Story time: The First Temple, part 3

Clueless Cleric once again offered Shilloh room at the clerics' dorms, and when refused brought him blankets and pillows for the night. The other clerics were starting to shoot them confused glances, and more than once one approached Asshole to ask mumbled questions and receive mumbled answers. Hopefully the questions were about the blatant and shameful amount of preferential treatment Asshole was pushing on Shilloh despite all the other supplicants who were also staying overnight.

Shilloh had Pakita and plenty of yarn. The extra material was duly distributed around the atrium, to Asshole's awkward consternation the next morning.

"How's the Prelate?" Shilloh asked, as soon as the man approached.

"She is saving her strength," he said, unctuously, and then sat by Shilloh as if they were anywhere in the vicinity of being pals. "May we talk?"

"No," Shilloh said immediately.

"What drove you to seek the Path of the Paladin?" Asshole asked, affecting an air of deeply felt concern. "It's beneath the walking of one so blessed. There is no glory in it you do not already have. Their ranks are overrun with petty criminals, taking up the pilgrimage to escape punishment—"

"That what they tell you in court?" asked Shilloh, acerbically, as he dug his loom back out. "Oh, these filthy-ass thieving peasants, turning into paladins just so they can walk up and demand we stop taxing the gleanings or whatever. Probably stole a bread once. Is that your take?"

Asshole drew back slightly. "I'm just saying—"

"You're just talking out of your ass about shit you don't know about," Shilloh snapped. "Don't you have duties to attend to? You're a cleric of the Mother, go act like one!"

"I only speak out of concern!" he protested.

"And you speak out of turn," Shilloh retorted frostily. "Your concern is wasted on me. Shoo. Get."

The cleric did get, albeit with a mulish expression— but he proceeded to return throughout the day to try and politely shit-talk paladins at him. Even at mealtimes he would make a point to follow Shilloh as he circled the atrium and gave away the extra food he hadn't asked for, haranguing him in a grandiose display of completely missing the point. Ooooh, don't be a paladin, it's not what you think it is, it is definitely not what you want, and I, Some Asshole, would definitely know, for reasons, oooooh.

By the time the line of supplicants scattered out in little sleepover islands, Shilloh's mood had sunk into the kind of bleak shithole he hated most, and Pakita was trying to climb over him and dig her knees into his back, like she did when—

Belatedly he realized he hadn't done his stretches since the previous day, and that the awful tension he felt was not all due to Asshole's aggressive proselytizing… but it really just meant the guy had derailed him that far. Ugh.

Well, he could do something about one of those.

Every vertebra down his spine seemed to pop when he began his warm-up. Two nasty taut lines of hooked burrs ran the length of his body from scapula to heels, all the little muscles and tendons bemoaning the burden of his missing tail. He remembered Hierophant Kamau's voice, digging a finger on his back, applying magic with pinpoint accuracy—

"Oh no! What's wrong? Let me help you!"

—fucking fuckity fuck.

Asshole dropped to his knees by Shilloh, seemingly anguished by the sight of him lying on the floor doing stretches.

"Don't touch me," Shilloh growled, feeling loosened muscles tense right back up.

"Are you in pain?" Asshole squeaked.

"Constantly, since I was a child. Fuck off."

"Oh, but," Asshole immediately said, breathlessly, "is it wise then, to undertake such strenuous activities as a long journey?"

"I don't know," said Shilloh, acidly. "Why don't you go on down to the slums and ask the arthritic grannies how they feel about walking all the way here for a bit of relief for their joints? Maybe check in with the lepers and the amputees while you're at it! Maybe one of the tons of kids who are about to become orphans today!"

He was on his feet now, looming over the kneeling novitiate, furious, stormy, electric; his blood was spiky in his veins, his every hair stood on end.

Shilloh's lungs scorched in pure volcanic rage.

And the slimy tapeworm had the gall to lean back in alarm.

"We can't!" the bastard began, with that same, that very same mealy-mouthed excuse they'd been given years ago, and Shilloh slapped his worthless face before he could start one more sentence.

"Don't you dare," he commanded, and the pig took so long in shuffling to his miserable feet that Pakita lunged forward for some strategically placed aid.

Shilloh let go of a steaming breath and, as he watched Asshole's retreat, an unpleasant suspicion began to take shape in his mind. What had Asshole told his peers about Shilloh's presence? Nothing about his appearance or equipment actually said "paladin", so all anyone else would have to go on would be the word of a seedy jerk playing bullshit games. Was the Prelate even sick at all? It was weird for her to not be out and about, but not abnormal. Temples were self-directed enough that the traditions of one could turn out to be but polite suggestions in another.

Shilloh laid back down on the floor and resumed his stretches with a thudding heartbeat. He was even angrier at the likelihood of his suspicion, now, so angry his blood was set to boil; this was not an— appropriate— frame of mind to make decisions or take action with, though, and so he was made to endure stillness by his own better nature.

Feelings may explain actions, but can never justify them. That way lay cruelty, madness, and a bleak black hole, and he knew just how understandably cruel he had the capacity to be. Shilloh chose the Mother's path for a reason, and it wasn't because of a shared history.

When he finally sagged back against Pakita's flank, it wasn't just the effort that had him clammy with sweat.


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