(OOC: This is super long and references some things from past events only discussed in Serena's backstory.)
You awake abruptly in the middle of the night, covered in sweat. Yawning and disoriented, you make your way to the bathroom and splash water on your face in an effort to cool down. It feels like a sauna in your small apartment in spite of the air conditioning and strategically placed fans.
‘That’s San Diego for you,’ you think. The summer has been stifling. Still – you can’t remember the last time your sleep was interrupted by this kind of heat, and you don’t seem to be getting any more comfortable. Sighing, you make your way back to the bedroom and turn on the lamp on your bedside table. According to your cellphone it’s only 2 A.M. You don’t think you’ll be able to get back to sleep.
It’s been awhile since you thought about the purple journal you stole from the library. A vision of it flashes in your mind and you don’t think to question it. Now seems as good a time as any to read a little bit more – maybe it will relax you back to sleep.
The dark cover feels cool in a way nothing else you’ve touched since waking has. You sigh in relief as you climb back into bed, absentmindedly tracing the designs on the journal’s spine with your thumb.
I Am The Reaper
Where to begin? The time since I last wrote has been some of the most joyous I can recall. My mood right now is impossible to explain! I clearly need to gather my thoughts and find some clarity. Thank you, My Lady, for guiding me back to this journal.
Several weeks ago I woke early, as I have every day for the last five years, and travelled to Persephone’s altar. There I have knelt each morning until Sister Magda came to get me, each time being gently chastised for my lack of covering – perhaps less gently on especially chilly mornings. I have felt since the first time I knelt before my Lady that she expected only myself and the gifts she provided – my body, soul, and Cora. To add layers to my ritual seems like blasphemy.
On this morning I speak of, Sister Magda came to get me later than usual. She wrapped a dark robe around my shoulders and smiled.
“It is time, child. Persephone seeks your divinity,” she squeezed my arm as we walked together towards her office. Comfortable and modestly appointed, the room was home to much of my learning while I lived at this temple. I sat down in my usual chair and waited for her to explain.
“Couriers have reports of signs we’ve been waiting for since we found you. There are rumors of undead and necromancers beyond the walls of Port Shore Blossom, directly defying Our Lady’s will. Your pilgrimage begins the day after tomorrow – you must travel to this town and oppose Uthos, the fallen Warden of Souls.”
I was overcome with pride. I had known for years that Persephone had chosen me as her Reaper, but tiny tendrils of doubt had begun to form in my mind when there was no sign from Her. I had been foolish to doubt – clearly this was Her path for me.
Sister Magda and I talked for a long time about my upcoming journey, and it was decided – I would travel alone to Port Shore Blossom and seek my purpose. If Persephone wished for me to have assistance, she would send willing bodies to me. If not, I would conquer these necromancers on my own.
The next day, I again went about my ritual and prayed. Sister Magda did not come for me that morning. She was chosen in the night by Persephone herself. I can only think that her true purpose was to serve the Goddess by guiding me and sending me on my way, and she was rewarded with a good death. This final blessing before I set out is a lasting confirmation in my mind that I am on the right path.
On my final night in the temple we feasted and celebrated the blessing of Sister Magda’s death. She has earned a new title, Magda the Arrow, for assisting me and so many other acolytes in finding our way. After a final ritual, this time at midnight, I left home amidst the wishes of a good death from my brothers and sisters. It is the kindest, most holy greeting we can offer. I carry their words and Magda’s teachings with me as I head towards Port Shore Blossom.
The journey itself was filled with trials from the beginning. I took rides on carts, ships, and horses when I could- otherwise I walked. At least a dozen souls are freed by Cora when my strength was foolishly underestimated. Many men mistake my friendliness for weakness, and the smart ones who Persephone allowed me to spare were given my name: Serena the Reaper. I hoped tales of my journey would spread quickly, for as much as I enjoy killing, I needed to move as fast as possible and would prefer little resistance.
When I reached the border of Arestia I came upon a small city that seemed to specialize in trade. Such a place must also have travelers, and I thought perhaps I could find a simpler way to reach Port Shore Blossom if I could enter the company of the right one. On the edge of the city, which I later learned is called Rost, tales of my own life reached my ears sang by the most beautiful voice I had ever heard, the notes as ephemeral as the wind which carried them.
Intrigued, I moved towards the sound and past the guards standing watch near Rost’s main gate. There was a lively village square peppered with merchants, adventurers, and children. In the center of it all, a boisterous crowd had gathered around a half elf of indeterminate gender who was masterfully playing a lute and singing:
.. from a town once rich and whole,
They found her asleep amidst death and ash
Awaiting her Lady’s call.
Chosen by fate and frozen by time,
Wrested from all she’s known -
Serena the Reaper sharpens her blade
Awaiting her Lady’s call.
The bard bowed and, demonstrating a masterful control of the crowd, dispersed her admirers. She knelt to check her bag, which had amassed a small fortune during her performance, and I took the opportunity to introduce myself.
“Hello, I am Sister Serena. I have never heard anyone sing about me before!”
The bard chuckled without looking up, “Oh, you’re Sister Serena? Believe me, that isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. I’ve searched all of Arestia for the Reaper, and no one knows where she is – she's death on the wind and impossible to track.”
She places her lute on her back and casts her eyes – one green, one blue – upon me for a moment before realization dawns on her. “It’s you!” She said, wide eyed, and I felt myself grinning.
“It is! I loved your song. I hope you have a good death, whoever you are – I will pray to Persephone for you,” I said as I turned to walk away – I still needed to find reliable travel, and quickly. I felt the half elf grab my arm before I could move away, something no one had ever managed to do twice with both arms remaining intact.
“Can I come with you? I have so many tales left to learn, and all the stories I’ve heard of you are so beautiful.” Her voice took on a decidedly feminine pitch as she purred, “I’m quite the companion..”
“I don’t see why not. I only intended to be in this city for as long as it takes to find a way to Port Shore Blossom – so as long as that isn’t a problem, our paths are one.”
I soon learned her name was Kethra Siannodel, and she had been searching for me following a recitation by another bard, of a poem wherein I lulled someone into a permanent sleep. Persephone’s work is indeed beautiful, and I could not fault Kethra for her fascination. She quickly proved herself to be useful in many ways, one of which being an uncanny ability to find us transportation and a place to sleep for the cost of a few songs or swings of Cora.
After what seemed like an eternity, our travels took us to the Dragon Isles, home to the dragonborn. Against my wishes we were told we would need to halt our journey temporarily in order to re supply. I immediately sought out a temple to pray properly, and hoped this island would be home to a true holy refuge. Kethra left my company in order to find sleeping arrangements and perform – her way of recovering from the journey, just as praying is mine.
The island was of limited acreage and the town took up much of it, but it was a rather simple endeavor to find the Temple of Persephone with some searching. I approached the temple with a wistful sigh of relief and pulled open one of the massive doors. I must have closed my eyes for a second in reverence as I entered, because next thing I knew I had walked into a large lizard.
“Oh, how convenient, I was looking for you,” said a deep voice with little inflection. “Sister Serena, I assume?”
As I regained my footing, the golden scaled dragonborn introduced himself as V. Gates and began to explain that an Elder had given him a mission to find his cousin Roth in Port Short Blossom. This same Elder had also had a vision from Persephone herself regarding my pilgrimage, and had set this strange creature on my path as a bodyguard. He was apparently an Acolyte of Persephone’s ancient aspect – Nature.
How tumultuous were the trials to come if I needed an entourage? I have never needed a bodyguard and I am a bit wary of the way V watches me when he thinks I’m not looking.
I left him to go pray, only to find that he was flanking my every step. It had been weeks since I had been able to speak to my Lady in the way I am accustomed, and so I donned my usual attire and knelt at the altar with Cora balanced on my knees.
Several hours later, I came out of my trance to find V kneeling behind me. At my first movement he stood and handed me my clothes. I told him we were to meet Kethra at the nicest inn in town, and we walked towards it in companionable silence.
Several days and one sea voyage later, we arrived in Port Shore Blossom. There had been moments during the journey where I was sure Kethra would leave my company – she had no interest in Port Shore Blossom, referring to it as a ‘backwater’ and insisting it lacked enough character for even a simple bard’s songs. I reminded her: this is my path. My Lady seeks my divinity and I will not deviate from Her plan. And so Kethra stays, for now. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, I would miss her if she sought her own way.
Our arrival was not marked by any fanfare – this is a not a port so much as a vast sea mimicking the shape of a bay, and it sees an innumerable number of travelers each day. The first order of business, of course, was to extricate Kethra from the arms of our Captain who has made himself far too friendly with her. I wished the man a good death and nodded to V – it was time to speak to our Lady once more before this leg of my pilgrimage commenced.
As we left the port and entered the city, which was hardly the backwater we had been lead to believe, I was struck by the realization that there seemed to be no poverty here. Even the street urchins wear shoes and clothes without holes in them, and they do not seem to be begging for scraps or coin. Strange. One of them approached our party and introduced himself as Ferret, then asks if we need directions. I explained we were seeking the temple, and he darted off ahead expecting us to follow.
Kethra announced she was going to find some lodgings, as is her custom, and another small child appeared and lead her away. Interesting.
Ferret lead us on a short, brisk walk directly to the temple. He wished us well and did not ask for money in exchange for his help – even more strange. I fondly replied that I hoped he has a good death, which V interrupted by also wishing him a long life. Druids are insufferable creatures.
The temple itself is really more of a compound sporting tall walls and pagoda rooftops. Incredibly detailed foo dogs are carved out of the jade rimming the doorway and oversee the entrance. Inside is a high ceiling with dozens of ropes dangling down, each littered with prayer strips to nearly every major deity you could wish for.
Upon entering, we are greeted by a Priest who wanted to guide us to the appropriate altar. I informed him that we are here to visit with Priest Mato, the abbot who oversees this compound and should be able to point us in the correct direction. We are lead to an office and soon thereafter he arrived, dressed casually and quite easily one of the most handsome men I had ever laid eyes upon. A voice as smooth as silk said a prayer which caused a silver tea set to appear – Priest Mato even provides a bowl for V to drink out of.
I informed him of my mission, and he had clearly been expecting me. He gave me exactly the information I required – we were to find a collection of adventurers known as the ‘Charter of the Carved Table’ who could normally be found at the Rose Shell Inn. Given its description, I surmised we would be headed there anyway – our Kethra was probably preparing a performance there as we spoke.
The abbot also passed along information regarding the three necromancers – Lord Xuun, Bloodspattered Snowblossom, and Shadow Wolf. Cora thirsts for their souls, and it’s just a matter of time before I appease her, Goddess.
After another conversation regarding dragonborn problems, V and I were lead to Persephone’s altar. It is a beautiful sight to behold – awash in grey, white, and black candles and dotted with marigolds and sugar skulls. There is even a single green candle for V to pray at, and he seemed as pleased as one with his temperament could when he noticed it.
We prayed and made our offerings, then headed to the Rose Shell Inn. Along the way we almost immediately ran once again into Ferret, who helped us find a more direct route. By the time we reach the Rose Shell the boy seems to be afraid of me – how strange a culture that does not understand the joy and comfort the promise of a good death can bring.
We entered the Rose Shell Inn and I was first struck with how large it was – easily three stories, with an expansive common room and second and third floor balconies visible from below. The common room itself is quite welcoming, decorated with paper lanterns and banners bearing sigils in delicate Dwarven calligraphy. An impressive stage was clearly the focal point of the room – impressive enough that it was clear our Kethra would be quite at home here. There was also a quite rare sight to one side: a case filled with clearly well crafted and powerful artifacts. The case itself was made of glass, a material that was incredibly expensive.
I wondered, again, just what Persephone had in store for me. This place was not anything like I had anticipated.
I spotted Kethra with little effort, seated close to a halfling and an elf, although they didn’t appear to be interacting. She was, however; speaking with a delectable creature wearing a kimono dipping slightly off one shoulder. Interesting. V and I wandered over just as Kethra was requesting some jasmine tea from this woman, named Madame Saru. She apparently owned this establishment, and told us of Kethra’s performance briefly before wandering off to get us keys to the rooms we were informed we had at the inn. Perfect.
The halfing and elf seemed entirely uninterested in our presence, which was unfortunate given that they were seated at a large, intricately carved table just like the one I was told to seek out. Each of the pair had an animal companion, the most interesting of which being a large black and white bear wearing a blue vest – Sister Magda had told me about these, and I believe they are called pandas. As I sat next to Kethra the panda seemed to spot an easy target, and soon rolled onto his back in order to tempt us to give him attention. We obliged, much to the creatures delight, and the clear annoyance of his compatriots.
I introduced myself to them both, extending my hand and wishing them a good death. The elf, covered head to toe in black leather save his face and his hands, seemed to take offense to my good wishes. Nonetheless, he introduced himself as Eucarion and his companion as Odiri. I inquired about the Order of the Carved table and the necromancers – I need to kill them soon to appease Persephone.
Both Eucarion and Odiri were clearly inebriated, as they scoffed at my assertion that we would, of course, kill the necromancers and disrupt whatever plans Uthos had been devising. Eucarion soon went on a tangent regarding the details of the necromancers, all of which I already had from my conversations with Sister Magda and Brother Mato. I did catch something about signing a charter and being part of their adventure party – apparently only a signature was required to have access to the glass case full of relics – and at that I noticed there was indeed a charter on the wall with some signatures. Interesting.
As Eucarion drones on and Odiri orders more rice wine, I make a decision. If joining with this party was indeed what my Lady asked of me, than I would do it. V and Kethra shared my path, and so they must join as well. I stood and walked over to the charter, black quill in hand. I skimmed its contents – something about a binding oath, a stern note about carving and repairing the namesake table itself, and an assortment of names ranging from simple to excessively pompous.
I grinned, and experimentally wrote:
I paused and waited to see if something would happen. A tingle, maybe? Would an alarm be set off? Surely there was some variety of enchantment on his parchment to prevent just anyone walking in, signing the charter, and stealing all the artifacts away?
Nothing. Perhaps I was just protected by Persephone? Hm. A terse conversation leaked in through my thoughts – apparently V had managed to rile the elf. Perhaps his purpose was fulfilled, if he was destined to die this day by instigating a fight.
I pondered a moment more – if I was protected, perhaps V and Kethra would not be able to join this Charter so easily. Picking up my quill once more, I wrote:
Again I waited. By now, Odiri and Eucarion had noticed my work on the charter and were staring open mouthed in my direction. I asked quite reasonably if they were aware that the charter did not seem to be enchanted, hexed, or trapped in any way.
As I went to write once again, Odiri dashed across the inn to stand at my side. She demanded to know what I was doing. Rather than answer, I decided to experiment again.
First, I drew a smiley face next to the first and most pretentious of names on the charter – surely with a name that long, they could afford proper security. Second, I left a kind reminder to other members of the charter who would hopefully be reading it in a more sober state:
‘Did you realize just anyone could wander in and sign this? Luckily we are more concerned with matters of life and death than treasure and jewels.
Odiri was dumbstruck, and Eucarion shouted something about it being impossible that no one had ever thought to enchant the charter. Apparently they had just assumed it was? As Odiri went outside to calm down, Eucarion came over and took the charter off the wall. It seemed he did not want anyone else to write on it. What an interesting time to come to that decision.
As he put the charter into the glass case and locked it, Madame Saru arrived and presented V, Kethra, and I with keys to that very case. V immediately asked for a ledger regarding the case’s contents, and he and I both inspected with reverence an actual artifact bearing the power of our Lady herself. Incredible, even if the staff does harness an aspect I am not altogether in tune with: life. V carefully put the staff back in its place and inquired about the next day’s agenda. Madame Saru said if we wished to venture out beyond the walls of Port Short Blossom she would prepare a feast for us first thing in the morning. She mentioned we could also take the opportunity to withdrawal whatever items we needed for our adventure out of the case.
Our two new ‘friends’ soon retired along with their animal companions, and V wandered off with Madame Saru. Fascinating! Seems he does indeed have interests outside of brooding and male posturing.
I awoke in the morning an hour or so before everyone else in order to pray and prepare. Upon my return to my room, my conquest from the previous evening had just woken up and an attendant was knocking on the door. He asked if we wished to have a bath in the room or in the bath house attached to the inn, and we chose the latter. Kethra joined us in the bath, fortunate both due to her company and because I had forgotten said conquest’s name – which could have made for awkward conversation.
After our baths, Kethra and I returned to the inn to an incredible breakfast spread. Nearly every breakfast food I had ever heard of, along with some I had not, was laid out for us to choose from. As we finished eating and storing extra portions in our bags, V decided it was time to gear up. He quickly claimed several items from the case, and disrobed for all to see – to the shock of Odiri and Eucarion.
I myself decided to use a set of plate armor that I had noticed the day before. It is known as the Mantle of 1,000 Perfections, and upon putting it on I realized that it had once belonged to Lord Xuun. Incredible! The idea of using the necromancer’s own armor to slay him gave me quite a thrill, and I revelled in it.
We soon thereafter left town and proceeded towards the gate. Odiri and Eucarion were in the front on horses, while V drove the cart that Kethra and I had settled into. As we reached the wall we came upon two guards who introduced themselves as Timothy and Robert. Timothy looked particularly dehydrated – a dangerous condition to be in when stationed at a post such as this. I heartily recommended he hydrate as soon as possible, lest he meet Persephone soon. Ordinarily I do not like to give such warnings, but I get the feeling his passing would upset the party. Such a disruption would surely dampen our chances of success on our mission. I can’t have that.
As we passed through the wall I was overcome by the strangest sensation. It was not altogether unpleasant, but my neck began to burn as if a harsh sun was being shone upon it. Kethra cocked an eyebrow and handed me a mirror, and in the place where I felt the burn there was now a tattoo: a white jade key surrounded by a black outline. The egg between V’s horns bears a similar mark, and Kethra’s lute had a new charm – also a jade key.
This place gets more unusual at every turn! Is this magic from the city itself, or another gift from the Goddess? Odiri does not remark on its source but does assure us that every member of the charter who passes through these gates receives a key. We take her word for it, and returned to the matter at hand: where on earth were we going?
I had a map, given to me by Sister Magda on our last day together. It seemed Odiri also had a map, and they were quite similar minus one or two differences – the most important of which being a place called Ghost Shade Keep. If I remember correctly it had once been the keep of Lady Moonshadow, who was a renowned Priestess of Persephone. For some reason I feel like I was told once it might be haunted, but I can’t think of by who or what caused their souls to be restless.
Reaching Ghost Shade Keep meant we would have to cross the river, which apparently was not an option unless we found some lackadaisical means of conveyance. That meant first going up river and out of the way to Makiko’s Trust – a waystation known as a stopping point for travelers, merchants, and ferries. I idly mused about discussing swimming ability as a prerequisite for joining the Charter while Odiri informed Eucarion of our destination. For two creatures in love, they certainly do bicker a lot, but Persephone can be mischievous in the paths she chooses for us.
Unfortunately, though, several days journey did not bring us to Ghost Shade Keep. Multiple battles delayed us even before we reached the waystation. First it was boars, wild and snarling and clearly out of their minds from the meddling of some fiendish presence out of sight and ever vigilant.
I was reminded of a possession I witnessed once while very new to my Lady’s service – a child no older than seven had been overcome and murdered her entire family while they slept. She was covered in blood and a mass of rage, teeth, and flailing limbs by the time Sister Magda and I reached the house. We prayed, and Persephone instructed us to put the child out of her misery at once. Sister Magda said that even if we could cure the possession the girl would still have to live in agony knowing what she had done to her loved ones. We must be merciful to those who deserve such kindness.
One of the poor creatures came directly for Kethra and I, but we quickly dealt with it – a task made even easier with a burst of confidence and inspiration from one of her poems in my name. Finally the rest of the boars were dispatched and I quickly prayed over each of their bodies before Eucarion and Odiri went about butchering them. The animals’ eyes immediately faded from an angry red to their normal color and it seemed they were indeed possessed as I had thought. After a short break we continued on our journey.
The next day, again around lunch time, all except Odiri were surprised by eight predatory striped cats which I now know are referred to as ghost tigers. A ghostly vision of a tiger woman dressed in black silken robes appeared while we fought and I immediately assumed we were looking at Bloodsplattered Snowblossom. V roared to attract the attention of the majority of the beasts, but the necromancer bellowed in return to counteract his endeavor. Two tigers leapt into our cart and I heard Eucarion curse in Elvish as it began to rain, leaving his and Odiri’s vision obscured.
With no time to worry about what was happening outside the cart, Kethra and I fought in tandem as we had since the very first time we ventured out together. One tiger was fed to Cora as her blade cleanly sliced the creature in half, and I deftly flipped onto the ground to give Kethra room to cast. Eucharion’s pet came to her aid just as the tiger was knocked out of the cart and similarly sliced in half as it landed at my feet. The other six tigers seemed to be dead as well, and there was no further sign of Bloodsplattered Snowblossom.
I took the opportunity to dedicate the kills to Persephone, and a ghostly fire appeared over each body. As the fires faded, so did the tigers’ remains, leaving only pelts, claws, and teeth amidst piles of ash. The familiar smell of incense and myrrh coated the wind as the storm dissipated. It seemed Odiri needed healing, which V took care of immediately with a single talon pressed against her forehead. A familiar expression came over her face – Odiri had clearly been visited by our Goddess, but is either too proud or too naive to admit it.
Two blessings from Persephone demonstrate we are on the right path. Bloodsplattered Snowblossom is indeed one of the necromancers I must find and kill. We kept moving through the day and I had little time for conversation with dear Kethra – I felt more at peace then than I had since the day Sister Magda died, and I needed to meditate on what had transpired.
We made camp and the night passed uneventfully once again. If the last two days were any indication, I was sure we’d be fighting something by lunchtime. By late morning we had reached the outskirts of Makiko’s Trust and found it completely abandoned. There wasn’t a single sign of life there either on land or in the water. V moved to investigate and said something about a large predator as Odiri fired a single arrow into the river.
I had never fought a hydra before, and it was quite exhilarating. Eucarion tied the massive creature to the bank of the river which gave us time to prepare. Someone, I’m not sure who, said something about needing to set the thing on fire – lest one of its many heads grow back and multiply before we could finish it off. Kethra grievously insulted the thing, calling it a ‘death noodle twat wasp.’ After what seemed like an eternity the hydra was dead and we were free to explore the waystation. It was entirely surrounded by bones from various creatures, mostly humanoid, and other signs of death. Clearly the place had not been used in a while, and a poorly located sign below a widow’s walk informed us we should ‘BEWARE: HYDRA.’
Within an office Odiri discovered a lockbox and easily opened it to find an incredible stash of artifacts and coin, including a fan which belonged to the sister of Lord Xuun’s lover. I wonder if we can use it to put his soul to rest?
As I pondered our next steps, I was startled by a bright white flash: we had somehow been brought back within the walls of Port Shore Blossom. At first I thought it was some further trickery from Bloodsplattered Snow Blossom, but I was informed the magic of this place occasionally calls adventurers back to its safety for their own good.
It appeared that both guards had been wisely drinking water while we were gone. I wished them and our new compatriots good deaths and went to pray. I am annoyed that we did not reach Ghost Shade Keep. We must try again as soon as possible.
You close the journal, exhausted and frustrated. There’s a burning sensation on your left side and you reflexively reach out to touch it. Your hand comes away sticky with blood, and on further inspection you find four deep scratches. Claw marks?
‘I’m so tired I’m hallucinating,’ you think. ‘That is, if this isn’t a dream to begin with.’
You tuck the journal safely away and turn off the light. A sense of peace washes over you as you drift off. In the morning your side is tender, and there are four faint, silvery scars like those from a tiger’s angry paw.