Behind the walls

Writings of a wandering mind


Posted By in Fantasy Fiction


Suspended in the indeterminate darkness, hung stalactites and flecks of Flickermold that glittered like distant stars covered by thin clouds. Night was eternal in the Underdark. It was a dispassionate truth that ground its message into Faulkes as he found himself in one lightless cavern or tunnel after another. Faulkes skulked about the darkness, comforted by the security of shadow. Stygian shapes stirred in the ink fathom emptiness and caused one paranoid glance after another. Drifting from passage to passage, Faulkes moved as a monster lurking in the dark. The information Faulkes had paid for was money well spent and he soon found himself on a small tunnel ledge high upon a cavern wall, overlooking an Underdark city. Faulkes scrutinized the squalid buildings of Maelbrathyr from his perch above.

Suspended between two worlds, Maelbrathyr was a city as out of place as its people were. Hundreds of years ago the god of torment, Torog, pulled Maelbrathyr down from the surface. Known as the King Who Crawls, Torog made sure the surviving citizenry suffered unimaginably under his torturous touch. For years after the fall, their cries could be heard from the surface. Yet the lords of Maelbrathyr suffered a fate worse than death. During their torment, they were cursed with life unending and given a promise. Torog swore that should they ever find death, he would claim their souls for an eternity of suffering so great, that mortal words had not yet been made in which to describe it. So it was that Maelbrathyr became refuge and prison, hope and hell.

Faulkes’s gaze combed the subterranean city of slaver, slave, and slayer. The cavern air was choked with noise and humidity, as echoes of pain and perverse pleasure thickly filled Faulkes’s ears. He could only imagine what horrors were available for sale. As much to himself and any dark spirits listening, Faulkes swore an oath through gritted teeth.

“I‘ll find you, my love.”

There was no mercy for the weak or witless, as the line between predator and prey became blurred. Faulkes knew his place in that order. Soon it would be time for others to learn.

Buildings leaned into one another or cavern walls in decrepit, broken shapes. Their lights spilled out onto cracked streets in a mournful blue haze or pallid green glow. It made the teeming masses traveling the broken boulevards appear wan and only served to deepen the dark borders around them. For most of the year, Maelbrathyr was a fallen city populated only by the few damned and demented souls that dared settle. Yet for a ten-day, Maelbrathyr became a twisted horror of debased debauchery known as the Grim Carnival. People from deep Underdark came up; while shady surface dwellers came down to meet on neutral ground. All manner of illicit goods, slaves and magic were sold to the highest bidder. Dens of every sort sold sin wholesale. Screaming crowds of gamblers piled into various fighting halls as gladiators churned bloody mud under their feet. Whatever your tastes, whatever your pleasure, there was a sound chance that with the right coin, you could have it.

Faulkes watched with distaste from his high perch. He patiently waited for his trusted friend, the deadly shadow scout, Ametheon. Old habits die hard, and a pang of regret drooped Faulkes’s head. Ametheon wouldn’t be coming, none of them would. Faulkes had never before felt so alone, or so determined. With a resigned sigh, the young warlord set off to join the crowds below.

Entering the city wasn’t nearly the challenge that Faulkes initially thought it would be. His armor and weapons marked him as a mercenary, and the guards didn’t seem too concerned. However, as with any plan, there were always complications. As Faulkes was walking, a Stone Tribe goliath shouldered past.

“Eey! Watch where you goin, halvzie!” He bellowed in undercommon.

Faulkes turned to face his would-be assailant. He was small, for a giant, but armed with breath a creature twice his size would be challenged to match. Faulkes’s jaw set as he went for a weapon, and a hand closed over his.

“Hey-hey now der Warwulf. Youn musn be gettall bloodzy fore da match. Kuld sully da numbaz!”

The sudden appearance of a potential second threat gave the goliath pause. Faulkes was surprised to find his contact so suddenly. Then again, Toothless Tommy Horror was as surprising as he was strange.

Tommy continued, “Dat go fer u too, big fella! You’n warms be voidn betz an commerce,wuld ya?”

Toothless Tommy raised his voice as he let the question hang midair. From a nearby street corner, past the crowd, a few enforcer helms turned curiously towards them. Tommy’s grip shifted from Faulkes’ hand to drape over his shoulder. Tommy gave Faulkes a wink and bright sideways smile before setting his sights back on the troublemaker.

“Ya see! Not evan you dat jumpie. Ere, take dis.”

Tommy flipped a small copper disk and the goliath snatched it midair. Tommy Horror explained.

“Daz a god token dere dat is! Voun inz go ta-da Drowild Waif fer a free roun! Va stiff wanna fight, he be outback.”

Tommy leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper, “Outta da sigh o dem-damn forcers. Wut ya say, eh?”

The goliath’s face hardened in concentration as he chewed over the situation. Closing Drow Enforcers hastened his decision. The goliath growled out.

“This isn’t finished, half-breed!”

Faulkes met the goliath’s hard stare with one of his own. Toothless Tommy steered Faulkes away saying,

“Ya-ya. We no.”

Faulkes and Tommy quickly lost themselves in the crowd before turning down an alley, evading any pursuit. Toothless Tommy looked askance at Faulkes and shook his head saying,

“Wut wer -ya diakin ? (ioin an star-n noise now, eh? Ain your sposed ta be real, tippy-tippy toe naw?”

Faulkes studied the cobble and grime of the alley as they walked. A few breaths passed before Faulkes said, “Wouldn’t have been much trouble. I’d have killed ’em deader than stone. His tribe could appreciate that.”

Toothless Tommy nodded his head in agreement before saying, “Ya-ya. sure. You’d bury ’em, den you’d buy ’em.”

Faulkes shot Tommy a puzzled look.

“Wha, din-ya see? Stone Man’s colla mark’d em. He dere wuz own’d. You’d of drop soma’s stock, an have da pay it righ. Data da law of corrunerze, ya no. ”

Faulkes scoffed while kicking at an alley rat. Toothless Tommy continued.

“Den again, me-be dat wuz hiz hustle. Box sen em out. Ropeem a mark. Ave new slave. Youn don no. Gotz ta be smart, kareful.”

The pair rounded a corner and into a dive bar. Faulkes shoved a sleeping drunk off the bar stool and out into the alley. He collapsed fully into the rubbish, completely covered. Moments later there was a frantic stir in the trash, followed by total stillness. Faulkes looked at Tommy the entire time and said,

“I’m just going to be here long enough to do one job. Then I’m a ghost. You get what I asked for?”

“Ya-ya, I take care-o allovait. You’n good ands now brow.”

As Tommy talked, a brutally ugly half-orc bartender plunked a pair of beaten and blasted pewter mugs down on the bar in front of his new customers. A frothy black brew spilled out over the rim of the mugs and onto the bar. Tommy nodded thanks while flipping him silver. The coins tumbled through the air in an arc to land neatly in the bartender’s apron pocket. The half-ore squinted at Tommy and exhaled an irritated snort before walking off. Tommy called after him, “Danks, Dug. You-da meanest!”

Faulkes chuckled softly as he went for his beer.

“Why you always testing, huh?”

Tommy wiped the froth from his face after a deep draw and said, “Ya alwayz gotz ta know ow ya stands wit sauna. Well, most always. I dun ave ta do it wit you, do I?”

Faulkes and Tommy shared a hard look for several seconds and then erupted into raucous laughter. Faulkes was still smiling when he asked,

“So what happens when Stone Fist goes to the bar looking for me.”

“Bah, he fine wut he loolcn-fa. Many half-elve at dat bar, an All ya be lookin da same!”

Tommy’s hearty laugh was contagious, and in short order, Faulkes was laughing as well. At the other end of the bar, Dug chuckled softly with his head down while he poured more brew. Faulkes noticed and yelled, “What you laughin at, EH? You halvzie too!”

The half-ore stood stunned, brow lowered. He snorted in confusion as his lower lip rolled and his jaw worked. The ensuing silence shattered in shared laughter as the tension deflated. Toothless Tommy Horror slapped his new friend on the back, leaned closer, and lowered his voice.

“Wha ya plan, man? Wenz-it goin dun?”

Faulkes spoke over his beer. “Never mind my plan. You worry bout your part, and my exit. That’s all. No more.”

Tommy lifted his hands in surrender. “Shua, shua. I get it. Naw troublez brow, no troublez.”

Faulkes finished his beer in one Tong pull and said

“You’ll know when to start. You’ll get a signal.”

“Wuz da signs?”

Faulkes stood and said, “You won’t be able to miss it. Be ready.”

Faulkes slid a gold coin down the bar to Dug as he passed a pouch to Toothless Tommy. Tommy took the bag while finishing his beer, sliding the bag into his coat Tommy gave Faulkes a farewell slap on the back, and the two parted. Each walked separate directions down dark alleys. As Faulkes made his way the smile melted from his face exposing a stoic mask. Things were in motion. Faulkes thought, “For better or ill, it ends tonight.”

Finding the mansion wasn’t difficult It was one of the few places of dark splendor left largely intact Maelbrathyr’s fall had broken the city into four pieces. Each staggered at a level lower than the last. Lord

Alieria Salitzar’s home looked down upon the main bazaar, Coliseum, and a vast expanse of the Underdark. It stood proudly graced with all manner of weaving stonework and ornate statuary. Gardens that once grew green on the surface were replaced with a series of interconnected fountains. The path of their water was directed by finely cut, directed streams. Glowing fish darted about clear waters. Small bridges and footpaths could take walkers about a winding wall-less maze. In the center was something resembling a large tree. Its bark appeared as glossy, translucent alabaster flesh. Hundreds of thick branches sprouted thousands of thin switches, each covered in small button-sized luminescent blue blooms. A party of statues stood in silent celebration under the boughs as a ring of black marble benches circled the tree.

The mansion’s double doors swung open as servants scuttled out They were carrying all manner of banners, tables, and hanging cloths and moved about setting up for what appeared to be, a grand event. Lord Salitzar was a collector of beauty, had a taste for pain, and habit of violence. It was going to be a party indeed, and Faulkes was bringing the entertainment. As he approached the front gate, a pair of elaborately armored guards made their presence known. Faulkes pulled his invitation from its envelope, making sure that his thumb covered the blood stain on it The guard took the card in one gauntleted hand and circled his other over it, palm down. A dark purple light flowed out from under the guard’s hand bathing the invitation in light. Golden runes started to appear just beneath the invitation’s ink.

“All’s in order.” The guard said as he passed Faulkes his invitation and continued.

“Servants, slaves and,” the guard paused to look Faulkes up and down “performers go to the back. Servants will see you to your room and,” the guard coughed, “clothing.”

Faulkes took half a step back as the other guard approached.

He pulled out a large sack and snapped it open towards Faulkes. “All your weapons, magics, iron, sharp sticks and harsh language here please.”

The warlord looked at him with suspicion and said, “My weapons are part of my act, they go with me.”

“Sure, they go with you, when your act starts. Till then none go in or about, so armed.”

Faulkes studied the guards for a moment before looking down the length of property wall while sucking his teeth.

“Either you leave them here, or you leave here. That’s it.”

The second guard chimed in “What it’ll be?”

Faulkes sighed in resignation as he pulled his great axe from his back and placed it in the bag. He then took one throwing axe from its holster, then the other, and dropped them in with a clatter. Faulkes pulled a pair of throwing spikes from under his right gauntlet, then three more from his left. Each went into the bag and landed with a chime. He pulled a pair of daggers from belt holsters on his back and deposited them in the bag with a dead stare and bright smile. Faulkes then took a knee to unstrap a Drow long blade on his calf and pulled a folded shaving razor from his boot. They both went into the bag loudly. The guards looked incredulous.

“Is that all?”

“Oh, wait. I almost forgot” Faulkes said.

He turned his belt buckle counterclockwise and detached it revealing it as a brass knuckle. Faulkes kissed it while looking a guard in the eye, and dropped it in the sack.

The first guard didn’t look pleased while his partner’s mouth hung slightly open. The sack sagged with weight.

“Is… that… it?!” The guard asked deadpan.

Faulkes rolled his eyes, “Oh well, if you insist.”

The warlord leaned forward suspending his face over the bag and shouted a slew of curses. expletives and enough creative nasty language to make a succubus blush. As Faulkes straightened, he looked mightily pleased. The guards, however, did not. Muffled laughter caught Faulkes and the guards’ attention. From behind the gate, a servant stood trying to cover her laughter with a cough. The young woman wore white gossamer cotton cinched at her wrists, ankles, and waist, pulling the sheer fabric tightly over her lithe body. Her caramel skin and ebony locks stood out in stark contrast to the pale fabric of her clothing. Yet despite it all, her eyes, wide, almond-shaped pools of honey, called one to them. The servant stepped forward and said,

“Ahem. If you gentlemen are quite finished, I’ll see our performing guest to his room.”

One guard did a quick, rough pat-down of Faulkes, while the other went to open the gate. Faulkes marched in head high as he took the ladies arm. The servant girl, not quite knowing what all of it was about, said nothing, and escorted Faulkes away. The girl briskly led Faulkes through a garden of statues while saying,

“You sir, are quite the handful aren’t you. I’d suppose you’d have to be, what with catching the Lady Lord’s eye an all. That’s a dangerous bit there that is, sir. Fancy ya one minute, flog ya the next. ”

She bowed in embarrassment, “Oh, apologies sir. I just go on and on sometimes. I don’t mean to, it just happens. Headmistress, Ravenfire says I’m a gibbering mouth and that servants are to be seen and not heard.”

Faulkes looked down to the servant girl as she studied her feet. “Need not to he sorry, miss.” He said while lifting her chin, “Yet I think you sell yourself short. You are gifted in more than one way.” Guilt welled in Faulkes for what he was doing but felt it necessary. He gave her a charming smile. Her eyes widened to his words as she blushed to his touch. The young woman stepped back and out of Faulkes’s reach.

The servant spoke at Faulkes’s feet. “It is as you say, of course, sir.”

Faulkes asked in softer tones, “What do they call you, besides beautiful?”

The young woman let a single laugh escape her mouth before covering it and answering under a heavy flush, “Shaedra, but my friends call me Shae.”

‘Tell me, Shae. Is there somewhere where one could talk, more privately?”

Faulkes let unspoken promises coat his words while feeding the animal magnetism that the Wild Fey had given him. The magic responded powerfully, fueling the desired effect.

Shaedra’s gaze dropped low while searching around for would be eavesdroppers. Her long eyelashes flicked coquettishly as she almost whispered, “I may know just the place. Follow me.”

She turned on a heel and walked briskly off. By Shaedra’s lead, the pair avoided other servants and guests. Shaedra gathered a small covered lantern with amber glass to see by. Soon it was just her and Faulkes, down a darkened corridor, and into an unused sitting room. Sheets covered all of the furniture and heavy curtains concealed the windows. As Faulkes walked in, Shaedra closed the heavy door and set the lock. Faulkes turned when he heard the key click. Shaedra set the lamp on an end table and walked towards Faulkes with feline ease. Shaedra gracefully wrapped her arms around Faulkes’s neck while whispering, “You have the most intoxicating effect on me, sir. This is all so very, sudden.” Shaedra pressed her body close to Faulkes. The heat from her lips was sudden, hot and passionate. Faulkes leaned into the kiss as his arms wrapped around her. Slowly, Faulkes’s hand slid up her back and held her neck. There was a sudden click, Shaedra gasped and went limp. Faulkes carried her unconscious form to the couch and laid her on it carefully.

“I am sorry, Shaedra.”

Faulkes carefully turned his ring around and reloaded the concealed needle. Faulkes walked to the door, unlocked it carefully and peeked down the hall. The way was dear. Everything was going according to plan. Only a few more things to do, and it would be done. What could go wrong?

The long hall smelled damp and old. A single faded forest green carpet stretched the entire length of the hallway. Its gold trim was worn and sprouted loosely, like dead grass. Rose glass lamps glowed dully in their copper green sconces and bathed the hall with bloody light. Knotted picture frames and macabre trophies competed for space down the wall. The once ornate shapes crafted into the plaster ceiling were cracked, stained or absent altogether. leaving dark wounds that would never heal. Doors huddled in recessed frames. Each was carved with beautifully sculpted faces and flowing forms, twisted in untold agony or ecstasy.

As Faulkes approached a corner the air seemed colder, more fouled. He crept up to the edge for a look ahead. Another hallway stretched forth. Its walls were covered floor to ceiling with richly painted portraits. Winding, weaving, knotted and twisted picture frames, climbed the vertical surfaces like ivy. The frames held juxtaposed depictions of beauty and horror. There were paintings of joyous battlefield slaughters, next to masquerade balls of celebratory disembowelment, and heirs to title merrily dining on their dead. Other frames clung to sunken doors that were all but swallowed by the wall. Occasional statuary broke up the framework, yet upheld it as well. One statue appeared to be holding a frame in place, forever checking with the observer that it was properly set. A pair of statuary stood on either side of a door and framed it with bridged arms, their countenance a blend of resigned duty and sorrow.

Faulkes checked the hall as he ducked into the doorway. The door was unlocked and opened with the ease of a cool breeze. Diffuse light suffused the room with a hazy aura as faerie lights danced overhead. On each side of the door, shrines were lit. Tendrils of their smoke rose like wispy serpents to perfume the air. The sculpted walls were covered with turquoise and midnight blue silk tapestries. In between the hanging silks were recessed fountains, whose liquid bounty overflowed from their bowls to pour out into richly tiled channels. Water flowed clown into a large bowl set into the center of the room. A circle of marble benches enclosed the tiled bowl. There sat a raven-haired woman dressed in crimson and black. She swirled the water with one hand in lazy circles and seemed to be gazing into its depths as if doing so would yield her secrets yet untold. Faulkes stood frozen in disbelief. The woman spoke without looking up.

“I knew you would come, though I bade you not.”

Faulkes choked out her name as he ran forward.


Diliahlia turned toward Faulkes as he rushed the fountain. Diliahlia’s gaze arrested his progress instantly, as horror replaced joy. Diliablia’s face still held the enchanted beauty that first captured Faulkes, framed as it was with ebon waves of tumbling tresses. Yet when Faulkes sought to gaze deeply into her eyes, he found them stitched shut. A single bloody tear ran down Diliahlia’s face.

She did it so as not to cloud vision, with sight. And it worked: Diliahlia swallowed painfully, “But all I saw was you.”

Faulkes fell to the bench beside Diliahlia and held her. He knew of nothing that could be said that would make things right. Faulkes felt his own hot tears break as he said,

“Come; let’s be gone from this place. I’ve got a way out, but we have to hurry.”

Holding Diliahlia’s hand, Faulkes stood to leave. Yet as he stepped forward Faulkes found himself anchored. Diliahlia’s grip was determined, desperate. She spoke pleadingly to Faulkes.

“In all the ways I have seen this, in all the ways it could be, there is only one in which ‘we’ have a chance.” “Yes, good. Talk me through your vision as we go. ‘We,’ don’t have time to waste.”

“I am marked, Faulkes.

Salitzar’s symbol is upon me.” Diliahlia lifted her hair and turned as she spoke, revealing a puckered red rune on the back of her neck. Faulkes stared in shock and disbelief.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

He instantly recognized it as a mage mark of bondage. When violence and collars didn’t hold a slave, or if a slave were valuable enough, powerful magi could apply a rune coupled with layers of magical contingencies. With it, the rune-master could ‘control’ a marked slave. With it, a controller could kill one so marked with a thought. Range and location were a common thread included in the spell form. Exceeding it meant agony, a prolonged death, or worse. Faulkes had nothing to remove the mark with. One immediate solution remained. Faulkes hissed,

“I’ll kill that witch!”

Diliahlia let her hair drop and turned to Faulkes’s voice.

“No love, you will not. You cannot. If you do, things will only become worse.”

Faulkes’s gaze shifted from Diliahlia to around the room and back.

Diliahlia broke into his thoughts with a soft voice.

“It won’t be long. Steel my words. Carry their weight.”

Faulkes sat punctured nest to Diliahlia. As she spoke one hand held his face, while the other placed an empty vial on his lap. Faulkes looked down and picked up the vial as dread accompanied recognition. The dismay was heavy in Faulkes’s voice and reduced it to crumbling sand.

“What have you done, Diliahlia?”

I have done what I can do, so you can do what you must do.”

“Where is the antidote!?”

“You know there is none. Not for Widow’s Tears.”

Faulkes pulled Diliahlia into his lap and cradled her. He held her tightly, yet tenderly and kissed her head as she spoke softly.

“Borrow strength from the storm. Let it wash away your fear. Let it quench uncertainty. Do not drink from it, nor let it carry you away.”

Diliahlia swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Lines of determination crossed her face.

“Take my heart to the Sea of Fallen Stars. Find Myth Nantar. Show the Elf of the Deep that waters still sing.”

Diliahlia’s body convulsed yet she continued at a whisper.

“Give me to the Well of Silent Hope, only when you remember what it is that you lost….”

Diliahlia started to nod, her voice barely audible.

“and we will be …. Take my heart…. Take … heart…”

Diliahlia fell silent, motionless. The strain that lined her face, was gone. She was so very still, and somehow seemed smaller. Faulkes shook her.

“Diliahlia, Diliahlia!”

He rocked her back and forth, whispering, pleading, promising.

Like a clarion call, a sonorous voice yelled,


The noise jolted Faulkes, whipping his head upright and around for the source.

The applause started with one. Then others followed. The resonant voice continued, clapping frantically all the while.

“BRA-VO! Excellent! Amazing display!”

The cheers of a crowd and their collective applause seemed to stir the dancing faerie lights up above. The luminescent orbs darted to the far wall and impacted its surface in showers of sparks. As the sparks fell, so too did the facade. Tapestries faded, tile vanished and the courtyard unfolded with a party in full swing. Denizens of the Underdark stood in their finest, applauding as one would a fine play. Faulkes blinked as if waking from a horrible nightmare. An opulently dressed Eladrin woman glided forward. Her frozen dress trailed slightly, leaving a slimy carpet of slush in its wake. While her lower half was wrapped in eternal ice, the navel up was wreathed in arctic flame. Tongues of frozen fire licked the skin from her elegant form, only to regrow instantly. After the ash of her burns floated free, it fell as ice and snow. Her musical voice held many tones yet spoke as one.

“Beautiful agony.”

She turned to the crowd, “Didn’t l promise you a sight? Didn’t I provide such wonderful tragedy?!”

A muscled Duregar spoke, “Ah, ya did, Lord Salitzar.” He squared his shoulders and grabbed his belt. “It was a fine drama.”

Alieria Salitzar turned back to a stunned Faulkes with sharp eyes and sharper smile.

“Yet the show is not yet over, is it.”

Alieria slipped to the tail end of the crowd. The lord aimed her voice at all in attendance. She spoke with a smile and her finely manicured hands.

“This is the opening act in a play that has yet to finish! Behold, there is a twist! The fates have yielded a conspiracy!”

Alieria’s smile deepened as her eyes went flat. The lord Salitzar gestured a guard forward. In his hands was a heavily laden bag.

“How could this half-elf have gotten this far, hmm? How could a young warlord, even one such as he, get so far, without help?”

Alieria Salitzar’s voice went flat, emotionless. Her voice was empty of song. It dripped with malevolence.

Alieria aimed her words at the party before her “Nothing happens in Maelbrathyr without my knowing. Did you really think ‘he’ would make it out, possibly assassinate me in the process?”

Alieria ducked her tongue while slowly waving a finger. “I mean really, people. The girl was a seer for god’s sake!”

The crowd looked nervous. Some laughed uneasily, as if the display were all part of a show. Fewer still stood rooted in terror to Lord Salitzar’s declaration.

Alieria took a steadying breath, clasped her palms before her and nodded to the guard. He stepped forward and threw the bag across the courtyard. Upon its impact and as it to slid to a stop at Faulkes’s feet, a rumble of thunder echoed ominously. The sudden contact brought Faulkes out of his stupor. He looked down into his arms and brushed the hair from Diliahlia’s face. Faulkes carefully laid Diliahlia out upon the bench. Then he reached down into the bag and pulled his weapons free. The crowd did not react well. Screams rose with panic as the rain did fall. It was a crimson shower. It was blood rain.

Alieria taunted the crowd saying, “Now for the final act!”

As Faulkes stood tall he faced the sky, arms outstretched. As if in response there was a streak of lightning accompanied by a teeth-jarring clap of thunder. The Underdark above opened and bled. Faulkes charged and removed his first head before the thunder died. The blood rain gave him strength, washed away fear and provided certainty. Every drop that fell upon his brow or blade gave purpose, it fueled vengeance. He cut them down like wheat before the scythe. Death was everywhere, and Faulkes the bringer of it. Blood poured from sky and wound alike as the warlord tore into everything he could reach. While many slipped in the gore, Faulkes moved through it like a spirit of rage. The drum of thunder was his cadence, and the screams of the slain his chorus. Warlord Faulkes the Warwolfe cut his name into the memory of Underdark.

Limbless bodies, severed heads and appendages covered the ground like leaf litter. Swells of blood flowed into the streams of that filled the fountains causing them to churn and froth. What few partygoers made it to the exits were cut down by Lord Salitzar’s guard. They stood as silent sentinels overseeing the carnage. Only two remained standing in the courtyard. Under the dripping limbs of the bloody alabaster tree stood Lord Alieria Salitzar. Twenty paces off by a grand fountain stood the Warlord, Faulkes. His hair ran red, armor coated, skin crimson and weapons hung with gore. Faulkes blew fury and his eyes spoke rage as the sky still bled.

Alieria spoke first.

“Torog has shown you favor,” she said looking up. “But do not drink from his cup.”

The storm rumbled overhead. Faulkes blinked, and almost swore that he could hear chuckling rolling amongst the thunder. Faulkes flexed his grip on his axes, and started towards Alieria. Her guards raised their weapons and moved in response to the threat, but Lord Salitzar raised a hand halting them. It did not sway Faulkes, but spurred him on. As Faulkes closed on Alieria, she spoke to him.

“I’ll not deny you a chance for vengeance.”

“Good, for I will have it, once I take your head.”

Alieria seemed bemused at the Warlord’s words and continued as he approached.

“Do you want Diliahlia?”

“You’ll NOT say her name!”

Alieria bowed with a sigh and said, “If you should kill me now, Torog will fulfill his oath. He will come to claim me and all the souls here this day.”

The Lord Salitzar looked up from her bow and straightened as the words slammed into Faulkes. He was just feet from the lord. Faulkes could feel the chill of her magic setting her words upon icy cold truth. Faulkes flexed, and caused his great axe to bounce in the air. The Warlord shouted as his weapon hissed towards its target.

“Do not drink from it, nor let it carry you away,” Diliahlia’s voice said inside of Faulkes’s head.

The axe blade stopped amidst Alieria’s frosted flames, a whisper away from the lord’s forehead. Her cold fire caressed Faulkes’s weapon and licked clean the blood there.

Alieria never blinked. Her steel blue eyes never left Faulkes. He stood there, panting with rage. Faulkes screamed in frustration as he turned away from Alieria and threw his axes, blade first into the ground at his feet.

Alieria smiled at Faulkes’s back, hands folded over her stomach, and was about to speak when he moved suddenly. The Warlord spun with deadly grace and impaled Alieria’s unblinking eyes with cold iron throwing spikes. They protruded from Alieria’s eye sockets and burned her hands at their touch. She screamed and thrashed in mortal agony while falling to her side. Faulkes observed his work while he pulled his axes free. She’d live.

“Eye for an eye, bitch.”

Faulkes hung his weapons while walking to the fountain where Diliahlia’s body lay. He knelt before her and cleared her face with water from a wineskin, She only appeared to be sleeping, Faulkes thought. He leaned forward and kissed Diliahlia lightly. Faulkes rested his head on Diliahlia’s as he drew a long blade. A sob threatened to escape, but Faulkes swallowed it down. The Warlord inhaled sharply to straighten himself on his knees. Fresh tears cut lines through the blood on Faulkes’s face. He gripped the knife in both hands, holding it over Diliahlla’s prone form, and set about the grim work of an oracles vision.

Faulkes stumbled about the manor in a daze, bloody boot prints marked his path. Servants scurried out of the Warlord’s way with startled shouts or curses. Guards warily watched. but never approached as he carefully deposited Diliahlia ‘s corpse into the furnace. No one sought his eye or dared spark his ire, for Faulkes was a warrior washed by the blood of Torog’s Storm. No one dared, until Shaedra. She stood blocking his path defiantly. The servant girl had been spared the bloodbath. Standing in her gossamer cottons, Shaedra looked like a spirit of light.

“Take me with you!” Shaedra pleaded.

Faulkes didn’t seem to listen, or even able as he almost shoved the young woman out of his path. Shaedra lept from his bloodstained touch, tripped and fell. The Warlord walked woodenly, eyes at half-mast. As Faulkes walked past, panic and desperation flooded Shaedra’s voice.

“Please, take me with you! If I stay, they’ll send me to the dens for sure!”

Unfazed by the words of a poor servant girl, Faulkes walked on. Shaedra begged the Warlord.

“Pity please, mercy on me. Kill me now, and save me the pain.” Shaedra sobbed.

A memory flashed before Faulkes’s eye. He remembered the depravity and wanton disregard of anything sacred. The dens took everything until it was used up. They took until only a gutted, hollow shell remained. Then, somehow there was more. There was always more. Perhaps it would be a mercy to kill her, Faulkes thought, the Warlord stopped and turned slowly to Shaedra. He took a knee before her, and slowly drew a knife. As Shaedra saw the shine of steel she wept, lifted her chin and looked away.

As Faulkes brought the blade around, his mind suddenly assaulted him with the fresh memory of Diliahlia. Of the long blade piercing her flesh and sliding along bone. With a gasp, Faulkes dropped the knife. Shaedra turned to him with wide, watery eyes. Faulkes blinked twice before saying,

“Pick it up. If anyone comes at us, use it.”

Shaedra nodded the tears from her face in eager assent. Faulkes stood stiffly and looked down the hall to the wide open doors. Tommy would be waiting. Escape for two was the bargain. Faulkes extended a hand and lifted Shaedra to her feet.

Diliahlia’s voice ran through Faulkes. “Quench uncertainty” she’d said.

Faith was a choice that Diliahlia wanted him to make. It was going to be Faulkes’s hardest fight yet. It was a fight he intended to win. As they left the mansion, Shaedra looked around at the only world she’d known, and then into the darkness beyond, With more than a little fear in her voice, Shaedra asked,

`Where are we going?”

It took Faulkes a while to answer as they ran down streets and dark alleys. Through buildings and over rooftops they sprinted, and when they stopped to catch a breath he answered,

“The Sea of Fallen Stars.”

In a very small voice, Shaedra replied. “Oh, okay.” She took a deep breath, “What’s that?”

Faulkes looked through the young woman and answered, “It’s where hope rests, waiting.”

Shaedra’s face bunched up in confusion, but she knew enough not to ask. After all, where was the adventure in that?

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