Caius Cornelius Veritas Vocula, former Pontiff of the Faith of Light, was immensely displeased with his lot in life. That was understandable in many regards, though mostly because he’d be excommunicated from the Faith of Light, his home country’s religion in service to the glorious Elder Goddess Lucere, to which he had given nearly all of his seven hundred and thirty-three years of life in its service.
So he was somewhat pissed off.
Caius was a high elf–a golden-skinned, mammalian biped with high cheekbones, pointed ears, and a lion’s tail–who, in many ways, looked like the classical image of an elderly mentor. He had a long, white beard, wore long, white robes, and also had long, white hair. He was generally very long and white, and his skin could even be considered more of a white gold in the lights of his cabin aboard the ship taking him home. Though would it even be his home when he got there?
He scowled beneath his beard, which had grown longer in his time in captivity, all at the hands of the supposed “heroes” that utterly ruined his life, all because he served his goddess as she willed. His excommunication, ordained by his very own goddess, meant every last connection he had to the Faith of Light had been utterly severed, left to drift and die in the wind like so many scraps of refuse.
His access to the Temple, his home for centuries, lost. His power over Light, the most holy of elemental magics, gone. His connections in his home order would most certainly try to distance themselves from him, his favors owed forgotten in favor of self-preservation. Gods above, he might even be relegated to some insipid coastal manor to live out the rest of his days in empty luxury, unable to influence a thing in the nation he once ruled–
There was a snap, and he let out an aggrieved breath, before glaring at the broken quill clutched between his fingers. He tossed it to the trash bin beside his desk where over a dozen more lay broken, then rooted around in its drawers for another one, ignoring the irritating, paranoid feeling of being watched he’d developed during his passage. Simple nerves, nothing to worry about.
At the very least, he could get something out of his horrible circumstances by publishing the truth of the heroes’ deception. He may have lost his position, but he had favors owed, and gods help those who dared deny–
A knock came at his cabin door.
“I’m busy!” Caius snapped, glaring at the door as though his eyes could bore through it. When there was no response, he looked back to his desk–
Another knock. “I said I’m busy! Leave me alone!”
The knock became more insistent and he scowled. “What’s so damned important?!”
“May I come in?” It was a woman’s voice. A crew member? Bah, he had no time for this.
“No you may not! Say your piece and then leave!”
“It would be easier if I could speak to you directly, Mister Vocula.” Persistent brat. And being referred to as “mister” rankled. He was a pontiff for Light’s sake! Former, perhaps, but the title should still mean something!
“Yes, if that’s what you want to hear so badly! Just be quick about it!”
Caius huffed an angry breath and tried to find a blasted quill in the damned, useless desk as the door opened and the woman strode in, her boots sounding out heavy on the floor. The brat had better not trod on his carpet…
“Oh, I see the problem. Would you like to borrow a quill of mine?” Her voice sounded odd. It was an even, measured tone, lightened by cheer and tinged with a strange, metallic distortion, as though she was speaking right through a metal mask.
He looked back. She was not wearing a metal mask, she was wearing a metal helmet. A silver, rounded helm that shaped to her head. It didn’t have a visor; instead, its front was covered in eyeholes. About eight of them, spaced in twin columns perpendicular to one another.
“…What in the world are you supposed to be?” he asked, genuinely caught off guard.
“I am a debt collector, thank you for asking! Do you still need a quill?” She sounded chipper for some inane reason.
“Why is a debt collector–” Caius shot up out of his seat and stumbled away from the demon, his eyes wide and his hand raised. But no light formed, because of that damn excommunication and now this bitch– “HELP! ASSASSIN IN MY QUARTERS!”
“I’m not an assassin, Mister Vocula. I’m a debt collector,” the demon explained, placing a gauntleted hand on its chest while the other was held behind its back. It was wearing an odd outfit that somehow felt “professional”, consisting of a black, buttoned-up jacket, black pants bound with a black belt, a violet undershirt, and combat boots, decorated with that same silver color. On its lapel, there was a small pin, cast in silver as well and printed with an M laid over a D, silver on a black backing. “I assure you, by the word of my Mother, I will not kill you on this day.”
“A-And what of other days!? Begone! I have nothing to say to you!” His mind raced. He hadn’t fought anyone in…ever. Certainly, he had some boyhood bouts and the occasional training match in his youth, but he wasn’t a warrior! He was an administrator! He wasn’t supposed to be in this type of situation! And why wasn’t anyone arriving to help him!?
“That’s fine, Mister Vocula! I just need to explain some things to you regarding the status of your debt.”
“What?! That-YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS! THAT SO-CALLED CONTRACT WAS A FARCE!”
“That is an interesting opinion to hold, Mister Vocula!” Why was it so damned chipper?! “A part of my duties here will be determining if that claim you just made is potentially true! I promise it won’t take much time! Really, with a life as impressively long as yours, you could see it as a mere blink in the grand scheme of things! Now, would you like to take a seat, or remain standing?”
His pride said “stand”. His knees, however, told him to sit back down before they gave out. So he sat.
“Thank you! Now, please, allow me to recap! Ahem.” The demon cleared its throat, one hand held where its mouth would be while it drew a notebook from inside its jacket and held it open. “Earlier this month, you, Mister Caius Cornelius Veritas Vocula, entered into the custody of Lady Galinori–”
“Custody!? She held me against my will!”
“–Aloisia Osanna Hascimagni Arancoda di Ebkai at the behest of two former heroes of the Light Lands, Douglas Orville Yew of Naloriva and Tisma Vlahos of Sollamava. For what reason were you brought there?”
“Wha-What do you mean ‘for what reason’?! The brats abducted me! How am I to know their reasons?!”
“Mister Vocula, I would greatly appreciate your honest cooperation with my investigation, as it may favorably impact the outcome of your outstanding debt!”
Caius bit back his instinctive insult. He couldn’t afford to act rashly here. He’d survived centuries of backbiting in Divica, he could handle one blasted demon trying to work him over! “At the behest of my god, I had the former hero Julius Goldforge exiled from the Light Lands.”
“Your god would be the Elder God of Light, Lucere, correct?”
He felt a pang in his chest. “…Not at the current time.”
“Of course, of course, moving along; the two heroes abducted you in retaliation for their friend’s illegal exile–”
“IT WAS PERFECTLY LEGAL!”
“No it wasn’t, Mister Vocula, don’t be silly~! Goldforge isn’t a citizen of Zemava, so you had no authority–”
He slammed his hand on his desk, ignoring the sting in his palm. “I HAD PERFECT AUTHORITY! All the gods had agreed on his exile! My-The Elder Lucere commanded it, and every last god within the Sunrise Court agreed! I had full authority!”
The demon stilled. Entirely, inelvishly still. “You did?” Its voice was even, no hint of its previous cheer, and Caius felt a chill on his back.
“…I-I did. I entirely…most certainly did. I know I did.”
“Fascinating!” The cheer was back. “Thank you for your explanation! If I may get back to matters though, during your custody slash captivity, you and Lady Arancoda formed a specific pact together in preparation for the coming peace conference between the Light Lands and the Dark Lands, ending nearly three thousand years of conflict due to the proposal of the noble Empress Claire Valondrac and her consort, the aforementioned Julius Goldforge, who you exiled specifically because of said consortion!
“The specifics of said deal were that you, Mister Vocula, would vouch for Lady Arancoda at the peace conference in order to secure her claims to the nation of Naloriva, which has lacked a monarch or ruling government for several centuries! In exchange, she would ensure your protection and grant leave for your missionary forces to enter her territories and provide both aid and obvious conversion attempts to the citizenry! Is this information correct!”
“…” He was still rattled by the demon’s sudden change in demeanor. Had he said too much? No, no, the demon said it itself, his honesty would only reflect favorably on him. His information made him valuable. He would be fine. “It is correct.”
“Fantastic! Further, you fully understood the terms of your agreement and made the agreement while in full possession of your mental faculties, without any chemical or magical influences, correct?”
“I…yes, however, I was under duress. There was…an unspoken pressure to agree–”
“Please answer my questions honestly, Mister Vocula!”
He started. “I, I did! I most certainly did–”
“Please answer honestly and without undue detail, Mister Vocula!”
“Wh-But if I was under duress-!”
“You were not! We know! You were entirely confident in your own safety and believed you could benefit from the arrangement!” Its voice was still cheerful. “Please, do not lie to me! It will complicate matters!”
“…If you already know all the damned answers, then why are you bothering me with this?!”
“Because your own answers are important, Mister Vocula! Now, why did you fail to uphold your end of the bargain?”
“I didn’t fail!”
“You did, Mister Vocula! Either you failed, or you deliberately chose not to hold to the terms of your agreement!” It tilted its head. “Is that the case?”
“AND WHAT IF IT IS?! The damned dragon got me excommunicated! Why would I ever support the stupid beast?!”
“Because you made an agreement, Mister Vocula. Agreements are important! And now that we’ve established you fully understood the terms of your agreement and actively chose not to fulfill them, and even refused to listen when Lady Arancoda attempted to dissolve the contract–”
“BULLSHIT SHE DID!” He stood–
And the demon’s hand clamped right on his shoulder like a vice, its face inches from his. “Please sit down, Mister Vocula. We need to discuss your payment plan.”
“…” He swallowed, and sat, suddenly far less confident in his position. “…I…I can’t pay the dragon back though, I’ve lost my position–”
“You misunderstand. I am not here on behalf of Lady Galinori. That is an issue to be handled by a separate department.” The cheer was gone from its tone entirely. “The issue here is that you have failed to uphold an agreement that you swore, by my Mother’s name, that you would uphold. You swore an oath. Your debt is not with Lady Arancoda, Mister Vocula. Your debt is with The Miser.”
“Ah. I…I see.” His mind raced. He needed a way out of this, and there had to be something. “What would…‘the miser’ want me to pay then?”
“That’s a good question!” Cheerful again. Did this thing have two personalities?? “Currently, your debt is equal to the entire nation of Naloriva, the country that would have been handed to Lady Arancoda with your aid!”
What. “What?? No no, there’s…there are many things wrong with that! Arancoda still has the damned nation, they gave it to her anyway! And it’s not even a nation, it’s a region, barely tied together by flimsy borders decided centuries ago!”
“That is your debt, Mister Vocula! If you would prefer, we could refer to said debt as the total gross domestic product of Naloriva, which would be approximately–”
“THAT’S STILL NONSENSE! THIS IS RIDICULOUS! What sort of scam are y–?!”
His words choked with his tightened throat. The demon’s free hand was clenched around his neck, its notebook still in the same position. “I am not running a scam. I am a representative of Miser Mordant, God of Debts, the Lady of Oaths. Do you see my colors?
“Black. I am a representative of Ibovei-Solum. I work for the government. Do you understand that? I am not security, I am not corporate, and I am not criminal. I am a debt collector. I represent my God.
Its eye holes were leaking. Black pooled in lines down the silver there, twisting up and pulling together into tendrils that twitched towards Vocula’s purpling face. “My metal is Platinum. Do you understand? I am of the highest rank in Opulentian society. I am as highly ranked as mystical metals. There are those of the mythril caste that would beg for my position. And here I am, on some ricketing watercraft to speak to an excommunicated Pontiff who owes a truly massive debt. Do you not understand, Mister Vocula?
“I am here because you are valuable.”
The tendrils curled up his face, stroking him almost gently as he tried to choke out something. A plea for mercy, an angry retort, a desperate scream, something as his vision went black. But her grip was too tight.
“You owed a nation, Mister Vocula. You failed to deliver. Now we will collect our collateral.”
Some time later, a small passenger ship would dock at a port in Tramontava, the northernmost nation of the Light Lands. It was a simple stop, to rest and resupply, but a significant one too, because one of their passengers requested to disembark early. The crew had no real reason to disagree with the elderly elf, particularly with his explanation that his excommunication meant he would never have a place in his home country. He wanted to at least see some of the world before his age finally caught up with him, so he said.
So a man who looked a great deal like former Pontiff Caius Vocula left his ship home and went wandering out into the largest nation on the continent. He already had a job lined up because a debt was owed.
Though with the revelation that the Gods of Life had broken that accord, that debt increased a great deal.
And the Miser always collected what she was owed.