Private Tales Forastero

Amorea Delarosa

Solar Choir Priestess
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Cortos
2.5 months following the burning of Nagai Minor
Summer - Midday
Docks
seogsa

The city of Cortos gleamed under a summer sun, a sea breeze filling the sails of the ships at the harbor as they breezed across the waters. Set against a backdrop of a cloudless, brilliant blue, the bustle of the docks continued like clockwork just as it did every day before and would every day after.

"Eh, Forastero," an armored man called out from a horse of rusty red, "you are the one called Kichu?"

It would not be the first time his name had been mispronounced here, certainly wouldn't be the last.

"A missive for you from the church."

The scroll was small and stamped with the seal of the Solar Choir. The armored man did not linger after handing it off to the foreigner. Inside the rolled parchment a short note in scrawling scripted writing: The Lady Delarosa requests your company at your earliest convenience.
 
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A gentle sea breeze alleviated the discomfort of heat and humidity. His garbs clung to his skin, that of which glistened under the sun from his light sweating. His appearance was somewhat unkempt, and his features appeared slightly gaunt from hunger.

His opportunities for coin were limited, and the expedition had proven to be fruitless. He mused, wondering if he should have disembarked at Alliria, as many of the others had.

Kishou turned his head towards the solider that hailed him, and upon confirming his own identity to him, received the scroll. The man didn't seem enthused, which made the foreigner ponder how long the mounted soldier searched for him. The thought was dismissed as easily as the wax seal was broken. He did not waste time after reading the message, carrying his belongings with him to the church where they had taken Amore.

Like many times before, the sentries outside began to shoo the foreigner away, but after showing them the missive sent from the church he was allowed access, though his belongings were temporarily confiscated.

A clergyman led him to where the Priestess was recovering. He then knocked on the door twice.

"Hermana Delarosa, the Forastero has arrived."

Kishou wondered to himself if his uncharacteristically rough appearance might offend the Priestess, though he would find out that his concerns were quite unnecessary.
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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Kishou was lead into the south wing of the cathedral complex, beyond the communal worship area where commoners were forbidden. It was an area that even the King required special invite to attend - which may have been apparent given the severe lack of people there. This was where the Solar Choir resided, kept within grand halls of alabaster stone marked by the sigils of the Sunfather and the domains of faith.


They crossed expansive halls laid with polished wood and lit by gilded candelabras. Great floor-to-ceiling windows spanned the distance, filling the complex with warm summer light. Effigies carved by master artisans lined the hollows at either side. Beautiful stained glass portrayed scenes of righteous history. When at last they came to a lone hall towards the back, the Clergyman lead them past black door after black door until he came to a stop before one.

He knocked twice and announced the visitor.

"Enter," replied a woman's voice.


The Priestess' chamber was spacious and adorned by ornate trappings of red, gold, and white. Greenery of potted plants filled empty corners, hand-woven rugs softened the steps of the rooms occupants across white marble. Golden sunlight filtered through a hand-carved wooden screening at one end while the open archway of a balcony gave view of a veranda and a garden courtyard below. For all the decor, there was very little in the way that appeared to be of personal belongings.

The Clergyman lead Kishou in past fronds of vibrant ferns, an aroma of burning incense greeting both men. At the far end, by the screened window, an attendant changed the sheets of the bed. At the other end another attendant tidied what appeared to be a study and small personal library.

Amore was out on the veranda dressed in fitted robes of black and white, seated at a table with another, much younger woman beside her in a simple black gown. The younger woman, likely no older than 14 summers, read aloud from a parchment in a low voice. She stopped and looked up in mild bewilderment at the arrival of Kishou. Amore did not look up but seemed to be resting with her eyes closed, waiting perhaps.

"Thank you for coming," the Priestess spoke, "forgive me for not greeting you properly, my physical recovery is yet underway. Please have a seat, Kishou. Asha-" a nod was given to the girl who stood from her seat and excused herself back into the chamber.
 
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Echoes of footsteps had reverberated within the hollow cathedral, and was the only noise between the clergyman and foreigner. Despite the mellow splendor of the cathedral ostensibly appearing welcoming, he could not help but feel anxious of his presence there.

What had drew his attention over all else were the stained glass murals. At a glance, one would be able to grasp a brief understanding of their contents. Standing in front of the black door, he wished to learn more in the future.

Upon entering, Kishou was stunned from how luxurious the Priestess’ quarters were, though it did not come as a surprise given her status.

He wondered if all the black doors they passed had such lush rooms hidden behind them.

The young girl looked up with an expression that brought amusement to the foreigner. Certainly, she had never come across a person of his appearance in all her youthful years of life.

Kishou watched in silence as Asha excused herself then sat.

“Of course,” He had tried many times to see her- every time he was denied. No doubt, her word had finally granted him access. He refrained from expressing how concerned he was following the cleansing of the jungle.

His attention curiously focused on her closed eyes.
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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She waited, following the sounds of quiet footsteps and the soft shuffle of material, the scrape of chair legs over stone, the cordial reply. Amore smiled, briefly and wearily, "I understand you have been asking after me for some time..." the Priestess remained leaned into the backrest of her chair, her posture supported by cushions, her robes seeming just slightly too big, her cheeks too hollow. Kishou had watched her wither on the journey home from the Nagai islands, lost in an endless sleep, incapable of eating or drinking or ... apparently, expiring.

Simply withering away into frailty.

A quiet breath preceded the opening of her eyes. The blue was gone from them completely, drained like a sea to leave behind the white wash of the sands below. Pale and unfocused irises of silvered white settled somewhere in the vicinity of the table between them. Amore licked at her lips, choosing her next words carefully.

"...looking after me, as well." She'd first asked after the Healers of the ship once she'd regained coherence. The ones who had kept watch of her alongside the foreigner, tending to her wounds and her fevers.

"You have my deepest gratitude, but I must ask why?"
 
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Kishou eyed the woman as she spoke. It was a disheartening experience, watching the Priestess' light gradually fade until all that remained were frail, smoldering embers. Now the woman that sat across from him was nearly unrecognizable from nearly two months ago.

What he had not expected was the lack of blue in her absent gaze. A frown pulled at the corners of his lips.

Her question was followed by an uneasy silence, one found from his inability to produce what he would think to be a satisfactory answer. In truth, he hadn't had a reason aside from the accumulated fondness from the events on the lesser island of Nagai, though he would be reluctant to admit that.

Hands rested atop each other on the table's surface, "I hadn't a reason, nor an ulterior motive, for watching over you. It was merely a gesture of kindness and gratitude."
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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"That is well."

Further pause in silence while she considered these things. Something akin to warmth ghosted across her expression, perhaps a smile as well. Amore shifted slightly in her chair, weathered hands moving to press the parchment set before her carefully off to the side to join a small pile there.

"I seem to remember some words spoken on the wind when last we saw one another. An owed tea...Mithri, if you will."

"Of course, Priestess," one of the attendants inside gave a light bow of her head and stepped off to put together the tea.

"You are staying in Cortos then? Has the Captain Hernan taken you on for another expedition?"
 
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Eyes of onyx flashed to the edge of his periphery as the attendant moved away. So she heard his desperate plea. A part of him was glad, another slightly embarrassed.

He shook his head in response. When she showed no signs of having seen his gesture, he spoke. Curious.

"Indeed, I am. The Alcantaras did not come to me with an offer of employment- though, I did not seek them out." It was not his desire to point any force any unnecessary blame unto his former employers.

"Odd jobs have earned me a pittance since arriving in Cortos."
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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"That..." the Priestess' brow furrowed slightly, lines pressing in around sunken eyes, "is not well. This will be rectified by the King himself by tomorrow morning. For now, are you familiar with the Hotel del Duerico?"

Mithri arrived with a platter in hand, setting it at the center of the table and placing a cup gently before each of them. The same style of cups from the campsite on the island.

"A room will be made available to you for the duration of your stay in Cortos. Hot meals and bath house included. I hope that will suffice for these ... shortcomings."

"M'Lady," Mithri leaned, carefully taking one of Amore's hands and directing it to the cup on the table.

"Thank you, Mithri. That will be all." The Priestess quietly took up the cup, all semblance of a smile gone from her face, replaced by a thinly veiled exhaustion. Mithri took her leave.
 
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Her reaction came to him as a surprise. Rectified by the King? The name of a hotel that he could not pronounce?

He bowed his head in thanks to Mithri.

"I apologize, I don’t know the establishment by its name. It will more than suffice," He quickly responded, "While I find it unnecessary, and myself undeserving of such treatment, I gratefully accept. I'm humbled."

The foreigner would most definitely benefit from a bath, as the Priestess may have ascertained already, and his stomach often screamed to him during the day. Accepting such an offer made him uneasy, but he was in no position to refuse it.

One hand held the cup from the bottom while his other curled around it. A pleasant warmth radiated from the earthenware, much like it had the night that they shared words over the fire.

Having watched as the attendant guided Amore's hand to the cup, he seemed to reach some understanding of the Priestess' condition.

"Your recovery," His voice trailed as he considered his next words, "There are complications with it."
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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"It is the least I can do for your heroic efforts on the island. The only other one who dared warn the Captain against the obvious threat..." they wouldn't be where they were had the Captain heeded their warnings. Those men would not have died such gruesome deaths for nothing. A journey wasted. A Priestess spent.

The Solar Choir was not happy and were, as she knew, eagerly awaiting her full report on the expedition. Something that would require a bit more of Kishou's help, but not just now.

Carefully taking up her own cup, Amore held it at her front in much the same manner that Kishou cradled his own. The smell of hot tea was something of divine provenance, she was sure of it, but a simple statement begged her attention more than the taste.

"Complications ... yes," she replied quietly, pale eyes cast downwards towards her lap, "we of the Solar Choir are trained on the repercussions of using our magic in excess. To know our own limits, to understand moderation. That magic is not the end all of everything. But sometimes it is necessary, that sacrifices be made," the Priestess took a slow, steady breath, lifting her cup towards her lips, "and a cost must be paid."

She drank quietly, holding the cup there at her chin while savoring the flavors and scent.

"To save our men and this world from the spread of infection I paid with my sight ... and, it seems, my powers as well."
 
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Her vision-impairment was most likely a good thing for a foreigner, for she didn't see his clearly disgruntled expression. His dissatisfaction lay primarily in his own disagreement with his supposed heroism. It was not a topic that needed discussing, so he put conflicting thoughts aside in favor of the aromatic splendor in his grasp.

As she explained, he felt grateful for his inability to possess magic. A cost must be paid. The words echoed in his mind. Every time he was reminded of the First Law of Magic, a dreadful feeling came over him. It was, to him, a truly frightening concept.

Perhaps hearing the price of her power had came as more of a shock to the foreigner than the Priestess herself. He forgot about the tea in his hands. His mouth ever so slightly hung open as he absorbed what she said.

Composure returned to Kishou, and he brought the rim to his lips and quietly sipped. Truly, it was wonderful. When had he last tasted such a thing? Memories of the opportunity missed on the island returned to him. He was grateful to Amore at that moment. Incredibly grateful.

He wanted to ask her thoughts about her condition. Curiosity budded as he desired to know how she felt. Though, it felt inappropriate. Another time, perhaps, she would share with him her emotions and thoughts on her own volition.

"I see," Was all he managed. A foolish question came to him, which he asked despite knowing the answer. "There is nothing that can be done for you?"

Ceramic clacked against wood as he set the cup down, "Surely, something can be done about your eyesight?"
 

Amorea Delarosa

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Had he inquired of her feelings she might have told him it was those same feelings that had spurned on the heinous oblivion of fire she'd brought upon that island. Her fury had devoured everything and left nothing behind. That feelings were simply fuel, only now she no longer controlled the fire for which they purposed themselves.

But he didn't, and for this she was silently grateful.

"It is early yet in my recovery. There is hope that my powers may return in time. Magic is a delicate thing; the wound of misuse can take years to heal."

The records showed Amore's predecessors in the Choir making similar sacrifices for the greater good. Over time most had returned to their former power, some even stronger than before. Yet there were those that never regained their magics, forced into retirement to become Archivists to the Choir. They spent the rest of their years high in the tower Archive, watching the world they once roamed pass them by as they continued their honorable service in faith to the Sunfather. Closer to he yet further from those they served.

Her feelings on the subject were understandably mixed.

"As for my sight ..." brows knit on the thought, "payment for power cannot be unmade."
 
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"I see," He didn't. His understanding of magic was that of a child's. There was never a reason for him to learn the intricacies of it. The idea that one could regain lost magic was new to the foreigner.

Hands grasped and raised the cup up to his mouth. Once more, he sipped.

"Cannot be unmade," He echoed, "I wonder."

He sipped again, then set the cup down. Kishou attempted to recall some vague memory of his homeland. There were methods of healing far different from those on the mainland. Alas, Kishou was no expert.

He wished to offer his assistance, to help her as he had on the journey back. But, the foreigner was powerless.

"The tea is delicious. Thank you." Though, he wished to have tasted the tea that she had brewed herself. Perhaps in the future. He did question if their paths would ever cross again. The looming thought of him being separated from the Priestess clung to the back of his mind. Such was life.
 
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She did managed a smile despite everything, "It is. This is the first I've to enjoy it since being gifted by the Tea Master. That back on the island ... does not count. We were interrupted." Perhaps a hint of humor to be found there in something so dire.

"No one else here appreciates it the same, like you. I should like to invite you back for tea again, when I am more myself."
 
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Another sip brought nostalgic memories to him. The grassy astringency spread through his mouth, and he closed his eyes, imagining himself in his distant country.

"It feels like a lifetime since I've tasted this," He silently thanked the Tea Master for two things: Being able to taste the tea, and being able to sit next to Amore.

"Of course," He responded, trying not to sound too enthusiastic over the invitation, "I would enjoy that very much."
 
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Though she could not see it, Amore thought she could sense the journey of nostalgia taking place across the table from her. It brought the Priestess a curious amount of joy to learn she had given to him a taste of home.

"Perhaps next time you can tell me of your homelands?" she would have liked to hear him speak of them now, but the tea would soon be gone and she soon be spent for the day. Her recovery was a slow one and she was electing for patience.
 
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"Yes," He nodded in approval at the suggestion, "I think there are many things you will find interesting."

His last sip emptied his own cup. Eyes wandered to the base of the cup, where the sediment of tea leaves rested, their dark color clashing against the pale earthenware. For the final time, he placed the cup down.

"Again, thank you." Although she wouldn't see it, he offered a small bow of his head and shoulders in her direction.

With that, he was shown out by one of the attendants. To his surprise, the clergyman that had shown him to Amore's quarters was outside the door. Upon seeing the filthy swordsman, the devotee's face scrunched slightly. Perhaps the smell, or appearance, or both displeased him.

A messenger was sent to the Hotel del Duerico bearing a sealed letter identical to the one Kishou had received a fortnight before. The contents were the same. The wording, the writing- it appeared identical.

The room itself was spacious- much more luxurious than any room he had stayed in before. He would have to thank Amore when he arrived. He placed the letter aside and dressed in fresh garments that he laid on the bed. The messenger arrived at a most convenient time, for Kishou had been soaking in his private bath for quite some time.

The establishment in which he was allowed to stay was quite close to the cathedral. The priestess' intention, or mere coincidence? A sweltering heat swept over Cortos as it did any other day. Kishou was thankful that the walk was short. He ascended the steps, displayed the message to the sentries, and was allowed access.

Ironically, the same clergyman guided Kishou again. His expression lacked the obvious disdain from a week ago. Perhaps, now, it appeared more as begrudging approval.

The stained glass murals again drew his attention, though the curiosity regarding them wasn't as strong as they had been. Anticipation of seeing Amore again overshadowed all else.

The clergyman knocked twice when they arrived.

"Hermana Delarosa," He announced, "Kishu has arrived."
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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"Enter," the same response as before.

This time the Priestess could be found at her desk with the young girl, Ashla, seated beside her. In the afternoon light it was easy to see some color had returned to her cheeks and they were not yet as hollow as before. Red hair cast in a single, large braid rested over her shoulder, a stark shock of hue against her robes. Her eyes were now obscured by a white sash.

Ashla sat in silence with a quill in hand. An observant person might note that she seemed to be waiting for further words to scribe, but nothing more was spoken.

"Good afternoon," Amore greeted and gestured to the chair set across the desk, "please, have a seat. I was hoping you might provide some of your insight for my report on the expedition."
 

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Once again, the clergyman remained outside. Kishou took a moment to absorb the room's furnishing. Several days had passed, and with the days went his memory of the Priestess' quarters. He directed himself across the room, past the balcony, and to the desk.

He offered a charming, polite smile to the young girl at Amore's side and offered a curt bow of his shoulders and head. He remembered her shocked expression on his last visit, one that did not surface for a second time. The foreigner cleaned up well and smoothed the rough edges of his appearance since his last venture into the cathedral.

"Thank you," he said in response to her offer and sat, "I hope what I have to say is of some use."

He took that moment to study her features.

"You appear to be in better health. Do you feel well?"
 
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Amorea Delarosa

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Ashla regarded the man with an impassive expression but seemed not to deign to give him a response in greeting. The girl's eyes tucked down to the parchment before her, obviously trying to find a t to cross or an i to dot. A missing comma, perhaps.

"I am," Amore gave a faint nod, "my strength returns a little more every day." Though, clearly, her eyesight had not. The Priestess released a short sigh, head tipping just towards her Apprentice, "I have dictated my notes of the expedition to the best of my memory, however I had hoped you might provide detail of the body that was found in the barracks the Captain ordered burned. Could you speak to what you saw that day? Even small details are of importance."
 
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“Ah, yes,” He said after a small pause, “the body.”

“Eusebius discovered the body. He was one of the two sailors that were contracted alongside myself in Alliria. From the dates listed in Captain Butragueño’s journal, the body would have been there for over a year before our arrival. The body had clearly decayed since the time of death. The flesh that remained on the bones lacked any color. What I remember the most were odd, protuberant fungal growths that sprouted from the corpse.”

He paused to let the young girl to transcribe his description.

“Eusebius touched one of the growths. It emitted a mist that would lead to his infection.”
 
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The Priestess remained silent as Kishou recalled the details of that terrible discovery. Leaving the quiet to stretch well beyond when his words ceased, naught but the scratching of quill across parchment filled the space between. When that, too, had quieted did she finally speak again.

"This infection spread quickly. It took only a few hours for Eusebius to succumb to it, far longer than we may surmise it took for the Captain Butragueño to fall ill. That is troubling for many reasons ... suggesting the nature of the infection grew stronger over time. Or that perhaps there were different kinds. All the more reason for caution to have been used. I am strongly recommending that the Captain Alcantara be stripped of his title. His judgement of the situation, under the light of strong evidence, brought about many unnecessary deaths."

Amore sighed deeply, "The journal, do you have it still? I will need to turn it in with my report."
 
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Kishou watched the young girl’s hand deftly traverse across parchment as Amore spoke, leaving in its wake eloquent scratchings of dark ink. The swordsman could read quite well but not write.

Dark eyebrows subtly rose at the mentioning and condemnation of Diego’s actions. A friend he was, but Kishou was far from naive and completely understood that the situation could have been avoided. In that moment he wondered if the expedition would not have prematurely ended, should the wiser of the Alcantara brothers have headed the beach landing instead.

Onyx eyes finally swept back to Amore. He expected to meet her gaze, but instead met only a grim reminder of the price of great magic.

“I do,” Though, if he were asked to explain why he did keep the journal, he would not have been able to. At times he thought of casting it into the ocean or leaving it in a filth-brimmed gutter somewhere. Though, he did not, and instead kept it. Even idly flipping through the pages, sometimes remembering the man that once was.

“However, it is at the Hotel.”
 
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"I see," the Priestess' chin inclined an inch, as if in a moment of thought, "if you will bring it with you to our next meeting I would be most appreciative."

The sound of parchment rolling, dried material crackling in the air as Ashla rolled her current sheet to the side for a new set of notes. She spoke something low to Amorea in the Cortosi tongue to which the older woman nodded, "Si, thank you. The last part I could use your help with," her attention returned to Kishou, "the mercenary that we found out at the great tree. My memory beyond that initial point fails me. I seem to recall he spoke of a spirit ... and a sword? And his name, what was it?"
 
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