Author Topic: To Serve His Radiance  (Read 5380 times)

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
  • Dark Power
  • ******
  • Posts: 2180
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #50 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.”



« Last Edit: January 12, 2018, 03:33:41 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
  • Dark Power
  • ******
  • Posts: 2180
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #51 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:
« Last Edit: January 27, 2018, 10:15:27 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
  • Dark Power
  • ******
  • Posts: 2180
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #52 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.”
« Last Edit: February 02, 2018, 05:43:27 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
  • Dark Power
  • ******
  • Posts: 2180
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #53 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
« Last Edit: February 15, 2018, 11:12:27 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
  • Dark Power
  • ******
  • Posts: 2180
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #54 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
« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 11:28:16 PM by Iridni Ren »

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Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #55 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.

« Last Edit: April 17, 2018, 01:39:09 AM by Iridni Ren »

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Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

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« Reply #56 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.



My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #57 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.


« Last Edit: August 03, 2018, 01:19:18 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

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« Reply #58 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.


« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 07:50:39 PM by Iridni Ren »

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Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

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« Reply #59 on: August 15, 2018, 02:06:24 AM »

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.

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #60 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.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2018, 01:47:57 AM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #61 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.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 07:51:14 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #62 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.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 07:51:32 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #63 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.



« Last Edit: September 16, 2018, 01:55:34 AM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #64 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.



My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #65 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.



My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #66 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]




My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
  • The Wayfarer Kinship
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His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #67 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]



« Last Edit: October 20, 2018, 04:16:29 PM by Iridni Ren »

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Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #68 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.


« Last Edit: October 27, 2018, 07:37:40 PM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #69 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.

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #70 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.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2018, 02:16:12 AM by Iridni Ren »

My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #71 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.



My windows cracked, but they can be replaced.
Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.