With my mind full of horrors that were undone we arrived back in Dresen to find it had changed again. We found a new retinue had arrived in a carriage that looked expensive and out of place in our rebuilding but still clearly war stricken town. Leon and I approached the carriage, which had parked outside of an inn that I had never seen, and found that we were expected. A man, with an affected accent, and a very fine manner of dress said that his Lady Marikii was a dignitary from another land and had chided us for the lack of attention she was getting from the leadership of the city. I tried to explain that we weren’t in town until just a moment ago but it didn’t seem like a reasonable response to the man. He said his name was Darwin and that we should work through him if we wanted to call upon the Lady.
I was weary. Really, too weary for all of this. The rules of the aristocracy didn’t make sense to me and didn’t have a place in my life. Even the nobles in Nerocyan knew the importance of the Crucade and sacrificed their own resources to support it. I’d never had the chance to meet a Nerocyan noble (save for the Queen herself), but I don’t imagine they’d expect needless pomp. Despite my exhaustion, Drezen needed every helping hand it could get so we went up to see Lady Marikii. The porter called Darwin tried to get us to remove our shoes but I couldn’t see the reason for it so we did not.
The Lady appeared finally, she had apparently rented all the rooms of the second floor of this inn. Perhaps she even had it built for her own purposes, like I said, I hadn’t seen it before. She was a tall elven woman, very beautiful, in a dress that was dripping with gems and other added finery. I couldn’t imagine what a dress like that would cost, nor why someone would wear it at an inn. If I’m honest though, there was a brief but strong bolt of jealousy that overtook me when I saw her. She was exceedingly beautiful, and also elven – I knew Avashniel would want to meet her, and might even want to spend time with her. I also knew that Avashniel wasn’t the kind of person who would kiss me and change his mind because he saw an elven woman. I think it takes Avashniel an exceedingly long time to ponder and change his mind, and even longer to register how he feels. So I wasn’t exactly worried, but I did feel irrationally jealous.
Lady Marikii didn’t tell us much. She said that she was from “the Kingdom of the North” which confused me because as far as I knew there was nothing north of the Worldwound. I’m not a stranger to realizing that I’m wrong though so I resolved to ask Avashniel about it later. Leon, the master of Sarcoras, didn’t seem to know anything about the Kingdom of the North either, which was also surprising. She said that her lands had been defeated so she came down to Dresen in hopes of allying with us and garnering our aid when we able to give it. I was reluctant of course. A noble? The last one in her lands…survived a journey through demon infested territory WITH all of her jewelry and clothing just so she could ally with us? It seemed unlikely. My tired brain wasn’t able to come up with options below the surface of what she said though. I was never good at sussing out when people were lying to me, and what for. She seemed to be telling the truth, I could not sense a lie, but it still seemed far-fetched.
Fortunately, she let us go after introducing herself. I promised her that I would tell the council about her offer, but it seemed that she already knew Gwerm at least. My mind was still full from things that had happened in the Manor, and I was long past tired. Just as magically-healed wounds still might ache in places that they no longer bleed from, so too it seems that exhaustion does not reset itself when you relive hours of time.
I went to Avashniel. He has become much more to me than the object of my affection. He has become a confidante for me and his company is a refuge. There are many things in this world that I do not understand, and will not pretend to. Sometimes Avashniel is able to explain those things to me. Due to the strange and violent time that we live in, many times he cannot explain what I tell him. Or, I suspect, many times he chooses not to. In any case, often times I feel unburdened with the telling and so I seek him out. I wish I could feel completely at ease in his company, but it’s impossible when you know someone is holding back information from you.
I don’t think he means to cause me harm by doing so, but it certainly harms my ability to feel accepted and valued. His behavior makes me feel that he does not trust me. But I can’t force him to let go of his tightened grip on his thoughts; I have asked, borderline begged, him for him to trust me. I won’t anymore. I will be patient, and I will take whatever opportunities he gives me to show him that I’m worthy of his confidence and trust. When I had finally given up trying to figure out his feelings and set about enjoying his companionship – then his kissed me. Perhaps if I can show similar quiet patience, he will allow me to hear more of his thoughts. It will be difficult.
I told him what happened in the manor house in a sentence or two. It was difficult to speak about, I didn’t want to tell him how overmatched we were against Minhago. It hurt too much to say how helpless I felt and how likely it was that I would have died with them. In the moment only a miracle would have saved us from death, and though the miracle happened this time there would be another moment soon where the miracle wouldn’t come. I tried to tell him many times in the past that our time together was limited, but I couldn’t do it this time. It was too real, I was too right. They were words that he didn’t want to hear and refused consider and I didn’t want to speak them anymore.
I tried to distract him from those truths by telling him about the encounter with the Aroden priest and what happened to Calder. He told me that time magic was exceedingly rare and that if when it happened it only changed time by seconds or minutes, not hours like we had experienced. I’m not sure if the distraction worked, even though I think I’m getting better at reading the subtle movements of his face and the intonation of his words, he is on the whole impossible to read with any certainty.
I also told him about the angel who looked like me. Though I never really questioned the origin of my birth there was always a remote questioning. It was uncommon for people my parent’s age to bear children, and truly, their only other true-born children were 20 or more years older than I was. But aasimar births are rare to begin with – would the uncommonness of their age and the rarity of aasimar birth make it impossible that I was their child? I had never thought so. But the similarity between the golden angel Sielle and myself was too much to ignore. I questioned him about it, and what his thoughts were. I thought immediately he would say something about celestials and visual similarities but he didn’t – he got all tense and locked up.
I was suddenly faced with the possibility that my whimsical notion that perhaps I was an angel and not an aasimar… wasn’t whimsical at all. It was clear that the possibility had crossed his mind as well! He absolutely refused to elaborate his thoughts – in truth we almost argued. I’m tired of having things kept from me! But before it became too heated I relented. I didn’t want to argue with him – it wouldn’t do any good. I did make him promise that if he ever confirms the theory in his head that he would tell me. He did make that promise, and I was happy with that. He has kept things from me – even lied to me on occassion, but I do not feel that he would break a promise. I wish he wouldn’t keep things from me though, or lie – in both those cases I am certain he thinks he’s protecting me, but I’m not a child, there’s no need for it.
I left feeling a little uncertain and unwell. I wished he held out his arms to me, or kissed me or said he was glad to see me well. And then we argued. Our fledgling of a romantic relationship could barely even be called that, it made me uneasy to leave on a less than positive note. I couldn’t stay though, there were others that were waiting on news of their loved ones, and I owed it to them to tell them as soon as I was able.
I went to find Halldron after I told Irabeth that Anevia was alive and that we had a plan to make her well. Halldron had told us about the appearance of green shaded ghosts (as opposed to the healthy shade of blue)… it seemed like a long while ago. I had asked the Neathholmers to look into it, and it turned out, they were looking into it on their own, but it would make me feel better if I knew it had been handled.
I walked into the cemetery and toward the crypt to find Halldron. I liked talking to him, he has become a confidante like no one else has. While it’s true that I tell almost everything to Avashniel, there’s still the fear that he’ll reject me from his presence. I guess he just did it too many times in the beginning; I still flinch when I walk in the door. I don’t have to worry about that with Halldron. He has the added benefit of knowing the Goddess’s grace.
I knew something was wrong when I made it through the gate of the cemetery without Halldron coming to meet me. He is usually very attentive to the comings and goings of the cemetary, and he’s never not come to greet me. I called out his name and after a minute or two I began to see his form slowly appear from the ground.
After I spoke to him for only a few seconds I realized that there was something deeply wrong with him. His voice was distant and monotonous – I suppose like I would imagine a normal ghost to be. It was like he was missing his soul… which clearly wasn’t true because he doesn’t have anything else. I was worried that this was what normally happened to ghosts after they’ve spent too much time lingering. Or else perhaps this is what happens when a ghost achieves his purpose on earth, perhaps they slowly fade. I wasn’t okay with either scenario. I drew upon the Goddess’s grace and coated my hands with her light allowing me the ability to touch his spectral form. Usually this power is only used to attack ghosts and their like, but apparently it was just as useful to actually allow just physical contact with a ghost. I guess not many people want to. I rubbed my hands down his arms and could feel a sort of matter there, it wasn’t as dense as a normal person but there was a body. I looked into his eyes and I could tell he wasn’t seeing me, this act wasn’t affecting him as it had before. I was losing him. I said goodbye to him, trying not to alarm him (not that I thought anything would have alarmed him in that state) and I went straight down to the Neathholmers.
There seemed to be a lot less of them around, but I did find Chief Sull. He told me that Lann was out with some of the Neathholmers and that they were working on the problem. I trusted him of course, but I didn’t like not being involved. Not when Halldron was getting sick now too. But forcing my way into helping them wouldn’t make things progress any faster – they were already gone. So really I just had to let it take its course.
Chief Sull told me that Leon had already been by and told them that Calder was dead. I felt struck. I never for a moment thought that Calder had died. Everyone in that room had died, didn’t they? And now they were all alive in the cathedral under Sociel’s care. There was no reason to think that Calder had stayed dead too. Certainly he was no longer with us, the priest of Aroden had taken him from us, but he was alive wherever he was. I felt certain that Calder wasn’t on Golarion anymore. I don’t know why, but I was almost positive that he wasn’t here. I told Chief Sull my view on what happened, and he seemed instantly cheered.
All of the Neathholmers gathered then and walked through Dresen singing songs of mourning for Calder. They didn’t think he was dead either, but gone was enough of a reason for them to be in mourning. I walked with them even though I was still injured, and I was more than exhausted. I thought about Calder for a long time. Calder had always been good to me, he was always so kind, and treated me like an equal. I was never afraid to go to him, or reach out to him if I was afraid. I was going to have to exist without him now, and that was a sad and scary thought. I thought about the time he kissed me on top of the tower, and the time I had kissed him in the temple of Aroden. Neither kiss had drawn us to a place with deeper feeling, but I loved him in a certain way. Had things gone differently, I think that there might have been more to come. A few tears dripped down my cheeks as we walked and sung songs. I wasn’t sad for the loss of him – I didn’t think he was truly gone. I was sad that I was going to have to be strong for myself. I was sad that of the seven of us who fell down the pit in Kenebras, three of us were gone.
After the walk I barely remembered that I had promised Avashniel and Irabeth among others that we would give them an explanation about how we were going to save our friends from what ailed them. Leon and I had also promised to formally introduce Lady Mariiki to the council so she could tell them her purpose in the city. I was in the crypt now though and my body and mind was so tired. I mentally visualized how far I had to walk to get to Gwurm’s manor, and I sighed heavily. I thought about flying, but the thought of using my wings made me think of Gaius and how sick he still was – for an almost inexplicable reason it would have made me feel guilty to use them. I’m sure I could have figured out why, but I was too tired to think, I just needed to move. Though it would have been easier and quicker to fly, it was more exhausting too. So I trudged along to Gwurm’s manor without an end to the day in sight.
The meeting was a blur of explanations. The angels had brought a plan for a ritual that will aid us in saving our friends. The only thing that we needed was the reagent. Sir Durgo told us that only the heart of a woundworm had what we needed to save them. There were shocked looks around but no one really considered not undertaking the task. Sir Durgo also told us that we only had about two weeks until they would dwindle too far to be saved. Though it felt like it was weeks since I had talked to her, Arushalae still had a little more than a week until she would meet her fate too.
It didn’t feel right to rest while our friends were suffering. Every part of me was weary though. As I sat there in Gwurm’s home I became lost in my own thoughts. I wanted very badly to sleep but I couldn’t imagine closing my eyes and reliving that scene with Minhago. Hearing the death screams of my friends, seeing them droop lifeless to the ground… they were still dying now. We needed to save them, we couldn’t waste a minute, we had to go kill the mother of woundworms – and now.