Curse of the Crimson Throne

A quick trip home
Sell all the loot then run back

Perdi and Ithamore popped into existence in the hidden fight ring below the Tavern. Thankfully none of the others had tried to occupy it while the group had gone to Old Korvosa. Listening at the trap door, Perdi only heard their employees going about their daily duties above. Carefully they came out of the hidden room, granted quietly is relative when you have someone heavily laden with treasures clomping along behind you. To say the staff was surprised was an understatement to say the least. Thankfully Guntha knew better to swing first and ask questions later. Perdi still got a glancing blow up the back of her head from her mother for scaring her half to death.

The normal questions of “Where is the rest of your party?” came up. Given the trouble we had gotten ourselves into in the past it wasn’t an unreasonable question. Telling them we were all fine, but we had some selling to do, and we only had a day to do it in surprised them. After a quick shot of whisky Perdi set to work selling off the goods. Thankfully no one tried to gouched them, and the normal goods were not difficulty to locate with Perdi and Trudy’s resources. As they sold things, it was safe to say things were tense. Places that would normally trade, were not of business, while others which normally wouldn’t give her a time of day, where more than welcome to trade. It made for a slight unease. With packs laden, Perdi and Ithanamore prepared to teleport back to Old Korvosa and the rest of the party.

Before she could leave Trudy grabbed Perdi’s arm for a quick word.

“How bad is it?” Trudy asked, hoping for a truthful answer.

“Rakshasa.” Was Perdi’s answer.

“That would help if I knew what they were.” Trudy grumbled annoyed.

“Take a human, but put a cheeta, cobra, or vulture’s head on it. Their hands are backward, but have the skill of blades that could rival my own. The only trick is their skin can only be penetrated by a weapon that is both holy and piercing.”

“I assume that Ithamore’s blade can go through anything. “ Trudy tried to joke.

“This is true,” Perdi sighed, “But not all of us have that kind of power; hence not good.”

Trudy nodded, changing the subject slightly, “Anything else we should know? “

Perdi looked Trudy dead in the eye, “Adielade is dead.”

“Derrik is not going to like that. You didn’t do it did you?” Trudy asked with a hint of concern.

“I didn’t see her body, but if she went to her old mistress for help, she is surely dead. I fear her curiosity may have went too far, and gotten her killed. Don’t make that mistake!” Perdi adjusted her pack.

“I’ll tell Derrik for you.” Trudy sighed, “About the… you know. Do I have any orders?”

Perdi looked to Ithamore as he gave her the wrap it up signal. “Keep it on you. I can’t say if something is going to happen to us, but if it does….”

“Be prepared. “ Trudy nodded. Perdi weakly smiled, patted her friend on the shoulder, and went to stand next to Ithamore. In an instant, they were teleported away, and the question of would they return lingered in the back of Trudy’s mind.

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Before Old Korvosa
Preparations

Perdi sat at the small desk with only a simple candle for light. With ink and quill she filled the page, and signed the documents. She would only stop to occasionally shaking her hand to remove the cramps away, and then she was back to her writing. As she finished each document she would apply the appropriate seal. The next day they would be sent to the corresponding person. Within a couple days, a response would come and the process would start again. But with each response, a new document would be placed in the small locked box under her bed.

During the day she would push Trudy to complete tasks over and over again until Trudy could do them blindfolded. Trudy had taken the training seriously when Perdi had told local merchants, she would pay them twice the value of their fruits, vegetables, and trinkets if they managed to catch Trudy in her thefts. If Trudy was caught that extra cost came out of her pay check, if she wasn’t caught the bonus went to her. After one week of losing all but a silver piece of her tips to the shopkeepers, she began to take everything seriously.
At night everything was as normal, if Kess wasn’t performing Trudy would dance for the crowds. Some night she would join with Perdi for a duo acrobatic act. Using her disguise skills Trudy would make Perdi and herself look like twins. She managed to fool many a patron that way. Pretending to be different people in the marketplace in order to “steal” items, and change up her performance for the different patrons honed Trudy’s disquise skills. Many times as Perdi went around the city, she and Trudy would throw off those that would follow Perdi by switching places. Those that tried to tail her would be following Perdi one moment, and the next Trudy would take her place and lead them to an odd part of the city. Once far away Trudy would become herself, and simply come back home; meanwhile, Perdi was off doing whatever she needed to do. Rumors would come back to them that their watchers would be accused of drinking because of the contradicting reports of seeing two of Perdi in different parts of the city. At times Perdi would be doing the shopping in the marketplace as Trudy, and let the watchers watch; meanwhile Trudy was off doing what she needed to do. To be honest it was hard to tell which one was who at times.

Everyday Trudy and Perdi would spar until they were exhausted. Each day Perdi pushed Trudy to do better, yet praised her when she accomplished a difficult task. Trudy didn’t have to be clairvoyant to know Perdi was grooming her towards something, but to what she didn’t know. Then one day the messenger came to the tavern looking for Perdi and her friends. Commander Kroft was looking for them. As the norm, Trudy accompanied Perdi to her room to help her with her armor. Instead of taking her armor from its rack, she removed from a hidden compartment under her bed a hemp bag, and handed it to Trudy. While Trudy examined what was inside, Perdi slipped her armor and weapons on.

Looking at the contents Trudy could only look at Perdi with confusion. Perdi could not possibly think she would need these things. These for when not only the shirt hit the fan, but the bridge had been bombed, and you were all around fudged. Trudy tried to say just that but Perdi stopped her. Perdi simply told her, that if it was safer for the 4 of them to leave, then what was inside would get them to safety. If Perdi ever told them to run, they would do so with no questions asked. The items would aid them in getting away, staying safe, and when it was safe, for Perdi to find them. Trudy had never seen such seriousness in Perdi’s eyes. Trudy accepted the bag and would hide it until it was needed, she really hoped that it would not be needed. With a friendly hug, Perdi left Trudy behind as she walked out to join her companion. Trudy could only stand there and hug the bag. She really hoped it never came to opening the bag and the box it contained.

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In Death Part V

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.”

She sobbed.

“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.

“Aiori?”

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.

“Huntsman?”

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.

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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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In Death - Part III

The Eternal City of Axis serves as the nexus between the Inner and Outer Planes. The personification of universal law, it is a shining example of perfect order and harmony rising out of the Maelstrom of Chaos. Axis is the home of Abadar, and his dealings are expressed here in the massive, perfectly circular city stretches almost infinitely within the golden barrier walls that separate the order from the chaos.

The Rainbow Bridge, spanning the Golden lattice, stretched down from the heavens and into the city. The air here was stale, lacking the warmth and redolent fragrance of the heavens, replaced with the smell of nothing. The plane lacked the soul of the outer planes, the joy of Heaven or the natural beauty of Elysium.

Aerich looked around in wonder. He’d read tales of Axis while cloistered, and immediately admired the architecture on display. Each building was representative of a race who respected law, regardless of their place in the universe. Vast dwarven halls, gnomish enclaves, Drow covens and Elven houses were there, perfect in their creation and maintenance, museum-like in their depiction of their material world analogs.

“We shouldn’t be here,” the Archon said.

“Then leave,” Aerich said, glancing back at the Rainbow Bridge. “This is not your place, then go.”

The Archon seemed to consider that, ceasing its bobbing, hanging still in the air. The various souls in Axis passed them as if they were not there.

“You would not know where to find a tracker,” the Archon said. “Follow me.”

Aerich turned and followed the Archon deeper into the city.

  • * *

The Archon led Aerich into a vast library. The floors were smooth and highly polished, each footfall sounding like a hammer striking an anvil as Aerich strode across them. The room was circular, each wall filled to the ceiling with books. Stepping near the center of the room, Aerich leaned against a stained wood railing and peered over the edge, revealing the room descended as far as he could see, an endless cylinder of knowledge.

The Archon approached an older man. Human. Dressed in the clothing of a commoner, he closed the book he was reading and looked over the Cleric.

“You’re the one,” he said, coughing once to clear his throat.

“The one what?”

“The one who won’t give up,” the old man said, looking from Aerich to the Archon and back.

“Constantly,” Aerich replied.

“Me too,” the old man smiled. “I am also told I don’t really have a cough, either. A vestigal remainder of my past life.” The old man spoke slowly, a clear low drawl of indeterminate origin. “You may hear a lot of things on this side, a lot of information. Don’t let it screw you up.”

Aerich nodded.

“Your wife love you? Is it as strong as yours for her?”

“Yes,” Aerich said.

“We’ll find her. But when you find her, but nothing you can do will make her recognize you. Nothing will break her denial,” the old man said, “It is stronger than her love for you. You can say everything you want to say, including goodbye, even if she can’t understand it, and you’ll have the satisfaction that you fulfilled your oath. That has to be enough.”

“You just get me to her, old man, I’ll decide what’s enough. When do we leave?”

The old man looked at Aerich, his eyes narrowing. “Close your eyes.”

Aerich did, and the world fell away.

  • * *

Aerich opened his eyes. He and the old man were standing in the middle of a vast, fetid swamp. The ground sizzled where Aerich stood, the unholy water striking his celestial form and evaporating immediately. The old man, for his part, hovered in place, his simple leather boots inches above the swamp mud and muck.

“Welcome to Stygia,” the Old Man said gravely. “They say that every lie spoken in the material plane condenses into a drop of poison that corrupts these waters.”

Aerich looked around, his eyes falling on a vast, fetid swamp.

The dead and dying mangrove trees that tried to grow here were mere shadows of the real plants. Standing out amongst them were vast cities, ruins, and temples built to false deities.

Aerich stepped out onto a dilapidated cobblestone street, his steps evaporating the liquid that seemed to coat everything, giving it a dull green sheen. Ahead, an ancient temple stretched into the foreboding sky, black clouds which rolled in place, no wind to turn them.

“She’s in there,” the Old Man announced.

Aerich could see the shadows, the demons, and imps that inhabited this realm stare at them.

“Why aren’t they attacking,” Aerich said, keeping a hand on the pommel of his sword.

“Parlay,” the Old Man sniffed. “I am an agent of Axis, a servant of Abadar. I am an arbiter, a judge that can render their sentences here commuted and they can leave.”

“Has anyone ever left?”

“Ever?”

“None that I am aware,” the Old Man said quietly as they walked the stairs. “Hope can be a powerful illusion.”

Stepping into the temple, Aerich stopped. The temple was a massive ediface, and it reminded him of…

“Wait, this is the Temple of Sarenrae in Korvosa,” Aerich said, looking up at the vaulted ceiling. It was a near perfect recreation, but instead of beautiful, it was dilapidated and disused. Great hunks of moss and lichen had stained the stone, and the wet smell of rot filled the air. Within the worship space, a small house, typical of Korvosa, stood.

“That’s our home,” Aerich said, amazed.

“No,” the Old Man coughed again, “It is false, an illusion she has created here. She had forsworn her faith, something that served as shell for her true love and life, her life with you. This isn’t like the rest of hell. You have no defense against Aiori – if she manages to turn your love into fear, into hate, and you could be lost here forever. Once her reality becomes your reality, you are trapped in her hell, another screw to turn into her soul for eternity. Remember who she was, Cleric, that is your shield and your sword.”

Aerich nodded and approached the house. The door hung open. With a gentle push, Aerich walked inside and closed the door behind him.

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In Death - Part II

The Lantern Archon hovered what it deemed a safe distance, as did those other souls that spotted it and Aerich moving through the City of Ragathiel.

Heaven, the final resting place for the lawful and good, was built along an impossibly tall mountain. The mountain base disappeared into the astral plane and whose peak was shrouded in the whitest clouds. The skin of the mountain was divided into seven sections, each ascending section named for the Archangel who ruled over that part of the city. The bottommost section was ruled by Ragathiel, and as the warlord and defender of heaven’s gates, the city was laid out like a fortress. Each building, made of white marble, gold, silver and glass, were magically fortified from damage and arrayed to be defensible, should the walls fall. It gave the city a haphazard appearance compared to the rest of Heaven.

“Cleric,” the Archon chimed, “do you know what you are asking?”

Aerich nodded. “I need Aiori.”

“That will change in time,” the Archon said.

“Time,” Aerich said. He spun on his heel and glared at the glowing orb. “We’re in heaven. Time means nothing here.” Aerich spun, his arms open wide, embracing the beauty of the plane, spinning once. “It doesn’t change the fact that I swore an oath to love her, protect her, and be her companion through life and death.”

“The boatman will not come to heaven,” the Archon pleaded. “The souls here have already been judged by Pharasma. The River Styx does not flow here.”

“I know, we must go the City of Axis and hire a Huntsman to take us to Stygia,” Aerich said, continuing his walk to the rainbow bridge.

“Ragathiel will not allow this,” the Archon protested, its light growing a bit brighter in anger and desperation. “Each of us must follow a natural order to our journey, judged by Pharasma, and Aiori violated it. She won’t face the consequences of her choice. She refuses to accept it and will spend the rest of eternity playing that out.”

Aerich stared at the multicolored bridge, its glitter span reaching up into the sky and then down into the material plane. He was a block away, the massive gates of heaven open, the portcullis retracted, the fortress of Ragathiel open.

It must be a sign.

“The lower planes are not all fire and pain,” the Archon said. “In Stygia, everyone’s hell is unique. There, the real hell is facing that your life went wrong over and over again.”

“Her life didn’t go wrong,” Aerich bellowed, spinning back at the Archon. “It was snatched from her by the banal indifference of man. If she forsake her oath it was because Sarenrae refused to hear the prayers of her faithful servant. That is evil, Archon, and her soul is paying the price for her Gods indifference!”

“That is blasphemous, Cleric,” the Archon gasped.

“That is my Oath, Archon,” Aerich said, “Should I share my heart with another mortal, my love’s honor shall be as my own, below only Ragathiel’s calling. As my spirit belongs only to Ragathiel, so will I share of the flesh only with my love. I will find her and I will bring her home and nothing will stop me.”

The Archon was silent.

“She is in Stygia, and it is because she cannot forgive herself or Sarenrae,” Aerich finished, turning and heading for the bridge, “she needs absolution, and if no one here has the fortitude or capacity for forgiveness to give her that, then by my oath I must do so or die trying.”

“There are fates worse than death, Cleric,” the Archon said. “There is madness.”

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In Death - Part I

Aerich took a deep breath, his eyes popping open. Pain, a searing white hot agony that coursed through his body was gone in an instant. Above him, a massive mountain soared into the skies. The sun shone down on him, warm and carefree as a gentle, warm breeze brushed against his cheek.

Standing, Aerich rubbed at his belly. The pain was a memory, rapidly disappearing. He was dressed as he had last remembered, his armor was still emblazoned with the symbol of his lord, the Archangel Ragathiel, his sword was in its sheath, his shield across his back.

“What happened?”

Around him, a martial city spread like a tile floor. Down each perfectly ordered street were strong-points, interconnected towers of silver and gold. The patch of grass upon which he laid was a perfect square, the grass soft and fragrant and gentle to the touch.

“Where am I?”

Each of the buildings were built like a small keep, topped by towers and crenelations, giving defenders perfect, staggered firing arcs down each street. The entire city was built as if a fortress, each block was to be contested, each building ready to withstand an individual siege while protecting its neighbor.

The city was alive with men, women and children of all races. Couples of all ages walked together, smiling. Children laughed and played amongst the buildings, diving between bushes and around trees in complex games of tag. Others worked with paints or charcoals, drawing gorgeous murals and paintings.

“Aerich,” a golden voice called.

Aerich turned and look into the crowds, seeing no source, he scanned the moving and smiling faces. From the skies, a single, golden orb began to settle down in front of him, floating at eye level. The orb emitted a warm glow, dancing as if clouds were gently flowing across its form.

“A lantern archon,” Aerich whispered.

“You died, Aerich,” the archon announced. “You died trying to save your friends, and your sacrifice and service did not go unnoticed. Ragathiel brought you home.”

“Home?”

“You’re in heaven,” the Archon said gently.

Aerich felt his heart slam against his throat. He stepped back, taking a deep, quivering breath.

“Home,” he said, a whisper.

“Yes, Cleric,” the Archon said. “Come, let me show you.”

“Wait,” Aerich said, a feeling of giddiness rising up within him like a spring. “Is she here?”
“Who?”

“Aiori,” Aerich shouted. “My wife, is she here?”

The light of the archon dimmed slightly. “Aerich, I’m…”

“Where is she,” he demanded, feeling the anger welling up, his voice rising. People stopped and stared, their eyes settling on him with a mixture of surprise and pity. “WHERE?”

The archon seemed to look at Aerich with a mixture of pity and concern.

“She was judged, Cleric,” the Archon said quietly. “Her fear was too much at the end. She renounced her oath to Sarenrae before her death.”

The words hit Aerich like a physical blow, his head turning, causing tears to slip down his cheeks.

“Where is she,” he said, his voice a deep growl.

“Stygia,” the archon replied, the seventh plane of hell. “You cannot see her, never. She has been cast out, her broken vows stored deep within the Library of Oaths for eternity.”

Aerich’s lips curled back in a rictus of anger. “I swore an oath as well, Archon. There is nothing that will allow me to break it and make me need her any less.”

“You don’t understand,” The archon said.

“It isn’t about understanding,” Aerich shouted, “it’s about not giving up on her!” He leaned in close to the floating orb of light. “Take me to the boatman.”

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The Bell
Part 2 of Kesali's Climb

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The temple hall was not particularly large, though it had a very high ceiling rising up to a central peak. There were 20 or 30 people in the hall, here to celebrate the opening of the newly constructed temple, the rest of the party-goers were outside, and down the long wooden staircase that leads to the street.

Long ago, Old Korvosa ran out of available land, but the need for new housing and new buildings continued, so the city started building upward. They constructed new buildings on top of the old. Some of the structures were designed with brilliance, balanced over the old with new reinforced support features, but some were built cheaply, with little care for the older buildings beneath. Predictably, those new homes and businesses often collapsed, crushing the old ones beneath them. More interested in newer construction in more favorable regions, the city’s rulers chose to avoid the expense of clearing out the old demolished and dilapidated buildings, and continued to support the method of just cobbling together new ones on top of the old. They stacked buildings higher and higher, up until its tenants could feel the buildings sway back and forth. It is common practice for a family with a newborn to relocate to a more highly stacked home. Some say that it’s because the swaying soothes the child, but others say that it’s because it’s more acceptable to let the elderly be crushed to death in the stack’s next inevitable collapse.

This temple was built on top of several small homes, which were built above other homes, which in turn were stacked on top of the remains of an old warehouse that had partially burned, and was now being used to stable horses. At its peak hangs a very large bell that originally rang from the top of the temple to Aroden before he died and his temples were abandoned. While all of the temple to Aroden’s neighboring structures have completed multiple cycles of collapse and renewal, it still stands empty and idle, but its bell can now be heard again, subtly ringing throughout the day due to the natural swaying of the new temple to Desna, winged goddess of luck and the stars.

The walls of the temple were adorned with paintings from local artists, and behind the dais is a mural of a traveler walking down a long winding road that stretches out toward the last gasp of light escaping from the setting sun whose long thin beams streak out past large fluffy clouds into the deep blue starlit sky. The sparkling stars spread up toward the peak of the roof where perched upon an enormous crescent moon was a beautiful blue and silver butterfly.

Beside the dais there was a band comprised of a female half-elf playing the harp, an older man playing the pipes, a dwarven drummer, a Desnian priestess with cymbals, and an elderly male Halfling playing a human sized Vielle braced between his legs. A sylph-like young Varisian child danced in the middle of the room while the band accompanied a Gnomish Songstress named Kessali Bale as she sang The Dance of the Fey:


O you who dance among the trees
With endless grace and tireless ease
Would it disrupt your song to speak
Of who you are and what you seek?

Clang!
…rang above their heads, and Kesali continued singing.


We circle through the forest green
In patterns left to you unseen
And when the sunlight lights the sky
To other places we must fly.

…Clang!
Again, the great bell rang, the young child danced and the Kesali sang.


O you who fly into the night
With eyes that shine like stars and light,
Please tell me now where do you run
When you depart from day and sun?

CLANG!
Once more the bell of the dead god Aroden rang out.


With light that you will never see
We travel over rock and tree
Yet in the blazing glare of dawn
Our own devices must be gone.

C-L-A-N-G and S-M-A-S-H!

The great bell snapped free of its roost and broke through the high ceiling. The music stopped, replaced by the people’s screams. While the others scattered, Kes saw the little dancer standing still, staring up as the immense bell descended from above her. She, tumbled through the panicked crowd toward the child, grabbing her and throwing her to safety, just as the bell slammed into the floor, grazing Kes’ heels.

Everyone stood still and silent for several moments, then an old woman in the crowd began to laugh. The tension broke and the crowd calmed. The dancer’s father walked over to thank Kes, but before he got to her, the temple shook and shifted, the floor now at a 30 degree angle. The High Priestess loudly instructed everyone to exit the temple.

C-R-A-C-K!

The floor beneath the bell gave in, and the bell continued to fall. Bang, Crunch, Clang, and Smash, it just kept falling. Kes tried to jump for safety, but she was too slow and began following the bell down into the deep dark chasm. Looking up as she fell, she saw the temple collapse above her, sealing her fate.

**Song lyrics from The Elven Dance by Amanda Baggs

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The Fall
Part 1 of Kesali's Climb

Kesali carefully brushed away some of the loose debris from the thick wooden plank supporting her tiny bruised frame. It was damp from the broken sewer line, but the pipe must have completely collapsed because the water stopped pouring and diminished to a slow trickle. She carefully laid out one of her scarves before she pulled her cards out of the wrist sheath where she stored them for quick access. The cards were old, much older than herself. They were a gift from her adopted Varisian family. Their insights guide her future, while their worn edges and occasionally creased cards remind her of the past, the many people, and choices that led her to where she is now; trapped in a 4 foot wide seemingly bottomless shaft created by the fall of the heavy bell from a collapsed temple built on top of generations of older, poorly constructed, ramshackle structures in this pitiable neighborhood of old Korvosa.

She started to shuffle the deck, but stopped abruptly when she heard the odd clomping and moaning of an otyugh from deep below her. The illumination from the dancing light spell she cast might draw its attention, but it’s so far down, that it was worth the risk. She’d fought them before, but never when she was so completely alone. If she hadn’t managed to grab onto this ledge, and she hadn’t died from the fall, surely that creature would have finished her off.

Taking a deep, slow breath, she looked upward. She had willed her floating lights to drift up. She knew she could send them as far as 100 feet, but sometime before they reached their limit, they stopped. The shaft was covered by the wreckage. There was no way to know how deep she had fallen. Were there other survivors? “Oh, Gods, how many people must have died?”

She waited for some sign of a rescue, afraid that if she shouted out for help, it might draw the attention of the Otyugh, who was now speaking out loud in a slow groaning voice, “S-o-o-o-o H-u-n-n-n-g-r-y-y-y, Gnarlug is so hungry.”

“Is Gnarlug talking to himself, or is he talking to me?” she quietly feared. “Does he know I’m here?”

She had no idea what to do, so she did what came naturally. Again, she began to shuffle the cards of her Harrow desk. The sound of the cards wasn’t too loud, but still she prayed to Desna that the ravenous sewer monster would not hear her. She asked of the cards, “How can I get to safety?” Then she played the nine cards in the typical 3 by 3 layout. Sure there were other layouts possible, but this was how her Nona (grandmother for you gadjos) taught her.

harow-reading.jpg

In the first column, representing the negative past or the darkness that has come before she played The Avalanche. Clearly this represents the panicked riots that have frequented the city for the last year, from political fear, plagues, and starvation. The city has been in a state of disaster.

As she reached over to reveal the cards in the second column, representing the present, she nervously knocked over the remaining cards. She quickly grabbed them but not before one of the cards fell of the board, and down the shaft. “DAMN IT!” she shouted, not even caring about Gnarlug below, as her family heirloom drifted out of sight.

She continued what would probably be her last reading with her family’s deck. She revealed two significant cards, yet both were misaligned. Representing the positive present, she placed The Crows. Typically this would symbolize murder, violent crime, or the violent loss of someone or something dear. Missaligned, Kes read this as the possibility to avoid or escape the violence. In this case, meaning that it is possible for her not to die in this dark, damp hole.

The second misaligned card was The Cricket. As she realized its meaning tears swelled in her eyes. Misaligned, The Cricket was a treasure that is lost after traveling. In this case it clearly symbolized the loss of the card from her now incomplete family harrow deck.

All that was left to do was reveal the cards in the third column, the future was literally waiting to be revealed, but for the first time in her life, she was afraid to turn over the cards. They had already betrayed her once today. She was considering putting them away when she realized that Gnarlug wasn’t making any more noise. She sat still and listened for what felt like forever, and then… she heard him.

“I – hear – you,” he moaned, dragging the words out. “I hear you up there. Gnarlug is hungry, and Gnarlug is coming for you.”

She heard the sounds of wood cracking and shifting as she imagined the monster using its three large legs and two long spiked tentacles to climb up through the rubble in the dark shaft. She could have sent her lights down to see, but she just didn’t want to know. “Gnarlug is getting closer,” he said is his usually breathy groan. “Gnarlug can smell you now, and you smell fresh.” The sound was getting much closer as Gnarlug’s climb hastened, but then Kes heard him make an odd guttural noise, and then she heard the sound of wood smashing as Gnarlug slipped and fell back down the shaft, ending his fall in a loud, pained yelp, and sudden silence.

She didn’t move or make a sound for several minutes. The monster was either dead or unconscious. Eventually, she lowered her light downward, and saw that Gnarlug’s fall caused more rubble to block the shaft some 30 or 40 feet below her. Even if he survived, he wouldn’t be able to climb back up that way.

Kes decided that if she had avoided being Gnarlug’s meal, perhaps her future was worth knowing so she revealed the last of the cards in her reading. The card of significance, The Waxworks, was positioned as her negative future. This card represented a dark and terrible place of torture, imprisonment. It also symbolized helplessness, and paralysis. She Knew that this could only mean that she was truly trapped, alone and helpless. She put what was left of her harrow deck away, and began to sob. There was nothing she could do. If her friends were here they could climb to her and look for a way out, but she was alone. Eventually, her spell ended, and the light went out. She could have cast it again, but she didn’t see the point. The last card was played. Her fate was sealed. She was going to die here, alone, in the dark.

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Back in the kitchen - part 1
A stranger at the door

A few weeks after the plague ended.

The bar had closed 3 hours before and the early morning workers would be arriving in the next hour or so for their morning breakfast and ales. Devin and Guntha where finishing putting the bar to rights while Caranga was starting the breakfast preparations. Things were still lean but she could still get the things she needed for blood fritters, and of course their famous spiced portage. Carang could only sigh as she stirred the portage pot. They tended to sell more portage pot when Perdi made it. She had changed the recipe slightly when they were at that keep place, and Carang had yet to figure out what the secret ingredient was that made Peri’s far better than hers. She had hoped that Perdi would settle down and help more with the bar, but that was proving to be difficult.

Perdi spent much of her time brokering deals, and selling the goods that their little band of misfits had acquired recently. Caranga couldn’t really complain that much given the money that Perdi had reinvested in the kitchen it’s self. The better tools and knives had paid for themselves the first week.

She had just about put her hand into the batter to fry up the fritters when there was a knock at the back door. This caused her to raise an eyebrow because the morning deliveries usually wouldn’t arrive for another couple hours. Anyone coming at this hour was either, very drunk, very hungry, or very stupid. “Devin, get the back door for me. And be on alert. Who ever it is doesn’t know the routine around here.”

Devin came in from the main area, leaving Guntha to refresh the kegs and casks behind the bar. If trouble were to happen Guntha could easily come running if she was needed. Devin made sure his ax was next to the kitchen wood pile. If he needed a weapon it was easy with in reach, and didn’t lookout of place. He opened the door mid knock. “May I help you?”

He had half expected to see a pschodragon with another imp ear. After the one pshodo dragon had been staked their back door a few months ago, there had been fewer of them coming to claim the bounty, but those that came earned their bounty well. It was true that the first thing he was an imps ear being held before his face, but he didn’t expect it to be held by a teen age girl. “Can I help you?”

“A friend of mine said if I came to this door with an imp’s ear, I could get some food.” She presented the ear closer to Devin’s face.

“That is true, but who was your friend?” Devin swiftly took the ear from her. “Go sit over there.” He pointed to a stool in the corner. He kept a close eye on her.

“Gricknarg. He is a pschodo dragon. He speaks highly of this place. He said if I ever get desperate to try this.”

At the word desperate Caranga sat a plate of eggs, fish, and bread on the table next to the girl. “Eat up. Spring may be coming but that is not to say the wind isn’t cold off the water.”

The girl took her first bites of the food, making noises that made Devin blush a bit. He began stacking up wood, but keeping an eye on the girl. “What made you so desperate to come here? To earn a hand out from us takes some doing.”

The girl licked the juices off her fingers. “I lost my sleeping spot, and my benefactor is currently stuck over in Old Korvosa, so that makes things a little difficult. Besides, word has it that you might haven an opening here.”

“What makes you say that?” Caranga wiped her hands on her apron.

“Rumor has it that your serving girl won’t be returning anytime soon.” She closed her eyes and savored the last bite of fish; then tore off some of the fresh bread to wipe up the egg yoke off her plate.

Devin’s hand wrapped around the handle of his ax, as he hefted some wood closer to the fire; they had heard from the spice vendor a few days before that he had seen Adelaide running toward the bar a couple of nights before like the hounds of hell were after her.
He did not see any one chasing her but he said she looked in a bad way. When Caranga question him how he knew it was Adilade he responded that her distinctive hair color, and the red stole Adelaide always wore when she was out. He had lost sight of her about a block from the bar. “Who told you that?”

“My boss, who else,” The girl shrugged, and she wiped the last of the egg off the plate. She looked up to see Caranga and Devin eyeing her. “What? I haven’t touched anything expect what you handed me, besides why would I steal from someone who just fed me?”

“Why indeed? “ Caranga hefted one of her cast iron skilled. “So why did you REALLY come here?” By now Guntha was standing in the kitchen door way, a polished club in hand.

“Whoa whoa, I’m not here for trouble.” The girl stood up and tried to maneuver herself so that she could get near the window or door, but the others were not making that easy.

“I came here for food, a warm fire, and a job. That’s all.”

“What did you do with Adelaide?” Devin started forward with his ax.

“I don’t even know her.”

Caranga’s eyes narrowed. “Yes you do, you are lying. Tell us why you are here.”
The girl looked back and forth between them. She started to make a move for something when someone shouted “Because I asked her to!”
--
A little bit later a pot of coffee was being poured into large mugs. “Now that you have your coffee, care to explain who the hell she is?” Devin pointed at the girl standing by the door.

“Teresa Raine Ulani Damonica Yevon Peregrine other wise known to her friends as Trudy Peregrine, former ‘cleric’ of Calistria, and old friend of mine from my old life. ”

“But what is she doing here?” Caranga asked.

“Carista Swordhand sent me to her.” Trudy thumbed at Perdi. “Said she had a job for me that would be worth my while. What I didn’t count on was this whole plague thing.”

“Perdi, we really can’t afford another person here right now. With all the stupid red tape the officials have been throwing at us, we are lucky to break even.” Caranga sighed.

“We need a new waitress, and an extra pair of hands around here.” Perdi glared at her mother. “Whether you like it or not, Adelaide is not coming back. To get Carista off my back about not letting Adelaide back, I agreed to take on ‘one of her people’, that person is Trudy.”

Devin eyed Trudy, “That is a good reason not to trust her. I still think she had something to do with Adeliane disappearing.”

Perdi laughed, “Oh please. If there is one person I know is not in Carista’s pocket it is Trudy.”

“Why?” Devin crossed his arms, giving Trudy a look that showed he didn’t believe her.

“Because I think Carista is a lying whore who would stab you in the back at her earliest convenience.”

Caranga raised an eye brow, “That is a start.”

“Long story short, Carista had been trying to manipulate Trudy into something she is not willing to do. I offered her a way out. Trudy knows I have reasons I want her here but at least I’m honest about the reasons.”

“Now that you got me here, what are you going to do with me? “ Trudy eyed Perdi.

“As I said before, we need a waitress. I need a training partner. You want honest work that doesn’t involve lying on your back. We can help you.”

Caranga huffed, “But like I said, we can’t afford her Perdi. We can barely pay ourselves.”
Perdi smirked, “Give her my wage.”

“Pardon” Caranga’s jaw dropped.

“Soon as the estate is finished I’m moving over there. I rarely get to work a full day here at the bar, yet I’m still being paid. It’s not fair to all of you. Pay Trudy for the work I can’t do.”

“That is all well and good,” Devin made an effort not to look at Trudy. “But she is no cook, and if I heard you correctly the only meat she has served is not for public viewing.”

Before Devin could continue his rant, he felt the hilt of a blade smack him across the face.

“It would be wise NOT to say that again.” Perdi laid a hand on Trudy’s shoulder.

“I get that impression.” Devin wiped his bloody nose.

“And you need to watch your temper. I know why you did it but that is the last time. If you got a beef with anyone take it outside. Do you understand?” Perdi spun Trudy to face her. Trudy nodded, not meeting Perdi’s eye.

Caranga cleared her throat to change the subject, “Devin had a point. He may not have said it in a polite way but he has a point. Trudy, is there anything you can do to earn your wage here?”

“I understand Lady Kess performs here often.”

“She does, but not enough as we would like. She is in VERY high demand. Why?”

“I can dance. It wouldn’t be as good as Kess’s performance but would bring in some extra funds. I can waitress and help out as much as I can. Look I just want a chance.”

Devin shrugged, “Worth a shot for while. Come on, I’ll show you around.” Devin motioned for Trudy to follow him into the main room.

When they were gone Caranga looked over at Perdi. “She is just here to be a waitress , huh?”

“That was the plan.” Perdi smiled.

“That is the plan for Carista, but not for you.” Caranga wiped her hands and went back to her cooking. “I was the one who taught you how to look for what most don’t see. You are up to something.”

Perdi gave her a seemingly innocent smile. “What ever would I need a human female who appears to be my same age, height, build, skills set and has an affinity for disguise as much as I do languages?”

“Uh huh…” Caranga grinned and dished up some fritters. “And now she owes you one. Nope I have no idea what you might be up to. I just ask that you keep me out of it. “

Perdi smiled behind her cup of coffee. “No promises.”

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