The Abyss was not what I expected it to be. Granted, we only saw a small portion of it, but the bit that we did see was less violent than most parts of Mendev. I told Avashniel before I left that I wasn’t going to return as the same person. I know that I was right, but I’ll probably never tell him why. Though, I’m probably kidding myself if I truly think he’ll never read this. Perhaps I won’t write it at all, and I’ll have my own secrets.
Yes, I think I will. The dreams though. The dreams are haunting in their allure. After they started, I tried not to sleep so I wouldn’t get lost in them. I think in trying to avoid them I thought about them more.
People sometimes say that your dreams show you things that you truly want. When I’m in the dream, it’s certainly true. It is pleasure, joy, satisfaction like I’ve never felt. Confidence, power, desire. By the Goddess, when I list it like that, can I really say I don’t want those things?
But I’m finally home now. Home isn’t the way I left it, it never is, but it’s isn’t frightening like the allure was in the Abyss. It’s easier to write now about now, and it should be written, in the chance that someone else contracts the curse that afflicted Avashniel and Sosiel. I remember when they first contracted it, there was so little written about it. I can’t imagine it was the first time that the witch had tainted men with her touch. Perhaps now, she won’t be able to kill anyone again with it. Well, the key component was a bit difficult to find, but I’m sure if we had more time, maybe something else could have worked. The price was worth it though.
We took the portal back from the Abyss, and I flew straight to the tower. My heart pounded harder than it should have been, and tears were already filling my eyes for the unknown. Avashniel could tell my voice from a fake, could he not? He is a Riftwarden, possibly the greatest expert in demons and their tricks, he would know not to fall for such a simple ruse? I couldn’t be sure, and in my heart I knew that if I asked for help, he’d give it. That perhaps he even desired to save me for once. He’s saved me more times than he knows, but perhaps not in the knight on the white unicorn way. I don’t fit that tale very well. Not anymore. He’s saved my ability to hope though, he’s given me a reason to continue when everything is asking too much. I still don’t know if he cares for me in the same way that I do for him, if he does, I don’t know how he could hide it. But he gives me just enough affection that I do not die of starvation. Goddess, the truth always comes out in the writing. Should I be happy for the crumbs of affection that he spares for me? There are others… I know now, there are others who could desire me. Who DO, desire me. Who would lavish me with passion in ways that…I wouldn’t starve ever again. It’s the dream though. The dreams that have tainted me. I made it through the Abyss without betraying Avashniel… betraying what though? At least I made it through with my love for him in tact. I may now question if it’s too desperate, too one-sided, but it’s still there. It was the source of the tears that clouded my eyes.
I arrived at the tower and ran down the steps to Avashniel’s quarters. I threw open the door, and there was Jeggare, sitting in Avashniel’s chair. Sitting at Avashniel’s desk. The tears grew. If Avashniel was here and fine, Jeggare wouldn’t be sitting there. I felt a little core of anger stir in my heart, as if he would get out of that chair, then everything would be fine and right in the world. He spoke to say, “I’m so sorry, Sarena…”
The combined weight of everything I was feeling and had felt in the week I was in the Abyss hit me all at once. As long as Avashniel was here and safe, anything I had to do, anything they made me do was worth it. As long as I could come back here, and spend quiet moments with him, learning the arcane listening to his voice when he speaks about some topic, something that he’s particularly passionate about. It was hard to tell those moments, but I had gotten good at reading him, when his guard was down, and it was all about his magic. In those moments I could almost see the man inside of him, the person he tries so desperately to hide. The Riftwardens were a secret for so long, it’s wonderful seeing the wizard he becomes when he doesn’t have to hide.
Is any of this worth it though, if he’s not here? If I can’t save him? I shattered when he said “I’m sorry.” I felt the thrum of every wound still on my body, I felt the pressure of the days without sleep, threatening my sanity, I felt the overwhelming guilt of my own dreams. I dropped my shield, as I could no longer bear anything additional that wasn’t physically attached to me. I suppose Jeggare saw the affect that his words had on me. Apparently not all wizards are incapable of reading and understanding the emotions of others. He spoke quickly, “…I’m sorry Sarena, he’s in a bad way… he knew it was a trap, but in the final days, he was so sick… he was going to go anyway, so I…”
As quickly as my will to continue had left me, it returned with force. I ran directly to his room, and started to open the door. Jeggare got in the way. “…You see, I had to knock him out, and restrain him…it isn’t pretty Sarena, he’s dying.” I negotiated myself around him, and breathed a sigh of deep relief. Jeggare was right though, it wasn’t pretty. But he was still here. Baphomet didn’t get him, and I could still save him.
His body was a horror though. The whole room was several degrees colder than the study, despite a fire going in his fireplace. The curse was blossoming from him and claiming the room. His body itself was varying shades of blue and gray. Thin, pointed streaks of the curse spread around its original location and moved to other affected areas. His midsection was the most profoundly affected. It was rounded painfully, the skin looking red and stretched in places, the hunger he had been feeling must have forced him to do this to himself. The tunic he had been wearing had either been cut or split against the profound size.
I touched his exposed skin, and the shock of cold I felt had me retract my fingers immediately. And yet, it wasn’t the greatest of horrors that I witnessed in this room. I saw his soul, struggling. It was just twitch here and a flash of blue there. But Jeggare was right, he was dying. I hadn’t ever witnessed anyone die slowly or naturally while having this ability… but I could imagine that the slow unhinging of the soul is what it looked like. And is what I was witnessing.
I walked out of the room and looked Jeggare in the eyes. I asked him if he could save him, and I told him that I had the crystals that he needed. I told him that he must be certain that Nocticula couldn’t control anyone through using the crystals. Of course he had to ask why. So I told him the truth. I swore him to secrecy and told him that I had bartered a favor to Nocticula in trade for the crystals. I didn’t have time for lies. I needed him to understand why it was so important that he check to make sure that she’d have no link to him when the crystal was used. I gave him time to look the crystals over and he gave me his assurance that no link would be made. I had to trust him.
He said that he and some of the acolytes had written the ritual with a mixture of arcane and divine language so that I’d be able to administer the cure myself. I didn’t really think about it then, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’d go through all that trouble to do that just so I’d be able to do it. Perhaps the ritual had been so complex that it REQUIRED both arcane and divine magic. It would make sense why they had been having some trouble with it initially. Though my arcane ability was mild at best, I did know how to follow the rules and perform a ritual if it was dictated to me. I doubt that Jeggare could manage to muster a divine spell. It isn’t as simple as learning the gestures. But like I said, I didn’t think about this then. He sold it to me as it being much more romantic if Avashniel woke up to see me instead of him. In the moment I didn’t care who did it as long as it was done. If I did it, I knew I’d make it work. Everything was here in front of me. I would do it.
As I was getting ready to walk into the room to do the ritual Jeggare stopped me. He told me to go take a bath and clean myself up. He said that… well, I can’t remember what quite he said, but it was insulting. He said that Avashniel (actually, he said “that disgusting man”) shouldn’t wake up to see me like this. And then he apologized and said that he doesn’t have to bother lying because he doesn’t have a chance with me. I just stared at him. He talks a lot. And very, very quickly. I hadn’t slept in days, and I was still quite wounded. I didn’t have the capacity to retort in an equal manner. He told me that Avashniel would be fine for another half hour, and to go clean up. The romantic in me was convinced.
I ran down to my room and divinely created some water in the large bowl I had there for such a purpose. I stripped off my armor and clothing, in the process ripping open some wounds that had closed with fibers of my tunic within. Physical pain didn’t matter much any more. My own mind gave me far more pain, far more suffering.
I had exhausted most of the blessings that Sarenrae had granted to me, but there were a few words of praise that could always be offered. Those words whispered and the still bleeding wounds closed. They were not healed, but they wouldn’t bleed unless I ripped them open again. I cleaned myself quickly with water and soap, and ran a brush through my golden hair. I put on a soft white dress with golden embroidery. One of the last dresses my mother had made for me. The golden embroidery was minor, I knew the threads were expensive, as least for farmers. But I loved the simplicity. And well, the sleeves covered my still unhealed wounds. Jeggare was at least right about that, Avashniel wouldn’t want to wake to see me covered in my own blood.
I threw on a pair of soft shoes and ran up the stairs again to the study. It was freeing, being out of the armor. In my truest self, I’m not a warrior. At least I didn’t think so. So often I find myself in that role though because I am a protector, and a nurturer. If donning the armor is the only way to protect people, then that is what I will do.
I got to the study again, and by Jeggare’s smile I knew I looked much better. In fact, I was very flattered by his reaction. What I didn’t expect, was for Radovan to be there as well. He came up behind me and smacked my… well, it wasn’t just a smack, but sort of a caress and squeeze too. I blushed, and he said something about bouncing coins. I couldn’t help but think that it was the most any man had ever touched me. Not that someone hadn’t tried, well, bless Sarenrae for armor. I wondered if he could read “virgin” on my face by my reaction. Jeggare and Radovan both said things to each other and to me, very very quickly, but I was stunned by the devil-man’s touch and by the fact that there was something very important that I needed to be doing. Again, Jeggare…bless his ability to read me, saw my predicament, and gave me the things I needed for the ritual.
He went with me into Avashniel’s room. The struggle with Avashniel’s soul had become more violent. I saw the edges fray and rip only to be yanked violently back into place by an unknown anchor in his chest. After Jeggare laid down the foundation of the ritual in sands and candles, and other components that I couldn’t name, he left the room. The ritual was long, and I had to force Avashniel to eat this mixture of materials that Jeggare had given me. After the first bite granted me a flash of his glowing eyes and a growl that didn’t know me, followed by a greedy inhalation of the paste I offered, I knew it wasn’t going to be difficult to get him to eat it. Despite the painful-looking distended torso, he still retained the hunger.
I sat by Avashniel’s bed and held the pieces of paper that Jeggare had given me to read from. If Avashniel had never taught me anything about the arcane, then this would have been impossible. The ritual started with a heavy section of arcane words, all of which I only recognized and knew how to pronounce because of his teaching. Barriers of magic rose from the salts and components that Jeggare had so carefully placed around the room.
The next section was the true healing, and seemingly would have been impossible for a wizard to accomplish. I called to my Goddess for her blessing and for her power to cleanse him of the curse that plagued him. I could see the magic of my Goddess work it’s healing across his skin, but as soon as a patch of his skin was cleansed, finger-like projections crawled across his skin to retake the area.
As time passed, and the ritual built upon itself, the thrashing of his soul became more violent. More than once I heard him mutter my name. All I wanted was to stop his pain. My hands and arms shook with the tension of trying to hold all of the separate spells at once. Of course, my arms shouldn’t have hurt, there was no reason for my muscles to be working, but I wasn’t yet skilled enough to separate the action from the effort I thought it should take. If Avashniel were doing this, it would be much more elegant. Perhaps I could even do the divine portion for him, and our strongest magics could entangle in the ritual. But he couldn’t help me, I had to do it for him. And I couldn’t rush, no matter how much I wanted to.
As soon as I had both the arcane and divine portions of the ritual active, then I had to do the delicate work. I had to delicately lay down some of the precious arcane energy to obliterate the curse, and then follow it up with divine power to heal the damage that had been done. Truthfully, I didn’t much know what the pastey concoction was that I had to feed to him every once in awhile, or why it was important, but right now I didn’t need to know. I just had to have patience and the endurance to not rush this. Patience I could muster, endurance was another matter entirely. Perhaps I should have told Jeggare that I had been skipping sleep while in the Abyss.
I’m not sure how long the delicate weaving of magics took. It was all made more complicated by the fact that I could see his soul struggling to leave his body. Since he hadn’t actually died, it wasn’t necessary for me to pin it back in place. In fact, something in the center of his chest was doing quite a fabulous job of that all on its own. His soul looked older, and more complex than any of the other souls I had seen. Truely it was incomparably beautiful. There certainly were portions that looked worn and tired, but the area being pinned down in his chest looked fresh and renewed. As soon as the healing process was started his soul started to struggle less and less, until I could finally see it no longer.
I’m certain I’ll never forget seeing Avashniel in this state. The thought of seeing him soul tortured and frail, so cold… it’ll be difficult to see him as the stalwart pillar that he’d always been to me. It didn’t lessen him in my eyes. I finally got to see another side of him. A side of him that called out to me and whispered my name. A side of him that perhaps needed me.
When the ritual was over and the magic disappeared from the room, I looked him over again. His the painful marks of torturous curse had gone from his skin. His belly had flattened from its stretched and bloated size. He no longer called out for me, and his breathing had gone soft and regular. The room was still cold though, the lingering chill that his curse had produced, still not had enough time to dissipate. He shivered, not a violent shiver, but he was still chilled. I touched his hand, and he did not awaken. I was so tired. I had nothing else to give, but I didn’t want to leave his side. I never wanted to leave his side again. I wanted to stay here always and make sure he never had to suffer again.
I’m not sure when I decided to do it, or if was even an active decision, or just a product of my exhaustion. But tentitively, I laid down next to him. I could feel his shivers, so I pressed my body against his and shared my warmth. Slowly the chill left his body and his breathing became more peaceful. I heard a whisper, “Sarena” and I responded reassuringly, telling him I was there. He spoke back softly, a tone I’ve never heard from him before, with “Oh, thank the gods, my love, you’ve returned.”
My love. My heart skipped three beats when I heard it. I whispered back, “Of course I returned, I promised. Thank you for trusting me, and not leaving.” He answered back in that same soft, melodic voice that I had never heard. My heart surged hearing him so free, “Of course, I have no reason to not trust you.” With that, I heard him exhale contentedly, and his peaceful breathing continued. I wasn’t too far behind him. As my presence relaxed him, his did the same to me, and I quickly fell into the first peaceful sleep I’ve had in recent memory.