Andrew the Kind, Paladin of Charity, gasped quietly – a new scroll in the temple’s tiny library! He looked up guiltily in case his utterance had disturbed the librarian outside. Quiet was enforced so as not to disturb contemplation.
Outside the little temple, the ancient city sprawled like a serpent coiled against the mountains along its East, perhaps kept dormant by the cold sea at its Western walls. It had been rediscovered just a generation ago, and could hold at least ten times the population of its busy mob of settlers. Even now most of the city had still not been properly explored. Much of it still festered with malign influence, both ordinary and supernatural.
Andrew knew this, but it was no concern *here*, in the unremarkable neighborhood of poor but largely-decent folk, where the temple of the cult of Charity humbly occupied what seemed to have once been a family home. Like the other buildings so far explored in the city, it had been found completely empty of any furnishings. Now, its library had some volunteer-built wooden shelves and a simple wooden table and chair that had been brought in, all quivering in the glow from a rushlight in a simple metal stand.
Andrew stared at the scroll he’d noticed in the library’s small collection of donated codices, pamphlets, and other writings. It was under a wooden plank carved with simple words for the teaching of the illiterate, but he was sure it hadn’t been there on his last visit. He gently took it.
The title on the outside was written in an archaic style. It said: "Uplifting Poetry". He sat down at the table and began unrolling, reading as he went.
"Uplifting" was an understatement. The first poem, on the nature of identity, unfurled itself to Andrew smoothly despite the old script. It posed the question: "who is anyone?", then achingly beautiful metaphors answered with an uncanny clarity that made Andrew’s heart flutter. The words flowed from the writing, through his eyes, and directly into his blood. He understood! The euphoria rose to an almost painful crescendo as Andrew reached the final line:"Who are you?"
"I am Andrew the Kind!" he whispered almost inaudibly, but with complete conviction. He leaned back, basking in the fading moment. Then, it was gone. He sighed contentedly, and leaned forward to read the next poem. It appeared to be something about "enduring faithfulness", but now there was a nagging distraction. First a vague feeling of guilt, growing insistently to a sense that he was ignoring someone in need. Someone lost and in need of guidance? Afraid and needing comfort? Injured? Sick and dying alone? *Where?!*
Andrew was "Andrew the Kind" for good reason, and the urge to help the needy was familiar, but he’d never felt it before without an obvious cause. He began to hear a voice from far off in the distance.
"Urgency! Is needing! You must to be coming now Andrew the Kind!", it echoed at the edge of audibility from an uncertain direction. Then again. And again, closer.
"Odd diction", thought Andrew, "have we finally made contact with foreigners? How do they know my name?" But the cry for help was getting louder and commanded his attention.
"Urgency! Is needing! You must to be coming now Andrew the Kind!" Now as loudly as someone pleading from outside an open window, though the library had none.
Andrew looked around, frantic, but saw nothing unusual. In the hall, the librarian gently swept the floor unhearing.
"URGENCY! IS NEEDING! YOU MUST TO BE COMING NOW ANDREW THE KIND!" It shouted desperately from everywhere. Andrew had to respond! He rose…or tried to. Instead of standing, his feet felt as though they pushed effortlessly into the floor, and he was pulled down into a cloying dizziness.
His chair had vanished, and instead of the rough masonry of the library floor, he flopped heavily back onto a surface of polished black stone. He was enclosed within lines of white light along the stone that suggested a pentagram somehow turned inside-out. Looking at it felt like having his eyes politely plucked from his face. He could hear the voice clearly now, awkwardly pronouncing the last stanza of "NOW ANDREW THE KIND". Beyond the shining lines, Andrew spotted the voice’s owner.
"VILE DEVIL!" shouted Andrew, drawing his sword as he leapt up. It watched him calmly as a flash and numbing shock hurled him back when he met the edge of the glowing ward around him.
"What do you want, creature?", Andrew snarled, examining the fiend. It looked much as he’d always imagined a devil would – tall, red and black, claws and fangs, horns on its a human-like skull. It wore a red robe covered with what Andrew assumed were mystical symbols and held an open book in its taloned left hand.
It answered with the awkward hesitation of someone speaking an unfamiliar language. "AM REQUIRE SERVICE OF YOU. TO BE RELEASING OF YOU WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN DOING MY BIDDINGS."
"I’ll not aid your foul murders or corruption of innocents! Fight me or release me, because one of us will *die* before…"
The devil interrupted, peevishly waving the book at Andrew.
"AM ALREADY HAVING PLENTY MURDERERS AND TEMPTINGS. AM NOT NEEDING ALL *THIS* FOR SUCH THINGS. AM NEEDING YOU FOR TO BE DOING *SPECIAL* SERVICE."
Its voice was almost irresistible. Andrew could feel some sorcerous influence at work that he wouldn’t be able to deny indefinitely. He changed strategies.
"Well…what’s your scheme? I won’t turn apostate and aid The Opposer’s cause, so what could you possibly ask of me? You can’t simply *command* me."
The devil snapped the book shut. "IS OF NONSENSE. MY READING IS SAYING THESE THINGS ARE TO BE MUCH DIFFICULTIES IF THERE IS NOT GIVINGS OF WAGE THAT IS FAIR."
Now Andrew could see the cover of the devil’s book. The title was written not in some Infernal script, but in an old but still legible style of ordinary language. It said:
A Treatise upon the Theory and Practice of Summonings.
by Gaius Galactinus
"WHEN YOUR PEOPLES ARE GOING TO PLACES OF HEALINGS", the devil continued, "AND ARE TO BEING CURE OF HURT, WHAT THEY ARE GIVING IN RETURNS?"
"What? Uh…well, at the temple of Karosh the suggested donation is a piece of gold for miraculous curing of a common sickness, five for curing of injury…" Andrew stopped himself for fear that he was somehow revealing sensitive information.
"THEN AM FOR TO BE GIVING YOU SIX PIECES GOLD, AND BONUS FOR TRAVELLINGS HERE FOR MEETING OF ME. AM THINKING IS FAIR." It held out its right hand, pulling back the sleeve of its robe. A lumpy grey gouge ran from its forearm to its knuckles, glistening slightly from oozing ichor. The hand was shriveled and pale, and white spots spread from there past its elbow.
"You …want me to *heal* you?"
"YES. AM KNOWING YOU ARE HAVING AUTHORITIES TO BE DOING THIS. OUR KIND DOES NOT INTO HEALING IN SAME AS YOU …EH… AS YOU… *CHAYDCHUZHOUM*. WE ARE HAVING OTHER WAYS, BUT IF AM VISITING OF DOCTORS AND REVEALING PROBLEM, COULD FOR ME TO BE TROUBLES."
Andrew thought about the oath he’d taken when he’d answered his Calling.
Comfort the needy.
Cure the sick.
Heal the injured…nowhere in there had it said "unless it’s a devil". Actually, the oath was explicit about showing mercy even to sinners.
"I…guess I could do that…?"
"THIS PACT IS SEALED." intoned the devil heavily, as though reciting a memorized phrase. A shiver crawled across Andrew’s scalp as the circle around him flashed red, then disappeared. The devil stepped forward and held out its arm and Andrew, slightly dazed, gently touched the wound. With a mumbled prayer, he compelled the infection to leave the arm, and the injury to close. The devil hissed quietly.
"Is hurting more than was to be expecting." it said, its voice no longer seeming to boom and echo inside Andrew’s head. It rubbed its arm, now a healthy red color that matched its face.
"To be holding out of hand", it told Andrew, then reached into its robe for a leathery pouch. The devil counted out six golden coins and dropped them into Andrew’s palm, followed by a small ruby which felt warm to the touch and seemed to hum slightly.
The devil nodded. "Done is pact. YOU GO."
Andrew, overwhelmed by a dizzying sensation as though he were rising, heard the fading voice of the devil say "Am for to be calling to you when next am needing of you."
"What? NO! DON’T(oof)CALL…me…" Andrew tried to say, stumbling back into his chair at the suddenly-reappearing library.
The librarian leaned into the doorway.
bookpamphlet version may soon be recorded and added here if you want to listen instead of/in addition to reading the text. If at least two people say they want it, I will make a recording. I may anyway even if nobody says they want it, though…)
(P.S. Hello, reddit!)
I like the story so far and am ready to read more so get busy! I knew you hadn’t forgotten how!