Abelarde could hear a voice say something about feeling better than ever, and it confused him. It was a familiar voice, and coming from somewhere nearby. He was kneeling down beside a pale young woman with blood bubbling from between her lips. He knew her, and knew it hadn’t been Yelena that said it. So who was speaking?
A brief spike of panic hit him squarely in the chest when he was suddenly pulled to his feet. The panic burst from the pit lodged in his chest and spread to all of his limbs like cold snakes crawling through his veins, when he realised that he hadn’t actually been lifted by someone. He had stood on his own. Something had made him stand. More questions.
The only answer he ever got came in an explosion of fiery pain that erupted from somewhere deep in his chest, scorching everything , flesh and bone alike, on the way out of his body before bursting through his skin. If he would have had any level of control over his body, he would have screamed before he died in a ball of swirling flames.
A moment later, the pain was gone. Abelarde was on his back, and had no idea how he got there. Light stabbed him in the eyes. It was bright, not flickering like flames dancing across his face like a burning log in a fireplace. He opened his eyes, then squinted against the light and sucked in a breath. He could see no fire, only bright sunlight. He smelled no smoke, just cool fresh air.
Was he dead?
The sound of approaching footsteps, soft leather against cobblestone, made him turn his head to the side. Beads of sunlight caught the edges of the shimmering gold and red threads interwoven in an intricately patterned robe that stood a few feet away from him. His eyes followed the leather sandals on her feet, past the woven black cord wrapped twice around the waist, up to the etched inscriptions stitched carefully on thick fabric of the chest, and then up to the face. A woman’s face.
Eyes back down to the chest. Returning to that beautiful face.
Long, wavy black hair framed her face, but it was her eyes that caught Whitby’s attention – eyes as dark as the richest chocolate, framed with the smallest trace of gold. Those eyes looked down at him. Lips that appeared as soft as the finest silk, pulled back and smiled at him with the whitest teeth he’d ever seen. Abelarde sat up and propped himself on his elbows. “Just to be clear,” he said, “I’m dead, right?”
The smile never wavered. “Welcome to the Palace of the Four Suns,” she said.
“Palace of the…. Oh I am dead.”
“Afraid so. I’m Zanielle,” she said and offered him her hand.
Abelarde took it and she pulled him to his feet. “Thanks,” he said, a little surprised at the strength in her hand, then looked around. He’d been laying in an intersection of several cobblestone footpaths, the paths cutting pie wedges in deep green, lush grass. The lawn spread out to walls ten feet high, white stone creations that seemed to have grown into being. Bright and beautiful, those were the words that Abelarde kept coming up with to describe everything he saw.
He turned to Zanielle. Everything he saw.
“As much as I enjoy the view,” Abelarde said, “What exactly am I doing here? This isn’t quite the afterlife I was expecting.” When she didn’t answer, only smiled and looked at him with those understanding eyes, he started putting two and two together. “This is Waukeen’s domain, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Zanielle confirmed. “She stays here along with her liege, Amaunator, Keeper of the Yellow Sun.”
Whitby didn’t feel exactly thrilled about that revelation, but he decided to play it off as best as he could. He set his hands on his hips and let out a boisterous laugh. “Well that’s great, seeing as how I’m a paladin of -”
Zanielle quickly pressed her fingers to his lips, her eyes reflecting her alarm. “Don’t speak of that,” she whispered and removed her fingers. The smile returned. “Now please, let me show you around.”
“Why not? I’ve got all the time in the world,” Abelarde said and flashed a smile of his own.
As they walked through various courtyards, Abelarde began singing his tales of glory. After a few stories, he noticed Zanielle was still attentively listening to him. It was a good thing he had many stories that he could pull from his bag of tricks, because he wanted to talk to her all day and night.
It was during a lull between tales that Abelarde took a moment to enjoy the surroundings. It was beautiful here in the Palace, but it was also very quiet for a citadel this size. All he could hear was a soft hum, possibly a chant or prayer some distance away. That would have explained why he hadn’t seen another person during their entire walk.
Zanielle led Abelarde through the central courtyard and stopped in front a wide set of stairs. “Is there a prayer meeting going on,” asked Whitby.
“Something like that,” Zanielle told him. She motioned toward the stairs. “After you.”
Abelarde’s hands went up. “Oh I didn’t mean I wanted to actually go to the prayer meeting, I was just wondering where everybody was.”
Zanielle didn’t say anything more. She just motioned toward the stairs. Abelarde wasn’t exactly feeling comfortable with that, but what were his options? “Okay, if you insist.” And up the stairs he went.
Once Abelarde reached the top of the stairs, he turned and looked over his shoulder. Zanielle remained at the bottom of the stairs. She waved him forward, motioning for him to continue through the doors. No turning back now, Abelarde decided, and pushed the twin doors open.
Inside was a large, circular room with large colored windows on either side of it. The light shone through the windows and illuminated a metallic sun, fixed squarely in the center of the room. It was an audience room, Abelarde noticed, like a screening room before one stepped into a royal chamber. A large, single door to his right open and Abelarde turned to see a man enter the room. “Man” meaning he looked like a powerfully built human from the waist up, but his face was nothing more than two dark orbs in his eye sockets . No nose, no mouth. “Enter” meaning he drifted into the room on the flapping of a huge pair of wings sticking out of his back, and swirling light where his legs would be.
“Hello Abelarde.” The voice seemed to come from the Angel, which seemed to be the best definition Abelarde could come up with.
“Hello. I am called Jenocine. You may address me as such.”
Abelarde nodded at the emblem on the floor. “Is that for -”
Jenocine nodded. “He will be joining us momentarily.”
That rattled Abelarde. “I’m… talking to him?”
Jenocine folded his thick arms across his chest. Abelarde noticed two large swords hanging off his waist. “Do not presume to speak to him. Address me, unless he directly addresses you.”
“Got it.” Abelarde actually didn’t get it. Why did a celestial being, a God of all people, want to speak to him? Did he want an autograph?
Jenocine’s arms dropped to his side. He lifted his head. “May I present to you, the Morninglord, the Keeper of the Yellow Sun, Amaunator!”
A small ball of light rose up from the sun emblem. The orb grew, stretched, twisted, all the while glowing brighter until it flashed white light. Abelarde shielded his eyes. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, he still saw spots burned into his brain. When he opened his eyes, there was a gold-skinned, athletically built young man wearing a regal robe of royal blue standing before him. Abelarde was also on one knee. He didn’t recall making the decision to drop, but it seemed like a good idea regardless.
He looked at Abelarde with a slight smile. Jenocine spoke. “Abelarde Whitby, you have been brought here to answer allegations of sacrilege by portraying yourself as a Paladin of Waukeen. This blasphemy has not gone unnoticed.”
What? No! Abelarde thought to himself. That was all Yelena’s idea! It wasn’t my fault! He looked at the floor and hoped that it would split open and swallow him up. His head felt warm, and Abelarde slowly looked up to see Amaunator studying him. Abelarde hung his head. “I meant no disrespect.”
At first, Abelard felt an overwhelming desire to be anywhere but here. But the feeling was getting stronger, and very specific. “Do you feel that?” Jenocine asked. “That sensation of being called away somewhere?”
Abelarde kept his head down. “I do.”
“Your friends are performing a resurrection ritual. They want to bring you back to them. Would you like that?”
Abelarde lifted his head and made eye contact with the Sun God. “Yes,” he said. “I would.”
To his surprise, Amaunator spoke back to him.
“There are those who believe I should not allow this to happen,” he said. “The fact that you are still here proves I have the power to keep you from returning. Ever. In fact, if I felt so opposed to your presence I could cast you out into the Astral Sea where your final moments would be excruciatingly painful. That is, if you weren’t drawn into the Abyss first.”
Abelarde could feel Jenocine staring at the side of his head, but he wasn’t about to look away. Staring at the sun might make you blind, but he was determined not to look away from the Sun God.
“You have sullied Waukeen’s good name,” Amaunator said, not so much as an accusation as it was a statement. “You are known to many in Faerun, and your actions have not always reflected favourably on Waukeen.”
Amaunator smiled, which surprised both Abelarde and Jenocine. “However, I believe there’s a better purpose for you back amongst the living. I’m sure you’ve been made aware as to what has transpired since your demise?”
Abelarde thought back to the past few hours. During his tour with Zanielle, he’d had images, thoughts, flashed across his mind. He didn’t give it much weight because he was dead, and he was enjoying his time with the young lady. “Yes, I am aware.”
“Kalak Stormrage has come into a great deal of power. Soon, he will have the capability to obtain much… more power. Power that would make him something beyond mortal. A single man with that much power could upset the pantheon and destroy what little contact gods and mortals have managed to forge over the past few centuries. Magic itself could be wiped from the World. All magic, save for his. This makes him dangerous to everyone, man and gods alike.”
“How does this involve me?”
“I will grant you a second chance. You will return to your body, and breathe life once again. In return, you will be my voice, my paladin back amongst the living. You will stop Kalak from obtaining that power.”
Abelarde started to stand, but Jenocine gave him a stare to suggest that course of action to be a bad idea. “You want me to become a paladin?”
“My paladin. Consider it part of your penance.”
“Since I may never get this chance again, I have to respectfully ask this question if I may.”
“What would happen if I decided not to accept this offer?”
“Astral Sea, Abyss, or maybe Jenocine.”
The angel spread his wings. His swords actually flickered.
“Excellent!” Amaunator motioned and Abelarde rose to his feet. The sensation of having to leave became much stronger. “Be on your way, and good luck.”
Abelarde bowed before Amaunator, watched Jenocine hover there silently, and spun on his heels. It was like an invisible rope was tied to his waist and was physically dragging him away. He pushed the doors open and ran down the stairs.
Zanielle was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Her smile stopped Abelarde in his tracks. “How did it go?” she asked.
“Looks like I’ll be leaving here,” Abelarde said with a sudden pang of regret.
The smile was still there, but there was a sadness in her eyes. “And we just started to get to know each other,” she said with a hint of her own regret.
That invisible rope started tugging again. “Hopefully we’ll get to see each other again,” Abelarde said over his shoulder.
“But not too soon,” Zanielle called out as Abelarde flew through the courtyard.
“Don’t forget me while I’m away,” Abelarde shouted, glowed, and vanished.
Zanielle pressed her fingers to her lips. “Who could forget the great Abelarde Whitby, Paladin of the Sun.”
- * * * *
Back at the Waystop, sitting at their own table, Abelarde Whitby enjoyed another round of drinks amongst friends and told Toby and Lucan the whole story – meeting a beautiful woman who seemed to be totally into him, getting out of charges of blasphemy against Waukeen, talking to the sun god Amaunator himself, and being set of a path to save both mortals and immortals alike.
As he finished his story, Toby set his flagon down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Wait a sec.” He burped.
“All class,” Lucan said with a smirk.
“As I was saying,” Toby continued. “That’s quite the story.”
“It’s all true.”
Lucan and Toby exchanged glances. “You’re telling us that you’re really a paladin now?”
“Yes.” Abelarde sighed. “Really a paladin.”
Both men burst into laughter. Long and loud. Laughter.