0: Prologue

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Never fret, my child, never despair; never fear that your prayers will go unanswered, for you are one of the buds on My tongue with which I taste the world; know that I am always with you, as you are with Me.

What you see, I see; what you hear, I hear; what you think, I think; what you feel, I feel.

Though your thoughts might sometimes muddle, know that your true power lies not in the sharpness of your mind, nor the strength of your limbs, but the clarity of your soul; I can see the clear blood that flows from your heart through your veins, and it is beautiful.

I will ask much of you, but never more than you can handle.

And when your task is fulfilled, my child, know that you will have a place at My pool.

So do not fret, my child; do not despair and do not be afraid, for I am always with you, as you are with Me.

I guided your parents’ courtship, carefully selecting two mates that would bring forth traits ideal for My representative. Your mother laid you in the spawning pool of Brackwater, a small town that would teach you humility, far removed from the corruptions of this world.

Your earliest memories are of the local choir. Even before you developed your ears, you could feel the music resonate through the waters. as it rippled through your spawn. The music molded you; you were cradled in My hymns; even before you knew the texts of My litany, you knew its rhythm, its timbre; it flowed through your blood, stuck to your skin. You are Mine, from before your birth, ’til long after your death.

Guided by My song you sought to study at the temple, to enlist in the clergy and sing My hymns. O, how simple were your ambitions, how naive and noble; you merely sought to emulate what you felt was beautiful, to give back what was given to you, to sing to the spawn as had been sung to you.

Studying did not come easy to you. You had to work hard, harder than most, to achieve less; seeing your lazy peers out-achieve you in scholarly matters caused you much distress. But do not fret, my child; you do not have the gift of memory, for I did not deem it necessary for your task. Your mind is clear, unbefuddled by distractions, beautiful in its simplicity. My clergy demanded you retain every one of My Words and recite them from memory, something you could not do, and deemed you unfit to serve me, until I revealed unto them My gift to you: The healing touch.

It is something most of My servants need to study rigorously to achieve, but comes naturally to you – whenever a creature is hurt, you heal them; simply, without thought. My grace flows through you like water through a clean chalice, untainted by mortal intention.

My petty officers had to ordain you in spite of your poor grades, for it was My will – made manifest by the healing gift – that you would. As is tradition, your mission would be determined via one of My Oracles, who channel My voice to your world.

I could perceive your doubts clearly. You hoped that you would be allowed to stay at the Brackwater Temple, for you had never strayed far from your spawning pool and did not feel any desire to do so; never could you have imagined the task that I had determined for you, the places it would take you, the creatures you would meet; things never before seen by any of My children.

The Oracle of Brackwater was an old channel, muddled of mind, soft of voice and hard of hearing, barely fit to relay My Will. She could only unveil to you the where, not the way, the what and the why; but this, too, was part of My designs, for it was imperative that you did not know the reason for your journey before it began.

I would have you travel to the human land of Driszaw, far-away from your swamp-home, away from all that was familiar, far from the choir that inspired you to embark on My path in the first place, and you were to do so alone, with no other toad to help you, no guide but your faith in Me.

This caused a great stir in the village. No one had ever heard of this ‘Driszaw’ before – the sound was so alien that most did not even register it as a name, let alone the name of a country. Very few Brackwater toads had ever left their home swamp. Some had traded with humans before, but few had ever traveled to their lands, so knowledge about them was sparse. How could their beloved Heqet send a simple-minded child into the unknown on her own? Surely there must have been a mistake. Your family demanded a retelling, but I do not indulge those of little faith with mulligans.

Do not think this was an easy command for Me to give, child. Remember that your sorrow is My own; I could sense your despair as you heard the Oracle relay My will; I sensed your desolation, but also your devotion. You would press into the unknown out of loyalty to Me, like I knew you would.

Your worried friends and family wished to accompany you on your pilgrimage, but you denied all help – the Oracle had spoken and My word was law. Yet, they could not help but fret. Poor little Glurf! Still only a child and send on such a dangerous mission. She could barely take care of herself and now she was burdened with such a heavy duty? It wasn’t fair. What was she even supposed to do? How would she know when to return if she didn’t even know what goal she had to accomplish? Would she even return? These were things for Me – not for them or even for you – to know. This, you, and only you, understood.

Perhaps this journey, the first one you would undertake as an adult, would earn you the right to be treated like one. No longer would you endure any patronizing fretting. You thanked your loved ones for their worries and embarked, alone, with nothing but your faith and the simplest of My tenants: To heal the wounded and care for the weak. It was enough; it was plenty.

You enjoyed your journey through the swamps, meeting My many children and partaking in their hospitality. As a pilgrim, you were guaranteed kindness in the domains over which I hold sway. The wart-less, colorful Grippli fed you well; the wily salamanders showed you all sorts of tricks; even the rugged lizardfolk were generous to you. They told you the way, guiding you towards the edge of the marshes, though no one could quite tell you where this elusive ‘Driszaw’ was.

My rivers took you into human lands before you even knew it. Bugs were less abundant there and it was harder for you to scrounge together enough food for a meal. The sun was harsher on the plains, with less overgrowth to offer respite. If not for the protection of the water, your skin would have felt dry and your blood hot. I sheltered you and fed you waterbugs, but My protection could not last. You needed to learn about the cruelty of a world in want of My grace, firsthand.

You had your first encounter with humans not long after you drifted into their domain. You came across a wrecked caravan and was appalled at the violence that had befallen it. It was your first real confrontation with death: Three mutilated, one barely alive. You rushed to heal the poor soul and I indulged you, reinforcing your selfless nature. Yet, the human did not wake, so you decided to haul him onto your shoulders and take him to the nearest village. You dared not transport him over the river, fearful of opening his wounds, so you decided to follow the road instead, figuring that, if you traced it long enough, you would come across the human’s kin.

Without the sanctuary of the river or the moist air of the marshes, your skin dried and began to feel brittle. The human’s body grinded against yours, causing you irritation and pain. Yet, you pressed on, selflessly, on the quiet road, until another cart appeared on the horizon in front of a setting sun.

Relieved, you gently let your cargo down and waved the newcomers welcome. You were greeted with a volley of arrows, one of them penetrating your soft skin, the iron sinking deep into your blood. Unaware what was going on, you let out a grievous howl, which your assailants interpreted as a challenge, inviting another volley. You flopped on your belly in defeat, folding your hands on the crown of your head, quivering in fear. The humans surrounded you, keeping their arrows notched and talking frantically amongst themselves in a voices you did not understand. You tried to explain yourself, but all they could hear was a sonorous croak; the death-howls of a beast. They captured you, putting your arms in chains, taking you to their village.

You could not have known that the village that these humans called home had been the victim of lizardfolk raids, leading them to recognize in your green skin the scourge of their livelihood, an enemy that they could enact vengeance on for their stolen goods and fallen family. They could not have known that you were innocent, since you had no way of telling them. You could not have known that they would assume that it had been you who had attacked the caravan; that you were hauling what you believed to be a corpse to your lair to eat. The human who was spared by My mercy even declared that this was so. He could not have known, either.

They would make an example out of you. In these parts, humans practiced a bastardized form of fire-worship, a warped shadow of the faith of Serenrae. They planned on burning you alive.

You were hoisted on a bed of twigs, bound to a wooden stake. The whole village gathered to witness the spectacle, a burning under a clear sky. In their ignorance they believed that the sacrifice of a ‘swamp monster’ might earn them the protection of their Goddess, not realizing that an innocent sacrifice would only bring forth Her ire, and not Her favor.

As the twigs were lit and the flames started to rise, you prayed fiercely to Me to liberate you. “Please, put out this fire! Send me water, send me rain! Anything! Don’t let me die here! I have yet to accomplish Your task! I don’t want to die!” The pain was excruciating. Your innards boiled, causing the fluids in your body to rise, nearly pushing your eyes out of your skull. Soon, the pain conquered your mind and you were unable to continue praying, or think anything at all. There was only despair, filling your soul, pushing all else out.

It was at this lowest of points that a miracle did occur.

Dark clouds gathered and it began to rain. Torrents of fresh water showered down, dousing the fire before it could claim you whole. Thunder howled as the heavens spat lightning. Crude though the souls of these humans were, they knew the divine when it revealed Itself, and they rightfully cowered and ran.

The ropes broke and you were liberated. Once you had collected yourself, you hauled your body to the nearest river.. You dropped in and let the current take you, towards lands unknown. Towards Driszaw.

Your first encounter with humans had been a harrowing one and it had left deep scars in your soft flesh. You needed time to heal. My river took you to a swampland similar to your home, a place where you could recover in peace. The air there was moist and much easier for you to breathe, and the bugs were huge, making for hearty meals. It was just what you needed.

But giving you what you exactly what you needed so soon might have been an error. You were the only sapient soul in those marshes and the solace seemed to agree with you. There were no worried elders to fret over you, nor any elder clergywomen to judge you harshly; there were no peers who outperformed you or juniors that needed your help; for the first time in your life, you felt truly alone.

Yet, you were not, not then, not now, not ever; I am always with you, as you are with me, a fact that slowly slipped from your mind the more time you spent in those lonely marshes. Without the stimulation of other intelligent creatures, your intellect reverted to a more base form. The still marshes smoothed your mind until your only concerns were of food and safety. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, you forgot about your responsibilities. Within a year, you stopped praying.

Were you happy, then? It is impossible even for Me to say. Happiness is a boon or a bane for sapient creatures. It is not for beasts. Beasts simply are and a beast you were, back then. But it was not to last.

One day, a human appeared in your turf. The body floated face-up into your domain, not moving and appearing dead. As you lurked behind a fern spying on it, you had trouble discerning whether it was threat or food, the only two distinctions your simple mind made then.  But as you saw the blood trickling out of its face and mixing with the water, your other, higher instincts took over. You plucked the poor creature from the water and, for the first time in years, called upon Me. I was glad to oblige.

You took the human to your lair where My Grace saved him from an untimely death. Yet, it would take a long time for them to recover, for their wounds were severe. Through helping them, you would ultimately help yourself. Listening to the human prattle feverishly in their sleep, you grew accustomed to the high pitch of human voices, and slowly their words started to carry meaning to you; once the human gained consciousness and was fit enough to hear, you learned to modulate your sonorous voice so they could understand you in kind.

The human taught you many things about their kin. Those strange, soft scales that loosely fluttered around their bodies? That was not second skin; those were clothes, a concept alien to you. Your kind is not accustomed to wearing garments; yet, to humans, your nakedness is a sign of barbarism, a cue that you are a monster, to be fought and feared. Wearing clothes would show you were intelligent and worthy of empathy.

These chats made you remembered your mission and you asked the human if they knew where the land of Driszaw was. They told you that you were already in it: ‘The Swamps of Nope’, as the humans knew these marshes, was part of it, though no sane human would even venture into these parts without a good reason. The human explained their reason to be that they had been trying to escape from a ghost. As you strained your eyes to see, I revealed the specter to you in a translucent glow. Hearing you gasp in surprise delighted the living human, as their kin had already discarded their visions as the raving of a lunatic. Finally someone else was able to see!

Much less to his liking, however, were the ghost’s demands. You intuitively knew that spirits only lingered in this mortal world for as long as their material aims were left unfinished; to grant both of these souls rest, the wishes of the deceased would have to be honored. The specter had been a ‘colleague’ of the human – together, in life, the two had amassed a fortune through foul means; the foulest of which was the dagger that the human whose life you saved had put in the back of their partner, killing them and taking the treasure for themselves.

The ghost’s demands were simple: If they were not able to enjoy the fruits of their rotten labor, then neither should their partner – their vengeance would simply require the thief to give up the wealth they accrued through evil means. The human hesitated, but ultimately would have done anything to be free of their haunting. A clear conscience is worth more than all the wealth in the world. They agreed to donate the tainted treasure to an orphanage; a noble cause, the spirit agreed.

With no prior experience, you successfully mediated your first deal between the dead and the living. Once your patient was well enough to travel, they convinced you to accompany them to the capital. The thought alone terrified you, yet your desire to see the mediation through to its end was strong enough to pull you through.

You let the human outfit you with simple brown robes. Now that you understood their speech, the humans did not scare you as much – you were able to explain to travelers that you were a pilgrim and discovered that here, just like back home, pilgrims are treated with respect, no matter what deity they serve. You were not bothered on your way to the capital, which was home to so many strange creatures that you did not even stand out that much. The treasure was donated and the spirit departed, as promised. You and the human went your separate ways, leaving their fate up to other deities to decide. You never even learned their name.

Having now successfully guided one spirit to the afterlife, you felt like you had found your calling. You did not consider it a coincidence that the local ‘Special Spirit Squad’ was hiring an exorcist to help quell the surge of supernatural occurrences haunting the populace. They did not even question your abilities and hired you on the spot.

It was here, in the capital, at the headquarters of the Special Spirit Squad, where you would meet the souls that were destined to share your fate. Your journey had begun; you had found your way to the where, yet the what and the why remained only for Me to know.

Next chapter: The Special Spirit Squad assembles!

Blogs about this chapter: How playing a Cleric means playing their Deity

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