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Changed in the Telling

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One evening in a small village some several miles north of Dorova, and therefore by all measures even further away from most anything else, Edlyn Heordak walked down the earthen path that made up what could charitably be called the main road. The dwarf was wearing simple vestments, having left her armor in her room at the inn. It was nice to get some time without the extra weight, and she didn’t find herself needing it quite as often since she and her friends had parted ways, at least for the time being. In fact, she couldn’t quite recall her life being as quiet since she was but a simple acolyte in her home temple. It was nice to have some time for reflection, even if the excitement was a bit lacking, comparatively.

Upon reaching the inn where she was staying, she pushed the door open and walked into the common room, giving a smile and a nod to the innkeeper, who was tending bar, attending to the collection of townsfolk and also the farmers from the surrounding countryside. It was clearly the primary place to find entertainment in the evenings, which wasn’t remotely out of the ordinary for a settlement of this size. She stepped to the bar and ordered a tankard of ale, taking it back to a small empty table of a reasonably low height. Leaning back and enjoying the drink, Edlyn allowed the ebbs and flows of conversation, laughter, and even some snatches of music from various local performers to wash over her.

After some time, a human boy of fourteen or so approached her, looking a bit tentative. She sat up and gave him a welcoming smile. “Well, hello, lad, can I help you?”

He scratched the back of his neck and gestured to the amulet around her neck, shifting his feet a little. “’M sorry to bother you, ma’am, but that symbol... Are you one of Ulaa’s followers?”

Edlyn looked down at the red stone set into the center of a raised mountain on her amulet as she reached up and clasped it loosely in one hand, her smile growing. “Aye, that I am. And well-spotted!”

The boy nodded, emboldened a bit by her affirmation. “I thought so! Then you must know of the great prophet Spoopy!”

That... had not been what Edlyn had been expecting to hear. Slightly poleaxed, an unsettling feeling making its way to the pit of her stomach, she replied, “The... great prophet Spoopy?”

Apparently not noticing her unease, he continued. “My best friend’s cousin’s wife’s sister lives in Dorova! Her neighbor has a friend whose brother Roderick came back from far away. He’d gotten himself into a spot of trouble, and he was met a huge and powerful tiefling with skin as red as fire and a voice that shook the ground! He was terrified that he was going to be killed by a demon! But no, Spoopy had come to rescue him and spread the good word of your goddess! Roderick made his way home and thanks Ulaa and Spoopy for saving his life and putting him on the right path!”

Edlyn scrubbed a hand down her face and took a large drink of her ale. “Oh, lad, that is... Well, that’s a tale that I think has grown more than a bit as it traveled. There is a story there, but it’s not quite the one that’s made it to your ears.”

“What do you mean, ma’am?”

“Well, I was there. With my friends. And... well, they meant well, but it was an interesting situation that got a bit out of hand. Would you like to hear it?”

He looked a bit dubious. She managed a smile and said, “What’s your name, lad?”

“Jameson.”

“It's good to meet you, Jameson. I'm Edlyn. That said, I’d hate to ruin the mystique, I suppose, but the real story is pretty exciting too. Have a seat if you’d like, and I’ll happily tell it.”

Jameson pulled up the seat facing her and sat. “All right, I guess.”

“Excellent! Well, you see, my friends and I, we were deep in the Plains of the Mage.”

His eyes widened almost immediately. “Nobody goes into the Plains of the Mage! Or at least if they do, they don’t come back out.”

“Aye, Jameson, I know. It’s not a place that’s kind to travelers. It’s a tricksy place, with far too much stray magic, even all these centuries after the war that caused it.”

“So why were you there?”

“Because of my friend Slay. She’s a tiefling--”

“Is she Spoopy?”

“Calm, lad, or I’ll never get to what happened. But, no, she’s not Spoopy. Well, not exactly, anyway.”

“Not exactly?”

“I’ll get to that. Anyway, as I was saying, she’s a tiefling, and in the process of searching out her parents, who had been lost long ago, we discovered that they disappeared into the Plains of the Mage. And, as you said, nobody goes there and comes back out. But if there was the slightest chance that there might be news of them, she was going to go search it out, and we were never going to let her go alone.”

Jameson smiled, leaning forward with interest. “Of course you weren’t, not if you were friends!”

“Indeed!”

“But why did her parents go there?”

“It turns out that they were following the path of a cult of Erythnul that we had also happened to cross paths with. And they had set up camp deep within the Plains, so nobody’d discover them.”

“Wow, cultists too?”

“Aye, and a right unpleasant lot they were, too. Wanted to sow chaos all throughout the land, and were starting to make good on it, too.”

“So you tracked them down?”

“That we did. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, by any stretch. But it helps to have a ranger along. Gedda’s tracking is beyond compare.” Edlyn’s smile turned the slightest bit wry, albeit in a jovial fashion. “Maybe it’s because she’s a halfling and closer to the ground.”

“Says the dwarf.”

Edlyn laughed. “Watch it, lad, just because you have a foot on me doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger yet than you walking about.”

“Okay, okay, so cultists.”

“Indeed. After some misadventures on the way, we’d managed to make our way into a ruined city that they had set up shop in. Now, mind, those misadventures meant that we were pretty sure that they knew we were coming, and we didn’t want any of them to catch us unawares, so we were moving about as quietly as we could.” She looked a bit chagrined. “Mind you, some of us are better at that than others, and it’s not exactly my strong suit, but even I was doing a passable job. But then we saw a couple of them out and about, probably patrolling. We needed to find out where their leader was without just wandering up and down every street in the place, so we tried to work out a plan.”

“Did you come up with one?”

“Well, it didn’t exactly have unanimous approval. Eydis... another member of our coterie-- an excellent fighter and a human, like you... she saw no reason to make ourselves known when we’d managed to quietly get as far as we did. Things... got a bit odd, at that point.”

“How odd?”

“Well, our bard, Banzyre--”

“A bard, too?”

“Aye, a gnome. Actually did some study recently under the great bard Sir William of Joél.”

“He was in Dorova not long ago!”

“He was, aye. She mentioned that. Did you get to see him?”

Jameson almost drooped. “Couldn’t make the trip. Had to help out on the farm. I wish I could have, though. It would have been great to hear Everybody Loves You Now actually performed by the bard who wrote it.”

“Maybe one day. That said, back to the story. Banzyre, she cast a spell. And stepping out in front of these patrolling cultists was--”

“Spoopy?”

“Well, didn’t have a name yet, but yes. A giant illusory tiefling with muscles everywhere.”

“Spoopy!”

“Aye, because that’s when Slay decided to contribute. She used a bit of magic of her own to make her voice extremely loud, and it echoed out. And there it was, the tiefling had a name. And a voice.” Of course, why Slay had chosen that of all names would forever be a mystery to Edlyn, but that was entirely beside the point. “Slay used the image and her own enhanced voice to attempt to convince the cultists to fetch their leader. They weren’t entirely convinced at first, though, being cultists, and all. Eventually, though, we did... convince one of them to go at least try to fetch the boss.”

“How’d you convince him?”

“Well, his friend was unconscious at the time.”

Jameson looked suspicious, then. “I thought you said Spoopy was an illusion, though. Illusions can’t actually knock anyone unconscious.”

“No, but if a helpful cleric decides to assist her friends by summoning a spectral guardian to stand in the same space as that illusion, it can certainly do damage to any unsuspecting cultists who get too close.”

“You had a cleric with you too?”

Edlyn simply arched an eyebrow and looked down at her vestments and back at Jameson, who had the good sense to look sheepish.

“Anyway, after driving off one cultist, we roused the second in order to try and get a bit more information.”

“Did it work?”

“In a way. It became pretty obvious that he was a new recruit who had fallen in with a bad crowd, as, honestly, were most of the cultists that were left--”

“Left?”

“Aye. It’s skipping ahead a bit, but their leader had been sacrificing his own followers to extend his lifespan. The true believers were the first to volunteer for the job, so that left the poor sops who needed more convincing or were too young to know any better.”

“... That’s horrible.”

“It is, aye, and that’s why joining cults is a bad idea.”

“No kidding. But what about the recruit?”

“We convinced him to leave and go back home. That it’d be safer that way. And then, of course, Slay decided to try and... I don’t know, be helpful to me, I suppose? And Spoopy was telling him to go follow Ulaa.”

“Wait. So the cultist--”

“Was Roderick? Aye. I’m glad to know he made it back safe, though. The plains isn’t hospitable.”

“Huh.” Jameson sat quietly for a moment. “So that’s it?”

“That’s it for the story of Spoopy. No great prophet, really, but I suppose did help save at least one life.”

“Wow. I didn’t see that coming.”

“Honestly, lad, I didn’t see it coming when it happened. It’s not exactly... the most plausible thing ever.”

Jameson laughed. “So did you defeat the cult leader?”

“That we did. He won’t be sowing any more chaos. And the poor souls that had been drawn in just... ran. They knew they’d made some bad decisions. They weren’t about to make worse ones.”

“That’s good.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “Oh. What about Slay’s parents?”

Edlyn gave Jameson a small, sad smile. “We at least found out what happened. They made a very heroic sacrifice that prevented the cult from becoming a problem decades ago. If you’re going to remember names, don’t remember Spoopy’s. Remember theirs.”

He nodded, drawn in. "What were they?"

"Valor and Purpose.”

"Valor and Purpose?"

"Aye. As words, they're good enough to keep in your life themselves, but as a memory, they're something more."

At that, Jameson nodded solemnly. "I'll remember. I promise."

Edlyn smiled again. “I’m glad to hear it. It’s been a nice chat, young Jameson, but I think I’ll be heading to my room for the night.”

After they said their goodbyes, she headed upstairs to the room she’d rented, glancing over at where she’d laid her armor. She chuckled to herself, knowing that she’d have to tell her friends this story when she next saw them. ‘Spoopy, the great prophet of Ulaa.’ She herself found the very concept equally embarrassing and hilarious. They would have no need for embarrassment over it, so they would enjoy it immensely. She could almost see the looks on their faces. And their determination to make the next story all that much more ridiculous.

She could hardly wait.