Imro inhaled deeply, savoring the vapors wafting up from his early morning tea. He had always relished the use of his senses – most notably the taste of fine food and drink, resulting in a large and healthy silhouette. But in the case of the tea, his enjoyment of it had become a numinous ritual, one which replaced his preferred one of basking in the light of the rising sun.
It was not Imro’s preference to alter his routine, especially while at home. Usually he would stand at the highest convenient point, relaxed, eyes closed. He would feel the first rays of the sun, like gentle fingers, or the brush strokes of a cosmic artist, who for whatever unfathomably whimsical reason chose to paint him on life’s canvas starting with his gnarled dwarf toes, ending at the top of his scarred head.
A wise cleric knew when to make concessions to circumstance. Glamorfell was in the icy grip of an unnaturally prolonged and fierce winter. Today, Imro would contemplate the tea, discern the lilac and the lemongrass, how they mixed to create a pleasant synthesis, and marvel at the sheer detail of life’s intricate balance. He would be grateful for the warmth he was shown by the universe, which held at bay the forces of cold and crunchy foot-freezing snow lurking outside.
Toward the end of his meditation, he heard a stirring in the next room. Imro calmly stretched out his hands, and felt the power flow between them … just a little bit! … it warmed his cup, and the second one he had prepared for Lyrehawk … and they steamed perfectly. Imro had once been scolded harshly by some ascete nun, who had informed him that the powers of the gods must never be wielded impulsively. But it seemed to Imro that at times Sarenrae placed an urge or desire in his heart, and at times she left matters up to him. Sarenrae had never appeared and said “Imro, your powers are never to be used for mere convenience. So if you or others are uncomfortable, don’t use your gifts – be uncomfortable!” Where was the sense in that?
Besides, Imro had travelled extensively; he had seen that sometimes a small use of power could have a huge effect, and at other times a use of great power might come to no effect. How could one know which to use, when even the gods themselves (at least in stories) were known to fail in the judgement of this? So Imro had decided long ago to not worry overmuch about it.
Wielding the powers of gods was enjoyable, as Lyrehawk had guessed after they had spent some nights together. Healing friends and smiting foes – both felt … different, but good. Truth to be told, Imro found it hard to refrain from either. If his friends found out what Imro experienced during a healing burst, well! They might all die of embarrassment, Imro included.
Imro was unpleasantly shaken from his reverie when a realization dawned that something was amiss. He looked up to see Lyrehawk peering out of the window over the garden area. She motioned to him to keep quiet. “I heard something,” she said in hushed tones.
Lyrehawk and Imro had often exchanged stories of numerous and varied dangers they had met in the surrounding lands. It was unlikely, though not impossible, that a malevolent person or force had come within the bounds of Foundling’s Reach. But not every danger was malevolent, some were just natural. This being still a frontier town, it was not uncommon for some wild creature to wander in. The house seemed secure enough, but it was best not to take chances.
Imro and Lyrehawk crouched and made their way out the side door. The air was silent, all sounds dampened by a blanket of snow that covered everything. In the garden area were columns of loose stones and wood that had been delivered where Imro planned to construct a shrine, whenever a thaw should occur. They sat still for a few moments, waiting, their breaths freezing and drifting in the air. Imro felt exposed in tunic, pants, and a warm robe, Lyrehawk in leathers, though not armored. They strained to see and hear anything in the stillness. Imro heard something – voices? Lyrehawk nodded – she heard them, too. Imro whispered a word, a silent flame appeared, flickering above his open palm. He could throw it if the need arose, and another would take its place. Both armed now, Lyrehawk started forward and Imro followed a step behind. A strange howling, moaning, sound now came from behind one of the columns. It’s quality was strange and unnatural to Imro’s ears.
Several things happened in the next confused moments, nearly all at once. Lyrehawk, hearing the moan, stopped moving forward and stood up from her crouch. Just then, a shape – large, formless and black – appeared with a kind of flopping motion at the top of the column, and emitted a piercing, throaty screech. Imro, unnerved, threw his flame at it. Lyrehawk stretched her arm out to signal Imro to hold back, too late. The black shape fluttered and Imro heard the sound of rocks tumbling and striking one another. There was a piercing, high scream, and a lower gruff yell. Imro heard a familiar voice yell, “I’m outta here!” Lyrehawk looked dismayed as she rushed to get to the other side of the column.
“Damn you, Tig Larson!” she called. Imro rushed forward. He saw footprints. There was Tig, making tracks. Imro yelled after him, “What mischief are you up to now, Tig, you little ingrate!” Tig’s form turned to look back, but he did not slow down. How did he manage to be dirt-streaked in this freezing cold, Imro mused. Tig’s form shrank into the distance.
Imro turned back to see a wide-eyed little halfling girl. She stood up and her face grimaced. She looked down and her forearm was bent at an odd angle, broken. She winced, cradled it in her other hand. Then her mouth opened wide and emitted an hysterical wail of pain. Tears streamed from her face and she looked from Lyrehawk to Imro in horror. She continued wailing and ran, in a different direction from Tig, toward a farmhouse on the other side of a neighboring field. Imro could see that the girl was retracing tracks from where the pair of halfling kids had come.
“Wait,” Imro called. “Daisy! That’s Daisy Fleetfoot, one of my neighbors, he said to Lyrehawk. “We’re not going to hurt you! Daisy” But if the girl could hear him, she made no sign. Imro watched helplessly as her little furry halfling feet pumped up and down steadily. The wailing grew fainter as she drew further away.
“Huh. It was the night chuff,” said Lyrehawk absently. Imro looked at her. “On the rocks,” she elaborated. “It could be the same bird I’ve seen at the barracks. I’m glad you missed it. Did you know that some of them can learn simple words and phrases? Um, you can put that away now,” she added pointedly, with a little irritation in her voice. Imro looked. He was holding his arm out absently, where the flame he had thrown had naturally reappeared. He sheepishly closed his palm, extinguishing it.
“Yes, Daisy. I told you once,” said the girl’s imperious aunt. She’s my brother’s girl. You’ll find her at Tu-An’s. My Jak hitched up his cart and took her to tend to SERIOUS physical injuries!. Do you know she’s terrified, from what you done to her? I suppose you want to help, and not finish the job,” she snorted. Imro and Lyrehawk stood outside the door of the farmhouse.
“Quite right, quite right,” said Imro, normally full of careless bluster, now deflated. He gave her a vague warning that she should take care whom Daisy associated with, but the woman was already shutting the door.
Imro stamped his feet and huffed out a few nervous, misty breaths. He rubbed at frost forming on his robes. Tu-An. She was beautiful, fervent, and a bit unhinged. He tried not to think about it.
“Better and better,” said Lyrehawk. “This ought to be fun. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the crossbow.”
Trudging on foot, it was well into the work day when the pair made it into town. Folk were staying indoors as much as possible, so the streets were quiet. They stopped several times to make inquiries, as Tu’An was not always in the same place. Eventually, they rounded a corner and there she was, in front of the hostel – it was a low and wide building, which some of the volunteers and more long-term residents had decorated with mosaics on the walls and floor.
In accordance with Tu-An’s style and the season, she wore a robe of heavy worsted yellow cloth, which draped all the way to the ground, and was intricately embroidered in white with an ornate design of holy symbols. Brown fur lining was visible at the cuffs and collar, above which was her red face, horns, and tightly bound, ever immaculately tended blonde hair. She saw the pair approaching, and without acknowledgment, turned and went inside.
“Nice,” said Lyrehawk.
Imro, though he was a relatively new resident in town and frequently travelled, had nevertheless been here many times at Tu’An’s invitation; but their relationship had recently and suddenly soured.
While Imro had thoughts that this visit was a bad idea, his desire to see Daisy and make amends was enough to overcome his unease. They had come all this way. And the whole thing was silly, Imro thought, because he had other friends here. Tu’An didn’t actually own the place, or at least he didn’t think she did.
“We can ask Torvic,” Imro said to Lyrehawk.
“Sounds good,” said Lyrehawk. “Anyway, I’m freezing.”
They were grateful for the warmth inside. The atrium was empty, so they went straight in.
Torvic met Lyrehawk with a warm smile and enthusiasm, then turned to Imro with a frown, and disappointment in his eyes.
“What have you done, Imro,” said Torvic.
“Torvic my friend, tell me what you have heard.”
“Daybreak,” said Torvic. “They say you killed him, or may as well have. Tell me this is not true.”
Imro did his best to explain: Daybreak was not who we thought. He was a man named Jesur, from Mendev, who had forgotten who he was. Jesur was a criminal, and quite possibly a very dangerous man. It would have been wrong to send Daybreak to Mendev, but to send Jesur, that was justice.
Torvic seemed confused. “Daybreak took care of me, and many others here. I am an old man. Who am I to understand these things. You should go, leave me be!”
Imro grabbed Torvic by the arms. “No, Torvic, old friend. Please understand! Daybreak suffered the same as you and I. He forgot because of what was done to him, like us!” Imro pointed toward his scar.
“Selfish,” said Torvic, weakly. “You are selfish, Imro.” He turned and shuffled into his room.
Imro’s eyes followed Torvic’s back. He stood silently in the hallway.
“This is great,” Lyrehawk said to Imro. She followed Torvic through the doorway. Stunned into silence, Imro waited. He stared at a mosaic of mirrored tiles.
“Chin up,” said Lyrehawk. Torvic says the girl came in a while ago. Tig and Daisy were both holed up in the farmhouse with her aunt. Who knows how these halfling families work things out, the whole family raises the kids and they swap them around all the time. Anyway, he dared her to go with him to our place to catch a glimpse of the great Imro, one of the heroes of the Glee Gutting, and not far from her house. When they got there, he tried to set a fire, and she tried to stop him. You know the rest.”
They found Daisy in a common area where a large group of people, mostly vagrants and itinerant beggars, were taking refuge from the cold. Some were socializing. Imro was well known here, and he was greeted by some. Although as with Torvic, Imro felt less than the expected enthusiasm.
Daisy’s bone was set, her arm in a splint. She had been fed and given healing herbs. She was resting on a mattress on the floor, playing a game of tiles and colored stones, chatting in animated fashion with her opponents. When she saw Lyrehawk and Imro, she cried. Imro got down on one knee and took up her hand and explained that he was overjoyed to see her well. Upon which many words were exchanged. Imro told her to visit him at his house whenever she liked, but not to sneak. By the end of the conversation, they hugged, and Imro and Daisy were both tearful.
Tu’An entered the area at some point during the conversation. Although she busied herself distributing clean blankets and collecting dirty ones, she listened, as did many others present, although she would not look toward Imro.
Imro stood. Under normal circumstances, he would walk through the crowd, offer comfort and at some point invite all present, or at least the worst-off ones, to receive an invigorating burst of positive energy. But he was hesitant. He turned to Tu-An.
She spoke before he could find any words. “Imro, do not speak, to me” she said. “I … have long admired you. Your closeness to She of the Guiding Light. Bearer of the Sword of Light. You have such … power, Imro. And so little …. Oh, just do what you can for these people!” She turned and ran through the door.
Imro sighed. Unaccountably, he wished Wally were here right now.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the gathering, he gestured with his arms at his sides, palms out. “You all knew Daybreak, and you all know I … I am responsible. It was the Council that decided, but I, I convinced them, it’s true. You don’t have Daybreak any more, and that’s because of me. I did what I thought was best to protect everyone here. And I would do it again. Because he was a danger, and because honestly, we were all fooled, even Daybreak himself. I can’t replace him, and I wouldn’t want to. Because Daybreak wasn’t actually Daybreak. He was someone … really not nice. But you lost him, someone you love, and I am so, so sorry.”
At this, some in the gathering drew close. Some embraced Imro, or patted him on the shoulder, or shook his hand. “Thank you,” he said to each one. “Thank you. Everyone, I offer healing, but truth be told, today it is I who am healed by you. Thank you,” he said.
At the end, Imro recited a prayer to all the gods, and asked for Sarenrae’s blessing. The burst flowed forth. He always imagined the invisible healing force to be red. He didn’t know how something could be invisible and red at the same time, but that’s how he felt it was. At the instant of release, he felt and heard a sharp intake of breath, and saw Tu-An’s eyes on him from the doorway. Her shoulders shook – with still-fresh grief or rage, Imro could not tell.
“Is it time to go yet,” said Lyrehawk. “This place is giving me the creeps.”