Haloisi knew frustration; so much knowledge, locked away mere inches from her seeking hands. Once again, she risked the descent into the ancient city and once more her thirst for knowledge was akin to a fish trying to breathe air. She almost struck the barrier in frustration. At least she had gained a copy of a history of the War of the Cleartear River, seemingly written in the Old City language. She was going to have to study it and unravel the ancient language.
Among the shelves, many of the texts were known to exist, but even so the progeny of the originals may contain errors proven by comparison the earlier copies. Of the many shelves, only the first she checked contained books of true rarity, volumes that Haloisi had never heard of or, even better, were known to have long ago perished. The library was mundane for its age or so it seemed, but as preserved as it had been by the now vile, loathsome barrier the tomes might as well be on the moon.
She rushed among the stacks reading the spines. It was only a matter of time before…
“Halt where you are, Lyra!” Haloisi ordered instinctually. The child had walked onto the only carpet the party had seen in the entirety of the Old City, laid out in front of a sizable altar. Sand and salt! That child was a constant trial, if oddly endearing.
“Everybody here! I ain’t movin’. Can I back up?” Lyra said, caution occurring to her a bit late. Haloisi shook her head and inspected the rug.
“Is the carpet magically imbued?” Thifal asked at a run.
“I like the carpet.” Axiomus drolled. The weave was a ratty mess.
“It is a pretty nifty carpet?” Lyra tried to cover her distress.
“The Skeleton exudes magic.” Haloisi extended her own magical aura and tested for vibrations. “Unholy.”
“Oh, goody.” Thifal grumbled.
“Anyone who is not lawful had best not go near the altar.” Haloisi concluded.
“Not sure how much he would like me. Or any of us, really.” Thifal said upon inspecting the runes.
He must have guessed the deity. Haloisi studied the runes herself. Erathis, a god of Justice. Haloisi knew her own alignment as the gods would reckon it was for the most part good. Not because she tried to be good, particularly, just that it was rarely necessary to do evil. But she had done evil, once. Maybe it was enough. She took a step back.
“Pleeease let me back up.” Lyra begged nervously.
“We should be fine as long as we follow the rules and laws of a Temple of Erathis.” Haloisi said, somewhat uncertainly.
“Didn’t we kinda break a rule by entering here?” Thifal said bluntly.
“That was the Queen’s law.” Haloisi shrugged.“Whoever that is.”
“You don’t belong here.” A voice spoke suddenly. The sound was decidedly ethereal in nature.
“Praise Erathis!” Nisa said. It was startling when Nisa spoke. She so often conversed only with the snap of her bowstring, when she wasn’t coddling that miniature, noisy human back at the Plump Pig.
“Praise Erathis!” The spirit replied, somewhat rotely. “What business do you have in the Temple of Erathis? Why have you disobeyed the Queen’s order?”
“We seek information.” Thifal said. This was not the first spirit they had encountered since entering the portal to the library nor, Haloisi suspected, would it be the last. This tact had not worked so far.
“Do you praise Erathis?” The spirit challenged.
“Yes! Praise Erathis!” Lyra stammered.
“We are caretakers of knowledge, in, uh, Erathis’ mighty name!” Haloisi’s mouth twisted. Perhaps she could commune with Ioun, but to be a dogmatic follower of such a frivolous social construct as ‘Justice,’ she would never.
Axiomus tried the Unliving language again. Haloisi had abandoned the language as completely unuseful. Its native speakers had not yet had anything intellectually nourishing to say. Haloisi refused to commit the cerebral resources to such a knowledge-poor language.
“You do not belong here. The queen has forbidden it.” The spirit decreed. Haloisi sighed. Here we go again. Both Lyra and Axiomus tried to argue in the wraith’s own useless language, but as Haloisi suspected it was far too weak minded to be appealed to with polite discourse and the conversation devolved naturally into death threats.
While her party continued to reason with a creature who lacked the capacity for anything other than dogma and scripted behavior, Haloisi tried for the fourth time to extract the name of this ‘Queen.’ As usual, they ignored her request but responded to all other queries. Haloisi stopped short of offering to play Fourteen Questions to eliminate possibilities.
Lyra tried a different tact, and feigned loyalty to the Queen Who Apparently Must Not Be Named. Haloisi readied her crossbow.
“The Queen will re-awaken!” The spirit vowed. Well, that was new.
“Does this queen have a name?” Haloisi asked again.
“Praise Erathis!” The spirit regurgitated. Thifal murmured something about Gleam and Glimmer that Haloisi did not catch. “The Green besmirched us. She is dead and should stay dead. The Queen will arise! Come spirits! Defend our temple!”
The party frustratingly continued to attempt parlay. The spirits had no further knowledge, that was clear. It was almost as if they had been robbed of whatever little wit one who would follow a god of ‘Justice’ was born with. The spirits professed a hatred of the dragon, Glimmer. No great revelation there.
Battle raged once more. The spirits launched bars of energy as cold as the grave in straight lines. The party scattered. Their latest companion, this Fletcher Callahan, flitted among the ghosts as if he were a ghost himself. He was well worth his share of any take they might haul away from the ancient temple. Except the books. No one was worth parting with those.
“What does your god say about the Queen?” Thifal attempted reason once more.
“The Queen tells us what the God says. He only speaks through her.” The spirit intoned. Well, bollocks.
“Your Queen is not talking to Erathis.” Thifal said earnestly.
“You lie! She commands, we obey!” The spirit summed up his usefulness in that one sentence, in Haloisi’s mind.
“That is standard stuff for taking power from the people.” Thifal said. “Happens all the time.”
“Your Queen is a liar.” Haloisi said, disgusted. “You have bound yourselves to a liar in the name of your god.”
“It is not our place to question! Only obey!” The spirit circled back again. “We do not need to understand, we need to obey.”
They fought on, until the creature healed itself. The magic was holy, to Haloisi’s great relief. She was concerned that the former followers of Erathis were fully consumed by the dark aura around them. The others among the party exchanged similar feelings plain on their faces.
“Weird, that burst of light did not hurt.” Lyra said.
“My wounds have closed.” Axiomus observed.
“It is healing, Child. You simply must study!” Haloisi accused. “It is Divine magic, so you would not have felt else but its effects.”
“You are disobedient. How are you healed?” The spirit struggled against the hold this ‘Queen’ had upon it.
“It follows a holy god, but has been tricked.” Thifal pronounced the obvious.
“You have been fooled, Spirit.” Haloisi said.
“The Queen commands! You are most foul!” The spirit railed. “You besmirch the temple!”
“Your magic has proven we are not most foul!” Lyra protested.
“Commune with your god. His will supersedes your Queen.” Haloisi said. The spirit contorted, twisted. “Fight it, Spirit! I know you are just!”
The spirit struggled, then finally its unholy aura faded to the barest shadow of its former power. They tried to speak further, but the spirit fled back to its Queen. A queen who will surely kill it, Haloisi thought, frustrated at the exercise. They could have easily done the same without all the effort.
Haloisi continued to study the altar from afar as Thifal communed with the altar of Erathis. He began to glow, and seemed to be having a conversation with Erathis himself. Now, that was interesting. Haloisi tried to eavesdrop, but heard nothing.
“Pray as you like, Cleric. We are after all in the Holiest of places.” Haloisi nodded in satisfaction. “A library.”
“Erathis is a holy god. He does not mind us being here, in fact seems grateful.” Thifal said finally. Well, that was good to know.
Haloisi returned to perusing the books. She wanted all of them. Every one. But… Well, dammit. As welcome as the barrier was for protecting the texts, it did its job far too well. It was time to move on.