A hundred flickering tongues of fire danced in chaotic unison as the robed figure of the Hierophant made his way down the illuminated corridor. Embraced by the Faith as the spiritual figurehead and burdened with the task of managing differences and handling decisions that may concern the populace, the Hierophant was believed to be the sole human chosen by the Ancestral Dragons to represent their very presence upon the land. The Hierophant was said to bear an Onus Bond with every Ancestral Dragon that exists.
Among the Voice of the Faith, the Hierophant exists more as a settler of disputes and a representative of the Faith's strength and principle. Upon the death of the previous Hierophant, the Voices of the Faith listen to the Dragon Songs of the Ancestral Dragons to guide them in their selection of a new Hierophant. Understanding that the Ancestral Dragons themselves have their own preferences, the Faith selects the Hierophant from the majority vote that emerges.
Leaving the warm corridor, the Hierophant entered the chamber and saw that his guests were already there. With the three monks accompanying him ordered to wait outside, the Hierophant closed the door behind him.
"Anquillan Berarthos Xicus," the Hierophant carefully enunciated each word as he walked towards the arched window that faced the northern side of the Seat of the Faith. The setting sun pained the sky a darkening vermilion and the clouds seemed like purple feathers stretched across the sky. "I was born Anquillan Berarthos Xicus, lone son to a farmer and his wife. Named after Anquillan Beras, the first Hierophant that ever existed. Though my parents were both not wealthy enough to live within wealthy and well protected city states such as Kibato or Ossus, they remained loyal to the Faith. They never questioned why the Ancestral Dragons would allow a discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor. Or why there were those whom the Onus Bond was found worthy, and why there are those who are not."
Five men dressed in black robes stood at the far side of the room. An intricately embroidered dragon adorned the back of each robe. Known as the Kabal, the five were the Hierophant's personal guard. While there were many rumors regarding their abilities, one thing was certain; their loyalty to the Hierophant was absolute.
A few paces ahead of the Kabal stood the Hierophants three guests.
The first was a tall man in a black pinstriped suit. White ruffles protruded from both the collar area and the end of the sleeves. Skin pale from the lack of exposure to the sun, the man had an unhealthy look to him. Combine that with the selection of garb and it was not too difficult to mistake him as an undertaker or someone in a similar field of business. A heavy tome was held underneath his left arm. Covered in dried stretched batskin, the tome was a ledger of all business dealings that to be agreed upon. They called him Libram and only the weathly could afford to have him stand as witness and recordskeeper of official transactions.
The second was a dwarf of a man whose tattered garb clearly suggested a man of action and struggle. What the man lacked in height was made up for in density of muscle. Tattoos of spiralling dragons, lightning bolts, tongues of flame and covered most of his skin that it was hard at times to tell if he truly was shirtless or not. But the mercenary known as Sunaj cared little for clothes. His interests neither in increasing his wealth or finding challenges to overcome. He was solely in the job because it gave him an excuse to remain close by the third guest and do everything in his power and prowess to ensure she was safe.
That guest was the woman garbed in red velvet hunting habit. She wore a taffeta skirt beneath the red velvet jacket and the striped red and cream waistcoat. Sharp corners and gold trimmings gave her a most noticeable presence that implied influence and professionalism. Her blonde hair was tucked dutifuly into a bun and set close to her nape. A tricorn hat was held in her left hat.
The Hierophant turned to face the woman and continued his commentary, "The Ancestral dragons have their reasons. Even something as simple as one's role in society - be it for a man to be of service to his state and for a woman to care for the young at the home - these things are immpecable truths one can find within the Dragon's Songs."
"May an evidently confused mercenary - a female one such as myself with neither home nor young to care for - then ask, your grace, what need you have of her?"
Sunaj saw the wry smile in her expression and carefully watched the Kabal for any intentions of punishing her for what was quite evidently a thinly veiled insult. None of the five did so much as move from where they stood. Unnervingly, Sunaj began to notice none of the five seemed to move at all; none did the tell tale signs of a human body maintaining balance, or of the slight scratches or fidgetting to deal with the occasional itch. They were like statues. Like frozen sentinels in full alert. Sunaj tried to angle his gaze to peer at the face of any one of the Kabal. The shadows were far too much in the way.
"Would you prefer dau-"
"Mercenary will do," the Hierophant's gaze turned cold and Sunaj worried if his companion was testing the Hierophant's patience far too much. "The dragon has fled for the amber sands of Summe, which is beyond the domains of the Faith. I need of you to capture it for me. Alive."
"And this dragon is important because?"
"A mercenary only needs to know what needs to be done."
"Father," the woman began and paused, seeing the Hierophant's expression grow more and more concerned. Wickedly, the woman continued, "- of the Faith, surely if a lowly mercenary troupe such as mine were to carry out the mission best, it would be thanks to knowing all the details we need to know."
"An Other," the Hierophant growled. "We were informed by one of the Voice of Faith that a dragonride believes to have found his Other."
"An Other?" the woman gasped, "But if that were true-"
"Yes," the Hierophant nodded, "The Faith would have to test its validity."
The woman chose not to correct the man she had once called her father. Before Anquillan Berarthos Xicus began his studies to become one of the Voices of the Faith, he had a wife and from that wife they had a child. A daughter. But when the wife was taken by disease and the daughter traded to the Febhed raiders for his own freedom, Anquillan Berarthos Xicus found new direction by hearing the Dragon's Song. His desire for a new role in life was easily gained in his place among the Faith, and his devotion to the cause was not unnoticed. With the passing of the last Hierophant, Anquillan Berarthos Xicus was easily a candidate to be the next one, and many among the Voice of Faith placed their votes on his favor.
But to the woman, Anquillan Berarthos Xicus was still her father. He was still the man who had abandoned her to the Febhed. And he was now the man asking him for help.
"Why me?" she asked the Hierophant suspiciously, considering the many long years she had tried to speak with him, only to be rebuffed and ignored. Sunaj had suggested she threaten to come out with the truth of who he was to her, but she convinced him it was pointless to do so. What difference would it make to the Faith if the Seat of Faith was inhabited by a flawed man? The Faith was after all about devotion to the Ancestral Dragons. It was nothing about moral rightness or perfection.
"Because I was told you are the best," the Hierophant smiled genuinely now. There was real fatherly pride in his face, "And I cannot place this duty to anyone save the best."
"Very well," the woman motioned to Libram who then stepped forward and opened his leathery tome. Raising his other hand above the tome, Libram depressed his thumb against a button at the base of his hand's other fingers and watched as the needle-like pins protruded from each fingertip. Black ink bubbled onto the edge of each tip.
"I am ready," Libram nodded. His finger tips began scribbling upon the open page of his tome. The words began to emerge in a unique calligraphic design which Libram had devised. An observer would be confused to discover Libram was not even writing from one end of a page to another. Instead, he was slashing and dotting all over the whole page, and it was only as time passed that interconnecting lines, overlaps and cross hatches began to makes sense and reveal their words. Libram wrote each page almost as if he was already seeing the completed document in his mind even before it was completed. "State your names for the record."
"I am Anquillan Berarthos Xicus, Hierophant of the Faith."
"And I am Alucita, Mercenary and Huntsman among the Febhed."
The contract was written, with both parties declaring their roles and their duties to be performed, and by the time the contract was completed, and the agreements were sealed with signatures from each party, the sun had fully set and the night had begun to grow cold. The Hierophant pulled on a thin chain close to the wall and within seconds, three monks carrying hand lamps entered the chamber and began lighting the nearby lanterns.
"I will hope to receive daily updates on your -"
"No," Alucita interrupted the Hierophant, "You will not. Instead, you will hear from us when we have your captive. And you will receive us as we have discussed on the contract. Libram is both witness and record of the deal. You need not worry, we hunstmen of the Febhed do not fail."
The Hierophant nodded and motioned the three monks to show the mercenaries the way out, "Til that time comes then. Thank you for coming."
Alucita gave a forced smile, then walked up to Sunaj's side. The dwarf handed her a small purse of gold which she then handed to Libram. "For your troubles, chronicler. The Hierophant will be sure to inform you when the deal is to be concluded."
The monks bowed before the Hierophant and then moved to stand beside each guest to escort them out. That moment, as one of the three monks reached Sunaj's side, Sunaj saw a glimpse of one of the Kabal's faces as the hand lamp's light cast away the shadows concealing the face beneath the hood. To Sunaj's mute horror, the face underneath was identical to the Hierophant's face.