Curse of the Crimson Throne

In Death - Part IV

The quaint house, a hovel by his current standards, was much larger on the inside. The building was a conceptual shell, the memory of a better time, and wrapped within it a dark city alley in Old Korvosa.

Kneeling in the middle of the alley was a small, shadowed form. Her hair hung like a veil around her head, shaking quietly above the sobs. In the glint of the moonlight, Aerich could see the pool of blood that had formed around her on the ground. A rusty dagger, dented and forgotten, lay next to her. Her robes were muddy and torn and tattered. The crimson cotton and silk was adorned with finely woven designs of gold thread, illustrating the dawnflower and the sunrise known as symbols of Sarenrae.

Aerich walked carefully through the narrow alley. There was enough darkness in the twilight to make viewing Aiori difficult. He wanted to run to her, but thought better of it. His instincts had already kicked in, and if her pain could drag his soul here, his absolution of her sins would mean nothing.

“Hello?” He said at last.

The head snapped, the hair parting and he could see her face. It was streak with mud, small trails of blood oozed from her nose, glistening fresh in the twilight.

“Who are you?” She asked.

His heart ached in his chest. He had seen this face, bruised and bloodied, on the funeral bier, before her sisters had prepared her for burial.

“You’re Sister Aiori Baynes,” Aerich asked, pinning a smile on it, “the Sisters at the Temple couldn’t stop talking about you.”

“What did they say?”

“That you were a dedicated cleric, brilliant and humble, working hard to bring your ministry to the poor,” Aerich said, sounding hopeful. “You’re a newlywed, married to a Paladin of Iomedae, who you convinced to help you.”

“He is so handsome,” she sighed, wiping at the blood from her nose absently. The blood was unmoved by the attempt, but she seemed satisfied by it. “My old neighborhood has gotten worse, I can find my old house, and my robes are a mess, but I can’t find my way out of his alley, and my whole body aches…”

Standing, Aiori brushed at her robes and looked at him. He could see the source of the blood that had pooled around her, and despite knowing it, he still sighed when he saw the ragged tear of flesh across her throat.

“…and all I want to do is go home,” she said sadly, giving her robes one last brush. He watched her gaze fall onto the knife, her eyes growing wide.

She began to scream, and it felt like the entire world was screaming with her, echoes of the scream reaching out across the planes. She pulled at her hair, stumbling back away from the blade, staring at its rusted form in horror.

Aerich leaped forward, snatching the blade from the ground. Aiori tracked it, focused purely on the dagger, and continued to scream. In a panic, he threw the dagger as hard as he could from where he had come from, the blade disappearing into a shadow, the rusted blade singing as it struck a stone, and then gone.

“There,” he said quietly, soothingly, “it’s gone. Nothing to be afraid of.”

“Thank you,” she said, wiping the tears away. She leaned back against the wall of a disused hovel, ancient stone serving as the foundation. Aerich joined her.

“You can’t find your house?” he asked.

“It’s just more alleys like this one,” she replied, sniffing once. “It wasn’t much, you know, but we didn’t need much. We spent most of our days at the church or in the community. It reminds me of my husband, thinking about it makes my heart ache.”

“Because he might return?”

She stared off into space for a moment and then looked at Aerich. “When you’re dead, if you have lived a just and good life, you go to heaven and disappear. And if you have failed, the Gods punish you.”

Aerich felt a lump form in his throat. The air had become stale, old, and hard to breathe.

“I had a wife,” he said, “and she was raped and murdered, left for dead in a forgotten alley. She was the loveliest, most giving person I’d ever met. Don’t you think that’s sad?”

“Don’t you have to leave?”

“If you want me to go, I’ll go.”

“I do.”

“Alright,” Aerich continued anyway. “The last day that I saw my wife, it was the anniversary of our marriage. We had been married a year.”

“I want you to leave,” Aiori said more insistantly.

“I will. I wanted to stay in case we find another knife…”

“In the end, I gave up,” Aiori announced, her eyes staring into the false heavens.

“There’s nothing wrong with tha…” Aerich began, but she interrupted him.

“Her faith, her identity, all gone. Sarenrae didn’t think so,” Aiori said with a sad moan.

“Then Sarenrae is a coward,” Aerich said harshly then his voice softening. “Being strong, not giving up, that is just a false promise to hide behind. When you needed her…when you needed him most…we weren’t there for you, and so your faith was shattered by the pain not of the knife, but of the disappointment.”

Aerich took a deep breath and continued. “After she died, I pushed away the pain so hard, I was changed, molded into something that the person he loved most wouldn’t recognize him. When I saw her again…”

“I thought you said your wife is dead?”

“In dreams, you can see anyone again, if you want to.”

“I want to see my husband again,” she said.

Aerich felt tears spring from his eyes, streaking his face.

“It’s easy,” he said comfortingly, talking softly. “Just listen to me, it’s like painting a picture. Close your eyes.”

Aiori looked at him, confused, unsure.

“Close them,” he said again, and she did so.

“Think about the day you were married, the dress you wore, the temple you were in,”

She gasped. The alley was gone. The bruises, the blood, her robes were gone as well, replaced by the crimson veil and garments of marriage within the church of sarenrae and the blushing beauty of a young bride.

She looked up from the polished marble floor and looked at Aerich. It took a fraction of a second, and then the realization if recognition. “You…Aerich?”

“Who else would you be marrying in your dreams,” he asked, his armor, his sword and shield replaced by the garments of Iomedae. “Aiori? This…this is real.”

She smiled as he lifted the veil, then looked at him. Her brow furrowed in confusion.

In a blink, they were back in the alley.

“No,” she screamed, the word carrying as she recoiled in horror. “Whoever you are, whatever you are, you can’t take that from me! You can’t have him!”

Aerich’s shoulders fell, the smile shattered like a glass pane. He took a step forward and she took a step back, looking as if she was going to flee.

“I’m sorry,” Aerich said, “but there’s one last thing I’ve got to say and I don’t have much time to say them. I’m sorry for all of the things in life I will never give you. I’ll never make you smile. I just wanted us to be old together, together at the end. That was our Heaven, wasn’t it? There’s lots of things to miss: books, naps, kisses.”

Aiori’s face was a mask of pain. Tears began to flow down her cheeks.

“Thank you for every kindness and every gentle moment,” he continued. “Thank you for being someone I was always proud to be with. For your guts and your humility. For your sweetness. For how you always looked, and for how I always wanted to hold you. You were and are my life. I apologize for every time I failed you. Especially this one.”

Stepping back, Aerich wrapped his cloak around himself and he left the alley, back out the front door of their home, back into the church in Korvosa.

“You didn’t think I was going to return,” Aerich asked somberly, the Huntsman coughing once in reply.

“You were in there quite a while,” he said grimly.

“You were right.”

“Nothing you could have done would save her,” the Huntsman said, “this trip, it was for you. Did you come close…”

“To losing it? She pushed me right to the edge. That’s why I had to come out. I’m giving up, just, not in the way you think.” Aerch clasped him on the shoulder. “Go home, Huntsman, I’m not leaving my wife here alone.”

Aerich turned and walked back into the house, and this time, when he closed the door, he locked it.

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