Chapter 2: Faith and Duty
Gwenn walked through the gates of the enclave, hardly seeming to notice the courtyard around her. Her mind swirled with problems and potential solutions, all centered on the mysterious relic. She still had no idea what the relic actually was, nor how exactly it was cursed. What would happen if I touch it directly? She wondered. Thinking back to Father Wilten's purchasing of the item dispelled that troublesome notion however. So long as it was wrapped in something, it seemed to have no ill effects on the carrier. What then was the nature of the curse? And how would the relic damage her order and Neverwinter? Gwenn once again shook her head to clear the tumult of thoughts. First, she had to somehow acquire the relic, then she could worry about dealing with the curse itself.
Gwenn's innermost musings were soon interrupted, as she barged into someone else. Realizing for the first time since the gate that she was in the interior building of the enclave, and that she had carelessly walked into someone else Gwenn quickly stammered out an apology. She looked down to the person she had knocked down, and let out a long sigh. Sitting on the ornate stone floor was a young boy, human and no more than 16 years old. His blonde hair was unkempt, and his robes showed much use from the various patches and worn spots scattered about their surface. Recognizing the youth, Gwenn offered a hand to help him to his feet. "Arlon! I am sorry to have walked into you, but why are you here? I mean why are you not in the chapel tending the altar?" The boy took the offered hand and was soon back on his feet. He patted the new dust from his worn robes, and glanced up and down the hall they were standing in. Seeing no one, the boy moved in close to Gwenn and spoke in a small whisper. "Gwenn, I was wondering when you would return. Father Wiltens returned some time ago, and went into the chapel directly, ordering us attendants out." Arlon's voice, though a whisper, held an urgency that Gwenn had not heard from the boy in all the years she had known him. " Arlon," she said, "Perhaps the Father simply needed time to pray for guidance? He does have much to worry about these days." Arlon simply shook his head. "No, that isn't it at all." he said hurriedly "Always we attendants stay, to see to the physical needs of prayer; candles, holy water and the like. The Father seemed in a rush, as though he had something important to do. I was on my way to find one of the Mothers when I ran into you."
Gwenn could tell that Arlon was worried, though she was sure even he did not know about what exactly. Even she had to admit to the feeling of unease growing in her gut, made worse by what she was hearing. She pushed those feelings of unease aside, and steeled her will for what may come. She had a task, given by her Goddess, and she meant to see it done. "Arlon," she said at length, " Go find a Mother, I will check with Father Wiltens; I have business with him anyway." Arlon nodded, and hurried down the corridor. Gwenn watched him go, waiting until he was out of site before heading to the chapel with all haste. All the while she walked, the feeling of unease grew and the very air seemed to darken as she approached the chapel doors. She paused just before the doors, and could make out the muffled sounds of conversation, though she could not understand what was being said. Didn't Arlon say Father Wiltens had ordered everyone out? Shouldn't he be alone?, She thought. Her mind raced with questions, but she placed her hand upon the door and pushed.
The chapel was darker than it should have been, and it took Gwenn's eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom. Once they had, Gwenn almost wished they hadn't. The chapel was almost completely black, with only a faint light to be seen around the altar itself. Father Wiltens knelt reverently at the altar, seeming lost in prayer. However, looming above Father Wiltens and the altar stood the largest, and the only, Fiend that Gwenn had ever seen. Its massive frame, with skin an unholy red sheen, hardly fit in the room. The Fiend reached its wicked clawed hands toward the altar, an evil grin forming on its face. The Fiend spoke in a voice held to a much lower volume than it was used to, and Father Wiltens seemed to be listening intently to it. While the conversation being had was still not clear to her, Gwenn was sure of one thing: the item she was after lay on the altar, within the grasp of the Fiend. Gwenn had a flash of memory just then, recalling the words Califra spoke to her in the vision. Cursed or not, Gwenn decided at that moment that the relic would not fall into the hands of a Fiend! She withdrew her holy symbol from its place within her armor. She would reclaim the relic from the Fiend, and even Father Wiltens should he try to intervene. The movement caught the Fiend's attention however, and its large head swung upward to gaze at Gwenn. The moment its eyes fell upon her, Its terrifying aura washed over her and she had to fight with all her will to resist the urge to flee. Shakily, She raised her holy symbol and took one unsteady step forward. " F-f-foul creature, Y-y-you shall not cause me to flee! My will is stronger than your spell!" she said loudly, each word seeming to give her more courage in the face of this deadly foe. Her speech caused Father Wiltens to jump up from his position and look back at her. His mouth fell agape, as though he could not believe that Gwenn was there. The fiend merely laughed, an impossibly loud sound that reverberated through Gwenns entire being. It then gestured widely to the room, and looked at Gwenn once again. "Insignificant creature!", it boomed, "That you resisted my spell is of no consequence! Should you choose to challenge me, you will die a inglourious death." Gwenn clutched tighter to her holy symbol, silently sending a prayer to her Goddess. Taking a single step forward, she paused at the sound of Father Wiltens voice. "Gwenn! Flee! I do not know what you are doing, but this is beyond you! Flee and live!" he shouted, with more concern than Gwenn had ever heard from him. She could only look at him and smile weakly; backing down was not an option for her now. She looked back to the mighty fiend before her, trying to come up with some plan to combat this evil and recover the relic. Maybe she could cover the distance and grab the relic and be away before the fiend could strike her? No, though she understood little of fiends, she was sure that it could easily attack her long before she reached the relic. Finding little recourse, she chose instead to trust fully in her Goddess, only the divine could see her safely through this trial.
" What then, little one?" the fiend asked, " What will you do now?" Gwenn set her determination to what she must do, and sprang into action. Her muscles tensed, and she burst into motion, running as fast as she could toward the fiend, her holy symbol leading the way. The fiend, anticipating such an action swung one of its arms, and wicked claws toward her, meaning to eviscerate her and end her life then and there. Father Wiltens cried out then, a scream of fear and dread, for how could young Gwenn possibly survive? The fiend was large, and unused to moving through the air of the Prime Material plane. Thus its movements were slightly slower than Gwenn expected, and flaw she thought she could exploit. She waited till the last moment, till the great clawed limb was nearly upon her, then fell into a slide. She passed inches below the attack, sliding through and away from the fiends weaponized limb. As she passed, on a whim, she struck out at the great creature with her symbol. She connected squarely on its palm and there was a great flash of silver light. The fiend recoiled, clutching at its hand and bellowing in pain. Gwenn rose to her feet in a smooth motion, and continued to put distance between her and the dangerous limbs. She called out to the fiend, her courage growing ever stronger, " I may be small, and insignificant," she yelled out, "But my Goddess is Ancient and powerful! Fear her scorn foul creature!" Angry, and injured, the fiend swung its arms at Gwenn again. This time the limb was too low to the ground for Gwenn to duck, so she chose to try to jump instead. A small smile and a flash of pride found its way to her face and into her heart, as she hurdled the massive limb with ease. Landing again on the chapel floor, she broke into a full sprint toward the relic. The fiend however, seeing her attempt to claim the relic, continued its mighty swing through and into the wall of the chapel. The wall, being made of ordinary stone, crumbled to dust under the mighty blow and the chapel began to collapse. Large chunks of the remaining walls and ceiling began to rain down into the room. Father Wiltens, his moment of concern for Gwenn past him, fled the collapsing room as fast as he could. He chanced a quick glance back at Gwenn as he passed the threshold of the door, and saw that rubble seemed poised to crush her. Turning back to the door, he decided that he would not share her fate, and ran.
Gwenn soon realized her folly in thinking she had won. The massive arm crushed the chapel wall behind her and soon it seemed the entire enclave was falling in on her. The floor shook from the many impacts of stone, making it very difficult for her to stand or move at all. She struggled to maintain forward momentum, and soon found herself spending more time dodging falling stone than anything else. Her eyes never left the altar and she watched the relic shake across the surface as the room fell on top of her. The fiend, its massive frame no longer able to fit in the rapidly shrinking room, laughed loudly. It started to retreat back through the portal to its realm, but spoke loudly to Gwenn as it left. "Foolish fleshling! Too late you learn not to interfere with your betters! Now this room shall be your tomb!" Finishing the sentence, the fiend simply laughed again, and retreated back through the portal. Gwenn started to panic then, for the way out of the chapel had been blocked and it looked to her that she would indeed be crushed. Just then, a familiar voice cut through her thoughts and left a single phrase in her head. The Relic! Get the relic! Recognizing the voice as belonging to Califra, Gwenn did not question the instruction and began moving as best she could toward the relic. The room shook violently from the many crashes of stone as the room fell apart. Gwenn slowly made her way toward the altar, hoping to get to the relic before she was crushed. She didn't understand why claiming the relic was so important right now, even if she reached it all the exits were blocked. But Califra had tasked her with retrieving it, she would worry about getting out once she had it. A large piece of stone fell then, landing with a thunderous crash on the altar. The stone altar shook from the impact and then buckled, throwing the relic into the air. Gwenn watched as the relic flew through the air, twisting as it went. Fortunately, the relic would pass near to her. She reached out, knowing she had one chance to grab it before it was lost in the rubble. She stretched her arm as far as it would go, and felt the relic brush against the tips of her fingers, but roll over the top of her outstretched hand. But her reflexes saved her just then, as her other hand shot out and seized the relic from midair. Almost immediately, her body began to tingle from the potent magic within the relic. Looking up, Gwenn saw a large piece of the ceiling fall toward her, a piece she could not hope to avoid. Gwenn searched around her for some escape, as the tingling continued to grow within her. Finding nothing, Gwenn said a silent prayer to her Goddess, thinking she had failed in her mission. She had claimed the relic, but she was sure she would die here and therefore not be able to cleanse it. The stone was close now, she realized, and she was struck by her level of calm. There was no panic now, in the moments before her death. All there was was the growing tingling in her body. She closed her eyes to await the impact of the stone, and then the tingling disappeared. It took a moment for Gwenn to realize the noise of the collapsing room was gone, and the air smelled fresher than it should have. Gwenn opened her eyes, and could not believe what she saw. No longer was she in the collapsing chapel, but instead she was in a pristine forest meadow. Gwenn was puzzled, and looked down to the relic she still held in her hand. How had she come to be here, safe from harm for the moment? A million questions swirled through her mind then, all without answers. With the threat to her life no longer present, her adrenaline rush soon ended, and she fell to her knees on the grass. She didn't understand much of what just happened, but she was alive and had not failed her holy mission. She tucked the relic away in a belt pouch, and prayed long and hard to her goddess.