Chapter 1: Exile* * *
The sun was no longer high in the sky, and soon
twilight would descend on the small village of Ekram. On the
northern side of the village, the sun cast its rays on the sand,
transforming all to gold. On the other side of Ekram, though,
trees blocked most of the sunlight, granting shade to those who needed
it. Amid the sands on the edge of the village sat a young man,
his loose dirt-stained white robes spread out around him. His
eyes were closed, and his face looked toward the setting sun and the
"Why's that man sleeping in the desert, mom?"
a young boy asked as he passed by the motionless man.
The mother looked down on her child with a somewhat
disapproving look on her face.
"He's not sleeping, he's meditating," she told her
"What's meditating?" the inquisitive boy asked.
"Meditating is thinking about Gaius and praying,"
the mother responded with a sigh before she pulled her son by the hand
and continued on.
This exchange went by mostly unnoticed by the
immobile man, but a passing observer might have seen a glimmer of a
smile appear on the man's face if he was to look hard enough. The
man stayed in his state of meditation for what seemed like hours, only
opening his eyes when the sun began to set, painting the sky with
multi-colored hues. The young man looked out on this scene of the
desert at twilight, and a broad smile appeared on his face. He
cast his eyes to the ground in prayer before getting up and returning
As he walked through the village, many greeted him,
for they had known him for most of his life.
"Ean, good to see you!" one villager called out as
he passed by.
"How're things at the temple these days?" shouted
"It's the soldier man!" a group of young boys
screamed out as they ran toward him and began to follow him.
good. Praise Gaius,' Ean, the young man who had been
Ean continued along the dirt road he was walking
until he came to a rather nondescript cube-shaped house. He
walked up to the door of this dwelling, opened it, and walked in.
As the final rays of sunshine sank beneath the horizon, light began to
flood out of the window of this house, like the other houses around it.
Night in the desert was a glorious thing. The
sun had set, and a coldness began to settle among the dunes. The
moon rose, casting a silver light on the desert floor, transforming it
into a land of
shifting silver rather than one of gold. Most
people never really took the time to appreciate all of this.
These thoughts and more went through Ean's mind as he opened the door
of his house and walked outside into the moonlit night.
before he could remember, Ean had worked at the Shrine of Gaius, the
center of religious life in his village. He had never really
about why he was here or how he had gotten here, but rather accepted
the fact that he was here as the will of Gaius, and he intended to make
the best of life as a worker
in the shrine in order to bring glory to his god.
Over the years, Ean had filled many roles in the
shrine. Early on in his life, shortly after being taken in by the
shrine following the deaths of his parents, he had been a janitor of
sorts, cleaning up
after the worship of the day was over in order to earn his keep.
Later on, he became an acolyte and trained to become a priest in the
shrine. However, he finally found his direction in life that one
week in the winter
when he had been drafted to be a partner to one of the shrine
The job hadn't really been all that great, but for
some reason, it captured young Ean's imagination. The guard that
he was an aide for, Ram, was getting older, and so he was
a bit prone to falling asleep at inopportune times. Whenever his
turn for the night shift came up, they began to have one of the
acolytes sit with
him in order to keep him awake and aware. The day Ean had filled
role, his life was changed forever. That calm night in the
desert, he just listened to the older man talk about his experiences as
shrine guard and watched the desert at night. At the time, it was
glorious. Those night-time chats had led him onto the
course he was on now: working as a shrine guard.
Tonight, he had night shift, and it was another
wonderful night to revel in. Ean walked down the darkened dirt
streets, between the square buildings made of hardened sand until he
came to the domes. In the
center of the domes lay the greatest one of all: the shrine to
Gaius. There was only one doorway into the shrine, but many
windows looking out toward the desert sky and let the night air
in. Ean walked toward the door, and waved to the guard that was
still on duty. The other guard waved back.
"Ean! You're here early, as usual.
Thanks, I wanted to get home early tonight," the other guard said
cheerfully, though more than a hint of tiredness could be heard in his
"No problem," Ean responded, "I just love night
duty. The desert's absolutely wonderful at night. It makes
me feel like I understand a whole new aspect of Gaius."
"Are you still going on about that? Oh well, I
don't get it, but I'm sure the priests do. Have a good evening,
friend," the other guard said before bowing briefly and walking off.
Ean took his place by the door as he watched his
fellow guard disappear into the night-darkened streets. He
settled back against the wall, his armor clinking against the hardened
sand and a spear cradled in one of his arms, and simply enjoyed the
It was his love of the night desert and the amount
of attention he paid to it that was to be his undoing. So intent
was he on meditating on the attributes
of Gaius as revealed by the desert night that he didn't even see the
dart until it was embedded in his skin. A few seconds
later, he went down, unconscious. A shadow stepped over his
fallen body and slipped into the now unguarded shrine.
The desert night looked on with apathy.
* * *
Morning light and night-cooled water assaulted Ean's
senses. When he opened his eyes, he saw a rather disgruntled
priest looking down at him. The priest was holding a
recently-emptied water jar, and all about him other priests hustled.
"Wha..." was all that Ean could manage to say before
the priest interrupted him.
"Ean. The high priest wants to see you in the
village square now," the priest said before
As he walked away, Ean thought that he heard the man
mutter, "Is he in for it now..."
Still groggy, Ean staggered toward the exit to the
shrine, his armor clanking. He noticed that his spear was nowhere
to be seen. That priest had probably taken it so that no one
would trip on it. As he walked down the road toward the square,
Ean became aware of a great crowd of people both around him and ahead
of him. He hadn't seen such a number in one place in the village
since the last festival, and today was in no way one of those.
The shrine guard continued down the road, content to learn what the
fuss was once he found the high priest.
From the center of the village square, around the
main well for the community, Ean heard the shouting of the Anoth, the
"Do not fear!" the high priest called out to the
crowd, "Gaius has not forsaken us. This is just a test of our
faith, a trial of whether we rely overmuch on physical images in our
worship of the divine. Devote yourselves to Gaius and he will
protect you. Pray to him that he would return the Divine Belt to
This minor speech only served to confuse Ean
more. He had no idea what Anoth was rambling on about, but
whatever it was had almost the entire village whipped into a frenzy.
Just then, Anoth spied Ean in the crowd.
"Shrine Guard Ean, come up here!" he called out.
Ean complied, doing his best to make his way through
the solid wall of bodies that lay between him and the well. A few
tried to move out of the way so that he could pass, but most of the
villagers were so preoccupied that they couldn't be bothered to give
even an inch. As he finally pushed his way through the last swarm
of people, he found himself face to face with the high priest and one
of the priestesses that he had seen enter and exit the shrine from time
to time during guard duty.
"Here they are!" the high priest called out to the
village, "Those who are responsible for this disaster."
Ean looked down to see the angry faces of a mob
composed of those he considered friends just the other day. A few
looked like they were about to jump up and attack him with whatever was
on hand. Ean looked around, and found that the only one with a
different expression was the priestess standing next to him.
Absolute terror was written all over her features.
"What is going on?" Ean hissed to the high priest.
Anoth merely glared at him and called out to the
crowd, "The guard wants to know what is going on!"
Furious shouts, screeches, and threats came from
within the crowd. Ean, still as puzzled as ever, looked toward
the high priest for an explanation. After what seemed an eternity
of jeers and screams, he received one.
"Last night," the high priest began, "You and Thea
here were looking after the shrine. You guarded the door while
she kept the prayer vigil. During the night, the belt was
stolen! You and Thea were found...sleeping!"
Understanding washed through Ean's mind.
Fragments of memories from the night before connected with those of
this morning, and he realized exactly what the crowd was so upset about.
"How can I do penance for this grave sin?" Ean asked
Anoth in a pleading tone.
"How can you atone?" the high priest shouted back,
"How can you do penance?"
Angry shouts and screams came once again from the
crowd, and Ean somehow knew that his life was over.
"Hear me, people of Ekram!" the high priest
called to the crowd in the loftiest voice he could manage, "For their
mortal sin of neglecting their duty and so allowing the Divine Belt to
be stolen, Shrine Guard Ean and Priestess Thea shall be stripped of
their position and responsibilities with the shrine. From this
day forward, they belong to the laity!"
Cheers erupted from the crowd, and it was a few
minutes until the high priest was able to continue with his
"For their crimes, Ean and Thea shall also be
banished from Ekram until the belt is recovered. Until that day,
they may never return under penalty of death."
More cheering was heard, but there was no cheer in
Ean's heart. All that he cherished and hoped for...crushed and
taken away in just one day. He looked over to Thea, and found a
devastated look on her face as well.
Exiled. They were exiled until the belt was
returned, and for all Ean knew, that would never happen.
Posted at 8:40 pm by RedMage