Ravenloft: Prisoners of the Mist

Within the swirling Mist (IC) => Biographies => Topic started by: Iridni Ren on March 05, 2017, 09:47:57 PM

Title: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 05, 2017, 09:47:57 PM
Barsisa, terrified by this Discourse, says to the Devil, What shall I do to prevent the Publication of my shame?

To hinder the Knowledge of your Crime you ought to commit a fresh one, answered the Devil.

From The History of Santon Barsisa

Once upon a time east of the Prelacy of Almor, two mismatched men and a much younger woman took a short journey into the Forests of Adri. The shabbily dressed of the two men carried on his face an expression as though he intended to steal the pennies from the eyes of someone's dead mother. The other wore the clothes of a well-cared-for curate (which he was). Although their exteriors little resembled one another, both snipes bore souls blackened by evil.

As for the girl…my stars, child, but she had hair the color of a raven’s wing and skin that seemed as though she bathed thrice a day in fresh cream. The tenderest of spring violets bloomed in her 16-year-old eyes. Lo, when she sang, her delicate voice piped like a gentle flute. But if any stranger spoke to her, well, her timid cheeks would ripen with strawberries.

Her name was Iridni Ren, and she stepped through the brush that day like an inquisitive but wobbly fawn. Behind her and out of her hearing, the gray-cloaked rogue—for rogue was the most polite word for him—spoke to the stiff-necked curate: “Ya know, this here marchland is where they say many years past old Firan disappeared.”

Firan was a sort of boogeyman in the region, a dark and powerful wizard whose necromancy some believed was so foul that he had been carried off to Hell without the formality of Nerull permitting him first to die.

“Firan?” the curate replied. Although much distracted by the wicked task ahead, he managed to stare at the lithe shape of Iridni with an intensity that begrudged his eyes so much as a single blink.
 
“Aye…but who knows what’s true about things at happened so long ago? I do know I don’t much like passin’ this way meself.”

The curate, whose name was Anxan Madog, said with a note of regret, “We won’t tarry here.”

“Madog” meant “the Kind.” A more honest name would have been Anxan the Wretch. In truth Anxan had hoodwinked the innocent Iridni into coming with him and the rogue because they schemed to murder her.

His partner in sin nodded. “At’s good. An it’s best we stay out of any mists hereabouts. Never know what’s lurkin’....Meself, I’d prefer we'd do this at night.”

The curate nodded: “But it was easier for me to explain taking her from the cloister during the day. A reward of some fresh air and sunshine for how hard she's worked and studied.”

Noticing how the other's eyes followed the receding girl, the rogue smirked and said, “Considerin’ we got all this privacy, don’t it seem a shame to waste some unspoilt woman flesh like ‘at?”

He gestured toward Iridni with the stiletto he held, then resumed scraping some sort of green grime from beneath his ragged fingernails. For those who have much to be guilty about, cleaning can become a fixation, but the rogue felt his hands so foul he saw little reason even to attempt the washing of them.

“Your suggestion, if I understand it properly, is vile,” Anxan stammered.

The rogue’s smirk turned into a false face of hurt feelings. “Aw now. Don’t gimme ‘at, padre. I seen how you been lookin’ at her meself.”

“Listen. You’ve been hired to do one thing, and I’m only here to make sure it’s done. I can’t do it because…well…a priest of Zilchus should not spill the blood of the innocent.”

The rogue nibbled one of his freshly scraped fingernails and seemed to consider for a moment its taste. “Alright to let me do it, eh?”

Anxan sighed. “Rather than many suffer, it's necessary that one perish. For the good of the land.”

“If ya say so. I don’t care bout the high-falutin' politics of it all, padre. Just as long as I’m paid.”

“You will be, but we must make sure the seer’s prophecy doesn’t come to pass.”

“What's worryin ya? How’s a rabbit like her a danger to anybody? Exceptin’ a man’s self-control!” The rogue guffawed at his own insinuation.

Something like hunger passed over the curate’s face as his eyes followed the even strokes of Iridni's partly bare thighs.

“The seer’s omen marked her, not Eordwick, as most favored by her god.”

“So?” The rogue sniffed his fingers before beginning on a second.

“She must be considered in line for leadership, then. But the girl worships the Sun Father, a god of peace, charity, and mercy. If we allow the prophecy to come true, then we would pin our hopes on a pacifist.” Anxan hissed the last word. “Look at her! Do you think she can stand up to our enemies? In these times Almor must wield a sharp sword with strong muscle behind it.”

“Well, now, your enemies may be far different ‘en mine. But I think I gets your meanin’. This Eordwick, he’s more to your preference?”

“Not to my...preference.” For a moment the curate's face softened as he watched Iridni. “I would prefer my own son. But unlike yon gentle girl, Eordwick is a strong fighter. He knows how to wound as well as heal. With her candidacy out of the way, our future and security are safer. I wish…I wish it didn’t have to be thus.”

“Yer not a follower of this Sun Father yourself?”

“No. The Prelacy is tolerant of many gods. Eordwick worships Zilchus as do I. We’re united with the placid Pelorians only in our opposition to evil.”

“Opposition to evil? Hee-hee-hee! You could of fooled me. Anyways…”

“Look at her,” Anxan shook his head with his second use of the imperative. “If only....As a bride she might have satisfied some man and lived a long and happy life.” She was not meant to be wedded to a god!

“Tis a shame...like I said.” The rogue licked his lips. “I don’t see no harm in us collectin’ a bonus on this job. Takin’ it out in trade, you know? We both could, mate. I'd even let you have her first.” He winked.

About fifty yards away, Iridni had knelt with her back to them to try to discern what the small animal was lurking in a clump of bushes. As the curate watched her he saw her stripped naked of all—her clothing and her defenses—and in his power. He could so easily despoil her and use the pure fountain of her body to slake his burning thirst. He knew she would never give herself willingly to him. Although he was in the full vigor and heat of manhood, she thought of him only in regard to the priestly robes he wore. She saw his outward show of piety, never imagining the fire for her that consumed his loins. He...on the other hand...he could not look at her without envisioning what the rest of her unsullied skin looked like beneath her flimsy frock.

She must die to save many, but she also must die before Anxan allowed his obsession with her to destroy him and his own future. He passed a shaking hand over his face.

“Hee-hee-hee. I sees how you’re tempted, priest. Whaddya say?”

“I say thee...nay!”

The rogue shrugged. “Suit yourself. But I figger the deal I made is to kill 'at girl for ya. What I do before then don’t really affect at does it?” His stiletto assumed a more serious posture in his hand as he began to stalk the unaware Iridni. “I won't use this on her...least ways not yet. Only on her clothes!”

In the rogue Anxan saw the ugly embodiment of his own lust toward the young acolyte. He sprang forward and his grip found the rogue's knife-bearing wrist and held it immobile. The two men wrestled for a moment before falling to the ground.

Iridni turned in time to see Anxan bring a large stone down on the rogue's upturned face. She shrieked, not knowing what had caused the sudden violence, but then Anxan stood up clutching his side. Blood trickled between his fingers where the stiletto had managed a wound that looked to prove fatal without attention.

Her instincts to heal drove all questions from Iridni's mind as she bounded over to aid Anxan. “You're bleeding, Father!” Her hand parted his priestly garments, seeking to touch the injured flesh they concealed.

As she tended him, Anxan looked down at the ebony hair draping the young woman's head and could smell the lavender scent with which she washed herself. He felt the healing caress of her just below his chest as she uttered a small prayer, and soothing relief replaced the burning of his stab wound. Even so, new distress filled the curate as he contemplated Iridni's nearness and the longing her gentle strokes against his skin unleashed within him.

Could she be so ignorant of the effect she was causing? Or behind her mask of innocence was she a callous coquette who enjoyed her power to wrack him between pleasure and pain?

For a moment, gratitude and desire struggled in Anxan, but after brief indecision desire prevailed. “I have killed for your sake, Iridni....To preserve you inviolate! Now...now you shall yield me my prize!”

Anxan seized her by her tender throat with one hand, his other bending one of her arms and lifting it behind her back until her eyes shut in agony. Although Iridni was stronger than she looked, he had the advantage of surprise, position, and weight as he pressed her down, entangled with him, onto the forest bed.

In panic she flailed with all her being against him and called out to her god for help. But Anxan's animal mouth covered hers, and the tightness of his grip choked her screamed prayer into a rasp that Anxan engulfed within his own growled moaning.

As his lips forced themselves against her tearful face again and again, behind and over the two struggling forms, an insidious mist roiled the damp air. It dropped on them like a net of languid tendrils—Anxan oblivious to it and Iridni unable to escape her captor or warn him of their mutual peril.

He released his choke hold long enough to grasp the top of Iridni's shift in preparation for exposing that of her which remained yet hidden from his lechery. He also pulled his mouth away from its continual assault on her so he could look down and better see her soon-to-be-naked bounty, his teeth tearing at her skin as he did so. In that moment she managed no syllable, only a desperate intake of air. But her eyes opened long enough to see Anxan begin to fade from view.

At first she thought she was surely dying, that Pelor had heard her muffled plea and taken her life rather than let her endure the violence and shame of what Anxan intended. Then, however, she realized that although her surroundings had changed, she still felt the pain of her nearly dislocated shoulder and the savage bite the curate had inflicted on her bottom lip. Her scalp also ached because of how he had used her hair as leverage in controlling her.

Slowly, Iridni gathered herself up and found that her tormentor was nowhere to be seen. She was in a dark and misty place somewhere far from the Prelacy.


Spoiler: show

Title: Re: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 17, 2017, 07:54:31 PM
That the brutal transformation of and assault by Anxan quickly receded from the young girl's thoughts might surprise you. Although terrifying at the time—the loss of control, her helplessness to resist whatever the curate's intentions—Anxan's violence had lasted only moments and not inflicted its depraved objective. Iridni was young and impressionable, but also resilient. In the next few days and nights fresh horrors pushed Anxan down only into memory, once she was certain she was no longer anywhere near him.

About that: The mist of the Forests of Adri enveloped the two because of their bodily entanglement, but the target of the mist had not been Iridni at all, only Anxan. Whatever Dark Power sent the mist, Anxan's evil alone attracted its notice. Although the fog claimed Iridni as well, perhaps it had a spark of mercy about it in that through its device Anxan was separated from his innocent prey. He still lived, however, and unknown to Iridni had been deposited elsewhere in the Core.

Meanwhile, the acolyte of Pelor endured a more lasting and transforming change. Anxan's brutality was a dangerous bridge she traversed without falling. The land in which she found herself once across that bridge, however, was also a new life completely unlike the gentle days of joy she had known until now. Strangers surrounded her, most of them with manners and motivations distinct from the kind Pelorians who had filled her society previously.

Whereas she had grown to womanhood among people who almost to a soul had sheltered and provided for her—yes, even loved her—now she must begin to make her way without a single companion or kind face. She had no survival instinct for this new environment. Whether she could adapt at all and how much that adaptation would transform her into something completely unlike herself, only the days to come would reveal.


Spoiler: show

(Thanks to YA for creating the video.)
Title: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 21, 2017, 05:30:33 PM
For too long she had hidden behind others and relied on their strength. First Medea, then Master Yunon and the Kin, then Alistar. She had taken so much pleasure in the tranquility of the Lodge, interviewing recruits and welcoming new members. It was a place of ceremony and innocence within the cold and ugly cruelty of the Gray City. To her there could no superior use of one’s time than healing others and performing works of mercy and charity. Never having felt deprivation herself—her needs had always been minimal—she had little fear of want and thus no greed or the ambition it instilled.

Medea told her she had enjoyed too much happiness in her young life.

A time came to stop acting like a wide-eyed girl, and once she had killed—as much as she repented of it—she could never feel as pure in Pelor’s light as before. She craved the chance to make amends besides the penance Father Miklos gave her. She listened in horror to hear one after another of the Kin fall in defeat before the Death Singer, even Alistar, Anya, and finally Sir Audric—all of whom she knew to be mightier warriors than she.

Finally, there were the stinging words of Rodica, who accused the Kin of treating the vampires with too much caution while her fellow garda died defending Vallaki. The one-eyed corporal charged Iridni with changing the demeanor of the Kin, making them pursue the vampires when weak, and altogether becoming more serious and aggressive in their approach.

As though Iridni did not take the Death Singer seriously enough: an undead abomination that had shown a macabre obsession with Iridni’s beloved and promised to deliver her decapitated head to him. Now both the garda and the Death Singer had threatened her life, although Master Zephyr’s intercession had succeeded in removing the executioner’s noose before it slipped too tightly around her neck.

It was of little import except to make her put away one more childish belief: that through her own effort she could build a bridge to anyone, no matter the chasm between. Despite her overtures toward Rodica, despite the Kin’s gifts to support garda families and buy garda equipment, Iridni was nothing more than an expendable pawn to sacrifice even unto death in games of power, status, and revenge.

Nevertheless, Iridni promised Zephyr not to judge but only to redouble her efforts at understanding the point of view of a woman who had given so much to her duty.

She could, after all, appreciate Rodica’s loyalty to her fellows, but for her the ring of companionship encircled and drew others to her through the bonds of fondness and love. It was not bestowed simply by belonging to an organizational structure that then regarded everyone outside it as worthy only to be suspected and even despised. She could never love the garda—especially those who abused and bullied anyone weaker than they—as Rodica did.

It was not for their sake as garda she would risk the night again. No, she grieved for anyone who perished because the Kin had failed so many times to stake these two devils. That she had fallen before the Death Singer and left Master Yunon to face the nightmare bardess alone—her aged teacher the only barrier between her prone form and the beast’s desire to feed—that was enough incentive to spur her again into the darkness.

It was time for her to defend rather than be defended.

Title: Re: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 26, 2017, 12:58:30 PM
The Lodge was quiet except for the slow crackle of the fire and the clicking of Adeline's nails on the hardwood floors as she paced back and forth with her old dog's intuitive concern that something troubled the young woman. Only the fire brightened their shared darkness in the expansive room.

Iridni gazed at the indifferent fire and thought how misunderstood both darkness and light were, negative and positive energy. The undead could go on forever, draining from the living what they needed. But she like other living creatures of light was the wood the fire consumed to warm and brighten the room. Once the log had been a seed, then a young sapling as she was, then—as she hoped to some season—it had borne fruit. Yet now it blackened and turned to smoke, allowing her to see for a time and protecting her from the chill of a Barovian winter that engulfed all of Vallaki in ice and snow.

Although through the Dawn Father she each morning revived stronger than the day before, it was only for her light for a time to glow brighter and serve others more. Over the course of her life her service would wither her and leave of her nothing but dust.

She felt this truth so keenly as her heart ached for her quarreling Kin. Not so long ago voices filled with high-flown ideals had echoed in these walls and beloved faces had brightened the darkness for one another. Those same voices now spoke from hurt and pride and with anger. Trying to balm them left her spent, seeking Adeline's undemanding company.

Those older than she—Masters Yunon and Zephyr—had often warned her about not allowing the land to change her, not letting it seep into her. She was learning that preventing that was much harder than she had expected. In her naiveté she believed she must subdue only her own ego and live a life of complete personal sacrifice to thwart the realm's corruption. Yet evil was insidious, turning one's positive affections to its hateful purposes. Even the love she felt for so many of her Kin could be used to twist her own soul.

Must she choose sides? She would not because—even though she felt in her heart who had the wiser argument—it was more important to her not to leave any she loved abandoned to the shadows. Even if one served an absolute truth as she did, having the last word was not worth severing the bonds between them.

You're a coward who wants to have it all, the darkness said to her. You compromise your most treasured values for fear of losing friends and affection.

No...choosing would be the easy, less painful path. To see things in black and white was not difficult: loving the perfect goodness of Pelor and destroying mindless, unredeemable undead had never been a challenge to her. Trying to stretch herself over the widening gaps that were tearing the Kinship asunder—that was what threatened her soul with despair.

If her voice was too young, weak, and inconsequential to bring peace, yet she also would not choose sides. She would let them war among themselves...and conserve what light she had for the healing that would be required in the aftermath.
Title: Re: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on April 12, 2017, 11:57:54 AM
Peace of a sort had come to the Kin, but it was the peace of ashes once a fire burns itself out.

All these angry egos with their loud voices and need to assert their dominance....

They would have their way for a while and in doing so believe they had triumphed, but only watery wine and stale bread would fill their voracious mouths. Just as Anxan had thought that if he could but conquer her body he would enjoy her in full, force would never win them the feast that remained hidden in the heart of the Kinship.

If being right and having the last say were what they most valued, let them have it. To Iridni such baubles were worthless. She would reserve the treasure she valued in secreted places until the barbarians lost interest, believing they had pillaged all, and only then would she reveal its sparkle once more to the Dawn's holy light.

You play on every weakness that you see in me
To make you strong...you were all along.


Spoiler: show
Title: Re: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on April 16, 2017, 04:24:28 PM

In Alistar's absence, Iridini could feel Medea reasserting herself over the young priestess. The wizard had grown ever more powerful until Iridni worried now whether the influence of that power would begin to corrupt her secretive friend. Already Medea thought nothing about stomping around the Western Outskirts in dragon form. Iridni knew that it was still Medea inside the ground-shaking beast, but only through much effort could she control her young fear, both of the thundering reptile that loomed over her and what might happen if Barovians saw the shape-shifted wizard. Had Medea learned nothing from her trial in Port-a-Lucine?

Because so much came easy to Medea, she was dismissive of all of Iridni's difficulties. She made no effort to hide her glee that Alistar had disappeared, and she had resumed her casually imperative tone with Iridni. Even on the subject of faith Medea--to whom all gods were equally useless except as comparative studies--asked that Iridni be similarly indifferent.

Why, for example, should Iridni care about stolen Ezrite artifacts? She had found much common ground between Pelor and the Morning Lord, but she did not wish to engage in a manhunt that might end in having to kill more Invidians, only to recover statues that to her were idols and anathema. Warden Agnes was Kin, true, but many Ezrites despised Outlanders such as herself, and "Inquisitors" seldom have tolerance for adherents of other faiths.

Even so, she had subdued, bound, and led the Invidian lookout back to Vallaki, little understanding anything he said or even what Master Yunon asked him. There she turned him over to Rodica, knowing it very likely the man would die for his "crimes," but what were his crimes except being a soldier? The Kin obeyed local law. In Invidia that would mean they, too, would have to obey a command to march to war. Or at least it seemed to her.

Perhaps if she could have understood the discussion the right path would have been clearer to her, but she relied on Master Yunon that what they were doing was just. She at least healed the lookout of the wounds she herself had inflicted on him, though he seemed to appreciate that little.

She and Medea ended the night searching for the missing Invidian captain. To do so required her to fight undead until her shoulder ached from swinging her weapon--worse when she awoke the following morning--but even this was less satisfying to her than in days past. Perhaps it was because they seemed to come from the Keep's walls as fast as she could kill them, so that the task appeared to have no end, but Iridni felt less certain she was doing Pelor's will for her than when she had stood against such hordes before.


Title: To Praise His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on April 27, 2017, 02:09:12 AM
And so she dreamed.

Did the Sun god she worshipped with all that remained to her send the vision of blessed solace to this young maiden who had endured one loss after another? Or was it yet one more delusion of the land she had been ensnared by?

I cannot answer, Beloved. I can but relate the tale as best I know.

She dreamed of Elysium...of Light's Blessing--of forgiveness for sins she never knew she had committed but must be the cause of her loss of her family, her home, her innocent belief in universal human worth and virtue...and now her holy captor, Alistar. What great wrong had she perpetrated that some dark power wished to cut at last even her faith from her fair bosom?

An orchard of golden apples...each luscious fruit having absorbed within it the brilliant bounty Pelor bestowed every morning without fail. She perceived a serpent-like worm would fain corrupt this harvest unless by her hand its vile canker was stayed.

She bore from a stately tree an apple to her mouth and greedily devoured it, the sweet juice running o'er her lips and even down her dainty chin. Although her short life before now had been one of utter restraint almost to deprivation, a voice in the dream bid her eat, and she did eat her fill. A fervor strengthened her limbs, her lithe arms that could embrace either a companion or her weapon and shield, her slender legs. The apple's sacred flesh caused her abdomen to swell with contentment.

She awoke, her ivory skin covered in a damp sheen upon which the moonlight danced. She was not in Elysium but in her small cot in the Lodge. And yet the dream had seemed more real than her present surroundings.

Youth of delight, come hither,
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born!


Spoiler: show
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0a/Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience_copy_AA_The_Voice_of_the_Ancient_Bard.jpg/300px-Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience_copy_AA_The_Voice_of_the_Ancient_Bard.jpg)
Title: Re: To Praise His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on April 28, 2017, 11:08:45 AM
Death drew nearer to her than at any time since she had felt Anxan's fingers around her throat and the descent of the Mist over her flailing form. With the evil curate the shock had been sudden—a realization of her own helpless mortality to an almost child who had seen little violence in her then 16 years.

Now she had watched life extinguished, often with indifference, until it was commonplace. Even a newborn infant would not draw breath for reasons she would never understand but she suspected were rooted in cruel feminine jealousy. That baby: Once she had practiced and planned for delivering new life into the world as part of her service to Pelor. Instead she prayed the ill-timed journey of the lamb's soul to Elysium, her healing powers helpless to restore the life taken or joy to the lives of the mourning—and now vengeful—parents.

She had wanted a flock of such to tend: believers to marry, heal their wounds and sicknesses, and help raise their children—along with her own. To nurture and lead gently into the light, rather than spend her days in gore-encrusted armor that weighed down her small frame while she wielded her over-sized weapon again and again, so often ineffectually, against the recurring tides of darkness.

She feared—yes, feared—to go to Port-a-Lucine. Three times vampires had defeated her and would have fed on her, and three times she had survived only through the help of her allies. In Port there would be two to face.

In Port-a-Lucine there would be no Medea, no Alistar, no Master Yunon, nor any of the others she believed would die to protect her as she would they. The City had refused the Wayfarers a charter and bristled at the prospect of the Kinship's interference. The locals would not welcome her presence: her armor, her clunking metal boots, her inability to speak their language. Her only friend was to be Mainane, and she was not sure that Mainane even liked her. Perhaps if Sora were to come...

Hestiana had warned her of ill portents and omens. But she had already been filled with foreboding every time the Kinship had sent her to Port-a-Lucine for far less dangerous reasons.

Iridni looked around the small area reserved to her in the common bunk of the Lodge and considered how little she would be leaving behind if she never returned. Had this land even ever been hers? She once felt so, in those heady days when the Kin had grown with friends like Valentine, and she had experienced the reassuring warmth of first love through Alistar.

She swept the room and made her cot as tidily as ever before kneeling by it:

In this as in all, Thy will be done, Father of Light.
I yield back to Thee all the gifts I owe and for which I have ever been unworthy,
Grant Thy servant only the courage to face this journey without fear,
Steady my trembling arm and still the coward within me that would undo my soul,
I ask this not to make Thy servant's path easier,
But that she might not sin against Thee and betray Thee...her undying Love.



Spoiler: show
Title: Re: To Serve His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 04, 2017, 11:52:25 PM
She was happy to be alive.

As she trod the lonesome road of winter back from the Tser Pool to Vallaki, the blood still flowed through Iridni's veins and warmed her heart. The cold caused it to flush her cheeks as it so often did when she felt embarrassed, and she smiled to herself at the thought of how she must look. In fact she nearly giggled aloud so great was her relief at how matters had turned in Port-a-Lucine.

She had barely reached the city gates when Mainane called to her and said they must go now, they had found the lair of the vampire Marcel Delacourte, and it was close by. Although Iridni's heart began to race in her fair breast, and she once more felt herself shrink within her bulky armor, yet she was also thrilled that the action had come so soon. She would not have to spend her days and nights in dreaded loneliness in this sophisticated city, a bumpkin blundering about while everyone sneered at her rustic dress and inability to speak or understand them.

Descending into the darkness, she found herself face-to-face with Alistar's one-time mentor Zachary, the warrior of Ilmater. He had with him his beloved Ravenna, and for a moment the recurring expressions of love between the two pained her, but then Iridni's better nature prevailed. After all, a love such as she had experienced ought not cause any hurt even when forced to memory, for was there a single shared moment she remembered spent in any emotion other than joy? No matter the turmoil within the Kinship, she and Alistar had never quarreled, spoken a cross word, or met the other's gaze except in mutual adoration.

The danger the group presently faced did not for long brook such nostalgic distraction. Added to their force's number was another woman whom Iridni learned only the first name of: Temperance. They scarcely had time for introductions before their foes were upon them, foul undead with chilling auras that caused Zachary to warn all against death magic.

One wave of the creatures seemed to blend into another, and before long their cold began to weaken and numb her. Two of her compatriots--Mainane and Temperance--disappeared beneath the onslaught, and Iridni felt herself giving in. She tried to back up and seek warmth, but it was too late. She could think of nothing but yielding herself over to the overwhelming cold.

Moments later, Ravenna hissed to her, "Don't make a sound," as she rubbed the fallen servant of Pelor's limbs to restore her circulation. Iridni stirred to find Zachary was upright as well, but both Mainane and Temperance had been carried away. In another moment, Iridni would have joined them as a captive of the depraved Marcel Delacourte.

They dare not tarry, knowing that Delacourte possessed their friends. The nearer they pressed to his secret chamber, however, the stronger his guardians proved. The last was the most fiendish of all, nearly felling Zachary many times, and it was all Iridni could do to use Pelor's healings on the knight rather than herself. She perceived that if the paladin died she and Ravenna would last alone but a moment. The loathsome undead seemed to realize this intelligence as well, focusing most of their energies on Zachary when but a fraction of their effort would have finished the small priestess.

Ravenna, in fact, instructed Iridni to flee, should she and Zachary perish, in hopes that the young maiden could at least bring aid back to them and ensure that the knowledge of the creature's lair not be lost.

Yet at last they had breached Delacourte's final defense. To Iridni's horror, the monster revealed himself to have been decapitated. He was plainly proud of his separated head as he thought it proved him to be invincible. He tried to parley by using the two women as hostages, but Zachary would have none of it.

Snarling, Delacourte slew Mainane and then used his dark magic to send her corpse against her band of would-be rescuers. More happily, Temperance remained bound and alive while Delacourte attacked.  As the monster and Zachary rushed upon one another, Iridni hasted the paladin, hoping that this small magic might provide the difference between the two terrible foes.

At last the dread fiend succumbed to the sword blows of the relentless knight. With its passing, the atmosphere of the dank lair immediately brightened as evil retreated from the place. The remaining band of allies burned all traces of the devil and his undead cohorts, then took Mainane's body into the city in hopes of restoring her to life.

Spoiler: show
(http://i.imgur.com/F7TgOIc.jpg)


So now Iridni could return home to the Kinship Lodge. Or at least it was as much of a home and family as remained to her. She did not even care when Medea met her and made fun of her dishevelled appearance...or that someone--Medea?--had left a dirty, dark ring around the bathtub she had so carefully scrubbed the day before leaving.

She drew the tub full of hot water, threw some of the lavender-foam-making beads Valentine had once stocked her with into it, and eased her brutalized body into the happy heaven. As the wet heat enveloped her, she thanked Pelor for sparing his timid servant this small piece of Elysium.
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 14, 2017, 11:19:33 AM
Weeks passed, yet the euphoria Iridni experienced after the destruction of Marcel Delacourte lessened not. She was the happiest she had been since her abduction into the Mists—happier even than when she had first joined the Kinship. Truth be told, her serenity was greater even than when Alistar had courted her.

Not that she diminished that time, regretted it, or was certain, if Alistar reappeared, her passion for him would not break the dam she had constructed brick by brick against it to once more overwhelm her: no, the difference now was that her mind and heart were undivided. Loving Alistar so much had caused her worry. Did he feel the same about her? Would he always feel the same about her? Would she know how to please him? Although he was patient with her and reassured her that she contented him, she knew whatever her visible form's promise she was not by her knowledge an exciting woman—a woman practiced in the skill of bringing a man's blood to boil.

She also could see Alistar's effect on all the women around him and not only her alone. She had no wish for a life poisoned by her own insecure worry of either a shattered heart or that he deprived himself of a more satisfying love only out of his paladin's sense of duty to her.

The more her feelings grew for him, the more these pangs of her own inadequacy had thwarted her bliss from being pure. Just as she felt undeserving of a god's love, she felt undeserving of a man she had come almost to idolize. She could not bear ever to see anger or disappointment toward her in Alistar's eyes.

In the warmth of the all-merciful Pelor, she knew her failures were forgiven, for well her god understood no flawed and unfinished girl could achieve His divine perfection. With Alistar in contrast, she had always worried she would transgress in a way that no mortal love could overlook and forgive. Perhaps she unknowingly had.

The nearness of her own death and escape from it, however, had centered her again, a lens focusing sunlight into a burning flame. For once in her young life, she bore something akin to confidence—not anything self-satisfied, arrogant, or egotistical but only a belief that her slow and steady steps did not stray, that the path she was walking was the one Pelor intended for her. She felt pure in heart, without jealousy or enmity toward a living soul—and without trepidation at any burden with which her god might task her.

A kernel of wheat is dry, barren, and hard until it falls into the earth. Only by surrendering its life does it rise from darkness, mature, and return the sunlight's love with many children.

Guide me, O Thou great Father,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Lift me with with Thy powerful hand.


Black hopelessness covered Barovia, but such was the soil in which Pelor had planted her. She would not tire until her sweat, blood, and sacrifice proved to her god she was fertile.

Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 16, 2017, 12:41:41 PM
The vampire in Port-a-Lucine postponed Iridni’s search for Lauel Martovich. Iridni sensed that Medea, in suggesting she seek out the blind woman, might finally agree with her that, despite the wizard’s vast knowledge and eagerness to teach, she (Iridni) could not learn more of her own calling from more lectures on arcane magic. Although the trip to Hazlan with Medea to hear Mr. Kelter, for example, had been informative, she perceived that those who dealt with the Weave in this fashion did so from intellect. They sought to understand and control, rather than to offer themselves up as servants.

From Medea’s description, Iridni expected Lauel to be a high-ranking priestess of the Morning Lord. She also came to understand how Lauel had lost her eyesight, a horror made more believable when Iridni heard rumors of what the garda had now inflicted on Erzsebet, a widow of one of their own. (Worse from Iridni’s personal perspective, Rodica had apparently stood by and consented to the mutilation of Erzsebet.)

All of Iridni’s disciplined efforts at seeing the garda in a more positive light were extinguished like a newly lit candle buffeted by a harsh gust of wind. She felt her stomach sicken now whenever they drew near, always travelling in packs and always with their cudgels at the ready, smacking their own sweaty palms in anticipation of the cruelty they looked for any excuse to unleash.

Both the unfinished business of Lauel and the unfinished business of Hjorta converged one night outside the Morning Lord Temple. Iridni came upon the two near the city gates. She identified Lauel at once by the scooped-out eye sockets and her yet undeterred confrontational demeanor with the heartless wight. Although Medea had told Iridni of Lauel’s strength, the Pelorian could not help but fear for her as her sightlessness made her appear so unaware of the danger by which she was menaced.

Likewise, Iridni felt guilt when she saw, finally, what Hjorta had become. Although she knew the woman had caused the death of a complete innocent, to see the gaping hole in Hjorta’s chest where her heart should be and to be aware that she was cursed with undeath drew pity from the young priestess. For in her own heart Iridni knew she had never tried to understand the troubled Hjorta before the witch’s descent into madness. In truth, the woman’s dark ways had frightened and repelled Iridni when they might have motivated her to bring Hjorta into the light. Whereas Iridni had experienced acceptance and love since coming through the Mists, Hjorta had endured only betrayal, rejection, and loathing.

Now it might be in the Pelorian’s power to help set right this evil.

“Hjorta, do you remember me from when you lived? Do you remember Net’lia and Cassandra?”

The fiend let drop the tiny humanoid from which she had just drained all life. She moaned and might have cried but her eyes could no longer produce tears.

Iridni was close enough now to Lauel to whisper to her and reassure her that no fresh enemy approached. “I come to you without weapon or shield, Hjorta. I come to tell you there is a way to lift the curse and have your heart restored.”

The wight’s demeanor changed completely…”Too much life!” she grunted.

Others gathered: Iridni’s old friend, Borval Skullbreaker, and a male Morning Lordian came out of the temple and stopped with open mouth.

[Omitted pending resolution of IG events.]

The negotiation complete, Borval hurriedly departed to his task. Hjorta seemed relatively calm, although she continued to cackle manically from time to time and mutter to herself.

Iridni waited only to make sure the wight would return to the shadows without harming anyone and in hopes of talking to Lauel, but then a thunderous sound shattered the night’s tenuous truce: something began to summon one undead after the other. Was it Hjorta? Was this the significance of her muttered laughter?

Iridni retrieved her weapon, and she, the male Morning Lordian, and Lauel took to battle. Although unprepared and facing a strong enemy, the three prevailed easily. Yet even before they could relax their guard, huge stones erupted from the ground and a still louder noise such that they were almost knocked off their feet split the night air.

In terror Iridni saw a mighty Balor rise over her like a tree over a blade of grass. Thanks be to Pelor, it was for the moment disoriented by its new surroundings. “Inside!” she yelled to the others and ran for the safety of the temple. Looking behind her, however, she saw the blind figure of Lauel being pursued by the now alert Balor and observed that the woman’s sightlessness made her helpless to find escape. Though on the threshold of the church, Iridni did not hesitate but turned about to challenge the towering monster.

She flung herself at the demonic evil with all the strength contained in her small body. In response, she felt it unleash a blast of necromantic energy more deadly than she had ever before experienced and that wracked every young cell of her with overwhelming pain.

Without uttering a sound the destroyed Pelorian crumpled face-down on the earth.
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 18, 2017, 01:35:49 AM
As much time as it had required Iridni to develop self-confidence, it did not take this land long to undo it. The Balor's easy crushing of her she might have consoled herself past. Could anyone expect a 17-year-old girl (who, without Pelor's aid, could barely support the weight of her own armor) to defy a great tanar'ri from the deepest pits of of the Abyss...and live? Blessed by Pelor in preparation for its assault, Iridni might have withstood its necromantic death magic, but that would have led only to an equally one-sided physical beating.

She came to with Constantine (the male Morning Lordian who had joined her in battle) hovering over her. He had been able to heal her while she yet breathed because the Balor had left her to continue its pursuit of Lauel. They staggered inside the temple, Iridni in pain and bleeding as they sought shelter.

After but a few moments, a battered Lauel pushed the door open with her one good shoulder and joined them. Her other arm had been almost ripped off, and her eye sockets ran with fresh blood. "The Balor did this, but Hjorta...preserved me," she managed almost ready to collapse yet from her injuries.

Seeing Lauel's condition and hearing of Hjorta's  actions, Iridini forced herself to stand. "I must perform the errand I promised Hjorta. This will reassure her of our good faith, and what I have sworn to her about the curse is true."

Constantine stayed the Pelorian. "Please don't leave at least until Dawn."

She tarried that much, appreciating the wisdom of the Light Carrier's words: "I don't want you to have to drag me in here again," she smiled.

As soon as Pelor's light greeted the land, however, she set about writing a message to the rest of the Kin--particularly Anya--and trying to convey to Net'lia and Cassandra the wish of Hjorta to take leave of them before the wight was delivered of her heart.

And to her eternal rest.

After posting the summons, Iridni--exhausted and her young body still in agony--sought healing sleep in her small bed at the Kinship Lodge. She barely managed to unclasp the metal of her armor before crawling between the cot's thin sheets and falling into the most innocent of deep slumbers. When she awoke, night had again descended, and she was unsure of how much time had passed.

Oh, Iridni, you lazy girl....Stir your bones, or you'll let the world burn!

She dressed, patted a whimpering Adeline, and hurried to the Outskirts, only to hear that Hjorta had struck again, this time murdering an Elven woman.

At that description, Iridni's heart sank, and all her new self-confidence drained from her body.

What kind of naive fool trusts an undead abomination? Certainly not a wise servant of Pelor!

The Elf had been taken into the Lady's Rest. Iridni's trembling hand reached for the inn door in the darkness and pushed it open, her violet eyes fearful to gaze upon the evil deed her good intentions had wrought.

The next sunrise would find her feeling more uncertain than ever of herself and her ability to serve Pelor's mercy in this unmerciful land.


Spoiler: show
(http://i.imgur.com/X1ALd21.jpg)
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 21, 2017, 01:37:09 PM
Father Miklos was dead. The weathered Morninglordian would counsel the young Pelorian no more, he who had helped Iridni regain her footing and purpose after she took a human life and who had also hinted to her of an unspeakable truth drawn from a forbidden book. Often when the Kin argued and warred among themselves, she thought of removing herself for good to the Village of Barovia, where the need for light remained so unfulfilled. Now, regardless of the rumors about Father Miklos's dissolution in his waning days, in his absence that want would be all the greater. Perhaps she could persuade Brianna to join with her so that the two servants of Pelor would not have to labor alone in such an overgrown vineyard.

Iridni would remember the priest full of fire and righteous rage after the Rittmeister's ghastly assault on Anya and was heartened at least not to have that vision clouded by this servant of the light reduced to a mindless undead husk. She wept.

As one by one those she loved—those who were lights in her life here—vanished from her sky, she felt continually colder and alone. She became more dependent than ever on Pelor and her faith, but she was still human, and she could not have her need for a helpmate met by a being to whom all her troubles must seem insignificant and her thoughts and feelings childish.

Master Yunon at least had returned from his scholarly pursuits in Port-a-Lucine. Speaking with him, however, was only a measure better than praying to Pelor. He was human, of that there was no doubt, he and his bad leg, his anger and impatience with sloth and error, his often bawdy humor. Yet the man's gaze was always on the celestial, and his mind strode easily over paths she could not even manage to crawl. Moreover, as a man, despite his power, he could and would die. Time and again she warned him about the chances he took, which made her feel all the sillier given their relative ages and power.

Still, she could not help thinking of him when she first heard the news of Father Miklos. No one was safe from this tide of darkness as it rolled toward zenith in Vallaki.

Would it drown her as well? Perhaps. She hardly knew whom to trust anymore. Of late she had taken to Medea's trick of moving about in the ethereal for both safety and a desire to be alone with her thoughts. In such a state, however, she also learned more and more of human nature when it believes it's not being observed.

If Father Miklos in private was different than Father Miklos in public, he, like Iridni and so many she observed unseen, was only human, frail...and mortal.


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(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/Jakub_Schikaneder_-_Murder_in_the_House.JPG)
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 25, 2017, 01:58:04 AM
Her love had returned to her.

In calmer moments when she reflected upon it, Alistar's appearance at the lodge had been almost unremarkable, but then did the presence of any person signify much to those who did not love? How often a soul departed this land with little notice, when for a husband, wife, parent, or child that life meant all light extinguished. In an anonymous crowd, the person observed serving no present function but to slow a line's progress may well be the difference between bliss and misery to someone unseen.

The graves beyond the Morninglord church or behind the Lady's Resting place, many eyes passed over them and noted nothing but the names on the tombstones. Yet once upon a time each body buried there bore a universe within its mind: just as girlish Iridni could reflect on both the terrestrial and the celestial, a light that from one small and somewhat ignorant youth touched (at least) the shores of all human knowledge. Could she understand the books that Master Yunon read and spread before her? She could barely understand the titles.

Nonetheless, she could absorb something of them--some significance or meaning. Apart from her and other consciousnesses those books were artifacts: unintelligible ink blotches on tree pulp. To view life solely in material terms was to reduce all to meaninglessness.

She pushed this wisdom of morbidity from her. Alistar had returned. That must be the object of her focus. His absence had made life simpler, her will undivided as she could serve Pelor without distraction or even any part of her in reserve. Yet...

She was so very lonely in her service. And seeing Alistar again she was certain once more that her love was a thing of light, not of darkness. Not for one moment was she angry at him as he stood in the Lodge at a loss for words, confused as though having awakened from long sleep. Although she had suffered for so long without comfort herself, she wanted only to rush to his embrace and offer him her protection and her certainty. He seemed her own boy who in the confusion of blackest night needed her reassurance that some pure light only his remained to him, something that would always encompass him with unconditional love.

Words and even action failed her. If only...if only he could perceive her and her depth of feeling for him, her capacity for love, from gazing into her eyes. If there were some way for mortals to meld their spiritual essences as did the gods, then...then there would be no chance of misunderstanding.

She rested in her cot that night intoxicated with something stronger than schnapps. O my Divine Father, Thy servant praises Thee for Thy many gifts and blessings. I ask a boon: that Thou let me forget all the pain and sadness this love has wrought. Renew it afresh as Thou renews all at Dawn. Make my heart uncalloused and unscarred...mended and  ready to be broken once more. For only then is it worthy to receive what Thou hast provided me.


Spoiler: show
Title: Re: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 30, 2017, 12:34:37 PM
The soapy water ran across the worn hardwood boards of the Lodge in rivulets before and behind the thrusts of the bulky sponge. In her loose, fading frock and on her hands and knees, the ebon-haired girl little resembled that priestess of Pelor who struggled to fill a suit of steel and wield—instead of a mop—a massive war hammer. The fumes of the cleaning solution made her slender throat itch and her violet eyes tear.

Even so, she remained cheerful in her labor for here and now she felt mistress of her small domain. Wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, she could see the steady improvement her perspiration wrought and the immediate fruits of her exertion, although most would consider her accomplishment small.

The mindlessness of cleaning also granted her time to think. She was not brilliant, she knew, but she did have wisdom beyond her years, and this wisdom increased daily with her life experience and under the influence of her many teachers.

One of those, Father Miklos, was missing forever now. Even in his death, however, he had taught her a harsh lesson. Despite all the threats and boasts of the garda, his convicted murderer was alive and free. Justice in Barovia—the good rewarded, the evil punished—would never come through civic means. It would come only from the continuous, relentless, and thankless work of those willing to roll up their sleeves and endure kneeling in the grime and chafing their own hands to wipe the filth from the purity it would otherwise corrupt.

Often now, she thought of how she had come through the Mists, Anxan, and what the prelate had attempted—above all the fearful feeling of his grip constricting her breath from her. The brutality her Kinswoman Anya had endured at the hands of the Rittmeister naturally brought her own assault to mind.

In her eulogy at the funeral of Father Miklos, Iridni had described his rage that night. That recollection necessitated she visualize also the incitement of his righteous anger: a face of virtue and beauty pulverized, all of Anya’s teeth smashed from her mouth until she could not speak without gurgling blood. Anya had been so ashamed of what had happened to her—nothing that she had herself done—of her broken body, that she had not wanted Sir Audric to see her.

These streams of memory mixed inseparably—like the dirt, soap, and water as Iridni cleaned—with her own encounter thereafter with the Storyteller vampire. She recalled how he had in his etherealness snaked between her legs, seeming to caress her sensitive thighs, and how he had disparaged her for being a woman. She knew from when she and Agnes had fought him that he sought some particular female prey for something vile and unholy.

She paused and looked at the disagreeable puddle spreading out in front of her to think of this poor unknown woman who might even now be in his clutches. Simultaneously, she hated herself for valuing her appearance, of wanting to preserve the face that when seen reflected in a mirror contented her. She believed she was willing to die in service to her god; why did vanity make her a trembling coward?

If it came to it, would she be as strong and resilient as Anya had been? What of Lauel who had lost her very eyes? Had the Storyteller disfigured Iridni or should her service wither and even maim her, did she possess the inner beauty to inspire and preserve love?

Her small, delicate hands were red from the water’s heat, yet they had lost none of their girlish smoothness as between them they wrung her sponge over the bucket and resumed their scrubbing.
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 07, 2017, 05:08:37 PM
Iridni's tongue clung to the roof of her mouth with the taste of iron, her head ached, and within the shell of her breastplate her lower abdomen twinged as though a dull spear pressed hard against her. All of these omens bid her stay in rest and privacy at the lodge, rather than attend the Fifth Day Services. Yet she felt that to grow in and strengthen her own faith she must observe the practices of others who strove toward the Light, regardless of the differing aspect of it they perceived. Her Kinswoman Agnes Gauthier, after all, was an Ezrite, and Pelor charged His believers with serving all creatures of goodwill—not only those who worshipped the Sun Father.

The opulence of the heavenward-reaching cathedral overwhelmed her, as she moused to an inconspicuous seat from which to observe the sacred ceremony with as little intrusion upon the Ezrite faithful as she could manage. She much appreciated the steadfast protection provided by the steel boots Master Yunon had forged for her, but on occasions such as this they made her feel all the more uncoordinated and graceless.

How she missed participating in the plain rites of her girlhood in Almor before she had ever donned a warrior's garb! At least the service was to be in Common. Looking about those in attendance in their distinctive finery, she could not help but contrast their strange and reserved faces with those of a welcoming Pelorian throng—the latter's simple but colorful clothing celebrating the flowers that were the bounty of their god's light. She visualized also her smiling mother and father and wondered if they could still be as joyous in their service now, without her, or if their young daughter's inexplicable disappearance had left them as forlorn as she.

The man known as the Inquisitor began to wave a censer, and the scent of ritual filled the air of the cathedral. The pungent odor disagreed with Iridni, and in addition to her other symptoms she began to experience nausea.

Viorela, the Inquisitor’s wife, stood to speak. This marriage was a blessing: two oxen pulling in the same yoke. Thinking of Alistar, Iridni felt a small pang of envy of the Ezrite priestess, made worse by the present flux of her own weepy emotions. Was her discomfort not a reminder of her own unfulfilled womanhood and childlessness?

Iridni became aware she was wringing her hands together in her lap and stopped. She listened.

Yes, this doctrine was sound, and she found no fault in Viorela’s appeal to join against the dark host of the legion—although for the Pelorian that host included the many other agents of evil like suffering, disease, poverty, and famine, not only those that took a monstrous form. Her gaze once more swept over the massive cathedral and the many resplendent attendees.

Now Viorela extolled Ezrite creeds and Ezra herself. Such dogma was a bridge too far for Iridni. The Pelorian could not worship another human being or believe one could by her own will and choice elevate herself to godhood. Iridni was certain Ezra was not her guardian or advocate, but only Pelor. Likely Ezra had been but a woman much like she wished she could be: a self-effacing, self-sacrificing servant to the Good. Those who had benefited from Ezra's service had in their gratitude no doubt made the all-too-human mistake of turning her into an idol.

In a way, the Ezrite faith was a tragedy because it venerated the instrument of light—the lens that had brought the light into focus—rather than the light itself.

Here, then, was a lesson for Iridni. Although her two human arms ought never to tire of the present work needed, her mortal eye must cast its gaze always on the horizon and the rising sun, on the immortal. The hungry must be fed, but they would grow hungry again, and the bread she might provide them would nourish only their bodies. The poor would always be, their needs waiting to be met. This ceaseless labor was not an end but the means of eternal service, hers and of the servants of Pelor who came before and would follow after her. It was provided to them so that they could learn the infinite nature of love.

Love alone endured.

Ezra had passed away, and some day Iridni would as well. All that would remain of her would be that light, that inextinguishable love, that had burned within and through her while she lived.

Viorela called the congregants forward as the service became more participatory, each believer expected to offer up a request in prayer. Iridni wished neither to dishonor their faith nor her own. The point of the unseen spear pressed deeper and with more severity into her entrails, and so she departed the cathedral to hasten back to the solace of her quiet lodge.

Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 20, 2017, 10:33:37 AM
When a woman makes an altar cloth, so far as she is able, she makes every flower as lovely as the graceful flowers of the field, as far as she is able, every star as sparkling as the glistening stars of the night. She withholds nothing, but uses the most precious things she possesses. She sells off every other claim upon her life that she may purchase the most uninterrupted and favorable time of the day and night for her one and only, for her beloved work....If another, in the endless distance of the separation, above his own self, has completely forgotten the needlewoman and what was hers to do—it was allowable, it was proper, it was duty, it was a precious duty, it was the highest happiness of all for the needlewoman to do everything in order to accomplish what was hers to do; but it was a trespass against God, an insulting misunderstanding of the poor needle-woman, when someone looked wrongly and saw what was only there, not to attract attention to itself, but rather so that its omission would not distract by drawing attention to itself.
—Sören Kierkegaard, "Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing"

Alistar had left the Kinship. Iridni was unsurprised: despite her age and lean intellect, empathy was the wisdom with which her god had blessed her beyond her years. She could not love Alistar so without understanding him as she did. When told of Roland’s latest offense, she had known with immediacy and cruel certainty how her beloved would react.

She also in love could not hold his personal loyalty against him, though it cost her own happiness. When the garda had sentenced her to death, Alistar had, after all, encouraged her to flee with him from Vallaki. He had been willing to give up much for her sake and become an outcast, even when their love was coltish in its early spring, whereas Roland was Alistar’s boon companion of many seasons and years. Steele was Alistar’s only connection to a life before the Mists. Whatever justifications Alistar might write in his resignation letter about Tyr and oaths, they were only secondary she felt sure to his need to stand true to his friend.

She was resolved not to fault him in her solitary hurt, but she nonetheless feared for him. She and Alistar balanced one another and mended the other’s flaws, but Roland would reinforce Alistar’s hot temper and zeal for justice. Iridni recalled, for example, how she had secreted the maimed prostitute away to Port and provided her money to start a dress shop in hopes Alistar would not give in to his urge to kill the madam abusing her. Roland would only have encouraged Alistar that the two paladins take matter into their own hands.

As Steele’s influence ascended, Iridni's ability to protect Alistar from himself and those qualities this realm would twist to work against him would wane. Already it had used his unflinching loyalty to deprive him of a safe haven of companionship.

She wept at her own weakness. She was no Ezra, no goddess. She could not be a guardian of men or even one man, no matter her devotion to him.

She was but a woman.

Create in me a pure heart, Pelor, and renew a right spirit within me. Thy sacrifices are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart that Thou, my God, will not despise.
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 23, 2017, 04:42:43 PM
The dread realm did not delay in giving form to the maiden's fears.

Blessed dawn found Iridni in the company of Dextan, the druid who believed in a hierarchy of life between predator and prey but who was investigating the vampires terrorizing the Outskirts, as was she. She still felt uncertain of the savage figure, having helped him when he first came to the Mists, although repelled by his brutality toward wildlife and his complete lack of the more tender emotions. The two were looking for Argali when Iridni received the news: the garda had arrested Alistar and imprisoned him in the Citadel.

She repaired to the Lodge with her friends and Kin to learn the details in private. Hearing the charges, she recalled all that Father Miklos had revealed to her and understood at once the tenuous position in which her beloved had placed himself. When she was told that he was not under death sentence but only to be mutilated--his tongue cut out--she looked skyward to thank her god for Alistar's life and felt a cold composure coming over her. She knew what she must do.

Spoiler: show
(http://i.imgur.com/HsfqIx1.jpg)


Dextan began to promise Iridni that his healing arts could restore a man's tongue, but she could not countenance that image of her strong Alistar bound and suffering under the knife of some sadistic garda. The brute would no doubt derive a perverted cruelty from having Alistar in his power and listening to her paladin's cries of agony. Nor could she trust in the blessings of some unknown nature deity whose worship seemed otherwise to her barbaric.

She left the others to go upstairs and change from her armor into the softest garments she possessed. To plead for Alistar she would need to look as non-threatening and even helpless as she was capable.

When they arrived at the gates, they met Rodica going in, and Iridni's hope grew by some small measure. She knew Rodica was ruthless, but they were no strangers to one another, and however Rodica might comport herself on the outside, she was still a woman like Iridni on the inside. She must have at some point in her life experienced powerless fear for someone she loved. Moreover, at least Iridni would not be called upon for Alistar's sake to flirt and pretend to find some male garda attractive and agreeable when he only disgusted her.

She told Rodica whom she sought, and the Corporal went inside. After a few moments, Rodica came back to peer at them through the gates: "He's not here."

Iridni prayed again in muted thanks to Pelor. Surely if Alistar were punished, the garda would have done so publicly so as to make of him an example. If her beloved were free, he must also be safe and whole.

She looked upon those who had accompanied her with relief and immense gratitude for their support. Her heart was not free of its burden, however, as she knew that for now this was to be her lot in life: always between the peaks of despair and in the valley of fear for what rashness Roland's influence might bring. She could hope only that while Alistar was imprisoned, he had not felt alone and abandoned to his fate.


Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 28, 2017, 01:41:06 AM
The hour was late when Iridni returned to the Lodge. She felt uncharacteristically giddy, in part from the easy triumphs over the undead in Har-akir. She enjoyed how fearlessly smashing her hammer into the ancient mummies of Anubis took her mind off her sea of troubles...and ended them.

Sora informed her that Alistar had been absolved of all charges: some anonymous Banite had falsely accused her beloved. Damn that lying heathen to the darkest and most painful circle of hell!

Oh my Alistar!...how I would shelter you if it remained within my power. Yet Iridni knew of truths that would bring much worse judgment upon herself if she uttered them within hearing of the wrong ears, much more fatal to her, in fact, than the sentence Alistar had faced.

For tonight, however, it mattered not. She rejoiced to gaze upon all her loyal Kin and others who together moved easily and in triumph against the undead hordes. And she gave thanks that Alistar—whether or not he still thought of the youthful maiden who loved him beyond her own self—was safe.

Yes, she put her loneliness out of mind and thought only of Pelor's will. In modesty she undressed to her sleeping gown and retired to her narrow cot to pray: “My heavenly Father, Thou blesses Thy servant beyond her worth. Though I cannot repay such munificence, I swear myself to slavery. But command, and know that Thy most wretched and humble of servants shall perform Thy will to her utmost...even unto death.”


Spoiler: show
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on July 02, 2017, 07:29:36 PM
Although Iridni had no desire for elevation and asked not to be set against her beloved Sorayanna in such a contest, she lacked the temerity to refuse the united opinions of Sir Audric, Master Yunon, and Sora herself that she stand for Audric's Second. Still, she voted for Sora, believing not from personal affection alone her sister more worthy but also because Sora had been in the Kinship far longer and accomplished far greater deeds of both bravery and generosity than she.

Iridni was now a Second even so and would (with Pelor's blessing) do what she could to earn her undeserved honor. What she lacked in brains and talent, she would try to make up for with elbow grease or gentleness—depending on which the situation demanded.

In the meantime, she at last saw Alistar again and discovered that, in spite of all her fears for him, the paladin was little changed. His experiences with the garda and departure from the Kin had not darkened the light she knew shone within him. He sought only to comfort and reassure her, never giving voice to any anger at the injustice he had suffered from the Banite's false accusation. He asked of her not her understanding but her forgiveness, the solitary boon she possessed in abundance, and so she lay bare her heart to him once more. To her delight, Alistar also spoke well of the Kinship to their new recruit, Ionathan Arna, and encouraged the reserved local to join.

All in all, then, Iridni was much happier than she had been in recent times, watching new Wayfarers come to the Lodge to replace depleted ranks. She was no longer one of them—gazing for the first at a place of safe repose in a land marred everywhere by evil. Nevertheless, she well remembered what it was like. Medea hardly seemed interested in her these days, but Iridni would always think of the eccentric wizard as that vigilant soul who had pulled a floundering girl from waves that were beyond her strength to navigate and into this homey harbor. She was no Medea, yet she could extend a like hand that would form a new link in the Kinship's growing chain of aid to those misplaced by the Mists.

Similarly, she had not seen Master Yunon face to face in a long age, although she always asked after him of the others and giggled when Sora reassured her “the old man” was well. It was clear he still busied himself in the archives from his reports and how the files were as organized and neat as Iridni tried to keep the rest of the Lodge. She would need to mention to him the powerful herbalist, Sadie, who wanted to become an Erudite, when they next met.

The single continuous thread winding through the Lodge's chain was Adeline. Medea might joke about replacing the dog with a cat or even a pig, but without a doubt Adeline had seen Wayfarers forged long before Medea and would welcome them long after both she and Iridni were rust. For that—a devoted, unchanging companion she could love unreservedly without the fear of ever having to mourn her loss—Iridni was grateful.
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on July 15, 2017, 01:23:14 AM
Sleep was sweet welcome release after serving Pelor to exhaustion at Richfest. Although the discovery that a deacon of Iridni's god preached in these abandoned realms had been a restoring bath in the holy light of the Dawn, she yet found that she pushed herself more and more beyond her capacity to serve. Those who had been her human bulwarks receded from her it seemed: Alistar, Master Yunon, Sora, and often even Medea.

There was Argali and from time to time Master Zephyr, both keeping her from feeling completely on her own. She also knew that she was developing an attraction that she must and would suppress. Perhaps Pelor was testing her, for so little wrong in life had ever tempted her before now. Without temptation, how could virtue prove itself?

The Lodge...always the Lodge. She relied on the simple cot it provided her to restore her body and soul, craving it yet depriving herself because she knew its respite was what she had come to most value for herself. For that reason, it was the most arduous and therefore most pleasing to sacrifice.

She would stand for the Lodge's sanctity just as it sheltered and protected her, holding her within its solid yet freeing walls—until she drifted off to safe dreams of Almor, her mother, her father, her small sister. Dear Pelor, how she missed them! As for this new dream, what of it? She strove to live in purity all her waking hours: when blessed light receded and she found herself alone in the darkness, her mind beyond her ability to control, must she still sear from it even the tiniest of weaknesses?

She shook herself. Let the night keep to its own and not intrude on the day. Thinking too much on the false fantasies of dreams, giving them too much importance, that would turn temptation into risk.

Her days—and often her nights—were too busy for such dalliances and silly musings. The Gaping Wound...why had she crossed the threshold of such a place? Pelor had healed many through her hands and restored Merna to life, but even the memory of all the senseless violence made her want to wretch. To see Argali pummeled like insensible meat by that flesh-worshipping cad hurt her as though she herself had endured the savagery of his blows.

The hope that Desdemona would appear there and could be questioned about Merna proved a false one.

While Iridni slept, Rodica had destroyed DuValle. That should make the corporal content for now and relieve some of the external pressure on the Kinship. Within, it already had as many challenges as her young wisdom could manage.

She would pour the balm of herself out on these troubled waters as only a Pelorian could, always holding close to her those who most needed comfort and pleading against any who would injure them. Pleading. Yet if it came to it, she would turn, stand, and fight for her den against any who would despoil its holy sanctity. For it was the only home, the only temple, the girl had.


Spoiler: show
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on July 25, 2017, 07:02:13 PM
Iridni removed her clerical robes and held the sacred garment for a moment in front of her slight but comely form. She had recently dyed the leather apron to a golden yellow more befitting a priestess of Pelor, and the compliments she had received since gladdened her more than they ought because she felt so keenly her lack of any creative or artistic skill. Only she knew who had first stitched her holy robes—a prostitute Iridni had helped to, as a seamstress, redeem her life.

The raven-haired Almorian hung the ceremonial attire next to the other two outfits she possessed: her casual frock (for when she was caring for the Lodge or receiving guests here) and her heavy steel armor that always seemed to overmatch her and make her feel and look like a turtle. Beside her sturdy armor leaned the new shield Master Yunon had made for her to replace that destroyed in pique by the Storyteller. Again she beamed, appreciating the symbol of Pelor with which Yunon had so kindly emblazoned it.

Her three outfits encompassed all there really was to the young woman: priestess, domestic, and warrior. Soon she must don her armor and go to Port-a-Lucine once more to face the vrolock threat. Today, however, was an occasion for wearing her frock and cleaning. She slipped it over her bare shoulders and let the muslin fabric cascade down the length of her. It was snug about her hips but otherwise perfect for the chores she faced.

As was her wont, she aired her mind while airing the Lodge, including the bearskin rug so many of her Kin—including Adeline—seemed to favor as a place of rest.

She thought of how gentle and humble the Lance Corporal had acted when Pelor joined him to his bride, only to sink immediately back into ugly cruelty toward his fellow man. She was glad not to have been there to witness the beating he delivered. Men…men were all such divided creatures, divided against themselves most of all perhaps. The more she knew of them, the more she understood this self-contradicting impulse that was in Sir Audric and even her beloved Alistar.

It was so much more serene to have a unity of purpose as she did, to desire only to serve Pelor. As she watched those around her, even those she loved, time and again she observed in her youthful wisdom how enslaved they were to conflicted desires. Dextan had once asked her how was it she alone remain so unchanged by the Mists, by Barovia, by the darkness…so lacking in temptation. She could not answer him then, but now she thought she knew: only by willing but one object, having one goal, could a heart remain pure. Because she desired nothing more than to serve her god, nothing could fracture the diamond soul that was at the core of all her soft and vulnerable exterior. Though often still timid in her conduct, day by day, night by night, she grew less and less to fear that which could destroy the flesh as long as her spirit remained whole.

Having secrets…that was a mistake, because then one feared to have the secret revealed. She would have none. Nor would she seek power because, once gained, one feared to lose it. Romantic love? How many had such feelings undone?

She would, finally, not lust any more for companionship, the greatest temptation to her in her loneliness when she had first felt Pelor’s absence. Whatever as a woman her desires for love, marriage, and family, she would forever set those aside now, having realized that nothing else she had ever forsaken had truly been a sacrifice. Alistar’s absence made the decision easier, naturally, that and that the only other man she had ever felt the slightest attraction to was happily taken. But unless she gave up that which was most dear to her—becoming a wife and mother—she could not offer her god what he most desired: her utmost. She would marry others in His name, but she herself would never marry. She would bring many babies into the world and care for many children in His service, but none of them would be her own.

Once outdoors, she relished beating the rug with all her strength and seeing the wisps of dog hair, lint, and dust fly away on the Barovian wind. Though the effort seemed to make the twin turquoise seas of her eyes to water, yet it was but for a moment. Then..then the ivory-skinned maid was content as she watched the nothings of the past vanish.


Spoiler: show
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 04, 2017, 09:34:02 PM
I have no thought of leaving...I have no fear of time.
Spoiler: show

At the darkened crossroads a bone-tired Iridni Ren held her warhammer aloft and, using her weapons' glowing light, tried to make out the wording on the weather-beaten sign. If she proceeded east, she would travel to the Village of Barovia--an idea that returned to her whenever she felt the oppressive suffocation of Vallakian tyranny crushing the air from her young lungs. That remote, accursed hamlet had great need of Pelor's mercy, and it could be a fresh start, once she finished her current quest in Port-a-Lucine. Since Father Miklos's death, no one at all knew her in the village.

Yet her tiresome path for now must continue north, to the Tser Pool and the caravans. Her slender feet ached in her clunking boots, and the top of her breastbone felt tender where the rim of her armor had rubbed her flesh raw from too much walking. Though she wanted to do nothing but lock herself in the Lodge and mourn, she could not avoid her present duty: both Warden Agnes and Mainane expected her in Port-a-Lucine.

She had not planned to travel this slow, dreary way alone. She had hoped that Ionathan and Argali would be with her to make the miles more pleasant and full of their shared laughter. O Argali...where do you spend this night, my Elven sister? She took a deep breath to push the sadness down within her and keep her eyes dry. She knew Argali could take care of herself and was stronger than she, yet nevertheless she felt inexplicably anxious and fearful for her exiled Kin. Inside her breast her heart hurt worse than the chafed flesh above it to feel Argali cut off from their mutual family.

Although Iridni was alone for the moment, she knew if she desired she still had a place of warmth and welcome, a home to lay her head. Not so, Argali.

Iridni had left before Audric met with Argali to strip the woman of her amulet and key. Iridni told herself she had done so not out of cowardice but out of respect for Argali's pride so that she, Iridni, would not have to bear witness to Argali's yielding to the trustee her friend had come to despise. As much anger as Iridni felt toward the paladin now, if she had seen him in triumph humiliating her beloved comrade in arms while depriving the Kinship of one of its most valuable blades, she might never have been able to forgive him.

And a Pelorian must forgive.

What of Audric and Argali? Were they not both Christians, believers in many of the same tenets of Pelor? How could two sharers in a similarly mercy-filled religion have come to such an impasse? Iridni supposed she would never understand the faith of any but her own.

She recalled how her friendship with Argali had evolved--how when she had first seen the woman in the Lodge with Medea she had found the coldly chuckling and sophisticated Elf off-putting and even frightening. Argali had seemed to sense this, in fact, enjoying teasing and pressing the timid young Pelorian. Then, over time, Iridni had come to trust Argali so that whenever she most felt threatened she was reassured by the warrior's presence. Argali had been Iridni's encourager, her mentor, when Medea and Alistar both lost interest in her and Yunon had needed to spend time with the Erudites. The Elf's ready and generous praise had made Iridni more confident so that she could assert herself at the wedding and at the Moot.

They could disagree--about Jacob Dumerite and Master Zephyr, for example--but such was the honesty of their friendship: their respect and love balmed such differences.

Most of all Iridni wanted to weep from sadness that Argali might hurt with more severe pain because of her. The pleasurable company they had provided one another was simply another means of wounding them through enforced separation.

Iridni ground her teeth and pressed on.

Once at the Mist Camp, she was surprised that Io had neither waited for her nor gone to Port to meet Bri either. Instead, the gruff Half Vistani had taken a caravan to Har'Akir to raid the undead for stray treasure. He had not returned. She was also surprised at her level of concern upon hearing this last news, as she hastily veered from her intended route and boarded a caravan for Har'Akir herself, along with another priestess who seemed, if possible, even more soft-spoken than she and lacking Iridni's considerable presence.

After additional miles of trudging through the desert night, the two holy women found Io's body on the sand, his bow and arrows scattered about him. Whatever had killed him had left the remnants of her Kinsman to the jackals and the rising of the blazing desert sun. The two placed diamonds around Io, and the other priestess knelt to pray while Iridni stood watch in case his slayers returned.

Though she was not kneeling, nevertheless Iridni appealed to Pelor in whispered prayer, asking her god why she must continue to lose everyone and be cut off from any and all she developed affection for. Not Io, too! For despite the man's ugly appearance and coarse manner, despite the knowledge he was betrothed to her Pelorian sister, she had come to feel him more even than an adopted brother.

Why, my Shining Father, must I always pass through such troubled waters?

Within the unapproachable recesses of her mind's fortress, Iridni heard her god's words of comfort: “Because, my child, your foes cannot swim.”
Title: To Endure His Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 05, 2017, 01:01:58 PM
Ionathan and Iridni sat by the warm campfire in the Mist Camp while she waited for morning and the next caravan to Port-a-Lucine. The gods had granted him new life in response to the supplications of the two priestesses. Then he and they had fought their way back across the desert, putting many undead to rest and slaying a few of the devils that whipped up the sand to blind victims and strip flesh from bone.

Now, the night was peaceful, and the two Kin shared solitude together for the first time Iridni remembered. Always before at the Lodge and elsewhere they had been with others, whispering asides, rather than able to speak in complete freedom and without distraction. She opened her heart to him about Argali, Alistar, and so many of the other concerns weighing on her mind. Likewise, he spoke to her of Bri, and she hoped she helped him understand not only Pelorians but why Bri would find in him a lasting companion, a soulmate for life—though he doubted his own longterm worth to a woman and feared Bri only pitied him. Men...because their own attraction was so often inspired by physical appearance...even as fine a man as Io struggled to believe that Bri could love him easily for those qualities the eye would never see.

When a man's ego deceives him about the reasons he is loved, he will throw away a pearl of great price to grasp after dross. Iridni thought for the moment of Lexington, Aileen, and Merna.

Another Barovian, a formidable man whom Iridni found oddly menacing, approached and sat down at the fire, interrupting the two friends' intimate talk. Io knew him and called him Teodor. At first the three continued somewhat in the same romantic vein, discussing the subject of marriage, which Iridni always enjoyed and found a distraction from all that presently disturbed her. Teodor, however, gradually perceived Iridni's world view as much in conflict with his own—particularly her religious faith and valuing of mercy.

“Do you know of the Invidians?” he asked, and Iridni's paleness indicated little doubt she did.

“Yes,” she answered him. “The first human being I ever killed was an Invidian. I retched afterward and did forty days of prayerful penance.”

Teodor found this reaction incongruous. “You should not hesitate about killing them, as they would not hesitate to do the same to you. Or worse.”

“I have also had to turn an Invidian prisoner over to the Vallaki garda. What they likely did with and to him, I don't want to think about.” Iridni shook her head and then added when she saw his growing disdain for her merciful impulses, “But I'm not as soft as I once was.”

He continued to look at her with a critical eye and proceeded to describe in graphic detail his own history with the Invidians—and the numbers he had slaughtered without qualm. She had no desire to know whether the horrific body count he ticked off included women and children.

Iridni noticed that Io was dozing, doubtless fatigued from the healing of his wounds and the struggles thereafter. She used her companion's state as an excuse to cut short the uncomfortable drift of the conversation: “As soon as the morning caravan to Port-a-Lucine departs, I have a long journey to a dangerous destination, sir. Please excuse me if I take a bit of rest now.”

Teodor nodded but then whispered of a matter so that only she could hear, “When you return to Vallaki, I will certainly call upon you, Iridni Ren.”
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 05, 2017, 08:55:12 PM
For all that the Kinship fell out among themselves when idle, they set those disagreements aside when faced with external enemies. In Iridni's experience they always performed on a mission as a cohesive team, exhibiting genuine affection for and loyalty to one another and enjoying each other's company. Their sworn Code, after all, ordained they never leave another Kin behind. For that reason, the grumbling and bickering among the small group that approached the nobles' crypt made her uneasy. It did not help that much of the arguing took place in a language she did not understand or with passersby she had no idea who were.

The main source of friction seemed to be the gendarme with them, Sergeant Saskia Niederhauser, who Iridni gathered both Mainane and Agnes had no use for. Mainane was even less pleased when a higher ranking member of the gendarmes accompanied them for a while, but thankfully he was called away by a female civilian. Thus, only five of them arrived at the crypt they suspected of housing unspeakable horrors: Zachary Dalensbane, Warden Agnes, Mainane, Iridni, and Saskia. Although Iridni had little desire for the Inquisitor Martel's personal company and his heavy-handed manner on their previous foray against the creatures of the night, she did regret having one less ally as they made ready to enter the locked place of death.

Warden Agnes inspected the heraldic crest and pronounced, “This is the manor of Porthos Vernier, Vicomte de Guisse...at least if my heraldy lessons don't fail me.”

A noble guard saw their intent to breach the tomb and rushed at them with questions: “Whoa now...might I ask what it is you lot think you're doing near the crypt?” He relaxed slightly when he saw Officer Niederhauser with them. The two conversed in Mordentish for a while, with Warden Agnes chiming in now and then, but Iridni watched in frustration as the crypt keeper refused to relent. For once she wished that the gendarmes of Port were as authoritarian and disrespectful as the garda of Vallaki.

As the arguing continued and dusk fell, a man of royal bearing approached. His good looks and charm compelled Iridni to lower her eyes lest she gawk at him in a manner less than decorous for a priestess of Pelor. Master Zephyr was the only other male she had ever met who equaled the man's instinctive polish and aplomb. Listening as best she could to the others and he talk, she understood him to be a baron and by his authority the group at last received permission to enter the crypt.

They descended into the vault of the dead.

They had barely reached the bottom of the stairs when something exploded and struck several with grievous injury, including the sergeant. Warden Agnes tried to use her healing powers on the latter, who seemed to have taken the brunt of it, but the stubborn woman resisted: “Don't touch me with any of that!” Now Iridni recalled why the sergeant was so disliked: she disregarded the evidence before her eyes and clung rigidly to her Lamordian beliefs until it handicapped her ability—the team's ability—to function.

Zachary spoke: “It is time we changed.” He meant they should gird themselves in their armor.

The sergeant said, “No one is stopping you.”

The young priestess looked around in some panic at the prospect of disrobing in mixed company but saw a column behind which she could find some privacy. Thankfully, she also had her cloak to use as a curtain. She prepared quickly for battle. In the meantime, she offered the precious holy water Father Dmitru had long ago given her to Warden Agnes to use in warding and sealing the crypt's entrance; whatever foul undead resided here would not escape the holy light of Pelor this night by flight.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 08, 2017, 02:33:30 PM
Spoiler: show


After Warden Agnes sealed against all evil the accursed tomb’s exit with the blessed water, the five began to examine their macabre surroundings, searching for additional traps. For such a task Iridni was nearly useless, and so her attention instead wandered over the opulence that Port-a-Lucine nobility enjoyed even in death and decay. Heraldic crests, signs, and symbols adorned everything upon which her eyes came to rest. Above her, the ceiling was carved in great relief and painted in pastel colors, wherever it was not inlaid with precious stones. Faux windows with gilded frames intervened against the same pattern on the walls, and the size of the chiseled baroque pillars had made dressing with the entirety of her small form obscured behind one relatively easy, more so when she had moved out of the glow of the group’s torches.

All the wasted wealth offended Iridni’s Pelorian sensibilities as she thought of the dire, grinding poverty that persisted among the living. What madness caused men to bury their treasure and then that much more to squander it on guards to watch over it continually, so that those who lived and dwelt in the light could not put it to good and productive use?

Her busy compatriots knew not the cause of the holy maiden’s audible sigh.


(http://i.imgur.com/yhpYrum.jpg)

What had helped previously to preserve Iridni’s modesty made their present endeavors all the more arduous. The dim light rendered spotting traps nearly impossible, and the hellish creatures they sought could use both the columns and darkness to advantage as well. The vampires for which the five searched and their minions might be waiting in ambush, ready to pounce when the crusaders were distracted or, worse, wounded and in disarray from an undetected trap.

The sergeant continued to look for and disarm the latter, her effort aided by some lens that Agnes had provided her. Yet regardless of the meticulous woman’s care, another magical explosion ripped through them, and Iridni doubled over in pain. When she straightened back up, she saw that the bloodied gendarme had taken the worst of it…and was no longer moving.

Warden Agnes, herself bleeding from several wounds, looked at the crumpled Lamordian and knelt beside her, just as Iridni had ministered unto Ionathan the previous night. She placed diamonds on the ground in sacrifice to Ezra for the boon she sought. Meanwhile, Iridni tended to the many injuries to all the women, including herself. They had not yet found any of their foes, but already the tomb itself had reduced their small band by one.

As if to prove her worry of moments before correct, swarms of giant undead insects erupted around them, many specimens bigger than Iridni. Her mien of healing and compassion vanished in a tick of the clock, her small but gauntleted hand reaching for the hammer at her belt that hungered without sating to crush the undead.  Although Zachary dispatched many with less effort and Mainane fought bravely at his side, the Pelorian at last felt useful to their common cause, smashing their bloodsucking foes asunder and sustaining but few wounds herself. When bitten, however, she felt the burning fire of poison and the life-sapping energy that coursed through all undead. Through Pelor’s infinite mercy she shrugged both off.

Once the cloud cleared, the group perceived a pale, caged woman. Upon freeing her, Zachary spoke: “Iridni, please check her condition.”

The priestess put her weapon and shield aside as she stepped toward the prisoner, while trying to smile reassuringly in contrast to the sadistic scene encompassing them. On her neck the anemic woman exhibited evidence of a vampire’s handiwork, but the feeding had not yet converted the poor victim to darkness. Iridni and the others had arrived in time to save her, although the three nearby coffins were also empty. Her vile tormentors were yet at large.

Zachary thought it best to escort the prisoner back out of the crypts, and Iridni was more than a little frightened to see him leave, knowing that Saskia suffered with the death sickness and that left only three women against at least as many vampires. Worse, the blessings of the two priestesses had faded, so that they would need to pray to regain Ezra’s and Pelor’s favor.

Blessedly, the vrolocks did not strike during this most opportune time, and with Zachary’s return and her prayers uttered, Iridni felt more confident that they might yet prevail, no matter the number of their foe. Her assuredness was short-lived, as they soon entered a more wretched chamber yet.

The still ailing sergeant reached for the door but noticed a strange, intricate device upon it. As she began to tinker with the mechanism, a horrendous cacophony blasted the air about them, almost rupturing Iridni’s eardrums. Instinctively raising her slender shoulders to protect against the noise, the maiden felt something warm and wet strike her simultaneously in the face. It was a fragment of Sergeant Niederhauser.

The explosion left nothing of the gendarme that resembled a human woman, only butchered meat.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 10, 2017, 01:24:31 AM
The seemingly indestructible Zachary, who was closest to the sergeant when the device detonated, had been stunned and knocked to his knees. The three women stared in horror at the mangled form of Saskia, and Iridni realized that nothing could restore her; she was beyond the greatest powers with which Iridni's god had ever blessed the young priestess. Even so, they could not leave the gendarme behind.

Swallowing as she observed that the blast had ripped off most of the woman's skin, Iridni said, “I can carry what remains of her, Zachary.” It was not a task she relished.

Warden Agnes spoke matter-of-factly. “It's alright...I'll do it. You're the better fighter, Iridni.”

Although Iridni doubted the Ezrite's assessment, she nonetheless met the Warden's eyes in gratitude and welcomed being spared the macabre task. Her relief was not purely from squeamishness, as her religious practice had necessitated she expose herself to all manner of blood, wounds, guts, and, indeed, putrescence. No, knowing how the sergeant in life had resisted both her Pelorian faith and her healing touch caused Iridni to feel it somehow a violation even to look upon Saskia Niederhauser in this least private of states, much more so to take her bared bones and spilled entrails into Iridni's own alien hands and hoist the woman into a bag—as though stuffing a sausage, rather than performing the final, respectful duty owed the quarrelsome companion who had only moments before stood beside them.

Perhaps Pelorians at such times were too sensitive, she considered, and the cold practicality of an Ezrite was preferable.

Once everything of the Sergeant that could be gathered had been scooped into the Warden's bag, the four passed through the door they had breached at such great cost. Inside, more coffins evidenced the presence of yet more vrolocks, but dominating the tableau before them was an immense mechanism of cruelty and torture: an iron maiden. Fresh blood dripped from something within, and chairs were arranged in a circle around it so that its evil employers could watch its handiwork in leisure. Zachary put his hand upon it and spoke softly, “Turn your head, Iridni.”

Iridni willingly complied, recalling how this coven favored child victims. She did not need to see to know what the diabolical device likely contained. When she again looked, she saw the container ajar and Zachary cloaking a form on the ground. He muttered as he did so, “I am sorry. You deserved better than this.”

Meanwhile, Warden Agnes had opened one of the coffins and made an opportune discovery: these were not the hiding places of undead but some of the sepulchers in which the tomb's rightful occupants rested. “It seems this brave man was a templar in life,” Agnes said, her eyes widening at the magnificent regalia of the knight within. “Pierre Vernier, the Second Vicomte de Guisse.” In particular a sword and scroll caught her eye.

She reached for the papyrus with a delirious smile of satisfaction and recognition, yet as she touched it an almost painful chill like the touch of death itself passed over her. All in the room felt something dark and powerful looking for a moment upon them, judging them, it seemed. Iridni had witnessed Agnes in agony when the Storyteller had nearly killed them both, but she had never before seen any expression distort her fellow Kin's kind face as it was distorted now.

The Warden composed herself and looked heavenward: “Ezra will forgive this desecration in the spirit of duty, I pray.” She pulled the scroll free. “I pray. And you shall too, Templar Vernier....I pray.”

The darkness passed anon, but Agnes dare not disturb the remains of the vicomte or his treasure further, although the glorious sword within seemed to beckon with temptation. Under the circumstances, the scroll proved far more valuable than any weapon of violence, for inscribed upon it was the means of restoring their obliterated comrade to life.

All of them at once focused completely on the ritual. “I will also need a candle,” Agnes said, and one was retrieved from the crypt's many candelabras. Circled around Agnes and the remains of Saskia as the Ezrite began to read from the scroll, they little noticed in the dim light the ominous figure forming out of mist behind them.


Spoiler: show

Title: Re: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 13, 2017, 09:59:07 PM
Although Zachary remained solicitous of the sergeant's well-being after the divine magic mended her destroyed body, Mainane grew impatient with the minutes passing as Saskia struggled to revive. “We don't have time!” she hissed. Or perhaps she resented the charismatic paladin's attention toward the disagreeable gendarme.

While they bickered, Iridni noticed the ominous figure that had formed in the shadows. “Here comes someone.”

Mainane did not immediately hear the Pelorian's warning and continued to fume. “Delacourte could be escaping as—“

As the stranger approached, Iridni paled. “It's her!”

Yes...the woman of noble bearing who now stood before them was none other than Marie Delacourte, the vampire they sought and the instrument of all the evil they had witnessed. Mainane turned from Zachary and Saskia and tightened her grip on her weapons.

Warden Agnes began to pray to Ezra while Iridni moved to create distance between herself and the others. She knew not what attack might come upon them from the vrolock or her allied devils, but the young priestess intended at least to make it difficult to strike the small company all at once as had happened with many of the traps that ripped through them earlier. Marie spoke, “Yes, it is I...and I am not escaping.”

At this pronouncement, Zachary slowly drew his sword and retrieved his shield from where he had placed it while kneeling by Saskia. Marie continued, “There is no escaping from...this. But I've come to realize something.”

Mainane stepped forward. “What have you come to realize.”

“I...never asked for this. I didn't ever want...Ira...Ira transformed me into what I am, now. But I've allowed myself to go along with it. I even invited...” Marie paused and looked behind her into the darkness where none of their light reached. “I even invited the others here.”

Iridni could feel the blessings of Pelor wane, and she wished to speak, to warn the others, but felt it was above her station to do so. Both Zachary and Mainane seemed confident in what they were doing, whereas she could not discern whether the vrolock was sincere in her words or only stalling for time. Marie did look a piteous sight, yet Iridni recalled all the horrors and evil that they had encountered before now and used the memory to ward against her natural merciful impulses. Instead of lowering her guard, she strained her eyes to see whether the shadows cloaked Marie's allies, positioning themselves for a surprise attack while the vampire parlayed.

Still Marie kept speaking: “But...perhaps a piece of my...humanity, it remains. I'm sorry for what I did to Jean-Michel Piaget. For what I did in the orphanage. It doesn't change anything...and I know what you must do.”

Mainane stared at her for a long while, as though waiting to see whether Marie would say more. Then she spoke softly, “This is exactly what he wanted. I told you that.”

Zachary nodded and added, “You were better than this, Marie....You are what you are because it's what your father wanted—wanted you to become. He set that creature on your path.”

No matter how she strained, Iridni could see nothing, and so she only listened to the others and watched, her slender frame still tensed like a tightened spring within her over-sized armor.

Zachary had once again lowered his weapon. “For what it's worth, I'm sorry, too. For all the horror that has happened, you did not deserve what was done to start it.”

In the meantime, Mainane had slipped her hand into her robes, where her grip found something unseen by the rest of them. Marie sighed, “I hate what I've become. I hate it with every piece of who I am.”

When Mainane's hand reappeared, it held a round, sharpened piece of wood. “Will you allow me to do this for you? I'll free you of this.”

Iridni watched the vrolock to see how she would react. “I will.” Marie looked at the stake with resignation. “But you will still have work to be done. The others...the other five...they will not go so quietly.”

Mainane brandished the stake and stepped forward. “Lie down, Marie, and it will all be over. Then we will take care of the others.”

Marie's body began to assume an air of repose, but on the woman's face was yet fear—the fear of true death and non-existence. The pity that Iridni had held in check broke the dam of her strong will and poured into the Pelorian's heart as she witnessed the woman's anguish. She knelt to pray for Marie's soul.

Marie spoke one last time: “I defy you father. I defy you as well, Ira...I'm through playing either of your...games.” She rasped the last word as the point of Mainane's stake rested against her upturned breast.

Father of the Dawn...bless this woman as she lays aside her unnatural unlife willingly.
May she know Thy blessed warmth in the fields of Elysium
Redeem her now to the good woman she was in life
Rather than what dark corruption would have her be.


Mainane drove the stake home, and Marie's blood erupted from her chest.

Thank you, Pelor, for Thy mercy.

Marie's body was still. Warden Agnes broke the ensuing silence: “We must decapitate her.”

Iridni rose from her knees and bit her lower lip to stop its quivering. “Yes, but first...” The Pelorian's trembling, gauntleted hand reached toward Marie's lifeless, staring eyes.

And gently closed them.


Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 17, 2017, 10:27:19 AM
There was little more to say.

Although the five remaining vampires appeared formidable, the band dispatched them with ease—more so when the spirit of Pierre Vernier himself appeared to aid them. As Mainane, the sergeant, Zachary, and Warden Agnes retraced their steps in victory, however, Iridni lost sight of the others and found herself in the crypt alone. Recalling the many horrendous traps they had endured during their descent and having no skill for avoiding such on her own, she asked Pelor to bless her against them. By His grace she became incorporeal, so that she felt much at home with the other residual spirits of the tomb—except she could not speak Mordentish and so had little to say to them.

Passing through the gates and into the night, she spied the guard who had made their entry so difficult and considered putting a naughty scare into him, but realized he was only doing his job. Nothing in his behavior toward the questing group had been evil or warranted her impulsive mischief.

She journeyed on toward the caravans and found some of the guards of Port-a-Lucine had blockaded the road. One of them was the gendarme whom she thought Sergeant Saskia’s superior, and she little wished to challenge him, yet hiring the Vistani would require that she dispel her god’s blessing of protection. Thus, she found a secluded spot from which to observe the road, stretched out her bedroll, and slept as best she could.

She had not dreamed of Alistar for many nights and hoped this meant the wound to her heart from his repeated absences was again mending. Regardless of the strength of the feeling of first love and how he had reciprocated, she little doubted that what she had feared had come to pass: in her youth, innocence, and devotion to her god, she had been unable to sustain the paladin’s passion for her, no matter his good and noble intent.

Instead she dreamed only of Almor…home...of using the scroll Medea described and that belonged to the Midnight Shrike to return there. In her dream, however, she also saw another girl, much like herself but so young as to be a true child: scared, alone, and pulled in by the Mists as she had been all those months ago. Slowly it dawned on Iridni as she watched the terrified waif that the mechanism of the scroll was such that it could indeed offer an escape from this trap and return her to Chathold and her family—but only by replacing one victim with another.

Could she employ it so selfishly if by doing so she doomed some innocent even less capable than she to take her place in this nightmarish hell?

The next morning, her road was clear.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 23, 2017, 04:13:00 PM
All is well…the spell is broken.
I am here with thee...for this moment.


After Iridni finished her morning prayers and felt her soul composed, she began to practice and train her petite body. The unending struggle that was Barovia made her physically stronger; so did the constant bearing of her armor and the heavy but holy hammer Sora had bequeathed her. She wielded it with more ease and skill than ever before. She progressed, but other than her own growing faith, the power her god granted her, and the losing of those she loved—her family, Alistar, Father Dimitru, Argali—she saw no discernible change in the world around her.

Life in Chathold from one year to the next had been different, yet this land was an endless circle of seasons and transient travelers, none leaving a lasting mark. She recalled her long ago conversation with Father Dimitru when he had imparted the same truth to her. He, too, began with idealism, only to discover why the Morning Lordian church had moved incessantly west, never realizing its ideals in the shadow of the enormous, oppressive castle over-arching the Village of Barovia.

She no longer had the blessed water Father Miklos gave her on that occasion, when he had shown her for one moment that most forbidden of volumes. Warden Agnes had used the holy liquid to seal the Vernier crypt against Madame Delacourte’s escape. All that remained to Iridni of the Father besides her memory was his liturgical book that echoed so many Pelorian prayers.

Now another vampire rampaged in Port-a-Lucine, one even more bold and bloody than the last. Father Miklos was no more, the gift of his water poured out, but the onslaught of undead was never-ending. And so she trained, pushing both her spirit and body further each hour than the hour before. Yet if she remained trapped here, where nothing ever changed, was she of any real use? Did her efforts make any difference in the end, or would she inevitably fail just as everyone before her? To die to accomplish her god’s will, to amplify His light even the smallest of slivers, that she would consider herself blessed to do: to be consumed so that Pelor’s immortal majesty would nova through her in all His glory, even if she—so very mortal in her youth and growing beauty—burned to spent, dry ash.

Perhaps in Almor she might have achieved such an elevation, but why had she been abducted to a place where the brightest light was as inconsequential and forgotten as a child’s castle of sand erected against the relentless ocean’s dark tide?

She kneeled briefly, as though dodging an attack, then sprang up and feinted in a maneuver Argali had taught her, before spinning and swinging her weapon in surprise devastation from the opposite direction. No, she refused the frustration and despair that longed to penetrate like tendrils of subtle, corrupting mist into her mind, her heart, instead focusing on how her muscles stretched and ached as she moved from one combat defense and attack to another, refusing also to tire physically.

Medea thought her a selfish baby for wanting to go home, that the wretched souls here needed her compassion more than did an entire prelacy of Pelorians. Perhaps the always harping wizard was right. Perhaps Iridni’s dull candle would have added little to the Father of Light’s brilliance except here in contrasted isolation.

If she, with the constant reassurance of her faith, faltered, how much more so those who were so very alone in the darkness—suffering the same loss and sadness as she, but without the glow of Pelor to reassure them?

In the depths of her heart, she could not relinquish her desire to see her mother, father, and sister: to be embraced and comforted again by those who would shelter and love her, rather than always looking to her with eyes that asked to be healed themselves, seeking and draining her blessings from her…much as a vampire might thirst after her life’s blood. She must, she told herself, forgive them their perpetual need and how her own wants went unrequited. For now, this day, this night, she would put aside her heart’s desire, risk her small and uncomforted form again…and indeed sacrifice it if she must.

To serve His radiance.


Spoiler: show
Title: Re: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 27, 2017, 07:47:26 PM
Spoiler: show
Kill of the Night

The street's a liar
I'm gonna lure you into the dark
My cold desire
To hear the boom, boom, boom of your heart
The danger is I'm dangerous
And I might just tear you apart
Oh, ah, oh
I'm gonna catch ya
I'm gonna get ya, get ya
Oh, ah, oh
I wanna taste the way that you bleed, oh
You're my kill of the night....

This is a bad town for such a pretty face.

After night fell, Morvayn, Io, and Iridni dragged themselves back into the embattled city of Port-a-Lucine. The priestess ignored the gawks her armor elicited from passersby, knowing, if she were accosted, the deputation from the lieutenant was tucked in her healer's belt. The two men and she had a murderous vampire to hunt, and now was no time to give into her timidity and desire to avoid drawing attention. She did not intend to fight a vrolock wearing nothing but an evening gown.

Likewise, when she summoned Pelor's power so that she could see all creatures that might hide or even use arcane arts to render themselves undetectable, she tried to shrug off Morvayn's whispered criticism: “Casting a spell in front of everyone is not usually considered careful...but okay.”

She murmured back to him, “No one likes me here anyway. I'm going to avoid being blindsided, if I can.” The Story Teller, she recalled, had held her attention until his “son” ambushed her from behind, plunging his sword with terrifying force into her vulnerable back, so that she fell almost lifeless between the two. She prayed she had learned from her past mistakes and would survive this night the new mistakes she was certain to commit.

Near where the ships sailed in when the Port was not blockaded, they came upon a woman who for a moment Iridni thought might be enthralled to Tristand, as the Dementlieuse stranger stood alone and stared with complete vacancy out at the bottled-up bay. When Iridni approached so that her Kinship amulet was visible, however, the woman's demeanor turned to a distasteful frown, and her Mordentish words were haughty: “Wayfarers...how quaint.”

Yes, how quaint: three misplaced foreigners risking their lives for a populace that in normal circumstances would find them beneath notice at best, contemptible at worst.

Iridni could not understand her, and the three Kin had no time to consider the cause of the woman's reaction in any case. As the clock struck 11 p.m., a ghastly fog descended from the precipice of the promenade. This mist crept across the cobblestones, almost taunting the onlookers and refracting the glow of the moon and lamplight until it suffused the ground with what resembled wispy, ivy-like tendrils.

The Kin signaled among themselves before edging toward it. Just as previous reports had described the vampire's behavior, the mist spilled down the grate through the gaps and into the fetid bowels of the city. Iridni saw Io moving into a nearby doorway and thought perhaps he was deceived about what had become of their foe: “It went below,” she said.

He snorted, “That's what he iadul wants aint it? Us to follow?” Instead, he gestured for the other two to come into the doorway with him. Both Iridni and Morvayn complied with the brusque Barovian. “Nu bloody walking in there like this.”

The two men as last swapped into their combat gear and girded themselves for battle, while Iridni began praying Pelor's protection on them all. Io spoke with his usual pessimism: “Eh, I do nu imagine the three of us can do mult, but I'm curious and dumb enough to try having a look at least.”

They hurried down the sewer ladder, believing that the vrolock would still be close by. All were certain he did not fear them but rather was luring intended victims to dinner. Beneath, they were instantly set upon by the largest wererats Iridni had ever seen, perhaps minions of Tristand, who observed the spectacle of their struggle from close by. He was still in mist form and hovered like morning dew over the putrid filth and sludge to whence he had led them.

Io had gone down first, and Iridni saw him flinch and cough as the werecreatures engulfed him, tearing at his flesh and leaving him horribly bloodied. As soon as she slew those around her she invoked Pelor's healing for her companion.

In his cool confidence, Tristand waited, amused, until the three had disposed of the rodent horde and could grant him their full attention. Only then did he coalesce as a gaunt man, no more imposing in his slim figure than was the slight Iridni. Unlike she, however, Tristand smiled and revealed sharp, fanged teeth: “Welcome.”

Tristand walked closer to them with a lopsided gait, seeming to have some deformity or other imperfection in his leg.

“You obviously wanted us to follow you,” Iridni finally spoke, looking for something upon which to wipe the wererat gore from her hammer but finding herself surrounded by far worse filth. Its odor filled her nostrils, making her gag with revulsion more than did the macabre appearance of the elderly undead man. Yet she knew for all his aristocratic bearing and the velveteen gloves covering Tristand's hands, the vrolock who stood before her not only drank his victim's blood; he dismembered their organs and tore the flesh from their bodies.

Oui, I did. I wanted you to delve into the true nature of the City of Lights. You see...these depths...they are analogous to the city itself....”

Io coughed and muttered, “So mult for the, eh, 'beauty.'”

“I suppose you are tired of killing the weak and want a greater challenge,” the Pelorian answered Tristand, forcing the images of what he planned to do to her out of her imagination and focusing on remaining alert.

It was shocking that the gaunt figure before them could laugh with such low resonance from deep within his belly. “You? All of you? A challenge?...I think non.”

“More so than the poor people you've been disembowelling thus far.” Although her teeth had begun to chatter from nervousness, Iridni tried yet to project defiance.

Morvayn spoke up, “I believe he wishes to 'teach' us something. Some lesson on the true nature of this--”

Tristand nodded to him: “Yes, the City of Lights...its horrors and atrocities.”

“You're preaching for unu church of believers,” Io snorted.

“None of us cares for this city.”

“As for those deaths...” Tristand's eyes came to rest on Iridni as he began to murmur each word in a melodic cadence. “They were a paltry price to pay to chase the ever elusive muse of inspiration...my raven-haired, ethereal beauty.”

His mesmeric gaze bore into her for a moment, probing through her own violet eyes into the window of her soul. He seemed disappointed that the group showed no love for the city to be argued out of. “If you simply come to claim your bounty and care nothing for the people and their well-being...I'll allow you chase. But know this!” His voice rose with anger, and he mopped spittle from his chin: “It will not end well for you.”

Iridni felt her will struggling to push his away as Tristand's maneuvered within her psyche for any advantage, his hypnotic voice droning on: “I am eternal and you, by your very nature, are ephemeral.” Could the vrolock actually read her thoughts and use them to his advantage? How did Tristand recognize her constant feeling of...inconsequence? With great mental effort, she fended off the thrust of his dominating gaze and sensed Tristand's will slowly retreat from hers.

She stayed her hand for another moment, though she knew the time for talking was coming to an end. She wished this creature of evil to know that those who would destroy it were not of the same darkness, that they were good-intentioned servants of holy light: “We're not bounty hunters. We're here to stop your preying on the defenseless.”

In response, Tristand chuckled, his lips curling back into another malefic grin as his piercing azure gaze left Iridni's eyes to settle on her visibly pulsing throat: “I require sustenance to fuel me, and I've quite the voracious appetite!”

At this remark and certain of Tristand's intent, Ionathan snarled and notched an arrow to his gleaming bow.



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 28, 2017, 05:18:27 PM
As Ionathan bent his bow, Tristand never took his eyes off Iridni’s jugular, his lurid lips slurping against the points of his fangs. He instead bantered at the Barovian’s threat, responding with sarcasm to Io’s inarticulate snarl while ignoring his readied weapon: “You have quite the elegant tongue and extensive vernacular, monsieur.”

Morvayn’s hand reached into his pocket, and Iridni reflexively raised her shield and hammer into her fighting stance. The vampire began to make gestures in the air.

Da?” Io asked, as his fingers released the shaft toward Tristand’s chest. The gaunt figure looked surprised for a moment as the arrow pierced him…and then Tristand seemed suddenly to reflect his long years of undeath. His face wrinkled with age before them, and the monster who had struck fear into so many was for the first time unnerved himself. He shuddered, his hungry mouth now slack, and he tried to grasp the protruding arrow with a doddering, gloved hand, but he could claw only mechanically at it.

“That’s what I bloody think of that!” Io growled.

Tristand had no way of knowing that the ranger, in the same fashion as a Pelorian, was a sworn foe of undead and had focused all his training and skills on ending their existence. Before Tristand could react, Io sent another arrow home with equal devastation while Iridni engaged the vampire up close, making it more difficult for Tristand to concentrate on the source of the arrows that threatened to annihilate him.

Tristand had but one chance. He dissipated into his mist form and bolted.

The three Kin did not hesitate but pursued the retreating fog, Iridni staying always as close to Tristand as she could, recalling how she had lost the Death Singer and almost paid for it with both her and Yunon’s lives. This time, she hounded her malevolent enemy like the most faithful of trackers, often finding herself immersed within the incorporeal form of the fleeing vrolock.

Onward, the fog rolled, first up the ladder, and then through the long boulevards and out toward the Dementlieu countryside. As the vampire raced through the city and Iridni churned on her metal-sheathed legs after him, she could feel herself tiring under the load she bore. Yet she dared not slow even to look behind her to make sure her comrades were with her for fear of losing track of the indefatigable mist. Now, now was the time when the conditioning of pushing her muscles past their endurance paid off, though each expanse of her lungs was torture and her heart pounded like a small drum within her.

Still the incorporeal form of Tristand boiled on under the starry night, across meadows and toward the noble estates. Iridni cried out softly, not so much in pain or complaint as a desire to know that her companions remained near, “I weary, Io.”

An unknown masculine voice answered her, “Then stop chasing?”

For an instant she was unsettled, but then Morvayn replied, “Not sure that’s much of an option.” Somewhere in their course, a third ally familiar to Vayn had joined with her two Kin.

Finally, the vrolock stopped, and Iridni found herself once more in the crypts of the Nobles. She watched as Tristand’s misty form disappeared into an ornate mahogany box. All told they had been fighting and running for nearly an hour, and the girl doubled over in breathless agony. Yet when she straightened, she raised her weapon and attacked the coffin, wanting to destroy it rather than let the vampire regain his strength.

Io arrived also breathless, as did Morvayn and their new helpmate, Taelar Stormwalker. Before Iridni’s hammer could damage the box, Tristand reformed and emerged from it, almost unscathed. He smoothed the wrinkles from his tattered formal wear and now seemed cognizant that the eternal existence he had so recently boasted of was in considerable peril. Gone was the suave, would-be teacher; all that remained was a savage instinct to survive.

Once more his eyes went wide and feral, locking on Iridni as he hissed, baring his fangs in the moonlight. She felt his attempted assault of her psyche again, but instead of fighting back only with her will, she bashed with her hammer the carnivorous face that looked so eager to suck her young life from her. Twice her weapon struck home, while the fortress of her mind repulsed Tristand’s invasion and her armor shielded her body from his clawing touch.

Morvayn, too, attacked the beast, but leaped back in torment from a burning fluid that suddenly covered Tristand’s body, “Agh!”

Meanwhile, Ionathan let loose another volley. Tristand wilted under the combined effort of his many opponents and again was forced into mist and into his coffin. He had nowhere left to run. Io coated a stake with crushed garlic in ritualistic motions and stood over the box. He took out a small hammer and said, “Say your prayers, Iridni.”

The Pelorian blessed them all, before kneeling beside the wooden box and beginning to pray. The sound of pathetic scratching and clawing resounded from within the coffin as Iridni’s orisons echoed in the waning night. Taelar placed his hand on the ornate lid, ready to draw it back at Io’s signal.

The Barovian took a deep breath. “Now.”

A porcelain man rested inside, a wicked snarl curling his lips and twisting his visage into a fiendish sight. Now, however, Tristand looked emaciated and weary. He could offer only a limp gesture from his velveteen gloved hand in futile protection. Already his right leg had withered into a twisted mess of an appendage, and his hair was a matted mop, sticking to his pate.

Io placed the stake over the feeble undead’s heart. “Tristand, you will find peace…I hope.”

Hearing Io, Iridni paused in her prayers and glanced at the vrolock. Seeing him as nothing now but a weak, old man, she forgot for an instant the malice he had intended her and a brief look of pity crossed her face. Io drove the stake home into pliant flesh, and a shrill scream pierced the air. From the nearby trees, birds that had nested for the night took to the air in response to the vrolock's keening. Foul ichor erupted and lathered the sides of the coffin, with yet more of it oozing from Tristand’s nose and mouth.

Then what had once been a man became still, his visage slackening with an almost serenity. After only a moment, Morvayn made ready to finish their work with his sword. Iridni turned to look away and saw the first rays of another gift of dawn appearing on the horizon behind them. Perhaps, just perhaps, Tristand had in the final seconds of his existence been blessed to see Pelor’s light one last time after so many years of having its glory denied to him.

Morvayn brought down his blade. Almost immediately, the headless corpse of Tristand began to bubble, blacken, and crack from the sun’s power. Soon it was consumed entirely by light and fire, leaving nothing of the vrolock but ash.


Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 31, 2017, 05:07:04 PM
The thought that it was time to rise woke Iridni. The sun's light struck her full in the face, stirring her. She was still clad in her frock from the night before. Why had she slept so late, rather than greeting Pelor’s morning glory, and why had she never changed into her sleeping shift?

Then she remembered: the defiant shot of brandy and how Lexington had lifted her off her feet and carried her to her cot. She rubbed her aching forehead in shame. What had...no, how much had she said to him?

Why had she said it? Did she even know herself? Perhaps it was because that’s what everyone assumed anyway. She saw how Lexington had stared at her midriff as though trying to detect any sign of pregnancy. The only person who seemed utterly clueless was Io.

What a wretched man!

Always wanting to pawn her off on every available male in the Kinship. Trying to arrange a date—a date!—for her at the soldier’s ball in Port-a-Lucine. She could not think of anything less enjoyable than trekking back there again and then spending a night on her poor, tired feet, while all the lords and ladies tittered in Mordentish and wondered who the clueless village bumpkin was. She had not danced since she shone with Alistar in Krofberg.

Whatever she said to Lexington, she resolved here and now it meant nothing; that was fatigue, confusion, and alcohol talking.

Her mind was clear, as was her conscience. She so wished to see Bri—above all to see Bri and Ionathan reunited. Iridni’s Pelorian sister would keep that—ugly!—troublesome Barovian busy and his matchmaking to himself.

She took out the Pelorian holy symbol that Io had fashioned for her and looked at it, her face a mixture of emotions. How could he make her so happy one minute and so beside herself the next?

Enough lounging in bed wallowing in nonsense. She stood up and listened to hear whether anyone else was in the Lodge: thanks be to Pelor, no. Adeline, however, was whimpering outside the door, either hungry or wanting to be let out.

Iridni opened the door, smiling at her one constant companion, but then flounced with a put-on scowl downstairs…just in case. No, no one was here. She sighed.

Adeline did not go to her food dish but toward the entrance to the Lodge. “Alright…I’ll take you for a walk…no matter how awful I look.”

The young priestess made a couple of passes through her ebony hair with her hand, trying and failing to get it to behave, before taking her cloak from its peg and draping it over her shoulders. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a note someone had slid under the Lodge door.

She knelt to pick it up. The missive was sealed but addressed to her. She ran her finger under the seal and began reading, a shadow passing over her face.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 12, 2017, 02:46:03 AM
In the shadowed valley, I shall fear no evil, for Thou are with me;
Thy light and holiness comfort me.
They refresh my soul
And guide me along the right path.
Thy goodness and mercy will follow me all my days,
And I shall dwell in the house of Pelor forever.


With her heart still hammering within her, Iridni returned to the Lodge from Krofburg, having resolved, she hoped, the fear that most hung over her. Io was safe, and she herself had not perished in a bargain for his life.

She was sworn not to reveal more than that. She looked at the legal pages she carried in her waist belt and to which she had signed her name. Not even to Io himself could she disclose the bargain described therein.

In truth and her own simplicity, she did not comprehend what all the lengthy writing required of her, and so she had written in her own hand what she understood she was agreeing to. Paper and ink to bind her or no, she was a maiden of her word…within reason…although she also was no paladin. If in her judgment good and Father Pelor could be better served by bending the truth or sacrificing her own reputation—or more—so be it.

At least she had tried to reciprocate all the aid and friendship Io had offered her. Was she more to him than any other Kin? Every day she grew more uncertain of that and of her own feelings, but as long as there was Bri, her Pelorian sister, the question was pointless. This service to Io was the only moral avenue through which Iridni could express her growing devotion.

She did not expect the taciturn Barovian’s reaction when she told him what she had done: “Would you have wanted me to rush heedlessly off to save your life with no regards to my own? Can you iadul try and understand what I mean when I say I wished you would have asked?”

Io was even more beside himself that she would not reveal what was in the document she had signed. No matter how she reassured him that it was nothing to worry about, he scowled at her with his coal-black eyes and fumed. In frustration at her inability to please him, Iridni at last blurted out her secret feelings: “Io…this is the Pelorian way. We must sacrifice ourselves for those we…care for. Those we love.”

His unappealing face turned ashen and he moved to embrace her, perhaps only in comfort. Iridni, however, tensed herself against him, fearing that she—who had been so long on her own and without any physical affection—would enjoy his strong arms around her in a way that betrayed Bri. Worse, what if Io likewise had his own confession to make?

Such a betrayal would open a wide path of darkness for all three of the devoted friends.

Feeling her resistance, Io immediately released her and, after a moment, said. “You need to nu be so alone, Iridni.”

She swallowed. “I am not so alone, Io. I have my god. Always.” She flexed her small hand around the holy symbol Io had made for her. “The journey from Krofburg—the fear they made me feel—it has all tired me. I need to rest…and to think.”

He nodded and whispered, but she did not understand what he said. All she heard was “Bri.” She knew, moreover, that Io’s faithfulness to Bri was one of the reasons for which she, Iridni, most admired him. Consequently, she could not conceive of a love between the two of them born in his own infidelity.

Thus, she left him and went to her cot. She resolved to absent herself from his company for a long time—for both of their sakes. First, however, she must tend to Net'lia—the asp she had long nurtured in the Kinship's midst.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 13, 2017, 05:09:46 PM
Cold and darkness had descended over Vallaki, and the young priestess was sitting by the fire in the Lodge, for once not clad in the simple shift she wore when reposing in this place she considered her home. Instead, her armor encased her slight form, and she had propped her hammer and shield against her large oaken chair. She had locked Adeline in the kitchen to prevent the faithful dog from trying to aid her, should the Pelorian come under assault.

After securing all the other doors, she had employed varja and walked carefully over every square inch of the enormous, familiar room to make certain no one lurked in the shadows. Because the fresh beech that fueled it still retained some moisture, the fire crackled and popped now and then, like the ticking of an erratic clock, its dancing light reflecting in Iridni’s watchful, violet eyes.

She waited for Net’lia.

Unlike the fire, Iridni was steady and without heat, even yet regretful of the decision the Kinship had been forced to make in response to Net’s continued conduct. The two had been friends before Net joined, but Iridni knew the wild emotions of the Elf—her proclivity to violence—and the Pelorian did not expect their reunion to be one of only measured sadness. Iridni realized also that, deprived of the Kinship’s buoy, whatever was good about Net would crumble and sink beneath the waves of darkness that eroded her soul. Even so, the priestess could not let her one-time friend continue to endanger all those she considered her family. Better to cut off a hand than the entire body perish!

A key turned in the latch, and the girl started up from her reverie…but did not yet reach for her weapon.

It was only Io, the first she had seen him since their last, awkward parting several nights before. Instinctively, she smiled shyly at him before catching herself and assuming a more nonchalant expression. Although she knew Io was far less of a danger to her than Net, she still felt her heart pounding within her breast and an inability to resume her previous state of calm patience. Sweat began to form in her palms.

“Iridni,” he said. “Come. We must go to Krofburg. No time to explain.”

Whatever the girl’s many faults, requiring lengthy explanations was not one of them. She fetched her hammer, shield, and cloak and ran after the Barovian into the darkness, pausing long enough only to lock the Lodge behind them. She hoped another Kin would soon be around before the whimpering Adeline experienced too great of distress.

Winter had come to the Gray City, causing Iridni to rue immediately having to leave the warmth and light of the fire. She plunged on, doing her best to keep up with the more lightly clad Io.

“Jakob Zdénrik is dead,” Io said, the short sentence forming little puffs of vapor that disappeared almost instantly without a trace in the night air.

“What happened?” Iridni recalled the verbose legal document secured at her slim waist. Was she so soon to be free of her recent promise? She felt guilt at this first selfish thought, as she remembered that other woman whom this loss would concern and hurt far more than she. Yet she knew Jakob mostly as the man who Lex claimed sought the murder of Io—the imperious figure whose mere presence had frightened her when alone with him and his two companions, preparing to strike their bargain.

She could not help that instinctively she felt somehow safer hearing this news.

“Things happen,” Io finally answered to her question. She stared at the back of his dark-skinned neck, certain he knew more about Jakob’s death than he was willing to tell her—likely for her own safety. Fair enough, Io…we all must keep our secrets.

[Spoilers omitted.]

Afterward, Iridni let Io think both of them were retiring for the night to their separate rooms, but she instead headed back down the mountain alone. She was fatigued to her bones, and the cold crept through all the seams of her armor to slash her pale, vulnerable skin with the pain that Net’lia's blade had not. Her ranger companion would likely think Iridni had left for some personal and “girlish” reason, but it was not so. She had simply seen how tired he was and did not want to keep them both awake for a purpose she could just as easily accomplish—or not—by herself.

She alone, not Io, owed Roland Steele this debt.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 14, 2017, 11:01:05 AM
Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?
"My Last Duchess,” Robert Browning

Even with all that was on her mind, Iridni found her memory returning to Anxan Madog, the curate whose attempted violation of her had occurred the night she was first drawn into the Mists. Naturally, she worried from time to time that he, too, was somewhere in these dread realms and what might happen should they cross paths. (No longer, however, was she the weak and naïve, almost child he thought incapable of defending herself from his brutality.)

The mental distraction he posed now was of a more troubling sort, more relevant to her current circumstances. Although Anxan had failed in his physical objective, had not his action begun the process by which she was slowly losing her innocence? In many ways was she not changed inside more by that night than if Anxan had claimed her physical shell as his own to satisfy his lust?

All she was certain of as she read Net’s suicide note was that she felt very old, regardless of her chronological years. So many failures in such a short time. In only seven months she felt she had aged decades. Where was the girl who took such joy at running through the fields of Almor, picking wild flowers? Barovia would soon have her as husk-like and wilted as those long-faded petals.

She had failed Roland, too. She had let her anger over Alistar influence her, and so she had never lifted a hand of comfort or friendship to him…until it was too late. In Port, she had been willing to take advantage of him as an ally against the vrolock…but never to make him feel forgiven or equal to one of the Kin.

Now, all her pleading with the garda on his behalf had done was cause her almost to be imprisoned herself. It had not stopped Roland from twisting at the end of a hangman’s noose. She could not blot from her mind the once handsome face of the paladin—how it had bulged and changed colors as he slowly asphyxiated. To teach you Outlanders a lesson! My Pelor, but what lesson did they think they were teaching us?

Alistar…Argali.

My Divine Father...do I not always perform Thy will? Why, then, do I fail again and again?

Net’lia.

The Elf had addressed the letter to her to try to hurt her. Iridni was wise enough to see that. It was as though the priestess deserved the most punishment for trying the most to help. Yet that did not release her from her guilt for she saw all the more what a child Net’lia had always been…a child who knew only to lash out when she was hurt and rejected. A child who did not know how to make anyone love her and had thus become a creature of spite.

Iridni could not love Net in the way Cassandra had—as her one and only. The Pelorian’s nature was to be the lens through which her god’s light shone on many. Perhaps, then, this was her deceit and betrayal that Net felt so keenly…and the source of why Iridni’s efforts so often came to naught. These poor, lonely prisoners of the mist wanted someone to love them in an individual, personal way—not as some evidence of some devotion to some god.

When they inevitably came to realize Iridni’s true nature, they felt she was a fraud and a counterfeit.

The young priestess dutifully attached Net’s letter to the former Kinswoman’s journal as a warning to everyone who read it what she, Iridni, was beneath her attractive and welcoming form. She was not sure she was or would ever be capable of that other kind of more human love they sought. All she felt at this moment was so very, very cold...and empty.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 24, 2017, 03:00:04 PM
Night had fallen over the Lodge, and on the main level the only noises were the clicking and clacking of Adeline's nails on the hardwood floors and the faint, occasional rustle caused by the falling away of dying embers in the fireplace. Upstairs and collapsed across one of the cots, a large, insensible man snored, passed out in a drunken stupor. From another cot in the collective darkness, made less visible by the draping of a royal blue cloak over a makeshift clothesline, came the sound of a slight woman's soft weeping.

It had been a long day for Herald Ren of the Wayfarer Kinship, and sleep would not come to her until she had—almost like a wailing infant—emptied her brain of all the emotions with which hours of activity had filled it. And so she wept. Her pillow was damp against her face, the cotton mass an inert lump that cared nothing for the Pelorian who drenched it with the release of her pent up emotions.

She had done the right thing—as always—and at least she would be spared the infliction of shame. She had summoned Bri from Port-a-Lucine so that Bri and Io could be reunited. She hoped that seeing the two of them together, seeing Io not so often wandering about alone, clueless in the social graces that came so easily to her, would strengthen her own resolve that it was better one hurt than three. After all, such would return the world to its rightful orbit: Io and Bri had loved one another before, and Iridni had borne the loss of Alistar with as much equanimity as any good Pelorian ought. She would not become some evil-omened comet, her light twisted to a dark path that disrupted the shining stars' balance.

When the three of them had eaten Io's deer and turnip stew together, she had been so confident that all was mended. Even she was happy—happy for Io and Bri's sake, happy that she could be the agent of Io's joyful reunion with his beloved, her Pelorian sister. Yet why did Bri whisper to her in a way that made Iridni once more uncertain where her true course would lie?

She hoped the Krofburg Faire would take her mind off all this painful churning in her heart. In a way it did, as she was finally able to make right Alistar's debt to Mr. Laurier. Clearly, Alistar would never do so. A paladin's oath, it seemed, was more an inescapable obligation in regards to violence than to finances...and feelings.

She saw Emma Grace there, and trying to help that poor woman also kept her from thinking her own situation deserved Pelor's sympathy. What a sniveling little weakling in comparison Iridni was! She had so many friends and so much greater security than Emma, while needing both less.

Yet even at the Faire, she had watched Io in his flailing attempts at trying to find a goat for the race. This was his element, and she could not help but admire his persistence here, where he was confident of his success and knowledgeable about what he was doing. As much as he might disparage it—the same way he disparaged himself—this was his home, the place of his family and roots. No matter how ugly and crude she so often found him when she tried to look at him with objectivity, here he had a graceful competence that made her proud. She felt for a moment that she alone recognized it, but then her gaze swept toward Bri, and she knew that such was not true. She was being a foolish young girl again, with a romantic illusion that her feelings were unique and profound, rather than waiting to be discovered in every hut in Krofburg.

Afterward, she walked as quickly to the Lodge as her tired legs would carry her. She wanted no more company, no more words, only solitude and sleep. She felt herself revive upon seeing Master Yunon almost nodding by the fire. He had journeyed all these miles from the Iron Warden and left off his research because of having received her letter about Net'lia...and Io.

“I did not come back to attend these gatherings, young Ren, but to speak to you. I am concerned about you.”

It was almost too much for her to hold back then what she would save for her pillow later. She had so wanted and needed someone she could be weak with—how she missed her mother and father!—and here Yunon was. They talked for hours. Finally, Yunon said, “You're on a road which will make you bitter, I feel. I don't like the situation at all, and I'm sorry you've found yourself in it.”

“Bitter? By Pelor, I won't let that happen, Master Yunon. But if you can advise me, I would always welcome that.”

“We never say we'd let ourselves become bitter, hurt, or angry; those things tend to be beyond our control to contain, however.”

Yunon then told her his own story, which she promised never to speak of again, even to him. And so she locked it away in her heart, but like anyone as young as she, no matter her exceptional wisdom, she doubted the experience of age would ever apply to her. She had let vile bitterness about Roland's influence on Alistar ensnare her judgment once; its seed would never again find purchase in her breast. If she was devoted enough to Pelor, if she prayed hard and long enough, she was sure that in His infinite mercy He would keep her soul free of all evil and darkness.

For one night at least, her faith held: she forced herself to imagine a wedding, and in that wedding, she would join Io and Bri together in Pelorian matrimony, both of them now believers in the one, true god.

She still felt the hot tears on her face, but in the dark night she whimpered. O, Master Yunon, if you could but experience the power of my god! She licked at her lips, and the taste she found there was not bitter but the sweetness of joy.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 27, 2017, 12:12:59 AM
Iridni washed and rinsed the new bottles to ensure they were free from impurities, then, while the bottles dried, sorted the spring herbs that both Io and Vayn had given her. A mixture of pungent and sweet smells filled the air as she worked, but the odors were pleasant because the elixirs she brewed were those of healing. Although she wiped the ivory skin of her small hands often on the apron she wore tied about her hips, her fingers took on some of the color and all of the fragrances of the plants as she with quick gentleness separated the delicate flowers from the accompanying stems and brambles.

On one side in her stitched-together journal she made notes of her successful recipes and mistakes; on the other she printed in her even letters the poem she wanted to recall. The words she wrote were of a song she had as a little girl often heard her mother sing when her mother, as Iridni did now, labored. The young maiden wanted never to forget these words, never to forget any memories of all she loved before coming here. In her mind’s eye she saw her mother’s tender expression hovering over her, and Iridni smiled in her loneliness to know that though they were now separated from those treasured days in distance and more so time she was still in every way her mother’s daughter.

She hoped the busier she made herself the easier it would be to keep her thoughts from straying too much back to Io and Vallaki. Something about their last meeting had sparked the memory of her mother's singing as much as did her current activity, yet she was too preoccupied to consider why.

Where could I find such love, Father? The woman without reproach I treasure more than rubies?

She had prepared herself for Io’s judgement, but not his question. She had never allowed herself to think what life together with him would be like because he was not hers! She would not covet what belonged to another. Men…what did they want, anyway—what did they expect of a girl?

She considered Alistar, who had always told her his duty as a paladin and to Tyr came first. He would have died defending her body from harm, she was certain, but he reserved for himself his sacred honor. Even so, had he wished her to have an uncontrollable burning for him, one that made her deny her own loyalties, beliefs, and conscience? That her love was only an encouraging sunrise and not a volcanic inferno—was that why he had forsaken her?

All she knew of such consuming emotions was to fear them because they turned men—and women, too—into driven, selfish beasts. Anxen would have taken everything from her, including her very life, to satisfy his ravenous appetite but once. She suspected that the same sort of possessive rage had caused Aileen almost to kill Lex. Why would anyone wish to be the object of a feeling like that, something unrecognizable to her as to go by the name love?

A strong and self-sufficient man might find naked emotion thrilling to experience. She had long observed how men liked to drink to free themselves of their inhibitions. But to be small and female…to grow up knowing that a single mistake could lead to a lifetime of shame—or worse, exile—for you and even your family…for a novitiate in the Prelacy, unchained feelings were anathema.

I will trust my love in all, and she will do me no evil all the days of my life.

When at the Gaping Wound Iridni had observed Io with the women mud wrestlers, she thought him—despite all his coarse talk—different from most other Barovian men. To make her turn crimson, he might joke about how he liked to play “hide the sausage,” but he had been indifferent to the display of flesh and advances of the prostitutes there, instead punching a man for insulting Iridni’s honor (no matter how he denied the reason afterward). He had gone to jail, been strip searched, and lost his pistols all to rebut she was “loose” like those other women.

Moreover, the object of his affection was Bri. Iridni knew the sweet stories of their courtship, of their times together since, and they were not torrid tales of lust. Bri was a Pelorian, like herself, a woman whose strongest passion was for good works.

My beloved stretches out her hand to the poor and opens it to the needy.

No, Iridni had allowed herself only a single weakness—of thinking that Io was lonely, that Bri’s neglect caused him to suffer. For that reason alone she wished to open herself to him and to a bond greater than that of brother and sister. Any physical desires of her own she both feared and repressed as invitations to doom, perhaps for all three of them. She had never yielded to her young imagination the indulgence that answering Io’s question would have required.

If he were not Bri’s but hers, then she might quit telling herself how uncouth and ugly he was and own he had a certain scruffy charm to him—much like a game goat that tried to take on a crag cat. As things were, she feared to share a room alone with him at the Blood of the Vine or to fantasize what a future together would mean.

Strength and honor are her clothing; her mouth fills my ears with wisdom, her tongue speaks only kindness.

Iridni sensed that Io had been disappointed but also relieved in her truthful answer. If he was uncertain of his own choice between Bri and herself, though, could he ask Iridni to let down her guard and give into and express feelings that he might never requite?

Again, what did men expect? What did Io want of her? A passion he clearly did not feel in return? For if he felt that unspeakable heat for either of the two Pelorians, why would his choice be difficult? Or...perhaps…perhaps if one were capable of such strong emotions, then one could burn for two people at once. She shook her head momentarily over the cauldron. All of this…carnality…was so far beyond her own understanding and experience.

All she knew was she could not in deceit offer Io more than what she was: a hearth not a conflagration.

She has girded my arms and loins with strength, she has borne with her labor our children.

Time had passed, and Iridni had not wasted it entirely in useless, circular thoughts. She recalled and jotted the last line of her mother’s song, and—despite the uncertain meandering of her mind—she beamed to see the many healing tonics her stained fingers had yielded.

For these fruits of her hands I praise her and will devoted remain all my days.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 28, 2017, 04:03:21 PM
Spoiler: show

Iridni could not long admire her handiwork before Io abruptly entered the dwelling, causing her to almost drop the flask she was stoppering.

He whispered, “I have news you need to hear. About the hostage situation.”

She paled but was relieved that he wished only to talk about Kinship business, as they always had before personal feelings became involved.

He wheezed. “And that other thing.”

She kept her expression impassive as they stepped outside into the misty dawn and a Barovian spring rain. Cold rivulets ran down her face, but if the Half Vistani could ignore them, so could she.

She saw he held the parchment he had entrusted to her to give to Bri months ago, should anything happen to him. He broke its seal and handed it to her. “Do you wish me to read this?” Iridni whispered.

“Da. If you want.”

She was not a fast reader, and the rain began to blur the ink of his handwriting, but she made out what was important: his confession of love to her Pelorian sister. “I’m sticking with Bri,” he announced when she looked up.

As she returned the paper, she was surprised at how little his decision wounded her. “Does Bri have a copy of this now?”

“Da. I suppose she’s read it.”

Iridni nodded. She had strengthened the bond between the two, rather than weakening it, for Io had never before told Bri he loved her. Bri likely would not see matters this way, however, and would instead want Iridni to stay far from her beloved.

“I’m truly happy for you both, Io, but I don’t think Bri will forgive me.”

“Eh. She will, but if not, that’s a problem for her and me, not you.”

She smiled faintly. “I wish only you wouldn’t use the word ‘sticking’ because I never meant to come between the two of you or separate you from her. I wanted her to return and fight for you…to show you she still wanted you.”

He shrugged. “She may work me over yet.”

Iridni giggled but quickly turned again serious. “She will not; she’s a Pelorian.”

The priestess adjusted the nape portion of her cloak to try to stop the rain from running beneath the metal of her armor and onto her shivering skin. “Io…if we are to remain friends, you must promise me something in return.”

“Da?”

She thought a long time before speaking once more. “You cannot toy with me about this.”

He swallowed. “I won’t.”

“You are happy as you are, with Bri…and I am happy as I am. By myself.”

“Eh? You mean no more trying to match you with some turnip farmer?” He smiled that half-crooked way he always did when he was playing the fool. “I thought you were lonely.”

She shook her head. “As I did you. But no…we’ve both been too much concerning ourselves with the other’s business. I felt you wanted to marry me off to remove something tempting you.”

He scratched the back of his neck. “Maybe so. Maybe that was part of it.” He looked at all the bottles she had stacked around her. “Are you done here?”

“What I’ve not finished can wait; it’s urgent you warn Trustee Audric.”

On the road she watched him from behind, noting how he always stayed a few steps ahead of her. He was not careful to walk side by side with her as of old, and Iridni felt she had come at last to understand something about men.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 04, 2017, 03:22:14 AM
Although Pelor had blessed Iridni with many gifts—including His most precious of all, wisdom—she often wished she was clever. Men, of course, valued a woman’s physical appearance so that the most foolish of women, if comely enough, could overthrow the wisest and most intelligent of men, and sometimes cause a man of the highest aims to betray himself and trade his noble character for a bowl of lumpy porridge that tasted sweet in the mouth but was bitter in its digestion.

In that regard she was quite satisfied whenever she looked in the mirror at the pleasing enough appearance that returned her violet-eyed gaze. Both her face and form were sufficient. She had sound, even teeth, fair skin, raven hair, and a perfectly well-proportioned figure...but she was also short and looked apt to bear her husband runts. She had no desire to attract the enmity of other women by owning a statuesque physical beauty that considered itself so surpassing as to make unnecessary a spirit of friendship or a beautiful soul. She had known one man’s lust and did not wish to spark it in others. The nights at the Prancing Nymph and the Gaping Wound had reminded her of that. Besides, observation revealed that such beauty faded, whereas one might increase wisdom and perhaps even cleverness unto the grave.

She could not learn other languages. She could not master a musical instrument, no matter how she longed to play and sing. She was not witty in conversation but often dull and excessively sincere. Above all, she was unimaginative. All of these weaknesses pained her and sometimes made her feel they impoverished her life.

Other than her attractiveness as a young woman with an encouraging smile, she owed her force of personality to effort. She knew her shortcomings and therefore had no qualms about letting other, cleverer people talk. Indeed, she strove to be an attentive listener. She had found that sometimes this quality could compensate for a lack of intellect, as those of great intelligence—having experienced that in comparison most other folk were fools—often listened poorly. She was wise enough to give ear to those more intelligent than she, and many of them found her deference appealing.

Since Io had chosen Bri, nonetheless, Iridni had reexamined how she was pursuing this thing called life—whether she was losing the thread of the existence she had stitched for herself in this new land. Yes, she was joyful at the effect she had helped cause in Io and Bri’s relationship, but who was to say they would not have reached the same conclusion on their own and without her meddling—and, importantly from her own perspective, without so much emotional cost to herself?

Both Yunon and Medea had wondrous intelligence, and so the two of them spent more and more time away from backward Barovia in their intellectual pursuits. That her less gifted mind was incapable of keeping up with either of them meant their relationships would always be unequal, she the child, they her adoptive parents—Yunon, a kindly and patient father, Medea, an always critical mother. If only she were more gifted with brains, it would be easier for her to please them both.

She struck the bullseye in her question: why was it so difficult to please other people? Pelor had placed such a spirit in her, yet He had not made her clever enough to know how, or talented enough to do so through some art like music. She could not even by her diplomacy or own example keep her Kin from continuously fighting among themselves.

In Almor the answer would have been easy: she would convert these others to the true faith so that they might know the joys of Pelor. (She had noted with some satisfaction Io’s recent praying, although she suspected Bri had more to do with that than she.) Here...here...she herself had to work always at feeling the divine presence fill her to overflowing so that natural human unhappiness had no place.

A new believer, even one embraced by the all-consuming light, would here experience the godhead much like a ghost through the mists and shadows that continuously covered this land. She would not know Iridni’s complete brilliant rapture. Could young Pelorian faith even grow here? Iridni’s was strong beyond her years, and yet she used all the perseverance she possessed to warm it and prevent its withering.

Still, she must try, for her own sake as well as the sake of these others. How long could she in isolation serve Pelor with such devotion and not come to believe herself deluded? How could she heal their wounded bodies and neglect their wounded hearts and souls?

The Oerdian proverb echoed in her ears: No clever woman ignites a lamp and puts it in the cellar or covers it with a basket. She instead places her lamp on a stand so that it gives light to her entire home.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 07, 2017, 01:13:52 PM
For the first time since receiving her Kinship key, Iridni spent the night in Vallaki but away from the Lodge and her cot, away from Adeline. She readied herself for bed, slipping on a white, ankle-length nightgown that she tied above her prominent collarbone and then seated herself at the room’s vanity. She unbound her black hair from its braids, so that it cascaded to its full length, and began to brush out the tangles, each stroke sounding like the quick opening of a felt-edged drawer. Her grooming caused sparks of electricity in the fire-dried air, and her face betrayed that from time to time her severe motions cost her some pain.

She was unhappy with herself for the extravagance of the room at the Broken Bell, even though Vayn had provided her with a considerable sum—her share of their Eldritch journey. Of late she had come to indulge her personal weaknesses far too often, wasting money on the ferry when the weather was fine and a brisk walk would have been good for her. In her desire to be attractive, she had allowed her hair to become too long, so that its heat was unbearable when she tried to wear a helm. Part of the reason her harsh brushing hurt so was the tender welt her unshielded scalp had been dealt far beneath the mountain.

At that moment, she in fact hated everything about herself.

She could not stand anyone’s company, knowing how all who knew her must hate her as well. She was insipid. She who worked always to heal wounds and bring her Kin together had caused dissension through her girlish failing. For once Iridni was glad that her mother and her always forgiving father were far away and could not know or hear of their daughter’s shame. Still, Iridni seemed to see Teresa Ren, and the look of disappointment on her face broke Iridni’s heart.

She had hoped that the misstep of Io was over and harm to anyone had been avoided. She should have realized she would have to pay a greater repentance to set it right. Pelor wished yet to teach her more about the nature of even the smallest sin and indulgence—that no obscure corner could be left untouched by light...or darkness would come to thrive in it and then spread its evil to envelop many.

Poor Lex. He tried to assume everyone’s burdens, even hers, when he was already in such great danger himself. She had warned him about his associations, as had Audric, yet he seemed bent on his own destruction, certain to take himself beyond the protection the Kinship could provide. Why, when he had so many pressing emergencies to devote his strength to, had he let the misplaced affection of a young woman distract him—let it poison his and Io’s relationship?

She tried to push that vile image he described from her mind. Yes, this was the effect her weakness had wrought: to cause others, even the purest in heart, to picture her in such a crude way. And to say those words to Io, to say them in front of Anya. How could she ever face any of them again, much less try to lead them as a Herald? She was so ashamed.

She sighed, and in her sigh there was the sound of a small, plaintive cry.

She put down her brush and regathered her hair in one tight bond. She washed her face briskly in the basin of cool, clean water she had set on the vanity. In Chathold her mother had always performed her present task, but on this occasion she would have to manage it herself. She picked up a pair of scissors, leaned over the basin, and began without remorse to cut.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 09, 2017, 11:47:49 AM
The next morning she went to the Lodge to retrieve the rest of her things. Almost no one was there—not anyone, praise be to Pelor, who had heard the epithet Lexington used to describe her relationship to Io. She found Medea talking to Beatrice, an Elven mage she thought was Medea’s rival, but the two instead were enjoying cordial conversation and tea. If Medea knew of Iridni’s shame, she did not evidence it, nor did she comment on Iridni’s shortened hair. This omission surprised the young priestess as whenever she made some change Medea relished the opportunity to criticize her appearance.

She also saw that the floor of the Lodge was covered by dozens of sturdy-looking black briefcases. After greeting the Wayfarers’ guest, she asked, “What are those?”

Medea smirked to Beatrice. “Ah, Iridni...good you here now.”

“Hmm?”

“Some things arrive need store-place what may hold not in Kinship.”

Iridni looked inside of one of the cases and saw it was stuffed with silver ingots. “How did these get here?”

“Medea had them delivered.”

Iridni saw the cases bore the mark of the Bellegarde Consortium and that near the bags the mining company had also left a contract of some sort.

“How many bags on you now, Iridni?”

The Pelorian’s eyes popped, and she tried to lift one of the cases. It weighed more than she did, and she counted dozens. Even if the Dawnfather blessed her temporarily with extra might, she could never manage moving this mass of silver. She looked at Medea glumly, recalling how the mage had so often used her as a pack mule in the past. Did Medea really expect…?

“Fret not. We two move this.” Medea swung her gaze back to Beatrice. “Maybe two iron golems?”

“No, too noisy.” Bea tapped her chin. “Even if we were invisible. Stomping through the city streets...bad idea.”

“Why did you buy this, Medea? What on Oerth are you going to do with it?”

“Maybe cover Lodge’s entrance with silver? All new silver furniture? Or all Wayfarers have silver armor?”

“I thought you were saving for your own wizard’s tower? Didn’t you tell me that was your life’s dream?”

Medea shrugged. “Build tower out of silver then?”

“A wizard tower?” Bea smiled at Medea and arched her brow. “Can other wizards stay at this tower?”

Medea winked. “Only wizards what womens.”

“I”m glad you’re going to move it somewhere else,” Iridni sighed. “It would be so much trouble to mop around when I’m—“ She stopped herself. She would have to leave the cleaning of the Lodge to Lexington in the future. Where was Adeline? At least while Iridni was here she wanted to visit with the one Kin she knew would always look at her with the same nonjudgmental eyes.

“Yes...but what shape best for moving, Bea?”

The two wizards began to transform one after another into various monstrous forms, much like two women deciding together on their evening dress and trying on several without finding one that quite suited. The spectacle made Iridni forget her personal troubles, as she giggled at their insanity.

Finally, the two decided it was safest to travel as themselves, with their human forms maximized in all ways by the Weave. Each hoisted half the silver.

The Elven woman tried to look around her stack at Iridni. “Why is she not carrying anything?”

“She must preserve youth. Iridni still have her whole life ahead.” Iridni looked at Medea quickly. The mage must know of her feelings, her humiliation. Why else was she being so nice? Medea’s face was expressionless.

“Hmm. I’m young,” Bea was saying. “Very young for an Elf, and I still have most of my life ahead of me, too.”

“Shush.” Medea pretended to make dagger eyes at Bea. “We start. Beside, Iridni must needs keep all what left when done. It still weigh something. A lot for puny Iridni.”

Iridni ran to open the door for the two encumbered mages, and the three women—two of them covered head to toe in black briefcases bearing a fortune in silver—trundled out of the homey Lodge into the squalid Vallaki slums. 


Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 18, 2017, 10:17:17 PM
Spoiler: show


A harsh winter descended on Barovia, smothering the warmth and light of Pelor’s sun in an unusually bleak and dank mist. Iridni felt blessed that her god in His infinite mercy sent the consolation of Father Finnegan to her to help her endure this season of cold and death. The learned priest reminded Iridni that good works were not enough to evidence her faith, but she must also remember ritual and observance. She must show her contrition not only in the custom that came most easily to her—personal deprivation—but also through practicing greater self-discipline. As much as she found the repetition of the daily routines that so many Pelorians followed lacking not only in spontaneity but fervor, she would no longer neglect them.

If a holy man as long travelled in his spiritual journey as Father Finnegan found these rote phrases and gestures necessary to cultivate his faith, how could a naif such as she presume she could put her mornings to more productive use? Also, the Holy Father’s comforting counsel helped her forgive Lexington his words and forgive herself for whatever she had done to insinuate that obscene image of her into the usual purity of Lexington’s mind.

Snow flew about her like a million white, stinging gnats. Iridni hated the cold with almost as much passion as she wished to end the blasphemy of undead existence. The memory of Anxan’s attack never left her as an actualized fear, but what fed her imagination’s most fanciful nightmares was, first, becoming an undead herself and, second, dying unfound in a place that was always cold.

Once on the way to Krofburg before the silver rush had turned—in the manner of a spring thaw—the occasional drops of mountain traffic into a stream, she had discovered the isolated, frozen body of a young woman like herself and had struggled to carry the gelid form to the then-sleepy village for revival. She could not countenance what that must feel like: to freeze to death as Pelor withdrew His holy, life-giving presence from her until her heart stopped, her blood congealed in her veins, and her supple flesh hardened into an icy blue—then to lie in frigid stasis for all eternity as though banished by the Sun Father to Cania.

Even so, the next several days and nights after Father Finnegan’s visit she spent in the glacial mountains, searching for Emma in Krofburg, then going with Vayn, Io, and others to Mount Baratak. Vayn sought rare essences, and Iridni wished to repay him for the many fine bags he had provided her to store Medea’s silver.

Medea. Her wizard friend seemed to grow ever more eccentric, first in purchasing the silver—Beatrice said Medea had in fact tried to buy three times as much—now in hoarding it like a human dragon. Perhaps Medea’s frequent shape-shifting was affecting her mind. When Iridni pretended to burn Medea’s countless silver certificates in the fire, having secretly emptied them from their original case, the wizard returned the Pelorian’s prank by placing her hands around Iridni’s neck and squeezing. In an instant Iridni was back in the Forest of Adri, struggling to breathe and incapacitated by fear as she hallucinated it was Anxan once more choking the life from her.

Although Medea quickly released her tight grip with warm words, the disoriented priestess could not be certain how much of Medea’s anger toward her had been pretense. Perhaps if Iridni had really burned the certificates, Medea would have not stopped until….

***

The journey to Baratak proved more rewarding than the search for Emma. Unexpectedly, as the five started their descent from the mountain, they discovered the undead archer, Rozassiel Tressi 'vyr, who had begun preying on both Vallaki and Krofburg. The wicked wight was no match for them, as they had all been recently blessed both by Pelor and the Weave. Io took the fallen monster’s mighty bow into the service of a brighter cause, and Vayn proposed they carry the body to Krofburg for the bounty the Burgomeister’s steward had posted. All Iridni could think of, however, was the warm fire that awaited her in the Lodge and cringed at the idea of another tiresome hike up a wintry peak.

Vayn provided them with hot varnishes, but both she and Anna were cold enough to whimper with pain. Nevertheless, Anna refused to give in, intent on demonstrating to her beloved Vayn her fortitude. Iridni felt no such compunction about impressing Io, who wore a ridiculous combination of furs and feathers.

“Eh. It keeps me warm,” he said, scratching his butt.

Iridni envied the short and green Caliban traveling with them who walked wreathed in wonderful fire. He was a friend of Io’s, who referred to him as “Ballz,” but Iridni decided on simply “B.” He quickly won her over in three ways: he admired her botched haircut, gave her a lily when she healed him, and provided her with the sweetest-smelling perfume she had ever possessed, having never spent any money on such an indulgent frivolity. Later, when Io tousled her shorn hair, she noticed him sniffing of where she had dabbed the scent behind each ear.

“You won’t be keeping the men off you,” B said, and Iridni had to resist a giggle.

Finally, they were back in Vallaki. She went with the now invisible B to the Lodge because garda were patrolling the Outskirts—garda who would not welcome a small green-skinned being, no matter how fine his manners, clothing, and smell. Inside, B gave the priestess everyone else’s gold and made ready to depart, but she heard someone descending the stairs. It was Lexington, whom she had not seen since…since his and Io’s confrontation over her.

Although she was cold and exhausted, she wanted to say something now to ease any remaining tension between them. “Lexington, where have you been?” She meant to express concern over his absence, but Lexington seemed to take her question as a challenge.

“Why? Did anything important happen?”

B nodded to them both and started out, perhaps sensing the two had unspoken business. As the Caliban left, however, Io came in. Both he and Lexington set their jaws at the sight of the other.

Pelor, forgive...but I cannot be an instrument of Thy peace now, the exhausted young woman silently prayed. She turned and began ascending the Lodge’s stairs. At the top she paused and yawned, mumbling, “Io…you should tell him of our success against the wight. That will be a more pleasant subject for you both than, well, anything else.” She closed the door behind her and slid down against it, yet armored, but in utter fatigue.

Though thy servant is weary, Thou has at last warmed her, she thought, before she passed into sleep.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on November 11, 2017, 01:08:44 AM
The Pelorian priestess hunched over her writing sheaf as the candle by her melted into the long hours of night. This was not how her life was supposed to be, she thought, as the hours ticked away and she realized that soon it would be one year since her abduction from Chathold and the Prelacy. The Kinship seemed to flourish, though so many she had loved had come and gone. Now...Master Yunon—although he had asked her not to refer to him with that honorific any more. She had never meant it to seem servile; rather she believed he had mastered so many things, particularly those skills that her average intelligence denied her.

Sewage. How was it that someone who devoted her life to the light now must divert her attention to such mundane and subterranean tasks as repairing a sewer pipe? Beatrice, Anya, and the others were confident that a simple ward would allow all to breathe the sewage like air. Breathe? Yes, but would that deter the filth that filled her lungs and spread plague? She gagged and only her strong will prevented her retching from the thought.

Her pen flicked across the parchment. She watched the tiny words she formed from nothingness and wondered how much they mattered.

Emma had drawn a knife on her. Another failure. She wondered where Emma and her unborn child might be. The expectant mother had released Iridni from her contractual obligation, but it did not release her conscience, nor her fear that the crazy fool would not only destroy herself but her defenseless offspring.

The pen scratched, and Iridni pushed it forward heartlessly.

Whatever her weakness, whatever her loneliness, darkness remained in this world. It was not her place to rest or grow weary. She must have faith that when she had done all that Pelor expected, her god would say, “Enough, my good and faithful servant.”

And allow her to return home.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 02, 2017, 03:30:41 PM
Spoiler: show


She could trust no one. Iridni thought back to her life in Chathold in the Prelacy and considered whether the sweet remembrances of her girlhood when she had felt protected and loved—not even yet a year receded into the obscuring mists of memory—had been the dream. For these 11 months she had less and less hoped to awaken from a nightmarish realm of violence and betrayal, of villains who continually worked machinations for the suffering and death of one another only to invite their own eventual murder, yet still she fitfully slumbered, hoping and praying that Pelor would open her violet eyes once more in Almor. She knew her former life was real; her mother, father, and sister she could still see in her mind as clearly as her own hand when she held it before her face.

Even so. She also knew how she had come to be here and that her abductor, Anxan, had lived and breathed by her side, not in Barovia, but on the shores of peaceful Relmor Bay and along the pleasant, lazy banks of the clear Harp River. Perhaps her longtime belief in trust was only a childish girl’s naiveté. Had her neighbors and companions always been the same sort as here, only she was then too young, gullible, and stupid to perceive it?

To be fair, malice was not the only author of betrayal. Sometimes even the best intentions could give rise to false hopes that, once pierced by the sharp pin of truth, could seem a form of treachery. She herself had caused so much harm to others by encouraging them in courses that in retrospect led to pain and bitterness. Was true loyalty always to be honest to those she loved, even if it meant discouraging them in their highest aspirations?

The Baron had asked her would she lie to protect her friends, and she had answered him yes, if she must. If she was forced to—but she had come to him willingly because she believed a great many lies were being told, lies that would lead to tragic consequences not at all in line with the Code she passed every morning upon leaving the Lodge, those words she had sworn to live by when she had joined the Kin. For that matter, was a lie told out of the very best of intentions ever truly loyal? To misrepresent and distort the portrait of someone, even to improve it, was a betrayal in the sense that you declined to accept that person as she truly was. For whatever reason, you preferred your own creation to your imperfect but actualized companion.

She realized many thought her an earnest fool, else they would not so often disregard how she urged them to be more prudent and careful. Perhaps she was. Perhaps in this dark place decisiveness and force would always prove stronger than reason, consideration, and diplomacy, given voice by small lungs that had breathed so little of the world’s seductive fragrances. How many times had the Baron spoken to her as though she had no idea what she was talking about, as though she was someone who was witnessing an illusionist perform and mistook everything she saw as real?

Yes, finally and most importantly, those she felt loyal could and would betray her from weakness and ignorance, rather than any evil intent at all. She knew this because she knew herself to be guilty of that form of treachery. She always made such a mess of things and failed to please those dearest to her. Iridni could not name a single soul she felt was happy with her at the present, at least not of those she counted as having most tried to make so.

She studied the crude holy symbol of Pelor that Io had once fashioned for her. It still looked much more like something the Morning Lordians would employ in their services. Iridni wondered what this said about Io’s and Bri’s relationship but not overmuch: she had forsworn meddling in the romances and loves of others once and for all, and who was she, of all people, to have an opinion on how such matters ought to work?

Kneeling, she placed beside the symbol on the table the other important artifact she had so recently acquired and which she must with all her loyalty, wisdom, and might keep safe, no matter how little she thought herself capable.

Dear Pelor, my God, please, please help me not to fail again. I beg Thee with all supplication to grant Thy servant the strength she cannot possess of her own, the wisdom to see this time what to do. With most humbled heart, on plaintive knee, I plead with Thee to take notice of her need. Please, God of the Most High and Brightest Light.

In the solitary darkness, Iridni pushed with all her will against the door that she felt opening against her. For from beyond that door a whisper floated on a poisonous draft, a whisper she shook her head in refusal to hear, seeking in vain to disperse the cloud forming about her like the coils of a mind flayer that hungered to devour her brain. The poison carried her own voice as it hissed through the crack of the door frame and seeped into her ears, seeming somehow both cold and cruel in its timbre so that it was almost unrecognizable. “No!” she whimpered to it, and her whimper was the same cry of innocence threatened as was heard 11 months before in the Forest of Adri.

She refused to listen as the miasma cackled and would name who had most betrayed her.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 04, 2017, 01:54:41 PM
Iridni locked the door to the Lodge library and opened the container she had secreted close against her, wrapped in her cloak. She was not sure if she was supposed to do even this much: when Io gave her his will for safekeeping, she had left it sealed until he bade her open it. Yet she needed guidance how to proceed, and those she could take counsel with were becoming increasingly rare. How will I know? What will the sign be?

Inside were several strange objects and personal effects, the latter making her feel sadly as though she were going through the belongings of someone already deceased. She shuddered. A peculiar odor, while in some ways pleasant, also added to her dread because she suspected it was of an arcane rather than divine nature.

Several parchments took up most of the space of the vessel. She began to examine those, uncurling them after double-checking the security of the door and that no footsteps drew near. Here and there she could understand a hint of their import, but some words were in an ancient language she could not decipher, and all of it dealt with secrets and rituals far beyond her ability and education to understand.

Why wasn't I more attentive when Master Yunon and Medea tried to teach me about the Weave?

After two almost sleepless nights of study, she knew her effort was hopeless. All she could do was sit and wait...and hope that she would understand the summons, the sign, if and when it came.

She replaced everything carefully. Although no doubt the scrolls were the most precious contents in the world's eyes, she used special gentleness with the personal effects--a small pair of spectacles--for she almost wept to see them alone and bereft of the face that usually wore them.

After gathering a few necessities and writing a note to Medea, she slipped quietly away from the Lodge. She knew her longest friend would be heartbroken about Beatrice, and so Iridni could not bear to face her for the part the Pelorian had played in what had transpired. Still, the wizard must retrieve her silver. The priestess could be responsible for only so many burdens at once, and she knew not where or, indeed, how far her current path would take her. But it might be to a place where even Medea could not reach.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 13, 2017, 09:16:05 PM
Iridni tarried several days in the long-suffering Village of Barovia but saw no sign of Yunon. Nor Vayn: She knew the latter now called the Blood of the Vine home as much as he did any other place, so she retired there each evening and, before going upstairs to prayers and bed, discreetly scanned those dining and drinking in the enormous common areas. For these nightly intrusions among the pub crawlers, she received more than a few leers and, once, a crudely gestured invitation from a fiery-faced patron who, when her eyes accidentally met his, made as if to rise and wobble toward her. Like a doe that hears the cocking of the hunter’s crossbow, she bolted.

My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Although always she found much use and need for her healing and curative arts here so that she felt purposeful even without a summons from Yunon, when her clerical labors in the human fields of the village finished, the Pelorian passed her nights in greater loneliness than ever before. At least in the Lodge there was always Adeline and the chance Ionathan might drop by—or that the spiteful Medea would look up long enough from her ever-present book to target Iridni with a few of her poisonous verbal darts. Medea had not responded to her note or otherwise acknowledged the young woman since Beatrice’s departure from the Kinship.

From the south and west, Krofburg haunted her like a sinister spirit whose voice hissed a relentless Siren summons regardless of how many times she declined to answer. How could a place that held so little enticement for her be so unyielding in its attempts to lure? Were the claims for tons of the wretched Krofburg silver that she bore in her pack but had no desire to possess not a sufficiently tenacious hold constantly on her body, no matter how distant her travel?

The boomtown tempted the greedy with wealth and power, the licentious with lust, and now drew the virtuous with tales of kidnapped, enslaved women, desperate for rescue. Previously, Iridni had endeavored to prevent the Kinship from intervening in a battle between two evil and powerful companies, seeing no good side to take. Although she had once perceived some kindness in Valerian Joubert—the tale of how he and the malicious Justine Valcourt had met their fates was too gruesome to contemplate—she could not, nevertheless, judge their necromantic killer as having committed murder. Rather, he (or she) had resolved a dilemma that had threatened to draw the Kinship into a conflict in which it had no interest. No one in the Bellegarde Consortium or Red Vardo could be called weak and in need of the sacred light’s protection from darkness.

They were the darkness.

Remaining poised on a quickly eroding point while the two warred beneath her aloof piety, however, might no longer be tenable, not if the reports about the Vorostokov Bratva’s wicked and barbarous operation were true. She also suspected the identity of the individual whom the slavers sought; she would make certain of it with a single question the next occasion she saw the woman.

If the suspicion proved accurate, Iridni would warn the refugee that, regardless of any guarantee she might have extracted for her silence, her past had not been entirely forgotten or forgiven. As usual, the priestess expected to receive nothing but distrust and dismissal in return, but one entirely innocent life could not speak for itself, and as long as that remained the case, she must do what she could to protect it.

All of these considerations weighed on the small and simple young woman as she knelt to procure a herb one morning in the countryside near the village. Looking up, she spied, across the way on the pavilion, a hooded figure whom she recognized, thanks to the large wolf accompanying him: it was Io. Upturning the basket of her morning’s work, she bounded over and buried her face against the monstrous, furry flank of the beast, too deliriously happy to form any words, instead squealing in her childish delight.

Io, smoking, watched the Pelorian nuzzle Viorela, then said, “I been worried about you, girl.”

She continued to slide her cheek back and forth against Viorela’s warm side as she turned her face enough to reply. “What?...Why?”

“Are you in trouble?”

She sighed and pushed her slender fingers through thick, dark fur as she felt the pleasing muscles of the dire wolf, so much grace and power constrained within but that relaxed and yielded now to Iridni’s insistent, feminine caress. Though Viorela maintained her aloof, stoic bearing while Iridni stroked her, lest she appear weak and obsequious, the priestess sensed that the bitch in secret craved physical affection.

“No, I’m not in any trouble, Io. I’m perfectly fine.” She set her jaw and looked back from Io’s Half-Vistani visage to that of the wolf, this time moving her own face close to Viorela’s muzzle, her raven hair meshing and blending with the wolf’s ebony fur.

Io made a sign of dismissal to Viorela, and the animal obeyed with only a quick, backward glance to Iridni before vanishing into the trees surrounding them. “Let’s follow her,” Io said. “I know where she’s going, and it’s un private spot. Bun place for a chat.”

Iridni, like Viorela, obeyed him automatically. She so needed someone to talk to, and she had always been able to pour out her heart to the ugly and ill-mannered Io. She would tell him everything.

Except perhaps about Constantine.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 16, 2017, 01:38:25 AM
Spoiler: show


After a long, restorative conversation in which Ionathan was unusually comforting and encouraging to her, Iridni returned to the Lodge to meet Dryjka, who, along with Agnès, had been summoned by the Krofburg militia. Though the Pelorian dreaded such an interview, two of her Kin had need of her, saying the more of them in attendance the less danger. Her going would also mean disregarding Audric’s recommendation that they all avoid the place, soon after she had angered him by her interposition with Baron Laurier, but she thought on this occasion the Kinship’s Trustee would be more understanding of her mild insubordination.

While she discussed with Dryjka how they should proceed, Constantine knocked on the door of the Lodge, and this time there was no Ailne to deter his audience with Iridni. Instead, Dryjka welcomed the onetime Morning Lordian. Upon entering, Constantine winked at the young priestess, further confusing her as to his intentions and her own. For, in her recent rendezvous with Io, she found she had to remind herself once more that the Half Vistani could never be hers.

That had been, however, Io at his best and most worthy of love: the ugly, guileless man who, when she needed him most, always rose above his usual habits and manners. When he did, he treated her—despite her youth—as an equal and took everything she said with seriousness and respect. It was plain, then, that he loved her as well, whether or not he was free to draw her to him as anything but a sister. He showed her his sensitivity as he did no one else but perhaps Bri, and, if he were the same with Bri, that confirmed only that the two Pelorians were near to one another in the strength of his affection.

Constantine...Constantine was somewhat short, but for a young woman of Iridni’s height that made scant difference. What there was of him was charming and handsome in a style that Io could never aspire to equal. His smile shone from him upon her like a brilliant sunrise. He, in fact, now and often reminded her of Alistar, and like Alistar, he had saved Iridni’s life, fending off a Balor long enough for her to escape. He was brave, good-looking, and clearly in pursuit of her. What was there that caused her to doubt this suave hero?

Medea had said him old, but he had lived several years fewer than Alistar. Nevertheless, he also seemed far more...experienced...in his way with women. Perhaps that was what unsettled Iridni, as Alistar had reassured her they were learning to love together.

All she knew was that she felt safer with Io than with Constantine. Although the latter had all the courage a woman could ask and Io might treat her feelings with the roughness of a clumsy silver miner, yet even so she was more certain that Io would never let any real harm come to her. She trusted Io completely. Perhaps it was the wounds on her heart from Alistar’s apparent desertion, but something in Constantine’s self-confidence and assurance made her fear him.

Dryjka departed for a time to say goodbye to a woman of his own and left the two alone. “Where have you been traveling, Constantine?” Iridni began.

“To the Village and back.” He settled down by the fireplace, unfastening some of his armor, still gazing at her and smiling.

“Oh? I’m surprised I didn’t run into you. I was there for several days myself.”

“Really? Why? I don’t care much for it, but I’ve seen worse.” His smile turned sheepish, and his eyes continued to dance over her, the light from the fire making them sparkle like the surface of a stream.

“It is not like home. Still, I feel needed there.”

He looked from her for a moment at their rustic surroundings. “This feels like home?”

She shook her head. “Nothing here is home for me, Constantine. But the Lodge...I feel safe here and like I belong.” Then she corrected herself: “Most of the time.” She studied his broken and healed nose, the scars on his face, glancing away quickly whenever he met her scrutiny with too much meaningful intensity. In years, he was not so very much older than she, but Medea was right that he was old compared to her in the life he had lived.

After a while, he stretched out expansively and began to tell her of a woman he knew who had been executed when he was first a lightcarrier. Iridni tried to listen to the words but found herself continually distracted by Constantine’s face, trying to see through it and its expressions to the man within. Slowly as he talked, he removed a glove and put his hand over hers, stroking hers gently.

She looked down as though her hand belonged to someone else and she was but observing the way his caressed it, although she felt the warmth of his now and the dryness in her mouth that his touch had caused. After watching his hand's movement on hers—for a moment his thumb exploring the trembling softness of the cleft of her palm—she said hoarsely, “Go on.”

He looked somewhat amused and continued. Several minutes passed before he concluded by telling her the moral of his tale. Instead of responding to its lesson, however, Iridni was disoriented to discover she had somehow passed to leaning against his shoulder.

She cleared her throat. “Constantine, why have you come back to Vallaki? Do you intend to rejoin with your church?”

“I have not made up my mind on that, Allek seems to wish me to.”

She was aware of his breath against the top of her recently washed hair and hoped he favored the perfume with which Balzaabar had provided her.

“You seem nervous,” he whispered.

She raised her eyes to stare into his intently and whispered in return. “Constantine...I...I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of me. I am just so, so lonely.”

He sighed, and she looked down. “It has made me...weak.”

“You have likely already figured I keep coming here because I’m interested in seeing you.”

She nodded against him. “I have made promises to Alistar. He has never released me from those, and I don’t know that he’s ever been unfaithful. But even so...he has been gone for so long.”

“You can’t be expected to wait for someone forever, Iridni. I hope I’m not upsetting you.”

“No...I’m sorry...but I don’t want you to think I’m...the sort of woman who would just latch onto anyone….So many already have made...never mind. I can’t say what I mean. I don’t know what I mean.”

His lips twitched with amusement, and he dropped his hand from hers to the curve of her flank before slowly leaning his head in and opening his mouth as though to speak. She thought he intended to whisper something, and so she moved her head closer as well. Instead his other hand slipped behind her head, holding her without any resistance—his thin, calloused fingers sliding into her ebony mane so that she felt the strength of his grip—and he kissed her.

She was dismayed to find herself returning his stolen kiss hungrily, as though she was on the verge of drowning and was trying to draw from him a life-giving breath. Instead of the drowning sensation receding from her as she yielded her mouth to his, however, she felt herself disappearing under a tumultuous wave and an urge to surrender entirely to the maelstrom. Yet her will prevailed, and she drew back after a moment with a look of embarrassment.

“That wasn’t so bad was it?” Constantine asked quietly.

Her violet eyes searched his face for reassurance.

“Don’t be so ashamed. I always liked you,” he continued. “A compassionate and brave woman. It’s a strange thing to be ashamed when you care for someone.”

She blushed. “No, Constantine…it wasn’t bad at all. But...but I don’t want you to think that I am the kind of woman who cannot control such….” There was a long pause. “Urges.” Still, her hand went to his elbow as though to reassure her that he would not retreat from her.

His own hand continued to rest on her hip. “I’m not thinking you have a habit of constantly kissing men who visit the lodge or some such.”

She shook her head. “Constantine...I have nev—...have you been with many women?”

He frowned slightly. “Th-there have been a few.”

She waited for whatever he might wish to confess.

“I haven’t perhaps had the soundest judgment with women. Always.”

Her hand traveled along the muscles of his arm in a stroking, reassuring motion.

“I reached the conclusion perhaps if I am to court some woman I’d rather it be someone I feel is kind and compassionate and not just exciting. You’re a beautiful woman, but it’s your kindness and how I remember you were when I came here after Dumitru’s death.” He smiled sadly. “That’s what made me think of you.”

The mention of Father Miklos melted her more than did his praise of her form. Still, her self-doubt against all his previous loves resisted the notion that she in her simplicity could mean anything more to him than a dalliance. “Constantine, I fear that you will find me boring.”

She exhaled audibly and at last some of the tension that strove to petrify her eased with her confession. “Because I do not seem to know how to please a man.”

“Iridni...I care for you. I don’t have any expectations on you to please me. I feel happy being with you right now.”

She sighed, this time with a note of contentment. Then she put one of her gentle hands on each side of his face and drew him to her. Though she meant to kiss him with tenderness and gratitude, once more she felt the long-suppressed hunger rising in her as her lips sought his.

The door was flung wide. Dryjka barrelled back into the Lodge red-eyed and flailing, his heavy armor clanking an alarm. “Is time, ‘Ridni!”
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 17, 2017, 05:46:16 PM
The Count’s men.

While in dismal Krofburg, Iridni learned secondhand from Anya and Alorin that, according to the village’s militia, an agent of the Count had “dispatched” the slavers. The two Kin treated a badly burned local garda, Bogdan Popovici, who was able to inform them of how Sokolov’s gang met its grisly end.

Why could the young priestess not find any relief at this news? Was it because of earlier reports that the militia was corrupt and on the payroll of the Vorostokov Bratva? Yes, but also she thought of Father Miklos and the forbidden book he had opened before her when he recounted to her the history of the Morning Lord temples.

The Count’s men.

Neither Anya nor Alorin could explain what had become of the captive women. Iridni could only pray that they had not escaped one nightmare to be ensnared in another—one from which not even death itself would waken them. The Pelorian was in Barovia and must pretend the denouement was what it appeared to others to be: deliverance from above by a strong, decisive, and, on this singular occasion, benevolent ruler.

Iridni was at least able to warn [redacted]—although the madwoman, as usual, refused the Kinship’s aid, insisting she trusted only Audric, Vayn, and Lex. Iridni left her, then, in the care of Vayn, whose continued survival evidenced he was resourceful in ways the mild priestess could not guess. Perhaps the end of the Bratva meant the end of the danger of reprisal, although Iridni suspected the Bellegarde would still seek their “friend,” as she might incriminate them for their involvement with the slavers.

The question of an interview with the militia now was moot, and the officer who had summoned Dryjka and Agnès failed to appear. Consequently, Iridni made her way back to the Lodge, alone.

Constantine was gone. Instead, she found Lloyd—dear to Trustee Zephyr and who had recently asked to join with the Wayfarers—along with Io, who was engaged in an odd sort of banter with a stranger identifying himself to her as “Marcy.” The last showed Iridni a wooden implement he called a marotte, which she understood to be a child’s toy, although it seemed rather large for a child to wield. Lloyd had come to see Zephyr and only observed the others while she waited, speaking but a few words.

Despite the playfulness of Marcy, Io’s overall mood was morose, and he was drinking heavily. Iridni could not be certain whether Io actually liked the gregarious Marcy, but then it was often difficult to tell Io’s true feelings about most subjects without persistence and patience. Marcy, for his part, was flirtatious with Iridni and, though a stranger, complimented her appearance until she wore a constant blush. The few times Io laughed, it was at something Marcy said and his clowning with Iridni. Nevertheless, the Half Vistani kept drinking and watching while Marcy began to teach her to perform tricks with the marotte.

Remembering how Io had so recently dispersed her own despair, the young woman grinned encouragingly at her moody confidant from time to time as she and Marcy cut up, wishing she knew the cause of Io’s troubles but able only to entertain him as a sort of jester’s assistant to the mischievous Marcy. Iridni had little understanding of why Io found their interplay so amusing, so she gaged her success at being a good sport and pleasing him by his reaction. As the Half Vistani observed the two, however, his laughter became softer and less frequent.

After the passing of half an hour or so thus, Iridni stoppered Io's bottle and murmured quietly, "Save some for later, eh?"

Father Audric came clanking down the stairs, and Iridni quickly assumed a more business-like manner in the trustee’s armored presence, introducing him to both of the Lodge’s visitors. Io took this time to push himself up, stumble mightily, and bid them all goodnight. The worried Pelorian moved to assist him up the stairs but then considered having to rely on her might embarrass him. She let him go alone.

Audric and Marcy knew each other of old and began to reminisce. Iridni turned to listen to them, whispering an excuse for Io’s behavior to Lloyd, or perhaps a rationalization for her own benefit: “He drinks because he misses his beloved.” She looked at Lloyd with meaning, thinking of Io and Bri, but also Zephyr and Lloyd, and...and all so many other lonely separations by time and place in this mist-filled land. “It is hard to go too long without one’s love.”

Lloyd understood her and nodded with a small flush.

At that, an owl swooped down the stairs from behind Iridni, cawing and careening. She knew with certainty it was Ionathan. “Make sure the window is closed!” she cried. “He’ll hurt himself if he flies out like this.”

The owl circled fruitlessly for a few moments and then collapsed on his back on the Lodge floor. Iridni knelt by him while the others gaped, but before she could gather him into her lap, the owl once more took wing and flapped up the stairs. There was a louder thud.

Scaling the stairs, Iridni found Io on his back in his human form near the cots, and she helped him into one. He began to mutter while she tried to pull off his boots, finally having to brace herself against the base of the cot and engage all her strength. The boot popped, and she landed on her bottom.

“That was dull.”

“Shh, Io, you just need to sleep.”

She heard him mumble something about Marcy and bunã, but her Balok was still too uncertain to know whether he meant the word as a sincere compliment or with sarcasm. Regardless, she doubted Ionathan could be held too accountable for what he might say at this moment. She stared briefly at his homely face before kissing his burning forehead...and extinguishing the lamp. She then returned downstairs to see whether her trustee had any need of her.


Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 10, 2018, 12:12:42 AM
As Iridni boarded the rickety Vistani caravan to the Mist Camp, she recalled the second edict carved on the Lodge wall: Always be loyal to fellow members of the Kinship and this code. Never leave fellow comrades behind, and if they are held in perils beyond your powers to overcome, seek help from other Kinship members.

Warden Agnès was a prisoner of the Covenant, somewhere in the eastern part of Dementlieu, and the Kin were obligated to try to free her as one of their own. Trustee Zephyr had his hands full with diplomacy, and Trustee Audric was occupied with the recent revelations regarding Serilda and the purported murder of Angelique Hebert. Herald Mainane Iridni had not seen in ages, and Herald Anya had been slain by the Port vampire. Though she was little suited for such a task--speaking no Mordentish, lacking any knowledge of the civil war or even Dementlieu geography--the Pelorian was the only officer available. Complicating matters was the poor reputation currently of the Kinship in Port and that the nobleman vampire who had killed Anya still roamed the city's night.

The last time Iridni had journeyed to Port she had been accosted by surprise in the caravan itself and had lived to tell the tale only because the intruder allowed her to go free unmolested. Someone unknown was placing bounties on Kinship officers in Vallaki's Drain underbelly, which she supposed included her.

On top of it all, she was recovering from the flu, so that her eyes watered and her throat scratched. Cleric, heal thyself.

Nevertheless, the diminutive priestess trusted in her god's will. If she died in Pelor's service, in Elysium the Fortress of the Sun awaited her--a manor surrounded for endless miles with vineyards, farmland, and orchards upon which Pelor's brilliance always shone. Someday her mother, father, and sister would join her there, although she might never see them again in this life, and she intended that they would embrace her with pride rather than shame. This thought strengthened her resolve, though it did little to calm the beating of her fearful heart....or the dripping of her runny nose.

She did not intend to fight anyone, though as a Pelorian, she must do what she could should she encounter the undead Roquefort. Her aim was only to ensure Agnès was safe and knew that her Kin were working to free her. Iridni hoped the Covenant might accept a ransom as she understood this to be a common practice in such wars among "gentlemen."

The camp was empty and deserted of both friend or possible foe. So Iridni waited alone for the next caravan to Port with increasing trepidation. Suppose the giant man with the ugly reputation found her here again? Would he be as merciful a second time? Or the Baron? He had given her a cold, hard look when he spotted her with Medea, unlike his friendly manner in the past, despite her never having wronged him and in fact doing all she could to keep peace between him and the Kinship.

The caravan pulled up and a single hooded passenger disembarked. Iridni approached uncertainly, but then she recognized a familiar, gimpy gait from a knee injury that had never healed. It was Yunon.

She had not seen her one-time mentor since his anger with her the night when Beatrice left the Kinship. She still carried his secret artifacts, however, that he had entrusted to her should his research bring the attention of powers beyond his ken to control (the research she had a fool's fond hope would provide an escape from this dread domain).

"Yunon!" she cried with unmeasured joy to see, finally, a friendly face.

"Hrm--oh--hello my dear. Odd to see you wandering about. Has it been so long? I do tend to lose track of time."

She giggled in spite of herself. "I'm on my way to Port-a-Lucine on a fool's errand, but I would love to catch up with you and seek your council."

"I'll travel with you, as I'm on my way back from the desert and need to return to the Erudite archives for some notes."

The barely-a-woman priestess and the scholarly old wizard climbed into the wagon together, bound for Roquefort's home of Port-a-Lucine, as the bright rays of the sun faded and the hour neared 6.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 11, 2018, 10:57:34 PM
Spoiler: show


Once alone with Yunon in the transport, Iridni blew her nose delicately before speaking. “Were you aware that Warden Agnès has been arrested?”

Yunon looked older and perhaps more tired than ever as the wagon swayed them both, its motions seeming to pain him in his bones and joints. “I was not, but I had taken that as a possibility. It is not proper as a Wayfarer to involve oneself in political affairs.” He stared at her. “Is this your errand?”

“Yes.” Iridni paused. “I don't know that she was doing anything political. Trustee Zephyr informed us of it. But in any case, our oath...we are sworn not to leave comrades behind, are we not?”

He made no direct answer. “So you plan a rescue attempt, or some hope of such?”

“Well...perhaps ransoming her.”

“How great a fortune have you amassed, young Ren?” His sternness with her could not, for a moment, restrain an indulgent smile.

“I have 30,000. Only. But if they name a price, I...I shall raise more.”

She thought she saw a slight, disapproving shake of his head, but then he said, “Just let me know the price they give you. If any.”

At least the old wizard had not lectured her the idea was hopeless. After a sigh he added, “You place yourself in danger, you know. Are you headed there now?”

“For now I want to talk with you.” She tried a cheerful voice. “I’m not headed anywhere. I’m ill-suited for this, as Warden Agnès is behind ‘enemy’ lines. Frankly, I don’t know who is friend and foe here.”

“Ah well. Everyone is one and the same, friend and enemy.” He stretched out his gaunt legs, and Iridni heard his knees pop. “They might snap your little neck if they suspect you of being a spy. Anyway, tell me of the Kin.”

“Much has happened.”

“Lately?”

“Yes...things are coming to a head that were set in motion before.”

Yunon stroked his long, gray beard. “Like what, eh?”

“I will tell you when you think we’re in a secure spot.” She had come not to trust the safety of caravans.

He nodded and they passed the rest of their journey sitting side by side, but absorbed in their own thoughts. It was possible Yunon dozed.

Once in the city, Iridni trailed after the wizard as quickly as she could, not having time to change from her armor, although in Port-a-Lucine this meant unwanted attention and disapproving looks. She clanked along, her Kinship amulet secreted beneath her breastplate. She discovered that the old man could move quickly when he wanted to, bad knee or no. His gaze went now and then to the growing purple of twilight on the horizon as though the late hour lent urgency to his steps. In fact, he seemed almost a little panicked, looking back at her now and then with impatience but also concern. He was worried—and it was about her that he worried.

At last they arrived at a printing shop. Yunon held the door for her, his eyes again sweeping their surroundings and even the sky above as he waited for her to pass. “Down the stairs we go!”

He produced a large, ornate key and opened the door to the basement. Iridni was astonished by what was revealed to her once she passed through the doorframe. “Oh my! I would never have guessed this was so extensive below.”

Although a basement, the expanse was much more regal and well-furnished than the main floor of the Kinship Lodge. “It’s…wonderful!”

Yunon did not smile or even reply to this delighted reaction of the young priestess; he was busily and grimly casting spells. When he finished, he said only, “Come and sit.” Iridni obeyed. “Now tell me of the Kinship.”

“You know about the situation with Audric, Laurier, and Roquefort?”

“Indeed. Another Kin approached me, and I directed her to Zephyr with the information. Since then, I’ve sent him other snippets.” He peered nervously into the darkness and his voice fell to a whisper. “You should know that Roquefort is a member of this Society now.”

The Pelorian started. “I feared in coming here I might cross paths with him. And I would have no choice, Yunon, in my reaction.”

He glared. “You have a choice, but I understand why you feel you do not; being a Pelorian, you might struggle with that.” His nails scratched nervously on the table between them. “But doing so, you’d cause only more harm.”

“I hope…I hope I don’t encounter him. My errand is simply to seek after Agnès.”

“That’s what I thought we would speak of.” The old wizard let out a very long breath. “We should have gone elsewhere. It’s growing quite dark now, but perhaps if we hurry. Let me suggest a nearby tavern.”

Yunon’s indecision troubled Iridni, as she sensed he was casting about for the best way to protect her, knowing that the wrong move could prove fatal for either or both of them. Nevertheless, they relocated swiftly, and he once again warded himself and their private room with protections against the dark monster they feared.

“Yunon, should I be asking Pelor to bless us?” She spoke without emotion, but her mouth felt very dry.

“You should do nothing to call attention to yourself,” he said gravely. “This creature can conjure magic as strong as my own…Ninth Circle spells. You would not stand a chance against him.”

[Spoilers redacted]

Yunon frowned faintly but did not seem shocked. “And how do you suppose you’ll resist his abilities, if you encounter him?”

“I don’t wish to encounter him. I’m…I’m afraid of him. He has already killed Anya!” She put her hand unconsciously to her throat. “But, if Fate brings us one to the other, the Sun Father has commanded His servants regarding undead, and I cannot turn my lips from that cup."

“Then it was a risk to come here.” He put a hand to his wizened forehead. “Alone at that.”

“I will go find Agnès and then leave. But I also wanted to talk to you, to see you, to tell you what I could as long as I was here.”

“Yes, please. That will give us something to do while we pass this dangerous night together.” The old man rubbed his eyes. “I should stay with you, eh?”

For the long hours of darkness, the two companions kept watch one over the other—Yunon doing the lion’s share, as he expended his magical energies time and again in hopes that, should their enemy appear, they would be ready and shielded to the extent he was able. Iridni, in turn, stood over him when he rested and replenished his reservoirs from the Weave, knowing that these moments were when the two were at their most vulnerable. Throughout the relentless clock strokes together they took the opportunity to learn what each had been doing and something of the other’s past.

She was most disappointed that the wizard had achieved no breakthrough in his research that had once seemed so promising, if perilous, and this revelation led them naturally to reminiscence about the friends and family they had both lost in being taken by the Mists. “One of the reasons this place has such a darkening effect on everyone,” she said, “is because it severs us all from those we loved.”

“Indeed so, but we learn to survive all the same. And distance nor time has any real power over love.”

“I suppose not.” The sun was coming up, and the bright light that crept in from the window revealed again the haggard age in Yunon’s face, worsened now that she had caused him so much stress and cost him a night’s sleep. “I suppose we must also appreciate those who we have with us, rather than always pining for the company of those we’ve lost.” The maiden looked at him with fondness and appreciation.

The wizard pushed himself slowly to his feet with a creak and a groan. “Please do try to be out of Port by the next nightfall, young Ren.”



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 27, 2018, 10:05:50 PM
When does a girl age into a woman? Iridni knew the custom of the Prelacy, and, by that measure and the Pelorian rites of womanhood associated with menarche, she had become an adult before her abduction from the Forest of Adri. In Chathold she was then considered of marriageable age. Yet now as she concluded her 18th year, she recalled herself all those months ago and realized how much of her girlish innocence she had retained until her arrival in Barovia.

Although twice—she thought—she had since experienced the passion of love, she still was absent the consummation of receiving a man into her body to procreate, as was the significance of the onset of that unpleasant cyclical sign of fertility that denoted the Prelacy’s division betwixt girl and woman. Despite her continued personal abstinence, however, her midwifery taught her more than she might otherwise know about human reproduction. She was confident that, if Emma allowed her, she could, with Pelor’s blessing, deliver the troubled woman’s baby. But why did the womb of Emma not ripen as it ought?

Medea’s comments about Calibans worried her—although the Lorekeeper’s words also offered hope. This concern was something not known in the Prelacy, and so the young priestess must rely on Medea’s suggestions, even if the lover of dusty, moldy tomes seemed an unlikely candidate for advice on children of any sort, much less babies.

Otherwise, the Pelorian considered again how she had matured and aged in the past year. Almost entirely gone were the giggles that she once favored to express her delight, and now all her smiles tended to be tainted by worldly sadness. Through the merciful and intervening hand of her god, she was sheltered more than most from the hardships and omnipresent violence of Barovian life, yet the sufferings and failures of friends and others she cherished wore on her. Likewise, her early optimism that her sojourn in this realm of darkness would be brief had withered.

Most of all, she saw people vanish or change, crushed under the evil malaise that sought to permeate everything. Mainane was lost to the Kinship, and, almost immediately afterward, Lexington. Her gaze for a moment drifted toward the east. In the snowy blasts of winter, nothing of it was discernible, but she knew he and his overbearing castle were out there: he, the land—were the two not inseparable? And could Pelor’s light prevail or even shine in a fraction of its holy glory as long as he ruled?

This babe of Emma’s: if through divine grace Iridni delivered her to an untwisted form, what prospect of a true and blessed life would she have, to be born into a realm of such hopelessness? At least Iridni could remember and be certain that not all the worlds were so malformed, disfigured, and mocking of Elysium’s beauty. Somewhere, the sun still rose in worshipful majesty over a serene land in which all tears of distress had long dried and the pain that caused them had long been forgotten.

It must.

Her wisdom grew. As a child she had comprehended others’ motivations beyond her years, her inborn empathy helping her understand those unlike herself, but now—as she spent more and more of her waking hours under the mesmerizing influence of her god—she was astonished at how quickly and easily she could perceive some truths that those far older than she must learn over and over, if at all. Certainly, her memory of names and places was still terrible, she had trouble focusing on those subjects that did not interest her, and she could not control her boredom with details. For that, Medea would always be cross with her, but in her heart Iridni knew that she, as young as she was, could also teach Medea a few lessons—insights that were of greater importance than how to open a door without using one’s hands or even transform into a mighty and horrible dragon.

The Kinship seemed to have aged her the most. For it was with her own Kin that she had the greatest difficulty restraining her anger and her other least Pelorian passions. Whereas she could summon mercy and forgiveness for those who lived their lives outside the Lodge’s shelter, she felt her maternal instinct to protect turn dark and primeval when the warmth the same feeling usually engendered rose to a boil. She could not tolerate threats to the one spot in this land that offered an oasis from the evil of the night or to those she considered her family. As she had described to Audric, Barovia would never be merciful or just, but perhaps they might construct a haven of such around the Kinship.

She would not let the darkness that sought for any opening in one’s soul use her own passion against her. Twice now she had referred to her quarreling Kin as children and babies, she who was likely the youngest of them all. Perhaps her knowledge of that fact made her over-compensate, or perhaps her god's wisdom flowing within her made her feel more and more their mother no matter her youth and their age. Iridni’s own mother, however, never lost her temper or expressed toward her children any feeling other than the kindest and most patient of love.

Hers was the example of feminine maturity the young woman yearned desperately to emulate. Was not anger the emotion of a child, the display of it, a childish tantrum? In accusing her of that, the fallen Lexington had been right. The priestess could pray only that the cooling water of her wisdom increased more quickly than did the flames of her anger—an emotion that day by day she watched devour so many who seemed so much stronger than she.


Spoiler: show
RIP Dolores O'Riordan:
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on February 02, 2018, 05:27:24 PM

Ze peak of your own poise...vrobably looks somethink like this?

I don’t know. I am still far from the peak of my power, but it will always be only Pelor’s power, expressed through me, His willing vessel.

I pity such a feelink. I’m no vizard, but at least my talents are mine to claim. It zoundz horriblu to have to surrender your glory to a greater being.

No! When Pelor moves through me...it is...ecstasy. The young priestess flushed. I care nothing for this world and am lost to it. I desire nothing more—only how I might please Him.

I am more zan avare the vords are vasted upon you.

A hurried but quiet knocking sounded on the Lodge door, and Iridni rose from her prayerful reverie to answer. Emma whisked in from the dark winter night, tugging off her snow-laden shawl. “I look for Vayn. He is here?”

“Perhaps downstairs with some other Kin. I’ve not been here long and was performing my evening prayers. Please make yourself comfortable by the fire whilst I look.”

Emma eased her awkward and every day more painful form down so that she sat with her back to the fire as she always did, while Iridni went to look for Vayn. The priestess found him in conference with Audric when she unlocked one of the Lodge’s private and secure rooms. “I’m sorry to intrude, but Emma is upstairs.” This was the first she had faced Audric since his release from jail, and his expression upon seeing her was blissfully pleased and—for once—without any reservation.

In this new, unguarded demeanor she became aware how much the burden of leading the Wayfarers and being responsible for all of their well-being (and squabbles) had weighed upon him. He was not only free from imprisonment; he was free from all of that: “Worry not, Herald. It is good to see you.”

The three friends returned upstairs to Emma. “Oh look, is two of my favorite people,” Emma said upon their arrival. “I wonder, you all like to go to Berez with me tomorrow? At dawn?”

They all were agreeable. “I was hoping you’d tell me when you relocated,” Iridni said. “This way I can find you more easily when the time comes.”

“I decide, you all will meet doctor, who will be in charge of delivery.” She looked at Iridni, speaking in a manner that would not tolerate anyone’s challenging her edicts. “And you will assist.”

“Thank you.” The Pelorian dipped her head.

Then Emma turned her gaze to Audric. “Still need find Lexington, bring him too. No fighting, yes?”

The air between them all seemed instantly to grow colder, as though the door had blown open from a gust of Barovian winter. Iridni cleared her throat, looking at Audric and then to Emma. “That sounds like a very bad idea. I have no reason to fight anyone, but he will only put you in greater danger. The reason you are moving to Berez is so no one knows where you are. I trust both these men to keep quiet.”

Emma pinched the bridge of her nose. “Father Lacroix, we will not help him by pushing him away.”

The two switched to a language Iridni could not understand—but to her ears sounded something akin to Mordentish—and began a fierce debate. She was certain, however, by his demeanor, posture, tone, and above all her perception of Audric that he would not budge from his position: there would be no reconciliation between himself and the fallen Lexington.

After many quarrelsome exchanges between them, Emma spoke in Common: “We depart at dawn.” The young priestess could not tell what had been decided, as both looked implacable.

All were quiet. Adeline had wandered off to sleep, and so not even the clicking of her nails on the Lodge’s hardwood floors marked the passing moments. Finally, Emma sighed and told Audric to repeat the words she had used to try to persuade him. They were admonitions from the faith she and Audric shared: “Translate the Holy Word for me, for our friends. I cannot do it justice in the Common tongue.”

Iridni perceived at once what the expectant mother was attempting. She wanted to force Audric to say with his own lips their shared precepts, so as to make one last effort to win him to her side.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.


Audric’s voice was steady but his throat had grown dry, and he swallowed visibly. Finishing, he looked at Emma, his expression yet that of a stone.

Iridni’s eyes widened to hear words of forgiveness and redemption so similar to those that Pelor commanded likewise of her. She approved their message, but even so….

“Emma, if you only knew what all Audric did for Lexington before this betrayal. Forgiveness is a blessed sentiment, but I have seen no sign of contrition or repentance on Lex’s part.” Like herself, Audric was an earthly intercessor for his faith. How could the devout forgive evil while it yet persisted in its wickedness?

Her own thoughts found voice in Audric’s next words. “As a priest, it is my job to evaluate when one can return to the fold, or if he has damned himself to hell. To forgive, to absolve, or to condemn.” On the last word, something seemed to drop out of Audric, out of his center. He turned and walked to the Lodge’s kitchen. “I need a drink.”

Always, always, for the servants of Light, it was the struggle between mercy and justice. Yet Iridni tried a different tact in Audric’s absence: “Emma...we Pelorians believe very much as you do. It is easier for me to put aside these wrongs of Lex, since they were against Audric and not myself. You and I don’t have all this bruised honor that overweens the reason of men. But...but there is time for that later.”

Emma replied only, “We depart when he comes back.”

Iridni persisted. “The main concern now is for you and your baby. Lex’s forgiveness can wait.”

Emma would have none of it. “I have give him permission, to be present, when baby is born.”

The young priestess frowned and shook her head. “Lex should understand what I’m saying. If I were in his situation, I would realize it would be better to be absent. This would be putting my own selfish feeling before what should be of the highest priority. If he can’t see that, he’s not learned anything.”

The rising sun began to shine through the Lodge’s windows. “I will do whatever you wish, Emma. I will stay with you, though I have no desire to meet with Lexington. My opinion, however, is that Audric is of greater value to you now than Lex.”

Emma answered without commitment: “We will see.”
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on February 15, 2018, 11:07:30 PM

As her raw but well-intentioned Kinsman leaned over her to whisper of his upcoming child and marriage, Iridni willed herself to maintain her expression of solicitude—although the irony sheathed within his confession stabbed momentarily through her like a keen blade thrust into her petite viscera. The gigantic Dryjka was a muscular warrior, who relished physical conflict and the company of brawling fellows like himself. When she and Emma were speaking privately in the Lodge, all she had to mention was the conversation concerned “womanly matters” to make Dryjka flee before her as though he were the puniest of undead and the priestess had turned him with Pelor’s might.

Yet now the warrior was choosing the placid hearth, jouncing a baby on his knee, and leaving all the woes of the Kinship behind. The young woman, who had once been so meek, who hated any disagreement and violence and had always dreamed of family life, could only wonder why this chalice had devolved to his meaty grip, whereas for her the cup of domesticity slipped always farther from her delicate, timid reach, her parched and trembling lips destined—it seemed—never to taste of it.

“Must be a father, build a home, raise a child...and...am nu even certain that when child is born will be able to keep in Vallaki,” Dryjka continued as Iridni composed herself for her response.

“If you are made up in your mind, I won’t try to dissuade you, Dryjka. If I were to become a mother,” she could barely draw the quiet words out, “I would leave the Kinship as well.” She paused. “I could settle down and be a simple priestess, contentedly taking care of my child and home. I am...but a woman.”

She raised her violet eyes to look at him. “Whereas you, Dryjka, are a man. Your life is always going to be in danger by the kind of man you are. What do you intend to do after you leave here?”

“Am plan to get job, learn trades, build business selling wares.”

She smiled up at the great bear of a figure looming over her. It all sounded so simple and easy, and at home in the tranquil Prelacy, it would have been. A man of brawn such as Dryjka would have little to fear in trying to protect his family.

Chathold: there she had believed her modesty and lack of glamor would make her too dull so as to retain the male gaze, however much her form attracted it. Her ordinary intelligence and desire only to serve her god would, as time passed, tire any man who expected a woman to center her life upon him and offer always new intellectual—and physical—stimulations. Blooded men like Alistar, Ionathan, and Constantine would have passed her over as something of a child or pet, but not a life's companion. Little had she realized then that a woman’s complications might extinguish a man’s love even more quickly than would her simplicity.

How she had prayed not to be so boring! She had been thoughtless and naïve.

Her service to Pelor, her life in the Kinship and obligations to it, the never-ending struggle against the darkness...all of it left her so little time to develop deep and meaningful companionship. Yet if Dryjka, the irrepressible warrior, could walk away without a backward glance, could she?

The Harbinger was gone, eradicated by Medea. Iridni had felt unusual delight in using her sun-blessed hammer to bash the blasphemous insignia from the Harbinger's shield, but Medea seemed subdued in victory. The wizard spoke of all the evil that remained and all the evil that would come again. No doubt Medea was right.

Why should Iridni sacrifice all her youthful bloom to fighting this relentless tide without appreciation and largely despised by most Barovians? The male garda who had taken the Cyricist’s body from Medea acted no more grateful or impressed than had the archmage been a peasant turning in a routine rat corpse.

Alone with her Kin, Iridni exhorted them that they acted not for glory or gold but only to do what was right—let others seize the credit. Alone in her heart…in her heart, she prayed and prayed that Pelor’s fire would sterilize all the resentment she sickened with on such occasions: the tendrils of base emotions that sought fertile soil when her family was despised and labeled “tea drinkers.”

Just as the light shone in darkness, evil sought to corrupt her brightest feelings to its own foul purposes. It would use her love, her loyalty, to blacken and twist her soul if she let it.

She pushed the demon of envy back into its box: she would be happy for Dryjka and not question why it was he and not she to find domestic bliss. Such covetous thoughts would only fuel her nightmares—and she never wanted another like the bottomless well of loneliness and despair she dreamed a fortnight ago after her collapse from fatigue. If Dryjka would permit her, she would marry him to his bride and deliver their child.

With unreserved joy.

Soon she would help deliver Emma’s. Iridni’s thoughts returned to the eccentric doctor Emma had entrusted to supervise. How many days had Iridni’s back and shoulders ached from moving all his old crates? While other women bore their lovers’ children, she bore the silver-filled bags of Medea and the specimen-filled boxes of Meszaros.

Still, the Pelorian reassured herself, through her service, she might bring many more babies into the world than her own womb could ever bear. And through her service, perhaps she would be destined to help keep other unknown-to-her hearths like Dryjka’s warm, safe, and well lighted…rather than her own.

If only she could be certain.

Marielle said Torm did not speak to her here. Was Iridni deceiving herself that she still heard Pelor’s voice? Worse, did her god no longer hear her? Were her prayers all vain and empty repetitions? Was that what her nightmare had meant, when she spoke to Pelor and the words would not even leave her lips. In response, only a single thought had over-whelmed her youthful mind: Alone.

No, this feeling of isolation was a deception, a lie; her growing power proved that.

Iridni prayed:

I shall put on Thy righteousness, and it shall clothe me.
I shall be a mother to the poor.
I shall break the jaws of the wicked and pluck the innocent from their teeth.
Though terrors are turned upon me and pursue my soul as the wind,
I shall cry unto you, my God,
And Thou shall hear me!
Weigh me in Thy balance and know that Thy servant is faithful
I am clean without transgression, I am innocent, neither is there evil in me
Though I am cast without cause into this pit
Through all I shall love and serve my Redeemer
Until the end of my days when He gathers me unto Him.




Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 03, 2018, 09:52:04 PM
Medea, the first lasting friend Iridni had made after her abduction, was gone from the Lodge, a Wayfarer no more. Iridni would never again sip tea with she who had so often darted her unerring pinpricks into the Pelorian’s vulnerable heart, but who had also introduced Iridni into the Kinship and thereby provided her a makeshift family when the teenager had found herself so very alone. As the young priestess stared at the over-sized chair where Medea once sat, endlessly perusing her books of lore until the cushions seemed even now to conform to the wizard’s shape, Iridni could not help but feel guilt for her role in Medea’s departure….

The day began as one of triumph, a celebration of the eccentric Medea's eradication of the Harbinger. But how swiftly she, Iridni, and the others left their feast half-touched, their toasts unsaid, when Marielle, Ailne, and Eare had arrived—all three drenched in blood, Ailne lifeless. Rather than bask in having rid Vallaki of the leader of the Cyricists, those who bore the amulet and Code must answer the Light’s call to face this far worse evil.

When, after Ailne was restored to life, she read aloud the list of their assailant’s unspeakable crimes—the inseminations and then the sacrifice of the innocent children that resulted—Iridni felt her stomach turn within her and her slender legs buckle, until she must sit or risk fainting before her Kin. How could Pelor suffer such a creature to live? This was the foulest monster the young priestess had yet faced in a land that shocked her daily with its utter wickedness and depravity.

The Wayfarers hasted the miles to Berez, where, thanks to Medea’s arcane might, they broke through the magical barriers with which the Hag had secured her laboratory of darkness, a laboratory outfitted by Azalin Rex. Azalin was one of the most powerful and evil of Dark Lords inhabiting the Core and—unknown to Iridni—transported to the Mists by the same portal in the Adri Forest as she.

After mortal struggle against the laboratory’s many fell guardians so that she had to call upon Pelor’s power and Medea’s diamonds to resurrect three of her fallen companions, Iridni and the others returned to the Lodge with many ancient artifacts, including a rod that seemed critical to the operation of the most potent device in the ruin. Braga was the name of this insidious horror, a demonic hag whose “Final Plan” Iridni then worked to deciper, though as its words became clear to her, the Pelorian had to force her pen to record their meaning, for she wished that both Braga and her vile plan could be blotted out not only from existence but history as well:

Quote
Drinking the heartblood of this infant was purely delightful. It's fresh blood filled my veins with new vigor. I almost cannot await the next and final insemination of this girl Tabea.

Iridni steeled her trembling hand and continued to transcribe, hoping something in this loathsome testament of a diabolical mind would provide her Kin with a clue as to how to destroy the evil that had produced it. At last, there, there it was!

Quote
I shall rise again and beyond this mortal flesh. With all four candles of power lit under a full moon after the last victim has been slain and its body being brought to the knots of power.

The Wayfarers had the monster’s candles; as long as the Kinship possessed them, Braga could not complete her ritual! Iridni felt her heart leap within her.

She jumped up from her work to find Medea and see whether the Lorekeeper agreed with the interpretation. But she discovered Medea was no longer in the Lodge. Instead, the wizard had written a long entry in the dossier on Braga. Iridni’s violet eyes raced to the bottom:

Quote
I will take notes and rod with me to Dementlieu, to study it more better in Dementlieu University and represent it to Erudites. Notes and rod holds great history meaning. As well I should represent new magical potions to scholars and seek way to recreate them. Tools in University and books in Erudites archives will help me better understand nature of many things in place which we was discovered and so I may think how we can better work forward.

For now, we should investigate things regarding Apparatus and try discover more ways to destroy candles which actually holds great power.

The Pelorian again felt sick. Medea—in her infinite obsession with arcane knowledge—had left and taken with her the possible means to destroy the Hag. To the wizard, the artifact was more important for its history and the other relics the lore they represented than the more than 700 children whose blood cried out from the grave the crimes of Braga.

How could you, Medea?

Iridni lamented to herself, but only for a moment. This crisis was no time to be sentimental or to let her loyalty and affection interfere with what must be done. She must persuade Medea through personal appeal to return at once with the rod or, failing that, influence her friend through any other means she could think of.

The young priestess returned to her table to ponder and then write yet again. From time to time whenever her pen faltered in its simple, almost childish printing, she glanced up at herself in the mirror and wondered at the face she saw there. Who had she become? To serve Pelor and the Light in purity...must she not have any ties or affections? Would she always be forced to choose and then lose what made her feel human and a woman, rather than only a single-minded and transparent lens used to focus the light of a god?

She did not matter, in the end—that young woman who stared back at her, the first hints of stress lines now showing when she wrinkled her eyes in a smile but that would in time always be present on her face.

All that mattered as long as her lungs filled with air and her heart—yes her heart that would betray her with all this damned feeling—pushed blood through her veins, all that mattered was that she use what Pelor granted her to His purposes, not her own. How could she ever explain to a grief-stricken mother and father that their child had perished, her bones becoming another set in Braga's ghastly wind chimes, because she, Iridni, had selfishly chosen personal friendship over holy obligation?

I shall break the jaws of the wicked and pluck the innocent from their teeth….

Iridni dripped wax on the small parchment to seal it and then addressed it to the Society of the Erudites. Finally, she took another long, last look into the mirror before she sighed and blew out her candle.


Spoiler: show
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on April 16, 2018, 10:07:59 PM
Spring awakened Barovia to life again, light stealing into the damp valleys and mountain crags, so that during the fulgent day one could be forgiven for forgetting the dark pall that reigned through mist and night. That season, Iridni, too, came into full brilliant bloom, as she shed the last of girlhood and matured into a finished woman. To be sure, she still had her moments of fear and vulnerability when the girl who once was might be seen in her anxious expression—or heard in her moments of immature, nervous giggling. Whatever her outward comeliness, she was still not always inwardly confident of the compliments bestowed upon her.

She could, however, sense her growing power and knew that, were she transported back to Chathold, all who had known her would marvel at how Pelor’s glory had during the 15 months of absence manifested itself in the missing teenager and transformed her. Would her mother and father be proud or frightened by their daughter’s new abilities—that, for example, the Sun seemed to burst forth at her gesture and obliterate undead hordes?

The prophecy that then caused Anxan Madog to seek the girl’s life (in addition to her virtue) was proving true. Because Pelor blessed her so, she could believe that her abduction to Barovia was for a divine cause and she was acting according to His will by remaining.

Physically, her small stature still misled, but otherwise in mind and body she was an adult, now seeking to look after others, rather than to be cared for. She yet desired the counsel and vigor of male companionship—the momentary shelter of strong arms—but no more would she yield so easily to a man’s will for her...or seek to please him by denying her own.

She had disputed even with Mr. Ursu when the latter had lectured her about what he termed her foolish altruism. In days of old she would have questioned herself and thought someone who had seen so much and lived as long as he must know better than she in her youth. She would have listened only and stilled her tongue in her mouth, the way she always had with Medea. Now, however, her wisdom far exceeded her years and provided her with answers to the veteran’s critique.

Mr. Ursu accurately pointed out that no matter what the Wayfarers did or how much, they would always be criticized as not doing enough or helping here when they should be helping there—that others would use what he called guilt to manipulate the Kinship to their own ends. Naturally, Mr. Ursu implied that the same was true of Iridni herself: that her naive desire to serve others left her vulnerable to trickery and control, perhaps even betrayal.

He was right, but only to a degree. The young woman’s mistakes and weaknesses—the resentment she sometimes felt—were attempts by the darkness to wedge itself into her soul. When Pelor’s light had consumed away all her selfishness until she gave all to her god, not from guilt or duty but from benevolence, then her service would be pure. She was certain that day was soon at hand. Unlike wizards and sorcerers, her gains in power were always matched by gains in the understanding of how best to use her gifts. Through Pelor’s mercy and love, she felt certain she would in time transcend all temptation and deviation from the path of truth.

Already, she could yield for nothing but a word a silver claim that many would kill and had killed for; material wealth had no hold on her heart.

Besides Mr. Ursu, there had been the surprising moonlit declaration from Rurik, the one-legged smith: that he would have married her and made her mistress of his household and children. Had she known his desire months ago, would she have accepted? He had always seemed so dismissive of her. These Barovian men! Did not one of them know how to woo a woman or even a gullible and romantic young girl?

Still, Rurik could have given her all that she once desired, except, perhaps, an appreciative smile now and then, an assurance that her presence offered his eyes something charming and pretty to settle upon.

The time for Rurik to press his suit had passed for both of them. The smith’s last advice, however, might yet prove sound: find herself a farm boy, a simple man of the soil.

After all, the primitive Ionathan understood Bri. He accepted that her Pelorian faith required she for this moment stay in Port-a-Lucine, whereas some more dominating man might have insisted Bri drag herself back from the conflagration of civil war. For all his old-fashioned ways and brusque manners, Io was the man in Iridni’s life who had most treated her as an equal.

Male certainty and security—with their promise of allowing herself to be occasionally weak—might be alluring, but pretending she was helpless and needy became more and more a deception, and no lasting marriage could be based on deception.

When less effective than now, Iridni had helped drive the godlike aboleth from the Vallaki sewers. More recently, the priestess had smashed her holy hammer against Urzica the Deceiver, a vampiric terror more than 400 years old, not relenting though each blow burned her own fair flesh in hateful recompense. It was the ancient undead, not the young woman, who in vain had sought to flee the encounter and the righteous judgment of Pelor!

Each morning, the blessed Sun’s magnificence shone stronger than the day before through the lens of her. Would a farm “boy” understand that this ordained and lofty service to Pelor might compel her absence from his side and, yes, even from his bed?

Why not? Did not every wife of a soldier have to understand the same? Where was it written, who commanded it, that Iridni’s sex only must make the sacrifice of humility?

Iridni had put away most of her girlish habits and manners, but she yet clung to these remnants of her dreams as tightly as her hammer.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 06, 2018, 11:15:24 PM
The cold gray rain that drenched the Village of Barovia soon would yield to snow. The small hooded figure, plated and cloaked in the colors of sky and sun, passed through the chilling downpour and muddy and miserable streets at a rapid pace before stepping wearily into the raucous Blood of the Vine inn. Iridni spent most all her time now either back at the Lodge in Vallaki, here in the village, or traveling the roads between the two, usually gathering medicinal herbs as she went. At long last she felt herself becoming accomplished at the brewing of elixirs to complement her blessings and healing.

She paid for some warm yet bitter tea and draped her cloak over an oaken chair near the welcoming fire. She sat, resting her legs, her calves and thighs stronger than a year before but also at present fatigued from her long journey.

Of late the priestess thought often of her younger sister, Winona, who would now have reached the same age as Iridni when the latter had been abducted into the Mists. Did Winona have a beau? Might she even have married? Or was the clever mischief-maker still at home, a comical comfort to their otherwise bereft parents? Their mother and father had such high expectations of Iridni and, in contrast, indulged Winona’s irreverence as the more playful and irresponsible of the two: always, to them, their baby, Iridni, their grown-up. Yet the priestess hoped that her sister had found a way to fill the hole in their hearts her long absence must have caused—the loss of all their pride in their dutiful daughter and ambitions for her. What did they know or guess about her fate?

The thought troubled her that some of her neighbors or kin might be deceived that she had run away licentiously with the betrayer Anxan Madog. Some of the more wicked who envied her parents’ reputation and standing in Chathold might devil them with this vile rumor. Given Anxan’s purported faith in Zilchus, the seduction of the young sun worshipper by the much older and far less charitable curate of mammon would have been especially dishonorable and brought shame not only to her family but whispered clucking about “Pelorian hypocrites.”

Her increasing wisdom taught her that overmuch worry or to hold on too long to grief was hurtful to all, and she prayed nightly that her parents might not in any way cause her insouciant young sister to feel any less loved on Iridni’s account. Instead, she asked Pelor that they treasure Winona all the more as the lone child who remained to them and for the bright light her own gifts could cast. Winona also might give them grandchildren to bless their golden years.

Besides the slow healing of her separation from her homeland and her family, Iridni was reconciled that Alistar would never return to her. Perhaps her true if stubborn paladin had, at least, escaped from the Mists, and she could hardly fault him for that, for she knew had she ever been granted the choice, she would have traded their nascent passion to regain all that Almor meant to her. It was not even a question of familial affection alone but that, forever imprisoned here, she feared over time she might come to doubt her own god. How much had Barovia already changed and taken from her?

That baby! She thought of how the infant J---- smelled as she nuzzled the vulnerable spot at the top of his skull, while the unyielding shell of her armored breastplate denied his tiny mouth its mistaken prize. Was she as misled in her own hunger and instincts as the little immature one she held? As much as she ached to have an infant nestled against her, providing him all his comfort and security—as well as his nourishment—she must also consider that the rigidity of her chitin plates, necessary to shelter her soft flesh from the evils of these lands, suited her better for now than did motherhood.

This martial mantle was her costume. Her young arms were practiced at blocking malicious blows with her shield and striking evil foes with her hammer, not cuddling a helplessly crying and needy innocent.

She had prolonged those moments of tender bonding for as long as she dared, before, with resolution, returning the hungry J---- to his waiting mother. Iridni was uncertain how many days the memory of this time would have to satisfy her maternal cravings before she ever again held a baby, or whether she would ever cling so tightly to a child of her own. Still, she must trust that Pelor knew best and deny until then the desires of her body.

For although she could only guess how fine a mother she would make, she was already an exceptional instrument of her god’s divine power. It seemed selfish and weak-willed to abdicate those gifts and the responsibilities she had been entrusted with by Pelor and others to indulge the life she might even now prefer. She had confessed her unsatisfied longing to Loric, but her Steward expressed contentment with her performance as Second and confided to her his own tale of homesickness. Zephyr, likewise, was willing to rely on and trust her it seemed more than ever.

More personally, in this inward admonition toward patience and acceptance of her current station, she felt the eternal Pelor still spoke to her, spoke from His high throne in Elysium to a mortal woman exiled to a lowly, lonely valley.

Longing for light, I wait in darkness
Longing for truth, I turn to you
   Make me now Thine own.

Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Come, now, O Love Divine
Clothe Thy servant with Thy glory
   And visit her with Thine own ardor glowing.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 03, 2018, 11:55:48 AM
To hope in this land was to be a fool. Kneeling, Iridni watched the last of her petitions burn in the indifferent fire without any signature on them but her own.

Her hands…she still had them. She had feared when Mircea asked her to present them she was going to lose one or both to prove how little regard the City Watch owed toward any it ostensibly protected and whose taxes paid its salary. Forgotten were the equipment and healing elixirs she had provided the garda, and the funds she had collected to care for the widows of their fallen. Perhaps Mircea had lashed her a little less harshly or that she was now warm and safe in the Lodge instead of in a cold and dank cell—perhaps her past services had meant that much.

Pelor, she knew, would heal her marked back and legs in time. The injury done her pride—the mortification of her public nudity, her crying and screaming before them all like the child she had not so very long ago been—that she must bear with her for far longer. How could she show her face again among them, she who had felt herself so sanctified by her god against the indignities of ordinary Barovian life?

If Medea could see her now, would the sharp tongue of the wizard still criticize her as naïve, sheltered, and spoiled? The chastised priestess smiled faintly and wiped at the side of her face where hot tears glistened. Probably, she answered her own question.

Most in Vallaki would judge her with equal harshness, looking at her with the satisfaction that “the Outlander got what was coming to her!” And the men, the men would leer as they always had and make the same lewd comments, only their words would pain her more than before because now she had something for which to feel shame: she had been staked like a piece of meat before them, defenseless before their unabashed gaze…a writhing, stripped bare thing to be observed in its helpless agony, rather than a human being and a woman.

Their probing eyes had seen beneath the rigid plates of her armor to the delicate form and yielding weakness it hid.

Her mother…her father…her sister…if only she could flee to the shelter of their arms. Even now, her family would not be ashamed of her.

She straightened her back, causing her burning skin to rub against the soft robe in which she had draped her wounds. She must speak to Jean and then, as soon as she was able, travel again. She would return to the Village of Barovia. Always the Village restored her strength, for it was easiest to find ways to help when the need was so great; her god would reward her with His peace once she put her hands again to the work He commanded of her.

Still on her knees, she looked once more at her slender yet useful fingers and clasped them in prayer. Father of the Dawn, thank Ye for the mercies Thou has shown to Thy flawed and frail servant. Grateful she is that she still lives and has limbs to serve Thee. Bless and strengthen me that I may go now to that most hopeless of places…to restore my own.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 08, 2018, 05:01:17 PM

Spoiler: show
Thanks to Boomer for the above song <3


In the gray misery of the Village, Iridni felt her own light shine once more and the glory of her god burning ever brighter within her. She slew her demons.

Was Pelor blessing her for the suffering she had endured in His service? If so, the pain and the quickly healing disfigurement of her young body were small enough prices to pay. Observing the existence of the Barovian peasants about her, she discovered anew how little the cruelty of Mircea’s ravenous lash and even her public humiliation counted against the infinite fear and human degradation of all these common people. What were Iridni Ren’s cries of anguish compared with this innumerable caravan of souls lamenting their terrible lots night after night for their entire brief lives under the relentless tyranny of Strahd’s lightless reign? What were the drops of one innocent’s tears moistening the earth alongside a cascade of grief that moaned in its torrent more loudly than Tser Falls?

Had she chosen to, she could have resisted Mircea’s shackles or simply fled his summons. Regardless of how awkward she felt in Port-a-Lucine, the city’s vanity beckoned to that part of her that longed for the physical comforts she had known with her family but two years before in Chathold. Its culture offered the beauty, charm, and civility of Zephyr against the rough, ugly coarseness of Ionathan. Moreover, Port in all its opulence also still held out a need to her that she might fill and thereby feel useful through serving, the children of the Ouvrir. In Port she could lift others out of squalor without having to live daily in it herself.

She would put away her clanking, over-sized protections forever and wear always instead the comfortable robes of a high priestess—the vestments for which she had been destined from birth and in which she felt herself beautiful and at home. No longer would her blossoming wisdom and holy power be hidden out of utilitarian necessity within the armored form of a teenaged girl with a bad haircut—one who played with boys at warrior. Her knees resting only on padded hassocks in her morning adorations of the glorious Dawn, she would never again bloody them scrubbing the endless Barovian filth off the hard, wooden boards of the Lodge.

All this I will give you…if you will bow down and worship me.

Such was not a choice, however, for a woman of her faith. Port-a-Lucine was the City of Lights: it was not nearly so much in need of hers as was the Village. Although she could escape the eternal night of Strahd and the brutality of his thuggish lackeys, that freedom was not open to all. Nor had Pelor brought her into the Mists and delivered her from Anxan Madog for her own ease. The Barovians might despise her as an Outlander and jeer to see her go, but the Holy Light and Truth had never blessed them. They feared because fear meant survival, and the only escape from fear for them was death. Though they would stand by and indifferently watch her stripped, beaten, and led away like an animal for slaughter, she would not abandon them to the night and the undead that ruled it.

When she had fulfilled her god’s will for her, then…then would Pelor release her from this despairing land to a place of happiness and light far superior to Dementlieu’s.

Of that she could not—and must not—doubt.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 15, 2018, 02:06:24 AM
(http://www.zurichmansion.org/images/woburn.jpg)

The small women worked their way higher and higher into the frigid mountains, three ants against Mount Baratak’s canvas of white, the Star Elf setting an unrelenting pace. The wordless druid appeared unbothered by the cold or the climb. Although enspelled by the sorceress, Iridni still found keeping up in her heavy plates and boots difficult.

“Where are we going?” she whimpered.

“To the Monastery of the Silver Threads,” the sorceress said, the angry wind’s vortex snatching her words down into the valley of warring undead and mountain carnivores beneath them.

“Why? There’s nothing there.”

The Star Elf never paused in her rapid steps. “You needn’t come if you don’t like it. Truth be I’d rather go by myself.”

“I've followed you through Vallaki when my wounds haven't finished healing from my last visit! Do you think I'll give up so easily?”

“Yes? And if you the garda beat you again—or worse—could you still keep quiet?”

They stood now at the entrance to the ancient monastery, all three of them breathless, icy air making their lungs struggle between the need for oxygen and the pain of the cold that accompanied drawing it.

“Inside,” the sorceress commanded.

Once they entered, Iridni held her hammer aloft to light the chamber, although the two Elves needed no such illumination. The structure was as empty as ever.

Someone slammed shut the roaring wind outside, and at once everything quieted except for the panting of the three. “Nothing,” the sorceress trailed off despondently, her word a pebble dropped on the surface of their placid stillness, rippling with the faintest of echoes.

Finally, Iridni spoke: “I have kept dread secrets long that you know not of. Since the first time I visited Father Miklos in the Sanctuary of Blessed Succor and he took my confession. You can trust me not to betray you.”

“Iridni…I do this for your own protection.” The sorceress explained, but her tone lost none of its impatience. “I don’t doubt you mean well, but why provide any further reason for—?”

“Not fearing to die, Iridni?” the usually quiet druid suddenly interjected from the shadow of her hood.

Iridni looked from one to the other. “If a Pelorian dies warring against the undead, she will spend eternity in the Fields of Elysium,” she recited.

“If Strahd kill you dead…maybe,” the druid continued. “But what Strahd does I’m wondering with the vacant body of you, his victim. You feel same if he make you an undead thrall?”

The priestess’s confidence flickered at that. “The two of you mustn’t let it happen. Destroy whatever’s left of me.”

“That’s not going to be necessary,” the sorceress snapped. “I intend to do this alone and in a manner that will allow me to escape quickly. Without having to worry about anyone else. Including you.”

“Why are we here?” Iridni persisted. “You said you needed to attract someone’s attention. Whose?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Iridni considered. “I assume it relates to your husband, as the change in your behavior began after Strahd claimed him. I also know what Beatrice told you when she heard of your plan: to forget about him.”

“He’s not my husband—at least not any more. That ship has sailed.” The sorceress closed her eyes. “But then you also know that Beatrice…many think I’m acting like a fool, and I don’t need your voice being added to the chorus.”

“That still doesn’t answer why we’re here. Your husband was taken to Castle Ravenloft—which we passed right along in our journey. May I see the note you were writing in the Mist Camp?”

The Star Elf unrolled the vellum and handed it to her. Yet even after reading its allusive contents, Iridni still did not understand her friend’s intent. It was addressed to "the Denizens of the Monastery.”

“But there are no denizens,” she said aloud, puzzled.

“Yes…yes, there are.”

Iridni looked around them then into the veil of darkness, trying to see beyond the light that always shone from her uplifted hammer. Perhaps the Star Elf’s words were playing tricks with her mind, but she felt as though a thousand pairs of ghostly eyes watched her, eyes that were judging all three of the women. These eyes had closed forever long before the young Pelorian had been brought to the Mists, likely before she had ever been born. Only now the powerful sorceress had done something to awaken them.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on August 24, 2018, 01:04:43 AM
Shrouding herself in her humility
She felt annihilate in the eye of God.

—Robert Southey

The hills of Hazlan were alive with the sound of mining, the grunts of those who labored, the clang of their heavy picks biting into the iron ore. The maiden priestess watched her companions in tranquility, unmoved to join them in their industry, at peace with her small self and her god. She knew that Pelor was pleased with her, as He had once more given her greater gifts in His service and even added to her preternatural wisdom.

She yet longed for intimate companionship and had prayed that if she must remain here, cut off from all she loved, that she might be provided a helpmate, but each day she learned to be more self-sufficient. Only when the blessed sun disappeared from the sky and night shrouded the land did she falter, her god’s reassuring light hidden from the ever-watchful observance of her violet eyes.

At Iridni’s request, Aren had trimmed her raven hair, evening the dishevelment she inflicted on herself from perhaps being too self-reliant. The Elven sorceress also refrained from the mining, and Iridni watched her, trying to read the woman’s mind. Sedrik: had Aren given up on him, or did she seek his artifacts for some other reason than sentimental remembrance? Recalling how long her own heart had grieved for Alistair when he disappeared from her, she could not help—despite her ever-increasing ability to control and channel her emotions—to feel empathy for Aren. If her own beloved had died so treacherously, what price would Iridni be willing to pay, what hardships would she be willing to endure, to right the wrong?

Regardless of Aren’s cold and quiet distance from her, Iridni had come to love the Elf in a way, although she had never been able to transcend that boundary between Elves and humans so as to truly understand them. Sometime…someday she must have a long conversation with Zephyr, who surely was able to see life from the experience of both.

The scarlet marks the garda had left on her ivory skin had almost vanished entirely. Zephyr’s praise of her had anointed them with balm, and her experiences in Berez had done the same for the wounds the darkness sought to make in her soul.

To look upon the innocent visages of Daevara’s babes was to see the spirit of mercy yet at work in these dismal lands, more so when Daevara’s strangled boy child was blessedly revived. Even old Dr. Meszaros, regardless of his Barovian demeanor and wish to appear beyond the optimistic impressionability of Iridni’s youth, had been moved by this miracle. Similarly, a Gundarkite beggar could be lifted from her filth and hopeless squalor into a life of self-respect and service by an open hand that overcame all shy and timid reluctance to touch and help another’s.

She would not fear, she would not hesitate. Unto those whom much is given, much will be required.

Her god blessed her and, regardless of the cost, rather than hide it within herself, she would light the path of others—though the flame leave nothing of the uncertain girl who once was but ashes.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 01, 2018, 12:05:24 PM

Uncharacteristically, the slight Pelorian clothed herself in the color of night as she joined her emotions with the mourning of the Star Elf sorceress. Iridni’s damp, violet eyes swept over the small gathering and considered the fate of those who outlive most of their friends. For even in her own case she had known Sedrik only in passing and had come in service to and sympathy with Aren.

She watched the tendrils of fog that snaked about her, obscuring her and the others, always threatening with disappearance, mystery, and poison. In Almor mist had symbolized the ephemeral nature of life: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a mist, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Here, in Barovia, the mist always endured. Fixtures like Sedrik disappeared—and how could one hope of leaving the slightest mark on an incorporeal gas?

Sedrik would remain only in the memories of his friends, including the Star Elf who had loved him, and these, too, would one day be no more.

The woman who placed the flickering candles must be Vaedra, of whom Aren had spoken. Otherwise, the priestess recognized Leon and Asariel. The rest of the small band were strangers to her, some seeming to have attended out of nothing more than idle curiosity, although another grieved of how Sedrik had been her first friend and protector in the Mists. Perhaps it was she who had secured Sedrik’s sword.

Aren spoke the truth then, that he had been a good man, religious or not. For his deeds seemed kind and charitable, and who might doubt that any who earned such a strong enmity from the Count did not at least in some way serve the Light? Even so, Strahd now had what remained of Sedrik in that lightless place of hatred and evil, the victim of a cowardly traitor’s bounty.

Many of the emotions Aren recounted and expressed, Iridni wondered whether she had ever felt. She knew with certainty she had never inspired them in another, not even Alistar, although he had promised to take her away from Barovia and live with her in exile when the garda had threatened her with decapitation. No, this was a love that endured beyond the grave, whereas Iridni suspected that Alistar’s passion had begun to wane already when he last sought her before vanishing for good.

Romance was something altogether different from this merging of two souls that could no longer be disentangled through all eternity. It was more the deep friendship she and Io knew, but which would never be consummated or as exclusive as Aren's for Sedrik; always Bri would own the most intimate center of Io’s heart.

Iridni mourned, therefore, for her Elvish friend, but the dew that glistened on her cheeks, the tightness in her throat, and the yearning compassion in her bosom she knew were for herself as well. When Aren spoke of her wound that would never heal—that wound of knowing one’s beloved has passed forever beyond the reach of an empty, longing hand and was nowhere, ever, to be found—Iridni felt the words burn as a blade within herself. This was a depth of feeling for another that in her youth she had not ever felt and might not ever know.

As much as she grieved for her family in the Prelacy, she trusted they were safe and well and hoped yet despite all signs to the contrary that she might be reunited with them. Against the anguish of the heartbroken Elf before her, Iridni’s months of quiet pain seemed slight and shallow. As always, moreover, she had her god to comfort her, whereas Aren was completely and forever bereft.

The priestess knelt to pray, to bless the widow, and to bless those who mourned the fallen Sedrik. She implored the Dawn Father to shine for a moment on the large heathen’s soul wherever it might have journeyed. Yet in her quiet prayer of compassion and comfort, she was troubled to find another emotion stirring within her Pelorian heart. She looked to the west, but her eyes could not pierce the mist that shrouded the hill on which they had gathered, the way Sedrik’s enchanted sword cleft the earth when Aren drove it home as a marker.

Iridni closed her eyes and tried again to mouth the quiet words. She knew, though unseen, it still stood where it always had since the day she had arrived in Barovia: the silent, foreboding keep that housed an unspeakable, malign undead, who claimed this land as his own, who now claimed Sedrik. He could never love or be loved. He could only envy and hate. She shook herself, trying to focus.

That this loveless and unloved thing could be the agent by which Aren had lost the warrior who had so graced her life caused Iridni’s prayer to falter for a moment, the words of Pelorian peace she sought to utter seeming to cling like old cloth to her small tongue. Instead, she felt urged to use this occasion to condemn all the diabolical compromises that day by day and night by night allowed Strahd and his ilk their monstrous reign. Her mourning dress felt like a constricting shroud, as tight about her as the imprisoning arms of Anxan Madog.

Suddenly, she was once more on the post with the garda whipping her, Strahd watching and leering at her stripped body, not with lust for her bare flesh but thirst for the rivulets of blood the whip drew from her as it struck her skin again and again. The fiend licked his pallid lips as the crimson trails coursed from her shoulders down the backs of her trembling, weakening legs. The anger and frustration she felt in her unyielding shackles were mailed fists battering her as well…until they forced a scream from her bludgeoned lungs. The dam of her will collapsed, and all that she would have checked burst uncontrollably from her in a furious, primal torrent.

When she opened her eyes, however, the service had concluded. She had only imagined both the torture and her anguished cry.

Aren was whispering to her departing guests, and Vaedra was walking quietly around the hill, extinguishing and gathering the small candles one by one.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 13, 2018, 10:39:06 AM

After the interview with the gendarme and all that subsequently transpired, Iridni retreated into solitude for the next few days and evenings, pondering the many uncertain paths that were slowly revealing themselves before her. The smell of fresh potions with newly discovered herbs brewing in the cauldron made her feel productive even in her indecision and while she waited for Zephyr to arrange their next secret step. She knew it unwise to isolate oneself in the Mists, both because of the physical danger but also the spiritual weakness loneliness might expose. Yet for so many reasons she needed to pray and seek the wisdom of her god.

She also diverted herself by attending the wax museum in Port to study its preserved figures of both good and evil. Each in its own way inspired her: the Devil Strahd giving face to this most mighty and implacable enemy of the Light, and the heroes, who kindled her heart with admiration and a warm longing to emulate their bright deeds.

Always she had relied on the advice and experience of her elders who had been in these lands longer than she: Medea, Yunon, Ionathan…Zephyr. In this present circumstance, however, those avenues were cut off from her. Even had Medea not ostracized her, the wizard would have thought the Pelorian’s problems insignificant and, worse, likely let personal grudge influence her. Yunon after many weeks had not answered her inquiry. Ionathan…Ionathan was nowhere to be found.

As for Zephyr, for now he must find his own answer, and she felt certain that providing him a brief time away from her influence would light for him his personal best course. Regardless of his political acumen, the Kinship’s Trustee could be led astray by emotion, and, now, having learned the guilt he bore from his youth, Iridni better understood his insistent chivalry toward her sex. In trying to comfort him she might help free him from his harsh self-judgment and begin to repay the Half Elf the many gratitudes she owed.

As she ever had when she had been his Second, all the young woman knew to offer Zephyr was the best means and opportunity to reach a sound judgment...and pray that the two were in one accord when they next met. Perhaps she deceived herself in all her attempts at rationality and what she hoped was selflessness in a life in which so little seemed governed by reason—least of all, her own deepest dreams and aspirations—but regardless of Iridni’s outward composure and faith, her existence was a never-ending struggle to keep at bay the flames of fear that the ramparts of her heart held stubbornly in check. She feared the world, but she also feared herself.

Most moments she could not even have described what so frightened her.

It was wise and reasonable to be afraid of the monstrous garda and certainly to be afraid of the horror lurking in Castle Ravenloft. But what was there to fear about Iridni Ren—or Zephyr Kontos?

If only she were back in the Prelacy, when life had seemed so simple, constant, and bright. It was so easy to give one’s trust in a land where shrouding mist dissipated beneath the burning brightness of Pelor’s righteous rays. Yet even in Almor, the betrayer Anxan Madog had appeared to a young and innocent girl a noble soul, while underneath a ravening wolf.

Bone tired, Iridni clucked her tongue at how her precocious wisdom still failed her as she tossed and turned her small gowned frame in the darkness, unable to sleep. None of this fretting would aid with the two life-and-death situations drawing nigh, both seeming to point eventually to the other. Zephyr at least was with her against the one and could, regardless of which resolution he reached, guide and protect her. That left the worse and less known evil to meet, seemingly alone.

In the morning, however, a letter from Yunon arrived.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on September 16, 2018, 01:41:20 AM
Sleep at last offered her Lethean, embracing arms to the young priestess as she lay in a more luxurious bed than she had ever felt her right, her beloved slumbering beside her. A cold coastal rain drizzled against the streaked window pane, but a cheering fire burned in the suite, so that the late fall weather and its damp chill seemed a forgotten spectator to the two lovers’ small, intimate world.

Iridni—bereft of her protective, armored shell—prayed to Pelor that the sleeping man might wake in the morning still pleased with her, for she knew he was far worldlier and more sophisticated than she. Yet in all ways he had given her no reason to doubt his love and comforted all her uncertainties...her feelings of inadequacy against a gallant who had told her of his many previous passions. He had likewise warned her how he manipulated the emotions of others to his own purposes.

She caressed the side of his drowsing, pretty face. She thought of how the previous night she felt protective and perhaps even motherly toward him, as she watched him suffer the pangs of his demons and expose to her all his hidden guilt and pain. Now it was she who had become defenseless and at his mercy.

Then she buried her tearful cheek against his unconscious back. Could anyone truly be this happy in this darkened land? What had she done to deserve this moment? She refused to let the earlier words of the coarse monk regarding the fleeting span of love’s ardor lessen the momentary sweetness she craved. How was it that relative strangers who knew so little of her or her secrets could so often hurt her with the most pointed phrases as though they could read her mind and see into her sheltered depths?

Her companion’s steady breathing brought her back to the here and now. She wished to give herself to him completely and knew if he pressed her she would not refuse him the smallest thing. Yet he seemed in his love to understand her so well...so patient and willing to teach her slowly the ways of a woman and a man. He had vowed to take her dancing, which she hoped would put her more at ease with this, his foreign, masculine shape. For now both his mind and body remained undiscovered territories she longed to explore. Did he wish for children, as she did? Could he ever be content with home and hearth?

Already she had exposed more of herself to him than even to Alistar. In the near darkness, her gaze traversed the silk-sheeted curves of her own form, and she felt certain that nothing about her was disagreeable to the senses. No...Pelor had blessed her with all the gifts a man might desire physically—in a rather small package. Yet even her petite body seemed an advantage in that her beloved could so smoothly sweep her from her feet and bring her with ease to this, their shared bed. In her soft yet supple vessel and youthful, comely face she sufficed.

Only in her talents at satisfying the man beside her did she worry she was over-matched. For all her perennial Pelorian wisdom, she was ignorant and guided only by instinct in her nascent lovemaking.

She kissed the back of his clean-shaven, sweet-smelling neck as damp tears touched her eyelashes. She inhaled his fragrance, casting it forever in her memory. He was not ashamed of their love, and for that she was grateful, for only the claim of another man would be respected in places like the Mist Camp. Although he would never describe their relationship in such crude terms, she felt relief to "belong" to him, for she hoped it would free her from the unwelcome attention of so many who viewed any unattached female as fair game for the taking, fair conquest for the pursuing.

Her eternal vigilance down, she slept, her heavy breastplate resting in a nearby chair, and her small form as open and unprotected as she had allowed it to be in many months. Yet even in her almost nudity—her intimate femininity concealed only by her sheer and alluring undergarments—she found herself at long last secure.



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 05, 2018, 11:15:43 PM
"Ah..." The corners of the grieving woman's lips trembled, and she sniffled as the question alone inspired tears. "...You have been thinking of me..."

Iridni paused in what she had started to say to Zafirah, almost taken aback by the latter’s emotional reaction. Was it so unusual and evocative to think of another, particularly when the other in question had lost so much and faced the threat of sudden death at any time? Even after many months in these dark and hopeless lands, the young priestess still had not adjusted to a pessimistic expectation of life in which one was presumed to ignore others’ misfortunes.

From her childhood in Almor and her Pelorian indoctrination since the time she could speak and understand, she could be no more callous or lacking in empathy than, were she a mother, she would fail to heed her infant's cry. In Iridni’s own moment of fear and weakness, Zafirah had been the only human light in the darkness of the Barovian jail. How could the priestess in good conscience ignore the woman's plight?

And yet.

The affairs of persons became so much more complicated than were the affairs of gods. As long as her Pelorian service had been to minister to the weak through charity and healing and then later to fight against the undead, her path was well lighted. She recalled once more the first time she had been forced to slay a living human and how the deed had caused her to retch afterward. Now...now to kill still might cause her hesitation and later regret, but she need only pray for mercy for the departed soul and a measure of forgiveness for herself before her conscience oh so quickly eased.

Recently, Mainane again warned her to avoid the grayness of human conflict, and for most of her life Iridni had. She stayed far from Port-a-Lucine and even Krofburg, where the temptation of silver riches warped the soul. She was learning, however, that caring for others meant being drawn into their struggles, which pitted one against one, until the shifting of enemies and allies became overwhelming to her simple nature and views.

She longed to be with Eare and the rest, pursuing the great and clear evil of Stela Stavescu. Or focusing on the monstrous unfolding in Port of which Miss Verinne had made her aware. In Vallaki, Liliacul Negru alone required as many of the Kinship as could draw arms.

Against any of these dread threats, Pelor would have shined upon and glorified her service to Him. Nor would she have to restrain her anger with Pelorian mercy while a Gundarkite shredded Zafirah's notices one after another in front of her, simultaneously seeming to wish to rend all the optimism, redemption, and forgiveness Iridni held closest to her heart.

Then...there was Bhaltair. The more she spoke with him, the greater the guilt and fear she felt that she was taking advantage of a mentally unstable man, putting him in a danger he lacked the wisdom to perceive. If he acted out of desire for her...she shuddered to contemplate this possibility, knowing that she had promised her fidelity unreservedly to Zephyr, and thus Bhaltair would never add her to his doubtlessly long list of trysts.

He avowed he already had a consuming passion of his own, but if so, his motives were inexplicable, as he would take only the barest of payments from her for his invaluable services. He did not understand, evidently, the worth he was entitled, given the risks he endured at her request, but Iridni did--and that knowledge had come to cause her great shame. Worse still, she could not persuade him against a thirst for revenge that, the slaking of, she knew would likely prove fatal.

What she had recently learned might yet save him.

For both Zafirah and Bhaltair, hope remained. Regardless of how she sometimes felt as though she were sleepwalking toward her destiny and that all her best attempts to help others were misunderstood and often even wrong-headed, Iridni still perceived that the safety of the two now depended on her. If she herself perished, the paradise of Elysium awaited, but only if she served faithfully and true. For Zafirah and Bhaltair, there was no such promise; for the sake of them all, therefore, she must not falter or flinch.

She, Zafirah, and Earebril had continued talking while all these thoughts passed through the Pelorian's conscience-stricken mind. Zafirah whispered, "He is dead because of me....If I had never... ever gotten close..."

"I don't yet know why he was killed, Zafirah. Perhaps you do."

"It was because I was pushing him to be a better man....'

There it was again: evidence to support the spiteful Gundarkite and his beliefs--that by trying to do good in the Dread Realms, one might as well wish to defy gravity. Something about this place perverted all light intent to dark results. Would Iridni's misplaced hope likewise cause the death of them all or be twisted to some other evil purpose?

The overmatched priestess watched the poster fragments flutter away on the wind that bespoke winter’s coming and wished she knew.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 14, 2018, 11:17:07 PM
Although the Barovian winter still bit through her scarf to nip her soft cheeks, and the hard ground beneath her chilled her through her thick blue leggings, Iridni felt strangely warm as Zephyr’s head rested between her thighs, his violet eyes gazing into her own. She imagined for a moment what their child might look like, while passing her hand through his long hair in a soothing, caressing motion. Any baby of theirs would be beautiful, of that she was certain, and she would ensure their child’s face was always as happy and contented as Zephyr’s looked at this moment. She hoped her own expression conveyed to the sleepy Half Elf all the joy and restrained desire she felt for him.

Zephyr had chastised her murmurs of love good-humoredly, saying he was not a god to receive such unreserved affection and adoration. But she perceived how his male ego basked in her praise, causing her to smile as he half-heartedly feigned modesty. She wanted nothing more than to discover how to please him.

At last she had found someone physical and corporeal to pour out her devotion upon the way Pelor received the first fruits of her spirit. For 22 months the Prelacy had been beyond her grasp and beyond all vision except that of her mind and dreams. The fraction of her life spent in what she considered a prison increased, and the carefree fraction enjoyed in her homeland diminished. During that time, everyone she came to care for likewise slipped one by one from her fingers.

Even Pelor—although she refused to entertain the thought and instead pushed it always into a small box in her mind—even Pelor felt more distant. She reassured herself that were He truly absent, her power would not increase as it did, and yet…she knew that often her own fervor propelled her forward, climbing the dark, precarious stairs toward a distant light above her. She dared not look to one side or the other where faithlessness and despair gaped like open jaws, drooling and yawning for the one misstep that would send her hurtling into their eternal abyss.

My Sky Father – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. – I shall not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart.

Such were her simple prayers on the darkest nights of her soul. She recalled the repose long ago in the Lodge when she dreamed she fell without ending into such a pit, and the cold and loneliness had overwhelmed her until she thought she would perish and never awaken.

Perhaps that fate was already hers. Perhaps the young girl who struggled against Anxan Madog while the tendrils of mist ensnared her wasted away during these 22 months to be changed into she, the wiser and stronger woman, who cradled Zephyr’s head in her lap.

For as she contemplated Zephyr’s nearly dozing face, Iridni wondered whether she might at last forsake her family and cleave only to this man, becoming one flesh with him. They were in many ways still strangers to one another, as he had a vast and long life before she had begun to make her place in it.

An old friend like Arthur Freshwater could appear, and she could look on with some disquiet at the ease and familiarity with which the boon companions shared a history from which she was excluded. Watching the two together forced her to the periphery, and although she wanted only happiness for Zephyr, her love also made her long to be the closest of anyone to him.

Realistically, she must accept this compromise for the same passage of time that bound her irrevocably to these lands would also expand the horizons and experiences she and Zephyr shared. Even so, both would always have pasts closed like Strahd’s impervious gates to the other except what each could bring to life through memory and conversation.

The Kinship's Trustee slept now, his face serene. His peacefulness pleased her, though she envied it in that she so seldom was able to close off her own worries and keep them all imprisoned in their boxes. Yunon had said that this dark realm harvested its captives as sustenance, devouring fears and other black emotions like a giant organism that sucked in more and more fodder while growing ever larger.

If so, she would focus on moments like these. She would cherish them, and her heart would be a walled garden in which purity might prosper, safe from corruption. And when Zephyr blessed her with marriage and children, they, too, would grow strong in Pelor’s light, experiencing childhoods free of hurt and want, resisting those insidious powers who feasted on human misery and quenched their thirst with human tears.

The cold raked again at her tender flesh, but the fire lit by this bright thought filled the Pelorian with heat from within.  And the walls protecting the garden held.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 18, 2018, 04:41:54 PM
When the aged ferry bearing young Ren docked at dusk and dropped a crude and corroded anchor, Iridni’s delicate chin also dropped in astonishment. On the isolated shore stood the person most on her mind but who she least had expected to see in this place so far from the woman’s city of refuge and lights. How Verinne had changed in the two days since Iridni had witnessed her perform, her charm and talent on full display before an enthralled audience at the Theatre Cathedral! How she contrasted in the short weeks since she shared—inviting the meek, provincial Pelorian into her luxuriant office—her stock of vintage champagne and informed Iridni of the menace that threatened to devour her newfound prosperity!

Now it was the director who looked small and frightened, huddled between two men, so that Iridni was bewildered whether the two might have taken her captive. Verinne was exiled on pain of death from the place the men appeared to be bearing her toward—the place where she had been maimed. Observing the tableau and Verinne’s placement within it, Iridni’s consciousness flashed to that fateful day when her younger self was similarly led between two strong men, the 16-year-old acolyte unaware that one of them intended her ravishment and murder.

As the unwelcome flashback seized her, Iridni’s throat tightened as though a forearm were squeezing her windpipe so that the single syllable she wished to scream was muted: Stop!

The violet eyes of the priestess cleared, however, and she perceived Verinne was cooperating with those accompanying her and not acting as a captive might. Iridni overheard Verinne ask for fare, saying she had left all her money in Port. Moreover, the priestess recognized the one who gave it to her as her trusted friend, Morvayn, who Iridni felt certain would not be an instrument of unchivalrous treachery. Instead, the Wayfarer looked to the setting sun and rising moon…and now feared that her longtime companion might not know the changed nature of the woman with whom he travelled.

A chain clanked, and the anchor rose from the water.

As the ferry prepared to alter course, the priestess reacted instinctively, leaping as best she could in her breastplate from the shore back to the deck, her over-sized boots landing with a crack and slipping for a fraction of a second on the wet wood, but her essence within them steadied her slight form from plunging into the ship’s frothing wake.

“Hey now, that’s 250 gold for passage!” the bearded ferryman barked at her, no doubt baffled at the small mad woman who would pay so much to ride back and forth on his decrepit barge. Iridni fished in her purse, her eyes never leaving Verinne.

Once they arrived at their destination, the group found all gates locked, as Pelor’s glory had faded from the land during their passage. Finally, Iridni whispered: “Where are we going?”

Morvayn’s answer told her all she needed to know and who he was acting as an agent of, but the priestess remained silent. She could hope only that they were not attempting the cure that the Kinship archives and the doctor’s forbidden tome both said might forever doom Verinne. If they were, Iridni must use all her diplomacy to persuade them otherwise. She had not the power to overcome them through force.

If only my silver-tongued darling were here….

***

The unknown second man was gone. Iridni sat by Verinne and listened to the conversation between her and Morvayn, then busied herself with sorting her many herbs, the monotonous activity helping calm her mind in anticipation of the challenge ahead. She hoped she was conveying resolved composure to those around her. Then Morvayn began telling the soon-to-be-captive Verinne how she would be kept company by many visitors while imprisoned, and Iridni almost dropped her bag of valuable boletes, perceiving this idea worse than the lunatio the full moon imparted to Io.

She cleared her throat; at times the wisdom Pelor granted her was more burden than someone her age should have to bear—or try to persuade those older or surer of themselves than she to heed. “At least in Port…the lieutenant was concerned for you,” she mumbled. “The garda here….They have already maimed and banished you. And that was before this…infection.”

“I’m sure [spoiler redacted] knows what she is doing, Iridni,” Morvayn snapped.

Iridni had perceived before how Morvayn’s reckless lifestyle was so often on a knife’s edge that his self-confidence made him oblivious to endangering others: secreting Melina in a vampire’s closet, dragging a mother about to burst with child back and forth on foot across Barovia in the winter. Or perhaps subconsciously her ally realized he put women who trusted him in peril to feed his need that they see him as heroic, and so the boot Iridni shod pinched his heel where it was most sore.

“Did I criticize her, Vayn?” No, you are the one who brought Verinne here.

Iridni realized that—by defending the unseen woman Iridni had not remarked upon—Vayn was maintaining his self-image and deflecting her challenge to his own disregard of Verinne’s well-being. He need not consider that maybe, just maybe, the young woman before him was wiser than his cocksure masculinity would allow him to admit.

Verinne at least seemed in full grasp of her situation and offered an explanation: “The beast inside of me will go after the people I love, first. My friends, those who belong to my troupe….And then it will go after the innocent.” Iridni understood such an impulse; it was Pelorian: Verinne was sacrificing her own security for that of those she loved.

“May I ask you something?” the priestess said after a moment. “Does the lieutenant know what has become of you? That you’ve been brought here?”

“This is not the time for questions, Iridni,” Morvayn interrupted with growing irritation.

 “I’m afraid it is,” the Pelorian persevered, waiting with empathy for Verinne’s response.

"No, it isn't." All charm evaporated from her friend at her refusal to submit her will to his as she had so often done before, his anger lashing like a whip that would force obedience from the suddenly uppity priestess. "Kindly sod off if you are looking to make a stressful situation more so.”

She gritted her teeth; she would not return his fire nor let him see her fear. “Because the lieutenant has asked the Kinship to assist in this matter, and I have promised to keep the lieutenant informed. If she already knows, then I am not in a conflict. But if you have brought Verinne here secretly, then you can see my dilemma.” Iridni glanced for a moment from Verinne to Morvayn’s infused face. “And, Vayn, I do not deserve this rudeness. I have treated you with kindness always.”

“The lieutenant knows what I am,” Verinne offered. “She doesn’t know that I’ve left Port-a-Lucine, though I would see a letter written to her explaining that I’m abroad, and that I’m safe. I need to ensure she knows about the threat she yet faces.”

“This is what you would liked conveyed, then?” It was easier for Iridni to keep her voice gentle and free of any quaver if she spoke with and looked only at Verinne.

Morvayn broke in again. “She doesn’t have to worry about what might come with the next full moon. And this way we can focus on getting you better and ready to head back.”

Getting you better. Iridni blanched. The cure. There it was. She whispered, “You cannot get her better until the natural lycanthrope that infected her is killed.”

“Iridni, you are not helping.”

“What would like me to do, Vayn? Tell you both falsehoods?”

Verinne continued, almost to herself, as she fretted about those left behind and ignored the muted bickering around her.

“The lieutenant is out of her depth. I could easily beat her in a fight. These are all hard-bitten criminals, even when they’re masquerading as men.”

Iridni swallowed. “Yes…the Kinship will try to deal with them, Verinne. A long-time friend of yours is going there now.”

“Who?”

At the mention of the Kinship, Morvayn scowled. “And that’s my plan gone…”

“It will upset Vayn further for me to say more. And thus I shall keep silent as he wishes. But know that it is someone who has long cared for you and was heartbroken to hear what has happened.”

[To be continued]



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 20, 2018, 02:45:49 PM
To every wight comanded was silence,
And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
Chaucer, The Wife of Bath

Quiet shrouded the three for a moment as Verinne considered who might have gone to Port-a-Lucine out of affection for her, and Iridni refrained from stoking Morvayn’s anger further. Persuading Vayn would be impossible while he remained affronted by her speaking after he had commanded her to be silent.

Morvayn’s curiosity and impatience in the face of the now mute Pelorian, however, quickly got the best of him: “No, go on. Maybe I can figure something out around who you have in Port-a-Lucine.”

Iridni looked to Verinne, hoping the Maitresse would guess without being told.

“Morrigan?” Verinne offered.

“No…Audric. I have never known him to be so close to crying.”

Verinne leaned back against the pew. “I…I can imagine…he was beside himself with sorrow when he learned of what happened to me, whenever last I was in this country.”

“Hrm,” Morvayn muttered aloud. “Might be able to work around Audric. He won’t see me if I don’t want him to.”

“Vayn…I must tell you both one other thing before [redacted] arrives for she will likely be upset I’m here.”

Morvayn did not respond.

“A cure can be attempted only once. If it fails, then…” Iridni’s fine jaw trembled as she looked at Verinne in pity.

“We’re aware,” Morvayn replied.

Verinne, however, expressed surprise. “I…wait…is this true?”

“It must not be attempted before the originating wererat is dead.” Iridni nodded to Verinne.

“So….I have only one chance at this?”

“Yes. But if you follow the proper protocol,” the priestess reassured her, “you have the most chance of a successful cure.”

“[Redacted] told you,” Morvayn broke in, “that you need to pray and meditate so you wouldn’t need to focus on the things that we need to do.” He shook his head at Iridni. “Really, sometimes the truth is not what is needed.”

“I am not going to bandy that with you now, Vayn. I care only about Miss Verinne’s fate.”

“We must be sure he’s the one,” Verinne said. “Certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt. What happens if we don’t succeed?”

“What you will have to do,” the Pelorian returned her attention to the afflicted performer, “is steel yourself for the moment when the cure is finally applied. Regardless of how you feel at that time, you must resist the urge to move at all.”

“Yes, I realize you care about Verinne’s fate,” Morvayn continued to whisper to her. “But you’ve given her something to worry over that will need to be left to others to take care of.”

Iridni realized why she had never felt herself drawn to Morvayn as so many other women were. Always one had to be helpless and dependent on him, leaving him in charge.

Io—a similar man to Vayn in his reckless lifestyle and predisposition to go it alone—had solicited her opinion in their adventures and treated her as an equal human being; for Vayn she would always be an inferior. Regardless of how often she tried to earn his respect by giving him information and other boons that she knew he must have to survive, she would always be to him someone that by simple right of his manhood he felt he could tell what to do. Something akin to a child rather than a full and complete person: She suspected if he could Vayn would at this moment turn her over his knee.

Even a powerful Maitresse who Iridni knew had multiple times shown the strength and courage to survive unspeakable hardship and, yes, mutilation, Vayn thought too weak to be provided the best information possible for her cure.

Because she was a woman.

“She is curious, Vayn. She has been a strong woman before…look at what she has endured.” Iridni’s gaze met Verinne’s, and she forced her most Pelorian smile. “I have confidence in her.”

They were interrupted by the re-appearance of the unknown man who had been on the ferry with Morvayn and Verinne.

“What serendipitous fortune! I had gone to the Lodge hoping Genie might be home. Alas, he was not, but I find the night brightened regardless.” He looked at Iridni. The man bore with him a suitcase that seemed heavy as he gripped the handle with both of his large hands. In trying to assess the exceptional physical specimen before her, the priestess concluded he was much like Jean as a man of action and prowess, but with elements of Zephyr’s suave charm.

Verinne whispered to her: “One Dr. Locke.”

“If you hadn’t opened your mouth, Iridni, we’d have been having a nice chat,” Morvayn hissed in her other small ear.

The Pelorian ignored this and focused on the newcomer, who merely by entering the enormous room seemed to dominate it. “Dr. Locke? That name…I think I recall it from the archives. Were you once in the Kinship?”

After identifying Locke to her, Verinne had returned to asking Iridni about her circumstances. “What happens if we don’t succeed…? What if none of it is enough, and I’m…stuck like this?”

Morvayn sent visual daggers into the Pelorian with annoyance. “Since you insist on telling the truth in all matters, perhaps I should let it slip that the Kinship don’t trust Zaharia due to his being a garda and want him out.”

Once more Iridni had to grit her teeth. How often had she advocated on Vayn’s behalf and his desire to return to the Kinship as a secret member? Loric had been right, and she had been wrong: it would never have worked.

Remember Verinne…talk only to her and that will stay your sharp and unruly tongue and give you the peace that befits a Pelorian.

“You have always succeeded against the odds, Verinne. We will keep our eyes on that.”

The priestess was now able to answer Morvayn without any show of the anger and hurt his unrelenting assault yielded. “Vayn, this hardly becomes you…why do you wish to make me your enemy?” she whispered.

In contrast to the murderous fire in Morvayn’s eyes, Hunter Locke smiled at Iridni and came closer. “I was in the Kinship once. But I found a tendency in the leadership to apply their rank in lieu of education. So I formed my own cadre. Though I do miss my chats with Loric. How is he?”

Morvayn sneered. “Afraid I don’t know. Never really spoke with him myself.”

“Loric is quite well and giving good advice as always,” the Pelorian smiled and dipped her head, the words carrying an added meaning that only she knew. “But as Vayn says he is not about the Lodge as nearly as often as he might be.”

“Well, I’m not Kin. So it’s not like I’m about to have a chat with him.”

“Mm. No doubt the twins have called him away a great deal lately. The coming times as they are.” Locke offered gregariously.

“You mean the Weathermay sisters? Or some other twins?” Iridni asked Locke, latching onto any subject that might mute Vayn’s growing hostility toward her.

Then, the moment Iridni dreaded arrived, as the door to the outside was flung open, and the long-awaited [redacted] joined them. Now it would be two—and quite possibly three—against one.

[To be continued]



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on October 27, 2018, 11:58:04 AM
Iridni stood once more at the cauldron, the ivory skin of her small, soft hands stained with the hues of the colorful herbs she had prepared for brewing. She hoped that nothing she had done would displease Zephyr when they next met, for she missed him so and wanted their time together to be only the joy of reunion after lonely separation.

Her beloved would not like the risks she took, but Pelor’s light could not be constrained within her own vessel, where holiness already prevailed. Her faith compelled her to illuminate places of darkness, misery, and fear. Zephyr trusted her, she knew, and would not be jealous of the time she spent alone in intimate conversation with Nargul, but he would worry for her safety with a misanthropic brute who towered over her and needed only one of his two meaty hands to grasp around her slender waist and hold her immobile.

In truth she herself at times feared the Half Orc, when she caught his salivating gaze roving over her small form without the least attempt at discretion. Yet if through her influence and kindness toward him she might water the better nature she thought buried in his dark, outward show, she would not give into the prejudice with which all the Port dandies treated him. She could see as well how they looked at her when she was in his company; had she been born so ugly would she too have been doomed to view the world as cynically as did he? She thought again of the Gundarkite beggar in Berez, the discrimination the woman endured, and hoped the seed she had planted there was still bearing fruit.

Pelor also knew of the young priestess’s many failures. As her god had not given up on her but only strengthened her, she in turn must not slacken in her efforts to help others.

Where was Miss Verinne? Iridni had heard the gossip, so it was likely she was no longer sequestered in Loredana’s care. Likewise, Picavet still lived; Iridni doubted very much Miss Verinne had been cured.



**** **** ****


Loredana swept in, rubbing her hands together. “It is balmy out there!”

Iridni noticed Verinne had begun to drink generously from a flask she had with her. Hunter Locke observed the same but—unlike the Pelorian—appeared to think it an appropriate response to the Maitresse’s situation. “How do you feel?”

Iridni looked from the two to Loredana, hoping that she and Loredana might return to their former conviviality, when they had pursued and destroyed Urzica the Deceiver together. “Good evening, Loredana.” Only darkness would benefit if they quarreled.

The Morning Lord priestess pushed back her hood, revealing a nose pink from the cold. “Dawn’s blessings!”

Vayn was having none of it. “Unfortunately, not as good as she could be feeling.”

Nu, of course she isn’t.” Loredana moved closer to Verinne and began to examine her.

“Even worse, Loredana.” He gestured at Iridni with his thumb. “Thanks to this one.”

Locke looked between the two priestesses and tried again to placate: “Does the church seek out beautiful village girls, or is it simply in the church’s nature? I swear you all get more radiant with each year.”

“What has happened?” Loredana asked.

“Nothing. That I know of,” Iridni spoke quietly.

Vayn rolled his eyes and hissed. “Certain information that didn’t need to be shared was.”

Iridni ignored him and watched Verinne as the latter continued to drink, suppressing a cough as some of the alcohol went down her windpipe. Iridni, who was still seated next to the Maitresse, put her arm around Verinne in a comforting gesture.

“Do you smoke, Miss Verinne?" Locke offered.

Loredana licked her lips for a moment before speaking. “You see, here in the Morning Lord church, we like to give those under our care hope. Iridni….Hope is a very powerful thing. It alone can be the driving force behind someone overcoming an illness or believing they can succeed at a feat.”

Iridni looked away from Verinne’s face to that of Loredana briefly and nodded. “I have a copy of the Morning Lord book of prayers with me always. Father Miklos gave it to me.”

“Reading our dogma is nu the same as understanding it….Or living by it.”

Iridni watched as Locke offered Verinne a pouch. “Well...I should think a debate on theology can wait, Kinswoman.”

Verinne refused the pouch with a polite gesture. “I used to smoke quite a bit. Not so much, now...as I've developed…something of an aversion to fire.” She looked up with red, swollen eyes. “Now, I just drink.. and with things being as they are, I'm...sure to walk in my inebriate father's footsteps.”

“Understandable. Understandable,” Locke said, tucking away the pouch. “Cinnamon perh- No. Oh we all shadow our parents.”

Vayn broke in with irritation. “I'll take Verinne and Locke into the other room, the one with the table we sat at awhile back.” Verinne reluctantly took his hand.

“Verinne,” Iridni whispered to her as she departed. "I shall convey your message to the lieutenant.”

“I appreciate that, Iridni. I may ask you or another to deliver a letter to her, containing some important information. She needs to be aware of…the threat she faces.”

Then the three were gone, and Iridni was left alone with the Morning Lord priestess. “I hope Miss Verinne’s incarceration is as tolerable as it can be.” She gathered her things. “Goodbye, Loredana.”

“Oh. Were we nu going to speak?”

Iridni paused at the threshold and turned back at the question.

“To discuss this obvious contention between us?”

“Contention?”

“Our inability to agree upon anything.”

“That is in your eyes only, I'm afraid.” Iridni felt suddenly very tired.

“And in the eyes of the others who have admonished us both for our words.”

“But I do not waste time in useless strife, Loredana. I have done all that I can here. It is clear that Vayn wishes me elsewhere,” the Pelorian shrugged. “And I expect you do, too.”

“There is little more to be done here until the proper steps are taken.”

Iridni nodded. “Those steps must be taken in Port-a-Lucine. And that is where I shall go.”

“She was only brought here because here, she and all others are safe,” Loredana said. “The Light Carriers will defend her, despite her illness.”

Iridni considered, thinking of what she could say that would be conciliatory and find common ground between them. “Father Miklos once spoke to me about lycanthropes. He had great sympathy for them, in that they could not control what they did. So I don't doubt your words.”

“Iridni, I need her whereabouts to remain a secret from Jean,” Loredana said quietly. “If he wants to hunt a neuri, he needs to go to Port and hunt that unu.”

The request took Iridni aback, for she had kept Jean informed of all that she knew regarding the Port wererat threat until then: "I doubt that you and Jean keep any secrets from one another. I keep no secrets from Zephyr. But in case Jean hasn't told you, he has been informed of this, and I asked him for help in Port.”

Loredana answered, "I know what he knows. I am asking you nu to tell him that she is here."

"What of Zephyr?"

“As long as he nu tells Jean, I do nu mind. Jean is... He kills neuri. He does nu save them. If you value Verinne's life, you will nu let him know.”

“That is easy enough to promise,” Iridni nodded, relieved that Loredana did not expect her to keep anything secret from Zephyr. Yet she was also puzzled in that she remembered Locke had spoken of going by the Lodge to fetch Jean on the way. What would have happened had Locke been successful in his intent?

Iridni looked toward the door to the other room where Locke, Verinne, and Morvayn had disappeared. “This has caused a breach I fear with Vayn. He is not as forgiving of others as we who worship the Light.”

Bun,” Loredana exhaled softly. "Multumesc, Iridni. As for Vayn…all wounds heal in time.”

Iridni offered the other priestess a hug to signify their rapprochement, and the two embraced with gentle smiles.

“We will see,” Iridni whispered.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on November 03, 2018, 02:41:05 PM

The clock tower of Port-a-Lucine tolled 5 a.m. as a hooded woman stole her way into the war-ready city and hurried to the squalid Quartier Ouvrier. The young priestess, Iridni Ren, had already undergone a difficult night, including overwhelming infernal magics from the undead priests of Ghastria decimating her body, and then having to restore one of the strongest of men—and an animal—to life through Pelor’s power. Every bone and muscle in her small frame ached with injuries and exhaustion as she unbundled the prizes of her recent brewing: five of the most potent of healing elixirs.

She put them in the stubborn drawer of the aged armoire and undressed, readying herself for a short nap in the clean but threadbare bed of her rented room in the tenements. A cockroach scuttled under the doorframe, and she paused to collect it on a paper, open the door, and toss it outside her chamber. She had noticed that the two advertisements left posted at the entrance of the structure were gone, so she climbed under the thin covers and propped her gathered papers on her nightgown-covered knees before setting to writing, dipping her quill occasionally into the inkwell on the table near her candle-lit bedside (the room lacked windows).

First, she made entries in the work she was preparing for the Kinship archives on her herbal discoveries; second, she scribed fresh copies of the missing posters. Her teeth chattered as she wrote, for cool weather was coming to Dementlieu, and nights in the drafty tenements were already cold.

In Vallaki, the Lodge would have an ever-present fire…as well as Zephyr.

She felt moisture at the corner of her eye and quickly wiped it with the back of her hand, lest it drop onto her words. Stiffen your spine, weak girl! Your printing already looks like that of a child without its being watered and blurred by feeling sorry for yourself.

She knew why she was presently prone to cry, but it was not just the normal ebbing and flowing cycle of her body and emotions. It was primarily the conflict she felt she had caused between Nargul and Leon. And then she had cowardly run away, instead of being the peacemaker Pelor commanded her to be. She was afraid one of them would kill the other because of her…instead of having faith that Pelor would make her His instrument of peace between them.

Above all, she was now more fearful than ever to stay alone in these thin-walled tenements, where night after night, along with the consumptive coughing and lamenting, she heard the grunt-filled rutting that seemed to surround her on every side. The rhythmic thumping of beds. The drunken curses of disappointment, followed now and then with a snarl, a smack in the night, and a muffled cry.

For she had recognized the naked appetite in the Half Orc’s eyes when he tried to persuade her to return to the tenements alone with him; it was the same hunger she had seen in a violent man’s gaze the dusk the Mists had borne her away from the Forests of Adri.

In her pastoral Almor, the unrestrained lust she endured then would have been considered criminal, but it was clear that Nargul’s view from his own barbaric upbringing held that the priestess was little more than an unplowed field. If the man who “owned” her was absent, he, Nargul, might as well plant his own “crops.” Otherwise, Iridni was a valuable resource left fallow and wasting. To the Half Orc it was as foreign that she had any choice in the matter as that soil might want to object to being tilled and fertilized.

For Nargul, life was instinct and a series of bodily functions. But his primeval brain was not without cunning; that was clear as well.

Contemplating his size versus her own, the Pelorian knew in a physical contest she would be powerless. She recalled the feeling of a strong forearm around her throat while Anxen pawed her, and being held fast by shackles while under Mircea’s lash. She never intended to be so helpless again.

All of which left Iridni in a dilemma. If she, sheltered by the strong wings of the most high god, feared to stay alone in the Ouvrier, could she in good conscience pay another woman to do so? What if Gul came looking for the Pelorian…and settled for whomever he happened to find sleeping here? In the dark he might not take time to discover his mistake, no matter the occupant…assuming he even cared.

In truth she feared for Gul as well as herself. Although some would opine that she deserved whatever happened to her for trying to befriend a savage and for frequenting the Ouvrier alone at night—more than once the resident males had asked her even in daytime to name her whore’s price—she knew others might seek revenge on her behalf.

Yet she did not want to give up her dream of helping the children of the Quartier so soon after its auspicious beginning.

She began to re-word the advertisement. Once Strahd reopened the borders to Vallaki, she would seek a wider distribution. The excitement of the idea pushed sleep from her mind, so that she blew on the words to dry them before tiptoeing on bare feet back to the tenement entrance, eager to make the new notice available at once.

When she opened the door, Pelor’s glory was cresting on the horizon, and His young priestess took it as the most blessed of omens.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on November 17, 2018, 02:13:57 AM
Perhaps it was the massive healing Leon required, for otherwise Iridni felt no reason for Pelor to bless her with yet growing powers. So much she had attempted of late had yielded small fruit. Or perhaps her god wished to encourage her in the little progress she felt she had made for Port-a-Lucine's poor children. She knew with certainty that in Pelor's eyes such a mission of mercy and kindness was greater than destroying undead with her hammer.

Whatever the cause, she had surpassed all those she once revered in Chathold to become the mightiest of her line. Not even great-grandfather Rundric Ren was recorded as opening a gate to another plane. Yet neither her father nor her mother were likely to learn in this life of how their small daughter had exceeded all their expectations. For all the Dawn Father blessed her, the young priestess lacked the simple means to return home.

In Elysium...in Elysium some blessed day all her family and ancestors would look on her in satisfaction as she knelt before them with head bowed. And with that vision she tried to content herself.

Because in the here and now and regardless of how her touch might heal the vilest of wounds done to a man, much distressed Iridni. Her attachment to Zephyr had done nothing to discourage others from seeking her attention and affections, and regardless of how often she rebuffed them, it seemed only to make the situation more unpleasant. Words of flattery quickly gave way to anger and spite--both toward her and the man to whom she was devoted. Worse, she endured the discomfort in solitude for fear of the reprisals that such knowledge would bring.

She did not wish to cause the death of any man, nor did she wish to put Zephyr in danger for the sake of her honor.

And so she must do as she had always done since coming to this land of darkness: keep much of the truth secreted within her. Beside the devilry of Strahd, the heresy of the Morning Lord Church, and so many other tales she kept untold, what was one more secret that hurt no one but herself?

Was that, however, a lie? Might silence hurt someone?

Leon pressed her to tell the Kinship of her plight, insisting that other women, not as careful and with as strong of protections as she, would suffer in her stead. She also knew that her fear was hampering her mission in Port. Nevertheless, the Pelorian wanted to believe she was in control, not the helpless 16-year-old pulled into the woods and then into the Mists against her will, and that she would resolve her dilemmas on her own.

Her god's grace would be sufficient.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 08, 2018, 01:35:05 AM
Leon was gone—executed by the Gendarmes. Iridni had not the heart to attend. She recalled watching Roland die, strung up by the Vallaki garda, and Barris whispering in her ear that she was obligated to do something to help the paladin, yet she had stayed her hand, as the Kinship Code commanded she must, even if she were uncertain at that moment of Pelor’s own will for her. She little wanted to endure the spectacle once more of the impersonal state extinguishing a man’s life for serving its cause too fervently. Was that not, after all, what vigilantes were guilty of?

Leon’s rash act had caused the death of a child. Yes, that was without a doubt wrong. Yet she had seen a squad of gendarmes cut down a lone waif who pursued her into the Quartier Savant, showing no mercy and making no attempt to take the little miscreant captive, despite their numbers and weapons. In doing so, had they accomplished as much as Leon’s explosion might…or had they done nothing but murder a child?

She also knew that Leon’s protection had afforded her hope of keeping the Ouvrier refuge going. Twice he had personally intervened to protect the priestess from abduction and assault. If the government cared about the lives of these children, why was her tenement refuge left unpoliced at night? Why did that depend on “vigilante” action?

Leon’s execution was necessary purely so the state could insulate itself from what it had, in fact, wanted. Iridni knew the accusations and gossip rife in the poorer sections of government complicity in the explosion. What better way to prove the innocence of the nobility than to throw Leon to those baying for blood?

Was it any wonder Port-a-Lucine politics sickened Iridni? All this striving for power and demagoguing both the war and the poverty for personal gain. If only she could return to a Pelorian world of black and white, darkness versus light…she feared any program for the poor here would be diverted to ambition and greed.

Jean condemned Leon and wished no one to excuse him, but as much as he would dispute it, Jean was also a man given to unilateral action, damn the consequences. After all, he had advocated setting fire to the old bookstore in the middle of the Market District in hopes of trapping Liliacul Negru, until the Pelorian warned him against the likely reaction of the garda and the collateral damage that might result. Had he pursued his plan, Jean’s fate might very likely have been the same as Leon’s.

Enough of that and her disagreements with her less mercifully inclined Kin. She would instead dwell on her recent sharing of coffee with young Mr. Shelks, with the latter revealing his past mistakes, doubts, and hopes for the future. From such brighter memories did the Dark Powers that sought to corrupt all here most recoil, and in this time of mourning, she would again use the light of companionship to shield her own vulnerable heart.

***

"You know... Iridni, I want to cry."

“What? Why?”

"You're making me nostalgic." Leon snorted, amused at her reaction.

“Nostalgic? For the Company of the Fox?”

"No, silly... for you."

The priestess looked discombobulated. “Me? Nostalgic for me? What do you mean?”

"Well, back when I first arrived in the Mists, we talked like this in the Lodge….I was quite different then.” He nodded almost to himself. “As were you."

Iridni sighed and regained some of her composure. “Well...I was bit of a silly billy. And you...you were so eager to do something big!” She giggled as she might have in the Lodge all that time ago. “Yunon must have thought we were both hopeless children.”

"I was a lot more confident, ready to live... what did I say? Faster, stronger, braver?" It also seemed as if Leon’s previous self was for a moment coursing through his veins.

“I do miss those days. The Wayfarers who have left since especially.”

"That blue-haired woman... eugh...Sora... something? Heavy chested? She followed Ogmha?"

“Oh Sora! Yes! She gave me my hammer!” The Pelorian sighed. “I wished she would have been Second instead of me.” After a moment she continued, “Leon...”

"Hm?"

“Do you realize my 19th birthday is fast approaching? My teenage years almost gone. And two years spent in this place…. Doesn't that make you feel as though your life is wasting away?”

“I never have truly wasted one moment, Iridni.” Leon now seemed to wish to impress her. “Have I told you about the vampiress that wanted you dead?"

“Oh? Which one? I knew about the one who fixated on Alistar and promised to bring him my head.”

"Different….I wasn't about to let her touch you, but I was too young at the time....So instead I came up with a deal for her. She drank my blood and she left the Kinship alone."

The Pelorian frowned. “That was a noble sacrifice, Leon, but you should never make deals with the undead. Especially for my benefit.”

"She's still a Baroness here."

She looked at him sharply. “What? Here in Port?” Should Iridni really be surprised? Baron Roquefort…Count Strahd…being undead seemed to go part and parcel with a royal title.

"There are many with her name. She was very beautiful…azure eyes, pale skin, and dark red hair."

“She may consider your deal expired by now, and I need to know who to refuse the invitations of.” After a moment, Iridni added with a self-critical expression, “I should let you sleep. I find I often talk people to exhaustion.”

"I don't mind having company, it's better than being alone. I'd rather not be by myself...."

All these lonely souls, lonelier than she, Iridni thought, who at least always had her god for company. “Even if she's a chatterbox?”

"You're... alright, Iridni. Talking a lot is fine...I...hate being alone..." He lowered his eyes sadly, his smile shattering.

The Pelorian noticed the change with compassion. “In that case, tell me about something interesting. Let me see...who did you like best in the Company of the Fox and why?”

Leon thought a moment. "Lis…because...she had a beautiful voice. And she was so happy until her husband died... and she was alone..."

“Lis? Lis Claret? I knew her only very little. Did you like her because...? Oh! I was about to matchmake again!”

"She was married." He squinted. "I know how she feels, now."

Iridni felt embarrassed at her momentary light-heartedness. “What became of her?”

"She's dead. [Redacted] killed her."

The cleric’s diminutive shoulders lowered. “What in Pelor's name for?”

"I watched him do it," Leon said grimly, tears growing in his eyes as he took a deep breath, then groaned. "Because…she knew about all the terrible things he had done... and she wanted to leave."

“He must have been a truly horrible man.”

"N-No...he wasn't....He just...did what it took to win.” Leon paused. “One woman's life is worth more than all of Dementlieu's....That was his ideal."

The Pelorian’s small hands balled into fists, but she remained quiet.

"He ruined me... I really think..."

How little Iridni had known at the time the significance of the conversation. Though she had disputed with Leon the lesson the Company of the Fox taught him—that it was not Dementlieu, but only the man who killed Lis who had been preserved by her death—she saw now how well Leon had absorbed the evil doctrine. What was one child’s life, placed in the scale against all of Dementlieu?

What, for that matter, was anyone’s?

It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

Through such deceitful and mendacious reasoning did the Darkness trap and destroy its quarry. Iridni could hope only that in his last moments when he had confessed and faced his execution with nobility, Leon had thrown off the Mists’ corrupting influence.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 19, 2018, 03:44:47 PM

Was it another cruel trick of the realms that Iridni so loved spring? To see the youth and vitality of the land restored after another deathly winter?

Thawing ice broke loose, sliding down the gray crags in watery rivulets, and color returned like life itself into the countryside. The hike from Vallaki to the Tser Pool and back became more pleasant as she no longer watched her breath form in the air around her when she journeyed as quickly as she could through the pass beneath the Dark Lord’s looming castle. As the stony structure towered over her soft and inconsequential frame, the dour edifice centuries-old and immutable, young Ren could think only how much its sterile walls resembled those of a prison.

The warmth of Pelor’s rays allowed the assertion of life over death. Nevertheless, the priestess had come to understand the transitory victory this moment was. The flowers that reached with frailty at first and then with vigor toward the sun’s glory…they would brown and be trod underfoot as had their ancestors before them. The tears of joy she shed in spring were separated in time but not in their essence from those of autumn.

So, too, would she, Iridni Ren, one day fall like a tear, like a leaf, by the wayside, whether tomorrow or when she was withered—the sweetness of her youth spent drop by honeyed drop in this gloomy horizon where the good felt so alone and evil was rapacious in its hunger for ever greater power.

Power.

She recalled a sorcerer—or was it the bard, Reine?—who had once ridiculed her profession of priestess, the other saying she preferred being servant to no one and certain that all of her might came from within. Yet as an instrument and vessel of Pelor and aware that without Him she was nothing, Iridni felt, in contrast, the greatest of liberations. Through her god’s grace always she could relax her hand in openness, rather than clinch it or ball it into a fist. Nothing was hers or of her, and consequently she could lose nothing.

When she observed those around her who were slaves to power’s pursuit, she considered herself truly blessed. Even in the Kinship she perceived the jockeying for position and prestige, the dissatisfaction when ungranted. The slight could twist friends into mortal foes. How stressful and exhausting it seemed to her and why, therefore, she preferred her tenement room to the Governor’s Hotel. A toy mallet, a set of paints, or a doll could all please a destitute child. The more adults had, the less content they became. Was the wealthiest Port baron any better off in this regard than a Barovian beggar?

Nor were material goods enough. Most seemed compelled to master and command others, which above all else had no lure for her. Human beings were even more complex and requiring of care than their ephemeral possessions.

Why, then, did she so crave a child of her own? Was her desire for motherhood the last remnant in her of a very non-Pelorian imperative toward wanting to control another?

A despairing thought numbed her then, like ice touching a tooth’s nerve: was her charitable impulse itself a fraud? Did she exploit the misery of the Ouvrier’s waifs for the personal joy that relieving it wrought?

The benefactor who had stocked the rooms for the children did so anonymously. This, then, pointed the next step to her. If she truly wished to deny the self, if she wished her service to be oriented toward the Light, pure and incorruptible, she must no more put herself in a position in which others called her sweet and good or praised her—as much as she hungered always for this praise and reassurance and regardless of how not receiving it pained her. To conquer imperfections in her own spirit—the momentary anger, yes, that could flare when she felt herself unappreciated—she would negate that part of her that sought to please, rather than serve.

Iridni realized suddenly why Pelor had chosen to reveal this truth to her now: not for her own sake, but for the sake of another, he who faced the far greater threat from the Darkness. Everything she had learned before from her studies and her mentors taught that this man must repent and do good works…and that is how she had intended to advise him.

That would not be enough, however, she realized, if he performed this penance only to save himself. True redemption and the healing of the wretched wound in his soul would require a life of utter selflessness to balance the scale with his past crimes. Only then would the vacant dullness in his eyes pass like the gray mist that spring was purging from the valley. Only then could he link by link unfasten the manacles his mind had forged to imprison itself in hell. Only then would he have hope of new life, rather than death…and damnation eternal.

The way is humility, the goal is truth. The first is the labor, the second the reward.
Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 21, 2018, 11:19:20 AM

All the news from Vallaki was bad and yet so predictable.

Iridni had done as much as she could, given her promise and the limits of her knowledge, to try to warn Jean and Loredana to leave at least as far as the Village. Now it might be too late.

She thought of her own beating and how little the garda listened to reason or fairness. Past deeds of service to them meant nothing when they wished to exercise their power. Such was the way of granting authority to one human being over another. It would inevitably be used for revenge, pettiness, and the gratification of the egoistic self, regardless of any claims to higher ideals and justification.

In the end, it was always a boot stomping on an upturned face and demanding submission, force triumphing over truth.

It was not Pelorian, and it was not the way her mother and father had taught her. Although Medea believed young Ren's upbringing was one of privilege and spoiling, those values and lessons sustained her now.

Her father, likewise a priest, could be stern and remote, but only in a manner similar to the god she worshiped: he had high standards and expected of her much. When Iridni pleased him, the sunny smile that crested on his face reassured her that, regardless of how distant he sometimes seemed—always busy with the cares of his flock—she was a source of joy and reward to him. He would take her small self on his knee and look into her violet eyes with more meaning than his words could convey. "Well done, my wee one," he would whisper...and those two words were enough to spurn his child never to wish to disappoint him.

As for Iridni's mother, the Pelorian aspired to imitate her but knew she never would be her mother's equal for humble servitude and charity. Unlike her mother, Iridni had not yet conquered the childish vice of believing she was always due fairness, rather than first seeking always to treat others fairly.

Yet the priestess at least understood how little punishment ever achieved the goals those inflicting it loftily proclaimed. Rather, it bred resentment and alienated the good, while spurring the evil to retaliatory cruelty. In the end, the assertion of power might force Jean and Loredana to comply with the whims of the garda, but Vallaki would be poorer not richer for it.

As for herself, Jean's edict relieved her conscience. She would not feel conflicted about returning to the Lodge to stand with her fellow Wayfarers or to plead to the garda on their behalf as she once had for Audric. She would remain in Port-a-Lucine and do as her parents had done for her: teach to these, her own wee ones, by example the virtue of meek charity to others. These lessons would provide them with the character one needed to survive in both Barovia and Port-a-Lucine.

When she saw the look in their eyes when she rewarded the little learners with their new toys—the girls with their nonesuch dolls in particular—Iridni could hope only that she had conveyed the same gratitude to her mother and father for their kind and invaluable lessons.



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on December 29, 2018, 12:43:42 PM
You can’t control how you feel, but you can control your actions. Eventually, your feelings will reflect your actions.

Iridni focused on the brick wall before her until a loud splash told her the man had slipped his nude form beneath the water—the pure, cleansing water. The Pelorian well understood why he felt he needed to bathe: his psychological guilt and the verminous company with whom he had only recently left from consorting. Nevertheless, water might wash the body, but only the Light would purify and heal his damaged soul.

Iridni turned to observe him as he soaped and lathered, once more noticing the many marks of abuse on his youthful face, and pity surged within her. The void of his loneliness was so yawning that he would permit any who might fill it to manipulate him as easily as a surgeon manipulated a scalpel. He's a messed up kid by my estimate, the note had said, and she, no doubt, intended to prey on his psychological neediness to sway his testimony against Laurette.

Iridni paced over to sit on a stone bench at the water’s edge. He could not see her for a moment, as he scrubbed his wounded face, and she considered how he must trust her to let his guard down so, both his armor and weapon cast aside until he was almost as vulnerable to her now as a newborn.

That trust came too late and was too ineffectual to save him from the dark force that had wormed its way into his soul. Although he readily conceded that his short life had been a series of choosing the wrong associates, his starvation for companionship rendered him powerless to alter course. When Iridni had sought to persuade him to leave Barovia for a new beginning, he refused for Laurette’s sake. Now, despite his abandonment of any dream of Miss Trelliard, he still would not chance the hope and promise of starting over in the unknown.

Watching him, the Pelorian’s thoughts passed suddenly to young Jacques in the Tenements. Would Jacques grow up similarly orphaned and cast aside, vulnerable to any woman who might pretend affection toward him, provided he served her machinations? Jacques had the support of his sister, however much it rankled, and now both he and Madeline had Iridni. The priestess might fail to help the bathing man before her to a better path, but she would not fail all those similarly maltreated children of the Ouvrier. The key was to elevate the wayward and abandoned from their circumstances when they were young, before they became too convinced of their own worthlessness by a world that each day reinforced cruelty’s lesson with a thousand insults, slights, and torments.

Until they believed they deserved nothing more than to be beaten and abused.

Iridni’s foe was more intelligent than she, subtler and craftier as well, but intelligence was not wisdom. In its amorality and in the moment, intelligence could overpower slow, plodding, caring wisdom. Yet stretched out against eternity, the wise would always prevail, for only the wise understood the true nature of the game the two of them were playing. The light and the darkness struggled not over flesh and blood, the power that wealth, office, and title represented, but souls, and only the soul would last.

Iridni watched the bather rinse the dried blood from the flesh of his face to reveal the ruddy healthiness that remained underneath. Although for now it seemed beyond the Pelorian’s reach, perhaps hope remained as well for the soul of Leon.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 05, 2019, 02:38:00 AM
As before with Yunon, Iridni felt the power of the great device surge through her, driving her to her knees and seeming to reach into her core and pull from her a piece of her very essence. Her mouth dropped open in a soft whimper, her head lolled forward...then silence.

She wavered like a young foal as she struggled back to her feet and approached the receptacle. Inside, the morning star had been transformed and now glowed with a white, pure light around the platinum-sheathed orb and spikes. She reached for the weapon, seeing it in her mind's eye—not as an instrument of violence and destruction—but as the familiar holy symbol of Pelor emblazoned on her shield. Once in her hand, the morning star fit her small grip with undeniable purpose, and, despite her weakness, she smiled.

She thanked the sorceress Aren, and again, despite her weakness, immediately departed on a caravan for Vallaki: she must see about Zephyr.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 15, 2019, 02:50:15 PM
As her birthday passed, the priestess felt herself oddly happy, despite having spent what to her seemed an eternity now in the Mists. After many months of loneliness and knowing all she most cared for were far beyond her reach, she had found love that perfectly suited her—a man who, although not a Pelorian, lived in accordance with Pelorian practice. Zephyr was at turns tender and passionate with her, helping Iridni gain confidence that she could inspire and keep a mate’s affection. He seemed as completely content with her as she was him. Observing his conduct with others, including the ruthless and irrationally cruel garda, she could be nakedly proud of him in a way her beliefs prohibited her ever being of herself.

The blessings and wisdom her god provided likewise grew until she sensed herself able to assist and otherwise be a helpmate to her beloved. No longer did she feel inadequate and an unequal partner because of his age, experience, and position, but she perceived times when he truly needed her, whether it be her capacity for remembering small details and helping him stay organized or her gifts to raise and heal.

Although she yet trembled when the two of them were engaged in something clandestine and dangerous, it was sometimes with as much excitement in having the chance to prove herself and shelter him as fear for their mutual safety.

She also had her work in the Ouvrier and the hard-won trust of Madeline and Jacques. This, too, made her happy, although here she still felt inadequate, both to the enormity of the poverty and suffering but also to the malignant presence that she knew must yet be observing her, waiting to strike, and against which she had made no progress. Port-a-Lucine in all ways was beyond the young woman in its language, politics, and even manners. Yet wisdom told her this was the nature of life and growth: the more one progressed, the greater the challenges one faced. The path behind would always look easier than the climb ahead.

She indulged herself with some vanity in the morning star and armor that Teodor Ursu forged for her: “Radiant Servant,” she called her shining weapon…and blushed when Asariel told her that the name fit her, Iridni, as well. The armor gleamed in Pelor’s rays until the Pelorian likewise felt herself a small reflection of her god’s bright glory.

Finally, she had hope in that old and friendly faces from her long time here remained to her and seemed in their way to gravitate toward her own concerns and worries. Earebrithiel, unfortunately, had been banished from Vallaki, but perhaps that meant their paths would more often cross. Marielle, too, had returned, along with Sora, both strengthening the Kinship at a time when it was certainly in need. Always the priestess could count on Yunon for help and guidance.

For the first time young Ren was uncertain whether she would grasp at any opportunity to return to Chathold and the Prelacy, her family. She hated to contemplate living out all her days in such a wretched place of corruption and darkness—raising her and Zephyr's future children here—but she was becoming ever more convinced this work was her god’s will for her. At least he had sent to her a comforter with whom to share the struggle. If she could only let her parents know she lived and prospered, so that they might not grieve for her.... 

Before returning to Port after the resolution of the Marcus Weyland matter, Iridni reviewed the Kinship’s roster. So many new comrades of whom she knew little. Now it was her turn to help develop the next generation of Wayfarers, just as others had done for her. She who for so long had been a student must learn to teach.


Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 21, 2019, 10:07:33 AM
Iridni worked the bristle brush against the adamantine, steel, and leather of her absurdly over-sized and clunky boot. No one would guess from the pairs’ worn appearance that their owner was a young woman of so few years and such diminutive size, who had to pad them with thick cloth to make them fit more snugly and to protect her feet from the chafing all the miles she travelled would otherwise induce. This morning alone she cleaned the soils of Vallaki, Krofburg, Midway, Blaustein, and Port from the leather’s furrowed lines and the boot’s eroded sole. She had already poured out the gritty sand that trudging through Har’Akir had left in the interior.

Soon, she would need to see a cobbler about repairs. She wondered how long she could lead this life before her face, hands, and all the rest of her would begin to wear out as well, and the owner’s appearance would age to match the boot.

She was so tired, but spring was here, and she longed to gather her herbs and complete her treatise for the Kinship on potion brewing. It would be her legacy to her adopted family once she was no more—either through death, returning at last home, or perhaps settling down to raising her and Zephyr’s children. She smiled at that thought in her fatigue.

The smile disappeared when her eyes strayed to the notice of her summons. Treading the peak of Ghakis and the long expanses of the Old Svalich Road was not the only source of her fatigue. So many people depended on her to protect them, either from physical harm like Maddy and Jacques, or simply their secrets they had confided. This was the life she had chosen because she felt it was why Pelor had put her here and granted her so many gifts, but without her faith and the brief moments of Zephyr’s companionship, she was uncertain whether she would be able to bear it.

This life required she make enemies, even sometimes of those who, as she did, sought only to serve the Light. The narrow path she walked often required she travel alone and that she reveal to no one everything that was in her heart, or she would betray those who had trusted her with their reputations and their lives. Occasionally, she must wear the mask of the person she would prefer to be: a carefree and even foolish girl, who many mistook for a bit of a naïf. Given enough time, however, the observant came to learn her true reserve, the veil beyond which few intimates could pass, and they would then resent her, seeing her simple guise as deception and herself as a fraud.

Yet was she not both? When she pretended to smother Leon in anger to try to rouse him from his lassitude and hopelessness, was this playful and silly companion not she as much as the ever-calculating priestess who counselled him against the darkness that was slowly devouring his soul? The servant who knelt on her hands and knees to clean bile from the Lodge floor with her linen apron but who also supped with a crime lord while wearing brilliant, “ostentatious” armor plated with platinum? The meek helper who brought water to a suffering prisoner and begged the garda not to amputate his arms, yet who had also wanted to use his body as a lure to entice the mastermind he served? 

Yes, she of necessity was all those women in appearance and reality: by turns open, gentle, meek, and kind, but also argumentative, passionate, deceptive, and determined. And if she admitted it to herself, playing them all, being them all, keeping them all in impossible balance, threatened to crush her.



Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 27, 2019, 11:00:58 PM
She forced herself to steady the pen in her slight and trembling hand as the point hovered over the clean parchment. Then the first liquid words flowed from it onto the white vellum, staining it with her thoughts: My Beloved.

When had the young priestess last felt such fear, apprehension, and dread? Not since she was far less capable and perhaps not since Ionathan had been by her side to shore her up in these moments of self-doubt. Her companions she would soon join all (rightfully) expected her to be self-reliant and in need of neither physical nor emotional support; they looked to her as someone whose wisdom ought reflect her divine gifts, rather than her callow years. Although Zephyr would show her his affection, pride, and gratitude should she return, she knew until their reunion even he relied on her to act with resolution and independence.

The prospect of her own death, however, in truth caused none of her present uncertainty, for always she was confident that Pelor would provide for her whether in this life or in Elysium hereafter…if she remained true to His will. No, what caused her hand to quiver and her heart to pound as she composed this—what might prove to be her farewell letter to Zephyr—was worry she would fail, her mistakes leading to the deaths of others, leaving nothing for those who remained but the inconsolable grief of eternal separation.

Letting the wretched hag survive.

Was she a naive, trusting fool likely to get Eare and Asariel killed for their willingness to aid her? Or poor Mr. Sexton, who most seemed vulnerable and isolated, yet ready to expend his life against the common enemy? The Halan told Iridni he reckoned their chances were no better than one in 100.

At least she had succeeded in protecting the Hospice, although her evasions came at a risk, causing the Gendarmes to believe she was either a liar or an incompetent. What worse would they think of her were they to discover who she had enlisted as the Kinship's accomplice in this noble but reckless cause?

She would worry about such recriminations later, for now she had two other tasks to attend, Zephyr’s letter being but the first. Her thoughts continued to spill like black tears across the parchment:
Quote
My Beloved,

Though you will know if we never see each other again what has become of me and that I never willingly parted from you, yet some words cannot be put in archives and logs. They are for your eyes only.

Hopefully I'm being overly fearful and foolish and Pelor will once more protect my frail vessel until you hold me close again and smile your cheeky grin down at my upturned face. But if that prove not to be the case, be certain that since our commitment to one another, there has been none for me but you. However much in the past you have loved and lost and come to think you somehow deserved it, it was not the case, my darling. Those others were blinded to the gem they held, but the light has made your beautiful soul always shine for me.

Every moment of devotion to you and knowing of your own devotion has been but a foretaste of Elysium.

Should we part from one another for now, know that I await there for you from this moment until forever, my sweetest Zephyr.

I love you.

Iridni

Iridni sealed the note, sprinkled the envelope with a few drops of her most memorable perfume, and suppressed the feelings caused by the act of its composition, so that none who saw her might guess that her mood was other than determined confidence.

She must next visit Aren and make arrangements about Matty and Jacques. She would not ask that Aren always look after the orphans, but that her friend at least make sure they were placed with someone who would. That her two wee ones would come to Room 3 with hope and expectation and then wait for hours only once more to have an unfulfilled disappointment in their lives—yet another adult who had caused them to become attached and made promises of caring for them before disappearing forever—was unbearable for the young priestess to contemplate.

Yet were she to stay her hand now, Matty, Jacques, and all those children she knew not of but who lacked the protection of a Pelorian would face this loathsome peril that she and the others must destroy.

She found the Elf working at the forge.

The full-figured Aren herself had lost many, including her husband, Sedrik, and although the sorceress could be distant and her life befitted a mother even less than did Iridni's, she was loyal, and her example would not harm the moral character of those young Ren wished to entrust to her. She was wealthy, and the two children would be provided for materially far more than should they continue to rely on the priestess. Iridni believed with certitude that Aren would at worst find them a home where they would never again be neglected.

It took minimal convincing to persuade the Elf of the Pelorian's boon. To Iridni's surprise, she learned that Aren wanted children but was barren. Not that it might ever matter now, but the priestess pondered then if this defect could also be true of her own body. As she faced possible death with the knowledge of so many dreams still unfulfilled in her short life, motherhood was something that perhaps would never have been hers to experience, even had she and Zephyr more time to consummate their love.

After her friend yielded to her request, guilt suffused Iridni that Aren was another she would leave more alone than ever in the Mists. Besides herself, she knew Aren favored the reclusive druid, and so the priestess spoke as softly as she could: "Aren, in what I do now, Asariel is going with me."

The stolid mien of the Elf remained, but her smith’s muscles stiffened. "If something happens to her, Iridni, I will not be forgiving. She is my oldest friend."

The priestess nodded. "I cannot tell you where we go, but nor can I deceive you about the risk we are soon to take. All I can promise you is I won't return without her."

Aren put aside her hammer for the moment and swallowed. "That's of some reassurance." And she offered Iridni the beginnings of a smile.

Was this another mistake? Why not ask Aren to come with her? — for the arcane magic of the sorceress might prove the difference and ensure their mission’s success. She could not because he would be unlikely to accede, fearing for his own skin should he be too greatly outnumbered by her and the other Wayfarers. And only he knew the location of the monstrous lair.

Before resuming her hammering, Aren reached into a bag at her side. “I don’t know what has put you in this state, Iridni, but I hope this will give you the wisdom you need to see it through. Use it when you are most in peril, and it may make a difference.”

Iridni looked at the pouch. “What is it?”

“Voodan bones,” Aren answered.

Title: His Consuming Radiance
Post by: Iridni Ren on January 28, 2019, 04:53:41 PM
Iridni’s strength began failing as the air crackled with magic, the hag warding in front of her, her companions preparing at her side. Beneath the weight of her sun-brightened armor and the body of Mr. Sexton she bore on her back, the Pelorian dragged one booted foot in front of the other, lurching toward the grinning hag, its green and putrid form illuminated with the glowing hues of arcane protections. For uncounted years, the monster had preyed on foolish men seduced by its illusions, women desperate to be mothers, and innocent children, while its malignity grew. This morning as Pelor’s sun crested, that sorcery was at its zenith: the hag prepared once more for victory and to feast on the flesh of all who opposed it.

Aching yet from the crushing maw of the crocodile, her soul unnerved by the mother and child she had killed in the lair, the young priestess thought of the terror-stricken faces of Matty and Jacques when the infernal toys had come to life. Here, before her at last, nothing stopping her or separating her from her foe, no cowed innocent for the monster to hide behind, was the foul creature who had sought to twist Iridni’s charitable efforts to serve its most terrible evil. Anger girded her, including anger and heartbreak that the hag knew what most to offer her to make her yield.

Could the hag have truly returned Iridni home to the Prelacy and reunited her with her family, freeing her from this land that in her heart she hated and that was slowly withering her? No…it was only trying to tempt her, and in any event it would mean abandoning everyone else—here and far away in the Tenements—to the hag’s mercy. And her letter to Zephyr: Know…that I never willingly parted from you. The hag wished to make her a liar and an oathbreaker.

The distance shortened, and the hag watched Iridni’s tortuous yet unerring beeline with almost bemusement, its cadaverous arms always gesturing, its serpentine tongue coaxing evil from the Weave.

Encumbered as she was, could the Pelorian even get close enough to the elusive hag to strike her down?

Approximately 25 feet remained between them. Iridni’s own slender arms now raised like resilient reeds straightening after a buffeting wind, but they held aloft neither her reliable shield nor Radiant Servant. She felt the Voodan bones quiver in the pouch at her hip and then sensed their essence flow into her gesture, increasing its potency. The pouch became lighter. Still the magicks of the others sizzled and hummed, lightning before the approaching storm.

The violet eyes of the priestess that had been so focused during her approach rolled back in her head, her god imbuing her small and shaking body with destructive force, and from the Pelorian’s supplicant hands a dire pulse erupted and hurtled toward the hag. The blast struck the sneering creature in the center of its midriff, and for a moment its baleful expression contorted…as agony such as it had never known in all its centuries of unabated cruelty consumed its monstrous form. The scream was both feminine and diabolical when the vortex of Iridni’s surge began to tear the hag asunder, and, as it shrieked, a foul cloud billowed from its open mouth toward the young woman and her companions.

“Die, bitch,” the priestess sighed, and for once the Pelorian’s heart felt not the smallest pang of pity.

The convulsing, imploding hag shrank and disappeared into the cloud of its dying breath. After the acrid belch dissipated, nothing remained but embers and ash.

The myriad sounds of incantations had also died away. Iridni stood at a distance safe from the vapor, breathing the pure sea air, her expression one of fatigue, but also grim satisfaction. She broke her calm silence at last to speak to Whiskers: “Thank you for retrieving me from the water, sir.” Explaining to both Zephyr and Loric how she had lived to kill the hag was going to be difficult.

Sister Caelia studied the immolation. “Your magic is very potent, ma’am.”

Iridni looked at the reserved Halan. “It is Pelor who is strong, not I.” In truth the heavily plated woman felt as though her knees might buckle beneath her at any moment.

“Although perhaps you should be more cautious; in the cavern you annihilated both the child and her mother.”

Caelia’s words returned the knife of guilt into the priestess’s entrails. “I’m not sure what happened….that prayer should harm only my enemies.”

“It is fire and death raining from the sky, ma’am. Why would it only affect your enemies?”

The Halan was wrong in her description, perhaps confusing Iridni’s magic with some other, for her own had but caused the ground around them to shake. Nevertheless, the priestess knew that the quaking earth had damaged much more than she intended, killing Annette Brosse and the hag daughter she had borne. Though the two meant Iridni ill, were they any more of a threat to her than the miscreant waifs she so often spared in the Quartier Ouvrier?

When the hag unleashed its army of minions, the young priestess had been too eager to destroy evil and neglected to protect the weak.

The body on her back sagged; she had failed another as well. “I must carry Mr. Sexton to the hospice.”

Caelia continued to berate her: “The child was likely hagspawn, but there were further measures we might have taken in case she was not. The mother was a victim, fallen to the hag’s seduction.”

Was she? Annette Brosse had misled her besotted husband, allowed the hag’s magic to corrupt the toys she helped craft, and granted a monster access to her own womb for procreation. Even so, Iridni would have spared Brosse given the chance, and she had sought to take the changeling into her arms and away from that devils’ nest only to be refused.

Sister Caelia was still talking: “I destroyed the child’s corpse as a precaution, as well as burning out the cave so that no trace of the hag’s taint remains.”

“Perhaps that taint is why they were struck down, but I never intended to kill them.”

Eare was busily gathering the ashes of the hag into a bottle and now corked it. “Whiskers…know any place here that is likely to be undisturbed?”

“That is not how destructive magic works, ma’am. It is not selective. Should you cast that spell now, we would all be harmed.”

Iridni considered the veiled girl, so near her own age but already of such certainty about everything. She almost envied Caelia’s self-assuredness about the priestess’s own abilities. “You were spared were you not?”

“I was not close enough to be affected.”

Often wrong…never in doubt. “I won’t demonstrate, but I have used it many times safely.”

Whiskers growled. “You caused an earthquake in an unstable cavern, Ren. What did you think was going to happen?”

“I am too tired to argue with you. And Mr. Sexton’s body is heavy.”

In reponse the Halan incanted and vanished, without any offer to tend to her fallen brother in faith. Iridni hardly cared, for despite all Whiskers’ mysterious deference to the flighty Caelia, the Pelorian had seen her contribute mostly speeches, while twice consuming the restoratives that might have revived Mr. Sexton.

Whiskers faded into the shadows.

Eare gave Iridni arcane speed and strength, and she began to labor down the beach toward the sailing ships with the other two Wayfarers, bearing what remained of the little man who had relied on her home.
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on February 11, 2019, 01:17:00 AM
The destruction of the Hag brought with it a return to that unfocused custom of life in which nothing is simple. In the place of her respite of certitude and single-mindedness, Iridni awoke each dawn to conflicting goals and unsure motivations. Her prayers were numerous and diverse, touching on Zephyr, the Kinship, Matty and Jacques, and many more mundane matters such as her own self-improvement. She had neglected so much while driven like a revenant to end an evil that for centuries had eluded the Righteous Light.

The latest complication and ambiguity: Joachim Schrotter was dead.

This fact reminded her that she must find some resolution for her young dependents. Unless Zephyr would agree to marry her and adopt the two of them, the situation in the Tenements could not go on. The city was in constant turmoil, and she was not so foolish as to believe she was safe herself or could protect the two children from the growing danger. Though Matty and Jacques might hate her for it, she would have to find a boarding school or otherwise place them where they would have security and receive an education better than she could provide. If she were to raise them herself, it certainly would not be in Port-a-Lucine.

Where, then? Such a question called her to examine her entire life. For if she could not offer Matty and Jacques anything comparable to the pastoral childhood she had known, why did she even consider bringing children of her own into this fallen world? At times she sensed a similar pessimism was why Zephyr seemed reluctant to talk of having babies, yet if such a view were true, what point did the Kinship or any of their other work have? If they could not hope for a better future for the next generation, then was the never-ending struggle against evil all for nothing?

How certain she had been when she had tried to reassure Jean Renaud against similar despondency, but how it cascaded over the young priestess herself on lonely, sleepless nights in the Tenements!

As for the corporal, a man such as he had countless enemies, yet those Iridni suspected were few. Picavet? No, the wererat had laughed and dismissed Schrotter as a ridiculous threat. Rhea? The Praesidia Iustitiae claimed credit when they terminated a target. The hired assassin Schrotter had long feared? The murder did not adhere to the profile of his work. He was a loner who struck from surprise, usually in a place the target would consider safe. At least one accomplice had helped whoever killed the corporal, and he had been accosted in public. Nor would that assassin have claimed a garda's bounty but rather ensured Schrotter's body was hidden where it would never have been found.

Two other men she knew wished Schrotter dead and might be physically capable of murdering him. One of those was in Vallaki, afraid to enter Port-a-Lucine on pain of death. The other—the man who swore to her crying and pleading face he would kill Schrotter if given any opportunity even when she had begged him not to make the attempt for his own life and safety—she had seen twice in Port-a-Lucine in recent days, both before and after the assassination. She did not doubt then, and she did not doubt now that his words had been an oath.

She prayed it was not he, for he was an amateur. And amateurs almost always were caught. The man had done Iridni considerable clandestine favors in the past at enormous personal risk; she did not relish the vision of his neck beneath the guillotine.


Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on February 20, 2019, 12:24:15 PM
“You ever…been happy, Iridni?”

Iridni could not help but consider the question odd under the circumstances. The man who had carried Marielle’s body upstairs, however, was consuming considerable whiskey, and the present occasion was not the first she had observed the male need of liquid courage before asking of her what was uppermost on their minds. Even Zephyr had relied on it, and so she guessed where the conversation was likely leading.

She ought not presume. After all, the priestess considered that Marielle’s sudden death and the reminder of the brevity of life caused her companion to wax philosophical, rather than any forthcoming confession of desire. She reflected, therefore, and tried to treat the question on its face, without reading into it any personal portent. “Why do you ask? Do I seem unhappy? Or are you considering about yourself?”

“I just…I remember each day I saw Simona, each time she smiled how it made me feel….And how I haven’t felt that way since.”

Iridni was more certain now that an awkward guest was readying his knock at her door. “Your current love doesn’t make you feel that way?”

“I like her, but it’s not the same y’know? It’s like I’m jumping into relationships hoping to find something I lost long ago.” He twirled a ring on his finger.

Better to let the visitor know she already had company, rather than allow the situation to become more embarrassing for either. “You know that Zephyr and I are together?”

“You and Zephyr? Really?”

She smiled softly. “Yes…for a while now. Although we see each other so little because of all we must do. We met at Midway last night, and it was the first time I’d seen him in a month.”

“I’m glad you found someone, Iridni, even if it took you this long to notice someone so close.”

“To be truthful, I always thought he never noticed me. Because I was so…well…inconsequential when I arrived. And he was this worldly and important trustee. Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details.” She rarely knew a man who enjoyed hearing overmuch of another’s success.

“At least there is some happiness here.”

“Oh…such feelings always come at a price,” she blurted.

“And what price is this?”

“To have attachments here…it’s extra grief and worry. And, as you well know, loneliness when you are separated.”

“I have another now to help me deal with loneliness, but I don’t feel…whole with her like I used to with Simona.”

Listening to him, Iridni wondered what Zephyr would say of her. Did she make him feel whole? Was this what men truly sought in their loves? For if she was honest with herself, Zephyr never evidenced any sense of his own incompleteness. The night preceding when she had proposed the two of them might adopt Matty and Jacques, he displayed not the slightest desire to become a father, seeming instead alarmed at the idea. Yes, she accepted his argument and bowed to it: that their lives were too dangerous to take on such responsibility. Nevertheless, whereas for her this choice was a constant struggle, she saw no such conflict in her beloved’s face—not even for her sake.

Was it fair for her to wish that he felt the same? Perhaps it was something inherent in her feminine nature, and she should no more expect a similar urge in Zephyr than that she judge him cold for not crying as easily as she.

“I’m sorry, Dimitrie. As I recall, Simona was with your child as well?”

He winced. “Yes.”

“I wish I knew what to say.”

“There is nothing to say….I had it all, and it’s gone….Love of my life, my child, everything.”

“Grief…the price of caring. Of love.”

“Days like this…when we lose someone we thought invincible…make me wonder why we keep going forward.”

“I know the feeling you speak of. Somehow the Mists deprive us both ways. I’m separated from my family by being trapped here. And now yours, the Mists have taken from you.”

He drank more whiskey.

“Dimitrie...in Port I have two children I have been looking after. I no longer know what to do with them, the way things are going there.”

“Orphans?”

“Yes. I spoke with Zephyr about it last night. And he said…well…adopting them isn’t an option.” As much as she wanted to, Iridni could not hide the disappointment from her face. “I think they’ll have to be put in a boarding school of some sort.”

“Zephyr doesn’t want children?”

She managed to smile faintly. “Apparently he doesn’t want me to retire…into motherhood. But Matty and Jacques can’t stay in Port when the police themselves are being killed.”

“I think you would be a fantastic mother, Iridni. I won’t lie. When we first met, the thoughts that ran through my mind were, ‘Nine hells, what a woman!’” He snorted.

She colored, realizing that the whiskey was what gave this once secret thought its present expression. “Thank you, Dimitrie. I believe I would too. But you know, it’s also as you said: I’m not as hopeful as I once was that we can truly improve things...here. I will find them a boarding school. Pay for them to stay there.” She made an unpleasant choking sound. “And try to visit them from time to time.”

Had Iridni ever been happy? Yes…in her dingy tenement room, with two grubby waifs who looked at her as though she made them complete.
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 04, 2019, 01:46:49 AM
Growing up in the Prelacy, Iridni had considered her lack of imagination a fault. For all her gentle kindness and pleasing features, the Pelorian knew she could be dull, and this truth caused her to doubt that she would long fire the heart and soul of any lover's passion.

Since passing through the Mists, however, she had come to discover her pedestrian mind a blessing, for at times such as these, it helped preserve her sanity.

In the space of a fortnight, Marielle had died, news of Bhaltair's pending execution had reached her, Zephyr had revealed to the Kinship his plans, and Yunon had been slain in what was advertised to be a harmless tournament. Sweet Pelor, why had she let another go in her stead to this exhibition? She might have dissuaded Yunon from competing or at least kept him, once stricken, out of the clutches of the Red Academy.

The path she only days before saw as clear was now shrouded in grief and darkness. How could she consider leaving with the man who had been a substitute father to her for the past two years at the mercy of necromancers? She could not.

Her upcoming conversation with Zephyr would be the same as she originally planned, except for only a single alteration. He would understand this necessity. Of that she was certain.

Her only doubt was whether the risk she now entertained was foolhardy. Just as she chose not to imagine what might be in store for her beloved mentor, she chose not to imagine the many roads her own fate might soon traverse: Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The light that shone within her could prevail against the present encroaching darkness; she was uncertain whether her victory over despair would hold for all those unknown tomorrows.

Before sleeping, she prayed for mundane dreams.

All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go....



Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 12, 2019, 05:03:26 PM
“Ren…”

“Ren!”

“Ren…please…help me…”

The dry, parched voice called to her from somewhere in the darkness, crackling like stew left too long untended in a pot until it cooked down to scorched, desiccated remnants. Yet for all its distortion, the voice was familiar to Iridni.

“Why…Ren…why won’t you help me?”

Although she was afraid, she forced herself toward the plaintive sound, her bare feet invisible beneath her, beyond the constrained sight the dim light allowed her. She moved by ear.

“Please don’t abandon me. I thought, of everyone, I could count on you….R-r-r-en.”

She knew it was Yunon, but what was wrong with him? Why did he rasp as though he were hundreds of years old?

She struck against a surface—a door, and around the door frame enough light escaped that she could make out a symbol: swirling red spheres in a spiral. She pushed on the door, and it refused to budge.

“No,” something whispered near her ear. She was not sure, but she thought this was Zephyr. “You can’t.” She refused to listen, and her small hand twisted on the latch, which would not yield to her.

“R-r-r-rennnnn! Ohhhh…” Her name guttural, then a plaintive sighing. She felt certain he was dying.

Now a glowing figure approached, holding a key. He held it toward her, and she reached for it, only for the figure to pull away. He looked into her face with a questioning expression. It was Marcus.

Her mouth quivered, and she nodded.

Once more he waited, as though to insist she be certain, and with impatience she nodded again. She felt the key in her hand, and she drew back the latch, flooding the darkness with the light as she flung wide the door.

Then she saw it looming over her, the thing that had once been Yunon.

“What took you soooo loooonggg, R-r-ren?”

The night had denied her prayers.

Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 13, 2019, 03:07:33 AM
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/El_Beso_%28Pinacoteca_de_Brera%2C_Mil%C3%A1n%2C_1859%29.jpg)


The darkness enveloping Iridni was not the Red Academy in Hazlan, but that of her sparse room in the Tenements, the rasping sounds not those of dear Yunon revived by foul necromancy, but the snoring of drunks. Yet she felt her time running out. Fearing to fall sleep again, she set aflame a small candle and began to compose a note to Zephyr, her knees brought up to support her writing journal, her raven hair for once loose and unkempt in the candlelight.

Quote
My beloved Zephyr,

I start by asking you a question: "Do you consider me your equal?"

I do not ask in terms of rank or sophistication, for I have no such illusions. In the Kinship I am your subordinate, and I am practically a child in contrast to your experience of the world. But do you consider me your equal in our relationship and in my capability of deciding what is personally best for me?

When I met you in secret to confirm that you did not regret your romantic overtures, you said, "I am hardly above anyone's station, my lady, all of us are equals in this life." You may recall that this difference in our status made me hesitate in returning the commitment you offered, instead asking that you reflect for a time whether you were certain of it.

You have told me of those you loved before and who you feel abandoned you. I am not made of such effervescent affections. Where you go, I shall go. [Redacted], it is not for my lover to decide such risks for me. I can be of aid to him, for I have seen he thinks not even to provide money for himself. And he cannot offer an example in my two-year service of my hindering him in his work or duties but being only his helpmate.

[Redacted], I shall likewise not interfere with anything that from its nature requires your acting alone but will look after those necessities of life you are so inattentive to. When you do seek aid, reassurance, and comfort, you shall find me waiting with open and supportive arms. Though I may worry during times when you are out of my sight, my distress would be no greater than were you to leave me here in doubt and uncertainty, not having any word of whether you were alive or dead.

You could not stop me, Zephyr, if I wished to go. I can make this journey as easily as you, and [redacted] advanced in their attitudes toward women. If you insist, however, that I not accompany you, then I will submit my will to yours as your subordinate in the Kinship, not as someone you twice asked to love you. I already have a god who is remote and requires my unquestioning obedience and servitude from afar; that is not what I desire from you, my mortal love. I hope it is not what you expect of me.

I have long yearned to speak to you about this in person and thought I might have to join you later, because of feeling I cannot leave Yunon at the mercy of the Red Wizards. As always, however, the business of each of us is cruel and allows us little time to be as tender and intimate with one another as I would desire. Words in ink convey so much less than I would reassure you with were I able to gaze into your face or persuade you through my voice and touch. Of a certainty, I have less fear and doubt myself when you are near...but I am still human, my darling. From time to time I, too, need the kindness and mercy you show toward those who fail and even commit evil, rather than the certitude of patience and faith you have with me.

I give much and ask little. Do not deny me this.

Yours, without reservation,

Iridni

Despising the simple letters of her almost child-like printing, she reached to her bureau for a blade, cut the note from her journal, and put drops of perfume on the paper before folding it. Should she fail to return from Hazlan, Zephyr would at least know that she had not gone there thoughtless of him and her commitment to him, nor, regardless of his initial denial, had that commitment to him diminished. If she were able to return, he would likewise know that she was resolved in her course.


Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 13, 2019, 09:17:02 PM
The three remaining of the small band of would-be rescuers stood within the infamous Red Academy. A chemicaled atmosphere cloyed Iridni’s nostrils, doubtless covering some worse stench. She thought of Matilda Powell and wondered whether Echo knew of the horrors that transpired here; she assumed Marcus was well acquainted.

Their chances at admittance were diminishing, even with the inscrutable wizard among their number. “Is an instructor’s presence required for a cursory survey of the facilities?”

“Yes,” the cold administrator did not look up from the continual scratching of his quill on parchment. “Or a suitable tour guide who is enrolled. Anything else?”

Iridni had decided that in her guise of slave she would pretend to be the aged Marcus’s pretty bed warmer, which might explain why she seemed so indulged and free of any signs of mistreatment. When the Hazlani spoke, she looked at her fingernails and yawned.

“Very well, then,” Marcus growled.

The administrator dismissed them with a gesture of his quill.

“Walking all this way for nothing,” Iridni pouted aloud. “I hope you report that fella to his boss.”

“I fully intend to leave, right now,” Marcus whispered. “If you have any other proposition, you may speak it.”

To her surprise, the Elf slave standing near suggested they find an arcanist among the students, but when the three went outside, all had retired for the evening. Marcus glanced around in frustration. “Naturally, they’ve gone to bed.”

“Not a very studious lot,” Iridni again spoke loud enough for everyone to hear her.

“Oh?” A soldier with a polearm approached.

“Soldier…” Marcus looked at him. “The arcanists who were here a moment ago…in which direction did they depart?”

“They have retired within the Academy for the evening.”

“Mm...naturally so.”

“Though I should tell you…if that is your servant…you should consider muzzling her.” The soldier’s expression toward Iridni was far from friendly.

Nevertheless, she met his gaze in a way she was certain he was unused to from a slave. She continued haughtily, “The man inside said one of them should give my master a tour.” Then she looked again at her nails, pretending to ignore him, though her heart had begun to race—partly from her discomfort at lying and partly that she could see abject failure threatening to swallow the three.

“He did now?” The guard grimaced at her. “Well…let us go see about that, yes?”

“That’s what I understood,” she quickly added.

Echo remained silent and pulled her cloak closer over her fine silks.

The soldier wasted no time in barking at the Pelorian: “Let’s go, slave. Back inside!”

“He said that was the only way we could look around,” Iridni babbled.

Marcus tried to intercede: “She exists in a state of understanding that she has transgressed, yes. And additionally, a state of misinterpreting the wishes of the administrator, apparently.”

The guard paused. “Come then, we will speak with the administrator. But first the Black Lord commands that you properly discipline a servant who is unruly.”

Iridni flinched.

“I’ll wait for her to be punished.” The soldier folded his arms over his chest.

Marcus laughed. “She knows what her failures cost her.”

“Please, Master…no!”

“Sparing the rod is a sin, and a failure as a master.” The Hazlani was impassive.

Iridni knelt, begging, although she was not yet truly afraid. She had endured the garda’s beating for no positive result, and a little pain was worth gaining access to Yunon. She doubted the physically feeble Marcus would or could harm her much.

Echo now looked anxious and lowered her eyes to the ground.

“Sir, I was only trying to help,” Iridni’s voice trembled.

Marcus looked to the sky for guidance before saying, “Such misfortune, but I am in no state to discipline in the Hazlani fashion.”

The soldier was unmoved. “Do you wish for our slave to administer a proper punishment?”

On her knees, Iridni glanced quickly at the Elf who accompanied them. She was not as frail as Marcus, her arms taut and round with their share of muscle. The priestess suspected a weak slave did not live long in Hazlan.

“Ah? Oh. Yes…she would do. Come here, Elf.” Marcus sounded more pleased than Iridni would have liked.

Echo made a small noise, more than a sigh, but too quiet to be a cry.

The Hazlani was delighted. “It is far less strenuous on such a haggard frame as yours.”

The Elf approached with excitement, and Iridni knew she had to play out her hand. Thus, she looked at the slave with disdain. “Oh…no…not the Elf!” She pretended to choke on this degradation but thought only of how the half-naked figure before her might be a captive Asariel, had her companion not stayed behind in hiding.

The Elf took the staff from Marcus. Iridni looked at her with feigned hatred and used her thoughts of Yunon and Asa to force tears from her eyes as the Elf twirled the staff in practice. “Whenever, sir!” the slave piped to the guard.

“Commence.”

As the beating began, Marcus remarked casually, “I am, of course, foreign to this place. Satiate your disciplinary doctrine at your leisure.”

Three times the Elf swung on the kneeling priestess with a grunt, and three times Iridni cried out, her fingers digging into the dirt as she braced herself against the blows. Yet she was surprised at how little they stung, for beneath the long skirt of her dress she still wore her enchanted boots, and they muted the staff’s impact.

Meanwhile, Marcus was doing a good job of acting (she hoped) that the beating pleased him. “You know, it occurs to me that if we continue this spectacle for hours yet, we might encounter a suitable arcanist.”

“Oh please…no more!” Iridni exclaimed.

A malevolent smile spread across the visage of the guard as he nodded to Marcus, but then he said, “Enough. Return the implement to the decrepit.”

“Have I no say in this?” Marcus interjected. “Another strike, first.” He pushed the staff back toward the Elf.

“By all means!”

“Oh Master!”

Afterward, Iridni feigned that her spirit had been broken, and she assumed a submissive, ingratiating tone with Marcus, staying behind him with her head lowered. Even so, she was unhappy when he next spoke: “We depart.”

Had it all been for naught?

“No, now to go speak with the administrator,” the guard said.

***

The two Hazlani spoke back and forth in a tongue that the priestess did not recognize, but she winced anew as she saw and heard the administrator’s rising anger, knowing that the three were likely its catalyst. Finally, the administrator spoke to Marcus, “Give me one reason I should not commit all of you to our cells?”

“I can assure you I desire my departure as much as you do. This is pointless convolution of what is simple.”

Echo finally spoke, quietly and politely, yet with an air of slight disappointment. “Master Marcus, as the winner of the wizard tournament held here, the interest expressed in your abilities seems to have been temporary.”

Iridni nodded at her words.

“An arcane tournament champion? This one? Ha!” The administrator sneered. “Surely you did not face any of those who were instructed within. If so, they should be expelled immediately.”

Marcus snapped a hand out toward Echo, silencing her. “It is a fact that I was victor of the recent tournament in the city proper.”

Iridni raised her cowed face with beaming pride. “He is indeed! My master!” She wiped at her face and spoke loudly but not so as to appear boisterous. Marcus glared at her with sunken eyes.

The two men began to argue, and though she was in fact listening intently, she once more pretended to find her own fingernails worthy more than they of her attention. She looked up quickly, however, at what she next heard from the administrator: “All grand boasts. Demonstrate your arcane mastery….Upon your own servants.”

Marcus stifled a laugh. “Had I known the visit would revolve so around discipline of slaves, I’d have brought more.”

“These are not resources of the academy and thus, expendable. A lesson you’ve now learned.”

“Oh, not me, Master!” Iridni shrieked. “Why not the Elf?”

“The mouthiest ones are always best to practice on. They are the most demonstrative and thus conducive to proper observation.”

“I am not enrolled in the academy, and so it is illegal for me to ‘demonstrate’ the arcane,” Marcus said.

“I’ll permit it. Just for this demonstration only.”

“Mm, capital. Elf, pick one of these two.”

The administrator looked bemused. “Take her to the foyer, however. It is far easier to clean in there.”

In contrast to a caning, the prospect of Marcus’s magical assault struck true terror into the priestess. A similar demonstration had, after all, killed Yunon, and she did not want her body to join his in the necromancy classroom. Looking at Echo, however, Iridni knew her frail companion had no chance of survival. The lot must fall to her to suffer.

“I…” The slave hummed and stared between them.

“You’re letting a wretched Elf decide?” Iridni heard herself say.

“Fetch a mop and broom, if needed, slave.”

The Elf pointed at Iridni.


Spoiler: show
(https://i.imgur.com/col0k2Z.jpg)
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 14, 2019, 12:01:18 PM


Despite her overwhelming fear, the many ironies of the present situation were not lost on the terrified priestess. Once, Marcus had been helpless at her feet, a prisoner in the Lodge, and Zephyr and she had bargained with the Garda that pardon be shown to him. She had expended considerable diamonds to bring him back to life. If Marcus had not been spared, Yunon would still live—a cruel truth of which Jean did not hesitate to remind her. Perhaps Alistair had been right that her Pelorian mercy was an illusion, for it was unmerciful to any who perished at the hands of those she offered a chance for redemption.

Now, her own life was in the hands of Marcus.

Yet another irony was that should she survive his attacks, the three might well fail in their mission. The worse Marcus savaged her, the more the display would impress the cruel Hazlani. Ought she have chanced Echo’s life instead? That was no chance at all: of a certain Marcus’s spells would obliterate Echo, but the robed woman was here because she wished to make such a sacrifice. Yunon would not have countenanced the trade, however, and even in death Iridni could sense the force of the old man’s will upon her.

Marcus began to gesture, and Iridni felt herself cowering. “No, no, no” was all she could think and say. She was no longer play-acting.

Then pain…as though a torturously hot blast was cooking every cell of her body. She crumpled, writhing like a salted slug, and as Marcus shot a second pulse toward her, she little doubted this was the last moment of her young life. Her blood boiled, and her flesh seemed to shrivel down to her bones. She fell onto her face and into blessed delirium...but the hammering in her ears told her she lived.

“You chose well, Elf,” Marcus said. “Iridni is by far the more hardy of the two. There will be no need for the dustpan.”

The administrator snorted with amusement. “That will suffice.”

“If you’ve brought some water, douse her with that. It’s a mercy.”

The two women were sent off to the slave pens with the Elf, while Marcus and the administrator discussed the terms of his tour. Easing herself into the Elf's tent, Iridni managed to whisper to Echo, "It's all...all...on Mar..." She started to say "Marcus," but noticing the Elf, who was beginning to apply damp rags to her parched skin, the priestess quickly corrected herself. "...Master...now."

"Yes," the silk-robed woman answered. "It always was."
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 15, 2019, 03:36:02 AM
Time passed, and the Elf—Iridni learned her name was Bes’lyth—continued to tend the desiccated skin of the Pelorian with moist, healing bandages. The wounded woman could express her gratitude only in hushed reservation, still fearing Bes'lyth might be a favorite left to spy on the two intruders. Defenseless and alone in the slave pens, Iridni and Echo must maintain their ruse.

Iridni rested with her sad, violet eyes half-lidded. “I am surprised Master let you choose me, as I am young and pretty. Not like that one.” She motioned feebly toward Echo, and even this much movement wracked her anew with agony. Echo was, in fact, quite beautiful in her exotic features, albeit slight and frail. At this moment—Iridni’s lips dry and cracked, her skin as leathery as tanned crocodile hide— there could be no question who was more pleasing to gaze upon.

“I picked you because you took a fair amount of smacks from a stick,” Bes’lyth said, shrugging.

As the Elf ministered to Iridni, she told the other two of her story, only adding to the cruel image the Pelorian had of this wretched place. Bes’lyth’s almost complete ignorance of the world outside filled Iridni with pity, and she again was conscious of how blessed she had been to experience a girlhood in the Prelacy, where she had learned that no one had to live in constant servitude and fear.

She also discovered that Bes’lyth was the personal slave of Mumed Za’am, the palemaster she and Arthur Freshwater had encountered, who had once been a simple, shunned grave digger back in Vallaki. Another who young Iridni had pitied, another who over months had manifested, not redemption, but blossoming evil.

The tired girl tried to turn the conversation now and then in some way to the tournament and Yunon, hoping that should Marcus fail, they might learn where her tutor’s body likely was. It was to no avail, however, as the slave grew tired after finishing her work with Iridni. She slunk into a corner of the tent to sleep. Echo and the priestess could not contemplate slumber, instead whispering back and forth as the hours crawled by.

Finally, Marcus arrived. “Up and out, you two. Somehow you’re both leaving here with all your parts.”

Iridni stood and marveled at how effective the ministrations of the Elf had been. She would be able to walk back to the caravans under her own strength. The priestess looked at the sleeping form of Bes’lyth. What would her healer think if she knew of Iridni’s exertion to bring back the dead body of an aged man, while not exerting a muscle to help a yearning slave girl escape? She felt such a coward, did Iridni, but she could not bear the prospect of any further punishment.

She could only smile and bob her head submissively at her captors, her concern focused only on whether Marcus had been successful.

Outside the commanding, domineering gates of the oppressive city, she turned her face skyward.  Pelor’s sun was still in its heaven and promised that all could be set right with the world. She had been uncertain whether the power of her god would ever again shine on her in such unconstrained glory.

No Hazlani followed them, and the beaten-down priestess could hold her question within her no longer. In response, Marcus drew an urn out of his pack, lifting it just enough that she and Echo could see it, then he let it slide once more from sight.

Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 16, 2019, 12:48:14 PM
The inert, hollow urn was barren, the last traces of its prized dust released to the gentle autumn wind by the defeated priestess in the moments after her devastating failure. Wherever her aged mentor’s spirit had gone, it was beyond her reach and beyond that of Pelor’s to recall.

She wished she could be certain that Yunon’s soul was also free of the Red Academy and all these dark lands, but doubt gnawed at her, and the malformed necromantic monster still haunted her nightmares, pleading for her aid. Perhaps her own guilt and grief caused the dreams, and they would fade once she convinced herself she and the others had done all they could. She was only Pelor’s instrument, after all, and the final task of resurrection was beyond her human agency. Yunon…I pray you have mingled with the Weave, my dearest friend, and your understanding is greater now even than it was in life.

She also wished he could have known of her fruitless efforts on his behalf, whether he would have approved of them or not. Instead, his last thoughts of her were likely poor and rightfully so; seeing Bes’lyth in captivity had reinforced to Iridni her rash judgment in having Asariel spy on the Red Wizards tournament.

“That’s what would have happened to you, Asariel, if they caught you. I sent you there, and I’m sorry for being so reckless….But you are the reason we knew at all what happened to Yunon.”

“He told me to say I belonged to him if asked. He was looking after me.”

“Of course he was. He always looked after others…especially me. And he was likely angered by how thoughtless I was to send you. That will be the last memory he will have of me. Oh well….What we do is more important than what others think of us….Even those we love.”


Now that the urn was empty, of what use was there in Iridni’s hanging onto it? Letting go of it along with the dust might help the nightmares stop. No…not yet. She had a specific purpose in mind for this treasured vessel.

She unlocked the Lodge and stepped inside. Zephyr was by the fire, his handsome face tired and creased as he faced the flickering light, unaware of her quiet entrance. She knew she must still look a sight, but now was no time for vanity. Regardless of Ren’s appearance, Zephyr’s smile was warm when he saw her.

She removed her cloak, hung it on a peg, and came to kneel by the arm of his chair. He stood and leaned to plant a soft kiss on her dry lips, before drawing her to her feet. She let him do so, wrapping her arm around his neck in a fluid, familiar motion.

“My love,” she whispered hoarsely.

“Hello, my dear one,” he rested a hand against her cheek.

Her violet eyes searched his for any answer to the question that hung between them. “I am sorry about Yunon, Iridni. I know how close you were.”

The dam against all the many emotions she was trying to contain within her broke, and they flooded from her. Her injured face contorted in a spasm of grief, as she grasped him as though he were a life preserver in a maelstrom. “Oh Zephyr…I am so, so sad,” she sobbed, her voice croaking with the residual dryness in her throat.

“I know, my darling, I know. I wish I could take your grief and spare you this pain.”

“This…this is the price we pay, my love. I am learning so again and again. It is the price of having such people in our lives. Of caring for them.” She choked. “But it is just awful when the time to pay arrives.”

He passed his hand through her unruly raven hair. “Be comforted knowing that wherever he is, he is at peace. He no longer suffers like those he left behind.”

His words brought her mind back to the moment and their situation. She nodded and tried to gather herself. “Yes…that is what I hold onto. That it is only me suffering now…that he is free. Of that place.”

“He would not wish for you to be in despair, my love.”

“No,” she sniffed before adding after a pregnant pause, “nor would…you.” She looked up at him with meaning.

Zephyr’s expression softened further. “Of course not.”

The priestess felt herself growing hopeful, and she tightened her arms about him to show her appreciation.

“I have every intention of returning in one piece, my love.”

As soon as her hope began its birth, she felt it dying.

“So did Yunon.” She relaxed her clinging as one small hand went up to wipe at her face. “He gave some things to Asariel to hold for him while he competed, you know. But they were all just weight…nothing of importance. He never foresaw what happened.” She again broke into raspy sobbing.

When Zephyr did not speak, she swallowed with difficulty and continued: “But darling, I also expect you to come back. And yet, none of us knows how much time we have together. We shouldn’t squander it.”

[Redacted]

“Zephyr…there is not one good reason for me to stay.”

“Not even one?” he teased.

She tried to match his lighter mood and giggled. “You told Tess to feed Adeline. I think that was the last.”

“I tell everyone to feed Adeline! That’s probably why she is so bulky.”

“Tess seems more reliable than many you’ve told before. I think she will be a very good Wayfarer.”

“I think she will too. But the Kinship needs you as well. Despite your tendency to pick fights.”

“Zephyr…if you wish to leave me, it will break my heart, but I would accept the truth. My feelings haven’t changed, however, and, if yours have not, I need to be with you now. Most everyone who was here with us when I started is gone. Only you and Loric remain. The Kinship doesn’t need me as it once did.”

“The majority of those who were here when I started are gone as well. Except for Loric.” He smiled encouragingly. “Work with them, I know you can. You have invaluable experience and skills…”

“I will be all alone when you leave. But I'm not asking you to stay. Just that I might go with you. Isn't that what lovers do?”

“Ah, but we're not typical lovers, my darling.  We have outside responsibilities that are greater than ourselves.”

“Please, Zephyr.” She looked at him, waiting, defenseless. “Show me your mercy and compassion, not your reason. How can you see me as I am and refuse me?”

He sighed softly. “Now that’s not fair….”

Can I not act with selfishness, Pelor, just this once—and do as I wish? Must I always serve the desires of others first?

“If you want me to be fair, you must make me understand why I cannot come. I don’t understand the reasons you’ve offered.”

“You understand them; you just do not accept them.” He took her hand.

“I know where I belong, and it is with you.” She rubbed his offered hand softly, sighed, and looked away. “I cannot make you feel what you don’t. I can’t argue you into this, Zephyr. But…” she swallowed. “You are doing what you want, not what I want.”

“In this life we cannot always have what we want.”

They were silent for a moment. “Do you want me to wait for you?” she said softly.

He raised her hand and kissed it. “I do not expect to be gone as long as you are fearing, my love.”

“It is not a question of my heart, Zephyr. I would wait for you as long as you asked. I am only…disappointed.” With her free hand she again wiped her cheek. He would never understand how much he was hurting her, and she would only hurt him in turn to continue showing it.

“It seems I have disappointed many in recent times.” He rubbed the back of his neck and then softened his voice. “I ask of you to wait for me. But I also ask of you to find as much happiness as possible.”

“Zephyr…” She buried her face against his neck. “I could help you feel you don’t disappoint others. Can you not see that?”

“I know.” He held her tightly, resting his head against hers.

“You are my…hero!” The exclamation was muffled as she shuddered and sobbed in his arms.

[Redacted]

She had poured out the tenderest feelings of her heart to him, as she had the urn’s precious dust on the wind. Was that not, after all, the meaning of his name? When they parted, she felt herself as futile, barren, and empty as the vessel she bore.



Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on March 22, 2019, 01:57:29 AM


The priestess rejected jealousy, a most non-Pelorian emotion and the corrupter of the sweetest—love. In all her life she had never felt it, and she would not cultivate its ensnaring vines now. Even between Ionathan and Bri, she always had wanted as much to reunite the separated pair for Io's bereft sake as to assume for herself the companionship her rival squandered.

In accepting Zephyr's request to court her, Iridni already knew of his past and his irrepressible charm toward her sex. Had she a green eye, her acceptance of his offer under those conditions would have been to countenance a lifetime of uncertainty and possessiveness. If anything, Iridni feared displacement by his male companions like Arthur Freshwater more so than by any woman, for she sensed Arthur had provided and Alin might provide in the future her beloved with a friendship that she could not: what Roland had offered Alistair, what Marcellus had offered Ionathan.

Between her and Zephyr hung the mysteries and complications of the bedroom and the inevitable conflict-filled relationship of the sexes, such as her desire for children against his reluctance. Men had their competitiveness with one another, but they also understood one another—what it was like to experience life in a male skin—more than she in her femininity ever could. Even for a man at his ease with her gender like Zephyr, Iridni would always be a foreign country to explore, rather than a familiar, comfortable smoking jacket that one need never acknowledge as distinct from oneself.

Her differences, her challenges, might be alluring, exciting, and even magical, but she recognized they could also be exhausting.
 
Did Zephyr deny her company on his trip because he went to visit an old flame—a rendezvous with the long-lost Blue, for example? No...of that much the young priestess was certain. Zephyr had integrity.

She suspected, rather, it was the male quest to affirm that he was in charge. In their previous meeting Zephyr had yielded much to her, recognizing that his denial of what she most sought—the adoption of Matty and Jacques—was a crushing of a dream, and so he compensated her with smaller requests. She considered that he may after deliberation have decided he needed to remind her of his ultimate authority, and she ought not presume that even her begging and pleading would always win her what she wanted.

If true, this thinking, this gross misunderstanding of her and her motives, stung worse than had Zephyr sought a clandestine affair. He could never possess by force and dominance what she would always willingly relinquish. Rather, she wished only to help him, to prove her worth, and in denying her that wish he evidenced either it was not in his nature to allow himself to be helped—ominous, given her own core being—or he failed completely to understand the essential characteristics of her as a loving creature, her most fundamental method and need of self-expression.

Although she did not covet his own abilities for herself, she was vicariously proud of Zephyr in his strength and command, his clarity in seeing the diplomatic answer that so many lacked the patience and courage to pursue. Such inflamed her desire to serve some cause she recognized as greater and more worthy than she, to humble herself before him, the same extinguishing of ego she felt as Pelor’s instrument. Yet she longed again for the Zephyr she alone had briefly seen: a broken man at the end of his confidence, needing her reassurance that she believed in him when he no longer believed in himself.

For now, she could do little but sigh and let both her body and heart mend from all their recent distress. She must replenish her reserves. She would do as her trustee commanded her and find what joy she could in the time remaining with Matty and Jacques. Soon, she would uncover the right place for her two dependents: most likely, a boarding school far from Port-a-Lucine but, unfortunately, also far from her. She suspected she would have to deliver to their small ears much the same speech with which Zephyr had filled her unreceptive own—that in this life we are not always able to choose what we want.

They were children, however, and she did not expect them to receive such disappointment with the same poise as she had affected. They were not immersed in the Pelorian doctrine of self-sacrifice nor bathed in the endless comfort of the Sun Father’s divine love. She hoped their young hearts were also not as vulnerable toward her as she had let herself become toward Zephyr, for the task of easing the innocent pain of their parting would fall entirely to her...their betrayer.
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 21, 2019, 04:56:44 PM

Two months passed without a word, and Iridni buried herself in duty more deeply than ever. If her god expected her to endure for unknown reasons in these Mists for an ever-growing portion of her short life, His presence affirmed to her only by her unwavering faith, what was this lesser time to wait for a man who—mortal and frail—possessed so little power to control their mutual fates? If she did not question Pelor when His silence was so easy to break and He held her helpless in His hand, why judge Zephyr, who might be bereft of any means to return to her or even send to her a distress signal? Work was distraction and freedom...freedom from constant worry.

Her trustee had commanded her stay and provide what she could in the way of experience and aid to the Kinship. The sudden departure of both Alin and Jean created an even deeper void in the Lodge. So many Wayfarers gone, replaced by those who knew little of the Kinship’s history or traditions, instead, questioning everything and wishing to remake all in their own image.

What was the Kinship? Was it the Code? Was it Loric’s vision? Or was it the physical embodiment of the members and therefore constantly evolving as Wayfarers came and left? She wondered how much her first family—Yunon, Medea, Audric, and the rest—would feel in common with those who now shared the fireplace with her. Perhaps she had failed in not providing the vessel that would have conveyed the aspirations of that Lodge to the Lodge of the present, so that those names were little more to these Kin than meaningless labels in dusty archives, their gallant deeds too forgotten to serve as beacons of greater Kinship glories tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The priestess was wise beyond her years, but that wisdom presented itself to the world by means of a small, youthful, and feminine form. When she wore her armor, men such as the bare-chested Volkov called her names like Princess Shiny Pants. When she dressed in her priestess robes, the shell-encased Lucille made unflattering comparison to those Kin who feared to go without their armor for the threats they faced.

A Pelorian did not live for the praise of others but only to serve them by helping them to the Light, she reminded herself. And yet sometimes the criticism scalded deep within her, that she felt herself always under scrutiny and judged so quickly. For her youth among her fellow Pelorians had not prepared her for the less forgiving, less merciful gaze of both Barovia and Dementlieu.

Loric remained kind. And Laurie had come to help with the Kinship during Zephyr’s absence. She was more forceful now, than Iridni remembered from when Toben attacked the Lodge, shooting freely with her pistol and riding a horse as though she was born in a saddle. Iridni envied her that. She envied the ease with which the three of them—Zephyr, Loric, and Laurie—all socialized, countless memories and adventures shared, great evils undone, certain of love and loyalty to one another…whereas she would always be the latecomer to their tight-knit family, a delicate rope straining to bridge the chasm between them and those who would come after her.

Laurie mentioned that Loric’s birthday would occur simultaneously with the next Kinship meeting. What to get her Steward? The Pelorian knew he cared nothing for material gain, and Laurie said he would most want the Kinship to celebrate with him as his adopted family. Yet even so…some token would be nice to help remember the occasion. He did like a good cup of wine.

Iridni stole out from the Lodge two nights’ before, taking care to avoid the shadowy figures that menaced her path. A lamp was glowing in the window at the engraver’s shop, and a Red Vardo guard answered her gentle knock. For the right price, even a Barovian would burn the midnight oil.

Before sunrise she was back at home, her errand a success. The cup of friendship, more than wine, warms the heart and is never empty, said the words engraved on the golden chalice’s base. She polished the gift to a shine, all the while wishing she might take a drink from it.
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on May 26, 2019, 12:44:38 PM

Quote

Dear Maitresse,

Recent events have caused me to become quite concerned about your safety, and I have stopped by the theatre more than once to check on you. I also seek information about someone who may have recently joined your troupe--a former Morning Lordian named Shannon--although the latter now seems of less importance.

If you are receptive to a discussion, please leave word at the Tenements. I mentioned this earlier to William Thatcher, who I found in your theatre and who claimed to be in your employ, but I have little confidence in his reliability, as his attention seemed consumed by a female companion at the time.

Under the circumstances, should I receive no response, I will continue to speak to third parties until I am reassured of your well-being.

Respectfully,

Iridni Ren



Had Verinne Van Haute ever even received the Pelorian’s message? Perhaps having fled her entire life, always trying to reinvent herself in some new place, the woman was tired of running and decided simply to face her fate. In the end, her despicable ex-lover and purveyor of women had managed to kill her from the grave by the lycanthropic disease with which he infected her.

Were the accusations of who had struck her down true? Iridni little doubted it was the Ezrites, for that was of whom the priestess had sought to warn her. But was the hand truly that of Agnés? And now Rhea’s voice rose to speak what would appear to be a courageous truth against a crowded house of Verinne’s well-wishers, willing to mourn her and then sweep her under the rug as had been the fate of so many others who tried to change this vile world.

Politics and the struggle to grasp Fortune’s wheel disgusted Iridni. For so many saw its nature as one's own elevation required the trampling of others under foot, the grinding of them beneath its inexorable motion.

No doubt Verinne realized this in the final play she produced. For in truth was not the character of Felicia a would-be heroine who did what she did for love…but the dwellers in darkness twisted that passion to their own purpose? Believing with greater power she could do greater good, the heroine lost the purity she once possessed and that loss, in the end, became a tool for manipulating, torturing, and eventually destroying her.

Likewise, Rhea’s voice was not of the Light; of that, Iridni was certain. The criminal Gnome here, as always, exploited the good and honorable feelings of others for her own machinations, to divide them one against the other in hopes of self-preservation and expanding her influence. Never did the wererat seek healing and reconciliation, always vengeance, for the Darkness thrived on anger and fear.

In the end, however, did any of it matter? As surely as The Price followed a pre-ordained script, life in Port-a-Lucine was predetermined by forces seemingly impossible to influence. Even someone gifted with a personality as of consequence as Verinne in the end was crushed beneath the cycling, repetitious wheel, grist for it so that others, instead of learning from her fate, would try to employ the emotions and vacuum to better their own pointless and transitory positions.

Iridni thought, as well, that she finally understood why she had been removed from Chathold. Until now she believed Anxan Madog had abducted her to satiate his lust. His, however, had not been a purely physical desire for a young woman’s form, but he also had misunderstood the prophecy and thought she, Iridni, was a threat to his family’s position of influence—that somehow her eventual achievements as a Pelorian might mean she was destined to rule the Prelacy. Ironically, he had been the agent of the prophecy’s fulfillment, for had she remained in Almor she would have never been forced to become more than her dream of healer, wife, and mother.

Perhaps that was the lesson of wisdom she should apply. Rather than rack her brain to know which was the path of light between Rhea and Agnés…accept that her choosing was of no consequence. Fate would play out as it would, and she should exert her efforts in the smaller matters that she could be certain where the Light shined and where darkness dwelt.

The simplicity of black and white, not the shades of gray so prevalent in Port: One of the first lessons Father Miklos had taught her was that, while the undead are irredeemable and must be destroyed, lycanthropes are tragic creatures, victims of a malevolent, bestial disease beyond their control. Knowing so much of Verinne's history, Iridni had always been uncertain that the Maitresse became truly benevolent. Could the priestess trust her own judgment, then, as to who was good and who was evil between Agnés and Rhea?

Nevertheless, she had concerns here she not could completely abandon. As intrigue and violence once more descended over the city, the question of what to do with those concerns once more remained unanswered. Verinne’s plans had offered a possible solution, and Iridni had managed to accumulate the funds she thought sufficient for room, board, and education. Would Verinne’s dream go on, regardless of the dreamer’s death, or would that, too, be pulverized as grist for Fortune’s relentless, preordained wheel?

Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 05, 2019, 12:03:44 AM


Sorayanna was dead but free. Free of all that Iridni most dreaded and was the most insidious hazard of the work the Kinship performed. The Pelorian's violet eyes perused the archives and moistened at all the names of so many Kin who had fallen victim to an undead life beyond the grave. Fear not that which destroys the body, but that which destroys the soul.

If Zephyr failed to return to her...Iridni was the last of the Wayfarers from when she joined the Kinship. She felt all alone in her panic and weakness. Laurie had been so casual about the futility of their shared struggle, saying perhaps they would at least end much evil before they perished.

I don't want to die! a panicked voice wailed inside her. And if I should die, let me rest, Pelor: please, I don't want to come back as some hellish abomination.

The mighty god of the small priestess was silent.

She stared at the recruitment poster in her hand and almost let it drop to the floor. Could she go on, go on asking others to join a cause that after more than two years seemed more futile than ever? The Death Singer was gone, but that would never bring back Sorayanna or undo all the suffering the Pelorian's Kin had endured during her time of imprisonment. Iridni thought of the tongue she had found on the evil altar and hoped it had not been Sorayanna's.

For that matter, who were the parents of the sacrificed child she had passed in seeking the final summoned demon of her arch nemesis? She did not wish her heart to become so hardened that she no longer hurt at such a sight...but how could it not, when she experienced such sights again and again?

Pelor...Thy servant beseeches Thee...she canst endure longer without any comfort. Let me not break and my despair be a stumbling block to others.

She felt both so old and so young. Were she to escape from here, she had most of her years ahead of her, but, as a Wayfarer, for the moment, she was the oldest.

Strengthen me, Pelor. Return to me, my Zephyr. My own strength is at an end!


(https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f3/48/14/f34814685d3c00a5d64cfe90312acd6b.jpg)
Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 08, 2019, 03:08:41 AM

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Shafts of bright light danced into the plain chamber and across the floor, touching Iridni’s sleeping face as the sun rose on the first day of spring. She awoke to the sound of someone’s singing in the hall outside. She wrapped a soft, warm robe around her white nightgown and cautiously cracked the door to see who wrought the morning melody.

An elderly matron in rustic dress scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees, glancing up at Iridni cheerfully and stopping in mid-note. “Did I wake the little doamna?” the heavy washerwoman asked, grinning with only a handful of unruly teeth.

The servant’s mirthful mood was infectious. “Tis of no matter, granny,” Iridni answered. “On this glorious day I should have greeted the dawn…not remained in the clutches of slothful sleep.”

“Pshaw, child. You should sleep late, or you’ll wind up like me. I neglected my beauty rest and now see what I’ve become!” The great bosom heaved with a laugh that sent bubbles from her wash bucket wafting into the air.

“You have such a lovely voice,” Iridni said tactfully. “Next to birdsong, I can think of no more pleasant noise to have been awakened by.”

“Is that so, my little dark-haired angel?” The washerwoman looked as pleased as the Pelorian had ever seen a Barovian appear.

“What was that you were singing?”

“Eh, nothing. Just a song me tată used to walk off to the mines with on his lips.”

“A work song?”

“A pastime, aye.” The woman’s egg-like nose had begun to run, and she snorted, then swallowed an audibly thick fluid. “I reckon I ought to git back to it, child. The master of the house don’t like me taking overmuch time prettifying his floors for ‘im.”

The Pelorian nodded and pushed the heavy door closed, before sitting back down on her bed, alone once more in her own world and thoughts. The pleasant singing resumed.

Medea has been so right about her…how spoiled she was. How could she have so much self-pity when she considered all her undeserved blessings? She had lost many she loved, true, but she had once enjoyed the pleasure of their company and friendship while little earning it. She was like a child who had been given sweets, eaten them all, and wailed when no more were forthcoming.

They had taken her in, the Kinship had, protected and sheltered her, and allowed her to grow into the woman she was, the woman she was becoming. And now when the torch had passed to her, she wanted to run away and weep, rather than face her duty, hold that torch aloft, do what was rightly expected of her, and go on. She who had been granted greater gifts by Pelor than any Ren before her sobbed in her weakness and pleaded for yet more strength from her god. Worse, begged to be released from her trials, her service.

The aged woman outside her door drove Iridni to shame. How many years had this Barovian peasant lived by Lake Zarovich, never knowing the peaceful bliss of Chathold but only the Count’s evil reign? And yet in her gray and ancient years, she smiled and sang while she labored, her old and painful knees bearing her ample girth against an unyielding hardwood floor. The young priestess yet in the bloom of life and health, on the other hand, was letting herself slowly forget what it meant to be happy.

Loric said Zephyr was well, and in her selfishness, the Pelorean had taken no delight in this news but only disappointment that her love’s return did not seem imminent. When she considered how many were lost to her finally and forever, such hope should have been a dearer thing.

She knelt by her bed and prayed:

Thy child, my Father, has understood Thy divine light, and she begs pardon. She is content to eat the bread of sorrow as long as Thou desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness, at which others eat, until the day set by Thee. Oh! Pelor, send us all away justified. May all those who are not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. If it is needful that the table be purified by a soul who loves Thee, then I desire to eat this bread of trial until it pleases Thee to bring me into Thy bright Kingdom.

Scattered about the room were her gloves, her awkward boots, her armor…and Radiant Servant. The implements of her craft were infused with her own life force such that, as much as parting from them lightened the weight she tired of bearing, yet it also made her feel weak and vulnerable. Incomplete.

She slipped off the robe, then her gown, and once more encased herself in hide and metal. Iridni could not disguise her height, but otherwise the transformation into armored anonymity left scant evidence of the small woman who had spent the night before crying alone into her pillow.

Title: A Radiance Everlasting
Post by: Iridni Ren on June 15, 2019, 03:14:50 AM


Spoiler: show

Zephyr was home...and Zephyr was yet hers.