A short post today, Happy Labor Day!
Hearts in Shadow
*** 11th Tarsakh, Year of The Ageless One ***
The sky above Blackfeather Bridge was a featureless gray that morning. Fog hung in the village streets. The view from the tallhouse's upper windows did not reach further than the rooftop of the smithy opposite the street. The clang, clang of the smith's strenuous labour carried much further through the fog. The woman in the window peered down, to where a light broke though the morning mist and marked the entrance of Grobalt's workplace, but al she could see from the smith was a flickering in the light when he moved in front of his fire.
She stepped back from the window and closed the old but heavy curtains, throwing the room back in glum darkness.
She caressed the soft fabric, staring at spots where the cloth had grown thin and let through little patches of daylight.
"The news better be good," she said without turning. "I hate audiences in the morning."
She could hear - nay, feel - the man in the door opening shifting uncomfortably.
The man, Matlog Humprin, was still damp, even though he had been waiting in the lobby for most of an hour. The tallhouse was cold and dark, offering little in way of drying or warming oneself. The lady Mirabeta Selkirk didn't feel any pleasure from such luxuries, not any more, and she saw no reason why anyone else would either.
"Everything is going according as planned, mistress," Humprin said in a hoarse voice. "We have established contacts in New Velar. Our man in Cormyr has ensured our transactions will be handled discretely and with all speed. We are merely tying up some... loose ends."
Mirabeta let go of the fabric and turned to face her visitor. The man shuddered involuntarily when her eyes caught his gaze, even in the darkness, and held it for a moment.
"Gyertan?" She asked.
Humprin nodded. "He got away. He was gone before we..."
Mirabeta silenced Humprin with a flick of her wrist.
"No matter. We will find him, and kill him."
Humprin nodded. "I will see to it at once."
"No," the lady said, as she strode to the darkwooden desk in the far end of the room. "Let Ethari see to it. You will do something else for me."
She sat down, and opened a drawer in her desk.
She did not gaze up to him, nor speak, but Humprin sensed her will, and walked forward. He felt uncomfortably close to the woman, and gasped slightly when she suddenly grasped his hand. His hand and arm instantly turned cold, making him forget the uncomfortable clamminess he felt earlier. He felt an ice cold sting in his hand, and then she let go.
He stared down. A tiny, silver ring lay in the palm of his hand. He did not dare look up in those cold eyes again.
"I... What is...?"
"Put it on." Mirabeta leaned on the desk, folding her hands. "And tell me what you feel."
Humprin stared down. He hesitated, but the command in his mistress' voice was too strong.
He fingered the ice cold ring, and slid it on his ring finger. The finger almost instantly went numb.
"It... cold." He stared at his hand. "Feels cold. Like ice... can't feel my finger." He rubbed his hand, but almost couldn’t sense it.
"Tingles..." He stared in shock at the ring, which was slowly turning black, as if it was tarnishing. Around the ring, his skin turned gray. A sharp pain shot through his hand, a burning sensation.
A panic mastered him, overcoming the desire to please his mistress, and he grabbed the ring to tug it off. It failed, seeming to have shrunk tight around his finger. He could not pull it over the knuckle bone.
"It hurts!" He gasps. "Take it off! Take it..."
The pain travelled up his arm, into his chest. He doubled over, collapsing on the floor, almost impossible of speech.
Mirabeta leaned forwards, looking dispassionately at her squirming servant, ignoring his pleas. The man's arm was withering, it's skin ash gray. The veins in his neck stood out, blackened, as the skin on his shoulder and chest started to loose its colour as well.
The man arched his back in agony, shuddered... and then fell still.
Mirabete gazed down on him, expectantly. The man didn't move, didn't breathe.
"Disappointing," she muttered, and was about to sink back in her chair when Humprin suddenly convulsed. He coughed, then breathed again, in short, hoarse breaths. His eyes opened, gazing up at the ceiling. Pain still was everywhere, but he was yet alive.
With difficulty, he lifted his hand, towards his mistress, who looked on with fascination.
"Take... take it off! It is ... killing me!"
A soft smile played about Mirabeta's lips.
"Take it off?" she smiled, "Now... that would be most unwise. It is all that keeps you alive. And as well. It would be most unpleasant to loose you now, seeing as you are proving so much more useful than the others."
Humprin stared up at her, realization dawning.
"You... tried it on others?"
"Several. None survived. You are the first, and you should rejoice, as you will have a most crucial role to play."
She rose, motioning him to stand up. He did so, with some difficulty. The pain in his body was slowly subsiding, though it wasn’t going away. He looked at his arm, a withered, mummified thing. It moved at his will, but he felt hardly a thing through the now dead skin. He wondered how he could see it so clearly in the room's darkness, but then he noticed that the dark was no longer an obstacle to him. Something in the ring made him see the world in much sharper tones.
"It was found in an old ruin several leagues north from here," Mirabeta said, finally answering his question on the ring's origins. "We identified it as a relic of an old god, long forgotten. Powerful, but cursed. Not to be easily used by... infidels, I guess. A strong will was needed, and I had to sacrifice some loyal servants before I found the right host. Well, aren't you the lucky one?"
Humprin examined the ring, which was now tarnished and still snug on his withered finger. He guessed he was being lucky… counting himself still alive.
"What does it do?"
"It give us... control", Mirabeta answered, as she took his hand to examine the ring herself. She waved her other hand in dismissal, stopping him from asking more questions.
"You will learn as things enfold. You will learn, and employ it as I wish. You're loyalty is assured."
It was a statement, not a question. Humprin didn't dare ask her why she was so certain. But he recalled others who had failed to live up to Mirabeta Selkirk's demand for loyalty. He realized that he would, indeed, be loyal. There was no other way.
Mirabeta let go of his hand, though it took Humprin a few seconds to realize it, as all the feeling had left it.
"For now," she said, "we should make sure we establish you in a port of import."
Humprin rubbed his arm in a futile attempt to get any feeling back.
"A port?" he mumbled "You are sending me to Marsember?"
Mirabeta had set herself down behind her desk and gathered several sheets of vellum.
"No," she said. "Ethari and his people will handle that as well. You are going to Sschindylryn, where you will meet with lady Ker'nalla of House Shederynn."
Humprin stopped rubbing.
"A drow?" He frowned. "I don’t understand, mistress. What am I to do in Sschindylryn?"
Mirabeta smiled, and stared up. Once again, he locked eyes with her. Maybe it was the ring enhancing his vision, or simply a new realization after his ordeal, but in those eyes, he could now see the dark, brooding evil - patient, heartless, and cold.
"We are going to make history."