(SPOILERS: Mild spoilers for Bonekeep Part II)
Bonekeep, Level Two
The words came as a roar, an urging born from certain knowledge. Aroden's halo flared as he swung his longsword Ebonstorm, Hand of Mankind once more; its adamantine blade dug deep into the construct's body. Had it been a living creature it would have been slain long ago, but the mechanical monster continued its assault, ignoring the grievous wound.
Aroden, a God made flesh, slid his feet back, inching towards the portal and adopting a defensive stance. He blocked another attack, but his arms were weary and his wounds many. The walls were splattered in the blood of slain Hound Archons and men alike.
They had anticipated peril. They had not anticipated wholesale slaughter.
Arazni's Gift, his platemail that had borne him through so much of his troubled rebirth, was scratched and dented. The monster barely seemed slowed by such deterrences as a cocoon of metal.
"Hold fast," came the call from within the portal. A rich, intelligence voice mixed in with animalistic growl. "Never fear Godling, Servare the Red is here."
Aroden felt, rather than saw, his red dragon ally slip through the portal behind him; the creature was the size of a horse, all horns, red scales and fierce claws, its mute gnome slave strapped limply to its chest.
Why anyone would choose to willingly become an eidolon Aroden would never know, but the huge, blackened wound on the creature's chest that never seemed to heal spoke volumes about the matter.
He had no time to think about it. The construct lunged again with both arms. Aroden twisted his body, parrying one; the second screamed as it dragged along his plate, sparks flying wildly all around him. He stepped back, nearly tripping over the fallen body of their fellow Pathfinder, his crimson blood slicking the floor of this strange, hostile place.
"I said fall back, Servare! Our forces dwindle... This is a fight we cannot win! Take Anrakyr and flee this place, never to return!"
A rush of air behind him nearly knocked him off his feet as Servare's massive nostrils snorted dismissively. "You fleshlings can never understand. A dragon does not flee, least of all from an overgrown clock."
This was no time for bickering. Aroden lunged with his blade, slicing off a hunk of construct. He grit his teeth, halo flaring once more as he leapt forward, driving Ebonstorm in up to the hilt. He roared triumphantly, feeling victory to be certain.
The construct accepted the hit as though it were a mere inconvenience. It slammed its spiked arms into him, puncturing the steel of his armour, finding flesh below.
He could heal himself. Could restore whole damaged flesh, but air couldn't fill his ruined lungs. The construct released him. He tried to speak--tried to breathe--but nothing happened.
Ebonstorm fell to the ground, numb hands unable to hold it. His legs collapsed, Servare casually stepped over him, and the world once again went dark.
Aroden died with a smile on his face.
But then there was light. There was always light. Aroden just could not stay dead.
There was warmth above him and below. Was he on the Material Plane, or had he ascended once again? Excitement filled him. Had death returned his divine essence?
He felt a touch on his cheek. A warm, comforting touch he knew well. Aroden kept his eyes closed, knowing who it was.
"Good evening, Arazni."
"Good evening, Aroden," was her soft reply. The tone sealed it for him. He hadn't ascended. This was... well, it was something. But it wasn't the plane of the Gods.
Aroden had known Arazni as a mortal, as his herald, his comrade, and... something else. It was complicated, the "us", but for most the term "close friends" was enough.
Those were brighter days, very much in the past. So much had changed in the mortal realms. Now Arazni ruled in Geb, a shade of her former self, her body dead and rotting. Horrid to look upon, but far less horrifying than her twisted and darkened soul.
He remembered Geb with much fondness, a bright and verdant land. Fertile.
No longer. Aroden was horrified to see it as it was today, just as he was its ruler. Seeing Geb's dead and rotten citizens tending the fields would be a sight that would never leave him, in this life or any other.
"I thought for sure that I would ascend if I were killed," he said, trying to sit up, but his muscles felt weak. Aroden remained in the white, laying on some unseen surface, content. "Wasn't that our deal?"
"What deal?" said Arazni, gently stroking his cheek. "Are you Asmodeus now, sneaking divinity into your fine print?"
"No, but I simply assumed..."
"You assumed that you would be reborn as an extraplanar mortal, live a good life, die in the service of a worthy organisation and regain your Godhood?"
"Something like that," Aroden admitted. "The best plans are often the most simple."
Arazni--or whatever was passing for Arazni--made a soft tsking sound. "One cannot solve a puzzle by finding a single piece. The mystery of your... absence... cannot be solved by a single act of bravery. How many other mortals have perished in the halls of Bonekeep? Do they all deserve to be Gods too?"
"No," said Aroden, "and I wonder sometimes if I do, either."
Arazni tittered in amusement. "Now you are Cayden Cailean, the reluctant God? How can you ever be expected to regain your place amongst the pantheon when you're too busy stealing the portfolios of your peers?"
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Words mean things. You shouldn't misuse them."
They say there in silence, Aroden basking in the warmth, Arazni cradling his head.
"I want to open my eyes," said Aroden, "but I'm afraid of what I might see."
"Afraid of me?"
"Afraid that you're not really here, and that this is all some kind of pre-expiration hallucination. Afraid Pharasma's pulling some kind of cosmic joke on me."
"The Lady of Graves is not known for her humour," Arazni remarked. "And if you ever doubt you're not really a God, I'm afraid the halo gives it away."
"Similar features have been seen in others."
There was no response, at least not right away, save Arazni's gentle breathing.
"Aroden... have you wondered, sometimes, why you don't possess the wizarding abilities you had in life?"
"I cast spells," Aroden protested. "I draw upon the magic of the Gods. This is a feat impossible for supplicants of dead Gods."
"But you do not cast arcane spells."
"I assumed that they would return in time."
"Quite an assumption," Arazni said.
"Can you tell me why?"
"Of course," said Arazni. "But do you trust what I'm telling you?"
"As much as I trust anything."
She inhaled, lifting Aroden's head slightly, then spoke. "Do you remember how you died?"
Visions of that terrible, painful event leapt back in his mind. He forced them away. "Yes."
"The death of mortals is a messy, bloody, screaming affair. The death of Gods are no different. When you were struck down, your divine essence was split into twelve aspects... The same aspects who once walked Golarion. The beggar, thief, fisherman, hunter, shepherd, farmer, merchant, tailor, craftsman, artist, scholar and soldier. You, of course, are the soldier."
"That explains the blade. The armour."
"Indeed. There are eleven others, just like you. One for each of the guises."
"What... happens when I find them?"
"Oh," said Arazni, "I would be more concerned about what happens when they find you."
"Each of them know this. The essence of Aroden was divided into eight. With the death of each--the true death--the essence stored in the fragment is distributed evenly. Look at how powerful you've become in such a short time, Aroden. But a few months ago you were a skilled but untested novice, strong but untrained... now you wield spell and blade with considerable skill. Why do you think that is?"
Aroden shuffled uneasily, grimacing, fighting the temptation to open his eyes. "Because I have trained with the Pathfinder society. Because I have explored, reported, cooperated. I've grown as an individual--"
"As a person? As one of them?" Arazni's voice took on a bitter edge. "Aroden, you are far better than the writhing fleshbags you associate with. It is true that the Pathfinder Society will, sooner rather than late, do something terribly important, and it's important you be there, but for now... these eleven other fragments of your soul should be your priority. Retrieve them and reclaim your destiny."
He knew it was wrong. If the other eleven shards were just as he was, they had every right to live. Besides. Aroden kept his word and he had pledged service to the Pathfinder Society. No small part of him knew that this was important.
"I'll investigate the eleven," Aroden said, meaning every bit of it. "After the Pathfinder Society's work is done."
"If you wait that long," said Arazni, her tone ominous, "they will find you first."
Aroden opened his eyes and found himself staring directly into the nostrils of a red dragon. Beyond that, he could see the walls of the Grand Lodge in Absalom.
"Welcome back," purred Servare, his gnome slave limply hanging from its harness. "You've been gone for some time. We were unsure we could revive you--your spirit almost crossed over--but alas, I did not have Aasimar for my meal tonight." The bright runic mark on his forehead glowed. "Mores the pity."
Aroden pushed back Servare's snout, sitting up. "Down, dragon. You get your fill of horse meat." His head ached. His chest ached. "How long?"
"Feels like just a few minutes."
"Keep the experience to yourself," smirked Servare, his gnome gurgling mindlessly. "I plan on living forever."
"Dragons die, you know."
"Not this dragon, meatsack. I have a bleachling to sap the life from."
Aroden rubbed his chest, trying to force the ache away. "Take it from a God," he said, grimacing as he slowly staggered to his feet, his hands trembling ever so slightly before him, his whole body drained.
"Nobody cheats death forever."