Chapter 6

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Onestrio's Trade Post

Davona, Minchdoya, and Dante escorted Gaetana back to Onestrio's. After making sure that Gaetana was given a place to rest, Lorenzo approached them. He informed them that during their absence, one of their prisoners attempted to escape.

"It was one of the younger ones," Lorenzo said. "Goes by the name of Guido. He tried to slip out the gate while no one was watching. Fortunately, the new guards you hired had just arrived. Dumb kid ran right into them, and they gave him a quick beating before we put him in chains and locked him in the shed."

Nearby, the new guards nodded to the members of the Evergreen Company. There were three of them: a human woman and two halfling, one a man and the other a woman. They introduced themselves as Vittoria, Bastien, and Dorianne, respectively. The Evergreen would pay for their services for the next 3-4 months with the credit they earned with Onestrio's trade post after giving Sabina the moon radishes she requested.

Vittoria sought out Dante. On her way here, she was asked to deliver a message to him. Dante read the letter, and a look of concern crossed his face.

"I'm afraid my short time with you must already come to an end," he regretfully told Davona. "Some personal affairs back home were left more unfinished than I had originally thought. I must head back… home."

"Yes, we must all leave," Minchdoya said. "We are being called. And we must go and answer."

Davona and Dante each gave each other a look. When they turned back to the deep gnome, he was already gone. They both agreed that was a thing, and that they should move on.

Davona decided that she would join Dante on his way back to Lurindor. However, she intended it to be a short trip. After parting ways with the halfling at Rochefort, Davona went to the House of the Sun, the small temple of her patron deity, Kaï-den. She sought out the priestess of the temple, Sunmother Isabelle.

In private, Davona spoke to the Sunmother of her troubles. She explained the sense of loss she felt, that light within her felt dim. The Sunmother inquired as to when did this occur, and Davona explained everything involving Vico and his bandits, and how the Evergreen Company dealt with. Upon hearing the story, the Sunmother closed her eyes, and let out a breath.

"I fear that your actions have displeased our Lord, and ran contrary to the tenets of paladinhood," the Sunmother explained. "The holy grace that was bestowed upon you at the end of your training has been taken away."

Davona was stunned. "But… why? I don't understand what I did wrong!"

"My child, you were merciless against your charges, and offered no chance of redemption to them. You abdicated your responsibility as a knight of justice to one who was not fit to deliver sound judgment. And worst of all, you had no remorse over your actions, nor understood why any of them were wrong."

"But they were bandits, and we were given the authority to deal with them as we thought best. We were within our remit! My oath—!"

Isabelle held up her hand to interrupt her. "I am well aware of your oath, Dame Davona. Vengeance is not forbidden by our Lord, but it is a dark path that must be tread carefully. Just because something is within your authority to do so does not mean that it must be done. As a paladin, you are held to the highest standards of morality and ethics. Any warrior can mete out vengeance, but a paladin must always be virtuous. You must temper your oath with compassion, patience, and understanding. And vengeance may take many forms, not all of them violent."

Davona looked to the floor, despondent. "…what must I do to regain our Lord's favour?" she asked quietly.

Isabelle was quiet for a moment. She stared hard at the young caelephilim. She had hoped that Davona would have been wise enough to avoid such a fate, but sadly, she was not surprised that it had happened. Still, there was still hope that she could come through this stronger than ever before.

"We will pray, child. Pray for forgiveness, and for the wisdom to guide us through this trial." Isabelle gave the girl a small smile. "I will perform the Sacrament of Atonement with you, and then, you will be given a task, a mission to complete to truly prove that you have atoned for your sins."

Davona looked up. Her eyes looked uncertain. "What must I do?"

"Dame Davona, to truly prove yourself worthy of regaining Kaï-den's grace, I task you with this: seek out a number of true bandits three times those that were killed in that incident, and peacefully convince them of their own free will to abandon their sinful ways, to live an honest life, and to join our Lord's faith."

Davona was stunned. She had sworn an oath of vengeance against bandits such as those that killed her mother. And now she had to make peace with them? To bring them into the fold? Even after one of them tried to escape after being shown mercy? It was not fair!

But what was the alternative? The hollowness within her ached. She had known the blissfulness of divine grace, and although she was taught that it came from Kaï-den, it always felt motherly to her. She longed to feel it again.

Davona nodded to the Sunmother, and quietly agreed to the task and atonement. The ritual was performed later in the day, and Davona was recognized as being penitent in the eyes of God and the Church, and on the path to redemption. She spent the next few days at the temple, where the Sunmother helped retrain her to succeed in her task. 

"Worry not, child. We recognize the difficulty in your holy mission, and we will not abandon you to it alone."

After Davona returned to Onestrio's, she knew that she still had a long way to go to be eloquent enough to properly rehabilitate the bandit prisoners they had. She decided for now to focus on saving up on resources to help make the livelihood of their prisoners more comfortable. She used her training as a city guard to help train and escort people coming through the trade post in exchange for coin. During this time, she tried to get to know the bandit prisoners in their custody, as much as it disgusted her.

"You seem to be in better spirits now, Davona," Arina observed upon the rest of the Company's return to the trading post.

The young caelephilim shrugged. "I'm not at a hundred percent, but I received some guidance that will helpfully get me there."

Davona proceeded to explain to her companions about her task. Fortunately for her, the rest of the Company were supportive.

"That works with the current plan. Good to know we've got holy backing to go along with it," Jupus remarked.

"Then it's agreed, we'll adopt this as our official policy when dealing with prisoners," Arina said. 

Davona's shoulders visibly relaxed as she let out a deep breath, as though she blew all the stress out of her. The support of her companions was a great relief.

Cethin had an amused look on his face, looking forward to seeing how all of this would unfold. 

The Evergreen Company formed a plan to properly rehabilitate these bandits into productive members of society. They spent the next several days working at the trade post to raise funds and gather resources. Once done, under their supervision, their prisoners began constructing a large garden and livestock pen. 

After their completion, the prisoners would now spend their time learning to grow crops and raise animals, activities the Company hoped would foster positive attitudes in them. Joram provided Deianeiran teachings to help them learn, and to nurture their spirit.

After making sure the prisoners were now immersed in their new activities, the Evergreen Company left their supervision to their guards and Father Joram. The Company returned to their exploration, starting at the northeastern tip of the Gnarlwood Forest. 

Their expedition was cut short. At night, the Company was ambushed by four giant hissing centipedes, each the size of an adult human. Caught off guard by the centipedes' hypnotic hissing, the Company was badly mauled by the enormous vermin. The centipedes were able to coil around their bodies, crushing them, and biting into their flesh with venom-drenched mandibles. 

Badly wounded, and on the brink of death, things looked grim for the Company until unseen aid came to them. The chittering of the centipedes was overcome by melodic, sylvan singing. Some of the Company's wounds were healed.

The surrounding vegetation bloomed to entangle the centipedes in return. A grig, a tiny fairy with the upper body of a small elf woman and the lower body of a cricket, appeared out of thin air, revealing her to be the source of the sudden support. The Company escaped the centipedes' mandibles, regrouped, and killed them off one by one. 

After the battle, the Company looked around for their mysterious fairy saviours, but they once again vanished from sight. After collecingt doses of centipede poison from the corpses, the Company returned to Onestrio's. There, Joram healed the damage the centipedes' poison did to them.

A day later, the Company set out once again. They continued to explore Gnarlwood for several days. Despite the fairies getting involved in the fight with the centipedes, they still chose to remain hidden and play pranks on the Company on a daily basis. The Company weathered them stoically.

The Company later found a glade where someone had set up over three dozen bear traps. From examining the area, the Company concluded that these traps could not possibly be set for bears. Instead, they could be for people, as the glade showed signs of travel. Wishing to get to the bottom of this, the company set up a hiding spot, set off one of the traps, and waited to see if anyone would show up.

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