A Blessing

The doors to the Temple of Nagakabouros were pushed open, the rain and storm of the evening. Even if it was bright as day and dry as the desert, the man who entered through the massive doors would not stop dripping. With cautious steps he lurched forward, moving past the benches and seating areas where the flock of Nagakabouros arrived to listen to sermons. He looked left and right, placing his dagger into his holster for the first time since he’d returned to Bilgewater.

Only one person occupied the room with him, surrounded by candles and sitting at the mighty statue’s feet in the back of the room. Rather than a pious stance on her knees in prayer, she sat relaxed, one thick arm resting on the massive brass idol. “Knew you’d be coming eventually,” she said, not having to guess who had entered.

As Illaoi stood and turned, her gaze fell upon the gangly man standing in the aisle. “Hm. You remember me…and I remember you…” he muttered, peering at her with his glowing eyes. In fact, she looked too familiar.

Pyke reached behind himself, pulling out the manifest of the ship he carried around. Could she have been there? It wasn’t uncommon for some ships to have kraken priests on board. As he scrolled down the list, he reached the bottom. Unlike every other name, however, this next one was smudged and ruined. Had the rain gotten on the list? Besides a small I at the end of the name, it was impossible to read. Grumbling to himself, Pyke placed it back. He’d sort it out later.

“What are you looking for anyways?” Illaoi asked. When she had gotten word that a drowned phantom had been moving towards her temple, she bid all other followers to leave for the time being. She would face him “alone”, Nagakabouros protecting her in this sacred house.

Pyke chuckled, shaking his head. “Your blessing.”

Illaoi cocked one eyebrow upwards, the idol resting over her shoulder as she glared at Pyke. “A blessing? For you?”

With one damp hand, Pyke ran it along the seat next to him. He had a vague recollection of coming here before his untimely death. “Mmm, yeah. I remember the sermons, you know. Always movin’ forward. Always pushin’ onward.” He turned to her, glowing eyes piercing into hers. “So I figured who better to ask for well wishes than you?”

It was a surprising statement, to be sure. She had expected Pyke to seek revenge. If anything, whatever foul spirits plagued the specter didn’t have as much power here as her own god. “Hm. Alright. I’ll humor you. That said, you have to answer a question.”

There was no shock or surprise in Pyke’s face as he moved to Illaoi, used to the tests and trials she often spoke of. His expression was hard to read as well, bandana hiding any emotion he could have been sporting. With a casual air, Pyke knelt at Illaoi’s feet, lowering his head as he readied himself. “Go on then, priestess. Show me whatever test you want me to accomplish.”

“How long is your list?”

Pyke froze. The list? It had to have gotten out, sure, but why was she interested? With careful consideration, the list was unfurled at Illaoi’s feet, showing the long manifest of names and scratch marks from those he’d taken down. “Lotta names to move through, priestess. Lotta time I’m gonna spend moving forward.”

A defeated sigh escaped Illaoi’s lips, seeing the parchment that answered all the questions she had. “So your list has no end?” The drowned spirit looked up at Illaoi, confused as to what she meant. “Your list? This thing is crap. You want to get through the list but look at it. It isn’t ever going to end.” Her expression turned sour as she looked down at the spirit at her feet.

Anger rose in Pyke’s body, fingers twitching. He wanted to reach for the knife but she wasn’t on the list. “Ain’t you the one who told me I should always be going forward?”

“And you’re not.” The stern expression of the priestess could crack stone. “You’re in a rut. A circle that’s never going to end. You think you’re moving forward but you’re just going to loop forever.” Lifting her idol, she raised it above the parchment at her feet. “No, you don’t need a blessing. You need a cleansing.”

As she dropped the idol, with full intent to smash the list, Pyke felt an emotion he hadn’t felt since his death: Panic. His fingers jutted out, even though crushing paper would do little than crumple it, as he wrapped his hand around it. The idol fell with crushing weight, snapping bones as Pyke’s arm was caught beneath the idol. “You…you LIAR!”

Illaoi lifted the idol, ready to bash Pyke in the skull and free the tormented spirit. Instead her idol swung wide, striking a watery apparition. Several feet away Pyke stood, clutching his list with a mangled hand. “Do you see now?” Illaoi waited for a response to see if he had come to his senses.

“Oh, I see alright. I see you for the fraud you are!” Pyke removed his dagger, ready to fight. His broken arm began to crack back into place, the spirit not even caring that he was healing at such a rate. “A priestess lying about her own damn sermons. A goddamn joke, that’s what you’re saying.”

Whatever spirit had its grip on Pyke was too strong to just release him. Illaoi set her idol on the ground, cracking her knuckles as she glared to the man across the room. “Get the hell out of my temple or I’ll throw you out.” In truth, she’d do much worse.

As strong as Pyke felt that he was, something told him no. That this fight wasn’t one he’d win. A gut instinct like when he’d hunted the sea behemoths? Maybe. Either way, he began to step backwards. Raising his knife, Pyke glared to Illaoi. “You best hope you never walk alone. I’ve got a special place for you on this damn list.”

“Three seconds. Then I’m breaking your spine.”

Pyke disappeared from view, seeming to vanish into nothingness. Even though she could not see him, Illaoi could very well feel that he had left the temple. Illaoi returned to the statue at the end of the temple, sitting down as she had been. She had tried to help him, yes, but that spirit was beyond help. Something had a grasp on him. Something Nagakabouros itself couldn’t easily get rid of. Her attempt had been a failure.

Despite this, a smirk ran across her face. Failure is, after all, one of the ways people moved forward.