Aerich sat down next to Aiori, who was shaking in fear and anguish.
He reached out, his leather-clad gauntlets reaching for her fingers. She tried to keep them away from him, poorly, like a child whose grown tired of the game. She wept as they interlocked.
“It won’t be long now,” Aerich said, “this place has a way of bending you to its will. And when it does, you and I, we will be strangers trapped in this place.”
“But, we’ll be together for eternity.”
She drew in a ragged breath and looked at him as he knelt in front of her.
“Aiori,” he began, almost whispering, “the good and just often end up in their own hell because they cannot forgive themselves for things that were beyond their control. I know I cannot.”
A sad, small smile worked across his face as he brushed a tear off of her cheeks.
“But, I can forgive you.”
“For being so angry? For cursing and abandoning my faith?”
Aerich laughed a sad laugh. “My love, I would choose hell over heaven if it meant I was going to be by your side for the rest of time. I’m here because I couldn’t be, and I cannot be, without you.”
She stopped crying, breathing in a long, ragged gasp and looked at him. She really looked at him.
A shiver welled deep within him.
“What’s happening?” he asked, shivering visibly, every breath leaving a puff of condensation.
He could feel the despair, the anguish, the pain. It was all so real. The abandonment, the suffering. “I’m so cold.”
“Aerich?” Aiori said, sitting up, wrapping his face in her hands. “Aerich! No! Don’t give up!”
He sat back on his feet, his eyes lost to the horizon.
“NO!” She screamed, and the world went white./\/\/\/\/\/\
“Aerich,” the voice began. It was a whisper. Aerich opened his eyes and sat up. He was still in his armor. His sword, his shield, were both laid against the wall. He was clean, the mud and ichor of hell gone. The walls were pure white silver with golden inlays. The smell of roses and honey was redolent in the air.
Scrambling to his feet, Aerich lunged for the balcony door and threw it open. He stood, dumbfounded at the world below him. It was the Seventh City of Heaven, the City of Ragathiel. He was home.
“Aerich,” the voice repeated, this time it wasn’t a whisper. He turned and looked into the room where he had laid. Standing in the doorway was Aiori, dressed in the white robes of Ragathiel.
She smiled, a broad glowing smile.
He approached her, fearing this was an archon, an apparition and denizen of Heaven. She stopped right in front of him, still smiling. She reached out to touch him, her hand hovering just over his face, his chest, never quite touching. Then she laughed, grabbing him and pulling him into an embrace.
He leaned back. “How’d we get here?”
She smiled and gave a small laugh. “The world turned white, and I woke up here, dressed like this.”
Before he could say anything, a voice called out.
“M’lord, m’lady?” The huntsman knocked on the doorway.
The old man shuffled into the room and bowed respectfully. “I’m glad to see that you made it back, Cleric.”
“You? How did you get here?” Aerich asked.
The Old Man looked at Aiori, and her smile faded. She looked down at her feet, suddenly pained. She looked up at him again. “I know you now,” she said, bowing her head at the old man."
He returned the bowed head and smiled a sad smile.
“We’ll meet again, won’t we,” Aiori asked, looking at the old man, her eyes bright with wonder. "You’re taking him from me now that we’ve been reunited; can I return with him, so he won’t be alone?
“Aerich,” the old man asked, giving Aiori a fatherly smile, resting a hand on her shoulder, “isn’t alone, and he never was or has been.”
“What is going on,” Aerich asked, confused. “Who are you?”
The old man turned and approached Aerich, his feet shuffling to have the tall cleric. He looked at him softly and sternly. “Aerich, the faithful servant of the heavens, your work in Golorion is not done.”
“It most certainly is done, old man,” Aerich said, reaching out at taking Aiori’s hand.
The Old Man reached out grabbed Aerich’s shoulder. His grip was firm, impossibly firm, and his touch was like being pressed with hot stones.
“You’re needed back in Korvosa,” the Old Man explained, “one deity interfered where she shouldn’t have, meddling like a petulant child losing a game of dice. Now another is going to make it right.”
Aiori looked up at the Old Man and then to Aerich.
“I understand,” she said. She stepped forward and through her arms around Aerich and kissed him.
“Remember me,” she whispered as she stepped back. She was crying when she looked at the Old Man. “Take care of him, m’Lord.”
The Old Man smiled briefly then looked at Aerich. “He has earned his place here – no matter what happens, you will be reunited. I swear it on the name of heaven and my sacred duty to protect this realm.”
Aerich’s eyes grew wide as he looked down at the old man. The edges of his vision were flaring white, a brilliant light that was burning into his vision.
“Ragathiel,” he asked and the world went white…/\/\/\/\/\/\
Aerich’s eyes were wide as he filled his lungs in a ragged breath. He pulled himself to his feet, his armor still slick with his own blood. The abomination, as was the rest of his friends, were looking at him in surprise and horror.
Raising his blade, he pointed it at the beast.
“My sword shall be the way, cutting down the wicked. My shield shall be a bulwark against the darkness. My armor will be an inexorable fortress, unyielding to the tides of the abyss,” he proclaimed.
“I shall destroy your flesh and feast on your soul,” the abomination screeched.
“You tell your master that I will never be bound for hell,” Aerich said, “My lord, Ragathiel, the Warlord of Heaven, the Defender of the Gates, and his eyes fall upon me, his wings shield me.”
Raising his shield and preparing his blade, Aerich’s eyes narrow as he stared at the beast. “Come on.”
A white shaft of light leapt from the heavens, bathing Aerich momentarily. The beast’s snarl twisted into a scowl of fear. The holy light washed over it, and the abomination screeched in terror. Turning, it fled into the night, its flesh singed by the power of heaven.