A Shallow Scar

Being the Third of the Chronicles of Amon'Valura. Go to the start - The Three Keys

The man looked about the room with growing unease. This simple room on the second floor of the King's Chalice Inn did not seem to be the sort of place in which this kind of deal would be made. Perhaps he had been lured here for betrayal? The Yugoloths were renowned for such things. He pushed that thought from his mind - yes he was the son of Galdarius of Tyr, Knight of the Golden Walls, but he was not so important that he was beyond the reach of these creatures if they desired his death. The reassurance was enough to return his thoughts to why he was here, and his excitement returned. Immortality - given so simply! He would be the greatest leader of all time - beneficent and undying, a beacon of light in a world of pain and confusion, beloved by his friends and feared mightily by his enemies. He smiled as he thought of his father's reaction when he returned and showed him what he had become - he would drop to his knee and pledge his servitude! How can a mortal paladin compare to an immortal king?
Lost in his fantasies he failed to notice the growing darkness, cold and unnatural, as it spread through the room, shrouding the light and absorbing the night.
"I am arrived," announced the darkness, it words echoing through the room.
The man looked up quickly, startled from his secret desires. He stood, too quickly, and stumbled back awkwardly over his chair, crying out in pain as the wood dug into his back. The darkness was unmoved.
"Who is there?" the man asked, his voice shaking as he looked into the darkness. "Name yourself," he demanded weakly as he began to pick himself up from the floor.
"I am that to which you called. The answer to your prayers, to the feeble words you whispered into the night as you wept impotently into your pillow, a broken man and an unloved son. I am that which answers your desires while the false and deceitful so-called gods ignored your cries. I am your benefactor my son."
The words echoed in the confines of that cold dark room, etching themselves into the memory of the man, the words that acknowledged his deepest wishes. Tears began to well in his eyes, tears of relief. He tried to talk but his voice hitched ina sob. Only once, but it was clear.
"You do not need to speak little mortal, I know why you have called to me. Your suffering is unjust, I see it. You have a great destiny before you, a destiny that cannot be wasted in the shadow of impostors. A strength of will guides your heart, but those who would be jealous of your splendour keep locked the doors to power, stifling your ambition, and the land and the people suffer for it."
The man nodded through his tears. Here was someone who understood, someone who saw his destiny and the greatness that awaited him. "Can you help me?" he asked finally, looking up through tear filled eyes, hope painted across his face like a child.
The darkness did not stir for several moments, long moments during which the man began to doubt, to fear. Moments that the darkness savoured.
It was too easy.
"I can," it confirmed finally, ending the man's torture. "What is it you desire my son?" it asked although it knew the answer.
The man looked up fiercely at the darkness that smothered the room, "life eternal," he cried, "I desire immortality!"
The darkness receded, shifted back slightly, letting the solitary candle upon the table shed enough light so that the man could see who or what it was he spoke with. Revealed upon a chair opposite was the very vision of age. Wrapped in a darkness that swirled about him as a cloak in a storm sat an old man, his dark leathery skin wrinkled and scarred and swollen with disease. A ripe boil leaked a yellow pus above his brow, and the man watched in disgust as that rivulet or purulence ran into the empty socket of the old man's right eye. He took a deep breath, and as he exhaled shadows escaped from his mouth like a dark mist, curling up to join the darkness.
"What are you?" the man asked in wonder, his fear and his desperation momentarily forgotten.
"It is not important," the old man answered, the dark sockets of his eyes narrowing slightly as if in amusement, "but if it pleases you to give me a name, I am known as Charlatan to some."
The name was not known to the man, and it mattered not anyway, if this Charlatan could give him what he sought he did not care by what name it went. Charlatan cackled, "yes, it does not matter. I have come sheathed in darkness but not in deceit. Deep down you know what I am, or at least what I represent, and you do not care. Your desire has long since resigned you to your path, and now all that remains is to deal."
"Deal?" the man asked, uncertainty edging into his voice.
"You did not think such things are given freely did you?" the old man asked mockingly.
He knew there would be a price. "No," he said quietly.
Charlatan nodded, his head jerking violently as he did as, as if reality was trying to tear the mask from the darkness. "Then here is my price," he said, leaning forward into the shaky light of that single candle.
The man nodded his agreement. He would do what he must, for after all, the price of betrayal was small compared to the great works he would accomplish given time.

***

As soon as he heard the popping sound of the portal disappearing behind him he knew he had been betrayed. The grey dust and ash at his feet and the wan glow of the cold sky told him that he stood in the Grey Waste. A circle of blackened menhirs, 5 in total ringed a stone platform covered in rubble and greying scorch marks. A faint hum filled the air, pulsing slowly and regularly, forcing its presence upon those who stood in that desolate glade. The Solar known as Maeldur Et Kavurik, Merciful Sun of the Shield Walls of the Silver Heaven turned to his companion, golden light radiating from his eyes.
"What manner of treachery is this Ulien?" he demanded, his voice even and melodious even as it spoke with fierce authority.
The man stumbled backwards, fear welling in his eyes, "forgive me my sire," his words falling over themselves in an effort to escape his mouth as he gazed upon the Solar's radiant face, "I did not know, I could not..."
"Do not insult me with lies," the Solar almost yelled. "I see it now, see you for what you are. Betrayer!" he spat the word as his hand went to the huge two handed sword strapped to his back between feathery silver wings. "There can be no mercy for traitors," Maeldur spoke menacingly, "the penalty is death."
"NO!" the man screamed, his voice high pitched, "I did not want to do it, they made me do it!" he pleaded with the Solar.
"Who made you do what, Ulien?" the Solar asked, relaxing his stance slightly.
A quiet chuckle filled the glade, "why us of course," came a cold, ancient voice, filled with both amusement and malice. "Although we did not make him do it for that is not our way, as well you know Maeldur Et Kavurik. He chose his own path, as do all who deal with us."
In his fury at the grovelling human the Solar had failed to detect the carrion stench that washed the glade, radiating from the creature that stood behind him. Forgetting the mewling man sprawled before him, Maeldur Et Kavurik turned to face the being who spoke words he knew to be true. Swathed in darkness, the old man stared across the glade, his eyeless face tilted to the side as if caught up in a curiosity. Standing to his left was a small Aasimar girl, her blue hair shot with a streak of silver, resting upon a crooked shepherds staff. As look of discomfort passed across her face as she shifted her weight onto a clearly crippled, diseased leg. As she settled to comfort her face become a mask of beatific innocence, mocked by the blight of her imperfection.
"You may leave us little mortal, you have kept your end of the bargain" the old man said, dismissing Ulien into the Waste to find his own way. Maeldur did not turn to look at him as he left but Ulien felt deeply the betrayal he had visited upon the Solar that day. It was a treachery he would not forget nor forgive himself for.
The Solar recognised them both for what they were - Baern, the diseased and mutilated offspring of the Wastes, the first fiends. They regarded him with a malice that he felt acutely, and though he did not feel fear, he did feel doubt that he would see Celestia again. Sheathing his blade, Maeldur stood and waited calmly for them to begin what he had been lead to that cursed circle for.
"Tellura my dear," spoke the old man, his voice a dry croak, "go and sit by the stone, take rest for your leg."
The Solar watched as the small girl hobbled over to the tallest of the five menhirs with a deceit so oft-practiced it was now real. Tellura - he had heard the name - Tellura Ibn Shartalan, called the Dire Shepherd by the Yugoloths. That must mean the old man was Daru Ib Shamiq, called the Lie Weaver or the Charlatan. His curiosity was piqued - what could these creatures want of him? He knew very well that if he wanted to he could cut either one of them down - individually they were no match for him in a fight, but combined they could probably overwhelm him. That was clearly not their intention. Keeping himself relaxed and ready, he waited for the Aasimar girl to take her seat.
Satisfied that the young shepherd was seated comfortably, Charlatan approached the Solar slowly, its face grimacing with discomfort as it took each step. As it moved forward it left a black trail that connected each bloodied footprint, and as it stopped mere feet from the Solar its face relaxed and it smiled crookedly, perhaps with some mild disappointment, as if enjoyed the pain.
"So a light of the heavens has entered the pit of our desert. We are honoured by your presence," Daru said, it's voice betraying only a hint of mockery.
Maeldur was not prepared to play games, "speak quickly and plainly Baern, it pains me to stand in these lands."
The figure of the old man nodded slightly, "as it does me. The land takes from all, stripping our comforts with mute indifference. It is simply that we have learned to embrace the misery."
A soft voice floated across the glade as Tellura began quietly singing to herself. Her voice was beautiful and clear, almost angelic in tone, and the Solar recognised the words of her song - a tale of love and absences filled, and of the glory of the Celestial skies and lands, an old song that mothers would sing to calm their babes, to still them back into peace. He listened on for a moment, caught up in her song, not noticing the old man creeping ever nearer to him. The young Baern could not disguise the Lie Weaver's presence though and after several moments Maeldur almost wretched as the stench of decay rolling from the old man became too much. Torn from the Aasimar's song the Solar smoothly moved his hand up to his sword hilt and took a step back.
"Relax my friend," said the Charlatan smiling weakly through brown teeth and blackened gums, "there was no intention of harm in it, I am no match for you should you choose to strike me down. So rarely am I treated to bask in the glow of the pure."
The Solar looked at the fiend, and now that he was closer he noticed the old man's skin, scarred and wrecked by boils, other lesions had split afresh with several small lacerations that appeared newly formed. Curious, he watched as another formed, slowly etching its way across his cheek. It was then that he realised what was happening; the divine golden radiance emanating from the Solar's body was causing these wounds on the Baern's skin, having greater effect the closer the creature got to him, and perversely the wretched thing was taking pleasure in these burns. Maeldur's disgust was overwhelming and he moved swiftly to draw his blade.
Sensing the Solar was at the end of his patience the old man spoke quickly. "The host has lied to you Solar. The gates of Heaven close, barred to all, and they send you out blind, to tie up their loose ends. There will be no open door or warm hearth for you old friend."
Shocked at the Baern's words the Solar stopped before his blade had cleared the sheath. He thought only briefly before spitting out, "what does the darkness know of the hearts of the radiant? You lie."
The old man laughed, "of course I lie, it is what I am, but only fools speak only lies or only truth. You recognise those elements of truth well enough - if you did not I would be dead right now." Maeldur paused, taking a moment to think before turning his attention back to the Baern for it to continue.
"Celestia bargains with us, the Lords of Despair, to buy us as the Tanar'ri and Baatezu do, but for different reasons - a truce. They would shore the walls of paradise and let evil eat itself. A massacre to herald a retreat. You have seen the closed doors, heard the raised voices. The golden walls of heaven weaken as desperation takes hold. How else do you explain your presence here?"
A puzzled expression came over the face of the Celestial - he had no answer for the fiend.
Daru raised a scarred eyebrow, "do you think that soulless shell of a mortal orchestrated this deception on his own? The gods of virtue have lied to you"
"You are the prince of lies!" rebuked the Solar, the golden light of it's body flaring brighter, searing deeper into the old fiends pallid flesh.
The Baern ignored the pain, taking no pleasure from it as it continued. "I...we, have seen the future, the fields of darkness, the perversions of the land as evil runs free, unspoilt in it's purity, while your brothers sit and watch from behind the closed and barred gates to the Mount. They prepare for war, their pacts and deals written in blood, but war does not come. Oh, they will weep for the fallen, mourn the devastation of the weak and innocent, but still they will watch, rationalizing their inaction with words of righteousness and dignity, staying the course of protecting their own. Given the opportunity presented by your friend they accepted his lie and sent you here knowing what you would find."
"And what is that?"
"That we have paved the way for their fears to be realised. That evil is ascendant, and the meek of heaven's host have lost the war for the heart's of men. That the darkness has authored their demise and in return they cower like dogs behind the pearlescent walls of their cowardice. A pity, for it is not how we would have it. Those of the Waste have no desire to see..." Rage washed over the Solar and he drew his blade with practiced speed, crying his hate into the sky as he pushed the golden sword into the Baern's chest. With a blur of light and explosion of darkness the diseased reacted, their movements an abasement of reality. When the blur cleared it was not the chest of Daru Ib Shamiq so pierced by the radiant blade; it was that of Tellura. The Solar gasped as he looked down into her pallid face, smooth and white, as a single drop of blood escaped the corner of her mouth and rolled down her chin. Dropping to his knees, Maeldur whispered several words under his breath, words that cleaned the air and cleared his mind. He knew that the creature before him was not the Aasimar girl she appeared to be, but the illusion was persuasive and it had washed away his rage as surely as if she were real.
A quiet chuckle came from behind the Solar, "my you are quick to rage." The Baern's words felt oily. Maeldur turned his attention to the old man, turning his head to look over his shoulder, the Dire Shepherd forgotten. "So you know doubt," continued the old man, "I have touched an exposed nerve. To doubt is not wrong - your superiors do not have the light to truth exclusively. Their whispered words and secret fear betray them, betray you. It is why you are here; think of it, you see the truth of my words."
The Solar turned back, refusing to look at the Baern. Tellura had returned to her seat by the menhir, a pool of black blood the only sign she had fallen before the Solar's blade only moments ago. Her face carried an unmistakable skew - the blade had damaged her terribly, and she was another counterpoint to the Solar's reality, a reality that was beginning to crack around him. He turned away from her, from her porcelain face, and stood.
As Maeldur turned to face the old man again he continued, "but you should not trust me my angel, it would be wrong for you to take me at my word. Let me show you what we have seen, what will become of Celestia's fears. You can take my words, my truce, back to your gods, for I give it if that is all you desire after hearing my words. But what were you told when you followed the mortal through that gate?"
The Solar paused as he remembered what he had been told. "That he held the key to our survival," his voice a resigned whisper.
"Yes, the key," smiled the fiend, "indeed he did. With promises of compromise did he ply your superiors, and here you are. Blind obedience is their expectation for they do not value your will - they would have you return with our promises. Yet I am evil, a fact I...that we have never tried to hide, and you are to deal with us. Our word is good - we will not interfere with the hosts desire to quench the encroaching fires of evil with its own cannibalism, but make no mistake, those victories will be replaced with defeat as your hosts retreat into the bastions of light, protecting their own in hope of evils self annihilation."
The Solar listened to the Baern's words, resigned, defeated. Surely the fiend lied, it could not be telling the whole truth, they never did. But if even a small part of the creatures words were true then perhaps it was not too late for something to be done, for the course to be altered.
Time passed, how much no one could say, but eventually the Solar said simply, "show me your proof."
The Lie Weaver nodded, it's face a mask, and produced from the darkness a jewel, a radiant ruby, blinding in the ashen air of the Wastes. It held it before the Solar in it's wasted hand and, letting it go, left it to hover before the Celestial. Maeldur closed his eyes as the glow of the gem washed over him, and he began to relax as it revealed its secrets. The Lie Weaver looked over to the Dire Shepherd and smiled.
Lost in an eternity of self doubt and uncertainty, Mealdur Et Kavurik watched on as the gem revealed itself to him. The chaos of creation awash with insanity and death, the lower planes ascendant, unchallenged as the hosts of light watched on from gates that remained closed. The consequences of their plans were plain, and even as the fiend spoke lies, dealt with only half-truths, the gem revealed his superiors words, and he wept for their choices. They consorted with damnation from a desire to do right, this much was clear, but it was the easy path. They had given themselves over to it by vanity, that the old ways had failed and they saw the true path, that they alone could save all of existence.
As he stirred from the images of the ruby he felt a hand upon his shoulder, cold and clammy, but he was not repulsed. Something in him had changed, he felt it, and that hand felt the same. He shuddered hopelessly, shaking under those visions, but took some weak comfort from that hand, the kind of comfort that can only be given by another who has bared witness to the same terrible sights as oneself.
"What did you see?" came the Charlatan's passionless voice.
Opening his eyes, Maeldur looked upon the fiend, not caring that he did not feel the crawling disgust these ones usually inspired. "I saw the darkness," he replied, "the fires across the land, the desperation and...and the gates, those golden gates, barred and locked." Tears formed in his eyes as he looked into the pits of the Lie Weavers face, "how could they...how did they think...how could she....", he dropped to his knees once again, weeping at those horrific sights. The words of his forefathers came then to his mind, words he had not thought of for some time. "For evil to ascend all that must happen..."
"Is for those of good to do nothing," finished the Baern. "You can do better," it said simply, the essence of it's design laid upon the board.
The Solar looked up at the fiend, the light returned to it's eyes at the old mans words. "Yes, I can," he said with a determination that only moments ago was miles away.
The fiend smiled, motioning Tellura to join them. "Then come my friends, we have much to discuss."
Pride always comes before the fall.

***

The barman's green-flecked eyes, and the short, snaking antlers growing from his brow marked him as a tiefling. He was a kindly sort, or at least as kindly as his heritage allowed, and well respected in Fortitude. He had seen his share of evil however, and he recognised the stranger for what he was, and knew why he was there. He nodded slightly toward the back of the common room. The stranger looked briefly over his shoulder in the direction indicated by the tiefer. Turning back to face the barman, the stranger produced a small yellow gem from his pocket and placed in on the bar, pulling his lips back to expose his canine teeth in an approximation of a smile.
The tiefling shook his head, "keep yer trinkets 'loth. You can make yer payment by not outstaying yer welcome."
The stranger nodded and returned the jewel to his pocket. He walked slowly to the table at the rear of the common room, letting the unease he wore like a cloak settle upon the other patrons of the Inn as he passed unfeelingly by them.
The man sat in the small cubicle alone nursing neither drink nor meal. He was not old, but his dishevelled appearance made determining his age impossible. His face unshaved and his hair unkempt, the man wore simple clothes wrapped in a dusty cloak of dark blue. His face held a sad yet urgent expression and his left hand fidgeted with a small medal attached to a chain that hung from his neck, a sun protecting a shell and a lotus blossom - the symbol of Vishnu. The stranger took a seat opposite the man and placed a furred claw upon the table. The man looked into the still drawn cowl over the stranger's head, stared into the darkness searching for a face, but finding none he looked down at the table. As if on cue the stranger reached into his robes and drew a short blade of obsidian and placed it carefully on the table. He withdrew his claw leaving the blade open, leaving it available. The man made no move for the weapon - he knew it would be futile. Relaxing slightly, perhaps with acceptance, the man sat back, keeping his eyes on the table, but did not let go of the small holy symbol that seemed to be his only remaining lifeline.
"So you have come," he said without emotion. "I am pleased."
The stranger made a short sound, like a dogs bark, "I am sure that will change," he said, the amusement clear in his tone.
Keeping his eyes on the table the man replied, "for thousands of years I have lived. I have reaped my reward and lived many lifetimes more, and now I tire of it, of existence."
"My dear Ulien..." began the stranger.
"Do not call me that," the man said, "that man to whom that name belonged died long ago."
"As you wish," he acceded with a shrug, "but that was your reward as you say - immortality. It was a small price for your betrayal and we paid it gladly. The deal is done, it cannot be revoked."
Running his hand through his grey hair the man once again became agitated. "What one can give one can take away. Give me release. These scars born of existence wear me down." He continued to mindlessly finger the symbol of Vishnu, perhaps hopeful that it could provide to him some respite.
"The god of light and mercy," the stranger said, his tone mocking. "I will not waste words mocking the pretender - it is not as though your god is dead. He was simply never alive in the first place. Do not belittle yourself - you cannot believe that he can help you."
"He can take away my scar," the man whispered desperately.
"My dear man," said the stranger, mimicking a tone of regret, but not enough to belie the taunt it was intended to be, "that is but a shallow scar born of a dull blade. I see by your regret you feel it is more - not mortal by any stretch, but an enduring ache nonetheless." The man looked at the stranger seemingly for the first time. Some puzzlement crossed his face only to be replaced quickly by recognition. "Allow me to show you the meaning of pain and regret. I shall create for you a scar that will endure."
Amon'Valura took up the obsidian blade and pushed it swiftly into the man's chest, flicking his cowl back so the man could see his face.
"I thank you" the man choked out, blood welling in his throat as calm washed over his face.
For the first time some sense of feeling, of amusement filled the Arcanaloths eyes and it barked out a short laugh. "I'm not going to kill you mortal. If I twist this blade you will die of that there is no doubt, but I do not want you to die," he leaned in across the table, closer to the man's face as if to steal his breath, "I want you to suffer."
The man's eyes widened for a moment and then began to glaze over as he drifted to unconsciousness. Amon'Valura placed his clawed hand beside the blade that still rested in the man's chest. He whispered several words, words that seemed out of place, soothing, yet corrupted by his vulgar breath. Pale light ebbed from his hand into the man's chest, healing his wound slightly, just enough to keep the man conscious.
He looked back at the Arcanaloth, the lucidity returning to his face. "Why," he asked, "why would you do this?"
A look of mild boredom crossed the face of the 'loth, "because it pleases me," he answered matter-of-factly. He smiled for a moment as a new thought entered his mind, "I would see you suffer and surrender to despair, but more importantly I would see you beg. I want you to beg me for mercy, even though, in your heart of hearts, you know I will not grant it. I want to hear you beg even after you know all hope is lost. Most importantly I derive satisfaction from this act because the guilt that causes you to suffer so marks you as a traitor. You say you have had enough of existence? The truth is you fear life such that you welcome the words of the false. You are below my contempt"
This time he did not waste magic keeping the man conscious. Of course they were not the real reasons for his actions, they could however be considered the emotional reasons. Yes, there was pleasure to be taken at the man's lot, from his pain and from his suffering, but they were not the logical reasons. But the man would have to negotiate those answers on his own - a difficult task given that he had little of worth to bargain with, but as was often pointed out by his masters, there was no deal that could not be made, there was only the price that one was willing to pay that must be discovered. Amon'Valura left those thoughts for another time, for there was work to be done - the words that would scar this mortals flesh and bind his spirit to the soon to be wasted vessel of his mortal body would not write themselves.

***

Shiyomh Varhin looked around nervously, and if he had been capable of sweating he would be doing so now, probably quite profusely. He had only been in the Tower for about an hour, but it was long enough; all he could think about was getting out of there. The hall he was currently sitting in had bodies hanging from the roof and nailed to the walls, rows and rows of them; in some places they were haphazardly strewn about and in others they were neatly lined and spaced out. Each of them were clearly alive, depending upon the definition of alive, and they were uniformly covered in scars and open wounds that wept blood onto the floor, ever dripping, overflowing the floors a good 2 inches deep with both fresh and coagulating blood. The sights of the Tower Arcane were obscene and depraved beyond his experience, and he would not have believed them had he not witnessed them with his own eyes. Arcanaloths moved about the halls, quickly and quietly going about their business. They were often accompanied by others of their race - hulking, brutish Nycaloths or the grossly deformed Yagnoloths, and sometimes they escorted visitors, others in the same boat as Shiyomh, those who had come to deal with the Arcanaloths. As hideous as they were, the sights of this place were not the most terrible thing; it was the sounds that could not be ignored. You could turn your eyes from the sights of the torture perpetrated upon these countless wretched beings, and you could ignore the repulsive wetness on your feet as you walked through the bloody mire, but try as you might you could not turn off the chorus of screaming. It penetrated into your mind long after your ears had become deaf to the cries of torment, the wailing and the lamentation. These primal cries of damnation would not be erased from the mind, even of one as indifferent to the plight of the damned as the Cuprilach Rilmani was. For their part, the Yugoloths clearly enjoyed their surrounds. As he was being escorted to the hall Shiyomh had even seen an Arcanaloth stop as it made its way to about the halls, and delight in inflicting further pain on one unfortunate being - an Aasimar woman as best as Shiyomh could tell.
The Rilmani looked up from trying to block out the sounds of the Tower Arcane from his mind as Amon'Valura pushed the weathered flesh of the contract across the table and indicated to Shiyomh that he should read it. He looked at contract - thousands of tiny words carved with the practiced skill of a Yugoloth lawyer into the skin that formed the medium of the agreement - but the words meant nothing to him, their meaning drowned under a tide of screaming and tireless pleading. Focusing his mind the Rilmani scanned the words before him, noting the terms he had agreed to in return for this Arcanaloths support. He was no contract writer but he had dealt with the Yugoloths often enough to know that he could not sign before he understood if there was a deeper meaning behind the contract. But by the gods he had never been subjected to this before. In his eagerness to depart the Tower he pushed the contract back to Arcanaloth and nodded his agreement, any deeper meaning the words may have held had gone undivined.
Amon'Valura smiled the bare-fanged smile of an Arcanaloth and produced a small obsidian bladed dagger from his blood-specked robes. Shiyomh nodded - he knew what was expected of him. He took the blade in his copper skinned hand and stood, looking up at the scarred and wasted vessel of the man hanging from the roof of the hall above the table the contract had been drafted upon.
Ulien of Tyr, fallen paladin and betrayer of Maeldur Et Kavurik screamed again as his flesh was sliced open by thousands of invisible razor blades recording the compact between the Rilmani and the Arcanaloth. He felt his body being lowered and opened his eyes to see the Rilmani standing below him. There was no comfort in the fact that the Rilmani was not enjoying his pain, actually appearing to be sickened by it, for it would not change what was about to happen. Ulien had seen the obsidian blades of the Arcanaloths before and he knew what its presence meant - the physical pain was intense, unforgiving; but those blades, they inflicted wounds far deeper. Those wounds scored themselves into your very soul, as though your very being was being cut open, and then sowed back together before you fell apart. Hanging before the Rilmani, his body a bloody, steaming mess, he did what he promised himself he would not do. He begged. He begged even though he saw the expression of delight upon the face of Amon'Valura, and he begged even though he knew it would make no difference. He begged until the Rilmani took the blade and raised it, holding it above his chest like a pen. As Shiyomh leant forward and began carving his name into the flesh over Ulien's heart the fallen paladin screamed. It was piercing and icy cold that scream, and it drained the blood from the Rilmani's face, bit it did not stop him from doing what he had to do.
As he made the last cut upon Ulien's chest, Shiyomh dropped the blade onto the bloodied floor and silently turned, walking from the hall as fast as his feet would carry him. Ulien however was not granted any such freedom, nor would he be. The fire of the Rilmani's name, carved into his flesh, would burn strongly and slowly as it carried the words of the contract across his body, giving him no rest nor respite from the dark magics that recorded the compact, searing those words for the sureness of eternity.
Amon'Valura smiled up at Ulien as he was hoisted back to the ceiling upon the savage hooks that pierced his muscle and held him aloft. Happy with the way the deal had turned out the Arcanaloth knelt down to retrieve his blade before walking serenely from the hall, leaving Ulien to his torment.


Continue to Part Four of the Chronicles of Amon'Valura - A Beautiful Dream