When Aujaq and his companions finally ascended the stairs from the catacombs below the church, carrying the Silver Heron in their arms, Belicht’s guardian was but a mere shell of the glorious god he once was. In his current form, the former god looked more like a ragged doll who was passed on for generations from one careless child to another: It was missing several limbs here and there, its usually spotless and shiny armor was battered beyond repair and its essence was leaking from several wounds all over its body.
Hailong, who had been carrying the god all this time, lay the faintly glowing figure down on the church’s altar and took a few steps backwards, his head tilted in doubt. Unlike Aujaq, none of the two, neither Vlad nor Hailong, knew enough about spirits or gods to judge the severity of its injuries and Vlad was pretty badly injured himself – Aujaq could only imagine the horrors the demonologist encountered in the catacombs…
For the duration of a few heartbeats, the companions merely stood around the god, their eyes moving between the small glowing circles on each one’s forehead. By now they understood what has happened to them and the fact that Vlad was still standing with a broken arm and a deep cut right through his chest dispelled their last doubts: They had become exactly the same things they were hunting down not too long ago, god-like beings, whom the whole population of Belicht was afraid of – Anathema.
After the moment of realization, Vlad set off to his home to treat his wounds and process whatever he had went through down there and left Aujaq to deal with the injured god. With his newly acquired power, it was easy for the shaman to spot that the spirit was not doing well: He had lost a lot of his power in the fight and his “godly essence” was leaking out from him like blood out of a very bad wound. Still being an immortal entity, the Silver Heron would eventually recover, but it would take a lot of time and many prayers from the faithful people of Belicht to help him in this task. Otherwise he would lose his power entirely and just… vanish.
Despite his new powers, there was nothing Aujaq could do to ease the god’s suffering or even yet help him, so he called upon his most faithful ally, his mentor and friend, Koda. Aujaq expected the badger to still be angry with him for the accident with the spear, but when his spirit ally appeared in front of him in his usual badger-form, he immediately backed a few steps away, his glare fixed upon the glowing sign on Aujaq’s forehead. His usually deep and scratchy voice was somewhat shaking when he asked: “Y-Yes? What do you want?”
Aujaq briefly explained the situation and pointed to the injured Heron who lay on the altar like a glowing sacrifice to some cruel entity. Koda’s eyes lit up immediately when he laid eyes on the half-dead figure. He shuffled over to the Heron, took some deep sniffs and took care to avoid Aujaq’s piercing eyes when he explained the situation.
“He is very, very badly hurt. I am not sure if he will ever recover from these severe injuries… But even if he does, he will never regain his former strength, that’s for certain.”
He chose his next words carefully and looked deep into Aujaq’s eyes.
“But if you want me to, I could step in to his place… You know, look after the good people of Vendig and Belicht – and put him out of his suffering…”
Aujaq was torn. He knew that his ally didn’t have bad intentions; protecting the people was just a job that needed to be done by someone, and since the current protector seemed not able to pursue his duties, it was only reasonable that a different spirit would step in – and why not someone Aujaq knew and trusted?
On the other hand, he would still feel responsible for the actions of his ally and if he let Koda devour the other god and take its place as ruler of all Belicht, he, Aujaq, would have the blood of a god on his hands.
As he pondered over what was right and wrong, the badger rose and leaned threateningly over the still figure of the Silver Heron. He did not go as far as to open his mouth, but Aujaq could see that he needed to make a decision soon.
“No!”, he bellowed and Koda retreated immediately, visibly intimidated by the sudden harshness and power in his protégé’s voice. “It is not the right thing to do. We need to respect the natural order of the gods.”
Koda looked seemingly disappointed, but retreated nevertheless. Aujaq got very powerful, but he still failed to grasp the full means of his power and the possibilities that came with it. His whole body was now glowing from the use of his essence and soon the whole town would come running into the church to see what the cause for this was. But he would understand soon, Koda was sure of that…
The badger vanished and left Aujaq and Hailong alone with the suffering Heron.
“Quickly, we need to get as many people in here as possible for prayer!”, shouted Aujaq. His companion was still confused by the scene he just witnessed, but pointed shakily to the bell tower, before he himself set off through the church’s huge doors.
Later that day, the adventurers all came together in Vlad’s house. One glance between them was enough to realize they all became the feared Anathema, wielding powers way beyond their understanding and capability. Yet alone the fact that Vlad was still alive and talking with the severe wounds he received, was a good indicator of what godlike beings they had become. Seeing the doctor then perform a complicated medicinal routine in mere seconds, healing Vlad’s broken arm and stabbing wound in only mere moments, made Aujaq realize for the first time, that they were given a great gift and a curse at the same time. How would they, mere mortals, be able to cope with such power, forces they did not understand themselves? He also started to ponder about his decision regarding Koda before. Did he make the right choice? Would the silver Heron really recover? Or would the god stay injured until a war between different spirits, maybe much meaner ones than gentle Koda, broke out?
When his companions started to discuss what to do next, Aujaq agreed that finding out more about what they had become was most important now. Sure, they were feared by the majority of Belicht – not least because the Doctor, Demi and Mal gained their powers in the middle of the Legion’s camp and were not very subtle about it – but if they would have to fight, they would stand a good chance against… well, pretty much anyone right now! At least that was how Aujaq felt, this new power pumping through his body. Without further delay, the companions set out for Reiherheim to pay the secret temple underneath the castle yet one more visit…
They rode on horseback for over a week until they reached the closed off city of Reiherheim, home to the queen. With Mal’s shady help, they found a spot in the city walls where the guards were scarce and climbed over with each other’s help and some effort. As they sneaked quietly through the dark and heavily patrolled city, Aujaq took a very close look at the Queensguard, thanks to his new powers: Their essence glowed very strong and they didn’t look human anymore… Did he really see traces of spirit-blood within them? His eyes must have fooled him – no one in their right mind would empower mere humans with the power of spirits!
They headed straight to the temple underneath the castle, in the safe knowledge they would not need to wait for another full moon to enter the magically sealed catacombs. Once there and safe of the guards’ peeking eyes, Aujaq called upon Koda once more. The badger answered his call without hesitation, but suddendly seemed afraid, when he encountered the full group, no longer human and possessing powers even beyond his own. He appeared in his animal form and crouched timidly at a secure distance, while asking:
“What do you want this time?”
They asked him very nicely to open the door to the temple, but Koda just snarled a little and started to scratch at the ground.
“Why do you want to go there, anyway?”, he asked grudgingly. Aujaq tried to explain that they merely want to better understand what happened to them and how they should deal with this new acquired power – and since this temple seemed to had some answers last time, they wanted to decipher more of the strange images.
Koda shrugged and murmured something like “it’s your temple anyway”, before he shuffled over to the invisible door and placed his paw on it. The strange symbols lit up, just like last time and the door opened to the dark and damp entry. Before they all entered the temple, they each bowed to Aujaq’s spirit companion and gave their thanks to it. Simple badger: His mood improved on the spot, just because humans thanked him.
As soon as they entered the huge hall, they noticed something unusual, almost disturbing: The ten statues, which showed the features of the old lords last time, now showed their own…
Aujaq indentified himself immediately, bare-chested, with his spear in one hand and Koda in his animal form to his other side. The statue resembled him perfectly and up to the last detail: His focused eyes, the grim expression on his face, his braided beard and his muscular chest. It was flattering as well – Aujaq thought he looked much more athletic than he actually was.
The others seemed impressed by their statues as well – only Demi realized his was missing a finger. But one statue was not like the others and gave Aujaq a cold shudder down his back when he realized who it showed.
It was a statue of queen Marlene.