broke the demon’s blocks with ease, pulping demonhide and painting the deck black with the hellspawn gore. Another demon jumped over its slain comrade, only to be caught by a mace and launched overboard into fog and sea. Destin twirled into an overhand strike that combined demon skull with main deck in a pool of black ichor. 

     Destin caught a flicker of movement above him - a demon leaping from the main mast - and joined baton and buckler into a shining aegis just in time to intercept a pair of gnarled blades. Their owner landed, and more blows followed, the demon twirling and spinning blades in a furious volly of death seeking any flaw in Destin’s defense. Destin kept the shield between him and the blows until he spotted his chance: as a tendril arced towards the deck, he allowed the aegis to surge with light, blinding the demon. Shoving his shield forward, Deston knocked the creton into the path of the tentacle, where it vanished with a sickening wet crunch soon after. Now the tentacle was in his way. Destin dispelled the aegis, but joined his batons overhead into a shining greatsword. He brought the blade down, severing the frightful limb and leaving a searing gash in the deck and several demons beyond. The path was clear, aside from the rapidly thickening fog. He could feel his connection with the Goddess straining amidst the curse. Time was running out.

     Destin strode to the helm and spotted the demon responsible for the ship’s unplanned detour, for the death of so many faithful, and for upsetting the Goddess’ plans. Its grotesque, sable body turned towards him, eyes like splotches of blood above bared its bared fangs. “Accursed demon, feeble and alone!” Strike it down, Destin! the Goddess cried. Destin’s blades sliced through the air and then stopped suddenly. He struggled, but his weapons were caught. Misty apparitions - swords, arms, faces - swirled, entangled the blade, and enveloped him. He felt his connection to the Goddess go silent and cold. Everything changed. The fog around him was brighter. Where the mistlurkers were, there were ships. Arcing from the water were swirling tendrils of water rather than ebon hide. And the demon before him was now a woman in corsair dress, her coat matching Destin’s but stained crimson as the blood on her rapier. She locked eyes with him, and spoke: “No, I’m never alone.” Her lips curled into a smirk that sent a chill down his spine. “Which is more than I can say for you.”

     “Surprised?” The pirate jeered as she basked in his confused stare. She rested an arm lazily on the helm as the wispy, skeletal forms surrounding her returned to the ambient fog. “Thought I was a demon?”

     The paladin blinked and nearly stumbled as he struggled to make sense of his new surroundings. Almost comical, the corsair thought, considering his ostentatious gold armor and bear-like physique. “Illusion magic?” He finally sputtered. 

     “Aye. Top rate. But not mine nor my crew’s. Got your goddess to thank for that.” 

     Destin’s eyes narrowed. He had slim tolerance for blasphemy. “What do you know of the Goddess?”

     The tip of the pirate’s mouth curled, and her eyes narrowed ever-so slightly. “More than you’d think. More than you’d believe. I’d tell you,” she shrugged, “but you wouldn’t be interested. Deeply heretical stuff.” She was grinning now. Toying with him. Clouding the path, and preventing Destin from his goal. 

     “Enough, pirate. Demon or not, you’ll return the ship to its course. I will complete my mission.” His grip on his baton tightened. 

     “Oh, that way?” She pointed casually past Destin, into the deep fog. “Nope, no can do amigo. My people don’t take kindly to the whole being slaughtered thing. Be sated with the blood you’ve already spilt.” Her eyes glowed, tinged differently with other-worldly light. Icy blue - suddenly he saw clearly the crimson blood on his hands - the same shade as deck, the corpses in his wake, and her coat. A red inferno - he could feel her rage, her bloodlust to avenge her comrades. What have I… He shook his head to clear the thought. 

     “More deception. The eyes of a siren.” He raised his baton, an iridescent golden blade extending towards the pirate. 

     “Oh, your sword still works. Magic of the goddess, eh? Strange, since you’re cut off, right?”

     “Enough!” He slashed, but she lithely dodged, and parried the follow-up strike with her rapier, diverting the blade out of the way and pinning his arm to his chest. 

     Bringing her face close to his, she whispered “Your eyes are prettier in blue, anyway.” 

     He lashed out with his blade in a lateral swipe. But the pirate bent backward under the strike and continued into a cartwheel that splayed her crimson coat arc in the air. She completed the maneuver with a grin on her lips and a glint in her eye. 

     A spectral aura enveloped her rapier, which pointed at a new gash in Destin’s forearm. It’d sliced through his wards, and he could see gossamer whisp into the blade and into the pirate’s now skeletal sword arm. He could feel his healing wards mending his wound, but an esoteric chill remained. 

     No demon fought like this, nor did his brethren in the Order. This was something new, a true test of his skill. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and focused on his target. She was certainly more nimble, but there was only so much room on deck - perhaps he could force her into a corner. Or maybe that was a trap - after all, a pirate’s home was ship and sea. Alternatively, she’d left him at the helm. He could right their course, then hold her at bay until they pierced the fog and reached shore. The more prudent option - San Constance would approve. Sword extended, he reached out behind him. But, sensing his intention, the pirate closed in on him. “Oh no you don’t!” Her rapier rapidly carved the space between them, slicing from every angle, bouncing off his buckler and lightforged blade and returning again and again like a viper thirsty for blood. Destin forged an aegis and swung it wide to force an opening while his own sword sliced for her exposed midriff. At the last second, the ship buckled, and the luminous blade missed its mark. Then he felt that familiar chill in his arm, and saw she’d lashed his arm and lanced his shoulder. Her haunting smile turned skeletal as gold and blue wisps flowed from the wound and into her blade. 

     “Close, mi amor.” 

     Destin swung again, and grimaced as the sword left his shoulder. He felt dizzy, drained. He’d endured plenty of pain and disorientation during his campaigns, but this… was different. Were there three of them? He muttered a prayer and braced himself as two skeletal figures charged forward. He blocked one with his buckler, and raised a mace to bash the second, but they met his attack with their own spectral blades. A massive tendril of water struck the hull, which erupted into a spray of golden droplets and shuttered. Destin’s footing slipped on the slick deck, and he slid backwards under force of the geists’ combined assault. Astride the ship was another - doubtless where the pirate had come from. Figures on deck were waving their hands in unnerving and fluid choreography.

     “What, did you think I’d play fair?” the pirate taunted. “Like I said, I’m never alone. Which is more than I can say for you.” Fingers in mouth, she loosed a shrill whistle. The aquamantic shamans on her ship heard, and another tendril rose above the deck to crash down on Destin and his ghoulish adversaries. He managed to raise his aegis in time, and felt the boards beneath him strain and break under the force of the blow. The ship was battered and broken where the tentacle struck. A cannon rolled over the edge into the sea. The wards must be giving out, Destin thought grimly. He looked up to see the corsair swinging towards him, boots first, on a cut line of rigging. Destin took the kick to his stomach and stumbled towards the wrecked edge of the craft, but caught himself on a mangled bannister. The boat swayed, and the wood creaked, threatening to give out. Thinking quickly, he reformed his sword into a hatchet and anchored himself to the hull. He’d have to climb back up. 

     But it was too late; the pirate was already at the wheel. She gave him a sidelong look. “Tell me, does your ‘great codex’ mention the Bone Reef?” Her lips curled in a malicious grin as she spun the wheel. There was a deafening crash as the ship’s wards broke and the hull splintered. “Adios, blue-eyes.” The planks Destin clung to came loose, and he plunged into the foggy brine.

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