Coda for Caddis

Dear Candi,

I hope this letter finds you at The Ruby, as that is the most logical place that you would check for messages. Much has happened since I saw you last, and I wanted to send you an account of my activity since that time.

The most obvious question you are likely asking is how it came to pass that I am writing this letter to you. The last time you saw me alive was when we rode off to patrol the border of the Dead Forest. That patrol was shaping up to be relatively routine until we engaged a swarm of tiny demons. Before I had time to do much more than draw my spear I found myself helpless – paralyzed by some foul demon spell. I cannot begin to describe the horror I felt as I heard their claws skittering across my armor as I sat there motionless. It did not take long for one of them to reach under my gorget and then I remember a sharp tugging at my throat. The pain by itself was less than I expected, but the warmth spreading down the front of my armor was quickly replaced by a chill which began at my feet and moved up to cover my entire body. If I had not been immobilized I’m sure that I would have begun to shiver.

I’m sure that time passed after that, but I could not tell you how long. When I woke up it was as though I had too much to drink – dry mouth, stiff arms and legs, burning eyes, and of course a pounding head ache. I expected to find myself either in camp or perhaps laying alone in the forest. The smell of burning flesh and sounds of distant screams made me suspect the latter.
It looked to be evening, as it was dimly lit, and I assumed that the smoke was the result of one of Zaos’ spells which had caught the forest on fire. Looking around me, I was shocked to see a large man wearing a smith’s apron methodically snapping the bones in the hand of a girl who was chained to the ground. Tears were streaming down his face as he broke each bone with hands made strong with hours of work at a forge. The girl struggled hopelessly against her bindings, and her screams suddenly resolved into a single word shrieked over and over, “daddydaddydaddydaddydaddy…”.

I don’t know why I just sat there, as surely I should have stopped him from hurting his daughter, but my gaze was drawn to similar scenes all around me. Here a wife disemboweled her husband; there a grandparent was drowning his grandchildren. Everywhere I looked were scenes of torture and barbarity the likes of which escape my ability to convey. In a word, it was hell. This was not at all like the last time I had died. In fact, I don’t have many memories of that at all. I remember it was dark, and I seem to remember feeling cold, but not much beyond that. My memories even now set my hand to shaking, and it has taken me several hours just to write this much.

As I took in the horror taking place all around me, I noticed a figure making its way toward me. He moved silently, gliding around scenes of cruelty with nary a glance to show that he saw anything going on there. As the cloaked figure approached, he lowered his hood and I saw a man who radiated peace all around him. I couldn’t tell his age – he was not a boy, and neither was he a grey beard. His face seemed kind, with eyes that quickly made contact with mine and seemed to somehow draw me closer to him. I noticed that despite walking through clouds of drifting ash his snowy cloak was free of the tiny black flecks that dusted my face and hair.

“Friend, you look to be in need of help. May I help you?”

The soothing tone of his voice seemed a sweet balm amidst the sobbing and screaming around us, and I found myself responding eagerly to him, "Wha…I mean, who are you? Where am I?”

The man in white pursed his lips briefly, then answered, “You are dead, my friend. This is hell… or at least yours. It will change throughout the ages, I’m sure. I am a friend. I can return you to the land of the living if you are willing.”

I looked around, but it was clear that this was not something I could resolve by either careful planning or force of arms, so I responded, “I guess that explains why it looks different this time. I am indeed willing to return as I have work left undone. What is required of me for this service?”

The stranger pulled his cloak more tightly around him, as though he suddenly felt a chill. Looking around, he took a deep breath, and then smiled at me. “I am here because someone asked me to bring you back. Although I know little of your culture, I have heard it said that some feel indebted to any who save their life. I can take you to him if you’d like, and any action you take there is one that I leave for you to ponder.”

“This is a gift beyond any words I could offer. If you need no service from me, may I ask your name at least milord?”

The man in white smiled, which set me at ease. “You may call me Rikon. I have already lingered here longer than I care. Are you ready to leave?” He stretched out a hand as a kindly smile played across his ageless face. I tried not to look around as I gratefully took his hand. I thought I noticed a strange look, as though he was suddenly very pleased, but it somehow made me feel a little concerned. I was reminded of Galeon’s expression when we agreed to help at Fairhaven Downs.

“Let’s go see Bael’Gaius, he has been anxiously waiting for your return.” He pulled me closer to him, wrapping his cloak partly about my shoulders. He closed his eyes and I felt a sudden stabbing sensation in my chest, and then everything went dark.

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Coda for Caddis

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