Within the swirling Mist (IC) > Biographies

To Serve His Radiance

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Iridni Ren:
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

Iridni Ren:
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.)

Iridni Ren:
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.

Iridni Ren:
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.

Iridni Ren:
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.

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