Curse of the Crimson Throne

Where to go from here?

“Here go madam.” A dwarven maid showed her into a fine lavatory. “The water is hot, and there are re fine salts, perfumes, and soaps on the side table. Was there anything else you would require?”

Perdi responded in dwarven, “Box of chocolates, and a bottle of good red wine. I don’t want any swill, and I will know.” Reaching into her haversack, she tossed the girl a small pouch with 25 gps.

“Yes madam.” The girl smiled broadly and hurried from the room. Perdi shed her filthy clothing, leaving her bag and equipment by the large tub. Sinking into the bubbles and warm water Perdi finally let herself relax. She was enjoying the wonderful bath with her eyes closed, Perdi heard the girl come back, and place the wine and chocolates on the side table. The girl was almost out the door before Perdi spoke. “If your friend wishes to keep his hands I suggest that he return what he picked up. Clothing or no, I will remove them.”

“He now owes me 5 gold pieces. He thought he could make off with some of your coins.” The dwarven girl smiled as she took a pouch from a horrified dwarven male, shoved him out the door, and locked it.

“Never try to steal from another thief.” Perdi opened an eye and grinned.

“As my companion learned the hard way.” The maid poured a glass of wine and handed it to Perdi. “You won’t tell the manager, will you?”

“What would you have done with the gold you had taken?” Perdi sipped the wine.

“He may have kept it, I would have put it toward your bill.” The maid took fluffy towels from a linen cupboard.

“Wise girl, foolish boy.” Perdi toasted her with her wine. “Wait outside the door, let no one but my companions in. If I need you, I will call. ”

“Thank you madam.” The maid curtsied and took her place outside the door.

As Perdi relaxed it finally give her a few moments to think. If her estimates of the gold she would be bringing in over the next week. She and her companions would be very well off. It also made her think what would happen after they completed their quest. She didn’t want to think of not surviving, but she wanted to think about a life after all of this. What did she want out of her life? Her life had always been just surviving but now she had a good possibly for a good life. Long ago she had spoken with Vencarlo about his experience as the Black Jack. She could help those that needed help, but she would need to be a respectable person of society to do it. The only respectable thing she knew was her cooking. She was a fine cook. She had even cooked for the queen. She had spent many a year in the attic of the ‘home’ of a Calistria priestesses.

The more that she thought about she decided what she wanted was a fine place for food, drink and company. She would be a good business person, with a nice house. She could do for others what she had been given to her. If someone was given a good environment they could thrive or they could burn. It was all up to the person. If they survived this whole ordeal she wanted to have a house that she would be proud of. She could have a base of operation for Black Jack underneath and have a legitimate base of business running above. It have her a bit of hope. Now to survive the coming days to make it happen.

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The scars of life

When the whip hit me I knew that it wasn’t a normal strike. Sadly I do know what it feels like to be struck by whip anything from a ridding crop to a bull whip. All leave marks on you. The welts hurt for a while but with healing magic the pain doesn’t last long, and honestly after a few days of normal healing you would be fine, but this more damage than I wanted to admit.

Areich was able to deal with the facial fractures to my cheeks, jaw, and fore head. The whip cut deeply into my lower lip, but thankfully it healed easily without damaging my speech. The burns of the whip seared into my flesh, but there was no damage to my eyes. If I had been blinded, we would have all been dead. My job is to scout and make sure there are no traps, and to open any locks. Truthfully Ithamore could ‘open’ most doors easily, we would like to be able to close them afterwards.

The broken bones and bruising were easily healed but what we didn’t count on was the scaring. Those whips did more than hit me, they disfigured me. When you have perfect ears like mine, it means that I hear everything. I head the “Yeesh did you see her face?”, “Do you see how big those scars are?” “I’m glad it is not me.”, “If that had happened to Kess we would be in serious trouble.”

I think that is truly the serious damage. Areich keeps assuring me that it will be easily fixed once we are out of serious danger. He needs his stronger spells to defeat the castles monsters and can’t waste them on “superficial damage” to a member. Yeah if precious Kess got smacked in the face with that whip we would have her fixed in a jiffy, but no, not me. “Here is a bag to put over your head Perdi so we don’t have to see your ugly face!” Comments like that remind me of my times in the streets. Men don’t care what you look like if they are randy enough. They put a bag over the girls head, and goes at it. Even a girl that looks like someone took a hatchet to the face can still make 5 gold pieces a week if she works at it. Granted those are the girls that have nothing left to loose.

The comments hurt, and I know they don’t mean them but they cut like a knife into me. When I look into a mirror I don’t recognize myself. Each ‘morning’ I am told, “One more day and it will be all over. We will get you all fixed up, don’t you worry.” If it was anyone but Aerich I won’t believe them. I’m trying not to be snipe-ish with Kess. It isn’t her fault that I got hit in the face with the ugly stick, but the comments of others hook deep into your soul far deeper than any of the “rumpus room" barbed hooks ever could. I am not trying to distance myself from my friends, but to makes things easier. I only have to deal with my job and nothing more. My friends joked that I was always on alert even in my sleep, this injury seems to have made me more so. I use to have fun playing with some whips, and they could be pleasurable provided I controlled them; however, the thought of them puts me on edge.

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The Cinderlander

Aerich and Ithamore sized up the vaunted Cinderlander.

Without his crossbow, he wasn’t much to look at. In fact, he was running scared.

“Don’t run,” Aerich shouted.

Ithamore chuckled, thinking the aasimar was being sarcastic, but caught the severe look on the Cleric’s face and stopped laughing.

“He’s going to make this difficult, isn’t he,” Ithamore mused.

“Leave him to me,” Aerich said, putting his sword away, loading a bolt into the Cinderlander’s weapon and dropping a bolt into it. The weapon was finely crafted, exquisitely maintained. “Go make sure everyone else is safe.”

Ithamore nodded and headed back.

Aerich took a deep breath and raised the weapon. The Cinderlander was panicking, stumbling, looking back and turning back over his shoulder. The cleric took in a deep breath and sighted his target, taking in a deep breath and then releasing it, firing the bolt.

The bolt leapt into the air, imbued with the magic of the crossbow. In the blink of an eye, crossed the distance and struck the Cinderlander in the back, burying itself deep into his spine. The Cinderlander let out a wail, his legs going limp as he tumbled into the hot, desolate sand.

Aerich nodded once and slipped the weapon’s carrying strap over his shoulder and approached the groaning, bleeding Cinderlander.

“What are you going to do now,” he heard his wife ask.

“I’m going to dispense the justice I was tasked to deliver,” Aerich replied, drawing his bastard sword.

She was walking beside him now, her normally long brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun. She was dressed as the warrior cleric of Sarenrae, a golden chainmail shirt, white cloak, a scimitar hanging at her side.

“Look at him,” she said, “justice has been delivered.”

“No, he is suffering,” Aerich said sadly, “that is tantamount to torture. He must know why I have come.”

The Cinderlander screamed, pulling the bolt from his back. He resumed his crawling, leaving a trail of blood in the sand. Aerich could see the vial he was crawling toward – the blow had sent the Cinderlander, and his gear, sprawling into the sun-bleached sand.

Increasing his pace lightly, Aerich drew his bastard sword.

The Cinderlander stretched out, his fingers dancing on the glass of the vial, working against the sand, which caused the potion to spin in place. Aerich could hear his preys whispered prayers just over the sound of the vial moving. Stepping up, Whitecloak extended his blade and pushed the potion just out of reach.

The Cinderlander groaned, his head falling into the dirt in resignation. Sweat poured from his brow as he rolled over, wincing, breathing heavily.

“You shot me in the back,” he managed, looking up at Aerich. “My spine, it’s broken.”

“Call it grace,” Aerich said, kneeling next to the Cinderlander. “Do you know who I am?”

“A Shaonti-lover,” the Cinderlander replied, “a traitor to Korvosa and Civilization.”

Aerich watched Aiori kneel across from his, her face concerned.

“It won’t matter,” the Cinderlander continued, “you may have stopped me, but the Shaonti are doomed. Between Korvosa and the Orcs in the mountains, they will be exterminated.”

“That isn’t up to you,” Aerich said, “I am Aerich Whitecloak, Cleric of Ragathiel, and I have been tasked with bringing you to justice.”

“You’re a cleric? Heal me! Take me in! The courts in Korvosa will thank me, give me a medal, and send me back out here!”

Aiori looked at Aerich, who glanced at her and then to the Cinderlander.

“No, I’m not healing you nor am I taking you anywhere,” Aerich said. “Ragathiel smiled on your taking vengeance for the death of your loved ones, who are now sitting under his protection behind the walls of heaven -“

“Dont patronize me-“

“But you thirst for vengeance warped you, Cinderlander. The scales of justice have tipped too far in your favor.”

“They’re animals! Why would the Gods care for them any more than they care for a deer or wolf? “ the Cinderlander asked.

“Then why am I here? How did we find you when the whole Shaonti nation could not?”

The Cinderlander was quiet.

“I am here to deliver you absolution?”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll let you live.”

The Cinderlander groaned again. His face softened. “Will you forgive me?”

“Forgiveness is between you and Pharasma,” Aerich said, standing up and pulling out his crossbow. An elegant weapon, made by Sister Striael, and embossed with several obals of the Church. He nocked a bolt and readied the weapon. “I’m just here to arrange the meeting.”

Aerich knelt again and placed the weapon in the Cinderlander’s hands..

The Cinderlander raised the crossbow and pointed it at Aerich, the steel tip an inch from his nose.

“You’ve got one shot in that crossbow,” Aerich said, “make it the right one.”

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The Wastes

Aerich knelt in the sand. He faced Cynosure, his head resting on the pommel, his eyes closed in prayer.

Everything in the Cinderlands was brown, beige or taupe. Every leaf, desperately trying to cling to some sort of life, was crunchy and brittle. A grim dust seemed to stick to everything.

It was a wonder that his ring of sustenance could keep up. Every time his lips felt like they were going to go as parched as the land around him, the ring would magically infuse his body with life-giving water and all would be well.

Now they were on another quest, dealing with souls with whom Ragathiel had a vested interest. An entire people pushed from their homes, their entire culture and way of life forever and irrevocably changed by the arrogance of Cheliax. He felt a lot of sympathy for the clans, and knew that, in the end, Ragathiel would smile on their endeavors and welcome them to the Happy Hunting Grounds of Heaven.

The lands seemed to be fighting them every step of the way, from true justice from being delivered. It was up to him and his friends to show them that they were the agents of Ragathiel and they were there to bring the justice that their forefathers had died to attain.

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Hiding in your own city
Preparing to Bug out of Korvosa

Perdi was in her element. This is what she had trained for but after so many years out in the open it had begun to chafe. Kess had been able to disguise Perdi enough that others would recognize her, add in Perdi’s natural talent of sneaking about it made things easier getting around town. Kess was the one that people would see out and about, but Perdi prided herself in not being noticed. There was no way to stop people from noticing that our villa was now occupied, or that Kess with her radiant personality was back in town. The trick want making sure that no one knew how many of us were at the villa at any one time, or what we were doing in there.

The truth was packing to get the heck out of town was the truth. The problem was that we had need of newer and better equipment. The problem was that would take time to have made. In hopes of speeding things up Perdi had taken her armor to a different enchanter to get it stronger in hopes of speeding things up. It still meant spending a month and half in the city essentially trapped in the villa. It was easier for Perdi and Kess to leave the villa to acquire the things that everyone needed given their skills. Time was not on our side but do what we must.

All around the city persecution ran rampant. Taxes, and fees were no longer just higher for us, but for anyone who was not Chilaxian. What would cost one man 1 gps it would cost a Varisian 5. The disguise that Kess was able to make Perdi allowed her to hide the half elf ears, and elven features, but it always was a tricky business. Some could see what Perdi’s race really was and the persecution that Perdi had always felt had been made 10 times worse. Not only was Perdi half elf, but her father was Varisian. Which according to some, made things even worse.

Korvosa had become Perdi’s home but all this going on made Perdi doubt if it was worth staying in the city. If her and her friends didn’t have to leave, would Perdi stay given the way the city has deteriorated? It was a hard question to ask oneself.

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Adelaide

She ran… Her feet striking the worn cobblestones as fast as she could go. The thin slippers were not really designed for running on the stones and bruised her feet painfully but she did not dare slow down.
They were after her. She knew it.

The bar If she could just get to the bar she would probably be safe. Perdita might not like her but she would not kill Adelaide out of hand and if Ithamore was there Adelaide might get him to intercede on her behalf. He had kind eyes. She might even be able to seduce him, anything so she would not have to go back to the floating ships. Not after what she saw earlier tonight.

  • Flashback****

Adelaide sneaked up to the port window on Carista’s bedroom and looked in. She was trying to get some blackmail on Carista and thought the three nobles that had shown up asking to talk to her looked promising.

It started off commonly enough. The three wanted to have sex with Carista at the same time and offered a very good sum. Carista told them she did not usually work any more but she would make an exception for twice the amount they had already offered. They agreed.

Wow nice price but nothing Adelaide could really use against Carista. She sat down against the wall and just listened to see if maybe something was said during the acts that she could use. She had bribed the guard that usually prevented this eavesdropping a whole nights of her wages so she could listen in on the meeting so she might as well stay and try to get something for the money she had spent.

There was the usual sounds of clothing being removed and foreplay and then Adelaide heard Carista say. “You said nothing abough, gahhh, elllfth.” And a sold blow to flesh. Adelaide looked in to see the three men standing around Carista. One of them tying a ball gag in her mouth and the other two holding the naked, struggling Carista in place with one hand and holding curved knives with their other.

Then the one standing behind Carista changed. One moment it was a hairy, naked man with a scar across one eye, the next it was a perfect replica of Carista down to the three moles on her lower belly. It bent down so Carista could she her face looking back at her and said. " I think I will be taking over things here from now on out." The three people then raised their knives and plunged them into Carista.

Adelaide screamed and fled to the guard. She screamed at the guard that Carista was being killed and just could not stop screaming. The guard pulled away from the screaming Adelaide and slapped her hard one time to jar her out of her panic. Two other guards rushed to the owners door to find out what happened. The door was locked but before they could break it in. Carista opened it and asked what all the screaming was about. The two male clients were standing behind her blocking the guards view into the room.

The guards told Carista that Adelaide had started screaming that, she, Madam Carista, was being killed by clients. Carista looked into Adelaide’s eyes and Adelaide saw her death. Then Caista smiled and said. “If you want to peep at me while I am entertaining clients Adelaide you should just join us.” The last bit she made more of a command and glanced at the guard that had slaped Adelaide earlier.

Adelaide pulled away from the guard and shrieked. “Look at their hands.” She pointed at Carista and her clients hands. The guards looked and saw the creatures hands splattered with drops of blood and the guards frowned and then shift their hands toward their weapons, unsure of what they were seeing but realizing something was not right. Carista snarled and pulled a kukri out from around the corner and with a tremendous slash sent a guard reeling back. Carista glanced back at her companions. “Kill them all. I can hire more.”

Adelaide turned and fled.

  • Present ****

Her breath was rasping and her lungs burned but she was close to the inn. Just around this corner and she would see the light and sign. Then out of a darkened alley on her right she glimpsed one on Carista’s guards step forward and the butt of his weapon slammed into the side of her head knocking her to the ground and stunning her and then a second blow and she knew no more.

Waking sometime later she found herself lying in the middle of a wooden floor with a pair of slipper-ed feet in view. “Ahh she awakes” a male voice says. “Carnochan you are forgiven.” Adelaide shivers and then realized her clothes were gone, including the red shawl from her mother. Looking up she followed the slippers up to a man in his thirties with long wavy brown hair, and light brown eyes. A woman stood next to him with dark hair and eyes. Her eyes were highlighted with very dark liner. Then she looked toward her feet and she saw grand-master Boule and Carista standing there she shivered again but this time not from cold.

The two watched her reaction for a bit and then their features swirl and then looking down at her are two men. The one that use to look like Boule had the head of a dog like creature while the one that had been Carisa had the head of a snake. Looking back at the other two, the woman with the Kohl darkened eyes now had the head of a Fox and the original man had the head of a large cat with black spots.

The cat spoke and sounded exactly like the voice she had heard when she first awoke. “My name is Bahor, you might know me as Glorio Arkona” he gestured at the fox-headed woman next to him and this is my sister Vimanda she plays my wife in this little play we have going on here." Watching Adelaide intently he seemed to read the question in her eyes and his lips pulled back in a parody of a smile. " I am afraid your part is over except for the dying."

Then the Rakshasa fell upon and devoured her.

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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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