What has come before: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

~~~ Meine, Priest of Isonia ~~~

Tereil’s Chamber, Earlier That Day

I walk slowly, my right arm around Brother Zaphel’s shoulders, the monk leaning into me for support on our somber trek through the keep. The halls are eerily quiet, devoid of the servants and soldiers that usually fill them. I assume that word of the devastation wrought in the prayer chambers has spread, and that people are in hiding fearing the worst; I would not blame them if that were the case, it would be for the best. A pained grunt from my companion causes me to slow to a halt, the man shifting his weight from me to the passage wall, a welcome relief.

“I can’t continue, friend,” he says softly, a hint of shame washing across his kindly features, “it hurts too much; every step is like a nail being driven into my heel.” I nod softly, a jolt of sympathetic pain biting into my ankle, the sensation likely a mere shadow of what Zaphel is feeling.

“Rest here then, Brother, and I’ll check up on Lord Tereil.” I watch him close his eyes, sinking to the floor, relief visibly spreading through him like a balm. “I’ll be back soon,” I say reassuringly, glancing down the empty hallways, “nothing should bother you.” He doesn’t reply, and I realize that sleep has taken him, the trauma to his body and mind having stolen all of his energy.

I spare one last glance for my friend before turning back to the task at hand, and the maze of corridors that spread out in front of me. My footfalls barely disturb the complete silence as I walk toward the room where my Lord has been confined, the soft leather shoes I wear muffling all but a faint tap with each step. The truth be told, I could be walking in thick leather boots and still maintain the silence, my earlier life taught me the benefits of treading lightly, and old habits are difficult to break.

As I round a corner from the main through way and step into a smaller side corridor I stop dead in my tracks, a small gasp escaping my lips. This hallway has always been lined with beautiful silken tapestries depicting the coming of Isonia to the realm of man, each worth a small fortune. All that is left of the gallery are the mangled and shredded remnants of what must have been the tapestries, although they are cut to ribbons and heaped chaotically about. Deep gouges scar the stone of the walls, strangely grouped into sets of three parallel slashes.

Nervously I look around, and not seeing or hearing anything, I gingerly pick my way through the destruction, a cold chill flickering across my heart, an ominous weight pressing in against me. I’m not claustrophobic, but at this moment I wish to the gods that I were outside, able to see all around me, with no hidden doorways or corners. Gathering up my courage I continue on, navigating the corridors that I have walked for years until I stand before the door to Lord Tereil’s bedchamber. I wince as my eyes gaze at the wall opposite the door, a ruddy stain still adorning the rock. Rubbing the back of my head, the bandages still firmly in place, I grasp the door handle and shove it inwards.

The door swings easily, thumping against the wall with a resounding boom, breaking the perfect silence. As the echo fades down the corridor I notice the empty bed, scorched midway down either side as well as at the foot; the three places where holy bindings had held Tereil in place. Blackened feathers are piled to either side of the bed, each appearing to greedily suck all the light from around them. Otherwise the room appears to be in order, no signs of violence marring the pristine order.

A flicker of movement to the left alerts me to his presence before I consciously differentiate him from the inanimate room, so still had he stood. Slowly, painstakingly, as if every movement were an eternity of suffering, the Lord I have served and loved for the majority of my adult life turns towards me. His features are superficially the same as I remember them: a long slender face, proud hawk like nose, a strong set jaw, and brilliant golden eyes, framed by hair the color of burnt umber. Though slightly built, his muscled are firm and toned, a fact that is strikingly evident since he is clad only in a loincloth. I winced inwardly at the sight of the network of angry red welts that crisscross his chest and forearms, all self inflicted during the first days of his return to Syraph Keep. Most striking, and disturbing, about his appearance are his wings: devoid of all feathers, only a skeletal frame extends from his back, bleached bone shining dully in the torchlight.

His piercing golden orbs lock with mine, and as I gaze into their otherworldly depths I am filled with a profound sorrow. A strangled sob escapes my lips as I fall to my knees weeping, still staring up at Tereil. He walks towards me, his movement fit for a funeral procession, and extends a hand to cup my chin. His flesh is cool on my face, like death. I feel no fear towards my master, only despair for what he has suffered. But it is more than that: the hopelessness extends to myself, to my friends, to my kingdom, to my faith, and to the whole of the world. I feel a torrent of despondency embrace me, fill me to overflowing, and rush out as chorus of tears, tinkling to the stone floor beneath me. And then he releases me, and I slump back, my mind reeling. His golden gaze still holds me in thrall, and I can feel my heart break as I watch a silver tear trickle down his cheek.

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