The day was bright as three trade wagons were moving slowly along the road. Kari found herself sitting inside one of the wagons across Keenan. His eyes were closed and his mouth moved wordlessly. No doubt he was reciting a prayer or scripture of some sort.
“What's your story? You said you were a priest in your outburst,” Kari inquired.
Keenan opened his eyes. “Yes, I am a priest. A devotee of The Coven. A missionary to be precise. I was given a holy mission to spread the message of our lady. I have journeyed south from Haribad for this purpose.”
“You're looking awfully young to be a priest,” remarked Kari.
Keenan smiled, “Age is simply a number. So long as one's faith is strong, anyone can be a holy man.”
“Even a boy?” joked Kari.
“Even a boy,” Keenan said, once more with a genuine smile.
“Well, that's debatable.”
There was a brief pause as Keenan rummaged though his belongings. He pulled out a book and opened it. He looked up at Kari.
“Would you like to know more about our Lady? There's plenty of time before the next stop.”
Kari waved the offer away and spoke, “You know it's not going to be safe for you to do this right? Your timing couldn't be any worse. The King of these lands has just issued an edict banning the teachings of your faith. You should leave these borders, for your own safety.”
Keenan tilted his head at Kari. “You've been quite concerned with my well being Ms. Laguna. Your concern for my safety is admirable. Looks like you have taken quite a liking in this humble priest.”
“Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's just my nature to help,” Kari replied.
“That's very kind of you. Very kind. To answer your question, such a law will not deter me. I will continue the mission that is entrusted to me. My faith will protect me.”
“Does faith protect one against clubs and hilts?”
“I am not afraid and I am prepared. Even should my bones be broken, should I be casted down from the tallest mountains, it does not matter. Where one falls, another rises to take their place. My brothers and sisters will continue the work I left off.”
“The king's men will be scrutinizing your activities. They won't let you go if you insist on this.”
“Let them, they cannot possibly hope to find all of us. How can he in such a country as large as his? And besides, such an action will only embolden the timid to stand for our cause.”
Kari frowned. She heard stories of the Coven's zeal but this was the first time she had seen in first hand. The devotion he showed to the Coven, the fearlessness in his eyes even when she warned him, it was illogical to her. If this was the devotion of a simple priest...
“What convinced you to join the Coven?” Kari asked.
“I'm very flattered you want to know more about me but why don't you tell me a little bit more of yourself? I know next to little of my savior,” replied Keenan.
“It's rather boring.” There was no need to tell him that she was a mage. Not that she would be seeing him again when they stopped.
“No no no, I think not. For a pretty maiden such as yourself to travel alone without any protection and then pay for someone's freedom? There's more to you than meets the eye. What's your story?”
“Like I said, I'm just a helpful person by nature. As for my reason for traveling, I just want to see the world.”
Keenan was disappointed by the response, “Skirting around the question I see. Doesn't look like you'll want to share details either. Well, I'm sure you have your reasons. It's a shame, I was ready to pour my life story if you had just opened yourself-”
The wagon stopped as a voice rang outside, “BANDITS! BANDITS ON THE ROAD!” cried the driver.
The back of the wagon opened. A masked man climbed aboard, shiv in hand. He glanced quickly at Keenan and then at Kari.
“Ah hah! Boss, we got two live ones in the back! A man and a woman, and she's quite the looker!” exclaimed the bandit.
“Bring them out!” a voice outside yelled.
The bandit turned to Keenan. “Get out! Move it before I stick this in your back! Don't try anything funny...”
Keenan got out of the wagon.
“Come here! Stand over there with the others!” yelled the same voice outside
The bandit turned his attention to Kari. He placed the shiv on Kari's face and grabbed her shoulder.
“Don't be shy, just listen to what I say and you can keep that pretty face of yours intact. Get out, don't try running from us. He he he.”
I could blast this fool right now, but that would put everyone else in danger outside and I don't know how many bandits there are. Best see what happens outside.
Kari got out of the wagon with her captor's shiv pressing lightly against her back. She was lead to where the other captives were. Six captives, Keenan among them were forced to sit down, their hands tied behind their backs. She counted seven bandits, all of them armed. Five of them were already looting the caravans for valuables. The one that appeared to be the ringleader approached her, rope in hand. The other stood watch over the captives.
The bandit with the rope spoke. “She's the one?” It was the same voice she heard outside. No doubt this one was the leader.
“Yes boss,” the one by the captives replied.
The leader moved closer, intending to inspect his prize. Kari turned her face away from his.
“What a catch! What's the matter? You scared? You aren't shy are you?” he laughed.
“I'm sorry, your face is simply too repulsive for anyone to look at,” Kari replied, still looking away.
“Probably a bad idea to piss him off,” Keenan said loudly.
The bandit leader backed off. He laughed again and suddenly grabbed her face, turning it until Kari was looking directly at his eyes.
“You're a feisty one aren't you? Well, I know how to deal with your types. When I'm done with you-”
“When I'm done with you? Funny you are saying that because that's exactly what I was thinking.”
“What can a defenseless girl like you do?” he demanded, his face closer to hers.
“Defenseless? How wrong you are. Good bye, you won't see me again,” Kari said with a smile before disappearing from view.
The ringleader was taken aback. He reached his hands out to touch where Kari's head was. There was no solid sensation in his hand.
“What in the world? What sorcery is this?”
“Boss! The captives, they just vanished into thin air!”
“What? Impossible! Weren't you watching them?”
“They just vanished in plain sight!”
“A trick? No, this is...that woman! She was a mage! Get the goods! We're hauling out of here now!”
A cry rang out behind one of the caravans. The body of one of the bandits was flung over, completely mangled. A look of absolute terror was etched on his face. A shadowy apparition rose from the body, unmistakeably in the form of Kari. It looked at all of the bandits and a wide grin formed. Tendrils shot out and before the bandits could react, they found themselves with a tendril wrapped around their necks
The bandits yelled with terror, hitting the tendrils with their weapons, fists, and teeth. It was no use as the apparition dragged the men closer and closer towards itself, where a massive, bottomless maw awaited them. One by one the men were dragged in screaming while the shadow laughed manically.
The apparition turned its attention to the last bandit, the ringleader himself. No matter how many times he stabbed the tendril, it regenerated far too quickly and its grip was far too strong to pry open.
The apparition pounced on the ringleader.
“Damn it all!”
The caravan was on the road once more and Kari was a little tired.
Perhaps I went a little overboard
Keenan brought her a glass of water, “The owner asked me to give you this.” He was silent as Kari took a sip. “You're a mage aren't you?” continued Keenan.
She nodded simply, not really wanting to talk. “Guess the secrets out.”
Keenan waited for Kari to say something but nothing came, So he continued, “Tis the Lady's work, that's twice you saved me. What did you do to them? They...weren't themselves.”
“An illusion. A powerful one at that. They saw something...unpleasant. They won't awake from it for the next four hours. That'll give us plenty of time to put distance between us. But as you can see, it's a bit tiring,” Kari explained.
Keenan gave a nod. “Mhm, I can see that. So does your stamina correlates with your magical reserves?”
“It's a bit more...involved than raw stamina but for simplicity's sake I suppose you can think of it that way,” replied Kari with a small sigh.
“Hey how are you all doing?” the owner said coming in.
Keenan stood up, “I'm fine. On the other hand, my friend here is a little tired from that spell of hers.”
The owner poured another glass of water for Kari. Still thirsty, she accepted it once more.
“First time seeing it myself and frankly it was a bit scary what you did to them. Unnatural one could say,” said the owner.
Kari made no motion. It was a tired conversation she heard over and over again through her travels. Always, there was a person who decried magic. There was nothing unnatural about magic. Magic is intrinsic to the world. Simply because some were able to shape it and give it a more defined form does not make it somehow unnatural.
“But,” continued the owner, “you define the person you are. Without your help, my caravans would have been sacked and my livelihood would have been destroyed. I'm grateful for that. You're not a bad person and you use your gifts for good.”
“I try to do what I can,” replied Kari.
“Take this,” the owner placed a small bag of coins on her hand.
“Oh no, I really shouldn't take this.”
The owner took Kari's other hand placed it on top of the bag. “Take it, I insist. It as a token of gratitude. It's the only way I can offer my thanks. And seeing as you are traveling, you're going to need it down the road.”
“Alright then if you insist, thanks."