Somehow, Melsande is able to fight through her crushed laryx and bruised ego. As she laid there in the rubble pile that the force of Lawgiver’s fist created she found Arushalae. She said that she was in the Redoubt and that I needed to be quick because “Jarunica” comes for her. She told me that she could tell me more when I slept, because this way of communicating was dangerous. I sighed, but it was good to know that she was still alive. Sleeping wouldn’t come easily or quickly though.
My ire with Melisande still was not replaced with pity for her condition. I asked her to find Anevia now, and without complaint she did so. I watched the scrying bowl as the water changed to a vision of Anevia. The water shimmered into a depiction of a sparse, but well-appointed and maintained room. Perhaps in a manor. She was arguing with someone but she didn’t have her weapons out. And then suddenly she was stabbed. The body of Avenia as I knew her then changed into the physique of a man. Some of the features in her face remained familiar, and I remembered the story we had heard of Irabeth and the sacrifices they had made so that Anevia could live life as a woman. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like Arliss and Kaleda were also there, limp and unmoving, and their faces were covered with porcelain masks. The person in the vision didn’t seem to consider making sure that Anevia was dead, and the picture gradually greyed out until I was just staring at the bottom of the beaten scrying bowl.
I sprung up from Melisande’s side and ran hurriedly to find anyone to help me save our friends.
What I DID not expect to see was Reginald in chains, being escorted to a jail cell. I never did get the entire story from Calder or Reginald but what I heard was that after Lawgiver gave a reprieve on Melisande’s sentence Reginald immediately went to talk to the paladins. He told them that he was stepping down from his post as the Captain (which in fact wasn’t his post at all – it was Arliss’s but the paladin’s didn’t remember him). He said some things about not agreeing with the decisions being made, and that he had to follow his heart and sense of virtue and he needed to leave. What I do not know is what was said that made Calder so fearfully angry that he would have Reginald arrested. Neither one bothered to tell me, and I hope it was a case of both being embarrassed of their actions and not wanting to recount the tale.
Reginald seemed set on leaving us when he was released from the cell. I begged him to say. I told him what I saw in the scrying bowl. I knew there was countless times that I would have died it if weren’t for Reginald.
Things were falling apart. Or actually have fallen apart. Melisande was broken, unrepentant, and likely unwilling to cooperate. Reginald was leaving us. I can’t imagine what was happening with Calder to make him act like this. We were all being stressed to the point of breaking and beyond. Looking back on everything that was happening then, I cannot believe that I was still standing and trying to fix things. I think writing this now, I’m feeling the pain of the loss of my mother more sharply now than I did then. Things just needed to be done and I couldn’t let others suffer because we were taxed beyond functioning properly.
I pulled my rank on the guard in front of Reginald’s cage. I told him that Calder didn’t mean what he did, and I was officially releasing Reginald. Whether it was for love of Reginald or actual acknowledgement of my rank over Calder (which I didn’t have, but really there was no established structure in the higher ranks) the guard accepted my reasoning and released Reginald.
It was difficult to pull everyone together. I don’t want to recount exactly how difficult, because honestly in the time I felt shame over it. It shouldn’t have been so hard to get our group together to save our friends. Melisande seemed to fall instantly into a deep depression. She didn’t care what we did with her, but she also didn’t want to help. She refused to apologize or renounce what she did. Nor did she acknowledge the danger and sacrifice that Leon was making by accepting the challenge of reforming her in the span of a month. In the end, I only got Melisande in the carriage by physically putting her there. None of us trusted her enough to leave her in Dresen.
Honestly, it was a miracle that Reginald didn’t kill her on the spot. He refused to sit in the carriage at all, and instead rode up front. Calder was brooding and silent. Leon looked as frustrated and angry as I felt. But yet, I had to sleep. I had to find out more about Arushalae’s situation and how to get to her.
It was nearly impossible through the bickering. Perhaps the Goddess of dreams helped me. Perhaps it was the fact that I screamed at everyone against all that is characteristically me. Perhaps it was because I was sleeping in a carriage that Avashniel had summoned (Melisande had refused). The carriage was pulled by unicorns with dove wings, and had a simple elegant beauty that I didn’t know Avashniel had appreciated. Perhaps I was just exhausted beyond continued consciousness no matter what the condition. But I did sleep.
My mind awoke in a sparse room. Immediately I felt the urge to vomit. My mind revolted violently against the intrusion. It was as if no time had passed since Descari’s curse. My subconcious couldn’t decide if this was real or fake, if I had been here the whole time, my whole life. I completely forgot that I was sleeping. I don’t know if I was shaking and sick in the carriage or if was just in my mind. Arushalae was there though, I recognized her. She told me that she was in the middle of a siege in The Redoubt. There was a small stronghold there and she was trapped in a tower. She told me that the Bell of Mercy was protecting her and keeping her safe for the time being but that the Demon Lord of Heracies Sefkesh and her minion Jarunika were pursuing her. She told me that she found out where the Nahidrian crystals were being mined and processed. She said that as long as the bell is ringing then the protections of the dream world will keep her safe.
It was hard for my mind to exist in this place. My body fought the connection and it was quickly severed after the conversation was over.
I awoke feeling dizzy and more ill than I felt in a long while. Leon wait for me to blearily open my eyes and then told me that Reginald had left us. He couldn’t work with Melisande, and for Melisande’s part, she wasn’t helping the situation. Reginald had guided the carriage to the temple of Abadar that we had passed on the way to reclaim Dresen. His family had started arriving and felt that the world would be better served there. They didn’t want to wake me when they knew I was communicating with Arushalae.
I was angry at all of them for all of their unwillingness to concede anything. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t look at Irabeth’s face again if I knew I hadn’t done everything I could to save Anevia. I hadn’t seen Gaius in the scrying bowl but I could only assume that he was there too. Gaius… kidnapped by demons once, and then whoever this was so soon afterwards. I felt guilty for what happened to him. I was the one who had sent him away from Claw Mountain and then he had gone missing. Goddess, no where is safe. I don’t think there’s a place in the world that is. Not in my world. My somber thoughts aren’t helped by the fact that Melisande keeps muttering, “We’re all dead” over and over.
Suddenly the carriage stopped and interrupted all of our certainly disparate thoughts. We hadn’t been travelling long enough to reach our ultimate destination. We got out of the carriage and were greeted by a faintly angelic being. The being was tainted however – it was inky black in color, it was covered in chains and locks and had one hand outstretched to us. The unicorns that pulled our carriage were bowing to this creature.
It was hard not to be alarmed at this creature. He was beautiful but damaged, and wrong. It felt like a warning. Something to be afraid of deeply, something I never knew I should be afraid of. He introduced himself as Izalmir and stopped us to warn us that where we were going was dangerous. He said that his brothers of the angelic host were in the manor house that we were headed for, and they were framing him in order to proceed with a plan that was unwholesome.
I instantly felt a connection with Izalmir. I suppose though, that if I truly am introspective about myself, I often feel connections with everyone I meet. I liked him though. His mood was sullen, but he was willing to tell us about himself. He told us that he had turned his back on the angelic host and he was now a fallen angel. He repented his actions and tried to rejoin the angels, but was now forced to wear chains until his locks could be undone. If there were a list (and the list would be quite long now) of people I wanted to help, he would be on it now. We asked him to join us to try to get the angels to return our friends. He said he could not fight his brothers and sisters – he seemed to think that it would be impossible to convince them that what they’re doing is wrong.
I told him that he was welcome in Dresen, and that he could earn his redemption fighting alongside us. He seemed to consider the offer and agreed to aid us if we ever needed it. I shook his hand, and at that moment one of his locks fell off of his chains. His face was stoic, but I can imagine that losing even one lock would be a relief. I felt badly for him, I know what loneliness feels like, and it seems impossible that this being isn’t painfully lonely. It seems like I am drawn to the people who are the hardest to touch – Halldron, Izalmir, Arushalae… Avashniel. I want to bring them joy and comfort, but I’m never successful. Tenacity, I hope, will work eventually. I hope.
He gave me the lock and he said that if I lock it again, he will hear it and come to aid us. We thanked him and continued on our journey. As we rode, I took the time to contact Avashniel, because he had a book on angels (as grim as the title was), and could possibly give insight into why they were behaving this way. The spell took long minutes to set up, and I had never cast it before but I had studied it while reading in Avashniel’s quarters. Casting a spell without the help of the Goddess was a strange sensation. The energy felt foreign in my hands and my veins. It was just a small and limited message spell but I was proud of myself for being able to command enough arcane magic to do it. I asked him if we had to kill them or if he knew of another way to bargain with angels. None of us were particularly keen on killing angels. He responded saying that they are very difficult to deal with and are dangerous, and to be careful. It wasn’t exactly any help at all.
We reached a strange forest. It was the lushest forest I had ever seen, though it was sparse and bare compared to forests I’ve seen since. There were few trees but they were large and menacing. The ground seemed dead though, so the fact that these trees grew here was unsettling. As we continued our quarrels grew less and less important as the forest grew more strange. Saplings hovered upside down in the air, we saw a short, stout wall that would pass as a one commonly used for a pasture if it weren’t for the fact that it was made out of red, dripping eyes. Shadows in this place were also wrong. Some objects had shadows that were too long, or hanging from the wrong direction. Mushrooms and rocks hovered a few inches off the ground before plopping back in their places. Warbled echos coming from no where grew softer and then louder.
Despite the odd surroundings nothing evil befell our passage. We found the manor house – it was as grand as I had seen in the vision Arushalae gave me. Calder remarked that it could have easily been plucked right from the Chelaxian countryside, and the look on Melisande’s somber face seemed to agree with him.
We decided that since we were dealing with angels it would probably be best if we just knocked on the door and tried to reason with them. We were greeted at the door by an almost androgynous, impeccably dressed Chlaxian woman. She called herself “Steward Rhodette” and she wore a featureless silver mask. We told her that we were looking for our friends and that we sought to speak with the authority of the house. Her only response was that “if your friends are here then they weren’t good friends at all.” The comment didn’t make much sense at the time.
We were led to a sitting chamber that was well appointed in the Chelaxian style. There was fresh food and water sitting on the table. I was too nervous to eat, and it seemed suspicious that they had food ready for guests who were uninvited. She asked us to wait and quickly shut and locked the door behind her. Every sense of danger in all my fingers and toes and in my chest were all screaming to be let out of here. Calder and Melisande seemed happy to play the Chelaxian nobles that they already were. We had no other recourse really so Calder quickly ran down the rules of Chelaxian society. Well, some of them anyway. It seemed like there were quite a lot and it quickly overwhelmed me. My nerves were frayed from being so close to our friend’s kidnappers but trying to be civil about their rescue. I tried to learn, but I thought it was best to let Calder lead the negotiations.
We were left in the room for quite some time. I could feel my heart pounding in my neck and thrumming in my ears. It was almost impossible to stay seated in that waiting room. Leon looked about as concerned as I did, but Calder seemed calmer than I’d ever seen him. I just wanted our friends back. I felt out of place in this house. Probably as out of place as the house was in the Worldwound. As they spoke about all the rules of curtseying and elegant grace I became keenly aware of all the noise my armor made every time it moved.
After an indeterminable amount of time the door to this room unlocked and opened. I was stunned to silence at the face that looked back at us. The woman who greeted us had hair like finely spun gold, and skin that was pale but shone golden when the light of candles in the room caressed her skin in just the right way. She looked…just like me. I had never seen someone who looked so similar to me. I quickly wondered if all angels looked like her. If maybe I had been misplaced in life, and there was truly a place that I belonged. But I knew that I wasn’t an angel, it was a coincidence as she confirmed when I mentioned our similarity to her. She said “beauty springs in many places.” She introduced herself as Sielle, and she was clearly an angel and not a servant of the house.
She insisted that we leave our weapons at the door of the manor. None of us was very comfortable with that, but neither were we interested in fighting these angels so we complied. She took us down a long corridor that lead ultimately to a basement. It wasn’t a dank place, but it was cooler and darker than the rest of the home.
There was a being at the opposite side of a long room. The room was relatively dimly lit and cages lined the walkway leading to the man. Calder took the lead and introduced us as servants and friends of the heavenly host. The being had stark black and silver hair and was wearing dark robes and a mask. If Izalmir hadn’t told us that we were going to encounter angels, then I wouldn’t have thought that this man was one. But it seems that angels have as varied physiques and coloration as humans. There were several other beings in masks that stood near him on a slightly raised platform. The room was lined in gilded cages. While Calder introduced us I began to realize that the forms in the cages were those of our stolen friends.
I couldn’t help myself. I ran over to Gaius’s cage. Melisande tries to run to Arliss’s but Leon prevents her from doing it. I can’t say I blame him, she had been acting odd and fatalistic the whole way here, there was no telling what she’d do. It was pretty clear that our diplomatic situation here was delicate. When I started to run over to Gaius’s cage our host, who had been named Sir Durgo, moved to stop me but the female angel Sielle told him that it was fine.
Things went so wrong so quickly. Our friends were unconcious and attached to machines. The machines had tubes attached to them that slinked ominiously against the wall and then disappeared behind where Sir Durgo and the other angels stood. There was some sort of control mechanism on that wall too, but little else.
I quickly became aware that these angels didn’t rationalize things the same way that we did. It was also very difficult to be calm and rational when our friends were being imprisoned for no reason. We tried to tell them that these people were GOOD people and were helping our cause – that without them it would be probable that our fight against the demons would fail on Golarion.
Sir Durgo didn’t agree. He said that they were taken because they weren’t good, and they quite possibly could bring Dresen to the ground. He said it with a fanaticism that reminded me of a paladin’s unrelenting support of his code, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. I tried to see it their way because both Izalmir and Avashiel said that they were stubborn creatures. Eventually though my impatience wore out. I spent more effort trying to figure out how to unplug Gaius (and if that would even fix anything) than talking to Sir Durgo. Leon took over most of the talking… and he perhaps said some things that were condescending. They were true and understandable, but really just served to make Sir Durgo angry. I’m sure my toying with the machine didn’t help much either.
Sir Durgo warned us to leave. I will give him that credit. He told us many, many times to leave. The violent tone in his voice was unmistakable. I couldn’t leave though. The violence was flowing through my veins just as much as it was flowing through his. I wouldn’t leave without our friends. Since he now knew how devoted we were to getting them back there was no telling what he would do to them if we left and returned later. I couldn’t let them down, not when they all had saved me and supported me. These were the only friends that I had in the world. Gaius who taught me how to be an Aasimar, who filled me with hope and joy; Anevia who had a wife waiting for her in Dresen, who had sacrificed so much for the Crusade; Kaleda who’s secrets were deeply hidden, but clearly painful; Aaron – possibly the kindest, most genuine person in the world, and Sociel was here too being forced to paint the eerie porcelain masks; Arliss, who never really seemed to have love for me, but was so respected by the Crusaders that we couldn’t function without him. These were all people who would be worth dying for.
He told us that the machine had been given to them. I suppose he felt it was beneath him to remember a mortal’s name, because he couldn’t remember who had given it to him. Or perhaps he was lying. I felt certain that Zanthir Vang was behind this machine having seen evidence of his other arcane mechanisms. He told us that the machine took living humans and somehow extracted their souls and sent them to heaven to fight in the holy war that was being waged in the celestial realm. He said that these people were taken because they were not “good.” In this way he felt that what he was doing was acceptable because evil souls were being used for a good purpose. We couldn’t convince him otherwise. I felt an intense ball of hatred and frustration build inside of me. I am sure Sir Durgo was feeling it towards us. Things were going to erupt in bloodshed in moments – but that wouldn’t help us get our friends back.
It was clear that Sir Durgo, after arguing with us for a great long while, was not going to hand back our friends. He was not going to help us retrieve their souls. The bars on the cages were much too difficult to bend or break – we were going to need time to get them out. But that wouldn’t put their souls back in their bodies. I thought perhaps if I could see the control panel I could reverse it somehow. So I did the only thing I thought I could do – I dropped my weapons.
It seemed like the other angels didn’t actually want to attack us – or were at least much more reluctant. I was hoping that they would allow me to approach the control panel, that they would encourage Sir Durgo to not kill an unarmed aasimar. It was a weak hope, but there weren’t any good options. Sir Durgo continually argued with the others as I approached. I was mere steps away from the platform before he warned me to not get any closer. Slowly, I walked up the steps anyway.
Like I had hoped, the others kept him from attacking me. I reached the panel in the wall. To my complete and utter disappointment I had no idea how the panel worked. It was completely foreign. As I got closer to the panel, Sir Durgo had gone to Anevia’s cage. He threatened to do something to her if I touched it. I was spilling over with frustration that was turning into cool despair. Without knowing how the machine worked I couldn’t do anything. At this point though, there was no more time to leave peacefully – Durgo would not allow it, and I honestly could never have stepped out of that room without them. I wouldn’t allow myself to go.
There was only one option left and I knew it was a bad option the moment I had done it. I pulled Melisande’s dagger out from behind my cloak. Earlier in the day, she had given it to me and begged me to kill her with it. In her (seemingly) great despair I thought it was odd that I was the one about to do the crazy thing. Perhaps it was her dagger’s influence. I plunged it into the control panel of the machine. I immediately regretted it. I pulled my hand away from the hilt like it had immediately gone molten hot. I looked up and saw Sielle, and saw my own desperation and horror reflected in her eyes.
Sir Durgo had pulled out the tube in Anevia’s back and she slumped over. I watched her, and I knew she was dead. I don’t think I could have done anything to save her; this whole situation, unbeknownst to us, was doomed from the start. If it weren’t for the fact that others were still alive and needed to get out, I wouldn’t have minded if Sir Durgo had cut me down in that moment. I wouldn’t have fought it. I had failed, and the only thing I could do was try to prevent everyone from dying.
The others seemed to have a similar idea. Calder summoned a being, a red woman, likely Arozni, who I’ve seen the statue of and who I had seen many times before. She stood fiercely by his side. Leon summons a hound archon. It was clear that we knew that we were going to need all the help we could get.
Sir Durgo pulls off his mask and is consumed in white fire. The other angels similarly unveil their angelic forms. They are glorious and horrible all at once. The woman Sielle, unveils her wings and her sword, and it was once again as if I were staring into a mirrored reflection. I felt as though we couldn’t defeat these beings, and more than that – that we shouldn’t hurt them.
I ran through and past Sir Durgo and all the angels still on the platform. Remarkably, none of them decided to take their chance to attack me while I was unarmed. I didn’t even think about attacking them. My only focus was to get as many of my friends out of here as possible. I ran straight to Gaius’s cage and picked up my weapon, hacking at the lock as viciously as I could. It was awkward trying to hit the lock in just the right place, and the material it was made out of was high quality. My despair deepened, but I didn’t stop what I was doing.
Goddess knows what truly in the next furtive, bloody, moments. I heard a bone-cracking scream, if it could even be called that. There was the scent of lavander, and also the ticking clockwork that I’ve come to know as Lawgiver’s cadence. I took a brief glance around the room and death had already surrounded me. Inexplicably, the demon called Minago was in the center of the room battling (and eviscerating) Sir Durgo. Her presence could only be explained by the candle burning near Melisande, which I recognized as the soul-leech that Iritania, the traitor, had placed around the camp so many short weeks ago. Sir Durgo was not fairing well against her, his white fire wings being sliced off neatly from his body one by one.
I finally knocked the lock off of Gaius’s cage and then shouted for Leon. Leon had been trying to break Sociel from his chains. I saw him run toward an angel at the room’s exit and then suddenly disappear.
I ran in front of Sir Durgo, hoping that I could block a killing blow, but it seemed that his injuries were far too great for him to survive anyway. Off to my right Lawgiver was striking out at a crouching Melisande, he encountered a barrier around her that was blocking his vicious attacks. But behind Melisande was the devil lord that we had all had come to know, who’s name I won’t mention. They start to speak to each other, while Melisande magically binds Lawgiver in chains. All I could hear over the roar of battle was “THIS IS MINE” being shouted by the still-injured devil.
I wasn’t able to keep Minhago busy enough. The power and speed of this demon overwhelmed me quickly. She buried a gruesome blade into my skin over and over, a burning vicious and hot sprung deeply from the wound, but I held my ground hoping that I could keep her busy enough for some of the others to get away. I was completely wrong. While continuing to fight me, Minhago threw blades at Gaius and the golden angel. They buried deeply in their chests and the skin started to burn away into dust. I saw Sielle stumble and scream silently as her chest and throat dissolved, I couldn’t bare to look at Gaius. Everyone was dying around me, and I couldn’t save anyone.
A blade hits Calder in the arm and immediately my despair floods over. I run to him, allowing the chance for Minhago to strike at me at her will. Honestly, I was already so injured that I can’t remember if she sliced me open then, or had let me run away. I picked Calder up, dragging him, pulling as quickly as I could toward the exit. I could hear more of Minhago’s blades bury themselves into more of my friends. Just as I got to the door, Calder’s weight suddenly lessened, and I saw, to my unending horror, that the arms I had been dragging him by had dissolved into dust. He was gone.
I was at the exit of the room. I stared around, and saw the blue souls of everyone I loved raising into oblivion. I couldn’t save them. Even if I did they’d immediately be killed again. A few precious seconds ticked by while I decided if I was going to stay and die with them or if I was going to go so at least everyone could know what happened. I watched Minhago stalk toward me. She was taking her time, her steps menacingly slow. I wasn’t afraid to die, it would be a mercy after what happened here. I couldn’t live with the guilt. Leon suddenly appeared behind me as saw the scene as I saw it. I was relieved, he could escape and tell everyone what happened. I could stay.