After several days at sea, finally they had arrived. Thalassa was like nothing Tiffanie had ever seen. As the ship approached the seawalls, or what the Thalassan’s called the Aegis, she saw the silver spires and golden domes of the central city island, the heart of Thalassa, loomed large above them. The rest of the city, built on the plain surrounding the isle was a myriad of buildings, roads, and canals. Ships and boats seemed to be everywhere. Passing through the Aegis’s seawall opening, the ship moved toward a port on the northwest part of an island, a merchant area perhaps, nearby the central city hub. Jocelyn smiled, “I’ve actually only been here once, and I was very young then.”
She pointed at a golden dome dominating the nearby sky, “There! That is the Great Temple of Aarith. There we will find the answers you seek. It is more beautiful than I remember, a golden phoenix rising out of the cityscape!”
Tiffanie looked on in awe, not really sure where to look first. She had never seen a city this large before, nor as rich as she looked at the golden dome that Jocelyn pointed out.
“Well I am impressed with what I see,” Tiffanie said. “Is there anything I should know before we go into the temple?”
Jocelyn replied with a smile, “No my friend. Just follow my lead.”
The duo disembarked at the busy passenger port area called Gueret. Hiring a carriage they were swiftly taken to the great square outside the High Temple of Aarith the Wise, also known as St. Aria’s of the Staff or simple the Temple. Hundreds of people were in the huge square and surrounding colonnades with the great spire and dome dominating the sky. The carriage left them off at a large chapel, itself larger than the Aarithine Temple in Derrien, where Jocelyn led them. Tiffanie noticed everyone was staring at her, from brief glances to long looks. She definitely stood out.
Tiffanie walked tall and proud not caring what people thought of her as she walked with Jocelyn.
As they walked, Tiffanie asked, “With a temple this big, will we have to wait to see someone to talk about the curse? Or are the letters we received along the way from other priests and nobles going to help get things going faster?”
As they entered the open door of the chapel Jocelyn answered, “There is so much to see in Thalassa, or so I’ve heard. But I believe they will see us soon, but this will be a long process. You must be patient with them.” An acolyte approached them after they entered. Jocelyn handing her a set of papers. After reading them, the girl said with a touch of perplexion, “Monsieur Typhon Né, Sister Jocelyn, you are
expected. We received the message from the Bishop of Derrien. I’m to escort you Monsieur, to Monsignor Guglielmo de Cherville. Sister, please enter the chapel and pray. Brother Adric will meet you soon. You both have been given adjacent rooms in the nearby guest quarters.
The two friends split up and the acolye, Lydia brought her to what looked like a small library. There an older man, perhaps in his late 50’s with a shorn head, gray beard, and simple Aarithine cloak learned over a pile of papers, books and scrolls. Lydia said, “Monsignor. The Snomorian the Bishop spoke of is here. His name is Typhon Né, but goes by Tiffanie in travelling. The man looked up, pointed at a
chair, and said in a deep voice, “please – have a seat. There is some mead in the goblet, and feel free to sample the fruit, it is imported from Tahlon. How was your trip?”
Tiffanie took her axe off of her back, and set it up against the desk as she sat in the chair. Picking up the mead, and a handful of berries, that she was unfamiliar with, replied, “It was went well, I guess. I have never traveled over such vast amounts of water in a boat of that size. I am more used to crossing lakes, and traveling down rivers.”
After taking a drink and eating some berries, she continued with, “This may seem that I’m inpatient, but I was curious as to what the next coarse of action is to take place regarding me.”
The brother smiled a bit, “Well Monsieur Typhon, I have read the reports from the temple in Derrien, the conclusions the priests there made, and your story through the writings of Brother Jos, who now is calling him-herself Jocelyn. Before I do anything, I’d like to know if besides the gender switch, you have any other symptoms. Do you think or feel any differently?”
Tiffanie was thoughtful before she replied, “I can’t say that I feel any different, other than who I should feel attracted too or what every other woman goes through during certain times of the month.”
“I can say, that I have gained a different perspective on what women go through day to day,” she said.
“Right now the Aarithine Brother, formally known as Jos, is being investigated on why his or her curse has not been lifted and the choices made. All others affected save you two have reverted to their natural forms. Now Jos has acted in such a way to embrace the curse, even recursing himself to reinforce this choice – this in effect has warped the curse into in his or her mind, a blessing. Soon enough ‘she’
won’t remember what is was like to be a he. The choice to embrace it made the re-cursing it in effect permanent. The inquisitors will determine if that is true.”
“In your case, you have resisted the curse, tried to have it removed, so you are in all ways simply a man trapped within a woman’s body. It is my theory that the scroll that the goblin sorceror used against you it did not understand or it would have never used it on you. It was a found artifact, and a most ancient one. If we find the origin of the scroll, then we can pinpoint the type of magic used, so we can
dispel it or at least give you some options beyond getting pregnant and passing the curse on – which in my mind is out of the question – or other extreme solutions.”
He added, “May I ask, are the scroll remnants available?”
“I believe that the scroll burned up upon use,” Tiffanie replied. “Would another scroll believed to be as old as the one used on myself be helpful?”
“When myself and my companions finished clearing out the goblins and Tyraa sorcerous, we found one or two other ancient scrolls. I do not have these on me, the mage Elemix is carrying them.”
“I do not know of Magus Elemix, as he is not mentioned in the Derrien Temple notes save that your were planning to meet him. Is he still in the Periphery, or is he here? We would find the other scrolls as an important clue to unraveling your curse, if it is a curse in the traditional sense.”
“We were going to take separate routes to Thalasa,” she replied. “He was going to travel to Camaret before taking ship to Thalasa. We did have plans to meet up in the city when they arrived. I think he was going to send a message to me here at the temple when he could. I’m sure he is only a few days to maybe a week behind us in arriving.”
“So until then, is there a place I can rest?,” Tiffanie asked. “Also do you have a place that I can use as a sweat lodge?”
The Monseigneur replied, “your rooms should be prepared soon. Concerning the other, I have heard of a sweat lodge used in the practices of the Northmen. In the old Eterian Empire, such places, called public baths served a similar purpose. We do have public baths here, but I imagine you are looking for something more private. We could set up an old meditation cell for you with a little preparation. Would that serve?”
Tiffanie nodded, “Yes that would work out alright. There are a few things I will need to prepare before I use the sweat lodge. Is there someone who could guide me to the marketplace, so that I may purchase what I need?”
He replied, “There are many marketplaces and forums throughout the city. The nearest one that would suit you is back at the port you landed at, else nearby there is the old Forum, which is the center of the Old City.” He stood up and pulled a nearby rope, triggering a dull ring. An acolyte entered. “This is Louis, an acolyte and novice in our temple. He will help you find whatever you need. Once you are completed with your purchases, he will bring you back to your quarters. Meanwhile I’ll have somebody attend to getting a cell for you and I’ll question your companion a bit more once she is completed with her report. You cell should be ready by this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest.”
Louis walked up, “this way m’mselle.” The Monseigneur corrected him, “Louis, call our guest monsieur please unless any other name is preferred.” Louis bowed and guided Tiffanie out of the chapel and after a time to the edge of the Temple complex. “Monsieur, to the left surrounded by the cluster of tall buildings there we’ll find the ancient Forum Primus, which is a combination market, services and
goods, assembly area, and public square. To the right across that bridge is the Forum Guéret, which is more a pure marketplace, usually of imported material. To which do you wish to start? May I ask what you are searching for?”
“I am looking for certain herbs and incense,” she said. “I am needing anything that can be found in the northern area from where I came from. But I believe that we can substitute a few if they can’t be found here.”
Tiffanie listed off what she was looking for to Louis, and let him lead her to the best marketplace that would most likely have what she was looking for.
It took a few hours to find Tiffanie’s particular ingredients, with the nearby markets not having all of what was needed, Louis found an herbalist and alchemical shop, Bella’s Bountiful Apothecary & Alchemy Shoppe, that had what was needed and they returned. Louis spoke then to another acolyte who informed them that Tiffanie’s room and cell were ready. Louis showed Tiffanie the cell location, and then escorted her to the room where Tiffanie freshened up. When ready, Louis brought Tiffanie back to the cell. Once there he instructed on how to lock the cell from the inside and showed the sauna equipment. Water and hot rocks were already there. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No that will be all Louis,” Tiffanie replied. “Also thank you for taking me to where I needed to go today.”
As soon as Louis left, Tiffanie shut and locked the door. Tiffanie then blended the herbs and incense in a bowl, once that was completed she placed the bowl near to the hot rocks along with her axe. She then
proceeded to disrobe, then sat down cross-legged in front of the hot stones.
Splashing water onto the hot rocks to get the steam forming, Tiffanie then sprinkled the herb mixture over the rocks, making the room more aromatic. She sat and breathed in the fumes, occasionally adding more water and herbs, making the room fill up with more and more steam.
Once she felt that things were right, she placed the axe across her lap, and meditated thinking of Khord. Hoping that a vision of Khord’s past would appear, and maybe his spirit.
For nearly an hour nothing happened. Tiffanie became more and more delirious and disconnected from her reality. Then at once an unbridled rage brought her to focus. She was gripping the Axe hard, bleeding the process like Jocelyn did when she took Khord’s rage upon herself. The rage seemed to last far awhile, but Tiffanie didn’t let it consumed her. The rocks burst forth flame and the room became stifling. From
behind her, Tiffanie heard a voice, “who are you? what do you want? why are you here?” Turning her head, Tiffanie saw her shadow against the wall made by the sudden flame. The shadow was not her. It was a broader, deeper form. The silhouette was one Tiffanie recognized from the mummified remains of Khord. “Speak!” it demanded in the old dwarven tongue.
Sweat dripping down her body, Tiffanie turned and faced the shadow of Khord. “I am Typhon-Ne’,” Tiffanie replied in dwarven. “I am now the owner of the axe you once wielded. I seek to put your troubled soul to rest, and end this rage and bloodlust your axe instills.”
The voice said, “I am the shadow of the will of Khord. I AM the Axe. You do not own ME! None do. Khord called for vengeance, Khord’s will must be obeyed, Khord must have REVENGE! The wyrm took them all and the blood of Khord’s father…”
“How long ago did this happen?,” Tiffanie asked. “Is that why Khord froze to death on that mountain. Searching for this wyrm? And what is this about the blood of Khord’s father?”
“Khord lived in the last days of Azenkuul, when the pride of the King of the Realm woke those who fought under the bloody dragon banner, and whose appetite scattered the host into the fastness of the pillars of heaven.”
“Khord did not FREEZE to death. He was FROZEN to death. He tracked the wyrm, but was betrayed by his own blood, the blood of his father whom he once loved.”
“Khord knows they both live. Khord knows they both must DIE! All the blood but two died, Khord and he who betrayed them to the wyrm. So many of the surviving host…lost…”
“So you’re saying that either Khord’s own father or one of his siblings betrayed him to the wyrm,” Tiffaine stated. “I understand betrayal of the blood, I know of his rage.”
“Tell me, is the bone flute that Khord carried, that I now do, is it part of the wyrm that killed him?,” she asked. “Was that mountain where I found Khord, close the the wyrm’s lair?”
“I would like to help Khord’s spirit reach the rest it deserves. How will I know this betrayer? What is his name?”
“Khord knows rage. Khord had the spur of the wyrm, cut from its wing in battle, made into a tool to use against the wyrm. Khord knew how. Khord’s will and rage is blind to its use, we are angered in our failure.”
“Khord looks even now upon the resting place, yet killing the wyrm will bring no peace, the betrayer of blood must suffer. Only the wyrm knows. Only the wyrm knows. Only the wyrn knows where the abominable one resides. The betrayer of blood’s name is dead to us, it cannot be spoken only felt.”
The shadow is suddenly cut in two by another shadow, the smoke begins to clear and a name is felt, but not heard – Bhalkor the Abhorred.
Tiffanie snaps fully conscious and awake. The Axe is in her hand and she is once again attuned to it. The rage is on the edge of her control. If attacked, she knows she will snap. She is also aware that she is feeling the rage and like before in theory this attunement could be removed.
Tiffaine sat in silence contemplating the vision that she had, thinking of a plan to accomplish this task. First thing on her list was to take a closer look and the dragon bone flute in her possession.
Getting up from her seated position, Tiffanie put on a robe she brought with her, picking up her clothes she opened up the door to leave. As she left to head to her room, she spotted an acolyte, and said, “I am finished with the room set up for me to use as a sweat lodge. Could you pass on to the Monseigneur my thanks for its use.”
The acolyte nodded.
Still drenched in sweat, Tiffanie left the acolyte in the hallway and headed off the rooms left for her use. Once in her room, Tiffanie tossed her clothes into a nearby chair and collapsed into the bed exhausted.