Author Topic: To Serve His Radiance  (Read 8066 times)

Iridni Ren

  • Priestess of Pelor
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His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #75 on: January 05, 2019, 02:38:00 AM »
As before with Yunon, Iridni felt the power of the great device surge through her, driving her to her knees and seeming to reach into her core and pull from her a piece of her very essence. Her mouth dropped open in a soft whimper, her head lolled forward...then silence.

She wavered like a young foal as she struggled back to her feet and approached the receptacle. Inside, the morning star had been transformed and now glowed with a white, pure light around the platinum-sheathed orb and spikes. She reached for the weapon, seeing it in her mind's eye—not as an instrument of violence and destruction—but as the familiar holy symbol of Pelor emblazoned on her shield. Once in her hand, the morning star fit her small grip with undeniable purpose, and, despite her weakness, she smiled.

She thanked the sorceress Aren, and again, despite her weakness, immediately departed on a caravan for Vallaki: she must see about Zephyr.


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: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #76 on: January 15, 2019, 02:50:15 PM »
As her birthday passed, the priestess felt herself oddly happy, despite having spent what to her seemed an eternity now in the Mists. After many months of loneliness and knowing all she most cared for were far beyond her reach, she had found love that perfectly suited her—a man who, although not a Pelorian, lived in accordance with Pelorian practice. Zephyr was at turns tender and passionate with her, helping Iridni gain confidence that she could inspire and keep a mate’s affection. He seemed as completely content with her as she was him. Observing his conduct with others, including the ruthless and irrationally cruel garda, she could be nakedly proud of him in a way her beliefs prohibited her ever being of herself.

The blessings and wisdom her god provided likewise grew until she sensed herself able to assist and otherwise be a helpmate to her beloved. No longer did she feel inadequate and an unequal partner because of his age, experience, and position, but she perceived times when he truly needed her, whether it be her capacity for remembering small details and helping him stay organized or her gifts to raise and heal.

Although she yet trembled when the two of them were engaged in something clandestine and dangerous, it was sometimes with as much excitement in having the chance to prove herself and shelter him as fear for their mutual safety.

She also had her work in the Ouvrier and the hard-won trust of Madeline and Jacques. This, too, made her happy, although here she still felt inadequate, both to the enormity of the poverty and suffering but also to the malignant presence that she knew must yet be observing her, waiting to strike, and against which she had made no progress. Port-a-Lucine in all ways was beyond the young woman in its language, politics, and even manners. Yet wisdom told her this was the nature of life and growth: the more one progressed, the greater the challenges one faced. The path behind would always look easier than the climb ahead.

She indulged herself with some vanity in the morning star and armor that Teodor Ursu forged for her: “Radiant Servant,” she called her shining weapon…and blushed when Asariel told her that the name fit her, Iridni, as well. The armor gleamed in Pelor’s rays until the Pelorian likewise felt herself a small reflection of her god’s bright glory.

Finally, she had hope in that old and friendly faces from her long time here remained to her and seemed in their way to gravitate toward her own concerns and worries. Earebrithiel, unfortunately, had been banished from Vallaki, but perhaps that meant their paths would more often cross. Marielle, too, had returned, along with Sora, both strengthening the Kinship at a time when it was certainly in need. Always the priestess could count on Yunon for help and guidance.

For the first time young Ren was uncertain whether she would grasp at any opportunity to return to Chathold and the Prelacy, her family. She hated to contemplate living out all her days in such a wretched place of corruption and darkness—raising her and Zephyr's future children here—but she was becoming ever more convinced this work was her god’s will for her. At least he had sent to her a comforter with whom to share the struggle. If she could only let her parents know she lived and prospered, so that they might not grieve for her.... 

Before returning to Port after the resolution of the Marcus Weyland matter, Iridni reviewed the Kinship’s roster. So many new comrades of whom she knew little. Now it was her turn to help develop the next generation of Wayfarers, just as others had done for her. She who for so long had been a student must learn to teach.


« Last Edit: January 16, 2019, 04:30:59 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
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  • Posts: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #77 on: January 21, 2019, 10:07:33 AM »
Iridni worked the bristle brush against the adamantine, steel, and leather of her absurdly over-sized and clunky boot. No one would guess from the pairs’ worn appearance that their owner was a young woman of so few years and such diminutive size, who had to pad them with thick cloth to make them fit more snugly and to protect her feet from the chafing all the miles she travelled would otherwise induce. This morning alone she cleaned the soils of Vallaki, Krofburg, Midway, Blaustein, and Port from the leather’s furrowed lines and the boot’s eroded sole. She had already poured out the gritty sand that trudging through Har’Akir had left in the interior.

Soon, she would need to see a cobbler about repairs. She wondered how long she could lead this life before her face, hands, and all the rest of her would begin to wear out as well, and the owner’s appearance would age to match the boot.

She was so tired, but spring was here, and she longed to gather her herbs and complete her treatise for the Kinship on potion brewing. It would be her legacy to her adopted family once she was no more—either through death, returning at last home, or perhaps settling down to raising her and Zephyr’s children. She smiled at that thought in her fatigue.

The smile disappeared when her eyes strayed to the notice of her summons. Treading the peak of Ghakis and the long expanses of the Old Svalich Road was not the only source of her fatigue. So many people depended on her to protect them, either from physical harm like Maddy and Jacques, or simply their secrets they had confided. This was the life she had chosen because she felt it was why Pelor had put her here and granted her so many gifts, but without her faith and the brief moments of Zephyr’s companionship, she was uncertain whether she would be able to bear it.

This life required she make enemies, even sometimes of those who, as she did, sought only to serve the Light. The narrow path she walked often required she travel alone and that she reveal to no one everything that was in her heart, or she would betray those who had trusted her with their reputations and their lives. Occasionally, she must wear the mask of the person she would prefer to be: a carefree and even foolish girl, who many mistook for a bit of a naïf. Given enough time, however, the observant came to learn her true reserve, the veil beyond which few intimates could pass, and they would then resent her, seeing her simple guise as deception and herself as a fraud.

Yet was she not both? When she pretended to smother Leon in anger to try to rouse him from his lassitude and hopelessness, was this playful and silly companion not she as much as the ever-calculating priestess who counselled him against the darkness that was slowly devouring his soul? The servant who knelt on her hands and knees to clean bile from the Lodge floor with her linen apron but who also supped with a crime lord while wearing brilliant, “ostentatious” armor plated with platinum? The meek helper who brought water to a suffering prisoner and begged the garda not to amputate his arms, yet who had also wanted to use his body as a lure to entice the mastermind he served? 

Yes, she of necessity was all those women in appearance and reality: by turns open, gentle, meek, and kind, but also argumentative, passionate, deceptive, and determined. And if she admitted it to herself, playing them all, being them all, keeping them all in impossible balance, threatened to crush her.



« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 10:38:46 AM 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
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  • Posts: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #78 on: January 27, 2019, 11:00:58 PM »
She forced herself to steady the pen in her slight and trembling hand as the point hovered over the clean parchment. Then the first liquid words flowed from it onto the white vellum, staining it with her thoughts: My Beloved.

When had the young priestess last felt such fear, apprehension, and dread? Not since she was far less capable and perhaps not since Ionathan had been by her side to shore her up in these moments of self-doubt. Her companions she would soon join all (rightfully) expected her to be self-reliant and in need of neither physical nor emotional support; they looked to her as someone whose wisdom ought reflect her divine gifts, rather than her callow years. Although Zephyr would show her his affection, pride, and gratitude should she return, she knew until their reunion even he relied on her to act with resolution and independence.

The prospect of her own death, however, in truth caused none of her present uncertainty, for always she was confident that Pelor would provide for her whether in this life or in Elysium hereafter…if she remained true to His will. No, what caused her hand to quiver and her heart to pound as she composed this—what might prove to be her farewell letter to Zephyr—was worry she would fail, her mistakes leading to the deaths of others, leaving nothing for those who remained but the inconsolable grief of eternal separation.

Letting the wretched hag survive.

Was she a naive, trusting fool likely to get Eare and Asariel killed for their willingness to aid her? Or poor Mr. Sexton, who most seemed vulnerable and isolated, yet ready to expend his life against the common enemy? The Halan told Iridni he reckoned their chances were no better than one in 100.

At least she had succeeded in protecting the Hospice, although her evasions came at a risk, causing the Gendarmes to believe she was either a liar or an incompetent. What worse would they think of her were they to discover who she had enlisted as the Kinship's accomplice in this noble but reckless cause?

She would worry about such recriminations later, for now she had two other tasks to attend, Zephyr’s letter being but the first. Her thoughts continued to spill like black tears across the parchment:
Quote
My Beloved,

Though you will know if we never see each other again what has become of me and that I never willingly parted from you, yet some words cannot be put in archives and logs. They are for your eyes only.

Hopefully I'm being overly fearful and foolish and Pelor will once more protect my frail vessel until you hold me close again and smile your cheeky grin down at my upturned face. But if that prove not to be the case, be certain that since our commitment to one another, there has been none for me but you. However much in the past you have loved and lost and come to think you somehow deserved it, it was not the case, my darling. Those others were blinded to the gem they held, but the light has made your beautiful soul always shine for me.

Every moment of devotion to you and knowing of your own devotion has been but a foretaste of Elysium.

Should we part from one another for now, know that I await there for you from this moment until forever, my sweetest Zephyr.

I love you.

Iridni

Iridni sealed the note, sprinkled the envelope with a few drops of her most memorable perfume, and suppressed the feelings caused by the act of its composition, so that none who saw her might guess that her mood was other than determined confidence.

She must next visit Aren and make arrangements about Matty and Jacques. She would not ask that Aren always look after the orphans, but that her friend at least make sure they were placed with someone who would. That her two wee ones would come to Room 3 with hope and expectation and then wait for hours only once more to have an unfulfilled disappointment in their lives—yet another adult who had caused them to become attached and made promises of caring for them before disappearing forever—was unbearable for the young priestess to contemplate.

Yet were she to stay her hand now, Matty, Jacques, and all those children she knew not of but who lacked the protection of a Pelorian would face this loathsome peril that she and the others must destroy.

She found the Elf working at the forge.

The full-figured Aren herself had lost many, including her husband, Sedrik, and although the sorceress could be distant and her life befitted a mother even less than did Iridni's, she was loyal, and her example would not harm the moral character of those young Ren wished to entrust to her. She was wealthy, and the two children would be provided for materially far more than should they continue to rely on the priestess. Iridni believed with certitude that Aren would at worst find them a home where they would never again be neglected.

It took minimal convincing to persuade the Elf of the Pelorian's boon. To Iridni's surprise, she learned that Aren wanted children but was barren. Not that it might ever matter now, but the priestess pondered then if this defect could also be true of her own body. As she faced possible death with the knowledge of so many dreams still unfulfilled in her short life, motherhood was something that perhaps would never have been hers to experience, even had she and Zephyr more time to consummate their love.

After her friend yielded to her request, guilt suffused Iridni that Aren was another she would leave more alone than ever in the Mists. Besides herself, she knew Aren favored the reclusive druid, and so the priestess spoke as softly as she could: "Aren, in what I do now, Asariel is going with me."

The stolid mien of the Elf remained, but her smith’s muscles stiffened. "If something happens to her, Iridni, I will not be forgiving. She is my oldest friend."

The priestess nodded. "I cannot tell you where we go, but nor can I deceive you about the risk we are soon to take. All I can promise you is I won't return without her."

Aren put aside her hammer for the moment and swallowed. "That's of some reassurance." And she offered Iridni the beginnings of a smile.

Was this another mistake? Why not ask Aren to come with her? — for the arcane magic of the sorceress might prove the difference and ensure their mission’s success. She could not because he would be unlikely to accede, fearing for his own skin should he be too greatly outnumbered by her and the other Wayfarers. And only he knew the location of the monstrous lair.

Before resuming her hammering, Aren reached into a bag at her side. “I don’t know what has put you in this state, Iridni, but I hope this will give you the wisdom you need to see it through. Use it when you are most in peril, and it may make a difference.”

Iridni looked at the pouch. “What is it?”

“Voodan bones,” Aren answered.

« Last Edit: January 27, 2019, 11:08:54 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: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
His Consuming Radiance
« Reply #79 on: January 28, 2019, 04:53:41 PM »
Iridni’s strength began failing as the air crackled with magic, the hag warding in front of her, her companions preparing at her side. Beneath the weight of her sun-brightened armor and the body of Mr. Sexton she bore on her back, the Pelorian dragged one booted foot in front of the other, lurching toward the grinning hag, its green and putrid form illuminated with the glowing hues of arcane protections. For uncounted years, the monster had preyed on foolish men seduced by its illusions, women desperate to be mothers, and innocent children, while its malignity grew. This morning as Pelor’s sun crested, that sorcery was at its zenith: the hag prepared once more for victory and to feast on the flesh of all who opposed it.

Aching yet from the crushing maw of the crocodile, her soul unnerved by the mother and child she had killed in the lair, the young priestess thought of the terror-stricken faces of Matty and Jacques when the infernal toys had come to life. Here, before her at last, nothing stopping her or separating her from her foe, no cowed innocent for the monster to hide behind, was the foul creature who had sought to twist Iridni’s charitable efforts to serve its most terrible evil. Anger girded her, including anger and heartbreak that the hag knew what most to offer her to make her yield.

Could the hag have truly returned Iridni home to the Prelacy and reunited her with her family, freeing her from this land that in her heart she hated and that was slowly withering her? No…it was only trying to tempt her, and in any event it would mean abandoning everyone else—here and far away in the Tenements—to the hag’s mercy. And her letter to Zephyr: Know…that I never willingly parted from you. The hag wished to make her a liar and an oathbreaker.

The distance shortened, and the hag watched Iridni’s tortuous yet unerring beeline with almost bemusement, its cadaverous arms always gesturing, its serpentine tongue coaxing evil from the Weave.

Encumbered as she was, could the Pelorian even get close enough to the elusive hag to strike her down?

Approximately 25 feet remained between them. Iridni’s own slender arms now raised like resilient reeds straightening after a buffeting wind, but they held aloft neither her reliable shield nor Radiant Servant. She felt the Voodan bones quiver in the pouch at her hip and then sensed their essence flow into her gesture, increasing its potency. The pouch became lighter. Still the magicks of the others sizzled and hummed, lightning before the approaching storm.

The violet eyes of the priestess that had been so focused during her approach rolled back in her head, her god imbuing her small and shaking body with destructive force, and from the Pelorian’s supplicant hands a dire pulse erupted and hurtled toward the hag. The blast struck the sneering creature in the center of its midriff, and for a moment its baleful expression contorted…as agony such as it had never known in all its centuries of unabated cruelty consumed its monstrous form. The scream was both feminine and diabolical when the vortex of Iridni’s surge began to tear the hag asunder, and, as it shrieked, a foul cloud billowed from its open mouth toward the young woman and her companions.

“Die, bitch,” the priestess sighed, and for once the Pelorian’s heart felt not the smallest pang of pity.

The convulsing, imploding hag shrank and disappeared into the cloud of its dying breath. After the acrid belch dissipated, nothing remained but embers and ash.

The myriad sounds of incantations had also died away. Iridni stood at a distance safe from the vapor, breathing the pure sea air, her expression one of fatigue, but also grim satisfaction. She broke her calm silence at last to speak to Whiskers: “Thank you for retrieving me from the water, sir.” Explaining to both Zephyr and Loric how she had lived to kill the hag was going to be difficult.

Sister Caelia studied the immolation. “Your magic is very potent, ma’am.”

Iridni looked at the reserved Halan. “It is Pelor who is strong, not I.” In truth the heavily plated woman felt as though her knees might buckle beneath her at any moment.

“Although perhaps you should be more cautious; in the cavern you annihilated both the child and her mother.”

Caelia’s words returned the knife of guilt into the priestess’s entrails. “I’m not sure what happened….that prayer should harm only my enemies.”

“It is fire and death raining from the sky, ma’am. Why would it only affect your enemies?”

The Halan was wrong in her description, perhaps confusing Iridni’s magic with some other, for her own had but caused the ground around them to shake. Nevertheless, the priestess knew that the quaking earth had damaged much more than she intended, killing Annette Brosse and the hag daughter she had borne. Though the two meant Iridni ill, were they any more of a threat to her than the miscreant waifs she so often spared in the Quartier Ouvrier?

When the hag unleashed its army of minions, the young priestess had been too eager to destroy evil and neglected to protect the weak.

The body on her back sagged; she had failed another as well. “I must carry Mr. Sexton to the hospice.”

Caelia continued to berate her: “The child was likely hagspawn, but there were further measures we might have taken in case she was not. The mother was a victim, fallen to the hag’s seduction.”

Was she? Annette Brosse had misled her besotted husband, allowed the hag’s magic to corrupt the toys she helped craft, and granted a monster access to her own womb for procreation. Even so, Iridni would have spared Brosse given the chance, and she had sought to take the changeling into her arms and away from that devils’ nest only to be refused.

Sister Caelia was still talking: “I destroyed the child’s corpse as a precaution, as well as burning out the cave so that no trace of the hag’s taint remains.”

“Perhaps that taint is why they were struck down, but I never intended to kill them.”

Eare was busily gathering the ashes of the hag into a bottle and now corked it. “Whiskers…know any place here that is likely to be undisturbed?”

“That is not how destructive magic works, ma’am. It is not selective. Should you cast that spell now, we would all be harmed.”

Iridni considered the veiled girl, so near her own age but already of such certainty about everything. She almost envied Caelia’s self-assuredness about the priestess’s own abilities. “You were spared were you not?”

“I was not close enough to be affected.”

Often wrong…never in doubt. “I won’t demonstrate, but I have used it many times safely.”

Whiskers growled. “You caused an earthquake in an unstable cavern, Ren. What did you think was going to happen?”

“I am too tired to argue with you. And Mr. Sexton’s body is heavy.”

In reponse the Halan incanted and vanished, without any offer to tend to her fallen brother in faith. Iridni hardly cared, for despite all Whiskers’ mysterious deference to the flighty Caelia, the Pelorian had seen her contribute mostly speeches, while twice consuming the restoratives that might have revived Mr. Sexton.

Whiskers faded into the shadows.

Eare gave Iridni arcane speed and strength, and she began to labor down the beach toward the sailing ships with the other two Wayfarers, bearing what remained of the little man who had relied on her home.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2019, 05:03:04 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: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
A Radiance Everlasting
« Reply #80 on: February 11, 2019, 01:17:00 AM »
The destruction of the Hag brought with it a return to that unfocused custom of life in which nothing is simple. In the place of her respite of certitude and single-mindedness, Iridni awoke each dawn to conflicting goals and unsure motivations. Her prayers were numerous and diverse, touching on Zephyr, the Kinship, Matty and Jacques, and many more mundane matters such as her own self-improvement. She had neglected so much while driven like a revenant to end an evil that for centuries had eluded the Righteous Light.

The latest complication and ambiguity: Joachim Schrotter was dead.

This fact reminded her that she must find some resolution for her young dependents. Unless Zephyr would agree to marry her and adopt the two of them, the situation in the Tenements could not go on. The city was in constant turmoil, and she was not so foolish as to believe she was safe herself or could protect the two children from the growing danger. Though Matty and Jacques might hate her for it, she would have to find a boarding school or otherwise place them where they would have security and receive an education better than she could provide. If she were to raise them herself, it certainly would not be in Port-a-Lucine.

Where, then? Such a question called her to examine her entire life. For if she could not offer Matty and Jacques anything comparable to the pastoral childhood she had known, why did she even consider bringing children of her own into this fallen world? At times she sensed a similar pessimism was why Zephyr seemed reluctant to talk of having babies, yet if such a view were true, what point did the Kinship or any of their other work have? If they could not hope for a better future for the next generation, then was the never-ending struggle against evil all for nothing?

How certain she had been when she had tried to reassure Jean Renaud against similar despondency, but how it cascaded over the young priestess herself on lonely, sleepless nights in the Tenements!

As for the corporal, a man such as he had countless enemies, yet those Iridni suspected were few. Picavet? No, the wererat had laughed and dismissed Schrotter as a ridiculous threat. Rhea? The Praesidia Iustitiae claimed credit when they terminated a target. The hired assassin Schrotter had long feared? The murder did not adhere to the profile of his work. He was a loner who struck from surprise, usually in a place the target would consider safe. At least one accomplice had helped whoever killed the corporal, and he had been accosted in public. Nor would that assassin have claimed a garda's bounty but rather ensured Schrotter's body was hidden where it would never have been found.

Two other men she knew wished Schrotter dead and might be physically capable of murdering him. One of those was in Vallaki, afraid to enter Port-a-Lucine on pain of death. The other—the man who swore to her crying and pleading face he would kill Schrotter if given any opportunity even when she had begged him not to make the attempt for his own life and safety—she had seen twice in Port-a-Lucine in recent days, both before and after the assassination. She did not doubt then, and she did not doubt now that his words had been an oath.

She prayed it was not he, for he was an amateur. And amateurs almost always were caught. The man had done Iridni considerable clandestine favors in the past at enormous personal risk; she did not relish the vision of his neck beneath the guillotine.


« Last Edit: February 11, 2019, 01:39:26 AM 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: 2846
  • When all other lights go out
A Radiance Everlasting
« Reply #81 on: February 20, 2019, 12:24:15 PM »
“You ever…been happy, Iridni?”

Iridni could not help but consider the question odd under the circumstances. The man who had carried Marielle’s body upstairs, however, was consuming considerable whiskey, and the present occasion was not the first she had observed the male need of liquid courage before asking of her what was uppermost on their minds. Even Zephyr had relied on it, and so she guessed where the conversation was likely leading.

She ought not presume. After all, the priestess considered that Marielle’s sudden death and the reminder of the brevity of life caused her companion to wax philosophical, rather than any forthcoming confession of desire. She reflected, therefore, and tried to treat the question on its face, without reading into it any personal portent. “Why do you ask? Do I seem unhappy? Or are you considering about yourself?”

“I just…I remember each day I saw Simona, each time she smiled how it made me feel….And how I haven’t felt that way since.”

Iridni was more certain now that an awkward guest was readying his knock at her door. “Your current love doesn’t make you feel that way?”

“I like her, but it’s not the same y’know? It’s like I’m jumping into relationships hoping to find something I lost long ago.” He twirled a ring on his finger.

Better to let the visitor know she already had company, rather than allow the situation to become more embarrassing for either. “You know that Zephyr and I are together?”

“You and Zephyr? Really?”

She smiled softly. “Yes…for a while now. Although we see each other so little because of all we must do. We met at Midway last night, and it was the first time I’d seen him in a month.”

“I’m glad you found someone, Iridni, even if it took you this long to notice someone so close.”

“To be truthful, I always thought he never noticed me. Because I was so…well…inconsequential when I arrived. And he was this worldly and important trustee. Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details.” She rarely knew a man who enjoyed hearing overmuch of another’s success.

“At least there is some happiness here.”

“Oh…such feelings always come at a price,” she blurted.

“And what price is this?”

“To have attachments here…it’s extra grief and worry. And, as you well know, loneliness when you are separated.”

“I have another now to help me deal with loneliness, but I don’t feel…whole with her like I used to with Simona.”

Listening to him, Iridni wondered what Zephyr would say of her. Did she make him feel whole? Was this what men truly sought in their loves? For if she was honest with herself, Zephyr never evidenced any sense of his own incompleteness. The night preceding when she had proposed the two of them might adopt Matty and Jacques, he displayed not the slightest desire to become a father, seeming instead alarmed at the idea. Yes, she accepted his argument and bowed to it: that their lives were too dangerous to take on such responsibility. Nevertheless, whereas for her this choice was a constant struggle, she saw no such conflict in her beloved’s face—not even for her sake.

Was it fair for her to wish that he felt the same? Perhaps it was something inherent in her feminine nature, and she should no more expect a similar urge in Zephyr than that she judge him cold for not crying as easily as she.

“I’m sorry, Dimitrie. As I recall, Simona was with your child as well?”

He winced. “Yes.”

“I wish I knew what to say.”

“There is nothing to say….I had it all, and it’s gone….Love of my life, my child, everything.”

“Grief…the price of caring. Of love.”

“Days like this…when we lose someone we thought invincible…make me wonder why we keep going forward.”

“I know the feeling you speak of. Somehow the Mists deprive us both ways. I’m separated from my family by being trapped here. And now yours, the Mists have taken from you.”

He drank more whiskey.

“Dimitrie...in Port I have two children I have been looking after. I no longer know what to do with them, the way things are going there.”

“Orphans?”

“Yes. I spoke with Zephyr about it last night. And he said…well…adopting them isn’t an option.” As much as she wanted to, Iridni could not hide the disappointment from her face. “I think they’ll have to be put in a boarding school of some sort.”

“Zephyr doesn’t want children?”

She managed to smile faintly. “Apparently he doesn’t want me to retire…into motherhood. But Matty and Jacques can’t stay in Port when the police themselves are being killed.”

“I think you would be a fantastic mother, Iridni. I won’t lie. When we first met, the thoughts that ran through my mind were, ‘Nine hells, what a woman!’” He snorted.

She colored, realizing that the whiskey was what gave this once secret thought its present expression. “Thank you, Dimitrie. I believe I would too. But you know, it’s also as you said: I’m not as hopeful as I once was that we can truly improve things...here. I will find them a boarding school. Pay for them to stay there.” She made an unpleasant choking sound. “And try to visit them from time to time.”

Had Iridni ever been happy? Yes…in her dingy tenement room, with two grubby waifs who looked at her as though she made them complete.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2019, 12:28:34 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 #82 on: March 04, 2019, 01:46:49 AM »
Growing up in the Prelacy, Iridni had considered her lack of imagination a fault. For all her gentle kindness and pleasing features, the Pelorian knew she could be dull, and this truth caused her to doubt that she would long fire the heart and soul of any lover's passion.

Since passing through the Mists, however, she had come to discover her pedestrian mind a blessing, for at times such as these, it helped preserve her sanity.

In the space of a fortnight, Marielle had died, news of Bhaltair's pending execution had reached her, Zephyr had revealed to the Kinship his plans, and Yunon had been slain in what was advertised to be a harmless tournament. Sweet Pelor, why had she let another go in her stead to this exhibition? She might have dissuaded Yunon from competing or at least kept him, once stricken, out of the clutches of the Red Academy.

The path she only days before saw as clear was now shrouded in grief and darkness. How could she consider leaving with the man who had been a substitute father to her for the past two years at the mercy of necromancers? She could not.

Her upcoming conversation with Zephyr would be the same as she originally planned, except for only a single alteration. He would understand this necessity. Of that she was certain.

Her only doubt was whether the risk she now entertained was foolhardy. Just as she chose not to imagine what might be in store for her beloved mentor, she chose not to imagine the many roads her own fate might soon traverse: Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The light that shone within her could prevail against the present encroaching darkness; she was uncertain whether her victory over despair would hold for all those unknown tomorrows.

Before sleeping, she prayed for mundane dreams.

All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go....




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

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« Reply #83 on: March 12, 2019, 05:03:26 PM »
“Ren…”

“Ren!”

“Ren…please…help me…”

The dry, parched voice called to her from somewhere in the darkness, crackling like stew left too long untended in a pot until it cooked down to scorched, desiccated remnants. Yet for all its distortion, the voice was familiar to Iridni.

“Why…Ren…why won’t you help me?”

Although she was afraid, she forced herself toward the plaintive sound, her bare feet invisible beneath her, beyond the constrained sight the dim light allowed her. She moved by ear.

“Please don’t abandon me. I thought, of everyone, I could count on you….R-r-r-en.”

She knew it was Yunon, but what was wrong with him? Why did he rasp as though he were hundreds of years old?

She struck against a surface—a door, and around the door frame enough light escaped that she could make out a symbol: swirling red spheres in a spiral. She pushed on the door, and it refused to budge.

“No,” something whispered near her ear. She was not sure, but she thought this was Zephyr. “You can’t.” She refused to listen, and her small hand twisted on the latch, which would not yield to her.

“R-r-r-rennnnn! Ohhhh…” Her name guttural, then a plaintive sighing. She felt certain he was dying.

Now a glowing figure approached, holding a key. He held it toward her, and she reached for it, only for the figure to pull away. He looked into her face with a questioning expression. It was Marcus.

Her mouth quivered, and she nodded.

Once more he waited, as though to insist she be certain, and with impatience she nodded again. She felt the key in her hand, and she drew back the latch, flooding the darkness with the light as she flung wide the door.

Then she saw it looming over her, the thing that had once been Yunon.

“What took you soooo loooonggg, R-r-ren?”

The night had denied her prayers.


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

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #84 on: March 13, 2019, 03:07:33 AM »


The darkness enveloping Iridni was not the Red Academy in Hazlan, but that of her sparse room in the Tenements, the rasping sounds not those of dear Yunon revived by foul necromancy, but the snoring of drunks. Yet she felt her time running out. Fearing to fall sleep again, she set aflame a small candle and began to compose a note to Zephyr, her knees brought up to support her writing journal, her raven hair for once loose and unkempt in the candlelight.

Quote
My beloved Zephyr,

I start by asking you a question: "Do you consider me your equal?"

I do not ask in terms of rank or sophistication, for I have no such illusions. In the Kinship I am your subordinate, and I am practically a child in contrast to your experience of the world. But do you consider me your equal in our relationship and in my capability of deciding what is personally best for me?

When I met you in secret to confirm that you did not regret your romantic overtures, you said, "I am hardly above anyone's station, my lady, all of us are equals in this life." You may recall that this difference in our status made me hesitate in returning the commitment you offered, instead asking that you reflect for a time whether you were certain of it.

You have told me of those you loved before and who you feel abandoned you. I am not made of such effervescent affections. Where you go, I shall go. [Redacted], it is not for my lover to decide such risks for me. I can be of aid to him, for I have seen he thinks not even to provide money for himself. And he cannot offer an example in my two-year service of my hindering him in his work or duties but being only his helpmate.

[Redacted], I shall likewise not interfere with anything that from its nature requires your acting alone but will look after those necessities of life you are so inattentive to. When you do seek aid, reassurance, and comfort, you shall find me waiting with open and supportive arms. Though I may worry during times when you are out of my sight, my distress would be no greater than were you to leave me here in doubt and uncertainty, not having any word of whether you were alive or dead.

You could not stop me, Zephyr, if I wished to go. I can make this journey as easily as you, and [redacted] advanced in their attitudes toward women. If you insist, however, that I not accompany you, then I will submit my will to yours as your subordinate in the Kinship, not as someone you twice asked to love you. I already have a god who is remote and requires my unquestioning obedience and servitude from afar; that is not what I desire from you, my mortal love. I hope it is not what you expect of me.

I have long yearned to speak to you about this in person and thought I might have to join you later, because of feeling I cannot leave Yunon at the mercy of the Red Wizards. As always, however, the business of each of us is cruel and allows us little time to be as tender and intimate with one another as I would desire. Words in ink convey so much less than I would reassure you with were I able to gaze into your face or persuade you through my voice and touch. Of a certainty, I have less fear and doubt myself when you are near...but I am still human, my darling. From time to time I, too, need the kindness and mercy you show toward those who fail and even commit evil, rather than the certitude of patience and faith you have with me.

I give much and ask little. Do not deny me this.

Yours, without reservation,

Iridni

Despising the simple letters of her almost child-like printing, she reached to her bureau for a blade, cut the note from her journal, and put drops of perfume on the paper before folding it. Should she fail to return from Hazlan, Zephyr would at least know that she had not gone there thoughtless of him and her commitment to him, nor, regardless of his initial denial, had that commitment to him diminished. If she were able to return, he would likewise know that she was resolved in her course.


« Last Edit: March 13, 2019, 03:09:28 AM by Iridni Ren »

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Your arm will tire throwing stones my way.

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« Reply #85 on: March 13, 2019, 09:17:02 PM »
The three remaining of the small band of would-be rescuers stood within the infamous Red Academy. A chemicaled atmosphere cloyed Iridni’s nostrils, doubtless covering some worse stench. She thought of Matilda Powell and wondered whether Echo knew of the horrors that transpired here; she assumed Marcus was well acquainted.

Their chances at admittance were diminishing, even with the inscrutable wizard among their number. “Is an instructor’s presence required for a cursory survey of the facilities?”

“Yes,” the cold administrator did not look up from the continual scratching of his quill on parchment. “Or a suitable tour guide who is enrolled. Anything else?”

Iridni had decided that in her guise of slave she would pretend to be the aged Marcus’s pretty bed warmer, which might explain why she seemed so indulged and free of any signs of mistreatment. When the Hazlani spoke, she looked at her fingernails and yawned.

“Very well, then,” Marcus growled.

The administrator dismissed them with a gesture of his quill.

“Walking all this way for nothing,” Iridni pouted aloud. “I hope you report that fella to his boss.”

“I fully intend to leave, right now,” Marcus whispered. “If you have any other proposition, you may speak it.”

To her surprise, the Elf slave standing near suggested they find an arcanist among the students, but when the three went outside, all had retired for the evening. Marcus glanced around in frustration. “Naturally, they’ve gone to bed.”

“Not a very studious lot,” Iridni again spoke loud enough for everyone to hear her.

“Oh?” A soldier with a polearm approached.

“Soldier…” Marcus looked at him. “The arcanists who were here a moment ago…in which direction did they depart?”

“They have retired within the Academy for the evening.”

“Mm...naturally so.”

“Though I should tell you…if that is your servant…you should consider muzzling her.” The soldier’s expression toward Iridni was far from friendly.

Nevertheless, she met his gaze in a way she was certain he was unused to from a slave. She continued haughtily, “The man inside said one of them should give my master a tour.” Then she looked again at her nails, pretending to ignore him, though her heart had begun to race—partly from her discomfort at lying and partly that she could see abject failure threatening to swallow the three.

“He did now?” The guard grimaced at her. “Well…let us go see about that, yes?”

“That’s what I understood,” she quickly added.

Echo remained silent and pulled her cloak closer over her fine silks.

The soldier wasted no time in barking at the Pelorian: “Let’s go, slave. Back inside!”

“He said that was the only way we could look around,” Iridni babbled.

Marcus tried to intercede: “She exists in a state of understanding that she has transgressed, yes. And additionally, a state of misinterpreting the wishes of the administrator, apparently.”

The guard paused. “Come then, we will speak with the administrator. But first the Black Lord commands that you properly discipline a servant who is unruly.”

Iridni flinched.

“I’ll wait for her to be punished.” The soldier folded his arms over his chest.

Marcus laughed. “She knows what her failures cost her.”

“Please, Master…no!”

“Sparing the rod is a sin, and a failure as a master.” The Hazlani was impassive.

Iridni knelt, begging, although she was not yet truly afraid. She had endured the garda’s beating for no positive result, and a little pain was worth gaining access to Yunon. She doubted the physically feeble Marcus would or could harm her much.

Echo now looked anxious and lowered her eyes to the ground.

“Sir, I was only trying to help,” Iridni’s voice trembled.

Marcus looked to the sky for guidance before saying, “Such misfortune, but I am in no state to discipline in the Hazlani fashion.”

The soldier was unmoved. “Do you wish for our slave to administer a proper punishment?”

On her knees, Iridni glanced quickly at the Elf who accompanied them. She was not as frail as Marcus, her arms taut and round with their share of muscle. The priestess suspected a weak slave did not live long in Hazlan.

“Ah? Oh. Yes…she would do. Come here, Elf.” Marcus sounded more pleased than Iridni would have liked.

Echo made a small noise, more than a sigh, but too quiet to be a cry.

The Hazlani was delighted. “It is far less strenuous on such a haggard frame as yours.”

The Elf approached with excitement, and Iridni knew she had to play out her hand. Thus, she looked at the slave with disdain. “Oh…no…not the Elf!” She pretended to choke on this degradation but thought only of how the half-naked figure before her might be a captive Asariel, had her companion not stayed behind in hiding.

The Elf took the staff from Marcus. Iridni looked at her with feigned hatred and used her thoughts of Yunon and Asa to force tears from her eyes as the Elf twirled the staff in practice. “Whenever, sir!” the slave piped to the guard.

“Commence.”

As the beating began, Marcus remarked casually, “I am, of course, foreign to this place. Satiate your disciplinary doctrine at your leisure.”

Three times the Elf swung on the kneeling priestess with a grunt, and three times Iridni cried out, her fingers digging into the dirt as she braced herself against the blows. Yet she was surprised at how little they stung, for beneath the long skirt of her dress she still wore her enchanted boots, and they muted the staff’s impact.

Meanwhile, Marcus was doing a good job of acting (she hoped) that the beating pleased him. “You know, it occurs to me that if we continue this spectacle for hours yet, we might encounter a suitable arcanist.”

“Oh please…no more!” Iridni exclaimed.

A malevolent smile spread across the visage of the guard as he nodded to Marcus, but then he said, “Enough. Return the implement to the decrepit.”

“Have I no say in this?” Marcus interjected. “Another strike, first.” He pushed the staff back toward the Elf.

“By all means!”

“Oh Master!”

Afterward, Iridni feigned that her spirit had been broken, and she assumed a submissive, ingratiating tone with Marcus, staying behind him with her head lowered. Even so, she was unhappy when he next spoke: “We depart.”

Had it all been for naught?

“No, now to go speak with the administrator,” the guard said.

***

The two Hazlani spoke back and forth in a tongue that the priestess did not recognize, but she winced anew as she saw and heard the administrator’s rising anger, knowing that the three were likely its catalyst. Finally, the administrator spoke to Marcus, “Give me one reason I should not commit all of you to our cells?”

“I can assure you I desire my departure as much as you do. This is pointless convolution of what is simple.”

Echo finally spoke, quietly and politely, yet with an air of slight disappointment. “Master Marcus, as the winner of the wizard tournament held here, the interest expressed in your abilities seems to have been temporary.”

Iridni nodded at her words.

“An arcane tournament champion? This one? Ha!” The administrator sneered. “Surely you did not face any of those who were instructed within. If so, they should be expelled immediately.”

Marcus snapped a hand out toward Echo, silencing her. “It is a fact that I was victor of the recent tournament in the city proper.”

Iridni raised her cowed face with beaming pride. “He is indeed! My master!” She wiped at her face and spoke loudly but not so as to appear boisterous. Marcus glared at her with sunken eyes.

The two men began to argue, and though she was in fact listening intently, she once more pretended to find her own fingernails worthy more than they of her attention. She looked up quickly, however, at what she next heard from the administrator: “All grand boasts. Demonstrate your arcane mastery….Upon your own servants.”

Marcus stifled a laugh. “Had I known the visit would revolve so around discipline of slaves, I’d have brought more.”

“These are not resources of the academy and thus, expendable. A lesson you’ve now learned.”

“Oh, not me, Master!” Iridni shrieked. “Why not the Elf?”

“The mouthiest ones are always best to practice on. They are the most demonstrative and thus conducive to proper observation.”

“I am not enrolled in the academy, and so it is illegal for me to ‘demonstrate’ the arcane,” Marcus said.

“I’ll permit it. Just for this demonstration only.”

“Mm, capital. Elf, pick one of these two.”

The administrator looked bemused. “Take her to the foyer, however. It is far easier to clean in there.”

In contrast to a caning, the prospect of Marcus’s magical assault struck true terror into the priestess. A similar demonstration had, after all, killed Yunon, and she did not want her body to join his in the necromancy classroom. Looking at Echo, however, Iridni knew her frail companion had no chance of survival. The lot must fall to her to suffer.

“I…” The slave hummed and stared between them.

“You’re letting a wretched Elf decide?” Iridni heard herself say.

“Fetch a mop and broom, if needed, slave.”

The Elf pointed at Iridni.


Spoiler: show
« Last Edit: March 14, 2019, 12:20:41 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 #86 on: March 14, 2019, 12:01:18 PM »


Despite her overwhelming fear, the many ironies of the present situation were not lost on the terrified priestess. Once, Marcus had been helpless at her feet, a prisoner in the Lodge, and Zephyr and she had bargained with the Garda that pardon be shown to him. She had expended considerable diamonds to bring him back to life. If Marcus had not been spared, Yunon would still live—a cruel truth of which Jean did not hesitate to remind her. Perhaps Alistair had been right that her Pelorian mercy was an illusion, for it was unmerciful to any who perished at the hands of those she offered a chance for redemption.

Now, her own life was in the hands of Marcus.

Yet another irony was that should she survive his attacks, the three might well fail in their mission. The worse Marcus savaged her, the more the display would impress the cruel Hazlani. Ought she have chanced Echo’s life instead? That was no chance at all: of a certain Marcus’s spells would obliterate Echo, but the robed woman was here because she wished to make such a sacrifice. Yunon would not have countenanced the trade, however, and even in death Iridni could sense the force of the old man’s will upon her.

Marcus began to gesture, and Iridni felt herself cowering. “No, no, no” was all she could think and say. She was no longer play-acting.

Then pain…as though a torturously hot blast was cooking every cell of her body. She crumpled, writhing like a salted slug, and as Marcus shot a second pulse toward her, she little doubted this was the last moment of her young life. Her blood boiled, and her flesh seemed to shrivel down to her bones. She fell onto her face and into blessed delirium...but the hammering in her ears told her she lived.

“You chose well, Elf,” Marcus said. “Iridni is by far the more hardy of the two. There will be no need for the dustpan.”

The administrator snorted with amusement. “That will suffice.”

“If you’ve brought some water, douse her with that. It’s a mercy.”

The two women were sent off to the slave pens with the Elf, while Marcus and the administrator discussed the terms of his tour. Easing herself into the Elf's tent, Iridni managed to whisper to Echo, "It's all...all...on Mar..." She started to say "Marcus," but noticing the Elf, who was beginning to apply damp rags to her parched skin, the priestess quickly corrected herself. "...Master...now."

"Yes," the silk-robed woman answered. "It always was."

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

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #87 on: March 15, 2019, 03:36:02 AM »
Time passed, and the Elf—Iridni learned her name was Bes’lyth—continued to tend the desiccated skin of the Pelorian with moist, healing bandages. The wounded woman could express her gratitude only in hushed reservation, still fearing Bes'lyth might be a favorite left to spy on the two intruders. Defenseless and alone in the slave pens, Iridni and Echo must maintain their ruse.

Iridni rested with her sad, violet eyes half-lidded. “I am surprised Master let you choose me, as I am young and pretty. Not like that one.” She motioned feebly toward Echo, and even this much movement wracked her anew with agony. Echo was, in fact, quite beautiful in her exotic features, albeit slight and frail. At this moment—Iridni’s lips dry and cracked, her skin as leathery as tanned crocodile hide— there could be no question who was more pleasing to gaze upon.

“I picked you because you took a fair amount of smacks from a stick,” Bes’lyth said, shrugging.

As the Elf ministered to Iridni, she told the other two of her story, only adding to the cruel image the Pelorian had of this wretched place. Bes’lyth’s almost complete ignorance of the world outside filled Iridni with pity, and she again was conscious of how blessed she had been to experience a girlhood in the Prelacy, where she had learned that no one had to live in constant servitude and fear.

She also discovered that Bes’lyth was the personal slave of Mumed Za’am, the palemaster she and Arthur Freshwater had encountered, who had once been a simple, shunned grave digger back in Vallaki. Another who young Iridni had pitied, another who over months had manifested, not redemption, but blossoming evil.

The tired girl tried to turn the conversation now and then in some way to the tournament and Yunon, hoping that should Marcus fail, they might learn where her tutor’s body likely was. It was to no avail, however, as the slave grew tired after finishing her work with Iridni. She slunk into a corner of the tent to sleep. Echo and the priestess could not contemplate slumber, instead whispering back and forth as the hours crawled by.

Finally, Marcus arrived. “Up and out, you two. Somehow you’re both leaving here with all your parts.”

Iridni stood and marveled at how effective the ministrations of the Elf had been. She would be able to walk back to the caravans under her own strength. The priestess looked at the sleeping form of Bes’lyth. What would her healer think if she knew of Iridni’s exertion to bring back the dead body of an aged man, while not exerting a muscle to help a yearning slave girl escape? She felt such a coward, did Iridni, but she could not bear the prospect of any further punishment.

She could only smile and bob her head submissively at her captors, her concern focused only on whether Marcus had been successful.

Outside the commanding, domineering gates of the oppressive city, she turned her face skyward.  Pelor’s sun was still in its heaven and promised that all could be set right with the world. She had been uncertain whether the power of her god would ever again shine on her in such unconstrained glory.

No Hazlani followed them, and the beaten-down priestess could hold her question within her no longer. In response, Marcus drew an urn out of his pack, lifting it just enough that she and Echo could see it, then he let it slide once more from sight.

« Last Edit: March 15, 2019, 02:27:39 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 #88 on: March 16, 2019, 12:48:14 PM »
The inert, hollow urn was barren, the last traces of its prized dust released to the gentle autumn wind by the defeated priestess in the moments after her devastating failure. Wherever her aged mentor’s spirit had gone, it was beyond her reach and beyond that of Pelor’s to recall.

She wished she could be certain that Yunon’s soul was also free of the Red Academy and all these dark lands, but doubt gnawed at her, and the malformed necromantic monster still haunted her nightmares, pleading for her aid. Perhaps her own guilt and grief caused the dreams, and they would fade once she convinced herself she and the others had done all they could. She was only Pelor’s instrument, after all, and the final task of resurrection was beyond her human agency. Yunon…I pray you have mingled with the Weave, my dearest friend, and your understanding is greater now even than it was in life.

She also wished he could have known of her fruitless efforts on his behalf, whether he would have approved of them or not. Instead, his last thoughts of her were likely poor and rightfully so; seeing Bes’lyth in captivity had reinforced to Iridni her rash judgment in having Asariel spy on the Red Wizards tournament.

“That’s what would have happened to you, Asariel, if they caught you. I sent you there, and I’m sorry for being so reckless….But you are the reason we knew at all what happened to Yunon.”

“He told me to say I belonged to him if asked. He was looking after me.”

“Of course he was. He always looked after others…especially me. And he was likely angered by how thoughtless I was to send you. That will be the last memory he will have of me. Oh well….What we do is more important than what others think of us….Even those we love.”


Now that the urn was empty, of what use was there in Iridni’s hanging onto it? Letting go of it along with the dust might help the nightmares stop. No…not yet. She had a specific purpose in mind for this treasured vessel.

She unlocked the Lodge and stepped inside. Zephyr was by the fire, his handsome face tired and creased as he faced the flickering light, unaware of her quiet entrance. She knew she must still look a sight, but now was no time for vanity. Regardless of Ren’s appearance, Zephyr’s smile was warm when he saw her.

She removed her cloak, hung it on a peg, and came to kneel by the arm of his chair. He stood and leaned to plant a soft kiss on her dry lips, before drawing her to her feet. She let him do so, wrapping her arm around his neck in a fluid, familiar motion.

“My love,” she whispered hoarsely.

“Hello, my dear one,” he rested a hand against her cheek.

Her violet eyes searched his for any answer to the question that hung between them. “I am sorry about Yunon, Iridni. I know how close you were.”

The dam against all the many emotions she was trying to contain within her broke, and they flooded from her. Her injured face contorted in a spasm of grief, as she grasped him as though he were a life preserver in a maelstrom. “Oh Zephyr…I am so, so sad,” she sobbed, her voice croaking with the residual dryness in her throat.

“I know, my darling, I know. I wish I could take your grief and spare you this pain.”

“This…this is the price we pay, my love. I am learning so again and again. It is the price of having such people in our lives. Of caring for them.” She choked. “But it is just awful when the time to pay arrives.”

He passed his hand through her unruly raven hair. “Be comforted knowing that wherever he is, he is at peace. He no longer suffers like those he left behind.”

His words brought her mind back to the moment and their situation. She nodded and tried to gather herself. “Yes…that is what I hold onto. That it is only me suffering now…that he is free. Of that place.”

“He would not wish for you to be in despair, my love.”

“No,” she sniffed before adding after a pregnant pause, “nor would…you.” She looked up at him with meaning.

Zephyr’s expression softened further. “Of course not.”

The priestess felt herself growing hopeful, and she tightened her arms about him to show her appreciation.

“I have every intention of returning in one piece, my love.”

As soon as her hope began its birth, she felt it dying.

“So did Yunon.” She relaxed her clinging as one small hand went up to wipe at her face. “He gave some things to Asariel to hold for him while he competed, you know. But they were all just weight…nothing of importance. He never foresaw what happened.” She again broke into raspy sobbing.

When Zephyr did not speak, she swallowed with difficulty and continued: “But darling, I also expect you to come back. And yet, none of us knows how much time we have together. We shouldn’t squander it.”

[Redacted]

“Zephyr…there is not one good reason for me to stay.”

“Not even one?” he teased.

She tried to match his lighter mood and giggled. “You told Tess to feed Adeline. I think that was the last.”

“I tell everyone to feed Adeline! That’s probably why she is so bulky.”

“Tess seems more reliable than many you’ve told before. I think she will be a very good Wayfarer.”

“I think she will too. But the Kinship needs you as well. Despite your tendency to pick fights.”

“Zephyr…if you wish to leave me, it will break my heart, but I would accept the truth. My feelings haven’t changed, however, and, if yours have not, I need to be with you now. Most everyone who was here with us when I started is gone. Only you and Loric remain. The Kinship doesn’t need me as it once did.”

“The majority of those who were here when I started are gone as well. Except for Loric.” He smiled encouragingly. “Work with them, I know you can. You have invaluable experience and skills…”

“I will be all alone when you leave. But I'm not asking you to stay. Just that I might go with you. Isn't that what lovers do?”

“Ah, but we're not typical lovers, my darling.  We have outside responsibilities that are greater than ourselves.”

“Please, Zephyr.” She looked at him, waiting, defenseless. “Show me your mercy and compassion, not your reason. How can you see me as I am and refuse me?”

He sighed softly. “Now that’s not fair….”

Can I not act with selfishness, Pelor, just this once—and do as I wish? Must I always serve the desires of others first?

“If you want me to be fair, you must make me understand why I cannot come. I don’t understand the reasons you’ve offered.”

“You understand them; you just do not accept them.” He took her hand.

“I know where I belong, and it is with you.” She rubbed his offered hand softly, sighed, and looked away. “I cannot make you feel what you don’t. I can’t argue you into this, Zephyr. But…” she swallowed. “You are doing what you want, not what I want.”

“In this life we cannot always have what we want.”

They were silent for a moment. “Do you want me to wait for you?” she said softly.

He raised her hand and kissed it. “I do not expect to be gone as long as you are fearing, my love.”

“It is not a question of my heart, Zephyr. I would wait for you as long as you asked. I am only…disappointed.” With her free hand she again wiped her cheek. He would never understand how much he was hurting her, and she would only hurt him in turn to continue showing it.

“It seems I have disappointed many in recent times.” He rubbed the back of his neck and then softened his voice. “I ask of you to wait for me. But I also ask of you to find as much happiness as possible.”

“Zephyr…” She buried her face against his neck. “I could help you feel you don’t disappoint others. Can you not see that?”

“I know.” He held her tightly, resting his head against hers.

“You are my…hero!” The exclamation was muffled as she shuddered and sobbed in his arms.

[Redacted]

She had poured out the tenderest feelings of her heart to him, as she had the urn’s precious dust on the wind. Was that not, after all, the meaning of his name? When they parted, she felt herself as futile, barren, and empty as the vessel she bore.



« Last Edit: March 16, 2019, 02:01:42 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 #89 on: March 22, 2019, 01:57:29 AM »


The priestess rejected jealousy, a most non-Pelorian emotion and the corrupter of the sweetest—love. In all her life she had never felt it, and she would not cultivate its ensnaring vines now. Even between Ionathan and Bri, she always had wanted as much to reunite the separated pair for Io's bereft sake as to assume for herself the companionship her rival squandered.

In accepting Zephyr's request to court her, Iridni already knew of his past and his irrepressible charm toward her sex. Had she a green eye, her acceptance of his offer under those conditions would have been to countenance a lifetime of uncertainty and possessiveness. If anything, Iridni feared displacement by his male companions like Arthur Freshwater more so than by any woman, for she sensed Arthur had provided and Alin might provide in the future her beloved with a friendship that she could not: what Roland had offered Alistair, what Marcellus had offered Ionathan.

Between her and Zephyr hung the mysteries and complications of the bedroom and the inevitable conflict-filled relationship of the sexes, such as her desire for children against his reluctance. Men had their competitiveness with one another, but they also understood one another—what it was like to experience life in a male skin—more than she in her femininity ever could. Even for a man at his ease with her gender like Zephyr, Iridni would always be a foreign country to explore, rather than a familiar, comfortable smoking jacket that one need never acknowledge as distinct from oneself.

Her differences, her challenges, might be alluring, exciting, and even magical, but she recognized they could also be exhausting.
 
Did Zephyr deny her company on his trip because he went to visit an old flame—a rendezvous with the long-lost Blue, for example? No...of that much the young priestess was certain. Zephyr had integrity.

She suspected, rather, it was the male quest to affirm that he was in charge. In their previous meeting Zephyr had yielded much to her, recognizing that his denial of what she most sought—the adoption of Matty and Jacques—was a crushing of a dream, and so he compensated her with smaller requests. She considered that he may after deliberation have decided he needed to remind her of his ultimate authority, and she ought not presume that even her begging and pleading would always win her what she wanted.

If true, this thinking, this gross misunderstanding of her and her motives, stung worse than had Zephyr sought a clandestine affair. He could never possess by force and dominance what she would always willingly relinquish. Rather, she wished only to help him, to prove her worth, and in denying her that wish he evidenced either it was not in his nature to allow himself to be helped—ominous, given her own core being—or he failed completely to understand the essential characteristics of her as a loving creature, her most fundamental method and need of self-expression.

Although she did not covet his own abilities for herself, she was vicariously proud of Zephyr in his strength and command, his clarity in seeing the diplomatic answer that so many lacked the patience and courage to pursue. Such inflamed her desire to serve some cause she recognized as greater and more worthy than she, to humble herself before him, the same extinguishing of ego she felt as Pelor’s instrument. Yet she longed again for the Zephyr she alone had briefly seen: a broken man at the end of his confidence, needing her reassurance that she believed in him when he no longer believed in himself.

For now, she could do little but sigh and let both her body and heart mend from all their recent distress. She must replenish her reserves. She would do as her trustee commanded her and find what joy she could in the time remaining with Matty and Jacques. Soon, she would uncover the right place for her two dependents: most likely, a boarding school far from Port-a-Lucine but, unfortunately, also far from her. She suspected she would have to deliver to their small ears much the same speech with which Zephyr had filled her unreceptive own—that in this life we are not always able to choose what we want.

They were children, however, and she did not expect them to receive such disappointment with the same poise as she had affected. They were not immersed in the Pelorian doctrine of self-sacrifice nor bathed in the endless comfort of the Sun Father’s divine love. She hoped their young hearts were also not as vulnerable toward her as she had let herself become toward Zephyr, for the task of easing the innocent pain of their parting would fall entirely to her...their betrayer.

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

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #90 on: May 21, 2019, 04:56:44 PM »

Two months passed without a word, and Iridni buried herself in duty more deeply than ever. If her god expected her to endure for unknown reasons in these Mists for an ever-growing portion of her short life, His presence affirmed to her only by her unwavering faith, what was this lesser time to wait for a man who—mortal and frail—possessed so little power to control their mutual fates? If she did not question Pelor when His silence was so easy to break and He held her helpless in His hand, why judge Zephyr, who might be bereft of any means to return to her or even send to her a distress signal? Work was distraction and freedom...freedom from constant worry.

Her trustee had commanded her stay and provide what she could in the way of experience and aid to the Kinship. The sudden departure of both Alin and Jean created an even deeper void in the Lodge. So many Wayfarers gone, replaced by those who knew little of the Kinship’s history or traditions, instead, questioning everything and wishing to remake all in their own image.

What was the Kinship? Was it the Code? Was it Loric’s vision? Or was it the physical embodiment of the members and therefore constantly evolving as Wayfarers came and left? She wondered how much her first family—Yunon, Medea, Audric, and the rest—would feel in common with those who now shared the fireplace with her. Perhaps she had failed in not providing the vessel that would have conveyed the aspirations of that Lodge to the Lodge of the present, so that those names were little more to these Kin than meaningless labels in dusty archives, their gallant deeds too forgotten to serve as beacons of greater Kinship glories tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The priestess was wise beyond her years, but that wisdom presented itself to the world by means of a small, youthful, and feminine form. When she wore her armor, men such as the bare-chested Volkov called her names like Princess Shiny Pants. When she dressed in her priestess robes, the shell-encased Lucille made unflattering comparison to those Kin who feared to go without their armor for the threats they faced.

A Pelorian did not live for the praise of others but only to serve them by helping them to the Light, she reminded herself. And yet sometimes the criticism scalded deep within her, that she felt herself always under scrutiny and judged so quickly. For her youth among her fellow Pelorians had not prepared her for the less forgiving, less merciful gaze of both Barovia and Dementlieu.

Loric remained kind. And Laurie had come to help with the Kinship during Zephyr’s absence. She was more forceful now, than Iridni remembered from when Toben attacked the Lodge, shooting freely with her pistol and riding a horse as though she was born in a saddle. Iridni envied her that. She envied the ease with which the three of them—Zephyr, Loric, and Laurie—all socialized, countless memories and adventures shared, great evils undone, certain of love and loyalty to one another…whereas she would always be the latecomer to their tight-knit family, a delicate rope straining to bridge the chasm between them and those who would come after her.

Laurie mentioned that Loric’s birthday would occur simultaneously with the next Kinship meeting. What to get her Steward? The Pelorian knew he cared nothing for material gain, and Laurie said he would most want the Kinship to celebrate with him as his adopted family. Yet even so…some token would be nice to help remember the occasion. He did like a good cup of wine.

Iridni stole out from the Lodge two nights’ before, taking care to avoid the shadowy figures that menaced her path. A lamp was glowing in the window at the engraver’s shop, and a Red Vardo guard answered her gentle knock. For the right price, even a Barovian would burn the midnight oil.

Before sunrise she was back at home, her errand a success. The cup of friendship, more than wine, warms the heart and is never empty, said the words engraved on the golden chalice’s base. She polished the gift to a shine, all the while wishing she might take a drink from it.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2019, 07:00:42 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 #91 on: May 26, 2019, 12:44:38 PM »

Quote

Dear Maitresse,

Recent events have caused me to become quite concerned about your safety, and I have stopped by the theatre more than once to check on you. I also seek information about someone who may have recently joined your troupe--a former Morning Lordian named Shannon--although the latter now seems of less importance.

If you are receptive to a discussion, please leave word at the Tenements. I mentioned this earlier to William Thatcher, who I found in your theatre and who claimed to be in your employ, but I have little confidence in his reliability, as his attention seemed consumed by a female companion at the time.

Under the circumstances, should I receive no response, I will continue to speak to third parties until I am reassured of your well-being.

Respectfully,

Iridni Ren



Had Verinne Van Haute ever even received the Pelorian’s message? Perhaps having fled her entire life, always trying to reinvent herself in some new place, the woman was tired of running and decided simply to face her fate. In the end, her despicable ex-lover and purveyor of women had managed to kill her from the grave by the lycanthropic disease with which he infected her.

Were the accusations of who had struck her down true? Iridni little doubted it was the Ezrites, for that was of whom the priestess had sought to warn her. But was the hand truly that of Agnés? And now Rhea’s voice rose to speak what would appear to be a courageous truth against a crowded house of Verinne’s well-wishers, willing to mourn her and then sweep her under the rug as had been the fate of so many others who tried to change this vile world.

Politics and the struggle to grasp Fortune’s wheel disgusted Iridni. For so many saw its nature as one's own elevation required the trampling of others under foot, the grinding of them beneath its inexorable motion.

No doubt Verinne realized this in the final play she produced. For in truth was not the character of Felicia a would-be heroine who did what she did for love…but the dwellers in darkness twisted that passion to their own purpose? Believing with greater power she could do greater good, the heroine lost the purity she once possessed and that loss, in the end, became a tool for manipulating, torturing, and eventually destroying her.

Likewise, Rhea’s voice was not of the Light; of that, Iridni was certain. The criminal Gnome here, as always, exploited the good and honorable feelings of others for her own machinations, to divide them one against the other in hopes of self-preservation and expanding her influence. Never did the wererat seek healing and reconciliation, always vengeance, for the Darkness thrived on anger and fear.

In the end, however, did any of it matter? As surely as The Price followed a pre-ordained script, life in Port-a-Lucine was predetermined by forces seemingly impossible to influence. Even someone gifted with a personality as of consequence as Verinne in the end was crushed beneath the cycling, repetitious wheel, grist for it so that others, instead of learning from her fate, would try to employ the emotions and vacuum to better their own pointless and transitory positions.

Iridni thought, as well, that she finally understood why she had been removed from Chathold. Until now she believed Anxan Madog had abducted her to satiate his lust. His, however, had not been a purely physical desire for a young woman’s form, but he also had misunderstood the prophecy and thought she, Iridni, was a threat to his family’s position of influence—that somehow her eventual achievements as a Pelorian might mean she was destined to rule the Prelacy. Ironically, he had been the agent of the prophecy’s fulfillment, for had she remained in Almor she would have never been forced to become more than her dream of healer, wife, and mother.

Perhaps that was the lesson of wisdom she should apply. Rather than rack her brain to know which was the path of light between Rhea and Agnés…accept that her choosing was of no consequence. Fate would play out as it would, and she should exert her efforts in the smaller matters that she could be certain where the Light shined and where darkness dwelt.

The simplicity of black and white, not the shades of gray so prevalent in Port: One of the first lessons Father Miklos had taught her was that, while the undead are irredeemable and must be destroyed, lycanthropes are tragic creatures, victims of a malevolent, bestial disease beyond their control. Knowing so much of Verinne's history, Iridni had always been uncertain that the Maitresse became truly benevolent. Could the priestess trust her own judgment, then, as to who was good and who was evil between Agnés and Rhea?

Nevertheless, she had concerns here she not could completely abandon. As intrigue and violence once more descended over the city, the question of what to do with those concerns once more remained unanswered. Verinne’s plans had offered a possible solution, and Iridni had managed to accumulate the funds she thought sufficient for room, board, and education. Would Verinne’s dream go on, regardless of the dreamer’s death, or would that, too, be pulverized as grist for Fortune’s relentless, preordained wheel?


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

Iridni Ren

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« Reply #92 on: June 05, 2019, 12:03:44 AM »


Sorayanna was dead but free. Free of all that Iridni most dreaded and was the most insidious hazard of the work the Kinship performed. The Pelorian's violet eyes perused the archives and moistened at all the names of so many Kin who had fallen victim to an undead life beyond the grave. Fear not that which destroys the body, but that which destroys the soul.

If Zephyr failed to return to her...Iridni was the last of the Wayfarers from when she joined the Kinship. She felt all alone in her panic and weakness. Laurie had been so casual about the futility of their shared struggle, saying perhaps they would at least end much evil before they perished.

I don't want to die! a panicked voice wailed inside her. And if I should die, let me rest, Pelor: please, I don't want to come back as some hellish abomination.

The mighty god of the small priestess was silent.

She stared at the recruitment poster in her hand and almost let it drop to the floor. Could she go on, go on asking others to join a cause that after more than two years seemed more futile than ever? The Death Singer was gone, but that would never bring back Sorayanna or undo all the suffering the Pelorian's Kin had endured during her time of imprisonment. Iridni thought of the tongue she had found on the evil altar and hoped it had not been Sorayanna's.

For that matter, who were the parents of the sacrificed child she had passed in seeking the final summoned demon of her arch nemesis? She did not wish her heart to become so hardened that she no longer hurt at such a sight...but how could it not, when she experienced such sights again and again?

Pelor...Thy servant beseeches Thee...she canst endure longer without any comfort. Let me not break and my despair be a stumbling block to others.

She felt both so old and so young. Were she to escape from here, she had most of her years ahead of her, but, as a Wayfarer, for the moment, she was the oldest.

Strengthen me, Pelor. Return to me, my Zephyr. My own strength is at an end!


« Last Edit: June 05, 2019, 12:28:17 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 #93 on: June 08, 2019, 03:08:41 AM »

.

.

.

.


Shafts of bright light danced into the plain chamber and across the floor, touching Iridni’s sleeping face as the sun rose on the first day of spring. She awoke to the sound of someone’s singing in the hall outside. She wrapped a soft, warm robe around her white nightgown and cautiously cracked the door to see who wrought the morning melody.

An elderly matron in rustic dress scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees, glancing up at Iridni cheerfully and stopping in mid-note. “Did I wake the little doamna?” the heavy washerwoman asked, grinning with only a handful of unruly teeth.

The servant’s mirthful mood was infectious. “Tis of no matter, granny,” Iridni answered. “On this glorious day I should have greeted the dawn…not remained in the clutches of slothful sleep.”

“Pshaw, child. You should sleep late, or you’ll wind up like me. I neglected my beauty rest and now see what I’ve become!” The great bosom heaved with a laugh that sent bubbles from her wash bucket wafting into the air.

“You have such a lovely voice,” Iridni said tactfully. “Next to birdsong, I can think of no more pleasant noise to have been awakened by.”

“Is that so, my little dark-haired angel?” The washerwoman looked as pleased as the Pelorian had ever seen a Barovian appear.

“What was that you were singing?”

“Eh, nothing. Just a song me tată used to walk off to the mines with on his lips.”

“A work song?”

“A pastime, aye.” The woman’s egg-like nose had begun to run, and she snorted, then swallowed an audibly thick fluid. “I reckon I ought to git back to it, child. The master of the house don’t like me taking overmuch time prettifying his floors for ‘im.”

The Pelorian nodded and pushed the heavy door closed, before sitting back down on her bed, alone once more in her own world and thoughts. The pleasant singing resumed.

Medea has been so right about her…how spoiled she was. How could she have so much self-pity when she considered all her undeserved blessings? She had lost many she loved, true, but she had once enjoyed the pleasure of their company and friendship while little earning it. She was like a child who had been given sweets, eaten them all, and wailed when no more were forthcoming.

They had taken her in, the Kinship had, protected and sheltered her, and allowed her to grow into the woman she was, the woman she was becoming. And now when the torch had passed to her, she wanted to run away and weep, rather than face her duty, hold that torch aloft, do what was rightly expected of her, and go on. She who had been granted greater gifts by Pelor than any Ren before her sobbed in her weakness and pleaded for yet more strength from her god. Worse, begged to be released from her trials, her service.

The aged woman outside her door drove Iridni to shame. How many years had this Barovian peasant lived by Lake Zarovich, never knowing the peaceful bliss of Chathold but only the Count’s evil reign? And yet in her gray and ancient years, she smiled and sang while she labored, her old and painful knees bearing her ample girth against an unyielding hardwood floor. The young priestess yet in the bloom of life and health, on the other hand, was letting herself slowly forget what it meant to be happy.

Loric said Zephyr was well, and in her selfishness, the Pelorean had taken no delight in this news but only disappointment that her love’s return did not seem imminent. When she considered how many were lost to her finally and forever, such hope should have been a dearer thing.

She knelt by her bed and prayed:

Thy child, my Father, has understood Thy divine light, and she begs pardon. She is content to eat the bread of sorrow as long as Thou desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness, at which others eat, until the day set by Thee. Oh! Pelor, send us all away justified. May all those who are not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. If it is needful that the table be purified by a soul who loves Thee, then I desire to eat this bread of trial until it pleases Thee to bring me into Thy bright Kingdom.

Scattered about the room were her gloves, her awkward boots, her armor…and Radiant Servant. The implements of her craft were infused with her own life force such that, as much as parting from them lightened the weight she tired of bearing, yet it also made her feel weak and vulnerable. Incomplete.

She slipped off the robe, then her gown, and once more encased herself in hide and metal. Iridni could not disguise her height, but otherwise the transformation into armored anonymity left scant evidence of the small woman who had spent the night before crying alone into her pillow.

« Last Edit: June 08, 2019, 11:09:39 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 #94 on: June 15, 2019, 03:14:50 AM »


Spoiler: show

Zephyr was home...and Zephyr was yet hers.


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