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Prudence Decor

by Angelo Bertolli

Prudence found herself in darkness and silence. A splinter of light split the abyss with a radiating warmth. What had been moist, dark, and cold was dispelled by an awesome power, giving a dry and warm light. Prudence drew her sword, the Luckblade, in preparation for what might come. Though she was in fear, she could sense that there was no danger here.

A misty cloud formed. At its centre, a clear pool. Prudence gazed into its still waters, a forever deep baptismal font. She reached forward with her fingers. Their dance formed rings upon the water, disturbing the stillness. Within the waters she witnessed a cave amidst a grassy plain with but one tree directly in front of her. The tree was dry and withered with moss and fungi feeding off of it. Yet it stood. Entwined about it was a serpent who had sucked the life from it and from the man who now lay at the base of the tree.

Prudence could not see the face of this man, but felt he must be familiar. The serpent's tail gripped his feet and it was obvious that he had tried to escape. Instead he had fallen when the poison reached his heart. The dead man's arm was stretched out against the grass and a few feet away lay a strange fruit that Prudence had never seen before. At first it was glowing with a radiant light, but then it grew dark and brown maggots left it.

At the sight of this Prudence rose and turned away. But the Luckblade vibrated with fury and guided her back to watch the waters. Reluctantly, she returned to finish the vision because she knew it was the only way--she could stop along the road, but could not change paths.

Prudence saw the serpent return to a hole in the ground as the man and fruit became lost in the grass. Prudence waited. She could faintly hear a light melodic voice in the wind. Nothing was left save the withered tree and the cave.

A golden-haired girl, a young child, entered the picture. Prudence judged her to be seven or eight years old. The child was innocent, pure, and unaware of the danger that lay beneath her. The child looked upon the broken tree with naive eyes. And then she reached forward and touched the tree. Prudence recalled the sensation of touching the pool with tingling in her fingertips. With the child's touch, the tree became revived. It's decaying roots and trunk were filled with renewed strength as it stood taller than before. It's barren branches were filled with green. The moss and fungi disintegrated to nothingness.

A breeze blew through the child's golden hair as she climbed into the tree's strong, sheltering arms. Prudence saw the serpent exit its hole and begin to make its way up the tree. The child wasn't paying attention and when she turned to look the serpent had reared its head, about to strike. The child had no fear in her eyes. The serpent struck, flying downward onto the child's face.

Prudence's heart screamed and she awakened. She found herself in darkness and silence.

The door to her room at the Church of Selenica opened and an acolyte stood in the doorway with a candle. "Excuse me, mi lady, I do not mean to barge in. I heard a cry..."

"It's all right," Prudence testified unconvincingly. "Just a dream, nothing more. I'll tell Galin about it in the morning. Tell him not to worry."

Silently, the acolyte acknowledged this and, placing the candle on the table near the doorway, closed the door as he left. Prudence reclined to her bed, not wanting to bother getting up and putting the candle out. Mesmerised by the small dancing flame, she thought of her dream and what it could mean until finally she fell asleep once again.

The next morning Prudence was sitting down at the table in the dining room. An acolyte was making breakfast. Prudence had slept late and Galin never did. She told one of the acolytes to fetch him.

Galin the Wise stepped into the room. He was an old man now. He still carried his druidic staff. Of course, his look was more neat than had been when he was a druid. He wore the white robes of the clerics, adorned with outer garments befitting someone of his power and authority. Prudence respected Galin for all his wisdom and experience. And she was grateful to him for taking care of the church while she had been away. "I hear you had a hard night?" he asked as he sat down across from her.

The acolyte set a display of bread, cheese, and cured meats in front of her and left the room. "Oh, like I said, just a dream," she responded. "But I do need to ask you about it. In my dream there was a cave and I need to find it."

"Well, if you're sure you want to..."

"Can you tell me where it is? It was carved into a huge dark grey boulder--nearly a mountain. It's on a grassy plain and there was a tree in front."

"A little way to the north, there's a cave like you just described. There's no tree in front of it, but I know there's no other cave carved out of dark grey stone around here."

"Thanks. I'm going there first thing today," she concluded, ripping a piece of the bread and eating it.

Galin rose to leave, putting his hand on her shoulder. "After that, maybe you should go find Tomei and settle the score." She didn't respond and Galin left the room.

"I've got better things to do," she whispered to herself.

As Prudence approached the cave, she heard the same light mystical melody she had heard in the dream. It blew upon the breeze, barely audible. Boldly, she stepped into the cave.

Prudence saw the dark corridor before her and began to light a torch. Doing so, she descended down the sloping tunnel into the underworld below.

She eventually found herself in an ancient hall with archways on either side. This must have been an old place of worship for the people who lived here ages ago.

A glint caught her eye from beyond the archways on her left. She walked over, through the archway. She looked with concerned eyes on the man she had seen in her dreams. He was on a bed of stone, entwined and surrounded by roots. She uncovered his face and beheld the likeness of Tomei. She stepped away, not exactly understanding what this was.

An apparition appeared beside her. She looked at the familiar figure of her dead brother. "Marcus?" she asked.

"Yes, I'm still here," replied the apparition. Marcus looked down at Tomei. "He cared for you, Prudence. Even if you don't love him, don't let this be the next time you see him."

"Are you coming back, Marcus?"

"You know I cannot."

"Will I see you again?"

"No." Marcus paused for a moment.

"I have your sword," Prudence drew it out.

"That sword is special. Say 'ironheart,'" Marcus told his foster sister.

"Ironheart." And with that the metal of the sword began to change shape. It formed into a metal bow.

"Now we have to say good-bye, Prudence. Just don't forget me." Tomei's body was replaced with Marcus.

Prudence placed the Luckblade on Marcus' body, in his hands. She lit the wood with her torch and whispered one last good-bye to her brother. She stood silently and watched as the wood burned and Marcus was set free. She stepped out of the alcove and back into the hallway.

Forty feet from the entrance, in the middle of the great hall Prudence came upon a deep well. She could see the surface of the water. The moon reflected off of it through a hole in the cave. Prudence felt she must have lost track of time and wondered why it was already night. There was a rope attached to the well with its other end in the waters of the well. She began to pull the rope and noticed something was glowing down there--faintly glowing. She had to pull sixty feet of rope before she could see what it was. It was armour--plate mail and a shield--reflecting the light from the moon. It glistened as she pulled it out. Attached to it was a small pouch and a strange spear-like rod. The armour and the rod were made of silvery, bright metal. The rod was about four feet long and sharpened to conic points at both ends. She opened the pouch and found a platinum ring of two bands twisted about each other. She donned the armour and the ring. She kept the rod at her side under her belt.

She approached the end of the hallway and torches along the hallway lit up magically. Prudence could feel a magical authority here. Before her she could see a pair of eyes form and a smile. Soon the goddess Diana appeared. The goddess was young and slim with light gossamer clothing. She levitated as her eyes penetrated Prudence in a long silence. Diana touched Prudence's head, mouth, and bosom with magical energy. Prudence felt a magic force enter her, endowing her with persistence, courage, and passion. She was filled with a spiritual exaltation that transcended all reason.

With this done, the goddess disappeared and Prudence noticed a hole in the wall before her. Above it was a golden mirror. Prudence saw herself in the mirror. She noticed her own blonde, sinuous hair and her blue eyes looking back at her. The hole was about four feet in diameter. A steady, low noise was coming from it.

Prudence stepped back as a huge serpent came forth. It filled the hallway with its mighty bulk and lifted its head a good five feet above Prudence. She handled Ironheart, her brother's bow, and slid out one of the arrows that used to be his. The serpent looked at her with its slit eyes, ready to strike. Prudence let her arrow fly, but the arrow missed its mark. Sticky strands of webbing grasped the ceiling where it hit. The giant snake struck with a downward stroke. Prudence stepped out of the way just in time, but fell hitting her head against one of the archways. She sat against it, trying to reorient herself. The serpent quickly struck again, plunging its venomous fangs into her lower torso and left leg. Prudence didn't make a sound, but she was dizzy with pain and poison. She whispered to the bow, "ironheart," and it immediately changed. It's metal took the form of a sword. The serpent did not let go and it coiled itself around Prudence and the archway, crushing her against it. She struck its head with the sword too weakly to penetrate it. It made another coil and tightened even more. With the last bit of her strength she lifted the sword above her head with both hands and brought it down through the demon's serpentine skull and probably through her own leg though she couldn't discern it from the pain she already had. The serpent jerked violently and debris fell from the ceiling. Prudence could hear the archway crack. The serpent opened its jaw to lift its head. Prudence turned the sword and stabbed upwards, penetrating the great monster where the head and neck met. Its coils relaxed a bit as it snapped its head back so quickly that Prudence lost the sword. As the snake continued to toil, Prudence found herself falling asleep. She opened her eyes and tried to push the monstrous body off of her. The snake gave its last tug and died.

Prudence, fighting to stay awake, tried to free herself of the snake's grasp and the pool of her own blood that she sat in. Through her desperation, she was able to tumble over the serpent's body. Blood poured freely from her leg and torso as she fell, barely able to keep her eyes open. She made a feeble attempt to escape using her good leg. She realised she was too weak to go on and turned over at the hallway entrance. "This is the beginning and the end," she thought to herself. She was so tired and wanted to sleep so bad that she closed her eyes. "No! Don't let yourself do it," she told herself. "You'll never open your eyes again." Her blood still poured and her time was quickly escaping.

She finished ripping her tunic and pants that the serpent's fangs had started. She wasn't able to rip enough with her little strength and wouldn't have been able to tie a descent bandage anyway. It was discouraging, and to make matters worse, there was nothing between her body and her plate mail armour save her personal garments. Her vision blurred as she looked around for a solution.

Prudence took one of the arrows and punctured her own leg with it. Strands of webbing wrapped themselves around her leg many times over in a tight, constricting way. She took another arrow and stabbed herself in the stomach and created another silk binding for her lower body.

Prudence breathed a sigh of pain as she felt the poison flowing through her veins. She hoped since most of her blood was on the cave floor that most of the poison was also. Prudence began to struggle against the cave floor again. Her vision blurred to the point of total obscurity and she groped around blindly, trying to find her way up the corridor. Her hands and feet tripped over many sharp rocks. Her energy was drained and she could not climb upward. Prudence closed her eyes. She struggled against the poison as darkness filled her eyes, but it was stronger and she fell asleep.

She opened her eyes in the morning to see familiar faces over her. She was on a bed in the Church of Selenica with her wounds tended.

"We're lucky," said Galin. "We thought we were going to lose you a few days ago. Dilvish found you in that cave you went to."

She took Dilvish's hand and managed a "thank you" and tried to get up. "No," instructed Galin, "stay there until you get your strength back."

"Dilvish," Prudence called. Dilvish bowed and closed the distance between their faces. "Where's Tomei?"