Sacha had scared him. The priest, that was; Sacha had scared him. At least, he thought so. He hadn't meant to, but... Kroni still haunts me, even if he no longer threatens to consume my mind and take over my body. There were memories, habits, urges... He shook his head.
He was dressed now, though not armored. The thong was safely locked away with the rest of his belongings in a chest that the abbess had provided for his cell. And the young men who had carried it in -- lay members, as he understood it -- had informed him that Cardinal Cloverfield, the newly-appointed head of the Order of the Golden Sun, wished to speak with him. Sacha had no idea what such an exalted personage would be doing here in Caristhium, at a temple of Amun, but apparently there were more of his fellows here than he'd realized.
Perhaps the temple was offering shelter to any adherents of any of the Covenant of Amun? That seemed possible, even likely. The abbess here certainly liked to keep her hand in things.
"This way," said the halfling, and Sacha followed him down the passage.
"I-- forgive me," said Sacha. "What was your name, again?"
"Got a lot on your mind, eh?" asked the smaller man. Without waiting for a reply, he said: "Birno. Priest of Amun, obviously. I tutor the new initiates, priests and paladins alike."
"And guide lost paladins of Helios, it seems."
"Oh, you know how it is." The halfling looked up at him and grinned. "Duties as assigned, and all. But being here, and being around the Twice-born and the Solari, I've heard something of your story. I won't bother you for more, but I'm curious enough that guiding you to meet with Cardinal Cloverfield isn't a chore."
Sacha quirked a self-deprecating smile. "You flatter me," he said. "I'm just another fallen paladin."
"Not fallen, I don't think," countered Birno. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here. And you wouldn't have been opposing the Wildlanders. Or defending Springhollow."
Nonsense... Except that the little priest wasn't truly wrong. What evil Sacha had done, he had done unwillingly. It was no less evil for that, and no less his evil to atone for, but Birno was right. He wanted to atone. He wanted to make things right, or as close to right as an afternoon's work could manage for wrongs done in the morning: right with Helios, right with Leira, right with himself. To become the Avatar of Helios, he thought again, wondering and more than a little awestruck.
"Well," said Birno. "Here we are." He reached up and opened a door, and then stepped back.
"Thank you," said Sacha, and stepped through.
Inside was a small room, intended for meals and meetings, with an oval-shaped table in the center and a dozen chairs lining the walls, six on either side. One of the chairs had already been pulled over to the table; the priest that he'd met earlier was sitting in it.
Sacha grabbed a chair from the opposite wall, and pulled it over so that he could sit on the far side from the priest. They regarded each other in companionable silence for a long moment, before Sacha said, "So when does the Cardinal arrive?"
The priest blinked. "He came in just a few minutes before you did."
Sacha looked around the room, puzzled, but didn't see anyone else here.
"It's me," said the priest. "I'm him. Cardinal Clovis Cloverfield, in the flesh. I got here a few minutes before you did."
Sacha looked around the room again, mostly because he couldn't think of any other way to respond. This couldn't possibly be happening. "You," he said. "You. Are the highest of the Order of the Sun, the chief religious of the worshipers of Helios."
The priest nodded, looking miserably embarrassed. "I was the highest one left after the Solari Hunters murdered everyone else. I didn't-- I'm not--" He sighed. "What you have to understand is..." He closed his mouth again, shook his head once, and straightened. "That's why we need you to become His avatar."
"And Gosder Cherilus?"
"Fallen. Against the Solari Hunters. In a final defense of the throne."
Sacha nodded slowly. "Then the duty comes to me, if Helios wills it." And if, in his mercy, he allows it. The chance to transcend his vows, to serve his god and at the same time be able to give Leira the love she deserved... He would do anything, survive anything for that.
"Helios wills it," said Cardinal Cloverfield. "He sent me a vision."
"So you said. How can this be done?"
"Do you know, your luck may actually be worse than mine?" Cardinal Cloverfield shook his head, then cleared his throat. "You have confronted the darkness. To find your way back to the light, you must travel to the land of the sun and undertake the trials of the avatar. I'm almost completely sure that that's the island of Solouro. You will be accompanied by three companions--"
"Leira?" asked Sacha.
"She pledged herself immediately," Clovis told him. "The proper king, Tavros Fontaine, pledged himself next, and the legendary bard Geddy Lee Geddy immediately after. Geddy's companion, the mysterious Lady Eva, will accompany you but is not properly one of your companions."
Sacha sat back in the carved wooden chair. Leira. Together, they could do this. They must do this. There was no other way. Failure would result in damnation; success would be his salvation. Their salvation. He had to succeed. And with these companions, he began to believe he could.
It was never really a question. Not if Cardinal Cloverfield received a vision. I cannot but do the will of Helios, especially if it will allow me to marry Leira. "You must excuse me," he said, and rose. "I have things to discuss with my companions, and preparations to make."
* * *
He found the future king Tavros Fontaine in the Chapel of All, in the northeast corner tower. The half-dragon was kneeling silently, evidently praying to someone other than Amun -- which shocked him. No priest or paladin of Helios would actively pray to another god. Acknowledge them, yes, but offer worship? Never.
Still, the Temple of Amun and the Order of the Titan King had their own rules and their own ways of doing things, and clearly they were more open to the presence of other gods than the Order of the Golden Sun. There was even a True Elf paladin of Corellon Larethian here, apparently on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. So he came and knelt beside the would-be king, just far enough away not to disturb, and waited.
After a time, Tavros blinked and rose, and Sacha rose with him. "Your Majesty," he said. Was it his imagination, or did the half-dragon twitch when he said that? No, that definitely wasn't his imagination.
"Just Tavros, please. If there's a proper coronation, then afterwards perhaps formalities will be appropriate."
Sacha nodded. "Cardinal Clovis informs me that I am to become the Avatar of Helios, and that you and my beloved and the legendary bard will help me in my quest."
Tavros nodded, his expression unreadable on that not-quite-human face. His voice, however, was warm when he said: "So he informed us as well. I'm looking forward to it. Leira can take us there in the morning, if you feel ready."
Sacha didn't feel ready; he felt... He felt a burning need to do this now, and realized immediately that it was the sort of uncontrolled, undisciplined, driving impulse that got people killed. He couldn't afford that. He had to succeed at this. "If I could, I would leave tonight," he said honestly. "On the moment, even. But there are preparations that I need to make first." He would need to think on what those preparations should be, but he couldn't just charge in.
Tavros stopped and studied him seriously. "Take some time," he said. "We need to do this right."
Yes, my king. Sacha barely managed to choke back the words, and nodded instead. He was profoundly relieved. This Tavros understood him, understood the needs that drove him.
"This is the Chapel of All," Tavros continued, gesturing towards the unmarked altar. "Sanctified, but not consecrated to any one deity. Take some time here, offer your prayers to Helios, and get yourself centered."
"I will," he said, and then his lips quirked and he added, "Your Majesty."
Tavros sighed, but he closed the door behind him when he went out.