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|Author:||Heidi val'Tensen [ Sat Jul 01, 2017 10:19 am ]|
|Post subject:||Death Interrupted|
I do not dream anymore. I haven’t dreamed since I died my mortal death so many years ago in Canceri. As one of Neroth Death-Forger’s children, I did not sleep, but in times of inactivity I could revisit my memories in vivid detail, passing the time as I stood sentinel over the forms of my slumbering, mortal companions. Now I live again, but my soul can never be restored – Neroth consumed it in payment for his blessing, and dreams are the provenance of the soul.
But when I sleep… I remember – my mind conjuring memories of events long past to fill the void left by the absence of a soul.
I stand in a temple to Neroth, whom I must now acknowledge as being as much my father as Hurrian. I traveled here to the Necropolis of the Vale of Immortals, because my duty has been fulfilled. Manetas is bound where he may never again threaten humanity, Calcestus and Menesis both are vindicated, and Onara stands safe for a time. It has been a month since the Battle of Grand Coryan, and I am a woman without purpose. My country does not want me, and though already the drums of war begin to beat once more and there are whispers of a coming crusade to the north to drive back the Infernal horde, I find that with my last oath made as a mortal woman fulfilled, my dead heart can no longer quicken to that beat. My mortal life’s passion is finally spent, and I have finally accepted that I have died. I have finally accepted that I must honor the Lord of Tombs, so I have traveled to his seat of power to be ritually cleansed by his priesthood.
The Black Priests gently, reverently remove from me the armor I have worn since my mortal death, handling each piece with the care normally reserved for a holy relic rather than something only recently forged. I must remind myself that to them, it is a relic. I am a being blessed of their patron god, and I wore this armor while battling alongside and under the Valinoric Host, while traveling through Neroth’s realm beyond the mortal pale, and in the presence of The Valinor at the final battle… The blade, Ewiger Sturmzorn – The Storm's Eternal Wrath – rests in its scabbard on a pillow of black satin. The priests that placed it there dared not even look upon it, for even now it emanates with the metaphysical wrongness of the blood it had drawn. The blood of Manetas, the Pride of Illiir.
The priests carefully peel away the remnants of my surcoat and gambeson. In places they must carefully excise it from my flesh, for it was burned into me when I stood in the radiant glory of Illiir’s enraged, mad Valinor. I do not feel any pain. I have not felt anything at all since I died. That is not to say that I am numb – for I am aware of the sensations of what is happening, but I do not feel them.
Their work finally complete, I stand naked at the threshold of the chamber. I do not feel shame or embarrassment, but I know that my mortal self would have been appalled at the very thought of the impropriety. I briefly wonder if I should feign the nervousness she… I should feel, but I decide that I should not. I am dead, and the Black Priests are preparing my corpse. It would be the same if my intellect were absent. All stand naked before the Lord of Worms.
The priests gently lead me into the chamber. I see many black altars upon which lay the remains of the recently dead – each being tended and prepared for interment by a priest. I am led to one such table, and at the priests’ silent motion I move to lay upon it. The priests’ gentle, reverent hands guide me to a position of rest, carefully arranging my hair and body. I do not resist – it seems right. They begin to clean my corpse with soaps and perfumed oils – removing the grit and blood of battle from the many wounds and tears in my flesh. Though my mortal vessel was completely healed of those metaphysical ruptures that had once threatened my destruction through the loss of my animating energy, my prayers and cants had done nothing to heal the cosmetic damage to my corpse. I silently watch the priests work, staring up into my reflection in the polished bronze ceiling.
Finally, a priest breaks the silence – speaking in the ancient tongue gifted to humanity by Althares – the tongue of the Mother Church, “Blessed One, forgive my impertinence, but your mortal vessel… it was not properly prepared for your rebirth and your injuries have gone unmended… I see you have used divine cants to prevent rot and heal your animus, but the work of Neroth’s clergy is entirely absent. I do not understand, Blessed One, how can this be?”
I give him a reassuring smile in an attempt to assuage his doubt and confusion – not because of any feeling I might have had were they not impossible, but rather due to my training as a priestess of Hurrian. I try to infuse some kindness into my voice as I respond, making certain to remember that I have a duty to these priests to show them gratitude and respect – and to respect the ritual of our exchange, “Dutiful priest, your observations are correct. I am a loyal daughter of the Mother Church, but I perished in Canceri at the hands of heretics. It was a ritual performed by those blasphemers that led to my receiving Neroth’s Gift – a blessing I did not desire and for which I was never prepared. My existence has been uncertain since then, and it is my failing that I did not sooner seek out the assistance of your order.” I mentally prepared myself for the priests’ reaction. I had no idea how they would react, in all honesty. I had never studied Nerothian customs or faiths, because in my homeland of Milandir such things were avoided – Neroth’s name only spoken in whispered prayers made solely to stave off his ire. I had no idea whether or not they would declare my existence to be heresy and destroy me. Before I arrived, though, I had decided that I would be satisfied either way. My mortal oaths were fulfilled, and all that I had seen was now known to the mortal members of my bloodline. The curse on the val’Tensen bloodline would be lifted through the actions of the living – not through anything I could do. My duty ended with the banishment of Manetas and the rebellious host of his valinoric followers. In that final moment in the throne room, I had made peace with the prospect of oblivion. I had believed that my existence would end at Manetas's hand, but somehow against all reason I had survived. Thus it was that my thoughts were tranquil as I waited for the priests to respond to my statement.
Nerothians, as a rule, are a stoic lot. They try to emulate the tranquility of the dead. However, I can tell that my attendant priests were taken aback at my words. They look to one another as if uncertain of what to do. A few murmur hurriedly to each other, and then one nods and quickly but respectfully strides away with purpose. The other priests continue their work, pulling out threads and needles, blessed sand, embalming oils, and the other accoutrements of funerary rites. I am aware of the sensation as they begin to meticulously repair the damage to my vessel – filling my voids of missing flesh with sand and beads, treating my skin with moisturizing oils, and sewing shut the ruptures in my organs, muscles, and skin. I watch them work in the reflection above me… I feel nothing – no apprehension, no fear, and no care for whether my fate is to be destroyed or to exist for eternity. For the first time since my death, I am at peace. I am tranquil. I idly wonder if this is normal for the undead… it certainly does not seem like the ones I destroyed on crusade were tranquil, nor does it seem like the vile Cancerese Arch-Heretic Hegrish had tranquility in his thoughts. Are they the norm, or am I? I have no answer for myself – I simply do not know.
As the priests nearly finish their work, the one whom left returns with another in tow. I hear him say “Ancient Father, this is the one of which I spoke. You see, she has healed herself with divine cants, and she arose without the proper preparations.” I turn my head and look at the newly arrived, cowled priest – obviously one of the temple’s high priests. As the lower ranking priest finishes speaking, I interject – that same practiced smile on what is left of my partially missing lips “Is my existence blasphemous then? Know I have completed my mortal oaths and duties. I would wish the Church’s will done rather than to exist in heresy.”
The high priest slowly draws back his cowl to reveal the dessicated face of a man centuries dead. He speaks in a deep baritone infused with a calm that would be considered reassuring by most mortals, “No, my sister. Your existence is not blasphemous… Far from it in fact. I am glad our Lord Neroth, praise be to his name, has led you to come home to us, for we have much we must teach you.”
Ser Adelheidis Sigrid val’Tensen, Heidi to most whom know her, wakes up from her sleep – the experience of reliving the memory already fading from her conscious mind. It is 1075ic in the First City, forty five years and a great many miles from that day in the Vale of Immortals. Heidi lay in the bed of a rented tavern room she had shared with her comrade for the better part of a week, her skin pressed up against the other woman’s back. Ivy val’Ossan is still sleeping, lightly snoring. Heidi smiles as she gently pulls away from the sleeping pirate and sits up on the edge of the bed. She just sits there a moment, allowing herself to revel in the sensations of life. The living do not realize it - having never been without it, but one can actually feel one’s hot blood rushing through one’s veins and beating heart. Heidi had never even realized that she had taken that feeling for granted until she had existed as a animate unliving corpse. Now that she had a second life to live, she intended to never take anything for granted again. Heidi, in fact, intended to be certain that she experienced and remembered every detail of everything life has to offer. She completes the thought in a voiced whisper, as much to herself as to the gods, “My unlife is behind and ahead of me, but I will not squander this life… Neroth arrives when he wishes, no sooner and no later.”
As she gets out of bed and begins to prepare for her morning prayers and rituals, Heidi smiles as she remembers again what the undead priest had taught her forty-five years before. Ivy had asked her just last night why she was so certain that she would again receive Neroth’s Gift when she died her second mortal death. It was not even a question in Heidi’s mind – Neroth had chosen her once and would do so again. Her heart once again beat, but she knew that she was still his child. His gift would come again, and this time she would be properly prepared. She had faith this time – not the impetuous faith she had had as a crusading youth freshly released into the world from Hurrian’s seminary temples, but the matured faith of a servant of the entire Pantheon. All shall be as the Pantheon wills it, Blessed Be.
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